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History of Montrose
Chapter IV. - Education in Montrose

MONTROSE has the honour of being the first place in Scotland where the Greek language was taught although in the days of Robert the Bruce, “the seminaries had acquired so much celebrity, that he granted the sum of twenty shillings towards their support.” James Melville in his diary relates of his uncle Andrew—that prodigy of learning and bold champion of the Reformation in Scotland —that with the portion that was left him, he spent, a year or two in Montrose, learning Greek and French under M. Marsilliers whom John Erskine brought to Montrose, in which he made such progress, as to astonish the Professor of St. Andrews, by whom he was tenderly beloved, especially by Mr. John Douglas, Provost of that College, and Rector of the University, who would take him betwixt his legs at the fire in winter, and warm his hands and cheeks, and blessing him, say “My sillie and motherless child, it’s ill to wit what God may mak of thie yet.” This presentiment of his teacher was fully realised in all the leading events of his future life —whether as the promoter of sound learning in the Universities and Schools of Scotland, or in his actings as the Father of Presbytery. And there is no saying how much he was indebted for his acknowledged pre-eminence in learning to his acquisition of the Greek and Latin languages in Montrose. His preceptors at the College of St. Andrews were not envious, either at his superiority to them in the Greek language, “with which, indeed, they were unacquainted, for they read and commented upon the works of Aristotle in a Latin translation. Melville, however, made use of the Greek text in his studies, a circumstance which exited astonishment in the University; but it should be recorded to the praise of his teachers, that, though they could not fail to be mortified under a sense of their own inferiority, they indulged in no mean jealousy of the superior acquirements of their pupil; testified no desire to eclipse his reputation ; threw no obstacles in the way of his advancement; but on the contrary, loaded him with commendation, and did every thing in their power to encourage a youth, who they fondly hoped would prove a credit and an ornament to his country.” He remodelled and presided over the Colleges of Glasgow and St. Andrews, as well as taught in them; and the fame of his learning induced many foreigners to attend such celebrated seats of learning.

James Melville, after having been a few years at the school of Logie, was sent to continue his learning at Montrose. “The maister of the scholl, was a lemed, honest, kynd man, whom also for thankfulness I name, Mr. Andro Miln. I never got a stroke of his hand; howbeit, I committed twa stupid faults, as it were with fire and sword:—Having the candle in my hand, on a winter night, before six o’clock, in the school, sitting in the class, baimly and negligently playing with the bent, with which the floor was strewed, it kindled, so that we had much ado to put it out with our feet. The other was being molested by a condisciple, who cut the strings of my pen and ink-horn with his pen-knife; I aiming with my pen-knife to his legs to fley him; he feared, and lifting now a leg and now the other, rushed on his leg upon my knife, and struck himself a deep wound in the shin of the leg, which was a quarter of a year in curing. In the time of the trying of the matter, he saw me so humble, so feared, so grieved, yield so many tears, and by fasting and mourning at the school all day, that he said he could not find in his heart to punish me farther. But my righteous God let me not slip that fault, but gave me a warning, and remembrance what it was to be defiled with blood, although negligently; for within a short space, after I had caused a cutler, newly come to the town, to polish and sharp the same pen-knife, and had bought a pennyworth of apples, and cutting and eating the same in the links, as I put the slice in my mouth, I began to lope up upon a little sand brae, having the pen-knife in my right hand, I fell, and struck myself, missing my belly, an inch deep in the inward side of the left knee, even to the bean, whereby the equity of God's judgment, and my conscience struck me so, that I was the more wary of knives all my days."

“The grammar school was taught in the Melvilles’ time by Mr. Thomas Anderson, who, though his learning was slender, was esteemed one of the best teachers of his time; and under his tuition, Andrew Melville acquired the principles of the Latin language, in which he afterwards became so great a proficient. It was the custom in the schools of this period to combine bodily exercises with the improvement of the mind. By the means of these, joined to the attention paid to him at home, Andrew recovered from his early debility, and gradually attained that health of body, which he enjoyed with very little interruption to an advanced age.”

The Grammar School had the honour of being taught by David Lindsay, son to the laird of Edzell, who, on account of his learning it would not be unreasonable to suppose, had some hand in the symbolical devices and Latin inscriptions which to this day are to be seen around the walls of the garden of the old Castle of EdzelL Lindsay was afterwards bishop, first of Brechin, and then of Edinburgh; and it was at his head that Jeanie Geddes flung the stool when he began to read the book of common prayer in the High Church of Edinburgh, in July, 1637.

There have been from time to time many eminent teachers in the Montrose Academy. The Rev. George Cowie, Independent Minister of Montrose, was at one/time, before he left the Established Church, teacher of English, and he had a very good style of reading. Perhaps it is not generally known, that the Rev. Dr. Gordon of the High Church of Edinburgh, was a candidate for the Rectorship of the Montrose Academy, but such was the case, as Provost Burness told me many years ago. But it is of late years that the Academy had a Rector. The first was a Mr. Johnston. Dr. J. P. Nicol, afterwards Professor of Astronomy in the University of Glasgow, was previously Rector of the Academy. About 50 years ago, the names of the public teachers were:—Mr. James Calvert, Rector of the Grammar School; Mr. John Rintoul, and Mr. James Norval, teachers of Reading and Grammar; besides which the latter taught Geography; Mr. Robert Baird, and subsequently Mr. W. Beattie, teachers of Writing and Arithmetic; and Mr. Robert Monro, teacher of Drawing.

Of all these, Mr. Calvert was the one that we stood most in awe of, for he was a powerful man, and it was no joke to incur his displeasure. He would have given a dosen of "palmies” at any time; and we would have been shaking in our shoes if we had not our lessons—it was in fact sometimes a reign of terror; though at other times he would have been funny enough, and even then his fun was sometimes worse than his earnest, for he would have set himself down beside us, and thrashed us, at first in a playful mood; but if any bad winced under the lash, or lifted up his trousers to save his skin, he would have laid on harder, and sometimes got angry. We were always glad of a visit from Provost Bumes, for when he looked in, it was always with a smiling face, and his saluation was “Salve Domine,” to which Mr. C. replied “Salvus ms mi Drasme” and everything got on smoothly that afternoon; and if we had any fear, it always left us when the Provost made his appearance, and we felt happy, as when the sun breaks forth in a cloudy day. When he was angry the saying was, “He’ll not pass a word the day.” On one of these occasions, he was thrashing the class that was up most umercifully, and those that had still to be called up, would have been all anxiety to be prepared with their lessons; but one thinking it impossible that he would escape, and dreading Calvert’s lash more than anything that could happen to him, got a bit of tobacco and chewed it, and made himself so sick, that he was vomiting on the floor. When Mr. C. w as told that he was so sick, he came to him and said: “Poor fellow, he is very ill; what has come over him? One of you boys had better take him out to the fresh air, or just as well take him home altogether.” This was what the rogue wanted, just to be out of Calvert’s reach, and I believe he was ill with a sore belly all that night. But all this severity did not make us get our lessons any better; we just enjoyed our play the more when we got out. We did not enjoy the advantages within the reach of boys now at the Academy of getting help with our lessons at night—all the help we got was when we could see Wattie Scott, or any body, to read over the construction hurriedly at a close head, a few minutes before the school went in; and if any of us could not follow him, he would not go back upon it. Now the boys get help with their tasks, and are pretty well prepared for next day which must give them a feeling of comfort, besides a good habit of learning a little every day, for “small strokes fell great oaks,” and “Ut gutta cavat lapidem non vi, Bed ecepe cadendo, sic puer fit doctus non vi, Bed saepe legendo.” When the scholars have their lessons well prepared, it gives the teacher opportunity to give them more information about the niceties of the language, and makes the whole more of a pleasure than a task. But Mr. C., though a hard master, was proud if any of his scholars rose to distinction in after life ; and I noticed that he went to hear the Rev. Dr. King, one of them, in Mr. Nixon’s church; and was present at Sir Alex. Burnes’s banquet, when he asked me if the Trades gave me time to take my dinner.

Mr. Rintoul was an excellent and pains-taking teacher of Reading, Spelling, and Grammar. He kept up good discipline in the school—sometimes he had 70 in the highest class. He had a good, well-toned voice; and I always said when at Aberdeen, that I never heard a reader like Mr. Rintoul. As to his faithfulness to his trust, I may mention, that when a few of us were kept in for not having our lessons, we had to read the same piece over perhaps twenty times till we read it to please him, thinking always when we got to the end this will do now—“No, read it over again.” Although he had only the use of his left hand, he could give a very hard “palmy,” and was accounted so severe, that the boys made a bonfire at his death. He wrote beautifully, too, with his left hand. It happened sometimes after a few of the classes had been heard, and the rest would have been waiting their turn to be called up, that Mr. R. would have dismissed the whole school, being probably invited out to dinner that day, and I suppose no greater joy could be felt than when children are so unexpectedly set free.

Mr. Norval never had so many scholars, as Mr. Rintoul, although no doubt he was a very efficient teacher, and the only one who taught Geography at that time. Being of a rather snarling disposition, it made the ill-disposed boys play tricks upon him. Both Mr. Calvert’s school and his entering by the same passage in the middle of the old schools, the boys would have rapped with their feet at his side, when he would have come out, tawse in hand; but I don’t know if he ever found out the culprits. Archie Fraser had a goat that some way or other got into the school; and being a rather troublesome companion, it was put into the place of confinement for bad boys, but making its escape, it sprang through the window and smashed it. Better had it been if the window had been opened at first. He delivered very learned lectures on Astronomy, which were afterwards published—it was indeed a treat to hear him make a speech on any public occasion, being droll and - sarcastic. He got on altogether very creditably, and managed by the fruits of his industry, to build a habitation for himself more than a mile out of town, which he named the “Cottage of Repose,” where, to the end of his days he enjoyed that otium cum dignitate, which it were to be wished that every teacher, who is really a public benefactor, should have. Mr. R. Monro made a most perfect likeness of him, now to be seen in the Museum.

Mr. Robert Baird was the only teacher of Writing and Arithmetic, until Mr. William Beattie came; and this might never have been, if Mr. Baird had got an assistant, which, although the council pressed it upon him, he would never consent to do, until health failing him, he was obliged to have one. He had a very numerous school, and always managed to keep up his authority well, and so much the better; that he was never known to laugh in the school, and that he kept up that respect for himself which every teacher should have before he do much good. However, for some fault or other, he drove a boy upon a desk, and made his nose bleed, and that boy’s father being a member of the town council, he urged them to get another teacher, since Mr. B. would not consent to get an assistant, and this led to Mr. Beattie’s being appointed. He first taught in the old council-room, until the Academy was built in 1814. Several of Mr. Bairds scholars left him to the new master, whose style of writing was different from Mr. Baird’s, who wrote a beautiful round hand, the turns being better shaped than copper-plate, being of a graceful oval shape; now Mr. B. made sharper turns, and was also a most beautiful ornamental writer, whether Old English, German text, or flourishing. The figures of birds and eagles that he dashed off upon the boys’ count books, were superb. Mr. Baird at this time began us to make capitals on the slate, figures and things, but never attempted the ornamental writing, and he would at times have quarrelled any of the scholars for making saw-teethed turns as he called them; this was Beattie’s style. Mr Baird once fainted in the school, and fell fiat on the floor, and such a shriek got up, especially among the girls, for I suppose we all thought he was dead. However, he lived long after this, and died, 1 think about 1821, at the early age of 47, although any body would have said he was ten years older —the man in fact was never well. He would have gone backwards and forwards making and mending pens the whole day, except when he looked at the copies, or laid down pens. Many a hitch would he have given to his weary shoulders. He left .3000 at his death to an aunt. So grave and taciturn was he at school, that when John Calvert told me he was funny and joky in his own house I would not believe it. Some of us noticed Mr. Baird and Mr. Beattie coming down the church-yard together; and we thought they were speaking together; but Mr. Beattie, many years afterwards, when I was teacher in the Trades School, and mentioned the circumstance to him, said, that Mr. Baird never spoke to him in his life, although they were for years colleagues in the Academy.

After the comparison drawn between the two teachers of writing, &c., little requires to be said of Mr. Beattie, but that he was an excellent teacher, both of writing and arithmetic, and that his style of writing was better adapted for girls than boys. He was pensioned off at last, when a new arrangement was made in the classes of the Academy, with 50 a yean—a very good retiring allowance.

Mr. Robert Monro was teacher of drawing, and I never liked any class that I attended better, and always felt disappointed when any thing had prevented him coming. He taught both sketching and water-colours, and excelled in oil-painting, having improved himself—(for he was a genius in drawing)—under some celebrated master. He drew his own portrait by a mirror, and it was considered a good likeness; and no better proof of his skill in portrait painting could be desired than the picture of Mr. Norval in the Museum, for it is true to the life. He would have drawn imaginary pictures in oil.

The present teachers are in nowise behind their respected predecessors, but in many things their superiors, especially as they require the lessons to be well prepared at home. Mr. Hay has been very fortunate in getting such an able assistant as Mr. Crockart, who is a most beautiful writer. The prize-map of Europe, drawn by Miss M. Rodgers, is a chrf-d oeuvre, and in lightness of touch and finish surpasses an engraving. Although it has nothing to do with her proficiency, yet it may be mentioned, as it is a fact, that her father learned to make maps at the Trades’ School many years ago, and he did them in style. The Academy, in short, in all its departments is a most respectable institution, and does much credit to the, town. The line in Virgil, changing the first word in the text, may be addressed to the scholars—

“O fortunati minium sun si bona norint
Ducipuli”    '

Mr. Calvert’s Boarding Establishment.

Mr. Calvert was appointed at the beginning of the century to succeed Aaron Lithgow, to whom he was assistant, and probably from the time of his marriage began to keep boarders. The house he lived in, before coming to Mr. Hodgson’s house in Hodgson Square, was that large house before you come to Sheret’s Close at the Port. He had at the time I was with him—between 1815 and 1820—from 20 to 30 boarders at 30 each, besides 3 for washing; and he had all the laird’s v sons far and near as boarders—the Taylors of Kirktonhill, the laird of Brotherton’s son, the Raitts of Anniston, the Duncans of Parkhill, John Bell, the provost’s son of Dundee, two from Arbroath, George Wilson, son of the minister of Farnell, the Websters of Carmyllie, who once lived at Newmanswalls, and many others. The carriage used always to be sent for the Taylors on the Saturday, and brought them back on the Monday. They once requested me to go home with them, and being brought up in town, I thought it no small honour to get a ride in a chaise. The lady, on Sunday, after breakfast, made us read verse about a chapter in the Bible, and in the evening heard us the Catechism, Mr Robert Taylor being the young laird at the time. On Sabbath evening Mr C. took us all out a walk in the links, down from his own house along the golf-course, and when we got home we retired to the school-room ; but when we heard the voice of Miss Calvert calling up stairs, “come down, boys,” it sounded as a knell of departed joys in our ears, for we had to go down and repeat our Psalms, Taraphrases, and Catechism, and though we had them all it made no difference, such a terror was it to be summoned into Mr C.’s presence. Sometimes Mr Baird would have called upon him, and then we were never called down—a happy relief.

Being accustomed when at Mr Calvert’s to spend the vacation at Muirton of Benholm, I told the boarders how kindly we were treated by our friends there, when on a holiday 14 or 15 of them went out in a body—a distance of 13 miles— and landed upon them for dinner, hungry enough, yon may be sure, after such a journey.

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