This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Who can forget the time (I am speaking to the advanced in age) of his ancient school-life purgatory? Methinks I now see the mottled desks, rich (to the boys' eye) in carvings. Monograms, ornamental devices, and autographs were there; memorials of some who, it may be, have since attained eminence in arts, sciences, literature, or politics - of some who have served their country in danger, and have lost their lives in battling for king and fatherland, hearths and homes - and of some, alas ! who have stained the annals of our history with moral delinquencies and flagrant crime. The little world of school-life contains the germs of future power or weakness. The lessons then inculcated, and the impressions then made, model the future man. How important, then, that the principles instilled there should be those of the strictest morality, based upon the everlasting foundation of truth, as discovered in the Book of books ! How important that the mind of the future Englishman should be trained to independence, courage, honesty, and truth in the school-room ! But I am wandering from the picture which presents itself to my mind's eye just now - viz., the venerable form of the village teacher, my tutor, the great writing-master of the district, whose cali-graphy was executed with mathematical correctness, whose hair-strokes were scarcely perceptible to the naked eye, and whose swellings of the other portions of the letters were so artistically wrought that they appeared faultless in proportion if not graceful in outline, whose flourishes were of that copperplate character which amazed the wondering tyro, and impressed him with reverence. "We may smile at all this; and yet we must bear in mind that although we have gained much of late years by the introduction of physics and chemistry, conies and analysis, German and Hindostanee, into our educational establishments, our youth have lost much of the freedom and boldness of writing which characterised the generation I am now speaking of, and which is essential, let me add, to every would-be gardener.
A plain legible handwriting is one of the first points to be aimed at by him who would be the skilled designer of a landscape, or the nomen-clator of a fruitery, or the indicator of botanical knowledge. Despise not little things; they make up the substance of life - they are the components of our everyday being.
A necessary companion of my worthy pedagogue was a tree of small proportions, but pliant in the hand, and which had the facility, moreover, when skilfully used, of producing a smart without fear of thereby causing its own destruction. It would bend without breaking. Those of my young friends wdio may read this, may naturally like to study the botanical characteristics of this little offset of nature, which is popularly called the "ground ash. " Although this then considered indispensable instrument m the formation of character, and in imparting the rudiments of education, is now very properly considered a brutal remnant of bygone ages, I cannot but feel that there was a discipline in the "good old times " of which I speak (whether attributable to Solomon's sage maxim of not sparing the rod or not, I will not presume to say) that is lamentably deficient now. I am afraid that apprentices nowadays would be inclined to rebel against the fancied hardships I endured then; and certainly the tender mother and over-anxious father would not now subject their beloved offspring to the now would-be regarded cruelty I then experienced: yet I know not how it is, but we seem to have been a more hardy race then - our powers of endurance seem to have been greater, our enjoyments more natural, our pleasures more hearty.
The special object I have proposed to myself in this paper, however, is not so much to indulge in reflections upon the past, or in comparing the things which have been with those that are, or with those that may be, as to indicate what I believe should form the curriculum of studies of him who is to be a practical gardener - to show how his spare time may be most profitably and pleasurably employed in contradistinction to what we fear it now too frequently is - to point out the evils consequent upon the self-estimated importance of the present young man - to direct him to what should be the ultimate and legitimate end of his ambition, and to refer to some means by which he may attain that end - to lead him to look beyond the limited circle of the present to the termination of the vista of his human career - and to direct him how to gather, as he goes, flowers to brighten his path, fragrance to cheer him on his journey, and fruits to stimulate him in the pursuit of his laudable determination.
To pursue my history. I left school with a fair smattering of useful knowledge. I could read well; indeed it was said of me that I could "read like a parson." In reflecting upon this sage and discriminating remark now, I cannot feel sure whether it could have been intended as a compliment or expressed as a sarcasm. I could write legibly (which, by the by, is more than I can do now). I have written a good deal since that time (how readily an excuse crops up for a neglect of duty ! a stable article of commerce this!), and the rule "practice makes perfect" (I admire the alliteration here more than the grammatical construction) seems to have been reversed in my case. If, Mr Editor, your powers of divining the meaning of what I have written, and consequently of expressing in type correctly, be not greater than my facility in writing, this article will serve as a useful orthographical exercise similar to the one my poor young brain was tantalised with when I had to convert some eccentric-looking word, full of x's or j's it may be, into some other form conveying some rational idea. I do not know whether it was this orthographical exercise-book that improved my spelling or not, but certainly I was very clever in mastering orthographical dificulties at a very early age.