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THREE R'S AND AN S.
Now that the art of swimming is at all events theoretically admitted to be a necessary part of education, it is worth while to consider how far we have advanced in teaching and acquiring it. For some time past two or three of the London swimming-clubs have announced that their most proficient members are ready to give lessons at certain baths on stated occasions, and every summer we hear of matches, tournaments,' and contests,' in the practice of natation; but after all these efforts it may be feared that in many London neighbourhoods the aspirants for instruction could only become proficient on the principle set forth in Dr. Benjamin Franklin's early treatise on the subject, whereby the reader is gravely admonished on no account to go near the water until he can swim.'
Our local governments are so far from recognising the ordinary claims of civilisation by providing adequate baths in each metropolitan district; and London, which has sacrificed its numerous springs and pools to its system of drainage, is so destitute of natural bathing-places that we are still for the most part ignorant even of the science of taking a header,' while numbers of the dwellers in this great city have scarcely ever risen to the luxury of a complete daily ablution. That we remain in a condition too degraded to regard the delightful art of natation with proper complacency may be proved by the kind of barbarous curiosity and wonder with which
crowds of the same kind of people who frequent the Agricultural Hall walking-matches have recently assembled to stare and cheer at the evolutions of a young lady who contrived to survive sixty hours in a whale-tank illuminated by an electric light and subject to an oppressively close atmosphere. We are not prepared to quarrel even with this distorted fashion of developing popular emulation, however, for it may have the effect of stimulating a few young persons to acquire the power of sustaining themselves in the water for half an hour; and even this will be something remarkable in a maritime nation, where not above one in six of the seafaring population knows how to keep afloat if he should happen to fall overboard. It is scarcely to be wondered at that in a capital where the householder has to pay an extra rate if he should indulge the reprehensible desire of having a bath at home, and where, on a broad river running through the very centre of the city, there is only one swimming-bath, the price of admission to which is necessarily prohibitive to the common people, we are yet a long way from adding the S to the three R's in any ordinary course of education. The gymnasium, and even the cricket-field, may be recognised as accessories to the usual curriculum. The drill-sergeant has indeed become a regular officer even at Board schools, and the exercise which forms a part of the daily training has already effected a marked improvement in
the physique of the children; but no nation with a well-ordered practical faculty would lay so much stress on cricket, drill, the horizontal bar, and the giant stride, and yet ignore the claims of the swimming-bath, which combines all the elements of health, recreation, fine exercise, cleanliness, and the sense of useful achievement.
There are admirable exceptions to the general neglect, however, and although the movement is slow and undemonstrative, the signs of a public protest in favour of making the swimming-class an indispensable adjunct to the teaching in all large schools are not to be mistaken. A few days ago some of the visitors to one of the largest benevolent institutions in London-the Orphan Working Schools at Maitland Park, Haverstock-hill-were surprised to learn that the 276 boys and 147 girls between eleven and fourteen years of age who are inmates of the large and handsome building are regularly taught to swim, that a large proportion of them can swim well, that above fifty of the boys can swim for more than a mile, while some have gone above two miles, and a small minority has accomplished four miles.
It is worth noting that these children commence with no particular physical advantages, since they are taken from a class of society which is certainly not remarkable for personal strength or muscular development. They are mostly children of the lower middle class, which includes small tradespeople, clerks, foremen, shopmen, and journeymen; but the boys and girls themselves are taken to the institution while they are young, and the mental and physical conditions of their lives at school are evidently such as to give them a thoroughly healthy
tone, to which the swimming-bath, a comparatively recent acquisition, has vastly contributed.
It would not be easy to find a company of boys of the same age who would strip' as well as the lads who are just ready to step on to the spring-board for the diving competition on this the great day of the school-year-the day when prizes are to be given for athletic sports, both to the 'old scholars,' who have left the institution, and come back as members of an athletic club, and to these young swimmers, who are already so famous in London school competitions, that they can scarcely find a team willing to enter a match with them.
The bath is not a large one-a good swimmer could go from end to end in less than a dozen strokesbut it is sufficient for the purposes of complete instruction and recreation, is light and well ventilated, and the water is so clear that the black and white squares which form the pattern of the tiled bottom are plainly visible; and the rings, about the size of curtain-rings, of which the successful divers and swimmers under water will gather an armful, are lying there with an appearance of sinuous motion caused by the ripple of the surface.
The seniors, or boys over thirteen years of age, lead off in a competition for prizes for the best action,' including the varieties of fancy swimming-hand over,' floating, paddling, 'tub,' arms only, legs only, and all the rest of it and this is followed by an eighty-yards race, and diving, and swimming under water, the victor in the latter contest coming up with his right arm braceleted from wrist to elbow with above a dozen rings which he has brought from the bottom of the bath, where he has been swimming like a cautious
frog in a strange aquarium. The most remarkable part of the whole performance is the consummate ease with which the lads take the water, diving without splash or flurry from the spring-board, and slipping through a floating ring little larger than an ordinary life-buoy. Even the youngsterslittle fellows only as high as one's elbow-have an accustomed air, which shows that they have already mastered the primary difficulty of becoming accomplished swimmers; while the boy who proudly takes the prize medal as the best swimmer in the schoola little fellow of about fourteen, small and slender, but admirably set up, and with a capital development of arm and shoulder-evidently thinks nothing of these small feats of the natatory art; for he is the principal four-mile boy, who has distinguished himself at one or two of the great school-matches at the Charing Cross Baths, and stands with the cool, conscious air of a veteran as he receives fresh honours. But one of the most interesting portions of the competition has yet to be exhibited, and it comes in rather a startling manner. With a wild and piercing cry a boy falls suddenly into the water at the extreme end of the bath, and, apparently unable to swim a stroke, struggles for a moment to the surface, calling for help, only to sink again, his hands beating the surface, his head far below. In a few seconds there is a shout from the space around the springboard, and a lad who is distinguished as one of the best swimmers in the school, is already striking out with a long sweeping action towards his unlucky comrade. Don't be frightened, I've got you!' he calls out cheerily, and in another minute he has taken the struggler by the head,
at the same moment turning himself on his back and drawing the body of the rescued boy forward, so that the head is supported by his hands just below his chest. Then propelling himself backward with his legs only, he slowly but surely reaches the landing-stage, slips from beneath his burden, which he contrives to support till it is lifted from the water by those on the bank, and at once scrambles up the landing-steps, to assist in the work of resuscitation, which is effected by clearing the mouth, alternately raising the arms and pressing them downwards against the sides of the chest, rubbing the feet and legs and the left side over the heart, and gently moving the body from side to side on a blanket stretched upon a sloping board. The whole business is gone through in such a dramatic manner that, but for the relief of a laugh at the grim humour of the thing, one would scarcely be prepared for another sudden cry from a bather overtaken with cramp, and the prompt rescue effected by a second crack swimmer. There are six various kinds of rescues; and the whole performance is so excellent an illustration of the value of the accomplishment which has been taught so well, that one is ready to regard it as the most admirable of the whole series of trials. yet there is one other though it is only an incidental element of the competition-which is inexpressibly interesting, and that is the hearty applause and sincere appreciation of the boys themselves for the successful competitors. There is something so delightful in the evident enthusiasm in which small personal jealousy is forgotten or has no existence, and in the vigour with which they cheer on the favourites and greet the final victor, that one is quite
prepared to find this glorious principle of unselfish recognition of merit pervading the school examinations as well as the school competitions. It discovers a certain healthy simplicity as a distinguishing characteristic of the classes, and marks a just proportion of work and play. Heartiness in the play itself is manifested by masters and teachers as well as by scholars. In the spacious playground, the troops of boys who are not competing in, or assisting at, the swimmingmatches, are at the giant-stride, or the bars, or practising bowling; and now that the match is over, competitions in walking, running, the long and high jumps, and throwing the cricket-ball are to be held by some of the former scholars, members of the Orphan Working School Athletic Club, and their performances are fair evidence of what may be effected by the kind of training which every boy may receive. Nor is the same evidence absent from the regular classes during the actual school-time. The examination-day follows the day of sports, as work follows play in the regular order of succession. The 420 children must take their dinner in the schoolrooms to-day. At each end of the great dining-hall, with its ceiling painted with a group of angels, are wide tiers of seats facing each other. One tier is already filled; the senior and junior boys occupying the two ends, and the girls the middle; while a large company of visitors-about twothirds of whom are ladies-are coming through the chapel, and so entering by the upper passage near the organ. This organ, like the beautiful painting of the ceiling, was a gift, and is so placed as to sound both in the chapel and the great hall, serving alike for Sunday worship and for the
daily expression of joy and praise. Part-singing is one of the great recreations here; and to-day boys or girls, or both together, will join in some of those sweet part-songs in which their fresh, clear, cultivated voices have so admirable an effect. Between the short examinations in each subject there will come song, duet, or anthem, the proceedings commencing with Schubert's 'Gloria.'
On a platform between the two tiers of seats are the chairman of the occasion, that stanch friend of the charity, Mr. Charles Tyler, the examiners, and some of the vice-presidents and members of committee; and in the assembly of bright young faces, which look with modest confidence to the audience and to those who stand to them in the relation of the parents they have lost, there is no fear of failure.
Nor need there be. For in the subjects upon which they are examined they show not only that kind of proficiency which comes by rote, but the intelligent and reasonable interest that shows the distance between education and mere instruction. An acquaintance with Holy Scripture is a feature of the school which has always been maintained, and there are not wanting here signs that the knowledge is not intellectual or mental only, but has the power of a living influence. English history and geography are well studied, the latter being taught on a system which lifts the children above the dreary old dry bones of latitude, longitude, square miles, and population to the more interesting relations of various places to each other by their products, trade, and peculiar situation. The boys, too, have made fair progress in elementary botany, one of the most delightful branches of knowledge with which to em
phasise a country ramble; and the girls show by their answers that they have been practically taught some of the plain laws of hygiene, and have learnt so much of 'physiology' as to know what are the processes of digestion, the value of properly-cooked food, and the necessity for fresh air, pure water, and cleanliness. The answers to the questions are remarkable for their bright ready intelligence, and as the examiners have come without previous communication, this is at least encouraging. The rapid fire of spelling, especially in the hard four-syllable words, is enough to make one stagger, especially that of the girls, who seem quicker and even more accurate than the boys in this respect; while in the excellent practice afforded by simple questions in mental arithmetic they are equally alert. The senior boys of course study Euclid, algebra, and the lower mathematics. Penmanship, mapping, freehand and other drawing are distinguishing parts of the education given at the school.
One cannot but see in the faces of some of the elderly ladies present an expression of mild surprise, mingled perhaps with a gentle regret (not envy) that they themselves had fewer advantages at the select academy' to which they were sent in their youth than are given to these orphan girls, to whose training such faithful care is being devoted. Some of the gentlemen, who listen with a comical pursing of their halfsmiling lips to the sharp responses of the little lads, think, perhaps, that they themselves would cut an insignificant figure if they were 'dodged in thirteen times,' or had, with only five seconds' hesitation, to declare the value of fifteen articles at five shillings and ninepence three-farthings apiece.
But when we come to the distribution of prizes we learn still more of the domestic economy of this great family. It is all very well for eighteen boys to obtain prizes and first-class certificates for mathematics in the Science and Art Department, it is excellent for the most competent of the girls and one or two of the pupil - teachers (who, like the junior masters in the boys' school, have mostly been trained in the school itself) to take extra rewards for proficiency; but let it be remembered that a certain number of the girls are daily drafted off for housework, and that the house girl's rewards are very valuable reminders of the useful character of the schooltraining; while the exhibition of needlework now in one of the rooms is in admirable accordance with a truly working' education. While on the subject of clothing and needlework, it is happily suggestive of the character of the school that the boys are neatly dressed in well-made dark tweed and cloth clothes, and that the girls are very prettily attired in dresses of a pleasant colour and straw hats, and not in the kind of repulsive uniforms which once distinguished all such institutions. Furthermore, the matron is particular to change the colour and to introduce some little regard to the fashions of children's dresses each year. There is much virtue in maintaining the feeling of self-respect in children, by not condemning them to be oddities and conspicuously unlike other people. The effect of this consideration has probably much to do with the modest, but yet free, happy, and unconstrained, demeanour of these orphans. They can all look into the face of the visitor and answer a question gently, pleasantly, and with a con