The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. VIIX: British
Cribs: An Institution of Providence
By Thomas Hughes (18221896)
From Tom Browns School-Days
AFTER breakfast, Tom, East, and Gower met as usual to learn their second lesson together. Tom had been considering how to break his proposal of giving up the crib to the others, and having found no better way (as, indeed, none better can ever be found by man or boy), told them simply what had happened: how he had been to see Arthur, who had talked to him upon the subject, and what he had said, and how for his part he had made up his mind, and wasnt going to use cribs any more. Not being quite sure of his ground, he took the high and pathetic tone, and was proceeding to say, how that, having his lessons with them for so many years, it would grieve him much to put an end to the arrangement, and that he hoped at any rate if they wouldnt go on with him, they should still be just as good friends, and respect one anothers motivesbut
Oh, Tommy, Tommy! said East, proceeding to do as he was bidden, that it should ever have come to this! I knew Arthurd be the ruin of you some day, and you of me. And now the times come. And he made a doleful face.
Now, dont you two be jawing away about young Squaretoes, struck in Gower. Hes no end of a sucking wiseacre, I dare say; but weve no time to lose, and Ive got the fives-court at half-past nine.
I say, Tom, cried East, having hit on a new idea, dont you remember, when we were in the upper fourth, and old Momus caught me construing off the leaf of a crib which Id torn out and put in my book, and which would float out on to the floor, he sent me up to be flogged for it?
Well, the doctor, after hed flogged me, told me himself that he didnt flog me for using a translation, but for taking it into lesson, and using it there when I hadnt learnt a word before I came in. He said there was no harm in using a translation to get a clew to hard passages, if you tried all you could first to make them out without.
And on this agreement they startedTom, satisfied with having made his confession, and not sorry to have a locus pnitentiæ, and not to be deprived altogether of the use of his old and faithful friend.
The boys went on as usual, each taking a sentence in turn, and the crib being handed to the one whose turn it was to construe. Of course Tom couldnt object to this, as, was it not simply lying there to be appealed to in case the sentence should prove too hard altogether for the construer? But it must be owned that Gower and East did not make very tremendous exertions to conquer their sentences before having recourse to its help. Tom, however, with the most heroic virtue and gallantry, rushed into his sentence, searching in a high-minded manner for nominative and verb, and turning over his dictionary frantically for the first hard word that stopped him. But in the meantime Gower, who was bent on getting to fives, would peep quietly into the crib and then suggest, Dont you think this is the meaning? I think you must take it this way, Brown. And as Tom didnt see his way to not profiting by these suggestions, the lesson went on about as quickly as usual, and Gower was able to start for the fives-court within five minutes of the half-hour.
Well, Tom, said East, recovering himself, I dont see any objection to the new way. Its about as good as the old one, I think, besides the advantage it gives one of feeling virtuous, and looking down on ones neighbours.
Tom shoved his hand into his back hair. I aint so sure, said he. You two fellows carried me off my legs; I dont think we really tried one sentence fairly. Are you sure you remember what the doctor said to you?
Yes. And Ill swear I couldnt make out one of my sentences to-day. No, nor ever could. I really dont remember, said East, speaking slowly and impressively, to have come across one Latin or Greek sentence this half that I could go and construe by the light of nature. Whereby I am sure Providence intended cribs to be used.
The thing to find out, said Tom meditatively, is how long one ought to grind at a sentence without looking at the crib. Now I think if one fairly looks out all the words one dont know, and then cant hit it, thats enough.
To be sure, Tommy, said East demurely, but with a merry twinkle in his eye. Your new doctrine, too, old fellow, added he, when one comes to think of it, is a cutting at the root of all school morality. Youll take away mutual help, brotherly love, or, in the vulgar tongue, giving construes, which I hold to be one of our highest virtues. For how can you distinguish between getting a construe from another boy, and using a crib? Hang it, Tom, if youre going to deprive all our schoolfellows of the chance of exercising Christian benevolence and being good Samaritans, I shall cut the concern.
I wish you wouldnt joke about it, Harry; its hard enough to see ones way, a precious sight harder than I thought last night. But I suppose theres a use and an abuse of both, and onell get straight enough somehow. But you cant make out anyhow that one has a right to use old vulgus-books and copy-books.
Hullo, more heresy! How fast a fellow goes down-hill when he once gets his head before his legs. Listen to me, Tom. Not use old vulgus-books? Why, you Goth, aint we to take the benefit of the wisdom, and admire and use the work of past generations? Not use old copy-books? Why, you might as well say we ought to pull down Westminster Abbey, and put up a go-to-meeting-shop with church-warden windows; or never read Shakespeare, but only Sheridan Knowles. Think of all the work and labour that our predecessors have bestowed on these very booksand are we to make their work of no value?
And then, is it not our duty to consult the pleasure of others rather than our own, and above all that of our masters? Fancy, then, the difference to them in looking over a vulgus which has been carefully touched and retouched by themselves and others, and which must bring them a sort of dreamy pleasure, as if theyd met the thought or expression of it somewhere or anotherbefore they were born, perhaps; and that of cutting up, and making picture-frames round all your and my false quantities, and other monstrosities. Why, Tom, you wouldnt be so cruel as never to let old Momus hum over the O genus humanum again, and then look up doubtingly through his spectacles, and end by smiling and giving three extra marks for itjust for old sakes sake, I suppose.
Well, said Tom, getting up in something as like a huff as he was capable of, its deuced hard that when a fellows really trying to do what he ought his best friendsll do nothing but chaff him and try to put him down. And he stuck his books under his arm and his hat on his head, preparatory to rushing out into the quadrangle, to testify with his own soul of the faithlessness of friendships.