« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
XI. DAVID PERKINS PAGE.
Among the self-educated teachers of our time, the men who, as was said of old of poets, were born, not made" teachers, and in whom the instinct for knowledge, and for imparting it to others, was sufficiently strong to overpower all obstacles, and carry them to the highest eminence in their profession, there are none who have excelled the subject of this brief memoir.
David PERKINS Page was born at Epping, New Hampshire, on the 4th of July, 1810. His father was a prosperous, though not affluent farmer, and his early life was passed as a farmer's boy, with that scant dole of instruction which, forty years ago, fell to the lot of farmer's sons in small country villages in New Hampshire, or, for that matter, any where in New England. From his earliest years, however, the love of books was the master passion of his soul, and in his childhood, he plead often and earnestly with his father for the privilege of attending an academy in a neighboring town, but the father was inexorable; he had determined that David should succeed him in the management of the farm, and he did not consider an academical education necessary for this. His refusal doubtless exerted a good influence on his son ; for a mind so active as his, if denied the advantages of the school, must find vent in some exercise, and the admirable illustrations he drew from nature, so often, to embellish and enforco his instructions in after years, showed conclusively that, at this period of his life, the pages of the wondrous book of nature had been wide open before him, even though his father's fiat had deprived him of other sources of information.
But He who guides the steps of his creatures had provided a way for the gratification of the thirst for knowledge which was consuming the farmer's boy, and that by what seemed an uptoward Providence. At the age of sixteen, he was brought to the borders of the grave by a severe illness; for a long time he lingered between life and death; and, while in this condition, his friends despairing of his recovery, and his father, whose heart yearned over him, watching bis enfeebled frame, seemingly nigh to dissolution, the apparently dying boy turned his large, full eyes upon his father's face, and, in an almost inaudible whisper, begged that, if he recovered, he might be allowed to go to
Hampton Academy, and prepare to become a teacher. Was not this, indeed, an example of “the ruling passion strong in death?" The father could not refuse the request proffered at such a time; what father could? The boy did recover, and he did go to the academy, a plain farmer's boy; he dressed in plain farmer's clothes, and hence, some self-conceited puppies, whose more fashionable exterior could not hide the meanness of their souls, deemed him fit subject for their gibes and sneers; but his earnest nature, and his intense love of study were not to be thwarted by such rebuffs; he pursued the even tenor of his way, and, having spent some months at the academy, he taught a district school for the ensuing winter, and then returned again to the academy. Here his progress in study was rapid; but, the ensuing winter, we find him again teaching in his native town, and his further studies were prosecuted without assistance. The next winter he had determined to make teaching a profession, and accordingly, having taught a district school at Newbury, Mass., during the winter, at its close he opened a private school; a daring step for a young man but nineteen years of age, and who had enjoyed so few advantages of education, but the success which followed fully justified the self-reliance which led him to attempt it. At the beginning he had five pupils, but he persevered, and before the close of the term, the number he had contemplated was full. Here, as every where else, during his career as a teacher, was manifested that diligence, industry, and careful preparation for liis duties, which made him so eminently successful. He studied the lessons he was to teach, thoroughly, that he might impart instruction with that freshness and interest which such study would give; he studied his scholars, thoroughly, that he might adapt his teachings to their several capacities, encouraging the diffident and sluggish, restraining the forward, and rousing the listless and careless to unwonted interest and energy; he studied, too, their moral natures, and sought to wake in their youthful hearts aspirations for goodness and purity; and he studied whatever would enlarge his sphere of thought, intelligence, and professional usefulness.
Such a teacher was sure to rise in reputation; slowly, perhaps, but certainly, and hence it need not surprise us to learn that, within two years, he was associate principal of the Newburyport High School, having charge of the English department. Here, for twelve years, he was associated with Roger S. Howard, Esq., one of the most eminent teachers in Massachusetts, and how well he fulfilled his duties, Mr. Howard, who survived hiin, testifies. The same intense fondness for study characterized him, leading him to acquire a very competent knowledge of the Latin language, and something of the Greek; the
same earnest and conscientious performance of all his school duties, and delight in them, was manifested here as in his humbler position. It was while occupying this post, that he first began to come before the public as a lecturer. He was an active and prominent member of the Essex County Teachers' Association, one of the most efficient educational organizations in Massachusetts, and delivered before that body several lectures, which Hon. Horace Mann characterized as the best ever delivered before that or any other body. Of one of these, on “The Mutual Duties of Parents and Teachers,” six thousand copies were printed and distributed (3000 of them at Mr. Mann's expense,) throughout the state. Mr. Page's powers as an orator and debater, were of a very high order; he possessed, says Mr. Mann (himself an orator of no mean powers,)“ that rare quality, so indispensable to an orator, the power to think, standing on his feet, and before folks." As a teacher, he exhibited two valuable qualifications ; the ability to turn the attention of his pupils to the principles which explain facts, and in such a way that they could see clearly the connection; and the talent for reading the character of his scholars, so accurately, that he could at once discern what were their governing passions and tendencies, what in them needed encouragement and what repression. Thus, useful, active, and growing in reputation, Mr. Page remained at Newburyport till December, 1844.
In the winter preceding, the legislature of New York, wearied with the costly, but unsuccessful measures which, year after year, had been adopted for the improvement of her public schools, had appointed a committee of its own body, warm friends of education, to visit the normal schools of Massachusetts, and make a report thereon. The committee attended to their duties, and made an elaborate report in favor of the adoption of the normal school system. That report was adopted, and an appropriation of ten thousand dollars outfit, and ten thousand dollars per annum for five years, was voted, to establish a normal school, as an experiment. The friends of education in New York felt that, liberal as this appropriation was, every thing depended upon securing the right man to take charge of it, and long and carefully did they ponder the question, who that man should be. Mr. Page's reputation had already outrun the town and the county in which he resided; and, on the recommendation of Hon. Horace Mann, and other friends of education in Massachusetts, Prof. (afterward Bishop,) Potter, Col. Young, and other members of the committee, entered into correspondence with him, on the subject. In reply to the first communication, he addressed numerous inquiries to the committee, concerning the plan proposed for the organization and management of the school.
These questions were so pointed, and so well chosen, that Col. Young, on hearing them, at once exclaimed, “That is the man we need,” and expressed himself entirely satisfied, without any further evidence. So cautious, however, were the committee, that it was decided that, before closing the negotiation, Dr. Potter should visit Newburyport, and have a personal interview with Mr. Page. He accordingly repaired thither, called at Mr. Page’s residence, and found him in his every-day dress, and engaged in some mechanical work connected with the improvement of his dwelling. An interview of a single half hour so fully prepossessed him with Mr. Page's personal bearing and conversation, that he at once closed the negotiations with him, and secured his services as principal of the New York State Normal School.
Mr. Page closed his connection with the Newburyport High School about the middle of December, 1844; not without numberless demonstrations of regret and affectionate regard on the part of his pupils and friends. While on his way to Albany, he spent a night with Mr. Mann, in Boston, and the new duties he was about to undertake, the obstacles and difficulties, the opposition and misrepresentations he would meet, and the importance and necessity of success, formed themes of converse which occupied them till the early morning hours ; in parting, Mr. Mann said to Mr. Page, as a veteran commander might have said to a youthful officer going to lead a forlorn hope, "SUCCEED OR DIE.” The words sank deep into his heart; they were adopted as his motto in the brief but brilliant career which followed; and once, on recovering from a dangerous illness, he reminded his friend of his injunction, and added, "I thought I was about to fulfill the last alternative.” He arrived at Albany a few days before the commencement of the “experiment," as the normal school was designated, and found every thing in a chaotic state; the rooms intended for its accommodation, yet unfinished; there was no organization, no apparatus, and indeed very few of the appliances necessary to a successful beginning; while the few were hoping, though not without fear, for its success, and the many were prophesying its utter failure. From this chaos, the systematic mind of Mr. Page soon evolved order; full of hope, and confident of the success of the normal school system, himself, he infused energy and courage into the hearts of its desponding friends, and caused its enemies to falter, as they saw how all obstacles yielded to the fascination of his presence, or the power of his will. The school commenced with twenty-five scholars, but ere the close of its first term, the number had increased to one hundred. At the commencement of the second term, two hundred assembled for instruction. From this time its course was onward; every term