The Wig Snatcher (Snippets 19)

pennJohn Beveridge, originally a teacher in Edinburgh, moved to the USA and was appointed Professor of Greek and Latin at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1758.  In 1765 he wrote a volume of poems in Latin.  His life as a teacher was not so distinguised, according to Alexander Graydon, one of his pupils at the college, who wrote his memoirs in 1818, titled Memoirs of a Life, Chiefly Passed in Pennsylvania.

I have said that I was about to enter the Latin school.  The person whose pupil I was consequently to become was Mr John Beveridge, a native of Scotland, who retained the smack of his vernacular tongue in its primitive purity…

But, unfortunately, he had no dignity of character, and was no less destitute of the art of making himself respected than beloved.  Though not, perhaps to be complained of as intolerably severe, he yet made a pretty free use of the ratan and the ferule, but to very little purpose.  He was, in short, no disciplinarian, and, consequently, very unequal to the management of seventy or eighty boys, many of whom were superlatively pickle and unruly.  He was assisted, indeed, by two ushers, who eased him in the burden of teaching, but who, in matters of discipline, seemed disinclined to interfere,  and disposed to consider themselves rather as subjects than rulers. I have seen them slily slip out of the way when the principal was entering upon the job of capitally punishing a boy, who, from his size, would be likely to make resistance.  For this had become nearly a matter of course; and poor Beveridge, who was diminutive in his nature, and neither young nor vigorous, after exhausting himself in the vain attempt to denude the delinquent, was generally glad to compound for a few strokes over his clothes, on any part that was accessible. He had, indeed, so frequently been foiled, that his birch at length was rarely brought forth, and might truly be said to have lost its terrors…

So entire was the want of respect towards him, and so liable was he to be imposed upon, that one of the larger boys, for a wager, once pulled off his wig, which he effected by suddenly twitching it from his head, under pretence of brushing from it a spider; and the unequivocal insult was only resented by the peevish exclamation of Hoot, mon!

Two years after publishing his book of Latin poetry, Beveridge died.  Graydon was 17 at the time, but had already left the college at the age of 15.  He had been taught by a man in the twilight years of his life, which perhaps goes some way towards explaining his difficulty keeping the class in order.


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