A Childhood Injustice

A painting of a church and Franciscan monastery in Brazil.

Snippets 171.  Childhood can be a tough time, but it is made exponentially worse by a teacher who abuses his position.  In the days of corporal punishment, this problem could be magnified hugely for children.  In the following quote from Christian Johann Heinrich Heine’s memoirs, published posthumously in 1884, the author gives an example of the kind of suffering a teacher could inflict, from his own experiences.

My father was a very taciturn man, who disliked talking; and once, when, as a little boy — at the time I used to spend my work-days in the gloomy school of the Franciscan monastery, while on Sundays I remained at home — I happened to ask my father who my grandfather was, he answered half-laughingly and half-crossly: ”Your grandfather was a little Jew with a big beard.”

The next day, when I entered the school-room where my little comrades had already assembled, I hastened to tell them the important news, that my grandfather was a little Jew with a big beard.

Scarcely had I made this communication when it went from mouth to mouth, was repeated in all tones, and accompanied by imitations of the voices of animals. The little fellows jumped upon tables and benches, tore from the walls the blackboards, which, together with the inkstands, tumbled down upon the floor; and at the same time they kept laughing, bleating, grunting, barking, crowing — making an infernal noise, with the ever-repeated refrain that my grandfather was a little Jew and had a big beard.

The teacher of our class heard the hubbub, and entered the hall, his face red with anger, and asked immediately who had been the cause of the misdemeanor. As it always happens in such cases, everyone tried meekly to exculpate himself, and at the end of the investigation, I, poor fellow, turned out to be the person who by his communication in regard to his grandfather had originated the whole mischief, and I had to pay for it by being soundly whipped.

It was the first whipping which I ever received upon this earth, and on that occasion, for the first time, I made the philosophical observation that our Lord, who ordained the whipping, by his kind providence had also made the arrangement that the person who administers it finally gets tired, as otherwise the punishment might become unendurable.

The stick with which I was whipped was of a yellowish color, but the stripes which it produced upon my back were deep blue. I have never forgotten them.

The name of the teacher who so cruelly beat me has also been remembered by me — it was Father Dickerscheit; he was soon removed from the school for reasons which I have not forgotten either, but which I will not mention.

Sadly, I’m sure we can all read between the lines there.

Heinrich Heine was a German lyric poet, whose words were set to music by composers including Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann.  This will be the final quote from his memoirs.  Previous ones can be found by following the links below:


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About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyardview.wordpress.com Administrator of frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in 19th Century, Autobiographies, Books, Education, History, Memoirs, People, School, Snippets and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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