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  THE VILLAGE SCHOOLMASTER – OLIVER GOLDSMITHCRITICAL APPRECIATION The Village Schoolmaster   is an extract from Goldsmith’s famous long poem The Deserted Village  (1770)in which he describes the decline of a village in Ireland in the nineteenth century. The extract describingthe schoolmaster is said to have been inspired by one Thomas Byrne, an ex-soldier who taughtGoldsmith when he was a boy.The poem has a rural background. It depicts scenes, people, manners and objects of a village in 18 th century Britain. It is a pastoral lyric which abounds in pictures of village life and contains nostalgicreflections from Goldsmith’s boyhood days. The speaker fondly remembers his childhood schooldays ata village school. The poem is remembered for the formal simplicity of its language and poetic style, andfor the sincerity of the emotions and sentiments that it expresses. The tone is sympathetic yet gentlyhumorous.This poem is a simple word-picture of the tale of a village school master. It was a small village school atLissoy, the Irish village where the poet himself had studied. Mr. Thomas Paddy Byrne was the villageschool master. This poem has become one of the immortals of literature because of the ring of authenticity, for he was a pupil of this school master. With a passing reference to the location, the poetgets to work to describe the man. The school master's moods, the situation in the classroom and thereactions of the learners have been described in this poem. It is sufficiently clear that Goldsmith lookedupon the teacher with the mixed feelings of fear, respect and humour. TEACHER’S CHARACTER   His appearance was stern  He was a strict disciplinarian – the pupils were terrified of him  He was jovial by nature – joked with his pupils  He was kind  He loved learning and was intense about it  He was extremely knowledgeable – the villagers were amazed at all that he knew  He had very good debating skills – he could argue at length using long, difficult wordsThe poet gives a humorous study of the teacher's character but never loses his sympathy for him. Hemakes an analysis of the character and capabilities of the schoolmaster. He was a staunch disciplinarianwho took his students to task if they played truant. The poet, as a student, was very aware of this aspectof the school master but he appreciated his stand and came to love and respect him. The severe measurestaken by the teacher had a soft and pious motive behind them as he wanted to see his pupils 'turn intolearned people.The school master's character is portrayed with many paradoxes. He is an able and strict man yet hisschool is always noisy. He is severe in manner but at the same time is jovial with a stock of seasoned jokes. He is supposed to be a great scholar though he can only read, write and solve simple sums of arithmetic. He is stern and yet kind.The school master is acknowledged as a great erudite person by the entire village and even the parsonrecognizes his skill in debate. The rhetoric of the teacher leaves the rustics gazing in admiration. The poem ends on a note of humour. The teacher is not to be taken as a mere satirical sketch. Apart from hisscholarly pretensions, he has been a remarkably kind and benevolent gentleman. The frown on his faceoften hides a heart overflowing with love and sympathy. He has a smattering of useful informationwhich he puts to good use with the illiterate and ignorant villagers. Thus he projects a larger than lifeimage of himself before them. He has an opinion on every issue and loves to engage in debates particularly with the village priest He knows that in the eyes of the villagers the outcome of the debatedepends more on sound than on sense. Hence he continues arguing even after he has lost his point.  Goldsmith’s pen-picture is a masterpiece of portrayal. He manages to poke fun at the school master while retaining respect and awe for him. The school master is neither idealized nor trivialized. In fact, heis humanized. And therein lies the strength of this poem. ANNOTATIONS 1 .yon  – yonder, over there2 .straggling fence  – moving haphazardly3 .skirts  – borders4 .the way  – the road to the school5 .blossomed furze  – a thorny evergreen shrub with yellow flowers6 .unprofitably gay  – uselessly bright, as this beauty serves no purpose since no one is there to see it7 .noisy mansion  – large stately building. Here the word is used ironically to describe the smallvillage school, resounding with the noise made by the pupils.8 .skilled to rule  – able and experienced in running efficiently9 .severe  – strict10 .stern to view  – harsh in appearance11 .truant   – a student who stays away from school without permission12 .boding tremblers  – students who trembled with fear, anticipating punishment13 .learned to trace  – had acquired the skill of interpreting the signs14 .the day’s disasters  – misfortunes that were likely to occur that day15 .his morning face  – the expression on the schoolmaster’s face first thing in the morning 16 .full well   – heartily, enthusiastically17. counterfeited glee  – pretended/ forced/ artificial enjoyment18.  full well   – eagerly 19. busy whisper   – the news was promptly passed on among the pupils 20. circling round   – being communicated to one another 21. conveyed  – passed on22. dismal tidings  – bad news23.  frowned   – looked angry24. in aught   – in anything25. in fault   – was responsible26. if severe…in fault   – if he was strict, it was because of the love he had for learning27. the village all   – all the villagers28. cipher   – calculate, work out problems in arithmetic29. terms  – this refers to a legal term: it means the time of the year and date for payment of rents,wages, etc.30. tides  – seasons and times of church festivals in the year, e.g., Whitsuntide, Eastertide, eventide,etc.31.  presage  – predict, foretell32.  gauge  – find the capacity or content of vessels by measurement and calculation. For example, hecould measure the depth of a vessel and estimate how much it would hold.33. arguing  – debating34.  parson  – priest. In an age when education was not widespread, the parson and the teacher werethe only educated persons in a village.35. owned   – admitted, acknowledged36. vanquished   – defeated37. words of learned length  – long and difficult words38. thundering sound   – expressed loudly39. amazed   – surprised  40.  gazing rustics  – staring villagers41. ranged around   – gathered around him42. wonder grew that one small head could carry all he knew  – their surprise increased at how thesmall head of the teacher could hold so much knowledge.
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