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LETTER OF MOSES MERRILL, Ph.D.
As early as 1857 and 1858 the schoolhouse on Bedford street, Boston, became too narrow for the accommodation of the Latin and English High Schools, which were occupying it. The addition of another story was only a temporary relief. The schoolhouse on Mason street, abandoned by the Girls' High and Normal School, was brought into requisition ; then the Bowditch, on South street; last of all, the Primary schoolhouse on Harrison avenue.
Dr. Philbrick declared the necessity of a new building for these two schools in his “Third Semi-annual Report,” in 1861. As time advanced, and the necessity was beyond question, he became more urgent in his im. portunities for relief. He saw the need of a building for the future, and not simply for the present. At last the City Council, upon the recommendation of the School Board, voted to purchase a lot of land upon which to erect the largest schoolhouse in America, if not in the world.
The great fire of 1872 and the financial crisis of 1873 delayed operations till the election of Mr. F. O. Prince as mayor. In his first inaugural he proposed to plan for the erection of a building, without increasing the tax levy or the city debt.
Mr. George A. Clough, the city architect at that time, entered into the enterprise with the heartiest zeal, encouraged and aided by Dr. Philbrick, whose knowledge of schoolhouse architecture in Europe, — especially in
Vienna, — and of the needs of Boston, was most valuable in forming and completing the plan of the proposed building. Mr. Clough writes thus:
“The earliest impressions that I received upon school architecture were from Dr, Philbrick, as far back as 1871, and now, after fifteen years' experience, I have had an opportunity to see that his views were far in advance of all other writers upon the subject in this country. In reviewing my experience, I find myself constantly associ. ated with the early views of Dr. Philbrick.”
The schoolhouse was erected within the limits of the appropriation, and is a very useful auxiliary to the school system of Boston. It is indeed a large structure, but thoroughly substantial, and excites the admiration of all visitors. Dr. Philbrick lived to see the building occupied by the two schools above named, and by various evening schools, and to have the satisfaction of knowing that it was not too large.
While we are indebted to many municipal officers and private citizens for their deep interest in this project, vet no one could more justly claim the credit of urging and aiding the prosecution of it, from the beginning to the very end, than the lamented Dr. Philbrick.
All interested in high school education, and especially the graduates and pupils of the Latin and English High Schools, will ever cherish his memory for what he did for the welfare of these two schools. But no one knew better than he that it was not an imposing structure that made the school. Others will speak of his great and continuous influence, through a long life, upon the cause of edu
cation in its more direct and positive forms, and show that this influence extended wherever popular education exists.
LETTER OF SAMUEL ELIOT, LL.D.
My acquaintance with Dr. Philbrick was but slight until we were connected, twenty years ago, in the American Social Science Association. In the rather nebulous mass of that body there was a very distinctly formed nucleus devoted to education, and this attracted him. He shared in the discussions of the Department Committee, attended the general meetings, spoke at them, and wrote for them. There were not many really active members. Such as took part, unpremeditatedly and often unhappily, in annual meetings, and then disappeared from the sight of their associates for a twelvemonth, were the rule. He was one of the exceptions, and showed his interest in the less public work of the association throughout the year.
He was regarded as an educational authority, and his opinions, if not always followed, were always respected. He represented what is called the practical side.
Other members took views that may have seemed larger, and were certainly more inspiring to some of us; but he stood intelligibly and strongly for progress that might be made at once, while that which they urged needed a long, in some instances a very long preparation. Perhaps this contrast would have faded had the educational life of the association continued, but it came to a pause, if not to an end, and those interested in it, Agassiz, Pierce, Philbrick, and the rest, were separated.
A year or two later I was unexpectedly called to the charge of one of the Boston schools, — I might say, one of Dr. Philbrick's schools, for it was one he had done much to strengthen, and it had recently removed to a new building which he had exerted himself to plan and to secure. This brought me face to face with him as superintendent, and I could see from within what I had hitherto seen from without. My observations increased my regard for him and for the work he had done. He held a position strong in sixteen years of solid service. His opinions, generally speaking, were dominant in the school committee, at that time a more numerous body than the present board. Many of the masters and teachers in the schools owed their places more or less to him. Many of the schoolhouses had been built under his direc. tion. The courses of study in all grades had been laid out or modified by him more than by any other individual. The system of public instruction had just been completed to his satisfaction by the independent estab. lishment of a normal school. It was a triumphant moment in his career, and there were few, perhaps none, to dispute the success of his administration. Closer scrutiny might show, or appear to show, deficiencies. Education had become somewhat mechanical. The schools, as a whole, were possibly too much like a vast machine. It was the penalty, one may say, of an organization that had been painfully perfected, and in consequence, it may be, of the struggles required to perfect it, had become too much of an end and too little of a means. But, whatever might be thought of the system, no one
could question the zeal or the ability of its head. He was seen, or heard, or felt, in every part of it. Its interests were his, and he was quick to perceive where they were threatened, or how they could be advanced. He was contented with it, yet by no means so blindly as to be indifferent to its improvement. On the contrary he was unwearied in suggesting and in promoting such changes as he thought better than existing things. There is nothing in the present system, from the plan of a school building through all the offices of administration and instruction, and all classes of pupils, that does not feel, whether consciously or unconsciously, the touch of his hand, - a hand that has not vanished, and we may say will never vanish, from the Boston schools.
Of Dr. Philbrick's personal traits there are others to speak more fully. Let me but speak of one, and this is the generosity with which he welcomed a new associate in his labors. I could not forget if I would, -- and assuredly I would not, — the cordial kindness he showed me when I became one of the schoolmasters under him. He made it easier for me to enter upon a field of work, not new in substance, but utterly new in form, and in which I might have found greater difficulties but for his support. He resigned his office for a time while I was at my post, and I wrote him a note of regret which was wholly genuine. The last time I met him for any conversation by ourselves, he said, “ I have been reading the lines you sent me in 1874.” “I am glad of it," I answered, “for I can say now I meant every word I wrote then.”