Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Master Moody

Master Moody is a major figure in early school history, yet one about which relatively little is known.  We know that he came from a long line of ministers, including his father, "Handkerchief" Moody, who was the subject of Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous short story, "The Minister's Black Veil."  We also know that he was recommended for the job of master here by the Reverend George Whitfield, who became famous for his preaching throughout the colonies during the Great Awakening.  Likewise, we know he was near the top of his class at Harvard.  We do not know much, however about his early life prior to Harvard, nor do we even know what he looked like.  No verifiable portrait has been found, which is why he is depicted in our new mural with his back to us, holding the key to the Little Red School House in his hands.

Master Moody and his classroom, the Little Red School House, are forever linked in the minds of many.  Walking through the school house today, I picture Master Moody, standing amidst students like Theophilus Parsons, Rufus King, Nathaniel Gorham, and many others who would move on to their own greatness.  Moody accomplished in these years what all educators dream of: the ability to shape students lives and motivate them to reach their fullest potential. 

For his era, however, Moody's methods were unorthodox.  Moody required that students recite lessons aloud, despite the fact that students in his class were likely on different lessons.  Moody also believed in physical education; he regularly took the boys down to the river to swim.  Perhaps most unusual, however, was Moody's decision to hire a French dancing instructor to supplement the boys' more traditional curriculum.  This decision was met with anger by several alumni, including Benjamin Colman, who wrote a letter to Moody explaining the sinfulness of this decision.  This letter was one of the first items I discovered when working in the archives.  I find it fascinating and wanted to share it with all of you.  Here it is, reprinted in its entirety from the Essex Institute's Historical Collections from February of 1865.  Enjoy!

Sir Whereas I am enformed there is a proposal of setting up a manners School in Byfield, and am likewise enformed the Inhabitants are not only allow'd, but are desired to Signify their minds, or opinions of such a school, Wherefore I take the Liberty granted & do hereby humbly shew my opinion, and now do Say that if we have not already such a school amongst us, as that our Children & Youth are taught to behave in the most becoming manner, Towards God & man, I will Joyn with heart & hand to set up, & maintain such a school, the Wise man tells us Proverbs 9: 10: that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, and he adds the Knowledge of the holy is Understanding, I humbly Conceive, that the most sublime manners Consists in a suitable Behaviour before God, As he is the first the geatest & the best being, he on Whome we entirely & absolutely Depend for being & support, and without whose respect & favour we & ours are forever undone, and to be careless about our Childrens being Instructed in this point of good manners, viz to fall down in their hearts before God with a Reverential awe of the Divine Majesty, at all times, would argue us the most stupid among the Rational beings that God has made, yea the ox knows his owner, & the ass his masters Crib, & pays some suitable regard to. him according to their kind. I also desire that our Children may be taught to behave with good manners before men, viz, to Obey their Parents, to honour their Superiours, and lovingly and respectfully towards one another.

But if the school to be set up be a Dancing school, as in fact I Suppose that is the Design, Though the Term be changed, which undoubtedly is artfully done lest pious minds, & tender conciences should startle, if they knew that Dancing were the thing to taught & learnt, and I appeal to all that have observed such schools as are set up by the Denomination of manners schools, Whether the youth have not been proceeded with by the master, first to step & Compliment, and then as they become Ripe for such Exercise, to Dance, I suppose this is the Constant practice in such schools, as really as we learn our children the alphabet & Syllables, & then put them to Reading. — For my part I can't see what great or good end it would serve if our Children should lern to Dance. If it be said the Psalmist calls upon people to praise God with Timbrel & Dance, Psalm 150: 4: I answer we are not under that Jewish Dispensation, but under a purer & better viz a Gospel Dispensation, and I appeal to all whether for us to play & Dance before the Lord now in our Religious Worship as King David did of old would not look ridiculous and shamefull if not sinfull, Doubtless there was something in Davids performances then that God accepted, but we have nothing to do with those abolished sacrifices & services that were made use of then. further I take it that Dancing is Reproved or forbideu of God by the Prophet Isaiah Chapter 3: 16: Moreover the Lord saith because the Daughters of Zion are haughty, & walk with stretched forth necks, & Wanton eyes, Walking & mincing as they go, and making a Tinkling with their feet, by which tinkling with their feet, the late Rev! Doct' Mather in his Discourse on s* Text Understands Dancing, and truly as the margin reads it, Tripping nicely, I think we must understand it to mean Dancing, and I wish that our people would read & well Consider the s4 DoctTM Discourse.

I am against it on account of the Tendency of it, it being an Exercise that strikes Powerfully upon the fancy, Tends to Divert the mind & heart, exceedingly from a serious Consideration of the things of Religion & Eternity, and can I be Willing, that my Children lern & practice that which would carry their minds & hearts farther from God, is it not bad enough that by Nature they are alienated from the life of God Thro the Ignorance that is in them. Shall I encourage them to a vice, (which if it be forbid by the Word of God it must bear the Term) That tends to stupify Concience & prevent them from Seeking Converting grace, I dare not. Again I am against it on account of the Consequences of it, for Tho I suppose the present proposal is that the male Children be taught by themselves, yet when the female see this they will think they are very unkindly Delt by, if they may not have as Polite Education as their fellow youth, and will by one meens or other, press in & obtain the like Instruction, Which will introduce mixt Dancing, which I dread almost next to Whoring amongst us. The late Revd mr Whitefield says concerning himself, his acting plays, that although God brought good out of it, as it taught him a proper gesture of speaking, yet such a way of training up youth is as Contrary to the Gospel of Christ, as light is to Darkness, Hell is to Heaven, see his life, The same author in his sermon on the Prodigal son, has these words, page 15: "Before I go forward give me leave "to tell you who (because musick & Dancing are mentioned) may think "it lawfull to Dance & have Balls, but my dear friends, such things "are as much Contrary to the Gospel of Christ as light is to Dark"ness, and whatever you may think if God ever touch your hearts; & "make you new Creatures, you will be sick of these things, you will no "more be present at a Ball or assembly, then you will thrust your head "into the fire, I speak by Experience, no one hath been a greater sin"ner that way than the poor creature that is preaching the Gospel of "Jesus Christ to you, many a previous hour & night have I spent "this way, and thought it no harm as you may do, I went to the "Sacrament, I kept fasts before the Sacrement, I thought it no harm "to go to Dancing for all that, but my dear friends Take Warning. "it hath cost me many a Tear many a gloomy hour, to reflect upon "the many precious hours I have spent this way, and am amazed God "did not send me to Hell, Take warning by me it cost me many a "bitter hour, as it will you if ever you come to God, you may put "off convictions now, but when Deth takes hold of your souls, you will "see things in another light, you Will be amazed to think that you "should be Deceiving your own souls, Take heed of these things they"will eat out the vitals of Religion &c. thus he
And furthermore Dear Sir does not the appearances of things at this day forbid us doing anything of this nature, viz the Wise virgins slumbering and sleeping, the unconverted hardened in sin, people sermon profe, so that tho the most alarming Doctrines are inculcated upon us, the people give a decent attendance in hearing, and that seems to be all that is done, Where are persons enquiring what shall we do to be saved, how shall we escape the Wrath to come. are the things of Religion & Eternity of less Importance because people are rgardless of them. I think that such Considerations that Divine influence is awfully withheld from the meens of grace, so that our children and youth are growing up without the saving knowledge of God, is a very Meloncolly Consideration, & Calls for deep Humiliation at this Day, the pious remnant are small, the ways of Zion Mourn, because the precious Gospel feast is neglected an Slited. I appeal to your Self sir, and to all persons that know Experimental Religion, whether if the Spirit of God ware poured out as a spirit of conviction, so that sinners had a Just sense of their Sin & Danger, their lost & perishing condition while out of Christ Could they possibly have any Taste or Relish for Dancing. Or can you think that any person in the sweet exercise of Faith & love to God, under a true apprehenshon of the shortness of time and the vastness of Eternity, I say could such a person take pleasure in a Dancing School. Well Sir if persons that have the truest light, the Justest apprehenshions of things, Decline, shall not we also, and if a relish for such things spring only from fancy, Carnal Sensuality, Ignorance of God and Divine things, or for want of Due consideration, wherein our truest & best intrest consists, shall we give way to them. Moreover Divine Providence in our political affairs, I think calls for searchings of heart, God is evidently contending with us for our Sins, shaking his Threatning rod over our Nation, & this Province in particular, and does not God Chalenge it as Horrid contumacy in in his professing people, When he Calls to Mourning & Humiliation by his Rightious Judgements, for them to indulge mirth & Carnal Recreation. but to conclude, What Shall I say sir to my pious Christian friends in other Towns, to Whom I have Recommended the Dummer School & Master, as the best in the Province: or on the Continent, When they enquire of me thus or to the like effect, What has your good mr Moody Converted the Noble Dummer School into a Dancing School, Shall I not blush Think you, before God and man, I think I shall, yet tis a small thing that I be put to Shame, but tis no small matter for God to be offended & Dish[on]oured. Thus Dear Sir I have in a poor broken manner given some of my Sentiments on the matter proposed, I hope I give no offence in so doing, so far as I know myself, I stand ready to receive light, and to any mistake that I may have made, I am Sir with great respect your Obliged friend & humble Servant