D Munro – Grammar School Boy, Stirling

By Maxine Branagh-Miscampbell, PhD Candidate at the University of Stirling,researching childhood reading practices in eighteenth-century Scotland.

Munro borrows from the Leighton Library between the years 1821 and 1825 and is identified throughout as a “grammar school boy” from Stirling. He borrows a total of fourteen titles over the course of these years and often borrows four or five texts on a single date which suggests that he is making a specific trip to the Leighton Library to access reading materials.

There is a large gap of three years between his first visit in August 1821 and his next in April 1824 but these early borrowings reflect a typical early grammar school education in Latin and Greek with Munro borrowing a volume of Aristophanes in 1821 and volumes of Strabo, Livy and Ovid in 1824. However, the provision for Greek was still rather basic at that time, particularly in comparison to the Latin education a typical Scottish grammar school boy would have been receiving and it may have been that Munro had no access to a formal Greek education, except through a private tutor.

At that time, the Grammar School of Stirling taught only Latin and English (consisting of Writing and Arithmetic). The school was rebuilt in 1788 and was described as “commodious school houses” in the 1793 Statistical Account[1]. It remained the burgh’s grammar school until 1856, when the new High School replaced it, offering a much wider range of modern subjects, including Latin, Greek, French, geography and ancient history[2]. Despite its new buildings in 1788, by 1793, the grammar school still only has two teachers, one Latin and one English master.

The typical curriculum for a grammar school boy offered very little Greek until the middle of the nineteenth century. The Royal High School of Edinburgh tended to be one of the more progressive schools in terms of an eighteenth-century curriculum and even here, by the eighteenth century, class sets of Greek texts were not a major investment for the school library. The first class set of texts to be purchased was a set of twenty copies of the New Testament in Greek in 1773, suggesting that the study of Greek, which had been introduced in 1614 (Ross, p. 41), but was promoted by rector, Alexander Adam, had a religious, as well as linguistic focus. New Testament Greek, which is simpler than Classic Greek, would also have been an easier introduction to learning the language for pupils. In 1802, John Sinclair records an Analysis of the System of Education at Harrow for a Boy in the Remove for the Royal High School which shows that the Greek education at Harrow, which the High School was looking towards for inspiration at the beginning of the nineteenth century, consisted only of Homer, the New Testament and Scriptures in Greek[3]. By the end of the eighteenth century, many of the Scottish universities were also lamenting the fact that school boys arrived with little or no knowledge of Greek and the first-year courses were changed to accommodate this[4].

Munro’s wider borrowing in the Greek language suggests that he was augmenting his grammar school education in Stirling, either through private study or with a private tutor, and one of the purposes of his visits to the library in these earlier years was to access these titles. His borrowing in Latin suggests either that he is borrowing during the school holidays (which would account for the sporadic nature of his visits) or that the library at the Grammar School was limited (there is no mention of a library within the “commodious school houses”, unlike at the Royal High School where the new buildings included a purpose-built library). The Statistical Account of 1845 for Stirling suggests that there was a limited range of libraries in the parish even by this later date, and certainly nothing comparable to the collection available at Leighton[5]. Many of the Greek texts at Leighton Library also have Latin parallel text which Munro may have been using to access the Greek writing.

Munro’s later borrowings diversify somewhat. He still borrows Latin and Greek titles including the Greek Anthology, a collection of poems, and Gronovius’ Livy in 1825 and 1826 respectively but also begins to borrow a range of Sermon between 1825 and 1826, including those by Jean-Baptiste Massillon and Louis Bourdaloue, suggesting that Munro was also proficient in French by this time. He also borrows John Erskine’s Discourses in 1826. The diversity of these religious texts is interesting, suggesting that Munro was engaging with Catholic (Massillon), Jesuit (Bourdaloue) and Calvinist (Erskine) writings almost concurrently. In 1828, Munro borrows just one text, James Playfair’s A System of Geography, Ancient and Modern suggesting a further broadening of his interests and education.

The schools available to boys in Stirling around this time lend themselves to a piecemeal education, where they would have had to attend several different schools or engage in both public and private education, to become well-versed in a range of subjects. The expansive nature of Munro’s borrowings suggest that he was engaged in a broader education, whether self-motivated or through private tuition, than the Stirling Grammar School would have given him access to.

[1] Statistical Account 1793, vol. III, p. 281

[2] Statistical Account 1845, vol. III, p. 441

[3] John Sinclair (1802), Analysis of the educational system at Harrow (Edinburgh City Council Archives, SL137/4/1/19)

[4] Statistical Account 1799, vol. XXI, p. 82

[5] Statistical Account (1845), p. 443

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