“Letters” by “The Schoolboy” appeared in four issues of The Juvenile Magazine, published in England in 1788. Purportedly by a boarding-school student, the essays describe boarding-school life.

For the most part, that is. The April letter begins with a discussion of a holiday at the school and ends with praise of the British form of government which acts as a lead-in for the June letter, with its exploration of British law.

Many pieces from The Juvenile Magazine were reprinted the next year in the The Children’s Magazine, the first American periodical for children. Among them were the first three pieces by The Schoolboy, with a major alteration. Gone is the praise of the British system of government—not unexpected in a new American periodical in the new American republic.

Included here are the Schoolboy letters from April and June, as they appeared in 1788.

“The Schoolboy” (from The Juvenile Magazine, London, April 1788; pp. 187-192)
To the
of the


Since you have been so obliging as to honour my first essays of writing for the amusement of young people, with so early an appearance in your entertaining Magazine, I cannot employ the leisure hours this afternoon affords me, in a way more pleasing to myself, or likely to be attended with better effects among my equals in age, than by an attempt to describe to them the mode in which our worthy instructor, Mr. Shepherd, acts towards us; by which he effectually gains, what is seldom attained by Masters, the love

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as well as fear of all his scholars.

But before I enter at large on the rules by which we are governed, suffer me just to recite a few words which passed between him and his pupils this morning, while assembled round the breakfast-table in our hall.

My good boys, said he, I suppose that few among you keep so poor an account of what are called by Almanack-makers, Red Letter Days, as not to recollect that this is Shrove-Tuesday[:] as it is customary in most schools, not only to celebrate that festival with a huge dish of pancakes, but also to indulge the boys with a holiday, I willingly adopt that long established plan; as I never enjoy any pleasure so highly as when it is in my power to let others partake of it equally with myself.

Although we are in what is called the Winter quarter, yet, as the weather is so uncommonly delightful, I am of opinion that a walk to Mr. W——’s park this afternoon, would be full as agreeable as in the midst of Summer; and though I think it imprudent that thus early in the year you should throw off your cloaths, sit much out of doors, or lay on the grass, as you too frequently do even in the Dog-days; yet, the amusement of racing, or as yourselves term it, hunting, would, in those spacious premises, be full as amusing now, as at any time of the year. I will, therefore, willingly accompany you in your walk; and as you all know, I ever encourage an unreserved freedom of

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discourse, if any thing worthy of remark occur, or you should wish to be informed on any subject, or chuse to communicate to me your own sentiments on any point; you, I dare say, need not be told, that you may speak to me with that frankness, which you know I admire; and be sure, at the same time, of receiving a satisfactory information to the question you may propose.

All our countenances sparkled with joy at this kind and pleasing proposal; and the hall echoed with the thanks of every one present.

Though I have been at two schools before, at both of which the Masters were generally beloved, yet I glory in thus publicly declaring it as my opinion, that from the real worthiness of Mr. Shepherd, we have not a boy who would not most joyfully obey him in all his commands; and though a half-holiday on Shrove-Tuesday, at other schools, is by no means unusual, yet the manner in which our excellent Governor confers even the most trifling favours, greatly enhances the value of them; and I will venture to say, there was not a single one among us whose heart did not exult with joy, more from the generous and friendly mode in which he discoursed to us, than at the idea of a few hours cessation from study.

Mr. Shepherd then addressed himself to me: As for you, my dear Doctor, I am heartily sorry that we cannot have you of our party; but the pain you suffer from your

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recent accident, will, doubtless, teach you one piece of wisdom, and convince you, that the advice contained in the old proverb, to ‘Look before you leap,’ would have proved an excellent caution, had you, in what is the cause of your present confinement, used your eyes before you had your legs: and I will risk my word for it, that the next time, prior to jumping over a hedge, you will observe well, whether there be a ditch on the other side.

Your readers may perceive, by what I have just said, that a pair of broken shins afford the present opportunity of my transmitting to you the excellent form of government by which our Society is regulated.

Mr. Shepherd has often told us, That of all the forms of government in the universe, the British is by far the best; and that the people are more likely to be happy, when in subjection to laws made jointly by King, Lords, and Commons, than when liable to the caprice of an Absolute Monarch, by whose unjust command a man may be deprived of his property, or even life;—or when ruled by the power of an overbearing Aristocracy, which he describes to be, when all government is vested in the hands of the great and opulent; and is the same, as if in this country, the whole dominion rested with the House of Lords;—or when governed by the directions of a Democracy, which he greatly likens to the House of Commons; so that in such case the people govern themselves,

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Mr. Shepherd, therefore, to give us a just notion of the constitution of our own country, and at the same time to convince our judgments of the reasonableness of such a government, has established a code of laws for the preservation of order and regularity, as well as of every moral virtue. It is true, that the whole authority originally springs from himself; and in that respect he may be deemed an absolute Monarch, for he can enact what laws he pleases; but the difference lies here—that when once they are enacted, he binds himself by his honour, which is as inviolable as truth itself, not to inflict either pains or penalties for any offence beyond which the law so infringed ordains. And further, as it is possible that for some crimes he might construe the letter of the law to a greater extent of latitude than what the genuine spirit of it ought with equity to allow, he suffers the poor culprit, before he submits to punishment, to be tried by a jury of his Peers, or comrades; and as they give evidence, he is either acquitted or condemned.

But my school-fellows being returned from the hunt, and the bell summoning me to join them at supper, I am under the necessity of breaking off, before I have related a circumstance which happened a few days ago, and which, as an illustration of what I have said respecting our juries, it was my intention to have sent you now; but that

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anecdote must be deferred till my next.


“The Schoolboy” (from The Juvenile Magazine, London, June 1788; pp. 324-328)
To the
of the


I was just about to give you an instance of the propriety and justice of our constitution, when I was called from my employment by the supper-bell. During that meal, I was informed by our Captain of all that had passed between Mr. Shepherd and his young com-

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panions, in their afternoon’s excursion; and as a recital of part of their conversation, will, I doubt not, be entertaining to some of your Juvenile readers, I have persuaded my friend, the Captain, to commit the substance of it to writings, and he engages to transmit it to you for insertion in some future Magazine: in the mean while, I will proceed to relate the anecdote which I have chosen for this letter, as a proof of the wisdom and goodness of our happy establishment.

Law VII, in our book of statutes, is designed to prevent us from hurting each other, by throwing stones, or any hard subtances that may cause pain, should they strike against us. I will venture to pronounce, that no one can object to the reasonableness of such a law, who is acquainted with the proneness of us young ones, to throw, with the greatest exertion of strength, stones, pieces of slate, or tile, and in short, any thing we pick up.

It happened, that the other day, a boy, who on account of his chubbiness, we usually call Punch, when, in the height of good- humour, threw from him, with considerable force, an oyster-shell, which being carried by the wind a different way than he intended, struck his most intimate friend on the temple, and cut so deep a wound, that the consequence might have proved very fatal, had it not been for the fortuante circumstance, that M. S—— the surgeon, was drinking

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tea with Mr. Shepherd, and, by his timely assistance, soon stopped the effusion of blood, and shortly abated his pain.

I am well persuaded, that the anguish felt by Punch far exceeded that of his wounded companion; and he would willingly have submitted to the discipline of the law, as an atonement for his offence; but some of his school-fellows advised him, before he yielded to punishment, to claim the rights of the constitution, and take his trial by jury. His heart bled for the agony he had caused his friend, and he had not a wish to elude the sentence of the law; but the advice of his comrades having reached the ears of Mr. Shepherd, that he might not be thought to punish, while there was an opinion prevailing that that punishment might be unjust, he would, by no means, pass sentence until poor Punch was found guilty by his Peers, tho’ in his own mind, he had transgressed the spirit of the law. A jury was accordingly empannelled, and the case stated to them.

But before I proceed to the issue of their determination, it is proper that I should inform your young readers of the tie which holds these jurymen in miniature to do justice between master and prisoner. They are bound only by their honour, a bond, in the breast of honesty, not less sacred than an oath; and which, among us, by the frequent summoning of juries, I am proud to say, is regarded in its true light; for to be ineligible to that respectable office (which

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those are whose honour is reproachable) is deemed so great a disgrace, that few among us but are careful to preserve unspotted so bright an ornament of a good character. Three are the number requisite to form a jury; against any of whom the poor culprit may object. Both sides of the question, with all arguments in favour of either, are respectively urged by the accuser and excused; and as this trio determine, the guilt or innocence of the prisoner is pronounced.

In the affair before us, the advocate for Punch strongly argued, that his client had not transgressed the law, as he had not thrown either stone, stick, slate, tile, or any thing expressed in the statute: and also, that if one school-fellow was to be condemned for merely the skimming of an oyster-shell, when no evil was intended, another might, with equal justice, be doomed to punishment, for an accident’s happening from an unintentional blow from a trap-ball or a cricket-ball.

Mr. Shepherd, in his reply, took the opportunity to explain to us, the difference between murder and manslaughter; and said, that if Punch had hurt poor Baker designedly, his offence might, with great propriety, be compared to the former; but, that if without design, in doing an action which was in itself strictly legal, he had equally injured him, he should simply liken it to the latter. But the present instance could be viewed in neither of those

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lights, he should, therefore, not endeavour to prove him guilty, either of premeditated malice or accidental damage. The crime of Punch, he contended, consisted in having acted contrary to law, in throwing such a substance, as too fatally had been proved, could, by its force, maim and hurt another; and, though an oyster-shell, judging by the letter of the law, was not a thing forbidden, yet, he maintained, that according to the spirit of it, it was equally as dangerous as a stone, stick, slate, or tile.

The jurymen were all convinced, by his reasoning, and unanimously, tho’ sorely against their wishes, gave sentence against poor Punch. But had only two of them been of that opinion, their decision would have been as binding; for the voice of the majority in our juries, is sufficient to determine the case before them; a circumstance not allowable in the law of the land, as, agreeably to that, I am told, to condemn or acquit, the whole number must be of one mind.


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