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The following is from
The writer of this introduction is John S. C. Abbott, whose brother, Jacob Abbott has frequently appeared in these pages.
The brothers Abbott grew up in southern Maine, attended Bowdoin College, and contributed to education -- particularly for women, and popular literature - much of it designed for children.
Some previous excerpts were taken from The
Issue #4: February 4, 1997 "School Days", and
Issue #70: September 22, 1998 "Revival (In the Old Sense) at Amherst".
Other material by Jacob Abbott appeared in:
Issue #79: March 30, 1999 (Abbott's Gentle Advice to Teachers)
Issue #80: April 13, 1999 (More Gentle Advice to Teachers)
Issue #81: April 27, 1999 (Rollo Learns to Read)
In reading the following, which is full of (fairly apt, no doubt) comparisons of the Sunday School Superintendent's task with that of Napoleon in managing his armies, it is amusing to know that Abbott was taken to task because his 1855 biography of Napoleon was considered much too eulogistic.
This Abbott, by the way, was in the Bowdoin class of 1825, along with
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and George Barrell Cheever
(for Cheever, see Issue #84: June 1, 1999:
Fire and Hammer of God's Word Against Slavery).
The Sabbath School has proved itself to be emphatically the nursery of the church. Wherever there is a well conducted Sabbath School with its system of Bible classes, there one invariably finds the organized church in a flourishing condition. There seems to be here developed almost as regular a progression of cause and effect, as in any of the works of nature. God shows himself as ready to co-operate, with his divine blessing, in this sowing of the seed and gathering in of the harvest of spiritual husbandry, as in any of the more material labors in which men may engage.
The skillful superintendence of a Sabbath School is an art of difficult attainment. It is a gift rather than an art. As Horace said of the poet, the superintendent is born such, not made. Some men have the innate capacity to superintend affairs. With comprehensive grasp they can embrace the totality of the School, with all its diversified interests, while, at the same time, not the minutest details of duty can escape their eagle glance. With tact, which God has given, they move, amidst their multifarious duties, unembarrassed, instinctively deciding, in every emergency, just what is to be done. As Caesar chose his generals, always getting the right man for the right place, so they, by the unerring light of an inward consciousness, decide who shall take the infant class, who a class of refined and cultivated young ladies, and who shall tame a set of coarse, vulgar, unruly boys, and who shall guide the mature and thoughtful minds of Christian adults in the highest branches of theology. They know how to classify the pupils, so that congenial and harmonious characters shall be together.
Not a ragged boy can peep in at the door of such a school but he finds himself lured to the very class to which he naturally belongs, and to the care of a teacher who will not allow him to slip from his grasp. If there is a teacher absent, the eye of such a superintendent instantly discerns the fact, and the defect is promptly rectified. Or rather, a skillful superintendent inspires his corps of teachers with such zeal, that almost never is a teacher absent from his post without providing a suitable supply.
As the efficiency of an army depends mainly upon its general, so does the efficiency of a Sabbath School depend almost entirely upon its superintendent. The first thing to be done in organizing a Sabbath School is to get a good Superintendent. When Marshal Ney, in the retreat from Moscow, performed a wonderful feat of heroism, in which he rescued a division of the army from apparently inevitable destruction, Napoleon grasped him by the hand, exclaiming, "An army of deer, led by a lion, is better than an army of lions led by a deer."
As an able general will inspire all his subordinate officers and soldiers with heroism, throwing, as it were his own enthusiastic spirit into their bosoms, so an efficient superintendent, by the energies of his own mind, can inspire a whole school with that ardor which glows and burns in his own heart. Fortunately the free institutions of our land, our noble system of common schools, and the elevating influence of labor, as combined in our manufactories, has developed, in every village of our country, men equal to these responsibilities. Any man who would make a good general, a good colonel of a regiment, a good superintendent of a factory, a good merchant having twenty clerks in his employ, possesses the intellectual qualifications requisite for a good superintendent. He needs only piety and zeal to fit him fully for the office.
William Cowper, the poet, as superintendent of the Lee Avenue Sabbath School, in Brooklyn, with its two thousand pupils, would run that magnificent institution into remediless ruin in less than six weeks. But you might search Christendom in vain for a more admirable teacher than he for a Bible Class of refined and highly cultivated young ladies. The reformed and regenerated pugilist, fresh from the ale house and the prize ring, who has just learned to sing the songs of Zion, placed over such a class of young ladies, would drive them out of the church by the second Sabbath. But it is doubtful if one could find a more desirable teacher, for an untamed class of vagabond boys, from any of the streets of our great cities.
Our Sabbath Schools are now attracting the attention and enlisting the energies of our ablest men. The future hope of the nation is greatly centering in these nurseries of piety. It is very important that the teachers, in these Sabbath schools, should be familiar with the plans adopted, and with the results of experiments in other schools. The writer of the following treatise has had facilities, such as few have enjoyed, to visit schools widely throughout our land, and particularly to study the organization and the routine of the most celebrated and successful Schools existing among us. The suggestions contained in this volume are so eminently practical, and have proved so successful in actual operation, and they cover so widely all the wants of the Sabbath School, that it may safely be asserted that the book will prove of great value wherever read. The thoughts which are here presented are not visionary theories. The book is founded on the Baconian philosophy, giving facts, and the results of actual experiments.
All that is here suggested may not perhaps wisely be introduced into any one school. Each superintendent has his own peculiar characteristics, his own modes of action, and he cannot pursue any administrative policy in a line antagonistic to his own nature.. But he cannot fail to find, in these pages, so rich in the record of the results of the labors of others, much to animate him, and to suggest to him that variety of thoughts and plans essential to the success of the Sabbath School.
The writer of this little treatise has, for some time, been the superintendent of a Sabbath School in New Haven, composed mainly of children from the most neglected classes in the community. In this school the principles contained in these pages, have been carried into action, with a degree of success which is quite wonderful, and which effectually invests this book with the character of a safe and practical guide.
JOHN S. C. ABBOTT.
New Haven, Conn., June, 1863. You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks