Edward Thring - Encyclopedia

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EDWARD THRING (1821-1887), English schoolmaster, was the son of John Gale Dalton Thring, rector of Alford, Somerset, and was born on the 19th of November 1821. His elder brother was Henry, afterwards Lord, Thring (1818-1907) the distinguished Parliamentary counsel (1868-1886), who was made a peer in 1886. Edward was educated first at Ilminster grammar school and afterwards at Eton, where he became head of the school, and Captain of Montem in 1841, the last occasion on which that ancient festival was celebrated. He then entered King's College, Cambridge, won the Porson Prize for Greek Verse, and was elected fellow. At that time King's College scholars retained the privilege of proceeding to a degree without examination, but Thring thought the maintenance of this usage inexpedient in the interests of learning and wholly indefensible in principle, and his vigorous protests against it aroused lively academic controversy, and became effective in 1851, when it was abolished. On leaving the university in 1846 he was ordained, and served for a short time as curate in Gloucester. Here he took remarkable interest in the elementary school of the parish, and ever afterwards attributed much of his professional success and his insight into educational principles and methods to the experience he had acquired in imparting the humble rudiments of learning to the children of the poor. After an interval of two or three years, spent partly in private tuition and partly as curate at Cookham Dean, he married in 1853 a daughter of Carl Koch, commissioner of customs at Bonn, and was elected to the mastership of Uppingham School, a post which he retained until his death in 1887. That school had been founded in 1584, was slenderly endowed, poorly housed, and little known. Thring found only twenty-five boys in it, but he succeeded in raising it, both in numbers and repute, to a position in the first rank among English public schools. He had a strong conviction that there should be a limit to the number of pupils entrusted to the care of one head master, and he fixed that limit at 300, although, owing to the increasing popularity of the school, he was under strong temptation to exceed it. Little by little he surrounded himself with a loyal staff of masters, raised money for the building and equipment of a noble schoolroom and chapel, besides class-rooms and eleven boarding-houses. Among the distinctive features of his plans and achievements were: (I) his strong sense of the need for a closer study of the characteristics of individual boys than is generally found possible in large public schools; (2) his resolute adherence to the discipline of the ancient languages, in connexion with English, as the staple of a liberal education; (3) his careful provision of a great variety of additional employments and interests, in studies and in games, to suit the aptitudes of different pupils; (4) the value he attached to the aesthetic side of school training, as evinced in the encouragement he gave to music and to drawing and to the artistic decoration of the schoolrooms; and above all (5) his rebellion against mere routine, and his constant insistence on the moral purpose of a school as a training-ground for character, rather than as a place solely concerning itself with the acquisition of knowledge. The vigour and intrepidity of his character were conspicuously shown in 1875, when an outbreak of fever made Uppingham for a time untenable, and when, at a few days' notice, he took a disused hotel and some boarding-houses at Borth, on the Cardiganshire coast, and transported the whole 300 boys, with 3 o masters and their households, to it as to a city of refuge. Here the school was carried on with undiminished and even fresh zest and efficiency for fourteen months, during which needful sanitary measures were taken in the town.

Unlike Arnold, with whose moral earnestness and lofty educational aims he was in strong sympathy, he took little or no part in outside controversies, political or ecclesiastical. All the activity of his life centred round the school. His was the first public school to establish a gymnasium, and the first to found a town mission in a district of South London, with a view to interest the boys in an effort to improve the social condition of the poor. He took the first step in 1869 in the formation of the Head Masters' Conference, an institution which has ever since done much to suggest improvements in method and to cultivate a sense of corporate life and mutual helpfulness among the teachers in the great schools. And in 1887 he took the bold and unprecedented step of inviting the Association of Head Mistresses to Uppingham, and giving to them a sympathetic address. He also formed an association in Uppingham, with lectures, cookery classes, concerts, and other aids to the intellectual and social improvement of the residents of the little town. He gave valuable evidence before the Schools Inquiry Commission of Lord Taunton in 1866, but it was very characteristic of him that he dreaded thel intrusion of public authority, whether that of royal commissioners or of the legislature, into the domain of the school, wherein he thought it indispensable that the liberty and personal inventiveness and enthusiasm of teachers should have full scope and be hindered by no official regulations.

His contributions to literature were not numerous, but were all closely connected with his work as a schoolmaster. They were: Thoughts on Life Science (1869), written under the assumed name of Benjamin Place; Education and School (1864); The Theory and Practice of Teaching (1883) Uppingham School Sermons (1858); The Child's Grammar (1852; The Principles of Grammar (1868); Exercises in Grammatical Analysis (1868); School Songs (1858); Borth Lyrics, poems and translations (1887); and a volume of Miscellaneous Addresses, published after his death in 1887.

The fullest account of his life is that written by G. R. Parkin (1898), containing copious extracts from his diary and letters, A Memory of Edward Thring; and Uppingham by the Sea, written by J. H. Skrine, the warden of Glenalmond, who was first a pupil and afterwards an assistant master at the school, presents a vivid and attractive picture of Thring's active life, and an affectionate and yet discriminating estimate of his character. Other particulars may be found in the chapter devoted to his biography in Sir Joshua Fitch's Educational Aims and Methods, and in Edward Thring, Teacher and Poet, by Canon H. D. Rawnsley. (J. G. F.)

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