The Provost

Author: John Galt

Chapter XL—The School-House Scheme

The spirit of opposition that kithed towards me in the affair of Robin Boss, the drummer, was but an instance and symptom of the new nature then growing up in public matters. I was not long done with my second provostry, when I had occasion to congratulate myself on having passed twice through the dignity with so much respect; for, at the Michaelmas term, we had chosen Mr Robert Plan into the vacancy caused by the death of that easy man, Mr Weezle, which happened a short time before. I know not what came over me, that Mr Plan was allowed to be chosen, for I never could abide him; being, as he was, a great stickler for small particularities, more zealous than discreet, and even more intent to carry his own point, than to consider the good that might flow from a more urbane spirit. Not that the man was devoid of ability—few, indeed, could set forth a more plausible tale; but he was continually meddling, keeking, and poking, and always taking up a suspicious opinion of every body’s intents and motives but his own. He was, besides, of a retired and sedentary habit of body; and the vapour of his stomach, as he was sitting by himself, often mounted into his upper story, and begat, with his over zealous and meddling imagination, many unsound and fantastical notions. For all that, however, it must be acknowledged that Mr Plan was a sincere honest man, only he sometimes lacked the discernment of the right from the wrong; and the consequence was, that, when in error, he was even more obstinate than when in the right; for his jealousy of human nature made him interpret falsely the heat with which his own headstrong zeal, when in error, was ever very properly resisted.

In nothing, however, did his molesting temper cause so much disturbance, as when, in the year 1809, the bigging of the new school-house was under consideration. There was, about that time, a great sough throughout the country on the subject of education, and it was a fashion to call schools academies; and out of a delusion rising from the use of that term, to think it necessary to decry the good plain old places, wherein so many had learnt those things by which they helped to make the country and kingdom what it is, and to scheme for the ways and means to raise more edificial structures and receptacles. None was more infected with his distemperature than Mr Plan; and accordingly, when he came to the council-chamber, on the day that the matter of the new school-house was to be discussed, he brought with him a fine castle in the air, which he pressed hard upon us; representing, that if we laid out two or three thousand pounds more than we intended, and built a beautiful academy and got a rector thereto, with a liberal salary, and other suitable masters, opulent people at a distance—yea, gentlemen in the East and West Indies—would send their children to be educated among us, by which, great fame and profit would redound to the town.

Nothing could be more plausibly set forth; and certainly the project, as a notion, had many things to recommend it; but we had no funds adequate to undertake it; so, on the score of expense, knowing, as I did, the state of the public income, I thought it my duty to oppose it IN TOTO; which fired Mr Plan to such a degree, that he immediately insinuated that I had some end of my own to serve in objecting to his scheme; and because the wall that it was proposed to big round the moderate building, which we were contemplating, would inclose a portion of the backside of my new steading at the Westergate, he made no scruple of speaking, in a circumbendibus manner, as to the particular reasons that I might have for preferring it to his design, which he roused, in his way, as more worthy of the state of the arts and the taste of the age.

It was not easy to sit still under his imputations; especially as I could plainly see that some of the other members of the council leant towards his way of thinking. Nor will I deny that, in preferring the more moderate design, I had a contemplation of my own advantage in the matter of the dyke; for I do not think it any shame to a public man to serve his own interests by those of the community, when he can righteously do so.

It was a thing never questionable, that the school-house required the inclosure of a wall, and the outside of that wall was of a natural necessity constrained to be a wing of inclosure to the ground beyond. Therefore, I see not how a corrupt motive ought to have been imputed to me, merely because I had a piece of ground that marched with the spot whereon it was intended to construct the new building; which spot, I should remark, belonged to the town before I bought mine. However, Mr Plan so worked upon this material, that, what with one thing and what with another, he got the council persuaded to give up the moderate plan, and to consent to sell the ground where it had been proposed to build the new school, and to apply the proceeds towards the means of erecting a fine academy on the Green.

It was not easy to thole to be so thwarted, especially for such an extravagant problem, by one so new to our councils and deliberations. I never was more fashed in my life; for having hitherto, in all my plans for the improvement of the town, not only succeeded, but given satisfaction, I was vexed to see the council run away with such a speculative vagary. No doubt, the popular fantasy anent education and academies, had quite as muckle to do in the matter as Mr Plan’s fozey rhetoric, but what availed that to me, at seeing a reasonable undertaking reviled and set aside, and grievous debts about to be laid on the community for a bubble as unsubstantial as that of the Ayr Bank. Besides, it was giving the upper hand in the council to Mr Plan, to which, as a new man, he had no right. I said but little, for I saw it would be of no use; I, however, took a canny opportunity of remarking to old Mr Dinledoup, the English teacher, that this castle-building scheme of an academy would cause great changes probably in the masters; and as, no doubt, it would oblige us to adopt the new methods of teaching, I would like to have a private inkling of what salary he would expect on being superannuated.

The worthy man was hale and hearty, not exceeding three score and seven, and had never dreamt of being superannuated. He was, besides, a prideful body, and, like all of his calling, thought not a little of himself. The surprise, therefore, with which he heard me was just wonderful. For a space of time he stood still and uttered nothing; then he took his snuff-box out of the flap pocket of his waistcoat, where he usually carried it, and, giving three distinct and very comical raps, drew his mouth into a purse. "Mr Pawkie," at last he said; "Mr Pawkie, there will be news in the world before I consent to be superannuated."

This was what I expected, and I replied, "Then, why do not you and Mr Scudmyloof, of the grammar school, represent to the magistrates that the present school-house may, with a small repair, serve for many years." And so I sowed an effectual seed of opposition to Mr Plan, in a quarter he never dreamt of; the two dominies, in the dread of undergoing some transmogrification, laid their heads together, and went round among the parents of the children, and decried the academy project, and the cess that the cost of it would bring upon the town; by which a public opinion was begotten and brought to a bearing, that the magistrates could not resist; so the old school-house was repaired, and Mr Plan’s scheme, as well as the other, given up. In this, it is true, if I had not the satisfaction to get a dyke to the backside of my property, I had the pleasure to know that my interloping adversary was disappointed; the which was a sort of compensation.


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Chicago: John Galt, "Chapter XL— The School-House Scheme," The Provost, trans. Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946 in The Provost (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831), Original Sources, accessed August 7, 2022,

MLA: Galt, John. "Chapter XL— The School-House Scheme." The Provost, translted by Garnett, Constance Black, 1862-1946, in The Provost, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831, Original Sources. 7 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Galt, J, 'Chapter XL— The School-House Scheme' in The Provost, trans. . cited in 1831, The Provost, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 7 August 2022, from