One of a multitude, is an extremely well-written memoir, although it recollects on the hard upbringings of a working-class boy in the mid 19th century, his writing and understanding of the world is polished and impeccable! Unfortunately for those of George’s place in society and the area he grew up, education was not a long-lived luxury ‘In this struggle the working man’s wife and children stood as both the major obstacle to financial security and the chief means of warding off destitution. There was not only the continuing cost of feeding, clothing and probably educating an increasing family, but the unpredictable yet inevitable financial disasters of childbirth, sickness and death’ (Vincent, 1980)
Education and love for books is something that George mentions more than once in his memoir, there is a distinct section of it that is dedicated to him explaining his enjoyment at attending school and the relationships he built with his teachers. These types of rapports are unheard of really in Victorian memoirs or literature; when the Victorian schoolteacher is thought of it is strict and cruel, as this was a time of physical punishment. Although mentioned by George in his memoir, he also mentions how fond of his new teacher Tonybee Hall; ‘I can hardly estimate the value of the influence these visits had over me. I felt that a new ray of light was being shed into my life; instead of head-patting or condescension my teacher treated me as a comrade and equal, for which I was grateful.’ (Acorn, 1912) Throughout the entirety of the memoir, the period that Acorn describes his school life and education is the most which gets noted with names, places, and experiences, in comparison to the rest of his memories he recites.
There is also an instance with the school keeper where George begins to stay behind to keep out of the family home, in this way he is able to keep up conversations with someone who he sees as educated and interesting. With the friendship growing there is more interaction
‘I had continued to help the school-keeper at odd moments, and as a reward he asked me to go into his house and have something…” Well, George, I’ve got a ticket for that, and if you’d like to go I’ll give it to you. Would you go if I let you have it ? “
Which would now in modern-day education seem inappropriate it is clear the school keeper is helping to advance George’s knowledge and introduce him to events and shows that he would not normally. By being bright and interested in his education, it shows this was in a way, helping him further his education and cultural knowledge by forming these friendships and bonds with his teachers.
It also mentioned later on that there were a number of reunions after his education with specific teachers such as Mr. Godfrey ‘Mr. Godfrey Warden remained our friend for some years after we had drifted out of his class. Several reunions were effected, at which times he would take us to some West End entertainment ragged boys no longer, but straightforward, clean-living young men.’
‘I was treated with remarkable consideration due, I suppose, to my late schoolmaster’s commendations and was given every opportunity to shine.’
With the prerequisite idea of Victorian schoolteachers in mind being very stern and strict, it shines through that George must have been a favorable boy not just in personality but to be intelligent enough to be taken in by teachers and members of staff and seen as a companion highlights what type of a person he was as a child and his interest in education and being educated.
Although within the chapters ‘The Street Arab’ and others, there are mentions of children playing and causing slight havoc, George almost always turns away from this and it proves how he was much more interested in education, learning rather than being influenced by his peers and the messing they were involved in. ‘I became suddenly aware that this was no place for me’ Even at the young age of still attending school, he was well aware of his surroundings which shows a particular sense of maturity. From page 105 and the words ‘at the age of twelve, I was withdrawn from school and sent out “to find a job.”’ (Acorn, 1912) the entire mood and tone of George changes as he talks about many other aspects of life which proves what really meant the most to him.
Acorn, G., 1912. One of the Mulitutde. 1 ed. London: W. Heinemann.
Childrens Homes, n.d. Childrens Homes History. [Online]
Available at: http://www.childrenshomes.org.uk/MileEndRaggedDB/
[Accessed 07 05 2021].
Vincent, D., 1980. Love and Death and the Nineteenth Century. Social History, 5(2), pp. 223-247.