The Master and His Scholar

A Schoolmaster found his Scholar hanging to a branch in the river. Scholar had tried to swim unaided before he could. The Master helped teach the lesson.

Know your abilities before attempting a task.

JBR CollectionJBR Collection

Master and ScholarAs a Schoolmaster was walking upon the bank of a river, not far from his School, he heard a cry, as of some one in distress. Running to the side of the river, he saw one of his Scholars in the water, hanging by the bough of a willow. The Boy, it seems, had been learning to swim with corks, and fancying that he could now do without them, had thrown them aside. The force of the stream hurried him out of his depth, and he would certainly have been drowned, had not the friendly branch of a willow hung in his way. The Master took up the corks, which were lying upon the bank, and threw them to his Scholar. “Let this be a warning to you,” said he, “and in your future life never throw away your corks until you are quite sure you have strength and experience enough to swim without them.”

Samuel CroxallSamuel Croxall

Croxall - Master and ScholarAS a Schoolmaster was walking upon the bank of a river, not far from his school, he heard a cry as of one in distress; advancing a few paces farther, he saw one of his Scholars in the water, hanging by the bough of a willow. The boy had, it seems, been learning to swim with corks: and now, thinking himself sufficiently experienced, had thrown those implements aside, and ventured into the water without them; but the force of the stream having hurried him out of his depth, he had certainly been drowned, had not the branch of a willow, which grew on the bank, providentially hung in his way. The Master took up the corks, which lay upon the ground, and throwing them to his Scholar, made use of this opportunity to read a lecture to him upon the inconsiderate rashness of youth. Let this be an example to you, says he, in the conduct of your future life, never to throw away your corks till time has given you strength and experience enough to swim without them.


Some people are so vain and self-conceited, that they will run themselves into a thousand inconveniences, rather than be thought to want assistance in any one respect. Now there are many little helps and accommodations in life, which they who launch out into the wide ocean of the world ought to make use of as supporters to raise and buoy them up, till they are grown strong in the knowledge of men, and sufficiently versed in business, to stem the tide by themselves. Yet many, like the child in the fable, through an affectation of being thought able and experienced, undertake affairs which are too big for them, and venture out of their depth, before they find their own weakness and inability.

Few are above being advised: nor are we ever too old to learn any thing which we may be the better for. But young men, above all, should not distain to open their eyes to example, and their ears to admonition. They should not be ashamed to furnish themselves with rules for their behaviour in the world. However mean it may seem to use such helps, yet it is really dangerous to be without them. As a man who is lame with the gout, had better draw the observations of people upon him, by walking with a crutch, than expose himself to their ridicule by tumbling down in the dirt. It is as unnatural to see a young man throw himself out in conversation with an assuming air, upon a subject which lie knows nothing of, as for a child of three months old to be left to go without its leading-strings; they are equally shocking and painful to the spectator. Let them have but patience till time and experience strengthen the mind of the one, and the limbs of the other, and they may both make such excursions as may not be disagreeable or offensive to the eye of the beholder.

And here it may not be improper to say something by way of application to the whole. It is not expected that they who are versed and hackneyed in the paths of life should trouble themselves to peruse these little loose sketches of morality; such may do well enough without them. They are written for the benefit of the young and the unexperienced; if they do but relish the contents of this book, so as to think it worth reading over two or three times, it will have attained its end; and should it meet with such a reception, the several authors originally concerned in these fables, and the present compiler of the whole, may be allowed not altogether to have misemployed their time, in preparing such a collation for their entertainment.