Page images
PDF
EPUB

siotis, all tending to the same point. The manner of conducting this process is sketched with a great deal of knowledge and judgement in these essays. If the magnitude and certainty of the effect to be thus produced are assumed in terms rather too little qualified, it is an error on the right side; since it will invigorate the motive by which parents and friends are to be prompte'd to design and perseverance, and since nothing can be practically more mischievous, than the fancy that all is to be done by some innate predisposition and adaptation, aided by fortuitous occurrences. At the same time, our author does not need to be reminded, that, as a thousand boys of the same ages as Cowley and Reynolds might have met with, and partly read, the Fairy Queen, and the book on painting, without receiving from them any strong determination, to poetry or painting; so, from the same cause,—the same intrinsic mental difference, whatever be the ultimate principle of that difference,—the proposed discipline of multiplied and successive impressions, passing just an equal length of time on a thousand .youthful minds, will eventually leave, notwithstanding, all imaginable varieties in their dispositions and qualifications. Nevertheless, there will be many more-heroes, or orators, or engineers, than if.no such process had been employed; and those who fail to become heroic, or eloquent, or scientific, will yet be less absolutely the reverse of those characters, than they would otherwise have been. Our author touches but briefly on the nature of that undeniable original distinction which constitutes what is denominated genius; and maintains, very reasonably, that whatever might have been thq nature, the . cause, or the amount, of the inherent original difference between such men as Newton, Milton, and Locke, and ordinary men, that original difference was probably far less, than the actual difference after the full effect of impressions, cultivation, and exertion. He suggests some very useful cautions-to parents, against treating their children according to the mysterious and invidious distinction of ' genius' and 'no genius.'

* A father who is persuaded that there is an immeasurable difference between the natural capacities of children, and who admits all the pretensions and all the prerogatives of genius, will act in consequence of this conviction, and, in the management and education of a family, would not perhaps hold an equal hand over his children: he would probably neglect those, whom he believed to be dunces, and thus create or confirm the inferiority that he presupposed j these whom he fancied to be geniuses, he would on the contrary exalt so much in their own conceit, that he would run the risk of making them disdain that patient labour, which is essential to the success and utility of the greatest natural abilities. He may be led by his erroneous opinion into t still greater danger in moral education, the danger of exciting feeling* which render their victims at once odious and wretched. No intellec- . tual attainments, nor their most splendid rewards, wealih and celebrity, can compensate for such misery. Envy and jealousy may be easily excited in the minds of children, by a parent's showing his opinion that some are born with, and some without, a geniuf; none are envied for labour or perseverance ; in these the competitor can be imitated, followed, and excelled. These efforts are acknowledged to depend upon the will; and the wages of industry are the same for all by whom they are patiently earned : but if children who have less natural vivacity than others, are taught that the facility and success of genius are the privileges, the unattainable privileges, of a favoured few, who are exempt from the necessity of perseverance and labour, this belief must induce either despair, or envy, or both. The unreasonable manner, in which the predestined dunce is usually treated, increases his sense of injustice: he is exhorted to labour withoift motive, and even without hope to attain, what he is previously assured that he never can reach. Instead of this cruel and absurd injustices perception of the truth would induce parents to pursue a more equal and encouraging conduct, and thence would result the most beneficial effects on the temper and intellectual progress of the pupil. If one child has a more accurate or quicker eye than another ,or shows more natural vivacity or strength,orif, in consequence of this superiority of organization, he early exhibits greater powers of attention,meroory, or imagination, let this be fairly acknowledged to him and to his competitors, but without making use of the mysterious and delusive term genius, to denote the difference of capacity. The human mind, even in childhood, submits tor necessity; therefore it is much less dangerous to state explicitly the natural advantages which one child possesses over another, than to hint that any of his companions are superior to him, in an undefinable, indescribable, something, which he can neither see, feel, nor comprehend. But when a child hears the mortifying fact, that any of his senses are defective, that he wants natural vivacity or sensibility, and that consequently he shows less attention, memory or imagination than his competitors, he should at least have the consolation of hearing the whole truth,, and his parents should encourage him by the assurance, that these deficiencies may be amply compensated by patient perseverance, and by careful and judicious education. This plain truth, strongly reiterated, cannot fail to make a salutary impression, both on the quick and vivacious, and on the dull and slow: it will prevent these from becoming idle, those from remaining inactive. The sophistical mathematician proves that with but twenty paces advantage of the swift footed Achilles, the tortoise can never be overtaken, even by twenty times its own speed; but without recurring to paradoxical ingenuity in support of this argument, plain Gommon sense and observation will show, that whoever goes on uniformly improving, even at the slowest rate, must in time excel those that remain stationary, let their positive acquirements be what they «»y.' p. 9. <•

The defects and the cultivation of memory are shortly noticed; and it is maintained, that any memory may be Sq disciplined, as to he quite competent to the most important matters of business and seience. Iu proof of this, and as a lesson on the best mode of cultivation, the example of Le Sage, the philosopher of Geneva, is introduced, and would, have been very instructive if his method of retaining his knowledge by connecting it with a set of general principles, (a sort of corks to keep it in buoyancy) had been more precisely explained, by means of two or three exemplifications. There are some very useful observations on the several relations of ideas which are the instruments of recollection; as resemblance, contrariety, contiguity, and cause and effect; it is strongly and justly insisted, that the memory which operates most by means of the last of these relations is by far the most useful, and therefore that the best mode of cultivating it is a severe attention to this relatipn.

Mr. E: censures, but not in illiberal language, the system which prevails in our public schools, and our colleges, iu which so disproportionate a measure of time is devoted to classical studies, and in the former of which the course of instruction is the same for all the youth, though they are intended for all the different professions. He advises not to force anv violent reforms on these ancient institutions, but to induce their gradual and voluntary amelioration, or, if that be possible, to superannuate them, by means of new though smaller seminaries, in which a much- greater share of attention shall be given to science, to Studies of direct moral and political utility, and to the peculiar preparation, for professions, He adverts to the system of education adopted by the Jesuits, and the plane devised by Frederic ' the' Great,' as be is here designated; and reviews at some length, the succession of magnificent schemes projected by the French philosophers before and in the course of the revolution. Home of these schemes were practically attempted, and they failed, partly from being on too vast a seale, and beginning with too high a species of Instruction, and partly from that state of national tumult which withdrew both the attention and the pecuniary support indispensable to these great undertakings. At length, a party o.f philosophers obtained the complete establishment of a move limited, but, as far as it extends, most effective institution, under the denomination of Ecole Poly technique. In the general course of education in France, however, our author observes, classical literature has of late years been regarded with such indifference or contempt, as to have threatened a depravation of taste and of language; the studies of the youth having been directed with incomparably the most emulation and ardour, to the branches of kuowledge related or capable of being

applied to the art of war. He relates how the men of science rose to the highest importance at the very period, at which it might have been previously imagined they must have sunk into utter obscurity, the hour of revolutionary violence and terror.

'This neglect of all instruction would probably have continued longer, and would have thrown' the nation back into barbarism, if it had not been counteracted by extraordinary motives for exertion; motives created partly by the necessities, and partly by the enthusiasm, of the revolution. The ignorance of the rulers, and the equality of the people, soon threw every thing into confusion; but the rulers, to preserve their power, and indeed their lives, were obliged to have recourse to men of icience. Chemistry was first fiut m requisition. Robespierre suspected, or pretended to suspect, that the brandies for the army had been poitoned. A committee of chemists was summoned: they analysed the brandies, and convinced the public that no treachery had been practised. Their utility, and above all their firmness on this occasion, suddenly raised their political credit, and they were soon called upon for more important services. The armies of France were at that time in want both of gunpowder and arms. There was an imfierious necessity for seventeen million pounds of gunpowder, and no foreign saltpetre to be had! An order was sent to the chemists: one of them had <be boldness to answer, "Five days after the saltpetre shall beextracted from the earth in which it i» contained, it shall charge your cannons." This boast was fulfilled: anal in twelve hours gunpowder was made ready for use. Arms for 900,000 men were wanting; brass and steel could not be procured from foreign countries; the art of manufacturing steel was known to few except chemists, and they were again employed to direct the manufacturers, and were again successful. Their credit was now established with the people, and, of course, they seized a great share of political power.' p. 30.

Our author's scheme for the formation of an improved order of elementary and superior schools in this country, is laid down with much good sense, and without visionary extravagance, particularly without the extravagance of expecting any assistance from the legislature. He would create and support them simply by the conviction, in the minds of parents in each town and village, of the Usefulness and even necessity of such a mode of instruction as ha advises ;. a mode which should include, without any ostentation, an attention to more branches of knowledge than are usually acquired in schools. Or, if it were desirable there should beany expedient more formal, for promoting such schools, than merely the wish of parents to obtain such instruction, he recommends there should bean association of gentlemen in London to patronize their formation in any part of the Country to which they can extend their influence and aid. But the only efficacious power to create competent seminaries, is the- concurrent will of a tolerable proportion of the parents, in any place, to have their children instructed in the rational manner proposed.

* The increased demand for good instruction and good masters will produce both, without the interference of government, or the patronage of the great. As soon as the public is convinced, that certain alterations would be useful, and are feasible, parents will wish that these were put in practice; and as soon as that wish is generally, or even partially expressed, it will become the interest of many to establish new seminaries, or reform the old. The first impulse therefore must be given to the minds of parents; and they must in the first place be convinced of the folly of treating children as mere playthings, as mere creatures to be fondled, humoured, and spoiled till they are eight or nine years old, and then to be hurried away to s.hools, when the bad habits, moral and intellectual, which they have by that time acquired, begin to be too troublesome at home ; when friends and acquaintance begin to be alarmed by the growth and ignorance of the boys, by the vicious pronunciation and vulgar language, which they have leorned from servants, by the bursts of passion, the fits of obstinacy, habits of idleness, or love of mischief, which break out in consequence of parental neglect, or cruel indulgence. The careful mother says, " upon my word it is shameful, to.let these children grow up in this way; it is quite time to think of sending them to school, and give them some education."' p. 37.

The second Essay is on Clerical Education. Considering the expensiveness of a residence at college, and the very inadequate salaries of curates, the author dissuades parents who have not such connexions as may assist their son's success in the church, from choosing this profession for him; unless they have fortune sufficient to contribute to his support for perhaps many years after his entrance on it, or he has already acquired a very strong determination of mind towards it, accompanied by such proofs of application and unusual talent as may warrant a presumption that he will make his way through all difficulties by the force of conspicuous merit. By making his way, is meant, of course, his attaining the emoluments and honours of the church; and it is' obvious enough, that a young man who has no means of doing this but his personal qnalitiesand conduct, has little ground for such a presumption, when it is considered how much the disposal of the ecclesiastical good things is regulated by parliamentary interest, and the favour of persons of rank. The parliamentary interest confessedly so powerful in making dignitaries and rich incumbents, our author decides to be partly beneficial and partly injurious to the church ^nd to national morality.

* That which is exerted by rich. commoners or noble families, to obtain livings for men of learning and virtue, who .have been tutors to their children, is highly advantageous; it insures good education to our young

« PreviousContinue »