No. 337 [from The Spectator] by Eustace Budgell
Story type: Essay
Thursday, March 27, 1712. Budgell.
Fingit equum tenera docilem cervice Magister,
Ire viam quam monstrat eques–
I have lately received a third Letter from the Gentleman, who has already given the Publick two Essays upon Education. As his Thoughts seem to be very just and new upon this Subject, I shall communicate them to the Reader.
If I had not been hindered by some extraordinary Business, I should have sent you sooner my further Thoughts upon Education. You may please to remember, that in my last Letter I endeavoured to give the best Reasons that could be urged in favour of a private or publick Education. Upon the whole it may perhaps be thought that I seemed rather enclined to the latter, though at the same time I confessed that Virtue, which ought to be our first and principal Care, was more usually acquired in the former.
I intend therefore, in this Letter, to offer at Methods, by which I conceive Boys might be made to improve in Virtue, as they advance in Letters.
I know that in most of our public Schools Vice is punished and discouraged whenever it is found out; but this is far from being sufficient, unless our Youth are at the same time taught to form a right Judgment of Things, and to know what is properly Virtue.
To this end, whenever they read the Lives and Actions of such Men as have been famous in their Generation, it should not be thought enough to make them barely understand so many Greek or Latin Sentences, but they should be asked their Opinion of such an Action or Saying, and obliged to give their Reasons why they take it to be good or bad. By this means they would insensibly arrive at proper Notions of Courage, Temperance, Honour and Justice.
There must be great Care taken how the Example of any particular Person is recommended to them in gross; instead of which, they ought to be taught wherein such a Man, though great in some respects, was weak and faulty in others. For want of this Caution, a Boy is often so dazzled with the Lustre of a great Character, that he confounds its Beauties with its Blemishes, and looks even upon the faulty Parts of it with an Eye of Admiration.
I have often wondered how Alexander, who was naturally of a generous and merciful Disposition, came to be guilty of so barbarous an Action as that of dragging the Governour of a Town after his Chariot. I know this is generally ascribed to his Passion for Homer; but I lately met with a Passage in Plutarch, which, if I am not very much mistaken, still gives us a clearer Light into the Motives of this Action. Plutarch tells us, that Alexander in his Youth had a Master named Lysimachus, who, tho he was a Man destitute of all Politeness, ingratiated himself both with Philip and his Pupil, and became the second Man at Court, by calling the King Peleus, the Prince Achilles, and himself Phoenix. It is no wonder if Alexander having been thus used not only to admire, but to personate Achilles, should think it glorious to imitate him in this piece of Cruelty and Extravagance.
To carry this Thought yet further, I shall submit it to your Consideration, whether instead of a Theme or Copy of Verses, which are the usual Exercises, as they are called in the School-phrase, it would not be more proper that a Boy should be tasked once or twice a Week to write down his Opinion of such Persons and Things as occur to him in his Reading; that he should descant upon the Actions of Turnus and AEneas, shew wherein they excelled or were defective, censure or approve any particular Action, observe how it might have been carried to a greater Degree of Perfection, and how it exceeded or fell short of another. He might at the same time mark what was moral in any Speech, and how far it agreed with the Character of the Person speaking. This Exercise would soon strengthen his Judgment in what is blameable or praiseworthy, and give him an early Seasoning of Morality.
Next to those Examples which may be met with in Books, I very much approve Horace’s Way of setting before Youth the infamous or honourable Characters of their Contemporaries: That Poet tells us, this was the Method his Father made use of to incline him to any particular Virtue, or give him an Aversion to any particular Vice. If, says Horace, my Father advised me to live within Bounds, and be contented with the Fortune he should leave me; Do not you see (says he) the miserable Condition of Burr, and the Son of Albus? Let the Misfortunes of those two Wretches teach you to avoid Luxury and Extravagance. If he would inspire me with an Abhorrence to Debauchery, do not (says he) make your self like Sectanus, when you may be happy in the Enjoyment of lawful Pleasures. How scandalous (says he) is the Character of Trebonius, who was lately caught in Bed with another Man’s Wife? To illustrate the Force of this Method, the Poet adds, That as a headstrong Patient, who will not at first follow his Physicians Prescriptions, grows orderly when he hears that his Neighbours die all about him; so Youth is often frighted from Vice, by hearing the ill Report it brings upon others.
Xenophon’s Schools of Equity, in his Life of Cyrus the Great, are sufficiently famous: He tells us, that the Persian Children went to School, and employed their Time as diligently in learning the Principles of Justice and Sobriety, as the Youth in other Countries did to acquire the most difficult Arts and Sciences: their Governors spent most part of the Day in hearing their mutual Accusations one against the other, whether for Violence, Cheating, Slander, or Ingratitude; and taught them how to give Judgment against those who were found to be any ways guilty of these Crimes. I omit the Story of the long and short Coat, for which Cyrus himself was punished, as a Case equally known with any in Littleton.
The Method, which Apuleius tells us the Indian Gymnosophists took to educate their Disciples, is still more curious and remarkable. His Words are as follow: When their Dinner is ready, before it is served up, the Masters enquire of every particular Scholar how he has employed his Time since Sun-rising; some of them answer, that having been chosen as Arbiters between two Persons they have composed their Differences, and made them Friends; some, that they have been executing the Orders of their Parents; and others, that they have either found out something new by their own Application, or learnt it from the Instruction of their Fellows: But if there happens to be any one among them, who cannot make it appear that he has employed the Morning to advantage, he is immediately excluded from the Company, and obliged to work, while the rest are at Dinner.
It is not impossible, that from these several Ways of producing Virtue in the Minds of Boys, some general Method might be invented. What I would endeavour to inculcate, is, that our Youth cannot be too soon taught the Principles of Virtue, seeing the first Impressions which are made on the Mind are always the strongest.
The Archbishop of Cambray makes Telemachus say, that though he was young in Years, he was old in the Art of knowing how to keep both his own and his Friends Secrets. When my Father, says the Prince, went to the Siege of Troy, he took me on his Knees, and after having embraced and blessed me, as he was surrounded by the Nobles of Ithaca, O my Friends, says he, into your Hands I commit the Education of my Son; if ever you lov’d his Father, shew it in your Care towards him; but above all, do not omit to form him just, sincere, and faithful in keeping a Secret. These Words of my Father, says Telemachus, were continually repeated to me by his Friends in his Absence; who made no scruple of communicating to me in their Uneasiness to see my Mother surrounded with Lovers, and the Measures they designed to take on that Occasion. He adds, that he was so ravished at being thus treated like a Man, and at the Confidence reposed in him, that he never once abused it; nor could all the Insinuations of his Fathers Rivals ever get him to betray what was committed to him under the Seal of Secrecy.
There is hardly any Virtue which a Lad might not thus learn by Practice and Example.
I have heard of a good Man, who used at certain times to give his Scholars Six Pence apiece, that they might tell him the next day how they had employ’d it. The third part was always to be laid out in Charity, and every Boy was blamed or commended as he could make it appear that he had chosen a fit Object.
In short, nothing is more wanting to our publick Schools, than that the Masters of them should use the same care in fashioning the Manners of their Scholars, as in forming their Tongues to the learned Languages. Where-ever the former is omitted, I cannot help agreeing with Mr. Locke, That a Man must have a very strange Value for Words, when preferring the Languages of the Greeks and Romans to that which made them such brave Men, he can think it worth while to hazard the Innocence and Virtue of his Son for a little Greek and Latin.
As the Subject of this Essay is of the highest Importance, and what I do not remember to have yet seen treated by any Author, I have sent you what occurr’d to me on it from my own Observation or Reading, and which you may either suppress or publish as you think fit.
I am, SIR, Yours, etc.