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that you would enlarge upon the ordinary mistakes which are committed in the education of our children.
I the more easily flattered myself that you would one
'I remember Pericles, in his famous oration at the funeral of those Athenian young men who perished in the Samian expedition, has a thought very much celebrated by several ancient critics, namely, that the loss which the commonwealth suffered by the destruction of its youth, was like the loss which 2 the year would suffer by the destruction of the spring. The prejudice which the public sustains from a wrong education of children, is an evil of the same nature, as it in a manner starves posterity, and defrauds our country of those persons, who, with due care, might make an eminent figure in their respective posts of life.
"I have seen a book written by Juan Huartes, a Spanish physician, entitled Examen de Ingenios, wherein he lays it down as one of his first positions, that nothing but nature can qualify a man for learning; and that without a proper temperament for the particular art or science which he studies, his utmost pains and application, assisted by the ablest masters, will be to no purpose.
'He illustrates this by the example of Tully's son Marcus.
Cicero, in order to accomplish his son in that sort of learning which he designed him for, sent him to Athens, the most celebrated academy at that time in the world, and where a vast concourse, out of the most polite nations, could not but furnish the young gentleman with a multitude of great examples and
accidents that might insensibly have instructed him in his designed studies. He placed him under the care of Cratippus, who was one of the greatest philosophers of the age, and as if all the books which were at that time written had not been sufficient for his use, he composed others on purpose for him: notwithstanding all this, history informs us that Marcus proved a mere blockhead, and that nature (who it seems was even with the son for her prodigality to the father) rendered him incapable of improving by all the rules of eloquence, the precepts of philosophy, his own endeavours, and the most refined conversation in Athens. This author therefore proposes, that there should be certain triers or examiners appointed by the state, to inspect the genius of every particular boy, and to allot him the part that is most suitable to his natural talents.
'Plato in one of his dialogues tells us that Socrates, who was the son of a midwife, used to say, that as his mother, though she was very skilful in her profession, could not deliver a woman unless she was first with child, so neither could he himself raise knowledge out of a mind, where nature had not planted it.
Accordingly, the method this philosopher took, of instructing his scholars by several interrogatories or questions, was only helping the birth, and bringing their own thoughts to light.
The Spanish doctor above-mentioned, as his speculations grew more refined, asserts that every kind of wit has a particular science corresponding to it, and in which alone it can be truly excellent. As to those geniuses, which may seem to have an equal aptitude for several things, he regards them as so many unfinished pieces of nature wrought off in haste.
'There are indeed but very few to whom nature
has been so unkind, that they are not capable of shining in some science or other. There is a certain bias towards knowledge in every mind, which be strengthened and improved by proper appli
The story of Clavius* is very well known. He was entered in a college of Jesuits, and after having been tried at several parts of learning, was upon the point of being dismissed as an hopeless blockhead, until one of the fathers took it into his head to make an essay of his parts in geometry, which, it seems, hit his genius so luckily, that he afterwards became one of the greatest mathematicians of the age. It is commonly thought that the sagacity of these fathers, in discovering the talent of a young student, has not a little contributed to the figure which their order has made in the world.
'How different from this manner of education is that which prevails in our own country! where nothing is more usual than to see forty or fifty boys of several ages, tempers, and inclinations, ranged together in the same class, employed upon the same authors, and enjoined the same tasks! Whatever their natural genius may be, they are all to be made poets, historians, and orators alike. They are all obliged to have the same capacity, to bring in the same tale of verse, and to furnish out the same portion of prose. Every boy is bound to have as good a memory as the captain of the form. To be brief, instead of adapting studies to the particular genius of a youth, we expect from the young man, that he should adapt his genius to his studies. This, I must confess, is not so much to be imputed to the instructor, as to the parent, who will never be brought to
* Christopher Clavius, a geometrician and astronomer, author of five volumes in folio,who died at Rome in 1612, aged 75.
believe, that his son is not capable of performing as much as his neighbour's, and that he may not make him whatever he has a mind to.
'If the present age is more laudable than those which have gone before it in any single particular, it is in that generous care which several well-disposed persons have taken in the education of poor children: and as in these charity schools there is no place left for the overweening fondness of a parent, the directors of them would make them beneficial to the public, if they considered the precept which I have been thus long inculcating. They might easily, by well examining the parts of those under their inspection, make a just distribution of them into proper classes and divisions, and allot to them this or that particular study, as their genius qualifies them for professions, trades, handicrafts, or service, by sea or land.
How is this kind of regulation wanting in the three great professions!
Dr. South, complaining of persons who took upon them holy orders, though altogether unqualified for the sacred function, says somewhere, that many a man runs his head against a pulpit, who might have done his country excellent service at the plough-tail.
In like manner many a lawyer, who makes but an indifferent figure at the bar, might have made a very elegant waterman, and have shined at the Temple stairs, though he can get no business in the house.
'I have known a corn-cutter, who with a right education would have been an excellent physi
To descend lower, are not our streets filled with sagacious draymen, and politicians in liveries? We have several tailors of six foot high, and meet with
many a broad pair of shoulders that are thrown away upon a barber, when perhaps at the same time we see a pigmy porter reeling under a burden, who might have managed a needle with much dexterity, or have snapped his fingers with great ease to himself, and advantage to the public.
"The Spartans, though they acted with the spirit which I am here speaking of, carried it much farther than what I propose. Among them it was not lawful for the father himself to bring up his children after his own fancy. As soon as they were seven years old, they were all listed in several companies, and disciplined by the public. The old men were spectators of their performances, who often raised quarrels among them, and set them at strife with one another, that by those early discoveries they might see how their several talents lay, and, without any regard to their quality, disposed of them accordingly, for the service of the commonwealth. By this means Sparta soon became the mistress of Greece, and famous through the whole world for her civil and military discipline.
'If you think this letter deserves a place among your speculations, I may perhaps trouble you with some other thoughts on the same subject.
'I am, &c.'