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OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF TALENTS.
Πολύ τε διαφέρειν ου δεί νομίζειν άνθρωπον ανθρώπου, κράτιστον δε είναι όστις εν τοις αναγκαιοτάτοις παιδεύεται. .
THUCYDIDES, Lib. I, cap. 84.
PRESUMED DEARTH OF INTELLECTUAL POWER.-SCHOOLS
FOR THE EDUCATION OF YOUTH CONSIDERED.—THE BOY AND THE MAN COMPARED.
One of the earliest judgments that is usually made by those whose attention is turned to the characters of men in the social state, is of the great inequality with which the gifts of the understanding are distributed among us.
Go into a miscellaneous society ; sit down at table with ten or twelve men ; repair to a club where as many are assembled in an evening to relax from the toils of the day—it is almost proverbial, that one or two of these persons will perhaps be brilliant, and the rest “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable."
Go into a numerous school-the case will be still more striking. I have been present where two men of superior endowments endeavoured to enter into a calculation on the subject; and they agreed that there was not above one boy in a hundred, who would be found to possess a penetrating understanding, and to be able to strike into a path of intellect that was truly his own. How common is it to hear the master of such a school say, “Aye, I am proud of that lad; I have been a schoolmaster these thirty years, and have never had such another!”
The society above referred to, the dinner-party, or the club, was to a considerable degree select, brought together by a certain supposed congeniality between the individuals thus assembled. Were they taken indiscriminately, as boys are when consigned to the care of a schoolmaster, the proportion of the brilliant would not be a whit greater than in the latter case.
A main criterion of the superiority of the schoolboy will be found in his mode of answering a casual question proposed by the master. The majority will be wholly at fault, will shew that they do not understand the question, and will return an answer altogether from the purpose. One in a hundred perhaps, perhaps in a still less proportion, will reply in a laudable manner, and convey his ideas in
perspicuous and spirited language.
It does not certainly go altogether so ill, with men grown up to years of maturity. They do not for the niost part answer a plain question in a manner to make you wonder at their fatuity.
A main cause of the disadvantageous appearance exhibited by the ordinary schoolboy, lies in what
we denominate sheepishness. He is at a loss, and in the first place stares at you, instead of giving an
He does not make by many degrees so poor a figure among his equals, as when he is addressed by his seniors.
One of the reasons of the latter phenomenon consists in the torpedo effect of what we may call, under the circumstances, the difference of ranks. The schoolmaster is a despot to his scholar; for every man is a despot, who delivers his judgment from the single impulse of his own will. The boy answers his questioner, as Dolon answers Ulysses in the Iliad, at the point of the sword. It is to a certain degree the same thing, when the boy is questioned merely by his senior. He fears he knows not what,—a reprimand, a look of lofty contempt, a gesture of summary disdain. He does not think it worth his while under these circumstances, to “gird up
the loins of his mind." He cannot return a free and intrepid answer but to the person whom he regards as his equal. There is nothing that has so disqualifying an effect upon him who is to answer, as the consideration that he who questions is universally acknowledged to be a being of a higher sphere, or, as between the boy and the man, that he is the superior in conventional and corporal strength.
Nor is it simple terror that restrains the boy from answering his senior with the same freedom and spirit, as he would answer his equal. He
does not think it worth his while to enter the lists. He despairs of doing the thing in the way that shall gain approbation, and therefore will not try. He is like a boxer, who, though skilful, will not fight with one hand tied behind him. He would return you the answer, if it occurred without his giving himself trouble ; but he will not rouse his soul, and task his strength to give it. He is careless; and prefers trusting to whatever construction you may put upon him, and whatever treatment you may think proper to bestow
him. It is the most difficult thing in the world, for the schoolmaster to inspire into his pupil the desire to do his best.
Among full-grown men the case is different. The schoolboy, whether under his domestic roof, or in the gymnasium, is in a situation similar to that of the Christian slaves in Algiers, as described by Cervantes in his History of the Captive. “They were shut up together in a species of bagnio, from whence they were brought out from time to time to perform certain tasks in common : they might also engage in pranks, and get into scrapes, as they pleased; but the master would hang up one, impale another, and cut off the ears of a third, for little occasion, or even wholly without it.” Such indeed is the condition of the child almost from the hour of birth. The severities practised upon him are not so great as those resorted to by the proprietor of slaves in Algiers ; but they are equally arbitrary and without appeal. He is free to a certain extent, even as the captives described by Cervantes; but his freedom is upon sufferance, and is brought to an end at any time at the pleasure of his seniors. The child therefore feels his way, and ascertains by repeated experiments how far he may proceed with impunity. He is like the slaves of the Romans on the days of the Saturnalia. He may do what he pleases, and command tasks to his masters; but with this difference-the Roman slave knew when the days of his licence would be over, and comported himself accordingly; but the child cannot foresee at any moment when the bell will be struck, and the scene reversed. It is commonly enough incident to this situation, that the being who is at the mercy of another, will practise, what Tacitus calls,
“vernacular urbanity,” make his bold jests, and give utterance to his
saucy innuendoes, with as much freedom as the best; but he will do it with a wary eye, not knowing how soon he may feel his chain plucked, and himself compulsorily reduced into the established order. His more usual refuge therefore is, to do nothing, and to wrap himself up in that neutrality towards his seniors, that may best protect him from their reprimand and their despotism.
The condition of the full-grown man is different from that of the child; and he conducts himself accordingly. He is always to a certain degree under the control of the political society of which he is a member. He is also exposed to the chance of personal insult and injury from those who are stronger