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Well, there it is, his scheme of formal education. There is not much light, not much air, not much freedom and courage, not much faith in all that is good and high to hold its own at last against what is base, low and false. How little confidence he had in the ultimate power of truth to prevail we may gather from two passages in the Advice to a Lady of Quality: “It suffices if she knows enough of religion to believe and practise it, without ever permitting herself to reason about it”; and again, “Give her some piece of embroidery which will be useful in your house, and which will help her to do without the dangerous company of the world; but never let her reason about theology to the imminent peril of her faith.” The better way does not seem to occur to him: the way of training judgment, of accustoming the mind to weigh evidence, to follow a proof, to recognise the marks of truth, to distinguish them from those of mere plausibility, partisan spirit, falsehood. Nevertheless, if we think Fénelon's plan lacking in courage, if we sigh for the good days of the Renaissance, we must admit that it was a considerable advance on the narrow scheme of Jacqueline Pascal, and on that of Madame de Maintenon herself, so anxious as she was to avoid everything she considered conventual or obscurantist.
Moreover the scholastic curriculum is only one side of his scheme. There was that other side which issued directly and necessarily from his view of women's functions.
He expected a woman to educate her children; that necessitates knowledge of the problems of psychology and ethics: “What discernment she will need in order to know the nature and intelligence of each of her children; in order to discover the best line of conduct to adopt with them, in order to appreciate their temper, their bent, their talent, to correct their developing passions, to persuade them to adopt high principles and to correct their faults.” Now if Fénelon is to be accepted as a genuine educator, he would surely desire that such questions as these should be treated in a really philosophical way, not by mere rule of thumb.
The science of economics did not exist as an organised branch of knowledge in Fénelon's time; but the facts of life of which it takes cognisance were in existence. Consequently, as it was the frequent custom to leave the administration of the estate to the mistress of the house, it was necessary for women to have a knowledge of the best way of cultivating land, of the price of commodities, of the business methods connected with letting lands, together with some knowledge of law.
Then, again, he thought it desirable that women should be acquainted with that amalgam of facts and fancies which is now called domestic economy. Fénelon would have girls taught early how to manage the details of a house, he would have them know accurately the respective functions of the different servants: “Take as much care,” he says, "over cleanliness as over economy. Accustom girls to tolerate neither dirt nor disorder; teach them to notice the slightest irregularity in housemanagement.” He indicates the method by which all this knowledge may be gained—companionship with the mother of “this little republic which as a rule is extremely turbulent,” as she goes about, ordering the daily life and preventing and calming disturbance, is the best possible training for the daughter. This is in harmony with his general preference for private education: writing to the “ Lady of Quality” he says, “I esteem education in good convents very highly: but I put before that a good mother's education, when she can devote herself to it. I conclude that your daughter is far better off with you than in the best convent you could choose. But there are very few mothers to whom I could give such advice.” Even in the case of the best convents he suggests a serious drawback: “If a girl goes out of a convent, and passes to the paternal mansion, where the world opens out, nothing is to be more dreaded than that surprise, that tremendous shock to a lively imagination....She leaves the convent as a person whom one has educated in the shadows of a cavern, who passes thence suddenly into the full light of day." If only the
majority of mothers were fit for the task, how much better would it be for a girl, he argues, to be with her mother, who teaches her to know the real world by little and little, warning her against its dangers and temptations, suggesting that all is not gold that glitters.
It is unnecessary to recall here his advice concerning the training of a governess; it is out of date perhaps, save for his stipulation that every teacher should possess common sense, and a tractable temper, to which he adds a genuine fear of GOD.
. Any account of this book must fail to convey its charm: as M. Defodon observes, “l'ouvrage est court, il faut le lire tout entier.” It seems impossible that any student of education should read it without reaping a harvest of suggestion and stimulus. No doubt we are conscious of a backward trend since the good days of the Estensi princesses, of Olympia Morata, of Erasmus' Learned Lady, of Margaret Roper: yet Fénelon's scheme was a palpable and notable advance, so far as women are concerned, on Rabelais who never considers their education, on Montaigne who treats the subject with lordly ridicule, on Jacqueline Pascal, on Mme de Maintenon herself. It is strange that modern readers should have exalted Rousseau who drew the pitiful portrait of Sophie, and yet forget Fénelon. That wise man, Vauvenargues, saw his value. In one of that philosopher's imaginary Dialogues, Bossuet thus addresses the Abbé de Fénelon: “Vous étiez né pour être le précepteur des maîtres de la terre.”
LUC DE CLAPIERS, MARQUIS DE VAUVENARGUES.
“ There are many paths to the same goal." Such are the words which Vauvenargues puts into the mouth of Montaigne in an imaginary Dialogue between that great Moralist and Charron. So one would speak to those stiff and rigid pedagogues who would rule this young French marquis out from the circle of educators. It is perhaps a misfortune that in all regions of thought, the majority of men persist in judging every theory by some-possibly arbitrarygeneral standard, when they might take each as it comes for just what it is; might indeed, in many cases, find a sufficiently heavy task in discovering what it really is. At some time or other, no doubt, human theories must be "placed”; after a clear interval their intrinsic worth must be estimated; but “this is not a bow for every man to shoot in "; it is not as if God sent a Montaigne into the world every day, or—for let us be moderate-in every era: it is not even as if any appreciable number of us had so much as a touch of his quality.
The effort to make everything (but half understood as so much of it is) conform at all times to a plan, and fit into its place in a perfectly ordered sequence, is beyond the strength of the bulk of mankind. Yet it is not outside the powers of many
1 All quotations are taken, or translated, from the edition of Les Euvres de Vauvenargues, published by Monsieur D. L. Gilbert in 1857.
to receive the rays of truth setting in from various directions, and to focus them as a nimbus of possibility round that dull working hypothesis which is all of which most of us are worthy, and which is serviceable enough if we only remember its limits.
It may be conceded at the outset that Vauvenargues was not a professional pedagogue, that he does not stand neatly, essentially, in any strict line of succession of schoolmasters and philosophers. Is this a matter for regret? The philosopher pure and simple is apt to treat so largely and exclusively of the abstract, or to handle the concrete so abstractly, that dealers in the concrete, very human child, as he is found in the mass of an over large class, are inclined sometimes to fight shy of theorist and theory. And again, the educational writer pure and simple is at times so befogged in the mists of his doctrine that we find ourselves agreeing with Professor Darroch when he wrote of him, “he will make education interesting to the child, if indeed there be a child at all in this theory, and not a mere receptacle of ideas.”
It is as a creature remote indeed from the schoolmaster as he is conceived commonly that Vauvenargues comes before us. He has been described briefly, justly as “L'athlète vaillant... qui lutte et grandit jusqu'au bout de ses forces et quitte l'arène blessé à mort mais invaincu, et emportant avec lui tout son courage et tout son respect pour cette vie terrestre qui lui échappel.” So that he is the man whom it was the aim of Locke's Thoughts Concerning Understanding to produce, the man who, knowing human life as it is, can value it still, neither overrating its merits nor exaggerating its vices.
M. Gilbert, writing in 1857, presumably for French readers, observed, “nevertheless, Vauvenargues is not widely known.” That fact, as well as the other that he does not lend himself to “placing," may account for the omission of his name and his views from the general run of text-books on the history of education.
1 Éloge de Vauvenargues, p. xi.