« PreviousContinue »
Let then the propriety of devoting our youth to the pursuit of classical studies be estimated, not by the utility of being able to construe Latin and Greek, or to compose with elegance in thosc languages, but by the tendency of such studies to assist the growth of the uuderstanding, and to form a correct taste; and by their consequent tendency to make men wiser, happier, and better. Let this estimate be fairly made, and they who agree with us, in thinking the improvement of the intellectual powers, and of the disposition, much more important than the accumu. lation of knowledge, will think the utility of these studies suffi. ciently established. The same principle will enable us to avoid another error of those writers, who imagined the acquisition of knowledge to be the inost important object of education. Per. sons of this class are ever advising, that children should be cheated into knowledge; telling parents that, otherwise, half the time of both teacher and pupil must be spent in subduing the wishes and inclinations of the latter. Nor are we so oldfashioned as to believe, that the time thus spent is so far from being wasted, as to be productive of results much more important iban learning. He who has not been laught to subdue bis will in early life, and to resign inclination to duty, is not very likely to learn to do these things when his passions have gained their full strength, and the controul of authority is removed. The spoiled child will always become the wilful man. It has been observed with regret, that men of the highest classical attainments have, in more than one instance, totally proved deficient in conduct. Let it not be imagined that this concession does away what has been said in favor of classical studies, The truth is, that these persons have been such as, being endowed by nature with an excessive fondness for such pursuits, have followed them with avidity from the first moment that their faculties began to develope themselves, and having never needed compulsion, have never learnt submission, have never been taugbt to subjugate their own caprices. It is not only ainongst the ignorant that spoiled children are to be found. They, who would have children “ cozened into knowledge,” may certainly claim the authority of Locke in their favor. In his “ Thoughts on Education,” he has said all that can be urged in favor of royal or pleasant roads to learving ; and his name was bad great influence' with tender mammas, who, wiser than Solomon, would never bave the rod brought in sight. In the same work, he has beconimended teaching the learned languages without grammar, observing " That if grammar ought to be taught at any time, it must be to one that can speaķ the language already *;" and has advised, as a course of natural philosophy,
* Thoughts on Education, $ 168. 3.
to read the conclusions of the several propositions contained in Newton's Principia, " which conclusions," he says, “ inay be depended on as propositions well proved *.” By such methods the learned languages might be studied, without improving the taste; and mathematical conclusions hoarded in the memory, without any risk of strengthening the reasoning powers. Such absurdities are quite unworthy of Locke, and, after reading them, we have no scruple in opposing to his authority the very sensible language of Madame de Stael.
“ L'éducation faite en s'amusant,” says she, “ disperse la pensée ; la peine en tout genre est une des grands secrets de la nature; l'esprit de l'enfant doit s'accoutumer aux efforts de l'étude, comme notre ame à la souffrance. Le perfectionnement du premier âge tient au travail, comme le perfectionnement du second à la douleur: il est à souhaiter sans donte que les parents et la destinée n'abusent pas trop de ce double secret; mais il n'y a d'important à toutes les époques de la vie que ce qui agit sur le centre même de l'existence, et l'on considère trop souvent l'être moral en détail. Vous enseignerez avec des tableaux, avec des cartes, une quantité de choses à votre enfant, mais vous ne lui apprendrez pas à apprendre ; et l'habitude de s'amuser, que vous dirigez sur les sciences, suivra bientôt un autre cours quand l'enfant ne sera plus dans votre dépendance t."
To give to the reasoning powers their full and perfect tone, the severer mathematical studies ought, as soon as the mind has acquired sufficient strength to be added to those more elegant pursuits which have hitherto engaged our attention. And now ihe enquiries after utility, will be ready to offer themselves as allies, and to support our recommendations. But we do not feel much inclination to accept their aid; as we are not quite convinced that a knowledge of the properties of the Conchoid of Nicomedes is likely to be more serviceable to its possessor, for the purposes of common life, than that of the distinction between hypercatalectic trimeters and brachycatalectic tetrameters. We rest our earnest recommendation of mathematical studies, much more on our firm conviction of their powerful tendency to strengthen and augment the reasoning powers, than on our opinion of the value of the knowledge they be. stow, though we are by no means inclined to under-value that knowledge. Attention, caution, and an accurate perception of the extent to which any argument may be admitted, are the faculties which, according as they are found in any person in a
• Thoughts on Education, $ 194,
greater greater or less degree, constitute the man of sound judgment or the superficial reasoner. Now all these faculties find their most compleat and most constant exercise in the study of mathematics. In these studies, and perhaps in no other, inattention invariably cliecks and detects itself. He, who has carelessly passed over any one step, in a mathematical demonstration, is immediately compelled, by the discovery of an insuperable difficulty in the succeeding steps, to measure back his ground, and correct his partial attention. Again, the admission of every new consideration, (aud this is particularly the case in mixer mathematics,) obliges the student to watch, with unremittiug caution, its effects on every portion of the subject which he has in view. The difficulty which attends this last part of his labour, can hardly fail to produce in him another most useful habit, that of entirely withdrawing his attention from every accidental accompaniment or irrelevant detail, as soon as ever he can detect, with certainty, that it must be perfectly unconnected with the result. But, above all, the habitual investigation of questions which are capable of mathematical proof, gives such a nicety of perception with regard to the proper extent of any argument, as it is scarcely possible to acquire by any other process. .
Some persons have, indeed, contended, that the same advantages may be gained by the study of metaphysics, but few hace ventured to deny their being the legitimate consequences of ma. thematical studies. Yet this denial has been lately made in the most unqualified terms, by a writer for whose good sense, as shewn in other parts of the same disquisition *, we feel very great respect. “ The physical sciences,” says he, “ afford very Jiule exercise of the judgment, and the mathematical sciences noue at all. Neither of them, therefore, can conduce to make skilful reasoners.” When lie goes on to prove the correctness of this assertion, by other assertions, such as the following:
" In every step of the way, in mathematical demonstration, there is a perspicuity to excess. It precludes all reflection, and supersedes the free agency of thought, there is no effort to be made but of continued memory.” : We easily perceive that he does not speak from experience. And again, when he observes " that the Epistles of Horace, or Lord Clarendon's History, were never comprehended till” the seader had acquired considerable mental powers, and knowledge of the world; but that “ the Principia of Newton may be understood by a boy of eighteen"— we perceive that the words
• Quarterly Rev. Oct. 1811, p. 180.
faictorumake a points in the Unisome
comprehended” and “understood” are employed to designate very different things. In fact we suspect that this writer's idea of understanding Newton must be taken from an anecdote which he may have heard from some imprudent eulogist, of a person once high in the University of Oxford, who was said to make a point of annually perusing the Principia, with a faithful Achates at his side. If this story be correct, the learned Gentleman must, before he retired, have been able to construe the peculiar Latinity of that profound work with a facility which precluded all reflection; whilst “ the intellect" of bis companion may have been “ made not patient only, but passive.” They who have really read Newton to any purpose, know that he who wishes fully to comprehend the recondite truths sometimes merely hinted at, and at other times partially developed in the Principia, may find sufficient employment for a long and laborious life.
He who ventures to assert that the study of the mathematics bas nothing to do with making men good reasoners, must allow it to be a very singular fact, that if we name the divines wlio have of late most distinguished themselves by powerful argument and acute reasoning, we shall find that our catalogue is filled with mathematicians. Paley, Magee, Horsley, Tomline, Marslı, and Watson, are all of them men, not slightly iinbued, but covered with mathematical honours. That the study of Geometry does not pecessarily strip a man of all eloquence, and fasten him down to a jejune detail of matter of fact or of calculations, is evident from the example of Plato, the lover of mathematics and the most eloquent of philosophers. As the writer anh whom we are now contending, is a scholar, he will bow to the authority of the Grecian sage. Ilpos mious ualices, WOTE κάλλιον αποδέχεσθαι, εσμέν πε ότι το όλο και παντί διοίσει ημμένος τε γεωμετρίας και μή. Τα παντί μέντοι νή Δί, έφη. Δεύτερον δη τατο τιθώμεν μάθημα τους νέους.
-- On the solid foundation which has already been recommended, • We may, if our materials are tolerable,and these materials must have improved in our hands, build any superstructure of professional knowledge which may be desired. To those who ask whether education ought then, in our opinion, to be confined to Latin, Greek, and the mathematics? We anstrer, that we have all along assumed that religious instruction should be commu. picated as soon as it can be received. We would also allow the French language to form a part of the earliest studies of a gentleman. Our wars, our rivalry, and our intercourse, during peace, whether political or literary, make a knowledge of this language almost indispensable; and as a facility in speaking any language depends, rather on our having an habitual than
a properly t
a properly scientific acquaintance with it, that acquaintance ought to commence in early life.
Something of history, and of the common topics of the day, an intelligent youth, with an ordinary share of curiosity, will make himself master of; and we had almost said, horror-struck as Mr. Edgeworth would be, the less the better. Where ignorance on all extraneous subjects did not proceed, from that thorough indolence which nothing but compulsion can drive to labour, or from that apathy and total incuriosity which destroys all intellectual improvement, but solely from a close and iusulated attention to the proper and proposed objects of study, this ignorance would be far from giving us pain. We should feel convinced, that he who could so completely concentrate and limit his views to the object before him, and has improved his faculties by the plan of education which we have been tracing out, will soon out-strip the showy sciolist, in any branch of study which he may wish to acquire. But the accomplished youth, of the present day, is conducted, by a fashionable tutor, through a circle of sciences inore extensive than the great object of his imitation, the admirable Crichton, ever heard of. He must at least be acquainted with political economy, geology, mineralogy, botany, and chemistry. Now, if we are to consider these sciences as parts of a System of Education, there is pot one of them, the tendency of which we do not consider as positively injurious. Whatever progress may, in the course of jime, be made in the two first sciences on the list, it cannot be denied that the leading principles, on which the political economist or the geologist proceeds, have, as yet, much about them that is vague and indefinite. The student has no fixed criterion, by which he can try the truth of what he reads. He must trust much to the assertions of his author ; and, as every new writer is principally employed in pointing out the mistakes of his predecessors, 2 young reader is in a fair way either to contract a presumptuous dogmatical tone, or to ļuse, in the maze of uncer. tainty, all power of arranging his ideas.
Botany, as it is commonly learnt, without any attention to the physiology of plants, and mineralogy, without chemistry, are una worthy the name of sciences; they become mere systems of nomenclature. And in the study of chemistry, the progress of the understanding is the very reverse of wbat would tend to the exaltation and enlargement of the mind. The merit of the chemist is measured by the perseverance with which he can pursue the minute, in preference to the obvious and gross results of his experiments through all the indefinite ramifications of littleness, He must neglect the awful grandeur of the mountain, to pore over the corruption of the puddle at its base, Longinus has