Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

him that has no need of the other; where rhetoric is not necessary, grammar may be spared. I know not why any one should waste his time and beat his head about the Latin grammar, who does not intend to be a critic, or make speeches, and write dispatches in it. When any one finds in himself a necessity or disposition to study any foreign language to the bottom, and to be nicely exact in the knowledge of it, it will be time enough to take a grammatical survey of it. If his use of it be only to understand some books writ in it without a critical knowledge of the tongue itself, reading alone, as I have said, will attain this end, without charging the mind with the multiplied rules and intricacies of grammar.

163. For the exercise of his writing, let him sometimes translate Latin into English: but the learning of Latin being nothing but the learning of words, a very unpleasant business both to young and old, join as much other real knowledge with it as you can, beginning still with that which lies most obvious to the senses; such as is the knowledge of minerals, plants, and animals, and particularly timber and fruit trees, their parts and ways of propagation, wherein a great deal may be taught a child, which will not be useless to the man. But more especially geography, astronomy, and anatomy. But whatever you are teaching him, have a care still, that you do not clog him with too much at once; or make any thing his business but downright virtue, or reprove him for any thing but vice, or some apparent tendency to it.

THEMES.

164. But, if, after all, his fate be to go to school to get the Latin tongue, it will be in vain to talk to you concerning the method I think best to be observed in schools. You must submit to that you find there, not expect to have it changed for your son; but yet by all means obtain, if you can, that he be not employed in making Latin themes and declamations, and, least of all, verses of any kind.* You may insist on it, if it will do any good, that you have no design to make him either a Latin orator or poet, but barely would have him understand perfectly a Latin author; and that you observe those who teach any of the modern languages, and that with success, never amuse their scholars to make speeches or verses either in French or Italian, their business being language barely and not invention.

165. But to tell you, a little more fully, why I would not have him exercised in making of themes and verses: 1. As to themes, they have, I confess, the pretense of something useful, which is to teach people to speak handsomely and well on any subject; which, if it could be attained this way, I own would be a great advantage; there being nothing more becoming a gentleman, nor more useful in all the occurrences of life, than to be able, on any occasion, to speak well, and to the purpose. But this I say, that the making of themes, as is usual in schools, helps not one jot towards it: for do but consider what it is in making a theme that a young lad is employed about; it is to make a speech on some Latin saying, as "Omnia vincitamor," or "Non licet in bello bis peccare," &c. And here the poor lad, who wants knowledge of those things he is to speak of, which is to be had only from time and observation, must set his invention on

* In this and several following topics, the author seems entirely to overlook the benefits of practice, the most effectual method of learning.-ED.

the rack, to say something where he knows nothing, which is a sort of Ægyptian tyranny, to bid them make bricks who have not yet any of the materials And therefore it is usual, in such cases, for the poor children to go to those of higher forms with this petition, “Pray give me a little sense;" which whether it be more reasonable or more ridiculous, is not easy to determine. Before a man can be in any capacity to speak on any subject, it is necessary he be acquainted with it; or else it is as foolish to set him to discourse of it, as to set a blind man to talk of colors, or a deaf man of music. And would you not think him a little cracked who would require another to make an argument on a moot-point, who understands nothing of our laws? And what, I pray, do school-boys understand concerning those matters, which are used to be proposed to them in their themes, as subjects to discourse on, to whet and exercise their fancies ?

166. In the next place, consider the language that their themes are made in : it is Latin, a language foreign in their country, and long since dead every where; & language which your son, it is a thousand to one, shall never have an occasion once to make a speech in as long as he lives, after he comes to be a man; and a language, wherein the manner of expressing one's self is so far different from ours, that to be perfect in that, would very little improve the purity and facility of his English style. Besides that, there is now so little room or use for set speeches in our own language in any part of our English business, that I can see no pretense for this sort of exercise in our schools; unless it can be supposed, that the making of set Latin speeches should be the way to teach men to speak well in English extempore. The way to that I should think rather to be this: that there should be proposed to young gentlemen rational and useful questions, suited to their age and capacities, and on subjects not wholly unknown to them, nor out of their way: such as these, when they are ripe for exercises of this nature, they should, extempore, or after a little meditation upon the spot, speak to, without penning of any thing. For I ask, if he will examine the effects of this way of learning to speak well, who speak best in any business, when occasion calls them to it upon any debate; either those who have accustomed themselves to compose and write down beforehand what they would say, or those who thinking only of the matter, to understand that as well as they can, use themselves only to speak extempore? And he that shall judge by this, will be little apt to think, that the accustoming him to studied speeches, and set compositions, is the way to fit a young gentleman for business.

167. But, perhaps, we shall be told, it is to improve and perfect them in the Latin tongue. It is true, that is their proper business at school; but the making of themes is not the way to it: that perplexes their brains, about invention of things to be said, not about the signification of words to be learnt; and, when they are making a theme, it is thoughts they search and sweat for, and not language. But the learning and mastery of a tongue, being uneasy and unpleasant enough in itself, should not be cumbered with any other difficulties, as is done in this way of proceeding. In fine, if boys' invention be to be quickened by such exercise, let them make themes in English, where they have facility, and a command of words, and will better see what kind of thoughts they have, when put into their own language: and, if the Latin tongue bo to be learned, let it be done in the easiest way, without toiling and disgusting the mind by so uneasy an employment as that of making speeches joined to it.

VERSIFYING.

168. If these may be any reasons against children's making Latin themes at school, I bave much more to say, and of more weight, against their making verses of any sort: for if he has no genius to poetry, it is the most unreason. able thing in the world to torment a child, and waste his time about that which can never succeed; and if he have a poetic vein, it is to me the strangest thing in the world, that the father should desire or suffer it to be cherished or im. proved. Methinks the parents should labor to have it stified and suppressed as much as may be; and I know not what reason a father can have to wish his son a poet, who does not desire to have him bid defiance to all other callings and business: which is not yet the worst of the case; for if he proves a successful rhymer, and gets once the reputation of a wit, I desire it may be considered what company and places he is likely to spend bis time in, way, and estate too: for it is very seldom seen, that any one discovers mines of gold, or silver in Parnassus. It is a pleasant air, but a barren soil; and there are very few instances of those who have added to their patrimony by any thing they have reaped from thence. Poetry and gaming, which usually go together, are alike in this too, that they seldom bring any advantage, but to those who havə uothing else to live on. Men of estates almost constantly go away losers; and it is well if they escape at a cheaper rate than their whole estates, or the greatest part of them. If

, therefore, you would not have your son the fiddle to every jovial company, without whom the sparks could not relish their wine, nor know how to pass an afternoon idly; if you would not have him waste his time and estate to divert others, and contemn the dirty acres left him by his ancestors, I do not think you will much care he should be a poet, or that his schoolmaster should enter him in versifying. But yet, if any one will think poetry a desirable quality in his son, and that the study of it would raise bis fancy and parts, he must needs yet confess, that, to that end, reading the excellent Greek and Roman poets is of more use than making bad verses of his own, in a language that is not his own. And he, whose design it is to excel in English poetry, would not, I guess, think the way to it were to make his first essays in Latin verses.

MEMORITER RECITATION.

169. Another thing, very ordinary in the vulgar method of grammar-schools, there is, of which I see no use at all, unless it be to balk young lads in the way to learning languages, which, in my opinion, should be made as easy and pleasant as may be; and that which was painful in it, as much as possible, quite removed. That which I mean, and here complain of, is, their being forced to learn by heart great parcels of the authors which are taught them; wherein I can discover no advantage at all, especially to the business they are upon. Languages are to be learnt only by reading and talking, and not by scraps of authors got by heart; which when a man's head is stuffed with, he has got the just furniture of a pedant, and it is the ready way to make him one, than which there is nothing less becoming a gentleman. For what can be more ridiculous, than to mix the rich and handsome thoughts and sayings of others with a deal of poor stuff of his own; which is thereby the more exposed; and has no other grace in it, nor will otherwise recommend the speaker than a thread bare russet coat would, that was set off with large patches of scarlet and glittering brocade ? Indeed, where a passage comes in the way, whose matter is worth remembrance, and the expression of it very close and excellent, (as there are many such in the ancient authors,) it may not be amiss to lodge it in the minds of young scholars, and with such admirable strokes of those great masters sometimes exercise the memories of school-boys: but their learning of their lessons by heart, as they happen to fall out in their books, without choice or distinction, I know not what it serves for, but to mispend their time and pains, and give them a disgust and aversion to their books, wherein they tind nothing but useless trouble.

170. I hear it is said, that children should be employed in getting things by heart, to exercise and improve their memories. I could wish this were said with as much authority of reason, as it is with forwardness of assurance; and that this practice were established upon good observation, more than old custom; for it is evident, that strength of memory is owing to a happy constitution, and not to any habitual improvement got by exercise. It is true, what the mind is intent upon, and for fear of letting it slip, often imprints afresh on itself by frequent reflection, that it is apt to retain, but still according to its own natural strength of retention. An impression made on beeswax or lead will not last so long as on brass or steel. Indeed, if it be renewed often, it may last the longer; but every new reflecting on it is a new impression, and it is from thence one is to reckon, if one would know how long the mind retains it. But the learning pages of Latin by heart, no more fits the memory for retention of auy thing else, than the graving of one sentence in lead, makes it the more capable of retaining firmly any other characters. If such a sort of exercise of the memory were able to give it strength, and improve our parts, players of all other people must needs have the best memories, and be the best company: but whether the scraps they have got into their head this way, make them remember other things the better; and whether their parts be improved proportionably to the pains they have taken in getting by heart other sayings; experience will show. Memory is so necessary to all parts and conditions of life, and so little is to be done without it, that we are not to fear it should grow dull and useless for want of exercise, if exercise would make it grow stronger. But I fear this faculty of the mind is not capable of much help and amendment in general, by any exercise or endeavor of ours, at least not by that used upon this pretense in grammar-schools. And if Xerxes was able to call every common soldier by his name, in his army, that consisted of no less than a hundred thousand men, I think it may be guessed, he got not this wonderful ability by learning his lessons by heart, when he was a boy. This method of exercising and improving the memory by toilsome repetitions, without book, of what they read, is, I think, little used in the education of princes; which, if it had that advantage talked of, should be as little neglected in them, as in the meanest school-boys; princes having as much need of good memories as any men living, and have generally an equal share in this faculty with other men: though it has never been taken care of this way. What the mind is intent upon, and careful of, that it remembers best, and for the reason above mentioned: to which if method and order be joined, all is done, I think, that can be, for the help of a weak memory; and he that will take any other way to do it, especially that of charging it with a train of other people's words, which he that learns cares not for; will, I guess, scarce find the profit answer half the time and pains employed in it.

I do not mean hereby, that there should be no exercise given to children's memories. I think their memories should be employed, but not in learning by rote whole pages out of books, which, the lesson being once said, and that task over, are delivered up again to oblivion, and neglected forever. This mends ueither the memory nor the mind. What they should learn by heart out of authors, I have above mentioned: and such wise and useful sentences being once given in charge to their memories, they should never be suffered to forget again, but be often called to account for them: whereby, besides the use thost sayings may be to them in their future life, as so many good rules and observations; they will be taught to reflect often, and bethink themselves what they have to remember, which is the only way to make the memory quick and useful. The custom of frequent reflection will keep their minds from running adrift, and call their thoughts home from useless inattentive roving: and therefore, I think, it may do well to give them something every day to remember ; but something still, that is in itself worth the remembering, and what you would never have out of mind, whenever you call, or they themselves search for it. This will oblige them often to turn their thoughts inwards, than which you can not wish them a better intellectual habit.

LATIN.

171. But under whose care soever a child is put to be taught, during the tender and flexible years of his life, this is certain, it should be one who thinks Latin and language the least part of education; one, who knowing how much virtue, and a well-tempered soul, is to be preferred to any sort of learning or language, makes it his chief business to form the mind of his scholars, and give that a right disposition: wbich, if once got, though all the rest should be nego Jected, would, in due time, produce all the rest; and which if it be not got and settled, so as to keep out ill and vicious habits, languages and sciences, and all the other accomplishments of education, will be to no purpose, but to make the worse or more dangerous man. And indeed, whatever stir there is made about getting of Latin, as the great and difficult business; his mother may teach it him berself, if she will but spend two or three hours in a day with him, and make him read the evangelists in Latin to her: for she need but buy a Latin Testament, and having got somebody to mark the last syllable but one, where it is long, in words above two syllables, (which is enough to regulate her pronunciation, and accenting the words, ) read daily in the Gospels; and then let her avoid understanding them in Latin, if she can. And when she understands the Evangelists in Latin, let her, in the same manner, read Æsop's Fables, and 80 proceed on to Eutropius, Justin, and other such books. I do not mention this as an imagination of what I fancy may do, but as of a thing I have known done, and the Latin tongue, with ease, got this way.

But to return to what I was saying: he that takes on him the charge of bringing up young men, especially young gentlemen, should have something more in him than Latin, more than even a knowledge in the liberal sciences; he should be a person of eminent virtue and prudence, and with good sense have good humor, and the skill to carry himself with gravity, ease, and kind.

« AnteriorContinua »