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LORD BACON ON EDUCATION AND STUDIES.
WITH ANNOTATIONS OF ARCHBISHOP WHATELY.
OF CUSTOM AND EDUCATION,
Men's thoughts are much according to their inclination ; their discourse and speeches according to their learning and infused opinions ; but their deeds are after' as’ they have been accustomed: and therefore, as Machiavel well noteth (though in an evil-favored instance,) there is no trusting to the force of nature, nor to the bravery of words, except it be corroborate' by custom. His instance is, that for the achieving of a desperate conspiracy, a man should not rest upon the fierceness of any man's nature, or his resolute undertakings, but take such a one as hath had his hands formerly in blood: but Machiavel knew not of a friar Clement, nor a Ravillac, nor a Jaureguy, nor a Baltazar Gerard; yet his rule holdeth still, that nature, nor the engagement of words, are not* so forcible as custom. Only superstition is now so well advanced, that men of the first blood are as firm as butchers by occupation; and votary resolution is made equipollent to custom, even in matter of blood. In other things, the predominancy of custom is every where visible, insomuch as a man would wonder to hear men profess, protest, engage, give great words, and then do just as they have done before, as if they were dead images and engines, moved only by the wheels of custom. We see also the reign or tyranny of custom, what it is. · The Indians (I mean the sect of their wise men,) lay themselves quictly upon a stack of wood, and so sacrifice themselves by fire: nay, the wives strive to be burned with the corpse of their husbands. The lads of Sparta, of ancient time, were wont to be scourged upon the altar of Diana, without so much as queching.' I remember, in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's time of England, an Irish rebel condemned, put
1. After. According to. "That ye seek not after your own heart."- Num., XV:39. “Ho who was of the bondwoman was born after the filesh."--Gal., iv: 23. " Deal not with us after our sins "-L any.
2. As. That. See page 23.“
“ His heart is corroborate."--Shakespeare.
"Nor to no Roman else."--Shakespeare.
Nor never can they have their fill."-Drayton.
“ Underre her feet, there as she sate,
up a petition to the deputy that he might be hanged in a withe,' and not in a halter, because it had been so used with former rebels. There be monks in Russia, for penance, that will sit a whole night in a vessel of water, till they be engaged with hard ice.
Many examples may be put of the force of custom, both upon mind and body; therefore, since custom is the principal magistrate of man's life, let men by all means endeavor to obtain good customs. Certainly, custom is most perfect when it beginneth in young years: this we call education, which is, in effect, but an early custom. So we see in languages, the tone is more pliant to all expressions and sounds, the joints are more supple to all feats of activity and motions, in youth, than afterward; for it is true, the late learners can not so well take up the ply, except it be in some minds, that have not suffered themselves to fix, but have kept themselves open and prepared to receive continual amendment, which is ex. ceeding rare; but if the force of custom, simple and separate, be great, the force of custom, copulate, and conjoined, and collegiate, is far greater; for there example teacheth, company comforteth,' emulation quickeneth, glory raiseth ; so as in such places the force of custom is in his exaltation. Certainly, the great multiplication' of virtues upon human nature resteth upon societies well ordained and disciplined; for commonwealths and good governments do nourish virtue grown, but do not much mend the seeds: but the misery is, that the most effectual means are now applied to the ends least to be desired.
"Men's thoughts are much according to their inclinations : their discourse and
speeches according to their learning and infused opinions, but their deeds are after as they have been accustomed.”
This remark, like many others, Bacon has condensed in Latin into the very brief and pithy apophthegm which I have given in the "Antitheta on Nature in Men." Cogitamus secundum naturam ; loquimur secundum præcepta ; sed agimus secundum consuetudinem." Of course, Bacon did not mean his words to
taken literally in their utmost extent, and without any exception or modification; as if natural disposition and instruction had nothing to do with conduct. And, of course, he could not mean any thing so self-contradictory as to say that all action is the result of custom : for it is plain that, in the first instance, it must be by actions that a custom is formed.
But he uses a strong expression, in order to impress it on our mind that, for practice, custom is the most essential thing, and that it will often overbear both the original disposition, and the precepts which have been learnt: that whatever a man may inwardly think, and (with perfect sincerity) say, you can not fully depend on his conduct till you know how he bas been accustomed to act. For, continued
1. Withs Twigs, or bands of twigs “If they bind me with seven green withs, then shall I be weak."-Judges, xvi: 7
2. Comfort. To strengthen as an ausiliary; to help. (The meaning of the original Latin word, Conforto.) “Now we erhort you brethren, comfort the feeble-minded."- 1 Thess., v:14.
3. Ilis. Ils. “But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body."-1 Cor., xv: 38.
4. Multiplication upon. “Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy."- Collect for the 4th Sunday afler Trinity.
action is like a continued stream of water, which wears for itself a channel, that it will not easily be turned from. The bed which the current had gradually scooped at first, afterward confines it.
Bacon is far from meaning, I conceive, when he says that "men speak as they have learned,” to limit himself to the case of insincere professions; but to point out how much easier it is to learn to repeat a lesson correctly, than to bring it into practice, when custom is opposed to it.
This is the doctrine of one whom Bacon did not certainly regard with any undue veneration-Aristotle ; who, in his “Ethics," dwells earnestly on the importance of being early accustomed to right practice, with a view to the formation of virtuous babits. And he derives the word “ethics" from a Greek word signifying custom; even as the word “morality” is derived from the corresponding Latin word "mos."
It is to be observed that, at the present day, it is common to use the words custom ” and “ habit” as synonymous; and often to employ the latter where Bacon would have used the former. But, strictly speaking, they denote respectively the cause and the effect. Repeated acts constitute the "custom ;” and the “habit” is the condition of mind or body thence resulting. For instance, a man who has been accustomed to rise at a certain hour, will have acquired the habit of waking and being ready to rise as soon as that hour arrives. And one who has made it his custom to drink drams, will have fallen into the habit of craving for that stimulus, and of yielding to that craving; and so of the rest.
Those are, then, in error who disparage (as Mrs. Hannah More does) all practice that does not spring from a formed habit. For instance, they censure those who employ children as almoners, handing them money or other things to relieve the poor with. For, say they, no one can give what is not his own ; there is no charity, unless you part with something that you might have kept, and which it a self-denial to part with. The answer is, that if the child does this readily and gladly, he has already learnt the virtue of charity ; but if it is a painful self-denial which you urge him to, as a duty, you are creating an association of charity with pain. On the contrary, if you accustom him to the pleasure of seeing distress relieved, and of being the instrument of giving pleasure, and doing good, the desire of this gratification will lead him, afterward, to part with something of his own, rather than forego it. Thus it is—to use Horace's comparison—that the young hound is trained for the chase in the woods, from the time that he barks at the deer-skin in the hall.1
The precept is very good, to begin with swimming with corks.
There is an error somewhat akin to the one I have been combating, which may be worth noticing here. Declamations are current in the present day against the iniquity of giving a bias to the minds of young persons, by teaching them our own interpretation of the Sacred Volume, instead of leaving them to investigate for themselves; that is, against endeavoring to place them in the same situation with those to whom those very Scriptures were written; instead of leaving them to struggle with difficulties which the Scriptures nowhere contemplate or provide against. The maintainers of such a principle would do well to consider, whether it would not, if consistently pursued, prove too much. Do you not, it might be asked, bias the minds of children, by putting into their hands the Scriptures them1. . .
" Venaticus, ex quo
selves, as the infallible word of God? If you are convinced that they are so, you
wonder to hear men profess, protest, engage, give great words, and then do
This “predominancy of custom” is remarkably exemplified in the case of soldiers who have long been habituated to obey, as if by a mechanical impulse, the word of command.
It happened, in the case of a contemplated insurrection in a certain part of the British Empire, that the plotters of it sought to tamper with the soldiers who were likely to be called out against them; and, for this purpose, frequented the public houses to which the soldiers resorted, and drew them into conversation. Reports of these attempts reached the officers; who, however, found that so little impression was made, that they did not think it needful to take any notice of them. On one occasion it appeared that a sergeant of a Scotch regiment was so far talked over as to feel and express great sympathy with the agitators, on account of their alledged grievances, as laid before him by the seducer. “Weel, now, I did na ken that; indeed, that seems unco hard ; I can na wonder that ye should complain o' that,” &c., &c.
The other, seeking to follow up his blow, then said: “I suppose now such honest fellows as you, if you were to be called out against us, when we were driven to rise in a good cause, would never have the heart to fire on poor fellows who were only seeking liberty and justice.” The sergeant replied (just as he was reaching down his cap and belt, to return to barracks,) "I'd just na advise ye to try!”
He felt conscious—misled as he had been respecting the justice of the causethat, whatever might be his private opinions and inward feelings, if the word of command were given to “make ready, present, fire,” he should instinctively obey it.
And this is very much the case with any one who has been long drilled in the ranks of a party. Whatever may be his natural disposition-whatever may be the judgment his unbiased understanding dictates on any point—whatever he may inwardly feel, and may (with perfect sincerity) have said—when you come to action, it is likely that the habit of going along with his party will prevail. And the more general and indefinite the purpose for which the party, or society (or by whatever name it may be called) is framed, and the less distinctly specified are its objects, the more will its members be, usually, under the control and Hirection of its leaders.
I was once conversing with an intelligent and liberal-minded man, who was expressing his strong disapprobation of some late decisions and proceedings of the leading persons of the society he belonged to, and assuring me that the greater part of the subordinates regarded them as wrong and unjustifiable. “But," said 1, " they will nevertheless, I suppose, comply, and act as they are required ? ” "Oh, yes, they must do that!”
Of course, there are many various degrees of partisanship, as there are also different degrees of custom in all other things; and it is not meant that all who are in any degree connected with any party must be equally devoted adherents of it. But I am speaking of the tendency of party-spirit, and describing a partyman so far forth as he is such. And persons of much experience in human affairs lay it down accordingly as a maxim, that you should be very cautious how you fully trust a party-man, however sound his own judgment, and however pure the principles on which he acts, when left to himself. A sensible and upright man, who keeps himself quite unconnected with party, may be calculated on as likely to act on the views which you have found him to take on each point. In some things, perhaps, you find him to differ from you ; in others to agree; but when you have learnt what his sentiments are, you know in each case what to expect. But it is not so with one who is connected with, and consequently controlled by, a party. In proportion as he is so, he is not fully his own master; and in some instances you will probably find him take you quite by surprise, by assenting to some course quite at variance with the sentiments which you have heard him express-probably with perfect sincerity- -as his own. When it comes to action, a formed habit of following the party will be likely to prevail over every thing. At least, "I'd just na advise ye to try!"
It is important to keep in mind that--as is evident from what has been said just above-habits are formed, not at one stroke, but gradually and insensibly; so that, unless vigilant care be employed, a great change may come over the character, without our being conscious of any. For, as Dr. Johnson has well expressed it, “The diminutive chains of habit are seldom heavy enough to be felt, till they are too strong to be broken."
And this is often strongly exemplified in the case just adverted to—that of party-spirit. It is not often that a man, all at once, resolves to join himsell to a party ; but he is drawn in by little and little. Party is like one of those perilous whirlpools sometimes met with at sea. When a vessel reaches the outer edge of one of them, the current moves so slowly, and with so little of a curve, that the mariners may be unconscious of moving in any curve at all, or even of any motion whatever. But each circuit of the spiral increases the velocity, and gradually increases the curve, and brings the vessel nearer to the center. And perhaps this rapid motion, and the direction of it, are for the first time perceived, when the force of the current has become irresistible.
"It is true that a man may, if he will, withdraw from, and disown, a party which he had formerly belonged to. But this is a step which requires no small degree of moral courage. And not only are we strongly tempted to shrink from taking such a step, but also our dread of doing so is likely rather to mislead our reason than to overpower it. A man will wish to think it justifiable to adhere to the party; and this wish is likely to bias his judgment, rather than to prevail on him to act contrary to his judgment. For, we know how much the judgment of men is likely to be biased, as well as how much they are tempted to acquiesce in something against their judgment, when earnestly pressed by the majority of