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For_learning, like all true merit, is easily satisfied; while the false and counterfeit is perpetually craving, and never thinks it has enough. The smallest favor given by a great prince, as a mark of esteem to reward the endowments of the mind, never fails to be returned with praise and gratitude, and loudly celebrated to the world. I have known, some years ago, several pensions given to particular persons, (how deservedly I shall not inquire,) any one of which, if divided into several parcels, and distributed by the crown to those who might, upon occasion, distinguish themselves by some extraordinary production of wit or learning, would be amply sufficient to answer the end. Or, if any such persons were above money, (as every great genius certainly is, with very moderate conveniences of life,) a medal or some mark of distinction would do full as well.
But I forget my province, and find myself turning projector before I am aware; although it be one of the last characters under which I should desire to appear before your lordship, especially when I have the ambition of aspiring to that of being, with the greatest respect and truth, my lord, your lordship’s most obedient, most obliged, and most humble servant,
AN ESSAY ON MODERN EDUCATION.
From frequently reflecting upon the course and method of educating youth in this and a neighboring kingdom, with the general success and consequence thereof, I am come to this determination, that education is always the worse, in proportion to the wealth and grandeur of the parents; nor do I doubt in the least, that if the whole world were now under the dominion of one monarch, (provided I might be allowed to choose where he should fix the seat of his empire,) the only son and heir of that monarch would be the worst educated mortal that ever was born since the creation; and I doubt the same proportion will hold through all degrees and titles, from an emperor downward to the common gentry.
I do not say that this has been always the case; for, in better times, it was directly otherwise, and a scholar may fill half his Greek and Roman shelves with authors of the noblest birth, as well as highest virtue: nor do I tax all nations at present with this defect, for I know there are some to be excepted, and particularly Scotland,
under all the disadvantages of its climate and soil, if that happiness be not rather owing even to those very disadvantages. What is then to be done, if this reflection must fix on two countries, which will be most ready to take offence, and which, of all others, it will be least prudent or safe to offend ?
But there is one circumstance yet more dangerous and lamentable: for if, according to the postulatum already laid down, the higher quality any youth is of, he is in greater likelihood to be worse educated, it behoves me to dread and keep far from the verge
of scandalum magnatum.
Retracting therefore that hazardous postulatum, I shall venture no further at present than to say, that perhaps some additional care in educating the sons of nobility and principal gentry might not be ill employed. If this be not delivered with softness enough, I must for the future be silent.
In the mean time, let me ask only two questions, which relate to England. I ask, first, how it comes about that, for above sixty years past, the chief conduct of affairs has been generally placed in the hands of new men, with very few exceptions? The noblest blood of England having been shed in the grand rebellion, many great families became extinct, or were supported only by minors. When the king was restored, very few of those lords remained who began, or at least had improved, their education under the reigns of king James or king Charles I., of which lords the two principal were the marquis of Ormond and the earl of Southamptom. The minors had, during the rebellion and usurpation, either received too much tincture of bad principles from those fanatic times, or, coming to age at the Restoration, fell into the vices of that dissolute reign.
I date from this era the corrupt methods of education among us, and, in consequence thereof, the necessity the crown lay under of introducing new men into the chief conduct of public affairs, or to the office of what we now call prime-ministers; men of art, knowledge, application and insinuation, merely for want of a supply among the nobility. They were generally (though not always) of good birth; sometimes younger brothers, at other times such, who, although inheriting good estates, yet happened to be well educated, and provided with learning. Such, under that king, were Hyde, Bridgeman, Clifford, Osborn, Godolphin, Ashley Cooper: few or none under the short reign of king James II. : under king William, Somers, Montague, Churchill, Vernon, Boyle, and many others. under the queen, Harley, St. John, Harcourt, Trevor: who, indeed, were persons of the best private families, but unadorned with titles. So in the following reign, Mr. Robert Walpole was for many years prime-minister, in which post he still happily continues : his brother Horace is ambassador extraordinary to France. Mr. Addison and Mr. Craggs, without the least alliance to support them, have been secretaries of state.
If the facts have been thus for above sixty years past, (whereof I could, with a little further recollection, produce many more instances,) I would ask again, how it has happened, that in a nation plentifully abounding with nobility, so great share in the most competent parts of public management has been for so long a period chiefly intrusted to commoners : unless some omissions or defects of the highest import may be charged upon those to whom the care of educating our noble youth had been committed ? For, if there be any difference between human creatures in the point of natural parts, as we usually call them, it should seem that the advantage lies on the side of children born from noble and wealthy parents; the same traditional sloth and luxury which render their body weak and effeminate, perhaps refining and giving a freer motion to the spirits beyond what can be expected from the gross, robust issue of meaner mortals. Add to this the peculiar advantages which all young noblemen possess by the privileges of their birth. Such as a free access to courts, and a universal deference paid to their persons.
But, as my lord Bacon charges it for a fault on princes, that they are impatient to compass ends without giving themselves the trouble of consulting or executing the means, so, perhaps, it may be the disposition of young nobles, either from the indulgence of parents, tutors, and governors, or their own inactivity, that they expect the accomplishments of a good education without the least expense of time or study to acquire them.
What I said last I am ready to retract, for the case is infinitely worse; and the very maxims set up to direct modern education are enough to destroy all the seeds of knowledge, honor, wisdom, and virtue among us. The current opinion prevails, that the study of Greek and Latin is loss of time; that public schools, by mingling the sons of noblemen with those of the vulgar, engage the former in bad company; that whipping breaks the spirits of lads well born; that universities make young men pedants; that to dance, fence, speak French, and know how to behave yourself among great persons of both sexes, comprehends the whole duty of a gentleman.
I cannot but think this wise system of education has been much cultivated among us by those worthies of the army who, during the last war, returned from Flanders at the close of each compaign, became the dictators of behavior, dress, and politeness, to all those youngsters who frequent chocolate-coffee-gaming-houses, drawingrooms, operas, levees, and assemblies: where a colonel, by his pay, perquisites, and plunder, was qualified to outshine many peers of the realm ; and by the influence of an exotic habit and demeanor, added to other foreign accomplishments, gave the law to the whole town, and was copied as the standard pattern of whatever was refined in dress, equipage, conversation, or diversions.
I remember, in those times, an admired original of that vocation sitting in a coffee-house near two gentlemen, whereof one was of the clergy, who were engaged in some discourse that savored of learning. This officer thought fit to interpose, and professing to deliver the sentiments of his fraternity, as well as his own, (and probably he did so of too many among them,) turned to the clergyman, and spoke in the following manner: “D-n me, doctor, say what
you will, the army is the only school for gentlemen. Do you think my lord Marlborough beat the French with Greek and Latin ? D—11 me, a scholar when he comes into good company, what is he but an ass? D-n me, I would be glad by G-d to see any of your scholars with his nouns and his verbs, and his philosophy, and trigonometry, what a figure he would make at a siege, or blockade, or rencountering —D—n me,” &c. After which he proceeded
, with a volley of military terms, less significant, sounding worse, and harder to be understood than any that were ever coined by the commentators upon Aristotle. I would not here be thought to charge the soldiery with ignorance and contempt of learning without allowing exceptions, of which I have known many; but, however, the worst example, especially in a great majority, will certainly prevail.
I have heard that the late earl of Oxford, in the time of his ministry, never passed by White's chocolate-house (the common rendezvous of infamous sharpers and noble cullies) without bestowing a curse upon that famous academy as the bane of half the English nobility. I have likewise been told another passage concerning that great minister, which, because it gives a humorous idea of one principal ingredient in modern education, take as follows: Le Sack, the famous French dancing-master, in great admiration,
* Swift has versified part of this passage in his poem on Hamilton's Bawn.
asked a friend whether it were true that Mr. Harley was made an earl and lord-treasurer? and finding it confirmed said, “Well; I wonder what the devil the queen could see in him; for I attended him two years, and he was the greatest dunce that ever I taught.” 1
Another hinderance to good education, and I think the greatest of any, is that pernicious custom in rich and noble families of entertaining French tutors in their houses. These wretched pedagogues are enjoined by the father to take special care that the boy shall be perfect in his French; by the mother, that master must not walk till he is hot, nor be suffered to play with other boys, nor be wet in his feet, nor daub his clothes, and to see the dancing-master attends constantly, and does his duty; she further insists, that he be not kept too long poring on his book, because he is subject to sore eyes, and of a weakly constitution.
By these methods the young gentleman is, in every article, as fully accomplished at eight years old as at eight-and-twenty, age adding only to the growth of his person and his vice; so that if you should look at him in his boyhood through the magnifying end of a perspective, and in his manhood through the other, it would be impossible to spy any difference; the same airs, the same strut, the same cock of his hat, and posture of his sword, (as far as the change of fashions will allow,) the same understanding, the same compass of knowledge, with the very same absurdity, impudence, and impertinence of tongue.
He is taught from the nursery that he must inherit a great estate, and has no need to mind his book, which is a lesson he never forgets to the end of his life. His chief solace is to steal down and play at spanfarthing with the page or young blackamoor, or little favorite footboy, one of which is his principal confidant and bosom friend.
There is one young lord 2 in this town, who, by an anexampled piece of good fortune, was miraculously snatched out of the gulph of ignorance, confined to a public school for a due term of years, well whipped when he deserved it, clad no better than his comrades, and always their playfellow on the same foot; had no precedence in the school, but what was given him by his merit, and lost it whenever he was negligent. It is well known how many mutinies were bred at this unprecedented treatment, what complaints among his relations, and other great ones of both sexes; that his stockings with silver clocks were ravished from him; that he wore his own hair;
· The story of Le Sack many of the dean's friends have heard him tell, as he had it from the earl himself.
? Lord Mountcashel, bred at Dr. Sheridan's school.