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§ 174. If these may be any reasons against
Verses. children's making Latin themes at school, I have 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 unreasonable 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 labour to have it stifled 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 like to spend his time in, nay, 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 have nothing 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 school-master 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 his fancy and parts, he must need yet confess, that, to that end, read. ing 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 yerses. Memoriter,
175. Apother. thing, very ordinary in pe: the vulgar method of grammar-schools, there is, of which I see no use at all, unless it be to baulk 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, ás much as possible, quite removed. That which I mean, and here complain of, is, their being forced to learu 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 hand.: some 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 glittera ing 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 some.. times 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 find nothing but useless trouble.. .
$ 176. I hear it is said, that children should be em. ployed in getting things by heart, to exercise and im- . prove 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 an happy constitution, and not to any habitual improve ment 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 bees wax 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 any 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 lead this way, make them rememher 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 endeavour of ours, at least not by that used upon this pretence 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 an 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 hoy. 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 me. thod 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 me. mories 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 for ever. This mends neither 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 those 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 cannot wish them a better intellectual habit.
. • $ 177. But under whose care soever a child is put to be taught during the tender and flexible
La 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: which, if once got, though all the rest should be neglected, 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 herself, 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 so 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 humour, and the skill to carry himself with gravity, ease and kind. ness, in a constant conversation with his pupils. But of this I have spoken at large in another place.