From: Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).
Author: Jonathan Dymond
Published: Harper & Brothers 1834 Philadelphia
“IT is no less true than lamentable, that hitherto the education proper for civil and active life has been neglected; that nothing has been done to enable those who are actually to conduct the affairs of the world, to carry them on in a manner worthy of the age and country in which they live, by communicating to them the knowledge and the spirit of their age and country.”1—“Knowledge does not consist in being able to read books, but in understanding one’s business and duty in life.”—Most writers have considered the subject of education as relative to that portion of it only which applies to learning but the first object of all, in every nation, is to make a man a good member of society.”—“Education consists in learning what makes a man useful, respectable, and happy, in the line for which he is destined.”2
If these propositions are true it is evident that the systems of education which obtain need great and almost total reformation. What does a boy, in the middle class of society, learn at school of the knowledge and the spirit of his age and country? When he has left school, how much does he understand of the business and duty of life?
Education is one of those things which Lord Bacon would describe as having lain almost unaltered “upon the dregs of time.” We still fancy that we educate our children when we give them, as its principal constituent, that same instruction which was given before England had a literature of its own, and when Greek .and Latin contained almost the sum of human knowledge. Then the knowledge of Greek and Latin was called, and not unjustly called, learning. It was the learning which procured distinction and celebrity. A sort of dignity and charm was thrown around the attainments and the word which designated them. That charm has continued to operate to the present hour, and we still call him a learned man who is skilful in Latin and Greek. Yet Latin and Greek contain an extremely small portion of that knowledge which the world now possesses; an extremely small portion of that which it is of most consequence to acquire. It would be well for society if this word learning could be forgotten, or if we could make it the representative of other and very different ideas. But the delusion is continually propagated. The higher ranks of society give the tone to the notions of the rest; and the higher classes are educated at Westminster and Eton, and Cambridge and Oxford. At all these the languages which have ceased to be the languages of a living people,—the authors which communicate, relatively, little knowledge that is adapted to the present affairs of man,—are made the first and foremost articles of education. To be familiar with these is still to be a “learned” man. Inferior institutions imitate the example; and the parent who knows his son will be, like himself, a merchant or manufacturer, thinks it almost indispensable that he should “learn Latin.”
It may reasonably be doubted whether to even the higher ranks of society, this preference of ancient learning is wise. It may reasonably be doubted whether even at Oxford a literary revolution would not be a useful revolution. Indeed, the very circumstance that the system of education there is not essentially different from what it was centuries ago is almost a sufficient evidence that an alteration is needed. If the circumstances and the contexture of human society is altered,—if the boundaries of knowledge are very greatly extended, and if that knowledge which is now applicable to the affairs of life is extremely different from that which was applicable long ages ago,—it surely is plain that a system which has not, or has only slightly, accommodated itself to the new condition and new exigences of human affairs, cannot be a good system, cannot be a reasonable and judicious system. How stands the fact? When young men leave college to take part in the concerns of active life, how much assistance do they derive from classical literature? Look at the House of Commons. How much does this literature contribute to a member’s legislating wisely upon questions of political economy, of jurisprudence, of taxation, of reform? Or how much does it contribute to the capability of any other class of men to serve their families, their country, or mankind? I speak not of those professions to which a dead language may be necessary. A physician learns Latin as he attends the dissecting room: it is a part of his system of preparation for his pursuits in life. Even with the professions, indeed, the need of a dead language is factitious. It is necessary only because usage has made it so. But I speak of that portion of mankind who, being exempt from the necessity for toil, fill the various gradations of society from that of the prince to the private gentleman, Select what rank or what class you please, and ask how much its members are indebted to ancient learning for their capability to discharge their duties as parents, as men, or as citizens of the state,—the answer is literally, “Almost nothing.” Now this is a serious answer, and involves serious consequences. A young man, when he enters upon the concerns of active life, has to set about acquiring new kinds of knowledge,—knowledge totally dissimilar to the greater part of that which his “education” gave him; and the knowledge which education did give him he is obliged practically to forget,—to lay it aside it is something that is not adapted to the condition and the wants of society. But for what purpose are people educated, unless it be to prepare them for this condition and these wants? Or how can that be a judicious system which does not effect these purposes?
That no advantages result from the study of ancient classics it would be idle to maintain. But this is not the question. The question is, Whether so many advantages result from this study as from others that might be substituted; and I am persuaded that we shall become more and more willing to answer, No. With respect to the sum of knowledge which the works of antiquity convey, as compared with that which is conveyed by modem literature, the disproportion is great in the extreme. To say that the modern is a hundred times greater than the ancient is to keep far from the language of exaggeration. And to say the truth, the majority of those who are educated at college leave it with but an imperfect acquaintance with those languages which they have spent years in professing to acquire. There are some men skilled in the languages: there are some “learned” men; but the very circumstance that great skill procures celebrity is an evidence that great skill is rare. Among educated laymen the number is very small of those whose knowledge of Latin bears any respectable proportion to their knowledge of their own language,—of that language which they have hardly professed to learn at all.—If the London University should be successfully established, it is probable that at least one collateral benefit will result from it. The wide range of subjects which it proposes to embrace in its system of education will possess an influence upon other institutions; and the time may arrive when the impulse of public opinion shall reduce the mathematics of one of our universities and the classics of both, to such a relative station among the objects of human study as shall be better adapted to the purposes of human life.
If considerations like these apply to the preference of classical learning by those classes of society who can devote many years to the general purposes of education, much more do they apply to those who fill the middle ranks. Yet among these ranks the charm of the fiction has immense power. It has descended from universities to boarding-schools of thirty pounds a year; and the parent complacently pays the extra “three guineas” in order that his boy may “learn Latin.” We affirm that the knowledge of Latin and Greek is all but useless to these boys, and that if the knowledge were useful, they do not acquire it. What are the stations which they are about to fill? One is to be a manufacturer, and one a merchant, and one a ship-owner, and one will underwrite at Lloyd’s, and one will be a consul at Toulon. Nay, we might go lower, and say, one will be a tanner, and one a draper, and one a corn-factor. Yet these boys must learn Latin, and perhaps Greek too. And they do actually spend day after day, and perhaps year after year, upon “Hie hæc hoc,”—“Propria qua, maribus,”—“As in pnEsenti,”—“Et, and; cum, when;” and the like. What conceivable relationship do these things bear to making steam-engines, or discounting bills, or shipping cargoes, or making leather, or selling cloth? None. But it will be said, What relationship does any merely literary pursuit bear? Or why should a merchant’s son read Paradise Lost? Such questions conduct us to the just view of the case; and accordingly we answer, Let these young persons attend to literature, but let it be literature of the most expedient kind. Let them read Paradise Lost. Why? Because it is delightful, and because they can do it without learning a language in order to acquire the power: if Paradise Lost existed only in Arabic, I should think it preposterous to teach young persons Arabic in order that they might read it. To those who are to fill the active stations of life, literature must always be a subordinate concern; and it would be vain to deny that our own language possesses a sufficient store for them without learning others to increase it.
But indeed the children of the middle classes do not learn the languages. They do not learn them so as to be able to appreciate the merits and the beauties of ancient literature. Ask the boys themselves. Ask them whether they could hold an hour’s conversation with Cicero it he should stand before them. The very supposition is absurd. Or can they read and enjoy Cicero as they read and enjoy Addison? No. They do not learn the ancient languages. They pore over rules and exercises, and syntax and quantities, but as to learning the language, in the same sense as that in which it may be said they learn English, there is not one in a hundred, nor probably in ten thousand, who does it. Yet unless a person does learn a language so as to read it, at least, with perfect facility, what becomes of the use of the study as a means of elevating the taste? This is one of the advantages which are attributed to the study of the classics, But without inquiring whether the taste might not be as well cultivated by other means, one short consideration is sufficient that the taste is not cultivated by studying the classics but by mastering them,—by acquiring such a familiarity with these works as enables us to appreciate their excellences. This familiarity, or any thing that approaches to this familiarity, schoolboys do not acquire. Playfair makes a computation, from which he concludes that in ordinary boarding-schools, “not above one in a hundred learns to read even Latin decently well; that is, one good reader for every ten thousand pounds expended. As to speaking Latin,” he adds, “perhaps one out of a thousand may learn that so that there is a speaker for each sum of one hundred thousand pounds spent on the language.”3
Then it is said that the act of studying the ancient languages exercise the memory, cultivates the habit of attention, and teaches, too, the art of reasoning. Grant all this. Cannot then the memory be exercised as well by acquiring valuable knowledge as by acquiring a mere knowledge of words? Would the memory lose any thing by affixing ideas to the words it learned? The same questions apply to those who urge the habit of attention, and to all those advocates of the study who insist upon the exercise which it gives to the mind. We do not question the utility of this exercise; we only say that while the mind is exercised it should also be fed.—That such topics of advocacy are resorted to is itself an indication of the questionable utility of the study. No one thinks it necessary to adduce such topics as reasons for learning addition and subtraction.
The intelligent reader will perceive that the ground upon which these objections to classical studies are urged is that they occupy time which might be more beneficially employed. If the period of education were long enough to learn the ancient languages in addition to the more beneficial branches of knowledge, our inquiry would be of another kind. But the period is not long enough a selection must be made; and that which it has been our endeavour to show is, that in selecting the classics we make an unwise selection.
The remarks which follow will be understood as applying to the middle ranks of society; that is, to the ranks in which the greatest sum of talent and virtue resides, and by which the business of the world is principally carried on.—If we take up a card of terms of an ordinary boarding—school, we probably meet with an enumeration something like this—“Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, English Grammar, Composition, History, Geography, Use of the Globes, &c.;” besides the “accomplishments,” and French, Greek, and Latin. “Education consists in learning what makes a man useful, respectable, and happy in the line for which he is destined.” Useful, respectable, and happy, not merely in his counting-house, but in his parlour; not merely in his own house, but among his neighbours, and as a member of civilized society. Now surely the hat of subjects which are set down above is, to say the least, very imperfect. Besides reading, writing, and arithmetic, what is the amount of knowledge which it conveys? English Grammar:—This is in fact not learned by committing to memory lessons in the “grammar-book.” Composition:—This is of consequence; although, as school economy is now managed, it makes a better appearance on the master’s card than on the boy’s paper. History, Geography, and the Globe Problems are of great interest and value; and the great unhappiness is that such studies are postponed to others of comparatively little worth.
Since human knowledge is so much more extensive than the opportunity of individuals for acquiring it, it becomes of the greatest importance so to economize the opportunity as to make it subservient to the acquisition of as large and as valuable a portion as we can. It is not enough to show that a given branch of education is useful you must show that it is the most useful that can be selected. Remembering this, I think it would be expedient to dispense with the formal study of English Grammar,—a proposition which I doubt not many a teacher will hear with wonder and disapprobation. We learn the grammar in order that we may learn English; and we learn English whether we study grammars or not. Especially we shall acquire a competent knowledge of our own language if other departments of our education were improved. A boy learns more English Grammar by joining in an hour’s conversation with educated people than in poring for an hour over Murray or Home Tooke. If he is accustomed to such society and to the perusal of well written books, he will learn English Grammar though he never sees a word about syntax; and if he is not accustomed to such society and such reading, the “grammar books” at a boarding-school will not teach it. Men learn their own language by habit, and not by rules and this is just what we might expect; for the grammar of a language is itself formed from the prevalent habits of speech and writing. A compiler of grammar first observes these habits, and then makes his rules but if a person is himself familiar with the habits, why study the rules? I say nothing of grammar as a general science; because, although the philosophy of language be a valuable branch of human knowledge, it were idle to expect that schoolboys should understand it. The objection is, to the system of attempting to teach children formally that winch they will learn practically without teaching. A grammar of Murray’s lies before me, of which the leaves are worn into rags by being “learned.” I find the child is to learn that “words are articulate sounds, used by common consent as signs of our ideas.” Now I am persuaded that to nine out of every ten who “get this lesson by heart,” it conveys little more information than if the sentence were in Esquimaux. They do not know, with any distinctness, what “articulate sounds” means, nor what the phrase “common consent” means,—nor what “signs of ideas” means; and yet they know, without learning, all that this formidable sentence proposes to teach. They know perfectly well that they speak to their brothers and sisters in order to convey their ideas. Again “An improper diphthong has but one of the vowels sounded; as ea in eagle, oa in boat.” Does not every child who can spell the words eagle and boat know this without hearing a word about improper diphthongs? This species of instruction is like that of a man who, seeing a boy running after a hoop, should stop him to make him learn by heart that in order to run he must use, in a certain order, flexors and extensors and the tendon Achillis. A little girl runs to her mother and says, “Mary has given me Cowper’s Task this is what I wanted.” But still the little girl must learn, from her “grammar book,” how to use the word what. And this is the process—“What is a kind of compound relative, including both the antecedent and the relative, and is equivalent to that which as, This is what I wanted!” It really is wonderful that such a system of instruction should be continued,—a system which most laboriously attempts to teach that which a child will learn without teaching, and which is almost utterly abortive in itself. Children do not learn to speak and write correctly by learning lessons like these. A gentleman told me the other day that he learned one of Murray’s grammars until he could actually repeat it from beginning to end; and he does not recollect that one particle of knowledge was conveyed to his mind by it.
While the attempt thus to teach grammar is so needless and so futile, it occupies a great deal of a boy’s time; and by doing this it does great mischief, since his time is precious indeed. He might learn a great deal more of grammar by reading useful and interesting books, and by conversation respecting science and literature with an educated master, than by acquiring grammatical rules by rote. Grammar would be a collateral acquisition he would learn it while he was learning other important things.
In general, science is preferable to literature,—the knowledge of things to the knowledge of words. It is not by literature nor by merely literary men that the business of human society is now carried on. “Directly and immediately, we have risen to the station which we occupy, not by literature, not by the knowledge of extinct languages, but by the sciences of politics, of law, of public economy, of commerce, of mathematics; by astronomy, by chymistry, by mechanics, by natural history. It is by these that we are destined to rise yet higher. These constitute the business of society, and in these ought we to seek for the objects of education.”4
Yet at school how little do our children learn of these! The reader will ask, what system of education we would recommend; and although the writer of these pages can make no pretensions to accuracy of knowledge upon the subject, he thinks that an improved system would embrace, even in ordinary boarding—schools, such topics of instruction as these
Geography—Natural History, embracing Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, &c.
History of Mankind, especially the History of recent times.
Biography, particularly of modems.
Natural Philosophy, embracing Mechanics, Pneumatics, Optics, &c.; and illustrated by experiments; and embracing also Chymistry with experiments—Galvanism, &c.
Geology—Land Measuring—Familiar Geometry.
Elements of Political Science; embracing Principles of Religious and Civil Liberty; of Civil Obedience; of Penal Law and the general Administration of Justice; of Political Economy, &c.
If the reader should think that boys under sixteen can acquire little or no knowledge of these multifarious subjects, he is to remember what the enumeration excludes, and how vast a proportion of a boy’s time the excluded subjects now occupy. The whole, perhaps; of all his forenoons is now devoted to Latin,—Latin is excluded. An hour before breakfast is probably spent in learning sentences in a book of grammar—this mode of learning grammar is excluded. The amount of knowledge which a boy might acquire during these hours is very great. The formal learning of spelling does not appear in our enumeration. In many schools, this occupies a considerable portion of every week, if not of every day. Spelling may be learned, and in fact is learned, like grammar, by habit. A person reads a book, and without thinking of it, insensibly learns to spell that is, he perceives when he writes a word incorrectly, that it does not bear the same appearance as he has been accustomed to observe. Some persons when they are in doubt as to the orthography of a word, write it in two or three ways, and their eye tells them which is correct. Here again is a considerable saving of time. Nor is this all. I would not formally teach boys to write. I would not give them a copy-book to write, hour after hour, Reward sweetens Labour, and Industry is praised; but since they would have occasion to write many things in the pursuit of their other studies, I would require them to write those things fairly:—that is, once more, they should learn to write while they are learning to think. Nor would I formally teach them to read; but since they would have many books to peruse, they should frequently read them audibly; and by degrees would learn to read them well. And they would be much more likely to read them well, when the books were themselves delightful, than when they went up to the master’s desk to “read their lessons.” Learning “words and meanings,” as the schoolboy calls it, is another of the modes in which much time is wasted. The conversation to which a young person listens, the books which he reads, are the best teachers of words and meanings. He cannot help learning the meaning of words if they frequently and familiarly occur; and if they rarely occur, he will gain very little by learning columns of Entick.
With this exclusion of some subjects of study, and alteration of the mode of pursuing others, a schoolboy’s time would really be much more than doubled. Every year would practically be expanded into two or three. Let us refer then to some of the subjects of education which have been proposed.
In teaching geography, too little use is made of maps and too much of books. A boy will learn more by examining a good map and by listening to a few intelligible explanations, than by wearying himself with pages of geographical lessons. Lesson-learning is the bane of education. It disgusts and wearies young persons; and except with extreme watchfulness on the part of the teacher, is almost sure to degenerate into learning words without ideas. It is not an easy thing for a child to learn half a dozen paragraphs full of proper names, describing by what mountains and seas half a dozen countries are bounded. Yet with much less labour he might learn the facts more perfectly by his eye, and with less probability of their passing from his memory. The lessons will not be remembered except as they convey ideas.
To most, if not to all, young persons, natural history is a delightful study. Zoology, if accompanied by good plates, conveys permanent and useful knowledge. Such a book as Wood’s Zoography is a more valuable medium of education than three-fourths of the professed school—books in existence.
History and biography are, if it be not the fault of the teacher or his books, delightful also. Modem times should always be preferred; partly because the knowledge they communicate is more certain and more agreeable, and partly because it bears an incomparably greater relation to the present condition of men; and for that reason it is better adapted to prepare the young person for the part which he is to take in active life. If historical books even for the young possessed less of the character of mere chronicles of facts, and contained a few of those connecting and illustrating paragraphs which a man of philosophical mind knows how to introduce, history might become a powerful instrument in imparting sound principles to the mind, and thus in meliorating the general condition of society. Both biography and history should be illustrated with good plates. The more we can teach through the eye the better. It is hardly necessary to add, that a boy should not “learn lessons” in either. He should read these books, and means should afterward be taken to ascertain whether he has read them to good purpose.
There is, according to my views, no study that is more adapted to please and improve young persons than that of natural philosophy. When I was a schoolboy I attended a few lectures on the air-pump, galvanism, &c., and I value the knowledge which I gained in three evenings more highly than any other that I gained at school in as many months While our children are poring over lessons which disgust them, we allow that magazine of wonders which Heaven has stored up to lie unexplored and unnoticed. There are multitudes of young men and women who are considered respectably educated, who are yet wonderfully ignorant of the first principles of natural science. Many a boy who has spent years upon Latin cannot tell how it comes to pass that water rises in a pump; and would stare if he were told that the decanters on the table were not colder than the baize they stand on. I would rather that my son were familiar with the subjects of Paley’s Theology, than that he should surpass Elizabeth Carter in a translation of Epictetus.
Respecting the propriety of attempting to convey any knowledge of political science, many readers will probably doubt. Yet why? Is it not upon the goodness or badness of political institutions that much of the happiness or misery of mankind depends? And what means are so likely to amend the bad or to secure the continuance of the good, as the intelligent opinion of a people? We know that in all free states like our own, public opinion is powerful. What then can be more obviously true than that it should be made as just as we can? Nor would it be to much purpose to reply, that every master will teach his own political creed, and only nurse up ignorant and angry squabbles. The same reason would apply against inculcating religious principles yet who thinks these principles should be neglected because there are many creeds? Besides, one of the best means of educing political truth is by inquiry and discussion, and these are likely to be rationally promoted by making the elements of political knowledge a subject of education. To say the truth, these elements are not really very abstruse or remote. Having once established the maxim—which no reasonable man disputes—that the proper purpose of government is to secure the happiness of the community, very little is wanted in applying the principle to particular questions but honest conscientious thought. The difficulties are occasioned not so much by the nature of the case as by the interests and prejudices which habit and existing institutions introduce and bow shall these interests and prejudices be so effectually prevented from influencing the mind, as by the inculcation of simple truths before young persons mix in the business of the world?
These are general suggestions details are foreign to our purpose; but from these general suggestions the intelligent parent will perceive the kind of education that is proposed. If such an education would convey to young persons some tolerable portion of “the knowledge and the spirit of their age and country,” if it would tend to make them “useful, respectable, and happy” in the various relationships of life, the objects of intellectual education are, in the same degree, attained. So limited is the opportunity of the young for acquiring knowledge in comparison with the extent of knowledge itself, that upon some subjects little more is to be effected during the years that are professedly devoted to education, than to induce the desire of information and the habit of seeking it. A boy cannot be expected to acquire very extensive information respecting the application of the mechanical powers; but if he secs the value and the pleasure of studying it, he may hereafter benefit his country and the world by his ingenuity. Or a boy cannot be expected to know more than the elements of chymistry; yet this knowledge may in future enable him to add greatly to the comforts and conveniences of human life.
There are indications of a revolution in the system of education, which will probably lead both to great and beneficial results. Science is evidently gaining ground upon the judgments and affections of the public. Elementary books of science are, indeed, the familiar companions of young persons after they have left school. They lay aside tenses and parsing for “conversations on chymistry.” This is, so far, as it should be; and it would be better still if similar books had taken the place, at school, of accents and quantities, and cases and genders, and lesson learning by rote. This revolution is also indicated by the topics which are introduced into mechanics’ institutes. These associations seem almost instinctively to prefer science to literature, simply as such.—Perhaps it will be said that science is the branch of knowledge which is more peculiarly adapted to their employments in life. But the scientific information which an individual acquires usually produces little immediate effect upon his mode of working. The carpenter cannot put up a staircase the better for attending a lecture on chymistry. No they prefer science because it is preferable: preferable, not for mechanics merely, but for man. It is of less consequence to man to know what Horace wrote, or to be able to criticise the Greek anthology, than to know by what laws the Deity regulates the operations of nature, and by what means those operations are made subservient to the purposes of life.
A consideration of the kind of knowledge which education should impart is, however, but one division of the general subject. The consideration of the best mode of imparting it is another. Various reasons induce the writer to say little respecting the last,—of which reasons one is, that he does not possess information that satisfies his own mind I and another, that it is not so immediately connected with the general purpose of the work. That great improvements have recently been made in the mode of conveying knowledge to large numbers is beyond dispute. Whether, or to what extent, these improvements are applicable to schools of twenty children, or to families of three or four, experience will be likely to decide. With the prodigious power of giving publicity and exciting discussion which men now possess, the best systems are likely ultimately to prevail.
One observation may however safely be made,—that if two systems are proposed, each with apparently nearly equal claims, and one of which will be more pleasurable to the learner, that one is undoubtedly the beat. That which a boy delights in he will learn, and if the subjects of instruction were as delightful as they ought to be, and the mode of conveying were pleasurable too, there would be an immense addition to the stock of knowledge which a schoolboy acquires. We complain of the aversion of the young to learning, and the young complain of their weariness and disgust. It is in a great degree our own faults. Knowledge is delightful to the human mind; but we may, if we please, select such kinds of knowledge, and adopt such modes of imparting it, as shall make the whole system not delightful but repulsive. This, to a great extent, we actually do. We may do the contrary if we will.
There does not appear any reason why the education of women should differ, in its essentials, from that of men. The education which is good for human nature is good for them. They are a part—and they ought to be in a much greater degree than they are, a part—of the effective contributions to the welfare and intelligence of the human family. In intellectual as well as in other affairs, they ought to be fit helps to man. The preposterous absurdities of chivalrous times still exert a wretched influence over the character and the allotment of women. Men are not polite but gallant they do not act towards women as 10 beings of kindred habits and character, as to beings who, like the other portion of mankind, reason and reflect and judge, but as to beings who please, and whom men are bound to please. Essentially there is no kindness, no politeness in this; but selfishness and insolence. He is the man of politeness who evinces his respect for the female mind. He is the man of insolence who tacitly says, when he enters into the society of women, that he needs not to bring his intellects with him. I do not mean to affirm that these persons intend insolence, or are conscious always of the real character of their habits they think they are attentive and polite; and habit has become so inveterate, that they really are not pleased if a woman, by the vigour of her conversation, interrupts the pleasant trifling to which they are accustomed. Unhappily, a great number of women themselves prefer this varnished and gilded contempt to solid respect. They would rather think themselves fascinating than respectable. They will not see, and very often they do not see, the practical insolence with which they are treated yet what insolence is so great as that of half a dozen men who, having been engaged in an intelligent conversation, suddenly exchange it for frivolity if ladies enter?
For this unhappy state of intellectual intercourse, female education is in too great a degree adapted. A large class are taught less to think than to shine. If they glitter, it matters little whether it be the glitter of gilding or of gold. To be accomplished is of greater interest than to be sensible. It is of more consequence to this class to charm by the tones of a piano than to delight and invigorate by intellectual conversation. The effect is reciprocally bad. An absurd education disqualifies them for intellectual exertion, and that very disqualification perpetuates the degradation. I say the degradation, for the word is descriptive of the fact. A captive is not the less truly bound because his chains are made of silver and studded with rubies. If any community exhibits, in the collective character of its females, an exception to these remarks, it is, I think, exhibited among the Society of Friends. Within the last twenty-five yean the public have had many opportunities of observing the intellectual condition of Quaker women. The public have not been dazzled; who would wish it? but they have seen intelligence, sound sense, considerateness, discretion. They have seen these qualities in a degree, and with an approach to universality of diffusion, that is not found in any other class of women as a class. There are, indeed, few or no authors among them. The Quakers are not a writing people. If they were, there is no reason to doubt that the intelligence and discretion which are manifested by their women’s actions and conversation would be exhibited in their books.
Unhappily some of the causes which have produced these qualities are not easily brought into operation by the public, One of the most efficient of these causes consists in that economy of the society by which its women have an extensive and a separate share in the internal administration of its affairs. In the exercise of this administration they are almost inevitably taught.to think and to judge. The instrument is powerful; but how shall that instrument be applied—where shall it be procured —by the rest of the public?
Not, however, that the intellectual education of these females is what it ought to be, or what it might be. They, too, waste their hours over “grammar books,” and “geography books,” and lesson books,—over Latin sometimes, and Greek; and, if the remark can be adventured on, over stitching and hemming too. Something must be amiss when a girl is kept two or three hours every day in acquiring the art of sewing. What that something is,—whether it is practised like parsing because it is common, or whether more accurate proficiency is expected than reason would prescribe,—I presume not to determine; but it may safely be concluded, that if a portion equal to a fourth or a third part of those years which are afforded to that mighty subject, the education of the human mind, is devoted to the acquisition of one manual art like this,—more is devoted than any one who reasons upon the subject can justify.
If then we were wise enough to regard women, and if women were wise enough to regard themselves, with that real practical respect to which they are entitled, and if the education they received was such as that respect would dictate, we might hereafter have occasion to say, not as it is now said, that “in England women are queens,” but something higher and greater; we might say that in every thing, social, intellectual, and religious, they were fit to co-operate with man, and to cheer and assist him in his endeavours to promote his own happiness and the happiness of his family, his country, and the world.
1 Art. 4; Education. Wesmt. Rev. No. 1.
2 Playfair Causes of Decline of Nations, p. 97, 98, 227.
3 Inq. Causes of Decline of Nations, p. 2[illegible]4.
4 Art. 9 Outlines of Philosophical Education, &c. Westm. Rev. No. 7.
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- Preface to the American Edition.
- Introductory Notices.
- Moral Obligations.
- Standard of Right and Wrong.
- Subordinate Standards of Right and Wrong.
- Standard of Right and Wrong Footnotes.
- Collateral Observations.
- Immediate Communication of the Will of God.
- Immediate Communication of the Will of God Footnotes.