Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

parental trust, and to consign those pupils to ignorance, who are not blessed with brilliant talents. The frequently recurring failure of laborious and painful efforts is sufficiently mortifying, without being imputed as a fault; but who can escape censure, if the apathy of sluggish minds, or the impracticability of dull parts, is to be fixed on the instructors as arising from a dereliction of their duty ? There will always be a grenadier company in academical as well as in military bodies. It is to be feared there will also be an awkward squad : but we find that we can drill those prevailing numbers, who just come up to the regimental standard, into useful fighting men.

That our course of instruction is so completely unprofessional, is with me a merit, rather than a defect. We teach the general principles of religion ; but we leave it to the universities to form the divine: we leave it to the bar to form its own lawyers : but we endeavour to lay that solid foundation, on which a superstructure of may be raised. A strong objection against educating with professional views too early, is, that all professional education, not to speak invidiously, has an eye to pecuniary interest, and the politic arts of pushing forward in life. There is no fear that these objects will not occupy the mind soon enough : and it is highly desirable that it should previously be furnished with sentiments of independence, with a taste for the liberal arts, with that common stock for the intercourse of polite society, which distinguish the gentleman from the.

any order

.

recluse, the pedant, or the plodder. But the truth is, that besides this advantage, classical education does make preparation for the peculiar duties and pursuits of after life, though not exclusively or engrossingly: in addition to which, it furnishes at the time, and continues to furnish through life, something valuable in itself to all those who possess it, independently of its subserviency to their more necessary pursuits, and independently of the mental discipline incident to its acquirement.

My station in life may be supposed to give a bias to my opinions and reasonings on this subject. I will therefore appeal to the testimony of the great Lord Chatham, as simply and beautifully delivered in those letters to his nephew, Lord Camelford, for the possession of which we are indebted to Lord Grenville :-“ I rejoice to hear that you have begun Homer's Iliad, and have made so great a progress in Virgil. I hope you taste and love those authors particularly. You cannot read them too much ; they are not only the two greatest poets, but they contain the finest lessons for your age to imbibe ; lessons of honour, courage, disinterestedness, love of truth, command of temper, gentleness of behaviour, humanity, and in one word, virtue in its true signification. Go on, my dear nephew, and drink as deep as you can of those divine springs : the pleasure of the draught is equal at least to the prodigious advantage of it to the heart and morals. I hope you will drink them as somebody does in Virgil,

of another sort of cup: Ille impiger hausit spumantem pateram."

Lord Chatham, it should seem, did not hold the opinion expressed by a German writer, who says that he would as soon insist on seeing a boy with a brandy bottle, as a book, continually in his hands. In a subsequent passage, the great statesman who so gracefully and benevolently descends into the office of a private tutor, advises his pupil to consider the poets, however delightful, as subordinate objects of his attention :

“I beg a copy of your elegy on your mother's picture: it is such admirable poetry, that I beg you to plunge deep into prose and severer studies, and not indulge your genius for verse, for the present. Finitimus oratori poeta. Substitute Tully and Demosthenes in the place of Homer and Virgil; and arm yourself with all the variety of manner, copiousness and beauty of diction, nobleness and magnificence of ideas, of the Roman consul; and render the powers of eloquence complete, by the irresistible torrent of vehement argumentation, the close and forcible reasoning, and the depth and fortitude of mind of the Grecian statesman.”

If what has been said be sufficient to justify the choice of our studies, the next question is, whether we pursue them wisely and successfully. It will scarcely be contended, that with the advantage of the emulation we have the means of exciting, we are likely to be less qualified teachers of the learned languages, than those who devote their talents to more confined numbers or individual objects of their attention. The charge to which we must plead guilty is, taking a longer time about it. Perhaps, however, we lay up a larger stock of materials in the course of our teaching, than those who make a merit of communicating the mere languages in a shorter time than ourselves. In fact, I positively deny that the seven or eight years passed at a public school are devoted to the acquisition of two languages. Simple construction is merely mechanical ; and lectures produce little of lasting impression even on adult minds. We endeavour, in our upper classes, to unite the interest of lectures with the discipline of examination. Those youths who make full use of the opportunities offered them in public instruction, and that more extensive course of private reading, in which it is our habit to engage boys of ardent mind and considerable power, acquire with the languages, the heart and soul of the authors : the facts contained in their histories, their principles of public conduct, their private morals, the civil and military constitutions of their countries, with their resemblances and discrepancies in reference to our own: the most approved rules of taste in poetry and the fine arts, and their effects upon modern literature. I should think but meanly of that teacher, who could read Homer with his class, and not occasionally talk to them about Milton. With as little favour should I regard the intellectual energy of him, who could read

page
after

page of Cicero with his pupils, without comparing the

Roman Forum with the practice of the English Bar, and the province of our juries with the office of their judices; without looking at the senatus populusque Romanus, with reference to the constitutional functions of the British Parliament: who could read the two great orators of antiquity without associating the name of Cicero with that of Pitt, and the name of Demosthenes with that of Fox. Still less could I apologise for the neglect or apathy of that instructor, who should pass by any occasion which either the best or the worst philosophy and morals of the ancients may happen to furnish, of impressing on the minds of his hearers the superiority of the wisdom from above, to any thing that the wit of man has ever yet devised ; of pointing out how abhorrent from Christian principles are their worst doctrines, how greatly inferior the noblest conjectures of their most highly favoured minds. With respect to the mode in which religious convictions are most successfully impressed, I feel convinced from the habitual practice of both methods, that the evidences of Christianity, those at least which are collateral, are

more favourably received when thrown in incidentally, when they strike with a surprise, or steal upon the mind, than when they are ushered in with the formality of prepared lectures. All those who are extensively conversant with young minds and feelings must know, that what is necessarily very serious, is presupposed to be

very dull, and consequently heard with listlessness, or perhaps even with disgust. The only

« AnteriorContinuar »