« ForrigeFortsett »
dependent upon them. This obligation, though a general one, is nevertheless a strong one. The duty it imposes is the dictate of natural and unsophisticated feeling; and it results directly from its obvious tendency to produce the greatest degree of individual and public happiness. But, assuming it to be granted, for it must be granted, that all, who have arrived at greater maturity, and made larger attainments, in what it concerns men most to know, are morally obliged to do something for the benefit of the less experienced, how will this obligation affect our own actions and practice? As the obligation rests upon all, and exists prior to, and independently of, any of the nearer relations, in which we may be placed to the young ; it must necessarily be so general and indeterminate, as sometimes to admit a doubt of its applicability to our particular case. And under doubtful circumstances, and such will always exist, or be easily created, we shall be quite likely to explain the obligation, so as in a pretty good degree, to suit our own selfish and short-sighted convenience. Fortunately for our happiness, as well as for that of those who must be guided by our experience, we are not left with so vague a rule for the discharge of our obligations in this respect. The duty is of the highest importance, involving in itself both temporal and eternal consequences ; the obligation is strong, and the rule explicit. If we faulter in the discharge of that duty, either through perversity or indifference, the responsibility, is surely and entirely our own.
Laws, where laws exist upon the subject, custom, and the forms of civil society, have subdivided the labour of instructing the young; and narrowed the sphere of individual responsibility almost to a point under our immediate inspection. None can, here, plead in mitigation of their neglect of or indifference to the subject, ignorance of where their duty lies, or who are the peculiar objects of it. Though, perhaps, many acknowledging the duty, seeing the objects of it, and being resolved to do every thing in their power to discharge it, may be ignorant of what it consists in. But when we have circumscribed the sphere of our responsibilities to the young, and brought them under our own eyes; when we clearly comprehend what we wish, or what we may expect to accomplish by our efforts ; it will then be seasonable to investigate or invent the means to be used for giving to our exertions their greatest efficacy. %
INFLUENCE OF EARLY EDUCATION.
The earliest years of infancy are committed to maternal tenderness by indications which can hardly be mistaken. No mother who knows that her children require the particular care and protection of any one, can doubt that the first stages of that care devolve, principally, upon her; though many who acknowledge the duty, and are devoted to the discharge of it, may not know the best means of accomplishing their object. Timid in adopting any systematic course of early education lest it should be wrong, and anxious to do something lest their children should suffer from their neglect, they commonly adopt and revoke, trace and retrace, do and undo; till, amidst all these contradictions and conflicting principles, the whole period of life, which is committed almost exclusively to their care, is wasted in doing nothing effectually. Yet, however inefficient this fluctuating and often entirely wrong course of discipline may be, the infancy and childhood of comparatively few of any generation are blessed with even maternal solicitude as to their education. By far the greater part of the children of every age and of almost every nation grow up without any instruction from their parents, except a little aid in the development of such instincts as serve to preserve their existence. Their whole education, if it may be called by that name, is drawn from parental examples, which are not always the best, and are oftentimes the most corrupt; and derived from the influence of surrounding society, which, all will acknowledge, contains abundantly enough of depravity to corrupt the propensities and pervert the tender principles of a child. The character of each generation, whatever it may be, is thus entailed with but slight modifications, upon its successor. And human reason and discretion have but little to do about it. All the appetites and passions, which we possess in common with the other animals, come into exercise without our efforts, and often in spite of them. While reason and the class of powers, which form man's distinguishing attributes, are developed but slowly and with the greatest care. The former, moreover, arrive at full maturity and strength, long before we can raise up the counteracting power of the latter to direct and control them. What wonder, then, that mankind make slow progress in improvement, when the current of strong influences sets so steadily against them!
But the state of society, in which we happen to live, is, perhaps, as favourably constituted as any on earth, for deriving the full advantage from a judicious well directed system of domestic education. For almost all have intelligence enough to understand its influence on the future character of children, and wisdom enough to appreciate its importance to them. Few, too, are here so depressed with poverty and want as not to have some opportunities to be improved for this purpose. And comparatively few have yet run so wild in dissipation and pleasure—that other barbarism—as not to leave some interstices of time for reflection upon a subject ; which, one would suppose, must be more important to them than any other. Systems of domestic education, however, can only be improved by an enlightened public opinion, and well informed heads of families devoted to the subject. To them, particularly to the mother, pertain the duty and the privilege of conducting the firststages of the education of their family. And both the Church and the State, in modern times, must be content to leave their future pillars in these hands.
Neither lawgivers, nor the forms of civil society have often interrupted what seems to be so plain a law of nature. Instances are to be found, indeed, far back in the history of the world, of a violation of it. But they are found in ages, and amidst institutions, in other respects, very different from our own. The Persian women, for example, were so far awed by power or influenced by the institutions and customs of their country, as to yield their children at a very early age, to the care of the public schools provided for their education. It was not merely to give them up, for a few hours in a day, to the care of instructed appointed by themselves and subject to their direction and control. But they were no longer the children of their mothers. The state or the public adopted them, and assumed the whole business of their future instruction. The institutions of the Persians, for early education were exceedingly simple in their organization, and perfectly adapted, as all institutions for similar purposes should be, to the object, for which they are intended. They seem to have been formed, too, under a strong conviction of the influence of early discipline. And they were so conducted as to prepare the children and youth for a faithful and successful discharge of the duties, which would devolve upon them in the capacity of men. In one respect, certainly, if no more, hints may be derived from them, useful even to more modern and enlightened ages. 1 allude to the attention which they paid to the developement of the physical as well as of the intellectual and moral powers. As a great part of the lives of the men were employed in war, in repelling the aggressions of their neighbours, and in making aggressions upon them; so a great part of their childhood and youth was taken up in athletic exercises or the appropriate discipline of their bodies Of course, where the influence of early education is in any degree, understood, the discipline of the young will have a reference, to what they are to practice when older. And in those states of society, where muscular force and agility constitute the principal accomplishments of age, they will be inculcated with the greatest assiduity upon youth.
But of all the ancient lawgivers, Lycurgus seems most thoroughly to have understood the influence of early education. And he most successfully turned its influence to account in accomplishing his designs. "What he thought most conducive to the virtue and happiness of a city," says his biographer, " was, principles interwoven with the manners and breeding of the people. These would remain immoveable,as founded in inclination, and be the strongest and most lasting tie ; and the habits, which education produced in youth, would answer in each the purpose of a lawgiver. As for smaller matters, contracts about property, and whatever occasionally varied, it was better not to reduce these to a written form and unalterable method, but to suffer them to change with the times, and to admit of additions or retrenchments at the pleasure of persons so well edur cated. >For he resolved the whole business of ligislation into the bringing up of youth." The Spartan children, therefore, were not under tutors, purchased or hired with money, nor were the parents at liberty to educate them as they pleased; but as soon as they were seven years old, Lycurgus ordered them to be enrolled in companies, where they were all kept under the same order and discipline, and had their exercises and recreations in common. He, who showed the most conduct and courage amongst them, was made captain of the company, the rest kept their eyes on him, obeyed his orders, and bore, with patience, the punishments he inflicted; so that their whole education was an exercise of obedience. The old men were present at their diversions, and often suggested some occasions of dispute or quarrel, that they might observe with exactness, the spirit of each, and their fimness in battle.
From this brief account of the institutions of Lycurgus for the education of youth it will be seen, that it " was not so much his object to give a knowledge of a great variety of things, as to form the passions, sentiments, and ideas, to that tone which might best assimilate with the constitutions of the state; and so to exercise the abilities of both body and mind, as to lead them to the highest possible capacity for the performance of every thing useful; particularly of every thing useful to the commonwealth."* By the wisdom and energy of such a policy, he in a few years, completely transformed the manners, customs, and characters of the Spartans. From an indolent, luxurious and debauched people, he rendered them active, temperate and virtuous, according to his ideas of those terms. So firmly, too, had he established his institutions, and so intimately had he blended their principles with the very characters and nature of his people, by his system of education; that, by their own strength, they sustained themselves in healthy and vigorous action, for nearly five hundred years, after his death. But "the beautiful pile of justice reared by the pious Numa," says Plutarch, " presently fell to the ground, being without the cement of education. For Numa left it to the option or convenience of parents, to bring up their sons to agriculture, to ship-building, to the business