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the ordinary course of study. Here the spirit of system dis-


appears, and gives place to more judicious and more practi-
cal ideas. Thus Condillac thinks that "the stud}' of gram-
mar would be more wearisome than useful if it come too
early." Would that he had applied this principle to psychol-
ogy ! Before studying grammar, then, Condillac's pupil reads
the poets, — the French poets, of course, — and preferably
the dramatic authors, Raciue especially, whom he reads for
the twelfth time. The real knowledge of the language pre-
cedes the abstract study of the rules. Condillac himself
composed a grammar entitled the Art of Speaking. In this
he imitates the authors of Port Royal, " who," he says,
" were the first to write elementary books on an iutelligent
plan." After the Art of Speaking he calls the attention of
his pupil to three other treatises in succession, — the Art of
Writing, or rhetoric, the Art of Reasoning, or logic, and the
Art of Thinking. We shall not attempt an analysis of these
works, which have gone out of date, notwithstanding the
value of certain portions of them. The general characteris-
tic of these treatises on intellectual education is that the
author is pre-occupied with the relations of ideas more than
with the exterior elegancies of style, with the development of
thought more than with the beauties of language : —

"Especially must the intelligence be nourished, even as
the bod}' is nourished. We must present to it knowledge,
which is the wholesome aliment of spirit, opinions and errors
being aliment that is poisonous. It is also necessary that
the intelligence be active, for the thought remains imbecile
as long as, passive rather than active, it moves at random."

344. Othek Parts of the Course of Study. — It
seems that Condillac is in pursuit of but one single purpose,
— to make of his pupil a thinking being. The stud}' of
Latin is postponed till the time when the intelligence, being
completely formed, will find in the study of that language


only the difficulty of learning words. Condillac has but
little taste for the study of the ancient languages. He rele-
gates the study of Latin to the second place, and omits
Greek entirely. But he accords a great importance to his-
torical studies.

"After having learned to think, the Prince made the study
of history his principal object for six years."

Twelve volumes of the Course of Study have transmitted
to us Condillac's lessons in history. In this he does not take
delight, as Rollin does, in long narrations ; but he analyzes,
multiplies his reflections, and abridges facts ; he philoso-
phizes more than he recites the facts of history.

345. Personal Reflection. — What we have said of Con-
dillac's Course of Study suffices to justify the judgment
expressed of his pedagogy by one of his disciples, Gexando,
when he wrote: "He who had so thoroughly studied the
manner in which ideas are formed in the human mind, had
but little skill in calling them into being in the intelligence
of his pupil."

But we would judge our author unjustly if, after the criti-
cisms we have made of him, we were not to accord him the
praise he deserves, especially for having comprehended, as he
has done, the value of personal reflection, and the superiority \
of judgment over memory. A few quotations will rehabilitate
the pedagogy of Condillac in the minds of our readers.

Above all else there must be an exercise in personal
reflection : —

" I grant that the education which cultivates only the
memory may make prodigies, and that it has done so ; but
these prodigies last only during the time of infancy. . . .
He who knows only by heart, knows nothing. . . . He who
has not learned to reflect has not been instructed, or, what is
still worse, has been poorly instructed."


"True knowledge is in the reflection, which has acquired
it, much more than in the memory, which holds it in keep-
ing ; and the things which we are capable of recovering are
better known than those of which we have a recollection.
It does not suffice, then, to give a child knowledge. It is
necessary that he instruct himself by seeking knowledge on
his own account, and the essential point is to guide him
properly. If he is led in an orderly way, he will acquire
exact ideas, and will seize their succession and relation.
Then, able to call them up for review, he will be able to
compare them with others that are more remote, and to
make a final choice of those which he wishes to study.
Reflection can always recover the things it has known,
because it knows how it originally found them ; but thfe
memory does not so recover the things it has learned,
because it does not know how it learns."

This is why Condillac places far above the education w 3
receive, the education that we give ourselves : —

"Henceforth, Sir, it remains for you alone to instruct
yourself. Perhaps you imagine you have finished ; but it is I
who have finished. You are to begin anew ! "

346. Excessive Devotion Criticised. — What beautiful
lessons Condillac also addresses to his pupil to induce him to
enfranchise himself from ecclesiastical tutelage ! Written
by an abbot, the eloquent page we are about to read proves
how the lay spirit tended to pronounce itself in the eighteenth

"You cannot be too pious, Sir; but if your piety is not
enlightened, you will so far forget your duties as to be
engrossed in the little things of devotion. Because prayer is
necessary, you will think you ought always to be praying,
not considering that true devotion consists first of all in
fulfilling the duties of your station in life : it will not be your


fault that you do uot live in your heart as in a cloister.
Hypocrites will swarm around you, the monks will issue
from their cells. The priests will abandon the service of the
altar in order to be edified with the sight of your holy
works. Blind prince ! you will not perceive how their con-
duct is in contradiction with their language. You will not
even observe that the men who praise you for always being
at the foot of the altar, themselves forget that it is their own
duty to be there. You will unconsciously take their place
and leave to them your own. You will be continually at
prayer, and you will believe that you assure your salvation.
They will cease to pray, and you will believe that they
assure their salvation. Strauge contradiction, which turns
aside ministers from the Church to give bad ministers to the
State." i

347. Diderot (1713-1784). — To him who knows noth-
ing of Diderot save his works of imagination, often so licen-
tious, it will doubtless be a surprise to see the name of this
fantastic writer inscribed in the catalogue of educators.
But this astonishment will disappear if we will take the
trouble to recollect with what versatility this mighty spirit
could vary the subject of his reflections, and pass from the
gay to the solemn, and especially with what ardor, in con-
junction with D'Alembert, he was the principal founder of |
the Encycloj>edie, and the indefatigable contributor to it.

348. His Pedagogical Works. — But there is no room
for doubt. Diderot has written at least two treatises that
belong to the history of education: first, about 1773, The
Systematic Refutation of the Book of Helvetius on Man, an
incisive and eloquent criticism of the paradoxes and errors
of Helvetius ; and, in the second place, about 1776, a com-

1 Cours d'€tudes, Tome X. Introduction.


plete scheme of education, composed at the request of Cath-
erine II., under the title, Plan of a University. 1

349. His Merits as an Educator. — Doubtless Diderot
did not have sufficient gravity of character or sufficiently
definite ideas to be a perfect educator ; but, by way of com-
pensation, the natural and acquired qualities of his mind

I made him worthy of the confidence placed in him by Cathe-
rine II. in entrusting him with the organization, at least in

\ theory, of the iustruction of the Russian people. First of
all, he had the merit of being a universal thinker, " suffi-
ciently versed in all the sciences to know their value, and
not sufficiently profound in any one to give it a preference
inspired by predilection." Engaged in the scientific move-
ment, of which the Encyclopedia was the centre, he at the
same time cherished an enthusiastic passion for letters. He
worshipped Shakespeare and modern poetry, but he was not
less enamored of classical antiquity, and for several years,
he says, "he thought it as much a religious duty to read a
song of Homer as a good priest would to recite his breviary."

350. Necessity of Instruction. — Diderot, and this is
to his praise, is distinguished from the most of his contem-

i poraries, and especially from Rousseau, by his ardent faith
I in the moral efficacy of instruction : —

" Far from corrupting," he exclaims, "iustruction sweet-
ens character, throws light on duty, makes vice less gross,
and either chokes it or conceals it. . . . I dare assert that
purity of morals has followed the progress of dress, from the
skin of animals to fabrics of silk."

Hence he decides on the necessity of instruction for all : —
" From the prime minister to the lowest peasant, it is good
for every one to know how to read, write, and count."

1 See (Euvres completes of Diderot. Edited by Tourneux, 1876-77.
Tomes II. and III.


And he proposes to all people the example of Germany,
with her strongly organized system of primary instruction.
He demands schools open to all children, " schools of read-
ing, writing, arithmetic, and religion," in which will be
studied both a moral and a political catechism. Attend-
ance on these schools shall be obligatory, and to make com-
pulsion possible, Diderot demands gratuity. He goes even
farther, and would have the child fed at school, and with his
books would have him find bread.

351. The Conception op Public Instruction. — Like all
who sincerely desire a strong organization of instruction,
Diderot assigns the direction of it to the State. His ideal of
a Russian university bears a strong resemblance to the French
University of 1808. He would have at its head a politician,
a statesman, to whom should be submitted all the affairs of
public instruction. He even went so far as to entrust to
this general master of the university the duty of presiding
over the examinations, of appointing the presidents of col-
leges, of excluding bad pupils, and of deposing professors
and tutors.

352. Criticism of French Colleges. — Secondary instruc-
tion, what was then called the Faculty of Arts, is the princi-
pal object of Diderot's reflections. He criticises the traditional
system with extreme severity, and his charge, thought some-
times unjust, deserves to be quoted : —

"It is in the Faculty of Arts that there are still taught
to-day, under the name of belles-lettres, two dead languages
which are of use only to a small number of citizens ; it is
there that they are studied for six or seven years without
being learned ; under the name of rhetoric, the art of speak-
ing is taught before the art of thinking, and that of speaking
elegantly before having ideas ; under the name of logic, the
head is filled with the subtilties of Aristotle, and of his very


sublime and very useless theory of the syllogism, and there
is spread over a hundred obscure pages what might have been
clearly stated in four ; under the name of ethics, I do not
know what is said, but I know that there is not a word said
either of the qualities of mind or heart ; under the name of
metaphysics, there are discussed theses as trifling as they are
knotty, the first elements of scepticism and bigotry, and the
germ of the unfortunate gift of replying to everything ; under
the name of physics, there is endless dispute about the ele-
ments of matter and the system of the world ; but not a word
on natural history, not a word on real chemistry, very little
on the movement and fall of bodies ; very few experiments,
less still of anatomy, and nothing of geography." :

353. Proposed Reforms. — After such a spirited criticism,
it was Diderot's duty to propose earnest and radical reforms ;
but all of those which he suggests are not equally com-

Let us first note the idea revived in our day by Auguste
Comte and the school of positivists, of a connection and a
subordination of the sciences, classified in a certain order,
according as they presuppose the science which has preceded,
or as they facilitate the study of the science which follows,
and also according to the measure of their utility. 2 It is
according to this last principle in particular, that Diderot
distributes the work of the school, after having called atten-
tion to the fact that the order of the sciences, as determined
by the needs of the school, is not their logical order : —

" The natural connection of one science with the others
designates for it a place, and the principle of utility, more
or less general, determines for it another place."

1 (Euvres, Tome III. p. 459.

2 For Comte's classification of the sciences, see Spencer's Illustrations
of Universal Progress, Chap. III. (P.)


But Diderot forgets that we must take into account, not
alone the principle of utility in the distribution of studies,
but that the essential thing of all others is to adapt the order
of studies to the progress of the child in age and aptitudes.

354. Preferences for the Sciences. — Although equally
enamored of letters and the sciences, Diderot did not know
how to hold a just balance between a literary and a scientific
education. Anticipating Condorcet and Auguste Comte, he
displaces the centre of instruction, and gives a preponderance
to the sciences. Of the eight classes comprised in his
Faculty of Arts, the first five are devoted to the mathematics,
to mechanics, to astronomy, to physics, and to chemistry.
Grammar and the ancient languages are relegated to the last
three years, which nearly correspond to what are called in
our colleges the " second " and " rhetoric." x

The charge that must be brought against Diderot in this
place, is not merely that he puts an unreasonable restriction
on literary studies, but also that he makes a bad distribution
of scientific studies in placing the mathematics before physics.
It is useless for him to assert that "it is easier to learn
geometry than to learn to read." He does not convince us
of this. It is a grave error to begin by keeping the child's
attention on numerical abstractions, by leaving his senses
unemployed, by postponing so long the study of natural
history and experimental physics, those sciences expressly
adapted to children, because, as Diderot himself expresses
it, '• they involve a continuous exercise of sight, smell, taste,
and memory."

To excuse Diderot's error, it does not suffice to state that
his pupil does not enter the Faculty <>(' Arts till his twelfth
year. Till that period, he will learn only reading, writing,

1 See note, p. 131.


and orthography. There is ground for thinking that these
first years will be rather poorly employed ; but besides this,
it is evident that even at the age of twelve the mind is not
sufficiently mature to be plunged into the cold deductions of

355. Incomplete Views as to the Scope of Literary
Studies. — Diderot's attitude with respect to classical studies
is a matter of surprise. On the one hand, he postpones their
study till the pupil's nineteenth and twentieth year. On the
other, with what enthusiasm this eloquent scholar speaks of
the ancients, particularly of Homer !

" Homer is the master to whom I am indebted for what-
ever merit I have, if indeed I have any at all. It is difficult
to attain to excellence in taste without a knowledge of the
Greek and Latin languages. I early drew my intellectual
nourishment from Homer, Virgil, Horace, Terence, Anacreon,
Plato, and Euripides on the one hand, and from Moses and
the Prophets on the other."

How are we to explain this contradiction of an incon-
sistent and ungrateful humanist who extols the humanities
to the skies, and at the same time puts such restrictions on
the teaching of them as almost to annihilate them? The
reason for this is, that, in his opinion, the belles-lettres are
useful only for the training of orators and poets, but are not
serviceable in the general development of the mind. Conse-
quently, being fancy studies, so to speak, they are fit only
for a small minority of pupils, and have no right to the first
place in a common education, destined for men in general.
Diderot is not able to discern what, in pedagogy, is their
true title to nobility, — that they are an admirable instru-
ment of intellectual gymnastics, and the surest and also the
most convenient means of acquiring those qualities of just-


ness, of precision, and of clearness, which are needed by all
conditions of men, and are applicable to all the special em-
ployments of life. 1

356. Opinion of Marmontel. — Diderot seems to reduce
the office of letters to a study of words, and to an exercise of
memory. He might have learned a lesson from one of his
contemporaries, Marmontel, whose intellect, though less bril-
liant, was sometimes more just, an advantage which the
intelligence gains from early discipline in the study of the
languages : —

"The choice and use of words, in translating from one
language to another, and even then some degree of elegance
in the construction of sentences, began to interest me ; and
this work, which did not proceed without the analysis of ideas,
fortified my memory. I perceived that it was the idea attached
to the word which made it take root, and reflection soon made
me feel that the study of the languages was also the study of
the art of distinguishing shades of thought, of decomposing it,
of forming its texture, and of catching with precision its
spirit and its relations ; and that along with words, an equal
number of new ideas were introduced and developed in the

1 This thought will hear extension as in the following quotation : " The
reasoning that I oppose starts from the low and false assumption that in-
struction serves only for the practical use that is made of it; for example,
that lie who, hy his social position, does not make use of his intellectual
culture, has no need of that culture. Literature, from this point of view,
is useful only to the man of letters, science only to the scientist, good man-
ners and fine hearing enly to men of the world. The poor man should he
ignorant, for education and knowledge are useless to him. Blasphemy,
Gentlemen! The culture of the mind and the culture of the soul are duties
fur every man. They are not simple ornaments; they are things as sacred
as religion" (Kenan. Famille et Etat, p. 3). This is a sufficient answer
to Mr. Spencer's assumption {Education, p. 84), that the studies that are
liest for guidance are at the same time the best for discipline. See also
Dugald Stewart (Elements, p. 1'-'). (P.)


heads of the young, 1 and that in this wa}- the early classes
were a course in elementary philosophy, much more rich,
more extended, and of greater real utility than we think,
when we complain that in our colleges nothing is learned but
Latin." 2

357. Other Novelties in Diderot's Plan. — Without
entering into the details of the very elaborate organization
of Diderot's Russian University, we shall call attention to
some other novelties of his system : —

1. The division of the classes into several series of paral-
lel courses : first, the series of scientific and literary courses ;
then, the series of lectures devoted to religion, to ethics, and
to history ; and finally, courses in drawing, music, etc.

2. The whimsical idea of teaching history in an inverted
order, so to speak, in beginning with the most recent events,
and little by little going back to antiquity.

3. His extreme estimate of the art of reading: " Let a
teacher of reading be associated with a professor of drawing ;

1 This thought throws light on a dictum of current pedagogy, " First,
the idea, then the term." It shows that very often, in actual experience,
the sequence is from term to idea. The relation' between term and idea is
the same in kind as that between sentence and thought. Must we then say,
" First the thought, then the sentence ' ' ? Or, ' ' First the thought, then the
chapter or the book ' ' ?

The disciplinary value of translation is also well stated. It may be
doubted whether the schools furnish a better "intellectual gymnastic."
Three high intellectual attainments are involved in a real translation : 1.
The separation of the thought from the original form of words; 2. The
seizing or comprehension of the thought as a mental possession; and 3. The
embodying of the thought in a new form. A strictly analogous process, of
almost equal value in its place, is that variety of reading in which the
pupil is required to express the thought of the paragraph in his oivn lan-
guage. This exercise involves the three processes above stated, and may
be called " the translation of thought from one form into another, in the
same language." (P.)

2 Marmontel, Memoires d'un pere pour servir a I' instruction de ses en-
fants, Tome I. p. 19.


there are so few men, even the most enlightened, who know
how to read well, a gift always so agreeable, and often so

4. A special regard for the study of art and for aesthetic
education, which could not be a matter of indifference to the
great art critic who wrote the /Salons.

5. A reform in the system of ushers. 1 Diderot would
have for supervising assistants in colleges, educated men,
capable on occasion of supplying the places of the profes-
sors themselves. To attach them to their duties, he requires
that some dignity be given to their modest and useful func-
tions, and that the usher be a sort of supernumerary, or
" professor in reversion," who aspires to the chair of the pro-
fessor, whose place he supplies from time to time, and which
he may finally attain.

358. Helvetius (1715-1771). — In undertaking the study
of the thoughts of Helvetius on education, and the rapid
analysis of his Treatise on Man, we shall not take leave of
Diderot, for the work of Helvetius has had the good or the
bad fortune of being commented on and criticised by his
illustrious contemporary. Thanks to the Systematic Refuta-
tion of the Boole of Helvetius on Man, which forms a charming
accompaniment of pungent or vigorous reflections to a dull
and languid book, the reading of the monotonous treatise of
Helvetius becomes easy and almost agreeable.

359. The Treatise on Man. — Under this title, a little
long, De Vliomme, de ses faculty's intellectuelles et de son Edu-
cation, Helvetius has composed a large work which he had in
contemplation for fifteen years, and which did not appear
till after his death, in 1772. As a matter of fact, education
does not directly occupj T the author's attention except in the

1 Mditre d't tude: "He who in a lycee, college, or boarding-school, has
oversight of pupils during study hours and recreations." — Littre.


first and the last chapters (sections I. and X.) . With this
exception, the whole book is devoted to long developments
of the favorite maxims of his philosophy : as the intel-
lectual equality of all men, and the reduction of all the pas-
sions to the pursuit of pleasure ; or to platitudes, such as
the influence of laws on the happiness of people, and the evils
which result from io-norance.

360. Potency of Education. — When he does not fall
into platitudes, Helvetius goes off into paradoxes that are
presumptuous and systematic. His habitual characteristic
is pedantry in what is false. According to him, for example,
education is all-powerful ; it is the sole cause of the differ-
ence between minds. The mind of the child is but an empty
capacity, something indeterminate, without predisposition.
The impressions of the senses are the only elements of the
intelligence ; so that the acquisitions of the five senses are
the only thing that is of moment; " the senses are all that

Online LibraryGabriel CompayréThe history of pedagogy → online text (page 26 of 48)