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Printed by J.ARCHDEACOK Printer to the UNIVERSITY 5

For T. CAD ELL, London.

M D C C X C.









THESE letters were written partly for
the writer's amufement, but princi-
cipally with the defign of introducing the
young fre/Jj-mar\y to whom they were ad-
dreffed, to an early acquaintance with the
elements of the fciences he was about to
cultivate: they were not defigned, in any
degree, to fuperfede, or render lefs necefTary,
theinftrucYions of his college-tutors ; rather,
on the contrary, to facilitate the cultivation,
by clearing the furface of its indigenous
weeds, and thus preparing the frefh land
for the reception of the plough.

Young minds naturally incline to frivo-
lous diffipation ; they cannot continue long
inactive; it feems therefore neceflary to al-
lure them to rational purfuits, before tri-
fling becomes a habit.

A faftidious examiner, will, in thefe epif-
'tles, find fufficient matter for criticifm; but,
I hope, he will allow me to plead the privi-
lege of that inattention to abfolute precifion
and methodical arrangement, which, in fa-

( a )

miliar letters, it were unjuft, and perhaps
improper, to require. The variety of fub-
jecls on which I have indulged my fpecula-
tions, may make the volume appear a maze,
but, I truft, not without a plan ; a plan of
which no judgement can be formed from
the few pages contained in this volume.
The fubjects are frequently varied, on pur-
pofe to relieve the attention, and to avoid
the formality of a fyftematic treatife.

I have prefumed, in fome parts of thefe
epiftles, to cenfure the prefent fyfrem of
education in both Univerfitiesj but I have
alfo acknowledged them, in their prefent
ftatc of imperfection, equal to the produc*-
tion of very learned men : neverthelefs, the
entire fyflem is too obvioufly Gothic to ef-
cape the ridicule of ftrangers, who vifit Ox-
ford and Cambridge with the idea, that the
Ecclefa Anglicana is a reformed Church, and
that thefe formal feminaries are appropriat-
ed to the education of nobility, of gentle-
men, ftatefmen, lawyers, phyficians, and

In the botanical letters, I may be accufed
of pedantry in too frequently larding the
lean earth with Latin quotations 5 but the
reader muft not forget the age and recent


( Hi )

ftudies of him to whom they were addreflecl,
and that nothing fo effectually fixes a new
idea in the mind, as attaching it to an old

Thofe who, in the perufal of this volume,
expect to find amufement, will probably be
disappointed: if it prove in any degree, in-
ftructive to young ftudents, the defigu of
its publication is anfwered.

I muft now beg the reader's indulgence
whilft I expostulate a little with a fraternity
of periodical critics, who afTume the title of
Analytical Reviewers, relative to a late pub-
lication of mine, entitled Synoffis of the Na-
tural Hijlory of Britain, &c. Thefe critics,
or rather the individual who did me the
honour to review that book, after allowing
it fome merit, writes thus " In the vege-
table kingdom, the author juftly acknow-
ledges the affiftance he had from the works
of Hudfon, Lightfoot, Curtis, and Wither-
ing, ir oft of vvhofe plants he has adopted,
rather too implicitly, for not one of their
errors, even the moft notorious, is corrected."

The accufation may be juft. Poffibly I
may have depended too implicitly on what
I believed to be fubftantial authority j but
furely it was incumbent on the reviewer ta


( . * )

prevent the propagation of thefe errors, by
a fpecirlc charge. This fort of general cri-
ticifm, is, in the highefl degree, illiberal,
becaufe it can anfwer no purpofe, fave tha v t
pf depreciating the book.

In the prefent inftance I was thruft into
the condemned-hole with four eminent, very
eminent, botanifts. Such company might
have rendered the dungeon tolerable: but ?
coniidering myfelf as the instrument of their
condemnation, I thought myfelf obliged to
juftify them if it were in my power. With
this intention, I wrote to the publifher of
the Analytical Review, requeuing, that the
writer of the article in queftion would do
me the favour, to point out a few of the
notorious errors, which he had diipovered in
the Synopfc' t errors which, ijotwithftanding
their notoriety, had eluded the obfervation
of the other Reviews; errors which, with a
view to the greater accuracy of a future edi-
tion, I fincerely wifhed to find, but which I
had fought for in vain. To this requeft I
received no anfwer, either privately, or in,
any of their fubfequent publications.





"All the world is a ft age ^

And all the men and 'women meerly players :
rfhey have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His atfs being fe^en ages."

I NEED not tell you, that thefe lines
begin the admirable fpeech of J aques in
the fecond aft of Shakefpear's As you like it.
Thefe feven ages are, that of the infant, the
fchool-boy, the lover, the foldier, the juf-
tice, the pantaloon, and fecond childhood.
This divifion is poetically juft; but it is not
generally applicable. The three material
epockas in the life of a man liberally educat-
A ed,

ed, are his admiffion at a grammar- fchool,
his matriculation at the univerfity, and his
departure thence. Thefe three periods, like
the three primitive colours, are diftinftly
marked. Shakefpear's feven ages refemble
Sir Ifaac Newton's feven prifmatic tincls,
four of which are intermediate (hades, pro-
duced by the mixture of the primitive red,
blue and yellow.

You, my dear boy, have played your part
in the firft of thefe three a6ls of the great
drama of life; an,d I hope your performance
hath been fuch as to be no difgrace to the
ftage on which you appeared. In this aft
you have fpent eight years of your terref-
trial exiftence, with all the advantages of a
public fchool. If it be true that, from the
age of ten to eighteen, the mind is moft
capable of permanent impreffions, it were
rational to expect that a young gentleman,
thus educated, fhould enter the univerfity
pofTefled of all the learning necefiary to con-
flitute the foundation of his future (Indies.

The public fchools, in this kingdom, pro-
fefTedly, teach nothing but the Greek and
Latin languages ; and even of thefe, at the
expiration of feven or eight years, many of
the lads have acquired a very fuperficial


( 3 )

knowledge. They may perhaps be able to
conftrue a few pages in the books that have
been put into their hands ; but are totally
loft if you try them in a Greek or Latin
author which they have never feen. Would
not one be hence naturally led to imagine,
that thefe two dead languages are very diffi-
cult to learn? Yet, you have the plea-
fure to know a young lady to whom
Latin and Greek are perfectly familiar; who
Is likewife an arithmatician, an algebraift,
a geometrician; plays the harpficord very
finely, fmgs well, dances in a fuperior ftyle,
and is, in (hort, with all her learning, miftrefs
of every female accomplishment.

Now, though I am ready to acknowledge,
that this fingular accumulation of acquire-
ments may, in a great degree, be afcribed
to a fuperiority of capacity, it demonftrates,
never thelefs, that wonderful effects may be
produced by a proper mode of inftruction.

The queftion, why boys learn fo little
during feven or eight years continuance at
a public fchool ? is not difficult of inveftiga-
tion. Half that period is confumed in va-
cations and fmgle holidays. It fhould feem
therefore, that in our eftimate of the quantum
qf learning, we muft reduce the eight years
A 2 to

( 4 )

to four; but this were a falfe eflimate; for,
from thefe four years, we muft fubtraft the
time required to regain what has been ab-
folutely forgotten and loft during the feveral
total ceffations from learning; and, on a
very fair computation, this confideration
will deduct two years from the four : fo that
our eight years are reduced to two; and I
will venture to affirm that, under a better
fyftem, boys might, in two years, be taught
all they ufually learn, at any of our public
fchools, in eight.

There is another material impediment in
the progrefs of a boy at a public fchool. I
mean the gothic cuftom of fuffering the un-
der boys to be the fervants, the flaves, of
the upper. Regardlefs of the cruelty of
fubjefting a child to the irrational caprice
of a lad of fifteen; regardlefs of the injury
he muft fuftain in being conftantly depriv-
ed, by the mandates of his tyrannical maf-
ter, of the fleep which nature, at that age
particularly, requires; regardlefs of that ig-
nominious habit of fervility which this in-
famous fyftem muft neceflarily induce; re-
gardlefs, I fay, of thefe confiderations, the
menial fervices to which cuftom obliges him
to attend, leave him little or no time for


( $ )

application to his book. What is the con-
fequence? He is conftantly flogged for
neglecl: of that which it was not in his
power to execute. There is no appeal. He
dares not complain; that would but in-
creafe his fufferings. He fubmits to his
hard fate, and, in refpecl to learning, his
four firft years are almoft a total blank.
But I have filled my paper j Adieu 1


( 6 )

I ME AN, in Come part of this letter, to re-
fume the fubjecl with which I concluded
my laft; becaufe I feel myfelf peculiarly in-
terefted in the caufe of thofe defenfelefs
children, who, whilft they continuey^g-j in
a public fchool, are condemned to greater
hardfhips than the African flaves whom it
is fo much the famion to commiferate;
becaufe I wifh to keep alive in your memory
thofe impreflions which it may be ufeful to
future times that you (hould remember , and
becaufe I would have you perfectly compre-
hend the reafon, why boys from a public
fchool generally know fo little when they
are firft fent to the univerfity.

You have too much good fenfe to con-
ilrue what I have faid into a diflatis fa&ion
at your ignorance of things which it is im-
poffible you fhould know. On the con-
trary, I rather wonder that, under fuch cir-
cumftances, you have acquired fo much
knowledge of Latin and Greek: Never-
thelefs, if you purfue your claffical ftu-
dies, you will foon difcover, that you


( 7 )

have not yet advanced much farther than
the portal to claflical erudition.

The dead languages are nothing more
than the external fteps to the temple of li-
terary Fame. A mere pedagogue may con-
{true literally every line of Homer, Virgil,
Horace, Terence, Cicero, Tacitus, and yet
be as ignorant of their real beauties as was
Jerediah Buxton of Garrick's. excellence,
when, during the performance of the play>
he attended only to the number of words
fpoken by the afton The language of the
celebrated authors I have mentioned, as lan-
guage merely, merits, I acknowledge, fome
attention j becaufe a perfect acquaintance
with the Greek and Latin languages will
enable you to underfland and to improve
your own. Neverthelefs, if thefe claflical
authors poffdTed no merit beyond the me-
chanical beauty of verbal arrangement and
harmony of numbers, they would ill deferve
the time and labour they require.

The ftrange cuftom in our public fchools,
which conftitutes the under boys fervants
to the upper, is fo exceedingly cruel and
unjuft, that one cannot help being furprifed
at its continuance to the prefent enlightened
period of human fociety, when fo many of
A 4 the

( 8 )

the abfurdities of our progenitors have been
abolifhed. But the cruelty and injuftice of
this cuftom are not the only arguments in
favour of new regulations. This early fub-
ferviency and fubfequent defpotifm, muft
eventually prove infinitely prejudicial to fo-
ciety. A boy who, from the age of ten to
fourteen, hath been compelled to fubmit to
a degree of fervitude more irkfom and hu-
miliating than that of his father's lowefl
domeftic; who is taught, by example, that
he muft fuffer every fpecies of impofition and
cruelty without complaint; that his books,
his trinkets, and even his apparel, are the
property of the boy he calls his mafter:
fuch debafement, I fay, by thus early bend-
ing the mind below the dignity of an Eng-
lifh gentleman, muft infallibly prepare him
for fubmifiions inimical to the conftitution
of his country. He gradually rifes to the
upper fchool. He then becomes a tyrant
in his turn, and thefe habits of tamely fub-
mitting to the mandates of his fuperiors, and
of capricioufly tyrannizing over thofe beneath
him, can hardly fail to form a truly deteft-
able character. But it were unjuft hence
to infer, that every gentleman educated at
our great public fchools is a compound of


( 9 )

Have and tyrant. There are many examples
of the contrary.

The late King of Pruflia, without any ad-
vantage of education, was a great General,
a consummate Politician, an acute Philofo-
pher, a good Poet and a polite Scholar, even
without any knowledge of the dead langua-
ges. In like manner, our immortal Shake-
fpear, without education, was doubtlefs the
firft of all dramatic poets. It appears there-
fore, that the characters of men are not in-
variably caft in the mould of education,
and that even a total want of it cannot pre-
vent fuperior intellects from rifmg above
the common level of mankind. Of this
truth there cannot be a more fingular ex-
ample than the prefent father of the Medi-
cal faculty in the Univerfity of Edinburgh.
Dr. Cullen I have always regarded as one of
thofe rare beings, whofe intuitive rays of
understanding penetrate the clouds of time-
fanclioned erroneous opinions, even without
the labour of formal invefligation.

But thefe are fingular examples. Man-
kind, in general, are the creatures of tuition
and habit; we may therefore fairly conclude,
that a mixture of fervility and imperiouf-
nefs will generally mark the character of


young gentlemen educated at Weftminfter,
Eton or the Charter Houfe; and hence it
is furely incumbent on every pupil of
thefe fchools, carefully to examine his ac-
quired propenfities, and to correct the evil
before habit fhall have rendered it an inde-
lible feature is his character. Machiavel,
the famous, the infamous, Italian politician,
depended fo much on the effe6t of cuftorn^
that he advifes princes who wifh to remove
their opponents by aflaffination, to employ
none but fellows whofe hands are already
ftained with blood. He reafoned from a
juft knowledge of mankind. In fuffering
children to torture flies, we fow the feeds of
cruelty, which, like the parafiticai Ivy, will
grow up with the faplen and cling to every

You will in the courfe of your ftudies at
the univeriity neceflarily become acquainted
with Locke's EJJay on Human Under/landing.
He was of opinion that we are born with-
out ideas, and confequently that all ideas
arc impreflions on the brain from external
objects, received and communicated by our
fenfes* If this be true, we are entirely the
creatures of education, and the difference of
character between, one boy and another,


( II }

educated at tliefame fchool, muft depend on
their different capacity, or aptitude to re-
ceive and retain the fame impreflkms. Ha-
bits, therefore, of fervility and fucceffive ty-
ranny, will contaminate the difpofition of
one youth more than another; but every
young gentleman emerging from a public
fchool, mould examine his difpofition with
miftruft. " Probably (he fhould fay to him-
felf) from my early habits of fervility, I am
too much inclined to kneel to my fuperiors ;
and, in confequence of my late defpotic
command, I am difpofed to tyrannize over
my dependents; I am pofitive in my opi-
nions, and too impatient of contradiction."
You have read, I dare fay, that when So-
crates was interrogated concerning his vaft
knowledge, he anfwered that the chief of
what he knew was that he knew nothing. Sir
Ifaac Newton thought fo humbly of his
fuperior abilities, that he conftantly afcribed
his wonderful difcoveries folely to applica-
tion, which he faid, was in every man's
power. The great Locke entitled his ad-
mirable tfreatife on Human Underftanding,
merely an Effay. From thefe examples, we
may rationally conclude, that arrogance
makes no part of the character of a great


man ; that, in purfuit of knowledge, alps on
alps arife before us ; that the profpect ex-
tends in proportion to our elevation; and
that when we have gained the fummit of
the mountain, the expanfe of fcience Is
bounded only by the univerfe.

From this elevation, let us now look back
upon yon fpruce young gentleman at the
bottom of the hill. He has juft left the
fchool which you fee at a diftance in the
valley. The moment he had fhook hands
with his fchoolfellows, he runs into a bar-
ber's (hop, and, with a manly importance,
fits down to have his no-beard fhaved off, and
his graceful ringlets, bound ridgedly up in
the form of a carrot, powdered and perfum-
ed 3 his leathers up to his ribs, blue (ilk
{lockings, harnefs buckles and a club in his
hand, he begins his journey towards the
temple of Fame. He miftakes the mountain
before him for a fmooth plane, and, per-
fectly confident in his acquired momentum ,
he expects to roll on with the rapidity and
cafe of a Phaeton on the turf. Alas! he
{tumbles at the firft ftep. He meets, as he
afcends, with difficulties which he did not
expect. His refolution fails. He fickens at
the profpecl before him, and never advances

a (in-

( 13 )

a fingle ftep farther. So ends the progre&
of far the greateft number of ftudents at
the univerfity. Indolence, evil habits, and
fafhionable diffipation, are the univerfal im-
pediments to ufeful knowledge and rational
acquirements. That you may profit by the
contemplation of this picture, is the ardent
wifh of, dear Charles,

Your, &c.

L E T-


IN my two former letters I have endea-
voured to find a reafon, why boys, edu-
cated at any of our public fchools, come to
the univerfity totally ignorant of every
thing, except a little Greek and Latin : and
that I might let them down as gently as I
pofiibly could, I have, and I think juftly,
afcribed their want of knowledge to a gothic
fyftem of Inflrudlion. The dead languages
are doubtlefs the foundation of modern eru-
dition -, but certainly more, much more
might be acquired in the courfe of feven or
eight years, if more than half that time
were not facrificed to cuftom. It is indeed
very extraordinary that, in difcarding the
abfurdities of the Romifh creed and reli-
gious ceremonies, we fhould have retained
fo much of the ancient mode of education,
both in our fchools and univerfities.

Perhaps I am not juftifiable in exciting
in you an unfavourable idea of the mode of
education eftablifhed in the univerfity of
which you are become a member. But I
now ftart the fubjeft, to prevent your fud-


denly drinking the poifon of difguft before
you are provided with an antidote.

In the univerfity of Cambridge, though
claffical learning be not neglected, yet ma-
thematical ftudtes are particularly enforced.
A young gentleman intended for no profef-
fion, who fpends a few years at the univer-
fity only becaufe he is yet too young to
make the tour of Europe, cannot eafily be
perfuaded that the moft perfedl knowledge
of Euclid's Elements can ever be of any ufe
to him: he therefore applies reluctantly, or
not at all, to the ftudy of a fcience from
which he can receive no advantage. Thofe
who are defigned for Law, Phyfic or Divi-
nity, are equally at a lofs to apply mathe-
matics to their feveral profeffions. Very
true: mathematical knowledge is not im-
mediately applicable to Law, Phyfic or Di-
vinity; neverthelefs it is indirectly connect-
ed with, and fundamental to, all fcience. It
neceflarily induces a habit of reafoning juft-
ly; it accuftoms the mind to rational inve-
tigation and intenfe thinking. Now, in-
tenfe thinking, without which you mult
always remain on the furface of knowledge,
is, to common minds, an occafional and
irkfome exertion > but, to a mathematician


it is habitual and eafy: in all fubjefts of
difficulty therefore, a mathematician has an
evident advantage; his conceptions will be
more diftincl; his deductions more accurate^
and his conclufions confequently more juft.
There is yet another very ftrong recom-
mendation to mathematical ftudies. I mean
amufement. Exclufive of their univerfal
utility, you will find them infinitely enter-
taining. Few pleafures are equal to that of
folving a difficult problem. Comply there-
fore with the habits of the univerfity ; apply
yourfelf ardently to the rudiments of ma-
thematical knowledge, and look forward
with confidence to the reward of your la-
bour. But, before you proceed, I muft cau-
tion you againft that fatal cm bono? which
being a queftion not always eafily anfwered,
is often confidered as an argumentum crucis
againft the application to a fcience the uti-
lity of which is not immediately obvious.
In this turbulent fea of human life, we fee
but a very few leagues before us. Sagacity
and experience, our two heft telefcopes, dif-
cover no land a-head; but that is no proof
.that we may not, before the next glafs, fall
iin with an ifland or continent. Univerfal
knowledge is far beyond the reach of hu-

( 17 )

man capacity; but fcience is the falutary
food of the human foul, and fhould there-
fore be cultivated for its own fake, totally
f-Megardlefs of its ufeful application. We are
diftinguifhed from the brute creation only
in proportion to our mental acquirements,
and furely every intelligent being would
wifli to remove himfelf as far as poffible
from the brute creation.

Young men are naturally vain and pofi-
tive; dictatorial and dogmatical in their
opinions, becaufe they have not learnt to
reafon juftly, and becaufe they are unac-
quainted with the arguments by which they
might be refuted : and it frequently happens
that they are confirmed in their errors by
the contemptuous filence of Learning and
Experience. I fpeak of young men in ge-
neral. You have certainly too much pene-
tration not to perceive the abfurdity of ju-
venile arrogance. 1 dwell upon this fubjecT:,
becaufe this arrogance is an infuperable ob-
flacle to all knowledge.

A young man, fortunately infpired with
an enthufiaftic defire of knowledge, will be-
gin by a fcrupulous inveftigation of the na-
ture and degree of the learning which he
brings to the univerfity. Probably he will
B dif-

( '8 )

difcover that he knows lefs, even of vulgar
arithmetic, than a fhopkeeper's apprentice,
and has lefs knowledge of the world than a
gentleman's Valet de Chambre. This may
poflibly be confidered as a very humiliating
reflexion to a fpruce young academician;
it is true neverthelefs ; and it is not only
true, but the confcioufnefs of it is the only
pedeftal to his future pillar of Fame. He
that does not build upon humility will ne-
ver rife to diftinction. Arrogance is dif-
gufting even in thofe who have moft reafon
to be proud ; what then muft it not be in
thofe who have no pretenfion to eminence?
Be not therefore afhamed to fay with So-
crates, All I know is. that I know nothing.

What is human knowledge? What are
its objects? They are Arts or Sciences.
Arts I confider as manual, mechanical, ope-
rations : they are corporal attainments. Sci-
ences, on the contrary, are more immedi-
ately objects of the mind. You will find
fome difficulty in drawing a flraight line
between them, becaufe moft arts require
fome degree of Science : neverthelefs, by the
.help of an example or two, we (hall pofli-
bly be able to feperate the two ideas, fo as to
keep them tollerably diftincT:.


( 19 )

Mufic, for example, is an art, a liberal
art. Cramer in executing a difficult concerto,
whether of his own compofition or not, is
a wonderful artift; but refpe6ling his com-
pofitions, or his cadences, when really ex-
temporaneous, or invented, he ranks with
men of fcience. In like manner, a painter,
who does nothing more than copy objects
before him, is a mere artift: he is a man of
fcience only in proportion to his difplay of

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Online LibraryJohn BerkenhoutA volume of letters from Dr. Berkenhout to his son at the university → online text (page 1 of 17)