William Shepherd.

Systematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 44)
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not be inconsistent or unjustifiable, but which are fatal to the
future welfare of those who are less fortunately circumstanced.
Here let it be observed, tliat the moral certainty thus super-
induced, of a youth's acquiring views and propensities which


will be the sure and copious source of anxiety and distress id
coming years, is, in the estimation of discreet judgment, by no
means compensated by the prospect with which some parents
flatter themselves, that in public seminaries their children
may form connexions which will ultimately promote their
worldly interests. This principle of action is in itself con-
temptible. It directly tends to the excitement and the foster-
n^ of meanness and hypocrisy it may produce a parasite
and a sycophant, but it will never produce a man of honour
and a gentleman and, notwithstanding some rare exceptions
may be quoted to excite the eagerness of the ambitious, the
views upon which it is founded will generally end in disap-
pointment and mortification.

Nor is it advisable for those, wh^ however wealthy they
may be, wish to bring up their sons to conduct the details of
trade and commerce, to send them to our superior public
schools. From the undeviating system of instruction which
is there adopted, they will learn perhaps every thing except
what will be useful to them in their future destination. Sur-
rounded by companions who are born to what they are led to
regard as higher aims and expectations, they will become
ashamed of their origin, and discontented with their pros-
pects. Thus will they be induced to rebel -against natural
authority, and in process of time they will obstinately and
wilfully thwart the views, and counteract the wishes of their
parents, who, however they may lament the failure of their
plans, will have their own folly alone to blame for their
unfortunate issue.

Numerous as may be the individuals contained in the
classes which are pointed out in the foregoing exceptions,
there remains in the ranks of Society an abundant sufficiency
of recruits to maintain the numbers of those whose early
Education ought, in prudence and discretion, to be conducted
at our public schools. The imperious dictate of general
opinion has decided, that persons, designed for public life,
ought to go through the process of a public Education.


Hence it is expected that the sons of our nobility and of
our principal gentry that they who have a reasonable pros-
pect of obtaining seats in parliament or of filling the higher,
and even the secondary offices of state that they who are
destined to the bar and the church; and in some cases,
to the practice of medicine, should qualify themselves for
their respective stations by submitting to the discipline of
our public seminaries of Education. And this expectation
is far from being supported merely by prejudices of prevail-
ing fashion. It is founded on the nature of things, and the
constitution of society, and is therefore reasonable and pro-
per. Generally speaking, it is not indeed absolutely neces-
sary that a particular individual should enter into public life.
But if such be his destination or his fortune, it is certainly
expedient, and much to be wished, that he should enter
upon his station provided with that furniture of mind, and
endued with those accomplishments, which will best enable
him to discharge its duties with utility to the community at
large, and with credit to himself. This happy result may be
justly calculated upon, as likely to ensue from the discipline of
public Education. In our extensive and well endowed public
seminaries, a system of equality prevails among the pupils,
which admirably tends to abate the presumption, without
controling the spirit of aristocracy, and to enure youth to
that patience in suffering, and that manliness of exertion, which
are the best preparatives for the scenes ,of active life. The
nature and habits of the society too, which is assembled in
these seminaries, produce those easy and unembarrassed man-
ners, which afford an unspeakable advantage in the transaction
of business. In the varioHS stages which occur, if the ex-
pression may be allowed, in the route of public Education,
ingenuous youths proceed by just degrees, and without any
violence of transition, to the object of their hopes and wishes.
Thus are they enabled without effort, to adapt themselves to
their successive circumstances, without being betrayed into
improprieties and inconsistencies, which would render them


the objects of ridicule and contempt. Novelty of situation
will not deprive them of the invaluable faculty of self-com-
mand nor will it on the other hand inspire them with over-
weening confidence and conceit. And when to these various
recommendations, it is added, that the method of instruction
practised in our public schools, is skilfully adapted to imbue
the youthful mind with the principles of pure taste, and to
call into action the innate powers, of genius, enough has been
said to vindicate their utihty and importance to those, who are
destined by their birth, or who are devoted by the wishes of
their parents, to the duties and engagements of public life.

Some parents, however, influenced perhaps by a mixed
feeling of tenderness, and of conscientious regard for the
welfare of their offspring, have hesitated to commit them to
the discipline of a public school, from an idea that the obli-
gation of attending to numbers of pupils, must necessarily pre-
clude the possibility of the tutors promoting the improvement,
and watcliing over the morals of individuals. Nothing can be
more weakly foimded than the former of these objections.
It is bottomed in absolute ignorance of facts. The vivifying
principle of a good mental Education, is steady system, and
prompt and vigorous discipline. These are found in perfection
in our public schools, and perhaps in them alone. There the
ablest teachers have ample scope for their energies, free from
the impertinence of interference, or from the benumbing
dread of pecuniary loss. There, emulation urges the pupil to
labour, and the pubhcity of honours at once rewards the
past, and stimulates to future exertions. In fine, let the
appeal be made to facts, and it will be found, that in our public
seminaries have been trained the men who have most emi-
nently distinguished themselves by the elegance, the accuracy,
and the profundity of their erudition.

As to morals, it must be acknowledged that vice, and even
profligacy, are occasionally to be found in our public schools.
But, alas ! is vice confined to them r By no means, It is
not even excluded from the domestic walls. It is an obser-


vation sanctioned by the almost unanimous testimony of those
whose opinion is founded upon experience, that the vices of a
public school are of a nature to be easily detected, and to be
corrected by discipline ; while those of private education creep
on in concealment, and frequently arrive at a remediless degree
of maturity before they are discovered. The remark of the ju-
dicious Dr. Barrow on this head is at once striking and just.
" The perpetual restraints under which the private pupil lives,
and the constant presence of those much older than himself,
do not suffer his propensities and passions to appear in their
true colours ; and consequently their course cannot be suf-^
ficiently regulated, nor their excesses restrained. He does
not grow open and ingenuous by unreserved communication
with his equals; but artful and designing, by watching the
sentiments of those more advanced in age ; and the self-
command which he appears to possess, is often policy, not
principle hypocrisy, not virtue."

Most of the observations which have been applied to the
English public schools, are also applicable to the English uni-
versities. These are, and necessarily must be, the resort of in-
dividuals, whose views are directed to the church or the bar,
or of those who claim by their birth, or are likely to attain in
consequence of their circumstances, the honours and distinc-
tions of public life. Here the scholar enters upon a wider
range of study, and extends his excursions into the field of
science. These institutions were indeed first established at
a time when learning was the exclusive province of the clergj',
and the course of instruction pursued within their precincts
was arranged according to this narrow principle. It consisted
of the puerile Rhetoric, of the intricate Logic, and of the
barbarous jargon dignified by the name of School-divinity,
which for several centuries were regarded as comprizing the
whole compass of human learning. Hence our universities
were formerly rather the parents of pedantry and of unprofit-
able speculation, than of sound literature and useful science.
In consequence of the difficulty of procuring even desirable


alterations in established systems, dignified by the veneration
bestowed upon antiquity ; this continued for too long a season
to be matter of merited reproach. The rapid increase, and
the general diffusion of knowledge has, however, enforced up-
on the conductors of those institutions, the necessity of salu*
tary reform. In the course of education, they keep pace with
the progress of the times, and it cannot now with justice be
said, that the studies pursued ia them, are too abstracted, or
that they have too little bearing upon the realities of life.
The system of our universities may not indeed be perfect : but
it is of a high degree of excellence, and is well calculated to
strengthen the intellectual powers, and to enable them to act
with vigour upon any subject, which, when the student enters
at large upon the business of the world, may be practically
presented to them.

Tlie tour of Europe was formerly thought absolutely re-
quisite to complete the education of our men of rank, and of
the superior order of our gentry. Foreign travel was cer-
tainly of great use in rubbing off academical rust in correcting
prejudices, and in enlarging the sphere of mental vision. By
comparing the institutions of his own country with those of
foreign lands, the observant youth was enabled duly to appre-
ciate the value of the former, and learn in what particulars
they were capable of correction and amendment. By making
himself acquainted with tlie characters of the individuals who
took an active part in the conduct of politics, and witli the
circumstances, views, and interests of the continental courts,
he qualified himself for the situation of a diplomatic agent, or
for the discharge of the arduous duties of tlie cabinet. Ilie
events of the late war have, however, for many years, precluded
the young nobility and gentry from availing themselves of this
source of improvement. Thus situated, travellers of rank
and fashion have directed their excursions to Turkey, Greece,
and Egypt. This circumstance has caused those countries to
be better knoN^m than they formerly were : but it is much to
be doubted, whether, by wandering through districts inhabited


by hordes of semi-barburians, and tribes of miserable slaves,
our countrymen will be materially improved either in intellect
or morals.

The foregoing remarks have, of course, a special reference
to the case of individuals, on whom, it is deemed expedient,
to bestow a public education. These, however, bear but a
small proportion, to the great mass of our community, whose
instruction must necessarily be derived from the discipline of
private seminaries. Of these seminaries, there are always ex-
isting, under various appellations, a countless multitude, the
characters of which extend through all the gradations of me-
rit and demerit. This circumstance is, to the serious and
considerate parent, a source of great and just anxiety for
what more important topic can occupy the thoughts of a ra-
tional being, than the settlement of his offspring in a situation,
where the character of his mind, and his moral habits, which
must have such a commanding influence over liis future des-
tiny, will in all probability be fixed for ever. On the part of
parents who are themselves illiterate, and who wish to bestow
upon their children those advantages of intellectual culture,
the want of which they have themselves had occasion to la-
ment, the utmost care and circumspection are requisite. The
province of education opens a wide field for the knavery of
quacks and charlatans, who make a practice of plundering the
unwary and the ignorant. The wretch, who, by his bold and
interested presumption, puts to hazard the health of the body,
is a subject of merited detestation and reproach ; but he is
still more detestable, who tampers with the health of the
youthful mind. 'Wi'mi^m'titmsft^oir-^y *jf,

Nothing is more lamentable than the irreparable waste of
time, and the destruction of intellect, caused by the inatten-
tion and mismanagement of unfaithful and incapable teachers.
People of this description are justly chargeable with the
crime of intellectual murder a crime which ought to draw
down upon its perpetrator the severest punishment. There
have not indeed been wanting theorists, who, reflecting


upon the mischief occasioned by incompetent pretenders to
the art of teaching, have thought it a fit subject for legislativ
interference and correction. Such interference, however,
seems to be incompatible with the genius of our free constitu-
tion ; and it would be extremely difficult, if not absolutely im-
possible, to make legislative restrictions, in the matter of edu-
cation, without opening a wide door for the introduction of
oppression and abuse. This being the case, all that can be
done, is, to warn parents of their liability to imposition, and of
the consequent necessity of caution. If they are not them-
selves learned, and wish to bestow upon their children a
learned education, they will do well to consult some friend
who may be qualified to assist and direct them in the choice
of a school for the training of their offspring. In tlie mean
time, common sense, and their general knowledge of tlie affairs
of life, should teach them to be suspicious of high professions,
and boastful promises of all short methods for the attainment
of knowledge and of all proposals to conduct the pupil up
the hill of science, without subjecting him to the endurance of
pain, or to the labour of exertion. These professions are di-
rectly incompatible with the laws of providence, to which, the
human intellect, invariably, is subject. They are the expedi-
ents of adventurers, whose object it is to make a specious
shew, and thus to abuse and turn to their profit the credulity
of the public.

And here, it may not be inexpedient, briefly to notice, a
query which is frequently proposed, and has been variously
answered namely, whether classical literature be a proper ob-
ject of study for those who are not intended for a learned pro-
fession, or for public life That it would be extremely absurd
for an individual of this description, to dedicate so much time
to classical literature, as is allotted to that department of know-
ledge in our public schools, has already been hinted. The
writer of this essay well remembers an instance of a youth,
who, on being transferred to a mercantile counting-house
from the highest form of a public school, which he quitted


with a merited reputation for good scholarship, was found to
be so igriorant of figures, as not to be able to cast up a bill of
parcels. Yet it is by no means advisable for the future repre-
sentatives, even of the middle classes of society, to forego the
study of the classics, during the period of their school-educa-
tion. It is perfectly practicable to acquire at school a compe-
tent, and by competent, is meant, -a very considerable degree of
classical knowledge, in combination with those studies, which
have a more direct bearing upon the affairs of life. The habit
of strict and careful analysis, which is formed by the process of
judicious instruction in the Greek and I^tin languages, is it-
self a most valuable acquisition, and is an excellent prepara-
tive for the exertion of the mental powers, in all other inqui-
ries. The facilities, which a knowledge of these tongues af-
fords, in the acquisition of modern languages, and in compre-
hending the terms of art and science, is a matter of trite, but
at the same time of just remark. In our most favorite and
popular English authors, references to classical subjects, and
even to classical phraseology, are so frequent, that an acquaint-
ance with this branch of literature is absolutely requisite to
a just idea of their meaning, and to a true relish of their spirit.
To which may be added^ that a correct English style and true
delicacy of taste in composition, are hardly ever acquired but
by the medium of classical literature. It is presumed then,
that it is not an unreasonable opinion, that with regard to the
class of the community whose circumstances are now under
consideration, a moderate portion of time, dedicated to this
object, is well and prudently bestowed.

In the English Universities, and in the University of Dublin,
a proficiency in classical literature, and the abstract sciences,
constitutes the title to academic honours, and is of course the
great object of pursuit. This circumstance naturally takes
place, in consequence of the peculiar adaptati(in of the system
of these institutions to the learned professions. But as these
professions furnish a comparatively small number of subjects
of education, it has from time to time, been proposed, by indi-



viduals of no mean acquirements in erudition and science to
provide a course of instruction for gentlemen, who, though
they do not aspire after the dignity of a profession, are likely
to fill respectable stations in active life. Plans of this nature
have uniformly been adopted in the Academies, or, is they are of
late denominated, the colleges of the Protestant Dissenters.
These plans have usually embraced, besides Classics and Ma-
thematics, which have been rather secondary than primary
objects, a course of Logic and Metaphysics Lectures on
Natural and Moral Philosophy, and the Evidences of Chris-
tianity on Civil and Ecclesiastical History ; and on the British
Constitution. ^The utility of such a course of instruction is
obvious; and various publications evince, that the lecturers,
who have treated on these topics, in the seminaries above al-
luded to, have executed their tasks with exemplary industry
and great abihty. It is to be lamented, that the institutions
themselves have been invariably short lived. Into the causes
of this fact it does not come within the scope of this Essay
to inquire. Suffice it therefore to remark, that in addition to
the dissenting academies, any one, who wishes his son to have
the benefit of instruction, in any of the above-mentioned
branches of study, free from the obligation of a minute and
laborious attiention to clasijical literature, and from other obli-
gations enforced at our English Universities, may have his
wishes amply gratified in the Scotch Universities, and parti-
cularly in those of Glasgow and of Edinburgh.

In treating generally on the subject of education, it will be
proper to advert to the course of instruction appropriate to
the female sex. On this topic, however, brevity will be expe-
dient, as whatever may be the decisions of Essayists, female
education will be directed by the arbitrary decree of fashion.
It is obvious however to remark, that as modesty and retire-
ment, are the natural characteristics, and constitute the most
powerful attractions of the sex, females should seem to be the
fittest subjects for private education and that those parents,
- ^hose circumutanccs will enable them to incur the necessary


expense, will do well to have their daughters educated under
their own eye. Those alone, who are conscious to themselves,
that the manners of their domestic circle, are not the most
commendable, or who find it necessary to share with others
the expense of the teachers, of what are called accomplishments,
are justifiable in sending them from home : and how injudicious
are many of the attempts which are made to enforce the ac-
quirement of these accomplishments ! The time, which can
properly be spared for them Is, in the most favourable circum-
stances, inadequate ; but when a young lady, who has neither
eye, nor ear, is compelled to drudge at music and drawing, the
result of her labours is discomfort to herself, and annoyance
to the friends and strangers who are summoned to witness her
proficiency ; and who, if they possess any relish for the fine
arts, are embarrassed between their unwillingness to bestow
hypocritical praise, and to utter unwelcome truth. Accom-
plishments are doubtless a valuable acquirement, and also an
acquirerfient, within the reach of those who are endowed with
natural taste, and who have time to bestow upon them. As
to those, who are differently circumstanced in the acquisition
of facility, in the works appropriated to their sex, in the study
of modem languages, of History and Geography, in the perusal
of our best English authors, and the formation of a correct
style of writing, they will find sufficient employment for the
years which are allotted to their school-education.

In former times, it was by no means an uncommon circum-
stance, for ladies of high rank to receive the benefit of a clas-
sical education. Queen Elizabeth's Latin exercise book is
still exhibited in the Bodleian library and the unfortunate
Lady Jane Grey is said to have been an accomplished scholar.
In our own days too, there have not been wanting parents
who have procured for their daughters instruction in the learn-
ed languages. This branch of education, however, as applied
to females, has been made the subject of much paltry and un-
merited ridicule. The capacity of the female sex for the
learning of languages, is at least equal to that of the male ;

c 2


and if classical studies tend to the exercise of the understand-
ing, and to the refinement of taste, why are not these objects
as desirable for the one sex as for the other ? In point of
fact, the course of female education will allow nearly as much
time for this pursuit, as is generally dedicated to it by boys,
who are intended to eater at an early period into tlie concerns
of active life ; and it will be difficult to point out any object
upon which that time can be better employed. As to the
frivolous objection that classical accomplishments tend to
make young ladies conceited, it may be a sufficient answer to
observe, that were those accomplishments more commonly
diflfused among females, they would be proportionably less a
subject of pride ; and that the emotions of self-conceit are
easily repressed by that moral discipline, which, throughout
the whole process of education, it is taken for granted, will be
strictly enforced, ^Vilhout this discipline, indeed, every topic
of instruction may be perverted into a subject of conceit.
With it, no accomplishment will generate those feelingK which
trench upon the essential virtues of modesty and humility.

But learned females are said not to acquire the good graces
of the other sex. It is asserted that they are regarded with a
species of dread and jealousy. If a reputation for literature
keeps fools and coxcombs at a distance from a youthful fe-
male, is this circumstance a proper subject of lameutation i
and is it expedient, for the sake of such characters, to keep
. down the female mind, in order to reduce it to the ordinary
level of intellectual society i" In the estimation of reason, a
lovely woman cannot be rendered less lovely, by the high cul-
tivation of her talents ; and many examples may be quoted to
prove, that intellectual attainments are so far from beinj::; in-
consistent with feminine graces, that they confer upon them
additional attractions.

In the mean time, let not domestic accomplishments be
despised. On the contrary, let them be cultivated with the most
diligent attention. But why should any portion of the field of
knowledge be interdicted to any, rational creature, who has an


opportunity, and who entertains a wish to enter it ? and why
should females be debarred from a source of elegant amuse-
ment, and of useful instruction, peculiarly adapted to their

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdSystematic education: or Elementary instruction in the various departments of literature and science; with practical rules for studying each branch of useful knowledge (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 44)