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 20 of 44)
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it professedly, or to avow it as the chief purpose of his pre*
sent work." *

We have been thus particular in describing Lord Karnes's
work, it being, as we have observed, the foundation on which
the others have been built : it is not, however, to be taken as
a first book on the subject, if the student has access to any of
those which have been before mentioned. Tlie " Elements
of Criticism," being more philosophical, and less practical,


tlian ihe works either of Gregory, Blair, or Barron, but,
nevertheless, it is such as cannot fail_of affording to the dili-
gent and attentive student, much vahiable knowledge in the
fundamental principles of polite literature.

Dr. Priestley's Lectures on Oratory and Criticism, publish-
ed in 1777, in 4to., found exceedingly useful in con-
junction with the " Elements of Criticism," or as a supple-
ment to the Belles Lettres department of this work, or the
other elementary treatises which we have noticed. The Doc-
tor brought forward his work, avowedly with a view to illus-
trate the doctrine of the association of ideas, to which there is
a constant reference through the whole of it, in order to ex-
plain facts, relating to the influence of oratory, and the strik-
ing effect of excellence in composition, upon the genuine
principlejs of human nature. The Doctor farther observes,
that at the time when he published this volume, the most
extensive work on the subject of criticism, was that of
Lord Kames, " to whom," says he, " I am indebted for a
very great number of my examples, especially those from the
dramatic writers, and sometimes for the observations too ; but
with respect to this subject, on which so many able men
have written, it is hardly possible to say to whom we are
ultimately obliged for any very valuable remark."

Dr. Priestley likewise acknowledges his obligations to Dr.
Ward's Lectures on Oratory, in two volumes 8vo., which we
also recommend to such of oiy readers, into whose hands
they may chance to fall. To these we must add, *' Essays on
Poetical and Prosaic numbers :" " On the Power and Har-
mony of Prosaic Numbers ;" and " On Elocution," by the
late Rev. John Mason ; and the article Poetry in Dr. Gregory's
Cyclopedia: to all which we ourselves have been indebted.
Dr. Crombie's work, already referred to in the chapter on
Grammar ; the rules for style, by Mr. Lindley Murray, and his .
Exercises; Mr. Irving's " Elements of English Compositjon;" t
and still more, Mr. Rippingham's " Rules for English Com-


position," will be found useful in the practice of the art, of
^hich we are now treating.

If the youth, who is desirous of inraprovement in composi-
tion, be acquainted with the Latin or French, or any other
language than his own, he cannot do better than occasionally
translate passages from a classical author, into English, and
when he has done his best, if he compare them with an ex-
isting translation, he will perceive in what his own defects
consist, and be able to correct them. In this view, he
might take Cicero's treatise De Amicitia, or De Senectute,
and compare his own efforts with the version of Mr. Melmoth.

Another useful method will be, to read, or to hear read,
narratives, or other compositions, in various styles, and then
write down what is remembered, in the student's own lan-
guage ; and at first, without much regard to any thing except
correctness of thought. Writing down at home recollections
of sermons that are heard, without attempting to remember
the preacher's expressions, and occasionally allowing the mind
to follow its own train of ideas, has been recommended by
persons who have themselves benefitted by the practice.

With regard to original compositions, which must not be
omitted, the youth should, previously to his taking up his pen,
fix in his mind distinctly what object he has in view, what
subject he means to discuss, what fact he intends to illustrate,
what moral he wishes to inforce, or what circumstances he
has to narrate. When he has made up his mind on this, he
will next consider the several ways by which his object may
be attained, and having determined upon what appears to
him the best, let him patiently pursue it without deviation.
In his first essays, he will probably be short ; but modes of
amplification will, after some practice, readily occur. All
he should chiefly regard in his earlier attempts, is correctness
in the structure of his sentences ; and the bearing of his argu-
ment to ^e business in hand. Young persons are often de-
fective in breaking down tlieir thoughts into seutences, but on

PLAN OF STUDY, &c. 239

this we have already treated at large. To 4t in judgment on
their own compositions, when they have not the assistance of
a t'uide, they will do well to lay aside for a few days what
they have composed, and tlien examine them by such rules of
criticism as they may be masters of. Of one thing they may
be certain, if they do, not themselves understand what they
have written, other people cannot. Learning to correct,
and not sparing their own compositions, are very important
points, and cannot be recommended too strongly.

Schemes have been given by Walker and others for theme-
writing, but we feel strong doubts as to the propriety of shack-
ling the minds of young people with those kinds of forms. If
they attempt to write on a subject of imagination, let the ima-
gination have fair and full play for the exercise of its powers :
no candid friend will throw cold water upon the rudest essays.
In matters of reasoning, they should digest their plan, and
minute down their leading divisions.

To conclude, young people will acquire a just taste for
composition, by the frequent perusal of those moral Essays,
which periodically appeared during the last century, and
which have been collected into volumes, and are generally
known under the denomination of British Classics. Such
are the Spectator, the Rambler, the Guardian, Adventurer,
&c. These will enrich the mind with a variety of choice
sentiments, and will inspire the reader not only with a love
of what is excellent, but with a readiness to imitate it.
" Whoever wishes," says Dr. Johnson, " to attain an Eng-
lish style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not os-
tentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of



H " % - *^*-



Utility, pleasures, and advantages attendant on the study of History ; illus-
trated by Bp. Burnet Cicero Dionysius. Study of History favourable
to freedom to the attainment of practical experience to a just depW
dance on a superintending providence Sources of History ; oral tradition
poetry public festivals erection of pillars monumental inscriptions
existing laws records of courts of justice archives of the state
public treaties manifestoes negociations ^progress of statistical science
family history.

The study of History is universally popular. It is equally
attractive to the unreflecting and to the philosophical mind.
The former it interests by the agitation and stimulus of novel-
ty the latter by the usefulness of the deductions which may
be drawn from the facts which it records. By some philoso-
phers, who have affected a more than ordinary degree of pe-
netration, or at least of research, into the constitution of the
human mind, this general attachment to the study of History
has been ascribed to the principle of self-love.* The utility of
these refined speculations may be called into question : they
are generally founded on visionary notions, and are almost uni-
formly unsatisfactory in their results. In this instance how-

* See the commencement of BoUngbroke's second Letter on the study of



ever, the metaphysician admits the fact of the high gratification
which is derived from historical inquiries. This fact is indeed
so universally acknowledged, that in the public estimation, a
person, who is not tolerably well versed in historical knowledge,
is precluded from a copious source of amusement, as well as
lamentably deficient in the requisites of a liberal education.
An individual of this description is incapable of entering upon
the most frequent and the most common topics of enlightened
converse. He cannot ever comprehend the nature, or discuss
the tendency, of passing events. It has been well observed,
by an ancient author, " nesdre quid accident antequam
natus sis, est semper puerum esse"

Were the study of History considered in no other light than
as an innocent and elegant amusement, it would be in no
small degree commendable. Whatever enables man to be-
guile the weariness of the journey of life, without debasing the
mind, or inflaming the passions, produces an accession to hu-
man felicity, and is proportionally valuable.

In this point of view. History, when considered merely as a
source of amusement, is infinitely preferable to novels and ro-
mances, the perusal of which too frequently debilitates the in-
tellect by inflaming the imagination, and insensibly corrupts
the heart by the infusion of a most dangerous species of moral

But the study of History is adapted to purposes of a higher
and a more noble nature. It is calculated to enlighten the
judgment upon those subjects which have a direct bearing not
only upon individual utility and comfort, but also upon the
welfare of the community at large. It leads to a knowledge
of man in his social relations. It exhibits the various opera-
tion of different systems of polity upon human happiness. It
points out the rocks and quicksands upon which states and
empires have suffered shipwreck. It speaks with a warning
voice to the oppressor, and infuses consolation and courage
into the oppressed. Upon the high principle of religious mo-
tives, virtue has been roused to exertiQU, or has been strength-



ened to the endurance of remediless wrong, bj a belief in a fu-
ture state. Where this principle has been unfortunately want-
ing, hope has fondly anticipated, as the reward of illustrious
deeds, the verdict of history.

Who is not affected by the glowing terms in which Cicero,
after having saved the Roman republic from the treasonable
pests of Catiline, intimates that he looks forward for his reward
to the honour in which he should be held by posterity.
" Quibus pro tantis rebus, Quirites, nullum ego d vobis pre-
mium virtutis, nullum insigne honoris, nullum monumentum
laudis postulo, praeterquam liujus diei memorium sempiteniara.
In animis ego vestiis omnes triumphos mcos, omnia ornamenta
jbonoris, monumenta gloriae, laudis insignia condi et coUocari
volo. Nihil me mutum potest delectarc, nihil taciturn, nihil
denique hiijusmodi quod ctiam minus digni assequi possint.
Memorial vestrll, Quirites, nostras res alentur, sermonibus cres-
cent, literaruoi monumentis inveterascent et corroborabuiitur :
eandemque diem intelligo, quani spero seternam fore, et ad
salutem urbis, et ad memoriam consulate mei propagatam."
In L. Catii. Orot. III. subfmem.

In the season of adversity, Hope has looked forward with
confidence to the period when the dazzling glare of spurious
glory shall be absorbed in the superior brightness of the rays
of truth ; and when the historic Muse, pointing to the issues
of things, and to the unfolding of the great drama of politics,
shall vindicate the claims of justice ; shall exhibit delinquency
in its true colours, and shall bestow on integrity its due re-

In the transactions of life, it unfortunately happens that cor-
ri^tiou and depravity are not discountenanced to that degree
which reason and a regard to the public good require. Nay,
they are too frequently hailed by the sycophancy of flatterers

* Tacitus ill the tliird book of \\\i Annals, tliax tersely states liis opinion
as to this provinre of History," Praccipuuin muDus Annalium reor, ne virtu-
tea aileantur, atqe pravis dictis factisque ex posteritate et iofamli metus


with obsequious approbation, and with high applause. They
that are " worn and hackneyed in the ways of men/' affect to
treat with scorn the dictates of political integrity. They de-
spise the admonitions of those who wish to inculcate the doc-
trine, that the laws of justice cannot, even in political transac-
tions and relations, be violated with impunity. ^They hold up
to the ridicule of the thoughtless and the profligate, those who
maintain ihat it is the duty of every individual possessed of
any degree of influence in the conduct or in the control of
public aff^airs, to consult, above all things, for the welfare of his
country, by devoting his talents from the purest and most dis-
interested motives to the promotion of the general good. To
the ingenuous y6uth an attentive perusal of the pages of his-
tory may be properly recommended, as furnishing an antidote
against the mischief which is likely to be occasioned by the
selfish and heart-chilling maxims of these pernicious teachers.
There he Will see a striking exemplification of the fatal conse-
quences of error and prejudice, of folly and vice. Then will
he behold the deceiver entangled in the toils which he had laid
for others, and the vindictive and the violent hurried to de-
struction by their own ungovernable impetuosity. There too
he will find recorded the actions and the sayings of patriots of
high principle ; and by -imbibing a sense of the dignity of their
characters, he will be incited to an emulation of their virtues.

It may perhaps with truth be asserted, that few individuals ever
intermixed in practical politics with purer views than Bishop Bur-
net. That celebrated author, towards the conclusion of the His-
tory of his own Times, when speaking of the degeneracy of the
age in which he lived, intimates in the following terms, his
opinion of the evil consequences resulting to those who occu-
pied the higher stations in society, from the neglect of histori-
cal studies : " Men, who have no principles, cannot be steady ;
now the greater part ot the capital gentry seem to return again
to a love of tyranny, provided they may be the under-tyrants
themselves ; and they seem to be even uneasy with a court,

B 3 *


when it will not be as much a court as they would have it*
This is a folly of so particular a nature, that really it wants a
name. It is natural for poor men who have little to lose and
much to hope for, to become the instruments of slavery ; but
it is an extravagance peculiar to an age, to see rich men grow
as it were in love with slavery and arbitrary power. The root
of all this is, that our gentry are not in time possessed with a
true measure of solid knowledge and sound religion, with a
love to their country^ o hatred of tyranny, and a zeal for li-
berty. Plutarch's lives, with the Greek and Roman history,
ought to be early put in their hands; they ought to be ac-
quainted with all history, more particularly that of our ovm
nation; which they should Jiot read in abridgments, but in
the fullest and most copious collectors of it, that they may see
to the bottom what is our constitution, and what are our
laws; what are the methods bad princes have taken to enslave
us, and by what conduct we hate been preserved. Gentlemen
ought to observe these things, and to entertain one another
often upon these subjects, to raise in themselves and to spread
around them to all others a noble ardour for law and

Nor let it be imagined, that remarks such as these, though
just in themselves are applicable only to the favoured few who
sit at the helm of the state, and direct the course of public af-
fairs. It may at least be safely asserted, that in a country
which enjoys so great a portion of civil liberty as happily falls
to the lot of the inhabitants of the British empire, almost
every order of the community has its influence upon the mea-

It was not merely with a view of gratifying the ear of liis reader with
the jingle of alHteration,thatthe good Bisliup in this passage thus associated
the terms " law and liberty." He was well aware that the ideas represented
by these terms can never be disanited tliat as liberty can never be reck-
oned secure unless it be fenced and guarded by legal provisions so the ex-
ercise of tme liberty consists, not in the indulgence of a capricious viiU, but
^ a course of action which is sauctioaed by law.


antes of the Iegilative and of the executive powers ; and that
therefore, upon the principles of Bishop Burnet, a knowledge
of History siiould be diffused amongst our countrymen to as
wide an extent as possible. For it is a self-evident proposi-
tion, that it is highly expedient that they who are called upon
to deliberate on matters of the highest moment, should be pos-
sessed of the guide which is the most likely to lead them to a
correct decision. And in the case in question, this guide is to
be found in the study of History, which is calculated to form
good citizens, and to ornament society with integrity. It was
in this view that Cicero denominated History " magistra
vit(By* the preceptress of the art of living well. To the same
purpose , Dionysius Halicarnassus has, in a maxim which has
been repeatedly quoted with high approbation, characterized
History as " Philosophy teaching by examples." A familiar
acquaintance with the history of their country was, in the best
times of the Roman Republic, held to be essentially requisite
to qualify ingenuous youth for the attainment of stations of
dignity, power, and profit, in the administration of public af-
fairs. Hence the bitterness of the sarcasm uttered by Marius,
when he asserted, in the speech in which he claimed the chief
command of the war against Jugurtha, that in his degenerate
days, men of illustrious birth did not begin to read the His-
tory of their country till they were elevated to the highest office
of the state that is, as he said " they first obtained the em-
ployment, and then bethought themselves of the qualifications
necessary for the proper discharge of it"

Political Freedom indeed gives additional efficacy, and
imparts an additional value to individual virtue, and conse-
quently to those lessons of virtue which are to be learned by
the study of History. This study, when prosecuted under
propitious circumstances, produces that expansion of mind
which is incompatible with the benumbing and debasing con-
dition of slavery. If a modern Greek reads the story of the
gallant onset made by Thrasybulus upon the oppressors of his
country, he reads it with the apathy of indifference, or with


the sigh of despair:* but the example of Hampden is still
fresh in the renieinbraiice of Enj^li.>>hmcn, to incite them to a
determined and vigorous resistance against the tii^t encroach-
ments of arbitrary power.

It is the practical use which may be made of History,
which constitutes one of its chief recommendations, as con-
trasted with the fabulousness of romance. " History, as
Dr. Priestley well observes, " presents us with the same objects
which we meet with in the business of life." Hence it atiords
to men of thoughtful mind, a happy subject for. the exercise of
the judgment, and an excellent means of acquiring a certain
degree of experience, without incurring the hazards which are
incident to an actual intercourse with the world at large*
Hence too, it tends to mollify and to subdue the prejudices,
which are too apt to cloud the intellect of those whose know-
ledge of past transactions is partial and coniined. For as the
connexions of events are in a manner infinite, the examiuing
of them in their different relations at once gives strength to the
understanding, and liberality to the principles of the free
inquirer. It enables him to perceive, and duly to appreciate,
what is valuable in the institutions of ancient times, and of fo-
reign countries ; and thus prepares him for a due estimate of
the political regulations of his native land. To which may be
added, that the accurate acquaintance with the springs of ac-
tion, and with the consequences of political measures, which is
to be gained by a discreet application of the general principles
which are to be deduced from a knowledge of historical facts,
will enable the student to form a correct judgment of the ten-
dency of any course of political nreasures, which may happen
to be the practical subject of immediate discussion in his own

It 5honld seem, however, that the remembrance of the glory of our an-
cestors, is not entirely extinct anionf; the oppressed tribes, who now people
the islands and the continent of Gn-fce. When a celebrated modem tr.
veiler was sailing aion^ the coast of the Troad, a Greek seaman, one of his
boat's crew, pointing to a particular part of tl> shore, exclaimed " there
by our fleet." Under happy auspices, recollections of this oatore may pro*
duce signal and galatary efiects.


times. Thus may the study of History be regarded as pro-
moting the improvement of society, by imparting i<> the exist*
iug generation, the lessons which are to be gathered from the
experience of their predecessors.

Nor is it to be mentioned as a circumstance of minor im-
portance, that the study of History tends to convince the mari
of reflecting mind of the superintendence of the divine will in
the affairs of the world, and to inspire him with a cheerful ac-
quiescence in the dispensations of the deity. When we behold
tlie most important events brought about by the most seem-
ingly insignificant causes when we see the schemes of the in-
telligent and the prudent frustrated by circumstances, which
they could not possibly have taken into their calculation of
contingencies when we find the devices of the powerful
thwarted, and issuing in events, the very contrary to what they
intended to bring about and especially when we contemplate
the most signal good produced from apprehended evil, we are
irresistibly compelled to acknowledge the natural blindness and
weakness of man. We are awed and humbled to submission,
and we rejoice in the assurance that

''There is a providence tliat shapes our ends,
Soiigh-hew them as we will.

In this brief enumeration of the principal uses to be de-
rived from the study of History, it is pre-supposed that histo-
rical facts are made the subjects of mature reflection. The
reader who contents himself with merely storing his mind with
a multiplicity of events, even though those events may be most
accurately arranged in his memory, will derive little profit
from a great expense of time and labour.

It seldom happens that persons who are remarkable for the
extent of their memory in the recollection of dates and of
other minutiae, are distinguished by the solidity of their judg-
ment. It is not, however, intended, by this observation, to
depreciate the study of chronology, which is absolutely ne-
cessary to a thorough acc^uaintaDce with History, and a com-


petent knowledge of which may, in early life, be acquired by
an easy effort. One tweniietli part of the time which is usually
devoted in grammar-schools, and that very properly, to the
instructing of pupils in the genders of Latin nouns, would be
amply sufficient to enable them to store up in their memory
all the chronological epochs, a knowledge of which is ne-
cessary or expedient. But after all, the chief object of a
preceptor ought to be to teach his scholar to seize the points
of importance in a historical narrative, and by the appli-
cation of his reasoning powers, to judge of the tendencies
of events.

Historical facts ought to be considered as materials for
thinking. If properly estimated, they serve, not simply to
amuse the imagination, but to exercise the nobler faculties of
the human mind, to strengthen the understanding, and to
amend the heart. To this topic may be justly applied the
observation of President Montesquieu, " II ne s*agit defaire
lire, mais defaire penser."

The origin of the sources of history is to be investigated by
observing, in remote ages, the early progress of civil society.
To say nothing of the pride of ambition, which engages human
ingenuity, and employs it in transmitting to future times the
memory of signal victories and of extensive conquests, in die
rudest stages of society, internal arrangements are agreed upon
by the members of infant communities; and treaties and
covenants are entered into by independent tribes. It is ob-
vious to tlie slightest consideration, that the desire entertained

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 20 of 44)