To Edward Clarke, of Chipley, Esq.
These thoughts concerning education, which now come abroad into the world, do of right belong to you, being written several years since for your sake, and are no other than what you have already by you in my letters. I have so little vary’d any thing, but only the order of what was sent you at different times, and on several occasions, that the reader will easily find, in the familiarity and fashion of the stile, that they were rather the private conversation of two friends, than a discourse design’d for publick view.
The importunity of friends is the common apology for publications men are afraid to own themselves forward to. But you know I can truly say, that if some, who having heard of these papers of mine, had not press’d to see them, and afterwards to have them printed, they had lain dormant still in that privacy they were design’d for. But those, whose judgment I defer much to, telling me, that they were persuaded, that this rough draught of mine might be of some use, if made more publick, touch’d upon what will always be very prevalent with me: for I think it every man’s indispensable duty, to do all the service he can to his country; and I see not what difference he puts between himself and his cattle, who lives without that thought. This subject is of so great concernment, and a right way of education is of so general advantage, that did I find my abilities answer my wishes, I should not have needed exhortations or importunities from others. However, the meanness of these papers, and my just distrust of them, shall not keep me, by the shame of doing so little, from contributing my mite, when there is no more requir’d of me than my throwing it into the publick receptacle. And if there be any more of their size and notions, who lik’d them so well, that they thought them worth printing, I may flatter myself they will not be lost labour to every body.
I myself have been consulted of late by so many, who profess themselves at a loss how to breed their children, and the early corruption of youth is now become so general a complaint, that he cannot be thought wholly impertinent, who brings the consideration of this matter on the stage, and offers something, if it be but to excite others, or afford matter of correction: for errors in education should be less indulg’d than any. These, like faults in the first concoction, that are never mended in the second or third, carry their afterwards incorrigible taint with them thro’ all the parts and stations of life.
I am so far from being conceited of any thing I have here offer’d, that I should not be sorry, even for your sake, if some one abler and fitter for such a task would in a just treatise of education, suited to our English gentry, rectify the mistakes I have made in this; it being much more desirable to me, that young gentlemen should be put into (that which every one ought to be solicitous about) the best way of being form’d and instructed, than that my opinion should be receiv’d concerning it. You will, however, in the mean time bear me witness, that the method here propos’d has had no ordinary effects upon a gentleman’s son it was not design’d for. I will not say the good temper of the child did not very much contribute to it; but this I think you and the parents are satisfy’d of, that a contrary usage, according to the ordinary disciplining of children, would not have mended that temper, nor have brought him to be in love with his book, to take a pleasure in learning, and to desire, as he does, to be taught more than those about him think fit always to teach him.
But my business is not to recommend this treatise to you, whose opinion of it I know already; nor it to the world, either by your opinion or patronage. The well educating of their children is so much the duty and concern of parents, and the welfare and prosperity of the nation so much depends on it, that I would have every one lay it seriously to heart; and after having well examin’d and distinguish’d what fancy, custom, or reason advises in the case, set his helping hand to promote every where that way of training up youth, with regard to their several conditions, which is the easiest, shortest, and likeliest to produce virtuous, useful, and able men in their distinct callings; tho’ that most to be taken care of is the gentleman’s calling. For if those of that rank are by their education once set right, they will quickly bring all the rest into order.
I know not whether I have done more than shewn my good wishes towards it in this short discourse; such as it is, the world now has it, and if there be any thing in it worth their acceptance, they owe their thanks to you for it. My affection to you gave the first rise to it, and I am pleas’d, that I can leave to posterity this mark of the friendship that has been between us. For I know no greater pleasure in this life, nor a better remembrance to be left behind one, than a long continued friendship with an honest, useful, and worthy man, and lover of his country. I am, Sir,
Your most humble and most faithful servant,
March 7, 1692.