To which, upon the premised grounds, the answer is obvious, viz.
That if grammar ought to be taught at any time, it must be to one that can speak the language already; how else can he be taught the grammar of it? This at least is evident from the practice of the wise and learned nations amongst the antients. They made it a part of education to cultivate their own, not foreign tongues. The Greeks counted all other nations barbarous, and had a contempt for their languages. And tho’ the Greek learning grew in credit amongst the Romans, towards the end of their commonwealth, yet it was the Roman tongue that was made the study of their youth: their own language they were to make use of, and therefore it was their own language they were instructed and exercised in.
But, more particularly to determine the proper season for grammar, I do not see how it can reasonably be made any one’s study, but as an introduction to rhetorick; when it is thought time to put any one upon the care of polishing his tongue, and of speaking better than the illiterate, then is the time for him to be instructed in the rules of grammar, and not before. For grammar being to teach men not to speak, but to speak correctly and according to the exact rules of the tongue, which is one part of elegancy, there is little use of the one to him that has no need of the other; where rhetorick is not necessary, grammar may be spared. I know not why any one should waste his time, and beat his head about the Latin grammar, who does not intend to be a critick, or make speeches and write dispatches in it. When any one finds in himself a necessity or disposition to study any foreign language to the bottom, and to be nicely exact in the knowledge of it, it will be time enough to take a grammatical survey of it. If his use of it be only to understand some books writ in it, without a critical knowledge of the tongue itself, reading alone, as I have said, will attain this end, without charging the mind with the multiplied rules and intricacies of grammar.
Section 169. For the exercise of his writing, let him sometimes translate Latin into English: but the learning of Latin being nothing but the learning of words, a very unpleasant business both to young and old, join as much other real knowledge with it as you can, beginning still with that which lies most obvious to the senses; such as is the knowledge of minerals, plants and animals, and particularly timber and fruit-trees, their parts, and ways of propagation, wherein a great deal may be taught a child which will not be useless to the man: but more especially geography, astronomy, and anatomy. But whatever you are teaching him, have a care still that you do not clog him with too much at once; or make anything his business but downright virtue, or reprove him for any thing but vice, or some apparent tendency to it.
Section 170. But if after all his fate be to go to school to get the Latin tongue, ’twill be in vain to talk to you concerning the method I think best to be observ’d in schools; you must submit to that you find there, not expect to have it changed for your son; but yet by all means obtain, if you can, that he be not employed in making Latin themes and declamations, and least of all, verses of any kind. You may insist on it, if it will do any good, that you have no design to make him either a Latin orator or poet, but barely would have him understand perfectly a Latin author; and that you observe, those who teach any of the modern languages, and that with success, never amuse their scholars to make speeches or verses either in French or Italian, their business being language barely, and not invention.
Section 171. But to tell you a little more fully why I would not have him exercised in making of themes and verses. I. As to themes, they have, I confess, the pretence of something useful, which is to teach people to speak handsomely and well on any subject; which, if it could be attained this way, I own would be a great advantage, there being nothing more becoming a gentleman, nor more useful in all the occurrences of life, than to be able, on any occasion, to speak well and to the purpose. But this I say, that the making of themes, as is usual at schools, helps not one jot towards it: for do but consider what it is, in making a theme, that a young lad is employed about; it is to make a speech on some Latin saying; as Omnia vincit amor; or Non licet in Bello bis peccare, &c. And here the poor lad, who wants knowledge of those things he is to speak of, which is to be had only from time and observation, must set his invention on the rack, to say something where he knows nothing; which is a sort of Egyptian tyranny, to bid them make bricks who have not yet any of the materials. And therefore it is usual in such cases for the poor children to go to those of higher forms with this petition, Pray give me a little sense; which, whether it be more reasonable or more ridiculous, it is not easy to determine. Before a man can be in any capacity to speak on any subject, ’tis necessary he be acquainted with it; or else it is as foolish to set him to discourse of it, as to set a blind man to talk of colours, or a deaf man of musick. And would you not think him a little crack’d, who would require another to make an argument on a moot point, who understands nothing of our laws? And what, I pray, do school-boys understand concerning those matters which are used to be proposed to them in their themes as subjects to discourse on, to whet and exercise their fancies?
Section 172. In the next place, consider the language that their themes are made in: ’tis Latin, a language foreign in their country, and long since dead every where: a language which your son, ’tis a thousand to one, shall never have an occasion once to make a speech in as long as he lives after he comes to be a man; and a language wherein the manner of expressing one’s self is so far different from ours, that to be perfect in that would very little improve the purity and facility of his English stile. Besides that, there is now so little room or use for set speeches in our own language in any part of our English business, that I can see no pretence for this sort of exercise in our schools, unless it can be supposed, that the making of set Latin speeches should be the way to teach men to speak well in English extempore. The way to that, I should think rather to be this: that there should be propos’d to young gentlemen rational and useful questions, suited to their age and capacities, and on subjects not wholly unknown to them nor out of their way: such as these, when they are ripe for exercises of this nature, they should extempore, or after a little meditation upon the spot, speak to, without penning of any thing: for I ask, if we will examine the effects of this way of learning to speak well, who speak best in any business, when occasion calls them to it upon any debate, either those who have accustomed themselves to compose and write down beforehand what they would say; or those, who thinking only of the matter, to understand that as well as they can, use themselves only to speak extempore? And he that shall judge by this, will be little apt to think, that the accustoming him to studied speeches and set compositions, is the way to fit a young gentleman for business.
Section 173. But perhaps we shall be told, ’tis to improve and perfect them in the Latin tongue. “Tis true, that is their proper business at school; but the making of themes is not the way to it: that perplexes their brains about invention of things to be said, not about the signification of words to be learn’d; and when they are making a theme, tis thoughts they search and sweat for, and not language. But the learning and mastery of a tongue being uneasy and unpleasant enough in itself, should not be cumbred with any other difficulties, as is done in this way of proceeding. In fine, if boys’ invention be to be quicken’d by such exercise, let them make themes in English, where they have facility and a command of words, and will better see what kind of thoughts they have, when put into their own language. And if the Latin tongue be to be learned, let it be done the easiest way, without toiling and disgusting the mind by so uneasy an employment as that of making speeches joined to it.
Section 174. If these may be any reasons against children’s making Latin themes at school, I have much more to say, and of more weight, against their making verses; verses of any sort: for if he has no genius to poetry, ’tis the most unreasonable thing in the world to torment a child and waste his time about that which can never succeed; and if he have a poetick vein, ’tis to me the strangest thing in the world that the father should desire or suffer it to be cherished or improved. Methinks the parents should labour to have it stifled and suppressed as much as may be; and I know not what reason a father can have to wish his son a poet, who does not desire to have him bid defiance to all other callings and business; which is not yet the worst of the case; for if he proves a successful rhymer, and gets once the reputation of a wit, I desire it may be considered what company and places he is like to spend his time in, nay, and estate too: for it is very seldom seen, that any one discovers mines of gold or silver in Parnassus. ‘Tis a pleasant air, but a barren soil; and there are very few instances of those who have added to their patrimony by any thing they have reaped from thence. Poetry and gaming, which usually go together, are alike in this too, that they seldom bring any advantage but to those who have nothing else to live on. Men of estates almost constantly go away losers; and ’tis well if they escape at a cheaper rate than their whole estates, or the greatest part of them. If therefore you would not have your son the fiddle to every jovial company, without whom the sparks could not relish their wine nor know how to pass an afternoon idly; if you would not have him to waste his time and estate to divert others, and contemn the dirty acres left him by his ancestors, I do not think you will much care he should be a poet, or that his school-master should enter him in versifying. But yet, if any one will think poetry a desirable quality in his son, and that the study of it would raise his fancy and parts, he must needs yet confess, that to that end reading the excellent Greek and Roman poets is of more use than making bad verses of his own, in a language that is not his own. And he whose design it is to excel in English poetry, would not, I guess, think the way to it were to make his first essays in Latin verses.
Section 175. Another thing very ordinary in the vulgar method of grammar-schools there is, of which I see no use at all, unless it be to baulk young lads in the way to learning languages, which, in my opinion, should be made as easy and pleasant as may be; and that which was painful in it, as much as possible quite removed. That which I mean, and here complain of, is, their being to learn by heart, great parcels of the authors which are taught them; wherein I can discover no advantage at all, especially to the business they are upon. Languages are to be learned only by reading and talking, and not by scraps of authors got by heart; which when a man’s head is stuffed with, he has got the just furniture of a pedant, and ’tis the ready way to make him one; than which there is nothing less becoming a gentleman. For what can be more ridiculous, than to mix the rich and handsome thoughts and sayings of others with a deal of poor stuff of his own; which is thereby the more exposed, and has no other grace in it, nor will otherwise recommend the speaker, than a thread-bare russet coat would, that was set off with large patches of scarlet and glittering brocade. Indeed, where a passage comes in the way, whose matter is worth remembrance, and the expression of it very close and excellent, (as there are many such in the antient authors) it may not be amiss to lodge it in the mind of young scholars, and with such admirable strokes of those great masters sometimes exercise the memories of school-boys. But their learning of their lessons by heart, as they happen to fall out in their books, without choice or distinction, I know not what it serves for, but no misspend their time and pains, and give them a disgust and aversion to their books, wherein they find nothing but useless trouble.
Section 176. I hear it is said, that children should be employ’d in getting things by heart, to exercise and improve their memories. I could wish this were said with as much authority of reason, as it is with forwardness of assurance, and that this practice were established upon good observation more than old custom; for it is evident, that strength of memory is owing to an happy constitution, and not to any habitual improvement got by exercise. ‘Tis true, what the mind is intent upon, and, for fear of letting it slip, often imprints afresh on itself by frequent reflection, that it is apt to retain, but still according to its own natural strength of retention. An impression made on bees-wax or lead, will not last so long as on brass or steel. Indeed, if it be renew’d often, it may last the longer; but every new reflecting on it is a new impression; and ’tis from thence one is to reckon, if one would know how long the mind retains it. But the learning pages of Latin by heart, no more fits the memory for retention of any thing else, than the graving of one sentence in lead makes it the more capable of retaining firmly any other characters. If such a sort of exercise of the memory were able to give it strength, and improve our parts, players of all other people must needs have the best memories and be the best company. But whether the scraps they have got into their heads this way, make them remember other things the better; and whether their parts be improved proportionably to the pains they have taken in getting by heart others’ sayings, experience will shew. Memory is so necessary to all parts and conditions of life, and so little is to be done without it, that we are not to fear it should grow dull and useless for want of exercise, if exercise would make it grow stronger. But I fear this faculty of the mind is not capable of much help and amendment in general by any exercise or endeavour of ours, at least not by that used upon this pretence in grammar-schools. And if Xerxes was able to call every common soldier by name in his army that consisted of no less than an hundred thousand men, I think it may be guessed, he got not this wonderful ability by learning his lessons by heart when he was a boy. This method of exercising and improving the memory by toilsome repetitions without book of what they read, is, I think, little used in the education of princes, which if it had that advantage is talked of, should be as little neglected in them as in the meanest school-boys: princes having as much need of good memories as any men living, and have generally an equal share in this faculty with other men; though it has never been taken care of this way. What the mind is intent upon and careful of, that it remembers best, and for the reason above-mentioned: to which, if method and order be joined, all is done, I think, that can be, for the help of a weak memory; and he that will take any other way to do it, especially that of charging it with a train of other peoples’ words, which he that learns cares not for, will, I guess, scarce find the profit answer half the time and pains employ’d in it.
I do not mean hereby, that there should be no exercise given to children’s memories. I think their memories should be employ’d, but not in learning by rote whole pages out of books, which, the lesson being once said, and that task over, are delivered up again to oblivion and neglected for ever. This mends neither the memory nor the mind. What they should learn by heart out of authors, I have above mentioned: and such wise and useful sentences being once being once given in charge to their memories, they should never be suffer’d to forget again, but be often called to account for them: whereby, besides the use those sayings may be to them in their future life, as so many good rules and observations, they will be taught to reflect often, and bethink themselves what they have to remember, which is the only way to make the memory quick and useful. The custom of frequent reflection will keep their minds from running adrift, and call their thoughts home from useless unattentive roving: and therefore I think it may do well, to give them something every day to remember, but something still, that is in itself worth the remembering, and what you would never have out of mind, whenever you call, or they themselves search for it. This will oblige them often to turn their thoughts inwards, than which you cannot wish them a better intellectual habit.
Section 177. But under whose care soever a child is put to be taught during the tender and flexible years of his life, this is certain, it should be one who thinks Latin and language the least part of education; one who knowing how much virtue and a well-temper’d soul is to be preferred to any sort of learning or language, makes it his chief business to form the mind of his scholars, and give that a right disposition; which if once got, though all the rest should be neglected, would in due time produce all the rest; and which, if it be not got and settled so as to keep out ill and vicious habits, languages and sciences and all the other accomplishments of education, will be to no purpose but to make the worse or more dangerous man. And indeed whatever stir there is made about getting of Latin as the great and difficult business, his mother may teach it him herself, if she will but spend two or three hours in a day with him, and make him read the Evangelists in Latin to her: for she need but buy a Latin Testament, and having got some body to mark the last syllable but one where it is long in words above two syllables, (which is enough to regulate her pronunciation, and accenting the words) read daily in the Gospels, and then let her avoid understanding them in Latin if she can. And when she understands the Evangelists in Latin, let her, in the same manner, read Aesop’s Fables, and so proceed on to Eutropius, Justin, and other such books. I do not mention this, as an imagination of what I fancy may do, but as of a thing I have known done, and the Latin tongue with ease got this way.
But, to return to what I was saying: he that takes on him the charge of bringing up young men, especially young gentlemen, should have something more in him than Latin, more than even a knowledge in the liberal sciences: he should be a person of eminent virtue and prudence, and with good sense, have good humour, and the skill to carry himself with gravity, ease and kindness, in a constant conversation with his pupils. But of this I have spoken at large in another place.
Section 178. At the same time that he is learning French and Latin, a child, as has been said, may also be enter’d in Arithmetick, Geography, Chronology, History and Geometry too. For if these be taught him in French or Latin, when he begins once to understand either of these tongues, he will get a knowledge in these sciences, and the language to boot.
Geography I think should be begun with: for the learning of the figure of the globe, the situation and boundaries of the four parts of the world, and that of particular kingdoms and countries, being only an exercise of the eyes and memory, a child with pleasure will learn and retain them. And this is so certain, that I now live in the house with a child whom his mother has so well instructed this way in geography, that he knew the limits of the four parts of the world, could readily point, being ask’d, to any country upon the globe, or any county in the map of England; knew all the great rivers, promontories, straits and bays in the world, and could find the longitude and latitude of any place, before he was six years old. These things, that he will thus learn by sight, and have by rote in his memory, are not all, I confess, that he is to learn upon the globes. But yet it is a good step and preparation to it, and will make the remainder much easier, when his judgment is grown ripe enough for it: besides that, it gets so much time now; and by the pleasure of knowing things, leads him on insensibly to the gaining of languages.
Section 179. When he has the natural parts of the globe well fix’d in his memory, it may then be time to begin arithmetick. By the natural parts of the globe, I mean the several positions of the parts of the earth and sea, under different names and distinctions of countries, not coming yet to those artificial and imaginary lines which have been invented, and are only suppos’d for the better improvement of that science.
Section 180. Arithmetick is the easiest, and consequently the first sort of abstract reasoning, which the mind commonly bears or accustoms itself to: and is of so general use in all parts of life and business, that scarce any thing is to be done without it. This is certain, a man cinnot have too much of it, nor too perfectly: he should therefore begin to be exercis’d in counting, as soon, and as far, as he is capable of it; and do something in it every day, till he is master of the art of numbers. When he understands addition and subtraction, he then may be advanced farther in geography, after he is acquainted with the poles, zones, parallel circles, and meridians, be taught longitude and latitude, and by them be made to understand the use of maps, and by the numbers placed on their sides, to know the respective situation of countries, and how to find them out on the terrestrial globe. Which when he can readily do, he may then be entered in the celestial; and there going over all the circles again, with a more particular observation of the Ecliptick, or Zodiack, to fix them all very clearly and distinctly in his mind, he may be taught the figure and position of the several constellations, which may be shewed him first upon the globe, and then in the heavens.
When that is done, and he knows pretty well the constellations of this our hemisphere, it may be time to give him some notions of this our planetary world; and to that purpose, it may not be amiss to make him a draught of the Copernican system, and therein explain to him the situation of the planets, their respective distances from the sun, the centre of their revolutions. This will prepare him to understand the motion and theory of the planets, the most easy and natural way. For since astronomers no longer doubt of the motion of the planets about the sun, it is fit he should proceed upon that hypothesis, which is not only the simplest and least perplexed for a learner, but also the likeliest to be true in itself. But in this, as in all other parts of instruction, great care must be taken with children, to begin with that which is plain and simple, and to teach them as little as can be at once, and settle that well in their heads before you proceed to the next, or any thing new in that science. Give them first one simple idea, and see that they take it right, and perfectly comprehend it before you go any farther, and then add some other simple idea which lies next in your way to what you aim at; and so proceeding by gentle and insensible steps, children without confusion and amazement will have their understandings opened and their thoughts extended farther than could have been expected. And when any one has learn’d any thing himself, there is no such way to fix it in his memory, and to encourage him to go on, as to set him to teach it others.
Section 181. When he has once got such an acquaintance with the globes, as is above mentioned, he may be fit to be tried in a little geometry; wherein I think the first six books of Euclid enough for him to be taught. For I am in some doubt, whether more to a man of business be necessary or useful. At least, if he have a genius and inclination to it, being enter’d so far by his tutor, he will be able to go on of himself without a teacher.
The globes therefore must be studied, and that diligently; and I think may be begun betimes, if the tutor will be but careful to distinguish what the child is capable of knowing, and what not; for which this may be a rule that perhaps will go a pretty way, viz. that children may be taught anything that falls under their senses, especially their sight, as far as their memories only are exercised: and thus a child very young may learn, which is the Aequator, which the Meridian, &c. which Europe, and which England, upon the globes, as soon almost as he knows the rooms of the house he lives in, if care be taken not to teach him too much at once, nor to set him upon a new part, till that which he is upon be perfectly learned and fixed in his memory.
Section 182. With geography, chronology ought to go hand in hand. I mean the general part of it, so that he may have in his mind a view of the whole current of time, and the several considerable epochs that are made use of in history. Without these two, history, which is the great mistress of prudence and civil knowlelge, and ought to be the proper study of a gentleman, or man of business in the world; without geography and chronology, I say, history will be very ill retain’d, and very little useful; but be only a jumble of matters of fact, confusedly heaped together without order or instruction. ‘Tis by these two that the actions of mankind are ranked into their proper places of time and countries, under which circumstances they are not only muih easier kept in the memory, but in that natural order, are only capable to afford those observations which make a man the better and the abler for reading them.
Section 183. When I speak of chronology as a science he should be perfect in, I do not mean the little controversies that are in it. These are endless, and most of them of so little importance to a gentleman, as not to deserve to be enquir’d into, were they capable of an easy decision. And therefore all that learned noise and dust of the chronologist is wholly to be avoided. The most useful book I have seen in that part of learning, is a small treatise of Strauchius, which is printed in twelves, under the title of Breviarium Chronologicum, out of which may be selected all that is necessary to be taught a young gentleman concerning chronology; for all that is in that treatise a learner need not be cumbred with. He has in him the most remarkable or useful epochs reduced all to that of the Julian Period, which is the easiest and plainest and surest method that can be made use of in chronology. To this treatise of Strauchius, Helvicus’ tables may be added, as a book to be turned to on all occasions.
Section 184. As nothing teaches, so nothing delights more than history. The first of these recommends it to the study of grown men, the latter makes me think it the fittest for a young lad, who as soon as he is instructed in chronology, and acquainted with the several epochs in use in this part of the world, and can reduce them to the Julian Period, should then have some Latin history put into his hand. The choice should be directed by the easiness of the stile; for wherever he begins, chronology will keep it from confusion; and the pleasantness of the subject inviting him to read, the language will insensibly be got without that terrible vexation and uneasiness which children suffer where they are put into books beyond their capacity; such as are the Roman orators and poets, only to learn the Roman language. When he has by reading master’d the easier, such perhaps as Justin, Eutropius, Quintius Curtius, etc. the next degree to these will give him no great trouble: and thus by a gradual progress from the plaintest and easiest historians, he may at last come to read the most difficult and sublime of the Latin authors, such as are Tully, Virgil, and Horace.
Section 185. The knowledge of virtue, all along from the beginning, in all the instances he is capable of, being taught him more by practice than rules; and the love of reputation, instead of satisfying his appetite, being made habitual in him, I know not whether he should read any other discourses of morality but what he finds in the Bible; or have any system of ethicks put into his hand till he can read Tully’s Offices not as a school-boy to learn Latin, but as one that would be informed in the principles and precepts of virtue for the conduct of his life.
Section 186. When he has pretty well digested Tully’s Offices, and added to it, Puffendorf de Officio Hominis & Civis, it may be seasonable to set him upon Grotius de Jure Belli & Pacis, or, which perhaps is the better of the two, Puffendorf de Jure naturali & Gentium; wherein he will be instructed in the natural rights of men, and the original and foundations of society, and the duties resulting from thence. This general part of civil-law and history, are studies which a gentleman should not barely touch at, but constantly dwell upon, and never have done with. A virtuous and well-behaved young man, that is well-versed in the general part of the civil-law (which concerns not the chicane of private cases, but the affairs and intercourse of civilized nations in general, grounded upon principles of reason) understands Latin well, and can write a good hand, one may turn loose into the world with great assurance that he will find employment and esteem every where.
Section 187. It would be strange to suppose an English gentleman should be ignorant of the law of his country. This, whatever station he is in, is so requisite, that from a Justice of the Peace to a Minister of State I know no place he can well fill without it. I do not mean the chicane or wrangling and captious part of the law: a gentleman, whose business is to seek the true measures of right and wrong, and not the arts how to avoid doing the one, and secure himself in doing the other, ought to be as far from such a study of the law, as he is concerned diligently to apply himself to that wherein he may be serviceable to his country. And to that purpose, I think the right way for a gentleman to study our law, which he does not design for his calling, is to take a view of our English constitution and government in the antient books of the common-law, and some more modern writers, who out of them have given an account of this government. And having got a true idea of that, then to read our history, and with it join in every king’s reign the laws then made. This will give an insight into the reason of our statutes, and shew the true ground upon which they came to be made, and what weight they ought to have.
Section 188. Rhetorick and logick being the arts that in the ordinary method usually follow immediately after grammar, it may perhaps be wondered that I have said to little of them. The reason is, because of the little advantage young people receive by them: for I have seldom or never observed any one to get the skill of reasoning well, or speaking handsomely, by studying those rules which pretend to reach it: and therefore I would have a young gentleman take a view of them in the shortest systems could be found, without dwelling long on the contemplation and study of those formalities. Right reasoning is founded on something else than the predicaments and predicables, and does not consist in talking in mode and figure it self. But ’tis beside my present business to enlarge upon this speculation. To come therefore to what we have in hand; if you would have your son reason well, let him read Chillingworth; and if you would have him speak well, let him be conversant in Tully, to give him the true idea of eloquence; and let him read those things that are well writ in English, to perfect his style in the purity of our language.
Section 189. If the use and end of right reasoning be to have right notions and a right judgment of things, to distinguish betwixt truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and to act accordingly; be sure not to let your son be bred up in the art and formality of disputing, either practising it himself, or admiring it in others; unless instead of an able man, you desire to have him an insignificant wrangler, opiniator in discourse, and priding himself in contradicting others; or, which is worse, questioning every thing, and thinking there is no such thing as truth to be sought, but only victory, in disputing. There cannot be any thing so disingenuous, so misbecoming a gentleman or any one who pretends to be a rational creature, as not to yield to plain reason and the conviction of clear arguments. Is there any thing more consistent with civil conversation, and the end of all debate, than not to take an answer, though never so full and satisfactory, but still to go on with the dispute as long as equivocal sounds can furnish (a medius terminus) a term to wrangle with on the one side, or a distinction on the other; whether pertinent or impertinent, sense or nonsense, agreeing with or contrary to what he had said before, it matters not. For this, in short, is the way and perfection of logical disputes, that the opponent never takes any answer, nor the respondent ever yields to any argument. This neither of them must do, whatever becomes of truth or knowledge, unless he will pass for a poor baffled wretch, and lie under the disgrace of not being able to maintain whatever he has once affirm’d, which is the great aim and glory in disputing. Truth is to be found and supported by a mature and due consideration of things themselves, and not by artificial terms and ways of arguing: these lead not men so much into the discovery of truth, as into a captious and fallacious use of doubtful words, which is the most useless and most offensive way of talking, and such as least suits a gentleman or a lover of truth of any thing in the world.
There can scarce be a greater defect in a gentleman than not to express himself well either in writing or speaking. But yet I think I may ask my reader, whether he doth not know a great many, who live upon their estates, and so with the name should have the qualities of gentlemen, who cannot so much as tell a story as they should, much less speak clearly and persuasively in any business. This I think not to be so much their fault, as the fault of their education; for I must, without partiality, do my countrymen this right, that where they apply themselves, I see none of their neighbours outgo them. They have been taught rhetorick, but yet never taught how to express themselves handsomely with their tongues or pens in the language they are always to use; as if the names of the figures that embellish’d the discourses of those who understood the art of speaking, were the very art and skill of speaking well. This, as all other things of practice, is to be learn’d not by a few or a great many rules given, but by exercise and application according to good rules, or rather patterns, till habits are got, and a facility of doing it well.
Agreeable hereunto, perhaps it might not be amiss to make children, as soon as they are capable of it, often to tell a story of any thing they know; and to correct at first the most remarkable fault they are guilty of in their way putting it together. When that fault is cured, then to shew them the next, and so on, till one after another, all, at least the gross ones, are mended. When they can tell tales pretty well, then it may be the time to make them write them. The Fables of Aesop, the only book almost that I know fit for children, may afford them matter for this exercise of writing English, as well as for reading and translating, to enter them in the Latin tongue. When they have got past the faults of grammar, and can join in a continued coherent discourse the several parts of a story, without bald and unhandsome forms of transition (as is usual) often repeated, he that desires to perfect them yet farther in this, which is the first step to speaking well and needs no invention, may have recourse to Tully, and by putting in practice those rules which that master of eloquence gives in his first book de inventione, section 20, make them know wherein the skill and graces of an handsome narrative, according to the several subjects and designs of it, lie. Of each of which rules fit examples may be found out, and therein they may be shewn how others have practised them. The antient classick authors afford plenty of such examples, which they should be made not only to translate, but have set before them as patterns for their daily imitation.
When they understand how to write English with due connexion, propriety and order, and are pretty well masters of a tolerable narrative style, they may be advanced to writing of letters; wherein they should not be put upon any strains of wit or compliment, but taught to express their own plain easy sense, without any incoherence, confusion or roughness. And when they are perfect in this, they may, to raise their thoughts, have set before them the examples of Voitures, for the entertainment of their friends at a distance, with letters of compliment, mirth, raillery or diversion; and Tully’s Epistles, as the best pattern whether for business or conversation. The writing of letters has so much to do in all the occurrences of human life, that no gentleman can avoid shewing himself in this kind of writing. Occasions will daily force him to make this use of his pen, which, besides the consequences that, in his affairs, his well or ill managing of it often draws after it, always lays him open to a severer examination of his breeding, sense, and abilities, than oral discourses; whose transient faults dying for the most part with the sound that gives them life, and so not subject to a strict review, more easily escape observation and censure.
Had the methods of education been directed to their right end, one would have thought this so necessary a part could not have been neglected whilst themes and verses in Latin, of no use at all, were so constantly every where pressed, to the racking of children’s inventions beyond their strength and hindering their chearful progress in learning the tongues by unnatural difficulties. But custom has so ordain’d it, and who dares disobey? And would it not be very unreasonable to require of a learned country shcool-master (who has all the tropes and figures in Farnaby’s Rhetorick at his fingers’ ends) to teach his scholar to express himself handsomely in English, when it appears to be so little his business or thought, that the boy’s mother (despised, ’tis like, as illiterate for not having read a system of logick and rhetorick) outdoes him in it?
To write and speak correctly gives a grace and gains a favourable attention to what one has to say: and since ’tis English that an English gentleman will have constant use of, that is the language he should chiefly cultivate, and wherein most care should be taken to polish and perfect his style. To speak or write better Latin than English, may make a man be talk’d of, but he would find it more to his purpose to express himself well in his own tongue, that he uses every moment, than to have the vain commendation of others for a very insignificant quality. This I find universally neglected, and no care taken any where to improve young men in their own language, that they may thoroughly understand and be masters of it. If any one among us have a facility or purity more than ordinary in his mother tongue, it is owing to chance, or his genius, or any thing rather than to his education or any care of his teacher. To mind what English his pupil speaks or writes, is below the dignity of one bred up amongst Greek and Latin, though he have but little of them himself. These are the learned languages fit only for learned men to meddle with and teach; English is the language of the illiterate vulgar: tho’ yet we see the polity of some of our neighbours hath not thought it beneath the publick care to promote and reward the improvement of their own language. Polishing and enriching their tongue is no small business amongst them; it hath colleges and stipends appointed it, and there is raised amongst them a great ambition and emulation of writing correctly: and we see what they are come to by it, and how far they have spread one of the worst languages possibly in this part of the world, if we look upon it as it was in some few reigns backwards, whatever it be now. The great men among the Romans were daily exercising themselves in their own language; and we find yet upon record the names of orators, who taught some of their emperors Latin, though it were their mother tongue.