The Gentleman who obliges the World in general, and me in particular, with his Thoughts upon Education, has just sent me the following Letter.
I take the Liberty to send you a fourth Letter upon the Education of Youth: In my last I gave you my Thoughts about some particular Tasks which I conceiv'd it might not be amiss to use with their usual Exercises, in order to give them an early Seasoning of Virtue; I shall in this propose some others, which I fancy might contribute to give them a right turn for the World, and enable them to make their way in it.
The Design of Learning is, as I take it, either to render a Man an agreeable Companion to himself, and teach him to support Solitude with Pleasure, or if he is not born to an Estate, to supply that Defect, and furnish him with the means of acquiring one. A Person who applies himself to Learning with the first of these Views may be said to study for Ornament, as he who proposes to himself the second, properly studies for Use. The one does it to raise himself a Fortune, the other to set off that which he is already possessed of. But as far the greater part of Mankind are included in the latter Class, I shall only propose some Methods at present for the Service of such who expect to advance themselves in the World by their Learning: In order to which, I shall premise, that many more Estates have been acquir'd by little Accomplishments than by extraordinary ones; those Qualities which make the greatest Figure in the Eye of the World, not being always the most useful in themselves, or the most advantageous to their Owners.
The Posts which require Men of shining and uncommon Parts to discharge them, are so very few, that many a great Genius goes out of the World without ever having had an opportunity to exert it self; whereas Persons of ordinary Endowments meet with Occasions fitted to their Parts and Capacities every day in the common Occurrences of Life.
I am acquainted with two Persons who were formerly School-fellows, and have been good Friends ever since. One of them was not only thought an impenetrable Block-head at School, but still maintain'd his Reputation at the University; the other was the Pride of his Master, and the most celebrated Person in the College of which he was a Member. The Man of Genius is at present buried in a Country Parsonage of eightscore Pounds a year; while the other, with the bare Abilities of a common Scrivener, has got an Estate of above an hundred thousand Pounds.
I fancy from what I have said it will almost appear a doubtful Case to many a wealthy Citizen, whether or no he ought to wish his Son should be a great Genius; but this I am sure of, that nothing is more absurd than to give a Lad the Education of one, whom Nature has not favour'd with any particular Marks of Distinction.
The fault therefore of our Grammar-Schools is, that every Boy is pushed on to Works of Genius; whereas it would be far more advantageous for the greatest part of them to be taught such little practical Arts and Sciences as do not require any great share of Parts to be Master of them, and yet may come often into play during the course of a Man's Life.
Such are all the Parts of Practical Geometry. I have known a Man contract a Friendship with a Minister of State, upon cutting a Dial in his Window; and remember a Clergyman who got one of the best Benefices in the West of England, by setting a Country Gentleman's Affairs in some Method, and giving him an exact Survey of his Estate.
While I am upon this Subject, I cannot forbear mentioning a Particular which is of use in every Station of Life, and which methinks every Master should teach his Scholars. I mean the writing of English Letters. To this End, instead of perplexing them with Latin Epistles, Themes and Verses, there might be a punctual Correspondence established between two Boys, who might act in any imaginary Parts of Business, or be allow'd sometimes to give a range to their own Fancies, and communicate to each other whatever Trifles they thought fit, provided neither of them ever fail'd at the appointed time to answer his Correspondents Letter.
I believe I may venture to affirm, that the generality of Boys would find themselves more advantaged by this Custom, when they come to be Men, than by all the Greek and Latin their Masters can teach them in seven or eight Years.
The want of it is very visible in many learned Persons, who, while they are admiring the Styles of Demosthenes or Cicero, want Phrases to express themselves on the most common Occasions. I have seen a Letter from one of these Latin Orators, which would have been deservedly laugh'd at by a common Attorney.
Under this Head of Writing I cannot omit Accounts and Short-hand, which are learned with little pains, and very properly come into the number of such Arts as I have been here recommending.
You must doubtless, Sir, observe that I have hitherto chiefly insisted upon these things for such Boys as do not appear to have any thing extraordinary in their natural Talents, and consequently are not qualified for the finer Parts of Learning; yet I believe I might carry this Matter still further, and venture to assert that a Lad of Genius has sometimes occasion for these little Acquirements, to be as it were the forerunners of his Parts, and to introduce [him ] into the World.
History is full of Examples of Persons, who tho they have had the largest Abilities, have been obliged to insinuate themselves into the Favour of great Men by these trivial Accomplishments; as the compleat Gentleman, in some of our modern Comedies, makes his first Advances to his Mistress under the disguise of a Painter or a Dancing-Master.
The Difference is, that in a Lad of Genius these are only so many Accomplishments, which in another are Essentials; the one diverts himself with them, the other works at them. In short, I look upon a great Genius, with these little Additions, in the same Light as I regard the Grand Signior, who is obliged, by an express Command in the Alcoran, to learn and practise some Handycraft Trade. Tho I need not have gone for my Instance farther than Germany, where several Emperors have voluntarily done the same thing. Leopold the last , worked in Wood; and I have heard there are several handycraft Works of his making to be seen at Vienna so neatly turned, that the best Joiner in Europe might safely own them, without any disgrace to his Profession.
I would not be thought, by any thing I have said, to be against improving a Boys Genius to the utmost pitch it can be carried. What I would endeavour to shew in this Essay is, that there may be Methods taken, to make Learning advantageous even to the meanest Capacities.
I am, SIR, Yours, &c.
[Footnote 1: Perhaps Swift and his old schoolfellow, Mr. Stratford, the Hamburgh merchant.
Stratford is worth a plumb, and is now lending the Government £40,000; yet we were educated together at the same school and university.
Journal to Stella, Sept. 14, 1710.]
[Footnote 3: Leopold the last was also Leopold the First. He died May 6, 1705, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Joseph, who died while the Spectator was being issued, and had now been followed by his brother, the Archduke Charles, whose claim to the crown of Spain England had been supporting, when his accession to the German throne had not seemed probable. His coronation as Charles VI. was, therefore, one cause of the peace. Leopold, born in 1640, and educated by the Jesuits, became Emperor in 1658, and reigned 49 years. He was an adept in metaphysics and theology, as well as in wood-turning, but a feeble and oppressive ruler, whose empire was twice saved for him; by Sobiesld from the Turks, and from the French by Marlborough.]Translation of motto: