DISCOURSE ON EDUCATION.
DISCOUSE ON EDUCATION,
YOUNG LADIES’ INSTITUTE,
Pittsfield, Mass., October 2, 1846.
HENRY P. TAPPAN, D.D.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
ROE LOCKWOOD & SON,
No. 411 Broadway.
DISCOURSE ON EDUCATION.
I APPEAR before you to-day to discourse on a trite, it may be, but nevertheless a great theme; a theme much discoursed upon, but not thence necessarily a theme exhausted. Subjects of common discourse are like a broad and open lake in the midst of a thronging population; boats are every where gaily passing over its surface, and habitations every where crowd its margin, homely or tasteful. Every one uses it, every one claims it; every one looks upon its beauty. What now shall be done that hath not been done before? Shall one merely skim over the surface in a more beautiful boat, or erect a more elegant dwelling on some unoccupied site? It is only doing the same thing over again in a more striking way. But the fashion has been set in that direction. It is easier to sail and build like the rest; to emulate actions and elegancies which already are of established repute.
Now some homely pearl-diver comes along, who has been reared on a distant shore, and who has been accustomed to look upon bright waters with different ends and expectations; who, not content with the surface and the margin, loves to get into the depths; and he strips himself as he is wont, and before the multitude plunges in. If there are no pearls there, it is not his fault if he finds none; he at least shows his habitudes and tendencies. But should he chance to find a pearl; should he prove that more is to be gained by going to the bottom than by skimming over the surface and admiring the margin, then probably sailing and building will be forsaken for pearl-diving.
What promise is there on such a theme as Education?
Whatever has life has growth. From the feeble germ comes forth the tall tree of the forest. All animals appear at first in a diminutive form and in weakness, and grow up to their perfect forms and strength. Man, the lord of this lower creation, when first cast upon the shore of this world is more helpless than all, whether we regard his body or his mind. Indeed, in this case at least it would seem as if nature intended that what is capable of the most glorious growth should have the most unpromising beginning.
What a difference between the infant Newton and the Newton whose hoary head was a crown of glory! Between the Milton whose feeble cry kept a mother’s anxiety watchful, and the Milton whose song of lofty and sacred harmony rose up to heaven’s “golden gates.” Now the influences and means by which that which has life grows up to the measure of its being may be called its education; because education means simply a leading forth or development of inherent properties and powers. The germ strictly speaking contains in an elementary state all the parts and properties of the full formed plant. In the acorn is the Oak, which spreading and majestic braves the storms and accidents of centuries. Still more; in the acorn is a principle and power of reproduction which in time would cover the great globe with dense forests. The same holds true with regard to animals. The young lion diminutive, weak and harmless, has slumbering in embryo, the proud and fierce spirit, and the terrible strength of the lord of the forest. And the infant Newton and the infant Milton, have in a state of primary weakness the sublime intelligence and feelings of their after greatness. Soil, sunshine and moisture in union with the living principle, develop the beauty and glory of the plant and constitute its education. Food, drink, atmosphere, caloric, light, and action, develop animal beauty, qualities and strength, and constitute the animal education; this applies both to man and brutes. In animals however, there are peculiar attributes to be considered, which require a peculiar education. In brutes we find various degrees of natural sagacity. This sagacity under the influence of nature alone will be developed to a certain extent in the growth of the animal. But a forecasting intelligence, such as belongs to man can subject it to a special cultivation in aid of various purposes. It is thus that the horse, ox, dog, reindeer and elephant, are educated to subserve the occasions of man.
The high powers which distinguish man are dependent for their development upon the same forecasting intelligence. This more perfect and peculiar form of education is known in this very way, that it is the accomplishment of an end contemplated and adjusted by a designing mind.
When we speak of the education of man, we mean a process by which all his powers are developed and brought to answer the ends for which they were constituted by infinite wisdom.
Now as man has an animal nature as well as an intellectual constitution, he must be subject in certain respects and degrees to the conditions of the animal. Thus there is, as we have seen, a strictly natural education applicable to men; an education which, irrespective of any design on his part, brings out his animal appetencies and activities. But this natural education extends also to the more refined and higher parts of his being. There is between us and the material world a mutual adaptation; so that we not only perceive its forms and classify its varieties and deduce the principles of science; we experience also in its presence, or by the recollection and imagination of our perceptions various and delightful emotions, such as the emotions of the beautiful, the great and the sublime. There are ten thousand operations in nature also which naturally awaken our curiosity and impel us to inquire for their causes, relations and uses. In this way, without any predetermination on our part, both the sensitive and intellectual parts of our being may receive a degree of education under the eye and influence of nature alone. Man in a savage or rude state of society is chiefly educated by nature. He sometimes gives splendid manifestations of the powers of poetry and oratory, buy they were wild, misshapen and unchastened. He exhibits intellectual acuteness and thoughtful combination: but they have none of the regularity and fixedness of science, and are mingled with the dreams of a superstitious imagination. In the highest modes of education, also, the education of nature will of course exert an influence; but it is not the designer and the regulator: It is an irregular inspiration, which enlivens and suggests, and then submits to the calm decisions of reason.
Another form of education by which the human powers are developed is the education fixed by authority. This appears in the example, instruction and discipline laid in the constitution of families; in the manners, maxims, customs, employments and interests of society; and in the express modes of education determined upon and prosecuted in the various seminaries which exist among civilized nations, from the common elementary school to the college and university.
A great part of our education, and necessarily the early part, must be under authority. Where-ever authority is connected with imperfect and narrow views, corrupt influences and injudicious modes, the education will be deformed, or pernicious, or incomplete.
The third form of education is Self-Education. Here the individual forecasts an end and forms a plan for himself, and confides the development of his powers to his own energies. Such was the education of the great men who have appeared in all ages of the world, and who, when as yet no movement had been made in the great cause of education, and when no institutions of learning had yet been reared up, came out from the mass of ignorance, superstition and violence around them, the self-created lights of the intellectual world, to scatter the first rays of truth and to give the first impulse in the march of mind. Such too has been the education of many of the most illustrious of our race in the different departments of the sciences and the arts; who, although they may have had their birth where the institutions of learning were flourishing, yet from their obscurity and poverty were unable to gain access to the halls of science, and were thrown upon their own resources. To this class belong Simpson, Watts, Hunter, Davy, Lee, Franklin, Rittenhouse, West, and a thousand great names beside. And such too must be ultimately the education of every thoroughly educated person. The education of authority may happily conduct us through childhood and youth; but there is a period when we profess our individuality; when the parental roof is forsaken, and the seminaries of learning no longer harbor us, and we go forth into the broad field of the world to take our part in its great and small affairs. It is then at least that self-education should be determined upon as the order and great interest and advancing glory of life.
A man of thought, and energy, and hope, will not be willing, after a mere elementary education, to resign his mind to casual, uncertain, and ever-varying influences. He will aim to make the progress of his being a gain to his higher capacities and interests, by forming, prosecuting, and incorporating in the habits of his life wise methods of self-instruction and mental development. Then will time, as it loads him with years, crown him with honor and blessing, and old age, as it lays him in the grave, be changed into the youth of immortality and life.
The matter of highest moment in education is, to ascertain and fix its principles. These have always been left more or less unsettled. Education has not only been confided to nature and accident, buy even where systems have been formed and ends proposed, they have usually been determined by custom, prejudice, fashion, and the necessities of particular pursuits.
In some nations, education respects chiefly the physical man, and those qualities of mind which are most in requisition for the successful prosecution of warlike enterprise. Such was the education of Sparta, and of the Olympic games; and such, too, makes up the whole of the predetermined education of the North American savage. This physical education stands directly connected, also, with peaceful pursuits and the arts of life. The chamois hunter of the Alps is educated for his dangerous and exciting, and, in some sense, noble sport: and so the American whaleman is educated in nerve and sinew, and cool skill and daring. Those who pursue the different mechanical arts, those who perform skillfully on musical instruments, and all who are given in any way to manual labor, must have a physical education in order to accomplish with ease, nicety and rapidity, their different works. In equilibrists, circus riders, rope dancers, and in ordinary dancers, we have exhibitions of the effects of physical education. Now we find men in all these various pursuits who are fully satisfied with the education directly connected with them; who pride themselves upon mere manual skill and athletic displays, as if the great end of being were answered in these, and the creature man were capable of no higher development. One prides himself for playing skillfully on a musical instrument: Paganini regarded himself as the most illustrious of men, because he was the greatest fiddler in the world. Another prides himself upon being the most graceful dancer. Indeed, there is no pursuit so limited but it has held to its prosecution the ambition of mind.
Much of that which is called education, consists in a knowledge and graceful observance of the customs and etiquette of polite society, together with various accomplishments, some of which are of an intellectual cast, such as music, drawing, and in times more modern, a knowledge of languages, especially the languages of polite nations. What is termed a fashionable education, has always been esteemed of the highest consequence, and has taken the lead of all others. But as fashion is in her very nature changeable, arbitrary for the time, and always thoughtless, she fails to shape her ends according to the nature of mind in general, or the wants of individual minds, and cannot form the preparations for a noble usefulness and a glorious destiny. She may bestow many accomplishments and graces which are ornamental and attractive, and indispensable as light and beautiful torches to a proper education; but as she has no permanent principle, and neither philosophical nor moral insight, she varies, without introducing any positive improvement unless by accident. On the other hand she may introduce positive deformities, and consecrate, as instructors of the mind, vanity and an immoral fancy. At best, she cannot in truth educate the intellectual and moral powers; she affects only that which is partial and superficial, and is far surpassed by the wonderful fancy power of nature, which gilds the summer days with gorgeous insects.
But it is not only in what we esteem the lighter forms of education that we discern variety and change, and the want of fixed and permanent principles. The history of even the most elaborate and venerable systems, presents many of the same features. At one time, education is made to consist in a universal philosophy; then in the arts of logic and rhetoric; then in a knowledge of the learned languages and the ancient classics; then in metaphysics; then in mathematics and experimental philosophy; then in polite literature; then in natural history, chemistry, mineralogy and botany; and then again in morals, law, and political economy. Thus, the learned in one age are often despised by the learned of another; and thus the professors in one department of science often quite forget or disregard the professors in some other department. What each one is pursuing with ardor, and is most familiar with, is to the individual magnified in importance, and is prone to be contemplated so exclusively as to preclude a due estimation of other branches of knowledge. In the elementary institutions of learning, there is the same want of fixed principles of education. Many branches are indeed taught of prime importance. The necessity and value of reading, writing, arithmetic and geography, are palpable. There is no possible system in which these would not enter. And so, also, it may be affirmed in general, that the various branches of knowledge which in different ages and in institutions of every grade have been taught, have each a value. Perhaps there are few that deserve to be neglected. Many systems of education, also, have been formed, of great and distinguished excellence. We do not intend a universal and sweeping condemnation; we are only speaking of the general fact that in forming educational systems, and in seeking for education itself, the great principles of education are not held up with sufficient prominency. We are prone to leave both to circumstances which are uncertain and shifting;--to submit to authority and custom; to inquire for expediency, or to be governed by a supposed necessity. We speak of education, without clearly settling in our own minds what constitutes education, and in making efforts to secure it for ourselves or for our children, or for the community, we often fail to place before us in a definite and striking manner the ends to be accomplished. To attempt to hold up to your view the principles and ends of education, forms my object on the present occasion.
Education, we have already defined, as a leading forth from the first elements of being to the full stature of being. As such, it is not to be limited to the development of a part of our faculties, but as a proper education, should be extended to the whole. It should be extended even to the corporeal powers, each, however, in its order. The “tabernacle” in which the immortal mind resides, although beautiful and wonderful in itself, is most beautiful and wonderful as the dwellingplace and the well-adapted instrument of the “master of the house.” From the conditions of humanity, manly proportions, physical strength, and healthy functions, are closely connected with the development of mental power. The mind, therefore, in sacrificing the body to its own glowing energies, will immolate itself upon the same altar. The examples of any early blight of the most glorious intellectual promise are sufficiently numerous and mournful to prove that the cultivation of our spiritual being cannot be conducted without a condescension to consult with “flesh and blood”.
But it is the development of this spiritual being which properly constitutes education. This spiritual being we contemplate under the division of the Intellectual, the Sensitive, the Moral. The Intellectual relates to truth: the Sensitive relates to the emotions and passions; and the Moral relates to truth and duty. Education, as a result, we forecast as a strong and harmonious development of the whole. Any system which forecasts any other result is destitute of the life-giving and the life-sustaining principle of education—the sport of accident, custom, or necessity; and which, instead of laying open the dignity and worth of the mind, may imbue it with error, or at least present it as ineffectually struggling for its birthright.
In order to make this palpable, let us consider some of the evils which attend a partial education.
First. If we aim not at the cultivation of all our faculties and feelings, on what principle shall a selection be made? We may leave it to accident; that is, we may submit ourselves to the influences of society, fall in with the courses of the world, read the books which fall in our way, or which happen to amuse us, or which the standard of conversation renders necessary; or under the pressure of some unlooked-for emergency, we may even make a bold incursion into some department of science; we may possibly acquire some useful knowledge, and collect a mass of miscellaneous information, and fill up a place among the busy ones of the world. This, probably, would satisfy the ambition of multitudes; but let it be remembered, even this is uncertain; accident may make us something or nothing—may give us a temporary consequence, or leave us to slumber in obscurity; and the highest eminence to which it may advance us will be crowned with only an evanescent glory. There will be no lofty consciousness of inward strength and mental determination, none of the satisfaction of having won a reward by foresight and energy.
But if we are unwilling to yield to the imbecility of resigning the cultivation of our powers to accident, and yet lay no plan for the general and harmonious cultivation of our being, the question returns again; upon what principle shall we select a part of our being for the benign influences of education? I see no principle, unless it be that of qualifying ourselves for some particular profession or business, or for the high places of office; or the principle of ascertaining what powers from the hand of nature appear the most prone to strong development, and then to shape our educational process so as to second the indications of nature; in common parlance, to follow the bent of one’s genius. Now I freely admit, that the cultivation involved in the preparations for a learned profession, or for the toils and perplexities of office, or for a business requiring wise calculation and quick and versatile energy, and the cultivation involved in the prosecution of the same, may prove a very general cultivation of the mind, or at least a cultivation of its loftier faculties; but still I contend that the principle is wrong. The preparatory discipline in question may involve a general cultivation of the mind, and ought to involve it; but yet does not necessarily and in fact, involve it. Professional men and men of office, and business men, are liable to become imprisoned within the sphere of their duties, and burdened with technicalities, so as seldom to look abroad into the inviting regions which lie beyond, stretching out before the intellectual eye to infinity. And it requires the powerful mastery of such a principle as I am attempting to establish to prevent it,--a principle which collects our nobler thoughts upon a higher end than the details of life reveal; and which, amid all the commonness of the world, prevents us from forgetting the high conditions and the immortal hopes of our being.
But further: is the cultivation of the mind, containing within itself endless life, and an illimitable power of self-development, to be limited by the measures and necessities of ever-varying circumstances, of unstable pursuits, of mere temporal knowledge, of dignities that may wane, and which, be they ever so lasting, are still in their nature, earthly? Ought this glorious oneness, made from the union of the intellectual, the sensitive, the moral, and predetermined by the infinite mind for perfection and immortality, to be bound down to the forms and shadows of a state confessedly imperfect and fleeing away? Is it not for mind to command, and purify, and improve the world by the measures of its own greatness, its own aspirations, and wants, and hopes, rather than to yield to the influences of accidental authority, to evanescent and thoughtless fashion; or to the splendors of the highest forms of earthly greatness? The law of any subject must be sought for within itself; the law which determines its development and its appropriation. The development and appropriation of the mind, cannot, therefore, legitimately be determined from without. In a state of perfection, we may look for a complete harmony between the internal and the external; but yet a harmony arising from a conformity of the external to the internal. In this world it is not so. Here, the mind in struggling for its development, instead of being cheered on by sounds of harmony from without, is opposed and tried, and cannot be purified without suffering from the discords which prevail between the law of its own being, and the maxims and pursuits of the world.
Nor is the principle of developing a supposed genius for a particular pursuit, less objectionable. I do not, indeed, contend against the selection of a particular pursuit, and that being made a favorite pursuit; but I contend against adopting as the measure of our education any one pursuit, because no pursuit necessarily involves the proper cultivation of our whole being. I would make the development of our being itself, the great and ultimate end of education. A mere mathematician, or poet, or painter, or musician, or politician, is not completely educated, although he may display great genius. He has given his mind a development in but one direction. Now a great genius, in my apprehension, does not consist in a strong predilection for some one pursuit; but in a general strength of mind and feeling; a capacity for rapid and brilliant development, and for new and glorious creations. Such a genius may be determined to some one object in preference to others; but it need be in slavery to none. The love of all knowledge, and the love of the universal fair and good, may be its inspiration. It has within itself a principle by which it can unite and harmonize all things, finitely resembling the union and harmony of all things in the mind of God. But still this universal power and insight may not, during its earthly pilgrimage, prevent it from making its calm home with one of the Muses. When a great genius, however, resigns itself to an unequal cultivation of its powers, it must experience, in common with its inferiors, the evils which attend such a cultivation. Its sufferings must be even more intense.
An evil common to all partial and unequal mental cultivation, is the positive loss of power and enjoyment in suffering certain powers and feelings of our nature to slumber. He that cultivates merely the sensitive part of his nature, will be imperfectly and dimly comprehend the might and glory of the reason, or the delights and enthusiasm of thought and investigation. On the other hand, he who yields up himself to profound science, and neglects the elegant pursuits of taste, must lose that intense and pure happiness which dwells in the cultivated sense of the beautiful and the sublime, and more perfectly in their glorious ideal, called forth by the imagination from the inner temple of the soul. He who cultivates Intellect and Taste, to the exclusion of Morals, will never see the most venerable and majestic forms of reason, and the most spiritual manifestations of beauty and greatness; and he who cultivates Morals to the exclusion of the former, will but feebly perceive the force of duty, and will worship in penance rather than in delight.
But still more: such a partial cultivation must disturb the order and harmony of the mental constitution. By a priori reasoning, we conclude that our all-wise Maker, has given to our spiritual being no faculty or feeling unnecessary to our well-being. If this conclusion be not amply confirmed by the experience of the present life, can any tell what confirmations it may receive in the life to come? Would it not, therefore, be a rash adventure, to leave any powers or feeling undeveloped—an adventure whose most important consequences may lie where we cannot calculate them, but yet where we have strong reasons to apprehend them? How will the conditions and opportunities of this pupilage for immortality have been abused, if parts of our being shall be suffered to lie so uneducated as to render it impossible for us to enter into the refinements and glorious pursuits of a real and never-decaying manhood?
But, independently of all considerations drawn from the vast future of our being, the very fact that we have all these faculties and feelings not perfect, but capable of illimitable improvement, and so constituted, that their improvement depends upon a power of self-education involved in the will, and with a beautiful display of means for reaching every principle of our nature, evidently indicates the will of our Maker, and imposes upon us the obligation, as well as bestows the privilege, of educating the whole intellectual, moral and sensitive man. Annihilate any part of our being, and would we be man any longer? But to leave any part uneducated, without absolutely annihilating that part, presents us an effect similar to that annihilation. We see the form of man, but yet the man, properly speaking, is not there. We have names for these deformities of character. The absolutely uncultivated is the savage; the feebly cultivated the boor; a mere intellectual cultivation forms the cynic; a mere cultivation of the taste, forms the weak sentimentalist; the cultivation of the intellect and taste alone, the infidel; the cultivation of morals alone, the ascetic and the fanatic; but the adequate cultivation of the whole, brings out the man—God’s most beautiful work in this lower world-bearing his image, and rife with his Spirit.
Any one who will give sufficient attention to the philosophy of the mind, cannot but perceive the intimate union of all the faculties of our nature, and how they sustain, aid, and tend to develop each other. The intellect, or reason, contains within itself the principles and ideas of taste and morals: and taste and morals so run into each other, that it is impossible adequately to treat of the one separately from the other. One of the highest delights experience in the researches of philosophy, arises from the constant mind. Now the development of particular faculties, to the neglect of others, disturbs the mental integrity, and brings in a pollution and degradation which not even the splendors of genius can hide. The term holiness, appropriated to express moral purity, is, by its etymology, and indeed in its proper use, a more general term, and expresses the mental integrity, the wholeness of our being. Its appropriation to express merely moral purity, in a philosophical point of view, may be explained by the impossibility of arriving at moral perfection without a mental integrity.
Not only is our being presented in the light of a positive deformity, where the development is restricted to certain faculties; but it is also most worthy of remark, that wherever this takes place, the evil is more than negative. The undeveloped parts of our being, while a habitation of darkness, will become, also, the hiding place of error and guilt. If the faculties of the intellect are resigned to inaction and imbecility, the methods and conditions of reasoning will not be understood, the path of truth will remain undiscovered, and errors thick and numberless will flock in—the stern delights of infidelity, or the admired prodigies of credulous weakness. There will be no power of thought, no light of principle, and none of that heavenly satisfaction which the soul enjoys, when, in the presence-chamber of Truth, she gazes with open eye upon the divine form before her.
On the other hand, leave the moral part of our being uncultivated, and the places where generosity, justice, benevolence, and their kindred qualities should appear, will be occupied by their opposites. The house will be swept and garnished for the abode of bad spirits.
The same holds true with respect to the sensitive part of our nature. If gentleness and social kindness slumber within, no forms of etiquette can veil the severity and selfishness that will predominate, nor the artificial graces of manner hide the genuine vulgarity. If the principles of taste are passed by, and the sense of the beautiful, the great, the proportionate, the delicate, the graceful and the congruous left uncultivated, from what fountains will you pour in refinement upon the soul, and how will you prevent the prevalence of the low and the mean? Unless these fountains of feeling be opened, and allowed to flow out in those channels which nature and creative minds have provided for them, neither the intellectual nor the moral will embrace that perfect happiness which the benignity of God has prepared for his creature man.
In speaking of the moral, we mean to include the religious, as they are in their nature inseparable. It will be well, however, in accordance with a popular distinction, to consider the religious as a distinct form of education; or it would be well to substitute the religious for the moral, as in its more comprehensive signification it embraces all that we mean by the moral. Now it is no difficult matter to prove, that education can never be complete, indeed, that education is deficient in a cardinal respect, without religion. That there is a God; that man is immortal, I hold to be first truths. The distinction, also, between right and wrong, and the absolute connection of happiness with the former, and of misery with the latter, are palpable and indisputable. Our conscience bears testimony to this distinction; all human experience confirms it; and every form of the social state, from the domestic circle to the mightiest government, is based upon it. Since, then, there is a God, and we are immortal, and there is a plain distinction between right and wrong, involving happiness or misery, as we incline to the one or the other, Religion, as springing up from these great truths, must be of the highest moment. It is not only vain to deny it; he is a madman that denies it.
Taking religion as a stupendous reality, it must form the best part of education; for, in the first place, it is a knowledge of the most important truths: It is a knowledge of God, who contains all things within himself: this glorious universe is but the effect of God’s will—a manifestation of infinite wisdom and power: all science, therefore, merges itself into Theology. It is a knowledge of our own powers and responsibilities; it is a knowledge of the universal law of duty; it is a knowledge of immortality. It embraces, in its mighty range, the interests of earth and heaven, or time and eternity.
In the second place, religion is a reforming energy. It convinces of sin, and causes guilt to tremble; it brings God near; it makes his judgment-seat visible: it opens the golden gates of heaven, and lets the eye of the soul travel down the long way of immortality. It does more: it brings over the soul the influence of divine sympathy in the cross of Christ, and the mysterious and healing influences of the Divine Spirit. It is thus, at the same time, law, motive, and purifying power, and cannot be embraced without proving effective. It emphatically forms character, and character is the great end of education.
If any think that the scheme of education here presented, does not admit of general application, I reply, it is not only the genuine idea of education, truly defined, but one of its most engaging features is, that it meets the necessities of all men: it only requires on their part a right spirit. We are prone to measure education by knowledge; and when we look at the vast amount of knowledge to be acquired, we become discouraged, and imagine because we cannot acquire universal knowledge, we cannot become educated. The acquisition of knowledge does, indeed, form a part of education, considered both as a process of mental cultivation, and as a result attained by mental effort. Every faculty of the mind has its peculiar relation to knowledge; and it is by the application of each faculty in its peculiar relation, that its cultivation is carried on. Thus, in the very effort to acquire knowledge, the capacities of knowledge are enlarged; and every successive effort becoming more vigorous, brings in larger treasures to the mind. In certain respects, therefore, the cultivation of the faculties and increase of knowledge are identified, and what we know, forms the measure of our intellectual greatness. There is, however, a difference. Knowledge may be accumulated without cultivating all the faculties, either from an exclusive attention to facts, to the neglect of philosophical principles, or from pursuing, exclusively, branches of knowledge which call into exercise only a part of our faculties. Thus a man very learned in some one department, may be imperfectly educated, because he has failed to attend to other parts of his being besides those involved in the prosecution of his favorite study; while another, not extensively learned, may yet have so attended to the harmonious and universal cultivation of his powers, as to present a mind much better fitted both for duty and happiness.
As it is not possible for any one at once, or in the course of his life, to gain all the knowledge which lies within the reach of our capacities, a selection from among the subjects of knowledge becomes necessary. On what principles shall this selection be made? I know of only three. First: to seize upon that knowledge which naturally and necessarily comes in our way. To do this, we have only to keep our ears and eyes open. Secondly: to acquaint ourselves thoroughly with the principles of our particular callings, and with whatever relates to them. Thirdly: the principle which I hold up as the great principle of education, the cultivation of all the powers and feelings of our intellectual, sensitive and religious being.
Now I hold that all this is possible to every man. No one will dispute the first two particulars: miscellaneous knowledge in the ordinary walks of life we all can gain: we can also make ourselves acquainted with whatever relates to our pursuits; indeed, our success depends upon this. And so, also, as we can all command leisure, we can all attend to a general cultivation of our powers. Circumstances may, I grant, prevent many from making great progress; but there is no one but can adopt the principle as the principle of his life, and incorporating it into his habits, make some progress every day. As in our constitution we all are intellectual, sensitive and religious, so we need not forget it. We were not made to grovel. Let us therefore learn to think and to reason. Let us lay open our hearts to what God hath made beautiful. Let us in the law of our conscience and in the Bible, learn our duties and our immortal destinies.
I have remarked, that to carry this scheme into effect, nothing is required save a right spirit. This right spirit—the spirit of education—I will endeavor briefly to point out.
It first shows itself in the high and noble resolution to become educated—a resolution built upon the conviction that education is the birthright of the mind; a resolution, therefore, to be awed by no opposition, nor quelled by any difficulties which less than superhuman strength can meet.
“What sustained my courage,” says Heyne, “was neither ambition nor presumption, nor even the hope of one day taking my place among the learned. The stimulus that incessantly spurred me on, was the feeling of the humiliation of my condition, the shame with which I shrunk from the thought of that degradation which the want of a good education would impose upon me; above all, the determination of battling courageously with fortune. I was resolved to try whether, although she had thrown me among the dust, I should be able to rise by my own efforts.” His ardor only increased with his difficulties. For six weeks, he allowed himself only two nights sleep in the week. Here was a mind, conscious that its capacities were not given only to throw shame upon them by groveling with the filth of the world: Heyne felt that to rise was the birthright of his mind, and could not be prevented. Though fame should never make mention of his name, and he might for ever remain in obscurity, yet he would satisfy the longings of his mind, and enjoy the consciousness that he was an educated man.
In the next place, it is a spirit which leads us to a comprehension of the attributes, capacities, and hopes of our intellectual, our spiritual being. We have already seen what inadequate results men are prone to forecast. He only can forecast the true result, the development of our whole being, who so far comprehends this being, as to look upon it with the awe and love which belong to its incalculable worth and dignity. The man who, practically, at least, regards himself as “dust and earth,” and becomes a mere pander to his own passions. Or the submissive instrument and victim of the thoughtless world—a world of names, and modes, and pretensions, hollow and shadowy—can never educate himself, for he can never know or value his real being, nor can he submit to the self-denial, and the patient toil involved in the discipline.
The next element we mention, and a cardinal element of this self-education, is the love of perfection. This is a generic designation, and includes the love of all that is beautiful, great, and good; it of course includes the great ends of our being, our duties and responsibilities. Meditations upon what the mind is, and upon what it may become, in relation to the present, and still more in relation to the future, awaken this love. It is a feeling which once awakened can never die. It grows stronger with the growth of the mind, with increase of knowledge, and in its own glowing exercise. It is a solace in trouble, a joy in success, a strength in difficulty, and the very life of hope. It is the shield and buckler of the soul, and defies the temptations of sense, and the scorns and jeers of folly; it is the living principle of its development, and leads it on from perfection to perfection, from glory to glory.
“Its holy flame for ever burneth,
From heaven it came, to heaven returneth.”
No man can be possessed of this spirit without making religion the highest and last element of his education; for, in its influences and hopes alone will he find the perfection of his being. On the other hand, he who is truly religious must incline to general education. The religious man knows the value of his mind. It is himself in all his perceptions of the true and the heavenly; in all his hopes of life and immortality. Will not the cultivation of all the powers and feelings of this mind be to him an object of a divine ambition? It is here that Christianity and Education are seen to be one.
Another element is, a due appreciation of the end of knowledge. Knowledge is valuable for the delight which it affords, the uses to which it may be applied, and, above all, as the means of mental development. The great error of men is, to look upon the acquisition of knowledge itself, as constituting the education, when the education is really the consequence of knowledge.
Knowledge is infinite. We shall increase in knowledge for ever. The highest amount of knowledge that can be gained during this life, must still, in respect of knowledge, leave us children. But, in the cultivation of the mind, by the wise acquisition and application of knowledge, there is a great end that can be gained, and gaining which, we are more than children. It is such a development of all the parts of our being, that we shall know them all in their rich and delightful experiences, and acquire over them a ready command. This, I say, s a great end; for after this, the acquisition of knowledge ceases to be a toil, and becomes the habitual and pleasant effort of the mind. To think, to reason, to observe, to deduce principles, to combine forms of the great and the beautiful, to interpret the events of the world as they appear, to practice virtue, is the natural work of the mind. Education prepares it for its natural work. It is a great end, also, because, when it is gained, the destiny of the mind is fixed for time and immortality. The destiny is fixed, because the character is determined.
If we review the history of the human mind, we shall find that the education has been carried to a noble point of perfection, where the supplies of knowledge, comparatively with the present, were not very abundant. Socrates, Palto, Aristotle, Seneca, and Cicero, and a host of others, were educated as few are educated, although the great discoveries of science had not yet been made. On the other hand, with supplies of knowledge which no mind is adequate to exhaust, and supplies, too, open to multitudes, and really debarred to none, how rare is an individual of distinguished education! I believe that the very abundance of our knowledges is often the cause of ignorance, and a barrier to mental cultivation. That to which we can at any time gain access, we are dilatory in acquiring; and in amusing ourselves with varieties of knowledge, we forget to think, and lose sight of the true ends of knowledge.
In determining to what departments of knowledge we shall turn our attention, we are to be guided by the wants of the mind. Another element of self-education, therefore, is for each one to become aequainted with the present state of his mental cultivation.
This may prove a difficult and an ungracious work, at first. We shall be strongly tempted to overrate our acquirements and improvement, and to pass by the most alarming deficiencies. It must therefore be undertaken with honesty and determination. This self-examination will in itself prove a noble and salutary discipline; for remember, it cannot be done without thought and reflection: and let us not be discouraged at the result; for, if it make us appear poor and blind, it will prepare the way for durable riches and a glorious vision. When once our mental wants are ascertained, then we shall have a guide in our search after knowledge. The reasoning powers may have received but little development; then must we study in reference to these. The principles and feelings of taste may lie slumbering within us; we must provide for them a genial culture. Our moral being may be wandering in error; we must apply a discipline to redeem it to truth, wisdom, and virtue. Whatever can be made to bear upon our intellectual and moral wants, we must lay hold of as the medicine and the aliment of our being. It is by this reference of all knowledge to the mind itself, to the supply of its wants, the sustentation of its hopes, the preparation for its final glories, that knowledge becomes power, and clothes itself with sublime attractions. For “as a fruit tree is more valuable than any one of its fruits singly, or even that all its fruits of a single season, so the noblest object of reflection is the mind itself by which we reflect; and as the blossoms, the green, and the ripe fruit of an orange tree are more beautiful to behold when on the tree, and seen as one with it, than the same growth detached and seen successively, after their importation into another country and different clime, so it is with the manifold objects of reflection, when they are considered principally in reference to the reflective power, and as part and parcel of the same. No object, of whatever value our passions may represent it, but becomes foreign to us as soon as it becomes altogether unconnected with our intellectual, moral and spiritual life. To be ours, it must be referred to the mind, either as motive, or consequence, or symptom.”*
Education, as above defined, is the noblest and loftiest end which the human being can propose to himself. But, under the constitution of things ordained in the world in which we live, nothing of true value can be gained without labor. Even the mere gains, honors and accomplishments of our earthly state demand intense labor. It requires the enterprise and toil of years to accumulate wealth. No art, whether of the useful or the beautiful, can be compassed without a long period of patient devotion and labor. To learn to play skillfully on a musical instrument in a mere mechanical way, is a task of great difficulty and of slow progress. What, then must be demanded for the education of the mind in all its powers, in relation to al its duties, and under the hopes of the immortal future? We may, therefore, fitly name as elements of education, those qualities which enter into all great enterprises, courage to meet and overcome difficulties, patience to wait for the orderly and gradual development of results, and industry to undertake and persevere in arduous tasks.
I conceive it to be a great error to represent
the acquisition of knowledge as easy, until ripeness of mental discipline has been attained; and even then it cannot in truth be called easy; it is no longer a burden, for it is full of satisfaction and delight, but it always demands labor, and cannot cease to demand labor. The change which comes over us in a state of ripe cultivation, or when our habits of self-education have become fixed, is, that labor itself is our greatest pleasure. To find pleasure in ease and inactivity, belongs only to a low order of being, or t a low and fallen state of being; it belongs to lofty and angelic natures to “rest not day nor night,” but to be extatically blessed in ceaseless adoration, ceaseless thought, and ceaseless action.
If the acquisition of knowledge were easy, it could not serve to develope the intellect, for it would not sufficiently exercise its functions. The Olympic games, the Spartan discipline, the march of the Roman legion, encased in heavy armor, made the heroes of Thermopylae and Marathon, and the conquerors of the world. Difficult studies, the severe discipline of our highest faculties, make scholars and artists—make men of strong minds and of genuine education.
If the acquisition of knowledge cannot really be easy, then all attempts to remove the appearance of difficulties, by introducing novel methods which promise much, but which are not adapted to the nature of the science to be gained, nor to the mental cultivation which is the great and true end, can only be regarded as empiricism. Let us not, therefore, be eager to embrace methods which have not been tested; and instead of regarding the promise of light labor and rapid acquisition as an attraction, let us more rationally conclude that this forms the very ground for rejecting them.
When we carry out our conception of education from the discipline of the intellect to the cultivation of our finer and more delicate powers of taste and the imagination, and the cultivation of our spiritual nature, the necessity of patience, labor and perseverance, certainly does not diminish.
Now that right spirit which leads us to the great end proposed, will not seek to lessen the difficulties, nor to escape from the requisite exertion; but seeing the truth as it is, in all its bareness, will collect around itself all those energetic virtues which are here named, and go manfully and cheerfully to its work. Education is education because it is labor; and the capability of labor becomes a choice gift of heaven, when thus made the condition of attaining the perfection of our being.
Let the views and sentiments be cherished which we have here collectively designated “The Spirit of Education,” and then education is possible to all. Among the many particular applications that can be made of a conclusion so important and cheering, there is one only to which I shall call your attention at this time; it is this: education is not confined to sex; it is the birthright of woman as well as of man.
In the first place, woman has the same mental constitution as man: there is not a power or faculty which belongs to the one, that does not also belong to the other. The education of woman, therefore, as it is a development of the same kind, must also be essentially the same process. The discipline best adapted to develope the mind of man, is best adapted to develope the mind of woman. In both cases it is the development of the human mind. This truth, palpable as it is, has been mournfully overlooked, and woman has been practically regarded as an inferior being, both in her mental constitution, and in the purposes of her creation. Her education, at one time, has been totally neglected; she has been idolized as a beautiful creature of the affections, while man has seemed to monopolize reason and thought, and the higher energies of the mind. At another time, her education has been confined to a preparation for the skilful discharge of the duties of housewifery. Goldsmith has given us a picture of this kind in his Vicar of Wakefield: -- “To do her justice, she was a good-natured, notable woman; and as for breeding, there were few country ladies who at that time should show more. She could read any English book without much spelling; and for pickling, preserving and cookery, none could excel her. She prided herself much, also, upon being an excellent contriver in housekeeping.”
At another time, a more refined education becomes the fashion; but then it is prone to consist, as far as positive learning is concerned, of the lighter parts, and is elaborate only in accomplishments. Our own “English underfiled,” is often neglected for a smattering of foreign tongues. Music and drawing receive, often, years of attention, while the sciences are hastily and imperfectly passed over in the form of compendiums, or are known only in name.
Another form of this inequality in the education of the two sexes, appears in the time spent by each in an educational course. A young lady at sixteen or seventeen, not unfrequently, absolutely finishes her education. One of the other sex, at the same age, is a mere tyro. He, indeed, may have made some attainments in the classics, in the sciences, and in history; but as to being educated, he does not dream, as yet, of claiming for himself such a distinction. He has only just entered college, a sophomore. He must toil several years yet before he can take his first degree; and even then, his knowledge is only elementary. To be a man of science, to be learned in a profession, to be highly educated, requires years of self-education, after the fostering care of the alma mater has been suspended. The useful man, the truly educated man, never regards his education as complete. His education is the business of his life, as far as his duty to himself is considered.
Now, whilst I would by no means preclude most of the accomplishments usually attended to, when they can be compassed without sacrificing other things of more importance, and when they are regarded only as the graceful appendages of an education, and not as constituting it, I would have female education in point of acquisition and mental discipline, placed on the same ground with that of men, with only one exception, and that is, the education of men is to be conducted in reference to public action; that of women, in reference to private influence. There are, therefore, some branches of knowledge with which the one many dispense, and with which the other cannot dispense. But so far as the development of the intellectual and moral faculties, and the principles of taste, and the formation of a noble and weighty character are considered, on what principle shall we place the one sex below the other? Education is essential to mental dignity and worth, to happiness and well-being, both in this world and in the world to come. On the wants of an intellectual constitution, common to both; on the deep fountains of feeling, where happiness or misery must dwell, found in the heart of woman no less, at least, than in the heart of man; on our common hopes of immortality—do I ground an argument, which nothing can weaken, for the education of woman. Why did God give her reason, thought and feeling, if they are not to be unfolded, and disciplined, and led on to perfection? Shall her high capacities be suffered to slumber, and she who was made all beautiful to the eye, not be permitted to bring to view that beauty of the spirit of which the external form is but a shadowing forth and an emblem?
But there is another argument. Woman holds to man, and to the destines of the world, the most important relations. Mother, sister, wife, daughter, and the beloved object who as yet is revealed only in the visions of hope—can you estimate their influence upon the heart and character of man? Of all that operates upon the heart and character of man beneath divine influence and the awful form of truth, the influence of woman is the most powerful. Hers is the dominion of the affections and sympathies. It is in her power to govern us, for good or evil. To her secret grasp is committed the scepter of the world. She is the source of our being: hers is the first voice of tenderness that we hear; her smile of love the first beauty that meets our eye; she nourishes our life; she gives us our earliest lesions; she determines our early character. Through infancy, childhood, youth, manhood and old age, she is with us, under different names, and they are all names of the heart. Now suppose her, in all these different relations and offices a being of cultivated intelligence, of refined feelings, of religious purity; and then, by her example and her gentle teaching she must exalt and purify us, and become an angel of mercy to lead us back to God and heaven.
And if in all the different departments of society men of high worth, integrity and energy are desired to form a nation’s glory and happiness, then let the education of woman engage our first attention. Would we spread civilization and religion over the world, let us invoke the same influence. He that has a daughter to educate, is under a weighty responsibility; he holds in his hands a portion of the destiny of his age and of future generations. Let no efforts be spared. He surely has not lived in vain, who has prepared for the world an influence, which, like a heavenly visitation, is indeed silent and unseen, and like it, too, not on that account the less powerful, spreading beauty and freshness over the earth, and filling it with light and love.
And those who bear the dear and honored name of woman, let them be aware of their true position in the movements of the social system. All the attributes of immortal mind are theirs, but given under holier forms. They are separated from the noise, competition, and violence in which men are involved; and thus they may generally be more intellectual, more pure, more charitable, and live for the blessed end, of binding together and renewing a distracted and erring world.