I COULD not, therefore, but wonder to hear your Lordship enlarge so much, and so long, on I know not what varnish of manners and good breeding; of the knowledge of men and the world; of arts, languages, and other trappings and showy appendages of education: Just as if an architect should entertain you with a discourse on Festoons, and Foliage, or the finishing of his Freeze and Capitals, when you expected him to instruct you in what way to erect a solid edifice on firm walls and durable foundations.
What a reasonable man wants to know, is, The proper method of building up men: whereas your Lordship seems solicitous for little more than tricking out a set of fine Gentlemen. It seemed, indeed, as if your Lordship had calculated your defence of travelling for a knot of Virtuosi, or a still more fashionable circle (where, doubtless, it would pass with much ease and without contradiction); and had, some how, forgotten that your hearers are all plain men; one of them, an old one; and he too, as your Lordship loves to qualify him, a Philosopher.
To speak my mind frankly, my Lord, your defence of foreign travel, as lively and plausible as it seemed, has no solid basis to rest upon. You tell us of many defects in the breeding of our English youth, and you would willingly redress them: But in what way this is best done, can never be known from vague and general declamation.
To make this inquiry to purpose, some certain principles must be laid down; some scheme of life and manners must be formed; some idea or model of the character, you would imprint on young minds, must be described; to which we may constantly refer, as we go along; and by which, as a Rule, we may estimate the fitness and propriety of that sort of breeding, you would recommend to us.
Since your Lordship then will needs have me dictate to you on the subject of Education, I must have leave to do it in another way, and after a more solemn manner, than you perhaps expect in this freedom of conversation.
I begin with this certain Principle, That the business of Education is to form the understanding, and regulate the heart. If man be a compound of Reason, and Passion, the only proper discipline of his nature is that which accomplishes these two purposes.
So far we are, doubtless, agreed. But the subject requires a more particular application of this principle.
You have laboured with much plausibility to persuade us, That the only reasonable education is that which prepares and fits a man for the commerce of the world: And I readily admit the notion, provided we first agree about the meaning of this big word, the world. Your Lordship, it may be, in your sublime view of things, is projecting to make of your Pupil, what is called, in the widest sense of the terms, a Citizen of the world. A great and awful character, my Lord! But let us advance by just degrees.
First, if you please, let us provide that he be a worthy citizen of England; and, by your favour, let me ennoble this small, Island of ours, with the pompous appellation of the world. It is that world, at least, in which our adventurer is to play his part; and for the commerce of which it concerns him most immediately to be prepared.
Consider, first of all, the unavoidable waste of time; of that time which is so precious in every view; not only as being the most proper for making the acquisitions, I speak of; but as being the only period of his life, which he will be at liberty to employ in that manner.
Early youth is flexible and docile: apt to take the impressions of virtue, and ready to admit the principles of knowledge. The faculties of the mind are then vigorous and alert: the conception quick, and the memory retentive. The humble drudgery of acquiring the elements of literature and science is to young minds an easy and a flattering employment. A submissive reverence for their teachers disposes them to proceed without reluctance in any path that is prescribed to them;and a springing emulation, joined to a conscious sense of gradual improvement, gives force and constancy to their pursuits. The objects of their application seem important; not only from the authority of those who have the direction of their studies, but chiefly perhaps from a confused sense of their value, much above what they would entertain, were they able to form a true and distinct judgment of them.
This, then, is the season for laying the foundations of knowledge and ability of every kind; and if you let it slip, without applying it carefully to those purposes, you will in vain lament the omission in riper years, when the cares or amusements of life afford little leisure for such pursuits, and less inclination.
There may have been some few examples of those, whose superior industry in advanced age has atoned for the defects of their education. But in general the Man depends entirely on the Boy; and he is all his life long, what the impressions, he received in his early years, have made him. If therefore any considerable part of this precious season be wasted in foreign travel, I mean if it be actually not employed in the pursuits proper to it, this circumstance must needs be considered as an objection of great weight to that sort of Education.
Your Lordship may consider, next, the Dissipation of Mind attending on this itinerant education; while the scene is constantly changing; and new objects perpetually springing up before him, to solicit the admiration of our young Traveller.
One of the greatest secrets in education is to fix the attention of youth: a painful operation! which requires long use and a steady unremitting discipline; the very reverse of that roving, desultory habit, which is inseparable from the sort of life you would recommend. The young mind is naturally impatient of constraint: It hates to be confined for any time in the same track; and is flying out, at every turn, from the proper subject of it's meditation. Instead of counteracting this native infirmity, you indulge and flatter it; till, by degrees, the mind loses it's tone and vigour, and is utterly incapable of paying a due attention to any thing.
I insist the more on this consideration, because in acquiring the elements of learning it is of great importance that the learner proceed uniformly in the course, on which he has entered. It may now and then be the privilege of a Genius to seize the principles of knowledge at once, and to grow wise, as we may say, by Intuition. But the common sort of minds are of another make. It is by slow steps only that they arrive at knowledge; and if you stop or divert their progress, their labour is all thrown away, or yields at best a shallow, superficial, and ill-digested learning.
But were no account to be had of the loss of time, or of this dissipated turn of mind, which is still more pernicious, still I should object to this travelled Education on account of the very Objects to which our Traveller's Application is directed.
Instead of those necessary and fundamental parts of knowledge, which I require him to have laid in, his attention, so much of it as can be spared for any thing that looks like information, is wasted on things either frivolous or unimportant.
His first business is to make himself perfect in the forms of Breeding, which he finds in use among those he lives with, or perhaps in their forms of Dress, only.
His next concern, is to acquire a readiness in the languages of Europe; or, to shorten his labour as much as possible, at least in the French language. The pretence is, That he may fit himself for conversation with his foreign acquaintance: which takes up much time to little purpose, as the use ceases, in a good degree, with his return home; and, That he may qualify himself for perusing their best books: which takes him off from the study of those, which are still better, in the learned languages, and perhaps in his own.
If any thing farther employ his attention, it is perhaps a little virtuosoship. He inquires after fine pictures, fine statues, fine buildings. He visits the shops of artificers; gets admission to libraries, cabinets of medals, and repositories of curiosities; and, for some relaxation from these arduous toils, is frequent at Churches, Theatres, and Courts of Judicature, and stares at processions, ceremonies, and other solemn shows.