Imágenes de páginas

district which had been allotted for his immediate superintendence. The result of the whole inquiry was, that there were near three millions of acres of peat or bog soil in Ireland, of which more than one half might be profitably converted to purposes of agriculture. Mr E., in particular, was so perfectly convinced of the practicability of this operation, that he offered to take a very large tract into his own management, and at his own risk; but there were some difficulties in giving a title that should fix the boundaries beyond the chance of future disputes ; and the experiment was never tried. A There is next a pretty minute account of the different public cations in which Miss E. was conjoined or assisted by her father, of all which she very dutifully ascribes the chief merit to him, and takes the blame of all the faults on herself. The account, however, which she gives of their joint labours, and of the way in which their parts were cast, is very interestingthough we can no longer afford room for an extract. She bears an honourable testimony to the liberality with which they were dealt with by their respectable bookseller the late Mr Johnsonthough she has fallen into something like a Bull in her farewel notice of bim. " The last letter,' she says, ' poor Johnson • ever wrote, or rather dictated, was to my father. It was in « his nephew's hand, and communicated to us the following account of his death!'

The following remarks are consolatory, and lead to most serious practical conclusions.

• The middle classes of gentry in this part of Ireland have, within these last thirty or forty years, improved much in their general mode of living, in manners, and in information. The whole style and tone of society are altered. The fashion has passed away of those desperately tiresome, long, formal dinners, which were given two or three times a year by each family in the country to their neighbours, where the company had more than they could eat, and twenty times more than they should drink ; where the gentlemen could talk only of claret, horses, or dogs ; and the ladies, only of dress or scandal : so that in the long hours, when they were left to their own discretion, after having examined and appraised each other's finery, many an absent neighbour's character was torn to pieces, merely for want of something to say or to do in the stupid circle. But now, the dreadful circle is no more ; the chairs, which formerly could only take that form at which the firmest nerves must ever tremble, are allowed to stand, or turn in any way which may suit the convenience and pleasure of conversation. The gentlemen and ladies are not separated from the time dinner ends, till the mid. night hour, when the carriages came to the door to carry off the bodies of the dead; or, till just sense enough being left, to find their way straight to the tea-table, the gentlemen could only swallow a hasty cup of cold coffee or stewed tea, and be carried off by their sleepy wives, happy if the power of reproach were lost in fatigue.

"A taste for reading and literary conversation has been universally acquired and diffused. Literature has become, as my father long ago prophesied that it would become, fashionable ; so that it is really necessary to all who would appear to advantage, even in the society of their country neighbours. A new generation of well-informed young people has grown up, some educated in England, some in Ireland ; while those of former days have been obliged to change their tone of real or affected contempt for reading people. They have been compelled, either to cultivate themselves in haste, to keep pace with their neighbours, or to assume at least the appearance of understanding, and of liking that which has become the mode.

I About the year 1783 or 1781, my father happened to be present in the only great bookseller's shop then in Dublin, when a cargo of new books from London arrived, and among them, the Reviews, or the Review, for the Monthly Review was the only one then sufficiently in circulation to make its way to Ireland. Of these, my father found, on inquiry, that not above a dozen, or twenty at the ut. most, were ordered in this island. I am informed that more than two thousand Reviews are now taken in regularly. This may give some measure of the general increase of our taste for literature. The Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews are now to be found in the houses of most of our principal farmers ; and all therein contained, and the positive, comparative, and superlative merits and demerits of Scott, Campbell, and Lord Byron, are now as common table and tea-table talk here, as in any part of the United Empire.

· The distinction, which about half a century ago was very strongly marked between the mavners and mental cultivation of a few families of the highest class of the aristocracy in Ireland, and all of the secondary class of gentry, has now, by the diffusion of literature, and the general improvement in education, been softened so much, as to be effaced in its most striking points of contrast. What might be termed the monopoly of elegance and information, it is no longer possible to maintain. This may be mortifying in some few instances to pride ; but good sense, to say nothing of benevolence or patriotism, will see ample compensation.' II. 375–378.

There is scarcely any thing more of narrative or anecilote to be added. Mr E. continued usefully active, and uniformly cheerful and social in his family and neighbourhood, till he died, placidly and happily, in 1817, in the 73d year of his age.

The most important part of Mr E.'s studies, were those which related to Education; and no inconsiderable part of his daughter's invaluable publications have been upon the same subject. The great merit of these works, has always appeared to us to .consist in their embodying, for the use of ordinary and inexpe

rienced persons, in plain rules and examples, those observations as to the most effectual methods of instruction, which experience and reflection must have suggested to all minds of a higher ora der. It has been supposed, however, that they contained a new System or principle of cducation ; and some peculiarities which they certainly did recommend, have been appealed to as proofs of this suspicious originality. To us, these peculiarities have ever presented themselves as blemishes; and it was therefore with great satisfaction that we found the greater part of them renounced and abjured in the work now before us.

Rousseau's plan, of postponing all sorts of teaching till the faculties were pretty well matured, was tried by Mr E. on his eldest son, and confessedly failed in a signal manner---the youth becoming irreclaimably headstrong, self-willed, and intractable, when the period for instruction arrived--and absolutely refusing to submit himself to any kind of discipline, or course of application.

The other peculiarities in the Edgeworth scheme of education, so far as we can recollect, are the jealous seclusion of the children from the society and conversation of servants -a nervous abstinence from all compulsion, fatigue, and constraint,--and the excessive use of the stimulants of praise, surprise, and curiosity, in order to excite both to application and invention. Now, all these peculiarities, which we confess always appeared to us fantastical and absurd, we are told in the work before us were ultimately abandoned by Mr E., and, with them, all pretensions to system, or originality in his scheme of education, renounced. Thus, with regard to servants, we find it here acknowledged, that “further experience convinced him " that it is impossible, in the world in which we live, to exclude

from the sight, hearing, and imagination of children, every " thing that is wrong; that the seclusion necessary for the at• tempt would be not only difficult, but dangerous, because it would leave the judgment and resolution uninformed and unex

ercised on many points of conduct and manners;' and that his early impressions upon this subject had been formed from the peculiarly bad race of servants that were to be found in Ireland in the time of his youth. As to the other points again, it is also observed, that Mr E., with his last pupils, found the advan• tage of having the common elementary knowledge taught ear• ly and securely. He became sensible, that more of what may • be called drudgery of mind, than he had formerly thought

advantageous, is not only useful but necessary for children, " to train them to that degree of application, to which the quick

est talents must submit, before they can succeed in any pro'fession, or before they can advance in any path of business, science, or literature: Crowded as every path now is with • competitors, even genius is doomed to labour before it can ( succeed.' And it is added, that, for boys, he conceived a public education to be, on the whole, the most advisable; and that it would require a very uncommon concurrence of circumstances to make any other be thought of. It is also stated, that, in his later practice, « less praise and less stimulus of all kinds • were used, than with his earlier pupils; upon the maxim, « which applies as well to the mind as to the body, that the least • quantity of stimulus that will preserve it in healthy action, is " the best.'

Now in all this we most cordially concur;—and we think the Edgeworth scheme of education very signally improved by the corrections which its authors are here said to have made on it. But when these are once made to their full extent, in what can this scheme be said to differ from any other rational one that has been announced to the world, from the days of Xe. nophon and Quinctillian down to those of Milton and Locke? We have no great faith, in short, in any pretended discoveries in this, more than in any other department of mental philosophy, and are noway curious or sanguine as to any new or patent method of making men wise, virtuous, or free. The substance of what is taught at any period of society, is generally prescribed by the usages of that society; and may be fairly considered as beyond the control of any private individual. Whatever opinion we may entertain as to the importance of the learned languages, for instance, every gentleman must now learn them-as every.lady must learn dancing and music; and any alteration in these respects is not so properly to be considered as an improvement in the methods of instruction, as a change in the habits of the nation. When we speak of improvements in education, therefore, we mean either contrivances for teaching what is commonly taught with more ease and security than is common,-or such observances as promise more effectually to excite and strengthen the intellect and judgment, or to form the character by the cultivation of moral habits and sensibilities. The last is, beyond all doubt, the most important; but it is in the first only, we think, that any real improvement has ever been made by the ingenuity of individu. als. There have been infinite and undeniable improvements in the methods of teaching all the different branches of knowledge; and, so long as society continues to be progressive, such improvements will necessarily multiply and accumulate. Almost every invention in the arts and sciences themselves, may indeed be considered as a means of facilitating their acquisition ;-as the notation of music--the introduction of logarithms and alges


brom-the invention of various instruments and practical processes-the Linnæan, and all other systems consisting of simple and judicious classification. In other cases, the improvement is directly in the method of teaching ;-as in the Lancasterian system of mutual instruction-the process by which deaf and dumb persons are educated--and the more questionable inventions of Logier and Feinagle. As to all such improvements in education, therefore, and especially when confined to expediting the acquisition of a single branch of knowledge, we are so far from entertaining any general scepticism, that we consider their frequent occurrence as among the inevitable consequences of a progressive advancement in the other arts of civilization; and have no doubt at all, that, as every succeeding generation will have more to learn than that which preceded it, it will also be enabled to acquire that learning with greater facility and despatch.

The case however, we cannot help thinking, is widely different with regard to those methods and practices by which it is sometimes pretended, not merely that some branch of knowledge may be better or sooner learned, but that the intellect may be improved, and the character exalted to a degree unattainable under any other system. Of all such pretensions, we confess we are in the highest degree distrustful; and are inclined indeed to think, that all persons of ordinary sense have always known and practised all that can be certainly known, or safely practised on the subject; and that almost everything that has been attempted beyond this, by the refinements of ingenious speculators, has been very fantastical and insignificant, and not only hazardous in practice, but exceedingly questionable in principle. Fortunately, indeed, for mankind, the development of our intellectual and moral capacities has not been left, in any great degree, to the contrivances of hunian genius, or the efforts of human skill and industry. Like our bodily powers, they for the most part develop themselves by an inward impulse and energy; and by far the most important guidance and direction they ever receive, is that which is derived from the general habits of the society into which we are thrown, rather than from the anxious efforts of individual and elaborate instruction. Unless in some very extraordinary cases, the common education of the times will do all for a man that the spirit of the times will allow any education to do him. Gross blunders may indeed be occasionally committed, and some good may be done by pointing these out, and warning the ignorant of their hazard ;-but small ones seem to do no great mischief: less, probably, than the superfine methods and nice observ ;

« AnteriorContinuar »