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ON A TEACHABLE DISPOSITION.
WOLFE instructed his soldiers, that if the French should land in Kent, as they were then expected to do, actual service in that inclosed country would shew them the reason of several evolutions, which they had never been able to comprehend *. The soldier, therefore, submits to learn things of which he does not see the use. And is not every learner under the same obligation? If he desires to be taught, must not he bring with him that teachable disposition, which receives the rules and elements of learning implicitly, and trusts to the future for the knowledge of those reasons on which they are grounded? This is not a matter of choice: he can be taught on no other principle; for though the practice of a rule may seem very easy, the reason of that rule will generally lie too deep for a beginner; and long experience will be necessary before it can be understood: indeed there are many rules established, for which we have no reason but experience. If a learner will take his own judgment concerning the propriety of what is proposed to him,
* See General Wolfe's Instructions, p. 51, second edition.
before he is capable of judging rightly, he will cheat himself, and preclude his future improvement. At best, he will lose a great deal of time, and go the farthest way about; and, which is the greatest misfortune, he will contract bad habits in the beginning, and perhaps find himself unfit to be taught, when he would be glad to learn. I have seen some examples of young persons who have been disappointed by trusting at first to their own shallow conceptions, and supposing, what is very pleasant in idea, that Nature may be a master before it has been a scholar. If the consequences of this error are so bad in arts and sciences, and matters of accomplishment, they will be much worse in those things, which relate to the œconomy of human life.
It is indeed a very dangerous mistake to imagine, that the mind can be cultivated, and the manners formed, on any principle, but that of dependence: and therefore we cannot sufficiently lament that this wholesome and necessary doctrine is growing every day more and more out of fashion. Nothing is now to be taken upon authority. A wild and absurd system is prevailing, which encourages the depravity of nature, by admitting, that nothing is to be complied with by young people, of which they do not see the propriety : though it is morally impossible they should see it in many cases, till they look back upon the past time with eyes that are opened by years and experience: and thus we are nursing up a spirit of petulance and mutiny, which can never fail to render the labour of cultivation very disagreeable to the teacher. Some parents, who, through a natural partiality, are willing to have it thought that their children are prodigies of forwardness and acuteness, consult their opinions, and argue with them, under a persuasion that their own reason
will direct them, before they know the difference between good and evil. To argue with a child, who is to do as he is bid, is to take him out of his sphere, and to put him upon a level with his father. In some cases, where there is an unaspiring quiet temper, this may possibly succeed: but with a mercurial disposition, the experiment is always dangerous: for what is the issue? He is reasoned with: he reasons again, and perhaps, though he has the wrong side of the question, he may possibly have the better of the argument in the hearing of others: while the father, who is in the right, and ought in duty to persist, is silenced; and gives up the point, partly from vanity, and partly from affection. What can follow, but that the authority of the father will fall by degrees into contempt? and what he loses in authority, the child will gain in conceit and impertinence, till he will do nothing without a reason, and seldom with; for he thinks his own reasons better. As he grows up, he carries his impertinence with him into company, whom he interrupts by giving his judgment on all occasions, and upon subjects, of which he has only so much knowledge as qualifies him to be troublesome. The case is very unhappy, if we consider it so far only as his conversation is concerned; because wiser people will find themselves disgusted with his company, and avoid it. But when this untutored confidence is extended to moral action, the consequences which were disagreeable enough before, now become dreadful: and I fear it has been but too justly remarked, that the loose system of education adopted by some mistaken parents, on the recommendation of some enthusiastic philosophers, has produced a new generation of libertines, some of whom are such monsters of ignorance, insolence, and boundless profligacy, as never existed before in a Christian
country. How far this observation may be applicable to the softer sex, it is not my business to inquire. Parents live to see the consequences of their mistake, when they can only lament the opportunity they have lost. Besides, the method is radically absurd and unnatural in itself: it is contrary to that rational order which does and must prevail in all other cases of the kind. The raw recruit learns his exercise on the authority of his officer, because he knows nothing as yet of the art of war; and he waits for the reasons of it till he comes into action. The patient commits himself to the physician; consenting to a regimen which is against his appetites, and taking medicines, of which he knows neither the names nor the qualities; and while nature is ready to rebel at the taste of them. The Lacedemonians carried this doctrine to such excess, that they obliged their Ephori to submit to the ridiculous ceremony of being shaved when they entered upon their office; for no other end, but that it might be signified by this act, that they knew how to practise submission to the laws of their country. In short, it is an established and universal law, that he who will gain any thing must give up something: he that will improve his understanding, his manners, or his health, must contradict his will. This may be hard: but it is much harder to offer up wisdom, happiness, and perhaps even life itself, as a sacrifice to folly. So that after all the high flights and fancies of philosophic fanaticism, you may rest satisfied, there is no rule of education that has common sense in it, but the oldfashioned and almost exploded doctrine of authority on one side, and dependence on the other. He that will have liberty without discretion will lose more than he gains. He will escape from the authority of others, to be devoted to his own ignorance, and enslaved by
his own passions, which are the worst tyrants upon earth.
A gentleman appointed to a government abroad, consulted an eminent person, who was at that time the oracle of the law, as to the rule of his future conduct in his office, and begged his instructions. 66 I take you," said he, "for a man of integrity, and therefore the advice I must give you in general is, to act in all cases according to the best of your judgment: however, I have this one rule to recommend; never give your reasons: you will gain no ground that way, and perhaps bring yourself into great difficulties by attempting it. Let your reasons be those of an honest man, and such as you can answer; but never expose them to your inferiors, who will be sure to have their reasons against your's; and while reason is litigated, authority is lost, and the public interest suffers." I mention the advice of this famous politician, to shew you, that the wisest of men, and the undoubted friends of political liberty, are obliged in practice to adopt the principle which I have been explaining to you: so that when children resign themselves to the direction of their parents and tutors, who are bound by affection and interest to promote their happiness, and will take pleasure in shewing them the reason of things at a proper season, they do but follow the example of all communities of men in the world, who are passive for their own good; who are under laws, which not one in five hundred of them understands, and submit to actions of which they are not able to see either the propriety or the equity: and if children are treated as men are, no indignity is offered, and they have nothing to complain of. Your own sense will assure you upon the whole, that society cannot subsist, nor any business go forward,