Emile - or, Concerning Education; Extracts
by Jean Jacques Rousseau
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In this way you will make him patient, even-tempered, resigned, gentle, even when he has not what he wants. For it is in our nature to endure patiently the decrees of fate, but not the ill-will of others. "There is no more," is an answer against which no child ever rebelled unless he believed it untrue. Besides, there is no other way; either nothing at all is to be required of him, or he must from the first be accustomed to perfect obedience. The worst training of all is to leave him wavering between his own will and yours, and to dispute incessantly with him as to which shall be master. I should a hundred times prefer his being master in every case.

It is marvellous that in undertaking to educate a child no other means of guiding him should have been devised than emulation, jealousy, envy, vanity, greed, vile fear,—all of them passions most dangerous, readiest to ferment, fittest to corrupt a soul, even before the body is full-grown. For each instruction too early put into a child's head, a vice is deeply implanted in his heart. Foolish teachers think they are doing wonders when they make a child wicked, in order to teach him what goodness is; and then they gravely tell us, "Such is man." Yes; such is the man you have made.

All means have been tried save one, and that the very one which insures success, namely, well-regulated freedom. We ought not to undertake a child's education unless we know how to lead him wherever we please solely by the laws of the possible and the impossible. The sphere of both being alike unknown to him, we may extend or contract it around him as we will. We may bind him down, incite him to action, restrain him by the leash of necessity alone, and he will not murmur. We may render him pliant and teachable by the force of circumstances alone, without giving any vice an opportunity to take root within him. For the passions never awake to life, so long as they are of no avail.

Do not give your pupil any sort of lesson verbally: he ought to receive none except from experience. Inflict upon him no kind of punishment, for he does not know what being in fault means; never oblige him to ask pardon, for he does not know what it is to offend you.

His actions being without moral quality, he can do nothing which is morally bad, or which deserves either punishment or reproof.[7]

Already I see the startled reader judging of this child by those around us; but he is mistaken. The perpetual constraint under which you keep your pupils increases their liveliness. The more cramped they are while under your eye the more unruly they are the moment they escape it. They must, in fact, make themselves amends for the severe restraint you put upon them. Two school-boys from a city will do more mischief in a community than the young people of a whole village.

Shut up in the same room a little gentleman and a little peasant; the former will have everything upset and broken before the latter has moved from his place. Why is this? Because the one hastens to misuse a moment of liberty, and the other, always sure of his freedom, is never in a hurry to use it. And yet the children of villagers, often petted or thwarted, are still very far from the condition in which I should wish to keep them.

Proceed Slowly.

May I venture to state here the greatest, the most important, the most useful rule in all education? It is, not to gain time, but to lose it. Forgive the paradox, O my ordinary reader! It must be uttered by any one who reflects, and whatever you may say, I prefer paradoxes to prejudices. The most perilous interval of human life is that between birth and the age of twelve years. At that time errors and vices take root without our having any means of destroying them; and when the instrument is found, the time for uprooting them is past. If children could spring at one bound from the mother's breast to the age of reason, the education given them now-a-days would be suitable; but in the due order of nature they need one entirely different. They should not use the mind at all, until it has all its faculties. For while it is blind it cannot see the torch you present to it; nor can it follow on the immense plain of ideas a path which, even for the keenest eyesight, reason traces so faintly.

The earliest education ought, then, to be purely negative. It consists not in teaching truth or virtue, but in shielding the heart from vice and the mind from error. If you could do nothing at all, and allow nothing to be done; if you could bring up your pupil sound and robust to the age of twelve years, without his knowing how to distinguish his right hand from his left, the eyes of his understanding would from the very first open to reason. Without a prejudice or a habit, there would be in him nothing to counteract the effect of your care. Before long he would become in your hands the wisest of men; and beginning by doing nothing, you would have accomplished a marvel in education.

Reverse the common practice, and you will nearly always do well. Parents and teachers desiring to make of a child not a child, but a learned man, have never begun early enough to chide, to correct, to reprimand, to flatter, to promise, to instruct, to discourse reason to him. Do better than this: be reasonable yourself, and do not argue with your pupil, least of all, to make him approve what he dislikes. For if you persist in reasoning about disagreeable things, you make reasoning disagreeable to him, and weaken its influence beforehand in a mind as yet unfitted to understand it. Keep his organs, his senses, his physical strength, busy; but, as long as possible, keep his mind inactive. Guard against all sensations arising in advance of judgment, which estimates their true value. Keep back and check unfamiliar impressions, and be in no haste to do good for the sake of preventing evil. For the good is not real unless enlightened by reason. Regard every delay as an advantage; for much is gained if the critical period be approached without losing anything. Let childhood have its full growth. If indeed a lesson must be given, avoid it to-day, if you can without danger delay it until to-morrow.

Another consideration which proves this method useful is the peculiar bent of the child's mind. This ought to be well understood if we would know what moral government is best adapted to him. Each has his own cast of mind, in accordance with which he must be directed; and if we would succeed, he must be ruled according to this natural bent and no other. Be judicious: watch nature long, and observe your pupil carefully before you say a word to him. At first leave the germ of his character free to disclose itself. Repress it as little as possible, so that you may the better see all there is of it.

Do you think this season of free action will be time lost to him? On the contrary, it will be employed in the best way possible. For by this means you will learn not to lose a single moment when time is more precious; whereas, if you begin to act before you know what ought to be done, you act at random. Liable to deceive yourself, you will have to retrace your steps, and will be farther from your object than if you had been less in haste to reach it. Do not then act like a miser, who, in order to lose nothing, loses a great deal. At the earlier age sacrifice time which you will recover with interest later on. The wise physician does not give directions at first sight of his patient, but studies the sick man's temperament, before prescribing. He begins late with his treatment, but cures the man: the over-hasty physician kills him.

Remember that, before you venture undertaking to form a man, you must have made yourself a man; you must find in yourself the example you ought to offer him. While the child is yet without knowledge there is time to prepare everything about him so that his first glance shall discover only what he ought to see. Make everybody respect you; begin by making yourself beloved, so that everybody will try to please you. You will not be the child's master unless you are master of everything around him, and this authority will not suffice unless founded on esteem for virtue.

There is no use in exhausting your purse by lavishing money: I have never observed that money made any one beloved. You must not be miserly or unfeeling, or lament the distress you can relieve; but you will open your coffers in vain if you do not open your heart; the hearts of others will be forever closed to you. You must give your time, your care, your affection, yourself. For whatever you may do, your money certainly is not yourself. Tokens of interest and of kindness go farther and are of more use than any gifts whatever. How many unhappy persons, how many sufferers, need consolation far more than alms! How many who are oppressed are aided rather by protection than by money!

Reconcile those who are at variance; prevent lawsuits; persuade children to filial duty and parents to gentleness. Encourage happy marriages; hinder disturbances; use freely the interest of your pupil's family on behalf of the weak who are denied justice and oppressed by the powerful. Boldly declare yourself the champion of the unfortunate. Be just, humane, beneficent. Be not content with giving alms; be charitable. Kindness relieves more distress than money can reach. Love others, and they will love you; serve them, and they will serve you; be their brother, and they will be your children.

Blame others no longer for the mischief you yourself are doing. Children are less corrupted by the harm they see than by that you teach them.

Always preaching, always moralizing, always acting the pedant, you give them twenty worthless ideas when you think you are giving them one good one. Full of what is passing in your own mind, you do not see the effect you are producing upon theirs.

In the prolonged torrent of words with which you incessantly weary them, do you think there are none they may misunderstand? Do you imagine that they will not comment in their own way upon your wordy explanations, and find in them a system adapted to their own capacity, which, if need be, they can use against you?

Listen to a little fellow who has just been under instruction. Let him prattle, question, blunder, just as he pleases, and you will be surprised at the turn your reasonings have taken in his mind. He confounds one thing with another; he reverses everything; he tires you, sometimes worries you, by unexpected objections. He forces you to hold your peace, or to make him hold his. And what must he think of this silence, in one so fond of talking? If ever he wins this advantage and knows the fact, farewell to his education. He will no longer try to learn, but to refute what you say.

Be plain, discreet, reticent, you who are zealous teachers. Be in no haste to act, except to prevent others from acting.

Again and again I say, postpone even a good lesson if you can, for fear of conveying a bad one. On this earth, meant by nature to be man's first paradise, beware lest you act the tempter by giving to innocence the knowledge of good and evil. Since you cannot prevent the child's learning from outside examples, restrict your care to the task of impressing these examples on his mind in suitable forms.

Violent passions make a striking impression on the child who notices them, because their manifestations are well-defined, and forcibly attract his attention. Anger especially has such stormy indications that its approach is unmistakable. Do not ask, "Is not this a fine opportunity for the pedagogue's moral discourse?" Spare the discourse: say not a word: let the child alone. Amazed at what he sees, he will not fail to question you. It will not be hard to answer him, on account of the very things that strike his senses. He sees an inflamed countenance, flashing eyes, threatening gestures, he hears unusually excited tones of voice; all sure signs that the body is not in its usual condition. Say to him calmly, unaffectedly, without any mystery, "This poor man is sick; he has a high fever." You may take this occasion to give him, in few words, an idea of maladies and of their effects; for these, being natural, are trammels of that necessity to which he has to feel himself subject.

From this, the true idea, will he not early feel repugnance at giving way to excessive passion, which he regards as a disease? And do you not think that such an idea, given at the appropriate time, will have as good an effect as the most tiresome sermon on morals? Note also the future consequences of this idea; it will authorize you, if ever necessity arises, to treat a rebellious child as a sick child, to confine him to his room, and even to his bed, to make him undergo a course of medical treatment; to make his growing vices alarming and hateful to himself. He cannot consider as a punishment the severity you are forced to use in curing him. So that if you yourself, in some hasty moment, are perhaps stirred out of the coolness and moderation it should be your study to preserve, do not try to disguise your fault, but say to him frankly, in tender reproach, "My boy, you have hurt me."

I do not intend to enter fully into details, but to lay down some general maxims and to illustrate difficult cases. I believe it impossible, in the very heart of social surroundings, to educate a child up to the age of twelve years, without giving him some ideas of the relations of man to man, and of morality in human actions. It will suffice if we put off as long as possible the necessity for these ideas, and when they must be given, limit them to such as are immediately applicable. We must do this only lest he consider himself master of everything, and so injure others without scruple, because unknowingly. There are gentle, quiet characters who, in their early innocence, may be led a long way without danger of this kind. But others, naturally violent, whose wildness is precocious, must be trained into men as early as may be, that you may not be obliged to fetter them outright.

The Idea of Property.

Our first duties are to ourselves; our first feelings are concentrated upon ourselves; our first natural movements have reference to our own preservation and well-being. Thus our first idea of justice is not as due from us, but to us. One error in the education of to-day is, that by speaking to children first of their duties and never of their rights, we commence at the wrong end, and tell them of what they cannot understand, and what cannot interest them.

If therefore I had to teach one of these I have mentioned, I should reflect that a child never attacks persons, but things; he soon learns from experience to respect his superiors in age and strength. But things do not defend themselves. The first idea to be given him, therefore, is rather that of property than that of liberty; and in order to understand this idea he must have something of his own. To speak to him of his clothes, his furniture, his playthings, is to tell him nothing at all; for though he makes use of these things, he knows neither how nor why he has them. To tell him they are his because they have been given to him is not much better, for in order to give, we must have. This is an ownership dating farther back than his own, and we wish him to understand the principle of ownership itself. Besides, a gift is a conventional thing, and the child cannot as yet understand what a conventional thing is. You who read this, observe how in this instance, as in a hundred thousand others, a child's head is crammed with words which from the start have no meaning to him, but which we imagine we have taught him.

We must go back, then, to the origin of ownership, for thence our first ideas of it should arise. The child living in the country will have gained some notion of what field labor is, having needed only to use his eyes and his abundant leisure. Every age in life, and especially his own, desires to create, to imitate, to produce, to manifest power and activity. Only twice will it be necessary for him to see a garden cultivated, seed sown, plants reared, beans sprouting, before he will desire to work in a garden himself.

In accordance with principles already laid down I do not at all oppose this desire, but encourage it. I share his taste; I work with him, not for his pleasure, but for my own: at least he thinks so. I become his assistant gardener; until his arms are strong enough I work the ground for him. By planting a bean in it, he takes possession of it; and surely this possession is more sacred and more to be respected than that assumed by Nunez de Balboa of South America in the name of the king of Spain, by planting his standard on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

He comes every day to water the beans, and rejoices to see them thriving. I add to his delight by telling him "This belongs to you." In explaining to him what I mean by "belongs," I make him feel that he has put into this plot of ground his time, his labor, his care, his bodily self; that in it is a part of himself which he may claim back from any one whatever, just as he may draw his own arm back if another tries to hold it against his will.

One fine morning he comes as usual, running, watering-pot in hand. But oh, what a sight! What a misfortune! The beans are uprooted, the garden bed is all in disorder: the place actually no longer knows itself. What has become of my labor, the sweet reward of all my care and toil? Who has robbed me of my own? Who has taken my beans away from me? The little heart swells with the bitterness of its first feeling of injustice. His eyes overflow with tears; his distress rends the air with moans and cries. We compassionate his troubles, share his indignation, make inquiries, sift the matter thoroughly. At last we find that the gardener has done the deed: we send for him.

But we find that we have reckoned without our host. When the gardener hears what we are complaining of, he complains more than we.

"What! So it was you, gentlemen, who ruined all my labor! I had planted some Maltese melons, from seed given me as a great rarity: I hoped to give you a grand treat with them when they were ripe. But for the sake of planting your miserable beans there, you killed my melons after they had actually sprouted; and there are no more to be had. You have done me more harm than you can remedy, and you have lost the pleasure of tasting some delicious melons."

JEAN JACQUES. "Excuse us, my good Robert. You put into them your labor, your care. I see plainly that we did wrong to spoil your work: but we will get you some more Maltese seed, and we will not till any more ground without finding out whether some one else has put his hand to it before us."

ROBERT. "Oh well, gentlemen, you may as well end the business; for there's no waste land. What I work was improved by my father, and it's the same with everybody hereabout. All the fields you see were taken up long ago."

EMILE. "Mr. Robert, do you often lose your melon-seed?"

ROBERT. "Pardon, my young master: we don't often have young gentlemen about that are careless like you. Nobody touches his neighbor's garden; everybody respects other people's work, to make sure of his own."

EMILE. "But I haven't any garden."

ROBERT. "What's that to me? If you spoil mine, I won't let you walk in it any more; for you are to understand that I'm not going to have all my pains for nothing."

JEAN JACQUES. "Can't we arrange this matter with honest Robert? Just let my little friend and me have one corner of your garden to cultivate, on condition that you have half the produce."

ROBERT. "I will let you have it without that condition; but remember, I will root up your beans if you meddle with my melons."

In this essay on the manner of teaching fundamental notions to children it may be seen how the idea of property naturally goes back to the right which the first occupant acquired by labor. This is clear, concise, simple, and always within the comprehension of the child. From this to the right of holding property, and of transferring it, there is but one step, and beyond this we are to stop short.

It will also be evident that the explanation I have included in two pages may, in actual practice, be the work of an entire year. For in the development of moral ideas, we cannot advance too slowly, or establish them too firmly at every step. I entreat you, young teachers, to think of the example I have given, and to remember that your lessons upon every subject ought to be rather in actions than in words; for children readily forget what is said or done to them.

As I have said, such lessons ought to be given earlier or later, as the disposition of the child, gentle or turbulent, hastens or retards the necessity for giving them. In employing them, we call in an evidence that cannot be misunderstood. But that in difficult cases nothing important may be omitted, let us give another illustration.

Your little meddler spoils everything he touches; do not be vexed, but put out of his reach whatever he can spoil. He breaks the furniture he uses. Be in no hurry to give him any more; let him feel the disadvantages of doing without it. He breaks the windows in his room; let the wind blow on him night and day. Have no fear of his taking cold; he had better take cold than be a fool.

Do not fret at the inconvenience he causes you, but make him feel it first of all. Finally, without saying anything about it, have the panes of glass mended. He breaks them again. Change your method: say to him coolly and without anger, "Those windows are mine; I took pains to have them put there, and I am going to make sure that they shall not be broken again." Then shut him up in some dark place where there are no windows. At this novel proceeding, he begins to cry and storm: but nobody listens to him. He soon grows tired of this, and changes his tone; he complains and groans. A servant is sent, whom the rebel entreats to set him free. Without trying to find any excuse for utter refusal, the servant answers, "I have windows to take care of, too," and goes away. At last, after the child has been in durance for several hours, long enough to tire him and to make him remember it, some one suggests an arrangement by which you shall agree to release him, and he to break no more windows. He sends to beseech you to come and see him; you come; he makes his proposal. You accept it immediately, saying, "Well thought of; that will be a good thing for both of us. Why didn't you think of this capital plan before?" Then, without requiring any protestations, or confirmation of his promise, you gladly caress him and take him to his room at once, regarding this compact as sacred and inviolable as if ratified by an oath. What an idea of the obligation, and the usefulness, of an engagement will he not gain from this transaction! I am greatly mistaken if there is an unspoiled child on earth who would be proof against it, or who would ever after think of breaking a window purposely.

Falsehood. The Force of Example.

We are now within the domain of morals, and the door is open to vice. Side by side with conventionalities and duties spring up deceit and falsehood. As soon as there are things we ought not to do, we desire to hide what we ought not to have done. As soon as one interest leads us to promise, a stronger one may urge us to break the promise. Our chief concern is how to break it and still go unscathed. It is natural to find expedients; we dissemble and we utter falsehood. Unable to prevent this evil, we must nevertheless punish it. Thus the miseries of our life arise from our mistakes.

I have said enough to show that punishment, as such, should not be inflicted upon children, but should always happen to them as the natural result of their own wrong-doing. Do not, then, preach to them against falsehood, or punish them confessedly on account of a falsehood. But if they are guilty of one, let all its consequences fall heavily on their heads. Let them know what it is to be disbelieved even when they speak the truth, and to be accused of faults in spite of their earnest denial. But let us inquire what falsehood is, in children.

There are two kinds of falsehood; that of fact, which refers to things already past, and that of right, which has to do with the future. The first occurs when we deny doing what we have done, and in general, when we knowingly utter what is not true. The other occurs when we promise what we do not mean to perform, and, in general, when we express an intention contrary to the one we really have. These two sorts of untruth may sometimes meet in the same case; but let us here discuss their points of difference.

One who realizes his need of help from others, and constantly receives kindness from them, has nothing to gain by deceiving them. On the contrary, it is evidently his interest that they should see things as they are, lest they make mistakes to his disadvantage. It is clear, then, that the falsehood of fact is not natural to children. But the law of obedience makes falsehood necessary; because, obedience being irksome, we secretly avoid it whenever we can, and just in proportion as the immediate advantage of escaping reproof or punishment outweighs the remoter advantage to be gained by revealing the truth.

Why should a child educated naturally and in perfect freedom, tell a falsehood? What has he to hide from you? You are not going to reprove or punish him, or exact anything from him. Why should he not tell you everything as frankly as to his little playmate? He sees no more danger in the one case than in the other.

The falsehood of right is still less natural to children, because promises to do or not to do are conventional acts, foreign to our nature and infringements of our liberty. Besides, all the engagements of children are in themselves void, because, as their limited vision does not stretch beyond the present, they know not what they do when they bind themselves. It is hardly possible for a child to tell a lie in making a promise. For, considering only how to overcome a present difficulty, all devices that have no immediate effect become alike to him. In promising for a time to come he actually does not promise at all, as his still dormant imagination cannot extend itself over two different periods of time. If he could escape a whipping or earn some sugar-plums by promising to throw himself out of the window to-morrow, he would at once promise it. Therefore the laws pay no regard to engagements made by children; and when some fathers and teachers, more strict than this, require the fulfilling of such engagements, it is only in things the child ought to do without promising.

As the child in making a promise is not aware what he is doing, he cannot be guilty of falsehood in so doing: but this is not the case when he breaks a promise. For he well remembers having made the promise; what he cannot understand is, the importance of keeping it. Unable to read the future, he does not foresee the consequences of his actions; and when he violates engagements he does nothing contrary to what might be expected of his years.

It follows from this that all the untruths spoken by children are the fault of those who instruct them; and that endeavoring to teach them how to be truthful is only teaching them how to tell falsehoods. We are so eager to regulate, to govern, to instruct them, that we never find means enough to reach our object. We want to win new victories over their minds by maxims not based upon fact, by unreasonable precepts; we would rather they should know their lessons and tell lies than to remain ignorant and speak the truth.

As for us, who give our pupils none but practical teaching, and would rather have them good than knowing, we shall not exact the truth from them at all, lest they disguise it; we will require of them no promises they may be tempted to break. If in my absence some anonymous mischief has been done, I will beware of accusing Emile, or of asking "Was it you?"[8] For what would that be but teaching him to deny it? If his naturally troublesome disposition obliges me to make some agreement with him, I will plan so well that any such proposal shall come from him and never from me. Thus, whenever he is bound by an engagement he shall have an immediate and tangible interest in fulfilling it. And if he ever fails in this, the falsehood shall bring upon him evil results which he sees must arise from the very nature of things, and never from the vengeance of his tutor. Far from needing recourse to such severe measures, however, I am almost sure that Emile will be long in learning what a lie is, and upon finding it out will be greatly amazed, not understanding what is to be gained by it. It is very plain that the more I make his welfare independent of either the will or the judgment of others, the more I uproot within him all interest in telling falsehoods.

When we are less eager to instruct we are also less eager to exact requirements from our pupil, and can take time to require only what is to the purpose. In that case, the child will be developed, just because he is not spoiled. But when some blockhead teacher, not understanding what he is about, continually forces the child to promise things, making no distinctions, allowing no choice, knowing no limit, the little fellow, worried and weighed down with all these obligations, neglects them, forgets them, at last despises them; and considering them mere empty formulas, turns the giving and the breaking of them into ridicule. If then you want to make him faithful to his word, be discreet in requiring him to give it.

The details just entered upon in regard to falsehood may apply in many respects to all duties which, when enjoined upon children, become to them not only hateful but impracticable. In order to seem to preach virtue we make vices attractive, and actually impart them by forbidding them. If we would have the children religious, we tire them out taking them to church. By making them mumble prayers incessantly we make them sigh for the happiness of never praying at all. To inspire charity in them, we make them give alms, as if we disdained doing it ourselves. It is not the child, but his teacher, who ought to do the giving. However much you love your pupil, this is an honor you ought to dispute with him, leading him to feel that he is not yet old enough to deserve it.

Giving alms is the act of one who knows the worth of his gift, and his fellow-creature's need of the gift. A child who knows nothing of either can have no merit in bestowing. He gives without charity or benevolence: he is almost ashamed to give at all, as, judging from your example and his own, only children give alms, and leave it off when grown up. Observe, that we make the child bestow only things whose value be does not know: pieces of metal, which he carries in his pocket, and which are good for nothing else. A child would rather give away a hundred gold pieces than a single cake. But suggest to this free-handed giver the idea of parting with what he really prizes—his playthings, his sugar-plums, or his luncheon; you will soon find out whether you have made him really generous.

To accomplish the same end, resort is had to another expedient, that of instantly returning to the child what he has given away, so that he habitually gives whatever he knows will be restored to him. I have rarely met with other than these two kinds of generosity in children, namely, the giving either of what is no use to themselves, or else of what they are certain will come back to them.

"Do this," says Locke, "that they may be convinced by experience that he who gives most generously has always the better portion." This is making him liberal in appearance and miserly in reality. He adds, that children will thus acquire the habit of generosity.

Yes; a miser's generosity, giving an egg to gain an ox. But when called upon to be generous in earnest, good-bye to the habit; they soon cease giving when the gift no longer comes back to them. We ought to keep in view the habit of mind rather than that of the hands. Like this virtue are all others taught to children; and their early years are spent in sadness, that we may preach these sterling virtues to them! Excellent training this!

Lay aside all affectation, you teachers; be yourselves good and virtuous, so that your example may be deeply graven on your pupils' memory until such time as it finds lodgment in their heart. Instead of early requiring acts of charity from my pupil I would rather do them in his presence, taking from him all means of imitating me, as if I considered it an honor not due to his age. For he should by no means be in the habit of thinking a man's duties the same as a child's. Seeing me assist the poor, he questions me about it and, if occasion serve, I answer, "My boy, it is because, since poor people are willing there should be rich people, the rich have promised to take care of those who have no money or cannot earn a living by their labor."

"And have you promised it too?" inquires he.

"Of course; the money that comes into my hands is mine to use only upon this condition, which its owner has to carry out."

After this conversation, and we have seen how a child may be prepared to understand it, other children besides Emile would be tempted to imitate me by acting like a rich man. In this case I would at least see that it should not be done ostentatiously. I would rather have him rob me of my right, and conceal the fact of his generosity. It would be a stratagem natural at his age, and the only one I would pardon in him.

The only moral lesson suited to childhood and the most important at any age is, never to injure any one. Even the principle of doing good, if not subordinated to this, is dangerous, false, and contradictory. For who does not do good? Everybody does, even a wicked man who makes one happy at the expense of making a hundred miserable: and thence arise all our calamities. The most exalted virtues are negative: they are hardest to attain, too, because they are unostentatious, and rise above even that gratification dear to the heart of man,—sending another person away pleased with us. If there be a man who never injures one of his fellow-creatures, what good must he achieve for them! What fearlessness, what vigor of mind he requires for it! Not by reasoning about this principle, but by attempting to carry it into practice, do we find out how great it is, how hard to fulfil.

The foregoing conveys some faint idea of the precautions I would have you employ in giving children the instructions we sometimes cannot withhold without risk of their injuring themselves or others, and especially of contracting bad habits of which it will by and by be difficult to break them. But we may rest assured that in children rightly educated the necessity will seldom arise; for it is impossible that they should become intractable, vicious, deceitful, greedy, unless the vices which make them so are sowed in their hearts. For this reason what has been said on this point applies rather to exceptional than to ordinary cases. But such exceptional cases become common in proportion as children have more frequent opportunity to depart from their natural state and to acquire the vices of their seniors. Those brought up among men of the world absolutely require earlier teaching in these matters than those educated apart from such surroundings. Hence this private education is to be preferred, even if it do no more than allow childhood leisure to grow to perfection.

Negative or Temporizing Education.

Exactly contrary to the cases just described are those whom a happy temperament exalts above their years. As there are some men who never outgrow childhood, so there are others who never pass through it, but are men almost from their birth. The difficulty is that these exceptional cases are rare and not easily distinguished; besides, all mothers capable of understanding that a child can be a prodigy, have no doubt that their own are such. They go even farther than this: they take for extraordinary indications the sprightliness, the bright childish pranks and sayings, the shrewd simplicity of ordinary cases, characteristic of that time of life, and showing plainly that a child is only a child. Is it surprising that, allowed to speak so much and so freely, unrestrained by any consideration of propriety, a child should occasionally make happy replies? If he did not, it would be even more surprising; just as if an astrologer, among a hundred false predictions, should never hit upon a single true one. "They lie so often," said Henry IV., "that they end by telling the truth." To be a wit, one need only utter a great many foolish speeches. Heaven help men of fashion, whose reputation rests upon just this foundation!

The most brilliant thoughts may enter a child's head, or rather, the most brilliant sayings may fall from his lips, just as the most valuable diamonds may fall into his hands, without his having any right either to the thoughts or to the diamonds. At his age, he has no real property of any kind. A child's utterances are not the same to him as to us; he does not attach to them the same ideas. If he has any ideas at all on the subject, they have neither order nor coherence in his mind; in all his thoughts nothing is certain or stable. If you watch your supposed prodigy attentively, you will sometimes find him a well-spring of energy, clear-sighted, penetrating the very marrow of things. Much oftener the same mind appears commonplace, dull, and as if enveloped in a dense fog. Sometimes he outruns you, and sometimes he stands still. At one moment you feel like saying, "He is a genius," and at another, "He is a fool." You are mistaken in either case: he is a child; he is an eaglet that one moment beats the air with its wings, and the next moment falls back into the nest.

In spite of appearances, then, treat him as his age demands, and beware lest you exhaust his powers by attempting to use them too freely. If this young brain grows warm, if you see it beginning to seethe, leave it free to ferment, but do not excite it, lest it melt altogether into air. When the first flow of spirits has evaporated, repress and keep within bounds the rest, until, as time goes on, the whole is transformed into life-giving warmth and real power. Otherwise you will lose both time and pains; you will destroy your own handiwork, and after having thoughtlessly intoxicated yourself with all these inflammable vapors, you will have nothing left but the dregs.

Nothing has been more generally or certainly observed than that dull children make commonplace men. In childhood it is very difficult to distinguish real dullness from that misleading apparent dullness which indicates a strong character. At first it seems strange that the two extremes should meet in indications so much alike; and yet such is the case. For at an age when man has no real ideas at all, the difference between one who has genius and one who has not is, that the latter entertains only mistaken ideas, and the former, encountering only such, admits none at all. The two are therefore alike in this, that the dullard is capable of nothing, and the other finds nothing to suit him. The only means of distinguishing them is chance, which may bring to the genius some ideas he can comprehend, while the dull mind is always the same.

During his childhood the younger Cato was at home considered an idiot. No one said anything of him beyond that he was silent and headstrong. It was only in the antechamber of Sulla that his uncle learned to know him. If he had never crossed its threshold, he might have been thought a fool until he was grown. If there had been no such person as Caesar, this very Cato, who read the secret of Caesar's fatal genius, and from afar foresaw his ambitious designs, would always have been treated as a visionary.[9] Those who judge of children so hastily are very liable to be mistaken. They are often more childish than the children themselves.

Concerning the Memory.

Respect children, and be in no haste to judge their actions, good or evil. Let the exceptional cases show themselves such for some time before you adopt special methods of dealing with them. Let nature be long at work before you attempt to supplant her, lest you thwart her work. You say you know how precious time is, and do not wish to lose it. Do you not know that to employ it badly is to waste it still more, and that a child badly taught is farther from being wise than one not taught at all? You are troubled at seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! is it nothing to be happy? Is it nothing to skip, to play, to run about all day long? Never in all his life will he be so busy as now. Plato, in that work of his considered so severe, the "Republic," would have children accustomed to festivals, games, songs, and pastimes; one would think he was satisfied with having carefully taught them how to enjoy themselves. And Seneca, speaking of the Roman youth of old, says, "They were always standing; nothing was taught them that they had to learn when seated." Were they of less account when they reached manhood? Have no fear, then, of this supposed idleness. What would you think of a man who, in order to use his whole life to the best advantage, would not sleep? You would say, "The man has no sense; he does not enjoy life, but robs himself of it. To avoid sleep, he rushes on his death." The two cases are parallel, for childhood is the slumber of reason.

Apparent quickness in learning is the ruin of children. We do not consider that this very quickness proves that they are learning nothing. Their smooth and polished brain reflects like a mirror the objects presented to it, but nothing abides there, nothing penetrates it. The child retains the words; the ideas are reflected; they who hear understand them, but he himself does not understand them at all.

Although memory and reason are two essentially different faculties, the one is never really developed without the other. Before the age of reason, the child receives not ideas, but images. There is this difference between the two, that images are only absolute representations of objects of sense, and ideas are notions of objects determined by their relations. An image may exist alone in the mind that represents it, but every idea supposes other ideas. When we imagine, we only see; when we conceive of things, we compare them. Our sensations are entirely passive, whereas all our perceptions or ideas spring from an active principle which judges.

I say then that children, incapable of judging, really have no memory. They retain sounds, shapes, sensations; but rarely ideas, and still more rarely the relations of ideas to one another. If this statement is apparently refuted by the objection that they learn some elements of geometry, it is not really true; that very fact confirms my statement. It shows that, far from knowing how to reason themselves, they cannot even keep in mind the reasonings of others. For if you investigate the method of these little geometricians, you discover at once that they have retained only the exact impression of the diagram and the words of the demonstration. Upon the least new objection they are puzzled. Their knowledge is only of the sensation; nothing has become the property of their understanding. Even their memory is rarely more perfect than their other faculties: for when grown they have nearly always to learn again as realities things whose names they learned in childhood.

However, I am far from thinking that children have no power of reasoning whatever.[10] I observe, on the contrary, that in things they understand, things relating to their present and manifest interests, they reason extremely well. We are, however, liable to be misled as to their knowledge, attributing to them what they do not have, and making them reason about what they do not understand. Again, we make the mistake of calling their attention to considerations by which they are in no wise affected, such as their future interests, the happiness of their coming manhood, the opinion people will have of them when they are grown up. Such speeches, addressed to minds entirely without foresight, are absolutely unmeaning. Now all the studies forced upon these poor unfortunates deal with things like this, utterly foreign to their minds. You may judge what attention such subjects are likely to receive.

On the Study of Words.

Pedagogues, who make such an imposing display of what they teach, are paid to talk in another strain than mine, but their conduct shows that they think as I do. For after all, what do they teach their pupils? Words, words, words. Among all their boasted subjects, none are selected because they are useful; such would be the sciences of things, in which these professors are unskilful. But they prefer sciences we seem to know when we know their nomenclature, such as heraldry, geography, chronology, languages; studies so far removed from human interests, and particularly from the child, that it would be wonderful if any of them could be of the least use at any time in life.

It may cause surprise that I account the study of languages one of the useless things in education. But remember I am speaking of the studies of earlier years, and whatever may be said, I do not believe that any child except a prodigy, will ever learn two languages by the time he is twelve or fifteen.[11]

I admit that if the study of languages were only that of words, that is, of forms, and of the sounds which express them, it might be suitable for children. But languages, by changing their signs, modify also the ideas they represent. Minds are formed upon languages; thoughts take coloring from idioms. Reason alone is common to all. In each language the mind has its peculiar conformation, and this may be in part the cause or the effect of national character. The fact that every nation's language follows the vicissitudes of that nation's morals, and is preserved or altered with them, seems to confirm this theory.

Of these different forms, custom gives one to the child, and it is the only one he retains until the age of reason. In order to have two, he must be able to compare ideas; and how can he do this when he is scarcely able to grasp them? Each object may for him have a thousand different signs, but each idea can have but one form; he can therefore learn to speak only one language. It is nevertheless maintained that he learns several; this I deny. I have seen little prodigies who thought they could speak six or seven: I have heard them speak German in Latin, French, and Italian idioms successively. They did indeed use five or six vocabularies, but they never spoke anything but German. In short, you may give children as many synonyms as you please, and you will change only their words, and not their language; they will never know more than one.

To hide this inability we, by preference, give them practice in the dead languages, of which there are no longer any unexceptionable judges. The familiar use of these tongues having long been lost, we content ourselves with imitating what we find of them in books, and call this speaking them. If such be the Greek and Latin of the masters, you may judge what that of the children is. Scarcely have they learned by heart the rudiments, without in the least understanding them, before they are taught to utter a French discourse in Latin words; and, when further advanced, to string together in prose, phrases from Cicero and cantos from Virgil. Then they imagine they are speaking Latin, and who is there to contradict them?[12]

In any study, words that represent things are nothing without the ideas of the things they represent. We, however, limit children to these signs, without ever being able to make them understand the things represented. We think we are teaching a child the description of the earth, when he is merely learning maps. We teach him the names of cities, countries, rivers; he has no idea that they exist anywhere but on the map we use in pointing them out to him. I recollect seeing somewhere a text-book on geography which began thus:

"What is the world? A pasteboard globe." Precisely such is the geography of children. I will venture to say that after two years of globes and cosmography no child of ten, by rules they give him, could find the way from Paris to St. Denis. I maintain that not one of them, from a plan of his father's garden, could trace out its windings without going astray. And yet these are the knowing creatures who can tell you exactly where Pekin, Ispahan, Mexico, and all the countries of the world are.

I hear it suggested that children ought to be engaged in studies in which only the eye is needed. This might be true if there were studies in which their eyes were not needed; but I know of none such.

A still more ridiculous method obliges children to study history, supposed to be within their comprehension because it is only a collection of facts.[13] But what do we mean by facts? Do we suppose that the relations out of which historic facts grow are so easily understood that the minds of children grasp such ideas without difficulty? Do we imagine that the true understanding of events can be separated from that of their causes and effects? and that the historic and the moral are so far asunder that the one can be understood without the other? If in men's actions you see only purely external and physical changes, what do you learn from history? Absolutely nothing; and the subject, despoiled of all interest, no longer gives you either pleasure or instruction. If you intend to estimate actions by their moral relations, try to make your pupils understand these relations, and you will discover whether history is adapted to their years.

If there is no science in words, there is no study especially adapted to children. If they have no real ideas, they have no real memory; for I do not call that memory which retains only impressions. Of what use is it to write on their minds a catalogue of signs that represent nothing to them? In learning the things represented, would they not also learn the signs? Why do you give them the useless trouble of learning them twice? Besides, you create dangerous prejudices by making them suppose that science consists of words meaningless to them. The first mere word with which the child satisfies himself, the first thing he learns on the authority of another person, ruins his judgment. Long must he shine in the eyes of unthinking persons before he can repair such an injury to himself.

No; nature makes the child's brain so yielding that it receives all kinds of impressions; not that we may make his childhood a distressing burden to him by engraving on that brain dates, names of kings, technical terms in heraldry, mathematics, geography, and all such words, unmeaning to him and unnecessary to persons at any age in life. But all ideas that he can understand, and that are of use to him, all that conduce to his happiness and that will one day make his duties plain, should early write themselves there indelibly, to guide him through life as his condition and his intellect require.

The memory of which a child is capable is far from inactive, even without the use of books. All he sees and hears impresses him, and he remembers it. He keeps a mental register of people's sayings and doings. Everything around him is the book from which he is continually but unconsciously enriching his memory against the time his judgment can benefit by it. If we intend rightly to cultivate this chief faculty of the mind, we must choose these objects carefully, constantly acquainting him with such as he ought to understand, and keeping back those he ought not to know. In this way we should endeavor to make his mind a storehouse of knowledge, to aid in his education in youth, and to direct him at all times. This method does not, it is true, produce phenomenal children, nor does it make the reputation of their teachers; but it produces judicious, robust men, sound in body and in mind, who, although not admired in youth, will make themselves respected in manhood.

Emile shall never learn anything by heart, not even fables such as those of La Fontaine, simple and charming as they are. For the words of fables are no more the fables themselves than the words of history are history itself. How can we be so blind as to call fables moral lessons for children? We do not reflect that while these stories amuse they also mislead children, who, carried away by the fiction, miss the truth conveyed; so that what makes the lesson agreeable also makes it less profitable. Men may learn from fables, but children must be told the bare truth; if it be veiled, they do not trouble themselves to lift the veil.[14]

Since nothing ought to be required of children merely in proof of their obedience, it follows that they can learn nothing of which they cannot understand the actual and immediate advantage, whether it be pleasant or useful. Otherwise, what motive will induce them to learn it? The art of conversing with absent persons, and of hearing from them, of communicating to them at a distance, without the aid of another, our feelings, intentions, and wishes, is an art whose value may be explained to children of almost any age whatever. By what astonishing process has this useful and agreeable art become so irksome to them? They have been forced to learn it in spite of themselves, and to use it in ways they cannot understand. A child is not anxious to perfect the instrument used in tormenting him; but make the same thing minister to his pleasures, and you cannot prevent him from using it.

Much attention is paid to finding out the best methods of teaching children to read. We invent printing-offices and charts; we turn a child's room into a printer's establishment.[15] Locke proposes teaching children to read by means of dice; a brilliant contrivance indeed, but a mistake as well. A better thing than all these, a thing no one thinks of, is the desire to learn. Give a child this desire, and you will not need dice or reading lotteries; any device will serve as well. If, on the plan I have begun to lay down, you follow rules exactly contrary to those most in fashion, you will not attract and bewilder your pupil's attention by distant places, climates, and ages of the world, going to the ends of the earth and into the very heavens themselves, but will make a point of keeping it fixed upon himself and what immediately concerns him; and by this plan you will find him capable of perception, memory, and even reasoning; this is the order of nature.[16] In proportion as a creature endowed with sensation becomes active, it acquires discernment suited to its powers, and the surplus of strength needed to preserve it is absolutely necessary in developing that speculative faculty which uses the same surplus for other ends. If, then, you mean to cultivate your pupil's understanding, cultivate the strength it is intended to govern. Give him constant physical exercise; make his body sound and robust, that you may make him wise and reasonable. Let him be at work doing something; let him run, shout, be always in motion; let him be a man in vigor, and he will the sooner become one in reason.

You would indeed make a mere animal of him by this method if you are continually directing him, and saying, "Go; come; stay; do this; stop doing that." If your head is always to guide his arm, his own head will be of no use to him. But recollect our agreement; if you are a mere pedant, there is no use in your reading what I write.

To imagine that physical exercise injures mental operations is a wretched mistake; the two should move in unison, and one ought to regulate the other.

My pupil, or rather nature's pupil, trained from the first to depend as much as possible on himself, is not continually running to others for advice. Still less does he make a display of his knowledge. On the other hand, he judges, he foresees, he reasons, upon everything that immediately concerns him; he does not prate, but acts. He is little informed as to what is going on in the world, but knows very well what he ought to do, and how to do it. Incessantly in motion, he cannot avoid observing many things, and knowing many effects. He early gains a wide experience, and takes his lessons from nature, not from men. He instructs himself all the better for discovering nowhere any intention of instructing him. Thus, at the same time, body and mind are exercised. Always carrying out his own ideas, and not another person's, two processes are simultaneously going on within him. As he grows robust and strong, he becomes intelligent and judicious.

In this way he will one day have those two excellences,—thought incompatible indeed, but characteristic of nearly all great men,—strength of body and strength of mind, the reason of a sage and the vigor of an athlete.

I am recommending a difficult art to you, young teacher,—the art of governing without rules, and of doing everything by doing nothing at all. I grant, that at your age, this art is not to be expected of you. It will not enable you, at the outset, to exhibit your shining talents, or to make yourself prized by parents; but it is the only one that will succeed. To be a sensible man, your pupil must first have been a little scapegrace. The Spartans were educated in this way; not tied down to books, but obliged to steal their dinners;[17] and did this produce men inferior in understanding? Who does not remember their forcible, pithy sayings? Trained to conquer, they worsted their enemies in every kind of encounter; and the babbling Athenians dreaded their sharp speeches quite as much as their valor.

In stricter systems of education, the teacher commands and thinks he is governing the child, who is, after all, the real master. What you exact from him he employs as means to get from you what he wants. By one hour of diligence he can buy a week's indulgence. At every moment you have to make terms with him. These bargains, which you propose in your way, and which he fulfils in his own way, always turn out to the advantage of his whims, especially when you are so careless as to make stipulations which will be to his advantage whether he carries out his share of the bargain or not. Usually, the child reads the teacher's mind better than the teacher reads his. This is natural; for all the sagacity the child at liberty would use in self-preservation he now uses to protect himself from a tyrant's chains; while the latter, having no immediate interest in knowing the child's mind, follows his own advantage by leaving vanity and indolence unrestrained.

Do otherwise with your pupil. Let him always suppose himself master, while you really are master. No subjection is so perfect as that which retains the appearance of liberty; for thus the will itself is made captive. Is not the helpless, unknowing child at your mercy? Do you not, so far as he is concerned, control everything around him? Have you not power to influence him as you please? Are not his work, his play, his pleasure, his pain, in your hands, whether he knows it or not?

Doubtless he ought to do only what he pleases; but your choice ought to control his wishes. He ought to take no step that you have not directed; he ought not to open his lips without your knowing what he is about to say.

In this case he may, without fear of debasing his mind, devote himself to exercises of the body. Instead of sharpening his wits to escape an irksome subjection, you will observe him wholly occupied in finding out in everything around him that part best adapted to his present well-being. You will be amazed at the subtilty of his contrivances for appropriating to himself all the objects within the reach of his understanding, and for enjoying everything without regard to other people's opinions.

By thus leaving him free, you will not foster his caprices. If he never does anything that does not suit him, he will soon do only what he ought to do. And, although his body be never at rest, still, if he is caring for his present and perceptible interests, all the reason of which he is capable will develop far better and more appropriately than in studies purely speculative.

As he does not find you bent on thwarting him, does not distrust you, has nothing to hide from you, he will not deceive you or tell you lies. He will fearlessly show himself to you just as he is. You may study him entirely at your ease, and plan lessons for him which he will all unconsciously receive.

He will not pry with suspicious curiosity into your affairs, and feel pleasure when he finds you in fault. This is one of our most serious disadvantages. As I have said, one of a child's first objects is to discover the weaknesses of those who have control of him. This disposition may produce ill-nature, but does not arise from it, but from their desire to escape an irksome bondage. Oppressed by the yoke laid upon them, children endeavor to shake it off; and the faults they find in their teachers yield them excellent means for doing this. But they acquire the habit of observing faults in others, and of enjoying such discoveries. This source of evil evidently does not exist in Emile. Having no interest to serve by discovering my faults, he will not look for them in me, and will have little temptation to seek them in other people.

This course of conduct seems difficult because we do not reflect upon it; but taking it altogether, it ought not to be so. I am justified in supposing that you know enough to understand the business you have undertaken; that you know the natural progress of the human mind; that you understand studying mankind in general and in individual cases; that among all the objects interesting to his age that you mean to show your pupil, you know beforehand which of them will influence his will.

Now if you have the appliances, and know just how to use them, are you not master of the operation?

You object that children have caprices, but in this you are mistaken. These caprices result from faulty discipline, and are not natural. The children have been accustomed either to obey or to command, and I have said a hundred times that neither of these two things is necessary. Your pupil will therefore have only such caprices as you give him, and it is just you should be punished for your own faults. But do you ask how these are to be remedied? It can still be done by means of better management and much patience.

Physical Training.

Man's first natural movements are for the purpose of comparing himself with whatever surrounds him and finding in each thing those sensible qualities likely to affect himself. His first study is, therefore, a kind of experimental physics relating to his own preservation. From this, before he has fully understood his place here on earth, he is turned aside to speculative studies. While yet his delicate and pliable organs can adapt themselves to the objects upon which they are to act, while his senses, still pure, are free from illusion, it is time to exercise both in their peculiar functions, and to learn the perceptible relations between ourselves and outward things. Since whatever enters the human understanding enters by the senses, man's primitive reason is a reason of the senses, serving as foundation for the reason of the intellect. Our first teachers in philosophy are our own feet, hands, and eyes. To substitute books for these is teaching us not to reason, but to use the reason of another; to believe a great deal, and to know nothing at all.

In practising an art we must begin by procuring apparatus for it; and to use this apparatus to advantage, we must have it solid enough to bear use. In learning to think, we must therefore employ our members, our senses, our organs, all which are the apparatus of our understanding. And to use them to the best advantage, the body which furnishes them must be sound and robust. Our reason is therefore so far from being independent of the body, that a good constitution renders mental operations easy and accurate. In indicating how the long leisure of childhood ought to be employed, I am entering into particulars which maybe thought ridiculous. "Pretty lessons," you will tell me, "which you yourself criticize for teaching only what there is no need of learning! Why waste time in instructions which always come of their own accord, and cost neither care nor trouble? What child of twelve does not know all you are going to teach yours, and all that his masters have taught him besides?"

Gentlemen, you are mistaken. I am teaching my pupil a very tedious and difficult art, which yours certainly have not acquired,—that of being ignorant. For the knowledge of one who gives himself credit for knowing only what he really does know reduces itself to a very small compass. You are teaching science: very good; I am dealing with the instrument by which science is acquired. All who have reflected upon the mode of life among the ancients attribute to gymnastic exercises that vigor of body and mind which so notably distinguishes them from us moderns. Montaigne's support of this opinion shows that he had fully adopted it; he returns to it again and again, in a thousand ways. Speaking of the education of a child, he says, "We must make his mind robust by hardening his muscles; inure him to pain by accustoming him to labor; break him by severe exercise to the keen pangs of dislocation, of colic, of other ailments." The wise Locke,[18] the excellent Rollin,[19] the learned Fleury,[20] the pedantic de Crouzas,[21] so different in everything else, agree exactly on this point of abundant physical exercise for children. It is the wisest lesson they ever taught, but the one that is and always will be most neglected.


As to clothing, the limbs of a growing body should be entirely free. Nothing should cramp their movements or their growth; nothing should fit too closely or bind the body; there should be no ligatures whatever. The present French dress cramps and disables even a man, and is especially injurious to children. It arrests the circulation of the humors; they stagnate from an inaction made worse by a sedentary life. This corruption of the humors brings on the scurvy, a disease becoming every day more common among us, but unknown to the ancients, protected from it by their dress and their mode of life. The hussar dress does not remedy this inconvenience, but increases it, since, to save the child a few ligatures, it compresses the entire body. It would be better to keep children in frocks as long as possible, and then put them into loosely fitting clothes, without trying to shape their figures and thereby spoil them. Their defects of body and of mind nearly all spring from the same cause: we are trying to make men of them before their time.

Of bright and dull colors, the former best please a child's taste; such colors are also most becoming to them; and I see no reason why we should not in such matters consult these natural coincidences. But the moment a material is preferred because it is richer, the child's mind is corrupted by luxury, and by all sorts of whims. Preferences like this do not spring up of their own accord. It is impossible to say how much choice of dress and the motives of this choice influence education. Not only do thoughtless mothers promise children fine clothes by way of reward, but foolish tutors threaten them with coarser and simpler dress as punishment. "If you do not study your lessons, if you do not take better care of your clothes, you shall be dressed like that little rustic." This is saying to him, "Rest assured that a man is nothing but what his clothes make him; your own worth depends on what you wear." Is it surprising that sage lessons like this so influence young men that they care for nothing but ornament, and judge of merit by outward appearance only?

Generally, children are too warmly clothed, especially in their earlier years. They should be inured to cold rather than heat; severe cold never incommodes them when they encounter it early. But the tissue of their skin, as yet yielding and tender, allows too free passage to perspiration, and exposure to great heat invariably weakens them. It has been observed that more children die in August than in any other month. Besides, if we compare northern and southern races, we find that excessive cold, rather than excessive heat, makes man robust. In proportion as the child grows and his fibres are strengthened, accustom him gradually to withstand heat; and by degrees you will without risk train him to endure the glowing temperature of the torrid zone.


Children need a great deal of sleep because they take a great deal of exercise. The one acts as corrective to the other, so that both are necessary. As nature teaches us, night is the time for rest. Constant observation shows that sleep is softer and more profound while the sun is below the horizon. The heated air does not so perfectly tranquillize our tired senses. For this reason the most salutary habit is to rise and to go to rest with the sun. In our climate man, and animals generally, require more sleep in winter than in summer. But our mode of life is not so simple, natural, and uniform that we can make this regular habit a necessity. We must without doubt submit to regulations; but it is most important that we should be able to break them without risk when occasion requires. Do not then imprudently soften your pupil by letting him lie peacefully asleep without ever being disturbed. At first let him yield without restraint to the law of nature, but do not forget that in our day we must be superior to this law; we must be able to go late to rest and rise early, to be awakened suddenly, to be up all night, without discomfort. By beginning early, and by always proceeding slowly, we form the constitution by the very practices which would ruin it if it were already established.

It is important that your pupil should from the first be accustomed to a hard bed, so that he may find none uncomfortable.

Generally, a life of hardship, when we are used to it, gives us a far greater number of agreeable sensations than does a life of ease, which creates an infinite number of unpleasant ones. One too delicately reared can find sleep only upon a bed of down; one accustomed to bare boards can find it anywhere. No bed is hard to him who falls asleep as soon as his head touches the pillow. The best bed is the one which brings the best sleep. Throughout the day no slaves from Persia, but Emile and I, will prepare our beds. When we are tilling the ground we shall be making them soft for our slumber.

Exercise of the Senses.

A child has not a man's stature, strength, or reason; but he sees and hears almost or quite as well. His sense of taste is as keen, though he does not enjoy it as a pleasure.

Our senses are the first powers perfected in us. They are the first that should be cultivated and the only ones forgotten, or at least, the most neglected.

To exercise the senses is not merely to use them, but to learn how to judge correctly by means of them; we may say, to learn how to feel. For we cannot feel, or hear, or see, otherwise than as we have been taught.

There is a kind of exercise, purely natural and mechanical, that renders the body robust without injuring the mind. Of this description are swimming, running, leaping, spinning tops, and throwing stones. All these are well enough; but have we nothing but arms and legs? Have we not eyes and ears as well? and are they of no use while the others are employed? Use, then, not only your bodily strength, but all the senses which direct it. Make as much of each as possible, and verify the impressions of one by those of another. Measure, count, weigh, and compare. Use no strength till after you have calculated the resistance it will meet. Be careful to estimate the effect before you use the means. Interest the child in never making any useless or inadequate trials of strength. If you accustom him to forecast the effect of every movement, and to correct his errors by experience, is it not certain that the more he does the better his judgment will be?

If the lever he uses in moving a heavy weight be too long, he will expend too much motion; if too short, he will not have power enough. Experience will teach him to choose one exactly suitable. Such practical knowledge, then, is not beyond his years. If he wishes to carry a burden exactly as heavy as his strength will bear, without the test of first lifting it, must he not estimate its weight by the eye? If he understands comparing masses of the same material but of different size, let him choose between masses of the same size but of different material. This will oblige him to compare them as to specific gravity. I have seen a well-educated young man who, until he had tried the experiment, would not believe that a pail full of large chips weighs less than it does when full of water.

The Sense of Touch.

We have not equal control of all our senses. One of them, the sense of touch, is in continual action so long as we are awake. Diffused over the entire surface of the body, it serves as a perpetual sentinel to warn us of what is likely to harm us. By the constant use of this sense, voluntary or otherwise, we gain our earliest experience. It therefore stands less in need of special cultivation. We observe however, that the blind have a more delicate and accurate touch than we, because, not having sight to guide them, they depend upon touch for the judgments we form with the aid of sight. Why then do we not train ourselves to walk, like them, in the dark, to recognize by the touch all bodies we can reach, to judge of objects around us, in short, to do by night and in the dark all they do in daytime without eyesight? So long as the sun shines, we have the advantage of them; but they can guide us in darkness. We are blind during half our life-time, with this difference, that the really blind can always guide themselves, whereas we dare not take a step in the dead of night. You may remind me that we have artificial light. What! must we always use machines? Who can insure their being always at hand when we need them? For my part, I prefer that Emile, instead of keeping his eyes in a chandler's shop, should have them at the ends of his fingers.

As much as possible, let him be accustomed to play about at night. This advice is more important than it would seem. For men, and sometimes for animals, night has naturally its terrors. Rarely do wisdom, or wit, or courage, free us from paying tribute to these terrors. I have seen reasoners, free-thinkers, philosophers, soldiers, who were utterly fearless in broad daylight, tremble like women at the rustle of leaves by night. Such terrors are supposed to be the result of nursery tales. The real cause is the same thing which makes the deaf distrustful, and the lower classes superstitious; and that is, ignorance of objects and events around us.

The cause of the evil, once found, suggests the remedy. In everything, habit benumbs the imagination; new objects alone quicken it again. Every-day objects keep active not the imagination, but the memory; whence the saying "Ab assuetis non fit passio."[22] For only the imagination can set on fire our passions. If, therefore, you wish to cure any one of the fear of darkness, do not reason with him. Take him into the dark often, and you may be sure that will do him more good than philosophical arguments. When at work on the roofs of houses, slaters do not feel their heads swim; and those accustomed to darkness do not fear it at all.

There will be one advantage of our plays in the dark. But if you mean them to be successful, you must make them as gay as possible. Darkness is of all things the most gloomy; so do not shut your child up in a dungeon. When he goes into the dark make him laugh; when he leaves it make him laugh again; and all the time he is there, let the thought of what he is enjoying, and what he will find there when he returns, protect him from the shadowy terrors which might otherwise inhabit it.

I have heard some propose to teach children not to be afraid at night, by surprising them. This is a bad plan, and its effect is contrary to the one sought: it only makes them more timid than before. Neither reason nor habit can accustom us to a present danger, the nature and extent of which we do not know, nor can they lessen our dread of unexpected things however often we meet with them. But how can we guard our pupil against such accidents? I think the following is the best plan. I will tell my Emile, "If any one attacks you at night, you are justified in defending yourself; for your assailant gives you no notice whether he means to hurt you or only to frighten you. As he has taken you at a disadvantage, seize him boldly, no matter what he may seem to be. Hold him fast, and if he offers any resistance, hit him hard and often. Whatever he may say or do, never let go until you know exactly who he is. The explanation will probably show you that there is nothing to be afraid of; and if you treat a practical joker in this way, he will not be likely to try the same thing again."

Although, of all our senses, touch is the one most constantly used, still, as I have said, its conclusions are the most rude and imperfect. This is because it is always used at the same time with sight; and because the eye attains its object sooner than the hand; the mind nearly always decides without appealing to touch. On the other hand, the decisions of touch, just because they are so limited in their range, are the most accurate. For as they extend no farther than our arm's length, they correct the errors of other senses, which deal with distant objects, and scarcely grasp these objects at all, whereas all that the touch perceives it perceives thoroughly. Besides, if to nerve-force we add muscular action, we form a simultaneous impression, and judge of weight and solidity as well as of temperature, size, and shape. Thus touch, which of all our senses best informs us concerning impressions made upon us by external things, is the one oftenest used, and gives us most directly the knowledge necessary to our preservation.

The Sense of Sight.

The sense of touch confines its operations to a very narrow sphere around us, but those of sight extend far beyond; this sense is therefore liable to be mistaken. With a single glance a man takes in half his own horizon, and in these myriad impressions, and judgments resulting from them, how is it credible that there should be no mistakes? Sight, therefore, is the most defective of all our senses, precisely because it is most far-reaching, and because its operations, by far preceding all others, are too immediate and too vast to receive correction from them. Besides, the very illusions of perspective are needed to make us understand extension, and to help us in comparing its parts. If there were no false appearances, we could see nothing at a distance; if there were no gradations in size, we could form no estimate of distance, or rather there would be no distance at all. If of two trees the one a hundred paces away seemed as large and distinct as the other, ten paces distant, we should place them side by side. If we saw all objects in their true dimensions, we should see no space whatever; everything would appear to be directly beneath our eye.

For judging of the size and distance of objects, sight has only one measure, and that is the angle they form with our eye. As this is the simple effect of a compound cause, the judgment we form from it leaves each particular case undecided or is necessarily imperfect. For how can I by the sight alone tell whether the angle which makes one object appear smaller than another is caused by the really lesser magnitude of the object or by its greater distance from me?

An opposite method must therefore be pursued. Instead of relying on one sensation only, we must repeat it, verify it by others, subordinate sight to touch, repressing the impetuosity of the first by the steady, even pace of the second. For lack of this caution we measure very inaccurately by the eye, in determining height, length, depth, and distance. That this is not due to organic defect, but to careless use, is proved by the fact that engineers, surveyors, architects, masons, and painters generally have a far more accurate eye than we, and estimate measures of extension more correctly. Their business gives them experience that we neglect to acquire, and thus they correct the ambiguity of the angle by means of appearances associated with it, which enable them to determine more exactly the relation of the two things producing the angle.

Children are easily led into anything that allows unconstrained movement of the body. There are a thousand ways of interesting them in measuring, discovering, and estimating distances. "Yonder is a very tall cherry-tree; how can we manage to get some cherries? Will the ladder in the barn do? There is a very wide brook; how can we cross it? Would one of the planks in the yard be long enough? We want to throw a line from our windows and catch some fish in the moat around the house; how many fathoms long ought the line to be? I want to put up a swing between those two trees; would four yards of rope be enough for it? They say that in the other house our room will be twenty-five feet square; do you think that will suit us? Will it be larger than this? We are very hungry; which of those two villages yonder can we reach soonest, and have our dinner?"

As the sense of sight is the one least easily separated from the judgments of the mind, we need a great deal of time for learning how to see. We must for a long time compare sight with touch, if we would accustom our eye to report forms and distances accurately.

Without touch and without progressive movement, the keenest eye-sight in the world could give us no idea of extent. To an oyster the entire universe must be only a single point. Only by walking, feeling, counting, and measuring, do we learn to estimate distances.

If we always measure them, however, our eye, depending on this, will never gain accuracy. Yet the child ought not to pass too soon from measuring to estimating. It will be better for him, after comparing by parts what he cannot compare as wholes, finally to substitute for measured aliquot parts others, obtained by the eye alone. He should train himself in this manner of measuring instead of always measuring with the hand. I prefer that the very first operations of this kind should be verified by actual measurements, so that he may correct the mistakes arising from false appearances by a better judgment. There are natural measures, nearly the same everywhere, such as a man's pace, the length of his arm, or his height. When the child is calculating the height of the story of a house, his tutor may serve as a unit of measure. In estimating the altitude of a steeple, he may compare it with that of the neighboring houses. If he wants to know how many leagues there are in a given journey, let him reckon the number of hours spent in making it on foot. And by all means do none of this work for him; let him do it himself.

We cannot learn to judge correctly of the extent and size of bodies without also learning to recognize their forms, and even to imitate them. For such imitation is absolutely dependent on the laws of perspective, and we cannot estimate extent from appearances without some appreciation of these laws.


All children, being natural imitators, try to draw. I would have my pupil cultivate this art, not exactly for the sake of the art itself, but to render the eye true and the hand flexible. In general, it matters little whether he understands this or that exercise, provided he acquires the mental insight, and the manual skill furnished by the exercise. I should take care, therefore, not to give him a drawing-master, who would give him only copies to imitate, and would make him draw from drawings only. He shall have no teacher but nature, no models but real things. He shall have before his eyes the originals, and not the paper which represents them. He shall draw a house from a real house, a tree from a tree, a human figure from the man himself. In this way he will accustom himself to observe bodies and their appearances, and not mistake for accurate mutations those that are false and conventional. I should even object to his drawing anything from memory, until by frequent observations the exact forms of the objects had clearly imprinted themselves on his imagination, lest, substituting odd and fantastic shapes for the real things, he might lose the knowledge of proportion and a taste for the beauties of nature. I know very well that he will go on daubing for a long time without making anything worth noticing, and will be long in mastering elegance of outline, and in acquiring the deft stroke of a skilled draughtsman. He may never learn to discern picturesque effects, or draw with superior skill. On the other hand, he will have a more correct eye, a truer hand, a knowledge of the real relations of size and shape in animals, plants, and natural bodies, and practical experience of the illusions of perspective. This is precisely what I intend; not so much that he shall imitate objects as that he shall know them. I would rather have him show me an acanthus than a finished drawing of the foliation of a capital.

Yet I would not allow my pupil to have the enjoyment of this or any other exercise all to himself. By sharing it with him I will make him enjoy it still more. He shall have no competitor but myself; but I will be that competitor continually, and without risk of jealousy between us. It will only interest him more deeply in his studies. Like him I will take up the pencil, and at first I will be as awkward as he. If I were an Apelles, even, I will make myself a mere dauber.

I will begin by sketching a man just as a boy would sketch one on a wall, with a dash for each arm, and with fingers larger than the arms. By and by one or the other of us will discover this disproportion. We shall observe that a leg has thickness, and that this thickness is not the same everywhere; that the length of the arm is determined by its proportion to the body; and so on. As we go on I will do no more than keep even step with him, or will excel him by so little that he can always easily overtake and even surpass me. We will get colors and brushes; we will try to imitate not only the outline but the coloring and all the other details of objects. We will color; we will paint; we will daub; but in all our daubing we shall be continually peering into nature, and all we do shall be done under the eye of that great teacher.

If we had difficulty in finding decorations for our room, we have now all we could desire. I will have our drawings framed, so that we can give them no finishing touches; and this will make us both careful to do no negligent work. I will arrange them in order around our room, each drawing repeated twenty or thirty times, and each repetition showing the author's progress, from the representation of a house by an almost shapeless attempt at a square, to the accurate copy of its front elevation, profile, proportions, and shading. The drawings thus graded must be interesting to ourselves, curious to others, and likely to stimulate further effort. I will inclose the first and rudest of these in showy gilded frames, to set them off well; but as the imitation improves, and when the drawing is really good, I will add only a very simple black frame. The picture needs no ornament but itself, and it would be a pity that the bordering should receive half the attention.

Both of us will aspire to the honor of a plain frame, and if either wishes to condemn the other's drawing, he will say it ought to have a gilt frame. Perhaps some day these gilded frames will pass into a proverb with us, and we shall be interested to observe how many men do justice to themselves by framing themselves in the very same way.


I have said that geometry is not intelligible to children; but it is our own fault. We do not observe that their method is different from ours, and that what is to us the art of reasoning should be to them only the art of seeing. Instead of giving them our method, we should do better to take theirs. For in our way of learning geometry, imagination really does as much as reason. When a proposition is stated, we have to imagine the demonstration; that is, we have to find upon what proposition already known the new one depends, and from all the consequences of this known principle select just the one required. According to this method the most exact reasoner, if not naturally inventive, must be at fault. And the result is that the teacher, instead of making us discover demonstrations, dictates them to us; instead of teaching us to reason, he reasons for us, and exercises only our memory.

Make the diagrams accurate; combine them, place them one upon another, examine their relations, and you will discover the whole of elementary geometry by proceeding from one observation to another, without using either definitions or problems, or any form of demonstration than simple superposition. For my part, I do not even pretend to teach Emile geometry; he shall teach it to me. I will look for relations, and he shall discover them. I will look for them in a way that will lead him to discover them. In drawing a circle, for instance, I will not use a compass, but a point at the end of a cord which turns on a pivot. Afterward, when I want to compare the radii of a semi-circle, Emile will laugh at me and tell me that the same cord, held with the same tension, cannot describe unequal distances.

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