I have dwelt a little on this subject, because, as in the matter of hearing, I doubt whether people generally are aware how little children understand what they read. Nor is this ignorance confined to children. In our acts of devotion, we are all in the habit of using certain stereotyped phrases, without attaching to them any definite meaning, without perhaps so much as having even thought whether they had a meaning. This same pernicious habit is seen also in our reading of the Scriptures. We have read the phrases over from childhood, until we have become so familiar with them, that we are obliged often to stop, and by a sort of compulsory process to challenge each word as it passes, and see whether it really conveys any meaning to our mind.
If I were to say to a class, "The Bible tells us of a man who was older than his father," or some such apparent contradiction in terms, the sharp antithesis would doubtless arrest their attention, and I would at least be asked to explain myself. Yet, ten to one, they have read, hundreds of times, of him who is "the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star," without noticing anything at all remarkable in the expression. It is to them merely something good and pious, couched in a very pleasant and sonorous flow of words, and meaning doubtless something very comforting and edifying.
I was once teaching temporarily a young ladies' Bible Class. The average age of the members was at least seventeen. They were the pick from a large city school, and had been selected for their superior educational advantages and attainments. Most of them were attending expensive private schools during the week. Wishing to satisfy myself as to the general knowledge and the intellectual habits of the members, I took the plan of simply reading verse about, stopping from time to time to talk familiarly about anything which might happen to suggest itself. This verse among others was read: it is from the account of the miracle on the day of Pentecost: "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." I found, upon inquiring, that not one in that large class had the remotest idea of what was meant by the word "cloven." One young lady thought it meant "fiery," another "flaming," another "winged," and so on. Most of them, however, said that they really had never thought of the matter before. Probably every one of them had read the passage hundreds of times; and when we began talking about it, no one of them seemed to have an idea that there was anything in the verse which she did not understand. It was not until I took it up, word by word, and challenged a peremptory and sharp scrutiny into the meaning attached to each word, that the remarkable fact came out which I have stated.
One or two more leaves from my professional experience will be given.
During the greater part of my professional life, it has been a part of my duty to examine candidates for the office of teacher in the public schools. Out of ninety-eight candidates for the office of assistant teacher, whom I examined on one occasion, only one knew the meaning of the word "sumptuary," although in the public discussion then going on about the license law, the word was in daily use in the public papers; in fact, I took it out of the newspaper of that morning. On another occasion, out of fourteen candidates for the office of Principal teacher of a boys' Grammar school, four defined "friable" as that which can be fried; several did not know at all the meaning of "hibernating," and one, the successful candidate, said it meant "relating to Ireland." By "successful" candidate, I mean the one who got the vote of the Directors!
This sober scrutiny into any one's knowledge of the meaning of words in common use, is one of the most reliable tests of his general intellectual progress and cultivation. It is one of the means by which in many city schools it is customary to test a candidate's fitness for promotion. To show how little people generally, and even teachers, are aware of the extent to which children misconceive the meaning of words in common use, I have transcribed a few examples from an examination of the kind which I once held. The definitions which I am about to quote were not the work of oral confusion and haste, but were given in writing, in circumstances of entire quietude and ample deliberation. The average age of the candidates, on the occasion referred to, was fourteen years and ten months, and no one of them was by law under thirteen years.
Stature—A picture; "I saw a stature of Washington."
Fabulous—Full of threads; "Silk is fabulous."
Accession—The act of eating a great deal; "John got very sick after dinner by accession."
Atonement—A small insect; "Queen Mab was pulled by little atonements." Sound, [orthodox]; "They went to the church of the Atonement."
Auxiliary—To form; "The gardener did auxiliary his garden."
Ingredient—A native-born; "Tobacco is an ingredient of this country."
Fragment—Sweetmeats; "It was a fragment."
Develop—To swallow up; "God sent a whale to develop Jonah."
Exotic—Relating to a government; "Some countries have a very exotic government." Patriotic; "He was exotic in the cause of Independence." Absolute; "The government of Turkey is exotic." Standing out; "The company were exotic."
Circumference—Distance through the middle. Distance around the middle of the outside.
Callous—Something which cannot be effected; "That America should gain her independence was supposed to be callous."
Mobility—Belonging to the people; "The mobility of St. Louis has greatly increased."
Anomalous—Powerful; "His speech was considered anomalous."
Adequate—A land animal; "An elephant is an adequate."
Transition—The act of transcribing; "The transition of that book was gaining ground in the public mind."
Gregarious—Pertaining to idols; "The Sandwich Islands worship gregarious." Pertaining to an oak; "The Druids were noted for their gregarious exercises." Consisting of grain. Grass-eating. Full of talk. Full of color.
Propensity—Dislike; "He had a propensity to study."
Artificially—Belonging to flowers.
Fluctuation—coming in great numbers; "There was a great fluctuation of emigrants." Setting on fire. Beating.
Odium—That you have a great tact at anything; "Your odium is very great." A poisonous herb. Pertaining to song; "He was an odium writer." A sweet smell; "The odium of new-mown hay."
Transverse—To turn over; "Transverse that bucket and see what is in it." To change from verse; "Some writers change books from transverse to verse." To verse again; "He transversed his copy." To spread abroad; "They transverse the Bible."
Utility—Relating to the soil; "The ground it remarkable for its utility."
Quadruple—Relating to birds; "There was a number of quadruple."
Menace—A tare in the flesh; "The dog caused a menace in John's arm."
Vital—Relating to death; "Vital spark of heavenly flame."
Intrinsic—not trinsic. Weak, feeble; "He was a very intrinsic old man."
Subservient—One opposed to the upholding of servants. Stubborn; "On account of the boy being subservient he was turned out of school."
Perfidy—Trust; not to cheat; "Such a man is perfidy; that is, everything can be trusted to him." Accessible; "Some persons have a great deal of perfidy."
Access—Intermission; "Joseph had access of his teacher to go into the room."
Vicinity—In the same direction; "Pekin is in the vicinity of Philadelphia."
Subsequent—Preceding; "The subsequent chapter."
Infectious—To make fectious.
Exquisite—To be in a quisitive manner. To help. To find out. Talkative. Not required.
Mingle—To tear in pieces.
Deride—To ride down.
Manifold—Made by the hand. Pertaining to man; "Forgive our manifold sins."
I have failed entirely in the general drift of this chapter, if I have not made it obvious that the principle which I have been attempting to illustrate is one of singularly pervading influence, and of most various and manifold applications. The subject is indeed eminently suggestive. One single additional line of illustration, however, must suffice. I refer to the application of this principle to what may be called the incidentals of teaching and training.
A child, for instance, should not only "spell out of book," as it is called, but his attention should by some means be directed to the way in which words are spelled. He should be accustomed to form, as it were, a mental image of each word, to think of it as having a particular form and appearance, so that his eye will detect instantly a wanting or an excrescent letter, just as he sees a wen, a defective limb, or a distorted feature on the person of an acquaintance. Only fire his young ambition with the aim to spell well, and quicken his attention to the way in which words are spelled, and every time he reads a book he receives incidentally a lesson in spelling.
A child should have stated exercises and systematic instructions in the art of reading. But quite as much improvement in this important and too much neglected accomplishment may be gained by not allowing children at any time to read in an improper manner. Every demonstration at the blackboard, every text or hymn repeated from memory, every recitation in arithmetic, grammar, or geography, every exercise of every kind in which the voice is used and words are uttered, may be made an incidental lesson in reading. By being never allowed to pronounce words incorrectly, to utter them in a low or drawling manner, or to crowd and overlap them, as it were, one upon the other, the ear becomes accustomed to the correct sounds of the language, and immediately detects any variation from its accustomed standard. By thus insisting, in every vocal exercise, upon the full and correct pronunciation of the elementary sounds of the language, more may be done to make good readers and speakers than by all the pronouncing dictionaries and elocution books in print.
Let a child by all means take lessons in writing. Let him learn plain text, German text, round hand, running hand, back hand, and the flourishes. But if he is to become rapidly master of that truly beautiful and most useful accomplishment, let the teacher insist upon his always attending to his manner of writing, and always writing as well as he can. Whether he writes a composition, a sketch, a letter, whenever for any purpose he puts pen to paper, let him be required to form each letter distinctly, to write it gracefully, and to give to his exercise a neat and elegant appearance. Teach him to think of a crooked line or a blotted page as of an untied shoe, or a dirty face. By thus making every written exercise an exercise in writing, his progress will be increased beyond your expectations, and you will soon see him looking with pleasure at the clean and symmetrical forms which flow so gracefully from his pen, as he goes from line to line over the virgin page, no half-formed or misshapen letters to embarrass, but all in every part as elegantly written as it is easily read.
Grammar should no doubt be taught by text-book and in stated lessons. The parts of speech, the conjugations and declensions, syntax and parsing, must all be systematically conned, the rules and definitions committed to memory, and the judgment exercised upon their application. At the same time every recitation of a child, as well as all his conversation, ought to be made an incidental and unconscious lesson in grammar. Only never allow him to use unchallenged an incorrect or ungrammatical expression, train his ear to detect and revolt at it, as at a discordant note in music, let him if possible hear nothing but sterling, honest English, and he will then learn grammar to some purpose. If, on the contrary, he is allowed to recite and to talk in whatever language comes uppermost, and to hear continually those around him reciting and talking in a similar manner, he may parse till he is blind without learning "to speak and write the English language correctly." Banish from the nursery, the school-room, and the play-ground, incorrect and ungrammatical expressions, and you do more than can be done in all other ways to preserve "the well of English undefiled."
Young persons need systematic instructions in the principles which should govern their conduct. They need not indeed be troubled with the more abstruse questions in the theory of morals. But the great obvious rules of duty should be taught them, in a systematic manner, by a competent instructor. But that man would be thought little acquainted with the influences which go to mould and form the character, who should suppose the matter ended here. The doctrines inculcated in the lesson, must be carried out and applied in all the petty incidents of the day. Not an hour passes in a large family or a school, without an occurrence involving some principle in morals. A boy of moderate talents, notwithstanding all his exertions, is eclipsed by one more gifted, and he is tempted to envy. Imagining himself aggrieved or insulted by his fellows, he burns for revenge. Overtaken in a fault and threatened with punishment, he is tempted to lie. Misled by the opinion of others, or esteeming some rule of his teachers harsh and unnecessary, he is inclined to disobey. These and a hundred other instances which might be named, will suggest to the thoughtful parent or teacher so many opportunities for giving incidentally the most important practical instruction in morals.
In these and the manifold other illustrations which might be given, the essential point is to quicken and keep alive the attention. Whatever be the subject of study, and whether the instructions be direct or incidental, let children be preserved from attending to it in a sluggish, listless, indifferent manner. The subject of study, in the case of young persons, is often of less importance than the manner of study. I have been led sometimes to doubt the value of many of the inventions for facilitating the acquisition of knowledge by children. That knowledge the acquisition of which costs no labor, will not be likely to make a deep impression, or to remain long upon the memory. It is by labor that the mind strengthens and grows: and while care should be taken not to overtask it by exertions beyond its strength, yet let it never be forgotten that mere occupation of the mind, even with useful and proper objects, is not the precise aim of education. The educator aims, not to make learned boys, but able men. To do this, he must tax their powers. He must rouse them to manly exertion. He must teach them to think, to discriminate, to digest what they have received, to work. Every day there must be the glow of hard work,—not the exhaustion and languor which arise from too protracted confinement to study,—which have the same debilitating effect upon the mind that a similar process has upon the body,—but vigorous and hardy labor, such as wakens the mind from its lethargy, summons up the resolution and the will, and puts the whole internal man into a state of determined and positive activity. The boy in such a case feels that he is at work. He feels, too, that he is gaining something more than knowledge. He is gaining power. He is growing in strength. He grapples successfully to-day with a difficulty that would have staggered him yesterday. There is no mistaking this process; and no matter what the subject of study, the intellectual development what it gives, is worth infinitely more than all that vague, floating kind of knowledge sometimes sought after, which seems to be imbibed somehow from the atmosphere of the school-room, as it certainly evaporates the moment a boy enters the atmosphere of men and of active life.
GAINING THE ATTENTION.
The teacher who fails to get the attention of his scholars, fails totally. The pupils may perhaps learn something, because they may give the lesson some study at home, under the direction of their parents. But they learn nothing from the teacher. He is really no teacher, though he may occupy the teacher's seat. There is, and there can be, no teaching, where the attention of the scholar is not secured. Gaining the attention is an indispensable condition to the thing called teaching. Not, however, the only indispensable thing. We have seen a class wrought by special tricks and devices to the highest pitch of excited attention,—fairly panting with eagerness, all eyes and ears, on the very tiptoe of aroused mental activity,—yet learning nothing. The teacher had the knack of stirring them up and lashing them into a half frenzy of excited expectation, without having any substantial knowledge wherewith to reward their eagerness. With all his one-sided skill, he was but a mountebank. To real, successful teaching, there must be these two things, namely, the ability to hold the minds of the children, and the ability to pour into the minds thus presented sound and seasonable instruction. Lacking the latter ability, your pupil goes away with his vessel unfilled. Lacking the former, you only pour water upon the ground.
How shall the teacher secure attention?
In the first place, let him make up his mind that he will have it. This is half the battle. Let him settle it with himself, that until he does this, he is doing nothing; that without the attention of his scholars, he is no more a teacher, than is the chair he occupies. If he is not plus, he is zero, if not actually minus. With this truth fully realized, he will come before his class resolved to have a hearing; and this very resolution, written as it will be all over him, will have its effect upon his scholars. Children are quick to discern the mental attitude of a teacher. They know, as if by instinct, whether he is in earnest or not, and in all ordinary cases they yield without dispute to a claim thus resolutely put.
This, then, is the first duty of the teacher in this matter. He must go to his class with the resolute determination of making every scholar feel his presence all the time. The moment any scholar shows that the consciousness of his teacher's presence is not on his mind, as a restraining power, something is wrong. The first step towards producing that consciousness, as an abiding influence on the minds of the scholars, is for the teacher to determine in his own mind and bring it about. Without being arrogant, without being dictatorial, without being or doing anything that is disagreeable or unbecoming, he must yet make up his mind to put forth in the class a distinct power of self-assertion. He must determine to make them feel that he is there, that he is there all the time, that he is there to every one of them.
In the next place, the teacher must not disappoint the attention which his manner has challenged. He must have something valuable to communicate to the expectant minds before him. He must be thoroughly prepared in the lesson, so that the pupils shall feel that they are learning from him. His lips must keep knowledge. The human heart thirsts for knowledge. This is one of its natural instincts. It is indeed often much perverted, and many are to be found who even show aversion to being instructed. Yet the normal condition of things is otherwise, and nothing is more common than to see children hanging with fondness around any one who has something to tell them. Let the teacher then be sure to have something to say, as well as determined to say it.
In the third place, the teacher must have his knowledge perfectly at command. It must be on the tip of his tongue. If he hesitates, and stops to think, or to look in his book for the purpose of hunting up what he has to tell them, he will be very apt to lose his chance. Teaching children, particularly young children, is like shooting birds on the wing. The moment your bird is in sight, you must fire. The moment you have the child's eye, be ready to speak. This readiness of utterance is a matter to be cultivated. The ripest scholars are often sadly deficient in it. The very habit of profound study is apt to induce the opposite quality to readiness. A teacher who is conscious of this defect, must resolutely set himself to resist it and overcome it. He can do so, if he will. But it requires resolution and practice.
In the fourth place, the teacher must place himself so that every pupil in the class is within the range of his vision. It is not uncommon to see a teacher pressing close up to the scholars in the centre of the class, so that those at the right and left ends are out of his sight; or if he turns his face to those on one side, he at the same time turns his back to those on the other. Always sit or stand where you can all the while see the face of every pupil. I have, hundreds of times, seen the whole character of the instruction and discipline of a class changed by the observance of this simple rule.
Another rule is to use your eyes quite as much as your tongue. If you want your class to look at you, you must look at them. The eye has a magic power. It wins, it fascinates, it guides, it rewards, it punishes, it controls. You must learn how to see every child all the time. Some teachers seem to be able to see only one scholar at a time. This will never do. While you are giving this absorbed, undivided attention to one, all the rest are running wild. Neither will it do for the teacher to be looking about much, to see what is going on among the other classes in the room. Your scholars' eyes will be very apt to follow yours. You are the engineer, they are the passengers. If you run off the track, they must do likewise. Nor must your eye be occupied with the book, hunting up question and answer, nor dropped to the floor in excessive modesty. All the power of seeing that you have is needed for looking earnestly, lovingly, without interruption, into the faces and eyes of your pupils.
But for the observance of this rule, another is indispensable. You must learn to teach without book. Perhaps you cannot do this absolutely. But the nearer you can approach to it, the better. Thorough preparation, of course, is the secret of this power. Some teachers think they have prepared a lesson when they have gone over it once, and studied out all the answers. There could not be a greater mistake. This is only the first step in the preparation. You might as well think that you have learned the Multiplication Table, and are prepared to teach it, when you have gone over it once and seen by actual count that the figures are all right, and you know where to put your finger on them when required. You are prepared to teach a lesson when you have all the facts and ideas in it at your tongue's end, so that you can go through them all, in proper order, without once referring to the book. Any preparation short of this will not do, if you want to command attention. Once prepare a lesson in this way, and it will give you such freedom in the art of teaching, and you will experience such a pleasure in it, that you will never want to relapse into the old indolent habit.
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1. To a Young Teacher.
You are about to assume the charge of a class in the school under my care. Allow me, in a spirit of frankness, to make to you a brief statement of some of the aims of the institution, and of the principles by which we are guided in their prosecution.
1. "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." I have no professional conviction more fixed and abiding than this, that no persons more need the direct, special, continual guidance of the Holy Spirit than those who undertake to mould and discipline the youthful mind. No preparation for this office is complete which does not include devout prayer for that wisdom which cometh from above. If any one possession, more than another, is the direct gift of the Almighty, it would seem to be that of knowledge. The teacher, therefore, of all men, is called upon to look upwards to a source that is higher than himself. He needs light in his own mind; he should not count it misspent labor to ask for light to be given to the minds of his scholars. There is a Teacher infinitely wiser and more skilful than any human teacher. The instructor must be strangely blind to the resources of his profession, who fails to resort habitually to that great, plenary, unbounded source of light and knowledge. While, therefore, we aim in this school to profit by all subsidiary and subordinate methods and improvements in the art of teaching, we first of all seek the aid of our Heavenly Father; we ask wisdom of Him who "giveth liberally and upbraideth not." This, then, is the first principle that governs us in the work here assigned us. The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. We who are teachers endeavor to show that we ourselves fear God, and we inculcate the fear of Him as the first and highest duty of our scholars; and in every plan and effort to guide the young minds committed to us, we ourselves look for guidance to the only unerring source of light.
2. In proportion to the implicitness with which we rely upon divine aid, should be the diligence with which we use all the human means within our reach. It should therefore, in the second place, be the aim of the teachers of this school to acquaint themselves diligently with the most approved methods of teaching. No teachers will be retained who do not keep themselves well posted in the literature of their profession, and who are not found continually aiming at self-improvement. In whatever school of whatever country, any branch is taught by better methods than those practised here, it should be the duty of a teacher in this school to search it out, and to profit by the discovery. Improvement comes by comparison. The man, or the institution, that fails to profit by the experience of others, is not wise. I hold it to be the duty of every teacher of this school to be habitually conversant with the educational journals of the day, and with the standard works on the theory of teaching, and to lose no opportunity for personal observation of the methods of others. I have often noticed, with equal pain and commiseration, that young teachers, after having once finished their preliminary studies and obtained a situation, are thereupon apparently quite content, making no further effort at improvement, but settling down for life in an inglorious mediocrity. The best teachers in this school are expected to be better teachers next year than they are now,—with ampler stores of knowledge, and a happier faculty for communicating it. This, then, is our second aim in this school. We aim to have teachers thoroughly posted in regard to the theory and the methods of teaching, prepared to ride upon the advance wave of every real improvement in the art.
3. I should, however, fail entirely to convey my meaning, were I to lead you to suppose that we expect to accomplish our ends mainly by fine-spun theories. I have no faith in any theory of education, which does not include, as one of its leading elements, hard work. The teachers of this school expect to work hard, and we expect the scholars to work hard. We have no royal road to learning. Any knowledge, the acquisition of which costs nothing, is usually worth nothing. The mind, equally with the body, grows by labor. If some stuffing process could be invented, by which knowledge could be forced into a mind perfectly passive, the knowledge so acquired would be worthless to its possessor, and would soon pass away, leaving the mind as blank as it was before. Knowledge, to be of any value, must be assimilated, as bodily food is. Teaching is essentially a co-operative act. The mind of the teacher and the mind of the scholar must both act, and must act together, in intellectual co-operation and sympathy, if there is to be any true mental growth. Teaching is not merely hearing lessons. It is not mere talking. It is something more than mere telling. It is causing a child to know. It is awakening attention, and then satisfying it. It is an out-and-out live process. The moment the mind of the teacher or the mind of the scholar flags, real teaching ceases. This, then, is our third aim. We aim in this school to accomplish results, not by fanciful theories, but by bona fide hard work,—by keeping teachers and scholars, while at their studies, wide awake and full of life; not by exhausting drudgery, nor by fitful, irregular, spasmodic exertions, but by steady, persevering, animated, straight-forward work.
4. A fourth aim which we have steadily before us, is to make thorough work of whatever acquisition we attempt. A little knowledge, well learned and truly digested, and made a part of the pupil's own intellectual stores, is worth more to him than any amount of facts loosely and indiscriminately brought together. In intellectual, as in other tillage, the true secret of thrift is to plough deep, not to skim over a large surface. The prevailing tendency at this time, in systems of education, is unduly to multiply studies. So many new sciences are being brought within the pale of popular knowledge, that it is no longer possible, in a school like this, to embrace within its course of study all the subjects which it is practicable and desirable for people generally to know. Through the whole encyclopaedia of arts and sciences, there is hardly one which has not its advocates, and which has not strong claims to recognition. The teacher is simply infatuated who attempts to embrace them all in his curriculum. He thereby puts himself under an absolute necessity of being superficial, and he generates in his scholars pretension and conceit. Old James Ross, the grammarian, famous as a teacher in Philadelphia more than half a century ago, had on his sign simply these words, "Greek and Latin taught here." Assuredly I would not advocate quite so rigid an exclusion as that, nor, if limited to only two studies, would it be those. But I have often thought Mr. Ross's advertisement suggestive. Better even that extreme than the encyclopaedic system which figures so largely on some circulars. Mr. Ross indeed taught nothing but Latin and Greek. But he taught these languages better probably than they have ever been taught on this continent; and any two branches thoroughly mastered are of more service to the pupil than twenty branches known imperfectly and superficially. A limited field, then, and thorough work. This is our fourth aim.
5. As a fifth aim, we endeavor, in the selection of subjects of study, not to allow the common English branches, as they are called, to be shoved aside. To read well, to write a good hand, to be expert in arithmetic, to have such a knowledge of geography and history as to read intelligently what is going on and the world, to have such a knowledge of one's own language as to use it correctly and purely in speaking and composition,—these are attainments to be postponed to no others. These are points of primary importance, to be aimed at by every one, whatever else he may omit.
6. We aim, in the sixth place, to mark the successive parts of the course of study by well defined limits. There are in the course of study successive stages of progress, and these stages are made as clear and precise as it is possible to make them; and no pupil is allowed to go forward until the ground behind is thoroughly mastered. At the same time, these stages in study should be kept all the while before the minds of the pupils as goals to be aimed at. There are, for this purpose, at briefly recurring intervals, examinations for promotion. While no pupil is permitted to go forward, except as the result of a rigorous examination, the idea of an advance should, if possible, never be allowed to be absent from his thoughts. That scholar should be counted worthy of highest honor, not who stands highest in a particular room, but who by successful examinations can pass most rapidly from room to room. That teacher is considered most successful, not who retains most pupils, but who in a given time pushes most pupils forward into a higher room. We want no scholar to stand still for a single week. Motion, progress, definite achievement, must be the order of the day.
7. We aim, in the seventh place, to cultivate in every pupil a habit of attention and observation. Youth is the time when the senses should be most assiduously trained. The young should be taught to see for themselves, to ascertain the qualities of objects by the use of their own eyes and hands, to notice whether a thing is distant and how far distant it is, whether it is heavy and how heavy, whether it has color and what color, whether it has form and what form. They should learn to study real things by actually noticing them with their own senses, and then learning to apply the right words to the knowledge so acquired. We aim to apply this habit of observation in all the branches of study, so that in every stage of progress the scholar shall know, not merely the names of things, but the things themselves. In other words, we would cultivate real, as well as verbal knowledge, and aim to awaken in every pupil an active, inquiring, observant state of mind.
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2. To a New Pupil.
You have just been admitted to the privileges of this institution, and are about to enter here upon a course of study. The occasion is one eminently suited for serious reflection. At the close of a school career it is difficult not to reflect. Thoughts upon one's course will, at such a time, force themselves upon us. But then it is too late. The good we might have achieved, is beyond our grasp, and its contemplation is profitable only as a legitimate topic of contrition. How much wiser and more profitable to anticipate the serious judgment which sooner or later we must pass upon our actions, and so to shape our conduct in advance, that the retrospect, when it comes, may be a source of joy and congratulation, rather than of shame and repentance. How much wiser to direct our bark to some definite and well selected channel, than to float at random along the current of events, the sport of every idle wave. Men are divided into two classes,—those who control their own destiny, doing what they mean to do, living according to a plan which they prefer and prepare, and those who are controlled by circumstances, who have a vague purpose of doing something or being somebody in the world, but leave the means to chance. The season of youth generally determines to which of these classes you will ultimately belong. It is here, at school, that you decide whether, when you come to man's estate, you will be a governing man, or whether you will be a mere aimless driveller. Those who at the beginning of a course in school make to themselves a distinct aim, towards which day after day they work their course, undiscouraged by defeat, unseduced by ease or the temptation of a temporary pleasure, not only win the immediate objects of pursuit, but gain for themselves those habits of aiming, of perseverance, of self-control, which will make them hereafter controlling and governing men. Those, on the contrary, who enter upon an academic career with an indefinite purpose of studying after a fashion, whenever it is not too hot, or too cold, or the lessons are not too hard, or there is nothing special going on to distract the attention, or who are content to swim along lazily with the multitude, trusting to the good-nature of the teacher, to an occasional deception, or to the general chapter of accidents, for escape from censure, and for such an amount of proficiency as on the whole will pass muster with friends or the public,—depend upon it, such youths are doomed, inevitably doomed, all their days, to be nobodies, or worse.
Let me, then, my young friend, as preliminary to your entering upon the duties before you, call to your mind some of those things, which, as an intelligent and responsible being, you should deliberately aim to follow or to avoid while in this school. In the counsels which I am going to give you, I shall make no attempt to say what is new or striking. My aim will be rather to recall to your memory some few of those familiar maxims, in which you have been, I dare say, often instructed elsewhere.
1. First of all, remember that men always, by a necessary law, fall below the point at which they aim. You well understand that if a projectile be hurled in the direct line of any elevated object, the force of gravity will cause the projectile to deflect from the line of direction, and this deflection and curvature will be great in proportion to the distance of the object to be reached. Hence, in gunnery, the skilful marksman invariably takes aim above the point which he expects to hit. At certain distances, he will aim 45 deg. above the horizon at what is really but 30 deg. above it. So, in moral subjects, there is unfortunately a native and universal tendency downwards, which deflects us out of the line in which good resolutions would propel us. You aim to be distinguished, and you turn out only meritorious. You aim to be meritorious, and you fall into the multitude. You are content with being of the multitude, and you fall out of your class entirely. So also, as in physical projectiles, the extent of your departure from the right line is measured by the distance of the objects at which you aim. You resolve to avoid absolutely and entirely certain practices for a day or a week, and you can perhaps keep very close to the mark. But who can hold himself up to an exact fulfilment of his intentions for a whole term? I do not wish to discourage you. The drift of my argument is, not that you should make no aim, but that you should fix your aim high, and that you should then keep yourself up to your good resolutions, as long and as closely as you possibly can.
2. In the next place, remember that no excellence is ever attained without self-denial. Wisdom's ways are indeed ways of pleasantness. The satisfaction of having done well and nobly is of a certain ravishing kind, far surpassing other enjoyments. But to obtain this high and satisfying pleasure, many minor and incompatible pleasures must be foregone. You cannot have the pleasure of being a first-rate scholar, and at the same time have your full swing of fun. I am not opposed to fun. I like it myself. No one enjoys it more. Nor do I think the exercise and enjoyment of it incompatible with the highest scholastic excellence. But there is a place for all things, and school is not the place for fun. If you enjoy in moderation out of school the relaxation and refreshment which jokes, wit, and pleasantry give, you will be all the more likely to grapple successfully with the serious employments which await you here. Still do not forget that your employments here are serious. Study is a sober business. If you would acquire really useful knowledge, you must be willing to work. You must make up your mind to say "no" to the thousand opportunities and temptations to frivolous behavior that will beset you in school. You must not be content with being studious and orderly merely when the eye of authority is upon you. This is to be simply an eye-servant and a hypocrite. To have a little pleasantry in the school-room, to perpetrate or to join in some witty practical joke, may seem to you comparatively harmless. So it would be but for its expense. You buy it at the cost of benefits which no money can measure, and no future time can replace. There are seasons of the year when the farmer may indulge in relaxation,—may go abroad on excursions of pleasure, or may saunter away the time in comparative idleness at home. But in the few precious weeks of seedtime, every day, every hour is of moment. This is your seedtime. Every hour of school-time that you waste in trifling is an injury and a loss to your future. Remember, then, that you cannot reach high excellence in school, or that pure and noble enjoyment, which is its exceeding great reward, without self-denial. Resolve, therefore, here and now, steadfastly, immovably, to say "no" to everything in school, no matter how innocent in itself, which shall interfere with the progress of study for a single moment. If you make such a fixed resolution, and live up to it, you will soon be surprised to find how easy and pleasant the discipline of school has become.
3. Among the mischievous fallacies of young persons at school, I know none that work more to their own disadvantage than the opinion that a particular teacher is prejudiced against them. Against this feeling it seems impossible to reason. When once scholars have it fairly in their heads that a certain teacher is partial, in whatever relates to their standing, I have been almost forced to the conclusion that it is best not to attempt reasoning with them. Under such feelings, indeed, by a singular freak of human nature, scholars are often driven to do, in sheer bravado or defiance, the very things which they imagine to be unjustly imputed to them. Allow me, my young friend, to ask you candidly and in all seriousness to turn this matter over in your own mind. What adequate motive can you imagine for a teacher's marking you otherwise than impartially? Every teacher has an interest in having as many high marks and as few demerits under his signature as possible. It is not to his credit that he should be unable to maintain order without blackening his roll with bad marks. A class roll filled with 0's is not the kind of evidence a teacher covets as to his skill in teaching. Notice the intercourse between the teachers and those scholars who are admitted on all hands to be strictly and conscientiously correct in their behavior. See what a pleasure it affords the instructor to have to deal with such pupils. See what a satisfaction the teacher experiences when, at the close of the day, there is not a demerit mark on his book. Judge, then, whether it is not likely to be a self-denial and a cross to him, when a sense of duty compels him to do otherwise. Be slow, therefore, to impute bad marks to injustice, or ill nature. No man of course is infallible, and teachers make mistakes as well as other people. But the temptations to do intentional wrong are, in this case, all the other way.
4. Closely connected with the habit just mentioned is the disposition to neglect particular branches of study. From disliking a teacher, the transition is easy to a dislike for his department. Others again, without any personal feeling in the case, think that they have a natural fitness for one class of studies, and an equally natural un-fitness for another class. So they content themselves with proficiency in that in which they already excel, and neglect that in which they are deficient, and which therefore they find difficult. Is this wise? The branches which you find difficult, are precisely those in which you need an instructor. Besides, the object of education is to develop equally and harmoniously all your faculties. If the memory, the reasoning faculty, the imagination, or any one power of the mind, is active far beyond the other powers, that surely is no reason for giving additional stimulus and growth in that direction. On the contrary, bend your main energies towards bringing forward your other faculties to an equal development. If you have a natural or acquired preference for mathematics, and a dislike for languages, the former study will take care of itself: bend all your energies to the latter. So, if languages are your choice, and mathematical study your aversion, take hold of the odious task with steady and sturdy endeavor, and you will soon convert it into a pleasure. The same is true of grammar, of geography, of history, of composition, of rhetoric, of mental and moral science, of elocution,—of every branch. If you are wise, you will give your chief attention in school to those branches for which you feel the least inclination, and in which you find it most difficult to excel. You should do so, because, in the first place, this failure and disinclination, in nine cases out of ten, grow out of defective training heretofore, and not from any defect in your mental constitution; and, secondly, if your natural constitution should be, as in some cases it is, one-sided and exceptional, your aim should be to correct and cure, not to aggravate, the defects of nature. This advice, you will observe, relates to your course in school, not to your choice of a profession in life. When your career in school is finished, and you are about to select a profession, follow by all means the bent of your genius. Do that for which you have the greatest natural or acquired aptitude. But here, the case is different. Your aim in school is to develop your powers,—to grow into an accomplished and capable man,—to acquire complete command of all the mental resources God has given you.
5. There is a practice, common to school-life everywhere, known by the not very dignified name of cheating. There is, I fear, among young people generally, while at school, an erroneous and mischievous state of opinion on this subject. Deception in regard to your lessons is not viewed, as it should be, in the light of a serious moral delinquency. An ingenuous youth, who would scorn to steal, and scorn to lie anywhere else than at school, makes no scruple to deceive a teacher. Is honesty a thing of place and time? I do not say, I would not trust at my money-drawer the boy who has been cheating at his lessons, because a boy may have been led into the latter delinquency by a false notion of right, which as yet has not affected his integrity in matters of business. But this I do say. Cheating at school blunts the moral sense; it impairs the sense of personal honor; it breaks down the outworks of integrity; it leads by direct and easy steps to that grosser cheating which ends in the penitentiary.
On this subject, I once had a most painful experience. A boy left school with as fair a character for honesty as many others against whom nothing can be said except that they do sometimes practise deceit in regard to their lessons. I really believed him to be an honest boy, and recommended him as such. By means of the recommendation, he obtained in a large store a responsible post connected with the receipt and payment of money. His employer was pleased with his abilities, and disposed to give him rapid promotion. After a few months, I inquired after him, and found that he had been detected in forcing his balances! I do verily believe, the dishonest purpose, which led to this pecuniary fraud, grew directly out of a facility at deception acquired at school. He had cheated his teacher; he had cheated his father; he had obtained a fictitious average; he had gained a standing and credit in school not justly his due; why should he not exercise the same ingenuity in improving his pecuniary resources?
Independently of the moral effect of these deceptive practices upon your own character, is there not in the acts themselves an inherent meanness and baseness, from which a pure-minded youth would instinctively recoil? Is there not something false and rotten in the prevailing sentiment on this subject among young persons at school? When by some convenient fiction you reach a higher standard than your merits entitle you to, is it not so far forth at the expense of some more conscientious competitor? And, after all, when you deceive a teacher into the belief that you are studying when you are not, that you know a thing when you do not know it, that you wrote a composition, or executed a drawing, which was done by some one else,—whom do you cheat but yourself? You may deceive the teacher, but the loss is yours.
6. If there could be such a thing as an innocent crime, I would say it was that of talking in school. There can hardly be named a more signal instance of an act so perfectly innocent in itself, becoming so seriously blame-worthy purely and solely by circumstances. I believe I express the common opinion of all who have had any experience in the matter, when I say that three fourths of all the intentional disorder, and at least nine tenths of all the actual interruptions to study, grow out of the practice of unlicensed talking. And yet this is the very last thing which young persons will admit into their serious, practical convictions as being an evil and a wrong. They may admit that they get bad marks by it; that it brings them into trouble; but that it is really an evil, meriting the strictures with which the teacher visits it, is more than they believe. What deceives them is this. They call to mind the events of a particular hour. There was during that hour, according to their recollection, a general attention to study, and no special disorder; perhaps some three or four of the pupils noted for talking. This talking, too, may have been about the lesson, or at all events was not such as to distract very perceptibly the current of instruction. Hence the inference that a moderate amount of talking, such as that was, is perfectly consistent with decorum and progress.
So it is. But what is to secure this moderate amount? What right have you to talk that is not enjoyed by your neighbor? If one may talk, so may all; if one does it, unchecked, so will all, as you very well know. How is the teacher to know whether you are talking about the lesson, or about the last cricket-match?
This is a perfectly plain question, and I press you to an answer. There is no practical medium between unlimited license to talk—against which you would yourself be the first to protest—and an entire prohibition. I put it to your conscience, whether you do not believe, were this rule strictly and in good faith observed, that the interests of the school, and your own interest, comfort, and honor, would be greatly promoted? Is the inconvenience which this rule imposes so great, or your habit of self-indulgence so strong, that you cannot, or will not, forego a slight temporary gratification for so substantial and lasting a benefit?
7. You will avoid much of the difficulty of observing this rule, if you give heed to the next counsel which I have now to give, and that is, that you economize carefully your time in school. On this point some excellent and conscientious pupils occasionally err. They are very faithful in home preparation; very attentive at lectures; very industrious in discharging any set duty. But they have not yet learned the true secret of all economy, whether of time, money, or any other good,—namely, the knowing how to use well the odds and ends. Take care of the pence, was Franklin's motto. If you once have the secret of occupying usefully, in studious preparation, or in wise repetition, all those little intervals of interrupted instruction, which necessarily occur throughout the day, you will in the first place almost insure for yourself an entire freedom from demerit marks of every kind; you will secondly add materially to your intellectual progress; and, lastly, you will acquire a habit of the utmost value in every station and walk in life; and, depend upon it, the habits you acquire at school, are of all your acquisitions by far the most important.
8. But I would be false to my most settled convictions, were I to stop here. I have been a teacher of the young nearly all my life, and as the result of such a life-long professional experience, I have no conviction more abiding than this, that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. I believe that mental growth is just as directly the gift of God as bodily growth; that the healthy action of the mind is as much dependent on his good pleasure as the healthy action of the bodily functions. God has not only made one mind superior to another, but of two minds naturally equal, he can, at his sovereign pleasure, make one grow and expand more rapidly than another. As he can give symmetry and strength to your limbs, and clothe your features with beauty and grace, so he can make you quick of apprehension, clear of discernment, ready and tenacious to remember, delicate in your appreciation of what is beautiful. While, therefore, you are diligent in your studies, remember that the reward of your labor, after all, is the gift of God. You will neglect one essential means of intellectual progress, if you neglect prayer. I mean, not prayer in general, but specific prayer for God's blessing on your studies; prayer that God will bless your efforts to learn. Keep your mind, while engaged in study, in a habitual state of expectancy, especially when grappling with intellectual difficulties, as if inwardly looking up for help to that all-knowing Spirit, who alone, of all beings, acts directly on our spirits. I cannot doubt that one who studies in such a frame of mind, will advance in his intellectual progress more rapidly for it. I have a most assured conviction that prayer is a direct and important means of mental growth. Not only will the fear of God restrain you from many of the usual hindrances to study, of which I have already spoken, but a truly devout spirit is the very best state of mind for learning, even for learning purely intellectual truth.
There are other and higher motives, why you should cultivate, habitually, the fear of God. Of these motives, it is not my office to speak now. They are often pressed upon your attention. The one point to which I direct you now, is the importance of such a state of mind to your making the best, and surest, and noblest kind of mental growth. If you would grow rapidly in knowledge, grow symmetrically and beautifully, with all your faculties in harmonious preparation and dependence, fear God. Keep your spirit in habitual intercourse and communion with that Almighty Spirit who is the source of all knowledge and wisdom. In the school-room, at your desk, in your recitations, and your exercises of every kind, let the thought that the eye of a loving Father is upon you, diffuse habitually a calm and sweet peace through your spirit, and depend upon it, you will not find your mental vision dimmed by moving in so pure and serene an atmosphere. There are no quickeners to knowledge equal to love, reverence, and earnest prayer.
Let me, in conclusion, tender you my best wishes for your success in the career now before you. That success depends, in no small degree, upon the feeling and spirit with which you begin. Only summon up your mind to a serious and determined resolution at the outset; aim high; do not flinch at self-denial; rise above the unworthy suspicion that this or that teacher is unfair to you; resist the disposition to shirk those studies that you find disagreeable or difficult; keep clear of every kind and degree of trickery; come straight up to a full and strict compliance with every rule; lay your plans to occupy usefully each golden moment of leisure; cultivate a constant sense of dependence upon God for success in study: and your success will be as certain as is the wish for it, which I once more, most respectfully and affectionately, tender you.
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3. To a Young Lady on Leaving a Boarding-School.
You are about to leave school. The occasion is one certainly that cannot fail to awaken reflection. I suppose that no young lady, who had been at a place of education as long as you have been here, ever left it without serious thought. The excitement of the examination, the busy whirl of preparation for leaving, even the exhilarating anticipations of home-going, cannot entirely shut out from your mind the sober truth that the end of school-days is only the beginning of another career,—a career, the issue of which you can neither foresee, nor can you be indifferent to it. Let us talk a little about this.
The day on which a young man ends his College course is called, by an apparent misnomer, "Commencement" day; that is, the day of commencing, or beginning. I understand very well that the name has a definite historical origin,—that in the old English Colleges, from which our American Colleges were modelled, the young man, on this day, begins his career as a Bachelor of Arts. His academical rank "commences" and dates from this point. But there would be a beautiful appropriateness in the term, even if it had no such special historical origin. The exit from the curriculum of the College or School, is, in truth, only the entrance into a more extended course. When your studies are nominally ended, they have really only begun. The longer you live, the more will you understand that the period of school-going is not the only, or even the main time of learning. The more thoroughly you have been taught here, the more certainly will you be a learner hereafter. I want no better test of the character of a school than the extent to which the idea prevails among its pupils and alumni, that it is a place for "finishing" one's studies. The idea is on a par with that of the young Miss who reported that she had read through Latin!
There is, it is true, in this School, a definite curriculum of studies, and that curriculum you have honorably completed. You have just been received by public acknowledgment into the community of educated women. But you will be false to the honorable sisterhood, false, I am sure, to all the teachings you have received here, if you entertain for a moment the thought that no further intellectual acquisitions are before you. The branches which you have learned thus far are chiefly valuable to you for the power they have given you to make still further improvement. The studies pursued at school, and during the period of youth, are mainly intended for promoting intellectual growth, for giving us power, for perfecting our mental machinery. Our real acquisitions come afterward. I speak, of course, of those who occupy the higher stations in society. To one who has to earn his bread by mere bodily toil, the few studies for which he has leisure in youth, must, of course, be such as are directly serviceable in his calling. But to those who claim to belong to the educated portion of the community, school studies are of right directed more to the development of the mental and moral powers, than to positive acquisition. Your instructors return you to your friends and your home with a mind enlarged, with a taste refined, with a judgment corrected, ready to take your place and act well your part, as an educated woman. But remember, she is not an educated woman, who knows no more this year than she did last. True education is growth, and it never stands still. The tree which has ceased to grow, has begun to decay.
This, then, is the one thought that I would have you take away with you from school. Give no place to the idea that henceforth books and study and elegant culture are to be laid aside. It would be a dishonor to your School, and a mistake of the first magnitude for yourself.
Perhaps you will appreciate this point more adequately, if you will turn your thoughts inward for a moment, and reflect upon the change which has been quietly going on in your own self and during your residence here. One whose occupation calls him almost daily to communicate his ideas to young persons, either by formal address, or by more familiar ways, feels to a greater degree, perhaps, than any other person can, the change to which I refer. I mean that increased quickness of intellectual apprehension produced by a judicious and symmetrical course of study. Let me give you an instance. It fell to my lot, not long since, to address a School containing three hundred young ladies, all boarders, all over seventeen years of age. They were the best audience I ever had. Among them was not one, who did not appear to be intelligent and thoughtful, and with a mind more or less disciplined. But there were perceptible differences among them, and it is to this point that I would direct your attention. They were divided into four distinct classes, having attended the School severally one, two, three, and four years, and they were arranged before me in the order of their seniority as classes. The discourse was long and didactic, and portions of it were not easy to follow, containing a discussion of a rather abstruse point in mental philosophy. Now it seemed to me, on concluding the address, that I could have gone through that assembly, and marked with tolerable accuracy, class by class, just where each class ended and another class began, simply by what I had read in the faces of my young auditors. It was written as plainly upon those upturned faces, as was the discourse itself upon the manuscript before me. Those who had been four years in the School, undoubtedly learned manifold more from the exercise than the junior classes did. I could see it in the delivery of every paragraph. Such is the uniform result of a proper course of study. It enables the student to grasp new truths with increased ease and readiness. We, who are teachers, feel this the moment we undertake to communicate our thoughts to an audience. The consequence is, we involuntarily measure what has been done educationally for a class of young persons, by the development which has been given to their powers,—by the manifest facility which they have gained for making further gains. That young woman is best educated who is best prepared to learn.
Let me, then, renew the appeal to your own consciousness. Think for a moment upon the change which has been wrought in your own self during your career here. Compare your present self with that other self that you may remember some three or four years back. How much more you can accomplish now than you could then! How much more clearly you can follow out a train of reasoning! How much more easily you can compass an argument! How much more you can enjoy what is beautiful! How much more quickly and accurately you can remember! How much more you can command your attention! Whence this change, and what does it purport? It means that you are educated. You have now a degree of mental power that you had not then. Your own consciousness tells you that you are now just in the condition to enter upon your harvest. The field is before you. You are girded for the work. And will you now indolently lay aside the sickle, and let the golden grain fall to the ground ungathered? Could there be a more egregious mistake? Last week, I saw from my window two parent birds tempting their young fledglings from the nest. Day by day, week by week, I had seen the child-birds growing and gaining strength. Their muscles were now well developed, their bodies were clothed with feathers, they had learned to use their wings,—they could fly. Would it not have been passing strange, had they continued as they were, contented to cower and to crawl, when they had acquired the power to soar? And will you be content to remain forever only a fledgling, satisfied with having acquired the power of rising, but never actually using the wings which these years of honorable industry have given you?
Some of your sex are willing to admit the force of this argument when applied to men. A man, after graduating, is expected of course to continue his studies. His whole profession is one continued study. But somehow, it is thought, this truth does not hold good for women. Let me hope that you at least will not harbor such a notion. Whatever may be said of "women's rights," one right certainly, and one duty, is to keep yourself abreast of the other sex in continued mental growth and culture, and in general intelligence. If you would awaken true respect in my sex, and I hold it a not unworthy ambition, you must in this matter do as we do, at least as those of us do who are worth your consideration at all. You must perseveringly, every year, add to your intellectual acquisitions. You must continue steadily to grow in knowledge and mental power. Do not cease your studies, because you have ceased going to school. Manage to have some elegant accomplishment or acquisition always in hand. A woman who is wise in this matter, never passes her prime. I speak not, of course, of the decrepitude of old age and of the decay of the faculties. But so long as the faculties remain unimpaired, a woman may become, and should aim to become, increasingly attractive, as she advances in years. Poets sing of sweet sixteen. Let me assure you, a woman may be charming at sixty. Mrs. Madison even at seventy was the most attractive woman in Washington.
In society, how soon one feels the difference between a person who reads, and one who does not read. Two ladies may be of the same age. They may dress alike. They may have the same advantages of person. They may move in the same social circle. Yet you will not have been ten minutes in their society, though the conversation has been on only the most common topics of the day, before you will feel that the one woman, though at thirty or forty, is still only a superannuated school-girl, with even less resources than when she left the seminary, while the other is a delightful companion for persons of any age, with ready knowledge for whatever turn the conversation may take, and so abounding in resources as not even to be open to the temptation of making a display of them. The one can talk only so long as the conversation turns on dress, gossip, or the discussion of private character. In listening to the talk of such a woman, you hardly hear a sentence which is not based upon personalities. Her mind has not been fed and nurtured from day to day with beautiful and noble thoughts, with history and science and general knowledge. She may be amiable. She may have personal beauty. But you find her empty and vapid, and you weary of her, in spite of the very best intentions of being interested. How different the woman who, in spite of social exactions, and even of accumulating domestic duties, and of the time-consuming tax of dress, still keeps her mind fresh and growing, by means of reading and culture,—who is ever adding to her stores of knowledge some new science, to her varied skill some new attainment,—who has ever in hand some new book. It is true, indeed, that some ladies are blessed with more leisure for this purpose than others. But I fear it is not a question of more and less. It is too much a question of some and none. I hold that every woman is entitled to have, and by proper determination she may have, some time for personal improvement. Remember, we have duties to ourselves, as well as to others, and we have no duty to ourselves more sacred than this,—to rescue from our time some portion for the purpose of making ourselves more worthy of regard.
To undertake to suggest what particular studies you should pursue, in this larger school to which you are now admitted, would lead me into a train of remark entirely too extended. One single practical suggestion may perhaps be pardoned. Do not willingly relinquish the acquisitions already made. They are to you the true foundations for future improvement. You have fairly entered upon several important fields in the domain of science. You are familiar with the elements of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Botany, Physiology, Mental Philosophy, Rhetoric, and with the foundations of Mathematical Science. My advice is that in coming years you give to each of these branches, and of whatever else you have studied here, a stated systematic review. You have some skill in drawing and painting. Let not so graceful an accomplishment die out from your fingers. You excel in music. I need not say, if you would retain this excellence, you must give time to practice and study. So, whatever talent or attainment you now have, let it be your fixed purpose not to let it pass from your possession. Keep what you have, whatever else you may fail to do. To this end, as I said before, give to each of your school studies an occasional well-considered review. You will then always have in your mind certain fixed points, to which the miscellaneous knowledge picked up in your general reading will adhere, and around which it will accumulate in organized form. New studies, too, will naturally affiliate with the old, and will be easy and pleasant just in proportion as you keep the knowledge that you now have, fresh and bright.
Besides this general advice, there is one accomplishment in particular, which I would earnestly recommend to you, as I am in the habit of doing to all of your sex. Cultivate assiduously the ability to read well. I stop to particularize this, because it is a thing so very much neglected, and because it is so very elegant, charming, and lady-like an accomplishment. Where one person is really interested by music, twenty are pleased with good reading. Where one person is capable of becoming a skilful musician, twenty may become good readers. Where there is one occasion suitable for the exercise of musical talent, there are twenty for that of reading. The culture of the voice necessary for reading well, gives a delightful charm to the same voice in conversation. Good reading is the natural exponent and vehicle of all good things. It is the most effective of all commentaries upon the works of genius. It seems to bring dead authors to life again, and makes us sit down familiarly with the great and good of all ages.
Did you ever notice what life and power the Holy Scriptures have, when well read? Have you ever heard of the wonderful effects produced by Elizabeth Fry among the hardened criminals of Newgate, by simply reading to them the parable of the Prodigal Son? Princes and peers of the realm, it is said, counted it a privilege to stand in those dismal corridors, among felons and murderers, merely to share with them the privilege of witnessing the marvellous pathos which genius, taste, and culture could infuse into that simple story.
What a fascination there is in really good reading! What a power it gives one! In the hospital, in the chamber of the invalid, in the nursery, in the domestic and the social circle, among chosen friends and companions, how it enables you to minister to the amusement, the comfort, the pleasure of dear ones, as no other art or accomplishment can. No instrument of man's devising can reach the heart, as does that most wonderful instrument, the human voice. It is God's special gift and endowment to his chosen creatures. Fold it not away in a napkin. If you would double the value of all your other acquisitions; if you would add immeasurably to your own enjoyment, and to your power of promoting the enjoyment of others, cultivate with incessant care this Divine gift. No music below the skies is equal to that of pure, silvery speech from the lips of a man or woman of high culture.
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4. To a Pupil on Entering a Normal School.
You have entered upon a new and untried path. As one having been often over this way, and well acquainted with the features of the country before you, its lights and shadows, its roses and its thorns, its safe walks and its hidden pitfalls, I desire to talk with you a while before you enter upon the untried scene.
1. First of all let me say to you, we give you a most hearty welcome. We are glad to see you here, and we tender to you in advance a warm and ready sympathy in the many little worries, annoyances, and discouragements that surely await you. For myself I may truly say, that, outside of my own home, I have no greater happiness than to be among my pupils, and few things could pain me more than to believe that any one who had been for any considerable time my pupil would not almost unconsciously claim me as a friend; and it is an unceasing well-spring of joy for me to know that among your companions are many who, in time of trouble or difficulty or anxiety of any kind, would come to the Principal of the School, as sure of sympathy as if going to their own mother.
This freedom of intercourse between teachers and their pupils, this mutual exchange of confidence on one side and of sympathy on the other, is a source of good and a source of pleasure, which neither you nor we, my young friend, can afford to forego; and if in the expression of this thought I have indulged in a rather unseemly use of the first person singular, it is not because I would claim for myself anything peculiar in this matter, but because, from my years and my position, I can perhaps, better than my associates, afford to speak out thus the inward promptings of the heart. We all give you the right hand of fellowship, and trust it will not be many weeks, or days even, before you shall feel that you have here a home as well as a school, friends as well as teachers.
2. A very common feeling at the beginning of a course of study, is a feeling of discouragement. Nearly all the studies are new, and you enter upon each with fresh eagerness. Now, it is in the nature of every study while it is new, to seem boundless. Under the guiding hand of a skilful teacher, its limits and capabilities are stretched out in one direction and another, interminable vistas spread out in the distance, and portentous difficulties rise up before the imagination, until the mind is bewildered.
There is not one, of the formidable lists of studies before you, that might not of itself, so great are its capabilities, occupy your whole time. When you find yourself called to grapple at once with four or five such studies, to measure yourself with competitors, many of whom have had opportunities of preparation greatly superior to your own, and in the presence of teachers to whom the whole subject is as familiar and as plain as the alphabet, and when, in addition, the methods of recitation are for the most part new and strange, you are very apt to become discouraged, to feel that you shall never learn to recite in the manner required, that you can never master the difficulties before you. This feeling arises most frequently in the best class of minds, those most conscientious in regard to duty and most capable of comprehending the full length and breadth and depth of a subject. The shallow and the trifling are never troubled with the kind of difficulties now under consideration.
I address myself to you, my young friend, because I know you have come here with an earnest purpose, with a mind acute enough to see something of the vast work before you, and I say to you, as one who has had large experience in conducting other pilgrims over the same track, never lose heart. Difficulties which now seem insurmountable, will gradually disappear; subjects which now seem impenetrable, will soon lighten up. Did you never enter a room in the dark? At first the apartment is a universal blank. After a while, as your eyes become adjusted to the place, one article after another of the furniture becomes outlined to the vision, until at length, especially if approaching day lends some additional rays of light, the whole scene stands out perfectly defined. So it is in entering upon a new study. Many a passage in it will seem to you at first a worse than Serbonian bog—a cave of impenetrable and undistinguishable darkness. But draw not back. Look steadily on. Light will come in time. Your power of seeing will, with every new trial, receive adjustment and growth, and you will in the end see with full and open vision where now you have only dim glimpses and guesses. Do not be discouraged, therefore, if at first you fail, or seem to yourself to fail, in almost every recitation you undertake. What seems impossible to-day, will be only next to impossible to-morrow, and only very difficult the day after. Your failures are often only the proofs that you have a glimpse at least of something below the surface of things. A discouraged pupil is never a source of anxiety to me. It is only the self-confident and over-wearing that are hopeless.
3. I have spoken of recitations. Let me urge you to form some definite idea of what a recitation is, and what kind of a recitation you, as a pupil of a Normal School, should aim to make. And first of all, on this point, let me say, the mere answering of questions, and especially, the mere response of yes and no to questions, is not reciting,—assuredly not such reciting as is to fit you for the office of a teacher. And, in the next place, let me say, that repeating verbatim the words of the book, is not the method of recitation at which you should aim. I do not agree with those who would dissuade you entirely from cultivating the faculty and enriching the stores of memory. Not only memory, in its general exercise, but a purely verbal memory, is important. In your lessons, are many things, rules, definitions, and so forth, that should be learned with the most literal exactness, and should be so fixed in the memory that they will come at your bidding, in any place, at any moment. There are, too, in some of your books, passages from noble authors, which furnish food and nourishment to the soul, and which the mind craves in the very form and lineaments of their birth—passages which are like nuggets of virgin gold, or coins from the mint of some great sovereign in the realms of thought. They form a part of your wealth, and you want them, neither clipped, nor defaced, nor alloyed, but with every word and point exactly as it came from the hand of the master. These precious gems of thought, the garnered wealth of the ages, will not be neglected by any one who is wise. Treasure up in your intellectual storehouse as many of them as you can possibly compass, only with this proviso, be careful to select for this purpose the very best out of the great abundance that is before you, and make thorough work in what you do attempt to commit to memory. The act of memorizing will at once strengthen the faculty of memory itself, and will enrich you otherwise. By all means, therefore, learn by heart the leading definitions and rules of your text-books, and choice passages from all famous authors. But do not attempt in this way to commit to memory, or to recite verbatim, the pages of your history, geography, rhetoric, and so forth. Such a practice would be a most unwise waste of your time, and would cause a weakening, rather than a strengthening, of your faculties.
Let me tell you exactly what I mean by reciting. Your teacher goes to the board and, chalk in hand, explains to the class some point which they seem not to have apprehended. That is my idea of reciting. First get thorough possession of the thoughts or facts of the lesson, and then, imagining the class and the teacher to be ignorant of the subject, explain it to them, just as you will expect to do when the time comes that you will have a class of your own to instruct. It will aid you in preparing thus to recite a lesson, if in your rooms you will go over it aloud to each other, you and your room-mate, taking alternate portions. Such a method of preparation will doubtless require some time. But one lesson so prepared will be worth more to you than a whole week of study conducted in the ordinary manner. Remember, that in a Normal School your object is, not merely to get knowledge, but to learn how to communicate what you have learned. First then go over a topic till you are sure you understand it. Then go over it again and again until you can recite readily and perfectly every part of it, in its order. Then practise yourself in telling it in your own words, aloud, if possible, to somebody else, until you can make the narration or explanation continuously, from beginning to end, and without the possibility of being thrown out or confused by any amount of interruptions. Then at length are you prepared to recite.
Is this standard of recitation too high? Is it not what every one of your teachers does daily, and what you yourself will have to do the very first time you take your position as a teacher of others?
4. This leads me by a natural transition to the subject of study. You need to learn how to study, as much as you need to learn how to recite. Endeavor then to get some definite idea in your mind of what it is really to study. Mere reading is not study. Muttering the words over in a low, gurgling tone, or letting them glide in a soft, half-audible ripple upon your lips, is not study. Going over the lesson in a listless, dreamy way, one eye on the book and one eye ready for whatever is going on in other parts of the room, is not study. Study is work. Study is agony. The whole soul must be roused, its every energy put forth, with a fixed, rapt attention, like that of a man struggling with a giant. Study, worthy of the name, forgets for the time every thing else, excludes every thing else, is incapable of being diverted by any thing else, the whole internal and external man being bent upon making just one thing its own. Such study of course soon exhausts the energies. It cannot be long protracted, nor need it be protracted. Take rest in the season of rest; but, when you study, study with all your might. Throw your whole soul into it. One hour of such study accomplishes more than whole days of listless poring over books. And, remember, you cannot study in this manner by merely willing to do it. It is an art, requiring training and practice, and thorough mental discipline. You might as well, on seeing the Writing-Master executing those marvels of penmanship, or the Drawing-Teacher with deft fingers limning with ease forms of grace and beauty, resolve to go forthwith to the board and do the same thing, as expect, by a mere sic volo, to become a student. You are here to learn how to study, and the art will come to you only by slow progress, and after many trials.
Give up the illusion that absolute seclusion and silence are necessary to study. I do not say that they are not at times desirable. But they do not of themselves generate earnest thought. The vacant mind, that has not yet learned to think, is when thus left to solitude and stillness, quite as likely to go a wool-gathering, or to fall asleep, as to wrestle with some hard uninviting train of thought. The appliances and the invitations to mental application, if we have really learned to study, must be mainly in ourselves, not in our surroundings. Besides, the greater part of the actual thinking and study, that has to be done by those in professional life, that will have to be done by you, when you enter upon the practice of your profession as a teacher, must be done in circumstances not of your own choosing, just as time and opportunity may offer, by snatches, and at odd intervals, and often in the midst of distracting sights and sounds. I venture to say that three fourths of the graduates of this school, who are now teaching, have no opportunity for daily study and preparation for the duties of the school-room, except that afforded by a seat in the evening in the common sitting-room of the family, surrounded by children that are not always models of behavior, and within sight and hearing of all the petty details of household life. It is not therefore in itself undesirable that a part at least of your study at school should be performed in a common room, where there are some temptations to be resisted, some distractions to be ignored. Acquiring the ability to study without distraction in the presence of others and in the midst even of confusion and noise, is as important to you as is the learning how to think aloud, in the presence of a class, which I have defined to be the true nature of a recitation. The ability to study and the ability to recite are intimately correlated, and the symptoms of both are unmistakable to the practised eye and ear. I know just as well, by a glance of the eye on entering a study-room, what pupils are making intellectual growth, as I do on entering the class-room and listening to the recitations. One might as well feign to be in a fever, as to feign study. Nothing but the thing itself can assume its appearance.
5. I approach my next subject of remark with some hesitation. Yet on no point, in the whole theory of mental action, have I a more fixed and assured conviction. Perhaps I may explain my meaning better, if I introduce it with one or two comparisons.
Action of every kind, mental or material, is to be aided or accelerated, if at all, by forces of the same kind with the primary force. If a certain amount of weight avoirdupois will not make the scale kick the beam, we may produce the effect by laying on the requisite number of additional pounds,—by adding force of the same kind with the original. If the flame of one candle does not produce the illumination required for a particular effort, the addition of a second or a third will. If we wish to increase the speed of a locomotive, we do not whistle to it, or whip it, or say "get up;" we add steam. If on the other hand we wish our horse to travel faster, we use a motive addressed to his nature. We appeal to his generosity, his pride, or his fear. So mental action is influenced and induced by forces of the same nature with itself. One mind influences powerfully another mind, working upon us often, too, by mysterious influences that elude analysis. The influence of mind upon mind, other things being equal, is in proportion to the degree of perfection in which these three conditions exist, to wit, the fulness of accord and sympathy between the minds that are brought into contact, the closeness of the contact, and the greatness and power of the influencing and controlling mind. These three points hardly need explanation or argument. Nothing is more obvious than that a mind fully in sympathy with another, does by that very circumstance exercise an increased mental power on that other. In like manner we all feel daily how our minds are lifted up, enlarged, enlightened, strengthened, by intercourse with one of powerful intellect. And how often have we felt, when ourselves wishing to influence any one, particularly when wishing to influence one much younger and weaker than ourselves, that we might accomplish our ends the better, if we could only know certainly and exactly what he was thinking, if we could as it were actually get into the chamber of his soul. This indeed we can never do. We think sometimes that we come very near to each other. But after all we never touch. Between my mind and yours, between yours and that of the most intimate friend you have in the world, there is a barrier, high as heaven, deep as hell, impenetrable as adamant. Thus far can we come and no farther. We can never enter into the soul of any human being. No human being can ever enter into ours. Yet, my dear pupil, did it never occur to you, that there is One Mind, and that a mind of infinitely great and transcendent power, to which there is no such barrier, and that this transcendent, all-knowing, all-powerful mind, is continually in direct contact with the very essence of your mind? Can I influence your thinking faculties, and cannot the infinite God, who made those faculties? Can He who gave our bodies all their power of growth and strength, not give growth and strength to our minds? I do not profess to understand how the divine mind acts upon the human mind. I cannot always understand even how one human mind acts upon another. But of the fact I make no more question, than I do of the powers of flame, of steam, or of gravitation. And, as one set here to guide you in your mental progress, in all sober earnestness, I exhort you devoutly to invoke the aid of the Holy Ghost in the promotion of your studies—not merely to help you to use your acquisitions rightly, for his honor and the good of your kind, but to help you in making those acquisitions. If you would rise superior to discouragement, if you would acquire that mental discipline which is to enable you to study, and to recite and to teach in the very best and highest manner, pray. Call mightily upon God the Holy Ghost, who is after all the great educator and teacher of the human race. Carry your feeble lamp to the great fountain of light and radiance. Put your heart into full accord and sympathy with that of your dear elder Brother. Wrestle mightily with God in secret, as one that feels the burden of a great want. Thus, my dear pupil, will you best fit yourself for the duties of a student and of a teacher. For, believe me, there is sound philosophy as well as religion, in the utterance of the wise man, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Surely that man is a fool, who in cultivating mind, whether his own or that of another, neglects to invoke the aid of the Infinite Mind.