Practical Education, Volume I
by Maria Edgeworth
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T. B. Wait and Sons, Printers.



We shall not imitate the invidious example of some authors, who think it necessary to destroy the edifices of others, in order to clear the way for their own. We have no peculiar system to support, and, consequently, we have no temptation to attack the theories of others; and we have chosen the title of Practical Education, to point out that we rely entirely upon practice and experience.

To make any progress in the art of education, it must be patiently reduced to an experimental science: we are fully sensible of the extent and difficulty of this undertaking, and we have not the arrogance to imagine, that we have made any considerable progress in a work, which the labours of many generations may, perhaps, be insufficient to complete; but we lay before the publick the result of our experiments, and in many instances the experiments themselves. In pursuing this part of our plan, we have sometimes descended from that elevation of style, which the reader might expect in a quarto volume; we have frequently been obliged to record facts concerning children which may seem trifling, and to enter into a minuteness of detail which may appear unnecessary. No anecdotes, however, have been admitted without due deliberation; nothing has been introduced to gratify the idle curiosity of others, or to indulge our own feelings of domestic partiality.

In what we have written upon the rudiments of science, we have pursued an opposite plan; so far from attempting to teach them in detail, we refer our readers to the excellent treatises on the different branches of science, and on the various faculties of the human mind, which are to be found in every language. The chapters that we have introduced upon these subjects, are intended merely as specimens of the manner in which we think young children should be taught. We have found from experience, that an early knowledge of the first principles of science may be given in conversation, and may be insensibly acquired from the usual incidents of life: if this knowledge be carefully associated with the technical terms which common use may preserve in the memory, much of the difficulty of subsequent instruction may be avoided.

The sketches we have hazarded upon these subjects, may to some appear too slight, and to others too abstruse and tedious. To those who have explored the vast mines of human knowledge, small specimens appear trifling and contemptible, whilst the less accustomed eye is somewhat dazzled and confused by the appearance even of a small collection: but to the most enlightened minds, new combinations may be suggested by a new arrangement of materials, and the curiosity and enthusiasm of the inexperienced may be awakened, and excited to accurate and laborious researches.

With respect to what is commonly called the education of the heart, we have endeavoured to suggest the easiest means of inducing useful and agreeable habits, well regulated sympathy and benevolent affections. A witty writer says, "Il est permis d'ennuyer en moralites d'ici jusqu' a Constantinople." Unwilling to avail ourselves of this permission, we have sedulously avoided declamation, and, wherever we have been obliged to repeat ancient maxims, and common truths, we have at least thought it becoming to present them in a new dress.

On religion and politics we have been silent, because we have no ambition to gain partisans, or to make proselytes, and because we do not address ourselves exclusively to any sect or to any party. The scrutinizing eye of criticism, in looking over our table of contents, will also, probably, observe that there are no chapters on courage and chastity. To pretend to teach courage to Britons, would be as ridiculous as it is unnecessary; and, except amongst those who are exposed to the contagion of foreign manners, we may boast of the superior delicacy of our fair countrywomen; a delicacy acquired from domestic example, and confirmed by publick approbation. Our opinions concerning the female character and understanding, have been fully detailed in a former publication;[1] and, unwilling to fatigue by repetition, we have touched but slightly upon these subjects in our chapters on Temper, Female Accomplishments, Prudence, and Economy.

We have warned our readers not to expect from us any new theory of education, but they need not apprehend that we have written without method, or that we have thrown before them a heap of desultory remarks and experiments, which lead to no general conclusions, and which tend to the establishment of no useful principles. We assure them that we have worked upon a regular plan, and where we have failed of executing our design, it has not been for want of labour or attention. Convinced that it is the duty and the interest of all who write, to inquire what others have said and thought upon the subject of which they treat, we have examined attentively the works of others, that we might collect whatever knowledge they contain, and that we might neither arrogate inventions which do not belong to us, nor weary the public by repetition. Some useful and ingenious essays may probably have escaped our notice; but we flatter ourselves, that our readers will not find reason to accuse us of negligence, as we have perused with diligent attention every work upon education, that has obtained the sanction of time or of public approbation, and, though we have never bound ourselves to the letter, we hope that we have been faithful to the spirit, of their authors. Without incumbering ourselves with any part of their systems which has not been authorized by experience, we have steadily attempted immediately to apply to practice such of their ideas as we have thought useful; but whilst we have used the thoughts of others, we have been anxious to avoid mean plagiarism, and wherever we have borrowed, the debt has been carefully acknowledged.

The first hint of the chapter on Toys was received from Dr. Beddoes; the sketch of an introduction to chemistry for children was given to us by Mr. Lovell Edgeworth; and the rest of the work was resumed from a design formed and begun twenty years ago. When a book appears under the name of two authors, it is natural to inquire what share belongs to each of them. All that relates to the art of teaching to read in the chapter on Tasks, the chapters on Grammar and Classical Literature, Geography, Chronology, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Mechanics, were written by Mr. Edgeworth, and the rest of the book by Miss Edgeworth. She was encouraged and enabled to write upon this important subject, by having for many years before her eyes the conduct of a judicious mother in the education of a large family. The chapter on Obedience, was written from Mrs. Edgeworth's notes, and was exemplified by her successful practice in the management of her children; the whole manuscript was submitted to her judgment, and she revised parts of it in the last stage of a fatal disease.


[1] Letters for Literary Ladies.


Chapter Page

I. Toys 9 II. Tasks 40 III. On Attention 71 IV. Servants 109 V. Acquaintance 121 VI. On Temper 137 VII. On Obedience 153 VIII. On Truth 168 IX. On Rewards and Punishments 198 X. On Sympathy and Sensibility 232 XI. On Vanity, Pride, and Ambition 261 XII. Books 276




"Why don't you play with your playthings, my dear? I am sure that I have bought toys enough for you; why can't you divert yourself with them, instead of breaking them to pieces?" says a mother to her child, who stands idle and miserable, surrounded by disjointed dolls, maimed horses, coaches and one-horse chairs without wheels, and a nameless wreck of gilded lumber.

A child in this situation is surely more to be pitied than blamed; for is it not vain to repeat, "Why don't you play with your playthings," unless they be such as he can play with, which is very seldom the case; and is it not rather unjust to be angry with him for breaking them to pieces, when he can by no other device render them subservient to his amusement? He breaks them, not from the love of mischief, but from the hatred of idleness; either he wishes to see what his playthings are made of, and how they are made; or, whether he can put them together again, if the parts be once separated. All this is perfectly innocent; and it is a pity that his love of knowledge and his spirit of activity should be repressed by the undistinguishing correction of a nursery maid, or the unceasing reproof of a French governess.

The more natural vivacity and ingenuity young people possess, the less are they likely to be amused with the toys which are usually put into their hands. They require to have things which exercise their senses or their imagination, their imitative, and inventive powers. The glaring colours, or the gilding of toys, may catch the eye, and please for a few minutes, but unless some use can be made of them, they will, and ought, to be soon discarded. A boy, who has the use of his limbs, and whose mind is untainted with prejudice, would, in all probability, prefer a substantial cart, in which he could carry weeds, earth and stones, up and down hill, to the finest frail coach and six that ever came out of a toy-shop: for what could he do with the coach after having admired, and sucked the paint, but drag it cautiously along the carpet of a drawing-room, watching the wheels, which will not turn, and seeming to sympathize with the just terrors of the lady and gentleman within, who are certain of being overturned every five minutes? When he is tired of this, perhaps, he may set about to unharness horses which were never meant to be unharnessed; or to currycomb their woollen manes and tails, which usually come off during the first attempt.

That such toys are frail and useless, may, however, be considered as evils comparatively small: as long as the child has sense and courage to destroy the toys, there is no great harm done; but, in general, he is taught to set a value upon them totally independent of all ideas of utility, or of any regard to his own real feelings. Either he is conjured to take particular care of them, because they cost a great deal of money; or else he is taught to admire them as miniatures of some of the fine things on which fine people pride themselves: if no other bad consequence were to ensue, this single circumstance of his being guided in his choice by the opinion of others is dangerous. Instead of attending to his own sensations, and learning from his own experience, he acquires the habit of estimating his pleasures by the taste and judgment of those who happen to be near him.

"I liked the cart best," says the boy, "but mamma and every body said that the coach was the prettiest; so I chose the coach."—Shall we wonder if the same principle afterwards governs him in the choice of "the toys of age?"

A little girl, presiding at her baby tea-table, is pleased with the notion that she is like her mamma; and, before she can have any idea of the real pleasures of conversation and society, she is confirmed in the persuasion, that tattling and visiting are some of the most enviable privileges of grown people; a set of beings whom she believes to be in possession of all the sweets of happiness.

Dolls, beside the prescriptive right of ancient usage, can boast of such an able champion in Rousseau, that it requires no common share of temerity to attack them. As far as they are the means of inspiring girls with a taste for neatness in dress, and with a desire to make those things for themselves, for which women are usually dependent upon milliners, we must acknowledge their utility; but a watchful eye should be kept upon the child, to mark the first symptoms of a love of finery and fashion. It is a sensible remark of a late female writer, that whilst young people work, the mind will follow the hands, the thoughts are occupied with trifles, and the industry is stimulated by vanity.

Our objections to dolls are offered with great submission and due hesitation. With more confidence we may venture to attack baby-houses; an unfurnished baby-house might be a good toy, as it would employ little carpenters and seamstresses to fit it up; but a completely furnished baby-house proves as tiresome to a child, as a finished seat is to a young nobleman. After peeping, for in general only a peep can be had into each apartment, alter being thoroughly satisfied that nothing is wanting, and that consequently there is nothing to be done, the young lady lays her doll upon the state bed, if the doll be not twice as large as the bed, and falls fast asleep in the midst of her felicity.

Before dolls, baby-houses, coaches, and cups and saucers, there comes a set of toys, which are made to imitate the actions of men and women, and the notes or noises of birds and beasts. Many of these are ingenious in their construction, and happy in their effect, but that effect unfortunately is transitory. When the wooden woman has churned her hour in her empty churn; when the stiff backed man has hammered or sawed till his arms are broken, or till his employers are tired; when the gilt lamb has ba-ad, the obstinate pig squeaked, and the provoking cuckoo cried cuckoo, till no one in the house can endure the noise; what remains to be done?—Wo betide the unlucky little philosopher, who should think of inquiring why the woman churned, or how the bird cried cuckoo; for it is ten to one that in prosecuting such an inquiry, just when he is upon the eve of discovery, he snaps the wire, or perforates the bellows, and there ensue "a death-like silence, and a dread repose."

The grief which is felt for spoiling a new plaything might be borne, if it were not increased, as it commonly is, by the reproaches of friends; much kind eloquence, upon these occasions, is frequently displayed, to bring the sufferer to a proper sense of his folly, till in due time the contrite corners of his mouth are drawn down, his wide eyes fill with tears, and, without knowing what he means, he promises never to be so silly any more. The future safety of his worthless playthings is thus purchased at the expense of his understanding, perhaps of his integrity: for children seldom scrupulously adhere to promises, which they have made to escape from impending punishment.

We have ventured to object to some fashionable toys; we are bound at least to propose others in their place; and we shall take the matter up soberly from the nursery.

The first toys for infants should be merely such things as may be grasped without danger, and which might, by the difference of their sizes, invite comparison: round ivory or wooden sticks should be put into their little hands; by degrees they will learn to lift them to their mouths, and they will distinguish their sizes: square and circular bits of wood, balls, cubes, and triangles, with holes of different sizes made in them, to admit the sticks, should be their playthings. No greater apparatus is necessary for the amusement of the first months of an infant's life. To ease the pain which they feel from cutting teeth, infants generally carry to their mouths whatever they can lay their hands upon; but they soon learn to distinguish those bodies which relieve their pain, from those which gratify their palate; and, if they are left to themselves, they will always choose what is painted in preference to every thing else; nor must we attribute the look of delight with which they seize toys that are painted red, merely to the pleasure which their eye takes in the bright colour, but to the love of the sweet taste which they suck from the paint. What injury may be done to the health by the quantity of lead which is thus swallowed, we will not pretend to determine, but we refer to a medical name of high authority,[2] whose cautions probably will not be treated with neglect. To gratify the eye with glittering objects, if this be necessary, may be done with more safety by toys of tin and polished iron: a common steel button is a more desirable plaything to a young child than many expensive toys; a few such buttons tied together, so as to prevent any danger of their being swallowed, would continue for some time a source of amusement.

When a nurse wants to please or to pacify a child, she stuns its ear with a variety of noises, or dazzles its eye with glaring colours or stimulating light. The eye and the ear are thus fatigued without advantage, and the temper is hushed to a transient calm by expedients, which in time must lose their effect, and which can have no power over confirmed fretfulness. The pleasure of exercising their senses, is in itself sufficient to children without any factitious stimulus, which only exhausts their excitability, and renders them incapable of being amused by a variety of common objects, which would naturally be their entertainment. We do not here speak of the attempts made to sooth a child who is ill; "to charm the sense of pain," so far as it can be done by diverting the child's attention from his own sufferings to outward objects, is humane and reasonable, provided our compassion does not induce in the child's mind the expectation of continual attendance, and that impatience of temper which increases bodily suffering. It would be in vain to read lectures on philosophy to a nurse, or to expect stoicism from an infant; but, perhaps, where mothers pay attention themselves to their children, they will be able to prevent many of the consequences of vulgar prejudice and folly. A nurse's wish is to have as little trouble as possible with the child committed to her charge, and at the same time to flatter the mother, from whom she expects her reward. The appearance of extravagant fondness for the child, of incessant attention to its humour, and absurd submission to its caprices, she imagines to be the surest method of recommending herself to favour. She is not to be imposed upon by the faint and affected rebukes of the fond mother, who exclaims, "Oh, nurse, indeed you do spoil that child sadly!—Oh, nurse, upon my word she governs you entirely!—Nurse, you must not let her have her own way always.—Never mind her crying, I beg, nurse."—Nurse smiles, sees that she has gained her point, and promises what she knows it is not expected she should perform. Now if, on the contrary, she perceived that the mother was neither to be flattered nor pleased by these means, one motive for spoiling the child would immediately cease: another strong one would, it is true, still remain. A nurse wishes to save herself trouble, and she frequently consults her own convenience when she humours an infant. She hushes it to sleep, that she may leave it safely; she stops it from crying, that she may not hear an irritating noise, that she may relieve herself as soon as possible from the painful weakness of compassion, or that she may avoid the danger of being interrogated by the family as to the cause of the disturbance. It is less trouble to her to yield to caprice and ill-humour than to prevent or cure it, or at least she thinks it is so. In reality it is not; for an humoured child in time plagues its attendant infinitely more than it would have done with reasonable management. If it were possible to convince nurses of this, they would sacrifice perhaps the convenience of a moment to the peace of future hours, and they would not be eager to quell one storm, at the hazard of being obliged to endure twenty more boisterous; the candle would then no more be thrust almost into the infant's eyes to make it take notice of the light through the mist of tears, the eternal bunch of keys would not dance and jingle at every peevish summons, nor would the roarings of passion be overpowered by insulting songs, or soothed by artful caresses; the child would then be caressed and amused when he looks smiling and good-humoured, and all parties would be much happier.

Practical education begins very early, even in the nursery. Without the mountebank pretence, that miracles can be performed by the turning of a straw, or the dictatorial anathematizing tone, which calls down vengeance upon those who do not follow to an iota the injunctions of a theorist, we may simply observe, that parents would save themselves a great deal of trouble, and their children some pain, if they would pay some attention to their early education. The temper acquires habits much earlier than is usually apprehended; the first impressions which infants receive, and the first habits which they learn from their nurses, influence the temper and disposition long after the slight causes which produced them are forgotten. More care and judgment than usually fall to the share of a nurse are necessary, to cultivate the disposition which infants show, to exercise their senses, so as neither to suffer them to become indolent and torpid from want of proper objects to occupy their attention, nor yet to exhaust their senses by continual excitation. By ill-timed restraints or injudicious incitements, the nurse frequently renders the child obstinate or passionate. An infant should never be interrupted in its operations; whilst it wishes to use its hands, we should not be impatient to make it walk; or when it is pacing, with all the attention to its centre of gravity that is exerted by a rope-dancer, suddenly arrest its progress, and insist upon its pronouncing the scanty vocabulary which we have compelled it to learn. When children are busily trying experiments upon objects within their reach, we should not, by way of saving them trouble, break the course of their ideas, and totally prevent them from acquiring knowledge by their own experience. When a foolish nurse sees a child attempting to reach or lift any thing, she runs immediately, "Oh, dear love, it can't do it, it can't!—I'll do it for it, so I will!"—If the child be trying the difference between pushing and pulling, rolling or sliding, the powers of the wedge or the lever, the officious nurse hastens instantly to display her own knowledge of the mechanic powers: "Stay, love, stay; that is not the way to do it—I'll show it the right way—see here—look at me love."—Without interrupting a child in the moment of action, proper care might previously be taken to remove out of its way those things which can really hurt it, and a just degree of attention must be paid to its first experiments upon hard and heavy, and more especially upon sharp, brittle, and burning bodies; but this degree of care should not degenerate into cowardice; it is better that a child should tumble down or burn its fingers, than that it should not learn the use of its limbs and its senses. We should for another reason take care to put all dangerous things effectually out of the child's reach, instead of saying perpetually, "Take care, don't touch that!—don't do that!—let that alone!" The child, who scarcely understands the words, and not at all the reason of these prohibitions, is frightened by the tone and countenance with which they are uttered and accompanied; and he either becomes indolent or cunning; either he desists from exertion, or seizes the moment to divert himself with forbidden objects, when the watchful eye that guards them is withdrawn. It is in vain to encompass the restless prisoner with a fortification of chairs, and to throw him an old almanack to tear to pieces, or an old pincushion to explore; the enterprising adventurer soon makes his escape from this barricado, leaves his goods behind him, and presently is again in what the nurse calls mischief.

Mischief is with nurses frequently only another name for any species of activity which they find troublesome; the love which children are supposed to have for pulling things out of their places, is in reality the desire of seeing things in motion, or of putting things into different situations. They will like to put the furniture in a room in its proper place, and to arrange every thing in what we call order, if we can make these equally permanent sources of active amusement; but when things are once in their places, the child has nothing more to do, and the more quickly each chair arrives at its destined situation, the sooner comes the dreaded state of idleness and quiet.

A nursery, or a room in which young children are to live, should never have any furniture in it which they can spoil; as few things as possible should be left within their reach which they are not to touch, and at the same time they should be provided with the means of amusing themselves, not with painted or gilt toys, but with pieces of wood of various shapes and sizes, which they may build up and pull down, and put in a variety of different forms and positions; balls, pulleys, wheels, strings, and strong little carts, proportioned to their age, and to the things which they want to carry in them, should be their playthings.

Prints will be entertaining to children at a very early age; it would be endless to enumerate the uses that may be made of them; they teach accuracy of sight, they engage the attention, and employ the imagination. In 1777 we saw L——, a child of two years old, point out every piece of furniture in the French prints of Gil Blas; in the print of the Canon at Dinner, he distinguished the knives, forks, spoons, bottles, and every thing upon the table: the dog lying upon the mat, and the bunch of keys hanging at Jacintha's girdle; he told, with much readiness, the occupation of every figure in the print, and could supply, from his imagination, what is supposed to be hidden by the foremost parts of all the objects. A child of four years old was asked, what was meant by something that was very indistinctly represented as hanging round the arm of a figure in one of the prints of the London Cries. He said it was a glove; though it had as little resemblance to a glove, as to a ribbon or a purse. When he was asked how he knew that it was a glove, he answered, "that it ought to be a glove, because the woman had one upon her other arm, and none upon that where the thing was hanging." Having seen the gown of a female figure in a print hanging obliquely, the same child said, "The wind blows that woman's gown back." We mention these little circumstances from real life, to show how early prints may be an amusement to children, and how quickly things unknown, are learnt by the relations which they bear to what was known before. We should at the same time observe, that children are very apt to make strange mistakes, and hasty conclusions, when they begin to reason from analogy. A child having asked what was meant by some marks in the forehead of an old man in a print; and having been told, upon some occasion, that old people were wiser than young ones, brought a print containing several figures to his mother, and told her that one, which he pointed to, was wiser than all the rest; upon inquiry, it was found that he had formed this notion from seeing that one figure was wrinkled, and that the others were not.

Prints for children should be chosen with great care; they should represent objects which are familiar; the resemblances should be accurate, and the manners should be attended to, or at least, the general moral that is to be drawn from them. The attitude of Sephora, the boxing lady in Gil Blas, must appear unnatural to children who have not lived with termagant heroines. Perhaps, the first ideas of grace, beauty, and propriety, are considerably influenced by the first pictures and prints which please children. Sir Joshua Reynolds tells us, that he took a child with him through a room full of pictures, and that the child stopped, with signs of aversion, whenever it came to any picture of a figure in a constrained attitude.

Children soon judge tolerably well of proportion in drawing, where they have been used to see the objects which are represented: but we often give them prints of objects, and of animals especially, which they have never seen, and in which no sort of proportion is observed. The common prints of animals must give children false ideas. The mouse and the elephant are nearly of the same size, and the crocodile and whale fill the same space in the page. Painters, who put figures of men amongst their buildings, give the idea of the proportionate height immediately to the eye: this is, perhaps, the best scale we can adopt; in every print for children this should be attended to. Some idea of the relative sizes of the animals they see represented would then be given, and the imagination would not be filled with chimeras.

After having been accustomed to examine prints, and to trace their resemblance to real objects, children will probably wish to try their own powers of imitation. At this moment no toy, which we could invent for them, would give them half so much pleasure as a pencil. If we put a pencil into their hands even before they are able to do any thing with it but make random marks all over a sheet of paper, it will long continue a real amusement and occupation. No matter how rude their first attempts at imitation may be; if the attention of children be occupied, our point is gained. Girls have generally one advantage at this age over boys, in the exclusive possession of the scissors: how many camels, and elephants with amazing trunks, are cut out by the industrious scissors of a busy, and therefore happy little girl, during a winter evening, which passes so heavily, and appears so immeasurably long, to the idle.

Modelling in clay or wax might probably be a useful amusement about this age, if the materials were so prepared, that the children could avoid being every moment troublesome to others whilst they are at work. The making of baskets, and the weaving of sash-line, might perhaps be employment for children; with proper preparations, they might at least be occupied with these things; much, perhaps, might not be produced by their labours, but it is a great deal to give early habits of industry. Let us do what we will, every person who has ever had any experience upon the subject, must know that it is scarcely possible to provide sufficient and suitable occupations for young children: this is one of the first difficulties in education. Those who have never tried the experiment, are astonished to find it such a difficult and laborious business as it really is, to find employments for children from three to six years old. It is perhaps better, that our pupils should be entirely idle, than that they should be half employed. "My dear, have you nothing to do?" should be spoken in sorrow rather than in anger. When they see other people employed and happy, children feel mortified and miserable to have nothing to do. Count Rumford's was an excellent scheme for exciting sympathetic industry amongst the children of the poor at Munich; in the large hall, where the elder children were busy in spinning, there was a range of seats for the younger children, who were not yet permitted to work; these being compelled to sit idle, and to see the busy multitude, grew extremely uneasy in their own situation, and became very anxious to be employed. We need not use any compulsion or any artifice; parents in every family, we suppose, who think of educating their own children, are employed some hours in the day in reading, writing, business, or conversation; during these hours, children will naturally feel the want of occupation, and will, from sympathy, from ambition and from impatience of insupportable ennui, desire with anxious faces, "to have something to do." Instead of loading them with playthings, by way of relieving their misery, we should honestly tell them, if that be the truth, "I am sorry I cannot find any thing for you to do at present. I hope you will soon be able to employ yourself. What a happy thing it will be for you to be able, by and by, to read, and write and draw; then you will never be forced to sit idle."

The pains of idleness stimulate children to industry, if they are from time to time properly contrasted with the pleasures of occupation. We should associate cheerfulness, and praise, and looks of approbation, with industry; and, whenever young people invent employments for themselves, they should be assisted as much as possible, and encouraged. At that age when they are apt to grow tired in half an hour of their playthings, we had better give them playthings only for a very short time, at intervals in the day; and, instead of waiting till they are tired, we should take the things away before they are weary of them. Nor should we discourage the inquisitive genius from examining into the structure of their toys, whatever they may be. The same ingenious and active dispositions, which prompt these inquiries, will secure children from all those numerous temptations to do mischief, to which the idle are exposed. Ingenious children are pleased with contrivances which answer the purposes for which they are intended: and they feel sincere regret whenever these are injured or destroyed: this we mention as a further comfort and security for parents, who, in the company of young mechanics, are apt to tremble for their furniture. Children who observe, and who begin to amuse themselves with thought, are not so actively hostile in their attacks upon inanimate objects. We were once present at the dissection of a wooden cuckoo, which was attended with extreme pleasure by a large family of children; and it was not one of the children who broke the precious toy, but it was the father who took it to pieces. Nor was it the destruction of the plaything which entertained the company, but the sight of the manner in which it was constructed. Many guesses were made by all the spectators about the internal structure of the cuckoo, and the astonishment of the company was universal, when the bellows were cut open, and the simple contrivance was revealed to view; probably, more was learnt from this cuckoo, than was ever learnt from any cuckoo before. So far from being indifferent to the destruction of this plaything, H—— the little girl of four years old, to whom it belonged, remembered, several months afterwards, to remind her father of his promise to repair the mischief he had done.

"Several toys, which are made at present, are calculated to give pleasure merely by exciting surprise, and of course give children's minds such a tone, that they are afterwards too fond of similar useless baubles."[3] This species of delight is soon over, and is succeeded by a desire to triumph in the ignorance, the credulity, or the cowardice, of their companions. Hence that propensity to play tricks, which is often injudiciously encouraged by the smiles of parents, who are apt to mistake it for a proof of wit and vivacity. They forget, that "gentle dulness ever loved a joke;" and that even wit and vivacity, if they become troublesome and mischievous, will be feared, and shunned. Many juggling tricks and puzzles are highly ingenious; and, as far as they can exercise the invention or the patience of young people, they are useful. Care, however, should be taken, to separate the ideas of deceit and of ingenuity, and to prevent children from glorying in the mere possession of a secret.

Toys which afford trials of dexterity and activity, such as tops, kites, hoops, balls, battledores and shuttlecocks, ninepins, and cup-and-ball, are excellent; and we see that they are consequently great and lasting favourites with children; their senses, their understanding, and their passions, are all agreeably interested and exercised by these amusements. They emulate each other; but, as some will probably excel at one game, and some at another, this emulation will not degenerate into envy. There is more danger that this hateful passion should be created in the minds of young competitors at those games, where it is supposed that some knack or mystery is to be learned before they can be played with success. Whenever children play at such games, we should point out to them how and why it is that they succeed or fail: we may show them, that, in reality, there is no knack or mystery in any thing, but that from certain causes certain effects will follow; that, after trying a number of experiments, the circumstances essential to success may be discovered; and that all the ease and dexterity, which we often attribute to the power of natural genius, is simply the consequence of practice and industry. This sober lesson may be taught to children without putting it into grave words or formal precepts. A gentleman once astonished a family of children by his dexterity in playing at bilboquet: he caught the ball nine or ten times successively with great rapidity upon the spike: this success appeared miraculous; and the father, who observed that it had made a great impression upon the little spectators, took that opportunity to show the use of spinning the ball, to make the hole at the bottom ascend in a proper direction. The nature of centrifugal motion, and its effect, in preserving the parallelism of motion, if we may be allowed the expression, was explained, not at once, but at different intervals, to the young audience. Only as much was explained at a time as the children could understand, without fatiguing their attention, and the abstruse subject was made familiar by the mode of illustration that was adopted.

It is surprising how much children may learn from their playthings, when they are judiciously chosen, and when the habit of reflection and observation is associated with the ideas of amusement and happiness. A little boy of nine years old, who had had a hoop to play with, asked "why a hoop, or a plate, if rolled upon its edge, keeps up as long as it rolls, but falls as soon as it stops, and will not stand if you try to make it stand still upon its edge?" Was not the boy's understanding as well employed whilst he was thinking of this phenomenon, which he observed whilst he was beating his hoop, as it could possibly have been by the most learned preceptor?

When a pedantic schoolmaster sees a boy eagerly watching a paper kite, he observes, "What a pity it is that children cannot be made to mind their grammar as well as their kites!" And he adds, perhaps, some peevish ejaculation on the natural idleness of boys, and that pernicious love of play against which he is doomed to wage perpetual war. A man of sense will see the same thing with a different eye; in this pernicious love of play he will discern the symptoms of a love of science, and, instead of deploring the natural idleness of children, he will admire the activity which they display in the pursuit of knowledge. He will feel that it is his business to direct this activity, to furnish his pupil with materials for fresh combinations, to put him or to let him put himself, in situations where he can make useful observations, and acquire that experience which cannot be bought, and which no masters can communicate.

It will not be beneath the dignity of a philosophic tutor to consider the different effects, which the most common plays of children have upon the habits of the understanding and temper. Whoever has watched children putting together a dissected map, must have been amused with the trial between Wit and Judgment. The child, who quickly perceives resemblances, catches instantly at the first bit of the wooden map, that has a single hook or hollow that seems likely to answer his purpose; he makes, perhaps, twenty different trials before he hits upon the right; whilst the wary youth, who has been accustomed to observe differences, cautiously examines with his eye the whole outline before his hand begins to move; and, having exactly compared the two indentures, he joins them with sober confidence, more proud of never disgracing his judgment by a fruitless attempt, than ambitious of rapid success. He is slow, but sure, and wins the day.

There are some plays which require presence of mind, and which demand immediate attention to what is actually going forward, in which children, capable of the greatest degree of abstract attention, are most apt to be defective. They have many ideas, but none of them ready, and their knowledge is useless, because it is recollected a moment too late. Could we, in suitably dignified language, describe the game of "birds, beasts, and fishes," we should venture to prescribe it as no very painful remedy for these absent and abstracted personages. When the handkerchief or the ball is thrown, and when his bird's name is called for, the absent little philosopher is obliged to collect his scattered thoughts instantaneously, or else he exposes himself to the ridicule of naming, perhaps, a fish or a beast, or any bird but the right. To those children, who, on the contrary, are not sufficiently apt to abstract their attention, and who are what Bacon calls "birdwitted," we should recommend a solitary-board. At the solitary-board they must withdraw their thoughts from all external objects, hear nothing that is said, and fix their attention solely upon the figure and the pegs before them, else they will never succeed; and, if they make one errour in their calculations, they lose all their labour. Those who are precipitate, and not sufficiently attentive to the consequences of their own actions, may receive many salutary lessons at the draught or chess-board—happy, if they can learn prudence and foresight, by frequently losing the battle.

We are not quite so absurd as to imagine, that any great or permanent effects can be produced by such slight causes as a game at draughts, or at a solitary-board, but the combination of a number of apparent trifles, is not to be neglected in education.

We have never yet mentioned what will probably first occur to those who would invent employments for children. We have never yet mentioned a garden; we have never mentioned those great delights to children, a spade, a hoe, a rake, and a wheelbarrow. We hold all these in proper respect; but we did not sooner mention them, because, if introduced too early, they are useless. We must not expect, that a boy six or seven years old, can find, for any length of time, sufficient daily occupation in a garden: he has not strength for hard labour; he can dig soft earth; he can weed groundsel, and other weeds, which take no deep root in the earth; but after he has weeded his little garden, and sowed his seeds, there must be a suspension of his labours. Frequently children, for want of something to do, when they have sowed flower-seeds in their crooked beds, dig up the hopes of the year to make a new walk, or to sink a well in their garden. We mention these things, that parents may not be disappointed, or expect more from the occupation of a garden, than it can, at a very early age, afford. A garden is an excellent resource for children, but they should have a variety of other occupations: rainy days will come, and frost and snow, and then children must be occupied within doors. We immediately think of a little set of carpenter's tools, to supply them with active amusement. Boys will probably be more inclined to attempt making models, than drawings of the furniture which appears to be the most easy to imitate; they will imagine that, if they had but tools, they could make boxes, and desks, and beds, and chests of drawers, and tables and chairs innumerable. But, alas! these fond imaginations are too soon dissipated. Suppose a boy of seven years old to be provided with a small set of carpenter's tools, his father thinks perhaps that he has made him completely happy; but a week afterwards the father finds dreadful marks of the file and saw upon his mahogany tables; the use of these tools is immediately interdicted until a bench shall be procured. Week after week passes away, till at length the frequently reiterated speech of "Papa, you bid me put you in mind about my bench." "Papa" has its effect, and the bench appears. Now the young carpenter thinks he is quite set up in the world, and projects carts and boxes, and reading-desks and writing-desks for himself and for his sisters, if he have any; but when he comes to the execution of his plans, what new difficulties, what new wants arise! the wood is too thick or too thin; it splits, or it cannot be cut with a knife; wire, nails, glue, and above all, the means of heating the glue, are wanting. At last some frail machine, stuck together with pegs or pins, is produced, and the workman is usually either too much ridiculed, or too much admired. The step from pegging to mortising is a very difficult step, and the want of a mortising-chisel is insuperable: one tool is called upon to do the duty of another, and the pricker comes to an untimely end in doing the hard duty of the punch; the saw wants setting; the plane will plane no longer; and the mallet must be used instead of the hammer, because the hammer makes so much noise, that the ladies of the family have voted for its being locked up. To all these various evils the child submits in despair; and finding, after many fruitless exertions, that he cannot make any of the fine things he had projected, he throws aside his tools, and is deterred by these disappointments from future industry and ingenuity. Such are the consequences of putting excellent tools into the hands of children before they can possibly use them: but the tools which are useless at seven years old, will be a most valuable present at eleven or twelve, and for this age it will be prudent to reserve them. A rational toy-shop should be provided with all manner of carpenter's tools, with wood properly prepared for the young workman, and with screws, nails, glue, emery-paper, and a variety of articles which it would be tedious to enumerate; but which, if parents could readily meet within a convenient assemblage, they would willingly purchase for their children. The trouble of hunting through a number of different shops, prevents them at present from purchasing such things; besides, they may not perhaps be sufficiently good carpenters to know distinctly every thing that is necessary for a young workman.

Card, pasteboard, substantial but not sharp-pointed scissors, wire, gum and wax, may, in some degree, supply the want of carpenter's tools at that early age when we have observed that the saw and plane are useless. Models of common furniture should be made as toys, which should take to pieces, so that all their parts, and the manner in which they are put together, might be seen distinctly; the names of the different parts should be written[4] or stamped upon them: by these means the names will be associated with realities; children will retain them in their memory, and they will neither learn by rote technical terms, nor will they be retarded in their progress in mechanical invention by the want of language. Before young people can use tools, these models will amuse and exercise their attention. From models of furniture we may go on to models of architecture; pillars of different orders, the roofs of houses, the manner of slating and tiling, &c. Then we may proceed to models of simple machines, choosing at first such as can be immediately useful to children in their own amusements, such as wheelbarrows, carts, cranes, scales, steelyards, jacks, and pumps, which children ever view with eager eyes.

From simple, it will be easy to proceed gradually to models of more complicated, machinery: it would be tiresome to give a list of these; models of instruments used by manufacturers and artists should be seen; many of these are extremely ingenious; spinning-wheels, looms, paper-mills, wind-mills, water-mills, might with great advantage be shown in miniature to children.

The distracting noise and bustle, the multitude of objects which all claim the attention at once, prevent young people from understanding much of what they see, when they are first taken to look at large manufactories. If they had previously acquired some general idea of the whole, and some particular knowledge of the different parts, they would not stare when they get into these places; they would not "stare round, see nothing, and come home content," bewildered by the sight of cogs and wheels; and the explanations of the workmen would not be all jargon to them; they would understand some of the technical terms, which so much alarm the intellects of those who hear them for the first time.

We may exercise the ingenuity and judgment of children by these models of machines, by showing them first the thing to be done, and exciting them to invent the best means of doing it; afterwards give the models as the reward for their ingenuity, and let them compare their own inventions with the contrivances actually in use amongst artificers; by these means, young people may be led to compare a variety of different contrivances; they will discern what parts of a machine are superfluous, and what inadequate, and they will class particular observations gradually under general principles. It may be thought, that this will tend to give children only mechanical invention, or we should call it, perhaps, the invention of machines; and those who do not require this particular talent, will despise it as unnecessary in what are called the liberal professions. Without attempting to compare the value of different intellectual talents, we may observe, that they are all in some measure dependent upon each other. Upon this subject we shall enlarge more fully when we come to consider the method of cultivating the memory and invention.

Chemical toys will be more difficult to manage than mechanical, because the materials, requisite to try many chemical experiments, are such as cannot safely be put into the hands of children. But a list of experiments, and of the things necessary to try them, might easily be drawn out by a chemist who would condescend to such a task; and if these materials, with proper directions, were to be found at a rational toy-shop, parents would not be afraid of burning or poisoning their children in the first chemical lessons. In some families, girls are taught the confectionary art; might not this be advantageously connected with some knowledge of chemistry, and might not they be better taught than by Mrs. Raffeld or Mrs. Glass?[5] Every culinary operation may be performed as an art, probably, as well by a cook as by a chemist; but, if the chemist did not assist the cook now and then with a little science, epicures would have great reason for lamentation. We do not, by any means, advise that girls should be instructed in confectionary arts, at the hazard of their keeping company with servants. If they learn any thing of this sort, there will be many precautions necessary to separate them from servants: we do not advise that these hazards should be run; but if girls learn confectionary, let them learn the principles of chemistry, which may assist in this art.[6]

Children are very fond of attempting experiments in dying, and are very curious about vegetable dyes; but they can seldom proceed for want of the means of boiling, evaporating, distilling, and subliming. Small stills, and small tea-kettles and lamps, would be extremely useful to them: these might be used in the room with the children's parents, which would prevent all danger: they should continue to be the property of the parents, and should be produced only when they are wanted. No great apparatus is necessary for showing children the first simple operations in chemistry: such as evaporation, crystalization, calcination, detonation, effervescence, and saturation. Water and fire, salt and sugar, lime and vinegar, are not very difficult to be procured; and a wine-glass is to be found in every house. The difference between an acid and alkali should be early taught to children; many grown people begin to learn chemistry, without distinctly knowing what is meant by those terms.

In the selection of chemical experiments for young people, it will be best to avoid such as have the appearance of jugglers tricks, as it is not our purpose to excite the amazement of children for the moment, but to give them a permanent taste for science. In a well known book, called "Hooper's Rational Recreations," there are many ingenious experiments; but through the whole work there is such a want of an enlarged mind, and such a love of magic and deception appears, as must render it not only useless, but unsafe, for young people, in its present state. Perhaps a selection might be made from it in which these defects might be avoided: such titles as "The real apparition: the confederate counters: the five beatitudes: and the book of fate," may be changed for others more rational. Receipts for "Changing winter into spring," for making "Self-raising pyramids, inchanted mirrors, and intelligent flies," might be omitted, or explained to advantage. Recreation the 5th, "To tell by the dial of a watch at what hour any person intends to rise;" Recreation the 12th, "To produce the appearance of a phantom on a pedestal placed on the middle of a table;" and Recreation the 30th, "To write several letters which contain no meaning, upon cards; to make them, after they have been twice shuffled, give an answer to a question that shall be proposed;" as for example, "What is love?" scarcely come under the denomination of Rational Recreations, nor will they much conduce to the end proposed in the introduction to Hooper's work; that is to say, in his own words, "To enlarge and fortify the mind of man, that he may advance with tranquil steps through the flowery paths of investigation, till arriving at some noble eminence, he beholds, with awful astonishment, the boundless regions of science, and becomes animated to attain a still more lofty station, whilst his heart is incessantly rapt with joys of which the groveling herd have no conception."

Even in those chemical experiments in this book, which are really ingenious and entertaining, we should avoid giving the old absurd titles, which can only confuse the understanding, and spoil the taste of children. The tree of Diana, and "Philosophic wool," are of this species. It is not necessary to make every thing marvellous and magical, to fix the attention of young people; if they are properly educated, they will find more amusement in discovering, or in searching for the cause of the effects which they see, than in a blind admiration of the juggler's tricks.

In the papers of the Manchester Society, in Franklin's letters, in Priestley's and Percival's works, there may be found a variety of simple experiments which require no great apparatus, and which will at once amuse and instruct. All the papers of the Manchester Society, upon the repulsion and attraction of oil and water, are particularly suited to children, because they state a variety of simple facts; the mind is led to reason upon them, and induced to judge of the different conclusions which are drawn from them by different people. The names of Dr. Percival, or Dr. Wall, will have no weight with children; they will compare only the reasons and experiments. Oil and water, a cork, a needle, a plate, and a glass tumbler, are all the things necessary for these experiments. Mr. Henry's experiments upon the influence that fixed air has on vegetation, and several of Reaumur's experiments, mentioned in the memoirs of the French Academy of Sciences, are calculated to please young people much, and can be repeated without expense or difficulty.

To those who acquire habits of observation, every thing that is to be seen or heard, becomes a source of amusement. Natural history interests children at an early age; but their curiosity and activity is often repressed and restrained by the ignorance or indolence of their tutors. The most inquisitive genius grows tired of repeating, "Pray look at this—What is it? What can the use of this be?" when the constant answer is, "Oh! it's nothing worth looking at, throw it away, it will dirty the house." Those who have attended to the ways of children and parents, well know that there are many little inconveniences attending their amusements, which the sublime eye of the theorist in education overlooks, which, nevertheless, are essential to practical success. "It will dirty the house," puts a stop to many of the operations of the young philosopher; nor is it reasonable that his experiments should interfere with the necessary regularity of a well ordered family. But most well ordered families allow their horses and their dogs to have houses to themselves; cannot one room be allotted to the children of the family? If they are to learn chemistry, mineralogy, botany, or mechanics; if they are to take sufficient bodily exercise without tormenting the whole family with noise, a room should be provided for them. We mention exercise and noise in particular, because we think they will, to many, appear of the most importance.

To direct children in their choice of fossils, and to give them some idea of the general arrangements of mineralogy, toy-shops should be provided with specimens of ores, &c. properly labelled and arranged, in drawers, so that they may be kept in order. Children should have empty shelves in their cabinets, to be filled with their own collections; they will then know how to direct their researches, and how to dispose of their treasures. If they have proper places to keep things in, they will acquire a taste for order by the best means, by feeling the use of it: to either sex, this taste will be highly advantageous. Children who are active and industrious, and who have a taste for natural history, often collect, with much enthusiasm, a variety of pebbles and common stones, which they value as great curiosities, till some surly mineralogist happens to see them, and condemns them all with one supercilious "pshaw!" or else a journey is to be taken, and there is no way in making up the heterogeneous, cumbersome collection, which must, of course, be abandoned. Nay, if no journey is to be taken, a visitor, perhaps, comes unexpectedly; the little naturalist's apartment must be vacated on a few minutes notice, and the labour of years falls a sacrifice, in an instant, to the housemaid's undistinguishing broom.

It may seem trifling to insist so much upon such slight things, but, in fact, nothing can be done in education without attention to minute circumstances. Many who have genius to sketch large plans, have seldom patience to attend to the detail which is necessary for their accomplishment. This is a useful, and therefore, no humiliating drudgery.

With the little cabinets, which we have mentioned, should be sold cheap microscopes, which will unfold a world of new delights to children; and it is very probable that children will not only be entertained with looking at objects through a microscope, but they will consider the nature of the magnifying glass. They should not be rebuffed with the answer, "Oh, it's only a common magnifying glass," but they should be encouraged in their laudable curiosity; they may easily be led to try slight experiments in optics, which will, at least, give the habits of observation and attention. In Dr. Priestley's History of Vision, many experiments may be found, which are not above the comprehension of children of ten or eleven years old; we do not imagine that any science can be taught by desultory experiments, but we think that a taste for science may early be given by making it entertaining, and by exciting young people to exercise their reasoning and inventive faculties upon every object which surrounds them. We may point out that great discoveries have often been made by attention to slight circumstances. The blowing of soap bubbles, as it was first performed as a scientific experiment by the celebrated Dr. Hook, before the Royal Society, makes a conspicuous figure in Dr. Priestley's chapter on the reflection of light; this may be read to children, and they will be pleased when they observe that what at first appeared only a trifling amusement, has occupied the understanding, and excited the admiration, of some great philosophers.

Every child observes the colours which are to be seen in panes of glass windows: in Priestley's History of Vision, there are some experiments of Hook's and Lord Brereton's upon these colours, which may be selected. Buffon's observations upon blue and green shadows, are to be found in the same work, and they are very entertaining. In Dr. Franklin's letters, there are numerous experiments, which are particularly suited to young people; especially, as in every instance he speaks with that candour and openness to conviction, and with that patient desire to discover truth, which we should wish our pupils to admire and imitate.

The history of the experiments which have been tried in the progress of any science, and of the manner in which observations of minute facts have led to great discoveries, will be useful to the understanding, and will gradually make the mind expert in that mental algebra, on which both reasoning and invention (which is, perhaps, only a more rapid species of reasoning) depend. In drawing out a list of experiments for children, it will, therefore, be advantageous to place them in that order which will best exhibit their relative connection; and, instead of showing young people the steps of a discovery, we should frequently pause to try if they can invent. In this, our pupils will succeed often beyond our expectations; and, whether it be in mechanics, chemistry, geometry, or in the arts, the same course of education will be found to have the same advantages. When the powers of reason have been cultivated, and the inventive faculty exercised; when general habits of voluntary exertion and patient perseverance, have been acquired, it will be easy, either for the pupil himself, or for his friends, to direct his abilities to whatever is necessary for his happiness. We do not use the phrase, success in the world, because, if it conveys any distinct ideas, it implies some which are, perhaps, inconsistent with real happiness.

Whilst our pupils occupy and amuse themselves with observation, experiment, and invention, we must take care that they have a sufficient variety of manual and bodily exercises. A turning-lathe, and a work-bench, will afford them constant active employment; and when young people can invent, they feel great pleasure in the execution of their own plans. We do not speak from vague theory; we have seen the daily pleasures of the work-bench, and the persevering eagerness with which young people work in wood, and brass, and iron, when tools are put into their hands at a proper age, and when their understanding has been previously taught the simple principles of mechanics. It is not to be expected that any exhortations we could use, could prevail upon a father, who happens to have no taste for mechanics, or for chemistry, to spend any of his time in his children's laboratory, or at their work-bench; but in his choice of a tutor, he may perhaps supply his own defects; and he will consider, that even by interesting himself in the daily occupations of his children, he will do more in the advancement of their education, than can be done by paying money to a hundred masters.

We do not mean to confine young people to the laboratory or the work-bench, for exercise; the more varied exercises, the better. Upon this subject we shall speak more fully hereafter: we have in general recommended all trials of address and dexterity, except games of chance, which we think should be avoided, as they tend to give a taste for gambling; a passion, which has been the ruin of so many young men of promising talents, of so many once happy families, that every parent will think it well worth his while to attend to the smallest circumstances in education, which can prevent its seizing hold of the minds of his children.

In children, as in men, a taste for gaming arises from the want of better occupation, or of proper emotion to relieve them from the pains and penalties of idleness; both the vain and indolent are prone to this taste from different causes. The idea of personal merit is insensibly connected with what is called good luck, and before avarice absorbs every other feeling, vanity forms no inconsiderable part of the charm which fixes such numbers to the gaming-table. Indolent persons are fond of games of chance, because they feel themselves roused agreeably from their habitual state of apathy, or because they perceive, that at these contests, without any mental exertion, they are equal, perhaps superior, to their competitors.

Happy they, who have early been inspired with a taste for science and literature! They will have a constant succession of agreeable ideas; they will find endless variety in the commonest objects which surround them; and feeling that every day of their lives they have sufficient amusement, they will require no extraordinary excitations, no holyday pleasures. They who have learnt, from their own experience, a just confidence in their own powers; they who have tasted the delights of well-earned praise, will not lightly trust to chance, for the increase of self-approbation; nor will those pursue, with too much eagerness, the precarious triumphs of fortune, who know, that in their usual pursuits, it is in their own power to command success proportioned to their exertions. Perhaps it may be thought, that we should have deferred our eulogium upon literature till we came to speak of Tasks; but if there usually appears but little connection in a child's mind, between books and toys, this must be attributed to his having had bad books and bad toys. In the hands of a judicious instructer, no means are too small to be useful; every thing is made conducive to his purposes, and instead of useless baubles, his pupils will be provided with play things which may instruct, and with occupations which may at once amuse and improve the understanding.

It would be superfluous to give a greater variety of instances of the sorts of amusements which are advantageous; we fear that we have already given too many, and that we have hazarded some observations, which will be thought too pompous for a chapter upon Toys. We intended to have added to this chapter an inventory of the present most fashionable articles in our toy-shops, and a list of the new assortment, to speak in the true style of an advertisement; but we are obliged to defer this for the present; upon a future occasion we shall submit it to the judgment of the public. A revolution, even in toy-shops, should not be attempted, unless there appear a moral certainty that we both may, and can, change for the better. The danger of doing too much in education, is greater even than the danger of doing too little. As the merchants in France answered to Colbert, when he desired to know "how he could best assist them," children might, perhaps, reply to those who are most officious to amuse them, "Leave us to ourselves."


[2] Dr. Fothergill.

[3] Dr. Beddoes.

[4] We are indebted to Dr. Beddoes for this idea.

[5] We do not mean to do injustice to Mrs. Raffeld's professional skill.

[6] V. Diderot's ingenious preface to "Chymie de gout et de l'odorat."



"Why don't you get your task, instead of playing with your playthings from morning till night? You are grown too old now to do nothing but play. It is high time you should learn to read and write, for you cannot be a child all your life, child; so go and fetch your book, and learn your task."

This angry apostrophe is probably addressed to a child, at the moment when he is intent upon some agreeable occupation, which is now to be stigmatized with the name of Play. Why that word should all at once change its meaning; why that should now be a crime, which was formerly a virtue; why he, who had so often been desired to go and play, should now be reviled for his obedience, the young casuist is unable to discover. He hears that he is no longer a child: this he is willing to believe; but the consequence is alarming. Of the new duties incumbent upon his situation, he has but yet a confused idea. In his manly character, he is not yet thoroughly perfect: his pride would make him despise every thing that is childish, but no change has yet been wrought in the inward man, and his old tastes and new ambition, are in direct opposition. Whether to learn to read, be a dreadful thing or not, is a question he cannot immediately solve; but if his reasoning faculty be suspended, there is yet a power secretly working within him, by which he will involuntarily be governed. This power is the power of association: of its laws, he is, probably, not more ignorant than his tutor; nor is he aware that whatever word or idea comes into his mind, with any species of pain, will return, whenever it is recalled to his memory, with the same feelings. The word Task, the first time he hears it, is an unmeaning word, but it ceases to be indifferent to him the moment he hears it pronounced in a terrible voice. "Learn your task," and "fetch your book," recur to his recollection with indistinct feelings of pain; and hence, without further consideration, he will be disposed to dislike both books and tasks; but his feelings are the last things to be considered upon this occasion; the immediate business, is to teach him to read. A new era in his life now commences. The age of learning begins, and begins in sorrow. The consequences of a bad beginning, are proverbially ominous; but no omens can avert his fate, no omens can deter his tutor from the undertaking; the appointed moment is come; the boy is four years old, and he must learn to read. Some people, struck with a panic fear, lest their children should never learn to read and write, think that they cannot be in too great a hurry to teach them. Spelling-books, grammars, dictionaries, rods and masters, are collected; nothing is to be heard of in the house but tasks; nothing is to be seen but tears.

"No tears! no tasks! no masters! nothing upon compulsion!" say the opposite party in education. "Children must be left entirely at liberty; they will learn every thing better than you can teach them; their memory must not be overloaded with trash; their reason must be left to grow."

Their reason will never grow, unless it be exercised, is the reply; their memory must be stored whilst they are young, because, in youth, the memory is most tenacious. If you leave them at liberty for ever, they will never learn to spell; they will never learn Latin; they will never learn Latin grammar; yet, they must learn Latin grammar, and a number of other disagreeable things; therefore, we must give them tasks and task-masters.

In all these assertions, perhaps, we shall find a mixture of truth and errour; therefore, we had better be governed by neither party, but listen to both, and examine arguments unawed by authority. And first, as to the panic fear, which, though no argument, is a most powerful motive. We see but few examples of children so extremely stupid as not to have been able to learn to read and write between the years of three and thirteen; but we see many whose temper and whose understanding have been materially injured by premature or injudicious instruction; we see many who are disgusted, perhaps irrecoverably, with literature, whilst they are fluently reading books which they cannot comprehend, or learning words by rote, to which they affix no ideas. It is scarcely worth while to speak of the vain ambition of those who long only to have it said, that their children read sooner than those of their neighbours do; for, supposing their utmost wish to be gratified, that their son could read before the age when children commonly articulate, still the triumph must be of short duration, the fame confined to a small circle of "foes and friends," and, probably, in a few years, the memory of the phenomenon would remain only with his doting grandmother. Surely, it is the use which children make of their acquirements which is of consequence, not the possessing them a few years sooner or later. A man, who, during his whole life, could never write any thing that was worth reading, would find it but poor consolation for himself, his friends, or the public, to reflect, that he had been in joining-hand before he was five years old.

As it is usually managed, it is a dreadful task indeed to learn, and, if possible, a more dreadful task to teach to read. With the help of counters, and coaxing, and gingerbread, or by dint of reiterated pain and terror, the names of the four-and-twenty letters of the alphabet, are, perhaps, in the course of some weeks, firmly fixed in the pupil's memory. So much the worse; all these names will disturb him, if he have common sense, and at every step must stop his progress. To begin with the vowels: each of these have several different sounds, and, consequently, ought to have several names, or different signs, to distinguish them in different circumstances. In the first lesson of the spelling book, the child begins with a-b, makes ab; b-a makes ba. The inference, if any general inference can be drawn from this lesson, is, that when a comes before b, it has one sound, and after b, it has another sound; but this is contradicted by and by, and it appears that a after b, has various sounds, as in ball, in bat, in bare. The letter i in fire, is i, as we call it in the alphabet, but in fir, it is changed; in pin, it is changed again; so that the child, being ordered to affix to the same sign a variety of sounds and names, and not knowing in what circumstances to obey, and in what to disregard the contradictory injunctions imposed upon him, he pronounces sounds at hazard, and adheres positively to the last ruled case, or maintains an apparently sullen, or truly philosophic and sceptical silence. Must e in pen, and e in where, and e in verse, and e in fear, all be called e alike? The child is patted on the head for reading u as it ought to be pronounced in future; but if, remembering this encouragement, the pupil should venture to pronounce u in gun, and bun, in the same manner, he will, inevitably, be disgraced. Pain and shame, impress precepts upon the mind: the child, therefore, is intent upon remembering the new sound of u in bun; but when he comes to busy, and burial, and prudence, his last precedent will lead him fatally astray, and he will again be called a dunce. O, in the exclamation Oh! is happily called by its alphabetical name; but in to, we can hardly know it again, and in morning and wonder, it has a third and a fourth additional sound. The amphibious letter y, which is either a vowel or a consonant, has one sound in one character, and two sounds in the other; as a consonant, it is pronounced as in yesterday; in try, it is sounded as i; in any, and in the termination of many other words, it is sounded like e. Must a child know all this by intuition, or must it be whipt into him? But he must know a great deal more, before he can read the most common words. What length of time should we allow him for learning, when c is to be sounded like k, and when like s? and how much longer time shall we add for learning, when s shall be pronounced sh, as in sure, or z, as in has; the sound of which last letter z, he cannot, by any conjuration, obtain from the name zed, the only name by which he has been taught to call it? How much time shall we allow a patient tutor for teaching a docile pupil, when g is to be sounded soft, and when hard? There are many carefully worded rules in the spelling-books, specifying before what letters, and in what situations, g shall vary in sound; but, unfortunately, these rules are difficult to be learned by heart, and still more difficult to understand. These laws, however positive, are not found to be of universal application, or at least, a child has not always wit or time to apply them upon the spur of the occasion. In coming to the words ingenious gentleman, get a good grammar, he may be puzzled by the nice distinctions he is to make in pronunciation in cases apparently similar; but he has not yet become acquainted with all the powers of this privileged letter: in company with h, it assumes the character of f, as in tough; another time he meets it, perhaps, in the same company, in the same place, and, as nearly as possible, in the same circumstances, as in the word though; but now g is to become a silent letter, and is to pass incognito, and the child will commit an unpardonable errour, if he claimed the incognito as his late acquaintance f. Still, all these are slight difficulties; a moment's reflection must convince us, that by teaching the common names of every consonant in the alphabet, we prepare a child for misery, when he begins to spell or read. A consonant, as sayeth the spelling-book, is a letter which cannot be pronounced without a vowel before or after it: for this reason, B, is called be, and L, el; but why the vowel should come first in the one case, or last in the second, we are not informed; nor are we told why the names of some letters have no resemblance whatever to their sounds, either with a vowel before or after them. Suppose, that after having learned the alphabet, a child was to read the words

Here is some apple-pye. He would pronounce the letters thus: Acheare ies esoeme apepeele pewie.

With this pronunciation the child would never decipher these simple words. It will be answered, perhaps, that no child is expected to read as soon as he has learnt his alphabet: a long initiation of monosyllabic, dissyllabic, trissyllabic, and polysyllabic words is previously to be submitted to; nor, after this inauguration, are the novices capable of performing with propriety the ceremony of reading whole words and sentences. By a different method of teaching, all this waste of labour and of time, all this confusion of rules and exceptions, and all the consequent confusion in the understanding of the pupil, may be avoided.

In teaching a child to read, every letter should have a precise single sound annexed to its figure; this should never vary. Where two consonants are joined together, so as to have but one sound, as ph, sh, &c. the two letters should be coupled together by a distinct invariable mark. Letters that are silent should be marked in such a manner as to point out to the child that they are not to be sounded. Upon these simple rules our method of teaching to read has been founded. The signs or marks, by which these distinctions are to be effected, are arbitrary, and may be varied as the teacher chooses; the addition of a single point above or below the common letters is employed to distinguish the different sounds that are given to the same letter, and a mark underneath such letters as are to be omitted, is the only apparatus necessary. These marks were employed by the author in 1776, before he had seen Sheridan's, or any similar dictionary; he has found that they do not confuse children as much as figures, because when dots are used to distinguish sounds, there is only a change of place, and no change of form: but any person that chooses it, may substitute figures instead of dots. It should, however, be remembered, that children must learn to distinguish the figures before they can be useful in discriminating the words.

All these sounds, and each of the characters which denote them, should be distinctly known by a child before we begin to teach him to read. And here at the first step we must entreat the teacher to have patience; to fix firmly in her mind, we say her mind, because we address ourselves to mothers; that it is immaterial whether a child learns this alphabet in six weeks or in six months; at all events, let it not be inculcated with restraint, or made tiresome, lest it should retard the whole future progress of the pupil. We do not mean to recommend the custom of teaching in play, but surely a cheerful countenance is not incompatible with application.

The three sounds of the letter (a) should first be taught; they may be learned by the dullest child in a week, if the letters are shown to him for a minute or two, twice a day. Proper moments should be chosen when the child is not intent upon any thing else; when other children have appeared to be amused with reading; when the pupil himself appears anxious to be instructed. As soon as he is acquainted with the sounds of (a) and with their distinguishing marks, each of these sounds should be formed into syllables, with each of the consonants; but we should never name the consonants by their usual names; if it be required to point them out by sounds, let them resemble the real sounds or powers of the consonants; but in fact it will never be necessary to name the consonants separately, till their powers, in combination with the different vowels, be distinctly acquired. It will then be time enough to teach the common names of the letters. To a person unacquainted with the principles upon which this mode of teaching is founded, it must appear strange, that a child should be able to read before he knows the names of his letters; but it has been ascertained, that the names of the letters are an incumbrance in teaching a child to read.

Vowels. Dipthongs. Consonants. Sounded as in Sounded as in & double Consonants a fate [=ea] ocean c as in cap ȧ fat c city [.a.] fall [=ew] few [=ch] child e mere [=ch.] machine ė met [=ia] filial g got ẹ her ġ age [.e.] where [=ie] Daniel [=ng] long i fine ing thing i in [=io] minion [=le] able ị bird [=re] acre [.i.] machine [=oi] voice [=ph] physic o throne ṡ has ȯ on [=ou] found [=sh] she ọ love [=sion] fusion [..o] move [=ow] now [=th] the u pure ti christian [ue] busy [ua] assuage [=tion] nation ụ sun [=wh] who [..u] full [=ui] languid [=ough] tough ẏ by ÿ ably [=oy] joy


ba ca da fa ga ha ja ka la ma na pa qua ra sa ta va wa ya za

(') This mark under a Letter shews that it is not to be pronounced, as [.e.]ight in which igh are not sounded.

[Transcriber's Note: The symbols in this table are as follows:

ȧ indicates dot above letter ạ indicates dot below letter [.a.] indicates dot above letter and below letter [..o] indicates dot in center of letter ä indicates two dots above letter [=ea] indicates a horizontal line through letters [=ch.] indicates a horizontal line through letters and a dot below]

In the quotation from Mrs. Barbauld, at the bottom of the alphabetical tables, there is a stroke between the letters b and r in February, and between t and h, in there, to show that these letters are to be sounded together, so as to make one sound. The same is to be observed as to (ng) in the word long, and also as to the syllable ing, which, in the table No. 4, column 4, is directed to be taught as one sound. The mark (.) of obliteration, is put under (y) in the word days, under e final in there, and also under one of the l's and the (w) in yellow, to show that these letters are not to be pronounced. The exceptions to this scheme of articulation are very few; such as occur, are marked, with the number employed in Walker's dictionary, to denote the exception, to which excellent work, the teacher will, of course, refer.

Parents, at the first sight of this new alphabet, will perhaps tremble lest they should be obliged to learn the whole of it before they begin to teach their children: but they may calm their apprehensions, for they need only point out the letters in succession to the child, and sound them as they are sounded in the words annexed to the letters in the table, and the child will soon, by repetition, render the marks of the respective letters familiar to the teacher. We have never found any body complain of difficulty, who has gone on from letter to letter along with the child who was taught.

As soon as our pupil knows the different sounds of (a) combined in succession with all the consonants, we may teach him the rest of the vowels joined with all the consonants, which will be a short and easy work. Our readers need not be alarmed at the apparent slowness of this method: six months, at the rate of four or five minutes each day, will render all these combinations perfectly familiar. One of Mrs. Barbauld's lessons for young children, carefully marked in the same manner as the alphabet, should, when they are well acquainted with the sounds of each of the vowels with each of the consonants, be put into our pupil's hands.[7]

The sound of three or four letters together, will immediately become familiar to him; and when any of the less common sounds of the vowels, such as are contained in the second table, and the terminating sounds, tion, ly, &c. occur, they should be read to the child, and should be added to what he has got by rote from time to time. When all these marks and their corresponding sounds are learnt, the primer should be abandoned, and from that time the child will be able to read slowly the most difficult words in the language. We must observe, that the mark of obliteration is of the greatest service; it is a clue to the whole labyrinth of intricate and uncouth orthography. The word though, by the obliteration of three letters, may be as easily read as the or that.

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