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an action is required by one high in power or promises to be beneficial, not whether it will advance the interests of a particular sect or party, but in all cases whether it is RIGHT. With such a training of their moral dispositions, they will stand firm, when every thing is shaken and in commotion' around them; they will have strength in themselves, a strength not of earth; they will go forth amid the scenes of this dark world, surrounded with a light emanating from their own bosoms, and under the smiles of an approving God.
§. 297. Suggestions on the importance of moral education.
WE do not feel at liberty to leave the subject of the Moral Sensibilities, without offering a few remarks, chiefly of a practical nature, on the subject of moral education in general. It is perhaps unnecessary to occupy time in attempting to show the importance of such education, since no one can be ignorant of the deplorable consequences, which follow from an utter neglect of it. But notwithstanding the general concession of its importance, it has ever held a subordinate rank, compared with that purely intellectual education, which deals wholly with the mere acquisition of knowledge.
While no one presumes to assert, that moral education is unimportant, it must be acknowledged, that it has been exceedingly neglected, in consequence of the greater value, which has generally been attached to that training of the mind, which has exclusive relation to its intellectual part. It seems to be a fact generally admitted, that children and youth have been taught with great zeal in every thing where the head is concerned, in grammar, geography, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and the like; and in almost nothing,
which concerns the heart. No pains have been spared in favor of the intellect, while the sensitive part of our nature, the moral emotions, the lower modifications of desire, and the affections have been left to take care of themselves.
Supposing this to be nearly the true state of things, every reflecting mind must contemplate it with regret; and will look forward with great interest to the time, when moral education shall at least be put on a footing with intellectual, if it do not take the precedence of it. Certain it is, that a firm and ample foundation is laid for this species of mental training, if the doctrines, which have been advanced in the course of this Work, are correct; FIRST, that we have intellectually the power of forming the abstract conceptions of right and wrong, of merit and demerit, which necessarily involves, that there is an immutable standard of rectitude; and SECOND, that, in the department of the Sensibilities, we have, in correspondence with the fact of such an immutable standard, the implanted principle of the Moral Sensibility or Conscience, which, in the Emotive form of its action, indicates our conformity to the standard of rectitude or divergency from it, and in its Obligatory action, authoritatively requires conformity. We assert, that we have here basis enough for a consistent and durable moral education; especially when we take into view the close connection existing between the conscience and the intellect, particularly the reasoning pow
§. 298. The mind must be occupied at an early period either with good or bad principles.
It may perhaps be suggested here, admitting the general fact of the great importance of moral education, that it would be better to leave the subject of morals, until persons are old enough to decide on all subjects of this nature for themselves. This suggestion would be entitled to more weight, if it were possible in the meanwhile for the mind to remain a moral blank. But this does not appear to be the case. As the mind is continually operative, it is almost a matter of course, that it receives, and as it were incorporates into itself moral principles either right or wrong. We are surrounded with such a variety of active influences, that he, who is not imbued with good, cannot reasonably expect to be
uncontaminated with evil. In order, therefore, to prevent the contaminations of vice, it is necessary to preoccupy the mind, by the careful introduction and the faithful cultivation of the elements of virtue. Let the young mind, therefore,
the minds of children and youth, be made the subjects of assiduous moral culture.
The doctrine, which was formerly advanced by Rousseau and others that children and youth are incapable of receiving moral and religious ideas, and of sustaining a character on moral principles, is unsound in point of fact and most pernicious in its tendency. All experience goes against it. In France, where it has found its most numerous advocates, its evils have been very deeply felt. A recent French writer, who cannot be suspected of giving unfavorable representations of his countrymen without a cause, thinks, that the widely spread domestic corruption and miseries, which he acknowledges to exist, can be corrected only by a greater attention to early moral education. This remark implies, that the origin of those evils is chiefly to be found in the abandonment, (or at least great neglect of such education,) without which, it must be obvious to every judicious mind, that individual happiness will be exceedingly diminished, that the peace of families will be put at hazard, and that the props and securities of the commonwealth will be dislocated and swept away.
§. 299. Of the time when moral instruction and discipline ought to com
We cannot but conclude, therefore, that a course of moral training ought to be commenced at an early period. It is a truth sufficiently established, that we begin to learn as soon as we begin to exist. The infant no sooner comes into the world, than the mind expands itself for the reception of knowledge, as naturally as the flower opens its rejoicing leaves to the rising sun. The earnestness, which it discovers, as it turns its eye towards the light or any bright object, its expression of surprise on hearing sudden and loud sounds, its strong propensity to imitate the actions and words of its attendants, all show most clearly that the work of intellectual developement is begun
While no one doubts this early developement of the intel
lect, it has not been so generally admitted to be true of the pathematic and moral part of our nature. But there is no sufficient ground, as we have already had occasion to intimate, for a distinction in this respect; the developement of the head and the heart, of the intellect and the sentient nature, begins essentially at one and the same time. It is true, that the perceptive or intellectual action is necessarily antecedent in the order of nature; but the sensitive action, both natural and moral, follows closely and perseveringly in its train. And this also may be added, viz. that the developement of the moral nature in its leading outlines appears to be sooner completed. Facts and the relations of facts, which are the subjects of the intellectual activity, are infinite. But the great principles of morals, however multiplied they may be in their applications, are in themselves few and simple. How few persons at the age of fourteen or sixteen years have completed their attainments in knowledge and have fully unfolded and strengthened all their intellectual powers! And yet how many at the same age have established such a decided moral character either for good or evil as almost to preclude the hope of a correction of its deformities in the one case, or the enhancement of its beauties in the other!
§. 300. Of the discouragements attending a process of moral instruction. And here we would remark upon one discouragement, which frequently attends the efforts of those, who are so situated as to render it especially their duty to impart instruction to the young. We refer to the fact, that it is sometimes and but too frequently the case, that they see but little immediate good results from their labors. They can see distinctly the advancement of their pupils in that knowledge, which is appropriate to the intellect; but are less able to measure their progress in what pertains to the moral culture. Indeed they too often believe, that their instruction is seed sown upon stony ground, which is not only unproductive at present, but is absolutely and forever lost.
This is a great mistake. The truth is, that nothing is lost. The moral and religious instruction, which is communicated to the youthful memory, is deposited in the keeping of a power, which may sometimes slumber but can never die.
It may long be unproductive; it may remain for years without giving signs of vivification and of an operative influence; and yet it may only be waiting for some more favorable and important moment, when it shall come forth suddenly and prominently to view. No one, therefore, ought to be discouraged in the discharge of this duty. In nothing is the Scriptural declaration more likely to be fulfilled in its richest import. "Cast thy bread upon the waters, and thou shalt find it after many days."
Multitudes of illustrations might be introduced to confirm the views of this section. How natural is the following incident! And how agreeable, therefore, to sound philosophy!
"When I was a little child, (said a religious man,) my mother used to bid me kneel beside her, and place her hand upon my head while she prayed. Ere I was old enough to know her worth, she died, and I was left much to my own. guidance Like others, I was inclined to evil passions, but often felt myself checked, and as it were drawn back by the soft hand upon my head. When I was a young man I travelled in foreign lands, and was exposed to many temptations, but when I would have yielded, that same hand was upon my head, and I was saved. I seemed to feel its pressure, as in the days of my happy infancy, and sometimes there came with it a voice in my heart, a voice that must be obeyed; Oh, do not this wickedness, my son, nor sin against thy God."
§. 301. Of the importance, in a moral point of view, of adopting correct speculative opinions.
But, while we assert that there is ample basis in the mental constitution for a moral education, that this education ought to be commenced at an early period, and that such a course of training has its due share of encouragements, we acknowledge, that it is not an easy thing in a few words to point out the characteristics, and to indicate the outlines of a system of moral culture. Accordingly we shall not attempt it any further than to add a few general suggestions. We proceed, therefore, to remark, that suitable pains ought to be taken to introduce into the young mind correct speculative opinions.
It was seen in a former Chapter, that the conscience acts