Obrazy na stronie

has a vanity in accomplishing the task prescribed him in the shortest practicable time. He is impatient to go away from the business imposed upon him, to things of his own election, and occupations which his partialities and his temper prompt him to pursue. He has a pride in saying to himself, “This, which was a business given to occupy me for several hours, I can accomplish in less than one.” But the presumption arising out of these views is easily subdued. If the pupil is wrong in his calculation, the actual experiment will speedily convince him of his error. He is humbled by and ashamed of his mistake. The merely being sent back to study his lesson afresh, is on the face of the thing punishment enough.

It follows from this view of the matter, that an ingenuous youth, endowed with sufficient capacity for the business prescribed him, may be led on in the path of intellectual acquisition and improvement with a silken cord. It will demand a certain degree of patience on the part of the instructor. But Heaven knows, that this patience is sufficiently called into requisition when the instructor shall be the greatest disciplinarian that ever existed. Kind tones and encouragement will animate the learner amidst many a difficult pass. A grave remark may perhaps sometimes be called for. And, if the preceptor and the pupil have gone on like friends, a grave remark, a look expressive of rebuke, will be found a very powerful engine. The instructor

should smooth the business of instruction to his pupil, by appealing to his understanding, developing his taste, and assisting him to remark the beauties of the composition on which he is occupied.

I come now then to the consideration of the two engines mentioned in the commencement of this Essay, reprehension and chastisement. And here, as in what went before, I am reduced to the referring to my own experience, and looking back into the history of my own mind.

I say then, that reprehension and reprimand can scarcely ever be necessary. The pupil should undoubtedly be informed when he is wrong. He should be told what it is that he ought to have omitted, and that he ought to have done. There should be no reserve in this. It will be worthy of the highest censure, if on these points the instructor should be mealy-mouthed, or hesitate to tell the pupil in the plainest terms, of his faults, his bad habits, and the dangers that beset his onward and honourable path.

But this may be best, and most beneficially done, and in a way most suitable to the exigence, and to the party to be corrected, in a few words. The rest is all an unwholsome tumour, the disease of speech, and not the sound and healthful substance through which its circulation and life are conveyed.

There is always danger of this excrescence of speech, where the speaker is the umpire, and feels himself at liberty, unreproved, to say what he pleases. He is charmed with the sound of his own voice. The periods fow numerous from his tongue, and he gets on at his ease. There is in all this an image of empire ; and the human mind is ever prone to be delighted in the exercise of unrestricted authority. The pupil in this case stands before his instructor in an attitude humble, submissive, and bowing to the admonition that is communicated to him. The speaker says more than it was in his purpose to say; and he knows not how to arrest himself in his triumphant career. He believes that he is in no danger of excess, and recollects the old proverb that “words break no bones.”

But a syllable more than is necessary and justly measured, is materially of evil operation to ingenuous youth. The mind of such a youth is tender and Aexible, and easily swayed one way or the other. He believes almost every thing that he is bid to believe ; and the admonition that is given him with all the symptoms of friendliness and sincerity he is prompt to subscribe to. If this is wantonly aggravated to him, he feels the oppression, and is galled with the injustice. He knows himself guiltless of premeditated wrong. He has not yet learned that his condition is that of a slave ; and he feels a certain impatience at his being considered as such, though he probably does not venture to express it. He shuts up the sense of this despotism in his own bosom; and it is his first lesson of independence and rebellion and original sin.

It is one of the grossest mistakes of which we can be guilty, if we confound different offences and offenders together. The great and the small alike appear before us in the many-coloured scene of human society; and, if we reprehend bitterly and rate a juvenile sinner for the fault, which he scarcely understood, and assuredly had not premeditated, we break down at once a thousand salutary boundaries, and reduce the ideas of right and wrong in his mind to a portentous and terrible chaos. The communicator of liberal knowledge assuredly ought not to confound his office with that of a magistrate at a quarter-sessions, who though he does not sit in judgment upon transgressions of the deepest and most atrocious character, yet has brought before him in many cases defaulters of a somewhat hardened disposition, whose lot has been cast among the loose and the profligate, and who have been carefully trained to a certain audacity of temper, taught to look upon the paraphernalia of justice with scorn, and to place a sort of honour in sustaining hard words and the lesser visitations of punishment with unflinching nerve. If this is the judgment we ought to pass upon

the bitter and galling and humiliating terms of reprehension apt to be made use of by the instructor to his pupil, it is unnecessary to say a word on the subject of chastisement. If such an expedient is ever to be had recourse to, it can only be in cases of contumaciousness and rebellion; and then the instructor cannot too unreservedly say to himself, “This is matter of deep humiliation to me: I ought to have succeeded by an appeal to the understanding and ingenuous feelings of youth ; but I am reduced to a confession of my impotence.”

But the topic which, most of all, I was desirous to bring forward in this Essay, is that of the language so customarily employed by the impatient and irritated preceptor, “Hereafter, in a state of mature and ripened judgment, you will thank me for the severity I now exercise towards you.”

No; it may safely be answered : that time will never arrive.

As, in one of my earlier Essays, I undertook to shew that there is not so much difference between the talents of one man and another as has often been apprehended, so we are guilty of a gross error in the way in which we divide the child from the man, and consider him as if he belonged to a distinct species of beings.

I go back to the recollections of my youth, and can scarcely find where to draw the line between ineptness and maturity. The thoughts that occurred to me, as far back as I can recollect them, were often shrewd; the suggestions ingenious ; the judgments not seldom acute. I feel myself the same individual all through. Sometimes I was unreasonably presumptuous, and sometimes unnecessarily distrustful. Experience has taught me in various in

Essay II.

« PoprzedniaDalej »