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STATE EDUCATION., Issue 7934, 15 June 1889, Supplement
lu tho last number of this series of letters —unavoidably long interrupted—a, sketch was drawn of the condition of female education (to use the fashionable slang of our clay) as pourtrayed on tho pages of the ' Spectator ' during the reign of good Queen Anne —as that fat and feeble Sovereign was called by her numerous udmirers. Pope, the intimate friend during many years of the most brilliant and accomplished woman—or rather English-v/oma.n—ol the period, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu—herself the author of the most piquant and fascinating letters perhaps in our whole literaturepresents us in his works with more than one charming portrait of the ladies of his time. Thus, in ' The Rape of the Lock,' a delicious pastoral which has, I fear, fallen into illdeserved oblivion among the earnest-minded "higher education movement" women under Victoria, Pope thus describes the attractions, mental as well as physical, of the heroine Belinda: — Her lively looks a sprightly mind dis3lose, Quiok as her eyes, and as unfixed as those— Favors to none, to a'l she sm lea extends; Oft she rfjeets, but never once c (Tends. Bright as the sun they shine on all alike; Yet graceful easo, and sweetness void of prido, Might hide her faults, if belles had faults to hide. It to her share some female errors fall, took on her face, and you'll forget them a'l. Fie ! fie ! Mr Pope. What would a Girton or Newnham " Belinda " say now to such unblushing flattery from Tennyson or Morris? No wonder the young lady to whom the above lines were addressed is stated to have grown so conceited there was no bearing her. Yet this same flatterer of the fair was capable of writing in a very different strain of women when irritated (as he not infrequently appears to have been) with the whims and humors of the sex—at any rate of those ladies who apparently had outlived their earlier charms. Thus he writes:— I know the thing that's most uncommon (Envy, ho silent, and attend !); I know a recuonoble woman, Handsome and witty, yet a friend. To Lady Mary—at that date the poet's most intimate friend of the opposite Bex—he addresses the following verses, published in a miscellany of the year 1720: — i. In beauty or wit, No mortal as yet To question your empire has dared ; But men of discerning Have thought that, in learning, To yield to a lady was hard. ii. Impertinent schools, With musty dull rules, Have reading to females denied; So Papists refuse The Bible to use, Lest flocks should be wise as their guide. in. 'Twfts a woman at first (Indeed she was curst) In knowledge that tasted delight; And sages agree The laws should decree To the first possessor the right. Etc., etc It is not surprising that the gifted but unhappy Swift should have shared the poor opinion then too commonly held even by highly cultured men of women's mental and moral endowments. A selfish man, who could sacrifice at least one devoted woman to his caprice, was but too likely to exercise the customary right of disliking, if not despising, those whom he had deeply injured. Yet, in his correspondence with Stella, how, as it were, in spite of himself, does this savage and selfish cynic offer homage, again and again, to those womanly qualities—those graces and those virtues—which are by no means invariably the resalts of "higher education"!
In the most wonderfully perfect reproduction, probably, in modern English literature of the characteristic traits of a past age— Thackeray's ' Henry Esmond '—occurs a passage which I venture humbly to commend, Mr Editor, to the serious notice of your fair readers. Not that any reasonabto man would wish them to love education les3, but only to perceive more clearly than some J'emmex suuantes apparently do, that cleverness is not culture, and that culture Itself necessarily includes as its essential constituents that modesty and charity without all knowledge is as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. " That happiness which hath subsequently crowned my life cannot be written in words; 'tis of its nature sacred and secret, and not to be spoken of, though the heart be ever so full of thankfulness, save to heaven and to the one ear alone—to one fond being, the truest and tenderest, and purest wife ever man was blessed with. . . . Sure love
vincit omnia (conquers all things), is immeasurably above all ambition, more precious than wealth, more noble than name. He knows not life who knows not that ; he hath not felt the highest faculty of the soul who hath not enjoyed it." It is to be apprehended that far the greater number of ladies of rank and fashion of this Augustan age of Anne resembled much more closely the brilliant Beatrice of Thackeray's novel rather than her who was the original inspirer of these beautiful words. It may, however, be safely maintained that if the usual education of women in the upper classes was superficial and frivolous, no less so was that of the men in the same rank. The fashionable young lady of Pope's day was taught a little music, we are told, some skill in dancing, and as much arithmetic as sufficed for the purposes of card playing. She was thought quite learned enough if she could barely read and write. If she could finish a letter without notoriously violating the common laws of orthography she passed for a clever creature. "A girl's schooling," remarks one author, " was, indeed, made very short work of. By the time she was fourteen or fifteen she was usually introduced into society and set to begin the serious business of life—that is, to throw off her personal attractions and thus obtain for herself a good marriage." There is no reason, as I have just said, to believe that boys were generally much better taught than girls. "The substance of a finished education," observes a writer, " for a young gentleman of this period waß a little Latin and less Greek flogged into him at one of the public schools, or by a private tutor like the Thwackum of 'Tom Jones.'" When a youth had been whipped through the Latin grammar at school, and had acquired subsequently at the University a smattering of the classics, his education was considered complete. To these acquirements he might or might not add a little music and a little dancing. Thus, sir, does the story of human folly repeat itself from generation to generation. In the early part of this eighteenth century we are credibly informed that many of the ladies in Scotland of the highest rank could not write, and some of them could not even read. But from the cheapness of education, both at school and college—a cheapness which, down to this hour, distinguishes Scotland from the sister kingdom—a Scottish gentleman was able at small expense, writes one authority, to send all his sons to the University. Towards the close of tho reign of Anne, under the influence of the rise of tho new spirit of commercial enterprise, it became a not unusual custom for the cadets of noble Scotch families to be taught Borne mechanical art or to enter sonio trado or manufacturing industry—a custom by no means even now unfamiliar with that singularly shrewd and thrifty people. Much interesting light is thrown upon the middle-class education of the last century in that inimitable biography—Boswell's • Life of Johnson.' Some of the redoubtable doctor's remarks are as applicable to ourselves at the present day as to the bygone generation. Thus : " People have nowadays," said he, "got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do so much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken. I know nothing that can be best taught by lectures, except where experiments are to be shown. You may teach chymistry by leotnres ; you might teach making of shoes by lectures." Again: " While learning to read and write is a distinction, the few who have that distinction may be the less inclined to work ; but when everybody learns to read and write, it is no longer a distinction. . . . There are no people whatever more industrious, none who work more, than our manufacturers, yet they have all learned to read and write. Sir, you must not neglect- doing a -thing immediately good from fear of remote evil." Again: "Aohild who is flogged gets his task, and there's an end on't; whereas by escitiog emulation and
comparisons of superiority you lay the foundations of lasting mischief—you make brothers and sisters hate each other." In this last sentiment, it is to bo hoped, few will now be found to agree with Dr Johnson. Gibbon, author of the ' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' when a Westmiuster scholar, about the year 1746, tells us that "At the expense of many tears and some blood i purchased the knowledge of the Latin syntax." Entered as a gentleman commoner at Magdalen College in 1752, he does not appear to have much profited by the course of study pursued at Oxford. A biographer of Gibbon who may be termed the greatest of our English historians, remarks : " At no period in their history had the English universities sunk to a lower condition than at this time. To speak of them as ' seats of learning' seems like irony. They were seats of nothing but coarse living and clownish manners the centres where all the faction, party spirit, and bigotry of the country were gathered to a head." Gibbon himself thus speaks of his fellow students : "They were decent, easy men, who supinely enjoyed the gifts of the founder. Their days were filled by a series of uniform employments—the chapel, the hall, the coffee-house, and the common room—till they retired, weary and well satisfied, to a long slumber. From the toil of reading, writing, or thinking they had absolved their consciences." The poet Gray, in his correspondence with Mason writing from Peterhouse College declares that the prophet Isaiah had Cambridge, equally with Babyloa, in view when he spoke of wild beasts and wild aEses, of dancirg satyrs, of a habitation of dragons and a court for owls. In the life and works of a now little read poet (Cowper) there are not unfrequent allusions—and those far from flattering in many instauces—to the school and college education common in the middle of the eighteenth century. Cowper speaks of a favorite master in Westminster School one Vincent Bourne —in the following language :"I think him a better Latin poet than Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius, or"any of the writers in his way, except Ovid, and not at all inferior to him. I love him, too, with a love of partiality, because he was usher of the fifth form a,t Westminster when I passed through it. He was so good-natured and so indolent that 1 lost more than I got by him, for he made me as idle as himself. He was such a sloven—as if he had trusted to his genius as a cloak for everything that could di gust you in his person; and, indeed, in his writings he has almost made amends for all. . . . I remember seeing the Dukeof Richmond set fire to his greasy locks and box his ears to put it out again." Professor Gold win Smith, in his ' Life of Cowper,' rightly observes, however, that Cowper not only became a gocd classical scholar, but, as clever boys often did under the unexacting rule of the old public schools, ho studied independently, and even read through, with a friend, the whole of the Iliad and Odyssey ! Cowper's ' Letters to his Friends '— a collection little meriting the oblivion into which, I fear, it has fallen nowadays—are distinguished by such clearness, simplicity, and delicate beauty of style, even when considered apart from the matter, as to make the reader feel tolerably well assured of the possibility of acquiring a perfect mastery of the English language, even by those antediluvian beings who, unhappily for themselves no doubt, lived in an age when that language was not " taught as she is spoken," either in the syllabus or in any other method, to children in our public schools. Cuivis.
STATE EDUCATION., Issue 7934, 15 June 1889, Supplement
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