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When a mother boasted to Lucinda, in a confidential moment, of her daughter's accomplishments, the latter, a sincere and clearsighted person, observing how exclusively the embellishments of life had superseded all else in her friend's estimation, ventured to hint that such acquirements ought not to be the great object of education.
“ I know what you mean,” replied the careful matron : “ the great object is, her marrying advantageously.”
“ Not exactly,” replied Lucinda : “so many of the unmarried are eminently useful in walks where wives and mothers can seldom tread, and the balance of happiness so equal, that nothing is more surprising than the prevalent solicitude to ensure the marriage of young women.”
“ How stupid I am !” replied mamma. “ You mean, by the great object, living in the best company?"
Lucinda shook her head.
“ Oh! then you mean the power of amusing herself at home.”
In short, when Lucinda explained, by hinting somewhat of that religious instruction—that
education of the heart, which prepares for a higher existence, she was listened to with evident ennui ; and a certain degree of restlessness in her fair auditor, showed the desire of terminating a conversation derogatory to Lucinda's understanding.
One mother, indulging for her daughter the wish she has felt most powerfully for herself, thinks she displays a graceful candour, in owning that “ her great ambition is to see her admired.” Another declares she has chiefly set her heart on making her girls excellent musicians. A third, on their “ being perfectly women of fashion.” These sentiments are seldom openly avowed, and are most acted upon in that class of persons, who, uniting wealth and idleness to a thirst for dissipation, are eagerly pressing upwards; and though not within the pale of fashion, conceive that envied distinction not wholly unattainable, either by themselves or their children.
One father professes he will be satisfied if his son“ never does anything unworthy of a gentleman!” We all know the latitude of the phrase. Another, only wishes that his should “ advance
by his talents, and be distinguished in the world.”
Any person who ventures, except in the pulpit, to speak with the openness of Lucinda, is considered (unless mildly set aside as a saint or a Methodist) as either half mad, half fool ; or an untutored, Parson Adams-ish sort of person, regardless or ignorant of the common usages of life*.
Were the plain, but unpopular assertion, that this world is a preparation for the next, uni
* This appalling fact would not now perhaps be so generally admitted, as it must have been (especially in Ireland) when these pages were written. Religion is now taught as a branch of education at least. And did Christianity consist of outward ordinances,-fixed rules of conduct, and assent to certain dogmas, it might be so taught. But the truth is, that though the facts and doctrines of our religion may be learnt by the pupil, their results, their practical consequences, must be imbibed from the teacher's own life. Her temper, her views, her hopes, must “ tell of the doctrine," whether, at least, she believes its truth. And if this comment be wanting, our children may be reading the Scriptures daily, yet may not, after all, be receiving a Christian education. Nay, should this reading bring forth fruit to them, may it not rather be in spite of, · than in consequence of, their education ? Such a view of the subject, I conceive, would have been taken by the author at the present day.
formly attended to, how would it simplify the apparently complicated task of education :-how many systems and theories would crumble into dust :-how few parents could mistake the plain road pointed out by the Gospel. An affectionate mother, guided by its precepts, would need but little study to become the best instructor of early youth. As she would acknowledge that we find in the human heart the soil for every virtue, the seeds of every vice, she would be in no danger of following those rash philosophers who advise us to trust “implicitly to Nature.” On the contrary, she would vigilantly eradicate those vices to which she knows our nature is prone, though some of them may shoot up in the most brilliant and beautiful colours ; for the graces of infancy reflect a charm on its very faults. Falsehood, from the lips of a lovely and sprightly child, who has no apparent design but to amuse, wears the garb of lively invention ; and, if we reflect not on the habit thus formed, is often highly entertaining. Obstinacy takes the shape of firmness ;—anger, of spirit and courage ;-selfishness, of forethought and penetration. The Christian mother feels that the seeds of these imperfections are thickly sown, and she will endeavour to stifle them before they appear above the surface; conscious that this can best be done by an assiduous and early cultivation of the opposite virtues.
Above all, she will be aware of resigning herself wholly to the guidance of any general system of education, recommended by so shortsighted a being as man; because the difference of external circumstances, of organization, of mental powers, and imperceptible early associations, must create the necessity of continual variation from systems the most plausible and imposing.
That we are all born alike in disposition and capability of acquiring knowledge, no one who has studied children will be hardy enough to assert ; though it has been boldly insisted on by some modern French philosophers.
Difference of temper, though health and all other external circumstances are the same, is observable in a few days after our birth. . While nature is so various, an unbending systematic education will too often prove no better than the bed of Procrustes.