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AN ESSAY ON THE LIGHT OF MENTAL SCIENCE
APPLIED TO MORAL TRAINING.
BY MRS. LOUDON.
INSCRIBED TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL SPENCER BY THE
AUTHOR, AS A TESTIMONY OF HER RESPECT AND GRATITUDE.
The training of judgment. God has given our children reason; it is for us to make them reasoning beings. This must be done by giving their reasoning faculties early habits of activity in the perception of truth, and of its application to the regulation of conduct; for, inasmuch as the limbs of the body can be rendered dexterous in the movements connected with any calling by carly and constant practice, so can the powers of the mind. So far, therefore, from adopting that great error, of never giving reasons to children, always give a child a reason, and take care that it shall be a good one. And let this be a means of self-culture. Be thus obliged to have good reasons for everything you do; and tell the child that you explain your reasons for the purpose of showing it how to act reasonably when it shall no longer have the benefit of your advice. You thus prepare your child to know, by an almost personal experience, how to act under all circumstances, however varied their details. For, the great principles that ought to govern conduct are few and simple; those persons, therefore, who have been carly habituated to apply these principles to a certain number of circumstances, will, ultimately, know how, by analogy, to apply them to all possible circumstances. Great first principles applied thus to whole classes of ideas must necessarily simplify
Concluded from page 422, vol. XLII. May, 1845.- VOL. XLIII.-NO. CLXIX.
just thinking, as much as classification assists every science; or, as reducing written signs to twenty-four characters of which all words must be made, renders reading easier than assigning a character to each word, and thus having thousands of arbitrary signs to remember. Instead of a rule for every little circumstance, amounting to thousands--nay, millions, in a lifetime, we have a few immutable truths; with these for our moral alphabet, we can spell every combination of feelings and reasons oat of which we should make a motive.
While you are thus showing your child how you reasoned, and what great moral consideration gave the casting voice in each decision of your will, you are teaching it one of the most precious of practical moral lessons ; for you are, by the sympathy of your example, inciting its moral and intellectual faculties to consult each other, and mutually to advise and enlighten each other prior to the will giving its consent to the performance of any action.
You must, however, not only give your child your reasons, and explain to it how you arrived at your conclusions, but you must also lead and habituate its own mind to form reasons. That is, you must prompt and aid it to weigh itself the materials offered to the judgment and the affections, and to form from these wise, virtuous, and sufficient motives to action. You have already, by developing its affections and exciting its sympathies in the manner described, inclined it to do right; you must now teach it to reason, and be able to tell itself, by deductions from first principles made by its own understanding, why right is right. Thus you will gradually enable it to form that amalgamation of feeling and reason which constitutes an enlightened conscience or completed moral sense, ready on all occasions to act on the will with the promptitude of a single impulse, and the united force of the whole moral and intellectual being. *
* A clever and ingenious mother might make mental processes of this kind, despite the seriousness of their import, interesting and amusing in the highest degree to a lively child or group of children, by turning her illustrations into allegories and personifying the mental powers-representing the will as a sovereign taking advice from his ministers, the moral and intellectual faculties, especially his prime minister conscience; speaking of the sovereign as a good or a bad character according as he followed or neglected the advice of his said prime minister ; and again, speaking of tie prime minister himself as able and enlightened, or the contrary, according as he was well informed and well advised by the perceiving, the comparing, and the moral faculties, and thus capable of giving the best advice to his sovereign the will, on every emergency, without mistakes or loss of time. She might give spirit to all this, and render it doubly amusing to children by describing her personages with countenances, voices, and manners characteristic of their natures, and making speeches for them, also in character. This would afford opportunities of representing the propensities in a diverting manner, as a very inferior and selfish set of persons, apt to make troublesome requests and present too frequent petitions ; while the will, on all such occasions, must be represented as pausing wisely to consult his ministers, and discussing with them the propriety or impropriety of granting such requests.
The senses of seeing, hearing, &c., might be brought forward as witnesses to give their testimony to the facts of each case. This would furnish occasions for showing
The ancient sages, in some instances, called forth to a certain degree the judgment, not indeed of children, but of youths, by discussing before them at their suppers learned questions. But though this practice had in it some good, the system of which it was a part was very imperfect: the success, therefore, of the ancient philosophers in forming moral characters was necessarily very partial. First, because their own ideas on many points of morals were, generally speaking, very faulty ; secondly, because the preparatory awakening of the sympathies, and developing of the gentle and kindly affections in infancy and childhood, was not thought of, while a contrary training was, in many instances practised ; thirdly, because veneration, instead of being excited to the beauty and value of veracity, and the evil tendency and despicable nature of falseness.
This introduction of allegorical personages may be made so very droll or so very affecting, as occasion requires, by the marked changes alluded to in the tone of voice, expression of countenance, &c., and by lively repartees or tender appeals to feeling between the characters of the drama—that it will be found quite possible to introduce thus, without the least danger of tediousness to children, an indispensable exercise of the understanding, for which few grown people, from want of right mental habits, have patience---namely, chains of reasoning, showing how each effect becomes a new cause, till an inevitable conclusion be arrived at.
Whenever it is possible, the children should be prompted, and assisted by leading questions to go through the series and come to the conclusion themselves; and, should that conclusion be calculated to excite a hearty laugh or call forth a tear of sympathy, it need not be the less philosophically true, and may be the better relished by our little party.
Here the mother should make a matter of great importance of each proved conclusion ; treat each such, when arrived at, as an acquisition, a piece of mental property; cause it to be written, at the moment, into a book kept for the purpose ; and take great care to refer to it, on the next occasion, as a starting-point, saying, “We have proved that already.” Then call for the book into which it was written, and point out and read out the reference, and recomience thence your new series; and after this, every time a thus-proved truth occurs in the course of your progress make use of it by reference, as mathematicians make use of their already proved problems. No matter how trifling the subject of any such train of exact reasoning, what is important is the habit, in searching for truth, of founding each new step on proved facts, and so treading firmly. Until, therefore, this mental habit be thoroughly confirmed, the simpler the whole apparatus of subject, proofs, and facts, the better, because the more likely to fix the attention and interest the feelings of children.
Let the subjects be nursery or play-ground transactions; let the language be simple enough ; let the manner be pleasant enough, feeling enough, and kind enough, and children, with their straightforward unsophisticated ininds, will easily be brought to see the hinges on which turn great truths respecting which philosophers have quibbled for ages. The principle involved in the lesson need not be the less important because the subject be but a toy or an apple; while whole evenings Inight be thus spent with as much delight as advantage.
To do all this, indeed, parents must themselves put off their worldly prejudices, and come to the task with as much simplicity and honesty of purpose as little
Many children would listen to such moral dramas with even a more lively interest than to merely narrated stories; of which, notwithstanding, all children are known to be so fond that they will ask for the same again and again, without tiring. But the attention in the dramas would be kept, if possible, still more on the alert by there being so much for their own imaginations to create and their own minds to do ; while the ultimate decision of the will would be looked forward to, as the denouement of the story, with the most breathless anxiety. Children somewhat advanced in moral training would begin to foresee, and prophesy eagerly what would be the said admire, venerate, and worship moral grandeur, and thus incite the mind, through desire of its own approbation, to assimilation with such, was drawn aside by the sympathy of example to the adoration, and consequent imitation, of false glory. The results were in perfect accordance with the laws of mind, as shall be shown more at length in its proper place, with some references to history. Indeed, if the history of the world, from its commencement to the present hour, were studied with this one principle for our guide, like the compass on the pathless seas, it would enable us to steer our way with certainty. Nay, if the secret story of every heart that ever beat could be laid before us, this same principle would stand forth but the more clearly proved-namely, that decision. A judicious pause, to let them do so, would here be advantageous; and, as such decision must necessarily contain the principle to be established, so should it always be made the hinge on which turns the fate of the characters of the story. This would be thus a most useful and delightful exercise of the children's own consciences and of all their moral and intellectual faculties To obviate anything like tediousness, a toy to handle and play with might here be introduced, and called the reasoning ladder, with little movable figures, which are to mount, one rung at a time, on certain conditions ; namely that the truth written on that rung be proved by a chain of reasoning; the puppet on the ladder, the while each question is pending, poising one foot in the air, waiting permission to mount in an attitude that shall set all the little group in a roar of laughter ; each rung of the ladder having written upon it a moral truth, till, at the top of all, appears that never-to-be-severed link between the moral and intellectual worlds--the fact that nothing is really reasonable which is not moral.
Diverting illustrations of short-sighted selfishness or greediness, with laughable failures, like that of the dog in the fable of the larger piece of meat, might be introduced here. In short, while we are showing that all unkindness and injustice-even in its mildest form of carelessness of the interests or of the feelings of others-falls back on self, and, though founded on supposed prudential reasoning, is, in fact, false reasoning as well as immorality ; we should, to prevent langour occurring for a moment, call to our aid every kind of aniusing auxiliary that is but harınless in itself, provided it tend to preserve our little group of future moral and mental philosophers from yawning and sighing, as forms of embryo classical scholars do, poor things ! for at least seven yeais, over their Latin and Greek grammars. Not, indeed, because the combinations of signs and sounds they are committing to memory present them with ideas too abstruse, but because they do not present them with any ideas at all at first. After, indeed, groping in total darkness among false quantities for three or four out of the seven years, they may arrive, at length, at glimmerings of false glory and lax morality; and, if they have admirable perseverance, the favoured few may finally succeed in filling their imaginations and their memories with a confusion of grossnesses, absurdities, ferocities and unities; the possession of which hidden treasure, without attempting to draw from it any deductions, is indicated by the power of making a few classical quotations and understanding a few classical allusions. To which foundation of a classical education, if their parents can afford them an allowance of four or five hundred per annum, they may, at college, add the gentlemanly accomplishments of giving champagne breakfasts and running in debt.
Is this a preparation either for doinestic or for public life? Will this training incline the feelings aright, and teach the understanding to confirm their choice? If not, it is not the education suited to a moral and intellectual being. That the world under such a system is not much worse than it is, only proves the strength and imperishable nature of the good instincts which God has given us.
But to return from our digression; the delay and interruption likely to be caused by mingling laughable incidents and accidents with chains of reasoning in the manner described above wculd be anything but time lost. On the contrary, the more of playful suspense there is about each question to be decided, provided the thing be
false worship, or no worship (in other words, a false direction of veneration, or its non-development) are severally the causes of every variety of false conduct.
Admire falsely, and you live devoted to the pursuit of a fallacy! Do not admire at all, and you sink to the level of the lower animals, and lead a life devoted to sensual appetites !
Do you wish your children, then, as far as the commanded progress may be intended to be carried in this world, to “ Be perfect even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect,” set up before them the mental image of his moral grandeur, and burn on its altar night and day the incense of your own enthusiastic venera
If any one should be inclined to say that this is not religion,
well managed, the greater the impression the decision will make on young children ; and this is the grand point; they have time enough before them if they live. If it took a day, therefore-nay, a week, to arrive thus at one conclusion, would not our little laughing group, in a few months, possess a greater number of truths, anplicable by themselves to their own conduct, than many a learned man amasses in a lifetime, although at every literary meal he may have devoured ready-made axioms by the page-full? But taking cognizance of assertions made by others, and arriving at conclusions made by ourselves, are two very different operations of the mind. The only species of delay then to be dreaded while thus training the judgment of children is such as would perinit their interest in the decision of the will to ftag. This, therefore, must be carefully avoided.
Let us return to our little group of youthful students. A mother, with a very moderate talent for sketching could enliven her lessons, and delight her children, by rough drawings, made before them, of the personages of her allegories, grouped according to her purpose; while, pointing with her pencil from one figure to another as she made the speech each was supposed to deliver, she would quickly have her eager spectators running round her to peep over each other's shoulders with the most animated glee.
Nor would there be wanting attempts to make drawings themselves on the suljects; attempts which ought to be encouraged, as tending to impress the ideas on the memory.
Such mental exercises might be infinitely varied, having for their subjects, from time to time, birds, beasts, dolls, cakes, the flying of kites, the sailing of boats, the obliging lending and due returning of toys, and the honourable fulfilment of every little promise and engagement respecting such. While, at the same time, we should take especial care to avail ourselves of every circumstance happening to and around the children themselves, so as to make as many as possible of our lessons resemble more occurrences in their own lives, experiences collected by themselves, than speculative rules; and yet involve, notwithstanding, all the greatest principles necessary to the conduct of after life, while those principles, thus practically impressed on the feelings and affections by this association with real events interesting to and within the comprehension of children, would become landmarks to the moral perceptions never to be removed.
As children are still more forcibly struck and still longer amused by objects which are tangible as well as visible than by pictures only, there could be no objection to furnishing them with toy personages representing the mental faculties on the plan of the Noah's ark for teaching the natural history of animals.
Thus, by handling and grouping on the table, which served as a stage, those allegorical figures, children would acquire the elements of internal natural history, or mental philosophy and become as familiar with the powers with which their own minds were furnished, as with the very chairs and tables of the rooms they usually occupied. While the relative rank and authority of those powers, and how to use them in getting at moral truth, being illustrated by the moral dramas enacted by the figures, would be impressed in a manner not likely to be forgotten.