« PreviousContinue »
who has past over the few first years of life, sings, or dances, or diaws, or plays upon musical instruments. These are merely means for displaying the grace and vivacity of youth, which every woman gives up, as she gives up the dress and the manners of eighteen : she has no wish to retain them; or, if she has, she is driven out of them by diameter and derision. The system of female education, as it now stands, aims only at embellishing a few years of life, which are in themselves so full of grace and happiness that they hardly want it ; and then leaves the rest of existe ence a miserable prey to idle insignificance. No woman of understanding and reflection can possibly conceive she is doing justice to her children by such kind of education. The object is to give to children resources that will endure as long as life endures-habits that time will ameliorate, not destroy,
-occupations that will render sickness tolerable, solitude pleasant, age venerable, life more dignified and useful, and therefore death less terrible : and the compensation which is offered for the omission of all this is a shortlived blaze,-a little temporary effect, which has no other consequence than to deprive the remainder of life of all taste and relish. There may be women who have a taste for the fine arts, and who evince a decided talent for drawing, or for music. In that case there can be no objection to the cultivation of these arts; but the error is to make such things the grand and universal object, -to insist upon it that every woman is to sing, and draw, and dance,—with nature, or against nature,-to bind her apprentice to some accomplishment, and if she cannot succeed in oil or water colours, to prefer gilding, varnishing, burnishing, box-making, to real and solid improvement in taste, knowledge, and understanding.
A great deal is said in favour of the social nature of the fine arts. Music gives pleasure to others. Drawing is an art, the amusement of which does not centre in him who exercises it, but is diffused among the rest of the world. This is true ; but there is nothing, after all, so social as a cultivated mind. We do not mean to speak slightingly of the fine arts, or to depreciate the good humour with which they are sometimes exhibited ; but we appeal to any man, whether a little spirited and sensible conversation-displaying, modestly, useful acquirements—and evincing rational curiosity, is not well worth the highest exertions of musical or graphical skill. A woman of accomplishments may entertain those who have the pleasure of knowing her for half an hour with great brilliancy; but a mind full of ideas, and with that elastic spring which the love of knowledge only can convey, is a perpetual source of exhilaration and amusement to all that come within its reach ;- not collecting its force into single and insulated achievements, like the efforts made in the fine arts—but diffusing, equally over the whole of existence, a calm pleasure-better loved as it is longer felt-and suitable to every variety and every period of life. Therefore, instead of hanging the understanding of a woman upon walls, or hearing it vibrate upon strings, -instead of seeing it in clouds, or hearing it in the wind, we would make it the first spring and ornament of society, by enriching it with attainments upon which alone such power depends.
If the education of women were improved, the education of men would be improved also. Let anyone consider (in order to bring the matter more home by an individual instance) of what immense importance to society it is, whether a nobleman of first-rate fortune and distinction is well or ill brought up ;what a taste and fashion he may inspire for private and for political vice !and what misery and mischief he may produce to the thousand human beings who are dependent on him! A country contains no such curse within its bosom. Youth, wealth, high rank, and vice, form a combination which baffles all remonstrance and invective and beats down all opposition. A man of high rank who combines these qualifications for corruption, is almost the master of the manners of the age, and has the public happiness within his grasp. But the most beautiful possession which a country can have is a noble and rich man who loves virtue and knowledge ;-who, without being feeble or fanatical, is pious—and who, without being factious, is firm and independent; -who, in his political life, is an equitable mediator between king and people; and in his civil life, a firm promoter of all which can shed a lustre upon his country, or promote the peace and order of the world. But if these objects are of the importance which we attribute to them, the education of women must be important, as the formation of character for the first seven or eight years of life seems to depend almost entirely upon them. It is certainly in the power of a sensible and well educated mother to inspire, within that period, such tastes and propensities as shall nearly decide the destiny of the future man; and this is done, not only by the intentional exertions of the mother, but by the gradual and insensible imitation of the child; for there is something extremely contagious in greatness and rectitude of thinking, even at that age; and the character of the mother with whom he passes his early infancy is always an event of the utmost importance to the child. A merely accomplished woman cannot infuse her tastes into the minds of her sons; and if she could, nothing could be more unfortunate than her success. Besides, when her accomplishments are given up, she has nothing left for it but to amuse herself in the best way she can ; and becoming entirely frivolous, either declines altogether the fatigue of attending to her children, or, attending to them, has neither talents nor knowledge to succeed ; and, therefore, here is a plain and fair answer to those who ask so triumphantly, Why should a woman dedicate herself to this branch of knowledge? or why should she be attached to such science ?-because, by having gained information on these points, she may inspire her son with valuable tastes, which may abide by him through life, and carry him up to all the sublimities of knowledge ;-because she cannot lay the foundation of a great character if she is absorbed in frivolous amusements, nor inspire her child with noble desires, when a long course of trifling has destroyed the little talents which were left by a bad education.
It is of great importance to a country that there should be as many understandings as possibly actively employed within it. Mankind are much happier for the discovery of barometers, thermometers, steam-engines, and all the innumerable inventions in the arts and sciences. We are every day and every hour reaping the benefit of such talent and ingenuity. The same observation is true of such works as those of Dryden, Pope, Milton, and Shakspeare. Mankind are much happier that such individuals have lived and written ;they add every day to the stock of public enjoyment-and perpetually gladden and embellish life. Now, the number of those who exercise their understanding to any good purpose, is exactly in proportion to those who exercise it at all ; but, as the matter stands at present, half the talent in the universe runs to waste, and is totally unprofitable. It would have been almost as well for the world, hitherto, that women, instead of possessing the capacities they do at present, should have been born wholly destitute of wit, genius, and every other attribute of mind of which men make so eminent an use : and the ideas of use and possession are so united together, that because it has been the cus. tom in almost all countries to give to women a different and a worse education than to men, the notion has obtained that they do not possess faculties which they do not cultivate. Just as, in breaking up a common, it is sometimes very difficult to make the poop believe it will carry corn, merely because they
have been hitherto accustomed to see it produce nothing but weeds and grass--they very naturally mistake present condition for general natúre. So completely have the talents of women been kept down, that there is scarcely a single work, either of reason or imagination, written by a woman, which is in general circulation, either in the English, French, or Italian literature ; scarcely one that has crept even into the ranks of our minor poets.
If the possession of excellent talents is not a conclusive reason why they should be improved, it at least amounts to a very strong presumption; and, if it can be shown that women may be trained to reason and imagine as well as men, the strongest reasons are certainly necessary to show us why we should not avail ourselves of such rich gifts of nature; and we have a right to call for a clear statement of those perils which make it necessary that such talents should be totally extinguished, or, at most, very partially drawn out. The burthen of proof does not lie with those who say, Increase the quantity of talent in any country as much as possible—for such a proposition is in conformity with every man's feelings : but it lies with those who say, Take care to keep that understanding weak and trifling, which nature has made capable of becoming strong and powerful. The paradox is with them, not with us. In all human reasoning, knowledge must be taken for a good, till it can be shown to be an evil. But now, Nature makes to us rich and magnificent presents ; and we say to her—You are too luxuriant and munificent-we must keep you under, and prune you ;-we have talents enough in the other half of the creation; and, if you will not stupefy and enfeeble the minds of women to our hands, we ourselves must expose them to a narcotic process, and educate away that fatal redundance with which the world is afflicted, and the order of sublunary things deranged.
One of the greatest pleasures of life is conversation ;-and the pleasures of conversation are of course enhanced by every increase of knowledge : not that we should meet together to talk of alkalis and angles, or to add to our stock of history and philology—though a little of these things is no bad ingredient in conversation ; but let the subject be what it may, there is always a prodigious difference between the conversation of those who have been well educated and of those who have not enjoyed this advantage. Education gives fecundity of thought, copiousness of illustration, quickness, vigour, fancy, words, images, and illustrations ;-it decorates every common thing, and gives the power of trifling without being undignisied and absurd. The subjects themselves may not be wanted upon which the talents of an educated man have been exercised ; but there is always a demand for those talents which his education has rendered strong and quick. Now, really, nothing can be further from our intention than to say anything rude and unpleasant ; but we must be excused for observing that it is not now a very common thing to be interested by the variety and extent of female knowledge, but it is a very common thing to lament that the finest faculties in the world have been confined to trifles utterly unworthy of their richness and their strength.
The pursuit of knowledge is the most innocent and interesting occupation which can be given to the female sex ; nor can there be a better method of checking a spirit of dissipation, than by diffusing a taste for literature. The true way to attack vice is by setting up something else against it. Give to women, in early youth, something to acquire, of sufficient interest and import. ance to command the application of their mature faculties, and to excite their perseverance in future life ;-teach them that happiness is to be derived from the acquisition of knowledge, as well as the gratification of vanity; and you will raise up a much more formidable barrier against dissipation than an host of invectives and exhortations can supply.
It sometimes happens that an unfortunate man gets drunk with very bad wine-not to gratify his palate, but to forget his cares : he does not set any value on what he receives, but on account of what it excludes ;-it keeps out something worse than itself. Now, though it were denied that the acquisition of serious knowledge is of itself important to a woman, still it prevents a taste for silly and pernicious works of imagination ;-it keeps away the horrid trash of novels; and, in lieu of that eagerness for emotion and adventure which books of that sort inspire, promotes a calm and steady temperament of mind.
A man who deserves such a piece of good fortune, may generally find an excellent companion for all the vicissitudes of his life ; but it is not so easy to find a companion for his understanding, who has similar pursuits with himself, or who can comprehend the pleasure he derives from them. We really can see no reason why it should not be otherwise ; nor comprehend how the pleasures of domestic life can be promoted by diminishing the number of subjects in which persons who are to spend their lives together take a common interest.
One of the most agreeable consequences of knowledge is the respect and importance which it communicates to old age. Men rise in character often as they increase in years;—they are venerable from what they have acquired, and pleasing from what they can impart. If they outlive their faculties, the mere frame itself is respected for what it once contained ; but women (such is their unfortunate style of education) hazard everything upon one cast of the die ;when youth is gone, all is gone. No human creature gives his admiration for nothing: either the eye must be charmed, or the understanding gratified. A woman must talk wisely or look well. Every human being must put up with the coldest civility who has neither the charms of youth nor the wisdom of age. Neither is there the slightest commiseration for decayed accomplishments :-no man mourns over the fragments of a dancer, or drops a tear on the relics of musical skill. They are flowers destined to perish; but the decay of great talents is always the subject of solemn pity; and, even when their last memorial is over, their ruins and vestiges are regarded with pious affection.
There is no connection between the ignorance in which women are kept and the preservation of moral and religious principle ; and yet certainly there is, in the minds of some timid and respectable persons, a vague, indefinite dread of knowledge, as if it were capable of producing these effects. It might almost be supposed, from the dread which the propagation of knowledge has excited, that there was some great secret which was to be kept in impenetrable obscurity,—that all moral rulers were a species of delusion and imposture, the detection of which, by the improvement of the understanding, would be attended with the most fatal consequences to all, and particularly to women. If we could possibly understand what these great secrets were, we might perhaps be disposed to concur in their preservation ; but believing that all the salutary rules which are imposed on women are the result of true wisdom, and productive of the greatest happiness, we cannot understand how they are to become less sensible of this truth in proportion as their power of discovering truth in general is increased, and the habit of viewing questions with accuracy and comprehension 'established by education. There are men, indeed, who are always exclaiming against every species of power, because it is connected with danger : their dread of abuses is so much stronger than their admiration of uses, that they would cheerfully give up the use of fire, gunpowder, and printing, to be freed from robbers, incendiaries, and libels. It is true, that every increase of knowledge may possibly render depravity more depraved,
as well as it may increase the strength of virtue. It is in itself only power ; and its value depends on its application. But, trust to the natural love of good where there is no temptation to be bad—it operates nowhere more forcibly than in education. No man, whether he be tutor, guardian, or friend, ever contents himself with infusing the mere ability to acquire ; but giving the power, he gives with it a taste for the wise and rational exercise of that power; so that an educated person is not only one with stronger and better faculties than others, but with a more useful propensity-a disposition better cultivated-and associations of a higher and more important. class.
In short, and to recapitulate the main points upon which we have insisted, -Why the disproportion in knowledge between the two sexes should be so great, when the inequality in natural talents is so small ; or why the under. standing of women should be lavished upon trifles, when nature has made it capable of higher and better things, we profess ourselves not able to understand. The affectation charged upon female knowledge is best cured by making that knowledge more general: and the economy devolved upon women is best secured by the ruin, disgrace, and inconvenience which proceeds from neglecting it. For the care of children, nature has made a direct and powerful provision ;, and the gentleness and elegance of women is the natural consequence of that desire to please which is productive of the greatest part of civilisation and refinement, and which rests upon a foundation too deep to be shaken by any such modifications in education as we have proposed. If you educate women to attend to dignified and important subjects, you are multiplying, beyond measure, the chances of human improvement, by preparing and medicating those early impressions which always come from the mother; and which, in a great majority of instances, are quite decisive of character and genius. Nor is it only in the business of education that women would influence the destiny of men. If women knew more, men must learn more-for ignorance would then be shameful—and it would become the fashion to be instructed. The instruction of women improves the stock of national talents, and employs more minds for the instruction and amusement of the world ;-it increases the pleasures of society, by multiplying the topics upon which the two sexes take a common interest ;-and makes marriage an intercourse of understanding as well as of affection, by giving dignity and importance to the female character. The education of women favours public morals; it provides for every season of life, as well as for the brightest and the best ; and leaves a woman when she is stricken by the hand of time, not as she now is, destitute of everything, and neglected by all ; but with the full power and the splendid attractions of knowledge,-diffusing the elegant pleasures of polite literature, and receiving the just homage of learned and accomplished men.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS OF ENGLAND. (E. REVIEW, August, 1810.) Remarks on the System of Education in Public Schools. 8vo. Hatchard. London. 1809. There is a set of well-dressed, prosperous gentlemen, who assemble daily at Mr. Hatchard's shop ;-clean, civil personages, well in with people in power -delighted with every existing institution -and almost with every existing circumstance ;-and, every now and then, one of these personages writes à little book ;-and the rest praise that little book-expecting to be praised, in