Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK II - Emile, or Education
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BOOK II - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or Education 
Emile, or Education. Translated by Barbara Foxley, M.A. (London & Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1921; New York: E.P. Dutton, 1921).
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We have now reached the second phase of life; infancy, strictly so-called, is over; for the words infans and puer are not synonymous. The latter includes the former, which means literally “one who cannot speak;” thus Valerius speaks of puerum infantem. But I shall continue to use the word child (French enfant) according to the custom of our language till an age for which there is another term.
When children begin to talk they cry less. This progress is quite natural; one language supplants another. As soon as they can say “It hurts me,” why should they cry, unless the pain is too sharp for words? If they still cry, those about them are to blame. When once Emile has said, “It hurts me,” it will take a very sharp pain to make him cry.
If the child is delicate and sensitive, if by nature he begins to cry for nothing, I let him cry in vain and soon check his tears at their source. So long as he cries I will not go near him; I come at once when he leaves off crying. He will soon be quiet when he wants to call me, or rather he will utter a single cry. Children learn the meaning of signs by their effects; they have no other meaning for them. However much a child hurts himself when he is alone, he rarely cries, unless he expects to be heard.
Should he fall or bump his head, or make his nose bleed, or cut his fingers, I shall show no alarm, nor shall I make any fuss over him; I shall take no notice, at any rate at first. The harm is done; he must bear it; all my zeal could only frighten him more and make him more nervous. Indeed it is not the blow but the fear of it which distresses us when we are hurt. I shall spare him this suffering at least, for he will certainly regard the injury as he sees me regard it; if he finds that I hasten anxiously to him, if I pity him or comfort him, he will think he is badly hurt. If he finds I take no notice, he will soon recover himself, and will think the wound is healed when it ceases to hurt. This is the time for his first lesson in courage, and by bearing slight ills without fear we gradually learn to bear greater.
I shall not take pains to prevent Emile hurting himself; far from it, I should be vexed if he never hurt himself, if he grew up unacquainted with pain. To bear pain is his first and most useful lesson. It seems as if children were small and weak on purpose to teach them these valuable lessons without danger. The child has such a little way to fall he will not break his leg; if he knocks himself with a stick he will not break his arm; if he seizes a sharp knife he will not grasp it tight enough to make a deep wound. So far as I know, no child, left to himself, has ever been known to kill or maim itself, or even to do itself any serious harm, unless it has been foolishly left on a high place, or alone near the fire, or within reach of dangerous weapons. What is there to be said for all the paraphernalia with which the child is surrounded to shield hm on every side so that he grows up at the mercy of pain, with neither courage nor experience, so that he thinks he is killed by a pin-prick and faints at the sight of blood?
With our foolish and pedantic methods we are always preventing children from learning what they could learn much better by themselves, while we neglect what we alone can teach them. Can anything be sillier than the pains taken to teach them to walk, as if there were any one who was unable to walk when he grows up through his nurse’s neglect? How many we see walking badly all their life because they were ill taught?
Emile shall have no head-pads, no go-carts, no leading-strings; or at least as soon as he can put one foot before another he shall only be supported along pavements, and he shall be taken quickly across them.1 Instead of keeping him mewed up in a stuffy room, take him out into a meadow every day; let him run about, let him struggle and fall again and again, the oftener the better; he will learn all the sooner to pick himself up. The delights of liberty will make up for many bruises. My pupil will hurt himself oftener than yours, but he will always be merry; your pupils may receive fewer injuries, but they are always thwarted, constrained, and sad. I doubt whether they are any better off.
As their strength increases, children have also less need for tears. They can do more for themselves, they need the help of others less frequently. With strength comes the sense to use it. It is with this second phase that the real personal life has its beginning; it is then that the child becomes conscious of himself. During every moment of his life memory calls up the feeling of self; he becomes really one person, always the same, and therefore capable of joy or sorrow. Hence we must begin to consider him as a moral being.
Although we know approximately the limits of human life and our chances of attaining those limits, nothing is more uncertain than the length of the life of any one of us. Very few reach old age. The chief risks occur at the beginning of life; the shorter our past life, the less we must hope to live. Of all the children who are born scarcely one half reach adolescence, and it is very likely your pupil will not live to be a man.
What is to be thought, therefore, of that cruel education which sacrifices the present to an uncertain future, that burdens a child with all sorts of restrictions and begins by making him miserable, in order to prepare him for some far-off happiness which he may never enjoy? Even if I considered that education wise in its aims, now could I view without indignation those poor wretches subjected to an intolerable slavery and condemned like galley-slaves to endless toil, with no certainty that they will gain anything by it? The age of harmless mirth is spent in tears, punishments, threats, and slavery. You torment the poor thing for his good; you fail to see that you are calling Death to snatch him from these gloomy surroundings. Who can say how many children fall victims to the excessive care of their fathers and mothers? They are happy to escape from this cruelty; this is all that they gain from the ills they are forced to endure: they die without regretting, having known nothing of life but its sorrows.
Men, be kind to your fellow-men; this is your first duty, kind to every age and station, kind to all that is not foreign to humanity. What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? Love childhood, indulge its sports, its pleasures, its delightful instincts. Who has not sometimes regretted that age when laughter was ever on the lips, and when the heart was ever at peace? Why rob these innocents of the joys which pass so quickly, of that precious gift which they cannot abuse? Why fill with bitterness the fleeting days of early childhood, days which will no more return for them than for you? Fathers, can you tell when death will call your children to him? Do not lay up sorrow for yourselves by robbing them of the short span which nature has allotted to them. As soon as they are aware of the joy of life, let them rejoice in it, so that whenever God calls them they may not die without having tasted the joy of life.
How people will cry out against me! I hear from afar the shouts of that false wisdom which is ever dragging us onwards, counting the present as nothing, and pursuing without a pause a future which flies as we pursue, that false wisdom which removes us from our place and never brings us to any other.
Now is the time, you say, to correct his evil tendencies; we must increase suffering in childhood, when it is less keenly felt, to lessen it in manhood. But how do you know that you can carry out all these fine schemes; how do you know that all this fine teaching with which you overwhelm the feeble mind of the child will not do him more harm than good in the future? How do you know that you can spare him anything by the vexations you heap upon him now? Why inflict on him more ills than befit his present condition unless you are quite sure that these present ills will save him future ill? And what proof can you give me that those evil tendencies you profess to cure are not the result of your foolish precautions rather than of nature? What a poor sort of foresight, to make a child wretched in the present with the more or less doubtful hope of making him happy at some future day. If such blundering thinkers fail to distinguish between liberty and licence, between a merry child and a spoilt darling, let them learn to discriminate.
Let us not forget what befits our present state in the pursuit of vain fancies. Mankind has its place in the sequence of things; childhood has its place in the sequence of human life; the man must be treated as a man and the child as a child. Give each his place, and keep him there. Control human passions according to man’s nature; that is all we can do for his welfare. The rest depends on external forces, which are beyond our control.
Absolute good and evil are unknown to us. In this life they are blended together; we never enjoy any perfectly pure feeling, nor do we remain for more than a moment in the same state. The feelings of our minds, like the changes in our bodies, are in a continual flux. Good and ill are common to all, but in varying proportions. The happiest is he who suffers least; the most miserable is he who enjoys least. Ever more sorrow than joy—this is the lot of all of us. Man’s happiness in this world is but a negative state; it must be reckoned by the fewness of his ills.
Every feeling of hardship is inseparable from the desire to escape from it; every idea of pleasure from the desire to enjoy it. All desire implies a want, and all wants are painful; hence our wretchedness consists in the disproportion between our desires and our powers. A conscious being whose powers were equal to his desires would be perfectly happy.
What then is human wisdom? Where is the path of true happiness? The mere limitation of our desires is not enough, for if they were less than our powers, part of our faculties would be idle, and we should not enjoy our whole being; neither is the mere extension of our powers enough, for if our desires were also increased we should only be the more miserable. True happiness consists in decreasing the difference between our desires and our powers, in establishing a perfect equilibrium between the power and the will. Then only, when all its forces are employed, will the soul be at rest and man will find himself in his true position.
In this condition, nature, who does everything for the best, has placed him from the first. To begin with, she gives him only such desires as are necessary for self-preservation and such powers as are sufficient for their satisfaction. All the rest she has stored in his mind as a sort of reserve, to be drawn upon at need. It is only in this primitive condition that we find the equilibrium between desire and power, and then alone man is not unhappy. As soon as his potential powers of mind begin to function, imagination, more powerful than all the rest, awakes, and precedes all the rest. It is imagination which enlarges the bounds of possibility for us, whether for good or ill, and therefore stimulates and feeds desires by the hope of satisfying them. But the object which seemed within our grasp flies quicker than we can follow; when we think we have grasped it, it transforms itself and is again far ahead of us. We no longer perceive the country we have traversed, and we think nothing of it; that which lies before us becomes vaster and stretches still before us. Thus we exhaust our strength, yet never reach our goal, and the nearer we are to pleasure, the further we are from happiness.
On the other hand, the more nearly a man’s condition approximates to this state of nature the less difference is there between his desires and his powers, and happiness is therefore less remote. Lacking everything, he is never less miserable; for misery consists, not in the lack of things, but in the needs which they inspire.
The world of reality has its bounds, the world of imagination is boundless; as we cannot enlarge the one, let us restrict the other; for all the sufferings which really make us miserable arise from the difference between the real and the imaginary. Health, strength, and a good conscience excepted, all the good things of life are a matter of opinion; except bodily suffering and remorse, all our woes are imaginary. You will tell me this is a commonplace; I admit it, but its practical application is no commonplace, and it is with practice only that we are now concerned.
What do you mean when you say, “Man is weak”? The term weak implies a relation, a relation of the creature to whom it is applied. An insect or a worm whose strength exceeds its needs is strong; an elephant, a lion, a conqueror, a hero, a god himself, whose needs exceed his strength is weak. The rebellious angel who fought against his own nature was weaker than the happy mortal who is living at peace according to nature. When man is content to be himself he is strong indeed; when he strives to be more than man he is weak indeed. But do not imagine that you can increase your strength by increasing your powers. Not so; if your pride increases more rapidly your strength is diminished. Let us measure the extent of our sphere and remain in its centre like the spider in its web; we shall have strength sufficient for our needs, we shall have no cause to lament our weakness, for we shall never be aware of it.
The other animals possess only such powers as are required for self-preservation; man alone has more. Is it not very strange that this superfluity should make him miserable? In every land a man’s labour yields more than a bare living. If he were wise enough to disregard this surplus he would always have enough, for he would never have too much. “Great needs,” said Favorin, “spring from great wealth; and often the best way of getting what we want is to get rid of what we have.” By striving to increase our happiness we change it into wretchedness. If a man were content to live, he would live happy; and he would therefore be good, for what would he have to gain by vice?
If we were immortal we should all be miserable; no doubt it is hard to die, but it is sweet to think that we shall not live for ever, and that a better life will put an end to the sorrows of this world. If we had the offer of immortality here below, who would accept the sorrowful gift?1 What resources, what hopes, what consolation would be left against the cruelties of fate and man’s injustice? The ignorant man never looks before; he knows little of the value of life and does not fear to lose it; the wise man sees things of greater worth and prefers them to it. Half knowledge and sham wisdom set us thinking about death and what lies beyond it; and they thus create the worst of our ills. The wise man bears life’s ills all the better because he knows he must die. Life would be too dearly bought did we not know that sooner or later death will end it.
Our moral ills are the result of prejudice, crime alone excepted, and that depends on ourselves; our bodily ills either put an end to themselves or to us. Time or death will cure them, but the less we know how to bear it, the greater is our pain, and we suffer more in our efforts to cure our diseases than if we endured them. Live according to nature; be patient, get rid of the doctors; you will not escape death, but you will only die once, while the doctors make you die daily through your diseased imagination; their lying art, instead of prolonging your days, robs you of all delight in them. I am always asking what real good this art has done to mankind. True, the doctors cure some who would have died, but they kill millions who would have lived. If you are wise you will decline to take part in this lottery when the odds are so great against you. Suffer, die, or get better; but whatever you do, live while you are alive.
Human institutions are one mass of folly and contradiction. As our life loses its value we set a higher price upon it. The old regret life more than the young; they do not want to lose all they have spent in preparing for its enjoyment. At sixty it is cruel to die when one has not begun to live. Man is credited with a strong desire for self-preservation, and this desire exists; but we fail to perceive that this desire, as felt by us, is largely the work of man. In a natural state man is only eager to preserve his life while he has the means for its preservation; when self-preservation is no longer possible, he resigns himself to his fate and dies without vain torments. Nature teaches us the first law of resignation. Savages, like wild beasts, make very little struggle against death, and meet it almost without a murmur. When this natural law is overthrown reason establishes another, but few discern it, and man’s resignation is never so complete as nature’s.
Prudence! Prudence which is ever bidding us look forward into the future, a future which in many cases we shall never reach; here is the real source of all our troubles! How mad it is for so short-lived a creature as man to look forward into a future to which he rarely attains, while he neglects the present which is his? this madness is all the more fatal since it increases with years, and the old, always timid, prudent, and miserly, prefer to do without necessaries to-day that they may have luxuries at a hundred. Thus we grasp everything, we cling to everything; we are anxious about time, place, people, things, all that is and will be; we ourselves are but the least part of ourselves. We spread ourselves, so to speak, over the whole world, and all this vast expanse becomes sensitive. No wonder our woes increase when we may be wounded on every side. How many princes make themselves miserable for the loss of lands they never saw, and how many merchants lament in Paris over some misfortune in the Indies!
Is it nature that carries men so far from their real selves? Is it her will that each should learn his fate from others and even be the last to learn it; so that a man dies happy or miserable before he knows what he is about. There is a healthy, cheerful, strong, and vigorous man; it does me good to see him; his eyes tell of content and well-being; he is the picture of happiness. A letter comes by post; the happy man glances at it, it is addressed to him, he opens it and reads it. In a moment he is changed, he turns pale and falls into a swoon. When he comes to himself he weeps, laments, and groans, he tears his hair, and his shrieks re-echo through the air. You would say he was in convulsions. Fool, what harm has this bit of paper done you? What limb has it torn away? What crime has it made you commit? What change has it wrought in you to reduce you to this state of misery?
Had the letter miscarried, had some kindly hand thrown it into the fire, it strikes me that the fate of this mortal, at once happy and unhappy, would have offered us a strange problem. His misfortunes, you say, were real enough. Granted; but he did not feel them. What of that? His happiness was imaginary. I admit it; health, wealth, a contented spirit, are mere dreams. We no longer live in our own place, we live outside it. What does it profit us to live in such fear of death, when all that makes life worth living is our own?
Oh, man! live your own life and you will no longer be wretched. Keep to your appointed place in the order of nature and nothing can tear you from it. Do not kick against the stern law of necessity, nor waste in vain resistance the strength bestowed on you by heaven, not to prolong or extend your existence, but to preserve it so far and so long as heaven pleases. Your freedom and your power extend as far and no further than your natural strength; anything more is but slavery, deceit, and trickery. Power itself is servile when it depends upon public opinion; for you are dependent on the prejudices of others when you rule them by means of those prejudices. To lead them as you will, they must be led as they will. They have only to change their way of thinking and you are forced to change your course of action. Those who approach you need only contrive to sway the opinions of those you rule, or of the favourite by whom you are ruled, or those of your own family or theirs. Had you the genius of Themistocles,1 viziers, courtiers, priests, soldiers, servants, babblers, the very children themselves, would lead you like a child in the midst of your legions. Whatever you do, your actual authority can never extend beyond your own powers. As soon as you are obliged to see with another’s eyes you must will what he wills. You say with pride, “My people are my subjects.” Granted, but what are you? The subject of your ministers. And your ministers, what are they? The subjects of their clerks, their mistresses, the servants of their servants. Grasp all, usurp all, and then pour out your silver with both hands; set up your batteries, raise the gallows and the wheel; make laws, issue proclamations, multiply your spies, your soldiers, your hangmen, your prisons, and your chains. Poor little men, what good does it do you? You will be no better served, you will be none the less robbed and deceived, you will be no nearer absolute power. You will say continually, “It is our will,” and you will continually do the will of others.
There is only one man who gets his own way—he who can get it single-handed; therefore freedom, not power, is the greatest good. That man is truly free who desires what he is able to perform, and does what he desires. This is my fundamental maxim. Apply it to childhood, and all the rules of education spring from it.
Society has enfeebled man, not merely by robbing him of the right to his own strength, but still more by making his strength insufficient for his needs. This is why his desires increase in proportion to his weakness; and this is why the child is weaker than the man. If a man is strong and a child is weak it is not because the strength of the one is absolutely greater than the strength of the other, but because the one can naturally provide for himself and the other cannot. Thus the man will have more desires and the child more caprices, a word which means, I take it, desires which are not true needs, desires which can only be satisfied with the help of others.
I have already given the reason for this state of weakness. Parental affection is nature’s provision against it; but parental affection may be carried to excess, it may be wanting, or it may be ill applied. Parents who live under our ordinary social conditions bring their child into these conditions too soon. By increasing his needs they do not relieve his weakness; they rather increase it. They further increase it by demanding of him what nature does not demand, by subjecting to their will what little strength he has to further his own wishes, by making slaves of themselves or of him instead of recognising that mutual dependence which should result from his weakness or their affection.
The wise man can keep his own place; but the child who does not know what his place is, is unable to keep it. There are a thousand ways out of it, and it is the business of those who have charge of the child to keep him in his place, and this is no easy task. He should be neither beast nor man, but a child. He must feel his weakness, but not suffer through it; he must be dependent, but he must not obey; he must ask, not command. He is only subject to others because of his needs, and because they see better than he what he really needs, what may help or hinder his existence. No one, not even his father, has the right to bid the child do what is of no use to him.
When our natural tendencies have not been interfered with by human prejudice and human institutions, the happiness alike of children and of men consists in the enjoyment of their liberty. But the child’s liberty is restricted by his lack of strength. He who does as he likes is happy provided he is self-sufficing; it is so with the man who is living in a state of nature. He who does what he likes is not happy if his desires exceed his strength; it is so with a child in like conditions. Even in a state of nature children only enjoy an imperfect liberty, like that enjoyed by men in social life. Each of us, unable to dispense with the help of others, becomes so far weak and wretched. We were meant to be men, laws and customs thrust us back into infancy. The rich and great, the very kings themselves are but children; they see that we are ready to relieve their misery; this makes them childishly vain, and they are quite proud of the care bestowed on them, a care which they would never get if they were grown men.
These are weighty considerations, and they provide a solution for all the conflicting problems of our social system. There are two kinds of dependence: dependence on things, which is the work of nature; and dependence on men, which is the work of society. Dependence on things, being non-moral, does no injury to liberty and begets no vices; dependence on men, being out of order,1 gives rise to every kind of vice, and through this master and slave become mutually depraved. If there is any cure for this social evil, it is to be found in the substitution of law for the individual; in arming the general will with a real strength beyond the power of any individual will. If the laws of nations, like the laws of nature, could never be broken by any human power, dependence on men would become dependence on things; all the advantages of a state of nature would be combined with all the advantages of social life in the commonwealth. The liberty which preserves a man from vice would be united with the morality which raises him to virtue.
Keep the child dependent on things only. By this course of education you will have followed the order of nature. Let his unreasonable wishes meet with physical obstacles only, or the punishment which results from his own actions, lessons which will be recalled when the same circumstances occur again. It is enough to prevent him from wrong doing without forbidding him to do wrong. Experience or lack of power should take the place of law. Give him, not what he wants, but what he needs. Let there be no question of obedience for him or tyranny for you. Supply the strength he lacks just so far as is required for freedom, not for power, so that he may receive your services with a sort of shame, and look forward to the time when he may dispense with them and may achieve the honour of self-help.
Nature provides for the child’s growth in her own fashion, and this should never be thwarted. Do not make him sit still when he wants to run about, nor run when he wants to be quiet. If we did not spoil our children’s wills by our blunders their desires would be free from caprice. Let them run, jump, and shout to their heart’s content. All their own activities are instincts of the body for its growth in strength; but you should regard with suspicion those wishes which they cannot carry out for themselves, those which others must carry out for them. Then you must distinguish carefully between natural and artificial needs, between the needs of budding caprice and the needs which spring from the overflowing life just described.
I have already told you what you ought to do when a child cries for this thing or that. I will only add that as soon as he has words to ask for what he wants and accompanies his demands with tears, either to get his own way quicker or to over-ride a refusal, he should never have his way. If his words were prompted by a real need you should recognise it and satisfy it at once; but to yield to his tears is to encourage him to cry, to teach him to doubt your kindness, and to think that you are influenced more by his importunity than your own good-will. If he does not think you kind he will soon think you unkind; if he thinks you weak he will soon become obstinate; what you mean to give must be given at once. Be chary of refusing, but, having refused, do not change your mind.
Above all, beware of teaching the child empty phrases of politeness, which serve as spells to subdue those around him to his will, and to get him what he wants at once. The artificial education of the rich never fails to make them politely imperious, by teaching them the words to use so that no one will dare to resist them. Their children have neither the tone nor the manner of suppliants; they are as haughty or even more haughty in their entreaties than in their commands, as though they were more certain to be obeyed. You see at once that “If you please” means “It pleases me,” and “I beg” means “I command.” What a fine sort of politeness which only succeeds in changing the meaning of words so that every word is a command! For my own part, I would rather Emile were rude than haughty, that he should say “Do this” as a request, rather than “Please” as a command. What concerns me is his meaning, not his words.
There is such a thing as excessive severity as well as excessive indulgence, and both alike should be avoided. If you let children suffer you risk their health and life; you make them miserable now; if you take too much pains to spare them every kind of uneasiness you are laying up much misery for them in the future; you are making them delicate and over-sensitive; you are taking them out of their place among men, a place to which they must sooner or later return, in spite of all your pains. You will say I am falling into the same mistake as those bad fathers whom I blamed for sacrificing the present happiness of their children to a future which may never be theirs.
Not so; for the liberty I give my pupil makes up for the slight hardships to which he is exposed. I see little fellows playing in the snow, stiff and blue with cold, scarcely able to stir a finger. They could go and warm themselves if they chose, but they do not choose; if you forced them to come in they would feel the harshness of constraint a hundredfold more than the sharpness of the cold. Then what becomes of your grievance? Shall I make your child miserable by exposing him to hardships which he is perfectly ready to endure? I secure his present good by leaving him his freedom, and his future good by arming him against the evils he will have to bear. If he had his choice, would he hesitate for a moment between you and me?
Do you think any man can find true happiness elsewhere than in his natural state; and when you try to spare him all suffering, are you not taking him out of his natural state? Indeed I maintain that to enjoy great happiness he must experience slight ills; such is his nature. Too much bodily prosperity corrupts the morals. A man who knew nothing of suffering would be incapable of tenderness towards his fellow-creatures and ignorant of the joys of pity; he would be hard-hearted, unsocial, a very monster among men.
Do you know the surest way to make your child miserable? Let him have everything he wants; for as his wants increase in proportion to the ease with which they are satisfied, you will be compelled, sooner or later, to refuse his demands, and this unlooked-for refusal will hurt him more than the lack of what he wants. He will want your stick first, then your watch, the bird that flies, or the star that shines above him. He will want all he sets eyes on, and unless you were God himself, how could you satisfy him?
Man naturally considers all that he can get as his own. In this sense Hobbes’ theory is true to a certain extent: Multiply both our wishes and the means of satisfying them, and each will be master of all. Thus the child, who has only to ask and have, thinks himself the master of the universe; he considers all men as his slaves; and when you are at last compelled to refuse, he takes your refusal as an act of rebellion, for he thinks he has only to command. All the reasons you give him, while he is still too young to reason, are so many pretences in his eyes; they seem to him only unkindness; the sense of injustice embitters his disposition; he hates every one. Though he has never felt grateful for kindness, he resents all opposition.
How should I suppose that such a child can ever be happy? He is the slave of anger, a prey to the fiercest passions. Happy! He is a tyrant, at once the basest of slaves and the most wretched of creatures. I have known children brought up like this who expected you to knock the house down, to give them the weather-cock on the steeple, to stop a regiment on the march so that they might listen to the band; when they could not get their way they screamed and cried and would pay no attention to any one. In vain everybody strove to please them; as their desires were stimulated by the ease with which they got their own way, they set their hearts on impossibilities, and found themselves face to face with opposition and difficulty, pain and grief. Scolding, sulking, or in a rage, they wept and cried all day. Were they really so greatly favoured? Weakness, combined with love of power, produces nothing but folly and suffering. One spoilt child beats the table; another whips the sea. They may beat and whip long enough before they find contentment.
If their childhood is made wretched by these notions of power and tyranny, what of their manhood, when their relations with their fellow-men begin to grow and multiply? They are used to find everything give way to them; what a painful surprise to enter society and meet with opposition on every side, to be crushed beneath the weight of a universe which they expected to move at will. Their insolent manners, their childish vanity, only draw down upon them mortification, scorn, and mockery; they swallow insults like water; sharp experience soon teaches them that they have realised neither their position nor their strength. As they cannot do everything, they think they can do nothing. They are daunted by unexpected obstacles, degraded by the scorn of men; they become base, cowardly, and deceitful, and fall as far below their true level as they formerly soared above it.
Let us come back to the primitive law. Nature has made children helpless and in need of affection; did she make them to be obeyed and feared? Has she given them an imposing manner, a stern eye, a loud and threatening voice with which to make themselves feared? I understand how the roaring of the lion strikes terror into the other beasts, so that they tremble when they behold his terrible mane, but of all unseemly, hateful, and ridiculous sights, was there ever anything like a body of statesmen in their robes of office with their chief at their head bowing down before a swaddled babe, addressing him in pompous phrases, while he cries and slavers in reply?
If we consider childhood itself, is there anything so weak and wretched as a child, anything so utterly at the mercy of those about it, so dependent on their pity, their care, and their affection? Does it not seem as if his gentle face and touching appearance were intended to interest every one on behalf of his weakness and to make them eager to help him? And what is there more offensive, more unsuitable, than the sight of a sulky or imperious child, who commands those about him, and impudently assumes the tones of a master towards those without whom he would perish?
On the other hand, do you not see how children are fettered by the weakness of infancy? Do you not see how cruel it is to increase this servitude by obedience to our caprices, by depriving them of such liberty as they have? a liberty which they can scarcely abuse, a liberty the loss of which will do so little good to them or us. If there is nothing more ridiculous than a haughty child, there is nothing that claims our pity like a timid child. With the age of reason the child becomes the slave of the community; then why forestall this by slavery in the home? Let this brief hour of life be free from a yoke which nature has not laid upon it; leave the child the use of his natural liberty, which, for a time at least, secures him from the vices of the slave. Bring me those harsh masters, and those fathers who are the slaves of their children, bring them both with their frivolous objections, and before they boast of their own methods let them for once learn the method of nature.
I return to practical matters. I have already said your child must not get what he asks, but what he needs;1 he must never act from obedience, but from necessity.
The very words obey and command will be excluded from his vocabulary, still more those of duty and obligation; but the words strength, necessity, weakness, and constraint must have a large place in it. Before the age of reason it is impossible to form any idea of moral beings or social relations; so avoid, as far as may be, the use of words which express these ideas, lest the child at an early age should attach wrong ideas to them, ideas which you cannot or will not destroy when he is older. The first mistaken idea he gets into his head is the germ of error and vice; it is the first step that needs watching. Act in such a way that while he only notices external objects his ideas are confined to sensations; let him only see the physical world around him. If not, you may be sure that either he will pay no heed to you at all, or he will form fantastic ideas of the moral world of which you prate, ideas which you will never efface as long as he lives.
“Reason with children” was Locke’s chief maxim; it is in the height of fashion at present, and I hardly think it is justified by its results; those children who have been constantly reasoned with strike me as exceedingly silly. Of all man’s faculties, reason, which is, so to speak, compounded of all the rest, is the last and choicest growth, and it is this you would use for the child’s early training. To make a man reasonable is the coping stone of a good education, and yet you profess to train a child through his reason! You begin at the wrong end, you make the end the means. If children understood reason they would not need education, but by talking to them from their earliest age in a language they do not understand you accustom them to be satisfied with words, to question all that is said to them, to think themselves as wise as their teachers; you train them to be argumentative and rebellious; and whatever you think you gain from motives of reason, you really gain from greediness, fear, or vanity with which you are obliged to reinforce your reasoning.
Most of the moral lessons which are and can be given to children may be reduced to this formula:
You must not do that.
Because it is wrong.
Wrong! What is wrong?
What is forbidden you.
Why is it wrong to do what is forbidden?
You will be punished for disobedience.
I will do it when no one is looking.
We shall watch you.
I will hide.
We shall ask you what you were doing.
I shall tell a lie.
You must not tell lies.
Why must not I tell lies?
Because it is wrong, etc.
That is the inevitable circle. Go beyond it, and the child will not understand you. What sort of use is there in such teaching? I should greatly like to know what you would substitute for this dialogue. It would have puzzled Locke himself. It is no part of a child’s business to know right and wrong, to perceive the reason for a man’s duties.
Nature would have them children before they are men. If we try to invert this order we shall produce a forced fruit immature and flavourless, fruit which will be rotten before it is ripe; we shall have young doctors and old children. Childhood has its own ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling; nothing is more foolish than to try and substitute our ways; and I should no more expect judgment in a ten-year-old child than I should expect him to be five feet high. Indeed, what use would reason be to him at that age? It is the curb of strength, and the child does not need the curb.
When you try to persuade your scholars of the duty of obedience, you add to this so-called persuasion compulsion and threats, or still worse, flattery and bribes. Attracted by selfishness or constrained by force, they pretend to be convinced by reason. They see as soon as you do that obedience is to their advantage and disobedience to their disadvantage. But as you only demand disagreeable things of them, and as it is always disagreeable to do another’s will, they hide themselves so that they may do as they please, persuaded that they are doing no wrong so long as they are not found out, but ready, if found out, to own themselves in the wrong for fear of worse evils. The reason for duty is beyond their age, and there is not a man in the world who could make them really aware of it; but the fear of punishment, the hope of forgiveness, importunity, the difficulty of answering, wrings from them as many confessions as you want; and you think you have convinced them when you have only wearied or frightened them.
What does it all come to? In the first place, by imposing on them a duty which they fail to recognise, you make them disinclined to submit to your tyranny, and you turn away their love; you teach them deceit, falsehood, and lying as a way to gain rewards or escape punishment; then by accustoming them to conceal a secret motive under the cloak of an apparent one, you yourself put into their hands the means of deceiving you, of depriving you of a knowledge of their real character, of answering you and others with empty words whenever they have the chance. Laws, you say, though binding on conscience, exercise the same constraint over grown-up men. That is so, but what are these men but children spoilt by education? This is just what you should avoid. Use force with children and reasoning with men; this is the natural order; the wise man needs no laws.
Treat your scholar according to his age. Put him in his place from the first, and keep him in it, so that he no longer tries to leave it. Then before he knows what goodness is, he will be practising its chief lesson. Give him no orders at all, absolutely none. Do not even let him think that you claim any authority over him. Let him only know that he is weak and you are strong, that his condition and yours puts him at your mercy; let this be perceived, learned, and felt. Let him early find upon his proud neck, the heavy yoke which nature has imposed upon us, the heavy yoke of necessity, under which every finite being must bow. Let him find this necessity in things, not in the caprices1 of man; let the curb be force, not authority. If there is something he should not do, do not forbid him, but prevent him without explanation or reasoning; what you give him, give it at his first word without prayers or entreaties, above all without conditions. Give willingly, refuse unwillingly, but let your refusal be irrevocable; let no entreaties move you; let your “No,” once uttered, be a wall of brass, against which the child may exhaust his strength some five or six times, but in the end he will try no more to overthrow it.
Thus you will make him patient, equable, calm, and resigned, even when he does not get all he wants; for it is in man’s nature to bear patiently with the nature of things, but not with the ill-will of another. A child never rebels against, “There is none left,” unless he thinks the reply is false. Moreover, there is no middle course; you must either make no demands on him at all, or else you must fashion him to perfect obedience. The worst education of all is to leave him hesitating between his own will and yours, constantly disputing whether you or he is master; I would rather a hundred times that he were master.
It is very strange that ever since people began to think about education they should have hit upon no other way of guiding children than emulation, jealousy, envy, vanity, greediness, base cowardice, all the most dangerous passions, passions ever ready to ferment, ever prepared to corrupt the soul even before the body is full-grown. With every piece of precocious instruction which you try to force into their minds you plant a vice in the depths of their hearts; foolish teachers think they are doing wonders when they are making their scholars wicked in order to teach them what goodness is, and then they tell us seriously, “Such is man.” Yes, such is man, as you have made him. Every means has been tried except one, the very one which might succeed—well-regulated liberty. Do not undertake to bring up a child if you cannot guide him merely by the laws of what can or cannot be. The limits of the possible and the impossible are alike unknown to him, so they can be extended or contracted around him at your will. Without a murmur he is restrained, urged on, held back, by the hands of necessity alone; he is made adaptable and teachable by the mere force of things, without any chance for vice to spring up in him; for passions do not arise so long as they have accomplished nothing.
Give your scholar no verbal lessons; he should be taught by experience alone; never punish him, for he does not know what it is to do wrong; never make him say, “Forgive me,” for he does not know how to do you wrong. Wholly unmoral in his actions, he can do nothing morally wrong, and he deserves neither punishment nor reproof.
Already I see the frightened reader comparing this child with those of our time; he is mistaken. The perpetual restraint imposed upon your scholars stimulates their activity; the more subdued they are in your presence, the more boisterous they are as soon as they are out of your sight. They must make amends to themselves in some way or other for the harsh constraint to which you subject them. Two schoolboys from the town will do more damage in the country than all the children of the village. Shut up a young gentleman and a young peasant in a room; the former will have upset and smashed everything before the latter has stirred from his place. Why is that, unless that the one hastens to misuse a moment’s licence, while the other, always sure of freedom, does not use it rashly. And yet the village children, often flattered or constrained, are still very far from the state in which I would have them kept.
Let us lay it down as an incontrovertible rule that the first impulses of nature are always right; there is no original sin in the human heart, the how and why of the entrance of every vice can be traced. The only natural passion is self-love or selfishness taken in a wider sense. This selfishness is good in itself and in relation to ourselves; and as the child has no necessary relations to other people he is naturally indifferent to them; his self-love only becomes good or bad by the use made of it and the relations established by its means. Until the time is ripe for the appearance of reason, that guide of selfishness, the main thing is that the child shall do nothing because you are watching him or listening to him; in a word, nothing because of other people, but only what nature asks of him; then he will never do wrong.
I do not mean to say that he will never do any mischief, never hurt himself, never break a costly ornament if you leave it within his reach. He might do much damage without doing wrong, since wrong-doing depends on the harmful intention which will never be his. If once he meant to do harm, his whole education would be ruined; he would be almost hopelessly bad.
Greed considers some things wrong which are not wrong in the eyes of reason. When you leave free scope to a child’s heedlessness, you must put anything he could spoil out of his way, and leave nothing fragile or costly within his reach. Let the room be furnished with plain and solid furniture; no mirrors, china, or useless ornaments. My pupil Emile, who is brought up in the country, shall have a room just like a peasant’s. Why take such pains to adorn it when he will be so little in it? I am mistaken, however; he will ornament it for himself, and we shall soon see how.
But if, in spite of your precautions, the child contrives to do some damage, if he breaks some useful article, do not punish him for your carelessness, do not even scold him; let him hear no word of reproval, do not even let him see that he has vexed you; behave just as if the thing had come to pieces of itself; you may consider you have done great things if you have managed to hold your tongue.
May I venture at this point to state the greatest, the most important, the most useful rule of education? It is: Do not save time, but lose it. I hope that every-day readers will excuse my paradoxes; you cannot avoid paradox if you think for yourself, and whatever you may say I would rather fall into paradox than into prejudice. The most dangerous period in human life lies between birth and the age of twelve. It is the time when errors and vices spring up, while as yet there is no means to destroy them; when the means of destruction are ready, the roots have gone too deep to be pulled up. If the infant sprang at one bound from its mother’s breast to the age of reason, the present type of education would be quite suitable, but its natural growth calls for quite a different training. The mind should be left undisturbed till its faculties have developed; for while it is blind it cannot see the torch you offer it, nor can it follow through the vast expanse of ideas a path so faintly traced by reason that the best eyes can scarcely follow it.
Therefore the education of the earliest years should be merely negative. It consists, not in teaching virtue or truth, but in preserving the heart from vice and from the spirit of error. If only you could let well alone, and get others to follow your example; if you could bring your scholar to the age of twelve strong and healthy, but unable to tell his right hand from his left, the eyes of his understanding would be open to reason as soon as you began to teach him. Free from prejudices and free from habits, there would be nothing in him to counteract the effects of your labours. In your hands he would soon become the wisest of men; by doing nothing to begin with, you would end with a prodigy of education.
Reverse the usual practice and you will almost always do right. Fathers and teachers who want to make the child, not a child but a man of learning, think it never too soon to scold, correct, reprove, threaten, bribe, teach, and reason. Do better than they; be reasonable, and do not reason with your pupil, more especially do not try to make him approve what he dislikes; for if reason is always connected with disagreeable matters, you make it distasteful to him, you discredit it at an early age in a mind not yet ready to understand it. Exercise his body, his limbs, his senses, his strength, but keep his mind idle as long as you can. Distrust all opinions which appear before the judgment to discriminate between them. Restrain and ward off strange impressions; and to prevent the birth of evil do not hasten to do well for goodness is only possible when enlightened by reason. Regard all delays as so much time gained; you have achieved much, you approach the boundary without loss. Leave childhood to ripen in your children. In a word, beware of giving anything they need to-day if it can be deferred without danger to to-morrow.
There is another point to be considered which confirms the suitability of this method: it is the child’s individual bent, which must be thoroughly known before we can choose the fittest moral training. Every mind has its own form, in accordance with which it must be controlled; and the success of the pains taken depends largely on the fact that he is controlled in this way and no other. Oh, wise man, take time to observe nature; watch your scholar well before you say a word to him; first leave the germ of his character free to show itself, do not constrain him in anything, the better to see him as he really is. Do you think this time of liberty is wasted? On the contrary, your scholar will be the better employed, for this is the way you yourself will learn not to lose a single moment when time is of more value. If, however, you begin to act before you know what to do, you act at random; you may make mistakes, and must retrace your steps; your haste to reach your goal will only take you further from it. Do not imitate the miser who loses much lest he should lose a little. Sacrifice a little time in early childhood, and it will be repaid you with usury when your scholar is older. The wise physician does not hastily give prescriptions at first sight, but he studies the constitution of the sick man before he prescribes anything; the treatment is begun later, but the patient is cured, while the hasty doctor kills him.
But where shall we find a place for our child so as to bring him up as a senseless being, an automaton? Shall we keep him in the moon, or on a desert island? Shall we remove him from human society? Will he not always have around him the sight and the pattern of the passions of other people? Will he never see children of his own age? Will he not see his parents, his neighbours, his nurse, his governess, his man-servant, his tutor himself, who after all will not be an angel? Here we have a real and serious objection. But did I tell you that an education according to nature would be an easy task? Oh, men! is it my fault that you have made all good things difficult? I admit that I am aware of these difficulties; perhaps they are insuperable; but nevertheless it is certain that we do to some extent avoid them by trying to do so. I am showing what we should try to attain, I do not say we can attain it, but I do say that whoever comes nearest to it is nearest to sucess.
Remember you must be a man yourself before you try to train a man; you yourself must set the pattern he shall copy. While the child is still unconscious there is time to prepare his surroundings, so that nothing shall strike his eye but what is fit for his sight. Gain the respect of every one, begin to win their hearts, so that they may try to please you. You will not be master of the child if you cannot control every one about him; and this authority will never suffice unless it rests upon respect for your goodness. There is no question of squandering one’s means and giving money right and left; I never knew money win love. You must neither be harsh nor niggardly, nor must you merely pity misery when you can relieve it; but in vain will you open your purse if you do not open your heart along with it, the hearts of others will always be closed to you. You must give your own time, attention, affection, your very self; for whatever you do, people always perceive that your money is not you. There are proofs of kindly interest which produce more results and are really more useful than any gift; how many of the sick and wretched have more need of comfort than of charity; how many of the oppressed need protection rather than money? Reconcile those who are at strife, prevent lawsuits; incline children to duty, fathers to kindness; promote happy marriages; prevent annoyances; freely use the credit of your pupil’s parents on behalf of the weak who cannot obtain justice, the weak who are oppressed by the strong. Be just, human, kindly. Do not give alms alone, give charity; works of mercy do more than money for the relief of suffering; love others and they will love you; serve them and they will serve you; be their brother and they will be your children.
This is one reason why I want to bring up Emile in the country, far from those miserable lacqueys, the most degraded of men except their masters; far from the vile morals of the town, whose gilded surface makes them seductive and contagious to children; while the vices of peasants, unadorned and in their naked grossness, are more fitted to repel than to seduce, when there is no motive for imitating them.
In the village a tutor will have much more control over the things he wishes to show the child; his reputation, his words, his example, will have a weight they would never have in the town; he is of use to every one, so every one is eager to oblige him, to win his esteem, to appear before the disciple what the master would have him be; if vice is not corrected, public scandal is at least avoided, which is all that our present purpose requires.
Cease to blame others for your own faults; children are corrupted less by what they see than by your own teaching. With your endless preaching, moralising, and pedantry, for one idea you give your scholars, believing it to be good, you give them twenty more which are good for nothing; you are full of what is going on in your own minds, and you fail to see the effect you produce on theirs. In the continual flow of words with which you overwhelm them, do you think there is none which they get hold of in a wrong sense? Do you suppose they do not make their own comments on your longwinded explanations, that they do not find material for the construction of a system they can understand—one which they will use against you when they get the chance?
Listen to a little fellow who has just been under instruction; let him chatter freely, ask questions, and talk at his ease, and you will be surprised to find the strange forms your arguments have assumed in his mind; he confuses everything, and turns everything topsy-turvy; you are vexed and grieved by his unforeseen objections; he reduces you to be silent yourself or to silence him; and what can he think of silence in one who is so fond of talking? If ever he gains this advantage and is aware of it, farewell education; from that moment all is lost; he is no longer trying to learn, he is trying to refute you.
Zealous teachers, be simple, sensible, and reticent; be in no hurry to act unless to prevent the actions of others. Again and again I say, reject, if it may be, a good lesson for fear of giving a bad one. Beware of playing the tempter in this world, which nature intended as an earthly paradise for men, and do not attempt to give the innocent child the knowledge of good and evil; since you cannot prevent the child learning by what he sees outside himself, restrict your own efforts to impressing those examples on his mind in the form best suited for him.
The explosive passions produce a great effect upon the child when he sees them; their outward expression is very marked; he is struck by this and his attention is arrested. Anger especially is so noisy in its rage that it is impossible not to perceive it if you are within reach. You need not ask yourself whether this is an opportunity for a pedagogue to frame a fine disquisition. What! no fine disquisition, nothing, not a word! Let the child come to you; impressed by what he has seen, he will not fail to ask you questions. The answer is easy; it is drawn from the very things which have appealed to his senses. He sees a flushed face, flashing eyes, a threatening gesture, he hears cries; everything shows that the body is ill at ease. Tell him plainly, without affectation or mystery, “This poor man is ill, he is in a fever.” You may take the opportunity of giving him in a few words some idea of disease and its effects; for that too belongs to nature, and is one of the bonds of necessity which he must recognise. By means of this idea, which is not false in itself, may he not early acquire a certain aversion to giving way to excessive passions, which he regards as diseases; and do you not think that such a notion, given at the right moment, will produce a more wholesome effect than the most tedious sermon? But consider the after effects of this idea; you have authority, if ever you find it necessary, to treat the rebellious child as a sick child; to keep him in his room, in bed if need be, to diet him, to make him afraid of his growing vices, to make him hate and dread them without ever regarding as a punishment the strict measures you will perhaps have to use for his recovery. If it happens that you yourself in a moment’s heat depart from the calm and self-control which you should aim at, do not try to conceal your fault, but tell him frankly, with a gentle reproach, “My dear, you have hurt me.”
Moreover, it is a matter of great importance that no notice should be taken in his presence of the quaint sayings which result from the simplicity of the ideas in which he is brought up, nor should they be quoted in a way he can understand. A foolish laugh may destroy six months’ work and do irreparable damage for life. I cannot repeat too often that to control the child one must often control oneself.
I picture my little Emile at the height of a dispute between two neighbours going up to the fiercest of them and saying in a tone of pity, “You are ill, I am very sorry for you.” This speech will no doubt have its effect on the spectators and perhaps on the disputants. Without laughter, scolding, or praise I should take him away, willing or no, before he could see this result, or at least before he could think about it; and I should make haste to turn his thoughts to other things, so that he would soon forget all about it.
I do not propose to enter into every detail, but only to explain general rules and to give illustrations in cases of difficulty. I think it is impossible to train a child up to the age of twelve in the midst of society, without giving him some idea of the relations between one man and another, and of the morality of human actions. It is enough to delay the development of these ideas as long as possible, and when they can no longer be avoided to limit them to present needs, so that he may neither think himself master of everything nor do harm to others without knowing or caring. There are calm and gentle characters which can be led a long way in their first innocence without any danger; but there are also stormy dispositions whose passions develop early; you must hasten to make men of them lest you should have to keep them in chains.
Our first duties are to ourselves; our first feelings are centred on self; all our instincts are at first directed to our own preservation and our own welfare. Thus the first notion of justice springs not from what we owe to others, but from what is due to us. Here is another error in popular methods of education. If you talk to children of their duties, and not of their rights, you are beginning at the wrong end, and telling them what they cannot understand, what cannot be of any interest to them.
If I had to train a child such as I have just described, I should say to myself, “A child never attacks people,1 only things; and he soon learns by experience to respect those older and stronger than himself. Things, however, do not defend themselves. Therefore the first idea he needs is not that of liberty but of property, and that he may get this idea he must have something of his own.” It is useless to enumerate his clothes, furniture, and playthings; although he uses these he knows not how or why he has come by them. To tell him they were given him is little better, for giving implies having; so here is property before his own, and it is the principle of property that you want to teach him; moreover, giving is a convention, and the child as yet has no idea of conventions. I hope my reader will note, in this and many other cases, how people think they have taught children thoroughly, when they have only thrust on them words which have no intelligible meaning to them.2
We must therefore go back to the origin of property, for that is where the first idea of it must begin. The child, living in the country, will have got some idea of field work; eyes and leisure suffice for that, and he will have both. In every age, and especially in childhood, we want to create, to copy, to produce, to give all the signs of power and activity. He will hardly have seen the gardener at work twice, sowing, planting, and growing vegetables, before he will want to garden himself.
According to the principles I have already laid down, I shall not thwart him; on the contrary, I shall approve of his plan, share his hobby, and work with him, not for his pleasure but my own; at least, so he thinks; I shall be his under-gardener, and dig the ground for him till his arms are strong enough to do it; he will take possession of it by planting a bean, and this is surely a more sacred possession, and one more worthy of respect, than that of Nuñes Balboa, who took possession of South America in the name of the King of Spain, by planting his banner on the coast of the Southern Sea.
We water the beans every day, we watch them coming up with the greatest delight. Day by day I increase this delight by saying, “Those belong to you.” To explain what that word “belong” means, I show him how he has given his time, his labour, and his trouble, his very self to it; that in this ground there is a part of himself which he can claim against all the world, as he could withdraw draw his arm from the hand of another man who wanted to keep it against his will.
One fine day he hurries up with his watering-can in his hand. What a scene of woe! Alas! all the beans are pulled up, the soil is dug over, you can scarcely find the place. Oh! what has become of my labour, my work, the beloved fruits of my care and effort? Who has stolen my property? Who has taken my beans? The young heart revolts; the first feeling of injustice brings its sorrow and bitterness; tears come in torrents, the unhappy child fills the air with cries and groans. I share his sorrow and anger; we look around us, we make inquiries. At last we discover that the gardener did it. We send for him.
But we are greatly mistaken. The gardener, hearing our complaint, begins to complain louder than we:—
What, gentlemen, was it you who spoilt my work! I had sown some Maltese melons; the seed was given me as something quite out of the common, and I meant to give you a treat when they were ripe; but you have planted your miserable beans and destroyed my melons, which were coming up so nicely, and I can never get any more. You have behaved very badly to me and you have deprived yourselves of the pleasure of eating most delicious melons.
My poor Robert, you must forgive us. You had given your labour and your pains to it. I see we were wrong to spoil your work, but we will send to Malta for some more seed for you, and we will never dig the ground again without finding out if some one else has been beforehand with us.
Well, gentlemen, you need not trouble yourselves, for there is no more waste ground. I dig what my father tilled; every one does the same, and all the land you see has been occupied time out of mind.
Mr. Robert, do people often lose the seed of Maltese melons?
No indeed, sir; we do not often find such silly little gentlemen as you. No one meddles with his neighbour’s garden; every one respects other people’s work so that his own may be safe.
But I have not got a garden.
I don’t care; if you spoil mine I won’t let you walk in it, for you see I do not mean to lose my labour.
Could not we suggest an arrangement with this kind Robert? Let him give my young friend and myself a corner of his garden to cultivate, on condition that he has half the crop.
You may have it free. But remember I shall dig up your beans if you touch my melons.
In this attempt to show how a child may be taught certain primitive ideas we see how the notion of property goes back naturally to the right of the first occupier to the results of his work. That is plain and simple, and quite within the child’s grasp. From that to the rights of property and exchange there is but a step, after which you must stop short.
You also see that an explanation which I can give in writing in a couple of pages may take a year in practice, for in the course of moral ideas we cannot advance too slowly, nor plant each step too firmly. Young teacher, pray consider this example, and remember that your lessons should always be in deeds rather than words, for children soon forget what they say or what is said to them, but not what they have done nor what has been done to them.
Such teaching should be given, as I have said, sooner or later, as the scholar’s disposition, gentle or turbulent, requires it. The way of using it is unmistakable; but to omit no matter of importance in a difficult business let us take another example.
Your ill-tempered child destroys everything he touches. Do not vex yourself; put anything he can spoil out of his reach. He breaks the things he is using; do not be in a hurry to give him more; let him feel the want of them. He breaks the windows of his room; let the wind blow upon him night and day, and do not be afraid of his catching cold; it is better to catch cold than to be reckless. Never complain of the inconvenience he causes you, but let him feel it first. At last you will have the windows mended without saying anything. He breaks them again; then change your plan; tell him dryly and without anger, “The windows are mine, I took pains to have them put in, and I mean to keep them safe.” Then you will shut him up in a dark place without a window. At this unexpected proceeding he cries and howls; no one heeds. Soon he gets tired and changes his tone; he laments and sighs; a servant appears, the rebel begs to be let out. Without seeking any excuse for refusing, the servant merely says, “I, too, have windows to keep,” and goes away. At last, when the child has been there several hours, long enough to get very tired of it, long enough to make an impression on his memory, some one suggests to him that he should offer to make terms with you, so that you may set him free and he will never break windows again. That is just what he wants. He will send and ask you to come and see him; you will come, he will suggest his plan, and you will agree to it at once, saying, “That is a very good idea; it will suit us both; why didn’t you think of it sooner?” Then without asking for any affirmation or confirmation of his promise, you will embrace him joyfully and take him back at once to his own room, considering this agreement as sacred as if he had confirmed it by a formal oath. What idea do you think he will form from these proceedings, as to the fulfilment of a promise and its usefulness? If I am not greatly mistaken, there is not a child upon earth, unless he is utterly spoilt already, who could resist this treatment, or one who would ever dream of breaking windows again on purpose. Follow out the whole train of thought. The naughty little fellow hardly thought when he was making a hole for his beans that he was hewing out a cell in which his own knowledge would soon imprison him.1
We are now in the world of morals, the door to vice is open. Deceit and falsehood are born along with conventions and duties. As soon as we can do what we ought not to do, we try to hide what we ought not to have done. As soon as self-interest makes us give a promise, a greater interest may make us break it; it is merely a question of doing it with impunity; we naturally take refuge in concealment and falsehood. As we have not been able to prevent vice, we must punish it. The sorrows of life begin with its mistakes.
I have already said enough to show that children should never receive punishment merely as such; it should always come as the natural consequence of their fault. Thus you will not exclaim against their falsehood, you will not exactly punish them for lying, but you will arrange that all the ill effects of lying, such as not being believed when we speak the truth, or being accused of what we have not done in spite of our protests, shall fall on their heads when they have told a lie. But let us explain what lying means to the child.
There are two kinds of lies; one concerns an accomplished fact, the other concerns a future duty. The first occurs when we falsely deny or assert that we did or did not do something, or, to put it in general terms, when we knowingly say what is contrary to facts. The other occurs when we promise what we do not mean to perform, or, in general terms, when we profess an intention which we do not really mean to carry out. These two kinds of lie are sometimes found in combination,1 but their differences are my present business.
He who feels the need of help from others, he who is constantly experiencing their kindness, has nothing to gain by deceiving them; it is plainly to his advantage that they should see things as they are, lest they should mistake his interests. It is therefore plain that lying with regard to actual facts is not natural to children, but lying is made necessary by the law of obedience; since obedience is disagreeable, children disobey as far as they can in secret, and the present good of avoiding punishment or reproof outweighs the remoter good of speaking the truth. Under a free and natural education why should your child lie? What has he to conceal from you? You do not thwart him, you do not punish him, you demand nothing from him. Why should he not tell everything to you as simply as to his little playmate? He cannot see anything more risky in the one course than in the other.
The lie concerning duty is even less natural, since promises to do or refrain from doing are conventional agreements which are outside the state of nature and detract from our liberty. Moreover, all promises made by children are in themselves void; when they pledge themselves they do not know what they are doing, for their narrow vision cannot look beyond the present. A child can hardly lie when he makes a promise; for he is only thinking how he can get out of the present difficulty, any means which has not an immediate result is the same to him; when he promises for the future he promises nothing, and his imagination is as yet incapable of projecting him into the future while he lives in the present. If he could escape a whipping or get a packet of sweets by promising to throw himself out of the window to-morrow, he would promise on the spot. This is why the law disregards all promises made by minors, and when fathers and teachers are stricter and demand that promises shall be kept, it is only when the promise refers to something the child ought to do even if he had made no promise.
The child cannot lie when he makes a promise, for he does not know what he is doing when he makes his promise. The case is different when he breaks his promise, which is a sort of retrospective falsehood; for he clearly remembers making the promise, but he fails to see the importance of keeping it. Unable to look into the future, he cannot foresee the results of things, and when he breaks his promises he does nothing contrary to his stage of reasoning.
Children’s lies are therefore entirely the work of their teachers, and to teach them to speak the truth is nothing less than to teach them the art of lying. In your zeal to rule, control, and teach them, you never find sufficient means at your disposal. You wish to gain fresh influence over their minds by baseless maxims, by unreasonable precepts; and you would rather they knew their lessons and told lies, than leave them ignorant and truthful.
We, who only give our scholars lessons in practice, who prefer to have them good rather than clever, never demand the truth lest they should conceal it, and never claim any promise lest they should be tempted to break it. If some mischief has been done in my absence and I do not know who did it, I shall take care not to accuse Emile, nor to say, “Did you do it?”1 For in so doing what should I do but teach him to deny it? If his difficult temperament compels me to make some agreement with him, I will take good care that the suggestion always comes from him, never from me; that when he undertakes anything he has always a present and effective interest in fulfilling his promise, and if he ever fails this lie will bring down on him all the unpleasant consequences which he sees arising from the natural order of things, and not from his tutor’s vengeance. But far from having recourse to such cruel measures, I feel almost certain that Emile will not know for many years what it is to lie, and that when he does find out, he will be astonished and unable to understand what can be the use of it. It is quite clear that the less I make his welfare dependent on the will or the opinions of others, the less is it to his interest to lie.
When we are in no hurry to teach there is no hurry to demand, and we can take our time, so as to demand nothing except under fitting conditions. Then the child is training himself, in so far as he is not being spoilt. But when a fool of a tutor, who does not know how to set about his business, is always making his pupil promise first this and then that, without discrimination, choice, or proportion, the child is puzzled and overburdened with all these promises, and neglects, forgets or even scorns them, and considering them as so many empty phrases he makes a game of making and breaking promises. Would you have him keep his promise faithfully, be moderate in your claims upon him.
The detailed treatment I have just given to lying may be applied in many respects to all the other duties imposed upon children, whereby these duties are made not only hateful but impracticable. For the sake of a show of preaching virtue you make them love every vice; you instil these vices by forbidding them. Would you have them pious, you take them to church till they are sick of it; you teach them to gabble prayers until they long for the happy time when they will not have to pray to God. To teach them charity you make them give alms as if you scorned to give yourself. It is not the child, but the master, who should give; however much he loves his pupil he should vie with him for this honour; he should make him think that he is too young to deserve it. Almsgiving is the deed of a man who can measure the worth of his gift and the needs of his fellow-men. The child, who knows nothing of these, can have no merit in giving; he gives without charity, without kindness; he is almost ashamed to give, for, to judge by your practice and his own, he thinks it is only children who give, and that there is no need for charity when we are grown up.
Observe that the only things children are set to give are things of which they do not know the value, bits of metal carried in their pockets for which they have no further use. A child would rather give a hundred coins than one cake. But get this prodigal giver to distribute what is dear to him, his toys, his sweets, his own lunch, and we shall soon see if you have made him really generous.
People try yet another way; they soon restore what he gave to the child, so that he gets used to giving everything which he knows will come back to him. I have scarcely seen generosity in children except of these two types, giving what is of no use to them, or what they expect to get back again. “Arrange things,” says Locke, “so that experience may convince them that the most generous giver gets the biggest share.” That is to make the child superficially generous but really greedy. He adds that “children will thus form the habit of liberality.” Yes, a usurer’s liberality, which expects cent. per cent. But when it is a question of real giving, good-bye to the habit; when they do not get things back, they will not give. It is the habit of the mind, not of the hands, that needs watching. All the other virtues taught to children are like this, and to preach these baseless virtues you waste their youth in sorrow. What a sensible sort of education!
Teachers, have done with these shams; be good and kind; let your example sink into your scholars’ memories till they are old enough to take it to heart. Rather than hasten to demand deeds of charity from my pupil I prefer to perform such deeds in his presence, even depriving him of the means of imitating me, as an honour beyond his years; for it is of the utmost importance that he should not regard a man’s duties as merely those of a child. If when he sees me help the poor he asks me about it, and it is time to reply to his questions,1 I shall say, “My dear boy, the rich only exist through the good-will of the poor, so they have promised to feed those who have not enough to live on, either in goods or labour.” “Then you promised to do this?” “Certainly; I am only master of the wealth that passes through my hands on the condition attached to its ownership.”
After this talk (and we have seen how a child may be brought to understand it) another than Emile would be tempted to imitate me and behave like a rich man; in such a case I should at least take care that it was done without ostentation; I would rather he robbed me of my privilege and hid himself to give. It is a fraud suitable to his age, and the only one I could forgive in him.
I know that all these imitative virtues are only the virtues of a monkey, and that a good action is only morally good when it is done as such and not because of others. But at an age when the heart does not yet feel anything, you must make children copy the deeds you wish to grow into habits, until they can do them with understanding and for the love of what is good. Man imitates, as do the beasts. The love of imitating is well regulated by nature; in society it becomes a vice. The monkey imitates man, whom he fears, and not the other beasts, which he scorns; he thinks what is done by his betters must be good. Among ourselves, our harlequins imitate all that is good to degrade it and bring it into ridicule; knowing their owners’ baseness they try to equal what is better than they are, or they strive to imitate what they admire, and their bad taste appears in their choice of models, they would rather deceive others or win applause for their own talents than become wiser or better. Imitation has its roots in our desire to escape from ourselves. If I succeed in my undertaking, Emile will certainly have no such wish. So we must dispense with any seeming good that might arise from it.
Examine your rules of education; you will find them all topsyturvy, especially in all that concerns virtue and morals. The only moral lesson which is suited for a child—the most important lesson for every time of life—is this: “Never hurt anybody.” The very rule of well-doing, if not subordinated to this rule, is dangerous, false, and contradictory. Who is there who does no good? Every one does some good, the wicked as well as the righteous; he makes one happy at the cost of the misery of a hundred, and hence spring all our misfortunes. The noblest virtues are negative, they are also the most difficult, for they make little show, and do not even make room for that pleasure so dear to the heart of man, the thought that some one is pleased with us. If there be a man who does no harm to his neighbours, what good must he have accomplished! What a bold heart, what a strong character it needs! It is not in talking about this maxim, but in trying to practise it, that we discover both its greatness and its difficulty.1
This will give you some slight idea of the precautions I would have you take in giving children instruction which cannot always be refused without risk to themselves or others, or the far greater risk of the formation of bad habits, which would be difficult to correct later on; but be sure this necessity will not often arise with children who are properly brought up, for they cannot possibly become rebellious, spiteful, untruthful, or greedy, unless the seeds of these vices are sown in their hearts. What I have just said applies therefore rather to the exception than the rule. But the oftener children have the opportunity of quitting their proper condition, and contracting the vices of men, the oftener will these exceptions arise. Those who are brought up in the world must receive more precocious instruction than those who are brought up in retirement. So this solitary education would be preferable, even if it did nothing more than leave childhood time to ripen.
There is quite another class of exceptions: those so gifted by nature that they rise above the level of their age. As there are men who never get beyond infancy, so there are others who are never, so to speak, children, they are men almost from birth. The difficulty is that these cases are very rare, very difficult to distinguish; while every mother, who knows that a child may be a prodigy, is convinced that her child is that one. They go further; they mistake the common signs of growth for marks of exceptional talent. Liveliness, sharp sayings, romping, amusing simplicity, these are the characteristic marks of this age, and show that the child is a child indeed. Is it strange that a child who is encouraged to chatter and allowed to say anything, who is restrained neither by consideration nor convention, should chance to say something clever? Were he never to hit the mark, his case would be stranger than that of the astrologer who, among a thousand errors, occasionally predicts the truth. “They lie so often,” said Henry IV., “that at last they say what is true.” If you want to say something clever, you have only to talk long enough. May Providence watch over those fine folk who have no other claim to social distinction.
The finest thoughts may spring from a child’s brain, or rather the best words may drop from his lips, just as diamonds of great worth may fall into his hands, while neither the thoughts nor the diamonds are his own; at that age neither can be really his. The child’s sayings do not mean to him what they mean to us, the ideas he attaches to them are different. His ideas, if indeed he has any ideas at all, have neither order nor connection; there is nothing sure, nothing certain, in his thoughts. Examine your so-called prodigy. Now and again you will discover in him extreme activity of mind and extraordinary clearness of thought. More often this same mind will seem slack and spiritless, as if wrapped in mist. Sometimes he goes before you, sometimes he will not stir. One moment you would call him a genius, another a fool. You would be mistaken in both; he is a child, an eaglet who soars aloft for a moment, only to drop back into the nest.
Treat him, therefore, according to his age, in spite of appearances, and beware of exhausting his strength by over-much exercise. If the young brain grows warm and begins to bubble, let it work freely, but do not heat it any further, lest it lose its goodness, and when the first gases have been given off, collect and compress the rest so that in after years they may turn to life-giving heat and real energy. If not, your time and your pains will be wasted, you will destroy your own work, and after foolishly intoxicating yourself with these heady fumes, you will have nothing left but an insipid and worthless wine.
Silly children grow into ordinary men. I know no generalisation more certain than this. It is the most difficult thing in the world to distinguish between genuine stupidity, and that apparent and deceitful stupidity which is the sign of a strong character. At first sight it seems strange that the two extremes should have the same outward signs; and yet it may well be so, for at an age when man has as yet no true ideas, the whole difference between the genius and the rest consists in this: the latter only take in false ideas, while the former, finding nothing but false ideas, receives no ideas at all. In this he resembles the fool; the one is fit for nothing, the other finds nothing fit for him. The only way of distinguishing between them depends upon chance, which may offer the genius some idea which he can understand, while the fool is always the same. As a child, the young Cato was taken for an idiot by his parents; he was obstinate and silent, and that was all they perceived in him; it was only in Sulla’s ante-chamber that his uncle discovered what was in him. Had he never found his way there, he might have passed for a fool till he reached the age of reason. Had Cæsar never lived, perhaps this same Cato, who discerned his fatal genius, and foretold his great schemes, would have passed for a dreamer all his days. Those who judge children hastily are apt to be mistaken; they are often more childish than the child himself. I knew a middle-aged man,1 whose friendship I esteemed an honour, who was reckoned a fool by his family. All at once he made his name as a philosopher, and I have no doubt posterity will give him a high place among the greatest thinkers and the profoundest metaphysicians of his day.
Hold childhood in reverence, and do not be in any hurry to judge it for good or ill. Leave exceptional cases to show themselves, let their qualities be tested and confirmed, before special methods are adopted. Give nature time to work before you take over her business, lest you interfere with her dealings. You assert that you know the value of time and are afraid to waste it. You fail to perceive that it is a greater waste of time to use it ill than to do nothing, and that a child ill taught is further from virtue than a child who has learnt nothing at all. You are afraid to see him spending his early years doing nothing. What! is it nothing to be happy, nothing to run and jump all day? He will never be so busy again all his life long. Plato, in his Republic, which is considered so stern, teaches the children only through festivals, games, songs, and amusements. It seems as if he had accomplished his purpose when he had taught them to be happy; and Seneca, speaking of the Roman lads in olden days, says, “They were always on their feet, they were never taught anything which kept them sitting.” Were they any the worse for it in manhood? Do not be afraid, therefore, of this so-called idleness. What would you think of a man who refused to sleep lest he should waste part of his life? You would say, “He is mad; he is not enjoying his life, he is robbing himself of part of it; to avoid sleep he is hastening his death.” Remember that these two cases are alike, and that childhood is the sleep of reason.
The apparent ease with which children learn is their ruin. You fail to see that this very facility proves that they are not learning. Their shining, polished brain reflects, as in a mirror, the things you show them, but nothing sinks in. The child remembers the words and the ideas are reflected back; his hearers understand them, but to him they are meaningless.
Although memory and reason are wholly different faculties, the one does not really develop apart from the other. Before the age of reason the child receives images, not ideas; and there is this difference between them: images are merely the pictures of external objects, while ideas are notions about those objects determined by their relations. An image when it is recalled may exist by itself in the mind, but every idea implies other ideas. When we image we merely perceive, when we reason we compare. Our sensations are merely passive, our notions or ideas spring from an active principle which judges. The proof of this will be given later.
I maintain, therefore, that as children are incapable of judging, they have no true memory. They retain sounds, form, sensation, but rarely ideas, and still more rarely relations. You tell me they acquire some rudiments of geometry, and you think you prove your case; not so, it is mine you prove; you show that far from being able to reason themselves, children are unable to retain the reasoning of others; for if you follow the method of these little geometricians you will see they only retain the exact impression of the figure and the terms of the demonstration. They cannot meet the slightest new objection; if the figure is reversed they can do nothing. All their knowledge is on the sensation-level, nothing has penetrated to their understanding. Their memory is little better than their other powers, for they always have to learn over again, when they are grown up, what they learnt as children.
I am far from thinking, however, that children have no sort of reason.1 On the contrary, I think they reason very well with regard to things that affect their actual and sensible well-being. But people are mistaken as to the extent of their information, and they attribute to them knowledge they do not possess, and make them reason about things they cannot understand. Another mistake is to try to turn their attention to matters which do not concern them in the least, such as their future interest, their happiness when they are grown up, the opinion people will have of them when they are men—terms which are absolutely meaningless when addressed to creatures who are entirely without foresight. But all the forced studies of these poor little wretches are directed towards matters utterly remote from their minds. You may judge how much attention they can give to them.
The pedagogues, who make a great display of the teaching they give their pupils, are paid to say just the opposite; yet their actions show that they think just as I do. For what do they teach? Words! words! words! Among the various sciences they boast of teaching their scholars, they take good care never to choose those which might be really useful to them, for then they would be compelled to deal with things and would fail utterly; the sciences they choose are those we seem to know when we know their technical terms—heraldry, geography, chronology, languages, etc., studies so remote from man, and even more remote from the child, that it is a wonder if he can ever make any use of any part of them.
You will be surprised to find that I reckon the study of languages among the useless lumber of education; but you must remember that I am speaking of the studies of the earliest years, and whatever you may say, I do not believe any child under twelve or fifteen ever really acquired two languages.
If the study of languages were merely the study of words, that is, of the symbols by which language expresses itself, then this might be a suitable study for children; but languages, as they change the symbols, also modify the ideas which the symbols express. Minds are formed by language, thoughts take their colour from its ideas. Reason alone is common to all. Every language has its own form, a difference which may be partly cause and partly effect of differences in national character; this conjecture appears to be confirmed by the fact that in every nation under the sun speech follows the changes of manners, and is preserved or altered along with them.
By use the child acquires one of these different forms, and it is the only language he retains till the age of reason. To acquire two languages he must be able to compare their ideas, and how can he compare ideas he can barely understand? Everything may have a thousand meanings to him, but each idea can only have one form, so he can only learn one language. You assure me he learns several languages; I deny it. I have seen those little prodigies who are supposed to speak half a dozen languages. I have heard them speak first in German, then in Latin, French, or Italian; true, they used half a dozen different vocabularies, but they always spoke German. In a word, you may give children as many synonyms as you like; it is not their language but their words that you change; they will never have but one language.
To conceal their deficiencies teachers choose the dead languages, in which we have no longer any judges whose authority is beyond dispute. The familiar use of these tongues disappeared long ago, so they are content to imitate what they find in books, and they call that talking. If the master’s Greek and Latin is such poor stuff, what about the children? They have scarcely learnt their primer by heart, without understanding a word of it, when they are set to translate a French speech into Latin words; then when they are more advanced they piece together a few phrases of Cicero for prose or a few lines of Vergil for verse. Then they think they can speak Latin, and who will contradict them?
In any study whatsoever the symbols are of no value without the idea of the things symbolised. Yet the education of the child is confined to those symbols, while no one ever succeeds in making him understand the thing signified. You think you are teaching him what the world is like; he is only learning the map; he is taught the names of towns, countries, rivers, which have no existence for him except on the paper before him. I remember seeing a geography somewhere which began with: “What is the world?”—“A sphere of cardboard.” That is the child’s geography. I maintain that after two years’ work with the globe and cosmography, there is not a single ten-year-old child who could find his way from Paris to Saint Denis by the help of the rules he has learnt. I maintain that not one of these children could find his way by the map about the paths on his father’s estate without getting lost. These are the young doctors who can tell us the position of Pekin, Ispahan, Mexico, and every country in the world.
You tell me the child must be employed on studies which only need eyes. That may be; but if there are any such studies, they are unknown to me.
It is a still more ridiculous error to set them to study history, which is considered within their grasp because it is merely a collection of facts. But what is meant by this word “fact”? Do you think the relations which determine the facts of history are so easy to grasp that the corresponding ideas are easily developed in the child’s mind? Do you think that a real knowledge of events can exist apart from the knowledge of their causes and effects, and that history has so little relation to words that the one can be learnt without the other? If you perceive nothing in a man’s actions beyond merely physical and external movements, what do you learn from history? Absolutely nothing; while this study, robbed of all that makes it interesting, gives you neither pleasure nor information. If you want to judge actions by their moral bearings, try to make these moral bearings intelligible to your scholars. You will soon find out if they are old enough to learn history.
Remember, reader, that he who speaks to you is neither a scholar nor a philosopher, but a plain man and a lover of truth; a man who is pledged to no one party or system, a hermit, who mixes little with other men, and has less opportunity of imbibing their prejudices, and more time to reflect on the things that strike him in his intercourse with them. My arguments are based less on theories than on facts, and I think I can find no better way to bring the facts home to you than by quoting continually some example from the observations which suggested my arguments.
I had gone to spend a few days in the country with a worthy mother of a family who took great pains with her children and their education. One morning I was present while the eldest boy had his lessons. His tutor, who had taken great pains to teach him ancient history, began upon the story of Alexander and lighted on the well-known anecdote of Philip the Doctor. There is a picture of it, and the story is well worth study. The tutor, worthy man, made several reflections which I did not like with regard to Alexander’s courage, but I did not argue with him lest I should lower him in the eyes of his pupil. At dinner they did not fail to set the little fellow talking, French fashion. The eager spirit of a child of his age, and the confident expectation of applause, made him say a number of silly things, and among them from time to time there were things to the point, and these made people forget the rest. At last came the story of Philip the Doctor. He told it very distinctly and prettily. After the usual meed of praise, demanded by his mother and expected by the child himself, they discussed what he had said. Most of them blamed Alexander’s rashness, some of them, following the tutor’s example, praised his resolution, which showed me that none of those present really saw the beauty of the story. “For my own part,” I said, “if there was any courage or any steadfastness at all in Alexander’s conduct I think it was only a piece of bravado.” Then every one agreed that it was a piece of bravado. I was getting angry, and would have replied, when a lady sitting beside me, who had not hitherto spoken, bent towards me and whispered in my ear. “Jean Jacques,” said she, “say no more, they will never understand you.” I looked at her, I recognised the wisdom of her advice, and I held my tongue.
Several things made me suspect that our young professor had not in the least understood the story he told so prettily. After dinner I took his hand in mine and we went for a walk in the park. When I had questioned him quietly, I discovered that he admired the vaunted courage of Alexander more than any one. But in what do you suppose he thought this courage consisted? Merely in swallowing a disagreeable drink at a single draught without hesitation and without any signs of dislike. Not a fortnight before the poor child had been made to take some medicine which he could hardly swallow, and the taste of it was still in his mouth. Death, and death by poisoning, were for him only disagreeable sensations, and senna was his only idea of poison. I must admit, however, that Alexander’s resolution had made a great impression on his young mind, and he was determined that next time he had to take medicine he would be an Alexander. Without entering upon explanations which were clearly beyond his grasp, I confirmed him in his praiseworthy intention, and returned home smiling to myself over the great wisdom of parents and teachers who expect to teach history to children.
Such words as king, emperor, war, conquest, law, and revolution are easily put into their mouths; but when it is a question of attaching clear ideas to these words the explanations are very different from our talk with Robert the gardener.
I feel sure some readers dissatisfied with that “Say no more, Jean Jacques,” will ask what I really saw to admire in the conduct of Alexander. Poor things! if you need telling, how can you comprehend it? Alexander believed in virtue, he staked his head, he staked his own life on that faith, his great soul was fitted to hold such a faith. To swallow that draught was to make a noble profession of the faith that was in him. Never did mortal man recite a finer creed. If there is an Alexander in our own days, show me such deeds.
If children have no knowledge of words, there is no study that is suitable for them. If they have no real ideas they have no real memory, for I do not call that a memory which only recalls sensations. What is the use of inscribing on their brains a list of symbols which mean nothing to them? They will learn the symbols when they learn the things signified; why give them the useless trouble of learning them twice over? And yet what dangerous prejudices are you implanting when you teach them to accept as knowledge words which have no meaning for them. The first meaningless phrase, the first thing taken for granted on the word of another person without seeing its use for himself, this is the beginning of the ruin of the child’s judgment. He may dazzle the eyes of fools long enough before he recovers from such a loss.1
No, if nature has given the child this plasticity of brain which fits him to receive every kind of impression, it was not that you should imprint on it the names and dates of kings, the jargon of heraldry, the globe and geography, all those words without present meaning or future use for the child, which flood of words overwhelms his sad and barren childhood. But by means of this plasticity all the ideas he can understand and use, all that concern his happiness and will some day throw light upon his duties, should be traced at an early age in indelible characters upon his brain, to guide him to live in such a way as befits his nature and his powers.
Without the study of books, such a memory as the child may possess is not left idle; everything he sees and hears makes an impression on him, he keeps a record of men’s sayings and doings, and his whole environment is the book from which he unconsciously enriches his memory, till his judgment is able to profit by it.
To select these objects, to take care to present him constantly with those he may know, to conceal from him those he ought not to know, this is the real way of training his early memory; and in this way you must try to provide him with a storehouse of knowledge which will serve for his education in youth and his conduct throughout life. True, this method does not produce infant prodigies, nor will it reflect glory upon their tutors and governesses, but it produces men, strong, right-thinking men, vigorous both in mind and body, men who do not win admiration as children, but honour as men.
Emile will not learn anything by heart, not even fables, not even the fables of La Fontaine, simple and delightful as they are, for the words are no more the fable than the words of history are history. How can people be so blind as to call fables the child’s system of morals, without considering that the child is not only amused by the apologue but misled by it? He is attracted by what is false and he misses the truth, and the means adopted to make the teaching pleasant prevent him profiting by it. Men may be taught by fables; children require the naked truth.
All children learn La Fontaine’s fables, but not one of them understands them. It is just as well that they do not understand, for the morality of the fables is so mixed and so unsuitable for their age that it would be more likely to incline them to vice than to virtue. “More paradoxes!” you exclaim. Paradoxes they may be; but let us see if there is not some truth in them.
I maintain that the child does not understand the fables he is taught, for however you try to explain them, the teaching you wish to extract from them demands ideas which he cannot grasp, while the poetical form which makes it easier to remember makes it harder to understand, so that clearness is sacrificed to facility. Without quoting the host of wholly unintelligible and useless fables which are taught to children because they happen to be in the same book as the others, let us keep to those which the author seems to have written specially for children.
In the whole of La Fontaine’s works I only know five or six fables conspicuous for child-like simplicity; I will take the first of these as an example, for it is one whose moral is most suitable for all ages, one which children get hold of with the least difficulty, which they have most pleasure in learning, one which for this very reason the author has placed at the beginning of his book. If his object were really to delight and instruct children, this fable is his masterpiece. Let us go through it and examine it briefly.
THE FOX AND THE CROW
“Maître corbeau, sur un arbre perché” (Mr. Crow perched on a tree).—“Mr.!” what does that word really mean? What does it mean before a proper noun? What is its meaning here? What is a crow? What is “un arbre perché”? We do not say “on a tree perched,” but perched on a tree. So we must speak of poetical inversions, we must distinguish between prose and verse.
“Tenait dans son bec un fromage” (Held a cheese in his beak).—What sort of a cheese? Swiss, Brie, or Dutch? If the child has never seen crows, what is the good of talking about them? If he has seen crows will he believe that they can hold a cheese in their beak? Your illustrations should always be taken from nature.
“Maître renard, par l’odeur alléché” (Mr. Fox, attracted by the smell).—Another Master! But the title suits the fox, who is master of all the tricks of his trade. You must explain what a fox is, and distinguish between the real fox and the conventional fox of the fables.
“Alléché.” The word is obsolete; you will have to explain it. You will say it is only used in verse. Perhaps the child will ask why people talk differently in verse. How will you answer that question?
“Alléché, par l’odeur d’un fromage.” The cheese was held in his beak by a crow perched on a tree; it must indeed have smelt strong if the fox, in his thicket or his earth, could smell it. This is the way you train your pupil in that spirit of right judgment, which rejects all but reasonable arguments, and is able to distinguish between truth and falsehood in other tales.
“Lui tient à peu près ce langage” (Spoke to him after this fashion).—“Ce langage.” So foxes talk, do they! They talk like crows! Mind what you are about, oh, wise tutor; weigh your answer before you give it, it is more important than you suspect.
“Eh! Bonjour, Monsieur le Corbeau!” (“Good-day, Mr. Crow!”)—Mr.! The child sees this title laughed to scorn before he knows it is a title of honour. Those who say “Monsieur du Corbeau” will find their work cut out for them to explain that “du.”
“Que vous êtes joli! Que vous me semblez beau!” (“How handsome you are, how beautiful in my eyes!”)—Mere padding. The child, finding the same thing repeated twice over in different words, is learning to speak carelessly. If you say this redundance is a device of the author, a part of the fox’s scheme to make his praise seem all the greater by his flow of words, that is a valid excuse for me, but not for my pupil.
“Sans mentir, si votre ramage” (“Without lying, if your song”).—“Without lying.” So people do tell lies sometimes. What will the child think of you if you tell him the fox only says “Sans mentir” because he is lying?
“Repondait à votre plumage” (“Answered to your fine feathers”).—“Answered!” What does that mean? Try to make the child compare qualities so different as those of song and plumage; you will see how much he understands.
“Vous seriez le phénix des hôtes de ces bois!” (“You would be the phœnix of all the inhabitants of this wood!”)—The phœnix! What is a phœnix? All of a sudden we are floundering in the lies of antiquity—we are on the edge of mythology.
“The inhabitants of this wood.” What figurative language! The flatterer adopts the grand style to add dignity to his speech, to make it more attractive. Will the child understand this cunning? Does he know, how could he possibly know, what is meant by grand style and simple style?
“A ces mots le corbeau ne se sent pas de joie” (At these words, the crow is beside himself with delight).—To realise the full force of this proverbial expression we must have experienced very strong feeling.
“Et, pour montrer sa belle voix” (And, to show his fine voice).—Remember that the child, to understand this line and the whole fable, must know what is meant by the crow’s fine voice.
“Il ouvre un large bec. laisse tomber sa proie” (He opens his wide beak and drops his prey).—This is a splendid line; its very sound suggests a picture. I see the great big ugly gaping beak, I hear the cheese crashing through the branches; but this kind of beauty is thrown away upon children.
“Le renard s’en saisit, et dit, ‘Mon bon monsieur’ ” (The fox catches it, and says, “My dear sir”).—So kindness is already folly. You certainly waste no time in teaching your children.
“Apprenez que tout flatteur” (“You must learn that every flatterer”).—A general maxim. The child can make neither head nor tail of it.
“Vit au depens de celui qui l’écoute” (“Lives at the expense of the person who listens to his flattery”).—No child of ten ever understood that.
“Ce leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute” (“No doubt this lesson is well worth a cheese”).—This is intelligible and its meaning is very good. Yet there are few children who could compare a cheese and a lesson, few who would not prefer the cheese. You will therefore have to make them understand that this is said in mockery. What subtlety for a child!
“Le corbeau, honteux et confus” (The crow, ashamed and confused).—Anothing pleonasm, and there is no excuse for it this time.
“Jura, mais un peu tard, qu’on ne l’y prendrait plus” (Swore, but rather too late, that he would not be caught in that way again).—“Swore.” What master will be such a fool as to try to explain to a child the meaning of an oath?
What a host of details! but much more would be needed for the analysis of all the ideas in this fable and their reduction to the simple and elementary ideas of which each is composed. But who thinks this analysis necessary to make himself intelligible to children? Who of us is philosopher enough to be able to put himself in the child’s place? Let us now proceed to the moral.
Should we teach a six-year-old child that there are people who flatter and lie for the sake of gain? One might perhaps teach them that there are people who make fools of little boys and laugh at their foolish vanity behind their backs. But the whole thing is spoilt by the cheese. You are teaching them how to make another drop his cheese rather than how to keep their own. This is my second paradox, and it is not less weighty than the former one.
Watch children learning their fables and you will see that when they have a chance of applying them they almost always use them exactly contrary to the author’s meaning; instead of being on their guard against the fault which you would prevent or cure, they are disposed to like the vice by which one takes advantage of another’s defects. In the above fable children laugh at the crow, but they all love the fox. In the next fable you expect them to follow the example of the grasshopper. Not so, they will choose the ant. They do not care to abase themselves, they will always choose the principal part—this is the choice of self-love, a very natural choice. But what a dreadful lesson for children! There could be no monster more detestable than a harsh and avaricious child, who realised what he was asked to give and what he refused. The ant does more; she teaches him not merely to refuse but to revile.
In all the fables where the lion plays a part, usually the chief part, the child pretends to be the lion, and when he has to preside over some distribution of good things, he takes care to keep everything for himself; but when the lion is overthrown by the gnat, the child is the gnat. He learns how to sting to death those whom he dare not attack openly.
From the fable of the sleek dog and the starving wolf he learns a lesson of licence rather than the lesson of moderation which you profess to teach him. I shall never forget seeing a little girl weeping bitterly over this tale, which had been told her as a lesson in obedience. The poor child hated to be chained up; she felt the chain chafing her neck; she was crying because she was not a wolf.
So from the first of these fables the child learns the basest flattery; from the second, cruelty; from the third, injustice; from the fourth, satire; from the fifth, insubordination. The last of these lessons is no more suitable for your pupils than for mine, though he has no use for it. What results do you expect to get from your teaching when it contradicts itself? But perhaps the same system of morals which furnishes me with objections against the fables supplies you with as many reasons for keeping to them. Society requires a rule of morality in our words; it also requires a rule of morality in our deeds; and these two rules are quite different. The former is contained in the Catechism and it is left there; the other is contained in La Fontaine’s fables for children and his tales for mothers. The same author does for both.
Let us make a bargain, M. de la Fontaine. For my own part, I undertake to make your books my favourite study; I undertake to love you, and to learn from your fables, for I hope I shall not mistake their meaning. As to my pupil, permit me to prevent him studying any one of them till you have convinced me that it is good for him to learn things three-fourths of which are unintelligible to him, and until you can convince me that in those fables he can understand he will never reverse the order and imitate the villain instead of taking warning from his dupe.
When I thus get rid of children’s lessons, I get rid of the chief cause of their sorrows, namely their books. Reading is the curse of childhood, yet it is almost the only occupation you can find for children. Emile, at twelve years old, will hardly know what a book is. “But,” you say, “he must, at least, know how to read.” When reading is of use to him, I admit he must learn to read, but till then he will only find it a nuisance.
If children are not to be required to do anything as a matter of obedience, it follows that they will only learn what they perceive to be of real and present value, either for use or enjoyment; what other motive could they have for learning? The art of speaking to our absent friends, of hearing their words; the art of letting them know at first hand our feelings, our desires, and our longings, is an art whose usefulness can be made plain at any age. How is it that this art, so useful and pleasant in itself, has become a terror to children? Because the child is compelled to acquire it against his will, and to use it for purposes beyond his comprehension. A child has no great wish to perfect himself in the use of an instrument of torture, but make it a means to his pleasure, and soon you will not be able to keep him from it.
People make a great fuss about discovering the best way to teach children to read. They invent “bureaux”1 and cards, they turn the nursery into a printer’s shop. Locke would have them taught to read by means of dice. What a fine idea! And the pity of it! There is a better way than any of those, and one which is generally overlooked—it consists in the desire to learn. Arouse this desire in your scholar and have done with your “bureaux” and your dice—any method will serve.
Present interest, that is the motive power, the only motive power that takes us far and safely. Sometimes Emile receives notes of invitation from his father or mother, his relations or friends; he is invited to a dinner, a walk, a boating expedition, to see some public entertainment. These notes are short, clear, plain, and well written. Some one must read them to him, and he cannot always find anybody when wanted; no more consideration is shown to him than he himself showed to you yesterday. Time passes, the chance is lost. The note is read to him at last, but it is too late. Oh! if only he had known how to read! He receives other notes, so short, so interesting, he would like to try to read them. Sometimes he gets help, sometimes none. He does his best, and at last he makes out half the note; it is something about going to-morrow to drink cream—Where? With whom? He cannot tell—how hard he tries to make out the rest! I do not think Emile will need a “bureau.” Shall I proceed to the teaching of writing? No, I am ashamed to toy with these trifles in a treatise on education.
I will just add a few words which contain a principle of great importance. It is this—What we are in no hurry to get is usually obtained with speed and certainty. I am pretty sure Emile will learn to read and write before he is ten, just because I care very little whether he can do so before he is fifteen; but I would rather he never learnt to read at all, than that this art should be acquired at the price of all that makes reading useful. What is the use of reading to him if he always hates it? “Id imprimis cavere oportebit, ne studia, qui amare nondum potest, oderit, et amaritudinem semel perceptam etiam ultra rudes annos reformidet.”—Quintil.
The more I urge my method of letting well alone, the more objections I perceive against it. If your pupil learns nothing from you, he will learn from others. If you do not instil truth he will learn falsehoods; the prejudices you fear to teach him he will acquire from those about him, they will find their way through every one of his senses; they will either corrupt his reason before it is fully developed or his mind will become torpid through inaction, and will become engrossed in material things. If we do not form the habit of thinking as children, we shall lose the power of thinking for the rest of our life.
I fancy I could easily answer that objection, but why should I answer every objection? If my method itself answers your objections, it is good; if not, it is good for nothing. I continue my explanation.
If, in accordance with the plan I have sketched, you follow rules which are just the opposite of the established practice, if instead of taking your scholar far afield, instead of wandering with him in distant places, in far-off lands, in remote centuries, in the ends of the earth, and in the very heavens themselves, you try to keep him to himself, to his own concerns, you will then find him able to perceive, to remember, and even to reason; this is nature’s order. As the sentient being becomes active his discernment develops along with his strength. Not till his strength is in excess of what is needed for self-preservation, is the speculative faculty developed, the faculty adapted for using this superfluous strength for other purposes. Would you cultivate your pupil’s intelligence, cultivate the strength it is meant to control. Give his body constant exercise, make it strong and healthy, in order to make him good and wise; let him work, let him do things, let him run and shout, let him be always on the go; make a man of him in strength, and he will soon be a man in reason.
Of course by this method you will make him stupid if you are always giving him directions, always saying come here, go there, stop, do this, don’t do that. If your head always guides his hands, his own mind will become useless. But remember the conditions we laid down; if you are a mere pedant it is not worth your while to read my book.
It is a lamentable mistake to imagine that bodily activity hinders the working of the mind, as if these two kinds of activity ought not to advance hand in hand, and as if the one were not intended to act as guide to the other.
There are two classes of men who are constantly engaged in bodily activity, peasants and savages, and certainly neither of these pays the least attention to the cultivation of the mind. Peasants are rough, coarse, and clumsy; savages are noted, not only for their keen senses, but for great subtility of mind. Speaking generally, there is nothing duller than a peasant or sharper than a savage. What is the cause of this difference? The peasant has always done as he was told, what his father did before him, what he himself has always done; he is the creature of habit, he spends his life almost like an automaton on the same tasks; habit and obedience have taken the place of reason.
The case of the savage is very different; he is tied to no one place, he has no prescribed task, no superior to obey, he knows no law but his own will; he is therefore forced to reason at every step he takes. He can neither move nor walk without considering the consequences. Thus the more his body is exercised, the more alert is his mind; his strength and his reason increase together, and each helps to develop the other.
Oh, learned tutor, let us see which of our two scholars is most like the savage and which is most like the peasant. Your scholar is subject to a power which is continually giving him instruction; he acts only at the word of command; he dare not eat when he is hungry, nor laugh when he is merry, nor weep when he is sad, nor offer one hand rather than the other, nor stir a foot unless he is told to do it; before long he will not venture to breathe without orders. What would you have him think about, when you do all the thinking for him? He rests securely on your foresight, why should he think for himself? He knows you have undertaken to take care of him, to secure his welfare, and he feels himself freed from this responsibility. His judgment relies on yours; what you have not forbidden that he does, knowing that he runs no risk. Why should he learn the signs of rain? He knows you watch the clouds for him. Why should he time his walk? He knows there is no fear of your letting him miss his dinner hour. He eats till you tell him to stop, he stops when you tell him to do so; he does not attend to the teaching of his own stomach, but yours. In vain do you make his body soft by inaction; his understanding does not become subtle. Far from it, you complete your task of discrediting reason in his eyes, by making him use such reasoning power as he has on the things which seem of least importance to him. As he never finds his reason any use to him, he decides at last that it is useless. If he reasons badly he will be found fault with; nothing worse will happen to him; and he has been found fault with so often that he pays no attention to it, such a common danger no longer alarms him.
Yet you will find he has a mind. He is quick enough to chatter with the women in the way I spoke of further back; but if he is in danger, if he must come to a decision in difficult circumstances, you will find him a hundredfold more stupid and silly than the son of the roughest labourer.
As for my pupil, or rather Nature’s pupil, he has been trained from the outset to be as self-reliant as possible, he has not formed the habit of constantly seeking help from others, still less of displaying his stores of learning. On the other hand, he exercises discrimination and forethought, he reasons about everything that concerns himself. He does not chatter, he acts. Not a word does he know of what is going on in the world at large, but he knows very thoroughly what affects himself. As he is always stirring he is compelled to notice many things, to recognise many effects; he soon acquires a good deal of experience. Nature, not man, is his schoolmaster, and he learns all the quicker because he is not aware that he has any lesson to learn. So mind and body work together. He is always carrying out his own ideas, not those of other people, and thus he unites thought and action; as he grows in health and strength he grows in wisdom and discernment. This is the way to attain later on to what is generally considered incompatible, though most great men have achieved it, strength of body and strength of mind, the reason of the philosopher and the vigour of the athlete.
Young teacher, I am setting before you a difficult task, the art of controlling without precepts, and doing everything without doing anything at all. This art is, I confess, beyond your years, it is not calculated to display your talents nor to make your value known to your scholar’s parents; but it is the only road to success. You will never succeed in making wise men if you do not first make little imps of mischief. This was the education of the Spartans; they were not taught to stick to their books, they were set to steal their dinners. Were they any the worse for it in after life? Ever ready for victory, they crushed their foes in every kind of warfare, and the prating Athenians were as much afraid of their words as of their blows.
When education is most carefully attended to, the teacher issues his orders and thinks himself master, but it is the child who is really master. He uses the tasks you set him to obtain what he wants from you, and he can always make you pay for an hour’s industry by a week’s complaisance. You must always be making bargains with him. These bargains, suggested in your fashion, but carried out in his, always follow the direction of his own fancies, especially when you are foolish enough to make the condition some advantage he is almost sure to obtain, whether he fulfils his part of the bargain or not. The child is usually much quicker to read the master’s thoughts than the master to read the child’s feelings. And that is as it should be, for all the sagacity which the child would have devoted to self-preservation, had he been left to himself, is now devoted to the rescue of his native freedom from the chains of his tyrant; while the latter, who has no such pressing need to understand the child, sometimes finds that it pays him better to leave him in idleness or vanity.
Take the opposite course with your pupil; let him always think he is master while you are really master. There is no subjection so complete as that which preserves the forms of freedom; it is thus that the will itself is taken captive. Is not this poor child, without knowledge, strength, or wisdom, entirely at your mercy? Are you not master of his whole environment so far as it affects him? Cannot you make of him what you please? His work and play, his pleasure and pain, are they not, unknown to him, under your control? No doubt he ought only to do what he wants, but he ought to want to do nothing but what you want him to do. He should never take a step you have not foreseen, nor utter a word you could not foretell.
Then he can devote himself to the bodily exercises adapted to his age without brutalising his mind; instead of developing his cunning to evade an unwelcome control, you will then find him entirely occupied in getting the best he can out of his environment with a view to his present welfare, and you will be surprised by the subtlety of the means he devises to get for himself such things as he can obtain, and to really enjoy things without the aid of other people’s ideas. You leave him master of his own wishes, but you do not multiply his caprices. When he only does what he wants, he will soon only do what he ought, and although his body is constantly in motion, so far as his sensible and present interests are concerned, you will find him developing all the reason of which he is capable, far better and in a manner much better fitted for him than in purely theoretical studies.
Thus when he does not find you continually thwarting him, when he no longer distrusts you, no longer has anything to conceal from you, he will neither tell you lies nor deceive you; he will show himself fearlessly as he really is, and you can study him at your ease, and surround him with all the lessons you would have him learn, without awaking his suspicions.
Neither will he keep a curious and jealous eye on your own conduct, nor take a secret delight in catching you at fault. It is a great thing to avoid this. One of the child’s first objects is, as I have said, to find the weak spots in its rulers. Though this leads to spitefulness, it does not arise from it, but from the desire to evade a disagreeable control. Overburdened by the yoke laid upon him, he tries to shake it off, and the faults he finds in his master give him a good opportunity for this. Still the habit of spying out faults and delighting in them grows upon people. Clearly we have stopped another of the springs of vice in Emile’s heart. Having nothing to gain from my faults, he will not be on the watch for them, nor will he be tempted to look out for the faults of others.
All these methods seem difficult because they are new to us, but they ought not to be really difficult. I have a right to assume that you have the knowledge required for the business you have chosen; that you know the usual course of development of the human thought, that you can study mankind and man, that you know beforehand the effect on your pupil’s will of the various objects suited to his age which you put before him. You have the tools and the art to use them; are you not master of your trade?
You speak of childish caprice; you are mistaken. Children’s caprices are never the work of nature, but of bad discipline; they have either obeyed or given orders, and I have said again and again, they must do neither. Your pupil will have the caprices you have taught him; it is fair you should bear the punishment of your own faults. “But how can I cure them?” do you say? That may still be done by better conduct on your own part and great patience. I once undertook the charge of a child for a few weeks; he was accustomed not only to have his own way, but to make every one else do as he pleased; he was therefore capricious. The very first day he wanted to get up at midnight, to try how far he could go with me. When I was sound asleep he jumped out of bed, got his dressing-gown, and waked me up. I got up and lighted the candle, which was all he wanted. After a quarter of an hour he became sleepy and went back to bed quite satisfied with his experiment. Two days later he repeated it, with the same success and with no sign of impatience on my part. When he kissed me as he lay down. I said to him very quietly, “My little dear, this is all very well, but do not try it again.” His curiosity was aroused by this, and the very next day he did not fail to get up at the same time and woke me to see whether I should dare to disobey him. I asked what he wanted, and he told me he could not sleep. “So much the worse for you,” I replied, and I lay quiet. He seemed perplexed by this way of speaking. He felt his way to the flint and steel and tried to strike a light. I could not help laughing when I heard him strike his fingers. Convinced at last that he could not manage it, he brought the steel to my bed; I told him I did not want it, and I turned my back to him. Then he began to rush wildly about the room, shouting, singing, making a great noise, knocking against chairs and tables, but taking, however, good care not to hurt himself seriously, but screaming loudly in the hope of alarming me. All this had no effect, but I perceived that though he was prepared for scolding or anger, he was quite unprepared for indifference.
However, he was determined to overcome my patience with his own obstinacy, and he continued his racket so successfully that at last I lost my temper. I foresaw that I should spoil the whole business by an unseemly outburst of passion. I determined on another course. I got up quietly, went to the tinder box, but could not find it; I asked him for it, and he gave it me, delighted to have won the victory over me. I struck a light, lighted the candle, took my young gentleman by the hand and led him quietly into an adjoining dressing-room with the shutters firmly fastened, and nothing he could break.
I left him there without a light; then locking him in I went back to my bed without a word. What a noise there was! That was what I expected, and took no notice. At last the noise ceased; I listened, heard him settling down, and I was quite easy about him. Next morning I entered the room at daybreak, and my little rebel was lying on a sofa enjoying a sound and much needed sleep after his exertions.
The matter did not end there. His mother heard that the child had spent a great part of the night out of bed. That spoilt the whole thing; her child was as good as dead. Finding a good chance for revenge, he pretended to be ill, not seeing that he would gain nothing by it. They sent for the doctor. Unluckily for the mother, the doctor was a practical joker, and to amuse himself with her terrors he did his best to increase them. However, he whispered to me, “Leave it to me, I promise to cure the child of wanting to be ill for some time to come.” As a matter of fact he prescribed bed and dieting, and the child was handed over to the apothecary. I sighed to see the mother cheated on every hand except by me, whom she hated because I did not deceive her.
After pretty severe reproaches, she told me her son was delicate, that he was the sole heir of the family, his life must be preserved at all costs, and she would not have him contradicted. In that I thoroughly agreed with her, but what she meant by contradicting was not obeying him in everything. I saw I should have to treat the mother as I had treated the son. “Madam,” I said coldly, “I do not know how to educate the heir to a fortune, and what is more, I do not mean to study that art. You can take that as settled.” I was wanted for some days longer, and the father smoothed things over. The mother wrote to the tutor to hasten his return, and the child, finding he got nothing by disturbing my rest, nor yet by being ill, decided at last to get better and to go to sleep.
You can form no idea of the number of similar caprices to which the little tyrant had subjected his unlucky tutor; for his education was carried on under his mother’s eye, and she would not allow her son and heir to be disobeyed in anything. Whenever he wanted to go out, you must be ready to take him, or rather to follow him, and he always took good care to choose the time when he knew his tutor was very busy. He wished to exercise the same power over me and to avenge himself by day for having to leave me in peace at night. I gladly agreed and began by showing plainly how pleased I was to give him pleasure; after that when it was a matter of curing him of his fancies I set about it differently.
In the first place, he must be shown that he was in the wrong. This was not difficult; knowing that children think only of the present, I took the easy advantage which foresight gives; I took care to provide him with some indoor amusement of which he was very fond. Just when he was most occupied with it, I went and suggested a short walk, and he sent me away. I insisted, but he paid no attention. I had to give in, and he took note of this sign of submission.
The next day it was my turn. As I expected, he got tired of his occupation; I, however, pretended to be very busy. That was enough to decide him. He came to drag me from my work, to take him at once for a walk. I refused; he persisted. “No,” I said, “when I did what you wanted, you taught me how to get my own way; I shall not go out.” “Very well,” he replied eagerly, “I shall go out by myself.” “As you please,” and I returned to my work.
He put on his things rather uneasily when he saw I did not follow his example. When he was ready he came and made his bow; I bowed too; he tried to frighten me with stories of the expeditions he was going to make; to hear him talk you would think he was going to the world’s end. Quite unmoved, I wished him a pleasant journey. He became more and more perplexed. However, he put a good face on it, and when he was ready to go out he told his footman to follow him. The footman, who had his instructions, replied that he had no time, and that he was busy carrying out my orders, and he must obey me first. For the moment the child was taken aback. How could he think they would really let him go out alone, him, who, in his own eyes, was the most important person in the world, who thought that everything in heaven and earth was wrapped up in his welfare? However, he was beginning to feel his weakness, he perceived that he should find himself alone among people who knew nothing of him. He saw beforehand the risks he would run; obstinacy alone sustained him; very slowly and unwillingly he went downstairs. At last he went out into the street, consoling himself a little for the harm that might happen to himself, in the hope that I should be held responsible for it.
This was just what I expected. All was arranged beforehand, and as it meant some sort of public scene I had got his father’s consent. He had scarcely gone a few steps, when he heard, first on this side then on that, all sorts of remarks about himself. “What a pretty little gentleman, neighbour? Where is he going all alone? He will get lost! I will ask him into our house.” “Take care you don’t. Don’t you see he is a naughty little boy, who has been turned out of his own house because he is good for nothing? You must not stop naughty boys; let him go where he likes.” “Well, well; the good God take care of him. I should be sorry if anything happened to him.” A little further on he met some young urchins of about his own age who teased him and made fun of him. The further he got the more difficulties he found. Alone and unprotected he was at the mercy of everybody, and he found to his great surprise that his shoulder knot and his gold lace commanded no respect.
However, I had got a friend of mine, who was a stranger to him, to keep an eye on him. Unnoticed by him, this friend followed him step by step, and in due time he spoke to him. The role, like that of Sbrigani in Pourceaugnac, required an intelligent actor, and it was played to perfection. Without making the child fearful and timid by inspiring excessive terror, he made him realise so thoroughly the folly of his exploit that in half an hour’s time he brought him home to me, ashamed and humble, and afraid to look me in the face.
To put the finishing touch to his discomfiture, just as he was coming in his father came down on his way out and met him on the stairs. He had to explain where he had been, and why I was not with him.1 The poor child would gladly have sunk into the earth. His father did not take the trouble to scold him at length, but said with more severity than I should have expected, “When you want to go out by yourself, you can do so, but I will not have a rebel in my house, so when you go, take good care that you never come back.”
As for me, I received him somewhat gravely, but without blame and without mockery, and for fear he should find out we had been playing with him, I declined to take him out walking that day. Next day I was well pleased to find that he passed in triumph with me through the very same people who had mocked him the previous day, when they met him out by himself. You may be sure he never threatened to go out without me again.
By these means and other like them I succeeded during the short time I was with him in getting him to do everything I wanted without bidding him or forbidding him to do anything, without preaching or exhortation, without wearying him with unnecessary lessons. So he was pleased when I spoke to him, but when I was silent he was frightened, for he knew there was something amiss, and he always got his lesson from the thing itself. But let us return to our subject.
The body is strengthened by this constant exercise under the guidance of nature herself, and far from brutalising the mind, this exercise develops in it the only kind of reason of which young children are capable, the kind of reason most necessary at every age. It teaches us how to use our strength, to perceive the relations between our own and neighbouring bodies, to use the natural tools, which are within our reach and adapted to our senses. Is there anything sillier than a child brought up indoors under his mother’s eye, who, in his ignorance of weight and resistance, tries to uproot a tall tree or pick up a rock. The first time I found myself outside Geneva I tried to catch a galloping horse, and I threw stones at Mont Salève, two leagues away; I was the laughing stock of the whole village, and was supposed to be a regular idiot. At eighteen we are taught in our natural philosophy the use of the lever; every village boy of twelve knows how to use a lever better than the cleverest mechanician in the academy. The lessons the scholars learn from one another in the playground are worth a hundredfold more than what they learn in the class-room.
Watch a cat when she comes into a room for the first time; she goes from place to place, she sniffs about and examines everything, she is never still for a moment; she is suspicious of everything till she has examined it and found out what it is. It is the same with the child when he begins to walk, and enters, so to speak, the room of the world around him. The only difference is that, while both use sight, the child uses his hands and the cat that subtle sense of smell which nature has bestowed upon it. It is this instinct, rightly or wrongly educated, which makes children skilful or clumsy, quick or slow, wise or foolish.
As a man’s first natural impulse is to measure himself with his environment, to discover in every object he sees those sensible qualities which may concern himself, so his first study is a kind of experimental physics for his own preservation. He is turned away from this and sent to speculative studies before he has found his proper place in the world. While his delicate and flexible limbs can adjust themselves to the bodies upon which they are intended to act, while his senses are keen and as yet free from illusions, then is the time to exercise both limbs and senses in their proper business. It is the time to learn to perceive the physical relations between ourselves and things. Since everything that comes into the human mind enters through the gates of sense, man’s first reason is a reason of sense-experience. It is this that serves as a foundation for the reason of the intelligence; our first teachers in natural philosophy are our feet, hands, and eyes. To substitute books for them does not teach us to reason, it teaches us to use the reason of others rather than our own; it teaches us to believe much and know little.
Before you can practise an art you must first get your tools; and if you are to make good use of those tools, they must be fashioned sufficiently strong to stand use. To learn to think we must therefore exercise our limbs, our senses, and our bodily organs, which are the tools of the intellect; and to get the best use out of these tools, the body which supplies us with them must be strong and healthy. Not only is it quite a mistake that true reason is developed apart from the body, but it is a good bodily constitution which makes the workings of the mind easy and correct.
While I am showing how the child’s long period of leisure should be spent, I am entering into details which may seem absurd. You will say, “This is a strange sort of education, and it is subject to your own criticism, for it only teaches what no one needs to learn. Why spend your time in teaching what will come of itself without care or trouble? Is there any child of twelve who is ignorant of all you wish to teach your pupil, while he also knows what his master has taught him.”
Gentlemen, you are mistaken. I am teaching my pupil an art the acquirement of which demands much time and trouble, an art which your scholars certainly do not possess; it is the art of being ignorant; for the knowledge of any one who only thinks he knows, what he really does know is a very small matter. You teach science; well and good; I am busy fashioning the necessary tools for its acquisition. Once upon a time, they say the Venetians were displaying the treasures of the Cathedral of Saint Mark to the Spanish ambassador; the only comment he made was, “Qui non o’e la radice.” When I see a tutor showing off his pupil’s learning, I am always tempted to say the same to him.
Every one who has considered the manner of life among the ancients, attributes the strength of body and mind by which they are distinguished from the men of our own day to their gymnastic exercises. The stress laid by Montaigne upon this opinion, shows that it had made a great impression on him; he returns to it again and again. Speaking of a child’s education he says, “To strengthen the mind you must harden the muscles; by training the child to labour you train him to suffering; he must be broken in to the hardships of gymnastic exercises to prepare him for the hardships of dislocations, colics, and other bodily ills.” The philosopher Locke, the worthy Rollin, the learned Fleury, the pedant De Crouzas, differing as they do so widely from one another, are agreed in this one matter of sufficient bodily exercise for children. This is the wisest of their precepts, and the one which is certain to be neglected. I have already dwelt sufficiently on its importance, and as better reasons and more sensible rules cannot be found than those in Locke’s book, I will content myself with referring to it, after taking the liberty of adding a few remarks of my own.
The limbs of a growing child should be free to move easily in his clothing; nothing should cramp their growth or movement; there thould be nothing tight, nothing fitting closely to the body, no belts of any kind. The French style of dress, uncomfortable and unhealthy for a man, is especially bad for children. The stagnant humours, whose circulation is interrupted, putrify in a state of inaction, and this process proceeds more rapidly in an inactive and sedentary life; they become corrupt and give rise to scurvy; this disease, which is continually on the increase among us, was almost unknown to the ancients, whose way of dressing and living protected them from it. The hussar’s dress, far from correcting this fault, increases it, and compresses the whole of the child’s body, by way of dispensing with a few bands. The best plan is to keep children in frocks as long as possible and then to provide them with loose clothing, without trying to define the shape which is only another way of deforming it. Their defects of body and mind may all be traced to the same source, the desire to make men of them before their time.
There are bright colours and dull; children like the bright colours best, and they suit them better too. I see no reason why such natural suitability should not be taken into consideration; but as soon as they prefer a material because it is rich, their hearts are already given over to luxury, to every caprice of fashion, and this taste is certainly not their own. It is impossible to say how much education is influenced by this choice of clothes, and the motives for this choice. Not only do short-sighted mothers offer ornaments as rewards to their children, but there are foolish tutors who threaten to make their pupils wear the plainest and coarsest clothes as a punishment. “If you do not do your lessons better, if you do not take more care of your clothes, you shall be dressed like that little peasant boy.” This is like saying to them, “Understand that clothes make the man.” Is it to be wondered at that our young people profit by such wise teaching, that they care for nothing but dress, and that they only judge of merit by its outside.
If I had to bring such a spoilt child to his senses, I would take care that his smartest clothes were the most uncomfortable, that he was always cramped, constrained, and embarrassed in every way; freedom and mirth should flee before his splendour. If he wanted to take part in the games of children more simply dressed, they should cease their play and run away. Before long I should make him so tired and sick of his magnificence, such a slave to his gold-laced coat, that it would become the plague of his life, and he would be less afraid to behold the darkest dungeon than to see the preparations for his adornment. Before the child is enslaved by our prejudices his first wish is always to be free and comfortable. The plainest and most comfortable clothes, those which leave him most liberty, are what he always likes best.
There are habits of body suited for an active life and others for a sedentary life. The latter leaves the humours an equable and uniform course, and the body should be protected from changes in temperature; the former is constantly passing from action to rest, from heat to cold, and the body should be inured to these changes. Hence people, engaged in sedentary pursuits indoors, should always be warmly dressed, to keep their bodies as nearly as possible at the same temperature at all times and seasons. Those, however, who come and go in sun, wind, and rain, who take much exercise, and spend most of their time out of doors, should always be lightly clad, so as to get used to the changes in the air and to every degree of temperature without suffering inconvenience. I would advise both never to change their clothes with the changing seasons, and that would be the invariable habit of my pupil Emile. By this I do not mean that he should wear his winter clothes in summer like many people of sedentary habits, but that he should wear his summer clothes in winter like hard-working folk. Sir Isaac Newton always did this, and he lived to be eighty.
Emile should wear little or nothing on his head all the year round. The ancient Egyptians always went bareheaded; the Persians used to wear heavy tiaras and still wear large turbans, which according to Chardin are required by their climate. I have remarked elsewhere on the difference observed by Herodotus on a battle-field between the skulls of the Persians and those of the Egyptians. Since it is desirable that the bones of the skull should grow harder and more substantial, less fragile and porous, not only to protect the brain against injuries but against colds, fever, and every influence of the air, you should therefore accustom your children to go bareheaded winter and summer, day and night. If you make them wear a night-cap to keep their hair clean and tidy, let it be thin and transparent like the nets with which the Basques cover their hair. I am aware that most mothers will be more impressed by Chardin’s observations than my arguments, and will think that all climates are the climate of Persia, but I did not choose a European pupil to turn him into an Asiatic.
Children are generally too much wrapped up, particularly in infancy. They should be accustomed to cold rather than heat; great cold never does them any harm, if they are exposed to it soon enough; but their skin is still too soft and tender and leaves too free a course for perspiration, so that they are inevitably exhausted by excessive heat. It has been observed that infant mortality is greatest in August. Moreover, it seems certain from a comparison of northern and southern races that we become stronger by bearing extreme cold rather than excessive heat. But as the child’s body grows bigger and his muscles get stronger, train him gradually to bear the rays of the sun. Little by little you will harden him till he can face the burning heat of the tropics without danger.
Locke, in the midst of the manly and sensible advice he gives us, falls into inconsistencies one would hardly expect in such a careful thinker. The same man who would have children take an ice-cold bath summer and winter, will not let them drink cold water when they are hot, or lie on damp grass. But he would never have their shoes water-tight; and why should they let in more water when the child is hot than when he is cold, and may we not draw the same inference with regard to the feet and body that he draws with regard to the hands and feet and the body and face? If he would have a man all face, why blame me if I would have him all feet?
To prevent children drinking when they are hot, he says they should be trained to eat a piece of bread first. It is a strange thing to make a child eat because he is thirsty; I would as soon give him a drink when he is hungry. You will never convince me that our first instincts are so ill-regulated that we cannot satisfy them without endangering our lives. Were that so, the man would have perished over and over again before he had learned how to keep himself alive.
Whenever Emile is thirsty let him have a drink, and let him drink fresh water just as it is, not even taking the chill off it in the depths of winter and when he is bathed in perspiration. The only precaution I advise is to take care what sort of water you give him. If the water comes from a river, give it him just as it is; if it is spring-water let it stand a little exposed to the air before he drinks it. In warm weather rivers are warm; it is not so with springs, whose water has not been in contact with the air. You must wait till the temperature of the water is the same as that of the air. In winter, on the other hand, spring water is safer than river water. It is, however, unusual and unnatural to perspire greatly in winter, especially in the open air, for the cold air constantly strikes the skin and drives the perspiration inwards, and prevents the pores opening enough to give it passage. Now I do not intend Emile to take his exercise by the fireside in winter, but in the open air and among the ice. If he only gets warm with making and throwing snowballs, let him drink when he is thirsty, and go on with his game after drinking, and you need not be afraid of any ill effects. And if any other exercise makes him perspire let him drink cold water even in winter provided he is thirsty. Only take care to take him to get the water some little distance away. In such cold as I am supposing, he would have cooled down sufficiently when he got there to be able to drink without danger. Above all, take care to conceal these precautions from him. I would rather he were ill now and then, than always thinking about his health.
Since children take such violent exercise they need a great deal of sleep. The one makes up for the other, and this shows that both are necessary. Night is the time set apart by nature for rest. It is an established fact that sleep is quieter and calmer when the sun is below the horizon, and that our senses are less calm when the air is warmed by the rays of the sun. So it is certainly the healthiest plan to rise with the sun and go to bed with the sun. Hence in our country man and all the other animals with him want more sleep in winter than in summer. But town life is so complex, so unnatural, so subject to chances and changes, that it is not wise to accustom a man to such uniformity that he cannot do without it. No doubt he must submit to rules; but the chief rule is this—be able to break the rule if necessary. So do not be so foolish as to soften your pupil by letting him always sleep his sleep out. Leave him at first to the law of nature without any hindrance, but never forget that under our conditions he must rise above this law; he must be able to go to bed late and rise early, be awakened suddenly, or sit up all night without ill effects. Begin early and proceed gently, a step at a time, and the constitution adapts itself to the very conditions which would destroy it if they were imposed for the first time on the grown man.
In the next place he must be accustomed to sleep in an uncomfortable bed, which is the best way to find no bed uncomfortable. Speaking generally, a hard life, when once we have become used to it, increases our pleasant experiences; an easy life prepares the way for innumerable unpleasant experiences. Those who are too tenderly nurtured can only sleep on down; those who are used to sleep on bare boards can find them anywhere. There is no such thing as a hard bed for the man who falls asleep at once.
The body is, so to speak, melted and dissolved in a soft bed where one sinks into feathers and eider-down. The reins when too warmly covered become inflamed. Stone and other diseases are often due to this, and it invariably produces a delicate constitution, which is the seed-ground of every ailment.
The best bed is that in which we get the best sleep. Emile and I will prepare such a bed for ourselves during the daytime. We do not need Persian slaves to make our beds; when we are digging the soil we are turning our mattresses. I know that a healthy child may be made to sleep or wake almost at will. When the child is put to bed and his nurse grows weary of his chatter, she says to him, “Go to sleep.” That is much like saying, “Get well,” when he is ill. The right way is to let him get tired of himself. Talk so much that he is compelled to hold his tongue, and he will soon be asleep. Here is at least one use for sermons, and you may as well preach to him as rock his cradle; but if you use this narcotic at night, do not use it by day.
I shall sometimes rouse Emile, not so much to prevent his sleeping too much, as to accustom him to anything—even to waking with a start. Moreover, I should be unfit for my business if I could not make him wake himself, and get up, so to speak, at my will, without being called.
If he wakes too soon, I shall let him look forward to a tedious morning, so that he will count as gain any time he can give to sleep. If he sleeps too late I shall show him some favourite toy when he wakes. If I want him to wake at a given hour I shall say, “Tomorrow at six I am going fishing,” or “I shall take a walk to such and such a place. Would you like to come too?” He assents, and begs me to wake him. I promise, or do not promise, as the case requires. If he wakes too late, he finds me gone. There is something amiss if he does not soon learn to wake himself.
Moreover, should it happen, though it rarely does, that a sluggish child desires to stagnate in idleness, you must not give way to this tendency, which might stupefy him entirely, but you must apply some stimulus to wake him. You must understand that is no question of applying force, but of arousing some appetite which leads to action, and such an appetite, carefully selected on the lines laid down by nature, kills two birds with one stone.
If one has any sort of skill, I can think of nothing for which a taste, a very passion, cannot be aroused in children, and that without vanity, emulation, or jealousy. Their keenness, their spirit of imitation, is enough of itself; above all, there is their natural liveliness, of which no teacher so far has contrived to take advantage. In every game, when they are quite sure it is only play, they endure without complaint, or even with laughter, hardships which they would not submit to otherwise without floods of tears. The sports of the young savage involve long fasting, blows, burns, and fatigue of every kind, a proof that even pain has a charm of its own, which may remove its bitterness. It is not every master, however, who knows how to season this dish, nor can every scholar eat it without making faces. However, I must take care or I shall be wandering off again after exceptions.
It is not to be endured that man should become the slave of pain, disease, accident, the perils of life, or even death itself; the more familiar he becomes with these ideas the sooner he will be cured of that over-sensitiveness which adds to the pain by impatience in bearing it; the sooner he becomes used to the sufferings which may overtake him, the sooner he shall, as Montaigne has put it, rob those pains of the sting of unfamiliarity, and so make his soul strong and invulnerable; his body will be the coat of mail which stops all the darts which might otherwise find a vital part. Even the approach of death, which is not death itself, will scarcely be felt as such; he will not die, he will be, so to speak, alive or dead and nothing more. Montaigne might say of him as he did of a certain king of Morocco, “No man ever prolonged his life so far into death.” A child serves his apprenticeship in courage and endurance as well as in other virtues; but you cannot teach children these virtues by name alone; they must learn them unconsciously through experience.
But speaking of death, what steps shall I take with regard to my pupil and the smallpox? Shall he be inoculated in infancy, or shall I wait till he takes it in the natural course of things? The former plan is more in accordance with our practice, for it preserves his life at a time when it is of greater value, at the cost of some danger when his life is of less worth; if indeed we can use the word danger with regard to inoculation when properly performed.
But the other plan is more in accordance with our general principles—to leave nature to take the precautions she delights in, precautions she abandons whenever man interferes. The natural man is always ready; let nature inoculate him herself, she will choose the fitting occasion better than we.
Do not think I am finding fault with inoculation, for my reasons for exempting my pupil from it do not in the least apply to yours. Your training does not prepare them to escape catching smallpox as soon as they are exposed to infection. If you let them take it anyhow, they will probably die. I perceive that in different lands the resistance to inoculation is in proportion to the need for it; and the reason is plain. So I scarcely condescend to discuss this question with regard to Emile. He will be inoculated or not according to time, place, and circumstances; it is almost a matter of indifference, as far as he is concerned. If it gives him smallpox, there will be the advantage of knowing what to expect, knowing what the disease is; that is a good thing, but if he catches it naturally it will have kept him out of the doctor’s hands, which is better.
An exclusive education, which merely tends to keep those who have received it apart from the mass of mankind, always selects such teaching as is costly rather than cheap, even when the latter is of more use. Thus all carefully educated young men learn to ride, because it is costly, but scarcely any of them learn to swim, as it costs nothing, and an artisan can swim as well as any one. Yet without passing through the riding school, the traveller learns to mount his horse, to stick on it, and to ride well enough for practical purposes; but in the water if you cannot swim you will drown, and we cannot swim unless we are taught. Again, you are not forced to ride on pain of death, while no one is sure of escaping such a common danger as drowning. Emile shall be as much at home in the water as on land. Why should he not be able to live in every element? If he could learn to fly, he should be an eagle; I would make him a salamander, if he could bear the heat.
People are afraid lest the child should be drowned while he is learning to swim; if he dies while he is learning, or if he dies because he has not learnt, it will be your own fault. Foolhardiness is the result of vanity; we are not rash when no one is looking. Emile will not be foolhardy, though all the world were watching him. As the exercise does not depend on its danger, he will learn to swim the Hellespont by swimming, without any danger, a stream in his father’s park; but he must get used to danger too, so as not to be flustered by it. This is an essential part of the apprenticeship I spoke of just now. Moreover, I shall take care to proportion the danger to his strength, and I shall always share it myself, so that I need scarcely fear any imprudence if I take as much care for his life as for my own.
A child is smaller than a man; he has not the man’s strength or reason, but he sees and hears as well or nearly as well; his sense of taste is very good, though he is less fastidious, and he distinguishes scents as clearly though less sensuously. The senses are the first of our faculties to mature; they are those most frequently overlooked or neglected.
To train the senses it is not enough merely to use them; we must learn to judge by their means, to learn to feel, so to speak; for we cannot touch, see, or hear, except as we have been taught.
There is a mere natural and mechanical use of the senses which strengthens the body without improving the judgment. It is all very well to swim, run, jump, whip a top, throw stones; but have we nothing but arms and legs? Have we not eyes and ears as well; and are not these organs necessary for the use of the rest? Do not merely exercise the strength, exercise all the senses by which it is guided; make the best use of every one of them, and check the results of one by the other. Measure, count, weigh, compare. Do not use force till you have estimated the resistance; let the estimation of the effect always precede the application of the means. Get the child interested in avoiding insufficient or superfluous efforts. If in this way you train him to calculate the effects of all his movements, and to correct his mistakes by experience, is it not clear that the more he does the wiser he will become?
Take the case of moving a heavy mass; if he takes too long a lever, he will waste his strength; if it is too short, he will not have strength enough; experience will teach him to use the very stick he needs. This knowledge is not beyond his years. Take, for example, a load to be carried; if he wants to carry as much as he can, and not to take up more than he can carry, must he not calculate the weight by the appearance? Does he know how to compare masses of like substance and different size, or to choose between masses of the same size and different substances? he must set to work to compare their specific weights. I have seen a young man, very highly educated, who could not be convinced, till he had tried it, that a bucket full of blocks of oak weighed less than the same bucket full of water.
All our senses are not equally under our control. One of them, touch, is always busy during our waking hours; it is spread over the whole surface of the body, like a sentinel ever on the watch to warn us of anything which may do us harm. Whether we will or not, we learn to use it first of all by experience, by constant practice, and therefore we have less need for special training for it. Yet we know that the blind have a surer and more delicate sense of touch than we, for not being guided by the one sense, they are forced to get from the touch what we get from sight. Why, then, are not we trained to walk as they do in the dark, to recognise what we touch, to distinguish things about us; in a word, to do at night and in the dark what they do in the daytime without sight? We are better off than they while the sun shines; in the dark it is their turn to be our guide. We are blind half our time, with this difference: the really blind always know what to do, while we are afraid to stir in the dark. We have lights, you say. What! always artificial aids. Who can insure that they will always be at hand when required. I had rather Emil’s eyes were in his finger tips, than in the chandler’s shop.
If you are shut up in a building at night, clap your hands, you will know from the sound whether the space is large or small, if you are in the middle or in one corner. Half a foot from a wall the air, which is refracted and does not circulate freely, produces a different effect on your face. Stand still in one place and turn this way and that; a slight draught will tell you if there is a door open. If you are on a boat you will perceive from the way the air strikes your face not merely the direction in which you are going, but whether the current is bearing you slow or fast. These observations and many others like them can only be properly made at night; however much attention we give to them by daylight, we are always helped or hindered by sight, so that the results escape us. Yet here we use neither hand nor stick. How much may be learnt by touch, without ever touching anything!
I would have plenty of games in the dark! This suggestion is more valuable than it seems at first sight. Men are naturally afraid of the dark; so are some animals.1 Only a few men are freed from this burden by knowledge, determination, and courage. I have seen thinkers, unbelievers, philosophers, exceedingly brave by daylight, tremble like women at the rustling of a leaf in the dark. This terror is put down to nurses’ tales; this is a mistake; it has a natural cause. What is this cause? What makes the deaf suspicious and the lower classes superstitious? Ignorance of the things about us, and of what is taking place around us.2 Accustomed to perceive things from a distance and to calculate their effects, how can I help supposing, when I cannot see, that there are hosts of creatures and all sorts of movements all about me which may do me harm, and against which I cannot protect myself? In vain do I know I am safe where I am; I am never so sure of it as when I can actually see it, so that I have always a cause for fear which did not exist in broad daylight. I know, indeed, that a foreign body can scarcely act upon me without some slight sound, and how intently I listen! At the least sound which I cannot explain, the desire of self-preservation makes me picture everything that would put me on my guard, and therefore everything most calculated to alarm me.
I am just as uneasy if I hear no sound, for I might be taken unawares without a sound. I must picture things as they were before, as they ought to be; I must see what I do not see. Thus driven to exercise my imagination, it soon becomes my master, and what I did to reassure myself only alarms me more. I hear a noise, it is a robber; I hear nothing, it is a ghost. The watchfulness inspired by the instinct of self-preservation only makes me more afraid. Everything that ought to reassure me exists only for my reason, and the voice of instinct is louder than that of reason. What is the good of thinking there is nothing to be afraid of, since in that case there is nothing we can do?
The cause indicates the cure. In everything habit overpowers imagination; it is only aroused by what is new. It is no longer imagination, but memory which is concerned with what we see every day, and that is the reason of the maxim, “Ab assuetis non fit passio,” for it is only at the flame of imagination that the passions are kindled. Therefore do not argue with any one whom you want to cure of the fear of darkness; take him often into dark places and be assured this practice will be of more avail than all the arguments of philosophy. The tiler on the roof does not know what it is to be dizzy, and those who are used to the dark will not be afraid.
There is another advantage to be gained from our games in the dark. But if these games are to be a success I cannot speak too strongly of the need for gaiety. Nothing is so gloomy as the dark; do not shut your child up in a dungeon, let him laugh when he goes into a dark place, let him laugh when he comes out, so that the thought of the game he is leaving and the games he will play next may protect him from the fantastic imagination which might lay hold on him.
There comes a stage in life beyond which we progress backwards. I feel I have reached this stage. I am, so to speak, returning to a past career. The approach of age makes us recall the happy days of our childhood. As I grow old I become a child again, and I recall more readily what I did at ten than at thirty. Reader, forgive me if I sometimes draw my examples from my own experience. If this book is to be well written, I must enjoy writing it.
I was living in the country with a pastor called M. Lambercier. My companion was a cousin richer than myself, who was regarded as the heir to some property, while I, far from my father, was but a poor orphan. My big cousin Bernard was unusually timid, especially at night. I laughed at his fears, till M. Lambercier was tired of my boasting, and determined to put my courage to the proof. One autumn evening, when it was very dark, he gave me the church key, and told me to go and fetch a Bible he had left in the pulpit. To put me on my mettle he said something which made it impossible for me to refuse.
I set out without a light; if I had had one, it would perhaps have been even worse. I had to pass through the graveyard; I crossed it bravely, for as long as I was in the open air I was never afraid of the dark.
As I opened the door I heard a sort of echo in the roof; it sounded like voices and it began to shake my Roman courage. Having opened the door I tried to enter, but when I had gone a few steps I stopped. At the sight of the profound darkness in which the vast building lay I was seized with terror and my hair stood on end. I turned, I went out through the door, and took to my heels. In the yard I found a little dog, called Sultan, whose caresses reassured me. Ashamed of my fears, I retraced my steps, trying to take Sultan with me, but he refused to follow. Hurriedly I opened the door and entered the church. I was hardly inside when terror again got hold of me and so firmly that I lost my head, and though the pulpit was on the right, as I very well knew, I sought it on the left, and entangling myself among the benches I was completely lost. Unable to find either pulpit or door, I fell into an indescribable state of mind. At last I found the door and managed to get out of the church and run away as I had done before, quite determined never to enter the church again except in broad daylight.
I returned to the house; on the doorstep I heard M. Lambercier laughing, laughing, as I supposed, at me. Ashamed to face his laughter, I was hesitating to open the door, when I heard Miss Lambercier, who was anxious about me, tell the maid to get the lantern, and M. Lambercier got ready to come and look for me, escorted by my gallant cousin, who would have got all the credit for the expedition. All at once my fears departed, and left me merely surprised at my terror. I ran, I fairly flew, to the church; without losing my way, without groping about, I reached the pulpit, took the Bible, and ran down the steps. In three strides I was out of the church, leaving the door open. Breathless, I entered the room and threw the Bible on the table, frightened indeed, but throbbing with pride that I had done it without the proposed assistance.
You will ask if I am giving this anecdote as an example, and as an illustration, of the mirth which I say should accompany these games. Not so, but I give it as a proof that there is nothing so well calculated to reassure any one who is afraid in the dark as to hear sounds of laughter and talking in an adjoining room. Instead of playing alone with your pupil in the evening, I would have you get together a number of merry children; do not send them alone to begin with, but several together, and do not venture to send any one quite alone, until you are quite certain beforehand that he will not be too frightened.
I can picture nothing more amusing and more profitable than such games, considering how little skill is required to organise them. In a large room I should arrange a sort of labyrinth of tables, armchairs, chairs, and screens. In the inextricable windings of this labyrinth I should place some eight or ten sham boxes, and one real box almost exactly like them, but well filled with sweets. I should describe clearly and briefly the place where the right box would be found. I should give instructions sufficient to enable people more attentive and less excitable than children to find it.1 Then having made the little competitors draw lots, I should send first one and then another till the right box was found. I should increase the difficulty of the task in proportion to their skill.
Picture to yourself a youthful Hercules returning, box in hand, quite proud of his expedition. The box is placed on the table and opened with great ceremony. I can hear the bursts of laughter and the shouts of the merry party when, instead of the looked-for sweets, he finds, neatly arranged on moss or cotton-wool, a beetle, a snail, a bit of coal, a few acorns, a turnip, or some such thing. Another time in a newly whitewashed room, a toy or some small article of furniture would be hung on the wall and the children would have to fetch it without touching the wall. When the child who fetches it comes back, if he has failed ever so little to fulfil the conditions, a dab of white on the brim of his cap, the tip of his shoe, the flap of his coat or his sleeve, will betray his lack of skill.
This is enough, or more than enough, to show the spirit of these games. Do not read my book if you expect me to tell you everything.
What great advantages would be possessed by a man so educated, when compared with others. His feet are accustomed to tread firmly in the dark, and his hands to touch lightly; they will guide him safely in the thickest darkness. His imagination is busy with the evening games of his childhood, and will find it difficult to turn towards objects of alarm. If he thinks he hears laughter, it will be the laughter of his former playfellows, not of frenzied spirits; if he thinks there is a host of people, it will not be the witches’ sabbath, but the party in his tutor’s study. Night only recalls these cheerful memories, and it will never alarm him; it will inspire delight rather than fear. He will be ready for a military expedition at any hour, with or without his troop. He will enter the camp of Saul, he will find his way, he will reach the king’s tent without waking any one, and he will return unobserved. Are the steeds of Rhesus to be stolen, you may trust him. You will scarcely find a Ulysses among men educated in any other fashion.
I have known people who tried to train the children not to fear the dark by startling them. This is a very bad plan; its effects are just the opposite of those desired, and it only makes children more timid. Neither reason nor habit can secure us from the fear of a present danger whose degree and kind are unknown, nor from the fear of surprises which we have often experienced. Yet how will you make sure that you can preserve your pupil from such accidents? I consider this the best advice to give him beforehand. I should say to Emile, “This is a matter of self-defence, for the aggressor does not let you know whether he means to hurt or frighten you, and as the advantage is on his side you cannot even take refuge in flight. Therefore seize boldly anything, whether man or beast, which takes you unawares in the dark. Grasp it, squeeze it with all your might; if it struggles, strike, and do not spare your blows; and whatever he may say or do, do not let him go till you know just who he is. The event will probably prove that you had little to be afraid of, but this way of treating practical jokers would naturally prevent their trying it again.
Although touch is the sense oftenest used, its discrimination remains, as I have already pointed out, coarser and more imperfect than that of any other sense, because we always use sight along with it; the eye perceives the thing first, and the mind almost always judges without the hand. On the other hand, discrimination by touch is the surest just because of its limitations; for extending only as far as our hands can reach, it corrects the hasty judgments of the other senses, which pounce upon objects scarcely perceived, while what we learn by touch is learnt thoroughly. Moreover, touch, when required, unites the force of our muscles to the action of the nerves; we associate by simultaneous sensations our ideas of temperature, size, and shape, to those of weight and density. Thus touch is the sense which best teaches us the action of foreign bodies upon ourselves, the sense which most directly supplies us with the knowledge required for self-preservation.
As the trained touch takes the place of sight, why should it not, to some extent, take the place of hearing, since sounds set up, in sonorous bodies, vibrations perceptible by touch? By placing the hand on the body of a ’cello one can distinguish without the use of eye or ear, merely by the way in which the wood vibrates and trembles, whether the sound given out is sharp or flat, whether it is drawn from the treble string or the base. If our touch were trained to note these differences, no doubt we might in time become so sensitive as to hear a whole tune by means of our fingers. But if we admit this, it is clear that one could easily speak to the deaf by means of music; for tone and measure are no less capable of regular combination than voice and articulation, so that they might be used as the elements of speech.
There are exercises by which the sense of touch is blunted and deadened, and others which sharpen it and make it delicate and discriminating. The former, which employ much movement and force for the continued impression of hard bodies, make the skin hard and thick, and deprive it of its natural sensitiveness. The latter are those which give variety to this feeling, by slight and repeated contact, so that the mind is attentive to constantly recurring impressions, and readily learns to discern their variations. This difference is clear in the use of musical instruments. The harsh and painful touch of the ’cello, bass-viol, and even of the violin, hardens the finger-tips, although it gives flexibility to the fingers. The soft and smooth touch of the harpsichord makes the fingers both flexible and sensitive. In this respect the harpsichord is to be preferred.
The skin protects the rest of the body, so it is very important to harden it to the effects of the air that it may be able to bear its changes. With regard to this I may say I would not have the hand roughened by too servile application to the same kind of work, nor should the skin of the hand become hardened so as to lose its delicate sense of touch which keeps the body informed of what is going on, and by the kind of contact sometimes makes us shudder in different ways even in the dark.
Why should my pupil be always compelled to wear the skin of an ox under his foot? What harm would come of it if his own skin could serve him at need as a sole. It is clear that a delicate skin could never be of any use in this way, and may often do harm. The Genevese, aroused at midnight by their enemies in the depth of winter, seized their guns rather than their shoes. Who can tell whether the town would have escaped capture if its citizens had not been able to go barefoot?
Let a man be always fore-armed against the unforeseen. Let Emile run about barefoot all the year round, upstairs, downstairs, and in the garden. Far from scolding him, I shall follow his example; only I shall be careful to remove any broken glass. I shall soon proceed to speak of work and manual occupations. Meanwhile, let him learn to perform every exercise which encourages agility of body; let him learn to hold himself easily and steadily in any position, let him practise jumping and leaping, climbing trees and walls. Let him always find his balance, and let his every movement and gesture be regulated by the laws of weight, long before he learns to explain them by the science of statics. By the way his foot is planted on the ground, and his body supported on his leg, he ought to know if he is holding himself well or ill. An easy carriage is always graceful, and the steadiest positions are the most elegant. If I were a dancing master I would refuse to play the monkey tricks of Marcel, which are only fit for the stage where they are performed; but instead of keeping my pupil busy with fancy steps, I would take him to the foot of a cliff. There I would show him how to hold himself, how to carry his body and head, how to place first a foot then a hand, to follow lightly the steep, toilsome, and rugged paths, to leap from point to point, either up or down. He should emulate the mountain-goat, not the ballet dancer.
As touch confines its operations to the man’s immediate surroundings, so sight extends its range beyond them; it is this which makes it misleading; man sees half his horizon at a glance. In the midst of this host of simultaneous impressions and the thoughts excited by them, how can he fail now and then to make mistakes? Thus sight is the least reliable of our senses, just because it has the widest range; it functions long before our other senses, and its work is too hasty and on too large a scale to be corrected by the rest. Moreover, the very illusions of perspective are necessary if we are to arrive at a knowledge of space and compare one part of space with another. Without false appearances we should never see anything at a distance; without the gradations of size and tone we could not judge of distance, or rather distance would have no existence for us. If two trees, one of which was a hundred paces from us and the other ten, looked equally large and distinct, we should think they were side by side. If we perceived the real dimensions of things, we should know nothing of space; everything would seem close to our eyes.
The angle formed between any objects and our eye is the only means by which our sight estimates their size and distance, and as this angle is the simple effect of complex causes, the judgment we form does not distinguish between the several causes; we are compelled to be inaccurate. For how can I tell, by sight alone, whether the angle at which an object appears to me smaller than another, indicates that it is really smaller or that it is further off.
Here we must just reverse our former plan. Instead of simplifying the sensation, always reinforce it and verify it by means of another sense. Subject the eye to the hand, and, so to speak, restrain the precipitation of the former sense by the slower and more reasoned pace of the latter. For want of this sort of practice our sight measurements are very imperfect. We cannot correctly, and at a glance, estimate height, length, breadth, and distance; and the fact that engineers, surveyors, architects, masons, and painters are generally quicker to see and better able to estimate distances correctly, proves that the fault is not in our eyes, but in our use of them. Their occupations give them the training we lack, and they check the equivocal results of the angle of vision by its accompanying experiences, which determine the relations of the two causes of this angle for their eyes.
Children will always do anything that keeps them moving freely. There are countless ways of rousing their interest in measuring, perceiving, and estimating distance. There is a very tall cherry tree; how shall we gather the cherries? Will the ladder in the barn be big enough? There is a wide stream; how shall we get to the other side? Would one of the wooden planks in the yard reach from bank to bank? From our windows we want to fish in the moat; how many yards of line are required? I want to make a swing between two trees; will two fathoms of cord be enough? They tell me our room in the new house will be twenty-five feet square; do you think it will be big enough for us? Will it be larger than this? We are very hungry; here are two villages, which can we get to first for our dinner?
An idle, lazy child was to be taught to run. He had no liking for this or any other exercise, though he was intended for the army. Somehow or other he had got it into his head that a man of his rank need know nothing and do nothing—that his birth would serve as a substitute for arms and legs, as well as for every kind of virtue. The skill of Chiron himself would have failed to make a fleet-footed Achilles of this young gentleman. The difficulty was increased by my determination to give him no kind of orders. I had renounced all right to direct him by preaching, promises, threats, emulation, or the desire to show off. How should I make him want to run without saying anything? I might run myself, but he might not follow my example, and this plan had other drawbacks. Moreover, I must find some means of teaching him through this exercise, so as to train mind and body to work together. This is how I, or rather how the teacher who supplied me with this illustration, set about it.
When I took him a walk of an afternoon I sometimes put in my pocket a couple of cakes, of a kind he was very fond of; we each ate one while we were out, and we came back well pleased with our outing. One day he noticed I had three cakes; he could have easily eaten six, so he ate his cake quickly and asked for the other. “No,” said I, “I could eat it myself, or we might divide it, but I would rather see those two little boys run a race for it.” I called them to us, showed them the cake, and suggested that they should race for it. They were delighted. The cake was placed on a large stone which was to be the goal; the course was marked out, we sat down, and at a given signal off flew the children! The victor seized the cake and ate it without pity in the sight of the spectators and of his defeated rival.
The sport was better than the cake; but the lesson did not take effect all at once, and produced no result. I was not discouraged, nor did I hurry; teaching is a trade at which one must be able to lose time and save it. Our walks were continued, sometimes we took three cakes, sometimes four, and from time to time there were one or two cakes for the racers. If the prize was not great, neither was the ambition of the competitors. The winner was praised and petted, and everything was done with much ceremony. To give room to run and to add interest to the race I marked out a longer course and admitted several fresh competitors. Scarcely had they entered the lists than all the passers-by stopped to watch. They were encouraged by shouting, cheering, and clapping. I sometimes saw my little man trembling with excitement, jumping up and shouting when one was about to reach or overtake another—to him these were the Olympian games.
However, the competitors did not always play fair, they got in each other’s way, or knocked one another down, or put stones on the track. That led us to separate them and make them start from different places at equal distances from the goal. You will soon see the reason for this, for I must describe this important affair at length.
Tired of seeing his favourite cakes devoured before his eyes, the young lord began to suspect that there was some use in being a quick runner, and seeing that he had two legs of his own, he began to practise running on the quiet. I took care to see nothing, but I knew my stratagem had taken effect. When he thought he was good enough (and I thought so too), he pretended to tease me to give him the other cake. I refused; he persisted, and at last he said angrily, “Well, put it on the stone and mark out the course, and we shall see.” “Very good,” said I, laughing, “You will get a good appetite, but you will not get the cake.” Stung by my mockery, he took heart, won the prize, all the more easily because I had marked out a very short course and taken care that the best runner was out of the way. It will be evident that, after the first step, I had no difficulty in keeping him in training. Soon he took such a fancy for this form of exercise that without any favour he was almost certain to beat the little peasant boys at running, however long the course.
The advantage thus obtained led unexpectedly to another. So long as he seldom won the prize, he ate it himself like his rivals, but as he got used to victory he grew generous, and often shared it with the defeated. That taught me a lesson in morals and I saw what was the real root of generosity.
While I continued to mark out a different starting place for each competitor, he did not notice that I had made the distances unequal, so that one of them, having farther to run to reach the goal, was clearly at a disadvantage. But though I left the choice to my pupil he did not know how to take advantage of it. Without thinking of the distance, he always chose the smoothest path, so that I could easily predict his choice, and could almost make him win or lose the cake at my pleasure. I had more than one end in view in this stratagem; but as my plan was to get him to notice the difference himself, I tried to make him aware of it. Though he was generally lazy and easy going, he was so eager in his sports and trusted me so completely that I had great difficulty in making him see that I was cheating him. When at last I managed to make him see it in spite of his excitement, he was angry with me. “What have you to complain of?” said I. “In a gift which I propose to give of my own free will am not I master of the conditions? Who makes you run? Did I promise to make the courses equal? Is not the choice yours? Do not you see that I am favouring you, and that the inequality you complain of is all to your advantage, if you knew how to use it?” That was plain to him; and to choose he must observe more carefully. At first he wanted to count the paces, but a child measures paces slowly and inaccurately; moreover, I decided to have several races on one day; and the game having become a sort of passion with the child, he was sorry to waste in measuring the portion of time intended for running. Such delays are not in accordance with a child’s impatience; he tried therefore to see better and to reckon the distance more accurately at sight. It was now quite easy to extend and develop this power. At length, after some months’ practice, and the correction of his errors, I so trained his power of judging at sight that I had only to place an imaginary cake on any distant object and his glance was nearly as accurate as the surveyor’s chain.
Of all the senses, sight is that which we can least distinguish from the judgments of the mind; so it takes a long time to learn to see. It takes a long time to compare sight and touch, and to train the former sense to give a true report of shape and distance. Without touch, without progressive motion, the sharpest eyes in the world could give us no idea of space. To the oyster the whole world must seem a point, and it would seem nothing more to it even if it had a human mind. It is only by walking, feeling, counting, measuring the dimensions of things, that we learn to judge them rightly; but, on the other hand, if we were always measuring, our senses would trust to the instrument and would never gain confidence. Nor must the child pass abruptly from measurement to judgment; he must continue to compare the parts when he could not compare the whole; he must substitute his estimated aliquot parts for exact aliquot parts, and instead of always applying the measure by hand he must get used to applying it by eye alone. I would, however, have his first estimates tested by measurement, so that he may correct his errors, and if there is a false impression left upon the senses he may correct it by a better judgment. The same natural standards of measurement are in use almost everywhere, the man’s foot, the extent of his outstretched arms, his height. When the child wants to measure the height of a room, his tutor may serve as a measuring rod; if he is estimating the height of a steeple let him measure it by the house; if he wants to know how many leagues of road there are, let him count the hours spent in walking along it. Above all, do not do this for him; let him do it himself.
One cannot learn to estimate the extent and size of bodies without at the same time learning to know and even to copy their shape; for at bottom this copying depends entirely on the laws of perspective, and one cannot estimate distance without some feeling for these laws. All children in the course of their endless imitation try to draw; and I would have Emile cultivate this art; not so much for art’s sake, as to give him exactness of eye and flexibility of hand. Generally speaking, it matters little whether he is acquainted with this or that occupation, provided he gains clearness of sense-perception and the good bodily habits which belong to the exercise in question. So I shall take good care not to provide him with a drawing master, who would only set him to copy copies and draw from drawings. Nature should be his only teacher, and things his only models. He should have the real thing before his eyes, not its copy on paper. Let him draw a house from a house, a tree from a tree, a man from a man; so that he may train himself to observe objects and their appearance accurately and not to take false and conventional copies for truth. I would even train him to draw only from objects actually before him and not from memory, so that, by repeated observation, their exact form may be impressed on his imagination, for fear lest he should substitute absurd and fantastic forms for the real truth of things, and lose his sense of proportion and his taste for the beauties of nature.
Of course I know that in this way he will make any number of daubs before he produces anything recognisable, that it will be long before he attains to the graceful outline and light touch of the draughtsman; perhaps he will never have an eye for picturesque effect or a good taste in drawing. On the other hand, he will certainly get a truer eye, a surer hand, a knowledge of the real relations of form and size between animals, plants, and natural objects, together with a quicker sense of the effects of perspective. That is just what I wanted, and my purpose is rather that he should know things than copy them. I would rather he showed me a plant of acanthus even if he drew a capital with less accuracy.
Moreover, in this occupation as in others, I do not intend my pupil to play by himself; I mean to make it pleasanter for him by always sharing it with him. He shall have no other rival; but mine will be a continual rivalry, and there will be no risk attaching to it; it will give interest to his pursuits without awaking jealousy between us. I shall follow his example and take up a pencil; at first I shall use it as unskilfully as he. I should be an Apelles if I did not set myself daubing. To begin with, I shall draw a man such as lads draw on walls, a line for each arm, another for each leg, with the fingers longer than the arm. Long after, one or other of us will notice this lack of proportion; we shall observe that the leg is thick, that this thickness varies, that the length of the arm is proportionate to the body. In this improvement I shall either go side by side with my pupil, or so little in advance that he will always overtake me easily and sometimes get ahead of me. We shall get brushes and paints, we shall try to copy the colours of things and their whole appearance, not merely their shape. We shall colour prints, we shall paint, we shall daub; but in all our daubing we shall be searching out the secrets of nature, and whatever we do shall be done under the eye of that master.
We badly needed ornaments for our room, and now we have them ready to our hand. I will have our drawings framed and covered with good glass, so that no one will touch them, and thus seeing them where we put them, each of us has a motive for taking care of his own. I arrange them in order round the room, each drawing repeated some twenty or thirty times, thus showing the author’s progress in each specimen, from the time when the house is merely a rude square, till its front view, its side view, its proportions, its light and shade are all exactly portrayed. These gradations will certainly furnish us with pictures, a source of interest to ourselves and of curiosity to others, which will spur us on to further emulation. The first and roughest drawings I put in very smart gilt frames to show them off; but as the copy becomes more accurate and the drawing really good, I only give it a very plain dark frame; it needs no other ornament than itself, and it would be a pity if the frame distracted the attention which the picture itself deserves. Thus we each aspire to a plain frame, and when we desire to pour scorn on each other’s drawings, we condemn them to a gilded frame. Some day perhaps “the gilt frame” will become a proverb among us, and we shall be surprised to find how many people show what they are really made of by demanding a gilt frame.
I have said already that geometry is beyond the child’s reach; but that is our own fault. We fail to perceive that their method is not ours, that what is for us the art of reasoning, should be for them the art of seeing. Instead of teaching them our way, we should do better to adopt theirs, for our way of learning geometry is quite as much a matter of imagination as of reasoning. When a proposition is enunciated you must imagine the proof; that is, you must discover on what proposition already learnt it depends, and of all the possible deductions from that proposition you must choose just the one required.
In this way the closest reasoner, if he is not inventive, may find himself at a loss. What is the result? Instead of making us discover proofs, they are dictated to us; instead of teaching us to reason, our memory only is employed.
Draw accurate figures, combine them together, put them one upon another, examine their relations, and you will discover the whole of elementary geometry in passing from one observation to another, without a word of definitions, problems, or any other form of demonstration but super-position. I do not profess to teach Emile geometry; he will teach me; I shall seek for relations, he will find them, for I shall seek in such a fashion as to make him find. For instance, instead of using a pair of compasses to draw a circle, I shall draw it with a pencil at the end of bit of string attached to a pivot. After that, when I want to compare the radii one with another, Emile will laugh at me and show me that the same thread at full stretch cannot have given distances of unequal length. If I wish to measure an angle of 60° I describe from the apex of the angle, not an arc, but a complete circle, for with children nothing must be taken for granted. I find that the part of the circle contained between the two lines of the angle is the sixth part of a circle. Then I describe another and larger circle from the same centre, and I find the second arc is again the sixth part of its circle. I describe a third concentric circle with a similar result, and I continue with more and more circles till Emile, shocked at my stupidity, shows me that every arc, large or small, contained by the same angle will always be the sixth part of its circle. Now we are ready to use the protractor.
To prove that two adjacent angles are equal to two right angles people describe a circle. On the contrary I would have Emile observe the fact in a circle, and then I should say, “If we took away the circle and left the straight lines, would the angles have changed their size, etc.?”
Exactness in the construction of figures is neglected; it is taken for granted and stress is laid on the proof. With us, on the other hand, there will be no question of proof. Our chief business will be to draw very straight, accurate, and even lines, a perfect square, a really round circle. To verify the exactness of a figure we will test it by each of its sensible properties, and that will give us a chance to discover fresh properties day by day. We will fold the two semi-circles along the diameter, the two halves of the square by the diagonal; he will compare our two figures to see who has got the edges to fit most exactly, i.e., who has done it best; we should argue whether this equal division would always be possible in parallelograms, trapezes, etc. We shall sometimes try to forecast the result of an experiment, to find reasons, etc.
Geometry means to my scholar the successful use of the rule and compass; he must not confuse it with drawing, in which these instruments are not used. The rule and compass will be locked up, so that he will not get into the way of messing about with them, but we may sometimes take our figures with us when we go for a walk, and talk over what we have done, or what we mean to do.
I shall never forget seeing a young man at Turin, who had learnt as a child the relations of contours and surfaces by having to choose every day isoperimetric cakes among cakes of every geometrical figure. The greedy little fellow had exhausted the art of Archimedes to find which were the biggest.
When the child flies a kite he is training eye and hand to accuracy; when he whips a top, he is increasing his strength by using it, but without learning anything. I have sometimes asked why children are not given the same games of skill as men; tennis, mall, billiards, archery, football, and musical instruments. I was told that some of these are beyond their strength, that the child’s senses are not sufficiently developed for others. These do not strike me as valid reasons; a child is not as tall as a man, but he wears the same sort of coat; I do not want him to play with our cues at a billiard-table three feet high; I do not want him knocking about among our games, nor carrying one of our racquets in his little hand; but let him play in a room whose windows have been protected; at first let him only use soft balls, let his first racquets be of wood, then of parchment, and lastly of gut, according to his progress. You prefer the kite because it is less tiring and there is no danger. You are doubly wrong. Kite-flying is a sport for women, but every woman will run away from a swift ball. Their white skins were not meant to be hardened by blows and their faces were not made for bruises. But we men are made for strength; do you think we can attain it without hardship, and what defence shall we be able to make if we are attacked? People always play carelessly in games where there is no danger. A falling kite hurts nobody, but nothing makes the arm so supple as protecting the head, nothing makes the sight so accurate as having to guard the eye. To dash from one end of the room to another, to judge the rebound of a ball before it touches the ground, to return it with strength and accuracy, such games are not so much sports fit for a man, as sports fit to make a man of him.
The child’s limbs, you say, are too tender. They are not so strong as those of a man, but they are more supple. His arm is weak, still it is an arm, and it should be used with due consideration as we use other tools. Children have no skill in the use of their hands. That is just why I want them to acquire skill; a man with as little practice would be just as clumsy. We can only learn the use of our limbs by using them. It is only by long experience that we learn to make the best of ourselves, and this experience is the real object of study to which we cannot apply ourselves too early.
What is done can be done. Now there is nothing commoner than to find nimble and skilful children whose limbs are as active as those of a man. They may be seen at any fair, swinging, walking on their hands, jumping, dancing on the tight rope. For many years past, troops of children have attracted spectators to the ballets at the Italian Comedy House. Who is there in Germany and Italy who has not heard of the famous pantomime company of Nicolini? Has it ever occurred to any one that the movements of these children were less finished, their postures less graceful, their ears less true, their dancing more clumsy than those of grown-up dancers? If at first the fingers are thick, short, and awkward, the dimpled hands unable to grasp anything, does this prevent many children from learning to read and write at an age when others cannot even hold a pen or pencil? All Paris still recalls the little English girl of ten who did wonders on the harpsichord. I once saw a little fellow of eight, the son of a magistrate, who was set like a statuette on the table among the dishes, to play on a fiddle almost a big as himself, and even artists were surprised at his execution.
To my mind, these and many more examples prove that the supposed incapacity of children for our games is imaginary, and that if they are unsuccessful in some of them, it is for want of practice.
You will tell me that with regard to the body I am falling into the same mistake of precocious development which I found fault with for the mind. The cases are very different: in the one, progress is apparent only; in the other it is real. I have shown that children have not the mental development they appear to have, while they really do what they seem to do. Besides, we must never forget that all this should be play, the easy and voluntary control of the movements which nature demands of them, the art of varying their games to make them pleasanter, without the least bit of constraint to transform them into work; for what games do they play in which I cannot find material for instruction for them? And even if I could not do so, so long as they are amusing themselves harmlessly and passing the time pleasantly, their progress in learning is not yet of such great importance. But if one must be teaching them this or that at every opportunity, it cannot be done without constraint, vexation, or tedium.
What I have said about the use of the two senses whose use is most constant and most important, may serve as an example of how to train the rest. Sight and touch are applied to bodies at rest and bodies in motion, but as hearing is only affected by vibrations of the air, only a body in motion can make a noise or sound; if everything were at rest we should never hear. At night, when we ourselves only move as we choose, we have nothing to fear but moving bodies; hence we need a quick ear, and power to judge from the sensations experienced whether the body which causes them is large or small, far off or near, whether its movements are gentle or violent. When once the air is set in motion, it is subject to repercussions which produce echoes, these renew the sensations and make us hear a loud or penetrating sound in another quarter. If you put your ear to the ground you may hear the sound of men’s voices or horses’ feet in a plain or valley much further off than when you stand upright.
As we have made a comparison between sight and touch, it will be as well to do the same for hearing, and to find out which of the two impressions starting simultaneously from a given body first reaches the sense-organ. When you see the flash of a cannon, you have still time to take cover; but when you hear the sound it is too late, the ball is close to you. One can reckon the distance of a thunderstorm by the interval between the lightning and the thunder. Let the child learn all these facts, let him learn those that are within his reach by experiment, and discover the rest by induction; but I would far rather he knew nothing at all about them, than that you should tell him.
In the voice we have an organ answering to hearing; we have no such organ answering to sight, and we do not repeat colours as we repeat sounds. This supplies an additional means of cultivating the ear by practising the active and passive organs one with the other.
Man has three kinds of voice, the speaking or articulate voice, the singing or melodious voice, and the pathetic or expressive voice, which serves as the language of the passions, and gives life to song and speech. The child has these three voices, just as the man has them, but he does not know how to use them in combination. Like us, he laughs, cries, laments, shrieks, and groans, but he does not know how to combine these inflexions with speech or song. These three voices find their best expression in perfect music. Children are incapable of such music, and their singing lacks feeling. In the same way their spoken language lacks expression; they shout, but they do not speak with emphasis, and there is as little power in their voice as there is emphasis in their speech. Our pupil’s speech will be plainer and simpler still, for his passions are still asleep, and will not blend their tones with his. Do not, therefore, set him to recite tragedy or comedy, nor try to teach declamation so-called. He will have too much sense to give voice to things he cannot understand, or expression to feelings he has never known.
Teach him to speak plainly and distinctly, to articulate clearly, to pronounce correctly and without affectation, to perceive and imitate the right accent in prose and verse, and always to speak loud enough to be heard, but without speaking too loud—a common fault with school-children. Let there be no waste in anything.
The same method applies to singing; make his voice smooth and true, flexible and full, his ear alive to time and tune, but nothing more. Descriptive and theatrical music is not suitable at his age—I would rather he sang no words; if he must have words, I would try to compose songs on purpose for him, songs interesting to a child, and as simple as his own thoughts.
You may perhaps suppose that as I am in no hurry to teach Emile to read and write, I shall not want to teach him to read music. Let us spare his brain the strain of excessive attention, and let us be in no hurry to turn his mind towards conventional signs. I grant you there seems to be a difficulty here, for if at first sight the knowledge of notes seems no more necessary for singing than the knowledge of letters for speaking, there is really this difference between them: When we speak, we are expressing our own thoughts; when we sing we are expressing the thoughts of others. Now in order to express them we must read them.
But at first we can listen to them instead of reading them, and a song is better learnt by ear than by eye. Moreover, to learn music thoroughly we must make songs as well as sing them, and the two processes must be studied together, or we shall never have any real knowledge of music. First give your young musician practice in very regular, well-cadenced phrases; then let him connect these phrases with the very simplest modulations; then show him their relation one to another by correct accent, which can be done by a fit choice of cadences and rests. On no account give him anything unusual, or anything that requires pathos or expression. A simple, tuneful air, always based on the common chords of the key, with its bass so clearly indicated that it is easily felt and accompanied, for to train his voice and ear he should always sing with the harpsichord.
We articulate the notes we sing the better to distinguish them; hence the custom of sol-faing with certain syllables. To tell the keys one from another they must have names and fixed intervals; hence the names of the intervals, and also the letters of the alphabet attached to the keys of the clavier and the notes of the scale. C and A indicate fixed sounds, invariable and always rendered by the same keys; Ut and La are different. Ut is always the dominant of a major scale, or the leading-note of a minor scale. La is always the dominant of a minor scale or the sixth of a major scale. Thus the letters indicate fixed terms in our system of music, and the syllables indicate terms homologous to the similar relations in different keys. The letters show the keys on the piano, and the syllables the degrees in the scale. French musicians have made a strange muddle of this. They have confused the meaning of the syllables with that of the letters, and while they have unnecessarily given us two sets of symbols for the keys of the piano, they have left none for the chords of the scales; so that Ut and C are always the same for them; this is not and ought not to be; if so, what is the use of C? Their method of sol-faing is, therefore, extremely and needlessly difficult, neither does it give any clear idea to the mind; since, by this method, Ut and Me, for example, may mean either a major third, a minor third, an augmented third, or a diminished third. What a strange thing that the country which produces the finest books about music should be the very country where it is hardest to learn music!
Let us adopt a simpler and clearer plan with our pupil; let him have only two scales whose relations remain unchanged, and indicated by the same symbols. Whether he sings or plays, let him learn to fix his scale on one of the twelve tones which may serve as a base, and whether he modulates in D, C, or G, let the close be always Ut or La, according to the scale. In this way he will understand what you mean, and the essential relations for correct singing and playing will always be present in his mind; his execution will be better and his progress quicker. There is nothing funnier than what the French call “natural sol-faing;” it consists in removing the real meaning of things and putting in their place other meanings which only distract us. There is nothing more natural than sol-faing by transposition, when the scale is transposed. But I have said enough, and more than enough, about music; teach it as you please, so long as it is nothing but play.
We are now thoroughly acquainted with the condition of foreign bodies in relation to our own, their weight, form, colour, density, size, distance, temperature, stability, or motion. We have learnt which of them to approach or avoid, how to set about overcoming their resistance or to resist them so as to prevent ourselves from injury; but this is not enough. Our own body is constantly wasting and as constantly requires to be renewed. Although we have the power of changing other substances into our own, our choice is not a matter of indifference. Everything is not food for man, and what may be food for him is not all equally suitable; it depends on his racial constitution, the country he lives in, his individual temperament, and the way of living which his condition demands.
If we had to wait till experience taught us to know and choose fit food for ourselves, we should die of hunger or poison; but a kindly providence which has made pleasure the means of self-preservation to sentient beings teaches us through our palate what is suitable for our stomach. In a state of nature there is no better doctor than a man’s own appetite, and no doubt in a state of nature man could find the most palateable food the most wholesome.
Nor is this all. Our Maker provides, not only for those needs he has created, but for those we create for ourselves; and it is to keep the balance between our wants and our needs that he has caused our tastes to change and vary with our way of living. The further we are from a state of nature, the more we lose our natural tastes; or rather, habit becomes a second nature, and so completely replaces our real nature, that we have lost all knowledge of it.
From this it follows that the most natural tastes should be the simplest, for those are more easily changed; but when they are sharpened and stimulated by our fancies they assume a form which is incapable of modification. The man who so far has not adapted himself to one country can learn the ways of any country whatsoever; but the man who has adopted the habits of one particular country can never shake them off.
This seems to be true of all our senses, especially of taste. Our first food is milk; we only become accustomed by degrees to strong flavours; at first we dislike them. Fruit, vegetables, herbs, and then fried meat without salt or seasoning, formed the feasts of primitive man. When the savage tastes wine for the first time, he makes a grimace and spits it out; and even among ourselves a man who has not tasted fermented liquors before twenty cannot get used to them; we should all be sober if we did not have wine when we were children. Indeed, the simpler our tastes are, the more general they are; made dishes are those most frequently disliked. Did you ever meet with any one who disliked bread or water? Here is the finger of nature, this then is our rule. Preserve the child’s primitive tastes as long as possible; let his food be plain and simple, let strong flavours be unknown to his palate, and do not let his diet be too uniform.
I am not asking, for the present, whether this way of living is healthier or no; that is not what I have in view. It is enough for me to know that my choice is more in accordance with nature, and that it can be more readily adapted to other conditions. In my opinion, those who say children should be accustomed to the food they will have when they are grown up are mistaken. Why should their food be the same when their way of living is so different? A man worn out by labour, anxiety, and pain needs tasty foods to give fresh vigour to his brain; a child fresh from his games, a child whose body is growing, needs plentiful food which will supply more chyle. Moreover the grown man has already a settled profession, occupation, and home, but who can tell what Fate holds in store for the child? Let us not give him so fixed a bent in any direction that he cannot change it if required without hardship. Do not bring him up so that he would die of hunger in a foreign land if he does not take a French cook about with him; do not let him say at some future time that France is the only country where the food is fit to eat. By the way, that is a strange way of praising one’s country. On the other hand, I myself should say that the French are the only people who do not know what good food is, since they require such a special art to make their dishes eatable.
Of all our different senses, we are usually most affected by taste. Thus it concerns us more nearly to judge aright of what will actually become part of ourselves, than of that which will merely form part of our environment. Many things are matters of indifference to touch, hearing, and sight; but taste is affected by almost everything. Moreover the activity of this sense is wholly physical and material; of all the senses, it alone makes no appeal to the imagination, or at least, imagination plays a smaller part in its sensations; while imitation and imagination often bring morality into the impressions of the other senses. Thus, speaking generally, soft and pleasure-loving minds, passionate and truly sensitive dispositions, which are easily stirred by the other senses, are usually indifferent to this. From this very fact, which apparently places taste below our other senses and makes our inclination towards it the more despicable, I draw just the opposite conclusion—that the best way to lead children is by the mouth. Greediness is a better motive than vanity; for the former is a natural appetite directly dependent on the senses, while the latter is the outcome of convention, it is the slave of human caprice and liable to every kind of abuse. Believe me the child will cease to care about his food only too soon, and when his heart is too busy, his palate will be idle. When he is grown up greediness will be expelled by a host of stronger passions, while vanity will only be stimulated by them; for this latter passion feeds upon the rest till at length they are all swallowed up in it. I have sometimes studied those men who pay great attention to good eating, men whose first waking thought is—What shall we have to eat to-day? men who describe their dinner with as much detail as Polybius describes a combat. I have found these so-called men were only children of forty, without strength or vigour—fruges consumere nati. Gluttony is the vice of feeble minds. The gourmand has his brains in his palate, he can do nothing but eat; he is so stupid and incapable that the table is the only place for him, and dishes are the only things he knows anything about. Let us leave him to this business without regret; it is better for him and for us.
It is a small mind that fears lest greediness should take root in the child who is fit for something better. The child thinks of nothing but his food, the youth pays no heed to it at all; every kind of food is good, and we have other things to attend to. Yet I would not have you use the low motive unwisely. I would not have you trust to dainties rather than to the honour which is the reward of a good deed. But childhood is, or ought to be, a time of play and merry sports, and I do not see why the rewards of purely bodily exercises should not be material and sensible rewards. If a little lad in Majorca sees a basket on the tree-top and brings it down with his sling, is it not fair that he should get something by this, and a good breakfast should repair the strength spent in getting it. If a young Spartan, facing the risk of a hundred stripes, slips skilfully into the kitchen, and steals a live fox-cub, carries it off in his garment, and is scratched, bitten till the blood comes, and for shame lest he should be caught the child allows his bowels to be torn out without a movement or a cry, is it not fair that he should keep his spoils, that he should eat his prey after it has eaten him? A good meal should never be a reward; but why should it not be sometimes the result of efforts made to get it. Emile does not consider the cake I put on the stone as a reward for good running; he knows that the only way to get the cake is to get there first.
This does not contradict my previous rules about simple food; for to tempt a child’s appetite you need not stimulate it, you need only satisfy it; and the commonest things will do this if you do not attempt to refine children’s taste. Their perpetual hunger, the result of their need for growth, will be the best sauce. Fruit, milk, a piece of cake just a little better than ordinary bread, and above all the art of dispensing these things prudently, by these means you may lead a host of children to the world’s end, without on the one hand giving them a taste for strong flavours, nor on the other hand letting them get tired of their food.
The indifference of children towards meat is one proof that the taste for meat is unnatural; their preference is for vegetable foods, such as milk, pastry, fruit, etc. Beware of changing this natural taste and making children flesh-eaters, if not for their health’s sake, for the sake of their character; for how can one explain away the fact that great meat-eaters are usually fiercer and more cruel than other men; this has been recognised at all times and in all places. The English are noted for their cruelty1 while the Gaures2 are the gentlest of men. All savages are cruel, and it is not their customs that tend in this direction; their cruelty is the result of their food. They go to war as to the chase, and treat men as they would treat bears. Indeed in England butchers are not allowed to give evidence in a court of law,3 no more can surgeons. Great criminals prepare themselves for murder by drinking blood. Homer makes his flesh-eating Cyclops a terrible man, while his Lotus-eaters are so delightful that those who went to trade with them forgot even their own country to dwell among them.
“You ask me,” said Plutarch, “why Pythagoras abstained from eating the flesh of beasts, but I ask you, what courage must have been needed by the first man who raised to his lips the flesh of the slain, who broke with his teeth the bones of a dying beast, who had dead bodies, corpses, placed before him and swallowed down limbs which a few moments ago were bleating, bellowing, walking, and seeing? How could his hand plunge the knife into the heart of a sentient creature, how could his eyes look on murder, how could he behold a poor helpless animal bled to death, scorched, and dismembered? how can he bear the sight of this quivering flesh? does not the very smell of it turn his stomach? is he not repelled, disgusted, horror-struck, when he has to handle the blood from these wounds, and to cleanse his fingers from the dark and viscous bloodstains?
“Thus must he have felt the first time he did despite to nature and made this horrible meal; the first time he hungered for the living creature, and desired to feed upon the beast which was still grazing; when he bade them slay, dismember, and cut up the sheep which licked his hands. It is those who began these cruel feasts, not those who abandon them, who should cause surprise, and there were excuses for those primitive men, excuses which we have not, and the absence of such excuses multiplies our barbarity a hundredfold.
“ ‘Mortals, beloved of the gods,’ says this primitive man, ‘compare our times with yours; see how happy you are, and how wretched were we. The earth, newly formed, the air heavy with moisture, were not yet subjected to the rule of the seasons. Three-fourths of the surface of the globe was flooded by the ever-shifting channels of rivers uncertain of their course, and covered with pools, lakes, and bottomless morasses. The remaining quarter was covered with woods and barren forests. The earth yielded no good fruit, we had no instruments of tillage, we did not even know the use of them, and the time of harvest never came for those who had sown nothing. Thus hunger was always in our midst. In winter, mosses and the bark of trees were our common food. A few green roots of dogs-bit or heather were a feast, and when men found beech-mast, nuts, or acorns, they danced for joy round the beech or oak, to the sound of some rude song, while they called the earth their mother and their nurse. This was their only festival, their only sport; all the rest of man’s life was spent in sorrow, pain, and hunger.
“ ‘At length, when the bare and naked earth no longer offered us any food, we were compelled in self-defence to outrage nature, and to feed upon our companions in distress, rather than perish with them. But you, oh, cruel men! who forces you to shed blood? Behold the wealth of good things about you, the fruits yielded by the earth, the wealth of field and vineyard; the animals give their milk for your drink and their fleece for your clothing. What more do you ask? What madness compels you to commit such murders, when you have already more than you can eat or drink? Why do you slander our mother earth, and accuse her of denying you food? Why do you sin against Ceres, the inventor of the sacred laws, and against the gracious Bacchus, the comforter of man, as if their lavish gifts were not enough to preserve mankind? Have you the heart to mingle their sweet fruits with the bones upon your table, to eat with the milk the blood of the beasts which gave it? The lions and panthers, wild beasts as you call them, are driven to follow their natural instinct, and they kill other beasts that they may live. But, a hundredfold fiercer than they, you fight against your instincts without cause, and abandon yourselves to the most cruel pleasures. The animals you eat are not those who devour others; you do not eat the carnivorous beasts, you take them as your pattern. You only hunger for the sweet and gentle creatures which harm no one, which follow you, serve you, and are devoured by you as the reward of their service.
“ ‘O unnatural murderer! if you persist in the assertion that nature has made you to devour your fellow-creatures, beings of flesh and blood, living and feeling like yourself, stifle if you can that horror with which nature makes you regard these horrible feasts; slay the animals yourself, slay them, I say, with your own hands, without knife or mallet; tear them with your nails like the lion and the bear, take this ox and rend him in pieces, plunge your claws into his hide; eat this lamb while it is yet alive, devour its warm flesh, drink its soul with its blood. You shudder! you dare not feel the living throbbing flesh between your teeth? Ruthless man; you begin by slaying the animal and then you devour it, as if to slay it twice. It is not enough. You turn against the dead flesh, it revolts you, it must be transformed by fire, boiled and roasted, seasoned and disguised with drugs; you must have butchers, cooks, turnspits, men who will rid the murder of its horrors, who will dress the dead bodies so that the taste deceived by these disguises will not reject what is strange to it, and will feast on corpses, the very sight of which would sicken you.’ ”
Although this quotation is irrelevant, I cannot resist the temptation to transcribe it, and I think few of my readers will resent it.
In conclusion, whatever food you give your children, provided you accustom them to nothing but plain and simple dishes, let them eat and run and play as much as they want; you may be sure they will never eat too much and will never have indigestion; but if you keep them hungry half their time, when they do contrive to evade your vigilance, they will take advantage of it as far as they can; they will eat till they are sick, they will gorge themselves till they can eat no more. Our appetite is only excessive because we try to impose on it rules other than those of nature, opposing, controlling, prescribing, adding, or substracting; the scales are always in our hands, but the scales are the measure of our caprices not of our stomachs. I return to my usual illustration; among peasants the cupboard and the apple-loft are always left open, and indigestion is unknown alike to children and grown-up people.
If, however, it happened that a child were too great an eater, though, under my system, I think it is impossible, he is so easily distracted by his favourite games that one might easily starve him without his knowing it. How is it that teachers have failed to use such a safe and easy weapon. Herodotus records that the Lydians,1 under the pressure of great scarcity, decided to invent sports and other amusements with which to cheat their hunger, and they passed whole days without thought of food. Your learned teachers may have read this passage time after time without seeing how it might be applied to children. One of these teachers will probably tell me that a child does not like to leave his dinner for his lessons. You are right, sir—I was not thinking of that sort of sport.
The sense of smell is to taste what sight is to touch; it goes before it and gives it warning that it will be affected by this or that substance; and it inclines it to seek or shun this experience according to the impressions received beforehand. I have been told that savages receive impressions quite different from ours, and that they have quite different ideas with regard to pleasant or unpleasant odours. I can well believe it. Odours alone are slight sensations; they affect the imgination rather than the senses, and they work mainly through the anticipations they arouse. This being so, and the tastes of savages being so unlike the taste of civilised men, they should lead them to form very different ideas with regard to flavours and therefore with regard to the odouts which announce them. A Tartar must enjoy the smell of a haunch of putrid horseflesh, much as a sportsman enjoys a very high partridge.
Our idle sensations, such as the scents wafted from the flower beds, must pass unnoticed among men who walk too much to care for strolling in a garden, and do not work enough to find pleasure in repose. Hungry men would find little pleasure in scents which did not proclaim the approach of food.
Smell is the sense of the imagination; as it gives tone to the nerves it must have a great effect on the brain; that is why it revives us for the time, but eventually causes exhaustion. Its effects on love are pretty generally recognised. The sweet perfumes of a dressing-room are not so slight a snare as you may fancy them, and I hardly know whether to congratulate or condole with that wise and somewhat insensible person whose senses are never stirred by the scent of the flowers his mistress wears in her bosom.
Hence the sense of smell should not be over-active in early childhood; the imagination, as yet unstirred by changing passions, is scarcely susceptible of emotion, and we have not enough experience to discern beforehand from one sense the promise of another. This view is confirmed by observation, and it is certain that the sense of smell is dull and almost blunted in most children. Not that their sensations are less acute than those of grown-up people, but that there is no idea associated with them; they do not easily experience pleasure or pain, and are not flattered or hurt as we are. Without going beyond my system, and without recourse to comparative anatomy, I think we can easily see why women are generally fonder of perfumes than men.
It is said that from early childhood the Redskins of Canada train their sense of smell to such a degree of subtlety that, although they have dogs, they do not condescend to use them in hunting—they are their own dogs. Indeed I believe that if children were trained to scent their dinner as a dog scents game, their sense of smell might be nearly as perfect; but I see no very real advantage to be derived from this sense, except by teaching the child to observe the relation between smell and taste. Nature has taken care to compel us to learn these relations. She has made the exercise of the latter sense practically inseparable from that of the former, by placing their organs close together, and by providing, in the mouth, a direct pathway between them, so that we taste nothing without smelling it too. Only I would not have these natural relations disturbed in order to deceive the child, e.g., to conceal the taste of medicine with an aromatic odour, for the discord between the senses is too great for deception, the more active sense overpowers the other, the medicine is just as distasteful, and this disagreeable association extends to every sensation experienced at the time; so the slightest of these sensations recalls the rest to his imagination and a very pleasant perfume is for him only a nasty smell; thus our foolish precautions increase the sum total of his unpleasant sensations at the cost of his pleasant sensations.
In the following books I have still to speak of the training of a sort of sixth sense, called common-sense, not so much because it is common to all men, but because it results from the well-regulated use of the other five, and teaches the nature of things by the sum-total of their external aspects. So this sixth sense has no special organ, it has its seat in the brain, and its sensations which are purely internal are called percepts or ideas. The number of these ideas is the measure of our knowledge; exactness of thought depends on their clearness and precision; the art of comparing them one with another is called human reason. Thus what I call the reasoning of the senses, or the reasoning of the child, consists in the formation of simple ideas through the associated experience of several sensations; what I call the reasoning of the intellect, consists in the formation of complex ideas through the association of several simple ideas.
If my method is indeed that of nature, and if I am not mistaken in the application of that method, we have led our pupil through the region of sensation to the bounds of the child’s reasoning; the first step we take beyond these bounds must be the step of a man. But before we make this fresh advance, let us glance back for a moment at the path we have hitherto followed. Every age, every station in life, has a perfection, a ripeness, of its own. We have often heard the phrase “a grown man;” but we will consider “a grown child.” This will be a new experience and none the less pleasing.
The life of finite creatures is so poor and narrow that the mere sight of what is arouses no emotion. It is fancy which decks reality, and if imagination does not lend its charm to that which touches our senses, our barren pleasure is confined to the senses alone, while the heart remains cold. The earth adorned with the treasures of autumn displays a wealth of colour which the eye admires; but this admiration fails to move us, it springs rather from thought than from feeling. In spring the country is almost bare and leafless, the trees give no shade, the grass has hardly begun to grow, yet the heart is touched by the sight. In this new birth of nature, we feel the revival of our own life; the memories of past pleasures surround us; tears of delight, those companions of pleasure ever ready to accompany a pleasing sentiment, tremble on our eyelids. Animated, lively, and delightful though the vintage may be, we behold it without a tear.
And why is this? Because imagination adds to the sight of spring the image of the seasons which are yet to come; the eye sees the tender shoot, the mind’s eye beholds its flowers, fruit, and foliage, and even the mysteries they may conceal. It blends successive stages into one moment’s experience; we see things, not so much as they will be, but as we would have them be, for imagination has only to take her choice. In autumn, on the other hand, we only behold the present; if we wish to look forward to spring, winter bars the way, and our shivering imagination dies away among its frost and snow.
This is the source of the charm we find in beholding the beauties of childhood, rather than the perfection of manhood. When do we really delight in beholding a man? When the memory of his deeds leads us to look back over his life and his youth is renewed in our eyes. If we are reduced to viewing him as he is, or to picturing him as he will be in old age, the thought of declining years destroys all our pleasure. There is no pleasure in seeing a man hastening to his grave; the image of death makes all hideous.
But when I think of a child of ten or twelve, strong, healthy, well-grown for his age, only pleasant thoughts are called up, whether of the present or the future. I see him keen, eager, and full of life, free from gnawing cares and painful forebodings, absorbed in this present state, and delighting in a fullness of life which seems to extend beyond himself. I look forward to a time when he will use his daily increasing sense, intelligence and vigour, those growing powers of which he continually gives fresh proof. I watch the child with delight, I picture to myself the man with even greater pleasure. His eager life seems to stir my own pulses, I seem to live his life and in his vigour I renew my own.
The hour strikes, the scene is changed. All of a sudden his eye grows dim, his mirth has fled. Farewell mirth, farewell untrammelled sports in which he delighted. A stern, angry man takes him by the hand, saying gravely, “Come with me, sir,” and he is led away. As they are entering the room, I catch a glimpse of books. Books, what dull food for a child of his age! The poor child allows himself to be dragged away; he casts a sorrowful look on all about him, and departs in silence, his eyes swollen with the tears he dare not shed, and his heart bursting with the sighs he dare not utter.
You who have no such cause for fear, you for whom no period of life is a time of weariness and tedium, you who welcome days without care and nights without impatience, you who only reckon time by your pleasures, come, my happy kindly pupil, and console us for the departure of that miserable creature. Come! Here he is and at his approach I feel a thrill of delight which I see he shares. It is his friend, his comrade, who meets him; when he sees me he knows very well that he will not be long without amusement; we are never dependent on each other, but we are always on good terms, and we are never so happy as when together.
His face, his bearing, his expression, speak of confidence and contentment; health shines in his countenance, his firm step speaks of strength; his colour, delicate but not sickly, has nothing of softness or effeminacy. Sun and wind have already set the honourable stamp of manhood on his countenance; his rounded muscles already begin to show some signs of growing individuality; his eyes, as yet unlighted by the flame of feeling, have at least all their native calm. They have not been darkened by prolonged sorrow, nor are his cheeks furrowed by ceaseless tears. Behold in his quick and certain movements the natural vigour of his age and the confidence of independence. His manner is free and open, but without a trace of insolence or vanity; his head which has not been bent over books does not fall upon his breast; there is no need to say, “Hold your head up,” he will neither hang his head for shame or fear.
Make room for him, gentlemen, in your midst; question him boldly; have no fear of importunity, chatter, or impertinent questions. You need not be afraid that he will take possession of you and expect you to devote yourself entirely to him, so that you cannot get rid of him.
Neither need you look for compliments from him; nor will he tell you what I have taught him to say; expect nothing from him but the plain, simple truth, without addition or ornament and without vanity. He will tell you the wrong things he has done and thought as readily as the right, without troubling himself in the least as to the effect of his words upon you; he will use speech with all the simplicity of its first beginnings.
We love to augur well of our children, and we are continually regretting the flood of folly which overwhelms the hopes we would fain have rested on some chance phrase. If my scholar rarely gives me cause for such prophecies, neither will he give me cause for such regrets, for he never says a useless word, and does not exhaust himself by chattering when he knows there is no one to listen to him. His ideas are few but precise, he knows nothing by rote but much by experience. If he reads our books worse than other children, he reads far better in the book of nature; his thoughts are not in his tongue but in his brain; he has less memory and more judgment; he can only speak one language, but he understands what he is saying, and if his speech is not so good as that of other children his deeds are better.
He does not know the meaning of habit, routine, and custom; what he did yesterday has no control over what he is doing1 to-day; he follows no rule, submits to no authority, copies no pattern, and only acts or speaks as he pleases. So do not expect set speeches or studied manners from him, but just the faithful expression of his thoughts and the conduct that springs from his inclinations.
You will find he has a few moral ideas concerning his present state and none concerning manhood; what use could he make of them, for the child is not, as yet, an active member of society. Speak to him of freedom, of property, or even of what is usually done; he may understand you so far; he knows why his things are his own, and why other things are not his, and nothing more. Speak to him of duty or obedience; he will not know what you are talking about; bid him do something and he will pay no attention; but say to him, “If you will give me this pleasure, I will repay it when required,” and he will hasten to give you satisfaction, for he asks nothing better than to extend his domain, to acquire rights over you, which will, he knows, be respected. Maybe he is not sorry to have a place of his own, to be reckoned of some account; but if he has formed this latter idea, he has already left the realms of nature, and you have failed to bar the gates of vanity.
For his own part, should he need help, he will ask it readily of the first person he meets. He will ask it of a king as readily as of his servant; all men are equals in his eyes. From his way of asking you will see he knows you owe him nothing, that he is asking a favour. He knows too that humanity moves you to grant this favour; his words are few and simple. His voice, his look, his gesture are those of a being equally familiar with compliance and refusal. It is neither the crawling, servile submission of the slave, nor the imperious tone of the master, it is a modest confidence in mankind; it is the noble and touching gentleness of a creature, free, yet sensitive and feeble, who asks aid of a being, free, but strong and kindly. If you grant his request he will not thank you, but he will feel he has incurred a debt. If you refuse he will neither complain nor insist; he knows it is useless; he will not say, “They refused to help me,” but “It was impossible,” and as I have already said, we do not rebel against necessity when once we have perceived it.
Leave him to himself and watch his actions without speaking; consider what he is doing and how he sets about it. He does not require to convince himself that he is free, so he never acts thoughtlessly and merely to show that he can do what he likes; does he not know that he is always his own master? He is quick, alert, and ready; his movements are eager as befits his age, but you will not find one which has no end in view. Whatever he wants, he will never attempt what is beyond his powers, for he has learnt by experience what those powers are; his means will always be adapted to the end in view, and he will rarely attempt anything without the certainty of success; his eye is keen and true; he will not be so stupid as to go and ask other people about what he sees; he will examine it on his own account, and before he asks he will try every means at his disposal to discover what he wants to know for himself. If he lights upon some unexpected difficulty, he will be less upset than others; if there is danger he will be less afraid. His imagination is still asleep and nothing has been done to arouse it; he only sees what is really there, and rates the danger at its true worth; so he never loses his head. He does not rebel against necessity, her hand is too heavy upon him; he has borne her yoke all his life long, he is well used to it; he is always ready for anything.
Work or play are all one to him, his games are his work; he knows no difference. He brings to everything the cheerfulness of interest, the charm of freedom, and he shows the bent of his own mind and the extent of his knowledge. Is there anything better worth seeing, anything more touching or more delightful, than a pretty child, with merry, cheerful glance, easy contented manner, open smiling countenance, playing at the most important things, or working at the lightest amusements?
Would you now judge him by comparison? Set him among other children and leave him to himself. You will soon see which has made most progress, which comes nearer to the perfection of childhood. Among all the children in the town there is none more skilful and none so strong. Among young peasants he is their equal in strength and their superior in skill. In everything within a child’s grasp he judges, reasons, and shows a forethought beyond the rest. Is it a matter of action, running, jumping, or shifting things, raising weights or estimating distance, inventing games, carrying off prizes; you might say, “Nature obeys his word,” so easily does he bend all things to his will. He is made to lead, to rule his fellows; talent and experience take the place of right and authority. In any garb, under any name, he will still be first, everywhere he will rule the rest, they will always feel his superiority, he will be master without knowing it, and they will serve him unawares.
He has reached the perfection of childhood; he has lived the life of a child; his progress has not been bought at the price of his happiness, he has gained both. While he has acquired all the wisdom of a child, he has been as free and happy as his health permits. If the Reaper Death should cut him off and rob us of our hopes, we need not bewail alike his life and death, we shall not have the added grief of knowing that we caused him pain; we will say, “His childhood, at least, was happy; we have robbed him of nothing that nature gave him.”
The chief drawback to this early education is that it is only appreciated by the wise; to vulgar eyes the child so carefully educated is nothing but a rough little boy. A tutor thinks rather of the advantage to himself than to his pupil; he makes a point of showing that there has been no time wasted; he provides his pupil with goods which can be readily displayed in the shop window, accomplishments which can be shown off at will; no matter whether they are useful, provided they are easily seen. Without choice or discrimination he loads his memory with a pack of rubbish. If the child is to be examined he is set to display his wares; he spreads them out, satisfies those who behold them, packs up his bundle and goes his way. My pupil is poorer, he has no bundle to display, he has only himself to show. Now neither child nor man can be read at a glance. Where are the observers who can at once discern the characteristics of this child? There are such people, but they are few and far between; among a thousand fathers you will scarcely find one.
Too many questions are tedious and revolting to most of us and especially to children. After a few minutes their attention flags, they cease to listen to your everlasting questions and reply at random. This way of testing them is pedantic and useless; a chance word will often show their sense and intelligence better than much talking, but take care that the answer is neither a matter of chance nor yet learnt by heart. A man must needs have a good judgment if he is to estimate the judgment of a child.
I heard the late Lord Hyde tell the following story about one of his friends. He had returned from Italy after a three years’ absence, and was anxious to test the progress of his son, a child of nine or ten. One evening he took a walk with the child and his tutor across a level space where the schoolboys were flying their kites. As they went, the father said to his son, “Where is the kite that casts this shadow?” Without hesitating and without glancing upwards the child replied, “Over the high road.” “And indeed,” said Lord Hyde, “the high road was between us and the sun.” At these words, the father kissed his child, and having finished his examination he departed. The next day he sent the tutor the papers settling an annuity on him in addition to his salary.
What a father! and what a promising child! The question is exactly adapted to the child’s age, the answer is perfectly simple; but see what precision it implies in the child’s judgment. Thus did the pupil of Aristotle master the famous steed which no squire had ever been able to tame.
[1 ] There is nothing so absurd and hesitating as the gait of those who have been kept too long in leading-strings when they were little. This is one of the observations which are considered trivial because they are true.
[1 ] You understand I am speaking of those who think, and not of the crowd.
[1 ] “You see that little boy,” said Themistocles to his friends, “the fate of Greece is in his hands, for he rules his mother and his mother rules me, I rule the Athenians and the Athenians rule the Greeks.” What petty creatures we should often find controlling great empires if we traced the course of power from the prince to those who secretly put that power in motion.
[1 ] In my Principles of Political Law it is proved that no private will can be ordered in the social system.
[1 ] We must recognise that pain is often necessary, pleasure is sometimes needed. So there is only one of the child’s desires which should never be complied with, the desire for power. Hence, whenever they ask for anything we must pay special attention to their motive in asking. As far as possible give them everything they ask for, provided it can really give them pleasure; refuse everything they demand from mere caprice or love of power.
[1 ] You may be sure the child will regard as caprice any will which opposes his own or any will which he does not understand. Now the child does not understand anything which interferes with his own fancies.
[1 ] A child should never be allowed to play with grown-up people as if they were his inferiors, nor even as if they were only his equals. If he ventured to strike any one in earnest, were it only the footman, were it the hangman himself, let the sufferer return his blows with interest, so that he will not want to do it again. I have seen silly women inciting children to rebellion, encouraging them to hit people, allowing themselves to be beaten, and laughing at the harmless blows, never thinking that those blows were in intention the blows of a murderer, and that the child who desires to beat people now will desire to kill them when he is grown up.
[2 ] This is why most children want to take back what they have given, and cry if they cannot get it. They do not do this when once they know what a gift is; only they are more careful about giving things away.
[1 ] Moreover if the duty of keeping his word were not established in the child’s mind by its own utility, the child’s growing consciousness would soon impress it on him as a law of conscience, as an innate principle, only requiring suitable experiences for its development. This first outline is not sketched by man, it is engraved on the heart by the author of all justice. Take away the primitive law of contract and the obligation imposed by contract and there is nothing left of human society but vanity and empty show. He who only keeps his word because it is to his own profit is hardly more pledged than if he had given no promise at all. This principle is of the utmost importance, and deserves to be thoroughly studied, for man is now beginning to be at war with himself.
[1 ] Thus the guilty person, accused of some evil deed, defends himself by asserting that he is a good man. His statement is false in itself and false in its application to the matter in hand.
[1 ] Nothing could be more indiscreet than such a question, especially if the child is guilty. Then if he thinks you know what he has done, he will think you are setting a trap for him, and this idea can only set him against you. If he thinks you do not know, he will say to himself, “Why should I make my fault known?” And here we have the first temptation to falsehood as the direct result of your foolish question.
[1 ] It must be understood that I do not answer his questions when he wants; that would be to subject myself to his will and to place myself in the most dangerous state of dependence that ever a tutor was in.
[1 ] The precept “Never hurt anybody,” implies the greatest possible independence of human society; for in the social state one man’s good is another man’s evil. This relation is part of the nature of things; it is inevitable. You may apply this test to man in society and to the hermit to discover which is best. A distinguished author says, “None but the wicked can live alone.” I say, “None but the good can live alone.” This proposition, if less sententious, is truer and more logical than the other. If the wicked were alone, what evil would he do? It is among his fellows that he lays his snares for others. If they wish to apply this argument to the man of property, my answer is to be found in the passage to which this note is appended.
[1 ] The Abbé de Condillac.
[1 ] I have noticed again and again that it is impossible in writing a lengthy work to use the same words always in the same sense. There is no language rich enough to supply terms and expressions sufficient for the modifications of our ideas. The method of defining every term and constantly substituting the definition for the term defined looks well, but it is impracticable. For how can we escape from our vicious circle? Definitions would be all very well if we did not use words in the making of them. In spite of this I am convinced that even in our poor language we can make our meaning clear, not by always using words in the same sense, but by taking care that every time we use a word the sense in which we use it is sufficiently indicated by the sense of the context, so that each sentence in which the word occurs acts as a sort of definition. Sometimes I say children are incapable of reasoning. Sometimes I say they reason cleverly. I must admit that my words are often contradictory, but I do not think there is any contradiction in my ideas.
[1 ] The learning of most philosophers is like the learning of children. Vast erudition results less in the multitude of ideas than in a multitude of images. Dates, names, places, all objects isolated or unconnected with ideas are merely retained in the memory for symbols, and we rarely recall any of these without seeing the right or left page of the book in which we read it, or the form in which we first saw it. Most science was of this kind till recently. The science of our times is another matter; study and observation are things of the past; we dream and the dreams of a bad night are given to us as philosophy. You will say I too am a dreamer; I admit it, but I do what the others fail to do, I give my dreams as dreams, and leave the reader to discover whether there is anything in them which may prove useful to those who are awake.
[1 ]Translator’s note.—The “bureau” was a sort of case containing letters to be put together to form words. It was a favourite device for the teaching of reading and gave its name to a special method, called the bureau-method, of learning to read.
[1 ] In a case like this there is no danger in asking a child to tell the truth, for he knows very well that it cannot be hid, and that if he ventured to tell a lie he would be found out at once.
[1 ] This terror is very noticeable during great eclipses of the sun.
[2 ] Another cause has been well explained by a philosopher, often quoted in this work, a philosopher to whose wide views I am very greatly indebted.
“When under special conditions we cannot form a fair idea of distance, when we can only judge things by the size of the angle or rather of the image formed in our eyes, we cannot avoid being deceived as to the size of these objects. Every one knows by experience how when we are travelling at night we take a bush near at hand for a great tree at a distance, and vice versa. In the same way, if the objects were of a shape unknown to us, so that we could not tell their size in that way, we should be equally mistaken with regard to it. If a fly flew quickly past a few inches from our eyes, we should think it was a distant bird; a horse standing still at a distance from us in the midst of open country, in a position somewhat like that of a sheep, would be taken for a large sheep, so long as we did not perceive that it was a horse; but as soon as we recognise what it is, it seems as large as a horse, and we at once correct our former judgment.
“Whenever one finds oneself in unknown places at night where we cannot judge of distance, and where we cannot recognise objects by their shape on account of the darkness, we are in constant danger of forming mistaken judgments as to the objects which present themselves to our notice. Hence that terror, that kind of inward fear experienced by most people on dark nights. This is foundation for the supposed appearances of spectres, or gigantic and terrible forms which so many people profess to have seen. They are generally told that they imagined these things, yet they may really have seen them, and it is quite possible they really saw what they say they did see; for it will always be the case that when we can only estimate the size of an object by the angle it forms in the eye, that object will swell and grow as we approach it; and if the spectator thought it several feet high when it was thirty or forty feet away, it will seem very large indeed when it is a few feet off; this must indeed astonish and alarm the spectator until he touches it and perceives what it is, for as soon as he perceives what it is, the object which seemed so gigantic will suddenly shrink and assume its real size, but if we run away or are afraid to approach, we shall certainly form no other idea of the thing than the image formed in the eye, and we shall have really seen a gigantic figure of alarming size and shape. There is, therefore, a natural ground for the tendency to see ghosts, and these appearances are not merely the creation of the imagination, as the men of science would have us think.”—Buffon, Nat. Hist.
In the text I have tried to show that they are always partly the creation of the imagination, and with regard to the cause explained in this quotation, it is clear that the habit of walking by night should teach us to distinguish those appearances which similarity of form and diversity of distance lend to the objects seen in the dark. For if the air is light enough for us to see the outlines there must be more air between us and them when they are further off, so that we ought to see them less distinctly when further off, which should be enough, when we are used to it, to prevent the error described by M. Buffon. Whichever explanation you prefer, my mode of procedure is still efficacious, and experience entirely confirms it.
[1 ] To practise them in attention, only tell them things which it is clearly to their present interest that they should understand thoroughly; above all be brief, never say a word more than is necessary. But neither let your speech be obscure nor of doubful meaning.
[1 ] I am aware that the English make a boast of their humanity and of the kindly disposition of their race, which they call “good-natured people;” but in vain do they proclaim this fact; no one else says it of them.
[2 ] The Banians, who abstain from flesh even more completely than the Gaures, are almost as gentle as the Gaures themselves, but as their morality is less pure and their form of worship less reasonable they are not such good men.
[3 ] One of the English translators of my book has pointed out my mistake, and both of them have corrected it. Butchers and surgeons are allowed to give evidence in the law courts, but butchers may not serve on juries in criminal cases, though surgeons are allowed to do so.
[1 ] The ancient historians are full of opinions which may be useful, even if the facts which they present are false. But we do not know how to make any real use of history. Criticism and erudition are our only care; as if it mattered more that a statement were true or false than that we should be able to get a useful lesson from it. A wise man should consider history a tissue of fables whose morals are well adapted to the human heart.
[1 ] Habit owes its charm to man’s natural idleness, and this idleness grows upon us if indulged; it is easier to do what we have already done, there is a beaten path which is easily followed. Thus we may observe that habit is very strong in the aged and in the indolent, and very weak in the young and active. The rule of habit is only good for feeble hearts, and it makes them more and more feeble day by day. The only useful habit for children is to be accustomed to submit without difficulty to necessity, and the only useful habit for man is to submit without difficulty to the rule of reason. Every other habit is a vice.