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Adam Smith on the rigorous education of young Fitzmaurice (1759)

Smith wrote this letter to Lord Shelburne reporting on the progress of young Mr. Fitzmaurice’s education:

The College breaks up in the beginning of June and does not sit down again till the beginning of October. During this interval I propose that he should learn french and Dancing and fencing and that besides he should read with me the best greek, latin and french Authors on Moral Philosophy for two or three hours every morning, so that he will not be idle in the vacation.

I have nothing to add to what I said to your Lordship in my Last letter concerning Mr Fitzmaurices behaviour here. It has hitherto been altogether unexceptionable.

With regard to the Plan which I would propose for his education while he continues here; he will finish his Philosophical studies next winter; and as My Lord Fitzmaurice seemed to propose that he should stay here another year after that, I would propose that it should be employed in perfecting himselfe in Philosophy and the Languages, but chiefly and principally in the Study of Law and history. In that year I would advise him to attend the Lectures of the Professor of Civil Law: for tho’ the civil law has no authority in the English courts, the study of it is an admirable preparation for the Study of the English Law. The civil Law is digested into a more regular System than the English Law has yet been, and tho’ the Principles of the former are in many respects different from those of the latter, yet there are many principles common to both, and one who has studied the civil law at least knows what a System of law is, what parts it consist of, and how these ought to be arranged: so that when he afterwards comes to study the law of any other country which is not so well digested, he carries at least the Idea of a System in his head and knows to what part of it he ought to refer every thing that he reads. While he attends the lectures of the Proffessor of Civil Law, I shall read with him myselfe an institute of the feudal law, which is the foundation of the present laws and Government of all European Nations.

In order to have him immediately under my own eye I have hurried him a little in his Philosophical studies. I have made him pass the logic class, which ought regularly to have been his first study, and brought him at once into my own, the moral Philosophy. He attends however the lectures of the Proffessor of Logic one hour a day. This, with two hours that he attends upon my Lectures,with one hour which he gives to the Professor of Mathematics, one hour to the Proffessor of Greek and another to that of Latin, makes his hours which he attends every day except Saturday and Sunday to be six in all. He has never yet missed a single hour, and in the evening and the morning goes over very regularly with me the business of those different classes. I chuse rather to oppress him with business for this first winter: It keeps him constantly employed and leaves no time for Idleness. The oppression too is not so great as it may seem. The Study of Greek and latin is not at all new to him: Logic requires little attention so that moral philosophy and mathematicks are the only studies which take up much of his time. The great vigour both of mind and body with which he seems to be peculiarly blessed makes every thing easy to him. We have one holiday in the month which he has hitherto constantly chosen of his own accord to employ rather in learning something which he had missed by being too latein coming to the College, than in diversion.

The College breaks up in the beginning of June and does not sit down again till the beginning of October. During this interval I propose that he should learn french and Dancing and fencing and that besides he should read with me the best greek, latin and french Authors on Moral Philosophy for two or three hours every morning, so that he will not be idle in the vacation. The Proffessor of Mathematics too proposes to teach him Euclid at that time as he was too late to learn it in the Class. That Gentleman, who is now turned seventy but preserves all the gaiety and vigour of youth, takes more pains upon Mr Fitzmaurice than I ever knew him to do upon any Person, and generally gives him a private lecture twice or thrice a week. This is purely the effect of personal liking, for no other consideration is capable of making Mr Simson give up his ease.

I make Mr Fitzmaurice pay all his own accounts after he has summed and examin’d them along with me. He gives me a receipt for whatever money he receives: in the receipt he marks the purpose for which it is to be applyed and preserves the account as his voucher, marking upon the back of it the day when it was payed. These shall all be transmitted to your Lordship when there is occasion: But as My Lord Fitzmaurice left fifty Pounds here I shall have no occasion to make any demand for some time.

Your Lordship may depend upon the most religious complyance with whatever commands you shall please to lay upon me with regard to the conduct or Education of Mr Fitzmaurice.

About this Quotation:

It is important to remember that before he became of professor of moral philosophy Smith worked as a tutor. One stands in wonderment at the intensity and depth of education which the elite in the 18th and 19th century were able to “enjoy” (if that is the right word). It reminds one of the extraordinary education which John Stuart Mill got at the hands of his father James in the early 19th century.

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