Letter XXXIII. May 1, 1819
My dear Greaves,
In my last letter I described the end of education to be, to render Man conscientiously active in the service of his Maker; to render him useful by rendering him independent in relation to society; and, as an individual, to render him happy within himself.
To this end I conceive that the formation of the intellect, the attainment of useful knowledge and the development of all the faculties may be made instrumental. But though they will be found highly serviceable as furnishing the means, they will not supply the spring of action. It would be preposterous, no doubt, to provide for the facilities of execution, without exciting the motives of a certain plan or line of conduct.
Of this fault the process which frequently goes by the name of education and which might more appropriately be denominated a mechanical training, is often guilty. The common motive by which such a system acts on those over whose indolence it has conquered is (fear); the very highest to which it can aspire in those whose sensibility is excited, is (ambition).
It is obvious that such a system can calculate only on the lower selfishness of Man. To that least amiable or estimable part of the human character it is, and always has been, indebted for its best success. Upon the better feelings of Man it turns a deaf ear.
How is it then that motives leading to a course of action which is looked upon as mean and despicable, or at best as doubtful, when it occurs in life - how is it that motives of that description are thought honourable in education? Why should that bias be given to the mind in a school, which, to gain the respect or the affection of others, an individual must first of all strive to unlearn -- a bias to which every candid mind is a stranger?
I do not wish to speak harshly of ambition or to reject it altogether as a motive. There is, to be sure, a noble ambition dignified by its object and distinguished by a deep and transcendent interest in that object. But if we consider the sort of ambition commonly proposed to the school-boy - if we analyse "what stuff it is made of, - whereof it is born," we shall find that it has nothing to do with the interest taken in the object of study; that such an interest frequently does not exist; and that, owing to its being blended with that vilest and meanest of motives, with (fear), it is by no means raised by the wish to give pleasure to those who propose it; for a teacher who proceeds on a system in which fear and ambition are the principal agents must give up his claim to the esteem or affection of his pupils.
Motives like fear or inordinate ambition may stimulate to exertion, intellectual or physical, but they cannot warm the heart. There is not in them that life which makes the heart of youth to heave with the delight of knowledge - with the honest consciousness of talent - with the honourable wish for distinction - with the kindly glow of genuine feeling. Such motives are inadequate in their source, and inefficient in their application, for they are nothing to the heart, and "out of the heart are the issues of life."
On these grounds it is that in moral as well as [in] intellectual education I have urged the supreme character of the motive of sympathy as the one that should early, and indeed principally, be employed in the management of children. On these grounds I have repeatedly urged the propriety of attending to that feeling which I have no hesitation in declaring to be the first feeling of an higher nature that is alive in the child - the feeling, in the infant, of love and confidence in the mother. Upon this feeling I wish to ground the first foundation - and on a feeling analogous to it, and springing from it, I wish to guide the future steps of education.
That, in the infant, that feeling exists, there can be no doubt, we have for it the testimony of those who are most competent to judge, because best enabled to sympathise with it, - of the mothers.
To the mothers, therefore, I would again and again address the request to let themselves be governed by their maternal feelings enlightened by thought, in guiding those rising impressions, in developing that tender germ in the infant's heart. They will find that at first it is yet involved in the animal nature of the infant; that it is an innate feeling, strong, because not yet under the control of reason, and filling the whole mind, because not yet opposed by the impulse of conflicting passions. That feeling, let them believe, has been implanted by the Creator. But together with it there exists in the infant that instinctive impulse of its animal nature which is first made subservient to self-preservation and directed towards the satisfaction of natural and necessary wants; which is next bent on gratification; which, unless it be checked in time, runs into a thousand imaginary and artificial wants; which would hurry as from enjoyment to enjoyment, and which would end in consummate selfishness.
To control and to break this selfish impulse the best, the only course is, for the mother to strengthen daily that better impulse which so soon gives her the pledge, by the first smile on the lips, the first glance of affection in the eye of the infant, that though the powers of the intellect are yet slumbering, she may soon speak a language intelligible to the (heart). She will be enabled, by affection, and by firmness, to bring her child to give up those cravings which render it so unamiable, and to give them up for her, the mother's, sake. By what means she can make herself understood - how she can supply the want of words and of precepts - I shall not undertake to answer for her: but let a mother answer whether, conscious as she is of her own love for her child, a love enhanced by a feeling of duty and enlightened by reflection, she will not, without either words or precepts, be able to find the way to the heart and the affection of her infant.
But if the mother has succeeded in this, let her not fancy that she has done everything. The time will come when the hitherto speechless emotions of the infant will find a language when his eye will wander from the mother to other individuals within the sphere that surrounds him - and when that sphere itself will be extended. His affections must then no longer rest concentrated on one object, and that object, though the dearest and kindest of mortals, yet a mortal, and liable to those imperfections which "our flesh is heir to." The affections of the Child are claimed by higher objects, - and indeed by the highest. Maternal love is the first agent in education; but maternal love, though the purest of human feelings, is human; and salvation is not of the power of Man, but of the power of God. Let not the mother fancy that she, of her own power, and with her best intentions, can raise the child's heart and mind beyond the sphere of earthly and perishable things. It is not for her to presume that her instructions or her example will benefit the child, unless they be calculated to lead the child to that faith and to that love from which alone salvation springs. The love and confidence of the infant in the mother is but the adumbration of a purer, - of the purest and highest feeling which can take up its abode in a mortal breast - of a feeling of love and faith, now no more confined to an individual - now no more mixed with "baser matter," - but rising superior to all other emotions, and (elevating) Man by teaching him (humility), the feeling of love and faith in his Creator and his Redeemer. In this spirit let education be considered in all its stages; let the physical faculties be developed, but without forgetting that they form the lower series of human nature; let the intellect be enlightened, but let it be remembered that the first science which thought and knowledge should teach is modesty, and moderation; let the discipline be regulated and the heart be formed not by coercion but by sympathy, - not by precept but by practice; and, above all, let it be prepared for that influence from above which alone can restore the image of God in Man. (PSW 26, p. 134-137)