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Art. IV.-PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION; OR, CONSI
DERATIONS ON THE COURSE OF LIFE.-Translated from the French of Madame NECKER DE SAUSSURE. 2 vols. London : 1839.
The valuable work of Madame Necker de Saussure upon Progressive Education has obtained an extensive circulation in France; and the translation of it by one who is evidently a practised and accomplished writer, puts within the reach of English mothers this valuable and practical treatise on the most important of all sciences.
Miss Holland, to whose exertions as translator we are so much indebted, tells us at the commencement of a short interesting preface, compressed, as she informs us, from two separate articles in the original, that the object of the work is to afford “a sort of moral history of life, in which the various means of improvement offered at different ages are pointed out.” No one seems better qualified to accomplish such an object than Madame Necker. Endowed with a spirit of patient industry, and of calm inquiry, with a deep power of observation, and with a mind that can accurately understand the workings and development of the human character, she enters upon her task well acquainted with her subject, and cannot fail to carry conviction to every unbiassed reader, by the closeness of her reasonings, and the soundness of her deductions.
The work before us is founded on the axiom, that all progressive education must consist in the steady and perpetual watching of the first development of the child's faculties. It reduces a long course of actual observations and their results to a complete system calculated to advance and perfect, most materially, that important science, the object of which is to improve the moral discipline and intellectual culture of the rising generation. These volumes therefore are a valuable addition to our knowledge of a science which has not hitherto been studied in a manner commensurate to its importance as being the most essential to the real advancement of the human character. For when we reflect that the education begun here is only preparing the human soul for its eternal progress, it becomes, not only a most interesting object, but a sacred duty, to investigate by what means the mind may be most improved, the feelings elevated, the will regulated, and those capacious powers developed which lie folded up in every breathing soul; thus to prepare the man, not only for the ordeal of this life, but also for that state of moral and intellectual perfectibility to which he is heir.
Education, considered as a science, is a subject which has occupied the attention of some of the deepest thinkers and most enlightened writers, but even such minds as Milton's and Locke's have failed to establish any principles, founded on experience, for the first development of the child's powers and the gradual improvement of his capacity. Their systems are rather founded on theory than on such careful observation and experience as can alone furnish rules of practical utility which may be easily adopted and safely followed by all concerned in the management and instruction of children during the first stages of existence.
To Rousseau is the world indebted for having first made this subject interesting to the feelings and the imagination. No one can read his treatise, Emile, ou l'Education, without feeling the original conception, the eloquent description, the bold expression of this enchanting history : from infancy to manhood he accompanies his pupil : from the base to the summit of his ideal hill does he climb: often digressing to gather wayside flowers, and pausing to draw deep draughts of pure thought, and true philosophy. But though every one may read and study his work with advantage, no one can with safety follow it as a guide : his conclusions are the workings of his own imagination, not the result of his experience ; his precepts are unsupported by, and often inconsistent with, facts; and we suspect that Emile would present but a melancholy appearance if compelled to engage in the active business of life, and to contend with this our struggling, striving, and self-interested world.
At the close of the preceding, and at the commencement of the present, century, a considerable attention has been given to the subject of early education; and several very interesting treatises on it produced, written, for the most part, in a calm and philosophic spirit. We have the works of Mrs. Hamilton, Mrs. Hannah More, and the enthusiastic Pestalozzi. But the productions which, at the time, evinced the greatest originality, and effected most for the alteration and improvement of existing methods of instruction, were presented by those amiable and enlightened coadjutors, Mr. Edgeworth and his highly-gifted daughter, who employed their talents with so much success for the amusement and instruction of the young.
But though all these, and particularly the last-named, writers have furnished us with matter for much important consideration, and with systems of education, evincing deep and patient thought, and a searching knowledge of the human heart, in one point of view they must, without doubt, be said to have failed to give rules of easy application; they offer to us the results of observations, but not the observations themselves; the inferences from facts, but not the facts; and often in cases of difficulty and doubt, when the parent hastens to consult these works for real and satisfactory information, they oblige him to trust to the indefinite conjectures of hypotheses, instead of the substantial evidence of actual experience. Free from these objections, the work of Madame Necker stands pre-eminent; we feel that we are there perusing the true and attentive observations of a judicious reader of human life; of one who has power to observe, to analyse, and to compare. Madame Necker must thoroughly have understood the ways, thoughts, feelings, and ideas of children: she gives no ideal delineation of their conduct; she builds no imaginary theory; her work is the result of long and patient examination, and of a constant attention to the wants, wishes, action, and development of the infant mind. She sets down nothing but what she has herself seen ; and we feel that she has followed with patience and success a method which she strongly recommends to others; that every parent should keep a diary of her child's progress; of his mental, moral, and physical advancement; of his daily actions; and of his first impressions; thus securing for herself a safe and unerring guide in the education of her offspring, and enabling her to realize again, at any future period, the bright and evanescent scenes of infancy, and to turn at pleasure to a memorial which will unfold to her some of the purest thoughts, the sweetest feelings, that the human heart is capable of enjoying.
“I would have it a true journal, in which an account should be kept of every successive step made by the child; where every vicissitude in its health, whether mental or physical, should be registered, and where the measure of the child, in every meaning of the word, as taken at different periods of his age, should be noted down. Words, ideas, knowledge, feelings, every thing, in short, which is either naturally unfolded in the mind, or acquired by education, should be here recorded, together with the first appearance of every endowment and every defect; the original source of which would thus be open to our consideration. And as we cannot describe a child without relating his history, such a journal would be enlivened by the little incidents of each day, and the joy and sorrows peculiar to his age ; nor would it be long before the task of keeping it would become to the mother the most interesting of employments. She would feel that she was securing to herself, for the future, the recollection of this most fascinating age; and how delightful would it be, thus to fix the fugitive image of infancy, to prolong to an indefinite period the happiness of beholding its charms, and to have the power of
reviving at any time a representation of these much loved objects, which, even supposing their lives to be spared, must be lost to us, in their cha. racter of children.”—Vol. i. p. 46. Transl.
The first and second books, which comprise the whole of the first volume of the translation, are occupied with the early stages of infancy. From the very moment of his birth, when he comes fresh from the hands of his Creator, Madame Necker commences the progressive education of the child. It is here that she feels the subject to be almost exclusively her own; and in describing the treatment, or, to speak more accurately, in defining the process of moral development which every child should be subject to, during the first year of his existence, (a period often erroneously looked upon as one when the child's mental and moral being present a mere barren waste, incapable of culture,) she speaks with all the glowing energy and deep impressiveness of one who entertains a firm conviction of the practicability and efficiency of her views, and confidently feels that the theory and principles which she is supporting, and the facts and arguments which she is advancing, are all securely built upon the firm foundations of experience and truth. This portion of the work merits particular regard, from the original and instructive nature of the remarks, and from the wise and wholesome considerations which it offers to the parent. The value of early infantine associations, we fear, is not sufficiently appreciated. Thus we find some mothers who consider children at this early age merely as animated toys, not capable of moral education. Others, whose hearts have beat high with exultation at the birth of a living child, soon, from indolence or caprice, transfer the tutelage of its early years to a servant, surrendering what a mother ought to regard as her proudest privilege ; and suffering the first germs of sympathy and love to be excited by an illiterate, and incompetent dependant. At the same time, may we be permitted to say, that we believe the simple love which a kind-hearted nurse feels for the object of her constant care is often more favourable to the development of the affections than the capricious endearments of a woman of the world, whose heart is divided between her offspring and her pleasures. Others again complacently imagine that if the physical wants of an infant are carefully provided for, and it receives a sufficient degree of affection, they have fulfilled all necessary obligations. To all such the present work affords a useful and instructive lesson. It will prove to them how limited is their knowledge of the infant mind, and of the processes which are continually going on for its development. It is while the child hangs speechless, but not unconscious, upon the mother's arm, that the first sympathies and the earliest dawnings of the future character are to be gradually unfolded; love, sympathy and imitation are the three grand movers of the infant heart; and it is a principle which cannot be too frequently remembered by the mother, that in the mind of her silent infant, “half-lying, half-sitting in its cradle, playing with its little hands," faculties are at work, sympathies are stirring, powers are employed, which call for the closest observation, the most strict attention, and most careful investigation.
“ M. Friedlander, a skilful German physician,” says Madame Necker, “was much struck when in France, by observing how much it was the custom to keep infants constantly amused. It appears to me,' says he, ‘that the French mothers are too lively with their children in early infancy, and thus excite their vivacity too much and too soon. In Germany, on the contrary, we constantly hear mothers exhorting their children to be still and quiet.' How many reflections are suggested by this simple remark? who can say what effect may not be produced on the future character by this difference of treatment? who can say that the decided preponderance of the active faculties in the one nation, and of the reflecting faculties in the other, may not be referred to this cause ?"-Vol. I. p. 76. Transl.
“ We do not in general sufficiently appreciate the great importance of the first year of infancy. We even affect to treat it with contempt, and to speak slightingly of it. Because the infant cannot understand our fine discourses, and is not capable of being regularly instructed, we conclude that it is a mere insignificant little being, requiring only to have its physical wants attended to. Becanse its life is passed in playfulness, we treat it as a plaything; everything about it seems unimportant, because everything is vague and uncertain ; but if this were not the case, if everything were fixed and immutable, our power would be at an end.”— Vol. i. p. 98. Transl.
As the child advances from his second to his fourth year, the regulations for the development of his faculties, so as not to accelerate the progress of one part of the moral constitution, and proportionally to retard that of another, are equally deserving of attention.
“A nurse," says Mr. Edgeworth, “may influence the character of a child for life.”
This is a simple but important principle, and one which Madame Necker ably carries out into all its various ramifications. She is anxious to convince her readers that the child's “almost innate faculty of imitation” at the period which we are now considering, is full of energy and activity; and to show the importance of the impressions then made on his feelings and imagination.