Immagini della pagina


the studies which are most necessary for him, so we, each of us, when awakened to earnest views of the purposes of our existence, must feel that certain subjects, bearing on human life and conduct, are so important as to leave us no room to hesitate about first turning our attention to them.


One great division then presents itself to facilitate our choice of subjects for study: namely, that of essentials and non-essentials; those which are too important to be neglected without serious loss, and those which, however valuable in themselves, are open to free choice.

First, in the class of essentials, is the study of Scripture, of its evidences, and of its bearing upon the conduct of life; but as we shall return to this subject,* we prefer leaving it to be considered till then; next in order of importance, come those subjects, a slight acquaintance with which we have already enumerated, as essential to the due cultivation of reason. We have before deprecated the fears with which the mention of mathematics, logic, and philosophy, as studies for women, might be received by many, and explained how slight is the course of either, necessary to attain the purpose for which we recommended them. We only desire the young student to tread on the outskirts of those vast regions, which to explore, is the labour of a lifetime. Such labour must be a matter of choice; free, indeed, to all who have power or means to undertake it, whether man or woman; but we speak here only of what is necessary.

The study of mathematics can be considered in that light, only so far as it assists to train the reason; but we cannot dismiss the subject, without remarking how, in these days of vast scientific progress, it also commends itself to our attention as the key to the knowledge of other sciences, as that without which it is almost impossible to have any comprehension of some of the most sublime subjects that have ever occupied the mind of man. It argues surely a strange indifference to great things, if, while day by day the magnificent results of science are unfolding around us, they awaken no desire to know something of the means employed to attain them; to be able to trace, however feebly, and from afar, the path of discovery, that path along which the spirit of our fellow-man has sprung through unknown regions of the universe, in search of treasure more precious than gold, richer,— even as the common herd count riches,—than the mines of Peru, or the pearl caves of Indian seas.

Acquaintance with the first principles, at least, of mathematics is an indispensable preparation for this knowledge; but this

Chap. xiv., on Religion.

See Chap. ix., sec. 5.


degree of preparation presents little serious difficulty, and what is of still more consequence to women, it requires but little assistance. The first books of Euclid, some acquaintance with plane and spherical trigonometry, and sufficient algebra to understand its application to geometry, and the use of its formulæ in other sciences, will be enough to answer generally the purpose in view; and thanks to the cheap and excellent elementary works now within every one's reach, such a degree of knowledge may be acquired, with little help, by any person of ordinary capacity.

The study of mental and moral philosophy has also a use, beyond that of training the mind to certain modes of reasoning, which requires to be considered here. But, before entering into this examination, it may be well to state, even more explicitly than we have done in our former chapter, what is the exact nature of the study we propose; lest objections should gather strength from our silence, and array against us the full force of the prejudices which have made the very name of mental philosophy a by-word among many in this country.

The subtle and fruitless inquiries in which metaphysical genius generally spent itself in former ages, and in which it too often delights even now, where such pursuits are more cultivated than they are in England, have no doubt given rise in great measure to the prejudice, which, blindly involving all examination of mental phenomena, has produced no small evil among us; but the study we propose to our readers is as remote from such subtleties as the modern researches of physical science from the labours of the alchemist. The difference is easily explained. Mental philosophy admits of a distinct division into abstract and practical, the former treating of purely metaphysical points, and leading to speculations full of interest, indeed, but not essential to the ordinary student; the other, relating to the study of actual phenomena, of laws and facts as certain and as positive as those which we discover in the physical universe, and established upon the same kind of evidence, i.e., observation and induction. The latter is the study here recommended,—a mental physiology, if we may be allowed to use the term,- —a practical examination of our mental constitution, in order to learn how its various powers may best be applied to the great purposes of existence. To borrow Dr. Brown's words in his opening lecture, it is "that practical science which relates to the duties, the hopes, and the great destiny of man, and which even in analysing the powers of his understanding, and tracing all the various modifications of which it is individually susceptible, views it chiefly as a general instrument of good, an instrument by which he may have the dignity of co-operating with his beneficent Creator, by spreading



to others the knowledge, and virtue, and happiness which he is qualified at once to enjoy and to diffuse."

It is evident that none of the blame lavished justly or unjustly on abstract metaphysics, can deservedly fall on such a study as this. We may now, then, proceed to examine more particularly what makes it essential to all, apart from its affording an admirable training for the reason.


The most convincing evidences of natural religion are disclosed to us in the examination of our mental constitution. We can even better believe that this wonderful universe, with its myriads of stars and its countless forms of beauty, is the work of blind chance, than that this strange world of thought and feeling within, sprang not from an intelligent cause, and tends not to a definite purpose. In that constitution also, the supremacy of conscience, the superiority of spiritual to physical objects, and the tendency of our higher faculties towards some future state of existence, are found inscribed in living characters; and thus every low and uncertain system of morality, every impure and degrading form of religion, finds its natural refutation in the study of the laws impressed on our very being by Him who gave it; while Christianity, adding sanction to those laws, and developing their meaning, derives from them the strongest evidence on which it claims our reverence, and demands our assent. Every other form of religion that has appeared among men, has stood more or less in opposition with that natural constitution, has violated some of its laws, or trampled on some of the feelings which spring from it; even Christianity, in some corrupted forms, has too often done the same; but the religion of Christ, free from the chains of superstition, is found to be in harmony with every manifestation of God's will as declared in his works, sanctioning every natural law, cherishing every natural feeling. The more we study the subject, the more apparent does this become; and, as we contemplate this harmony, the truth of Christianity comes home to our hearts with a force which no other evidence can equal.*


The grounds on which this study next claims our attention are these:-That the duty of self-training necessarily implies the duty of inquiring into those powers and dispositions of the mind which require to be trained. As soon as we become sensible of certain great aims to which our earthly existence tends, and of the duty of ordering that existence systematically towards their attainment, we naturally perceive the necessity of studying the materials we have to work with, and the mode of acting upon

*See Chap. xiv.


them. So, in these pages, when urging the obligation of selftraining, we were forced, in order to make our meaning clear, to give some slight sketch of the various faculties whose cultivation constitutes that training. It is, in a word, impossible to sever mental and moral philosophy from education, whether we consider the latter with respect to ourselves or others; since they are minds which we desire to influence, knowledge of the laws of mind must be an essential condition of success. Every effort made to rouse and to elevate human aims and energies, must be founded on this knowledge. The preacher, reproving the vices, and exciting the hopes of man, appeals to these principles; founded on them, the orator's burning words find their way to the heart, stirring or swaying the fierce passions of the multitude; on them the legislator grounds his endeavours to ameliorate the condition of mankind; to them the historian refers, to find the key to the revolutions of empires, to the progress and decay of nations; while the poet and the painter, in every exertion of their art to excite emotion or kindle imagination, appeal to them, no less than the philosopher in his deepest speculation on the laws of Providence or the nature of society.


But to none is this knowledge more indispensable than to mothers in the education of their children; and it is this consideration which makes it so imperatively necessary to women. Poets, orators, and philosophers sway certain portions of mankind, and in a certain limited manner; but the early training of the whole human race rests in the hands of women.

The infant mind, blind, unconscious, apparently blank as it is, yet holds the germ of all which makes the mind of man almost divine in its glorious energies; all that may be great, rendering its possessor the willing instrument of his Creator's schemes of wisdom and benevolence; all that may be dark and evil, spreading misery and vice, lies sleeping in the unconscious soul of the child, whose whole world is now comprised within its mother's loving arms. And to that mother does it belong to watch the unfolding of each propensity, to nurture or repress, to eradicate or to train the seeds of good or evil. How, then, is she fitted for such a task, if the whole history of the human mind, its secret springs and sources of action, its constitution and laws, be unknown to her? In any other undertaking, how unpardonable would be considered the rash folly that should ignorantly assume a task of such magnitude? A man who would engage in farming without any knowledge of agriculture, or practise medicine though ignorant of chemistry or anatomy, would be at once scouted as a quack, and the contempt of society would embitter his failure and ruin; but the health of the soul is fearlessly


trusted to those who have not given a moment's thought to the conditions upon which that health depends; who are ignorant of all its functions, and unable to distinguish the symptoms of weakness or disease from those of strength and future beauty. The soil in which the hand of the Almighty has scattered seed which shall bear fruits to eternity, is ruthlessly given up to the rash experiments of the meddling and presumptuous, or to the ignorant neglect of the careless. And this ignorance appears the more criminal when we reflect, that the task the mother is unfit for cannot be taken out of her hands and trusted to another more able to perform it; for wise or foolish, learned or unlearned, anxious or careless, the mother must still educate her child; others may teach it, but the first development of character and feeling, of thought and reason, the first unfolding of the spiritual being must be influenced by her. Can she, then, without blame, neglect that study which alone can teach her to discern those early indications amongst which her work lies, to foresee youth's stormy passion in childish ebullitions of wrath or feeling, which in themselves scarce deserve notice; to foster the germ of good dispositions, which may grow in strength till they become a fit bulwark against the temptations of after life; to discern the nascent powers of the mind, and give to them the impulse and direction which shall still be theirs in the hour of their glorious prime?


The low estimate of education so commonly made, the mistaken notions so prevalent concerning its office and extent, no doubt are in great measure the cause of the ignorance of those who undertake it. As we have before remarked, the surest way to unfit ourselves for any position, is to undervalue its importance. It is impossible to doubt that women, whose moral perceptions are very quick, and who are so engrossed with the feelings which belong to the maternal office, would also labour assiduously to fit themselves to undertake its duties, if they felt the difficulties which make preparation necessary; but the subject of early education being one with which all are in some measure familiar, because the circumstances of natural position oblige them all to meddle with it, it has suffered the contempt of familiarity, and has not been deemed worth that degree of preparation which is afforded to the most trivial of professional employments. The ignorance which has prevailed in consequence, must have produced worse effects even than we actually behold, but for the silent influence of moral purity and affection which will ofttimes win the heart, and fill it with holy associations, in spite of weakness, and frivolity, and error! But how frail such a shield may prove, we too often see in the

« IndietroContinua »