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No. 157 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 157

Thursday, August 30, 1711.

‘… Genius natale comes qui temperat astrum
Naturae Deus humanae Mortalis in unum
Quodque Caput …’


I am very much at a loss to express by any Word that occurs to me in our Language that which is understood by Indoles in Latin. The natural Disposition to any Particular Art, Science, Profession, or Trade, is very much to be consulted in the Care of Youth, and studied by Men for their own Conduct when they form to themselves any Scheme of Life. It is wonderfully hard indeed for a Man to judge of his own Capacity impartially; that may look great to me which may appear little to another, and I may be carried by Fondness towards my self so far, as to attempt Things too high for my Talents and Accomplishments: But it is not methinks so very difficult a Matter to make a Judgment of the Abilities of others, especially of those who are in their Infancy. My Commonplace Book directs me on this Occasion to mention the Dawning of Greatness in Alexander, who being asked in his Youth to contend for a Prize in the Olympick Games, answered he would, if he had Kings to run against him. Cassius, who was one of the Conspirators against Caesar, gave as great a Proof of his Temper, when in his Childhood he struck a Play-fellow, the Son of Sylla, for saying his Father was Master of the Roman People. Scipio is reported to have answered, (when some Flatterers at Supper were asking him what the Romans should do for a General after his Death) Take Marius. Marius was then a very Boy, and had given no Instances of his Valour; but it was visible to Scipio from the Manners of the Youth, that he had a Soul formed for the Attempt and Execution of great Undertakings. I must confess I have very often with much Sorrow bewailed the Misfortune of the Children of Great Britain, when I consider the Ignorance and Undiscerning of the Generality of Schoolmasters. The boasted Liberty we talk of is but a mean Reward for the long Servitude, the many Heart-aches and Terrors, to which our Childhood is exposed in going through a Grammar-School: Many of these stupid Tyrants exercise their Cruelty without any manner of Distinction of the Capacities of Children, or the Intention of Parents in their Behalf. There are many excellent Tempers which are worthy to be nourished and cultivated with all possible Diligence and Care, that were never designed to be acquainted with Aristotle, Tully, or Virgil; and there are as many who have Capacities for understanding every Word those great Persons have writ, and yet were not born to have any Relish of their Writings. For want of this common and obvious discerning in those who have the Care of Youth, we have so many hundred unaccountable Creatures every Age whipped up into great Scholars, that are for ever near a right Understanding, and will never arrive at it. These are the Scandal of Letters, and these are generally the Men who are to teach others. The Sense of Shame and Honour is enough to keep the World itself in Order without Corporal Punishment, much more to train the Minds of uncorrupted and innocent Children. It happens, I doubt not, more than once in a Year, that a Lad is chastised for a Blockhead, when it is good Apprehension that makes him incapable of knowing what his Teacher means: A brisk Imagination very often may suggest an Error, which a Lad could not have fallen into, if he had been as heavy in conjecturing as his Master in explaining: But there is no Mercy even towards a wrong Interpretation of his Meaning, the Sufferings of the Scholar’s Body are to rectify the Mistakes of his Mind.