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No. 337 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 337
Thursday, March 27, 1712. Budgell.

Fingit equum tenera docilem cervice Magister,

Ire viam quam monstrat eques–


I have lately received a third Letter from the Gentleman, who has already given the Publick two Essays upon Education. As his Thoughts seem to be very just and new upon this Subject, I shall communicate them to the Reader.


If I had not been hindered by some extraordinary Business, I should have sent you sooner my further Thoughts upon Education. You may please to remember, that in my last Letter I endeavoured to give the best Reasons that could be urged in favour of a private or publick Education. Upon the whole it may perhaps be thought that I seemed rather enclined to the latter, though at the same time I confessed that Virtue, which ought to be our first and principal Care, was more usually acquired in the former.

I intend therefore, in this Letter, to offer at Methods, by which I conceive Boys might be made to improve in Virtue, as they advance in Letters.

I know that in most of our public Schools Vice is punished and discouraged whenever it is found out; but this is far from being sufficient, unless our Youth are at the same time taught to form a right Judgment of Things, and to know what is properly Virtue.

To this end, whenever they read the Lives and Actions of such Men as have been famous in their Generation, it should not be thought enough to make them barely understand so many Greek or Latin Sentences, but they should be asked their Opinion of such an Action or Saying, and obliged to give their Reasons why they take it to be good or bad. By this means they would insensibly arrive at proper Notions of Courage, Temperance, Honour and Justice.

There must be great Care taken how the Example of any particular Person is recommended to them in gross; instead of which, they ought to be taught wherein such a Man, though great in some respects, was weak and faulty in others. For want of this Caution, a Boy is often so dazzled with the Lustre of a great Character, that he confounds its Beauties with its Blemishes, and looks even upon the faulty Parts of it with an Eye of Admiration.

I have often wondered how Alexander, who was naturally of a generous and merciful Disposition, came to be guilty of so barbarous an Action as that of dragging the Governour of a Town after his Chariot. I know this is generally ascribed to his Passion for Homer; but I lately met with a Passage in Plutarch, which, if I am not very much mistaken, still gives us a clearer Light into the Motives of this Action. Plutarch tells us, that Alexander in his Youth had a Master named Lysimachus, who, tho he was a Man destitute of all Politeness, ingratiated himself both with Philip and his Pupil, and became the second Man at Court, by calling the King Peleus, the Prince Achilles, and himself Phoenix. It is no wonder if Alexander having been thus used not only to admire, but to personate Achilles, should think it glorious to imitate him in this piece of Cruelty and Extravagance.

To carry this Thought yet further, I shall submit it to your Consideration, whether instead of a Theme or Copy of Verses, which are the usual Exercises, as they are called in the School-phrase, it would not be more proper that a Boy should be tasked once or twice a Week to write down his Opinion of such Persons and Things as occur to him in his Reading; that he should descant upon the Actions of Turnus and AEneas, shew wherein they excelled or were defective, censure or approve any particular Action, observe how it might have been carried to a greater Degree of Perfection, and how it exceeded or fell short of another. He might at the same time mark what was moral in any Speech, and how far it agreed with the Character of the Person speaking. This Exercise would soon strengthen his Judgment in what is blameable or praiseworthy, and give him an early Seasoning of Morality.