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No. 364 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 364
Monday, April 28, 1712. Steele.

‘[–Navibus [1]] atque

Quadrigis petimus bene vivere.’



A Lady of my Acquaintance, for whom I have too much Respect to be easy while she is doing an indiscreet Action, has given occasion to this Trouble: She is a Widow, to whom the Indulgence of a tender Husband has entrusted the Management of a very great Fortune, and a Son about sixteen, both which she is extremely fond of. The Boy has Parts of the middle Size, neither shining nor despicable, and has passed the common Exercises of his Years with tolerable Advantage; but is withal what you would call a forward Youth: By the Help of this last Qualification, which serves as a Varnish to all the rest, he is enabled to make the best Use of his Learning, and display it at full length upon all Occasions. Last Summer he distinguished himself two or three times very remarkably, by puzzling the Vicar before an Assembly of most of the Ladies in the Neighbourhood; and from such weighty Considerations as these, as it too often unfortunately falls out, the Mother is become invincibly persuaded that her Son is a great Scholar; and that to chain him down to the ordinary Methods of Education with others of his Age, would be to cramp his Faculties, and do an irreparable Injury to his wonderful Capacity.

I happened to visit at the House last Week, and missing the young Gentleman at the Tea-Table, where he seldom fails to officiate, could not upon so extraordinary a Circumstance avoid inquiring after him. My Lady told me, he was gone out with her Woman, in order to make some Preparations for their Equipage; for that she intended very speedily to carry him to travel. The Oddness of the Expression shock’d me a little; however, I soon recovered my self enough to let her know, that all I was willing to understand by it was, that she designed this Summer to shew her Son his Estate in a distant County, in which he has never yet been: But she soon took care to rob me of that agreeable Mistake, and let me into the whole Affair. She enlarged upon young Master’s prodigious Improvements, and his comprehensive Knowledge of all Book-Learning; concluding, that it was now high time he should be made acquainted with Men and Things; that she had resolved he should make the Tour of France and Italy, but could not bear to have him out of her Sight, and therefore intended to go along with him.

I was going to rally her for so extravagant a Resolution, but found my self not in fit Humour to meddle with a Subject that demanded the most soft and delicate Touch imaginable. I was afraid of dropping something that might seem to bear hard either upon the Son’s Abilities, or the Mother’s Discretion; being sensible that in both these Cases, tho’ supported with all the Powers of Reason, I should, instead of gaining her Ladyship over to my Opinion, only expose my self to her Disesteem: I therefore immediately determined to refer the whole Matter to the SPECTATOR.

When I came to reflect at Night, as my Custom is, upon the Occurrences of the Day, I could not but believe that this Humour of carrying a Boy to travel in his Mother’s Lap, and that upon pretence of learning Men and Things, is a Case of an extraordinary Nature, and carries on it a particular Stamp of Folly. I did not remember to have met with its Parallel within the Compass of my Observation, tho’ I could call to mind some not extremely unlike it. From hence my Thoughts took Occasion to ramble into the general Notion of Travelling, as it is now made a Part of Education. Nothing is more frequent than to take a Lad from Grammar and Taw, and under the Tuition of some poor Scholar, who is willing to be banished for thirty Pounds a Year, and a little Victuals, send him crying and snivelling into foreign Countries. Thus he spends his time as Children do at Puppet-Shows, and with much the same Advantage, in staring and gaping at an amazing Variety of strange things: strange indeed to one who is not prepared to comprehend the Reasons and Meaning of them; whilst he should be laying the solid Foundations of Knowledge in his Mind, and furnishing it with just Rules to direct his future Progress in Life under some skilful Master of the Art of Instruction.