Milton on education
(written about the year 1650)
The End then of Learning, is to repair the Ruins of our first Parents, by regaining to know God aright, and out of that Knowledge to love him, to imitate him,- to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our Souls of true Virtue which being united to the heavenly Grace of Faith, makes up the highest Perfection. But because our Understanding cannot in this Body found itself but on sensible Things, nor arrive so clearly to the Knowledge of God and Things invisible, as by orderly conning over the visible and inferior Creature; the same Method is necessarily to be follow'd in all discreet Teaching. And seeing every Nation affords not Experience and Tradition enough for all Kind of Learning, therefore we are chiefly taught the Languages of those People who have at any Time been most industrious after Wisdom ; so that Language is but the Instrument conveying to us Things useful to be known. And though a Linguist should pride himself to have all the Tongues that Babel cleft the World into, yet, if he have not studied the solid Things in them, as well as the Words and Lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteem'd a learned Man, as any Yeoman or Tradesman, competently wise in his Mother-Dialect only. Hence appear the many Mistakes which have made Learning generally so unpleasing and so unsuccessful ; first, we do amiss to spend seven or eight Years merely in scraping together so much miserable Latin and Greek, as might be learn'd otherwise easily and delightfully in one Year. And that which casts our Proficiency therein so much behind, is our Time lost, partly in too oft idle Vacancies given both to Schools and Universities, partly in a preposterous Exaction, forcing the empty Wits of Children to compose Themes, Verses and Orations, which are the Acts of ripest Judgment, and the final Work of a Head fill'd. by long reading and observing, with elegant Maxims, and copious Invention. These are not Matters to be wrung from poor Striplings, like Blood out of the Nose, or the plucking of untimely Fruit. Besides, the ill Habit which they get of wretched barbarizing against the Latin and Greek Idiom, with their untutor'd Anglicisms, odious to be read, yet not to be avoided without a well continu'd and judicious converting among pure Authors digested, which they scarce taste; whereas, if after some preparatory Grounds of Speech by their certain Forms got into Memory, they were led to the Praxis thereof in some chosen short Book lesson'd thoroughly to them, they might then forthwith proceed to learn the Substance of good Things, and Arts in due Order, which would bring the whole Language quickly into their Power. This I take to be the most rational and most profitable Way of learning Languages, and whereby we may best hope to give Account to God of our Youth spent herein: And for the usual Method of teaching' Arts, deem it to be an old Error of Universities not yet well recover'd from the Scholastick Grossness of barbarous Ages; that instead of beginning with Arts most easy, and those be such as are most obvious to the Sense they present their young unmatriculated Novices, at first coming, with the most intellective Abstractions of Logick and Metaphysicks: So that they having but newly left those Grammatick Flats and Shallows, where they stuck unreasonably to learn a few Words with lamentable Construction and now on the sudden transported under another Climate, to be tost, and turmoil'd with their unballasted Wits, in fathomleft and unquiet Deeps of Controversy, do for the most Part grow into Hatred and. Contempt of Learning, mock'd and deluded all this while with ragged Notions and Babblements, while they expected worthy and delightful Knowledge; till Poverty or youthful Years call them importunately their several ways, and hasten them, with the Sway of Friends, either to an ambitious and mercenary, or ignorantly zealous Divinity : Some allur'd to the Trade of Law, grounding their Purposes not on the prudent, and heavenly Contemplation of Justice and Equity, which was never taught them, but on the promising and pleasing Thoughts of litigious Terms, fat Contentions, and flowing Fees. Others betake them to State Affairs, with Souls so unprincipled in Virtue, and true generous Breeding, that Flattery and Court Shifts, and tyrannous Aphorisms, appear to them the highest Points of Wisdom; instilling their barren Hearts with a conscientious Slavery, if, as I rather think, it be not feign'd. Others, lastly, of a more delicious and airy Spirit, retire themselves, knowing no better, to the Enjoyments of Ease and Luxury, living out their Days in Feast and Jollity ; which, indeed, is the wisest and the safest Course of all these, unless they were with more Integrity undertaken. And these are the Fruits of mispending our prime Youth at the Schools and Universities, as we do, either in learning mere Words, or such Things chiefly as were better unlearn'd.