The Pleasures of Life
By Sir John Lubbock

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    “No pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the
    vantage ground of truth."–BACON.

                   “Divine Philosophy!
    Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose,
    But musical as is Apollo’s lute,
    And a perpetual feast of nectar’d sweets
    Where no crude surfeit reigns."–MILTON.

It may seem rather surprising to include education among the pleasures of life; for in too many cases it is made odious to the young, and is supposed to cease with school; while, on the contrary, if it is to be really successful it must be suitable, and therefore interesting, to children, and must last through life. The very process of acquiring knowledge is a privilege and a blessing. It used to be said that there was no royal road to learning; it would be more true to say that the avenues leading to it are all royal.

“It is not,” says Jeremy Taylor, “the eye that sees the beauties of heaven, nor the ear that hears the sweetness of music, or the glad tidings of a prosperous accident; but the soul that perceives all the relishes of sensual and intellectual perceptions: and the more noble and excellent the soul is, the greater and more savory are its perceptions. And if a child behold the rich ermine, or the diamonds of a starry night, or the order of the world, or hears the discourses of an apostle; because he makes no reflex act on himself and sees not what he sees, he can have but the pleasure of a fool or the deliciousness of a mule.”

Herein lies the importance of education. I say education rather than instruction, because it is far more important to cultivate the mind than to store the memory. Studies are a means and not an end. “To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules is the humor of a scholar: they perfect nature, and are perfected by experience.... Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them.” [1]

Moreover, though, as Mill says, “in the comparatively early state of human development in which we now live, a person cannot indeed feel that entireness of sympathy with all others which would make any real discordance in the general direction of their conduct in life impossible," yet education might surely do more to root in us the feeling of unity with our fellow-creatures. At any rate, if we do not study in this spirit, all our learning will but leave us as weak and sad as Faust.

  “I’ve now, alas! Philosophy,
     Medicine and Jurisprudence too,
   And to my cost Theology,
     With ardent labor studied through,
   And here I stand, with all my lore
     Poor fool, no wiser than before.” [2]

Our studies should be neither “a couch on which to rest; nor a cloister in which to promenade alone; nor a tower from which to look down on others; nor a fortress whence we may resist them; nor a workshop for gain and merchandise; but a rich armory and treasury for the glory of the creator and the ennoblement of life.” [3]

For in the noble words of Epictetus, “you will do the greatest service to the state if you shall raise, not the roofs of the houses, but the souls of the citizens: for it is better that great souls should dwell in small houses rather than for mean slaves to lurk in great houses.”

It is then of great importance to consider whether our present system of education is the one best calculated to fulfil these great objects. Does it really give that love of learning which is better than learning itself? Does all the study of the classics to which our sons devote so many years give any just appreciation of them; or do they not on leaving college too often feel with Byron–

    “Then farewell, Horace; whom I hated so!”

Too much concentration on any one subject is a great mistake, especially in early life. Nature herself indicates the true system, if we would but listen to her. Our instincts are good guides, though not infallible, and children will profit little by lessons which do not interest them. In cheerfulness, says Pliny, is the success of our studies–"studia hilaritate proveniunt"–and we may with advantage take a lesson from Theognis, who, in his Ode on the Marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia, makes the Muses sing:

  “What is good and fair,
  Shall ever be our care;
    Thus the burden of it rang,
  That shall never be our care,
  Which is neither good nor fair.
    Such were the words your lips immortal sang.”

There are some who seem to think that our educational system is as good as possible, and that the only remaining points of importance are the number of schools and scholars, the question of fees, the relation of voluntary and board schools, etc. “No doubt,” says Mr. Symonds, in his Sketches in Italy and Greece, “there are many who think that when we not only advocate education but discuss the best system we are simply beating the air; that our population is as happy and cultivated as can be, and that no substantial advance is really possible. Mr. Galton, however, has expressed the opinion, and most of those who have written on the social condition of Athens seem to agree with him, that the population of Athens, taken as a whole, was as superior to us as we are to Australian savages.”

That there is, indeed, some truth in this, probably no student of Greek history will deny. Why, then, should this be so? I cannot but think that our system of education is partly responsible.

Manual and science teaching need not in any way interfere with instruction in other subjects. Though so much has been said about the importance of science and the value of technical instruction, or of hand-training, as I should prefer to call it, it is unfortunately true that in our system of education, from the highest schools downward, both of them are sadly neglected, and the study of language reigns supreme.

This is no new complaint. Ascham, in The Schoolmaster, long ago lamented it; Milton, in his letter to Mr. Samuel Hartlib, complained “that our children are forced to stick unreasonably in these grammatick flats and shallows;” and observes that, “though a linguist should pride himself to have all the tongues 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 esteemed a learned man as any yeoman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only;” and Locke said that “schools fit us for the university rather than for the world." Commission after commission, committee after committee, have reiterated the same complaint. How then do we stand now?

I see it indeed constantly stated that, even if the improvement is not so rapid as could be desired, still we are making considerable progress. But is this so? I fear not. I fear that our present system does not really train the mind, or cultivate the power of observation, or even give the amount of information which we may reasonably expect from the time devoted to it.

Sir M. E. Grant-Duff has expressed the opinion that a boy or girl of fourteen might reasonably be expected to “read aloud clearly and agreeably, to write a large distinct round hand, and to know the ordinary rules of arithmetic, especially compound addition–a by no means universal accomplishment; to speak and write French with ease and correctness, and have some slight acquaintance with French literature; to translate ad aperturam libri from an ordinary French or German book; to have a thoroughly good elementary knowledge of geography, under which are comprehended some notions of astronomy–enough to excite his curiosity; a knowledge of the very broadest facts of geology and history–enough to make him understand, in a clear but perfectly general way, how the larger features of the world he lives in, physical and political, came to be like what they are; to have been trained from earliest infancy to use his powers of observation on plants, or animals, or rocks, or other natural objects; and to have gathered a general acquaintance with what is most supremely good in that portion of the more important English classics which is suitable to his time of life; to have some rudimentary acquaintance with drawing and music.”

To effect this, no doubt, “industry must be our oracle, and reason our Apollo,” as Sir T. Browne says; but surely it is no unreasonable estimate; yet how far do we fall short of it? General culture is often deprecated because it is said that smatterings are useless. But there is all the difference in the world between having a smattering of, or being well grounded in, a subject. It is the latter which we advocate–to try to know, as Lord Brougham well said, “everything of something, and something of everything.”

“It can hardly,” says Sir John Herschel, “be pressed forcibly enough on the attention of the student of nature, that there is scarcely any natural phenomenon which can be fully and completely explained, in all its circumstances, without a union of several, perhaps of all, the sciences.”

The present system in most of our public schools and colleges sacrifices everything else to classics and arithmetic. They are most important subjects, but ought not to exclude science and modern languages. Moreover, after all, our sons leave college unable to speak either Latin or Greek, and too often absolutely without any interest in classical history or literature. But the boy who has been educated without any training in science has grave reason to complain of “knowledge to one entrance quite shut out.”

By concentrating the attention, indeed, so much on one or two subjects, we defeat our own object, and produce a feeling of distaste where we wish to create an interest.

Our great mistake in education is, as it seems to me, the worship of book-learning–the confusion of instruction and education. We strain the memory instead of cultivating the mind. The children in our elementary schools are wearied by the mechanical act of writing, and the interminable intricacies of spelling; they are oppressed by columns of dates, by lists of kings and places, which convey no definite idea to their minds, and have no near relation to their daily wants and occupations; while in our public schools the same unfortunate results are produced by the weary monotony of Latin and Greek grammar. We ought to follow exactly the opposite course with children–to give them a wholesome variety of mental food, and endeavor to cultivate their tastes, rather than to fill their minds with dry facts. The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn. What does it matter if the pupil know a little more or a little less? A boy who leaves school knowing much, but hating his lessons, will soon have forgotten almost all he ever learned; while another who had acquired a thirst for knowledge, even if he had learned little, would soon teach himself more than the first ever knew. Children are by nature eager for information. They are always putting questions. This ought to be encouraged. In fact, we may to a great extent trust to their instincts, and in that case they will do much to educate themselves. Too often, however, the acquirement of knowledge is placed before them in a form so irksome and fatiguing that all desire for information is choked, or even crushed out; so that our schools, in fact, become places for the discouragement of learning, and thus produce the very opposite effect from that at which we aim. In short, children should be trained to observe and to think, for in that way there would be opened out to them a source of the purest enjoyment for leisure hours, and the wisest judgment in the work of life.

Another point in which I venture to think that our system of education might be amended, is that it tends at present to give the impression that everything is known.

Dr. Busby is said to have kept his hat on in the presence of King Charles, that the boys might see what a great man he was. I doubt, however, whether the boys were deceived by the hat; and am very skeptical about Dr. Busby’s theory of education.

Master John of Basingstoke, who was Archdeacon of Leicester in 1252, learned Greek during a visit to Athens, from Constantina, daughter of the Archbishop of Athens, and used to say afterwards that though he had studied well and diligently at the University of Paris, yet he learned more from an Athenian maiden of twenty. We cannot all study so pleasantly as this, but the main fault I find with Dr. Busby’s system is that it keeps out of sight the great fact of human ignorance.

Boys are given the impression that the masters know everything. If, on the contrary, the great lesson impressed on them was that what we know is as nothing to what we do not know, that the “great ocean of truth lies all undiscovered before us,” surely this would prove a great stimulus, and many would be nobly anxious to enlarge the boundaries of human knowledge, and extend the intellectual kingdom of man. Philosophy, says Aristotle, begins in wonder, for Iris is the child of Thaumas.

Education ought not to cease when we leave school; but if well begun there, will continue through life.

Moreover, whatever our occupation or profession in life may be, it is most desirable to create for ourselves some other special interest. In the choice of a subject every one should consult his own instincts and interests, I will not attempt to suggest whether it is better to pursue art or science; whether we should study the motes in the sunbeam, or the heavenly bodies themselves. Whatever may be the subject of our choice, we shall find enough, and more than enough, to repay the devotion of a lifetime. Life no doubt is paved with enjoyments, but we must all expect times of anxiety, of suffering, and of sorrow; and when these come it is an inestimable comfort to have some deep interest which will, at any rate to some extent, enable us to escape from ourselves.

“A cultivated mind,” says Mill–"I do not mean that of a philosopher, but any mind to which the fountains of knowledge have been opened, and which has been taught in any tolerable degree to exercise its faculties–will find sources of inexhaustible interest in all that surrounds it; in the objects of nature, the achievements of art, the imaginations of poetry, the incidents of history, the ways of mankind, past and present, and their prospects in the future. It is possible, indeed, to become indifferent to all this, and that too without having exhausted a thousandth part of it; but only when one has had from the beginning no moral or human interest in these things, and has sought in them only the gratification of curiosity.”

I have been subjected to some good-natured banter for having said that I looked forward to a time when our artisans and mechanics would be great readers. But it is surely not unreasonable to regard our social condition as susceptible of great improvement. The spread of schools, the cheapness of books, the establishment of free libraries will, it may be hoped, exercise a civilizing and ennobling influence. They will even, I believe, do much to diminish poverty and suffering, so much of which is due to ignorance and to the want of interest and brightness in uneducated life. So far as our elementary schools are concerned, there is no doubt much difficulty in apportioning the National Grant without unduly stimulating mere mechanical instruction. But this is not the place to discuss the subject of religious or moral training, or the system of apportioning the grant.

If we succeed in giving the love of learning, the learning itself is sure to follow.

We should therefore endeavor to educate our children so that every country walk may be a pleasure; that the discoveries of science may be a living interest; that our national history and poetry may be sources of legitimate pride and rational enjoyment. In short, our schools, if they are to be worthy of the name–if they are to fulfil their high function–must be something more than mere places of dry study; they must train the children educated in them so that they may be able to appreciate and enjoy those intellectual gifts which might be, and ought to be, a source of interest and of happiness, alike to the high and to the low, to the rich and to the poor.

A wise system of education will at least teach us how little man yet knows, how much he has still to learn; it will enable us to realize that those who complain of the tiresome monotony of life have only themselves to blame; and that knowledge is pleasure as well as power. It will lead us all to try with Milton “to behold the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of study,” and to feel with Bacon that “no pleasure is comparable is the standing upon the vantage ground of truth.”

We should then indeed realize in part, for as yet we cannot do so fully, the “sacred trusts of health, strength, and time,” and how thankful we ought to be for the inestimable gift of life.

[1] Bacon.

[2] Goethe.

[3] Bacon.




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