'Plan of Education, for a young Prince' (part 1), from "Fog's Weekly Journal", No. 195
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The following Essay is written by the Author of the Travels of Cyrus, and has never yet been made Publick. – It has been put into our Hands by the Author's Consent, and we flatter ourselves, it will prove no disagreeable Entertainment to the Publick.
PLAN of EDUCATION, for a young Prince.
IN the present State of human Nature, all our Faculties are weakened and obscur'd, our Understanding is over-clouded with Ignorance and Error, our Imagination clogg'd with gross and groveling Ideas, our Will biass'd by strong and turbulent Passions. True Education is the Art of curing these Diseases of the Mind, so as to restore in some Degree our decay'd Faculties to their primitive Vigour. 'Tis then that the Understanding discovers great and Noble Truths, that the Imagination Paints them forth in a Thousand agreeable Shapes, that the Heart attaches itself to them, and becomes amiable in loving them. Thus we reinstall in their different Functions the Philosopher, the Painter and the Lover, of which our Spiritual Nature seems to be composed. The principal End then of all Publick and Private Instruction should be to strengthen the Judgement, to wing the Fancy, and to purify the Heart.
I. Of the Understanding.
The Custom of Publick Schools has prevail'd so much, and succeeded so well, that it were imprudent and even dangerous to attack the Methods there us'd of employing the first Years of our tender Age in acquiring Languages. The Wisdom of the Ancients is no doubt best Learned, when they are read in their own Tongue, and all Translations serve only to degrade them. An exact Knowledge of Greek and Latin are therefore the Foundations of all true Learning. But since youthful Minds are capable very early of Reason and Comparison, I believe, that to neglect the Improvement of the Understanding, in order to cultivate the Imagination and Memory, is to lay the Foundations of a false and superficial Knowledge. Hence it is that Men of polite Learning only, are seldom Men of a profound Genius. They can unriddle the Grammatical Intricacies of Pindar and Persius, yea perhaps show with Elegance and Taste the different Beauties of Homer and Virgil; but then they have no Relish of Truth, they can neither rise up to first Principles, nor descend to Consequences, nor pursue a continued Chain of Ideas, thro' all its various Links and Windings.
I humbly therefore conceive, that it is a very great Fault, not to awaken early the Activities of the Mind in Children, in order to strengthen their intellectual Powers. The following Plan is what I would propose for the Education of a Prince, who may one Day govern a Nation whose Genius is equally proper for Learning and War, and who loves a King that can direct its Councils by his Wisdom as well as defend its Interest by his Courage.
After a tolerable Knowledge of Greek and Latin, 'tis fit to begin with the Study of Mathematicks, because these Sciences habituate the Understanding by Degrees to Penetration, Depth, and Attention, which enable it at length to reason closely, clearly, and strongly upon every thing that becomes an Object of its Reflection. The first five Books of Euclid's Elements are the best Foundations of all Mathematical Learning. The Ancients had a wonderful Knowledge of human Nature, they saw the Extent and Bounds of our Understanding, the gradual and slow Steps that were to be made at first in these abstracted Sciences, till the Mind accustom'd to a Train of successive Reasonings begin to enlarge its Faculties, extend its Views, and accelerate its Pace. After that the Pupil has laid in a sufficient Stock of Geometrical Principles, the Tutor should proceed to give him some Taste of Algebra, Fluxions and the Doctrine of Curves. Great Care however is to be taken not to perplex and exhaust the Force of youthful Minds by those nice and quaint Speculations, because if Caution be not us'd they are as dangerous in Mathematicks as the Refinements of the Schoolmen were in Philosophy. So soon, therefore, as the young Prince is sufficiently initiated into these Misteries of the sublimer Geometry, he must be taught to apply all to the Knowledge of Nature and its Operations.
The skilful Tutor must begin by showing his Pupil the wise Institution of the first Laws of Motion, how they are the voluntary Establishments of an Intelligent Cause, and not the necessary Effects of a blind Force. He may then proceed to a general Survey of the Principal Secrets and beautiful Discoveries of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, wander over our Globe with Pleasure, and discover the Causes of the great Phenomena that appear on the Earth, in the Air, and among the celestial Bodies. Here the Mind begins to taste the Fruits of all its laborious, abstracted Speculations, and to perceive how the sublimer Geometry contributes to explain the celestial and terrestrial Appearances according to the Principles of the great Sir Isaac Newton. These Principles may be reduc'd to a few Propositions, all the rest are but fine Silk-webs spun from the prolifick Brain of that surprizing Genius, or perhaps Defects of Method, Perspicuity and Elegance, which the most Part of profound Men seldom or never apply themselves to.
To prevent the Mind's being absorpt in these Speculations, and to detach it from an over-weaning Opinion of its own Abilities, the following Principles are to be taught. 1. That the Creation is but an Image or Picture of the divine Perfections, and therefore bears a Character of his Infinity and Immensity. That this small Part of it which we inhabit is but a Point in Comparison of the Solar System; that the Solar System is but a Point in Comparison of the vast Spaces discover'd in the Regions of the fixt Stars; that these superior Regions themselves are but a Point in Comparison of the innumerable Worlds that lye perhaps hid in the Bosom of Immensity. 2. That in this Point which we inhabit, we know only some superficial Qualities and Properties of Nature in so far as is necessary for our present State, Conduct and Uses. That, as Sir Isaac Newton said, all the Discoveries Mortals can make are like those of a Child upon the Borders of the Sea, that has only crack'd some Pebbles and open'd some Shells to see what is in them, while there lies beyond him a boundless Ocean of which he has no Idea: That we can never be true Philosophers till we see the Author of Nature Face to Face, compare the Pictures with their Original, and know by direct Intuition their mutual Relations and Resemblances, all which are the Privileges only of pure Intelligences disengag'd from Matter 3. That the Cause of Attraction and all the other wonderful Phenomena of Nature depend upon the Action of an ethereal Fluid that pervades all Things: That as the infinite Spirit, present every where, acts upon all intelligent Natures, and gives them at once both Being and Well-being, so this ethereal Fluid is like the Sensorium of the Deity, by which he acts upon all material Beings as our Body is the Medium by which our Soul acts on all Objects that surround us. This seems to be the true Meaning of the Orientals, the Egyptians and Pythagoricians, when they consider'd the Divinity as the Soul of the World, and this ethereal Fluid, purer than Light itself, as the Body of God.
By these great Ideas the Mind will be elevated and dilated, and at the same Time preserv'd from that little Vanity which puffs up vulgar Souls. It will despise all these imaginary, dark and impious Systems that tend to explain Nature by blind mechanical Springs, without the continual Influence and Action of a sovereign intelligent Cause: And in fine, it will look upon this Ball of Clay as a Prison, conceive a noble Indifference for Life, be inspir'd with high Thoughts of Immortality, and chearfully submit to the Decrees of Heaven when Death comes to disingage us from the Entanglements of Matter and Sense.
II. Of Imagination
While the Reason is thus cultivated and improv'd, the Sciences that depend upon Imagination ought not to be neglected. The pleasing Images of Poetry, the agreeable Fictions of Mythology, the pathetick Discourses of Eloquence, serve to amuse youthful Minds, enliven their Fancy, and to polish the Taste. In reading with them Homer and Virgil, Sophocles and Terence, Demosthenes and Cicero, Anacreon and Horace, they should be taught the masculine Strokes and the finer Shades of the Grecian and Roman Paintings, the different Genius and Ornaments of Prose and Verse, the Nature, Rules and various Characters of Epick, Dramatick, and Lyrick Compositions. By all these the Pupil will learn, that the true Foundations of Style are strong Thoughts, noble Sentiments and lucid Order; that no Images are to be allow'd but what are natural, and proper to each Subject; that all false Delicacies, affected Antitheses, Epigrammick Points, and Italian Conceits, are to be avoided in the true Sublime. He must first Think, then Feel, and Words will naturally follow.
The Studies, however, of Poetry, Mythology, and Antiquity, must be carry'd much higher than what is done ordinarily in the Schools. In reading the Poets and Classical Authors, the Prince must be taught to discover in them the great Principles of Theology and Morality, that are oft hid under the Allegories and Fictions of the Ancients, according to the Principles of Pythagorean and Platonick Philosophy, which are as follows. 1. That the supreme and eternal Mind has produc'd numberless Orders of intelligent Natures which replenish all the boundless Regions of Immensity: That Moral and Physical Evil can't be the first Production of the sovereign Good; that therefore all Beings were at first created in a State of Purity and Happiness, which is call'd by the Orientals, the Egyptians, and Greeks, the Reign of Oromosis, Osiris, and Saturn, or the Golden Age. 2. That a certain Portion of these Spirits fell from their Original Purity, and were condemn'd to inhabit mortal Bodies, the Frame of Nature was alter'd in the little Orb which they inhabit, and they were subjected to Physical Evil and Sufferings to punish and purify them from their moral Corruption. This State is call'd by the Ancients the Reign of Arimanius, Typhon, and the Iron Age. 3. That at length these degenerate Beings will be restor'd to their primitive Perfection and Happiness, call'd the Restoration of the Golden Age, and the Reign of Astrea
Upon these great Ideas depend all the Fictions of Mythology, and prepare the Mind to relish the nobler and sublimer Doctrines of Christianity. Can any one observe the profound Genius discover'd in the Ancients, the Sublimity of their Geometers, the Sagacity of their Historians, the noble Morality found in their Philosophers, and imagine they understood, in a literal Sense, all they say of their Gods and Goddesses? The present Contempt of reveal'd Religion comes for the most Part from confounding the pure, genuine, original Doctrines with the vain Speculations and Glosses of the Schoolmen. As the Heathen Poets and Philosophers degenerated by Degrees from the true Theology, so have the Christian Divines of all Communions departed in many Things from the true Spirit of Religion.
III. Of the Heart.
While the Understanding and the Imagination are thus strengthen'd and polish'd by a due Mixture of philosophical and classical Learning, the Morals are to be perfected, and such Sciences taught as give us a true Knowledge of God, of ourselves, and our Fellow-Creatures. 1. The Study of Nature, and all the Marks of infinite Power, Wisdom, and Goodness diffus'd thro' the Universe, give us a great Idea of its Author. By these we discover, according to the Expression of the Ancients, the infinite Skill of the first and sovereign Geometer, who created and dispos'd all Things with Order, Measure, and Proportion. This is the Use that is to be made of Mathematicks and Natural Philosophy.
[The Remainder of this in our next.]
This document is part of
'Memoir of Newton sent by Conduitt to Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle for use in the latter's Eloge de Monsieur le Chevalier Newton (Paris, 1728), with drafts, and the correspondence between Conduitt and Fontenelle relating to the Eloge.'
- The previous part of this document is Letter reacting to Newton's death, from "Mist's Weekly Journal", No. 103