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The common Arts of Reading and Writing. The next thing that I shall mention as a matter of instruction for children, is the common arts of reading, spelling, and writing.
Writing is almost a divine art, whereby thoughts may be communicated without a voice, and understood without hearing: to these I would add some small knowledge of arithmetic or accounts, as the practice of it is in a manner so universal in our age, that it does almost necessarily belong to a tolerable education.
The knowledge of letters is one of the greatest blessings that ever God bestowed on the children of men: by this means mankind are enabled to preserve the memory of things done in their own times, and to lay up a rich treasure of knowledge for all succeeding generations.
By the art of reading we learn a thousand things which our eyes can never see, and which our own thoughts would never have reached to: we are instructed by books in the wisdom of ancient ages; we learn what our ancestors have said and done, and enjoy the benefit of the wise and judicious remarks which they have made through their whole course of life, without the fatigue of their long and painful experiments. By this means children may be led, in a great measure, into the wisdom of old age. It is by the art of reading that we can sit at home, and acquaint ourselves with what has been done in the distant parts of the world. The histories and the customs of all ages and all nations are brought, as it were, to our doors. By this art we are let into the knowledge of the affairs of the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans, their wars, their laws, and their religion ; and we can tell what they did in the nations of Europe, Asia, and Africa, above a thousand years ago.
But the greatest blessing that we derive from reading, is the knowledge of the holy scriptures, wherein God has conveyed down to us the discoveries of his wisdom, power,
and grace, through many past ages; and whereby we attain the knowledge of Christ, and of the way of salvation by a Mediator.
It must be confessed, that, in former ages, before printing was invented, the art of reading was not so common even in polite nations, because books were much more costly, since they must be all written with a pen, and were therefore hardly to be obtained by the bulk of mankind : but since the providence of God has brought printing into the world, and knowledge is so plentifully diffused through our nation at so cheap a rate, it is a pity that any children should be born and brought up in Great Britain, without the skill of reading; and especially since, by this means, every one may see with his own eyes what God requires of him in order to eternal happiness.
The art of writing also is exceedingly useful, and is now grown so very common, that the greatest part of children may attain it at an easy rate : by this means we communicate our thoughts and all our affairs to our friends at ever so great a distance: we tell them our wants, our sorrows, and our joys, and interest them in our concerns, as though they were near us. We maintain correspondence and traffic with persons in distant nations, and the wealth and
grandeur of Great Britain is maintained by this means. By the art of writing we treasure up all things that.concern us in a safe repository 5, and as often as we please, by consulting our paper records, we renew, our remembrance of things that relate to this life or the life to come: and why should any of the children of men be debarred from this privilege, if it may be attained at a cheap and easy rate, without intrenching upon other duties of life, and without omitting any more necessary business that may belong to their stations.
I might add here also, true spelling is such a part of knowledge as children ought to be acquainted with, since it is a matter of shame and ridicule in so polite an age as ours, when persons who have learned to handle the pen can
not write three words together without a mistake or blunder; and when they put letters together in such an awkward and ignorant manner, that it is hard to make sense of them, or to tell what they mean.
Arithmetic, or the art of numbers, is, as was observed before, to be reckoned also a necessary part of a good education. Without some degrees of this knowledge, there is indeed no traffic
And especially is it more needful at present, since the world deals much more upon trust and credit than it did in former times; and therefore the art of keeping accounts is made, in some measure, necessary to persons even in meaner stations of life, below the rank of merchants or great traders. A little knowledge of the art of accounts is also needful, in some degree, in order to take a true survey, and make a just judgement of the common expences of a person or a family: but this part of learning, in the various degrees of it, is more or less useful and needful, according to the different stations and businesses for which children are designed.
As the sons of a family should be educated in the knowledge of writing, reading, spelling, and accounts, so neither should the daughters be trained up without them. Reading is as needful for one sex as the other : nor should girls be forbidden to handle the pen, or to cast up a few figures, since it
may be very much for their advantage in almost all circumstances of life, except in the very lowest rank of servitude or hard labour. And I beg leave here to intreat the female youth, especially those of better circumstances in the world, to maintain their skill in writing which they have already learned, by taking every occasion to exercise it: and I would fain persuade them to take pains in acquainting themselves with true spelling, the want of which is one reason why many of them are ashamed to write ; and they are not ashamed to own and declare this, as though it were a just and sufficient excuse for neglecting and losing the use of the pen.
Of a Trade or Employment. IN
a good education, it is required also that children, in the common ranks of life, be brought up to the knowledge of some proper business or employment for their lives; some trade or traffic, artifice, or manufacture, by which they may support their expences, and procure for them. selves the necessaries of life, and by which they may be enabled to provide for their families in due time. In some of the eastern nations, even persons of the highest rank are obliged to be educated in some employment or profession; and perhaps that practice has many advantages in it: it en. gages their younger years in labour and diligence, and se. cures from the mischievous effects of sloth, idleness, vanity, and a thousand temptations.
In our nation I confess it is a custom to educate the chil. dren of noblemen, and the eldest sons of the gentry, to no proper business or profession, but only to an acquaintance with some of the ornaments and accomplishments of life, which I shall mention immediately. But perhaps it would be far happier for some families, if the sons were brought up to business, and kept to the practice of it, than to have them exposed to the pernicious inconveniences of a sauntering and idle life, and the more violent impulse of all the corrupt inclinations of youth.
However, it is certain that far the greater part of mankind must bring up their children to some regular business and profession, whereby they may sustain their lives, and support a family, and become useful members to the state. Now, in the choice of such a profession or employment for children, many things are to be consulted.
(1.) The circumstances and estate of the parent; whether it will reach to place out the child as an apprentice, to provide for him materials for his business or trade, and to support him till he shall be able to maintain himself by his profession. Sometimes the ambition of the parent and the
child hath fixed on a trade far above their circumstances ; in consequence of which the child hath been exposed to many inconveniences, and the parent to many sorrows.
(2.) The capacity and talents of the child must also be considered. If it be a profession of hard labour ; hath the child a healthy and firm constitution, and strength of body equal to the work? If it be a profession that requires the exercise of fancy, skill, and judgement, or much study and contrivance ; then the question will be, hath the lad a genius capable of thinking well, a bright imagination, a solid judgement? Is he able to endure such an application of mind as is necessary for the employment ?
(3.) The temper and inclination of the child must be brought into this consultation, in order to determine a proper business for life. If the daily labour and business of a man be not agreeable to him, he can never hope to manage it with any great advantage or success. I knew a brick. layer, who professed that he had always an aversion to the smell of mortar : and I was acquainted once with a lad who began to learn Greek at school, but he complained it did not agree with his constitution. I think the first of these ought to have been brought up to work in glass or timber, or any thing rather than in bricks : as for the other to my best remembrance), he was wisely disposed of to a calling wherein he had nothing to do with Greek.
And here I would beg leave to desire that none might be encouraged to pursue any of the learned professions, that is, divinity, law, or physic, who have not the signs of a good genius, who are not patient of long attention and close application to study, who have not a peculiar delight in that profession which they choose; and withal a pretty firm constitution of body; for much study is a weariness to the flesh, and the vigour of nature is sooner impaired by laborious thoughtfulness than by the labour of the limbs.
(4.) It should be also the solicitous and constant care of parents, when they place out their children in the world, to seck out masters for them who profess serious religion,