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Arthur Pendennis is as real as Wilhelm Meister is [both are fictitious names, but true stories from the authors' actual childhoods]. If we study Pendennis, it will be just as educational as Wilhelm Meister. He's so much like James Barrie's Admiral Crichton! He carried himself down Main Street with a lordly grace, as if he believed he was the Prince of Fairoaks [that's what Thackeray refers to him as!] Even the young lords themselves didn't mind being his followers, and he had such a fine nature that he made no distinction between gentlemen and simple folk. He had princely tastes in wine, leisure activities, and material possessions, and he enjoyed many tastes! Horses, books, art--he appreciated everything, as long as it was the best. He had lots and lots of bookshelves, and they were filled with rare editions and expensively bound books. His walls were hung with rare art prints (first proofs, of course). Not even Alcibiades could have outdone him in the elegance of his personal habits. A perfumed bath was as necessary to him as it was to witty Alcibiades, especially after any contact with the rabble of less distinguished people. He also had a reputation
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for intelligence: 'Pendennis would be able to do anything he wanted, if'--and this was a momentous syllable--'if he would only work.' But, really, why should he work? He had tried the schools: 'During the first term of Pendennis's school career, he went to classical and math lectures with a fair amount of attentiveness. But before long, he discovered that he didn't have much talent or inclination for studying exact sciences [math!], and perhaps he was also annoyed that one or two rather crude young men who wouldn't even use straps with their pants to cover their socks and shoes that were too coarse and thick always outdid him in the classroom. So he dropped that class and announced to his loving parents that he was going to devote himself to the study of Greek and Roman literature. But soon he discovered that he didn't learn much of anything useful in his classical lectures. His classmates in math were too smart for him, but the students in his classical lecture were too slow. Mr. Buck, the tutor, was no smarter than a high school freshmen at Grey Friars. He might have some trivial, dull notions about the metre and grammatical form of a quote from Aeschylus or Aristophanes, but he didn't understand poetry any better than Mrs. Binge, the maid who made his bed, and Pendennis got tired of hearing the dull-witted students and tutor blundering through a few lines of some play that he'd be able to read in a tenth of the time they spent on it.'
We know how that kind of situation usually works out. In time, this promising youth became somewhat tired, absent-minded and cynical. I wonder if debt might not be simply another cause for cynicism, or else maybe our biggest and most bitter complaint against the world for not understanding our claims, and not seeing that we have a right to
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enjoy the best in life, no matter what it costs. This certainly is a blundering world. The Prince of Fairoak's day of disgrace is at hand. After a brilliant, admirable career, in spite of his school education, he, Pendennis of Boniface, of all people, is apprehended, and flees from Oxbridge like a dog who's been kicked and chased by lots of creditors.
We know that he finally picks himself up, at the cost of his impoverished, pinched mother and friend Laura, because he does have some good character within him. He gets back on his feet, finds a friend, and finally earns his own living. He has been saved, so to speak, by the two women who loved him. But he never loses the cynicism that a whipped dog has, and a particular kind of stamp of the world that he had when he went to college remains with him for the rest of his life. It's good for parents who are bringing up promising young boys and girls to always remember that a leopard doesn't change his spots. Our negligent trust that our children's regeneration will come about somehow, either at school, or at college, or by their career, or by having a family, or by public volunteerism, really stems from our own laziness. We know that it has to be done somehow for our children, but we don't bother to do it ourselves. We abdicate our responsibility, so our children bear our neglect and their own faults until the end of their lives.
The author of Pendennis goes into great detail to tell us how Pendennis's regeneration came about. These kinds of passages are written to teach us, if we'll listen. It would be interesting to know how many parents and teachers could withstand a probing examination regarding the life lessons that Thackeray suggests to us about how to bring up children.
First of all, Arthur Pendennis was the Prince of Fairoaks--but what was Fairoaks? It was a
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small, unimportant estate, only worth about five hundred a year. But any flea hill is big enough to feel superior about if we're determined to. Thackeray's shrewd wit, and sharp but not mean-spirited satire, poke great fun at this princely family, whose ancient ancestral glories were probably as fake as their family portraits, but believed in as firmly as if Debrett's publishing company wrote it in a book.
The Pendennis family isn't the only family to raise their sons as pseudo-princes. In most cases, it begins with the child's 'princely heart of innocence,' manifested in the way he holds his head, the bold, fearless look in his eye, and the matter-of-fact way he takes hold of the world that he assumes is his. His parents watch him in doting admiration, and begin to suspect that his regal bearing is an inherited family trait to be cherished rather than a human tendency to be discouraged. They don't encourage a sense of greatness or scope, but they nurture their child with an attitude of superiority. Then, when he leaves home, he either acts like a pompous prince to anyone who will put up with it, like young Pendennis did, or they realize the truth and become disproportionately depressed and reckless, or they attach undue importance to class distinction, like Goethe did because he never got over a sense that his burgher birth disqualified him for higher society.
Right from the beginning of a child's growth, his parents have a role to fill. Here's how the little person comes to us:--
'Those pure, innocent notions I had in my infancy, and that divine light that I was born with, are the best concepts I have to this to this day to perceive the universe with. Surely Adam in Paradise couldn't have had sweeter, more curious notions about the world than I did as a child.
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'Everything seemed new and strange at first, too rare and delightful and beautiful for words. I was a tiny stranger, and because I was so small, my entrance to the world was welcomed and surrounded with many joys. The knowledge I had was from Heaven--I intuitively knew things then that I've had to re-learn with the highest reason since I fell away from it into apostasy. Everything was untarnished and pure and glorious, yes, and it all belonged to me and was joyful and precious. As if I was an angel, I was entertained with God's works in their splendor and glory. I saw everything with a peace as if I was in Eden . . .
'The corn in the fields seemed like lustrous, immortal wheat that had always been there and had never been sown, and would be there eternally, never reaped. I assumed that it had been there from everlasting to everlasting. The dirt and stones in the street were as new and precious as if they'd been gold. The gates (of Hereford, the town he was born in) were the end of my world. When I first noticed the green trees through one of the gates, they delighted and mesmerized me. Their sweetness and new kind of beauty made my heart leap, and almost overwhelmed with ecstasy, they were so strange and wonderful. And people! Old people seemed so noble and wise, like immortal angels. And young men seemed like glittering, sparkling angels. Young ladies were like strange angelic slivers of life and beauty. Children playing and running in the streets were like moving jewels. I didn't know that they were beings with a mortal, finite existence. Instead, everything seemed as if it had been there eternally and was supposed to be just the way I saw it. The Light of Day was an eternity, and everything seemed to have an infinite nature that communicated with my expectation and thrilled my desire. The City a little ways off might have been in Eden, or built in Heaven itself. The streets seemed to be all mine, the church was
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mine, the people were mine, their clothes and jewels were as much mine as their sparkling eyes, fair skin, and rosy faces. The sky was all mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars. The whole world was all mine, and I assumed that I was the only person watching and enjoying it.' [Thomas Traherne 1636-1674]
Here are some verses by Traherne:
Now, if this is the way children come to us, then what should our role be? Parents are correct when they think that the wonderful sense of dignity and luminous knowledge that their child seems graced with, should help him in his life and should be preserved at all costs. But they make their child a fool when they use this gift as a means to magnify their family. Any traits of dignity and greatness that the family has in its background will undoubtedly exert a huge amount of influence
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on the family descendants, and the less fuss is made about them, the better. But young Pendennis grew up in an atmosphere of false dignity, and that dignity was still contrived, even though his whole family bought into it. As a result, he always felt superior to any situation--but that's a natural human tendency that should be downplayed, not encouraged. In spite of his kind, generous personality, Pendennis was never very friendly or open at school or at college or out in the world. When he had outgrown the desire to put on airs, he developed the superior attitude of a cynic.
Imagine what a good start a child would have if his parents recognized that their child had all the distinction he needed simply by virtue of being a human being. After all, being a person is no common thing. In every case, it's special and a unique distinction. And imagine how sweet and obliging people in the world would be if everyone was brought up to be everything within himself [and to realize all the gifts and talents he was born with].
Is it in bad taste to suggest that the influence of that accomplished hero, Major Pendennis, was a big reason why young Pendennis went astray? He seems so great in his own circle, so absurd and respectable. Yet he's very likeable in spite of himself, and the neatness and polish of his unworthy code of ethics sounds so convincing! It makes the title of the book a puzzle--which of the Pendennises is the hero and namesake of the book? That's the perspective of anyone on the outside reading the book, but what if we had been raised all our lives to reverence the old worldly Major, and been placed under his guardianship? What if such a person accompanied us as mentor from the very first time we went out into the world?
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'God bless you, my dear boy,' said old Pendennis to young Arthur as they were lighting the candles in the house on Bury Street before going to bed. 'Please remember as you go through life, my dear Arthur, that as long as you have a main dish--a good main dish, I mean--it's as easy to be in good company as bad. After a proper introduction, it's no more trouble or money to be on good terms with the best families in London as it is to eat dinner with a lawyer in Bedford Square. Remember this when you're studying at Oxbridge, and, whatever you do, be very particular about the acquaintances you make because the first step is the most important step of all. Did you write your mother a letter today? You didn't? Well, write it before you go to bed, and call to ask Mr. Foker for a nickel. They like that. Good night. God bless you.'
To us, the old man's twaddle sounds incredibly absurd, yet we store his quotes in our memory because they might be useful some day. As for young Arthur, he was with the very person that his family had been glad to honor all his life, the person who had succeeded at the very thing that all young people set out to do--he had conquered the world, the enchanting social world that all young people dream about.
We older people don't realize how ingenious the young mind is, how ignorant and naive youth is. At the same time, we don't recognize that they reverence us merely for the sake of our experience. They say bold, clever and flippant things, so we assume that they're up to everything. In fact, we think that they're more sophisticated than we simple elders, and our response is to come up with our own little share of worldly wisdom so that they won't think we're
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complete imbeciles, and we convince them more than we realize. They grasp every scrap of talk that displays any familiarity with the way the world works--the rather evil world, I mean--and from our random comments, they construct a picture that's vastly different from our actual limited and simple experience.
Dr. Portman, the excellent rector of Clavering [in the book] will play right into this. He, too, has seen the world. He insists on Pendennis ordering his wine, and the best quality wine, from a winemaker in London. Pendennis does, and does an even better job after he's had some instruction. Major Pendennis praises a little dinner party given in Arthur's honor, imagining that it doesn't happen very often. 'Poor Arthur! the worthy uncle had no idea how often these dinners took place. Meanwhile, the reckless young man, like Amphitryon [a general of Thebes who accidentally killed his uncle] was delighted to show off his hospitality and gourmet skills. There's no other art that youths are more eager to have an air of knowledge about--yet no other art takes so long to learn, is so hard to obtain, and is so impossible and beyond the means of many unhappy people. A knowledge and taste for good wine and excellent food seems to them like the sign of an accomplished rogue and successful gentleman.'
What can be done? Young people are determined to have a knowledge about what they call 'life.' If all we offer them is scraps of our experience, which is often secondhand, then they'll generalize and conclude that we aren't really the worthy, virtuous people that they had thought. They think that we've had the very kinds of experiences that they want to try. And this is why they're attracted to bad companions for reasons we don't understand--because these companions know about life. Here are some wise words worth reflecting on--'The thing that youths like in their companions is exactly what gained young Arthur part of his reputation and popularity--his real or supposed
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knowledge of life. A person who has seen the world and can talk about it with a familiar air--a rogue, or a young man like Lovelace [probably the charming villain from Samuel Richardson's novel 'Clarissa'] who has adventures to tell about--is guaranteed to attract an audience. It's hard to accept, but it's true. Our human nature respects that kind of savvy. Ever since our earliest school days, we've been taught to admire it.'
A youth who has a stronger motive than popularity and the respect of his peers, even if it's only a desire to earn academic distinction, gets through somehow. But many youths with talent, ability and a generous personality, youths like Arthur Pendennis himself, ruin their lives. What can be done to strengthen these youths against the particular temptations that are a part of that period of life is a serious issue. Novels can be an excellent source of help. They contain the very knowledge about life that youths crave. The characters in the novel play out their roles for him, and he's allowed to enjoy greater intimacy with them than we usually experience with people in real life. There's no personal attack against the person reading, and no preaching. If the novelist does moralize a little here and there, it's only to relieve his own feelings. He isn't preaching to the young reader that his lessons come home to with illustrations that can never be forgotten. I've heard that a neighbor accused Mr. Meredith of creating a caricature of him in his portrayal of the Egoist 'Willoughby Patterne,' but Meredith replied, ''Willoughby Patterne is myself. Everybody is Willoughby Patterne! We are all Egoists.' In the same way, every youth who reads Arthur Pendennis, or Edward Waverley, or Fred Vincey, or, alas, of Tito Melema, or of Darsie Latimer, George Warrington, or Martin Chuzzlewit--the list is endless, of course--finds something of himself in the lead character. Novels can only teach us lessons
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to the extent that we give thoughtful, conscientious reading to whatever novels are also literary enough to be considered literature. A youth who reads three novels a week of the Mudie [cheap thrill/romance] type probably won't find 'examples of life and lessons in manners' in any of them. We glean those kinds of lessons after reading a book that's worthwhile over and over again. This should make us realize how absurd it is to say, 'I've read' Jane Austen or the Waverley novels. No educated person says, 'I've read' Shakespeare or even Browning or Tennyson [as if one reading completed the task!], and saying 'I've read' any of the great novels is actually a mark of ignorance.
But how many parents make sure that their children read, reflect, learn and inwardly digest the single novel Pendennis before they go off to college or out on their own? It's absurd to disregard such a great vehicle of educational life lessons--yet too many careful parents 'disapprove of letting their children waste their time reading novels,' or else they allow them free reign to read trite garbage from the library until they can't even recognize a good book when they see one. 'But,' says one good mother, 'I have other reasons for disapproving of novels besides the time-wasting factor. I've worked hard to raise my children in an atmosphere of innocence, and I want to keep them from being exposed to the kind of knowledge about life that novels portray.' That perspective has a point, but choices in life are never simple, and forbidding knowledge doesn't guarantee innocence.
We need to remember that ignorance isn't the same as innocence. We also need to remember that ignorance begets insatiable curiosity. But my point isn't to persuade parents to allow indiscriminate reading of any and all novels. Novels fall into two classes--sensational and reflectional (a word I made up). Tales of
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daring, narrow escapes and bold adventures aren't necessarily sensational novels. By sensational I mean books that appeal to physical sensations related to lust, regardless of how innocent they seem--the kind of books that say, 'his lips met hers,' or 'the touch of her hand thrilled every nerve in his body,' that are so common in the goody-goody stories that many families reserve for Sunday reading, but have absolutely none of the qualities that distinguish our best English novels. Reading about a girl being betrayed doesn't spoil the innocence of a young mind in any way, but allowing oneself to thrill with the emotions that led to that betrayal is the emotional equivalent of tasting vodka. It's as addictive and destructive as alcoholism. By reflectional novels, I don't mean books that make reflections for us, like those of a popular female author in this day . A writer who tries to save us the trouble of reflection is enabling the intellectual laziness that's at the root of our shallow thoughts and trivial lives. A reflectional novel is one like Pendennis that stirs reflection with every page we read, and offers a standard in every character and situation that we can measure our random thoughts and careless behavior by. If we keep in mind that obvious reflection [such as books that do our reflecting for us?] are as harmful in their own way as sensational reading, then we'll find that the standard of arousing reflection eliminates all trivial, superficial books and limits us to the works of the greatest novelists.
There's another step of the young rogue's progress [that's what Thackeray calls him] that we need to note. To add my own comments here would be redundant, unnecessary and arrogant, as it would be elsewhere. 'Mr. Bloundell playfully picked up a green wine glass
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from the supper table that had been set there for 'iced cup,' but he put something more sinister into it--a pair of dice that he took from the pocket of his vest. Then he waved the glass gracefully, exposing the fact that he was very experienced at throwing dice, he called seven's the main number, emptied the ivory-colored dice gently on the table, swept them up again lightly from the tablecloth, and did this whole thing two or three more times. Later, instead of going home, most of the people there were sitting around the table playing dice, passing the green wineglass around from hand to hand, until Arthur Pendennis finally shattered it after throwing perfect sevens six times. After that night, Pendennis immersed himself into the fun of thrill-seeking as eagerly as he had pursued every other pleasure.'
Like Goethe, Pendennis was a mother's boy. His mother was more affectionate, sweeter and less humorous, and, since his mother was also much younger than his father, he was his mother's companion. One evening the two of them walked on the lawn of Fairoaks and gazed at the trees in the opposite park of Clavering as their leaves were beginning to turn gold, and the river running off towards the west where there was a dark, quiet wood and an old abbey church with its towers. 'Little Arthur' and his mother cast long blue shadows over the grass, and he would recite in a low voice (because a beautiful scenic view always affected him, having inherited this kind of sensitivity from his
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mother) certain lines from a quote that began, 'These are your glorious works, Parent of Good. Almighty God, this universal structure is yours,' which delighted his mother. These walks and conversations usually ended with lots of hugs, because loving and praying were the biggest part of this dear women's life. I've often heard Pendennis say in his wild way that he was certain he'd be going to heaven, because his mother could never be happy there without him.'
What a sweet picture! Every mother's heart will respond to this, and want the same thing with her own son. It's right that a little boy should love his mother, and through her, learn about the best and highest good--Nature itself, and the God Who created it. And how sweet to a mother's heart are those hugs! Later, we read that Arthur, as a child and youth, considered his mother as practically an angel, a supernatural being filled with wisdom, love and beauty. And, in fact, so she was. Helen Pendennis was not only a perfectly brought-up and lovely woman, but she was also unusually pure and heavenly minded. If she had any faults at all, they stemmed from her rather unreasonable family pride that made her regard her son as a 'young prince' and practically worship him. It's an odd twist of justice that the small faults of good people, those faults that seem to originate from the very virtues of the people who have these faults, and aren't actually very different from their virtues--these faults that good people have seem to produce a bigger crop of tragedy than the obvious, glaring sins of more unworthy people. Maybe it's a case where more is required of those to whom more is given. A careless mother who spends her time having fun will sometimes
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have children who are more responsible about their duties than a mother whose only fault is loving her children too well but not wisely enough. But there's nothing we need more urgently than to fix our moral code of ethics. Although Thackeray writes tenderly about Helen Pendennis, he speaks about her family pride and maternal rapture as 'an unfortunate superstition and idol worship,' and he says that those were the causes for 'a lot of the tragedy that befell young Arthur.'
We've talked about the pride that made Arthur's mother think of him as a prince. But every mother's son is a prince, and the hardest thing in the world is to see our son the same way that others see him. It's harder to recognize that maternal devotion, and profuse hugs between mother and child can be a danger because they cross the line of balance, moderation and honor which is our duty. Before long, this excessive tenderness becomes like a plastic coin that the mother offers to the child, and the child offers to the mother, in place of the only genuine treasure we have among us--our duty. Later we find Helen hanging over her son as he lays on the couch reading a French novel, and offering him a cigar, which she lights for him, even though she doesn't approve of smoking and detests it! And he tells her himself that he knows she would burn down the house if she thought it would please him!
That should be true of maternal love as much as with any other relationships. This kind of holy passion of a mother for a child is also meant for serving, not for the mother's own gratification. A child who knows that his mother would do anything for him, also knows that he's taking the place of duty in his mother's life, and knows that he means more to his mother than her
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duty to him and to others. Such a child grows up without ever learning the meaning of two important words in our language. Must and ought become concepts that can be explained away.
This religious mother did another great injury to her son. Yes, she taught him religion, but the religion she taught him was all sentiment, no duty. Little Arthur loved the sound of the church bells on Sunday mornings, the echo of hymns and choruses, as much as he loved to watch the sunset from the lawn. He also learned to love sacred poems and songs from his mother as a little boy. He was exposed to all holy associations. But his mother neglected to teach him his duty towards God. This is where many kind-hearted mothers fail. They're so anxious to present the beauty of holiness and the love of the heavenly Father. She herself loves the sentiment of religion so much that the 'stern Daughter of God's voice [whose name is Duty]' whose command is the only one that humans are able to obey in the face of resistance, isn't allowed to speak to her child. Religion and serving God are presented as matters that a child can choose if he likes, or not, but never as something that he has to do, or as the only duty in the world that he can't choose not to fulfill. Parents are in a unique position as having the opportunity to expose their children to the concept of duty. If they let the opportunity pass, it's useless to make up for it with religious feelings, sentiments and emotions. Such things are passing phases. They aren't any part of the tie that binds us to God. We know that, on his first night in London when he was on his way to Oxbridge with his uncle, he neglected to say his evening prayers. Later, Laura says that she doesn't dare ask him what he still has left of his faith.
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Pendennis was casually educated, as was Goethe. It's arguable that people with this kind of education do quite a bit of the work in the world--in fact, people with great talents and original minds often manage to evade the regular routine of conventional schools. Like Pendennis, while the rest of the class struggles line by line and word by word through a Greek play like the one that 'the Doctor' valued so much, they've read ten times as much while waiting for everyone else. If we allow geniuses to write their own rules, then we'll have to be careful that ordinary bright youths don't also escape their lessons. In fact, as we've seen in Goethe's case, even a genius might benefit and be a better person by having to labor through the daily routine with everyone else. At any rate, Pendennis probably wouldn't have taken to such disastrous ways at Oxbridge if he had acquired the habit of working under rules and towards some goal.
It's good for us to reflect on this at a time when we're searching around rather wildly to figure out what education is, and what it's supposed to do. There is undoubtedly a certain body of knowledge that everybody should possess since, without it, the mind is as limp, weak and helpless as a malnourished body. There's also an opportune time for gaining this knowledge--an intellectual season that's like springtime to the mind. It would be interesting to analyze how much progress a person can make in any field of knowledge that hadn't been planted and sprouted in his mind during his childhood. We can conclude that the first fifteen years of a child's life are spent in what might be called a synthetic stage of education [synthetic/analytic in the sense that Kant talked about. Synthetic might be compared to viewing the whole, vague picture while analytic is focusing on the details]. During this stage, a child's reading should be wide and varied enough so that the young scholar can
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get in touch with nature, history, literature, and a lot of other things, too. His intellectual life requires these things, and they are especially needed to provide him with raw material for the second stage of his life, the analytic stage, which continues for the rest of his life. It's during the second stage, the analytic stage, that the value of classical and math discipline is recognized. Such discipline provides a certain sanity of judgement, and, because of that, a certain ability for handling situations, an ability to examine questions. Those qualities distinguish a public school [boarding school] scholar--not just the university graduate, that's another matter--but a person who has followed through and worked through the Greek play that both Pendennis and young Goethe contrived to get out of. Public [boarding] school might have its faults, but it can't be accused of manufacturing irresponsible eccentrics. The risk of a transition period [when experts are trying to decide which direction education should go next] like we're in now is that it might produce people whose judgement is unbalanced and whose will is undisciplined.
[from The Iliad, Book 5, about line 525, Chapman's translation; Fagles translates this as 'Atrides ranged the ranks, shouting out commands: Now be men, my friends! Courage, come, take heart! Dread what comrades say of you here in bloody combat! When men dread that, more men come through alive...' line 610 of Book V]
This quote from Atrides could justifiably be the motto for our public [boarding] schools. It summarizes surprisingly accurately the very thing that they accomplish. The steadfast purpose, public spirit, and noble sense of honor that distinguish our public services comes to a large degree from students of our public schools.
But these wonderful qualities that we're so proud of can co-exist with ignorance, and ignorance is the source of prejudice as well as the stubborn enemy of progress. The task of setting the house of our
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country's educational system in order is a delicate one. We need to protect the positive aspects of our previous educational system, while seeking to recover the passionate desire to learn for the sake of knowing that brought about the Renaissance. Thinking of education as nothing more than useful for instilling discipline is like planting plows and hoes instead of planting corn. At the same time, an eager, deliberate pursuit for knowledge with no purpose or method carries its own risks to a person's character. There's a lot of talk about reading these days, and using public libraries to further education, and young students are buying into the plea for more 'general reading.' Reading three books a week seems to be a common thing, and even a source of pride. But, once again, this is the result of our failure to truly value knowledge, and our tendency to forget that knowledge is mental nourishment. If we recognize that knowledge is a food that's as necessary to the mind as bread is for the body, then we must also realize that it needs to be ingested in regulated portion sizes, properly combined, served on time and scheduled at regular intervals in order to get the cooperation of the digestive organs. Just like physical food, if knowledge isn't properly digested, it adds a workload to the mind rather than helping its development. That's why random, haphazard reading does nothing more than entertain and perhaps provide an occasional stimulus to thinking. Casual reading--meaning vague reading about a subject without making a systematic effort to really know--isn't much better. If we want to read and grow from our reading, then we need to read to know. Our reading needs to be like studying--planned, deliberate, and with a goal. This way, both the synthetic and analytic stages of education connect and blend. The wide reading encourages intellectual discipline, and the disciplined, analytical stage stays well-nourished as it continues its habit of wide reading.
Arthur Pendennis failed at college, and barely succeeded in his later life
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because of one other cause that affects most young students. Arthur went to college without having had any moral teaching whatsoever, except for a few virtuous traditions and tendencies that he absorbed from living with his parents that were mixed in with some other tendencies that weren't so good. But he had never been shown a roadmap to life that could have given him a noble perspective, and warned him of the pitfalls and tangled mazes that many brave young travelers disappear into. This is another result of our nation's disrespect for knowledge. Knowing is not the same as doing, but that's no excuse to withhold knowledge. We should never leave our youths to hopefully stumble into right actions without providing them with any guiding life philosophy. The risks are too great. We who claim to follow Christ don't always think to notice that Jesus' daily work was trying to make the Jews know. 'You just won't understand,' was the reproach he gave them. Even though we have Christ's example, we don't make much of an effort to make our children realize the possibilities for noble deeds that lie within them and within everyone else. Yes, we give them certain warnings--warnings about ruin, and loss of reputation. But we don't warn them against the deadly dull failure that's implied in every commonplace successful career. Pendennis was 'plucked' [??] but many students who get their degree are motivated by petty ambition, and never draw real knowledge or love or strength of will to do their duty from their school studies. If a student sets academic distinction as the worlds he wants to conquer, then he won't have any spirit left for further effort, unless more worlds and rewards to conquer present themselves.
In some ways, the Greeks had a better perspective of education than we do. They seemed to have
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believed that philosophy, as well as gymnastics and music, is every youth's main concern. Plutarch said, 'A freeborn son [i.e., not a slave] shouldn't neglect any part of the cycle of knowledge. He needs to go through one subject after another and get a taste of each of them--it would be impossible for anyone to master all of them--but he needs to make a serious study of philosophy. I can illustrate it like this: it's fun and interesting to visit lots of different cities, but it's only worthwhile to linger in the best ones.
'The philosopher Bion was right when he said, In the same way that Penelope's suitors made free use of all her stuff after they realized that they couldn't get her, those who find that philosophy seems too hard will distract themselves with other fields of knowledge that are worth nothing in comparison. That's why philosophy needs to have the first priority in education.
'Men have developed two tools for the physical body: medicine and gymnastics. One takes care of its health, and the other takes care of its strength. But when it comes to the diseases and sorrows of the soul, philosophy is the only cure.
'By learning philosophy, man comes to know what's good and what's bad, what's fair and what's not, and, especially, what he should strive for and what he should avoid. He learns how to behave himself towards God, towards his mother, towards his father, towards his elders, towards the laws, towards strangers and superiors, towards his friends, towards his wife, and child and slave. Philosophy teaches humility towards God, honor for parents, respect for the elderly, obedience to the law, how to submit to authority, love one's friends, and be pure towards
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women. She teaches kindness towards children and gentleness towards slaves. She shows the highest good to us so that our joy will be portioned in happiness, and our grief will be restrained in misfortune. That way, we won't be like animals who are unrestrained in both their desires and their rage. I believe that these are some of the benefits that we can obtain through learning philosophy. Being modest when we have good fortune, not envying, having a gentle mind and knowing how to suppress our evil desires is wisdom. Allowing our angry spirit to rule us is a sure sign that we don't have even common understanding.' [Opera Moralia, from Otto Guthling's translation of Ausgewahlte by Plutarch.]
The things that Plutarch claims philosophy will do are attributed to religion in our culture. When we credit religion, we place life on a higher level. Philosophy and religion are fundamentally different in this way: philosophy only instructs, but religion instructs and enables. But the difference isn't the issue; the important question is, shouldn't the science of life, or the art of living, which should be taught via philosophy, be made its own distinct subject, with its own teaching methods, classifications and rules of progress, but under the authority of religion, and assessed at every step with a standard of religion?
The way it is now, the moral and philosophic training that we give is hit-or-miss and pitifully disconnected. We're so sincere about our complete dependence on God that we've become shamefully ignorant about our own natures, our possibilities, and the risks we face. And this is despite the teachings of Jesus Himself! Not a single person should be sent out into life without a methodical knowledge of himself. For instance, he should know that he has certain appetites who act as servants whose job is maintaining the physical body, and, when the right time comes, increasing the whole human race. The
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most important thing is to never allow ourselves to give in to any one of these appetites, in either small things or great things. These appetites were designed so that, if they're treated as servants, they serve diligently and obediently. But if they're allowed to overstep their bounds, they become tyrants. Knowing about these kinds of things in detail won't guarantee that a youth will be saved, but it should certainly make him think, providing a moment when he might listen to the divine Counselor who can save him.
Not many youths enter life armed with the knowledge that they've been given desires whose main job is to see that the mind is nurtured and ideas are generated in a way similar to bodily appetites that have their own specific purposes. Not many recognize that becoming the slave to any single desire, like ambition or admiration, results in a truly unbalanced and uncontrolled person just as surely as improper gratification of any single appetite leads to imbalance, although it may not be as obvious. Not many realize that staying healthy is a duty, not just a preference, and that a strong, capable body that's prepared to serve is an obligation we owe to ourselves, our family, and everyone in our circle. There are some who at least recognize the advantage of having a fit body, but very few understand that possessing an alert, intelligent and thoughtful mind is also one of our obligations. Very few are aware of the immeasurable joys of knowledge, imagination, or well-reasoned thinking. Those who understand this are an example of readiness for the rest of us. Again, not many youths realize that they enter life with two great affections that are capable of ordering all of the bonds that unite them to their fellow man in appropriate measure. That knowledge is just the thing for a life of continual service to others. Not many youths know how their conscience can be toyed with, or how their reason can
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be undermined and taken over, or how the proper functioning of the will can be replaced with unreasoning stubbornness. Do they have enough of an understanding about their relationship with the Supreme God? Are they aware of their obligation to man or God? Our religious teaching falls short because we've allowed ourselves to be ignorant of our own natures. Therefore, we're in danger of losing the concept of God that should keep us in a proper attitude. We're so used to hearing about God's love and care and saving power that we come to focus on ourselves as the objects of His infinite kindness, and thus gradually lose the perspective that makes people heroes and saints serving their Master. In other words, we imply to our youth that food and comfort is more important than existence itself, that succeeding and making one's way in the world is the first priority, and having is better than being or doing. Of course, there are a few noble youths who somehow seem to get their relationships and priorities correct, just like there are people who are so balanced that just living around them is a continual inspiration. But if we could only arrive at a more profound and true perspective on life, then such people might seem more usual rather than exceptional. Everything that we need to teach to youths is included in the Christian religion, either implied or stated directly, but I can't help thinking that we should be making more progress towards that perfection that's commanded of us. And we could probably make that kind of progress if we determined to study life with the same kind of method and purpose that we give to other subjects--but with a sense of very special divine support and guidance.