Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Fenelon's Treatise
on the
Education of Daughters;
Translanted from the French and Adapted to English Readers
With an Original Chapter, "On Religious Studies."
By the Rev. T. F. Dibdin, B. A. F. A. S
Albany; printed and published by Backus and Whiting, 1806.

Chapter XIII.

Of Governesses.

I FORESEE that this plan of education, will pass with many for a chimerical project : it requires, they will say, an uncommon share of discernment, patience, and skill, to carry it into execution : where are the governesses capable of following, or even understanding it ? But it should be considered that when we are laying down rules for the best education that can be given to children, we are not to give imperfect rules ; it is not matter of reprehension then, that in such an enquiry, we aim at what is most perfect. It is true, we cannot go so far in practice as our thoughts go upon paper, where they meet with no obstruction ; but after all, though we are absolutely unable to arrive at perfection in this business, it will be far from useless to know what perfection is, and to attempt it at any rate ;- which is the best means of approaching it as -nearly as we can. Besides, my rules do not proceed upon the supposition of any thing extraordinary in the disposition of children, or a concurrence of circumstances happily calculated for a perfect education ; on the contrary I endeavour to apply remedies to tempers naturally bad, or which have been spoilt : I calculate the common mistakes in education, and have recourse to the most simple methods of correcting, in the whole or in part, what has absolute need of correction.

It is true, you will not find in this little work, the means of giving success to an education neglected or ill conducted; but is there any thing strange in this ? Is it not the most that one can wish, to obtain simple rules, by the observance of which, a good education may be acquired. I confess we may dispense, and do dispense generally, with much less than I propose ; but it is likewise very obvious that children suffer materially by this neglect. The road I am pointing out, though tedious in appearance, is in reality the shortest, as it leads directly to the object we are in pursuit of. The other, which is that of fear and of a superficial culture of the understanding, short as it may seem, is in reality long ; as it hardly ever attains to the only true end of education, which is to form the mind, and inspire it with a sincere love of virtue. The greater part of those who have gone this latter road, have to commence their journey anew, at a moment when their education seems finished ; and after having passed the first years of their entrance into the world, in committing errors which are often irreparable, they are forced to learn from experience, and their own reflections, those maxims, of which that wretched and superficial education had left them in ignorance. It should be observed moreover, that the first services demanded in behalf of children, and which inexperienced people regard as oppressive and impracticable, will preserve them from troubles much more grievous ; and remove obstacles which become insurmountable, in the course of an education less accurate and skillful.

Lastly, it should be noticed that in order to execute this plan of education, the business does not consist so much in doing any thing which requires great talents, as in avoiding the gross errors previously enumerated. There will be often nothing more wanting than to be calm and patient with children : to be watchful over them : to inspire them with confidence : to give plain and intelligible answers to their little questions : to let their natural dispositions work in order to know them the better : and to correct them with temper, when they are mistaken, or in fault. It is not reasonable to expect that a good education can be conducted by a bad governess ; it is enough to deliver rules which will give success to one, moderately qualified ; of such a person it is not expecting too much that she be possessed of good sense, a mild temper, and the fear of God; such a one will find nothing in this treatise subtile or abstracted, and if she should not understand the whole of it, she will comprehend the substance at least; and that will be sufficient. Make her read it over many times, and be at the trouble of reading it with her ; allow her the liberty of stopping you at anything she does not understand, or of the truth of which she is not convinced ; then let her put these instructions into practice, and if you should observe, that in talking to the child, she loses sight of the rules which she had agreed to follow, correct her privately in as mild a manner as possible. This application will be wearisome to you at first, but if you are the father or mother of the child, it is your indispensable duty. Besides, your difficulties will not be of long continuance : your governess, if she be sensible and well-disposed, will learn more of your method in a month by practice, than by long arguments ;- and she will soon be able to go on in the right way by herself. There will be this further circumstance to relieve you, that she will find in this little work, the principal topics of conversation, with children, upon the most important subjects already detailed for her, so that she will hardly have any thing to do but to follow them ; thus she will possess a collection of the discourses she should hold with children, upon subjects the most difficult for them to understand ; it is a kind of practical education which will be an easy guide to her.

You may likewise make excellent use of the historical catechism before- mentioned. Let the person you are forming to educate your children read it over so often, that it may be familiar to herself, and that she may enter into the spirit of this method of teaching. It must be acknowledged, however, that persons of even moderate talents for such services, are rarely to be met with ; and yet nothing is to be done in education, without a proper instrument for the business ; the commonest things cannot be done of themselves, and they are always ill done by improper people.-Choose therefore either out of your own family, or among your tenants, or friends, or from some well-ordered society, some young woman you think capable of being taught : apply yourself early to the forming other for this employment: have her near you for some time, to make trial of her before you commit to her so important a trust. Five or six governesses trained in this manner, would soon be able to instruct a great number of others ; many of these would probably fail, but out of a great number, we might always repair the loss, and not be so wretchedly compelled, as we continually are, to be seeking for a variety of teachers.

But though the difficulty of finding governesses is great ; it must be confessed there is another yet greater, which is the irregularity of parents.-All the rest -will signify nothing, if they do not co-operate in the business :- the foundation of every thing is giving their children right notions and edifying examples : and yet this is only to be found in very few families ; in most, one sees nothing but confusion, perpetual changes, a heap of servants who are not only quarrelling with one another, but are the cause of disagreement among their masters and mistresses. What a woeful school is this for young children ! The mother who passes her time in gaming, at plays, and in indiscreet conversations, very gravely complains that she cannot find a governess capable of bringing up her children ; but what good can the best of educations confer on children, with the example of such a mother before them ? One frequently sees parents who themselves carry their children to public diversions, and other amusements,* which cannot fail of giving them a disrelish for that serious and orderly course of life, in which these very parents which to engage them : thus they mix poison

* I recommend the sensible mother, who has really the happiness of her daughter at heart, to peruse and reperuse the excellent observations on this head, which are to be found in a little pamphlet, lately published by the Rev. Mr. Owen , entitled "The Fashionable World Displayed."

with wholesome diet : they talk indeed of nothing but discretion, but at the same time they are agitating the flighty imagination of their children, by the violent impressions of music, and of passionate theatrical representations, which indispose them for application, give them a taste for what is passionate, and thereby make them think innocent pleasure insipid; and after all this still expect that the business of education shall go on well, and consider it as an irksome and austere thing, if it will not admit of this mixture of good or evil. Thus are they fond of the reputation of being anxious for the good education of their children, and yet are unwilling to be at the pains of complying with the most indispensable rules of it.

Let us conclude with the picture which the wise man has drawn of a virtuous woman.

" Who can find a virtuous woman ? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days other life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandize is good : her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor ; yea, she reacheth forth her bands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household : for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapes try, her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it, and delivereih girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the .bread of idleness. Her children rise up, and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praiseth her.

" Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain : but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit other hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates."

Though the great difference in manners, and the brevity and boldness of the figures, make this language obscure at first, yet the stile is so rich and animated, that we are soon charmed with it on examination. But what should be further remarked in it, is, that it is the authority of Solomon, the wisest of men ; it is the Holy Spirit itself speaking in this lofty manner, to recommend to us, in the character of a woman of rank and fortune, SIMPLICITY OF MANNERS, DOMESTIC ECONOMY and INDUSTRY.

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