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 II.
Errors in the Ordinary Mode of Education.

IGNORANCE is one of the causes of the ennui and discontent of young persons, and of the absence of all rational amusement. When a child has arrived at a certain age without having applied to solid pursuits, she can have neither taste nor relish for them. Every thing which is serious assumes to her mind a sorrowful appearance ; and that which requires a continued attention, wearies and disgusts her. The natural inclination to pleasure, which is strong in youth-the example of young people of the same age, plunged in dissipation-every thing, in short, serves to excite a dread of an orderly and industrious life. In this early age, she wants both experience and authority to take a decided part in the management of household affairs; she is even ignorant of the important consequences resulting from it, unless her mother has previously instructed her in some of its departments. If she be born to affluence, she is not necessitated to undergo manual toil: she may probably work an hour or two a day, because she hears it said, without knowing why, that " it is proper for women to work"-but this pithy proverb will only produce the semblance, without the substance, of real useful application.

In such a situation what is she to do ? The society of a mother, who narrowly watches, scolds, and thinks she is performing her duty in not overlooking the least fault-who is never satisfied, but always trying the temper, and appears herself immersed in domestic cares ; all this disgusts and torments her. She is, moreover, surrounded with flattering servants, who, seeking to insinuate themselves by base and dangerous compliances, gratify all her fancies, and direct her conversation to every topic but that of goodness and virtue. To her, piety appears an irksome task-a foe to every rational amusement. What, then, are her occupations ? None that are useful. Hence arises a habit of indolence, which at length becomes incurable.

Meantime what is to fill this vacuity ? Nothing but the most frivolous and contemptible pursuits. In such a state of lassitude, a young woman abandons herself to pure idleness; and idleness, which may be termed a langour of the soul, is an inexhaustible source of weariness and discontent. ? She sleeps one-third more than is necessary to preserve her health : this protracted slumber serves only to enervate and render her more delicate ; more exposed to the turbulency of passion ; whereas moderate sleep, accompanied with regular exercise, produces that cheerfulness, vigour, and elasticity of spirits, which form perhaps, the true criterion of bodily and mental perfection.

This weariness and idleness, united with ignorance, beget a pernicious eagerness for public diversions ; hence arises a spirit of curiosity, as indiscreet as it is insatiable.

Those who are instructed and busied in serious employments, have, in general, but a moderate curiosity. What they know gives them an indifference for many things of which they are ignorant ; and convinces them of the inutility and absurdity of those things, with which narrow minds, that know nothing, and have nothing to exercise themselves upon, are extremely desirous of becoming acquainted.

On the contrary, young women, without instruction and application, have always a roving imagination.- In want of substantial employment, their curiosity hurries them on to vain and dangerous pursuits. Those who have somewhat more vivacity, pique themselves on a superior knowledge, and read, with avidity, every book which flatters their vanity : they become enamoured of novels, plays, and "Tales of Wonder," in which love and licentiousness predominate : they fill their minds with visionary notions, by accustoming themselves to the splendid sentiments of heroes of romance, and hence are rendered unfit for the common intercourse of society; for all these fine airy sentiments, these generous passions, these adventures, which the authors of romance have invented for mere amusement, have no connexion with the real motives which agitate mankind, and direct the affairs of the world ; nor with those disappointments which usually accompany us in almost every thing we undertake.

A poor girl, full of the tender and the marvellous which have delighted her in her reading, is astonished not to find in the world real personages, resembling the heroes she has read of -fain would she live like those imaginary princesses, whom fiction has described as always charming, always adored, and always beyond the reach of want. What disgust must she feel on descending from such a state of heroism, to the lowest offices of housewifery !

Some there are who push their curiosity still further, and without the least qualifications, presume to decide upon theological points. But those who have not sufficient grasp of intellect for these curiosities, have other pursuits, better proportioned to their talents : they are extremely desirous of knowing what is said, and going on in the world-a song-news-an intrigue-to receive letters, and to read those that other people receive ; these things delight prodigiously ; -- they wish every thing- to be told them, and to tell every thing in turn : they are vain, and vanity is a sure incentive to talk. They become giddy, and volatility prevents those reflections from rising which would shew them the value of silence.

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