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 III.

The First Foundations of Education.
To remedy the evils just complained of, it is of material consequence to commence a system of education from Infancy to this tender period, which is too often intrusted to imprudent and irregular women, is, in truth, the most susceptible of the strongest impressions, and consequently has a great influence on the future regulation of life.

As soon as children can lisp, they may be prepared for instruction : this may be thought paradoxical-but only consider what a child does before it can talk. It is learning a language which it will, by and by, speak with more accuracy, than the learned can speak, the dead languages, although studied at a mature period of life. But what is the learning a language ? It does not consist solely in treasuring in the memory a great number of words-but in comprehending, says St. Austin, the meaning of each particular word : the child, amidst its cries and amusements, knows for what object each word is designed : this is obtained sometimes by observing the natural motions of bodies which touch, or shew, the objects of which one is speaking-sometimes by being struck with the frequent repetition of the same word to signify the same thing. It cannot be denied but that the brain of children is admirably calculated, from its temperament, to receive impressions from all these images ; but what strength of mental attention is requisite to distinguish them, and to unite each to its proper object?

Consider too, how children, even at such a tender age, attach themselves to those who flatter, and avoid those who restrain, them : how well they know to obtain their object by a tear, or silent submission : how much artifice and jealousy they already possess -! " I have seen," exclaims St. Austin, " a jealous child: it could not speak, but its face was pale, and the eyes were irritated against an infant that suckled with it."

From this it may be inferred, that infants know more at such an early period than is usually imagined :-- thus, by soft words and appropriate gestures, you may incline them towards honest and virtuous connexions, rather than introduce them to those which it would be dangerous for them to caress.-Thus, again, you may, by appropriate looks and tone of voice, represent to them, with horror, those whom they have seen exasperated: with anger, or any other furious passion ; and, on the other hand, by a correspondent serenity of manner, depicture to them those who are amiable and wise.

I do not wish to lay too great a stress on these subordinate matters: hut, in reality, these different dispositions form a commencement of character which must not be neglected, and this mode of foreseeing, as it were, the future dispositions of children, has imperceptible consequences which facilitate their education.

If we still doubt of the power of these early prepossessions on future maturity, we need only call to mind how lively and affecting, at an advanced age, Is the remembrance of those things which have delighted us in childhood. If, instead of terrifying the minds of young people with absurd notions of ghosts and spirits, which serve only to weaken and disturb the still delicate texture of the brain : if, instead of abandoning them to the caprice of a nurse for what they are to like or dislike, we endeavoured always to impress on their minds an agreeable idea of good, and a frightful one of evil-this foresight might hereafter be the foundation of every practical virtue. On the contrary, we frighten them with the idea of a clergyman clothed in black-we talk of death merely to excite terror-and recount tales of the dead revisiting the earth, at midnight, under hideous shapes All this has a tendency to weaken and agitate the mind, and to excite a prejudice against the soundest doctrines.

One of the most useful and important things during infancy is, to be particularly careful of the child's health ; endeavouring to sweeten the blood by a proper choice of food, and a simple regimen of life : regulating its meals, so that it eat pretty nearly at the same hours, and as it feels the inclination ; that the stomach be not overloaded before digestion takes place, and that no high-seasoned dishes be introduced, which must necessarily give a disrelish for more healthful food. Lastly, too many dishes should not be allowed at the same time ; for such a variety of food begets an appetite even after the real call of hunger is satisfied.

Another very important consideration is, not to oppress the faculties by too much instruction ; to avoid every thing which may kindle the passions; to deprive a child, gently and by degrees, of that for which it has expressed too vehement a desire to obtain ; so that, eventually, it may be insensible of disappointment.

If a child's disposition be tolerably good, it may, by the foregoing method, be rendered docile, patient, steady, cheerful, and tranquil ; whereas, if its tender years be neglected, it becomes restless and turbulent during the remainder of its life ; the blood boils, bad habits are formed, and the body and mind, both equally susceptible, become prone to evil. Hence arises a sort of second original sin, which, in advanced age, is the source of a thousand disorders.

As soon as children arrive at a more mature period, or their reason becomes unfolded, we must be careful that all our words have a tendency to make them love truth, and detest artifice and hypocrisy. We ought never to be guilty of any deception or falsehood to appease them, or to persuade them to comply with our wishes ; if we are, owe instruct them in cunning and artifice ; and this they never forget.- Reason and good sense must be our instruments of regulation.

But let us examine with a little more attention the exact dispositions of children, and what more particularly regards their treatment. The substance of their brain is soft, but it becomes harder every day : it has neither experience nor judgment to discriminate one object from another, arid every thing is, therefore, new to them. From this softness and pliability of the brain, impressions are easily made ; and the surprize which accompanies novelty, is the cause of their continual admiration, and extreme curiosity. It is true that this ductility of the brain, attended with considerable heat, produces an easy and constant motion ; hence arises that bustle and volatility of youth, which is as incapable of fixing the attention on one object, as it is of confining the body to one spot.

Again, children are incapable of thinking and acting for themselves ; they remark every thing, but speak little; unless they have been accustomed to talk much-an evil, against which we must be constantly on our guard. The pleasure which we derive and express from the sight of pretty children, spoils them ; for they are, in consequence, accustomed to utter every thing which comes uppermost, and to talk on subjects of which they have no distinct ideas , hence is formed an habit of precipitately passing judgment, and of discussing points they are incapable of comprehending ; an unfortunate circumstance ! and which, probably, adheres to them through life.

This admiration of pretty children has another pernicious consequence; they are sensible that you look at them, watch all their actions, and listen to (heir prattle, with pleasure--hence they natter themselves that all the I world must follow your example.

During this period, when applause is perpetually bestowed, and contradiction seldom obtruded, children indulge chimerical hopes, which, alas ! are the source of endless disappointments throughout life. I have seen children who always fancied you were talking about them, whenever anything was privately said-and this forsooth, because it has sometimes actually been the case : they have also imagined themselves to be most extraordinary and incomparable beings. Take care, therefore, that in your attentions to children, they are unconscious of any particular solicitude on your part : shew them that It is from pure regard, and the helplessness of their condition to relieve their own wants, that you interest yourself in their behalf-and not from admiration of their talents. Be content to form, their minds, by degrees, according to each emergency that may arise ; and if it were in your power to advance their knowledge much beyond their years, even without straining their intellect, by no means put it in practice ; recollect that the danger of vanity and arrogance is always greater than the fruit of those premature educations which make so much noise in the world.

We must be satisfied to follow and assist nature. Children know little, and should not be stimulated to talk: but the consequence of this ignorance is, they are continually asking questions. We should, therefore, answer them precisely, and add sometimes little comparisons, which may throw light on the information we give them. If they judge of some things without sufficient knowledge, they should be checked by a new question, which might make them sensible of their error without rudely confounding them ; at the same time take care to impress on their minds, not by vague praises, but by some effectual mark of esteem, that they afford much more satisfaction when they doubt, and ask for information, on points they do not know, man when they happen to decide rightly. This is the sure method to implant in them a true sense of modesty and politeness ; and to excite a contempt for those idle controversies in which ignorant young folks are too apt to indulge.

As soon as we begin to watch the dawn of reason spreading, we should seize it as a favourable opportunity to guard them against presumption :- " You see," we should exclaim, " that you are much more reasonable and tractable than you were last year -and in the following year you will observe things yet more clearly than you do at present-if, during the last year, you were eager to have passed judgment on things which you now know, and were then ignorant of, you would assuredly have judged wrong. You would therefore have been to blame in offering opinions on subjects above the reach of your intellect.- There are, at this moment, many things which remain for you to know; and you will one day be convinced how imperfect are your present conceptions. Nevertheless, adhere to the counsel of those who judge of things as you yourself would judge, were you gifted with their years and experience."

As the curiosity of children is a faculty which precedes instruction, we should be careful to make them profit by it. For example, in the country when they see a mill, they wish to know what it is-here, then, you may shew them how that food is prepared which nourishes man. A little further they perceive reapers- and you must explain to them their occupation ; how they sow the grain, and how it multiplies in the earth.-- In the town they see a number of shops, where various trades are exercised, and various merchandize is sold. Never consider their questions as importunate ; they are overtures which nature makes to facilitate instruction-shew them, therefore, that you take pleasure in these questions -for, by such means, you teach them insensibly how every -thing is made which conduces to the comfort of man, and extension of commerce. By degrees, and without any particular study, they become acquainted with every article that is useful, and with the price affixed to each, which is, indeed, the true foundation of economy. This kind of knowledge, which no one should despise, because no one is willing to be cheated from the want of it, is particularly necessary for women.

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