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 VIII.
On Religious Studies.*

The preceding observations have sufficiently convinced us of the importance of religion, both as it affects our temporal and eternal welfare. It now follows that we instruct our children in the reading of certain religious works, which are not only considered to contain wholesome doctrine, but which may strengthen us in the opinions we have cherished, and establish, on an unshaken basis, " the reason of the hope that is in us."

Without a pretty accurate information of those data, on which our religion

* The present original chapter is substituted for that of Fenelon, as being more applicable, in the opinion of the translator, to the generality of female readers, at least to those of his own country.

is formed, we become subject to the caprice or violence of certain artful characters, who seldom fail to perplex us, and undermine many of the essential articles of the Christian faith; and who ultimately leave us, after pulling down the fair fabric we had built, in all the misery of doubt and distraction. The scriptures may be said to be written with the finger of God, on adamant which can never perish : it is not in the power of man to shake their authority, or to divert their proper influence on a sincere and pious mind. It is our duty to be careful to comprehend them thoroughly, to have as clear a conception as possible of their more mysterious parts, without harassing our minds if some things still remain for future revelation. We are not to censure what we do not, at first, understand : reason and knowledge are progressive-by degrees, the mist of ignorance is cleared away, and the sunshine of intelligence succeeds. Above all, let us not presumptuously conclude certain passages to be irrecoverably obscure, without, consulting the many able commentators who have treated on them ; but as the library of a mother may not be extensively theological, let us apply for information to those pious pastors, and studious men, who have made these commentators their particular study. If we are so eager to satisfy ourselves and our children on the trifling topics that ordinary conversation gives rise to, how much more anxious should we be to obtain certainty and truth on the important doctrines of revelation !

I do not, however, mean that a child is to be always reading the bible, or sermons, or the catechism-nothing is so injudicious. At her tender years she can comprehend little of the doctrinal points of scripture ; and besides, from such constant habits of perusing religious books, she may become fatigued and disgusted, and turn an indifferent ear to all future application to them. -Let us avoid making children affectedly knowing in those subjects which sometimes require the mature years and profound study of divines to comprehend. Nothing is so disgusting as cant ; as religious quotations in young people, who cannot, from their years and habits, have formed an accurate idea either of the meaning or application of what they quote : such things savour strongly of those suspicious singularities which Fenelon is so anxious to eradicate.- The habit of quoting scripture in young persons of either sex, carries with it a pertness and conceit, which all judicious parents will be careful to discourage. Sacred truths, or religious denunciations, are not to be enforced by the levity of youth ; ignorance and hypocrisy may be suspected where such premature sanctity prevails. If there be one thing more than another, which destroys the simplicity and harmless cheerfulness of girls, it is the giving them notions of puritanical gravity, and artificial sobriety of behaviour : joy and elasticity of spirits are not of themselves criminal. If we repress these innocent ebullitions, by inculcating formality and fastidiousness, we do as much mischief to the growth of the mind, as we should do to that of an upright and proportionate body, by the application of bandages and ligatures.

No small degree of care and skill is requisite for the direction of religious studies in young people, and especially in females ; because the opposite sex, which is always fond of triumph, will be exerting every art, and trying every expedient, to weaken and subvert their arguments. If reason or superior knowledge fail, ridicule is resorted to; and this, it must be confessed, has a very strong effect on those young people of a disposition above described. In early years, religious impressions should be kept solemnly within the breast : they should be our consolation in affliction, our hope in distress, and the grand stimulus to prayer and meditation. It is well known, that from a premature disclosure of crude religious sentiments, ridicule and disgust are excited ; and many an amiable and pious girl has suffered, her principles to be shaken, and her faith to be overturned, by the buffoonery and sarcasm of a weak and contemptible antagonist. Let us endeavour to guard against this ; and to prevent any ill effects arising from those important studies, which should be the ornament and solace of our lives.

From no quarter can a child receive religious instruction with more benefit than from a mother, and in proportion to the ignorance or indiscretion of the latter, will be that of the former. If a child is unaccustomed to see books of religion in her mother's library, she can have but little curiosity to peruse them ; and if they at last be obtruded on her, she will naturally suspect the sincerity other instructor, who produces works which she deems of the highest importance to her pupil's welfare, but of which she herself does not possess a single copy. This evil is easily remedied, if parents would only consider the importance of religious education ; if, instead of crowding their shelves with the flimsy productions of novelists and romancers, they would admit a few judicious works, which treat of the evidences of the Christian religion, and describe the chief doctrines by which it is upheld. A portion of these studies might be given at stated times, or as the inclination of "the child prompts, so as not to make them too formal or severe.

By the blessing of providence, we have, in our own country, a great abundance of excellent religious tracts, which display the rise, progress and establishment of the Christian religion. Men of eminence and piety-arch-bishops, bishops, divines of every rank, and laymen, have all contributed their talents, with various ability and success, to set forth the glory of the gospel, and the truths of the kingdom of heaven. Let us, therefore, attend to the doctrines which these wise and virtuous men, who have passed a long and studious life, as labourers in the vineyard of Christ, have illustrated and enforced. Let us not indulge chimeras and conceits of our own ; but, with a diffidence and timidity, listen to those opinions of the learned and the good, whose abilities and opportunities have best entitled them to pronounce judgment. Nothing should be so much avoided as hasty and obstinate conclusions, drawn from premises which are not sufficiently understood.

In proportion to the breadth and depth of the foundation, will be the strength of the superstructure ; and if we take care to place in the hands of young religious pupils, such sound and serious books as awaken piety, with out kindling enthusiasm-as lead and satisfy the reason, without exciting vain and sceptical curiosity--as strengthen the mind, and meliorate the heart, without creating vanity, selfishness, and hypocrisy-we shall, I ardently conceive, have effected that which it was our wish and duty to perform.

Agreeably to these principles and reflections, I am desirous of recommending such plain, perspicuous, and sound works, as comprehend every thing relating to the elements, doctrines, and practice of Christianity; and such as may not be difficult, or attended with great expence, in the procuring.

1. The TEN COMMANDMENTS ; and the 5th, 6th and 7th Chapters of the Gospel, according to St. Matthew. These important parts of holy writ contain a fund of the most excellent and essential doctrines for a Christian to know and practice; the primitive Christians used to commit them to memory, and instruct their children in the application of them.*

* Perhaps it may be advisable to have them printed separately, in large striking letters, so as to be impressed stronger on the child's imagination.

The following production may be worth obtaining ; " An ABSTRACT of the Historical Fart of the Old Testament, with .References to other Parts of Scripture, especially to the New-Testament ;" which are placed at length in an opposite column. London : printed by W. Bowyer, 1730, 8vo. This is a very useful, though not generally known, publication. If it has not been reprinted, it is now probably scarce.

The work is " inscribed to the founders, benefactors, and trustees, of the charity schools." It was composed by that learned printer, Mr. Bowyer ; and the introduction, written by way of preface, bears strong marks of the piety and talents of its author.

2. Dr. DODDRIDGE'S Three Sermons on the Evidences of Christianity, separately published, from the particular superintendance and recommendation of the present Bishop of London. It is an useful tract, and is sold very cheap.

3. The (present) BISHOP of LONDON'S Summary of the Evidences of Christianity, &c. which may be considered one of the most useful, and perspicuous treatises extant; it is very cheap.

4. Mr. ADDISON'S Treatise on the same. This (which should properly have been first noticed) is a beautiful

It is followed by a " Translation of a Letter from the Earl of Mirandola and Concordia, to his nephew, then an officer in the army of the Emperor Charles V." This letter, which is too long to extract, is serious and impressive ; and such as does great honour to the religious principles, and sound sense of the writer.

and masterly dissertation, and worthy of the celebrity of its pious and elegant author.

5. GROTIUS on the Truth of the Christian Religion. Every enlightened mother will derive great pleasure and benefit from the perusal of this incomparable treatise. It has been translated by John Clark, and lately by the Rev. Mr. Madan, from the Latin of the famous Grotius. Students in divinity are usually examined in the original when they present themselves for holy orders.

6. BISHOP PRETTYMAN'S Elements of Christian Theology. This is a work of deserved repute, and will be found greatly instructive. The historical events of scripture are detailed in an interesting manner, and cannot fail to afford the most pleasing conviction of the truth of what is related. There; has been an abridgment of it in one large 8vo. volume, by the Rev. Mr. Clapham. The original is in 2 vols. 8vo.

7. SECKER (Archbishop) on the Catechism: and WILSON (Bishop) on the Sacrament. These are truly -excellent treatises : their established celebrity renders no further recital of them necessary in this place.

8. SERMONS : by Dr. S. Clarke; Abp. Seeker, Sherlock, Jortin, Balguy, Porteus, (Bishop of London,) Blair, and Carr.* These among many other excellent ones, whose enumeration "would swell the list to an unnecessary size, may be perused and meditated on with great advantage. They are

* Miss Boudler has published a small volume of useful sermons to a country congregation, which it may be advisable to procure. Her name is not prefixed to the work ; but it is published by Cadell and Davies, in the Strand.

not selected in rejection of others, but solely as containing much sound and edifying matter, which may bring forth " sixty and an hundred fold."

9. WILSON'S (Bishop) Bible, with Commentaries : in 3 vols. 4to. Bath : printed by Crutwell. Perhaps, the most judicious and unexceptionable illustration of the sacred text extant.

10. GISBORNE'S Duties of Women, and Familiar Survey of the Christian Religion, are both very excellent performances, and reflect great credit on the head and heart of the distinguished and benevolent writer.

11. The Whole Duty of Man.

12. The Ladies' Calling. These two last works are from the same anonymous author, whose publications are, indeed, purer than gold- " yea, than much fine gold."

Such are the works recommended to the perusal and meditation of serious and enlightened parents : and such, it is hoped, will not bring' forth " bitter fruits."

There are moments of languor and heaviness, of dulness and despondency, to which the best of mothers may be exposed, and which may be removed, or relieved, by a perusal of some of the foregoing writers : in such moments, she will know the full value of their works, and will not removed the trouble or expence incurred in the procuring of them. She will then be convinced that the common productions, which amuse the piorant and the foolish, could not have supplied the want of them ;- whether in soothing the pangs which rise from a deceased husband or child, or in teaching her to bear up with fortitude against the frowns of a persecuting world. The balm of consolation which arises from these studies, she will pour into the bosom of a dutiful daughter ; and the knowledge that she has gained by experience, will be imparted to, and grow up with, her rising posterity.

Let it always be impressed on our minds, that if we are so anxious to procure costly furniture, or splendid apparel, which the moth eats, or the thief steals, how much more is it our duty to devote a comparatively trifling sum towards the acquisition of those mental treasures, of which neither treachery nor violence can dispossess us, and which fit us, by degrees, for the eternal mansions of happiness and, rest.

It has been observed, that the female sex is more liable to fanaticism than the male history, however, of religious sectaries, does not authorise this observation : instances of violence and mad persecution may be adduced, in which females have taken a very subordinate part, or indeed none at all; and while the examples of Athanasius and Arius are fresh in the memory, we need not resort to another. That the warmth and susceptibility of a female mind renders it exposed to strong impressions, before the judgment begins to operate, cannot be deputed. What pleases on the first impression is not easily eradicated; and we conclude that to be true, which flatters some previous opinion, or favours some some secret bias. Error, thus introduced, is not extirpated without difficulty : and if to the pliancy and sensibility of a female mind, we add, it opportunities are seldom offered going into deep critical investigations, or listening to opposite opinions, which are founded on reason and experience, it will not appear surprising that women are sometimes warm in their religious sentiments, and slow and reluctant to abandon them.

Hence follows the necessity of a proper religious instruction-of an adherence to those doctrines and opinions, which, on a careful survey of the many that have agitated mankind, seem to be the best calculated for ensuring our present and future welfare. In thus offering advice on so important a subject, the translator has ventured to advance certain sentiments, and to recommend certain works, which in his humble apprehension, appeared likely to be productive of some assistance and advantage. When he recommends a conformity to the tenets of the ESTABLISHED CHURCH OF THIS COUNTRY, he does so from a conscientious conviction of its purity and excellence ; from a recollection of the many great and good men who have lived and died in its cause ; and whose works remain a glorious monument of their diligence, piety, and learning. While reason, integrity, and virtue, have any influence on the human character, while practical good is acknowledged to be superior to plausible theory, so long shall the luminous and Illustrious divines of the English Church rise above all the pretensions of fanatical and self-inspired teachers, who turn the word of God into craft, and use the name of Jesus with their lips, while their hearts are estranged from him.

That the foregoing sentiments may tend to promote true soberminded religion-to adorn the female character with those charms which arise from the substance, and not the form, of piety-to excite cheerfulness without levity-seriousness without despondency-and happiness in this present state without groundless anxieties of the future-is the earnest and ardent wish of their author.

Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home