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He is taught from the nursery, that he must inherit a great estate, and has no need to mind his book, which is a lesson he never forgets to the end of his life. His chief solace is to steal down and play at spanfarthing with the page or young blackamoor, or little favourite footboy, one of which is his principal confident and bosom friend.
There is one young lord* in this town, who, by an unexampled piece of good fortune, was miraculously snatched out of the gulph of ignorance, confined to a public school for a due term of years, well whipped when he deserved it, clad no better than his comrades, and always their playfellow on the same foot, had no precedence in the school, but what was given him by his merit, and lost it whenever he was negligent. It is well known, how many mutinies were bred at this unprecedented treatment, what complaints among his relations, and other great ones of both sexes; that his stockings with silver clocks were ravished from him ; that he wore his own hair ; that his dress was undistinguished; that he was not fit to appear at a ball or assembly, nor suffered to go to either : and it was with the utmost difficulty, he became qualified for his present removal, where he may probably be farther persecuted, and possibly with success, if the firmness of a very worthy governor and his own good dispositions will not preserve him. I confess, I cannot but wish, he may go on in the
classes ; and it is but justice to this age to say, that it has invented a name for almost every character that distinguishes itself by dress or behaviour, from the plain men who choose to pass unobserved in the crowd.”—Letter, dated Edin. May 4, 1776.
Lord Mountcashel, bred at Dr Sheridan's school.
began; because I have a curiosity to know by so singular an experiment, whether truth, honour, justice, temperance, courage, and good sense, acquired by a school and college education, may not produce a very tolerable lad, although he should happen to fail in one or two of those accomplishments, which, in the general vogue, are held so important to the finishing of a gentleman.
It is true, I have known an academical education to have been exploded in public assemblies; and have heard more than one or two persons of high rank declare, they could learn nothing more at Oxford and Cambridge, than to drink ale and smoke tobacco; wherein I firmly believed them, and could have added some hundred examples from my own observation in one of those universities; but they all were of young heirs sent thither only for form ; either from schools, where they were not suffered by their careful parents to stay above three months in the year; or from under the management of French family tutors, who yet often attended them to their college, to prevent all possibility of their improvement; but I never yet knew any one person of quality, who followed his studies at the university, and carried away his just proportion of learning, that was not ready upon
all occasions to celebrate and defend that course of education, and to prove a patron of learned meŋ.
There is one circumstance in a learned education, which ought to have much weight, even with those who have no learning at all. The books read at school and college are full of incitements to virtue, and discouragements from vice, drawn from the wisest reasons, the strongest motives, and the most influencing examples. Thus young minds are filled early with an inclination to good, and an abhorrence of evil, both which increase in them, according to the advances they make in literature; and although they may be, and too often are, drawn by the temptations of youth, and the opportunities of a large fortune, into some irregularities, when they come forward into the great world, yet it is ever with reluctance and compunction of mind; because their bias to virtue still continues. They may stray sometimes, out of infirmity or compliance; but they will soon return to the right road, and keep it always in view. I speak only of those excesses, which are too much the attendants of youth and warmer blood; for as to the points of honour, truth, justice, and other noble gifts of the mind, wherein the temperature of the body has no concern, they are seldom or ever known to be wild.
I have engaged myself very unwarily in too copious a subject for so short a paper. The present scope I would aim at, is, to prove that some proportion of human knowledge appears requisite to those, who by their birth or fortune are called to the making of laws, and, in a subordinate way, to the execution of them; and that such knowledge is not to be obtained, without a miracle, under the frequent, corrupt, and sottish methods of educating those, who are born to wealth or titles. For I would have it remembered, that I do by no means confine these remarks to young persons of noble birth ; the same errors running through all families, where there is wealth enough to afford, that their sons (at least the eldest) may be good for nothing. Why should my son be a scholar, when it is not intended that he should live by his learning ? By this rule, if what is commonly said be true, that “ money answers all things,” why should my son be honest, temperate, just, or charitable, since he has no intention to depend upon any of these qualities for a maintenance ?
When all is done, perhaps, upon the whole, the matter is not so bad as I would make it; and God, who works good out of evil, acting only by the ordinary course and rule of nature, permits this continual circulation of human things, for his own unsearchable ends. The father grows rich by avarice, injustice, oppression; he is a tyrant in the neighbourhood over slaves and beggars, whom he calls his tenants. Why should he desire to have qualities infused into his son, which himself never possessed, or knew, or found the want of, in the acquisition of his wealth ? The son, bred in sloth and idleness, becomes a spendthrift, a cully, a profligate, and goes out of the world a beggar, as his father came in : thus the former is punished for his own sins, as well as for those of the latter. The dunghill, having raised a huge mushroom of short duration, is now spread to enrich other men's lands. It is indeed of worse consequence, where noble families are gone to decay; because their titles and privileges outlive their estates : and politicians tell us, that nothing is more dangerous to the public, than a numerous nobility without merit or fortune. But even here God has likewise prescribed some remedy in the order of nature; so many great families coming to an end, by the sloth, luxury, and abandoned lusts, which enervated their breed through every succession, producing gradually a more effeminate race wholly unfit for propagation.
HINTS TOWARD AN ESSAY
I HAVE observed few obvious subjects to have been so seldom, or at least so slightly handled as this; and indeed I know few so difficult to be treated as it ought, nor yet, upon which there seems so much to be said.
Most things pursued by men for the happiness of public or private life, our wit or folly have so refined, that they seldom subsist but in idea ; a true friend, a good marriage, a perfect form of government, with some others, require so many ingredients, so good in their several kinds, and so much niceness in mixing them, that for some thousands of years men have despaired of reducing their schemes to perfection : but, in conversation, it is, or might be otherwise ; for here we are only to avoid a multitude of errors, which, although a matter of some difficulty, may be in every man's power, for want of which it remains as mere an idea as the other. Therefore it seems to me, that the truest way to understand conversation, is to know the faults and errors to which it is subject, and from thence every man to form maxims to himself whereby it may be regulated, because it requires few talents to which most men are not born, or