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MR. SAMUEL HARTLIB, to whom the following letter was addressed, was the son of a Polish merchant of German descent and an English mother. He lived in London during a large part of his life, and was actively interested in a vast number of educational and philanthropic schemes. It appears from the "Tractate" itself that he had requested Milton to put into writing some of the ideas on the education of a gentleman which they had from time to time touched on in conversation; and the present treatise is the result.
Beginning with the definition of a "complete and generous education" as one "which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both public and private, of peace and war,” Milton proceeds to lay down a program which is likely to startle the modern reader. The stress on Latin and Greek at the beginning is easily accounted for by the fact that in Milton's day these tongues were the only keys to the storehouse of learning; but the casual way in which Chaldean and Syrian are added to Hebrew seems to indicate that the author tended to overestimate the ease with which the ordinary youth acquires languages. But the mark of the system here expounded is that language is to be merely a means, not an end; that things and not words constitute the elements of education. Thus the Greek and Latin authors prescribed are chosen for the value of their subject matter, and provision is made for a comprehensive knowledge of the science of the time, as well as for training in religion and morals. The suggestions made for exercise have the same practical and utilitarian tendency, fencing, wrestling, and horsemanship being prescribed with a view to soldiership. Nor are the arts neglected, for poetry and music are given their place both as recreation and as influences on character.
This is indeed, as Milton confesses, "not a bow for every man to shoot in"; but as an ideal it is rich in both stimulus and practical suggestion.
To Master Samuel Hartlib.
AM long since persuaded, that to say, or do aught worth mem
ory and imitation, no purpose or respect' should sooner move us, than simply the love of God, and of mankind. Nevertheless to write now the reforming of education, though it be one of the greatest and noblest designs that can be thought on, and for the want whereof this nation perishes, I had not yet at this time been induced, but by your earnest entreaties, and serious conjurements;2 as having my mind for the present half diverted in the pursuance of some other assertions, the knowledge and the use of which, can not but be a great furtherance both to the enlargement of truth, and honest living, with much more peace. Nor should the laws of any private friendship have prevailed with me to divide thus, or transpose my former thoughts, but that I see those aims, those actions which have won you with me the esteem3 of a person sent hither by some good providence from a far country to be the occasion and the incitement of great good to this island. And, as I hear, you have obtained the same repute with men of most approved wisdom, and some of highest authority among us. Not to mention the learned correspondence which you hold in foreign parts, and the extraordinary pains and diligence which you have used in this matter both here, and beyond the seas; either by the definite will of God so ruling, or the peculiar sway of nature, which also is God's working. Neither can I think that so reputed, and so valued as you are, you would to the forfeit of your own discerning ability, impose upon me an unfit and over-ponderous argument, but that the satisfaction which you profess to have received from those incidental discourses
Appeals. 3 As, e. g., unlicensed printing and divorce. 4 Change. 5 Reputation.
which we have wandered into, hath pressed and almost constrained you into a persuasion, that what you require from me in this point, I neither ought, nor can in conscience defer beyond this time both of so much need at once, and so much opportunity to try what God hath determined. I will not resist therefore, whatever it is either of divine, or human obligement that you lay upon me; but will forthwith set down in writing, as you request me, that voluntary Idea, which hath long in silence presented itself to me, of a better education, in extent and comprehension far more large, and yet of time far shorter, and of attainment far more certain, than hath been yet in practise.
Brief I shall endeavor to be; for that which I have to say, assuredly this nation hath extreme need should be done sooner than spoken. To tell you therefore what I have benefited herein among old renowned authors, I shall spare; and to search what many modern Januas and Didactics more than ever I shall read, have projected, my inclination leads me not. But if you can accept of these few observations which have flowered off, and are, as it were, the burnishing' of many studious and contemplative years altogether spent in the search of religious and civil knowledge, and such as pleased you so well in the relating, I here give you them to dispose of.
The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection. But because our understanding can not in this body found itself but on sensible things, nor arrive so clearly to the knowledge of God and things invisible, as by orderly conning over the visible and inferior creature, the same method is necessarily to be followed in all discreet teaching. And seeing every nation affords not experience and tradition enough for all kind of learning, therefore we are chiefly taught the languages of those people who have at any time been most industrious after wisdom; so that language is but the instrument conveying to us things useful to be known. And though a linguist should 6 Works on education by John Amos Comenius, a great educational reformer and a friend of Hartlib's.
7 Fragments rubbed off in polishing. 8 Perceived by the senses.
pride himself to have all the tongues that Babel cleft the world into, yet if he have not studied the solid things in them as well as the words and lexicons, he were nothing so much to be esteemed a learned man, as any yoeman or tradesman competently wise in his mother dialect only. Hence appear the many mistakes which have made learning generally so unpleasing and so unsuccessful; first we do amiss to spend seven or eight years merely in scraping together so much miserable Latin and Greek, as might be learned other wise easily and delightfully in one year. And that which casts our proficiency therein so much behind, is our time lost partly in too oft idle vacancies given both to schools and universities, partly in a preposterous1o exaction, forcing the empty wits of children to compose themes, verses and orations, which are the acts of ripest judgment and the final work of a head filled by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims, and copious invention. These are not matters to be wrung from poor striplings, like blood out of the nose, or the plucking of untimely fruit: besides the ill habit which they get of wretched barbarizing against the Latin and Greek idiom, with their untutored Anglicisms, odious to be read, yet not to be avoided without a well continued and judicious conversing" among pure authors digested, which they scarce taste, whereas, if after some preparatory grounds of speech by their certain forms got into memory, they were led to the praxis12 thereof in some chosen short books lessoned throughly to them, they might then forthwith proceed to learn the substance of good things, and arts in due order, which would bring the whole language quickly into their power. This I take to be the most rational and most profitable way of learning languages, and whereby we may best hope to give account to God of our youth spent herein: and for the usual method of teaching arts, I deem it to be an old error of universities not yet well recovered from the scholastic grossness of barbarous ages, that instead of beginning with arts most easy, and those be such as are most obvious to the sense, they present their young unmatriculated novices at first coming with the most intellective13 abstractions of logic and metaphysics; so that they having but newly left those grammatic flats
10 Lit., in inverted order. 12 Practical application.
11 Familiar intercourse. 13 Intellectual.