Opinions and Principles

Opinions and Principles

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Editor’s note: On November 15, 1909, the faithful of the Parents’ National Education Union gathered in Birmingham for their thirteenth annual conference. By this time, Charlotte Mason had already completed the first five volumes of The Home Education Series. On day two of the conference, Lady Campbell read a paper by Mason entitled “Opinions and Principles.” In The Story of Charlotte Mason, Essex Cholmondeley described this paper:

‘Opinions and Principles’ appeared the following year (1909). Here again Miss Mason is concerned with the conduct of life, showing that the opinions and principles which are gathered as life goes on should be a natural, living growth out of the wide knowledge collected during school years. This knowledge comes from intelligent reading coupled with a clear idea of the ground-plan of human nature such as Ourselves supplies. (p. 118)

Cholmondeley went on to quote a few paragraphs from this paper. But when it was published in The Parents’ Review in January of 1910, the full paper covered all of 18 pages. Cholmondeley’s summary gave only a glimpse of the rich and varied content of this gem. We are pleased now to share it in its entirety, a document which may be considered a summary—a synopsis—of Mason’s philosophy of education, a preview of her final work, Towards a Philosophy of Education.

– Art

By Miss Charlotte M. Mason
The Parents’ Review, 1910, pp. 27-44

Some of us have lately been reading “Little Arthur’s Guide to Knowledge,” in the pages of Punch. “Arthur,” aged twelve, asks questions—persistent, tiresome questions, punctuated with “why” and “you said”; and the persons whom he corners are uneasy. They are nice people, too, with notions about bringing the boy up well,—this father, uncle, elder sister, and governess; but the text upon which he examines them all is their own sayings and doings, and they come out badly. Two reflections suggest themselves—that Arthur is an abominable little prig and deserves to be snubbed; and that his people are poor things, the boy being in a bad way who depends upon them for his bringing up.

Now, Arthur is not really a prig; the trouble is that he says out loud, like a Maria Edgeworth-child, what children usually keep to themselves; and his people who show up rather badly are good-natured, well-meaning, and as intelligent as the rest of us. The obvious conclusions we have drawn are at fault; but all the same these Punch papers are a contribution to our thought about education. Two things come out pretty plainly, first, that the boy wants to know; and, next, that his elders and betters are not in a position to instruct him. What “Arthur” wants is material wherewith to form opinions. He must make opinions as he must make bone; and, just as there is a long period of adolescence allowed for the forming of his bodily tissues, so a long period is set apart for his education in order that he may slowly and naturally collect material from which his opinions shall develop and upon which his principles may grow.

Here is where “Little Arthur” comes in as an illustration. He gleans in a bare field; and it seems to me that modern education, excellent as it is, fails in affording children the very abundant and varied mind-stuff they should have from which to produce their opinions. Arthur’s father and uncle and rather pedantic governess are, like the rest of us, most liberal with their opinions, or what they take to be opinions; but the boy does not find these satisfying; he does not want ready-made opinions but stuff from which to make them. A hundred things crop up every day upon which he unconsciously thinks—the policeman at the corner, the sales advertised in shop windows, the Fleet, the Territorials, the South Pole, Airships, his own family and their ways, the next-door neighbours who, somehow, think about things in a different way. Stray casual reflections about all matters of conduct and current history come to the boy, but he cannot get hold of enough data to enable him to think clearly about any of these matters. His life-experience is too narrow; and the keen logic of a child’s mind makes him aware that the people he knows palm off fallacies and prejudices by way of just opinions and sound principles. By and by he learns the trick, catches up the pass-word of the moment, saves himself the trouble of thinking and becomes, in his turn, flabby, elusive, rather one of a type than an individual.

We are all apt to suppose that thought is free. We are willing to accept some kind of code, written or unwritten, for our actions and even our speech; but our thought—why it would be intolerable to have that under rule! Surely, we may think what we like even if we must refrain from saying or doing the thing we think! This notion of the freedom of thought, the idea that our minds, at any rate, may behave as chartered libertines, that our thoughts are free to go where they will and pick up what they choose, reduces us to the condition of intellectual casuals. Something by way of thought must occupy our minds; we perceive no duty in the matter, no necessity for ordering our thoughts or, what is more important, for providing ourselves with a periodical supply of material for intellectual digestion. So we go about in a state of avidity for any fallacy in the air that we may pick up and cherish as our “opinion”—to be passed on with a diligence worthy of a better cause. Perhaps our case is less serious than that which Emerson indicates in his own countrymen. We cannot quite say that seventy thousand Englishmen are “going about in search of a religion”; but we pride ourselves upon a tolerance which may sometimes arise from the ignorance which does not know how to distinguish between things that differ. On social questions, we think with a fine easy toleration of sentiments and situations which, thank Heaven, we do not yet feel ourselves at liberty to emulate. This is the sort of thing: “He is the sort of man that would die for his country. Now, I am cosmopolitan. All countries are the same for me and I would not die for any of them.” “Marriage ought not to be a permanent institution. It ought to end where love ends.” “I always forgive everyone everything. We can’t all be alike and we can’t all be heroes.” This is the sort of stuff which is taken up with astonishing avidity one “silly season” after another, and we should be surprised at the way notions spread, like epidemics, if we did not realize that multitudes are going about with famished minds in well-fed bodies to whom any windfall of a notion is better than nothing.

In political matters, again, we trust to our newspaper, which is expressly the organ of our party, and do not look for the side-lights cast by other writings or for the illumination to be had from history and literature. What material we collect we get out of compendiums and lectures; and these cannot afford the copious detail upon which alone the mind is able to think. To quote Punch once more:—

Tory. But perhaps you have not read our papers?

Radical. No, I have not and I don’t want to… Have you read this Leader?

Tory. No, I haven’t and I don’t want to.

That is it. We get our thinking done for us, because, really, we don’t know enough to think for ourselves.

We are slow to recognize our need of a mental diet, various and good, served at short and regular intervals; and if this is necessary for the adult who has, so to speak, made his mental “tissue,” how much more is it so for young people who are making the very “bones” of their minds, the opinions on which they take their stand?

Perhaps we are not justified in entertaining or offering an opinion that is not the outcome of knowledge and reflection. An opinion about a person, for instance, whether one of our own acquaintance or a man in public life, depends for its value upon our intimate acquaintance with a pretty wide range of persons, both in life and literature. Napoleon knew men, and his knowledge of the springs of conduct was one of the secrets of his amazing career, but then, he was not content to study men only. He read diligently, even in the midst of absorbing affairs; Homer, the Bible, the Koran, poetry, history, Plutarch; in fact, the sort of reading best calculated to give him a key to character, and a guide in affairs. Probably history affords no more brilliant example of what may be called literary inspiration in directing judgment as to the affairs of life: the sincerity of his dependence upon literature is shown by such facts as his observing on that disastrous day at Brienne, during a charge of the Cossacks, a tree under which when a boy he used to read Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. Again, while sick at Dresden, the news of disaster to his arms in Russia is brought to him and he says,—toying with his compasses the while:—

J’ai servi, commandé, vaincu quarante années;
Du monde, entre mes mains, j’ai vu les destinées;
Et j’ai toujours connu qu’en chaque evènment
Le destin des états dependait d’un moment.

Indeed, it behoved the man who revived the role of the Caesars to study his part; the man, whose success depended on the generous enthusiasm of his following, learned from earlier records how generous, devoted, single in purpose, a mixed mass of men may become. Literature and history taught him these things, and he knew how to apply his knowledge with a definiteness and exactness less than generous. We have few finer examples of the tremendous practical power of liberal culture; nor do we often come across a more exact indication of its limitations.

Napoleon’s opinions were nearly always just; when he explains his reasons for restoring Divine worship in France, he mentions how he had been moved by hearing the bells of a village church, and adds that, if such an incident move him, certainly it must affect the people—because religion is natural to all men.

Of Louis XVI., he says, “Nay, nay, he was no tyrant; had he been one I should this day have been a Captain of Engineers.”

Talleyrand is objected to on account of his weather-cock politics. “Be it so,” said Napoleon, “but he is the ablest minister for foreign affairs in our choice.” Carnot was belittled as a Republican, “Republican or not,” said the Emperor, “he is one of the last Frenchmen that would wish to see France dismembered.”

We all know that Napoleon was a genius, but genius is, so to speak, the machine which acts upon the raw material afforded by education and circumstances; and the practical results of Napoleon’s avidity for books are of a sort that should be useful to us all. The power to take a generous view of men and their motives, to see where the greatness of a given character lies, to have one’s judgment of present events illustrated and corrected by historic and literary parallels, to have, indeed, the power of comprehensive judgment—these are admirable assets within the power of everyone according to the measure of his mind; and this sort of material for his opinions, background for his actions, it should be the first care of his educators to supply to a youth.

We are too apt to offer ready-made opinions to young people, to pass on what we think, or what we believe we think; and this answers its purpose if we consider only the ease and convenience of acting upon habitual lines of thought. But each of us must add his quota to the thought of the world, must produce what, if not new in itself, is new to him, and it is upon the power of original thinking that all noteworthy action depends. Now, thought breeds thought. It is as vital thought touches our minds that our own ideas are vitalized in the contact, and out of our ideas comes our conduct of life. That is why the direct and immediate impact of great minds upon his own mind is a necessary factor in the education of a child. If you want to know how far a given school lays itself out to furnish its scholars with the material for opinions, ask to see the list of books in reading during the current term. If the list be short, the child will not get enough mind-stuff. If the books are not various, his ideas will develop in one direction only; if they are not original, but compiled at second-hand from this book and that, he will find no material at all in them for his intellectual growth. Again, if they are too easy and too direct, if they tell him straight what he is to think, he will read, no doubt, but he will not appropriate. Just as a man has to eat a fairly good dinner in order that his physical energies may be stimulated to select and secrete that small portion which is vital to him, so the intellectual energies must be stimulated to extract what the individual needs by a generous supply, and also, by a way of presentation that is by no means obvious. We have the highest Authority for the indirect method of teaching proper to literature, and especially, to poetry. The parables of our Lord contain the fullest digest of the Christian religion; even to-day, we understand only a little, here and there, and we wonder how much could have been obvious to the Jews who heard these simple-sounding tales in the first place. We do not understand, but we know. The parables are part and parcel of our lives as perhaps no other part of the Bible has become.

The boy who gets a single idea, notion, material for an opinion, out of a big book has his reward. But, in order to get this reward, he must read for himself, and must read to know; his teacher’s main business is to see that he knows; all the acts of generalisation, analysis, comparison, judgment, etc., the mind performs for itself in the act of knowing. Again, knowledge got from books should be got for the sake of knowledge itself, and not to pass examinations; to pass these is good and well, and easy enough to the boy or girl who knows; only “passing” should not be put in the foreground as a motive to study. If the mind be pre-occupied by any subsidiary motive, that intellectual digestion whereby intelligence is nourished does not take place.

Opinions, then, are not to be entertained in a casual way. An opinion worth having must be the outcome of our thought and knowledge of the subject, it must be our own opinion, and not caught up as a parrot catches up its phrases; and it must be disinterested, that is, it must not be influenced by our inclination. Why need we have opinions at all, is a question that occurs. Just because we are persons. Every person has many opinions, either his own, honestly thought out, or picked up from his pet newspaper or from some intimate companion. The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty, and to do our duty in our thoughts by forming just opinions is a very great part of our work in life—in the lives of men and nations—because each of us has his share in forming that powerful factor, “Public Opinion.”

We must all get opinions about our own country, about other countries, about occupations, amusements, about the books we read, the persons we hear of, the persons we meet, the pictures we see, the characters we read of whether in fiction or history,—in fact, there is nothing which passes before our minds about which it is not our business to form just and reasonable opinions. If we reflect that the years of childhood and school-life should be spent in getting the knowledge which should enable the young to form such opinions, we realize more fully what to aim at in the education of our children.

We of the P.N.E.U. do not speak without knowledge; we have practised our doctrine for a score of years with satisfactory results. We find that children brought up largely on books compare very well indeed with others who have been educated on a few books and many lectures; they love books which are books, and they love knowledge for its own sake. They have generous enthusiasms, keen sympathies, a wide outlook, and sound judgment, because they are treated from the first as beings “of wide discourse, looking before and after.” We speak that we do know in urging parents not to be content with any method of education for their children which does not include a liberal and wise use, at first hand, of the best books.

To return to Napoleon, for a single familiar example is worth a great deal of precept: He was not only inspired, but obsessed, blinded, by historical parallels. From the Bellerophon he writes to the Regent: “I have terminated my career and come, like Themistocles, to seat myself on the hearth of the British people.” He quotes the persistence of Marius to justify his escape from Elba. In fact, throughout his career there is a curious element of the schoolboy, “playing at it,” a schoolboy of such extraordinary imagination that he believes in the part he is playing and is capable of imposing his faith on the world. Probably there never was a life on which the “humanities” exercised a more powerful influence; never has there been such an example of the power of the informed mind to conquer the world. Napoleon is a final answer to the contention that a knowledge of books has no practical value; there was, perhaps, no incident in his career that was not suggested, inspired, illustrated, by some historical precedent, some literary apothegm.

But Napoleon’s was an age which believed in books and in men who make books; the Tugenbund founded by disciples of Kant, was a league of virtue designed to arouse Prussian students to a sense of their duty towards King and native land. It was Fichte, again, whose words were as a trumpet call summoning a hopeless and demoralized nation to resist the conqueror they were inclined to accept as invincible. The charming and heroic Queen Louisa, wrote and said again and again that not only Napoleon, but chiefly ignorance, was the cause of the downfall of Prussia; and that if the nation would rise again men must devote themselves to the study of history. She, for her part, occupied herself sedulously with the study of the history of modern Europe, during her enforced and dreary sojourn at Memel. The Queen and the philosophers were right; an enlightened Prussia proved itself equal to the task of resistance before which an ignorant nation had succumbed.

We see to-day how books have made a nation which may date its rise out of illiteracy from the same Napoleonic impulse. The Danes, after we had seized their battle ships by way of clipping the claws of Buonaparte, set to work to make themselves what they are to-day—the first farmers in Europe; and this they have done in and through their schools where they get, not technical instruction, but a pretty wide course of reading in history and literature. It is for this that their Continuation Schools chiefly exist, and, as in the case of Napoleon, this sort of investment of time and labour has brought about extraordinary results.

It has seemed to me worth while to dwell on the career of Buonaparte because, if he illustrates the necessity for liberal, persistent reading as a preparation for life, he shows just as forcibly that the boy who goes out with ample material for the formation of opinions, is prepared for life on one side only. He has the knowledge which is power, but he wants the wisdom which is conduct. Napoleon was as unmoral as an intelligent, undisciplined boy who has had the run of a library but has not been taught to order himself. Well has it been said of him:—

An empire thou couldst crush, command, rebuild,
But govern not thy pettiest passion, nor,
However deeply in men’s spirits skilled,
Look through thine own.

A freebooter among the nations, generous by fits and starts; but shrinking from no excess of rapine and slaughter, without pity, without integrity, though not without loyalty, taking refuge in lies at the moral crises of his life, petty, mean, and vulgar when little things crossed him,—he stands before us an example on a gigantic scale of the perils of an education which is merely practical.

But, we may ask, what has all this to do with us? We paint on a smaller canvas and run no such risks. In so far as we encourage our children to believe that success is the chief thing (“la gloire,” let us call it), our foundations are on the same general plan, however small may be our scale. Our children cannot do better than emulate Buonaparte in his wide and practical converse with books; but let us see to it that they have, not only opinions in the one scale, but principles to counterbalance these in the other; and of right principles of conduct, Napoleon seems to have been curiously devoid. Did he fully realize that such restraints exist?

No one is without principles, those settled rules of action by which a person chooses to guide his life. These guiding lights, our principles of conduct, each of us must accumulate, like his opinions, for himself; that is, we must each choose which we will have, but we are infinitely helped or hindered by the examples and by the motives which are set before us. The child who is brought up in a virtuous home usually makes an involuntary choice of principles of rectitude for his guidance. His school helps him to principles of manly honour, public spirit, loyal co-operation, good-fellowship, of patriotism and loyalty. By the way, I wonder whether the rather fine incident noticed in the following cutting from The Times illustrates some slight lesson on the necessity for taxes given at school. If so, it shows that a little goes a long way; and Birmingham may be proud of her patriotic citizen, endowed with power and will to extract from a little information a fine principle for his guidance:—

A Voluntary Taxpayer.—An anonymous letter has been received by the Probate Registrar at Birmingham. It contained three postal orders for 20s. each and a scrap of paper upon which was written:—‘For the King, or for His soldiers, or for keeping the Country going, a sort of King’s Taxes i suppose from one who respects Him. God Bless him, God bless the King.’ In the margin was written:—‘i hope this will go to the right places, the places i means.’

The country, and indeed, all civilized countries, are very much alive at the present time to the necessity for moral training, that is, training which shall aid the pupil in the formation of principles of conduct; and the anxious question is, how to give such training. The gradual decline of the teaching of religion in our schools makes it a matter of urgency to find some effective substitute; and we try to teach good conduct by precept and quoted example, by tale and encouraging talk; the motive we employ being the old one, that the good boy gets the big cake. Every sort of teaching succeeds after its kind, and very likely we shall produce that eighteenth century type of virtue for which Maria Edgeworth and her father, Mr. Day, and many other worthy people laboured. But water rises no higher than its source, and, if our springs of conduct are desires for our own well-being, why it is just possible that the virtues we succeed in producing are not a bit better in themselves than the evils we cure, though they may be more convenient to society. Selfishness, it has been well said, is none the better for being eternal selfishness; and such a calamity as a highly moral selfishness may overtake a whole nation. But if we would escape such pitfall, our very vocabulary on the subject of our “principles” is a sufficient guide. For example, we must do our duty, we say, and duty is that which is due from us. We ought to do so and so, we say, and ought is that which we owe. To whom do we owe and who is it that claims dues from us? Our neighbours, our fellow men, we say, our parents, relations and other people generally. But we instinctively feel that any allegiance we pay to claims such as these is voluntary. We are kind in conduct, faithful to engagements, generous in action and construction, only because we choose and if we choose; if circumstances strongly incline us otherwise—why there is really nothing to bind us! For all the claims of neighbour, chief and country are relative; except as they are bound up in, connected with and subordinate to one Supreme claim, we feel them to be artificial bonds; and this is the secret of a general unrest, of indiscipline in the home and the University (not yet in England happily), of the undue exaltation of individual interests whether of class or person, of the looseness with which all bonds are held. We know how the good and wise in a great sister country deplore the commonness of divorce; but that is only symptomatic, an indication in one direction of the loosening of bonds in every direction. We are becoming emancipated from duties and responsibilities; and though, out of that virtue which is ineradicable in us, we take up causes with enthusiasm, our wilful zeal in a “cause” does not make up for ordered persistence in a duty.

We admire what we call “pagan” virtues, whether in Ancient Greece or Rome or in the Eastern nations of to-day, and we say that virtue may exist without religious sanctions; but we forget that God is the God of all flesh, that the high virtues we admire have developed under an almost paralysing sense of the immanence of God—by however many names the principle of Divine Goodness may be recognized, and however gross the superstitions associated with “few, faint and feeble” gleams of truth. It is because our Union recognizes that our Duty, which includes all our virtues, is only obligatory so far as we recognize the Supreme Relation that we rest our work upon a religious basis.

But it is possible, on the other hand, to be religious and not moral. Indeed, there are in the present day, as in Jerusalem of old, certain acrimonious and supercilious tendencies that thrive in a religious atmosphere. Therefore, though we get the motive power and the sanctions for moral effort in religion, we recognize that goodness is an art which we must learn as definitely as we learn mathematics. This is the fact that the world has awakened to, and the teaching of morality now takes its regular place upon our curriculum; that is, we add definite instruction to all the indefinite teaching by precept and example which every child receives. But is our zeal according to knowledge and will lessons, with piled up examples, on thrift, truth, temperance, and all those virtues which we choose to emphasize because they are the most convenient to society, issue in that balance of character which is virtue? All this no doubt we ought to do, but there is a more important thing which we leave undone. A craftsman gets knowledge of his tools and of his material in the using of both, but somehow we go on using the tools in our hands, the material we have to work upon to produce the stature of a perfect man, all through a lifetime in a hap-hazard, witless way.

Even more important, then, than material for opinions as an equipment for life are principles of conduct; and, though we all gather these as we go on,—get together our code of principles, good or bad, sound or unsound,—we should, I think, be greatly assisted if we had some reasonable ground-plan upon which to work, if we considered, that is, our material and our tools.

It is well to appeal to the emotions through tale and song, but emotional response is short-lived and the appeal to the emotions is deadened by repetition. The response of the intellect to coherent and consecutive teaching appears on the contrary to be continuous and enduring. Boys and girls have as much capacity to apprehend what is presented to their minds as have their elders; and, like their elders, they take great pleasure and interest in an appeal to their understanding which discovers to them some ground plan of human nature,—a common possession. It is inspiring to them to know that all beautiful and noble possibilities are present in everyone, but that each person is subject to assault and hindrance in various ways of which he should be aware in order that he may watch and pray. However much hortatory teaching may bore both young people and their elders, an ordered presentation of the possibilities that lie in human nature and of the risks that attend these can hardly fail to have an enlightening and stimulating effect. An appeal to the young to make the most of themselves because of the vast possibilities that are in them and of the law of God which constrains them, seldom fails; but such an appeal should take the two lines of indicating duty and shewing the possibility of fulfilment.

In our moral as in our intellectual education we work too much upon utilitarian lines; we all want the impulse of wider and deeper conceptions. We know that a boy may be taught how his body is served by certain appetites and that each of these servants is on the watch to become ruler; that Rest, a good servant, may become Sloth, a tyrant; that serviceable Hunger may become degrading Gluttony; that each appetite has its time; that to keep the body pure is one of the great duties we have in the world; that we, too, have a tree of the knowledge of good and evil planted in the garden of our bodies; that tempters come to us, also, and tell us that we may eat and not die, but be like gods, knowing good and evil; but that, the moment we eat, that moment we begin to die; that those who keep pure in heart shall see God, not only when they die, but, with the eye of their soul, about them and beside them,—this sort of knowledge will help a boy to glorify God in his body: and the sense that each of the appetites so necessary to his body must be kept in subjection as a servant and not allowed to rule as a master, will give play to that fighting instinct upon which the safety of each single Man-soul must depend.

A boy may be taught what wealth he possesses in his five senses, all the joys he holds in seeing and hearing, in touching, too, (though only the blind know how satisfying these may become). He may be taught that slothfulness in the use of his senses brings with it deprivation and is an offence, and that each one of these so serviceable senses may be pampered until it becomes a tyrannous master. The pleasure of seeing may send him about agape for shows; Touch, that most pervasive, most useful servant, may become a cause of irritability and peevishness; boys and girls may be taught not to say or think that they do not like porridge, or mutton, or potatoes, lest the time should come when they want things with many flavours to please their taste, and learn to live for the enjoyment of their dinner. Every young person may learn not to allow himself in daintiness about food but to be rather glad when things are served which he does not like because this gives him an opportunity to keep taste in its proper place—that of servant and not of master.

Again, a boy should have some conception of the delights which his Intellect is able to afford him, how science, history, mathematics, philosophy, literature, art, are all before him, pleasant places and delectable, to be opened by the key of knowledge which he must labour to get; and that his chief hindrances are Inertia (a sort of sloth which makes us unwilling to begin to think of anything but the small matters of everyday life), and Habit (which goes always over the same ground)—an excellent servant but a bad master, inclined to sterilize intellect and narrow life. Let us inspire the young to have, like Leonardo, a spirit “invariably royal and magnanimous,” ever increasing in knowledge of nature and art, of literature and man, of the Past and the Present.

If in the domains of intellect, imagination, the æsthetic sense, reason, of those desires which make for the sustenance of the mind as the appetites do for that of the body—if in all of these it is our business to see that young people are put in the way of finding principles for their guidance, still more do they require instruction in the ordering of the two great moral principles of Love and Justice which reside in every person. They must know how to distinguish Love from various counterfeits; that, as we are all capable of warmth, liking, friendliness, love, so we are all capable of coldness, dislike, aversion, hatred; and that our dislike is commonly not the fault of the person we dislike but our error in disliking.

It is good for a boy to know that he has within him funds of pity, benevolence, sympathy, kindness, generosity, gratitude, courage, loyalty, humility, gladness; and it is very good that he should know that he is not exceptional in the enjoyment of all this moral wealth which is lodged, more or less, in the bosom of every human being. Still better is it that he should be put on his guard lest pity be inactive or degenerate into self-pity: he should be made aware that selfishness, fastidiousness, slothfulness, good-nature itself, are ready to obstruct every movement of that benevolence, or goodwill, which we have it in us to bestow upon every one. And so with every manifestation of love, each being attended by its own particular antipathies.

A boy is promoted, too, when he knows that he has Justice in his heart; that we are all able to pay the dues of justice, to maintain our own rights and to yield those of all other persons; that we are able to show the justice we owe to the persons of others; to observe truth, that is, justice in word; integrity, or justice in action; to keep ourselves just in thought by forming sound opinions; just in motive by maintaining good principles; just to ourselves in the due ordering of body, mind and heart.

The boy should know, too, the function of Conscience; that conscience may be tampered with and must be instructed; that in the instruction of conscience, after the Bible itself, poet and essayist, novelist and dramatist, historian and philosopher come to our aid; that, in the government of the body, conscience demands temperance, chastity, fortitude and prudence; that nature, science and art, sociology and self-knowledge, all lend themselves to the instruction of conscience; that conscience chides us for the commission of sin, but that only the instructed conscience perceives sins of ignorance, allowance, prejudice; that every power and function a person possesses and exercises is also an avenue for temptation of one sort or another.

Therefore the boy must learn the way of the Will, must realize that the labour of choice is upon him every day and all day. He must know that the ordering of himself, the due co-ordination of all his powers belongs to the Will; that the Will is neither moral nor immoral; that the function of the Will is to choose; that the choice lies, not between things, circumstances, or persons, but between ideas; that an act of the Will evolves from long preparation of the intelligence, the affections and the conscience; that what appear to be immediate acts of Will are really only the application of principles and opinions that have been slowly formed; that intellectual opinions as well as moral principles belong to the sphere of the Will. He must know that the Will asserts itself not by struggle but by a diversion of thought, to be repeated as often as the erring impulse is renewed. It behoves him to know all he can about this one practical faculty of man because the task set before us all is to work out our own salvation from base habits of body, loose habits of mind, inordinate affections from debased and conventional moral judgments; and the will is the instrument by which we are able to work.

There are but two services open to men, that which has self as the end and centre, and that which has God and, by consequence, man, for its object. It is possible indeed to choose the service of God unconsciously, believing that we have only a passionate desire to help men, but it is not anyway possible to drift into the service of God when our object is to do well by ourselves. Therefore, it is not enough to gather the little knowledge that is open to us about body, mind and heart, will and conscience. The inmost region which we call the Soul, that temple dedicated to the service of the living God, falls under the common law. Here, too, we must have a gradual accretion of opinions gathered from a knowledge deep and wide; and in the conduct of the soul also, we must be guided by principles derived from our knowledge and evolved out of our opinions. Perhaps the first thing the boy needs to learn is that religion is not optional; that his DUTY towards God is to love Him with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind and with all his strength; that the knowledge of God and His service (prayer, praise, and thanksgiving), and the service of man, are the several acts of this chief duty. But, though this filial relation is due from us to God, is natural, necessary, and, above all, happy-making, the boy should learn that Inertia, pre-occupation with other things, involuntary aversion (which may even end in voluntary aversion), will hinder him continually in the enjoyment of the closest and dearest of all intimacies and in the fulfilment of the most blessed of all relations; that, here, too, he must take nothing for granted but must labour and pray.

The young person, who has such a ground work of human nature to work upon as I have attempted to sketch out,—who knows something of the behaviour of body, mind and heart, of will, conscience and soul, who knows how these all interact and co-operate and are, in fact, one; and yet how each has its own antagonists and obstacles, who has the cheerful certainty of success because of the good help of his God in efforts which he knows how to direct,—occupies an extraordinary vantage ground as compared with him to whom life is a casual matter. Both of these intend well, both rise to every tale of heroic effort, to every word of insight and inspiration; but there is just the difference between the two that there is between the boy who makes random collections and leaves his specimens lying about, soiled and unordered,—to be swept by and by into the dustpan,—and that other boy who has a growing knowledge of scientific principles and is able to classify the objects he collects. The boy who has, so to speak, a plan of himself makes unconsciously a moral classification of all he hears, sees, reads; an intellectual classification of all stray knowledge that comes his way. His opinions are a natural, living growth out of the wide knowledge he has collected even during his adolescence; and his principles are the first and chief of these opinions. This careful cult of human nature will not necessarily make a good wise man, any more than good seed sown in the well-tilled earth will necessarily produce a harvest. Both wait upon sun and shower; and this dependence is the chief part of the knowledge a boy should have; the difference between the natural and moral field is that, in the latter, he is absolutely assured of that sun and shower by which he shall grow. I have not enlarged upon the necessity for the Divine Grace as the motor-power in all moral effort because, as a Society, we hold very definite views upon this subject. We are persuaded that not only every good and every perfect (moral) gift is from above, but we believe that the Holy Spirit is the Supreme Educator of mankind, dealing out knowledge to men as they are able to receive it, and educating those who will to be educated in things intellectual and moral, practical and spiritual.

We know, that, of every field of human effort it may be said: “Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? Doth he open and break the clods of his ground? …Doth he not cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley in their place? …For his God doth instruct him to discretion and doth teach him… This cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” This, be it aerial navigation, or the discovery of the North Pole, or a child’s delight in history and literature, or moral insight and noble conduct, or, that deepest cry of our nature: “As the heart thirsteth after the water brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God!” We are one and indivisible and all these things in their season come to us from above; but all of them come by way of a natural return for diligent and understanding labour. To-day, we are diligent enough in hap-hazard ways, but does it not behove us, also, to put to ourselves the question, “Have ye understood”?

Everyone knows the truth of all that I have advanced; and yet we go on in a casual way, chiefly because this kind of programme seems so vast and indefinite that we do not know how to attack it, and we leave our children at the mercy of every wind that blows for chance opinions and principles. Now this is what we of this Union have to offer to our members. We really have outlined a scheme of education that affords the wide field that I have indicated from which to gather opinions; we have outlined, too, such a ground plan of human nature as I have sketched out; what is more, we know by the experience of a number of years that children take with the avidity of one who gets what he wants to such a scheme of moral and intellectual education. I say we as a Society have these things to offer, but I recognize thankfully that the general trend of educational thought is in these two directions. Therefore, we think we may urge upon parents the advisability and the duty of conducting their children’s education upon some such lines, and of seeking the (ever-willing) co-operation of teachers in giving such an education as shall issue in just opinions and sound principles. There are various parts of education that I have not touched upon. May I beg you to believe that we do not leave those things undone, but that because it is not possible to treat of the whole of so great a subject in a single paper, I have confined myself to the consideration of two articles of a boy’s equipment—Opinions and Principles.

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One Reply to “Opinions and Principles”

  1. I just want to stand up and clap. That was so well said and so applicable to our modern society. Thank you for posting!

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