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INSTRUCTION IN THE MOTHER-TONGUE CONSIDERED AS A MEANS OF MENTAL
THE mother, when she speaks to her child in order to
endue his lips with speech, knows that her dear pupil is an intelligent being, and that he will daily become more so. Ignorant as to the means of cultivating his opening faculties, she only seeks to instruct him, and does not think of regulating her instruction so as to make it a course of mental gymnastics. Her ignorance is excusable, for it is involuntary, nor is she herself conscious of it. But we cannot say the same of professional teachers, for they should not enter upon their dignified office without having seriously studied the science which they profess.
Regular instruction in the mother-tongue is one of their principal duties, and that to which they devote most of their time. This is right, if the method be right also; which depends on its being carefully adapted to the cultivation of young minds; and this cultivation is composed of two elements, which must be sedulously combined, if we expect a satisfactory result.
If you look at grammars and their appendices, you will find an immense heap of indiscriminate, incoherent ideas, which have been selected from our standard works, merely for the sake of the words and expressions which compose them. But why should not the sentiments also be taken into account, so as for the series to form a suitable course of instruction, which may connect itself with that of the mother, in order to develope and strengthen it? We have already said that the selection of subjects is immaterial to instruction in language, which only
requires for its individual work a variety of terms and expressions. We demand, then, in future, that teachers walking in the footsteps of the mother, should, from first to last, make their lessons instructive, and thus rescue themselves from their present degradation, which is alike injurious to childhood, to families, and to society at large. The mental faculties can only be cultivated by means of knowledge, which must be infused with due method and measure. On the other hand, this knowledge will not be duly apprehended, and will remain barren, if you neglect at the same time the developement of the faculties which are to assimilate it, and which must, for this purpose, be expanded and improved. Now this intellectual cultivation depends on the nature of the food which your instruction supplies, and on the method you pursue in
your lessons, and in the exercises connected with them.
In the more comprehensive course of language which we suggest, the principle and method are equally important. They must, in Montaigne's expressive words, mould while they furnish, and furnish while they mould the mind of youth.” In practice, these two things go together; but in theory they must be separated, in order to determine with precision the work which belongs to each.
We shall begin by enumerating the intellectual faculties which children bring with them on their first entrance into our course of language. Then we shall pass on to the instruction and exercises which must be combined with it, for the due cultivation of the mind; and we shall, in conclusion, add a few reflections on the practicability and advantages of this important combination.
On the Intellectual Faculties of Pupils entering on a Course of Instruction in the Mother-Tongue, and on their Developement.
1. Indication of these Faculties. PHILOSOPHERS, in their eagerness to mark out all the shades and particulars of our intellectual faculties, have been very prolix in their enumeration; but we shall limit ourselves to what is absolutely necessary, and only notice the essential and generative faculties with which we have to do. These are, Ist, Perception, or the faculty of receiving impressions from without or from within ; 2ndly, Intelligence, or the faculty of apprehending the relation and connection between the various subjects which experience furnishes; 3rdly, Memory, or the faculty of remembering what we have already thought; Athly and lastly, Imagination, or the faculty of inventing things with which experience has not familiarized us.
Perception, or the Faculty of receiving Impressions.
Perception is the main-spring of our life, for it sets in motion all the powers which constitute our existence, and its sphere is very extensive. First, to begin with what is most distant, it gives us our knowledge of the starry firmament, and of the earth, with all the vicissitudes which pass over it; and the eye is its faithful handmaid; for since the invention of the telescope and microscope, its dominion has, through their instrumentality, been extended over two new worlds; that which is infinitely great, and that which is infinitesimally small.
Perception has another province, which is much nearer to us, and incomparably smaller, since it does not extend beyond the narrow confines of our own body. Thence come to us divers sensations, which indicate, however obscurely, the various parts of our internal organisation, their action, their condition, their wants. This little world, as the ancients delighted to call it, furnishes ample matter for observation to the immortal spirit, which shares here below, the lowly condition of its earthly tenement, for the sake of the shelter and convenience which are derived from it. This stranger in the corporeal world has an immediate object, which its inmost consciousness reveals to it; and this object is self, with all that it is, thinks, wills, suffers, and does; with all that lies hid in the secrecy of its impenetrable recesses ; here are manifested the innate powers of the soul, its primitive tendencies, and those which it has afterwards acquired of its own free will; here is a complete PSYCHOLOGY for us to study; a book ever open, but, alas ! how little read; for few, even among adults, ever condescend to cast a glance on its pages. True, we must learn to read it, and few are taught even its alphabet!
The senses in general transmit to us their corresponding impressions; and it is not their fault, but ours, if we remain ignorant of that which it is needful we should know; to see effectually, we must look; to hear effectually, we must listen; and so on with all the other senses, which fail not duly to supply us with their impressions; but these impressions must be carefully retained, and assiduously courted, if we would learn all that they are capable of teaching. Perception is a faculty at once passive and active; passive in receiving impressions, active in applying them.
Intelligence. Intelligence is first awakened, and afterwards kept in action, by perception, which continually supplies it with a succession of new objects; and further keeps it on the alert by its stimulants, whether agreeable or disagreeable. These stimulants allow no rest to that self, which is at the same time a thinking and a sentient being : and as a thinking being, it compares the various objects presented by experience; it judges of their resemblance, or their difference, of their mutual connection, as cause and effect; it classifies, generalizes, or individualizes them; in short, it forms systems of thought on every possible variety of subject, and often by very remote combinations.
This work is not carried on arbitrarily, but is necessarily regulated by two great principles, which are given to us together with intelligence, in order to guide it to truth and guard it from error. These principles are harmony and causation. The dominion of the first extends over the whole range of thought, in order to exclude contradiction and produce concord. The latter only bears upon the connection of cause and effect.
Intelligence, guided by the principle of causation, ranges through the world of organized and unorganized matter, and advances from them to the world of spirits, ever resting on that self which is its key-stone. It can. also pass in review the connection between mind and body, and it everywhere discovers things being derived. from, and arising out of, each other. The connecting links are often very numerous, and it never will be satisfied till it has reached the first, and ascertained the support which bears the whole chain; for that alone is the efficient
Thus it traces back the whole human race to our first parents, and from our first parents to their invisible Author, whom it places on the throne of the universe, which could no inore create itself than the first man could have made himself.
In virtue of the principle of harmony, which is innate in us, we admit as true all that is in accordance with the thoughts which we have previously conceived, believing, whether justly or not, that they are faithful images of their objects. On the other hand, we reject as false whatever ideas appear to us incompatible with those which we have already admitted as true. In general, human intelligence seeks after truth, or the agreement of thoughts among themselves and with their objects.
To the principle of harmony, which is, as it were, the very soul of our soul, is of course added a scale of valuation, which fixes the relative value of things according to their different qualities. And in this tarif, which we ca neither make nor alter at will, mind is worth more than matter; man than animals; organized than unorganized bodies.