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MONTAIGNE AS AN EDUCATIONALIST.
[ONTAIGNE, the essayist and sceptic, continues, after a lapse of three hundred years, to retain our admiration. Among mere men of the world he is sovereign. He is original and unique, and at the same time a type of a class. Though the class he represents may not be a large one, he yet gives expression to a way of estimating life which is a passing mood of all thoughtful minds. He thus leads a large constituency--all the larger that he makes no tyrannical demands, and warns the reader not to labour after even him. Few writers say so many wise things as Montaigne does, and no one appears so little solicitous about convincing others that his sayings are wise. His intellectual philosophy is essentially sophistical and sceptical, his morality conventional, and his moral philosophy epicurean.
We are not disposed, however, to allow to Montaigne, and such as he, the superiority to limitations that they claim. It is all very well to proclaim the impossibility of finding absolute truth, and to luxuriate in a cultured indifference, but at the foundation of all such talk there lies a philosophical conviction as positive as that of the most ardent zealot. The conviction is that, doomed as man is to nescience, the happiness of each individual is for himself the only solid pursuit, and is to be at all hazards cherished. The standard of happiness will doubtless vary with the idiosyncrasies and circumstances of each man, but must always with cultivated men embrace equability of mind, balance of judgment, a kindly disposition to all with whom they are brought in contact, an indisposition to exertion for any purpose whatsoever as leading to certain disturbance and almost as certain disappointment, a horror of a 'Cause,' and a strict regard to the comforts of the animal economy generally. Intellectual scepticism is itself in truth an implicit dogmatism, and in the field of moral action it is epicurean dogmatism. No man holds more tightly to a positive philosophy of life than Montaigne. Doubtless the attitude of inquiry, the que sçais-je? of Montaigne, gives a breadth and elasticity of mind and promotes a geniality of nature that have their charms, and are genuine objects of desire to most men. They are, however, the true possession only of those who are not too sure' of anything. A steady sustained conviction that there is nothing admitting of conviction runs through Montaigne's life and writings, and he is in this sense as positive as his neighbours. No man can build his house on shifting sand. Montaigne may in words defy us to find him desperately in earnest, but he fails: for he never doubts his doubts, and he never loses his grip of his ethical standard such as it is. So far at least he is in sober earnest.
We should like sometimes to find this arch-philosopher of practical wisdom in earnest about other things than indifference, and we naturally seek for this quality of earnestness in his views of religion and politics-subjects which call forth the passions of men more than any other. But notwithstanding all that has been said and written on these points, I think we shall find that his whole mental attitude was such as to forbid definite conclusions even on these vital subjects. His Apology for Sebonde does not throw so much light on his religious beliefs as we should desire. If readers are disappointed in their expectations here, they have themselves to blame, for they search for something which his philosophy has beforehand told them not to expect. In religion he was strictly conventional, and in politics he was equally conventional. 'For Heaven's sake,' he would say, 'don't disturb the status quo; things are bad enough, I grant, but in seeking to make them better you will probably make them worse. Let us go on from day to day, quietly meeting little difficulties as they arise, and making the best both of the good and of the bad. The practical guidance of life, that is our business.' If we prosecute our inquiry after the earnest' side of Montaigne's character, we shall find it perhaps most conspicuous in his heartfelt desire to amend the condition of the poor, and in his views on education. It is the latter with which we have to do here; but of both characteristics I would say that they were the fruit of his positive philosophy. A happy, useful (provided usefulness did not call for too much exertion), practically wise life was his summum bonum, and it was this aim that unconsciously determined the substance of his educational theory. In considering then his teaching, we must keep Montaigne's theory of life before our minds. Education as distinct from instruction is a subject on which no man can possibly write without being more or less consciously controlled in all his utterances by his philosophy of man and of human life.
So much is necessary for the proper understanding of Montaigne on education. But more than this is needed for the proper placing of him in the series of educational writers. We have to understand his historical relations and the circumstances of his life and time, of which men like Montaigne are in a special sense the product and reflection.
Luther died when Montaigne was thirteen years old. It was during the latter period of Luther's life that the Humanistic movement among the leaders of the Thought of Europe began to tell, as all great philosophic and political movements inevitably do, sooner or . later, tell, upon the education of youth. The reformation of religion was itself only part of the larger Humanistic movement. For Humanism was simply a rebellion against words and logical forms in the interest of the realities of life and thought. An intellectual movement of this kind could not fail to make itself felt in education as well as in the domain of religious forms and formularies, for it was a philosophical movement, and philosophy ultimately determines all such
things. Up to the period of university life, and even beyond it, education consisted in the acquisition of Latin words and rules about Latin, and this in time received the addition of logic with all its scholastic subtleties, and such physics as abridgments of Aristotle could supply. Prior to Montaigne's school-days the intellectual life of the schoolboy was, as may be supposed, very wretched, but those who survived it and continued to devote themselves to grammar, rhetoric, and logic, certainly acquired an amount of discipline which could not fail to sharpen their wits. Intensity and subtlety of thought were the material outcome of the educational system, but accompanied with a restricted range of view and a worship of arid terms and phrases. Luther's educational activity was directed to aid the Humanists in reviving in the school a regard for substance as opposed to form. Pure Latinity, the study of the substance of the great Roman writers, and of rhetoric and logic by the perusal of those great products of literary genius out of which the rules of rhetoric and logic were themselves generalised, began to take the place of mere words and of barbarous Latinity. The typical schoolmaster of this period was John Sturm, the rector of the High School of Strasbourg, whose course of instruction, severe and mainly linguistic, was yet such as to give genuine culture to all those who were capable of culture. Sturm died in 1589. Already the Humanistic movement in schools had been represented in England by Dean Colet, who died in 1519, and by Roger Ascham, who died in 1568, and was a correspondent of Sturm. Erasmus, the friend of Colet, died in 1536. Montaigne's position is thus clearly defined. Born in 1533, and dying in 1592, he was in the midst of the full tide of the reaction against, what Milton calls, the scholastic grossness of barbarous ages,' ragged notions and babblements.' Bacon's influence
had not yet begun.
Montaigne's father, a gentleman of private estate in the province of Guienne, had notions of his own as to the education of the young Michel, and whatever we may think of them, the son thought highly of the method, and all through life retained for his father's memory the profoundest affection and respect. He used to ride in his father's old military cloak, because,' he said, 'when I have that on I seem to wrap myself up in my father.' His education, under the paternal roof, was directed morally to the cultivation in him of an intense love of truthfulness and of kindliness of feeling and manners towards the poor and dependent. So solicitous was the father to surround his child with every beneficent influence, that he had him roused every morning by the sound of music, that there might be no violent . disturbance of his nervous system. As regards intellectual education, the main object even with Humanists was Latin (and a little Greek), because Latin represented Humane Letters. Montaigne himself tells us the novel arrangements his father made for initiating him in this language without straining his powers. He gave him a Latinspeaking tutor, and surrounded him with Latin conversation, so that
when he was six years old he spoke Latin fluently, much better, indeed, than he could speak his own tongue. The whole household, indeed, became so Latinised that the domestics, and even the peasants on his father's property, began to use Latin words.
Greek was taught by the invention of a game, but it would appear without much success, for Montaigne's knowledge of Greek literature was never much more than he could obtain through a Latin medium.
He was only six years old when he was sent to the College of Guienne at Bordeaux, an institution of mark, in which the Humanistic culture must have reigned supreme, if we may judge from the names of the teachers-William Guerente the Aristotelian, Muretus the classical Latinist and rhetorician, and our own George Buchanan the historian and Latin poet. At college he lost his familiar acquaintance with colloquial Latin, but largely extended his private reading in classical authors, but this only by a breach of school rules in which he was wisely encouraged by his masters. At the early age of thirteen he had accomplished his college course, and although he afterwards studied law, it cannot be said that he had any special instruction after he was a boy outside his professional reading. Had it not been for the wise connivance of his masters which enabled him to make acquaintance with the literature of Rome, he would have brought away from college nothing but a hatred of books, as almost all our young gentlemen do.' His father was satisfied with the result of his school life, for the chief things he expected from the endeavour of those to whom he had delivered me for education was affability of manners and good humour.' Montaigne was, to speak the truth, idle and desultory, and he would be the first to admit it. He also complains that he had a slothful wit that would go no faster than it was led, a languishing invention and an incredible defect of memory, so that it is no wonder,' he adds, if from all these nothing considerable could be extracted.' He was incapable of sustained effort and of taking much trouble about anything. Nor could it be said that with all the leisure at his command he was ever master of any subject: he had only nibbled,' he himself says, on the outward crust of sciences, and had a little snatch of everything and nothing of the whole.' Even of Latin he was not a master, and Scaliger speaks with contempt of his scholarship; to which, however, Montaigne never made any claim. His innumerable classical allusions and quotations were, however, the genuine fruit of his own reading; but he read not as a grammarian or philosopher, but as a man of letters. I make no doubt,' he says, with his usual naïveté, 'that I oft happen to speak of things that are much better and more truly handled by those who are masters of the trade.' ... 'Whoever will take me tripping in my ignorance will not in any way displease me; for I should be very unwilling to become responsible to another for my writings, who am not so to myself nor satisfied with them. Whoever goes in quest of knowledge, let him fish for it where it is to be found: there is nothing I so little profess.' Again, I could wish to have a more
perfect knowledge of things, but I will not buy it so dear as it will cost. My design is to pass over easily, and not laboriously, the remainder of my life. There is nothing that I will cudgel my brains about; no, not knowledge of what price soever. . . . I do not bite my nails about the difficulties I meet with in my reading, and after a charge or two I give them over. . . . Continuation and a too obstinate endeavour darken, stupefy, and tire my judgment.'
The moral result was more satisfactory. Montaigne's disposition was naturally kindly, and its kindliness was further fostered by his father's affectionate upbringing. If ever there was a man distinguished for that sweet reasonableness' of which we have heard not a little of late, that man was Montaigne. He had the light of culture and also its sweetness.
I have dwelt a little on Montaigne's own education and character, because they have to be taken into consideration along with the circumstances of his time to which I have already alluded, in forming a true estimate of his educational opinions. The character of the man also is itself to be regarded as, to some extent at least, the fruit of his education, and retrospectively his father's method comes up for judgment according to the saying, 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' It is sufficiently clear that of discipline, intellectual or moral, Montaigne had received none, and that his nature was one that stood in some need of it. The love that his father bore him and the gentleness of his treatment unquestionably nurtured the ingenuous spirit of the son and gave him a freedom of judgment and a fearlessness of intelligence which are among Montaigne's principal charms. His mind was not at any time oppressed with too strong a burden of duty or warped by fear. He grew up into an open-eyed, gentle, bright-souled, and sweet-blooded man, with a sound practical judgment-a wise man, if not a learned one-capable of looking at every side of a question by turns and dallying with each.
But to follow the example of Montaigne's father would not always succeed. He had a man of genius as his child and pupil, and all he did was felicitously adapted to develop the boy's natural endowments. But the system pursued did not cure the pupil's manifest defects of character. Even his natural weakness of memory, so far from being remedied, was probably increased by the father's lax treatment. Perhaps all the better for the world, it may be said. In this particular case it was so; but we have not young Montaignes to deal with. We have to discipline the intellectual and moral nature of the average boy if we would give energy of will, earnestness of purpose, power of application, and love of truth.
When Montaigne gives us his own views on the education of the young we find them to be very much a reflex of his own experience and character. Let us look at them for a little as they bear on the end of education, the materials of instruction, on method, on intellectual and moral discipline, and on punishment whereby the work of the school is usually enforced.