For a Gentleman (Dec. 18)

For a Gentleman
Every schoolboy asks: "What’s the use of learning Latin?"
John Locke, one of the greatest educators of all time, maintains
that Latin is absolutely essential to a well-bred gentleman, and
explains why.
Read from SOME THOUGHTS CONCERNING EDUCATION. .Vol. 37, pp. 136-145

§ 164. Latin I look upon as absolutely necessary to a gentleman;
and indeed custom, which prevails over every thing, has made it so
much a part of education, that even those children are whipp’d to it,
and made spend many hours of their precious time uneasily in Latin,
who after they are once gone from school, are never to have more
to do with it as long as they live. Can there be any thing more ridiculous,
than that a father should waste his own money and his son’s
time in setting him to learn the Roman language, when at the same
time he designs him for a trade, wherein he having no use of Latin,
fails not to forget that little which he brought from school, and which
’tis ten to one he abhors for the ill usage it procured him? Could
it be believed, unless we had every where amongst us examples of
it, that a child should be forced to learn the rudiments of a language

LATIN 137
which he is never to use in the course of life that he is designed to,
and neglect all the while the writing a good hand and casting accounts,
which are of great advantage in all conditions of life, and to
most trades indispensably necessary? But though these qualifications,
requisite to trade and commerce and the business of the world,
are seldom or never to be had at grammar-schools, yet thither not
only gentlemen send their younger sons, intended for trades, but
even tradesmen and farmers fail not to send their children, though
they have neither intention nor ability to make them scholars. If you
ask them why they do this, they think it as strange a question as if
you should ask them, why they go to church. Custom serves for
reason, and has, to those who take it for reason, so consecrated this
method, that it is almost religiously observed by them, and they stick
to it, as if their children had scarce an orthodox education unless
they learned Lilly’s grammar.
§ 165. But how necessary soever Latin be to some, and is thought
to be to others to whom it is of no manner of use and service; yet the
ordinary way of learning it in a grammar-school is that which having
had thoughts about I cannot be forward to encourage. The reasons
against it are so evident and cogent, that they have prevailed with
some intelligent persons to quit the ordinary road, not without success,
though the method made use of was not exactly what I imagine
the easiest, and in short is this. T o trouble the child with no grammar
at all, but to have Latin, as English has been, without the perplexity
of rules, talked into him; for if you will consider it, Latin is no more
unknown to a child, when he comes into the world, than English:
and yet he learns English without master, rule, or grammar; and so
might he Latin too, as Tully did, if he had some body always to talk
to him in this language. And when we so often see a French woman
teach an English girl to speak and read French perfectly in a year
or two, without any rule of grammar, or any thing else but prattling
to her, I cannot but wonder how gentlemen have overseen this way
for their sons, and thought them more dull or incapable than their
daughters.
§ 166. If therefore a man could be got, who himself speaking good
Latin, would always be about your son, talk constantly to him, and
suffer him to speak or read nothing else, this would be the true

I38 JOHN LOCKE
and genuine way, and that which I would propose, not only as the
easiest and best, wherein a child might, without pains or chiding,
get a language, which others are wont to be whipt for at school six
or seven years together: but also as that, wherein at the same time
he might have his mind and manners formed, and he be instructed
to boot in several sciences, such as are a good part of geography,
astronomy, chronology, anatomy, besides some parts of history, and
all other parts of knowledge of things that fall under the senses and
require little more than memory. For there, if we would take the
true way, our knowledge should begin, and in those things be laid
the foundation; and not in the abstract notions of logic\ and metaphysic\
s, which are fitter to amuse than inform the understanding
in its first setting out towards knowledge. When young men have
had their heads employ’d a while in those abstract speculations
without finding the success and improvement, or that use of them,
which they expected, they are apt to have mean thoughts either of
learning or themselves; they are tempted to quit their studies, and
throw away their books as containing nothing but hard words and
empty sounds; or else, to conclude, that if there be any real knowledge
in them, they themselves have not understandings capable
of it. That this is so, perhaps I could assure you upon my own
experience. Amongst other things to be learned by a young gentleman
in this method, whilst others of his age are wholly taken
up with Latin and languages, I may also set down geometry for
one; having known a young gentleman, bred something after
this way, able to demonstrate several propositions in Euclid before
he was thirteen.
§ 167. But if such a man cannot be got, who speaks good Latin,
and being able to instruct your son in all these parts of knowledge,
will undertake it by this method; the next best is to have him taught
as near this way as may be, which is by taking some easy and pleasant
book, such as JEsop’s Fables, and writing the English translation
(made as literal as it can be) in one line, and the Latin words which
answer each of them, just over it in another. These let him read every
day over and over again, till he perfectly understands the Latin;
and then go on to another fable, till he be also perfect in that, not
omitting what he is already perfect in, but sometimes reviewing that,

LATIN 139
to keep it in his memory. And when he comes to write, let these
be set him for copies, which with the exercise of his hand will also
advance him to Latin. This being a more imperfect way than by
talking Latin unto him; the formation of the verbs first, and afterwards
the declensions of the nouns and pronouns perfectly learned by
heart, may facilitate his acquaintance with the genius and manner
of the Latin tongue, which varies the signification of verbs and
nouns, not as the modern languages do by particles prefix’d, but by
changing the last syllables. More than this of grammar, I think he
need not have, till he can read himself Sanctii Minerva, with Scioppius
and Perizonius’s notes.
In teaching of children, this too, I think, is to be observed, that in
most cases where they stick, they are not to be farther puzzled by
putting them upon finding it out themselves; as by asking such
questions as these, (viz.) which is the nominative case, in the sentence
they are to construe; or demanding what aufero signifies, to
lead them to the knowledge what abstlere signifies, & c , when they
cannot readily tell. This wastes time only in disturbing them; for
whilst they are learning, and apply themselves with attention, they
are to be kept in good humour, and every thing made easy to them,
and as pleasant as possible. Therefore, wherever they are at a stand,
and are willing to go forwards, help them presendy over the difficulty,
without any rebuke or chiding, remembering, that where
harsher ways are taken, they are the effect only of pride and peevishness
in the teacher, who expects children should instandy be masters
of as much as he knows; whereas he should rather consider, that
his business is to settle in them habits, not angrily to inculcate rules,
which serve for little in the conduct of our lives; at least are of no
use to children, who forget them as soon as given. In sciences where
their reason is to be exercised, I will not deny but this method may
sometimes be varied, and difficulties proposed on purpose to excite
industry, and accustom the mind to employ its own strength and
sagacity in reasoning. But yet, I guess, this is not to be done to
children, whilst very young, nor at their entrance upon any sort of
knowledge: then every thing of itself is difficult, and the great use
and skill of a teacher is to make all as easy as he can: but particularly
in learning of languages there is least occasion for posing of chilI-

 

4O JOHN LOCKE
dren. For languages being to be learned by rote, custom and memory,
are then spoken in greatest perfection, when all rules of grammar
are utterly forgotten. I grant the grammar of a language is
sometimes very carefully to be studied, but it is not to be studied but
by a grown man, when he applies himself to the understanding of
any language critically, which is seldom the business of any but
professed scholars. This I think will be agreed to, that if a gentleman
be to study any language, it ought to be that of his own country,
that he may understand the language which he has constant use of,
with the utmost accuracy.
There is yet a further reason, why masters and teachers should raise
no difficulties to their scholars; but on the contrary should smooth
their way, and readily help them forwards, where they find them
stop. Children’s minds are narrow and weak, and usually susceptible
but of one thought at once. Whatever is in a child’s head, fills it for
the time, especially if set on with any passion. It should therefore
be the skill and art of the teacher to clear their heads of all other
thoughts whilst they are learning of any thing, the better to make
room for what he would instill into them, that it may be received
with attention and application, without which it leaves no impression.
The natural temper of children disposes their minds to wander.
Novelty alone takes them; whatever that presents, they are
presently eager to have a taste of, and are as soon satiated with it.
They quickly grow weary of the same thing, and so have almost
their whole delight in change and variety. It is a contradiction to the
natural state of childhood for them to fix their fleeting thoughts.
Whether this be owing to the temper of their brains, or the quickness
or instability of their animal spirits, over which the mind has
not yet got a full command; this is visible, that it is a pain to children
to keep their thoughts steady to any thing. A lasting continued attention
is one of the hardest tasks can be imposed on them; and
therefore, he that requires their application, should endeavour to
make what he proposes as grateful and agreeable as possible; at
least he ought to take care not to join any displeasing or frightful
idea with it. If they come not to their books with some kind of liking
and relish, ’tis no wonder their thoughts should be perpetually shift-

 

LATIN 141
ing from what disgusts them; and seek better entertainment in more
pleasing objects, after which they will unavoidably be gadding.
‘Tis, I know, the usual method of tutors, to endeavour to procure
attention in their scholars, and to fix their minds to the business in
hand, by rebukes and corrections, if they find them ever so little
wandering. But such treatment is sure to produce the quite contrary
effect. Passionate words or blows from the tutor fill the child’s
mind with terror and affrightment, which immediately takes it
wholly up, and leaves no room for other impressions. I believe there
is nobody that reads this, but may recollect what disorder hasty
or imperious words from his parents or teachers have caused in his
thoughts; how for the time it has turned his brains, so that he scarce
knew what was said by or to him. He presently lost the sight of
what he was upon, his mind was filled with disorder and confusion,
and in that state was no longer capable of attention to any thing else.
‘Tis true, parents and governors ought to settle and establish their
authority by an awe over the minds of those under their tuition; and
to rule them by that: but when they have got an ascendant over them,
they should use it with great moderation, and not make themselves
such scare-crows that their scholars should always tremble in their
sight. Such an austerity may make their government easy to themselves,
but of very little use to their pupils. ‘Tis impossible children
should learn any thing whilst their thoughts are possessed and disturbed
with any passion, especially fear, which makes the strongest
impression on their yet tender and weak spirits. Keep the mind in
an easy calm temper, when you would have it receive your instructions
or any increase of knowledge. ‘Tis as impossible to draw
fair and regular characters on a trembling mind as on a shaking
paper.
The great skill of a teacher is to get and keep the attention of his
scholar; whilst he has that, he is sure to advance as fast as the learner’s
abilities will carry him; and without that, all his bustle and
pother will be to little or no purpose. To attain this, he should make
the child comprehend (as much as may be) the usefulness of what
he teaches him, and let him see, by what he has learnt, that he can
do something which he could not do before; something, which gives

I42 JOHN LOCKE
him some power and real advantage above others who are ignorant
of it. T o this he should add sweetness in all his instructions, and by
a certain tenderness in his whole carriage, make the child sensible
that he loves him and designs nothing but his good, the only way to
beget love in the child, which will make him hearken to his lessons,
and relish what he teaches him.
Nothing but obstinacy should meet with any imperiousness or
rough usage. A l l other faults should be corrected with a gentle hand;
and kind engaging words will work better and more effectually upon
a willing mind, and even prevent a good deal of that perverseness
which rough and imperious usage often produces in well disposed
and generous minds. ‘Tis true, obstinacy and wilful neglects must
be mastered, even though it cost blows to do it: but I am apt to
think perverseness in the pupils is often the effect of frowardness in
the tutor; and that most children would seldom have deserved blows,
if needless and misapplied roughness had not taught them ill-nature,
and given them an aversion for their teacher and all that comes
from him.
Inadvertency, forgetfulness, unsteadiness, and wandering of
thought, are the natural faults of childhood; and therefore, where
they are not observed to be wilful, are to be mention’d sofd_y, and
gain’d upon by time. If every slip of this kind produces anger and
rating, the occasions of rebuke and corrections will return so often,
that the tutor will be a constant terror and uneasiness to his pupils.
Which one thing is enough to hinder their profiting by his lessons,
and to defeat all his methods of instruction.
Let the awe he has got upon their minds be so tempered with the
constant marks of tenderness and good will, that affection may spur
them to their duty, and make them find a pleasure in complying
with his dictates. This will bring them with satisfaction to their
tutor; make them hearken to him, as to one who is their friend,
that cherishes them, and takes pains for their good: this will keep
their thoughts easy and free whilst they are with him, the only temper
wherein the mind is capable of receiving new informations, and
of admitting into itself those impressions, which, if not taken and
retain’d, all that they and their teachers do together is lost labour;
there is much uneasiness and little learning.

LATIN 143
§ 168. When by this way of interlining Latin and English one
with another, he has got a moderate knowledge of the Latin tongue,
he may then be advanced a little farther to the reading of some other
easy Latin-book, such as Justin or Eutropius; and to make the reading
and understanding of it the less tedious and difficult to him, let
him help himself if he pleases with the English translation. Nor
let the objection that he will then know it only by rote, fright any
one. This, when well consider’d, is not of any moment against, but
plainly for this way of learning a language. For languages are only
to be learned by rote; and a man who does not speak English or
Latin perfectly by rote, so that having thought of the thing he would
speak of, his tongue of course, without thought of rule or grammar,
falls into the proper expression and idiom of that language, does not
speak it well, nor is master of it. And I would fain have any one
name to me that tongue, that any one can learn, or speak as he should
do, by the rules of grammar. Languages were made not by rules or
art, but by accident, and the common use of the people. And he that
will speak them well, has no other rule but that; nor any thing to
trust to, but his memory, and the habit of speaking after the fashion
learned from those, that are allowed to speak properly, which in
other words is only to speak by rote.
It will possibly be asked here, is grammar then of no use? and
have those who have taken so much pains in reducing several
languages to rules and observations; who have writ so much about
declensions and conjugations, about concords and syntaxis, lost their
labour, and been learned to no purpose? I say not so; grammar has
its place too. But this I think I may say, there is more stir a great
deal made with it than there needs, and those are tormented about
it, to whom it does not at all belong; I mean children, at the age
wherein they are usually perplexed with it in grammar-schools.
There is nothing more evident, than that languages learnt by rote
serve well enough for the common affairs of life and ordinary commerce.
Nay, persons of quality of the softer sex, and such of them
as have spent their time in well-bred company, shew us, that this
plain natural way, without the least study or knowledge of grammar,
can carry them to a great degree of elegancy and politeness in their
language: and there are ladies who, without knowing what tenses

144 JOHN LOCKE
and participles, adverbs and prepositions are, speak as properly and
as correctly (they might take it for an ill compliment if I said as
any country school-master) as most gentlemen who have been bred
up in the ordinary methods of grammar-schools. Grammar therefore
we see may be spared in some cases. The question then will be,
to whom should it be taught, and when? To this I answer:
1. Men learn languages for the ordinary intercourse of society
and communication of thoughts in common life, without any farther
design in the use of them. And for this purpose, the original way of
learning a language by conversation not only serves well enough,
but is to be preferred as the most expedite, proper and natural.
Therefore, to this use of language one may answer, that grammar is
not necessary. This so many of my readers must be forced to allow,
as understand what I here say, and who conversing with others,
understand them without having ever been taught the grammar of
the English tongue. Which I suppose is the case of incomparably
the greatest part of English men, of whom I have never yet known
any one who learned his mother-tongue by rules.
2. Others there are, the greatest part of whose business in this
world is to be done with their tongues and with their pens; and to
these it is convenient, if not necessary, that they should speak
properly and correctly, whereby they may let their thoughts into
other men’s minds the more easily, and with the greater impression.
Upon this account it is, that any sort of speaking, so as will make
him be understood, is not thought enough for a gentleman. He
ought to study grammar amongst the other helps of speaking well,
but it must be the grammar of his own tongue, of the language he
uses, that he may understand his own country speech nicely, and
speak it properly, without shocking the ears of those it is addressed
to, with solecisms and offensive irregularities. And to this purpose
grammar is necessary; but it is the grammar only of their own proper
tongues, and to those only who would take pains in cultivating their
language, and in perfecting their stiles. Whether all gentlemen
should not do this, I leave to be considered, since the want of propriety
and grammatical exactness is thought very misbecoming one
of that rank, and usually draws on one guilty of such faults the cen-

 

LATIN I45
sure of having had a lower breeding and worse company than suits
with his quality. If this be so, (as I suppose it is) it will be matter
of wonder why young gentlemen are forced to learn the grammars
of foreign and dead languages, and are never once told of the grammar
of their own tongues, they do not so much as know there is
any such thing, much less is it made their business to be instructed
in it. Nor is their own language ever proposed to them as worthy
their care and cultivating, though they have daily use of it, and are
not seldom, in the future course of their lives, judg’d of by their
handsome or awkward way of expressing themselves in it. Whereas
the languages whose grammars they have been so much employed in,
are such as probably they shall scarce ever speak or write; or if, upon
occasion, this should happen, they should be excused for the mistakes
and faults they make in it. Would not a Chinese who took
notice of this way of breeding, be apt to imagine that all our young
gentlemen were designed to be teachers and professors of the dead
languages of foreign countries, and not to be men of business in
their own?
3. There is a third sort of men, who apply themselves to two or
three foreign, dead, and (which amongst us are called the) learned
languages, make them their study, and pique themselves upon their
skill in them. No doubt, those who propose to themselves the learning
of any language with this view, and would be critically exact
in it, ought carefully to study the grammar of it. I would not be
mistaken here, as if this were to undervalue Gree\ and Latin. I grant
these are languages of great use and excellency, and a man can have
no place among the learned in this part of the world, who is a
stranger to them. But the knowledge a gentleman would ordinarily
draw for his use out of the Roman and Gree\ writers, I think he
may attain without studying the grammars of those tongues, and by
bare reading, may come to understand them sufficiently for all his
purposes. How much farther he shall at any time be concerned to
look into the grammar and critical niceties of either of these tongues,
he himself will be able to determine when he comes to propose to
himself the study of any thing that shall require it. Which brings me
to the other part of the enquiry, viz.

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