III. Pendennis Of Boniface

          "When, like a heavenly sign
          Compact of many golden stars, the princely child did shine."––
                    (Iliads, Book Six (Chapman's Trs.).)


Arthur Pendennis is as real a person as Wilhelm Meister, and, as a companion study, is not without instruction for us. What an Admirable Crichton he is, to be sure! He carried himself down Main Street with a lordly grace, for was he not the Prince of Fairoaks! The young lords themselves were content to be his followers, and of so fine a nature was he that he did not distinguish between gentle and simple. How princely his tastes were in wines, repasts, trinkets, and how many tastes he enjoyed! Horses, books, pictures, nothing came amiss to him so long as it was of the best. His copious shelves were filled with rare editions and choice bindings, his walls hung with rare prints (first proofs, of course). Nay, Alcibiades himself could not have outdone him in the elegance of his personal habits. The perfumed bath was a necessity to him as to his witty prototype, especially after any contact with the canaille, in the persons of less distinguished men. Then, too, what a name he had for intellectual prowess: "Pendennis could do anything if––momentous syllable––"if he would only work." But, really, why work? He had tried the schools––"During the first term of Mr Pen's academical life he attended classical and mathematical lectures with tolerable assiduity; but discovering before very long time that he had little taste or genius for the pursuing of the exact sciences, and being perhaps rather annoyed that one or two very vulgar young men, who did not even use straps to their trousers, so as to cover the abominably thick and coarse shoes and stockings which they wore, beat him completely in the lecture-room, he gave up his attendance at that course, and announced to his fond parent that he proposed to devote himself exclusively to the cultivation of Greek and Roman literature . . . Presently he began, too, to find that he learned little good in the classical lecture. His fellow-students there were too dull, as in mathematics they were too learned for him. Mr Buck, the tutor, was no better a scholar than many a fifth-form boy at Grey Friars––might have some stupid humdrum notions about the metre and grammatical construction of a passage of AEschylus or Aristophanes, but had no more notion of poetry than Mrs Binge, his bedmaker; and Pen grew weary of hearing the dull students and tutor blunder through a few lines of a play, which he could read in a tenth part of the time they gave to it."

We know the rest. The time came when this golden youth got somewhat haggard, absent-minded, and cynical. By the way, is debt only one cause of cynicism, or is it our chiefest and bitterest grievance against the world that it does not understand our prerogatives, does not see that we have a right to the free enjoyment of our elegant tastes, no matter at whose cost? This is a blundering world. A day of ignominy is at hand for the Prince of Fairoaks. After a brilliant and admired career, regardless of the schools, he, Pendennis of Boniface, no less, is plucked, runs out of Oxbridge like a beaten cur, with a pack of creditors at his heels.

He picks himself up, we know, at last (at the cost of those pinched and impoverished ladies, his mother and Laura), because he has some good stuff in him. He finds his feet and a friend, and earns his bread; and is, at last saved, as by fire, by the two women who loved him. But he never loses the cynicism of the whipped cur; and a certain brand of the world, which he bore when he went to college, remains with him to the last. It is well for those who have the bringing up of golden lads and girls, to bear in mind always that the leopard does not change his spots. Our facile faith in a regeneration to be brought about somehow, at school; at college, by a profession, by family ties, by public work, is really born of our laziness. That which will be done somehow for young people, we do not take the trouble to do ourselves; we shift our responsibility, and the young bear our sins and their own till the end of the chapter.

The literary parent of 'Pen' takes great pains to tell us how it all came about; and such things are, if we will receive it, written for our instruction; but it would be interesting to know how many parents and masters could stand a searching examination upon the lessons proposed to us by Thackeray alone upon the upbringing of youth.

In the first place, Arthur was the Prince of Fairoaks; and what, indeed, was Fairoaks? It was a petty estate, worth about five hundred a year; but any dunghill is high enough to crow from if we have a mind to; and the author's shrewd wit, and keen but not unkindly satire, make great play about this princely family, whose ancient glories, like their family portraits, were more or less faked up, but as firmly believed in as if Debrett were the authority.

The Pendennises are by no means solitary as the bringers-up of pseudo-princes. It begins often enough with the 'princely heart of innocence,' manifested by the little son in the way he carries his head, the fearless glance of his eye, and the frank simplicity with which he takes possession of the world which is indeed his. The parents look on and admire, and begin to suspect that this fine bearing of their child's is a family, and not a human, inheritance. A certain sense, not of greatness or scope, but of superiority, is a part of the child's nurture; and when he leaves home, either he behaves himself en prince, as did young Pendennis, at anybody's cost who will pay the piper; or he awakes to the humbug of the thing, and becomes unduly depressed and reckless; or, like the young Goethe, who never got over a certain sense of disqualification on account of his burgher birth, he attaches undue importance to class distinctions.

At the very outset of a child's career there is a role waiting for his parents. This is how a person arrives to us:––

"Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had in my infancy, and that divine light wherewith I was born, are the best unto this day wherein I can see the universe . . . Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world than I when I was a child. "All appeared new and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys. My knowledge was divine; I knew by intuition those things which, since my apostasy, I collected again by the highest reason . . . All things were spotless and pure and glorious; yea, and infinitely mine, and joyful and precious . . . I was entertained, like an angel, with the works of God in their splendor and glory; I saw all in the peace of Eden . . .

"The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the streets were as precious as gold: the gates" (of Hereford, where he was born) "were at first the end of the world. The green trees, when I saw them first through one of the gates, transported and ravished me their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street were moving jewels: I knew not that they were born or should die. But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the Light of the Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The City seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins, and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the world was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it."1

Or, to quote from the same writer's verse:––

          How like an angel I came down!
          How bright are all things here!
          When first among His works I did appear
          O how His glory did me crown!
          The world resembled His eternity,
          In which my soul did walk;
          And everything that I did see
          Did with me talk.

          The streets were paved with golden stones,
          The boys and girls were mine,
          O how did all their faces shine!
          The sons of men were holy ones,
          In joy and beauty they appeared to me,
          And everything which here I found,
          While like an angel I did see,
          Adorned the ground."

Now, if such be the child's natural estate, what is our part? Parents are right enough in thinking that this fine sense of dignity, this luminous intelligence, grace their child, should help him through life, and are by all means to be preserved. But they make a fool of the child when the magnification of his family are the method they adopt. Whatever elements of dignity and greatness do exist in a family will have, we may be sure, enormous influence on its young scions; and the less said the better. But young Pendennis was brought up in an atmosphere of spurious dignity, none the less false because it was believed in by 'our family.' As a consequence, he was always superior to his situation, and, indeed, that is a human propensity which needs not be accentuated: at school, at college, in the world, notwithstanding a kindly and generous nature, he was never quite genial and simple, and when he had outgrown 'airs,' he took on the superiority of the cynic.

How fine a start, on the other hand, would the child have whose parents recognized his distinction as that of a human being; for this, after all, is no common state; it is distinction in each case. And what a world of persons, sweet and serviceable, we should have if each child were brought up to be all that is in him!


Is it ill-natured to suggest, as second amongst the causes which sent Pen astray, the influence of that consummate personage, Major Pendennis? How great he is in his own line, how absurd and how respectable; how one likes him in spite of himself, and how convincing is the neatness and finish of his unworthy code! Is the title of the novel in truth a conundrum, and which of the Pendennises is the hero? This is the reader's point of view; but what if we had been brought up to reverence this old worldling, had been placed solemnly under his guardianship? What if, on our first going forth into life, such an one accompanied us as Mentor? "God bless you, my dear boy," Pendennis said to Arthur, as they were lighting their candles in Bury Street before going to bed . . . "I beseech you, my dear Arthur, to remember through life that with anentrée––with a good entree, mind––it is just as easy for you to have good society as bad, and that it costs a man, when properly introduced, no more trouble or soins to keep a good footing in the best houses in London than to dine with a lawyer in Bedford Square. Mind this when you are at Oxbridge pursuing your studies, and for heaven's sake be very particular in the acquaintances which you make. The premier pas in life is the most important of all. Did you write to your mother to-day?––No?––Well, do, before you go, and call and ask Mr Foker for a frank––they like it. Good-night. God bless you."

We find the old fellow's twaddle exquisitely absurd, but all the same we lodge his maxims in our memory; they may be of use some day. As for Pen, he was with the man whom his family had delighted to honor all his life, the man who had succeeded in that emprise upon which all young people set out––the conquest of the world; especially that enchanting social world of which young persons dream.

We elders are hardly aware of the ingenuousness of the young mind, of the ignorance and simplicity of youth; and, at the same time, we fail to realize the reverence in which young people hold us just for our experience' sake. They say pert, clever, and flippant things, and we take it for granted that they are up to everything,––are, in fact, more men and women of the world than we simple elders; so we produce our little share of worldly wisdom,––they must not think us quite simpletons,––and they are far more taken in than we suppose. They seize upon every scrap of talk which shows familiarity with the ways of the world––the rather wicked world, be it said––and from these construct a whole which is, in truth, widely different from our simple experience.

Dr Portman, the excellent rector of Clavering, will not be behindhand. He, too, has seen the world. Pen must order his wine, and that of the best, from a London vintner; and he does, and improves on his instructions. The Major praises a little dinner given in his honor, supposing the occasion to be a rare one. "Poor Pen! the worthy uncle little knew how often those dinners took place, while the reckless young Amphitryon [a general of Thebes who accidentally killed his uncle] delighted to show his hospitality and skill in gourmandise. There is no art than that (so long to learn, so difficult to acquire, so impossible and beyond the means of many unhappy people!) about which boys are more anxious to have an air of knowingness. A taste in and knowledge of wines and cookery appears to them to be the sign of an accomplished roué and manly gentleman."

What is to be done? The young folk will have a knowledge of what they call 'life.' If we offer them our scraps of, perhaps, secondhand experience, they generalize and conclude that we are not really the worthy and perhaps rather saintly persons they had taken us for. We, too, have had experiences, they think, of the sort they mean to try. Here we perceive the cause of the incomprehensible attractiveness of bad companions––they know life. Here are words of wisdom worth pondering––"What young men like in their companions is what had got Pen a great part of his own repute and popularity––a real or supposed knowledge of life. A man who has seen the world, or can speak of it with a knowing air––a roué, Lovelace, who has his adventures to relate––is sure of an audience among boys. It is hard to confess, but so it is. We respect that sort of prowess. From our school-days we have been taught to admire it."

The young man who has a motive stronger than those which assail him because he is a youth among youths, if it be only that of winning academic distinction, gets through somehow. But a good many young fellows of parts, power, and generous temper, men like Pen himself, come to grief; and it is a serious question, what can be done to fortify these against the special temptations that belong to their time of life. Excellent help is to be found in novels. Here is the very knowledge of life the young person craves; the personages of the novel play their parts before him, and he is admitted to greater intimacy with them than we often arrive at with our fellows; there is no personal attack upon the reader, no preaching. If the novelist moralize a little here and there, it is but to relieve his own feelings. He is not preaching to the young reader, to whom the lessons of life come home with illustrations never to be forgotten. It is told that Mr Meredith was accused by a neighbor of caricaturing him in the character of 'Willoughby Patterne,' and that he replied––'Why, I am Willoughby Patterne, everybody is Willoughby Patterne! We are all Egoists.' In like manner, every young man who reads of Arthur Pendennis, or Edward Waverley, or Fred Vincey, or, alas, of Tito Melema, or of Darsie Latimer, George Warrington, or Martin Chuzzlewit––the list is endless, of course––finds himself in the hero. Novels are our lesson––books only so far as we give thoughtful, considerate reading to such novels as are also literature. The young person who reads three books a week from Mudie's, or elsewhere, is not likely to find in any of them 'example of life and instruction in manners.' These things arrive to us after many readings of a book that is worth while; and the absurdity of saying, 'I have read' Jane Austen or the Waverley novels should be realised. We do not say 'I have read' Shakespeare, or even Browning or Tennyson; but to 'have read' any of the great novels is also a mark of ignorance.

How many parents see to it that their sons and daughters read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this one novel Pendennis before they go to college, or otherwise go out into life? It is stupid to disregard such a means of instruction; and yet, judicious parents either 'disapprove of novel reading for their young people' or let them read freely the insipid trash of the circulating library until they are unable to discern the flavour of a good book. 'But,' says a good mother, 'I disapprove of novels for another reason besides that they are a waste of time. I have striven to bring up my family in innocence, and wish to keep them still from that very knowledge of life which novels offer.' There is a good deal to be said for this point of view; but the decisions of life are not simple, and to taboo knowledge is not to secure innocence.

We must remember that ignorance is not innocence, and also that ignorance is the parent of insatiable curiosity. But I do not offer a plea for indiscriminate novel reading. Novels are divisible into two classes––sensational, and, to coin a word, reflectional. Narrations of hairbreadth escapes and bold adventures need not be what I should call sensational novels; but those which appeal, with whatever apparent innocence, to those physical sensations which are the begetters of lust,––the 'his lips met hers,' 'the touch of her hand thrilled him in every nerve' sort of thing which abounds in goody-goody storybooks, set apart in many families for Sunday reading, but the complete absence of which distinguishes our best English novels. To read that a girl has been betrayed by no means affects an innocent mind; but to allow oneself to thrill with the emotions which led to the betrayal is to get into the habit of emotional dram-drinking––a habit as enervating and as vitiating as that of the gin-shop. By the reflectional novel I mean, not that which makes reflections for us, after the manner of a popular lady-writer of the day. He who would save us the trouble of reflection ministers to the intellectual slothfulness which lies at the bottom of the poverty of our thoughts and the meanness of our lives. The reflectional novel is one which, like this of Pendennis, awakens reflection with every page we read; offers in every character and in every situation a criterion by which to try our random thoughts or our careless conduct. If we bear in mind that the obvious reflection proposed to us is as vicious in its way as the sensation suggested, we shall find that this test––the property of arousing reflection––eliminates all flimsy work, and confines us to the books of our great novelists.

We must record another step of this young 'rake's progress' in Thackeray's own words. To comment is, here as elsewhere, as superfluous as it is impertinent. "Mr Bloundell playfully took up a green wineglass from the supper-table, which had been destined to contain iced cup, but into which he inserted something still more pernicious––namely, a pair of dice, which the gentleman took out of his waistcoat pocket and put into the glass. Then giving the glass a graceful wave, which showed that his hand was quite experienced in the throwing of dice, he called Seven's the main, and whisking the ivory cubes gently on the table, swept them up again lightly from the cloth, and repeated this process two or three times . . . Presently, instead of going home, most of the party were seated round the table playing at dice, the green glass going round from hand to hand, until Pen finally shivered it after throwing six mains. From that night Pen plunged into the delights of hazard as eagerly as it was his custom to pursue any new pleasure."


Pen was, like young Goethe, a mother's boy; the son of a fonder, sweeter, less humorous mother; but he, too, was the son of parents of unequal age, and was his mother's companion. We get charming glimpses of this companionship. There was that evening when the two walked on the lawn of Fairoaks, and watched the trees in the opposite park of Clavering put on a rich golden tinge, and the little river run off brawling to the west, where was a sombre wood and the towers of the old abbey church. "Little Arthur's figure and his mother's cast long blue shadows over the grass; and he would repeat in a low voice (for a scene of great natural beauty always moved the boy, who inherited this sensibility from his mother) certain lines beginning, 'These are Thy glorious works, Parent of Good; Almighty, Thine this universal frame,' greatly to Mrs Pendennis's delight. Such walks and conversation generally ended in a profusion of filial and maternal embraces, for to love and to pray were the main occupations of this dear woman's life; and I have often heard Pendennis say, in his wild way, that he felt that he was sure of going to heaven, for his mother could never be happy there without him."

What a pretty picture, and how every mother's heart responds! just so would she have it with her little son. He should love her, and through her should learn to love the best and the highest––Nature, and the God of Nature. And the embraces, how sweet to the mother's heart! We read later how, during his childhood and youth, Arthur thought of his mother as little less than an angel, as a supernatural being, all wisdom, love, and beauty; and indeed she was, not only a perfectly well-bred and handsome woman, but, pure and heavenly-minded in no common degree. If she had faults, they were the rather insane family pride which produced the young 'prince' and her inordinate worship of that same prince. It is a curious fact, which would seem at first sight to challenge the justice with which the world is governed, that the small failings of the good, those very failings which appear to lean to virtue's side, and are scarce discernible from virtues by the people who fall into them––these faults of the good appear to produce a more abundant crop of misfortunes than the glaring vices of the unworthy: to whom much is given, of him much will be required. The careless mother who spends her days in pleasure-seeking will sometimes have more duty-doing children than that mother whose only fault is that she loves her family, not wisely but too well. But nothing is in more urgent need of rectification than our moral code. Thackeray, tender as he is to Helen Pendennis, speaks of this same family pride and mother-rapture as "this unfortunate superstition and idol worship"; and frankly tells us that these were the causes of "a great deal of the misfortune which befell the young gentleman."

We have already considered the pride which made a prince of Arthur; and is not every mother's son a prince, and is it not the hardest thing in the world to see our son as others see him? It is less easy to understand that the maternal fondness, the unrestrained mutual embraces of mother and child, are also a danger, because they exceed that temperance, soberness, and chastity which is our duty. By and by this excess of tenderness becomes a counterfeit coin. The mother offers it to her child, and the child to his mother, in lieu of the only sterling currency amongst us––our duty. Do we not find Helen, later, hanging over her son as he lolls on the sofa reading a French novel, and handing him a cigar, which she lights, although she detests and condemns smoking? Nay, does he not tell her himself that he knows she would burn the house down to give him pleasure?

          "I could not love thee, dear, so well
          Loved I not honor more,"

is true of mother-love as well as of other affections. This holy passion, too, is for service, and not for gratification; and the boy who knows that his mother will do anything for him, knows also that he stands in the place of duty, is more to his mother than her duty to him and to others; he grows up without learning the meaning of two chief words in our use––must and ought are to him terms capable of being explained away.

And this pious mother did her son a greater injury yet––she taught him religion, it is true, but the religion she taught was a sentiment, and not a duty. The boy loved the sound of the church-going bells, the echo of psalm and canticle, as he loved to watch the sunset from the lawn. Sacred poems and hymns, too, he loved to learn at his mother's knee. All holy associations were with him. But what Helen failed to teach him was his duty towards God; and is not this just where many a tender mother fails? She is so anxious to present the beauty of holiness, the love of the All-Father; she herself takes such joy in the sentiment of religion, that, that 'stern Daughter of the voice of God' whose mandate is the only one that human beings obey in the face of resistance, is not allowed a hearing. Religion, service to God, is made to the child a matter of his own election and delight, and not a duty which he has no choice but to fulfil. He is taught that he may love and serve God, but not that he must do so; that this is the one duty he is in the world to fulfil. Parents have a unique opportunity to present the thought of duty to their children; and if they let this occasion pass, it is in vain to try to make up by religious feeling, sentiment, emotion. All these are passing phases, and do not belong to that tie which binds us to our God. Pen, we know failed to say his prayers on that first evening in London when he was going up to Oxbridge with his uncle; and later, Laura tells him that she dare not inquire what he has kept of his faith.


Like Goethe, again, Pen was a person of casual education. It is quite open to contention that persons thus educated do a good deal of the work of the world; that, indeed, men and women of great parts and original mind are often persons who have managed to evade the regular routine of the schools. Like Pen, they have got out of working through that Greek play, line by line and word by word, on which 'the Doctor' sat such store, and have, like him, read ten times as much in the time. Allowing the genius to be a law unto himself, we must be on the watch lest the ordinarily clever boy slip the yoke; indeed, as we have seen in Goethe's case, the genius might well have been the better for the common grind. Pen, anyway, would probably not have run that disastrous course at Oxbridge had he acquired the habit of working under rule and towards an end.

It is well to consider this matter at a time when we are casting about rather wildly to find out what education is, and what it is to effect. There is certain knowledge, no doubt, which it is shameful not to possess, and, wanting which, the mind is as limp, feeble, and incapable as an ill-nourished body. There is also a time for sowing the seed of this knowledge, an intellectual as well as a natural springtime; and it would be interesting to examine the question, how far it is possible to prosecute any branch of knowledge, the sowing and germination of which has not taken place in early youth. It follows that the first three lustres [a lustre is French for "five years;" three lustres is 15 years] belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end. It is in this second stage that the value of the classical and mathematical grind comes in. It produces a certain sanity of judgment, and therefore a certain capacity for affairs, an ability for the examination of questions, which are rather the distinguishing marks of the public schoolman,––not merely the university man, that is another matter, but the man who has ground through that Greek play which both Pen and the young Goethe contrived to get out of. Whatever be the faults of the public school, it is not a manufactory of 'cranks'; and the danger of a transition period like the present is that it may produce a crop of these persons of unbalanced judgment and undisciplined will.

          "'O friend,' said he, 'hold up your mind; strength is but strength of will; 
          Reverence each other's good in fight, and shame at things done ill."'

This exordium of "Atrides" might well be the motto of our public schools; it sums up with curious exactness that which they accomplish,––the steady purpose, public spirit, and fine sense of honor which adorn our public services, recruited for the most part from our public schools.

But these fine qualities, of which we are proud, may co-exist with ignorance; and ignorance is the mother of prejudice and the obstinate foe of progress. The task before us in setting in order the house of our national education is a delicate one. We must guard those assets of character which the education of the past affords us, and recover, if we may, the passionate love of knowledge for its own sake which brought about an earlier Renaissance. To regard education as disciplinary only is as though a man sowed ploughs and harrows instead of seed-corn; but an eager, wilful, desultory pursuit of knowledge brings with it serious risks to character. There is much talk of reading in these days, of the use of public libraries to further education, and young students are taking up this cry of 'general reading.' We hear of 'three books a week' as a usual thing, and rather a matter of pride. But this, again, comes of our tendency to depreciate knowledge, and to lose sight of its alimentary character. If we perceive that knowledge, like bread, is necessary food, we see also that it must be taken in set portions, fitly combined, duly served, and at due intervals, in order to induce the digestive processes without which, knowledge, like meat, gives us labour rather than strength. In other words, desultory reading affords entertainment, and perhaps an occasional stimulus to thought. Casual reading––that is, vague reading round a subject without the effort to know––is not in much better case: if we are to read and grow thereby, we must read to know, that is, our reading must be study––orderly, definite, purposeful. In this way, what I have called the two stages of education, synthetic and analytic, coalesce; the wide reading tends to discipline, and in the disciplinary or analytic stage the mind of the student is well nourished by the continued habit of wide reading.

Arthur Pendennis made a failure of his college career, and only a qualified success of his after life, through one other cause which affects most young students. He went to college absolutely without moral instruction other than that of certain virtuous traditions and tendencies imbibed from his parents, together with tendencies quite other than virtuous. But no map of life had been presented to his view showing, the heights whose ascent should reward the wayfarer with a noble outlook, the pitfalls and morasses in which many a gallant young traveller disappears. This, too, belongs to the disrespect in which we, as a nation, hold knowledge. To know is not synonymous with to do; but we should not leave our young people to stumble on right action without any guiding philosophy of life; the risks are too great. We who bear the name of Christ do not always give ourselves the trouble to realize how His daily labour was to make the Jews know; how 'ye will not understand' was the reproach He cast upon them. Even with the example of our Master before us, we take small pains to make our young people realize the possibilities of noble action that lie in them and in everyone. We give them certain warnings, it is true, for fear of ruin and loss of reputation, but do we warn them against that deadly dull failure which is implied in a career of commonplace success? Pen was 'plucked'; but how many a man who takes his degree, let us say, does so through the continual prodding of a petty ambition, without drawing from his labour knowledge or love or strength of will towards duty! If the worlds you conquer be those of academic distinction, why, there is no spirit in you for further labours, unless as more such worlds present themselves.

In some ways the Greeks had a more adequate view of education than ourselves: they seem to have held that, along with gymnastic and music, philosophy is the chief concern of every youth. "A freeborn boy," says Plutarch, "must neglect no part of the cycle of knowledge, but he must run through one (subject) after another, so that he may get a taste of each of them––for to be perfect in all is impossible––but philosophy he must pursue in earnest. I can make this clear by a figure. it is delightful and entertaining to travel through many cities, but only profitable to linger in the best.

The philosopher Bion has well said: 'As the suitors of Penelope, when they could not obtain her, made free use of all that belonged to her, so also they who find philosophy too hard occupy themselves with other branches of knowledge, worth nothing by comparison. For this reason, philosophy must be put first in all education.

"For the nurture and development of the body men have invented two instruments, the study of medicine and gymnastic, of which one makes for the health of the body, the other for its strength. But for the sicknesses and sorrows of the soul, philosophy is the only cure.

"Through philosophy, man arrives at the knowledge of what is good and what is bad, what is just and what is unjust; most especially he learns what he should endeavour after, and what he should avoid; how he should order himself towards God, towards father and mother, towards his elders, towards the laws, towards strangers and superiors, towards his friends, towards wife and child and slave. She teaches humility towards God, reverence for parents, respect for the aged, obedience to law; to be in submission to authority, to love friends, to be chaste towards women. She teaches tenderness towards children and gentleness towards slaves; she exhibits to us the highest good, that in happiness our joy be measured, and in misfortune our grief restrained; in order that we be not as the beasts, unrestrained in desire as in rage. These are, I hold, some of the benefits we owe to the teaching of philosophy. For to be modest in good fortune, to be without envy, gentle in mind, to know how to extinguish evil desires, is wisdom; and the ruling of an angry spirit is the sign of no common understanding."2

The functions which Plutarch claims for philosophy we ascribe to religion, and by so doing, we place life on a higher level. There is this fundamental difference between the two: while philosophy instructs, religion both instructs and enables. But it is a question whether that science of life or art of living which philosophy should teach had not better be made a distinct study, with its own methods, classifications, rules of progress, under the sanction of religion, and tried at every step by a religious standard.

As it is, the moral and philosophical training we give is random and scrappy to a pitiable degree. The very sincerity of our dependence upon God has resulted in a criminal ignorance about ourselves, our possibilities and our risks, and this in despite, as I have said, of the teaching of our Master. No one person should be launched upon life without an ordered knowledge of himself; he should know, for example, that he has certain appetites, servants, whose business is the upkeep of the body, and, when the time comes, the propagation of the race; that the manly part is never, in small things or great, to yield ourselves to the rule of any one of these appetites, which are so constituted that, treated as servants, they serve with diligence and obedience, but allowed to encroach, rule with relentless tyranny. To know such matters in detail may not save a youth, but should certainly give him pause––give him that moment in which to listen to the divine Counsellor who is able to save him.

Then, how many youths go into the arena of life armed with the knowledge that they are equipped with desires whose chief function seems to be to provide for the nurture of the mind and the propagation of ideas, in much the same way as the bodily appetites have their particular uses? How many know that to become the slave of a single desire, as ambition or emulation, for example, results in as truly, though not as obviously, ill-balanced and ill-governed a person as does the inordinate gratification of any one appetite? How many know that health is a duty, and not merely an advantage; that a serviceable body, strong and capable, is a debt we owe to ourselves, our kin, and our kind? A few are aware of the advantage of, at any rate, a fit body; but how many know that to possess an alert, intelligent, and reflective mind is also among our duties? How many are aware of the incalculable joys of knowledge, of imagination, of reasoned thought, and that these are a patrimony in readiness for each of us? Do young people, again, realize that they enter on life with two great affections capable of ordering all the bonds which unite them to their fellow-men in just degree––capital, as it were, for an outlay of continual serviceableness? Do they know how conscience may be played with, how reason may be suborned, how the right function of the will may give place to unreasoning wilfulness? Have they adequate thoughts of the Supreme relation? Are they aware of owing aught to man or to God? Does not our teaching of religion fall short just because we have allowed ourselves to become ignorant of ourselves? And are we not therefore in danger of losing that conception of God which should keep us in due equipoise? Are we not so much in the habit of hearing of the love and care and saving power of our God that we accept ourselves as the objects of His infinite tenderness, and gradually lose the point of view which makes men heroes and saints in the service of a Master? In a word, do we not implicitly teach our youth that meat is more than life, that getting on is the chief thing, that having is more than being or doing? No doubt there are noble youths who somehow seem to get themselves into right relations, as there are noble men and women to live with whom is continual inspiration; but, perhaps, these would be usual, and not exceptional, if we could arrive at a profounder and truer outlook upon life. Everything that need be taught to a youth is no doubt explicit or implicit in the Christian religion, but I cannot help thinking that we should make more progress in the way of that perfection which is commanded us if we set ourselves to the study of life with the method and purpose we give to other studies––pursuing this, however, with the sense, of quite peculiar divine support and direction.

1Thomas Traherne 1636-1674
2Opera Moralia, trs. From Plutarch's Ausgewahlte moralische Abhandlungen, translated by Dr. Otto Güthling.