No fear to be entertained lest boys should be engaged in too many studies, if judgment be used; examples of the number of things to which the human mind can attend at once, §.; 1-7. Boys endure study with spirit and patience, 8-11. Abundance of time for all necessary acquirements, 12-15. Unreasonable pretexts for not pursuing study, 16-19.
1. IT is a common question whether, supposing all these things are to be learned, they can all be taught and acquired at the same time, for some deny that this is possible, as the mind must be confused and wearied by so many studies of different tendency for which neither the understanding, nor the body, nor time itself, can suffice. Even though mature age may endure such labor, it is said, that of childhood ought not to be thus burdened.
2. But these reasoners do not understand how great the power of the human mind is, that mind which is so busy and active and which directs its attention, so to speak, to every quarter so that it cannot even confine itself to do only one thing, but bestows its force upon several, not merely in the same day, but at the same moment. 3. Do not players on the harp, for example, exert their memory and attend to the sound of their voice and the various inflections of it, while at the same time they strike part of the strings with their right hand and pull, stop, or let loose others with their left, while not even their foot is idle, but beats time to their playing, all these acts being done simultaneously? 4. Do not we advocates, when surprised by a sudden necessity to plead, say one thing while we are thinking of what is to follow, and while at the very same moment, the invention of arguments, the choice of words, the arrangement of matter, gesture, delivery, look, and attitude are necessarily objects of our attention? If all these considerations of so varied a nature are forced, as by a single effort, before our mental vision, why may we not divide the hours of the day among different kinds of study, especially as variety itself refreshes and recruits the mind, while on the contrary, nothing is more annoying than to continue at one uniform labor? Accordingly writing is relieved by reading, and the tedium of reading itself is relieved by changes of subject. 5. However many things we may have done, we are yet to a certain degree fresh for that which we are going to begin. Who, on the contrary, would not be stupified if he were to listen to the same teacher of any art, whatever it might be, through the whole day? But by change a person will be recruited, as is the case with respect to food, by varieties of which the stomach is re-invigorated and is fed with several sorts less unsatisfactorily than with one. 6.Or let those objectors tell me what other mode there is of learning. Ought we to attend to the teacher of grammar only, and then to the teacher of geometry only, and cease to think, during the second course, of what we learned in the first? Should we then transfer ourselves to the musician, our previous studies being still allowed to escape us? Or while we are studying Latin, ought we to pay no attention to Greek? Or to make an end of my questions at once, ought we to do nothing but what comes last before us? 7. Why, then, do we not give similar counsel to husbandmen, that they should not cultivate at the same time their fields and their vineyards, their olives and other trees, and that they should not bestow attention at once on their meadows, their cattle, their gardens, and their bee-hives? Why do we ourselves devote some portion of our time to our public business, some to the wants of our friends, some to our domestic accounts, some to the care of our persons, and some to our pleasures, any one of which occupations would weary us, if we pursued it without intermission? So much more easy is it to do many things one after the other, than to do one thing for a long time.
8. That boys will be unable to bear the fatigue of many studies is by no means to be apprehended, for no age suffers less from fatigue. This may perhaps appear strange, but we may prove it by experience. 9. For minds, before they are hardened are more ready to learn, as is proved by the fact that children, within two years after they can fairly pronounce words, speak almost the whole language, though no one incites them to learn; but for how many years does the Latin tongue resist the efforts of our purchased slaves! You may well understand, if you attempt to teach a grown up person to read, that those who do everything in their own art with excellence are not without reason called παιδομαθεῖς (paidomatheis), that is, "instructed from boyhood." 10. The temper of boys is better able to bear labor than that of men, for as neither the falls of children, with which they are so often thrown on the ground, nor their crawling on hands and knees, nor, soon after, constant play and running all day hither and thither, inconvenience their bodies so much as those of adults, because they are of little weight and no burden to themselves, so their minds likewise, I conceive, suffer less from fatigue, because they exert themselves with less effort and do not apply to study by putting any force upon themselves, but merely yield themselves to others to be formed. 11. Moreover, in addition to the other pliancy of that age, they follow their teachers, as it were, with greater confidence and do not set themselves to measure what they have already done. Consideration about labor is as yet unknown to them, and as we ourselves have frequently experienced, toil has less effect upon the powers than thought.
12. Nor will they ever, indeed, have more disposable time, because all improvement at this age is from hearing. When the pupil shall retire by himself to write, when he shall produce and compose from his own mind, he will then either not have leisure, or will want inclination, to commence such exercises as I have specified. 13. Since the teacher of grammar, therefore, cannot occupy the whole day, and indeed ought not to do so, lest he should disgust the mind of his pupil, to what studies can we better devote his fragmentary intervals, so to term them, of time? 14. For I would not wish the pupil to be worn out in these exercises, nor do I desire that he should sing or accompany songs with musical notes or descend to the minutest investigations of geometry. Nor would I make him like an actor in delivery or like a dancing master in gesture, though if I did require all such qualifications, there would still be abundance of time, for the immature part of life, which is devoted to learning, is long, and I am not speaking of slow intellects. 15. Why did Plato, let me ask, excel in all these branches of knowledge which I think necessary to be acquired by him who would be an orator? He did so, because, not being satisfied with the instruction which Athens could afford, or with the science of the Pythagoreans, to whom he had sailed in Italy, he went also to the priests of Egypt and learned their mysteries.
16. We shroud our own indolence under the pretext of difficulty, for we have no real love of our work; nor is eloquence ever sought by us, because it is the most honorable and noble of attainments or for its own sake; but we apply ourselves to labor only with mean views and for sordid gain. 17. Plenty of orators may speak in the forum, with my permission, and acquire riches also, without such accomplishments as I recommend; only may every trader in contemptible merchandise be richer than they, and may the public crier make greater profit by his voice! I would not wish to have even for a reader of this work a man who would compute what returns his studies will bring him. 18. But he who shall have conceived, as with a divine power of imagination, the very idea itself of genuine oratory, and who shall keep before his eyes true eloquence, the queen, as an eminent poet calls her, of the world, and shall seek his gain, not from the pay that he receives for his pleadings, but from his own mind, and from contemplation and knowledge, a gain which is enduring and independent of fortune, will easily prevail upon himself to devote the time which others spend at shows, in the Campus Martius, at dice, or in idle talk, to say nothing of sleep and the prolongation of banquets, to the studies of geometry and music. How much more pleasure will he secure from such pursuits than from unintellectual gratifications! 19. For divine providence has granted this favor to mankind, that the more honorable occupations are also the more pleasing. But the very pleasure of these reflections has carried me too far. Let what I have said, therefore, suffice concerning the studies in which a boy is to be instructed before he enters on more important occupations. The next book will commence, as it were, a new subject and enter on the duties of the teacher of rhetoric.