Variety of talent and disposition in pupils requires variety of treatment, § 1-5. How far an inclination for any particular line of study should be encouraged and cultivated, 6-15.
1. IT is generally, and not without reason, regarded as an excellent quality in a master to observe accurately the differences of ability in those whom he has undertaken to instruct and to ascertain in what direction the nature of each particularly inclines him, for there is in talent an incredible variety, nor are the forms of the mind fewer than those of the body. 2. This may be understood even from orators themselves, who differ so much from each other in their style of speaking that no one is like another, though most of them have set themselves to imitate those whom they admired. 3. It has also been thought advantageous by most teachers to instruct each pupil in such a manner as to cherish by learning the good qualities inherited from nature, so that the powers may be assisted in their progress towards the object to which they chiefly direct themselves. As a master of palaestric exercises, when he enters a gymnasium full of boys, is able, after trying their strength and comprehension in every possible way, to decide for what kind of exercise each ought to be trained, 4. so a teacher of eloquence, they say, when he has clearly observed which boy's genius delights most in a concise and polished manner of speaking and which in a spirited, or grave, or smooth, or rough, or brilliant, or elegant one, will so accommodate his instructions to each that he will be advanced in that department in which he shows most ability, 5. because nature attains far greater power when seconded by culture, and he that is led contrary to nature cannot make due progress in the studies for which he is unfit and makes those talents for the exercise of which he seemed born weaker by neglecting to cultivate them.
6. This opinion seems to me (for to him that follows reason there is free exercise of judgment even in opposition to received persuasions) just only in part. To distinguish peculiarities of talent is absolutely necessary, and to make choice of particular studies to suit them is what no man would discountenance. 7. For one youth will be fitter for the study of history than another, one will be qualified for writing poetry, another for the study of law, and some perhaps fit only to be sent into the fields. The teacher of rhetoric will decide in accordance with these peculiarities, just as the master of the palaestra will make one of his pupils a runner, another a boxer, another a wrestler, or fit him for any other of the exercises that are practiced at the sacred games.
8. But he who is destined for public speaking must strive to excel not merely in one accomplishment, but in all the accomplishments that are requisite for that art, even though some of them may seem too difficult for him when he is learning them, for instruction would be altogether superfluous if the natural state of the mind were sufficient. 9. If a pupil that is vitiated in taste and turgid in his style, as many are, is put under our care, shall we allow him to go on in his own way? Him that is dry and jejune in his manner shall we not nourish and, as it were, clothe? For if it be necessary to prune something away from certain pupils, why should it not be allowable to add something to others? 10. Yet I would not fight against nature, for I do not think that any good quality which is innate should be detracted, but that whatever is inactive or deficient should be invigorated or supplied. Was that famous teacher Isocrates, whose writings are not stronger proofs that he spoke well than his scholars that he taught well, inclined, when he formed such an opinion of Ephorus and Theopompus as to say that "the one wanted the rein and the other the spur," to think that the slowness in the duller, and the ardor in the more impetuous were to be fostered by education? On the contrary, he thought that the qualities of each ought to be mixed with those of the other. 12. We must so far accommodate ourselves, however, to feeble intellects that they may be trained only to that to which nature invites them, for thus they will do with more success the only thing which they can do. But if richer material fall into our hands from which we justly conceive hopes of a true orator, no rhetorical excellence must be left unstudied. 13. For though such a genius be more inclined, as indeed it must be, to the exercise of certain powers, yet it will not be inverse to that of others and will render them, by study, equal to those in which it naturally excelled; just as the skillful trainer in bodily exercise (that I may adhere to my former illustration) will not, if he undertakes to form a pancratiast, teach him to strike with his fist or his heel only, or instruct him merely in wrestling, or only in certain artifices of wrestling, but will practice him in everything pertaining to the pancratiastic art.
There may perhaps be some pupil unequal to some of these exercises. He must then apply chiefly to that in which he can succeed. 14. For two things are especially to be avoided: one, to attempt what cannot be accomplished, and the other, to divert a pupil from what he does well to something else for which he is less qualified. But if he be capable of instruction, the tutor, like Nicostratus whom we, when young, knew at an advanced age, will bring to bear upon him every art of instruction alike and render him invincible, as Nicostratus was in wrestling and boxing, for success in both of which contests he was crowned on the same day. 15. How much more must such training, indeed, be pursued by the teacher of the future orator! For it is not enough that he should speak concisely, or artfully, or vehemently, any more than for a singing master to excel in acute, or middle, or grave tones only, or even in particular subdivisions of them since eloquence is, like a harp, not perfect unless, with all its strings stretched, it be in unison from the highest to the lowest note.