1902 Encyclopedia > Education > John Milton (1608-74)

(Part 12)

John Milton (1608-74)

Far more important in the literature of this subject than the treatise of Locke is the Tractate of Education by Milton, "the few observations," as he tells us, "which flowered off, and are, as it were, the burnishings of many studious and contemplative years spent in the search for civil and religious knowledge."

John Milton image

John Milton
English poet and prose write

This essay is addressed to Samuel Hartlib, a great friend of Comenius, and probably refers to a project of establishing a university in London. "I will point you out," Milton says," the right path of a virtuous and noble education,—laborious, indeed, at first ascent, but else so smooth and green and full of goodly prospects and melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of Orpheus is not more charming.

This is to be done between twelve and one-and-twenty, in an academy containing about a hundred and thirty scholars, which shall be at once school and university,—not needing a remove to any other house of scholarship except it be some peculiar college of law and physics, where they mean to be practitioners."

The important truth enunciated is quite in the spirit of Comenius that the learning of things and words is to go hand in hand. The curriculum is very large. Latin, Greek, arithmetic, geometry, agriculture, geography, physiology, physics, trigonometry, fortification, architecture, engineering, navigation, anatomy, medicine, poetry, Italian, law both Roman and English, Hebrew with Chaldee and Syriac, history, oratory, poetics.

But the scholars are not to be book-worms. They are to be trained for war, both on foot and on horseback, to be practised "in all the locks and gripes of wrestling," they are to "recreate and compose their travailed spirits with the divine harmonies of music heard or learnt." "In those vernal seasons of the year when the air is calm and pleusant, it were an injury and a sullenness against nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth. I should not then be a persuader to them of studying much then, after two or three years that they have well laid their grounds, but to ride out in companies with prudent and staid guides to all the quarters of the land."

The whole treatise is full of wisdom, and deserves to be studied again and again. Visionary, as it may appear to some at first sight, if translated into the language of our own day, it will be found to abound with sound practical advice. "Only," Milton says in conclusion, "I believe that this is not a bow for every man to shoot who counts himself a teacher, but will require sinews almost equal to those which Homer gave Ulysses; yet I am persuaded that it may prove much more easy in the essay than it now seems at a distance, and much more illustrious if God have so decided and this age have spirit and capacity enough to apprehend."

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