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He enlarged on the absurdity of the old-fashioned system of education, as he termed it, and talked much of the folly of sending a boy to Eton or Westminster, to waste the most precious years of his life in acquiring languages of little or no real use in the world: and begged leave to suggest a plan, which, he said, had been attended with the greatest success in a variety of instances that had fallen within his own particular knowledge.
His scheme was to send my sons for two or three years to a private school in the neighbourhood of London, where they might get rid of their provincial dialect, which, he observed, would be alone sufficient to disappoint all hopes of their future advancement. He proposed to send them afterwards to an academy at Paris to acquire the French language, with every other accomplishment necessary to fit them for the world. "When your eldest son,' he added, “is thus qualified, it will be easy for me to get him appointed secretary to an embassy; and if he shall then possess those abilities of which he has now every appearance, I make no doubt I shall be able to procure him a seat in parliament, and there will be no office in the state to which he may not aspire. As to your second son, give him the same education you give his brother; and, when he is of a proper age, get him a commission in the army, and push him on in that line as fast as possible.
Though I saw some objections to this scheme, yet, I must confess, the flattering prospect of ambition it opened had a considerable effect upon my mind; and, as my wife, who had been taught to receive the opinions of her kinsman with the utmost deference, warmly seconded his proposal, I at length, though not without reluctance, gave my assent to it. When the day of departure came, I accompanied my boys
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part of the way; and, at taking leave of them, felt a pang I then endeavoured to conceal, and which I need not now attempt to describe.
I had the satisfaction to receive, from time to time, the most pleasing accounts of their progress, and after they went to Paris I was still more and more flattered with what I heard of their improvement.
At length the wished-for period of their return approached: I heard of their arrival in Britain, and that, by a certain day, we might expect to see them at home. We were all impatience: my daughter, in particular, did nothing but count the hours and minutes, and hardly shut her eyes the night preceding the day on which her brothers were expected: her mother and I, though we showed it less, felt, I believe, equal anxiety.
When the day came, my girl, who had been constantly on the look-out, ran to tell me she saw a post-chaise driving to the gate. We hurried down to receive the boys. But judge of my astonishment when I saw two pale ,emaciated figures get out of the carriage, in their dress and looks resembling monkeys rather than human creatures. What was still worse, their manners were more displeasing than their appearance. When my daughter ran up, with tears of joy in her eyes, to embrace her brother, he held her from him, and burst into an immoderate fit of laughter at something in her dress that appeared to him ridiculous. He was joined in the laugh by his younger brother, who was pleased, however, to say, that the girl was not ill-looking, and when taught to put on her clothes, and to use a little rouge, would be tolerable.
Mortified as I was at this impertinence, the partiality of a parent led me to impute it, in a great measure, to the levity of youth ; and I still flattered myself that matters were not so bad as they appeared
to be. In these hopes I sat down to dinner. But there the behaviour of the young gentlemen did not, by any means, tend to lessen my chagrin : there was nothing at table they could eat; they ran out in praise of French cookery, and seemed even to be adepts in the science: they knew the component ingredients of the most fashionable ragouts and fricandeaus, and were acquainted with the names and characters of the most celebrated practitioners of the art in Paris.
To stop this inundation of absurdity, and, at the same time, to try the boys further, I introduced some topics of conversation on which they ought to have been able to say something. But on these subjects they were perfectly mute; and I could plainly see their silence did not proceed from the modesty and diffidence natural to youth, but from the most perfect and profound ignorance. They soon, however, took their revenge for the restraint thus imposed on them. In their turn they began to talk of things which, to the rest of the company, were altogether unintelligible. After some conversation, the drift of which we could not discover, they got into a keen debate on the comparative merit of the doce de puce, and the puce en couches; and, in the course of their argument, used words and phrases which to us were equally incomprehensible as the subject on which they were employed. Not long after my poor girl was covered with confusion, on her brother's asking her if she did not think the cuisse de la reine the prettiest thing in the world?
But, sir, I should be happy were I able to say, that ignorance and folly, bad' as they are, were all I had to complain of. I am sorry to add, that my young men seem to have made an equal progress in vice. It was but the other day I happened to observe to the eldest, that it made me uneasy to see his brother look so very ill; to which he replied, with an air of the most easy indifference, that poor Charles had been a little unfortunate in an affair with an operagirl at Paris; but, for my part, added he, I never ran those hazards, as I always confined my amours to women of fashion.
In short, sir, these unfortunate youths have returned ignorant of every thing they ought to know; their minds corrupted, and their bodies debilitated, by a course of premature debauchery. I can easily see that I do not possess either their confidence or affection; and they even seem to despise me for the want of those frivolous accomplishments on which they value themselves so highly. In this situation, what is to be done? Their vanity and conceit make them incapable of listening to reason or advice; and to use the authority of a parent would probably be as ineffectual for their improvement, as to me it would be unpleasant. '
I have thus, sir, laid my case before you, in hopes of being favoured with your sentiments upon it. Possibly it may be of some benefit to the public, by serving as a beacon to others in similar circumstances. As to myself, I hardly expect you will be able to point out a remedy for that affiction which preys upon the mind, and, in all likelihood, will shorten the days, of
Your unfortunate humble servant,
NOTES TO CORRESPONDENTS.
Vitreus's favours have been received, and shall be
duly attended to.
A letter signed A. Z. and an essay subscribed D. are
On Wednesday next (Tuesday being appointed for
the day of the national fast) will be published No. 5.
No. 5. WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 1779.
PEDANTRY, in the common sense of the word, means an absurd ostentation of learning and stiffness of phraseology, proceeding from a misguided knowledge of books, and a total ignorance of men.
But I have often thought that we might extend its signification a good deal farther; and, in general, apply it to that failing which disposes a person to obtrude upon others subjects of conversation relating to his own business, studies, or amusement.
In this sense of the phrase we should find pedants in every character and condition of life. Instead of a black coat and plain shirt, we should often see pedantry appear in an embroidered suit and Brussels lace ; instead of being bedaubed with snuff, we should find it breathing perfumes; and, in place of a book-worm, crawling through the gloomy cloisters of an university, we should mark it in the state of a gilded butterfly, buzzing through the gay region of the drawing-room.
Robert Daisey, Esq. is a pedant of this last kind. When he tells you that his ruffles cost twenty guineas a pair; that his buttons were the first of the kind made by one of the most eminent artists in