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ning and gradual growth of a new knowledge, with the bright interplay of question and answer, with the kindly hint and the shrewd guess, with the perpetual seeking and finding, with the hunt and the capture, with the constant correction of each other's bearings, with the coming to branching paths 'in the wanderings of careful thought,' with the sympathetic reception of truth and the collective enthusiasm for beauty.
3. Mechanical Methods. The third 'peccant' humor which at present infects the body of education is the employment of Mechanical Methods. These methods were perhaps not at first mechanical; they have become so by degeneration in the hands of merely imitative persons. If a method is not thoroughly assimilated by the teacher, so as to become a living part of his own mind, if it does not marry itself willingly to his own thought and his own habits, if it is adopted as a mere plan for saving himself trouble, and for escaping from his usual amount of work, it has a tendency to degenerate into a kind of machine, into something that can not call forth thought and mental activity from his pupils.
Again, our schools try to cultivate the art of clear and adequate expression in speech and in writing. But, losing sight of the true end, and of the right means to that end, and having lost the inspiration of the vital force which creates the art, their attempts dwindle into a mere set of imitations and a code of petty rules, into the bastard arts of "composition on the one hand, and 'elocution' on the other; and young people are urged to acquire what is called a style without regard to the subject matter they have to think about, or the soul that must give expression to the thought.
Once more, our mechanical methods blind us to the necessity of seeking to analyze our subjects in the fullest manner, and so to arrange the steps that the children may go up with ease and pleasure. We are constantly giving knowledge prematurely; we are every day anticipating results which the child will reach for himself; and all our pupils suffer in their brains from the malady of the day-imperfect digestion.
4. Didactic Teaching. The fourth disease which is chronic in our modes of instruction is what may be best described as the Didactic Disease. It may seem strange to classify what looks like the essential condition of all teaching, or indeed as teaching itself, as the base and the enemy of it. But I employ the word didactic here to indicate two things, both of which are inconsistent with good and sound teaching. One is the presentation of results with subsequent analysis and explanations of them; the other is what goes by the name of telling, in opposition to eliciting or educing. Now, if a pupil can be led along the right path of induction, and arrive at these results by the motion of his own mind, the results remain with him for ever, and are a new power for the acquisition of more; whereas we never can be quite sure whether the pupil has appropriated, in a thorough-going and healthy way, the conclusions which were at first presented to him as such, and afterward explained and apologized for. Again, it is plain that knowledge given is one of those dangerous gifts which, in the language of Wordsworth,
are not to be given,' and that, in this region also, the eternal law of value rules beyond contradiction. You must pay for every thing that which it is worth.' If you get your knowledge for nothing, it is worth exactly that and no more. In fact, there is no more room or ground of existence for didactic teaching than there is for didactic poetry. Both education and poetry are believed, and rightly believed, to be perpetually attended by delight and a healty up-building of the mental frame; both lose that healthy and edifying delight in exact proportion to the presence of the consciously didactic element. The process of giving on the one hand and taking on the other—the process of telling and listening, of learning by heart, repeating and hearing—this process goes on until the minds of both teacher and pupil are beaten hard like a macadamized road, and it would be as useful to cast fresh seed on the one as on the other. Wonder and curiosity and interest are left outside, waiting on the wrong side of the school door; and they have to wait there until they rejoin the child in the fields or by the river side.
A. BRONSON ALCOTT.
A. BRONSON ALCorrt (whose father's name was written Joseph Chatfield Alcock, as was his grandfather Joseph Alcock, the first settler of Wolcott) was born on Spindle Hill, Wolcott, November 29, 1799. His father owned a farm of one hundred acres, which he tilled, with the help of his sons, in summer, and worked as a mechanic in making all sorts of farming tools and household utensils for his town folks in the winter, and intervals not occupied with his farming-living in a quiet, simple way with a wife of more than ordinary intelligence and character. The mother of our Concord philosopher, as he has been named from his residence in Concord, Mass., since 1830, was Anna Bronson, the daughter of Captain Amos Bronson, of Plymouth : a man of property, influence, and decided theological opinions, somewhat at variance with those of the majority of Connecticut farmers at that time. She was the sister of an eminent clergyman and scholar,—Dr. Tillotson Bronson, for some years at the head of the Episcopal Academy in Cheshire, and previously rector of St. John's Church, in Waterbury. She had some advantages of culture not so common in Wolcott at that time, and at her marriage brought to the Spindle Hill neighborhood a refinement of disposition and a grace of deportment that gave a more polite tone to the little community. In course of time her husband and children joined her in the Episcopal form of worship, when introduced in their neighborhood, where the service was read (at the Spindle Hill school-house), until in course of time a church was gathered. She united steadfastness and persistency of purpose with uncommon delicacy and sweetness of spirit, and was truly, as her son declares her, 'meek, forgiving, patient, generous, and self-sustained, the best of wives and mothers.' She lived to a great age, surviving her husband more than thirty years.
From his earliest years Mr. Alcott was fond of books, and read
Abridged from Memoir by F. A. Sanborn, in Proceedings of the Centennial Celebration of the settlement of the town of Wolcott, in Connecticut, 1873.
† This change in the spelling of the family name was made by the two cousins for the sake of euphony.
eagerly all that he could find. He went to school in the Spindle Hill district until he was thirteen years old, and at the age
of twelve began to keep a diary, a practice which he has continued the greater part of the time since. Still earlier he had read Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the book of all others which had the greatest influence on his mind. He learned to write by practicing with chalk on his mother's kitchen floor, and became in his boyhood a skillful penman, so that his first essay in teaching was as master of a writingschool. He was mainly self-taught, in the higher studies, although he was for a time a pupil of his uncle, Dr. Bronson, at Cheshire, in 1813, and in 1815 of Rev. John Keys, of Wolcott Hill.
He worked during boyhood on the farm and in the shop with his father and brothers, and was dextrous at mechanical tasks. At the age of fourteen he worked for a while at clock making, in Plymouth, and in the same year went on an excursion into northern Connecticut and western Massachusetts, selling few articles as he went, to meet the expenses of his journey. At the age of fifteen he was confirmed, along with his father, as a member of the Episcopal church, the ceremony being performed in Waterbury, by Bishop Brownell, after which young Alcott, with his cousin, the late Dr. William A. Alcott,* used to read the church service on Sundays at the school-house in their neighborhood. The two cousins also carried on a correspondence at this time, and founded a small library for their mutual improvement. A few years later they visited Virginia and the Carolinas together, on one of those peddling pilgrimages which makes such a romantic feature of Mr. Alcott's early life.
Travels and Peddling Pilgrimages. Mr. Alcott began his travels early. His first visit to New Haven was in 1813, when he went to a bookstore and sighed for a place in it, for the sake of reading all the books. And he turned his rambles in Virginia and North Carolina to good account in the way
of reading; gaining access to the libraries of the great houses as he went along.
The beginning of his rambles was in the autumn and winter of 1818, when the youth was almost- nineteen years old. At the age of sixteen he had played the part of a subscription book agent, selling copies of Flavel's 'Keeping the Heart.' His earnings were spent in New Haven for a prayer-book for his mother, another for himself, a dictionary, and a supply of paper for his diaries. These short journeys in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York, had worn off his natural bashfulness somewhat, and had increased his longing to see more of the great world. His father and mother would fain bave retained him at home, but he resolved to go to Norfolk in one of the coasting vessels from New Haven, and had a dream that he could easily, in Virginia, find a place as a teacher. Accordingly he sailed from New Haven, October 13th, 1818, in the good sloop ‘Three Sisters,' Captain Sperry, skipper, with fifteen other passengers, chiefly peddlers from Connecticut and workmen going in the employ of the Tisdales, Connecticut tinmen, who had a shop at Norfolk. The voyage lasted about a week, and young Alcott landed in Virginia, October 20th. His passage money seems to have been ten dollars. For a few days after arriving at Norfolk he continued to board with Captain Sperry, but soon went to live at Tisdale's, the tinman, and was urged by him to enter bis service. At first Mr. Alcott was bent on teaching, but having tried from the 24th of October to the 12th of November, without success, to get a school, and being then somewhat in debt, the youth accepted his offer, and began to peddle for him about the city. This continued until some time in December, but apparently without much pecuniary result, for just before the Christmas holidays we find Mr. Alcott buying a small stock of Virginia almanacs, and selling them to the citizens of Norfolk at a profit of two hundred per cent. Each almanac cost three pence and was sold for nine pence, and the young merchant easily earned a dollar or two a day so long as the holidays lasted. Then it occurred to him to enlarge his stock, and to sell trinkets and silks to the families in the surrounding country. He went, therefore, to a dealer in "fancy goods,' in Norfolk, and bought goods costing nearly three hundred dollars, which he bestowed in two small tin trunks, to be carried in the hand, as the peddler journeyed on foot from house to house. There were tortoise-shell combs, thimbles, scissors, various articles of ornament for ladies, puzzles and picture-books for children, spectacles, razors, and many other wares for the men, beside needles, buttons, sewingsilk, and much more that was not then a part of a peddler's stock in Eastern Virginia.
* Memoir in Barnard's American Journal of Education, Vol. iv. 629-656.
The first trip as a peddler of small wares was made in January, 1819, and was a circuit from Norfolk, by way of Hampton, along the James river for awhile, then across the country to Yorktown, and by the York county plantations back to Hampton and Norfolk again. It proved profitable, and both goods and merchant found unexpected favor in the eyes of the Virginians. An American footpeddler, a bashful Yankee, neither impertinent nor stingy, was a novelty in those regions, and, it soon appeared, an agreeable novelty. He was kindly received at the great houses of the planters, where he generally spent the night, accepting courteously their customary hospitality, though sometimes sleeping in the slave quarters. On Sundays and rainy days, when his trade could not be pursued, this diffident and bookish Autolycus remained in the planters' houses, and had permission to read in their libraries, where he found many books he had never seen or heard of before. In that part of Virginia there lived some of the oldest and best descended families of the Old Dominion, with large and choice libraries, which they allowed the young man from Connecticut to explore for himself. Biography was his favorite reading, then poems and tales, and he had a keen appetite—not so common among lads of nineteen-for metaphysics and books of devotion. Cowper's Life and Letters, Locke's Conduct of the Understanding, and Lavater's Physiognomy were among the books thus read; nor was his favorite, Pilgrim's Progress, forgotten, which he found in fine editions among the Virginians.
The next stage in his career was school keeping,
-an occupation begun in 1823, that he pursued for more than fifteen years. His first school was in a district of Bristol, the adjoining town, and only three miles from Spindle Hill. Here he taught for three months, his wages being $10 a month besides board, and was so good a teacher as to make the school committee desirous to engage him again. He did indeed teach school in Bristol the next winter (1824-5), but not in the same district, and for a part of the year he gave writing lessons at Wolcott. In the spring and summer of 1825, he resided in Cheshire with his uncle, Dr. Bronson, who then edited the Churchman's Magazine, for which Mr. Alcott procured subscribers, and copied his uncle's manuscript for the printer. While residing with Dr. Bronson this season, he read Butler's Analogy, Reid and Stewart's Metaphysics, Watts's Logic, Vattel's Law of Nations, and Dwight's Theology; his readings being to some extent directed by his uncle, with whom he continued to live after beginning to teach school in Cheshire, in November, 1825. This school occupied Mr. Alcott from that time until June, 1827, nearly two years, when he closed it and returned to Wolcott. He wrote a brief account of it and his method,* which was published in Mr. William Russell's American Journal of Education,' in January, 1828, and attracted
* This account was republished by Dr. Caldwell, President of the University of North Carolina, in a Series of Essays devoted to Popular Education about 1832.