A few weeks back we published a short blog post from Buck Holler on “5 Sources on Mimetic Instruction” in which Mr. Holler referenced a brief essay from poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “The Education of Children”. In that post, Mr Holler noted that this essay is unavailable online anywhere – and this is true. However a reader, Laura Tesh, generously went to the trouble of typing up this essay so that we could share it.
This essay can also be found in The Portable Coleridge, edited by I.A. Richards, Penguin 1978. The copyright for this essay is expired. It is in the public domain.
So here it is. The Education of Children by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
I think the memory of children cannot, in reason, be too much stored with the objects and facts of natural history. God opens the images of nature, like the leaves of a book, before the eyes of his creature, Man—and teaches him all that is grand and beautiful in the foaming cataract, the glassy lake, and the floating mist.
The common modern novel, in which there is no imagination, but a miserable struggle to excite and gratify mere curiosity, ought, in my judgment, to be wholly forbidden to children. Novel-reading of this sort is especially injurious to the growth of the imagination, the judgment, and the morals, especially to the latter, because it excites mere feelings without at the same time administering an impulse to action. Women are good novelists, but indifferent poets; and this is because they rarely or never thoroughly distinguish between fact and fiction. In the jumble of the two lies the secret of the modern novel, which is the medium aliquid between them, having just so much of fiction as to obscure the fact, and so much of fact as to render the fiction insipid. The perusal of a fashionable lady’s novel is to me very much like looking at the scenery and decorations of a theatre by broad daylight. The source of the common fondness for novels of this sort rests in that dislike of vacancy and that love of sloth, which are inherent in the human mind; the afford excitement without producing reaction. By reaction I mean an activity of the intellectual faculties, which shows itself in consequent reasoning and observation, and originates action and conduct according to a principle. Thus, the act of thinking presents two sides for contemplation, ? that of external causality, in which the train of thought may be considered as the result of outward impressions, of accidental combinations, of fancy, or the associations of the memory, ? and on the other hand, that of internal causality, or of the energy of the will on the mind itself. Thought, therefore, might thus be regarded as passive or active; and the same faculties may in a popular sense be expressed as perception or observation, fancy or imagination, memory or recollection.