Thursday, November 26, 2009

William Cowper and...Homeschooling?


I love William Cowper's poems, and support home-schooling but did not discover till recently that Cowper wrote a lengthy poem on The Institution of Schools. As I read, I was amazed at his insights on a subject that I did not think was discussed back then. Here a few excerpts from Cowper's"Tirocinium"

William Sweerts "Portrait of a Boy"

"Would you your son should be a sot or dunce,
Lascivious, headstrong, or all these at once;
That in good time the stripling’s finish’d taste
For loose expense and fashionable waste
Should prove your ruin, and his own at last;
Train him in public with a mob of boys,
Childish in mischief only and in noise,
Such youths of spirit, and that spirit too,
Ye nurseries of our boys, we owe to you:
Though from ourselves the mischief more proceeds,
For public schools ‘tis public folly feeds.
The slaves of custom and establish’d mode,
With packhorse constancy we keep the road,
Crooked or straight, through quags or thorny dells,
True to the jingling of our leader’s bells.
To follow foolish precedents, and wink
With both our eyes, is easier than to think;
And such an age as ours balks no expense,
Except of caution and of common sense;
Else sure notorious fact, and proof so plain,
Would turn our steps into a wiser train.

Oh! ‘tis a sight to be with joy perused,
By all whom sentiment has not abused;…
...A father blest with an ingenuous son,
Father, and friend, and tutor, all in one.

He will not blush, that has a father’s heart,
To take in childish plays a childish part;
But bends his sturdy back to any toy
That youth takes pleasure in, to please his boy:
Then why resign into a stranger’s hand
A task as much within your own command,
That God and nature, and your interest too,
Seem with one voice to delegate to you?
Why hire a lodging in a house unknown
For one whose tenderest thoughts all hover round your own?

The ostrich, silliest of the feather’d kind,
And form’d of God without a parent’s mind,
Commits her eggs, incautious, to the dust,
Forgetful that the foot may crush the trust;
And, while on public nurseries they rely,
Not knowing, and too oft not caring, why,
Irrational in what they thus prefer,
No few, that would seem wise, resemble her.

Now look on him, whose very voice in tone
Just echoes thine, whose features are thine own,
And stroke his polish’d cheek of purest red,
And lay thine hand upon his flaxen head,
And say, My boy, the unwelcome hour is come,
When thou, transplanted from thy genial home,
Must find a colder soil and bleaker air,
And trust for safety to a stranger’s care;
What character, what turn thou wilt assume
From constant converse with I know not whom;
Who there will court thy friendship, with what views,
And, artless as thou art, whom thou wilt choose;
Though much depends on what thy choice shall be,
Is all chance-medley, and unknown to me.
Though wouldst not, deaf to Nature’s tenderest plea,
Turn him adrift upon a rolling sea,
Nor say, Go thither, conscious that there lay
A brood of asps, or quicksands in his way;
Then, only govern’d by the self-same rule
Of natural pity, send him not to school.
No—guard him better. Is he not thine own,
Thyself in miniature, thy flesh, thy bone?

Fascinating, isn't it? The poem in its entirety can be read here.

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