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HIGH SCHOOL OR COLLEGE FOR MERCIANTS.
To the Honourable the Lord Provost, and Town Council of Glasgow.
MY LORD, AND GENTLEMEN,
It is one of the peculiar advantages of a City governed by a Municipality consisting of active business men, that, when a practical scheme for the Public Good is placed before them, it is almost certain to meet with their
support. Perhaps my views (and scheme) for establishing a MERCANTILE SCHOOL OR COLLEGE may meet with your approbation, and call forth your most zealous efforts towards the organising of such an Institution.
Much has of late been written on Education, but I have looked in vain for an onward movement for the benefit of young men destined for mercantile pursuits. What follows was written with no other very definite intention of giving it publicity, save the feeling of duty that, as I felt strongly on the subject, and thought I saw my way to a greatly improved system of educating young men intended for the Counting-house, I was morally bound to give it utterance.
Having accidentally stumbled on the early numbers of “The British EDUCATOR," I found that my views, instead of being initiatory, were merely supplementary to what is there so ably and so forcibly advocated. But this, instead of damping, encouraged me to place the scheine before the Editor of that journal, stating to him (with which statement he cordially and fully acquiesced), that I thought, instead of addressing it to him, as is the usual formula, the CAUSE—if it really be a good oneshould, in duty, be addressed to Head-quarters.
I therefore beg to submit to your Lordship, and those Gentlemen associated with you in Council, the following views and scheme in regard to a more extended Mercantile Education.
I am fully sensible, that in all things—especially Education—the man who attempts to propound a new truth, or adapt an old to the existing wants of the age, should be thoroughly convinced in his own mind of its necessity, practicability, and its usefulness. The following suggestions, therefore, are dictated by the belief, that what they plead for is needed that the scheme is practicable--and that, if it fail to convince in regard to its usefulness, my ability-which, I must frankly confess, is not literaryand not the merits of the scheme itself, must be considered as at fault. However, I throw out the following observations with a singleness of purpose, which few-I make bold enough to say-will offer to impeach, or ascribe to aught else than a desire to see that education which lays the foundation of life, conduct, and business, assume a rational and decided form.
The winds of heaven were too slow for our generation, and we brought a new power into play--STEAM; and it enabled us to make wondrous progress against the opposition of wind and tide.
But even this rapid propeller on the waters has been found too slow, and, transferred to terra firma, and endued by new mechanical contrivances, has been made to outstrip the liquid medium of conveyance. Nay, even the Railway is too tedious for our purposes, and we bring to our aid the Telegraph. And yet, as if in mockery of all this advancement, progress in the art of Educating the mind to thoughtful self-relying effort—which lies at the root of all these achievements—has remained, unless in theoretical exposition, nearly stationary.
Why should the mercantile education of our youths rem rin stationary?
Why should the youths of the mercantile city of Glasgow—so many of whom are destined to go abroad—be doomed to an antiquated and pernicious round of studies? Is it because a boy may be a divine, a lawyer, or a physician? But, pray, out of one hundred boys how many adopt these professions? probably, from five to ten per cent. !should then ninety, seventy, or even fifty per cent. of boys who are to be merchants, warehousemen, mechanics, or shopkeepers, lose valuable time in studies which in after life may be so soon forgotten, because so nearly useless? If the three professions I have named were themselves less bound up in the “ Classical" languages, they would be more useful. But a truce to reflections.
In my journeys on the Continent during the last twenty years, it has very frequently been made painfully evident to me-in spite of the strong national predilection within me for my own countrymen—that the British are far behind the Germans, Swiss, Dutch, and I might add, under reservation, the Russians, and other Nations, in their knowledge of the living languages.
We may undoubtedly aceount in some measure for this great defect from the circumstance of our insular situation. But, in addition to this we have still more to complain of in our antiquated and erroneous mode of school education, which we have so universally adopted. This misfortune, however, I think, can be met, and overcome. Scotsmen, in their native patois-so grossly, and we had almost said, so stupidly censured and neglected—have all the sounds and articulations for the different languages; and their mental ability—the power of rapidly acquiring languages-is, at least, equal to the nations I have named.
I have no hesitation in asserting that it is only indolence which prevents us from rising superior to the necessity of sending our sons abroad, as the only means of acquiring the foreign languages. In our extended relations with foreign countries it is generally felt that there is an absolute necessity for a radical change in our system of mercantile education; but it is not so generally known that this want is the cause of our losing ground in all foreign countries, as well as the disadvantages which it makes us labour under at home. There are hundreds of positions abroad for merchants, clerks, and others, but we have neither men nor lads educated to fill them. The question therefore is-How are we to overcome this difficulty ?
Our boys are set to hammer at Latin and Greek when the necessities of the age—and common sense-require Spanish, French, German, and other languages. I deny that the acquisition of Latin or Greek is necessary to laying a foundation for acquiring the modern languages. Let it be understood, however, that I do not mean to undervalue the ancient languages in their proper place neither Latin, Greek, nor Hebrew-but as a merchant, a traveller, and citizen of the world, I assert that the living languages are much more valuable, and do not requireI again emphatically assert-to stand on the ceremony of acquiring the dead languages.
There have been great changes within the last thirty or forty years. Then the effects of the long wars were still felt over all the Continent, and we were almost the only nation that penetrated into every quarter of the globe. Our manufacturers consigned to our merchants abroad, and these merchants were generally men who understood little about the cost of goods; men, who were not "au fait” to languages; and were obliged to act through the medium of native brokers. Now, the British Merchant and Manufacturer are opposed in every market by the French, Germans, Swiss, etc., who send out men trained to business, and conversant with the languages; and these are pushing the British Merchant and British Manufacturer out in every quarter. With the advantages of the languages, they not only correspond with the merchant and manufacturer of Britain, but with all the Continent; an advantage, I may presume to tell you from personal experience, of which they know the close and great value. This is so much the case, that if we do not now “take the bull by the horns,” we will find to our bitter loss that the commerce of the world will, to a great extent, be transferred to foreigners.
Had the system of education which I am about to propose been introduced no farther back than the invention of the Steamer or the railway, our position, at home and abroad, would have been very different — honourable and weighty as they still are. A new life would have been opened to the enterprise and ambition of our young men, if they had been furnished only with the requisite education. It is this new mine of wealth which I am so anxious to indicate and open up to them.
Whoever may have a boy whom he wishes to educate for the mercantile profession, and impressed with the importance of such a course of training as I have hinted at-of whom there are many—if he look around for a fitting school in Glasgow to send him to, will find, we fear, that he looks in vain for a school formed on that shrewdly large and liberal basis which the necessity and importance of the case requires. He will find them all-covertly or openly-organised on the same system. Latin and Greek are paramount after the nursery and a meagre course of English. The living languages are scarcely, or but fitfully thought of; all— with one or two very recent exceptions—adopt the antiquated and insufficient method of teaching the grammar of the language before speaking it.
It is an evident truth, I make bold to affirm, that every language is comparatively easy to be acquired. In France, every child of four years of age speaks, but does not read French; in Spain, Spanish; in Germany, German; in India, China, and Africa, their respective languages; and so with every language under the sun. How many adults in Great Britain speak, without being able to read or write the language? Therefore, fundamentally speaking, there is no difficulty in teaching languages, if we only follow natural laws. The perniciousness of the method at present followed in our schools is, in teaching the eye instead of the earteaching the grammar before the pupil knows the language-in short, by beginning at the wrong end.
If the pupil begins a language by the eye-by which I mean books instead of the ear, his appreciation, his mother wit, his soul is left behind. That which should and would be a pleasure, becomes worse than a drudgery.
The boy or man who grinds at the grammar and exercises, when he comes to speak a language, has his mind full of rules and exceptionsverbs, regular and irregular-nouns, masculine, feminine, and neuterarticles and particles, etc., and corsequently can never speak a foreign language naturally, “Sans peur and sans reproche.” It is really melancholy, to hear the blundering efforts of our high class educated English, abroad. If the language was taught before the grammar there would be no such sense of humiliation and difficulty. All the rules and exceptions would be resolved and appreciated naturally, through the ear and understanding. After the language was thus acquired, the grammar might be made both pleasant and profitable—a knowledge of grammar
being a critical instrument, and very valuable for the services which it renders to literature, but is not essentially the primary consideration for the purposes of business life, and communication.
At home our children first learn to speak—at school to read;-and, after reading, grammar, etc. Why should this natural rule or order be put aside the moment they commence Latin? We are told that Latin is an excellent mental discipline for the pupil-so is the German, French, and Scottish languages. Latin, they say, is a dead language ;-but this is not precisely the fact. In a district in Hungary, men and children who cannot read, speak Latin as their native tongue. But allowing the Latin language to be dead;-bury it-put a big stone upon it;—and “there let it lay," rather than hang a lasting dead-weight on the necks of the rising generation.
However, it is our schools, which, by their mode of teaching, make the Latin a dead language; and the worst of it is, the same method of teaching is adopted for the Foreign Languages, and the consequence follows, they, to us, are dead languages too! Scholars very seldom hear the languages spoken naturally as they hear their own—what then can you expect but Dead Languages? What good result can be calculated upon from our present system, when a teacher of languages has to attend various public schools and boarding establishments to eke out a respectable livelihood, and has besides to open private classes at home?
From what I have stated, I think you will acknowledge the necessity of a “High School OR COLLEGE FOR MERCHANTS," as complete, as perfect, as liberal in its way, as for the Learned Professions. Not a mere experimental trial on a small or timid scale, but an earnest FACT ou a large and matured basis; a fact like Gas, Steamers, and Railways in our own time. At first, not very extensive, like the Liverpool and Manchester line, but like it, set an example that will expand through the three kingdoms.
I propose, then, that a school be built by a Joint Stock Company, or otherwise, with a capital of Thirty thousand pounds; fifteen or twenty thousand for buildings, five for furniture, with a reserved fund of five or ten thousand for contingencies.
I would have the class-rooms apportioned to contain six hundred pupils; and bed-rooms for two hundred students, and twenty masters: a small number to calculate upon when we have the length and breadth of Scotland, and even England and Ireland to advertise. In the country districts nothing is so difficult for parents as to get their sons put into the way of a respectable mercantile pursuit.
And now, let us ook to the speculative result of such an establishment.
| 200 Boarders at £45, Revenue,
400 Day-scholars, at £15,
Cost or Outlay,
£15,000 0 0
400 0 0 8 at £50,
400 0 0 Servants, &c., 400 0 0
£5,600 0 0
Leaving a surplus of
£2,100 0 0 This is, of course, only an approximate or anticipated result; but perhaps I am not very far wrong in my calculations; although the root principle in the establishment of any such school is to adapt the ways to the means.
My impression is that, over and above, there would be from one to two hundred scholars for morning and evening classes out of our countinghouses and warehouses alone—the fee for whose tuition I would mainly apply to the increase of the teachers' emolument; and four hundred dayscholars is surely not too many to calculate upon for the City of Glasgow; while two hundred boarders, under the Oxford or Durham system, is not at all alarming.
In regard to The Course of Education to be pursued at such an Academy, I would have you to understand that I do not propose a school for rudimentary instruction. Pupils, from ten to twelve years of age should be the minimum for entry. The branches taught should, to my mind, include-English Literature, Geography, etc.; Mathematics, Arithmetic, Bookkeeping, etc.; Lectures and Essays on Manufactures, Commerce, etc.; French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Bengalese, Arabic, Latin, Modern and Classical Greek, Gymnastics, Drawing, Painting, and Music.
In addition to the higher branches of English Education, every Merchant, whether he stays at home or goes abroad, will be the better of the first four languages; the others according to his further views. For amusement, or for instruction—if he feel that he has the capacity, the time, and the inclination to dip deeply into the meaning and knowledge contained in these languages-he may learn the Latin and Greek. The Romans, however, of the present day, do not speak Latin; nor the Greeks, Greek !-at least as our schools and universities teach them.
If the foregoing positions be true, it follows :
1st. That, in teaching foreign languages, we must copy Nature, and instruct the pupils orally only, for the first three months, or so; and to accomplish this, two teachers are required to each class, as one teacher can only do this by halves. The great point is—to let the students hear the language spoken naturally and well. Hence two or more native teachers, of undoubted ability and purity of pronunciation, will overcome, in the class that may be allotted to them, the greatest difficulty and drawback of our present system; and this, with the addition of approved “ Conversation Books."
2d. I would have the pupil to continue the same course of oral instruction, under the same masters, with the addition of reading, for other three months; and this through the aid—if thought the most advisable one-of Interlinear Translation Books.
3d. I would add to conversation and reading, the grammar and written exercises for six months.
By such a method, I assert with confidence that pupils will know more of a language in one year than by three or four years under the present system.
4th. Instead of continuing the grammars, as now used, I would introduce native elementary books—without English-not only in reading, but