Taylor on Education

Brook Taylor’s complaints about his readers and predecessor writers on perspective reflected a general philosophy of education that he explained in his preface to the second edition of Linear Perspective. His objection was to students who learned by rote, and to teachers who taught students how to follow simple recipes without attaining deeper understanding of the underlying principles. He saw his role as laying out the general theory and sketching in the directions a student should follow to gain mastery of particular cases, without burdening the beginner with too much explication. He emphasized that his work was not for the complete beginner, that is, it assumed a familiarity with Euclidean geometry:

The Reader, who understands nothing of the Elements of Geometry, can hardly hope to be much the better for this Book, if he reads it without the Assistance of a Master; but I have endeavour’d to make everything so plain, that a very little Skill in Geometry may be sufficient to enable one to read the Book by himself. And upon this occasion I would advise all my Readers, who desire to make themselves Masters of this Subject, not to be contented with the Schemes they find here; but upon every Occasion to draw new ones of their own, in all the Variety of Circumstances they can think of. This will take up a little more Time at first; but in a little while they will find the vast Benefit of it, by the extensive Notions it will give them of the Nature of these Principles.

At this point in his Preface, Taylor is responding, in tones that appear somewhat hurt and largely uncomprehending, so critics of the earlier, purer, first edition of his book:

I find that many People object to the first Edition that I gave of these Principles, in the little Book entituled, Linear Perspective, &c because they see no Examples in it, no curious Descriptions of Figures, which other Books of Perspective are commonly so full of; and seeing nothing in it but simple Geometrical Schemes, they apprehend it to be dry and unentertaining, and so are loth to give themselves the trouble to read it. To satisfy these nice Persons in some measure, II have made the Schemes in this Book something more ornamental, that they may have some visible Proofs of the vast Advantages these Principles have over the common Rules of Perspective, by seeing what simple Constructions, and how few Lines are necessary to describe several Subjects, which in the common Method would require an infinite Labour, and a vast Confusion of Lines. It would have been easy to have multiplied Examples, and to have enlarged upon several things that I have only given Hints of, which may easily be pursued by those who have made themselves Masters of these Principles.

Taylor can be as prolix as any eighteenth-century author when he puts his mind to it. But now we come to the nub of the matter.

Perhaps some People would have been better pleased with my Book, if I had done this: but I must take the freedom to tell them, that tho’ it might have amused their Fancy something more by this means, it would not have been more instructive to them: for the true and best way of learning any Art, is not to see a great many Examples done by another Person; nut to possess ones self first of the Principles of it, and then to make them familiar, by exercising ones self in the Practice. For it is Practice alone, that makes a Man perfect in any thing.

Theory first, then practice. Taylor expands upon this advice at length, with special reference to art education for which he suggest wholesale reform along his preferred lines.

See also:

Brook Taylor’s Second Preface

Brook Taylor’s First Preface

Brook Taylor’s Linear Perspective

More on Brook Taylor’s Linear Perspective

Who was Brook Taylor?


One thought on “Taylor on Education

  1. Pingback: Brook Taylor against Horizontals | Kirby and his world

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