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Campbell on Education

Robert Campbell’s The London Tradesman was published in 1747. As his subtitle stated, he produced “A Compendious view of all the trades, profession, arts, both liberal and mechanic, now practiced in the cities of London and Westminster”. It is a great place to go if you want to know what an Upholder did, or what are the requirements to be a Mantua-maker, “It requires a vast Stock of Patience to bear the Tempers of most of their Customers, and no small Share of Ingenuity to execute their innumerable Whims”. I don’t know how popular his work was at the time, but his compendious view and robust prose have made him one of the go-to guys for commentators on 18th century trade. He does unfurl sentences in an 18th-century manner, though, so quoting him can get extensive quite rapidly. Campbell’s target audience was more than modern scholars. Besides a description of the various trades, he also wanted parents to buy the book to see what trade little Jane of Johnny should go into, “Calculated for the instruction of parents and instruction of youth in choice of business”. To this end he espoused (at length) an interesting philosophy of education. John Locke is often cited as important in the thinking of 18th-century education, but his advice was intended for the upper classes. Campbell was aiming at those whose children would go into trade. His position can be summarized as that all men are created unequal. There are many different trades and they require different skills and inclinations. Different people are differently endowed with tendencies towards different skills and wise parents will observe their children carefully and act accordingly. Chapter One of his work is entitled, “Advice to Parents, to study and improve the Genius, Temper, and Disposition of their Children, before they bind them Apprentices”. Campbell rails against the sad state of parenting in the world, “It must be lamented, that Parents, for the most part, are guided in the Management of their Offspring by a Set of Notions in no measure conducive to promote the great Ends of Life, the Happiness of Society, or the Prosperity of those to whom they have given a wretched Being: Pride, Avarice, or Whim are the chief Consellors of most Fathers, when they are deliberating the most serious Concern in Life, the Settlement of their Children in the World”. To instruct the parents who bought his book in the right way of raising children, Campbell used the metaphor of the garden. Children are like small plants, and the wise gardener trains up different plants according to their strengths and natures.

Man, in all respects, is like a Plant, and requires both in Mind and Body the same Culture and tender Care that is necessary for a mere Vegetable: The skillful Gardener knows the Disposition of his Plan, the Soil proper to nourish it, the Diseases and Casulaties to which it is liable; watches is several Changes, forwards its Growth, or checks its Luxuriancey, as Discretion directs him: In the same manner, the wise and tender Parent endavours to discover the Disposition of his Child, encourages the Grwoth of every Virtue that discovers iteself in its Infant Mind, stifles the Growth of Error, Obstinacy, and Self-Will, checks the luxuriant Over-flowings of Fancy, and gently guides the Understanding to Objects prper for its Enlargement. When the Parent has observed the Mind take a Bent to any particular Study, he ought to be carefule to obbserve if it is the natural Product of the Soul; if it owes its Original to Nature, or to Chance of Accident. Children naturally mimick every Thing they see, and are fond of imitating every Thing new that occurs … When by this String the Parent has found out the Natural Bent of the Mind, and thus distinguished it from the wanton Sallies of the Infant Imagination, of accidental Impressions, they are then to cultivate its Growth, check all Weeds that may stifle it, and guard against all Casulaties that may retard its Perfection. They are by no means to endavour to divert it, but improve it to the bset Advantages; and in its Education study every Thing that may improve it: Nature and Art thus co-operating, the Production must be perfect and arrive at Due Maturity.

There is more, much more, and he fully develops his arguments, of which I have given but a taste here. I find such a stance on eductation in 1747 really quite remarkable. Do read the book: you will not regret the couple of hours you lose dipping into it. You can use the link below.

See also:

Campbell on Book-Sellers