John Locke (1632–1704). Some Thoughts Concerning Education.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
Some Thoughts Concerning EducationSections 1–10
§ 1. A S
§ 2. I imagine the minds of children as easily turn’d this or that way, as water it self: and though this be the principal part, and our main care should be about the inside, yet the clay-cottage is not to be neglected. I shall therefore begin with the case, and consider first the health of the body, as that which perhaps you may rather expect from that study I have been thought more peculiarly to have apply’d my self to; and that also which will be soonest dispatch’d, as lying, if I guess not amiss, in a very little compass.
§ 3. How necessary health is to our business and happiness; and how requisite a strong constitution, able to endure hardships and fatigue, is to one that will make any figure in the world, is too obvious to need any proof.
§ 4. The consideration I shall here have of health, shall be, not what a physician ought to do with a sick and crazy child; but what the parents, without the help of physick, should do for the preservation and improvement of an healthy, or at least not sickly constitution in their children. And this perhaps might be all dispatch’d in this one short rule, viz. That gentlemen should use their children, as the honest farmers and substantial yeomen do theirs. But because the mothers possibly may think this a little too hard, and the fathers too short, I shall explain my self more particularly; only laying down this as a general and certain observation for the women to consider, viz. That most children’s constitutions are either spoil’d, or at least harm’d, by cockering and tenderness.
§ 5. The first thing to be taken care of, is, that children be not too warmly clad or cover’d, winter or summer. The face when we are born, is no less tender than any other part of the body. ’Tis use alone hardens it, and makes it more able to endure the cold. And therefore the Scythian philosopher gave a very significant answer to the Athenian, who wonder’d how he could go naked in frost and snow. How, said the Scythian, can you endure your face expos’d to the sharp winter air? My face is us’d to it, said the Athenian. Think me all face, reply’d the Scythian. Our bodies will endure any thing, that from the beginning they are accustom’d to.
An eminent instance of this, though in the contrary excess of heat, being to our present purpose, to shew what use can do, I shall set down in the author’s words, as I meet with it in a late ingenious voyage.
Give me leave therefore to advise you not to fence too carefully against the cold of this our climate. There are those in England, who wear the same clothes winter and summer, and that without any inconvenience, or more sense of cold than others find. But if the mother will needs have an allowance for frost and snow, for fear of harm, and the father, for fear of censure, be sure let not his winter clothing be too warm: And amongst other things, remember, that when nature has so well covered his head with hair, and strengthen’d it with a year or two’s age, that he can run about by day without a cap, it is best that by night a child should also lie without one; there being nothing that more exposes to headaches, colds, catarrhs, coughs, and several other diseases, than keeping the head warm.
§ 6. I have said he here, because the principal aim of my discourse is, how a young gentleman should be brought up from his infancy, which in all things will not so perfectly suit the education of daughters; though where the difference of sex requires different treatment, ’twill be no hard matter to distinguish.
§ 7. I will also advise his feet to be wash’d every day in cold water, and to have his shoes so thin, that they might leak and let in water, whenever he comes near it. Here, I fear I shall have the mistress and maids too against me. One will think it too filthy, and the other perhaps too much pains, to make clean his stockings. But yet truth will have it, that his health is much more worth than all such considerations, and ten times as much more. And he that considers how mischievous and mortal a thing taking wet in the feet is, to those who have been bred nicely, will wish he had, with the poor people’s children, gone bare-foot, who, by that means, come to be so reconcil’d by custom to wet in their feet, that they take no more cold or harm by it, than if they were wet in their hands. And what is it, I pray, that makes this great difference between the hands and the feet in others, but only custom? I doubt not, but if a man from his cradle had been always us’d to go bare-foot, whilst his hands were constantly wrapt up in warm mittins, and cover’d with hand-shoes, as the Dutch call gloves; I doubt not, I say, but such a custom would make taking wet in his hands as dangerous to him, as now taking wet in their feet is to great many others. The way to prevent this, is, to have his shoes made so as to leak water, and his feet wash’d constantly every day in cold water. It is recommendable for its cleanliness; but that which I aim at in it, is health; and therefore I limit it not precisely to any time of the day. I have known it us’d every night with very good success, and that all the winter, without the omitting it so much as one night in extreme cold weather; when thick ice cover’d the water, the child bathed his legs and feet in it, though he was of an age not big enough to rub and wipe them himself, and when he began this custom was puling and very tender. But the great end being to harden those parts by a frequent and familiar use of cold water, and thereby to prevent the mischiefs that usually attend accidental taking wet in the feet in those who are bred otherwise, I think it may be left to the prudence and convenience of the parents, to chuse either night or morning. The time I deem indifferent, so the thing be effectually done. The health and hardiness procured by it, would be a good purchase at a much dearer rate. To which if I add the preventing of corns, that to some men would be a very valuable consideration. But begin first in the spring with luke-warm, and so colder and colder every time, till in a few days you come to perfectly cold water, and then continue it so winter and summer. For it is to be observed in this, as in all other alterations from our ordinary way of living, the changes must be made by gentle and insensible degrees; and so we may bring our bodies to any thing, without pain, and without danger.
How fond mothers are like to receive this doctrine, is not hard to foresee. What can it be less, than to murder their tender babes, to use them thus? What! put their feet in cold water in frost and snow, when all one can do is little enough to keep them warm? A little to remove their fears by examples, without which the plainest reason is seldom hearken’d to: Seneca tells us of himself, Ep. 53, and 83, that he used to bathe himself in cold spring-water in the midst of winter. This, if he had not thought it not only tolerable, but healthy too, he would scarce have done, in an exorbitant fortune, that could well have borne the expence of a warm bath, and in an age (for he was then old) that would have excused greater indulgence. If we think his stoical principles led him to this severity, let it be so, that this sect reconciled cold water to his sufferance. What made it agreeable to his health? For that was not impair’d by this hard usage. But what shall we say to Horace, who warm’d not himself with the reputation of any sect, and least of all affected stoical austerities? yet he assures us, he was wont in the winter season to bathe himself in cold water. But, perhaps, Italy will be thought much warmer than England, and the chillness of their waters not to come near ours in winter. If the rivers of Italy are warmer, those of Germany and Poland are much colder, than any in this our country, and yet in these, the Jews, both men and women, bathe all over, at all seasons of the year, without any prejudice to their health. And every one is not apt to believe it is miracle, or any peculiar virtue of St. Winifred’s Well, that makes the cold waters of that famous spring do no harm to the tender bodies that bathe in it. Every one is now full of the miracles done by cold baths on decay’d and weak constitutions, for the recovery of health and strength; and therefore they cannot be impracticable or intolerable for the improving and hardening the bodies of those tho are in better circumstances.
If these examples of grown men be not thought yet to reach the case of children, but that they may be judg’d still to be too tender, and unable to bear such usage, let them examine what the Germans of old, and the Irish now, do to them, and they will find, that infants too, as tender as they are thought, may, without any danger, endure bathing, not only of their feet, but of their whole bodies, in cold water. And there are, at this day, ladies in the Highlands of Scotland who use this discipline to their children in the midst of winter, and find that cold water does them no harm, even when there is ice in it.
§ 8. I shall not need here to mention swimming, when he is of an age able to learn, and has any one to teach him. ’Tis that saves many a man’s life; and the Romans thought it so necessary, that they rank’d it with letters; and it was the common phrase to mark one ill-educated, and good for nothing, that he had neither learnt to read nor to swim: Nec literas didicit nec natare. But, besides the gaining a skill which may serve him at need, the advantages to health by often bathing in cold water during the heat of summer, are so many, that I think nothing need be said to encourage it; provided this one caution be us’d, that he never go into the water when exercise has at all warm’d him, or left any emotion in his blood or pulse.
§ 9. Another thing that is of great advantage to every one’s health, but especially children’s, is to be much in the open air, and as little as may be by the fire, even in winter. By this he will accustom himself also to heat and cold, shine and rain; all which if a man’s body will not endure, it will serve him to very little purpose in this world; and when he is grown up, it is too late to begin to use him to it. It must be got early, and by degrees. Thus the body may be brought to bear almost any thing. If I should advise him to play in the wind and sun without a hat, I doubt whether it could be borne. There would a thousand objections be made against it, which at last would amount to no more, in truth, than being sun-burnt. And if my young master be to be kept always in the shade, and never expos’d to the sun and wind for fear of his complexion, it may be a good way to make him a beau, but not a man of business. And altho’ greater regard be to be had to beauty in the daughters; yet I will take the liberty to say, that the more they are in the air, without prejudice to their faces, the stronger and healthier they will be; and the nearer they come to the hardships of their brothers in their education, the greater advantage will they receive from it all the remaining part of their lives.
§ 10. Playing in the open air has but this one danger in it, that I know; and that is, that when he is hot with running up and down, he should sit or lie down on the cold or moist earth. This I grant; and drinking cold drink, when they are hot with labour or exercise, brings more people to the grave, or to the brink of it, by fevers, and other diseases, than anything I know. These mischiefs are easily enough prevented whilst he is little, being then seldom out of sight. And if, during his childhood, he be constantly and rigorously kept form sitting on the ground, or drinking any cold liquor whilst he is hot, the custom of forbearing, grown into habit, will help much to preserve him, when he is no longer under his maid’s or tutor’s eye. This is all I think can be done in the case: for, as years increase, liberty must come with them; and in a great many things he must be trusted to his own conduct, since there cannot always be a guard upon him, except what you have put into his own mind by good principles, and establish’d habits, which is the best and surest, and therefore most to be taken care of. For, from repeated cautions and rules, never so often inculcated, you are not to expect any thing either in this, or any other case, farther than practice has establish’d them into habits.