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I did, by asserting, that many of the most important discoveries had been made by men, who had not liberal educations, but were led to the discovery of truth by a careful attention to facts, and a steady investigation of the phenomena of nature.*
I asserted, that the book of nature was the book of knowledge; that it was open to all; that it was not written in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, but in a language intelligible to every one, who would take the pains to read and observe. This gave offence to some of the learned faculty, who think it impossible to attain wisdom, but by means of grammar rules, a system of logic, and the whole fabric of metaphysics. Perhaps I carried my doctrine a little too far, but it was with a view to encourage those, who had not the means of a learned education, to become useful by experimental inquiries. I would send you a copy of this speech, if I thought it worth your attention. It had, however, some good effect. . - I have long thought, that a great reform is wanting in the education of youth. Too much of the ancient superstitions of the schools remains. A great deal of precious time is spent in forcing upon young minds logical and metaphysical subtilties, which can never afterwards be applied to any possible use in life; whilst the practical branches of knowledge are either slightly glanced over, or totally neglected. Even the learned languages are in my opinion taught by a wrong method. The grammar should be the last book put into the learner's hands. No language is built upon its grammar, but the grammar is deduced from the language. Elegance of style in speaking or writing can
• See this Address in Hopkinson's Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings, Vol. I. p 359.
never be acquired by rules. Conversing with men of a polished conversation, and reading books of approved composition, will insensibly lead the ear and the eye to an accurate judgment of propriety of diction; and the scholar will with great facility acquire a taste for elegance, which no system of rudiments can ever inculcate.
More of our knowledge is acquired by habit, than we are aware of. We attribute too much to the understanding. As to the translation of Latin words into English, a vocabulary, or dictionary, is the only possible resource; but the due arrangement of these words, so as to make them elegantly expressive, is more easily attained by the ear than any other method. After the scholar has made himself well acquainted with the use of Latin words, that is, can tell the English of any Latin word that occurs, I would wish that the teacher, not a common schoolmaster, but a gentleman of refined taste, should continually read to him out of the most approved authors, and cause the pupil to make little essays of his own. My objection to grammar is, that its rules are not founded in nature. In a living language they are ever fluctuating ; general custom makes propriety; and even in languages called dead, and therefore fixed, the rules of grammar are necessarily encumbered with so many exceptions, that in many instances it is immaterial whether we take the exceptions to the rule, or the rule itself, for the standard.
But the learning of a language by means of a grammar is not only insufficient to inculcate its force and its elegances, but is a bar to the acquirement. We seldom see common schoolmasters, those haberdashers of moods and tenses, possessed of the least feeling or taste for the authors they teach; much less are they
able to write with urbanity in the language they profess. What would Virgil think, could he hear his beautiful poem frittered into its grammatical component parts in one of our schools? How would Horace swear, to hear one of his Odes parsed, as it is called, by mood and tense ? All the spirit of elegance must evaporate under such an operation. But I have inadvertently fallen upon a subject, that would require long discussion and argument to set it in a proper light; let us leave it.*
I enclose, for your amusement, a little piece which I published with a view of having our streets better attended to. They had been much neglected during the war, and of course they became shamefully dirty, My performance fully answered my intention, and above one hundred scavengers were employed in two or three days after its appearance, and our streets are now kept tolerably clean. I will also, if I can get it, enclose another squib, in which I have endeavoured to ridicule false learning; but no great effect is to be ex. pected from it, as rooted prejudices are not so easily shaken.
We have been diverting ourselves with raising paper balloons by means of burnt straw, to the great astonishment of the populace. This discovery, like electricity, magnetism, and many other important phenomena, serves for amusement at first; its uses and applications will hereafter unfold themselves. There may be many mechanical means of giving the balloon a progressive motion, other than what the current of wind would give it. Perhaps this is as simple as any. Let the balloon be constructed of an oblong form, some
• Much more on the subject of education may be found in the Miscellaneous Essays, &c. Vol. I. p. 12; Vol. II. pp. 1, 41.
thing like the body of a fish, or of a bird, or a wherry, and let there be a large and light wheel in the stern, vertically mounted. This wheel should consist of many vanes or fans of canvass, whose planes should be considerably inclined with respect to the plane of its motion exactly like the wheel of a smoke-jack. If the navigator turns this wheel swiftly round by means of a winch, there is no doubt but it would in a calm at least) give the machine a progressive motion, upon the same principle that a boat is sculled through the water.
But my paper is almost out, and perhaps your patience. If you can spare time, let me know that I live in your remembrance. Any philosophical communications will highly gratify me, and be thankfully received by our Society, who expect their president will now and then favor them with his notice. Are we to hope that you will revisit your native country or not; that country, for which you have done and suffered so much? Whilst there is any virtue left in America, the names of Franklin and Washington will be held in the highest esteem. Adieu, and be assured there is no one who loves you more, than your faithful and affectionate
FROM DAVID HARTLEY TO B. FRANKLIN.
Paris, 1 June, 1784. SIR, I have the honor to inform you, that I have transmitted to London the ratification on the part of Congress of the definitive treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States of America, and I am ordered to represent to you, that a want of form appears in the first paragraph of that instrument, wherein the United States are mentioned before his Majesty, contrary to the established custom in every treaty in which a crowned head and a republic are parties. It is likewise to be observed, that the term definitive articles is used instead of definitive treaty, and the conclusion appears likewise deficient, as it is neither signed by the President, nor is it dated, and consequently is wanting in some of the most essential points of form necessary towards authenticating the validity of the instrument.
I am ordered to propose to you, Sir, that these defects in the ratification should be corrected; which might very easily be done, either by signing a declaration in the name of Congress for preventing the particular mode of expression, so far as it relates to precedency in the first paragraph, being considered as a precedent to be adopted on any future occasion, or else by having a new copy made out in America, in which these mistakes should be corrected, and which might be done without any prejudice arising to either of the parties from the delay.* I am, Sir, with great respect and consideration, &c.
• Lord Carmarthen had written as follows to Mr. Hartley.—“I received this morning the ratification of the treaty between Great Britain and the United States of America; and I own that it was with the greatest surprise, that I perceived so essential a want of form as appears in the very first paragraph of that instrument, wherein the United States are mentioned before his Majesty, contrary to the established custom observed in every treaty, in which a crowned head and a republic are contracting parties. The conclusion likewise appears extremely deficient, as it is neither signed by the President, nor is it dated, and consequently is wanting in some of the most essential points of form necessary towards authenticating the validity of the instrument.” — St. James's, May 28th,