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TO MR. AND MRS. JAY.
Passy, 13 May, 1784. MY DEAR FRIENDS, I find I shall not be able to see you again as I intended. My best wishes, however, go with
that you may have a prosperous voyage and a happy sight of your friends and families.
Mr. Jay was so kind as to offer bis friendly services to me in America. He will oblige me much by endeavouring to forward my discharge from this employment. Repose is now my only ambition. If too, he should think with me, that my grandson is qualified to serve the States as secretary to a future minister at this court, or as Chargé d'Affaires, and will be kind enough to recommend such an appointment, it will exceedingly oblige me. I have twice mentioned this in. my letter to Congress, but have not been favored with any answer; which is hard, because the suspense prevents my endeavouring to promote him in some other way. I would not, however, be importunate; and therefore, if Mr. Jay should use his interest without effect, I will trouble them no more on the subject. My grandson's acquaintance with the language, with the court and customs here, and the particular regard M. de Vergennes has for him, are circumstances in his favor.
God bless and protect you both. Embrace my little friend for me, and believe me ever yours, &c.
FROM FRANCIS HOPKINSON TO B. FRANKLIN.
American Philosophical Society. - Defects in the usual Methods of teaching Languages. - Balloons.
Philadelphia, 24 May, 1784. DEAR FRIEND, I cannot suffer so good an opportunity to pass, without renewing my assurances of the love and respect I have for you, mine and my father's steady friend. It is, indeed, long since I have written to you, and much longer since I have received a letter from you. Your more serious and important avocations are doubtless the occasion of both. I am unwilling to intrude upon your time, and you are too much engaged in the embarrassing and vexatious duties of a public station and political character, to amuse yourself with letters of mere friendship and private concern.
I have long looked for the additional volumes of the new French Encyclopédie. You have forwarded three, namely, the first volumes of Jurisprudence, Natural History, and Mechanics; but I am told there are several more published.
I have industriously applied myself to raise from a state of lethargy our Philosophical Society. In this I have been assisted by the steady abilities of Mr. Rittenhouse, and the sanguine vivacity of Mr. Vaughan, whom you know. To this end I delivered a speech to the Society last winter, the purport of which was to rouse their attention to the objects of their institution, and to encourage a pursuit of experimental philosophy, by removing what I believed to be a great obstacle, especially in this country, that is, an idea that none but men of profound learning and scholastic education ought to meddle with pursuits of this kind. And this I did, by asserting, that many of the most important discoveries had been made by men, who had not liberal educations, þut 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 expected 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
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.