12. The question is not infrequently asked, as to whether, admitting that these things ought to be learned, it is possible for all of them to be taught and taken in simultaneously. There are some who say that this is impossible on the ground that the mind is confused and tired by application to so many studies of different tendencies: neither the intelligence nor the physique of our pupils, nor [p. 193] the time at our disposal are sufficient, they say, and even though older boys may be strong enough, it is a sin to put such a burden on the shoulders of childhood. [2] These critics show an insufficient appreciation of the capacities of the human mind, which is so swift and nimble and versatile, that it cannot be restricted to doing one thing only, but insists on devoting its attention to several different subjects not merely in one day, but actually at one and the same time. [3] Do not harpists simultaneously exert the memory and pay attention to the tone and inflexions of the voice, while the right hand runs over certain strings and the left plucks, stops or releases others, and even the foot is employed in beating time, all these actions being performed at the same moment? [4] Again, do not we ourselves, when unexpectedly called upon to plead, speak while we are thinking what we are to say next, invention of argument, choice of words, rhythm, gesture, delivery, facial expression and movement all being required simultaneously? If all these things can be done with one effort in spite of their diversity, why should we not divide our hours among different branches of study? We must remember that variety serves to refresh and restore the mind, and that it is really considerably harder to work at one subject without intermission. Consequently we should give the pen a rest by turning to read, and relieve the tedium of reading by changes of subject. However manifold our activities, in a certain sense we come fresh to each new subject. [5] Who can maintain his attention, if he has to listen for a whole day to one teacher harping on the same subject, be it what it may? Change of studies is [p. 195] like change of foods: the stomach is refreshed by their variety and derives greater nourishment from variety of viands. [6] If my critics disagree, let them provide me with an alternative method. Are we first to deliver ourselves up to the sole service of the teacher of literature, and then similarly to the teacher of geometry, neglecting under the latter what was taught us by the former? And then are we to go on to the musician, forgetting all that we learned before? And when we study Latin literature, are we to do so to the exclusion of Greek? In fine, to have done with the matter once and for all, are we to do nothing except that which last comes to our hand? [7] On this principle, why not advise farmers not to cultivate corn, vines, olives and orchard trees at the same time? or from devoting themselves simultaneously to pastures, cattle, gardens, bees and poultry? Why do we ourselves daily allot some of our time to the business of the courts, some to the demands of our friends, some to our domestic affairs, some to the exercise of the body, and some even to our pleasures? Any one of these occupations, if pursued without interruption, would fatigue us. So much easier is it to do many things than to do one thing for a long time continuously.

[8] We need have no fear at any rate that boys will find their work too exhausting: there is no age more capable of enduring fatigue. The fact may be surprising, but it can be proved by experiment. For the mind is all the easier to teach before it is set. [9] This may be clearly proved by the fact that within two years after a child has begun to form words correctly, he can speak practically all without any pressure from outside. On the other hand how many years [p. 197] it takes for our newly-imported slaves to become familiar with the Latin language. Try to teach an adult to read and you will soon appreciate the force of the saying applied to those who do everything connected with their art with the utmost skill “he started young!” Moreover boys stand the strain of work better than young men. [10] Just as small children suffer less damage from their frequent falls, from their crawling on hands and knees and, a little later, from their incessant play and their running about from morn till eve, because they are so light in weight and have so little to carry, even so their minds are less susceptible of fatigue, because their activity calls for less effort and application to study demands no exertion of their own, since they are merely so much plastic material to be moulded by the teacher. [11] And further owing to the general pliability of childhood, they follow their instructors with greater simplicity and without attempting to measure their own progress: for as yet they do not even appreciate the nature of their work. Finally, as I have often noticed, the senses are less affected by mere hard work than they are by hard thinking.

[12] Moreover there will never be more time for such studies, since at this age all progress is made through listening to the teacher. Later when the boy has to write by himself, or to produce and compose something out of his own head, he will neither have the time nor the inclination for the exercises which we have been discussing. [13] Since, then, the teacher of literature neither can nor ought to occupy the whole day, for fear of giving his pupil a distaste for work, what are the studies to which the spare time should preferably be devoted? [14] For I do not wish the student to wear [p. 199] himself out in such pursuits: I would not have him sing or learn to read music or dive deep into the minuter details of geometry, nor need he be a finished actor in his delivery or a dancer in his gesture: if I did demand all these accomplishments, there would yet be time for them; the period allotted to education is long, and I am not speaking of duller wits. [15] Why did Plato bear away the palm in all these branches of knowledge which in my opinion the future orator should learn? I answer, because he was not merely content with the teaching which Athens was able to provide or even with that of the Pythagoreans whom he visited in Italy, but even approached the priests of Egypt and made himself thoroughly acquainted with all their secret lore.

[16] The plea of the difficulty of the subject is put forward merely to cloak our indolence, because we do not love the work that lies before us nor seek to win eloquence for our own because it is a noble art and the fairest thing in all the world, but gird up our loins for mercenary ends and for the winning of filthy lucre. [17] Without such accomplishments many may speak in the courts and make an income; but it is my prayer that every dealer in the vilest merchandise may be richer than they and that the public crier may find his voice a more lucrative possession. And I trust that there is not one even among my readers who would think of calculating the monetary value of such studies. [18] But he that has enough of the divine spark to conceive the ideal eloquence, he who, as the great tragic poet1 says, regards “oratory” as “the queen of all the world” and seeks not the transitory gains of advocacy, but those stable and lasting rewards which his own soul and knowledge and [p. 201] contemplation can give, he will easily persuade himself to spend his time not, like so many, in the theatre or in the Campus Martius, in dicing or in idle talk, to say naught of the hours that are wasted in sleep or long drawn banqueting, but in listening rather to the geometrician and the teacher of music. For by this he will win a richer harvest of delight than can ever be gathered from the pleasures of the ignorant, since among the many gifts of providence to man not the least is this that the highest pleasure is the child of virtue. [19] But the attractions of my theme have led me to say overmuch. Enough of those studies in which a boy must be instructed, while he is yet too young to proceed to greater things! My next book will start afresh and will pass to the consideration of the duties of the teacher of rhetoric.

1 Pacuvius (Ribbeck, 177).

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