God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become
evil. He forces one soil to yield the products of another, one tree
to bear another's fruit. He confuses and confounds time, place,
and natural conditions. He mutilates his dog, his horse, and his
slave. He destroys and defaces all things; he loves all that is
deformed and monstrous; he will have nothing as nature made it,
not even man himself, who must learn his paces like a saddle-horse,
and be shaped to his master's taste like the trees in his garden.
Yet things would be worse without this education, and mankind cannot
be made by halves. Under existing conditions a man left to himself
from birth would be more of a monster than the rest. Prejudice,
authority, necessity, example, all the social conditions into which
we are plunged, would stifle nature in him and put nothing in her
place. She would be like a sapling chance sown in the midst of the
highway, bent hither and thither and soon crushed by the passers-by.
Tender, anxious mother, [Footnote: The earliest education is
most important and it undoubtedly is woman's work. If the author
of nature had meant to assign it to men he would have given them
milk to feed the child. Address your treatises on education to the
women, for not only are they able to watch over it more closely than
men, not only is their influence always predominant in education,
its success concerns them more nearly, for most widows are at the
mercy of their children, who show them very plainly whether their
education was good or bad. The laws, always more concerned about
property than about people, since their object is not virtue but
peace, the laws give too little authority to the mother. Yet her
position is more certain than that of the father, her duties are
more trying; the right ordering of the family depends more upon
her, and she is usually fonder of her children. There are occasions
when a son may be excused for lack of respect for his father, but
if a child could be so unnatural as to fail in respect for the
mother who bore him and nursed him at her breast, who for so many
years devoted herself to his care, such a monstrous wretch should
be smothered at once as unworthy to live. You say mothers spoil
their children, and no doubt that is wrong, but it is worse to
deprave them as you do. The mother wants her child to be happy
now. She is right, and if her method is wrong, she must be taught
a better. Ambition, avarice, tyranny, the mistaken foresight of fathers,
their neglect, their harshness, are a hundredfold more harmful to
the child than the blind affection of the mother. Moreover, I must
explain what I mean by a mother and that explanation follows.] I
appeal to you. You can remove this young tree from the highway and
shield it from the crushing force of social conventions. Tend and
water it ere it dies. One day its fruit will reward your care.
From the outset raise a wall round your child's soul; another may
sketch the plan, you alone should carry it into execution.
Plants are fashioned by cultivation, man by education. If a man
were born tall and strong, his size and strength would be of no
good to him till he had learnt to use them; they would even harm
him by preventing others from coming to his aid; [Footnote: Like
them in externals, but without speech and without the ideas which
are expressed by speech, he would be unable to make his wants known,
while there would be nothing in his appearance to suggest that he
needed their help.] left to himself he would die of want before he
knew his needs. We lament the helplessness of infancy; we fail to
perceive that the race would have perished had not man begun by
being a child.
We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish,
we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when
we come to man's estate, is the gift of education.
This education comes to us from nature, from men, or from things.
The inner growth of our organs and faculties is the education of
nature, the use we learn to make of this growth is the education
of men, what we gain by our experience of our surroundings is the
education of things.
Thus we are each taught by three masters. If their teaching
conflicts, the scholar is ill-educated and will never be at peace
with himself; if their teaching agrees, he goes straight to his
goal, he lives at peace with himself, he is well-educated.
Now of these three factors in education nature is wholly beyond
our control, things are only partly in our power; the education of
men is the only one controlled by us; and even here our power is
largely illusory, for who can hope to direct every word and deed
of all with whom the child has to do.
Viewed as an art, the success of education is almost impossible,
since the essential conditions of success are beyond our control.
Our efforts may bring us within sight of the goal, but fortune must
favour us if we are to reach it.
What is this goal? As we have just shown, it is the goal of nature.
Since all three modes of education must work together, the two
that we can control must follow the lead of that which is beyond
our control. Perhaps this word Nature has too vague a meaning. Let
us try to define it.
Nature, we are told, is merely habit. What does that mean? Are there
not habits formed under compulsion, habits which never stifle nature?
Such, for example, are the habits of plants trained horizontally.
The plant keeps its artificial shape, but the sap has not changed
its course, and any new growth the plant may make will be vertical.
It is the same with a man's disposition; while the conditions remain
the same, habits, even the least natural of them, hold good; but
change the conditions, habits vanish, nature reasserts herself.
Education itself is but habit, for are there not people who forget
or lose their education and others who keep it? Whence comes
this difference? If the term nature is to be restricted to habits
conformable to nature we need say no more.
We are born sensitive and from our birth onwards we are affected
in various ways by our environment. As soon as we become conscious
of our sensations we tend to seek or shun the things that cause
them, at first because they are pleasant or unpleasant, then because
they suit us or not, and at last because of judgments formed by
means of the ideas of happiness and goodness which reason gives
us. These tendencies gain strength and permanence with the growth
of reason, but hindered by our habits they are more or less warped
by our prejudices. Before this change they are what I call Nature
Everything should therefore be brought into harmony with these
natural tendencies, and that might well be if our three modes of
education merely differed from one another; but what can be done
when they conflict, when instead of training man for himself you
try to train him for others? Harmony becomes impossible. Forced to
combat either nature or society, you must make your choice between
the man and the citizen, you cannot train both.
The smaller social group, firmly united in itself and dwelling
apart from others, tends to withdraw itself from the larger society.
Every patriot hates foreigners; they are only men, and nothing to
him.[Footnote: Thus the wars of republics are more cruel than those
of monarchies. But if the wars of kings are less cruel, their peace
is terrible; better be their foe than their subject.] This defect
is inevitable, but of little importance. The great thing is to be
kind to our neighbours. Among strangers the Spartan was selfish,
grasping, and unjust, but unselfishness, justice, and harmony ruled
his home life. Distrust those cosmopolitans who search out remote
duties in their books and neglect those that lie nearest. Such
philosophers will love the Tartars to avoid loving their neighbour.
The natural man lives for himself; he is the unit, the whole,
dependent only on himself and on his like. The citizen is but the
numerator of a fraction, whose value depends on its denominator;
his value depends upon the whole, that is, on the community. Good
social institutions are those best fitted to make a man unnatural,
to exchange his independence for dependence, to merge the unit
in the group, so that he no longer regards himself as one, but as
a part of the whole, and is only conscious of the common life. A
citizen of Rome was neither Caius nor Lucius, he was a Roman; he
ever loved his country better than his life. The captive Regulus
professed himself a Carthaginian; as a foreigner he refused to take
his seat in the Senate except at his master's bidding. He scorned
the attempt to save his life. He had his will, and returned in
triumph to a cruel death. There is no great likeness between Regulus
and the men of our own day.
The Spartan Pedaretes presented himself for admission to the council
of the Three Hundred and was rejected; he went away rejoicing that
there were three hundred Spartans better than himself. I suppose he
was in earnest; there is no reason to doubt it. That was a citizen.
A Spartan mother had five sons with the army. A Helot arrived;
trembling she asked his news. "Your five sons are slain." "Vile
slave, was that what I asked thee?" "We have won the victory."
She hastened to the temple to render thanks to the gods. That was
He who would preserve the supremacy of natural feelings in social
life knows not what he asks. Ever at war with himself, hesitating
between his wishes and his duties, he will be neither a man nor
a citizen. He will be of no use to himself nor to others. He will
be a man of our day, a Frenchman, an Englishman, one of the great
To be something, to be himself, and always at one with himself, a
man must act as he speaks, must know what course he ought to take,
and must follow that course with vigour and persistence. When I
meet this miracle it will be time enough to decide whether he is
a man or a citizen, or how he contrives to be both.
Two conflicting types of educational systems spring from these
conflicting aims. One is public and common to many, the other
private and domestic.
If you wish to know what is meant by public education, read Plato's
Republic. Those who merely judge books by their titles take this for
a treatise on politics, but it is the finest treatise on education
In popular estimation the Platonic Institute stands for all that
is fanciful and unreal. For my own part I should have thought the
system of Lycurgus far more impracticable had he merely committed
it to writing. Plato only sought to purge man's heart; Lycurgus
turned it from its natural course.
The public institute does not and cannot exist, for there is neither
country nor patriot. The very words should be struck out of our
language. The reason does not concern us at present, so that though
I know it I refrain from stating it.
I do not consider our ridiculous colleges [Footnote: There are
teachers dear to me in many schools and especially in the University
of Paris, men for whom I have a great respect, men whom I believe
to be quite capable of instructing young people, if they were not
compelled to follow the established custom. I exhort one of them
to publish the scheme of reform which he has thought out. Perhaps
people would at length seek to cure the evil if they realised that
there was a remedy.] as public institutes, nor do I include under
this head a fashionable education, for this education facing two
ways at once achieves nothing. It is only fit to turn out hypocrites,
always professing to live for others, while thinking of themselves
alone. These professions, however, deceive no one, for every one
has his share in them; they are so much labour wasted.
Our inner conflicts are caused by these contradictions. Drawn
this way by nature and that way by man, compelled to yield to both
forces, we make a compromise and reach neither goal. We go through
life, struggling and hesitating, and die before we have found peace,
useless alike to ourselves and to others.
There remains the education of the home or of nature; but how will
a man live with others if he is educated for himself alone? If
the twofold aims could be resolved into one by removing the man's
self-contradictions, one great obstacle to his happiness would be
gone. To judge of this you must see the man full-grown; you must
have noted his inclinations, watched his progress, followed his
steps; in a word you must really know a natural man. When you have
read this work, I think you will have made some progress in this
What must be done to train this exceptional man! We can do much,
but the chief thing is to prevent anything being done. To sail
against the wind we merely follow one tack and another; to keep our
position in a stormy sea we must cast anchor. Beware, young pilot,
lest your boat slip its cable or drag its anchor before you know
In the social order where each has his own place a man must be
educated for it. If such a one leave his own station he is fit for
nothing else. His education is only useful when fate agrees with
his parents' choice; if not, education harms the scholar, if only
by the prejudices it has created. In Egypt, where the son was
compelled to adopt his father's calling, education had at least
a settled aim; where social grades remain fixed, but the men who
form them are constantly changing, no one knows whether he is not
harming his son by educating him for his own class.
In the natural order men are all equal and their common calling
is that of manhood, so that a well-educated man cannot fail to do
well in that calling and those related to it. It matters little to
me whether my pupil is intended for the army, the church, or the
law. Before his parents chose a calling for him nature called him
to be a man. Life is the trade I would teach him. When he leaves
me, I grant you, he will be neither a magistrate, a soldier, nor a
priest; he will be a man. All that becomes a man he will learn as
quickly as another. In vain will fate change his station, he will
always be in his right place. "Occupavi te, fortuna, atque cepi;
omnes-que aditus tuos interclusi, ut ad me aspirare non posses."
The real object of our study is man and his environment. To my mind
those of us who can best endure the good and evil of life are the
best educated; hence it follows that true education consists less
in precept than in practice. We begin to learn when we begin to
live; our education begins with ourselves, our first teacher is
our nurse. The ancients used the word "Education" in a different
sense, it meant "Nurture." "Educit obstetrix," says Varro. "Educat
nutrix, instituit paedagogus, docet magister." Thus, education,
discipline, and instruction are three things as different in
their purpose as the dame, the usher, and the teacher. But these
distinctions are undesirable and the child should only follow one
We must therefore look at the general rather than the particular,
and consider our scholar as man in the abstract, man exposed to all
the changes and chances of mortal life. If men were born attached
to the soil of our country, if one season lasted all the year round,
if every man's fortune were so firmly grasped that he could never
lose it, then the established method of education would have
certain advantages; the child brought up to his own calling would
never leave it, he could never have to face the difficulties of
any other condition. But when we consider the fleeting nature of
human affairs, the restless and uneasy spirit of our times, when
every generation overturns the work of its predecessor, can we
conceive a more senseless plan than to educate a child as if he
would never leave his room, as if he would always have his servants
about him? If the wretched creature takes a single step up or down
he is lost. This is not teaching him to bear pain; it is training
him to feel it.
People think only of preserving their child's life; this is not
enough, he must be taught to preserve his own life when he is a
man, to bear the buffets of fortune, to brave wealth and poverty,
to live at need among the snows of Iceland or on the scorching rocks
of Malta. In vain you guard against death; he must needs die; and
even if you do not kill him with your precautions, they are mistaken.
Teach him to live rather than to avoid death: life is not breath,
but action, the use of our senses, our mind, our faculties, every
part of ourselves which makes us conscious of our being. Life
consists less in length of days than in the keen sense of living.
A man maybe buried at a hundred and may never have lived at all.
He would have fared better had he died young.
Our wisdom is slavish prejudice, our customs consist in control,
constraint, compulsion. Civilised man is born and dies a slave.
The infant is bound up in swaddling clothes, the corpse is nailed
down in his coffin. All his life long man is imprisoned by our
I am told that many midwives profess to improve the shape of the
infant's head by rubbing, and they are allowed to do it. Our heads
are not good enough as God made them, they must be moulded outside
by the nurse and inside by the philosopher. The Caribs are better
off than we are. The child has hardly left the mother's womb, it
has hardly begun to move and stretch its limbs, when it is deprived
of its freedom. It is wrapped in swaddling bands, laid down with
its head fixed, its legs stretched out, and its arms by its sides;
it is wound round with linen and bandages of all sorts so that it
cannot move. It is fortunate if it has room to breathe, and it is
laid on its side so that water which should flow from its mouth can
escape, for it is not free to turn its head on one side for this
The new-born child requires to stir and stretch his limbs to free
them from the stiffness resulting from being curled up so long.
His limbs are stretched indeed, but he is not allowed to move them.
Even the head is confined by a cap. One would think they were afraid
the child should look as if it were alive.
Thus the internal impulses which should lead to growth find an
insurmountable obstacle in the way of the necessary movements. The
child exhausts his strength in vain struggles, or he gains strength
very slowly. He was freer and less constrained in the womb; he has
gained nothing by birth.
The inaction, the constraint to which the child's limbs are subjected
can only check the circulation of the blood and humours; it can
only hinder the child's growth in size and strength, and injure its
constitution. Where these absurd precautions are absent, all the
men are tall, strong, and well-made. Where children are swaddled,
the country swarms with the hump-backed, the lame, the bow-legged,
the rickety, and every kind of deformity. In our fear lest the
body should become deformed by free movement, we hasten to deform
it by putting it in a press. We make our children helpless lest
they should hurt themselves.
Is not such a cruel bondage certain to affect both health and temper?
Their first feeling is one of pain and suffering; they find every
necessary movement hampered; more miserable than a galley slave, in
vain they struggle, they become angry, they cry. Their first words
you say are tears. That is so. From birth you are always checking
them, your first gifts are fetters, your first treatment, torture.
Their voice alone is free; why should they not raise it in complaint?
They cry because you are hurting them; if you were swaddled you
would cry louder still.
What is the origin of this senseless and unnatural custom? Since
mothers have despised their first duty and refused to nurse their
own children, they have had to be entrusted to hired nurses. Finding
themselves the mothers of a stranger's children, without the ties
of nature, they have merely tried to save themselves trouble.
A child unswaddled would need constant watching; well swaddled it
is cast into a corner and its cries are unheeded. So long as the
nurse's negligence escapes notice, so long as the nursling does
not break its arms or legs, what matter if it dies or becomes a
weakling for life. Its limbs are kept safe at the expense of its
body, and if anything goes wrong it is not the nurse's fault.
These gentle mothers, having got rid of their babies, devote
themselves gaily to the pleasures of the town. Do they know how
their children are being treated in the villages? If the nurse is at
all busy, the child is hung up on a nail like a bundle of clothes
and is left crucified while the nurse goes leisurely about her
business. Children have been found in this position purple in the
face, their tightly bandaged chest forbade the circulation of the
blood, and it went to the head; so the sufferer was considered very
quiet because he had not strength to cry. How long a child might
survive under such conditions I do not know, but it could not be
long. That, I fancy, is one of the chief advantages of swaddling
It is maintained that unswaddled infants would assume faulty positions
and make movements which might injure the proper development of
their limbs. That is one of the empty arguments of our false wisdom
which has never been confirmed by experience. Out of all the crowds
of children who grow up with the full use of their limbs among
nations wiser than ourselves, you never find one who hurts himself
or maims himself; their movements are too feeble to be dangerous,
and when they assume an injurious position, pain warns them to
We have not yet decided to swaddle our kittens and puppies; are
they any the worse for this neglect? Children are heavier, I admit,
but they are also weaker. They can scarcely move, how could they
hurt themselves! If you lay them on their backs, they will lie
there till they die, like the turtle, unable to turn itself over.
Not content with having ceased to suckle their children, women no
longer wish to do it; with the natural result motherhood becomes a
burden; means are found to avoid it. They will destroy their work
to begin it over again, and they thus turn to the injury of the race
the charm which was given them for its increase. This practice, with
other causes of depopulation, forbodes the coming fate of Europe.
Her arts and sciences, her philosophy and morals, will shortly
reduce her to a desert. She will be the home of wild beasts, and
her inhabitants will hardly have changed for the worse.
I have sometimes watched the tricks of young wives who pretend
that they wish to nurse their own children. They take care to be
dissuaded from this whim. They contrive that husbands, doctors,
and especially mothers should intervene. If a husband should let
his wife nurse her own baby it would be the ruin of him; they would
make him out a murderer who wanted to be rid of her. A prudent husband
must sacrifice paternal affection to domestic peace. Fortunately
for you there are women in the country districts more continent than
your wives. You are still more fortunate if the time thus gained
is not intended for another than yourself.
There can be no doubt about a wife's duty, but, considering the
contempt in which it is held, it is doubtful whether it is not
just as good for the child to be suckled by a stranger. This is
a question for the doctors to settle, and in my opinion they have
settled it according to the women's wishes, [Footnote: The league
between the women and the doctors has always struck me as one of
the oddest things in Paris. The doctors' reputation depends on the
women, and by means of the doctors the women get their own way.
It is easy to see what qualifications a doctor requires in Paris
if he is to become celebrated.] and for my own part I think it is
better that the child should suck the breast of a healthy nurse
rather than of a petted mother, if he has any further evil to fear
from her who has given him birth.
Ought the question, however, to be considered only from the
physiological point of view? Does not the child need a mother's
care as much as her milk? Other women, or even other animals, may
give him the milk she denies him, but there is no substitute for
a mother's love.
The woman who nurses another's child in place of her own is a bad
mother; how can she be a good nurse? She may become one in time;
use will overcome nature, but the child may perish a hundred times
before his nurse has developed a mother's affection for him.
And this affection when developed has its drawbacks, which should
make any feeling woman afraid to put her child out to nurse. Is
she prepared to divide her mother's rights, or rather to abdicate
them in favour of a stranger; to see her child loving another more
than herself; to feel that the affection he retains for his own
mother is a favour, while his love for his foster-mother is a duty;
for is not some affection due where there has been a mother's care?
To remove this difficulty, children are taught to look down on
their nurses, to treat them as mere servants. When their task is
completed the child is withdrawn or the nurse is dismissed. Her
visits to her foster-child are discouraged by a cold reception. After
a few years the child never sees her again. The mother expects to
take her place, and to repair by her cruelty the results of her own
neglect. But she is greatly mistaken; she is making an ungrateful
foster-child, not an affectionate son; she is teaching him ingratitude,
and she is preparing him to despise at a later day the mother who
bore him, as he now despises his nurse.
How emphatically would I speak if it were not so hopeless to keep
struggling in vain on behalf of a real reform. More depends on
this than you realise. Would you restore all men to their primal
duties, begin with the mothers; the results will surprise you.
Every evil follows in the train of this first sin; the whole moral
order is disturbed, nature is quenched in every breast, the home
becomes gloomy, the spectacle of a young family no longer stirs
the husband's love and the stranger's reverence. The mother whose
children are out of sight wins scanty esteem; there is no home
life, the ties of nature are not strengthened by those of habit;
fathers, mothers, children, brothers, and sisters cease to exist.
They are almost strangers; how should they love one another? Each
thinks of himself first. When the home is a gloomy solitude pleasure
will be sought elsewhere.
But when mothers deign to nurse their own children, then will be
a reform in morals; natural feeling will revive in every heart;
there will be no lack of citizens for the state; this first step
by itself will restore mutual affection. The charms of home are
the best antidote to vice. The noisy play of children, which we
thought so trying, becomes a delight; mother and father rely more
on each other and grow dearer to one another; the marriage tie is
strengthened. In the cheerful home life the mother finds her sweetest
duties and the father his pleasantest recreation. Thus the cure of
this one evil would work a wide-spread reformation; nature would
regain her rights. When women become good mothers, men will be good
husbands and fathers.
My words are vain! When we are sick of worldly pleasures we do
not return to the pleasures of the home. Women have ceased to be
mothers, they do not and will not return to their duty. Could they
do it if they would? The contrary custom is firmly established; each
would have to overcome the opposition of her neighbours, leagued
together against the example which some have never given and others
do not desire to follow.
Yet there are still a few young women of good natural disposition
who refuse to be the slaves of fashion and rebel against the
clamour of other women, who fulfil the sweet task imposed on them
by nature. Would that the reward in store for them might draw
others to follow their example. My conclusion is based upon plain
reason, and upon facts I have never seen disputed; and I venture
to promise these worthy mothers the firm and steadfast affection
of their husbands and the truly filial love of their children and
the respect of all the world. Child-birth will be easy and will
leave no ill-results, their health will be strong and vigorous, and
they will see their daughters follow their example, and find that
example quoted as a pattern to others.
No mother, no child; their duties are reciprocal, and when ill done
by the one they will be neglected by the other. The child should
love his mother before he knows what he owes her. If the voice of
instinct is not strengthened by habit it soon dies, the heart is
still-born. From the outset we have strayed from the path of nature.
There is another by-way which may tempt our feet from the path of
nature. The mother may lavish excessive care on her child instead
of neglecting him; she may make an idol of him; she may develop
and increase his weakness to prevent him feeling it; she wards
off every painful experience in the hope of withdrawing him from
the power of nature, and fails to realise that for every trifling
ill from which she preserves him the future holds in store many
accidents and dangers, and that it is a cruel kindness to prolong
the child's weakness when the grown man must bear fatigue.
Thetis, so the story goes, plunged her son in the waters of Styx to
make him invulnerable. The truth of this allegory is apparent. The
cruel mothers I speak of do otherwise; they plunge their children
into softness, and they are preparing suffering for them, they open
the way to every kind of ill, which their children will not fail
to experience after they grow up.
Fix your eyes on nature, follow the path traced by her. She keeps
children at work, she hardens them by all kinds of difficulties,
she soon teaches them the meaning of pain and grief. They cut their
teeth and are feverish, sharp colics bring on convulsions, they
are choked by fits of coughing and tormented by worms, evil humours
corrupt the blood, germs of various kinds ferment in it, causing
dangerous eruptions. Sickness and danger play the chief part in
infancy. One half of the children who are born die before their
eighth year. The child who has overcome hardships has gained strength,
and as soon as he can use his life he holds it more securely.
This is nature's law; why contradict it? Do you not see that in
your efforts to improve upon her handiwork you are destroying it;
her cares are wasted? To do from without what she does within is
according to you to increase the danger twofold. On the contrary,
it is the way to avert it; experience shows that children delicately
nurtured are more likely to die. Provided we do not overdo it, there
is less risk in using their strength than in sparing it. Accustom
them therefore to the hardships they will have to face; train them
to endure extremes of temperature, climate, and condition, hunger,
thirst, and weariness. Dip them in the waters of Styx. Before bodily
habits become fixed you may teach what habits you will without any
risk, but once habits are established any change is fraught with
peril. A child will bear changes which a man cannot bear, the muscles
of the one are soft and flexible, they take whatever direction
you give them without any effort; the muscles of the grown man are
harder and they only change their accustomed mode of action when
subjected to violence. So we can make a child strong without risking
his life or health, and even if there were some risk, it should not
be taken into consideration. Since human life is full of dangers,
can we do better than face them at a time when they can do the
A child's worth increases with his years. To his personal value
must be added the cost of the care bestowed upon him. For himself
there is not only loss of life, but the consciousness of death.
We must therefore think most of his future in our efforts for his
preservation. He must be protected against the ills of youth before
he reaches them: for if the value of life increases until the child
reaches an age when he can be useful, what madness to spare some
suffering in infancy only to multiply his pain when he reaches the
age of reason. Is that what our master teaches us!
Man is born to suffer; pain is the means of his preservation.
His childhood is happy, knowing only pain of body. These bodily
sufferings are much less cruel, much less painful, than other forms
of suffering, and they rarely lead to self-destruction. It is not
the twinges of gout which make a man kill himself, it is mental
suffering that leads to despair. We pity the sufferings of childhood;
we should pity ourselves; our worst sorrows are of our own making.
The new-born infant cries, his early days are spent in crying. He
is alternately petted and shaken by way of soothing him; sometimes
he is threatened, sometimes beaten, to keep him quiet. We do what
he wants or we make him do what we want, we submit to his whims or
subject him to our own. There is no middle course; he must rule or
obey. Thus his earliest ideas are those of the tyrant or the slave.
He commands before he can speak, he obeys before he can act, and
sometimes he is punished for faults before he is aware of them, or
rather before they are committed. Thus early are the seeds of evil
passions sown in his young heart. At a later day these are attributed
to nature, and when we have taken pains to make him bad we lament
In this way the child passes six or seven years in the hands of
women, the victim of his own caprices or theirs, and after they
have taught him all sorts of things, when they have burdened his
memory with words he cannot understand, or things which are of no
use to him, when nature has been stifled by the passions they have
implanted in him, this sham article is sent to a tutor. The tutor
completes the development of the germs of artificiality which he finds
already well grown, he teaches him everything except self-knowledge
and self-control, the arts of life and happiness. When at length
this infant slave and tyrant, crammed with knowledge but empty of
sense, feeble alike in mind and body, is flung upon the world, and
his helplessness, his pride, and his other vices are displayed,
we begin to lament the wretchedness and perversity of mankind. We
are wrong; this is the creature of our fantasy; the natural man is
cast in another mould.
Would you keep him as nature made him? Watch over him from his
birth. Take possession of him as soon as he comes into the world
and keep him till he is a man; you will never succeed otherwise.
The real nurse is the mother and the real teacher is the father.
Let them agree in the ordering of their duties as well as in their
method, let the child pass from one to the other. He will be better
educated by a sensible though ignorant father than by the cleverest
master in the world. For zeal will atone for lack of knowledge,
rather than knowledge for lack of zeal. But the duties of public
and private business! Duty indeed! Does a father's duty come last.
[Footnote: When we read in Plutarch that Cato the Censor, who ruled
Rome with such glory, brought up his own sons from the cradle,
and so carefully that he left everything to be present when their
nurse, that is to say their mother, bathed them; when we read
in Suetonius that Augustus, the master of the world which he had
conquered and which he himself governed, himself taught his grandsons
to write, to swim, to understand the beginnings of science, and that
he always had them with him, we cannot help smiling at the little
people of those days who amused themselves with such follies, and
who were too ignorant, no doubt, to attend to the great affairs
of the great people of our own time.] It is not surprising that
the man whose wife despises the duty of suckling her child should
despise its education. There is no more charming picture than
that of family life; but when one feature is wanting the whole is
marred. If the mother is too delicate to nurse her child, the father
will be too busy to teach him. Their children, scattered about
in schools, convents, and colleges, will find the home of their
affections elsewhere, or rather they will form the habit of oaring
for nothing. Brothers and sisters will scarcely know each other;
when they are together in company they will behave as strangers.
When there is no confidence between relations, when the family
society ceases to give savour to life, its place is soon usurped
by vice. Is there any man so stupid that he cannot see how all this
A father has done but a third of his task when he begets children
and provides a living for them. He owes men to humanity, citizens
to the state. A man who can pay this threefold debt and neglect to
do so is guilty, more guilty, perhaps, if he pays it in part than
when he neglects it entirely. He has no right to be a father if
he cannot fulfil a father's duties. Poverty, pressure of business,
mistaken social prejudices, none of these can excuse a man from his
duty, which is to support and educate his own children. If a man
of any natural feeling neglects these sacred duties he will repent
it with bitter tears and will never be comforted.
But what does this rich man do, this father of a family, compelled,
so he says, to neglect his children? He pays another man to perform
those duties which are his alone. Mercenary man! do you expect to
purchase a second father for your child? Do not deceive yourself;
it is not even a master you have hired for him, it is a flunkey,
who will soon train such another as himself.
There is much discussion as to the characteristics of a good
tutor. My first requirement, and it implies a good many more, is
that he should not take up his task for reward. There are callings
so great that they cannot be undertaken for money without showing
our unfitness for them; such callings are those of the soldier and
"But who must train my child?" "I have just told you, you should
do it yourself." "I cannot." "You cannot! Then find a friend. I
see no other course."
A tutor! What a noble soul! Indeed for the training of a man one
must either be a father or more than man. It is this duty you would
calmly hand over to a hireling!
The more you think of it the harder you will find it. The tutor
must have been trained for his pupil, his servants must have been
trained for their master, so that all who come near him may have
received the impression which is to be transmitted to him. We must
pass from education to education, I know not how far. How can a
child be well educated by one who has not been well educated himself!
Can such a one be found? I know not. In this age of degradation who
knows the height of virtue to which man's soul may attain? But let
us assume that this prodigy has been discovered. We shall learn
what he should be from the consideration of his duties. I fancy the
father who realises the value of a good tutor will contrive to do
without one, for it will be harder to find one than to become such
a tutor himself; he need search no further, nature herself having
done half the work.
Some one whose rank alone is known to me suggested that I should
educate his son. He did me a great honour, no doubt, but far from
regretting my refusal, he ought to congratulate himself on my
prudence. Had the offer been accepted, and had I been mistaken in
my method, there would have been an education ruined; had I succeeded,
things would have been worse--his son would have renounced his
title and refused to be a prince.
I feel too deeply the importance of a tutor's duties and my own
unfitness, ever to accept such a post, whoever offered it, and
even the claims of friendship would be only an additional motive
for my refusal. Few, I think, will be tempted to make me such an
offer when they have read this book, and I beg any one who would
do so to spare his pains. I have had enough experience of the task
to convince myself of my own unfitness, and my circumstances would
make it impossible, even if my talents were such as to fit me for
it. I have thought it my duty to make this public declaration to
those who apparently refuse to do me the honour of believing in
the sincerity of my determination. If I am unable to undertake the
more useful task, I will at least venture to attempt the easier
one; I will follow the example of my predecessors and take up, not
the task, but my pen; and instead of doing the right thing I will
try to say it.
I know that in such an undertaking the author, who ranges at will
among theoretical systems, utters many fine precepts impossible
to practise, and even when he says what is practicable it remains
undone for want of details and examples as to its application.
I have therefore decided to take an imaginary pupil, to assume on
my own part the age, health, knowledge, and talents required for
the work of his education, to guide him from birth to manhood, when
he needs no guide but himself. This method seems to me useful for
an author who fears lest he may stray from the practical to the
visionary; for as soon as he departs from common practice he has
only to try his method on his pupil; he will soon know, or the
reader will know for him, whether he is following the development
of the child and the natural growth of the human heart.
This is what I have tried to do. Lest my book should be unduly
bulky, I have been content to state those principles the truth of
which is self-evident. But as to the rules which call for proof, I
have applied them to Emile or to others, and I have shown, in very
great detail, how my theories may be put into practice. Such at
least is my plan; the reader must decide whether I have succeeded.
At first I have said little about Emile, for my earliest maxims
of education, though very different from those generally accepted,
are so plain that it is hard for a man of sense to refuse to accept
them, but as I advance, my scholar, educated after another fashion
than yours, is no longer an ordinary child, he needs a special
system. Then he appears upon the scene more frequently, and towards
the end I never lose sight of him for a moment, until, whatever he
may say, he needs me no longer.
I pass over the qualities required in a good tutor; I take them for
granted, and assume that I am endowed with them. As you read this
book you will see how generous I have been to myself.
I will only remark that, contrary to the received opinion, a child's
tutor should be young, as young indeed as a man may well be who
is also wise. Were it possible, he should become a child himself,
that he may be the companion of his pupil and win his confidence
by sharing his games. Childhood and age have too little in common
for the formation of a really firm affection. Children sometimes
flatter old men; they never love them.
People seek a tutor who has already educated one pupil. This is
too much; one man can only educate one pupil; if two were essential
to success, what right would he have to undertake the first? With
more experience you may know better what to do, but you are less
capable of doing it; once this task has been well done, you will
know too much of its difficulties to attempt it a second time--if
ill done, the first attempt augurs badly for the second.
It is one thing to follow a young man about for four years, another
to be his guide for five-and-twenty. You find a tutor for your son
when he is already formed; I want one for him before he is born.
Your man may change his pupil every five years; mine will never have
but one pupil. You distinguish between the teacher and the tutor.
Another piece of folly! Do you make any distinction between the
pupil and the scholar? There is only one science for children to
learn--the duties of man. This science is one, and, whatever Xenophon
may say of the education of the Persians, it is indivisible. Besides,
I prefer to call the man who has this knowledge master rather than
teacher, since it is a question of guidance rather than instruction.
He must not give precepts, he must let the scholar find them out
If the master is to be so carefully chosen, he may well choose
his pupil, above all when he proposes to set a pattern for others.
This choice cannot depend on the child's genius or character, as I
adopt him before he is born, and they are only known when my task
is finished. If I had my choice I would take a child of ordinary
mind, such as I assume in my pupil. It is ordinary people who have
to be educated, and their education alone can serve as a pattern
for the education of their fellows. The others find their way alone.
The birthplace is not a matter of indifference in the education
of man; it is only in temperate climes that he comes to his full
growth. The disadvantages of extremes are easily seen. A man is
not planted in one place like a tree, to stay there the rest of
his life, and to pass from one extreme to another you must travel
twice as far as he who starts half-way.
If the inhabitant of a temperate climate passes in turn through both
extremes his advantage is plain, for although he may be changed as
much as he who goes from one extreme to the other, he only removes
half-way from his natural condition. A Frenchman can live in
New Guinea or in Lapland, but a negro cannot live in Tornea nor a
Samoyed in Benin. It seems also as if the brain were less perfectly
organised in the two extremes. Neither the negroes nor the Laps
are as wise as Europeans. So if I want my pupil to be a citizen of
the world I will choose him in the temperate zone, in France for
example, rather than elsewhere.
In the north with its barren soil men devour much food, in the
fertile south they eat little. This produces another difference: the
one is industrious, the other contemplative. Society shows us, in
one and the same spot, a similar difference between rich and poor.
The one dwells in a fertile land, the other in a barren land.
The poor man has no need of education. The education of his
own station in life is forced upon him, he can have no other; the
education received by the rich man from his own station is least
fitted for himself and for society. Moreover, a natural education
should fit a man for any position. Now it is more unreasonable
to train a poor man for wealth than a rich man for poverty, for
in proportion to their numbers more rich men are ruined and fewer
poor men become rich. Let us choose our scholar among the rich; we
shall at least have made another man; the poor may come to manhood
without our help.
For the same reason I should not be sorry if Emile came of a good
family. He will be another victim snatched from prejudice.
Emile is an orphan. No matter whether he has father or mother,
having undertaken their duties I am invested with their rights.
He must honour his parents, but he must obey me. That is my first
and only condition.
I must add that there is just one other point arising out of this;
we must never be separated except by mutual consent. This clause is
essential, and I would have tutor and scholar so inseparable that
they should regard their fate as one. If once they perceive the
time of their separation drawing near, the time which must make
them strangers to one another, they become strangers then and
there; each makes his own little world, and both of them being
busy in thought with the time when they will no longer be together,
they remain together against their will. The disciple regards his
master as the badge and scourge of childhood, the master regards
his scholar as a heavy burden which he longs to be rid of. Both
are looking forward to the time when they will part, and as there
is never any real affection between them, there will be scant
vigilance on the one hand, and on the other scant obedience.
But when they consider they must always live together, they must
needs love one another, and in this way they really learn to love
one another. The pupil is not ashamed to follow as a child the
friend who will be with him in manhood; the tutor takes an interest
in the efforts whose fruits he will enjoy, and the virtues he is
cultivating in his pupil form a store laid up for his old age.
This agreement made beforehand assumes a normal birth, a strong,
well-made, healthy child. A father has no choice, and should have
no preference within the limits of the family God has given him; all
his children are his alike, the same care and affection is due to
all. Crippled or well-made, weak or strong, each of them is a trust
for which he is responsible to the Giver, and nature is a party to
the marriage contract along with husband and wife.
But if you undertake a duty not imposed upon you by nature, you
must secure beforehand the means for its fulfilment, unless you
would undertake duties you cannot fulfil. If you take the care of
a sickly, unhealthy child, you are a sick nurse, not a tutor. To
preserve a useless life you are wasting the time which should be
spent in increasing its value, you risk the sight of a despairing
mother reproaching you for the death of her child, who ought to
have died long ago.
I would not undertake the care of a feeble, sickly child, should
he live to four score years. I want no pupil who is useless alike
to himself and others, one whose sole business is to keep himself
alive, one whose body is always a hindrance to the training of his
mind. If I vainly lavish my care upon him, what can I do but double
the loss to society by robbing it of two men, instead of one? Let
another tend this weakling for me; I am quite willing, I approve
his charity, but I myself have no gift for such a task; I could
never teach the art of living to one who needs all his strength to
keep himself alive.
The body must be strong enough to obey the mind; a good servant
must be strong. I know that intemperance stimulates the passions;
in course of time it also destroys the body; fasting and penance
often produce the same results in an opposite way. The weaker
the body, the more imperious its demands; the stronger it is, the
better it obeys. All sensual passions find their home in effeminate
bodies; the less satisfaction they can get the keener their sting.
A feeble body makes a feeble mind. Hence the influence of physic,
an art which does more harm to man than all the evils it professes
to cure. I do not know what the doctors cure us of, but I know
this: they infect us with very deadly diseases, cowardice, timidity,
credulity, the fear of death. What matter if they make the dead
walk, we have no need of corpses; they fail to give us men, and it
is men we need.
Medicine is all the fashion in these days, and very naturally. It
is the amusement of the idle and unemployed, who do not know what
to do with their time, and so spend it in taking care of themselves.
If by ill-luck they had happened to be born immortal, they would
have been the most miserable of men; a life they could not lose
would be of no value to them. Such men must have doctors to threaten
and flatter them, to give them the only pleasure they can enjoy,
the pleasure of not being dead.
I will say no more at present as to the uselessness of medicine. My
aim is to consider its bearings on morals. Still I cannot refrain
from saying that men employ the same sophism about medicine as
they do about the search for truth. They assume that the patient
is cured and that the seeker after truth finds it. They fail to see
that against one life saved by the doctors you must set a hundred
slain, and against the value of one truth discovered the errors
which creep in with it. The science which instructs and the medicine
which heals are no doubt excellent, but the science which misleads
us and the medicine which kills us are evil. Teach us to know
them apart. That is the real difficulty. If we were content to be
ignorant of truth we should not be the dupes of falsehood; if we
did not want to be cured in spite of nature, we should not be killed
by the doctors. We should do well to steer clear of both, and we
should evidently be the gainers. I do not deny that medicine is
useful to some men; I assert that it is fatal to mankind.
You will tell me, as usual, that the doctors are to blame, that
medicine herself is infallible. Well and good, then give us the
medicine without the doctor, for when we have both, the blunders of
the artist are a hundredfold greater than our hopes from the art.
This lying art, invented rather for the ills of the mind than
of the body, is useless to both alike; it does less to cure us of
our diseases than to fill us with alarm. It does less to ward off
death than to make us dread its approach. It exhausts life rather
than prolongs it; should it even prolong life it would only be to
the prejudice of the race, since it makes us set its precautions
before society and our fears before our duties. It is the knowledge
of danger that makes us afraid. If we thought ourselves invulnerable
we should know no fear. The poet armed Achilles against danger and
so robbed him of the merit of courage; on such terms any man would
be an Achilles.
Would you find a really brave man? Seek him where there are no
doctors, where the results of disease are unknown, and where death
is little thought of. By nature a man bears pain bravely and dies
in peace. It is the doctors with their rules, the philosophers with
their precepts, the priests with their exhortations, who debase
the heart and make us afraid to die.
Give me a pupil who has no need of these, or I will have nothing
to do with him. No one else shall spoil my work, I will educate him
myself or not at all. That wise man, Locke, who had devoted part
of his life to the study of medicine, advises us to give no drugs
to the child, whether as a precaution, or on account of slight
ailments. I will go farther, and will declare that, as I never
call in a doctor for myself, I will never send for one for Emile,
unless his life is clearly in danger, when the doctor can but kill
I know the doctor will make capital out of my delay. If the child
dies, he was called in too late; if he recovers, it is his doing.
So be it; let the doctor boast, but do not call him in except in
As the child does not know how to be cured, he knows how to be
ill. The one art takes the place of the other and is often more
successful; it is the art of nature. When a beast is ill, it keeps
quiet and suffers in silence; but we see fewer sickly animals than
sick men. How many men have been slain by impatience, fear, anxiety,
and above all by medicine, men whom disease would have spared,
and time alone have cured. I shall be told that animals, who live
according to nature, are less liable to disease than ourselves.
Well, that way of living is just what I mean to teach my pupil; he
should profit by it in the same way.
Hygiene is the only useful part of medicine, and hygiene is rather
a virtue than a science. Temperance and industry are man's true
remedies; work sharpens his appetite and temperance teaches him to
To learn what system is most beneficial you have only to study
those races remarkable for health, strength, and length of days. If
common observation shows us that medicine neither increases health
nor prolongs life, it follows that this useless art is worse than
useless, since it wastes time, men, and things on what is pure
loss. Not only must we deduct the time spent, not in using life,
but preserving it, but if this time is spent in tormenting ourselves
it is worse than wasted, it is so much to the bad, and to reckon
fairly a corresponding share must be deducted from what remains to
us. A man who lives ten years for himself and others without the
help of doctors lives more for himself and others than one who
spends thirty years as their victim. I have tried both, so I think
I have a better right than most to draw my own conclusions.
For these reasons I decline to take any but a strong and healthy
pupil, and these are my principles for keeping him in health. I will
not stop to prove at length the value of manual labour and bodily
exercise for strengthening the health and constitution; no one
denies it. Nearly all the instances of long life are to be found
among the men who have taken most exercise, who have endured fatigue
and labour. [Footnote: I cannot help quoting the following passage
from an English newspaper, as it throws much light on my opinions:
"A certain Patrick O'Neil, born in 1647, has just married his seventh
wife in 1760. In the seventeenth year of Charles II. he served in
the dragoons and in other regiments up to 1740, when he took his
discharge. He served in all the campaigns of William III. and
Marlborough. This man has never drunk anything but small beer; he
has always lived on vegetables, and has never eaten meat except on
few occasions when he made a feast for his relations. He has always
been accustomed to rise with the sun and go to bed at sunset unless
prevented by his military duties. He is now in his 130th year;
he is healthy, his hearing is good, and he walks with the help
of a stick. In spite of his great age he is never idle, and every
Sunday he goes to his parish church accompanied by his children,
grandchildren, and great grandchildren."] Neither will I enter
into details as to the care I shall take for this alone. It will
be clear that it forms such an essential part of my practice that
it is enough to get hold of the idea without further explanation.
When our life begins our needs begin too. The new-born infant must
have a nurse. If his mother will do her duty, so much the better;
her instructions will be given her in writing, but this advantage
has its drawbacks, it removes the tutor from his charge. But it
is to be hoped that the child's own interests, and her respect for
the person to whom she is about to confide so precious a treasure,
will induce the mother to follow the master's wishes, and whatever
she does you may be sure she will do better than another. If we
must have a strange nurse, make a good choice to begin with.
It is one of the misfortunes of the rich to be cheated on all sides;
what wonder they think ill of mankind! It is riches that corrupt
men, and the rich are rightly the first to feel the defects of the
only tool they know. Everything is ill-done for them, except what
they do themselves, and they do next to nothing. When a nurse must
be selected the choice is left to the doctor. What happens? The
best nurse is the one who offers the highest bribe. I shall not
consult the doctor about Emile's nurse, I shall take care to choose
her myself. I may not argue about it so elegantly as the surgeon,
but I shall be more reliable, I shall be less deceived by my zeal
than the doctor by his greed.
There is no mystery about this choice; its rules are well known,
but I think we ought probably to pay more attention to the age of
the milk as well as its quality. The first milk is watery, it must
be almost an aperient, to purge the remains of the meconium curdled
in the bowels of the new-born child. Little by little the milk
thickens and supplies more solid food as the child is able to
digest it. It is surely not without cause that nature changes the
milk in the female of every species according to the age of the
Thus a new-born child requires a nurse who has recently become mother.
There is, I know, a difficulty here, but as soon as we leave the
path of nature there are difficulties in the way of all well-doing.
The wrong course is the only right one under the circumstances, so
we take it.
The nurse must be healthy alike in disposition and in body. The
violence of the passions as well as the humours may spoil her milk.
Moreover, to consider the body only is to keep only half our aim
in view. The milk may be good and the nurse bad; a good character
is as necessary as a good constitution. If you choose a vicious
person, I do not say her foster-child will acquire her vices, but
he will suffer for them. Ought she not to bestow on him day by
day, along with her milk, a care which calls for zeal, patience,
gentleness, and cleanliness. If she is intemperate and greedy her
milk will soon be spoilt; if she is careless and hasty what will
become of a poor little wretch left to her mercy, and unable either
to protect himself or to complain. The wicked are never good for
The choice is all the more important because her foster-child should
have no other guardian, just as he should have no teacher but his
tutor. This was the custom of the ancients, who talked less but
acted more wisely than we. The nurse never left her foster-daughter;
this is why the nurse is the confidante in most of their plays.
A child who passes through many hands in turn, can never be well
At every change he makes a secret comparison, which continually
tends to lessen his respect for those who control him, and with
it their authority over him. If once he thinks there are grown-up
people with no more sense than children the authority of age
is destroyed and his education is ruined. A child should know no
betters but its father and mother, or failing them its foster-mother
and its tutor, and even this is one too many, but this division is
inevitable, and the best that can be done in the way of remedy is
that the man and woman who control him shall be so well agreed with
regard to him that they seem like one.
The nurse must live rather more comfortably, she must have rather
more substantial food, but her whole way of living must not
be altered, for a sudden change, even a change for the better, is
dangerous to health, and since her usual way of life has made her
healthy and strong, why change it?
Country women eat less meat and more vegetables than towns-women,
and this vegetarian diet seems favourable rather than otherwise to
themselves and their children. When they take nurslings from the
upper classes they eat meat and broth with the idea that they will
form better chyle and supply more milk. I do not hold with this
at all, and experience is on my side, for we do not find children
fed in this way less liable to colic and worms.
That need not surprise us, for decaying animal matter swarms with
worms, but this is not the case with vegetable matter. [Footnote:
Women eat bread, vegetables, and dairy produce; female dogs and
cats do the same; the she-wolves eat grass. This supplies vegetable
juices to their milk. There are still those species which are
unable to eat anything but flesh, if such there are, which I very
much doubt.] Milk, although manufactured in the body of an animal,
is a vegetable substance; this is shown by analysis; it readily
turns acid, and far from showing traces of any volatile alkali like
animal matter, it gives a neutral salt like plants.
The milk of herbivorous creatures is sweeter and more wholesome than
the milk of the carnivorous; formed of a substance similar to its
own, it keeps its goodness and becomes less liable to putrifaction.
If quantity is considered, it is well known that farinaceous foods
produce more blood than meat, so they ought to yield more milk. If
a child were not weaned too soon, and if it were fed on vegetarian
food, and its foster-mother were a vegetarian, I do not think it
would be troubled with worms.
Milk derived from vegetable foods may perhaps be more liable to go
sour, but I am far from considering sour milk an unwholesome food;
whole nations have no other food and are none the worse, and all the
array of absorbents seems to me mere humbug. There are constitutions
which do not thrive on milk, others can take it without absorbents.
People are afraid of the milk separating or curdling; that is
absurd, for we know that milk always curdles in the stomach. This
is how it becomes sufficiently solid to nourish children and young
animals; if it did not curdle it would merely pass away without
feeding them. [Footnote: Although the juices which nourish us are
liquid, they must be extracted from solids. A hard-working man who
ate nothing but soup would soon waste away. He would be far better
fed on milk, just because it curdles.] In vain you dilute milk and
use absorbents; whoever swallows milk digests cheese, this rule is
without exception; rennet is made from a calf's stomach.
Instead of changing the nurse's usual diet, I think it would be
enough to give food in larger quantities and better of its kind.
It is not the nature of the food that makes a vegetable diet
indigestible, but the flavouring that makes it unwholesome. Reform
your cookery, use neither butter nor oil for frying. Butter, salt,
and milk should never be cooked. Let your vegetables be cooked
in water and only seasoned when they come to table. The vegetable
diet, far from disturbing the nurse, will give her a plentiful
supply of milk. [Footnote: Those who wish to study a full account
of the advantages and disadvantages of the Pythagorean regime, may
consult the works of Dr. Cocchi and his opponent Dr. Bianchi on
this important subject.] If a vegetable diet is best for the child,
how can meat food be best for his nurse? The things are contradictory.
Fresh air affects children's constitutions, particularly in early
years. It enters every pore of a soft and tender skin, it has
a powerful effect on their young bodies. Its effects can never
be destroyed. So I should not agree with those who take a country
woman from her village and shut her up in one room in a town and
her nursling with her. I would rather send him to breathe the fresh
air of the country than the foul air of the town. He will take his
new mother's position, will live in her cottage, where his tutor
will follow him. The reader will bear in mind that this tutor is
not a paid servant, but the father's friend. But if this friend
cannot be found, if this transfer is not easy, if none of my advice
can be followed, you will say to me, "What shall I do instead?" I
have told you already--"Do what you are doing;" no advice is needed
Men are not made to be crowded together in ant-hills, but scattered
over the earth to till it. The more they are massed together, the
more corrupt they become. Disease and vice are the sure results of
over-crowded cities. Of all creatures man is least fitted to live
in herds. Huddled together like sheep, men would very soon die.
Man's breath is fatal to his fellows. This is literally as well as
Men are devoured by our towns. In a few generations the race dies
out or becomes degenerate; it needs renewal, and it is always
renewed from the country. Send your children to renew themselves,
so to speak, send them to regain in the open fields the strength
lost in the foul air of our crowded cities. Women hurry home that
their children may be born in the town; they ought to do just the
opposite, especially those who mean to nurse their own children. They
would lose less than they think, and in more natural surroundings
the pleasures associated by nature with maternal duties would soon
destroy the taste for other delights.
The new-born infant is first bathed in warm water to which a little
wine is usually added. I think the wine might be dispensed with.
As nature does not produce fermented liquors, it is not likely that
they are of much value to her creatures.
In the same way it is unnecessary to take the precaution of heating
the water; in fact among many races the new-born infants are bathed
with no more ado in rivers or in the sea. Our children, made tender
before birth by the softness of their parents, come into the world
with a constitution already enfeebled, which cannot be at once
exposed to all the trials required to restore it to health. Little
by little they must be restored to their natural vigour. Begin then
by following this custom, and leave it off gradually. Wash your
children often, their dirty ways show the need of this. If they
are only wiped their skin is injured; but as they grow stronger
gradually reduce the heat of the water, till at last you bathe them
winter and summer in cold, even in ice-cold water. To avoid risk
this change must be slow, gradual, and imperceptible, so you may
use the thermometer for exact measurements.
This habit of the bath, once established, should never be broken
off, it must be kept up all through life. I value it not only on
grounds of cleanliness and present health, but also as a wholesome
means of making the muscles supple, and accustoming them to bear
without risk or effort extremes of heat and cold. As he gets older
I would have the child trained to bathe occasionally in hot water
of every bearable degree, and often in every degree of cold water.
Now water being a denser fluid touches us at more points than air,
so that, having learnt to bear all the variations of temperature in
water, we shall scarcely feel this of the air. [Footnote: Children
in towns are stifled by being kept indoors and too much wrapped
up. Those who control them have still to learn that fresh air,
far from doing them harm, will make them strong, while hot air will
make them weak, will give rise to fevers, and will eventually kill
When the child draws its first breath do not confine it in tight
wrappings. No cap, no bandages, nor swaddling clothes. Loose and
flowing flannel wrappers, which leave its limbs free and are not too
heavy to check his movements, not too warm to prevent his feeling
the air. [Footnote: I say "cradle" using the common word for want
of a better, though I am convinced that it is never necessary
and often harmful to rock children in the cradle.] Put him in a
big cradle, well padded, where he can move easily and safely. As
he begins to grow stronger, let him crawl about the room; let him
develop and stretch his tiny limbs; you will see him gain strength
from day to day. Compare him with a well swaddled child of the same
age and you will be surprised at their different rates of progress.
[Footnote: The ancient Peruvians wrapped their children in loose
swaddling bands, leaving the arms quite free. Later they placed
them unswaddled in a hole in the ground, lined with cloths, so that
the lower part of the body was in the hole, and their arms were
free and they could move the head and bend the body at will without
falling or hurting themselves. When they began to walk they were
enticed to come to the breast. The little negroes are often in a
position much more difficult for sucking. They cling to the mother's
hip, and cling so tightly that the mother's arm is often not needed
to support them. They clasp the breast with their hand and continue
sucking while their mother goes on with her ordinary work. These
children begin to walk at two months, or rather to crawl. Later on
they can run on all fours almost as well as on their feet.--Buffon.
M. Buffon might also have quoted the example of England, where
the senseless and barbarous swaddling clothes have become almost
obsolete. Cf. La Longue Voyage de Siam, Le Beau Voyage de Canada,
You must expect great opposition from the nurses, who find a half
strangled baby needs much less watching. Besides his dirtyness is
more perceptible in an open garment; he must be attended to more
frequently. Indeed, custom is an unanswerable argument in some
lands and among all classes of people.
Do not argue with the nurses; give your orders, see them carried
out, and spare no pains to make the attention you prescribe easy in
practice. Why not take your share in it? With ordinary nurslings,
where the body alone is thought of, nothing matters so long as the
child lives and does not actually die, but with us, when education
begins with life, the new-born child is already a disciple, not
of his tutor, but of nature. The tutor merely studies under this
master, and sees that his orders are not evaded. He watches over
the infant, he observes it, he looks for the first feeble glimmering
of intelligence, as the Moslem looks for the moment of the moon's
rising in her first quarter.
We are born capable of learning, but knowing nothing, perceiving
nothing. The mind, bound up within imperfect and half grown organs,
is not even aware of its own existence. The movements and cries of
the new-born child are purely reflex, without knowledge or will.
Suppose a child born with the size and strength of manhood, entering
upon life full grown like Pallas from the brain of Jupiter; such a
child-man would be a perfect idiot, an automaton, a statue without
motion and almost without feeling; he would see and hear nothing,
he would recognise no one, he could not turn his eyes towards what
he wanted to see; not only would he perceive no external object,
he would not even be aware of sensation through the several
sense-organs. His eye would not perceive colour, his ear sounds,
his body would be unaware of contact with neighbouring bodies, he
would not even know he had a body, what his hands handled would
be in his brain alone; all his sensations would be united in one
place, they would exist only in the common "sensorium," he would
have only one idea, that of self, to which he would refer all his
sensations; and this idea, or rather this feeling, would be the
only thing in which he excelled an ordinary child.
This man, full grown at birth, would also be unable to stand on his
feet, he would need a long time to learn how to keep his balance;
perhaps he would not even be able to try to do it, and you would
see the big strong body left in one place like a stone, or creeping
and crawling like a young puppy.
He would feel the discomfort of bodily needs without knowing what
was the matter and without knowing how to provide for these needs.
There is no immediate connection between the muscles of the stomach
and those of the arms and legs to make him take a step towards
food, or stretch a hand to seize it, even were he surrounded with
it; and as his body would be full grown and his limbs well developed
he would be without the perpetual restlessness and movement
of childhood, so that he might die of hunger without stirring
to seek food. However little you may have thought about the order
and development of our knowledge, you cannot deny that such a one
would be in the state of almost primitive ignorance and stupidity
natural to man before he has learnt anything from experience or
from his fellows.
We know then, or we may know, the point of departure from which
we each start towards the usual level of understanding; but who
knows the other extreme? Each progresses more or less according to
his genius, his taste, his needs, his talents, his zeal, and his
opportunities for using them. No philosopher, so far as I know,
has dared to say to man, "Thus far shalt thou go and no further."
We know not what nature allows us to be, none of us has measured
the possible difference between man and man. Is there a mind so
dead that this thought has never kindled it, that has never said
in his pride, "How much have I already done, how much more may I
achieve? Why should I lag behind my fellows?"
As I said before, man's education begins at birth; before he can
speak or understand he is learning. Experience precedes instruction;
when he recognises his nurse he has learnt much. The knowledge
of the most ignorant man would surprise us if we had followed his
course from birth to the present time. If all human knowledge were
divided into two parts, one common to all, the other peculiar to
the learned, the latter would seem very small compared with the
former. But we scarcely heed this general experience, because
it is acquired before the age of reason. Moreover, knowledge only
attracts attention by its rarity, as in algebraic equations common
factors count for nothing. Even animals learn much. They have
senses and must learn to use them; they have needs, they must learn
to satisfy them; they must learn to eat, walk, or fly. Quadrupeds
which can stand on their feet from the first cannot walk for all
that; from their first attempts it is clear that they lack confidence.
Canaries who escape from their cage are unable to fly, having never
used their wings. Living and feeling creatures are always learning.
If plants could walk they would need senses and knowledge, else
their species would die out. The child's first mental experiences are
purely affective, he is only aware of pleasure and pain; it takes
him a long time to acquire the definite sensations which show
him things outside himself, but before these things present and
withdraw themselves, so to speak, from his sight, taking size and
shape for him, the recurrence of emotional experiences is beginning to
subject the child to the rule of habit. You see his eyes constantly
follow the light, and if the light comes from the side the eyes turn
towards it, so that one must be careful to turn his head towards
the light lest he should squint. He must also be accustomed from the
first to the dark, or he will cry if he misses the light. Food and
sleep, too, exactly measured, become necessary at regular intervals,
and soon desire is no longer the effect of need, but of habit, or
rather habit adds a fresh need to those of nature. You must be on
your guard against this.
The only habit the child should be allowed to contract is that
of having no habits; let him be carried on either arm, let him be
accustomed to offer either hand, to use one or other indifferently;
let him not want to eat, sleep, or do anything at fixed hours, nor
be unable to be left alone by day or night. Prepare the way for
his control of his liberty and the use of his strength by leaving
his body its natural habit, by making him capable of lasting
self-control, of doing all that he wills when his will is formed.
As soon as the child begins to take notice, what is shown him
must be carefully chosen. The natural man is interested in all new
things. He feels so feeble that he fears the unknown: the habit of
seeing fresh things without ill effects destroys this fear. Children
brought up in clean houses where there are no spiders are afraid
of spiders, and this fear often lasts through life. I never saw
peasants, man, woman, or child, afraid of spiders.
Since the mere choice of things shown him may make the child timid
or brave, why should not his education begin before he can speak
or understand? I would have him accustomed to see fresh things,
ugly, repulsive, and strange beasts, but little by little, and far
off till he is used to them, and till having seen others handle
them he handles them himself. If in childhood he sees toads, snakes,
and crayfish, he will not be afraid of any animal when he is grown
up. Those who are continually seeing terrible things think nothing
All children are afraid of masks. I begin by showing Emile a mask
with a pleasant face, then some one puts this mask before his face;
I begin to laugh, they all laugh too, and the child with them. By
degrees I accustom him to less pleasing masks, and at last hideous
ones. If I have arranged my stages skilfully, far from being afraid
of the last mask, he will laugh at it as he did at the first. After
that I am not afraid of people frightening him with masks.
When Hector bids farewell to Andromache, the young Astyanax, startled
by the nodding plumes on the helmet, does not know his father; he
flings himself weeping upon his nurse's bosom and wins from his
mother a smile mingled with tears. What must be done to stay this
terror? Just what Hector did; put the helmet on the ground and
caress the child. In a calmer moment one would do more; one would
go up to the helmet, play with the plumes, let the child feel them;
at last the nurse would take the helmet and place it laughingly
on her own head, if indeed a woman's hand dare touch the armour of
If Emile must get used to the sound of a gun, I first fire a pistol
with a small charge. He is delighted with this sudden flash, this
sort of lightning; I repeat the process with more powder; gradually
I add a small charge without a wad, then a larger; in the end I
accustom him to the sound of a gun, to fireworks, cannon, and the
most terrible explosions.
I have observed that children are rarely afraid of thunder unless
the peals are really terrible and actually hurt the ear, otherwise
this fear only comes to them when they know that thunder sometimes
hurts or kills. When reason begins to cause fear, let use reassure
them. By slow and careful stages man and child learn to fear nothing.
In the dawn of life, when memory and imagination have not begun to
function, the child only attends to what affects its senses. His
sense experiences are the raw material of thought; they should,
therefore, be presented to him in fitting order, so that memory may
at a future time present them in the same order to his understanding;
but as he only attends to his sensations it is enough, at first,
to show him clearly the connection between these sensations and the
things which cause them. He wants to touch and handle everything;
do not check these movements which teach him invaluable lessons.
Thus he learns to perceive the heat, cold, hardness, softness,
weight, or lightness of bodies, to judge their size and shape and
all their physical properties, by looking, feeling, [Footnote: Of
all the senses that of smell is the latest to develop in children
up to two or three years of age they appear to be insensible of
pleasant or unpleasant odours; in this respect they are as indifferent
or rather as insensible as many animals.] listening, and, above
all, by comparing sight and touch, by judging with the eye what
sensation they would cause to his hand.
It is only by movement that we learn the difference between self
and not self; it is only by our own movements that we gain the idea
of space. The child has not this idea, so he stretches out his hand
to seize the object within his reach or that which is a hundred
paces from him. You take this as a sign of tyranny, an attempt to
bid the thing draw near, or to bid you bring it. Nothing of the
kind, it is merely that the object first seen in his brain, then
before his eyes, now seems close to his arms, and he has no idea of
space beyond his reach. Be careful, therefore, to take him about,
to move him from place to place, and to let him perceive the change
in his surroundings, so as to teach him to judge of distances.
When he begins to perceive distances then you must change your
plan, and only carry him when you please, not when he pleases; for
as soon as he is no longer deceived by his senses, there is another
motive for his effort. This change is remarkable and calls for
The discomfort caused by real needs is shown by signs, when the
help of others is required. Hence the cries of children; they often
cry; it must be so. Since they are only conscious of feelings, when
those feelings are pleasant they enjoy them in silence; when they
are painful they say so in their own way and demand relief. Now
when they are awake they can scarcely be in a state of indifference,
either they are asleep or else they are feeling something.
All our languages are the result of art. It has long been a subject
of inquiry whether there ever was a natural language common to all;
no doubt there is, and it is the language of children before they
begin to speak. This language is inarticulate, but it has tone,
stress, and meaning. The use of our own language has led us to
neglect it so far as to forget it altogether. Let us study children
and we shall soon learn it afresh from them. Nurses can teach us
this language; they understand all their nurslings say to them, they
answer them, and keep up long conversations with them; and though
they use words, these words are quite useless. It is not the hearing
of the word, but its accompanying intonation that is understood.
To the language of intonation is added the no less forcible language
of gesture. The child uses, not its weak hands, but its face. The
amount of expression in these undeveloped faces is extraordinary;
their features change from one moment to another with incredible
speed. You see smiles, desires, terror, come and go like lightning;
every time the face seems different. The muscles of the face are
undoubtedly more mobile than our own. On the other hand the eyes
are almost expressionless. Such must be the sort of signs they use
at an age when their only needs are those of the body. Grimaces
are the sign of sensation, the glance expresses sentiment.
As man's first state is one of want and weakness, his first sounds
are cries and tears. The child feels his needs and cannot satisfy
them, he begs for help by his cries. Is he hungry or thirsty? there
are tears; is he too cold or too hot? more tears; he needs movement
and is kept quiet, more tears; he wants to sleep and is disturbed,
he weeps. The less comfortable he is, the more he demands change.
He has only one language because he has, so to say, only one kind
of discomfort. In the imperfect state of his sense organs he does
not distinguish their several impressions; all ills produce one
feeling of sorrow.
These tears, which you think so little worthy of your attention,
give rise to the first relation between man and his environment;
here is forged the first link in the long chain of social order.
When the child cries he is uneasy, he feels some need which he
cannot satisfy; you watch him, seek this need, find it, and satisfy
it. If you can neither find it nor satisfy it, the tears continue
and become tiresome. The child is petted to quiet him, he is rocked
or sung to sleep; if he is obstinate, the nurse becomes impatient
and threatens him; cruel nurses sometimes strike him. What strange
lessons for him at his first entrance into life!
I shall never forget seeing one of these troublesome crying children
thus beaten by his nurse. He was silent at once. I thought he was
frightened, and said to myself, "This will be a servile being from
whom nothing can be got but by harshness." I was wrong, the poor
wretch was choking with rage, he could not breathe, he was black
in the face. A moment later there were bitter cries, every sign
of the anger, rage, and despair of this age was in his tones.
I thought he would die. Had I doubted the innate sense of justice
and injustice in man's heart, this one instance would have convinced
me. I am sure that a drop of boiling liquid falling by chance on
that child's hand would have hurt him less than that blow, slight
in itself, but clearly given with the intention of hurting him.
This tendency to anger, vexation, and rage needs great care.
Boerhaave thinks that most of the diseases of children are of the
nature of convulsions, because the head being larger in proportion
and the nervous system more extensive than in adults, they are
more liable to nervous irritation. Take the greatest care to remove
from them any servants who tease, annoy, or vex them. They are a
hundredfold more dangerous and more fatal than fresh air and changing
seasons. When children only experience resistance in things and never
in the will of man, they do not become rebellious or passionate,
and their health is better. This is one reason why the children of
the poor, who are freer and more independent, are generally less
frail and weakly, more vigorous than those who are supposed to be
better brought up by being constantly thwarted; but you must always
remember that it is one thing to refrain from thwarting them, but
quite another to obey them. The child's first tears are prayers,
beware lest they become commands; he begins by asking for aid, he
ends by demanding service. Thus from his own weakness, the source
of his first consciousness of dependence, springs the later idea of
rule and tyranny; but as this idea is aroused rather by his needs
than by our services, we begin to see moral results whose causes
are not in nature; thus we see how important it is, even at the
earliest age, to discern the secret meaning of the gesture or cry.
When the child tries to seize something without speaking, he
thinks he can reach the object, for he does not rightly judge its
distance; when he cries and stretches out his hands he no longer
misjudges the distance, he bids the object approach, or orders you
to bring it to him. In the first case bring it to him slowly; in
the second do not even seem to hear his cries. The more he cries
the less you should heed him. He must learn in good time not to
give commands to men, for he is not their master, nor to things,
for they cannot hear him. Thus when the child wants something you
mean to give him, it is better to carry him to it rather than to
bring the thing to him. From this he will draw a conclusion suited
to his age, and there is no other way of suggesting it to him.
The Abbe Saint-Pierre calls men big children; one might also call
children little men. These statements are true, but they require
explanation. But when Hobbes calls the wicked a strong child,
his statement is contradicted by facts. All wickedness comes from
weakness. The child is only naughty because he is weak; make him
strong and he will be good; if we could do everything we should
never do wrong. Of all the attributes of the Almighty, goodness is
that which it would be hardest to dissociate from our conception
of Him. All nations who have acknowledged a good and an evil power,
have always regarded the evil as inferior to the good; otherwise
their opinion would have been absurd. Compare this with the creed
of the Savoyard clergyman later on in this book.
Reason alone teaches us to know good and evil. Therefore conscience,
which makes us love the one and hate the other, though it is
independent of reason, cannot develop without it. Before the age
of reason we do good or ill without knowing it, and there is no
morality in our actions, although there is sometimes in our feeling
with regard to other people's actions in relation to ourselves. A
child wants to overturn everything he sees. He breaks and smashes
everything he can reach; he seizes a bird as he seizes a stone,
and strangles it without knowing what he is about.
Why so? In the first place philosophy will account for this by
inbred sin, man's pride, love of power, selfishness, spite; perhaps
it will say in addition to this that the child's consciousness of
his own weakness makes him eager to use his strength, to convince
himself of it. But watch that broken down old man reduced in the
downward course of life to the weakness of a child; not only is he
quiet and peaceful, he would have all about him quiet and peaceful
too; the least change disturbs and troubles him, he would like to
see universal calm. How is it possible that similar feebleness and
similar passions should produce such different effects in age and
in infancy, if the original cause were not different? And where can
we find this difference in cause except in the bodily condition of
the two. The active principle, common to both, is growing in one
case and declining in the other; it is being formed in the one
and destroyed in the other; one is moving towards life, the other
towards death. The failing activity of the old man is centred in his
heart, the child's overflowing activity spreads abroad. He feels,
if we may say so, strong enough to give life to all about him. To
make or to destroy, it is all one to him; change is what he seeks,
and all change involves action. If he seems to enjoy destructive
activity it is only that it takes time to make things and very
little time to break them, so that the work of destruction accords
better with his eagerness.
While the Author of nature has given children this activity, He
takes care that it shall do little harm by giving them small power
to use it. But as soon as they can think of people as tools to be
used, they use them to carry out their wishes and to supplement
their own weakness. This is how they become tiresome, masterful,
imperious, naughty, and unmanageable; a development which does not
spring from a natural love of power, but one which has been taught
them, for it does not need much experience to realise how pleasant
it is to set others to work and to move the world by a word.
As the child grows it gains strength and becomes less restless and
unquiet and more independent. Soul and body become better balanced
and nature no longer asks for more movement than is required for
self-preservation. But the love of power does not die with the need
that aroused it; power arouses and flatters self-love, and habit
strengthens it; thus caprice follows upon need, and the first seeds
of prejudice and obstinacy are sown.
FIRST MAXIM.--Far from being too strong, children are not strong
enough for all the claims of nature. Give them full use of such
strength as they have; they will not abuse it.
SECOND MAXIM.--Help them and supply the experience and strength
they lack whenever the need is of the body.
THIRD MAXIM.--In the help you give them confine yourself to what is
really needful, without granting anything to caprice or unreason;
for they will not be tormented by caprice if you do not call it
into existence, seeing it is no part of nature.
FOURTH MAXIM--Study carefully their speech and gestures, so that
at an age when they are incapable of deceit you may discriminate
between those desires which come from nature and those which spring
The spirit of these rules is to give children more real liberty and
less power, to let them do more for themselves and demand less of
others; so that by teaching them from the first to confine their
wishes within the limits of their powers they will scarcely feel
the want of whatever is not in their power.
This is another very important reason for leaving children's limbs
and bodies perfectly free, only taking care that they do not fall,
and keeping anything that might hurt them out of their way.
The child whose body and arms are free will certainly cry much
less than a child tied up in swaddling clothes. He who knows only
bodily needs, only cries when in pain; and this is a great advantage,
for then we know exactly when he needs help, and if possible we
should not delay our help for an instant. But if you cannot relieve
his pain, stay where you are and do not flatter him by way of
soothing him; your caresses will not cure his colic, but he will
remember what he must do to win them; and if he once finds out
how to gain your attention at will, he is your master; the whole
education is spoilt.
Their movements being less constrained, children will cry less;
less wearied with their tears, people will not take so much trouble
to check them. With fewer threats and promises, they will be less
timid and less obstinate, and will remain more nearly in their
natural state. Ruptures are produced less by letting children cry
than by the means taken to stop them, and my evidence for this is
the fact that the most neglected children are less liable to them
than others. I am very far from wishing that they should be neglected;
on the contrary, it is of the utmost importance that their wants
should be anticipated, so that they need not proclaim their wants
by crying. But neither would I have unwise care bestowed on them.
Why should they think it wrong to cry when they find they can get
so much by it? When they have learned the value of their silence they
take good care not to waste it. In the end they will so exaggerate
its importance that no one will be able to pay its price; then worn
out with crying they become exhausted, and are at length silent.
Prolonged crying on the part of a child neither swaddled nor out
of health, a child who lacks nothing, is merely the result of habit
or obstinacy. Such tears are no longer the work of nature, but the
work of the child's nurse, who could not resist its importunity
and so has increased it, without considering that while she quiets
the child to-day she is teaching him to cry louder to-morrow.
Moreover, when caprice or obstinacy is the cause of their tears,
there is a sure way of stopping them by distracting their attention
by some pleasant or conspicuous object which makes them forget that
they want to cry. Most nurses excel in this art, and rightly used
it is very useful; but it is of the utmost importance that the
child should not perceive that you mean to distract his attention,
and that he should be amused without suspecting you are thinking
about him; now this is what most nurses cannot do.
Most children are weaned too soon. The time to wean them is when
they cut their teeth. This generally causes pain and suffering. At
this time the child instinctively carries everything he gets hold
of to his mouth to chew it. To help forward this process he is given
as a plaything some hard object such as ivory or a wolf's tooth.
I think this is a mistake. Hard bodies applied to the gums do not
soften them; far from it, they make the process of cutting the
teeth more difficult and painful. Let us always take instinct as
our guide; we never see puppies practising their budding teeth on
pebbles, iron, or bones, but on wood, leather, rags, soft materials
which yield to their jaws, and on which the tooth leaves its mark.
We can do nothing simply, not even for our children. Toys of
silver, gold, coral, cut crystal, rattles of every price and kind;
what vain and useless appliances. Away with them all! Let us have
no corals or rattles; a small branch of a tree with its leaves and
fruit, a stick of liquorice which he may suck and chew, will amuse
him as well as these splendid trifles, and they will have this
advantage at least, he will not be brought up to luxury from his
It is admitted that pap is not a very wholesome food. Boiled milk
and uncooked flour cause gravel and do not suit the stomach. In
pap the flour is less thoroughly cooked than in bread and it has
not fermented. I think bread and milk or rice-cream are better. If
you will have pap, the flour should be lightly cooked beforehand.
In my own country they make a very pleasant and wholesome soup from
flour thus heated. Meat-broth or soup is not a very suitable food
and should be used as little as possible. The child must first get
used to chewing his food; this is the right way to bring the teeth
through, and when the child begins to swallow, the saliva mixed
with the food helps digestion.
I would have them first chew dried fruit or crusts. I should give
them as playthings little bits of dry bread or biscuits, like
the Piedmont bread, known in the country as "grisses." By dint of
softening this bread in the mouth some of it is eventually swallowed
the teeth come through of themselves, and the child is weaned
almost imperceptibly. Peasants have usually very good digestions,
and they are weaned with no more ado.
From the very first children hear spoken language; we speak to
them before they can understand or even imitate spoken sounds. The
vocal organs are still stiff, and only gradually lend themselves to
the reproduction of the sounds heard; it is even doubtful whether
these sounds are heard distinctly as we hear them. The nurse may
amuse the child with songs and with very merry and varied intonation,
but I object to her bewildering the child with a multitude of
vain words of which it understands nothing but her tone of voice.
I would have the first words he hears few in number, distinctly
and often repeated, while the words themselves should be related to
things which can first be shown to the child. That fatal facility
in the use of words we do not understand begins earlier than we
think. In the schoolroom the scholar listens to the verbiage of his
master as he listened in the cradle to the babble of his nurse. I
think it would be a very useful education to leave him in ignorance
All sorts of ideas crowd in upon us when we try to consider the
development of speech and the child's first words. Whatever we
do they all learn to talk in the same way, and all philosophical
speculations are utterly useless.
To begin with, they have, so to say, a grammar of their own, whose
rules and syntax are more general than our own; if you attend
carefully you will be surprised to find how exactly they follow
certain analogies, very much mistaken if you like, but very regular;
these forms are only objectionable because of their harshness or
because they are not recognised by custom. I have just heard a child
severely scolded by his father for saying, "Mon pere, irai-je-t-y?"
Now we see that this child was following the analogy more closely
than our grammarians, for as they say to him, "Vas-y," why should
he not say, "Irai-je-t-y?" Notice too the skilful way in which he
avoids the hiatus in irai-je-y or y-irai-je? Is it the poor child's
fault that we have so unskilfully deprived the phrase of this
determinative adverb "y," because we did not know what to do with
it? It is an intolerable piece of pedantry and most superfluous
attention to detail to make a point of correcting all children's
little sins against the customary expression, for they always
cure themselves with time. Always speak correctly before them, let
them never be so happy with any one as with you, and be sure that
their speech will be imperceptibly modelled upon yours without any
correction on your part.
But a much greater evil, and one far less easy to guard against,
is that they are urged to speak too much, as if people were afraid
they would not learn to talk of themselves. This indiscreet zeal
produces an effect directly opposite to what is meant. They speak
later and more confusedly; the extreme attention paid to everything
they say makes it unnecessary for them to speak distinctly, and
as they will scarcely open their mouths, many of them contract a
vicious pronunciation and a confused speech, which last all their
life and make them almost unintelligible.
I have lived much among peasants, and I never knew one of them lisp,
man or woman, boy or girl. Why is this? Are their speech organs
differently made from our own? No, but they are differently used.
There is a hillock facing my window on which the children of the
place assemble for their games. Although they are far enough away,
I can distinguish perfectly what they say, and often get good notes
for this book. Every day my ear deceives me as to their age. I hear
the voices of children of ten; I look and see the height and features
of children of three or four. This experience is not confined to
me; the townspeople who come to see me, and whom I consult on this
point, all fall into the same mistake.
This results from the fact that, up to five or six, children in
town, brought up in a room and under the care of a nursery governess,
do not need to speak above a whisper to make themselves heard. As
soon as their lips move people take pains to make out what they
mean; they are taught words which they repeat inaccurately, and by
paying great attention to them the people who are always with them
rather guess what they meant to say than what they said.
It is quite a different matter in the country. A peasant woman is
not always with her child; he is obliged to learn to say very clearly
and loudly what he wants, if he is to make himself understood.
Children scattered about the fields at a distance from their fathers,
mothers and other children, gain practice in making themselves
heard at a distance, and in adapting the loudness of the voice to
the distance which separates them from those to whom they want to
speak. This is the real way to learn pronunciation, not by stammering
out a few vowels into the ear of an attentive governess. So when
you question a peasant child, he may be too shy to answer, but what
he says he says distinctly, while the nurse must serve as interpreter
for the town child; without her one can understand nothing of what
he is muttering between his teeth. [Footnote: There are exceptions
to this; and often those children who at first are most difficult
to hear, become the noisiest when they begin to raise their voices.
But if I were to enter into all these details I should never make
an end; every sensible reader ought to see that defect and excess,
caused by the same abuse, are both corrected by my method. I regard
the two maxims as inseparable--always enough--never too much. When
the first ii well established, the latter necessarily follows on
As they grow older, the boys are supposed to be cured of this fault
at college, the girls in the convent schools; and indeed both usually
speak more clearly than children brought up entirely at home. But
they are prevented from acquiring as clear a pronunciation as the
peasants in this way--they are required to learn all sorts of things
by heart, and to repeat aloud what they have learnt; for when they
are studying they get into the way of gabbling and pronouncing
carelessly and ill; it is still worse when they repeat their lessons;
they cannot find the right words, they drag out their syllables.
This is only possible when the memory hesitates, the tongue does
not stammer of itself. Thus they acquire or continue habits of bad
pronunciation. Later on you will see that Emile does not acquire
such habits or at least not from this cause.
I grant you uneducated people and villagers often fall into the opposite
extreme. They almost always speak too loud; their pronunciation is
too exact, and leads to rough and coarse articulation; their accent
is too pronounced, they choose their expressions badly, etc.
But, to begin with, this extreme strikes me as much less dangerous
than the other, for the first law of speech is to make oneself
understood, and the chief fault is to fail to be understood. To pride
ourselves on having no accent is to pride ourselves on ridding our
phrases of strength and elegance. Emphasis is the soul of speech,
it gives it its feeling and truth. Emphasis deceives less than
words; perhaps that is why well-educated people are so afraid of
it. From the custom of saying everything in the same tone has arisen
that of poking fun at people without their knowing it. When emphasis
is proscribed, its place is taken by all sorts of ridiculous, affected,
and ephemeral pronunciations, such as one observes especially among
the young people about court. It is this affectation of speech and
manner which makes Frenchmen disagreeable and repulsive to other
nations on first acquaintance. Emphasis is found, not in their
speech, but in their bearing. That is not the way to make themselves
All these little faults of speech, which you are so afraid the
children will acquire, are mere trifles; they may be prevented or
corrected with the greatest ease, but the faults which are taught
them when you make them speak in a low, indistinct, and timid voice,
when you are always criticising their tone and finding fault with
their words, are never cured. A man who has only learnt to speak
in society of fine ladies could not make himself heard at the head
of his troops, and would make little impression on the rabble in
a riot. First teach the child to speak to men; he will be able to
speak to the women when required.
Brought up in all the rustic simplicity of the country, your
children will gain a more sonorous voice; they will not acquire
the hesitating stammer of town children, neither will they acquire
the expressions nor the tone of the villagers, or if they do they
will easily lose them; their master being with them from their
earliest years, and more and more in their society the older they
grow, will be able to prevent or efface by speaking correctly himself
the impression of the peasants' talk. Emile will speak the purest
French I know, but he will speak it more distinctly and with a
better articulation than myself.
The child who is trying to speak should hear nothing but words he
can understand, nor should he say words he cannot articulate; his
efforts lead him to repeat the same syllable as if he were practising
its clear pronunciation. When he begins to stammer, do not try to
understand him. To expect to be always listened to is a form of
tyranny which is not good for the child. See carefully to his real
needs, and let him try to make you understand the rest. Still
less should you hurry him into speech; he will learn to talk when
he feels the want of it.
It has indeed been remarked that those who begin to speak very late
never speak so distinctly as others; but it is not because they
talked late that they are hesitating; on the contrary, they began
to talk late because they hesitate; if not, why did they begin to
talk so late? Have they less need of speech, have they been less
urged to it? On the contrary, the anxiety aroused with the first
suspicion of this backwardness leads people to tease them much
more to begin to talk than those who articulated earlier; and this
mistaken zeal may do much to make their speech confused, when with
less haste they might have had time to bring it to greater perfection.
Children who are forced to speak too soon have no time to learn
either to pronounce correctly or to understand what they are made
to say; while left to themselves they first practise the easiest
syllables, and then, adding to them little by little some meaning
which their gestures explain, they teach you their own words before
they learn yours. By this means they do not acquire your words
till they have understood them. Being in no hurry to use them, they
begin by carefully observing the sense in which you use them, and
when they are sure of them they adopt them.
The worst evil resulting from the precocious use of speech by young
children is that we not only fail to understand the first words
they use, we misunderstand them without knowing it; so that while
they seem to answer us correctly, they fail to understand us and we
them. This is the most frequent cause of our surprise at children's
sayings; we attribute to them ideas which they did not attach to
their words. This lack of attention on our part to the real meaning
which words have for children seems to me the cause of their earliest
misconceptions; and these misconceptions, even when corrected,
colour their whole course of thought for the rest of their life. I
shall have several opportunities of illustrating these by examples
Let the child's vocabulary, therefore, be limited; it is very
undesirable that he should have more words than ideas, that he
should be able to say more than he thinks. One of the reasons why
peasants are generally shrewder than townsfolk is, I think, that
their vocabulary is smaller. They have few ideas, but those few
are thoroughly grasped.
The infant is progressing in several ways at once; he is learning
to talk, eat, and walk about the same time. This is really the
first phase of his life. Up till now, he was little more than he
was before birth; he had neither feeling nor thought, he was barely
capable of sensation; he was unconscious of his own existence.