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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Lord Collingwood's Theory and Practice of Education

by T. G. Rooper
Volume 12, no. 5, May 1901, pgs. 321-331


The British Empire has its base upon the water and it is due to the dauntless trio, Jervis, Nelson and Collingwood, that India, Australia and Canada are under the English instead of the French flag. Jervis made the British Fleet, which had dissolved into groups of mutinous ships owing to shameful mismanagement. Jervis had the iron strength of will and intellect which reorganised a corrupt system and provided Nelson with an armament which his genius rendered invincible. "Jervis," said Dr. Busby, "made Nelson, he made him a greater seaman than himself and then did not envy him." This is a fine remark, and indeed it is hardly possible even to speak of any of these three men without our language and thoughts rising to an elevation above the common and ordinary level of social intercourse. Collingwood was distinguished by his superior education, his love of study, his contempt for display, and the depth of his religious feeling. While to Nelson fell the lot of the most glorious death that man can die--the death of the hero on the field of victory, Collingwood's fate was to drag out a weary, overworked and overstrained existence, longing to rest and home and wife and children, but determined to cling to active life so long as his country required his services. "What," he writes to his brother-in-law, Mr. J. E. Blackett, in 1793, May Day, "should I suffer in this convulsion of nations, this general call of Englishmen to the standard of their country, should I be without occupation? a miserable creature! While it is England let me keep my place in the front of the battle." And this determination Collingwood carried out. Of fifty years' service in the navy, forty-four were passed in active employment abroad. On one occasion he kept the sea for the almost incredible space of twenty-two months without dropping anchor. This was at a time when a three months' absence from port was held to be a severe and unusual strain on the health and perseverance of the crew. It was his character and superior education, and study of education and its kindred study of occupation in daily life, which made possible to Collingwood such an unparalleled achievement.

Two years before his death he sends his picture to Lady Collingwood, painted by an artist who was reckoned the most eminent in Sicily. "I am sorry," he says, "to learn my picture was not an agreeable surprise. You expected to find me a smooth-skinned, clear-complexioned gentleman such as when I left home, dressed in the newest taste, and like the fine people who live gay lives ashore. Alas! it is far otherwise with us. The painter was thought to have flattered me much; that lump under my chin was but the loose skin from which the flesh has shrunk away: my face is red, yet not with the effect of wine, but of burning suns and boisterous winds; and my eyes, which were once dark and bright, are now faded and dim. The painter represented me as I am; not as I once was. It is time and toil that have worked the change and not his brush."

For it was not merely his ceaseless military occupation that wore him out. His correspondence was immense, and so highly esteemed was his judgment that he was consulted from all quarters and on all occasions and on a great variety of questions. His counsel was in demand, not only respecting military and naval affairs, but also in matters of general policy and even of trade. His death was due to the effect of long-continued confinement on board ship and constant bending over his desk. I think, before I conclude, you will agree with me that his views upon the subject of education are worth pondering over by the thoughtful, even after the interval of a century.

He was by nature and education a man of cultivated and refined taste, and of great simplicity of character. He united great intellectual power with great amiability, and these two gifts are rarely united in a man. His occupations at home were reading, especially works on history, from which it was habit to compose well-written abridgments. His recreations were drawing and cultivating his garden at Morpeth, on the banks of the limpid stream of Wansbeck. A brother Admiral, who had sought him through the garden in vain, at last discovered him with his gardener, old Scott, often mentioned in his correspondence, to whom he was much attached, in the bottom of a deep trench which they were busily occupied in digging. His affection for his wife and children is expressed in his letters to Lady Collingwood in a most pathetic way, and though long withheld by a sense of public duty from returning home, he endeavoured in the midst of his perpetual contest with the elements, with the enemy, and with his own seamen, whose dispositions were as boisterous and untractable as the Atlantic storm, to guide the education of his two little girls by correspondence. In various letters he deals with the training of both boys and girls, and the opinion of so remarkable a man and so successful an administrator and disciplinarian is of the highest interest and value. He never preached what he did not practise, and if it be asked what was the cause of his success in keeping his crew at sea for such a length of time without sickness, the answer can be readily given. No society in the world of equal extent was so healthy as his flagship. She had usually 800 men, and though on one occasion remained at sea more than a year and half without going into port, during the whole of that time she never had more than six and generally only four on the sick list. Now for the explanation of this phenomenal achievement. "My wits," he writes, "are ever at work to keep my people employed, both for health's sake and to save them from mischief. We have lately been making musical instruments, and have now a very good band. Every moonlight night the sailors dance, and there seems as much mirth and festivity as if we were in Wapping itself."

Lord Collingwood was a saint, but he was human, and not a Puritan. Occupation of the right kind was the key-note of his educational system, and it seems the safest and most practical for all engaged in education. For himself, he writes, "when wild war's deadly blast is blown and gentle peace returns," and he can honourably retire from the sea--a fond hope destined never to be fulfilled--"I must endeavour to find some employment, which, having at least the show of business, may keep my mind engaged and prevent that languor to which from constitution I am more subject than other people, but which never intrudes upon my full occupation." "It has always been my maxim," he writes, " to engage and occupy my men, and to take such care for them that they should have nothing to think of for themselves beyond the current business of the day."

So, too, he writes to his wife, "I beseech you to keep my dearest girls constantly employed, and make them read to you, not trifles, but history, in the manner we used to do in the winter evenings--blessed evenings, indeed! The human mind will improve itself in action, but grows dull and torpid when left to slumber. I believe even stupidity itself may be cultivated."

Another cause of Lord Collingwood's success in maintaining the health of his crew was his attention to detail and knowledge of sanitary matters beyond his time. He took great care to ventilate his ship and the hammocks of the men, by creating as much circulation of air below as possible and keeping their quarters dry, rarely permitting scrubbing between decks. Thus, in addition to attention to diet and amusement, he kept his crew in spirits, and as they were assured of justice, kindness and comfort, it is no wonder they knew him under the name of the "Sailors' Friend," and that many a gallows' bird with which our ships were then manned spoke of him as "father to the men."

Lord St. Vincent in putting down the spirit of mutiny in the Mediterranean fleet would draft the most ungovernable characters into Collingwood's ship. "Send them to Collingwood and he will bring them to order." Yet while other captains resorted to capital punishment, Collingwood seldom even inflicted corporal punishment. On one occasion a seaman was sent from the "Romulus," a man who had pointed one of the forecastle guns, shotted to the muzzle, at the quarter-deck, and standing by it with a match threatened to fire on the officers unless he received a promise that no punishment should be inflicted upon him. On the man's arrival on board the "Excellent," Collingwood, in the presence of many of the sailors, said to him with great sternness of manner, "I know your character well, but beware how you attempt to excite insubordination in this ship; for I have such confidence in my men that I am certain I shall hear in an hour of everything you are doing. If you behave well in future I will treat you like the rest, nor notice here what has happened on another ship; but if you endeavour to excite mutiny, mark me well, I will instantly head you up in a cask and throw you into the sea!" Under the treatment which he met in the "Excellent" this man became a good and obedient sailor, and never afterwards gave any cause of complaint.

As his experience in command and his knowledge of the dispositions of men increased, his abhorrence of corporal punishment grew daily stronger, and in the latter part of his life, more than a year often passed away without his having resorted to it. He used to tell his ship's company that he was determined the youngest midshipman should be obeyed as implicitly as himself and that he would punish with severity any instance to the contrary. When a midshipman made a complaint he would order the man for punishment the next day, and in the interval, calling the boy down to him, would say, "In all probability the fault was yours, but whether it were or not, I am sure it would go to your heart to see a man old enough to be your father disgraced and punished on your account, and it will therefore give me a good opinion of your disposition if, when he is brought out, you ask for his pardon." The punishments which he substituted for the lash were various, such as watering the grog, or excluding the culprit from mess and employing him on every sort of extra duty. He never used discourteous or violent language. One of the secrets of his success in keeping order was the quickness and correctness of his eye; through which he was enabled in an instant to detect anything that was out of order. His reproofs on these occasions, though always short, were conveyed in the language of a gentleman and were deeply felt, so that he was considered by all to be a strict disciplinarian. He was extremely careful to avoid giving vexations and harassing orders. When captain of the "Excellent," his ship was signalled to approach the Admiral's ship. Captain Collingwood went on board and found the order was merely for the "Excellent" to receive two bags of onions. "Bless me!" he exclaimed, "Is this the service, my Lord St. Vincent, is this the service, Sir Robert Calder? Has the 'Excellent's' signal been made five or six times for two bags of onions? Man my boat, sir, and let us go on board again." Nor would he, though repeatedly pressed by Lord St. Vincent to stay dinner, accept the invitation, but refused and retired.

He complained to the Admiralty that some of the younger Captains were in the habit of concealing by great severity their own unskilfulness and want of attention, beating the men into a state of insubordination, and that such vessels, though increasing the number, diminished the efficiency of the fleet. He complained that insubordination was due to the folly or the cruelty of those in command as much as to the perverseness of the men.

I have endeavoured to give some idea of Collingwood's theory and practice of discipline, because the subject is the foundation of all sound education, and ignorance of it is the cause of half the failures. I pass on to his general views. "The education," he writes to his daughter, "of a lady, and indeed of a gentleman, too, may be divided into three parts. The first is the cultivation of the mind, that they may have a knowledge of right and wrong, and acquire the habit of doing acts of virtue and honour. By reading History you will perceive the high estimation in which the memories of good people are held, and the contempt and disgust which are affixed to the base, whatever their rank in life. The second part of education is to acquire a competent knowledge how to manage your affairs, whatever they may happen to be; to know how to direct the economy of your house, and to keep exact accounts of everything which concerns you. Whoever cannot do this must be dependent on somebody else, and those who are dependent on another cannot be perfectly at their ease. Skill should be attained in Arithmetic, which, independently of its great use to everybody in every condition of life, is one of the most curious and entertaining sciences that can be conceived. The third part is to practise those manners and that address which will recommend you to strangers. Boldness and forwardness are disgusting, but shyness and shrinking from conversation are also repulsive and unbecoming. There are many hours in every person's life which are not spent in anything important, but it is necessary that they should not be spent idly. Music and dancing are intended to fill up hours of leisure. Nothing wearies me more than to see a young lady at home sitting with her arms across or twirling her thumbs for want of something to do, Poor thing! I always pity her; for I am sure her head is empty, and that she has not the sense even to devise the means of pleasing herself."

It is perhaps hard to find in the English language a more admirable description of a cultivated person than in the following letter:--

"Let me, my dearest child, impress upon you the importance of temperate conduct and sweetness of manner to all people, on all occasions. It does not follow you are to agree with every ill-judging person, but after showing them your reason for dissenting from their opinion, your argument and opposition to it should not be tinctured with anything offensive. Never forget for one moment that you are a gentlewoman, and all your words and all your actions should mark you gentle. Next for accomplishments. No sportsman ever hits a partridge without aiming at it, and skill is acquired by repeated attempts. It is the same thing in every art; unless you aim at perfection you will never attain it. Never, therefore, do anything with indifference. Whether it be to mend a rent in your garment, or finish the most delicate piece of art, endeavour to do it as perfectly as possible. When you write a letter, give it your greatest care that it may be as perfect in all its parts as you can make it. Let the subject be sense, expressed in the most plain, intelligible and elegant manner that you are capable of. If in a familiar epistle you should be playful and jocular, guard carefully that your wit be not sharp so as to give pain to any person, and before you write a sentence, examine it, even the words of which it is composed, that there be nothing vulgar or inelegant in them. Remember that your letter is the picture of your brains, and those whose brains are a compound of folly, nonsense and impertinence are to blame to exhibit them to the contempt of the world and the pity of their friends."

Looking to the subjects of instruction, Lord Collingwood writes, "I hope my girls will write a French letter every day to me or their mother. I should like them to be taught Spanish, which is the most elegant language in Europe and very easy. I would have them taught geometry; it expands the mind more to the knowledge of all things in Nature, and better teaches to distinguish between truths and such things as have the appearance of being truths, yet are not, than any other. To inspire them with a love of everything that is honourable and virtuous, though in rags, and with contempt for vanity in embroidery, is the way to make them the darlings of my heart.

"As to reading, it requires a careful selection of books, nor should they ever have access to two at the same time, but when a subject is begun it should be finished before anything else is undertaken. How would it enlarge their mind if they could acquire a sufficient knowledge of mathematics and astronomy to give them an idea of the beauty and wonders of creation. I am persuaded that the generality of people, and particularly fine ladies, only adore God because they are told that it is proper and the fashion to go to church; but I would have my girls gain such knowledge of the works of creation that they may have a fixed idea of the nature of that Being who could be the Author of such a world. Whenever they have that, nothing on this side the moon will give them much uneasiness of mind. I do not mean that they should be Stoics or want common feelings for the sufferings that flesh is heir to, but they would then have a source of consolation for the worst that could happen."

He laid great stress on the value of keeping a diary, and when his daughters set out for London in order to be presented at Court after their father's promotion to the peerage, he writes to his wife:--"I wish that in these journeys the education of our children may not stop; but that on the road they may study the geography of that part of England through which they travel, and keep a regular journal, not of what they eat and drink, but of the nature of the country, its appearance, its produce, and some gay description of the manners of the inhabitants. I hope you will take your time in town, and show my girls everything curious. I am sure that you will visit the tomb of my dear friend. Alas! the day that he had a tomb.

"Do not let our girls be made fine ladies; but give them a knowledge of the world which they have to live in, that they may take care of themselves when you and I are in heaven. They must do everything for themselves, and never read novels, but history, essays, travels and Shakspeare. What they call books for young persons are nonsense. They should frequently read aloud, and endeavour to preserve the natural tone of voice, as if they were speaking on the subject without a book. Nothing can be more absurd than altering the voice to a disagreeable and monotonous drawl because what they say is taken from a book. The memory should be strengthened by getting by heart such speech and noble sentiments from Shakspeare or Roman history as deserve to be imprinted on the mind."

Lord Collingwood's objection to novels is thus expressed: "Above all things, keep novels out of their reach. They are the corrupters of tender minds, they exercise the imagination instead of the judgment, make them all desire to become the Julias and Cecilias of romance, and turn their heads before they are enabled to distinguish truth from fictions merely devised for entertainment. When they have passed their climacteric it will be time enough to begin novels." In another place he urges his daughters to study geography and whenever there are any particular events happening, to examine the map and see where they took place. "You are," he tells them, "at a period of life when the foundation of knowledge has to be laid and of those manners and modes of thinking which distinguish gentlewomen from Miss Nothings. A good woman has great and important duties to do in the world and will always be in danger of doing them ill unless she have acquired knowledge. Never do anything that can denote an angry mind; for although everybody is born with a certain degree of passion and will sometimes, from untoward circumstances, feel its operation and be what is called 'out of humour,' yet a sensible man or woman will not allow it to be discovered. Check it and restrain it and never make any determination until you find it has entirely subsided; and never say anything that you may afterwards wish unsaid."

Again he writes to his girls, "It is exactly your age that much pains should be taken; for whatever knowledge you acquire now will last you all your lives. The impression which is made on young minds is so strong that it never wears out; whereas everybody knows how difficult it is to make an old snuff-taking lady comprehend anything beyond pam or spadille. Such persons hang very heavy on society. Remember, gentle manners are the first grace which a lady can possess. Whether she differ in her opinion from others or be of the same sentiment, her expression should be equally mild. A positive contradiction is vulgar and ill-bred."

I have dealt with Lord Collingwood's views of the education of girls and I do not think the newest of new High Schools have much to add to his principles. It remains to give his ideas about the education of boys.

He writes to Mrs. Hall, "You have now three boys and I hope they will live to make you very happy when you are an old woman. But let me tell you the chance is very much against you unless you are for-ever on your guard. The temper and disposition of most people are formed before they are seven years old, and the common cause of badness is the too great indulgence and mistaken fondness which the affection of a parent finds it difficult to veil, though the happiness of the child depends upon it. Your measures must be systematic; whenever they do wrong, never omit to reprove them firmly but with gentleness. Always speak to them in a style and language rather superior to their years. Proper words are as easily learned as improper ones. When they do well and deserve commendation, bestow it lavishly. Let the feelings of your heart flow from your eyes and tongue; and they will never forget the effect which their good behaviour had upon their mother, and this at an earlier time of life than is generally thought."

He objects to too early specialisation for the career of an officer. Instead of going too early to sea he suggest the following plan:--"I would recommend them to send their young son to a good mathematical school and teach him to be perfect in French and Spanish or Italian; and if he spend two years in hard study he will be better qualified at the end than if he came at once to sea. If parents were to see how many of their chickens go to ruin by being sent too early abroad they would not be so anxious about it."

What Lord Collingwood desiderated most of all was that his lieutenants should have learnt to work hard and to be observant. He thus pours contempt on the youth who cannot work. "I am told the boy's want of spirits is owing to the loss of his time when he was in England, which is a subject that need give his mother no concern, for if he takes no more pains in his profession than he has done, he will not be qualified for a lieutenant in sixteen years and I should be sorry to put the safety of a ship and the lives of the men into such hands. He is no more use here as an officer than Bounce (Lord Collingwood's old dog), and not near so entertaining. She writes as if she expected that he is to be a lieutenant as soon as he has served six years, but that is a mistaken fancy, and the loss of his time is while he is at sea. He is living on the Navy and not serving in it. If he goes he may stay, for I have no notion of people making the service a mere convenience for themselves as if it were a public establishment for loungers."

Of another youth he says, "Young --- has returned to me, but I have little hope of his being a sailor. He does not take notice of anything nor any active part in his business; and yet I suppose when he has dawdled in a ship for six years he will think himself very ill-used if he is not made a lieutenant. Offices in the Navy are now made the provision for all sorts of idle people."

Lord Collingwood recommends the following course for young midshipmen. "If his father intended him for the sea he should have been put to a mathematical school when twelve years old. Boys make little progress in a ship without being well practised in navigation, and fifteen is too old to begin, for very few take well to the sea at that age. If, however, Mr. --- is determined, he should lose no further time but have his son taught trigonometry perfectly before he begin navigation. If the boy has any taste for drawing it will be a great advantage to him and should be encouraged."

Again he writes of another youth, "I would recommend his father taking him home and putting him to a good mathematical school, perfecting him under his own eye in navigation, astronomy, mechanics and fortifications. He knows enough now of ships to make the application of what he learns easy to him, and when his head is well stocked he will be able to find employment and amusement without having recourse to company which is as often bad as good. He has spirit enough to make a good officer and an honourable man, but he must make his studies a business to which he must be entirely devoted. Drawing is the best kind of recreation. If he be sent immediately to sea he may become a good sailor, but not qualified to fill the higher offices of his profession, or to make his way in them."

Lord Collingwood's views upon education merit the attention of all who are interested in the subject, but they seem to possess a special value at the present time when the newspapers are full of letters discussing the training of naval officers.


Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, May, 2011