The aim of education set forth in the “Tractate” is majestic: “I call therefore a compleat and generous Education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both private and publick, of Peace and War.” It is plain that the complexity of modern life makes it hopeless for any individual now to realize this ideal. But it may be noted that Milton’s conception of education agrees with the modern conception in that it is social. The individual is to be prepared for the duties of life, not cultivated merely for the possession of accomplishments or learning. Indeed the burden of the “Tractate” is that learning is to be put to use. Milton insists, therefore, that the first principle of that “better education in extent and comprehension far more large” for which he pleads, shall be emphasis on matter rather than on form. Education is to be primarily through literature and is to begin with Latin grammar—to this extent is Milton conventional; but it is to come rapidly to the place where the content and meaning of the books to be studied—“the substance of good things”—shall be chiefly the aim in view. This advice is as sound to-day as it ever was; and if it is less needed, it is still not without application. Abstractions and technicalities of form so easily encumber teaching that we may hardly expect ever to outgrow the warning not to give our pupils “ragged notions and babblements, while they expected worthy and delightful knowledge.”

If, then, Milton’s scheme of national academies wherein picked youths are to be brought to a mastery of every art, science, and profession be impracticable, we need not therefore fail to find in this brief but pithy essay an ideal to be cherished. It is a plea for sound learning. Learning to-day may be had from sources unknown to Milton, and many sources he esteemed highly are to-day quite unimportant; but sound learning, now as then, is learning which comes at the realities of life. The author of “Lycidas” and “Comus” can never be accused of forgetting the requirements of form. We may heed him the more, therefore, when he warns us against “intellective abstractions” for “young unmatriculated Novices” and the learning of “meer words or such things chiefly, as were better unlearnt.” Happily it is one effort of modern education, from the first teaching of reading and arithmetic to the highest studies of the university, to make learning serve life and to make life illuminate learning.

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