Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 25th January 2019
This week I was given a beautiful 1693 edition of Michel de Montaigne’s Essays, translated into English by the 17th century poet and writer Charles Cotton. I always find a real joy in the privilege of reading an antiquarian book: not only is the printing so strikingly of its time, and there’s that distinctive smell of ancient, crinkly paper, but there’s also that strong sense that many hands have turned the pages over the centuries and that I am sharing an experience of reading which echoes down the ages. Naturally enough, I turned to his essay on education and found him railing against rote learning and advocating the importance of individual judgement. I think you will know how much store we set by this at NCS. As this week’s photos below amply demonstrate, my colleagues work hard at getting the boys to think for themselves, a quality surely as vital today as it was in Montaigne’s time. I share with you here a taste of Montaigne’s wise insight and a chilling warning, perhaps particularly apposite for our own times.
’Tis the custom of pedagogues to be eternally thundering in their pupil’s ears, as they were pouring into a funnel…Tis a sign of crudity and indigestion to disgorge what we eat in the same condition it was swallowed; the stomach has not performed its office unless it have altered the form and condition of what was committed to it to concoct. Our minds work only upon trust, when bound and compelled to follow the appetite of another’s fancy, enslaved and captivated under the authority of another’s instruction; we have been so subjected to the trammel, that we have no free, nor natural pace of our own; our own vigour and liberty are extinct and gone: Let him[the pedagogue] make him [the pupil] examine and thoroughly sift everything he reads, and lodge nothing in his fancy upon simple authority and upon trust…Only madmen are certain and resolute.