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ART. III.-1. The Abbot Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies ;
Fifth avenue, Murray Hill, New York. GORHAM D. ABBOT,
Principal. New York. 1861-62. 2. Ingham University ; Leroy, Genesee county, New York. Sy
nopsis Second of the series—Twenty-four of the whole. Councillors, Officers, Students, Notices, Terms, Statements, Explanations, Mementoes, Departments, Preparatory--Regu
lar. Veritati, Unitati, Utilitati. Rochester. 1858. 3. Greenleaf Female Institute ; on Brooklyn Heights, opposite the
city of New York. ALFRED GREENLEAF, A. M., EDWARD E. BRADBURY, A. M., Principals and Proprietors. New York.
1861. 4. Van Norman Institute for the Education of Young Ladies.
Rev. D. C. VAN NORMAN, LL. D., Principal, West Thirtyeighth street, Murray Hill, New York. 1860.
MUCH has been said and written on education in recent years ; especially on female education. We have now before us some twenty books and pamphlets on this subject ; but, strangely enough, they consist chiefly of arguments designed to prove its utility. For one page that contains a practical suggestion, there are at least twenty in which there is nothing but eulogy. It is time that this should be reversed. No elaborate syllogisms are necessary, in our time, to demonstrate that education is useful and beneficial to male and female ; for it is one of those propositions to which the most thoughtless, as well as the most intelligent, readily assent. The difference between ignorance and knowledge is as universally appreciated and acknowledged, in all enlightened countries, as that between the mud cabin and the marble palace. But what would be said of the architect who confined his architectural skill to eulogies on the latter ? He would never build the gate-house of a palace by such means, not to mention the great edifice itself. Let us suppose, however, that he does build the former; and that, whenever he puts on a new stone, he calls aloud on all his neighbors to wonder at his unrivalled ingenuity, speaking of the palace, at the same time, as if he were the builder of that too. In this it will be admitted that his ambition and vanity would be somewhat greater than his modesty. Yet he is not a whit less modest, or less entitled to the consideration which
VOL. IV.NO. VIII.
he claims for himself, than a certain class of our self-styled educators.
We do not mean to apply this remark to American teachers alone, who are naturally no more disposed to boast, or to impose on their patrons by “ fair speeches and fine promises,” than their brethren of any other country with whose manners and customs we are acquainted. But it must be remembered that, in most of the states of continental Europe, incompetent persons are no more perınitted to practise the business of teaching than that of medicine or law. In France, for example, no one can advertise himself as a teacher, even of children, without having undergone an examination, and obtained a certificate as to his qualifications. Nor can he pretend to teach a school or class of a higher grade than that for which he has been found qualified ; though, if he thinks he has improved, he may at any time. call for a new examination; and if his claim proves to be well founded, he is furnished with a new certificate, which qualifies him for a higher grade. In this country and in England, where no such laws exist, we must expect to find quack teachers as abundant as quack doctors ; nor is it by any means clear, ' that the latter do more harm than the former.
We yield to none in appreciation of the better class of our schools and seminaries. Far from disparaging them, we hold that there are those amongst them which will bear comparison with the best of their kind in the world, and this is particularly true of our female seminaries. Of our principals of schools, as well as publishers, it may be said that it is those that give the worst article that say most in its praise. There are certain of the latter who seem to think that it matters little what the contents of a book are, as long as it contains illustrations, and has a liberal display of tinsel on the cover-especially if it be intended, chiefly or wholly, for ladies; and need we ask whether there are not ladies' seminaries which place equal confidence in making a fine show? A ladies' school should be fitted up with neatness and taste. At best, it should have no more superfluities in the way of embellishments than a respectable private dwelling; but rather less. Even in Paris, so famous for love of display, the most celebrated and respectable young ladies' seminary is one of the plainest houses in the city, in its internal arrangements, though situated in the Rue Rivoli, which corresponds with our Fifth avenue. With the exception of the large hall, occupied as a picture gallery, the walls of all the rooms are perfectly plain. They have a thin coat of amber-colored paint, but no further adornment. Yet this is a fashionable, not what is called a religious, school; it is one at which not only the proudest of the daughters of the French noblesse are educated; but it has also the honor of finishing the education of not a few of the richest and proudest heiresses to English and German coronets. Nowhere in the world, except, perhaps, in Turkey, is there a similar establishment which contrasts so strikingly with this, in the manner alluded to, as one which we have visited in this city.—no matter, now, in what part thereof. Indeed, such a display of gilding and mirrors we have never seen anywhere; not even in the most gorgeous steamboats on the Hudson, the Mississippi, or the Rhine. If the design were to inspire young ladies with a love of ostentation and display, and with a contempt for simplicity and chasteness, no more effectual means, it seems to us, could be adopted than these. Such tawdry scenes may be suitable enough for a theatre, where the most regular attendants only see them occasionally; but to be surrounded with them at boarding school--at a place represented as a model home—is, to say the least, not calculated to give very correct notions of taste in domestic affairs.
- Assuming this elaborate tinselling to be harmless in itself, however useless, men of sense are very apt to think, without being at all ill-natured, that it is emblematic of the teaching done at the same establishment; for what high-sounding names and exaggerated praise are to branches and systems of education, a profusion of mirrors and of brass is to a schoolhouse. At least, such has been the opinion of the best thinkers and most accomplished scholars, from Plato to Pestalozzi, including Lady Jane Grey, Queen Elizabeth, Madame Dacier, Madame de Sevigné, and we believe we may add Mrs. Emma Willard and Mrs. Lincoln Phelps, the two most successful female educators of our own country. Lady Wortley Montagu has said nothing more true, in. her admirable letter on female education, to her daughter, the Countess of Bute, than that “it is the common error of builders and parents to follow some plan they think beautiful (and perhaps is so), without considering that nothing is beautiful which is displaced. Vistas are laid open over barren heaths and apartments contrived for a coolness, very agreeable in Italy, but killing in the north of Britain ; thus every woman endeavors to breed her daughter a fine lady, qualifying her for a station in which she will never appear, and at the same time incapacitating her for that retirement for which she is destined.” The same lady reminds her daughter “ that the use of knowledge in the female sex, besides the amusement of solitude, is to moderate the passions and learn to be contented with a small expense.” Now, we would ask, are such gorgeous exhibitions as those alluded to calculated to produce either of these results ? nay, are they not calculated rather to excite the passions, especially pride and discontent?
With these few general observations as an introduction, we select three or four catalogues of ladies' seminaries, from about a score of others placed on our table, and proceed to make such remarks on each as may occur to us as fair and just, and at the same time calculated to serve the cause of education. Even in despotic countries, a school that depends on public patronage for its support is held to be a legitimate subject of criticism. It ought to be as much so anywhere as a book, or work of art; because it is a much more potent instrument for good or evil than either. At all events, we merely give our impressions, and we wish these to receive no attention further than they are found to be strictly correct. But it is proper to say, that we do not base our opinions solely on the pamphlets of the different schools, at the head of our article, except in one instance—that of the “Ingham University”—we have made it our business to visit each; and in this exceptional case we shall confine our observations to the pamphlet itself.
The first that claims our attention is, “The Abbot Collegiate Institute," sometimes ill-naturedly called the “Sarsaparilla School,” for no better reason than that the edifice which it now occupies was built by Dr. Townsend, of Sarsaparilla fame, as a private residence, a purpose for which it is perhaps better suited than for a school, much less a College or University. As the institution has but recently received its present title, we may observe that it was formerly called “The Spingler Institute," but in another part of the city; and how many other appellations it may have borne at different times, we cannot undertake to say. Let the house at the corner of Thirty-fourth street be suitable, or not, for a ladies' seminary, none will deny that it is an elaborate and sumptuous, if not magnificent or elegant, specimen of architecture. According to our notions, it is a gloomy pile, of no
particular style ; but probably the ladies regard this feature of it as relieved, if not counterbalanced, by the brilliant embellishments of the interior; though we confess that the latter struck us as somewhat theatrical, and by no means in keeping with the new use to which the building has been devoted. This, however, is simply a matter of taste, and we do not profess to be critics in upholstery. At any rate, it seems we are mistaken, for the Principal tells us, at page 11 of his pamphlet (first page of descriptive matter), that, “ CONvenience and beauty have combined to make the scene of education ALLURING, and to exert a constant, insensible influence upon refinement and taste, in manners and in mind."
True, we are not informed how all this is done; but, that it must be in some mysterious way, can hardly be doubted. How convenience can combine with anything to allure, in an honest or modest way, is one of the many problems which we cannot solve; but doubtless the “insensible influence upon refinement and taste, in manners and in mind,” is produced by the aristocratic neighborhood, though this is giving . it credit for a virtue scarcely
less potent than any claimed for sarsaparilla itself.
The superior value of the whole establishment, as a means of “elevating the standard of education for young ladies,” is made to appear from the amount that each department has cost in dollars and cents. Thus we are told triumphantly that the edifice represents “two hundred and fifty thousand dollars” (p. 11), the money being given in capital letters. It is
* Since writing the above, a friend has mentioned a little circumstance to us, which may serve to shed some light on the subject. It seems that, when the Prince of Wales visited this country some two years ago, it was suggested by the Principal of “The Abbot Collegiate Institute,” in a letter, of which a copy was addressed to several papers, that, as a mark of peculiar attention and esteem on the part of our authorities, they might offer his Royal Highness apartments in that institution, in which he could hold his levees, receive addresses, &c. Whether it was supposed that this would exert an “insensible influence on the manners and minds of the young ladies, we cannot pretend to say. At all events, we are not aware that the experiment was made ; we rather think not, however; for certain editors so far forgot themselves as to make such ill-natured remarks on the proposition as, that, even in an English ladies' boarding-school, or female University, if any such institution exists in the United Kingdom, that privilege would not be allowed to the King himself, when there was a King. This, we are told, was accompanied with other remarks of a kindred nature, but which we prefer to omit. We have it on the same authority that among some queries, more or less impertinent, made by the same parties, was this : “Would it not be somewhat more suitable to invite his Royal Highness to a male school than to a female school !" or, if the phraseology is preferred, to a Male University than to a Female University ?