IN this letter it is no longer of instruction that I wish to speak to you, but of what, in my opinion, is of still greater importance, namely, education. The object of the first is only to develop mind, but the latter has a larger and higher aim, - it has to do with soul. The former trains the intellectual faculties, the imagination, the memory, the judgment; the latter, the moral faculties, the character, the will. Science is the fruit of instruction; virtue should be the result of a good education. Now, even admitting that instruction in the lyceums is of a superior character, - notwithstanding certain fundamental faults which I may speak of hereafter, - it can be stated without fear of contradiction that education in these institutions is deplorable and pernicious.
The system of administration is essentially the same in the colleges and lyceums, hence, in treating of it. I shall confine myself to the lyceums. The highest officer in a lyceum is called a proviseur. It is upon him that all responsibility rests. Next in authority is the censeur, who has charge of the discipline, and enforces the rules. An aumonier looks after the religious teaching, and everything that has to do with religion. Finally an econome has special charge of everything that pertains to the material wants of the scholars. Then four functionaries generally live in the lyceum, to which a chapel is usually attached. The professors do not live in the lyceum, but come there to give their lessons. There are ordinarily four hours of recitation, - two in the morning, from eight to ten o'clock, and two in the afternoon, from two to four. The classes average from thirty to forty members. Of this number scarcely half do any work.
The exterior of a lyceum nearly resembles a convent. The weather-beaten walls, the barred and sombre windows, give to these structures a prison-like aspect. From four to five hundred scholars is the average contingent of a lyceum. TWO or three courts, or gravelled yards, planted with a few stunted trees, are the only space given to the sports of the scholars. Between four walls as high as those of a prison, in order to separate them as much as possible from the outside world, live these innocent prisoners. Their age varies from eight to eighteen years. Here they pass ten years of their youth, the most beautiful period of their lives; the period at which the soul, opening to the joys of mere existence, demands nothing but air and light. A corner of blue sky above their heads is the limit of their horizon. Have criminals any less? They are divided by ages and classes in their plays, as well as in their studies. In the one as in the other they are always under the eye of a master. The dormitories resemble the wards of a hospital. Thirty or forty beds are arranged with systematic precision in a single room. A master is also here, as in the recitation-room, or the play-ground, to maintain order. Whether they work, sleep, or play, the eyes of this Argus are ever upon them.
Now for the regime to which the scholars are subjected. In the morning - at five o'clock in summer, at five and a half in winter - the drum beats the signal for rising. Twenty minutes are allowed for dressing; then everybody descends to study. The scholars take their places at their desks, that of the master occupying a platform from whence he can see everything that goes forward. Breakfast follows, then recreation, and after that recitations; and the whole day is thus divided between study, eating, recitation, and recreation. Every exercise is indicated by the roll of the drum. All is done literally as in barracks. This we have from the first Consul.
Eight o'clock is the hour of retiring. There are thus about twelve hours of work, - four of recitation, and eight of study. Twice a week the scholars take a walk under the charge of a master. They are seen passing two abreast, in uniform and military caps, marching in step like a regiment. This is the life of a college or lyceum. The food is generally sufficient, but of little variety. The tuition is according to age, - 800, 1,000, or 1,200 francs a year. The state provides some moneys to assist poor and meritorious students. The long vacation lasts two months, from the first of August through September. There is also a short vacation between Christmas and New Year's day, and a few days at Easter.
The effects of this system of education are fatal in the extreme. Horrible stories are told of this life in colleges, which I should be very loath to trust to paper. Those who have passed through it know what impure and fetid atmosphere is there breathed. Innocence loses its freshness; it is the perdition of the soul, often the irreparable ruin of the body. The graces of youth rarely survive this atmosphere of death. The evil is great, so great that few dare to look it in the face; and yet how many fathers, in full knowledge of the cause, persist in sending their children as inmates of a college, knowing all the time the terrible consequences of this deplorable education.
Now, what are the causes? They lie deep. In the first place these children are brought up in a manner contrary to nature. Up to the age of fourteen or fifteen, a child cannot do without the care and affection of home. Here, on the contrary, he is deprived of all affection. The tender care which his age demands fails him altogether. He is treated with rigor, even intimidation. He is addressed like a slave or a culprit. He is surrounded by repressive influences. The scholars are too numerous to be governed without a severe and inflexible discipline, too numerous to be governed by the methods of kindness and persuasion. There thus springs up between master and scholars a state of war and mutual hostility. The character of the children is deformed, their nature imbittered. Then, since the moral influences of home are absent, and that tenderness is lacking which, enveloping us in an atmosphere of affection and purity, puts us out of the power of all evil, and preserves from all impure contact, - in the absence of this jealous and anxious solicitude of a mother for what she holds dearest upon earth, evil thoughts come to light, and soon get the upper hand. Upon these tender natures the slightest pernicious influence makes itself profoundly felt. A very small blemish is enough to spoil the best fruits, and it is the most delicate that are most accessible to nourishment.