Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 2. Thoughts on Education

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VII. Historical and Political Writers

§ 2. Thoughts on Education

His Thoughts on Education, on the other hand, though not printed till 1761, was written in 1668; designed as a series of suggestions for the training of a Scottish nobleman or gentleman’s son, it does not make any reference to a university course, and is chiefly remarkable for the general breadth and liberality of the author’s educational ideas. Burnet rightly deprecated the choice of a governor or tutor who was “a man of one study only”; and his ideas on religious instruction were in accordance with the latitudinarian tendencies of his later years, and with the dictates of common-sense. In the following year, he put forth, in the then popular dialogue form, A Modest and Free Conference betwixt a Conformist and a Non-conformist, about the present distempers of Scotland—a plea for “peace” from the moderate episcopalian point of view, which ends with an explanation of the oath of supremacy, not unfairly characterised by the (otherwise rather ineffective) nonconformist of the dialogue as “clearly making way for Erastianism.” The announcement prefatory to these dialogues makes a great to-do of secrecy in connection with their publication. In the same year, Burnet moved to Glasgow, where he had been appointed professor of divinity, and where the failure of the accommodation scheme promoted by archbishop Leighton and himself rendered him impatient of episcopalian, and, still more, of presbyterian, modes of action. His attention was thus diverted from theology to history, and it was while still at Glasgow, that, by 1673, he completed his earliest historical work, though, in consequence of numerous changes which fear of Lauderdale, and consideration for even more exalted personages, made it advisable to introduce into the work, he did not publish it till four years later.