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

XV. Education

§ 9. Educational Projects after the Restoration: Cowley’s Proposition

The flow of reforming schemes was steadily maintained after the restoration. On the eve of the change, John Evelyn sent to Robert Boyle a “proposal for erecting a philosophic mathematic college,” to which he did not assign any strictly educational function. But the instruction of boys and of adults was expressly included in Cowley’s A proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy (1660/1). Cowley’s Proposition has already been described. The opening address to the Honourable Society for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy marks the position attained by the “Invisible College,” soon to be incorporated as the Royal society, an incorporation to which this pamphlet gave an impetus. Cowley makes the customary complaints that the universities do not take any account of the advance in scientific knowledge and that schools waste six or seven years “in the learning of words only and that too very imperfectly.” His suggestions are chiefly directed towards the endowment of research and of public teaching of an advanced kind, but he has also a scheme for a school, to be taught in turn by two of the sixteen resident fellows of the philosophical college. Here, again, is the familiar combination of school and university. Boys are to be admitted at the age of thirteen, “being already well advanced in the Latine grammar and some authors.” No fees may be exacted from any, “though never so rich”; as funds permit, boarding-houses are to receive “such poor men’s sons whose good natural parts may promise either use or ornament to the commonwealth,” and no differences of political or religious opinion are to be made grounds of exclusion. Had this tolerant attitude become customary, English education would have had a different history during the last two centuries. Cowley’s school-boys were to study a long list of Latin and Greek authors who had treated of “some parts of Nature”; like Milton, Cowley cannot surrender the scholarly type of education. He wants to repeat his own upbringing at Westminster and Cambridge, and to add the studies of the “men of Gresham”; consequently, he is incapable of scheming a feasible course of instruction calculated to secure his own chief aims.