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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

When observation is keenly developed


what is required nowadays to carry a man through the world are brains, and not muscular development of limbs. As for a classical education, it may be all right for a clergyman, a lawyer, or for a man with high but unprofitable literary tastes, but not for fellows who are not only to be useful to themselves, but indirectly to the mother country, by developing the industries or trades of lands to be opened up.

If I may be permitted to say so, one of the principal qualities which we should develop in our young men is the sense of observation in all its forms--a sense which is sadly neglected in English education. It has always been my humble experience that one learns more of use in one hour's keen observation than by reading all the books in the world, and when that sense is keenly developed it is quite extraordinary with what facility one can do things which the average unobservant man thinks utterly impossible. It most certainly teaches one to simplify everything and always to select the best and easiest way in all one undertakes, which, after all, is the way leading to success.

Again, when observation is keenly developed, languages--or, in fact, anything else--can be learnt with amazing facility. The "knack" of learning languages is only due to observation; the greatest scientific discoveries have been due to mere observation; the greatest commercial enterprises are based on the practical results of observation.

But it is astounding how few people do really observe, not only carefully, but at all. The majority of folks might as well be blind for what they see for themselves. They follow like sheep what they are told to do, and make their sons and grandsons do the same; and few countries suffer more from this than England.

When travelling in the East one cannot help being struck by the difference of young Englishmen and foreigners employed in similar capacities in business places. The foreigner is usually fluent in four, five or six different languages, and has a smattering of scientific knowledge which, if not very deep, is at any rate sufficient for the purposes required. He is well up in engineering, electricity, the latest inventions, explorations, discoveries and commercial devices. He will talk sensibly on almost any subject; he is moderate in his habits and careful with his money.

Now, take the young Englishman. He seldom knows well more than one language; occasionally one finds fellows who can speak two tongues fluently; rarely one who is conversant with three or four. His conversation generally deals with drinks, the latest or coming races, the relative values of horses and jockeys and subsequent offers to bet--in which he is most proficient. The local polo, if there is any, or tennis tournaments afford a further subject for conversation, and then the lack of discussible topics is made up by more friendly calls for drinks. The same subjects are gone through with variations time after time, and that is about all.

Now, I maintain that this should not be so, because, taking things all round, the young Englishman is really _au fond_ brighter and infinitely more intelligent than foreigners. It is his education and mode of living that are at fault, not the individual himself, and this our cousins the Americans have long since discovered; hence their steaming ahead of us in every line with the greatest ease.

We hear that the Englishman is no good at learning languages, but that is again a great mistake. I do not believe that there is any other nation in Europe, after the Russians, who have greater facility--if properly cultivated--and are more capable of learning languages to perfection than the English. I am not referring to every shameless holiday tripper on the Continent who makes himself a buffoon by using misapplied, mispronounced, self-mistaught French or Italian or German sentences, but I mean the rare observant Englishman who studies languages seriously and practically.

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