Saturday, June 25, 2005

Moulding Precocious Talent

John Stuart Mill had a singular childhood. At three, he learnt the Greek alphabet. By the age of eight, he had read the whole of Herodotus. He was steeped in Aristotle's logical treatises at twelve.Was very much into Adam Smith and Ricardo's work in early adolescence. What's not so well known is the role played by his father in regimenting his life and disciplining his intellect. A few excerpts from his Autobiography are very revealing-

One of the evils most liable to attend on any sort of early proficiency,
and which often fatally blights its promise, my father most anxiously
guarded against. This was self-conceit. He kept me, with extreme
vigilance, out of the way of hearing myself praised, or of being led
to make self-flattering comparisons between myself and others. From
his own intercourse with me I could derive none but a very humble
opinion of myself; and the standard of comparison he always held up to
me, was not what other people did, but what a man could and ought to
do. He completely succeeded in preserving me from the sort of influences
he so much dreaded. I was not at all aware that my attainments were
anything unusual at my age. If I accidentally had my attention drawn to
the fact that some other boy knew less than myself--which happened less
often than might be imagined--I concluded, not that I knew much, but that
he, for some reason or other, knew little, or that his knowledge was of
a different kind from mine.

He also points out the importance of developing good work habits during the formative pre-adolescence years. Even a person who is not naturally quick-witted can be moulded
into a formidable intellect with the right training.

If I had been by nature extremely quick of
apprehension, or had possessed a very accurate and retentive memory,
or were of a remarkably active and energetic character, the trial
would not be conclusive; but in all these natural gifts I am rather
below than above par; what I could do, could assuredly be done by any
boy or girl of average capacity and healthy physical constitution: and
if I have accomplished anything, I owe it, among other fortunate
circumstances, to the fact that through the early training bestowed on
me by my father, I started, I may fairly say, with an advantage of a
quarter of a century over my contemporaries.

Very,very pertinent views. Here's the link to the ebook

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