"Man has been defined to be a bundle of habits; till the bundle is made up we may continually increase or diminish it."

— Edgeworth, Maria

Work Title
Place of Publication
Joseph Johnson
"Man has been defined to be a bundle of habits; till the bundle is made up we may continually increase or diminish it."
Metaphor in Context
"I desire you to judge of me, not by what I was, but by what I am," said a philosopher when he was reproached for some of his past transgressions. If the interval between an offence and its punishment be long, it is possible that during this interval a complete change may be made in the views and habits of the offender; such a change as shall absolutely preclude all probability of his repeating his offence. His punishment must then be purely for the sake of example to others. He suffers pain at the time, perhaps, when he is in the best social dispositions possible; and thus we punish the present good man for the faults of the former offender. We readily excuse the violence which a man in a passion may have committed, when upon his return to his sober senses he expresses contrition and surprise at his own excesses; he assures us, and we believe him, that he is now a perfectly different person. If we do not feel any material ill consequences from his late anger, we are willing, and even desirous, that the passionate man should not in his sober state be punished for his madness; all that we can desire is, to have some security against his falling into any fresh fit of anger: could his habits of temper be instantly changed, and could we have a moral certainty that his phrenzy [end page 237] would never more do us any injury, would it not be malevolent and unjust to punish him for his old insanity? If we think and act upon these principles with respect to men, how much more indulgent should we be to children? Indulgence is perhaps an improper word: but in other words, how careful should we be never to chain children to their dead faults!* Children during their education must be in a continual state of progression; they are not the same to-day that they were yesterday; they have little reflection, their consciousness of the present occupies them, and it would be extremely difficult from day to day, or from hour to hour, to identify their minds. Far from wishing that they should distinctly remember all their past thoughts, and that they should value themselves upon their continuing the same, we must frequently desire that they should forget their former errors, and absolutely change their manner of thinking. They should feel no interest in adhering to former bad habits or false opinions; therefore their pride should not be roused to defend these by our making them a part of their standing character. The character of children is to be formed; we should never speak of it as positively fixed. Man has been defined to be a bundle of habits; till the bundle is made up we may continually increase or diminish it. Children who are zealous in defence of their own perfections, are of all others most likely to become stationary in their intellectual progress, and disingenuous in their temper. It would be in vain to repeat to them this sensible and elegant observation, "To confess that you have been in the wrong, is only saying in other words, that you are wiser to-day than you were yesterday." This remark will rather pique than comfort the pride of those, who are anxious to [end page 238] prove that they have been equally wise and immaculate in every day of their existence.
(pp. 237-9)

*Mezentius. VIRGIL.
Contributed by PC Fleming.
1 entry in ESTC (1798).

Edgeworth, Maria and Richard Lovell Edgeworth. Practical Education; by Maria Edgeworth, Author of Letters for Literary Ladies, and the Parent’s Assistant; and by Richard Lovell Edgeworth, F.R.S. and M.R.I.A., 2 vols. (London: Printed for Joseph Johnson, in St. Paul's Churchyard, 1798). <Link to ESTC><Vol I, Link to ECCO><Vol II, Link to ECCO>

Thomas Beddoes contributed to chapter 1. Chapters 13-18 by R. L. Edgeworth; the rest by Maria Edgeworth. Based on the Edgeworths' own experiences, and a work by Richard Lovell and Honora Edgeworth, privately printed in 1780. Maria began this work at least as early as 1796.

Bibliographical description and metaphors contributed by PC Fleming. See also Richard Lovell and Honora Edgeworth's Practical Education: or, The History of Harry and Lucy. (Lichfield: Printed by J. Jackson. And sold by J. Johnson, London, 1780). <Link to ESTC>
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The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.