Journal Volume 4 2004
Lead, Kindly Light? Education and the La Touche Family (continued/5)
Education in the family life of James Digges La Touche of Sans Souci, Booterstown
James Digges La Touche (1788-1828) was the son of William Digges - at one time Britian's Representative in Basra - and Grace Puget, the daughter of a Huguenot London banker. According to Urwick, Grace used to say that James was, from the first “a child of great promise.When very young, on coming to say his lessons to his mother, he would not unfrequently bring prepared double the quantity she had prescribed. After repeating the whole, he would put his finger at the end of the former portion, and, looking up to her, would say ‘Mamma, I learnt down to thatbecause you desired me'; and then removing his finger to the end of what he had learnt besides, he would add, 'and, Mamma, I learnt thisto please you’”.
He attended a boy's day-school from the age of seven. Later he was “placed as a border at a then celebrated seminary at Rathmines”, which prepared young gentlemen for entrance to College. When the time came for him to leave, “his mother requested that her son should be allowed to entertain his fellow-pupils at a farewell breakfast. The Doctor at first gravely hesitated, but after a while yielded, saying that, although such a request had never been granted before, Master Digges La Touche had conducted himself so much to his satisfaction, that he was induced to make his case an exception. He let it be known, however, that this was not to be taken as a precedent for others”. Nor was it ever granted to others apparently!
James entered Trinity College, Dublin, on 2nd October 1803 as a Fellow-Commoner at “four minutes past twelve o'clock”. That meant he had won fourth place at the Entrance examination. His father died during his first term there, after which, in addition to his studies, James was “daily doing duty as a banker's clerk”. He paid frequent visits to Bellevue: “It is the best place in the world, I believe, to live at; for amusement blended with religion elevates the soul”. Urwick commented that Bellevue was then the frequent gathering place for those “of educated intelligence and piety from all quarters”.
Apart from James's commitment to religious matters, he seems to have made education the main study of his life. In addition to his work as Secretary of the Weekly Schools, held first in Digges and then in School Street, James associated “as a fellow worker” there as well. His interpretation of education, however, was not so much concerned with the three Rs or exterior polish and accomplishments as with “the substance of what is excellent”, setting a higher value upon “a good conscience than upon great acuteness”. To James, education was “not only incomplete but defective” if it did not embrace “Religion” or “Godliness”.
James, who married Isabella, the daughter of Sir James Cotter, took a keen interest in his children's education. After his work at the Bank was completed for the day, he would visit his mother in St Stephen's Green before arriving home to Sans Souci, Booterstown, by “half-six”. Then he looked around the house and garden while “lessons in French, Irish etcetera were got ready for Papa” to hear. James learnt the Irish language and taught it to his children at the same time. “My family circle is still entire”, he wrote to a friend in Scotland, “as I have not been able to prevail upon myself to send my boy to a distance. In truth, my children have not had more than a part of Pestalozzi's plan, the greater part of their instruction having been constructed on the old plan”.
Urwick tells us that he was in favour of the study of languages rather than geometry. James declared “so much of our English is grafted on the stock of the learned languages, that their attainment is of vast importance”; of rules – “a rule of grammar committed to the memory is highly useful”; the use of books – “more than Pestalozzi would prescribe, and have found that the young mind which has been disciplined by a judicious use of grammar and of questioning can and does grasp very vigorously the information contained in books. One advantage of this is that should death call away the parents the child has an independent source of improvement”. However he had to admit that it was difficult to procure teachers “capable and willing to take their stand” in the above arrangements and agreed that his experience was confined to the “infant course”, to which the views of Pestalozzi “give very great advantage”. Pestalozzi, an eighteenth century Swiss educator, believed “school should recreate the atmosphere of a loving home, and that the basis of learning was a knowledge of the general mental development of the child. The teacher's task was to foster and direct his development with the aid of carefully graded and concrete learning experiences” (Parkes).
James received letters from parents asking for advice as to the best method of education. To one mother he wrote concerning suggestions for the earliest stage: “Do not aim at more than to lead him to most that occurs around him and what he sees in nature, and he will soon be prepared for a more advanced stage of instruction ... The first stage leads him to observe. The second should have for its object to teach him attention”. But in the end "the mother's discretion must point out how soon he shall begin, and to what point it is safe to go. It is desirable to command attention, but it is also needful to keep up the interest ..." all to be done with “a smiling countenance and a loving heart”. James' interest in education was passed on to two of his children: James John, knighted for his work in India, and Louisa who championed higher education for girls as a career.
James Digges La Touche was buried at St James' Church, Booterstown. A plaque to his memory acknowledges his contribution to the Sunday School movement.