The etymology of this phrase is pretty straight forward. It's an agricultural idiom referring to plants that have grown well past their flowering stage and are left to produce seeds and die. In the above quote, he's lamenting that the best students have neglected something and are now in a state of decline. What was Mr. Paterson referring to? What sort of education would make these boys run to seed, especially 100 years ago? Who in the world is Mr. Paterson?
Alec Paterson was the author of Across the Bridges, a ground-breaking work that brought to light the awful conditions in some areas of London. He was a charismatic and inspiring leader in the areas of prison reform, youth work and helping the impoverished. Mason thought very highly of him and quotes him extensively in Volume 6, Chapter 7. Here is a list of the education he's decrying:
-high standards of neatness and accuracy
-sound and practical knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic (taking up more than half of the total instruction time)
-grounding in English, geography and history
-flawless grammar and spelling
Obviously, since that sounds like a decent education, there must be more to it. Here's what else he observes:
-"the teacher...works too hard while the boy's share in the struggle is too light." (p. 119)
-"rarely left to himself with the book in his hands" (p. 119)
-"... a knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic is no education and no training but merely the elementary condition of further knowledge." (p. 119)
-"the powers of voluntary thought and reason, of spontaneous enquiry and imagination have not been stirred." (p. 120)
He goes on to say that, when these boys move on and graduate, they haven't learned how to love learning and be well-rounded men - the best boys in these classrooms have run to seed. "Of the majority of boys only half their ability is ever used in the work they find to do on leaving school, the other half curls up and sleeps forever." (p. 120). Ouch.
Now here comes Charlotte with her wisdom -
Their implicit contention is, given a well-educated man with cultivated imagination, trained judgment, wide interests, and he is prepared to master the intricacies of any profession; while he knows at the same time how to make use of himself, of the powers with which nature and education have endowed him for his own happiness; the delightful employment of his leisure; for the increased happiness of his neighbours and the well-being of the community; that is, such a man is able, not only to earn his living, but to live. Vol. 6 p.121I think I've got a better grip on "run to seed" now, although the idiom doesn't work well if you dig too deeply, say some of my farming friends. I'll sign off with Proverbs 12:11 (ESV) " Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense."