Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

their country. We are bound upon this weighty matter to be instant, in seasou and out of season. I now speak not merely of seminaries for teaching mechanics the principles of natural and mathematical sciences, but of schools where the working classes generally may learn those branches of knowledge which they cannot master by private reading. It must be a small town indeed, where some useful lecture may not, with a little exertion and a little encouragement, be so established that the quarterly contributions of the students may afterwards suffice to continue it. Moral and political philosophy may be acceptable even where there is no field for teachers of chemistry and mechanics; and where no lecture at all can be supported,' a library may be set on foot, and the habit of useful reading encouraged. We constantly hear of public-spirited individuals; of men who are friendly to the poor and the working classes; of liberal-minded persons, anxious for the diffusion of knowledge and the cultivation of intellectual pursuits. But no one has a right to assume such titles-to take credit for both zeal and knowledge-if he has done nothing in his own neighbourhood to found a popular lecture, or, should the circle be too narrow for that, to establish a reading club, which, in many cases, will end in a lecture. For such a club, there is hardly a village in the country too small; and I have shown that towns of a very moderate size may support a lecture. After the success of the experiments already made, indeed, it seems little less than shameful that there should be any considerable town without establishments for popular education. I speak from the actual history of some of the instances which I have cited, when I say that one man only is wanted in each place to ensure the success of the plan. Where there is such a man, and workmen in sufficient numbers, there are all the materials that can be required. He has but to converse with a few master-workmen; to circulate, in concert with them, a notice for a meeting; or if it be deemed better to have no meeting, let them ascertain how many will attend a class; and the room may be hired and the lecturer engaged in a month. The first cost will be easily defrayed by a subscription among the rich; or, if that fail

, the collection of a library will be made by degrees out of the money raised by the students. The expense of providing ap, paratus ought not to deter any one from making the attempt. have shown how much may be done with but little machinery, and a skilfiul lecturer can give most useful help to private study, by drawings and explanations, with hardly any experiments at all. The facilities too will increase; the wish for scientific education will beget an effectual demand, and teachers will present themselves to supply the want. Already it would be a safe adventure for a lecturer to engage in, where there are great bodies of artisans. In any of the large manufacturing towns of Lancashire and

[ocr errors]

JO

17

Yorkshire, a person duly qualified to teach the principles of mechanics and chemistry, and their application to the arts, would now find it easy to collect a large class, willing and able to remunerate him for his trouble, and it is highly probable, that, before long, there will be established, in each of those places, permanent teachers upon private speculation.

Bat, great as the disposition to learn already is among the working classes, and certain as a lecture would be of attendants wherever it was once set on foot, there is still a necessity for the upper classes coming forward to assist in making the first step. Those seminaries are still too new; they are too little known among the artisans generally to be thought of and demanded by themselves; still more difficult would it be for them to set about formning the plans for themselves. Even in the largest towns, it is hardly to be expected that the workmen should yet concert measures for their own instruction, although sufficiently numerous to require no pecuniary assistance in procuring the necessary teachers. The present then is the moment for making an effort to propagate the system; and for giving that encouragement which may at once spread those Institutions and render universally habitual the desire of knowledge that already prevails. Nor can the means be wanting among the upper, or even the middle ranks of society. There exist ample funds at present applied to charitable purposes, which at best are wasted, and more frequently employed in doing harm. I speak not now of the large revenue, a million and a half or more from endowments, which is almost altogether expended in a manner injurious to the community; not above a third part belonging to charities connected with education, and of that third by far the greatest portion going to maintain poor children, which is nearly the worst employment of such funds; while of the remaining two thirds, only very

small proportion is spent on perhaps the only harmless objects of common charity, hospitals for the sick poor, or provision for persons ruined by grievous and sudden calamities. But I allude to the large sums yearly collected in every part of the country to support charitable institutions; and, though given from the best of motives, yet applied to increase the number of the poor almost as certainly as the parish rates themselves. These funds are entirely under the control of the contributors; and to them I would fain address most respectfully a few words,

Every person who has been accustomed to subscribe for the support of what are commonly called charities, should ask himself this question.

• However humane the motive, am I doing any real good by so expending my money? or am I not doing more harm than good ?' In either case, indeed, harm is done ; because, even if the money so applied should do no mischief, yet, if it did no good, harin would be done by the waste.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

a

6

30

1

But in order to enable him to answer the question, he must reflect, that no proposition is more undeniably true than this, that the existence of a known and regular provision for the poor, whether in the ordinary form of pensions, doles, gratuities, clothing, firing, &c., or in the shape of maintenance for poor children, in whole, or only in part, as clothing, has the inevitable tendency to bring forward not only as many objects as the provision will maintain, but a far 'greater number. The immediate consequence of such provisions is, to promote idleness and poverty beyond what the funds can relieve the continued and known existence of the provisions trains up a race of paupers ; and a provision for children, especially, promotes.improvident marriages, and increases the population by the addition of paupers. It is therefore a sacred duty which every one owes to the conmunity, to refrain from giving contributions to begin such funds; and if he has already become a yearly contributor, it is equally his duty to withdraw his assistance, unless one condition is complied with,-namely, that no new objects shall be taken into the establishment, but that those only who at present belong to it shall be maintained; so that the mischief may be terminated within a limited time, and nothing unfair or harsh done towards those who had previously depended on its funds. I remember the time when money given to beggars was supposed to be well bestowed-a notion now exploded; yet even this exercise of benevolence is less mischievous than the support of regular establishments for the increase of paupers*.

The wise and considerate manner of proceeding which I venture to recommend, would speedily place at the disposal of charitable and enlightened individuals ample funds for supporting works of real, because of most useful charity. Let any one cast his eye over the Reports of the Education Committee and Charity Commissioners, and he may form some idea of the large funds now profusely squandered under the influence of mistaken benevolence. Of the many examples that might be given, let one suffice; its history is in the Report of 1816. The income was above 20001., of which 15001. arose from yearly subscriptions and donations. This large fund clothed 101 boys, and maintained 65 girls; but the expense of boarding and clothing the girls was of course by far the greatest part of it, perhaps 12001. Much abuse appeared to have crept into the management

, in consequence of tradesmen acting as trustees, and voting on the orders to themselves, and on the payment of their own accounts. It was deemed right to check this; and a rule was adopted, at a meeting of trustees, to prevent so scandalous a practice for the future. It was, however, rejected at a meeting of the sub

Letter to Sir S. Romilly, 1818.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

scribers, for which, in all probability, the tradesmen had made a canvass, and obtained the attendance of friends. Nay, a most learned and humane Judge, who was one of the trustees, having afterwards proposed a resolution merely to forbid any trustee or subscriber voting on matters in which he was personally interested, it was rejected instantly, and therefore not recorded on the minutes;' whereupon his lordship abstained from attending any future meeting, and, I trust, from ever contributing to the fund. This is one instance only of thousands, where the money collected from well-disposed persons, who take no further charge of a charity than to pay their subscriptions, is wasted by the jobbing of too active and interested managers. But suppose there had been no direct abuse, and that all the income had been honestly and carefully employed in promoting the objects of the establishment, by far the greater part of it would have been hurtfully bestowed. Instead of clothing 101 boys, and maintaining 65 girls

, at the rate of 2000l. a year, the fixed income alone of 5001. might have educated a thousand children, and left 15001. a year free for establishing other schools, if wanted : ‘and as two others of the same size dvould-in all probability have more than sufficed to supply the defectof education which appears by the report of the West London Lancaster Association to exist in that district, a fund would have remained sufficient to support an institution for the instruction up 700 or quo mechanics. Thus, the same money which is now no uselessly, but perniciously bestowed, might, by a little care, and a due portion of steadiness in resisting the interested clamours of persons who subscribe for the purpose of turning it to their own profit, be made the means of at once educating all the children in the worst district of London, and of planting there the light of science among the most useful and industrious class of the community. Now, within the same district

, or applicable to it, there are probably other charitable the funds, arising from voluntary contribution, to five or six times

the amount of this single charity, and it is most likely that there hardly one of the benevolent individuals who support it but

contributes to one or more charities besides. How important, eleting then, does it become for each man carefully to reconsider the use

he is making, or suffering others to make, of that money which

humanity has set apart for the relief of his fellow-creatures, and the improvement of their condition ; and how serious a duty is it to take care that what originates in the most praiseworthy motives should also end in results really beneficial to the objects

[ocr errors]

his

of his bounty!

I rejoice to think that it is not necessary to close these observations by combating objections to the diffusion of science among

с

[ocr errors]

the working c.asses, arising from considerations of a political nature. Happily the time is past and gone when bigots could persuade mankind that the lights of philosophy were to be ex. tinguished as dangerous to religion; and when tyrants could proscribe the instructors of the people as enemies to their power. It is preposterous to imagine that the enlargement of our acquaintance with the laws which regulate the universe, car dispose to unbelief. It may be a cure for superstition for intolerance it will be the most certain cure; but a pure ani true religion has nothing to fear from the greatest expansior which the understanding can receive by the study either o matter or of mind. The more widely science is diffused, the better will the Author of all things be known, and the less will the people be “ tossed to and fro by the sleight of men, an

cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive." To tyrants, indeed, and bad rulers, the progress of knowledge among the mass of mankind is a just object of terror: it is fatal to them and their designs; they know this by unerring instinct, and un. ceasingly they dread the light. But they will find it more easy to curse than to extinguish. It is spreading in spite of them , even in those countries where arbitrary power deems itself mos secure; and in England, any attempt to check its progress would only bring about the sudden destruction of him who should be insane enough to make it.

To the Upper Classes of society, then, I w Suld say, that the question no longer is whether or not the people shall be instructed—for that has been determined long ago, and the decision is irreversible--but whether they shall be well or ill taught-half informed or as thoroughly as their circumstances permit and their wants require. Let no one be afraid of the bulk of the community becoming too accomplished for their superiors. Well educated, and even well versed in the most elevated sciences, they assuredly may become; and the worst consequence that can fol low to their superiors will be, that to deserve being called their betters, they too must devote themselves more to the pursuit of solid and refined learning; the present public seminaries must be enlarged; and some of the greater cities of the kingdom, pecially the metropolis, must not be left destitute of the regular means within themselves of scientific education.

To the Working Classes I would say, that this is the time when by a great effort they may secure for ever the inestimable blessing of knowledge. Never was the disposition more universal among the rich to lend the requisite assistance for setting in motion the great engines of instruction; but the people must come forward to profit by the opportunity thus afforded, and they must themselves continue the movement once begun. Those who have already started in the pursuit of science, and tasted its sweets, require no ex

es

« VorigeDoorgaan »