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LETTER

TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE

LORD VISCOUNT SIDMOUTH, HIS MAJESTY's PRINCIPAL SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT,

&c. &c.

ON THE

EXPECTED PARLIAMENTARY PRQVIST

IN FURTHERANCE OF

GENERAL EDUCATION;

SUGGESTED BY THE

REPORTS OF THE EDUCATION COMMITTEE OF THE

HOUSE OF COMMONS.

BY THE Rev. W. B. WHITEHEAD, A. M. VICAR OF TWIVERTON, SOMERSET, AND LATE FELLOW OF

WORCESTER COLLEGE, OXFORD.

ORIGINAL.

LONDON:

VOL. XVI.

Pam.

NO. XXXII.

2 B

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I feel that to address your Lordship thus publicly, upon any matter involving the security, and closely connected with a knowledge of the vital interests of your country, must appear, in some measure, a presumptuous, and, in a great degree, an unnecessary task. But the paramount importance of the subject, to which I now venture briefly to solicit your attention, nearly related as it is to that branch of the public welfare over which you exercise so high and salutary a control, will, I feel assured, readily be admitted, at least, by your Lordship, as an apology for my present intrusion.

The expediency, my Lord, and the moral duty, of giving a general education to the lower orders of the people, have, for some time, been questions happily placed, by the almost unanimous voice of the nation, beyond the influence of speculative controversy. But the results to be produced by so extensive an experiment upon society, like those of every other attempted social improvement, have ever been viewed by all experienced observers, as likely to prove blessings, only in proportion as they shall have been prepared and regulated by the hand of practical wisdom and piety. It is impossible, therefore, that any person, who thinks at all, can have contemplated the rapid progress which has taken place of late years, in the intellectual improvement of the people, without feeling the most anxious interest in the probable nature of those results. It is now, in fact, a short period only, since the bright star of popular education was observed, with delight, rising in our domestic

horizon, and its light has already penetrated into many remote corners of the land, infusing into the inferior classes of society, in its advance, a new principle of moral life, and, at the same time, opening to them new prospects, and communicating new powers. The circumstances too, as is well known, which attended its rise and developement, were not a little calculated to render its future influence a subject of anxious speculation. As an engine of power, almost unlimited, the new system of instruction was seized on by the keen vigilance of party, to promote the purposes of sectarian aggrandisement; whilst, by a large body of active individuals attached to the Constitutional Establishments of the realm, it was benevolently, but incautiously, regarded as a talismanic bond, which, in the attainment of a boundless good, might successfully be used to allay the jealousies of religious distinctions, and to produce approximations between them, hitherto unknown in the world. Hence these indiscreet and very mistaken views of general education became, in a great measure, identified with it in the days of its greatest popularity, and the mischiefs resulting from them were rapidly disordering the very vitals of our social welfare, when that illustrious association, called the “ National Society,” arose, and with a decision and promptitude worthy of its name and cause, proclaimed its object to be no less than to educate the whole body of the people in the principles of our establishments in Church and State, which it declared, at the same time, to be the only legitimate standards of National Education.

Here then, my Lord, was the first great effort made to check the original crooked bias of the new system of which I speak, and to give it a direction favorable to public happiness. But the means of the “ National Society,” though collected from the most liberal contributions of rank, and wealth, and patriotism, were soon found to be u nequal to the vast undertaking on which it had entered. In the mean time, the great importance of its general object grew daily in the public estimation, and the eyes of the country naturally became turned to the Legislature, as the only power capable of giving, to the education of the people, a safe, and permanent, and universal establishment. The appointment of the Education Committee in the House of Commons soon followed, and proved that these general expectations would not be slighted; and it is now, my Lord, commonly inferred, from the recent circular inquiries of the honorable Chairman of that Committee, that some plan for the complete extension of popular education, under legislative provision, will, during the present session of Parliament, be submitted to its decision.

This plan, my Lord, whatever it may be, is the momentous subject on which I am now taking the liberty to address you. It is expected, I may truly say, with the deepest interest, by all those persons who are thinkingly alive to the lasting welfare of their country, wbo venerate her happy polity, religious

and civil, and who see clearly the peculiar sources and direction of the chief dangers which menace it. It is expected, I may indeed say, with the greatest anxiety, by every one who has reflection enough to see, that the determination of the Legislature upon it will stamp indelibly the future character and destiny of the nation.

I wish, my Lord, I could also say, with equal truth, that there exist no good reasons for that distrust which is known to em bitter these anticipations. They are to be found, however, it is feared, sufficiently powerful in the published Reports of the Education Committee of the House of Commons; in the known opinions of the individual who has conducted, and of others who have been associated with him in its inquiries, and in the general apprehensions upon the subject prevalent throughout the country. Of that eminent individual, indeed, admiring, as I do, his talents and the activity of his public zeal, and thinking his political integrity also unques. tionable, I am unwilling to speak in any other terms than those of respect. But when I see him, notwithstanding his great exertions in the cause of education, viewed with suspicion by all persons who are constitutionally friends to it, it is impossible to conceive that such feelings towards him could have existed to any extent, without the strongest grounds; in short, that they could have existed at all,

Si mens non læva fuisset, in relation to certain essential principles of English patriotism.

The interesting Report to which I allude, after making, as your Lordship well knows, an extensive and minute exainination into all the various modes of education practised in the numerous Charity Schools, Dissenting as well as National, of the metropolis, inclines to the opinion expressed by one of their own members," in his evidence given before them, that schools of the former description should be allowed to participate, equally with those of the latter

, in the benefits of legislative provision. But, my Lord, the principle of this opinion is, it is presumed, so objectionable, both in its nature and tendency, as to demand the most obvious investigation before it be allowed to exercise a possible influence over the deliberations of Parliament. Taking for granted, therefore, that Parliament will, within a short time, be called upon to decide the important question, how a general system of instruction for the people at large can best be regulated ; and assuming (for the sake of brevity) that it is at once the moral duty and the right present policy

Mr. Butterworth, late M. P. for Coventry.

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