« PreviousContinue »
of the State, to provide for the education of the lower orders of its subjects, I will proceed briefly to state, in opposition to the reported views of the Committee, why I think that the education so provided, should be that only which is founded upon the principles of our National Establishments, endeavouring also to answer the chief objections which may be urged against such a strictly national system.
The general proposition, my Lord, the truth of which this view of the subject which I have taken assumes, and which I wish, therefore, to assert decidedly in the outset of my argument, is this; namely, that all education provided for the people by any Government, which is exclusive in its constitution, that is, which supports and recognizes, as connected with and forming part of itself, a peculiar Religious Establishment, and which is necessarily also presided over and administered by persons professing the principles of that establishment, should be grounded entirely upon the inculcation of these same principles; which, as being in this manner those of Church and State, may, consequently, with strict propriety, be termed, in relation to the country in which they prevail, « National.”
The reason and the policy of this fundamental rule must be too clear to stand in need of any labored vindication. No wise Goyernment and I am not speaking now with any reference to higher intrinsic nerits or defects), it must be supposed, would erer be so regardless of its contracted obligations and its own safety, as to pay for the instruction of its subjects in principles opposed to its own; nor so feebly impressed with a sense of the tendency of those principles to improve the public character and happiness, as to sanctiou any general system of education from which the inculcation of them should be excluded. In each of these cases it could only so act, eit her from a consciousness of its own imperfections, and a secret wish, therefore, to bring about its own gradual amelioration, or from a temporary deprivation in all cases of political, and, if it were excellent in itself, of one of the highest species of moral wigdom. A paternal Government might, indeed, and doubtless would, under these circumstances, lament the exclusion of any portion of its people from the benefits of national instruction; but it would charge the evil, self-inflicted probably in numerous instances, upon the unfortunate errors of those excluded, and not upon its own obligation to attend to greater and more serious interests, comprising frequently, perhaps, and always, of course, in its own estimation, the maintenance of the most important truths, and the general peace of the community.
Let this rule, then, my Lord, be applied to the mixed and exclusive Constitution of our own country, embracing the protection
of so many serious interests, and its force will immediately appear, without the aid of illustration, in the most convincing light. But, besides the general nature, and the higher excellences, of the institutions which are the basis of our Government, there are reasons, more or less, of a political kind, and peculiar to them, in a great measure, which point out still more distinctly this applicability to the most careless observer. These reasons are both permanent and temporary, deducible as well from the extensive freedom, civil as well as religious, which is one of our national characteristics, as from the particular dangers which arise from our present national circumstances.
Most of our countrymen, my Lord, are fond of boasting of English freedom, but they are, at the same time, too apt to forget that the distinction of such a state imposes both
upon our Government and upon all its conscientious supporters, equally extensive duties of circumspection and management. They forget
in proportion as the limits of this social liberty are enlarged, the activity and wisdom of the superintending power must be exerted, which are to control its excesses. They forget, that our constitutional, and moral, and religious fences must increase in strength, equally with the increase of the strength and boldness of the powers
, whose tendency it is always to overleap them. They forget too, that the consistency of such a state of freedom with moral order absolutely implies the observance of all these cautions, and the constant use of all other means of protection, compatible with its enlightened existence. But the encouragement of the education of the people, my Lord, in the principles of our religion and laws, is one of ihe most powerful and most easy of these counteracting means, and appears, indeed, under the present progress of popular instruction, to be a necessary accompaniment of our free institutions. By the general toleration which these institutions afford, every facility is given to the propagation of dissent and disorder, political as well as religious ; they are themselves constantly open to the unsparing scrutiny of every ambitious, malignant, or discontented spirit; the emulation of proselytism is everywhere in ceaseless action against them; the pride and the perverseness of opposition are ever adding nerve and numbers to the enemies which surround them. These, my Lord, I admit, are the natural evils of extensive social liberty, but then shall the State be so Tess of the dangers as well as of the greater blessings which attend them, as to scruple to teach the people, by the gift of sound early instruction, how to shun the former, and to preserve inviolate the latter? Shall it also be so devoid of the principle, or so regardless of self-preservation, as to allow to its licentious opponents of all kinds, the privilege of hostile teaching, and to hesitate about em
ploying its own powerful means of dispensing pure and strictly national instruction ? My Lord, in opposition to all such reasoning, I cannot but think, that it would amount to a species of political suicide, on the part of the appointed guardians of the Constitution, were they to continue to see any portion of the people misled, and estranged from it, by ill-conducted courses of instruction, or by the inculcation of mischievous principles, without endeavouring, under liberal offers of a truly religious, moral, and peaceable education, to preserve them in virtuous allegiance.
It appears, then, my Lord, I may be allowed to say, that, if in all countries, whose Governments are exclusive in their constitutional principles, every established system of general education must, generally speaking, be firmly grounded on the same principles, the reasons for adopting such a rule under a Government, in nature like ours, and whose established religion is so fully adapted to answer the great primary purposes of all popular instruction, are doubly powerful Indeed, I confess, I can see no other certain means of maintaining permanently the moral character of the country, and the safety of its Church and State, against the perversion of knowledge, the wantonness, the activity, and the restless zeal of faction, which a cultivated state of the popular mind, in this free country, will always, perhaps, in spite of any preventive safeguards, have an uncontrolable tendency to produce.
The Church, my Lord, especially, through whose sides the civil branch of the Constitution would be fatally assailed, could never bear up long against the necessarily hostile tendencies of a system of national education, which should be devoid of national principles, or should at all facilitate the growth and elevation of dissent. This latter evil (for so, in a scriptural church, we are bound to call it, however much times and circumstances, and its own character and extent, may qualify its tendencies), this evil of dissent, my Lord, would, under any such systems, not be tolerated only; it would be effectually encouraged. It would rear itself, in all the confidence of approximating rank and recognised importance, against the venerable fabric of the Church, which thus, in part stript of its constitutional superiority, and shorn of its privileged character, would stand fearfully exposed to every future encroachment of emboldened opposition. We have already, indeed, seen enough of the consequences of an ill-judged countenance of sectarian establishments in various parts of the country, to couvince
measures at all conducive to their elevatiou into additional power and importance, would directly quicken the tendency which even now exists among a large body of the people, to degenerate into religious republicanism of the bitterest kind, on the one hand, or into a transatlantic indifference to all religious distinctions, on the other; in
either of which sad revolutions, the great and reformed Church of England would be left a stranded wreck on a waste of darkness, like a venerable moral establishment in the ancient world,“ inanem umbram, et sine honore nomen.”
But, my Lord, there are peculiar circumstances attending the present state of this country, which, independently of the necessities arising from the general character of its Constitution, imperatively call for the establishment of a strict system of national education. I particularly refer here to the hopes of the disaffected, notoriously founded upon that intellectual ferment which the emulative action of many different modes of education have excited amongst the people; to the successful ardor with which an insidious press is taking advantage of this excitement; and to the prevalence of certain lax notions, as to the necessity of maintaining in schools the exclusive inculcation of the great distinctive principles of religious professions.
Your Lordsbip well knows, that it is the fashion, with all the more philosophically reforming philanthropists of the day, to felicitate themselves upon the rapid approach of a new era of light and refinement, in wbich the thick cloud which now dims their prospects will be dispelled, and their wisely-laid schemes for the improvement of the present hapless condition of their countrymen be accepted with admiring gratitude. Animated by the apparent dawn of this brilliant day, they already enjoy in anticipation the virtuous delight with which they expect, ere long, to have to rebuild the antiquated fabric of society, and to re-arrange, in better order, more excellent harmony, and fitter proportions, than they have yet displayed, the elementary materials of which it is composed. They console their followers under present disappointments, by telling them, that they will have to curb their impatience for a little while only, until the sun of renovated intellect, which is now rising, shall have dissipated the mists of ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry.
These, my Lord, are believed to be the expectations of a large body of modern reforming illuminati, religious as well as political ; and the present appearances of popular education amongst us have greatly contributed to raise them. These unquiet visionaries see the flood wide and powerful, but the banks which should restrain its impetuosity, and the safe channels which should direct its course, weak in quality, and few in number; and thus they are led to hope, that, instead of fertilising the land, as we ardently wish it might, by spreading over it in refreshing and regular order, it may, ere long, involve all our present vitiated systems in one resistless and renovating inundation.—My Lord, it is certainly the opinion of many experienced observers of the times, that there is, in the causes which excite these criminal hopes, soinething to hold out
the promise of their realisation. It is evident everywhere, that the propagators of erroneous opinions of all kinds are using educationi, under its improved plans, which are too often apt to cultivate the mind too much and the heart too little, as their most favorite instrument of conversion and future strength ; while it is equally clear, that the really beneficial instruction of the people, in the least disordered parts of the kingdom, is greatly obstructed, if not nearly prevented, by the want of adequate means to support it, even on the smallest scale. In the populous towns and districts, it is true, the exertions of dissent have been most zealously and liberally met by the friends of established religion and order, under the beneficent auspices of the “ National Society;" but, in these apparently charitable, though, in a great measure, also party rivalries, the external advantages are at present inconsistently equal on both sides. The State, at present, regards with an equal want of protection the efforts of both, and these struggles, therefore, in which the vital interests of the country are at issue, are too apt to be considered by the indolent and the thoughtless, as mere contests for superiority between indifferent opinions,' or between equally beneficial charitable establishmentsPrivate patriotism, in the mean time, however zealous, must relax, whilst the hopes of sectarianism must proportionably rise under this unseemly, and impolitic, and too disinterested impartiality. :. But the progress of that spirit of error and disorder which spreads on all sides, from the populous centres of dissenting education, is absolutely unprovided against by any systematic instruction in the great majority of the agricultural parishes of the kingdom; and thus, in those large districts in which, beyond all others, with a little exertion, the minds and feelings of the people might be preserved orthodox in principles, and patriotic in attachments, they are at present left exposed, without any means of self-defence, to the first attempted encroachments or seductions, or schism, or sedition. Every nerve, however, my Lord, it is well known, is now strained to push forward the diffusion of irregular education, and, therefore, the limits within which this hollow and discreditable security of ignorance at present exists, must become daily narrower in their extent.
But, whilst such disastrous prospects are opened by this misa directed excitement of the popular mind, there is an engine in league with those who indulge in them, vast in its power, which is constantly adding to and taking advantage of that excitement. The licentiousness of the press, as its valuable liberty, has, in too many instances, become, and has, indeed, for some time, been proving itself to be, the most powerful instrument which disaffection ever had to work with among an ill-educated people. It is 'sedulously