Page images
PDF
EPUB

and if a vindication of its immediately announcing it were de-. sired, we have it in a circumstance that occurred at the

very commencement of the Institution. The prospectus first put forth, had not appeared a week, when the opposite, or illiberal party appear to have taken the alarm-although not a subject

, was announced excepting on mathematics and the various branches of natural philosophy. It should seem that the Soeiety had then not determined upon embracing moral and political subjects within its plan-or did not deem the season arrived for declaring such an intention, if it was entertained. But the safe and prudent politicians—they who so dread the over-education of the common people they who would, above everything, avoid circulating cheap tracts on political subjects nay, who have actually called in the aid of the legislature, at divers times and in various ways, to put down such dangerous publications by manifold restrictions, and even by actual prohibitions-embodied themselves, or made their known publisher announce that they had embodied themselves, into a Society to publish a rival series of treatises ;—and they set to work in their accustomed way. As the Lancaster, or British and Foreign Schools were first opposed by the High Church party; and as, when opposition was found vain, the same party took them up, to use them for their own purposes, forming a “ National Society for Educating the People," and planting

National Schools in connexion with the Established Church --so now, as soon as the Society had announced its Library of Useful Knowledge, forth came, within a little week, the advertisement of a “ National Library,to be published by Mr Murray; and, with the advertisement, a detailed prospectus, giving a list of the subjects of which the works were to treat. The Society had confined its prospectus to the safe grounds of natural and mathematical science, avoiding even any of the matters connected with history. But the National Library was proclaimed to embrace all subjects, from arithmetic to party politics and religious controversy. Nay, the announcement plainly indicated that those debateable grounds were to be far more favourite paths for the footsteps of the High Church Tory writers, than the pure and sequestered haunts of the severer sciences; and the side on which the opinions and facts were to be delivered, was pretty significantly disclosed by a sounding quotation in favour of the Church establishment, and a catalogue of British statesmen, from King Alfred to William Pitt. Thus the party were seen patronizing cheap publications on politics and religion for the common people--the same party which had always vehemently opposed any political or contro,

versial instruction to the lower orders, and had uniformly excited the energies of the Law, the Government, and the Legislature, in preventing the dissemination of such information altogether. It followed, as a matter of course, that this example set by the opposite party should be followed by the Society; and accordingly they were compelled to embrace the whole field of moral science as well as the mathematics and natural philosophy. They were suddenly defied, as it were, into ethics, history, and politics, by their adversaries; and had no choice but either to follow into those matters, or leave them in the hands of men sure to misinform those they undertook to teach. The new prospectus of the Society, accordingly, contains a full arrangement of all the branches of human knowledge. The moral as well as the natural sciences--the intellectual as well as the ethical and political-all the branches of politics and of jurisprudence--and the history of sciences and of arts, of nations and of individuals—every branch, in short, of knowledge, except theology, is announced as coming within the plan of the Society, and as to be treated of in the course of its publications. The outline is as complete as it is magnificent; and if the filling up is marked by the same genius, and if the future treatises are executed with the same talent as those already published, and display the same deep knowledge of the subjects handled, and the same extraordinary didactic powers--the same faculty of conveying information in the most plain language and perspicuous method upon the most profound subjects-of being at once popular and scientific, we may safely number this as among the most important, as well as the happiest, efforts that have ever been made to enlighten mankind, and to promote the interests of science,

The reader may be curious to know what became of the rival work announced by the national folks-through their known organ, Mr Murray. They advertised that their first number was to appear on the 1st of March, and one each succeeding fortnight; and they affirmed that arrangements on an sive scale had been made by a society of eminent literary and seientific men, for carrying the plan through. No doubt ehere were such arrangements; though they must have been made in singular haste, not to say hurry; for the National Prospectus clearly showed that the hint was taken from the Prospectus of the Society for Diffusing Useful Knowledge, and yet it came out in a few days after that appeared; consequently the extensive arrangements of the eminent men must all have been planned and completed in the course of these few days. Their eminences swiftly took the alarm, and speedily conglomerated in a learned mass :

[ocr errors]

But it is to be lamented that so much preparation, having led to nothing, has been thrown away, for not a single number of the National Library has as yet seen the light, nor has any repetition of the advertisement been risked! Doubtless, too, there was a society formed; but the names of its members are among the secrets—the special arcana of the bookselling craft. The trade may be acquainted with them, and may know how many Bishops and Lords of the Bedchamber-General and Staff Officers and Contractors—and other regular friends of Popular Instruction, had classed themselves in a band to bring politics home to every man's door, as cheap as air, and thus introduce into the cottage the mysteries of the palace. But we have, as yet, been unable to hear of one name-one person-clerical or lay–who is a member of any such society. The whole body, and its doings, seem to be wrapt in thick secrecy,—peradventure, is it a secret society! and possibly within the acts of Parliament in such case made and provided. Pray we the gods, that the pit dug by the high Tory party for their popular adversaries, may not be first tenanted by those worthies themselves !

The attempt of another rival has not been quite so abortive : it, at least, was made more in earnest, and has produced some signs of actual operations. As some very unfounded statements have been published by the tradesmen concerned in it, we are desirous of stating what is known to us respecting its history, and authenticated by published documents.

The plan of the Society of Useful Knowledge, and of the Library to be published by it, was first announced to the world by Mr Brougham's Treatise on Popular Education, written in the end of the year 1824, and published in January 1825. The following passages, from the eighteenth edition of that work, we extract as proving that the plan was then nearly matured, and as showing what claim to it any one else can have:

“ In the third place, it is evident that as want of time prevents the operative classes from pursuing a systematic course of education in all its details, a more summary

and
compendious

method of instruction must be adopted by them. The majority must be content with never going beyond a certain point, and with reaching that point by the most expeditious route. A few, thus initiated in the truths of science, will no doubt push their attainments much further; and for these the works in common use will suffice; but for the multitude it will be most essential that works should be prepared adapted to their circumstances. Thus, in teaching them geometry, it is not necessary to go through the whole steps of that beautiful system, by which the most general and remote truths are connected with the few simple definitions and axioms ; enough will be accomplished, if they are made to perceive the nature of geometrical investigation, and learn the lead

ing properties of figure. In like manner, they may be taught the doctrines of mechanics with a much more slender previous knowledge both of geometry and algebra, than the

common elementary works on dynamicks presuppose in the reader. Hence, a most essential service will be rendered to the cause of knowledge by him who shall devote his time to the composition of elementary treatises on the Mathematics, sufficiently clear, and yet sufficiently compendious, to exemplify the method of reasoning employed in that science, and to impart an accurate knowledge of the most useful fundamental propositions, with their application to practical purposes ; and treatises upon Natural Philosophy, which may teach the great principles of physics, and their practical application, to readers who have but a general knowledge of mathematics, or who are even wholly ignorant of the science beyond the common rules of arithmetic. Nor let it be supposed, that the time thus bestowed is given merely to instruct the people in the rudiments of philosophy, though this would of itself be an object sufficiently brilliant to allure the noblest ambition; for what higher achievement did the most sublime philosophy ever aspire after, than to elevate the views and refine the character of the great mass of mankind - at least in later times, when science no longer looks down as of old upon the multitude, supercilious, and deeming that great spirits alone perish not with the body? But if extending the bounds of science itself be the grand aim of all philosophers in all ages, they indirectly, but surely, accomplish this object, who enable thousands to speculate and experiment for one to whom the path of investigation is now open. It is not necessary that all who are taught, or even any large proportion, should go beyond the rudiments; but whoever feels within himself a desire and an aptitude to proceed further, will press forward; and the chances of discovery, both in the arts and in science itself, will be thus indefinitely multiplied. Indeed, those discoveries immediately connected with experiment and observation, are most likely to be made by men, whose lives being spent in the midst of mechanical operations, are at the same time instructed in the general principles upon which these depend, and trained betimes to habits of speculation. He who shall prepare a treatise simply and concisely unfolding the doctrines of Algebra, Geometry, and Mechanics, and adding examples calculated to strike the imagination, of their connexion with other branches of knowledge, and with the arts of common life, may fairly claim a large share in that rich harvest of discovery and invention which must be reaped by the thousands of ingenious and active men, thus enabled to bend their faculties towards objects at once useful and sublime.

“ Although much may be done by the exertions of individuals, it is manifest that a great deal more may be effected by the labours of a body, in furthering this important measure. The subject has for some time past been under consideration, and I am not without hopes of seeing formed a Society for promoting the composition, publication, and distribution of Cheap and Useful works. To qualify persons for becoming efficient members of this association, or co-operating with

66

it all over the country, neither splendid talents, nor profound learning, nor great wealth, are required. Though such gifts, in their amplest measure, would not be thrown away upon so important a design, they are by no means indispensable to its success. A well-informed man of good sense, filled with the resolution to obtain for the great body of his fellow-creatures, that high improvement which both their understandings and their morals are by nature fitted to receive, may labour in this good work, either in the central institution or in some remote district, with the certainty of success, if he have only that blessing of leisure for the sake of which riches are chiefly to be coveted. Such a one, however averse by taste or habit to the turmoil of public affairs, or the more ordinary strifes of the world, may in all quiet and innocence enjoy the noblest gratification of which the most aspiring nature is susceptible; he may influence by his single exertions the character and the fortunes of a whole generation, and thus wield a power to be envied even by vulgar ambition for the extent of its dominion-to be cherished by virtue itself for the unalloyed blessings it bestows."

That the subjects of the Society's publications were to be very extensive, is proved both by these passages, and by the following remarks upon teaching Politics and Political Economy to the common people :

“Why should not political, as well as all other works, be published in a cheap form, and in numbers ? That history, the nature of the constitution, the doctrines of political economy, may safely be disseminated in this shape, no man now-a-days will be hardy enough to deny. Popular tracts, indeed, on the latter subject, ought to be mueh more extensively circulated for the good of the working classes, as well as of their superiors. The interests of both are deeply concerned in sounder views being taught them; I can hardly imagine, for example, a greater service being rendered to the men, than expounding to them the true principles and mutual relations of population and wages; and both they and their masters will assuredly experience the effects of the prevailing ignorance upon such questions, as soon as any interruption shall happen in the commercial prosperity of the country, if indeed the present course of things, daily tending to lower wages as well as profits, and set the two classes in opposition to each other, shall not of itself bring on a crisis. To allow, or rather to induce the people to take part in those discussions, is therefore not merely safe, but most wholesome for the community, and yet some points connected with them are matter of pretty warm contention in the present times; but these may be freely handled, it seems, with safety ; indeed, unless they are se handled, such subjects cannot be discussed at all. Why then may not every topic of politics, party as well as general, be treated of in cheap publications ? It is highly useful to the community that the true principles of the constitution, ecclesiastical and civil, should be well understood by every man who lives under it. The great interests of civil and religious liberty are mightily promoted by such wholesome instruction; but the good order of society gains to the full as myek by is.

« PreviousContinue »