Page images
PDF
EPUB

and the poor have expressed such surprize at the interest taken in their welfare, and the welfare of their children, that it has had the best possible effect.' These facts are stated to the Committee as ' positive proof of the good resulting from such institutions.'If so much has been effected under circumstances the most unfavourable, the good effect may be calculated upon with certainty in places where there is no concentration of wretchedness and guilt.

How much then in this good work of reform, of real radical reform, that reform which beginning in the root of the state would be felt through the trunk and all its limbs even to the minutest ramification, in every leaf and germ,-how much might be effected by individuals exerting themselves in their own sphere, for the immediate good of others, and for their own almost equally immediate advantage! And how encouraging is it to perceive that all this may be accomplished so easily, and with so little change in the existing Poor Laws! Lord Falkland used to say, that all great mutations are dangerous, even where what is introduced by the change would have been very profitable upon a primary foundation. The greatest and most beneficial of all changes may be produced gradually and surely with the least possible innovation, and by the easiest and most unobjectionable means. It is for the minister to Jook well to the religious instruction of all his youthful parishioners, and for the gentry to assist him, as Sir Roger de Coverley aided his chaplain in the performance of this office. It is for the magistrates to enforce the observance of the Sabbath, to diminish the number of alehouses, and to insist upon good hours and orderly conduct in those which are suffered to continue. It is for the more respectable class of inhabitants to establish Saving Banks, and to see that the sums raised for the relief of the aged and helpless poor be not perverted to the sụpport of idle and dissolute persons. It is for parents and masters to perceive the consequences of letting outdoor apprentices live without restraint; and to alter a practice so certainly productive of evil. It is for the benevolent and religious, (and here it may confidently be expected that the higher class of women will not be found wanting,) to form societies for administering to the wants of the sick, and the consolation of the aged.

Is there any thing impossible in this?—is there any thing difficult? --is there any thing visionary ? -Yet wherever these things were done, the poor-rates in a few generations miglit be farmed for a groat in the pound. And nothing more is required for effecting this in any parish throughout the whole agricultural part of the country, than that one person in the proper sphere of life should lead the way. Only let an impulse be given to this will, and the power will be found surely to follow it. There is benevolence

enough

enough in the world—there is activity enough-there is zeal enough. Old impossibilities,' says Burke, are become modern probabilities, and the extent to which evil principles may go when left to their own operation, is beyond the power of calculation. Twoand-twenty years have added woeful proof in confirmation of this opinion! But although evil principles are, generally speaking, more active than good, because they are in their nature restless, the good are found strongest when they are brought out, and in their nature they are the more enduring ;—this is as certain as that there is a God who hath made heaven and earth. And to restrain evil principles, that they may not be left to their own operation; and on the other hand by every means of aid and encouragement, to foster good principles, and bring them fairly into action, is one of the main ends of civilized society, and ought ever to be one of its first objects. In large cities, and more especially in the metropolis, there is much to be done which cannot be accomplished without parliamentary assistance; but throughout the country the means of lessening the quantity of misery by removing some of the causes and most of the occasions of vice, are in our own hands. Hercules will help us, if we put our shoulders to the wheel.

To work the same reformation in the metropolis, indeed, is a task that might dismay Hercules himself,—a huge Augean stable, which whole Thames hath not water enough to cleanse! Yet the greater the evil, the more urgent is the necessity and duty of setting about the great business of removing it as far as we may. The points to be considered are, in what manner we may hope to effect the greatest alleviation of human misery, to mitigate the sufferings of the poor, to amend their morals, and to redress their wrongs. Let no man think the expression is overcharged. If any buman creatures, born in the midst of a highly civilized country, are yet, by the circumstances of their birth and breeding, placed in a worse condition both as physical and moral beings, than they would have been had they been born among the savages of America or Australia, the society in which they live has not done its duty towards them : they are aggrieved by the established system of things, being made amenable to its laws, and having received none of its benefits: till this be rectified, the scheme of polity is incomplete,--and while it exists to any extent, as it notoriously does exist at this time, in this country, the foundation of social order is insecure. The sagacious Berkeley asked long since, whether the lowest of the people are not to be regarded as the extremities and capillaries of the political body, and whether, although the capillary vessels are small, yet obstructions there do not produce great chronical diseases ? 'Give us funds,' said Mr. Walmsley to the Committee on the

Education

sure,

Education of the Lower Orders; • Give us funds, and I will undertake to say, that in three years there shall not be a child in the metropolis to whom the benefits of education shall not be offered.' What then

may

be the amount of the funds necessary for this great purpose, taking the number of children who are at present destitute of these benefits, as stated by the committee, at 130,000? One master in the school upon the Madras system is fully competent to the superintendance of one thousand children. Suppose the annual expense of each school to be £200, which is making a liberal allowance for the inaster or mistress, (persons whom it would be miserable economy to under-pay,) the yearly sum required for educating every poor child in London would amount to £26,000. If it were necessary to raise that sum by a specific tax, is there man or woman throughout England upon whom it might be levied that would not cheerfully pay the assessment for this specific purpose? Against such a grant there would be no dissenting voice, not even from the most rigid economists, not even from the most acrimonious

opposer's

of
every

ministerial meaIn a few years it might be reasonably expected that a sum equal to the annual charge would be saved in the expenses of criminal justice; it is even more than likely that there might appear a positive saving to the state.

We spare neither expense nor pains,” says Lord Sheffield, 'to meliorate the bread of our cattle of every sort; surely it would be a nobler object, and worthy of our utmost diligence, to meliorate, by education when young, the character of the most depraved of our own species. At present, a great part of all the rent of the land is employed in rearing the offspring of improvidence and vice;' -it may be added, and in rearing them to be as improvident and as vicious as their parents. But the remedy is obvious—Dr. Bell's discovery for the multiplication of power and division of labour, in the great business of education, has been so timed, that it may hereafter be appealed to as one among the many impressive facts which prove that as new circumstances of society occasion new wants, provision is always made for them in the order of Divine Providence. Schools might be established throughout the whole kingdom upon his system, with the utmost economy. Nor is there any difficulty vow in forming arrangements, nor any hazard of delay, and loss from inexperience. The mechanism is ready, tried, proved, and perfect. There exists a society under whose auspices it may immediately be put in action with an absolute certainty of success ; and the benevolent inventor, never weary in well doing,

able to direct the machine, and see the consummation of his long labours,--the reward and final triumph of his most disinterested and honourable life. It has not unfrequently been observed that

is yet

6

minds which have laboured under long derangement have had an interval of sanity vouchsafed them before death, the bodily disease whereby reason was overpowered disappearing as the bodily powers gave way. If the education of the poor be provided for without delay, upon a national establishment, the well known wish of our Sovereign may so soon be accomplished, -that he may possibly yet live to understand its accomplishment, and bless God before he dies. Truly may it be said of that statesman, whoever he may be, by whom this great object shall be carried into effect,

Beato è ben chi nasce a tal destino.' A national establishment of such schools might be made serviceable in another way, by licensing the school-room for a place of worship,—as is done at the central school of the National Society in Baldwin's Gardens. It has been forcibly said by Sir Thomas Bernard, that it is mere mockery to give the name of accommodation to the space which is left for the poor in the aisles of our churches in London and Westminster,'—an accommodation, as he elsewhere observes, improper, indecent, and unfit for the sacred and solemn service thus attended, and such as, even if decent in itself, would not be adequate to the admission of one hundredth part of those who ought to have seats in their own parish church.'

When, therefore, we spoke of the wrongs of the poor, the word was neither lightly nor unwarrantably used. It is said among the precious fragments of King Edward, that when prayers had been with good consideration set forth, the people must continually be allured to hear them ;'-instead of this, a great proportion are actually excluded, for all the churches in the metropolis, with all the private chapels and conventicles of every description added to them, are not sufficient to accommodate a fourth part of the inhabitants, upon the present system of conducting public worship. This great evil has at length been taken into consideration by the legislature, but in aid of the legislative measures which have been so properly provided, it is evident that a considerable diminution of it may be effected by licensing the proposed school-rooms, and it might perhaps be advisable that some regard should be had to this con deration in their dimension and structure.

Supposing that government should take those comprehensive measures for educating the poor, which they are called upon by every motive of duty and policy * to delay no longer, there appear only two obstacles to be overcome. A great number of the children belong to Irish parents, and perhaps the futility of attempting to conciliate religious differences by courting with concessions those whom it is hoped to soothe, was never more completely evinced than by the evidence which has been given concerning the Irish Free Schools in St. Giles's. These schools were founded by the exertions of Mr. Ivimey, a distinguished ininister among the Baptists, a body of Christians having among their ministers both at home and in the East, men of such true zeal, piety, erudition, and eloquence, that they may justly be considered as doing honour not to their own denomination only, but to their age, their

only If any, says Sir Henry Wotton, shall think education (because it is conversant about children) to be but a private and domestic duty, he will run some dauger, in my opinion, to have been ignorantly bred himself. Certain it is, that anciently the best composed estates did commit this care niore to the magistrate than to the parent ;-and certain likewise, that the best authors have choseu rather to handle it in their politics than in their economics, -as both writers and rulers well knowing what a stream and

influence

country, and their Christian profession. The schools were established upon what is called the liberal principle of introducing no creed, catechism, or confession of faith,—and the children were left to attend such places of worship as their parents might profess, and to be instructed in their peculiar modes of worship by their own clergy. What has been the effect? The Bible is used in the schools, and the Roman Catholic clergymen will not allow this.

* The parents,' says the inaster of the school, entirely approve of it, and wish their children to be taught to read the Scriptures; but the Catholic priests oppose it, and threaten the parents to deprive them of their religious privileges, if they suffer them to read the Scriptures ;and they have done so in many instances. The violence of the priests is incessant—they go from room to room, endeavouring to persuade the parents not to send heir children. As soon as the plan an design of the schools were made known, their opposition immediately commenced. One of the priests entered the school room, and demanded permission to teach the Roman Catholic catechism in the school. This was objected to. The Sunday following he preached against the schools, addressing a Roman Catholic congregation, and the effect of the sermon, says the master in his evidence before the Committee, was, the windows of the school house were broken, my wife and I pelted with mud, and a few days after my child so beaten as to become a cripple, and remain so to this day. The usual epithet whereby we are designated is, the Protestant Bible * School, as a term of reproach.'

If

influence it hath uuto government.—That which must knit and consolidate all the rest, is the timely instilling of conscientious principles and seeds of religion.'

* The Roman Catholics in London have an Association for Sunday Schools,--and the reader may be edified by the title under which it has been instituted, and by soine of its rules. It is called, " A Spiritual Association in honour of the Most Holy Trinity, and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the Relief of Souls in Purgatory, and Instruction of the Ignorant.'

* All monies acquired by this Charity, from subscriptions or otherwise, shall be destined to provide that the holy sacrifice of the Mass be offered for the intentious of the Society, and for the support of the School.

At the death of any member, Mass shall he said three times for the repose of his (or ber) soul : Masses shall be said every month for the deceased members of this soda

« PreviousContinue »