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Scripture, real or fictitious, which, instilled into the tender minds of children, is likely to grow into a stout conservatism,) has been made to rise into this great flame. Who that has any knowledge of England can doubt the intimate connection of the Athanasian Creed and the Thirty-nine Articles with the anti-reforming spirit ? The Schooling which the poor children are likely to obtain in exchange for being submitted by their parents to the mental distortion which is meant by Bible and Religion, will hardly in any case prove to be a compensation for the loss which the country at large will sustain from their early-imbibed prejudices. Many a humble individual who, now deluded by the sounds of Religion and Bible, thinks he is doing his duty in putting his child under the full influence of bigotry, both religious and political, would look for better instructors, if he was made to understand the true sense in which it may be said that Religion is the only sound basis of edu. cation. It would not be difficult to make all honest men perceive, that doctrines so variously and perseveringly opposed by a vast variety of persons who sincerely call themselves Christians, as are those which the Established Clergy wish to make the foundation of all knowledge, might possibly be true, but cannot be rationally supposed to be intended in the order of Providence, to be imparted as first principles in the process of education. It would be easy to give currency among such honest, though uneducated minds, to the important truth which is disfigured into the false principle for which the clergy contend-namely, that the foundation of all good education should be the nurturing of the Conscience, by a habitual acknowledgment of the supremacy of that light of God in Man, and by a practical employment of the Will in avoiding and opposing, from the
dawn of reason, every animal and selfish tendency which can obscure that divine light within us. This is the Religion without which all instruction,-as conveying power, may ultimately become mischievous.
July 24. I am apt to be transiently angry at some of those national peculiarities which Englishmen, in the plenitude of their political power, are apt to boast of, though they cannot defend them upon any rational ground. Yet, though not a British subject by birth, I am conscious of a loyalty and affection to the State at large, which, if any one designed deeply to wound me, he would have only to question. The truth is, that strangers, real aliens, do not feel any such fits of dissatisfaction at faults, real or conceived, which do not concern themselves. It requires a high degree of identification to be provoked at the indulged peculiarities of those whom we do not totally dislike. In my case, naturalization is so intimate and real, that I forget the reproach with which I may be met, and, finding myself quite at home, I grumble like one of the family, and love it all along as much as the nearest of blood themselves.
Well, then, I now feel at liberty to quarrel with the absurd boast, that Englishmen are a practical people. If this too often repeated expression were employed as a caution against an excessive tendency to avoid the labour of taking in comprehensive views, the repetition would be worthy of the highest praise ; but truth forces me to acknowledge that long experience and observation have taught me to take those well known words as the ultimatum of the Will when resolved not to yield to Reason. It is in that sense that the favourite English evasion of argument tries my patience considerably. Happily, for England and the great portion of mankind upon whom she exercises a direct or indirect influence of the deepest importance, Reason (which in practical things is Justice) has more power on the English people than they are ready to acknowledge in their practical fits of obstinacy. Witness the Slave Trade, Poor Laws, and Parliamentary Reform. What, in all cases whatever, is required is, (to use the very expressive, familiar language of the great Mr. Fox,) “ a vast deal of soaking.”
I wish therefore that the friends of Reform would begin that long process, in respect to education, by proclaiming in the hearing of the country at large, that however ready they may be practically to yield to the present state of feel. ing (for opinion it can hardly be called) respecting what bears the name of religious education, they must do it under an explicit protest against the hierarchical principle which claims the minds of children, as things to be shaped and moulded according to some theological model. I have raised my feeble voice for the mental rights of children, but who is likely to give it a hearing? The reasons, however, which I have stated incidentally, in my little work on Reli. gious Libel, appear to me of that peculiar kind which at first fail to produce an impression, because they are too self-evident. They remain unanswered, indeed, but they remain also perfectly inactive. My ardent wish is, that the lovers of truth and mental freedom, whose circumstances enable them to address the country so as to be listened to, bring the mental rights of infants over and over again to the consideration of the people. At first they will be treated as infidels, atheists—Radical visionaries at the best. They will have to endure the worst of inflictions—that of solemn absurdity. They will hear that the first right of children is to be taught divine Truth, and they will hardly be treated with common civility when they bring forward the obvious remark, that the authoritative communication of divine Truth by the parents, or by the teacher of their choice, would be just, if every one could be sure that he had that Truth in his possession, Here the answer, “We are a practical people,” will close the discussion for that time. But the unquestionable fact of the mutual accusations of error, by all denominations, concerning religious matters, should be forced daily upon these practical men: they should be made to remember that facts belong to practice. Their eyes should be constantly forced upon the quarrels of Divines ; and when they reply (as I am sure they will) that in spite of such dissensions there is a Divine Truth in actual existence, they must, by repetition, be gradually brought to the consciousness within themselves, for the fact that religious questions turn exclusively upon the impressions which that objective Divine Truth makes upon each individual. But I need not repeat what I have already published in print. I wish the friends of education would take this important, this truly fundamental point into consideration-Whether infants have, or have not, natural mental rights, which it is the duty of all parents to respect : Whether, on the mere authority of the parents, and in total disregard of the almost infinite multitude of chances which error has above truth, if that plan be followed, the power of future individual choice,-a choice unprejudiced and impartial,--should be taken away from the children to the utmost of the parents' power ?—This is a question of mighty import; as long as education proceeds as it is promoted at present, I cannot look upon it otherwise than as a
system of mental slavery, a spiritual kidnapping exercised by the members of the various hierarchies or priesthoods which unfortunately divide this country, and angrily tolerate each other. The Irish system itself—superior as it unquestionably is to the exclusively Protestant schooling-appears to me like a national establishment for Gymnastics, where every parent should be invited to select a person who, according to the most various and opposite fancies, should twist, compress, and even mutilate the limbs, which the system was intended to develop and invigorate.
I have not strength to enter into any details. Unless you take the trouble to enlarge and apply my hints, my Sunday scribbling will have no other effect but that of shortening the length of the involuntary Sabbath to which my body, though not my mind, is condemned. The latter is, thank heaven, still active enough to laugh at Sir A. A. and his party.
July 31, 1836. My dear Friend, I am this moment come back from your chapel, where, however, I missed you. Yet in spite of what, without disparagement to others who may supply your place, is always a disappointment to me, I am become so incorporated and associated with your congregation that, though unacquainted with most of those who compose it, I always return with that feeling of satisfaction which arises from having met one's friends. It does me good to see the faces with which I am now familiar; and I bring back a secret assurance that I have been in company with a considerable number of kind-hearted, benevolent, and upright people, who have a