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ON THE EXPEDIENCY OF A LEGISLATIVE PROVISION FOR

THE EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE.*

Some worthy persons, how deeply soever they may be impressed with the importance of universal Education, are disposed to question the expediency of Government interfering with the instruction of the people, and that on two grounds :- They are suspicious of Government, and afraid of entrusting it with so powerful an engine of authority and influence; and they rely upon the general maxim of modern policy, which prescribes the rule of leaving the concerns of the people as much as possible to their own care. Now, we conceive that both these objections to a system of National Instruction, countenanced and supported by the State, are founded upon most fallacious grounds—and we shall take them in their order.

1. Admitting that a superintendence of the education of youth were likely to give the Government some increase of influence, it would by no means follow that this price was not a cheap one for the benefit purchased, unless it were shown that any other means existed of securing the same benefit; and this consideration belongs to the other head of the argument. established religion and endowed church certainly arms the civil magistrate with no small power-a power wholly foreign to the purposes of supporting a hierarchy, and only arising incidentally out of the means necessary for accomplishing those purposes. The expediency of such an establishment has accordingly been denied by many, who had never witnessed, or bot duly reflected upon the numberless evils of unlimited fanaticism, and the great risks of the people receiving no religious instruction, or at least such instruction as could hardly lead to any religious improvement, were they left entirely to the tuition of their own stipendiaries, at all seasons of private and of public fortune. But no man has ever denied the advantages, nay the necessity, of providing for the administration of justice; and yet it may safely be affirmed, ihat the Judicial establishment of a State, in the present liberal-minded age, furnishes as much of what Mr. Bentham terms the Matter of Influence lo its government, as the hierarchy itself: for we believe that Lawyers have, in most enlightened countries, succeeded to no little portion of the sway once enjoyed by their predecessors, the Priests. But there is another and a most important circumstance to be taken into consideration. Not only may checks be devised which shall control the interference of the Government, and confine its operation within certain limits; but the principal portion of the influence thus acquired is over the minds of children, whose ripened understandings will easily shake it off, is indeed time does not silently efface its impression : and above all, it is never to be forgotten, thal the natural effect of the system is to increase, beyond all calculation, the power and energy of the people generally, and especially to furnish, in each individual instance, the very antidote most adapted to counteract any tendency which the mode of tuition might have unfriendly to perfect independence. All considerations of patronage being put out of view for the present, because means may be devised of removing any such dangers, it seems obvious, on the one hand, that no very great harm can resul! from the Government, or the establishment connected with it, generally superintending the manner in which the first rudiments of learning shall be conveyed to children; and,

• The New Plan of Education for E: gland. -Vul. xxxiv. page 220. August, 1820.

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on the other, that the progress of popular improvement will, by the great and certain supply of instruction thus obtained, be so accelerated as indirectly to counteract a far greater weight than can ever be gained by Government through the direct operation of such a cause. Let the people but read and write and cipher, and they must think for themselves : and it would, in our humble opinion, be quite as unreasonable to complain of the power which the superintendence of their education may give to their rulers, as to be alarmed at the chance of their knowledge leading them into habils of insubordination. Such fears on the part of the Governors have now happily been removed. It will argue very little for the good sense of the governed, if any considerable porlion of them fall a victim

to the opposite alarm, and still less for their candour, if they make an outcry of this description without really feeling the alarm.

2.' The other objection to Government interfering rests upon a plain misconception or perversion of the principle which it professes to proceed from. Nor are similar errors at all uncommon among shallow and half-read economists, in dealing with that principle. It is indeed one of the evils which have flowed from its great simplicity and easy application. Before the lime when the science of political economy was purified and simplified by the labours of the French theorists and of our contrymen Hume and Smith, considerable stock of learning, and a great familiarity with details, was required to set up as a political speculator. When the change took place, which was found mainly to consist in rejecting the officious interference of the Government wilh men's private concerns as useless, or repudiating it as pernicious, every sciolist who had turned over a few pages of the great works where this principle is unfolded with infinite practical knowledge and much nice limitation and qualification, thought he was at once master of the whole science, and could settle all questions belonging to it, by merely saying, if a Frenchman, Laissez-faire-and is an Englishman, Leave things to them. selves. How many persons have we heard thus disposing of all nice malters of national polity by crying out, Adam Smith, and adding, things will find their level-persons who had no knowledge of things, and hardly knew what level meant !

But the same error has pervaded men considerably above this description of shallow talkers. The first province and proper office of the doctrine in question has not been sufficiently regarded; still less has it been observed with what material guards and modifications its original patrons always promulgated it. This principle originally was never meant to extend further than to the laws by which capital is distributed and accumulated. Its import

that every man being the best judge of his own interest, and that interest being necessarily the same with the interest of the community, as far as the augmentation of national wealth is concerned, the State ought to leave the employment of his industry, skill, and capital, as much as possible, to himself, both because he has a right to choose for himself in this respect, and because he will in general make a far better choice for himsell, that is, also for the state, than the state can make for him. But neither Adam Smith, por any one else whose authority is worth mentioning, ever dreaml of prescribing the same neutrality and abstinence to the Government upon all matters of public concernment. On the contrary, they all admitted very ample heads of exception, even to the application of the rule as far as regards capital itself. Smith, as is well known, went so far as to approve of the Usury laws, although Bentham has since most satisfactorily erased this chapter from the catalogue of excepted cases; but the Navigation Law of England, and indeed of Holland, has never been allowed to be absolutely founded on false principles, although it be by far the widest deviation from the general rule ever made, and in a matter of the greatest importance. The excuse given for it by Dr. Smith seems still to be admitted, that there are other things which deserve our care beside the increase of wealth, and that defence is more important than riches. This seems to satisfy men's minds that the Navigation Law was beneficial at the time, although unquestionably we have adhered to it long after it had ceased to do any thing but mischief in every way.

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But who ever dreamt of carrying the principle so far as the persons do with whom we are at present contending? They might as well talk of leaving the settlement of disputes between individuals lo the private settlement, the domestic forum, of arbitration. They might contend that the demand for justice, like every thing else, would produce a sufficient supply of the article; that all the useless machinery of civil courts might thus be dispensed with, its attendant patronage taken from the government, and its heavy expense saved to the people; and that the only necessary interference here would be, by compulsory process, to compel appearance and execution. Then, why the crowds of lawyers that blacken the gates of Themis's temples ? Why degrees in the Civil, and Canon, and Common law? Why not let every man conduct causes before the arbitrators--as there is no fear of suitors employing bad counsel, any more than unskilful and unjust referees.

An hundred such instances might be added : but upon this matter of education let Adam Smith be heard for himself. In his Fifth Book, he expressly devotes one Part of the three into which the Chapter upon the Expenses of the State is divided, to the subject of Public Works and Institutions; the other two discuss the defence of the nation and administration of justice; and of the third Part, one article, and a very leading one, is, “Of the Expense of Institutions for the Education of Youth." In handling this subject, he displays great learning, and his accustomed sound sense.

He shows very clearly how the work of education has often been marred by the mismanagement of the Government, and how many branches of learning might be better taught by private encouragement. But this remark is only applicable to those accomplishments for which the wealthy furnish the chief demand. He never for a moment supposes that the poor could be expected either to seek or to find the means of instruction in the mere elements of knowledge, without any aid from the State. Nay, he goes farther, and proposes that a national education should not only be provided by the State, but that means should be taken for compelling the people to take advantage of it. "For a very small expense, (says he,) the public can facilitate-can encourageand can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education (namely reading, writing, and accounts).-Wealth of Nations, Book V. Chap. I. Part 3. Art. 2. He then recommends the means which he thinks best adapted to these ends; the establishment of parochial schools, with part of the expenses paid by the public, and part by the scholars; and the exclusion of such as cannot read and write and cipher from corporate rights, and "the freedom of setting up any trade either in a village or town corporate.” We question, after this, if the authority of Adam Smith will be with much confidence appealed to a second time upon the present occa on.

But it will be said, that authority ought not to usurp the place of reason; and the opinion of Smith may be combated, by his more rigid followers affirming that they preserve the faith in more absolute purity, nay, that they correct the backslidings of the master, and are destined to be the Benthams of this chapter, for the purpose of making him throughout consistent with himself. We fear this is not precisely the destiny to which they are called ; for reason seems to put them down quite as triumphantly as authority. The principle of non interference-of leaving things to themselvesapplies not to the case of education, unless where the thing to be taught can be learnt in private, or by a very small number of pupils; that is to say, unless the question regards only the education of the rich. The moment a numerous school is required, the principle fails ; and fails more or less completely in proportion as the district is less or more populous. No man thinks that every farmer or tradesman, still less every poor labourer or mechanic, can have a private tutor for his children. To be taught at all, they must go to a school, where so many children attend, that each can be taken at a low rate of school wages, fees, or quarter-pence. In populous places, it may not be difficult to find masters who will make a trade in opening such schools for profit; but in villages or country districts, where the whole neighbourhood afford no more than twenty or thirty children, how is such a thing to be expected ? Sixpence a week is a high price for such a school ; it is more than the original price of the High School of Edinburgh, where the persons of the highest rank in Scotland educate their children in Latin, Greek, and Geography. Yet that high rate of quarter-pence would not maintain a master of a decent description in such a situation as we are supposing. It would take twice as much. Yet thirty children of the years for going to school, exclusive of nine or ten whose parents may prefer educating them at home, and especially girls, answers to a population of above four hundred inhabitants ; — and it is needless to say how many districts there are in England and Wales where not above four hundred persons live. If, however, we suppose a moderate rate of quarter-pence only to be paid, then the lowest number of inhabitants who could afford to maintain a school must be above 800; and this in about the average population of the parishes all England over, including cities and towns, as well as country districts and villages. Supposing, again, that we separate the parishes into two classes, those of cities or great towns, and country ones; we can reckon the average of the latter at lille more than 600—which is evidently far too thin a population to maintain a school, by trusting to the voluntary supply following the demand.

This seems to sellle the n.atter as to country districts; but even in the towns, where the poor might more easily supply themselves with education, a difficulty occurs well deserving of attention. The supply of articles of prime necessity, in every country, maysafely be left to be regulated by the demand; and there is no risk of any class of persons being long in want of shem who can afford to pay a fair price for the acquisition; because all pretty nearly stand equally in need of them. But it is far otherwise with educa tion. The poor are apt to undervalue it, or at least to postpone it to more sensible objects; and if there are many, or even several, persons in any district who seek it not, their negligence puts it out of the reach of those who desire it, because it reduces the number of scholars below that which can maintain a master. It would, indeed, be a fair position lo lay down, that the whole of the poor, in any country, care considerably less for instruction than they ought; and that their wish for it is never strong and steady enough to command a regular and secure supply. Bad times come, and the quarter-pence are grudged; the school is broke up. The distress passes away, and the poor next year are anxious for instruction : but a long time must now elapse before another school will be ventured upon in that quarter where it had so lately failed. From a consideration of this circumstance, it seems reasonable to conclude that they are right who maintain the principle of bringing education to the door as it were of the poor mæn, both in towns and country districts, by extraordinary encouragements to the establishment of schools, which requires a certain zeal and a certain combination to effect it, and may therefore most strictly be placed on the same footing with the erection of public works.

The evidence contained in the Digest signally confirms this view of the subject in every particular. It may be seen, no doubt, that the average number of children attending the unendowed Day schools (exclusive of Dame schools) is only thirty-one; but then the Tables also show ihat a considerable proportion of ihese are educated by charitable contributions. Indeed, of the 478,000 children educated at unendowed Day schools, 168,000 are maintained by subscription or other charity. Almost the whole of the Sunday schools, too, are free schools; and of the 165,000 educated at endowed schools, only about 20,000 pay quarter-pence. It thus appears, that nearly all the Sunday schools, and one half of the Day schools, in England are supported by charily.

But another ground is taken upon this point by the objectors. Seeing the impossibility of trusting to the poor themselves, they tell us, nevertheless, that we may trust to private beneficence. But this is a most fallacious argument, and is liable to be refuted by the very considerations to which its supporters appeal. The exertions which charitable persons have made in England for promoting education, as well as for all other benevolent purposes, are far above our praise. Nevertheless, such efforts must have their limits; and we suspect those limits have of lale years been reached. The fact that the British and Foreign School Society never has, at any time, had an income of 1,5001. a-year, even on paper, speaks volumes on this head. It is equally true, that the more individuals have exerted themselves in such efforts, the more likely they are now to be exhausted; and it is a known truth, that the difficulty of obtaining subscriptions for new charities has of late become almost insurmountable. Besides, such resources are fluctuating and uncertain in their nature; and nothing can be more obvious than that such a variable supply is ill adapted to meet a demand which either is or ought to be made constant and regular. The charitable labours of good and enlightened men, for educating the poor, are necessarily confined to populous places. There only can great meetings be held, and large contributions obtained. Accordingly, we find that the two great Socielies for promoting Education, the National, and the British and Foreign School Society, only plant schools upon the new plan; and this plan, from ils nature, must be conaned to towns of considerable size. We are aware that mere private munificence has furnished many supplies to the same good cause; but that is a still more uncertain supply. Alms may be asked ; and Therefore there is far beller ground for trusting to individual charity for supporting the poor. But how long would it take before individuals should belhink them of planting schools for the thousands of poor children who have now no means of instruction ? Let it be recollected, 100, that private eharily is not always very judiciously bestowed. A desire to do too much for a few children is far more prevalent among the humane than a wișe dis

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