ePub 版

christianity inculcates : which, while it teachés, the children of the poor to read, at the same time unfolds those principles of truth, and justice, and piety, by which their early habits are formed, and their future life is to be guided. Much, indeed, has been said às to the abuse to which general education is liable,

that it puts it in the power of the poor to read books impúre and pernicious, and as they have not the judgement to choose what is good, so they ought not to have an opportunity of contaminating their minds with that which is bad. But those who make this remark should recollect that there is no blessing but what may be misapplied, no power but what may be perverted, no good without some mixture of evil : besides, if the objection has any force when applied to the case of the poor, why may it not have some validity when adduced to shew the dangerous tendency of education even in the rich. Has an Almighty Provi. dence distinguished the latter from the former by a marked superiority of mental endowment, by any greater perspicacity of judgement, by any livelier susceptibility of virtuous emotion, or by any stronger aptitude for the attainment: of moral excellence. It has, no doubt, in the one case more liberally than in the other, be. stowed the external means of becoming wise,

and learned, and happy; but the gifts of nature are not like those of fortune ; her bounty is distributed with an impartial hand; and the cottage or the cabin may contain as much native genius and virtue, as the splendid mansion, or the academic halls of the College.

Full many a gem, of purest ray serene,

The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear ;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And wąste its sweetness on the desert air.

[ocr errors]

But it is not true that the poor when capable. of reading prefer in general pernicious to useful books. When their education has been tolerably well directed, they discover a much stronger inclination to procure such as contain useful information,-as inculcate the principles of piety and virtue. Let us in this case, as in every other, where it is in our power, appeal to observation. In Scotland, where all the people can read, are their morals injured by their capability of perusing improper books? In what other country in the whole world is education so general, and where is the country that can bear any comparison as to sobriety, and industry, and national virtue? Here, even the beggar is ashamed if he be unable to read that book which affords the most endearing consolations, and hopes, and enjoyments alike

to the rich and the poor ;-if he be unable to inform his offspring from the sacred pages of their duties and their destiny, and remind them of the holy perfections of that awful Being whom they are ever to fear, whose favour is life, and whose final approbation is, amid all the pressures of poverty and want, to be the object of their constant solicitude and prayer. Compare this lovely picture with the poverty, ignorance, and vice of the peasantry of Ireland. There, reading cannot possibly injure the morals, since there are few who can read ; and yet, the enemies of education, so far from discovering any superior innocency of manners, will find the perpetration of crimes much more frequent, because the moral feelings are perverted by the deadly influence of a baneful superstition.—The truth is, reading is the chief security of the poor against moral, political, and religious error. The contamination is always in their way; is it not proper, then, to provide an antidote?

It were, indeed, singular if the diffusion of the best of all knowledge had any other tendency than the advancement of the best of all objects. Have the thousands, whom the be.' nevolent exertions of Lancaster have extricated from ignorance and vice, and to whom he has imparted the art of reading, been rendered less

attentive by their education to the duties of life, less obedient to existing authorities, less useful, or contented, or virtuous ? On the contrary, have they not been rendered better. men, better members of Society; not one of them has hitherto been accused of any crime. This is a proud and imperishable testimony to the incalculable advantage of early instruction,

to the excellencies of his system who has consecrated his talents to the noble office of consoling, instructing, and reforming the poor and the forgotten.--If, then, it be the duty of rulers to prevent guilt rather than to punish it, to make the people obedient from choice rather than from constraint, by persuasion rather than by power, the obligation of affording the means of instruction to all the children of the state becomes palpably evident, and awefully imperious. Indeed, there seems to be no small degree of infatuation in leaving the minds of that class of the community on which the strength and improvement of every nation chiefly depends, altogether untutored, exposed to the casual associations and impressions of those circumstances to which their destiny has confined them, and of permitting them thus to become the dupes of seditious and designing men to become the fitter instruments for the perpetration of those crimes which

sometimes overturn established governments, and obstruct or destroy the happiness of civilised society. A national system of education, the best means for an extensive diffusion of knowledge, has a tendency to prevent the oco currence of these evils; since it is necessarily subservient to the advancement of order, virtue, and happiness.

..66 These are not the times in which it is 6 safe for a nation to repose on the lap of 6 ignorance. If there ever were a season, when 66 public tranquillity was ensured by the absence 6c of knowledge, that season is past. The 6 convulsed state of the world will not permit “ unthinking stupidity to sleep, without being “ appalled by phantoms, and shaken by terrors, " to which reason, which defines her objects, “ and limits her apprehensions, by the reality “ of things, is a stranger. Every thing in the « condition of mankind, announces the approach 6 of some great crisis, for which nothing can “ prepare us but the diffusion of knowledge,

probity, and the fear of the Lord. While 6 the world is impelled with such violence in “ opposite directions; while a spirit of giddi“ ness and revolt is shed upon the nations, “ and the seeds of mutation so thickly sown; “ the improvement of the mass of the people s will be our grand security, in the neglect of

« 上一頁繼續 »