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serious and useful meditation. I have heard popular preachers amongst the Methodists avail themselves of these occasions with very powerful effect. It must be acknowledged that they frequently transgress the limits of decorum and propriety, and that these transgressions wound the modesty of a cultivated ear. But the method itself is not to be blamed. Under the correction of a sounder judgment it might be rendered rery beneficial. Perhaps, as hath been already intimated, the safest way is, not to refer to these incidents by any direct allusion, but merely to discourse at the time upon subjects which are allied to and connected with them.
The sum of what I have been recommending amounts to this; that we consider diligently the probable effects of our discourses, upon the particular characters and dispositions of those who are to hear them, but that we apply this consideration solely to the choice of truths, by no means to the admission of falsehood or insincerity;* secondly, that we endeavour to profit by circumstances, that is, to assist, not the reasoning, but the efficacy of our discourses, by an opportune and skilful use of the service of the church, the season of the year, and of all such occurrences and situations as are capable of receiving a religious turn, and such as, being yet recent in the memory of our hearers, may dispose their minds for the admission and influence of salutary reflections.
My reverend brethren, I am sensible that the discourse with which I have now detained you is not of that kind which is usually delivered at a chancellor's visitation. But since, by the favor of that excellent prelate, who by me must long be remembered with gratitude and affection, I hold another public station in the diocese, I embrace the only opportunity afforded me of submitting to you that species of counsel and exhortation, which, with more propriety perhaps, you would have received from me in the character of your archdeacon, is the functions of that office had remained entire.
This distinction fixes the limits of exoteric doctrine, as far as any thing called by that name is allowable to a christian teacher.
The absence of your chancellor from the kingdom upon a mission connected with the interests of learning and with religious inquiry, and for this reason excused by his diocesan, as I hope it will be thought excusable by you, has led me to supply his place upon the present occasion.
I know of no late alteration in our ecclesiastical laws, or in the state of the church, which requires to be noticed; but I think that there is a new and growing opinion, which, if it should come to prevail in the public mind, would be injurious, not only to the ends proposed by the establishment of a national church, but to the general improvement of civilized life; and that opinion is, that it is not for the advantage or safety of the state that the children of the poor should receive any kind of education, or be even taught to read. This opinion I have found by experience to have been taken up of late, not as a pretence to fence off from subscribing to Sunday or charity schools, not merely as a doubt thrown out at random, but advanced politically as a grave proposition. Did I believe that there were any just foundation for this opinion, I can only say that I should lament it most extremely ; because it is in the highest degree both dishonorable to human reason, and disparaging to the institutions of social life; it, in fact, insinuates that the bulk of mankind can only be governed by the suppression and debasement of their intellectual faculties; and it likewise insinuates that the institutions of civil life rest for their support upon the ignorance of the greatest part of those who live under them. Both these opinions I believe to be false ; and yet they are both implied in the doctrine of those who would alarm us with the danger of instructing the poor. It has been said, that when the poor are once taught to read, bad books may be put into their hands; to which it might be sufficient to give the answer which has often been given, namely, that not only liability, but proneness to abuse, adheres to every faculty, to every attainment, to every energy of our nature. But in the case before us, a more particular answer may be returned to the objection; which is this. Let parents and masters be what they will, they always wish to have their children and servants good. I think that this admits of lew exceptions; consequently the books which come into the hands of young persons, so long as they are under the superintendence of others, will generally be of a kind favorable to virtue; and these are the books which influence the disposition, because this is the time of life when deep and strong impressions are made.
In after life, bad books can always be met by good ones. If we should concede to the adversaries of education the superior activity of those who circulate noxious writings to that of those who wish to diffuse wholesome knowledge, or the avidity and relish with which one sort are received more than the other, the consequence would only be diversity of sentiment ; and this is agreeable to experience. When men read and think, diversity of opinion ensues, more perhaps than might be desired. Where men neither read nor reason, there is little diversity of opinion at all. Now what I contend for, is, that amidst diversity of opinion, though it be an evil, public authority can support and maintain itself. The ascendancy which necessarily belongs to it, added to the reasons which strike every man in favor of order and tranquillity, will usually confer upoti it strength sufficient to meet the difficulties which arise from diversity of sentiment. I have said that where the bulk of the common people are kept in profound ignorance, there is seldom much diversity of sentiment amongst them; whilst, therefore, government continues in possession of this sentiment, all is well. But how if this sentiment take an opposite direction? how if it set in against the order of things which is established? It then actuates the whole mass, and that mass moves with a force which can bardly be encountered. This is the case of most real danger, and this is a case most likely to arise where the common people are in a state of the greatest ignorance.
It has been alleged as another objection, that any intellectual attainment which others have not, though it were only the being able to read, indisposes the person who is conscious of it for bodily labor, for submission, for the offices which the poor are required to perform. The answer is, that were there any truth in the observation, of which I doubt extremely, it would form an objection, not to the instruction of the poor, but to the imperfectness and partiality with which that instruction is communicated. I should be glad to see the day when every child in the kingdom was taught to read; and then, besides other advantages, there would be an end of the pretence for this objection.
I know not whether the opinion we are considering may not have arisen from the extraordinary events which have taken place in the age in which we live; but I am convinced that these events lead to a conclusion the very opposite of that which is thus drawn from them. The transactions nearest to us and the freshest in our memory, are those of our sister kingdom. And what do they teach us? If ignorance could have secured the quiet of a country, Ireland had remained at rest; for in no country of Europe were the poor in a state of lower degradation, or under a more complete absence of every species of rational education. The friends of public order in that kingdom bewailed this circumstance, both as the source of the calamities which they endured, and as rendering the evil almost impossible to be remedied. When the people were once deluded, the delusion was incurable ; such was their ignorance, that they were not only liable to be practised upon by the grossest impositions, but there was no way of setting them right; no approach could be made, no access could be gained to their understanding ; no argument could be addressed to them but at the point of the bayonet. Let the case of Ireland, therefore, stand for ever as a warning against the system of ignorance.
The convulsions in France did not arise from any care that was taken to teach the poor. I believe that in no civilized country, Ireland perhaps excepted, was the education of the poor more neglected. The genius of the religion tended to interdict reading and books to the common people, and the ancient government did not counteract that tendency. We have seen the consequence. A sentiment hostile to the established government spread amongst the people, and that happened, which we have already said will happen under like circumstances, when they did move, they moved in a mass. Here, therefore, is a second instance against the system of ignorance.
The ignorant system has for ages been the principle of the Turkish government; so much so, as till within a very few years, to forbid the introduction into their dominions of the art of printing. Yet the countries subject to that government have, more than any others with which we are acquainted, been the scenes of insurrection and disturbance. This, therefore, though not properly a modern, is another and a third strong instance against the system of ignorance.
I do not compare our country with foreign nations; but if we may compare one part of the island with another, it is understood, I believe, that there is no part in which reading is so universal as in Scotland ; yet I never heard that any danger arose from thence to government, or any loss of public industry in the various branches of manufactures which are carried on in that country.
Reading, also, is much more general in the northern than
the southern parts of the island. Has any inconvenience been from thence perceived, any disadvantage to the state, either political, moral, or commercial?
From instances we pass on to authorities.
The government of Russia, though notoriously a despotic and jealous government, has, in the hands, both of its present and late sovereign, applied itself industriously to the erecting of village schools, and to other methods of promoting, at least as far as reading, the education of the very lowest order of its subjects.
The present king of Prussia, as tenacious as his ancestors of the prerogatives of his station, has nevertheless imitated his neighbour, in supplying what he found and considered as a defect, in this respect, in the economical institutions of the country, and has formed various regulations and provisions for that purpose.
The proprietors and planters of estates in the West Indies have, by a resolution of their assembly in several of those islands, lately established a fund for the procuring of clergymen from England, for the purpose of instructing the children of negroes.
The late General Washington, who appears to have bent bis mind to the subject of public education with peculiar attention, made provision in his will both for the education of the poor children of his neighbourhood, and the neighbourhood of his estates, and also for the education of the young slaves until the period of their legal manumission should arrive.
These are all so many concessions in favor of the expediency of educating the poor, and carry with them an answer to those who imagine that they see in it danger to the stability of government. The last two instances are particularly strong, because if education was not deemed to disqualify children for slavery, it cannot be inconsistent with any, even the most servile, station which subsists in a free country.
To conclude; if there be any weight in the reasons, or in the instances, or in the authorities which have been alleged, the inference is, that the new suspicions which have been conceived of education, as it relates to the poor, are unjust, unfounded, neither supported by argument nor verified by experience.