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TRIMMER AND LANCASTER." (E. Review, 1806.)
A Comparative Wiew of the New Plan of Education promulgated by Mr. Joseph Lancaster, in his Tracts concerning the Instruction of the Children of the Labouring Part of the Community; ‘and of the System of Christian Education founded by our pious Forefathers for the Initiation of the Young Members of the Established Church in the Principles of the Reformed Religion. By Mrs. Trimmer. 1805.
THIS is a book written by a lady who has gained considerable reputation at the corner of St. Paul's Churchyard; who flames in the van of Mr. Newberry's shop; and is, upon the whole, dearer to mothers and aunts than any other author who pours the milk of science into the mouths of babes and sucklings. Tired at last of scribbling for children, and getting ripe in ambition, she has now written a book for grown-up people, and selected for her antagonist as stiff a controversialist as the whole field of dispute could well have supplied. Her opponent is Mr. Lancaster, a Quaker, who has lately given to the world new and striking lights upon the subject of Education, and come forward to the notice of his country by spreading order, knowledge, and innocence among the lowest of mankind. Mr. Lancaster, she says, wants method in his book; and therefore her answer to him is without any arrangement. The same excuse must suffice for the desultory observations we shall make upon this lady's publication. The first sensation of disgust we experienced at Mrs. Trimmer's book, was from the patronising and protecting air with which she speaks of some small part of Mr. Lancaster's plan. She seems to suppose, because she has dedicated her mind to the subject, that her opinion must necessarily be valuable upon it; forgetting it to be barely possible, that her application may have made her more wrong, instead of more right. If she can make out of her case, that Mr. Lancaster is doing mischief in so important a point as that of national education, she has a right, in common with every one else, to lay her complaint before the public; but a right to publish praises must be earned by something more difficult than the writing sixpenny books for children. They may be very good; though we never remember to have seen any one of them; but if they be no more remarkable for judgment and discretion than parts of the work before us, there are many thriving children quite capable of repaying the obligations they owe to their amiable instructress, and of teaching, with grateful retaliation, “the old idea how to shoot.” In remarking upon the work before us, we shall exactly follow the plan of the authoress, and prefix, as she does, the titles of those subjects on which her observations are made; doing her the justice to presume, that her quotations are fairly taken from Mr. Lancaster's book. 1. Mr. Lancaster's Preface.— Mrs. Trimmer here contends, in opposition to Mr. Lancaster, that ever since the establishment of the Protestant Church, the education of the poor has been a national concern in this country; and the only argument she produces in support of this extravagant assertion, is an appeal to the Act of Uniformity. If there are millions of Englishmen who cannot spell their own names, or read a sign-post which bids them turn to the right or left, is it any answer to this deplorable ignorance to say, there is an Act of Parliament for public instruction ?—to show the very line and chapter where the King, Lords, and Commons, in Parliament assembled, ordained the universality of reading and writing, when, centuries afterwards, the ploughman is no more capable of the one or the other than the beast which he drives 2 In point of fact, there is no Protestant country in the world where the education of the poor has been so grossly and infamously neglected as in England. Mr. Lancaster has the very high merit of calling the public attention to this evil, and of calling it in the best way, by new and active remedies; and this uncandid and feeble lady, instead of using the influence she has obtained over the anility of these realms, to join that useful remonstrance which Mr. Lancaster has begun, pretends to deny that the evil exists; and when you ask where are the schools, rods, pedagogues, primers, histories of Jack the Giant-killer, and all the usual apparatus for education, the only things she can produce is the Act of Uniformity and Common Prayer. 2. The Principles on which Mr. Lancaster's institution is conducted. — ‘Happily for mankind,’ says Mr. Lancaster, “it is possible to combine precept and practice together in the education of youth : that public spirit, or general opinion, which gives such strength to vice, may be rendered serviceable to the cause of virtue; and in thus directing it, the whole secret, the beauty, and simplicity of national education consists. Suppose, for instance, it be required to train a youth to strict veracity. He has learnt to read at school: he there reads the declaration of the Divine will respecting liars: he is there informed of the pernicious effects that practice produces on society at large: and he is enjoined, for the fear of God, for the approbation of his friends, and for the good of his schoolfellows, never to tell an untruth. This is a most excellent precept; but let it be taught, and yet, if the contrary practice be treated with indifference by parents, teachers, or associates, it will either weaken or destroy all the good that can be derived from it. But if the parents or teachers tenderly nip the rising shoots of vice; if the associates of youth pour contempt on the liar; he will soon hide his head with shame, and most likely leave off the practice.’— (P}; 24, 25.) The objection which Mrs. Trimmer makes to this passage is, that it is evalting the fear of man above the fear of God. This observation is as mischievous as it is unfounded. Undoubtedly, the fear of God ought to be the paramount principle from the very beginning of life, if it were possible to make it so; but it is a feeling which can only be built up by degrees. The awe and respect which a child entertains for its parent and instructor, is the first scaffolding upon which the sacred edifice of religion is reared. A child begins to pray, to act, and to abstain, not to please God, but to please the parent, who tells him that such is the will of God. The religious principle gains ground from the power of association and the improvement of reason; but without the fear of man—the desire of pleasing, and the dread of offending those with whom he lives,—it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cherish it at all in the mind of children. If you tell (says Mr. Lancaster) a child not to swear, because it is forbidden by God, and he finds every body whom he lives with addicted to that vice, the mere precept will soon be obliterated; which would acquire its just influence if aided by the effect of example. Mr. Lancaster does not say that the fear of man ever ought to be a stronger motive than the fear of God, or that, in a thoroughly formed character, it ever is: he merely says, that the fear of man may be made the most powerful mean to raise up the fear of God; and nothing, in our opinion, can be more plain, more sensible, or better expressed, than his opinions upon these subjects. In corroboration of this sentiment, Mr. Lancaster tells the following story:—
* Lancaster invented the new method of education. The Church was sorely vexed at his success, endeavoured to set up Dr. Bell as the discoverer, and to run down poor Lancaster. George the Third was irritated by this shabby conduct, and always protected Lancaster. He was delighted with this Review, and made Sir Herbert Taylor read it a second time to him.
‘A benevolent friend of mine,’ says he, “who resides at a village near London, where he has a school of the class called Sunday Schools, recommended several lads to me for education. He is a pious man, and these children had the advantage of good precepts under his instruction in an eminent degree, but had reduced them to very little practice. As they came to my school from some distance, they were permitted to bring their dinners; and, in the interval between morning and afternoon school hours, spent their time with a number of lads under similar circumstances in a play-ground adjoining the schoolroom. In this play-ground the boys usually enjoy an hour's recreation ; tops, balls, races, or what best suits their inclination or the season of the year; but with this charge, “Let all be kept in innocence.” These lads thought themselves very happy at play with their new associates; but on a sudden they were seized and overcome by numbers, were brought into school just as people in the street would seize a pickpocket, and bring him to the police office. Happening at that time to be within, I inquired, “Well, boys, what is all this bustle about?” —“Why, Sir,” was the general reply, “these lads have been swearing.” This was announced with as much emphasis and solemnity as a judge would use in passing sentence upon a criminal. The culprits were, as may be supposed, in much terror. After the examination of witnesses and proof of the facts, they received admonition as to the offence ; and, on promise of better behaviour, were dismissed. No more was ever heard of their swearing; yet it was observable, that they were better acquainted with the theory of Christianity, and could give a more rational answer to questions from the Scripture, than several of the boys who had thus treated them, on comparison, as constables would do a thief. I call this,” adds Mr. Lancaster, ‘practical religious instruction, and could, if needful, give many such anecdotes.'—(pp. 26, 27.)
All that Mrs. Trimmer has to observe against this very striking illustration of Mr. Lancaster's doctrine is, that the monitors behaved to the swearers in a very rude and unchristianlike manner. She begins with being cruel, and ends with being silly. Her first observation is calculated to raise the posse comitatus against Mr. Lancaster, -to get him stoned for impiety; and then, when he produces the most forcible example of the effect of opinion to encourage religious precept, she says such a method of preventing swearing is too rude for the Gospel. True, modest, unobtrusive religion— charitable, forgiving, indulgent Christianity, , is the greatest ornament and the greatest blessing that can dwell in the mind of man. But if there be one character more base, more infamous, and more shocking than another, it is he who, for the sake of some paltry distinction in the world, is ever ready to accuse conspicuous persons of irreligion—to turn common informer for the Church—and to convert the most
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