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Chapter XLV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


Resignation of the Speaker - Election of Mr. Shaw Lefevre as his Successor - National Education - Proposed Normal Schools - Committee of the Privy Council - Difficulties on account of Religion - The Right of Inspection - Objections to Government Control over Popular Education - Speech of Lord Stanley - Lord Morpeth's Reply - Speech of Mr. Wyse on the Evils of Popular Ignorance - Mr. C. Buller on the Claims of the Church as a National Educator - Mr. O'Connell on United Education- - The Education Question in the House of Lords - Resolution against the Order in Council - The Lords' Remonstrance to the Queen - Her Majesty's Reply - The System of Penny Postage - Mr. Rowland Hill's Pamphlet on Post Office Reform - Postal Statistics - Opposition of the Post Office Authorities to Mr. Hill's Plan - A Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1838 - The New Postal Law - Impediments to its Working - Results of the First Two Years - Review of the Session by Lord Lyndhurst - Lord Melbourne's Defence of the Government - Re-construction of the Cabinet - The Prorogation - The Queen's Speech - Banquet to the Duke of Wellington - Lord Brougham's Eulogium - Tory Disloyalty - Party Spirit in the Army - Loyal Demonstrations in Ireland - Announcement of the Queen's Marriage - The Case of Lady Flora Hastings.
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As soon as the Ministry had been restored, the House re-assembled for the election of a new Speaker in the room of Mr. Abercromby, who had declared his intention of resigning, having no longer sufficient strength to perform the arduous duties imposed on him by his office. When his intention was announced, he received, through Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell, the highest testimony of the esteem in which he was held by the two great parties, not only for his conduct in the chair, but also for his strenuous exertions to improve the mode of conducting the private business of the House. Mr. Abercromby was called to the bar in 1800, and was appointed Judge Advocate General in 1827, Chief Baron of Scotland in 1830, Master of the Mint and a member of the Cabinet in 1834. He was chosen Speaker in 1835. On his resignation of that office, he was raised to the peerage as Lord Dunfermline.

Mr. Handley rose to propose Mr. Shaw Lefevre, member for North Hants, as a person eminently qualified to succeed to tne vacant chair. In the Speaker there should be spirit and courage to defend and assert the privileges of the House, and these qualities none could deny to Mr. Lefevre. He was also a man of unwearied diligence in the dispatch of business, while he possessed that urbanity of manner, and that frank and open bearing, so indispensable in a Speaker. The motion was seconded by Sir Stephen Lushington, who declared that he supported him, because his opinions were popular, because he had been an advocate of reform, because he believed that his election would satisfy the people, and that the House intended to proceed in the path of improvement till they had realised the just expectations of the country. Mr. Williams Wynn, a member of great experience and reputation in the House, proposed Mr. Goulburn, member for the University of Cambridge." In him, he said, would be found great self-possession, vigour, and resolution, and a great degree of courtesy to temper these qualities. The late Speaker had been elected from being a member of the Cabinet, Serjeant Mitford had been elected as Speaker from the office of Attorney-General, Mr. Abbot from the office of Chief ^ Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Manners Sutton from the office of Judge Advocate; and yet they were compelled to acknowledge the fairness, impartiality, and affability.', with which all those gentlemen had occupied the chair. The motion was seconded by Mr. Wilson Patten. It was a party contest, and tested the strength of the Ministry and the Opposition. The House divided on the motion that Mr. Shaw Lefevre do take the chair, which was carried by a majority of eighteen, the numbers being 317 and 299. The new Speaker was then led to the chair by Mr. Handley and Sir Stephen Lushington, when Lord John Russell immediately rose to present to him the congratulations of the House.

Since the year 1833, the sum of 20,000 was all that had been granted by Parliament for the popular education of this kingdom. Up to this time the National Society and the British and Foreign School Society had, without distinction of party, enjoyed an equitable proportion of the benefit of this grant. The Government were now about to propose an increase, but they determined at the same time to change the mode of its distribution, and their plan gave rise to a great deal of discussion on the subject during the session. The intentions of the Government were first made known by Lord John Russell on the 12th of February, when he presented certain papers, and gave an outline of his views. He proposed that the president of the council and other privy councillors, not exceeding five, should form a board, to consider in what manner the grants made by Parliament should be distributed, and he thought that the first object of such a board should be the establishment of good normal and infant schools. Lord John said that he brought forward the plan not as a faultless scheme of education, but as that which, on consideration, he thought to be the most practical in the present state of the country. Sir Robert Inglis, representing the Church party, felt relieved that the noble lord proposed to do so little harm; Mr. Wyse, Chairman of the Central Society of Education, complained that he proposed to do so little good. The new committee on the 3rd of June passed several resolutions, one of which Was that in their opinion the most useful applications of any sums voted by Parliament would consist in the employment of those moneys in the establishment of a normal school, under the direction of the State, and not under the management of a voluntary society. They admitted, however, that they experienced so much difficulty in reconciling the conflicting views respecting the provisions they were desirous of making - in order that the children and teachers instructed in this school should be duly trained in the principles of the Christian religion, while the rights of conscience should be respected - that it was not in their power to mature a plan for the accomplishment of their design without further consideration. In the meantime the committee recommended that no grant should thenceforth be made for the establishment or support of normal schools, or any other schools, unless the right of inspection be retained, in order to secure a conformity to the regulations and discipline established in the several schools, with such improvements as may from time to time be suggested by the committee.

The day after the committee had adopted these resolutions, Lord Ashley moved a call of the House for the 14th of June, when Lord John Russell, in seconding the motion, stated that Government did not intend to insist upon their proposal to found a normal school. In the meantime he proposed that the intended vote of 30,000 should be divided as formerly between the two societies. Lord Stanley objected to the proposition for giving a direct control over the moral and religious educate of the people to a board or committee exclusively political in its character, having no fixed principle of action, and which, from the nature of its constitution, excluded those individuals who were the best entitled to superintend the education of the people. He thought it highly objectionable to place funds in the hands of a Government without any restrictions regarding their distribution, and independent of the control of Parliament - liable to be applied to the support of its own political friends; but it was doubly dangerous to entrust them to a Government powerless in itself, so weak and feeble as to be absolutely struggling for existence. He could not, he said, understand the views of those gentlemen who limited the term "education" to mere temporal instruction, apart from spiritual knowledge, and he thought that with such a system the clergy had nothing to do. But that was not of the view in which education was regarded by the people of this country. They viewed it in the light in which history had always regarded it, as part and parcel of the constitution and laws of the land - not as a thing apart from religion or the Church, but rather as the peculiar province of the clergy, and as a spiritual matter to be entrusted to their superintendence. Lord Stanley concluded an elaborate speech, in which he reviewed the history of former educational grants, by moving the following amendment: - " That an address be presented to Her Majesty to rescind the order in council, for constituting the proposed Board of Privy Council."

Lord Morpeth replied to the speech of Lord Stanley, which he conceived went to the extent of separating, by a specific vote of the House, the executive Government of the country from all superintendence and control over the general education of the people. On the contrary, he would be glad to see the control of the State over education carried much farther than the plan proposed. With his feelings on the subject of national education, he should be glad to see the establishment of a permanent board that would command the respect and confidence of the country. Lord Morpeth added, "that he had no high opinion of many of the doctrines of the Roman Catholics; he had his own notions concerning Unitarian tenets, and he thought that the state of opinion prevailing in this country being Protestant and Trinitarian, those who held such opinions were entitled to have the greatest proportion of public grants applied to their benefit; but nevertheless, as long as the State thought proper to employ Roman Catholic sinews and to finger Roman Catholic gold, it could not refuse to extend to those by whom it so profited the blessing of education."

After speeches from Lord Ashley, Mr. Hawes, Lord Francis Egerton, and Mr. Slaney, the House adjourned to the 19 th of June, when the debate was resumed by Mr. Wyse, member for Waterford, who had devoted his attention specially to the subject of popular and academic education. He said he was astonished to see how little was done for the diffusion of general education in this country, which boasted that it was the first in Europe in point of civilisation. The defective state of England in this respect had been productive of the greatest evils, felt not only in our moral and social relations, but also in our physical condition, in matters of every-day life, and in all the pursuits of industry. He gave some examples in agriculture: the injudicious use of lime had reduced thousands of acres in many districts to almost total infertility, while the making of manure in general was ignorantly and wastefully mismanaged, and thousands of acres of woods and forests were utterly ruined from want of knowledge of the process of vegetation. The ignorance of our population was not less striking as regarded the social condition of the lower classes. Twenty per cent, of the population of Liverpool lived in cellars - or in round numbers, 31,000 out of a population of 230,000. He referred to the ignorance revealed in the county of Kent, by the delusion of the Thomites, and stated that there was a similar deficiency of education throughout the country. In proof of this he furnished statistics. The result was, he said, that there were 3,000,000 children in England to be supplied with instruction, half of whom were in a state of complete ignorance.

Mr. Charles Buller, with his accustomed vigour and practical sound sense, disposed of the argument that would invest the Church with the functions of national educator. He maintained that consigning the business of education to the Established Church was only an un- candid way of throwing it aside altogether. "What part of the funds of the Church, he would ask, were allocated to education? What portion of the hierarchy particularly devoted themselves to that object, and what portion of Church patronage was given to those who did so? Even those funds and dignities which at the time of the Reformation were set apart for the education of the people had been perverted from their original purpose, and turned into mere sinecures. The system of leaving education in the hands of the Established Church had had a long trial, and its effects were visible in the perverted system carried on in Sunday and charity schools, and in those wide and populous districts left totally destitute of education. What were the merits of that instruction in religion and morality which had afflicted our country with more thieves and prostitutes than any other in the world? It would be time enough to entrust the education of the people to the clergy of the Established Church when they showed some earnest of their zeal in the cause, by restoring to their original destination the funds which had formerly been devoted to the purposes of education, and when some portion of its honours were conferred upon those who humbly devoted themselves to the task of instructing the people." Education, he added, besides being the highest and most valuable of a freeman's blessings, was also the first precaution of a wise Government. It was a precaution above all others to be taken by the possessors of property with respect to the mass of the people, in a country where the singularly artificial state of society, and the great inequality of social conditions, expose us to ^ch constant perils from the discontent and ignorance e ^he uninstructed poor.

Mr. Disraeli, on the other hand, deprecated the Government plan as a system of centralisation, by which all minds would be thrown into the same mint, and all would come out with the same impress and superscription. This was not the same sort of education, he said, which had been so nobly advocated and supported by our forefathers - by the men who had built schools, endowed colleges, and founded universities. Mr. Gibson, though a Conservative, contended that the schoolmaster should, in all matters relating to secular education, be independent of all Church influence. The doctrine which Lord Stanley supported sounded very like Papal infallibility. If it was once set up for the guidance of the people of England, they might prefer the infallibility of Rome to the infallibility of Oxford. He did not approve of the plan of mixing up secular with religious instruction. Religion should be taught by those who devoted themselves exclusively to that purpose. He had seen the effects of the contrary system, and was satisfied it would never answer the expectations entertained on the subject. Sir Robert Inglis observed that from time immemorial education had been connected with religion, and if the clergy of the Church of Rome were ever again in the ascendant, he believed they would be the last in the world to relinquish the office of educating the people.

Considering the turn that the education question afterwards took in Ireland, the opinions expressed by Mr. O'Connell in this debate are not without interest. They had, he said, tried the efficacy of the exclusive principle, in order to prevent the advance of Catholicity: nevertheless, Catholics multiplied in Ireland, and even increased in England. " The advocates of exclusion did not, indeed, burn; they did not introduce Spanish law into this country; but they acted upon principles fatal in politics and unsound in religion. Properly speaking, such sentiments were anti-religious, for though hypocrites could be made by force, converts could be made only by persuasion. It was hoped that, at the normal schools, the education of the pupils might be carried on in common. It was considered that youth should not be separated in the business of education, that they might be reconciled to each other's presence in their early days, and meet on other points than those of repulsion. Sacred heaven! why might they not meet on other points than those of difference and hostility? "

Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Spring Rice, Lord John Russell, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Mahon, Mr. Baines, Mr. Lytton, Mr. Sheil, and Mr. Goulburn continued this very interesting debate, in which the principles of the union of Church and State and the rights of conscience were ably discussed. The House at length divided, when the grant was voted by a majority of only two.

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Pictures for Chapter XLV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

Great seal of Victoria
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