HC Deb 29 March 1824 vol 10 cc1476-84

On the resolution, "that 22,000l. be granted to defray the expense of the society, for promoting the Education of the Poor in Ireland, for the year, 1824,"

Mr. Hume

said, that although the full discussion which the subject to which this vote related had undergone on a former evening, rendered it unnecessary to go into it at any length, he could not refrain from expressing a hope, that something would be done speedily upon a matter of so much importance. He was aware that great difference of opinion prevailed on this subject; but he was sure almost all persons agreed, that it was highly desirable to educate the Catholic and Protestant children in the same schools. He doubted, however, the possibility of effecting the object, the great mass of the poor children being Catholic, unless the funds destined for the purpose should be placed, not exclusively under the direction of Protestants, but even the larger part under the control of Catholics. This opinion was supported by the undeniable fact, that a great number of Catholics refused to receive the benefits of education upon the terms on which they were tendered to them. He had the authority of a Catholic bishop for stating, that in the thirty-six parishes of his diocess, there were 10,000 children, all of whom were fit to go to school, but were not able to pay, and who were yet restrained from availing themselves of the schools which were open, on account of the Scriptures being read in them without note or comment, This stipulation had induced many persons to withdraw their children from the schools supported by the Kildare-street society; and, of those who continued, the greater part did so under the influence of fear. The hon. gentleman disclaimed any intention of meddling with the subject of religion. He wished the poor of Ireland should be taught only to read, and then be left to the clergyman to be taught the tenets of their respective persuasions. He did not intend to oppose the present motion, and hoped, that, in the next session, the House would be in possession of such information on the subject, as would enable it to render the advantage of education in Ireland as general as it was necessary.

Mr. J. L. Foster

rose, for the purpose of making a few observations respecting the effect which had been produced in the education of the poor in Ireland by the Kildare-street society. The hon. gentleman referred to the fourteenth report of that society, which, he said, exhibited an interesting comparison between the state of education before the establishment of that society and since it had been in operation. Notwithstanding the number of schools which existed previously, such was their nature, and such the method in which they were carried on, that, so far from education being a blessing, it was one of the main springs of all the evils that prevailed. The Irish peasant was not the victim of ignorance, but of misdirected education. One of the most pernicious practices was, the introduction of books of a dangerous tendency into the schools. Many persons employed their capitals and their industry, in disseminating books purporting to be the histories and adventures of rebels, traitors, and enterprising malefactors. The object of the Kildare-street society had been to check this evil practice; and they had so far succeeded, with the munificent assistance of parliament, that the same persons who had formerly been employed in this trade, were now engaged in furnishing the same schools with books of a more useful tendency. The society, feeling that to provide proper masters for the various schools connected with them was another most important point, had established a model school in Dublin; which, beside the local good which it did in educating 300 of the children of the artizans of Dublin, pre- sented an opportunity for qualifying persons intending to become masters, and foe making them acquainted with the principles of the society. He would meet the statement which had been made, that the Catholics did not benefit by these schools, by merely saying, that of the number of masters in the schools belonging to the society, one half were catholics, and of the children three-fourths were of the same persuasion. It was true that the dignitaries of that church objected to the society, but he did not know on what grounds; and he wished that the committee which had been appointed might be informed of the reasons on which their objections were founded. It had been said, that the subscriptions raised in Ireland for the support of the society were only 200l.; but in fact they amounted to 10,000l. In the year 1812, the number of scriptural schools in Ireland amounted to 239; at present they amounted to 4,150. In the course of the last year, 800 had been added to their number; and, he was happy to state, there was every prospect, if the present grant should be agreed to, of adding 1,000 more in the course of the present year. He would only add that in supporting the Kildare-Street society, the House would most effectually aid the general education of the poor in Ireland. Any other society might send, their masters to the Kildare-street school, where they would participate in all its advantages, and the books of that society were freely furnished to all the other societies, however their principles might differ. The education of the female peasantry, which was known by all persons acquainted with the state of Ireland to be of the utmost importance, had lately occupied the earnest attention of the society; and the co-operation of some benevolent ladies led them to form the warmest hope of success. He trusted that the facts he had mentioned would at least prove, that the Kildare-street society was entitled to that confidence which it had hitherto enjoyed; and he did not doubt that the inquiry about to be made by the committee would prove the utility of their labours.

Sir J. Newport

regretted that this subject had been introduced, before the committee appointed by the House had made their report. He had abstained from expressing his opinion until that report should have furnished a more certain basis upon which a conclusion might be formed. Some points of the hon. gentleman's speech might be disputed; but, in the present state of the question, and as he did not mean to contravene the proposed grant, he should decline saying any more upon the subject, than that he wished things to be left as they were.

Mr. Hutchinson

regretted, for causes as well known to the hon. gentleman as to himself, that this topic however ably treated, had been touched upon at this time. He would go the whole length with the hon. member in believing, that the Kildare-street society had done a great deal of good, and meant to do still more. The committee must not conceal from themselves, that the object pursued on this occasion was the education of a Catholic population. Any indisposition on the part of the Catholics to have their children educated together with Protestants he should exceedingly deprecate. At the same time, if the objection was a conscientious one, he really thought that the joint education of Protestants and Catholics, or a scriptural education, as it had been termed, ought not to be made a condition of such a grant of the public money as that now proposed.

Mr. North,

in a maiden speech, then addressed the committee. He said, the hon. members opposite had objected to his hon. friend, that he had introduced this subject of discussion, but if he knew his countrymen, and be thought he did know them, they would wish, whatever might be given to them, or whatever might be withheld from them, that it should not be done in silence and secresy, but be most amply discussed. He thought the House might trust to their intelligence, for there was not a more intelligent people; the House might trust to their candour, for no people were more candid, and nothing would displease them so much as that middle course of neither giving nor withholding. The House should proceed steadily forward. The gentlemen opposite objected to discussion, not to angry or furious discussion, but to the calm, and he would say, cold discussion of his hon. friend, when compared with the magnitude of the subject. Suppose the statement had not been made, it would have gone forth to the world, that the Kildare society had been attacked, and that a member of the society had been present, and had not defended it. The Irish were a suspicious people; and were jealous that that which was done with regard to them should not be done in obscurity. His hon. friend had acted on the soundest view of making the Irish acquainted with what was done for them, and of making the English acquainted with what was doing for Ireland; and in this view, the statement of his hon. friend could only be beneficial. He had been one of the original members of the Kildare society; one of the first few gentlemen who had formed themselves into a society for the education of the poor, when they had nothing to rely on but the excellency of the objects they had in view, and no other support but the intellectual ardour which they brought to the pursuit. He would appeal to the candour of the hon. member for Aberdeen, if any better objects could have been proposed, or any better course pursued. In 1812, the whole country, in regard to education, was lying in a state of thick and palpable darkness. The Protestant clergy had necessarily no influence over a Catholic population, and the Catholic priests never undertook the task of instructing them. The education of the poor was, in fact, left to themselves; and no good education could possibly take place from their educating each other. The schools were along the side of hedges, and were such as his hon. friend had described. In them licentiousness and robbery were openly taught, and the horn-book of instruction was the manual of vice. The "History of Moll Flanders" was a common school-book. So lamentable, indeed, was the system of education which was then introduced, that it was difficult to pronounce whether the darkness was more dreadful than the lurid gleams by which it was attempted to disperse that darkness. The effect of that system on the mass of the population was dreadful. It was rearing up a lawless, tumultuous, undisciplined array, which threatened the peace, the property, the lives of the community, and which, from the abysses of misery, sent up a voice of defiance against a dismayed gentry, and an almost appalled government.—He could not agree with the hon. gentleman opposite, that the basis of a national system of education should be founded on the exclusion of every particular system of religion. He believed that a system of education for the people, if of any value at all, must be a system of moral and religious education. As religion without knowledge, was apt to degenerate into superstition, so knowledge without religion, was sure to terminate in licentiousness. The first principle which they had laid down, and by which they had determined to regulate ail their movements, was, that religion should be made the basis of the system. They had to deal with a mingled population, consisting of Protestants and Catholics. The laws had, unhappily for the interests of Ireland, drawn a line of demarcation between the Protestant and Catholic, which it had been their object, as far as possible, to obliterate. If, on the one hand, it was said, that it would be improper to put the Protestant catechism into the hands of the children of Catholic parents, would it be contended on the other, that it was proper to put into their hands books of Catholic devotion? The principle upon which they had acted was, to refer them to the great common origin of the different persuasions. It was unnecessary for him to say, in how many great essential particulars both Protestants and Catholics agreed; in how many unimportant, formal distinctions, they unhappily differed. In adapting a system of education to the mingled population of Ireland, it was their object to endear each to each, by the early, tender, sacred, and, perhaps, indelible associations of a common religion; to recal to their recollections, that they had knelt, if the figure were not too bold, at the fountain of a common faith, and that they only separated by following diverging streams. They had riot acted on theory, bat on views bf practical experience. They had seen a similar experiment tried in the university of Dublin, and they had witnessed its beneficial effects. In that university, young men, both Catholics and Protestants, were seen growing up together, forgetting unhappy differences, while pursuing academic honours with equal ardour, and applying themselves with equal enthusiasm to the same enlightened philosophy. The system which they had adopted was founded, not merely on sound principles, but upon an experience of its utility. There was another essential point which they had not neglected. It would have been vain to expect success without the cordial co-operation of the Protestant gentry. They had endeavoured, therefore, to procure that cordial co-operation, and they had succeeded in obtaining it. They had another motive and another object, which was, that of bringing the Protestant gentry and the Catholic pea- santry into a more intimate and cordial intercourse with each other than they had hitherto enjoyed. They had endeavoured to approximate the relation between landlord and tenant in Ireland, which had hitherto, he regretted to say, too much resembled the relation between master and servant. These advantages could never have been obtained by the plan suggested by the hon. member for Aberdeen, who proposed, that one set of schools should be allotted to protestants, and another to catholics: the protestant gentry presiding over the first, and the Catholic priesthood over the other. Such a plan might be plausible enough in theory, but in practice it would be wholly inefficient; or, what was worse, it would be efficient in evil. Nothing was more gratifying than to observe the number of benevolent institutions which had sprung up in the neighbourhood of these schools. Wherever they had been established were seen dispensaries for giving medicine to the poor, friendly societies, and other benevolent institutions; both the people and the gentry seemed to acquire a taste for moral cultivation, and the vicinity of these schools seemed a spot separated from the other parts of the country—an Oasis amidst a surrounding desert; It had been said, that this system could never become general, since the Catholic clergy opposed it, because it involved conditions with which they could not comply. He had heard some years ago a similar argument urged, which, if it had been founded in fact, he should have considered unanswerable. It had been said, that the potting of the bible without note or comment into the hands of the people, might or might not be useful, but that the experiment could never be tried because it was against the tenets of the Catholic religion, and Catholic parents would not allow it to be put into the hands of their children, or suffer their children to go to schools, where such a system of education was adopted. The argument would be unanswerable, if it were founded in fact; but the fact was, that Catholic children did come to these schools, and that their parents were anxious to procure for them the benefits of education. The bible without note or comment was used; nor was any particular doctrine derived from a particular interpretation of a text of scripture attempted to be inculcated. That this institution should have met with the opposition of the Catholic clergy was a circumstance which he greatly deplored. It was a circumstance almost as surprising as it was lamentable. It reminded him of a passage of lord Clarendon—not in his History of the rebellion, but in a posthumous work, which he thought far more interesting, the Memoirs of his own life, where, speaking of archbishop Laud's conduct at a particular period, he says, "he had observed in his progress through life, that of all classes of men the clergy took the worst measure of human affairs." He regretted that the Roman Catholic clergy were not sensible of the advantage which they themselves would derive from being placed at the head of a well-educated, moral, and enlightened Catholic population. The Catholic laity had seen the subject in the same light in which he viewed it; and, however much he might regret the feeling which subsisted among the Catholic clergy, he trusted that, with the zealous co-operation of the laity, their objects would be completely carried into effect.—He had now stated the principles on which they had acted, the views which they entertained, and the system which had arisen out of those principles and views. His hon. friend below him had gone into some of the details of the system, on which therefore he felt it unnecessary to enlarge. With respect to the commission which was now going into Ireland; no one could wish for its success more cordially than himself, but he should lament if it interfered for the present with the progress of the association. To divert the Irish people from any useful object in the pursuit of which they were ardently engaged, was generally a most unfortunate experiment. The character of the people of Ireland rendered such interposition peculiarly inexpedient. He trusted that no measures would be taken to destroy the existing system, before another was substituted in its place. He could not help thinking that the right hon. baronet opposite (sir J. Newport), anxious as he was for the prosperity and the honour of his country, ought to feel something like content and satisfaction at what had already taken place. A system under which had arisen six hundred masters and seventy-nine thousand scholars in different parts of Ireland, and that not after a long lapse of years, not in the course of a century or half century, but, to use an expression of lord Bacon "in an hour-glass of one man's life, in a few yesterdays," was a subject of no ordinary congratulation. If the commission which was about to proceed to Ireland did more, he should be most happy; if it did as much, he should be content. In making these observations he trusted he should not be considered as having trespassed too much on the time of the committee. He should now leave the whole subject to the committee satisfied that this grant would be most useful in its application, and trusting that the commission, if it did not fully and cordially co-operate with the association, would substitute some plan which might be equally beneficial, or which might confer more extensive benefit on the population of Ireland.

Sir J. Newport,

in explanation, stated, that he never intended to cast any imputation upon so respectable a body as the Kildare-street society, who had certainly done much in the cause of the education of the Irish poor.

The resolution was agreed to.

Forward to