HC Deb 08 March 1855 vol 137 cc239-50

said, he would now beg to. move, in accordance with the notice he had given for a Select Committee, to inquire into the best means of affording to the nation a full and equal participation in all the advantages, which are not necessarily of an ecclesiastical or spiritual character, in the public schools and Universities of England and Ireland. Five years ago Royal Commissions were issued to inquire into the condition of the Universities; but it was made a special condition that they were not to go into the question of the admission of dissenters to those seats of learning. That question was, therefore, little attended to by the Commissioners, and when the Bill for the Reform of the University of Oxford was brought in last year, it contained no provision for the admission of Dissenters to the benefits of the University, and when the House passed a clause allowing their admission to the University, no provision was made for their due and proper admission into colleges, but they were only allowed to establish halls for themselves. Now, Dissenters did not intend to establish separate halls, and they would not be satisfied until they were admitted to the privileges of the University on the same footing as members of the Church of England. In wording his notice of Motion be had used the precise words of Sir Robert Peel, when he discussed this question in 1834. There was then a debate on the subject of opening the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to Dissenters, so far as allowing them to take lay degrees; and Sir Robert Peel said that it was more rational to grant to the dissenters a full and equal participation in all the advantages of the Universities, which were not necessarily of an ecclesiastical or spiritual character. In 1818, Lord Brougham, then a Member of the House of Commons, moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the education of the lower orders; and as the great public schools of Eton or Winchester had been originally intended as charities for the poor, he extended his inquiry into those schools, and had their statutes published. The publication of the evidence then given had been of great advantage to the boys, who had been made more comfortable, and considerable improvements had been effected in the schools. But the inquiry did not go further than the material wants of the school; his (Mr. Hey-wood's) inquiry was, however, intended to go to the question of considering the religious scruples of a great portion of the kingdom, with reference to education. Public opinion was now much more favourable to the advantages of the two ancient seats of learning being extended to a larger class of the community than it was in former times, and it, therefore, behoved the House to turn its attention to the subject. No doubt a great deal had been done by opening the outer gates of the University of Oxford to Dissenters; but as matters now stood, if a young man went into a college he must go to chapel, and by the Act of Uniformity, the whole service of the Church must be performed in all colleges in the universities, and in the schools of Eton, Westminster, and Winchester. It was to that point he wished more particularly to direct attention. The Report of the Royal Commissioners for Oxford stated that it was desirable that the services in the colleges should be shorter. Now he (Mr. Heywood) thought that there could not be a better form of prayer for the use of the chapels than one similar to that which was used in that House. It occupied a short time, and no one was tired of it, and he thought that the students at the Universities should also have a short form of prayers. But to adopt such a service involved an alteration in the Act of Uniformity. Again, when a person in the University obtained a fellowship, he was obliged to sign a test under the Act of Uniformity, which was intended originally to keep the Puritans out of the fellowships, and which ought now to be abolished. With regard to the provisions of the Oxford University Reform Bill, and the powers of the Commissioners under it, although it might be supposed that they had powers to go into that question, yet as the subject was not discussed when the Bill was before the House, it was not likely that they would go into it. There were many oaths taken on entering colleges which were far from being strictly true, and which they could hardly expect colleges to undertake to reform. For instance, at Trinity College, Cambridge, the college of which he was a member, every fellow had to take an oath that he would make theology the end of his studies, and at the end of seven years, either take holy orders or leave the college, yet several right hon. Gentlemen in that House had taken this oath, and studied the law and other professions. One of the most distinguished of them, the right hon Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Macaulay) had for many years held a fellowship in that college. This was one of those religious matters which ought to come under the cognisance of a Committee of the House. The nature of the instruction afforded at the Universities would also require much consideration. He was much struck with the evidence given by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Lowe) as to the practical result of an Oxford education in Australia. That hon. Gentleman expressed his regret at seeing in Australia young men who were totally unable to encounter the difficulties which presented themselves in that colony, and who had been educated at Oxford. Then, again, many serious mishaps which had occurred at Balaklava, London, and other places, connected with the war, would have been avoided if the education of young men in this country had been of a more practical and scientific nature. The result of the examination of candidates for commissions in the Indian army was exceedingly remarkable, and bore upon this point. From 1851 to 1854 both inclusive, 437 gentlemen were examined for commissions, and of these only sixty-six, or about one-sixth, were admitted. He did not see how the young men of the higher orders could be properly educated, unless the system of our public schools and Universities embraced a greater knowledge of science, as contra-distinguished to the present system of imparting mere classical knowledge. The Royal Commissioners of Oxford had recommended that a portion of the endowments of that University should be set apart for the promotion of scientific education. He did not think that we could take our proper position as a nation, until our education was of a more scientific character. He had heard that very few of Lord Raglan's staff were competent to write a French letter; and they were all, probably, educated at public schools where foreign languages were not properly or systematically taught. He thought that modern languages in the present day were of much more importance than the classics; whereas large prizes were given to students for excellence in writing Greek and Latin verses. There could hardly be a more useless manner of employing a young man's time in the nineteenth century, than in composing Greek or Latin verses, although the case was different when those languages were the common means of intercommunication between learned men of different nations. He believed that unless the House stirred itself, and took this matter into their consideration, nothing would be done in the way of improving this department of education; and he thought it was a question which might be referred to a Select Committee to consider what changes ought to be made in the system of education at our public schools. He believed it would be found of great use to the aristocracy and the higher classes, if our public schools were put on a better footing; and, believing that his Motion would promote that object, he left it with confidence in the hands of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the best means of affording to the Nation a full and equal participation in all the advantages, which are not necessarily of an ecclesiastical or spiritual character, in the Public Schools and Universities of England and Ireland, and of improving the educational system in those great seats of learning, with a view to enlarge their course of Instruction in conformity with the requirements of the public service.


in seconding the Motion, said he had in view chiefly the improvement of the public schools in this country, which schools were in great need of an altered system. Dissenters ought to be no longer excluded. The time for abolishing all such exclusiveness had arrived, and surely if we had so far departed from the intentions of the founders as not to pray for the repose of the souls of the dead according to the Catholic religion, there could be no argument founded on consistency or principle for not admitting persons of all religious denominations. In supporting the Motion, he did so with a feeling of respect and goodwill towards our public schools, having passed many years in one of them himself. He believed that there was nothing in which greater alteration was required than in the system of our public schools; and to them in particular he would devote a few words, and especially to Eton, his hon. Friend having dealt principally with the Universities. There were two principles which he wished to see adopted-first, that our public schools should be open to persons of all religious denominations; and secondly, that the system of education pursued in them should be improved. The adoption of the first principle would not be more inconsistent with the wills of the founders than the making Protestants the recipients of the benefits of those foundations, whereas almost all the schools had been originally intended for the education of Roman Catholics. With regard to improving the intellectual education of public schools, all the authorities declared that some improvement was the one thing needful. Liebig, Sir Robert Kane, Sir James Stephen, and Dr. Lyon Playfair, all concurred in the opinion that it was necessary to extend the system of our schools in the direction of science and modern history and literature. There could be no doubt that modern languages ought to be systematically taught in our public schools, and till all these things were effected justice could never be done to the foundations, or to the education they were intended to promote. The education afforded at Eton had not varied in the last 150 years, and if you divided that period into three epochs, distinguished severally as those of Sir Robert Walpole, the Poet Gray, and Mr. Canning. it would be found that the same purely classical education prevailed in all of those epochs. He hoped that this Motion would be acceded to, or if it was not, that some course equivalent to what it proposed would be adopted, and that the foundations of Eton and other public schools would be thrown open to the whole community in the religious and educational sense. He was anxious to see the great schools of this country, such as Eton, really national establishments, or as the Dean of Ely had expressed it, not a magnificent cenotaph of learning, but a living monument for the cultivation of all the arts that adorn humanity.


said, that no one could deny that the subject to which his hon. Friend had drawn the attention of the House was one of the most interesting kind, and one which ought deeply to engage the attention of every Member of that Assembly. No one could overstate the value of the extension of education, or the expediency and desirableness of abolishing as far as possible all distinctions and differences of religious principle in the promotion of that object. But at the same time he must say, that the Motion of his hon. Friend did not hold out any prospect of any such result being obtained. Firstly, with regard to the Universities. His hon. Friend proposed the appointment of a Committee of that House to inquire into the condition of the Universities, and to suggest some method for equally diffusing the advantages of education amongst persons of different religious persuasions. Now, what was the present state of the Universities? There had been Commissions appointed to inquire into the condition of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; the Commissioners had more ample powers than a Committee of that House would possess. Well, with regard to both those Universities, Reports had been made by these Commissions. With respect to Oxford, an Act of Parliament had been passed, after great discussion in both Houses, carrying into effect, to a certain extent, and so far as the conflicting opinions would permit, the recommendations of the Commissioners as to that University. Permanent Commissioners had been appointed who had full power to do many of the things which his hon. Friend had represented as still desirable to be done at Oxford. Then, with respect to Cambridge, a Report had also been made, and a Bill was in preparation which would be presented to the House, he trusted, this Session, for the purpose of applying mutatis mutandis to Cambridge, those improvements which had been carried into effect at Oxford. It seemed, under these circumstances, therefore, to him (Lord Palmerston) that to appoint a Committee of that House now to inquire into the condition of Oxford and Cambridge would be but a waste of time. The Commissioners, with ampler powers, had made those Reports, permanent Commissioners were appointed for Oxford, and will be for Cambridge, with powers, if the Universities should not make the alterations by themselves, to compel them to do so. He apprehended that, with regard to the points alluded to, as to the chapel service and so on, the authorities of the University themselves had power to carry out those recommendations. It therefore seemed to him, that the natural course for his hon. Friend, and those who agreed with him in thinking that neither the Commissioners nor the Legislature had gone far enough, or that their recommendations had not been sufficiently carried into execution, would be to see first, whether everything had been done which the Act passed last year for Oxford, and the Act now proposed for Cambridge, could accomplish; and then, if his hon. Friend should think that any further changes were necessary, the course would be for him to embody in a Bill the changes which he considered advisable for curing the defects he wishes to remove. The functions of a Select Committee would be to ascertain evils and propose remedies. Now, the hon. Gentleman did not want a Committee for the former purpose, since he himself had put his finger on the evils which he thought to exist; and he could propose the remedies, if he thought proper, in a Bill for that object. It was impossible to exaggerate the degree in which the national interest was involved in sweeping away, wherever that could be done with propriety, all restrictions on the diffusion of knowledge founded upon differences of religious opinion. How far it might be thought right to sweep away conditions which had been imposed by founders upon the bequests they made—how far that could be done consistently with justice and good faith—was a matter for Parliament to decide, and upon which he (Lord Palmerston) would pronounce no opinion, for it would depend on the particular circumstances of the case. But the hon. Gentleman must be aware that by the Act of last year, a hall might be established at Oxford, in which the subscriptions that were imposed in the colleges on persons dissenting from the Established Church would not apply; and if it were replied that no Dissenters had hitherto availed themselves of the power so bestowed on them, it was more, he considered, their own fault than the fault of the existing institutions—for the Dissenting interest was known to comprise a very wealthy as well as a very numerous class, and it would not be long, probably, before they found the means of availing themselves of the privileges which the Act of last Session conferred upon them. With regard to schools, there was no denying that the system which, for a great length of time, had prevailed in some of our schools was capable of very great improvement. It was perfectly true that until within a very recent period boys passed eight years of their life—a period during which, perhaps, the human mind is most susceptible of improvement—in learning two dead languages—languages which he (Lord Palmerston) would not attempt to disparage, as the instruments of studying the noblest compositions, perhaps, that ever emanated from the human mind. And, heaven forbid that the knowledge of those two languages should ever be left out of the education of men intended for a liberal position in life. That would be a great misfortune; it would narrow the minds of those men; it would deprive them of those high thoughts and noble sentiments which were derived from an acquaintance with the history and the literature of Greece and Rome; and nothing of practical knowledge would, in his opinion, be an equivalent for the loss they would sustain. But the boys who were so occupied in the exclusive study of those languages, were of two classes; those who had not a natural turn for it came away from school knowing very little, and their employment of six or eight years was very often thrown away entirely. Some boys, who do not like the study of the classics, have, perhaps, a turn for other things, and they ought not to be deprived of the opportunity of employing their time in those useful studies which are, perhaps, more congenial to the tempers of their minds. Let those who have a turn for Latin and Greek by all means avail themselves of the opportunity of making themselves the ornaments of society, by possessing those rich treasures to which the knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages is the key. But it should be remembered that it is impossible to crowd the mind with every kind of knowledge; and that if you attempt, during the six or eight years a boy is at school, to teach him not only Latin and Greek, but German, French, Italian, mathematics, natural philosophy, mechanics, chemistry, and such studies as fit men for different courses in life, you will only over-task the boy, and, in attempting to do too much, you will do next to nothing. It was a mistake also to suppose that the public schools had been quite indolent in that respect. His hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) who seconded this Motion, having been educated at Eton, would, perhaps, not admit the school at which he (Lord Palmerston) was educated, namely, Harrow, to be entitled to the name of a public school; indeed, he remembered at one period there had been a rivalry between those two schools, which was once likely to prevent a cricket match between them. But he could assure the hon. Gentleman that at Harrow great improvements had taken place, that great attention was paid there to modern languages; and he (Lord Palmerston) happened to go there two or three years ago, and saw prizes awarded for compositions recited in German and in French. Now, undoubtedly, modern languages were what might be most usefully cultivated at school, and the acquisition of languages, as eveybody knew, could be the more easily made, the younger the person was who endeavoured to attain them; although with regard to more abstruse sciences, connected with mathematics and mechanics, it was different. He did not know how it might be at Eton and Westminster, but at Harrow, certainly the objects which his hon. Friend thought should be aimed at in public schools bad been in a great degree accomplished; and he apprehended that with regard to Eton, Winchester, and other public schools of that description, it rested entirely with the masters and the governors to determine that such improvements should be made; and he hoped that the example of Harrow would be followed there, and that the success which had attended the great exertions of the present master of Harrow, in extending the range of information, would be attained at other schools. But he did not exactly see how a Committee of that House could have competence to deal with matters of this sort, or what authority they would have, supposing the members should settle in their own minds what improvements ought to be made, to enforce those improvements. It was quite true, as his hon. Friend said, that for all the general purposes of life, in the careers of men after they left school and college, the mere knowledge of Latin and Greek was infinitely below what was wanted to advance them to positions of honour and usefulness to the community and to render them useful members of society. But that instruction, which was to qualify them for their different professions, might be given at a later period than that when boys usually left school; and there were all over the country a great number of schools, not public schools, but of a private and special character, in which everything of that kind might be taught. He believed that at Oxford and Cambridge, and certainly at Cambridge, a more extended and useful range of instruction had of late years been adopted. He (Lord Palmerston) happened to have passed three years of his own life in study at Edinburgh, and afterwards a few years at Cambridge; and he was bound in frankness to say that any information which he might have acquired at Edinburgh was infinitely more useful and general than at Cambridge; and that the two years which he spent at Cam- bridge he passed very much in forgetting what he had learned at Edinburgh. Since that time, he believed, the system at Cambridge had been very much improved, and that the range of information had been exceedingly enlarged. There could be no doubt, however, that the object which the hon. Gentleman had inculcated was one of very great importance, and that the instruction given in those great institutions, which professed to qualify a man for public life, should not be confined to attainments in one or two branches of study, but should afford the means of learning that which might be most useful to them, whatever career they should adopt. Agreeing fully, therefore, with the general principle of his hon. Friend's speech, he did not think the Motion was likely to tend to that practical result at which his hon. Friend was aiming. If the hon. Gentleman thought there was a gool deal to be done which had not been done with regard to the Universities, he would do well to embody in a Bill those provisions which he thought requisite to amend the present system; and with regard to the public schools, he (Lord Palmerston) did really think that a Committee would fall very far short of the objects intended, as it could not be invested with the powers that were necessary to enforce the improvement of these institutions.


said, that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. E wart) was himself an illustration of the good effects of a public school education.. The most distinguished ornaments of either House of Parliament, and the principal Members of nearly every Government, had, with few exceptions, been educated at public schools, and that fact alone was, in his opinion, the best answer which could be given to the Motion before the House. With regard to modern languages, it was true that some years ago little or no attention was paid to them, but at the present day the study of them was encouraged, and at Eton a prize established by His Royal Highness Prince Albert was given annually for proficiency in French and German.


said, that he did not know what the noble Lord at the head of the Government meant by the term of "sufficient liberality," but it was probable that what might be sufficient for him and for the Government would not be sufficient for that House and the country. The party with whom the noble Lord was connected had never been very liberal towards Dis- senters, or on ecclesiastical questions, except in speech. After the determination of the noble Lord to resist this Committee, he (Mr. Miall) hardly knew upon which side of the House he ought to sit; indeed, a very moderate advance upon the concessions offered by the Ministerial side to the friends of religious liberty would be enough to tempt them over to the Opposition side in a body. If the Universities and public schools were national institutions, they ought to be productive of benefit to the whole nation, without any distinction or restrictions as to the different religious denominations. Last Session the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) said that if the Universities were national institutions, they were such in the sense in which parochial benefices might be regarded as national institutions. He (Mr. Miall) would accept that analogy; but parochial benefices were held to exist not for the advantage of one sect, but of all; and to make the analogy complete, the church doors on Sunday should be closed against all who were not in the communion of the Church of England, as the Universities were under very considerable restrictions in dispensing the advantages they had to confer. The State had a right to define what duties should be performed in cases where certain resources were set apart by the founders for specific purposes. He did not wish to argue the question as a Dissenters' question, but as a public question; and as those schools and Universities were known to labour under great restrictions, it was but fair and reasonable that there should be an inquiry, in order that their advantages might be extended to all, while the peculiar ecclesiastical constitutions of the corporations were not interfered with. He would vote for the Motion, and hoped that all those who had voted last year for abolishing religious distinctions in the Universities would follow his example on this occasion.


in reply, said, that he did not see any likelihood of the objects that he sought being accomplished by any measure that had yet been passed, or that was yet announced to be brought forward. Certainly, the proposition which had been made by the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), that he (Mr. Heywood) should bring in a Bill to amend the Act of Uniformity, and to provide some service in the college chapels instead of the present full service of the Church of England, was one which he should be happy to accede to, but that he felt it to be a serious responsibility for an individual Member, and he should much prefer to have had the assistance of some other Members who might have conferred with him as to the best course to be adopted, and as to whether it would not be preferable to move an Address to the Crown for a Commission. But as the suggestion had been made, he was willing to accept it, and bring in a Bill; he would, therefore, not put the House to the trouble of dividing.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.