HL Deb 29 March 1832 vol 11 cc1076-89
The Earl of Winchilsea

, in presenting, pursuant to notice, the Petition of a numerous body of the Clergy and Gentlemen of the County of Kent, against the new system of Education introduced by his Majesty's Government into Ireland, could not content himself, in justice to his own feelings, and to those of the respectable Petitioners, without saying a few words upon the subject. He regretted that he had hitherto been prevented from taking any part in their Lordships' discussions on this subject, and that from the absence of a noble friend of his on Thursday last, his vote should not have appeared in the division which took place upon that occasion. He deplored this because he was convinced that there never was a subject which required deeper deliberation, or one in respect to which it could be more truly said, that a single false step must produce consequences the most fatal to the interests of this Protestant empire. He regarded the question exclusively in its character of a religious question, and he solemnly protested, in his own name, and in that of the Petitioners, that they had no disposition to convert it to political purposes. If the noble Lords opposite imagined that the opposition to this system of education originated in feelings of political hostility, he could point out to them many names among the signatures attached to the petition he held in his hand, which they would recognize as the names of men of all other the least likely to be actuated by sentiments of general hostility to the present Government. But they conscientiously thought that the Holy Scriptures, without mutilation or restriction, should form the basis of every system of education supported by a Protestant State. The chief distinctions between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant religion were, that the one admitted, and the other denied, the right of private judgment in matters of faith, and that the latter relied upon the authority of Scripture alone, while the former recognized the equal authority of tradition. But they were differences so important, that it appeared to him impossible for any Committee composed of men thus divided in opinion to concur in any satisfactory or effective system of education. Why was the system of the Kildare-street Society at first sanctioned, and afterwards opposed, by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and priesthood? The simple fact was, that the perusal of the Scriptures had begun to open the eyes of the Roman Catholics to the bondage in which they were kept, and this he believed to be the only real ground of opposition. He asserted that the success of this Society had greatly exceeded the most sanguine hopes of its supporters. And he asked if this was the moment, when the peasantry of Ireland were beginning to throw off the thraldom of that dark and debasing superstition to which they had so long been subjected—was this the moment for a Protestant Government to step in to deprive them of those Scriptures, and of that right of private judgment to which the people of this country were indebted for every blessing they enjoyed, and which had placed them on the highest pinnacle of human grandeur, happiness, and power? He maintained that by a Committee composed of such conflicting materials no system of national education, in which religion was concerned, could be brought to bear; but suppose it possible that the Committee should come to any satisfactory conclusion, the system which they might establish would be only the more pernicious. He was led to this opinion by what he found contained in a letter addressed to the Commissioners by Mr. Carlisle, who said, that in expounding the Scriptures to Catholics, it must be done from one of the two authorized versions; and the letter concluded by saying or "such as the Board shall direct," so that the question as to which of two translations of the Bible should be employed was treated as a matter of indifference. But if this was a matter of indifference, what authority could they have for the authenticity of any translation? He entreated their Lordships to look to the situation of the different parts of Ireland. He asked them if the population of those parts where the Pro- testant religion prevailed was not composed of persons more intelligent, peaceable, and industrious, and whether it did not consist of better men and better subjects, than the population of those provinces in which the power of the Church of Rome was most firmly established? Could they be justified, then, in adopting a system of education calculated to strengthen and extend this pernicious power? He would here beg leave to advert to an expression which fell from a right rev. Prelate in the debate of last Thursday. That right rev. Prelate said, that it was the duty of Government to supply education to the people without violating their religious principles and feelings. To this he would answer, that if those feelings were in accordance with Scripture, the free circulation of the Scriptures could not violate them. If, on the other hand, they were not conformable to Scripture, then he should contend that it was their duty to expose them to a test which they could not sustain. He would not apply to the right rev. Prelate for an elucidation of the duty of Government on such a subject, for from a book of his which he had recently perused, he doubted whether the right rev. Prelate considered conformity with Scripture to be of much importance in religious doctrines. There was also another reason why he should not apply to the right rev. Prelate upon this, or any other subject; for he had, in a recent publication, accused the majority of their Lordships of factious motives in their decision of an important question. This accusation he did not scruple to characterize as a malignant libel. He would not ask the opinion of the right rev. Prelate, who had thus insulted him and a majority of that House, but he would call upon their Lordships for an expression of their sentiments upon the subject, and upon the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government to retrace his steps. He had compared the two religions for himself, and he demanded the free circulation of the Scriptures in behalf of that which could alone endure the application of this unerring test. The present attempt to conciliate, by the compromise of principle, would, like every former attempt of the same kind, only widen the breach between the Protestant and Popish divisions of the Irish people. He abjured the noble Earl, by his duty to his country and his God, not to persevere in his present course, for if he did a spirit would arise in this country compared to which the excitement occasioned by the important question of the Roman Catholic Claims would be like "zephyr to the wildest storm that ever shook the world." He called that God, in whose presence he stood, to witness that he would stand forward with those who were prepared to show that this country there still remained some sincere attachment to religion, and a firm determination not to permit that any impediment should be interposed to the free circulation of his Word. He spoke warmly, for he felt strongly upon the subject. He had no desire to give offence, but he could not treat this subject with calm indifference. All he asked in the name of the Protestants of this country was, that a free circulation should be given to the Word of God.

Petition read.

Earl Grey

regretted extremely that the noble Earl who had just addressed the House, had not been present when the subject was regularly under discussion on Thursday last, when he might have had the opportunity of expressing his sentiments, and receiving a full explanation; for he was persuaded that the perpetual recurrence to such a subject, on the presentation of petitions, and especially if introduced with the heat, which he must take leave to say, the noble Earl had exhibited, could not tend to the success of any scheme of education, or to the peace and welfare of the country. It was unnecessary for him to trouble their Lordships with many observations upon the present occasion, as he had addressed them at some length upon the Motion of the noble Earl (the Earl of Wicklow); but as he had been abjured by the noble Earl, in the name of his country and his God, to abandon a system which he had adopted in the firm belief that it would operate to the benefit of the country, he must be permitted to say a few words in its defence. The noble Earl appeared to think that the new system had been hastily adopted; he assured him, however, that it had not been adopted without the fullest deliberation, and a most careful perusal of the Reports of the several Commissions and Parliamentary Committees which had investigated the subject. He could assure him, also, that it had been adopted with an anxious view to promote the education and the peace of Ireland. Nothing could be more unfounded than the assertion that this system debarred the children who were educated at the schools from the use of the Scriptures. Two days in the week were to be set aside in which the children could receive religious instructions from the pastors of their respective persuasions. It was impossible to believe that a Committee which contained two such persons as the Archbishop of Dublin and Dr. Sadler, without naming any others, would ever agree to any regulations detrimental to the interests of the Protestant religion, or sanction any measure calculated to disfigure or pervert the Holy Scriptures. He held in his hand a letter from one of the members of the Board of Education, which he thought placed the matter in its true light. The writer remarked, that the Board did not presume to interfere with any school until the conductors of such school made application for assistance. It was then, and not before, that the Board took the school under its government; and it was made a regulation in all such schools, that the master should assemble those children, whose parents wished it, before school hours; and then they were left at liberty to do as they pleased with respect to the Bible. The Bible was put into their hands, and they had ample opportunity of reading it. The writer went on to say, that the Board prepared such extracts as would prove readily acceptable to both parties; and that a compilation of extracts was a book common to both. Hence the writer with justice inferred, that the Government plan of education formed no obstacle to the reading of the Scriptures by those children whose parents desired that they should read them as an ordinary and common school-book. In the system of education provided by the Kildare-street Society, the Bible was read as an ordinary school-book, the effect of which had been to make the two parties in that country who differ on the education question, more inveterate against each other than ever. The Bible, alone, was to be read in its schools, and was to constitute the whole of the religious instruction—there was, as the writer said, to be no explanation of it—no application—nothing to enlighten—no prayer—nothing to purify or elevate the young recipients of religious knowledge; and thus was the reading of the Bible perverted to serve a party purpose. A more correct account could not be given of the attempts made—not to enlighten, improve, or instruct, as to proselytize the Catholic children. The noble Earl said, Ministers were about to lend themselves, in the nineteenth century, to a system which went to perpetuate the darkness of the Romish superstition; and then he proceeded to lament the benighted and ignorant state of the Roman Catholic population. But from what cause did that ignorance and darkness proceed, but that the former systems of education were not adapted to the wants of the majority of the people? He rested the whole question upon this simple view which of the two plans were the most likely to perpetuate ignorance—that which was acceptable to the people, and, therefore, likely to be efficient; or that which, by being unacceptable, must, of necessity, fail to produce any but very partial and limited effects? The Government were called upon to provide a system of education fitted for the great mass of the people; and it would have been absurd to offer a plan to which, by previous experience, they knew the people to be decidedly averse. The object of Ministers had been, to give the people of Ireland a system which, by being acceptable, would most likely be useful; and this it was, against which the noble Earl had pronounced such strong and undeserved reprehension. The noble Earl asked, would they exclude the Bible from the schools? He answered that question by affirming they did not exclude the Bible. During four days of the week, which were principally devoted to general instruction, a selection was put into the hands of the children—not altered—not mutilated—but a simple series of extracts; and unless noble Lords were prepared to contend that the whole Bible must be read every day, he was at a loss to discover what objection they could urge to the perusal of those portions of it which had received the approbation of the Archbishop of Dublin and Dr. Sadler. He should, without any apprehension for the results, refer such noble Lords as might be sceptical on the subject, to the authorized list of books approved by the Board. He found, amongst the first of them, a Scripture Catechism, containing explanations of some portions and selections from others, of the Old Testament. Would any rational man call this a mutilation of the Word of God? So far from his thinking that it could be thus considered, he was prepared unhesitatingly to contend—and he did so under the sanction of some of the best and wisest members of the Established Church, in ancient or in modern times—that this mode of instruction formed the best preparation for that full examination of the Scriptures which it was the boast of the English Church to allow to all its disciples. Next in the list was, "an Abridgment of Scripture Lessons, selected from the Old Testament, for the use of the Schools," And then "an Abridgment of the New Testament," formed of lessons composed from the writings of the four Evangelists; and this was what the noble Lord called, not only a mutilation, but a withholding of the Scriptures! There would be no appearance of reason in the assertion, even if the religious instructions of these schools were confined to that amount of information which they received during the four days of the week; but there were two days, in addition to these four, which were set apart for exclusive religious instruction. If the House would permit him, he would read what he thought would be generally received as conveying a very authoritative decision on this subject. The question was put to the late Archbishop of Dublin (Dr. Magee), "Does your Grace think that the general reading of the Bible, as such, is desirable, and ought to be adopted in schools?" He answered—"If the question be put to me, do I think the Bible, as such, ought to form a school book, I say it ought not; but I think there are many parts of it which might advantageously be made the subject for an exercise of memory." Dr. Magee was a divine whose learning was as much above question as was his zeal for the propagation of Protestantism, and his never-ceasing solicitude to oppose the advance of the Roman Catholic religion. Noble Lords opposite must abandon all show of consistency when they impugned his authority. This answer constituted a full vindication of the whole system; but, possibly, it might be necessary, for the satisfaction of some of their Lordships, that he should go a little further into detail; and he did this the more readily, as he was deeply anxious to stem the torrent of prejudice which had been setting in strongly upon this subject; and which, if permitted to flow on unchecked, might prevent the success of the plan; and certainly nothing was more wanted in Ireland than a general system of education. He was ready to admit, to a certain extent, that the Kildare-street Society was not altogether unproductive of advantage, but he must be allowed to doubt that it was efficient for the purposes of general education. He found, by the Returns laid before Parliament, that the schools in Ulster amounted to 1,021; those in Leinster to 247; in Munster, to 240; and, in Connaught, to 212. He must beg of their Lordships to consider what this statement tended to prove. They must perceive that the schools extended chiefly in those districts which were Protestant; and that where, according to the supporters of the Society, they were most wanted, they were least efficient. He observed, also, that, among the subscribers to these schools there was not one Bishop, and amongst the noblemen whose names were to be found in its list of subscribers were Lords Charlemont, Darnley, Dunsany, Plunkett, and Wicklow. These noblemen supported the institution with their subscriptions, and, therefore, could not be supposed to feel any very strong prejudice against it; yet, when the proposal for a better was presented, three of them gave their votes in its favour. But, to go back to the returns made by society of its schools and pupils: in the year 1827, the number of pupils amounted to 58,000. There was some reason to doubt the accuracy of this return, for the Society returned a number of children amounting to 95,165: whereas the report said 58,000, one half of whom were Protestants. In the Society's Transactions in 1825, was a list of schools, up to the 5th of April in that year, amounting to no fewer than 1,517. In the returns from the clergy only 900 schools were included Then they had a list, specifying the 900, and also the 617; and the difference consisted in this—that the clergy only returned those which were open and operating; whereas, the Society made a return of all that had ever applied for assistance—of all that had ever opened at all—of all that ever intended to open—in short, of every name that had been once inscribed upon their books. But he need not tell their Lordships that, of that number some had closed, and some had never commenced. It was, then, from a conviction that the system of the Kildare-street Society could never operate beneficially for Ireland that he should continue to give his support to the plan recently established under the new Commission. If the value of any such system could be estimated by its immediate results, he should say, that the new Board had been, up to this moment, eminently successful. He had in his possession a letter from the Secretary, stating, that the Board had received 195 applications, many of them for two, several for three, and one for ten, schools; that the number of children in connexion with these schools amounted to no fewer than 13,433; that, in Ulster, applications had been made on behalf of forty-four schools; in Connaught, for nineteen; in Munster, for ninety; and, in Leinster, for twenty-seven. He held in his hand, also, a letter from a gentleman, with whom he had no personal acquaintance, and which he received only that morning; it was signed "Robert Wilson, moderator of the Presbyterian Synod of Belfast, and minister of the first Seceding congregation in that town." The writer said, he felt it due to himself to correct a misrepresentation which had taken place in the House of Commons upon this subject. Certain members of that body were reported to have stated, that the Presbyterian Synod of Ulster had declared against the system established by the Commissioners of Education in Ireland. The Seceding Presbyterian Synod, so far from making any such declaration, had, it seems, appointed a committee to ascertain precisely what were the intentions of the Commission; and, therefore, he was enabled to give the statement made in the House of Commons a most decided contradiction. Their earliest anxiety was, to ascertain the views of the Commissioners, that they might not raise an undeserved opposition. Mr. Wilson went on to say, that he was the more anxious to set this matter right on account of the mass of misrepresentation which had gone abroad on the subject. This, and the other facts which he had brought under the view of their Lordships went, he thought, pretty clearly to show that implicit credit was not due to the various statements with which that and the other House of Parliament had, for some time past, had their attention occupied. He was far from attempting to say, that there had not been a very strong opposition raised in Ireland; and was not only grieved, but surprised, that such an opposition should have existed, in the nineteenth century, to that only system of education ever established in Ireland, which deserved the name of national: It was a system which did not exclude from its benefits those who differed from the Established Church, at the same time that it received within its circle those who belonged to that communion, giving neither party rational ground of complaint, yet excluded all ground of controversial difference. The noble Earl had disclaimed the influence of all party spirit, and he gave him full credit for the sincerity of that disclaimer; but though, in his proceedings, there might be no mixture of party spirit, yet he could not help observing, that, in them there was something of a mistaken zeal, which would not promote the peace and harmony of the country, nor advance the interests of true religion.

The Bishop of Chichester

thought it would be superfluous in him, after the manly and unanswerable statement which their Lordships had just heard from the noble Earl, to trouble them with any observations, confirmatory either of his facts or of his reasonings. He should not, therefore, have trespassed upon their Lordships were it not that a personal allusion had been made to himself, of which it was necessary for him to take some notice. The explanation which, on a former occasion he gave to the House, would, he had hoped, have proved satisfactory. He disclaimed, then, anything like the slightest intention to treat any portion of their Lordships with disrespect; but a different subject was at present brought under consideration, upon which he felt it necessary to make one or two observations. The noble Earl who presented the petition which was then before their Lordships had thought proper to rake up the ashes of a forgotten controversy. Unfortunately, many years ago, he had been engaged in a controversial question; on that occasion it was his lot to have differed from many friends upon whose judgment he placed great reliance. That difference was produced in his mind after a long and careful perusal and examination of the Scriptures; and the conclusion to which he came from conviction was, that the Bible, as a whole, was not a desirable book to be put into the hands of children for the purpose of ordinary and every-day school instruction. He was, at that time, exercising the humble office of a reviewer; and a book was put into his hands which expressed an opposite opinion. From the sentiments, of the author, in his review of his work he felt himself conscientiously bound to express a strong and decided dissent, which he had accordingly done; but, he trusted he did so in a Christian spirit. Twenty years and more had elapsed since that period, but yet he did not scruple to affirm that the sentiments he then expressed remained unchanged; and he defied the noble Lord, or any other person, to discover a single expression of his favouring the sentiments of the sect to which he had alluded. He never expressed an opinion—for he never felt one—in favour of their doctrines; and the more he had read, and the more he had reflected upon religious subjects, the more had he felt increasing attachment to the doctrines, discipline, and practice, of the Church of England.

The Earl of Roden

admitted that the children to be taught under the new system were to have two day set apart for religious education; but then he wished to remind their Lordships that, during those two days the Catholic children were to be handed over to the Catholic Priests, who were averse to the reading of the Scripture; and, during the other four days, the Protestant clergy were effectually excluded from the schools. This he considered a most mischievous system, for he could state, upon his own knowledge, that Catholic children in Ireland were most desirous to have the Bible, and there were several instances in which they had left their own schools for the purpose of being admitted to such as had the free use of the Scriptures. He had never asserted that extracts from the Bible should not be used in schools; but what he maintained was, that a free access to the Sacred volume should be open to all. Many of the children in the higher classes were fully competent to understand them, and he saw no reason why they should not be allowed the persual of them, except the desire to gratify Roman Catholic demagogues, which seemed the principle on which the system was founded. Nothing was more clear to him than that the Protestants of Ireland were opposed to the proposed plan, and those who asserted the contrary only attempted to stultify their Lordships. Witness the several petitions on their Lordships' Table, more particularly that which he had the honour to present from Cork, in which the Protestants there, including the great majority of the rank and intelligence of the county protested against the suppression or restriction of the use of the Scriptures. The noble Earl opposite had talked of stemming the tide of opposition to the new Bill. For his own part he could not see how that was to be done but by abandoning the measure altogether—a measure of great injustice and partiality, in as much as it deprived the Kildare-street Society of the usual grant, whilst it left untouched that of the Catholic College of Maynooth.

The Earl of Winchilsea

said, that he bad never objected to selections from the Bible, but all the recognised societies which had used such selections or extracts had invariably in them referred to the chapters from whence they were taken, and the Scriptures were accessible for such reference, but these were withheld by the noble Earl's plan, and this constituted the difference, to which he thought Protestants would never consent.

The Archbishop of Armagh

did not think it would be necessary for him again to refer to this subject; but as he verily believed that this proposed measure tended to the subversion of the Protestant Church, he could not refrain from persevering in his opposition to it. This Bill involved the interests of the Protestants and the Established Church in Ireland, and went to destroy institutions which at present afforded the means of religious education to thousands of children of different religions, who were brought together and enjoyed the most friendly and amicable intercourse. He could not think of disturbing such a system for an untried experiment, or rather for one which had already been found to be impracticable. The new plan would produce division, as the Protestant clergyman would still insist upon his right of giving Scriptural education, while the Roman Catholic clergyman was sure to persevere in an opposite course. What he protested against, and what was objected to by the Protestants of Ireland was, that, in a Protestant country the Scriptures should, directly or indirectly, be excluded from schools.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government had alluded to what passed on a former night, he felt it necessary to trouble their Lordships with a few observations. It was quite evident, that the noble Earl had taken a lesson since the last discussion on this question. He had endeavoured to make himself better acquainted with the subject, but he still appeared to be very deficient in the information which was necessary to enable him to explain to their Lordships the circumstances attending the change in the system of education proposed by Government. Upon one point he differed most materially from the noble Earl—he meant as to the circumstances which he stated with respect to the Kildare-street Society. He was convinced that the noble Earl had received erroneous information on that point. If the statements which the noble Earl had made could be substantiated, if he could produce evidence to satisfy their Lordships that the reports which had been issued by the Kildare-street Society, year after year, detailing the progress of the institution, had been false as he insinuated, he, for one, would withdraw his confidence from the Society. The noble Earl had made some observations, and read certain extracts, with a view of persuading their Lordships that the system of education pursued by the Kildare-street Society was not calculated to meet the wishes of the Roman Catholic population; but if their Lordships would refer to the Report of the Commissioners of Education made in 1825, they would find that the noble Earl's assertion—that the parents of Roman Catholic children were averse from the reading of the Scriptures—was not borne out by fact. The extracts which the noble Earl had read from the evidence of Dr. Magee were totally inapplicable to the question before the House; as they all agreed that the Bible ought not to be made a common school-book. It was precisely on this principle that the Kildare-street Society had acted. The Society never allowed the Scriptures to be made a school-book, but only required that a portion of them, selected by the master, should be read in school by the senior class: this, however, was selection, not mutilation. The Report of the Commissioners of Education made in 1825 said, that, about twenty years ago, the Scriptures, as they were led to believe, were not read in more than 600 schools in Ireland, whilst at that time (1825) it was ascertained that they were read in 6,558 daily schools, and 1,544 Sunday schools. This, the Commissioners said was an improvement which the most sanguine persons could scarcely have anticipated. The Commissioners further stated, that of these schools only 1,689 were connected with any Society whatever, and that in the remaining schools, the Scriptures had been introduced by the voluntary choice of the masters, who depend for their subsistence upon the parents of the children; "a signal proof," the Commissioners observed, "that the population are not opposed to the reading of the Scriptures." The Commissioners then made this remarkable observation—"That the amelioration of the education of the Irish peasantry was still in progress, and could be checked by no means less powerful than an unwise interference on the part of the Legislature." The noble Earl had stated, that the Roman Catholics object to the system upon which the schools of the Kildare-street Society are conducted. In reply to this observation, he would state the opinions of some persons well known in that House, extracted from the books of the Society. Dr. Doyle, one of the petitioning Bishops, after having heard the children in one of the schools read the Scriptures, entered in the visitors' book a declaration of his approbation of the principle upon which the Society's schools were conducted. On a former evening, when he had quoted the opinions of Dr. Kelly, another of the petitioning Bishops, the noble Earl said that those opinions must have been expressed a long time since, but the opinion which he was now about to quote was expressed in 1830. Dr. Kelly, after having visited the schools established under the Kildare-street Society on the estate of Sir Francis Lynch, which were attended by Roman Catholic pupils, declared that, in his opinion, there was nothing offensive to Roman Catholics, or their religion, in the course of instruction there pursued. He would trouble their Lordships with only one more opinion, namely, that of a Catholic priest. After examining the regulations in the schools of the Kildare-street Society, he said that no reasonable objection could be made to them by any denomination professing Christianity. Those opinions give a decided contradiction to the statement that the Roman Catholic people or priesthood were averse from the institution which there seems now to be an intention to subvert. He did not mean to charge the noble Earl with a direct intention to suppress the Kildare-street Society, but by withdrawing the grant from that Society, he had thrown a degree of odium upon the institution, and placed it in a more unfavourable situation than that in which it stood before the grant was originally made.

Petition laid on the Table.

Back to