HL Deb 04 August 1854 vol 135 cc1306-18

Order of the Day for resuming the adjourned Debate [July 24] on the proposed Resolution read.

Debate resumed accordingly.


* My Lords, I have certainly but faint hopes of being able to fix the attention of your Lordships upon an adjourned debate, however important the subject; and the rather because when I moved these one and twenty Resolutions. I abstained from reading them, that I might spare you the fatigue of hearing the statements repeated which had formed the substance of my address to the House: They were thus only printed in the Votes; and with all my respect for your industry in performing legislative duties, I can hardly believe that you devote much time to the perusal of those records of your proceedings; so that it is very much to be questioned if any one of your Lordships has become acquainted with a single word of these Resolutions. [The Earl of ABERDEEN: Don't take that for granted.] My noble Friend opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne) and my noble and learned Friends near him (Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice Campbell) objected to my withdrawing the Resolutions when I had moved them, and they refused to have the previous question upon them put, lest it might be supposed that the House had disagreed with them. But as I could hardly expect so many important propositions, some of them statements of fact, others of principle, could be agreed to without further discussion, in concert with my noble Friends, the course was taken of adjourning the debate. I do not purpose to revive and continue it at present; but one of the Resolutions, the seventeenth, together with the provisions grounded upon it, in the Bill now on your table, is of such paramount importance that I must crave your indulgence while I open the great question to which it relates—that of the difficulty found to beset the subject of popular education on every side, and meeting us at each step of our progress, from the religious differences existing in this country. For my own part, I have always held the opinion, from which I will not say I have been driven by compulsion, but by compulsion I certainly have been driven most reluctantly to modify or qualify its practical application, that the true mode of educating the people is to provide the means of secular instruction, and keep religious instruction apart from it; or at least teaching in schools those truths on which all sects are agreed, and leaving those truths on which they differ to be taught by the parents of each child, the pastors of each sect.

In a community like this, filled with various religious classes, and whose religious zeal is happily so fervent—I say happily, because whatever dissensions it may engender, and whatever difficulties it may occasion, its warmth at least proves the strength and sincerity of religious conviction—it has always appeared nearly impossible to plant schools in which the children of various sects may be taught, unless their instruction is confined to secular learning, while their religious teaching is left to their parents or their pastors. But this principle by no means excludes whatever security may be required for their receiving that instruction at home, and for their attending the church to which their parents resort, supposing their attendance at the school service or school church dispensed with. This is the opinion, and with this qualifica- tion rather than exception, which I have ever held, and in common with men whose great worth was not more remarkable than the strength of their religious feelings, so that it is grounded on anything rather than indifference on this most important matter. I refer to my lamented friend the late Duke of Bedford; but I may besides cite those who also bore the foremost part in the kindred, nay, identical controversy of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Whitbread, Zachary Macaulay, William Smith, who differing with them on many other points, agreed on this, and agreed with them also in being a truly pious man.

At first, and I may add for very many years after the system of schools for all was introduced, it was no part of the plan that any care should be taken for religious instruction, because the difficulties were found to be all but insuperable, of combining that with secular teaching; and it was found almost equally difficult to exact any security for religious instruction out of school, unless some such instruction should be connected with the school teaching. Still, as the extreme importance of obtaining some such security was admitted on all hands, I was induced to insert a provision in the Bills of 1837, 1838, and 1839, which had received the entire approval and support of the Government (Lord Melbourne's), and I have introduced it into the Bill now on your table. It requires that all schools to be either planted, or assisted by the rate which the municipal bodies are authorised to levy, shall be open to all classes, teaching no catechism, compelling no attendance at church service, where parents either object to the catechism or the service, but requiring satisfactory proof that the religious instruction and attendance on divine service is cared for by the parents or guardians in their own way. When we consider the division of the community into so many sects, we at once perceive the absolute necessity of some such principle governing our provisions for popular education, if, indeed, we are not led at once the full length of adopting the peremptory separations of secular from religious instruction, on which, however, I repeat, the general sense of the country, and of Dissenters as well as Churchmen, has pronounced a sentence of condemnation.

But the religious divisions to which I advert are well calculated to make us feel all the difficulty of combining the two kinds of instruction in one system. On one side we have the Establishment and its schools, where the Catechism is taught, the Liturgy used, and attendance on the Church service required; and here there is no difficulty, because the hundreds of thousands of children attending these schools, and answering to the millions of Churchmen, belong to one body, all professing a religious belief which is one and the same. So it is sometimes said, there being the Dissenters on the other hand—let schools be provided for their children, where no Church Catechism, Liturgy, or attendance is required, but the instruction is given according to their dissenting views. And nothing could be more easy than such an arrangement if the sects, like the Church, were one and the same; but, unfortunately, they are five and thirty —twenty-seven British and eight foreign; there are divisions and subdivisions: thus, when we speak of Methodists as a sect, we are speaking of nine sects; for there are the two great divisions of Arminian and Calvinistic, and the Arminians are subdivided into seven, the Calvinists into two. So the Baptists are five sects, not one; and thus, when we speak of Methodists and Baptists as if they were two sects, we, in fact, are speaking of no less than fourteen, which, with the Roman Catholics, the Presbyterians, the Independents, the Unitarians, and others, make in all five and thirty different persuasions. True, some of these subdivisions only differ from each other by slight variations, or shades of diversity in opinion; and hence, if we had no experience to guide us, we might that their repugnance to each other, their determination to keep aloof, their mutual repulsion as it were, would be feeble in the like proportion. But, alas! alas! it is just the other way. The nearer they approach in doctrine and discipline, the wider is their severance in feeling; the more alike their religious belief and political structure, the more they disagree, the greater is their mutual repugnance. It seems to be the law that governs religious dissensions and spiritual animosity. The Odium Theologicum seems, like gravitation, only that it is repulsive and not attractive, to act inversely as the distance, or even in a higher proportion to the proximity of faith. To establish anything like a common action among the zealots of these sects is manifestly impossible. Nothing could satisfy, or indeed appease them, but the establishment of schools for each of the different persuasions, a thing utterly impracticable.

Happily, however, the same spirit does not prevail in all the denominations, or at least among all the members of each. There is the most satisfactory evidence that a great proportion of Dissenters avail themselves of the instruction afforded by the Church schools, and it is probable that far more of each sect send their children thither than to other dissenting seminaries. If we take the census returns framed upon the Church attendance on the 31st March, 1851, we may reckon 8,000,000 as the number of persons belonging to the Establishment; 5,700,000 as those of all the 35 sects, leaving about 4,200,000 not professing to join with any denomination. It has no doubt been said that those returns are of questionable accuracy as regards the proportion of churchmen to dissenters, and a Right Rev. Friend of mine (Bishop of Oxford) lately adduced facts to illustrate this position. But admitting all that can be alleged in support of this argument, the estimate of the number of Dissenters on which I am grounding my inference, will not be affected, because there is the margin of 4,200,000 to be distributed; and it must be granted that a certain proportion of these belong to the sects. I will allow by far the greater number to the Church, but I think were my Right Rev. Friend here, he would admit that increasing the number of 8,000,000, shown by the returns, to the extent of 9,000,000, and diminishing by that addition the 5,000,000 of Dissenters, we cannot add the whole 4,200,000 to the Church, giving it above 13,000,000. It is manifest, therefore, that nearer 6,000,000 than 5,000,000 must belong to the sects, or about 5,700,000. Now, in this population, what is the proportion of children attending schools? By the statements which I made the other evening, and for the reasons then urged, it appears that there should be about 700,000. But the returns don't show above 240,000 attending the dissenting schools, leaving more than 450,000 who must receive their education elsewhere. The great desire of Dissenters to obtain instruction for their children is undeniable; it has at all times most honourably distinguished them; they were the earliest in the field as promoters of popular education; and the number of children which I have just stated, must therefore receive education either at pri- vate seminaries or at church schools. At private seminaries, it is evident that only the children of the wealthier classes can be taught, and as these attend school much longer than others, there must on that account be an addition made to the number which was taken upon the general average for all classes. So that nearly the whole 450,000, certainly 400,000, are to be regarded as attending the National or Church Schools. This is a fact of the greatest importance, and it is hard to say whether there results from it more credit to the wise liberality of the Church or of the sects; for it shows on the one hand, that generally speaking, no attendance or instruction is enforced, which can offend conscientious scruples on matters of importance, and it proves on the other hand, that the mere name of the establishment, and the connection with it of the patrons and teachers, does not raise a prejudice sufficient to outweigh the Dissenter's desire of education for his child. We may thus derive very great comfort from observing that the good sense of the greater number both among Churchmen and sectaries, prevails over the bigoted violence of zealots, leads the one class to keep open the doors of their schools to all, by forbidding any compulsion, either as to catechism or divine service, and keeps the other class above the folly of indulging in groundless prejudices, rather against the name of an establishment than its substance.

But upon this wise forbearance, as the cardinal point, hinges the power of that establishment to benefit those without its pale. Its schools can only be accessible to all by the exclusion of whatever shuts their doors against conscientious Dissenters. Yet it is lamentable to reflect that while the Church has thus distinguished itself, those who had originally taken the lead against all exclusive views, all dogmatic tests, all observances which could by possibility introduce disqualification on religious grounds, have lately departed widely from these wise and tolerant principles. With the British and Foreign School Society, I have been intimately acquainted, I may say connected from its commencement in 1810, under another name; indeed I presided at the preliminary meeting held to found it, attended by W. Allen, Joseph Fox, Thomas Clarkson, and others, who had stood by Joseph Lancaster in his great difficulties. In the following spring, the Duke of Bedford pre- sided over its first public meeting. Under his auspices, and those of the Duke of Kent, father of Her Majesty, one of the most zealous and useful friends of the Institution, it gathered strength; and its fundamental principle, that which distinguished it from the National Society, soon after established, was the rigorous exclusion of all differences on religious grounds, the severance of secular from religious instruction, the repudiation of whatever could by any possibility operate as a test—the principle embodied in its motto of Schools for All. Judge then of my astonishment when I lately heard that steps had been taken to shut the doors of this Institution against Unitarians, and deprive them of its benefits by requiring the acceptance of religious dogmas to which they cannot assent. Among the sects to which I have adverted, the Unitarians are in point of numbers nearly the least conspicuous; they amount to little more than 60,000; but they are for the most part in easy circumstances, and for their character and habits much respected. They make great exertions for the education of their children; but their poor, though not numerous, are in want of the means of instruction, especially in some parts of the West of England. Applying to the teachers connected with the Society and its officers, the pastors of the Unitarians have found that in its schools religious doctrines are required to be taught to which no conscientious Unitarian can subscribe. To such an extent has this departure from its fundamental principles proceeded, that I hold in my hand the opinion given by two learned friends of mine, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas when he was Attorney General, and Mr. Bolt, the eminent King's Counsel, who being consulted upon the statement of the Society itself, signed by its Secretary, pronounced without hesitation that the Society is guilty of a constant breach of trust in dealing with the funds given or bequeathed to it on the faith of its original or fundamental principles, but now applied to support schools from whence Unitarians are excluded by the religious dogmas taught, by the test thus exacted from teachers, the standard of supposed orthodoxy to which the scholar must conform; and this by the Society which plumes itself upon rejecting all manner of exclusion, arrogates to itself the peculiar function of holding schools for all, and is constituted, both in its patrons and in its members, most chiefly of Dissen- ters from the National Church. So much for the tolerance of those who charge the Church with exclusive principles; so much for the fancy that intolerance is confined to establishments.

I have heard it once and again affirmed that Unitarians are not Christians; and some in their unreflecting zeal—some even of those whom I sincerely respect—have gone so far as to call Socinianism a halfway house towards infidelity; forgetting that a half-way house, from the nature of the thing, ex vi termini, must be as well from as towards—either to infidelity, or from infidelity to Christianity; and accordingly I have known eminent converts from the superstitions of the East who were Socinians. But when misguided men of more zeal than knowledge would thus distinguish the Unitarian from the Christian, whom, I will ask, do we fondly cite as our highest authorities when we are engaged in defending our religion against its infidel adversaries? In arguing with these upon the evidences, how often has one said, "What better would you have than that which satisfied the greatest masters of science, the great luminaries of law? Who was ever a better judge of legal evidence than Hale, of moral evidence than Locke, of mathematical and physical evidence than Newton?" And yet Locke at one time laboured under grave suspicion of Unitarianism, groundless, perhaps, though he was at the least an Arian. But that Newton was a Unitarian is quite certain. [Lord CAMPBELL expressed some dissent, saying he was an Arian.] No—as thorough a Unitarian as ever attended Essex Street Chapel. My noble and learned Friend will find this clearly proved by Sir D. Brewster from examination of the Newton MSS. which, that learned person says, leave not the shadow of a doubt upon the subject. Your Lordships, indeed, are not Unitarians; I question if there be one in this House. [Lord CAMPBELL: There have been.] Certainly there have; the Duke of Grafton and others; with them we may not agree; but assuredly their errors are not to be corrected by denying that Sir Isaac Newton was a Christian, or Dr. Lardner—he to whose writings the defence of our religion owes so great an obligation, that they form a large proportion, nay the very foundation, of Dr. Paley's celebrated work. With these eminent men you may differ; you may keep aloof as wide as you will from them; but it is not by denying the Christianity of Newton and Lardner that you can turn Socinians aside from their track. Neither of their heresies nor of far greater than theirs, have I the least dread. I have no alarm for the truth—no fear of error. Let truth be left to the attacks of its enemies, error to the care of its friends, and I have no apprehension of the result. But one thing I do fear; one thing does alarm me; and that is persecuted error. That fills me with apprehension; for well I know that whether openly persecuted or secretly oppressed—cruelly treated or subjected to injustice, annoyance, and vexation—it straightway becomes formidable. Maltreatment gives it the only chance of success, makes it by degrees wear the garb of truth, and ends by usurping her place. I hope and trust that the notice taken of that grievous mistake into which the men I allude to have been betrayed—well-meaning men but overzealous, and without knowledge to temper and guide their zeal—may lead them to regain the right path from which they have strayed to correct the abuse which they have countenanced.

It is my confident hope that the Bill on your table, giving effect to the Resolution which I have been discussing, will receive the sanction of your Lordships, and that effectual means may thus be afforded, of giving where they are most wanted the blessings of education to all classes, without regard to their religious persuasion. We hear of maladies breaking out in certain districts detached one from another. The great evil of ignorance is also found to exist dispersed; and I would apply to it a sporadic remedy by giving our municipal bodies the power of planting schools at the cost of the communities subject to their government, but schools open to the children of all, whether Protestants or Catholics, Churchmen or Dissenters, and kept open by rules preventing all compulsory teaching of catechism, all compulsory attendance on divine service. This has been found easily effected in the North, upon the principles so wisely and so liberally laid down by Dr. Hook; for, at Edinburgh, I know that the children of various sects receive religious instruction in the same place at different hours, from different pastors, while they receive secular instruction at the same hours from the same teachers. But wise by the experience of my noble Friend in the Home Department (Lord Palmerston), who has unfortunately been frustrated in his attempts to improve our police, by the jea- lousy of corporate towns, I have provided that the municipalities shall have the most uncontrolled management of their schools, subject only to having the rating power withdrawn by the Education Committee of the Privy Council for a breach of the conditions on which it had been granted, such especially as the cardinal one of keeping the schools open to all classes. If they choose to change the fundamental rules, they must rely on other funds than the rate. I look forward to this measure as yielding a fair promise of successfully grappling with the religious difficulty, as it has been termed, which has hitherto obstructed our course. But I also look to my noble Friends who in the Privy Council administer the distribution of the grants for education, and I expect that they too will continue to put down all exclusive plans on the part of those who receive this aid, under what name soever they may approach the Committee, and will sternly discountenance such proceedings as I have been under the painful necessity of describing and denouncing—proceedings taken in violation of all principle, in display only of intolerant bigotry, and in furtherance of its unlawful designs.


merely rose to express his disapproval of the manner in which, as his noble and learned Friend had said, the Unitarians had been persecuted. He (Lord Campbell) was not aware that Sir Isaac Newton was a Socinian; he had always believed him to have been an Arian; he believed, however, that the Socinians numbered among themselves many men of good education, of great attainments, and of irreproachable lives. Though this sect laboured under what he conceived to be a lamentable error, still they were Christians, and ought to be treated as such. Until the repeal of the Statutes of William III. Socinians had laboured under various disabilities, and were not entitled to all the privileges of the Act of Uniformity, but now they were placed on the same footing as the other religious sects, and, though hoping that they might see their error, he yet trusted that, while they continued in their error, they would be treated as Christian brethren, and not, as they had been, as something worse than infidels.


said, that, as he had on a former occasion replied to the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham), he should now only trouble their Lordships with a few observations. With regard to the principle laid down by the noble and learned Lord as to the propriety of not making the Catechism compulsory in the case of children of other communions or creeds in the same school, no one could feel more strongly on this than he (Earl Granville) did; as he did not think that there could be any doubt as to the immense advantages resulting in the one case, and the immense disadvantages in the other. His noble Friend could, with him, affirm that great difficulties in apportioning the grants of the Privy Council had arisen in certain small villages in which, in the schools established, the Church Catechism was made a compulsory part of the instruction of the children. In many of these instances, the Dissenters had made application for funds for the purpose of setting up a school in opposition to the Church school. This had given rise to much difficulty, as the Government thought that in these villages one school could amply supply their educational wants, and that it would be an absolute waste of money to contribute towards the establishment of two schools. The children, therefore, in many of those villages did not avail themselves of the means of education afforded to them, which they otherwise would do if instruction in the Catechism were not made compulsory. He was happy to be able to state that there were many of the schools connected with the National Schools in which the Catechism was not made compulsory. He had that evening been informed by a clergyman, who had laboured in the schools where the Catechism was compulsory, that he was much struck with the disadvantages arising from such a system, and that he was most anxious that a Bill should be introduced, that in those schools to which the Privy Council grants were made, instruction in the Catechism should not be compulsory. He would venture to make a suggestion to his noble and learned Friend with reference to school books, which at present were not so cheap nor so good as they might be, considering the great demand there was for them. The greatest improvements in school books had been introduced into Ireland by the Irish Board of Education. He would suggest that the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, or some society of that kind, might render most valuable aid to the educational cause by introducing cheap and efficient books. He believed that this would not prove unprofitable, for the Irish books sold in England lately had absolutely doubled their former sale; and, were this subject to be taken up by a society, it would give a most useful stimulus to publishers.


was extremely glad that his noble Friend had in his remarks entered into the subject of the care required to keep Church schools open to all classes, and he (Lord Brougham) had, he believed, rather understated the degree in which this had been already acted upon. The statements which he had this night made from the returns seemed to show how prevalent liberal views were among the patrons and directors of Church schools. He could not, indeed, refrain from a hope, grounded upon the conduct both of Church and sects, that it might be found possible to arm municipal bodies with the absolute discretion of making rules for schools under the Bill, although he had added a provision somewhat tending to narrow this discretion. He thought it extremely possible that the Dissenters being represented as well as the Church in the town councils, a compromise might be come to, and schools with different rules supported by the rate, so that different denominations might in name, as well as in substance, be suited. Considering the number of sects, this, no doubt, would depend upon their members exercising great forbearance, as he hoped they might, for the sake of promoting education. But, for the present, he deemed it advisable to frame the Bill as he had done. He would add, that he also agreed with what had fallen from his noble Friend as to school books. The Society for Diffusing Useful Knowledge, to which his noble Friend referred, had laboured, and he might say successfully, to provide books for popular instruction, but almost entirely for adults. After many years of such exertion, and in which, as he stated the other day, it had succeeded not only in bringing down the price of books, but in causing several hundreds of works to be prepared on subjects not before treated of at all, or not treated of in a satisfactery manner, it had found that, partly by such publications of its own, and partly by the stimulus given to other societies and to individual authors, the great work seemed to be nearly done for which it had been instituted, and for two or three years past it had rested from its labours. He did not, therefore, see how it could act upon his noble Friend's very proper suggestion; but he trusted that some other society might be found to perform the highly useful duty in question.

His noble Friend was quite right in referring to the caution necessary, both in justice to the bookselling trade, and in order not to frustrate the object in view, both of which considerations made it most improper for Government to interfere in publishing school books. The Useful Knowledge Society was incorporated by charter in 1837; but when he framed that charter be took care to insert a prohibition against the Society deriving any profit whatever from its publications. Accordingly the gain upon one work which yielded profit was applied to pay the expenses of other works which could only be published at a loss; but no gain whatever could be received by the Society upon the balance of the accounts. To a voluntary and unincorporated society, wholly independent of the Government, undertaking the important office of preparing and publishing good school books, there could be no objection from any quarter; and he agreed with his noble Friend that this would be most useful. The Society to which reference had been made was quite aware of this great want, and had repeatedly referred to it in the course of its publications, and of its proceedings. He rather thought a Committee had been specially appointed on the subject, either upon his own, or the Vice President (Lord Althorp's) suggestion. That no interference of the Government can be allowed in any way, is perfectly evident. The least approach to a censorship of the press, which such interference must lead to, is never on any account to be tolerated. None but the enemies of education, as well as liberty, could entertain such a project for one instant.

Debate further adjourned, sine die.