HL Deb 07 April 1862 vol 166 cc631-5

rose, according to notice, to call attention to the subject of Military Drill lately introduced into Public Schools; and to inquire of the Government whether the Commission on Public Schools had been instructed to report on this branch of their system. He said, there was no topic, however inconsiderable it might seem at first sight, if it bore at all on the interests of the Volunteer movement, in the House of Lords would meet with inattention. It is in that House, if nowhere else, that the movement may rely on cordiality and sympathy, inasmuch as most of those who habitually attend the House, either as officers or as lord-lieutenants, or as Members of the late Government, or as Members of the present Government, have had an active share in its formation and encouragement, And if, as we hear whispered, the movement is now exposed to some rising hazards and some temporary clouds which did not formerly present themselves, the notice of to-day has greater practical importance than would otherwise belong to it. It is not; however, requisite to discuss at length the arguments in favour of military drill in public schools at present. It is; I trust, too late to do so. So long ago as December, 1859 a few months after the Volunteer movement had commenced, deeming the time favourable, I ventured to address the editor of a great and well-known journal on the subject. Soon after, in February, 1860 at a meeting at the Thatched House Tavern, the same cause had far more powerful supporters in Lord Elcho, in the late Provost of Eton, in Lord Enfield, in Lord West, in Sir De Lacy Evans, and many other gentlemen who assembled at that place and at that time with a view to promote the change I have referred to. A few days afterwards a yet more influential advocate appeared in the editor of The Times himself, who, by a leading article, lent his power and authority to bring about the object of the meeting. My view rather is to counteract, so far as I am able, two impressions, either of which would be mistaken; first, the impression that nothing has been done since the agitation and discussion in February, 1860, on the question; and secondly, the impression that what has been done requires no further efforts to secure and to establish it. So far from nothing having been done, before the meeting happened, and quite at the beginning of the year, some military instruction was introduced at Eton. Soon after Easter, Rugby, Harrow, Winchester, and Westminster adopted the example. At a later period something of the same kind began at the Charter-house. At Wimbledon the public schools have competed for shooting-prizes. Not very long ago the Eton companies were reviewed by the Queen herself; and the occasion was the last at which the lamented Prince was seen by the public. The discussions, therefore, in 1859 and in 1860 were far from being attended with no consequences. On the other hand, and this is most important to consider, all that has been done is voluntary and precarious. At any moment it may perish altogether. It depends on novelty, which must pass away; on youthful zeal, which cannot always be relied upon; on fashion, which is apt to change in public schools as it does elsewhere. Above all, it depends very much on the existence and the force of the Volunteer movement in the country, of which, in point of fact, it is a reflex. Already some decline has been exhibited. At Westminster, in spite of the zeal of the head master and the judicious aid which he received from Captain Arbuckle, the gallant and accomplished adjutant of the London Scottish Rifles, it has altogether passed away. At Eton four hundred was the number who enrolled in 1860; two hundred is about the number of the corps at present. At Harrow at one time it ranged above two hundred, and has fallen to one hundred. At Winchester my information is less accurate, but it is not thought there to be established very firmly. At the Charter-house the decline has only been from eighty to fifty. At Rugby there has been no sensible decline; but there, too, the basis is entirely precarious. Something exists, therefore, to which permanence is wanting, and the question occurs at once as to how far the Commission on public schools is able to impart that permanence by the sound and practical suggestions which they may offer on the subject. As it has not been included in the queries they have sent out, although the instructions they have had would seem to be so wide as to admit it, the question is in some degree a doubtful one. A declaration from the Government would very easily resolve it. No doubt, however, the Commission of which Lord Clarendon was the head, were bound to approach the subject as; unprejudiced inquirers, and not to assume the merits of the change on which public schools had thus provisionally entered. Its merits rest, however, on a few considerations which are very easy to refer to. Military drill at public schools, so carried on as to embrace the greater portion of the higher classes, must tend to make the Volunteer officers effective. It is not in later life that they can gain with fulness and effect the aptitudes and information which their duties call for. It is not the want of energy or spirit, but of time, which is the obstacle. Professional pursuits are always in the way of military exercises. And a great advantage would occur if public schools sent out year by year a supply of young men already fit to take commissions. But even if the force were ever so effective, what would tend more strongly to perpetuate it than the existence of a higher class imbued with military knowledge, and unwilling to see the field of its activity withdrawn? But supposing it should pass away with the fears and dangers which excited it, what can be more important to the country than to have its educated; classes trained to arms, so that the militia would always be supplied with valuable officers, and so that any sudden levy of the people on a particular emergency should have the necessary leaders to direct and to inspirit it? As regards the moral, the intellectual, and physical effects of military drill on those who come under its influence, much has been and much may be said; but it is all subsidiary to the great arguments which show, however rapidly we look at them, that such a system at public schools is a means of national defence and national security. It is far more easy to secure for it the permanence now wanting than at first sight it might appear to us. If it is secured at Eton, it is secured at all the other public schools, according to the detail which may be most suitable to each. The Commission need, therefore, only bring to bear their influence and operation upon Eton, where it is well known that the authorities would not be wanting in concurrence. The noble Lord (Lord Elcho) and the authorities at Eton, will not be found unequal to the task which, if the instructions of the Commissioners are wide enough, would naturally seem to fall upon them. The noble Lord concluded by asking whether the Commission on Public Schools had been instructed to report on this branch of their system?


As my noble Friend has alluded to me as the President of the Public Schools Commission, I beg to inform him that our instructions are amply sufficient, and have, indeed, been purposely so framed as to embrace all matters relating to the administration of the public schools. Our inquiries will be turned not only to the studies, but also to the recreations of the boys, and the mode in which they habitually employ their leisure time; and in these inquiries drilling will certainly be included. I regret to hear of a falling-off in the number of boys who have devoted themselves to drilling, for I agree with my noble Friend as to the advantages to be derived from it. No one, I think, can see a large number of boys walking together without being sensible how much their appearance, both individually and collectively, would be improved by the instructions of the drill-sergeant. I also agree with my noble Friend that it is impossible to exaggerate the political advantages of the Volunteer service, or to speak in too high terms of the noble spirit and true love of country which have animated the Volunteers. We are all interested in the Volunteer movement becoming a permanent institution of the country, and we must all be desirous to use our best efforts to make it so. It is therefore desirable that a taste for a certain amount of military drill, military training, and the use of the rifle at an early age should be encouraged. I apprehend, however, that in order to attain this object we must not seek to render attendance at drill compulsory on the boys of our public schools. We must suffer tuition in these matters to take its own course. In answer to the comprehensive questions circulated by the Public Schools Commission certain shortcomings are admitted and regretted; but want of time is pleaded as the general, and not always unreasonable, excuse. One thing is certain, that it is useless to expect that the masters will permit any portion of the school hours to be given up to drill. On the other hand, it would be very hard upon the boys and very unpopular to compel them to drill during their play hours, of which they have not more than is necessary for health of body and mind. If drilling is to be voluntary, I think it will be a formidable rival to cricketing, boating, and football. I can conceive nothing more calculated to inspire a distaste for drill than a compulsory attendance on the drill-sergeant by boys who are now permitted to employ their own time in their own way, and to amuse themselves as they think proper. I have heard that a certain number of boys regard drill as an amusement. How far it may be desirable to stimulate this taste by encouragement and rewards will be carefully inquired into by the Commission; but, as my noble Friend is aware, our duties do not go beyond that. Our instructions are to inquire and report; and if our opinions, being founded on the evidence we may obtain, should appear to be of any value, and if we are able to point out where reforms are required, and how they are to be effected, I trust we shall have the support of public opinion in our recommendations. We hope to have the benefit of personal communication with the head and other masters of our public schools. The attention of these Gentlemen will be drawn to the subject of drill; we shall consult with them, and we shall receive with satisfaction any suggestions they may make, in order to carry into effect the intentions of my noble Friend.


said, he could not conceive any proposition more absurd than boys who were going into the Church or the law should waste their time in learning the platoon exercise. The fondness for drill was a matter of taste with boys as much as with men, and any attempt to drive them from their play-grounds to the drill-sergeant would be most unwise. Many of their amusements were of themselves quite as useful in developing a manly spirit, as any drill in the world. He thought this matter must be left with the boys themselves; and as to drilling, any sort of pedantry in the matter should be avoided. They should be taught the Use of the rifle, in which they would take an interest and pride; but as to drilling, all instruction should be entirely voluntary.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.