HL Deb 04 May 1865 vol 178 cc1458-64

On the Motion of The Earl of CLARENDON the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. E. Carnarvon.
E. Powis.
Ld. President. E. Harrowby.
D. Marlborough. V. Stratfordde Redcliffe.
E. Derby. V. Eversley.
E. Devon. L. Bp. London.
E. Stanhope. L. Lyttelton.
E. Clarendon, L. Houghton.

THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH moved that the several petitions of persons alleging that their interests will be injuriously affected by the Public Schools Bill be referred to the Select Committee, and that such petitioners be allowed to appear by their counsel and witnesses before the Committee.


said, he feared they would establish a mischievous precedent if they allowed counsel to be heard against this Bill. In the other House no counsel had been allowed to appear before the Committee which considered the expediency of that most important change of power the transfer of the East India Company's possessions to the Crown. If counsel were heard before the Select Committee, it was probable that the Bill would not come down to their Lordships much before the Whitsuntide recess. It would then have to go down to the House of Commons. Under such circumstances no one could entertain a hope that it would pass into law this Session. He had not known any Bill which received so little support as this one. Even the noble Lords who were members of the Public School Commission were not prepared to accept it in its present shape. Meanwhile, he should like to know out of what funds would the fees be procured which would retain counsel for appearing before this Committee? The trustees of the Schools would ask to appear, and he supposed that they were to pay counsel out of the funds of the foundation or the charity of which they held the trusts. But if there was no chance of the Bill passing this Session it was not fair to call upon the trustees to spend part of the funds of the charity to assist in defeating it. It would be better that the Bill should be withdrawn, and that time should be given the trustees to consider such measures as were recommended in the Report. Many of them might be adopted by the Public Schools of their own accord. Out of the thirty-two recommendations in the Report only two were proposed in this Bill; and one the least valuable of all was that which sought to change the governing body. It would be better to leave the present Governors the opportunity of exercising their discretion. But it was objectionable that counsel should appear before the Committee when there was almost a certainty that the Bill could not pass this Session.


said, he understood that the expenses attendant on the retaining of counsel would be borne by subscription, and that very considerable sums had already been raised for the purpose. There would, therefore, be no necessity for the trustees to use trust funds to retain counsel. The parties who wished to appear asked to be heard against such parts of the Bill as affected themselves. They represented valuable property which would be affected by the provisions of this Bill, and they came forward asking the same rights which were accorded to private persons who appeared before a Committee of their Lordships' House against such part of a Bill as affected their interests. If this were a general measure affecting the public at large they could not he heard by counsel, for the delay consequent thereon would make legislation impossible. He trusted that the noble Lord would not interpose any difficulty with respect to the adoption of the Motion. But if the measure were to be postponed, he (the Earl of Ellenborough) agreed with the noble Lord that it would be better to withdraw it for the Session.


My Lords, I understand there is some objection on the ground of form to the Motion of which I gave notice on Tuesday, that the petitioners, whose petition I presented, should be heard by counsel. I will, therefore, with the permission of your Lordships, withdraw it. I am the last person to wish to establish an inconvenient precedent; but then, in fairness, I trust your Lordships will allow me to state the views of the petitioners, both on the details of the Bill, so far as they affect science, and on the general question of the introduction of scientific instruction into schools, and that before this Bill goes into Committee. The petitioners, as your Lordships might anticipate, highly approve of the recommendation of the Public School Commissioners, that the study of physical science shall be introduced into these great schools; and they are grateful to the Government for their good intentions, but they cannot approve of the mode adopted by them for carrying out that recommendation of the Commissioners by the provisions of this Bill. Some there are who contend that there should be a specific enactment, making it imperative that physical science should form an integral part of the instruction given in these schools, but to that I own there may be some objections; but all believe that the cause of science might possibly be rather injured than promoted by the introduction into the governing bodies of these schools a small minority distinguished for their scientific attainments. These gentlemen would be placed in a very invidious position. They might be viewed by their Colleagues as imposed upon them by the Legislature for the express purpose of effecting a change, to which some of them might be on principle opposed, and those who were in favour of the change would still wish to have the sole credit of bringing about the reform. Again, they are afraid that the numerous restrictions imposed by way of qualification for these governorships will so narrow the field of selection, that many, who are the best qualified for the office, will be thereby excluded.

But, my Lords, on the general question of the introduction of scientific teaching into schools, I can with confidence state what are the opinions of our most distinguished men of science. I have had many opportunities, during several years, of ascertaining their views on that subject; I cordially concur in them, and wish to be allowed to explain them fully to your Lordships, the rather that I may have no other opportunity of so doing, and I think it very important that there should be no misunderstanding as to the extent to which we wish that this scientific teaching should be carried. It is very true, my Lords, that those of your Lordships who have read with attention the admirable evidence of Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Hooker, will be at no loss to form an adequate notion on this point, but these may be a small minority, and I am very sure that the readers of blue-books are a small minority of the nation. We wish then, we desire earnestly, that the study of physical science should be introduced into all schools, but if it is to be taught it must be taught really and effectively, not by second or third-rate lecturers, delivering lectures at long intervals unaccompanied by examinations or other tests of proficiency and attention in the hearers, but on a systematic plan, as recommended by the resolutions of the President and Council of the Royal Society of January, 1857. But, on the other hand, we do not wish that these boys should be harassed by abstruse mathematical formula for which their young minds may not be sufficiently developed, and for which they may not have the necessary time at their command; they should go through an elementary course of scientific teaching; the laws of nature should be expounded to them and illustrated by experiments, and the inspection of collections duly arranged, and there should be a tutor at hand to explain difficulties as they arise, and answer questions. I hope your Lordships will allow me to read a short extract from a letter which I have lately received from Professor Phillips, the Professor of Geology at Oxford in reference to this subject. I am sure that all to whom that learned Professor is known will agree with me that there is no one more competent to give an opinion, and no one on whose opinion more reliance may be placed. Professor Phillips, after lamenting that young men should come up to Oxford ignorant of the most ordinary facts of science, goes on to state that there are three things required to bring about the reform we are contemplating— 1. A head master willing to take some trouble to produce a favourable change: 2. Opportunities of seeing arranged collections of objects of Natural History, and witnessing and sharing in experi- ments in chemistry, and experimental philosophy; 3. Teaching, not in a deductive form, or even very didactic form, but explanations p. r. n. founded on the facts immediately observed, the flowers as they are gathered, the fossils as they are handled, the decompositions as they are witnessed, the levers, microscopes, or barometers as they are worked and used …Again, the main difficulty is, perhaps, in the teaching. For I am much afraid that, to save trouble, and 'get rid' of the subject, some second or third-rate cultivator of science will be engaged to give formal instruction at stated hours, with no pleasant and frequent talk with the students, no help just when it is wanted …Good masters in science (one or two) to each school, resident, in good position, of adequate classical and mathematical attainments, as well as possessed of special scientific knowledge—a museum of small bulk, a laboratory or workroom—this is the sum of my recommendations for making effective in public schools the not inconsiderable inducements now held out by Oxford and Cambridge for the cultivation of physical science. But, my Lords, I greatly fear that whatever pains may be taken by learned Professors, or the noble Earl below me (The Earl of Clarendon) who has ably advocated scientific teaching, or by any one else to dispel alarm, and to alter preconceived opinions on this subject, some time will elapse before science will be, so to speak, naturalized in our schools, the rather that we have lost a powerful friend, that illustrious Prince, whose loss we all deplore and shall never cease to deplore, I am sure he would have given us his influential aid, for none regretted more than he the lamentable shortcomings of our English educational system in this matter of science. But then I shall be met by the argument that it is a positive benefit that each man shall have his specialty; that one shall be famous for science; another for classics; another for mathematics; that the intellectual capital of the nation is increased by this division of labour: but this argument is founded on the fallacy of assuming that what is good for the mature man is good for the child and boy, that what is good at the commencement of education is good throughout its whole course. It may be quite true that, if any one wishes to excel, he must select some study or pursuit for which he has a strong natural bias and taste, and devote to it a very considerable amount of concentrated, undivided attention. I am not now alluding to success in professions; I believe that may be attained without ambition or taste when a strong sense of duty co-exists with an empty purse; but where taste and inclination are required, how are they to be developed? Is it not quite certain they will not be developed if, whenever they show themselves in the child or boy, they are nipped in the bud by the cold frost of neglect and perhaps ridicule, and the child or boy is left in respect to that pursuit which he loves the best in no better condition as to knowledge than those of whom the poet says— ——Knowledge, her ample page, Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll. My Lords, I believe the true theory of education to be, that every mental faculty, especially the faculties of observation, every taste, tendency, and inclination as they spring up like young shoots above the tender soil of infancy, should be fostered, cultivated, watered, even from the earliest dawn of reason; and perhaps it would be well for us, if all our nurses were like the nurses mentioned by Dr. Hooker in his evidence, who, having been taught botany in Professor Henslow's village school, did not drag the child under their charge along when it stopped to examine plant, herb, or flower, but stopped with it to explain such of their properties as could be made intelligible to the infant mind. Unless these tastes and inclinations are thus developed, we incur a perpetual risk of having the wrong man in the wrong place. One who might have been a Newton, a Laplace, or a Faraday, might strive in vain to take an ordinary degree in classics at Oxford; and one who was born to be a Porson or a Gainsford, and, I might add, a Derby or a Lyttelton, one, in short, who was born to be a scholar, might, after struggling painfully over the Pons Asino-rum, spend his life and fortune in fruitless attempts to rival a Canning or a Gladstone in the other House of Parliament. But what if one result of this neglect of science in youth should be that men occupying high positions in the State should have no true sense of the value of scientific research? I do not say that it is so, but what if it were so, or should be so hereafter. What chance is there, then, that, when new scientific expeditions are proposed, new scientific investigations propounded, that they will be promoted and encouraged? Will they not be met by some chilling response, such as that of cui bono, an answer which would never be given by one who was familiar with the history of the inductive sciences—which would never be given by one who knew what magnificent results have arisen from the most insignificant experiments—by one who knew the history of the steam engine and the electric telegraph. I do not mean that no discretion is to be exercised, that any one making a proposal to the Government is to be allowed to spend the public money in the forlorn hope that some good may accrue thereby; I am speaking of propositions by the recognized heads of science, in which all, or almost all concur; if these are rejected—if their attempts to benefit the nation and mankind are foiled—they would have a right to say, as they do say, "A thousand examples prove, that no human foresight can foresee a tithe of the benefit, which may flow from the investigations of abstract science, the knowldege thus obtained is in itself a good—in itself a power—seek it therefore where it is to be had, and never faint or halt in its pursuit, and depend upon it that at some time or other you will reap a glorious harvest."

Motion agreed, to. All Petitions, with the Exception of the Petition of Cultivators of Natural Science (presented on Tuesday last), referred to the Committee, with Leave to the Petitioners praying to be heard by Counsel against the Bill to be heard as desired.—(The Earl of Ellenborough.)