Abbildungen der Seite

tendency. Materials for it may, in some measure, be furnished here and there by the existing bodies of religionists, though their combination cannot be made available by the exertions and by the activity of sectarianism. The path must be by the road of national education, without which, no great or permanent good can be expected. I trust there is a tendency towards this; and that in each of the means I am indicating, there is also a self-inherent power of advance.

This is the case with the next I would mention-the effect of political thought and association upon the poorer classes. If methodism gave the first strong impulse to the intelligence of poverty, the Corresponding Society gave the second; and many a living member in the most respectable ranks of life in this metropolis and kingdom can bear witness, and does from time to time, and on every legitimate opportunity, bear witness to the wholesome effect of that society upon the mind and the morals of many young men connected with it, who became thereby capable of developing a judgment, a prudence, a forethought, a consistent integrity, and an unfailing perseverance, which there existed no rational probability of their acquiring in any other way, and which we can scarcely imagine they could have learnt in any school, which society in their own class, or the class above, could or would have opened for their reception.

Similar tendencies were exercised by the bodies formed in a more recent period—the Political Unions. The manner in which they brought together the different classes of society, tended to destroy that ignorance in which both existed ; to commend each to the other's feelings; to demolish the artificial barriers which have kept out the light and heat that should circulate over the whole surface of humanity, and create brotherhood where only had been suspicion or hostility. They also showed the way in which opinion may be fairly and legitimately acted upon. They showed the extent to which the poor

er classes are teachable—the way in which erroneous impressions may be corrected, and the strongest prejudices abat ed. They showed that such a machinery had only to be properly directed to form one of the most efficient modes of raising men's minds to thoughtfulness, to knowledge, to foresight, and through these to whatever best deserves the name of morality. Nor was it, in my opinion, wise in those who were invested with authority, either to crush the first of these, or to discountenance the other ; they better deserved cherishing, as one means of acting upon society through all its gradations for the most beneficent purposes, as one way of forming men for that which ultimately must be their inheritance-the universal rights of citizenship, and keeping up the union of power and knowledge—the union which most of all will not bear dissevering—the union from which most of all we may anticipate good for mankind. And I think the tendency of the good which was elicited and cherished by these institutions is a growing tendency; I think it will result in limiting, and eventually destroying, much of that ignorance, of that want, of that servility, which we have been describing : that, investing men with the conscious dignity of political and civil existeuce, it will raise their thoughts to a sense of the moral dignity of their nature, so that not only will the peasant learn to "venerate himself as man," but all will cherish a merited self-respect, the surest safeguard of whatever is most excellent in humanity.

The third means of improvement, and source of hope that such improvement will be realized, may be found

[ocr errors]

in the extent to which education has been carried in the Mechanics' Institutes, and establishments of a similar description, and in the cheapness, the greatly increased and increasing cheapness of books of almost every description. I need not trace the history and progress (which must be familiar to most of you) of these different influences—the way in which they originated, and the steps by which they have advanced from their origin to their present degree of power. But I must say, that in each of them there is a drawback; that while education has been extended, and is extending, there is much indeed yet to desiderate in the quality of the instruction communicated; and that while Mechanics' Institutes have done much good, they have not laid that extensive grasp on the operative classes which might have been desired and expected. They have made a great mistake in often excluding from any influential share of their management the class designed to be benefited, and without whose hearty co-operation it is not to be expected they should be either flourishing or useful. I lament also their exclusion of political and religious topics, which is equivalent, so far as it goes, to debarring the mind of man from embracing whatever is most important to its interest. To topics like these, human intellect, even in the poorest and most ignorant, must ever aspire, --with these it should be ever familiarly conversant; nor can you give it a fair road to advancement in mental and moral science, unless you throw them open for its free and manly discussion.

In regard to the other point-the cheapness of publications—it is to be regretted that that cheapness is not extended to that which exercises the most lively influence on men's feelings, to that which gives them their knowledge of passing events, to that which is intended to act on their own opinions, upon what is really the management of their own affairs from week to week, and from day to day; and which restriction is most truly called a taxation upon knowledge, the most absurd, the most iniquitous taxation that ever entered into the mind of man to devise, or that was ever imposed by the most selfish, narrow-minded, and despotic legislation.

In these means I trace a tendency towards something greater. I trust that there is in these a progress towards that UNIVERSAL EDUCATION which shall not only take the entire infantile population of the country under its benig, nant and parental care, but which shall also regard the sphere of education as extending throughout the whole of human life, and provide well for adult instruction also ; which shall open institutes, and schools, and lectures, and exhibitions, and rich treasures of works of art, and all that can lead man to the full enjoyment of his mental and moral powers through all the gradations of his being; national education, of all classes and of all ages, for which we have so abundant provision in those funds left by the well-meaning piety of our ancestors, and which any Church Reform that deserves the name must have in view the application of to the spiritual culture of the entire population of the country.

Connected with these, there must be the amelioration of the physical condition of the poor. It is of no use to offer knowledge to a starving man : nor can the human mind and the human heart ever fairly unfold their quali,ties and capabilities, while diet of a pernicious character, improper clothing, and imperfect shelter, premature labor, and frequent exposure to the severity of the seasons, are the lot of the youthful population. The condi- . tion of men, their physical condition must advance in connexion with the progress of their intellectual and

moral culture. How this great problem is to be solved, by what means a more righteous and beneficent distribution of the produce of toil is to be effected, is a point far too large--even were I conscious of being able to throw a light, which I feel my inability to do--to be treated of incidentally, and in this cursory manner. But one thing may commend itself to our minds: the condition of the poorer classes has actually improved. Whatever partial instances there may be, as there must be in the fluctuations of a great commercial country, still, upon the whole, the comparisons which the personal experience of many, the records of former generations, and the inductions of a careful inquiry will enable us to arrive at, show an advancement, though gradual, in the condition of the poor and laboring classes. They are not now exposed to many privations which fell upon their predecessors of a few generations back. The instances in which a retrograde movement must be noticed, are principally of those where unskilled labor has been displaced by machinery; and this is a kind of suffering for which one can scarcely imagine any remedy but the transfer of the labor of the individuals so occupied to other and better modes of exertion; for this species of labor must deteriorate in its remuneration with the advance of scientific discovery and its application to the arts, and eventually must be totally annihilated. In proportion as the freedom of institutions and the diffusion of knowledge make a nation an association for universal good, monopolies will be swept away; wealth will not only be produced in the most efficient modes, but distributed on the most righteous principles; each will find his most useful place in society; and morality and happiness will set up and sustain their most energetic reciprocal action. The amelioration of the condition, physical, mental and moral,

« ZurückWeiter »