Page images

abilities and influence could extend. Their design was not in any sort to remove poor children out of the rank in which they were born, but, keeping them in it, to give them the assistance which their circumstances plainly called for; by educating them in the principles of religion, as well as civil life; and likewise making some sort of provision for their maintenance: under which last I include clothing them, giving them such learning, if it is to be called by that name, as may qualify them for some common employment, and placing them out to it as they grew up. These two general designs coincide, in many respects, and cannot be separated. For teaching the children to read, though I have ranked it under the latter, equally belongs to both and without some advantages of the latter sort, poor people would not send their children to our charity schools; nor could the poorest of all be admitted into any schools, without some charitable provision of clothing. And care is taken, that it be such as cannot but be a restraint upon the children. And if this, or any part of their education, gives them any little vanity, as has been poorly objected, whilst they are children, it is scarce possible but that it will have even a quite contrary effect when they are grown up, and ever after remind them of their rank. Yet still we find it is apprehended, that what they here learn may set them above it.


But why should people be so extremely apprehensive of the danger that poor persons will make a perverse use of every the least advantage, even the being able to read, whilst they do not appear at all apprehensive of the like danger for themselves or their own children, in respect of riches or power, how much soever; though the danger of perverting these advantages is surely as great, and the perversion itself of much greater and worse consequence? And by what odd reverse of things has it happened, that such as pretend to be distinguished for the love of liberty, should be the only persons who plead for keeping down the poor, as one may speak; for keeping them more in


ferior in this respect, and, which must be the consequence in other respects, than they were in times past? For, till within a century or two, all ranks were nearly upon a level as to the learning in question. The art of printing appears to have been providentially reserved till these latter ages, and then providentially brought into use, as what was to be instrumental for the future in carrying on the appointed course of things. The alterations which this art has even already made in the face of the world, are not inconsiderable. By means of it, whether immediately or remotely, the methods of carrying on business are, in several respects, improved, "knowledge has been increased,"* and some sort of literature is become general. And if this be a blessing, we ought to let the poor, in their degree, share it with us. The present state of things, and course of Providence, plainly leads us to do And if we do not, it is certain, how little soever it be attended to, that they will be upon a greater disadvantage, on many accounts, especially in populous places, than they were in the dark ages: for they will be more ignorant, comparatively with the people about them, than they were then; and the ordinary affairs of the world are now put in a way which requires that they should have some knowledge of letters, which was not the case then. And therefore, to bring up the poor in their former ignorance, now this knowledge is so much more common and wanted, would be, not to keep them in the same, but to put them into a lower condition of life than what they were in formerly. Nor let people of rank flatter themselves, that ignorance will keep their inferiors more dutiful and in greater subjection to them; for surely there must be danger, that it will have a contrary effect, under a free government such as ours, and in a dissolute age. Indeed the principles and manners of the poor, as to virtue and religion, will always be greatly influenced, as they always have been, by the example of their superiors, if that would mend the matter. And this influ

* Daniel xii. 4.

ence will, I suppose, be greater, if they are kept more inferior than formerly in all knowledge and improvement. But unless their superiors of the present age, superiors, I mean of the middle, as well as higher ranks in society, are greater examples of public spirit, of dutiful submission to authority, human and divine, of moderation in diversions, and proper care of their families and domestic affairs; unless, I say, superiors of the present age are greater examples of decency, virtue, and religion, than those of former times; for what reason in the world is it desirable, that their example should have this greater influence over the poor? On the contrary, why should not the poor, by being taught to read, be put into a capacity of making some improvement in moral and religious knowledge, and confirming themselves in those good principles, which will be a great security for their following the example of their superiors, if it be good, and some sort of preservative against their following it, if it be bad? And serious persons will farther observe very singular reasons for this amongst us; from the discontinuance of that religious intercourse, between pastors and people in private, which remains in Protestant churches abroad, as well as in the church of Rome; and from our small public care and provision for keeping up a sense of religion in the lower rank, except by distributing religious books. For in this way they have been assisted; and any well disposed person may do much good amongst them, and at a very trifling expense, since the worthy society before mentioned has so greatly lessened the price of such books. But this pious charity is an additional reason why the poor should be taught to read, that they may be in a capacity of receiving the benefit of it. Vain indeed would be the hope, that any thing in this world can be fully secured from abuse. For as it is the general scheme of divine Providence to bring good out of evil; so the wickedness of men will, if it be possible, bring evil out of good. But upon the whole, incapacity and ignorance must be favorable to error and vice; and knowledge and improvement contribute, in due time, to the destruction

of impiety as well as superstition, and to the general prevalence of true religion. But some of these observations may perhaps be thought too remote from the present occasion. It is more obviously to the purpose of it to observe, that reading, writing, and accounts, are useful, and whatever cause it is owing to, would really now be wanted in the very lowest stations: and that the trustees of our charity schools are fully convinced of the great fitness of joining to instruction easy labor, of some sort or other, as fast as it is practicable; which they have already been able to do in some of them.

Then as to placing out the poor children, as soon as they are arrived at the fit age for it, this must be approved by every one, as it is putting them in a way of industry under domestic government, at a time of life, in some respects, more dangerous than even childhood. And it is a known thing, that care is taken to do it in a manner which does not set them above their rank; though it is not possible always to do it exactly as one would wish. Yet I hope it may be observed without offence, if any of them happen to be of a very weakly constitution, or of a very distinguished capacity, there can be no impropriety in placing these in employments adapted to their particular cases; though such as would be very improper for the generality.

But the principal design of this charity is to educate poor children in such a manner, as has a tendency to make them good, and useful, and contented, whatever their particular station be. The care of this is greatly neglected by the poor; nor truly is it more regarded by the rich, considering what might be expected from them. And if it were as practicable to provide charity schools, which should supply this shameful neglect in the rich, as it is to supply the like, though more excusable, neglect in the poor, I should think certainly, that both ought to be done for the same reasons. And most people, I hope, will think so too, if they attend to the thing I am speaking of; which is the moral and religious part of

education; what is equally necessary for all ranks, and grievously wanting in all. Yet in this respect the poor must be greatly upon a disadvantage, from the nature of the case; as will appear to any one who will consider it.

For if poor children are not sent to school, several years of their childhood, of course, pass away in idleness and loitering. This has a tendency to give them, perhaps a feeble listlessness, perhaps a headstrong profligateness of mind; certainly an indisposition to proper application as they grow up, and an aversion afterwards, not only to the restraints of religion, but to those which any particular calling, and even the nature of society, require. Whereas children kept to stated orders, and who many hours of the day are in employment, are by this means habituated, both to submit to those who are placed over them, and to govern themselves; and they are also by this means prepared for industry in any way of life in which they may be placed. And all this holds, abstracted from the consideration of their being taught to read; without which, however, it will be impracticable to employ their time; not to repeat the unanswerable reasons for it before mentioned. Now, several poor people cannot, others will not, be at the expense of sending their children to school. And let me add, that such as can and are willing, yet if it be very inconvenient to them, ought to be eased of it, and the burden of children made as light as may be to their poor parents.

Consider next the manner in which the children of the poor, who have vicious parents, are brought up, in comparison with other children whose parents are of the same character. The children of dissolute men of fortune may have the happiness of not seeing much of their parents. And this, even though they are educated at home, is often the case, by means of a customary distance between them, which cannot be kept amongst the poor. Nor is it impossible, that a rich man of this character, desiring to have his children better than himself, may provide them such an education as may make them

« PreviousContinue »