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AT a Meeting of the Council of the Society of Arts, A held on the 22nd of October, 1856, it was resolved :
“ That Dr. Booth's Lectures at Lewes and Hitchin be republished in a pamphlet form by the Society.”
At the request of the Council of the Society of Arts I have revised the following Lectures for publication. The approbation with which the views they contain have been so very generally received induces me to hope that the advancement of sound instruction may be promoted without trenching on that freedom and independence in religious matters, which is at once our boast and our difficulty. Of the blessings of peace, not the least is the leisure it affords for the general consideration of internal reforms. Of these there is none so pressing as the amendment of the education of the masses. To ignorance, with its consequent improvidence, may be traced most of our national evils. So many of our social wrongs have been redressed within the last few years, one cannot believe that this the greatest, as being the source of nearly all the rest, shall continue without remedy.
The Vicarage, Wandsworth,
November 10, 1856.
HOW TO LEARN.
A T the request of your president and committee, I appear H here this evening to give you some information concerning the progress of popular education in this country, and to discuss the most effectual means of promoting it. I will address you in plain and homely phrase, because what I propose to speak to you about is a matter of business, in which every one of you is personally interested; and I will, as far as I can, abstain from the introduction of political or religious topics, on which there is, and always must be, a great diversity of opinion. Now I am not going to talk to you about the utility or the dignity of education. All that is settled. The necessity of education, the want of useful instruction, is admitted. We must not, however, act so unfairly as to judge with harshness those who in former years took the other side of the question. They looked at it with the light they had reflected to them from the aspect of their own times; and their excuse will not be far to seek, if we only bear in mind what was looked upon as education some century since or even not so long ago. If we only remember that the great discoveries in natural science which have signalised our own times had not yet been made, and that commercial rivalry and the competing industries of foreign nations had not begun to press severely on the virtual monopolies of our manufacturers. They viewed things from the standing point of their own time, and we must not find fault with them, if the higher eminence to which we are raised discloses to our view a wider horizon of responsibilities and duties.
I am not prepared to discuss whether a rural population, living in what has been called the Arcadian simplicity of a country life, without either trade or manufactures, colonies or commerce, might not constitute a happier state of society than this present one of ours, in which men in their breathless haste to go-a-head in the race of life, cross and crush, and jostle one another. In which association is only another name for competition, in which individual energy and intensity of will are every day becoming of more importance as elements of success in the battle of life which every one of us has more or less to fight. But we have to deal with actually existing facts; it is, therefore, of no practical use to moralize on the relative advantages of states of society widely different from that in which it is our lot to live. The facts are there, and we must make the best of them. Not only does the principle of competition govern the relative advancement of individual men in the same society, but nations, too, have entered on that course in their rivalry with one another. Who does not know that for years past the most strenuous exertions have been used to supplant the commerce of England, and that the most untiring efforts are being made to lower her manufacturing supremacy? If they have not hitherto been successful, it would be premature in us to boast that success shall never reward their perseverance. The life, the history of a nation is not measured by years but by centuries. We enjoy many advantages over continental nations, in our vast capital and enormous commerce, in our facilities of transport, our numerous railways and multitudinous shipping, in the stability of our government, and the contentment of our people. But we have, on the other hand, many drawbacks, in the general ignorance of our masses, in our overweening opinion of ourselves, in our obstinate resistance to change even when change would be a manifest and admitted improvement, in our apathetic tolerance of abuses, provided they are of long standing, and of “ Circumlocution offices” if the officials who “ show how not to do it” are sufficiently respectable; these are the things which, let to run their course, will slowly but surely eat into the heart of the nation.
Now such being the race that is set before us, whether nationally or individually considered, we have all of us, I believe, in these times of ours, come to consider that education based on sound instruction in those things with which we shall have more or less to deal through life, is one of the greatest if not the very greatest need of our time. Education is no longer a luxury, it has become a necessary of