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pire, while he turns the other on the progress of that national education which, when fully developed, can alone qualify us to wield the sceptre of those vast dominions—Colonel Sykes, I say, as chairman of the Council of the Society of Arts, will inform you, that mere smatterers or dilettanti listeners, will gain but little by coming up to our examinations; that the prizes, certificates, and rewards, will (if the Society's Board of Examiners can secure the result) be given to the industrious and the diligent.
Now, some of you may say, and more think, well, we thought we should have nothing to do but to pay our money and attend the lectures one or two evenings a-week; that we should find it as amusing as listening to one of Mr. Thackeray's lectures, as entertaining and requiring as little painful exercise of thought as reading one of Mr. Dickens stories. But here you talk to us about work and drudgery. Have we not enough of it during the day, without giving our evenings to it likewise ? Why should we undergo all this labour? Why should we face this heavy work? I will tell you the reason why. Because it is your duty to yourselves, to those who are dependent upon you and look up to you. Because it is your duty to Him who has endowed you with the faculties and capacities you possess; who in bestowing them upon you, manifestly intended that they should not remain idle, nor continue stagnant or undeveloped. You have encouragements which those who went before you never had, or hoped to see. Some fifty years ago had young men attempted to improve themselves as you do now, they would have been looked upon with suspicion and dislike as discontented men, or even as disaffected persons, who were not satisfied with the station in which the Almighty had placed them, but forgetting the humility belonging to their condition were striving to raise themselves out of their proper class; their reprovers at the same time forgetting that they were themselves doing the very same thing, using up every energy of mind and body in a like pursuit, but of rank, decorations, or titles. You know how men in your own class, who formerly pursued knowledge under difficulties, were forced to read in the hours filched from the scanty time allowed for sleep; how they were compelled to beg or borrow old books here and there; how nobody, or at least only those very near and dear, felt any sympathy with their
pursuits; how they received no word of encouragement, nobody to bid them God speed; how often the rare knowledge thus laboriously and painfully acquired at last died with them, for the opportunity to use it never came. They laboured without hope. Let not your labours then fall short of theirs. Such were the difficulties that men like Watt and Arkwright and Brindley and Gifford and Locke and Chantry, and a thousand others had to contend with. You have not fallen on their evil days. You live when public meetings such as this are held to give you encouragement by their sympathy, and help by their liberality, to urge you on to the work of improving and bettering yourselves. Money is subscribed for prizes to reward your diligence. Nearly 500 employers of labour have voluntarily taken on themselves the moral obligation to recognise the claims to employment of those who shall obtain the Society of Arts' certificate. Men, some of them of the very highest eminence and acknowledged ability in literature and science, undertake the laborious and unpaid office of examining and classing those young men who shall come up to our Examinations. And now, let me tell convinced are the Examiners of the Society of Arts of the greater value of accurate knowledge in a few things over a smattering in many, that they have resolved to examine no candidate in more than three subjects. They desire to discourage the habit, now so common, of resting on a loose washy kind of information, which tends rather to mislead than to instruct. If a man is completely ignorant of any subject, he listens with respect and deference to him who is reputed a master in it, but immediately he acquires a smattering knowledge, he claims an Englishman's right to exercise his private judgment. Thus, beginners in Euclid, when, having been shown how to bisect an angle, they are told that the greatest mathematicians since the time of Archimedes have entirely failed to trisect it geometrically, immediately apply themselves with much diligence to solve a difficulty that had baffled the genius of Newton. Beginners in any subject are apt to underrate the difficulties inherent in it. The more they learn, the more it grows upon them, the more its range seems to widen. A man taking up a new subject is somewhat like a squatter in one of the primeval American forests. When he begins to clear, he sees only a few trees
about him, but as he proceeds with his work, the wider the range becomes, and the more numerous the trees appear. No man has ever yet completely exhausted any subject.
And, now, let me give you another piece of advice which you may find of use. Those Examiners I speak of, who are themselves so eminent in different specialities, have unanimously come to the determination to award neither prize nor certificate to any candidate, however profound he may assert his knowledge of any subject to be, unless he can show that he writes a good legible hand, spells correctly, and knows familiarly the common rules of arithmetic. But you will say this is vulgar knowledge, fit only for schoolboys to be examined in. However that may be, the Examiners of the Society of Arts believe, and I entirely concur in the opinion, that no knowledge can be thoroughly comprehended that is not based on sound elementary principles.
In June next, we shall hold Examinations at the Society's house in the Adelphi, and also at Huddersfield, for the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics' Institutions, numbering some 150 in number, of which Union Mr. Edward Baines, the indefatigable promoter of voluntary education, is the President. Next year we hope to widen the sphere of the Society's operations, so as to embrace York, Nottingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bolton, Hull, &c. We trust that our strict adherence to truth, and the rigid impartiality with which we propose to issue our certificates, will obtain for them such an amount of public confidence, as will supersede the necessity of any further inquiry into the intellectual qualifications of the candidate. There will then only remain the moral character to inquire into, which I have little doubt will, in the vast majority of cases, prove satisfactory.
It has often been asserted—not so frequently perhaps of late years—that knowledge tends to puff up its possessor, and to make him over-much dissatisfied with his condition. Now, this objection holds good only when learning is very partially diffused throughout the community. In a country village, among unlettered rustics, the feeling is very natural with regard to any one who is raised above them by knowledge, however superficial.
66 And still the wonder grew, How one small head could carry all he knew."
The Spanish proverb says
“In the country of the blind men a one-eyed man is a king." Hence it is that we do not find a common stoker on a locomotive, or an artizan employed about the electric wire, puffed up with their knowledge, although either of them may possess such an amount of special information, as, fifty years ago, would have immortalized half-a-dozen philosophers. And why is this? Because they see every stoker or like mechanic knows just as much as themselves. It is, therefore, the rarity of knowledge that puffs up its possessor. A fine voice often renders a singer vain, but if fine voices were as common as the gift of speech, nobody would be vain of his vocal powers. Were a man to walk about on stilts, he would render himself very conspicuous, but if everybody was to walk about on stilts, as they do in the Landes in the south of France, the singularity would disappear. So if only one or a few men are educated in a community, they become remarkable; if everybody is educated, education ceases to be a mark of superiority. The remedy, then, for conceit, is to diffuse education as widely as possible.
Young men, you have a wide and a fine field before you. The learned professions have long been open. Guilds of trade have fallen into disuse. What are called guilds in the city are associations of men who meet together for a very different purpose from that of upholding monopolies. Protection in trade and commerce has been abandoned. The civil service appointments throughout the vast continent of India are by law thrown open to the most unrestricted competition. The same may be said of the Engineers and ArtilIery. The Customs and Excise are sure to follow. It is only within the last two days that the Council of the Society of Arts have received a communication from the Privy Council Office, requesting the Council to nominate some of the candidates who had distinguished themselves at the Society's Examinations last June in the Adelphi, to compete for Junior Clerkships in the Treasury. The Council will, I believe, gladly comply with this request. When nearly ten years
* The Privy COUNCIL OFFICE AND THE SOCIETY OF ARTS EXAMINA
The Lord President of Her Majesty's Privy Council having placed at
ago I published a pamphlet on this question, in which I advocated as a means of promoting national education, the throwing open of government appointments to public competition,* I little expected ever to see my views realized, and my suggestions adopted. I trust the time is not far distant when the right or the privilege to enter into the service of the state shall be determined by competitive examination. Details may be cavilled at, plausible objections may be taken to the principle—just as plausible objections may be taken to every principle that could possibly be enunciated. I really can see no reason why it should not be as competent for a man to read up for an appointment in the Treasury or Foreign Office as it is to read for a fellowship in a College. Public appointments, as they are a charge upon the nation, should be the property of the nation at large, not the perquisites of a few. If the chief officers of state are not sufficiently remunerated for their services without this patronage let their salaries be increased.
You have, indeed, young men of England, a glorious future before
you will only render yourselves worthy of the prize which is placed within your view. Not only this fair realm of England, but all its vast colonies and foreign possessions are your inheritance. Strive to make yourselves worthy of that country and that constitution which has now sanctioned the motto, detur digniori.
the disposal of the Council of the Society the privilege of nominating two candidates as competitors in an Examination recently held by the Civil Service Commissioners for Clerkships in the Privy Council Office, the Council of the Society recommended to his Lordship, Robert Abbott, of Leeds, and William Matthew Taylor, of Windsor, both of whom had distinguished themselves at the Society's Examinations in June last. The Council have pleasure in announcing that their candidates have been successful, standing first and fourth on the list.
There were twenty-one selected competitors and five vacancies.Journal of the Society of Arts, February 6, 1852.
* We cannot help thinking, that if there is to be a competition at all, it should be perfectly open ; the only defence of the present nomination which exists is, that the patron is sure of the moral character and gentlemanly bearing of the nominee. Let that defence pass for what it is worth ; we say nothing against it; but the moment the principle is introduced of naming several candidates instead of selecting one, the chief value of the old system is gone, and competition might as well be entirely thrown open to the public.—Times, 14th March, 1856.