Page images

God and man? Why should the world be deprived of all the benefit that might be drawn from such ingenious minds, under the care of a happy education? Let them at least be taught to know their letters, and have a way made for their brighter talents to discover themselves. Diamonds of a noble lustre are taken from common earth, and every diamond is rough or cloudy, till it is cut and polished. If there should happen to be a vein of silver mixed with the leaden ore, why should it be denied the favour of the refining pot, since nature seems to have made it on purpose to shine and glitter?

3. A confinement of all the poor to such shameful degrees of profound ignorance, is the ready way to bring in confusion and slavery upon a whole nation. When the common people have no knowledge of any thing, they are the fittest tools for ambition and tyranny, for treason and public mischief. Men of crafty and aspiring minds, know how to make use of persons bred up in such gross iguorance, to carry on their seditious purposes, and raise dangerous tumults in a peaceful state. Or if subtle and imperious men should ever obtain power among us, these poor, thoughtless creatures are soon turned into fatal instruments to enslave a rich and free people. Or finally, if a rude and untaught multitude set up for themselves, and rise into tumult, or rebellion against our present sovereign King George, contrary to all right and justice, it would be found very hard to suppress them: They would never be convinced of their present folly, or of their true interest, because they were never taught to practise reasoning, nor to understand common sense. A silly noisy word or a foolish rhyme tost about through such a brutal multitude, has raised and fired a whole country into sedition and treason: Our British annals are the frequent witnesses of this madness, in those ancient days, when our forefathers could neither read nor write. Let it be remembered, that knowledge is the truest spring of liberty among mankind. Had many of the foreign nations in Europe, Asia, or Africa, ever enjoyed such means of knowledge as Great Britain enjoys, they had never been immersed in such deeps of bondage and slavery. It is knowledge that preserves and secures a sense of true freedom in the minds of men. Sampson was not put to grind in the mill, till he had lost his eyes. And if we are agreed to prevent light from striking into the souls of the multitude, it is possible that, in some few generations, it may come to our turn to grind in the mill too.

4. Such stupid ignorance will fit and prepare the minds of the poor for all the superstitions and iniquities of the popish church. Ignorance is the true and fruitful mother of such devotion. When persons are not taught the better principles of religion they will become ready believers of all the lying tales and miracles of the Romish clergy: they will quickly be induced to

practise all their gay and senseless superstitions, though they are never so contrary to reason and scripture, when they are not capable of saying any thing against them. They will be led blindly by the priests into any absurdities of faith, or any criminal practices which they please to consecrate by the name of religion. Besides, if there be no care of the instruction of the minds of the poor among us, whatsoever forms of worship, or of political service they happen to fall into, it is, as it were, by chance and without knowledge: It is all a mere matter of stupid mechanism : Whether they are in the church, or the street, in a fleet or an army; it is like a croud of bodies without souls. And can such a set of creatures when they are grown up to the age of men, and know nothing, can they be either acceptable to God in their pretences to religion, or can they be useful to Great Britain in its best interests? But this thought leads me to the next particular.

5. If young persons have no manner of education, they will not so much as know the God that made them, nor what is their duty towards their maker. What lamentable profaneness, what irreligion, what horrid blasphemy, what swearing and cursing, and all manner of impiety would abound amongst us, if the poorer part of mankind were never taught to read, nor instructed in the things of God? And indeed the instruction which this sort of objectors would allow them, is so very small, by permitting them to go to church once a week, that they would gain very little knowledge of God and Christ, and our holy religion thereby, if they were deprived of all other advantages of knowledge. I have sometimes conversed with some of those miserable creatures, and I have found them ignorant to a most amazing degree of the first principles of religion and the gospel.

Has Great Britain been blessed of God with many rich conveniences, for the improvement of the mind, by writing or printing books of every useful kind, and shall these blessings be made useless to so great a part of our nation? This would be to practise much as the papists do, who rob the common people of the bible, the book of life, and permit none to enjoy it, but in the Latin tongue. It is a fountain of heavenly grace, but it is a sealed one to the poor, that are educated in popish countries. And is it not a shame in this protestant nation, that the scripture should be a fountain sealed to any of her children? When the bible is translated into our mother tongue, is it not a lamentable thought and almost a scandal, that there should be any amongst us to whom it should be a useless book, because they have never learned to read? And those that are unwilling that their fellowcreatures should attain the knowledge of reading, it is as if they sealed up the book of life. If I am not learned enough to read, it is all one to me, as though the book were for ever shut ; Is.

xxix. 11. What an envious creature is he who would obstruc the free entrance of the common light of the heavens to mortals who are born in darkness, or would forbid sight to be given to the blind? What a provoking crime is this against the God of nature? And is it not a heinous and provoking sin against the God of grace, that when he has opened the book of life amongst us, there should be any persons, who should forbid us to be taught to read it, because we happen to be poor? Would it not be a most flagrant and complicated instance of ill-nature, pride and scorn, if we should hear a rich man say concerning his poor neighbours, Because they are born in extreme poverty, let them live and die in darkness?

6. If we lay the case of religion aside, and those important duties which all men owe to God, yet how ignorant will the poor be of the various duties which they owe to their fellow-creatures, if they have no manner of learning bestowed upon them? How little sense will they have of justice, of truth, of honesty and faithfulness? How little sense will servants have of the honour and obedience that is due to their own masters? How little will they know of that equity and righteous dealing which should be practised between man and man? What happy seeds of equity and truth, of labour, diligence and temperance are sown in the hearts of children by a wise and careful education in their younger years? But how many young creatures have been easily allured to theft and robbery, to lying and deceit, and all manner of iniquity and mischief, for want of a virtuous edueation? Their honest neighbours have been deprived of their just property by pilfering and plunder, and the criminals themselves have run headlong to the destruction of body and soul. Tell me, you that forbid children the knowledge of letters and would not suffer them to learn the art of reading, tell me, whether you can suppose they can ever become the worse labourers, worse servants, worse ploughmen or soldiers by reading in the word of God what duties they owe to men? Ate not all the principles and rules of virtue and goodness, of diligence and sobriety, of obedi→ ence to superiors, of justice to their neighbours, of truth, faithfulness and love to all men contained in his holy book? And when the poor young creatures shall find all these things commanded and required by the great God that made them, when they shall read many happy examples of these duties, and the vengeance of God against transgressors, will all this have no inAuence upon their hearts, to lead them to practise these virtues ? Are there not many other little books drawn out of the holy scriptures, wherein these virtues of the civil life are reduced to a shorter form, and set in a plain and easy view for those who have but little time to read? And if children have these manuals put into their hands, is it not the most likely way to train them up

in all the good qualities of the social life, and to guard against those vile and pernicious practices, against that sloth, that falsehood and lying, that thievery and drunkenness, rage and malice, which abound among the ignorant rabble of mankind, who never enjoyed the blessing of education, nor the benefit of a school, where their manners might be formed to virtue and goodness?

7. Let it be considered in the last place, how wretchedly the poor will spend all their leisure time, when they are released at certain seasons from the drudgery of life, if they are never taught to read. How do they stand prepared for every temptation, and for all manner of mischief, when they know not how to improve a few leisure moments? Human nature rude and untaught is the more prone to wickedness. At best we can only suppose them to sit, whole families together, in the long winter evenings, and talk scandal of their neighbours, because their minds were never furnished with better subjects of conversation. They are tempted to fill up their empty hours of life with trifles or follies, or with wicked stories, because they were never taught to know letters. How much happier would it be for the poor, if their seasons of leisure, could be employed in reading the holy scriptures, for their improvement in acquaintance with God, or in conversing with any useful books, that might furnish their minds with solid and profitable knowledege? This would refine their souls, and render them every way more useful in their stations as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters or servants. I have known such a poor family, where neither the grandmother, mother, father, nor any child could read: And I have often pitied them in my heart, to think how impertinently or sinfully their long evening hours must be spent after the work of the day is done: And they have gladly embraced the privilege of having their children taught to read in one of our schools of charity, under a sense of their own great unhappiness for want of this benefit in their younger years. Objection II. But some will say, if the poor have any manner of learning bestowed upon them, they grow proud and haughty; they think they are immediately fit for better business, and they will not be content to do servile work, and especially the lowest offices, and the most laborious drudgery either of the house or the field: There is great want of ploughmen and labourers in the country, and poor boys will never submit to this, if they once get acquaintance with books and knowledge.

Answer 1. I would ask leave here, if it it were lawful to enquire, whether some of these very masters, who make this objection, would not keep the poor in profound ignorance, that they might turn their servants into perfect slaves? But when some of the poorer sort of people have gained a little knowledge, perhaps, it has been found that, here and there, a morose rich

man, or a covetous and surly farmer, cannot make such mere slaves of them, as if they were asses or oxen? Permit me only to propose a query, whether this may not be some ground of the complaint: Are there not some persons, that would subdue their fellow-creatures, of their own species, into a perfect brutal servitude and make them as much their tools and instruments of labour as their cattle are, and treat them as though they had no souls, as though they had no share in human nature, as though they were not formed of the same flesh and blood, and had not the same sort of immortal spirits as themselves. Now if the poor know nothing at all, but are bred up in gross ignorance,and constant stupidity, it is supposed they are fitter to become beasts of burden all their lives, without ever thinking that they are men. If this be the case, I pity the slaves indeed; but woe to their lords and masters, who keep them all their lives in such profound ignorance, upon such wretched and inhuman motives. There is a day coming when the rich and the poor shall appear without distinction before that God, who is no acceptor of persons; Acts x. 34.

2. Do some persons complain, that the plough stands still or drags heavily for want of hands? But does the plough stand still no where but where there is a school of charity? Alas, it is not such a slender education, as we can give to a few poor children in the city or the country, that hinders this work. We would not pretend to breed them too high for that station in life, for which their birth has designed them, nor to raise them above the labours in the country-villages, where any of our schools are kept. And these villages also are exceeding few where we have schools. If there are any public schools of charity in such villages, which breed up the children of the poor, to such degrees and refinements in learning, whereby the tillage of the fields is prevented for want of hands, we disclaim all such sort of charity, and leave those who support these schools to defend them against so just an objection.

But if it may not be an offence, I would make a humble enquiry, whether there be not a far more powerful allurement that calls hands from the plough, and that is, that such a great number of persons, who had blessed their paternal seats in the country with their own residence, utterly remove their habitations and households to the city, and fix themselves near the court May not this be a much greater occasion of draining the fields and villages of a multitude of the poor, who scarce ever return to a country life again: They are tempted and allured to follow their masters, and, as they call it, to seek their fortunes in the town: And some of these tempt their poor neighbours hither too: This fills the city with many hundreds, if not thousands, of the lower rank, more than the city itself produces :

« PreviousContinue »