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a serious difficulty. Many well-informed persons, like a recent writer in the Edinburgh Review,' would reject all compulsory measures for effecting the attendance of poor children at school, and trust, as the French government has done, to persuasion and the general growth of the schoolgoing habit among the people. We also would not recommend violent measures for effecting this purpose; but if those who adopt the French principle, mean thereby that nothing further is to be done for accomplishing this most vital object, we apprehend that their plans will totally fail in promoting the education of the poorer classes. It seems, indeed, that these persons have either formed erroneous conceptions of the power of persuasion, or they are not well acquainted with the condition in which the lower classes of society are placed.
Persons in wealthy circumstances are very much inclined to blame parents among the lower classes for not sending their children to school, and they often ascribe this to a culpable neglect of their children's welfare, or to ignorance. But we think they will readily acquit them of neglect, when they remember the well-known observation, that poor parents have often a much greater affection for their children than those who are rich. The charge of ignorance is somewhat better founded. Few persons in the lowest classes have any very distinct idea of the advantages resulting from a good education to their children, but most of them are sensible that some advantage may arise from it. By persuasion and sound reasoning their conceptions respecting this point would doubtless be much enlarged, and might even beget a resolution of following the dictates of this conviction. But we apprehend that it will produce the desired effect with comparatively few. By the birth of a child new hardships, burdens, and privations are imposed on poor people. The attention of the mother is taken up for a long time by the care she must bestow on the child, and she can contribute nothing, or very little, to the stock from which their domestic wants are to be supplied.
As the child advances in age, the expenses of its maintenance increase, and in the same degree the pressure of the necessitous circumstances of the parents. At length the time arrives, long wished for by the parents, when the child is able to perform some domestic services or to ease the labour of the parents; but in the meantime the mental faculties of the child have acquired such a strength, that it is fit to be sent to school. By sending the child to school the parents, however, would be deprived of the little services which it
is able to render, and this appears to be particularly the case with female children, the returns of all the School Societies showing a very great disparity between the number of girls and boys. Let us suppose the parents under these circumstances fully impressed with the importance of the resolution which they formerly have made of giving to their children the advantages of instruction. The difficulties of their situation and the conviction of their duty can only produce a struggle in their mind, which in all probability will terminate in putting off from day to day the time for executing their resolution. Meantime the child grows stronger in body and mind; it becomes every day more fit for profiting by the school instruction, but on the other hand the expenses of its maintenance increase likewise, and its services acquire every day more value. Though the resolution of sending the child to school may formerly have been put off with some reluctance, the duty now becomes daily less practicable. The advantages which the child will derive from being well instructed at school are remote and uncertain, but those which arise from the child's services and work are immediate and certain. Can we reasonably expect that people, subject to such urgent necessities as many of the poor are, will sacrifice their own immediate advantage for the children's future and uncertain benefit? This is one of the reasons why poor people often show so much backwardness in sending their children to school; and the remark applies, as above stated, most particularly to the female children.
We should, indeed, greatly increase the hardships under which many of the poorer labouring classes suffer, and which the state is bound to diminish by all wise and salutary means, were we to compel them to send their children to school. On the other hand, it is equally hard that the children, whom the state should regard as its children, are deprived of the best means of bettering their condition in after-life, by the necessitous circumstances of their parents. To determine the problem how far parents should be bound to send their children to school, how far the instruction should be gratuitous, and what are the best means of effecting a regular attendance on the schools,-particularly in those parts of our island which have suffered most from the neglect of resident proprietors, the bad administration of the poor-laws, and other circumstances,-demands the most cautious and deliberate inquiry.
Some readers may be surprised to hear, that the children of all the poor people are sent to school in the Protestant countries of Germany. It is commonly imagined that this
effect is produced by force, or by those laws which the absolute sovereigns of these countries have enacted. But, on inquiry, it will be found that even the most despotic power can do very little towards changing the relation between parents and children, and that the paternal power is almost en tirely beyond its reach. That this practice, which is general in the Protestant countries of Germany, is not the effect of laws enacted by absolute power, is proved by its existence in countries where such power does not exist, as in the Protestant republics or cantons of Switzerland, and in Sweden and Norway, in all which states even the lower classes exercise some degree of influence on the legislative bodies. The fact, however, is that the Protestant sovereigns of Germany, as well as the legislatures of the other countries just mentioned, have been supported, in their enactments as to the education of the poor, by a moral force, created by that power which always more than any other has promoted the civilization of the human race, religious institutions. To explain this matter completely we must go back to the reformation, and to the establishment of the Protestant creed in Germany.
Before that time no pains were taken in Germany to instruct the lower classes. Religion had been reduced to the mere observance of ceremonies and the display of external service, with the performance of which every body became acquainted by entering a church a few times. No religious instruction was therefore required or given, and this is still the case in many Catholic countries of Europe. But the reformers of Germany and Switzerland did not limit their changes to the external service and ceremonies—they carried them even into some of the most important tenets of religion, and insisted on a knowledge of these tenets from every person who professed to be a Protestant. Thus this knowledge formed a characteristic of the Protestant creed, and it soon became an established opinion, that nobody was a Protestant who was not acquainted with these tenets. But for this purpose instruction was required, and every person who had embraced the creed of the reformers was anxious to see his children instructed in their doctrines. To indicate that this instruction had been completely given, the public confirmation was introduced, and was soon considered as a religious act. Nobody who adhered to the Protestant faith ventured to neglect this observance, and it soon became general. At the same time an opinion became prevalent among the people, that a person who had not been confirmed was not a Christian and not a member of the Christian community. Accordingly, he was not admitted to the exercise of any right which
was conferred by the laws of the Protestant community on those who belonged to it: and the governments conforming themselves to public opinion, excluded those who had not been confirmed from the exercise of nearly every civil right. Such persons are now not permitted to appear as witnesses in any court of justice; they cannot marry, nor set up in any kind of business, and in general every agreement into which they enter is invalid. Thus the confirmation has acquired a double hold on the minds of the people. It is not only considered as a religious act, but also as an introduction to social rights. In modern times, when the rage for purging religion of every thing that, in the opinion of the advocates for change, had any odour of superstition was prevalent in Germany, a few persons, who looked upon the confirmation only in the light of a religious act, and considered it a superstitious one, refused to let their children submit to it; but by doing so they deprived their children of all the rights of society, and consequently were obliged to submit at last, though reluctantly.
The confirmation may still by some people in Germany be considered as a superstitious act; but experience shows, in this instance at least, that even superstition, or what some regard as superstition, may considerably advance the progress of civilization. That such has been the effect of the confirmation in Germany is beyond all doubt. At first, the preparation for confirmation was merely a short course of religious instruction, given by the minister of the parish, which commonly went no farther than the learning the catechism by rote. The clergyman, however, was very glad to have his labour in some degree eased by the assistance of a teacher, whose duty it was to instruct the children before they could claim to be confirmed. This is the origin of the schools for the lower classes in the Protestant countries of Germany. For more than two centuries instruction was confined to the catechism. In progress of time, however, other instruction was added, though it was not then considered as an indispensable qualification for obtaining confirmation. This was entirely left to the choice of the parents, and of course it was only the more wealthy who knew how to profit by it. No sooner, however, had the sovereigns of Germany obtained the conviction that the instruction of the lower people would not endanger their authority, than they began to use the confirmation as a means for increasing and diffusing useful knowledge. They first of all established the age at which a person may obtain the rite of confirmation, and fixed it at the completion of the fourteenth year; at the same time they enjoined the clergy not to admit any person to it who could not read. When the ability
to read began to be generally spread, government gradually raised its demands: and thus the lower classes in Germany have by slow steps attained that degree of instruction, by which they begin to be distinguished among the nations of Europe. The German governments may push this object still farther without any fear of encountering opposition on the part of the people. They may change the age at which confirmation can be obtained, and fix it at fifteen or sixteen ; and in this way they may add a considerable amount of time to the instruction of the lower classes, if such a measure should be required and justified by the progress of society. Even the poorest will submit without reluctance; for no man now can get his children off his hands, unless they are confirmed. A child who is not confirmed has no chance of being taken as an apprentice by a mechanic or tradesman: for nobody will take a boy whom he is obliged to send to school in order that he may acquire the necessary instruction; by taking such a boy the master would unavoidably be deprived of part of those services which he can have from an apprentice who is not in such a predicament. For the same reason, no master will take a servant who is still to be sent to school.
The confirmation, therefore, is the moral force, by which all the Protestants of Germany are compelled to give to their children that amount of instruction which the law has fixed upon as the minimum of elementary education. This moral force enables government to abstain from rigour in the execution of the laws enacted against those who neglect their duties to their children in this respect. The fines, which from time to time are exacted from poor parents for neglecting to send their children to school are very small and are commonly remitted as soon as the parents show a real inclination to conform to the tenor of the law. It appears that the object of these fines is only to admonish negligent parents, or such as are under the pressure of necessitous circumstances, that they have still duties to perform, which are intimately connected with the future welfare of their children.
We cannot help considering it a very fortunate circumstance for Protestant Germany, that in that country a custom was found existing which has been so easily converted into an effective means for promoting civilization and instruction; and we should feel deeply indebted to any person who could discover among us a similar mode of advancing the instruction of the lower classes, without the introduction of any new measure which might offend the feelings of any part of the community.