Evidence of Rev R.E. Bartlett
[pages 175ff of the full report]
to the Select Committee on the Ecclesiastical Commission, 30 May 1862
[See also the extensive evidence given by the Rev G.H.McGill,
incumbent of Christ Church Watney Street, a few days earlier - he had
been asked to represent local clergy on the specific issue of the
Finsbury prebend, explained there. Bartlett's issues were somewhat
different, though he shared the difficulty of raising income from local
ratepayers, with the subdivision of properties and the fact that a
growing proportion of householders were Jewish - though not at this
time mainly impoverished, as was the case two generations later. Note
his estimate of the number of Jews and Roman Catholics in his parish:
both figures were to rise significantly in the following years. He had
abolished pew rents, as inimical to the parochial character of a church
serving an increasingly poor neighbourhood, but this had only been
possible because of a temporary benefaction, and he was not sanguine
about obtaining funding from the Commissioners when this expired. And
he had a particular problem with the 'mother church', St Mary
Whitechapel, which because of its long history attracted funds in
preference to St Mark's, and also levied church rates over the whole
district - illegally, in his view. He also refers to St Paul's Church for Seamen, which only became a parish church in 1864 - and to which on its closure in 1925 St Mark's was joined.]
Martis, 30 die Maii, 1862.
Mr. Edward Pleydell Bouverie, Mr.
Deedes, Mr. Fenwick, Mr. Freeland,
Mr. Locke King, Mr. Kinnaird, Mr.
Newdegate, Mr. Philipps, Mr. Selwyn, Mr. Henry
Danby Seymour, Mr. Walpole.
HENRY DANBY SEYMOUR, Esq., in the Chair.
The Rev ROBERT EDWARD BARTLETT, M.A., called in; and Examined.
3424. Chairman] You are, I believe, the Incumbent of St. Mark's, Whitechapel? — I am.
3425. What is your object in coming before the Committee? —
My object is to state my strong belief that the present rules of the
Ecclesiastical Commission do not allow an extremely poor parish like
mine a fair chance of participating in its funds.
3426. Will you state what the population of your parish is? — 15,400.
3427. What is the proportion of the poor, and what is the general character of your parish? —
The proportion of poor is certainly four-fifths who are very poor, and
the rest are not able to do more than very little in helping me. The
general character of the parish is rather peculiar, for the greater part
of the better class of houses are in the hands of Jews, to whom,
therefore, I can look for no assistance, leaving me a mass of poor who
are unable to contribute,
3428. What is the present income of the living, and for how long is it secured? —
When I entered upon the incumbency the income from endowment was £13 a
year; from fees about the same; from pew rents £60; making a total of
between £80 and £90. Since then a benefaction has come in, which has
raised the income to £300 a year for five years, conditional on the
abolition of pew rents, which was a thing that I was very anxious to
accomplish, leaving me at the end of five years, of which a year and a
half has already expired, with an income of £13 from endowment and about
the same from fees. I am employed meanwhile in making efforts to raise
what I can towards a permanent endowment; but I find on inquiry that the
property is in the hands of very small owners, almost all non resident,
many of them Jews; and I am informed by persons who have known the
parish much longer than I have, that I shall be very fortunate if in the
course of five years I scrape together as many hundred pounds.
3429. Are your schools supported by assistance from a distance? —
Partly. I have to get what funds I can from my own friends and so forth.
I have, of course, subscribers amongst the persons in the parish.
3430. Have you any drawbacks? —
Yes; I have to make up a certain amount of deficiency in the repairs and
necessary expenses of the church, and also of the schools, and a great
many incidental expenses; so that I put the absolute necessary expense
for carrying on the work of the parish at not less than £100 a year;
and for carrying on as it ought to be; in the way of curates; and so
forth I should say £150.
3431. You keep one curate? — At present, I have two; but that is from private funds. [These were the Revds Charles Voysey and Charles Anderson.]
3432. Have you made any efforts for raising a sum of money to meet a grant from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners? —
I have asked those who were formerly contributors to the pew rents to
subscribe, which they have done. From that I shall not receive more than
£60 or £70 a year for the five years. I have a list of the rate-payers,
with their amount of rental, from which I find a very large proportion
of them are Jews, and that an immense majority have but a very small
holding; and from what I know at present of the character of the holders,
I know that they are people who cannot afford to do anything
substantial in the way of helping towards an endowment.
3433. What is your belief as to the possibility of raising a sufficient sum? —
I am quite sure that it could not be done from local sources. The
incumbency has been miserably poor for the last 15 or 20 years; and
there is one peculiar circumstance about it, namely, that the mother
church of Whitechapel is in an equal state of poverty, and that a
considerable number of those who might perhaps be disposed to help me
have pledged themselves, first of all, to help the mother parish.
3434. What is the amount of population in the mother parish? — Just precisely the same as mine, about 15,400.
is the character of the owners of property, as to the amount of rateable
property held by each of them, and as to their ability or disposition to
contribute to an endowment fund? — The
amount of rateable property held by each is very small; most of it is
let off in small tenements, and therefore the landlords generally pay
the rates. Out of 405 ratepayers, more than three-fourths have quite
small holdings; and those who have large holdings are either
non-residents, or, in some cases, railway companies and dock companies, and
so forth, who do not contribute to those things.
3436. Are you aware of any instance of a benefaction having been raised in the east of London to meet a grant from the Commissioners? — I cannot say from my own knowledge.
you think that the present rules of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners
would give you a fair chance of participating in the benefits of their
No, I certainly do not. I have consulted with one or two of the persons
who have shown the greatest disposition to help me, the sugar bakers, and
others, and they tell me that that they are certain that nothing
adequate can be done from local sources; they themselves will contribute
as far as they can, but they cannot do so much as they would; and some of
them, as I have said, are pledged to the mother church. The fact of its
having been tried at the mother church, and failed there, where there is
a far greater prestige, and where there are far more people able to help,
convinces me that it would far more fail in my own case. Therefore, at
the end of four years from this time, the income which I can look to
will be about £30 with a population of 15,000. Next October three years
is the date of the last payment of the present temporary benefaction.
the Ecclesiastical Commissioners give a large sum one year in
unconditional parts; how was it that you did not participate in that, if
your parish is so poor? — That was before I became incumbent, I have been there two years now.
3439. Have you seen a paper showing the different claims of those whom the Ecclesiastical Commissioners assist out of the Common Fund? — I have not.
has been stated that in such cases as yours, benefactions could be
easily raised by an appeal to the country at large; do you think that an
incumbent could be fairly expected to undertake this labour? — I
should say not, certainly it is with the greatest difficulty that I am
able to raise sums for any present necessary purposes, and even then
only with large additions from my own purse; and to get up a public
appeal for a large sum for an endowment, and to undertake the labour of
carrying it out, would be far more than I could do with my present work.
In fact it is as much as I can do to work for the present and therefore
I cannot undertake to work for the future.
3441. Have you a difficulty in supporting your schools? — Yes, some difficulty.
3442. Do you get assistance out of the parish for the support of the schools? — Yes.
3443. Would you rather apply for assistance for schools rather than for assistance for the increase of the endowment? —
Yes; of course, if you ask for money for endowment it is more like
begging for yourself, although it is not perhaps really so, and also it
it easier as far as my experience goes, to get money for schools than
for an endowment; people say "Here is a thing going on, therefore it can
go on"; but schools they know must be shut up if they are not supported.
3444. What did your pew rents bring you in? — The last pew rents brought me in £60 at the utmost.
3445. Why did you wish so much to get rid of them? —
Because there are very few persons who can afford to pay them; even of
those who did pay them some were non-residents, and as long as the
church is subject to pew-rents you cannot go to the poor, and say, "Here
is a free church for you to come and worship in"; it is the greatest
difficulty that I have to persuade the poor that the church belongs to
them, and that they have as much right there as the rich, and as long as
there are pew rents you cannot say that.
3446. Are pew rents completely got rid of in your church now? — Yes, completely.
3447. When this temporary endowment fails can you not again have recourse to pew rents? —
I believe that there is no legal impediment, but I feel myself bound in
honour not to do so, and I certainly should not as long as I stayed
there. I am sure that it would be the worst thing possible for the place
to do it.
3448. Had you to apply to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, or to any other body, to get permission to dispense with the pew rents? — No.
I had the advice of the Bishop's legal adviser, and he said that it
would be sufficient if I simply refused to receive them, with an
understanding with the person through whom the benefaction came, that
that was to be during my incumbency for certain
3449. After your incumbency there would be a power to levy them again? — Yes.
3450. Then I understand you that these sittings are not free? — They are now.
3451. Only during your incumbency? — Only
during my incumbency, for certain; but I am sure that the attempt to re
impose pew rents would fail in both ways; it would fail in providing
anything like an adequate income (my predecessors must have spent far
more than they received); and it would also fail in this way, that it
would destroy the parochial character of the church. The better houses
are most of them in the hands of Jews, and there are very few people who
can afford to take sittings; and if you make the place subject to pew
rents, you run a great risk of driving out the poor.
3452. Did you make this arrangement with the consent of the Bishop? — Yes.
3453. You received this benefaction with the consent of the Bishop? — Yes, it was in fact, partly through him; he was one of the two trustees through whom it came.
feel certain that something must be done at the end of the three years,
or else the interests of the church will very materially suffer? — Most seriously, certainly.
3455. And I understand that you see no prospect of raising a benefaction to meet a grant from the Commissioners? — I see none. I shall be very fortunate if I get within the space of those years £600 or £700.
3456. Are you
opposed to the system generally of requiring a benefaction before
making a grant? — No. I think that it is a good system to help those who
help themselves; but I also think there are some who are unable to help
3457. You would
therefore put yours forward as a special case for the consideration of
the Commissioners? — Yes, with those of a similar character. I know that it
is the opinion of those who are acquainted with the state of London
parishes, that mine is one of the very strongest cases.
3458. You have not had any dealings at all with the Commissioners? — None whatever.
3459. In fact you never applied to them? — No. This benefaction came in almost immediately after my undertaking the incumbency.
3460. How long have you been incumbent? —Rather more than two years.
3461. Mr. Philipps] Do you know what the rateable value of the parish is? — That I am afraid I cannot state.
3462. Do you know
whether the Small Tenement Act prevails in your parish under which the
landlord pays the rates? — Yes, very generally.
3463. Chairman] Your evidence has been independently of all attention to the Finsbury prebend, has it not? — Yes, entirely.
3464. You think
that supposing there was no such large ecclesiastical property as will
fall in in from the Finsbury prebend [see here for an explanation], you would still have a claim on
the Common Fund? — Yes, I wish to put forward the general fact that we are
too poor to be expected to help ourselves.
3465. But you
think that the falling in of the Finsbury prebend would give you a
strong additional claim? — Yes, I think so, certainly.
3466. Mr. Deedes]
I did not quite gather from you what was the nature of this benefaction? —
It was a legacy for the support of some poor incumbency in London, left
in the hands of two trustees, of whom the Bishop of London was one. It
was determined by the Bishop and the other trustee, that it should be
invested in such a way that at the end of the five years the interest
and capital should be exhausted so as to raise the incumbency for five
years to the value of £300 a year, with some considerable addition from
the other trustee. The object of that was, hoping that at the end of that
time the place might be made in some way self-supporting either by
weekly collections, or by something of that sort.
benefaction was not in any way secured to your parish, previously to its
being offered in the way in which it was by the trustees? — No, it was left
in their hands.
3468. Are you
aware or not, that it might have been offered to the Commissioners as a
benefaction, and that a grant might have been made to meet it? — Yes, I
suppose that it might, but I am not quite aware of the terms on which it
3469. You have spoken of the difficulty of raising any money in a parish of such a description as yours from local sources? — Yes.
3470. Are you
aware that the Commissioners in London do receive benefactions offered
from any sources, provided that they are not previously secured to the
Church, and that it is not necessary that they should be from any local
sources? — I apprehend that that is not necessary.
instance, you could get a grant from a Diocesan Society, or from any body
of that sort, so that the fact of the poverty of the district need not
of itself be an absolute bar to a sum being forthcoming from the
Ecclesiastical Commissioners? — No, but the diocesan Societies only make
very small grants, so far as I know, nothing at all adequate to the
requirements of such parishes; and I could not myself undertake to send
the hat round to the public generally to invite contributions.
3472. Whitechapel Church is the mother church? — It is.
3473. Do you know
of your own knowledge whether any benefactions have been offered on the
part of the mother church, and any grants made by the Commissioners? — I do
not; I know that the plan pursued there, has been to make a general
collection all over the parish of Whitechapel for a rector's fund year
by year; but I know that that is considerably falling short of what it
used to be, and that those who have taken the chief part in collecting
it, are now most fully persuaded that nothing can be done without some
kind of permanent endowment; and I may add that that has been to some
extent a difficulty with me, because many of the largest owners and
employers in my parish, have already pledged themselves to the support
of the mother church, in preference to mine, from old family connections
and so forth, so that that is so much out of my prospects.
3474. How long has this separate parish of which you speak been formed? — About 22 years.
3475. Are you
aware, whether during that period the value of the incumbency has decreased or not? — The value of the incumbency has decreased very much.
since it was first founded, it was the only district church in that
neighbourhood; there were a large number of well-to-do persons living in
the neighbourhood who held sittings; and probably the income then may
have been something like £250 a year; but I contend that that was
entirely overlooking the parochial character of the church; it was not
then a church for the poor people living in the district, and since that
time those persons have mainly left London, and their houses are now
held in small tenements, room by room by poor families.
attempt at raising money for the mother Church, in the way that you have
spoken of, and which you have said is rather failing, would not in any
way benefit you? — Not in any way; it would rather injure me.
3477. No proportion of the sum so raised is to be applied to your parish? — None whatever.
3478. And you
consider that it is quite out of your power with any exertions which
can be made, to get a sum of money to offer as a benefaction? — I am quite
certain that it is; I shall be very fortunate if I scrape together a few
3479. Chairman] How many churches are there in your district? — Only one.
3480. And how many clergy? — Myself and two curates.
3481. What is the accommodation of the church? — It is called 1,500, but it would not seat more than 1,200 comfortably.
3482. Do you not think that your district is too large for one cure? — It is, certainly.
3483. Have you
ever taken any steps towards getting it divided? — I spoke to the City
Commissioners on the subject of the city churches, and they told me that
they had a proposal for taking off about 2,000 or 3,000 perhaps from
the south of my district, and making them into a new district with part
of Wapping; but that of course is contingent on their arrangements, and
may never happen, or certainly not for a good while.
3484. Nothing has
been done yet? — No; I have said that there is only one church; I should
state that there is a Sailor's Church, which is locally situated in my
district for sailors in the Port of London, which is a non parochial
church altogether; but which of course does provide a certain amount of
3485. How many
does that Sailor's Church hold? — About 500; but that is chiefly for
sailors living in the Sailor's Home, and in the docks.
3486. How is it supported? — I believe by the Committee of the Sailor's Home, but it is a distinct matter altogether.
3487. Does the clergyman of that Church visit in your district? — He visits about two streets by my permission.
3488. What do you
think that the size of your district ought to be; how large a district
do you think that you could satisfactorily manage? — I should put it
rather larger than you find in many parts; because so many of the houses
especially immediately round my Church, are inhabited by Jews, whom one
considers as out of one's own spiritual charge.
3489. How many of
the 15,000 are Jews? — I should I should say 3,000 or 4,000; but
they are the better class, and therefore they occupy houses from which one
would naturally look for assistance.
3490. That would reduce the number 12,000? — Yes.
3491. Are there any Roman Catholics? — A large number of very poor Irish Catholics.
3492. How many Roman Catholics would say that there are? — I dare say as many as 1,500.
3493. That would reduce your of the Church of England to about 11,000? — Yes.
3494. Of that
number it is proposed by new arrangement to take off 3,000 or 4,000? — No,
those who are to be taken off are almost the Irish who live in one
3495. In the new district? — Yes.
3496. There would be nobody to go to the New Church to make a new ecclesiastical district? — That is what I represented.
3497. There are
no persons in that who profess the Church of England doctrines? — Very few;
I represented that to the Commissioners at the time.
3498. But nothing was settled? — Nothing whatever; it was a mere proposal.
3499. Who are the
Commissioners who have to make those divisions? — Those whom I saw were
the Lord Mayor, Mr. Rowsell, and Mr. Gibbs; I think that they are the
leading ones amongst them.
3500. Have the Ecclesiastical Commissioners anything to do with the re-arrangement of the city parishes? — I am not aware.
Newdegate] According to your statement if this division were made as
now proposed, it would leave you with 11,000? — I should say about 11,000 or
provision is there for the income of the clergyman of those 11,000? — Simply what I have stated; after this temporary benefaction ceases, the
certain income which I can look to is something like £30 a year.
3503. Are there
any church rates levied in this parish? — There is a church rate which is
levied as I contend illegally by the mother Church over the whole
3504. Is that applied to your church? — No.
3505. Are there any burial fees? — I receive burial fees now from the Tower Hamlets Cemetery, which I believe is compensation.
3506. To what
extent? — I have only begun to receive them since the rectory was vacated,
so that I cannot say for certain, but I should think at the outside £10 a
3507. Would that be in addition to the £30? — Yes.
3508. Then you would have £40 a year? — Yes.
3509. Mr. Deedes]
Is the population of your parish on the increase or the decrease? — It is
slightly on the decrease in this way, that a great many houses have been
pulled down within the last 15 years by the railway company.
3510. It is not from the population being migratory? — No; I do not see any tendency to decrease in that way.
Do you find the poor people stationary, while the rich leave your parish? —
The poor are very migratory; there is a constant influx and efflux, but
still there is large stationary element.
A paper given at the Social Science Congress in Bristol, September 1869
[The Congress, chaired by Canon Charles Kingsley, had as its special theme 'Is an unsectarian scheme of education inconsistent with religious teaching?' This came in the run-up to the 1870 Education Act,
with nonconformists and others objecting to 'Anglicanism on the rates',
and religious instruction based on the Catechism. Many Anglican clergy
were fearful of the loss of influence, but Bartlett and other liberals
argued robustly that non-denominational teaching in Board schools was
the only sensible way forward. This came to pass, through the
'Cowper-Temple clause' - though it remained a live issue for some time
questions destined to occupy the space in the public mind which till
lately has been filled by the Irish Church, one of the most prominent
is likely to be the demand for a national system of education; which, I
suppose, may be defined as a system in which it shall be the recognised
duty of the State to provide directly for the education of every child,
whose parents are unable or unwilling to provide for it themselves. The
growth of public opinion in this direction has of late been somewhat
rapid. It is but thirty years since the first step was taken towards
education under the control of the State, by the appointment of the
Committee of Council on Education; a step for which, at that time,
men's minds were so little prepared, that it produced a protest in the
form of an address from the House of Lords to the Crown, and it seemed
likely for some time that the clergy would oppose the acceptance of
State aid and inspection with all their influence. It is only lately
that one important religious body, the Independents, has withdrawn its
uncompromising opposition to all State interference with education; and
till quite within the last few years the idea of the State doing more
than assisting voluntary efforts was relegated to the class of
unpractical ideas only voluntary relegated unpractical ideas, only fit
for discussion at Social Science Congresses. And if this rapid ripening
of public opinion betokens in this case, as it certainly did in the
case of the Irish Church, an equally rapid and decisive solution of the
question, it becomes important for us to consider it under all aspects,
especially under that of its bearing on the present system, and on the
question of religious education.
It is, no doubt,
the religious difficulty that has so long made any general system of
education impossible. If we could for a moment entertain the wild
supposition that all England were of one mind on religious questions, I
think there can be no doubt that long before this there would have been
an efficient school in every parish requiring one. But it has been
universally assumed - first that an education without religion is
worthless, or worse; and secondly, that a religious education consists
in, or at least necessarily involves, the teaching of definite and
minute dogma; and from these premises it followed of necessity that no
system of education could be devised which should meet the case of a
country divided in religious opinion, except the present system of
stimulating and aiding the efforts of the different religious bodies.
This is not the place to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of
this system. The disadvantages are obvious, and the advantages have, as
it seems to me, been overrated. But at any rate it has had the effect
of magnifying any the effect of magnifying to the utmost the importance
not only of the religious but of the dogmatic element in education.
When it was proclaimed that in every little town in England there must
be two schools at least, because one class of people thought it of the
utmost importance that all the children should learn the Church
Catechism, and another class of people thought it of the utmost
importance that they should not; it became pretty clear that the
religious element was at any rate an important one in education.
But it is not
likely that this condition of things will last much longer. If, in the
districts already sufficiently supplied with schools, the State does
not enforce a conscience clause all round as a condition of Government
aid, at least in the districts still unaided, the question will be
forced upon us as soon as the State takes them in hand - Which do
you prefer? A purely secular school, in which the children shall
be taught secular knowledge only in school hours, and then be thrown
out for the ministers of all denominations to scramble for outside, or
a system of elementary religious teaching, clear of all dogmatic
specialties? In other words, supposing that the nation determines on
establishing a system of education in which all can take part, shall it
be by ignoring religion, or only by ignoring religions differences?
Now, I confess
that, supposing no other alternative open to us, I, for one, speaking
as a parochial clergyman, should be ready heartily to welcome a
thoroughly good system of secular education. I know quite well that in
so saying I lay myself open to be told that the highest possible
product of a purely secular education is, the Devil; but to this I
reply, that at least the mind even of the Devil is not, like that of
the average British farm labourer, absolutely incapable of receiving
any intelligent religious impression. Prejudice you may overcome;
sophistry you may expose; error you may convince; but Mit der
Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens. Stupidity
is proof against the gods [a quotation from Schiller]. You have a fine field lying fallow, in which
you wish to raise a good crop; the Government, wishing to encourage
agriculture, says, As you can t make up your minds what sort of seed it
is best to sow, I must leave you to settle that amongst yourselves; but
as the ground must first be prepared, I will set a patent steam plough
to work, which will do the necessary preliminary work, and then you can
do the sowing in the way and at the time that suits you best. What
infatuated folly it would be to reply, "No; the ploughing and sowing
must be done by the same machine or not at all. I have an orthodox
contrivance which will perform the two operations simultaneously. I
admit it does not do its work very thoroughly; it has a trick of
skipping the most hardened part of the field altogether, and then of
course the seed never gets a chance; but still I am not going to sow
after any of your new-fangled steam ploughs; let me do it in my own
way, or I won't sow at all." Surely, your intelligent infidel is a more
hopeful subject than your utterly besotted and ignorant rustic. Nay,
may I not go a step further, and say that a really good system of
secular education, one which should teach not only reading and writing,
but discipline, obedience, self-respect, and self-control, is, in a
very real though not in the highest sense, religious?
however, that in such a system there would be a very considerable
danger of directly religious instruction being altogether lost. I
believe it has been found so in Canada. At any rate, it would depend on
the energy of the ministers of religion in each district, and on their
power of getting hold of the children out of school hours - a
difficult thing, as most of us can testify. Is there then no other
alternative? I think we may find one, in a system in which the Bible
and the main truths of Christianity should be taught undogmatically.
After all, we must approach a practical question of this kind by a
consideration of the elements with which we have to deal. The present
denominational system has, as it appears to me, been the result of a
consideration not of what the condition of the working classes demands,
but of the religious feelings and partisanship of the upper classes.
The great majority of founders and supporters of schools are Church
people; therefore they wished to have distinctively Church schools. But
there was a considerable and active minority who were not Church
people; therefore they wished to have distinctively non-Church schools.
But if you investigate a lower stratum of society, that for which and
not by which the schools are founded, you will find quite other
phenomena. The working class, even the religious part of them, for the
most part care very little about differences of doctrine.They are
Church people or Dissenters, because they were brought up to church or
chapel, or because they have taken to it from some personal preference;
but they have scarcely an idea of any distinctive peculiarities of
doctrine: and as regards the education of their children, they are wise
enough to ask not where they will get this or that form of religious
teaching, but where they will get the best education for their money.
As Mr. Cumin says in his evidence to the Commissioners, The truth is,
that the religious difficulty, as it is called, does not exist. So long
as children are allowed to go to the Sunday-school connected with the
religious denomination to which their parents belong, they make no
objection either to the National or the British system. Not, however,
that parents are indifferent altogether to a religious education for
their children. I often think that there is a vague idea of some kind
of vicarious religion in the minds of working people, and that being
conscious of not having much of their own they think it all the more
necessary for their children. Indeed, I strongly suspect that a secular
system of education would stand a great chance of splitting on this
rock, that the parents would object to a school without the Bible. To
quote Mr. Cumin again, The religious element, I found, was considered
essential, and that element was the Bible. The mass of the poor have no
notion as to any distinction beyond that between Roman Catholics and
So far with
regard to the parents. Now let us look at our materials in the
children. I sometimes wonder whether the worthy people who read and
interest themselves in the discussions on these subjectsm can realise
themselves what manner of children these are whose religious
instruction we are so solicitous about, They must think that they are
of about the age and intelligence of the sixth form boys in our public
schools, or at any rate that they have arrived at the age usually
considered by the Bishops as years of discretion suitable for
confirmation. I think they would be surprised if they could see what
the first class of an average national school is, and what very small
chance there is of any definite dogmatic teaching getting into the
children's minds at all, except in the form of undigested formulas,
which it is quite certain they will never assimilate. I would ask any
clergyman who has had classes of young people of the labouring class to
prepare for confirmation, whether his experience does not bear me out
in saying that even the most carefully instructed national school
children do not retain from their school teaching any definite dogmatic
impression. Indeed, just as nature indicates in the case of infants
what sort of food is suited to their age, by causing them to reject
whatever is unsuitable, so she does also with regard to mental and
spiritual nourishment. They will take in facts; you may teach them the
main points of the Old and New Testament history, and if you do it
sensibly they will take a considerable interest in it: you may
make them understand and remember the Sermon on the Mount, and the
parables and discourses of our Saviour; but unless I am greatly in
error, their minds are absolutely unreceptive of dogma. Indeed, it would
not be too much to say that the whole habit of mind of the labouring
and lower middle classes makes them proof against very distinctive
teaching. Take a girl in the upper class of a national school. You may
teach her the Catechism with scripture proofs; you may follow this up
with confirmation classes, with careful instruction in the Liturgy; you
may get her a situation in a clergyman's family; but let a good-looking
young Dissenter cross her path, and ask her to walk with him,
Ibi omnis / Effusus labor:
without the shadow of a scruple,
without an idea that she is doing anything inconsistent with her
bringing up, she will go with him of a Sunday evening to the chapel,
and if the youth proves faithful at once to his love and to his creed,
she will in process of time subside into a quiet nonconformity, and
rear a little brood of young Dissenters as naturally as if she had
never learnt the Catechism, or seen the inside of the parish church.
This then is the
state of things we have to do with; parents who want the best
education they can obtain for their children, who wish religious
instruction to be imparted, but who for the most part are unconcerned
with doctrinal specialties, though they will resent any attempt made to
force their children into a denomination which is not their own, and
children who are not capable of receiving any definite peculiarities of
dogma, but who are capable of learning and being interested in the
Bible. Does not this seem to point to the natural solution, that of
schools which shall supply such religious instruction as the parents
require and the children can receive, leaving it to be supplemented on
Sundays and in later years by the special teaching of the denomination
to which the child belongs?
But it will be
said the thing is impossible - you cannot have religious teaching
without definite dogma. To this I reply, you not only can, but you
actually have it; and that in a class of schools in which above
all others you would look for the most sharply defined Church teaching.
Where are the sons of Church people in the upper class for the most
part educated? At our public schools and I will venture to say,
speaking from some experience of more than one of our public schools,
and from intimate acquaintance with men of all schools, that in most of
them there is absolutely no definite Church teaching except what is
received in the chapel on Sundays. I was at Rugby under our present
excellent Archbishop; I went through all the upper forms of the school;
and I do not think that I am paying a bad compliment to the school when
I say that I am sure no reasonable parent, either Churchman or
Dissenter, could have objected to his son taking part in the whole of
the religious instruction in the school. And yet when this is
notoriously the case in the best of the highest schools in the
country, we are told that without dogmatic teaching there can be
no religious education in our primary schools. Of course it is quite
easy to raise formidable-looking difficulties; it is easy to ask, what
is a conscientious teacher to do if he knows, for example, that he has
Unitarian children in his school? but to all this I answer, that if you
have a teacher with common sense no difficulties will arise; and no
system will work unless you have people with common sense to administer
it. English people, no doubt, dislike having their convictions
attacked, but I believe very few parents of the working class would
object to having their children taught by a person of a different
denomination from their own, if they knew that he was honest and
candid, and would respect their convictions. Nor do I believe that they
would object to the clergyman of the parish having the chief part in
the management and even in the religious teaching of the school, if
they knew that the rights of conscience were guarded. Many clergymen,
no doubt, will say that they will have nothing to do with a school
where they cannot teach with authority the whole dogmatic system of the
Church. I can only say that, give me a school with thoroughly good
secular teaching, good discipline, and permission to teach the Bible
and the elements of Christian morality, and I will be content without
asking for more. And will you say that this is meagre and indefinite?
Let me quote on this point the words of Mr. Matthew Arnold. in his
report for 1868. Speaking of German schools, he says -
Even in the
lowest classes, the children in a German Protestant school begin
learning verses of the Psalms by heart, and by the time a scholar
reaches the top of the school, he knows by heart a number of the finest
passages from the Psalms, and from the prophetical and historical books
of the Old Testament, and nearly all the principal Gospel discourses
and parables of the New. These have become a part of the stock of his
mind, and he has them for life. What a course of eloquence and poetry
to call it by that name alone is this in a school which has and can
hare but little eloquence and poetry (to call it by that name alone) is
this in a school which has and can have but little eloquence and
poetry, and how much do our elementary schools lose by not having such
a course as part of their school programme? This, at least, one
would think, might be effected without any 'religious difficulty'. and
all who value the Bible may rest convinced that thus to know and
possess the Bible is a most sure way to extend the power and efficacy
of the Bible.
Let me in
conclusion explain that I do not wish to be understood as advocating
the overthrow of the present denominational system.Where it exists it
has worked fairly well, though with considerable waste of power, in
having two indifferent schools where one good one would have sufficed,
and in multiplying inspectors. I suspect, indeed, that if a universal
conscience clause were introduced, very many indifferent schools, now
kept alive by the religious difficulty, would speedily expire, greatly
to the gain of education. But in the still unaided districts, and also
in the towns where the increase of population requires fresh schools, I
cannot but think that religious teaching without dogmatic specialties
is the thing to be aimed at. And I cannot see that we of the Church of
England should be sacrificing any principle in assenting to it. Surely
it is a mere anachronism to endeavour to keep up the theory that the
whole population of England are in agreement with the doctrines of the
Established Church. It is not, as I trust and believe, too late to open
our eyes thankfully to the fact that the mass of the working classes
are willing to accept the Bible as the basis of religious teaching for
their children. Where the great proportion of the people are members
of, or friendly to, the National Church a Church school with a
conscience clause seems to meet the case; but if it should seem good to
Parliament to establish for the future a national system of education
on the basis of Christianity, but without reference to religious
denominations, I am sure that we should be acting rashly and unwisely
in refusing to work with it. After all, the working classes must decide
in the last resort what manner of system they will have; I do not think
they will demand a secular system, and I doubt whether they will care
to maintain the denominational system; but whatever the decision is,
let us not refuse the half because we cannot have the whole, let it not
appear that religion is in antagonism to enlightenment, let us not
refuse in the interests of the Church or of Christianity to aid in
breaking up the dense mass of ignorance and mental torpor in which, in
spite of what has been already accomplished, the labouring class in our
country districts are still hopelessly and contentedly sunk.
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