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« PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS
EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE.”
Why should not political, as well as all other works, be published in a cheap form, and in numbers ? That history, the nature of the Constitution, the doctrines of political economy, may safely be disseminated in this shape, no man now-a-days will be hardy enough to deny. Popular tracts, indeed, on the latter subject, ought to be much more extensively circulated for the good of the working classes as well as of their superiors. The interests of both are deeply concerned in sounder views being taught them; I can hardly imagine, for example, a greater service being rendered to the men, than expounding to them the true principles and mutual relations of population and wages; and both they and their masters will assuredly experience the effects of the prevailing ignorance upon
such questions, as soon as any interruption shall happen in the commercial prosperity of the country, if, indeed, the present course of things, daily tending to lower wages as well as profits, and set the two classes in opposition to each other, shall not of itself bring on a crisis. To allow, or rather to induce the people to take part in these discussions, is, therefore, not merely safe, but most wholesome for the community, and yet, some points connected with them, are matter of pretty warm contention in the present times; but these may be freely handled, it seems, with safety; indeed, unless they are so handled, such subjects cannot be discussed at all. Why then may not every topic of politics, party as well as general, be treated of in cheap publications? It is highly useful to the community, that the true principles of the Constitution, ecclesiastical and civil, should be well understood by every man who lives under it. The great interests of civil and religious liberty are mightily promoted by such wholesome instruction; but the good order of society gains to the full as much by it. The peace of the country, and the stability of the government, could not be more effectually secured than by the universal diffusion of this kind of knowledge. The abuses which through time have crept into the practice of the Consti
tution, the errors committed in its administration, and the improvement which a change of circumstances require, even in its principles, may most fitly be expounded in the same
And if any man, or set of men, deny the existence of such abuses, see no error in the conduct of those who administer the government, and regard all innovation upon its principles as pernicious, they may propagate their doctrines through the like channels. Cheap works being furnished, the choice of them may be left to the readers. Assuredly a country which tolerates every kind, even the most unmeasured of daily and weekly discussion in the newspapers, can have nothing to dread from the diffusion of political doctrines in a form less desultory, and more likely to make them be both well weighed at the time, and reserved for repeated perusal. It cannot be denied, that the habit of cursory reading, engendered by finding all subjects discussed in publications, which how great soever their merits may be, no one looks at a second time, is unfavourable to the acquisition of solid and permanent information.
Happily, the time is past and gone, when bigots could persuade mankind that the lights
of philosophy were to be extinguished as dangerous to religion; and when tyrants could proscribe the instructors of the people as enemies to their power. It is preposterous to imagine, that the enlargement of our acquaintance with the laws which regulate the universe, can dispose to unbelief. It may be a cure for superstition—for intolerance it will be the most certain cure; but a pure and true religion has nothing to fear from the greatest expansion which the understanding can receive by the study either of matter or of mind. The more widely science is diffused, the better will the Author of all things be known, and the less will the people be “ tossed to and fro by the
sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, where
by they lie in wait to deceive.” To tyrants, indeed, and bad rulers, the progress of knowledge among the mass of mankind is a just object of terror; it is fatal to them and their designs; they know this by unerring instinct, and unceasingly they dread the light. But they will find it more easy to curse than to extinguish. It is spreading, in spite of them, even in those countries where arbitrary power deems itself most secure; and in England, any attempt to check its progress would only bring about the sudden destruction of him who should be insane enough to make it.
EXTRACTS FROM A DISCOURSE
UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW,
INSTALLATION AS LORD RECTOR,
APRIL 6th, 1825.
I FEEL very sensibly, that if I shall now urge you, by general exhortations, to be instant in the pursuit of the learning, which, in all its branches, flourishes under the kindly shelter of these roofs, I may weary you with the unprofitable repetition of a thrice told tale; and if I presume to offer my advice touching the conduct of your studies, I may seem to trespass upon the province of those venerable persons, under whose care you have the singular happiness to be placed. But I would, nevertheless, expose myself to either charge, for the sake of joining my voice with theirs, in anxiously intreating you to believe how incomparably the present season is verily, and indeed the most