Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Recreations for Solitary Hours

A Scene at Glasgow College

page 96

A Scene at Glasgow College.

"Twere logic misapplied,
To prove a consequence by none denied,
That we are bound to cast the minds of youth,
Betimes into the mould of heavenly truth;
That taught of God, they may indeed be wise,
Nor ignorantly wandering miss the skies."

Cowper's Tirocinium.

Happening to be in Glasgow one Friday evening in the month of January, 1836, I called upon my friend Mr. Andrew, who at that time was attending the classes; and according to a former agreement spent the night with him. To say the least of it, we had a very happy meeting, such as every one no doubt would wish to enjoy. After the discussion of a cup of coffee, we were reclining back in our chairs looking into the fire in a somewhat picktooth way—for my part, thinking on nothing but the present enjoyment, without speaking a word.

Sir?—Said I, looking round, as my friend had just said something that I had not taken up. Have you ever heard the debating society in the college, said he, smiling, as he snuffed the candle.—Oh yes I replied, I was in, I think, about three years since; I remember page 97they were discussing something about the reform bill; —I think whether it should be radical or partial.

Ay! he cried, they have been taking a share of politics with the rest of the world,—pray what kind of politicians did they make of themselves? No doubt some of them would be fancying themselves in parliament; or canvassing as candidate for the representation of some county, or burgh town, while lecturing weavers and old wives on the benefits of free trade, and cheap tea and sugar.

As to all that, I cannot say, said I, laughing at the ideas he had formed of some of the speakers,—but I remember there were some flowery speeches on the subject, and I heard others as bad. But, indeed, I thought there were as great need of a reform among themselves as in parliament; for instead of couducting themselves as gentlemen, as they pretended to be, they seemed to me more like madmen in the manners they displayed;—for such uproars of ruffing, and hissing, and exploding of crackers, I never heard the like— Indeed, many of the speeches, were they not spoken almost at the top of the voice, would not have been heard, as indeed some were not. At times one would rise up and exclaim against the conduct so displayed, which was followed only by another explosion of laughter, ruffing, and crackers. If I remember well, the porter was called in, and one was taken out by the cuff of the neck.

page 98

Very like, he cried; grinning merrily at the description of the debate;—there are curious fellows about the college, you see;—will you not go and hear them to-night?—I don't care much, said I:—is there one to-night?—Oh yes, he replied, there is one every Friday night;—and I believe the subject to-night is to consider the utility of Lord Brougham's system of education.—A very good subject, said I, if it is righly handled?—The clock in the lobby struck eight, —Well, said my friend, there's eight o'clock; if you please we shall go.—With all my heart, said I, starting to my feet, when we both prepared to make for the scene of debate.

We entered the meeting as one was giving his harangue against Lord Brougham's system. I could scarce keep from smiling,—and, indeed, I observed many trying to suppress a laugh, at the stiff manner in which he delivered himself. He endeavoured to lay a powerful emphasis on every word he spoke, by pressing and straining his voice, as if he was speaking with the greatest difficulty. However, many a just and plausible argument he had to prove the absurdity of the new national system, when compared with the old,—It is formed, he cried, only to serve the few, and not the many. The system is meant only to meet the necessities of a few Infidels, Jews, and Papists, and not the great body of Christians, by throwing out the Bible, the word of God, from our seminaries; and page 99putting into the hands of our youth, books only of mere human philosophy. What is it that makes our island of the sea so conspicuous among the nations of the world but the Bible, and a steady adherence to its truths. Only trace out the French revolution to its rise, and say whence did it originate? but in the rejection of the Bible! Who is the disposer of all events but God, and how do we know the true God, and the way to heaven, but by the Bible. What are all the sayings of philosophy, either ancient or modern, compared with those of God's inspired servants, as contained in the Bible. And has not the Bible been the study and guide of our best Philosphers, Statesmen, and Patriots?—And yet will we have that book of books expelled from our schools, which our forefathers have defended with their lives, to hand it down in its native purity to future generations?—and will we deprive our youth of such an invaluable legacy, that which may be not only the guide of their pilgrimage through life, but the best companion of old age, and death-bed comforter?—will we deprive rising posterity of such, and the benefits of being early instructed therefrom in the principles of Our holy religion, by expelling the use of the Bible from our schools?—No! Heaven forbid that such should ever take place, or woe to the peace and prosperity of our land.

Such was the subject of his harangue, though many a long-winded digression he made from "the subject page 100at issue," which made his speech about twice as long as it otherwise would have been. Have done now, sir, if you please, said the chairman, rising from his seat and giving a bow as he spoke. I'll just have done immediately, thespeaker replied, in the middle of one of his long digressions, but continued speaking for about ten minutes longer, during which he got a second invitation to sit down and rest himself, as the chairman alleged he had over-run his time by fifteen minutes, and other speakers were, of course, to follow.

After him rose another with a gorgeous head of hair. He began to make a dreadful noise, by which he appeared as determined to convince all, that he was right in the opinions he held in favour of Lord Brougham's system. But what he said concerning it I cannot tell, though he spoke loud enough to make a deaf man hear, as he mouthed and stammered so terribly. Yet, lo! how he laboured to give his words effect; sometimes his head sunk as low as the bookboard—then all of a sudden he would spout up like a spring puppet from a box, and towering on his tiptoes, he tossed his arms on high, which made the long narrow shoulder pieces of his toga, which would otherwise have hung down by his side, fly round his head like the red streamers of war in the wind. Well might Burns exclaim,—

What ser's the learning o' their schules,
Wi' Latin names tae horns and stules,
If Nature meant to mak them fools,
What ser's their grammars,
They'd better tain up spades an shules,
An'knapping hammers.

page 101

I think, says my friend with a sarcastic smile, that one appears to have been more obliged to Mr. Frizzle the hair-dresser, for the refinement of his wig, than to the professors for the improvement of his intellect. After this dunce sat down, another rose, who but echoed the sentiments of the first speaker, though he did not continue long, to my infinite satisfaction.

It was a short time before another speaker rose, though various names were called over; but all who were called were either absent—or, if present, they candidly acknowledged they were not prepared,—viz., to speak in favour of the new system; but, perhaps, seeing they thought it wrong to speak in favour of it, they did not prepare for such a task. This I thought was something honest in them, which showed that they possessed some of the true essence of natural genius, commonly called native modesty.

At length up spouted one arrayed in scarlet, who loudly and boldly declared,—I am the only Irishman connected with this society. Well, Mr. O'Connell, said my friend, as a mighty ruffing of hands and feet died away, let us hear now what you are going to advance on the subject. The Irish, he cried, at the top of his voice, are called a wild race;—Not far wrong! bawled out one, as another burst of ruffing and laughter took place;—then why not introduce a national system of education to have them civilized? You say they are an ignorant and lazy vermin,—here again another 12 page 102thundering burst of mingled noises of hands and feet took place, with hisses, and shouts of hear, hear, while one or two were bawling out order! order! which at length were hushed, when the speaker resumed,—then let schools be reared, and teachers provided, to give them knowledge of themselves as men and reasonable beings, and inspire them with the love of industry, that they may live thereby. They are called rapacious, and treacherous, and not fit to be trusted;—it is because they are ignorant of the duties they owe to their fellow-men. Since the disease is found out, why not administer the cure? Or would you rather see them hunted down by fire and sword for being ignorant, instead of lighting the lamp of knowledge amongst them, to show them their errors, and to teach them what is right? Why then are missionaries sent abroad, while the ignorant are neglected at home? That the Irish, therefore, may be brought from their uncultivated condition, and that they may know the worth of honest and industrious habits, and that they may be faithful, and understand the duties they owe to each other as members of society, and that they may learn to practise them with faithfulness to mankind in general—I say, he exclaimed, let the national system be introduced, whereby they might be taught, and you will not find more talented and better men in the United Kingdom of Great Britain! Again a thundering burst of ruffing, of both hands and feet, with laughter, and cries of hear! hear! page 103and well done, Pat! took place at his last bold declaration, when he sat down, no doubt pleased with the manner in which he had delivered himself. Indeed, it was the best speech I heard on his side of the question.

After about four or five minutes' pause, when all was again restored to order, another rose to deliver his opinions. No doubt, he cried, after making a few prefatory remarks, the preceding speaker may think that his countrymen are very much wronged; perhaps so they are, in various respects, and that they ought to be preferred before the heathen abroad in the spreading of knowledge among them. True it is, charity ought first to begin at home, yet it is as true that there are missionaries sent among the poor of that ill-fated isle of the sea; and schools there are in abundance, would the people enjoy the privileges that our friend contends for. And yet it is a lamentable fact, that they are in general averse to learning and improvement of every kind, which not only increases their moral depravity, but is the root and cause of all their miseries. In proof of which, the speaker here began to refer to the causes and consequences of the many riots and disturbances which often took place in Ireland, but as a general uproar of ruffing and laughter took place, I could not hear what he said. Again, he continued, as peace was restored, with the usual impetuosity of his countrymen, he cries for the introduction of this new system of education projected by Lord Brougham, without once en-page 104quiring into its nature. I myself would be as proud and forward as any to advocate the cause of improvement in the system of education, were that improvement based on the principles of Christianity. But how to promote the spiritual welfare of the people is never once referred to in the whole projected system. In it Christianity is laid aside, and the Word of God is to be expunged from the school, as the first speaker truly affirms, to favour a few Infidels, Jews, and Roman Catholics. Again, he cried, after another round of ruffing had subsided,—why are there so many incendiaries taking place in England? Is it because those who commit them are ignorant of the philosophy of heat, and the consumable nature of fire, and the ignitible qualities of the substances contained in the barnyard? It is, I apprehend, because they are ignorant of the sin they commit against the Giver of all good and the injury they do, not only to the proprietor, but also to themselves, by destroying the victual which was meant to be food for man and beast, and Nature's competent return for the labour of the husbandman, on which he depends for the subsistence of his family, the payment of his rents, and other subsidiary taxes Therefore, he cried, would it be reasonable, instead of teaching the people the duties they owe to God and their neighbour, only to give them a knowledge of constructing machinery?—and instead of teaching them wisdom from the Word of God, to give them only the page 105doubtful hypothesis of philosophy?—and instead of instructing them in the way to eternal life and happiness, and how to escape the portion of the wicked, to teach them only in the mysteries astronomy, and the divisions and dimensions of the earth?—and instead of expounding to them the revealed will of God, as contained in his Word, to throw the Bible aside, and give them the laws of pneumatics, hydraulics, galvinism, and electricity?—and instead of showing them the worth and immortality of the soul, to instruct them in the rules of mathematics?—In short, thus making man a mere mercantile machine, instead of that reasonable being who must give an account of his deeds to that God, whom, by such a system, he would be made entirely to neglect!—Here the clapping of hands again began, with other signs of great approbation, when the speaker took his seat, after he had tightly rubbed the shoulders of the opposite party with his quaint remarks and humourous touches, which no doubt caused some curious sensations.

Without much farther delay than the time of restoring order, another rose and commenced his harangue, by frankly acknowledging that he was going to speak directly contrary to the dictates of his conscience—and right reason, too, he ought to have said. He gave us, what he no doubt thought, a flowery speech. But his ideas were either too deep for any, such as I, to fathom, who have never studied the profounds of learned so-page 106phistry; or too wavering for a numskull to follow, so that I could not pick up a single idea that fell from his learned lips. No doubt he wished to impress the mind of his audience—at least he seemed so from the manner of his outset—with the idea, that certainly he was a very clever fellow. Perhaps he was so, and a bold man too, or else a very great coward. Now, to say whether he was the one or the other, would require a good deal of solid argument to determine: for instance, he must have been a bold man who dared gainsay or oppose that inward monitor, styled the Vicegerent of heaven; and on the other hand, he must have been a great coward who feared to meet the public with the opinions his conscience dictated to be right; but, most certainly, he must have been a mean fellow to disregard the voice of that inward monitor, in the hopes of being deafened with applause! If such he sought, how sadly must he have been disappointed, when he sat down amid all the stillness of silence, for all seemed thunder-struck with amazement at the wreck he made of his conscience, for had his audience had the power, they seemed more inclined to hiss than to cheer.

After a minute or two of silence, when the president had recovered from the shock he no doubt sustained, from the conduct, or rather misconduct, of the last speaker, he rose, and giving a bow, moved that if any other present was prepared, that they should make haste now, as their time was drawing to a close.

page 107

During the whole time of the debate, many were the runnings out and in of some, for they seemed to be no sooner in and seated, than they were up and off again at full speed, out at the door—often leaving the door wide often, to the great annoyance of the president and those who sat near it, for as it was a cold frosty night, the wind with chilling breath came blowing in.—Be so good as shut the door after you, if you please, sir,"said the president to one hastening out; but he either did not hear, or was not willing to hear, for he went out and left it wide open. Barbarous, conduct, indeed, to come from the hands of the "college-bred!" A country clown would have shown better manners. Perhaps he was no more than one himself, but improved in his manners very much the wrong Way since he put on the toga—Will you be so kind, sir, said he to one sitting near him, as to shut the door: the one asked went,—John! he cried, looking out and opening the door a little wider, come here and shut the door! then going back to his seat, left the door unshut, which was done at last by the porter at the outside. What pride! said my friend, he might have closed the door when he was at it himself.

As I said before, the president wished intending speakers now to make haste, as the time had now nearly run. After he had sat down a little, and no one seeming to stand forth, almost a hundred voices rose at once, with Hally! Hally! Hally! along with page 108ruffing on the floor with their feet, and beating with their hands on the bookboards, still bawling out Hally! Hally! &c., and another party for the sake of contention, raised the halloo of King! King! amid the mingling confusion of hissing and ruffing, while some more sedatious person was roaring out at the top of his voice, order! order! order! At length the president rose, and with a long pedantic bow with head and shoulders and with outstretched hands and fingers spread, prayed for silence and order, and let business, he exclaimed, go on without farther delay.

At length the uproar by slow gradation ceased, the storm of tongues abated, with now and then a solitary exception, during the lapse of two or three minutes, of one quickly calling out Hally, and another King. This minded me of Nature's calm, when a hurricane had just blown past, when not a tree in the forest is seen to move, save now and then some of the most slender topmost twigs, though scarce observable to the eye, yield a little to the still passing current of the air; or, like a tempestuous ocean, settled down to a glassy smoothness, save when a gentle rippling may appear on the surface, caused by the yet unsettled state of the water far below; or more like a pot of boiling pottage, which I often observed when a boy, when beginning to cool, while venting only now and then a solitary belch. Such was the appearance of the meeting at this time, till one at last spouted up from his seat to offer his remarks.

page 109

What champion of faith is this? I enquired, tapping my friend on the shoulder. It is Mr. King, he replied, looking round with a smile on his phiz. Well, said I, rising to my feet to have a better view of him, let me hear what you are going to advance in favour of the subject,—when lo! he produced a large volume from beneath his toga, which, after'a few remarks, he began to read. It was written, I understood from the several passages he quoted, in favour of Lord Brougham's system of national education. One passage he read to prove that his system was not yet perfected, though it had cost him many years' deliberation;—Therefore, he cried, why condemn a half-finished work? Though I do not remember all the particulars and arguments he read, I shall leave them to the perusal of those who read the book. Yet, from what I heard, I understood the leading features of the projected system were,— that the children from their infancy should be taught in those schools of merchandize and machinery during the course of the week, and leave the most important part of learning,—viz., the principles of Christianity and religion, to the labour of the Sabbath-day, and instruction of the fire-side. Whence he endeavoured to show the advantages rising generations would have, by having instilled into their minds from infancy the principles of commerce and scientific knowledge; while he argued that the fire-side was the only and fittest place for religion to be taught, and that parents page 110were the best monitors of their children, as they could better know the tendencies of their minds and affections than public instructors, in order to impress their minds with the duties of religion, whose walk and conversation with the world can best be the example of their lives.

Such were the leading doctrines of what he read, to which in my own mind I could not be reconciled.* However, let us hear the next speaker, who immediately rose amid much applause, after Mr. King had sat down.

* I shall here give the reasons why I could not feel my mind at all reconciled to the doctrines contained in the book to which Mr. King so largely referred. First,—Though I can have no objections whatever to the arts and sciences being taught in our public schools, for that would show the height to which the present age had attained in literature, over those that are gone;—yet I would firmly oppose the exclusion of the Bible, for that ought to be the leading text-book of all others, as soon as the earliest part of reading is accomplished; and even before that, to have a portion of it read, and simply explained, and infused into their minds by questioning and illustrating, so that they may be practically taught therefrom. For was it not to teach the Bible that our excellent system of parochial schools were at first planted, established, and supported, by our venerable ancestors? The arts and sciences, it is true, are useful in the occupations of this world, and, therefore, ought to be taught. It is that the supporters of Lord Brougham's system, I believe, have chiefly in view, while they forget that man was not made only for this world—and that his existence is but of short and uncertain duration here—and that he has an existence that is to last throughout all eternity—and that his life in this world is only a probation for the next, for which he should ever be preparing himself, providing he would wish to be happy. For which, how can he prepare himself without the sure instructions of the Bible? And considering the many disadvantages men are subjected to during old age, when they reach that time of life when they neither can command the prejudiced bias of their minds, nor feel themselves inclined, although they see the errors they are under, to seek the path that leads to heaven. Considering these, how much the more ought we to be diligent and earnest in instilling the knowledge of God the Father as the Creator, and Christ, who is both God and man, as their saviour and mediator, and the Holy Ghost as the sanctifier, into the minds of youth, that it may be much to their benefit in coming years of trials and experiences, when the mind is stored with the inspiring truths of Christianity. Considering, too, the tendencies of human nature, well has Shakspeare expressed this relative sentiment,— "Custom is a second nature;" and how justly has Solomon considered it when he exhorts, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Thus we see the necessity of having rising youth instructed in the doctrines of the Word of God, as thereby they may be guided through the labyrinths of life, and be ever disposed to sincerity and truth, for as Pope observes, "As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined," —while all the cares of life with which they may be assailed, will thus never make them but feel to a certainty, that "Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."

Again, considering the numbers of our youth that are called to their last account, often long before they have reached the age of being capable of judging for themselves, or of reflecting on the nature and use of the scriptures as a directory to the Way of Life, that so they may embrace the advantages contained in such guide. Oh! what aggravations of grief would it not be to a parent, when mourning the death of a child, instead of being comforted with the assurance that he had performed his duty regarding its future welfare, and the all-inspiring hope that his child is now happy,— to think he had broken his baptismal vows in neglecting the one thing needful, by not having it first taught, as far as God in his good providence had permitted during its life, the truths of the scriptures, and the way of salvation through Christ, instead of only the commercial science of this world,—and not training it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Ay, how will an accusing conscience be ever in an uproar, upbraiding such conduct when perhaps it was capable of being taught to understand the Word of God, and of knowing the way of salvation; and thus dying without ever knowing of an all-sufficient saviour in Jesus, and ignorant of the last destinies of man in the happiness of heaven, or in the miseries of hell, so as to feel the necessity of striving for the one, and escaping the other.

Second,—Lord Brougham's system argues, that children ought to he taught the doctrines of religion only by their parents,—This I conceive is so far right, as it ought to be done: but teachers are generally more capable for the task; besides many parents are very negligent in the instruction of their children, even although they have all the natural fondness of parents for them; and owing to many worldly affairs which ever occupy their minds, many can find no time to attend the instruction of their children, and not a few there are—a shame that it is so—who, so much engrossed in their own selfish and sensual indulgencies, care for none of these things. Does not the consideration of these things the more loudly argue, that the Bible should still be retained in our schools. Since many, by caring for the world and its transitory enjoyments, entirely forget the culture and welfare of the soul. Again, many parents, it is true, are ever anxious to have their children instructed in the things which belong to their eternal peace, who are yet, indeed, but very insufficient for the task, as they themselves have been much neglected when young; perhaps by the very same means for which Lord Brougham argues. Can we call it philanthrophy to deprive the wretch, when starving with hunger, of that morsel of bread which he holds in his hand, and is about to put into his mouth; or can we call it humanity to see one struggling for life when drowning in a whirlpool, and grasping at something that would have helped him to escape, and yet to deprive him of such a mean, and tantalize him with the assistance of a straw. So, can we call it Christianity to withdraw the sacred instructions of the Bible from our seminaries, by which already so much good has been done.

Third,—Lord Brougham's system argues, that the teaching of the doctrines of the Bible in school, should be the labour of the Sabbath day.—No doubt, Sabbath school instructions have done much good to many a poor child, who had not the means of receiving such instructions during the week; but why confine them to the Sabbath, and not to the week-day too? It is true that the arts and sciences are somewhat necessary to be taught in our schools—but why, for them, exclude the Bible, to make it the textbook only for the Sabbath days? Indeed, the week-day studies would so engross the mind with scientific matter, as to render the instructions of the Sabbath day almost fruitless and null. For how could one day's instruction in religion keep its ground in the mind, against that of six days in scientific knowledge? it is hardly possible!—besides, it would be the means of leading directly to scepticism, and paving the way to downright infidelity. Such already has been the case with a neighbouring nation, which proved the first step to its downfall; and shall Britons show themselves such fools as make the same disastrous experiment in theirs? Heaven forbid! but let the sciences go hand in hand with religion; but let religion take the lead in the march of improvement. Then would man not only be more fit for the enjoyments and duties of this life, but when it does draw to a close, the early impressions of religion received in youth, would, by the blessing of Heaven, be a mean to guide him through the hopes of the gospel, to the joyful realities of life everlasting.

Such are my opinions in opposition to Lord Brougham's projected national system of education; but every one, free to exercise his own judgment, may have a different opinion. Yet I think a more improved national system than what has been, according to the advancement of the age in which we live, is, indeed, highly essential, provided it is based on the principles of Christianity;— and that system, too, should be supported by government instead of many incumbents, who but prey upon the good of the people in general, so that a liberal education, in an ordinary degree,* may be open to all, free as air, and common as the light of heaven. This, truly, would have a happy effect, in having all our empty churches well filled, and more built, and well attended, and cause much dissension to cease. So both combined would not only tend more to the instruction of the ignorant, but be the first means of having crime of every hue banished from society, and having harmony and happiness introduced; nay, it would give a brighter polish to the glory and lustre of the British nation, far surpassing that which arms could ever achieve.

See Stow's Training System, as practised in the Normal Seminary of Glasgow.

* What I mean by this, is a thorough English education, based upon the Training System, as practised in Glasgow Model Schools.—See the Treatise, Stow's Training System.

page 111From the manner in which the one who now rose, was received, whom I learned from my friend was Mr. Hally, and that he was accounted clever, I began to expect something from him in the shape of pithy arguments, clothed in flowery eloquence, as he stood arranging some papers before him, till once he could get page 112leave to speak, so as to be heard. At length he began, but not as I expected, to pass only a few remarks, by way of criticism on all the speakers that spoke before him; and in reply to Mr. King's remark on the yet incomplete state of Lord Brougham's system, he declared that it had been more complete twenty years page 113since than it was at present, for it seemed to have taken a retrograde progression from good to bad, and from bad to worse, instead of growing better!

After Mr. Hally took his seat, putting his papers in his pocket, and the ruffing amid which he sat down had subsided, the President rose, and gave his usual page 114bow to the assembly, alleging that as the time had now run, it would be necessary to vote with a show of hands, either for, or against Lord B.'s motion. A show of hands was given for it, but only six appeared. Another was given against it, but I could not count them, which showed that the old system was considered the page 115best by the greatest majority. The debate being closed, we began to dismiss, but not with any kind of regularity, for all seemed to strive who would be out first. When coming out at the door, from a clear gas-lighted hall into a dark square, I found myself jostled into a crowd of learned lumber collected about the door, like page 116sticks and straws in a stagnant pool.—Tom, cried one, tapping me on the shoulder, what did ye think of Jock Robinson's lang speech?—but seeing his mistake, he turned about to seek Tom some where else. Having elbowed my way through the crowd, and discovering my friend, we again joined arm in arm, and made for the street.