April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


TC TO H. R. FORREST ; 28 July 1848; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18480728-TC-HRF-01; CL 23: 80-82


Chelsea, 28th July 1848.

Sir,—I have received your letter, with the printed documents concerning the Lancashire Public School Association;1 all of which papers I have read with satisfaction. Accept my thanks for your civilities; and allow me to say, in return, that nobody can wish your enterprise more heartily than I a speedy and perfect success. Speedy or not, I believe success in such an enterprise, if wisely prosecuted, is certain: for the object is great, simple, and legitimate,—at once feasible and of prime necessity,—and will gradually vindicate that character for itself to every just mind, however prepossessed; so that there needs only candid exposition and discussion,—true zeal for the intrinsic result, and openness for every improvement as to the means,—to enlist all good citizens in its favour, and bring at length the whole public to co-operate with you.

Surely, in all times, in all places where men are, it is the sacred, indefeasible duty, imposed by Heaven itself and the oldest laws of nature, that they who have knowledge shall seek honestly to impart it to those who have not! No man, no generation of men, has a right to pass through this world, and leave their successors in a state of ignorance which could have been avoided. No generation: and if many generations among us English have already too much done so, it is the sadder case for England now, and the more pressing is the call for this generation of Englishmen. In all times and places it is man's solemn duty, whether done or not;—and if in any time or place, I should say it was in Lancashire, in England, in these years that are now passing over us! Years swiftly rolling, laden with rapid events, overturns, and frightful catastrophes,—admonishing all men that human darkness issues finally in human ruin; that want of wisdom does at last mean want of the power to exist on this earth, where, as it has been said, “If you will not have illumination from above, you shall have conflagration from below, and whoever refuses light will get it in the form of lightening one day!”2

True, the mere schoolmaster is a small element of such “illumination”; but we are never to forget that he is the first element, the indispensable preliminary of all others. Let us have the schoolmaster; we shall then be the readier to try for something more. No truth that he or another can teach us but is supported and confirmed by all truths. To nothing but error is or can any truth be dangerous. Who would obstruct, who would not cordially forward, a human being imparting to another any increase of real faculty, any real initiation, speculative or practical, into this universe, and its facts and laws, provided he really do impart such, and restrict himself to doing it? To know the multiplication-table, is better than not to know it. If a man will teach another to make a pair of shoes, he will enlarge the faculty, the availability of that other,—the worth of that other to himself and to all creatures, and to the Maker of all creatures and of him. Teach one another; see that none who could learn go untaught, if you can help him: there is no more universal law.

That jealousy for constitutional liberty, still more that scruples of religion, should obstruct this sacred, everlasting duty, so pressingly important even now, is very sad. Above all, that religion should be found standing on the highways to say, “Let men continue ignorant of reading and arithmetic, lest they learn heterodoxy in theology; let not men learn the simplest laws of this universe, lest they mislearn the highest,”—I know not where else there is seen so altogether tragical a spectacle! “In the name of God the Maker, who said and hourly yet says, Let there be light, we command that you continue in darkness!” Such a spectacle, I venture to think, will end; it ought decidedly to end, and that soon. If any portion of a man's creed, religious or constitutional, command him to stand in the way of arithmetic and the alphabet, let such portion of his creed become suspect to him!

Of the details of your scheme I do not profess to judge, without more deliberation than is now possible; and indeed my eagerness to see any scheme whatever of national education adopted (for the worst I ever heard of is better than none) might render me liable to partiality in judging. But your two principles, first, that of popular support and local self-government (to which, in better days, a superior and supreme national superintendency, the fit post for the highest and noblest intellect we had among us, might be superadded); and secondly, that of excluding all religious teaching but what is unsectarian: these clearly seem to me the only practicable principles at this epoch;—an epoch which more than any other calls upon us to “practise” straightway some principle or principles, and get a little education accomplished, if we would not fare worse before long!3 And therefore with my whole heart I bid you persevere and prosper.—Yours sincerely,


H. R. Forrest, Esq. Sec. &c. Manchester.