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Ir I presume most respectfully to recal your attention to some points, connected with the inquiry into the Abuses of Public Charities, which, to judge from your letter to Sir Samuel Romilly, I think you have neither seen yourself, nor placed before the public in a just light: I hope you will not consider my addressing you on the subject, as arising either from want of proper deference to yourself, or a disposition in the remotest degree adverse to the great and benevolent undertaking in which you are engaged.
The prominent and active part you have taken, in dragging into light concealed frauds, and in pursuing, both with zeal and firmness, the great object of inquiring into the abuses of Public Charities, does you honor as a man, a legislator, and A CHRISTIAN ; and I believe there are few, (except such as may be implicated) who are not interested in the cause, if more silently, yet not less ardently or anxiously, than yourself,
You have acknowledged the promptitude and alacrity with which the ParochIAL Clergy, as a body, have answered all inquiries transmitted to them, respecting the existence and administration of Charities, in the places where they reside. But in your examination of some gentlemen of this valuable class in society, connected with the large establishments of public education, may I be permitted to ask, whether you have shown as far as these schools are concerned, a fair, dispassionate view of the subject, without predetermined opinions or partial bias ?
Your letter to Sir Samuel Romilly is before the public; and although I would not detract from the candor which distinguishes those parts in which you speak of men of different political views from your own; I am almost tempted to believe, that when our great national institutions of public education are the subject, that spirit of impartiality and candor forsakes you.
As some misunderstanding seems to have gained ground, and as a very great share of odium, on account of the language you have held, is likely to fall with full weight on those establishments, which I verily believe least deserve the imputation ; may I venture to solicit your pardon, whilst I call your attention to some circumstances, from which it appears to me you have misunderstood the nature, intention, and character of those munificent national foundations.
In the first place, when there were many instances of most flagrant and gross delinquency in the abuse of public trusts, it seems extraordinary, that those venerable institutions on which no particular obloquy had hitherto been cast, (however they may have been assailed, as they always will be, in an age tending to fanatic feelings,) should be brought into the very van, if I may say so, of inquisitorial scrutiny ; as if the front of their offending had been the most conspicuous, and their abuses most flagrant.
Why was this ? Could it be intended, when the public mind was excited to a state of irritation, and when an idea had gone forth of the poor being robbed, that they should be led to believe that even the places destined by ancient piety and charity for their especial advantage had been unjustly wrested from them; and that ihus a vague feeling of some monstrous misapplication and fraud should be studiously kept alive against these establishments in particular ?
When the enquiry was first begun, every honest and independent heart was with you: “ They wished you good luck in the name of the Lord;" and the whole nation hailed you, not as the orator of a political party, but as the great and noble defender of the cause of humanity, in which all minor feelings were merged and lost.
But when ingenuous minds observed how eagerly you seemed to fix your first stern look on those institutions, which they had regarded with well-founded, or, if you please, “romantic,"attachment ;—when they remarked gentlemen and scholars, as well educated as yourself, subjected to a mode of sarcastic scrutiny, as if they stood before the Attorney-General Noy, in the Star-Chamber of Charles the First; or rather like the students of Oxford, at the inquisitorial visitation of the Earl of Pembroke, under Cromwell ; --when eagerly pouncing (as it were) on these great objects, you almost seemed to verify the proverb,' if not that part of it, dat ve
I“ Dat veniam CORVIS, vexat censura COLUMBAS.
niam corvis, at least that in which it is said, “ verat censura LUMBAS ;” (for in comparison with some of the grosser abuses of charity, the public schools may be considered as “doves” compared with “ vultures ;") then it was the dispassionate and well-informed less readily went with you, Nay worse; for, if it was then, and not till then, that the government turned round, and, as you complain, not only in part defeated your plans, but, passing by such a character as the Marquis of Lansdowne, “'absolutely substituted some who were esteemed unfriendly to the cause in general ; if they dared to add one more abuse to those already existing, by giving large salaries to their friends, to undertake what they had no wish should be undertaken ; if they had thus sought to turn into the greatest ABUSE the very investigation of ABUSES; if it were in consequence ordered, that “ none shall be asked QUESTIONS without THEIR OWN CONSENT;" and the measure, according to your opinion, iu great degree thus rendered ineffectual; may it not be said that the blame lies ON THE CONDUCT OF ITS AUTHOR !
Before I speak more particularly of the points relating to our great establishments of education, on account of which I have taken the liberty of publicly addressing you, allow me to say, that those who have received an education at either of our universities, and who perhaps have been sent there from some of our great public schools, cannot forget, that these illustrious seats of learning, for many years, had been objects of invidious but impotent attack in a literary journal, with which, it is generally understood, you were connected.
Those attacks, particularly on the university of Oxford, were repelled by a scholar and a gentleman, now one of the greatest ornaments of that university, in an answer equally convincing and dignified, worthy the cause and the place.
All the world had admired the caustic satire and sonorous declamation of the Edinburgh Review. Few considered how many positious, with a parade of literary dictatorship, were confidently advanced, which could not bear the discussion of a man of sound judgment, or correct intelligence. Nevertheless, all tongues repeated, “How clever !” and all eyes were turned to admire the dazzling brilliancy of sarcasm, to which an obnoxious and shriok. ing author was exposed.
But, alas, "all these things availed nothing," while the illustrious seats of learning towered pre-eminent in a neighbouring country. Sister Peg, with all fier real talents, (and should envy,
“ Scek from her brows the wreath to tear,
ceased not to make a kind of angry comparison, and was continually casting a splenetic look, not without some" anile” scolding on her brother John Bull's blue schools. 4
Not only the universities were the theme of repeated calumnies, but the most distinguished public schools were arraigned with a particular obloquy, as if scarce any eminently wise and good of their generation were indebted to these seats of education for their wisdom or virtue. A writer of an article against them, in this Journal, not shrouding his arguments in specious generalities, had the hardihood, with some insidiousness, to appeal to untoward facts. The system of education, to which England had justly been partial, was condemned by negative inference, as having reared scarce any of the most eminent poets, divines, or statesmen, whose names crowd the pages of her history. The writer's challenge was accepted, and answered by an appeal to that very test which had been proposed.
Will not the reader smile, when, among the great names adduced to prove the superiority of private education, he finds the name of Ben Johnson, as a poet, and Sherlock, as a divine ; one of whom almost every boy knows, was educated at Westminster, and the other at Eton ? Ex pede Herculem. I shall add one specimen from an essay, which was first published in the quarterly Classical Jourpal, in which a complete answer is given to this solemn enumeration of poets, warriors, divines, statesmen, actors, painters, and philosophers, who attained their eminence without being indebted to public schools. When these things are put together, it may appear somewhat less extraordinary that an Enquiry concerning the Abuses of Charity should be almost commenced, by the public
· See History of John Bull. 2 “The case is directly the reverse with another most eminent character, placed against Public Schools.-Ben Johnson. In opposition to Shakspeare, hé stands, I confess, the most consummate proof of the force of education. In 'native gifts he was, no doubt, far below Shakspeare; but education and learning seem in him to run the race with genius, and unite to exhibit to after-ages one of the most striking instance of their effects. In point of poetical imagery, and wildness of fancy, let the reader compare, with this view, the songs of the witches in Johnson's Mask, and then in Shakspeare's Macbeth. Ben Johnson, therefore, but not Shakspeare, would appear to be a splendid example as far as poetry is concerned, against Public Schools. I am inclined, however, to suspect that the reviewer is not very intimately acquainted with the works of this distinguished writer: I will therefore call his attention to the following Epigram," as it is called.
« TO WILLIAM CAMDEN.
attention being called to these institutions, on which the least suspicion hitherto had rested of any remarkable abuse ; and that this enquiry should be conducted in no very courtly manner, by a writer in that very Review, the attacks of which had been so constantly, but impotently, directed against them.
Be this as it may, when it was expected that those abuses of Charity Schools would be first pointed out to the indignation of the public, where a less number than that which the founders had appointed, was educated; or where the funds set apart for this end were notoriously absorbed, or grasped by the hand of some unfeeling monopolist; when it was expected that the merited odium would justly be cast on such gross and glaring perversions ; suddenly we find those institutions the objects of attack, which stood venerable from time, and illustrious in the eye of day, where no particular abuses were alleged; and which were still, year by year, pouring into the cultivated community their liberal, learned, and accomplished sons, velut ex equo Trojano meros principes !
If this was a kind of corroboration of the suspicion, with which some regarded the views of the man most active in the committee of
“Than Thee the age sees not that thing more grave,
“But for their powers accept my piety! « Now as the critic may know as little of this William Camden, as he seems to do of Ben Johnson; it may be proper to acquaint him, that this WILLIAM CAMDEN was the author of a book called "Britannia,” of “Remains concerning Britain," and of “ Annals of Queen Elizabeth ;" and that moreover, AE WAS HEAD MASTER OF WESTMINSTER SCHOOL: under whom, at that same school, was educated THIS IDENTICAL BEN JOHNSON. It is probable that the critic may not have read so much of Ben Johnson as to have seen this “ Epigram;" yet had he but opened the first page, the following remarkable and decisive words would have stared him in the face, in the dedication to Camden:ʻI am none of those, who can suffer the benefits conferred upon my youth to perish with my age I pray you to accept this, such, wherein neither the confession of my manners shall make you blush, nor of my stiidies repent you to have been the instructor !!!
“ When ihe reader recollects this, will he not be astonished at the IGNORANCE, the IMPUDENT IGNORANCE, of such a PROFOUND CTITIC-The writer has committed himself in this instance, as in others, by an inaccuracy the inore unpardonable, since Ben Johnson is himself precisely such a character, as in estimating the comparative merits of schools, so far as his own art and learning are concerned, would turn the scale."
-Answer to an Attack of Publie Schools in the Edinbürgh Review.
Applied to Winchester College, by the Monthly Review, in 1786, I believe.