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ON a fair estimate of the utility resulting from our ancient grammar schools, they will probably appear to be the primary sources of that intellectual light, which, in a very remarkable degree, has illuminated, not only the more elevated, but the middle and subordinate classes of our distinguished country. To the ancient grammar schools, founded in many of our provincial towns, and in most of our great cities, we are indebted for the diffusion of that attractive species of literature, which leads the young mind, by its peculiar charms, to the love of a studious life, and consequently conduces, in proportion to the genius and opportunities of the scholar, to high improvements in every part of useful science and ornamental erudition. The pleasantness of the path, on first entrance on the journey, strewed as it is with flowers of poetry, has allured the student to proceed in his course, who might have been deterred, on the very threshold, if he had seen nothing but the roughness of the road and the difficulty of the ascent to any very distinguished eminence. Many of the aspirants, it is true, never reach the summit; but still they rise above the plain, and attain to a very desirable mediocrity; a mediocrity in itself respectable, and to the public, from its abundance, most beneficial. To this early relish of intel lectual pleasure, and this generous emulation in pursuit of moral and mental excellence, which pervade the middle rank of life, in consequence of an easy and free access to the best and most pleasing mode of education, we may confidently attribute much of that brilliancy which emblazons our NATIONAL CHARACTER.
The uniform and general studies of a rising generation, operating, from century to century, must have a powerful effect on the minds
and manners of a whole people. I arrogate not too much to grammar schools, when I venture to conjecture, that such is their discipline, and such the kind of learning which they communicate, that we may ascribe to them, in great measure, that prevalent correctness of moral and religious principle, that manliness of mind, that delicate sense of honor, that love of liberty, that spirit of benevo lence, which are acknowledged even by neighbouring nations, who envy, while they eulogise, to diffuse over this favored island an unrivalled lustre. That our national character excels that of our neighbours, is allowed, on comparison, by travellers the most enlightened and impartial. Of this proud pre-eminence there must be some cause singularly powerful. And surely a superior mode of education, attainable by all, and adopted by most, who from circumstances are able to avail themselves of it, seems perfectly adequate, in the course of centuries, to the production of an effect, like this, no less general than illustrious.
In the venerable foundations consecrated to polite learning by the wisdom and well-placed munificence of our pious forefathers, a great majority of the people (above a state of absolute penury), that is, the mass in middle life, may claim, as their BIRTHRIGHT, a classical education. Without personal influence, or the solicitation of patronage, they may enjoy the privilege of receiving instruction gratuitously; such instruction as tends to strengthen, enlarge, and refine their intellectual faculties. They possess the means of acquiring, by the best discipline, at an age when all that is acquired is usually retained, a habit of reading, a taste for contemplation, a judgment and love of fine composition, an introduction to science, and (which is perhaps the most important of all,) an experienced conviction, in early youth, that a great enjoyment of life is attainable in the retirement of a library, and that intellectual pleasure makes an ample compensation for the self-denials of virtue. Lessons of this tendency, given to the rising generation of a whole people, during succeeding ages, must have a wonderful effect in causing and maintaining a moral and intellectual priority. MIND, utterly neglected in many parts of the world, is here cultivated at the vernal season, in nurseries admirably adapted to promote its growth; nurseries, whose gates are open to all, in every well-inhabited district throughout this kingdom: and without a cultivated mind, what is man but (animal bipes et implume) a two-legged and unfeathered animal? A superficial observation is sufficient to discover how human nature degenerates, where mind, at an early age, is left in a state of native sterility. No wonder, that in a country, where the opportunities for thus cultivating mind are freely and abundantly afforded, at the most susceptible age, the human race should be advanced to a superiority. The studies of
the grammar school are precisely those, on which Cicero bestowed that fine encomium, which, from its excellence, has become trite; but as it is apposite, I repeat it. "These are the studies," says he," which supply food for the growing faculties in youth; furnish a delightful amusement in age; add a grace to the enjoyments of prosperity; afford a consolatory refuge from the ills of adversity; are a constant source of pleasure at home, and, at the same time are no embarrassment abroad, supply topics to muse upon in the wakeful hour of midnight; accompany us in our rural excursions; and travel with us in our tours to every foreign country." Well known as is this passage, and in the memory of every school-boy of the grammar school, I have introduced it for the sake of others, who seem exclusively to prefer a mercantile or mechanical plan of instruction; that they may see and duly appreciate the excellent and extensive effects of that classical mode, which formed one of the most accomplished men of ancient Rome, and has produced the most shining characters in modern Europe.
Though the grammar schools may appear at first sight, and in the first instance, to be calculated chiefly, if not only, for the middle ranks; yet have they not been exclusively confined to any order. The liberal founders opened their gates, as they opened their hearts and hands, wide enough to admit high and low, rich and poor; and certainly at five or six of the greatest grammar schools in the kingdom, the high and rich, knowing the value of a solid, combined with an ornamental, education, constitute the most numerous partakers of the pious founders' bounty. I mean not the pecuniary advantages. They may be very properly limited to those whom narrow circumstances at home might render it difficult to emerge; but the benefits of liberal instruction are indiscriminately afforded to rich and poor, to all indeed who apply for them, and who have inclination or ability to partake and avail themselves of the privilege.
When we read the biography of our country, we find that many nobles of the land, statesmen, prelates, judges, have owed their elevation from the humblest condition, to grammar schools in the vicinity of their birth-place, to which they were sent perhaps from mere motives of economy; but which taught them to contemplate with understanding and taste, the finest monuments of classic antiquity, and (rustic as they were in their origin) to emulate at last the politest ages, those of Pericles and Augustus; and to vie with them in solidity of thought, in extent of knowledge, in correctness of style, in manly eloquence, in sound philosophy, in generosity of sentiment, in all the attainments of elegant arts and recondite science, to which the study of the HUMANITIES, by its liberalizing influence, is directly and powerfully conducive. Among the lower
classes, and even the lowest, in instances without number, the grammar schools have elicited genius, likely to be lost in obscurity, or chilled to torpidity in the cold atmosphere of extreme indigence. Fortunate circumstances concurring with merit, have raised many a poor lad from his humble seat in the village school, (where, without money and without friends, he acquired the elements of the highest mental accomplishments,) to the seat of episcopal, judicial, and senatorial dignity. But here let me assure him, that the solid internal worth acquired in a literary life, that worth which renders a man respectable to himself and all around him, though he should be little favored by the smiles of fortune, is itself an ELEVATION, the want of which cannot be supplied by a coronet or a mitre. Such is the lesson learned in a converse with the moral philosophers of classical antiquity. The scholar whose mind is purified, as well as enlightened, by an early and faithful application to wisdom like this, has a treasure within him, which, like that of religion and a good conscience, the world can neither give nor take away. But I should indeed scorn to recommend a public school, from the vulgar motive of making profitable connexions; a mean and servile motive, utterly unworthy the dignity of a mind once raised to the perception of all intellectual beauty, and placing its happiness on things beyond the reach, or even conception, of a time-serving and selfish patronage.
It is observable that the more ignorant men are, the meaner and more attached are they to temporal goods; and, for the most part, the more capable of acquiring them; because they refer all their sordid cares and venal labors solely to the acquisition. Intellectual and invisible goods seem to them chimerical, the mere day dreams of a romantic imagination. They deride and despise them, accounting those only substantial which are tangible.
Even classical learning may be debased and become contemptible by servility. But, in itself, it is highly favorable to manliness of spirit and a modest, yet noble independence. Ignorance is prone, from conscious weakness, to stoop too low to power usurped. Slavery, popery, and the sloth of illiterate superstition might have overrun this country, as it has others, in our neighbourhood, if the POPULAR EDUCATION had not been such as to inspire a generous self-dependence, and a love of liberty. The reformation of our religion, the ardent and general thirst for knowledge, exclusive of lucre, and even the matchless industry in arts, manufactures, and commerce, which distinguish Britons, are all ascribable to a manly spirit fostered, if not excited, by the peculiar efficacy of Greek and Roman examples, held up to us for imitation, at our ancient grammar schools. They inspired the young minds of the middle ranks, all over the country, with ENERGY; while they af
forded them the mes of information on all subjects; and formed them, as men, and as members of the community, on the models, not of Goths and Vandals, not of monks and friars, but citizens of Athens, Lacedæmon, and Rome. Let it be remembered that COLLEGES were once a kind of free schools, admitting boys of twelve or fourteen years old, and training them in the classics, exactly in the manner of the old grammar schools in the country towns. Milton entered early, at Christ's college and, it is supposed, underwent the discipline of the rod, as a school boy, while resident at Cambridge. Many others, like him, were admitted members of a college at an age quite puerile. I comprehend therefore the colleges, at the periods I allude to, among the grammar schools; and I venture to say, that all of them together have been the nurseries of the divines, philosophers, lawyers, heroes, patriots, philanthropists, and good men of all descriptions, that have made posterity mindful of them by becoming its benefactors, and thus obtained a permanent place in the temple of fame.
They have also raised multitudes of well informed and virtuous men, who, though they may not have advanced above a mediocrity of excellence, though they made no pretensions to illustrious and pre-eminent merit, have yet acted their parts in life with credit and comfort, and been useful and respectable; and, if not stars of the first magnitude, or singly luminous and dazzling, have diffused a wide expanse of mild radiance like the galaxy. Their combined light has thrown a lustre on the horizon, perhaps greater than would stream from any single luminary, however brilliant its original splendor.
It is not, therefore, without deep concern, that I observe a measure proposed to the legislature, which has a direct tendency to degrade grammar schools; and, if not absolutely to abolish them or diminish their number, yet to alter and deteriorate their constitution.
The promoters of this most important innovation are doubtless actuated by benevolent and patriotic motives; but I cannot help thinking their opinions founded on a view both hasty and superficial. They have, perhaps, been led to adopt the ideas of the calculating politicians; ideas not always compatible with the tenderest humanity or soundest wisdom: and in consequence of the economy, which the calculating system encourages, they endeavour to divert to other channels the funds bequeathed by founders for the support of grammar schools. They attempt to blend, by a most unnatural amalgamation, under the same roof, the same statutes, and the same masters, the education of a clerk in a counting-house, or an apprentice behind the counter, with that which was designed to liberalize the mind, form it to taste and elegance, and qualify it for