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ADVANTAGES OF A NEUTRAL GROUND.
If these differences were to have been discussed here to-day, I should not have been able to respond to your invitation to take the chair, as I should have thought it inconsistent with the position which I occupy, and with the duty which I owe to the Queen and country at large. I see those here before me who have taken a leading part in these important discussions, and I am happy to meet them upon a neutral ground; happy to find that there is a neutral ground upon which their varied talents and abilities can be brought to bear in communion upon the common object; and proud and grateful to them that they should have allowed me to preside over them for the purpose of working together in the common vineyard. I feel certain that the greatest benefit must arise to the cause we have all so much at heart, by the mere free exchange of your thoughts and various experience.
You may well be proud, gentlemen, of the results hitherto achieved by your rival efforts, and may point to the fact that, since the beginning of the century, while the population has doubled itself, the number of schools both public and private has been multiplied 14 times. In 1801, there were in England and Wales of public schools 2,876; of private schools, 487—total, 3,363. In 1851 (the year of the census), there were in England and Wales-of public schools, 15,518; of private schools, 30,524-total, 46,042; giving instruction in all to 2,144,378 scholars; of whom 1,422,982 belong to public schools, and 721,396 to the private schools. The rate of progress is further illustrated by statistics, which show that in 1818 the proportion of day scholars to the population was 1 in 17; in 1833, I in II; and in 1851, 1 in 8. These are great results, although I hope they may only be received as instalments of what has yet to be done. But what must be your feelings when you reflect upon the fact, the inquiry into which has brought us together, that this great boon thus obtained for the mass of the people, and which is freely offered to them, should have been only partially accepted, and, upon the whole, so insufficiently applied, as to render its use almost valueless. We are told, that the total population in England and Wales of children between the ages of 3 and 15 being estimated at 4,908,696, only 2,046,848 attend school at all, while 2,861,848 receive no instruction what
At the same time, an analysis of the scholars with reference to the length of time allowed for their school tuition shows that 42 per cent of them have been at school less than one year, 22 per cent. during one year, 15 per cent. during two years, 9 per cent. during three years, 5 per cent. during four years, and 4 per cent. during five years. Therefore, out of the two millions of scholars alluded to, more than one million and a half remain only two years at school. I leave it to you to judge what the results of such an educa
tion can be. I find, further, that of these two millions of children attending school, only about six hundred thousand are above the age of nine. These are startling facts, which render it evident that no extension of the means of education will be of any avail, unless this evil which lies at the root of the whole question be removed, and that it is high time that the country should become thoroughly awake to its existence, and prepared to meet it energetically.
THE ROOT OF A GREAT EVIL.
You will richly add to the services you have already rendered to the noble cause if you will prepare public opinion by your inquiry into this state of things, and by discussing in your sections the causes of it as well as their remedies which may lie within our reach. This will be no easy matter; but even if your labours should not result in the adoption of any immediate practical steps, you will have done great good in preparing for them. It will probably happen that, in this instance as in most others, the cause which produces the evil will be more easily detected than its remedy, and yet a just appreciation of the former must ever be the first and essential condition for the discovery of the latter. You will probably trace the cause of our social condition to a state of ignorance and lethargic indifference on the subject among parents generally; but the root of the evil will, I suspect, be found to extend into that field on which the political economist exercises his activity-I mean the labour marketdemand and supply. To dissipate that ignorance and rouse from that lethargy may be difficult, but with the united and earnest efforts of all who are the friends of the working classes it ought, after all, to be only a question of time.