The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XIV. Education

§ 16. Mrs. Trimmer

Lancaster’s suggestion that his proposed society should rest upon an undenominational basis roused the opposition of Sarah Trimmer, who had become obsessed by the notion that a conspiracy against Christianity, originally contrived, as she conceived, by the French Encyclopedists, was threatening these islands. To defeat this plot, she had established The Guardian of Education (1802–6), a magazine full of orthodox prejudice which is of importance to the bibliographer of education, though the book-notices of which it chiefly consists possess few other merits. Lancaster’s Improvements was thought to deserve not only an elaborate review in this periodical, but, also, a counterblast in the form of a bulky pamphlet, A comparative view of the New Plan of Education promulgated by Mr. Joseph Lancaster (1805). Mrs. Trimmer agreed that “an interference of the Legislature in respect to the education of the common people” was “highly necessary.” But she declared that a national system already existed, and she entirely disapproved of societies founded on so indefinite a conception as “general Christian principles.” Instead of adopting this conception (the appearance of which in the field of education she rightly traced to the German apostle of natural religion, J. B. Basedow (1724–90), she would, with Priestley, leave each religious body free to instruct its children in accordance with its own tenets. The church of England was the established church, and the acts of Uniformity prescribed the study of the church catechism and the use of the Book of Common Prayer; these, therefore, constituted a national system of education, with the charity schools and grammar schools as its agents, and with the bishops in the exercise of functions that had belonged to them from time immemorial as its chief authorities. Yet Lancaster desired to replace this legally constituted system by an innovation which, notwithstanding its merit as a chief and feasible mode of organising popular schools, was ill-grounded and mischievous. John Bowles (Letter to Whitbread, 1807) put Mrs. Trimmer’s point of view succinctly: “When education is made a national concern, youth must be brought up as members of the national church.”