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

XIV. Education

§ 19. Brougham and The Edinburgh Review

The establishment of The Edinburgh Review, in 1802, brought Scottish and English education into a new and unanticipated relationship. During its early days (1807–11), the reviewers, more especially Sydney Smith and Henry Brougham, developed a policy of hostile criticism, of which English educational institutions were the object. The monopoly conferred upon Greek and Latin by grammar schools and universities, the consequent indifference to the claims of “useful knowledge,” the futility of current modes of educating girls, were all unsparingly denounced; Lancaster was supported as a genuine apostle of popular instruction, while his orthodox rivals were ridiculed. Brougham’s own education was chiefly Scottish; the studies in mathematics, physics and chemistry which, while an Edinburgh undergraduate, he had followed under such distinguished savants and teachers as John Playfair and Joseph Black, left an indelible impression upon his sympathies and mode of thought. He was a great admirer of the Scots parish school, that unbroken channel between the veriest rudiments and the classes of “the college.” As member of parliament, he was associated with Samuel Whitbread and others belonging to the active group which advocated popular instruction and the monitorial system. After Whitbread’s death, Brougham became the parliamentary leader of this group, and, in 1816, he secured the appointment of a select committee to enquire into the education of the lower orders of the metropolis. This committee extended its enquiries to schools outside London and to schools not usually regarded as coming within the terms of their reference. The administration of educational endowments in general was impeached by the committee’s report of 1818, and by Brougham’s Letter to Samuel Romilly … upon the abuse of charities (1818), a pamphlet which ran through ten editions within a few months. The committee’s enquiry was prejudiced in origin, its chairman, Brougham, was dictatorial and its report menaced innocent as well as guilty; its inaccuracy was proved in particular cases like Winchester and Croydon. Yet, the abuses denounced were notorious. Masters who had few or no free pupils, or no pupils at all, were endowed with schoolhouses and incomes; in some places, where the demand for grammar schools had died out, trustees were, in effect, misappropriating the endowments for their own benefit. Brougham and his friends were mistaken when they interpreted the phrase pauperes et indigentes, describing the beneficiaries of educational endowments, as though it were used in the sense conveyed by the English term “indigent poor”; but there was reason in their contention that those endowments were not doing all that was possible for national education. A blind alley seemed to have been reached by Eldon’s ruling in the chancery court (1805; reaffirmed some twenty years later), that grammar schools must employ trust funds for the teaching of Latin, Greek and Hebrew alone; to draw upon them for instruction in French, German or other modern studies would be misappropriation. But, in spite of chancery and their own statutes, a good many grammar schools, perhaps one-fourth of the total number, were being conducted as elementary or “commercial” schools.

The situation, as Brougham conceived it, was that property of great value had been devised for the education of the indigent poor, but that the bequest was useless because instruction was confined to three ancient languages. The parliamentary remedy seemed plain; he brought in two bills, the first (1818) to direct a comprehensive survey of all educational charities, the second (1820) to apply the parish school system of Scotland to her southern sister. By the latter bill, it was proposed to empower grammar schools to teach reading, writing and arithmetic as well as the statutory classical tongues; elementary schools were to be built at the national expense in every parish, whose householders were to pay the schoolmaster’s salary. This second bill was defeated by the dissenters, who regarded it as a measure for increasing the authority and powers of bishops and parish clergy. The bill of 1818 passed into law, but lord Liverpool’s government emasculated it by confining its sphere to charities unquestionably intended to act as poor-relief. So late as 1835, lord Brougham was still advocating the principles of 1818 and 1820; but, by that time, he had satisfied himself that the “voluntary system” was competent to satisfy the claims of national education.