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

XIV. Education

§ 4. Nonconformist academies

During the second half of the eighteenth century, nonconformist academies decreased in number, and the attempt to make them places of general education, released from particular denominational or professional ties, did not succeed. Some of their teachers were men of distinguished attainments, of whom Joseph Priestley, in early life a tutor in the Warrington academy, was the greatest and most versatile. Their readiness to experiment with new courses of study was even more pronounced than it had been a century earlier. But, at a time when, in spite of ancient prestige and material advantages, the universities failed to inspire public confidence, the new institutions suffered from disabilities of their own. Their teachers were too few to treat efficiently the wide range of studies attempted, and students were seldom able enough to digest an encyclopaedic curriculum. In consequence, there was a toleration of the superficial which may have contributed to prevent the academies from becoming instruments of university reform; and their acceptance of the position of theological seminaries for the training of ministers, a position which they had always partially occupied, removed them finally from the main current of national education. Nevertheless, they had done good service in the cause of history, literature and modern studies, particularly in respect of science and those forms of knowledge which are immediately applicable to the affairs of daily life. Thomas Barnes, afterwards principal of the Manchester academy, with the support of the newly established Literary and Philosophical society of that town founded (1783) a college of Arts and Science, which anticipated, in a humble way, the scientific and technical work of modern universities and university colleges.