Charles Dickens

In this town there is ignorance, dense and dark; in that town, education--the best of education; that which the grown man from day to day and year to year furnishes for himself and maintains for himself, and in right of which his education goes on all his life, instead of leaving off, complacently, just when he begins to live in the social system. Now, which of these two towns has a good man, or a good cause, reason to distrust and dread? "The educated one," does some timid politician, with a marvellously weak sight, say (as I have heard such politicians say), "because knowledge is power, and because it won't do to have too much power abroad." Why, ladies and gentlemen, reflect whether ignorance be not power, and a very dreadful power. Look where we will, do we not find it powerful for every kind of wrong and evil? Powerful to take its enemies to its heart, and strike its best friends down-- powerful to fill the prisons, the hospitals, and the graves-- powerful for blind violence, prejudice, and error, in all their gloomy and destructive shapes. Whereas the power of knowledge, if I understand it, is, to bear and forbear; to learn the path of duty and to tread it; to engender that self-respect which does not stop at self, but cherishes the best respect for the best objects--to turn an always enlarging acquaintance with the joys and sorrows, capabilities and imperfections of our race to daily account in mildness of life and gentleness of construction and humble efforts for the improvement, stone by stone, of the whole social fabric.

I never heard but one tangible position taken against educational establishments for the people, and that was, that in this or that instance, or in these or those instances, education for the people has failed. And I have never traced even this to its source but I have found that the term education, so employed, meant anything but education--implied the mere imperfect application of old, ignorant, preposterous spelling-book lessons to the meanest purposes--as if you should teach a child that there is no higher end in electricity, for example, than expressly to strike a mutton-pie out of the hand of a greedy boy--and on which it is as unreasonable to found an objection to education in a comprehensive sense, as it would be to object altogether to the combing of youthful hair, because in a certain charity school they had a practice of combing it into the pupils' eyes.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I turn to the report of this Institution, on whose behalf we are met; and I start with the education given there, and I find that it really is an education that is deserving of the name. I find that there are papers read and lectures delivered, on a variety of subjects of interest and importance. I find that there are evening classes formed for the acquisition of sound, useful English information, and for the study of those two important languages, daily becoming more important in the business of life,--the French and German. I find that there is a class for drawing, a chemical class, subdivided into the elementary branch and the manufacturing branch, most important here. I find that there is a day-school at twelve shillings a quarter, which small cost, besides including instruction in all that is useful to the merchant and the man of business, admits to all the advantages of the parent institution. I find that there is a School of Design established in connexion with the Government School; and that there was in January this year, a library of between six and seven thousand books. Ladies and gentlemen, if any man would tell me that anything but good could come of such knowledge as this, all I can say is, that I should consider him a new and most lamentable proof of the necessity of such institutions, and should regard him in his own person as a melancholy instance of what a man may come to by never having belonged to one or sympathized with one.

There is one other paragraph in this report which struck my eye in looking over it, and on which I cannot help offering a word of joyful notice.