Front Page Titles (by Subject) MR. JOHN MORLEY ON EDUCATION. ( From The Economist, 14 th October, 1876.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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MR. JOHN MORLEY ON EDUCATION. ( From “ The Economist, ” 14 th October, 1876.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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MR. JOHN MORLEY ON EDUCATION.
Mr. John Morley’s address to the Midland Institute, last week, was not only singularly able, but what is very much less common in relation to educational addresses, singularly pleasant reading. There is probably no subject in the world on which a very great amount of human capacity is concentrated, about which it is so dull to read. Mr. Morley quoted a Birmingham friend’s advice to him on the subject of his address thus:—“Pray talk about anything you please, if it is only not education”;—a good piece of advice, if considered without relation to the particular person to whom it was addressed; but, like most other good advice, neglected, and as it happens in this case at least, fortunately neglected. Perhaps the reason why the subject of education is usually so dull, is this—that those for whose benefit education is discussed are not qualified to take part in the discussion. There is always a certain amount of vivacity to be expected in the discussion of any subject, however intrinsically dull, on which there are opposing interests, or interests which believe themselves to be opposed to each other,—so that a success on either side is felt as a blow or a defeat to the other side. Now children and wholly uneducated adults cannot make their views known on the subject of education, and though, if they could, there would undoubtedly be much to learn from them, probably their views would not be altogether sound. Hence those who lay down the law about education are not stimulated and restrained by the expectation of that criticism enlivened by strong personal interest, which on any other subject they would expect. And so it happens that there is, perhaps, no subject except Social Science—which is a kind of diluted education—on which the ordinary speakers are so pompous and dull. It is not so with Mr. John Morley. He speaks with all that vivacity of sympathy with the subjects of educational experiment, which a vivid fancy and a certain benevolent feeling towards ignorance—as one of the worst kinds of poverty—could give him. No doubt in his address he was thinking much more of the education of adults than of the education of children. Still he might have been as pompous and dull as he chose to be without fearing a reply; and he was neither pompous nor dull, but very simple and very lively. And his address was full of good sense, though there are a few incidental remarks in it with which we should differ. There was in the advice given plenty of the kind of wisdom proper to a shrewd man who, regularly educated as Mr. Morley has been, has yet been continually in the habit of striking out new lines of study for himself, and whose habit it has been to watch closely the shortcomings of the world in which he lives, as well as to supply his own intellectual deficiencies so soon as he perceives them. Let us observe some of the points on which his advice was not only strikingly given, but peculiarly useful to working men.
Let us begin with his advice in relation to the study of history. He points out that what the study of history does is to enlarge the mind indefinitely as to the varieties of human nature and of human society, the vicissitudes possible to nations, the very limited significance of the political struggles of which we are apt to make, in some senses, too much, though perhaps in others, too little—in short, to make us see the relations of the social and political world in which we live to other very different social and political worlds now in existence, and to many more which are in existence no longer. Mr. Morley is quite right in believing that this enlarging effect of historical studies is specially needed for men whose chief energy is given to one particular kind of work in one particular corner of a small kingdom, and that the want of it accounts not unfrequently for the chief deficiencies in societies like those of the United States—and he might have added of Switzerland—which are chiefly composed, and wholly governed, by people who are deficient in this large knowledge. “When I was on a visit to the United States, some years ago,” says Mr. Morley,—“things may have improved since then—I could not help noticing that the history classes in their common schools all began their work with the year 1776, when the American colonies formed themselves into an independent confederacy. The teaching assumed that the creation of the universe occurred about that date. What could be more absurd, more narrow and narrowing, more mischievously misleading as to the whole purport and significance of history? As if the laws, the representative institutions, the religious uses, the scientific methods, the moral ideas, which give to an American citizen his character and mental habits, and social surroundings, had not all their roots in the deeds and thoughts of wise and brave men, who lived in centuries which are of course just as much the inheritance of the vast continent of the West as they are of the little island from whence its first colonists sailed forth.” And Mr. Morley adds, frankly enough, that there is something almost as absurd “in our common plan of taking for granted that people should begin their reading of history not in 1776, but in 1066”. The truth is, that not a little of the narrowness and feebleness of politicians in countries ruled by great democracies, is due to the complete ignorance of history among their constituencies, and the tendency of working men to think that just principles of political action can be established from first principles by a few minutes’ consideration. The great humorist of the United States well represented that narrowness to which Mr. Morley has alluded, in relation to his own countrymen, when he said that “the earth continued her rotation on her axis subject to the Constitution of the United States”. But in a different way, unquestionably, the English working man and the English shopkeeper, and many above either class in social station, are the victims of similar delusions—are apt, for instance, to suppose that life in the East is subject to the same sort of conditions, and will be benefited by the same sort of “reforms,” as life in constitutional England. The best of all studies—not so much for the minute knowledge of facts it brings, as for its enlarging influence on the mind, especially in the case of persons who have no time or means for travel—is the study of history. Mr. Morley’s exhortation, “Learn not to be near-sighted in history,” is needed by almost all classes in England, from the artisans up to members of both Houses of Parliament.
Then, again, what could be more admirable than Mr. Morley’s advice as to the study of principles of evidence. Perhaps there is nothing in the world which average men and women—very little which even the most educated men and women—understand less than their own liability to mistake, and there is nothing which it is more difficult to teach them. As Mr. Morley says, most of us are “very bad hands at estimating evidence even when appeal can be made to actual eyesight,” but it is still worse when the sort of facts on which you have to pronounce judgment are more complex. How little competent ordinary Englishmen were to estimate the principles of evidence, was very powerfully illustrated by the popular impressions of the Tichborne case—the claimant’s popularity being unquestionably due to a confused acceptance by the masses of two quite contradictory assumptions, (1) that he was the heir to the Tichborne estates; (2) that he had been a butcher, and the son of a butcher. Every day and every hour shows the danger and the multiplicity of popular fallacies, but Mr. John Morley’s suggestion for teaching in an effective way a little self-distrust in matters of this kind, seems to us as original as it is valuable. He suggests that a dozen or a score of cases might be selected from Smith’s Leading Cases, and published in a small volume, for the purpose of serving as a textbook on the principles of evidence in popular matters. The judgment given in these cases sets forth the decision arrived at with the grounds of that decision, and it would be very easy to select cases in which the danger of popular fallacies, “the pitfalls,” as Mr. Morley calls them, to which the judgment of ordinary men is liable, might be very graphically set forth. Such a textbook commented on to a class by a man trained to estimate the value of evidence, would form a most valuable study, and not, we should imagine, at all less fascinating than valuable. Of course the class suggested would not be a class in English law, but in the principles on which evidence should be estimated, and the special errors to which, in common life, average minds are most liable. We regard this suggestion of Mr. Morley’s as a most useful one, and as one which would not only greatly contribute to the educational worth of an institute for adults, but also to its popularity. The whole address was full of vigorous remarks to which we have no space to allude, but the two bits of practical counsel to which we have referred in detail, seem to us of no common importance, and were urged with a vivacity and lucidity which are likely enough to make a serious impression on the management of adult colleges all over England.