Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXIX.: Of Education. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXIX.: Of Education. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743) 
The Independent Whig: or, a Defence of Primitive Christianity, And of Our Ecclesiastical Establishment, against The Exorbitant Claims and Encroachments of Fanatical and Disaffected Clergymen. The Seventh Edition, with Additions and Amendments (London: J. Peele, 1743). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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Wednesday, August 3. 1720.
IT has often been the Subject of my serious Thoughts, to what Causes are owing the Depravation of Virtue and Morality in the World, and the seeming Decay of human Understanding. If we read the Greek, Roman, and other antient Histories, we shall find another Race of Men, than seem to be now existing upon the Face of the Earth. Alexander had conquered the East before Thirty: Scipio and Hannibal performed Actions of great Eclat before Twenty: Pompey triumphed over Europe, Asia and Africa, long before his Middle-age. Indeed, through the whole Roman Story, we find that their Generals, Orators, and Statesmen, shone in full Lustre in their early Youth; and could demand their Discharge from public Business, before the Age at which we are often thought qualified to enter upon it.
This Difference sure cannot be owing to any real Decay of Human Nature, which undoubtedly has been always the same since the Flood; on the contrary, ’tis to be presumed, since Almighty God hath communicated to us the marvellous Light of his Gospel, and has made himself more known to Men, that their Faculties are bettered and improved. Besides, this Difference is observable only in such as are intitled, by their Birth and Fortunes, to the most liberal Education; for, as to Arts and Sciences, the Moderns eminently (as I conceive) exceed the Antients: They are better Mathematicians and Mechanics, better Navigators, better Musicians, and better Husbandmen, and they attain early to their greatest Perfection in these Arts; and therefore we must look out for other Causes to account for this Phænomenon, which I conceive to proceed only from their different Manner of Education.
The Antients were instructed by Philosophers; and the Moderns are taught by Priests: The first thought it their Duty to make their Pupils as useful as possible to their Country, and the latter as subservient to themselves, and the Interests of their Order: One endeavoured to inspire them with noble and generous Sentiments, equally fit for Dominion or Subjection; and the other always instil into them abject, sordid, and pusillanimous Principles, to qualify them to be proper Tools for their own low Purposes: In short, the first made it their Study and Business to inlarge and improve their natural Faculties, and growing Reason; and the latter to pervert, stifle, and extinguish, every Approach towards true Knowledge, and public Virtue.
As soon as the Emperors and their Courts came into the Church, Ambition and Pride got in too; and the Innocence and Simplicity of primitive Christianity became corrupted, and changed into outward Pomp and Pageantry: The Clergy bethought themselves how (in the modern Phrase) to make the best of their Bible: Unluckily it was all against them; and though they read it over and over, they found it everywhere levelled against spiritual Pride and Domination, and they could not so much as pick out one direct Text for their purpose.
What must be therefore done in this momentous Affair? The Holy Writings were dispersed abroad, and could not be suppressed, and yet Riches and Power were of indispensable Necessity to the Good of the Church. Why! since they could not get them out of the Peoples Hands, they contrived how to render them of as little Use as possible there; and, in order to it, they pointed all their Batteries against human Reason, and polite Learning, and made it an heinous Sin to read any Heathen Authors: By which means, in an Age or two, few could read at all: And the Romans, once so famous for Knowledge, Virtue and Humanity, became (for the most part) sunk to the lowest Dregs of Barbarism, Superstition, and Ignorance.
But lest the curious and inquisitive Part of Mankind should not be wholly diverted from the Search after Knowledge, they invented, and substituted in its room, a senseless Jargon of undefined, insignificant, and canting Terms, confused Ideas, and indistinct Images; which they persuaded the World to esteem profound Learning, and deep Wisdom: And then they reduced and determined all Questions in Philosophy and Religion by this Gibberish; and he got the Victory, who could hold out longest, and most confound his Auditory, by entangling them in an endless Labyrinth of Nonsense. Men of Wit and Genius were distasted at a Study, which would cost them so much Pains to attain, when they could find neither Pleasure in the Pursuit, nor Profit or Improvement in the Conquest; and having no Notion of any other Learning, they consented to let the Clergy have it all to themselves.
When they had so reduced the Laity to this happy and desirable State of Stupidity and Submission, they took away their Bible from them too; or, which was the same thing, they continued it only in a Language, which by the many Conquests upon the Empire, and the Revolutions of Time, was understood by none but themselves. And now, having converted their Hearers into Asses, and Beasts of Carriage, they bridled them, they saddled them, they yoked them, and put heavy Burdens upon them, till they so overloaded them, that they grew resty, and overturned their Burdens, and Riders too.
Thus the World came by the Reformation; which dispersed the thick Mist of Superstition and Ignorance, that then overshadowed all Christendom: The Laity were resolved to be no longer hoodwinked; but a general Disposition arose in Europe, to revive antient Learning, and useful Knowledge: And the Greek and Roman Authors were sought after, rescued from Dust and Worms, and diligently read. Many Princes promoted these Studies, and gave all due Encouragement to Virtue and Learning: But this noble Spirit of Liberty lasted no longer than the Lives of those Princes, and while the Images of sacerdotal Oppressions were deep engraven in Mens Minds; which, like all other Things, wore out by degrees.
The principal Expedient, necessary to secure all the rest, was never thought of, or, at least, quite forgotten; namely, that of retrieving the Education of Youth out of the Hands of the Priesthood, and of reforming the Universities, which were contrived and established by Popes, to support their own Pride and Power over the unhappy Laity. Instead of suffering these to continue Seminaries of Faction, Tyranny, and Ecclesiastical Usurpations, they should have been converted into Schools of Virtue, Liberty, Knowledge, and true Religion: But the old Leaven was permitted to remain, and the Clergy had still left to them the Education of the Nobility and Gentry in most Countries; and they were educated accordingly.
It became a Maxim in the Universities abroad, That those, who were born to large Possessions and Estates, had no need of Learning; and such were always encouraged or connived at, in mis-spending their Time in Idleness and Luxury, and were generally made the Companions of their Governors and Tutors in their Pleasures, who were perpetually instilling into their tender Minds tyrannical or slavish Principles. But when they met with Youths of sprightly Wit and Genius, who either from their own Inclinations, or the Impulse of their Relations, would not be diverted from the Pursuit of Knowledge; they industriously put them upon a wrong Scent, and perplexed and confounded their Understandings with metaphysical Whimsies, and an artificial Cant, out of which many of them could never extricate their Senses; and such as did; spent often as many Years after they came into the World to do so, as they lost before in the Universities, to be upon the Level with those who had never been there.
This soon became again the State of Learning and Knowledge amongst the Nobility and Gentry: Either they had none at all, or such as they were the worse for having: Insomuch that those, whose Birth and Fortunes intitled them to be Legislators and Governors of Mankind, were themselves the Slaves and Dupes of Pedagogues and Chaplains, were contented to do all their Drudgery, and be humble Instruments of their Pride and Luxury.
However, as the Priests could not agree amongst themselves about sharing the Laity, and as Printing was before this Time invented in Christendom, which made it impracticable to suppress all Copies of useful Books, or to hinder them from being read; many Persons had the Virtue and Resolution to oppose Clerical Usurpation, and kept alive some Spirit of Liberty, in spite of all the Efforts of Priestcraft and Delusion, ever supported by worldly Interest, and too often by worldly Power.
It is a hard Circumstance for Truth, that in most Countries it must subsist upon Converts; and Education, Interest, and Authority, must combine against it: But if, notwithstanding all their Efforts, its own clear Evidence, and irresistible Authority, can make such a Progress in the World, what might we not expect, if the Approaches and Passages to it were made easy and advantageous, and proper Rewards and Encouragements given to the Promoters and Discoverers of such Philosophy and Knowledge, as will make Men useful to themselves and their Country? It cannot be doubted, but antient Virtue, and antient Eloquence, would then revive again; the Nobility and Gentry of Christendom would resume their proper Stations, and exceed the inferior Part of Mankind, as much in public Spirit, Courage, and Wisdom, as they do in Fortune and Quality; and possibly might in time as much outshine the Greeks and Romans in those great Endowments, as they evidently surpass them in those Arts and Sciences, which the Priests do not pretend to teach, and seldom know any thing of.