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|The Rev. George R. Gleig's article on National Education
[Editor: In its April 1852 issue, the Edinburgh Review published an article, 'National Education' by Rev. George R. Gleig, Principal Chaplain to the British Army who had presented a report on the state if Army education dated September 1844. In the article posted here, Gleig asserts that he invited Paymaster General Baring to inspect the premises of the Royal Military Asylum. As a member of the Board of Commissioners of the RMA, Baring would have been familiar with the institution; Gleig, too, for he enjoyed a living at the Royal Chelsea Hospital next door the RMA. Other anomalies are evident: for example, he writes of witnessing children "...dragging heavy logs which were fastened with chains to their ankles." No evidence has been found of Asylum children suffering this punishment, which would have been mentioned in Dr. Moseley's report to the Education Committee of the Privy Council in April 1846 (see Regimental Schools in the British Army : 1811-1846. Rev.1 )
National Education No. 95
Some time in the summer of 1846, two gentlemen met on the deck of a river steam-boat, which was plying its usual course from the Nine Elms Pier to Hungerford Market. One was the late Lord Ashburton, better known to the monied and political world as Mr. Alexander Baring; the other was the Rev. G. R. Gleig, now Chaplain-General of Her Majesty's Forces, and Inspector General of Military Schools. There had occurred not long previously some modifications in Sir Robert Peel's Government, by which the present Lord Ashburton, then Mr. B. Baring, was transferred from the Board of Control to the Pay Office. The two passengers by the steam-boat touched many other topics of conversation upon this event, when Lord Ashburton remarked, that this son, though he could not refuse the advancement which had been pressed upon him, was little pleased with his change of office; because as Secretary to the Board of Control, he had been always engaged in important affairs of State, whereas at the Pay Office there was only routine business to attend to, and not very much of that. 'Does Mr. Baring really desire to undertake a great and a difficult work?' 'Certainly', was the answer, 'provided it be a useful one'. 'A useful work' , and a great one too, even if it do not prove, as we anticipate that it will, the forerunner of another greater than itself, was immediately suggested.
Whatever may be thought of the military talents and statesmanlike opinions of the late Duke of York, nobody can deny that he was a kind-hearted and amiable man. He did great things for the army during his reign as commander-in-chief; and has a right to the merit of having established, as a place of refuge for the orphans of soldiers, the Royal Military Asylum at Chelsea. It was intended to be a home for these children, in every sense of the word, till they should attain the age of fourteen, when the boys were either to be apprenticed out to trades, or enlisted-while, for the girls, situations should be found as domestic servants, or in factories. But, besides clothing, feeding, and otherwise taking care of them, it was determined to educate both classes after the most approved fashion: and Dr. Bell, being then in the height of his popularity, organised the school, and watched over it anxiously. Finally, the desire to educate grew with what it fed on. No sooner were the Asylum children taught to repeat by rote so many words in the hour without understanding them, than His Royal Highness determined to extend a similar boon to the children of soldiers actually serving; and one or more noncommissioned officers from each corps being transferred to Chelsea, learned there all that Dr. Bell undertook to teach and sent back again to communicate the results of their training to their regiments.
Time passed, and year by year, the Commissioners of the Asylum entered in their minute book, records of the flourishing state of the institution. The masters and mistresses were described as attentive and able; the general discipline was mild; the children were healthy, happy, and of good report; the system, as regarded both nurture and education, was perfect. It is true, that on the female side of the house, things occasionally went wrong. Comparatively few of the girls reared there turned out well; indeed, the sore became at last so malignant, that the Commissioners quietly resolved among themselves to receive no more female children into the place. But boys continued to be admitted, though in progressively diminishing numbers, down to the period of which we now write; and there could be no doubt, taking the minute-book as an authority, that their lot was in every respect an enviable one.
There are people in the world who have an awkward trick of distrusting even official documents. The teachers in the Asylum were known to be discharged sergeants, who frequented the low public-houses that abound in that locality, and whose manner of expressing themselves in common conversation was not such as to create a very lively impression of their aptitude to communicate to others either literary tastes or urbanity of manners. A glance within the rails, likewise, exhibited a set of poor, thin, wanfaced, spiritless looking children, many of whom had their heads covered with black silk caps-a sure token of disease-while not a few wandered about dragging heavy logs which were fastened with chains to their ankles. Such outward and visible signs did not very accurately correspond with the inward and spiritual grace of which the Commissioners boasted; and doubts of the reality of the latter multiplied themselves. How far these were or were not well-founded, will best appear from the following narrative, which we are enabled to give on the very best authority.
A few days after the conversation in the steam-boat, noticed above, Mr. Baring, then Paymaster-General of the Forces, called upon Mr. Gleig, and the two gentlemen proceeded together to the Asylum. No announcement having been made of their intention to visit the place, they found it in what may be called its every-day dress. It was school hour, yet to and fro numbers of boys were passing-along the walks and about the corridors, some laden with baskets of coals, some carrying filthier utensils, some bearing provisions, some sweeping out the colonnade in front of the building. A large wheel was then used for the purpose of raising water, by the process of the forcing-pump, from certain underground tanks to the top of the house. Three or four unfortunate boys were at work upon this wheel, straining beyond their strength, and in constant risk, should they lose their hold, of having their limbs broken; while others, in the kitchen, seemed to be kept to the tether by the not very euphoneous oratory of the cook, and an occasional box on the ears. Our visitors, after noticing these things, penetrated through the door-way, and were greeted by sounds of the strangest and most discordant kind. The hoarse harsh voices of men rose, occasionally, above the hubbub of children, both being from time to time drowned in the crash of many ill-tuned instruments. Then would come the sound of a smart blow, followed by a shriek; and succeeded by what startled and shocked as much as either, a brief but profound silence. This was not a very promising commencement of their proper business, but it did not deter the visitors from going through with it. They mounted the stairs, opened the schoolroom door, and became witnesses to a scene which neither of them, we should think, is likely to forget in a hurry. The schoolroom was a huge hall, measuring perhaps sixty or eighty feet in length by thirty in breadth. Two enormous fireplaces, so constructed as to consume an immense quantity of fuel without diffusing any proportionate amount of heat, testified to the good intentions of the architect, however little, they might vouch for his skill. In other respects the fitting up was meagre enough. A single platform, whither, when the writing lesson came on, the children by classes were supposed to repair, occupied about twenty feet in the middle of the room. All the rest was void, except where chairs stood for the accommodation of the masters; and cages for the punishment of the boys. For in addition to the cane, which these sergeant masters appear to have used very freely, they had at their command four instruments of torture, in the shape of iron cages, each occupying a corner of the room. Observe, that these cages were so constructed, as to render it impossible for the little prisoners to stand upright; who were nevertheless required to turn a heavy handle continually; and whose diligence or its opposite was marked by a process, which if they did not see it, they never failed to feel.
The visitors, if painfully surprised at the ornamental arrangements of this place of study, were still more amazed by beholding its machinery at work. Four or five groups of boys were gathered round as many sergeant-masters, some bawling out sounds, which were not words, though they intended to represent them; some roaring forth arithmetical tables; some repeating the Church catechism at the top of their voices; some conversing and all shuffling and struggling, among themselves. There was no order, no regularity, no attention; indeed, the latter would have been impossible, inasmuch, as in the very heart of the classes was one, more numerous than the rest, which seemed to be taking lessons on the fiddle. It was altogether one of the strangest, and in spite of other and more bitter feelings, the most ludicrous scenes, which school examiners were probably ever called upon to witness. As to the acquirements of these poor lads, their proficiency proved on examination to be exactly such as might have been expected. They had learned nothing. They could not read, they could not write, they could not cipher, they could not spell. They did not know whether Great Britain was an island, or how, if divided from France at all, the two nations were separated. 'We can't help it, Sir', said one of the sergeant-schoolmasters, when appealed to on the subject of his school. 'We never learned these things ourselves. How can we pretend to teach them?' The Paymaster-General of the Forces had seen enough. He repaired at once to the War Office, over which Mr. Sidney Herbert then presided, and Mr. Gleig being called in as amicus curiae, the work of reform began.
The work of reform is not easy of accomplishment under any circumstances. A proposal to remodel the Asylum amounted, in the present instance, to a vote of censure on Commissioners, commandant, chaplain, doctor-on everybody, in short, who had heretofore been charged with the management of that institution. It was resisted, of course, both openly and covertly; but it was carried. In like manner, a project of annexing to the boys' school a normal or training institution for regimental schoolmasters raised a storm in the camp. The Horse Guards became seriously alarmed; the army astounded. What had soldiers to do with book-learning? They did not want people who could read and write-such were nuisances in the ranks. Mischief enough had been done by the abolition of corporal punishment. If the schoolmaster were brought into cantonments or garrisons, there would be an end of military discipline in a year. The liberal-minded and thoughtful men, who had taken up a wise project, listened patiently to all these remonstrances, and over-ruled them. The Asylum was remodelled. There was appended to it a training institution for regimental schoolmasters; and the experience of five years has exposed fully, and to the conviction we believe of all parties, the groundlessness of the alarm with which the undertaking was at the outset contemplated. Not only has discipline not been relaxed in the army, it has been braced up. Crime is less frequent than it used to be; men's manners are softened, their very language taking a different tone, in exact proportion to the progress of education among them. And we are happy to say that to be educated has grown into a fashion. So at least we collect from the evidence of Mr. Fox Maule, the able and indefatigable successor of Mr. Sidney Herbert at the War Office, before the late Committee on Military Expenditures, by which this important subject Was very fully investigated.
'Do you find', asks Sir James Graham, 'that where schoolmasters (meaning schoolmasters trained at Chelsea) have been sent, there is a willingness on the part of the men to avail themselves of the advantages of going to school?' - 'To such an extent that the schoolmasters complain that they are overworked, and have no time to themselves; that they cannot overtake the demands made upon them for instruction. The men come to the school in such numbers, and with such a desire for instruction, that we have been obliged, in some instances, to grant the school-master an assistant, for the purpose of overtaking the demands upon him'.
'Then, from your experience, as far as it has gone, your opinion is, that when each regiment shall have had the appointed establishment of instructors, the soldiers generally will avail themselves of that advantage, and that the system of instruction will be complete throughout the British Army?' - 'I am certain that when the system shall be thoroughly spread over the whole army, there will not be a body of better instructed men in any service in the world than in the British Army'.
'With your knowledge of the British Army, have you a confident belief that that instruction will tend to the easy maintenance of discipline without severity?' - 'I am quite certain it will; and what is more, I am quite sure of this, that with the limited enlistment bill, whereby a man can enter the service at eighteen, and, if he pleases, leave it at twenty-eight, he may enter it with all the ignorance that is to be found, either in the towns or in the most ignorant rural districts of England, but he will have an opportunity, of which t believe he will avail himself, (from the great length of time a soldier has on his hands) of making himself a thoroughly well-educated man, fit to find his way in the world, in any capacity'.
'What is the quality of the instruction provided?' - 'The quality of the instruction is very high. In the first place, it is rudimental for children, and after those rudiments it goes on to history, sacred and of all other descriptions, geography, geometry, arithmetic, mathematics, as high up as algebra, and even into higher branches. It conveys instruction in mensuration and fortification [sic]. Those who are capable of being instructed in a short time are instructed at the Military Asylum, to a certain extent, in drawing.'
'You have sent forth twenty-three masters from the Normal School; have those masters, when sent forth, undergone a strict examination in every branch of knowledge which they are to teach?' ~ 'They have undergone a strict examination in every branch of knowledge; they are all fit, and they are certified to me by the master of the school, and by the Inspector-General of schools, not only as being perfectly acquainted with all those branches, but as being perfectly competent to teach all those branches'.
So much for the opinion of one who is as competent as most persons to judge of the probable effects, in a moral point of view of education in the Army. Let us see next what is said upon the subject by gentlemen actually in command of corps, and belonging, as such to a class, among whom 'the fear of change' wrought, as might have been expected, no small tribulation at the outset of the measure.
Mr. Mills to the Secretary of War, 'Can you state the number of scholars educated in the garrison and regimental schools?'-'That is not a question I can answer at present; but with reference to that subject I should wish to state shortly in what condition those schools are at present, and I think it a statement which will be very interesting to the Committee. The Training or Normal School in the Royal Military Asylum, Chelsea, was opened in the spring of 1847, with thirty civilian students. In the spring of 1849 five trained masters went out; one to the depot for recruits to the Guards, at Croydon, one to Weedon, one to Preston, one to Plymouth, and one to Horfield, near Bristol; all as garrison schoolmasters. In the autumn of 1849, a second batch of seven went out, and were attached to the 13th Regiment at Belfast, the 14th at Newport, the 21st at Edinburgh, the 30th at Manchester, the 40th at Dublin, the 52nd at Preston, and the 93rd at Stirling. In the winter of 1849, a third batch of six went out to the 4th regimentat Portsmouth, the '48th at Dublin, the 57th at Enniskillen, the 1st battalion of the 71st at Naas, the 92nd at Clonmel, and the 12th Lancers at Cork, respectively. Besides these, trained masters have been appointed to the 19th regiment in Canada, the 72nd at Trinidad, and to the 84th and 87th in India. Serjeant Barnes, trained at Chelsea, was removed from the 12th Lancers discharged, and re-enlisted under the new system, and settled at Balincolig. Wherever a trained master goes, the number of adults attending school increases rapidly. Take, as instance, the 12th, 21st, 28th, 39th and the 40th regiments, where the adult scholars have advanced from a very small figure to 108, 150, 128, 153, 180, and 171, respectively. Several school-rooms have been erected, and existing buildings have been adapted to school purposes, in sixteen different stations. As we go on supplying the different stations with convenient places of study, the system will more develop its excellences. The same books and implements are used in all the schools. With reference to the good effects likely to be produced in the ranks from the general adoption of the system, I beg leave to read an extract of a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Browne of the 21st Fusiliers'.
Mr. Hume: 'Of what date is it?' - 'I have not got the date, but it is very lately; it is since he received a schoolmaster from the training school. He says, "The schoolmaster is behaving admirably; and the new system of education has already had a visible effect on the regiment in many ways. Many men have been able to fit themselves for promotion, who were previously unable to do so; others have learned to read and write, and have found occupation for time which used to be spent in public houses. It is very popular, and next to the good conduct warrant, is, I think, the greatest boon the army has received since I entered it. Experience has convinced me, that crime diminishes in proportion as men have rational occupation and comfort in their quarters. We have had very few defaulters during the past month, and in six days, none; which is very unusual in a place like Edinburgh, and is, I think, to be attributed to the school, and the occupations attendant on it." , - 'What force has Colonel Browne?' - 'I think the force of the regiment is about 700 men.'
'In the same strain we have letters from Lieutenant Colonel Stuart of the 13th, from Lieutenant Colonel Magennis of the 27th, Lieutenant Colonel Patton of the 12th, from Lieutenant Colonel Stretton of the 40th, and from Lieutenant Colonel Spark of the 93rd.'
Mr. Maule gave his evidence and quoted his authorities, so long ago as February 1850. Many additional masters have since gone out from Chelsea, and the reports of their proceedings and of the results attendant on them, do not, as we are given to understand, vary from the preceding. No doubt in regiments, as well as in civil life, much must depend upon the care that is taken of such institutions by those in authority. If commanding and other officers either discountenance the schools, or, which is quite as injurious, treat them with neglect, it would be absurd to expect that they should flourish. But instances of this sort are, we believe, rare; and hence the success of the system, so far as it has been carried, seems to be complete. We must look a little more closely than we have as yet done into the constitution of these schools, and their consequent fitness for the classes of persons among whom they have been established.
The British Army is composed of men taken, generally, from the lower orders of society. With few exceptions our recruits are composed of agricultural labourers and operatives out of work; to whom may be added a small sprinkling of tapsters, clerks, scriveners, serving men, and broken down young gentlemen. They come to us from all parts of England, Scotland and Ireland, and profess as many forms of Christianity as are to be found among the five and twenty millions of human beings which together make up the sum of the population of the United Kingdom. After four or five years' service a large proportion of them marry, and their children are of course brought up in the religious opinions of their parents. So that, upon the whole, you could not find gathered together in anyone place, a more perfect epitome of religious England, Scotland and Ireland than in a regiment of the line. Indeed, if there be any difference between the religious condition of a regiment and that of a civil community of similar magnitude, the bias is against the regiment. There is a larger proportion of Roman Catholics in our service than you will find anywhere out of Ireland; indeed, the balance of numbers may be said upon the whole to agree very nearly with that presented by the population of the three kingdoms; about one fourth of our soldiers are Romanists, and of the remaining three-fourths, one, if not more, belongs in part to the Church of Scotland, and in part to other denominations not in conformity with the Church of England.
The business of the school - we mean of the children's school - opens every morning in barracks at a quarter before nine o'clock with prayer. This may occupy, perhaps, five minutes, after which the trained master reads to his scholars, collected together, a portion of Scripture, and explains it in its grammatical and historical bearing; deducing from the whole such a lesson in moral and religious truth as it seems to convey. He touches, in so doing, upon no topic of sectarian controversy. He has been trained to speak as the Scriptures speak, without casting about for inferences which lie beneath the surface.
The children assemble at a quarter to 9 o'clock. The Master reads a few verses of Scripture, then Prayers. The Master gives a Bible-lesson to the whole School; at the close of which the children fall off to their classes.
The subjects taught are, besides elementary reading:-
The school hours for the men necessarily vary according to the demands that duty makes upon their time. Generally speaking, volunteer privates attend from two to four in the afternoon-non-commissioned officers and recruits from four to six, when they are instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic. But there are extra lessons, especially in the winter evenings, for such as desire to proceed into higher branches, and geography, mathematics, algebra, and fortification are then studied. The same classbooks are used in the 'adult as in the children's school; and the master not unfrequently gives lessons in mechanics, natural history, and such like. Nobody is forced to go to school, and everybody pays for the instruction which he himself receives. There is, indeed, a graduated scale, which exacts more from the sergeant than from the corporal, more from the corporal than from the private, and more from the private than from his son or daughter; but everybody pays-the sergeant eight pence, the corporal six pence, the private soldier four pence, per month. On the same principle the children pay according to the numbers from each family admitted into school: one child four pence, two children sixpence, three children, and all above three, eight pence monthly.
What is there to prevent the adaptation of this system, modified of course, in its details, to the acknowledged wants of a nation composed, like its army, of persons professing many creeds, yet all alike willing to be taught, provided their favourite opinions be dealt with tenderly? Popular prejudice, we shall be told, which, taking the name of popular opinion, would drive from his place any minister who should have the hardihood to take the lead in such an enterprise, or even openly to approve of it. We wish that some minister would pluck up heart to dare the adventure. We are confident that it would prove, like many others, far more perilous in appearance than in reality.