James Booth - Education and Educational Institutions

In 1846 James Booth published the 108-page tract Education and Educational Institutions considered with reference to the Industrial Professions and the Present Aspect of Society. We give below a version of Booth's Preface to this work:


To enter into a discussion on the subject of Education in general - involving, as it does, so many questions of a religious, political, and metaphysical character, not only intricate and perplexed in themselves, but rendered still more complicated and involved, by their intimate connection with the progress of society, through all its successive gradations, and the continuous evolution of political events - would be a task of no little delicacy and difficulty. Nor would it, besides, be a prudent course, for one distrustful of his own powers, to attempt to grapple with such a subject, in all its extreme generality; comprising so many distinct subordinate departments, several of which have received a searching investigation, and exhaustive discussion, at the hands of men pre-eminently qualified by mental constitution, learning, and experience, to take the widest and most comprehensive grasp of questions of this nature. To enter into the labours of such, might, justly perhaps, appear to be presumptuous. It seemed to me, therefore, the more prudent course, to select one portion of this subject - the Education of the middle classes; - a question which appears to me to be susceptible of a more searching discussion, than any which it has yet received; as being one, perhaps, which it was thought might be safely postponed to the consideration of other questions, apparently more momentous, pressing forward for solution.

The views I advocate in the following pages, being the conclusions I have arrived at, as the final results of much reflection, confirmed by observations made under the most favourable circumstances, are I believe founded in truth; and if I have sometimes expressed myself strongly, I may plead in extenuation, that my language is weaker than my convictions. These considerations will sufficiently explain why several questions, the examination of which might have been expected in an essay like the present, are omitted. The education of the masses, for example, a phase of the subject the most interesting and momentous of all, is but incidentally alluded to. So, also, university education is only so far referred to as it may have afforded a convincing argument or an apposite illustration. Neither have I entered upon an inquiry into the discipline and management of scholastic institutions; for although many of them are replete with abuses, yet the discussion of such matters, however interesting it might be to persons professionally engaged in tuition, would be a subject in which the public would feel the very smallest amount of concern. Again, where something like common consent is arrived at, not only tacitly implied, but openly asserted; where all reasonable men are agreed as to the propriety of some particular line of action, it would seem a needless trespassing on the time of the reader to go over the ground step by step, and to prove every link in a chain of reasoning; whilst at each successive point, as he goes along, he is ready to exclaim, "of course," "quite true," &c. For this reason I have assumed as an universally granted and recognized truth, enunciated not only from the Pulpit but from the Bench, that mere intellectual training is in itself one-sided and incomplete.

Nor have I loaded my pages with the details of particular instances that may have come under my notice, or with examples derived from my own experience, for the purpose of confirming my views: because in questions of this kind - so widely differing from physical inquiries where one example may prove the point under investigation as well as a hundred - the testimony which may be drawn from facts and examples, depends so much on the light in which they may present themselves to the inquiring mind, and on the intellectual media through which they may be transmitted to the understandings of others, that nothing can he more fallacious than conclusions drawn from selected cases, in questions admitting, at best, but of probable determination. Much more important is the cumulative conviction, if I may so express myself, which gradually assumes consistency and shape from the observation of a great number of instances; these, individually insignificant, perhaps, but all tending in one direction, impress at last upon the mind a form of the most undoubting belief, a belief of which it is impossible to give a satisfactory explanation, or to elucidate the grounds on which it rests, to others. Just as in the rainbow, where, although the prismatic colours are refracted in every drop of the falling shower, the optical appearance is produced, not by the separate action of the rays of light transmitted through each, individually of feeble intensity, but by an aggregation of their effects, blending, so to speak, into one harmonious whole, and thus producing a phenomenon not more remarkable for the geometrical precision of its form, than for its unrivalled physical beauty.

As the views advanced in the following pages on the subject of Classical studies, are separated by the whole diameter of opinion, from those advocated by the vast majority of persons engaged in Education professionally, and are, therefore, obnoxious to misconception, I naturally wish to be neither misunderstood nor misinterpreted. I am desirous, therefore, of distinctly stating how far, and under what conditions, I hold the study of Classics to be useful. When it is intended that a youth shall receive an University education, and a guarantee is thus held out that such studies shall be carried to some considerable extent, I am convinced that he should endeavour to acquire a profound knowledge of the writers of antiquity; not merely with the dead forms and idioms through which they conveyed their ideas, but with their modes of thought, their methods of investigation, their political and ethical opinions, their solutions of social questions, their views, sometimes luminous, often narrow, on the constitution of society. He should also make himself thoroughly acquainted with the course of historical events, developed under forms of government, and modes of executive administration, differing so widely from our own; with the usages of peace and war, and the rules of international law, so abhorrent from those of modern times. He will thus learn that, while they pushed certain speculations to the very utmost verge and limit, to which they can or have been advanced by unassisted human reason, they, in other abodes of knowledge, stopped short at the threshold, unable to grope their way through the palpable darkness which lay before them; lacking solely the guidance of a method, which, "caeca regens filo vestigia," might lead them through the unexplored recesses of nature. And he will be humbled by the reflection, that while for them the paths of abstract science were illumined by the sunshine of truth, in other regions, where discovery is of far higher importance to Man, they had but feeble and fitful glimmerings, and saw, as but "through a glass darkly," the line of duty shadowed out before them; and that the wisest of them, without a "light unto their paths," fell short of great truths, which are now so obvious, so universally admitted, that they have passed into the constituent elements of our knowledge, into our rule of action; and, under the appellation of truisms, have ceased to he formally enunciated.

When pursued to an extent even approximating to this, such a knowledge of ancient authors is invaluable; but to employ a youth for five or six years, over the unintelligible rules of a grammar or a syntax, written in a barbarous idiom of an unknown tongue; through all that time to be daily inculcating on his mind at least tacitly, if not expressly - the proposition, that learning a subject, and understanding it, are two distinct processes; to exercise no faculty of his understanding but the memory, is, of all conceivable modes of mental training, the most pernicious. Far better would it be for such to take the often-quoted, but appropriate advice, "drink deep, or taste not." It cannot be truly asserted that, because to reach the goal may be an object of intense desire, the taking a few steps in that direction can be of any importance. As well might we say, that, because the art of writing is of indispensable utility, the knowing how to hold the pen, or to draw those long strokes, the preliminary steps of juvenile initiation into this necessary art, are, considered in themselves, acquirements of some value.

I was unable to succeed to my satisfaction in selecting a generic expression which should comprise all the vast variety of practical pursuits, in which the intellect of the present day is exercised. The phrase Industrial Profession is objectionable; as not being "adequate," it violates one of the primary laws of Definition, for other professions too imply the exercise of industry. And the other phrase, Productive Profession, besides the alliteration, is ambiguous as it might lead some to the inference that "productive" was used in a sense which would render it synonymous with "profitable." Yet still, for want of a more expressive and appropriate mode of expression, I have been obliged to retain them.

It becomes proper to mention, in conclusion, that I had written a great portion of the substance of the following pages a considerable time ago, but could not, hitherto, command sufficient leisure to prepare it for the press, urged by the claims of various duties, and engaged in other avocations. These, it is hoped, may be alleged as in some measure an apology for the many blemishes which will, doubtless, present themselves to the reader.

June 1846.

Last Updated February 2016