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William Rolleston : a New Zealand statesman



Enough has been said to show that Rolleston was one of the pioneers in bringing about our present system of free, secular, and compulsory education.

To conclude this chapter, I will quote extracts from a remarkable letter written by Sir Frederick Weld, a former Prime Minister, in which he sets out his views on education. Weld came of an old English Roman Catholic family, and his views are naturally coloured by this circumstance.

page 49

Sir Frederick Weld (Government House, Tasmania) to Rlleston, 24 July 1875:

I quite go with you in thinking that railroads and national prosperity are not the main things in a nation's life, though they are valuable accessories. My opinion of the highest national life is public spirit, patriotism, self-sacrifice, justice—all that can raise mankind in this world and prepare it for the next. The union of the State with true religious principle; the Statesman and the Churchman walking hand in hand and not interfering with each other's province. This was the ideal of the Christian brotherhood of nations rudely shattered by the Reformation. This was the ideal of Alfred the Great and Charlemagne and of the greatest Popes and of such men as St Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventura, whose wonderful intellects seem to have solved so many problems that are still disputed over by those who scorn to refer to any but 18th century lights, and reverence only the infallibility of doubt, uncertainty, and their own crude theories.

Now you would remedy this by "Education". So would I, but my education would not mean teaching the mass of the people to read and write (good things in themselves) and a smattering of "ologies", which is the very most that the people as a mass can be possibly taught; but in civilising them and making them know that there is something higher than money and worldly advancement, making them good Christians with a knowledge of their duty to God and to the State as constituted by God, and a sense that the dignity and happiness of man is not to be measured by wealth and position, but by fulfilling duties, respecting superiors, equals and inferiors—as being placed in their respective positions by God—as being part of the order He has established—as all being equal in His eyes—as being, if they worthily fulfil their duty in this world from proper motives, all alike called to a reward in that world in which a poor beggar's state may be greater than that of "Solomon in all his glory".

You will never do this by dissociating religion from education, or by any State panacea—no secular education can properly do it—no theoretical moral axioms can do it—only faith can. It is quite true that my ideal—the Christian Catholic ideal—is impossible at this moment. We must accept facts, and, accepting them honestly and loyally, work out the best honest compromise page 50we can But bureaucratic secular education is to my mind not at all the best compromise. It handicaps the religion of the majority for the benefit of the doubters, the irreligious, and the unbelievers—the minority, I hope.

The family is the basis of society and the State. By the law of divorce and repudiation of marriage as a sacrament, and by ignoring the authority of the parents in education and confounding instruction with education, States are uprooting day by day the very foundations on which they rest. Surely men must be blind who look around and do not see this.

Sir Frederick Weld goes on in words that might have been written to-day instead of in 1875:

Europe applauds the spoliation of the Pope, that is the attempted deposition of the representative of moral power—it condemns his utterances unread or misconstrued, utterances which are really the exponents of the principles of moral power. Treaties and guarantees are logically enough of no value, and millions and millions of armed men—Europe converted into a barrack of slaves torn from their families—attest the triumph of modern "civilisation" and the substitution of might for right, of doctrinaire theories for Christianity…. Can anybody believe that State schools and teachers, machines with colourless souls, will remedy this?