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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Mr. J. S. Wright's Speech

Mr. J. S. Wright's Speech.

Mr. J. S. Wright. J.P., Vice-Chairman of the Birmingham School Board, who said he did not intend to make a set speech, but simply to address a few conversational remarks to those present, said; I can hardly tell what I have been brought up here from Birmingham for. You have so many able speakers in London that I am sure you don't want any assistance from Birmingham; and, besides, I feel a little taken aback by the orderly and quiet appearance of the present meeting. It is a little confusing page 14 to me. (Laughter.) I am hardly used to it; and, certainly, after my last evening's experience at the Eastern Question meeting, and the vivid impression of it that yet lingers about my ears—(laughter)—I can but do the best I can at a gathering which, by the orderly character of its behaviour, comes somewhat strangely to me. I am told that I am to speak about the book, and about what Birmingham is going to do with it. Well, I am never slow to speak about Birmingham. I always feel proud of her; but about the book it is quite another matter. I am Vice-Chairman of the School Board there, and have always taken some interest in education, and have done so from the beginning of the agitation.

We have in that town taken rather a prominent position in educational matters—rather a marked line, as we do on most things. I think we are doing some work there. If I tell you that, though in 1870 we had 30,000 children under education—and all honour to those who worked then, and before then, in the task of educating the young, for what they did; but still they left half of the work undone—yet if we are spared to the year 1880 we shall have more than another 30,000 children under education in Birmingham, and educated in some of the finest (I do not mean architecturally), and most convenient, and best-adapted rooms that can be found in the kingdom. I say, if I tell you this, you will see that we are not idle. We have not stinted the work. We have done it in the best way we could, and I should be very much mistaken (I do not suppose I shall be here to see it) if the children of three or four generations hence do not look back to those schools, and praise us as being wise and prudent in our day, in that we gave them such durable buildings. There is no mistake that the great feature of the present day is this educational question. I believe that the decade from 1870 to 1880 will be marked as the great educational epoch in English history. We have been getting wealth; we have been going ahead fast, making wonderful improvements, taking the lead of all the nations of the world in general matters; but we have not been quite first in educational matters. They beat us in America, in Germany, and even in Switzerland. Why, they have spent three or four times the money on education to what we have done per head. Is it not a shame that these little States should be ahead in this very vital thing? But we are only just beginning the work. The first thing we have had to do has been to build our schools. Well, we are getting them pretty well furnished. Then there is a more important difficulty—viz., to fill them. We are doing our best, as you are here, and we do not mean to rest satisfied till we know what every child in Birmingham is doing as regards the matter of education,—nay, until we know he has been educated in some way or other. We do not mean to leave a child in any alley, court, or lane of Birmingham that is uneducated. That is our page 15 solemn resolve, and I hope that you London people are going to do the same.

When we have filled our schools with pupils, we have got to find out the best way of teaching them and of instructing them on the soundest principles, and to give them the best text-books to learn from. All the work is not done, unhappily, when we have got our children through our schools. (Hear, hear.) No, a great deal of their future will depend upon how we get them through; for we know to-day that, after the teachers' work has been done, the publican lays hold of them but too soon—(hear, hear)—they exchange but too soon the schoolroom for the tap-room. After drinking in knowledge they drink in gin and beer, and things of a like nature. I believe that education will do a great deal of itself to reduce this, but still that is our great obstacle—it is the thing that takes away half, aye, three parts, of the fruits of our work in our Sunday-schools, and it will be the chief destroyer of the work of our day-schools.

Well, gentlemen of the Temperance League, you have not begun your work one day too soon; but there is one danger—I think we are trying to teach the children too many subjects, and there is a danger in that. It is not only the three "R's" now; that is a thing of the past; that is obsolete, for there is such a lot of subjects besides. We have masters for music and for drill, and we teach them cookery, and I know not what, but we have pretty well forgotten the question of temperance. (Hear, hear.) In Birmingham, some time ago, our attention was drawn to it by one of the members of our board; and although my colleagues are not all abstainers, and though I do not think there is one who, like myself, has been one for the third of a century—(cheers)—yet they have all, I believe, great respect for the movement, and would earnestly desire to promote it amongst the young. There was no difficulty, therefore, made about temperance being one of the common subjects taught in our schools. You will think that a very good resolution, and probably, also, that Birmingham set an example to the rest of the country. But we were met with this difficulty—" Where are your books?" This caused some of our friends to look through the school-books published by Chambers, Nelson, &c., but, though they have produced them in such numbers, there is barely a line upon temperance, and even that line of the faintest and feeblest character. That giant evil, which brings about so much misery among our children, was hinted at merely, and in scarcely the faintest notes of condemnation. (Hear, hear.) I do not think we could read a full chapter in any one of the productions that are now supplied to our schools in regard to genuine temperance truth.

It was, therefore, with profound satisfaction that we found that the Temperance League were taking up the question, and preparing a school-book. I do not think they could have done any page 16 better thing. (Cheers.) If they had done nothing more than this they would have done enough to justify their existence. (Cheers.) If they had only lived to do this work, I believe they would have done one of the most useful works any society has ever done. (Cheers.) We appreciate what you have done, and we thank you that you took Dr. Richardson in hand, and induced him to prepare this work. We are delighted with the result. I glory in the book. I would sooner be the author of that eighteen penny book than of all the war songs that were ever sung to inflame the worst passions of humanity. (Cheers.) When I went through it, I breathed rather hard. It took a little of my breath away, and I was glad I hadn't to go through my educational course again. When I came to such words as butylic, amylic, methylic, caseine, and a number of others, you won't wonder, at my losing a little of my breath, and feeling a little troubled about the matter.

I was in one of our new schools the other day, in one of our most neglected districts. We have 250 boys in the school—two in the sixth standard, eight in the fifth, twenty-six or twenty-seven in the fourth, and of the rest more than two hundred in the third, or a great proportion in the first, second, and third. When I looked at these words, I thought of those poor lads. (Laughter.) Well, I said I was proud of the book, and I am not going to say I am not, and I began to think about the book more, and the thought that came to me was this:—"Ah! this is a book of all others for the teachers. (Cheers.) I have made a discovery." Well, you want the teachers first to know about it before you want your scholars to. It's no use your teaching the children if you want to get a subject like this into them, or religion, unless the teacher is up himself in it, unless he believes in it. (Cheers.) I wish all our teachers believed in the total abstinence question. (Cheers.) I don't think we should select them on that ground; but I say this, I would immensely, all other things being equal, prefer a total abstainer to a drinker. Oh, I think, what might be done by an army of day-school teachers who believed in total abstinence and practised it themselves! (Loud cheers.)

Well, this appeared to me the temperance book of all others in the world—a book, the statements of which are reduced to exact science, a book which they could understand, not as I, a simple layman, might master it, but which they could deal with; a book indisputable in its conclusions, which they might hold in their hand as a gospel of physiological truth that it would be impossible to shake. I feel that this is the thing for us. We start first with our teachers, because when we have got them, we have to remember that they have to bring up the next generation of teachers and of pupil teachers, who are being trained by the head teachers of our schools at the present moment; and therefore it is of all things most important that we should commence first page 17 with our teachers, and give them the knowledge they need on this great and important subject.

I am looking at the clock rather anxiously, and so must hurry on, for I do not want, like Dr. French, to lose my second and third parts. (Laughter.) Another thing this book will help to do; it will help to do away with some of those delusions which are so common amongst people, and which have been referred to from the chair. I happen to sit on the Birmingham Bench, and I recollect not long ago speaking to an old man who was taken up for drunkenness, and I said to him, "It would have been better for you if you had had water." It was a very innocent remark to come from the bench, but it was sneered at in one of the journals of our town, and the refrain was taken up by a good many of our working men, and many were the sly hints I heard. "Ah! he wouldn't let us have our half-pint, if he could. Water is better, is it? No water for me." We want to get rid of the delusions that our people have got into them. (Cheers.) A man was before me yesterday for leaving his horse and cart unattended in the street, and having his dinner. At this meal he boasted of having had a pint of ale. He said, "You'll be sure to approve of that," and his only regret was that he didn't have a second pint of ale at his dinner. That is one of the delusions as taught by our teachers in the past; but this book will be of use in dispelling it It is not only the carters and the working population that are subject to this delusion, but even the House of Commons. (Cheers.) What a lot of talk there has been there about adulteration! They have said, that if you only get pure malt and hops, and unadulterated brandy and gin, then you would have a drink that would be harmless. I need not tell anyone here that they distil the rankest poison from the purest malt and hops that were ever grown. That is one of the delusions that this book will help to get rid of.

I am glad, therefore, that this book has been published, and on another ground also—viz., that this society has begun (and I hope this is not to be the sole product of its labours, for I am going to stimulate them to do more) to take the scientific question up first. There are irrefutable grounds to show that the health and well-being of the body, its vigour, its life, and its longevity—everything that contributes to the well-being and to the purity and health of our frame, depends largely upon our abstinence; and this book, of all books that I have seen, points it out in the clearest and most indisputable manner.

We want other school-books on the question. This is not sufficient as a reading-book. We want something more. You must go on to the money part of it, and let us have a manual of that kind. If Dr. Richardson will not do that, Mr. Hoyle can. We can then deal with the question personally and nationally. And then let us have a third book, going into the moral and social page 18 aspect. I think all three points might well be put down ill school-books and lesson-books with the greatest possible advantage. And so I trust those ideas will ever be before this committee until they are carried out.

As far as regards the Birmingham Board, this book has been highly approved by the Chairman of our Educational Committee. We have not had time to bring it before our board. The chairman, himself a teacher of young men, the head-master of our great endowed English school, and a most successful teacher, speaks in the highest terms of this book, and believes that we cannot over-estimate its usefulness in our schools. The chairman of our board and other members of it believe, also, that the book will be exceedingly useful; and I have no doubt that, at our next board meeting, or at an early one, it will be adopted as one of the school-books of the Birmingham School Board. (Cheers.) We believe the design of it to be admirable, and its arrangement excellent, and I think this body will do well to follow out the plan that has been adopted in this book; and, Dr. .Richardson, while I thank you most heartily for its production, I hope you won't consider your work done. We want a book adapted for the third standard of our schools. We want you to come into our schools for a week—they have plenty in London, but we can also show you some in Birmingham—and see what these ignorant boys are, and, if you put your mind to it, you will produce a second book, which shall be equally valuable. Thanking you, and thanking the society for the production of this book, I have only, in conclusion, to hope that it will have an immense circulation, and if it has, I have no doubt that it, and others that will follow, will be of the greatest possible use to the children of this generation. (Loud cheers.)