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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Mr. T. M. Williams's Speech

Mr. T. M. Williams's Speech.

Mr. T. M. Williams, B.A., Inspector of Schools to the School Board for London: My lord, ladies, and gentlemen,—I will not detain you very long with the observations I am about to submit to you. I shall address myself principally to the teachers who may be present here this evening. It seems to me that it is high time the professional teachers of the country were solemnly invited to give an active and systematic support to the cause of temperance. (Hear, hear.)

The friends of the temperance movement- many of whom I see now around me—who have worked so nobly, so valiantly, and so persistently, and I think I may add, so successfully in its behalf, have seemingly overlooked the fact that the teachers of this country possess avast amount of power and influence. They have never, certainly, succeeded in securing for the movement the active sympathy of the general body of teachers in this country. They are beginning to get the support of the clergy; they are also getting the support of the leading members of the medical profession; and page 19 I am hoping that this meeting will be the beginning of a new era in the history of the cause of temperance, as it certainly will be, if it serves as a means of inducing the teachers of London (and the teachers of Birmingham and the provinces will follow them), to make a stand against this evil which causes so much havoc in the land. The alcohol question is one that concerns the teacher quite as much as it does the social reformer or the minister of religion. If you look at the evils of intemperance, you will find that they are such as affect, directly and indirectly, the work of the teacher, and interfere seriously with its efficiency and success. Is it not a common cause of complaint, for instance, amongst teachers, that their influence for good within their schools is often partly, sometimes entirely, counteracted by the baneful example of parents outside the schools? (Hear, hear.)

Do not teachers, and particularly you, the teach era of London, suffer continually from the apathy, and in many cases from the decided hostility, of ignorant and thriftless parents? His lordship has just informed us that intemperance is due to a great extent to ignorance. There is no doubt of that, and there is no doubt, too, that the ignorance of the masses of the country is mainly due to intemperance. (Cheers.)

Do not we all of us complain, and very justly, too, that the children who attend our schools come there with great irregularity I Some of the teachers fight manfully against this irregularity of attendance. They succeed in improving the character of the attendance in their schools, and they deserve every possible credit for doing so; but these very teachers will admit that this is due (I mean the fitful attendance at schools) rather to the parents than to the children. When I think of the home surroundings of the poor children in London, I am actually surprised that the attendance is so good as it is. Thousands of little children may be seen every morning in this vast metropolis hurrying to school half-fed, ill-clad, from homes which are mere dens of filth and misery, but which, were it not for drink, would be as bright and cheerful as the day. (Cheers.)

Need we be surprised that these little children find it very difficult to conform to the rules of these schools, and very hard indeed to yield a willing obedience to the teachers, and to copy their good example 1 Look at them! Drink is stamped upon their pinched faces. You can see it lurking in the hollows of their little cheeks. All teachers present who know me, know that I have a large heart for little children. They would sometimes, perhaps, say that my heart shrinks when I come in contact with the teachers—(a laugh)—but I am truly fond of little children. Pray deal tenderly and gently with them. If you can open up to them a path which leads to future usefulness, something better than they have now before them, pray do so by all means. Continue to give them the example of a sober life. Continue to teach them to read fluently, to write accurately, and to page 20 sum well; teach them also the leading principles of one or more of the sciences if you can, and if you have the time and opportunity for doing so; but over and above all this, I would ask you to make them acquainted with the first, the most useful scientific discovery of the present day, viz., that alcohol is a poison. (Cheers.)

Alcohol is no food, but acts injuriously on the human system, whether taken in large doses or in small. Teach them this fact: teach them to grasp its meaning, and I say that by so doing you will be the means of snapping asunder that chain which coils round them, and threatens to squeeze out of them ultimately every vestige of moral strength and principle.

Dr. French has told us this evening that general education has failed to put a stop to intemperance. Doubtless it has. We cannot hope to see drunkenness die out with the spread of education. What makes it so easy to glide from moderation to excess is not the want of education in a man. A man needs something more than what goes by the name of education if he is to keep from ever gliding into excess from moderation. There is something in the drink, or, if you like, there is something wanting in the man, which makes the step from moderation to excess a wonderfully easy one. (Cheers.)

You have all heard of the man who tried to ford the stream at the height of the flood. In leaping from one stepping-stone to another he lost his footing, and was drowned. Some people said he was drowned because the water was too deep; others said that he was drowned because he was too short; but through the water being too deep and the man too short he lost his life. Why didn't he take the bridge? (Cheers.) We want you to take our bridge. (Loud cheers.) Do not attempt to cross the stream at its flood when our bridge of total abstinence is now on a safer and firmer foundation than ever. It is conclusively proved by Dr. Richardson, by Sir William Gull, and by Sir Henry Thompson, that even moderation is a mistake, physically and economically, if not often morally. (Hear, hear.)

Oh! I think the appearance of Dr. Richardson's little book most opportune. I have read it through carefully, and have been delighted with it. As Mr. Olver said, it is full of most interesting facts, and these facts are lucidly stated, and so beautifully arranged that I find it very difficult to believe that even Mr. Wright could not be made to understand them by careful teaching. (Laughter.) We have gone before the Birmingham School Board in this matter, for I hear that the book has been added to our list. Further, it is not meant entirely for the use of teachers. The London boys are intelligent enough to grasp everything that is in it. (Laughter.) I am not quite sure that it will not 'be found to be the easiest book, as it will also be the best reading book in our schools. (Cheers.) Of course, introduce the book (and I shall be very glad to see it), but be fair when you treat upon the question. State, page 21 if you like, that the opinions contained in that book are the opinions of Dr. Richardson, and of a certain school; be fair, above all things. You may also tell the children that if there is a divergence of opinion respecting the properties of alcohol and its effects upon the human system, that divergence has become exceedingly small, and is becoming smaller every day, and that the advance tends towards us. (Cheers.)

We cannot wait until we have unanimity on this point. You know how it was with the undulatory theory of light when it was first advanced about a hundred years ago. It was pooh-poohed all the world over. Lord Brougham wrote scurrilously of Thomas Young, who first propounded that theory. John Stuart Mill, even with all his mighty intellect, was not prepared to accept it as being perfectly true; but now, go where you will, it is preached by every scientific man of the day. And I mean to say that the principle or the scientific discovery which has been made by Dr. Richardson and others will eventually win its way to general acceptance; indeed, it has won its way to acceptance more rapidly than has the undulatory or any other theory in the scientific world. (Cheers.)

I was told before I came here this evening that it would be useless to ask the teachers to teach their scholars the principle of total abstinence, or any other principle, unless they were handsomely paid for doing so. Now I consider that a gross libel upon teachers. (Cheers.) There are a thousand things done in a school which are never officially acknowledged, which are never assessed, which escape the observation of everybody but the teachers themselves; and I venture to say that if the teachers can be brought to feel that it is their duty to teach total abstinence (as well as to practise it) to their scholars, whether it pays them for doing so or not, I have no doubt they will come forward and do their duty to the best of their ability. (Cheers.) If, then, they can succeed in implanting proper opinions as to alcohol in the minds of their scholars, they will do a great deal towards ridding this country of that evil which is such an impediment to the moral and material improvement of the nation, and by doing so they will acquire the highest honour, and will reap for themselves the gratitude of the whole world. (Loud applause.)