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It is this energy of individual life and example acting throughout society, which constitutes the best practical education of Englishmen. Schools, academies, and colleges, give but the merest beginnings of culture in comparison with it. Far higher and more practical is the life-education daily given in our homes, in the streets, behind counters, in workshops, at the loom and the plough, in counting-houses and manufactories, and in all the busy haunts of men. This is the education that fits Englishmen for doing the work and acting the part of free men. This is that final instruction as members of society, which Schiller designated "the education of the human race," consisting in action, conduct, self-culture, self-control,—all that tends to discipline a man truly, and fit him for the proper performance of the duties and business of life,—a kind of education not to be learned from books, or acquired by any amount of mere literary training.

With his usual weight of words, Bacon observes, that "Studies Edition: current; Page: [ 21 ] teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation;" a remark that holds true of actual life, as well as of the cultivation of the intellect itself. For all observation serves to illustrate and enforce the lesson, that a man perfects himself by work much more than by reading,—that it is life rather than literature, action rather than study, and character rather than biography, which tend perpetually to renovate mankind.

Goethe, in one of his conversations with Eckermann at Weimar, once observed, "It is very strange, and I know not whether it lies in mere race, in climate and soil, or in their healthy education, but certainly Englishmen seem to have a great advantage over most other men. We see here in Weimar only a minimum of them, and those, probably, by no means the best specimens, and yet what splendid fellows they are!

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And although they come here as seventeen-year-old youths, yet they by no means feel strange in this strange land; on the contrary, their entrance and bearing in society is so confident and quiet that one would think they were everywhere the masters, and the whole world belonged to them. There is no halfness about them.

They are complete men. Sometimes complete fools, also, that I heartily admit; but even that is something, and Edition: current; Page: [ 22 ] has its weight.

Another foreigner, a German, Herr Wiese, 1 in contrasting the English and German systems of education,—the one aiming chiefly at the culture of character, the other of intellect,—has observed, that in the lives of celebrated men, English biographers lay far more stress upon energy of purpose, patience, courage, perseverance, and self-control, than upon their scientific ardor or studiousness in youth; that, in short, the English give the chief prominence to the individual element, and attach far more value to character than to intellect,—a remark not less true than tending to important conclusions; as pointing, indeed, to the fundamental characteristics of our national strength,—the product, as it is, of individual thinking, individual action, and individual character.

Take, again, the opinion of a well-known French writer, M. Rendu, 2 as to what constitutes the essential value of the English system. He holds that it best forms the social being, and builds up the life of the individual, whilst at the same time it perpetuates the traditional life of the nation; and that thus we come to exhibit what has so long been the marvel of foreigners,—a healthy activity of individual freedom, and yet a collective obedience to established authority,—the unfettered energetic action of persons, together with the uniform subjection of Edition: current; Page: [ 23 ] all to the national code of Duty.

Whilst French institutions educate the soldier and the functionary, English institutions, which give free action to every man and woman, and recognize an educator in each, cultivate the citizen, ready alike for the business of practical life and for the responsible duties of the home and the family.


And although our schools and colleges may, like those of France and Germany, turn out occasional forced specimens of over-cultured minds, what we may call the national system does on the whole turn out the largest number of men, who, to use Rendu's words, "reveal to the world those two virtues of a lordly race,—perseverance in purpose, and a spirit of conduct which never fails. It is this individual freedom and energy of action, so cordially recognized by these observant foreigners, that really constitutes the prolific source of our national growth. For it is not to one rank or class alone that this spirit of free action is confined, but it pervades all ranks and classes; perhaps its most vigorous outgrowths being observable in the commonest orders of the people.

Men great in science, literature, and art,—apostles of great thoughts and lords of the great heart,—have sprung indiscriminately from the English farm and the Scotch hill-side, from the workshop and the mine, from the blacksmith's stithy and the cobbler's stool.


The illustrations which present themselves are indeed so numerous, that the difficulty consists in making a selection from them, such as should fall within the compass of a reasonable book. Take for instance, the remarkable fact, that from the barber's shop rose Sir Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the spinning-jenny, and the founder of the cotton manufacture of Great Britain; Lord Tenterden, Edition: current; Page: [ 24 ] one of the most distinguished of English Lord Chief Justices; and Turner, the very greatest among landscape-painters.

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No one knows to a certainty what Shakspeare was; but it is unquestionable that he sprang from a very humble rank. His father was a butcher and grazier; and Shakspeare himself is supposed to have been in early life a wool-comber; whilst others aver that he was an usher in a school, and afterwards a scrivener's clerk. He truly seems to have been "not one, but all mankind's epitome. Shakspeare was certainly an actor, and in the course of his life "played many parts," gathering his wonderful stores of knowledge from a wide field of experience and observation.

In any event, he must have been a close student, and a hard worker; and to this day his writings continue to exercise a powerful influence upon the formation of English character. The common class of day-laborers has given us Brindley the engineer, Cook the navigator, and Burns the poet. Masons and bricklayers can boast of Ben Jonson, who worked at the building of Lincoln's Inn, with a trowel in his hand and a book in his pocket, Edwards and Telford the engineers, Hugh Miller the geologist, and Allan Cunningham the writer and sculptor; whilst among distinguished carpenters we find the names of Inigo Jones the architect, Harrison the chronometer-maker, John Hunter the physiologist, Romney and Opie Edition: current; Page: [ 25 ] the painters, Professor Lee the Orientalist, and John Gibson the sculptor.

Livingstone the missionary traveller, and Tannahill the poet. Shoemakers have given us Sir Cloudesley Shovel the great Admiral, Sturgeon the electrician, Samuel Drew the essayist, Gifford the editor of the "Quarterly Review," Bloomfield the poet, and William Carey the missionary; whilst Morrison, another laborious missionary, was a maker of shoe-lasts.

Nor have tailors been altogether undistinguished, Jackson the painter having worked at that trade until he reached manhood. But, what is perhaps more remarkable, one of the gallantest of British seamen, Admiral Hobson, who broke the boom at Vigo, in , originally belonged to this calling.

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He was working as a tailor's apprentice near Bonchurch, in the Isle of Wight, when the news flew through the village, that a squadron of men-of-war were sailing off the island. He sprang from the shopboard, and ran down with his comrades to the beach, to gaze upon the glorious sight. The tailor-boy was suddenly inflamed with the ambition to be a sailor; and springing into a boat, he rowed off to the squadron, gained the admiral's ship, and was accepted as a volunteer.

Edition: current; Page: [ 26 ] Years after, he returned to his native village full of honors, and dined off bacon and eggs in the cottage where he had worked as a tailor's apprentice. Among the great names identified with the invention of the steam-engine are those of Newcomen, Watt, and Stephenson; the first a blacksmith, the second a maker of mathematical instruments, and the third an engine-fireman. Huntingdon the preacher was originally a coal-heaver, and Bewick, the father of wood-engraving, a coal-miner.

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Dodsley was a footman, and Holcroft a groom. Baffin the navigator began his seafaring career as a man before the mast, and Sir Cloudesley Shovel as a cabin-boy. Herschel played the oboe in a military band. Chantrey was a journeyman carver, Etty a journeyman printer, and Sir Thomas Lawrence the son of a tavern-keeper.

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Michael Faraday, the son of a poor blacksmith, was in early life apprenticed to a book-binder, and worked at that trade until he reached his twenty-second year; he now occupies the very first rank as a philosopher, excelling even his master, Sir Humphry Davy, in the art of lucidly expounding the most difficult and abstruse points in natural science. Not long ago, Sir Roderick Murchison discovered at Thurso, in the far north of Scotland, a profound geologist, in the person of a baker there, named Robert Dick.

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When Sir Roderick called upon him at the bakehouse in which he baked and earned his bread, Robert Dick delineated to him, by means of flour upon a board, the geographical features and geological phenomena of his native county, pointing out the imperfections in the existing maps, which he had ascertained by travelling over Edition: current; Page: [ 27 ] the country in his leisure hours.

On further inquiry, Sir Roderick ascertained that the humble individual before him was not only a capital baker and geologist, but a first-rate botanist. Some he had obtained as presents, some he had purchased, but the greater portion had been accumulated by his industry, in his native county of Caithness; and the specimens were all arranged in the most beautiful order, with their scientific names affixed.

It is the glory of our country that men such as these should so abound; not all equally distinguished, it is true, but penetrated alike by the noble spirit of self-help. They furnish proofs of cheerful, honest working, and energetic effort to make the most of small means and common opportunities. For opportunities, as we shall afterwards find, fall in the way of every man who is resolved to take advantage of them. The facts of nature are open to the peasant and mechanic, as well as to the philosopher, and by nature they are alike capable of making a moral use of those facts to the best of their power.

Thus, even in the lowliest calling, the true worker may win the very loftiest results. The instances of men in this country who, by dint of persevering application and energy, have raised themselves from the humblest ranks of industry to eminent positions of usefulness and influence in society, are indeed so numerous that they have long ceased to be regarded as exceptional.

Looking at some of the more Edition: current; Page: [ 28 ] remarkable instances, it might almost be said that early encounter with difficulty and adverse circumstances was the necessary and indispensable condition of success. The House of Commons has always contained a considerable number of such self-raised men,—fitting representatives of the industrial character of the British people; and it is to the credit of our legislature that such men have received due honor there.

When the late Joseph Brotherton, member for Salford, in the course of the discussion on the Ten Hours' Bill, detailed with true pathos the hardships and fatigues to which he had been subjected when working as a factory boy in a cotton-mill, and described the resolution which he had then formed, that if ever it was in his power he would endeavor to ameliorate the condition of that class, Sir James Graham rose immediately after him, and declared, amidst the cheers of the House, that he did not before know that Mr.

Brotherton's origin had been so humble, but that it rendered him more proud than he had ever before been of the House of Commons, to think that a person risen from that condition should be able to sit side by side, on equal terms, with the hereditary gentry of the land. There is a member of the present House of Commons, whom we have heard introducing his recollections of past times with the words, "When I was working as a weaver boy at Norwich;" and there are many more who have sprung from conditions equally humble.

But perhaps the most interesting story of difficulties encountered and overcome by manful struggle, is that of the present member for Sunderland, Mr. Lindsay, the well-known shipowner. It was told by himself, in his own simple words, to the electors of Weymouth some years ago, in Edition: current; Page: [ 29 ] answer to an attack which had been made upon him by his political opponents. At the age of fourteen, he said, he had been left, an orphan boy, to push his way in the world.

He left Glasgow for Liverpool with only four shillings and sixpence in his pocket; and so poor was he that the captain of a steamer had pity on him, and had told him that he would give him his passage if he would trim the coals in the coal-hole. He did so, and thus worked his passage. He remembered that the fireman gave him a part of his homely dinner, and never did he eat a dinner with such relish, for he felt that he had worked for it and earned it; and he wished the young to listen to his statement, for he himself had derived a lesson from that voyage which he had never forgotten.

At Liverpool, he remained for seven weeks before he could get employment; he abode in sheds, and his four and sixpence maintained him, until at last he found shelter in a West Indiaman. He entered as a boy, and before he was nineteen he had risen to the command of an Indiaman. At twenty-three he retired from the sea; his friends, who when he wanted assistance had given him none, having left him that which they could no longer keep. He settled on shore; his career had been rapid; he had acquired prosperity by close industry, by constant work, and by keeping ever in view the great principle of doing to others as you would be done by.

But the same characteristic feature of energetic industry happily has its counterpart amongst the other ranks of the community. The middle and well-to-do classes are constantly throwing out vigorous offshoots in all directions,—in science, commerce, and art,—thus adding effectively to the working power of the country.

Probably the very greatest name in English philosophy is that of Sir Edition: current; Page: [ 30 ] Isaac Newton, who was the son of a yeoman, the owner and farmer of a little property at Woolsthorpe, in Lincolnshire, worth only about thirty pounds a year. The distinguished astronomer Adams, the discoverer of Neptune, was born in the same condition of life; his father being a small farmer on one of the bleakest spots on Dartmoor, a region in which, however sterile the soil may be, it is clear that nature is capable of growing the manliest of men.

The sons of clergymen, and ministers of religion generally, have particularly distinguished themselves in our country's history. Lord Hardinge, Colonel Edwardes, and Major Hodson, so honorably known in Indian warfare, were also the sons of clergymen.