« AnkstesnisTęsti »
ative of English humour. It is dedicated to mirth and jollity; but it is a significant feature of our times, and I believe a new one, that the comic satire of a country, expressed in a periodical, which tests a country's feeling because of its universal circulation, should be, on the whole, on the side of right. It takes the side of the oppressed; it is never bitter except against what at least seems unjust and insincere. It is rigidly correct in purity, distinctly saying in all this that England even in her hour of mirth is resolved to permit no encroachment on her moral tone.
Looking at all this, and seeing in the upper classes and the lower one strong feeling, one conviction that we have been too long two nations, one determination to become one, to burst the barriers that have kept us apart so long; looking at the exhibitions of high self-forgetfulness and sworn devotedness to duty, which from time to time are rising even out of the most luxurious and most voluptuous ranks, we have a right to hope that that which is working among us is not death, but life. Our national character is showing itself again in its ancient form, that strange character, so calm, so cold, so reserved outwardly, rising once again in its silent strength. The heart of England is waking to her work, that mighty heart which is so hard to rouse to strong emotion,
but the pulses of which, when once roused, are like the ocean in its strength, sweeping all before it. This is not death. This is not decay. The sun of England's glory has not set. There is a bright, long day before her yet. There are better
As this pamphlet may fall into the hands of some who are unacquainted with the circumstances which gave rise to its publication, and as some principles are involved in it which have a wider range than belongs to a local Institution, it may be well to preface it with so much information as may render it intelligible.
The Working Man's Institute was established in October, 1848. It was the belief of those who originated it, that a large class of persons were almost entirely destitute of any means of selfeducation by access to a library or periodical publications,—a class still more limited in means than those for whom Athenæums and Mechanics' Institutes had been long established. A very small subscription, one penny a week, if only sufficient numbers would combine, was found to be large enough to provide such an Association
with the materials of mental and moral improvement; and it was confidently hoped that subscriptions from the wealthier classes would enable them by degrees to accumulate a valuable library. Great eagerness was manifested by the working classes when this project was made known. About 1,300 members enrolled themselves at once. The peculiar feature of the Association was, that the whole management virtually devolved upon this class alone, with the exception of one of a rank above them, the late Mr. Holtham, who gave up a large portion of his time to assisting in the organization of the Society; the object of this being to break down, if possible, that feeling of suspicion which exists in the minds. of so many of the working class, of a desire for interference and coercion on the part of those who come forward as their benefactors.
It was, of course, foreseen that the rock on which such a plan might be wrecked, would be any successful effort to divert the funds and machinery of the Institute from its original intention to the purposes of a political party.
But in this case, the withdrawal of all wel-disposed persons would leave the Association to dwindle till it became extinct. For its very existence depended upon numbers. The experiment, therefore, appeared to be a perfectly safe one,
inasmuch as perversion of its purposes must inevitably be followed quickly by annihilation.
One fatal oversight (such at least it appears to the Author of these pages) in the constitution of the Society realized the foreseen danger. It had been justly held that the working men ought to have in their own hands the management of their own Society, lest the smallest suspicion should arise that there was any desire in those who were their benefactors to coerce or trammel them. Every attempt at interference was scrupulously avoided. All this was wise and just. But beyond this, not only was the domination of the upper classes made impossible, but even their assistance and advice excluded, by making honorary members incompetent to vote or act on committee; a mistake which originated in an over scrupulous generosity on the part of one who suggested it; but fatal, because false in principle.
To have vested the power of unlimited control or rule in the richer classes, would have been a surrender of the very principle on which the plan rested. But to reject all coöperation and assistance from them, to receive their contributions and refuse their advice, was to create and foster a spirit, not of manly, but of jealous independence, and to produce in a new form that vicious