Изображения страниц

of our children can only be placed under one control. But the wisest and freest government ought to see that this claim does not degenerate into bondage. The services of a child, at a reasonably appointed age, should become his own. The State may have yet a more delicate function to discharge. In this country there is a tribunal which has sometimes interposed between the reckless and vicious parent and the injured child. The equity of that proceeding is not arraigned. Yet it is to be doubted whether it be carried on in the supposition that the State is the foster-parent, “in loco parentis," or in simple protection of the helpless. It is obvious, too, that this appeal can only be of rare occurrence. Where some dignity and patrimony are at stake, our Chancery makes the heir its ward, and undertakes his education. It snatches him from the contagion of foul example in the licentious household. But is this not rather in its province of guardianship over all estate, than in the hypothesis of a parentage which of right it can assume? Over the child of the poor man,—though drunkard, debauchee, spendthrift, -it does not cast its shield. The precedent, therefore, scarcely establishes a principle, and even if there be the principle, it can only admit of the most partial operation.

The world has always been best administered when the opinions and feelings of mankind have been most respected. These opinions and feelings, when true to nature, will flow in one direction. Parent and progeny are hard to part. Rob not the monster of its young. The case must be extreme in which this violence can be endured among civilised men. If this alienation be the mark of progress and the augury of optimism in society, we might prefer the barbarous horde and the ruder æra!

But the commonwealth has a vital interest in the education of its subjects. Ignorance defeats its highest ends. There is supposed a general acquaintance with its laws and institutions. It holds all alike accountable. It punishes with equal rigour, save in a case of discretionary punishments. Should it not undertake that all, beneath its authority, be properly informed ?

Now in all these investigations, there is a primordial test. Does government exist separately from the people, they being born for it? Can it rightfully pursue ends to which the people do not agree? Can it be bound to undertakings which the people in its erection did not entrust to it? We need not be told that few original compacts of this kind can be found : that governors and subjects are seldom called to such amicable consultation. Still we must ask, Do these governments exist of any right but by the national will ? Can they have any duty to perform but as the instrument of that will ? The people may be foolish or wicked in shaping that government, in fixing its principles, in vesting its powers, — but itself can only be the organ of their voice, the sword of their avengement. They may be right or wrong in giving up to it the education

of their children. This is the matter of their own covenant with it. . But it can have no claim to enforce that education, except as they shall thus make such claim over to its defence and care.

It is, surely, too late to speak of governments as independent and imprescriptible. The powers that be are of God, inasmuch as it was his will to make man a social being, and society can only exist by legal administration. We owe an account to Him for our social, as well as individual, conduct. But whatsoever is right in the one capacity, is so in the other. There can be no public conscience different from private conscience. It can be no more proper to resist public than private aggression, whatsoever be the proper species of that resistance. How can it be the prerogative of a government to educate the people ? Has the eternal King commanded and authorised it? Where are his anointed lieutenants? If government be only an affair of arrangement, then education may, or may not, be included in that arrangement: if it be of heaven, we must demand its revealed muniments and provisions.

The only justifiable, or supposeably proper, occasion for taking this business out of the hand of the parent, — of resuming his responsibility by any government,-is, that he will not attend to it, that he suffers his children to grow up in ignorance, that they thus become injurious and dishonouring to the State. This is a case which may be supposed. Many cannot see why that ultimate power of states, to throw themselves between parent and child, should not be here exerted.' Parents and children are subjects. Parents are pledged by their social condition to seek every benefit of the child. A breach of that condition is proved. The State enforces it. The child has lost his natural, and even civil, protection aud guidance. It is an orphanage. It is time for the control of that child to be taken up by another. The original trust is deserted. A conventional one must be substituted. The wilful neglect of educating his children justly lays the penalty of shame on the parent, when he beholds a third party do that which he would not do himself.

An analogous proceeding is legalised among us. The labour of young persons was deemed to be too prolonged in our factories. A bill was passed to restrict it to eight hours, from nine years of age to thirteen. This might seem only to affect the exaction of masters, but it was not without its compulsory influence on parents. It has been feared, at least, that many of these are not mindful of the proper strength of their children. Poverty has too much rested on the returns of this labour. It might have been said, that parental instinct would have rendered all interference unnecessary. The objection was overruled,—and public functionaries are now seen in our factories, the appointed guardians of those whose tender age the kindness of fathers and mothers is not left to defend. Who can question the right of parents in their children? Yet their responsibility is not suffered to be final. Our

Constitution knows not of any self-terminating power. The favourers of interference not seldom boast, that which others fear,—the probable extinction of youthful labour.

But the case is to be made out, ere we provide for it. We have been generous beyond the limits of the argument, in meeting it in its supposititious form. Few will assert, that education should be imposed where it is voluntarily pursued. And is it a common thing, that the children of this country are thus neglected ? Is there not a pride, often too lavish of the means, in our poorest fellow-subjects, to educate their families? The contrary spirit may sometimes be shown. The vicious will most likely be careless of their offspring. We are, however, persuaded, that this is the very small exception. There is a general desire, even among the most ignorant, that the line of ignorance should end with themselves. Ere now, the parent has become the pupil of the child, and endeavoured to surmount those practical inconveniences which he already resolved that child should never feel.

The main objection, in many minds, against leaving the education of their children to parents, is, their supposed unfitness to make a proper selection of the teacher and the course. This disqualification, however, does not appear, when the medical or the legal adviser is to be chosen. A certain repute or experience is generally a sufficient test. It will be urged, that this objection is, at least, valid in religion. We do not allow

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »