Literary and Historical Essays. By Thomas Davis. Dublin: James Duffy, 1846.
"Influences of Education"
"Educate, that you may be free." We are most anxious to get the quiet, strong-minded People who are scattered through the country to see the force of this great truth; and we therefore ask them to listen soberly to us for a few minutes, and when they have done, to think and talk again and again over what we say.
If Ireland had all the elements of a nation, she might, and surely would, at once assume the forms of one, and proclaim her independence. Wherein does she now differ from Prussia? She has a strong and compact territory, girt by the sea; Prussias lands are open and flat, and flung loosely through Europe, without mountain or river, breed, or tongue, to bound them. Ireland has a military population equal to the recruitment of, and a produce able to pay a first-rate army. Her harbours, her soil, and her fisheries, are not surpassed in Europe.
Wherein, we ask again, does Ireland now differ from Prussia? Why can Prussia wave her flag among the proudest in Europe, while Ireland is a farm?
It is not in the name of a kingdom, nor in the formalities of independence. We could assume them to-morrow--we could assume them with better warrants from history and nature than Prussia holds; but the result of such assumption would perchance be a miserable defeat.
The difference is in Knowledge. Were the offices of Prussia abolished to-morrow--her colleges and schools levelled--her troops disarmed and disbanded, she would within six months regain her whole civil and military institutions. Ireland has been struggling for years, and may have to struggle many more, to acquire liberty to form institutions.
Whence is the difference? Knowledge!
The Prussians could, at a weeks notice, have their central offices at full work in any village in the kingdom, so exactly known are their statistics, and so general is official skill. Minds make administration--all the desks, and legers, and powers of Downing-street or the Castle would be handed in vain to the ignorants of----any untaught district in Ireland. The Prussians could open their collegiate classes and their professional and elementary schools as fast as the order therefor[e], from any authority recognized by the People, reached town after town--we can hardly in ten years get a few schools open for our people, craving for knowledge as they are. The Prussians could re-arm their glorious militia in a month, and re-organize it in three days; for the mechanical arts are very generally known, military science is familiar to most of the wealthier men, discipline and a soldiers skill are universal. If we had been offered arms to defend Ireland by Lord Heytesbury, as the Volunteers were by Lord Buckinghamshire, we would have had to seek for officers and drill-serjeants--though probably we could more rapidly advance in arms than anything else, from the military taste and aptness for war of the Irish People.
Would it not be better for us to be like the Prussians than as we are--better to have religious squabbles unknown, education universal, the People fed, and clad, and housed, and independent, as becomes men; the army patriotic and strong; the public offices ably administered; the nation honoured and powerful? Are not these to be desired and sought by Protestant and Catholic? Are not these things to be done, if we are good and brave men? And is it not plain, from what we have said, that the reason for our not being all that Prussia is, and something more, is ignorance--want of civil and military and general knowledge amongst all classes?
This ignorance has not been our fault, but our misfortune. It was the interest of our ruler to keep us ignorant, that we might be weak: and she did so--first, by laws prohibiting education; then, by refusing any provision for it; next, by perverting it into an engine of bigotry; and now, by giving it in a stunted, partial, anti-national way. Practice is the great teacher, and the possession of independence is the natural and best way for a People to learn all that pertains to freedom and happiness. Our greatest voluntary efforts, aided by the amplest provincial institutions, would teach us less in a century than we would learn in five years of Liberty.
In insisting upon education, we do not argue against the value of immediate independence. That would be our best teacher. An Irish Government and a national ambition would be to our minds as soft rains and rich sun to a growing crop. But we insist on education for the People, whether they get from the Government or give it themselves, as a round-about, and, yet, the only means of getting strength enough to gain freedom.
Do our readers understand this? Is what we have said clear to you, reader!--whether you are a shopkeeper or a lawyer, a farmer or a doctor? If not, read it over again, for it is your own fault if it be not clear. If you now know our meaning, you must feel that it is your duty to your family and to yourself, to your country and to God, to act upon it, to go and remove some of that ignorance which makes you and your neighbours weak, and therefore makes Ireland a poor province.
All of us have much to learn, but some of us have much to teach.
To those, who, from superior energy and ability, can teach the People, we now address ourselves.
We have often before, and shall often again repeat, that the majority of our population can neither read nor write, and therefore that from the small minority must come those fitted to be of any civil or military use beyond the lowest rank. The People may be and are honest, brave, and intelligent; but a man could as well dig with his hands, as govern, or teach, or lead, without the elements of Knowledge.
This, however, is a defect which time and the National Schools must cure; and the duty of the class to which we speak is to urge the establishment of such Schools, the attendance of the children at them, and occasionally to observe and report, either directly or through the press, whether the admirable rules of the Board are attended to. In most cases, too, the expenditure of a pound note and a little time and advice would give the children of a school that instruction in national history and in statistics so shamefully omitted by the Board. Reader! will you do this?
Then, of the three hundred Repeal Reading-rooms we know that some, and fear that many are ill-managed, have few or no books, and are mere gossiping-rooms. Such a room is useless; such a room is a disgrace to its members and their educated neighbours. The expense having been gone to of getting a room, it only remains for the members to establish fixed rules, and they will be supplied with the Association Reports (political reading enough for them), and it will be the plain duty of the Repeal Wardens to bring to such a room the newspapers supplied by the Association. If such a body continue and give proofs of being in earnest, the Repeal Association will aid it by gifts of books, maps, &c., and thus a library, the centre of knowledge and nursery of useful and strong minds, will be made in that district. So miserably off is the country for books, that we have it before us, on some authority, that there are ten counties in Ireland without a single bookseller in them. We blush for the fact; it is a disgrace to us; but we must have no lying or flinching. There is the hard fact; let us face it like men who are able for a difficulty--not as children putting their heads under the clothes when there is danger. Reader! cannot you do something to remedy this great, this disabling misery of Ireland? Will not you now try to get up a Repeal Reading-room, and, when one is established, get for it good rules, books from the Association, and make it a centre of thought and power?
These are but some of the ways in which such service can be done by the more, for the less, educated. They have other duties, often pointed out by us. They can sustain and advance the different societies for promoting agriculture, manufactures, art, and literature, in Dublin and the country. They can set on foot, and guide the establishment of Temperance Bands and Mechanics Institutes, and Mutual Instruction Societies. They can give advice and facilities for improvement to young men of promise; and they can make their circles studious, refined, and ambitious, instead of being, like too many in Ireland--ignorant, coarse, or lazy. The cheapness of books is now such, that even Irish poverty is no excuse for Irish ignorance--that ignorance which prostrates us before England. We must help ourselves, and therefore we must educate ourselves.