The education of the farmer/Introduction


Some apology may be needed for the homely and familiar manner in which a subject of great importance is treated in this Essay. I can only plead that it was written for the Journal of a local Society in which I could reckon on the indulgence of a larger number of readers than I could presume to hope for elsewhere. Writing as I did with a practical purpose in view, I chose for thoughts slowly worked out the mode of expression which seemed best suited to the occasion, in the belief that example and anecdote would tell more than a lengthened chain of reasoning, and that the words of others, whenever I could use them, would have more weight than my own.

Although addressing farmers, I have treated of middle-class education in general. I have endeavoured to describe a really useful 'Middle-class Education,' and yet I doubt not it will appear to some that I have passed too lightly over commercial and technical acquirements, and have understated the value of particular sciences; but my object has been not so much to lay down a system for any particular class, as to awaken attention to the spirit and aim of all education that can fairly claim to be called "practical." Feeling as I do great respect for the manly virtues and practical habits of Englishmen in the middle ranks I believe they are not far wrong in preferring their own common sense as a guide in business to what they call theory. But it may be confidently asserted that their habits of business need not suffer, and that new sources of enjoyment and usefulness will be opened to them, if they take, for their own and their children's sake, a warm interest in the mental cultivation which is going on in other classes of society. Not only do community of thought and friendly intercourse between men of different pursuits increase their respect for each other, but an acquaintance with the mysteries of nature disclosed by science, and with the still deeper mysteries of human thought and action enshrined in literature, tends to generate a love for what is intrinsically true and beautiful, and to raise a man above the conventionalities of mere fashion.

In this paper, addressed as it was originally to a Society comprising men of different opinions, little is said of the foundation on which moral duty and religious fellowship must rest. But I do not forget, nor would I have others to forget, that there is a book suited above all others to train the young intellectually as well as morally, because it speaks to man as man, and that with that book are connected institutions of primary importance to domestic and national life. However much men may differ as to the interpretation of the one, or as to the authority of the other, no view of education can be considered complete without some reference to them. On these subjects, however, although I have not attempted to conceal, so neither do I think it necessary on the present occasion to obtrude, my personal convictions.

I may venture nevertheless to express the opinion that success in the efforts made for national education by religious bodies and by the State will to a great extent depend on the interest which the middle classes may be induced to take in it, and that it imports much to the welfare of the nation that the practical activity called forth in agriculture, manufactures, and the arts, should be guided not only by sound teaching of science, but by moral and humanising influences.

To the progress of this great work I offer a humble contribution, not unmindful of those who led the way many years ago, and with the hope that God's blessing may guide all who are now engaged in it.