Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

chanics' Institutes is to afford the mechanic, or any other working manthose opportunities of mental culture and harmless amusement, which have been withheld to this period in Ireland, especially in its metropolis. And in order to protect the Institutes from the monopoly of persons in easier circumstances, we have recommended that none but those living by weekly wages should be considered admissible. The reason we assigned for this, seems to us a very palpable one, namely--that the presence of employers or superiors is calculated to prevent the attendance of the operative classes. This is not only the case in Ireland, but in England and Scotland also : Charles Knight, writing on Free Libraries, states-

That the majority of Library Institutes in England comprise professional men, the higher shopkeepers and the managers of large firms; that the clerk and the shopkeeper will not go where they have a chance of being looked coldly on by their employers or superiors in service, and resort to Mechanics’ Institutes, where their presence effectually drives out the fustian jacket.”

Mr Knight is a warm advocate for Free Libraries, and his arguments in their favor show a thorough knowledge of his subject, and a consciousness of the great good they must necessarily effect among the operative classes of any country. “There could be nothing easier," writes this gentleman, “than to make the National School a Free Library also. We consider that such could be very easily accomplished, but not more so than to make the Mechanics' Institute the same.

We have now submitted to our readers our views on Me. chanics' Institutes suited to meet the educational wants of the working classes of this country, and though we regret the the smallness of the number: we must not deny that throughout Ireland there are to be found a “happy few.” In Clonmel, for instance, there is an Institute of which its supporters may feel justly proud. The Evening School attached to this Institute, we understand, is in connexion with the Commissioners of Irish National Education, and perhaps in Ireland there is not another school of a like character equal to it.

The influence that such Institutes, whose opening we so strongly urge, would have upon the operative portion of society, cannot fail to strike the most casual observer." Great indeed, says the learned Sheriff Allison, "are the results to public and private welfare which may be expected from the spread and success of such institutions, in which the real treasures of

a

genius are to be found, the fortunes of our descendants are wound up with their success." As an example of the influence that may be expected from these institutes, we shall here give our readers one instance which has occurred but a few

years back.

At the time when the Commissioners of Irish National Education opened their Model School in Marlborough-st. for the education of the working classes in the evening, there attended a young man named Dunne, whose occupation was that of an ordinary day laborer. His anxiety to raise himself from this position manifested itself by liis perseverance and assiduity in the acquirement of knowledge after the close of each day's work, so much so, that he enlisted the attention, and we may write, the admiration, of the Resident Comunissioner, The Right Honourable Alexander Macdonnell (who is ever anxious to assist in raising the condition of those whose merit entitles them to it). Dunne, feeling this, continued to persevere, till in a short time he acquired knowledge sufficient to qualify him to take charge of a Village National School, to which he was appointed teacher by the Commissioners. This school is situated in Stillorgan, a village a few miles beyond Dublin, on the east side. After remaining at Stillorgan for some time, and discharging his duties with satisfaction to the Patron, justice to the pupils, and credit to himself, he emigrated to Australia, where he is now carning £300 per annum by school keeping. It would be a great injustice to this exemplary young man, were we to omit to mention, that since fortune favored him in a foreign land, he has sent several remittances to his family, amounting in all to abont £90, and by means of which they were enabled to join him, and share in the justly earned fruits of his noble industry.

Here is an instance of the great good that can be effected by continuous education. It may be urged that this is a very singular case, and we are far from denying that it is. We do not want all labourers or mechanics to become schoolmasters, but we want to raise their social condition as far as circumstances will permit.

Now, in addition to what we have already written on the management of Mechanics' Institutes, we would suggest the following plan for adoption, as it strikes us to be be a most powerful means to stimulate the young mechanie

a

to perseverance, and create in his bosom a spirit of emulation. The plan we allude to is that each member be solicited to bring to the institute a specimen of the craft in which he is engaged, and at stated intervals that those specimens should be submitted to the inspection of competent judges, and premiums awarded to the successful competitors. Good results would certainly arise from this plan if once carried into effect, but in no case should any specimen be exhibited except by a member of the institute. Viewed in any light it will be seen that these institutes would be calculated to improve the character of the working classes, and conduce to their social welfare. An institute such as this we earnestly hope to see opened for the young mechanics and artizans of Dublin. But, instead of this, what have we?

An Institution bearing the title Mechanics', a title which it can in no degree of justice claim. It is an assembly house for the middle classes, as may easily be discovered by any person visiting the Reading Room attached to it. The visitor will see there an assemblage of men of middle age, filling positions in society from which they derive incomes of some hundreds a year, while he is struck with the almost entire absence of the working mechanic or youthful apprentice. We admit that both one and the other are eligible to the institute, and we also adinit the desirability of having an institute open to all classes; but we see the almost total impossibility of having men “ with the honorable stain of labor on their hands and brows" intermix with fashionably attired gentlemen to whom daily toil is only known by name. It would unquestionably be a great advantage to liave the employer and the employed assemble in the same institute ; in fact, this is a system we would encourage, still, it was not designed by the originators of Mechanics’ Institutes. No; these institutes were intended

. to benefit mechanics or men depending on their weekly earnings, and such only should be eligible thereto. That the so called Dublin Mechanics' Institute is not an educational institute, all acquainted with its character must admit, but that the com. mon object of the gentlemen comprising its board is to render it so, no person can deny. Yet we cannot see how this object can be accomplished till the spirit of religious hostility and party feeling on both sides shall have passed away, and indeed we regret to observe that such has pervaded, and continues to pervade its management at the present moment. Much credit, no doubt, is due to certain well meaning and influential gentlemen for their untiring efforts to suppress and eradicate from the institution those agents of its destruction, and which if allowed to continue, will render it inevitable. But if it is to succeed its success we fear must be attributed to the support of the middle ranks, who, we have just grounds to believe, are its main supporters at present.

The classes of this institute are at tended by persons who should be made to seek instruction in other places more suited to their positions. We advert to this feature of its management because we are aware of the injustice done to the children of mechanics or workmen, who would be only too glad to send them to learn the subjects tanght in many of the classes. But if the Dublin Mechanics' Institute were what its name imports, men of superior circumstances and high positions would not be allowed to join it for the purpose of having a “cheap read," and that their children might be taught accomplishments at a "cheap rate." To certain gentlemen connected with it we accord the praise that is justly due to them for the active and zealous part they have taken to reconcile its members on more than one occasion ; yet we cannot but observe, and at the same time regret, that there are still connected with the Institution certain individuals who, it would appear, glory in disseminating discord and party feeling among those of the working classes who attend it. It is a subject of regret, as we have already observed, that such an Institute should be converted at times into an arena of party politics and religious bigotry. We are not now censuring any section, we are merely stating what we, and thousands of others, know to be the shameful fact. We know that the Mechanics' Institute of Dublin was originated, fostered and brought to a high position by some of the most benevolent and influential of our fellow citizens; that its board was composed of, and its affairs conducted by many who had but one object in view,-the welfare of the Mechanics. But unfortunately these gentlewen allowed some turbulent, disaffected individuals to steal in amongst them, who in the end drove the original founders out, and made the Institute designed for the good of the poor, a scene of politics and party spirit, a forum of debate for halffledged orators, instead of a school of science for the working man. It is unnecessary for us to state how rejoiced we shall be when we hear of harmony and good will existiug among the

members of this institution, and that discord and religious hostility shall be heard of no more. Its directors well know that facts speak more forcibly than speeches, however eloquent; knowing this it would be perhaps wise to prevent many of those would-be party leaders from delivering addresses calculated to create ill and envious feelings among the unwary and credulous portion of the members; for, to say the least of some of the meetings that have lately taken place in this institution, they were anything but creditable. Let us hope that we shall never witness such again. We shall now pass from it, and in doing so, wish that some steps may be taken to entitle it to the name it at present holds. "If such be done there is no doubt that the number on Rolls in the English class will far exceed that given in the Directors' Report for last year, which we believe was THIRTY-SEVEN.

In a preceding part of this paper we stated that we did not desire Institutions devoted solely to the education of Protestants or Roman Catholics, but one for the benefit of all classes, without reference to any creed or sect. It is evident that an institute like this would be really National: to render it so we would strongly recommend that it should be placed under the Commissioners of Irish National Education : tre care not what may be the objections urged against this, for our part we hold it it to be the only way by which such institutes can be rendered successful. Experience has strengthened us in this view, and we could, if space permitted, adduce many cogent reasons for entertaining this opinion. Our readers well know that the National System is the only system suited to Ireland, and this time itself has sufficiently proved. Could the Commissioners be induced to give the matter their consideration, and open for the working classes of Dublin a Model National Mechanics' Institute, such as we have endeavoured to describe,

doubt it would be attended with the most signal success, if committed to proper managers and Trained Teachers. With the Commissioners are the confidence and well wishes of the vast majority of the Irislı people. These they have justly earned, for till their appointment knowledge was as a sealed casket to the Irish poor, and there is every reason to believe it would continue so till this day, did not the Legislature extend its powerful arm and burst the seal. There never has been a greater boon conferred upon any country than National Education has proved to Irelaud, and it affords us

« PreviousContinue »