Charles Dickens

Kathleen Mary Tillotson, Madeline House, and Graham Storey (eds), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 3: 1842–1843

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MS British Museum.


Broadstairs, Kent. | Sixteenth September 1843

My Dear Sir

I hinted in a letter of introduction I gave Mr. Hood the other day to you, that I had been thinking of a subject for The Edinburgh.1

Now, would it meet the purposes of the Review, to come out strongly against any system of Education, based exclusively upon the principles of the Established Church? If it would, I should like to shew why such a thing as the Church Catechism is wholly inapplicable to the state of ignorance that now prevails; and why no system but one, so general in great religious principles as to include all creeds, can meet the wants and understandings of the Dangerous Classes of Society.

This is the only broad ground I could hold, consistently with what I feel and think, on such a subject. But I could give, in taking it, a description of certain voluntary places of instruction, called "The Ragged Schools", now existing in London—and of the schools in Jails2—and of the ignorance presented in such places, which would make a very striking paper—especially if they were put in strong comparison with the effort making, by subscription, to maintain exclusive Church Instruction.3 I could shew these people in a state so miserable and so neglected, that their very nature rebels against the simplest religion—and that to convey to them the faintest outlines of any system of distinction between Right and Wrong, is in itself a Giant's task, before which Mysteries and Squabbles for Forms, must give way. Would this be too much for the Review? I shall be glad to know what you think.

  •                                                   My Dear Sir | Faithfully Yours
  • Professor Napier                                        Charles Dickens

P.S. We should have to find a peg4 to hang the paper on.—Perhaps you know of one.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 The proposed article was several times postponed, and never written.
Editor’s Note
2 CD refers to a class in Newgate in "A Visit to Newgate" (written Nov 35), in Sketches by Boz, 1st series (1836). Schools for boys and girls at Tothill Fields in charge of the chaplain were established on the National System in Nov 35; the children learnt and worked on alternate days. Chesterton had a probably similar school at Coldbath Fields. But the case described in the Examiner article, 16 Sep, shows that they were ineffective. In Jan 43 Graham sent a circular letter to Chairmen of Quarter Sessions directing that, in accordance with the Report of the Inspectors of Prisons, schools with qualified instructors should be established in all prisons. CD described what he had seen in To the Editor of the Daily News, 4 Feb 46.
Editor’s Note
3 Lord Ashley's Factories Regulation Bill, following the second Report of the Commissioners, had been thrown out because of the impossibility of getting the agreement of the nonconformist interests to the education clauses, which left the control of schools in the hands of the Church. The first large advertisement of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church had appeared in The Times, 15 Aug 43, covering over four columns, including the address at the Special Committee of 5 July and an extensive list of subscribers.
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