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But it is not to minister to the national pride of our countrymen that we make this assertion. There is already too much disposition to draw unfavourable comparisons, and to disgust foreigners by our partial, and often unjust, reflections. The People of England ought to be the wisest as well as the most pious nation under Heaven, for none ever before enjoyed advantages, religious as well as political, so important as those we have received.
The pure doctrines of the Church of England, tried in the fire of persecution, and sealed with the blood of her martyrs, have produced a reformation in the morals of the people, which nothing but a conviction of the solemn truths of Revelation could have effected. They have exposed all those wretched expedients, to which mankind, in every age of the world, have resorted, to satisfy conscience at the
expense of duty; and have substituted in their stead that Christian obedience which is the only sure test of sincere faith. The Law of England, founded on the basis of Christianity, has incorporated the established Religion with our civil Constitution, and by this happy union of interests has given mutual support to the whole system. The principles of our national institutions are so openly promulgated and so generally understood, that they are interwoven with our individual opinions and feelings, and govern our conduct in private as well as in public affairs. To this we owe the high character of the British Parliament, the piety of our Clergy, the purity of our Magistracy, the integrity of our Merchants, the
upright and manly spirit of the People. To this also we are indebted for that reputation for probity and honour which we have attained in our political and commercial intercourse with foreign nations. The enlightened principles thus diffused amongst our countrymen have produced an enlargement of understanding which delights in the attainment of knowledge. In this free country, the artisan as well as the philosopher enjoys advantages of intellectual improvement elsewhere unattainable. The discoveries of the ablest men have been rendered comprehensible to the humblest; the profoundest theories have been applied to the comfort and convenience of ordinary life; the simple artificer is capable of promoting those useful inventions, which sprung from researches the most profound; and the learning of the ablest divines and scholars is laid open to the capacity of the mechanic and the cottager. Education of every kind and degree is provided for the advancement of general information, and while universities and schools are open to the rich, instruction is now offered gratuitously to the poor, that they may equally participate in the advantages thus widely bestowed.
But as the facility of acquiring information has so rapidly increased, it becomes the more important that the disposition to profit of it should receive a right direction. Education must be founded in Christian principles or it will produce inevitable mischief. The ability to read and write, unless directed to this one great object, will but prepare the youthful mind for the reception of the most pernicious errors.
securing to them the supreme blessing of Christian knowledge, the guardians of public education musi conscientiously discharge this most important and indispensable duty to their country. The thirst for knowledge must be guided to the purest springs. The inquirer may fall into dangerous paths, and there are not wanting those who lie in wait to deceive the unwary, and employ their utmost skill to pollute the channel of public instruction. The wide spread of national education roused the enemies of religion and order to the most active endeavours to mislead the rising generation. Works of the most specious and attractive form were disseminated throughout the kingdom with a zeal worthy of a better cause, and with a success which made many good men hesitate as to the expediency of promoting a system, which they conceived to be fraught with so much danger. But those who were disposed to surrender the advantages of popular instruction, little considered that it was no longer in their power to arrest its progress. The people of England were athirst for knowledge. The spirit of free inquiry was abroad, and to suspend the teaching of the poor was to withhold the antidote when the poison was already at work, and to abandon them to adversaries who profited of the occasion to sow discord among
the patrons of these Institutions, some of whom by their lukewarmness, and others by their prejudices, did much injury to the cause they wished to serve.
At a period when this alarm prevailed, and serious apprehensions were entertained lest such shortsighted policy might leave the labouring classes to seek instruction from those who were striving to corrupt them, the Editors of the following sheets put forth The Plain Englishman, a periodical work designed to supply them with useful information, in place of those infidel and disloyal publications which were then circulated through all parts of the kingdom. The essays here reprinted are a portion of the original articles contained in that work; and should the present volume be found acceptable to the public, it is intended to add a second volume of these extracts, containing papers
of a more serious character;-and to continue the present publication, by other volumes, which will have for their object to diffuse, in a cheap and popular form, that intelligence which Englishmen, of every degree, ought to possess, on the Laws, the History, and the civil Institutions of this great country.
We are not insensible to the honour of having led the way in a species of miscellaneous publication which is calculated to render very important service to our countrymen. The Plain Englishman was undertaken to establish sound moral and political opinions—to shew our high obligations to the great men who were the founders of our institutions, the patrons of our learning, and the guardians of our liberties; and to exhibit the progress of our national improvements under these eminent advantages. The work was carried on for three years, and has given example to nearly fifty periodical publications, now issuing from the press, which were commenced since our own. These, though varying in character and merit, are for the most part of a beneficial tendency; and we may therefore congratulate ourselves in having enlarged the boundaries of useful knowledge to a wide extent.