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Mechanics’ Institutions and the Society of Arts. 323 compass. What it must be right in the Divine Being to do, it may be right in inspired men to pray him to do; and conceptions of law and retribution which certainly have their place in Providence, may have their place in Revelation.
The small volume placed at the head of this article is a thoughtful performance. The writer shows, very clearly, that whether we admit the scriptural account of the Fall of Man or not, a fact of that nature lies at the root of the present condition of the race.
It is shown, moreover, that if the revelation we are supposed to possess be a fiction, it is a fiction taking with it a marvellous appearance of truthfulness, especially in some of its adaptations to the exigencies of the case which it is said to have been designed to meet. We commend the book to our readers.
Art. III.-(1.) An Essay on the History and Management of Lite
rary, Scientific, and Mechanics' Institutions. By JAMES HOLE, Esq., Honorary Secretary to the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics
Institutions. London: Longmans. 1853. (2.) How to Learn and What to Learn. Two Lectures advocating the
system of Examinations instituted by the Society of Arts. By
JAMES Booth, LL.D., F.R.S. (3.) Systematic Instruction and Periodical Examination. By Dr.
Booth. London: Bell and Daldy. 1857. (4.) Reports of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics' Institutions for
1856—7. (5.) Examination Papers of the Society of Arts for 1856—7.
At the commencement of the present century, Dr. Birkbeck was the Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Andersonian Institution, Glasgow. In this position he had opportunity of noting the gross ignorance of artisans as to the scientific principles involved in their daily occupations. He was struck with the fact, and became deeply impressed with the importance of endeavouring to instruct our mechanics in scientific knowledge. It was this conviction that ultimately gave birth to Mechanics' Institutions, and determined their character in the first stage of their existence. The necessity of imparting scientific knowledge to work people was felt by others as well as by Dr. Birkbeck. Between 1800 and 1823, the propriety of attempting this, and the mode in which it might be accomplished, were discussed in several publications. Some efforts were actually made to realize the object. It was, however, in December, 1823, that the London Mechanics' Institution---the first-was founded, chiefly through the labours of Dr. Birkbeck, Lord Brougham, and a few other gentlemen. In the two ensuing years, similar societies were established in some of the principal manufacturing towns of the kingdom. The primary object of these institutions, as this was •set forth by their first promoters, was the instruction of artisans in those branches of science, in the application of which these persons are daily concerned. The means by which it was proposed to accomplish this object were-a library of scientific books, and lectures in exposition and illustration of the different branches of natural philosophy. For some years, while the novelty lasted, things went on smoothly. Mechanics' Institutions became numerous, and they seemed to prosper. But, about 1830, a visible decline set in. Shortly after this date, when the composition of these institutions was fairly examined, it appeared that the bulk of the members did not consist of mechanics, but of persons in a higher station of life. It was found that they were not operating solely, or chiefly, on the class for whose benefit they were designed. Being thus in the hands of the middle classes, and operating mostly for their advantage, they soon came to aim at objects different from that contemplated in their foundation. Works of general literature and fiction were introduced into the libraries. The lectures on literary and miscellaneous subjects were more numerous than those on scientific ones. Further changes followed these ; ‘but,' says Mr. Hole, the most decided attempt to revolutionize the character of these institutions was made by the establishment of 'Lyceums,' or
People's Institutes. These embraced, as their leading features, news-rooms, and a larger provision of light reading. The lec'tures were very miscellaneous, consisting often of dramatic readings, lectures on elocution, wherein recitations by the lec'turer and his pupils formed a prominent part, and musical lectures.'*
Such has continued to be the character of many institutions to the present time. But, in a large number of them, important changes have been effected, or are being introduced, with the view to adapt their operations more to the actual wants of the people,-to the work of educating the labouring artisans. Considerable progress has been made in this direction, but we cannot detail the steps. To secure the benefit of experience and mutual assistance, Unions of the Institutions in a locality, or a county, were some years ago attempted. The first association of this kind was the one now called the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics' Institutions. It was originated by that enlightened and zealous friend these societies, Mr. Edward Baines, of Leeds, who has presided over its proceedings since its formation in 1837. At Objects-Causes of Failure.
* p. 25.
first, these Unions mainly attempted to serve the united societies by rendering the lecturing system more effective. Mr. Hole remarks-One of the most prominent of Mr. Baines' original
proposals was, that the Union should engage one or more per‘manent lecturers to visit the Institutes, to give a regular course of instruction on such subjects as Chemistry, Mechanics, Poli
tical Economy, &c.' This proposal could not be carried out; ' and, continues Mr. Hole, as the next best thing, the Union 'made arrangements with lecturers for concurrent courses of lecturés, to such Institutes as were able to afford their services.'
* The plan succeeded in the case of a few well-known ' and very popular lecturers. But afterwards, when the system “had to depend on the ordinary demand for paid lecturers, it 'broke down completely.'*
In 1852, the Society of Arts took action in reference to Mechanics' Institutions. They first sought to bring the Institutions throughout the kingdom into association with the Society. They also offered a prize, which brought forth Mr. Hole's admirable Essay at the head of this article. About four hundred institutions have joined the Society of Arts. This central organization also attempted, at first, to aid Mechanics' Institutions by lectures. Speaking of this, their first effort, Dr. Booth observes :—' Of the union so formed, one of the first objects was to
send lecturers to lecture to the Associated Institutes. We failed “in that. The Society of Arts soon found that little could be done to improve Mechanics' Institutions by means of lectures.
The history of these Institutions shows that they had failed to accomplish the object for which they were originally designed, mostly through two causes :-1. The great body of artisans were not sufficiently instructed in the rudiments of knowledge to make a profitable use of scientific books and scientific lectures. Comparatively few only were able to understand the books and lectures thus offered. 2. The lectures given were not calculated to impart a systematic, accurate, and practical knowledge of the different branches of science. These lectures might do much to diffuse among the people some general information on scientific subjects; but they did not lead the members to a regular course of study and to a mastery of the sciences. The knowledge acquired in this way was vague and desultory, pot sound and thorough. The fact could not be concealed that these institutions were failing to reach the working classes, and were also failing to impart å practically useful or accurate education to any class. This was perceived twelve or fifteen years ago by the most active supporters of these societies. These parties felt that some im
portant changes ought to be made in their organization and proceedings,—that they should be rendered more strictly educational. It was clearly seen that the machinery of these institutions must comprise the means of instructing the members in the elements of knowledge, and also of supplying more accurate and systematic instruction in history, literature, science, and art, than could be attained by lectures. In short, that class-instruction must enter more largely into the operations of these institutes, if they were to accomplish their legitimate work.
It must be admitted that, almost from their first establishment, some amount of class-instruetion had been provided in a few of the best institutions. In these, however, it was very limited; and it is only within the last ten or twelve years that classes have been made a regular feature; but during this period, the amount of class-instruction has been gradually increasing. This has been the reformation which the enlightened friends of these associations have sedulously sought to bring about in their organization. Of late years class agency has not only been greatly extended, but it has been considerably improved in character. There can be no question that class-teaching is the mode of action through which alone they can accomplish much for the sound practical education of the people, either in the elements of knowledge or in science and art. But, by that instrumentality, they may do great things for the advancement of society. The Yorkshire Union, the most useful organization of the kind, has laboured constantly, for some years past, to promote the establishment of classes in the Institutions in the North of England. In the instructive reports of the committee the necessity of making these institutes more and more educational, by the employment of class agency, has been strongly insisted on. The committee have urged this point again and again, year after year.
The Mechanics' Institutes of England, and especially those of the North, were making steady progress in this direction, when, in the early part of last year, the Society of Arts issued their scheme of examinations. And the tendency of this proposal is not of a nature to divert the institutions from the course in which they were moving; it is rather calculated to invest classinstruction with still more importance. The project has already excited deep interest among the managers of these societies. It is also attracting the attention of employers and others interested in the progress of society. The plan is, at least, entitled to the careful examination of all who feel concerned in the industrial or moral advancement of the community. For, if the scheme is Scheme of the Society of Arts for Examination. 327 fully developed, modified as the circumstances of the country require, and judiciously carried out, we venture to think it may become a potent agency in promoting both the material and intellectual prosperity of our people. The nature of the measure is clearly stated in the works by Dr. Booth mentioned at the head of this article. As an officer of the Society of Arts, Dr. Booth has manifested great ability and zeal in the development and advocacy of the system. Indeed, we cannot but regard it as a fortunate circumstance that a gentleman so competent should be so largely concerned in working it out. The Society of Arts proposes to hold examinations yearly, of such members of the institutions in union with the Society as will voluntarily offer themselves for examination. They have secured the assistance of a board of examiners, consisting of gentlemen of high character and acknowledged eminence in the respective departments of science or literature in which they are to examine. The different branches of knowledge in which examinations are to take place, are announoed in a programme that is published and widely circulated nine or ten months before each examination.
In some cases good text-books are named in the programme. It also contains the names of the examiners in each department, together with a full statement of the conditions to be observed by all candidates. Students are thus invited to submit to this competent and independent tribunal. The extent and character of their attainments are tested by the examiners. Certificates, founded on the reports of the examiners, are then awarded to the successful competitors. There are three classes of certificates : the lowest, or certificate of competency; the second, or certificate of proficiency; and the highest, or certificate of excellence. These certificates go forth with the full sanction of the Society of Arts, and with the whole weight of its character as a public Institution. Besides these certificates, prizes of books and money have been given to those students who pre-eminently distinguished themselves. The most important feature of the seheme is the effort that is being made to render the certificates thus given of practical value to the holders. The Society have drawn a Declaration,' which has been signed by some of the highest and most distinguished personages in the state, and by above five hundred of the largest employers in the kingdom. This document says: 'We do hereby declare that we desire to promote the
success of the said plan, and are prepared to regard as testimonials ' worthy of credit such CERTIFICATES as may be awarded in con'formity thereto.' Through the operation of this scheme it is believed that these certificates, as indicating intellectual ability