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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Rev. B. Valpy French's Speech

Rev. B. Valpy French's Speech.

The Rev. R. Valpy French, D.C.L., Head Master of King Edward VI. 's School, Stratford-on-A von, said: Ladies and gentlemen,—A certain well-known Greek philosopher once made the following remark: "We teach boys facts, some of which are principles'; some of which come to be principles." It is palpable how this bears upon the question before us to-night. We desire to urge upon the country the necessity of teaching, in elementary schools, temperance facts, some of which undoubtedly will be, at the moment they are taught, principles, and some of which will remain to be developed and become principles. (Hear, hear.) We are face to face every day with the patent fact of a glaring spectacle, and that is a vast drinking system throughout our country—a system which permeates every branch of human society, from the highest to the lowest—a system which seems to me to oppose Nature's laws, Nature's teaching, Nature's guidance—a system which must at once be put down to nought but wholesale ignorance. (Hear, hear.)

I come to-night, sir, to plead purely on the educational side of the question; and, first of all, that the rising generation be rescued from this ignorance, believing our country criminally culpable if it perpetuate this ignorance. I plead, secondly, for temperance teaching in our schools, because such teaching contains within itself most useful branches of science and literature. I plead for it, thirdly, because if you withhold temperance teaching, you wilfully suffer men to minimise their attainments. If you grant it, you furnish the rising generation, at least, with the potentiality to exert their powers at their greatest maximum. First, then, I urge that the rising generation be rescued from their condition of ignorance; and now is the chance, and what will you do with it? The future of this country is at this moment in embryo. The prosperity of Great Britain is dependent upon the rising generation. You who are trainers of youth have at your disposal the springs of moral influence. Will you, or will you not, suffer the rising generation to grow up the victims of a hideous delusion?

My lord, when I look back upon my own past life, I do not know whether to look back upon it with feelings of shame, horror, page 12 hatred, or what; but I do feel this, that a vast amount of this ignorance is attributable to those upon whom my early training devolved. I can but affiliate the delusion of early manhood upon old college days at Oxford; and when I come to ask myself, What meant those long bills that broke open a parent's pocket, and well-nigh rent his heart—those bills about Old Port, 66s.; Universal ditto, 72s.; Double University ditto, 84s.—I cannot but affiliate that upon old school days. And when I look back at those school days, I ask what meant those barrels of beer at the cricket-field 1 Were they, or were they not, an acknowledgment on the part of the authorities that these drinks were calculated to quench our thirst and to restore our depressed physique? Juvenile delinquency! My lord, I hate the term. Is it not the duty of this country to protect and to prevent, rather than to punish, the youth? Then, if you would assail this great system, you must assail it in its bud. You can't begin too early to assail this system. A well-known and important body of Christians have been known to say: "Give us your children to the age of seven, and you may have them afterwards." The principle is clear, and requires no quotations from the ancient Latin poets to prove it. The truth is palpable, that when children are young they are impressible—their minds are tender, supple, and pliant. Get hold of them if you have truths to impress upon them, and we have truths, and let them be distinctly enunciated in those early days. (Cheers.)

My lord, if it be true that alcohol is a poison, and we have undoubted testimony that it is—(hear, hear)—then, surely, the claims of the temperance movement rise to a higher platform than ordinary considerations. Other motives may be brought to bear which will influence their minds. Certain persons are so constituted that moral appeals will come home to them with greater force than physiological appeals. Some will be influenced by the feeling that they are responsible for their weaker brother, that they are verily his keeper; but it does appear to me that the progress of temperance truth rests mainly upon that truth being founded upon a solid physiological basis. (Cheers.) General education merely will not do. It has been tried and proved to be a failure. Nay, I will hardly hesitate to say that general education, so far from clearing the ground for us in this respect, has, in far too many instances, rather aided and abetted the cause of intemperance than otherwise. (Hear, hear.) I am not going to inquire now whether we are to expect a moral harvest from the sowing of intellectual seed; but this much I will say, and that is, that drink' perverts intellectual seed; and further than that, if we do want in the rising generation a result at once moral and intellectual, we must sow in the young mind a seed at once moral and intellectual. (Cheers.) This ignorance cannot, it shall not, remain. Nay, the élite of London may sit at home page 13 at their houses to-night, and indulge themselves in their dinnerparties and what not; but it shall be that they shall wake up, at the end of this season, it may be, and hear that it is an accomplished fact that temperance education forms a part of the curriculum of our elementary schools.

I will not attempt to expatiate upon my two other points, but simply state them again, tor my time is gone. (Cheers.) My second point was that temperance teaching contains within itself most useful branches of science and literature. I need hardly say that no one who studies temperance literature can be wholly unacquainted with the history of the Bible, with natural history, with political economy, chemistry, physiology, or sanitary science. (Hear, hear.) What is the history of temperance but a vast shillyshallying from the time of Edgar to the present day—first of all making legislation for temperance, and, secondly, for intemperance. Why, sir, in the time of Edgar there was a law passed that cups must have niches in them, and that a man must not drink below a certain number of niches. (Laughter.) In the time of George I. we find legislation in favour of intemperance, and the consequence was that this country became so burdened, and so wholly devoted to drink, that publicans, unabashed, wrote up over their doors:—"You can get drunk here for a penny, dead drunk for twopence, and have clean straw for nothing." (Laughter.) Under these circumstances, we do not wonder that legislation took another move in the reign of George II.

I should stay for one moment to speak in the strongest terms of the "Temperance Lesson-Book," by Dr. Richardson. It has only been in my hands for three or four days, but I took so much interest in it that I at once put it before my boys; and, however much I have trespassed beyond ordinary school-time, I have gone through it with them already. (Cheers.) Lastly, let me repeat my third head: If you withhold from them this temperance teaching, you wilfully suffer the rising generation to minimise their attainments. If you grant it, you furnish them with a potentiality to exert their attainments to their maximum. Finally, let me remind all instructors of youth that their responsibility in this matter is enormous—viz., their responsibility is only measurable by their opportunities. (Loud cheers.)