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At Last by Charles Kingsley

CHAPTER XIV: THE 'EDUCATION QUESTION' IN TRINIDAD

When I arrived in Trinidad, the little island was somewhat excited about changes in the system of education, which ended in a compromise like that at home, though starting from almost the opposite point.

Among the many good deeds which Lord Harris did for the colony was the establishment throughout it of secular elementary ward schools, helped by Government grants, on a system which had, I think, but two defects. First, that attendance was not compulsory; and next, that it was too advanced for the state of society in the island.

In an ideal system, secular and religious education ought, I believe, to be strictly separate, and given, as far as possible, by different classes of men. The first is the business of scientific men and their pupils; the second, of the clergy and their pupils: and the less either invades the domain of the other, the better for the community. But, like all ideals, it requires not only first- rate workmen, but first-rate material to work on; an intelligent and high-minded populace, who can and will think for themselves upon religious questions; and who have, moreover, a thirst for truth and knowledge of every kind. With such a populace, secular and religious education can be safely parted. But can they be safely parted in the case of a populace either degraded or still savage; given up to the 'lusts of the flesh'; with no desire for improvement, and ignorant of that 'moral ideal,' without the influence of which, as my friend Professor Huxley well says, there can be no true education? It is well if such a people can be made to submit to one system of education. Is it wise to try to burden them with two at once? But if one system is to give way to the other, which is the more important: to teach them the elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic; or the elements of duty and morals? And how these latter can be taught without religion is a problem as yet unsolved.

So argued some of the Protestant and the whole of the Roman Catholic clergy of Trinidad, and withdrew their support from the Government schools, to such an extent that at least three-fourths of the children, I understand, went to no school at all.

The Roman Catholic clergy had, certainly, much to urge on their own behalf. The great majority of the coloured population of the island, besides a large proportion of the white, belonged to their creed. Their influence was the chief (I had almost said the only) civilising and Christianising influence at work on the lower orders of their own coloured people. They knew, none so well, how much the Negro required, not merely to be instructed, but to be reclaimed from gross and ruinous vices. It was not a question in Port of Spain, any more than it is in Martinique, of whether the Negroes should be able to read and write, but of whether they should exist on the earth at all for a few generations longer. I say this openly and deliberately; and clergymen and police magistrates know but too well what I mean. The priesthood were, and are, doing their best to save the Negro; and they naturally wished to do their work, on behalf of society and of the colony, in their own way; and to subordinate all teaching to that of religion, which includes, with them, morality and decency. They therefore opposed the Government schools; because they tended, it was thought, to withdraw the Negro from his priest's influence.

I am not likely, I presume, to be suspected of any leaning toward Romanism. But I think a Roman Catholic priest would have a right to a fair and respectful hearing, if he said: --

'You have set these people free, without letting them go through that intermediate stage of feudalism, by which, and by which alone, the white races of Europe were educated into true freedom. I do not blame you. You could do no otherwise. But will you hinder their passing through that process of religious education under a priesthood, by which, and by which alone, the white races of Europe were educated up to something like obedience, virtue, and purity?

'These last, you know, we teach in the interest of the State, as well as of the Negro: and if we should ask the State for aid, in order that we may teach them, over and above a little reading and writing -- which will not be taught save by us, for we only shall be listened to -- are we asking too much, or anything which the State will not be wise in granting us? We can have no temptation to abuse our power for political purposes. It would not suit us -- to put the matter on its lowest ground -- to become demagogues. For our congregations include persons of every rank and occupation; and therefore it is our interest, as much as that of the British Government, that all classes should be loyal, peaceable, and wealthy.

'As for our peculiar creed, with its vivid appeals to the senses: is it not a question whether the utterly unimaginative and illogical Negro can be taught the facts of Christianity, or indeed any religion at all, save through his senses? Is it not a question whether we do not, on the whole, give him a juster and clearer notion of the very truths which you hold in common with us, than an average Protestant missionary does?

'Your Church of England' -- it must be understood that the relations between the Anglican and the Romish clergy in Trinidad are, as far as I have seen, friendly and tolerant -- ' does good work among its coloured members. But it does so by speaking, as we speak, with authority. It, too, finds it prudent to keep up in its services somewhat at least of that dignity, even pomp, which is as necessary for the Negro as it was for the half-savage European of the early Middle Age, if he is to be raised above his mere natural dread of spells, witches, and other harmful powers, to somewhat of admiration and reverence.

'As for the merely dogmatic teaching of the Dissenters: we do not believe that the mere Negro really comprehends one of those propositions, whether true or false, Catholic or Calvinist, which have been elaborated by the intellect and the emotions of races who have gone through a training unknown to the Negro. With all respect for those who disseminate such books, we think that the Negro can no more conceive the true meaning of an average Dissenting Hymn-book, than a Sclavonian of the German Marches a thousand years ago could have conceived the meaning of St. Augustine's Confessions. For what we see is this -- that when the personal influence of the white missionary is withdrawn, and the Negro left to perpetuate his sect on democratic principles, his creed merely feeds his inordinate natural vanity with the notion that everybody who differs from him is going to hell, while he is going to heaven whatever his morals may be.'

If a Roman Catholic priest should say all this, he would at least have a right, I believe, to a respectful hearing.

Nay, more. If he were to say, 'You are afraid of our having too much to do with the education of the Negro, because we use the Confessional as an instrument of education. Now how far the Confessional is needful, or useful, or prudent, in a highly civilised and generally virtuous community, may be an open matter. But in spite of all your English dislike of it, hear our side of the question, as far as Negroes and races in a similar condition are concerned. Do you know why and how the Confessional arose? Have you looked, for instance, into the old middle-age Penitentials? If so, you must be aware that it arose in an age of coarseness, which seems now inconceivable; in those barbarous times when the lower classes of Europe, slaves or serfs, especially in remote country districts, lived lives little better than those of the monkeys in the forest, and committed habitually the most fearful crimes, without any clear notion that they were doing wrong: while the upper classes, to judge from the literature which they have left, were so coarse, and often so profligate, in spite of nobler instincts and a higher sense of duty, that the purest and justest spirits among them had again and again to flee from their own class into the cloister or the hermit's cell.

'In those days, it was found necessary to ask Christian people perpetually -- Have you been doing this, or that? For if you have, you are not only unfit to be called a Christian; you are unfit to be called a decent human being. And this, because there was every reason to suppose that they had been doing it; and that they would not tell of themselves, if they could possibly avoid it. So the Confessional arose, as a necessary element for educating savages into common morality and decency. And for the same reasons we employ it among the Negroes of Trinidad. Have no fears lest we should corrupt the minds of the young. They see and hear more harm daily than we could ever teach them, were we so devilishly minded. There is vice now, rampant and notorious, in Port of Spain, which eludes even our Confessional. Let us alone to do our best. God knows we are trying to do it, according to our light.'

If any Roman Catholic clergyman in Port of Spain spoke thus to me -- and I have been spoken to in words not unlike these -- I could only answer, 'God's blessing on you, and all your efforts, whether I agree with you in detail or not.'

The Roman Catholic inhabitants of the island are to the Protestant as about 2.5 to 1. {288} The whole of the more educated portion of them, as far as I could ascertain, are willing to entrust the education of their children to the clergy. The Archbishop of Trinidad, Monsignor Gonin, who has jurisdiction also in St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, and Tobago, is a man not only of great energy and devotion, but of cultivation and knowledge of the world; having, I was told, attained distinction as a barrister elsewhere before he took Holy Orders. A group of clergy is working under him -- among them a personal friend of mine -- able and ready to do their best to mend a state of things in which most of the children in the island, born nominal Roman Catholics, but the majority illegitimate, were growing up not only in ignorance, but in heathendom and brutality. Meanwhile, the clergy were in want of funds. There were no funds at all, indeed, which would enable them to set up in remote forest districts a religious school side by side with the secular ward school; and the colony could not well be asked for Government grants to two sets of schools at once. In face of these circumstances, the late Governor thought fit to take action on the very able and interesting report of Mr. J. P. Keenan, one of the chiefs of inspection of the Irish National Board of Education, who had been sent out as special commissioner to inquire into the state of education in the island; to modify Lord Harris's plan, however excellent in itself; and to pass an Ordinance by which Government aid was extended to private elementary schools, of whatever denomination, provided they had duly certificated teachers; were accessible to all children of the neighbourhood without distinction of religion or race; and 'offered solid guarantees for abstinence from proselytism and intolerance, by subjecting their rules and course of teaching to the Board of Education, and empowering that Board at any moment to cancel the certificate of the teacher.' In the wards in which such schools were founded, and proved to be working satisfactorily, the secular ward schools were to be discontinued. But the Government reserved to itself the power of reopening a secular school in the ward, in case the private school turned out a failure.

Such is a short sketch of an Ordinance which seems, to me at least, a rational and fair compromise, identical, mutatis mutandis, with that embodied in Mr. Forster's new Education Act; and the only one by which the lower orders of Trinidad were likely to get any education whatever. It was received, of course, with applause by the Roman Catholics, and by a great number of the Protestants of the colony. But, as was to be expected, it met with strong expressions of dissent from some of the Protestant gentry and clergy; especially from one gentleman, who attacked the new scheme with an acuteness and humour which made even those who differed from him regret that such remarkable talents had no wider sphere than a little island of forty-five miles by sixty. An accession of power to the Roman Catholic clergy was, of course, dreaded; and all the more because it was known that the scheme met with the approval of the Archbishop; that it was, indeed, a compromise with the requests made in a petition which that prelate had lately sent in to the Governor; a petition which seems to me most rational and temperate. It was argued, too, that though the existing Act -- that of 1851 -- had more or less failed, it might still succeed if Lord Harris's plan was fully carried out, and the choice of the ward schoolmaster, the selection of ward school-books, and the direction of the course of instruction, were vested in local committees. The simple answer was, that eighteen years had elapsed, and the colony had done nothing in that direction; that the great majority of children in the island did not go to school at all, while those who did attended most irregularly, and learnt little or nothing; {290} that the secular system of education had not attracted, as it was hoped, the children of the Hindoo immigrants, of whom scarcely one was to be found in a ward school; that the ward schoolmasters were generally inefficient, and the Central Board of Education inactive; that there was no rigorous local supervision, and no local interest felt in the schools; that there were fewer children in the ward schools in 1868 than there had been in 1863, in spite of the rapid increase of population: and all this for the simple reason which the Archbishop had pointed out -- the want of religious instruction. As was to be expected, the good people of the island, being most of them religious people also, felt no enthusiasm about schools where little was likely to be taught beyond the three royal R's.

I believe they were wrong. Any teaching which involves moral discipline is better than mere anarchy and idleness. But they had a right to their opinion; and a right too, being the great majority of the islanders, to have that opinion respected by the Governor. Even now, it will be but too likely, I think, that the establishment and superintendence of schools in remote districts will devolve -- as it did in Europe during the Middle Age -- entirely on the different clergies, simply by default of laymen of sufficient zeal for the welfare of the coloured people. Be that as it may, the Ordinance has become Law; and I have faith enough in the loyalty of the good folk of Trinidad to believe that they will do their best to make it work.

If, indeed, the present Ordinance does not work, it is difficult to conceive any that will. It seems exactly fitted for the needs of Trinidad. I do not say that it is fitted for the needs of any and every country. In Ireland, for instance, such a system would be, in my opinion, simply retrograde. The Irishman, to his honour, has passed, centuries since, beyond the stage at which he requires to be educated by a priesthood in the primary laws of religion and morality. His morality is -- on certain important points -- superior to that of almost any people. What he needs is to be trained to loyalty and order; to be brought more in contact with the secular science and civilisation of the rest of Europe: and that must be done by a secular, and not by an ecclesiastical system of education.

The higher education, in Trinidad, seems in a more satisfactory state than the elementary. The young ladies, many of them, go 'home' -- i.e. to England or France -- for their schooling; and some of the young men to Oxford, Cambridge, London, or Edinburgh. The Gilchrist Trust of the University of London has lately offered annually a Scholarship of 100 pounds a year for three years, to lads from the West India colonies, the examinations for it to be held in Jamaica, Barbadoes, Trinidad, and Demerara; and in Trinidad itself two Exhibitions of 150 pounds a year each, tenable for three years, are attainable by lads of the Queen's Collegiate School, to help them toward their studies at a British University.

The Collegiate School received aid from the State to the amount of 3000 pounds per annum -- less by the students' fees; and was open to all denominations. But in it, again, the secular system would not work. The great majority of Roman Catholic lads were educated at St. Mary's College, which received no State aid at all. 417 Catholic pupils at the former school, as against 111 at the latter, were -- as Mr. Keenan says -- 'a poor expression of confidence or favour on the part of the colonists.' The Roman Catholic religion was the creed of the great majority of the islanders, and especially of the wealthier and better educated of the coloured families. Justice seemed to demand that if State aid were given, it should be given to all creeds alike; and prudence certainly demanded that the respectable young men of Trinidad should not be arrayed in two alien camps, in which the differences of creed were intensified by those of race, and -- in one camp at least -- by a sense of something very like injustice on the part of a Protestant, and, it must always be remembered, originally conquering, Government. To give the lads as much as possible the same interests, the same views; to make them all alike feel that they were growing up, not merely English subjects, but English men, was one of the most important social problems in Trinidad. And the simplest way of solving it was, to educate them as much as possible side by side in the same school, on terms of perfect equality.

The late Governor, therefore, with the advice and consent of his Council, determined to develop the Queen's Collegiate School into a new Royal College, which was to be open to all creeds and races without distinction: but upon such terms as will, it is hoped, secure the willing attendance of Roman Catholic scholars. {291} Not only it, but schools duly affiliated to it, are to receive Government aid; and four Exhibitions of 150 pounds a year each, instead of two, are granted to young men going home to a British University. The College was inaugurated -- I am sorry to say after I had left the island -- in June 1870, by the Governor, in the presence of (to quote the Port of Spain Gazette) the Council, consisting of --

The Honourable the Chief Judge Needham.
J. Scott Bushe (Colonial Secretary).
Charles W. Warner, C.B.
E. J. Eagles.
F. Warner.
Dr. L. A. A. Verteuil.
Henry Court.
M. Maxwell Philip.
His Honour Mr. Justice Fitzgerald.
Andre Bernard, Esq.

The last five of these gentlemen being, I believe, Roman Catholics. Most of the Board of Education were also present; the Principal and Masters of the Collegiate School, the Superiors and Reverend Professors of St. Mary's College, the Clergy of the Church of England in the island; the leading professional men and merchants, etc., and especially a large number of the Roman Catholic gentry of the island; 'MM. Ambard, O'Connor, Giuseppi, Laney, Farfan, Gillineau, Rat, Pantin, Leotaud, Besson, Fraser, Paull, Hobson, Garcia, Dr. Padron,' etc. I quote their names from the Gazette, in the order in which they occur. Many of them I have not the honour of knowing: but judging of those whom I do not know by those whom I do, I should say that their presence at the inauguration was a solid proof that the foundation of the new College was a just and politic measure, opening, as the Gazette well says, a great future to the youth of all creeds in the colony.

The late Governor's speech on the occasion I shall print entire. It will explain the circumstances of the case far better than I can do; and it may possibly meet with interest and approval from those who like to hear sound sense spoken, even in a small colony.

'We are met here to-day to inaugurate the Royal College, an institution in which the benefits of a sound education, I trust, will be secured to Protestants and Roman Catholics alike, without the slightest compromise of their respective principles.

'The Queen's Collegiate School, of which this College is, in some sort, an out-growth and development, was founded with the same object: but, successful as it has been in other respects, it cannot be said to have altogether attained this.

'St. Mary's College was founded by private enterprise with a different view, and to meet the wants of those who objected to the Collegiate School.

'It has long been felt the existence of two Colleges -- one, the smaller, almost entirely supported by the State; the other, the larger, wholly without State aid -- was objectionable; and that the whole question of secondary education presented a most difficult problem.

'Some saw its solution in the withdrawal of all State aid from higher education; others in the establishment by the State of two distinct Denominational Colleges.

'I have elsewhere explained the reason why I consider both these suggestions faulty, and their probable effect bad; the one being certain to check and discourage superior education altogether, the other likely to substitute inefficient for efficient teaching, and small exclusive schools for a wide national institution.

'I knew that, whilst insuperable objections existed to a combined education in all subjects, that objection had its limits: that in America and in Germany I had seen Protestants and Catholics learning side by side; that in Mauritius, a College numbering 700 pupils, partly Protestants, partly Roman Catholics, existed; and that similar establishments were not uncommon elsewhere.

'I therefore determined to endeavour to effect the establishment of a College where combined study might be carried on in those branches of education with respect to which no objection to such a course was felt, and to support with Government aid, and bring under Government supervision, those establishments where those branches in which a separate education was deemed necessary were taught.

'I had, when last at home, some anxious conferences with the highest ecclesiastical authority of the Roman Catholic Church in England on the subject, and came to a complete understanding with him in respect to it. That distinguished prelate, himself a man of the highest University eminence, is not one to be indifferent to the interests of learning. His position, his known opinions, afford a guarantee that nothing sanctioned by him could, even by the most scrupulous, be considered in the least degree inconsistent with the interests of his Church or his religion.

'He expressed a strong preference for a totally separate education: but candidly admitted the objections to such a course in a small and not very wealthy island, and drew a wide distinction between combination for all purposes, and for some only.

'There were certain courses of instruction in which combined instruction could not possibly be given consistently with due regard to the faith of the pupils; there were others where it was difficult to decide whether it could or could not properly be given; there were others again where it might be certainly given without objection.

'On this understanding the plan carried into effect is based: but the Legislature have gone far beyond what was then agreed; and whilst Archbishop Manning would have assented to an arrangement which would have excluded certain branches only of education from the common course, the law, as now in force, allows exemption from attendance on all, provided competent instruction is given to the pupils in the same branches elsewhere; till, in fact, all that remains obligatory is attendance at examinations, and at the course of instruction in one or more of four given branches of education, if it should so happen that no adequate teaching in that particular branch is given in the pupil's own school.

'A scheme more liberal -- a bond more elastic -- could hardly have been devised, capable of effecting, if desired, the closest union -- capable of being stretched to almost any degree of slight connection; and even if some Catholics would still prefer a wholly separate system, they must, if candid men, admit that the Protestant population here have a right to demand that they should not be called on to surrender, in order to satisfy a mere preference, the great advantages they derive from a united College under State control, with its efficient staff and national character.

'If religious difficulties are met, and conscientious scruples are not wounded, a sacrifice of preferences must often be made. Private wishes must often yield to the public good.

'In the first instance, all the boys of the former Collegiate School have become students of the College; but probably a school of a similar character, but affiliated to the College, will shortly be formed, in which a large number of those boys will be included.

'That the headship of the College should be entrusted to the Principal of the Queen's Collegiate School will, I am sure, be universally felt to be only a just tribute to the zeal, efficiency, and success with which he has hitherto laboured in his office, whilst, in addition to these qualifications, he possesses the no less important one for the post he is about to fill, of a mind singularly impartial, just, liberal, and candid.

'I hope that the other Professors of the College may be taken from affiliated schools indiscriminately, the lectures being given as may be most convenient, and as may be arranged by the College Council.

'It is intended by the College Council that the fees charged for attendance at the Royal College should be much lower than those heretofore charged at the Queen's Collegiate School. I do not believe that the mere financial loss will be great, whilst I believe a good education will, by this means, be placed within the reach of many who cannot now afford it.

'I hope -- but I express only my own personal wish, not that of the Council, which, as yet, has pronounced no opinion -- that some of the changes introduced in most states of modern education will be made here, and that especial attention will be given to the teaching of some of the Eastern languages.

'It is almost impossible to overrate the importance of this both to the Government and the community; -- to the Government, as enabling it to avail itself of the services of honest, competent, and trustworthy interpreters; and to the general community, as relieving both employer and employed from the necessity of depending on the interpretation of men not always very competent, nor always very scrupulous, whose mistakes or errors, whether wilful or accidental, may often effect much injustice, and on whose fidelity life may not unfrequently depend.

'I thank the members of the College Council for having accepted a task which will, at first, involve much delicate tact, forbearance, caution, and firmness, and the exercise of talents I know them to possess, and which I am confident will be freely bestowed in working out the success of the institution committed to their care.

'I thank the Principal and his staff for their past exertions, and I count with confidence on their future labours.

'I thank the parents who, by their presence, have manifested their interest in our undertaking, and their wishes for its success, and I especially thank the ladies who have been drawn within these walls by graver attractions than those which generally bring us together at this building.

'I rejoice to see here the Superior of St. Mary's College, and the goodly array of those under his charge, and I do so for many reasons.

'I rejoice, because being not as yet affiliated or in any way officially connected with the Royal College, their presence is a spontaneous evidence of their goodwill and kindly feeling, and of the spirit in which they have been disposed to meet the efforts made to consult their feelings in the arrangements of this institution; a spirit yet further evinced by the fact that the Superior has informed me that he is about voluntarily to alter the course of study pursued in St. Mary's College, so as more nearly to assimilate it to that pursued here.

'I rejoice, because in their presence I hail a sign that the affiliation which is, I believe, desired by the great body of the Roman Catholic community in this island, and to which it has been shown no insuperable religious obstacle exists, will take place at no more distant day than is necessary to secure the approval, the naturally requisite approval, of ecclesiastical authority elsewhere.

'I rejoice at their presence, because it enables me before this company to express my high sense of the courage and liberality which have maintained their College for years past without any aid whatever from the State, and, in spite of manifold obstacles and discouragements, have caused it to increase in numbers and efficiency.

'I rejoice at their presence, because I desire to see the youth of Trinidad of every race, without indifference to their respective creeds, brought together on all possible occasions, whether for recreation or for work; because I wish to see them engaged in friendly rivalry in their studies now, as they will hereafter be in the world, which I desire to see them enter, not as strangers to each other, but as friends and fellow-citizens.

'I rejoice, because their presence enables me to take a personal farewell of so many of those who will in the next generation be the planters, the merchants, the official and professional men of Trinidad. By the time that you are men all the petty jealousies, all the mean resentments of this our day, will have faded into the oblivion which is their proper bourn. But the work now accomplished will not, I trust, so fade. They will melt and perish as the snow of the north would before our tropical sun: but the College will, I trust, remain as the rock on which the snow rests, and which remains uninjured by the heat, unmoved by the passing storm. May it endure and strengthen as it passes from the first feeble beginnings of this its infancy to a vigorous youth and maturity. You will sometimes in days to come recall the inauguration of your College, and perhaps not forget that its founder prayed you to bear in mind the truth that you will find, even now, the truest satisfaction in the strict discharge of duty; that he urged you to form high and unselfish aims -- to seek noble and worthy objects; and as you enter on the world and all its tossing sea of jealousies, strife, division and distrust, to heed the lesson which an Apostle, whose words we all alike revere, has taught us, |If ye bite and devour one another, take ye heed that ye be not consumed one of another.|

'Here, we hope, a point of union has been found which may last through life, and that whilst every man cherishes a love for his own peculiar School, all alike will have an interest in their common College, all alike be proud of a national institution, jealous of its honour, and eager to advance its welfare.

'It is a common thing to hear the bitterness of religious discord here deplored. I for one, looking back on the history of past years, cannot think, as some seem to do, that it has increased. On the contrary, it seems to me that it has greatly diminished in violence when displayed, and that its displays are far less frequent. Such, I believe, will be more and more the case; and that whilst religious distinctions will remain the same, and conscientious convictions unaltered, social and party differences consequent on those distinctions and convictions will daily diminish; that all alike will more and more feel in how many things they can think and act together for the benefit of their common country, and of the community of which they all are members; how they can be glad together in her prosperity, and be sad together in the day of her distress; and work together at all times to promote her good. That this College is calculated to aid in a great degree in effecting this happy result, I for one cannot entertain the shadow of a doubt. |Esto perpetua!|'

'Esto perpetua.' But there remains, I believe, more yet to be done for education in the West Indies; and that is to carry out Mr. Keenan's scheme for a Central University for the whole of the West Indian Colonies, {297a} as a focus of higher education; and a focus, also, of cultivated public opinion, round which all that is shrewdest and noblest in the islands shall rally, and find strength in moral and intellectual union. I earnestly recommend all West Indians to ponder Mr. Keenan's weighty words on this matter; believing that, as they do so, even stronger reasons than he has given for establishing such an institution will suggest themselves to West Indian minds.

I am not aware, nor would the reader care much to know, what schools there may be in Port of Spain for Protestant young ladies. I can only say that, to judge from the young ladies themselves, the schools must be excellent. But one school in Port of Spain I am bound in honour, as a clergyman of the Church of England, not to pass by without earnest approval, namely, 'The Convent,' as it is usually called. It was established in 1836, under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Bishop, the Right Rev. Dr. Macdonnel, and was founded by the ladies of St. Joseph, a religious Sisterhood which originated in France a few years since, for the special purpose of diffusing instruction through the colonies. {297b} This institution, which Dr. De Verteuil says is 'unique in the West Indies,' besides keeping up two large girls' schools for poor children, gave in 1857 a higher education to 120 girls of the middle and upper classes, and the number has much increased since then. It is impossible to doubt that this Convent has been 'a blessing to the colony.' At the very time when, just after slavery was abolished, society throughout the island was in the greatest peril, these good ladies came to supply a want which, under the peculiar circumstances of Trinidad, could only have been supplied by the self-sacrifice of devoted women. The Convent has not only spread instruction and religion among the wealthier coloured class: but it has done more; it has been a centre of true civilisation, purity, virtue, where one was but too much needed; and has preserved, doubtless, hundreds of young creatures from serious harm; and that without interfering in any wise, I should think, with their duty to their parents. On the contrary, many a mother in Port of Spain must have found in the Convent a protection for her daughters, better than she herself could give, against influences to which she herself had been but too much exposed during the evil days of slavery; influences which are not yet, alas! extinct in Port of Spain. Creoles will understand my words; and will understand, too, why I, Protestant though I am, bid heartily God speed to the good ladies of St. Joseph.

To the Anglican clergy, meanwhile, whom I met in the West Indies, I am bound to offer my thanks, not for courtesies shown to me -- that is a slight matter -- but for the worthy fashion in which they seem to be upholding the honour of the good old Church in the colonies. In Port of Spain I heard and saw enough of their work to believe that they are in nowise less active -- more active they cannot be -- than if they were seaport clergymen in England. The services were performed thoroughly well; with a certain stateliness, which is not only allowable but necessary, in a colony where the majority of the congregation are coloured; but without the least foppery or extravagance. The very best sermon, perhaps, for matter and manner, which I ever heard preached to unlettered folk, was preached by a young clergyman -- a West Indian born -- in the Great Church of Port of Spain; and he had no lack of hearers, and those attentive ones. The Great Church was always a pleasant sight, with its crowded congregation of every hue, all well dressed, and with the universal West Indian look of comfort; and its noble span of roof overhead, all cut from island timber -- another proof of what the wood-carver may effect in the island hereafter. Certainly distractions were frequent and troublesome, at least to a newcomer. A large centipede would come out and take a hurried turn round the Governor's seat; or a bat would settle in broad daylight in the curate's hood; or one had to turn away one's eyes lest they should behold -- not vanity, but -- the magnificent head of a Cabbage-palm just outside the opposite window, with the black vultures trying to sit on the footstalks in a high wind, and slipping down, and flopping up again, half the service through. But one soon got accustomed to the strange sights; though it was, to say the least, somewhat startling to find, on Christmas Day, the altar and pulpit decked with exquisite tropic flowers; and each doorway arched over with a single pair of coconut leaves, fifteen feet high.

The Christmas Day Communion, too, was one not easily to be forgotten. At least 250 persons, mostly coloured, many as black as jet, attended; and were, I must say for them, most devout in manner. Pleasant it was to see the large proportion of men among them, many young white men of the middle and upper class; and still more pleasant, too, to see that all hues and ranks knelt side by side without the least distinction. One trio touched me deeply. An old lady -- I know not who she was -- with the unmistakable long, delicate, once beautiful features of a high-bred West Indian of the 'Ancien Regime,' came and knelt reverently, feebly, sadly, between two old Negro women. One of them seemed her maid. Both of them might have been once her slaves. Here at least they were equals. True Equality -- the consecration of humility, not the consecration of envy -- first appeared on earth in the house of God, and at the altar of Christ: and I question much whether it will linger long in any spot on earth where that house and that altar are despised. It is easy to propose an equality without Christianity; as easy as to propose to kick down the ladder by which you have climbed, or to saw off the bough on which you sit. As easy; and as safe.

But I must not forget, while speaking of education in Trinidad, one truly 'educational' establishment which I visited at Tacarigua; namely, a Coolie Orphan Home, assisted by the State, but set up and kept up almost entirely by the zeal of one man -- the Rev. -- - Richards, brother of the excellent Rector of Trinity Church, Port of Spain. This good man, having no children of his own, has taken for his children the little brown immigrants, who, losing father and mother, are but too apt to be neglected by their own folk. At the foot of the mountains, beside a clear swift stream, amid scenery and vegetation which an European millionaire might envy, he has built a smart little quadrangle, with a long low house, on one side for the girls, on the other for the boys; a schoolroom, which was as well supplied with books, maps, and pictures as any average National School in England; and, adjoining the buildings, a garden where the boys are taught to work. A matron -- who seemed thoroughly worthy of her post -- conducts the whole; and comfort, cleanliness, and order were visible everywhere. A pleasant sight; but the pleasantest sight of all was to see the little bright-eyed brown darlings clustering round him who was indeed their father in God; who had delivered them from misery and loneliness, and -- in the case of the girls -- too probably vice likewise; and drawn them, by love, to civilisation and Christianity. The children, as fast as they grow up, are put out to domestic service, and the great majority of the boys at least turn out well. The girls, I was told, are curiously inferior to the boys in intellect and force of character; an inferiority which is certainly not to be found in Negroes, among whom the two sexes are more on a par, not only intellectually, but physically also, than among any race which I have seen. One instance, indeed, we saw of the success of the school. A young creature, brought up there, and well married near by, came in during our visit to show off her first baby to the matron and the children; as pretty a mother and babe as one could well see. Only we regretted that, in obedience to the supposed demands of civilisation, and of a rise in life, she had discarded the graceful and modest Hindoo dress of her ancestresses, for a French bonnet and all that accompanies it. The transfiguration added, one must charitably suppose, to her self-respect; if so, it must be condoned on moral grounds: but in an aesthetic view, she had made a great mistake.

In remembrance of our visit, a little brown child, some three or four years old, who had been christened that day, was named after me; and I was glad to have my name connected, even in so minute an item, with an institution which at all events delivers children from the fancy that they can, without being good or doing good, conciliate the upper powers by hanging garlands on a trident inside a hut, or putting red dust on a stump of wood outside it, while they stare in and mumble prayers to they know not what of gilded wood.

The coolie temples are curious places to those who have never before been face to face with real heathendom. Their mark is, generally, a long bamboo with a pennon atop, outside a low dark hut, with a broad flat verandah, or rather shed, outside the door. Under the latter, opposite each door, if I recollect rightly, is a stone or small stump, on which offerings are made of red dust and flowers. From it the worshippers can see the images within. The white man, stooping, enters the temple. The attendant priest, so far from forbidding him, seems highly honoured, especially if the visitor give him a shilling; and points out, in the darkness -- for there is no light save through the low doors -- three or four squatting abominations, usually gilded. Sometimes these have been carved in the island. Sometimes the poor folk have taken the trouble to bring them all the way from India on board ship. Hung beside them on the walls are little pictures, often very well executed in the miniature-like Hindoo style by native artists in the island. Large brass pots, which have some sacred meaning, stand about, and with them a curious trident-shaped stand, about four feet high, on the horns of which garlands of flowers are hung as offerings. The visitor is told that the male figures are Mahadeva, and the female Kali: we could hear of no other deities. I leave it to those who know Indian mythology better than I do, to interpret the meaning -- or rather the past meaning, for I suspect it means very little now -- of all this trumpery and nonsense, on which the poor folk seem to spend much money. It was impossible, of course, even if one had understood their language, to find out what notions they attached to it all; and all I could do, on looking at these heathen idol chapels, in the midst of a Christian and civilised land, was to ponder, in sadness and astonishment, over a puzzle as yet to me inexplicable; namely, how human beings first got into their heads the vagary of worshipping images. I fully allow the cleverness and apparent reasonableness of M. Comte's now famous theory of the development of religions. I blame no one for holding it. But I cannot agree with it. The more of a 'saine appreciation,' as M. Comte calls it, I bring to bear on the known facts; the more I 'let my thought play freely around them,' the more it is inconceivable to me, according to any laws of the human intellect which I have seen at work, that savage or half-savage folk should have invented idolatries. I do not believe that Fetishism is the parent of idolatry; but rather -- as I have said elsewhere -- that it is the dregs and remnants of idolatry. The idolatrous nations now, as always, are not the savage nations; but those who profess a very ancient and decaying civilisation. The Hebrew Scriptures uniformly represent the non- idolatrous and monotheistic peoples, from Abraham to Cyrus, as lower in what we now call the scale of civilisation, than the idolatrous and polytheistic peoples about them. May not the contrast between the Patriarchs and the Pharaohs, David and the Philistines, the Persians and the Babylonians, mark a law of history of wider application than we are wont to suspect? But if so, what was the parent of idolatry? For a natural genesis it must have had, whether it be a healthy and necessary development of the human mind -- as some hold, not without weighty arguments on their side; or whether it be a diseased and merely fungoid growth, as I believe it to be. I cannot hold that it originated in Nature-worship, simply because I can find no evidence of such an origin. There is rather evidence, if the statements of the idolaters themselves are to be taken, that it originated in the worship of superior races by inferior races; possibly also in the worship of works of art which those races, dying out, had left behind them, and which the lower race, while unable to copy them, believed to be possessed of magical powers derived from a civilisation which they had lost. After a while the priesthood, which has usually, in all ages and countries, proclaimed itself the depository of a knowledge and a civilisation lost to the mass of the people, may have gained courage to imitate these old works of art, with proper improvements for the worse, and have persuaded the people that the new idols would do as well as the old ones. Would that some truly learned man would 'let his thoughts play freely' round this view of the mystery, and see what can be made out of it. But whatever is made out, on either view, it will still remain a mystery -- to me at least, as much as to Isaiah of old- -how this utterly abnormal and astonishing animal called man first got into his foolish head that he could cut a thing out of wood or stone which would listen to him and answer his prayers. Yet so it is; so it has been for unnumbered ages. Man may be defined as a speaking animal, or a cooking animal. He is best, I fear, defined as an idolatrous animal; and so much the worse for him. But what if that very fact, diseased as it is, should be a sure proof that he is more than an animal?

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