Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet

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But if I wish for one absolute proof of the changed relation between the upper and the lower classes, I have only to point to the volunteer movement. In 1803, in the face of the most real and fatal danger, the Addington ministry was afraid of allowing volunteer regiments, and Lord Eldon, while pressing the necessity, could use as an argument that if the people did not volunteer for the Government, they would against it. So broad was even then the gulf between the governed and the governors. How much broader did it become in after years! Had invasion threatened us at any period between 1815 and 1830, or even later, would any ministry have dared to allow volunteer regiments? Would they have been justified in doing so, even if they had dared?

And now what has come to pass, all the world knows: but all the world should know likewise, that it never would have come to pass save for—not merely the late twenty years of good government in State, twenty years of virtue and liberality in the Court, but—the late twenty years of increasing right-mindedness in the gentry, who have now their reward in finding that the privates in the great majority of corps prefer being officered by men of a rank socially superior to their own. And as good always breeds fresh good, so this volunteer movement, made possible by the goodwill between classes, will help in its turn to increase that goodwill. Already, by the performance of a common duty, and the experience of a common humanity, these volunteer corps are become centres of cordiality between class and class; and gentleman, tradesman, and workman, the more they see of each other, learn to like, to trust, and to befriend each other more and more; a good work in which I hope the volunteers of the University of Cambridge will do their part like men and gentlemen; when, leaving this University, they become each of them, as they ought, an organizing point for fresh volunteers in their own districts.

I know (that I may return to Cambridge) no better example of the way in which the altered tone of the upper classes and the volunteer movement have acted and reacted upon each other, than may be seen in the Cambridge Working Men's College, and its volunteer rifle corps, the 8th Cambridgeshire.

There we have—what perhaps could not have existed, what certainly did not exist twenty years ago—a school of a hundred men or more, taught for the last eight years gratuitously by men of the highest attainments in the University; by a dean—to whom, I believe, the success of the attempt is mainly owing; by professors, tutors, prizemen, men who are now head-masters of public schools, who have given freely to their fellow-men knowledge which has cost them large sums of money and the heavy labour of years. Without insulting them by patronage, without interfering with their religious opinions, without tampering with their independence in any wise, but simply on the ground of a common humanity, they have been helping to educate these men, belonging for the most part, I presume, to the very class which this book sets forth as most unhappy and most dangerous—the men conscious of unsatisfied and unemployed intellect. And they have their reward in a practical and patent form. Out of these men a volunteer corps is organized, officered partly by themselves, partly by gentlemen of the University; a nucleus of discipline, loyalty, and civilization for the whole population of Cambridge.

A noble work this has been, and one which may be the parent of works nobler still. It is the first instalment of, I will not say a debt, but a duty, which the Universities owe to the working classes. I have tried to express in this book, what I know were, twenty years ago, the feelings of clever working men, looking upon the superior educational advantages of our class. I cannot forget, any more than the working man, that the Universities were not founded exclusively, or even primarily, for our own class; that the great mass of students in the middle ages were drawn from the lower classes, and that sizarships, scholarships, exhibitions, and so forth, were founded for the sake of those classes, rather than of our own. How the case stands now, we all know. I do not blame the Universities for the change. It has come about, I think, simply by competition. The change began, I should say, in the sixteenth century. Then, after the Wars of the Roses, and the revival of letters, and the dissolution of the monasteries, the younger sons of gentlemen betook themselves to the pursuit of letters, fighting having become treasonable, and farming on a small scale difficult (perhaps owing to the introduction of large sheep-farms, which happened in those days), while no monastic orders were left to recruit the Universities, as they did continually through the middle ages, from that labouring-class to which they and their scholars principally belonged.