An Essay on the Evils of Popular Ignorance

John Foster
An Essay on the Evils of Popular

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Title: An Essay on the Evils of Popular Ignorance
Author: John Foster
Release Date: September, 2005 [EBook #8940] [Yes, we are more than
one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on August 27,

Edition: 10
Language: English
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An Essay on the Evils of Popular Ignorance
By John Foster.
Revised and Enlarged Edition.

"A Work, which, popular and admired as it confessedly is, has never
met with the thousandth part of the attention which it deserves. It
appears to me that we are now at a crisis in the state of our country, and
of the world, which renders the reasonings and exhortations of that
eloquent production applicable and urgent beyond all power of mine to
Dr. J. Pye Smith.


If the circumstance of a manner of introduction somewhat different
from what would be expected in a composition of the essay class were
worth a very few words of explanation, it might be mentioned, that the
following production has grown out of the topics of a discourse,
delivered at a public anniversary meeting in aid of the British and
Foreign School Society.
When it was thought, a good while after that occasion, that a more
extensive use might be made of some of the observations, the writing
was begun in the form of a Discourse addressed to an assembly, and
commencing with a sentence from the Bible, to serve as a general

indication to the subject. But after some progress had been made, it
became evident that anything like a comprehensive view of that subject
would be incompatible with the proper limits of such a composition.
In relinquishing, however, the form of a public address, the writer
thought he might be excused for leaving some traces of that character
to remain, in both the cast of expression and the theological sentiment;
for reverting repeatedly to the sentence from Scripture; and for
continuing the use of the plural pronoun, so commodious for the
modest egotism of public discoursers.
In the general design and course of observations, the essay retains the
character of the original discourse, which was, in accordance to the
presumed expectations of a grave assembly, an attempt to display the
importance of the education of the people in reference, mainly, to moral
and religious interests. There are special relations in which their
ignorance or cultivation are of great consequence to the welfare of the
community. Some of these are of indispensable consideration to the
legislator, and to the political economist. But it is in that general and
moral view, in which ignorance in the lower orders is beheld the cause
of their vice, irreligion, and consequent misery, that the subject is
attempted, imperfectly and somewhat desultorily, to be illustrated in
the following pages.
Nor was it within the writer's design to suggest any particular plans,
regulations, or instrumental expedients, in promotion of the system of
operations hopefully begun, for raising these classes from their
degradation. His part has been to make such a prominent representation
of the calamitous effects of their ignorance, as shall prove it an
aggravated national guilt to allow another generation to grow up to the
same condition as the present and the past. In the course of attempting
this, occasions have been seized of exposing the absurdity of those who
are hostile to the mental improvement of the people. If any one should
say that this is a mere beating of the air, for that all such hostility is
now gone by, he may be assured there are many persons, of no
insignificant rank in society, who would from their own consciousness
smile at the simplicity with which he
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