Raikes, Robert

Raikes, Robert the noted English philanthropist who founded the modlern Sunday-school (q.v.), was a native of Gloucester, England, where he was born Sept. 14, 1735. His ancestors were people of good rank, and some of them are distilnglished as clergy and politicians. His father was a printer and an editor. He published the Gloucester Journal, a county Tory newspaper, and the first journal that attempted to give a report of parliamentary proceedings, which was considered, at the time, so great a breach of privilege that he was reprimanded at the bar of the House of Lords in the dark days of George I and under the partisanship of lord-chancellor King. Robert was brought up with a view of succeeding his father in business, and enjoyed, therefore, a liberal education. Having finally become proprietor of the Journal, he managed to give his paper a wide influence and respectful reading. He was a truly devout man, and carried his Christianity into every-day life. He was not only scrupulous about his church attendance on the Sabbath, but made it the rule to frequent early morning prayers on week-days at the Gloucester cathedral. A man who could thus devote the hours of a working-day to the glory of his God was likely to cherish an interest in his fellows also. Raikes was particularly interested in the lowly and the degraded. He visited prisons and went about the streets seeking to do good wherever there was need of aid or counsel. The improvements in prison discipline at the close of the last century in England are largely due to Robert Raikes. His newspaper was an important agency which he used freely, and thus powerfully affected plublic opinion in favor of the suffering and degraded classes of society. In 1781 his attention was directed to the children of the poor. He had, bv frequlent intercourse with the common people, learned of their low intellectual state and the absolute neglect suffered by the rising generations. He was struck, as he himself tells us in one of his letters written in 1784, with the number of wretched children whom he found in the suburbs of Gloucester, chiefly in the neighborhood of a pin manufactory, where their parents were employed, wholly abandoned to themselves, half clothed, half fed, and growing up in the most degrading vices. The state of the streets was worse on Sunday, when the older chlildren, who were employed in the factory on week-days, were joined to their younger associates; and all manner of excesses became the theme of complaint on the part of the shopmen and the property-owners generally. Even the farmers near there complained of the depredations frequently committed by juvenile offenders. Raikes determined to provide a remedy for this growing evil. He saw very clearly the surest result in education, and therefore sought the help of four excellent teachers and devoted Christian womcn, whom he paid a small allowance for their services, and, gathering the children on the Sabbath- day, attempted the kind of work which has given shape to the modern Sabbath-school. He procured the help of the clergy, and the enterprise begun in such an unpretending manner grew into proportions of which Raikes himself had not had the faintest idea. The instruction was at first confined to reading and writing. Instead of secular text-books, the Bible was the principal reading-book used, and so the children were made familiar with the Gospel's great benefits to man. How he got the children we will let him tell in his own language: "I went around," he says, "to remonstrate with numbers of the poor on the melancholy consequences that must ensue from a fatal neglect of their children's morals. I prevailed with some, and others soon followed; and the school began to prosper in numbers. The children were to come soon after ten in the morning and stay till twelve; they were then to go home and return at one, and, after reading a lesson, they were to be conducted to church. After church they were to be employed in repeating the catechism till half-past five, and then to be dismissed with an injnunction to go home without making a noise, and by no means to play in the street. With regard to the rules adopted, I only required that they come to the school on Sunday as clean as possible. Many were at first deterred because they wanted decent clothing, but I could not undertake to supply this defect. Although without shoes and in a ragged coat, I rejected none on that account; all that I required were clean hands, a clean face, and the hair combed. If they had no clean shirt, they were to come in that which they had on. The want of decent apparel at first kept great numbers at a distance, but they gradually became wiser, and all pressed to learn. I had the good luck to procure places for some that were deserving, which was of great use. The children attending the school varied from six years old to twelve or fourteen. Little rewards were distributed among the most diligent this excited an emulation." The mode of procedure is thus described by himself: "Upon the Sunday afternoon the mistresses take their scholars to church, a place which neither they nor their ancestors ever entered with a view to the glory of God. They assemble at the house of one of the mistresses, and walk before her to church, two and two, in as much order as a company of soldiers. I am generally at church, and after service they all come round me to make their bow, and, if any animosities have arisen, to make their complaint. The great principle I inculcate is to be kmbd and good-natured to each other; not to provoke one another; to be dutifill to their parents; not to offend God by cursing and swearing, and such plain precepts as all mayv comprehend." Although other schemes may have been formed on a larger scale and excited a more romantic interest. none were ever so productive of more extensively beneficial results. The necessity, and the advantages to be derived from the establishment, of such schools seem to have occurred about the same time to several individuals in various parts of the country; and although Mr. Stoxe, in particular, the rector of St. John's, Gloucester, cordially co-operated in the erection and superintendence of the Sunday- schools in that city, yet, for the energetic development of the principle, for the carrying-out into practical details and bringing it in the most advantageous form before the country so as to render it a prolific source of public benefit, to Robert Raikes, beyond all dispute, belongs the honorable title of the Founder of Sunday-schools. Three years after the inauguration of the Gloucester institution, the inhabitants of an obscure district where he had fixed a school remarked that "the place had become quite a heaven upon Sundays compared to what it used to be." Schools of the same kind were, ere long, opened in most of the large towns in England. A Sunday- school Society was opened in London under the auspices of such men as Henry Thornton, bishops Barrington, Porteus, and other well-known Christians of the period; and, at a general meeting of that association, held on July 11, 1787, it was resolved unanimously that, in consideration of the zeal and merits of Robert Raikes, he be admitted an honorary member of the society. Within the sphere of his own immediate experience, Raikes had the satisfaction of seeing the happiest fruits spring from the institutions in Gloucester; for, out of all the thousands of poor children who were educated at those Sunday-schools, it was found, after a long series of years, that not one had ever been either in the city or county prisons.

Raikes died April 5, 1811. See Gentleman's Magazine (Lolll.), 1784-1831. pt. ii, 132, 294; Sketch of the Life of Robt. Raikes, (and the History of Sunday Schools (N. Y. 18mo); Cornell, Life of Robert Raikes (N. Y. 1864); Jamieson, Christian Biography, s.v.

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