Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/47

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Lancaster
Lancaster
41

hearers, promoted the establishment of fifty new schools for 14,200 scholars, and had raised 3,850l. in aid of the society's work. To the report is appended a statement in which the trustees commend Lancaster's zeal. They record the rapid growth of the system, the establishment of Lancasterian schools in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, and, inter alia, the facts that a deputation from Caracas had come to England expressly to see the working of the schools, and that the government of that country had since sent two young men to the Borough Road to learn the system.

Lancaster at first acquiesced, though reluctantly, in the exercise of control over his institution by the committee appointed in 1808; but he soon chafed against the business-like restraint imposed by the committee, quarrelled with his friends, seceded from the society, and set up a private school at Tooting, which soon failed and left him bankrupt. In 1816 he printed at Bristol ‘Oppression and Persecution, being a Narrative of a variety of Singular Facts that have occurred in the Rise, Progress, and Promulgation of the Royal Lancasterian System of Education.’ Here he complains bitterly of the conduct of his ‘pretended friends,’ the trustees, who had, four years before, changed the name of the institution to that of the ‘British and Foreign School Society,’ and had, he said, thwarted him and injured him, and determined to carry on the work without him. The pamphlet is a petulant attack on all his former friends, whom he describes as having ‘choused him out of the management of his own institution.’ He had suffered severely from disappointment, ill-health, and poverty. He had more than once been imprisoned for debt, his troubles were aggravated by the mental affliction which befell his wife, and in 1818 he determined to shake the dust from his feet and try the New World.

In New York and Philadelphia Lancaster was received kindly, his lectures were well attended, and the way seemed opening for a new career of honour and success. At Baltimore he established a school, obtained a few private pupils, and published in 1821 a small book entitled ‘The Lancasterian System of Education, with Improvements, by its Founder.’ It is mainly a reprint of his first tract, but it is prefaced by a curious chapter of autobiography, repeating with increased acrimony his former charges. He concludes with an advertisement of his new boarding establishment, in which he promises to treat the inmates as ‘plants of his hand and children of his care.’ But a grievous illness prevented the success of the enterprise, and on his partial recovery he determined to go to the milder climate of Venezuela, and to settle for a time in Caracas, to which place he had been invited several years before. Bolivar, the first president, who had visited the Borough Road in 1810, now received Lancaster with much consideration, was present at his second marriage to the widow of John Robinson of Philadelphia, and made large promises of pecuniary support, which, however, were not fulfilled. To the last it remained one of Lancaster's many grievances that Bolivar, after taking possession of all the little property Lancaster had left in Caracas, suffered him to depart with a bill for $20,000, which, when it came to maturity, was dishonoured.

After staying a short time at St. Thomas and Santa Cruz, he returned to New York, where the corporation voted him a grant of five hundred dollars. His next attempt to establish himself was at Montreal, where, as in other Canadian towns, he met at first with a favourable reception, although his school did not flourish there. His last publication appeared in 1833, and was printed at Newhaven, Connecticut. It is entitled ‘Epitome of some of the chief Events and Transactions in the Life of J. Lancaster, containing an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Lancasterian System of Education, and the Author's future Prospects of Usefulness to Mankind; Published to Promote the Education of His Family.’ By his ‘family’ he meant his step-children, to whom he was very tenderly attached, his only child, a daughter, who had married and settled in Mexico, having recently died. The pamphlet, like its predecessors, was ill-written and almost incoherent, was plentifully garnished with italics, with large capitals, and with irrelevant quotations from the Bible. But it was less vehement than his former publications in the denunciation of his adversaries, and amounted to little more than a piteous appeal for pecuniary help, and for subscriptions to his promised larger book, which was to embody all the latest additions to the ‘Improvements in Education.’ That larger work never appeared. A few gentlemen in England issued an appeal and obtained a sufficient sum to purchase for him a small annuity. His spirits revived a little, and he contemplated a journey to England. His last letter to a friend, who had been his constant supporter at the Borough Road, is full of exultation: ‘With properly trained monitors I should not scruple to undertake to teach ten thousand pupils all to read fluently in three weeks to three months, idiots and truants only excepted. Be assured that the fire which kindled Elijah's sacrifice has kindled mine, and when all true