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“A New View of Society” 1813
103 My four “Essays on the Formation of Character” and my practice at New Lanark had made me well known among the leading men of that period. Among these were the Archbishop of Canterbury (108 who was at all times most friendly to me), 103 the Bishop of London, Mr Wilberforce, William Godwin, the first Sir Robert Peel. I must not forget my friends among the political economists:- Malthus, James Mill, Ricardo, Colonel Torrens and Francis Place. I always differed from them but our discussions were maintained with great good feeling. They were friends to national education but opposed national employment for the poor and unemployed.
106 Joseph Lancaster was becoming well known for his new economical plan for the education of the poor, by which one man could instruct a thousand children. I encouraged him to come to Glasgow in 1812, and a great public dinner was to be given. 107 He made it a condition that I be its chairman. I unwillingly agreed, believing myself unequal to the task. I was on the most friendly terms with many of the professors of the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and two supported me on this occasion.
In my opening speech, I first declared in public my sentiments on the true formation of character and my principle that man was essentially the creature of the conditions in which he was placed, and the necessity of placing the rising generation in good circumstances. What I said took the meeting by surprise, and when I concluded the whole assembly applauded continuously.
This spontaneous approval induced me to write my four first essays on “A New View of Society” and on the formation of character. I was surprised by the manner in which they were received by the public, and especially by the higher members of the administration. 108 Lord Liverpool and his cabinet were favourable to my views and friendly to myself.
109 I had two hundred copies printed, bound with alternate blank leaves. Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, 110 had these copies forwarded 109 to the leading governments of Europe and America, to the most learned universities and 110 individuals. These parties were requested to make any objections which might occur to them on the blank leaves, and to return the copies. A considerable number were returned. None of the writers directly objected to any of the facts, principles or conclusions, but only remarked that various other parties would object.
When I was introduced to John Quincey Adams the American minister to our government, he asked me for copies for every state governor in the union. 111 They prepared the way for the general good reception which I met with in that country some years afterwards.
I had forty of the Essays bound superbly, and I prevailed on the government to send a copy to each of the sovereigns of Europe and to their chief minister. A copy was conveyed to the Emperor Napoleon at Elba in 1814. 112 I was informed that Buonaparte had studied this work with great attention and had determined, on his return to power, if he were allowed to remain quietly on the throne of France, to do as much for peace and progress as he had previously done for war. But the sovereigns of Europe refused to listen to his proposals for peace instead of war.