LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
• [To TUB EDITOR OP THE " see0TA:m."1 SIB,—Having never been able to understand or endorse the chorus of approbation with which the new scheme of naval education was greeted in the Press at the time of its promul- gation, I have been encouraged by the letter from "Er- Engine-Room Watchkeeper " in your last issue to offer you, for what they are worth, the observations of a layman and a landsman on certain further aspects of that scheme left un- touched in his excellent letter.
One may note, first, that, according to the original intentions of the Admiralty, permanent bifurcation was indicated, but insuper- able difficulties in its practical working have induced the Admiralty to jettison this part of the scheme. If the engineer officers were to remain as a separate branch without executive authority, it was pretty clear that no one would volunteer for this branch. The irksome duty of selection would necessarily devolve .on the authorities; it could only be fairly carried out by examination; and who could blame Cadets if they chose' to do badly in an examination where distinction conferred on them a • permanent disability? The Admiralty, therefore, as Lord Cawdor's Memorandum makes it abundantly clear, have aban- doned the principle of bifurcation, and have fallen back on a scheme of convertible" officers, which in the opinion of many experts bids fair to breed a race of smatterers, and condemns the naval officer to that worst of plagues, TOW cppoviorra l.m3evbs • trpaview. More than that, it must inevitably tend to render him increasingly dependent, as time goes on, on the technical know- ledge of the lower ratings, and thus to renew in an muter form, as the latter realise their importance and power, precisely the same difficulties which it was the avowed object of the new scheme to eliminate.
But this is only one aspect of the question. Up till quite recently there were two main doors into the Navy,—Keyham and the ' Britannia' ; for our present purpose we may leave the Marines out of consideration. The Admiralty propose to abolish Keyham, and by insisting that all officers shall enter by the one door, have apparently done away with the social grievance under which the engineer officers have laboured in the past. Apparently, I say, because, as a matter of fact, by adopting one scale of fees, and that of the Britannia,' they have deliberately withheld all commissions in the Navy from the sons of parents who are not in a position, speaking roughly, to afford to send their sons to the less expensive public schools. In other words, the vast majority of clergymen, of professional men with moderate incomes—doctors, solicitors, Civil servants, &c.—can no longer, if the present scheme be maintained, look to the Navy as a career for their sons. Now one has only to consider the men who in other callings, at the present time and in the past, have risen to eminence, to realise the drawbacks—I refrain from using a stronger word—of thus' restricting the area of selection by the imposition of a sumptuary test. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that in the interests of discipline it is desirable that in the bestowal of commissions in the Navy special allowance should be made for birth and breeding. But who will venture to say that these
qualities are necessarily absent-in the classes mentioned above, or that the possession of a certain income, no matter how derived, is a guarantee of their existence? Who, to bring the matter down to the test of the concrete instance, can seriously defend a'system under which it would have been impossible for Nelson's father, had he lived at the present day, to send his son into the Navy?
That these assertions as to the comparative expensiveness of naval education are not unjustified by the facts of the case will be admitted by any one who has made inquiries into the question. The fees at the Osborne Naval College come to £75 per annum. But the actual annual cost is not far short of £120 when extras—which, I am informed, vary from £6 to £9 a term—and uniform are taken into account. This last item is a a and vaving amount dependent on growth and destructive powers.
But fairing the above as a fair" estimate, it will be found to come
to from .610 to £20 more per annum than a boy need cost in the junior department of many of our public schools, half-a-dozen at most excepted. Remember, too, that there are no scholarships, no special reductions, such as enable parents with small incomes to send their boys to the public schools. Now
£120 per annum foul compris may not be a very large sum com- pared with the charges of many preparatory schools ; but it is, to speak vulgarly, a large order for a Government establishment which, instead of being run as a business concern, is, I believe, admitted to cost the country at least £50 a year for each Cadet. If the splendid equipment and standard of life at Osborne rendered this deficit necessary, I submit that it would have heel' infinitely better policy in the long run to have recognised this fact frankly, and reduced the fees to the Keyham standard, instead of maintaining them at the Britannia ' level. If it is worth while for the State to pay something in order to catch its naval officers young, why not pay a little more to widen the area of selection, and increase the chances of securing efficiency ? As matters stand, the Admiralty have dodged the social difficulty of the old regime by the invidious method of erecting a plutocratic standard which excludes not only the class from which the engineers were formerly recruited, but every boy whose father cannot afford to pay more than £100 a year for his education.
But the new naval education scheme is not only anti-democratic. It is further liable to the criticism that besides threatening to propagate smatterers, it lowers the intellectual standard of the naval officer. Let me admit that what may be called the Goachen system had some serious drawbacks. The Navy could only draw direct upon the public schools where junior departments existed in which boys were specially prepared for the examination. Some of the best public schools refused to prepare for the Navy, on the ground that they had not , time to get them properly into shape
• for an examination held between the ages of fourteen and a half and fifteen and a half. The result was that a large propor- tion of the boys came from the naval crammers, and, as was pretty generally confessed, were of a distinctly inferior quality to the best public-school product. The Osborne scheme, I have good reason to believe, was avowedly started with the purpose of doing away with the naval crammer, and to that extent deserves commendation. Again, preparatory-school masters disliked the Gosehen scheme because it involved their keeping boys until fifteen and a half, an age which is very judiciously condemned by the rules of the Association to which all the best of them belong.
But while it may be frankly admitted that all these difficulties would again arise if the Goschen age-limit was restored, the drawbacks and dangers of the new scheme are none the less obvious. The preparatory schools naturally do not like losing their boys under thirteen, and accordingly labour under a 'strong inducement to keep back their best boys and send those of inferior intellectual calibre into the Navy. The number of boys who under the new Regulations pass from the public schools into the Navy is necessarily small, and the detailed recommendations supplied by Head-Masters form an adequate guarantee against the selection of undesirable or incompetent boys ; but even here my inquiries lead me to conclude that the Admiralty are getting a class of boy of inferior mental standard to what they got under the previous system.
If it be an absolute necessity to take the boys for the Osboree College before thirteen, it is difficult to see how the present process of selection can be substantially modified. Competition for boys of that age would be little short of a crime. On the other hand, to base selection on testimonials plus inspection opens the door to influences which need to be most. jealously guarded against. Serious complaints have already been made of favouritism and undue insistence on social advantages, and in any case, when open competition is excluded there must inevitably be larger scope for discontent and dissatisfaction. One way out of the difficulty is the compromise suggested to the present writer by an educational expert who has no axe to grind in the matter, but who simply 'looks at it from the point of view of a patriotic citizen sincerely anxious to secure the maximum degree of efficiency in our first line of defence. It is that the age of entry should be raised to fourteen or fourteen and a half, that the method of inspection should be retained as a preliminary means of weeding out absolute incapables, but that twice or three'times the number required should be nominated, and that these should compete after such nomination. It can hardly be urged that at such an age •a competitive examination, if kept within reasonable bounds, could work much mischief. Otherwise, the competitions for entrance scholarships at public schools would hardly have been allowed to go on without effectual protest. Another advantage of the method suggested is that it would base the special naval education at Osborne on a longer experience of general school life, an arrangement whieh, it may be contended, would be good both for the boy's character and his breadth of view.
[With two points in our correspondent's letter we sympathise most strongly. The first is the limiting of the area from which the boys can be drawn by making it necessary to spend more than 2100 a year on them while at Osborne. It seems to us that when once a boy is accepted for the Navy the greater part of the cost of his training should fall on the State. To shut the door in the face of the sons of the vicarage and of the pro- fessional class is monstrous. Again, we hold that the utmost care should be taken to prevent favouritism being shown in the selections. At the same time, the forcing of boys even of thirteen to undergo severe competitive examinations is most undesirable. It means that to ensure success the process of cramming' will have to beg,in at nine or ten.—En. Spectator.]