E.G. West

The evidence shows … that the majority of people in the first half of the nineteenth century did become literate (in the technical sense) largely by their own efforts. Moreover, if the government played any role at all in this sphere it was one of saboteur!

As long as the first few years of the nineteenth century it was a subject for government complaint that the ordinary people had become literate. For the government feared that too many people were developing the “wrong” uses of literacy by belonging to secret “corresponding societies” and by reading seditious pamphlets. Far from subsidising literacy, the early nineteenth-century English governments placed severe taxes on paper in order to discourage the exercise of the public’s reading and writing abilities.

– E.G. West, Education and the State [1965]