Imágenes de páginas

sown the seeds of the Gospel in many places which would otherwise still have remained waste ground.” At the time of the Reformation, the Romish church was in its worst state, its scandalous abuses having in fact provoked that tremendous, but needful and salutary revolution. A dissolute clergy, and a series of atheistical popes, some of whom were the most profligate of the human race, seemed to delight in outraging all decency, and insulting the people upon whose credulity they preyed. The doctrines and discipline of that corrupt church remain unaltered ;-the same idolatry exists—the same polytheism, the same assumption of infallibility, the same consistent intolerance; while the practice of auricular confession, and the celibacy of the clergy, produce the same injurious consequences to the purity of private morals and the wellbeing of society. But the Romish church, even in Italy, and in Rome itself, has learnt decency of manners from the Reformation ; and the conduct of its higher clergy, which was formerly so shameless, has become decorous in most cases, and exemplary in many. Had it been thus in the sixteenth century, we should perhaps have retained some of its institutions, which, with due modifications, might be rendered as useful as they were then pernicious. One of its chief advantages is, that no men who can possibly serve it in any station, are precluded from its service: it has, therefore, always members enough, and among them subjects suited to every sphere and every kind of duty, from the cardinal who directed with absolute control the councils of the French or Spanish monarchy, in the days of their greatest power, to the lay brother, who performed with unaffected humility the menial offices of a hospital. The methodists also have this advantage; for they are wise in their generation. Archbishop Wake is known to have taken some steps toward effecting a union with the church of Rome; and the same benevolent hope has been expressed by the most learned and most liberal of the English Catholics. With the Methodists a union is possible; yet even here the difficulties are so many,—such a concession of dignity is required from the one side, and of power from the other, with perhaps some sacrifice of prejudice from both--that it would appear absurd to recommend a measure which is so devoutly to be wished.

There is always, and there ever will be, a quantity of religious enthusiasm in every civilized community, which becomes useful or injurious, as it is well or erroneously directed. To prevent it is impossible-even if its prevention were desirable; it arises out of the condition of human nature, and is one of the manifestations of our immortality. Where it occurs in youth and opening manhood, it is most commonly in great measure factitious, and its duration may be doubted. The vanity of human' wishes, and the instability of human happiness, trite as the topics are, must be experienced before they influence our conduct. It is not in the heyday of health and enjoyment, it is not in the morning sunshine of his vernal day, that man can be expected feelingly to remember bis latter end, and to fix his heart upon eternity. In the order of nature, what Hartley calls theopathy, is not, and ought not, to be looked for, as the predominant feeling of youth; the religious enthusiasm of youth is likely to abate, or sometimes the appearance is retained when the reality has evaporated, and zeal as it cools settles into hypocrisy. But in after-life many causes operate to wean us from the world: grief softens the heart, sickness searches it; the blossoms of hope are shed ; death cuts down the flower of our affections: the disap. pointed man turns his thoughts toward a state of existence where his wiser desires may be fixed with the certainty of faith ; the suc. cessful man feels that the objects which he has so ardently pursued fail to satisfy the cravings of an immortal spirit; the wicked man turneth

away from his wickedness that he may save his soul alive. Among men who, to borrow a Catholic expression, are thus undeceived, the Catholic church has, in all times, found its most efficient and useful ministers, from the days of St. Augustine to La Harpe. They require to be actively employed-in labore quies, the restless spirit finds food and gratification in action, and could not be supported without it. But the English church has no room for them in her ranks, and provides no employment for them; they are therefore gathered into the Methodist fold.

During the first age of Methodism, Bishop Lavington published a curious parallel between the enthusiasm of the Methodists and Papists,-the former were not then so well understood as they are at present, and the latter a great deal better. At that time the sect was in its first effervescence, and committed many extravagancies and follies, which in the natural process of fermentation have since worked off. If their journals and experiences then afforded abundant resemblances to the legends of the Romish church, a parallel would now hold equally good with many of their institutions and

practices; in their confessions, their system of itinerancy, and the knowledge of human nature which they have shown in raising women to a degree of importance in their church, which has in no slight degree contributed to its rapid progress. Possibly it may not be long (after the example of the Romish church; in this instance truly exemplary)

before they form societies like the Beguines of Flanders, and the Sours de la Charité of France, whom the French found it necessary to re-establish* for the good of humanity, when first they began to restore the forms of religion. The commissioners, whom Louis XVI. sent to inspect the English hospitals, said that the only thing wanting there was religious charity. It is, indeed, to be wished that a religious character could be given to many of our institutions; they would then become more respected and more useful. The overseer, for instance, has a Christian duty to perform as well as a civil office, and were it but thus considered in public estimation, the duty would be the better discharged, Do what we can for ameliorating society, there must still be hospitals for the sick, asylums for the destitute, and prisons for the criminal; but the prison might be made a place of moral discipline, the poor house a place of religious retreat; and if Christian consolation found its way into the hospital, the wounded spirit might be healed when the bodily disease was irremediable.

* What Portalis said upon this subject in his report upon the Concordat well deseryos attention. "Qu'avons nous fait, quand, après la dévastation générale, nous avons voulu rétablir nos hospices ? Nous avons rappelé ces vierges Chrétiennes connues sous le pom de Seurs de la Charité, qui se sont si généreusement consacrées au service de l'humanité malheureuse, infirme et souffrante. Ce n'est ni l'amour-propre ni la gloire qui peuvent encourager des vertus et des actions trop dégoûtantes, et trop pénibles pour pouvoir être payés par des applaudissemens humains. Il faut éléver ses regards au-dessus des hommes; et l'on ne peut trouver des motifs d'encouragement et de zèle que dans cette piété qui anime la bienfaisance, qui est étrangere aux vanités du monde, et qui fait goûter dans la carrière du bien public des consolations que la raison seule ne pourrait nous donner. On a fait, d'autre part, la triste cxpérience, que des mercenaires sans motif intérieur qui puisse les attacher constamment à leur devoir, ne sauroient remplacer des personnes animées par l'esprit de la religion, c'est à dire, par un principe qui est supérieur aux sentimens de la nature, et qui pouvant seul motiver tous les sacrifices, est seul capable de nous faire braver sous les degoûts et tous les dangers.'

The Report of the Society for benefiting the Poor contains an account of two religious societies formed among the aged poor at the suggestion of the excellent Bishop of Durham. The members meet together on Sunday evening for religious improvement; they engage to promote, as far as in their power by influence and example, the observance of the Sabbath, and to do every thing that in them lies for promoting good will, good neighbourhood, and Christianity one amongst another; and they allot a tenth part of the little which they can lay by to the relief of their more necessitous neighbours. A penny per week is paid by each member, and the contributions of honorary members created a fund which enabled their weekly deposit to be returned at the end of the year; twofold to all above sixty years of age; threefold to those who had reached the full age of man, and fourfold to those of fourscore. If that due instruction be given in childhood, which it is the interest and the duty of a Christian government to provide for all its subjects, none will then perish through ignorance; there will be a rule of conduct for every one in life, and a consolation in age and calamity, except they wilfully go wrong. What it is to possess that consolation, and what it is to be without it, may be better shown by example, than by any reasoning. A woman at Dundee, in humble life, was left a widow in her youth, with one child; she supported herself and the boy, and paid a trifle for his education : her own had been entirely neglected. When he was twelve years old, the mother was afflicted with a paralytic stroke, which confined her to her bed a hopeless cripple. The boy then procured work at an Osnaburgh manufactory; every morning he cleaned the room, prepared breakfast, and made her comfortable for the day before he . went to his loom; a neighbour occasionally called in to assist her during his absence. The child taught her to read; she procured a Bible, and the comfort which she found there was such, that when she had been thus bed-ridden for five years she called herself one of the happiest of mortals. Now for the contrast : A woman, in humble life also, being seduced in her youth, and finding herself pregnant, retired under the strong sense of shame to a lonely cottage, and there brought forth a daughter who proved an idiot, and for that reason, being always helpless as an infant, was always an object of unabated tenderness and love. More than fifty years they lived together, the mother excluding as much as possible all commerce with the world, and supporting herself and her child by her own labour. In 1810 the idiot died, and the survivor was seen, a few years afterwards, by one whom humanity, not less than curiosity, induced to visit her-her grief being spoken of as extraordinary both for its strength and duration. The village near which she lived is situated in one of the most exposed, wild, unfrequented, and barren spots in Somersetshire, and ihe hovel was one of the most miserable hiding places in which wretchedness had ever laid itself down to die. Not a footstep or patten-mark was near the door, scarcely any vestige of a path ; the cracked mud wall was not more than four feet in height, and the roof had no other covering than the damp green moss under which the thatch had rotted. The moor sheep (says the friend from whose letter we are now writing) lying under the black rocks, which every where appeared among the surrounding heath and peat, seemed better housed and sheltered than the inmate of this nook of misery. The inside was, if possible, worse, yet it seemed as ifsome care had formerly been taken to make it comfortable; for the bedstead on which the old woman sate, and whatever furniture damp and neglect had not destroyed,appeared once to have been decent; there were mildewed prints upon the walls, which in better days had been neatly nailed up with red tape, and in what had once been a window there were some flower pots, but the plants were dead; the window was stopt up with weeds,

and covered with cobwebs, on which the damp had collected in large drops. She was sitting erect on the bed with her arms fold.-, ed, and a countenance that exhibited the character of sullenness rather than of grief. Her features were strong but regular, such as in youth had probably been beautiful in no ordinary degree, and even now had much womanly expression in them when she spoke. All her neighbours had long dreaded and abused her for being a witch; and the overseers, with whom she was compelled to have intercourse, had brought no unusual degree of feeling or charity to the execution of their office: no wonder then that a stranger should be doubtfully received. The visiter began the conversation by begging shelter, and presently made some observations on the state of the hovel, She said she had done with comfort, and did not wish to be better off. He asked if her neighbours were kind to her; her answer was that she never would have neighbours at any time, much less now; she used to be happy without them, and they could not make her happy now. He inquired if she could get sufficient food; yes, she said, but she ate little and cared not what it was; her clothing was supplied by the parish. Did she never go out? But seldom, she made answer, because she did not choose to be asked questions. The stranger then said that, although she might dislike any human company, she might, perhaps, find some amusement in keeping chicken ; and he offered to set her up with some, and with food to keep them. She replied that she never more would take care of any living thing ; it was a kind offer, but she had her reason for refusing it. The determined tone of her voice and her manner compelled him to drop the conversation, and he had too much humanity to touch on the immediate cause of her grief. Her notions of religion were too indistinct to afford her any relief,—they had never been cultivated, and the fruit therefore was not to be found when it was wanting. Nor was there any of that pride which enables many to bear up against affliction : it was vehement grief acting upon a strong mind and strong frame, unmixed, unsophisticated, unalleviated, -and for want of the most precious of all the Almighty's gists to man, unalleviable. She was at that time seventy-six, and, in such bodily strength and health, that she seemed likely long to continue in this awful state. This case is the more impressive, because the subject possessed no ordinary strength of heart, and no ordinary capacity of virtue, else shame would not have wrought on her so strongly in her youth, nor her affections have retained such intensity in age. The mere absence of religion caused this excess of misery. More frightful instances might be related where this want of religion is combined with moral

depravity: One of those wretched women who infest the streets of London was carried to a hospital, some few months ago, dying under the effects of poison

« AnteriorContinuar »