« AnteriorContinuar »
honoured and betrayed, and the last and fairest experiment in favour of the rights of human nature turned against ihem.
An American officer of distinction who had served during the war with La Fayette and Kosciusko, and came to Europe with them in the same vessel after peace had been concluded, wben he took leave of the latter at Paris, said to him, I suppose you are going to see what can be done in your own country ? The Pole shook his head, and replied, that the people were not in a fit state for such a revolution. 'Well had it been for France if La Fayette had had the same wisdom ! But the intellectual atmosphere had received its taint: and as an influenza beginning in Tartary tra. vels from China throughout the whole inhabited part of the old continent, so was this moral pestilence to run its course. • The trumpet had sounded—Wo, wo, wo to the inhabitants of earth! and the vial of wrath was poured out.'
If it had been proposed to establish kingdoms in America, and introduce hereditary nobility with all those gradations of rank which have grown out of ihe feudal system, and been softened and matured into their present form, men would have perceived the unfitness and impossibility of creating such an order of things in agricultural and conimercial colonies. They would have seen that it was as absurd as to erect a modern citadel upon the plan of a baronial castle, or build a cotton-mill upon the model of a cathedral: but they saw no absurdity in reducing Europe to the standard of America, plucking up all her venerable institutions by the roots, and levelling the whole platform of society by the rule and line of trans-Atlantic equality. This was a portentous error, though in its origin not altogether without excuse: for the evils of inequality in Europe, from causes which will presently be adverted to, were every day becoming more grie vous and more glaring. No generous heart could contemplate those evils without an ardent desire of relieving, and if possible removing them. But men fell into the strange mistake of believing that the facilities of subsistence in America were owing to its form of government, and that the abolition of the privileged orders was all that was needful for placing us in the same condition with the inhabitants of a new country, where hands were wanting to till the ground, and consequently where the wealth of every family was in some degree in proportion to its numbers. Under this delusion, they mislook the means of bettering the condition of the poor, and supposed that the best way to elevate and improve the lower classes was to pull down all above them.
When these principles began to spread, it so happened that our literary journals were almost wholly in the hands of dissenters, and more particularly of those disscnters who prided themselves upon the
freedom of their opinions. No sooner had the genuine philosophy of the fathers of the English church given place to the flimsy metaphysics of the material school, than it was evinced, by the growth of heretical opinions, with what wisdom our ancestors had asserted sound and orthodox learning to be the same. The old religious disputes related almost exclusively to the discipline, the rites, or the ceremonies of the church;-episcopacy or presbytery, adult or infant baptism, the mode of administering the sacrament,—the use of the cross in baptism, the surplice and the altar, with other such points of controversy, in which the disputants argued from the same premises, and held the saine essential faith. Even when doctrines were disputed, they were such as in no ways affected the fundamental principles of Christianity. It was otherwise when Arianism, which, for more than a thousand years, had disappeared from the Christian world, was revived in England. In the Establishment it called forth able defenders of the established truth, and the question there was laid at rest. But among the dissenters, say their historians, 'the case was widely different. The people concerned themselves as much about religion as their teachers, and many of them understood as well the doctrines of the Gospel. When the heresy found an entrance here, it created a convulsion in the body, and produced in the adherents to the ancient faith paroxysms of horror and anguish, and roused their most vigorous energies to expel the poison. Yet these historians admit that during this period
error was the destroying angel of dissenting congregations. They impute the revival of Arianism to the devil himself. When it filled the pulpit,' they say, 'it invariably emptied the pews. This was the case not only where a part of the congregation, alarmed by the sound of heresy, fled from the polluted house to a separate society, but where no opposition was made, and all remained without a murmur in the original place. In numerous instances the preacher, full of the wisdom of the serpent, sought by hiding the monster from their view, to draw them over by stealth to the new theology, and unveiled his sentiments only as the people were able to bear them without a frown. Though at last his wishes were crowned with success, yet the decay gradually consumed the growth, the strength and the life of the society, till a large congregation was reduced to a handful. When Socinianism found an entrance, its operations were quicker than those of the Arian creed, and more effectual: flourishing societies were reduced to a few families, which, being animated with zeal for the new opinions, or indifferent about any, chose to continue to support the mode of worship to which from education, or use, they were attached. In many places, Socinianism was the abomination of desolation, and consigned what had been formerly the house of prayer, and of the
assemblies of the saints, an undisturbed abode to the spiders and the bats.'-Old Daniel Burges used to say that he dreaded a Christless Christianity.
The nature of Socinianism has been exposed with consummate ability by Mr. Coleridge in his second Lay Sermon. Here we have briefly to notice its growth and progress in England. It grew out of Arianism, and so entirely destroyed the system from wbich it sprung, that there is not (we believe) a single Arian congregation at this day existing in Great Britain. And as the Arian ended in the Socinian heresy, so did Socinianism tend with equal, or more rapidity, toward unbelief. It is well known that the Socinian academy at Hackney was given up, notwithstanding the high character and learning of some of its conductors, because almost all the students pushed the principles in which they were educated farther than their tutors. The dry-rot was in the foundation and the walls, as well as in the beams and rafters, and the unfortunate pupils came away believers in blind necessity and gross materialnism-and in nothing else. The literary journals, at the commencement of the French Revolution, were in the hands of those dissenters, among whom this change during half a century had been taking place. The writers therefore were men in all stages of disbeliet,--for every thing was tolerated except othodoxy.
We happen to have at hand the Monthly Review of the “Inquiry concerning Political Justice, andits influence on general Virtue and Happiness, by William Godwin.” The manner in which this work was treated by what was then, without competition, the most accredited journal of the age, will show in what spirit the journal was conducted. It was announced with no small degree of pleasure, as a work which, from the freedom of its inquiries, the grandeur of its views, and the fortitude of its principles,' was “eminently deserving of attention. The writers, indeed, would by no means be understood to subscribe to all the principles,'—but they took care not to specify any from which they dissented. Knowledge, they said, “was not yet arrived at that degree of certainty which is requisite for any iwo men to think alike on all subjects; neither had language attained that consistent accuracy which can enable them to convey their thoughts, even when they do think alike, in a manner perfecily correct and intelligible to both. In this manper they excused themselves from offering any objections to a system of politics and ethics, which laid the axe to the root of every social institution, human and divine, and of every domestic virtue !—Many of the opinions which the work contained, they said were bold, some of them were moral, and some doubtless were erroneous ;—but its patient and philosophic manner ought to endear it even to those whose principles it might offend.' The
farther they proceeded in their examination of this bold and ori. ginal work,' (for it was continued in three numbers,) the more they were convinced that it was proper, at that particular period (1793) to present their readers with a clear analysis of its contents rather than obtrude any decided opinion of their own. When the minds of men were so much agitated, they thought it their duty thus to limit themselves. The opinions of the author respecting government were indeed highly interesting to society;' at least they deserved a serious and deep investigation, since the conclusions to which they led were fascinatingly attractive; and, if false, deserved to be clearly, fully, and immediately exposed. The task was too unwieldy and mighty for their limits : but they earnestly recommended it' as a labour worthy of all inquiring minds to examine the work itself, in order that they may confute these new doctrines, if in opposition to virtue and truth ; or if in agreement with them, that they may further elucidate, strengthen, and expand the writer's principles.'-'Whether the author'sopinions should prove to be truths, which time and severe scrutiny would establish, or the visions of an over-zealous mind, which strict examination would dissipate, it was certain that his intentions were friendly to man. The ione of virtue was uniform, and predominated throughout the work.' It need not here be stated what were the sentiments which were promulgated under this tone of virtue in Mr. Godwin's work-a work in which the existence of the Deity was spoken of as an hypothesis, and in which the ethics were worthy of the religion ! Of the author himself we have no wish to speak with asperity ; miserably mistaken as he was, he is entitled to full credit for sincerity and fair intentions. He erred from vanity, not from any principle of evil.
During the seventeenth century, every man had his place in society, and none of the ways of life were crowded. All honour in England,' says an old writer, “came a Marte or Mercurio, from learning or chivalry, from the pen or the pike, from priesthood or knighthood. If a boy who was born in the lower ranks discovered a decided disposition for learning, patronage was obtained for him, by the help of endowed schools, exhibitions, or scholarships; he made his way through college, and rose perhaps to high offices in the church or in the law. But unless this aptitude was strongly marked, parents in general were well content that their sons should, fill the same station which they themselves had filled before them. Long after the Reformation, there was even a difficulty in finding a sufficient number of clergy for the service of the establishment. But when our institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, assumed a character of stability, and the commerce of the nation increased, the ambition as well as the wealth of individuals increased also, and
Addison observes that, in his time, the great professions, law, physic, and divinity were overstocked with practitioners. Hence there arose a class of literary adventurers. As early as in Elizabeth's days, a few unlucky individuals had lived by their wits, without any other profession or means of subsistence; but men of letters were not known in England as a distinct class in society till the beginning of the last century, and during the present reign they have increased in number at least fifty fold.
When literature was confined to colleges and convents, it may safely be affirmed, that men of letters were at the same time the happiest and the most useful of their generation. They had no cares for the morrow; they wrote from the fulness of the mind, or from the impulse of strong desire : some to collect the scattered memorials of past times, or record the events of their own ; others 10 exert the whole force of their intellect on the subtlest or the highest problems which could be proposed to human understanding. If they obtained celebrity, it was well; and if they failed, the labour bad been its own reward. The schoolmen will not now be spoken of with derision, as they have often been by writers. too ignorant to be humble ;' enough is known of their real merits to ensure the acknowledgment that their powers of mind were commensurate with their Herculean industry ; and that characters more truly venerable, or on whom it is more consolatory and delightful for the imagination to dwell, than Bede, William of Malmsbury, and many of the monkish historians, are not to be found in the annals of mankind. Great as have been the advantages of printing, it was a lamentable change, when literary composition and that exercise of reason which should be, as till then it had been, the noblest of human occupations and the highest of human enjoyments, became a trade-a mere trade, to be pursued not from aplitude or choice, but from necessity and for daily bread. It is a difficult, as well as a delicate task, to advise a youth of ardent mind and aspiring tboughts in the choice of a profession ; but a wise man will have no hesitation in exhortiog him to choose any thing rather than litera. ture. Better that he should seek his fortune before the mast, or with a musket on his shoulder anda knapsack at his back,-better that he should follow the plough, or work at the loom or the lathe, or sweat over the anvil, than trust to literature as the only means of his support. Let the body provide for the body; the intellectual part was given us for other purposes. A single hour of composition won from the business of the day, is worth more than the whole day's toil of him who works at the trade of literature : in the one case, the spirit comes joyfully to refresh itself, like a hart to the water brooks; in the other, it pursues its miserable way pant. ing and jaded, with the dogs of hunger and necessity behind. Nor