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extraordinary; the reflection on themselves who have been educated and paid to advance the religious character of the people, cannot but be evident; and thus to profess not to be able to keep them from backsliding, cannot but make good the argument of the society of Friends, and also of the Freethinkers, who contend that the office of a priesthood is one of unproductive labor.
« It reflects (says Milton) to the disrepute of our ministers also, of whose labors we should hope better, and of the proficiency which their flock reaps by them, than that after all this light of the gospel which is, and is to be, and all this continual preaching, they should be still frequented with such an unprincipled, unedify'd, and laic rabble, as that the whiff of every new pamphlet should stagger them out of their catechism and Christian walking." But, Sir, to be serious ; can it be believed that. vice increases in a geometrical progressive ratio with the increase of knowlege ? Has the establishment of charity and Sunday schools, of national and Lancasterian systems of education, the increased circulation of religious magazines and tracts, had no effect in instructing and moralizing the people ? Has the distribution of Bibles, your missionary and periodical collections, had no effect on public morals ? Are hospitals, dispensaries, charities suited to every want and misfortune of the poor, no proofs of increasing humanity and benevolence ? Is not the reprint of the standard works of England's worthies, and the vast influx of periodical publications connected with the arts and sciences, evidence of the moral and intellectual progress of your countrymen ? Can any country in the world, or could any past age, boast the moral habits or information of British mechanics and artizans? Is a state of profound peace, and the extraordinary extension of trade and commerce from the horrors and wickedness of war, no symptom of national improvement-or is it only that the people have advanced in every other department-saverespect for their religion and its ministers? If this were the fact, what would be the infallible inference ? that however your calling in life suited your own interest, it ill accorded with the interests of your country! · It was the original and profound remark of Bacon,' Antiquitas seculi, juventus mundi-that the antiquity of the world was its infancy. You libel real antiquity without being aware of it, and calumniate the improving times in which you have the privilege to be born, by thus eulogising the moral character of our ancestors, at the expense and aspersion of posterity and your contemporaries ; and I leave you to estimate the spiritual pride which dares thus to set itself up as the censor of the age, and to anticipate judgments to
* De Avg. Scient, 1. i. c. 5.
come. If I understand rightly the necessity and divine favor of revelation, it was to add to the natural light already in the world ; and if we are to interpret literally the prophecies and intentions of the great Messenger of Heaven, it was the advancement of the moral improvement and happiness of his creatures. God, Sir, does not create the human mind now with less advantages than formerly: nature and conscience still exercise their prerogatives. As antiquity, therefore, in fact consists in the old age of the world, not in the youth of it; as we are the fathers, not the children of time, abandon this stale and unprofitable declamation ; " in disgracing the present times therefore, you disgrace antiquity properly so called ;', Truth is the daughter of Time. Now, Sir, allow me to recommend you to read that admirable portion of Law's Theory of Religion - The Progress of Natural Religion and Science, or the continual Improvement of the World in general :" his text, Sir, from Solomon, is not unsuitable to the present occasion—" Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these ? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this." Eccles. vii. 10.
'Twixt blasphemy and cant-the two
Fables for the Holy Alliance. With this exordium I shall open the more immediate object of the present strictures on your publication : to commence ab origine, I shall quote from your first printed sermon, « YOUTH WARNED,” your first denunciation of the drama and the stage. ." 4. The recreations and amusements of young men who live in sinful pursuits are of the same nature as their reading, conversation, and company, i. e. polluted and polluting. The theatre is generally frequented by them; the theatre, that corrupter of public morals; that school where nothing good and every thing bad is learnt; that resort of the vicious, and seminary of vice; that broad and Aowery avenue to the bottomless pit. Here a young man finds no hinderances to sin, no warnings against irreligion, no mementos of judgment to come; but on the contrary, every thing to inflame his passions, to excite his criminal desires, and to gratify his appetites for vice. The language, the music, the company, are all adapted to a sensual taste, and calculated to demoralise the mind. Multitudes of once comparatively innocent and happy youth, have to date their ruin for both worlds, from that hour when their feet first trod the polluted precincts of a theatre. Till then they were ignorant of many of the ways of vice, and had no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. That fatal night which first brought them before the stage, was the dreadful season of their initiation into the mysteries of iniquity. Then they fell from morality and respectability, and con
tinued falling deeper and deeper in vice, till earth tired of the sickening load of their corruption, heaved them from her lap; and bell from beneath moved to meet them at their coming. When therefore a young inan acquires a taste for theatrical representations, and gratifies his propensity, I consider his moral character in imminent peril.”
To this, in the publication of your sermon, you append the following note. .“ It is by no means the author's intention to affirm, that all who frequent the theatre are in the usual acceptation of the term, vicious persons. Far be it from him to prefer an accusation so extensive and unfounded as this. No doubt many most amiable and moral individuals are among the admirers of dramatic representation. That such persons receive no contaminalion from the scenes they witness, or the language they hear, is no stronger proof that the stage is not immoral in its tendency and effects, than that there is no contagion in the plague, because some constitutions resist the infection. That persons fenced in by every conceivable moral defence and restraint, should escape uninjured, is saying little; but even in their case, I will coniend that the mind is not altogether uninjured. Is it possible for an imperfect moral creature, and such are the best of us, to hear the irreverend appeals to Heaven, the filthy allusions, the anti-Christian sentiments, which are uttered during the representation of even our purest plays, and hear this for amusement, without some deterioration of mental purity? And it should be remembered that none but the pure in heart shall see God. But let us conceive of a young man going alone and unprotected to a theatre, or in the company of others of his own age, and after having his passions inflamed with all he has seen and heard within, then returning home through the crowds of well-dressed prostitutes which infest the purlieus of every Theatre. Is this a school to improve his morals? Yes, the morals of the brothel. The advocates of the stage should be candid, and instead of talking alout its improving the taste or the morals of the age, should frankly confess, what ihey cannot be ignorant of, that it is indeed a very dangerous place for young persous, but that it is an amusement of which they themselves are very fond, and that they are determined to enjoy it, whatever havoc it should make in the character of others. Or even admitting that occasionally some one were improved by theatrical satires on vice, though, by the way, to laugh at vice is not the best way of becoming virtuous, still will they not confess that for this one case of improvement, a thousand cases of ruin could be found?”
On the plagiarisms and declamation of these extracts I shall say nothing, as the substance is repeated in a more elaborate and serious work,-- THE CHRISTIAN FATHER'S PRESENT TO HIS CHILDREN: but I leave my readers to their own reflections on what must be the constituent character of your acquaintance and followers, who cannot frequent an English theatre, or witness « the representation of even our purest plays, without some deterioration of mental purity :"—such persons, Mr. James, belong to Dean Swift's description of nice people, who, ever suspecting impurities in the most unexceptionahle works, must be creatures of most diseased and impure minds, which, thank God, Sir, the majority of intellectual beings are not.
You have thought proper, Sir, to denounce in terms of most bitter and indiscriminate invective, the character and works of Lord Byron, the darling and wayward child of genius. It is a remark of an old writer, that, if God has not more mercy on us than we have towards one another, it will ill fare with all. Lord Byron was early bereft of parents, and by nature and physical constitution was endowed with feelings and passions of difficult restraint: he was moreover born in a rank of society by no means favorable to the early discipline of the mind, and where temptation peculiarly exposed such a character to error and vice. The superstition and hypocrisy of the world appear early to have impressed a sensitive mind; and like thousands of others in the hatred and exposure of tyranny and hypocrisy, he failed to discriminate between real religion and the false pretences of irreligion. It is impossible to justify part of his writings. But may my countrymen ever admire what you allow the exquisite pathos and peerless beauty of his works :" may they not seek to imitate or justify his failings, and may the great Judge of all, who loves mercy rather than vengeance, judge with compassion and forgiveness the errors of Lord Byron, common to all of us—may his noble exertions in the cause of freedom and religion, in that classic and gallant - land where Socrates taught and Paul preached the Unknown God, atone for his frailties, and ultimately place him with the spirits of just men made perfect. De MORTUIS NIL NISI BONUM.
“ No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, (There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his father and his God." In these preliminary strictures on your writings, you must allow that I have fairly quoted your own words. I shall pursue the same impartial course throughout this letter. I now proceed to your second work, one of the three subjects of my criticism, The CHRISTIAN FATHER'S PRESENT TO HIS CHILDREN. This is your magnum opus, or work of digested and considerate publication, addressed to young people on education and moral culture. It is unnecessary that I should examine analytically its entire contents ; in fact it contains much from your former sermons and tracts, inlaid in the text and notes. I shall, however, remark on some introductory chapters which precede your direct attack on the drama and the stage.
Your 14th chapter, of volume the second, treats on the subject of books. It contains some most inconsistent, injudicious, and meagre directions generally, but particularly as to a course of reading on history. You recommend Hume ; you speak of the " beautiful simplicity of his composition,” and '« his philosophical mode ofanalyzing character and tracing events :" you then add,
pression de mous, Now, if the spirit of this one withidelity with
* But unhappily, Humé was a confirmed infidel, and must be read with à mind ever upon its guard against the poison which he has infused into his narrative :" you say, that “ happily, the deleterious infusion floats upon the surface, and may be therefore easily detected.” You then, in a note at the bottom of the page, 6, assert that, « Hume has so incorporated his infidelity with his history, that it is impossible to read the one without the other." This palpable confusion of the spirit of his History and his Essays, is truly ridiculous. Now, I call upon you to point out one sceptical expression throughout Hume's History of England that can justify these silly observations. Had you really been versed in Hume's History, and in the annotations of his able commentators, you would have justly said, that his high church principles and prejudices occasionally disgrace the impartiality of an historian, and were highly injurious to the cause of religious as well as of " civil liberty." You then add in the note alluded tc-5. Mr. (Dr.) Lingard, a Román-Catholic author, is now publishing a very well written history of England, in which his views and feelings, as a Catholic, are however sufficiently prominent.” Thus you characterize a noble and admirable historical work, the labor of the author's life-a history of extraordinary, industrious, and impartial, research-as a very well written history !” You then add, that “ An English history, in which there shall be the most sacred regard to the principles of pure morality, evangelical religion, and rational liberty, is still a desideratum in the literature of our country.” Do you mean to supply this desideratum? Do you ever expect an inspired history—that is to say, a history not written by a man with certain natural and acquired prepossessions in favor of his own opinions and party? Do you not know that historical truth is only to be discovered by a patient and candid perusal and comparison of the historical works by different political parties and religious sects ? Do you not think that if you, for example, wrote a history, supposing you were able, that the Calvinistic and Independent complexion would be « sufficiently prominent ?” What therefore was
i Observations on Mr. Hume's History of England, 1778, by Dr. Joseph Towers, and reprinted in his works. « Brodie's History of the British Empire, including a particular Examination of Mr. Hinne's Stateinent relative to the Character of the English Government, &c.” 4 vols. octavo, 1822, an excellent and valuable historical work. See also, “ A List of Books recommended and referred to in the Lectures on Modern History, by Professor Smyth, of St. Peter's College, Cambridge." . To witness and record the growing liberality of the times, and the oblivion of past illiberality, especially in the English universities, is a most grateful observation : in this list of books, Dr. Priestley's invaluable Lectures on History are highly recommended for the “nature of historical authorities," and referred to in the University Lectures.