« PreviousContinue »
previously concealed by them, a sharp and threatening sting. In general, however, the sting is purposely retained in its sheath, and the playful old gentleman is like the cat that sports with her victim before she gives the fatal gripe that destroys it. He, however, does not so much resemble puss in her teens as in her dotage, having lost, in the wear and tear' of a long life, the talons that graced her velvet paws, and the teeth that armed her whiskered mouth, sitting in peevish mood in the chimney-corner, cramped with age, and utterly unable to pursue her former prey—yet still dreaming of her feline exploits, and retaining the wish, without the power, to kill! Notwithstanding his malign intention, the tone of this ancient autobiographer is, on the whole, so light and humorous, that we cannot, notwithstanding the averment of his publishers, persuade ourselves into a belief of his identity, and are therefore disposed to regard the tale he tells as nothing but a tale: the deep feelings which the subject of it must necessarily have felt, in some of the situations described, not being expressed, and to all appearance having never been experienced. We should, indeed, but for a few home-thrusts, which seem to have been dealt with a sincere aim and a savage spirit, have regarded the whole as an amusing ruse de guerre, resorted to for the purpose of deceiving the enemy by a false show of his own colours—a witty hoax, intended to display the weakness of the cause it pre
The professed object of the work is to prove the existence of serious evils, connected with the voluntary system' of supporting religion, which leads the author to make, amongst many ironical remarks, some severe reflections on the character of dissenting colleges, ministers, and congregations; in doing which he has often manifested a great want of candour, and been occasionally guilty of gross misrepresentation. He has purposely given a partial and exclusive view of the question it was his object to decide in only one way, using ridicule for argument, and putting the assertions of an anonymous storyteller in the place of evidence. We do not deny that there is some truth in his tale, and that many of the evils he mentions have a real existence; but most of them, arising out of the common passions and failings of human nature, are not limited to one particular church, nor attributable to any one system of faith or discipline, or the want of either; and almost all the charges which this alleged • Dissenting Minister' brings, with an unnatural fondness of accusation, against his own brethren, may be retorted with equal truth in most cases, and in some with ten thousand times more, against all churches disclaiming. the voluntary system, and hanging for support on the skirts of the state.
tended to support.
The facetious old gentleman, in the commencement of his history, gives us a ludicrous account of his own classical attainments, of those of his reverend examiner previous to his going to college, and of his college tutors; adding, in illustration of the asserted superficial knowledge of Greek and Latin prevalent amongst Dissenting students and their teachers, an anecdote,
amusing enough, as he himself terms it, but too stale in itself and too evidently dragged in for the purpose of exposing the parties calumniated to unmeasured ridicule, to be believed for a single moment by any one. We shall, however, subjoin it, as a specimen of the spirit in which this Autobiography' is written, and the little claim it has to be received as a true story:
• A fellow-student of mine, who had more ambition after the reputation, than talent or diligence for the acquisition of literature, preaching once at a country chapel or meeting-house, where the audience were for the most part rustics of the simplest class, suddenly became very eloquent, and burst forth in a declamation in praise of the fathers of the church, talking very learnedly about St. Augustin, St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, and others; at length he exclaimed, “ Listen, I pray you, to the pathetic and soul-stirring words of St. Chrysostom, to which no translation can possibly do justice: Propria quæ maribus tribuuntur mascula dicas."* Just at the moment of his uttering this splendid quotation, his eye caught sight of our classical tutor, who happened by some strange accident to be one of his hearers. The orator was for a moment thunderstruck, and was just going to blush and look foolish, but he had presence of mind to think that no good was to be got by blushing, so he put a bold face on the matter, and proceeded. The tutor never took any notice of the quotation, and the orator, when he tells the story, always adds that the classical gentleman took it for Greek.'
The defective classical attainments and narrow literature, which, in such passages as these, the Autobiographer attributes to Dissenting Ministers—even the best educated amongst them -he represents as a necessary consequence of the voluntary system. This, let it be observed, is mere assertion. The fact may be disputed, and the inference drawn from it shown to be incorrect. Admitting, however, merely for the sake of argument, what is a very evident misrepresentation, that Dissenting Ministers are, at the present moment, as grossly ignorant as their laughing calumniator describes them, it is only fair play to inquire, whether such ignorance be owing to any thing necessarily attaching to the voluntary system,' or to other circumstances having no connexion with it—perhaps directly opposed to it. Intellectual inferiority and literary deficiencies appear to us so far from being the natural, or necessary, result of the voluntary support of religion, to have nothing to do with it whatever, and in one country, at least, where the state does not interfere in any way with religious concerns, they are not found to exist under the most unrestricted exercise of the voluntary principle: need we
mention America, with her learned universities and wellinformed ministers, in the foremost rank of which stands, preeminent for all that is great in human intellect, the accomplished scholar, profound thinker, powerful writer, able reasoner, and eloquent preacher, Channing ?
The superficial education and attainments of Dissenting teachers in this country, were they really such, are less justly attributable to the voluntary system than to the illiberal spirit of the persecuting system opposed to it, which has for centuries excluded all but Churchmen from the national colleges, and done all it could to make learning the monopoly of a favoured few, conferring the honours and emoluments due to it wherever found, only upon the supporters of the Established faith, and refusing to bestow any more laudatory, or encouraging, title than heretic and rebel on the most illustrious man of letters, however intense his devotion to literature and extensive his acquirements—the most penetrating philosopher, however deep his researches and beneficial his discoveries—the most imaginative genius, however original his creations and delightful his compositions—unless each, forsooth, had submissively bent his head at the shrine of a dominant theology, and subscribed— what, with the lofty-minded Milton, many an exalted intellect has nobly refused— slave' to all its arrogant and absurd impositions. The Dissenters are shut out from the penetralia of the institutions established for the promotion and extension of learning—the jealous gates of Oxford and Cambridge are barred against their intrusion to the much-boasted fontes sacros' of these state-protected and time-honoured academies, and then they are unjustly taxed with the natural consequence of such unfair exclusion, inferiority in literary attainments, as the necessary result of their religious liberty—a long procession of learned heads, crowned with laurel, is ostentatiously exhibited in derision of their unhonoured brows, and in the presence of these favoured sons of colleges, to the privileges of which they were never admitted, the literary censor, pointing with the finger of scorn to their bald scalps, exclaims, in loud abuse of their humble pretensions What dolts ye are!'
Such is the injustice of this exclusive spirit: not content with the selfish appropriation of academic privileges and academic honours—it charges the absence of them as a crime on the injured party, from whom they are so illiberally withheld: which is just the same thing as if the learned bishops, in solemn convocation, were to say—We have legalised a monopoly of learning to the sons of our venerable mother, the Established Church, and you wicked Dissenters are excluded from the privilege of sharing any part of it; yet your ignorance is not, mind you, the result of our bigotted exclusion of you, but'
most consecutive and sagacious of conclusions—' of your own silly voluntary system !
But of these reverend monopolisers, not only of heaven's grace, but of all earth's knowledge, we would ask _' Are there not, ye truth-telling prelates, some dull-pated parsons even in your own most enlightened church, fat rectors whose brain is as sluggish as their plethoric persons, dandy vicars whose thoughts are as weak as their own effeminate manners, lean curates whose learning is as much out-of-order as their ill-cut dress, and whose taste is as unattic as their rusty hose?' We mean not to be impertinent, and certainly we would not make any barsh reflections on the worthy hard-working men to whom we have last alluded: but we deem ourselves bound in justice to state our conviction, founded on some observation, that the Established Church covers, with its ample folds, nearly as many uneducated men as are to be found in Dissenting chapels—men who have never inhaled any but Bæotian air, never approached the purifying waters of the Cam, or the Cherwell, in its confluence with the Thames, never experienced the favouring influences of college Saints,' the electric fire of All Souls, or the saving doctrines of Christ Church,' but who came, on the contrary, from corners in the country, as obscure and unknown to fame, as any from which the humblest Methodist local preacher ever issued.
It is an indisputable fact, that many, who have never had any thing like a college education, are ordained preachers in the Established Church of this country, whose classical knowledge and general literature are infinitely below the attainments of those who come from Dissenting colleges : it is equally true, that of the innumerable fry of students for the ministry who are, every year, sent forth from Oxford and Cambridge into the world's great deep, the majority are minnows, of very small dimensions and less repute, who glide through the waters, in their native insignificance, without attracting the public regard; many, of larger size, flounder amongst the floods without exhibiting any but repulsive properties. Even these powerful despots of the ocean have, however, occasionally met with their match amongst the humble followers of the fishermen of Galilee, whose sharp-pointed harpoons have pierced them to the quick. It is not forgotten with what defeated pride Horsley, notwithstanding his declamatory boasting, and hardwon mitre, retreated from the contest with his great adversary Priestley, whose reward, as according time shall verify, was victory. However this be contested by the prejudiced partisans of the present generation, it cannot be denied even by them that Priestley-whose high merits were duly honoured by foreign nations when he was the victim of a Churchand-King club persecution in his own country, and whose lofty reputation is established on too broad a basis to be shaken by the puny efforts of a bigotted hierarchy—was a Dissenter, the legitimate offspring of the voluntary system, a pupil in one of those institutions which have been so unjustly depreciated, a minister of a Church unsupported by the State: and what was the late Robert Hall—the more than Demosthenes of the pulpit, whose surpassing eloquence combined the powerful reasoning and impassioned ardour of the Athenian orator with the splendid fancy and magnificent amplification of Burke, throwing over the rich creations of his mind the lights of philosophy, the flowers of poetry, and all the graces of the most polished and classical taste—who was this almost inspired speaker and wonderful writer, but another son of the voluntary system, proceeding from the schools which this much-decried system had formed, and enriched with the knowledge they had communicated ? Here are two Dissenting Ministers, of very different talents and of different faith— the one a philosopher, the other an orator, both first-rate of their kind, who need fear no comparison in intellect with the men of science, or of literature, either of past or present times, even amongst the most learned dignitaries on the Episcopal bench : and to these a long list of names, amongst the sons of the prophets who have supported and adorned the cause of dissent, with splendid talents and varied learning, might be added, but that we deem it unnecessary, for our present purpose, to mention more.
But now suppose we should concede to the humorous exposure of his brethren's asserted imperfections, that Dissenting Ministers, though by no means so egregiously destitute of classical learning as they have been represented, were not able to compete with Oxford and Cambridge scholars in a knowledge of Greek and Latin, or of mathematics—is this sort of knowledge, we would enquire, the most requisite in the education of a Minister? Is not an acquaintance with general history, with the Belles Lettres of our own country, with mental philosophy, with moral science, with natural and revealed religion, above all with the writings of the Old and New Testament, of more importance to the preacher of the Gospel, than the most critical knowledge of Homer and Virgil, of Sophocles and Seneca, of Demosthenes and Cicero, of Aristotle and Pliny, of Herodotus and Livy, with the whole bevy of classical authors, whatever be their excellencies, or their defects ?--and that they have defects, both moral and intellectual, the licentious mythology of the poets, the puerile dreams of the philosophers, the fables of the historians and naturalists, the impure descriptions of the comedians and the satirists, the scurrility and the venality of the orators, most fully attest. We wish not to decry classical studies