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A View of the Moral State of Society at the close of the Eighteenth Century, &c. By John Bowles, Esq.
(Continued from Page 50.)
Na former number we stated our approbation generally of this admirable Work. We proceed now to make some extracts from various parts of it, and mark those more espe1ally which point at that'spirit of wantonness and licentiousness, which forms so striking a feature in the marmers of the present times: that general decay of the interests of religion, and almost total indifference about every thing serious and sacred, which has already risen to so alarming an height, and is still increasing so rapidly, that it appears to us evidently to prognosticate the near approach of that general apostacy which is expected to precede the end of the world.
A preface addressed particularly to the higher orders, is added to this edition, which we consider as valuable as any part of the Work itself: Mr. Bowles here shews the inseparable connection which exists between sound morality and sound policy." So strong, indeed, is this tie, so transcendently powerful is the influence of morals on the political state of society, that he is totally unfit to be a statesman, who does not consider the morals of a country as his first concern, and who does not act invariably on the principle-that virtue is the only foundation of sound policy," p. v.-In this country the state of the morals of society, in general, depends in a great degree upon the example which the higher ranks hold out to the imitation of others: all who wish at any time to act contrary to their duty, will be glad to shelter themselves under their name if the great, the noble, the well-educated do so, surely may be absurd and wicked without much blame, is the argument which every person in an inferior station will make use of. It behoves them therefore more especially to see that they walk circumspectly, and consider and reflect, in the most serious manner, to how severe an account they will hereafter be called, if, by the viciousness and profligacy of their lives, they shall have been the means of inducing others to disregard the sanctions of religion and the laws of morality. In proportion as we rise higher in life this obligation is increasedwhat then ought the conduct of that illustrious personage to be, who is raised to that exalted situation in life, in
which (let him not cease to remember) he is placed by providence for the benefit of his fellow subjects, who make his conduct the model of theirs, and consider and appeal to any action of his as a complete justification of theirs: what his conduct ought to be, and by what rules. he ought to be guided, the author of this publication thus most admirably and correctly lays down:
"If, by a regular and devout attendance upon divine worship,› he display a sincere and ardent piety towards that great and awful Being, who placed him in his high station for the benefit of millions of the human race---and to whom he is responsible for the use he makes of his rank and influence; if he exhibit to the countless multitudes, who are ever gazing upon him, a pattern of filial duty, of conjugal fidelity, of paternal care, of domestic virtue, of personal regularity, temperance, and self-command; if he avail himself of the high authority, which must be attached to his sentiments, by manifesting his abhorrence of every species of vice, and by discountenancing the profane and the dissolute; if he promote that respect for the nuptial tie, which, next to religious, principle, is the main bond of society; if, in short, he invigorate, by all the means in his power, those principles, dis-, positions, and habits, which are inculcated and prescribed by the sacred rules of Christian morality; then must he be a blessing of inestimable value to his country and to the world; a luminary of the brightest and most benign radiance; an object of admiration to all, whose admiration is of any value; then will he best provide for the security of that throne, to which he is so nearly allied, and of which, virtue is the only solid support: then will he most effectually contribute to the deliverance of the people, whom he expects hereafter to govern, from that un exampled state of danger, to which, in common with the whole civilized world, they are now exposed."
We most earnestly request his attention to this true and candid representation; and if any one of those, who now tread the gay and brilliant circle of which he is the centre of attraction, would present this picture to his view, he would give a far greater proof of his affection for him, and his zeal for his true interest, than by any empty flattery and unmeaning compliments upon the elegance of.. his person, and the accomplishments of his mind.
We now proceed to the Review of the chief and more immediate object of this work, viz. the Examination of the present State of the Morals of Society." Irrational beings may pass without reflection from day to day and
year to year;" but it behoves us, and all who have any sense of their duty, to "find times and seasons at which to make a solemn pause; to review attentively their past course, to examine seriously and fully their present situation, and to make such reflections and consequent resolutions as may assist them in their future progress through the arduous and intricate path of life. The commencement of a new year is a season which tends more especially to fill us with such reflections; but the commence ment of a new century, which none now living shall ever again arrive at, is, above all others, calculated to excite, in every considerate mind, such emotions as it is not possible adequately to describe." It was at this most awful and important æra that these observations were first made. Oh that we could impress upon the minds of the thoughtless and dissipated part of mankind the absolute necessity of such a contemplation as is here presented to our view!
The French Revolution is naturally the first object which excites his attention, because it has sown the seeds of those principles which have been the chief cause of all the miseries which have of late years been brought on social life. To destroy happiness you must first des stroy Religion; few there were even in France who were impious enough to deny all Religion; for that would have been defeated by its own absurdity: but the end unattainable by direct, may be accomplished by circuitous, means therefore these impious men (the infernal sect, of which Voltaire was the chief) directed their attacks against revealed Religion-by applying to Nature, or rather what they termed Nature, they sought to confute revelation, the truth of which, though not absolutely demonstrable by reason, is yet demonstrable by proof equally convincing when complete-historical testimony. Here then they too successfully directed their efforts, and having in part destroyed this firm foundation, which, blessed be God, is not yet rooted out of this country; they established in its stead an entirely new system of morals, which they were pleased to denominate Modern Philosophy.
"A philosophy which attacks the foundation, while the infidel scheme aims its blows at the main pillar of civil society; a philosophy which tends to extinguish all the feelings of nature, by teaching its votaries to sacrifice their first, their strongest
affections, at the distant shrine of general humanity; a philosophy which holds up gratitude to contempt, and teaches to despise the sacred impulses of paternal love and filial piety; a philosophy which exposes to scorn every ancient usage, every established institution, every local attachment, and which would sacrifice, in one rash moment, all the fruits of the col-, lective wisdom of past ages; a philosophy which undermines the very foundations of virtue, by making vice appear amiable, by embellishing guilt with attractive qualities, by rendering it an object of pity and of love, and by so adorning even those crimes which strike at the very existence of society, as to make them not only lose their deformity, but to call forth the tenderest sympathies of mankind; a philosophy which inculcates to every individual, that his own casual and capricious notions of right and wrong are to supersede those ancient rules, which are taught by Divine Wisdom, or established on the basis of human expe rience, and which have hitherto been regarded with reverence, and considered as the tests and the bulwarks of morality: a philosophy which maintains the most criminal and destructive actions to be justifiable, provided their perpetrator have so depraved a judgment, and so vitiated a heart, as sincerely to think them meritorious,
"Can hell's vast magazine of mischief contain a more potent engine of destruction than this horrid system, which tends to effect a complete subversion of every existing establishment.. a total revolution in the political and moral world ?”
We cannot forbear expressing a wish that Mr. Bowles had shewn more clearly the effects of the French Revolution upon these kingdoms; that Revolution being the subject of his animadversion, only as it is by its effects more immediately connected with the religion and morals of this country. That it has had the most dreadful effects upon the majority of this country, we cannot hesitate to declare. No one who will make use of his eyes, his ears, and his understanding, but must see it, but must feel it; and if he has any concern or regard at all for his country, must look forward to all its future consequences with the utmost anxiety and alarm. Unfortunately when these principles were first established, society in general offered them the prospect of a very favourable reception. Luxury, the most dangerous foe to human happiness, because the most injurious enemy to virtue; in consequence of the increase of our possessions, and consequently of our wealth, had crept in to an alarming extent: this most odious vice has ever since contributed in a very sur: Vol. VI, Churchm. Mag. March, 1804. Cc prising
prising manner, to aid the cause of infidelity, by its inseparable companion, or rather by its inevitable consequent-an extraordinary relaxation in religious and moral principles. In France these had established a joint dominion. The close connection between them is evi dent to every observing mind; but in what manner they are connected, and in what degree their co-operation is visible, not only in France, but more particularly in this country, we could wish Mr. Bowles had more clearly de fined and enforced.
The next great mark of the depravity of the manners of these times, and of the extreme licentiousness which now exists in this country, is the frequency of that most detestable and pernicious crime adultery. One of the chief arts and main effort by which the enemies of religion endeavour to undermine and destroy it is, to render that most sacred tie of marriage contemptible in the eyes of mankind.
"The most unerring test of the morals of society, at any given period, is the degree of respect which is paid to the nuptial engagement. In proportion as that engagement is viewed with reverence, and observed with fidelity, an age may with certainty be denominated virtuous. But it is impossible to find a more apt description of a corrupt, vicious, and profligate age, than to say that it is distinguished by a disregard for the marriage vows. Such a description was once applied, for such a purpose, by unerring Wisdom, to a corrupt and hardened people, who were denominated, "a sinful and adulterous generation.
Mr. Bowles proceeds to notice the establishment of certain qualities called by the specious names of Candour Liberality, and Moderation, as a substitution for that moral sense, which the extreme depravity of the present age has almost totally extinguished. The specious qualities covered by these names consist in little more than "a disposition to regard undoubted guilt with complacency, in a readiness to palliate the greatest crimes, and to overflow with pity for the greatest criminals." Quar lities, in short, which seem to be the conditions of a convention between Virtue and Vice, by which it is agreed, that all hostilities between them shall cease, and that moral feeling shall no longer take offence at moral turpitude. There was once a time when a woman, who had deviated