« PreviousContinue »
MOTIVES OF THE WORK.
The maladies of the mind are not to be healed any more than those of the body unless by a friendly hand. But through a singular infelicity it too often happens that these evils, deep as they are, and difficult of cure, fall under a treatment that is hostile and malign, or, what is worse, frivolous. Especially does this disadvantage attach to that peculiar class of mental disorders which, as they are more profound in their origin than any other, and more liable to extreme aggravation, demand, in whoever would relieve them, not only the requisite skill, but the very purest intentions.
Vitiated religious sentiments have too much connexion with the principles of our physical constitution to be in every case effectively amended by methods that are merely theological; and yet, drawing their strength as they do from great
truths with which the physiologist has ordinarily little or no personal acquaintance, and which perhaps he holds in contempt, he is likely to err, as well in theory as in practice, when he takes them in hand. How profound soever or exact may be his knowledge of human nature, whether as matter of science or as matter of observation, the subject, in these instances, lies beyond his range :-himself neither religious nor even superstitious, he has no sympathy with the deep movements of the soul in its relation to the Infinite and Invisible Being ;-he has no clue therefore to the secret he is in search of. The misapprehensions of the frigid philosopher are vastly increased if it should happen that, in reference to religion, his feelings are petulant and acrimonious.-Poor preparation truly for a task of such peculiar difficulty to be at once ignorant in the chief article of the case, and hurried on by the motives that attend a caustic levity of temper!
It would indeed be difficult to furnish a satisfactory reason either for the asperity or for the levity with which persons of a certain class allow themselves to speak of grave perversions of the religious sentiment; for if such vices of the spirit be regarded as corruptions of the most momentous of all truths, then surely a due affection for our fellow-men, on the one hand, and a proper reverence towards Heaven on the other, alike demand from reasonable persons as
well tenderness as awe, in approaching a subject so fraught with fatal mischiefs. Or even if Religion be deemed by these sarcastic reprovers altogether an illusion, or an inveterate prejudice, infesting our luckless nature, not the more, even in that case, can rancour or levity become a wise and benevolent mind, seeing that these same powerful sentiments, whether true or false, do so deeply affect the welfare of the human family.
Or to look at the subject on another side, it may fairly be asked why the religious passions might not claim from supercilious wits a measure of that lenity (if not indulgence) which is readily afforded to vices of another sort. If Pride, abhorrent as it is, and if Ambition, with both hands dyed in blood, and if the lust of wealth, making the weak its prey, and if sensual desires, devoid of pity, are all to be gently handled, and all in turn find patrons among Sages—why might not also Fanaticism ? why might not Enthusiasm ? why not Superstition ? It would be hard to prove that the deluded religionist, even when virulent in an extreme degree, or when most absurd, is practically a more mischievous person than, for instance, the adulterous despoiler of domestic peace, or than the rapacious dealer in human souls and bodies. Let it be true that the Hypocrite is an odious being ;-yes, but is not the Oppressor also detestable? And what has become of the philosophic impartiality of the Sage (self-styled)
who will spend his jovial hours at the table of the Cruel or the Debauched, while all he can bestow upon the victims of religious extravagance, is the bitterness of his contempt ? There is a manifest inconsistency here of which surely those should be able to give a good account who, themselves, are far too wise than to be religious !
We leave this difficulty in the hands of the parties it may concern, and proceed to say that emotions altogether strange to frigid and sardonic tempers must have come within the experience of whoever would truly comprehend the malady of the fanatic or the enthusiast; and much more so, if he is attempting to restore the disordered spirit to soundness of health. Mere intellectualists, as well as men of pleasure, know just so much of human nature as their own frivolous sentiments may serve to give them a sense of: all that lies deeper than these slender feelings, or that stretches beyond this limited range, is to them a riddle and a mockery. But it may happen that a mind natively sound, and one now governed by the firmest principles, has, in an early stage, or in some short era of its course, so far yielded to the influence of irregular or vehement sentiments as to give it ever after a sympathy, even with the most extreme cases of the same order; so that, by the combined aid of personal experience and observation, the profound abyss wherein