صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

which 'is 'the true source of 'infidelity. And yet, there are individuals-ministers of religion--dignitaries of the Church, who are taking tlie greatest possible pains to confirin this very prejudice. They are representing, that the Church, by which they mean the national religion, cannot stand independent of the protecting and penal enactments of the Parliainent; that even now, Christianity is in danger, in danger in this country, from the iniserable ravings of à Paide or a Carlile. The State is implored to interfere by'acís of vengeance and measures of precaution, to save the tottering 'Church from 'her gigantic assailants. So feeble is Truth, so irresistible the progress of Error! We have 'no feeling of respect for this feeble-minded and treacherous timidity. We do not thank them for this tacit confession of the weakness of Christianity when únaided by the civil power. But the infidel will. And this, he will say, is your 'heaven-descended religion, your pure system of Truth and morality, which is to become thie religion of the world! This is your Protestantism which is to overthrow Idolatry and Superstition, by the instrumentality of the Bible alone!' And yet, be will add, these Christians are afraid of the Bible too, unless it travel in company with their own comment upon it; and had they the power, some of thein would put down the Bible Society withi one hand, while they slipped fetters on the infidel with the other. Let us liear what has been said by one who will be thought to be at no great remove froin infidelity.

• What is the effect,' demands Mr. Fox, of prosecuting Deism, on the individual who is thereby consigned to punishment? You make of him a hypocrite or a martyr. You confirm bis worst prejudices, and make him hate Christians and Christianity. Penalty and imprisonment were never yet the means of sincere conversion. Man clings to the faith for which he suffers: his enmity rises with your inflictions. Is it a good deed thus to make the Gospel hated?' Or suppose his spirit shrinks from the fiery trial. You have then made 'a hypocrite. No triumph that, for a good man to glory in. How does it affect his party? See, say they, liow these Christians meet us; we argue, and they prosecute; we refute, and they imprison. What think impartial lookers on, or what the young, the undecided, and the inquiring? In the contest of force with opinion, we all know which way sympathy naturally inclines, and you have to answer for giving them this bias towards Infidelity.'

Truth claims to be beard, let her speak by whom she may, We are not now treating of the right of the State to punish blasphemy: we are speaking only with regard to the inexpediency of such prosecutions; and among the many grounds upon which they are inexpedient, we are confining our remarks to one, namely, the tendency of such an interference to prejadice the minds of infidels against Christianity itself. ,,There is a great deal of good sense in the “ Letter" which Mr. Roberts

has addressed to the Attorney General, in which he wges this same consideration with the most conciliating, mildness

and simplicity, and under the evident guidance of devout and benevolent feelings. We shall avail ourselves of several of his paragraphs. After remarking that “trials for blaspbemy have

always been productive of repetitions of the crime,' he proceeds to shew, that it is contrary to experience, that such prosecutions should produce the amendment of the culprit.

Such men invariably consider themselves, or profess to consider themselves, as persecuted men. They have their cause to defend, and they are consequently only anxious to discover arguments in its favour, and evidences to support it. However weak and futile these may in reality be, they are generally strong enough to confirm such culprits in their errors, and to encourage them in their attempts to impose those errors upon others. I do not believe that a single instance can be adduced of a man, once prosecuted for blasphemy, ever retracting his opinions, or renouncing the error of his ways. Instances without number, however, might be brought forward, 'of men who have once held those erroneous 'opinions, and entertained and even declared them unmolested, who have afterwards become very reformed characters; nay who have become highly exemplary Christians, and even eminently succeşsful teachers of Christianity.

Mr. Roberts expresses an opinion, in which many persons will coincide, that had Paine never been prosecuted, bis blasphemous work would not, in all probability, have been read by.one

in a hundred of those who have now perused it. He applies the same remark to Hone's parodies, and adds : Naft svisori

• The notoriety which he acquired in consequence of his prosecution and self defence, induced Carlile to emerge from obscurity, and to endeavour, by every art of effrontery, to attract the attention of Government. This was clearly from the first, his abject. He has unfortunately succeeded; he has become known and talked of throughout the kingdom, and the blasphemous work, which, when the prosecution of Paine had ceased, was soon forgotten, is now selling to a great extent in every town of any importance in the kingdom.

. Another objection is, that these prosecutions are the means of filling the public houses, and converting the company there into debating societies on religious subjects, not on particular doctrinal points of the Christian religion, but on the truth or falsehood of the religion of Christ itself --not to deterinine which translation of the New Testament, in particular parts, is the most correct, or which is the proper sense in which to understand some particular words of its Divine Founder and his disciples, but to determine whether the whole be not a fiction, and the Saviour of the world an impostor. The daring, familiar, and shoeking language in which these things are, at second hand, often debated in those places, is too horrible to be repeated, or even to be thought of. The dreadful effects produced by them throughout the mass of the people, may be much more easily

[graphic]

a

imagined than described. All or most of this would be prevented by letting these men alone." 1. When, as in the case of Carlile, success bas attended the prosecution, and the culprit is condemned and punished, are his deluded adherents convinced, by his conviction, that the doctrines which he inculcated, are false? Not one of them, probably, is so convinced: on the contrary, they are thereby the more fully confirmed in their errors—presuming, with an appearance of reason, that the cause of that nature which requires the arm of the Law to defend it, cannot have truth to uphold it.'

The argument against such proceedings, which is deducible from the spirit of Christianity, we inust leave our readers to draw for themselves. The subject is not indeed half exhausted. As connected with the great question of the Liberty of the Press, it deipands the most attentive consideration; but the specific discussion of that most interesting subject must be reserved for future article. There is, however, one more remark wbich we wish to transcribe froin the Letter before us. Adverting to the supposed danger arising from blasphemous publications, the Wiiter says:

( The fact is, that in this kingdom there is now no danger of infidelity making any alarming progress by its own efforts. Let it alone, and, as it hath nothing to promise that will procure proselytes, it will soon die away and come to naught. Take away all hope of profit and popularity, and the infidel has not, he cannot have, a motive left, powerful enough to induce him to employ any personal exertions in the cause.'

No. As a man does not become a believer without feeling the force of the motives for believing, so, neither does any one become a deist, or wholly let go Christianity, how ignorant soever he may be of its real nature, from absolutely no motive at all. But not only should the poor seem to be less liable to the influence of any conceivable inducements to infidelity; they have in their external privations and hardships, peculiar motives for wishing Christianity to be true; and in this respect their condition is not without its moral advantages. The poor cannot afford to disregard that source of solid mental comfort, that solace of affliction, that stimulus of hope, for which the rich, and the noble, and the refined, and the accomplished, can provide theinselves with a substitute that shall answer the purpose of present enjoyment, in the elements of worldly pleasure. If the poor are infidels, it is through the neglect of those who are bound to provide them with instruction; it is through the imbecillity of ignorance, or through the madness produced by oppression. The Gospel, wherever it has been promulgated in its purity, has always vindicated its Divine

[ocr errors]

character by its adaptation to the capacities, the wants, and the awakened feelings of the poor.

There is a selfish, cowardly, cruel spirit abroad, which leads men to talk loudly of loyalty and religion, but is in truth a spirit unworthy of Englishmen, much more of Christians. Fear is always cruel, as it is always blind : fear is never ont of danger. It may be a good sentinel, but it forms a despicable commander. What men fear, they soon learn to hate ; and if what they fear, they have injured, they hate it the more. The lower classes have been depressed, in some cases cruelly depressed. If it has arisen from inevitable circumstances, still, their sufferings have pot on that account been the less real, or the less deserving of commiseration and sympathy. Ainid all this suffering, the country has, till very recently, enjoyed the most perfect internal tranquillity. The poor have suffered with more than patience with resignation. At length, symptoms of partial disorder appear. The districts in which the greatest pressure of suffering has been endured, exhibit a considerable ferment. This is enough to rouse the jealous spirit of Toryism. A new enemy is announced to be at the gates, and the panic spreads through all the higher ranks of society. It is the Spenceans; it is the Radicals; led on by General Watson and Field-marshal Hunt. Another French Revolution is just on the eve of explosion. Oh, for a safety-lamp, to indicate in time the approach of the subtile enemy! But here is proof positive; we have blasphemers among us, and the French philosophers were blasphemers. And

upon

this poor pretence, the lower classes of our fellow-countrymen are to be represented as a factious, demoralized rabble, who are eating up our substance by means of poor's rates, and will be prevented only by the sword from devouring the constitution also ;-an excrescence upon the body politic, which is absorbing its vital energy ;-a loathed and burdensome incumbrance. That they are distressed, would matter little; but they are disaffected too. And is this the spirit of the British constitution? Is this temper towards the poor, consistent with the generous feeling of Englishmen? Will cheap declamations against sedition and blasphemy, heal the disorders of the State, or advance the triumphs of the Gospel? What good can possibly be done by exaggerating the evils which too truly exist, or by exasperating against each other, the rich and the poor, wbo, in a well ordered community, can have no separate or conflicting interests?

Art. II. M. Tullii Ciceronis Sex Orationum Fragmenta inedita, cum

Commentariis Antiquis item ineditis Invenit Recensuit Notis Illus: travit Angelus Maius Bibliothecæ Ambrosianæ. A Linguis Orien: talibus. Impressum Mediolani, 1814; denuo Impressum Londini, 1816. 8vo. 9s. THIS work, we rogret to find, has shared the fate of some

other publications that should have received from us an earlier attention. We now notice it more for the purpose of putting on record in our Journal, the discoveries of its Editor, than for that of critically examining its contents.

The injuries which apcient literature has sustained by the devastations of war, the succession of rude tribes of men to the seats of polished nations, and the multitude of other causes of change and destruction to the operation of which all human produetions have been exposed, are various and great. Many of its noblest monuments have perished, and others which survive, exist only in disordered forms and scattered fragments. The works of Poets, Historians, and Orators, whose genius and eloquence have obtained for them a durable celebrity, are preserved but in part; and of others who commapded the admiration of their contemporaries and a few subsequent generations, the names are now either unknown, or, where these have been spared in the ravages of time, are all that remain to tell us that they once lived.

Euripides, Sophoeles, Livy, and Cicero, have had only a part of their writings transmitted to these times. The fruits of Menander's genius have almost entirely perished. Musæus, and others who struck the lyre, or courted the historic Muse, are authors who are known to us in that character oply by the testimony of their ancient admirers. Till the patient and persevering researches whielt have, since the revival of learning, been made in every country, for the purpose of discovering the precious treasures that might be lurking in the recesses of literary depositories, were so nearly accomplished as they now are, expectation might be raised among Scholars, that they should be receiving important accessions to the classic volumes of their libraries; but the hope of recovering, to any extent, more of those productions, would now seen to be a vain anticipation. Perhaps, our surprise may be more justly expressed, that so many literary works of antiquity should have per tot discria mina rerum' descended to us, than that so many should bave been lost. Every age has had its guardians of knowledge, and its Bibliomaniacs; and it were no difficult to produce a picture that might relieve the gloom of the following description.

• Ex tot orationibus tamen, quibus vir disertissimus (Cicero) romanum forum personuit, multas invida ætas aut corrupit aut mutilavit, multas 'funditus sustulit, plurium denique, ut credibile

« السابقةمتابعة »