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But though the reasonings of Beattic be neither very profound nor very ingenious, his doctrines are just and salutary. It was the doctrines more than the reasonings which the infidel followers of Voltaire, Helvetius, and Rousseau, attacked. In the religious scepticism and political theories of these writers Burke's sagacious mind saw the probable overthrow of religion and government. His sentiments he took occasion the following session to communicate to the House of Commons. That subject not relating to any immediate business before the House or to any danger to common minds, imminent or even distantly probable, his speech was not taken down with the usual accuracy. A copy, however, is extant, of which the following summary is given by the editors of his Posthumous Works. He pointed out the conspiracy of atheism to the
find i he arguments of Beattie much more frequently quoted, and his book much more highly esteemed, by pious well disposed men, of no very great reach, than by able men (except Johnson and Burke), even of the Christian pero quasion.
watchful jealousy of governments. He professed that he was not over fond of calling in the aid of the secular arm to suppress doctrines and opinions ; but if ever it was to be raised, it should be against those enemies of their kind, who would take from us the noblest prerogative of our nature, that of being a religious animal.' Then comes the following quotation from the speech. • Already, under the systematic attacks of those men, I see many of the props of good government beginning to fail. I see propagated principles which will not leave to religion even a toleration, and make virtue herself less than a name,' (" he recommended that a grand alliance should be formed among all believers') .against those ministers of rebellious darkness, who were endeavouring to shake all the works of God, establish: ed in beauty and order.”
These were opinions and sentiments very inimical, if not to a revolution in France, at least to the revolution which has actually
taken place, with all its concomitant circumstances.
This session Sir Henry Houghton made a motion for relieving the Dissenters from subscription and the penal laws. The supporters of the church doctrines brought forward the usual arguments; that Dissenters were not actually liable to the punishments annexed to the penal statutes ; and that an attempt to set aside the articles was an attack on Christianity. Burke combatted these arguments with energetic eloquence, and a warmth rising almost to enthusiasm. • The Dissenters,' he said, “enjoy liberty by connivance. What is liberty by corinivance, but a temporary relaxation of slavery? Is this a sort of LIBERTY calculated for the meridian of ENGLAND? You are desirous to keep the rod hanging over. Dissenters' heads, at the very instant you assure them they shall never smart under its stripes. Why not release them from the dread of these penal statutes, the cruelty of which
shocks your generous natures so much, that you think it incumbent on you to declare they should never be put into execution ? The question answers itself; to cavil at its propriety is to carp at truth, and elude conviction. As to toleration being an attack on Christianity, it is an assertion contrary to truth and history. By toleration Christianity flourished.' (This proposition and its converse he proves by an historical detail.) • The want of toleration has lessened the number of believers ; I would have all Protestants united, that we may be the better able to make a common cause against Infidels. The CHURCH OF ENGLAND HAS NOT A FIRMER FRIEND THAN MYSELF. I wish her head may reach that heaven, to which she would conduct us ; but I would also wish her family as numerous as possible. I would have her with wide extended arms receive every believer, not with unnatural austerity reproach her offspring, and drive them to seek easę, pleasure, and comfort, in the harlot lap of Infidelity.'
In these opinions and sentiments there was liberality without laxity. From Burke's support of the Dissenters during a part of his life, and his disapprobation of some of their proceedings during another part, his detractors have endeavoured to prove that he was inconsistent. This is a conclusion of very hasty reasoning. Unless it be proved that the Dissenters in 1772, and those in 1790, maintained exactly the same opinions, and in the same circumstances of society, Burke's support of their cause at the one time, and opposition to it at the other, cinnot be evinced to be inconsistent. He who vindicates toleration may resist encroachment. The Dissenters in 1772 solicited protection : before 1790 some of them had avowed their expectations that the established church would be subverted. The difference in the former period consisted chiefly in modes of worship and ecclesiastical government, more than in the substance of articles of faith and practical precepts: in the latter, sentiments were publicly avowed