Imágenes de página


POPULAR JOURNALS.---Concluded. ... THOSE extreme democratic principles which menace the political

1 systems of modern states boast two triumphs, at distant periods, amongst two peoples opposed broadly to each other in all the circumstances of race, language, genius, and religion. In both cases, apparently decisive ; in both, the event showed them incapable of retaining the field against principles confirmed, or habits formed, by the experience of ages. The throne of the Stuart and the throne of the Capetian fell before the same spirit,—the subversion of each seemed final ; upon the site of both arose the iron seat of a military despotism, and the generations that saw the exile hailed the return of the ancient dynasty. But with this order of successive circumstances, so constant in the history of revolutions as to seem to be in the nature of things, the parallel between these great events ceases. Neither the motives nor the scenes, though dramatized upon its model_nor the actors, though their action was studied at its mirrors-of the Revolution, resembled the motives, scenes, or actors of the Great Rebellion. The austere Stuart and the passively-heroic Louis—the spirit of Hampden and Mirabeauwere as remotely akin to each other as the licentious violence of the National Assembly to the grand illegality of the Long Parliament. Nor was the enthusiasm which fed the flagging political zeal of the actors similar, or the springs by which the thinking portion of the nation swayed the material masses to its will the same. The wild frenzy of the “ Fifth Monarchy” man brought no lunacy into Westminster Hall like that of Anacharsis Clootz; the fanaticism of the Convention united absurdity with horror,—that of such men as Harrison invested their follies with grandeur, and their crimes with an aspect of dignity. And as it was with those who were the soul, so it was with the multitude who were the muscles and sinews of the struggle. The meanest Roundhead felt that the cause of religion, no less than liberty, was depending upon the keenness of his sword; the Sans-culottes warred against the emblems and very name of religion : the one sung the Psalms of David over the fragments of the throne, the other danced the “ Carmagnole" over the ruins of all that was ancient in the State or sacred in the Church. Much of the strength of this contrast is due to national temper, to local circumstances, to the almost theoretic character of the wrongs which excited resistance in one case, compared with the tangible and long-endured tyranny of the other : but the distinctive circumstance was this, that political zeal in the first was sustained by religious enthusiasm ; in the other, by a zeal hardly less potent-enthusiastic hatred of all religion. It is interesting, and to our purpose, to remark this contrast between continental and insular democracy, perpetuated to our own day; though the first has lost its most repulsive, and the latter its high and redeeming, qualities. Though far removed from the dignity of their puritanical prototypes, our modern republicans retain yet a trace-little more than a trace, perbaps of that which, fettering his innovating efforts to the bounds of morality, and his outward conduct to the rules of justice and humanity, constituted his dignity when compared with the possessed ” of a revolutionary frenzy, which urged to the violation of both. Our ultra-radicalism,-for which repub

licanism is not the correct, but the convenient, title,—when of native growth, and not a grotesque parody upon some foreign folly, has seldom been avowedly dissociated from religion ; its teachers have seldom proclaimed their unbelief as a recommendation to their disciples' confidence, or declared a part of their mission to be the ridicule of the doctrines and mysteries of the Faith. On the contrary, with as little of its spirit as its avowed enemies might exhibit it is true, they have sought to lend to their cause the strength of its sacred sanction. Sacred institutions, holy offices, and particular doctrines, which excite political rancour or clash with political vagaries, might become the objects of invective ; but the demagogue more commonly contrasted these with an erroneous ideal of Christian polity than denied the purity and beauty of the Gospel code. Manchester, in the first days of radicalisin," had its “ Marseillaise," and in more recent times the poet's pen aided the pamphleteer in its appeals to the passions of the multitude ; but the “ Lancashire Hymn" was addressed to the King of Heaven, and the words at least of later productions of that character taught the poor and oppressed to regard Him as their protector. We do not pretend that the class beyond which extreme democratic principles if simple restlessness under control deserves the name—hardly extend, exhibits the evidences of vital religion in any higher degree than its representative class in other commonwealths ; but as few will be disposed to deny it a superior standard of morality to any in which the degree of intelligence is the same, we are willing to believe that this superiority is due to the strength, slight as it may be, which the bare respect for religion can contribute to moral sense. Depraved as the population which swarms in the dark places of home heathendom confessedly is, and dim as the degree of light which has penetrated its borders may be,-if there be much apathy, much suspicion and prejudice, there does not seem to be much antagonistic ignorance to oppose the sacred message, when that apathy is roused, and those suspicions have been removed. Even amongst the better class, the few hard-handed mechanics, half-educated at the National School, and indoctrinated by the Reasoner and the lectures at “National Halls,” there are found practical irreligion, some loose morality, and a passive scepticism ; but rarely that audacious contempt for the idea of Divine authority—that confident infidelity which is the last sign of a nation upon which the judgments of God are hastening. We have often met with a curious inconsistency in such men as these, which proves how incapable their avowed and cherished opinions are of surmounting the lingering reverence for truths taught in youth, or the effects of habit and example, in the regularity with which their children attend the schools where religion is taught, and the readiness with which they practically admit that errors which they despise, it would be good for them to learn.

This opinion we entertain more readily, perhaps, because it is desirable that it should be true ; but some evidence of its justice may be adduced from the pages we are noticing. Amidst all the rabid nonsense heaped upon the Church, in common with all other institutions, to gratify the dislike of ignorance for everything that is, the Gospel itself is spared ; in all the absurdity and wild abuse levelled against His ministers, the majesty of the Master is unassailed ; His precepts, indeed, are turned with an ignorant aim upon the rectitude which vice candot behold

without the pain of self-rebuke, but their power is recognized by the very act of perversion, and their eternal justice is never openly questioned. We may allow to the workman the perfect knowledge of the material upon which he has to work,—to those who live by pandering to the prejudices and follies of mankind, a keen appreciation of their character; if unscrupulous politicians snatch their tools from the store of the Word, though with as little actual reverence as if from any convenient supply, it is because they know that the masses are not proof against their keenness, and yield willingly to their power. Did we find the popular journal scattering a weekly store of unblushing blasphemy, levelling its shafts against the truth as rancorously as against the teachers of truth, denouncing religion itself as superstition and folly, where it now brands the clergy with hypocrisy, we might lose the one bright ray which relieves the darkness of the picture which the pages before us reveal. But as an affectation of prudery implies the presence of those who esteem the modesty of virtue, -as hypocrisy the admiration commanded by the beauty of holiness,—as the existence of any counterfeit pre-supposes the value attached to the sterling original; so the guarded caution with which respect is affected by writers, unrestrained on other subjects by the trammels of decency, by capdour, or common sense, to the idea of religion, indicates a share of reverence in those to whose tastes they minister, the tender fostering of whose prejudices they study with keenness due to the craft by which they gain their bread.

That it is necessary in illustration of our views, must serve as an apology for the extract following, from the same journal we before quoted. Passages better adapted to our purpose suggested the above remarks; but although of the same order, we prefer to select from a current number, especially as it is more the tone than the matter of these effusions that deserves attention. The subject is the “ Morality of the Rulers of Mankind,” which the writer describes as utterly debased ; and tracing that depravity to the “imperfect development of moral sense in the community,” he attributes both this cause and the effect to the faithlessness of the priesthood :." The first preachers of Christianity were not afraid or ashamed to rebuke the vices of the mightiest. Wrong they denounced, by whomsoever perpetrated. The rich were in an especial manner the objects of their fierce invective, because they converted into a curse the wealth which nature and Heaven designed for the happiness of mankind. The very reverse of this is the case with the modern propagators of the faith. They have, like the infamous Judge Jeffries, a smooth and rough side to their reverend tongues. With the former they sooth to sleep the consciences of the oppressors ; with the latter they lash the poor into remorse for offences involuntarily committed, and cow them into submission to a system of which vice and crime, suffering and degradation, are the natural and inevitable fruit. When preaching to the rulers of the people, the priesthood represent the Deity as a placid and amiable being, who smiles incessantly on the rich, and sends showers and sunshine and plenty, for no other reason than that the great ones of the earth should indulge in one uninterrupted revel of sensual enjoyments. On the other hand, the industrial slaves of the earth are told that He is a fierce, frowning, vigilant, and well-nigh implacable tyrant, marking continually the sins of the poor, more especially the sins of rebellion and discontent, which He will not pardon without the most complete and abject humiliation to their rulers and masters. Slaves are strictly prohibited from tracing their miseries to any other source than the wrath of Heaven, kindled by the iniquities of the wretched. The crimes of rulers are utterly ignored."

And so on ad nauseam.

Wild nonsense this, but read and approved by thousands. So cunningly is it tempered to popular taste, that it would not be easy to procure an unsold copy on the day following publication. When the Sabbath-bells ring next their unheeded summons to the temple of the God of charity and peace, many a sturdy labourer will sit at his hearth, drinking a new measure of such moral poison, the most fatal effects of which are the steeling of the heart and hardening the forehead against those from whose hands the largest share in his social redemption cannot safely be withdrawn. Yet, with something of the satisfaction of the traveller who, in the darkness of night, imagines peculiar brilliancy in a solitary star, or as a wanderer in the desert would hail with joy the feeblest moss as an evidence of fertility, so we think we discern in this extract, and the conviction is strengthened by many such, a ray of comfort. Though, in effect, as pernicious as the extremest doctrines of atheism, these pages would certainly disavow and retort the charge of simple impiety. It is the priesthood who pervert, not they who assail the Gospel system ; its uncorrupted purity would regenerate the earth; to practise its lofty morality would be to “ restore all things ;” but it is “ mockery and sham,” called Christianity, which is imposed upon mankind. Preserved by this theory, they flutter over the brink, but never plunge into the gulf of blasphemy. Their irreligion takes to itself the form of religion ; we doubt not that hundreds are taught to believe themselves Christians on the strength of disbelieving that which is to be Christianity. The opinions of the journalist are always the exaggerated opinions of his readers, just as the passions of the actor must reach caricature before they rouse the passions of his audience ; we may therefore suppose that what he writes is more impious, or more absurd, than what his readers believe, and that he teaches the utmost it is safe to teach without exciting the disgust and losing the patronage of his subscribers. It is safe, then, to declare that ministers pervert the Gospel for secular purposes; it is not safe to impeach the truth of the Gospel. Though the people are willing to hear the Church reviled, they desire not to hear the Head blasphemed; though they are credulous enough, or ignorant enough, to be persuaded that the clergy are leagued with their imaginary oppressors, they retain a lingering legendary idea that their Master is their friend. The paper sells by justifying the vices that consume them, by attributing the consequences to the vices of others; but it sells equally by attributing lax morality to clerical unfaithfulness, and, by implication, pointing to the Gospelinterpreted by themselves, it is true, as the remedy for immorality. It would seem, then, that the theory of infidelity is not popular, if its practice is, that the avowal of irreligion is distasteful to the, practically, most irreligious. Did the masses relish attacks upon divine things as keenly as upon their rulers—were they as pleased with a column of blasphemy as with a column of sedition—or would their circulation be increased by the infusion of a large portion of scepticism—there is nothing apparent in the venal pages, and little, wisely perhaps, in the administration of censorial laws, to hinder them becoming as black with the homilies of atheism as they are with the lessons of bitterness and discontent.

Such is the religious aspect of a large portion of what are socially the lower orders, as presented in the most popular of popular journals; of their political errors and prejudices we have already treated. If we have cast a relieving light amongst the shadows of a gloomy picture, it is a faint one; and we do so from no desire to extenuate the dismal features, or impugn the faithfulness of the image of those classes as limned by the most skilful novelist, the least hopeful moralist, or as dashed out in raw, literal strokes on the pages of “reports," or in the columns of statistics. It will not lighten the labour, or hasten its completion, to understate its difficulties; but the labour is half done when those difficulties are understood, and the nature of one difficulty we desire to indicate. If infidelity and atheism do not taint the masses to the extent represented, there is that which imposes upon them all their practical effects. When the efforts made to raise them to a more noble standard of morality and intelligence are considered, even with the allowance that they have been made without union, and occasionally with little wisdom, -it must surprise us that the labour should accumulate upon our hands, that the aggregate of vice and ignorance swells above the ratio of the increase of population. What hinders the progress of the good work? There seems to be a dull inertia in the masses which has almost the effect of antagonism to its progress ; in that which, above all other labours, needs sympathy between the donor and the recipient of its benefits, there is in one an ardent and increasing zeal, in the other a cold and impassive apathy. “Go and compel them to come in " seems especially applicable to these loiterers on the highway to eternity. Thus, we build the house of God in the crowded neighbourhood, and it stands a monument to charity, but a temple of emptiness ; we multiply sittings for the poor, yet the place knows them not. We have ancient city churches with a feeble congregation of drowsy officials and listless paupers attached to the “foundation" by anniversary gratuities, and suburban churches where the popular preacher attracts all classes between the peer and the tradesman, but where the labourer suffers no banishment to the galleries, because he seldom comes within their walls. A prelate, remarkable alike for eloquence and benevolence, might deliver special lectures for working men; but neither the celebrity of the orator nor the prestige of the bishop could fill the benches devoted to working men. And so with lessdignified philanthropists ; let them seek to bring these men- we speak of the rule-within the sound of the truth, and they will admit the kindly feeling that suggests the act, perhaps tolerate the absence of their wives from home at the appointed time, or even insist upon the attendance of their children ; but for themselves, they have no interest in the matter, and, without treating the attempt with ridicule, permit it to fail with indifference. This is that which hinders the moral growth of such from generation to generation. Too ignorant of the truth to question it, too little trained to reason to be doubting, they simply accord an instinctive reverence for that which they neither feel nor understand, and remain in an indifference which has all the consequences of unbelief. But this indifference is more commonly found in union with a formidable ally. The pages we have quoted contain the political faith of thousands of this class of the community. Great as are the social evils its absurdities engender, its train of moral and spiritual evils are of greater magnitude. It teaches that the ministers of Christ are the creatures of their imaginary oppressors, interested in the existence of a

« AnteriorContinuar »