Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

access. The confidence of private friendship is violated; details are presented to the public eye, which could never be designed for publicity; the awful misgivings of the death-bed of an intimate friend are revealed; the most opprobrious epithets are bestowed on the most distinguished men. That a man should even think all this, is bad- that he should commit it to paper is a step further from that greatness to which he pretends-but that he should slowly, deliberately, and in his dying hours, bequeath it for publication, is an offence which, in our judgment, admits of no excuse.

But our most serious objection remains to be considered. Had the faults above enumerated been merely the occasional sallies of an infirm nature, in which religion had ordinarily checked, though not absolutely subdued, the original corruption, we trust that we should have been disposed to throw that veil over the infirmities of any great man, although he himself had thought proper to withdraw it; but his Lordship's faults appear to us to bottom upon a radical deficiency of religious principle. Let us touch for a moment both on his creed and his practice.

As to his creed, it is next to impossible to decide, from the present volume, or, indeed, from any part of his works, to what precisely it amounted. He was certainly a firm believer in Christianity, as a Divine Revelation ; and founded his hopes of Heaven on the resurrection of Christ. He also believed in the pre-existence of Christ; and appears sometimes to admit the influence of what he calls the Holy Spirit' on the mind. But we cannot discover, in this volume, any admission of the Divinity of the Son, or of the Divinity and agency of the Holy Spirit, as a distinct person, or of the doctrines of original sin, of the atonement, of regeneration, or justification by faith. Moreover, the author constantly depreciates the Articles of the Church, and refers to certain additions to, and corruptions of, the pure doctrines of the best ages of Christianity, in a strain so precisely that of Priestley, Wakefield, Lindsay, Belsham, &c. &c. that we cannot but think it just to range him at no great distance from that particular class of religionists. At the same time, it must be owned, that some expressions in this volume are at war with this classification; and, perhaps after all, his care was rather that of suspended decision than of open heterodoxy. He thus describes his own state of mind, in a letter to the Duke of Grafton.

66 The fact is, that I was early in life accustomed to mathematical discussion, and the certainty attending it; and not meeting with that certainty in the science of metaphysics, of natural or revealed religion, I have an habitual tendency to an hesitation of judgment, rather than to a peremptory decision on many points. But I pray God to pardon this my wavering in less essential points, since it proceeds not from

any immoral propensity, and is attended by a firm belief of a resurrection and a future state of retribution, as described in the Gospels.'” (P. 493.)

If this statement were just, what censure could be too strong of the study of the mathematics ? but we are disposed altogether to dispute its accuracy. In the first place, it is not true that all the studies, included under the title of mathematics,' by the Bishop, are of the precise and certain nature which he assumes them to possess. The science of geometry is unquestionably more precise than that of of metaphysics. But this is not equally true of physics, or of any other branch of the mixed mathematics. The demonstrations of Newton are, after all, only approximations to demonstrations, strictly so called. And we can remember, when staggering through some extended proofs in the Principia, to have felt ourselves called upon to make larger allowances for the imperfection of human evidence, than ever we remember to have made in coming to our conclusions in religion. It is, also, somewhat curious that in the brief statement of the Bishop's creed, given in this sentence, he announces himself to have a firm belief in the resurrection, and in a future state of retribution!' Now, the resurrection is a fact, and admits of a species of evidence as precise as that which establishes any other fact. But future retribution' is a doctrine, and can possess only that species of evidence which is possessed by other fundamental doctrines of Christianity. We cannot see therefore why, if it is possible to come to a firm, clear decision as to this particular doctrine, we may not come to an equally firm and clear decision as to others; and why, if suspense and doubt would not be allowable here, it is so light an offence, or, as perhaps we ought rather to say, so philosophical a quality, and so liberal a feeling, as to other points of doctrine. In many parts of this volume, the Bishop appears to treat all decision upon such doctrines as original sin, the atonement, &c. &c. as dogmatical and presumptuous; and to value himself upon indecision and scepticism, as a proof of modesty and charity. Now, the fundamental truths and doctrines of the Gospel must, we conceive, stand or fall together. If one is demonstrable, all are demonstrable; if one is essential, all are essential; and for man, the evidence being the same, to select one truth, and to reject another, is to create a line of demarkation which does not exist in Scripture, and will not, we verily believe, be found to exist in the kingdom of God. There is no cant more common, more vulgar, or more mischievous, than the cant of latitudinarians. It sounds prettily to talk of modesty and reserve, and not fathoming the deep things of God, and allowing to every man the same indecision we claim for ourselves. But the question is, are the truths revealed, and, if revealed, are they pro

claimed as necessary to salvation? If so, away with an indecision which, in fact, impiously assumes that the God of truth has denied the evidence necessary for conviction—that he has suspended a prize before us, and so blinded our eyes that we cannot reach it. On these, then, and similar grounds, we are disposed, in toto, to deny the accuracy of the assumption of the Bishop, that his own incredulity could proceed from no 'immoral propensity. Perhaps the immoral propensity was pride perhaps ambition—perhaps avarice-perhaps a hatred of spiritual religion-perhaps vanity-perhaps a determination to adopt no truth above the grasp of human reason—perhaps inward hostility to those humbling doctrines of the Cross, which were “ to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness”—perhaps a resolution to seek that wisdom by study or thought which God will grant only to prayer. On this last point we find a deficiency in the present volume, of which we should have hoped the life and death of no Christian bishop could have presented an example. The author' really appears to feel considerable astonishment at finding himself on his knees when attending the death-bed of his friend; and to entertain a philosophical doubt whether such supplications were either useful or right. But, if his views of the duty of prayer were thus indefinite or obscure, who can wonder either at the suspense of his mind, or the defects and errors of his creed?

But let us now turn from his religious creed to his moral and religious practice. His life, when contemplated as that of a Christian bishop, as the watchman and guardian of souls, as a man to whose superintendence a considerable body of the ministers of the sanctuary, and of their numerous flocks, were consigned, is, to us, truly awful. His case is nothing more nor less than this: he consumed nearly thirty years of his episcopacy in planting trees and blasting rocks, and left his clergy and their people to sin and to perish at their pleasure. The state in which his diocese was found at his death has, we understand, scarcely any parallel in the annals of our church history. Can such a line of conduct be termed, we will not say religious, but honest, or even decent ? Why not build the house in his own diocese which he built in another? Why not occupy some inconvenient mans șion till one more convenient could be found? Why not dwell in one the most inconvenient, rather than sacrifice the interests of those committed to his care, and betray the trust to which he was pledged by the most solemn engagements? Nor is even this the whole of his offence. Let it be remembered that he continued to receive a considerable income for sustaining a church, of whose discipline he did not approve, and whose doctrines he did not believe-that, rather than sacrifice this income, he continued, till his dying day, to impose upon others a subscription to articles, though he himself condemned both the articles and the subscription; the one as opposed to the practice, and the other to the principles of the Gospel

. By what epithet is a profession, thus hypocritical and self-interested, to be designated ? or by what argument is it to be justified or palliated ? But we have done. Should any of our readers be inclined to call into question the explicitness and displeasure with which we have spoken of the character and conduct of the Bishop in the latter part of this criticism, we can only say that, in our honest judgment, the case demanded the strongest expression of our displeasure. It has happened to us, on a variety of occasions since the publication of this book, as well as before, to hear the Bishop of Landaff spoken of as a great and good man-to have his “liberal and enlightened' principles and practice contrasted, in terms of the strongest preference, with our more narrow orthodoxy. Now, it is necessary, in his own language, to endeavour to · lay the axe to the root' of panegyric such as this-to show the young that latitudinarianism is not real philosophy—that indifference is not charity—that scepticisin is a crime where revelation is clear-and that something more is required of a Christian minister than can be satisfied by any eminence as a chemist, or agriculturist, or party politician.

Art. VII.-Memoirs illustrative of the Life and Writings of John

Evelyn, Esq. F.R.S. the Author of Sylva,&c. &c. Comprising his Diary from the Year 1641 to 1705-6, and a Selection of familiar Letters, to which is subjoined the private Correspondence between King Charles I. and his Secretary of State, Sir Edward Nicholas, whilst his Majesty was in Scotland, 1641, and at other Times during the Civil War; and between Sir Edward Hyde, afterwards Earl of Clarendon, and Sir Richard Browne, Åmbassador to the Court of France, in the Time of King Charles I. and the Usurpation. The Whole now first published from the Original MSS. Edited by Edward Bray, Esq. Fellow and Treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries of London. 2 vols. . 4to.

pp. 1323. Henry Colburn. London, 1818. EVERY thing in the moral world has been so altered in its aspect and character by the events of the last century, especially by those of the present reign, and we may say more emphatically still by the shock given to opinions and principles by the violence and concussion of the French revolution, that a sensation something like that of rest after fatigue is felt in the contemplation of one of

our old gentlemen of England, full of loyalty and attachment to Church and King. We have here presented to us a phenomenon of this kind; and so interior a view is given of his temper, occupations, and habits, that we feel, in the perusal of these volumes, much in the same manner affected, as when we walk through the rooms of an ancient mansion, in which the furniture and pictures of a former age produce a train of indefinite feeling, an indistinct reflection, sometimes so tranquil, so touching, and so mellow, as to give us a sort of retrospective existence, in which our present cares are for a moment forgotten.

The quiet dignity, and well-ordered course of Mr. Evelyn's life, his useful activity, liberal inquisitiveness, moral independence, and religious humility, present him to us as a pattern of what an Englishman in high station should be in his public and private demeanour. He reminds us of the concluding passage of one Sir Thomas Brown's sections of his Christian Morals : “ Bright thoughts, clear deeds, constancy, fidelity, bounty, and generous honesty, are the gems of noble minds, wherein, to derogate from none, the true heroic English gentleman hath no peer.”

It was the fortune of Mr. Evelyn to live during a period of violent conflicts, animosities, and disorders; and it was his prudence so to live as, in the midst of personal danger, to escape

all harm, without the slightest compromise with dishonour, or a moment's practice of dissimulation. There were indeed in those times, a few “ rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations,” and Mr. Evelyn was among that number. But it was by no means in retirement that Mr. Evelyn passed his time, even during the triumph of usurpation. He was distin

guished as much by the extensiveness and dignity of his con: nexions, as by his patrimony and descent. He married the

daughter of Sir Richard Browne, the ambassador of the Stuarts at the French court, and always avowed his adherence to the cause of his prince under his worst circumstances; yet he seems to have possessed those happy qualities which, while they gave him eminence, drew upon him no envy; and amidst the storms of faction, and the wreck of principles, carried his steady bark unbroken to the shore. It would be too much to say that he had no weaknesses; but it should be remembered that if a man sits down to write the details of his life, supposing him to be faithful, he must appear weak in proportion as he is particular. Who would not appear credulous were he honestly to confess all the transient beliefs and apprehensions which pass through his mind? Who would not appear a sceptic were all the misgivings, and anxieties, and trepidations of his bosom, revealed ? Whit hero would not sink below the dignity of man, were all that was inere man about him to be told? And how small a

« AnteriorContinuar »