« AnteriorContinuar »
become fashionable, but I question whether the early Abolitionists will even then be personally popular. There are prophets whose prophecies are scouted at the time, and not appreciated when fulfilled, and I think that men like Wendell Phillips belong to this class. Happily their reward will be in the success of their labours, not in popular applause. The last two years, however, have already raised the social and political position of the Abolitionists. They are now advocates, instead of enemies, of the Union. As the nation became more and more convinced that the Abolitionist maxim is true and that the Union is incompatible with slavery, the men known hitherto as the bitterest opponents of slavery, came in popular idea to be regarded as the stanchest friends of the Union. Indeed, the recent policy of the Abolitionists is explained better by a saying of Wendell Phillips, than by any elaborate explanation. Some one asked him how he, who had been proclaiming for years, “ that the Union was the fruit of slavery and of the devil,” could be now an ardent advocate of this very Union. His answer was, “Yes ; but I never expected then that slavery and the devil would secede from the Union.” So it is; secession has brought the Abolitionists and the Republicans into the same camp, but the Abolitionists are still a distant outpost, a sort of enfants perdus of the army of the Union.
THE CHURCH IN AMERICA.
THE first thing almost which strikes a newly arrived traveller in the United States, is the immense number of churches. Every village has its half-dozen churches and chapels, Episcopalian, Unitarian, Presbyterian, Universalists, Calvinists, Independent, or any other sect you like to name. The country is dotted over with the wooden steeples, whose white painted sides, I must own, sparkle in the bright sunlight uncommonly like marble. Sunday is kept with a Scotch propriety; not a shop or tavern is open ; the railroads are closed for the day; and the omnibusses cease running. Happily with an inexplicable inconsistency, the horse-railroads are allowed to run, though omnibusses and steam-engines may not; and therefore, there are some means of locomotion still left on the Sabbath. The churches are apparently crowded, and the number of church-goers you see about the streets is larger in proportion to the population than it would be in London. In fact, if you used your eyes only, the first attribute you would ascribe to the Americans would be that of a church-going people,
Yet, if you used your ears as well as your eyes, you would soon become aware of a second fact, equally remarkable, and apparently inconsistent with the first, and that is, that you never hear anything about religious opinions or discussions. Throughout the whole period of my residence in America I never met, in any newspaper, with any allusion to the religious opinion of any public man, nor have I ever seen any question connected with religion discussed in the press. I don't suppose one American in a hundred ever asked, or thought of asking, what Church Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Seward, Mr. Stanton, or General McClellan, belonged to. I believe the first to be a Baptist, the second an Episcopalian, and the last two Unitarians, but I am by no means sure that I am correct in my impressions ; and as nobody I met was likely to know anything about the matter, I had no means of discovering with certainty, even if I had wished it, what denomination these gentlemen, or other public men, were members of. As far as I could gather, in public life, it is better for a politician to belong to some Church or other. The mere fact of doing so, like being married, or having a house of your own, is a sort of public testimony to your respectability and morality; but which Church you select is a matter of absolute indifference to anybody but yourself. The only sect against whom there seems to exist any popular prejudice is the Catholic Church ; and this prejudice I take to be derived partly from the traditions of the Old
Country, partly from an impression, not altogether unsupported by evidence, that the power of the Papacy is hostile to the institutions of a free country. When Fremont was standing for the Presidency, an unfounded charge of being a Catholic was brought against him, and the fact of its being so brought, and deliberately disavowed, shows that some importance was attached to it. In private society religion-by which I mean controversial religion—does not seem to be a topic of general interest. It would be almost impossible for an American to mix much in English society without becoming aware whether his acquaintances were Episcopalians or Unitarians, High Church or Low Church, or without learning something of the ruling religious topic of the hour—the Gorham case, or Spurgeon, or Essays and Reviews, or Revivals, or whatever it might be. Now, of the hundreds of people I knew, to a certain extent, intimately in the States, I am not aware to what denomination more than a couple of them belonged, and in their case I only happened to become acquainted with their religious creed, because I learnt accidentally what Church they were in the habit of attending. If I had chosen, I might, no doubt, have discovered—just as any man curious in such matters might discover the family history of his acquaintances in this country. But, unless you take a special trouble to acquire the information, it is not of the sort which comes to you unconsciously. Toleration, apparently, is absolute, not only in principle, but in practice. What Church you belong to, whether you change from one Church to another, or whether you belong to no Church at all, are questions which your own conscience alone has to settle. Anybody who is intimately acquainted with country life in England must be aware, that a well-to-do family would cease to be respectable, and would probably be looked upon unfavourably by the neighbourhood, if none of its members ever went to any place of worship. In America, dissent from the ordinary modes of faith entails no social disabilities. This state of things is not caused by public indifference as to religious matters ; on the contrary, a direct profession of religion is much more common amongst men than it is with us.
I remember, when I first came to America, being astonished at hearing a young man say that, under certain eventualities, he should "join the Church.” I questioned him as to which Church he intended to join, and found that he had no idea as yet. He was perfectly serious, however, and contemplated joining the Church in order to relieve himself from a liaison in which he was entangled, exactly as I might propose to join the bar in order to relieve myself from the necessity of serving on juries. Gradually, the meaning of the expression “joining the Church” became intelligible to me. In all the American Churches, with the exception of the Catholic and the Episcopalian, the fact of being