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Spanish education consists. But who would have the patience to read it, or what could he learn from it? I had intended that this little effusion of an oppressed and struggling mind should lie concealed till some future period, probably after my death, when my country might be prepared to learn and lament the wrongs she has, for ages, done to her children. But, since you have provided against discovery, and are willing to translate into English any thing I may give you, it will be some satisfaction to know that the results of my sad experience are laid before the most enlightened and benevolent people of Europe. Perhaps, if they know the true source of our evils, the day will come when they may be able and willing to help us."
The question with me now was, not whether I should accept the manuscript, but whether I could do it justice in the translation. Trust. ing, however, that the novelty of the matter would atone for the faults of my style, labour and perseverance have, at length, enabled me to enclose it in this letter. As I have thus introduced a stranger to you, I am bound in common civility to fall into the back-ground, and let him speak for himself. A few facts connected with the formation of the intellectual and moral
Character of a Spanish Clergyman. “ I do not possess the cynical habits of mind which would enable me, like Rousseau, to expose my heart naked to the gaze of the world. I have neither his unfortunate and odious propensities to gloss by an affected candour, nor his bewitching eloquence to display: and as I must overcome no small reluctance and fear of impropriety to enter upon the task of writing an account of the workings of my mind and heart, I have some reason to believe that I am led to do so by a sincere desire of being useful to others. Millions of human creatures are made to venture their happiness on a form of Christianity which possesses the strongest claims to our attention, both from its great antiquity, and the extent of its sway over the most civilized part of the earth. The various effects of that religious system, unmixed with any thing unauthorized or spurious, upon my country, my friends, and myself, have been the object of my most serious attention, from the very dawn of reason till the moment when I am writing these lines. If the result of my experience should be, that religion, as it is taught and enforced in Spain, is productive of exquisite misery in the amiable and good, and of gross depravity in the unfeeling and the thoughtless—that it is an insuperable obstacle to the improvement of the mind, and gives a decided ascendancy to lettered absurdity, and to dull-headed bigotry —that it necessarily breeds such reserve and dissimulation in the most promising and valuable part of the nation as must check and stunt the noblest of public virtues, candour and political courage-if all this, and much more that I am not able to express in the abstract form of simple positions, should start into view from the plain narrative of an obscure individual, I hope I shall not be charged with the silly vanity of attributing any intrinsic importance to the domestic events and private feelings which are to fill up the following pages.
“ I was born of parents who, though possessed of little property, held a decent rank among the gentry of my native town. Their characters, however, are so intimately connected with the formation of my own, that I shall indulge an honest pride in describing them.
“My father was the son of a rich merchant, who obtained for himself and descendants a patent of Hidalguia, or Noblesse, early in the reign of Ferdinand VI. During the life of my grandfather, and the consequent prosperity of his house, my father was sent abroad for his education, and a few years after he visited France for his amusement. This gave a polish to his manners, which, at that period, was not easily found even in the first ranks of the nobility. Little more than his accomplishments, however, was left him, when, in consequence of his father's death, the commercial concerns of the house, being managed by a stranger, received a shock which had nearly reduced the family to poverty and want. Yet something was saved; and my father, who, by some unaccountable infatuation, had not been brought up to business, was now obliged to exert himself to the utmost of his power. Joining, therefore, in partnership with a more wealthy merchant, who had married one of his sisters, he contrived, by care and diligence, together with a strict, though not sordid economy, not to descend below the rank in which he had been born. Under these unpromising circumstances he married my mother, who, if she could add but little to her husband's fortune, yet brought him a treasure of love and virtue, which he found constantly increasing, till death removed him on the first approaches of old age.
“ My mother was of honourable parentage. She was brought up in that absence of mental cultivation which prevails, to this day, among the Spanish ladies. But her natural talents were of a superior cast. She was lively, pretty, and sang sweetly. Under the influence of a happier country, her pleasing vivacity, the quickness of her apprehension, and the exquisite degree of sensibility which animated her words and actions, would have qualified her to shine in the most elegant and refined circles.
Benevolence prompted all my father's actions, endued him, at times, with something like supernatural vigour, and gave him, for the good of his fellow-creatures, the courage and decision he wanted in whatever concerned himself. With hardly any thing to spare, I do not recollect a time when our house was not a source of relief and consolation to some families of such as, by a characteristic and feeling appellation, are called among us the blushing poor.* In all seasons, for thirty years of his life, my father allowed himself no other relaxation, after the fatiguing business of his counting-house, than a visit to the general hospital of this town—a horrible scene of misery, where four or five hundred beggars are, at a time, allowed to lay themselves down and die, when worn out by want and disease. Stripping himself of his coat, and having put on a coarse dress for the sake of cleanliness, in which he was scrupulous to a fault, he was employed, till late at night, in making the beds of the poor, taking the helpless in his arms, and stooping to such services as even the menials in attendance were often loth to perform. All this he did of his own free will, without the least connexion, public or private, with the establishment. Twice he was at death's door from the contagious influence of the atmosphere in which he exerted his charity. But no danger would appal him when engaged in administering relief to the needy. Foreigners, cast by misfortune into that gulph of wretchedness, were the peculiar objects of his kindness.
* Polres vergonzantes.
“ The principle of benevolence was not less powerful in my mother; but her extreme sensibility made her infinitely more susceptible of pain than of pleasure of fear than of hope--and, for such characters, a technical religion is ever a source of distracting terrors. Enthusiasm that bastard of religious liberty, that vigorous weed of Protestantism -does not thrive under the jealous eye of infallible authority. Catholicism, it is true, has, in a few instances, produced a sort of splendid madness; but its visions and trances partake largely of the tameness of a mind previously exhausted by fears and agonies meekly borne under the authority of a priest. The throes of the New Birth harrow up the mind of the Methodist, and give it that phrenzied energy of despair, which often settles into the all-hoping, all-daring raptures of the enthusiast. The Catholic Saint suffers in all the passiveness of blind submission, till nature sinks exhausted, and reason gives way to a gentle, visionary madness. The natural powers of my mother's intellect were strong enough to withstand, unimpaired, the enormous and constant pressure of religious fears in their most hideous shape. But, did I not consider reason the only gift of Heaven, which fully compensates the evils of this present existence, I might have wished for its utter extinction in the first and dearest object of my natural affection. Had she become a visionary, shc had ceased to be unhappy. But she possessed to the last an intellectual energy equal to any exertion, except one, which was not compatible with the influence of her country --that of looking boldly into the dark recess where lurked the phantoms that harassed and distressed her mind.
“ It would be difficult, indeed, to choose two fairer subjects for observing the effects of the religion of Spain. The results, in both, were lamentable, though certainly not the most mischievous it is apt to produce. In one, we see mental soberness and good sense degraded into timidity and indecision-unbounded goodness of heart, confined to the lowest range of benevolence. In the other, we mark talents of a superior kind, turned into the ingenious tormentors of a heart, whose main source of wretchedness was an exquisite sensibility to the beauty of virtue, and an insatiate ardour in treading the devious and thorny path it was made to take for the way which leadeth unto life.'-Å bolder reason, in the first, it will be said) and a reason less fluttered by sensibility, in the second, would have made those virtuous minds more cautious of yielding themselves up to the full influence of ascetic devotion. Is this, then, all that men are to expect from the unbounded promises of light, and the lofty claims of authority, which our religion holds forth? Is it thus that, when, to obtain the protection of an infallible guide, we have, at his command, maimed and fast bound our reason, still a precipice yawns before our feet, from which none but that insulted reason can save us? Are we to call for her aid on the brink of despair and insanity, and then spurn our faithful, though injured friend, lest she should unlock our hand from that of our proud and treacherous leader? Often have I, from education, habit, and a misguided love of moral excellence, been guilty of that inconsistency, till frequent disappointment urged me to break my chains. Painful, indeed, and fierce was the struggle by which I gained my liberty, and doomed I am for ever to carry about the marks of early bondage. But no power on earth shall make me again give up the guidance of my reason, till I can find a rule of conduct and belief that may be safely trusted, without wanting reason itself to moderate and expound it.
“ The first and most anxious care of my parents was to sow abundantly the seeds of Christian virtue in my infant breast. In this, as in all their proceedings, they strictly followed the steps of those whose virtue had received the sanction of their church. Religious instruction was conveyed to my mind with the rudiments of speech ; and if early impressions alone could be trusted for the future complexion of a child's character, the music, and the splendid pageantry of the cathedral of Seville, which was to me the first scene of mental enjoyment, might, at this day, be the soundest foundation of my Catholic faith.
“ Divines have declared that moral responsibility begins at the age of seven, and, consequently, children of quick parts are not allowed to go much longer without the advantage of confession. My mind had scarcely attained the first climacteric, when I had the full benefit of absolution for such sins as my good mother, who acted as the accusing conscience, could discover in my naughtiness. The church, we know, cannot be wrong ; but, to say the honest truth, all her pious contrivances have, by a sad fatality, produced in me just the reverse of what they were aimed at. Though the clergyman who was to shrive this young sinner had mild, gentle, and affectionate manners, there is something in auricular confession which has revolted my feelings from the day when I first knelt before a priest, in childish simplicity, to the last time I have been forced to repeat that ceremony, as a protection to my life and liberty, with scorn and contempt in my heart.
· Auricular confession, as a subject of theological controversy, is, probably, beneath the notice of many; but I could not easily allow the name of philosopher to any one who should look upon an enquiry into the moral influence of that religious practice, as perfectly void of interest. It has been observed, with great truth, that the most philanthropic man would feel more uneasiness in the expectation of having his little finger cut off, than in the assurance that the whole empire of China was to be swallowed up, the next day, by an earthquake. If ever, therefore, these lines should meet the eye of the public in some distant country (for ages must pass before they can see the light in Spain), I entreat my readers to beware of indifference about evils from which it is their happiness to be free, and to make a due allowance for the feelings which lead me into a short digression. They certainly cannot expect to be acquainted with Spain without a sufficient know
ledge of the powerful moral engines which are at work in that country; and they will, perhaps, find that a Spanish priest may have something to say which is new to them on the subject of confession.
“ 'I'he effects of confession upon young minds are, generally, unfavourable to their future peace and virtue.
It was to that
practice I owed the first taste of remorse, while yet my soul was in a state of infant purity. My fancy had been strongly impressed with the awful conditions of the penitential law, and the word sacrilege had made me shudder on being told that the act of concealing any thought or action, the rightfulness of which I suspected, would make me guilty of that worst of crimes, and greatly increase my danger of everlasting torments. My parents had, in this case, done no more than their duty according to the rules of their church. But, though they had succeeded in rousing my fear of hell, this was, on the other hand, too feeble to overcome a childish bashfulness, which made the disclosure of a harmless trifle an effort above my strength. The appointed day came at last, when I was to wait on the confessor. Now wavenng, now determined not to be guilty of sacrilege, I knelt before the priest, leaving, · however, in my list of sins, the last place to the hideous offence-I believe it was a petty larceny committed on a young bird. But, when I came to the dreaded point, shame and confusion fell upon me, and the accusation stuck in my throat. The imaginary guilt of this silence haunted my
mind for four years, gathering horrors at every successive confession, and rising into an appalling spectre when, at the age of twelve, I was taken to receive the sacrament. In this miserable state I continued till, with the advance of reason, I plucked, at fourteen, courage enough to unburthen my conscience by a general confession of
And let it not be supposed that mine is a singular case, arising either from morbid feeling or the nature of my early education. Few, indeed, among the many penitents I have examined have escaped the evils of a similar state; for, what a silly bashfulness does in children, is often, in after-life, the immediate effect of that shame by which fallen frailty clings still to wounded virtue. The necessity of confession, seen at a distance, is lighter than a feather in the balance of desire ; while, at a subsequent period, it becomes a punishment on delicacyan instrument to blunt the moral sense, by multiplying the subjects of remorse, and directing its greatest terrors against imaginary crimes.
“ These evils affect, nearly equally, the two sexes ; but there are some that fall peculiarly to the lot of the softer. Yet the remotest of all-at least, as long as the Inquisition shall exist-is the danger of direct seduction from the priest. The formidable powers of that odious tribunal have been so skilfully arrayed against the abuse of sacramental trust, that few are found base and blind enough to make the confessional a direct instrument of debauch. The strictest delicacy, however, is, I believe, inadequate fully to oppose the demoralizing tendency of auricular confession. Without the slightest responsibility, and, not unfrequently, in the conscientious discharge of what he believes his duty, the confessor conveys to the female mind the first foul breath which dims its virgin purity. He, undoubtedly, has a right to interrogate upon subjects which are justly deemed awkward even for maternal