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MEMOIR OF THE LATE REV. ROBERT ASPLAND.
CHAPTER XV. BEFORE resuming the extracts from Mr. Aspland's diaries, a few passages from the letters of his correspondents at this period deserve a place. From Rev. Joshua Toulmin, D.D.
“ Birmingham, May 4, 1809. “I lose no time to forward to you Mr. Robinson's Historical Account of the Congregations in Cambridgeshire,'* as received, about thirty-four years since, from the late Mr. Josiah Thompson, of Clapham.
“ The pressure, noise and uproar at the Crown and Anchor,t I could scarcely have borne. But the object of the meeting is perfectly congenial to my principles and feelings. May it be pursued with vigour, extent and success!
" As to the conduct of this town, or its silence on the late very interesting proceedings in the House of Commons, I am ashamed of the town,
and ashamed for it, as I say here. Our Dissenters and Whigs are timid. They fear the influence of the clergy. The men who take the lead are Tories of the old school or of the Evangelical class. It is supposed that any attempt, especially if made by Dissenters, to carry a vote of thanks to Mr. Wardle, would be violently opposed and overpowered by great numbers. A private letter has been sent by post to many gentlemen, calling upon them to come forward, but without effect. I could wish that some of the London papers, with a keen pen of satire and censure, would animadvert on the conduct of this town-more censurable as here is no corporation and borough influence to pervert and bribe us."
“Birmingham, July 17, 1809. “I shall deliver to-morrow to my young friends some arguments in favour of the perpetuity of the Christian rites, especially baptism. I have half a mind to transcribe them for your Repository. I am about eight or ten days hence to baptize publicly a worthy, thinking, serious_young man, who has read on the subject pro and con. You will perceive I am still the Baptist. Human nature, it appears to me, requires ritual services. The promulgation of religious truth requires it; the preserving the memory and awakening attention to important facts require it. I enclose a list of my publications. The publisher of the Universal Magazine has obliged me with an impression of twenty copies of my Memoir of Mr. Lindsey. One asks your acceptance to accompany my other pieces which you have collected.”
“ Birmingham, Aug. 13, 1809. “I
have perused most of the Repository, and am particularly pleased with Mr. Belsham's spirited and masterly defence of the Improved Version,f and with the reviews of Bishop Warburton's Letters and of Jones's Illustrations. The latter has raised my desire of seeing the work itself.
“Mr. Charles Lloyd, above a week since, wrote to me about Coventry. I almost immediately recommended him to the attention of the congregation there, and proposed, if they turned their views to him, that they should write to him, as the most direct way of coming to a conclusion on the point.
“The apostle says, “I was not sent to baptize, but to preach.'' Our Lord's
This very interesting account was printed in the Monthly Repository (Sup. plement), Vol. V. 621-632.
+ One of the numerous popular meetings held at this time to express an opi. nion respecting the charges against the Duke of York of corrupt distribution of his patronage as Commander-in-chief.
In reply to the Quarterly Review, which, in its second No., assailed the Improved Version with true clerical rancour and contumely.
repeated declaration is, when speaking of the Mosaical sacrificial institutions, * I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,'--an Hebrew idiom to denote preference. Permit me to do, as Archbishop Newcome has done, to refer to Bishop Pearce's commentary in loc.
" It was well judged, methinks, to advertise Mr. Belsham's answer to the Quarterly Review, otherwise the writer and patrons of that publication would not, perhaps, have known of it, or would have been able to plead ignorance. The merit and excellence of the strictures, likewise, recommended the notification of them.”
“ Paradise Street, August 26, 1809. “ I return with sincere thanks my good friend's ingenious, interesting sermon on Sleep. To be capable of saying so much, and so much to the purpose, on a sleepy subject, shews how much your thoughts were awake when you composed it. Indeed, I am truly obliged by your indulgence, and I have faithfully adhered to the restrictions you laid me under. I have only to regret one effect arising from the perusal—that when I am in the very act of slumbering, I am roused by an untimely recollection of what you say respecting the attack of sleep commencing in the forehead; attempting to oppose my opinion to yours, by asserting it is in the eye, I lose the power of closing it, for any sleepy purpose, for some time.- I am greatly obliged by the tender of your love, and beg you and your dear Mrs. Aspland will accept a return in kind and degree, assuring you that your conversation exceedingly entertains, and your well-regulated zeal truly animates, your very faithful friend."
“ Birmingham, Dec. 19, 1809. “ It is not to be supposed that you compare the critiques in the Review with articles themselves, otherwise I should think the meagre, left-handed praise given of my neighbour Mr. Fry's sermon,* you would not have thought equal to its merit, which in my idea rises much above the run of discourses from the pulpit. To me it appeared peculiar in point of sentiment and composition. Wonder not that I feel concerned for my friend's reputation under present circumstances, when I am on the eve of giving a volume to the public and to your critic. Well! the Rubicon is or soon will be passed.”
“ Birmingham, Feb. 1, 1810. “ I owe, and I beg you to accept, my cordial thanks for the present of your Oration. I admire it for the appropriate sentiments, the conciliatory address, the judicious collection and application of scripture, the devotional spirit, and the concluding paragraph. A lady who, though she is afflicted with bodily blindness, has a mind in a high degree enlightened, wishes that a copy of it, guarded from injury in a box, had been or could now be, for the instruction of some distant times, lodged near the foundation-stone.
“Some of your remarks on the Jubilee meet my approbation, but the reference to the New Meeting I did wish had not appeared. It appeared to me
The reference is to a funeral sermon, preached at Coseley, Dec. 11, 1808, by Rev. Richard Fry. Mr. Fry was a Dissenting minister, settled successively at Warminster, Billericay, Cirencester, Coseley, Nottingham and Kidderminster. He was brought up, and exercised his early ministry, amongst the Independents ; but while at Billericay embraced Unitarian sentiments. The last twenty-nine years of his blameless and useful life were passed at Kidderminster, during the greater part of which he officiated at the Old meeting in that town. The infirmities of age induced him to resign the pastoral office in 1835, and he died March 12, 1842, in the 83rd year of his age. See an interesting tribute to his memory in C. R. 1842, p. 317.
+ See Monthly Repository, IV. 695—697. With the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Accession of George III. to the throne, on Oct. 25, 1809, called the Jubilee, Mr. Aspland did not warmly sympathize. He regarded it as a mere political measure, designed to serve the interests of a party, in whose proceedings he did not concur. He thought that it was devised with a view to divert too jesting for the occasion and for the dignity of your work. A friend was much disturbed by it. In general, I believe it has not made much impression; several were pleased with it. Is not much caution proper when politics are introduced into a work of a religious nature, as they do not exactly fall in with its leading design, and may tend to bring an odium on it and the tenets defended in it? “ Have you seen how I am trimmed in the Eclectic Review for November?" From Mr. Benjamin Flower.
“Harlow, Feb. 12, 1809. “I suspected, by a paragraph in some of the papers, that there was some jarring about a new edition of Dr. Lardner's Works, and the Prospectus of Hamilton's confirmed that suspicion. Your letter explains matters. I thank both you and Mr. Stower for thinking of me; but I must at once explicitly decline undertaking the matter; not that I am afraid of London booksellers, the body of whom I have long had a contemptible opinion of, but it would be impossible for me to print ten or even five sheets a month of the work, without adding considerably to my establishment, which I have no wish to do. My Reviews nearly employ half our time; and although we are sometimes slack of work, yet there are few months in the year in which we could accomplish more than two or three sheets of any work.
“William Clayton's Ordination service is to be published; and I hope, as it will with propriety come under your cognizance in your Review, that you will notice the folly of attributing an expression in a parlour, used by Mr. Hall (about spirits being liquid death, &c.) in one of his jocular strains, to an ordination service. The expression was used to Mr. Smith, of Foulmire, in conversation. Mr. Smith was very fond of smoking, and would sip over a glass of brandy and water, but was never known to be intemperate.
“What shocking scenes of profligacy in high life, and in the different departments of Government, are now exhibiting before the House of Commons ! That House
be resolved to clear the Duke of York, but can never clear him in the opinion of the public."
The Editorship of the Monthly Repository was the occasion, from a very early period, of Mr. Aspland's engaging in familiar correspondence with many Unitarians resident in America. Portions of their correspondence were from time to time published in the Magazine; other portions, containing personal and other details of considerable interest, were properly withheld. Time has, however, removed the objections that then existed to their publication. One of his earliest Transatlantic correspondents was Mr. William Christie, the correspondent and friend of Dr. Priestley.* the public mind from the consideration of the nature of the Administration and the state of the country. It was the professed object of the celebration to express thanksgivings to God for the length of the reign of George III. He could not regard that reign as, upon the whole, prosperous and happy. It was pre-eminently a warlike reign; and, recollecting the rivers of human blood that had been spilt during the half century preceding 1809, he could not, with his abhorrence of war, in Christian sincerity make it the subject of religious thanksgiving. The situation of the country in 1809, was, in his opinion, sufficient condemnation of the Jubilee. Large armies were wasting away by disease in the marshes of Spain and Holland ; at home there was distress and bankruptcy, and a general distrust of the capacity and virtue of public men. The power most hostile to England was at its height, and apparently bent on destroying the independence, if not the existence, of England. Well might a Christian and a Patriot think this was not a fitting time for a Jubilee !
* This vigorous-minded and courageous man deserves a fuller biography than has yet been awarded him. The outlines of his story are given by himself in the
" Philadelphia, 3rd February, 1809. "Rev. Sir,-I only received your letter of the 21st March last, on the 29th of July; and I was then so closely engaged in correcting and preparing my Preface to his “Dissertations." He was a merchant of Montrose, in Scotland, of active mind and possessed of some learning. He collected a valuable theological library, and devoted his leisure to the study of the Greek Testament, with the aid of commentators, fathers and critics. Early in life he had read with deep interest the writings of Dr. Samuel Clark, and had imbibed many of his opinions. The result of his studies was the rapid progress of his mind from Arianism to proper Unitarianism. Previous, however, to this, the final state of his mind, he avowed his heresy to his townsmen of Montrose with an intrepidity which none can estimate who have not resided in Scotland, where the yoke of Calvinism is insufferably heavy on the public mind. As early as July, 1781, we find Mr. Christie corresponding with Dr. Priestley, and informing him that so great was his own unpopularity amongst his countrymen, that he did not suppose any Scottish clergyman would, if requested, baptize his children. By Dr. Priestley's mediation, the Rev. Caleb Rotherham, of Kendal, in August of that same year, visited Montrose, at Mr. Christie's expense, and baptized the children. He collected around him a congregation at Montrose, to whom he preached, and this little band constituted the first Unitarian society in Scotland. In 1783, he became personally acquainted with Mr. Lindsey, who was much pleased with him, and astonished with the variety of his learning and the extent of his reading. He remarked, too, on his mental quickness and agreeable elocution. In 1784, he printed a work on the Divine Unity, consisting of a series of discourses which he had delivered at Montrose. A little before this, Mr. Christie was delighted by receiving from Mr. Thomas Fyshe Palmer, then a member of the University and a fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge, a letter expressive of his opinion that the Liturgy of the Church was antichristian, and her Articles an injurious violation of Christian liberty, and declaring his determination to decline all preferment, and devote himself to the study of the Bible and to preaching the Divine Unity, Mr. Christie joyfully welcomed Mr. Palmer to Montrose, and was assisted by him in the pulpit until he removed to Dundee in 1785. When the disgraceful riots took place at Birmingham, Mr. Christie was led to publish his opinion on the subject of ecclesiastical establishments, in an essay designed to shew their hurtful tendency. In November, 1792, he took his farewell of his flock at Montrose in a discourse which was afterwards published. In 1794, he removed to Glasgow, and preached to the little congregation of Unitarians there, of which Dr. Benjamin Spencer had been hitherto the minister. Here Mr. Christie composed and delivered his “Dissertations on the Divine Unity," which he afterwards printed in America. It was at this period, being in the maturity of his life and mental powers, that he made up his mind on the subject of the person of Christ, and deliberately rejected the doctrine of his pre-existence. While in Glasgow, he issued proposals for publishing a series of Lectures on the Revelation of St. John, but did not receive the necessary encouragement. In 1795, he was induced, by the threatening aspect of public affairs and other considerations of a more personal nature, to emigrate to America. Before he reached New York, he was prostrated by a nervous fever, and soon after landing several of his family were attacked by yellow fever. His first settlement was at Philadelphia ; but in 1796, he removed to Winchester, in Virginia, carrying with him an earnest zeal for the diffusion of scripture truth. In 1800, Dr. Priestley described him, in a letter to Mr. Lindsey, as exerting himself zealously, though with little success, at Winchester, where he had delivered his “Dissertations," and published a tract on the Unity of God and the Humanity of Christ. His undisguised avowal of his opinions proved, according to Dr. Priestley's testimony, very injurious to his interests. He held an office in the College at Winchester, but found it necessary to resign it; his school was from a similar cause unsuccessful. In 1801, he removed to Northumberland, much to the satisfaction of Dr. Priestley, who did every thing in his power to uphold him there. He had the melancholy duty, in 1804, of speaking over the grave of his distinguished friend, and the address was afterwards published. He also added to the Memoirs of Dr. Priestley, published by his son and Mr. Cooper, "A Review of Dr. Priestley's Theological Works.” After spending a year at Pottsgrove, where he con
Dissertations for the press, as well as superintending several other literary works, that I could not spare sufficient time to write you in the manner I wished. Your enclosures were very acceptable, particularly the Third Report of the Committee of the Unitarian Fund." I rejoice in the progress of Unitarianism, and particularly admire and applaud Mr. Wright for his laborious and useful exertions in propagating Unitarianism among the people at large. Such a man may be called an apostolical character.
“I never saw more of your Repository but the Prospectus, till very lately, when a friend procured me a sight of the numbers for January and May last. I find by the first of these, that the two pamphlets I sent Mr. Lindsey in 1807, had reached him; and by the last, that the Church-Alley Constitution had been sent you by some other person. In your remarks on these pieces, you point out some of the defects of that Constitution ; but I think the gross usurpation of legislative authority in the church of Christ (the dire spring of so many public evils in the religious world) made by those persons of this city, should have been more fully animadverted upon, and set in a stronger light than what you have done. You are acquainted, undoubtedly, with the Bangorian Controversy, that afterwards occasioned by the Confessional, and the decision of the celebrated Dissenting synod about ninety years ago, when all subscriptions to human formulas were declared against, and the sufficiency of the Scriptures were affirmed, by a majority of four votes. If such a daring infringement on Christian liberty had been made by any overbearing individuals in any liberal congregation in England, it would certainly have been much censured; and it should be remembered, that such an aitempt is as little justifiable in America as it would have been in England, and that it is no extenuation, but an aggravation, of the matter that the offence was committed by Unitarians, who are supposed to possess more light and information than others. Though this constitution has the appearance of being formed upon democratic principles, yet in its exercise and management it is perfectly aristocratical; and matters have been under the control of three persons, who, from their situations, connections and influence, have been always able to secure a majority in their favour. I am sorry to add, that some of these leaders not only acted imperiously and unwarrantably in framing and carrying through their constitution, but since that time endeavoured, by undermining and insidious arts, to thwart the progress of our late little independent society, and foment divisions in it; and were but too successful with some of the members, though the majority stood firm. You will find a brief account, in the Preface to the Dissertations, of the causes of the suspension of this society, Note, pages xxx, xxxi.
“ After all I have said, however, I make no doubt but that in your account of the proceedings here you intended well, and thought it best to treat the subject mildly
"I read with some surprise your account of Dr. Priestley's Memoirs. Surely, if any person in England inclines to write the Life of Dr. Priestley over again, he has a right to do it. Several accounts have been given of the lives of Dr. Watts, Dr. Johnson, and others, and so there may be of the life
ducted an academy, Mr. Christie removed, early in 1807, to Philadelphia. He was invited to become their preacher by the surviving members of the congregation, then scattered, to which Dr. Priestley began to preach in 1796. Differences of opinion arose, to which there are allusions in the letters given above from Mr. Christie and Mr. Taylor, who were at that time a little alienated, but were both pure-minded and good men, and both distinguished by their love of truth. A division into two congregations was the result. Mr. Christie's life was protracted till his 74th year. He died in New Jersey, Nov. 21, 1823. A tribute to his memory was communicated to the Monthly Repository (Vol. XIX. 363) by Rev. James Taylor, who, whatever differences of opinion he had had with his departed friend, was prompt in expressing his reverence for his inflexible integrity, his deep-seated piety and his benevolent feelings.