Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Herstmonceux, Hurst Green, June 19, 1848. Rev. Sir-For the many kind and courteous expressions in your letter, I return you my thanks. At the same time, I cannot refrain from expressing my surprise that the exceedingly mild manner in which I have spoken of the Unitarians in my pamphlet, should have been made a ground of complaint by a member of their body. Divers forms of belief are, indeed, included under that name. To those who acknowledge the divinity and the pre-existence of Christ, and who look up to him as their Divine Teacher, I should not refuse the name of Christian. But I do not see that there is any advantage in stretching the name so as to embrace at once those who regard Him as the Divine Word, who was One from the beginning with the Father, and those who hold that he was a mere man, into which notion modern Unitarianism has lapsed. The difference, at all events, is a most important one; and if Unitarianism rejects all that has in all ages been regarded as essential to Christianity, I do not see why there should be so great sensitiveness about retaining the empty name. Yet in the same passage I concede all that Arnold does, or Coleridge, to individual Unitarians.

As to the passages in the “Guesses at Truth,” they are not mine, which are all signed with a U, but my deceased brother's; and, as they expressed his mature, deliberate conviction, I should not think myself justified in omitting them, unless I were persuaded that they were materially erroneous. But, though I should probably have expressed myself somewhat differently, and have worked out the thoughts more fully, my own conviction coincides substantially with my brother's. I do hold most entirely that Unitarianism, in the form under which he was speaking of it, as modified by Priestley and Belsham, has no root in the permanent principles of human nature, as manifested, among other things, in the religious wants of all nations ; that it has arisen mainly from what seems to me a gross misapplication of the forms of the understanding; and that it was connected, not merely accidentally, with a certain state of knowledge, and almost with a particular station in society. The passage about its ending “with degrading man into a beast,” refers, I believe, so far as I can conjecture from what I knew of my brother's opinions, to Priestley's materialism and necessarianism, which he regarded as destructive of the moral nature of man.

In the printed letter which accompanied your written one, I find you complaining that I have used the words “ heresy” and “heretic” very often, without giving any explanation of their meaning. But if you had attended to the manner in which I have used it, you would have perceived that this is no way requisite. I was writing for a particular purpose, to a particular class of readers, who would understand the word in a definite sense. According to the laws of our Church, and indeed of common honesty, Dr. Hampden was disqualified for holding an office of authority in our Church, if his religious opinions were adverse to the doctrines of the Church. Now, in pleading a cause, it is seldom advisable to introduce a controversy about primary principles : it is far better to stop at secondary or tertiary principles, when you can find such that your adversaries will recognize. Surely, too, my earnest endeavour to save a brother from being called a heretic - though he then was, and still is, a perfect stranger to me, and though I have very little sympathy with his peculiar opinions—is not using the word "with assurance,” as if every party who are strong have “the exclusive right to pelt it at their neighbour." Surely, Sir, you must have read my pamphlet very carelessly when you put this interpretation upon it!

I have said that I was surprised by your complaint of my want of charity as grounded on what I have said in my pamphlet. This surprise, however, was much lessened when I found the tone in which you speak of all members of the Church, especially in your printed letter. You speak again and again as if nothing but the vulgarest and basest motives would keep persons within the Church; as if we, its ministers, were all a body of perjured liars, for the

sake of our livings or from the fear of man. I have never said, and God forbid that I ever should say, any thing like this of the Unitarians. As a body, I believe them to be very honest, but generally of small learning, apt to misapply the principles and forms of thought, and to condemn generations of good men sweepingly, because they are not guilty of the same misapplication.

am not aware that I ever said a word—I believe I may assert confidently that I never did—to warrant the suspicion that I have doubted whether they should not be “swept into the category of pagans, infidels, or blasphemers."

You claim to have had Coleridge with you in his youth, and Arnold ; at least, that the latter felt scruples about the doctrine of the Trinity. Of the former you say, somewhat indecorously, when speaking of so great a thinker -one of the greatest this earth ever bore on its surface-that he was a Unitarian before he was an opium-eater.” This is just what might be expected. The Unitarian doctrines are just such as would captivate a reasoning mind, fond of following its own thoughts, at the time when it is beginning to speculate. But when the reasoner becomes more profound, when he has learnt reverence and self-distrust, when he has learnt to question his primâ facie impressions and conclusions, if he is truly initiated into the mysteries of a profound philosophy, he embraces that doctrine toward which, even without the aid of Revelation, the profoundest philosophy was striving. On his deathbed, Coleridge retained such full possession of his extraordinary powers, that he again gave a detailed exposition of his doctrine on the Trinity to Mr. Green, and said, “ This is my faith; by this I wish to stand or fall." Arnold was not an equally profound thinker, but he was a man of iron principle; and he, too, overcame the doubts which the natural bent of the understanding creates in every reasoner, but which derive no more real value from this than the doubts of a peasant as to the Copernican system of the universe. Even in physical and sensible things we are taught to distrust our natural understanding, as a kind of lesson and warning not to let ourselves be swayed by it in spiritual matters.

Milton, you assert, and Newton and Locke, were Unitarians. But surely you must be aware that their Unitarianism was totally different from the modern phase of that doctrine. Milton, for instance, though he denies the doctrine of the Trinity, does it on the Arian ground, asserting the pre-existence and the primary generation of the Son.

These, however, are not questions which can be discussed in a letter. I could not well answer yours without touching on them, and I have written with the same freedom with which you wrote. But I have neither leisure nor inclination to engage in a controversial correspondence. I have the honour to remain your faithful servant,

J. C. HARE.

11, Clifton Vale, Bristol, June 27, 1848. Rev. Sir I beg you to understand that I do not take the liberty of further addressing you with any view to engage you in " a controversial correspondence,” for which I may truly say I have as little “leisure or inclination” as yourself, or with the design of following, as I believe I might with some advantage to my argument, not a few points for discussion suggested in your interesting letter of June 19; but, in as brief space as I can, to recal to your notice some circumstances which may possibly tend to modify the impressions your mind has received, more particularly to the prejudice of Dr. Priestley, and also in regard to my supposed want of charity as indicated in my printed letter addressed to Dr. Hampden.

The severity of your late brother (of whose theological harshness there are, unhappily, other traces)* in pronouncing on the system of “ Unitarianism," it

It would be difficult to find in the pages of any more recent writer of culture and refinement, a statement on the subject of the Trinity at once so dogmatic in seems to me, would hardly have been rendered less objectionable, even had it been limited (which it was not) to the individual writers to whose views he was so intensely adverse. And with your indisposition to controversy, perhaps it would have been but reasonable to expect that your delicacy or sense of justice would induce you to withhold the sanction of your conjoint name and authorship from animadversions so likely to give pain; and which, it appears, you have neither the will to erase, nor the “ leisure and inclination” to defend.

You have certainly not been the first, and you are far, I am sure, from being the most unrelenting, of the assailants to whom the theological character of Dr. Priestley has been an object of aversion and attack.

Imperfectly acquainted as I am with the greater portion of his writings, and still more so with those of Mr. Belsham, it would ill become me to undertake the office of champion to either one or the other of those much-abused individuals. Of the more eminent of them there is the less occasion that I should do so, from the means which have been furnished for this purpose from sources which, with many, will count as of some importance in guiding us to a just estimate of his character as a man, a scholar, and a Christian. Most assuredly, Dr. Priestley's “materialism and necessarianism” did not "convert him into a beast;” nor, as understood and applied by himself, were they “ destructive of the moral nature of man." As to the latter of these features in his philosophy, Calvinists, with all their fatalism, have generally escaped this sort of vituperation. Why should not Priestley, on this score at least, fare as well as they? With respect to the former, it is admitted that Priestley's hopes of the future were rooted and grounded in the doctrine of the Resurrection. Was this a demoralizing or unchristian belief? Let him, however, be tested by facts.

Has that passage in the writings of Dr. Parr never come under your notice ? “Let Dr. Priestley be confuted where he is mistaken. Let him be exposed where he is superficial. Let him be rebuked where he is censorious. Let him be repressed where he is dogmatical. But let not his attainments be depreciated, because they are numerous almost without a parallel. Let not his talents be ridiculed, because they are superlatively great. Let not his morals be vilified, because they are correct without austerity, and exemplary without ostentation ; because they present even to common observers the innocence of a hermit and the simplicity of a patriarch; and because a philosophic eye will at once discover in them the deep fixed root of a virtuous principle, and the solid trunk of virtuous habit.”. Or that other passage by Robert Hall ? " From him the poisoned arrow falls pointless! He will be the admiration of that period when the greater part of those

who have favoured, or those who have opposed him, will be alike forgotten. Distinguished merit will ever rise superior to oppression, and will draw lustre from reproach. The vapours which gather round the rising sun and follow it in its course, seldom fail at the close of it to form a magnificent theatre for its reception, and to invest with variegated tints and with a softened effulgence the luminary which they cannot hide.” Lastly, should I be justified in failing to recal terms, so barren in argument, and so painfully assuming in tone, as may be found in a discourse by the late Rev. Augustus William Hare, entitled, “Holy Branches” (Sermons, Vol. I. pp. 358, 359, 2nd Ed.). This amiable author actually fulminates from his little throne, as if the whole spiritual world were his rightful and absolute dominion, and launches his bolt at "the carnal understanding” with as much self-confidence (Rome has another name for this) as if Jeremy Taylor (“Liberty of Prophesying") had never written a word about heresy, or described wherein consist “pride of understanding,” and its opposite, the true únakori aisews! Alas! what reparation do not our Universities owe for spoiling such minds as his-in so many instances, "rendered rickety by the swathing-bands in which they have been wrapt up”!ť

† Archdeacon Hare's Letter to Dean of Chichester, p. 98.

those words of one who, in his period of a less friendly judgment, would pass with you as one only not inspired ?

"Lo! Priestley there-patriot, and saint, and sage,

Whom that my fleshly eye hath never seen,
A childish pang of impotent regret

Hath thrilled my heart.” Need I, in connection with these words, name to you their well-known author? No. But this I will say, that author, when he wrote them, would have been more intelligible to nine-tenths of the reading and thinking part of mankind than when he afterwards, in his passion for the “4=3=1,—the adorable TETRACTYS,”—-scouted “the necessitarian psilanthropism of Dr. Priestley.” And after all, with what result, so far as reputation for “ orthodoxy was concerned? Why, just this, that even the Quarterly Review has been led to say that Coleridge, pertaining to these matters, is “ neither a sound nor a safe guide.In fine, let Dr. Priestley, with his “necessity and his psilanthropism,” be placed alongside some favourites whom it might be painful to name in such a comparison, and let them be respectively traced through the struggles and trials and disappointments and calamities of this mortal life, and the ordeal would be one to which at least the memory of the “patriot, saint, and sage,” need not fear to be exposed.

A word or two, now, of matter more personal to myself. I am led to understand you as charging me with sentiments derogatory to the truthfulness and honesty of the established clergy as a body. I cannot say I was unprepared for the expression of some displeasure on this point. But how easy it is to be displeased! How difficult, often to draw the lesson intended, and to shew that the circumstances which led to the displeasure had not their foundation in some serious and grave reality! Allow me, however, to say, that there is a coarse and vulgar as well as a philosophic construction to be put upon the sentiments objected to in the printed letter to Dr. Hampden.

Far be it from me directly and personally to ascribe the character of “perjured liars” to that body of ministers of which you are a dignified member. If in circumstances unfavourable to the unbiassed exercise of their understanding in high and solemn things, charity must allow it is less by any conscious agency of their own than by the force of insensible influences, that they are thus unhappily placed. Nevertheless, those influences do exist-fearfully exist. And it is by the energy and faithfulness of some who more clearly than others have been able to trace, and more acutely than others to feel, their operation, that the hope of an escape from this thrasdom for the larger residue can chiefly acquire vitality and strength.

What I am here contending for is no new thing. Not satirists only, but philosophers and moralists in all ages, have seen and declared the same truth. I need for the present but refer to two writers who have treated this subject with some care. Let me invite you to set aside, for a moment, every thing merely personal and present; and, applying your thought to the question, as if it affected only some distant time or community, pronounce upon the truth or otherwise of the principles laid down in Bailey's beautiful Essay on the Pursuit of Truth, 6th Chapter, 1st Edition, “On the Influence of the Institutions and Practices of Society on the Pursuit of Truth.” Commending, with some confidence, this Essay to your attention, allow me further to entreat your recollection of some sections in Locke's “ Conduct of the Understanding,” too long to cite, and which I merely name under their respective numbersX. XI. XII and XLI.-headed “Prejudices,” “Indifferency,” “Examine," and “ Association."

It has been forcibly and happily remarked by Dugald Stewart, that "the artificial impressions and associations of early life, by means of which the strongest intellects may be held in perpetual bondage, may be likened to the slender threads which fastened Gulliver to the earth..... How many,” he adds, I do not apologize for pressing this task even on a mind so instructed as yours, inasmuch as the matter I have referred to will so effectually aid in my vindication from the reproach of fixing on your Church a groundless charge of partiality and bias in the most important of all duties—the inquiry into the evidence and foundation of religious truth.

Can any man doubt how deeply that inquiry must be affected by the principle involved in the following declaration by the Chancellor of Oxford, the Duke of Wellington, in a discussion in the House of Lords, August 1, 1834 ? “That His Majesty is bound to see that in the Universities the true doctrine of the Gospel—the doctrine of the Church of England—is maintained and taught, and nothing else,--that is the meaning of the union of Church and State.” And can any man read, unmoved, the startling commentary (for such by anticipation it might be called) on such a doctrine, written some 140 years before, in a letter from John Locke to the Rev. Samuel Bolde, a liberal Dorsetshire clergyman? “ The impartial lovers and seekers of truth are a great deal fewer than one could wish or imagine.. ... To be learned in the lump by other men's thoughts, and to be in the right by saying after others, is the much easier and quieter way. But how a rational man, that should inquire and know for himself, can content himself with a faith or religion taken upon trust, or with such a servile submission, of his understanding as to admit all and nothing else'” (one might think the very words had been prophetically plagiarized) but what fashion makes passable among men, is to me astonishing.” But it takes something more to “ astonish" a Duke!

I dare scarcely hope you will easily excuse me for troubling you at such length: yet one word more I would add. You assure me you have never written of Unitarians that they were otherwise than “very honest, though generally of small learning," &c. For the latter, so far as it is fact, some excuse perhaps might be found in their exclusion from the munificent provision confined by the statutes of the Universities to the members of your own Church. To take more than the lion's share of the feast, and then to twit us with the bareness of our habit and the slenderness of our powers, is hardly compatible even with the generosity usually said to belong to the lion. For the former, Unitarians must owe you an acknowledgment in proportion to the severe candour with which you have dealt with the shortcomings and transgressions of that body whose purity and honesty you were unwilling that another, with less intimate opportunities of knowing it, should venture to impugn. It is not I who have spoken of the “ valley of death”-of the “collection of fraudulent misrepresentations” (cause of such pain in exposing !)---of the “misgivings, suspicions, jealousies, backbitings, cavils, quarrels

, calumnies,--almost become the ordinary diet of our Church"-or of the “LYING SPIRIT stalking through our Church, and even taking possession of some minds that would otherwise be among its pillars and noblest ornaments.” Neither, as to theological attainment, as to that “ learning,” with so little excuse, in that direction, for being "small,”—has it been I who have questioned the “qualifications of the great bulk of the Convocation" who decided in the case of Dr. Hampden-“the country gentlemen, the lawyers, the physicians, the zeroes among the clergy, who, we may reasonably believe, formed nine-tenths of the majority.”

." . Non meus hic It is the language of one who, on other occasions, would seem to imply that it is peculiar to Unitarians to “ misapply the principles and forms of thought, and to condemn generations of good men unsparingly;" and who,

sermo.

are the threads which, even in Catholic countries, have been broken by the writings of Locke! How many still remain to be broken, before the mind of man can recover that moral liberty which, at some future period,

seems des. tined to enjoy !" (Conclusion of Dissertation, Supplement to Encyclop. Britt.) * Letter to the Dean of Chichester; with the

Postscript. By Julius Charles Hare, M. A., Archdeacon of Lewes. J. W. Parker. 1848. Pp. 58, 59, 99 and 124.

VOL. IV.

3Q

« VorigeDoorgaan »