Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

and so grieved at having been hurried away from them, that I wrote a sort of love letter to Mrs. Mary, inviting a letter to me on my journey, and intimating a wish and almost a hope that I might be able to take Shrewsbury on my way home. This, however, I cannot do without being out a fourth Sunday, which I dare not contemplate. I should have great pleasure in repeating my visit to the Holy Family, and might do some good; but the good and the pleasure might be bought too dear.

What think you ? Near Hanwood is Ascott, where lives in genteel style Mrs. Harries, the widow of the late Unitarian seceding clergyman, whom I met, and who gives us a pressing invitation to the neighbourhood.

“The three last pages are written this morning (Saturday), just before my departure for Liverpool. Love to the children and Anna, from your ever affectionate,

ROBERT." At Liverpool he was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Freme, and under their ever hospitable roof he was prostrated by a severe inflammatory attack, which for a few hours endangered his life; but through prompt and skilful medical treatment, seconded by the kindest and tenderest nursing on the part of his hostess, he was restored in a few days sufficiently to travel home, but was compelled to forego some public engagements in Manchester and its neighbourhood. Rev. Robert Aspland to Mr. Isaac Aspland.

"Hackney Road, Oct. 30, 1813. “Dear Isaac, I have the pleasure to state that my health is improved and improving. I had a very sharp attack at Liverpool. With two physicians and a surgeon about me at one time, and that time one o'clock in the morning, I thought myself in some danger. My complaint was an obstruction in the bowels; however, by the blessing of God, I got speedy relief, and, though bleeding and a course of medicine and low living much reduced me, I have, I trust, been mending ever since my return.

"My engagements are rather more numerous than they should be for my health and comfort; but my friend Mr. Joyce has kindly stepped in to my assistance in the Academy, in which I have now four pupils, three for the ministry.

“This day nine years, Isaac, we saw our dear father a corpse. How swiftly have the seasons run round! In nine years more, which will pass as quickly as the last, we may be as he is. It is certain that we shall go to him, though he will not return to us. Happy are we, if we can persuade ourselves of a resurrection to life, and of a re-union with our dear father, and with all wise and good men, in a purer and better world. Were I at Wicken at this time, I should visit the revered grave, and renew my love of his character and my hope of partaking of that reward which I am confident he will receive from our Heavenly Father.

“Make my love to my mother. This is a dark season of the year for her; but you will, I doubt not, by your kindness, make her feel as little as possible the loss of him whom we are not again to see in the flesh.

“I had a faint expectation of seeing your son here; I would have done my duty to him, and have endeavoured to make him happy if you had entrusted him to my care.

"I am able to write letters to-day (Saturday), having the promise of assistance to-morrow from my good friend Madge, of Norwich, who is now on a visit to me. Goodier, the only one of the students whom you know, is this morning gone down to Reading, where I am to be, opening the new chapel, on the 24th of next month. Tell my mother, Cooper, the other student, whom she knows, is going on admirably: 'I believe I told her that Hancock stays at home through illness. Yours truly,

ROBERT ASPLAND."

The establishment in Hackney of an Auxiliary Bible Society in the year 1812, and the angry controversy to which it led between certain members of the Established Church, were the occasion in the following year of calling Mr. Aspland into conflict with one of the clergymen of the parish.

The design of incorporating the parish in an auxiliary district of the Bible Society was promulgated by some lay members of the

Church, but at once opposed by the Vicar, Dr. Watson, and by the Curate of St. John's Chapel, the Rev. H. H. Norris, M. A., on the grounds usually taken by clergymen of High-church principles, viz., that the object of the Bible Society is better provided for by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, which with the Bible distributes the Book of Common Prayer, and that union with Dissenters is inexpedient, and calculated to produce strife, animosity and dismemberment of the Church." * At a meeting of the vestry, held Nov. 26, 1812, the course taken by the clergy was approved, and the meeting unanimously agreed to this, amongst other resolutions—“ That an indiscriminate distribution of the Bible has a tendency to lessen the reverence due to that Sacred Volume." This singular resolution, and the un-protestant spirit in which the resistance to the Bible Society was carried on, gave occasion to an ingenious pasquinade, professing to be “ The Address of Patrick O'Flanagan to the Clergy, Gentlemen of the Vestry, and other Opposers (if other there be) of the Hackney Auxiliary Bible Society." The writers in this amusing satire assumes the style of a Catholic priest, and hails the clergy and vestry of St. John's, Hackney, as coadjutors. The Address was eagerly sought and read by all classes of persons in the parish; and when Mr. Norris collected and published

* Mr. Norris's first letter to Mr. Freshfield, “Practical Exposition,” &c., p. 4.

+ The authorship of the “Address" was by general consent given to Mr. Aspland, but was not acknowledged by him. One or two brief extracts from it will enable the judicious reader to judge whether the style indicates the author :" Your position as much common sense as it is piety.

Diminish the circulation of the Bible, and you will increase its value in public estimation. Lodge the treasure in the hands of the priest, who, more properly than the magistrate, is the custos utriusque tabula, which, by a free translation, I render, the preserver (and a preserver is not a distributor) of the sacred records. Or, at most, imitate your forefathers, and allow only a parish Bible, to be chained to the altar and consulted on holidays alone, and then in the presence of the curates or keepers of souls, who shall see that the common people carry away nothing that would be pernicious. Ogh ! that the Bible should ever become (as the proposers of the new institution would make it) cheap.

Perhaps, however, very dear brethren, it may not be possible to prevent at once the circulation of the book so hard to be understood and so easily wrested to mischief; in that case take counsel of your own resolution (2nd of Set II.); let none have it but such as

upon due inquiry shall be found likely to make a right use of such a gift.' By this means, you will keep it out of the hands of Anabaptists, and all the sects of the New Light; regular church-goers alone will obtain it, and from them no abuse of it is to be apprehended, 1st, because it is the fundamental article of their faith to believe only what the Church believes; and 2ndly, because there cannot be much abuse where there is little use. One charge you must lay upon such as you select for the reception of Bibles, and that is,

never to put them into the hands of their children till they have got by heart and understood the Catechism and the Three Creeds. Understand all these they never will, and thus, my dear brethren, you are safe.” Patrick O'Flanagan dates his address from Bonner's Hall.

all the documents of this parish controversy, this was included as one of several “ Socinian contributions to the cause of the Bible Society." It was preceded by about forty pages of preliminary observations, in which Mr. Norris indulges in a series of bitter remarks on the Improved Version,—the religious conferences at the Gravel-Pit, the eccentric Unitarian advertisements of the late Mr. Clarke, of Swakely House,—the Rev. William Turner's Secretaryship of the Newcastle Bible Society,-on the conciliatory demeanour towards Socinians fostered by the Bible Society,—on the sympathy of Socinians with Mahometans, and the resemblance of the Koran and the Improved Version. Mr. Norris entitled his volume, “ A Practical Exposition of the Tendency and Proceedings of the British and Foreign Bible Society; begun in a Correspondence between the Rev. H. H. Norris and J. W. Freshfield, Esq., relative to the Formation of an Auxiliary Bible Society at Hackney, and completed in an Appendix containing an entire Series of the Public Documents and Private Papers which that Measure occasioned, illustrated with Notes and Observations. Edited by the Rev. H. H. Norris, M. A., Curate of St. John's Chapel, Hackney, and Chaplain to the Earl of Shaftesbury.”. London, Rivington. Pp. 440. It was dedicated to Dr. Howley, the Bishop (elect) of London.

There was but little in this volume that required reply. It was characterized throughout by abundant railings and deficient reasonings, by a loose style, by the want of a definite object,* and by the absence of all perceptible arrangement. Only a small portion of its censures of the Unitarians was original. The more biting invectives were borrowed from Leslie, Whitaker and Nares. The mere confutation of such an opponent promised little glory. But there were, on the other hand, reasons sufficiently strong which induced Mr. Aspland to enter the field against the assailant of his religious denomination. The private character of Mr. Norris was held throughout the parish in deserved honour, and gave some weight to his opinions. The controversy had attracted great attention both from Dissenters and Churchmen, and the occasion was a favourable one for dissipating some prevalent misconceptions respecting Unitarianism, and for exposing the deformity of bigotry. He accordingly prepared a reply,t which was published under the title of “A Plea for Unitarian Dissenters, in a Letter of Expostulation to the Rev. H. H. Norris, M. A., on that Part of his late Work against the Hackney Auxiliary Bible Society which relates to Unitarians.” 8vo. Pp. 139.

To estimate the whole merits of this work, the reader must make himself acquainted with that to which it is a reply. A straggling, confused and desultory assault may be harmless to those attacked; but every one accustomed to literary exercises knows that to reply to such an attack effectively, and to make the defence interesting to others

Justly enough did Mr. Freshfield complain to his reverend opponent: “When I consider the matter of your Letter, I find it like an ignis fatuus, constantly leading in directions not tending to the object; and if I stop where it most usually rests, I shall find myself engaged about forms and shadows, and neglecting the substance." -Letter VI.

+ The "Plea" was composed and printed in less than a month, notwithstanding the author's distracting cares of the Academy, the pulpit, the Monthly Repository, and general public business.

than those whom the local controversy concerns, is a very difficult task. That Mr. Aspland succeeded in overcoming the difficulty, is proved by the fact, that two large editions of his “ Letter of Expostulation” were called for by the public, and that three different portions of it were subsequently reprinted as popular Unitarian tracts.* The tone of the Letter is, considering the provocation, sufficiently courteous; justice is done to Mr. Norris's character, and the sincerity and disinterestedness of his conduct in the controversy respecting the Bible Society fully admitted ; at the same time, his “unhappy spirit” is exposed, his numerous mistakes are corrected, and the folly of some of his charges against Unitarians is proved. But the charm and lasting value of the “ Plea" consist in its numerous illustrations drawn from English ecclesiastical history and literature, and the admirably selected passages from the writings of some of the best authors and preachers of the Church of England. Mr. Aspland confined his expostulation to Mr. Norris's remarks on Unitarians, leaving the defence of the Bible Society to other writers. He thought it undesirable to take the subject out of the hands of “orthodox” Protestants, able and willing to rebuke the Popish tendency of some of their own ecclesiastics; and in the infancy of the Bible Society he held it to be inexpedient, knowing the strength of religious prejudice, that Unitarians should needlessly put themselves in the front rank of the supporters of the Society.

One or two short extracts will sufficiently illustrate the spirit of the “ Plea.” The first is a passage of rebuke:

You, however, reckon it amongst the sins of the Bible Society, that it promotes a 'conciliating demeanour towards Socinians'! Whither, Sir, would you carry us back? What age of darkness and bigotry would you recal? I seem, in reading your book, to be transported to the times of Parker and South and Laud: I almost suspect that the principle of persecution is not so abhorrent to your mind as the practice of persecution would be to your heart: I say, involuntarily, "This writer is one born out of due time;}-he and his age do not agree; his language is adapted to other ears, his maxims to other times than ours. With what books can he have conversed ? Our Milton, our Chillingworth, our Locke, our Jeremy Taylors, our Hales', our Tillotsons, our Jortins, our Paleys, have they all lived in vain for him ? Can an individual remain stationary, while the world is moving on to improvement ? Can the sacred flame of Christian charity beam full upon his face from a thousand works, splendid both in argument and eloquence, and strike no warmth to his soul? Is he, is one man in the kingdom, not aware, by happy consciousness, that the age of uncharitableness is over? Would not he, who, at a time like this, when every man is making a tender of his charity to his neighbour, hangs upon the memory of penal statutes with a sort of fond regret, have been in danger of smiting with the fist of wickedness, if the legislature had not mercifully, to him as well as his neighbours, tied up his hands ?

"These reflections, Sir, you have forced upon me, though I do again willingly acquit you of an injurious design ; for it is the character of such as are calling down fire from heaven, to consume, but not to cheer, not to know what manner of spirit they are of.”—Pp. 37–42.

The other extract is the closing passage of the “ Plea:”

* 1. On the terms Unitarian and Socinian (pp. 64–73). 2. Reasons for Dis. trusting the Genuineness of the Socinian Epistle to Ameth Ben Ameth, Ambassador from the Emperor of Morocco to Charles II. (pp. 97—103). 3. The Unitarian's Creed (pp. 124—131).

“A controversy on the points of faith in which we differ, conducted with good temper, and in a becoming manner, might be useful to us both; for we have each of us, I dare to say, some persuasions to lay down, and others to take

up, before we become perfect men in Christ Jesus. In such a controversy, however, you would have an obvious advantage over me: should you make me a convert to your Church, I should lose my present right and title, and should be very unlikely, at my age, to acquire a right and title of any other description, to the Christian ministry ;-but should I happily convince you of the truth of the Unitarian doctrine and of the duty of Unitarian worship, you will have only to step from one church into another; the congregation at the Gravel-Pit will welcome you into their communion, glad to shew you that they are not irreligious, immoral, violent, or very different from their fellow-christians; and your honest conviction and ingenuous profession will give you Holy Orders in all the Unitarian churches in the empire.”—P. 133.

Mr. Norris made no reply to the “ Letter of Expostulation.” From many friends, amongst them Dr. Parr, did Mr. Aspland receive letters expressing approbation of his work. By none was he more gratified than by the letter which follows, from one who in experience and skill then surpassed all writers on the Unitarian controversy. Rev. Thomas Belsham to Rev. Robert Aspland.

“Essex Street, Nov. 28, 1813. “My dear Sir, I thank you for the copy of your Letter to Norris : you have handled him as he deserves; and, without departing from the character of a gentleman, you have given him some severe thrusts. If it is possible, he will be ashamed of himself: at any rate, his party will be ashamed of him. The passages which you cite from Tillotson, Watson, &c., will teach him, or at least others, to qualify the bitterness of their language when speaking of the Unitarians. You have admirably and unanswerably exposed Leslie's character, and have completely put down the foolish story of Ameth Ben Ameth.

“ I think you have borne a little hard upon Dr. Enfield, Dr. Priestley, and others of that standing, who, labouring under all manner of abuse from their orthodox opponents, took to themselves the name of rational Christians, or rational Dissenters," as a counterbalance to that of Orthodox, Evangelical, &c., assumed by their opponents. Indeed, I never quarrel with any party for giving themselves a good name, as they are sure to be sufficiently plied by their adversaries with epithets of evil repute. Have you a sufficient voucher for the Prince of Orange refusing an Oxford degree from a principle of con

* The passage objected to by Mr. Belsham is at p. 94 of the “Plea," note: " At present, the Unitarians are, as they have long been, the heterodox; but they have sometimes appeared to wish to recommend themselves as orthodox, under the designation of rational Christians, as assuming and invidious a phrase as ever a party decked itself withal. When and where it was fabricated I know not; it is of more consequence to state that it is nearly fallen into disuse. In its behalf it has been pleaded that it is meant only to distinguish such as allow from such as deny the use of reason in religion. But this is not its proper import, nor would it ever be taken generally in this sense : besides that the interpretation assumes a false position, no Christians are wholly against the use of reason in religion, they are simply for defining the boundaries of reason; at least, they do not reduce their supposed principle to practice, for, with an amusing inconsistency, they reason against reason, and argue against argument. Whether a sect be rational, is the same question as whether it be orthodox, or right, or sound ; and, for my part, I have never heard the phrase rational Christians used, without thinking of the concluding line of Milton's sonnet, On the new Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament,' from which I take my motto,

New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ large.'” VOL. IV.

5 B

« VorigeDoorgaan »