The Prose Works of William Wordsworth
by William Wordsworth
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Previous to the Reign of Henry the Seventh, the Peers defended their property and their privileges through the means of armed Retainers. That politic Prince, by laws directed against the number of these Retainers; by bringing in use the making of leases; and by statutes framed for the purpose of 'unfettering more easily the Estates of his powerful Nobility, and laying them more open to alienation,' prepared the way for reducing the power of an Order which had been too strong for the Crown. The operation of these laws, in course of time, would have brought the Peers, as an Estate of the Realm, to utter insignificance, had not the practice of supplying the Peerage with new Members, through creation by patent without intervention of Parliament, been substituted for the only mode previously tolerated by the great Barons for the exercise of this royal prerogative, namely, by authority of Parliament. Thus did the consequence of the Order, notwithstanding the diminution of its power, continue to be maintained;—rich Commoners and Royal Favourites being introduced to supply the places of extinguished Families, or those whose wealth had fallen into decay. This prerogative grew without immoderate exercise till the close of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. The first of the Stuarts employed it lavishly, not considering the changes that had taken place. His predecessors of the House of Tudor, by breaking down the feudal strength of the Lords, and by transfer (through the Reformation) of the Spiritual supremacy to themselves as temporal Sovereigns, had come into possession of a superfluity of power which enabled the Crown to supply what was wanted in the Peers for their own support. But through remote operation of the same causes, the Commons were rising fast into consequence, with a puritanical spirit of republicanism spreading rapidly amongst them. Hence the augmentation of the number of Peers, made by James the First, notwithstanding the addition of property carried by it to the Upper House, did not add sufficient strength to that body to compensate for the distastefulness of the measure to the people; and, as far as the property of the New Peers was but the creature of prodigal grants from the Crown, the conjoint strength of the two Estates received no increase. In the meanwhile surrenders were made of the power of the Crown with infatuated facility; till the Commons became so strong that the right of creating Boroughs, being openly disputed, was almost abandoned; and the speedy consequence of the whole was that the two parliamentary Estates of King and Lords fell before the intemperance of the third. After the restoration, the disputes about the bounds of Liberty and Prerogative were revived; but Prerogative was gradually abandoned for the less obnoxious and less obvious operations of influence. The numerous creations of Peers were complained of; but, whatever motive might have governed those creations, they were justified by the necessity of things. Large as were the additions made to the number of Peers they were insufficient to give the House its due weight as a separate Estate in the Legislature. Through the reigns of Charles, William, and Anne, whether the Crown was disposed to tyranny, or the Commons were venal, factious, or arbitrary, we see too many proofs of the Lords wanting natural strength to maintain their rights, and carry their patriotic wishes into effect, even when they were supported by marked expressions of popular opinion in their favour. If the changes which had taken place in the structure of Society would have allowed them to act regularly as an independent body upon its intrinsic resources, a deathblow was given to such expectation towards the close of the reign of Queen Anne, when twelve Peers were created in one day. This act, deservedly made one of the articles of impeachment against Lord Oxford, shewed that their sentiments, as a Body, were at the mercy of any unprincipled Administration, and compelled them to look about for some other means of being attended to;—and the most obvious was the best for the Country and themselves—That of taking care of, and augmenting, the influence which they possessed in the House of Commons. Reformers plead against this practice, constitutional resolutions still existing. The slight review which has been given demonstrates its necessity if the Constitution is to be preserved. The only question which a practical politician can tolerate for a moment relates to the degree of this influence;—has it been carried too far? The considerations which put me upon writing the present note (for the length of which I ought to apologise) do not require the discussion of this point. The amicable reader will rejoice with me that, in spite of mutual shocks and encroachments, the three Orders of the State are preserved in salutary equipoise, although the mode of bringing this about has unavoidably changed with change of circumstances. The spirit of the Constitution remains unimpaired, nor have the essential parts of its frame undergone any alteration. May both endure as long as the Island itself!



See Preface in the present volume for details on this 'Letter;' which was addressed to the Bishop of London (Blomfield). This is printed from the original Manuscript. G.


My Lord,

I have been hesitating for the space of a week, whether I should take the liberty of addressing you; but as the decision draws near my anxiety increases, and I cannot refrain from intruding upon you for a few minutes. I will try to be brief, throwing myself upon your indulgence, if what I have to say prove of little moment.

The question before us is, Can Protestantism and Popery—or, somewhat narrowing the ground, Can the Church of England (including that of Ireland) and the Church of Rome—be co-ordinate powers in the constitution of a free country, and at the same time Christian belief be in that country a vital principle of action? The States of the Continent afford no proof whatever that the existence of Protestantism and Romanism under the specified conditions is practicable; nor can they be rationally referred to as furnishing a guide for us. In France, the most conspicuous of these States and the freest, the number of Protestants in comparison with Catholics is insignificant, and unbelief and superstition almost divide the country between them. In Prussia, there is no legislative Assembly; the Government is essentially military; and excepting the countries upon the Rhine, recently added to that Power, the proportion of Catholics is inconsiderable. In Hanover, Jacob speaks of the Protestants as more than ten to one; here, indeed, is a legislative Assembly, but its powers are ill defined. Hanover had, and still may have, a censorship of the press—an indulgent one; it can afford to be so through the sedative virtue of the standing army of the country, and that of the Germanic League to back the executive in case of commotion. No sound-minded Englishman will build upon the short-lived experience of the kingdom of the Netherlands. In Flanders a benighted Papacy prevails, which defeated the attempts of the king to enlighten the people by education; and I am well assured that the Protestant portion of Holland have small reason to be thankful for the footing upon which they have been there placed. If that kingdom is to last, there is great cause for fear that its government will incline more and more to Romanism as the religion of a great majority of its subjects, and as one which by its slavish spirit makes the people more manageable. If so, it is to be apprehended that Protestantism will gradually disappear before it; and the ruling classes, in a still greater degree than they now are, will become infidels, as the easiest refuge in their own minds from the debasing doctrines of Papacy.

Three great conflicts[24] are before the progressive nations, between Christianity and Infidelity, between Papacy and Protestantism, and between the spirit of the old feudal and monarchical governments and the representative and republican system, as established in America. The Church of England, in addition to her infidel and Roman Catholic assailants, and the politicians of the anti-feudal class, has to contend with a formidable body of Protestant Dissenters. Amid these several and often combined attacks, how is she to maintain herself? From which of these enemies has she most to fear? Some are of opinion that Papacy is less formidable than Dissent, whose bias is republican, which is averse to monarchy, to a hierarchy, and to the tything system—to all which Romanism is strongly attached. The abstract principles embodied in the creed of the Dissenters' catechism are without doubt full as politically dangerous as those of the Romanists; but fortunately their creed is not their practice. They are divided among themselves, they acknowledge no foreign jurisdiction, their organisation and discipline, are comparatively feeble; and in times long past, however powerful they proved themselves to overthrow, they are not likely to be able to build up. Whatever the Presbyterian form, as in the Church of Scotland, may have to recommend it, we find that the sons of the nobility and gentry of Scotland who choose the sacred profession almost invariably enter into the Church of England; and for the same reason, viz. the want of a hierarchy (you will excuse me for connecting views so humiliating with divine truth), the rich Dissenters, in the course of a generation or two, fall into the bosom of our Church. As holding out attractions to the upper orders, the Church of England has no advantages over that of Rome, but rather the contrary. Papacy will join with us in preserving the form, but for the purpose and in the hope of seizing the substance for itself. Its ambition is upon record; it is essentially at enmity with light and knowledge; its power to exclude these blessings is not so great as formerly, though its desire to do so is equally strong, and its determination to exert its power for its own exaltation by means of that exclusion is not in the least abated. The See of Rome justly regards England as the head of Protestantism; it admires, it is jealous, it is envious of her power and greatness. It despairs of being able to destroy them, but it is ever on the watch to regain its lost influence over that country; and it hopes to effect this through the means of Ireland. The words of this last sentence are not my own, but those of the head of one of the first Catholic families of the county from which I write, spoken without reserve several years ago. Surely the language of this individual must be greatly emboldened when he sees the prostrate condition in which our yet Protestant Government now lies before the Papacy of Ireland. 'The great Catholic interest,' 'the old Catholic interest,' I know to have been phrases of frequent occurrence in the mouth of a head of the first Roman Catholic family of England; and to descend far lower, 'What would satisfy you?' said, not long ago, a person to a very clever lady, a dependent upon another branch of that family. 'That church,' replied she, pointing to the parish church of the large town where the conversation took place. Monstrous expectation! yet not to be overlooked as an ingredient in the compound of Papacy. This 'great Catholic interest' we are about to embody in a legislative form. A Protestant Parliament is to turn itself into a canine monster with two heads, which, instead of keeping watch and ward, will be snarling at and bent on devouring each other.

[24] In this classification I anticipate matter which Mr. Southey has in the press, the substance of a conversation between us.

Whatever enemies the Church of England may have to struggle with now and hereafter, it is clear that at this juncture she is specially called to take the measure of her strength as opposed to the Church of Rome—that is her most pressing enemy. The Church of England, as to the point of private judgment, standing between the two extremes of Papacy and Dissent, is entitled to heartfelt reverence; and among thinking men, whose affections are not utterly vitiated, never fails to receive it. Papacy will tolerate no private judgment, and Dissent is impatient of anything else. The blessing of Providence has thus far preserved the Church of England between the shocks to which she has been exposed from those opposite errors; and notwithstanding objections may lie against some parts of her Liturgy, particularly the Athanasian Creed, and however some of her articles may be disputed about, her doctrines are exclusively scriptural, and her practice is accommodated to the exigencies of our weak nature. If this be so, what has she to fear? Look at Ireland, might be a sufficient answer. Look at the disproportion between her Catholic and Protestant population. Look at the distempered heads of the Roman Catholic Church insisting upon terms which in France, and even in Austria, dare not be proposed, and which the Pope himself would probably relinquish for a season. Look at the revenues of the Protestant Church; her cathedrals, her churches, that once belonged to the Romanists, and where, in imagination, their worship has never ceased to be celebrated. Can it be doubted that when the yet existing restrictions are removed, that the disproportion in the population and the wealth of the Protestant Church will become more conspicuous objects for discontent to point at; and that plans, however covert, will be instantly set on foot, with the aid of new powers, for effecting an overthrow, and, if possible, a transfer? But all this is too obvious; I would rather argue with those who think that by excluding the Romanists from political power we make them more attached to their religion, and cause them to unite more strongly in support of it. Were this true to the extent maintained, we should still have to balance between the unorganised power which they derive from a sense of injustice, real or supposed, and the legitimate organised power which concession would confer upon surviving discontent; for no one, I imagine, is weak enough to suppose that discontent would disappear. But it is a deception, and a most dangerous one, to conclude that if a free passage were given to the torrent, it would lose, by diffusion, its ability to do injury. The checks, as your Lordship well knows, which are after a time necessary to provoke other sects to activity, are not wanted here. The Roman Church stands independent of them through its constitution, so exquisitely contrived, and through its doctrine and discipline, which give a peculiar and monstrous power to its priesthood. In proof of this, take the injunction of celibacy, alone separating the priesthood from the body of the community, and the practice of confession, making them masters of the conscience, while the doctrines give them an absolute power over the will. To submit to such thraldom men must be bigoted in its favour; and that we see is the case of Spain, in Portugal, in Austria, in Italy, in Flanders, in Ireland, and in all countries where you have Papacy in full blow. And does not history prove, that however other sects may have languished under the relaxing influence of good fortune, Papacy has ever been most fiery and rampant when most prosperous?

But many, who do not expect that conciliation will be the result of concession, have a farther expedient on which they rely much. They propose to take the Romish Church in Ireland into pay, and expect that afterwards its clergy will be as compliant to the Government as the Presbyterians in that country have proved. This measure is, in the first place, too disingenuous not to be condemned by honest men; for the Government acting on this policy would degrade itself by offering bribes to men of a sacred calling to act contrary to their sense of duty. If they be sincere, as priests and truly spiritual-minded, they will find it impossible to accept of a stipend, known to be granted with such expectation. If they be worldlings and false of heart, they will practise double-dealing, and seem to support the Government while they are actually undermining it; for they know that if they be suspected of sacrificing the interests of the Church they will lose all authority over their flocks. Power and consideration are more valued than money. The priests will not be induced to risk their sway over the people for any sums that our Government would venture to afford them out of the exhausted revenues of the empire. Surely they would prefer to such a scanty hire the hope of carving for themselves from the property of the Protestant Church of their country, or even the gratification of stripping usurpation—for such they deem it—of its gains, though there may be no hope to win what others are deprived of. Many English favourers of this scheme are reconciled to what they call a modification of the Irish Protestant Establishment in an application of a portion of the revenues to the support of the Romish Church. This they deem reasonable; shortly it will be openly aimed at, and they will rejoice should they accomplish their purpose. But your Lordship will agree with me that, if that happen, it would be one of the most calamitous events that ignorance has in our time given birth to. After all, could the secular clergy be paid out of this spoliation, or in any other way? The Regulars would rise in consequence of their degradation; and where would be the influence that could keep them from mischief? They would swarm over the country to prey upon the people still more than they now do. In all the reasonings of the friends to this bribing scheme, the distinctive character of the Papal Church is overlooked.

But they who expect that tranquillity will be a permanent consequence of the Relief Bill dwell much upon the mighty difference in opinion and feeling between the upper and lower ranks of the Romish communion. They affirm that many keep within the pale of the Church as a point of honour; that others have notions greatly relaxed, and though not at present prepared to separate, they will gradually fall off. But what avail the inward sentiments of men if they are convinced that by acting upon them they will forfeit their outward dignity and power? As long as the political influence which the priests now exercise shall endure, or anything like it, the great proprietors will be obliged to dissemble, and to conform in their action to the demands of that power. Such will be the conduct of the great Roman Catholic proprietors; nay, farther, I agree with those who deem it probable that, through a natural and reasonable desire to have their property duly represented, many landholders who are now Protestant will be tempted to go over to Papacy. This may be thought a poor compliment to Protestantism, since religious scruples, it is said, are all that keep the Papists out; but is not the desire to be in, pushing them on almost to rebellion at this moment? We are taking, I own, a melancholy view of both sides; but human nature, be it what it may, must by legislators be looked at as it is.

In the treatment of this question we hear perpetually of wrong; but the wrong is all on one side. If the political power of Ireland is to be a transfer from those who are of the State religion of the country to those who are not, there is nothing gained on the score of justice. We hear also much of STIGMA; but this is not to be done away unless all offices, the Privy Council and the Chancellorship, be open to them; that is, unless we allow a man to be eligible to keep the King's conscience who has not his own in his keeping; unless we open the throne itself to men of this soul-degrading faith.

The condition of Ireland is indeed, and long has been, wretched. Lamentable is it to acknowledge, that the mass of the people are so grossly uninformed, and from that cause subject to such delusions and passions, that they would destroy each other were it not for restraints put upon them by a power out of themselves. This power it is that protracts their existence in a state for which otherwise the course of nature would provide a remedy by reducing their numbers through mutual destruction; so that English civilisation may fairly be said to have been the shield of Irish barbarism. And now these swarms of degraded people, which could not have existed but through the neglect and misdirected power of the sister island, are by a withdrawing of that power to have their own way, and to be allowed to dictate to us. A population, vicious in character as unnatural in immediate origin (for it has been called into birth by short-sighted landlords, set upon adding to the number of votes at their command, and by priests who for lucre's sake favour the increase of marriages), is held forth as constituting a claim to political power strong in proportion to its numbers, though in a sane view that claim is in an inverse ratio to them. Brute force indeed wherever lodged, as we are too feelingly taught at present, must be measured and met—measured with care, in order to be met with fortitude.

The chief proximate causes of Irish misery and ignorance are Papacy—of which I have said so much—and the tenure and management of landed property, and both these have a common origin, viz. the imperfect conquest of the country. The countries subjected by the ancient Romans, and those that in the middle ages were subdued by the Northern tribes, afford striking instances of the several ways in which nations may be improved by foreign conquest. The Romans by their superiority in arts and arms, and, in the earlier period of their history, in virtues also, may seem to have established a moral right to force their institutions upon other nations, whether under a process of decline or emerging from barbarism; and this they effected, we all know, not by overrunning countries as Eastern conquerors have done, and Bonaparte in our own days, but by completing a regular subjugation, with military roads and garrisons, which became centres of civilisation for the surrounding district. Nor am I afraid to add, though the fact might be caught at as bearing against the general scope of my argument, that both conquerors and conquered owed much to the participation of civil rights which the Romans liberally communicated. The other mode of conquest, that pursued by the Northern nations, brought about its beneficial effects by the settlement of a hardy and vigorous people among the distracted and effeminate nations against whom their incursions were made. The conquerors transplanted with them their independent and ferocious spirit to reanimate exhausted communities, and in their turn received a salutary mitigation, till in process of time the conqueror and conquered, having a common interest, were lost in each other. To neither of these modes was unfortunate Ireland subject, and her insular territory, by physical obstacles, and still more by moral influences arising out of them, has aggravated the evil consequent upon independence lost as hers was. The writers of the time of Queen Elizabeth have pointed out how unwise it was to transplant among a barbarous people, not half subjugated, the institutions that time had matured among those who too readily considered themselves masters of that people. It would be presumptuous in me to advert in detail to the exacerbations and long-lived hatred that have perverted the moral sense in Ireland, obstructed religious knowledge, and denied to her a due share of English refinement and civility. It is enough to observe, that the Reformation was ill supported in that country, and that her soil became, through frequent forfeitures, mainly possessed by men whose hearts were not in the land where their wealth lay.

But it is too late, we are told, for retrospection. We have no choice between giving way and a sanguinary war. Surely it is rather too much that the country should be required to take the measure of the threatened evil from a Cabinet which by its being divided against itself, which by its remissness and fear of long and harassing debates in the two Houses, has for many years past fostered the evil, and in no small part created the danger, the extent of which is now urged as imposing the necessity of granting their demands.

Danger is a relative thing, and the first requisite for being in a condition to judge of what we have to dread from the physical force of the Romanists is to be in sympathy with the Protestants. Had our Ministers been truly so, could they have suffered themselves to be bearded by the Catholic Association for so many years as they have been?

I speak openly to you, my Lord, though a member of his Majesty's Privy Council; and begging your pardon for detaining you so long, I hasten to a conclusion.

The civil disabilities, for the removal of which Mr. O'Connell and his followers are braving the Government, cannot but be indifferent to the great body of the Irish nation, except as means for gaining an end. Take away the intermediate power of the priests, and an insurrection in Brobdignag at the call of the King of Lilliput might be as hopefully expected as that the Irish people would stir as they are now prepared to do at the call of a political demagogue. Now these civil disabilities do not directly affect the priests; they therefore must have ulterior views, and though it must be flattering to their vanity to shew that they have the Irish representation in their own hands, and though their worldly interest and that of their connections will, they know, immediately profit by that dominion, what they look for principally is the advancement of their religion at the cost of Protestantism; that would bring everything else in its train. While it is obvious that the political agitators could not rouse the people without the intervention of the priests, it is true that the priests could not excite the people without a hope that from the exaltation of their Church their social condition would be improved. What in Irish interpretation these words would mean we may tremble to think of.

In whatever way we look, religion is so much mixed up in this matter, that the guardians of the Episcopal Church of the Empire are imperiously called upon to show themselves worthy of the high trust reposed in them. You, my Lord, are convinced that, in spite of the best securities that can be given, the admission of Roman Catholics into the Legislature is a dangerous experiment. Oaths cannot be framed that will avail here; the only securities to be relied upon are what we have little hope to see—the Roman Church reforming itself, and a Ministry and a Parliament sufficiently sensible of the superiority of the one form of religion over the other to be resolved, not only to preserve the present rights and immunities of the Protestant Church inviolate, but prepared by all fair means for the extension of its influence, with a hope that it may gradually prevail over Papacy.

It is, we trust, the intention of Providence that the Church of Rome should in due time disappear; and come what may on the Church of England, we have the satisfaction of knowing that in defending a Government resting upon a Protestant basis—say what they will, the other party have abandoned—we are working for the welfare of humankind, and supporting whatever there is of dignity in our frail nature.

Here I might stop; but I am above measure anxious for the course which the bench of bishops may take at this crisis. They are appealed to, and even by the Heir Presumptive to the throne from his seat in Parliament. There will be attempts to brow-beat them on the score of humanity; but humanity is, if it deserves the name, a calculating and prospective quality; it will on this occasion balance an evil at hand with a far greater one that is sure, or all but sure, to come. Humanity is not shewn the less by firmness than by tenderness of heart. It is neither deterred by clamour, nor enfeebled by its own sadness; but it estimates evil and good to the best of its power, acts by the dictates of conscience, and trusts the issue to the Ruler of all things.

If, my Lord, I have seemed to write with over-confidence on any opinions I have above given, impute it to a wish of avoiding cumbrous qualifying expressions.

Sincerely do I pray that God may give your Lordship and the rest of your brethren light to guide you and strength to walk in that light.

I am, my Lord, &c.





On the several portions of this division of the Prose see Preface in the present volume. G.



In the present Volume, as in those that have preceded it, the reader will have found occasionally opinions expressed upon the course of public affairs, and feelings given vent to as national interests excited them. Since nothing, I trust, has been uttered but in the spirit of reflective patriotism, those notices are left to produce their own effect; but, among the many objects of general concern, and the changes going forward, which I have glanced at in verse, are some especially affecting the lower orders of society: in reference to these, I wish here to add a few words in plain prose.

Were I conscious of being able to do justice to those important topics, I might avail myself of the periodical press for offering anonymously my thoughts, such as they are, to the world; but I feel that, in procuring attention, they may derive some advantage, however small, from my name, in addition to that of being presented in a less fugitive shape. It is also not impossible that the state of mind which some of the foregoing poems may have produced in the reader, will dispose him to receive more readily the impression which I desire to make, and to admit the conclusions I would establish.

* * * * *

I. The first thing that presses upon my attention is the Poor Law Amendment Act. I am aware of the magnitude and complexity of the subject, and the unwearied attention which it has received from men of far wider experience than my own; yet I cannot forbear touching upon one point of it, and to this I will confine myself, though not insensible to the objection which may reasonably be brought against treating a portion of this, or any other, great scheme of civil polity separately from the whole. The point to which I wish to draw the reader's attention is, that all persons who cannot find employment, or procure wages sufficient to support the body in health and strength, are entitled to a maintenance by law.

This dictate of humanity is acknowledged in the Report of the Commissioners: but is there not room for apprehension that some of the regulations of the new Act have a tendency to render the principle nugatory by difficulties thrown in the way of applying it? If this be so, persons will not be wanting to show it, by examining the provisions of the Act in detail,—an attempt which would be quite out of place here; but it will not, therefore, be deemed unbecoming in one who fears that the prudence of the head may, in framing some of those provisions, have supplanted the wisdom of the heart, to enforce a principle which cannot be violated without infringing upon one of the most precious rights of the English people, and opposing one of the most sacred claims of civilised humanity.

There can be no greater error, in this department of legislation, than the belief that this principle does by necessity operate for the degradation of those who claim, or are so circumstanced as to make it likely they may claim, through laws founded upon it, relief or assistance. The direct contrary is the truth: it may be unanswerably maintained that its tendency is to raise, not to depress; by stamping a value upon life, which can belong to it only where the laws have placed men who are willing to work, and yet cannot find employment, above the necessity of looking for protection against hunger and other natural evils, either to individual and casual charity, to despair and death, or to the breach of law by theft or violence.

And here, as in the Report of the Commissioners, the fundamental principle has been recognised, I am not at issue with them any farther than I am compelled to believe that their 'remedial measures' obstruct the application of it more than the interests of society require.

And calling to mind the doctrines of political economy which are now prevalent, I cannot forbear to enforce the justice of the principle, and to insist upon its salutary operation.

And first for its justice: If self-preservation be the first law of our nature, would not every one in a state of nature be morally justified in taking to himself that which is indispensable to such preservation, where, by so doing, he would not rob another of that which might be equally indispensable to his preservation? And if the value of life be regarded in a right point of view, may it not be questioned whether this right of preserving life, at any expense short of endangering the life of another, does not survive man's entering into the social state; whether this right can be surrendered or forfeited, except when it opposes the divine law, upon any supposition of a social compact, or of any convention for the protection of mere rights of property?

But, if it be not safe to touch the abstract question of man's right in a social state to help himself even in the last extremity, may we not still contend for the duty of a Christian government, standing in loco parentis towards all its subjects, to make such effectual provision, that no one shall be in danger of perishing either through the neglect or harshness of its legislation? Or, waiving this, is it not indisputable that the claim of the State to the allegiance, involves the protection of the subject? And, as all rights in one party impose a correlative duty upon another, it follows that the right of the State to require the services of its members, even to the jeoparding of their lives in the common defence, establishes a right in the people (not to be gainsaid by utilitarians and economists) to public support when, from any cause, they may be unable to support themselves.

Let us now consider the salutary and benign operation of this principle. Here we must have recourse to elementary feelings of human nature, and to truths which from their very obviousness are apt to be slighted, till they are forced upon our notice by our own sufferings or those of others. In the Paradise Lost, Milton represents Adam, after the Fall, as exclaiming, in the anguish of his soul—

Did I request Thee, Maker, from my clay To mould me man; did I solicit Thee From darkness to promote me? ...My will Concurred not to my being.

Under how many various pressures of misery have men been driven thus, in a strain touching upon impiety, to expostulate with the Creator! and under few so afflictive as when the source and origin of earthly existence have been brought back to the mind by its impending close in the pangs of destitution. But as long as, in our legislation, due weight shall be given to this principle, no man will be forced to bewail the gift of life in hopeless want of the necessaries of life.

Englishmen have, therefore, by the progress of civilisation among them, been placed in circumstances more favourable to piety and resignation to the divine will, than the inhabitants of other countries, where a like provision has not been established. And as Providence, in this care of our countrymen, acts through a human medium, the objects of that care must, in like manner, be more inclined towards a grateful love of their fellow-men. Thus, also, do stronger ties attach the people to their country, whether while they tread its soil, or, at a distance, think of their native Land as an indulgent parent, to whose arms even they who have been imprudent and undeserving may, like the prodigal son, betake themselves, without fear of being rejected.

Such is the view of the case that would first present itself to a reflective mind; and it is in vain to show, by appeals to experience, in contrast with this view, that provisions founded upon the principle have promoted profaneness of life, and dispositions the reverse of philanthropic, by spreading idleness, selfishness, and rapacity: for these evils have arisen, not as an inevitable consequence of the principle, but for want of judgment in framing laws based upon it; and, above all, from faults in the mode of administering the law. The mischief that has grown to such a height from granting relief in cases where proper vigilance would have shewn that it was not required, or in bestowing it in undue measure, will be urged by no truly enlightened statesman, as a sufficient reason for banishing the principle itself from legislation.

Let us recur to the miserable states of consciousness that it precludes.

There is a story told, by a traveller in Spain, of a female who, by a sudden shock of domestic calamity, was driven out of her senses, and ever after looked up incessantly to the sky, feeling that her fellow-creatures could do nothing for her relief. Can there be Englishmen who, with a good end in view, would, upon system, expose their brother Englishmen to a like necessity of looking upwards only; or downwards to the earth, after it shall contain no spot where the destitute can demand, by civil right, what by right of nature they are entitled to?

Suppose the objects of our sympathy not sunk into this blank despair, but wandering about as strangers in streets and ways, with the hope of succour from casual charity; what have we gained by such a change of scene? Woful is the condition of the famished Northern Indian, dependent, among winter snows, upon the chance passage of a herd of deer, from which one, if brought down by his rifle-gun, may be made the means of keeping him and his companions alive. As miserable is that of some savage Islander, who, when the land has ceased to afford him sustenance, watches for food which the waves may cast up, or in vain endeavours to extract it from the inexplorable deep. But neither of these is in a state of wretchedness comparable to that which is so often endured in civilised society: multitudes, in all ages, have known it, of whom may be said:—

Homeless, near a thousand homes they stood, And near a thousand tables pined, and wanted food.

Justly might I be accused of wasting time in an uncalled-for attempt to excite the feelings of the reader, if systems of political economy, widely spread, did not impugn the principle, and if the safeguards against such extremities were left unimpaired. It is broadly asserted by many, that every man who endeavours to find work, may find it. Were this assertion capable of being verified, there still would remain a question, what kind of work, and how far may the labourer be fit for it? For if sedentary work is to be exchanged for standing; and some light and nice exercise of the fingers, to which an artisan has been accustomed all his life, for severe labour of the arms; the best efforts would turn to little account, and occasion would be given for the unthinking and the unfeeling unwarrantably to reproach those who are put upon such employment, as idle, froward, and unworthy of relief, either by law or in any other way! Were this statement correct, there would indeed be an end of the argument, the principle here maintained would be superseded. But, alas! it is far otherwise. That principle, applicable to the benefit of all countries, is indispensable for England, upon whose coast families are perpetually deprived of their support by shipwreck, and where large masses of men are so liable to be thrown out of their ordinary means of gaining bread, by changes in commercial intercourse, subject mainly or solely to the will of foreign powers; by new discoveries in arts and manufactures; and by reckless laws, in conformity with theories of political economy, which, whether right or wrong in the abstract, have proved a scourge to tens of thousands, by the abruptness with which they have been carried into practice.

But it is urged,—refuse altogether compulsory relief to the able-bodied, and the number of those who stand in need of relief will steadily diminish through a conviction of an absolute necessity for greater forethought, and more prudent care of a man's earnings. Undoubtedly it would, but so also would it, and in a much greater degree, if the legislative provisions were retained, and parochial relief administered under the care of the upper classes, as it ought to be. For it has been invariably found, that wherever the funds have been raised and applied under the superintendence of gentlemen and substantial proprietors, acting in vestries and as overseers, pauperism has diminished accordingly. Proper care in that quarter would effectually check what is felt in some districts to be one of the worst evils in the Poor Law system, viz. the readiness of small and needy proprietors to join in imposing rates that seemingly subject them to great hardships, while, in fact, this is done with a mutual understanding, that the relief each is ready to bestow upon his still poorer neighbours will be granted to himself or his relatives, should it hereafter be applied for.

But let us look to inner sentiments of a nobler quality, in order to know what we have to build upon. Affecting proofs occur in every one's experience, who is acquainted with the unfortunate and the indigent, of their unwillingness to derive their subsistence from aught but their own funds or labour, or to be indebted to parochial assistance for the attainment of any object, however dear to them. A case was reported, the other day, from a coroner's inquest, of a pair who, through the space of four years, had carried about their dead infant from house to house, and from lodging to lodging, as their necessities drove them, rather than ask the parish to bear the expense of its interment:—the poor creatures lived in the hope of one day being able to bury their child at their own cost. It must have been heart-rending to see and hear the mother, who had been called upon to account for the state in which the body was found, make this deposition. By some, judging coldly, if not harshly, this conduct might be imputed to an unwarrantable pride, as she and her husband had, it is true, been once in prosperity. But examples, where the spirit of independence works with equal strength, though not with like miserable accompaniments, are frequently to be found even yet among the humblest peasantry and mechanics. There is not, then, sufficient cause for doubting that a like sense of honour may be revived among the people, and their ancient habits of independence restored, without resorting to those severities which the new Poor Law Act has introduced.

But even if the surfaces of things only are to be examined, we have a right to expect that lawgivers should take into account the various tempers and dispositions of mankind: while some are led, by the existence of a legislative provision, into idleness and extravagance, the economical virtues might be cherished in others by the knowledge that, if all their efforts fail, they have in the Poor Laws a 'refuge from the storm and a shadow from the heat.' Despondency and distraction are no friends to prudence: the springs of industry will relax, if cheerfulness be destroyed by anxiety; without hope men become reckless, and have a sullen pride in adding to the heap of their own wretchedness. He who feels that he is abandoned by his fellow-men will be almost irresistibly driven to care little for himself; will lose his self-respect accordingly, and with that loss what remains to him of virtue?

With all due deference to the particular experience and general intelligence of the individuals who framed the Act, and of those who in and out of Parliament have approved of and supported it; it may be said, that it proceeds too much upon the presumption that it is a labouring man's own fault if he be not, as the phrase is, before-hand with the world. But the most prudent are liable to be thrown back by sickness, cutting them off from labour, and causing to them expense: and who but has observed how distress creeps upon multitudes without misconduct of their own; and merely from a gradual fall in the price of labour, without a correspondent one in the price of provisions; so that men who may have ventured upon the marriage state with a fair prospect of maintaining their families in comfort and happiness, see them reduced to a pittance which no effort of theirs can increase? Let it be remembered, also, that there are thousands with whom vicious habits of expense are not the cause why they do not store up their gains; but they are generous and kind-hearted, and ready to help their kindred and friends; moreover, they have a faith in Providence that those who have been prompt to assist others will not be left destitute, should they themselves come to need. By acting from these blended feelings, numbers have rendered themselves incapable of standing up against a sudden reverse. Nevertheless, these men, in common with all who have the misfortune to be in want, if many theorists had their wish, would be thrown upon one or other of those three sharp points of condition before adverted to, from which the intervention of law has hitherto saved them.

All that has been said tends to show how the principle contended for makes the gift of life more valuable, and has, it may be hoped, led to the conclusion that its legitimate operation is to make men worthier of that gift: in other words, not to degrade but to exalt human nature. But the subject must not be dismissed without adverting to the indirect influence of the same principle upon the moral sentiments of a people among whom it is embodied in law. In our criminal jurisprudence there is a maxim, deservedly eulogised, that it is better that ten guilty persons should escape, than that one innocent man should suffer; so, also, might it be maintained, with regard to the Poor Laws, that it is better for the interests of humanity among the people at large, that ten undeserving should partake of the funds provided, than that one morally good man, through want of relief, should either have his principles corrupted, or his energies destroyed; than that such a one should either be driven to do wrong, or be cast to the earth in utter hopelessness. In France, the English maxim of criminal jurisprudence is reversed; there, it is deemed better that ten innocent men should suffer, than one guilty escape: in France, there is no universal provision for the poor; and we may judge of the small value set upon human life in the metropolis of that country, by merely noticing the disrespect with which, after death, the body is treated, not by the thoughtless vulgar, but in schools of anatomy, presided over by men allowed to be, in their own art and in physical science, among the most enlightened in the world. In the East, where countries are overrun with population as with a weed, infinitely more respect is shown to the remains of the deceased: and what a bitter mockery is it, that this insensibility should be found where civil polity is so busy in minor regulations, and ostentatiously careful to gratify the luxurious propensities, whether social or intellectual, of the multitude! Irreligion is, no doubt, much concerned with this offensive disrespect shown to the bodies of the dead in France; but it is mainly attributable to the state in which so many of the living are left by the absence of compulsory provision for the indigent so humanely established by the law of England.

Sights of abject misery, perpetually recurring, harden the heart of the community. In the perusal of history and of works of fiction, we are not, indeed, unwilling to have our commiseration excited by such objects of distress as they present to us; but, in the concerns of real life, men know that such emotions are not given to be indulged for their own sakes: there, the conscience declares to them that sympathy must be followed by action; and if there exist a previous conviction that the power to relieve is utterly inadequate to the demand, the eye shrinks from communication with wretchedness, and pity and compassion languish, like any other qualities that are deprived of their natural aliment. Let these considerations be duly weighed by those who trust to the hope that an increase of private charity, with all its advantages of superior discrimination, would more than compensate for the abandonment of those principles, the wisdom of which has been here insisted upon. How discouraging, also, would be the sense of injustice, which could not fail to arise in the minds of the well-disposed, if the burden of supporting the poor, a burden of which the selfish have hitherto by compulsion borne a share, should now, or hereafter, be thrown exclusively upon the benevolent.

By having put an end to the Slave Trade and Slavery, the British people are exalted in the scale of humanity; and they cannot but feel so, if they look into themselves, and duly consider their relation to God and their fellow-creatures. That was a noble advance; but a retrograde movement will assuredly be made, if ever the principle, which has been here defended, should be either avowedly abandoned or but ostensibly retained.

But after all, there may be a little reason to apprehend permanent injury from any experiment that may be tried. On the one side will be human nature rising up in her own defence, and on the other prudential selfishness acting to the same purpose, from a conviction that, without a compulsory provision for the exigencies of the labouring multitude, that degree of ability to regulate the price of labour, which is indispensable for the reasonable interest of arts and manufactures, cannot, in Great Britain, be upheld.

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II. In a poem of the foregoing collection, allusion is made to the state of the workmen congregated in manufactories. In order to relieve many of the evils to which that class of society are subject, and to establish a better harmony between them and their employers, it would be well to repeal such laws as prevent the formation of joint-stock companies. There are, no doubt, many and great obstacles to the formation and salutary working of these societies, inherent in the mind of those whom they would obviously benefit. But the combinations of masters to keep down, unjustly, the price of labour would be fairly checked by them, as far as they were practicable; they would encourage economy, inasmuch as they would enable a man to draw profit from his savings, by investing them in buildings or machinery for processes of manufacture with which he was habitually connected. His little capital would then be working for him while he was at rest or asleep; he would more clearly perceive the necessity of capital for carrying on great works: he would better learn to respect the larger portions of it in the hands of others; he would be less tempted to join in unjust combinations: and, for the sake of his own property, if not for higher reasons, he would be slow to promote local disturbance, or endanger public tranquillity; he would, at least, be loth to act in that way knowingly: for it is not to be denied that such societies might be nurseries of opinions unfavourable to a mixed constitution of government, like that of Great Britain. The democratic and republican spirit which they might be apt to foster would not, however, be dangerous in itself, but only as it might act without being sufficiently counterbalanced, either by landed proprietorship, or by a Church extending itself so as to embrace an ever-growing and ever-shifting population of mechanics and artisans. But if the tendencies of such societies would be to make the men prosper who might belong to them, rulers and legislators should rejoice in the result, and do their duty to the State by upholding and extending the influence of that Church to which it owes, in so great a measure, its safety, its prosperity, and its glory.

This, in the temper of the present times, may be difficult, but it is become indispensable, since large towns in great numbers have sprung up, and others have increased tenfold, with little or no dependence upon the gentry and the landed proprietors; and apart from those mitigated feudal institutions, which, till of late, have acted so powerfully upon the composition of the House of Commons. Now it may be affirmed that, in quarters where there is not an attachment to the Church, or the landed aristocracy, and a pride in supporting them, there the people will dislike both, and be ready, upon such incitements as are perpetually recurring, to join in attempts to overthrow them. There is no neutral ground here: from want of due attention to the state of society in large towns and manufacturing districts, and ignorance or disregard of these obvious truths, innumerable well-meaning persons became zealous supporters of a Reform Bill, the qualities and powers of which, whether destructive or constructive, they would otherwise have been afraid of: and even the framers of that bill, swayed as they might be by party resentments and personal ambition, could not have gone so far, had not they too been lamentably ignorant or neglectful of the same truths both of fact and philosophy.

But let that pass; and let no opponent of the Bill be tempted to compliment his own foresight, by exaggerating the mischiefs and dangers that have sprung from it: let not time be wasted in profitless regrets; and let those party distinctions vanish to their very names that have separated men who, whatever course they may have pursued, have ever had a bond of union in the wish to save the limited monarchy, and those other institutions that have, under Providence, rendered for so long a period of time this country the happiest and worthiest of which there is any record since the foundation of civil society.

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III. A philosophic mind is best pleased when looking at religion in its spiritual bearing; as a guide of conduct, a solace under affliction, and a support amid the instabilities of mortal life; but the Church having been forcibly brought by political considerations to my notice, while treating of the labouring classes, I cannot forbear saying a few words upon that momentous topic.

There is a loud clamour for extensive change in that department. The clamour would be entitled to more respect if they who are the most eager to swell it with their voices were not generally the most ignorant of the real state of the Church, and the service it renders to the community. Reform is the word employed. Let us pause and consider what sense it is apt to carry, and how things are confounded by a lax use of it. The great religious Reformation, in the sixteenth century, did not profess to be a new construction, but a restoration of something fallen into decay, or put out of sight. That familiar and justifiable use of the word seems to have paved the way for fallacies with respect to the term reform, which it is difficult to escape from. Were we to speak of improvement and the correction of abuses, we should run less risk of being deceived ourselves, or of misleading others. We should be less likely to fall blindly into the belief, that the change demanded is a renewal of something that has existed before, and that, therefore, we have experience on our side; nor should we be equally tempted to beg the question, that the change for which we are eager must be advantageous. From generation to generation, men are the dupes of words; and it is painful to observe, that so many of our species are most tenacious of those opinions which they have formed with the least consideration. They who are the readiest to meddle with public affairs, whether in Church or State, fly to generalities, that they may be eased from the trouble of thinking about particulars; and thus is deputed to mechanical instrumentality the work which vital knowledge only can do well.

'Abolish pluralities, have a resident incumbent in every parish,' is a favourite cry; but, without adverting to other obstacles in the way of this specious scheme, it may be asked what benefit would accrue from its indiscriminate adoption to counterbalance the harm it would introduce, by nearly extinguishing the order of curates, unless the revenues of the Church should grow with the population, and be greatly increased in many thinly peopled districts, especially among the parishes of the North.

The order of curates is so beneficial, that some particular notice of it seems to be required in this place. For a Church poor as, relatively to the numbers of people, that of England is, and probably will continue to be, it is no small advantage to have youthful servants, who will work upon the wages of hope and expectation. Still more advantageous is it to have, by means of this order, young men scattered over the country, who being more detached from the temporal concerns of the benefice, have more leisure for improvement and study, and are less subject to be brought into secular collision with those who are under their spiritual guardianship. The curate, if he reside at a distance from the incumbent, undertakes the requisite responsibilities of a temporal kind, in that modified way which prevents him, as a new-comer, from being charged with selfishness: while it prepares him for entering upon a benefice of his own, with something of a suitable experience. If he should act under and in co-operation with a resident incumbent, the gain is mutual. His studies will probably be assisted; and his training, managed by a superior, will not be liable to relapse in matters of prudence, seemliness, or in any of the highest cares of his functions; and by way of return for these benefits to the pupil, it will often happen that the zeal of a middle-aged or declining incumbent will be revived, by being in near communion with the ardour of youth, when his own efforts may have languished through a melancholy consciousness that they have not produced as much good among his flock as, when he first entered upon the charge, he fondly hoped.

Let one remark, and that not the least important, be added. A curate, entering for the first time upon his office, comes from college after a course of expense, and with such inexperience in the use of money, that, in his new situation, he is apt to fall unawares into pecuniary difficulties. If this happens to him, much more likely is it to happen to the youthful incumbent; whose relations, to his parishioners and to society, are more complicated; and, his income being larger and independent of another, a costlier style of living is required of him by public opinion. If embarrassment should ensue, and with that unavoidably some loss of respectability, his future usefulness will be proportionably impaired: not so with the curate, for he can easily remove and start afresh with a stock of experience and an unblemished reputation; whereas the early indiscretions of an incumbent being rarely forgotten, may be impediments to the efficacy of his ministry for the remainder of his life. The same observations would apply with equal force to doctrine. A young minister is liable to errors, from his notions being either too lax or over-strained. In both cases it would prove injurious that the error should be remembered, after study and reflection, with advancing years, shall have brought him to a clearer discernment of the truth, and better judgment in the application of it.

It must be acknowledged that, among the regulations of ecclesiastical polity, none at first view are more attractive than that which prescribes for every parish a resident incumbent. How agreeable to picture to one's self, as has been done by poets and romance writers, from Chaucer down to Goldsmith, a man devoted to his ministerial office, with not a wish or a thought ranging beyond the circuit of its cares! Nor is it in poetry and fiction only that such characters are found; they are scattered, it is hoped not sparingly, over real life, especially in sequestered and rural districts, where there is but small influx of new inhabitants, and little change of occupation. The spirit of the Gospel, unaided by acquisitions of profane learning and experience in the world,—that spirit and the obligations of the sacred office may, in such situations, suffice to effect most of what is needful. But for the complex state of society that prevails in England, much more is required, both in large towns, and in many extensive districts of the country. A minister should not only be irreproachable in manners and morals, but accomplished in learning, as far as is possible without sacrifice of the least of his pastoral duties. As necessary, perhaps more so, is it that he should be a citizen as well as a scholar; thoroughly acquainted with the structure of society and the constitution of civil government, and able to reason upon both with the most expert; all ultimately in order to support the truths of Christianity, and to diffuse its blessings.

A young man coming fresh from the place of his education, cannot have brought with him these accomplishments; and if the scheme of equalising Church incomes, which many advisers are much bent upon, be realised, so that there should be little or no secular inducement for a clergyman to desire a removal from the spot where he may chance to have been first set down: surely not only opportunities for obtaining the requisite qualifications would be diminished, but the motives for desiring to obtain them would be proportionably weakened. And yet these qualifications are indispensable for the diffusion of that knowledge, by which alone the political philosophy of the New Testament can be rightly expounded, and its precepts adequately enforced. In these time, when the press is daily exercising so great a power over the minds of the people, for wrong or for right as may happen, that preacher ranks among the first of benefactors who, without stooping to the direct treatment of current politics and passing events, can furnish infallible guidance through the delusions that surround them; and who, appealing to the sanctions of Scripture, may place the grounds of its injunctions in so clear a light, that disaffection shall cease to be cultivated as a laudable propensity, and loyalty cleansed from the dishonour of a blind and prostrate obedience.

It is not, however, in regard to civic duties alone, that this knowledge in a minister of the Gospel is important; it is still more so for softening and subduing private and personal discontents. In all places, and at all times, men have gratuitously troubled themselves, because their survey of the dispensations of Providence has been partial and narrow; but now that readers are so greatly multiplied, men judge as they are taught, and repinings are engendered everywhere, by imputations being cast upon the government; and are prolonged or aggravated by being ascribed to misconduct or injustice in rulers, when the individual himself only is in fault. If a Christian pastor be competent to deal with these humours, as they may be dealt with, and by no members of society so successfully, both from more frequent and more favourable opportunities of intercourse, and by aid of the authority with which he speaks; he will be a teacher of moderation, a dispenser of the wisdom that blunts approaching distress by submission to God's will, and lightens, by patience, grievances which cannot be removed.

We live in times when nothing, of public good at least, is generally acceptable, but what we believe can be traced to preconceived intention, and specific acts and formal contrivances of human understanding. A Christian instructor thoroughly accomplished would be a standing restraint upon such presumptuousness of judgment, by impressing the truth that—

In the unreasoning progress of the world A wiser spirit is at work for us, A better eye than ours.—MS.

Revelation points to the purity and peace of a future world; but our sphere of duty is upon earth; and the relations of impure and conflicting things to each other must be understood, or we shall be perpetually going wrong, in all but goodness of intention; and goodness of intention will itself relax through frequent disappointment. How desirable, then, is it, that a minister of the Gospel should be versed in the knowledge of existing facts, and be accustomed to a wide range of social experience! Nor is it less desirable for the purpose of counterbalancing and tempering in his own mind that ambition with which spiritual power is as apt to be tainted as any other species of power which men covet or possess.

It must be obvious that the scope of the argument is to discourage an attempt which would introduce into the Church of England an equality of income and station, upon the model of that of Scotland. The sounder part of the Scottish nation know what good their ancestors derived from their Church, and feel how deeply the living generation is indebted to it. They respect and love it, as accommodated in so great a measure to a comparatively poor country, through the far greater portion of which prevails a uniformity of employment; but the acknowledged deficiency of theological learning among the clergy of that Church is easily accounted for by this very equality. What else may be wanting there, it would be unpleasant to inquire, and might prove invidious to determine: one thing, however, is clear; that in all countries the temporalities of the Church Establishment should bear an analogy to the state of society, otherwise it cannot diffuse its influence through the whole community. In a country so rich and luxurious as England, the character of its clergy must unavoidably sink, and their influence be everywhere impaired, if individuals from the upper ranks, and men of leading talents, are to have no inducements to enter into that body but such as are purely spiritual. And this 'tinge of secularity' is no reproach to the clergy, nor does it imply a deficiency of spiritual endowments. Parents and guardians, looking forward to sources of honourable maintenance for their children and wards, often direct their thoughts early towards the Church, being determined partly by outward circumstances, and partly by indications of seriousness, or intellectual fitness. It is natural that a boy or youth, with such a prospect before him, should turn his attention to those studies, and be led into those habits of reflection, which will in some degree tend to prepare him for the duties he is hereafter to undertake. As he draws nearer to the time when he will be called to these duties, he is both led and compelled to examine the Scriptures. He becomes more and more sensible of their truth. Devotion grows in him; and what might begin in temporal considerations will end (as in a majority of instances we trust it does) in a spiritual-mindedness not unworthy of that Gospel, the lessons of which he is to teach, and the faith of which he is to inculcate. Not inappositely may be here repeated an observation which, from its obviousness and importance, must have been frequently made—viz. that the impoverishing of the clergy, and bringing their incomes much nearer to a level, would not cause them to become less worldly-minded: the emoluments, howsoever reduced, would be as eagerly sought for, but by men from lower classes in society; men who, by their manners, habits, abilities, and the scanty measure of their attainments, would unavoidably be less fitted for their station, and less competent to discharge its duties.

Visionary notions have in all ages been afloat upon the subject of best providing for the clergy; notions which have been sincerely entertained by good men, with a view to the improvement of that order, and eagerly caught at and dwelt upon, by the designing, for its degradation and disparagement. Some are beguiled by what they call the voluntary system, not seeing (what stares one in the face at the very threshold) that they who stand in most need of religious instruction are unconscious of the want, and therefore cannot reasonably be expected to make any sacrifices in order to supply it. Will the licentious, the sensual, and the depraved, take from the means of their gratifications and pursuits, to support a discipline that cannot advance without uprooting the trees that bear the fruit which they devour so greedily? Will they pay the price of that seed whose harvest is to be reaped in an invisible world? A voluntary system for the religious exigencies of a people numerous and circumstanced as we are! Not more absurd would it be to expect that a knot of boys should draw upon the pittance of their pocket-money to build schools, or out of the abundance of their discretion be able to select fit masters to teach and keep them in order! Some, who clearly perceive the incompetence and folly of such a scheme for the agricultural part of the people, nevertheless think it feasible in large towns, where the rich might subscribe for the religious instruction of the poor. Alas! they know little of the thick darkness that spreads over the streets and alleys of our large towns. The parish of Lambeth, a few years since, contained not more than one church and three or four small proprietary chapels, while dissenting chapels of every denomination were still more scantily found there; yet the inhabitants of the parish amounted at that time to upwards of 50,000. Were the parish church, and the chapels of the Establishment existing there, an impediment to the spread of the Gospel among that mass of people? Who shall dare to say so? But if any one, in the face of the fact which has just been stated, and in opposition to authentic reports to the same effect from various other quarters, should still contend, that a voluntary system is sufficient for the spread and maintenance of religion, we would ask, what kind of religion? wherein would it differ, among the many, from deplorable fanaticism?

For the preservation of the Church Establishment, all men, whether they belong to it or not, could they perceive their true interest, would be strenuous: but how inadequate are its provisions for the needs of the country! and how much is it to be regretted that, while its zealous friends yield to alarms on account of the hostility of Dissent, they should so much overrate the danger to be apprehended from that quarter, and almost overlook the fact that hundreds of thousands of our fellow-countrymen, though formally and nominally of the Church of England, never enter her places of worship, neither have they communication with her ministers! This deplorable state of things was partly produced by a decay of zeal among the rich and influential, and partly by a want of due expansive power in the constitution of the Establishment as regulated by law. Private benefactors, in their efforts to build and endow churches, have been frustrated, or too much impeded by legal obstacles: these, where they are unreasonable or unfitted for the times, ought to be removed; and, keeping clear of intolerance and injustice, means should be used to render the presence and powers of the Church commensurate with the wants of a shifting and still-increasing population.

This cannot be effected, unless the English Government vindicate the truth, that, as her Church exists for the benefit of all (though not in equal degree), whether of her communion or not, all should be made to contribute to its support. If this ground be abandoned, cause will be given to fear that a moral wound may be inflicted upon the heart of the English people, for which a remedy cannot be speedily provided by the utmost efforts which the members of the Church will themselves be able to make.

But let the friends of the Church be of good courage. Powers are at work by which, under Divine Providence, she may be strengthened and the sphere of her usefulness extended; not by alterations in her Liturgy, accommodated to this or that demand of finical taste, nor by cutting off this or that from her articles or Canons, to which the scrupulous or the overweening may object. Covert schism, and open nonconformity, would survive after alterations, however promising in the eyes of those whose subtilty had been exercised in making them. Latitudinarianism is the parhelion of liberty of conscience, and will ever successfully lay claim to a divided worship. Among Presbyterians, Socinians, Baptists, and Independents, there will always be found numbers who will tire of their several creeds, and some will come over to the Church. Conventicles may disappear, congregations in each denomination may fall into decay or be broken up, but the conquests which the National Church ought chiefly to aim at, lie among the thousands and tens of thousands of the unhappy outcasts who grow up with no religion at all. The wants of these cannot but be feelingly remembered. Whatever may be the disposition of the new constituencies under the Reformed Parliament, and the course which the men of their choice may be inclined or compelled to follow, it may be confidently hoped that individuals, acting in their private capacities, will endeavour to make up for the deficiencies of the Legislature. Is it too much to expect that proprietors of large estates, where the inhabitants are without religious instruction, or where it is sparingly supplied, will deem it their duty to take part in this good work; and that thriving manufacturers and merchants will, in their several neighbourhoods, be sensible of the like obligation, and act upon it with generous rivalry?

Moreover, the force of public opinion is rapidly increasing: and some may bend to it, who are not so happy as to be swayed by a higher motive: especially they who derive large incomes from lay-impropriations, in tracts of country where ministers are few and meagerly provided for. A claim still stronger may be acknowledged by those who, round their superb habitations, or elsewhere, walk over vast estates which were lavished upon their ancestors by royal favouritism or purchased at insignificant prices after church-spoliation; such proprietors, though not conscience-stricken (there is no call for that), may be prompted to make a return for which their tenantry and dependents will learn to bless their names. An impulse has been given; an accession of means from these several sources, co-operating with a well-considered change in the distribution of some parts of the property at present possessed by the Church, a change scrupulously founded upon due respect to law and justice, will, we trust, bring about so much of what her friends desire, that the rest may be calmly waited for, with thankfulness for what shall have been obtained.

Let it not be thought unbecoming in a layman to have treated at length a subject with which the clergy are more intimately conversant. All may, without impropriety, speak of what deeply concerns all: nor need an apology be offered for going over ground which has been trod before so ably and so often: without pretending, however, to any thing of novelty, either in matter or manner, something may have been offered to view, which will save the writer from the imputation of having little to recommend his labour, but goodness of intention.

It was with reference to thoughts and feelings expressed in verse, that I entered upon the above notices, and with verse I will conclude. The passage is extracted from my MSS. written above thirty years ago: it turns upon the individual dignity which humbleness of social condition does not preclude, but frequently promotes. It has no direct bearing upon clubs for the discussion of public affairs, nor upon political or trade-unions; but if a single workman—who, being a member of one of those clubs, runs the risk of becoming an agitator, or who, being enrolled in a union, must be left without a will of his own, and therefore a slave—should read these lines, and be touched by them, I should indeed rejoice, and little would I care for losing credit as a poet with intemperate critics, who think differently from me upon political philosophy or public measures, if the sober-minded admit that, in general views, my affections have been moved, and my imagination exercised, under and for the guidance of reason.

Here might I pause, and bend in reverence To Nature, and the power of human minds; To men as they are men within themselves. How oft high service is performed within, When all the external man is rude in show; Not like a temple rich with pomp and gold, But a mere mountain chapel that protects Its simple worshippers from sun and shower! Of these, said I, shall be my song; of these, If future years mature me for the task, Will I record the praises, making verse Deal boldly with substantial things—in truth And sanctity of passion speak of these, That justice may be done, obeisance paid Where it is due. Thus haply shall I teach Inspire, through unadulterated ears Pour rapture, tenderness, and hope; my theme No other than the very heart of man, As found among the best of those who live, Not unexalted by religious faith, Nor uninformed by books, good books, though few In Nature's presence: thence may I select Sorrow that is not sorrow, but delight, And miserable love that is not pain To hear of, for the glory that redounds Therefrom to human kind, and what we are. Be mine to follow with no timid step Where knowledge leads me; it shall be my pride That I have dared to tread this holy ground, Speaking no dream, but things oracular, Matter not lightly to be heard by those Who to the letter of the outward promise Do read the invisible soul; by men adroit In speech, and for communion with the world Accomplished, minds whose faculties are then Most active when they are most eloquent, And elevated most when most admired. Men may be found of other mould than these; Who are their own upholders, to themselves Encouragement and energy and will; Expressing liveliest thoughts in lively words As native passion dictates. Others, too, There are, among the walks of homely life, Still higher, men for contemplation framed; Shy, and unpractised in the strife of phrase; Meek men, whose very souls perhaps would sink Beneath them, summoned to such intercourse. Theirs is the language of the heavens, the power, The thought, the image, and the silent joy: Words are but under-agents in their souls; When they are grasping with their greatest strength They do not breathe among them; this I speak In gratitude to God, who feeds our hearts For His own service, knoweth, loveth us, When we are unregarded by the world.








[Greek: Para Sextou—ten ennoian tou kata physinzen, kai to semnon aplastos,—ose kolakeias men pases proseneseran einai ten omilian autou, aidesimotaton de par' auton ekeinon ton kairon einai kai ama men apathesaton einai, ama de philosorgotaton kai to idein aithropon saphos elachison ton eautou kalon hegoumenon ten autou polymathien].


[25] L. i. 9. But the passage is made up from, rather than found in, Antoninus. Ed. of Friend.

From Sextus, and from the contemplation of his character, I learned what it was to live a life in harmony with nature; and that seemliness and dignity of deportment, which insured the profoundest reverence at the very same time that his company was more winning than all the flattery in the world. To him I owe likewise that I have known a man at once the most dispassionate and the most affectionate, and who of all his attractions set the least value on the multiplicity of his literary acquisitions.

To the Editor of 'The Friend.'


I hope you will not ascribe to presumption the liberty I take in addressing you on the subject of your work. I feel deeply interested in the cause you have undertaken to support; and my object in writing this letter is to describe to you, in part from my own feelings, what I conceive to be the state of many minds, which may derive important advantage from your instructions.

I speak, Sir, of those who, though bred up under our unfavourable system of education, have yet held at times some intercourse with nature, and with those great minds whose works have been moulded by the spirit of nature; who, therefore, when they pass from the seclusion and constraint of early study, bring with them into the new scene of the world much of the pure sensibility which is the spring of all that is greatly good in thought and action. To such the season of that entrance into the world is a season of fearful importance; not for the seduction of its passions, but of its opinions. Whatever be their intellectual powers, unless extraordinary circumstances in their lives have been so favourable to the growth of meditative genius, that their speculative opinions must spring out of their early feelings, their minds are still at the mercy of fortune: they have no inward impulse steadily to propel them: and must trust to the chances of the world for a guide. And such is our present moral and intellectual state, that these chances are little else than variety of danger. There will be a thousand causes conspiring to complete the work of a false education, and by inclosing the mind on every side from the influences of natural feeling, to degrade its inborn dignity, and finally bring the heart itself under subjection to a corrupted understanding. I am anxious to describe to you what I have experienced or seen of the dispositions and feelings that will aid every other cause of danger, and tend to lay the mind open to the infection of all those falsehoods in opinion and sentiment, which constitute the degeneracy of the age.

Though it would not be difficult to prove, that the mind of the country is much enervated since the days of her strength, and brought down from its moral dignity, it is not yet so forlorn of all good,—there is nothing in the face of the times so dark and saddening and repulsive—as to shock the first feelings of a generous spirit, and drive it at once to seek refuge in the elder ages of our greatness. There yet survives so much of the character bred up through long years of liberty, danger, and glory, that even what this age produces bears traces of those that are past, and it still yields enough of beautiful, and splendid, and bold, to captivate an ardent but untutored imagination. And in this real excellence is the beginning of danger: for it is the first spring of that excessive admiration of the age which at last brings down to its own level a mind born above it. If there existed only the general disposition of all who are formed with a high capacity for good, to be rather credulous of excellence than suspiciously and severely just, the error would not be carried far: but there are, to a young mind, in this country and at this time, numerous powerful causes concurring to inflame this disposition, till the excess of the affection above the worth of its object is beyond all computation. To trace these causes it will be necessary to follow the history of a pure and noble mind from the first moment of that critical passage from seclusion to the world, which changes all the circumstances of its intellectual existence, shows it for the first time the real scene of living men, and calls up the new feeling of numerous relations by which it is to be connected with them.

To the young adventurer in life, who enters upon his course with such a mind, every thing seems made for delusion. He comes with a spirit the dearest feelings and highest thoughts of which have sprung up under the influences of nature. He transfers to the realities of life the high wild fancies of visionary boyhood: he brings with him into the world the passions of solitary and untamed imagination, and hopes which he has learned from dreams. Those dreams have been of the great and wonderful and lovely, of all which in these has yet been disclosed to him: his thoughts have dwelt among the wonders of nature, and among the loftiest spirits of men, heroes, and sages, and saints;—those whose deeds, and thoughts, and hopes, were high above ordinary mortality, have been the familiar companions of his soul. To love and to admire has been the joy of his existence. Love and admiration are the pleasures he will demand of the world. For these he has searched eagerly into the ages that are gone; but with more ardent and peremptory expectation he requires them of that in which his own lot is cast: for to look on life with hopes of happiness is a necessity of his nature, and to him there is no happiness but such as is surrounded with excellence.

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