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Art. I.—The Work* of John Rolinaon, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers. With a Memoir, and Annotations. By Robert Ashton, Secretary of the Congregational Board, London. 3 vols. London: John Snow. 1851.
The story has been recently well told of the success which attended the efforts of Major Ludlow, a political agent of the British government, to procure the voluntary abolition of' widowburning' among the Rajpoots of India. The movement that led to it is described, and justly, as 'one of the most remarkable recorded in Eastern annals.' The method adopted would have appeared, to any other person than the agent himself, as unsuitable and absurd as in the end it proved to be efficacious.
For a period of two thousand years the rite of Suttee had been observed by the Hindoos. It was, therefore, at the time when Major Ludlow assailed it, ' a rite strong in remote antiquity, in venerated records, in a hierarchy at once ignorant and unscrupulous, and in the associations with which innumerable traditions of womanly courage and constancy had ennobled it in the eyes of the Hindoo people.' Notwithstanding this imposing array of obstacles, the astute and philanthropic agent was wholly resolved to make the attempt. He felt himself strong enough to cope single-handed with the hoary superstition. Armed with truth and reason, and with these alone—for the government and his superiors in office knew nothing of his intentions or his measures until they had been crowned with success—he patiently and
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skilfully instituted his plans for the destruction of this enormous evil. All that he did, however, was to bring the Rajpoot mind round to the truth, that for a period of two thousand years the Hindoo people had been deluded by superstition, and had run counter to reason and religion. Working from a centre of influence outward, and using his opportunities well, Major Ludlow convinced the high priest of Jypore that the rite of Suttee was unsanctioned by the earliest and most authoritative Hindoo scriptures; that the code of Menu prohibited it inferentially in the denunciations contained in that work against suicide, while it promised eternal felicity with their husbands to those widows who lived chastely,—whereas the later writings, which countenanced the sacrifice, limited the duration of the recompence to the comparative bagatelle of forty-five millions of years; that the Suttee did but mock the Deity with the unclean sacrifice of a selfish bargain; and that the rite itself was the evident invention of some degenerate race whose women were worthless, and whose widows, if they survived, would bring reproach upon the memory of their lords. The high priest not only listened to and adopted these arguments, but put forth a document in which he declared authoritatively that the selfimmolation of widows was less meritorious than their practising the living Suttee of chastity and devotion. The battle was thus half gained. The influence of this decision spread in everwidening circles, and in the course of a few months the council of regency at Jypore led the way among the great independent Rajpoot states, in declaring Suftee penal on all parties engaged in it, principals as well as accessaries.
This narrative, of which we have given only the bare outline, is fraught with the deepest interest to every benevolent mind, for its own sake, and simply as the record of one of the most remarkable conquests ever effected over superstition. What British authority dare not even attempt, moral suasion, well concerting its plans and skilfully and patiendy hoarding up and applying its successes, accomplished in a comparatively short period of time. And when the work was thus done, it was done effectually, without possibility of reaction or reversion, because done through the operation of the convinced, and therefore willing minds of the Rajpoots themselves.
But who can fail to perceive the great moral lesson of many aspects, involved in this remarkable event? Let our readers understand that it is no fiction, though possessed of more than all the charms of fiction, but a well accredited fact. It is an 'ower true story,' and worth telling, with its many applications, for a long time to come. We turn to it—as these beautiful volumes of John Robinson's works lie before us, on the same table with the Review that gives the details of this achievement* —with mingled feelings, in which assurance and encouragement predominate. Here, also, we exclaim, is a case of superstition that has had an existence, and a fearfully appalling one, too, when viewed in the results that have attended it, for the best part of two thousand years; a superstition ' introduced by a degenerate race,' and for selfish and sinister ends, that spread itself age after age until, as Milton has it, the 'huge train of error' put out all the lights in the firmament, and involved in utter darkness the entire face of Europe; a superstition that has ministered corruption to the priesthood of a better religion than that of Menu, and bondage—physical, moral, spiritual—to whole nations of men; a superstition that, in the name of religion, and during the entire course of its history, has been the death of millions, not * widows' merely, but men, fathers, wives, and children; a superstition that still exists, although modified through causes foreign to itself, and for which, therefore, no credit can be taken to itself; decrepit through age, but still breathing out threatenings and slaughter, and growling out vengeance from those gloomy dens to which an advancing light has driven it. Need we say that we refer to the superstition which has permitted the force of human authority and of the temporal power to meddle with matters pertaining to conscience and religion. From the days of Constantine until now has this great evil grown up along with the nominal advancement of the religion of Christ and his apostles, corrupting and emasculating its doctrines, formalizing its worship, rendering its clergy the hireling functionaries of the civil power, doing its best to stifle the voice of truth and free inquiry, giving exclusive privileges to such as subserviently fall into the ranks of a state-appointed and state-paid hierarchy, excommunicating all who think for themselves and worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, coercing the people into submission wherever they have not been strong enough to conduct an effectual resistance, using the rack, the screw, the axe, the stake, the dungeon and the sword, to effectuate its selfish and despotic ends. We call for witnesses to the truth of our allegations, and from ten thousand places, and issuing from every age during which this superstition has existed, the cry is, 'We come ! we come!' Scarce a spot in Europe that is not hallowed by the dust of martyrs, not self-immolated, as in the case of the Suttee, but compelled to suffer under this tremendous evil. The so-called heretics and Cathari of an early period, the Vaudois, Waldenses, and Albigenses, the Leonistae, Patarini, and Turpelini, the Picards, Lombards and Beghards, the Paulicians and Lollards, the Wicldiffites and Hussites, the victims of the Inquisition in Rome, Spain, and Portugal, the Huguenots of France, the Puritans and Nonconformists of England,—these are but a portion of those who rise at our invocation to testify to the injustice, misery, and woe which this superstition has engendered. And yet we are not without hope, that it will be undermined and destroyed by the very weapons of truth and reason that abolished the sacrifice of Suttee in India. Is the mind of England, of France, of Europe, more impervious to the light of truth than the Rajpoot mind? We will not believe it. The superstition may be more inveterate with us than with them—here than there—and its ramifications may be more subtle and complicated, entrenched amidst a thousand prejudices of the worst kind; yet are we convinced that well-laid plans and patiently-conducted measures will in the end be crowned with success. The appeal of the lovers of truth, and of the friends of a perfect religious liberty, must be made from the superstitions of a later and corrupt age to the earlier Scriptures of our holy religion; from the inventions of monarchs and the traditions of priests to the writings 'of the New Testament; from edicts of Constantino and Acts of Parliament to the code of Jesus Christ. This apparently absurd and unsuitable mode of assault, like that of Major Ludlow, when put to the test of practice, will vanquish every obstacle a«d liberate the millions of Europe from one of the most tremendous forms of evil that ever degraded and oppressed mankind. And when once the work is done by such methods as these, it can never be undone, because accomplished through the operation of the enlightened, convinced, and therefore willing mind.
It is because we have confidence in the power of truth to accomplish these and similar ends that we rejoice in the existence of anti-state-church and other associations, whose object is to disseminate knowledge, and bring the mind of England round to just principles in reference to the sustentation of religion; and for the same reason we hail the appearance of these volumes, comprising all that remains of the mind and heart of' the Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers.' Robinson was a man of the right stamp, raised up in an age of overbearing superstition and formality, to begin the great work of leavening the public mind with that early religious truth which came into the world with Christ and his apostles. Two centuries and a half have passed away since he commenced his career as the resolved advocate of religious freedom. His name not only survives, but gathers around it the truest of all fame. The representative of principles that have received the suffrages of millions since his decease, and that are certainly destined to spread as time rolls on, his