Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

my wish and intention, whilst I call things by their true names, to write in conformity to the voice of that religion, whose influence directs and animates my pen on this occasion: but I could not acquit myself to my own conscience for a total silence, upon a reflection, that possibly some individuals at least, into whose hands these remarks might fall, would be led to a serious examination of their sentiments and conduct."

And now we should not do justice to Mr. Wakefield if we omitted to quote the following passages. They will be found to contain sentiments very different from those which the misrepresentations of party-spirit have too often attributed to their author.

“ I here solemnly declare, that nothing can be more remote from my intention, than disrespect for the person of the sovereign; and that the errors of government, as I deem them, excite in my mind a most unfeigned sorrow. It may readily be presumed, that a student is as much interested in tranquillity as any man; and however he may wish for radical reformation by pacific means, can have but little to hope from violent revolutions; where the still small voice of letters and philosophy is drowned

Spirit of Christianity, p. 9, 3d edit.

[ocr errors]

in the din of arms and the clamours of enthusiasm.

“ If ecclesiastical reformation were committed to my hands, I would not copy the example of the French ; but the contrary. Not one living wight of the order of Melchisedec, from his grace at Lambeth to the most ignoble curate in the metropolis, should be deprived, by my consent, of his preferment for his life, Even reformation itself would be dearly purchased at the expence of comfort to so many amiable conscientious men and excellent scholars, as may be found undoubtedly in the Church of England."

The pamphlet thus concludes: “ nor could any motive, but that of a strong sense of duty, have impelled me to come forward to the public on this occasion. But there is a season when inactivity were a crime; and public admonition, even at the hazard of personal comforts, rises into an indispensable obligation; to those at least, who are desirous that their master should not be ashamed of them at his second coming. I am expecting with trembling solicitude, amidst the incessant occupations of a literary life, that alarming catastrophe, which the signs of the times indicate, in my mind, to

Spirit of Christianity, p. 11, note.

* Ibid. p.21, note.

be rapidly approaching; prepared to act or suffer, to live and die, in the service of Christianity; which is no other than the cause of liberty, and the consequent happiness of the human race."y

j - Spirit of Christianity," p. 39.

VOL. II.

CHAP. II.

Mr. Wakefield's Answer to the Age of Reason" - Remarks

on the Proceedings against that Work, &c.

1794-1797.

Mr. WAKEFIELD expressed his attachment to Christianity not only by inculcating its genuine tendencies, but also by displaying its commanding evidence. This appeared on the following occasion.

In 1794 was published “The Age of Reason, being an Investigation of true and fabulous Theology, by Thomas Paine,” whose tract intitled “ Common Sense,” has connected his name with the American revolution, and whose “Rights of Man" excited in this country that extraordinary attention which is fresh in the recollection of

The alarm expressed by Mr. Pitt and his colleagues in administration on the rapid circulation of the latter pamphlet is well known, together with the severe expedients, even to a i vigour beyond the law,” which were occa

every reader.

sioually adopted to check the progress of a work so obnoxious.

The author had removed to Paris, having been chosen a deputy to the National Convention. Under the bloody tyranny of Robespierre, he was imprisoned for a supposed connection with the party of the Gironde; and, as we learn from an account lately published in America, very narrowly escaped the guillotine.

During that imprisonment he appears to have taken up the subject of theology, and prepared for publication “The Age of Reason.” Any work proceeding from the

pen

of so conspicuous a writer would be secure of considerable notice; yet his superficial and declamatory manner of treating this subject, and his egregious deficiency even in the elements of Biblical knowledge, have compelled some of his most zealous admirers to admit that he now stepped beyond his province.

Perhaps it may not be unfair to say in the language of Jortin, respecting an opponent of Erasmus, that " Whatsoever motive [Mr. Paine] might have had for his undertaking, he certainly deserved to be blamed for having treated of subjects which he understood not, and that “it shew's a malignity of mind, and a meanness of spirit in a man, to make those

« ForrigeFortsett »