« ForrigeFortsett »
charge the prosecutors with hypocrisy, selfishness, venality, and unchristian maliciousness. In the hope of being instrumental in the promotion of an effective and unobjectionable plan for securing the moral and religious reformation of the lower orders, whose vices must be acknowledged and deplored, this chapter has been added to the Remarks on Prosecutions for Religious Opinion; and, in pursuing this object, we shall first inquire into the primary causes of the evils so generally deplored.
Dr. Paley, at the commencement of his excellent Essay on Moral Philosophy, observes, that there are three standards or rules of right by which mankind regulate their conduct. These are the Laws of Scripture: the Laws of Honour: the Laws of the Land. Suppose, for instance, it were asked, ought duelling to be permitted? The man who lived according to the Laws of Scripture, would say, No; because it is written, “ Thou shalt not kill.” The man of fashion would decide in the affirmative, because the code of Honour enforced it, and in his opinion, the command of God is inferior to the code of Honour. He, who considered the Law of the Land, as the standard, would object; but not because it was a violation of the express declaration of God, but because it was punishable in a Court
of Justice. The number of those who acknowledge no other rule of conduct than the Law of the Scriptures, and implicitly observe it without any exceptions whatever, is extremely limited: hence it is that so much vice and misery prevail. The Law of Honour subsists only among equals, and is confined to the naval and military professions, and the aristocracy. The great mass of the people in all countries satisfy themselves with observing the Law of the Land. It must not be understood that these two latter sections of the community are, in all respects, indifferent to the Law of the Scriptures, but only, that each of them feels justified in committing many acts, or omitting many duties, which are irreconcileable with religion, if permitted by their respective standards or rules of right. Hence it arises, that a sort of conventional morality is established, and the privileged classes draw a most pernicious distinction between the Laws of Honour and the Laws of Scripture. Gaming and seduction, though inconsistent with the profession of a Christian, are practised by men of fashion without hesitation or remorse; nor do they, in consequence of those vicious propensities, decline in the good opinion of their own circle. But, on the contrary, they are admired and caressed in proportion to their adherence to the law of honour. Now the con
sequences of this conventional morality are two-fold: first, as it operates immediately on the privileged classes themselves; secondly, as it affects the lower orders from bad example. Example descends, it never ascends; the dependant section always imitate the manners of the superior.
'Tis from high life high characters are drawn :
Pope's Epistle to Lord Cobham.
It is quite natural that this result should invariably take place. Man is an imitative animal, and has been aptly called “ a bundle of habits.” Habits are acquired; and from . whom is the child so likely to form his model as his father : the servant from his master: the pupil from his preceptor? In an inquiry, then, which proposes to recommend a safe and efficient scheme for introducing a moral reformation of the lower orders, it is highly material to ascertain, what proportion of their guilt ought to be ascribed to the pernicious example of the privileged classes, whose manners they are prone to copy. If it be found, on investigation, that the bad habits of the poor
are to be ascribed to the bad habits of the rich, laws must be enforced to improve the condition of the latter, not of the former. That the pernicious example of those who 'occupy the more elevated stations of society, is quite adequate per se, to demoralize the population of this country, we shall endeavour to prove; but we are quite aware that ignorance is the parent of crime, and that the want of education is one of the principal causes of vice. In this Apology for the Vices of the Lower Orders, the present state of the Church Establishment will be investigated, as the grand hot-bed of corruption, though among the minor causes of popular depravity, the constitution of Parliament, the Courts of Law, and the great national gaming table, the Stock Exchange, must not be overlooked. But even these three last mentioned sources of iniquity may be considered as flowing from the laxity of religious discipline; for in a country where Christianity was not simply professed as the national religion, but where the Law of the Scriptures was actually the rule and standard of right, such practical living outrages on its precepts could never be tolerated.*
* So many persons have suffered by an unceremonious expression of their opinions on the constitution of the House of Commons, that it would be madness to enter into any
From an anxiety to guard against misconception, we wish it to be understood, that we carefully separate the individuals who constitute the clergy, from the establishment itself. It is against the Institution, not against the mem
minute discussion of the exhausted subject. The Parliamentary law against bribery and corruption, binds every member on oath to swear that he has not given any pecuniary consideration for his seat. Whether perjury has ever been committed by reason of this law, we do not pretend to determine. But such notions, whether founded in truth or in error, prevail; and cannot produce any very beneficial effects on the moral obligation of promises among the tenantry and dependants of the privileged classes. The existing practice of common law is notoriously immoral. An attorney sets up for himself a standard of conventional morality: as a professional man, be does and says what he would scorn to say or do, as a gentleman, and shrink from as a christian. But he justifies his conduct to himself, by knowing that he is acting for the benefit of his client. He has no compunctions, if he evades the penalties of the law, and never reflects that before he became a lawyer, he was a Christian; and as such bound by a prior obligation, to speak the truth on all occasions. With respect to the Stock Exchange, it appears grossly inconsistent in the Legislature, to probibit private gaming tables, and suffer this grand emporium to remain open with impunity. It may also be observed, that all games of chance played with dice, excepting backgammon, are unlawful. Surely, it would be better to put au end to the making of 'dice, and thus strike the evil at the root; instead of which, the Legisla- ture levy a high duty on the article, and then punish all who use it.