« PoprzedniaDalej »
penitent which would overwhelm with shame any pure-minded countryman of my own. It would be pollution to this paper to mention a number of facts which have come to my knowledge, and which come to my knowledge daily, which I feel assured you would doubt were I to tell them to you, and which would have been rejected by myself had I received them from a third party; but having my information from those who were the subjects of these confessions, of course doubt is out of the question. Now it may be asked, How is it possible that you can have become acquainted with such facts, when the Sacrament of Confession enjoins secresy on the confessor and the confessée ? Such is the theory, I know; but any one who has mingled almost entirely with Italians, as I have done, will know that nothing is more common than for the penitent to let slip the whole or parts of his confession from a tendency to gossip, or to make very strict confidences, or to excite your wonder, or from a disposition to ridicule and blast the priesthood with their indignation; and thus through a chain of individuals it often happens that the very soul of an Italian damsel is laid open before you, as that of the men is even more directly. What a picture, then, does this description present to us of the workings and influences of confession! Is a strict police needed to spy into not merely the actions, but the very thoughts of men? Here you have it. Are means sought out for infusing into the public mind the subtle poison of sensuality or servility, of bending and binding the soul whithersoever and howsoever the powers that be may determine? Here you have them : a body of police is at hand, better organized, better disciplined and more interested in the strict execution of their functions, than any body of police which Fouché or Talleyrand ever drilled. It is unnecessary to observe how essential to certain Governments becomes such a body, possessing as they do all the moral power of the kingdom. Their interests are common, are indissolubly united, and, playing into each other's hands, they strengthen and support each other. Does a man seek for any public office and half the young aspirants in this kingdom seek for public offices, these being the only objects presented to young ambition), a certificate of baptism, good conduct, of attendance at mass, confession, and God knows what else, is necessary, which the priest may give or refuse as scruple, caprice or vengeance may direct, and the poor aspirant is blasted. Or does the confessor elicit any thing which it is deemed of importance to communicate to the State,the Minister of Police is put in possession of it. A or B perhaps only is denounced; but the scent is laid strong, and A or B is hunted down. Church and King thus become something more than the warcry of a party; it is indicative of a substantial, solid union between two parties, bound body and soul together by mutual interests. On the occasion, too, of the late Missione, more direct instances of the support accorded by the one to the other came under my notice. The Padre Superiore was put in possession of certain facts which came within the range of the civil administration. “Such and such a thing shall be done,” said he; “I shall write to the Minister of Justice;" then, calling the Judge and Syndic of the town, he ordered them, “ draw up such and such a paper-do this-do that.” “Padre Superiore," was the reply in one instance, “ we cannot do so; but, if you please, we will imprison the man." What exorbitant power do these slight facts demonstrate to exist in the priesthood! They are, in fact, the real sovereigns of the country; and on any well-intentioned monarch—such as I believe him to be who governs these realms—must be a heavy clog. The Padre Superiore might have been the son of a fisherman, ignorant and full of prejudices; but, by virtue of his consecration and black robes, he has become more than a king in power, since he controls the thoughts and subjects even kings to his authority; nay, since he has become “God upon earth."-On reviewing what I have written, I find that there are two broad aspects under which this Mission is to be regarded, -in the revelations which it makes, first, of the condition of the people; second, of the power and the influence of the priesthood. I have lately seen a whole population more abject than reptiles,-since the reptile crawls from its very nature, whilst man, who is made in the image of God, is made to stand upright, with his head and face erect, to admire the glories of that Being who has endowed him with reason to appreciate them. I have seen them and heard them crawling and kissing, shouting, shrieking and licking, and performing numberless acts which demonstrated them to be ignorant, credulous, superstitious slaves. I closed my eyes in thought, and I saw them become firebrands in the hands of the religious fanatic; bloodthirsty revolutionists in the hands of the unprincipled demagogue; slaves of vice in the face of temptation; children of hell,—that hell which poverty and misery and degradation produce, under all these influences united. What wonder is it, then, that in this kingdom religion is not a sentiment or a principle, but a passion, a whirlwind, a form; that ambition has no higher object than to secure its daily food by fair or foul means; and that nearly a million of human beings are in the public prisons? Well and powerfully does Eugene Sue, in his Juif Errant, say, “ What imperious reasons for penetrating the lowest depths of the masses with instruction and with light, to enable unfortunate creatures to defend themselves from so many stupid prejudices, so many fatal superstitions, so much implacable fanaticism! How can we ask for calmness, reflection, self-control, or the sentiment of justice, from abandoned beings whom ignorance has brutalized, and misery depraved, and suffering made ferocious, and of whom society takes no thought, except when chains them to their galleys or binds them ready for the executioner ?" Is not this admirable ? Does it not comprehend all that can be said in answer to that insensate opposition which has been lately made in England to Government Education? There is a poison running along the streets, and mounting into your houses, and entering into the life-blood, and you leave the remedy to a number of quacks, who here may will, and there may not will, to do something; who discuss and dispute and denounce and weaken one another; whose only point of agreement is that which disunites their implicit faith in each other's nostrums, and sovereign contempt of those of others; and thus, without unity of thought or feeling or action, the “ disjecta membra” of the Voluntary Principle-God save the mark !undertake the cure of a disease which, more than any other, requires promptitude, enlightened views, energy, and unity of design and thought.
Not to dwell any longer on this topic, I pass to the consideration of the power of the priesthood as developed by this Missione. It is immense, and tends to increase the evils I have described. The very fact of such a body of men existing in the heart of society, with separate
interests and without family connections, is sufficient to lead to the suspicion of their power, and a thousand facts demonstrate it. Masters of the public conscience-they are dangerous to a government if not leagued strictly with it, and thus from necessity are invested with all its authority. Springing from the dust, as the greater part of them do, or by pretension growing up into the very heavens, they are cognizant of what takes place in the remotest corners.
Without social sympathies, the acquisition of power is their great ambition; and divine claims give additional force to their knowledge, and a stronger impulse to their aims. Supposing such men to be divine, or their objects pure, such power would be a blessing to society; otherwise, as is the fact, its influence must have a corrupting tendency. To enlighten the public mind and lead it to reason, would lead to the investigation of questions which would fearfully compromise their interests as a corporation; and thus is it that they are invariably found never in the fore ranks of civilization, -never taking a step in advance, unless pushed on by an irresistible power behind, -rejoicing in the darkness of ignorance and superstition wherever it exists. In this late Mission, was there any the slightest effort to awaken thought or elevate the mind ? No. Was there the slightest investigation into the amount or the quality of public education ? No. There was a mass of ignorance, superstition and misery really appalling; but did it suggest the inferences which would have occurred to any well-disciplined mind, or did it call forth one question as to whether there was any public instruction ? No; not it. Confession-make a good confession, was the everlasting cong : hell and damnation without it. Attend mass, repeat your Paters and Ave Marias, lick the ground and scourge your backs, obey your superiors and observe some of the moralities, the accidents, of religion, and you will all go straight into the bosom of the Maria Santissima ; but, above all, confess. And so they did ; and these priests went away laden with the scandal and the secret mind of the place, leaving a darker moral night than they had found. But in the midst of this obscurity, still shines bright the star of day upon this lovely spot; a thousand flowers open their bosoms and exhale their sweets beneath its magic influence; the vine is hung with clustering treasures, and the olive, with unnumbered blossoms no bigger than a pin's head, is rich in promise. In all the great outlines of the lovely scene spread out before me, as well as in their component parts, there are proofs of divine wisdom, power and goodness, which will not be less careful of the soul of man. Sooner or later, it will be awakened to a sense of its power, its destination, its responsibilities. The day may be far distant; but in the mean time there is hope. Hope ! nay, there is certainty. A few months since only, and this earthly paradise, now radiant with beauty, was lifeless and deformed by storm and tempest; but the Spirit of God has moved upon it, and see what a scene of enchantment has been summoned from the darkness of Nature! Who shall limit the influence of a moral being to the material world?
MEMOIR OF THE LATE REV. ROBERT ASPLAND.
CHAPTER XXVII. In the year 1825, the Unitarian Fund Society and the Unitarian Association were merged in a new and more comprehensive organization, which has since borne the name of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association. In the following year, the members of the Unitarian Book Society resolved to unite it with the Association. Experience had shewn that the conduct of distinct societies involved much practical inconvenience, and entailed unnecessary expense. It was hoped that a combination of the several societies would constitute both à point of union and centre of action, and would advance all the important objects for the promotion of which Unitarians had entered into association. The objects of the new Association were distributed over four departments : 1, Congregational and Missionary Affairs ; 2, The Distribution of Books and Tracts; 3, The Promotion of Foreign Unitarianism; and 4, The Protection of the Civil Rights of Unitarians. Mr. Aspland yielded to the urgent wishes of the more zealous friends of the Society, and returned to his familiar post of Secretary. He continued to hold this office during the first five years of the existence of the new Association.
At the close of 1826, an important change took place in the conduct of the Monthly Repository. The cheerful prospects of the Unitarian Association induced its managers to believe that they could both extend the circulation of the Magazine, and make it the instrument of greater usefulness to the body, by taking it under their own control and management. A negociation was opened with Mr. Aspland through Mr. Edgar Taylor, which resulted in his transferring, at the end of the year, the property to the Unitarian Association. It was not without some painful emotions that he edited the last number of a work, which he had established and conducted for one-and-twenty years, and which had associated him in a long succession of literary labours with many learned and noble-minded men, some of whom had now passed on to their reward. He parted with the Magazine, cheered by the conviction that it had been “in some degree serviceable to the cause of Christian truth and freedom.” He was certainly entitled to add, that "it had never been made the instrument of personal objects.”*
The new series of the Magazine was cond ted by the Committee of the Book Department of the Association, at the head of which was Dr. Rees. Notwithstanding the learning and varied talent enlisted in its behalf, the Monthly Repository did not, in its results, realize the eager anticipations of its friends; and at the end of the fourth volume its
See the Preface to Monthly Repository, Vol. XXI. Mr. Richard Wright, than whom no one was better qualified to form an opinion on whatever affected Unitarianism in Great Britain, bore his testimony to the good effected by the first series of the Monthly Repository in a "Survey,” inserted in the closing No. of the work. “It has done much to promote scriptural knowledge, to expose error and superstition, and to promote candour and charity. For more than twenty years it has maintained its independent and liberal course, through good report and evil report, cherishing and promoting the glorious cause of pure and undefiled religion, and affording ready aid to all our public institutions, and to any of our churches when in trouble and difficulties, by lending its columns to their advocates."-Monthly Repository, XXI. 721.
proprietorship was transferred to Rev. W. J. Fox. He continued to edit it until June, 1836; but, during the latter portion of his editorship, it put aside its theological character, and became almost exclusively a journal of literature and politics. It was next edited for a short time by Mr. R. H. Horne. An enlarged series commenced in 1837 under the conduct of Mr. Leigh Hunt, but was very soon discontinued.
The time has now arrived in this Memoir to speak of the measures taken to obtain the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, in originating and conducting which, Mr. Aspland took a conspicuous part. The often-repeated discussions, in and out of Parliament, on the subject of the Roman Catholic Disabilities, had evidently ripened the question of religious liberty, and prepared the popular mind for liberal measures of a far more comprehensive character than those which Mr. Fox and the other friends of freedom had unsuccessfully endeavoured to carry at the close of the 18th century.
The Corporation and Test Acts, passed in the infamous reign of Charles II., had continued, for more than 160 years, to disgrace the Statutebook; although for 83 years previously to 1828, Parliament had been accustomed to pass an annual Act of Indemnity* for the relief of those who had failed to comply with the provisions of the two Acts. The Corporation Act (Stat. 13 Car. II. St. 2, C. 1), passed in 1660, enacts that “no person can be legally elected to any office relating to the government of any city or corporation, unless, within a twelvemonth before, he has received the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England,"+ &c. The Test Act (Stat. 25 Car. II. Cap. 2), passed in 1673, prescribed the taking of the Sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England, and a declaration against transubstantiation, as preliminary conditions to the enjoyment of any temporal office of trust. To the latter act the Dissenters of the day, with “ laudable disinterestedness," I gave their support, seeing that the liberties of the country were perilled by a Popish heir-presumptive to the throne. Subsequently to the Revolution, William III., anxious for the restoration of all his Protestant subjects to their civil rights, expressed to Parliament his “hope that they would leave room for the admission of all Protestants willing and able to serve.” George I.
The history of the Indemnity Acts furnishes a singular comment on the merits of the early Dissenters and the ingratitude of those whom they benefited. In 1745, when the throne of George II. was endangered by an alarming rebellion, armed associations of Dissenters were formed, and some leading men accepted of commissions from the King. Their patriotic loyalty exposed them to the penalties of the Test Act. The Government, "not insensible of its obligations to their active aid, in a moment of the utmost danger to the reigning family," instead of repealing the abominable laws which fixed a stigma upon the most loyal subjects of the crown, contented itself with passing an Act of Indemnity. An Act of the same kind was passed every year after, until the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts did away with the imaginary offences, from the penalties of which Dissenters needed this left-handed protection.
† Blackstone (Commentaries, IV. 58), who describes these two Acts as bulwarks erected “to secure the Established Church against perils from Nonconformists of all denominations, Infidels, Turks, Jews, Heretics, Papists and Sectaries."
# Constitutional History of England, II. 532. Mr. Hallam praises the Nonconformists of 1673 in this matter, for much prudence or laudable disinterestedness.” We must demur to the prudence of conduct which fastened a servile yoke upon themselves and five generations of their descendants.