« PreviousContinue »
sent moment to the French people. He was possessed, we may truly say, by a deeply-meditated and enthusiastic reverence for the moral and spiritual individuality of very human mind; and it was this rooted reverence for the inward freedom of human life which made him resist so stoutly the contagious despotism of Bonaparte's policy, and afterwards sympathize so eagerly with the popular party which the Revolution of 1830 brought forward in France. He held that the "only glory of a state" consisted in promoting "the free and full development of human nature ;" and his first intense political impressions were due to the practical mockery of this principle by what was then the greatest nation of Europe. At school he read how the passionate tyranny of a Parisian mob-at college how the calculating tyranny of one man's genius-rode rough-shod over private and individual liberty; and an absolute spiritual horror at all irreverent invasion of the inmost freedom of man entered ever after into the deepest essence both of his political and religious faith. It might not therefore seem unnatural to expect that the life and writings of Dr. Channing-and especially the writings selected by the authoress of this memoir — would produce a profound impression on the unsettled religious thought of France-indeed, on all who believe in the spiritual character of freedom; and just now more especially, when they feel the yoke to which, in weariness of selfish conflict, they willingly submitted themselves, pressing heavier and heavier on their necks.
Nor is it in any way to our purpose in the present paper to explain at length our grounds for fearing that this expectation may not be fulfilled. We have only alluded to the immediate aim of the publication of the French memoir in order to call attention to one marked feature of Dr. Channing's faith, which, while it connects that faith closely with the various religious traditions he inherited, certainly renders it unlikely to satisfy the strongest religious cravings of the French character at the present day. We refer to its moral and spiritual loneliness, to its strict subordination of social life to the life of the individual, to the secondary and subservient position which it assigns to social laws as compared with those regulating the culture and formation of solitary cha
racter. If there be one deeply-rooted desire in the modern French character which may be said to be either properly religious, or verging very closely on religion, it is the desire for some stronger sense of social unity. Hence the communistic dreams which the most enthusiastic, and perhaps the purest popular, writers of modern France so freely indulge. And hence also the strong hold which the Catholic Church keeps on a community which has intellectually out-grown its tutelage. With this eager yearning for conscious organic unity, for close social cohesion, Dr. Channing's writings evince no sympathy. In his youth, indeed, and even later, he dreamt of a community of goods; but that was due solely to a republican love of strict equality and dread of selfish avarice: indeed, he truly regarded the close mutual dependence which would ensue with thorough aversion, as a great spiritual danger, if not as a necessary evil. But he went further than this: in his estimation, social life was a mere discipline for the nourishment of individual character; and great as was the stress he laid on the culture of social affections, it was rather as adding grace and dignity to a self-sustained character than as lying round the very roots of human individuality. The English religion of the last century conceived the individual life to be quite as distinct and separable from the human society in which it is educated as it is from the world of inferior animals; and even Dr. Channing's faith, which presents the highest form of that religion, uniformly regards social influences as superinduced on the individual nature, instead of as having their source and strength in the deepest depths of that nature. We do not think it possible that his mind and writings should deeply rouse the spiritual life of a people who, if they are groping after religious faith at all, are certainly seeking it from the social side. The French touch most nearly on the supernatural worldon the awe of spiritual inspiration-when the power of social sympathy has melted away the sense of individual isolation, and kindled anew the exultation of a common life. Dr. Channing, like even the deepest of the religious thinkers of his time, felt religion to be a solitary life; and though religious faith led him out into society, he would never have felt that society led him involuntarily into a
more vivid religious faith. In short, were we to choose most of the other rethough one of the most profoundly re-markable thinkers of our day. Coleridge, ligious men, not only of his own time, for example, was, in regard to the social but of all times, his writings are not like- side of religious faith, much in advance of ly to satisfy the craving of the present Channing; yet it would be impossible to day-a craving deeper perhaps relatively compare profitably a Christian faith of among the French than amongst us Eng- such complexity of form and element as lish, who are the most reserved of the his with one of such bare, and even bleak, Western nations, but manifestly growing uniformity as Paley's. In order to exrapidly even amongst us for a Social hibit the gradual transition from an egoFaith; not, indeed, a Faith to reconsti- tistic to a social theory of religion, we tute society from the old ccclesiastical must study a life and character like Chanpoint of view, but a Faith that recog- ning's whose simplicity is scarcely less renizes, that, so far as it can, explains, and markable than Paley's, so that his far that at least gives free expression to, the greater depth and intensity are brought infinite or religious side of social life and into much more conspicuous contrast. duty.
Paley stood in the same relation to the We seize the occasion, therefore, of the doubts which rose up in men's minds beappearance of this French memoir of Dr. fore the great storm of popular feeling at Channing, to trace the two most conspi- the time of the French Revolution, as cuous stages in the passage of English re- Channing stood to the great after-swell ligious thought into this its social phase; of passionate and turbid sentiment which and we have chosen, therefore, the two it left behind. The doubts which Paley writers who, since the comparatively strove to dispel, were the first surfacemodern date when first any attempt was symptoms of the stirring passions bemade to analyze the human principles of neath: but this he did not feel; he asreligious conviction, represent most sim-sumed the same superficial position as his ply, most tangibly, and within the narrowest compass, the selfish or unsocial, and the disinterested but solitary or nonsocial, stages of theoretic religion-Paley and Channing. They are writers whom, on many accounts, it is instructive to compare. The tone of their minds at first presents almost more than a contrast -an absolute antagonism; and yet they are quite capable of comparison. They are both singularly lucid and singularly self-consistent, each a perfect specimen of his own characteristic mental type. They are both of them, too, remarkably considerate thinkers; for they were neither of them men whose minds were apt to be distracted from the main drift of their thought by any disturbing fertility of intellectual resource; and almost every thing that comes from either of them bears the characteristic stamp of its mental origin. Again, while both rely in great measure for their belief on the Jewish and Christian revelation, both of them and especially Paley-have the child's faculty of passing tranquilly by all that they find there which is foreign to their type of character. We find in this great simplicity and uniformity of mind, belonging to both Paley and Channing, a great facility for contrasting their forms of faith, which would be wholly wanting
opponents, and fought against their nominal apologies for skepticism rather than against that skepticism itself. Christianity in no way met the views of that age. The comfortable classes found it inconvenient and unintelligible; the uncomfortable classes found it ill adapted to violent partisanship and predatory tastes. And yet the objections raised to it were much less deep and searching then than those of a later date. The skeptics of that day did not grapple with it-they moved "the previous question." A great revelation of selfishness was at hand, threatening a dissolution of society in England, accomplishing it in France; but it was not yet revealed. And as a barrister takes his objections to hostile evidence before he argues on the actual innocence or enormity of the act proved by it, Paley's age contented itself with declining to dis cuss what Theism and Christianity really were, while it was open to argument whether or not there were any primâfacie reasons for attending to them at all. And Paley accepted the ground thus assigned to him. He admitted virtually that you could prove a religion to be true before you had explained what it was; he contended that you might prove a Creator from the structure of the universe-that you know his revealed will
from the evidence of history: and hence, though assuming a thoroughly selfish principle of human action, by a judicious combination of this principle with his previous results he strove to rob it of its desocializing tendency. To be selfish with due regard to divine edicts, "worked out" much the same as unselfishness from the first; and had the great advantage over it of being, as he supposed, truer to
But it would not only be unjust to Paley, it would be fatal to the line of thought we have in view, to refer his theory of selfishness to the character of the man. Paley was a thoroughly practical person, and his object was to convince practical persons. Like all practical men, he cared little about the tools he worked with, so long as they did his work effectually. What society at that time seemed inclined to accept as the strongest motive, he eagerly seized, not caring much whether or not it were the strongest in fact, so long as it were the strongest for his purpose, clear and tangible enough, that is, for broad and effective handling. This is important to observe, not only because it is justice to Paley, but because it indicates the wide prevalence of the social disease which was then eating out the heart of religion. Paley adopted the selfish theory mainly because he did not want to encumber himself with the defense of one which would have been at that time more disputable as well as more subtle and refined. He thought that the fewer were the disputable concessions he asked for at the commencement, the more telling and forcible would be his conclusions. He found that the assumption of universal selfishness was almost undisputed, and apparently much the least favorable for a moral theory; and accordingly he aspired to build up on it a doctrine of moral and social propriety which he hoped would be proof even against the reasonings of the world. The selfishness itself was in the times; the desire to manufacture that somewhat unpromising raw material into something wearing a respectable likeness to virtue and piety was his own. Except for the extraordinary vigor of his understanding, Paley was no doubt a sufficiently common-place archdeacon, but probably by no means a cold or selfish person. He was vividly and actively humane; and a humane temper is one of the most characteristic features of
the better feeling of those times. We mean, of course, by a humane temper, pleasure in the happiness, and pain in the misery, of creatures in some way or other beneath ourselves. Paley seems to have been one of those persons-and his class is by no means extinct-who, though heartily benignant and profoundly compassionate, are little capable of giving or receiving any human sympathy. And it was perhaps characteristic of his day. Thus, for instance, it was one of his greatest enjoyments, we are told, to see animals, even shrimps, happy. "Now see," he said on one occasion to his friend, after a fit of musing by the seaside; "only look at the goodness of God! how happy those shrimps are !"* And he has himself recorded, in the most characteristic passage of his "Moral Philosophy," how much more clearly the happiness "of a healthy infant" seemed to speak to him of God's goodness than that of maturer beings. I seem, for my own part, to see the benevolence of the Deity more clearly in the pleasure of very young children than in any thing in the world. The pleasures of grown persons may be reckoned partly of their own procuring; especially if there has been any industry, or contrivance, or pursuit to come at them; or if they are founded, like music, painting, etc., upon any qualification of their own acquiring.
*The sketch of Paley's habits by his son, who was obviously somewhat grieved not to be able to describe a demeanor of more consistent solemnity, gives a very pleasant notion of his simple, kindly, and elastic, if not very profound nature. "His taste for the objects and works of nature, rather than any skill in natural philosophy, led him still to be fond of gardening, though it now rather became a mere gentlemanly work of superintendence. For an hour after breakfast and dinner he had his regular let nothing interfere, nor any one share, except his walks of musing and recollection; with which he youngest daughter, who with a basket under her arm to pick up any thing that he chose to put into it, followed him haud æquis passibus. At such times he seldom spoke a word; but now and then he used to surprise his little companion by bursting out into the most immoderate laughter, or mouthing out scraps of poetry or sentences of prose. With the handle of his stick in his mouth, now moving in flower, a snail; at one instant pausing to consider a short hurried step, now stopping at a butterfly, a the subject of his next sermon, at the next carrying the whole weight and intent of his mind to the arraying some pots in his greenhouse, or preparing with the greatest gravity to remove some stick or stand that offended his eye-he presented the most prominent feature of his mind very obviously, but made it perhaps happy for his public character that he chose to be alone."
But the pleasures of a healthy infant are so manifestly provided for it by another, and the benevolence of the provision is so unquestionable, that every child I see at its sport affords to my mind a kind of sensible evidence of the finger of God, and of the disposition which directs it." This is most characteristic not only of the writer but of all his writings, and of the age in which it was written. He was not unwilling to conceive any agency as divine that was completely clear of man. Directly human elements were introduced, endless doubts were suggested. Was it not the aim of Paley's writings to show by how gradual and artificial a process the moral nature of man is formed? Laws of association, habits, "violent motives resulting from the command of another"-do not these dress up the mind into something quite stiff and monotonous? The simple instinct of pleasure, the vivid throb of untutored enjoyment, was what Paley could alone trust as completely natural and divine; and when he could get back to it, though it were only in a "shrimp" or a "healthy infant," he breathed free again, feeling that he had slipped the strait-waistcoat of his moral system. The belief of that day was not favorable to human nature; if it held that God had revealed himself once in one man, it held still more strongly that he had closely vailed himself again from ordinary men; and in animal happiness and childish inexperience it rejoiced to feel secure against the unintelligible union of complexity and shallowness which it found in human nature.
And Paley was a fair representative of his age; more completely at home with things than with persons, or at least more at home with persons on light superficial subjects than on the deeper principles of character, society, and faith. His son tells us that "it was more consistent with his character to suppress or conceal his feelings. On religious subjects he seldom conversed, and rarely spoke at all on them with any of his family. It is clear from the composition of his later sermons that there was not an attempt made to guide either himself or his hearers by feeling." Nor in his earlier sermons was the attempt made with any success; the empty rhetoric of the age, which distinguished them, shows no trace of real feeling. His strongest human emotion was the genuine benignity to which we have already al
luded. His sermons are dull in the extreme; moral disquisitions endeavoring to present to his audience "violent motives resulting from the command of another," but actually presenting very weakly ones. Once only he wrote on a social subject, at a most exciting period. It was in 1790, when all England feared that the revolutionary excitement which had broken out in France would extend to this country. There never was a man who had less sympathy with the great passions of multitudes than the Archdeacon of Carlisle. He could, indeed, understand and express with characteristic strength of conception the apparent incongruities of social arrangements. The celebrated passage in which he describes the complete inconsistency of our property-laws with the natural instincts of animals, and draws his ludicrous picture of the ninety-nine superior pigeons half starved, and feeding themselves on the chaff and refuse, in order to keep for the weakest and worst pigeon of the flock, not only more than he can eat, but more than he can conveniently spoil and throw away, proves clearly enough that he appreciated the primâ-facie grotesqueness of some of our human institutions. But he never understood in the least the power of social passion which these institutions can call forth; and the tract he issued to tranquillize excited feeling in 1790 is amusingly characteristic of the man and the education he had received. He called it "Reasons for Contentment," and marked it himself as "the best thing I ever wrote." We are not surprised to hear it was "not very generally read, and by those who read it was not very generally admired." It proves more than any thing he ever wrote that he had not even the conception of the great forces which hold toge ther, and of the great forces which rend asunder, human society. When you read it, and consider at what time it was written, you realize for the first time that he may indeed have supposed his treatise on morals likely to confirm and restore social virtue. The "Reasons for Contentment," are addressed to the poor, and composedly point out that the poor have as many or more pleasures than the rich; and that there is scarce any situation in life equal in enjoyment to that of a peasant, who sits on summer evenings at the door of his cottage, and "with his children amongst his neighbors feels his frame and
his heart at rest; every thing about him | companions were valued mainly for the pleased and pleasing, and a delight and sympathy they afforded with regard to complacency in his sensations far beyond common things. Almost the only letter, what either luxury or diversion can afford. not on business, that is preserved of The rich want this; and they want what Paley's is singularly characteristic. It is they must never have." Thus, sitting written to a friend just going to Constanapart in his country parish in Westmore- tinople, and is full of eagerness to see the land, did the frigid-minded divine chant new country through the medium of his his utilitarian lullaby over a world that friend's observation. Paley evidently was rapidly ceasing to acknowledge its feared to have vague or "fine" and gencharm, and had altogether defied its eral descriptions, when he wished for one power. The love of liberty, which, strange close, utilitarian, and adapted to his own as it may seem, is of all passions the most Cumberland experience. He fills his letsocial, (since no man can be really free ter with eleven rules by which his friend without fellowship,) the pulses of national is to observe and describe. He is to comambition, the vindictive hatred for tot- pare "every thing with English and Cumtering aristocracies, which through cen- berland scenery: for example, rivers with turies had kept knowledge and power, as Eden, groves with Corby, mountains with well as justice and honor, to themselves- Skiddaw." "Get, if you can, a peasant's all these "violent motives" were foreign actual dinner and bottle." "Pick up litto Paley's nature. The "happy peasant, tle articles of dress, tools, furniture, essitting at the door of his cottage on a pecially from low life, as an actual smock, summer evening," might have understood etc." This is not only essentially charac them better than the archdeacon. The teristic of Paley, but of that part of him sense that society has been dull, profitless, by which he to some extent realized the evil-a slavery instead of a source of joy ideal of the eighteenth century in Engand strength; the hope that springs from land. Society then forgot its aims, and a people's harmony; the reverence for devoted itself to improving its machinery something higher than man, which comes -as if that were possible without keepof watching the mighty workings, whether ing its aims in view; and philosophy and for good or evil, of a people's will-all religion, catching the same inspiration, this the merest peasants have often deep- smiled, not without reason, at the vague ly felt, and even died to realize. And grandeur of idealism, and set itself to unPaley's name would utterly be forgotten derstand and rectify human manners and if "the best thing he ever wrote," had study the divine mechanics. Paley did had indeed been on a theme which more this in the most effective way. He cultithan any other needed deep insight into vated a familiarity with the arts-human social character, a deep sympathy with or animal-at every odd moment. He social temptations, and a deep fear of wrote his books, we hear, in short loose social sins. paragraphs; starting away from a page of his Natural Pheology to look at something in the garden, or "copy a recipe for cheap broth." And it is easy to discriminate in his writings the traces of these hasty and frequent excursions into the external world. Not only the abrupt divisions, but the exultation of new booty in the way of a reviving illustration just as the idea is beginning a little to fade away, all speak at once of brief but forcible intervals of thought, and of repeated intervals of refreshing communion with the ingenuities of nature and art.
But though a dry-minded man, little open to great social influences, Paley's natural force of nature comes out in the liveliness of his curiosity and the acuteness of his intelligence concerning the world of creatures and things beneath him. He was an elastic-minded man, whose intellect was always at work on what we may call the theory of doing. He would have been the true apostle of the recent gospel for teaching the world common things;" "for he not only delighted in common things, but what is far rarer, he did not learn to understand them in order to deal with them, but he learnt to deal with them for the sake of understanding them. His aim was theoretic, his procedure was practical. Common things were his companions; and even
Such was the great exponent of the most popular moral philosophy of the eighteenth century; and Paley's "Moral Philosophy" was popular*-probably be
*He received £1000-in those days a much