The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
If it could be shown that the morality and intelligence of a people might be rightly estimated by noticing the language and demeanour of its parliamentary representatives, the Colony of New South Wales would, assuredly, not rank high in the scale of civilisation. It must be remembered, however, that the vile and coarse proceedings which have, on various occasions, taken place within the walls of the Legislative Assembly, must have had, and will continue to have, the effect of preventing most men of cultivated minds and habits, besides many, having even a moderate amount of self-respect, from seeking the position of legislators, and that a large share in the business of legislation is thus necessarily left in the hands of a number of fussy schemers, who, adopting politics as a trade, and looking upon principle as a joke, mainly occupy themselves in promoting such measures as may seem to them most likely to forward the interests of themselves and their friends, without any consideration as to the benefit or injury that may consequently result to the general body of the people. The universal tone of condemnation which has always been used in commenting on the degrading exhibitions referred to, shows that the colonists, generally, are not responsible for them, but that it is in the defective material to which the electors are limited for the choice of their representatives, that the origin of the evil lies. Until the tone of our social morality be improved, and the false and contemptible manœuvring of certain political adventurers comes to be characterised by some less lenient, and more appropriate epithet than that of "slippery," we shall fail in securing a more dignified or less unscrupulous body of representatives than that which we at present possess. The freedom of speech which is accorded to, and enjoyed by, members of Parliament, is necessarily very great, and when rightly employed may fairly be looked upon as the basis of all wise legislation, especially when, in the assertion of great and important truths and principles, it stands in opposition to the efforts of those who, from selfish motives, trade upon and endeavour to foster measures of a false and corrupt character. That this freedom has been grossly abused cannot be denied, and there is much reason to apprehend, even in the present constitution of the Assembly, that the session will not close without some outburst of personal recrimination and abuse. It is commonly supposed that, when matters have page 26 attained a certain climax, improvement may be looked for; but it is not by the silent acquiescence of those right-minded members of the house, who continually regret and deplore the scenes of which they are the witnesses, but fail to act in opposition to the promoters of them, that any good can be effected. Reform, in this direction, can only be carried out by the determined and individual effort of every member, who, having a sense of his personal responsibility, dares to advocate the application, in the legislature, of those fundamental principles of religion and morality, respecting which all good men are agreed, and by which they profess, as Christians, to be guided in the intercourse of every-day life.
Turning into a Sydney theatre the other night, our attention was speedily fixed by Herr Bandmann's scholarly and artistic delineation of that high—perhaps the highest—achievement of dramatic genius, "Hamlet," A burst of applause followed his really impressive rendering of the fine soliloquy in which the young Dane measures the "dread of something after death" against the "whips and scorns of time," and the actor was evidently in high favour with his audience until that part of the play where the king's question, "Where is Polonius?" is met by Hamlet with the answer, "In heaven: send thither to see; if your messenger find him not there, seek him in the other place yourself." The applause, however, which greeted Herr Bandmann at this point of the performance was unmistakeably accompanied by expressions of disapproval. What was it all about? What did the hissings mean? They evidently meant that the actor had committed himself by his vivid portraiture of a dogma which, in spite of its inherent repulsiveness, is taught daily in our schools, repeated nightly by our children in their prayers, and by every good Christian as often as he rehearses the Articles of his "Belief:" of a dogma, in a word, which, recoil from it as we may in our higher moods of thought, is still but too deeply rooted in the popular creed. We composedly follow Dante, or Milton, into the very jaws of the Christian Tartarus. We place John Bunyan in the hands of children when we wish to amuse them, and dose their imaginations with Dr. Watts in the hope of scaring them into docility and good behaviour. Yet the modest allusion of a stage-player to the Hell of orthodox Christianity as that "other place" to which all wicked people are supposed to go, may act, it seems, as a shock to our sense of propriety. Well, well; when shall we have done with the farce of swallowing theological camels while straining at theological gnats?
Mr. David Buchanan, when confronted by priestly impudence or intrigue, is a hitter of undoubted power. His blows, on such occasions, are always from the shoulder, but his style of getting home is, we think, defective. It lacks thoroughness and impartiality. In dealing with so palpable a Hydra as Priestism, nothing, or next to nothing, comes of hammering away at a single head. The reformer who addresses himself to the task of reaching the vitals of this monster, must be armed with something more than a mere sectarian rabies. He must share the conviction that as religion is a sacredly personal relationship between man and his Maker, so the priest, appear in what garb he may, is a profane and mischievous intruder between the soul of man and the highest of its freedoms, privileges, and spontaneities. But of page 27 Mr. Buchanan, we must say that his intense Protestantism blinds him to the fact that the priestism of the Church of England and its dissenting offshoots is, in its way, just as insolent and intriguing as that of the Church against which his prophetic ire so frequently and well-nigh exclusively unburdens itself. Aye, and more so, perhaps. For the priestism of the Church of Rome is generally marked by an unblushing arrogance and a vulgar straightforwardness of purpose which are innocent and even amiable when compared with the low cant, the long-visaged hypocrisies, and that "air of exclusive sanctity, as of men already beatified," which, it pains us to say, are but too characteristic of the Protestant priest. We speak thus strongly, as we have just now in our mind's eye certain of this order in Sydney—and where are they not?—who, respecting neither the privacy of the home circle nor the sacredness of personal conviction, are capable of an obtrusive meddlesomeness in the affairs of other people, which ought not and, but for the popular awe of a man in sacerdotal robes, assuredly would not be tolerated for a moment. We are not going to mention names. We merely state a fact which is constantly coming under our notice. For his vigilant and uncompromising scrutiny of the intrigues and machinations of the Roman hierarchy in this corner of the world we like Mr. Buchanan much; but we should like him more did he but stoutly apply his axe to the root of priestcraft instead of hacking at its main ecclesiastical branch.
The Rev. S. Ella—who recently entertained the members of the St. George's Mutual Improvement Association with an account of his missionary sojourn in the Loyalty Islands—has, we find, a short and easy method of summing up what he calls "the theory and practice of Christian Missions :" i.e., by quoting at us the text—"Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." But what if Jesus never uttered this command? It were too much, perhaps, to expect Mr. Ella to know that the twelve concluding verses of St. Mark's Gospel, from which he obtains his quotation, are now generally regarded by biblical critics as an unwarrantable addition to the original narrative. It may be as well, therefore, to inform him that our two oldest Mss., namely, the Vatican and the Sinaitic, dating back to about the middle of the fourth century, conclude the second Gospel at the eighth instead of the twentieth verso of the finishing chapter; making it next to certain that the extra verses were added, probably for some dogmatic or ecclesiastical purpose, by a later and unauthorised hand. But waiving this point, we object to Mr. Ella's short and easy method on the ground, firstly, that the gospel of the modem Christian Missionary—witness the degrading sectarian squabbles with which, on Mr. Ella's own testimony, the natives of the Loyalty Islands have for some years past been edified at the hands of their Christian instructors—is anything but consistent, either in spirit or in doctrine, with the amiable and enlightened philosophy of Jesus; and on the ground, secondly, that we are scarcely justified in transferring our philanthropic energies to remote and dubious fields of labour while there is so much to be done in the way of improving the manners and morals of people at home. A crowd of instances might be adduced in support of this restriction, but we shall confine ourselves to one. At the conclusion of the London Missionary Society's Branch Meeting recently held at Newtown, and at page 28 which the Revs. Dr. Turner, S. Ella and J. P. Sunderland were present, three reverend gentlemen sought refuge in an omnibus from the pelting rain, making up an inside complement of three bonnets and five hats. A little way down the road, two ladies appeared begging for seats and—two of the hats mounting aloft—were instantly accommodated. The vehicle was again stopped in answer to the call of a third lady, who on persuasively asking for admission received a curt "No" from one of the three clerici, who further allowed her, although thinly clad and carrying a music book, to scramble, as best she could, into a seat on the roof. Now we submit that this incident, for the occurrence of which we can personally vouch, is in itself sufficient to prove that people may have very high notions as to their "call" to "go forth and preach the gospel to every creature," and yet be strangely remiss in the observance of the thousand little decencies and courtesies of social life, in the absence of which a Christianity, of the merely dogmatic or professional sort, is not worth a pin.
On Sunday, Feb. 13, the Sydney Volunteers assembled in the inner Domain ostensibly for a "Church Parade," but really, as it turned out, for a much more bellicose purpose. They were under the command of General the Rev. G. F. Macarthur who superintended the devotions of the Protestant division, and of General the Rev. Father M'Carthy who administered to the spiritual necessities of the Catholic veterans. Manœuvred by these eminent religio-military strategists—one trained in the "church militant here below," and the other in a church where tactics are by no means despised—the Volunteers were quite equal to the inspiriting occasion. Their martial ardour was aroused and found vent in "Tommy Dodd" and other war-songs of the same type; while warriors of a more peaceable turn deliberately disembowelled their tobacco-pouches and proceeded to sit at ease. Then came a quarrel in the ranks which ended in a smart fight; a crowd of excited outsiders having in the meantime stormed the Domain gates amid a general volley of fisticuffs sent right and left at the nearest heads. Altogether, it was a "site," as Artemus Ward might have said, which only needed a grand wind-up, after the classic model, between the two clerical commanders, to make it "trooly surblime." But, joking apart, let us hope that those who are entrusted with the management of these Church Parades will, on the next occasion, try to avoid the blunder of exposing a thousand men or more, for the best part of two hours, to the heat of a broiling sun; the blunder of tempting them, under such an arrangement, to put aside their soldierly and even gentlemanly habits; and the blunder, lastly, of countenancing, by a division of the men into two religious camps, those petty sectarian divisions which, however unavoidable as features of our Christian civilisation, might surely be forgotten, for one day in the year, by a body of gentlemen banded together under one flag for a purely patriotic purpose. We are aware that our suggestion involves a difficulty of the religious sort. But it is not insuperable. Cease to regard the presence of a clergyman as indispensable to the holding of a Church Parade service, and the thing is done. There are scores of gentlemen in Sydney who, though unlicensed to preach and without the talismanic Rev. to their names, could and, we doubt not, would conduct such a service, and that, too, without offering offence to the page 29 religious scruples of the most sensitive. Let the experiment be tried. Why not?
"And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." Preaching from these words a Sunday or two back in St. Andrew's Cathedral, Dean Cowper, with a quiet audacity that is unfortunately but too common among clergymen, took upon himself to affirm that the "Testimony of the Rocks" is in perfect harmony with the cosmogony propounded in the opening chapter of Genesis, and then the general proposition, that the teachings of Science, in any of its departments, are never at variance with the teachings of the Bible. As the Dean was quite oracular in making these statements, and did not attempt to defend them by a single argument, we beg, quite as oracularly, to inform him, that more unfounded ones were never made from a Christian pulpit. His sincerity we, of course, do not question; but must, at the same time, express our regret that this virtue should, in the case of ministers of religion, be so frequently linked with a mental obtuseness which, under the plea of zeal for God and his revealed truth, refuses to surrender a single fragment of good old orthodox doctrine in answer to the respectful but firm demands of modern knowledge. We live, ecclesiastically speaking, in critical times. For men, no longer terrified by the bugbear of Scepticism, are fearlessly casting to the winds whatever fails to harmonise with the highest revelations of reason and conscience, while the clergy, or the mass of them, doggedly station themselves behind the crumbling buttresses of Tradition, or point to the crowds of unthinking people who for mere fashion's sake are to be found in church as often as Sunday comes round, as a proof that their system is all that it should be. Dean Cowper himself must be cognisant of the efforts that are being made by the foremost thinkers of the day—many of them members of his own church—to eliminate from the Bible whatever scientific research or historical criticism has pronounced unworthy of its pages; and, in so doing, to find a place for the Bible in the esteem of thousands who at present regard it with distrust or ridicule. Is it not to be regretted that the chief obstacle to the performance of this work is not so much in the unwillingness of people to be instructed in these high matters as in the persistency with which clergymen, presuming on the ignorance or the apathy of their hearers, propound, Sunday after Sunday, the most repellent dogmas in the company of legends that are simply unbelievable? But their system is clearly doomed, and, in these rapid times, may be down about their cars before they are aware.
"Henry Wenton and Thomas Armstrong were fined 5s., and 5s. 6d. costs of Court, for engaging in a work which was not a labour of necessity or charity on Sunday."—Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 26. It is no doubt desirable that people should now and then be reminded how thoroughly the Pharisees of old have been outdone in hypocrisy and cant by modern Christians. We could wish, however, that the above paragraph had been more explicit. Who are these sinners, and what was their specific crime? Is one of them a coachman detected in the act of driving to church some able-bodied saint who could very well have walked? Is the other a cook who, neglectful of the interests of his soul, was found preparing dainty page 30 dishes for the saint's table? Or was Pitt Street the scene of the crime, and were these men caught at preparing a daily newspaper for Monday morning breakfast tables? Or, again, to come nearer the regions of probability, were they industrious mechanics, who found it hard to make the ends meet, and who preferred working even on Sunday to begging, borrowing or stealing in any shape or form? Some time ago a man in the employment of the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company was ordered to carry some coals on board a steamer which had put into port short of fuel. It was Sunday. The man, recollecting possibly the apostolic injunction to servants concerning obedience to their masters, or more probably, apprehending that refusal on his part would be followed by instant dismissal, did as he was told, and on the following day was brought before the local board of magistrates as a Sabbath-breaker. Their worships in consideration of his ignorance dismissed him with a reprimand and a caution. We are not aware whether any proceedings were taken against the agent of the Company or the directors. How little now-a-days survives of the spirit of that noble ethical maxim which is contained in the command, Rest, that thy man-servant and maid-servant may rest as well as thou,—a command which is systematically violated by not a few of those who are eternally prating about that detestable Sabbatarianism which Jesus and Paul denounced, and which is as irrational and cruel as it is unchristian.
The truth of Mr. F. W. Newman's remark that "we dictate to the clergy from their early youth what they are to believe, and thereby deprive them of the power of bearing independent testimony to it in their mature years," was forcibly brought home to us as we sat listening the other evening to Dr. Z. Barry's lecture on "The Origin and Destiny of Man." With the recent literature of this profoundly interesting subject Dr. Barry is evidently familiar; nor have we much to say against his lecture considered as an ex parte statement of a confessedly debatable thesis. It was temperate in argument, tolerably modest in tone, and made extremely interesting by the Lecturer's happy selection of illustrative facts, and his way of using them. So long, again, as Dr. Barry confined himself to the scientific bearings of his subject, he was not without facts and arguments which told, or apparently told, against the speculations of Huxley and Darwin; this, indeed, being the inevitable lot of every new discovery or speculation in Science until, by the requisite accumulation of corroborative evidence, the loudest objector is silenced. In due time, however, Dr. Barry's theological bias began to exhibit itself, insidiously but unmistakeably gathering strength, until he was betrayed into the assertion, that the teachings of Science as to the origin of the human race are wholly subservient to the teachings of the Bible; even the "Blessed Book "—so argued the Lecturer—which explicitly affirms that God made man after his own image; and, again, that So-and-so—see St. Matthew's genealogical table—was the son of So-and-so, which was the son of So-and-so, . . . which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God. More we need not say. The natural cast of Dr. Barry's mind evidently inclines him to inquire into the truth of things; but of his fitness to deal with a question at once so purely scientific and untheological as that of the first appearance of human beings on the earth, we leave our page 31 readers to judge from the fact that he is prepared to subordinate the verdict of the most eminent investigators of modern times to such fragments of the Bible as may seem to favour his foregone conclusion that the first man was moulded by the Deity from the dust of the ground, as the first woman was manufactured from one of her partner's ribs. For ourselves, we agree with Mr. Newman that to expect a free and independent judgment, on any question of science, from a clergyman thus mentally cramped and fettered by the doctrinal restrictions of his early theological training, is to expect what from the very nature of the case is not to be had.
Mr. Alexander Gordon has fired off another long tirade against the Public Schools Act, its supporters and admirers—containing for the most part nothing new, nothing that has not been already answered, or that may not very well be left to be answered by his habitual opponent, Mr. Stewart. But he alleges "that there are many who have no desire whatever that their children should be religiously trained," especially "those whose views on education and religion are represented by such publications as the Free Religious Press" Now, we must remind Mr. Gordon of a fact, which cannot be too strongly insisted upon, namely, that certain words, such as "religious," "infidelity," are so frequently used with various meanings, even within the compass of a single paragraph, that every one using these terms should, at the same time, accurately define his meaning. If Mr. Gordon carefully perused the article in the Free Religious Press, from which he quotes, he must have found words such as these :—"the first great business of life is to prepare children to live well;" and again, "let us, at all events, make them decent, disciplined, educated, womanly women and manly men." Surely these and similar expressions are sufficient to prove that we are not indifferent to "religious training" in our sense of the words, and that, too, a sufficiently high and noble sense. But there is a religious training which we do not want, and which happens, moreover, to be precisely the kind of thing which children get in so-called religious schools. It consists of (1) Scripture History, (2) dogmas. The use of the first is propped up by the strange fancy that the domestic squabbles and foreign wars of one people called Jews are matters of solemn importance, while those of another people, called Greeks, are of trivial interest. A strong-limbed Hebrew, called Samson, kills a lion and slaughters multitudes of his enemies, and his exploits are rehearsed on Sundays to wondering children, who are expected to accept every word of the narrative as literally true, while the deeds of a strong-limbed Greek, named Hercules, are construed by school-boys on week days before a master who is quite at liberty to criticise the legend and to point out how it differs from real history. Now we have no respect for this arbitrary distinction. We cannot regard Solomon's song as sacred, and the Phædon of Plato as profane. We find nothing ennobling in the history of Jewish wars, nor should we think of insulting the memory of Cromwell by classing him with Jehu. Then, as for dogmas, in what way has the world been bettered by them? The history of the development of creeds and doctrines is the history of wars and persecutions, of social cruelty and political tyranny, in which the basest have triumphed and the best have suffered. Such then is the religious training which we most certainly do not want. Let Mr. Gordon write as many long page 32 letters as he chooses, of this he may be assured, that men are at length beginning to see that religion has its root not in dogmatic formulæ, but in the deep moral instincts of our nature, which, without the intervention of Church or Priest, conduct us heavenwards.