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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8



In his recent University Commemoration Address, Dr. Badham, commend-ably shelving his usual lively assault on the obtuse individuals who cannot sec the all-importance of Greek and Latin studies as a department of Education, and assuming the for him somewhat novel character of an Evangelist, propounds with some boldness a new Gospel of Taste. This taste, or rather the education of it, which the Professor defines as the art of employing leisure, is, according to him, the principle to which we must look for the demolition of our many vices and stupidities, and for the arrest of "the encroachments of a barbarism that is visibly coming upon us." Society, in a word, is to be regenerated by it, and man promoted to the highest accessible pitch of moral and intellectual excellence. "Educate the taste," says Dr. Badham, "and you educate the feeling of reverence. . . . . . Educate the taste, and you educate humanity. . . . . . Educate the taste, and you educate candour, forbearance, gentleness, compassion—all the feelings which make one citizen a blessing to another, and the commonwealth a blessing to us all." Something like a suspicion, it is true, appears to have entered the Professor's mind as to the consistency of his doctrine with the "higher sanctions of piety and morality," but these he dismisses with a polite nod of recognition, and, with greater assurance than ever, proclaims his message of good tidings for the benefit of such as may be disposed to give it credence. For ourselves, we shall take the liberty of dissenting from Dr. Badham in this matter, and of even pronouncing his doctrine the unsoundest that has come under our notice for some time. To talk of taste—defined as the "art of employing leisure"—as the moral upshot of human character, is, in our opinion, to talk very genuine nonsense. We do not need a University Professor to inform us that leisure puts the possessor of it under obligation to turn it to the best account; but are we to ignore the fact that the toiling myriads of mankind are absolutely without leisure to cultivate? that to the tradesman fatigued and harassed by the anxieties of business, or to the artisan or labourer returning from his long day's toil in the factory or the warehouse, life is little else than a stern sequence of duties with but an occasional relaxation at most. There may be something in this new and exquisite Gospel of Taste to commend it to our opera-lounging dilettanti and page 154 others, but it, assuredly, is no gospel for the millions of the human race who have to toil hard and unremittingly for their daily bread, and whose highest satisfaction is in the thought that the faithful and cheerful discharge of their daily work is in itself an offering of worship to the Supreme. How, too, about the great souls—the Christs, the Luthers, the Cromwells—to whom we are indebted for the great reforms and revolutions of history? Where was their taste? It is clear they were unacquainted with it, at least in the Badhamic sense of term. The nobility of these worthies was in their unswerving faithfulness to conviction, and in their resolute self-denying determination to do as much as possible, during their allotted span of existence, in the way of blessing and improving their fellow-creatures. Dr. Badham, as President of our University, naturally commands a wide and attentive audience, and it is, therefore, all the more to be regretted that the majority of his official utterances have been either so fantastic or so wild.

As the Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his spots, so neither, after a careful study of the style and opinions of the Herald's contributor, "Buttevant," can we resist the temptation to identify this writer with the scribe once so familiar to the readers of that journal by his second-preceded-by-the-last-letter-of-the-alphabet initials, and who was on one occasion so elegantly described by an eminent University Professor as constantly roaming about in society with his literary shillalegh deftly poised as if anxious for a head. And a head, sure enough, the redoubtable Buttevant has at length found in the attempt now being made in England to organise attractive and instructive Sunday evening services for those who have ceased to hold the orthodox creeds, and who do not, therefore, take any interest in the ordinary church services. In view of these proceedings, Buttevant is delighted to believe, on the testimony of "John Plummer," whose ignorance of the religious condition of English society is simply pitiable, that "the respectable artisans of the old country" are still free from "the pestilence of irreligion," still proof against "the vapid fallacies of the infidel,"—what wretched cant!—and still faithful to "the well-attested series of startling facts and phenomena which compose the evidence of Christianity." We cannot afford to waste our space in replying to these and other equally ridiculous assertions; but what can Buttevant be about, when, as the Christian minister we conjecture him to be, he goes on to sneer at the notion of religion without dogma, and to insist upon our acceptance of what he terms the "realities and verities of faith" as the sole condition of God's acceptance of us. Does Buttevant ever read his New Testament? Is he at all familiar with the story of the young man who on one occasion accosted Jesus, asking him what' lie was to do to obtain eternal life? He is! Then let Buttevant mark the reply of Jesus to his interrogator. Does he tell him to study Moses and the Prophets, to make the Levitical code the law of his daily life, to believe this doctrine and observe that ceremony? Nothing of the sort. His advice to the young man is, that he should "keep the commandments," as embodied in the faithful discharge of his duty to his God and to his neighbour, and give proof of his sincerity by renouncing the avarice which was clearly his besetting sin. Now, had this young man been told to be punctilious in matters of ceremony and sound on points of doctrine, to repeat with solemn face the page 155 time-honoured shibboleths of his people, and to indulge his pride and prejudices by a little social persecution of those who differed from him, in a word, to be religious as the mass of orthodox Christians are religious, no doubt the result of his interview with Christ would have pleased him mightily. As it was, sorrow seized upon his soul, for that he had "great possessions," which, although striking at the moral roots of his manhood, he could not possibly renounce. Exactly so. Prescribe for men a religion of forms and doctrines—a religion, that is, which bids them be sound in the faith and leaves unassailed their besetting follies and sins, and they will unhesitatingly receive you as a teacher of the pure Gospel type; but demand of them morality, self-renunciation, purity of heart, warning them that without these their so-called religion is mere pretence, and they will instantly discard you as a messenger from the Pit. For ourselves, we have long since repudiated the childish anticipation of a final and formal division of mankind into heaven-deserving saints and hell-deserving sinners; but were such a separation at all possible or probable, there can be little question that the latter section would include not a few of our psalm-singing church-goers, while to the former would be referred the just, the generous, the pure, the true-hearted, the noble-minded of every age and race. Buttevant, again, is dreadfully indignant that his dear creeds should have been associated by the promoters of the London Sunday evening services with the word "baneful." An epithet, in our opinion, too mild by half. Let Buttevant run his eye over the page of History and note the dismal slaughterings that have been perpetrated in the misused name of religion; let him think of the Vaudois, Albigeois, Huguenots, Catholics, Jews, Puritans and Covenanters who have been butchered or burnt, mutilated or murdered—for what? Simply for their creeds! Jesus, indeed, rebuking the pharisaical formalism of his age, could quote from one of the grand old Hebrew prophets the divine sentiment, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice." But creed-bound and creed-binding Christians of the Buttevant School persistently read it backwards. Their motto is, "We will sacrifice our foes to our wrath, and we will have no mercy at all."

It is only natural that Protestants should watch with keen interest the proceedings of the (Ecumenical Council, and that the more bitter of them should exhibit their delight at the want of unanimity among its members upon the vexed question of Papal Infallibility. It is, no doubt, sufficiently monstrous that a number of fallible men, should propose to establish by a majority of votes so extravagant a theory as that of a divinely-appointed exemption from error on the part of a man no better or worse than themselves. But does it never occur to orthodox Protestants, thus making merry at the expense of Catholicism and its vaunted unanimity, that there is in their own system a hardly less monstrous incongruity. The most acrimonious Protestants are as a rule the most stalwart champions of the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, men who consider the distribution of that book "without note or comment" as an invaluable blessing to mankind, who frown at the bare suggestion of there being biblical inaccuracies, and who scowl at us as we laugh over such stories as that of Samson catching three hundred foxes and tying them together two and two by the tails. But the question naturally presents itself, who marked out the limits of this Infallible Book, deciding page 156 what should and what should not be included within the Canon of Scripture? The Canon was determined by men, fallible men, meeting in councils similar to that now sitting at Rome, and which is only the last of a long series. In vogue among the early Christians were Apocryphal Gospels containing stories about the infancy of Jesus, quite as absurd as the stories about Samson, but which, not being included in the Canon, the most devout Protestants are at liberty to criticise and even to ridicule. But what guarantees have we that the councils which established the Infallible Book were not as prone to err in their proposals and decisions, as the council now sitting at Rome? Indeed it is quite clear that some must have erred; for the council of Laodicea, A.D. 363, excluded the Apocalypse from the Canon; and, granting that that imaginative work has since been readmitted, how are simple men to know which council was right and which was wrong? But the most notable modification of the Canon of Scripture has been effected within the last half-century by a body having no ecclesiastical status whatever. The Church of England states (Article 6) of the other books (i.e. the Apocrypha), that "the Church doth read them for example of life and instruction in manners;" but the governing body of the British and Foreign Bible Society concluded that the Apocryphal writings should have no place in their issue of the Bible. At the present day a Bible including the Apocrypha is so rare, that many a paterfamilias who might wish to read Bel and the Dragon, or the Story of Susanna to his family for" their instruction in manners," would find himself nonplussed, unless, indeed,—awful thought!—the Douay Bible of a Catholic neighbour should be forthcoming. Which is right, the Bible Society or the sixth Article of the Church of England? For ourselves, we are as willing to believe that the infant Jesus made sparrows of clay and endowed them with life, as that Pharaoh's magicians turned their rods into serpents, and we find nothing more or less incredible in the existence of a supposed Infallible Book than in that of an Infallible Pope.

We have nothing to say in disparagement of City Missions considered as an agency for assisting and improving the poorer and less-instructed inhabitants of populous communities; nor do we doubt that they are equal, when carried on by the right persons and in the right spirit, to the accomplishment of a vast amount of good. It is, however, impossible to peruse the recently published annual report of the Sydney City Mission without coming to the conclusion, that the promoters of this enterprise are sadly at sea both as regards their conception of the work to be done and their method of doing it. The Rev. W. Kelynack, in moving the adoption of the report, vividly described certain districts of Sydney where, as he says, "drink, licentiousness and devilism" are the order of the day. He had recently gone with one of the Society's missionaries on an "exploratory tour," and soon found himself in a "district which resembled a rabbit warren in its geography and a Gomorrah in its guilt." Then he visited a court that was "filthy and reeking with all noisome things," and another, where were found "four or five little cabins which might serve as a hiding-place for rats," but in which, nevertheless, were discovered "several souls fast bound by the fetters of sin, and led captive by the devil at his will;" while in one house, horrible to relate, was encountered "a lewd and brazen woman who boasted that she was going to hell herself page 157 and Was going to take all the inmates with her." And so on. Mr. Kelynack's portraiture may be over-coloured, but we shall not criticise it. The evil he deplores is, unquestionably, as crying as it is enormous, nor does any one doubt that it should be encountered with all the earnestness and sagacity of which good men are capable, and, if possible, to its speedy extinction. But we, in all seriousness, put it to our readers whether this devoutly-to-be-wished-for end has any chance of being accomplished by the City Mission as at present conducted. The Sydney Society employs a number of missionaries, of assumed fitness for their work, who are expected to distribute during the year so many religious tracts (30,749 for 1869-70), to read and pray with so many families (6,929 for 1869-70), to hold meetings, to dispose of Bibles, and, in a word, to make themselves generally useful in promoting the objects contemplated by the Society. Indeed, the report for the past year is conclusive as to the well-intentioned zeal, the self-denial, the assiduity of the several missionaries in the discharge of their allotted tasks; and in view of which we can well afford to overlook their well-known practice of invading the home circle—as much, perhaps, for the sake of recording a "call" as for any good they may be able to effect—at times, and under circumstances, when their presence is anything but acceptable. But let that pass. What really perplexes us is this—that a number of men, as well-informed as they are, earnestly bent on benefiting their fellow creatures, should be found labouring under the delusion that the victims of poverty, intemperance, disease, deficient education, defective sanitary appliances and social neglect are to be delivered from the evils which beleaguer and oppress them, and so raised to positions of usefulness and respectability, by instrumentalities so glaringly inappropriate and inadequate as the wholesale distribution of religious tracts and the indefinite multiplication of pastoral visits. Obviously, the truth of the matter is, that in proportion as a sound and comprehensive system of education is brought within the reach of, and the application of it rendered obligatory upon, all classes of the people; in proportion as children are trained, under the influence of such an education, into men and women imbued with the sense of self-respect, superior to the rule of their baser appetites and passions; and practically impressed with the conviction that every violation of natural law is inevitably attended by its retributive penalty; in proportion, in a word, as governments, backed by rational organisations of philanthrophy, become devoted to the moral, social and physical well-being of the communities they represent; so will our civilisation be freed from the intemperance, the destitution, the vice, the ignorance, the crime, which at present disfigure it. It may, indeed, be said, in answer to this, that the eternal affairs of the soul, to which the Mission movement is mainly meant to administer, are infinitely more pressing and important than the temporal affairs of the body. But this proposition we beg most emphatically to dispute. We say deliberately that the present and not the future world is the one with which we are most intimately concerned; and we say, further, that to offer a man bread for his soul when he is in want of bread for the body, or "point him to Jesus" when a destitute wife and children are confronting him at every turn, or to exhort him to flee from "the wrath to come" when he is in constant dread of a distress warrant from his impatient landlord, is to mock him most cruelly. We dissent, again, from Mr. Kelynack's conception as to page 158 the spirit in which a work of the kind under consideration should be undertaken. It is clear, painfully clear in fact, from this gentleman's speech, that his view of unfortunate or, as he, perhaps, would put it, unregenerate humanity, is strongly tinged with what the Master had in his mind's eye when he directed his rebuke against "certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others." Evidently to be poor, or reduced, no matter by what set of circumstances, to the lower end of the social scale is, in Mr. Kelynack's estimation, to be devil-possessed. What right has he to speak of people who have not had the same advantages as himself as necessarily "led captive by the devil at his will," and as being "fit only to become fuel for the flames of hell?" Had Mr. Kelynack gone on his "exploratory tour" in a somewhat more Christlike spirit, our impression, from personal experience, is, that he would have encountered an amount of self-denial, of really stalwart virtue and manful upstandingness in the presence of sore temptation, which would have administered a shock to his theological prepossession respecting the utterly lost and ruined condition of human nature. Anyhow, we would advise him, when next he makes a "tour," to turn his attention to circles of Sydney society where the people, in spite of their reputation for gentility and godliness, in spite of their pious pretensions and sanctified looks, may be found exhibiting a callous indifference to calls upon their self-denial, a viciousness in their attachment to low and degrading pursuits, an utter absence of principle and a heartless hypocrisy, which may furnish him with an abundance of the best sermon-matter for the next twelvemonth.

The Sydney Morning Herald of June 13, announced in its leading columns a discovery of such overwhelming interest that words fail us in attempting to describe it. As far as we can gather, it is a solution of a mysterious problem concerning the future world. But let our readers judge for themselves. After commenting upon the delightfully anæsthetic properties of nitrous oxide (commonly called laughing gas), the writer proceeds thus :—"In passing, we may remark that there is one interesting reflection that must overtake the reader of Davy's researches. When we perceive how light a thing as the inhalation of a little impalpable gas produces the wonderful effects experienced and described by him, and transports us in a few moments from a state of suffering to one of ecstacy, it becomes less difficult to understand how some changes in the gases breathed by mankind may be all that is necessary, together with some moral transformations, to bring in a state of being to which sorrow and suffering shall be unknown." Intensely interesting as it is to be told something of the probable atmosphere of the future abode of saints, we confess to some disappointment at no hint having been given of what is in store (according to the popular theology) for the great bulk of the human race, and of course for all readers of the Free Religious Press. What kind of air is there in the place paved with good intentions? While Lazarus is taking his fill of the nitrous oxide or some other pleasing chemical combination, what does Dives breathe? Not sulphuretted hydrogen, we trust. To have to inhale that or some such nasty compound, for a few millions of centuries, would surely be too great a punishment even for the hardened sinner who was fined a few days ago at the Central Police Court for laying down a drain on Sunday.

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In the interest of pure and undefiled religion we chronicle, with a word or two of comment, on the authority of a trustworthy correspondent, a little incident which recently occurred in a leading town of New South Wales. Some three or four weeks since, Mr.————, a squatter, died. Day was just dawning when the death-hour came upon him, and his wife, a pious Roman Catholic, anxious to perform over him to the best of her ability the last offices of religion, hastily sent for some holy water to the residence of a co-religionist, with whom, it seems, a supply of this article had been entrusted by the church authorities. At first the application was not acceded to, but, upon the urgency of the case being stated, a supply of the precious liquid was obtained and zealously applied to the face, hands and feet of the dying man. A number of articles were then arranged on the table in threes in recognition of the Trinity, and when, on the dislodgment of the spirit by death, a neighbour proposed that the body should receive the usual mortuary ablution, the relatives of the deceased earnestly requested that the operation might be delayed for an hour or so in order that the soul might have time to plead for mercy at the gate of Heaven. Whether these proceedings are in keeping with the recognised doctrines and usages of the Roman Catholic Church we cannot say, but they at all events conclusively show that irrational views of religion are often the cause of much mental suffering as well as of much moral evil; the suffering, indeed, usually being in proportion to the depth and sincerity of the faith. We may well smile over the notion that the destiny of a disembodied spirit can be affected by our manipulation of the tenement that once held it, but we can at the same time understand the distress which would have wrung the hearts of the friends of Mr.————at the thought of purgatorial pains from which a trifling delay might have given him a chance of release. That the Church of Rome notably connives at and sanctions many foolish and hurtful superstitions of this class is not to be denied; but then, orthodox Protestantism is anything but guiltless in the matter, as when a Church of England minister refuses Christian burial to an unbaptised infant though the parents may entreat the consolation with tears; or when an evangelical mother, taking to heart the sweet counsels of last Sunday's sermon, has a misgiving that her son who died of cholera at Hongkong is eternally lost, because he was not washed with the blood of sprinkling.

So the Presbyterian clergy of Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand, have, it seems, been heartily anathematising the Free Religious Press, and formally placed it in their Index Fxpurgatorius. Good! But to the particulars. There is in that city, as some of our readers may be aware, a large and flourishing Mechanics' Institute, numbering seven hundred members and possessing a fine library and reading-room. On the "free table" of this Institution, reserved as it is for contributed periodicals, one of our Dunedin subscribers placed his opening numbers of the Press. Thereupon, the most popular and most liberal clergyman in Dunedin—the Rev. D. McStuart—took serious fright, solemnly informed his flock on the following Sunday of the fearful infidel publication that had made its appearance at the Institute, and finished his tirade by accusing the Committee of robbery (!) for allowing it to lie upon their tables, and within reach of the rising generation. Nor was the Rev. G. Sutherland—whose "Urgent Appeals" were reviewed in our May page 160 number—at all wanting on the occasion. This illustrious champion of orthodoxy fiercely inveighed against the rampant infidelity that was abroad, and had at last come to their very doors! He implored his hearers to guard as the apple of their eye the consoling reflection that nine-tenths of the human race are destined to burn for ever in a lake of fire and brimstone, and held out no prospect for such infidels as Huxley and Tyndall but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation." It is satisfactory, however, to know that this outburst of clerical ire has had, as it could have, but one effect. It has brought the Free Religious Press fairly under the notice of the people of Dunedin, and increased our list of subscribers in that enterprising city. So it is that the wrath of men, even the wrath of parsons, is sometimes made to further the principles they would crush. Now let us hope that a candid perusal of the present and future numbers of the Press will have such an effect on the clergymen we have named, that they may, at no distant date, be found "clothed and in their right mind." Who knows but that our Periodical may some day supplant, in their estimation, the famous "Larger Catechism with proofs thereof from Scripture!"

The conduct of brave men who risk their lives, as did the brave Harrison and the brave Bailey at the wreck of the Walter Hood, on the chance of snatching a fellow-creature from the jaws of death, has ever evoked, as it ever will evoke, the admiration of such as are capable of appreciating a noble action or a generous impulse. The meeting, therefore, so unostentatiously convened some three weeks since at Greville's Commercial Room was a becoming sequel to the late disaster in Jervis Bay; nor would we lose this opportunity of expressing our satisfaction at the form—that of a Medal for Bravery—under which the services of Messrs. Harrison and Bailey were on this occasion publicly recognised. We have our Cross for the soldier who distinguishes himself on the field of battle, and our Humane Society's medal for the man who is instrumental in saving or in attempting to save a human life. Why should we not have our Cross or Medal for acts of physical or moral daring by whomsoever exhibited? We trust that Messrs. Harrison and Bailey will long live to wear their medals, and would even hope that the late meeting at the Commercial Room may prove the beginning of a new order of things among us in matters of this kind. Our practice hitherto, particularly in this colony, has been to estimate a noble action at its cash value, and then, under an originally-good but skockingly-prostituted impulse, to go about from house to house, on behalf of the doer of it, with a hat. To treat a high-minded or noble-hearted display of character in this way is simply to annul it.