Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

and parties over the matter to be taught, and partly because, in our anxiety for the liberty of the parents, we have strangely overlooked the primary and imperative right of children to be so educated as to have every chance of becoming worthy and useful, and the indisputable right of the State to give them such a training as shall render them valuable citizens. When our errors in this respect have been gradually amended, and when education, of a kind sufficient to develop intellectual tastes and faculties, shall be the rule instead of the exception among all orders of the population, it is not likely that any sceptic will be left to question the influence of such education in weaning the people from intemperance.

We must not expect from education what it never can, and never will, perform — the undesirable miracle of making the working-man a purely intellectual being. It has not done so with his betters. They do not find in literature, severe or light, an all-sufficient recreation; they demand their pastimes, their social enjoyment, their physical pleasures; and he must have his. They drink wine at their dinners; he drinks beer now, and will drink it however well educated he may be. They take a dose of brandy when drenched or exhausted; he will do likewise. He has a right to his pleasures of sense as well as of intellect; and those who overlook this right put themselves hopelessly and mischievously in the wrong—in a false position, in which they can neither serve him nor do credit to themselves. All that we ought to wish is to wean him from excess; to make drink no longer his chief pleasure, the public-house no longer his best resort; to render him, not the slave of an ascetic pledge or an inquisitive law, but a free man among men, master of himself, and able to use a blessing without abusing it. We will not consent to insult him, nor encourage him to degrade himself, by accepting the idea implied alike in pledge and law—that he is too weak to be capable of temperance, too helpless to be fit for self-guidance; and that the permanent condition of three-fourths of our population must be that of ill-managed children, to whom we dare allow no fire lest they should burn themselves, and who can only be kept in safety by putting all possible means of selfinjury beyond their reach.

ART. VI.-THEODORE PARKER. Theodore Parker's Experience as a Minister. London: Whitfield, 1859.*

Adilitional Speeches, Addresses, and Occasional Sermons. 2 vols. Boston, U.S., 1859.

Four Sermons adilressed to the Progressive Friends at the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting, 1858. New York, 1858.

Trial for the Misdemeanour of a Speech in Funeuil Hall against Kidnapping. Boston, U.S., 1855.

Theism, Atheism, and the Popular Theology. London: Chapman, 1853.

Critical and Miscellaneous Writings. London: Chapman, 1848.

Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion. Third edition. Boston, U.S., 1847. THEODORE PARKER, with all his deficiencies and exaggerations, must certainly be pronounced one of the religious powers of the age. In spite, or rather perhaps in consequence, of much clerical abuse and some clerical misrepresentation, he is widely and increasingly read. His writings meet a want that is extensively felt. By his bold and uncompromising assertion of certain great principles which the popular theology ignores, but which the awakening intelligence of society more clearly recognises every day, he has won for himself an amount of fervid and confiding sympathy which accepts his views in the gross, without very accurately discriminating the sound and unsound elements which they involve. His fearless honesty of mind and noble heroism of character justly add great moral weight to whatever proceeils from his pen; for he writes with such genuine earnestness, with so profound a faith in God and man, that amidst much which we may be compelled to throw aside, we always find that he has left with us some seed of imperishable truth, and opened to us with surprising freshness some unheeded aspect of the everlasting gospel of humanity. Like his distinguished countryman Dr. Channing, his name is gradually extending beyond the limits of his native language. His Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion was translated into German a few years ago by a Protestant clergyman, and has, we believe, excited considerable attention; contributing its share, with other writings of kindred tendency, to a revival of the almost extinct interest about religion anong the thoughtful laity of Germany. An alarming attack on the lungs, induced, it is believed, by severe and unremitting mental exertion, has compelled him,

* This is an accurate reprint of the Boston edition, in good type, and very neatly got up.

within the last twelve months, to desist from his public ministrations, and seek the chances of recovery in a southern climate. During his first interval of rest after quitting Boston, he addressed a letter to his flock in that city, giving some account of his experience as a minister, and of his early life. The marked expressions of sympathy and personal regard which flowed in upon him from all sides on the occurrence of this calamity, and in offering which persons the most opposed to his theological position were not the least conspicuous, had touched deeply his generous and affectionate heart; and his response to them in this letter breathes a kindly and loving spirit, which to inany will place his character in a new light, and show how the gentlest humanities may dwell in one nature with a stern courage, an iron will, and a passionate energy of purpose. When a strong and brave man is laid aside for a season from work, and there is a temporary lull of the fierce controversies which raged around him as their centre, the occasion seems not unsuitable for calmly estimating his character and aims, taking account of his services to truth and freedom, and attempting to determine his relation to the actual world of theological thought, in which he fills no unimportant place.

Mr. Parker was born in a village of New England not far from Boston, of a family which had distinguished itself in the War of Independence, and possessed in an eminent degree the household virtues, the healthy moral instincts, and the deep religious seriousness characteristic of the yeomanry of that part of the world, and inherited from their Puritan descent. His mother cherished in him from infancy a profound reverence for justice and freedom; and his father's strong intellect and natural aptitude for metaphysical speculation, not seldom found conjoined with deep piety in a humble condition of life, had much influence in shaping the tendencies of his opening mind. His early education was plain and rough, but invigorating. Bodily toil was intermingled with the ordinary course of education; the shop and the farm served to train him as well as the school; and so, to use his own words, “ he did not fail to learn the great lesson of personal industry, and to acquire power of work—to begin early, to continue long, with strong and rapid stroke.” He was not without access to some variety of good books; and those that fell into his hands were not only read but studied, and “not laid aside till well understood.” The failure of a richer literary culture left room for a more valuable development. His powers of observation and continuous attention were assiduously cultivated; he made himself familiar with all natural objects--the flowers, the birds, the insects of his native woods and fields; and in these pursuits he acquired that keen percep

L

The pro

tion of the features, and that exquisite enjoyment of the beauties of the outward world, of which his writings furnish so many striking proofs. The wish had possessed him from childhood to become a minister; and although the snares and difficulties of the clerical career presented themselves strongly to his mind, he thought he could resist and master them; and at length he fulfilled his purpose by entering the Theological School in Harvard University. He commenced his academic life at a time of great mental excitement and contention,-when the Unitarian controversy, then recently opened, was violently agitating the Congregationalist churches of Massachusetts, and Dr. Channing was rapidly advancing to the zenith of his influence. fessors at Harvard belonged to the new and liberal school; and Parker acknowledges with gratitude the benefit which he derived from their free, unprejudiced, and learned instructions. At college he was a laborious student, with an amazing capacity of rapid acquisition, teaching others for his own support while he learned himself. He quitted Harvard with regret, and in 1837 was ordained minister of a small country parish at West Roxbury, in the neighbourhood of Boston.

His pastoral duties being light, he had considerable leisure for study; and he read extensively on all subjects that bore on Christianity. If he had doubts, they arose not from coldness and indifference, but from deep earnestness. He had long been dissatisfied with the authoritative character claimed by theologians for the Bible indiscriminately as a whole, and had sought a foundation for his own faith in the recognition of three grand primary intuitions, of which the Bible seemed to him only one of the manifestations—the intuitions of a God, of a Moral Law, and of Immortal Life. Eager to speak the truth that was in him, yet fearful of weakening what might be a support of religion in other minds, he remained for a long time anxious and embarrassed, not knowing what course to take. He consulted old and experienced friends both among the clergy and the laity; and although they were not exempt from his own doubts, they recommended silence, as they saw no good likely to result from disclosure. In this disingenuousness he could not long acqui

He wrote two sermons to show that pure religion was not responsible for the contradictions in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures; and he kept them by him for more than a year, At length, to ease his conscience, he preached them, but with fear and trembling, not venturing to look his audience in the face and see the immediate result. The result, however, was very different from what he expected. Plain, unlettered people, not the least devout of his hearers, came and thanked him for having delivered their minds from difficulties under which they had been labouring for years.

esce.

He had removed a stone of stumbling from their path. “ The most thoughtful and religious,” he says, 6 seemed the most instructed."

In a country where the old Puritan reverence for the letter of Scripture was still a strong though vague and obscure feeling, doctrines such as these naturally produced uneasiness. The full extent of the demands of spiritual freedom was as yet imperfectly understood even in Massachusetts. Views akin to Parker's, and held by many devout and Christian men, were stigmatised by a distinguished biblical scholar as the “ latest form of infidelity." The attorney-general brought an indictment for blasphemy against a learned minister, for having ventured to argue that the Christ of Christians was not the expected Christ of the Jews, and that the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were not historically fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. The editor of a newspaper, who had shown, it must be allowed, a want of fitting reverence, was thrown into prison for having written against the ecclesiastical notion of God; the last man ever punished for blasphemy in Massachusetts.

In such a state of public feeling, Parker could not expect to escape. At an Ordination Service in 1841, he preached a sermon “On the Transient and Permanent in Christianity," which caused intense excitement. An aged minister addressed a letter to the newspapers, in which he called for a prosecution of blasphemy and a condemnation to three years' imprisonment. None of the great bookselling houses in Boston could be induced to bring out the sermon. It was at last printed at the Swedenborgian press. Many of the older ministers declared "that this young man must be silenced.” He found sympathy, however, in more quarters than one.

Some clergymen who did not share his views, nobly stood by him amidst the general odium; and he himself, with characteristic ardour of purpose, was determined that his opinions should be heard. In the autumn of 1841, he lectured in Boston; and the lectures then delivered he afterwards published in his Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion, the most complete and finished, perhaps, of all his works. In the autumn of the following year, he again lectured in Boston; and in 1843, harassed by opposition and worn out by mental toil and anxiety, he sought relief in change of scene and a visit to Europe. He was cordially welcomed home again by his little flock at West Roxbury; but the ecclesiastical prejudice against him was as strong as ever, though a few Unitarian ministers continued his stedfast friends. To some extent, perhaps, he gratuitously exasperated the popular hostility by the unguarded boldness of his statements, and his undisguised contempt for what he deemed the hollowness of the prevalent theo

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »