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ART VI.-SPIRITUAL DESPOTISM.
Spiritual Despotism. By the author of Natural History of Enthusiam. NewYork: Leavitt, Lord & Co. Boston: Crocker & Brewster.
The work, whose title is herewith prefixed, is in fulfillment of intentions expressed by the author in his preceding volume, (Fanaticism,) although he has seen fit to depart from the order of topics then announced. The present book, like the others which he has put forth, and which have successively received the notice of this journal, shows the hand of a master. It would be difficult, we think, for this anonymous censor of the age;* this religious Junius, with the characteristic attributes which he seems to possess, to write a tame, spiritless book. He must and will be read, whether his readers adopt or reject his conclusions. His brilliant and forcible style, and his original conceptions, cannot fail to fix every one's attention. We observe in the present publication, the same power of spiritual analysis, the same effectual dissections of the human heart, which constitutes so striking a feature of his former works. Every stroke of his pen is a moral portraiture. He has thoroughly read the heart, and fearlessly lays it open to its own inspection. The faults of his manner, if we mistake not, are less frequent than usual; and also the felicities of his description happen to be fewer. The cause of both may lie in the argumentative turn of his book, and the logical method he has taken to make out his case. He has set up a single object, and knighterrant-like, he pushes towards it, with lance in hand. Hence he has less use for paradox, and a bold, startling manner, and less temptation to digress from his main topic, in giving utterance to the exuberance of his thoughts, and in culling the flowers of rhetoric. Sufficient peculiarities, however, remain, to show the author of " Saturday Evening," and the elegant portrayer of moral sentiments. We are not aware, that there is any failure of originality, or any tendency to repetition, in the discussion of so many closely connected topics. On the contrary, his resources seem to be inexhaustible. His power of discrimination appears to be augmented in proportion as its objects are multiplied. The purpose repeatedly avowed, of exposing false religion in the shape of enthusiasm, fanaticism, and similar obliquities, seems to be steadily kept in view, and progressively fulfilled, the farther he enters into this den of Cacus. The author, however, retaining many of his characteristic excellences, has, on the whole, satisfied us less than in bis previous publications: we have more faults to find with his doctrines, or rather with the one great doctrine he undertakes to defend throughout the work. His opposition to the voluntary principle in sustaining religious institutions, and his advocacy of the church and state system, exhibit him to us, necessarily, in a less attractive light than has hitherto been the fact. With our republican prepossessions, we cannot so readily fall in with his more despotic notions. In our opinion, he has indulged again, as in his “ Model of Christian Missions," a more theorizing spirit; he has proposed a less feasible plan than any thing that appears in the intervening works. His peculiar views respecting the missions of the church, he seems not even to the present time to have entirely abandoned; since he remarks in the book before us, that “Our various sectarian missionary societies are now wrestling with Omnipotence on this very point;" that is, in attempting to diffuse a divided and incumbered gospel. “The experiment is being tried, whether the nations at large may be converted by the unamended and discordant christianity which we inherit from the Lutheran reformer.” The degree of reform, likewise, which he would realize in the English establishment, is a theoretic perfectibility, of which such an institution is most probably unsusceptible. That he can pull down systems, better than he can build them up, and propose amendments, with greater ease than he can prove their practicability, seems too likely still to be a distinction of this writer.
There is reason to believe, that the opinion which ascribes the authorship of these works to Mr. Isaac Taylor, brother of the late Miss Jane Taylor, is
Before we proceed to notice any particular positions, which need to be controverted, we would remark on a few obvious features of the book in general.
1. It is sufficiently anti-American. It is hardly in terms of respect, that he speaks of our country and its institutions. Had he suffered facts, and not theory or prejudice, to govern him in the present instance, he would never have committed the following paragraph to the press :
• The very relationship of the two people has formed a starting point, whence they have diverged. The people of the United States exist in agitation, and act from momentary excitement. The people of England are jealous of excitement; and though susceptible of agitation, gladly and quickly return to a state of rest. The love of order is as strong on this side the Atlantic, as is the disregard of it on the other. Here (a party excepted) authority, and those gradations of rank which are necessary to its stability, are steadily looked at, and are approved of as good and beneficial.
There, from the domestic circle outward to the political, natural sentiments of deference are faint, and authority means very little beyond the limits of actual force. Climate has done something, the geographical conditions of the country have done something, and the political circumstances of the state more, to place the
transatlantic English at the antipodes of Britain. We shall not then draw our models of government thence. No infatuation could be more irrational. A certain order of things may indeed be good in America ; or it
may be the best possible there, which is neither necessary, nor even practicable, nor in any sense whatever good, for England. England will no more import a church polity from America, than she will import thence domestic slavery, or the republicanism which favors and endures it. Two very efficient causes preserve American christianity from passing into some form of spiritual despotism : the first is the spirit of faction, which breaks the clerical body; the second is the spirit of trade, which has always been found in an especial manner to repel priestly encroachments. England assuredly may do better than take her lessons from those who as yet have so much to learn.' pp. 38, 39.
It is a pity, for his own sake, that so sensible a writer should have spoken of the great American experiment, in government, religion, education and social happiness, with so little discrimination, and with so defective an acquaintance with our history. The great fundamental principles of social order, both political and religious, which are engaging so seriously the attention of philosophers and christians at this day, are not to be settled by a pert parallel of this nature. If our principles and forms of social life are not the best in themselves, or desirable or practicable for all nations, producing the largest amount of human happiness within a given portion of the globe, concerning which position we are by no means decided; yet doubtless they are best for us : and the nation is not known, whose actual good, or whose prospective blessings, we would be willing to take in the room of our own. Except for occasional aggressions made on our quiet, prinsipally by needy and ignorant European emigrants, in our large cities, we are not apprised of any peculiar disregard of order prevailing among us. And it has been remarked by those who are acquainted with the popular feeling of both continents, that circumstances which in Europe would produce a scene of tumult and riot, pass off here without any public demonstrations of morbid sensibility. We are eminently a people who love order ; for order is observed with few external means of enforcing it. In what portion of the world is a more peaceable population found than in New-England ? and a population, too, in whom are not wanting the elements of energetic passion and enterprise. The allusion to slavery need not disturb us, so long as the fact stands recorded in history, that a large number of transatlantic republics abolished slavery for years before " universal emancipation” was proclaimed from a single throne on the eastern continent. It is true, that all the States of our Union have not adopted measures to free themselves from the evils of domestic servitude; but it will be time to bring an accusation against us on this ground, when all the earlier offenders against human rights, among the monarchies of the old world, shall have set the example of freedom throughout their various dependencies. As a people, we have doubtless much “to learn," and it may be added, to learn from England; but has she received no instruction from us? Whose institutions and spirit are now operating in producing or encouraging that reforming process, which constitutes an era in British legislation? It may be safely said, that we have each much yet to learn from the other. In this, our own individual opinion is given, against that boasting temper which has been sometimes exhibited by American writers, as if our nation had already not only risen above every other, but had reached the pinnacle of perfection. Our country must suffer in the comparison with some others, in regard to objects realized by greater age, wealth and refinement; but in regard to those which include the most essential elements of prosperity, it would not be arrogant to say, that we are in advance of the rest of the world. We may well be contented with our plain and cheap republicanism, and cqual distribution of competence and happiness, notwithstanding the author's glowing panegyric of monarchy.
• So long as a nation's welfare is held to turn upon nothing but its sheer arithmetical interests, a committee or a senate may properly bare the charge of them. But if regard is had to those higher and more impulsive principles of national greatness which are in no way to be reduced to mathematical computation, then it is found, and especially so in extensive empires, that monarchy, with its attendant splendors monarchy, vivified by the free exercise of large prerogatives, and reared on the shoulders of an illustrious nobility,—monarchy, not born yesterday, and the creature of the populace, but the child of time, and the favorite of history,—such a monarchy forms a center of feeling, and imparts movement to sentiments of the highest importance, and which have little play within the dead machinery of a republic.'
And if our author's theory, respecting the intimate and necessary connection between monarchy and episcopacy is correct, it is not the vast majority, either of republicans or religionists, who will feel complimented by the following representations, or prepared for the blessings that are to descend on us as a nation :
• Monarchy and episcopacy may be considered as the forms into which the social system will spontaneously subside: republicanism in any of its modes) and presbyterianism, are those forms in which we stop short, when we do not think it safe to commit ourselves to the former. The latter is a cautionary proceeding, in which certain acknowledged advantages are foregone, on account of the dangers that attend the enjoyment of them. But could we find the means of averting those
perils, we should then no longer scruple to embrace the benefits of the more natural and efficient method. A limited monarchy, and a well counterpoised Episcopacy, would probably engage the suffrages of a majority of mankind, rather than any modification of the aristocratic, oligarchic, republican, or presbyterian principle.' pp. 137, 138.
2. The very severe bearing of the work on the dissenters of England, is no grateful feature of it. They will not fail to appreciate it in this respect, and especially the author's advocacy of a church supported by the state. He has become one of its most bold and strenuous defenders, bred up as he was in the midst of dissent. The principles and practices of that order, he treats in a spirit of uncharitableness, which we hardly know how to reconcile with his generally liberal and candid feelings. In respect to several circumstances, particularly the source and derivation of the clerical function, he has charged the dissenting communities of Great Britain with "a capital and very serious departure from apostolic principle and practice.” The spirit of the writer on the subject of dissent, or otherwise Congregationalism, is manifested by such paragraphs as the following:
• No rule can be more whimsical or arbitrary, and none much more injurious or illiberal, than that which measures a church by the size of a chamber or a chapel. The energy and expansiveness of christian love disdains and resents any such mathematical restriction. A church is the organized christianity of a certain circle or district, within which actual combination and intercourse may take place. The temper and the usages generated by Congregationalism, have greatly obscured the glory of the gospel, as a principle of extensive fellowship.'
• The Wesleyan Methodists and Moravians excepted, the great body of our English dissenters have fallen from Presbyterianism to Congregationalism, and in consequence of renovated party feelings, have been led of late to defend that form of government with warmth. At the very same time the evils and impracticability of this system have been so strongly, though silently, felt, as that several important deviations from it have been attempted. In truth, whenever christianity is in an expanding state, a polity essentially (though not by name) Episcopal, takes place; as for example, in missionary stations, and at home too, where a pastor is of Episcopal character, and is eminently assiduous and zealous, so as to extend his_labors beyond the walls of his chapel. The very pattern of primitive Episcopacy might be pointed to in some of our rural districts, where a mother Congregational church has, under the laborious care of its pastor, surrounded itself with dependent chapels, scattered over a district of seven or ten miles diameter. All that is wanting in such cases, is ingenuousness enough not to inveigh against the name-bishop, while Episcopacy is actually used.
Again ; conscious of the fault of their principles, individuals among Vol. VII.