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FOR JANUARY, 1814.
ART. I. The Charges of Samuel Horsley, LL.D. F.R.S. F.A.S. late Lord Bishop of St. Asaph; delivered at his several Visitations of the Dioceses of St. David's, Rochester, and St. Asaph. 8vo. pp. 232. 7s. Dundee, printed. Ri vingtons, &c. London. 1813.
WE consider ourselves as peculiarly fortunate in being enabled to commence our labours by a review of the Charges of the late Bishop Horsley. It is, indeed, grateful to our feelings to do homage to a name, which will for ever adorn the annals of the Church of England. Rarely has our country produced a man of more vigorous powers, of more acute discrimination, or of more profound attainments: he was one of the few, on whose minds greatness is written in the bold and flowing characters of nature: of those who rise to literary distinction, the far greater part owe their success to a correctness of taste and to a talent for imitation; but the mind of Horsley was all his own: labour and study, which are the masters of ordinary intellects, served him only as guides and assistants: to every inquiry, in which he chose to engage, he brought a clearness and force of conception, which distinguished between the specious and the just; while he possessed a manliness of thought, which forbad him to acquiesce in conclusions not established by legitimate proof. Of such a man it was to be expected, that he would be a powerful and intrepid defender of the principles, which his judgment inclined him to support: and it is in this view of him, that we feel ourselves principally interested in his character. To his acquaintance with mathematical science, to his critical knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, to the depth of his theological researches, and to his acuteness as a reasoner, we are compelled to pay the tribute of admiration: but al these are compatible with an indifference to the principles, on which the social happiness of mankind is found to depend; and superior
VOL. I. JAN. 1814.
superior powers have been sometimes associated with a weakness or perversion of moral feeling, or have even been betrayed by a passion for paradox into the maintenance of opinions unfavourable to sound religion and to civil institutions. But it was not so with Horsley. His powers, great as they confessedly must have appeared, whatever had been their moral bias, derived additional strength from acting in their natural direction. The impetus of mind, as well as of matter, is weakened by every deflecting force. The caprice and the perverseness of great talents will, indeed, obtain for the possessor a short-lived admiration we are apt to wonder by what process they were carried to a point, at which in the outset of their inquiries it was improbable they should ever arrive; and there will always be persons, who are interested in applauding the obliquities of genius, and who are happy to be countenanced by high authorities in principles, which they know not how to defend, though though they have not the candour to renounce them. We are persuaded, however, that the only safe course for the moral exertion of superior intellect will be found in its support of tried and acknowledged truths: it is the rule, and not the exception, which genuine talent will labour to establish: if the religious and political rights of mankind seem likely to derive, as will sometimes happen, an increased stability from opposition to the system, on which they have long securely rested, it is fit that there should be persons, who will inveigh against its defects but gigantic minds are miserably misemployed in discharging such an office: a few second or third-rate thinkers are fully competent to the task: a morose spirit, stimulated by discontent, and a morbid taste, which finds its gratification not sq much in contemplating the sublime or beautiful as in the microscopic detection of error and deformity, are very capable of casting a salutary odium upon possible abuses in Church and State. We believe, indeed, that this class of persons possess superior advantages for the purpose: a comprehensive view of the whole of a question, and the power of distinguishing the visionary from the practicable, are but indifferent qualifications for an objector by profession. But the mind of Bishop Horsley, notwithstanding the direction in which it acted, was by no means enslaved to any system, nor did it lose, in the habitual defence of established principles, any portion of its original freedom or spirit. Decided in his attachment to the civil and religious institutions of his country, he never acted or wrote like a sycophant of power: his temper was of that rugged cast, which essays not the arts of pleasing: he was formed rather to command than to conciliate, to convince or even to intimidate rather than to persuade: it is, indeed, to the unfettered freedom of
his mind, that we must ascribe not only his peculiar excellencies, but also his defects; his demeanour was that of a man, who is intent on some one great object, and is careless about every thing else; and in his style it requires not any great fastidiousness to detect occasional instances of coarseness, we had almost said of vulgarity. We shall never be the apologists of any thing, which wantonly violates the principles of correct taste; though we should reluctantly give up original thinking, on account of a few uncourtly phrases, for a monotonous and inoffensive inanity. We would, however, recommend an examination of the character of Horsley to those, who are of opinion, that the native vigour of the mind is impaired, and its range contracted, by the adoption of what they are pleased to consider as established prejudices. We believe it to be just as true, that the imagination of poets is cramped by the observance of the laws of metre: the man, whom some evil genius impels, without one particle of the mens divinior, to dabble in verse, may rail against the tyranny of custom in exacting rhyme: but we suspect that the true poet finds himself perfectly at ease under all this despotism: and we believe, that the efforts of the human intellect on all political and religious questions, will rise in proportion as it has been embued with the doctrines of our national Church, and with the principles of our civil constitution.
The volume before us contains four Charges, delivered to the Clergy of the three several Dioceses, over which Bishop Horsley successively presided. The Charge to the Clergy of St. David's is occupied principally in discussing the question, What is the proper matter of instruction, more especially in the present circumstances of the established Church, for uneducated congregations, such as may be supposed to prevail in remote parts of the kingdom. On this subject, it is well known, that doubt has existed: the clergy have sometimes found it difficult to adapt their discourses to the understandings of the illiterate, so as to inform their minds and to influence their conduct; and we suppose it to be imputable to feelings of discouragement, that numerous as are the volumes of sermons in our language, there are very few professedly addressed to the lower classes; nor among those which have been published, do we at present recollect many eminently happy examples. We must conclude, however, while we readily admit the difficulty to a certain extent, that it cannot amount to an impossibility. It was among the earliest eulogies of the Gospel, that it was preached to the poor; and it would be altogether incredible that a religion expressly designed to unfold the method of salvation to the human race, should be incapable of being rendered intelligible to the great
mass of mankind, and operative on their lives and hearts through the means, which its Author himself appointed for its propaga tion and diffusion. We conceive, therefore, that whatever be the alleged obstacles, they are not absolutely insurmountable; and we cannot forbear to throw together a few remarks on the subject.
It must be admitted, that the minds of persons, who are grossly ignorant, do not readily imbibe the principles of religious knowledge: they possess but little to which a sober instructor can appeal: argument with such is nearly out of the question: it is a labyrinth in which they are immediately lost: the premises may be obvious, and the deductions may be natural and certain; but with the former they are little, if at all, impressed, and the latter they are unable to follow. Even the very language of religion is foreign and strange to them. That which may be thought to be easy and familiar, is in reality incomprehensible without a degree of attention, which, in such cases, it is hopeless to expect: the simplest truths become obscure, when propounded to those, who have no ideas with which they may compare them; and religious truths will not only be obscure, but also unwelcome to persons whose associations are of an opposite tendency and character.
In this state of intellect among the peasantry, (and we fear that we must sometimes rate it thus low,) there cannot but be difficulties attending their instruction. These, indeed, will be for the most part, if not entirely, removed, when the National Society shall have generally diffused the rudiments of useful knowledge, and above all, the true principles of Christianity, as professed by the Church of England. It is in this point of view chiefly that we are disposed to hail the establishment, and to invoke a blessing upon the labours of the rising institution. We are not among those who would withhold the elements of knowledge from the lowest of the people, if they conduced merely to temporal convenience and advantage: but in our estimation, the prominent excellence of the Madras System is, that it will place the great mass of our population in a more teachable state with respect to religion, and give an efficacy to the preaching of the clergy, which at present it were unreasonable to expect. It cannot be dissembled, that persons who are absolutely untaught, are the fittest objects, and promise to become the most hopeful disciples, of fanaticism. Ignorance can hardly be too great for its purpose. Men who can neither read, nor reason, nor combine, have often a vividness of imagination, which is easily wrought upon by the recital of that which is out of the ordinary course of their contemplation or experience; and terrific representations make an impression on their minds, which
hardly leaves them at liberty to exercise the little discrimination they may possess, in examining the tenets, which such representations serve to introduce. From that hour the convert is lost to the Church: he has no longer any reverence for order and regularity, but rather learns to regard them as impediments to spiritual improvement. He falls into new habits and new connexions; to which, however, once launched upon the mare importuosum of schism, he may not permanently attach himself: yet rarely do such persons return into the haven of the Church amidst a diversity of currents, there is no refluent tide to bring them back to that given point: the vehemence and the variety of error have established an ascendancy, which is not to be destroyed by the calmness and the unity of truth. These evils we consider as arising entirely out of the want of education. It is impossible to doubt, that if the Madras System had providentially been introduced, and extensively adopted among us half a century ago, the seceders from the Establishment would not have amounted to one-tenth of their present number: they would have been principally confined to the enormous outparishes of the metropolis, where, from the want of Churches, the great body of the people have no alternative but that of taking refuge in meeting-houses, which are built as fast as they cau be filled, or else of abandoning the public profession of Christianity. Of such seceders we would speak with extreme tenderness; they have not wantonly and capriciously deserted the Church; the Church refuses to retain them within her bosom: and for the mischiefs, to which they may afterwards be accessary, they are not altogether responsible. When will this circumstance create alarm, where alone alarm can avail?
In the mean time, however, while the efforts of the National Society are gradually ushering into existence a better state of things, the Clergy must be content to encounter ignorance, and to adapt the manner and the matter of their instruction to the actual condition of their hearers. We are decidedly of opinion, and on this point we reluctantly differ from the Bishop in another part of his writings, that the clergy have usually taken the standard of their instruction too high. We have remarked that sermons, which have acquired for their authors a lasting reputation, and which young divines are apt to propose to themselves as models, without considering perhaps the condition of those, among whom they are to exercise their ministry, are wholly unfit for ordinary congregations: they fail to interest illiterate hearers, however they may delight and instruct readers of a different class; and where they excite no interest, they will be heard without attention, and of course, without improvement. The sermons of the Bishop himself, admirable as