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PROTESTANTISM. [Footnote: A Vindication of Protestant Principles. By Phileleutheros Anglicanus. London: Parker. 1847.]


The work whose substance and theme are thus briefly abstracted is, at this moment, making a noise in the world. It is ascribed by report to two bishops–not jointly, but alternatively–in the sense that, if one did not write the book, the other did. The Bishops of Oxford and St. David’s, Wilberforce and Thirlwall, are the two pointed at by the popular finger; and, in some quarters, a third is suggested, viz., Stanley, Bishop of Norwich. The betting, however, is altogether in favor of Oxford. So runs the current of public gossip. But the public is a bad guesser, ‘stiff in opinion’ it is, and almost ‘always in the wrong.’ Now let me guess. When I had read for ten minutes, I offered a bet of seven to one (no takers) that the author’s name began with H. Not out of any love for that amphibious letter; on the contrary, being myself what Professor Wilson calls a hedonist, or philosophical voluptuary, and murmuring, with good reason, if a rose leaf lies doubled below me, naturally I murmur at a letter that puts one to the expense of an aspiration, forcing into the lungs an extra charge of raw air on frosty mornings. But truth is truth, in spite of frosty air. And yet, upon further reading, doubts gathered upon my mind. The H. that I mean is an Englishman; now it happens that here and there a word, or some peculiarity in using a word, indicates, in this author, a Scotchman; for instance, the expletive ‘just,’ which so much infests Scotch phraseology, written or spoken, at page 1; elsewhere the word ‘short-comings,’ which, being horridly tabernacular, and such that no gentleman could allow himself to touch it without gloves, it is to be wished that our Scottish brethren would resign, together with ‘backslidings,’ to the use of field preachers. But worse, by a great deal, and not even intelligible in England, is the word thereafter, used as an adverb of time, i.e., as the correlative of hereafter. Thereafter, in pure vernacular English, bears a totally different sense. In ‘Paradise Lost,’ for instance, having heard the character of a particular angel, you are told that he spoke thereafter, i.e., spoke agreeably to that character. ‘How a score of sheep, Master Shallow?’ The answer is, ‘Thereafter as they be.’ Again, ‘Thereafter as a man sows shall he reap.’ The objections are overwhelming to the Scottish use of the word; first, because already in Scotland it is a barbarism transplanted from the filthy vocabulary of attorneys, locally called writers; secondly, because in England it is not even intelligible, and, what is worse still, sure to be mis-intelligible. And yet, after all, these exotic forms may be a mere blind. The writer is, perhaps, purposely leading us astray with his ‘thereafters,’ and his horrid ‘short-comings.’ Or, because London newspapers, and Acts of Parliament, are beginning to be more and more polluted with these barbarisms, he may even have caught them unconsciously.

And, on looking again at one case of ‘thereafter,’ viz. at page 79, it seems impossible to determine whether he uses it in the classical English sense, or in the sense of leguleian barbarism. This question of authorship, meantime, may seem to the reader of little moment. Far from it! The weightier part of the interest depends upon that very point. If the author really is a bishop, or supposing the public rumor so far correct as that he is a man of distinction in the English church, then, and by that simple fact, this book, or this pamphlet, interesting at any rate for itself, becomes separately interesting through its authorship, so as to be the most remarkable phenomenon of the day; and why? Because the most remarkable expression of a movement, accomplished and proceeding in a quarter that, if any on this earth, might be thought sacred from change. Oh, fearful are the motions of time, when suddenly lighted up to a retrospect of thirty years! Pathetic are the ruins of time in its slowest advance! Solemn are the prospects, so new and so incredible, which time unfolds at every turn of its wheeling flight! Is it come to this? Could any man, one generation back, have anticipated that an English dignitary, and speaking on a very delicate religious question, should deliberately appeal to a writer confessedly infidel, and proud of being an infidel, as a ‘triumphant’ settler of Christian scruples? But if the infidel is right, a point which I do not here discuss–but if the infidel is a man of genius, a point which I do not deny–was it not open to cite him, even though the citer were a bishop? Why, yes–uneasily one answers, yes; but still the case records a strange alteration, and still one could have wished to hear such a doctrine, which ascribes human infirmity (nay, human criminality) to every book of the Bible, uttered by anybody rather than by a father of the Church, and guaranteed by anybody rather than by an infidel, in triumph. A boy may fire his pistol unnoticed; but a sentinel, mounting guard in the dark, must remember the trepidation that will follow any shot from him, and the certainty that it will cause all the stations within hearing to get under arms immediately. Yet why, if this bold opinion does come from a prelate, he being but one man, should it carry so alarming a sound? Is the whole bench of bishops bound and compromised by the audacity of any one amongst its members? Certainly not. But yet such an act, though it should be that of a rash precursor, marks the universal change of position; there is ever some sympathy between the van and the rear of the same body at the same time; and the boldest could not have dared to go ahead so rashly, if the rearmost was not known to be pressing forward to his support, far more closely than thirty years ago he could have done. There have been, it is true, heterodox professors of divinity and free-thinking bishops before now. England can show a considerable list of such people–even Rome has a smaller list. Rome, that weeds all libraries, and is continually burning books, in effigy, by means of her vast Index Expurgatorius,[Footnote: A question of some interest arises upon the casuistical construction of this Index. We, that are not by name included, may we consider ourselves indirectly licensed? Silence, I should think, gives consent. And if it wasn’t that the present Pope, being a horrid Radical, would be sure to blackball me as an honest Tory, I would send him a copy of my Opera Omnia, requesting his Holiness to say, by return of post, whether I ranked amongst the chaff winnowed by St. Peter’s flail, or had his gracious permission to hold myself amongst the pure wheat gathered into the Vatican garner.] which index, continually, she is enlarging by successive supplements, needs also an Index Expurgatorius for the catalogue of her prelates. Weeds there are in the very flower-garden and conservatory of the church. Fathers of the church are no more to be relied on, as safe authorities, than we rascally lay authors, that notoriously will say anything. And it is a striking proof of this amongst our English bishops, that the very man who, in the last generation, most of all won the public esteem as the champion of the Bible against Tom Paine, was privately known amongst us connoisseurs in heresy (that are always prying into ugly secrets) to be the least orthodox thinker, one or other, amongst the whole brigade of fifteen thousand contemporary clerks who had subscribed the Thirty-nine Articles. Saving your presence, reader, his lordship was no better than a bigoted Socinian, which, in a petty diocese that he never visited, and amongst South Welshmen, that are all incorrigible Methodists, mattered little, but would have been awkward had he come to be Archbishop of York; and that he did not,
turned upon the accident of a few weeks too soon, by which the Fates cut short the thread of the Whig ministry in 1807. Certainly, for a Romish or an English bishop to be a Socinian is un peu fort. But I contend that it is quite possible to be far less heretical, and yet dangerously bold; yes, upon the free and spacious latitudes, purposely left open by the English Thirty-nine Articles (ay, or by any Protestant Confession), to plant novelties not less startling to religious ears than Socinianism itself. Besides (which adds to the shock), the dignitary now before us, whether bishop or no bishop, does not write in the tone of a conscious heretic; or, like Archdeacon Blackburne[Footnote: He was the author of The Confessional, which at one time made a memorable ferment amongst all those who loved as sons, or who hated as nonconformists, the English Establishment. This was his most popular work, but he wrote many others in the same temper, that fill six or seven octavos.] of old, in a spirit of hostility to his own fellow-churchmen; but, on the contrary, in the tone of one relying upon support from his clerical brethren, he stands forward as expositor and champion of views now prevailing amongst the elite of the English Church. So construed, the book is, indeed, a most extraordinary one, and exposes a history that almost shocks one of the strides made in religious speculation. Opinions change slowly and stealthily. The steps of the changes are generally continuous; but sometimes it happens that the notice of such steps, the publication of such changes, is not continuous, that it comes upon us per saltum, and, consequently, with the stunning effect of an apparent treachery. Every thoughtful man raises his hands with an involuntary gesture of awe at the revolutions of so revolutionary an age, when thus summoned to the spectacle of an English prelate serving a piece of artillery against what once were fancied to be main outworks of religion, and at a station sometimes considerably in advance of any occupied by Voltaire.[Footnote: Let not the reader misunderstand me; I do not mean that the clerical writer now before us (bishop or not bishop) is more hostile to religion than Voltaire, or is hostile at all. On the contrary, he is, perhaps, profoundly religious, and he writes with neither levity nor insincerity. But this conscientious spirit, and this piety, do but the more call into relief the audacity of his free-thinking–do but the more forcibly illustrate the prodigious changes wrought by time, and by the contagion from secular revolutions, in the spirit of religious philosophy.]