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Letter of Mendelsohn to Lavater.
opinions and actions ; and if I have, public act; since, however, it strengthsince my early youth, devoted my lei- ened me in that of my fathers, I could sure hours to science and polite lite- proceed on my course in silence. withrature, it has been almost solely as a out giving to the world an account of preparation to this necessary trial; my conviction. other motives I could not have had. 'I shall not deny, that I see in my In any situation I could not 'expect the religion human additions and abuses, least temporal advantages in the sci- which, alas! but too much obscure it.
I knew too well that I could What friend of truth can boast, that not find prosperity in the world by his religion has been found free from such means. And pleasure ? oh, my mischievous human additions ? All esteemed philanthropist! The con- of us recognise the poisoned hand of dition to which my brethren in faith hypocrisy and superstition, all who, are condemned in civil life is so far seeking the truth, wish to purify it, removed from all free exercise of the without injuring the good and the powers of the mind, that I certainly true; but of the essence of my relicould not increase my contentment gion, I am as firmly and irrefragably by learning to know the rights of hu- assured, as you, Mr. Bonnet, or any manity in their true point of view. I other, can be of yours : and I here avoid a nearer explanation on this testify, in the name of the God of topic.-He who knows our condition, truth, your and my Creator and Faand has a humane heart, will feel more ther, by whom you have in your dedithan I can express.
cation conjured me, that I will retain After the inquiry of many years, if my principles so long as my soul rethe decision had not been perfectly in tains its nature! My remoteness from favour of my religion, it would have your religion, which I avowed to you been necessarily known by a public and your friends, has in no respect act. I cannot imagine what should diminished. bind me to a religion in appearance. And my esteem for its founder ? so severe, and so generally despised, You ought not to have omitted the if I were not in my heart persuaded of condition which I expressly added, its truth. Whatever the result had and I should then have granted as been, so soon as I found the religion much now. There are certain inquiof my fathers was not the true one, I ries which one inust at one time of must have deserted it. Were I in iny one's life have ended, in order to proheart convinced of the truth of any ceed further. I may assert, that with other, it would be the lowest vileness respect to religion, I have done this in me to bid defiance to my conviction, several years ago. I have read, comand be unwilling to recognise the pared, reflected, and held fast to that truth; and what could seduce me to which I thought good; and yet I such vileness ?-I have already said, would have suffered Judaism to be that prudence, integrity and love of overthrown by every polemical lectruth were on one side. Had I been ture-book, and led in triumph in every indifferent to both religions, and school exercise, without stirring a laughed at or despised all revelation, step in its defence. Without the least I know very well what prudence ad- contradiction on my side, I would vises when conscience is silent : what have allowed every scholar, and half should withhold me? Fear of former scholar, to represent out of Schartech, brethren? Their temporal power is (whom no intelligent Jew now reads,) too triling to be feared. Obstinacy? to himself and readers, the most ridiIndolence ? Adherence to habitual culous ideas of Jewish faith. I wish notions? Since I have devoted the to be able to destroy the contemptugreater part of my life to the inquiry, ous opinion which is generally formed I shall be allowed to have acquired of a Jew, not by controversial wriwisdom enough not to sacrifice the tings, but by virtue. fruits of my labour to such weaknesses. My religion, my philosophy, my You see, hence, that but for an up- situation in civil life, all give me the right conviction of the truth of my strongest motives to avoid all religious religion, the consequence of my in- disputes, and in public writings to quiry must have shewn itself by a speak only of those truths which are VOL. XVIII.
equally important to all religions. Our opinions are thought absurd. It According to the principles of my re- is unnecessary to raise a dispute about ligion, I ought not to attempi the con- them. We act according to our conversion of any who are not born under viction; and others are at liberty to our law. This spirit of proselytism, raise doubts against the validity of whose origin some would gladly throw laws, which, according to our own on the Jewish religion, is in fact di- confession, do not bind them. rectly averse to it; all our Rabbies Whether they act justly or benevoagree, that the written and oral laws, lently who so deride our laws and in which our revealed religion consists, customs, we leave to their own conare obligatory on our nation only. sciences : so long as we do not seek “ Moses has given to us the law. It to convince others of our opinions, all is an inheritance of the tribe of Jacob.” contest is to no purpose. If a CopfuWe believe that all other nations are cius or Solon lived amongst my condirected by God to abide by the law temporaries, I could, according to the of nature and the religion of the pa. principles of my religion, love and triarchs. They who live according to admire the great man, without having the laws of thieir religion, of nature, the ridiculous thought of converting a and of reason, are called the virtuous Confucius or Solon.-Convert : For men of other nations, and these are what? As he does not belong to the children of eternal salvation.
tribe of Jacob, my religious laws do Our Rabbies are so far from having not bind him; and on doctrinal points the spirit of conversion, that they even we should understand each other. Do coinmand us to dissuade him, by seri. I believe he could be saved? Oh! I ous remonstrances, from his intention, believe truly, that he who in this life who of his own accord would embrace has led men to virtue, cannot be conour faith. We ought to inform him, demned in the other; and I stand in that by this measure he subjects him- fear of no reverend college, which, self, without necessity, to a heavy like the Sorbonne towards the upright burden; that in his present situation Marmontel, can censure me for this he has only to fulfil the duties of a opinion. Noachide, in order to be blessed, but I have the happiness to possess that, so soon as he adopts the religion many excellent friends, men who are of the Israelites, he obliges himself not of my faith ; we love each other voluntarily to the severe laws of their heartily and honestly, though we supfaith, and he must then obey them, or pose, and take for granted, that in expect the punishment which the le- matters of faith we are of different gislator has annexed to the infraction opinions. I enjoy the luxury of their of them. We are also bound faith. society, which improves and delights fully to represent to him the miseries me. My heart has never secretly and troubles and contempt in which cried out to me, woe to the excel. the nation now lives, in order to deter lent soul.” He who believes that out him from a step, perhaps precipitate, of his church there is no salvation, and which in the event he may repent must have this sigh often weighing of.
upon his breast. The religion of my fathers, there- It is doubtless the duty of every fore, will not be extended. It is not man to spread knowledge and virtue our duty, therefore, to send missiona. amongst his fellow-men, and root out ries to both Indies and to Greenland, prejudices and errors according to his to preach our faith to its remote inha- power-hence it might be believed to bitants : the latter in particular, who, be the duty of every man openly to according to the description of tra- oppose religious opinions which he vellers, observe the laws of nature, believes false. But all prejudices are alas! better than we, and are, accord- not equally injurious, and, therefore,
ng to our religious creed, an enviable we are not to treat in the same way people. Whoso is not born to our all the prejudices which we believe we laws ought not to live according to see in our fellow men. Some are imour laws; we consider ourselves alone mediately hostile to the happiness of as bound to observe them, and this the human race; their influence on cannot give offence to our fellow-men. morals is clearly ruinous, and we canLetter of Mendelsohn to Lavater.
387 not expect from them even accidental This modesty is still more incumbenefit. Such must be directly at- bent on me, when the nation which tacked by every friend to man, and one believes to be in such errors, has, the more direct the assault, the better: in other points, made itself venerable all delays by circuitous means are un- by wisdom and virtue, and counts justifiable. Of this nature are all the amongst it a number of great men, errors and prejudices which destroy who deserve to be considered as betheir own and their neighbours' con- nefactors of the species. So noble a tentment and peace, and root out the portion of the human race must, when seed of truth and virtue in men before met by any one, hiinself human, be it can shoot. On the one side, fana- indulged. Who should be so rash as ticism, hatred and the spirit of perse- to lose sight of the excellencies of cution; on the other side, vanity, de- such a nation, to attack it where he bauchery and immoral libertinism. believes he has found a weakness ?
But sometimes the opinions of my These are the motives which my relifellow men, which I hold to be errors, gion and my philanthropy furnish, refer to the higher theoretical princi- and induce me carefully to avoid reliples, and are too far reinoved from gious disputes ; add the domestic sipractice to be immediately injurious ; tuation in which I live amongst my but they constitute, from their very fellow men, and you will think me generality, the foundation, out of fully justified. I am the member of which the people who adopt them has an oppressed people, who must imdrawn its system of morals and social plore shelter and protection from the life; and hence to this portion of the ruling nation; and even this it obtains human race are accidentally become not every where, and no where withof great importance. Openly to con- out limitation. My brethren in faith test such principles, because they ap- are willing to renounce liberties which pear to us prejudices, is, without sup- are granted to all other classes of porting the structure, to dig a pit men, and are contented if they are under it, in order to examine whether tolerated and protected. They esteem it be firm and sccure.
it no small act of beneficence in the He who cares more for the happi- nation which receives them only on ness of men than his own fame, will tolerable conditions, since, in many withhold his opinion concerning pre. states, even residence is refused them. judices of this description, beware of Is your circumcised friend allowed, by attacking them directly, and without the laws, to pay you a visit at Zurich the greatest caution, that he may not What obligations, then, do we not destroy a doubtful principle of morals, owe to the nation which receives us before his fellows are fit to receive a with general philanthropy, and allows true one.
I can, therefore, consis- us, unhindered, to worship the Altently with my principles, believe I mighty according to the manner of perceive natural prejudices and false our forefathers ? We enjoy in the religious notions, and yet feel myself state in which I live the most becombound to be silent, when these errors ing liberty, and ought we not to avoid do not immediately destroy natural contesting the religion of the governreligion, or the natural law, and much ing party, that is, attacking our promore when they are accidentally con- tectors on the side of which men of pected with the promotion of what is virtue are the most sensible? good. It is true, the morality of our According to these principles it was actions scarcely deserves that name my resolution always to act; and, when it is grounded on error, and the consequently, to shun all religious disgood can always be inore securely and putes, if not compelled by some exbetter preserved by truth, when it is traordinary incident to alter my resorecognised, than by prejudice. But lution. so long as it is not recognised, so long Private, challenges from men of reas it is not become national, so that spectability I have dared to pass over it cannot operate on the multitude so in silence. The intrusion of little powerfully as deep-rooted prejudice, 'minds, who thought themselves allso long must even prejudice to every thorized publicly to attack me for my friend of virtue be almost sacred. religion, I have thought myself autho
rized to despise. But the solemn ap- form a curious department in the peal of a Lavater compels me, at least, history of the human mind; and serve to openly declare my mode of think- to illustrate the danger of departing ing--that no one may interpret a si- from the suggestions of good sense in lence, too long preserved, into confes- matters of religion. By disciplining sion or contempt.
the affections to a hatred of the world, MENDELSOHN. and an indifference to every pursuis
that did not contribute directly to the An Essay on the Causes of the De- promotion of spiritual objects, they cline of Nonconformity.
acquired the distinction of ascetics.
Moved alone by selfish considerations, (Concluded from p. 347.)
they were utterly regardless of human VOWARDS the middle of the last improvement. With political subjects that will furnish another clue to the have nothing to do with the affairs of decline of Nonconformity. Within this world. "From questions in philothe bosom of the Church of England sophy or in morals they would start there arose a new party of religionists, with horror, as injurious to the health headed by Messrs. Whitefield and Wes- and safety of the soul. Ecclesiastical ley, who, bringing to the support of topics were too mean for their notice; their cause a larger portion of zeal and they regarded learning as an imthan had been seen for a long time in pediment to spiritual improvement. England, soon gained numerous con- Adverse to the pleasures of social inverts, and created a schism in the tercourse, and to a temperate enjoyChurch, but without any intention of ment of the bounties of Providence, a departing from her communion. As morbid sensibility passed with them their followers increased, they took for tenderness of conscience. In fine, possession of soine of the vacant ineet- whatever may be thought of their preing-houses, and built new tabernacles tensions to the next world, the tenor places for religious worship. The dency of their faith was decidedly to enthusiastic pretences of these people, unfit them for the present. To reaand their disregard to ecclesiastical son with persons encircled within the discipline, caused them to be regarded folds of this ignorance would have with an eye of jealousy and disappro- been utterly futile ; for, as they felt bation by the real Dissenters. But, no interest in the discussion of quesas they addressed themselves in plainer tions that concerned material beings, language to the common people, whose so they could never be brought to unpassions are more easily influenced derstand them. than the judgment, it is not surprising The qualifications necessary for the that they gained an easy access to expounders of this sort of religion popular favour, and soon supplanted were so very few, and so easily attainthem in the esteem of the multitude. ed, that their ministers seldom made
The congregations that were formed any pretensions to literature, and were by the early apostles of Methodism, generally taken from the order of megave a new feature to the religious chanics. In their view, to educate men character of the age. Indifferent al- for teachers of religion, was virtually together to the various schemes of to deny the operations of the Spirit, church government, all their energies and learning was no better than a were directed to the maintenance of mark of the beast. As the phraseothose doctrines in the belief of which logy adopted by them in their sermons they placed the essence of Christianity. was apparently sanctioned by the liteBy giving a mystical turn to the phra- ral interpretation of the Scriptures, seology of Scripture, and converting their appeal to them was frequent; religion into a fanciful intercourse and professing to discard the study of with the Deity, they deluded each other books, their knowledge of the other into a belief that they were the Bible entitled them to the appellation peculiar favourites of heaven, and, as of good textuaries. To this attainsuch, the subjects of a miraculous ment they added a fluency of speech inspiration. The extravagancies they acquired by frequent exercise, and commiticd, under this impression, an earnestness of ananner that al
An Essay on the Causes of the Decline of Nonconformity. 389 sorbed the attention of their hearers. sufficient to warrant a separation, I Professing to receive their message cannot imagine any tolerable pretence immediately from heaven, they as- to justify its continuance. In the sumed all the authority of inspired Church of England, the State has propersonages, and dealt about their ana- viiled ample means for the instructhemas with an unsparing hand. Re- tion of the people in the doctrines and solving all religion into the possession duties of Christianity; and she posof a supernatural faith, they thought sesses a numerous body of clergy who that those only who were thus inyste- are zealously devoted to their work. riously wrought upon, had any sensi- But the same remark will apply ble token of the Divine favour, con- equally to the Catholic Church, or to sidering the highest moral worth, any other corrupted form of Chriswithout it, as no better than splendid tianity. A dissent from the Church sin. A love of the marvellous is so of England can only be justified upon closely allied to ignorance, that it is a one of the two following grounds : food easily digested by the common 1. That the civil establishment of repeople. Unable to form any just con- ligion is altogether useless or improclusions themselves, they became a per; or, 2. That the present Church prey alternately to the passions of of England is not the best adapted to hope and fear, and were thus prepared answer the purposes of truth and utito resign their consciences to their lity. Whoever leaves it upon any spiritual dictators. A religion thus other ground has a motive for dissent tauglit and thus acquired, referring all that I cannot comprehend. As for the events of the present life to the the artifice above alluded to, it is altoimmediate interference of Providence, gether unworthy of notice in the conand providing a spiritual reinedy for troversy, any farther than as it has the various ills to which it is incident, served to divert the attention from the is peculiarly adapted to the common main subject. people, which accounts for its success. Since the rise of Methodism, the But being at variance with good sense, face of Nonconformity has been wholly and with any rational scheme of im- changed, if, indeed, it has not been provement, it inust ever be confined swalloived up in the vortex. The within their precincts.
original principles of separation have Whatever may have been the effect been nearly forgotten, or sacrificed to of Methodism in confirming the po- the shrine of custom; whilst the paspular belief in its leading doctrines, sions have been entirely absorbed in and in reclaiming the people from vi- doctrinal contentions. Scarcely known cious habits, no man who has watched any longer as the three denominaits progress, and is qualified to pro- tions, they are now distinguished by nounce an opinion upon the subject, the more popular designations of orcan doubt for a monient that it has thodox and heterodox, two names had an injurious effect upon the inte- which carry enınity in their foreheads. rest of Nonconformity, whilst it has Amongst both parties will be found given vigour and stability to the Na-: persons holding various shades of opitional Church. I am well aware that nion upon the subject of church goit will be contended by a nuinerous vernment; approximating more or class of persons, who are called Dis- less to the National Church or recedsenters, but in reality are no other ing from it. Some are friendly to the than the spawn of Methodism, that, principle of church establishments, as the main end of preaching is the although differing in opinion upon conversion of sinners, in comparison their detail ; whilst others are hostile with which all other considerations to the principle itself. As the Alare mere trifles, so this object can be mighty has not seen fit to entail naattained as well in one place, and by tural talent upon the belief of any one description of men as by another. particular theological tenets, and as without disputing the truth of either no sect has, as yel, obtained an excluof these propositions, I shall merely sive patent for private worth, so perobserve, that they have nothing to do sons of both descriptions will be found with the question of Dissent, which in each party, as well as some whose must stand or fall upon considerations talents have been improved by educa. perfectly distinct. If these are not tion. In point of numbers, the or