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THE CLAPHAM SECT, OR THE COTERIE OF WILBER FORCE.
From the Edinburgh Review.
1. The Life of Isaac Milner, D.D., F.R.S., Dean of Carlisle, President of Queen's College, and Professor of Mathematics in the University of Cambridge; comprising a portion of his Correspondence and other Writings, hitherto unpublishcd. By his Niece, MARY MILNER. 8vo. London.
. Memoir of the Life and Correspondence of John Lord Teignmouth. By his Son, Lord TEIGNMoptii. 2 vols. 8vo. London: 1843.
IN one of those collections of Essays which have recently been detached from the main body of this Journal (we following herein the policy of Constantine and of Charlemagne, when dividing their otherwise too extensive Empires into distinct though associated sovereignties), there occur certain pleasant allusions, already rendered obscure by the lapse of time, to a religious sect or society, which, as it appears, was flourishing in this realm in the reign of George III. What subtle theories, what clouds of learned dust, might have been raised by future Binghams, and Du Pins
SEPTEMBER, 1844. 1
yet unborn, to determine what was The Patent Christianity, and what The Clapham Sect of the nineteenth century, had not the fair and the noble authors before us appeared to dispel, or at least to mitigate, the darkness | Something, indeed, had been done aforetime. The antiquities of Clapham, had they not been written in the Britannia of Mr. Lysons? Her beauties, had they not inspired the muse of Mr. Robins 7 But it was reserved for Mrs. Milner, and for Lord Teignmouth, to throw such light on her social and ecclesiastical state as will render our facetious colleague” intelligible to future generations. Treading in their steps, and aided by their information, it shall be our endeavor to clear up still more fully, for the benefit of ages yet to come, this passage in the ecclesiastical history of the age which has just passed away. Though living amidst the throes of Empires, and the fall of Dynasties, men are not merely warriors and politicians. Even in such times they buy and sell, build and plant, marry and are given in marriage. And thus it happened, that during the war with revolutionary France, Henry Thornton, the then representative in Parliament
* The Rev. Sydney Smith.
of the borough of Southwark, having become a husband, became also the owner of a spacious mansion on the confines of the villa-cinctured common of Clapham. It is difficult to consider the suburban retirement of a wealthy banker esthetically (as the Germans have it); but, in this instance, the intervention of William Pitt imparted some dignity to an occurrence otherwise so unpoetical. He dismissed for a moment his budgets and his subsidies, for the amusement of planning an oval saloon to be added to this newly purchased residence. It arose at his bidding, and yet remains, perhaps a solitary monument of the architectural skill of that imperial mind. Losty and symmetrical, it was curiously wainscoted with books on every side, except where it opened on a far-extended lawn, reposing beneath the giant arms of aged elms and massive tulip trees. Few of the designs of the great Minister were equally successful. Ere many years had elapsed, the chamber he had thus projected became the scene of enjoyments which, amidst his proudest triumphs, he might well have envied, and witnessed the growth of projects more majestic than any which ever engaged the deliberations of his Cabinet. For there, at the close of each succeeding day, drew together a group of playful children, and with them a knot of legislators, rehearsing, in sport or earnestly, some approaching debate; or travellers from distant lands; or circumnavigators of the worlds of literature and science; or the Pastor of the neighboring Church, whose look announced him as the channel through which benedictions passed to earth from heaven; and, not seldom, a youth who listened, while he seemed to read the book spread out before him. There also was still a matronly presence, controlling, animating, and harmonizing the elements of this little world, by a kindly spell, of which none could trace the working, though the charm was consessed by all. Dissolved in endless discourse, or rather in audible soliloquy, flowing from springs deep and inexhaustible, the lord of this well-peopled enclosure rejoiced over it with a contagious joy. In a few paces, indeed, he might traverse the whole extent of that patriarchal dominion. But within those narrow precincts were his Porch, his Studio, his Judgment-Seat, his Oratory, and ‘the Church that was in his house,'—the reduced but not imperfect resemblance of that innumerable company which his Catholic spirit
embraced and loved, under all the varying forms which conceal their union from each other, and from the world. Discord never agitated that tranquil home; lassitude never brooded over it. Those demons quailed at the aspect of a man in whose heart peace had found a resting-place, though his intellect was incapable of repose. Henry was the second son of John Thornton, a merchant renowned in his generation for a munificence more, than princely, and commended to the reverence of posterity by the letters and the poetry of Cowper. The father was one of those rare men, in whom the desire to relieve distress assumes the form of a master passion; and if faith be due to tradition, he indulged it with a disdain, alternately ludicrous and sublime, of the good advice which the eccentric have to undergo from the judicious. Conscious of no aims but such as might invite the scrutiny of God and man, he pursued them after his own fearless fashion— yielding to every honest impulse, relishing a srolic when it fell in his way, choosing his associates in scorn of mere worldly precepts, and worshipping with any fellowChristian whose heart beat in unison with his own, however inharmonious might be some of the articles of their respective creeds. His scn was the heir of his benevolence, but not of his peculiarities. If Lavater had been summoned to divine the occupation of Henry Thornton, he would probably have assigned to him the highest rank among the Judges of his native land. Brows capacious and serene, a scrutinizing eye, and lips slightly separated, as of one who listens and prepares to speak, were the true interpreters of the informing mind within. It was a countenance on which were graven the traces of an industry alike quiet and persevering, of a self-possession unassailable by any strong excitement, and of an understanding keen to detect, and comprehensive to reconcile distinctions. The judicial, like the poetical nature, is a birthright; and by that imprescriptible title he possessed it. Forensic debates were indeed beyond his province; but even in Westminster Hall, the noblest of her temples, Themis had no more devoted worshipper. To investigate the great controversies of his own and of all former times, was the chosen employment, to pronounce sentence in them the dear delight, of his leisure hours. Nothing which fell within the range of his observation. escaped this curious inquiry. His own duties, motives, and habits, the characters of those whom he loved best, the intellectual resources and powers of his various friends and companions, the prepossessions, hereditary or conventional, to which he or they were subject, the maxims of society, the dogmas of the Church, the problems which were engaging the attention of Parliament or of political economists, and those which affected his own enterprises—all passed in review before him, and were all in their turn adjudicated with the grave impartiality which the keeper of the great seal is expected to exhibit. Truth, the foe of falsehood—truth, the antagonist of error—and truth, the exorcist of ambiguity—was the object of his supreme homage; and so reverential were the vows offered by him at her shrine, that he abjured the communion of those less earnest worshippers, who throw over her the veil of fiction, or place her in epigrammatic attitudes, or disguise her beneath the mask of wit or drollery. To contemplate truth in the purest light, and in her own fair proportions, he was content that she should be unadorned by any beauties but such as belong to her celestial nature, and are inseparable from it. Hence his disquisitions did not always escape the reproach of drought and tediousness, or avoided it only by the cheerful tone and pungent sense with which they were conducted. He had as little pretension to the colloquial eloquence as to the multifarious learning and transcendental 'revelations of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Yet the pilgrimages to Clapham and to Highgate were made with rival zeal, and the relics brought back from each were regarded as of almost equal sanctity. If the philosophical poet dismissed his audience under the spell of theories compassing all knowledge, and of imagery peopling all space, the practical philosopher sent his hearers to their homes instructed in a doctrine, cheerful, genial, and active—a doctrine which taught them to be sociable and busy, to augment to the utmost of their power the joint stock of human happiness, and freely to take, and freely to enjoy, the share assigned to each by the conditions of that universal partnership. And well did the teacher illustrate his own maxims. The law of social duty, as expounded in his domestic academy, was never expounded more clearly or more impressively than by his habitual example. Having inherited an estate, which, though not splendid, was enough for the
support of his commercial credit, he adjudged that it ought never to be increased by accumulation nor diminished by sumptuousness; and he lived and died in the rigid practice of this decision. In the division of his income between himself and the poor, the share he originally assigned to them was nearly six-sevenths of the whole; and as appeared after his death, from accounts kept with the most minute commercial accuracy, the amount expended by him in one of his earlier years, for the relief of distress, considerably exceeded nine thousand pounds. When he had become the head of a family, he reviewed this decree, and thenceforward regarded himself as trustee for the miserable, to the extent only of one-third of his whole expenditure. The same faithful record showed that the smallest annual payment ever made by him on this account, amounted to two thousand pounds. As a legislator, he had condemned the unequal pressure of the direct taxes on the rich and the poor; but instead of solacing his defeat with the narcotic of virtuous indignation combined with discreet parsimony, he silently raised his own contribution to the level of his speech. Tidings of the commercial failure of a near kinsman embarked him at once on an inquiry, how far he was obliged to indemnify those who might have given credit to his relative, in a reliance, however unauthorized, on his own resources; and again the coffers of the banker were unlocked by the astuteness of the casuist. A mercantile partnership (many a year has passed since the disclosure could injure or affect any one), which, without his knowledge, had obtained from his firm large and improvident advances, became so helplessly embarrassed, that their bankruptcy was pressed on him as the only chance of averting from his own house the most serious disasters. He overruled the proposal, on the ground that they whose rashness had given to their debtors an unmerited credit, had no right to call on others to divide with them the consequent loss. To the last farthing he therefore discharged the liabilities of the insolvents, at a cost of which his own share exceeded twenty thousand pounds. Yet he was then declining in health, and the father of nine young children. Enamored of truth, the living spirit of justice, he yielded the allegiance of the heart to justice, the outward form of truth. The law engraven on the tablet of his conscience, and executed by the ministry of his affections, was strictly interpreted by his reason as the supreme earthly judge. Whatever might be his topic, or whatever his employment, he never laid aside the Ermine. And yet, for more than thirty years, he was a member of the unreformed parliament, representing there that people, so few and singular, who dare to think, and speak, and act for themselves. He never gave one party vote, was never claimed as an adherent by any of the contending factions of his times, and, of course, neither won nor sought the favor of any. An impartial arbiter, whose suffrage was the honorable reward of superior reason, he sat apart and aloft, in a position which, though it provoked a splenetic sarcasm from Burke, commanded the respect even of those whom it rebuked. To the great Whig doctrines of Peace, Reform, Economy, and Toleration, he lent all the authority of his name, and occasionally the aid of his voice. But he was an infrequent and unimpressive speaker, and sought to influence the measures of his day rather by the use of his pen, than by any participation in its rhetoric. His writings, moral, religious, and political, were voluminous, though destitute of any such mutual dependence as to unite them into one comprehensive system; or any such graces of execution as to obtain for them permanent acceptance. But in a domestic liturgy, composed for the use of his own family, and made public aster his death, he encountered, with as much success as can attend it, the difficulty of finding thoughts and language meet to be addressed by the ephemeral dwellers on the earth to Him who inhabiteth eternity. It is simple, grave, weighty, and reverential; and forms a clear, though a saint and subdued, echo of the voice in which the Deity has revealed his sovereign will to man. That will he habitually studied, adored, and labored to adopt. Yet his piety was reserved and unobtrusive. Like the life-blood throbbing in every pulse and visiting every fibre, it was the latent though perennial source of his mental health and energy. A peace, perfect and unbroken, seemed to possess him. His tribute of pain and sorrow was paid with a submission so tranquil, as sometimes to assume the appearance of a morbid insensibility. But his affections, unimpaired by lawless indulgence, and constant to their proper objects, were subject to a control to be acquired by no feebler discipline. Ills from without
assailed him, not as the gloomy ministers of vengeance, but as the necessary exercise of virtues not otherwise to be called into activity. They came as the salutary lessons of a father, not as the penal inflictions of a judge. Nor did the Father, to whom he so meekly bowed, see fit to lay on him those griefs, under the pressure of which the bravest stagger. He never witnessed the irruption of death into his donestic paradise, nor the rending asunder by sin, the parent of death, of the bonds of love and reverence which united to each other the inmates of that happy home—a home happy in his presence from whose lips no morose, or angry, or impatient word ever fell; on whose brow no cloud of anxiety or discontent was ever seen to rest. Surrounded to his latest hours by those whom it had been his chief delight to bless and to instruct, he bequeathed to them the recollection of a wise, a good, and a happy man; that so, if in future life a wider acquaintance with the world should chill the heart with the skepticism so often engendered by such knowledge, they might be reassured in the belief that human virtue is no vain illusion; but that, nurtured by the dews of heaven, it may expand into fertility and beauty, even in those fat places of the earth which romance disowns, and on which no poet's eye will condescend to rest. A goodly heritage' yet to have transmitted it (if that were all) would, it must be consessed, be an insufficient title to a place amongst memorable men. Nor, except for what he accomplished as the associate of others, could that claim be reasonably preferred on behalf of Henry Thornton. Apart, and sustained only by his own resources, he would neither have undertaken, nor conceived, the more noble of those benevolent designs to which his life was devoted. Affectionate, but passionless—with a fine and indeed a fastidious taste, but destitute of all creative imagination—gifted rather with fortitude to endure calamity, than with courage to exult in the struggle with danger—a lover of mankind, but not an enthusiast in the cause of our common humanity—his serene and perspicacious spirit was never haunted by the visions, nor borne away by the resistless impulses, of which heroic natures, and they alone, are conscious. Well qualified to impart to the highest energies of others a wise direction and inflexible perseverance, he had to borrow from them the glowing
temperament which hopes against hope, and is wise in despite of prudence. He had not far or long to seek for such an alliance. On the bright evening of a day which had run its course some thirty or forty summers ago, the usual groups had formed themselves in the library already celebrated. Addressing a nearer circle, might be heard above the unbusy hum the voice of the Prelector, investigating the characteristics of Seneca's morality perhaps; or, not improbably, the seizure of the Danish fleet; or, it might be, the various gradations of sanity as exhibited by Robert Hall or Joanna Southcote; when all pastimes were suspended, and all speculations put to flight, to welcome the approach of what seemed a dramatic procession, emerging from the deep foliage by which the further slopes of the now checkered lawn were overhung. In advance of the rest two noisy urchins were putting to no common test the philanthropy of a tall shaggy dog, their playfellow, and the parental indulgence of the slight figure which followed them. Limbs scarcely stouter than those of Asmodeus, sustaining a torso as unlike as possible to that of Theseus, carried him along with the agility of an antelope, though under the weight of two coat-pockets, protuberant as the bags by which some learned brother of the coif announces and secures his rank as leader of his circuit. Grasping a pocket volume in one hand, he wielded in the other a spud, caught up in his progress through the garden, but instinct at his touch with more significance than a whole museum of horticultural instruments. At one instant, a staff on which he leant and listened to the projector at his elbow developing his plan for the better coppering of ships' bottoms, at the next it became a wand, pointing out to a portly constituent from the Cloth Hall at Leeds some rich effect of the sunset; then a truncheon, beating time to the poetical reminiscences of a gentleman of the Wesleyan persuasion, looking painfully conscious of his best clothes and of his best behavior; and ere the sacred cadence had reached its close, a cutlass raised in mimic mutiny against the robust form of William Smith, who, as commodore of this ill-assorted squadron, was endeavoring to convoy them to their destined port. But little availed the sonorous word of command, or the heart-stirring laugh of the stout member for Norwich, to shape a straight course for the volatile representative of the
county of York, now fairly under the can vass of his own bright and joyous fancies. He moved in obedience to some impulse like that which prompts the wheelings of the swallow, or the dodgings of the barbel. But whether he advanced, or paused, or revolved, his steps were still measured by the ever-changeful music of his own rich voice, ranging over all the chords expressive of mirth and tenderness, of curiosity or surprise, of delight or of indignation Eheu, fugaces ! . Those elder forms are al now reposing beneath the clods of the valley; those playful boys are venerable dignitaries of the Church ; and he who then seemed to read while he listened silently, is now, in the garrulity of declining years, telling old tales, and distorting, perhaps in the attempt to revive them, pictures which have long since been fading from the memory. But for that misgiving, how easy to depict the nearer approach of William Wilberforce, and of the tail by which, like some Gaelic Chief or Hibernian demagogue, he was attended ! How easy to portray the joyous fusion of the noisy strollers across the lawn, with the quieter but not less happy assemblage which had watched and enjoyed their pantomime—to trace the confluence of the two streams of discourse, imparting grace and rapidity to the one, and depth and volume to the other —to paint the brightening aspect of the grave censor, as his own reveries were flashed back on him in picturesque forms and brilliant colors—or to delineate the subdued countenance of his mercurial associate, as he listened to profound contemplations on the capacities and the duties of man Of Mr Wilberforce, we have had occasion to write so recently, and so much at large, that though the Agamemnon of the host we celebrate—the very sun of the Claphamic system—we pause not now to describe him. His fair demesne was conterminous with that of Mr. Thornton ; nor lacked there sunny banks, or sheltered shrubberies, where, in each change of season, they revolved the captivity under which man was groaning, and projected schemes for his deliverance. And although such conclaves might scarcely be convened except in the presence of these two, yet were they rarely held without the aid of others, especially of such as could readily find their way thither from the other quarters of the sacred village. It is not permitted to any Coterie alto