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no room in the breast over which they have once tyrannized, for the gentler maxims of even a heathen morality, still less for the humbling and self-denying ones of the Gospel; which are rendered odious, and to the last degree unbecoming the spirit and the dignity of a gentleman. May we not ascribe to the false principles inculcated by this system of education, much of the prevailing hostility to Christianity among the higher orders, much of the obtunded moral feeling which palliates the greatest enormities, which sanctifies licentiousness, and makes it honourable; and revenge, and makes it also honourable even to the shedding of blood? We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that such things are, and that they exist where ignorance may not be pleaded in mitigation. Nay, we must go further, and admit the painful truth, that they are found amongst those who have enjoyed what is called a liberal education; and I do not see how we are to escape the inference, that there is something radically wrong in a system of education which can thus blunt the moral faculties and lay conscience asleep. Conscience in such cases may indeed be said to be seared with a hot iron, and it may be impossible to estimate in how many instances this has been forged by the Christian preceptor, and heated in the impure fires of Paganism.
Take the infant mind, if you please, as a blank, awaiting the first impressions which the hand of the master may give it. We should not hesitate to say, that such impressions, whether good or evil, would be easy and durable; at least, that they would hold till weakened by the force of example. Suppose, then, such a mind (a case too common) inscribed yet only with the fictions of the nursery, submitted to the higher fictions of a heathen mythology, forced on its reception year after year by the honours paid them, and by the authority of a grave and learned teacher, can we imagine a
case so opposed to universal experience, as a mind thus framed and thus tutored, resisting the laboured impression and remaining unsullied? But the infant mind is not a blank: it springs into life with the characters of the Fall deeply engraven on it; which require all the aids of scriptural instruction, and all the power of religion to obliterate. But here comes a system, which in place of the former, inculcates the morals, such as they have been described, of heathenism; and for religion (often to the exclusion of all other) presents the fables of polytheism; which, if they have nothing else to recommend them, gain a ready acceptance by their adaptation to the natural depravity of the heart, and by their giving no reproof to the conscience.
There is yet a third case to be stated: A boy has, up to eight or ten years of age, been carefully instructed, under the eye of a parent, in moral and religious principles. Now comes his entry into a public school, and his initiation into the mysteries of the classical system; which, if there be any value in experience, will first shake, and then prostrate all the good qualities he has imbibed. He is now introduced to a new set of characters, actuated by other principles, and exhibiting a widely different conduct; with which he is to be made familiar, and which, unhappily, are too much in accordance with the evil propensities of fallen man. For forgiveness of injuries he has revenge, for meekness pride, for benevolence malignity, for restraint licentiousness; and can we again imagine a case so contrary to the disposition of human nature, as that the better principles should not be supplanted by the worse? Suppose, however, that by natural strength of mind, instead of a surrender of the moral to the scholastic training, the two advance, side by side, to years of maturity, and that in this state the grace of God first meets with the man, how then stands the account? The admission of truth into the mind, will, in all cases, be
facilitated or not, in proportion as it has been pre-occupied by error; and where the latter has been engrafted on the earliest shoots of reason, and has entered deeply into all the feelings and motives; where, further, it is in unison with the innate propensities of our nature, and makes its appeals to some supposed standard of refinement or superiority, it amounts to an almost total exclusion of the former. The first Christian converts were not made from the Jewish Rabbis, proud of their knowledge and of their sanctity; nor from the Athenians, vain of their science and their gods. So now it is found, humanly speaking, an easier task to convert the unlettered African, whose simple form of idolatry has little to engage the heart, and still less the head, than the Hindoo, whose multifarious scheme entwines itself with every principle of the man. So also in the last supposed case (and still more in the preceding one), the partial, or total pre-occupation of the mind by educational predilections, and by attachments to objects at variance with those which now seek admission, opposes a formidable barrier to their reception. Of what a mass of delusion and corruption has such a mind to disencumber itself before it can yield in unreserved submission to the effectual striving of the Holy Spirit. Every fresh truth, and every renewed affection, meets with its opponent firmly entrenched in the deepest recesses of the heart: the ground is disputed inch by inch; and though victory be certain, how protracted and how painful the warfare! The sufferer in this struggle may be all the while unconscious of the space which early prepossessions have in augmenting its intensity. There are, perhaps, few minds so well exercised in self-examination as to be able to analyse correctly the principles and associations which make up the sum of their moral existence, and give them their predominant complexion and bias. And if to this deficiency we add the prejudices of
education and of public opinion, we shall cease to wonder at the reluctant confession, that the cherished passion for fiction has proved a sad disqualification for the love of truth. This remark admits indeed of a lower, and, generally speaking, a more intelligible application. An undue indulgence in the pleasures of imagination, forms, at all times, the very worst preparative for the discharge of the every-day duties of life. It is no easy thing for a mind which has long luxuriated in the airy regions of romance, ancient or modern, to make good its descent to the terra firma of homely realities. If this be true with respect to the common concerns of life, it must be still more so as regards religion; just in proportion as the demands and the sacrifices of the one exceed those of the other.
It will already have appeared that the fear of moral debasement is not the only evil attending the study of a vicious theology. Associated with this fabric, is the history of mighty nations and glorious deeds of heroes, philosophers, scholars, patriots,-of all the world affords of great and noble. To these are joined the origin of literature and the arts-of poetry, painting, sculp ture, architecture, every thing that can please the eye and delight the imagination-characters and objects which may claim the chastened admiration of even the Christian philosopher. But the evil to be deprecated is, that out of all this there too often grows up an artificial and engrossing taste, which can discern nothing of beauty or interest beyond its own sphere, and which is scarcely less fatal in its consequences than the moral effect above described.
The proofs of the hostility of what may be called classical enthusiasm to pure and undefiled religion, lie every where around us. I shall select one or two of the most obvious, from those cases where the remains of Pagan and Christian antiquity, and the reflections arising out of them, are brought into actual colli
sion. The first that presents itself to my mind, is that of the wellknown classical traveller Eustace. “The general face of the country," says this writer," so conspicuously beautiful all over Italy, merits, from this circumstance alone, peculiar attention; and when to its picturesque features we add those charms, less real but more enchanting, which fancy sheds over its scenery, we give it an irresistible interest that awakens all the feelings of the classic youth. Our early studies, as Gibbon justly observes, allow us to sympathise in the feelings of a Roman; and one might almost indeed say of every school-boy not insensible to the sweets of his first studies, that he becomes in feeling and sentiment, perhaps even in language, a Roman, and is more familiar with the heroes and sages of antiquity than with the worthies of his own country."-I could scarcely have found, perhaps, in the range of modern writers, a confession more completely to the present purpose than this. It is indeed thus that the school-boy, in becoming a Roman, forgets that he is a Christian; and, in his familiarity with the heroes and sages (and gods) of antiquity, acquires a distaste for the real worthies of his own and of every other country. It is true that Mr. Eustace speaks with almost equal enthusiasm of the recollections which the monuments of Christianity are calculated to awaken. But what sort of enthusiasm is that which can associate Jerusalem with Rome, and is equally fired with the classical recollections of the one, and the devotional ones of the other; which can place in juxta-position the emperors, consuls, heroes, saints, popes, and cardinals of Rome, with the cross of Calvary and the songs of Zion? It may be impossible to ascertain how much of this incongruous medley of emotion is to be placed to the account of the author's creed as a Roman Catholic, and how much to a vitiated taste accustomed to reduce every thing to one exclusive standard of excellence. There is,
however, a greater resemblance between the religions of ancient and of modern Rome, than the professors of the latter are willing to contemplate. The splendid ritual, the gorgeous pageantry, the canonized mortals, the local shrines, the sacrificial offering, the adoration of images, the merging the spirituality of devotion in its addresses to the senses, have each and all their counterpart in the ancient superstitions of the spot. None but a mind thus disciplined, could ever think of blending feelings so utterly discordant. Nor can those whose faculty of distinguishing things that differ, has not been weakened by some similar process, view them in any other light than that of mere sentiment.
As a second instance, Dr. John Moore, travelling in the same country, between Sermonetta and Casa Nuova, says, A little to the left of the highway, are some vaults and ruins, not greatly worthy the notice of the mere antiquarian. Yet passengers of a singular cast of mind, who feel themselves as much interested in the transactions recorded in the New Testament, as men of taste are in paintings or heathen antiquities, stop a little here to contemplate the Tres Taberna, which are said to be the Three Taverns mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, where the Christian brethren from Rome came to meet St. Paul, when he was on his journey to that city *."-The conflicting sentiments above pourtrayed are here presented in striking contrast. No sooner does an otherwise sensible man, but whose mind was engrossed by the profane history, and the heathen remains of the country he was traversing, fall upon a spot which commemorates an event in sacred history, than his ardour droops: he sees no charms in the poor remains of a humble inn which witnessed one of the most affecting incidents recorded in the annals of the early Christians, and looks with contempt on those who have any
* Manners of Italy, Vol. ii. Let. lii.
emotions to spare on such a subject. Let us change the characters in the story, and see how they would then probably have stood. Imagine for a moment, St. Paul to have been a noble Roman, about to sacrifice himself for the good of his country, and receiving his friends, who, regardless of the danger they might incur, assembled to mingle their cheers and their condolence. Would there have been wanting an historian to chronicle the patriotism of the one, and the friendship and fortitude of the others? or would the classical traveller dare to pass the place without recording his tribute of admiration, real or affected? But no; he has no sympathies for such a tasteless group. The most exalted heroism which has not worldly greatness for its model, and worldly applause for its object, is reduced to meanness, and the devoted individual who was advancing to meet the frown of the Roman tyrant, and the affectionate few who equally braved the fear of death in the noblest of causes, will be viewed by those who can see nothing of dignity or moral worth in the brightest Christian endowments, as a company of deluded enthusiasts. The cross of Christ has ever been foolishness to the pride of this world, whether that be the pride of rank or of learning; and the doctrines of a crucified Saviour meet with the same fate from the Pagans of Nero's days and the semi-Pagan Christians of
It may be replied to the preceding remarks, that the gods and heroes of antiquity are not held forth as patterns. It is impossible to say in what sort of estimation they were held by the poets who have given them to us; but, whether patterns or not, it cannot be denied that these same poets have so contrived to dress out the personages who fill up their mythological drama, as to leave no doubt about the effect of the representation. Well, but then these are acknowledged fictions. Granted; and need it be replied, that fiction has often the force of truth, and that
the young mind is more frequently formed from the former than the latter? But it is further argued, that the brightest ornaments of our own day, our scholars, our poets, our orators, our statesmen, have derived their taste, their eloquence, and the diversity and maturity of their talents, from the ancient fountains of literature. This too may be freely conceded; and he would be a bold innovator who would demand that they should be shut up. Nor need they put a seal upon the poisoned waters, and enough of a sweet and wholesome kind remains to satisfy the most craving thirst for knowledge, and to enrich it with the refinements of taste and the beauties of language. At least, let the more obnoxious writings of the poets be withheld till better principles have had time to take root, and a more mature judgment has rendered them less likely to be eradicated.
For is it any argument for the indiscriminate introduction of what are called the classics into our system of education, that some good men' have countenanced it by quotations from them in their writings? It might be unjust to suppose that vanity ever prompted their use: a more commendable motive presents itself that of recommending their works to the notice of the learned, with whom the want of literary display is equivalent to the absence of all useful knowledge. It may be further suggested, that a pure and holy mind, to which all things are pure, may be slow to discern the insidious workings of a false theology and a debasing system of morals, just as the ingenuous and the honest are usually the last to suspect the deceptions of hypocrisy and fraud; and that the favoured individual who has, by the grace of God, been enabled to consecrate every acquirement to his service, may look with partiality on a system, which, as a human means, he considers to have improved his eloquence and extended his sphere of usefulness. But neither the embellishment of composition, nor
a compliance with the requisitions of a fastidious taste, nor the examples of a favoured few, can recommend it to general acceptance.
Would you, then, exclude the ancient classics from our schools? Certainly not. I am ready to admit that in a restricted use they are capable of producing the advantages claimed for them. But I would withhold the poets as I would poison, till riper years and more settled principles give security for their safer perusal. Selections, however, might be made from Homer and from Virgil, from Lucretius, Juvenal, and Horace, (I say nothing of Ovid, with some others of the same stamp, which had better be committed to the flames,) sufficient in number and in variety to give the required acquaintance with the style of the ancient masters of language, and to cultivate a taste for poetic beauty, without tainting the imagination. It is further to be remarked, that the case is different now from what it was in the middle ages, when the writings of the ancients were the only ones to which the student could resort; when our own language not only afforded nothing of the kind, but was absolutely incapable of it. But this same language has since acquired a copiousness and richness which may satisfy the most fastidious, and affords ample scope for classical purity of composition, and the highest flights of poetic genius.
If we would so divest ourselves of external and adventitious impressions, as to estimate things according to their intrinsic merit; if we were willing in all cases to bring them to the only infallible rule of judging the word of God; if we could view them in steady connexion with our short and probationary span of existence; above all, if we could view them as dying and accountable men, in exclusive reference to their fitness for eternity, where then would be the system I have endeavoured to depict in its true aspect and tendencies? I ask not the worldling or the self-righteous, but I ask the
devout Christian who has lamented the hindrances which beset his onward path, and who knows something of the " fightings and fears " of his militant condition on earth— I ask such a man, if he could have his time allotted to him again, would he voluntarily devote so large a portion of it to pursuits, which, while they draw off the affections from God, chain them down in fatal bondage, and render emancipation the more hopeless by extinguishing the desire?
I am aware, that in daring to impugn a system which has for centuries been held sacred by those who have considered themselves as the exclusive depositaries of taste and intellect, I must incur some obloquy; that those whose devotions have been paid only at heathen shrines, will resent as sacrilegious all attempts to degrade the god of their idolatry; and that to prefer the poetry of Job, or Isaiah, for instance, to that of Homer, will be taken as proof either of a weak mind or a bad taste. Be it so. We live in times when systems and things are fast losing the spurious value which custom or antiquity alone have set upon them. There is a searching spirit abroad, which demands a better reason for approving things as they are than because they are: they are brought without scruple to the touchstone of utility and fitness, and the time is not far distant when they will be submitted to a higher test-that of Christian excellence; when the short span of life will be prized too much to waste it on works of fiction, however refined or ornamental, which do not subserve the great end for which life was given; when whatever clouds the moral perceptions, whatever panders to a prurient imagination and a corrupt taste, whatever gives occasion of stumbling to a feeble Christian, whatever is in any way opposed to the meekness, the purity, and the spirituality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will fall before the brightness of his coming.
J. G. M.