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(says the mother) W. B.'s body, but it was a dead body, and the something which thinks had gone out of it.” Poor child ! he might have asked whether the something which digests had also gone away with the something that thinks. Again, " That something inside of you which thinks and keeps thinking, is your soul.” A clever child might have asked whether he and his soul were not two. The child seems to have suspected it; for he says afterwards, “I cannot see my own soul; but I can think how it thinks.” Here it is clear that he had discovered that he and his soul were two. There is a deeper truth in this than Mr. Gallaudet ever dreamt of, but he made it downright absurdity in the instruction of his infant pupil. Were he not totally ignorant of the subject which he undertakes to make easy, he would not have thought of employing a dead human body to raise the idea of a separate immortal soul. The slightest reflection shows that the argument drawn from the contrast between the dead and the living body would equally apply in the case of an animal, and even of a vegetable. There is, indeed, but one source of knowledge in regard to the human soul; and that is the soul itself. We can know nothing of what we call a rational soul but its rationality. To that wonderful fact within us a child's attention should be drawn as early as possible, for upon the consciousness of that fact depends his moral nature. But the instructor should be strictly conscientious, and abstain from mixing with the child's internal view of his own mind, anything which is a mere matter of opinion. He ought at all events to state honestly that the hope entertained by the best and most enlightened part of mankind, that our thinking part shall not die with the body, is not free from all doubt. He should remember that the mere circumstance
that a parent entertains an opinion, is already a very powerful, though quite irrelevant ground of belief for a child. I will not ask of parents that they conceal their persuasion from their children ; what I demand most solemnly in the name of Truth, is, that they will state their religious views with the modesty which becomes fallible men. Against this becoming modesty the language suggested by Mr. Gallaudet offends most grossly. “ Robert, your soul will never die.” “I have a book which tells me about him" (i.e. God). “ It is the best of all books,” &c. &c. I will not dwell long on the use of the most material images in which the author seems to take a particular pleasure, when attempting to give his infant pupil the earliest idea of God. Take only these specimens. The child's father is supposed to be dead. The mother, who is made the pattern of a religious instructor of childhood, tells her boy, “ You have another Father : he lives in Heaven, above the blue skya beautiful place, whither he will take up our souls." I leave you to judge of the effect which such language must have upon the awakening imagination.
I have often complained in your presence of the superstition which is almost universally encouraged in regard to the material Bible. On this point Mr. Gallaudet is onsparing. When the pupil has had his little brain almost turned with the author's metaphysics, the mother prepares a sort of solemn scene. “Do you see this book ?"--Mrs. Stanhope takes a book from the table, lays it on her lap, and opens it." It is the book of God, which he has given us to teach us about himself. It is very different from all other books in the world. It is the best of books. You must not play with it, or laugh about it. When you take it, you must think what a good book it is, and that God
speaks to you in it. . . . You should always think of it, and read it, and use it, in a very different way from what you do all other books. The Book is God's Book. The Book is a holy Book. ... In the same way, my son, we call a church a Holy place. It is the House of God. ... A church is very different from all other houses. In other houses, people eat and drink, and sleep and work, and buy and sell things; but it is wrong to do so in the House of God. ..The Church is a Holy place. So God has commanded us to remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy. It is God's day, in which He has told us we must not work, nor do as we do on other days. It is very different from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We call them week-days. On those days you may play; but you should not play on the Sabbath.”
Mr. Gallaudet has poured out the vials of his orthodoxy upon a weak, unresisting mind, and I can conceive with how much satisfaction he will think on the probability that the same operation will take place on thousands and tens of thousands of other children. It is to me a most painful idea that such mental tyranny may be exercised by weak, and, I must say, ignorant men. But what grieves me most in the case is the certainty that such abuse does not proceed from a mistaken love of religious truth and its interests, but from gross pride and conceit. Were it otherwise, such men as Mr. Gallaudet would easily perceive that, by establishing this authoritative method of teaching religion, they are giving every advantage to all the various errors and superstitions which darken the moral and intellectual atmosphere of the world. My assertion is easily proved : change, in Mrs. Stanhope's address, the word “ Bible” into " Koran,” “ Church” into “ Mosque,” and “ Sabbath" into " Ramadan;" put the whole into the mouth of a Mahomedan mother, and see whether the effect will not be equal to that intended by our author in favour of Christianity ? Exactly the same will happen in regard to every other religion, even the most atrocious and revolting. I ask, then, can those be fair means of inculcating Divine Truth, which will serve equally well to promote the power of error? This is what I would entreat all sincerely pious fathers and mothers to consider. A conscientious examination of this single point would convince them, that it cannot be the will of God that such means be used indifferently in favour of his Truth, and of the most perverting and mischievous errors. It betrays, indeed, a great distrust of what is called Divine Revelation, to be so extremely anxious to pre-occupy the opening mind in its favour, as if there was a secret consciousness that it cannot be trusted to fair and reasonable means of conviction. I repeat that I do not demand silence upon these points ou the part of the parents ; what I wish for is, their totally renouncing the tone of infallibility.
I have exceeded my limits, and must conclude ; not, however, without declaring that if I have spoken too harshly of Mr. Gallaudet it may be forgiven. Of that gentleman I know nothing whatever, except his little book on the Soul. In regard to that production I could not possibly alter my language.
J. B. W.
Oct. 2, 1836. My dear Friend, The most remarkable fruit of my experience in the moral and intellectual world is a conviction that only the fanatics are
thoroughly sincere in the reliance which they profess to feel on their principles. I do not mean to slander all that other large portion of society which professes to act in accordance with reason, directed and enlightened by principles. I am indeed convinced that only an exceedingly small number are on their guard against the innumerable sources of deception, which most of the civilized nations (and none certainly more than England) have prepared, and maintain, for the purpose of bribing the will, in spite of the conscientious reason. But I am also certain that there are many who wish to be honest, and are not conscious that they have been influenced in a thousand ways, to assist more or less in the system of downright deception which is deliberately carried on by many most influential and powerful men. What observation has taught me is, that both the Reformers and the Reformed of our days are generally men of little faith in their own principles. This is not, however, a necessary result of corrupt motives. I put aside with equal contempt the hypocritical Reformer and the hypocritical Conservative. The present object of my attention is that very common, but still respectable character, which acknowledges the existence of a great number of errors and abuses, wishes for improvement, and is even ready to sacrifice something to Reform, but which, at the same time, feels a decided fear, amounting frequently to horror, of every man who wishes to show the whole extent of the evils which call for a remedy. Compare such men with the apostles of Conservatism in Church and State, and probably you will be tempted to suspect, that the body of Reformers is, for the most part, composed of people who love a certain degree of excitement, a moderate degree of exercise for their discursive faculties, and a cheering acceleration of their pulse,