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such as a pointed passage against error and corruption seldom fails to occasion at a public meeting, in the Leader of a newspaper, or in a smart article of a Review. I know, indeed, few Reformers, either personally or in print, who appear to me really to wish for more than to keep the enemy in check: of progress they are quite afraid ; the boldest of them shrink back with horror when the root of our evils begins to be laid bare. The Fanatic, on the other side, is heart and soul in his work : he fully knows what he desires, and pursues his object with all the fire of a lover.
I do not point to this contrast (which any unprejudiced man may easily carry into the most striking details) in the way of reproach to the one side, and of praise to the other ; my wish is only that it be noticed, and its real source discovered and studied. When this shall be done, the truly sincere amongst us will be able to discover the cause of their own weakness, and of the truly formidable strength of their adversaries. Few, I fear, will have courage to adopt, in the promotion of the cause of Truth, the decision displayed in the ranks of error and old abuse; but many, I hope, will be ashamed of their desultory and timid mode of warfare. - The earnestness, devotion, and union which appears among the supporters of established error and abuses are not virtues. In regard to the intellect, I beg you to observe that a partial view is easily comprehended. When ignorance, prejudice, and self-interest, disguised as religion or public spirit, or both, concentrate the eye of the mind upon one spot, the vividness and strength of conviction are in direct proportion to the smallness of the circle embraced. Men, under such circumstances, have no doubts, and do not suspect their existence, or even their possibility. They possess another great advantage in the union produced by the
definiteness of the object to which the whole party devote their zeal. The long duration of any political system, or of any part of its organization, proves that it cannot consist of pure evil. Among the many profound observations of Aristotle, I have always been struck with the truth and practical usefulness of his remark, that perfect evil cannot exist, for it would surely destroy itself. It is, then, that saving and vivifying portion of truth in the most erroneous opinions, and of good in the most pernicious establishments, which constitute their strength; for both, being very partial, are more suited to vulgar and limited capacities than any very extensive benefit, or very comprehensive truth. Habit, besides, directs the eye of the multitude to those fragments and pieces of gold with which error never fails to ornament its nakedness; and their partial, but clear and distinct glare, becomes a pole-star to the crowd. Hence the strong union of the supporters of old systems, and the consequent respect which they generally obtain from what appears their steadiness. It is only in the extreme cases of universal oppression wantonly exercised by Conservatives, that a keen hatred of their tyranny creates a union among Reformers, sufficiently strong to counteract their own. There exists at this moment a striking illustration of these remarks in the melancholy state of Spain. The Carlists, those really blind and contemptible supporters of one of the most abominable systems of superstition and tyranny which have ever oppressed any portion of civilized society, the Carlists, though a small minority, are more than a match for the Spanish friends of Liberty and Reform. The Carlists appear, besides, in the eyes of a considerable part of Europe, as more deserving of respect than the ill-agreed multitude whose confused cries for Liberty seem to be all that they
are able to oppose to their adversaries. Another remarkable circumstance is the clear superiority which the soldiers of the Pretender have established over those of Liberty. What can be the reason of this difference? The main bodies of the contending armies are composed of contemporary Spaniards, equally brought up under the same demoralizing and degrading influences. What, then, is it that makes the Carlists more like the old Spanish troops, whose courage and discipline, in spite of their ferocity, were respected by all the world ? Nothing, in my opinion, but the definiteness of their view, as opposed to the vagueness and uncertainty which prevail among the Liberals. The most ignorant among the supporters of an absolute Monarchy has a perfectly distinct idea of that for which he fights ; whilst the very leaders of the Constitutionalists would find it difficult to explain the precise aim of their efforts.
Would Heaven that the Reformers amongst us should never lose sight of the analogous source of weakness from which the main advantages of the English Conservatives arise ! Their union is maintained without effort by habit ; ours, on the contrary, requires a succession of partial and collateral aims to maintain it. There must be a Churchrate or a Marriage Bill set up Session after Session, as the standard round which the irregular and mutually rival troops of Dissent shall unite for that occasion. What prospect of a well-grounded and steady progress can such tactics open before the eyes of the sincere and unprejudiced friend of the mental rights of mankind ?
But why do I plague you, my dear friend, with incessant lamentations and complaints? You, of all the men I know, are the nearest to my own views in regard to the means for the accomplishment of a thorough religious Reformation, from which alone, a perfect mental union of the opponents of all Church-errors and abuses can spring. You have not the power to remove the mental habits and prejudices which, like an old slave-brand, are still discoverable on many a Dissenting forehead : though you do indeed more towards the final disappearance of that mark of degradation, than the most renowned orators, who shine in the undisputed fields of party-dinners. But I know that you will excuse a solitary man like myself for pouring his unavailing longings and regrets into your bosom. Perhaps when Death shall have given some weight to my opinions, and removed the unauspicious feelings which such a Radical on religious points must occasion, whilst life gives him the power to proceed farther and farther,-perhaps then you may inform some person who, possessing wealth and love of mental freedom, shall feel a friendly respect for my memory, that my favourite panacea was a Journal devoted to the free discussion among Unitarians of the questions relating to Christianity, which have been proposed by the Germans.
J. B. W
Oct. 9, 1836. My dear Friend, I frequently think upon IDOLATRY, and the result of my thoughts upon that subject comes to this—that most people abhor Idolatry in the spirit of IDOLATRY itself. Do you know many among the persons who devote a serious attention to religious subjects, that ever tried to investigate the ground upon which the worship of images is objectionable ? I believe not. Most of those whom at this moment I call to my recollection would answer my question, not without a considerable degree of ill-humour, by saying, that to them it is enough that Idolatry is expressly forbidden in the Bible. This is the shortest way to get rid of questions which call for the labour of thought. The multitudes of educated persons who conceive themselves religious from the purest motives, would be greatly surprised if, by means of a deep and impartial self-examination, they discovered (as I am sure they would) that it is mental indolence, not conviction, that attaches them so strongly to authority. But this is one of the innumerable instances of that delicate priestly skill which converts our inclinations into duties, provided that the indulgence, turned by their art into a merit, puts the votaries more and more into the power of the sacred order. Few men will acknowledge their dislike to thinking, but with what an air of triumphant wilfulness, with what visible relish of the anticipated continuance of the mental sleep which you have attempted to disturb, will people tell you that it is their duty to prolong it! “ Let me alone, (I express the true meaning of the half-closed eyes, and slight elevation of the shoulders which attend the declaration of obedience to authority,) let me alone ; thousands of miracles have been performed since the world began, in order to save me from thinking, and yet you will force me to do myself the work which I most detest! Why do you search for difficulties in the plainest subjects ? The Bible has told us what idols are, Graven images, the likenesses of things which are in the heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Such things are idols, and the worship of them is idolatry. The reason—(but why should we ask for any ?)—is, that Jehovah is a jealous God, and will not see his honour given to