Page images
PDF
EPUB

REMARKS ON THE SPEECH OF M. DUPONT*

ON THE SUBJECTS OF

RELIGION AND PUBLIC EDUCATION.

It is presumed that it may not be thought unseasonable, at this critical time, to offer to the public, and especially to the more religious part of it, a few slight observations, occasioned by the late famous speech of M. Dupont, which exhibits the confession of faith of a considerable member of the French National Convention. Though the speech itself has been pretty generally read, yet it was thought necessary to affix it to these remarks, lest such as have not already perused it might, from an honest reluctance to credit the existence of such principles, dispute its anthenticity, and accuse the remarks, if unaccompanied by the speech, of a spirit of invective and unfair exaggeration. At the same time it must be confessed, that its impiety is so monstrous, that many good men were of opinion it ought not to be made familiar to the minds of Englishmen ; for there are crimes with which even the imagination should never come in contact, and which it is almost safer not to controvert than to detail.

But as an ancient nation intoxicated their slaves, and then exposed them before their children, in order to increase their horror of intemperance; so it is hoped that this piece of impiety may be placed in such a light

* “What! Thrones are overturned! Sceptres broken ! Kings expire ! and yet the altars of God remain! Tyrants, in outrage to nature, continue to burn an impious incense on those altars ! The thrones that have been reversed, have left these altars naked, unsupported, and tottering. A single breath of erlightened reason will now be sufficient to make them disappear; and if humanity is under obligations to the French nation for the first of these benefits, the fall of kings ; can it be doubted but that the French people, now sovereign, will be wise enough, in like minner, to overthrow those altars and those Idols to which those kings have hitherto made them subject ? Nature and Reason, these ought to be the gods of men ! These are my gods ! Admire nature-cultivate reason. And you, Legislators, if you desire that the French people should be happy, make haste to propagate these principles, and to teach them in your primary schools, instead of those fanatical principles which have hitherto been taught. The tyranny of kings was confined to make their people miserable in this life-but those other tyrants, the priests, extend their dominion into another, of which they have no other idea than of eternal punishments; a doctrine which some men have hitherto had the good-nature to believe. But the moment of the catastrophe is come-all these prejudices must fall at the same time. We must destroy them, or they will destroy us. For myself, I honestly avow to the Convention, I am an Atheist! But I defy a single individual, amongst the twentyfour millions of Frenchmen, to make against me any well-grounded reproach. I doubt whether the Christians or the Catholics, of which the last speaker, and those of his opinion, bave been talking to us, can make the same challenge. There is another consideration - Paris has had great losses. It has been deprived of the commerce of luxury ; of that factitious splendour which was found at courts, and invited strangers hither. Well! we must repair these losses. Let me, then, represent to you the times that are fast approaching, when our philosophers, whose names are celebrated throughout Europe, Petion, Sieyès, Condorcet, and others, surrounded in our Pantheon, as tho Greek philosophers were at Athens, with a crowd of disciples coming from all parts of Europe, walking like the Peripatetics, and teaching--this man, the system of the universe, and developing the progress of all human knowledge ; that, perfectioning the social system, and showing, in our decree of the 17th of June, 1789, the seeds of the insurrections of the 14th of July and the 10th of August, and of all those insurrections which are spreading with such rapidity througbout Europe—so that these young strangers, on their return to their respective countries, may spread the same lights, and may operate, for the happiness of mankini, similar revolutions throughout the world.”-Speech of Citizen Dupont in the Convention, sitting of Dec. 14, 1792.

а

a

before the eyes of the Christian reader, that, in proportion as his detestation is raised, his faith, instead of being shaken, will be only so much the more strengthened.

This celebrated speech, though delivered in an assembly of politicians, is not on a question of politics, but on one as superior to all political considerations as the soul is to the body, as eternity is to time. The object of this oration is not to dethrone kings, but Him by whom kings reign. It does not excite the cry of indignation in the orator that Louis the Sixteenth reigns, but that “the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.”

Nor is this the declaration of some obscure and anonymous person, but it is an exposition of the creed of a public leader. It is not a sentiment hinted in a journal, hazarded in a pamphlet, or tlırown out at a disputing club; but it is the implied faith of the rulers of a great nation.

Little notice would have been due to this famous speech, if it had conveyed the sentiments of only one vain orator ; but it should be observed, that it was heard, received, and applauded, with two or three exceptions only—a fact which you, who have scarcely believed in the existence of atheism, will hardly credit, and which, for the honour of the eighteenth century, it is hoped that our posterity will reject as totally incredible.

A love of liberty, generous in its principle, inclines some well-meaning but mistaken men still to favour the proceedings of the National Convention of France. They do not yet perceive that the licentious wildness which bas been excited in that country is destructive of all true happiness, and no more resembles liberty than the tumultuous joys of the drunkard resemble the cheerfulness of a sober and well-regulated mind.

To those who do not know of what strange inconsistencies man is made up; who have not considered how some persons, having at first been hastily and heedlessly drawn in as approvers, by a sort of natural progression, soon become principals :-to those who have never observed by what a variety of strange associations in the mind, opinions that seem the most irreconconcileable meet at some unsuspected turning, and come to be united in the same man ;-to all such it may appear quite incredible, that well-meaning and even pious people should continue to applaud the principles of a set of men who have publicly made known their intention of abolishing Christianity, as far as the demolition of altars, priests, temples, and institutions, can abolish it. As to the religion itself, this also they may traduce and reject; but we know, from the comfortable promise of an authority still sacred in this country at least, that “ the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Let me not be misunderstood by those to whom these slight remarks are principally addressed; by that class of well-intentioned but ill-judging people, who favour at least, if they do not adopt, the prevailing sentiments of the new republic. You are not here accused of being the wilful abettors of infidelity. God forbid ! " we are persuaded better things of you, and things which accompany salvation." But this ignis fatuus of liberty and universal brotherhood, which the French are madly pursuing, with the insignia of freedom in one hand, and the bloody bayonet in the other, has bewitched your senses, is misleading your steps, and betraying you to ruin. You are gazing at a meteor raised by the vapours of vanity, which these wild and infatuated wanderers are pursuing to their destruction; and

a

though, for a moment, you mistake it for a heaven-born light, which leads to the perfection of human freedom, you will, should you join in the mad pursuit, soon discover that it will conduct you over dreary wilds and sinking bogs, only to plunge you in deep and inevitable destruction.

Much, very much, is to be said in vindication of your favouring, in the first instance, their political projects. The cause they took in hand seemed to be the great cause of human-kind. Its very name insured its popularity. What English heart did not exult at the demolition of the Bastile ? What lover of his species did not triumph in the warm hope, that one of the finest countries in the world would soon be one of the most free ? Popery and despotism, though chained by the gentle influence of Louis the Sixteenth, had actually slain their thousands. Little was it then imagined, that anarchy and atheism, the monsters who were about to succeed them, would soon slay their ten thousands. If we cannot regret the defeat of the two former tyrants, what must they be who can triumph in the mischiefs of the two latter? Who, I say, that had a head to reason, or a heart to feel, did not glow with the hope, that from the ruins of tyranny, and the rubbish of popery, a beautiful and finely-framed edifice would in time have been constructed, and that ours would not have been the only country in which the patriot's fair idea of well-understood liberty, the politician's view of a perfect constitution, together with the establishment of a pure and reasonable, a sublime and rectified Christianity, might be realized ?

But, alas ! it frequently happens, that the wise and good are not the most adventurous in attacking the mischiefs which they are the first to perceive and lament. With a timidity in some respects virtuous, they fear attempting anything which may possibly aggravate the evils they deplore, or put to hazard the blessings they already enjoy. They dread plucking up the wheat with the tares, and are rather apt, with a spirit of hopeless resignation,

To bear the ills they have,

Than fly to others that they know not of.” While sober-minded and considerate men, therefore, sat mourning over this complicated mass of error, and waited till God, in his own good time, should open the blind eyes; the vast scheme of reformation was left to that set of rash and presumptuous adventurers, who are generally watching how they may convert public grievances to their own personal account. It was undertaken, not upon the broad basis of a wise and well-digested scheme, of which all the parts should contribute to the perfection of one consistent whole : it was carried on, not by those steady measures, founded on rational deliberation, which are calculated to accomplish so important an end ; not with a temperance which indicated a sober love of law, or a sacred regard for religion ; but with the most extravagant lust of power, with the most inordinate vanity which perhaps ever instigated human measures--a lust of power which threatens to extend its desolating influence over the whole globe ;-a vanity of the same destructive species with that which stimulated the celebrated incendiary of Ephesus, who being weary of his native obscurity and insignificance, and preferring infamy to oblivion, could contrive no other road to fame and immortality than that of setting fire to the exquisite temple of Diana. He was remembered,

a

indeed, as he desired to be, but it was only to be execrated; while the seventh wonder of the world lay prostrate through his crime.

But too often that daring boldness which excites admiration, is not energy, is not virtue, is not genius. It is blindness in the judgment, is vanity in the heart. Strong and unprecedented measures, plans instantaneously conceived, and as rapidly executed, argue, not ability, but arrogance. A mind continually driven out in quest of presumptuous novelties, is commonly a mind void of real resources within, and incapable of profiting from observation without. Sure principles cannot be ascertained without experiment, and experiment requires more time than the sanguine can spare,

and more patience than the vain possess. In the crude speculations of these rash reformists, few obstructions occur. It is like taking a journey, not on a road, but on a map. Difficulties are unseen, or are kept in the back-ground. Impossibilities are smothered, or rather they are not suffered to be born. Notlıing is felt but the ardour of enterprise, nothing is seen but the certainty of success. Whereas, if difficulties grow out of sober experiment, the disappointments attending them generate humility ; the failures inseparable from the best concerted human undertakings, serve at once to multiply resources, and to excite self-distrust; while ideal projectors, and actual demolishers, are the most conceited of mortals. It never occurs to them that those defects of old institutions, on which they frame their objections, are equally palpable to all other men. It never occurs to them, that frenzy can demolish faster than wisdom can build ; that pulling down the strongest edifice is far more easy than the reconstruction of the meanest; that the most ignorant labourer is competent to the one, while for the other, the skill of the architect, and the patient industry of the workman, must unite : that a sound judgment will profit by the errors of our predecessors, as well as by their excellences; that there is a retrospective wisdom, to which much of our prospective wisdom owes its birth; and that, after all, neither the perfection pretended to, nor the pride which accompanies the pretension, " is made for man.

It is the same overruling vanity which operates in their politics and in their religion, which makes Kersaint boast of carrying his destructive projects from the Tagus to the Brazils, and from Mexico to the shores of the Ganges; which makes him menace to outstrip the enterprises of the most extravagant hero of romance, and almost undertake, with the marvellous celerity of the nimble-footed Puck,

“ To put a girdle round about the earth

In forty minutes.”—MIDSUMMER Night's DREAM. It is the same vanity, still the master-passion in the bosom of a Frenchman, which leads Dupont and Manuel to undertake, in their orations, to abolish the Sabbath, to exterminate the priesthood, to erect a pantheon for the world, to restore the peripatetic philosophy, and, in short, to revive everything of ancient Greece, except the pure taste, the profound wisdom, the love of virtue, the veneration of the laws, and that high degree of reverence which even virtuous pagans professed for the Deity.

It is the same spirit of novelty, and the same hostility to established opinions, which dictated the preposterous and impious doctrine, that death is an eternal sleep: The prophets and apostles assert the contrary. David expressly says,

“ when I awake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied;"

:

a

[ocr errors]

a

implying, that our true life will begin at our departure out of this world. The destruction or dissolution of the body will be the revival, not the death, of the soul. It is to the living the apostle says, “ awake thou that

. sleepest, and arise from the Dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

It is surely to be charged to the inadequate and wretched hands into which the work of reformation fell, and not to the impossibility of amending the civil and religious institutions of France, that all has succeeded so ill.

It cannot be denied, perhaps, that a reforming spirit was wanted in that country ; their government was not more despotic, than their church was superstitious and corrupt.

But though this is readily granted, and though it may be unfair to blame those who, in the first outset of the French revolution, rejoiced even on religious motives; yet it is astonishing, how any pious person, even with all the blinding power of prejudice, can think without horror of the present state of France. It is no less wonderful, how any rational man could, even in the beginning of the revolution, transfer that reasoning, however just it might be, when applied to France, to the case of England. For what can be more unreasonable than to draw from different, and even opposite premises, the same conclusion ? Must a revolution be equally necessary in the case of two sorts of government, and two sorts of religion, which are the very reverse of each other ? opposite in their genius, unlike in their fundamental principles, and completely different in each of their component parts.

That despotism, priestcraft, intolerance, and superstition, are terrible evils, no candid Christian, it is presumed, will deny ; but, blessed be God, though these mischiefs are not yet entirely banished from the face of the earth, they have scarcely any existence in this happy country.

To guard against a real danger, and to cure actual abuses, of which the existence has been first plainly proved, by the application of a suitable remedy, requires diligence as well as courage, observation as well as genius; patience and temperance as well as zeal and spirit. It requires the union of that clear head and sound heart, which constitute the true patriot. But to conjure up fancied evils, or even greatly to aggravate real ones, and then to exhaust our labour in combating them, is the characteristic of a distempered imagination and an ill governed spirit.

Romantic crusades, the ordeal trial, drowning of witches, the torture, and the Inquisition, have been justly reprobated as the foulest stains of the respective periods in which, to the disgrace of human reason, they existed ; but would any man be rationally employed, who should now stand up gravely to declaim against these as the predominating mischiefs of the present century ? Even the whimsical knight of La Mancha himself, would not fight windmills that were pulled down ; yet I will venture to say, that the above-named evils are at present little more chimerical than some of those now so bitterly complained of among us.

It is not, as Dryden said, when one of his works was unmercifully abused, that the piece has not faults enough in it, but the critics have not had the wit to fix upon the right ones.

It is allowed that, as a nation, we do not want faults ; but our political critics err in the objects of their censure. They say little of those real and pressing evils resulting from our own corruption, of that depravity

« PreviousContinue »