Imágenes de páginas

ness of knowledge; the appetite and effort to enjoy it, in mechanics’ institutes and other societies; the disposition to associate in large and friendly bodies for common purposes, whether clubs or otherwise; the wonderful uniformity and simplicity—the very triumph of mechanic art—now being introduced into administrative government; the solution of the deep perplexing problem of the poor, and poor relief; the substitution of a simpler and better scheme of provision for the Church than that of tithes; the expediting and cheapening of law proceedings; the humanizing and softening the public mind and disposition, by a more lenient code and less frequent executions : by reformation instead of punishment;-all these are proofs of unexampled progress in legislative wisdom and operation. And even these are exceeded by the ground gained in establishing the grand principle of toleration, the emancipation of the human mind from the dogmas of sects, and the authoritative opinions of churches in matters of religion, which can never attain to its power and perfection except under the perfect freedom and unfettered exaltation of the human mind and intellect-the great doctrine of liberty !

Let the still more sober and serious thinking observers reflect on the decline of avowed infidelityscarcely such a person is to be found as a professed unbeliever ;-let them consider the much greater activity of the clergy;- let them witness the increased number of church-goers, not women only, but men; the vast subscriptions for building churches, which are rapidly growing in number on every side; the increase of

charities; the greater attention to the poor by visiting societies, and to their children in the factories; the missions extending into and rooting themselves in all parts of the world, as though the conversion of the nations were now immediately to be accomplished; the free, rapid, and constantly growing communication between the most distant parts of the earth; the abolition of the slave trade ; the emancipation of slaves !

We must be dull and obstinate not to be concluded by all these evidences. But, nevertheless, as there must always be two sides to a question, I will first mention a few of the most obvious points which render the conclusion less certain at least ; afterwards I shall enter more searchingly into the particular principles by which the question must ultimately be resolved, whether we be indeed advancing, by long and hasty strides, to perfection,-or to ruin.

One thing is certain, that we are progressing rapidly. Whether in luxury and wealth, or knowledge, or art, or invention and discovery, or liberty and liberality,all must confess that the ratio of advance has been and . is increasing, and must increase with accelerating velocity; and that the tendency, if not the end of all this, must very soon prove itself, for good or for evil. Let us endeavour to outstrip the very rapidity of this flight by a free but reasoned anticipation.

I will now invite attention to a few of the most prominent points which make it doubtful, whether our improvement in morals, religion, and prosperity, be really so rapid or general; reserving, for more particular and detailed inquiry, the questions which must determine,

upon grounds of reason and principle, whether in each department and topic, and on the general balance of the movements of the social machine, things are in reality progressing towards a good or a bad conclusion.

The general morals are improved ;—but drunkenness is so increased that 30,000 persons are estimated to die annually from intemperance. The general manners are softened ;- but crime continually increases; and a new police force is required, both in town and country, to repress the increasing crime and turbulence of the population. “ The riots and alarm consequent upon public meetings have increased the demands for the military force.” And as Lord John Russell goes on to say, in moving (July, 1839) for the rural police,

Many districts have in the present time become peopled with a manufacturing and mining population, and in one of them the want of a police force has been so much felt, in consequence of the great increase in the number of crimes and depredations, and in the lawless habits of the disorderly part of the community, that, after two or three years' complaints, two bills have been introduced into parliament during the present session, with the view of meeting the evil.”

The wealth of the nation is increasing vastly ;--but the revenue is hardly collected; the public debt increases in time of peace; and the country is more and more pauperized annually and hourly. Trade is more active and extensive, and shops are more splendid ;but profits are everywhere lowered; the difficulties of trade are greater ; and bankruptcies are multiplied. Luxuries and comforts are more in number in houses

and dress ;-but rents are lower; and every one has greater difficulty in living, and maintaining himself in his own station. The poorest persons have shoes and stockings, and the labouring classes have comfortable and even elegant clothing ;—but labourers' wages are reduced from the value of twenty-four loaves to that of twelve and fifteen, in a period of a hundred and fifty years. Where once was sociable and merry England, we have care and caution in the countenance of the rich man, in the working man discontent, in the poor man misery and depression. Hospitality is well nigh forgotten. Education is extended, and political knowledge ;—but classes are more separated and distinct from one another; men are more solitary, selfish, and individualized; and chartists and socialists and pantheists rise up to deny the principles of society and humanity; and the only excuse we have for it is, that we must go through great struggles and evils before we can arrive at the happy consummation. The struggles continue, but the end does not appear in sight.

Our political wisdom and mercantile progress have taught the world to cultivate the arts of peace ;-but the largest standing armies are maintained that ever existed; the train has been laid for war and lighted, with every neighbour of our vast empire, and others than our neighbours ; and of late we were ready to fight with our most powerful ally, for the mode of effecting an object in which we were agreed. The emancipation of slaves is a great measure ;--but let us look at the children in our factories. Longevity is increased among the richer classes ;-but in Glasgow the

mortality has grown from one in thirty-six to one in twenty-five, in seventeen years; and in other towns nearly in the same proportion.

After the moral and social and political, we come to the religious improvement. And of this we must remark, that it cannot be classed with the rest, and used in aid of them; for it is antagonist to them. The religious movement is carried on by an opposite party to those who would rest the improvement of mankind upon

the points which we have adverted to. The increased activity and influence of the Church is dreaded by these men. The clergy are hateful to them; and their name and opinions are hooted at in the House of Commons, by those who would halloo and hasten on the prevailing movement of society to the perfection towards which they think it tends, and deem it capable of.

The question here then is, whether religion and religious influence is able to contend with its opponent: is increasing faster than its antidote? Men are confessedly choosing their side; activity is in all quarters; each side is rallying itself and gathering strength; we are increasing our standing armies; we are ready and eager to rush to battle with a mighty and deadly collision, though we are agreed upon the topic of improving and perfecting the condition of human nature.

The activity of the Church is greater than it was;but so is that of Popery, Dissent, and Unitarianism. Many new churches are being erected ;-but the population increases faster than the churches increase. Fresh attention is given to the poor by visiting societies; and inquiry is made into the condition of the children in

« AnteriorContinuar »