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nuisance is coming to a termination. A mighty movement is commencing in society, which will speedily stultify so foul and deleterious a pestilence. Already has the bright star of reason and free inquiry dawned upon humanity, and soon, by its illuminating influence, will the world be converted from a slaughter-house of intolerance, persecution, and domination, into an arena of equity, enlightenment, and peace.'
These being fair specimens of Mr. Robert Cooper's written argumentation and eloquence, the feebleness and frothiness of his oral discourses need scarcely be exemplified. Nevertheless, I have felt it right to acquaint myself with these, as he has, within the last two or three years, settled in London, occupies the same platforms as Messrs. Holyoake and T. Cooper, and receives his proportionate share of applause. He is known chiefly by Lectures on the Bible,' and 'Lectures on Immortality.' I hold myself excused from listening, on the former theme, to a man who deliberately pronounces the Old and New Testaments-the Jewish Scriptures, a part of the common treasures of antiquity, and guarded by that singular people with such jealous care; and even those of the Evangelic books that are of undisputed genuineness-an imposition palmed upon mankind by the Christian priesthood.' But on a question, the facts of which are within and around us-in the decision of which the poet has an equal voice with the philosopher, and the boor with the scholar-we will hear even the effeminate and affected-looking man that steps to the front of the John-street rostrum.
He propounds, as the subject of this evening's inquiry, What is the soul? Its immortality, he says, is the most popular of all religious dogmas; but he pronounces the vanity of mankind capable of its origination, and the cause of its popularity. That every man conceives of heaven according to his own prevailing tastes, he puts forward as the strongest proof that there is no heaven but in imagination. Heathen and Christian notions of the soul he recites and dismisses with self-complacent ease. 'Spirit,' he concludes from this review, is only a convenient word for nothing.' He amuses himself, and tickles the sillier portion of his audience, with such questions as, In what portion of the human frame does the soul reside? Where does it come from? When does it enter the body? Where does it go at death, and how long is it in getting there? He lets out, in winding up, that 'some excellent [and judicious] friends' have counselled him that these subjects are better let alone.' But he tells them, 'It is these delusions that keep the masses in the mud.' And so he perorates on priestcraft and despotism, the march of enlightenment, and the dawning of that 'glorious age when '-men shall be content to live without dignity and die without hope.
Mr. Charles Southwell is a person whom I regret to have to introduce to the readers of the CHRISTIAN SPECTATOR. For his abilities I have little respect with his career, no sympathy. If I were an infidel, I should be anxious to disclaim his advocacy and his connexion
-as a Christian, I cannot be concerned at his antagonism; I can only
compassionate his position and regret his influence. He has, however, made too much noise to be overlooked, and his power for mischief may perhaps be abated by an exposure of his unworthiness to teach.
For my knowledge of Mr. Southwell and of his opinions, I am indebted almost exclusively to his own publications. It is, therefore, from no private dislike that I speak of him thus disparagingly. But for the investigation which the writing of these articles necessitated, I should have continued to feel towards him the respect it is my disposition to accord the assailants of established opinions. I regret, as one born and reared in the class with whom Mr. Southwell is influ. ential, that I can form no better estimate of him than that now expressed. He has thought proper to give to the world his autobiography, under the title, “Confessions of a Free-thinker.' It is one of that numerous class of books of which J. J. Rousseau's 'Confessions' are the prototype, and that rival the offensiveness of their original without a gleam of its gilding genius. It is precisely of the character which Foster summarily ascribes to such productions—it' narrates the course of a contaminated life with ingenuous hardihood. It is the story of a licentious, at least, of a frivolous, rather than of an inquiring spirit. It runs over thirty or forty years of a human existence, chequered by many and some remarkable incidents, without the nobility of sober conviction, or the tenderness of genuine feeling. The writer shows himself to have been actuated by no single serious persuasion, and to have been faithful to scarce one of the better instincts of our nature. It represents him as sporting with the sublimest topics of human thought, and attitudinizing in the saddest moments of human life. It tells us that he entered the world of action with a lie—that he discarded a religion which he had never seriously believed at the first difficulty which came in his way—that he deliberately cast off the restraints of home for the easier indulgence of youthfui lusts—that his first marriage was one of shame and misery—that he became a political agitator and a public assailant of religion rather to better his fortune than to relieve his conscience—and that he incurred, by intentional outrage upon the faith of the community, the penalty of imprisonment. It represents him, after having twice watched the death-bed of a wife, and himself been within the grasp of the grave, full of levity as at the outset. It shocks scarcely less by its want of respect for man than by its offhand denial of God. It almost justifies, in short, the hardest things that Christians are reproached, and sometimes justly, with having said against unbelievers, and only finds extenuation in the unhappy circumstances of the writer's origin, and the misdirected indignation of which he has been the subject. Perhaps, too, his own excess of candour and affectation of honesty have made him unjust to himself: it is not the saints' alone that are guilty of selfdepreciation.
The father of Charles Southwell was a musical instrument maker. He, the youngest of thirty-three (!) children, was apprenticed, at the Messrs. Broadwood's, to the trade of a “finisher,' evading his friends' intention by a gratuitous falsehood. In the workshop he met with a
pious man, who lent him, among other religious books, a volume of Timothy Dwight's sermons. • To a single passage of that remarkable book,' he says, 'I owe my first sceptical thought.' He had hitherto
used the term God, as all children do, without attaching to it any definite signification.' His father was a clever mechanic, and a generally intelligent man; but the only indication his family ever received of his religious views was, his fierce hostility to all priests.' It was thus that Timothy Dwight proved a stumbling-block and an offence :
• After enlarging upon the magnificence of Nature, and the power of Deity as manifested in its creation and preservation, he exclaims with startling earnestness :-" How vain then must be all resistance to God! But the very power, the will, the wish to resist cannot rise into being unless supplied and supported by Him."
On coming to these words, so deeply significant, I paused, and in terrified astonishment literally gasped for breath. The shock was so great that for a time reason seemed to have abandoned her seat, leaving me a prey to conflicting and most painful emotions. “What," thought I, after recovering my presence of mind, is it indeed true that the power, the will, the wish to resist God is supplied and supported by himself And can it be true that he will eternally punish for a resistance himself has caused ?" Reason at once rejected the monstrous supposition, but with fear and trembling I went to my Mentor, in the hope that he would put in a truthful light what appeared to me so outrageously blasphemous. But vain hope! he could only make visible the darkness in which my soul was plunged. He talked, to be sure, about the incomprehensibility of God-his right to do what he liked without regard to principles we in our ignorance call just-his desire to save sinners through Christ and him crucified, in whom all might believe if so disposed. For an hour, by the shop clock, he enlarged on the efficacy of prayer and Presbyterian chapel-going, as a surest cure for that desolating scepticism he shrewdly suspected had taken possession of me, But he wasted breath. As well might Mahommed have expected to talk the mountain out of its place as he to talk me out of my sudden but profound conviction, that a God who caused men to sin could not consistently be angry with or punish them for their sinfulness. Though only twelve years old, it seemed to me most wickedly blasphemous to assume that divine justice is based upon principles diametrically opposed to human justice, and flying to the incomprehensibility of deity as a sort of refuge for destitute logic, appeared a decent way of retreating from the whole question.'
The progress from this critical point in one's mental history, to blank unbelief, is not distinctly traced in the Confessions. We are only told, that Paley failed to repair the perplexity occasioned by Dwight, and that Locke and Shaftesbury helped the poor lad to * reason himself into contempt for organized religion. On coming of age, Southwell exchanged his handicraft for a newsvender's shop in Westminster, and that again for the profession of schoolmaster and lecturer. In this latter, he was thought to distinguish himself rather as a ready than a logical talker-one who found it far easier to amuse and astonish than to instruct.' A retentive memory, and the practice of amateur histrionics, joined with a native fluency of speech, have proved fatal to the sober usefulness of many a young man.
They at least did not retard Southwell's progress on the road to ruin. On the death of his wife-an event, he confesses, which caused him some grief, but the regaining of his freedom more joy— disgusted with the past and ill at ease with the present,' he enlisted in the Spanish
Legion, raised by General Evans, in the summer of 1835. He had his full share of the hardships and sufferings experienced in that unfortunate enterprise. Soon after his return to England, he was duly appointed a 'Socialist Missionary.' In a year or two he became dissatisfied with the conduct of the movement, and the place in it assigned to himself. At the Socialist Congress of 1841, he bearded evenFather Owen,' resigned his official mission, set up as a bookseller at Bristol, and started The Oracle of Reason.' The fourth number of that modestly entituled periodical contained an article of which its author says, 'It was certainly a provoking one; my object in writing it was to provoke; and with that view, used terms the most offensive I could use.' This deliberate outrage of social decency, he calls testing a great principle: many who deprecate the punishment it incurred, will deem it, rather, a flagrant offence against the right of free speech. Southwell was arrested, held to bail, indicted for blasphemy, and after two days' trial (January, 1842), sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment and a fine of one hundred pounds. The 'Oracle' was ceeded, on its editor's liberation, by the Investigator,' which lived to the twenty-eighth number. He was subsequently concerned in a paper called the Movement.' In 1843, he attempted an agitation in Scotland, which prematurely terminated in the punishment for blasphemy of some concerned, and an exposure of the infamous character of others. In 1844, he opened a lecture-room in the Blackfriars'-road, where, he says, considerable profit was realized through furnishing refreshment as well as amusement.' Tiring of this, he sold the business,' and became lessee of the Canterbury Theatre-a speculation in which he lost all that he had realized at the Paragon Lecture-room. A similar establishment in the same neighbourhood would quickly have repaired his ill-fortune; but a breach of the excise regulations in his coffee-room incurred a bill of 150l., to evade which he fled to France. Friends in Manchester induced him to take the Hall of Science there-and to publish the Lancashire Beacon.' This speculation, however, failed. The Hall of Science, I believe, has been converted into a public library, the Beacon is extinguished, and Mr. Southwell has settled down in London, a hopeful though disappointed Freethinker.' He has recently published a tractate entitled, 'The Impossibility of Atheism Demonstrated.' I was prepared to congratulate the author on his returning agreement with the almost universal consensus of mankind. After a painfully careful reading, however, of some twenty-four pages of dismally obscure writing, I can only make out that in Charles Southwell's opinion, 'Atheism has no intelligible sense, except in relation to the senseless terms-Deism, Theism, Polytheism; and that these are senseless,' he hopes to convince every unprejudiced reader.' This seems at most but a piece of logomachy; nevertheless, it is made the ground of serious difference with Mr. Holyoake. That gentleman aptly characterises his captious friend's production as a fourpenny wilderness' of words; and Mr. Southwell fiercely retorts that he has convicted Mr. Holyoake of in
capacity, disingenuousness, beggarly avariciousness, and preposterous egoism.' 'A very pretty quarrel as it stands.'
I may, perhaps, be permitted to conclude this series of sketches, with the expression of two or three thoughts suggested by their writing
or rather, out of which the writing arose. They relate to the aspect of the Christian Church towards those who systematically indoctrinate the people with hostility to Christianity as a supernaturally revealed religion.
In the first place, I would say, it is essential to the vindication of Christianity itself, and to the success of efforts on its behalf, that any legal disability under which men may labour on account of its rejection, be emphatically repudiated. It is now almost universally admitted, that the prosecution of opinion is unjust and impolitic; the bare statement of an opposite notion disgusts all but the Ultramontane party of the Romish Church. Even the few eccentric philosophers and priestly fanatics who still assert the right of the magistrate to punish false opinions, do so on grounds apart from the Christian religion. The world has also made up its mind that the exclusion from civil advantages on account of opinion, is but a milder and quite indefensible form of persecution. 'Infidels' are practically the only description of persons now subjected to positive disability. The statute law, by prescribing oath-taking on the Bible and in the name of God, deprives the conscientious Atheist or Deist of the bodily protection enjoyed by other citizens, imperils his property, and excludes him from many positions of honour and emolument. The common law-that is, the usage of our courts-hands over bequests for the maintenance of infidel institutions to other claimants, on the ground that legacies for irreligious or superstitious purposes are invalid. And more than this—the open avowal of Atheistic sentiments exposes the person making it to indictment for blasphemy, and the penalty of imprisonment or fine. The abolition of these disabilities and terrors is the primary object, as I have shown, of the ' Secular Society. For Nonconformists--themselves so recently liberated from the pains and penalties of dissent, and professing to abhor magisterial interference with opinion--for such to be anticipated by Mr. Holyoake's friends in agitating for the abolition of these remanets of intolerant ages, shows either timid inconsistency or selfish sluggishness. If he challenge their co-operation, they cannot decline without dishonour. To the clerics who maintain that infidelity is a civil offence, and yet seek converts to the Christian faith, I would advise the Seculars to reply with the Roman sage, “It is dangerous to argue with the master of ten legions.'
Secondly: the genius of the religion of Jesus, the courtesies of controversy, the laws of mind, require abstinence from the imputation of motives and opinions that are disclaimed. I hold this to be the dominant vice of theologians, and to account, in great part, for their ill-success in the advocacy of the plainest and most attractive truths. Of all the many sermons I have heard, the many books I have read, in