Page images

that there must be error in one passage or the other.

Some would say, "the whole text is a forgery," others would prove irrefragably that part of it had been illegitimately inserted; and woe unto the low and humble critic who should venture to whisper that things inconsistent are compatible; that the Parc aux Cerfs might be— a picture of existing manners; and the pious ablution of the beggars-the shadow of manners that were gone by.

I remember when M. de Ségur returned from his embassy to St. Petersburgh he was startled at the sudden tone of familiarity and equality that the French people had assumed; "Not many months before," said he, " no people in the world were more obsequious and cringing to their superiors."-Yes; there had been a sudden change in forms, because there had been a gradual but silent change in ideas.

It is important to have such examples as these before us, without which we are perpetually confusing effects and causes; and charging one poor moment of time with the events of which long years before ought justly to bear the burthen.

At the time of the revolution of 1789 I doubt much if there were not less real reli

gion in France, than there is even at the present moment; there was far more of that kind of religion throughout the country, however, which with statists passes for religion itself:-of that kind of religion which is altogether independent of thought and scrutiny, and rests simply on ignorance, blind credulity, and a conformity to traditionary custom.

At the time of the revolution the higher classes were sceptical, the middle classes indifferent, the lower classes superstitious.

The worst evil of violent prepossessions, unconnected with reflection, is the violent reaction that ensues when doubt insinuates itself into the place of blind belief.

I say—“ doubt,”—but ignorant people rarely doubt; foolishly believing one moment, they as foolishly persecute for belief the next. This is why the mass are still for ever in extremes, as in darker times all men were.

Let no one then support ignorance on the ground that it is favorable to religious belief! It is favorable to religious belief—but alas ! it is favorable also to irreligious re-action. It is favorable to fanaticism of all kinds;-the fanaticism of faith-the fanaticism of infidelity. The mob of September butchering the priests,

is the proper pendant to the mob of St. Bartholomew, butchered by the priests' orders.

As long as the lower classes are worse instructed than those above them, so long, let us remember, every feeling, whether it be political or religious, as it descends in society, will become more violent, and more extreme. Thus the religious indifference of one class, (disciples of Diderot, Voltaire and Helvetius) became irreligious persecution when it reached the crowd before which Marat appeared as an apostle.*

But it was not from this band of brutal reformers that the humbled ministers of Christ had anything to fear for their beautiful creed.

The people who had yielded to the light and graceful assaults of ridicule and wit, revolted, and with justice, from the uncouth and savage attacks of the assassins who, with an admirable honesty of intention substituted the guillotine in the place of the fagot; and with mercy in

* How would the philosopher of Ferney have been disgusted at seeing all the ancient cruelties of religion perpetrated under the hapless name of philosophy; philosophy, however, is no more to blame for the abominations of Robespierre, than religion for the crime of Ravillac.

their hearts and charity on their lips, committed acts more atrocious than any they professed to extirpate.

Under the sentences of a savage infidelity, religion, like those hardy plants, that are nourished by the storm, recovered a passing appearance of returning health. The priest poor, persecuted, concealed, proscribed, no longer the executioner but the victim-no longer the proud tenant of a palace, but the miserable occupant of a prison-the priest, in this crisis of his misfortunes, rose from the grovelling position into which he had been plunged by his prosperity :-amidst the terrors of the republic, and the licence of the Directory, there spread among the French, a sense that the rites of their forefathers might have been wronged that the vices of the clergy were not necessarily impurities of the church-while all men, even those who deem slight differences in creed of small religious importance, who coolly regard a matter of faith as they would a matter of finance, saw with pleasure the return to what they considered the decencies of a superstitious ignorance, as far preferable to the wild disorders of a vicious and unnatural struggle after thought.

It was amidst these mingled feelings, favorable to the attempt, that a variety of circumstances concurred in re-establishing and vindicating the ancient religion.

But that religion appeared in its resurrection still covered with the flowers under which it had been laid in the tomb. It uplifted itself, breathing the perfumes and borrowing the charms of the elegant philosophy which had destroyed it. Far different from the rude and stern apostle of the desert the modern champion of the faith uprose brandishing the graceful arms, and proud in the painted panoply of his opponents; no longer demanding belief, as the spontaneous result of faith, the christian solicited it as the well meditated result of reason.

[ocr errors]

"Il ne faut plus prouver," said he, “ que le christianisme est excellent parce qu'il vient de Dieu, mais qu'il vient de Dieu parce qu'il est excellent."

Nor was this all: I could not desire a stronger proof of the power of literature in France, than that which is to be found in the Génie du Christianisme.

What is that eloquent work?—a pleading before the Academy in favor of the gospel;

« PreviousContinue »