« PreviousContinue »
to examine (what I once before alluded to) a prodigious tissue of sophisms put forth by the Rev. Daniel Wilson, whose opinions have experienced a most seasonable revolution.
In justice to the cause which he advocates, I am ready to admit that he is by no means the most plausible of the Pro-popery sophists : nor should I have thought his letter worth a refutation, were he not one of those self-constituted authorities whom people, averse from the trouble of thinking, are but too ready to intrust with their cogitative drudgery.
How far Mr. Wilson is qualified to pronounce a judgment on this subject, let your reader judge from his own words:
I was once, like the warmest of my anti-relief friends, a strong opposer of all measures of concession to the Roman Catholics. thought that the truth of the Protestant, and the deep corruption of the Roman-Catholic Church, alike compelled me to uncompromising resistance. I even thought that the Divine Prophecies forbad any measures of conciliation. I imagined that legislative enactments must involve some approbation of the Roman Church, and might bring on the ruin of the Protestant. For nearly twenty years I viewed the Catholic question in this light. I WAS ANXIOUS NOT TO BE CONVINCED.
Convinced, however, I have been, or rather brought to a stand, led to doubt the certainty of my former conclusions, and to leave to the wisdom of the legislature the determination of the point concerning the Catholic disabilities.-Christian Observer, March, 1829, p. 190.
Mr. Wilson has not produced any reasons opposite to those which he maintained “ for nearly twenty years."
He has no where shewn that “the truth of the Protestant Church” will not suffer through Popish legislation; he has no where shewn that “the deep corruption of the Roman Catholic Church” will not affect those councils into which it is infused ;-by a Mezentian process, he ties up vigour and health with death and corruption, and informs us that he is only thereby strengthening and preserving the sufferer. He never alludes to his opinion respecting the Prophecies. But that point which above all others must determine his competence to the task he has undertaken, is his candid assertion, that he was " anxious not to be convinced.” What a fair, what an ingenuous spirit to bring to the examination of a great question! He would have it inferred that the arguments which brought about his conviction must be, therefore, the more irresistible. This is ridiculous, when those arguments are produced; for none, it might be supposed, but such as were very anxious indeed to be convinced, could have possibly yielded to them. But, however this may be, I for one, deny that previous violent prejudice is any proof of subsequent rational concession. It is rather a presumption that the prejudice is only changed, not removed. A man who, “ for nearly twenty years” has taken, by his own account, a blind and prejudiced view of a subject, is never likely to take any other; he may alter his opinion perhaps; but it will be a prejudiced opinion still.
So much, then, for Mr. Wilson's own account of his capabilities, Come we now to his sophistries.
I. “ The miserable state of Ireland—the sad progress of the Catholic [Popish] religion-its firmer hold on the minds of the people," &c.
these were what “first struck” Mr. Wilson as arguments for popifying the Constitution.
I suppose I may fairly take it for granted that Mr. Wilson believes “ the miserable state of Ireland” to be the result of popery; I therefore waive, for conciseness, a proof which I could very easily advance. Now I think I shewed, in my last letter, that “the atrocious bill” could never be the means of converting the Romish gentry of Ireland; and what possible favourable effect it could have on the minds of the vulgar is inconceivable. Coupled with the Disfranchisement Bill, it could only produce the bitterest irritation. Apart from that measure of wholesale injustice, it would give (as it has given) a license and encouragement to insubordination and crime.
II. I next began to reflect (says Mr. Wilson), that almost all our greatest statesmen, in my own day, of all parties, who differed on nearly every other subject, agreed upon this, that our exclusive laws have been a prominent cause of these deplorable evils. These statesmen, I said to myself, must w much more of the operation of disabling laws on large classes of men, than I can pretend to do. They must be also much better acquainted with the actual circumstances of Ireland. I cannot, for a moment, doubt the powers of mind, the constitutional and historical knowledge, and the attachment to the Protestant Establishment, of such statesmen as Pitt, Burke, Wyndham, and Grenville. When I see such men agree with their most determined political opponents on a dry point of legislation, I ought surely to pause. And when I add to these authorities, the opinions of others, who, uniting the deepest piety with similar talents and information as statesmen, seem best entitled to my confidence; when I see such names as Wilberforce, H. Thornton, Buxton, Babington, Lord Harrowby, the Calthorpes, the Grants, Sir T. Baring, Sir T. D. Acland, and a host of Christian statesmen, arrayed on the side of peace, I am induced to suspect my over-confident persuasions.-Ibid. pp. 190, 191.
With regard to statesmen, Mr. Wilson has mistaken the point in question. The measures of Pitt and Burke were different in cause, in object, in nature, from those of Wyndham and Grenville ; and all very, very different from the lamentable legislation reserved for the patriotism of 1829. Pitt was not, abstractedly, a friend to the measure, and his disciples are not therefore to be reproached with inconsistency when they connect his name with the cause of Protestant ascendency. Many of Pitt's measures were such as, abstractedly, none of his warmest disciples would approve: it was his truth in a faithless generation, his perfect love of his country, his entire sincerity of purpose, his quick perception of all that the nation needed, and all that her enemies contrived; his ready and perfect self-adjustment to every variation of that keen and subtle hostility to which he was opposed ; and his inflexible. determination of purpose; it was all this which produced a confidence such as no minister ever enjoyed beside, a respect which amounted even to enthusiasm. Many of his measures, however unjustifiable in other circumstances, were seen to be exactly those, and those only, which could be successfully employed against great and instant dangers. Extraordinary remedies were demanded by extraordinary emergencies. About his views on the present subject, there was not, however, the same confidence; although his whole conduct proves that he regarded such a measure not as good in itself, but as advisable in a time of real and pressing peril. To draw close the bonds of amity
between this country and Ireland, at a time when France was attempting the affections as well as the possessions of the latter, was felt to be necessary. The Union was projected, and Pitt conceived that to that measure an admission of Papists to parliamentary power would be necessary.
He was, as events proved, mistaken. But acting on this impression, and relying too much on the confidence which his master, Parliament, and the people reposed in him, he ventured to excite expectations which were not to be realized. Yet it is as absurd to call Pitt an enemy to Protestant ascendency, as it would be to consider him an enemy to the Habeas Corpus act. Circumstances alone guided his conduct; and be it observed, that neither he nor any of the other statesmen mentioned by Mr. Wilson ever dreamed of admitting Papists to power without GREAT (however insufficient) SECURITIES ; and still less of insulting the people with absurdities under that name, which, if maintained, could only be ridiculous, but which are, in fact, violated under the very eyes of government day by day.
As for the decisions of those persons whose religious opinions agree with Mr. Wilson, they would be, I admit, authority with him ; but this is the whole value of that part of his apology.
III. Mr. Wilson next argues, that “ the Clergy, as a body, have, like all other bodies of men, been frequently found the worst judges of matters concerning their order.” For which reason, he puts forth an elaborate judgment on one of these very matters. I suppose it is to be inferred, that "the Clergy, as a body,” are to be considered antithetical to Mr. Wilson. What he says, or at least what the minority of the Clergy say, is to be received as far more valuable than the opinion of the majority. But here, Mr. Editor, I want a little of Mr. Wilson's illumination. Where has he found that this is a matter concerning the Clergy at all ? His new friends have always strenuously denied that it could have any effect on the Clergy whatever. And if it does affect them, how can it affect them for good? I confess I cannot see what advantage the Clergy can derive from it, unless the translations in store for some prelates, whom, like Mr. Wilson, late circumstances have enlightened, can be regarded in that point of view.
IV. Mr. Wilson proceeds,
I inquired of those senators on whose piety and talents I had the strongest reason to repose, if they could point out to me any plain, intelligible principle of misgovernment in the affairs of Ireland, which was distinct from the religious character of Popery; and which, if removed, would leave the full force of pure Christianity to operate upon the minds and hearts of the people. They mentioned, instantly, the anomalous state of the laws; laws which thwart and impede each other's operation ; which place the Irish Roman Catholics in a FALSE POSITION, where their property and wealth, their influence and numbers, work against the peace of the community, instead of for it; laws which irritate without subduing; which gather for the Catholics all the elements of political power, and yet deny them the means of using it safely; which drive in
the vitals of the state, the fever which might be assuaged by proper treatment. Ibid. p. 191.
To this subject Mr. Wilson afterwards returns at greater length: but the sum of his metaphors and assertions amounts to the hacknied sophism, fearfully paradoxical, and herein too much resembling others adduced to the same purpose, that, by admitting Papists into two branches of the legislature, “ WE TAKE AWAY, RATHER THAN GIVE," POLITICAL POWER !!!
We have all heard of Rochester's famous commentary on the amatory paradox :
“My wound is great, because it is so small."
I do not know whether Mr. Wilson draws the same inference,
“ Then 'twould be greater if 'twere none at all :"
but sure I am, that if this be not good in the court of Love, it is sound in the schools of Oxford. I therefore conclude that, as Mr. Wilson is an Oxford man, and, consequently, not ignorant of the Stagyrite, he must allow, that, since we take away political power from the Papists by admitting them into Parliament, we shall wholly annihilate their power by admitting them to the crown! Alas! for the benighted views of our illiberal ancestors, who framed that very unconciliatory formula, the coronation oath !
But, again to remind Mr. Wilson of his dialectics, the whole statement is a petitio principii. If the Roman Catholics really had wanted nothing more than seats in Parliament, there might have been some plausibility in saying, not that they would not thereby acquire political power, (which is most absurd) but that their political power would be more beneficially used than their extra-political power. But Mr. Wilson had no right to assume that the Romanists had no ulterior views. Such an assumption was negatived long since by every internal evidence ; and now the candid statements of O'Connell and Lawless have put the matter beyond doubt, that the repeal of the Union, and the overthrow of the Protestant Church in Ireland were, from the beginning, part of the system of those self-proclaimed agitators. And who sees not that the admission of men of this description to the senate of the land, does not afford them fatal capabilities for their guilty projects ? Surely the anxiety of the men themselves upon the subject, is sufficient proof that they never thought their admission to Parliament would “ take away, rather than give, political power !"
V. Mr. Wilson went abroad; he returned with “his dread of Popery, his abhorrence of its corruptions, and his veneration for the Protestant Episcopal Church of his own country, more wakeful than ever;" and with the conviction that a popish graft could not but improve the bald simplicity of the British Protestant oak. There is another of the paradoxes in which this question is so fruitful. The pro-popish reason which prevailed with our sophist was principally that, in most continental countries, Papists and Protestants alike sat in the legislative assemblies. But this argument is wholly inapplicable to England. The constitutions, in the cases alleged by Mr. Wilson, are not Protestant, whatever, in some instances, may be the Established religion ; our constitution was Protestant:
fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium et ingens Gloria Teucrorum
Protestantism was its essence and its substance : as much its essence as its monarchy and its Parliament were such. The promoters of “ the atrocious bill” ADMITTED THAT CONSTITUTION. This, therefore, is a very different case from those of Hanover, Saxony, &c. which Mr. Wilson brought forward in defence of his apostacy.
VI. But the next argument which availed with Mr. Wilson, and indeed the conclusive one, must be given in his own words :
You may imagine then, Sir, with what feelings I received the announcement in the Speech from the Throne, of the proposed adjustment of this long-agitated controversy. When the Ministers of the Crown publicly declared, that the state of Ireland made it impossible for them to go on in the present system; that a divided government, a divided cabinet, a divided parliament, could no longer consist with safety to the Protestant institutions and the national welfare; I was, at length, strongly persuaded of the duty of a Christian minister to leave the question in the hands of the three estates of the realm, and to assist in calming, rather than inflaming, the public mind. What I might have thought, if the adjustment had come from the hands of a leading member of Opposition, or even from the policy of the late Mr. Canning, I cannot say: certainly my confidence would have been less than that I now feel. Especially the manly avowal made by the Right Hon. the Home Secretary, Mr. Peel-considering the talents and acknowledged uprightness of this distinguished statesman, his attachment to our Protestant institutions, his intimate knowledge of Ireland, his natural and strong bias to the opposite measures from his connexion with Oxford, and from the lead he had taken in the House of Commons-considering, above all, the sacrifices of every kind, except conscience, duty, and the future approbation of a grateful country, which his noble conduct involved—all this had a powerful effect on my mind, and led me to think that the moment was indeed come for the amicable settlement of the question.— Ibid. pp. 192, 193.
I confess, Sir, words fail me. A greater spirit must give my feeling utterance, and I can only exclaim with him, “ O incredibilem audaciam! O impudentiam prædicandam !"* “ The duty of a Christian minister” to leave, without petition or constitutional opposition, in the hands of the legislature, a question affecting the very existence of the national Church, and the purity of the Christian religion ! Mr. Peel's declaration of his intention to break in upon the constitutionA MANLY AVOWAL-his conscience and duty not thereby sacrificed (would Mr. Wilson exchange consciences ?) and “the full APPROBAtion of a GRATEFUL country” —(which country shook him off from the representation of all that was honourable and respectable, to be the double of ---: and poured torrents of unheeded petitions against him on the tables of Westminster and Windsor)—“Faugh! faugh! 'tis foul !”
I have now trespassed, perhaps, more than sufficiently : I will, therefore, Mr. Editor, by your permission, conclude my examination of this precious piece at another opportunity.
A CATHOLIC OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
* Cic. Philip II. in Antonium.