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This volume consists of Lectures and Addresses delivered by the late Rev. Frederick W. Robertson before the members of the Working Man's Institute, or of the Athenæum at Brighton, to which have been added some Speeches delivered on occasions of public interest.
It may be fitting, by way of Preface to these Addresses, some of which have been published before in separate forms, to give a brief account of the circumstances attending their delivery. A few letters have been added as bearing directly on the subjects.
The first was the opening address of the Working Man's Institute at Brighton, in 1848.
This Institution mainly owed its origin to the late Mr. Holtham, who, having always felt a warm interest in the progress of the working classes, elaborated, during a severe illness, a plan of a Literary Institute, which was to be governed entirely by the workingmen. They were to owe no part of their management to the patronage or assistance of their richer neighbours, although they were willing that such should contribute to the funds of the Institution, and even become honorary members.
The Committee were very desirous that Mr. Robertson should open the Institute with an Address, and accordingly Mr. Holtham, the President, wrote to him on the subject.
He shrank with characteristic but needless modesty from taking so prominent a position, but finally consented, feeling deeply the great importance of the step he and the other promoters of the Institute were taking.
The Address was delivered and created a great sensation amongst all classes. It was marked by extraordinary oratorical power, and evinced a faculty for addressing a popular assembly greater even than had been expected.
The original plan of the Working Man's Institute failed : doubtless because it was based on a selfish policy of class isolation, rather than on the broad principle of union one with another. Some of the elements of its weakness may be traced in the second address which Mr. Robertson delivered to the members of this body. The result of that address was a determination by the majority to construct an association on wiser principles, and during the progress of this work, the success of which was very much owing to the zeal and energy of the Secretary and the Committee, Mr. Robertson was ever ready with wise counsel and efficient help. His heart was deeply with the working-men, and plans and efforts for their elevation occupied much of his thought.
The Committee were anxious that Mr. Robertson should be the President of the New Association, and though he
felt it best to refuse the invitation, he cordially gave his help to the struggling Institution, when some months afterwards he was requested to deliver a lecture to its members.
The Society, though it has now ceased to exist, long worked admirably and efficiently under the name of the Brighton Mechanics' Institute, on principles which Mr. Robertson considered to be more in accordance with sound views of social and political economy.
The “Two Lectures on the Influence of Poetry' were given before the Institution, in fulfilment of a promise previously made, and their delivery created a great sensation. To those who never heard Mr. Robertson speak, it may be interesting to learn that he was gifted with a voice of wonderful sweetness and power. So flexible and harmonious was it, that it gave expression to the finest tones of feeling ; so thrilling, that it stirred men to the heart. His gesture was simple and quiet:-his whole soul so thoroughly absorbed in his subject that all was intensely real, natural, and earnest.
The lecture on Wordsworth was delivered before the members of the Athenæum, and was to have been followed by a second on the same subject ; but Mr. Robertson's health was never afterwards equal to the exertion. This lecture has not had the advantage of his own corrections. He was criticised by the South Church Union Chronicle as teaching in it Pantheism,' and as unfairly attacking High Churchmen. To this he replied in the following letter :
• In the columns of the Brighton Guardian, denominated
the South Church Union Chronicle, I see some strictures on certain expressions attributed to me in my lecture upon Wordsworth. With the tone of the strictures, excepting one sentence which I regret-not for my own sake, for it is untrue, but for the writer's sake, for it is rude and coarseI can find no fault. The whole criticism, however, is based on a misconception. It proceeds on the assumption that I complained, with blame, that
High Churchism regarded with peculiar reverence a sanctity as connected with certain places, times, acts, and persons,” &c.
'I did not use those words. That was not my definition of High Churchism; and to have condemned it as so defined would have contradicted my argument, for I was actually at the moment justifying Wordsworth, who is well known to have entertained such feelings. Had I so spoken, I should have condemned a feeling of the relative sanctity of such things; a feeling which I comprehend too entirely to have any inclination to interfere with.
6 What I did say was as follows :-"The tendency of Pantheism is to see the godlike everywhere, the personal God nowhere. The tendency of High Churchism is to localise the personal Deity in certain consecrated places, called churches : certain consecrated times, called Sabbaths, fast days, and so forth : certain consecrated acts, sacràmental and quasi-sacramental : certain consecrated persons, called priests."
'I endeavoured to show that the tendency is not necessarily the error: and that there are High Churchmen, like Wordsworth, who recognise in such places, persons, and acts, a sanctity only relative and not intrinsic—relative to the worshippers, without localising or limiting Deity in or to the acts, times, or places : Pantheistic and High Church