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SHORT RULES FOR PLAIN PEOPLE RESPECTING THE EVIDENCE OF MIRACLES.
very foundations of Christian truth You frequently complain that the are so insolently attacked; these things affairs of Ireland fail to excite a due in combination have assumed a noveldegree of attention; and that, happen ty of aspect startling even to those who what may in your devoted country, were most familiar with the anomalies (as the phrase is) the sister kingdoms that make your history remarkable. are as little interested as with the oc- Amongst our own clergy, I am well currences in China or Japan. It is aware that there are many excellent very hard that I cannot succeed in men, who shrink from the bare suspiconvincing you that such complaints cion of controversy, knowing how hard have no foundation; whatever may a thing it is to sail on that stormy sea, have been the case heretofore, I am and keep their Christian course with quite persuaded, the time for this la- steadiness. But surely it would not be mentation is now passed away. In- in the indulgence of a controversial stead of the alleged indifference, I spirit merely, if they, one and all, had find, go where I will, an intense, I entered their caveat against the precould almost call it a morbid anxiety, tensions of this modern Thaumaturrespecting your concerns ; everywhere gist, and freely declared that the I perceive a disposition to treat you claims so loudly and so pertinaciously like a favoured invalid-all arrange- urged, will not bear the test of ordiments are made to bend to your wants nary examination; that they are aband wishes ; and if from time to time surd, illusory, and blasphemous. They you prove yourselves a little froward should have performed this duty, were and unruly, this is regarded only as an it only to discharge their consciences, established case for the exercise of fore and to acquit themselves of the debt bearance, and we call upon each other they owe their people; and, in truth, not to correct the fault, but to mourn there would be little room for any over the infirmity, arising, as all are other motive to operate ; secular ambiready to acknowledge, out of the pe- tion would find easier avenues to succuliar circumstances of your condition. cess, and the reputation of intellectual It is a mistake, then, on your part, novelty would hardly be attained in a thus continually to renew this obso- road so well known and so often tralete complaining ; still it is impossible velled. For it is no new thing that not to admit that the mistake is par- the defenders of the Romish superstidonable ; for it does happen, that, not- tions should have resort to imposture withstanding all our pains, we are and delusion ; nor is it new that the sometimes wholly at a loss to make imposture should be detected, and the out what you would have. We look at delusion exposed. The few short rules your doings as we would regard the I am about to submit through you to caprices of the sick baby above alluded the judgment of all my. Protestant to, and a pause of unfeigned astonish- friends and brethren, disclaim any ment intervenes, which you perhaps such pretensions to novelty. They are mistake for indifference. As an illus- written in the understanding of every tration of the truth of this, I would re- plain man, and have already
been colfer to the recent transactions respecting lected and put into form for our use, Prince Hohenlohe's alleged miracles. by an eminent prelate* of the Church The behaviour of all the parties con- of England. nected with this affair, has indeed ex- An alleged display of miraculous cited no small degree of astonishment power, confidently supported by a long in the minds of all persons with whom array of attestations, must, in the first I have conversed. Those who know instance, have a tendency to stagger Ireland best, were not quite prepared the faith of sincere and unsuspecting for such a display: The excess of bold- believers. “ I have been told," such ness exhibited by the Romish priest- an one may perhaps say to himself, hood, the eager acquiescence of the “ that the evidence of miracles rests laity, and, above all, the utter supine- on testimony, and here seems to be ness of the Protestant clergy, when the testimony in abundance. What shall
I do then > Shall I, with the Roman- 2. That, whenever the testimony afist, receive implicitly all that is told fords ground even for a suspicion of me, or, with the sceptic, reject every- fraud, it must be rejected entirely, and thing which is not supported by the at once. evidence of my senses?” To a mind In neither of these cases is there any thus wavering, it is impossible to bring room for compromise ; nor need we be either support or consolation, unless under any apprehension that we shall we bid him enter fearlessly into an in- weaken the authority either of the vestigation of the nature of the testi. Old or New Testament miracles, by mony to which he is required to as the most unsparing application of sent. He will thus be enabled to de- these rules. The events therein recide for himself, and to perceive that, corded will not merely endure these while the Protestant Christian admits tests, but they will serve to put their the miracles recorded in Scripture, as truth and strength in the clearest point furnishing an irresistible proof of the of view; for by no exercise can the truth of revelation, and rejects those mind be so well prepared to detect which are told of the Pagans of old, falsehood, as by being made habitually or the Papists of modern times, nei, conversant with the lineaments of ther this admission, nor this rejec- truth. But our second rule will adtion, can be considered as arbitrary; mit of a more detailed explanation.-both rest on the same foundation of A suspicion of fraud may reasonably reason. It is the same exercise of exist in any case. the understanding which constrains 1. If the accounts of the alleged mihim to yield his assent in one case, racles were not published to the world and to withhold it in the other.- till long after the time when they are Nor will he be in the least afraid that said to have been performed. by this rejection of false miracles he 2. If the accounts were published at should weaken either the authority or a distance
from the place where the mithe evidence of those which bear the raculous agency was supposed to be mastamp of truth, any more than, in the nifested. occurrences of ordinary life, he will 3. If at the time when, and the place hesitate to refuse base coin, lest he where, they are said to have happened, should diminish the credit of that which they have been suffered to pass without is genuine. Indeed, the very existence due examination. of false miracles serves, if rightly con- By the application which all may sidered, as an additional proof, that at make for themselves of these simple some time and place there must have rules, we get rid at once of the whole been true ones ; just as we know that mass of legendary folly by which the the coiner would never attempt his records of the Romish Church are disfraud, if there had not been originally graced. For example, the Jesuits have some good money, which it was his been fond to represent their founder, object to imitate.
Ignatius Loyola, as a worker of miraWe may pursue this illustration fara cles; and many and various are the ther, by adding, that, as it is every wonders they record of him ; but apman's interest, in his every-day con- ply our first rule, and down go these cerns, to obtain some means of know- pretensions ; for, upon examination, it ing good money from bad, forged notes appears that none of these accounts from genuine, 80,--though in an infi- were written, or these stories told, till nitely higher degree, as the interests he had been dead fifty years; and even of eternity transcend those which are then, the statements were made in disecular only and transitory--is it desi- rect contradiction to the authority of rable that every man should possess Ribadeneira, the only one of his biothe means of finding out those tricks graphers who was personally acquaintof human imposture which are passed ed with him, and who, instead of layoff on the ignorant or unwary, as the ing claim to supernatural powers on interpositions of divine agency. behalf of his master, expressly labours
I would lay down, therefore, these to find a reason for his wanting this broad and general rules, as applicable, distinguishing mark of the candidates with safety and certainty, in all cases. for canonization.
1. That, whenever a fact can be Again, St Francis Xavier is deserascribed, however remotely, to natural vedly celebrated for his missionary lacauses, any reference to divine inter bours in India ; but his brother Jeposition is absolutely excluded. suits, not satisfied with giving a plain statement of his aetual labours, pub- derstanding can bring himself to conlished-(not in India, remark, but in ceive how those who drew them up can Europe, forty years after his death! so refrain from laughing in the face of that two of our rules apply)—the most those who are so besotted as to receive marvellous stories concerning him. Yet them. Yet we are told that they have his own letters, which may be referred been generally received, and the tone to, contain no allusion whatever to the in which they are referred to by the possession of the powers thus attribu- priests, proves that among the people ted to him; and Acosta, who was en- there is little or no disposition to quesgaged in the same service, actually as- tion them. Can there be a more consigns it as one reason of their want of vincing proof that their state of mind success, that no supernatural interfe is such as has been described above, rence had been manifested in their be- and that they are absolutely disqualihalf. These facts are here adverted fied as judges in the matter?-It is cuto, merely for the sake of recalling to rious and edifying to observe how your recollection the boldness and per- closely this whole affair resembles, in tinacity with which the fraudulent all its leading features, that notable pretensions of the Romish Church display of Romish credulity and fraud have uniformly been sustained. which took place in France about a
The application of the third rule century ago, at the tomb of the blessed falls more within our present purpose, deacon, as he was called, the Abbè as enabling us to form a right judg- Paris. Exactly the same sort of cures, ment of the circumstances which are confirmed by the same sort of attestaactually taking place under our notice. tions; and all resolvable into one of In reference to this rule, I would re- these three classes : gross and demonmark, that it is morally impossible that strated frauds; cures effected by the adue examination should be instituted, gencyof natural causes,or
those brought where the alleged miracles coincide about by the influence of the imaginawith the favourite sentiments and pre- tion. It is quite as much in sorrow as judices of those to whom they are re- in anger that this comparison is instiported; and where the accounts ori- tuted; it would be more gratifying to ginate with, and rest upon, the authori- believe that the Romish clergy of the ty of those who alone possess the means present day were too conscientious to of detecting the fraud, and who have it make themselves parties to such deluin their power to prevent all inquiry sions, or at least too prudent to expose which might tend to undeceive the themselves to the disgrace of detection. world. There is in most minds a dis- But the manner in which some of their position to credulity, and when this is prelates have been identified with encouraged by the condition of blind these transactions, casts a stigma on ignorance in which the people are kept the whole body.--Nevertheless, the by their Teachers, there must exist an sincere Christian will not have any inclination to receive with unquestion- fears lest the pillars of his faith should ing delight any story which is out of be shaken by these occurrences; the the ordinary course of events; espe- sacred fortress which has so long resistcially when related by those whose ed the malice of enemies from without, acknowledged superiority in intellec- is not, we are confident, doomed to tual attainment is strengthened by the fall by the treachery of the garrison influence of their spiritual character. within; yet it may be put to the conAmongst such hearers, and with such science of every man who, bearing the relaters, I contend that no account of character, and discharging the funcmiraculous agency can have a chance tions, of an ordained minister, has of obtaining due examination; nor given countenance to those pretensions, can the advocates for the credibili- whether he has not, as far as in him ty of Prince Hohenlohe's miracles lay, contributed to sap the foundations point out a single narrative of any of our common Christianity. The alleged cure, which is not so deep- citations from Holy Scripture, and the ly imbued with this taint of suspi- comparisons little less than blasphecion, that the eye of childhood may mous which have been instituted bedetect it. And in fact, the publish- tween this German and our blessed ed and attested statements carry with Lord himself, must have afforded an them so palpably their own confu- occasion of triumph to the infidel, tation, that no reader of plain un- while to pious minds they have caused the deepest affliction.--Merwho could no notice was taken of the difference be rash enough to make such appeals, of longitude in the first reputed miare little likely, I fear, to retract them, racle at New Hall, though that differa or even to revise the grounds on which ence has since been most ostentatiousthey are supposed to rest. If, however, ly insisted on? there be any one who entertains a real But there is no end to the queries confidence in the soundness of his which common sense would suggest on cause, let him answer, if he can, these this subject ; to common sense I am demands:
well satisfied that the whole matter Why, if the cures were miraculous, should be left, though in the interval they should have been gradual, par- it is impossible not to entertain feel tial, and incomplete?
ings of indignation against those perWhy, if they were intended to con- sons with whom the fraud has origifirm the peculiar doctrines of the Ro- nated, contempt for those who have mish church, and to put heretics to wilfully made themselves parties to it, shame, they never have been wrought and pity for all who have been delu. where hereties might have the means ded by it. of judging concerning them?
I remain, dear Sir, Why, if they are supposed to depend
Yours faithfully. on the efficacy of simultaneous prayer,
MODERN DRAMAS, AND DRAMATIC WRITERS. Whenever a new play is damned century; and in that delightful species at either of our great theatres, and of composition, second only to poetry, that is the case, (or ought to be,) nine I mean in the construction of prose times in ten that a new play is produ, romances and novels, what have we up ced, we are sure to have a homily from to the present period, take away alone à certain class of critics, about “The Defoe, to set against Smollett, Fielddeeline of the national drama.” ing, Richardson, and the author (who
If by this “ decline of the national ever he may be) of Waverley ? drama,” nothing more was meant to To the drama, however; and, first, be conveyed than that our dramatic to the composition of Tragedy. novelties (number and value) have Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, ranked low within the last thirty Massinger, Ford, and the dramatists, years, that is a statement which I in general, of the days of Elizabeth should not contradict; but the prin- and James—(men whose powers no ciple meant to be asserted is this,– human creature can be readier than I that the power of dramatic writing am to admit); since these writers are has declined in England during the so held up in terrorem, against molast half century; and that decline, dern dramatic adventurers, let us see (if it exists at all), seems to me to be in what manner modern dramatic very much exaggerated.
taste treats their productions. So lofIt will be admitted, and perhaps tily as the plays of this school are even by that enlightened class of dis- commended, and so universally as putants, who are content to perceive they are read, is it not strange, (if effects without embarrassing them, they be, as plays, so excellent) that so selves as to causes, that, if the force few of them are in course of acting ? of our dramatic composition has aba- We can't lay the blame here upon ted at the present day, that style of the bad taste of managers. Their taste writing is the only one in which we is bad enough in general, Heaven fail.
knows; but, as regards the old auByron, and Moore, and Scott, and thors, managers have not been to blame, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, They have submitted to have the force Shelley, and Crabbe,-Milman, Wil- of the old dramas made apparent to son, and twenty others, whose names them; they have tried the revival of I only omit because my list is strong them over and over again ; and yet, in enough without them, these are wri- spite of their repeated endeavours, not ters, I think, to challenge rank with a single tragedy of Beaumont and Fletthe very first poets of the sixteenth cher's has been able to keep the stage; VOL. XIV.
and even Shakespeare-(the exception Shakespeare's conceptions, put into to the poets of, his day)—even Shake- shape for the modern inarket, by men speare lives only so altered and refa- of practical knowledge and ability. shioned, that scarce half the tragedies
The truth is-no disparagement to now acted under his name, could be Shakespeare, or his contemporaries-recognized for those which he origine that it was easier to write a successful | ally composed.
play in their time, than it is in ours. It is pleasant to talk of the “pre- The audiences of the sixteenth censumptuous interpolations," or of the tury, although alive to excellence, and “ absurd alterations,” of Tate, Dry- eager of it, were less fastidious in their den, and Cibber ; but it is under the criticism than ours of the year 1823. versions of those writers (presumptu- Along with a certain quantity of that ous though they be) that one half the which was admirable, they would actragedies of Shakespeare are applaud- cept of a good deal which was weak ed at the present day. We are bored or absurd. to death about the superiority" of Look through the productions, gethe plays “ in their original shape;" nerally, of our dramatists of the Golwhy are not the plays, in their origin- den Age. Three-fourths of their plays al shape, performed ? I do not speak abound in beauties; but scarce one of preserving precisely the old text, or in twenty is complete. We find inof giving such passages, as, from their stance upon instance, through volume coarseness, modern refinement would after volume, of two or perhaps three revolt at; but the plays as (in the acts of lively fable and spirited writing main) they were originally written; in a play, rendered wholly unavailable with the original plots, the original by the monstrosity of the matter that dialogues, characters, action, and ar- follows. In fact, the difficulty, two hunrangement; and since the plays, in dred years ago, lay where the difficulty this shape, are so surpassingly admi- lies now—not in the opening, but in the rable, why is it, I ask again, that, in finishing of a work. Half our modern this shape, they are not acted ? novelists and I speak of the best of
Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and Ju- them-break down (the fact is notorilius Cæsar, are the only (popular) ous) in their catastrophe.“ Sketches," tragedies of Shakespeare which are “Remembrances”-“ Fragments” played with any approach to the ori- “ Wayside Conversations," -every ginal reading. Shakespeare's Richard form of publication which can enable the Third, is no more like the Richard the author to begin, without consider. the Third now acted, than Massinger's ing in what manner he shall finishFatal Dowery is like the Fair Penitent is grasped at eagerly by the lighter of Rowe. Henry the Eighth, and King writers of the present day, Lear, have suffered as much change But though such tales, “ signifying almost as Richard the Third. The nothing," pass muster in the closet, Tempest is anything (as it is acted) yet they will not, in these fine times, but Shakespeare's play; and great li- do upon the stage. Our theatrical auberties have been taken with both Ro- diences now will have their reasonable meo and Juliet and Coriolanns. And solution; that desideratum which the the alterations in these plays are not audiences of the sixteenth century confined to alterations of the text. were always contented to forego. The They do not stop at the exclusion of old writers sat down with all nature offensive passages from the dialogue, open to them for material; they wrote nor even at changes in the business themselves, hand over head-right on and interest of the piece. Whole-into a difficulty; and cut the knot scenes—nay, almost whole acts-are without scruple, whenever they were frequently struck out, and replaced unable to untie it. With them, to use either with matter entirely new, or a phrase of familiar illustration, “ all with matter transferred from some was fish that came to net.” They had other of the author's productions. no nicety about the choice of a subject Plots are altered—incidents are omit- they were bound to no regularity in ted-characters are changed, or add- the arrangement of a plot-they cared ed, or subtracted ; and half the tra- little about maintaining interest, and gedies, in short, as I have said before, nothing about keeping up consistency, now acted as the plays of Shake- from the beginning to the end of a speare, are little more, at the best, than five act drama-they gave four or five