Page images
[ocr errors]

ployed that rigid logic, which introduces none but sound ideas into the heads of children, which confirms the Christian in the faith, edifies the priest, and satisfies the teacher."

This objection may be said to be the only one adduced by the critics; it forms the ground-work of all theit censures, whether they treat of the subject, the plan or the details of the work. They never will enter into the spirit of the author, so that he might justly say—“You would suppose that the critic had sworn not to comprehend the state of the question, or to understand any one of the passages which he attacks."*

The whole force of the argument, as to the latter part of the objection, resolves itself to this." The author has undertaken to consider Christianity in its relations to poetry, the fine arts, eloquence and literature, he has moreover attempted to shew all the obligations which mankind owe to religion, in a moral, civil, and political point of view. Such being his plan, he has not produced a thealogical work; he has not defended what he never designed to defend; he has not addressed readers to whom he never intended to address himself; he is therefore guilty of having done precisely what he meant to do.”

But, supposing that the author has accomplished his object, ought he to have sought that object?

This brings us back to the first part of the objection, $0 often repeated, that religion must not be considered with relation to merely human, moral and political beauties; that is lessening its dignity, &c. &c.

The author will endeavour to elucidate this principal point of the question in the succeeding paragraphs.

1. In the first place, he has not attacked, but defended; he has not challenged, but accepted a challenge. This changes at once the state of the question and invalidates the

* Montesquieu's Defence of the Spirit of the Laws.


The author has not officiously taken upon

him. self to extol a religion, hated, despised, and overwhelmed with ridicule by sophists. The Beauties of Christianity would certainly have been a very unseasonable work in the

age of Louis XIV; and the critic, who observes that Massillon would not have published such an apology, has pronounced an incontestible truth. Never would the author have thought of writing his book, had there not existed poems, novels, works of every kind, in which christianity is held up to the derision of the readers. But since these poems, these novels, these works exist, it is necessary to vindicate religion against the sarcasms of impiety; since it has been so generally said and written, that christianity is barbarous, ridiculous, and an enemy to the arts and genius, it is of essential importance to demonstrate that it is none of these ; and that what is represented as little, mean, destitute of taste, beauty and feeling, by the pen of scandal, may appear grand, noble, simple, dramatic, and divine, under the pen of a religious writer.

II. If it be not permitted to defend religion with reference to its human beauty; if we ought not to use our endeavours to prevent ridicule being attached to its sub. lime institutions; will not one side of this religion always remain unprotected. Against this side will all attacks be directed; here you will be surprised without defence and ultimately perish. Had not this already nearly happened? Was it not by means of ridicule and burlesque, that M. de Voltaire was enabled to shake the very foundations of the faith? Would you answer licentious stories and absurdities with theological arguments and syllogisms? Will formal argumentation prevent a frivolous age from being seduced by pointed verses, or kept back from the altars by the fear of ridicule? Do you not know that with the French nation a bon mot, an impious vitticism, felix culpa, have more influence than volumes

of sound reasoning and metaphysics ? Persuade youth that an honest man may be a christian without being a fool; erase from their minds the idea that none but

capu. chins and simpletons can believe in religion, and your cause will soon be gained. It will then be the time, in order to secure your victory, to resort to theological reasonings; but begin with making them read what you write. What you first stand in necd of is a religious work that shall be what is termed popular. Would you conduct your patient in one single excursion to the top of a steep mountain, when he is scarcely able to crawl, shew him at every step varied and pleasing objects; allow him to stop and gather the flowers that present themselves by the way, till proceeding from one resting-place to another, he will at last reach the summit.

III. The author has not written his apology exclusively for scholars, for christians, for priests, for doctors*; he has written more particularly for persons of literary purşuits and for the world. This has already been observed above, and may be inferred from the two preceding paragraphs. You do not set out from this point, if you constantly pretend to mistake the class of readers to whom the spirit of christianity is especially addressed, and it is evident that you do not rightly comprehend the work. It was composed to be read by the most incredulous of literary men, by the gayest of the youthful votaries of fashion, with the same facility as the first turns over the leaves of an impious book, and the second, those of a dangerous novel.

“ Would you then,” exclaimed these well-intended zealots in behalf of religion, “ would you then make religion a fashionable thing ?” Would to God that this divine religion were the fashion, considering fashion taken in this sense, as signifying the opinion of the world! This indeed might perhaps, to a certain de gree, encourage private hypocrisy, but it is certain, on the other hand, that public morals would be gainers by it. The rich man would no longer exert his self-love to cor. rupt the poor, the master to pervert his servant, the father to give lessons in atheism to his children; the practice of the forms of religion would lead to a belief in its doctrines, and with piety, the age of morals and of virtue would return.

* And yet it is not genuine Christians, nor the Doctors of the Sorbonne, but the philosophers, as we have already observed, that are so scrupulous in regard to the work. This ought not to be forgotten.

IV. M. de Voltaire, when he attacked christianity, was too well acquainted with the human mind, not to endeavour to secure what is termed the opinion of the world: accordingly he exerted all his talents to make impiety a kind of bon ton. He accomplished his purpose, by rendering religion ridiculous in the eyes of frivolous persons. It is this ridicule that the author of the Beauties of Christianity has attempted to wipe away ; this is the aim of all his labours; the object which should never be lost sight of, by those who would form an impartial judgment of his work. But has the author wiped away this ridi. cule? That is not the question. You should ask : has he exerted all his efforts to counteract it? Give him credit for what he has attempted, not for what he has. actually accomplished. Permitte divis cætra. He de fends no part of his book but the idea which constitutes its ground-work. To consider christianity in its relations with human society; to shew what changes it has produced in the reason and the passions of man; how it has civilized the Gothic nations; how it has modified the genius of the arts and of letters; how it has directed the spirit and manners of the people of modern times; in a word, to develope all the excellencies of this religion, in its relations poetical, moral, political, historical, &c. will al

ways appear to the author one of the finest subjects for a work that can possibly be imagined. As to the manner in which he has executed his work, that he leaves others to determine.

V. But this is not the place for affecting a modesty, which is always suspicious in modern authors, and which deceives nobody. The cause is too great, the interest too important not to authorise us to rise superior to all considerations of human delicacy and respect. Now, if the author counts the number of suffrages, and compares their weight, he cannot persuade himself that he has totally failed in the object of his book. Take an impious picture, place it beside a religious piece, composed on the same subject and borrowed from the Beauties of Christianity; and you may venture to assert that the latter, imperfect as it may be, will weaken the dangerous effects of the former. Such is the power of unadorned truth, when put in competition with the most brilliant falsehood! M. de Voltaire, for example, has frequently diverted himself at the expense of the religious. Beside one of his caricatures place the part relative to the mission, that in which the orders of Hospitallers are represented relieving the traveller in the deserts, the chapter in which the monks are seen devoting themselves to the attendance on the infected, or accompanying the criminal to the scaffold: what irony will not be disarmed, what smile will not be converted into tears? In answer to the charges of ignorance preferred against the religion of Christians, adduce the immense labours of those pious men who preserved the manuscripts of antiquity, and the works of Bossuet and Fénélon in reply to the accusations of bad taste and barbarism. With the caricatures of saints and angels, contrast the sublime effects of Christianity on the dramatic department of poetry, on eloquence and the fine arts; and say whether the impression of ridi

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »