"On the Clerical Character" 1
The first, and most obvious objection we have to it, arises from the dress. All artificial distinctions of this kind have a tendency to warp the understanding and sophisticate the character. They create egotism. A man is led to think of himself more than he should, who by any outward marks of distinction invites others to fix their attention on him. They create affectation; for they make him study to be not like himself, but like his dress. They create hypocrisy; for as his thoughts and feelings cannot be as uniform and mechanical as his dress, he must be constantly tempted to make use of the one as a cloak to the other, and to conceal the defects or aberrations of his mind by a greater primness of professional costume, or a more mysterious carriage of his person --
The bane of all religions has been the necessity (real or supposed) of keeping up an attention and attaching a value to external forms and ceremonies. It was, of course, much easier to conform to these, or to manifest a reverence for them, than to practise the virtues or understand the doctrines of true religion, of which they were merely the outward types and symbols. The consequence has been, that the greatest stress has been perpetually laid on what was the least value, and most easily professed. The form or religion has superseded the substance; the means have supplanted the end; and the sterling coin of charity and good works has been driven out of the currency, for the base counterfeits of superstition and intolerance, by all the money-changers and dealers in the temples established to religion throughout the world. Vestments and chalices have been multiplied for the reception of the Holy Spirit; the tagged points of controversy and lackered varnish of hypocrisy have eaten into the solid substance and texture of piety; "And all the inward acts of worship, issuing from the native strength of the soul, run out (as Milton expresses it) lavishly to the upper skin, and there harden into the crust of formality." Hence we have had such shoals of
How little can be done in the way of extracting virtues or intellect from a piece of broad-cloth or a beaver-hat, we have an instance in the Quakers, who are the most remarkable, and the most unexceptionable class of professors in this kind. They bear the same relation to genuine characters, not brought up in the trammels of dress and custom, that a clipped yew-tree, cut into the form of a peacock or an arm-chair, does to the natural growth of a tree in the forest, left to its own energies and luxuriance. The Quakers are docked into form, but they have no spirit left. They are without ideas, except in trade; without vices or virtues, unless we admit among the latter whose which we give as a character to servants when we turn them away, viz. "that they are cleanly, sober, and honest." The Quaker is, in short, a negative character, but it is the best that can be formed in this mechanical way. The Priest is not a negative character; he is something positive and disagreeable. He is not, like the Quaker, distinguished from others merely by singularity of dress and manner, but he is distinguished from others by pretension to superiority over them. His faults arise from his boasted exemption from the opposite vices; he has one vice running through all his others --hypocrisy. He is proud, with an affectation of humility; bigoted, from a pretended zeal for the truth; greedy, with an ostentation of entire contempt for the things of this world, professing self-denial, and always thinking of self-gratification; censorious, and blind to his own faults, intolerant, unrelenting, impatient of opposition, insolent to those below, and cringing to those above him, with nothing but Christian meekness and brotherly love in his mouth. He thinks more of external appearances than of his internal convictions. He is tied down to the opinions and prejudices of the world in every way. The motives of the heart are clogged and checked at the outset, by the fear of idle censure; his understanding is a slave to established creeds and formulas of faith. He can neither act, feel, or think for himself, or from genuine impulse. He plays a part through life. He is an actor upon a stage. The public are a spy upon him, and he wears a mask the better to deceive them. If in this sort of theatrical assumption of character he makes one false step, it may be fatal to him, and he is induced to have recourse to the most unmanly arts to conceal it, if possible. As he cannot be armed at all points against the flesh and the devil, he takes refuge in self-delusions and mental imposture, learns to play at fast and loose with his own conscience, and to baffle the vigilance of the public by dexterous equivocations; sails as near the wind as he can, shuffles with principle, is punctilious in matters of form and tries to reconcile the greatest strictness of decorum and regularity of demeanour with the least possible sacrifice of his own interest or appetites. Parsons are not drunkards, because it is a vice that is easily detected and immediately offensive; but they are great eaters, which is no less injurious to the health and intellect. They indulge in all the sensuality that is not prohibited in the Decalogue: they monopolize every convenience they can lay lawful hands on: and consider themselves as the peculiar favourites of Heaven, and the rightful inheritors of the earth. They are on a short allowance of sin; and are only the more eager to catch at all the stray bits and nice morsels they can meet. They are always considering how they shall indemnify themselves in smaller things, for their grudging self-denial in greater ones. Satan lies in wait of them in a pinch of snuff, and a plate of buttered toast, or the kidney end of a loin of veal. They lead their cooks the devil of a life. Their dinner is the principal event of the day. They say a long grace over it, partly to prolong the pleasure of expectation, and to keep others waiting. They are appealed to as the most competent judges, as arbiters deliciarum in all questions of the palate. Their whole thoughts are taken up in pampering the flesh, and comforting the spirit with all the little debasing luxuries which do not come under the sentence of damnation, or breed scandal in the parish. You find out their true character in those of them who have quitted the cloth, and think it no longer necessary to practise the same caution or disguise. You there find the dogmatism of the divine engrafted on the most lax speculations of the philosophical freethinker, and the most romantic professions of universal benevolence made a cover to the most unfeeling and unblushing spirit of selfishness. The mask is taken off, but the character was the same under a more jealous attention to appearances. With respect to one vice from which the Clergy are bound to keep themselves, clear, St. Paul has observed, that it is better to marry than burn. "Continents," says Hobbes, "have more of what they contain than other things." The Clergy are men: and many of them, who keep a sufficient guard over their conduct, are too apt, from a common law of nature, to let their thoughts and desires wander to forbidden ground. This is not so well. It is not so well to be always thinking of the peccadillos they cannot commit: to be hankering after the fleshpots of Egypt: to have the charms of illicit gratification enhanced by privations, to which others are not liable; to have the fancy always prurient, and the imagination always taking a direction which they themselves cannot follow.
To proceed to what we at first proposed, which was a consideration of the Clerical Character, less in connexion with private morality than with public principle. We have already spoken of the Dissenting Clergy as, in this respect, an honest exemplary body of men. They are so by the supposition, in what relates to matters of opinion. The Established Clergy of any religion certainly are not so, by the same self-evident rule; on the contrary, they are bound to conform their professions of religious belief to a certain popular and lucrative standard, and bound over to keep the peace by certain articles of faith. It is a rare felicity in any one who gives his attention fairly and freely to the subject, and has read the Scriptures, the Misnah, and the Talmud --the Fathers, the Schoolmen, the Socinian Divines, the Lutheran and Calvinistic controversy, with innumerable volumes appertaining thereto and illustrative thereof, to believe all the Thirty-nine Articles, "except one." If those who are destined for the episcopal office exercise their understanding honestly and openly upon every one of these questions, how little chance is there that they should come to the same conclusion upon them all? If they do not inquire, what becomes of their independence of understanding? If they conform to what they do not believe, what becomes of their honesty? Their estimation in the world, as well as their livelihood, depends on their tamely submitting their understanding to authority at first and on their not seeing reason to alter their opinion afterwards. Is it likely that a man will intrepidly open his eyes to conviction, when he sees poverty and disgrace staring him in the face as the inevitable consequence? Is it likely, after the labours of a whole life of servility and cowardice --after repeating daily what he does not understand, and what those who require him to repeat it do not believe, or pretend to believe, and impose on others only as a ready test of insincerity, and a compendious shibboleth of want of principle: after doing morning and evening service to the God of this world --after keeping his lips sealed against the indiscreet mention of the plainest truths, and opening them only to utter mental reservations --after breakfasting, dining and supping, waking and sleeping, being clothed and fed, upon a collusion, after saying a double grace and washing his hands after dinner, and preparing for a course of smutty jests to make himself good company,--after nodding to Deans, bowing to Bishops, waiting upon Lords, following in the train of Heads of Colleges, watching the gracious eyes of those who have presentations in their gift, and the lank cheek of those who are their present incumbents,--after finding favour, patronage, promotion, prizes, praise, promises, smiles, squeezes of the hand, invitations to tea and cards with the ladies, the epithets, "a charming man," "an agreeable creature," "a most respectable character," the certainty of reward and the hopes of glory, always proportioned to the systematic baseness of his compliance with the will of his superiors, and the sacrifice of every particle of independence, or pretence to manly spirit and honesty of character,--is it likely, that a man so tutored and trammelled, and inured to be his own dupe, and the tool of others, will ever in one instance out of thousands, attempt to burst the cobweb fetters which bind him in the magic circle of contradictions and enigmas, or risk the independence of his fortunes for the independence of his mind? Principle is a word that is not be be found in the the Young Clergyman's Best Companion: it is a thing he has no idea of, except as something pragmatical, sour, puritanical, and Presbyterian. To oblige is his object, not to offend. He wishes "to be confirmed to this world, rather than transformed." He expects one day to be a Court-divine, a dignitary of the Church, an ornament to the State; and he knows all the text of Scripture, which tacked to a visitation, an assize, or corporation-dinner sermon, will float him gently "like little wanton boys that swim on bladders," up to the palace at Lambeth. A hungry poet, gaping for solid pudding or empty praise, may easily be supposed to set about a conscientious revision and change of his unpopular opinions, from the reasonable prospect of a place or pension, and to eat his words the less scrupulously, the longer he has had nothing else to eat. A snug, promising, soft, smiling orthodox Divine, who has a living attached to the cure of souls, and whose sentiments are beneficed, who has a critical bonus for finding out that all the books he cannot understand are written against the Christian Religion, and founds the doctrine of the Trinity, and his hopes of a Bishopric, on the ignorant construction of a Greek particle, cannot be expected to change the opinions to which he has formerly subscribed his belief, with the revolutions of the sun or the changes of the moon. His political, as well as religious creed, installed in hopes, pampered in expectations; and the longer he winks and shuts his eyes and holds them close, catching only under their drooping lids, "glimpses that may make him less forlorn, " day-dreams of lawn-sleeves, and nightly beatific visions of episcopal mitres, the less disposed will he be to open them to the broad light of reason, or to forsake the primrose path of preferment, to tear and mangle his sleek tender-skinned conscience, dipped and softened in the milk-bath of clerical complaisance, among the thorns and briars of controversial divinity, or to get out on the other side upon a dark and dreary waste, amidst a crew of hereticks and schismatics, and Unitarian dealers in "potential infidelity" --
Take one illustration of the truth of all that has been here said, and of more that might be said upon the subject. It is related in that valuable comment on the present reign and the existing order of things, Bishop Watson's Life, that the late Dr Paley having at one time to maintain a thesis in the University proposed to the Bishop, for his approbation, the following:--"That the eternity of Hell torments is contradictory to the goodness of God." The Bishop observed, that he thought this a bold doctrine to maintain in the face of the Church; but Paley persisted in his determination. Soon after, however, having sounded the opinions of certain persons, high in authority, and well read in the orthodoxy of preferment, he came back in great alarm, said he found the thing would not do, and begged, instead of his first thesis, to have the reverse one substituted in its stead, viz. --"That the Eternity of Hell torments is not contradictory to the goodness of God." --What burning daylight is here thrown on clerical discipline, and the bias of a University education! This passage is worth all Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, Wood's Athene Oxoniensis, and Mr Coleridge's two Lay Sermons. This same shuffling Divine is the same Dr Paley2, who afterwards employed the whole of his life and his moderate second-hand abilities, in tampering with religion, morality, and politics,--in trimming between his convenience and his conscience,--in crawling between heaven and earth, and trying to cajole both. His celebrated and popular work on Moral Philosophy, is celebrated and popular for no other reason, than that it is a somewhat ingenious and amusing apology for existing abuses of every description, by which anything is to be got. It is a very elaborate and consolatory elucidation of the text that men should not quarrel with their bread and butter. It is not an attempt to show what is right, but to palliate and find out plausible excuses for what is wrong. It is a work without the least value, except as a convenient common-place book or vade mecum, for tyro politicians and young divines, to smooth their progress in the Church or the State. This work is a text-book in the university: its morality is the acknowledged morality of the House of Commons. The Lords are above it. They do not affect that sort of casuistry, by which the country gentlemen contrive to oblige the Ministers, and to reconcile themselves to their constituents.
The dying Cardinal might here be supposed to have foreseen the grand Rebellion, the glorious Revolution of 1688, the expulsion of the Stuarts, and the Protestant ascendancy, the American and French Revolutions --as all growing out of Wickliff's heresy, and the doctrines of the hellish Lutherans. Our laurel-honouring laureat cannot see all this after it has happened. Wolsey was a prophet; he is only a poet. Wolsey knew (and so would any man but a poet), that to allow men freedom of opinion in matters of religion, was to make them free in all other things. Mr Southey, who raves in favour of the Bourbons and against the Pope, is "blind with double darkness." He will assuredly never find that "single-heartedness" which he seeks, but in the bosom of the Church of Rome.
One mischief of this alliance between Church and State (which the old-fashioned Statesman understood so thoroughly and the modern sciolist only by halves) is, that it is tacit and covert. The Church does not profess to take any active share in affairs of State, and by this means is able to forward all the designs of indirect and crooked policy more effectually and without suspicion. The garb of religion is the best cloak for power. There is nothing so much to be guarded against as the wolf in sheep's clothing. The Clergy pretend to be neutral in all such matters, not to meddle with politics. But that is, and always must be, a false pretence. Those that are not with us, are against us, is a maxim that always holds true. These pious pastors of the people and accomplices of the government make use of their heavenly calling and demure professions of meekness and humility as an excuse for never committing themselves on the side of the people; but the same sacred and spiritual character, not to be sullied by mixing with worldly concerns, does not hinder them from employing all their arts and influence on the side of power and of their own interest. Their religion is incompatible with a common regard to justice or humanity; but it is compatible with an excess of courtly zeal. The officiating Clergyman at Derby the other day pestered Brandreth to death with importunities to inform against his associates but put his hand before his mouth when he offered to say what he know of Oliver, the Government-spy. This is not exactly as it should be; but it cannot both be otherwise than it is. Priests are naturally favourers of power, inasmuch as they are dependent on it. --The power over the mind is hardly sufficient of itself to insure absolute obedience to their authority without a reinforcement of power over the body. The secular arm must come in aid of the spiritual. The law is necessary to compel the payment of tythes. Kings and conquerors make law, parcel out lands, and erect churches and palaces for the priests and dignitaries of religion: "they will have them to show their mitred fronts in Courts and Parliaments"; and in return, Priests anoint Kings with holy oil, hedge them round with inviolability, spread over them the mysterious sanctity of religion, and, with very little ceremony, make over the whole species as slaves to these Gods upon earth by virtue of divine right! This is no losing trade. It aggrandizes those who are concerned in it, and is death to the rest of the world. It is a solemn league and covenant fully ratified and strictly carried into effect, to the very letter, in all countries, Pagan, Mohammedan, and Christian, --except this. It is time to put an end to it everywhere. But those who are pledged to its support and "by this craft have their wealth", have unfortunately remained of one opinion, quite "single-hearted" from the beginning of the world: those who, like Mr Southey, are for separating the Man of Sin from the Scarlet Whore, change their opinions once every five and twenty years. Need we wonder at the final results? Kings and priests are not such coxcombs or triflers as poets and philosophers. The two last are always squabbling about their share of reputation; the two first amicably decide the spoil. It is the opinion, we understand, of an eminent poet and a minute philosopher of the present day, the press ought to be shackled,--severely shackled; and particularly that the Edinburgh Review, the Examiner, and the Yellow Dwarf, as full off Examinerisms, ought to be instantly put down. Another poet or philosopher, who has not been so severely handled in these works, thinks differently; and so do we. Nay, Mr------himself has been a long time in coming to his opinion; and no wonder, for he had a long way to come in order to arrive at it. But all the Kings that ever were, and ninety-nine out of a hundred of all the Priests that surround them, jump at this conclusion concerning the fatal consequences for the Liberty of the Press --by instinct. We have never yet seen that greatest calamity than can befall mankind, deprecated by Mr Burke, namely, literary men acting in corps, and making common cause for the benefit of mankind, as another description of persons act in concert and make common cause against them. He himself was an instance how little need be dreaded in this way. If the National Assembly had sent for Burke over, to assist in framing a Constitution for them, the traitor to liberty and apostate from principle, instead of loading the French Revolution with every epithet of obloquy and execration which his irritable vanity and mercenary malice could invent, would have extolled it to the skies, as the highest monument of human happiness and wisdom. But the genius of philosophy, as he said, is not yet known. It is a subject which we shall shortly endeavour to make clear.
1 Hazlitt's "The Speeches of Western and Broughan" is to be found in Political Essays (1819).
2 Here Hazlitt shows his feelings for William Paley (1743-1805), who, in 1790 published Horae Paulinae a work in which Paley set out to counter the idea that the New Testament was but a cunningly devised fable.
3 ("And for the Bishops (in Edward VI's days), they were so far from any such worthy attempts, as that they suffered themselves to be the common stales to countenance, with their prostituted gravities, every politick fetch that was then on foot, as oft as the potent Statists pleased to employ them. Never do we read that they made use of their authority, and high place of access, to bring the jarring nobility to Christian peace, or to withstand their disloyal projects: but if a toleration for Mass were to be begged of the King for his sister Mary, lest Charles the Fifth should be angry, who but the grave prelates, Cramner and Ridley, must be sent to extort it from the Young King! But out of the mouth of that godly and royal child, Christ himself returned such an awful repulse to those halting and time-serving Prelates, that, after much importunity they went their way, not without shame and tears." -- Milton -- Of Reformation in England, and the causes that have hitherto hindered it.) The original footnote found in the original work; I have, in turn, placed them in parentheses.