Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

private individual, and one of the party assailed ? Has experience taught you to make so light of character that it may be trampled on remorselessly, whenever silence and impunity may be thought capable of being secured? You may allege that your inglorious resolve has been changed, and that in your third letter you deign to unfold your meaning. Thanks to the public press for this change, and not to your sense of justice. The instant you heard of “publicity,” your tone became softened, and your language of an explanatory nature. But what are we to think of the conduct of the man who will refuse to be just and honourable, until the scourge of publicity is seen to hang threateningly before him ?

You decline stating whether you included me in the number of the accus. ed, on the ground that you " spoke generally of a body of men, and that the acknowledged usages of the world do not confer on me any right to call on you to be more specific.” This shift may very well suit “ a world lying in wickedness :" it may be very convenient for a man who either has not the candour to confess his error, or the moral fortitude to confront his antagonist : it may admirably suit the purpose of a legal casuist, and it may serve as a thin veil to intercept the response of conscience. But, Sir, let me tell you that “the usages of the world” may often be absurd in the eye of enlightened reason and unrighteous in the sight of God: they may be erroneous in principle and tyrannous in practice. And of this description must be the usages to which you refer, if they tend to shield the slanderer, by leaving at his mercy the characters of men, however unsullied may be their reputation. According to your view of the case, it would appear that any one, who claims a pre-eminence in malice, may fearlessly calumniate

á body of men.” If I should, in a fit of wicked folly, declare that “ L. Clarke, 'Esq. Barrister, is a liar and extortioner;" he might, I presume, justly prosecute me for libel. But if inured in “the usages of the world," I should cautiously assert, “ that the Barristers of the Supreme Court in Calcutta are liars and extortioners,” Mr. Clarke, as one of these, might lie under the foul and calumnious imputation all the days of his life without redress. I should only have to reply to a troublesome interrogator—" My good Sir, I did not point to you individually ; I spoke generally of a body of men, and the acknowledged usages of the world confer on you no right to call on me to be more specific.” But I question much whether the world, in all its madness and folly, has ever sanctioned, in its fullest lati. tude, a usage under whose covert there is no outrage the most glaring that may not be perpetrated without risk or penalty. Should one of a numerous company exclaim, “ The present assembly is composed of thieves and liars," —would you not expect the man in whose breast there harboured no guile indignantly cry out, “Do you really call me a thief and a liar?" And would you not expect the accuser to adduce decisive proofs of guilt, or immediately to apologize and retract the infamous charge? Parallel cases to that now mentioned have not been unknown in “worldly” society. But even if they had, I must leave to you the undivided glory of acting on an “ usage,” which, carried to its legitimate extent, might soon deluge the “ world” with the slanders of the malignant.

Perhaps you may urge in your defence that you are not answerable for your censorious remarks—that you have only reported" the complaints of the natives.” Good ; listen by all means to the natives ; hear patiently all their plaints; undertake to avenge all their wrongs; and, if you choose, show forth practically your zeal for “the interests of Christianity,” and “taste not, touch not, handle not,” any of their good things, their silver or gold. But did it not occur to you, notwithstanding your philanthropy, that the natives were not perfect men? Did it not occur to you that the influence of superstition and the horror of losing caste might lead to misapprehension and exaggeration ? Did it not occur to you that in such a case it would be well to remember the maxim-audi alteram partem ? Did it not occur to you that, in your total ignorance of the plea on the opposite side, you might be led to entertain impressions not less unfounded than injurious ? And did it not occur to you that it might be a breach of decorum and common honesty to cite such erparte statements as undoubted verities ? I admit that, agreeably to the loose tenor of conven. tional morality, you, as counsel, are not expected to make yourself acquainted with the real merits of the other side. But I appeal to you whether, as an honest man and professing Christian, you were not bound to institute an inquiry, ere you formed your own deliberate judgment, and adopted the complaints of natives as your own settled opinions ? It may be that you are under peculiar obligations to natives—and that these niay have, in various ways, contributed much more to your “ worldly" comfort than humble Missionaries who preach the self-denying doctrines of the Cross : but I must be allowed to doubt whether, at “ the bar of heaven's jurispru, dence," a one-sided view of the subject, or a sense of interest or experience in “ the usages of the world," or skill in the quirks of law, can be made to “ cover a multitude of sins.”

In your last letter, as I have already stated, you at length condescended to enter into some explanation of your meaning.

“ Every father,” you say,“ has the right of rearing up his child in the faith in which he himself conscientiously believes;"and when the Missionaries “instruct the child in a religion different from his father,” they do, in your estimation, “invade the right of the parent.” This is plausible ; it remains to be seen whether it is sound. Let us examine it in detail. First then, as to the abstract question of right. If the right exists at all, it must be either natural or legal. Now I deny that there is any separate legal right. I am fully aware that the father is the guardian of his child, as to all civil rights, till the latter be of age: but I question how far the law confers the right of religious instruction on the father alone. Rather I am prepared to deny that there is any such right conferred at all—else might the father prosecute the teacher of a religion, different from his own, for misdemeanour ;-an absurdity from which British law, with all its anomalies, is ho, nourably exempt. To take a nearer view of the subject, I may refer to the clause of the act of Parliament anent the permission given to teachers of religion to settle in India. It begins thus: “ And whereas it is the duty of this country to promote the interest and happiness of the native inhabitants of the British dominions in India, and such measures ought to be adopted as may tend to the introduction among them of useful knowledge and of religious and moral improvement : and in furtherance of the above objects, sufficient facilities ought to be afforded by law to persons desirous of going to and remaining in India, for the purpose of accomplishing those benevolent designs, &c." In this clause "religious and moral improve. ment” is as expressly contemplated and provided for as “the introduction of useful knowledge.”. From this, it is clear, that our British legislators were prepared to anticipate any possible changes that might arise from the peaceable inculcation of“ religion and morals,” and to regard these as “ the accomplishment of benevolent designs.” And I think, that all your ingenuity cannot extract from this act any exemption in favour of minors—cannot detect even an insinuation that the teachers of “ religion and morals” are to confine their efforts exclusively to persons above age, or that the attempt to teach persons under age in “ religion and morals” is to be considered a violation of right, a breach of law. In other words, the law of the land evidently does not prohibit the instruction of persons under age in religion and morals—and consequently does not consider such instruction as illegal. For if there be no law to forbid, there can be no law to violate: if there be no right legally conferred, there can be no right illegally infringed upon. I presume, therefore, that with all your skill in the intricacies of law, it would he impossible for you to show, that in communicating religious knowledge to the children of Hindoos, the Missionaries have“ invaded legal rights*."

So much for law. Let me now view the question as it relates to "natural right.” And here in limine, I must candidly acknowledge that I despair of propounding an argument which can command an universal, or even a general, assent. And why? Because so long as the world is agitated amidst conflicting opinions on the subject of religion, so long must large classes of men differ as to the fundamental principles on which the solu. tion of the question must hinge. Still, there must be a right and a wrong somewhere : there must be some mode of treating the subject in which most reasonable men may be ready to acquiesce. It appears to me that at the outset we must pass by that whole class of misguided men who consider all religions as alike inexpedient and alike false ; since, for them to maintain that there are natural rights to teach and support what is pronounced by themselves to be inexpedient or false, were too ridiculous to be imagined. The question must then rest chiefly between those who loosely believe that all religions are alike expedient and alike pleasing in the sight of Heavenand those who believe that all religions are inexpedient, and displeasing to God save one, i. e. Christianity. If the advocates of the former branch of the alternative could establish their position, there would be no great difficulty in admitting, that it seemed to be the ordination of Providence that the people of every country should inherit a natural right to the religious system prevalent amongst them, in the same way as they might be said to enjoy a natural right to the varied products of their respective soils. But this position has never been established to the satisfaction of any number of rational and enlightened men. And to proceed, without far. ther inquiry, to deduce inferences from it as to natural rights, were to build on a baseless assumption--were to resort to a plain begging of the ques tion.” Widely different is the case with those who advocate the latter branch of the above alternative. They proceed on no assumption of the matter in dispute : they have recourse to no “begging of the question." The truth of Christianity having been demonstrated, times and ways without number, to the entire satisfaction of thousands and tens of thou. sands of the most rational and enlightened men that ever lived, its adher. ents have, as they think, an indisputable title to proceed on the admission of its truth. Believing, therefore, as they do, on grounds that have never been invalidated, that Christianity is true, they feel constrained to look

* In a loose way of speaking, it may be said that the father has a legal right. But it is a misapplication of the strict meaning of the term. It is of a negative rather than a positive description. The father has a common liberty to teach what he pleases, not an exclusive monopoly that forbids the intrusion of others vuder pains and penalties. So far as law is concerned, it seems to be a perfect nou-interference. Anesample may still more clearly shew what I mean. In ordinary speech the father may be said to have legal right to clothe his child in what raiment he thinks proper. Should another step in, and, without the knowledge or against the will of the father, strip the youth of his clothes, he might be legally prosecuted by the father. And the case would not be materially altered, even if he had substituted some garments of his own in place of what was taken away. If in like maoner, it be said that the father and none other has a legal right to teach his child religion :- in common parlance the expression might be admitted, but, in strict propriety of language, it would not. And why? Because I find that, should another step in, and without the knowledge or against the will of the father, deprive the child of the faith which the father had inculcated, or even substitute another in its place, he could not be legally prosecuted by the father. Now, had there been a special exclusive right conferred on the father by law, the father could undoubtedly sue the violator of it in a conrt of jnstice. And his not being able to do so, proves the non-existeuce of such a legal right.

upon every other religious system as erroneous, dishonorable to God, and destructive of the happiness of man. To be more specific—they would belie their reason and their conscience, did they not regard Hindooism as a system of error, and, as such, a system which does all that the impotency

[Since the appearance of the above correspondence in the John Bull, I have through the kindness of some legal friends, been put in possession of certain facts that seem to bear on the present question. I have stated that there is no legal statute by which a special exclusive right is conferred on parents to teach what religious sentiments they please to their children. In a general way it may be said that the law is neutral, neither conferring a legal right, nor controlling a supposed natural one. But if at any time it interfered at all, it seems to have done so, not to force the child to submit to the tyranny or caprice of the parent, but to compel the parent to abstain from coer. cing the conscience of the child.

I should have expected that Mr. Clarke, as a lawyer, would have voluntarily made mention of some exceptions to the general power and control which the father is permitted to exercise over the minds and education of his children. If he take the trouble of looking into the 10th volume of Mr. Vesey's Reports, he will find that the Lord Chancellor Eldon, no mean authority on the subject, said, in the case there reported of De Manneville v. De Manneville that, “with reference to religion, this court (the cont of Chancery) had interfered to prevent parents from preaching irreligions doctrines in the presence of their families.” And can he possibly forget the late case in which Mr. Wellesly was deprived of the custody of his children, upon the ground of his immorality, and the danger which existed that his fatherly authority might be exerted to vitiate and demoralize the minds of his children. That a power, therefore, does really exist under the sanction of the British Legislature, to control and put effectual restrictions on the general rights of parents, with the view of promoting the moral and religious wellbeing of the child, cannot well be doubted.

Still farther, I would present to Mr. Clarke's notice the fact, recorded in the constitutional history of England, that two statutes were passed by the legislature at different times, to protect the children of Jews and Papists from the bigotry of their respective parents, upon their renouncing the Catbolic or Jewish faith, in order to embrace the truths of the Protestant system. The first of these was the statute of Ilth and 12th Wm. III. c. 4, which declares its object to be, that the Protestant children of Popish parents “may pot for want of fitting maintenance be necessitated in compliance with their parents to embrace the Popish religion, contrary to their own inclinations.” The other statute is the 1st Anne, c. 30, which professes a similar object; viz. “ that sufficient maintenance be provided and allowed for the children of Jewish parents, who shall be Protestants.

With respect to the first of these acts of Parliament it is worthy of remark, that the British Legislature seriously thought that a child might have an inclination of its own, wholly independent of its parents, towards one religion, in preference to another, though that might be his ancestral faith,--and that this inclination should on no account be forcibly interfered with by the bigoted parents.

Of course, both these statutes clearly recognize the general principle that it is not un. laroful to communicate religious instruction to the mind of a child, even though that instruction should be entirely opposed to the religious system in which the parents conscientiously believed. For how, or by what menns is the child to become a Protestant ? Not, sarely, through the instrumentality of the Popish or Jewish parents, or any other Papists or Jews. How then, could the child be converted to Protestantism ? 'By no means which I can imagine, except through the zealous exertions of Protestant teachers.

The fair logical conclusion therefore, to be drawn from all these premises, is, that the law of England permits a child to exercise the mental powers which God hath bestowed upon it, in forming its own judgment on the subject of its eternal interests—to renounce freely what it discovered to be false, and as freely and fearlessly embrace what it cou. sidered to be the true religion,-and cousequently that the law sanctioned the efforts of those teachers who were einployed in instructing the children, even if the consequence of such instruction should be non-compliance, in matters of religion, with the wishes and commands of earthly parents.

The same conclusion may be formed negatively thus. Had the legislature for a moment conceived the idea that it was a violation of existing legal rights, i. e. a crime to instrnct a child in a religious system different from that in which the parents conscientiously believed, what ought to have been its regular procedure? Would it not have been pecessary, in passing the above-mentioned statutes, to repeal the pre-existing law-to withdraw the pre-existing rights ? Most undoubtedly. And its passing the said statutes of human contrivance can achieve to undeify the Deity, and all that the malice of the “powers of darkness” can devise to infatuate and ruin man. Accordingly, they must deny, absolutely and without reserve, the existence of any natural right to teach and perpetuate a system of falsehood and delusion so loathsome and deadly. For who has the power of conferring a natural right? The very expression imports that this is the sole and inalienable prerogative of the Great Author of Nature. One step more leads to the unanswerable query : Is it possible—is it for a moment to be conceived, that the God of Truth, the pure and the holy God, who cannot look upon sin but with abhorrence, could have conferred on any of his creatures a natural right to inculcate Hindooism, i. e. to impart the knowledge of a system of hideous error,--that, by so doing, he could have enforced, by the sanction of omniscience and the thunders of omnipotence, the exercise of a privilege to insult the Majesty of Heaven, to violate his laws, and cover his subjects with confusion, shame, and everlasting dismay? In the solemnity of Apostolic language, I exclaim, “God forbid.” Pause, then, Sir, I beseech you, if you are a sincere Christian, ere, in your ignorant and misdirected zeal for the pretended rights of man, you seriously entertain a sentiment, which, in its principle, is so derogatory to the God of heaven, withont the slightest reference to pre-existing laws and rights, proves incontrovertibly the non-existence of both. Again, had the legislature supposed that it was a crime to teach a child a religion different from that of its parents, what might we expect its procedure to have been, more especially towards Papists? At a time when the utmost anxiety was manifested by it to swell the ranks of the Protestant party and to diminish those of the Popish,- at a time too, when acts were crowded npon acts to regulate and control the natural and civil rights of all who adhered to the Popish interests,-at such a time, might we not have reasonably expected that a special statute should be enacted investing Protestant teachers with an express legal authority to instruct the children of Papists? And the non-bestowment of such authority proves incontestibly that the legisJature did not think it requisite, i.e. did not once entertain the idea, that there were any legal rights that could be riolated by efforts to instruct children in a religious system different from that of their parents.

And it cannot for a moment be snpposed that those who prospectively provided for "the maintenance of the children who should turn Protestants," would have forgotten to protect, if protection had been necessary, the instruments through whom the change of religion was to be effected. But no legal enactment was thought necessary for this purpose. In a civilized and Christian country, a doctrine so inimical to the spirit of our laws and of our religion as this, viz, that we are not to inculcate, in the minds of children, pure notions of moral and religions obligation, because their parents happen to be blinded by ignorance and superstition, could not well have been anticipated. Such a doctrine, however, strange thongh it may appear, has actually been broached in a more enlightened era, though certainly not in a more enlightened country, in the 19th century.

It is not possible that any question can arise as to the meaning of the expression “chil. dren,” used in the preamble of the statutes already referred to. In the enacting part of the first of them, it is ordered, that “the maintenance shall be suitable to the degree and ability of such parent, and to the age and education of such child,clearly shew. ing that the term child was used as descriptive of the age of the son or daughter of the Papist, and not merely as descriptive of his own issue. The maintenance also was intended to provide for the education of the child, which would have been an unnecessary provision in the case of an adult.

Before dismissing the subject of law, it may not be unseasonable to mention that by the British law, a male at 12 years of age may take the oath of allegiance to the king. But we are now told that a boy above 14 years of age has not sufficient discretion to be allowed to choose whether he will serve the great God, or idols of wood and stone, or to declare whether he shall yield ohedience to that which is pronounced to be nothing" in the world, or be faithful and bear true allegiance to the “King of kings !" Add to make the case still more strange, it is expressly declared by Mr. Justice Blackstone that a boy "at 14 is at years of discretion, and therefore may consent or disagree to marriage*."]

• Black. Com. 463.

« ZurückWeiter »