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From the Christian Observer. Conducted by Members of the Established Church of England.
FOUR YEARS IN FRANCE.*
UNKNOWN injury has been done to the cause of Christianity, by a system of interpretation which might be called the dilution of meanings. According to this scheme, an escape from one form of irreligion to another, under the shelter also of such words as conscience and conviction, is frequently dignified by the name of CONVERSION. Ceremonies, opinions, connexions, localities, all things may be changed, except the heart and the life; and these remain as they were. The changeling was once a Protestant, and he is now a Romanist; or, two years since, he wrote in defence of the Council of Trent; but, yesterday, appeared his apology for Cranmer, in reply to Mr. Hallam, or the Edinburgh Reviewer; or, if he occupied a plebeian station in society, he no longer buries himself in debauch at the Pope's Arms, but staggers home every evening from the Luther's Head. "I obtest," says the author before us, "against all revolutions: change of forms and names, and, generally speaking, of persons even, does not always produce a change of principles, or of conduct." Of this obtestation, his own volume is a vivid but undesigned illustration. Its writer has told us all his secrets; and even if many of them had been withheld, we might easily have guessed at them from what are unfolded.
The convert was an English clergyman, educated at Magdalen College, Oxford; and who, about thirty years ago, deserted to the Latin church. The whole account of his "conversion" indicates nothing beyond the mutation of a theory. We cannot discern what spiritual and practical knowledge of Christianity he possessed, while among ourselves; neither what he gained, by crossing over to another party. There is the same indefiniteness, and the same absorption in little questions, which is found in every tale of superficial conversion; so that if the story proceeded no farther than the detail of his own
* Four Years in France; or, Narrative of an English Family's Residence there, during that Period; preceded by some Account of the Conversion of the Author to the Catholic Faith. London.
case, it would be exceedingly unimportant and nugatory; but he has interwoven, with the account of his residence in France, a report of the life and death of his son. To this portion of the book our remarks shall be chiefly confined; with the intent to prove, from a most unexceptionable witness, the poverty and hollowness of that system of religion, which our convert either framed himself from the materials furnished by his new friends, or received from their hands as the ready-made form of their Christianity. the author's son, appears to have been, from his earlier days, a youth of more than ordinary seriousness and amiableness of character. His conscience discovered signs of extreme tenderness; and he was thoughtful to a degree which indicated a mind rising above the usual delusions of the schoolboy age. He was an example of the remark in the Tirocinium of Cowper :
Henry Kenelm B
In early days the conscience has in most A quickness, which in later life is lost; Preserv'd from guilt by salutary fears, Or, guilty, soon relenting into tears.
In this promising soil, prepared, we might say, by Divine culture, had his instructors dropped seed, gathered as it were from the tree of life, what plants of celestial growth might have thrived and ripened! But the opening prospect was darkened. He was melancholy; and his heaviness was ultimately relieved by what we must consider to be the consolations of falsehood-by the delusions of self-satisfaction; and offered to him by the very persons who ought to have sympathized with his feelings, and to have administered the genuine hopes of the Gospel. His father writes:
"Something remained behind, a reserve, a sadness even, which I entreated him to account for. He gave me his full confidence ; and I learned, with very great sorrow, that, for the last eighteen months of his stay in college (Stoneyhurst,) his mind had been a prey to scruples. This 'pious awe, and fear to have offended,' carried to excess through inexperience and a want of due apprehension that it is by the will only that we offend, had destroyed his gaiety, retarded his improvement, and doubtlessly much injured his health.
"I asked him, What advice did your di rector give you?'-' None.'-' Any other superior? None.' Yet his state was
evident: he joined in no play; he did not seek the company of his brother. Alone, or with one or two companions, he employed the time allowed for play in walking up and down, indulging the workings of his own mind. I regretted that I had not taken him home when he requested, after his illness: I regretted that, instead of taking his brother to college, à measure so inefficient for his consolation, I had not come to France a twelvemonth sooner; I regretted the time lost, and the time that was still to be lost in regaining it. But Kenelm's mind was now at ease; feelings, originating probably in a weak state of health, and continued only through want of good counsel and sympathy, were at an end, when he found himself with those whom he loved, by whom he was beloved: his understanding was too clear for him to persevere either in inadequate notions of the Divine goodness, or in false judgments respecting duty.
Scruples are, by no means, of the nature of religious melancholy; they are not inconsistent with the Christian grace of hope: they suppose innocence; for the sinner may be hardened, may be penitent, may be wavering, but cannot properly be said to be scrupulous: scruples not only preserve from sin, but have also the good effect (the gift of Divine mercy,) of purging the heart from all affection to sin, as was manifested in the future life of Kenelm. "Yet this fear, the beginning of wisdom,' acting on an ill-informed conscience, is hurtful, as it indisposes to a cheerful energetic performance of duty. I said to Kenelm, 'If there are beings (and we are told that such there are,) who are interested that man should do ill, they could by no other means so effectually obtain their purpose as by fixing our attention on that by which we may offend.' A priest, whom I had known in England during his emigration, and whom I had the advantage of meeting again at Paris; a man whose sanctity inspired Kenelm with respect and confidence, said to him, 'Unless you shall be as sure that you have offended God in the way in which you apprehend, as you would be sure of having committed murder, I forbid you to mention it even to me in confession.' I will own that the vigour and prudence united in this counsel struck me with awe. The saints are men of great minds: philosophers are mistaken in thinking them fools."-pp. 281-284.
It cannot, surely, be necessary to bring further evidence of what we have termed the poverty and hollowness of the convert's adopted scheme of Revelation. Here is a young man oppressed by a certain solemnity of feeling, so burdensome as to make him solitary in a crowd of joyous companions; neglected by his director, and evidently suspecting that there was more in religion than usually developed itself among mankind; the child also of a parent who professed to have so narrowly examined the pretensions of two Christian communions, as to have made a deliberate election between them, and yet, by that same parent, discouraged from a closer investigation of his spiritual state; and soothed into self-complacency, by a metaphysical assurance about the will! Had the subsequent part of the narrativa informed us, that Kenelm had afterwards
-Four Years in France.
wandered into all the frivolities of the world, his early seriousness might have been regarded as nothing better than a scruple, in its lowest and most unspiritual sense. But this was not the case. He was always sedate and sober-minded; and the inference is, that his melancholy hours at Stoneyhurst might partake of what the church which our author deserted calls the "sighings of a contrite heart, and the desires of such as be sorrowful.' But observe our convert's doctrine on the powers of the human understanding; the indication of innocence by scruples; and the purifying efficacy of these scruples, in releasing "the heart from all affection to sin.' Then, beyond this deep of ignorance, we are called to stand on the brink of a lower abyss. A priest, of eminent "sanctity," forbids Kenelm to go beyond a certain limit in confession; and this treacherous counsellor is venerated by his father as a saint of a great mind, one who soared beyond the highest range of philosophy. We should have calculated, that had this young man become acquainted, at such a crisis of his spiritual life, with a really enlightened Christian, his instructor would have hailed the appearance of what was, possibly and probably, the remembrance of his Creator in the days of youth, the apprehension of a soul, awakening to eternal realities, oppressed by a sense of human guilt and misery, and conscious of its liability to wrath and final condemnation; unless delivered from the dread of a hereafter, by a process of safety quite distinct from its own energy and merits. There was enough, even in the devotional formalities at Stoneyhurst, to excite, in the bosom of inexperience itself, a suspicion of its own deficiencies. We cannot avoid feeling what a contrast to the repulse given to this interesting youth, would be the compassionate and gentle sympathy shown, in similar circumstances, by a wise and faithful director. But Kenelm was repelled; and if, as we humbly trust, he ultimately obtained a place in heaven, he was not, alas! assisted in his journey thither, by these admonitions of an ecclesiastic and a parent.
The course of the convert's narrative brings us, at length, to the death-bed side of this amiable and conscientious young man who was
sore let and hindered," in his early aspirations after holiness, by the delusions of the church in which he was educated. In the twenty-first year of his age he sickened of a typhus fever; and, as it supervened, the melancholy feelings of a former period again oppressed him. His father thus describes the circumstance:
"He said his scruples, such as he had combated and surmounted three years before, had returned and had distressed him of late, beginning from a time to which he referred; since which time, and, as he believed, from the efforts he had made, he had suffered from a head-ache and pains in his chest and limbs. Not aware that an illness was at hand which would account for the sensations of which he complained without reference to any mental uneasiness, I endeavoured by reproaches and praises to restore his tranquillity. You are indebted for your head-ache and other pains to allowing your mind to dwell on useless and groundless apprehensions. Cheerfulness, hope,