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miracles and prophecies, while it had the peculiar attraction of being
preached mainly by young women. Instinctive impulses were regarded as
revelations from the spirit-land, but not considered infallible except
by the very superstitious. The highest authority of an intelligent
Spiritualist has usually been his own individual intuition. Some of
the earliest lectures on that platform had little faith in anything but
science, and put their main strength into announcing those revelations
of geology which have dethroned Genesis. One of the first teachers of
evolution in America was a Spiritualist named Denton, who held a public
debate in Ohio, in 1858, when he defended the theory of man's gradual
development from lower animals against a preacher named Garfield, who
became President of the United States. Some eminent scientists have
become converts to Spiritualism; but its general literature has shown
little influence from scientific methods of thought.

The advocates of the new religion have owed much of their success to
impassioned eloquence. Opposition to Christianity has been expressed
boldly and frequently. Girls of seventeen have declared, before large
audiences, that all the creeds and ceremonies of the churches are mere
idolatry. Among the earliest communications which were published as
dictated by angels in the new dispensation were denials of the miracles
of Jesus, and denunciations of the clergy as "the deadliest foes of
progress." An eminent Unitarian divine declared in 1856, that "the
doctrines professedly revealed by a majority of the spirits, whose
words we have seen quoted, are at open war with the New Testament."
Some moderate Spiritualists have kept in friendly relations with liberal
churches; but many others have been in active co-operation with the most
aggressive of unbelievers in religion. The speakers at the Spiritualist
anniversary in 1897 said to one another, "You and I are Christs, just
as Jesus was," and claimed plainly that "our religion" was distinct from
every "Christian denomination." Spiritualists have all, I think, been in
favour of woman suffrage; and the majority were abolitionists. Some
of Garrison's companions, however, deserted in the heat of the battle,
saying that there was nothing more to do, for the spirits would free
the slaves. Anti-slavery lecturers in the North-west found themselves
crowded out of halls and school-houses by trance-speakers and mediums.
One of the most eminent of converts made by the latter, Judge Edmonds,
was prominent among the defenders of slavery in the free States.

Freedom from any definite creed or rigid code of morality joined with
the constant supply of ever-varying miracles in attracting converts.
Those in the United States were soon estimated in millions. Spiritualism
swept over Great Britain so rapidly that it was declared by the
_Westminster Review_ to give quite as much promise as Christianity had
done, at the same age, of becoming a universal religion. No impartial
observer expects that now. Believers are still to be found in all parts
of Europe and South America, and they are especially numerous in the
United States. Proselytes do not seem to be coming in anywhere very
thickly; and the number of intelligent men and women who have renounced
Spiritualism, after a brief trial, is known to be large. The new
religion has followed the old ones into the policy of standing on the
defensive.

One instance of this is the opposition to investigation. A Mediums'
National Defence Association was in open operation before 1890. A
leading Spiritualist paper suggested in 1876, that the would-be inquirer
should be "tied securely hand and foot, and placed in a strong iron
cage, with a rope or small chain put tightly about his neck, and
fastened to an iron ring in the wall." Early in 1897, some young men
who claimed to have exposed an impostor, before a large audience in the
Spiritualist Temple in Boston, were prosecuted by his admirers on the
charge of having disturbed public worship.

V. During the last quarter of the century, free love has been much
less prominent than before in Spiritualistic teachings; but the
only Americans who were able to proclaim liberty without encouraging
self-indulgence, prior to 1870, were the logical and scholarly
Transcendentalists. Theodore Parker, for instance, is to be reckoned
among the followers of Hegel rather than of Schelling; for he tried by
hard study and deep thought to build up a consistent system of religion
and morality by making deductions from a few central principles which he
revered as great primary intuitions, held always and everywhere sacred.
His faith in his ideas of God, duty, and immortality was very firm; and
he did his best to live and think accordingly. He began to preach in
1836, the year of the publication of Emerson's first book, but soon
found his work hindered by an idolatry of the Bible, then prevalent even
among Unitarians. Familiarity with German scholarship enabled him to
teach his people to think rationally.

His brethren in the Unitarian ministry were alarmed; and a sermon
which he preached in Boston against the mediatorship of Jesus made it
impossible for him to occupy an influential pulpit. The lectures which
he delivered that year in a hall in the city, and published in 1842,
won the support of many seekers for a new religion. They voted that he
should "have a chance to be heard in Boston"; and on February 16, 1845,
he preached in a large hall to what soon became a permanent and famous
congregation.

Thither, as Parker said, he "came to build up piety and morality; to
pull down only what cumbered the ground." His main purpose to the last
was to teach "the naturalness of religion," "the adequacy of man for
his functions" without priestly aid, and, most important of all, that
superiority of the real Deity to the pictures drawn in the orthodox
creeds, which Parker called "the infinite perfection of God." He was
singularly successful in awakening the spirit of religion in men who
were living without it, but the plainness with which he stated his
faith, in sermons which had a large circulation, called out many
attacks. Prayers were publicly offered up in Boston, asking that the
Lord would "put a hook in this man's jaws, so that he may not be able to
preach, or else remove him out of the way and let his influence die with
him." No controversy hindered his labouring systematically for the moral
improvement of his hearers, who sometimes amounted to three thousand.
His sermons are full of definite appeals for self-control and
self-culture; and his personal interest in every individual who could
be helped was so active that he soon had seven thousand names on his
pastoral visiting list. Appeals for advice came from strangers at a
distance, and were never neglected.

Not one of the great national sins, however popular, escaped his severe
rebuke; and he became prominent as early as 1845 among the preachers
against slavery. He was active in many ways as an abolitionist, but was
not a disunionist. He seldom quitted his pulpit without speaking for the
slave; and every phase of the anti-slavery movement is illustrated in
his published works. Pro-slavery politicians were as bitter as orthodox
clergymen against him; and he describes himself as "continually fired
upon for many years from the barroom and pulpit." His resistance to the
Fugitive Slave Law caused him to be arrested and prosecuted, in company
with Wendell Phillips, by the officials of the national Government.

Desire to awaken the people to the danger that lay in the growth of the
national sin made him begin to lecture in 1844. Invitations flowed in
freely; and he said, after he had broken down under the joint burden
of overwork and of exposure in travelling: "Since 1848, I have lectured
eighty or a hundred times each year, in every Northern State east of the
Mississippi, - once also in a slave State and on slavery itself."
This was his favourite subject, but he never missed an opportunity of
encouraging intellectual independence; and he found he could say what he
pleased. The total number of hearers exceeded half a million; among them
were the most influential men in the North; and he never failed to make
himself understood. No one else did so much to develop that love of the
people for Union and Liberty which secured emancipation. His works have
no such brilliancy as Emerson's; but they burned at the time of need
with a much more warm and steady light. No words did more to melt the
chains of millions of slaves. No excess of individualism made him shrink
back, like Emerson, from joining the abolitionists; or discredit them,
as Thoreau did, by publicly renouncing his allegiance to Massachusetts
in 1854, when that State stood foremost on the side of freedom.

The account of a solitary life in the woods, which Thoreau published
that year, has done much to encourage independence of public opinion;
and Americans of that generation needed sadly to be told that they took
too little amusement, especially out of doors, and made too great haste
to get rich. Their history, however, like that of the Swiss, Scotch,
and ancient Athenians, proves that it is the industrious, enterprising,
money-making nations that are best fitted for maintaining free
institutions. As for individual independence of thought and action,
the average man will enjoy much more of it, while he keeps himself in
comfortable circumstances by regular but not excessive work, than he
could if he were to follow the advice of an author who prided himself
on not working more than "about six weeks in a year," and on enduring
privations which apparently shortened his days.

Thoreau's self-denial was heroic; but he sometimes failed to see the
right of his neighbours to indulge more expensive tastes than his own.
The necessary conditions of health and comfort for different individuals
vary much more than he realised. Many a would-be reformer still
complains of the "luxury" of people who find physical rest or mental
culture in innocent ways, not particularly to his own fancy. Such
censures are really intolerant. They are survivals of that meddlesome
disposition which has sadly restricted freedom of trade, amusement, and
worship.

We have had only one Emerson; but many scholarly Transcendentalists have
laboured to construct the new morality needed in the nineteenth
century. Parker's work has peculiar interest, because done in a terrible
emergency; but others have toiled as profitably though less famously.
The search after fundamental intuitions has led to a curious variety of
statements which agree only in the assumption of infallibility; but the
result has been the general agreement of liberal preachers in teaching a
system of ethics at once free from superstition, bigotry, or asceticism,
and at the same time vigorous enough to repress impure desire and
encourage active philanthropy. Theology has improved in liberality, as
well as in claiming less prominence. Thus the clergy have come into much
more friendly relations with the philosophers than in the middle of the
century. Our popular preachers quote Emerson; but really they follow,
though often unconsciously, the methods of Hegel and Kant. This
increases their sympathy with Parker, who has the advantage over Emerson
of having believed strongly in personal immortality. His works are
circulated by the very denomination which cast him out. The most popular
preachers in many sects openly accept him and Emerson among their
highest authorities. Transcendentalism has become the foundation of
liberal Christianity.

This agreement is not, however, necessary and may not be permanent.
Hegel's great success was in bringing forward the old dogmas with new
claims to infallibility. When some of his disciples showed that his
methods were equally well adapted for the destruction of orthodoxy,
Schelling gave his last lectures in its defence. The singular fitness
of traditions for acceptance as intuitions has been proved, late in the
century, by the Rev. Joseph Cook in Boston as well as by many speakers
at the Concord School of Philosophy. The reactionary tendency is already
so strong that it may yet become predominant. We must not forget that
Shelley called himself an atheist, or that among Hegel's most famous
followers were Strauss and Renan. Who can say whether unbelief,
orthodoxy, or liberal Christianity is the legitimate outcome of this
ubiquitous philosophy?

Transcendentalism has been the inspiration of the century. Its influence
has been mighty in behalf of political liberty and social progress. But
there was no inconsistency in Hegel's opposing the education of women,
and denying the possibility of a great republic, or in Carlyle's
defending absolute monarchy and chattel slavery, or in Parker's
successor in Boston trying to justify the Russian despotism.
Transcendentalism is a swivel-gun, which can be fired easily in any
direction. Perhaps it can be used most easily against science. The
difference in methods, of course, is irreconcilable, as is seen in
Emerson; and the brilliant results attained by Herbert Spencer have been
sadly disparaged by leading Transcendentalists in the conventions of the
Free Religious Association, as well as in sessions of the Concord School
of Philosophy.

VI. The necessary tendency of Transcendentalism may be seen in the
agitation against vivisection, which was begun in 1863 by Miss Cobbe.
She was aided by Carlyle, Browning, Ruskin, Lecky, Mar-tineau, and other
Transcendentalists, one of whom, Rev. W. H. Channing, had been prominent
in America about 1850. Most of the active anti-vivisectionists, however,
belong to the sex which has been peculiarly ready to adopt unscientific
methods of thought. It is largely due to women with a taste for
metaphysics or theology that the agitation still goes on in Great
Britain and the United States.

Attempts ought certainly to be made to prevent torture of animals by
inexperienced students, or by teachers who merely wish to illustrate
the working of well-known laws. There ought to be little difficulty
in securing the universal adoption of such statutes as were passed by
Parliament in 1876. Vivisection was then forbidden, except when carried
out for the purpose of important discoveries, by competent investigators
duly licensed, and in regular laboratories. It was further required that
complete protection against suffering pain be given by anaesthetics,
though these last could be dispensed with in exceptional cases covered
by a special license.

The animal must at all events be killed as soon as the experiment was
over. This law actually put a stop to attempts to find some antidote
to the poison of the cobra, which slays thousands of Hindoos annually.
Professor Ferrier, who was discovering the real functions of various
parts of the brain, was prosecuted in 1881 by the Anti-Vivisection
Society for operating without a license upon monkeys; but the charge
turned out to be false.

The real question since 1876 has been as to whether vivisection should
be tolerated as an aid to scientific and medical discovery. Darwin's
opinion on this point is all the more valuable, because he hated all
cruelty to animals. In April, 1881, he wrote to _The Times_ as follows:

"I know that physiology cannot possibly progress except by means of
experiments on living animals; and I feel the deepest conviction that
he who retards the progress of physiology commits a crime against
mankind.... No one, unless he is grossly ignorant of what science has
done for mankind, can entertain any doubt of the incalculable benefits
which will hereafter be derived from physiology, not only by man but by
the lower animals. Look, for instance, at Pasteur's results in modifying
the germs of the most malignant diseases, from which, as it so happens,
animals will in the first place receive more relief than man. Let it be
remembered how many lives, and what a fearful amount of suffering,
have been saved by the knowledge gained of parasitic worms, through the
experiments of Virchow and others upon living animals."

Another high authority, Carpenter, says that vivisection has greatly
aided physicians in curing heart disease, as well as in preventing
blood-poisoning by taking antiseptic precautions. Much has been learned
as to the value of hypodermic injections, and also of bromide of
potassium, chloral, salicylic acid, cocaine, amyl, digitalis, and
strychnia. Some of these drugs are so poisonous that they would never
have been administered to human beings if they could not have been
tried previously on the lower animals. The experiments in question have
recently assisted in curing yellow fever, sunstroke, diabetes, epilepsy,
erysipelas, cholera, consumption, and trichinosis. The German professors
of medicine testified in a body that vivisection has regenerated the
healing art. Similar testimony was given in 1881 by the three thousand
members of the International Medical Congress; and the British Medical
Association has taken the same position.

The facts are so plain that an English judge, who was a vice-president
of Miss Cobbe's society, admitted that "vivisection enlarges knowledge";
but he condemned it as ''displeasing to Almighty God.'' It was said to
go "hand in hand with atheism"; and several of the Episcopalian bishops,
together with Cardinal Manning, opposed it as irreligious.

Transcendentalists are compelled by their philosophy to decide on the
morality of all actions solely by the inner light, and not permitted to
pay any attention to consequences. Many of them in England and America
agreed to demand the total suppression of vivisection, "even should it
chance to prove useful." This ground was taken in 1877 by Miss Cobbe's
society; and she declared, five years later, in _The Fortnightly_,
that she was determined "to stop the torture of animals, a grave moral
offence, with the consequences of which - be they fortunate or the
reverse - we are no more concerned than with those of any other evil
deed." Later she said: "Into controversies concerning the utility of
vivisection, I for one refuse to enter"; and she published a leaflet
advising her sisters to follow her example. Ruskin took the same ground.
These hasty enthusiasts were equally indifferent to another fact, which
ought not to have been overlooked, namely, that suffering was usually
prevented by the use of anaesthetics, which are indispensable for the
success of many experiments. The bill for prohibiting any vivisection
was brought into the House of Lords in 1879; But was opposed by a
nobleman who presided over the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals; and it was lost by 16 votes against 97. The House of Commons
refused even to take action on the subject, despite four years of
agitation. Thus the right of scientific research was finally secured.

Miss Cobbe was one of the noblest of women; but even she was made blind
by her philosophy to the right of people who prefer scientific methods
to act up to their convictions. Garrison, too, was notoriously unable to
do justice to anyone, even an abolitionist, who did not agree with
him. There is nothing in Transcendentalism to prevent intolerance. This
philosophy has done immense service to the philanthropy as well as the
poetry of the nineteenth century; but human liberty will gain by the
discovery that no such system of metaphysics can be anything better than
a temporary bridge for passing out of the swamps of superstition, across
the deep and furious torrent of scepticism, into a land of healthy
happiness and clear, steady light.




CHAPTER VI. PLATFORM VERSUS PULPIT

DURING the nineteenth century the authority of preachers and pastors has
diminished plainly; and this is largely due to a fact of which Emerson
spoke thus: "We should not forgive the clergy for taking on every issue
the immoral side." This was true in England, where the great reforms
were achieved for the benefit of the masses, and against the interest of
the class to which most clergymen belonged. The American pastor seldom
differed from his parishioners, unless he was more philanthropic. He
was usually in favour of the agitation against drunkenness; and he had
a right to say that the disunionism of Phillips and Garrison, together
with their systematically repelling sympathy in the South, went far to
offset their claim for his support. It was difficult, during many years,
to see what ought to be done in the North. When a practical issue was
made by the attack on Kansas, the clergy took the side of freedom almost
unanimously in New England, and quite generally in rural districts
throughout the free States. The indifference of the ministers to
abolitionism, before 1854, was partly due, however, to their almost
universal opposition to a kindred reform, which they might easily have
helped.

I. It was before Garrison began his agitation that Frances Wright
denounced the clergy for hindering the intellectual emancipation of her
sex; and her first ally was not _The Liberator_, but _The Investigatory_
though both began almost simultaneously. She pleaded powerfully for the
rights of slaves, as well as of married women, before large audiences
in the middle States as early as 1836, when these reforms were also
advocated by Mrs. Ernestine L. Rose, a liberal Jewess. These ladies
spoke to men as well as women; and so next summer did Miss Angelina
Grimké, whose zeal against slavery had lost her her home in South
Carolina. Her first public lecture was in Massachusetts; and the
Congregationalist ministers of that State promptly issued a declaration
that they had a right to say who should speak to their parishioners, and
that the New Testament forbade any woman to become a "public reformer."
Their action called out the spirited poem in which Whittier said:

"What marvel if the people learn
To claim the right of free opinion?
What marvel if at times they spurn
The ancient yoke of your dominion?"

Garrison now came out in favour of "the rights of women," and thus
lost much of the support which he was receiving from the country clergy
generally in New England. The final breach was in May, 1840, at the
meeting of the National Association of Abolitionists in New York City.
There came Garrison with more than five hundred followers from New
England. They gained by a close vote a place on the business committee
for that noble woman, Abby Kelley. Ministers and church members seceded
and started a new anti-slavery society, which carried away most of the
members and even the officers of the old one. The quarrel was embittered
by the vote of censure, passed at this meeting upon those abolitionists
who had dared to nominate a candidate of their own for the presidency
without leave from Mr. Garrison; but the chief trouble came from the
prejudice which, that same summer, caused most of the members of the
World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London, to refuse places to Harriet
Martineau and other ladies as delegates. This exclusion was favoured
by all the eight clergymen who spoke, and by no other speakers so
earnestly. Among the rejected delegates were Mrs. Lucretia Mott and
Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton; and they resolved, that night, to hold a
convention for the benefit of their sex in America.

The volume of essays which Emerson published in 1844 praised "the new
chivalry in behalf of woman's rights"; and the other Transcendentalists
in America came, one after another, to the same position. Mrs. Stanton
and Mrs. Mott called their convention in that year of revolutions, 1848,
on July 19th. The place was the Methodist church at Seneca Falls, in
central New York. The reformers found the door locked against them;
and a little boy had to climb in at the window. The Declaration of
Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776, furnished a model for a protest
against the exclusion of girls from high schools and colleges, the
closing of almost every remunerative employment against the sex, and the
laws forbidding a married woman to own any property, whether earned or
inherited by her, even her own clothing. This declaration was adopted
unanimously; but a demand for the suffrage had only a small majority.
Not a single minister is known to have been present; but there were two
at a second convention, that August, in Rochester, where the Unitarian
church was full of men and women.

There were more than twenty-five thousand ministers in the United
States; but only three are mentioned among the members of the national
convention, held at Worcester, Massachusetts, in October, 1850, by
delegates from eleven States. As Phillips was returning from this


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Online LibraryFrederic May HollandLiberty in the nineteenth century → online text (page 10 of 16)