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advert to those less prejudiced and less hostile writers, who having, as I would hope, no political nor moral motive for undermining the order, would rather desire to be considered as among its friends
"I understand you," replied Mr. Stanley, "I believe that this is often done not from any disrespect to the sacred function, not from any wish to depreciate an order which even common sense and common prudence, without the intervention of reli gion, tell us, cannot be set in too respectable a light. I believe it commonly arises from a different cause. The writer himself having but a low idea of the requirements of Christianity, is consequently neither able nor willing to affix a very elevated standard for the character of its ministers. Some of these writers, however, describe a clergyman in general terms, as a paragon of piety, but they seldom make him act up to the description with which he sets out. He is represented, in the gross, as adorned with all the attributes of perfection, but when he comes to be drawn out in detail he is found to exhibit little of that superiority which had been ascribed to him in the lump. You are told how religious he is,, but when you come to hear him converse you are not always quite certain whether he professes the religion of the Shaster or the Bible. You hear of his moral excellence, but you find him adopting the maxims of the world, and living in the pursuits of ordinary men. In short, you will find that he has little of a clergyman, except the name."
"A sensible little work of fiction," replied I, "lately fell in my way. Among its characters was that of a grave divine.
From the strain of
panegyric bestowed on him, I expected to have met with a rival to the fathers of the primitive church. He is presented as a model, and, indeed, he counsels, he exhorts, he reproves, he intructs, -but he goes to a masquerade."
"This assimilation of general piety," said Mr. Stanley, "with occasional conformity to the practice of the gay world, I should fear would produce two ill effects. It will lower the professional standard to the young reader while he is perusing the ideal character, and the comparison will dispose him to accuse of forbidding strictness the pious clergyman of real life. After having been entertained with the mixture of religion and laxity in the imaginary divine whom he has been following from the serious lecture to the scene of revelry, will he not be naturally disposed to accuse of moroseness the existing divine who blends no such contradictions?
"But the evil of which I more particularly complain," continued he, "because it exists in works universally read, and written, indeed, with a life and spirit which make them both admired and remembered, is found in the ingenious and popular novels of the witty class. In some of these, even where the author intends to give a favorable representation of a clergyman, he more frequently exhibits him for the purpose of merriment than for that of instruction."
"I confess with shame," said Sir John, "that the spirit, fire, and knowledge of mankind, of the writers to whom you allude, have made me too generally indulgent to their gross pictures of life, and to the loose morals of their good men."
"Good men !" said Mr. Stanley.
"After reading some of those works in the early part of my life, I amused myself with the idea that I should like to interweave the Character of a Christian among the heroes of Fielding and Smollet as the shortest way of proving their good men to be worthless fellows; and to shew how little their admired characters rise, in point of morals, above the heroes of the Beggar's opera.
Knowledge of the world," continued he, "should always be used to mend the world. A writer employs this knowledge honestly when he points out the snares and pitfalls of vice. But when he covers those snares and pitfalls with flowers, when he fascinates in order that he may corrupt, when he engages the affections by polluting them, I know not how a man can do a deeper injury to society, or more fatally inflame his own future reckoning."
"But to return to our more immediate subject," said I, "I cannot relish their singling out the person of a pious clergyman as a peculiarly proper vehicle for the display of humour. Why qualities which excite ridicule should be necessarily blended with such as command esteem, is what I have: never been able to comprehend."
"Even where the characters," replied Mr. Stanley, "have been so pleasingly delineated as to attract affection by their worth and benevolence, there is always a drawback from their respectability by some trait that is ludicrous, some situation that is unclerical, some incident that is absurd. There is a contrivance to expose them to some awkward distress; there is some palpable weak
ness to undo the effect of their general example, some impropriety of conduct, some gross error in judgment, some excess of simplicity, which, by infallibly diminishing the dignity, weakens the influence of the character, and of course lessens the veneration of the reader."
"I have often," replied I, "felt that though we may love the man we laugh at, we shall never reverence him. We may like him as a companion, but we shall never look up to him as an instructor."
"I know no reason," observed Mr. Stanley, "why a pious divine may not have as much wit and humour as any other man. And we have it on the word of the wittiest of the whole body, Dr. South, that "piety does not necessarily involve dullness." An author may lawfully make his churchman as witty as he pleases, or rather as witty as he can but he should never make him the butt of the wit of other men, which is, in fact, making him the butt of his own wit. What is meant to be a comical parson is no respectable or prudent exhibition; nor with the utmost stretch of candour, can I believe that the motive of the exhibitor is always of the pursest kind.
"How far," continued Mr. Stanley, "authors have found it necessary to add these diverting appendages in order to qualify piety, how far they have been obliged to dilute religion, so as to make it palatable and pardonable, I will not pretend to decide. But whether such a mixture be not calculated to leave a lasting effect on the mind, unfavorable to the clerical character; whether these associations are not injurious even to religion itself,
let those declare, if they will speak honestly, who have been accustomed to be excessively delighted with such combinations."
"I am a little afraid," returned Sir John, "that I have formerly in some degree fallen under this But surely, Stanley, you would not think it right to lavish undue praise, even on characters of a better stamp; you would not commend ordinary merit highly, and above all, you would not I presume, screen the faults of the worthless?"
"I am as far from insisting," replied he, "on the universal piety of the Clergy, as for bespeaking reverence for the unworthy individual; all that I contend for is, that no arts should ever be employed to discredit the order. The abettors of revolutionary principles, a few years ago, had the acuteness to perceive, that so to discredit it was one of their most powerful engines. Had not that spirit been providentially extinguished, they would have done more mischief to religion by their artful mode of introducing degrading pictures of our national instructors, in their popular tracts, than the Hobbes's and the Bolingbrokes had done by blending irreligion with their philosophy, or the Voltaires and the Gibbons by interweaving it into their history. Whatever is mixed up with our amusements is swallowed with more danger because with more pleasure, and less suspicion than any thing which comes under a graver name and more serious shape.”
"I presume," said Sir John, "you do not mean to involve in your censure the exquisitely keen satires of Erasmus on the ecclesiastics of his day : and I remember that you yourself could never