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read without delight the pointed wit of Boileau against the spiritual voluptuaries of his time, in his admirable Lutrin. Perhaps you are not disposed to give the same quarter to the pleasant ridicule of Le Sage?"
"We justify ourselves as good protestants," rejoined Mr. Stanley, "for pardoning the severe but just attacks of the reformer and the poet on the vices of a corrupt church. Though, to speak the truth, I am not quite certain that even these two discriminating and virtuous authors did not, especially Erasmus, now and then indulge themselves in a sharpness which seemed to bear upon religion itself, and not merely on the luxury and idleness of its degenerate ministers. As to Le Sage, who, with all his wit, I should never have thought of bringing into such good company, he was certainly with held by no restraints either moral or reli gious. And it is obvious to me, that he seems rather gratified, that he had the faults to expose, than actuated by an honest zeal, by exposing to correct them."
"I wish I could say," replied Sir John, "that the Spanish Friar of Dryden, and the witty Opera of the living Dryden did not fall under the same suspicion. I have often observed, that as Lucian dashes with equal wit and equal virulence at every religion, of every name and every nation, so Dryden with the same diffusive zeal attacks the ministers of every religion. In ransacking muftis, monks, and prelates to confirm his favorite position
That Priests of all religions are the same,
he betrays a secret wish to intimate that not only
"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 pollut ing 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,
the priests of all religions, but the religions of all priests, are pretty much alike."
"He has however," said Mr. Stanley, " made a sort of palinode, by his consummately beautiful poem of the good parson. Yet even this lovely picture he could not allow himself to complete without a fling at the order, which he declares, at the conclusion, he only spares for the sake of one exception."
"Rousseau," said Sir John, "seems to be the only sceptic, who has not, in this respect, acted unfairly. His Savoyard Vicar is represented as a grave, consistent and exemplary character."
"True," replied Mr. Stanley. "But don't you perceive why he is so represented? He is exhibited as a model of goodness, in order to exalt the scanty faith and unsound doctrines of which he is made the teacher."
"I would not," continued he, " call that man an enemy to the church who should reprobate characters who are a dishonour to it. But the just though indignant biographer of a real Sterne, or a real Churchill, exhibits a very different spirit, and produces a very different effect from the painter of an imaginary Thwackum or Supple. In the historian concealment would be blameable, and palliation mischievous. He fairly exposes the individual without wishing to bring any reproach on the profession. What I blame is, employing the vehicle of fiction for the purpose of blackening, or in any degree discrediting, a body of men, who depend much for the success of their labours on public opinion, and on the success of whose labours depends so large a portion of the public virtue."
"I have sometimes," said I, "heard my father express his surprize that the most engaging of all writers, Mr. Addison, a man so devout himself, so forward to do honour to religion on all occasions, should have let slip so fair an opportunity for exalting the value of a country clergyman as the description of Sir Roger de Coverley's chaplain naturally put in his hands*."
"You must allow," said Sir John, "that he has made him worthy, and that he has not made him absurd."
"I grant it," replied I, "but he has made him. dull and acquiescent. He has made him any thing rather than a pattern."
"But what I most regret," said Mr. Stanley is, that the use he has made of this character is to give the stamp of his own high authority to a practice, which though it is characteristically recommended by the whimsical knight, whose original vein of humour leaves every other far behind it, yet should never have had the sanction of the author of the Saturday pieces in the SpectatorI mean, the practice of the minister of a little country parish, preaching to farmers and peasants the most learned, logical, and profound discourses in the English language."
"It has, I believe," replied Sir John, "excited general wonder that so consummate a judge of propriety should have commended as suitable instruction for illiterate villagers, the sermons of those incomparable scholars Fleetwood, South, Tillotson, Barrow, Calamy, and Sanderson."
"But this is not the worst," said Mr. Stanley, for Mr. Addison not only clearly approves it in * See Spectator, Vol. ii. No. 107.