Jules Remy( 1826-1893)
Journey to Great Salt Lake City
(London: W. Jeffs, 1861 -- English translation)
JULES REMY AND JULIUS BRENCHLEY, M.A.
WITH A SKETCH OF THE
HISTORY, RELIGION, AND CUSTOMS OF THE MORMONS,
AND AN INTRODUCTION ON
THE RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES.
BY JULES REMY.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
With Ten Steel Engravings and a Map.
W. JEFFS, 15 BURLINGTON ARCADE,
Foreign Bookseller to the Royal Family.
JOHN EDWARD TAYLOR. LITTLE QUEEN STREET,
LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS.
[ iii ]
P R E F A C E.
AFTER ten years spent in travelling for a purely scientific purpose, I returned for a short time to my native country, to take a little rest, and prepare for other enterprises which I had yet to accomplish. The time thus at my disposal was too short to make it possible for me to publish a full and elaborate work. The arrangement of the materials I had collected relating to Polynesia alone, to confine myself to one point only of my investigations, would have required more leisure than I could afford.
I was unwilling, however, to leave Europe without rendering an account of at least one portion of my distant wanderings. I had adundance to choose from, and my choice was soon made. The works published on Mormonism and the Mormons are so overloaded with inaccuracies, or rather with misrepresentations, that I thought it a good subject to
iv P R E F A C E.
treat, especially as it was one I could approach with a confidence all the greater from my having had the opportunity of studying, in their very homes, these new religionists, whose singular principles have attracted so much attention of late years, in spite of the important events which have occurred on this side of the Atlantic, and so much engrossed public attention.
It is the portion I now propose to publish. Science, so justly fastidious, will perhaps find in it but little worthy of notice, and the moralist may regret that the history of this singular people should not have been written by a more experienced hand. It occurred to me, however, that the naturalist might not disdain to give a passing glance at a sketch, which is scrupulously correct, of places which were yet unexplored, or only imperfectly examined; and that the man whose pleasure it is to look on the drama of human affairs, will not see without interest the scene of a political and religious society which, once Christian and free, has broken away from Christianity and liberty, to make an experiment of living under new and radically different conditions of social existence.
The greater part of the matter contained in the following work, was written from day to day, often in the open air, upon the slopes or the crests of mountains, in the heart of
P R E F A C E. v
deserts, amid the occupations and frequently the perils which are the necessary accompaniments of so long a journey, and must no doubt bear traces of the prculiar circumstances under which it was jotted down. It will therefore, I fear, be devoid of that literary finish on which so just a value is placed; but it struck me that, however defective it may be in form, this will be fully compensated for by its accuracy.
The truth, so often perverted, will be vindicated in this work. Of those who have written on the Mormons, by far the greater number have derived their information from sources little to be relied on. The historians and travellers who have been their guides, have either never inspected the facts on the spot, or have looked at them from the point of view of their own foregone opinions, and too often of their passions. I have had the advantage of seeing with my own eyes, and my readers, I hope, will be sensible of it. Free, moreover, as far as I am aware, from all prejudice, I am able to affirm that I have contemplated the moral side of the picture with the same eye and the same impartiality as I have the physical side. The good and the bad have been exhibited; but if I correct erroroneous opinions, I am far from offering myself as an apologist. It is the consciousness of this sincerity and impartiality which has
vi P R E F A C E.
inspired me with some confidence, and imparted to me the desire of presenting myself before the public. With serious and earnest men, truth is always the first of considerations, and it is for such I write.
Paris, August, 1860.
C O N T E N T S.
OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
viii-b C O N T E N T S.
270 II. The Mormon Church until the Foundation of Nauvoo, 1830-1839.
I N T R O D U C T I O N.
ON THE RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT IN
THE UNITED STATES.
THE course of my travels having led me, a few years since, into a sort of proximity to the Mormons, I could not resist the temptation of making a push for the country of this singular people, in which I expected to find myself face to face with a religion at the very moment of its birth, and to surprise one of the great secrets of Nature, as it were, on the spot. A religious creed suddenly jetting forth in the midst of a great society, and appearing above the horizon like a new isle on the bosom of the ocean, seemed to me to be a sufficient reason for giving oneself a little trouble, and deviating from the direct track of one’s journey. To deny myself the pleasure of such a spectacle was more than I was capable of; or, to express myself more accurately, I should have thought it wrong to do so, the opportunity being present, and there being scarcely more than a thousand miles of desert to cross. Had I been called upon
x I N T R O D U C T I O N.
to justify to my own mind the interruption which such a journey must cause to my pursuits as a naturalist, --
not much of an interruption, after all, -- I should doubtless have pleaded that it could be hardly time lost to
examine on the very spot of its appearance, a phenomenon rare in any age, and especially rare in our own. Certain
it is that had I heard in California, where I then was, of the appearance of a new island in the Pacific Ocean,
I should not have hesitated to have altered my course for the purpose of seeing it. When then should I do less
with respect to Mormonism? Why should the moral be less attractive than the geological phenomenon?
I N T R O D U C T I O N. xi
physical world, they are still more revolting in the moral world. I wished to put myself quite at ease with
regard to this singular phenomenon, this morel Rhizophora, if I may so express myself, which, first brought
into existence in those regions where the Niagara send forth its eternal thunders, ought, it appears to me, to
have perished in its germ on the very spot of its birth; but which, on the contrary, had, in the desert to which
it was transplanted, grown, developed, and overspread with its branches an already powerful society. I desired to
ascertain in a positive way, as an eye-witness, if the religion of Joseph Smith were really a novelty, or if
ignorance or passion had deceived itself, or had deceived the public with respect to it. The founder of Mormonism,
was he, as generally asserted, an impostor? This, when tested by the idea I had formed to myself of the genesis
of religions, appeared to me to present a difficulty; and I felt anxious, were there really a divergence from what
up to this moment I considered a general law, to verify the deviation.
I.All religions, whatever may be the opinion we entertain of their intrinsic truth, are the spontaneous products of the human soul. They respond to primitive instincts, to powerful wants impossible to ignore. There is not a human creature who does not carry their germs in the depths of his reason, his imagination, and his heart; for there is
xii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
no one who does not entertain, vaguely at first, more clearly in the end, a sense of the infinite; who has not a glimpse, more or less luminous, of the divine ideal; and who is not disquieted or tormented by the mystery which hovers over his destiny.
I N T R O D U C T I O N. xiii
The study of the human mind justifies the poet as against the philosophers. Since the days of Descartes it has
ceased to be warrantable, though, as we have just seen, it has been often done and perhaps may be occasionally
done again, to affirm that it is possible to invent God. There is no escape from the fact: if God did not exist,
he could not be invented; if the eternal axiom, as it has been called, were not in every man’s thoughts, who would
be able to group its characteristics, and to devise its formula? No amount of characteristics, and to devise its
formula? No amount of goodwill whatever could effect it. God does not proceed from the soul of man, as the fruit
does from the flower; to suppose this would be merely to suggest the same impiety in a different form, and to truck
atheism against pantheism; but the idea of God, the sentiment of the ideal and of the divine, as well as of
religion, which is nothing more than their external manifestation, their necessary form, do proceed from it as
naturally as the flower from the bud, the fruit from the flower. Man does not invent God: he finds him; he grasps
him by virtue of an internal revelation which it does not depend upon him either to listen to or to ignore.
Religion, of whatever kind, is but the echo, more or less faithful, more or less responsive, of this deep-seated
xiv I N T R O D U C T I O N.
this strange religion, which is the negation of the principle of all religion, and which consequently seems to be without any reason for existing; but it does not necessarily follow from this, that the idea of the infinite does not exist in their minds. The consciousness of human imperfection and of the wretchedness of our condition, which forms the groundwork of Buddhism, comprises within itself the conception of perfection; and whether God be named or not, the mere fact that man searches for the solution of the problem of his destiny, that he tries to shake off the yoke of his misery, and aspires to a better state, is evidence that in the depths of his soul there is a ray of divine light. The idea of God may be obscured in human consciousness by deep shadows; it may for ages remain in a state of embryo among the inferior races of human society; but this is not a sufficient reason for concluding against its universality. Voltaire said, in opposition to Bayle, who insisted on the possibility of there being atheistical nations, "These nations neither deny nor affirm God, they have never heard him spoken of. To pretend that they are atheists is an imputation much like that of saying they are Anti-Cartesians. They are neither for nor against Descartes; they are absolute children. But a child is neither atheist nor deist; he is nothing." Voltaire has here seen, with a sagacity approaching to profundity, the truth; and we may apply his argument to Buddhism. The nations which profess this religion are still in their infancy, and the idea of God in them is what it is in children,
I N T R O D U C T I O N. xv
-- in children without intelligence and imagination, -- something confused, cloudy, dense, if I may say so, which has need of education to disentangle, to enlighten, and to develop itself.
xvi I N T R O D U C T I O N.
if you will, they are impressions rather than creeds, fancies rather than truths, sensations rather than feelings. True; but putting aside the question of determining whether at the bottom of these dreams, impressions, or fancies, the divine does not present itself, it is, at least, impossible to doubt their reality, or to refuse to acknowledge their spontaneousness. They are dreams which have been taken for realities: but these dreams have rally had an existence; they have, as it were, lived; they have agitated, have made the heart of the child-man throb; and so deep has been their impression, that he has retained far beyond the period of his infancy a long and profound recollection of them. M. Renan has taken cognizance of this early and powerful impression upon man, and has admirably depicted its influence in the formation of primitive religions. "The primitive man," he says in his admirable work, "saw Nature with the eyes of a child. Now the child projects over everything around him the marvellousness which lies hidden within him. That first fresh consciousness of life which with its sweet intoxication makes his brain spin, causes him to see the world through a gently tinted vapour; and casting a joyous and inquisitive look on all around him, he smiles on everything and everything smiles on him. We, disenchanted by long experience, cease to expect anything very astonishing from the infinite combination of things. But the child cannot conjecture what is to result from the next throw of the dice that are rattling around him; he the
I N T R O D U C T I O N. xvii
more believes in the possible, the less he is acquainted with the real. Hence his joys and his terrors. He constructs for himself a fantastic world, which enchants and appals him by turns. He realizes his dreams; he has not yet that roughness of analysis which at an age of reflection places us as cold observers, face to face with reality. Such was the primitive man. Scarce separated from Nature, he conversed with her, addressed her, and listened to her voice. This great mother with whom he was still connected by his arteries, appeared to him alive and animated. At the sight of the phenomena of the physical world he experienced divers impressions, which, reveiving form and substance from his imagination, became gods; he adored his sensations, or rather the vague and unknown object of his sensations, for not being able yet to separate the object from the subject, the world was himself and he himself the world." *
xviii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
its torrents of fire? It is the goddess Pele who is giving vent to her wrath, or chastising impiety. Does the thunder roar and the lightning flash? It is the god Kahekili who grows wrathful in the sky. Is the sea tossed by the tempest? It is the monster Uhumakaikai who lashes the waves. It must be remarked also, that this primitive religion is so natural, and in such perfect keeping with the childhood of humanity, for which it has so much which is charming and seductive, that the difficulty of completely superseding it is extreme. Hence the well-established fact, that the savages of the Pacific, even when they fancy they are converts, whether to Catholicism or Protestantism, continue, at the bottom of their hearts, idolaters. They are unable entirely to break the charm, and dissipate the fumes of their intoxication. The worship of Nature maintains itself, whatever the outward appearances may be, and continues persistently to exist beneath the forms of a superior religion, which has done during more than skim over the surface. Nothing would be easier than to prove the want of steadfastness in the new man, and to lay bare the old man. I could cite numberless facts which would place this assertion beyond all doubt. I will confine myself to mentioning one or two, but which, unless I much mistake, are decidedly characteristic.
One occurred in the Great Hawaii. I had taken up my quarters on the edge of the crater of Kilauea, whence it was easy for me to diverge in all directions for the purpose
I N T R O D U C T I O N. xix
of exploring the volcanoes o this region, which are the largest in the world. One day, on my descending from the crater of Mokuaweoweo, situated about ten thousand feet above that of Kilauea, some native travellers, converts to Catholicism, came towards nightfall, and took up their quarters in my hut. The difficult feat I had just accomplished was the subject of our conversation throughout the evening. I related to the islanders the different incidents of my ascent, explained to them the phenomena I had observed, and while trying to make them comprehend the theory of volcanoes, I told them that I foresaw an impending eruption. Judging by their expression, it seemed to me that they took little interest in what I had been saying, of which, indeed, I soon ascertained that they had comprehended absolutely nothing. On my ceasing to speak, they inquired if I hand never met the spirit of the volcanoes, the goddess Pele, under the form of an old woman. The unexpected question suggested to me the idea of amusing them by telling them a story in accordance with their taste. I pretended I had seen the goddess Pele, in the midst of the sulphurous vapours, and I painted her in the most fantastic colours which my imagination could supply. It so happened that my description was accurate enough, save in one point: I had represented Pele as an old woman excessively emaciated and sickly, whereas, according to their traditions, she was a strapping virago. This, however, did not prevent my auditors from receiving my fable
xx I N T R O D U C T I O N.
to the very letter, and they took upon themselves to put me in harmony with the Hawaiian mythology, by explaining that the emaciation I had ascribed to the goddess, was the result of the long fast she had undergone since Christianity had overthrown her altars. "It is clear," they said, "that Pele is dying of hunger; so long is it since we carried her any food!" Then, recollecting that I had spoken to them of an eruption about to take place, they exclaimed, "Alas! Where are you, people of Hawaii? The goddess has wasted away, in consequence of the distress in which we have suffered her to fall; and behold! in revenge for our ingratitude, she is preparing to overwhelm us with her wrath. Without loss of time we must atone our fault, and carry her offerings of food." The next morning, the islanders, after taking leave of me, went forth on their way. I thought no more of them; but towards evening, I saw a priest of the goddess Pele ascending to the crater, escorted by natives, both Catholic and Protestant, bearing all sorts of eatables. Though they had taken the most minute precautions to conceal the object of their pilgrimage from me, and had, in order the more completely to cover their purpose, offered me a part of the presents which they brought, I succeeded in eluding their vigilance, and assisting, without being seen, at the expiatory ceremony. I saw the faithful cast down their offerings into the glowing lava of Kilauea, while the priest, accompanying his words with a thousand incomprehensible gestures, supplicated the goddess
I N T R O D U C T I O N. xxi
to forgive the Hawaiians the impiety they had committed in deserting her worship for that of the strange God. I had afterwards the opportunity of relating, amid the different tribes of the Archipelago, my adventures on Mokuaweoweo, and the meeting I had had with Pele; and never did I find any of them indisposed to believe, but always met with the same state of feeling, and a similar contrition. It even happened, on one of these occasions, that some Christians, without in the least heeding the missionary who overheard them, began at the end of my recital to cry out that Pele was about to avenge the native divinities by vomiting her fire upon the Hawaiians, who under the influence of an impious pride had turned aside to the God of the stranger. Alarmed at the consequences of my fiction, the poor missionary, whose naïve simplicity I honestly admired, besought me to regard this apparition, which he himself accepted as a fact, as a contrivance of hell, an artifice of Satan, who, by appearing to me under the form of a pagan divinity, was endeavouring to rob him of his flock, and to lure me into idolatry. But neither his reiterated injunctions, nor my retractations of my own story, could succeed in obliterating the remembrance of their ancient gods; for more than once, while the minister of the Gospel was administering the last rites to a dying Christian, it has happened to me to surprise some of them in the act of sacrificing white hens to the god Milu, at the dying man’s own request.
xxii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
I remember, also, a fact of a similar nature which occurred in the Marquesas during my stay in these islands. A young girl of the country, converted to Christianity, had, while crossing a wood, been slightly grazed by a small stone, dislodged in all probability by some bird taking wing from a neighbouring height. Without endeavouring to account naturally for so simple a circumstance, the girl fancied that the god of the rock, irritated at her having abandoned her faith, had thrown the stone as a warning that he doomed her to death. In the simplicity of her faith, she believed herself condemned without appeal, fell sick, and soon after died, invoking at the same time the God of the Christians and her island deities.
It is thus that these child-like races, whom the zeal of our pious missionaries deludes itself into supposing it has emancipated from the worship of their false gods, preserve the indelible imprint of their primitive creeds, and see even in the most familiar events the personification of intervention of divine agents.
Be this as it may, the belief in a superior essence is neither less natural nor less spontaneous than that which confounds man with nature. On its first appearance, as well as at its ultimate point of development, it exhibits nothing that implies a foregone conclusion, nothing that is factitious. Monotheism, the belief in one God separated from the world, springs up as spontaneously in the deserts of Arabia, as does pantheism or polytheism on the banks of
I N T R O D U C T I O N. xxiii
the Ganges or the seaboard of Greece. It is an established fact in science, that certain races, like certain individuals, are less seduced by the splendour of the external world, less affected by that potency of life which circulates throughout all nature, than are some others; and that such races and individuals are, on the other hand, attracted and profoundly acted on by the spectacle and the movement of internal life; whence it naturally follows that in these races, - which may be styled privileged, and which in this respect are so, - the religious sentiment must assume a particular form, an original character, and engender a divine idea of an entirely different stamp. In this case, giving himself up to a continual contemplation of his own being, of his ego, man is strongly impressed with the conviction of his oneness; and this oneness, which he finds only within himself, he instinctively, by a natural action of his thought, by a law of his reason, transfers beyond the bounds of nature to a power superior to nature and himself. This is the source from which monotheism takes its rise. The soul, concentrated within itself, discovers the infinite in its depths, and marks it with characters that it has recognized in itself. What wonder that at a later period, even possibly at their outset, some man should arise from the midst of these races to formulate their creed, to become, not its discoverer, but its legislator and interpreter? That he should find, whether in his own imagination or in the primitive habits of those about him, the means of manifesting his faith and that of
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his fellows, of impressing upon it some outward sign, of establishing a correspondence, as it were, with the supreme God, placed beyond the world in an inaccessible solitude, has nothing in it to surprise us. In an advanced state of civilization, man may possibly content himself with thinking of the infinite, may abstain from defining, may, to use an expression of M. Renan, decline to express the ineffable. But such are not the primitive instincts of man. Abstract religious thought is not sufficient for him. If he do not give a form to God, he is at least obliged to confine himself within the compass of a ceremonial worship, to establish eternal means of communication with heaven. To be able to think of his is not enough; he desires to see him, speak to him, hear him; for man is not merely a spirit, he has a heart, he has an imagination, and monotheism, when separating him from nature, deprives him neither of the one nor the other.
This characteristic of spontaneousness in monotheism, and in the worship which attaches to it, is not anywhere negatived in history. There is no one nowadays who sees an impostor in Moses or Christ. Such a view, if by chance it is met with, belongs exclusively to the lowest range of science. Critical inquiry has no doubt torn off many a veil, dissipated many an illusion, scattered many a halo. But not only has it not sanctioned opinions which degrade humanity in the persons of its greatest interpreters, but it has, on the contrary, brought into full daylight the
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high morality both of the primitive creeds of humanity and also of their founders.
Mohammed himself, whom in the last century Voltaire exhibited as a politician and impostor, and over whose back, so to speak, he endeavoured to lash all religions, does not present an exception, or at all events, not a complete one. Though nearer to us in point of time, and detached from those clouds of supernaturalism, which concealed his predecessors, he appears to us environed with the same halo of faith, and of good faith; and though we may see nothing but man in him, he does not therefore seem less worthy, as respects the sources of his faith, if not of the homage, at least of the esteem of the world. The imposture of Mohammed, considered as a positive and unquestionable fact, could be admitted in the twelfth or even in the eighteenth century, -- which shows how easily extremes will sometimes meet in a common error; but it can be no longer credited in these days, now that inquiry has carried its torch into the origin of Islamism, as into that of all other things of a like nature, and has brought them forth into the broad day. At the beginning of his mission, Mohammed sincerely believed that he was the elect of God, that he was summoned by him to reveal his word, a new and regenerated word, to the people of Arabia. If, at a later period, when his original conviction became weaker, he gave himself up at times to transcendental fancies, in which he no longer believed, these were but the accidents of his life, a sort of tribute paid to
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human nature. The legends which, like so much brilliant embroidery, spread over the solid tissue of his history, to visions, the miracles attributed to him, do not proceed from him, and he is in no way accountable for them; they were neither affirmed by him nor known to him. The miraculous communications of Mohammed with the Angel Gabriel do, at the first blush, raise a presumption against him, and may furnish an argument in favor of the opinion of Voltaire and others; but, in sober criticism, the argument is not absolutely decisive. The visions of Joan of Arc, her communications with the Holy Virgin, are not more worthy of belief; and yet, who is there that discredits the good faith of Joan of Arc? Like our great heroine and many others, the Arabian Prophet, in the first fire of his youth and religious enthusiasm, believed himself charged with a divine mission. If occasionally we meet with facts in his life which seem to contradict this opinion, and which a severe criticism finds it difficult to conciliate with the morality of the man, this is not a real ground for warranting us to doubt the sincerity of the Prophet’s conviction. When sitting in judgment upon history, it is necessary to be on our guard against the prejudices of race and civilization, and to avoid transporting our ideas there, where thy have no business to be. M. Renan is in the right when he says, "it is hardly possible for us to conceive the extent to which among Mussulmans conscientious conviction, and even nobleness of character, can enter into fellowship with a certain
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degree of imposture." * In the creation of religious ideas, morality does not determine the human mind any more than logic; it is quite a different force which generates them. If the divine and the moral meet together at the maturity of religions, they do not always come into contact at their outset. An unalloyed and unblemished morality is no more necessary than a consistent logic to the purity of a creed taken at its source; and where it fails, the spontaneousness of the first conception is not on that account necessarily to be called in question. Certainly in the life of Mohammed there are facts which betray the politician and impostor; but these facts belong to his mature age, to the second part of his career; they in no way cast a stain on his original inspiration; and we are constrained to acknowledge, what impartial criticism admits, that in the first period of his mission, in the first manifestations of his apostleship, his enthusiasm was sincere and free from all alloy; and it was only later, in the period of resistance and strife, that personal feeling began to mingle with the work, to soil it with its tints, and to interfere with its primitive spotlessness. But the work had already been accomplished, or at all events placed on a solid basis, and it was really faith that had laid it first stone.
The same principle of faith, of sincerity and spontaneousness, is to be met with in religions the most opposed to each other. It is impossible to conceive my one thing less resembling
* Etudes d’Histoire religieuse, par E. Renan; pp. 255, 256.
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another than the religions that have originated from Mosaism as contrasted with that of Buddha; since the principle and object of the latter are absolute extinction, while, on the contrary, in the former we set out from God, and aspire to a superior state of existence. At its source, however, Buddhism is as pure as our own creeds. The solution of the problem is different, but it has been sought for in the same spirit and with the same good faith. In point of fact, it may be said that in this system less than in any other is there room for mere fancy or calculated purpose. Nothing short of conviction could have given birth to this frightful doctrine, which offers man, for this whole consolation, death; for his whole happiness, eternal rest on the sombre and icy banks of annihilation. In those religions which cover life with laughing tints, and exhibits the future through the prism of hope, it is just possible to comprehend the hypothesis of invention. Their founders presenting something seductive to the imagination, it might be conceived that they desired to seduce. But nothing of the kind is admissible with respect to the religion of Buddha. Moreover, the character of its founder excludes all suspicion, and all possibility of imposture. "With the exception of Christ only," says M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, "there is not among the founders of religions a figure more pure or touching than that of Buddha. His life is without spot. His persistent heroism equals his conviction; and if the theory he preaches be false, the personal example he
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sets is irreproachable. He is the finished model of all the virtue he enjoins; his self-denial, his charity, his unconquerable gentleness are never for a single instant at fault. At the age of twenty-nine he leaves the court of the king his father, to become a friar as it were and a mendicant. He silently prepares his doctrine for the space of six years in retirement and meditation; he propagates it by the sole power of his speech and persuasiveness for mere than half a century; and when he dies in the arms of his disciples, it is with the serenity of a sage who has done good throughout his life, and who is confident he has discovered the truth. The people who received his faith never dreamt of making a god of him, for the notion of God was as foreign to them as to him; but they have made of him an ideal which they try to imitate; and Buddhism has been able to mould some fine minds worthy of figuring among those which humanity admires and reveres." *
And what is true of the founders of religions, is equally so of those who have merely aspired to play the part of reformers. Many are the leaders of heresy who have made use of error for the gratification of their own passions or interests; but those who have left a trace in the memory and imagination of men, those who have founded anything, though they may have deserved anathemas, have never merited contempt; impartial history has never branded their foreheads with the mark of infamy which
* Le Bouddha et sa Religion: par Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire.
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is due only to imposture. For conviction and sincerity, nothing can compare with such man as Luther, Calvin, and Zuinglius. But to confine ourselves to those who have lived and acted in the same atmosphere as Joseph Smith, and only to the most celebrated among these, where are we to look for a more burning faith than in George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, and in Ann Lee, the holy woman who founded that sect so singular but of such unimpeachable purity, the Shakers? * Their whole career is marked by acts of high virtue or pious self-devotion; and it appears as difficult to doubt their sincerity as their sanctity, or rather, as to doubt their existence or their very history.
The founder of Mormonism, as far at least as we can see, constitutes the single exception. Mormonism has not the character of spontaneousness distinguishing primitive religions; that of course. Neither has it the simplicity of the religions which followed them, nor yet the sincerity of the religious revolutions or reforms which in later ages history records.
The series of facts which belong to the life of Joseph Smith will prove, by evidence as clear as day, that he was, to the whole extent of the word, a cheat and impostor. There was nothing in his earliest conception natural, nothing spontaneous, no trace whatever of sentiment and religious enthusiasm. True, we see around the cradle of
* See Note XIX. at the end of the work.
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Mormonism, as around those of other religions, visions, prophecies, miracles, legends even; we have the same external circumstances, the same modes of striking the imagination and the soul, but we do not find the same spirit, the same divine afflatus which agitates the heart of the new revealer. Mormonism is nothing more than the product of calculation, or, to speak out plainly, of speculation. In this respect, it is impossible to conceive of anything more American than this new creed. One fine day it occured to Joseph that it might be a capital affair to construct a new temple, that the curiosity of the thing, and the originality of such an enterprise, were likely to bring in much better returns than his vulgar occupation of money-digger, which, up to that time, had not been very successful. This idea once in his head, he began to work it out with the same conscientious self-approval and the same serenity of mind with which he would have founded a grog-shop or collected a cargo of salt pork from Europe. The thirst for gold, the need of acquiring wealth, which is so powerful a spring in the commercial and industrial activity of the United States, -- this was the first and fecundating inspiration of Smith's religious schemes. Nowhere else have we to seek his angel Gabriel or his nymph Egeria. Under the Prophet is the Yankeel under the pastor of men, the greedy speculator without conscience, and without shame. Mournful certainly it is for the honour of humanity to say this, but it must be said from respect for truth. Still this does not
xxxii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
suffice as an explanation of Mormonism, either as regards its origin or its success. If its originating idea had been the only one to act, it might be considered an effect without a cause, and it would be the greatest prodigy that ever occurred. But, we may dependupon it, the spirit of speculation and gain was only what set it first in motion; its real causes are elsewhere than in the narrow personal views of the founder, powerful as his influence may have been: they are to be found in the moral and religious condition of North America. To ascertain them, we must transport ourselves to the scene where the facts were actually accomplished. It is only by a near and close study of the tendencies and religious movement of the great democracy, that we comprehend how a creed, inferior to those whoch surround it, without root even in the heart and conscience of the founder, was able to surge up in the midst of the others, just as in a fertile and carefully cultivated field the most worthless plants will occasionally spring up amid the most precious and the most salutary.
II.It is an empression extensively spread throughout our official Churches that faith is wearing out among men, that the religious sentiment is becoming extinct, and that the world is verging, as it were, to a gradual cooling down of our purest and loftiest convictions. I cannot, as far as I am concerned, conceive of anything less well-founded than this
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opinion. If we accept it with reference to those countries in which it finds favour, where man is not placed in the conditions necessary to his normal expansion, we cannot admit it to be possible in quite different countries and under different conditions. Here, in a more favourable medium, screened from the influences which impede and trammel the free play of its operations, the human mind is inexhaustible fecundity. It must be received as certain (and I hope there is nothing humiliating in this to our species) that, by the nature of things, death is merely the appearance, life the reality. Thus, to confine ourselves to things which are more closely connected with our subject, the creeds which crumble away are soon replaced by others. There are never complete ruins, or ruins that last long; it may be even said that there are no such things as ruins, there are only changes, successions, transformations. It is with the moral as with the physical world. In crossing the vast forests of the New World, the traveller perceives, clustering around the enormous Sequoias and Tulip-trees overthrown by the tempest or by time, shoots already vigorous, and suckers yet tender, trailing on the ground. Here is the image of the moral world. Around ancient forms of faith, by the side of ancient institutions which are vanishing away, spring up new ones which are born either of them or of their fragments. Ordinary or timid minds are struck only by the aspect of the ruins; they do not see that which germinates beneath, or is already
xxxiv I N T R O D U C T I O N.
sprouting forth from them; and they shrink with affright from the spectacle of apparent death which environs them. But the man who is habituated to reflection and to the more extended spectacle of history, finds in all this nothing to astonish nor sadden him. If his heart be moved at the cruel sufferings of those who, as they see solitude encroach upon their temples, and the chill of death benumbing the very limbs of their deities, look forward with humor to the void that seems to open upon them in the religious future of humanity, the mere fact itself leaves him calm and perfectly unmoved. He knows that the laws of nature are irresistible
Prima cadunt: ita verborum vetus interit aetas
Et juvenum ritu florent modo nata, vigentque."
This truth, of which the development and proof may be traced in history, is to be found living and palpable, so to speak, in the moral and religious condition of America; and here, within a comparatively restricted compass, we may personally witness the thorough manifestation of tone of the great laws of humanity. On setting foot for the first time in that country, we are, at the first glance, bewildered, as it were, by the noise that surrounds us; one
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would naturally suppose that the religious world was splitting up in all directions, and what we expect is to see it yawning down to the lowest abysses. As we gaze on the infinite division of its sects, their collisions, their unceasing dissensions, their meetings, their revivals, the Gospel daily ground to dust, Christianity in a permanent state of crisis and decomposition, we naturally apprehend that darkness was about to overspread these vast regions, and annihilation to swallow up life. But, God be praised, there is no pretence for it; the sun shines there as it does elsewhere, perhaps even with a stronger light and livelier brilliancy. It would appear that in proportion as the divine seed of the Gospel is subtle, so has it the greater fecundity and power of life. It is, at all events, certain, that the active fermentation which causes decomposition, and is also its result, is not a consuming fire. It is the condition, as well as the sign, of new vegetation and energetic life.
We have, I am aware, and cannot too often repeat it, great difficulty in this Europe of ours, with all our prejudices in favor of official churches, in forming to ourselves an idea of the potency and reality of these new manifestations of the religious sentiment; and we easily bring ourselves to believe, with the scepticism of well-bred people, that the religious sap of humanity is exhausted. And it can hardly happen otherwise. How is it possible that we should not misapprehend the character of the resources of the human
xxxvi I N T R O D U C T I O N.
mind in the matter of religious creation? Are we living under the conditions necessary to their being conceived, elaborated, and produced? I perfectly comprehend the general opinion o this point, pretty much as I comprehend the astonishment of unlettered opinion, on learning that the palm-tree, when isolated and deprived of the impregnating dust, remains barren. The palm-tree has need of free air and space, but it requires also that the winds should discharge those fertilizing duties towards it which nature has imposed upon them; and it is on this condition only that it can bear fruit. But this condition being fulfilled, it soon presents a vigorous fructification to the sun. So is it with the human mind. The contact of souls is as necessary to the generation of ideas as the contact of bodies is to the generation of a different order of being. Where there is no free communication between minds, there can be no spiritual creation. Isolation arrests the jets, if I may so speak, and the growth of the soul, or, to borrow the language of Plato, prevents its pinions from developing and enlarging. This is true of all our sentiments, all our aspirations, of the religious sentiment as well as of every other. It is especially true of religious worship, which is the free manifestation of this sentiment, and the outspread of it to the light of day. But we cannot too frequently remark, that when free air and free communication are restored to the human mind, if it so happen that hereditary creeds should contrive to give it the slip, it loses no time
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in finding new ones for itself; it becomes restless, it gives itself no repose until it succeeds. Are we prechance to suppose that human nature ever undergoes a fundamental change, and that its primitive instincts disappear together with the forms under which they have appeared? Yet nothing short of this must happen, that is to say, nothing short of a deviation from the laws of nature, before the possibility of such an occurrence as its remaining indifferent to the great questions with which that faith was allied can happen. Indifference, as is well known, may for a moment overlay the mind, may become a permanent condition indeed of certain minds, but it cannot be the mental condition of the masses, that is to say, of the whole human race, which requires a very different resting-place for its head.
Absolute liberty, such as it exists in America, in religious matters, is often enough the source of severe shocks to our feelings. The infinite multitude of sects saddens when it does not shake us, and it often does shake us, and cause the very base to tremble on which the whole edifice of our faith reposes. In the agitated medium which is the effect of liberty, received creeds are constantly bending under the violence of opposing winds, and we have often reason to be alarmed lest the frail flower should be bruised and perish for ever. But, besides that its germ is immortal, whereever liberty is present the remedy is at the side of the evil. In societies existing under another regime, the crumbling
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away of ruling creeds does not the less take place because it is invisible, and there no reconstruction is ever attempted. With liberty, on the contrary, side by side with the process which engenders doubt there takes place one of an opposite kind, arising out of the sheer necessity of having something to believe. Analysis is not alone at work; synthesis makes itself master of the scattered elements, and condenses them. If multiplicity of sects engenders multiplicity of sects, it also engenders, as a natural consequence, the desir eof escaping from the confusion and disorder which are the results. Minds that have been sundered soon tend to re-unite, and the broken unity labours at its own reconstruction. America offers us remarkable examples of these attempts under different forms and by different means. There are three especially which appear worthy of our attention, because they represent all the forms under which the religious sentiment can manifest itself in the world, can disengage and cause itself to be accepted by the crowd; in a word, every variety of system employed in the act of religious creation or formation.
It is evident, when we have once broken off from the stem of positive religions, whether official or otherwise, that if we contrive to avoid indifference or absolute independence, if in default of creeds we have preserved the want of having a creed, we can only arrive at a new faith by the inspirations of individual reason, that is to say, by recurring
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to the source of all religion, or by the reform of that which exists, or by a religious system which is nothing more than the product of calculation and imposture. There is no other way in which religious yearnings can be satisfied. We ask leave to dwell for a moment upon this point. To break completely with an existing religion, unreservedly to shake off its authority, to believe only in ourselves, and exclusively to seek in our reason and conscience the support we can no longer derive from without; in a word, to admit no other revelation than an internal revelation, such is the first method that presents itself to the mind, or rather the first system. Here it may so happen that there will at first be no religious form; but there will be, independently of a considerable moral power capable of imparting a substantial nourishment to the soul not to be found elsewhere, a real religion, real at least in its principle and in its germ; and, in any society in which the religious conviction meets with no impediments, it will soon happen that by an invisible but persistent and irresistible movement, this germ will develop itself, will manifest itself outwardly, and that there will be in the new idea a stronger and stronger tendency to formulate itself, to constitute itself a religious worship, to establish a link, in some sort material, between minds already united by the spiritual link of a common creed. And it must indeed be observed in passing, that it is by the spectacle of this personal revelation we can figure to ourselves that of the parturition of religions,
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and lay hold of them almost in their state of embryo, in the first movements succeeding their birth.
In the second system, while in the very act of breaking away in all essential points from the existing religion, we may lay our corner-stone even on its own ground, accepting more or less either of its moral scheme or the historical facts on which it rests. This is the most usual state of things. For it is a mighty difficulty for the human mind completely and thoroughly to repudiate the creeds transmitted to it. The idea of a radical revolution revolts it; that of a reform is more agreeable, and responds, without at all compromising it, to its secret instinct of independence. Hence great religious crises are modifications and transformations rather than real revolutions. The human mind has need of transitions, of compromises between the need of independence and the necessity of belief. Hence the reason for the existence of such numerous sects in countries where intelligence is not kept under by some considerable power, by the weight of general opinion, and the yoke of authority whether political or religious. In a system, of this kind which adapts itself to every movement of the mind, there is room for the most opposite opinions, from the most exalted mysticism down to the severest nationalism, and in it the common religion may be brought to so low a point as to disappear in its essence and to present nothing more than an empty appearance.
Finally, in the last and the third system an entirely new
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form is given to the old religious sentiment. It is no longer a modification of an ancient faith; it is no longer an antique and primitive revelation transformed or changed; it is a special revelation. Whatever be the links which still connect to with the previous one, it is a new manifestation of the Divine Spirit, under a sensible form, at a certain point of time and space. Here, too, there has not been an absolute breach with tradition; for that is not agreeable to Nature, which never acts per saltum. Every effort, on the contrary, has been made to renew the connection with the old, to solder itself, it one may say so, on to that. But it is not the less on this account a novelty, a creation, if not original, at all events diverse; in a word, it is a new religion. This religion may very possibly be inferior to that it supplants. No matter; it has, at all events, in the medium in which it is developed, an advantage over the other, since it imparts the faith which the other was incapable of imparting, since it hives to minds a bias they could derive from no other source, since it is full of life where the other was no better than a corpse.
Such, then, are the three systems through the one or the other of which the religious spirit acts when once it has shaken off the yoke of existing official religions: either it separates itself root and branch, and rests everything upon personal revelation; or it selects from the old religion some important article of faith, and, after profoundly modifying it, make it the basis of a new superstructure; or, finally,
xlii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
it constructs a new religion, or, at all events, one which, if not entirely new in all its respects, rests on a new ground, on a special Divine revelation, such as is to be found in some shape or other at the bottom of all religions.
In the religious movement now proceeding in the United States, and which, we may be quite assured, is by no means coming to a close, these three systems of religious renovation are more especially represented by three men eminent on different grounds, -- Emerson, Channing, and Joseph Smith. Here unquestionably are minds and characters in very many respects differing from each other, particularly if we compare the latter with the two former; but they have this in common, they personify in the first half of this century the religious genius of the great American democracy as respects its tendency to break Christianity, and they present illustrations of the independent action of the human mind in its religious creations. It is in virtue of this common feature that it is permissible to approximate them, and to place by the side of names so respectable as those of the two first that of the founder of Mormonism.
III.Emerson appears to us to possess in an eminent degree all the characteristics of a man born to be the founder of a religion, though in fact only a philosopher, and professing to be nothing more than a free-thinker. There is in him a combination of the Prophet and the Seer. He has a
I N T R O D U C T I O N. xliii
sense of religion, consciousness of individual power, love of the divine, enthusiasm for truth, contempt for tradition and authority in an extraordinary degree. Emerson, as has been justly remarked, is a moralist and a philosopher. But he is more than this; if he does not give himself out as a privileged revealer of the Divinity, he has all that is requisite for being so; and in another medium, under other conditions, he could in perfect good faith have presented himself as such, and his mission would in all sincerity have been accepted. At all events, it is impossible to have a nearer view than we have in him of the internal travail of the soul which is initiated itself into the knowledge of God, and which desires to initiate others, -- which is endeavouring to penetrate into that common substratum from which all religions draw their materials, in which they are sometimes completely buried, but from which also they occasionally surge upwards, one day to appear in the form of religious creeds and to acquire a mastery over the imaginations of men.
The feature that is common to all the great founders of religions, is a deep-seated and energetic feeling of the infinite. To them God is everywhere, and at all times; a voice, incessantly murmuring in their ears; a hand, of which at every moment they feel the pressure, and, as it were, the thrill. So is it with Emerson. It may be said of him as of Spinosa, that he is drunk with God. They who question the presence and the idea of the Divine in the human soul,
xliv I N T R O D U C T I O N.
must feel themselves ill at ease with him, and run great risk of not comprehending him. There is no one who has the religious sense in a higher degree, and who more willingly listens to that internal voice which is, as it were, the echo of God in the soul, and, most certainly, the primary condition of all revelations. One should hear him speak of the presence of what he styles the Over-soul in the human soul, of what the Gospel calls the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Descartes, too, had caught a glimpse of this light, through the shadows of our imperfection; and it may be said, to his eternal glory, that no one has more completely disengaged it from the darkness which accompanies its revelation when first made known to the consciousness of imperfect beings; but it seems that the mere philosopher * was not receptive of its vivifying warmth, and that it fell upon him only as a cold abstraction. In Emerson, as in all souls truly religious, the sense of the Divine is inseparable from the conception of the Infinite. It would seem as if, after the manner of mystics, he feels the afflatus, and, as it were, the touch of the Divinity. "From within, or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. A man is the facade of a temple wherein all wisdom and all good abide." And in
* By calling Descartes to mind, it is possible to get a good idea of the difference which distinguishes the philosopher from the religious man.
Essays, Lectures, and Orations, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 141.
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another place he says, "We distinguish the announcements of the soul, its manifestations of its own nature, by the term Revelation. These are always attended by the emotion of the sublime. For this communication is an influx of the Divine mind into our mind. *... Every distinct apprehension of this central commandment agitates men with awe and delight. A thrill passes through all men at the reception of a new truth or the performance of a great action. ... Always, I believe, by the necessity of our constitution, a certain enthusiasm attends the individual’s .consciousness of that Divine presence ... Everywhere the history of religion betrays a tendency to enthusiasm. The rapture of the Moravian and Quietist; the opening of the internal sense of the word, in the language of the New Jerusalem Church; the revival of the Calvinistic Churches; the experiences of the Methodists, are varying forms of that shudder of awe and delight with which the individual soul always mingles with the universal soul."
To speak thus, is it not necessary to feel the divine thrill, and to possess that mystic sense which is here ascribed to others?
Emerson, like all revealers and seers, sees God everywhere. He is as it were enveloped by Him on every side; his mind, his feelings, his inclinations flow from Him as from their source; his soul is incessantly full of Him. "Man
* Essays, etc., by Emerson, p. 147.
Ibid., p. 148.
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is a stream whose source is hidden. *... When I watch that flowing river which, out of regions I see not, pours for a season its streams into me, I see that I am a pensioner, -- not a cause, but a surprised spectator of this ethereal water. ... There is a soul at the centre of nature and over the will of every man, so that none of us can wrong the universe. It has so infused its strong enchantment into nature, that we prosper when we accept its advice; and when we struggle to wound its creatures, our hands are glued to our sides, or they beat our own breasts.... For you there is a reality, a fit place and congenial duties. Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into you as life; place yourself in the full centre of that flood; then you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment.... All reform aims, in some one great particular, to let the great soul have its way through us; in other words, to engage us to obey.... We know that all spiritual being is in the man. A wise old proverb says, 'God comes to see us without bell;' that is, as there is no screen or ceiling between our heads and the infinite heavens, so there is no bar or wall in the soul, where man the effect ceases, and God the cause begins. The walls are taken away, we lie open on all sides to the deeps of spiritual nature, to all the attributes of God. Justice we see and know, love, freedom, power. These natures no man ever got above, but always they tower over
* Essays, etc., by Emerson, p. 140.
Ibid., p. 79.
Ibid., pp. 73, 74.
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us, and most in the moment when our interests tempt us to wound them." *
In this overflow of the religious sentiment, there is, as has already been remarked, the breath, and, as it were, the intoxication of pantheism. But the fact is not to be overlooked, that this condition of mind constantly recurs in all men who hold a leading and eminent position in the religious history of humanity. What are those endless incarnations to be met with at the beginning of almost all creeds, those interventions of gods, angels, or genii, those mysterious voices, those inspirations of the Holy Spirit which abound in the histories of all religions, if they be not pantheistic impressions, not to say pantheistic ideas? I do not say that, criticized from a strictly logical point of view, there would be much difficulty in convicting Emerson of pantheism. But there are many others besides him who would not be better proof against such a test. St. Paul himself is not much removed from the precipice, it seems to me, when he says that it is in God we live and move and have our being; and if he has avoided falling over it, it must have required nothing short of a special act of grace to preserve him from it. I will say nothing of Malebranche; but Fenelon, if judged by the same standard as Emerson, would with difficulty escape from the same accusation. Is there any wide interval between the thoughts of the American mystic and his, when he says,
* Essays, etc., by Emerson, p. 142.
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"What do I see throughout all nature? God, God everywhere, and still God alone. When I reflect, Lord, that all being is in you, you exhaust and you engulf, O abyss of truth! My whole thought; I know not what becomes of me; all that is not you disappears; there hardly remains behind enough to enable me to be conscious of myself." Nevertheless, is Fenelon ranked with the company of pantheists? Is he a pantheist because he says, when speaking of inanimate creatures, that God does all in them; and of man, that each of us touches God, as with his hand; that he is near us and in every one of us? We must not scatter about too carelessly these words, pantheist and pantheism. The doctrine of grace itself, which plays so conspicuous a part in Christianity, especially in Calvinism, might it not, if submitted to a criticism which I will call refining and adventurous, be, with a very little straining, referred to pantheism as an effect to a cause? But indeed, it matters very little whether to the eye of that logic which makes a point of being consistent, Emerson may or may not appear to be a pantheist; all we desire to establish her is, that the idea of the Divine in him, whether or not ill comprehended and carried to excess, holds a considerable place in him, and that he is, through it, linked with all the leading religious minds, the founders of the great creeds of humanity.
A consequence of this predominance of the Divine in the mind is the powerful consciousness it has of its own
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personality. It would seem at first as if there were here a contradiction, and that the individual, face to face with the immensity which is so vividly present to him, ought to disappear, and vanish into nothing. But in fact there is none whatever; and it may be easily conceived, indeed, that confidence in ourselves will be in proportion to the impress of the Divine within us. If it be God who is in me, if it be his voice that I hear in the depths of my conscience, if it be he who directs my sentiments and thoughts, or rather, if it be he who feels and thinks in me, how can I avoid believing in myself? what higher authority, or one more worthy of commanding or of being obeyed, can I imagine? what other authority would not be impotent compared with this? All the founders of religion and philosophy who exhibit the stamp of religious inspiration, come before us with this assurance, with this entire confidence in themselves; so that, if with one hand they prostrate man, and cast him at the feet of God, with the other they lift him up, and place him in the proudest attitude. All religious minds discourse on this point, like the Gospel and like Pascal. Feeling themselves to be powerful individualities, because, in fact, they are such, and taking themselves for types, often unconsciously, they enlarge humanity to their own stature; they believe that in every man there is the divine flame which they are sensible of within themselves, and they make the individual the foundation-stone of the edifice. They all say with Emerson, "Trust thyself, every
l I N T R O D U C T I O N.
heart vibrates to that iron string;" and then, applying the principle, he says, "Accept the place the Divine Providence has found for you; the society of contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves, child-like, to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the Eternal was stirring at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and, not pinched in a corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but redeemers and benefactors, pious aspirants to be noble clay plastic under the Almighty effort, let us advance and advance on chaos and the dark." *
It follows of course -- and this is another feature in the character of the founders of a new religion or philosophy -- that Emerson has the most disdainful scorn for custom and tradition. "I appeal from your customs," he is constantly saying. "I must be myself; I cannot break myself any longer for you. ... What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? ... The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you, is that it scatters your force, it loses your time, and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead Church, contribute to a dead Bible Society, vote with a great party either for the Government or against it,
* Essays, etc., by Emerson, pp. 24, 25.
Ibid., p. 39.
Ibid., p. 26.
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spread your table like base housekeepers,under all these screens I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are.... We must walk alone." *
Of course, no men will be esteemed great by him, save on the condition of their having this high confidence in themselves, and the most supreme contempt for tradition. "The highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plate, and Milton, is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. .... Ah! then, exclaimed the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be understood. Misunderstood! it is a right fool’s word. Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."
No manner of external authority therefore has any pretence to be sufficient; and there is no other revelation than that which is internal. Such is and such must be the persuasion of all religious revealers and reformers, as well as of those who set themselves about effecting revolutions in philosophy. For these there is but one direct way of communicating with the Deity, and the internal sentiment it is alone which is the channel of communication. How make a breach in existing revelations, unless by its intstrumentality?
* Essays, etc., by Emerson, p. 28.
Ibid., p. 23.
Ibid., pp. 30, 31.
lii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
What other authority to oppose to their authority, unless it be that which speaks from the depths of personal conscience? Emerson, like all men of the same stamp, could not be made to comprehend that the source from which previous revelations had issued could be dried up, and that it had gushed forth only at a certain moment, and at a certain point of space, to seal itself up for ever. He could not comprehend the necessity of a special favour, and still less of an intermediary between man and God. Every intermediary must appear to him not only useless, but fatally mischievous, an obstacle interposing itself between the light and the eye. God reveals himself to us only through ourselves when we are fact to face with him, and place ourselves in the very centre of the current which proceeds from him to us. The Divine presence never makes itself felt in the midst of the crowd of teachers. It is necessary "to have broken our god of tradition, and have ceased from our god of rhetoric, in order that God may fire our heart with his presence." * If man "would know what the great God speaketh, he must go into his closet and shut the door, as Jesus said. ... He must greatly listen to himself, withdrawing himself from all the accents of other men’s devotions. ... When I rest in perfect humility, when I burn with pure love, what can Calvin or Swedenborg say? §... The faith that stands
* Essays, etc., by Emerson, p. 154.
Ibid., p. 155.
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on authority is not faith. The reliance on authority measures the decline of religion, the withdrawal of the soul. *... The relations of the soul to the Divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps. ... When the mind is simple and received a Divine wisdom, then old things pass away, -- means, texts, teachers, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour. ... If therefore a man claims to know and speak of God, and carries you back to the phraseology of some old mouldered nation, in another country, in another world, believe him not. Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fullness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence then this worship of the past? The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and majesty of soul.... Where the soul is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury, if it be any more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.... Man is timid and apologetic. He is not upright. Man dares not say, 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. The roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. §
The love of truth is not to be met with in religious
* Essays, etc., by Emerson.
Ibid., p. 35.
Ibid., pp. 35, 36.
§ Ibid., p. 36.
liv I N T R O D U C T I O N.
minds only, I mean in minds in which the religious feeling exceeds the ordinary proportions: it is the common inheritance of human nature, as it is one of its greatest glories. But I know not if this passion do not burn in the former with a brighter glow, if the possession of the truth, or that which they take for the truth, does not fill them with a more penetrating and a profounder joy than it does other men. Not only is their conviction so firm as to be incapable of being shaken, -- for what room can there be for doubt in him who believes himself to be in direct communication with the very source of truth? -- but as they feel it flow downwards into them, as theyreceive the influx of its divine stream, as they undergo, as it were, the immediate impression and touch of him who is truth itself, and who inspires truth, they must, as soon as they are first conscious of it, be, like the Pythoness on her tripod, in a state of indescribable rapture and transport, rejoicing even in the violence with which it affects them; and their language must bear the impress of these extraordinary influences.
Ante fores, subito non voltus, non color unus,
Non comptae mansere comae: sed pectus anhelum,
Et rabie fera corda tument; majorque videri,
Nec mortale sonans; afflata est numina quando
Jam propiore Dei."
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lv
to him, man is born for truth, cannot do without it, cannot detach himself from it without the death of his true life. It is therefore his duty to seek it without pause and without repose, and to sacrifice everything for it. As to Emerson himself, we feel, when reading him, that he is convinced of his possessing the truth, or rather that he is possessed by it, and we see enthusiasm pouring forth its tide into his style as into his soul. "Truth is our element.... Man must worship truth, forego all things for that and choose defeat and pain, so that his treasure and thought is thereby augumented.... God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please: you can never have both. Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates ever. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets, -- most likely his father’s. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He in whom the love of truth predominates, will keep himself aloof from all moorings and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the opposite negations between which, as walls, his being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion; but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of his being.... The circle of the green earth he must measure with his shoes, to find the man who can yield him truth. He shall then know that there is somewhat more great and blessed
lvi I N T R O D U C T I O N.
in hearing than in speaking. Happy is the hearing man, unhappy the speaking man. As long as I hear truth, I am bathed by a beautiful element, and am not conscious of any limits to my nature. The suggestions are thousandfold that I hear and see. The waters of the great deep have ingress to, and egress from my soul." *
Never did man speak with more enthusiasm for truth, and with more of the love that is its due. We feel that Emerson is profoundly convinced, and that for him the revelation of truth is, as he himself elsewhere says, the highest event in nature. It is easy to collect from what precedes that the philosophical and religious movement of which Emerson is the embodiment, constitutes a genuine reaction against Calvinism. Independently of his starting-point, almost all the principles of Emerson are the antitheses of those of the Puritans. While according to Calvin there is nothing but sin and forfeiture in humanity, Emerson sees in man the masterpiece of creation, a privileged being, summoned to the happiest destiny. Calvin divides men into two categories essentially distinct, the elect and the reprobate; the former incapable of sin; the former destined to eternal happiness, the latter, without the power of saving themselves, condemned throughout all eternity, and composing the immense majority. Emerson opens up the same career to all, and represents salvation
* Essays, etc., by Emerson, pp. 177-179.
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lvii
and perfection as the reward of free effort and free thought. Calvinism, in spite of its violent opposition to Catholicism, and the continual imputations of paganism that it casts upon it, is not in itself, in point of fact, entirely free from that mechanism which it reproachfully ascribes to the Roman Church. Without the pomp and poetical grandeur of Catholicism, it has itself also transformed religion into art, -- at all events, up to a certain point, -- and reduced it to the formality of a recipe. Thus, it has its sermons, which are to be heard on a given day; it has its certain predetermined posture for receiving the Communion; it has other ceremonies still of the same kind; in fact, it is a system, an infallible catechism, from which no deviation is ever permissible, which consequently stifles the divine spirit, which clips the wings of free thought, and in which to say everything in one word, individuality is impossible. All this, it will be easily understood, in incompatible with Emerson’s views. There is, indeed, between him and Calvin something in common, and this is the principle that everything which proceeds from man is bad. But this community of opinion is merely on the surface; there are fundamental differences in the interpretation of the principle itself which restore and maintain the antagonism. With Calvin, for instance, internal revelation does not suffice to determine, amid the tumult of facts which constitute human life, the share in them of God, and that of man; so that we can never know to what category we
lviii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
belong, not even if we are in the way of reprobation or salvation.
With Emerson the internal voice is infallible; it never has deceived itself, and can never deceive us; it is enough to listen to it in order to know if we are or are not with God.
Emerson, unless I mistake him, exhibits all the essential features of a reformer: religious feeling in an eminent degree, scorn for tradition and opinion, confidence in himself and in the revelations of conscience, love of truth, -- in a word, an ardent and enthusiastic faith. Hence we have a right to believe that we have here discovered, in their most hidden and deeply seated origin, the instincts and the germs, if I may say so, which, by their development, constitute religions. It will be perhaps objected that from these instincts and germs, which are to be found in almost all men, with more or less difference, or rather shades of difference, to the establishment of a firm and compact religion, existing on a grand scale, extending its dominion over a great number of minds, there is a wide stride; that it is, at best, a nebulous condition of things, and that the question is to find in it a fixed star. We do not dispute this. Still we must take care not to suffer ourselves to be deceived by the illusions of the perspective, or rather, of the medium in which we are. Among us, Emerson could only be a moralist and a philosopher. In the United States of America he is each of these also; but he might
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lix
very well become something more, he might become a religious reformer, a pontiff, the head of a church. We shall never be able, on this side of the Atlantic, in these days, to appreciate the facility with which sects, which may be considered as religions in embryo, are formed, wherever religious thought can develop itself with perfect freedom. To those who have visited America, and have seen with their own eyes the prolific power of the religious feeling which exists in this vast and free country, it would seem hardly doubtful but that it would be easy to evolve a form of religious worship out of the moral and mystic data that are to be found in Emerson. It would be enough to draw from them what the Quakers have drawn from analogous dogmas. The Quakers have a religious worship, very simple, very unobtrusive, almost imperceptible; but at all events they have one; nor did it cost them any great trouble to form it. They had only to attend to their own principle, which is that of Emerson, “that it is necessary above all things, to listen to the internal voice, to let God speak.” This principle lent itself without difficulty, and, as it were, of its own accord, to external forms, to baptism, to a communion, a priesthood. Whit them baptism is the self-renunciation of the believer, who denies himself in order to give himself up entirely to the God whom conscience and the Gospel have revealed to him; communion is the state of the soul at the moment it partakes of the Divine nature, while raising itself to God and remaining
lx I N T R O D U C T I O N.
absorbed in him; worship is the state of concentrated repose which by its silence permits the inward voice to speak; priesthood is the inspiration of the whole body of the faithful, who repeat whatever this voice dictates. In these are comprised all their rites, all their sacraments, and all their worship. At their meeting-houses there is nothing which suggests a church, much less a catholic church; benches and a pulpit, nothing else. But for all this it is not the less a real worship than it is a real religion; and I know not where it would be possible to find beings more religious, moral, and pure. In very many countries of Europe, where we are accustomed to see religion surrounded by pompous ceremonies, we can hardly figure to ourselves that she can possibly proceed on her way without such accompaniments. But this is the misapprehension which is completely dissipated by what we find in America. Forms -- and this applies to all races of men -- are less necessary to ideas than is supposed. This is especially true in democratic countries, a fact which has not escaped the notice of M. de Tocqueville in his admirable work upon America. "I have shown," he says, in reference to the philosophical method of the Americans, "that nothing is more revolting to the human mind, wherever equality prevails, than the idea of being bound by forms. Men who live in such a phase with difficulty tolerate symbols, which appear to them to be puerile artifices resorted to either to veil from, or render agreeable to, their eyes,
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lxi
truths which it would be more natural to exhibit wholly unveiled, and in broad daylight; they remain cold at the sight of ceremonies, and are naturally inclined to attach but a secondary importance to details of religious worship."
A religion like that which exists in the mind of Emerson, preached by a man of action, who with faith should combine the ambition of spreading his ideas, and who, to the enthusiasm of a profoundly religious mind, should super-add the fanaticism of a sectary, would have a great chance of establishing his influence, especially among the well-informed classes in North America. What appears to me to be the great difficulty, I mean the institution of a religious worship, would come, as it were, of itself, and soon spring up spontaneously from the soil. Give Emerson the rough ambition of Calvin, the power of influencing the masses of Luther, the proselytizing spirit of George Fox, or the persistency of Joseph Smith, and a religious renovation might be accomplished, -- not in some minds only, but in the multitude, -- and a new faith added to those that exist. But in truth it signifies little; whether quickened by him or by others, there still remains the fact that there is in him a powerful germ of religious creativeness, the germ of a religion which I would willingly call natural, if all religions were not equally natural. And it is fair to suppose that with the peculiar genius of America, and the facility with which it constructs a church for the service
lxii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
of a religious idea, this germ will not be unproductive. We have been in a position to satisfy ourselves of the progress that has taken place in the direction of this personal religion, and it is now several years since an American authoress, Margaret Fuller, wrote these words, in which allusion is made to the religion of the future: -- "Emerson’s influence does not yet extend over a great area; he is too much beyond his country and his time to be at once and wholly comprehended; but his philosophy is sinking deeply into the intellect, and every year enlarges its sphere. Emerson is the prophet of better days. One day or other a commanding influence will be his."
But more than this, I do not hesitate to say that the germ of religious creation so perceptible in Emerson has not remained barren. Already has the plant not only shown itself above the ground, but it is beginning to spring up and put forth foliage. There is no ignoring the fact: an actual religion, as actual as any other, resting on conscientious convictions, on argumentative data, on facts, feelings, ideas, and the primitive impressions of human nature, exists at this very moment! Natural religion, hitherto admitted as a brilliant abstraction only by the learned, regarded merely as a chimera by others, classed among insoluble problems, such as squaring the circle or perpetual motion, is decidedly a fact, a palpable, remarkable fact which strikes the eye and ear like the mid-day sun or the brawling of the ocean when lashed by an
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lxiii
equinoctial tempest. There is at the present moment a religious community in Boston which has completely broken with Christianity, and settled itself upon a basis which is entirely new; which, resting exclusivelyn on the inward thoughts and feelings of each individual, moves on unassisted, with a step as firm as that of other religious communities that surround it; which prays, preaches, controverts, lives, as they do, and only differs from them in this one particular, namely, that they are losing, while it is gaining ground, -- not certainly a sign of impotence, much less of impossibility; at least, so it seems to me. We must look twice before declaring a thing to be impossible, and it is difficult to dissent from Theodore Parker when he says, -- "It is not for me to say there is no limit to the possible attainments of man’s religious or other faculties. I will not dogmatize where I do not know. But history shows that the Hercules' Pillars of one age are sailed through in the next, and a wide ocean entered on, which in due time is found rich with islands of its own, and washing a vast continent not dreamed of by such as slept within their temples old, while it sent to their very coasts its curious joints of unwonted cane, its seeds of many an unknown tree, and even elaborate boats, wherein lay the starved bodies of strange-featured men, with golden jewels in their ears." * It is not for m an to trace an impassable circle round the nature of things. Milton exhibits God to
* Theodore Parker's Experience as a Minister, p. 53.
lxiv I N T R O D U C T I O N.
us in the act of creation, fixing the boundaries of the universe:--
He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God’s eternal store, to circumscribe
The universe, and all created things.
One foot he centered, and the other turned
Round through the vast profundity obscure,
And said: 'Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds,
This be thy just circumference, O world!'" *
For my part, before setting foot in America, it had occurred to me that natural religion, in the usual sense of the word, that is to say, a religion founded exclusively on the facts of our nature, without any dependence on, or trace of, the supernatural, might be possible in a certain medium, and under certain given conditions. It seemed to me that to realize this, the only thing requisite would be that the new religion in certain respects should prove itself superior to the supernatural religions with which it would have to struggle, that it should have the power of preaching its doctrines with a certain degree of liberty, and that its
Paradise Lost, vii. 224-231.
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lxv
preacher should be a man of action. I saw no reason why it should happen, that the religions of Buddha and Mohammed, for instance, -- treated as fictions by Christianity, and in fact really such, -- should, in spite of the evident absurdities they contain, have been permitted to burst forth into life, and that the same permission, the same faculty of being born at its own proper time, should be denied to a creed not only free from the same absurdities, but satisfying the noblest sentiments and most elevated instincts of man’s nature. The opinion which makes the supernatural a condition indispensable to the existence of all religions possessing a form of religious worship, never seemed to me to have the force of an axiom, and the past was to me no argument against the future. It seemed to me that if the philosophers might believe in God without believing in miracles, the mass enlightened by these philosophers, brought in process of time to the same degree of illumination, placed under the same mental conditions, might have no more need than the philosophers themselves of illusions and wonders. The problem of religious worship, so puzzling to many, did not appear to me to be more difficult of solution than that of the religious belief itself. Worship considered in its essence being nothing else than meditation, the raising up of our thoughts toward the ideal, it cannot but be one and the same thing for the philosopher and for the mass; only while with the philosopher the action of the thought is isolated, with the mass it becomes
lxvi I N T R O D U C T I O N.
public, and from this moment it is as it were compelled to become incarnate, to find an impressive organ which shall give it outward utterance, and which, projecting it into the world, stimulates it to action and augments its power; in a word, it must find an interpreter and a minister. Here, it must be confessed, is the great difficulty with which this principle has to grapple. It often happens that the church exists morally before it finds its preacher; but we are warranted in thinking, and the history of the world furnishes more than one illustration of it, that it always ends by finding him. It is with religious as with political opinions in countries that are free: they always succeed in finding interpreters, and, if the idea be worthy of being promulgated, apostles, who lay hold of minds, and who, by the in some sort magic influence of the invisible idea working in them, group men around a visible worship, which gives them those habits of religious intercommunion whence external worship results, and which, by the effect of the common creed, gathers them into permanent associations that are actual churches. When the moment comes, when minds are prepared, when perfect liberty exists, why should not the new creed, like a steam-engine furnished with all the means of locomotion, put itself in motion, as soon as it finds an engineer to give it a first impulse and a subsequent direction?
Theodore Parker has been the engineer of the new faith in North America. Parker did not make the engine, which
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lxvii
is the work of no one man, but of all, and especially of time; he has created no religious school; he simply placed himself in the current, but a current already whirled along by a strong wind, by the powerful afflatus of the ideas and inspirations which we have already indicated in Emerson. It is reasonable to suppose that at an early period of his life, and before entering upon his religious mission, Parker was in an eminent degree impressed by this brilliant and superior intellect. While still very young, Emerson appeared to him like a shining light issuing "from the clerical constellation, that stood forth alone a fixed and solitary star." At a somewhat later period of his life, he followed the movement of this star with a scrutinizing yet fascinated eye. During the time of his theological studies, and in the first years of his ministry, (which fell, as he says, "in the most interesting period of New England’s spiritual history, when a great revolution went on, so silent that few men knew it was taking place,") of all the eminent men who were more or less directly, more or less spontaneously maturing this great revolution, it was the philosopher of Massachusetts who most influenced his thoughts, and who seemed to him to be the inspiration of the present and the herald of the future. "The brilliant genius of Emerson," he says, "rose in the winter nights, and hung over Boston, drawing the eyes of ingenuous young people to look up to that great new star, a beauty and a mystery, which charmed for a moment, whilst it gave also perennial inspiration,
lxviii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
as it led them forward along new paths and toward new hopes. America had seen no such sight before; it is not less a blessed wonder now." * Thus, without being so much involved, to all appearance, in pantheism as Emerson seems to be, Parker is not far removed from the same turn of thought, as, to confine myself to one illustration only, may be inferred from the following passage:-- "This infinitely perfect God is immanent in the World of Matter, and in the World of Spirit, the two hemispheres which to us make up the Universe; each particle thereof is inseparable from him, while he yet transcends both, is limited by neither, but in himself is complete and perfect."
Be this as it may, it is easy to perceive from this, without its being at all necessary to enter into a detailed exposition of his philosophical ideas, whether derived from Emerson or elsewhere, how far, as respects his metaphysical principles, Parker is removed from Christianity, and how deep is the chasm which separates them. Placed moreover on the eminence of free thought, and inspired by it alone, it was but a light matter form him in practice, in the first place to reject the supernatural birth of Christ, and the Bible as a work of special inspiration, in a word, all traditional authority, and then to bring his own doctrine to the front, to preach, as he says, “another Gospel,” not resting any longer upon an authority lost in the mists of time, vastly problematic
* Theodore Parker's Experience, etc., pp. 22, 23.
Ibid., pp. 45, 46.
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lxix
utterly discredited, incessantly controverted by the most learned, rudely shaken therefore every moment, and in its turn violently shaking the most important truths which opinion has too often identified with its destiny; but, on the contrary, resting on a natural authority ever present in the conscience or the reason of all men, certain even to absolute certainty, lifted by its own internal evidence beyond the reach of all controversy, harmonizing with the most simple as well as with the highest truths, and imparting to them an unconquerable strength.
Nothing can be more simple than Parker’s religious doctrine. It may be summed up in a few words, borrowed from himself:-- "1. The infinite perfection of God, which he calls “the corner-stone of all my theological and religious teachingthe foundation, perhaps, of all that is peculiar in my system.* 2. The adequacy of man for all his functions, which is the consequence of the relative perfection of man deduced by him from the infinite perfection of God. 3. Absolute or natural religion, that is to say, the normal
* Experience, p. 44. In reference to this point, Parker observes:-- "The idea of God's imperfection has been carried out with dreadful logic in the Christian Scheme. Thus it is commonly taught, in all the great theelogies, that at the crucifixion of Jesus, the Creator of the Universe was put to death, and his own creatures were his executioners. Besides, in the ecclesiastic conception of Deity, there is a fourth person to the Godhead, namely, the Devil, an outlying member, unacknowledged, indeed, the complex of all evil, but as much a part of Deity as either Son or Holy Ghost, and far more powerful than all the rest, who seem but jackals to provide for this roaring lion, which devours what the others but create, die for, inspire, and fill." Ibid., pp. 44, 45.
lxx I N T R O D U C T I O N.
development, use, discipline, enjoyment of every part of the body, and every faculty of the spirit; the direction of all natural powers to their natural purposes."
Nothing can be more simple assuredly than this, in spite of the multiplicity of ideas which may be evolved from these three principles. But the very simplicity of a dogma is itself a great force in an enlightened society. Whatever mixes up with the pure conception of the Deity, as it is stamped on man’s conscience, that which is foreign to it, tends only to weaken it; and it is a gross error on the part of theologians to believe that by loading the Divine image with ornamental accessories they add to its beauty and to its marvellousness, and that by placing it in a conventional light they can bring out its splendour to greater advantage; it is, on the contrary, in its inaccessible solitude, in the far distance of the immense perspective, in the shadow of the infinite in which it chooses to conceal itself, that we must contemplate it, if we desire to experience in all its intensity that which is termed its religious terror. And I add, looking from a theological point of view, that it is in this direction we must turn our thoughts in times like our own, if we desire to induce habits of religious thought in the mind. It is on this condition only that success can be assured, but then, as the example of Parker sufficiently proves, success becomes inevitable.
The life of Parker demonstrates that religious convictions will always find interpreters worthy of them. There is nothing
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finer in the contemporary history of America than his apostleship. Never did any man put more constancy and force of mind at the service of a conviction than he has. It may be even said that he has pushed his devotedness to heroism, even to martyrdom, for he literally died at his post. It seems that he in very early years prepared himself for the mission which has been the business of his whole life. One is almost startled at the intellectual toils to which he submitted even from boyhood; literature, history, science, theology, philosophy, he had gone through all, had sifted all. On coming of age, he shrinks from no fatigue, no difficulty. We must follow him when he does battle against what he calls "the great obvious social forces in America, the organized trading power, the organized ecclesiastical power, and the organized literary power;" we must see the obstacles he encounters and which inevitably he must encounter in a free country, and the efforts he makes to surmount them as far as is practicable; we must see his continual journeys, his periodical preachings in every part of the Union, in great cities and small, even in steamboats, everywhere where he can hope to win over a soul or to sow the seeds of his ideas, in order to have a complete idea of the man. We shall then have looked upon one of the most interesting spectacles which it is possible to enjoy; and I should regret the necessity of turning away from it, were I not under the obligation of immediately passing on to the result already attained at the moment
lxxii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
when he was struck down by death, a result which so much zeal and so much devotedness could hardly fail to secure.
This result can be stated in a single word: natural religion is now an external fact, it has an established church; there exists a community of Deists which, founded but a few years ago, now counts a very considerable number of followers, and extends from year to year the circle of its influence. But we will let the new church proclaim its existence in its own words, and furnish, as it were, a certificate of its own birth. These are the terms in which the members of "the Twenty-eighth Congregational Society of Boston" addressed their beloved minister in a letter with more than three hundred signatures attached to it, written during the long illness which preceded his death:--
"On the formal organization of this Society, when you were installed as its minister, on the 4th of January, 1846, you preached a sermon of 'The True Idea of a Christian Church.' How well and faithfully you have laboured from that time till now, to make that idea a fact, and to build up such a church, we all know.... We cannot but feel a just pride in the success of this church; that in spite of all obstacles, it has strengthened and increased from year to year, and that the circle of its influence has continually widened. Thousands of earners men and women, in this and other lands, who do not gather with us from week to week, look to this church as their City of Refuge; their sympathies, their convictions, and their hopes coincide with our own; they are of us, though not with us. Most of them have never listened
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lxxiii
to your voice, nor looked upon your face, but the noble words which you have uttered are dear to their hearts, and they also bless God for the service which you have done for them...."
In Emerson, then, we find religion in its very essence, at the moment when it springs up in the mind of man and first presents itself to his consciousness; in Parker we see how such a religion may, through the energy of a powerful and practical intellect, acquire vitality and action, and establish itself by its own proper power, independently of all outward succour, whatever certain moral and social conditions have been satisfied. But the independence of thought, the resolute mode of dealing with the past, are requisite for such a result, possible only to men of the highest order of intelligence. Generally speaking the mind which has been nurtured and has attained maturity under the influence of a creed handed down from a remote period, will not be able to reascend at a singe bound to the primitive source of all religious belief, or the arrive either at a religious system so completely radical as that of Emerson, or a form of worship so free from ceremonialism as that of Parker. Still we, on this side of the Atlantic, also have our Emersons, and, were we placed under the same external conditions, we too could found a religious system like Parker. But in Catholic countries where there is no intermediate point between the rejection of the religion which has been learnt in infancy, and the acceptance of a purely philosophic faith, there can be no
lxxiv I N T R O D U C T I O N.
change short of revolution. No such thing as a half-believer is tolerated. For how is it possible there should be degrees of belief in those absolute creeds, such as Catholicism for instance, which impose themselves as one unbroken whole, which exclude interpretation, and which, in fact, we must either accept entire or let alone. It is otherwise with Protestantism: free interpretation being its essence, its suppleness and flexibility are immense; it adapts itself to all the wants of the mind; every one is free to raise or lower the standard of authority and liberty as he likes, and to allot such quota of the religious element as he pleases to religion itself. Hence it is that Protestantism is so capable of improvement, or at all events that it is so susceptible of changes and revolutions; and that it seems able to serve as a means of transition from supernatural religion to those religions which, as we have seen in the case of Emerson, rest only upon Nature herself.
Channing is a remarkable example of the difficulty a man has to break off entirely with positive creeds, and of the elasticity which characterizes the different forms of Protestantism. He offers another striking proof of that religious prolificacy and pliability which we indicate as one of the characteristics of humanity in a certain medium, and under certain determinate conditions. In Emerson, as we have seen, all trace of external authority vanishes. The name of Christianity recurs indeed, but without the prestige of the supernatural; while the idea of an evangelical
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revelation as a special intervention of the Deity never occurs to him. He has completely separated himself from tradition, and broken to pieces, to use his own expression, his “God of tradition.” Jesus is always in his view a superior being, but not one who stands apart from the natural conditions of humanity; he still speaks from on high, but the height on which he is, no longer reaches to heaven; he is a revealer after the fashion of other men who can hear within themselves the voice of God, -- neither more nor less. There is nothing marvellous in him, save his superior aptitude for listening to this internal voice, and the sincerity of his utterance. "Jesus speaks always from within, and in a degree that transcends all others. In that is the miracle. My soul believes beforehand that it ought so to be. All men stand continually in the expectation of the appearance of such a teacher." * Certainly it is impossible to express oneself better; but we have here merely the language of the deist Rousseau, and the repetition of that admirable eulogium upon the Gospel which we read in the profession of faith made by the Savoyard curate.
Channing is not so absolute. Unity, that is to say, true religion, that in which there is no possible dissidence, that unity which Emerson seeks in the universal revelation of conscience and reason, Channing thinks he finds in Christianity, in the Gospel interpreted by reason. He believes firmly in a supernatural revelation, accorded at a certain
* Essays, etc., by Emerson, p. 151.
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moment of history to supplement the internal revelation which every man has in himself, and to prevent the flame from flickering and going out. In the great work of religious revolution, which is the chronic state of North America, he represents the phase of transition to which I have just alluded. Though he is at the top of the ladder, and separated by a single step only from absolute independence, nevertheless this step has yet to be taken: loose as may be the tie which binds him to the Gospel, this tie exists, and so Channing continues to be Christian. Christ, according to his creed, is not an incarnate God; otherwise he would be a Christian after the fashion of the other sectaries with which America swarms. "Jesus," said Arius in his letter to Bishop Alexander, "is the first of God's creatures; His perfect creature, but still a creature. It is God alone that has not been created." Such was Canning's view. According to him, there is nothing more in the founder of Christianity than a superior being, appointed to change the moral aspect of the universe, to bring all nations to the pure and inward worship of a God, to the love of God and men, but connected with humanity by his essence, and not different from other men save in the degree and special nature of his destination. It is to this extent that Channing is a Christian, and that Christ is to him the Son of God; and he is thus enabled to preserve to the latter his prestige and the glorious halo which under the rasher or bolder hand of Emerson have
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completely disappeared. If the revealer be not divine, at all events the revelation is divine. The Gospel is ever the holy idea which must be incessantly contemplated and worked up to, taking care at the same time to purify it from the errors with which time has incrusted it; it always continues to be the word of God; all that we have to do is to re-establish the purity and integrity of this word, and to restore to it, as it were, the cadence and tone which it had when falling from the lips of the Divine Master. It is evident from this that Channing is of Protestant lineage, that he has for his starting-point the theory of a primitive Christianity which has been adulterated, and that what he aims at is reform, not revolution. Born in the very thick of Calvinism, he casts off the yoke of all official religion; he breaks with every dogma that the considers contrary to reason or incompatible with the goodness of God; the mysteries, the ceremonies appended to religion, appear to him to be superstitions unworthy of human intelligence, bonds which impede him in his progress towards happiness and salvation, and which it is absolutely necessary we should have the power to burst; still his starting-point and his resting-place are in Christianity, but a free, spontaneous, and, if I may so say, a completely personal Christianity, which excludes all external authority of church and sect, and admits no other communion than that which institutes among men the love and worship of truth.
It is easy, and will not be uninteresting, to give a more
lxxviii I N T R O D U C T I O N.
exact idea of Channing's Christianity. According to him, Christ is not an incarnate God; he is simply the most extraordinary being that ever appeared upon earth. Independently of great qualities of heart and mind which shine in him, that which gives him a special position in the history of humanity is, "his conviction," says Channing, "of the grandeur of the human soul. He saw in man the impress and image of the divinity, and therefore thirsted for his redemption and took the tenderest interest in him, whatever might be the rank, character, or condition in which he was found. *... Jesus looked on men with an eye which pierced beneath the material frame. The body vanished before him. The trappings of the rich, the rags of the poor, were nothing to him. He looked through them, as though they did not exist, to the soul; and there, amidst clouds of indolence and plague-spots of sin, he recognized a spiritual and immortal nature and the germs of power and perfection which might be unfolded for ever. In the most fallen and depraved man he saw a being who might become an angel of light. Still more, he felt that there was nothing in himself to which men might not ascend. His own lofty consciousness did not sever him from the multitude; for he saw in his own greatness the model of what men might become."
According to Channing's view, it is here, in this perception of the original grandeur of the human soul, that the
* Works of W. E. Channing, D.D., Belfast, 1843, vol. Ii. P. 61.
I N T R O D U C T I O N. lxxix
true nature of Christ's mission discloses itself, and nothing is more intimately related than is this sublime sentiment to the essential aim of Christianity, which is to excite the soul to live with a more elevated life, more nobly to exercise its faculties and its affections, and, moreover, to make it acquainted with the perfection of God as a means of urging itself forward in the path of perfection.
No one, as far as I am aware, has spoken on these great questions in a nobler and more Christian strain than Channing, or with a sincerer and purer tone, and it is really a pleasure to quote him:--
"Jesus Christ came to reveal the Father. In the prophecies concerning him in the Old Testament, no characteristic is so frequently named as that he should spread the knowledge of the true God. Now I ask, what constitutes the importance of such a revelation? Why has the Creator sent his Son to make himself known? I answer, God is most worthy to be known, because he is the most quickening, purifying, and ennobling object for the mind; and his great purpose in revealing himself is, that he may exalt and perfect human nature. God, as he is manifested by Christ, is another name for moral and intellectual excellence; and in the knowledge of him our intellectual and moral powers find their element, nutriment, strength, expansion, and happiness. To know God is to attain to the sublimest conception of the universe. To love God is to bind ourselves to a being who is fitted as no other being is to penetrate and move our whole hearts; in loving whom we exalt ourselves, in loving whom we love the great, the good, the beautiful, and the infinite;
lxxx I N T R O D U C T I O N.
and under whose influence the soul unfolds itself as a perennial plant under the cherishing sun. This constitutes the chief glory of religion, it ennobles the soul. In this its unrivalled dignity and happiness consists." *
There is here unquestionably nor originality. Christianity, under whatever for it has exhibited itself, presents hardly any other ideal, and so far as we may say that Channing is Christian after the patter of everybody else; but what peculiarly distinguishes him, and gives him a position and character of his own in the midst of theoretical Protestantism, is, if not his view of the object commonly assigned to Christianity, at all events his constant protest against narrow and vulgar interpretations, and above all the spotless purity and almost divine disinterestedness of his doctrine. There is, according to him, in all official religion a constant divergence from the true Christian spirit. Imparted to the world for the purpose of elevating and ennobling the human mind, Christianity has been turned into an instrument for enslaving and degrading it. "It has been used to scare the child and appal the adult." They have tortured and twisted it in such a way, "that in one or another form it has always been an instrument for crushing the human soul." In addition to this it has been made a kind of selfish speculation, a means of salvation, instead of being made what it really is, the worship of a perfect Being who
* Works of W. E. Channing, D.D., vol. I. pp. 589, 590.
Ibid., p. 590.
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communicates perfection to those who adore him. Hence is it that its very essence has disappeared as from a vase wantonly mutilated. But, more than this, God himself has been assailed. Men, so to speak, have dragged the sky downwards, have placed it on the level with earth. God has become a being greedy of praise and dominion, envious of the empty glory of conquerors and despots; as though God had sent his Son to multiply the number of slaves, to ingratiate us with an almighty agent whose frown is destruction. * We may now easily conceive Channing’s aversion to Calvinism. Like Emerson, though starting from a different principle, he ends in the same feeling of repugnance for this terrible form of Christianity. Like Emerson, too, he rouses himself with the greatest energy against all that is mere mechanism and external form in religion. "I meet there," he says, "no minute legislation, no descending to precise details, no arbitrary injunction, no yoke of ceremonies, no outward religion." There exists nothing of this kind in primitive Christianity; there everything breathes freedom and grandeur. “I meet there, not a formal, rigid creed, binding on the intellect; through all ages the mechanical passive repetition of the same words and the same ideas; but I meet a few grand, all-comprehending truths, which are given to the soul to be developed and applied by itself; given to it as seed to the sower, to be cherished and expanded by its own thought, love, and obedience,
* Works of W. E. Channing, D.D., 1843, vol. I. p. 91.
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into more and more glorious fruits of wisdom and virtue." * All this formalism, all this external mechanism, seems to him to be of a nature to substitute in place of the soul’s action, -- the only one which is efficacious and conformable to the spirit of Christianity, -- an external activity that is deadly or barren: he looks upon forms as clouds, as deceptive shadows interposed between God and man, that must be dispersed if we desire to obtain a glimpse of heaven in its pure and eternal light.
It naturally follows that the idea of a formal, positive, and sharply defined church is fundamentally objectionable to him. "There has always existed, and still exists, a disposition to attach undue importance 'to the church' which a man belongs to. To be a member of the 'true church' has been insisted on as essential to human salvation. Multitudes have sought comfort, and not seldom found their ruin, in the notion that they were embraced in the motherly arms of 'the true church,' for with this they have been satisfied. Professed Christians have fought about ‘the church,’ as if it were a matter of life and death. The Roman Catholic shuts the gate of heaven upon you because you will not enter his 'church.' Among the Protestants are those who tell you that the promises of Christianity do not belong to you, be your character what it may, unless you receive the Christian ordinances from the ministers of their church."
* Channing's Works, vol. I. P. 592.
Ibid., vol. Ii. P. 263.
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Not that Channing by any means rejects all outward worship, all communion between the faithful, or is for leaving the soul exclusively to its own solitary meditations. He is quite aware that it has need of being sustained and fixed, and that mind of all is necessary to the mind of each. If the Christian spirit, such as he has formulated and defined it, is the essential, it by no means follows that it always suffices to itself, and that there is nothing beyond it in man which can give it assistance and support. If neither Jesus nor his disciples have given us any definite system of ecclesiastical organization; it, on the contrary, Christianity has broken the circle of complex and petrified forms in which Judaism has imprisoned the Divine idea; it, in the absence of determined and established forms, it has aimed by anticipation at adapting itself to every movement, to every advance of humanity; if, in a word, it has proposed to itself as its ultimate end an inward worship, that which comes from the depths of the soul; if the organization adopted by i9t at its origin has disappeared with the circumstances which suggested it, as, for instance, apostles, prophets, miracles, gifts of healing, etc., we are not hence to conclude that there is to be no communion whatever between the faithful, no mark by which they can mutually recognize each other, no sensible bond by which they can be bound together. "Our nature is social. We cannot live alone. We cannot shut up any great feeling in our hearts. We seek for others to partake it with us. The full soul
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finds at once relief and strength in sympathy. This is especially true in religion, the most social of all our sentiments, the only universal bond on earth." * Association, then, there will be; but an association in which nothing is arbitrary or forced, a free and spontaneous union, evolving itself out of the principles and very groundwork of our nature. This association it is which will create a worship, and which, without any assistance or direction, will discover the form most conducive to the end desired; that which, according to times and places, will best adapt itself to the spirit of Christ, the spirit of the love of God and of all mankind: all the more salutary for this, that the ministry of the church will have all the more moral, intellectual, and religious value in proportion as the spiritual character of its members shall have more of elevation and purity, more of charity and holiness.
Channing was, with certain limitations, so far from being adverse to the church as an institution, that the Catholic forms of worship, in a great many particulars, found favour with him. The decoration of churches with paintings representing the most touching scenes of the Life and Death of Christ, was very far from being offensive to him. Its title of Universal Church especially, was in the highest degree agreeable to him; and he complimented it, not on its worship (the word would have grated harshly on his ears) of saints, but on the pious remembrance which it encourages
* Works of W. E. Channing, D.D., vol. ii. p. 265.
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of the great characters and religious minds that have honourably illustrated it; and because it "had thus given to its members the feelings of intimate relation to the holiest and noblest men in all preceding ages." * Though belonging, as he said, to the universal church, he was by no means the adversary of particular churches; but he thought that external, material, and stiff observances were, in general, obstructions. According to him, an inward voice protested "against the perpetual repetition of the same signs, motions, words, as unworthy of their own spiritual powers, and of Him who deserves the highest homage of the reason and the heart." The church, as he understood it, ought to have another character and a very different value. "In its true idea, or regarded as the union of those who partake in the spirit of Jesus Christ, I revere it as the noblest of all associations. Our common social unions are poor by its side. In the world we form ties of interest, pleasure, ambition. We come together as creatures of time and sense, for transient amusement or display. In the church we meet as God’s children; we recognize in ourselves something higher than this animal in worldly life. We come that holy feeling may spread from heart to heart. The church, in its true idea, is a retreat from the world. We meet in it, that by union with the holy, we may get strength to withstand our common
* Works of W. E. Channing, D.D., vol. ii. p. 273.
Ibid., p. 279.
lxxxvi I N T R O D U C T I O N.
intercourse with the impure. We meet to adore God, to open ourn souls to his spirit, and, by recognition of the common Father, to forget all distinction among ourselves, to embrace all men as brothers." *
What we have just said will give a sufficiently correct idea of the Christianity of Channing. A divine revelation without a divine revealer, an inward revelation enlightened by the former, and in its turn purifying and disinfecting it of everything human and earthly that may have intruded into it; the whole tending to a progressive moral elevation, and to a church universal in its spirit; such, in a few words, is the entire thought of the new reformer. We are here, it must be confessed, very far from what, in the eyes of a Catholic, for instance, constitutes the essence of religion; and without which, in his view, one is but a member of the congregation of free-thinkers. And yet it would be a serious error to suppose that there is not her, I do not say only the data of a true religion, -- that of course, -- but a firm and solid basis for the religious sentiment, for faith in the fundamental idea of the Divine, for that "long hope, and those vast views," which a more orthodox or more antique Christianity brings with it. No one has dared to cast a shadow of doubt on the sincerity of Channing’s conviction, and it is difficult to determine which is most worthy of admiration, his views, the unity of his character, the sincerity of his faith, or the moral beauty of his life. The
* Channing's Works, vol. ii., p. 280.
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emphasis of a deep conviction, is it anywhere more striking than in the following passage? -- "The Gospels must be true; they were drawn from a living original; they were founded on reality. The character of Jesus is not a fiction; he is what he claimed to be, and what his followers attested. Nor is this all. Jesus not only was, he is still the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. He exists now, he has entered that heaven to which he always looked forward on earth. There he lives and reigns. With a clear calm faith I see him in that state of glory; and I confidently expect, at no distant period, to see him face to face. We have indeed no absent friend whom we shall so surely meet." * Men who have been brought up in the lap of official religions, and who are still attached to them, accustomed to incarnate the idea in the form, regard these two things as inseparable. They cannot conceive that the faith can survive when the rite has been thrown overboard. And they naturally suppose that, when the threshold of the hereditary church is passed, the soul is like a dove, which in its flight has gone beyond the extreme bounds of the atmosphere, and is endeavouring to keep upon its pinions in a vacuum. According to their view, man, once separated from the creed of his infancy, can never again earnestly embrace a new one. It is much if he frame a new one even intellectually, but as to faith in it, he will have none; and whatever he may say or do, his head will have henceforth
* Channing's Works, vol. ii., p. 61..
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no better pillow to repose upon than doubt. But this is to take a very incorrect view of human nature. Nowhere is conviction stronger than among innovators, reformers and their converts. Channing, a man eminently honest, whose life was but one long apostleship, one holy and thoroughly disinterested mission, had, we reassert it, a burning faith, and he derived from it that purity of happiness, that repose of conscience, and that vivacity of moral impressions, which faith only can impart. Listen to him, as he exclaims at the close of his career: -- "Life appears to me a gift which is every day increasing in value. I have not found it a cup foaming and sparkling at the surface, and becoming tasteless in proportion as it is emptied.... Life is a blessing to all. Could I seen others as happy as I am myself, what a world would ours be! But the world is good in spite of the mist which surrounds it. The longer I live, the more I see the light struggling through the cloud. I am sure the sun is above me."
Be this as it may, and without discussing the value of this new reform of Christianity, much more open to discussion than the moral character of the reformer, it is impossible not to concede that in the medium where it is developed it may have great chances of success. It is quite certain that, to use the bold language of Channing, it responds to all the superior wants of humanity, and that it has moreover the immense advantage of decisively
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breaking with the past. It thus satisfyies at one and the same time the most opposite inclinations, love of novelty and the force of habit, respect for authority and the passion for independence, the need of believing and that of seeing; it combines the prestige of the marvellous with the charm of free thought: in a wird, it leaves us in a state of calmness and serenity; our conscience is tranquillized by what it preserves and our reason by what it brings. This is to possess a great force, and we are warrented in supposing that Channing's views will in North America make their way rapidly into the midst of the enlightened classes. That the distant future may be reserved for Emerson's ideas, and for religious worship of which Parker has laid the foundations. I do not dispute; but the immediate future belongs to Channing; he represents the transition from Protestantism as it actually exists, to that natural religion which looms in the future. Before the eaglet, fallen from its nest, can take a wide sweep and measure the heavens with its wings, it will, after many a vain attempt, be obliged, over and over again, to return to the paternal eyrie, and rest itself awhile on the solid rock where it was born.
IV.There is a wide interval between those great attempts at the unification of religious systems which we have just been considering in their leading features, and the attempt
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or system which will be more particularly the subject of our inquiry in the course of the present work. We have, in the highest degree in Emerson and Parker, and in a lesser degree in Channing, a religion which is wholly rational; but when we come to Joseph Smith we shall find ourselves in the presence of the coarsest form of mysticism. How does it happen that such fundamental differences should find themselves side by side in the same country? At the first blush of the thing, does it not seem as if we had met with an anomalous phenomenon which requires explanation? Nothing more simple, however, when we are once aware of the immense inequality of intelligence and knowledge which is to be found in the midst of the greatest political and social equality that ever existed. North America, moreover, is divided, as it were, into two great intellectual and moral zones, that of the east, and that of the west; and there is no more room for being surprised at finding in them differing ideas and opinions, than there is at finding in them differing ideas and opinions, than there is at finding in the vicinity of Quito, for instance, the vegetation of the poles and that of the Equator. Mormonism, born upon the frontiers of the East, has developed itself in the vast regions of the West. If we desire to ascertain the causes of its birth and its progress, with any chance of seeing things as they really occurred, we must place ourselves on the spot, and endeavour to discover what was the moral and religious state of that part of the Union at the time when
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Smith proclaimed his new religion. By an extraordinary concurrence of circumstances, it was the only medium in which it could possibly have found, if I may so express myself, favouring gods and a propitious soil.
It is evident, and hardly needs being pointed out, that Mormonism could not have manifested itself in France, for many reasons which it would be superfluous to state, independently of those which have relation to the state, independently of those which have relation to the actual state of our laws and of our public opinion. Neither would it have met with more facilities or more success in England; the most it could have done there would have been to find a few recruits. The robust religious institutions on that side of the Channel, the vigilant power of the clergy, would have opposed an insuperable barrier to it, and we willingly acknowledge, with an historian by no means favourable, it is true, to the Mormons, that "had it been preached for the first time in England, it would have crawled in the dust like so many other forms of error equally impure, and the names of its prophets and its teachers would be on the same level with those of the Southcoteans and Muggletonians." Neither would it have been more fortunate in the Eastern States of America; it would there have perished in its bud, or at least have remained in the form of a fanatic sect, dotted about here and there like the Skakers. But the part of America where it first sprang into being was under very different conditions; it may be properly said to have been a field completely.
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prepared for receiving the new seed, and suitable to its germination and eventual maturity. What tends to impede the birth of a new religious creed, whatever it be, or at all events, what prevents its taking a great development, is, in addition to laws restraining religious liberty, the existence of a preponderating Church, and, supplementary to this, the watchfulness and control of an active and powerful public opinion. Now nothing like this existed in the Western States at the time of the apparition of Mormonism, and even for a long time previously. On the seaboard of the Atlantic the robust organization of Calvinism, brought thither by the first emigrants, or rather the firm and sincere spirit of Puritanism, had maintained itself for a long period, and even now resists, in a certain degree and with a certain amount of success, the incessant attacks of religious independence, and of the innovating and restless spirit of a great democracy full of freshness and life. The West had nothing resembling this, nor anything that could be its equivalent. Virginia, during its colonial period, had indeed possessed an established church which affected to derive from the Church of England; but this establishment had no real value whatever, even from the beginning, and episcopacy, which is the basis of the Anglican Church, was known there only by name. It s clerical staff was recruited with difficulty. The Bishop of London, in whose jurisdiction it was, occasionally sent clergymen from the mother-country; sometimes candidates
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for orders went to be ordained in London; but all this was slow, precarious, without moral force, incapable of making a stand against that tide of new opinions and doctrines which is always rising wherever the religious spirit breathes in liberty. Hence, sects were seen to swarm and to develop themselves on every side, while the church, -- orthodox or comparatively so, -- without discipline, without a powerful and regularly ordained clergy, without the organization of an establishment, was every day losing ground; an unavoidable result whenever the principle of authority comes into collision with the principle of liberty. For a church to maintain itself, -- of course I am not speaking of it at the time of its foundation, when it has all the warm blood and vigour of youth, -- it must have a visible and determinate centre; it must have efficacious means of remedying abuses; it must be able to ward off at once every blow that is aimed at it, if it is to have the least chance of resisting the inevitable antagonism which proceeds from the spirit of Liberty. The organization of Catholicism and Anglicanism is a powerful element of duration in these two great forms of Christianity, and were it in their destiny to perish, we might safely predict that this would only occur after the giving way of their structural system, or in consequence of the gradual diminution of their wealth, thus rendering the maintenance of their staff, and, as a direct result of this, of their whole organization, more and more difficult, and in the end impracticable. A religion abandoned
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to its own force, unless it be absolute truth, cannot suffice to itself. It’s leading idea, in the first moment of reaction, is not immediately imperilled; but its secondary dogmas, all its accessories, which present less resistance to the spirit of inquiry, and which, moreover, have the less hold from their not penetrating into the depths of our nature, run great risk of being unable to resist, for any length of time, the attacks directed against them. This is precisely what was seen to happen in Virginia, in no imposing way indeed, but not without advantage to the ultimate independence of human thought. When the American Revolution broke out, the episcopal church which had been established there, for a long while tottering, and never solidly set up from the moment of its origin, fell of itself; and, according to the historian whom we have cited, "resting upon sand, was soon swept away and annihilated." The new republic had neither power nor motive to react against a state of religious opinion, already of long standing and in some sort normal, which to the advantage of prescription added that of proceeding from the same principle of popular choice as the republic itself. It could not dream of re-establishing institutions swept away by time, and to which public opinion was averse. From this moment the principle of religious liberty in all its absoluteness was established without a contest, and passed into the manners and habits, into the laws and constitution of the new republic. Each form of religion was thus left to itself.
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without other support than the power of its principle, and suffered to go forth in a path thick-strewn with triumphs, but also with endless defeats.
There is no situation more favourable to religious creativeness, than that which results from unbounded liberty of conscience, and the suppression of all ecclesiastical organization. But, on the other hand, there is also none which more easily lends itself to all the caprices of popular imagination, to all the aberrations of mystic fancy and religious passion. Unless it occurs in a society greatly enlightened, and of high intellectual culture, you will see the great mass of believers, now deprived of official guides, rush in any direction that chance suggests or the influence of the hour determines, to unfurl the banner presented to them by the first comer, or which bears the emblems most in harmony with their interests and the impulse of the moment. Nowhere was this to be more conspicuously seen than in the Western States of America at this particular point of history to which we are referring. The prestige of the Scriptures had not completely vanished, -- far from it; and the name of Christ still commanded the respect of the multitude; but Christianity was daily losing, if I may say so, its fixity and definiteness. The figure of Christ was no longer to be seen, save through a kind of vague and vaporous medium, which made it easy to give him any kind of expression that was desired, and to extend or to restrict at will the circumference of his halo; a state of things prepitious
xcvi I N T R O D U C T I O N.
to popular imaginativeness, and the birth of superstitions and sects.
Nor did religious fantasy fail to take full advantage of the position. It is very difficult for us, in the calm and lukewarm atmosphere of Europe, where passion itself has somewhat a decency and order, to comprehend to what a degree of vertigo and excitement religious feeling was carried in the beginning of this century, and is still carried, in Western America. From 1800 to 1804 especially, it was a sort of epidemic and frenzy. In the States of Kentucky and Tennessee, for instance, were to be seen at the camp meetings, which were at that time of frequent occurrence, as they still are, the most fantastic and eccentric exhibitions. Immense numbers were to be found encamped on the same spot during the continuance of the conferences, day and night, listening to the most exciting exhortations, and giving themselves up to all sorts of pious extravagances, with which there is nothing to compare, unless it be those of our French Convulsionists in the last century. But let us here give way to an historian well acquainted with the facts:--
"The people remained on the ground day and night, listening to the most exciting sermons, and engaging in a mode of worship which consisted in alternate crying, laughing, singing, and shouting, accompanied with gesticulations of a most extraordinary character. Often there would be an unusual outcry; some bursting forth into loud ejaculations of thanksgiving;
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others exhorting their careless friends to 'turn to the Lord;' some struck with terror, and hastening to escape; others trembling, weeping, and swooning away, till every appearance of life was gone, and the extremities of the body assumed the coldness of a corpse. At one meeting not less than a thousand persons fell to the ground, apparently without sense or motion. It was common to see them shed tears plentifully about an hour before they fell; they were then seized with a general tremor, and sometimes they uttered one or two piercing shrieks in the moment of falling. This latter phenomenon was common to both sexes, to all ages, and to all sorts of characters." *
Towards the close of this religious epidemic, there is to say, about 1803, these convulsions were in their full swing, and then, thanks to the methodizing genius of the Americans, there was by little and little a sort of order established within disorder, and fantasy, or rather enthusiasm, was itself subjected to laws. Hence the convulsions began to classify themselves of their own accord, and to separate into different categories, the names of which are worth retaining: as for instance, the rolling exercise, the jerks, the barks, etc.
* 'The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century,' by Henry Caswall, pp. 5, 6.
The rolling exercise was effected by doubling themselves up, then rolling from one side to the other like a hoop, or in extending the body horizontally and rolling over and over in the filth like so m any swine. The jerk consisted in violent spasms and twistings of every part of the body. Sometimes the head was twisted round, so that the head was turned to the back, and the countenance so much distorted that not one of its features was to be recognized. When attacked by the jerks, they sometimes hopped like frogs, and the face and limbs underwent the most
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In a country like France, where it was possible to inscribe over the cemetery of St. Medard, that is, over the entrance to the very spot where somewhat similar scenes were enacted in the last century -- such lines as these, --
De faire miracle dans ce lieu,"--
It is easy to conceive how Christianity, at least in its form, its dogmas, and its essential ceremonies, must have undergone decomposition in such a medium, have lost its authority and its prestige; and how all this must pave the way for the appearance of a new religion, or rather superstition. Among the numerous prophets whom each day brought forth, who sprang up like mushrooms after a shower, and who, like so many phantasmagoric figures, passed away, it is true, but only to reappear again, it was inevitable that sooner or later some one would come
hideous contortions. The bark consisted in throwing themselves on all-fours, growling, showing their teeth, and barking like dogs. Sometimes a number of people crouching down in front of the minister continue to bark as long as he preached. These last were supposed to be more especially endowed with the gifts of prophecy, dreams, rhapsodies, and visions of angels. They saw heaven and the holy city.
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who would go to work in earnest, or be able to perform his part as if he were in earnest, and who would have some quality of mind and character by which he could get powerful hold of weak minds and be able to fix wandering imaginations. The use and abuse of religious liberty, in a society of low intellectual culture, must rapidly bring back the principle of authority, and establish, at least in the lower portions of the multitude, something analogous to Catholicism, and certainly less respectable than it.
The result was inevitable. In the moral world, for the most part, liberty is a greater burden than slavery. Men have need to determinate ideas; and when those they have inherited are shaken, when authority has ceased to sway the assemblage of dogmas and principles to which they are accustomed, or the institutions which embodied these, and in which they were wont to contemplate them as in a mirror, they are startled at the solitude which reigns around them, and hasten to escape from it. Now, there are only two ways of doing this: either they must give themselves fixed ideas which they no longer have, or they must receive them from some one else. It follows, as a matter of course, that this latter process is the most common, because the most convenient. How could the multitude find out for itself truth of the highest order, when even superior intellects are not always of one mind respecting it? Hence the absolute necessity of borrowing from others; and such is the urgency of this want, and the impatience
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to satisfy it, that on the appearance of the first person who presents himself with an air of conviction and good faith, with the self-confidence of a master and a teacher, the multitude is instantly prepared to rush into his arms, at the risk of getting from him the most meagre and the coarsest food, and of being obliged to content itself with this food as though it were sound and wholesome and nutritious, -- nay, even to welcome it as though it were manna in the desert.
There is in M. de Tocqueville, a remark which often suggested itself to my mind during my travels in America, and of which I had more than one opportunity of ascertaining the correctness:-- "Equality," he says, "disposes men to judge for themselves; but, on the other hand, it gives them the love and the idea of a social power, unique, simple in character, and one and the same for all. Men who live in democratic times, therefore, are very much inclined to emancipate themselves from all religious authority. But if they ever consent to submit to anything of the kind, they choose at least that it should be one and uniform. Religious powers which do not all converge to one and the same centre, naturally offend their intelligence; and it is almost as easy for them to conceive that there should be no religion at all, as that there should be several." Whence M. de Tocqueville infers, not only as respects America alone, but as applicable to a more extended area, that “our descendants will have a tendency more and more to divide
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themselves into two parts exclusively, the one abandoning Christianity entirely, the other becoming members of the Roman Catholic Church." Without discussing this inference in its whole extent, it appears to us true at bottom as far as regards the United States. The movement and tendency of minds to divide themselves into two groups, the one quitting Christianity altogether, the other returning to the principle of authority, strikingly arrest the attention on every side. But what I ask myself with anxiety is, whether, in these vast regions, it is Catholicism which will get the benefit of the part that remains faithful to the principle of authority, or whether it will be some other and new institution?
But whatever be the chances of Catholicism in the future, it had but few in that part of America, now under our observation, in that agitated and vulgar medium in which the need of unity could and was about to make itself felt, inasmuch as the hostile recollections of Popery were still too recent, and the hatred of it still too tenacious of life, or too carefully exasperated by the ministers of the different sects. It was under another form that the principle of authority must present itself in order to succeed. To tender Catholicism to the crowd as the remedy for the disease of which it wished, instinctively at least, to be cured, would have been enough to send back the patient to his bed of suffering, to exasperate his fever, and to aggravate his malady. If Catholicism has made any progress in the United States,
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as M. de Tocqueville affirms, it is in other parts of the country, and under very different circumstancess from those in which we meet with Mormonism. Here the demand was for a popular religion, but a popular one of the coarsest materials; there was a demand also for novelty, for something strange even, but which could both satisfy the wants of a common creed, and at the same time, of the imagination, not only in its essential and legitimate aspirations, but even in those extravagant caprices which, in these regions, had been long accustomed to give themselves free scope. It was to such a state of things that the religion of Joseph Smith was admirably adapted.
Joseph Smith was a man of ability: of that there can be no question. He had a perfect knowledge of the masses to which he addressed himself; he knew what would attract and what repel them, and in what degree and in what proportion it was necessary to indulge them with error in order to give them a sense of the attractiveness of truth. This coarse and vulgar man instinctively seized upon this profound truth, which has been the guide of all reformers, and even of all political or religious founders, namely, that we must never make a complete breach with the past, and that the human mind never passes abruptly from one order of ideas to another and a different one, still less to an order that is completely antagonistic. It is impossible to over-estimate the care with which this person, who was about to introduce such profound modifications
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into the creeds and habits of a Christian population, husbands the facts and sayings of Christianity. He takes good care not to present himself as the founder of an absolutely new religion. With him, as with everybody else, the Bible is pre-eminently the sacred book. He is but an apostle of Christ, selected by Christ to continue his work. The name of Christ is incessantly upon his lips. This great and holy figure, ever held up to view, and for the purpose of homage, thus imparts to the antagonist religion an air of resemblance, and a character of affiliation calculated to deceive the multitude, which never looks at things very critically, and is willing enough to believe that facts remain the same as long as their names continue to be used. At the beginning especially, the language of the new prophet would not have been repudiated by the most orthodox Christian. When laying the first stone of his church, it is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that he inaugurates it. The Gospel graces, Faith, Hope, and Charity, -- these are what he everywhere invokes. It is Christ who saves, it is the Holy Ghost which manifests the truth.
Besides, he takes care to borrow from each sect that which is most characteristic of, or most cherished by, it; caressing what is common to the different creeds, and turning them to account in some one way or other. What ever be the illusions in fashion, he makes use of them. Thus he borrows from the Campbellists baptism by immersion,
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which just then, for some reason or other, was in great favour with the people. He instinctively understood one of the great secrets of the policy of the Roman Catholic Church, which consists in beating the enemy with his own weapons. Thus he was able to exhibit an assemblage of things hitherto dispersed in every direction. It was a sort of universal bazaar, whit wares for every taste and all comers. For the lovers of the marvellous -- and these formed the majority -- there were visions, ecstasies, revelations, miracles; singular legends, as, for instance, that concerning the first inhabitants of America; marvellous annals, like those recording the fact of Jesus Christ’s preaching on the continent of America after his resurrection. For those -- and they, too, were in great number then -- who sought, in exciting and passionate interpretations of the Scriptures, the means of satisfying their appetite for the mysterious and the unknown, as well as that craving for immortal bliss which lies at the bottom of man’s heart, there was a millennium predicted, a new Jerusalem upon earth, an actual reign of the saints, and in the far distance, and at the remotest point of the perspective, a state of equality with the Redeemer.
Smith did not omit to assign as much space in his new religion to human as to religious passions themselves. He was not the man -- a worldly spirit, if ever there was one -- to neglect this element; a secondary element, indeed, but which challenges its place in every earthly institution, even in those
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that look heavenward. I am not here alluding to polygamy, which was not established until a much later period, and which did but graft itself on the tree already grown. A long while before this he had contrived to hit upon expedients, vulgar, it is true, but certain of attracting and juggling the crowd. There is nothing which so much dazzles the multitude, and even those who are above it, as the splendour of dignities and titles, especially when there is a hope of their being reached by them, and when exhibited as prizes offered to their emulation and zeal. The sounding titles of priest, apostle, bishop, could not fail to strike and agreeably to tickle the ears of people long unaccustomed to them, and to serve at the same time as baits to vanity and ambition, the love of dominion and even of glory. It is not difficult to conceive the degree of attraction which must have been exercised over masses, not under the influence of any strong conviction, by the idea that without previous study, or preparatory instruction of any kind, a blacksmith or mason could reach the highest dignities, first of the church, then of the state, whenever the church should become the state, and that fanaticism, or the appearance of fanaticism, should stand in the place of all virtue and all knowledge. To all wavering and undecided minds, who knew not where to fix and take up their position in the sphere of religious faith, a great weight in the balance was the free scope that Mormonism gave to the passions.
Still it would be a great mistake to suppose that these
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meaner inducements could have sufficed to form a great religious association. Humanity never falls so low as to be governed by its inferior instincts, -- so low that in the creation of great things, the best part shall belong to paltry passions and petty instruments. Mormonism would not have held its ground for an instant, had it only satisfied vulgar wants, or even nothing more than the loftier caprices of the imagination. It must be kept well in mind that, except in the matter of polygamy, which was a later addition to the primitive nucleus, Mormonism excluded none of the moral conquests made by Christian civilization. It is a syncretic system, often of gross aspect when seen from a metaphysical and theological point of view; but on the side accessible to the crowd, that through which religious really infuse their influence into minds, namely, its moral and human side, it is far from deserving those anathemas of which it has been the subject. The Christian spirit, the spirit of equality and charity, circulates through it, as it were, even to overflowing. I am of opinion that it is owing to the power of this spirit that it was at first enabled to take root in the vexed soil of Western America, and to extend itself. That which constitutes the feature of Mormonism really original is, according to some, “that it is essentially the sect of the wretched; that Smith is the representative of the pariahs of nature.” This is true; but hence the secret of its influence over the multitude, of its progress at the beginning, and of that which it is now making in all parts
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of the world among the castaways of society and nature. It is in some sort, indeed, a species of socialism, of religious evangelical socialism, which, a single feature excepted, unquestionably is not without moral value, however deficient in grandeur.
If we insist on this characteristic of Mormonism, we do so not only because the spirit of justice and the interests of truth require it, but for the very honour of human nature. Whether Joseph Smith were in reality sincerely animated by the spirit of charity, or whether he made an instrument of it to promote his designs and his enterprise, the fact still remains that his language is uniformly marked with its divine impress. The fate of the poor is the constant object of his thoughts and his anxiety; he is incessantly appealing to the charity of the rich; but on this point he deserves to be heard himself. "Woe unto you, you rich men," he cries, "that will not give your substance to the poor; for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!" * Moreover, he puts the following words in the mouth of God:--
"And if any man shall give unto any of you a coat, or a suit, take the old and cast it unto the poor, and go your way rejoicing. ... But verily I say unto you, teach one another,
* The Book of Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, etc., by Joseph Smith, President, p. 226, § 5, edit. 3. Liverpool.
$#134; Ibid., p. 90, § 19.
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according to the office wherewith I have appointed you, and let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me. And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself; for what man among you having twelve sons and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one, be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here, and to the other, be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there, and looketh upon his sons and saith, I am just. *... If thou lovest me, thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments. And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken; and inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me. ... Love one another; cease to be covetous; learn to share with other men as the Gospel teacheth.... Behold, this is a great commandment, and the last I will give unto you, for it would be sufficient for each day until the last day of your lives.... Distribute a part of thy possessions,yea, even a part of thy lands and everything, except what is necessary for the maintenance of thy family."
I ought to observe in passing, that Smith does not confine himself to general precepts, to commonplace or simply theoretic recommendations. American as he is, he is always thinking of the practical, and giving special directions to whomsoever he has the right of directing in a special manner. Hence it is that the bishops had an
* The Book of Doctrine and Covenants pp. 121, 122, § 5.
Ibid., p. 125, § 8.
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express charge, everywhere to attend to the wants of the poor and the necessitous, and to apply to their use the fund at their disposal. And this charge is still in force Everywhere among the Mormons, inquiry is made into the wants of the brethren. Brigham Young thinks it no derogation from his dignity to occupy himself in this way. It is not of him it can be said,--
Smith assigned to himself the office of continuing the work of Jesus Christ, and of accomplishing the redemption of the poor and the weak, and was well aware that therein lay his strength. Listen to the way in which he makes God speak in a revelation promulgated in the month of December, 1830: -- "Wherefore I have called upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my spirit; and their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler; and I will gird up their loins, and they shall fight manfully for me; and their enemies shall be under their feet; and I will let fall the sword in their behalf, and by the fire of mine indignation will I preserve them. And the poor and the meek shall have the Gospel preached unto them; and they shall be looking forth for the time of my coming,
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for it is nigh at hand; and they shall learn the parable of the fig-tree, for even now already summer is nigh, and I have sent forth the fulness of my gospel, by the hand of my servant Joseph." *
But while thus speaking in favor of the poor and the weak, he is careful not to violate any one of the fundamental principles of civilized society. He is far from that perfidious and barbarous species of socialism which is called communism. If he desire that the rich should come to the assistance of the poor, he also insists that the poor should make every effort to become independent of the rich, and to find in themselves the resources they require. "Thou shalt not be idle, for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the labourer." When he preaches equality, it is moral equality he means, and not the fantastic equality of the communists. He preaches the joint responsibility of all the members of the association; but a responsibility which has nothing forced, which does no violence to personal independence, which does not overthrow the laws of nature. "Let every man stand in his own office and labour in his own calling; let not the head say unto the feet, it hath no need of feet; for without the feet, how shall the body be able to stand? Also, the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect." This language, which Smith held to his coadjutors in the beginning
* The Book of Doctrine and Covenants, p. 119, § 4.
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of his revelation, he afterwards extended to the whole community, and he never in a single instance deviated from these principles in the political or social constitution he gave his people, and which acquired its development after him. There is nothing original in the morality, whether general or special, of Smith; but there is nothing in universal morals which is omitted from it, and nothing in it which is opposed to universal morals. He did not introduce any new principle to the world, which is indeed a rare piece of good fortune; but his principles are in no respect different from those of Christianity and of reason. "We believe," he says in his creed, "in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men. Indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of St. Paul, -- we 'believe all things,' we 'hope all things,' we have endured many things, and hope to be able to 'endure all things.' If there is anything lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, or virtuous, we seek after these things.” It required no great stretch of imagination to hit upon such things, which, thanks be to God, are not new, but widely enough scattered throughout the world, as far at least as theory is concerned; yet they furnish an answer to those who delight to exhibit Mormonism as a monstrosity in moral order, a sort of cesspool into which have been thrown all the degradation, all the baseness, all the absurdity which can spring from a disordered imagination further excited by the selfish calculation of a vulgar impostor.
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There is no need of affronting human nature, by supposing it can create anything by means of evil; we might as well say that nihility is fertile and able to produce some one thing or other from the depths of its abysses. The truth is, that good alone is operative. Into the most impure works even, evil never enters but as a secondary element, or rather as a poison which tends to their destruction; it is only because they contain that which is good and true, that they are able to come into existence, and to last when they do last.
Whatever may be the part which good plays in the system of Joseph Smith, this part, even though it had been considerable and endowed with a powerful originality, would not, it is reasonable to suppose, have sufficed to give a good issue to the enterprise. It is a law that good, in order to be operative, must make use of instruments of a certain power, and of a power possessing special qualifications for diffusing it. It is requisite that a man who brings forward an idea should possess certain moral qualities, certain qualities of character, if he hopes to have it accepted, and take up a position in the world. Smith had none of those great qualities of an apostle which lay hold of all minds of whatever order they be, which radiate beyond present time and space, and penetrate even distant ages; he had not in his breast that mystic and expansive virtue which constitutes true prophets and great revealers, and which, enlisted in the service of a new
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idea, produces the marvels of the moral world and the memorable events of history. But, this point excepted, he had the chief qualities requisite for the part which, whether sincerely or insincerely, he undertook. He had confidence in himself. He has somewhere said of religious faith, that it is "the principle of action in all intelligent beings;" that there "never has been a change or revolution in any of the creations of God, but it has been effected by faith;" that there "will never be a change or a revolution unless it is effected in some way, in any of the vast creations of the Almighty, for it is by faith that the Deity works." * What he thus thought or said of religious faith he felt still more sincerely with respect to faith applied to a human purpose. There he believed it to be really irresistible. As happens to all minds, great and small, in which there is abundance of energy, his temperament was full of boldness and audacity; he always relied with confidence on himself and his fortune; he had faith in his star, a condition indispensable, as it seems to me, as well as infallible for the conquest, be it of empires or minds. He had, moreover, the enthusiasm which in the long-run fills the mind of a man constantly engaged on the same subject. This it was that enabled him to acquire the language, and even the accent of a sincere faith. Hence was it too that he was able to appropriate the forms of religious fervour, and the lyrical style of the Bible, so expertly, that at times the instrument
* The Book of Doctrine and Covenants, p. 55, § 2.
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sounded under his touch with a brilliancy and purity of tone which could very easily deceive the simple, and even produce its effect on those of higher pretensions. By a moral singularity which deserves notice, though less rare than one would be inclined to suppose, the passion which he threw into his part,and which proceded much more from the man than the prophet, as may easily be supposed, -- enabled him to find expressions worthy of the noblest cause. His confidence in himself gave him confidence in his success, and he communicated it to others like an apostle of the Gospel, and in a tone as authoritative as if he had derived his inspiration from the same source. Hear how he makes Christ speak to those charged by him to preach the new doctrine:-- "And again, I say unto you my friends, (for from henceforth I shall call you friends,) it is expedient that I give unto you this commandment, that ye become even as my friends in days when I was with them travelling to preach this Gospel in my power; for I suffered them not to have purse or scrip, neither two coats; behold, I send you out to prove the world, and the labourer is worthy of his hire. And any man that shall go and preach this Gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb, or joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry neither athirst. Therefore, take no thought for the morrow for what ye shall eat or
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what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye shall be clothed.... Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say, but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.... Behold, I send you out to reprove the world of all their unrighteous deeds, and to teach them of a judgment which is to come. And whose receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face; I will be on your right-hand and on your left, and my spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you to bear you up." *
It has been said that one of the characteristics of Mormonism, and a cause of its success is, that its revelation was presented as one special to America, and that the Gentiles were excluded from it. This is a great error which it is necessary to correct. Smith was much too clever to be exclusive. What strikes us, on the contrary, in Mormonism, is its universality, or at least its pretensions to universality; and this universality includes both persons and things. As respects things, we find in Smith nothing of that narrowness and exclusiveness to be found in most religions, even the broadest and most flexible. He adopts every principle, every doctrine which appears to bear the stamp of truth. "The most predominant point of difference,” said Joseph Smith, “between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians is, that the latter are all circumscribed by some peculiar creed,
* The Book of Doctrine and Covenants, p. 88, §§ 13, 14, 15.
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which deprives its members of the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time. One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is, to receive truth, come whence it may.... Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Mohammedans, etc., are they in possession of any truth? Yes, they have all a little truth mixed with error. We ought to gather together all the good and true principles which are in the world, and keep them, otherwise we shall never become pure Mormons." * This moral and religious eclecticism is also to be found in the creed in which Smith has formulated his faith. Here is a passage which seems significant enough:-- "Everything virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report, we seek after, looking forward to the recompense of the reward."
This flexibility is one of the most remarkable features of the new faith; and in truth it has so little respect of persons, that it invites on the contrary the whole world to its embrace. Channing himself does not aim at a larger sphere. It seems even as though his church were not so universal, since it confines itself within the limits of Jewish and Christian Deism. But Smith has found this area too narrow; he has aimed at extending it at the risk of falling
* From a Sermon of Joseph Smith’s, July 9th, 1843, in the 'Deseret News,' January 21st, 1857.
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into the void. Here is what he says in a sermon on the 9th of July, 1843:-- “It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul, -- civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race. And if by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object? Christians should cease wrangling and contention with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst."
It has been remarked that in general, a commanding point of view, a large manner of looking at things, an impartiality in the world of ideas, is rarely accompanied by a tenacious adherence to an original plan, or by a persevering pursuit of the end proposed. Ardently to attach ourselves to the mission of diffusing truth, we must believe that we along are in possession of it, and persuade ourselves that all around us is merely darkness and error. In minds especially which, though possessing breadth and flexibility, have but little intellectual culture, the desire to impose an idea scarcely ever exists: to be a fanatic, even a fanatic of moderate dimensions, a man must be narrow-minded and of one idea. This remark, just on the whole, would be contradicted by the history of the founder of Mormonism, if the founder of Mormonism had believed in anything; for never did religious innovator display a ruder fanaticism, real or feigned, combined with larger views, or persist in his work with more remarkable tenacity. We must call to mind the speculator, in order fully to comprehend such a
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doggedness of purpose in such an order of ideas, and in such a cause. But at all events, Smith was a man of extraordinary firmness. Never, but once throughout his whole career, did he exhibit symptoms of flagging and discouragement, and this was on the last day but one of his life. Until then, not for a moment had any feebleness been perceptible. His design once conceived, he from the first hour pursues it without a pause, with a persistency, and fierce energy, that nothing either relaxes or appals; obstacles stimulate and redouble his courage; persecutions animate and spur him to new efforts. He even grows fond of persecutions, rejoices in them, congratulates his fellow-workers on them; he knows that they are an additional force in his favour, even a condition essential to his enterprise. Seen from afar, he would be thought a fanatic, an enthusiast, who, while marching towards death, supposes he is marching to victory; ever the same serenity, the same impassioned feeling, the same forwardness. Nevertheless, we must repeat it, he is a dealer in religion, a speculator who has thrown himself heart and soul into his enterprise, and who has made a vow that he would reach his end or die in the effort. He is nothing more, nothing less; a singular man, not so rare however as is usually supposed, but one whose congeners have not -- and this is to the honour of humanity -- either the same success, or the same power! Did I dare, I would call him a sort of savage and gigantic Tartuffe, a greater curiosity
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than his prototype, but one who, though he has done more mischief, is perhaps less deserving of contempt.
IV.The specticle presented to us by Mormonism is, we acknowledge, not an edifying specticle; and nothing is more repugnant to our better feelings, or more revolting to our reason, than the source from which it sprang. Notwithstanding, however, this untoward exception, the impression left upon us by the United States of America is not the less a great and salutary one; its effect is to give us a higher opinion of men and humanity. In fact, not to deviate from the order of ideas we have selected for our subject, there is nothing in Europe of a nature calculated more fully to comfort pious minds than what is now taking place on the opposite shores of the Atlantic, nothing which gives them better grounded hopes of the religious future of humanity. When we succeed in penatrating into the midst of that bustling, agitated, and in some sort tumultuous crowd, swept onwards by the torrent of business and the stimulus of a devouring activity; when the ear has been accustomed to the din of the interests at stake, to the uproar of the passions at strife, we discern in the minds about us the instincts of a high and powerful morality, and of religious convictions indicating an energy and depth of which we can find no examples in Europe without going back as far as our heroic age of the sixteenth
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century. Then, propitiated by this inner aspect of things, we easily excuse what elsewhere would offend our taste or our habits of thought, not excepting the unwholesome superstitions which a depraved imagination has been able to palm upon a weak and brainsick multitude. We feel as if we were looking at spots in some masterly and splendid picture, or on the meaner but not useless details in some grand whole, like those eccentric and fantastic forms which the genius of Michael Angelo has occasionally mingled with his loftiest and most sublime creations. This favourable impression grows stronger, especially on passing into a moral medium entirely different, and, as has happened to ourselves, on shifting the scene, almost without an intervening pause, from Boston and Baltimore to Naples and Rome. There is no argument which pleads more eloquently on behalf of the unlimited liberty of religious worship, than the striking contrast which then presents itself; and the reflection immediately occurs to us, in spite of what has been urged on the subject, -- and it is with regret we say it, -- that if ever the religious sentiment were to be extinguished in the human mind, it could only happen in the event of its having no other atmosphere to breathe but that heavy atmosphere of Rome, which a widespread tradition still declares to be essential to the existence of religious life, and the preservation of a divine fervour in the heart of man.
At all events, I do not desire to leave the impression
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that, if Mormonism be a stain upon the United States, liberty is to be made responsible for it. Liberty has nothing to do with it. Among the causes of the development of the new religion, a prominent one was persecution, and persecution, I presume, is no part of liberty. Had it found no other obstacles than those which confront every new sect, it might possibly have been able to establish itself by attracting and grouping around it some of the impure elements which are always fermenting in the West; but it would never have gone beyond the limits of a restricted communion, a church within narrow bounds, like the Campbellist and Shakers for instance; and it is infinitely probable that it would have melted away by degrees, until it completely disappeared or had assumed an entirely different character. All religions morally inferior or even morally equal to those they aspire to supplant, unless they have within them a new principle which more than compensates for inferiority or mere equality, or unless they respond to some want demanded by the mental condition of the times, cannot strike root in the midst and by the side of superior religion, and can exercise nothing more than a restricted influence of ephemeral duration. They may make attempts at possession and conquest, but these attempts will be abortive; they will be more abortive especially wherever it is possible to discuss them, and to oppose them with the weapons of intelligence, the only ones that are legitimate in the struggle between truth and error.
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Liberty is a little propitious to Mormonism, and Mormonism is so well aware of it, that one of its principal efforts is to endeavour to constitute a nation, or people apart; and should it ever maintain and extend itself, it will be because it is in the hands of a plenary authority, a sort of armed dictatorship. Now authority is a very powerful means of preventing error from penetrating into a society, but it is also an equally powerful means of fixing it there. Bears have been seen to push into the basin of their den the poisoned cakes thrown to the, to move them about for a long time in the water, and then carefully to smell them, never eating them until perfectly certain that all the poison was washed out. Under the principle of authority, men have no such opportunity. They must swallow, as a pure and wholesome substance, the cake which is cast to them. We may be quite certain that if liberty or the desire for liberty should penetrate into Utah, -- and that, I hope will one day happen, as soon as the first attraction of the new faith shall have passed away, -- Mormonism will soon give way, or, if it maintain itself, will do so only by undergoing a transformation, by diluting and washing out in the great waters of liberty the poisonous principle it has within it. The moment that discussion once finds its way into the religious community that Smith founded, and the light of truth is made to flash upon its origin, it will be consumed to ashes, and its dust scattered to the winds. For if men in America have not the refined intellectual
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culture of certain classes on this side of the Atlantic, on the other hand, all are able to read, and all take a deep interest in eloquence, whether of speech or pen; and the consequence is, that free discussion has an influence there of which it is difficult for us to form an idea in the majority of our European societies, in which free speech, utterly without range and without echo, is for the most part completely lost before it reaches the threshold of the workshop and the cottage. There, it is a train of powder laid from afar, or rather, an immense light which diffuses itself everywhere, and gilds everything with its rays. Hence it would not be correct to say that Mormonism is the fruit of liberty; it is born on a free soil, but it is not liberty which gave it life, and it is liberty that will cause its death.
There is a universal belief in the United States, and this belief is the principle of their greatness, that liberty is a force essentially salutary and beneficent. It would be as difficult to make the Americans comprehend that liberty of thought, for instance, could have any bad consequences, as it would be to persuade Ultramontanists that it could be good for any one purpose. They even who admit the dogma of forfeiture through sin, arrive at conclusions diametrically opposed to those drawn from the same principle by the theologians of Italy and France. They cannot conceive how liberty can be fatal to truth, and they tell us very naïvely, and with that good sense which never deserts them, that they do not see why truth has more to fear from
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liberty than good merchandise has from competition; and, God be praised, they do better than say it, they prove it by their acts. It would be impossible for them to get it into their heads that man is endowed with thought in order that he should not make use of it, or that reason is either an overgrowth which we must cut away with steel and cauterize with fire, or a light to be hid under a bushel. I have heard these people, who are so thoughtlessly accused of a sort of practical materialism, more than once say, that were liberty of thought to be expunged form life, it would not be worth while living. In matters of religion especially, liberty appears to them an essential condition, and reason the first power which has the right to make itself heard. It is, in their opinion, a singular logic which permits men to take a clear view of the affairs of this world, represented as the least important, and which interdicts them from looking inquisitively into those represented as of the highest concern to their destiny. They are fond of repeating with Rousseau, that the man who does not think is a degraded being. They carry their simplicity so far as to believe that were he for a single instant to cease to think, he would cease to exist; and without having read either Descartes or Pascal, whether it be by instinct, or reflection, by nature or education, there is not a man amongst them who does not believe that our essence is in our thought, that it is from this source all must proceed. With them, to think is to believe first in oneself; what
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others think is, according to their view, but a secondary consideration, and what they transmit to us, even were it truth itself, is only receivable after the severest scrutiny. "To accept tradition merely as an indication, and existing facts as a useful study training us to do otherwise and better; to seek by oneself and in oneself along the reason of things; to move towards the end without permitting ourselves to be shackled by the means, and to get at the essence through the form;-- such are the principal features which characterize what I will call the philosophical method of the Americans." * Nothing can be truer than these words of M. de Tocqueville; only it is right to add, what indeed is in harmony with the views of this distinguished writer himself, that what we see there does not simply belong to the philosophical method, but to the very genius, of the Americans. I will also observe that such is the power of this genius, such its force both of resistance and absorption, that the elements, often impure, or at all events partaking of a different genius, which are incessantly coming into it from all parts, those streams of emigrants for ever flowing into it from the Old World, break as they strike against it, and lose themselves as do mighty rivers in the fathomless plains of the Atlantic.
True, it is not necessary to cross the ocean in order to discover the principles of free thought, and of the right of unfettered reason. The country which gave birth to Descartes
* De la Democratie aux Etats-Unis, par M. de Tocqueville, t. ii. ch. 1.
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and Voltaire has nothing to learn in this respect, since it was among the first to proclaim them. But with us, besides these principles not having penetrated the entire mass of society, they are, in spite of the many revolutions made apparently for their advantage, hampered by an infinite number of restrictions and limitations; and it is this which places us in a position of evident inferiority as compared with the Americans. The latter go straight forward and carry out their principle; we stop halfway, so that we present the spectacle of a nation which at one and the same time puts great trust in reason, and has a great mistrust of it. This inferiority, this inconsistency of a people who pique themselves upon being the first logicians in the world, does it arise from this, that we are very reasonable in theory, or, as has been observed, "with pen in hand," and extremely unreasonable in practice, because in the one case it is intelligence, and in the other passion, which prompts us? Or is it that France is divided into two great intellectual zones, one of which is governed by reason, the other by prejudice? Or are we in this matter so far of Voltaire’s religion, as to think with him, that peace is of as high a value as truth? However this may be, it would be difficult to parry the charge of inconsistency which is often made against us; and it is certain, to confine our observations to religious matters, and to concentrate the accusation on a single point, that the Americans cannot help regarding our way of understanding religious liberty
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as narrow-minded, or, to speak more correctly, puerile. One of them, a man of intelligence, said to me, "You people, in France, have the right to have no religion at all, but you have not the right to have any. You say to religions, 'As soon as you are born we will give you the right to live; but, meanwhile, it is our business to prevent your being born.' This is certainly a singular kind of liberty." My American friend, I fancy, had a thorough comprehension of what liberty of worship means among us; and it would be difficult, it strikes me, to speak more to the point than he did.
The system which has prevailed among us, is it, as is sometimes asserted, the only one in harmony with our disposition and our genius? I will not enter into this question, it would carry us too far; but I greatly apprehend that this solution would be nothing better than a mezzo termine of doubtful value, and that there is in it somewhat of the illusion of the honest peasant, of whom history speaks, who fancied that the moon of Corinth was not so large as that of Athens. Is this system really the only one possible in the actual state of our opinions and our manners? I cannot say; but what unquestionably must be acknowledged is, that if it be so, we have every reason to deplore the fact, looking at it from the point of view of those religious minds who think that a public form of worship is necessaryn to the religious sentiment itself, and of those politicians who suppose it indispensable to the interests of morality, and the
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greatest possible good of society. Wherever the American principle obtains, there will be few persons who do not belong to some one form of worship or other, who do entirely without a church, and who are thus never in communion with their fellow-men for the purpose of manifesting or satisfying one of the noblest instincts of humanity. Among us it would be difficult to compute the immense numbers who are thrown out of all communionship, without a tie, without contact with others of the same views, and without a temple for their God, thus running the risk of seeing his holy image pale and disappear in the solitude of each man’s mind. We may conceive that souls of a superior nature, that minds of high intellectual culture, should suffice to themselves; their habit of reflection keeps God, as it were, always before them, and does not permit the sacred fire to be ever extinguished in their souls. But these are among the privileged of humanity. In the majority of men religious feeling has need of being roused: there must be vestals to feed the sacred fire within us. The great shadows which human passions, vulgar interests, and the spectacle of the world itself, but little edifying in general, incessantly collect and interpose between heaven and earth, require that from time to time some divine or consecrated hand should be put forth to scatter them and bring back the light. It has been said of us, "Little faith, much routine, this is the summing up of our position in religion and in almost everything else." And how should it be
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otherwise? It is liberty alone which, at a certain stage of civilization at least, infuses faith into the soul and fixes it there. It is an act of liberty which begets the act of faith, whatever be the nature of the belief. It is the continuity of the one which perpetuates the other; and the only reason why obstructions and resistance itself are so fruitful of results in the midst of liberty is, because they increase its energy. But where liberty is absent, where it is not developed, there is room only for mechanism, for lukewarmness and indifference. Indifference is now-a-days the ruling feature of our moral position, as it was at the time when Lamennais castigated it with so unsparing and yet so ineffectual a hand. It is absent only from those spheres of human action in which some latitude is left to liberty, that is, in the sphere of philosophical speculation, and that of material interests. And as there is but a handful of minds that belong to the former sphere, the result is that all faith, all social vitality, is concentrated in the latter. Such exclusively is the source of the evil which we have to lament in these days; I mean the passion for an easy life and material enjoyments. When Dante places in his hell souls that were indifferent, those which lived without infamy and without glory, he assigns them to the captive chorus of angels, not rebellious nor yet faithful to God, but who existed for themselves alone. And, in fact, for who can we exist but for ourselves alone
* Dante, Inferno, canto iii. V. 34-39.
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when the source of the great passions is sealed? The love of well-being and of the material enjoyments of life is not less nor less general in America than with us; but this tendency, which indeed is not objectionable in itself, has there a counterpoise which we are without. M. de Tocqueville, whom we must always quote when we are speaking of that country, says, indeed, that the love of material comfort has become the "national and dominant taste;" but he adds these fine remarks:-- "In the United States, when the seventh day of each week comes round, the commercial and industrial life of the nation seems to be suspended; all noise ceases. A deep repose, or rather, a sort of solemn hush, succeeds; the soul, in fact, again enters into possession of itself and is wrapt in self-contemplation. During this day all the places of business are deserted; each citizen, surrounded by his children, betakes himself to a church; there he is discoursed to in a fashion which seems little adapted to his ear. They talk to him of the innumerable evils produced by pride and covetousness. They insist on the necessity of his regulating his desires, on the refined enjoyments to be derived from virtue alone, and the true happiness which attends it. When he returns home, he is not to be seen running to his ledger. He opens the volume of Holy Writ; he finds there sublime or touching pictures of the grandeur and goodness of the Creator, of the boundless magnificence of the works of God, of the lofty destiny assigned to men, of their duties, and of their
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claims to immortality. Thus it is that from time to time the American steals away, as it were, from himself, and that, tearing himself for an instant from the petty passions which agitate his life and the fleeting interests which fill it, he suddenly plunges into an ideal world where all is grand, pure and eternal."
This edifying and in some respects sublime spectacle, which every well-informed person will at once recognize to be a reflection of the time-honoured usages of religious England, continues to be the same at this hour as it was when M. de Tocqueville saw and described it with such manifest satisfaction. "After this, what signify the Mormons?" as the witty and much-regretted M. Ringault said, when commenting on the Promenades en Amerique of M. Ampere. "What country is without its Mormons? Have we not our own, clandestine and cryptogamous indeed, but just as much Mormons as those of the Far-West?"
Rome, May, 1859.
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