THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH
FROM CERTAIN CHARGES, DIRECT OR IMPLIED,
IN A LETTER ADDRESSED TO THEM BY THE REV. JOHN ALEXANDER,
ON THE SUBJECT OF
BY WILLIAM GEARY.
PRINTED BY JOSIAH FLETCHER, UPPER HAY MARKET.
In times and under circumstances of an ordinary character, the letter, to which the following pages refer, might with safety be left to find its proper place in the public mind. It is characterized by a spirit of mildness and conciliation; and, as much of its censure is founded on erroneous impressions, the consequences would have been but momentary. But, in the present extraordinary times, there are not wanting those who would gladly seize upon the occasion, as a favourable one for widening the differences and perpetuating the antipathies, which unhappily prevail among Christians, and hence it appears desirable that the public should be set right with regard to the course now taken by those who are implicated in the charges.
The main charges appear to be:—
I. That the parties in question have acted unkindly and disrespectfully, so far as they have interfered with the arrangements for the exhibition in St. Andrew’s Hall.
III. That a society embracing in its direction and operations, all sects and denominations, would have worked more for the public good than the one proposed.
It should be borne in mind, that the exhibition, in St. Andrew’s Hall, was Mr. Wilderspin’s own speculation. By myself and by some others, it was however favourably viewed, under an impression that a feeling would be excited where none had previously existed, and that it might possibly open the way for an extension of the system. Mr. W. was requested to meet a few gentlemen, at the Hall in the Market, to explain to them the nature of his system, and he there again mentioned his intention of assembling the children for examination in St. Andrew’s Hall. He was distinctly asked whether the directors or the committee of those schools had been consulted, and he as plainly replied that there would be no difficulty on that head. On the subject of the expenses the way was not so clear,—with his usual liberality he declared that he did not seek remuneration, but still he thought he ought to be indemnified from loss—and after some loose discussion it was agreed that those present should be responsible for any loss. It was finally arranged that free tickets of admission should be given to the Sunday school p. 5and other teachers. Of these, 300 were distributed to the various Dissenting Congregations in the city. The public were admitted at sixpence each person, and the proceeds went to the erection of the gallery, the purchase of buns for the children, and a gratuity to Mr. Wilderspin; a small contribution being collected from the responsibles to make up this sum.
I think, therefore, that my reverend friend, for so I beg in sincerity to designate him, must have been misinformed on some points which drew from him the charge that we had taken unwarrantable liberties either with the money or the schools of others.
But another and far more important error is manifest at pages 10 and 19, where I understand him to mean that it is intended to exclude the children of all except those of the members of the Established Church. Now this is an impression so utterly at variance with truth and fact, that I cannot conceive what part of the proceedings can have been so distorted, as to admit of such an interpretation. I have seen the progress of the society in embryo first, last, midst, and throughout all, without witnessing any symptoms of such a spirit. Should it appear, I am prepared to contend with it hand to hand—foot to foot, and should it unhappily prevail, I should feel bound to quit the society, however painful it might be to part from one in whose work my almost entire public services and affections are bound up.
On entering upon the subject of the union of all denominations in this work of benevolence, it appears p. 6to me, that my reverend friend has suffered the question of what is practicable completely to merge into that which he considers as most desirable. His affections and his sympathy have been so attractively led by the cases where such an union has been effected, as has induced him to overlook many whose efficacy is doubtful, and some, where the effects have rather hindered than promoted the cause. But while I truly sympathise with him in those views and feelings which, were it practicable, would suggest such an union, the cool deliberations of sober judgment are most convincing that the present state of things here in reference to the feelings of various parties, presents insuperable barriers, except at the expense of that cause which it is our object mutually to advance. Now I would fairly meet the question,
I. On the ground afforded by experience within our own locality.
II. On that which is given to us on competent authority from other places.
My reverend friend states at page 8, “that hitherto the labourers in the cause of Infant education in this city have been principally Dissenters, but it is well known that they have always desired and would have gladly received a greater number of their brethren in the establishment as coadjutors.” This is fairly coming to the point. There was no want of courtesy—no lack of invitations, but there was a something about those to whom those invitations were given, which kept them back. The few from among the members p. 7of the Establishment who have, as is stated at page 6 and 7, so cordially and charitably joined in the direction and management, are perhaps nearly all who could, even by increased exertion, be drawn into active co-operation with the schools on their present plan; and had this been tenaciously adhered to, the result of our united exertions would have added but little to the present means of extending the cause. The whole amount of experience within our own locality so powerfully discourages the attempt to coalesce, that I think no one would be induced to try the experiment, who was well informed as to those facts which bear upon the question.
II. Of the experience furnished by distant societies, there doubtless are some, where the union has been tried to great advantage. My reverend friend cannot feel more intense satisfaction than I do, in thus witnessing the joyful and happy state of brethren dwelling together in unity. If, however, Mr. Wilderspin’s book be competent authority, it is to be feared that the cases are few. It more resembles a chronicle of failure than of success—it savours more of antipathies than of harmony, and leads to discouragement rather than to hope.
Of the many cases therein mentioned, I will refer to only two, and only to those because they have been selected by my reverend friend, as among those where a satisfactory union had been effected. The one is at Leicester, and is noticed at page 16—the other at Taunton, at page 17.
p. 8The case of Leicester was one, of all others that have occurred or that can occur, the most painfully illustrative of the difficulty of effecting an efficient co-operation between parties so uncongenial. Mr. Wilderspin has given but a partial outline of the case in merely quoting the speech of Mr. Babington.
It was my unhappiness to be present at that meeting. The place itself called up sacred recollections of days gone by. It was there where Robinson the Episcopalian and Hall the Nonconformist had been wont to meet with kindred affection, and to unite their powerful energies in advocating the cause of religion and benevolence as occasion might offer. It was on this spot, sacred to Christian union and charity, where the sweet yet brilliant eloquence of Hall had afterwards burst forth into that memorable strain of eulogy on the character of his deceased Christian brother—that now the Christian might have wept tears of blood, on seeing the biographer of Robinson bearing the rude personal taunts of Hall’s talented, misguided successor, followed by another speaker, equally talented, whose coarse expressions and personalities were utterly at variance with his Christian profession, and backed by the yells and hootings of men of every creed, and men of no creed at all. The individual on whom all this was lavished was, by birth and education, a gentleman—by profession and practice an active, pious, indefatigable, minister,—the brother of Baron Vaughan, and whose only offence was, that he had stated his opinions (erroneous as I p. 9conceive) in language temperate and respectful. The weak and feeble results of this meeting is told in the words of Mr. Wilderspin, who says at page 95, that “there are now three schools, but, as they are managed by women, though they do great good, the full amount of advantage is not secured.” The impression upon my own mind is that it is all but a failure.
Nor is the quotation of the Taunton case more happy—Mr. Wilderspin’s account of this at page 118, exhibits clearly another instance of the difficulty of such an union, and that the altercation terminated in the establishment of two schools—one by each party.
That there are cases of happy and beneficial union I admit, and I rejoice in the fact that there are such; but that the majority of cases in large towns are so I do greatly fear and doubt. My reverend friend quotes the authority of Mr. Wilderspin, at page 18, in a manner which requires qualifying. He says, “These quotations abundantly prove that the originator of Infant schools, who has visited many of the towns in the three kingdoms, and who is, perhaps, better qualified than any other person to form an opinion as to the best mode of conducting them, is decidedly opposed to the exclusive system advertised for Norwich.”
Now I do humbly submit to the candid reader of Mr. Wilderspin’s book, that the cases he there notices, various as they are in character, do not lead to this conclusion. There may be cases, and I hope there are p. 10many, where “the union of Churchmen and Dissenters is delightful;” but that there are others, which do but too plainly tell the sad tale of the results of conflicting elements, cannot be denied. Much stress has been laid throughout on the value of the testimony of Mr. Wilderspin, and some of his statements have been so interpreted, as to bear strongly in favour of the union, when, as I have clearly shewn, they have a directly contrary tendency. His book bears evidence that his object is to promote infant instruction without any distinction of the party who patronises it. He is the willing agent of the Episcopalian or the Nonconformist; and, however he may rejoice when the state of feeling will admit of an union of all parties in one common bond of Christian love, he is too keen an observer of the workings of human prejudices, not to see that there are circumstances which would, in many cases, render an union an occasion rather for widening than diminishing the existing chasm.
In conclusion, I cannot help again recurring to a mistake into which my reverend friend has fallen, and which is throughout implied—in regard to the exclusion of the children of dissent. He may rest assured that nothing is decided with respect to the discipline of the schools, which can possibly be held to be an impediment with any conscientious Dissenter, who desires to place his child there:—no impeding tests or testimonials on entering the school,—no offensive rituals when there. ’Tis one of misfortune’s worst mishaps to have a bad name, and the Churchman p. 11is often slandered unwittingly. In the present case we claim our constitutional privilege of being heard before condemnation; and, while we expect not the approbation of the ultra, either within or without the pale of the Establishment, we do expect to meet the cordial sympathy of the good, the benevolent, the pious members of every denomination. A word or two on the subject of my reverend friend’s closing paragraph. Only let whatever is done, be done in the spirit of love and of duty: unhappily the field is wide enough, and too wide for us both. Let each, caring only for the public good, plant his school, not to annoy his associate in the benevolent work, but to select the most destitute district for its operation. To such a school there are, I have no doubt, Churchmen who will be happy to contribute, if conducted on sound principles; and I take my leave of my reverend friend’s letter in the spirit which animated the patriarch of old, when he says, “Let there be no strife I pray thee between me and thee, for we are brethren; is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself I pray thee from me. If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.”
Norwich, April 7th, 1836.#ENGLISH