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tleman was working, how anxious he was to bring in all classes and conditions of men, and closed with stating that Mr. Willow was to deliver a lecture that evening upon the advantages of his system. For a time Lester looked at the speaker as doubting his seriousness-doubting if he were not speaking in fun, but, finding that he was in earnest, he asked,
“Do you mean to say that this gentleman has founded a society in order to have men taught to look after the things of this life?"
“Yes, Sir,” answered the man; “and I think it was pretty near time it was done. Ever since I was a boy I have heard nothing, neither in Church nor Chapel, but that I was to keep the future world constantly before my mind, and the fact is, believing what they said, I was always crying and praying, so that by doing what I was advised I never got on in this world.”
" That is to say," observed Lester, "you devoted too much time to the subject; but I cannot see how that can justify you in wholly ceasing to care about it. Music is good, but it is not good for men to devote all their time to it. It is good in autumn to provide for the coming winter, but not good to do nothing else, for in that case we should perish. There is a medium in all things, which it seems to me you are now avoiding, quite as distinctly as you avoided it before. But surely your new teacher must be insane."
“Insane, Sir! Not he, indeed,” indignantly ejaculated the man. sane, indeed. Well, that beats all. Insane! No, he knows what he is about well enough I'll warrant, as, to their cost, the priests will soon discover."
“Don't be vexed at my remark, my good man,” said Lester, in a sort of apologetic tone, "for I did not desire to give offence. Only it struck me as strange that a man could think it necessary in this nineteenth century to teach the doctrine of Worldliness. It appears to me that there is less thought now about a future life than ever there was; men are hurrying to get rich; they give time, strength, and intellect to win prosperity in the present, and never pause to consider that other states of being must follow this. In the Crusading and Reforming ages such a doctrine was necessary, but not now. Nor can I imagine anything more ridiculous than for a man to turn out into the streets of London to preach the importance of attending to the comforts of this present life, when, as we all know, that is what men are already bent upon. It is like carrying coals to Newcastle, or advising Englishmen to love good Christmas feeding. What could be more ridiculous than for a Reformer to go into the City, and, posting himself upon Cornhill, or in front of the Exchange, there to hold forth to the busy merchants upon the folly of wasting their time thinking about another life—upon the high importance of paying more attention to their prosperity, ease, and comfort in this life? Would they not deem him mad; or, at least, that he had returned in some marvellous manner from the dead, with whom he must have passed, at least, two hundred years, without obtaining any knowledge of the recent history of the country? As reasonable men they could not consider it possible for any one to blunder so enormously as to suspect them of not thinking enough of the present life. And they are but fair specimens of the majority of modern Englishmen-their heaven is success, and their torment consists in not succeeding."
Yes," said the man, “but the parsons don't preach it; they are constantly going on against it."
“ Aud what else would you have them do ?” enquired Lester. " Is the system so good for your class ? Do you find that masters are made better by ceasing to think of another life? Or is not this the truth, that the more
care they have for getting on in this world the less thought they have for the working millions who, as instruments, are in their employ? They do not stand in need of any teaching which will loosen their faith in the deeper laws of life, but require to have the fact kept constantly before their minds that there is a future wherein the memory of the injustice done in the present will be the worst hell it is possible to conceive. That man is no friend to the working classes who would preach the doctrine of Worldliness. The middle and upper classes would be far more unjust than they now are if all the incitements to virtue, and the terrors awakened by vice, associated with thoughts of another life, were destroyed. And you, as a working man, should be the last to boast of success in such teaching."
“Well, as for that, Sir, all I knows is this, that, for a master, give me the man as doesn't go to Church or Chapel. Them religious people are terrible hard to deal with. They seem to think that all they give at Chapel must be ground out of their servants at home. I had a religious master once, and he nearly killed me with work. Do what I would he was never satisfied, and when he found out that I burned a little gas late at night, to read some books on geology, he went on about it as if I was a going to ruin him by my extravagance, and myself by enquiring into subjects not good for my precious soul. Give me, for a master, a man who doesn't go to either Church or Chapel
, but who has got a feeling for his men. “You are unfair in speaking thus, for,” said Lester, “I'm sure you can name some who go either to Church or Chapel who are as good masters as the best of those who do not attend any place of worship. The fact is, that a man is neither made a good master by attending nor destroyed by keeping
fasten upon the worst specimens of those who go and the best of those who do not, and then compare them, as if such a course were perfectly fair ; and what is worse, even, you confound not going to Church with disbelief in another world, whereas you seem to think that they who go to worship must believe in a future."
And-pardon my bluntness, Sir—in doing that I only imitate my superiors."
Very likely, very likely,” replied Lester ; " but depend upon it that the majority of those who go to Church do not heartily believe in a future life ; if they did, in any noble sense, they could not live the lives they live, nor could they wink at the iniquity which they so freely tolerate. They believe themselves to be believers, but, as with many who imagine that they have ceased to believe in ghosts, and who find out their mistake when left alone on a stormy night in a creaky old house, so these parties need but the opportunity to render the fact manifest that they have not the belief they had imagined. I regret that it is so; for when men cease to believe in a future cease to care whether there be a future or no, they are far more liable to fall into those errors of heart and action which create misery for themselves and others."
"I'll not deny, Sir," said the man," that what you say sounds very reasonable, but I should like you to hear Mr. Willow, and then judge for yourself. People often tell us that we ought not to be led by what he says, but then we can't believe them, for they utter things about him which we know to be untrue. And the Christian preachers tell us that he is only doing it for a living, but we can't help seeing that he is cleverer than they are, and that, if he were to go into the Church, he would do better than they do. For, poor speakers as they are, they get double the income he gets, and have not half the work to do; so that, if he be a rogue, he is rogueing himself. But go and hear, and then contradict him. Let us working men have a chance of learuing where the truth is.”
“We will attend,” said Lester, “but certainly not to discuss. I confess, indeed, that I should like to see and hear the man, who, in an age of greed, like this, conceives it necessary to methodise and teach the doctrine of pure Worldliness."
The arrangements for attending the meeting were made between Lester and Barrington, who were not disposed to accept the assistance of their new acquaintance. At the time named, they found their way to the hall, which was dirty, small, and awfully poverty-stricken-in appearance. A coffee-room was connected with it, in which sat a number of working men, not many of whom had any care either for cleanliness of person, or neatness of dress. They were smoking, and playing draughts—there was a considerable amount of noise in the place; and, altogether, the whole aspect of the room, and its occupants, was painfully depressing. It was eight o'clock, yet the lecturer had not arrived, neither had the audience; but the latter soon gathered in, and, by half-past eight, Mr. Willow was upon his legs, expounding and justifying the glorious doctrines of Worldliness.
The personal appearance of this new light was not attractive or commanding. He was of middle height, rather slim in person, and evidently very nervous and touchy. His voice sounded unpleasantly, and, when he spoke, there was a monotony in his tone, which argued powerfully against the theory of his earnestness. It was evident that he conceived himself to be a very important person, who, as yet, was not properly appreciated by an ignorant world. The style of his composition was French, both in its glitter and its lack of force. He aimed rather at picking off the warders with the rifle, than at knocking down the tower with cannon-balls. There was cleverness in his inethod of attacking men with whom he did not agree. Like the boa constrictor, he covered with saliva all that he wished to swallow. It was his aim to satisfy his audience that he was particularly careful not to fail in rendering ample justice to his opponents, but, at the same time, no man could be more unjust ; for, in the midst of his praise, he invariably insinuated some censure, some condemnation, which—as, at heart, he intended—completely destroyed the effect that, outwardly, he seemed desirous of producing.
The lecture itself was cold and powerless, and the audience seemed rather to try to like it, than really to feel pleased with what was said. It was evident that they gave the speaker credit for more power and wisdom than he possessed. They understood only in part; but some of his terse passages greatly pleased them. The subject was Worldliness, and its superiority over all systems which involved thought about Deity and a future life. Whether the listeners cared much about a future it were hard to tell; probably not, for their present condition of life was not particularly attractive. All they seemed to need were Food and Rest. The beauty of the world, the marvels of art, the grandeur of human history, they knew nothing of; all they thought, or could think, about, was how to meet the wants of the coming morrow, so that the discourse was quite thrown away. Not a man among them had ever been greatly troubled about the absurd popular theories of heaven and hell, so that there was little fear of fear coercing them into habits of abstract thinking. One thing, however, was evident, that here was no hope of finding the true Reformer. The whole affair proved the want of a Reformer; for, if such an one 'were to come, then such men as this would be as soon forgotten, as the leaves which fall from the
oak in autumn. The two friends were incapable of sitting the lecture out; but, unlike others, they left the place with noiseless step, musing upon the strange fact, that stump oratory, with all its wordiness and hollowness of heart, seems to have become a British institution, out of which strange issues must come.
“And what think you of this new light--this great leader of freethought! May I not ask what you think of this New Moses ? "
"I would fain believe him honest,” said Lester," for it is particularly painful to be compelled to speak of a man in his position as being doubtful, but then I can only do so by believing him to be utterly incompetent to form a sound opinion upon those subjects of which he treats. If I justify him upon the moral side then I must repudiate him on the intellectual. He is selfdeceived, and thus succeeds in deceiving others; but liis intellectual power is small, and his range of reading has been limited. He has a smattering of many books, but the knowledge of none. I should say that he never reads a book through. His object in reading is not that of promoting the growth of his own mind, it is not that he may thoroughly master the subject upon which it treats, but simply that he may find pretty and telling sentences which may be licked into a new form, and woven into his speeches. I was forcibly struck as he was proceeding by the number of old phrases to which he had given a new dress.”
“I am told that he is celebrated for that,” interposed Barrington," and in his writings it is rather amusing to notice how frequently he quotes sentences from books which suit his purpose, but which were never intended by the author to be understood in the sense he gives them. He must have a nice book of cuttings from the scrap columns of the Weeklies which he uses up when he is building his books and speeches.”
“ That may be forgiven when we remember that the plan enables him to supply better sentences than he has the power to create. And I suppose we must forgive him for his egotism and his defective power as a reasoner.
He scems to believe himself to be a discoverer, for he speaks as if he bad undertaken to teach a system that was previously unknown-just as if worldliness and carelessness about the future had been unknown to the ancients, and unpractised by modern nations. But what struck me most painfully, in his address, was his abominable prevarication, his unblushing Jesuitism, and his positive self-contradiction.”
That, Lester, is assuming him to be wise in such matters. What you would call proof of his prevarication I should speak of as evidence of his want of perception-he is no more conscious of his evasions, than is the child who explains why it did a certain thing, by saying, “because I did.' As to his Jesuitism, depend upon it, he is not aware of what he does. Aiming at getting money and applause from the millions, he, by a natural instinct, perceives, and then adopts such methods as are calculated to gain his ends. And as to his self-contradictions, they are so obviously the consequence of his ignorance, both of logic and facts, that it would be wrong to ascribe them either to his badness of heart or to his having a settled purpose to deceive his hearers. I believe him to be thoroughly honest. The fact is, that in these dislocated times, finding that there is no practical belief in the popular theories, and desiring, at least, to know why certain doctrines are to be accepted, he has enquired his way and lost himself in a wood; or, rather, he is like those who, when in the maze, imagine themselves to have found the road out, but who travel round and round without getting any nearer to the point at which they are aiming. He imagines that by denying the facts he solves the problem. And I was especially amused by his saying that 'the standard of religion varies with fickle creeds; the standard of morality is utility,' just as if the idea of what is useful did not vary as much as the other. The Epicureans and the Stoics were not agreed about what things were useful, for the former would have commended many actions as useful, which the latter must have repudiated as pernicious. Just fancy a convention of human beings assembled together to settle the details of the morality question, and having to measure all the actions under the utility standard. The drinkers and smokers, the dancers and singers, the hydropaths and homæopaths, the allopaths and the expectants, the artists and manufacturers, poets and critics, the law-makers and policemen, in fact, the press, platform, and pulpits, with all the various classes, would be at war with each other, for every one of them would undertake to maintain the utility of some method, system, or form of action, whose usefulness would be repudiated by all the rest. There is as much difficulty in finding out what is the really useful, as in discovering the true religion. We fancy that to be good for us which proves in the end to be injurious. Formerly men were bled every spring and fall, for they believed in its utility. Now we refuse to be bled, because of knowing the injury it inflicts. Probably he would cite this as proving the correctness of his theory, for he is hardly capable of perceiving how ridiculous is the position of a man who sets up utility as a standard of morality, and leaves us without any means of determining the utility of things.”
"I was annoyed,” said Lester, “by bis confounding theology with religion, for the gulf between these two is quite as wide as is that between governments as they are now constituted, and the better systems conceived of by intelligent men ; it is as wide as the gulf between our love of the beautiful, and some particular school of art. There is a Turner war now raging in the painter ranks, but who would think of identifying the PreRaphaelites with art itself; or of denouncing the beautiful itself, because men differ, not only about how it shall be reproduced in painting, poetry, or statuary, but upon the fundamental question, "What are the constituent elements of beauty?' In one part of his discourse, he observed that “The histories of all ages, and the bitter experience of mankind, prove the pernicious influence of piety. It seems that a more useful work cannot be performed than to sweep away the assumed foundations of all religions.' Is it possible to conceive of any statement more prejudicial to truth and justice, or more opposed to experience than that? If he had said that the histories of all ages, and the bitter experience of mankind, prove the pernicious effect of physic, and that no better service can be rendered to humanity than to destroy all faith in its usefulness, the saying would not have been a whit more absurd. For, although it be true, and while deploring its melancholy truthfulness, I shall not be likely to question its validity, that thousands have fallen victims before the relentless pressure of those who were bent upon establishing some religious theory; it is none the less true that thousands have fallen victims to the folly of medical theorists. The victims were slain in different ways, yet still they were slain ; but, both in the religious and medical instances, the men acted upon the utility theory this gentleman sets up. They believed their system to be useful, and he, of all men, should not denounce them.”
Well, but, Lester, are you not grateful to him for so freely confessing that, considering it to be inimical to human progress, should the religion of