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PUBLIC CHARACTERS OF 1801, 1802. (E. Review, 1802.)
Public Characters of 1801–1802. Richard Phillips, St. Paul's. 1 vol. 8vo.
THE design of this book appeared to us so extremely reprehensible, and so capable, even in the hands of a blockhead, of giving pain to families and individuals, that we considered it as a fair object of literary police, and had prepared for it a very severe chastisement. Upon the perusal of the book, however, we were entirely disarmed. It appears to have been written by some very innocent scribbler, who feels himself under the necessity of dining, and who preserves, throughout the whole of the work, that degree of good humour, which the terror of indictment by our Lord the King is so well calculated to inspire. It is of some importance, too, that grown-up country gentlemen should be habituated to read printed books; and such may read a story book about their living friends, who would read nothing else.
We suppose the booksellers have authors at two dif. ferent prices. Those who do write grammatically, and those who do not; and that they have not thought fit to put any of their best hands upon this work. Whether or not there may be any improvement on this point in the next volume, we request the biographer will at least give us some means of ascertaining when he is comical, and when serious. In the life of Dr. Rennel, we find this passage:–
“Dr. Rennel might well look forward to the highest dignities in the establishment; but, if our information be right, and we have no reason to question it, this is what he by no means either expects or courts. There is a primitive simplicity in this excellent man, which much resembles that of the first prelates of the Christian church, who were with great difficulty prevailed upon to undertake the episcopal office.”
ARCHDEACON NARES.* (E. Review, 1802.)
A Thanksgiving for Plenty, and Warning against Avarice. A Sermon. By the Reverend Robert Nares, Archdeacon of Stafford, and Canon Residentiary of Lichfield. London: Printed for the Author, and sold by Rivingtons, St. Paul's Churchyard.
For the swarm of ephemeral sermons which issue from the press, we are principally indebted to the vanity of popular preachers, who are puffed up by female praises into a belief, that what may be delivered, with great propriety, in a chapel full of visiters and friends, is fit for the deliberate attention of the public, who cannot be influenced by the decency of a clergyman's private life, flattered by the sedulous politeness of his manners, or misled by the fallacious circumstances of voice and action. A clergyman cannot be always considered as reprehensible for preaching an indifferent sermon; because, to the active piety, and correct life, which the profession requires, many an excellent man may not unite talents for that species of composition: but every man who prints, imagines he gives to the world something which they had not before, either in matter or style; that he has brought forth new truths, or adorned old ones; and when, in lieu of novelty and ornament, we can discover nothing but trite imbecility, the law must take its course, and the delinquent suffer that mortification from which vanity can rarely be expected to escape, when it chooses dulness for the minister of its gratifications. The learned author, after observing that a large army praying would be a much finer spectacle than a large army fighting, and after entertaining us with the old anecdote of Xerxes, and the flood of tears, proceeds to express his sentiments on the late scarcity, and the present abundance: then, stating the manner in which the Jews were governed by the immediate interference of God, and informing us, that other people expect not, nor are taught to look for, miraculous interference, to punish or reward them, he proceeds to talk of the visitation of Providence, for the purposes of trial, warning, and correction, as if it were a truth of which he had never doubted. Still, however, he contends, though the Deity does interfere, it would be presumptuous and impious to pronounce the purposes for which he interferes; and then adds, that it has pleased God, within these few years, to give us a most awful lesson of the vanity of agriculture and importation without piety, and that he has proved this to the conviction of every thinking mind. ‘Though he interpose not (says Mr. Nares) by positive miracle, he influences by means unknown to all but himself, and directs the winds, the rain, and glorious beams of heaven to execute his judgment, or fulfil his merciful designs.”— Now, either the wind, the rain, and the beams, are here represented to act as they do in the ordinary course of nature, or they are not. If they are, how can their operations be considered as a judgment on sins; and if they are not, what are their extraordinary operations, but positive miracles 2 So that the Archdeacon, after denying that any body knows when, how, and why the Creator works a miracle, proceeds to specify the time, instrument, and object of a miraculous scarcity; and then, assuring us that the elements were employed to execute the judgments of Providence, denies that this is any proof of a positive miracle. Having given us this specimen of his talents for theological metaphysics, Mr. Nares commences his attack upon the farmers; accuses them of cruelty and avarice; raises the old cry of monopoly; and expresses some doubts, in a note, whether the better way would not be, to subject their granaries to the control of an exciseman; and to levy heavy penalties upon those, in whose possession corn, beyond a certain quantity to be fixed by law, should be found. — This style of reasoning is pardonable enough in those who argue from the belly rather than the brains; but in a well fed and well educated clergyman, who has never been disturbed by hunger from the free exercise of cultivated talents, it merits the severest reprehension. The farmer has it not in his power to raise the price of corn; he never has fixed, and never can fix it. He is unquestionably justified in receiving any price he can obtain: for it happens very beautifully, that the effect of his efforts to better his fortune, is as beneficial to the public, as if their motive had not been selfish. The poor are not to be supported, in time of famine, by abatement of price on the part of the farmer, but by the subscription of residentiary canons, archdeacons, and all men rich in public or private property ; and to these subscriptions the farmer should contribute according to the amount of his fortune. To insist that he should take a less price when he can obtain a greater, is to insist upon laying on that order of men the whole burden of supporting the poor; a convenient system enough in the eyes of a rich ecclesiastic ; and objectionable only, because it is impracticable, pernicious, and unjust.* The question of the corn trade has divided society into two parts — those who have any talents for reasoning, and those who have not. We owe an apology to our readers, for taking any notice of errors that have been so frequently, and so unanswerably exposed; but when they are echoed from the bench and the pulpit, the dignity of the teacher may perhaps communicate some degree of importance to the silliest and most extravagant doctrines. No reasoning can be more radically erroneous than that upon which the whole of Mr. Nares's sermon is founded. The most benevolent, the most christian, and the most profitable conduct the farmer can pursue, is, to sell his commodities for the highest price he can possibly obtain. This advice, we think, is not in any great danger of being rejected: we wish we were equally sure of success in counselling the Reverend Mr. Nares to attend, in future, to practical, rather than theoretical questions about provisions. He may be a very hospitable archdeacon; but nothing short of a positive miracle can make him an acute reasoner.
* This was another gentleman of the alarmist tribe.
* If it is pleasant to notice the intellectual growth of an individual, it is still more pleasant to see the public growing wiser. This absurdity of attributing the high price of corn to the combinations of farmers, was the common nonsense talked in the days of my youth. I remember when ten judges out of twelve laid down this doctrine in their charges to the various grand juries on the circuits. The lowest attorney's clerk is now better instructed.