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compels us), we think they have of late years borne those faculties very meekly, and have practised toward the establishment and its clergy a most exemplary and obsequious deference. We have no doubt the Layman's sense of this merit, on the part of his friends, with the surprise of finding it in the present instance so ill requited, may have contributed to call forth the severity,– (we might be deemed not quite impartial, if we were to call it asperity) which often prevails in his pages.
It would be unjust to the Layman to deny that he is an acute and spirited writer, well read in the divines and the history of our church, and the political history of our country; indeed furnished with almost every kind of requisite knowledge for making him a dangerous enemy. It is but justice to say that he does not, like some advocates of a party, abandon all equitable discrimination in his references to the party that he opposes; he evinces the utmost veneration for many of the illustrious prelates and writers of our church, whom Mr. Thomas had cited as its defenders; but it is to be acknowledged that the Layman's greater familiarity with their works is very unfortunate for our Rector, as it has produced from them a number of quotations of a more mortifying quality, as bearing on the dispositions and views of the Rector, than any thing the most malicious nonconformist could have invented.
The Layman will not attribute it to a spirit of prejudice, that we shorten our observations on his performance. With his zeal for religious liberty we fully accord; we highly approve the exhortations which in some places he urges on the English clergy; we cannot deny the correctness and force of many of his observations on the corruptions of the best religious establishments; and our plan forbids us to enter into any controversy with him on the wisdom and utility of religious establishments in general.
As to Mr. Thomas, it is probable he has a hundred times recollected it as an unfortunate day, on which he exposed himself to the public, and to this acute and satirical assailant.
[May and June, 1809.]
Two Volumes of Sermons. By the Rev. SYDNEY SMITH, M. A.,
Fellow of New College, Oxford ; Rector of Foston, in Yorkshire; Preacher at the Foundling, and at Berkeley, and Fitzroy Chapels. 8vo.
A SPECIES of infelicity, with which we do not remember to have seen any adequate expressions of sympathy, is that of a minister of religion who is not cordially pleased with his office. The persons, claiming on this ground the benevolent sentiment, might be divided into several classes; but we do not, at present, solicit it for those, who have such a disproportionate share, and such a parsimonious reward of clerical duty, as to droop under the hourly sense of toil and poverty ; nor for those (if any
such there be), who can but ill brook the restraints of professional decorum on irregular dispositions; nor yet for those who are oppressed by a desponding view of the inefficacy of their labours. There is another class, to which the friendly commiseration is perhaps equally due. We should probably come near the right description of this class, if we were briefly to sketch any one of the several instances that have fallen in our way in the course of our long life. Nor should we be exhibiting any thing that is not familiar to the observation of many of our readers, if we were to represent the ecclesiastical condition and feelings of a young man, not born to the privilege of an independent fortune, but liberally educated, genteel in his address, and in all his tastes and ideas, possessed of very considerable talents, accompanied with the arrogance arising from his opinion that they are quite extraordinary ones, and submitting somewhat reluctantly to the circumstances which fix his destiny to the clerical profession. Why reluctantly? From causes which have naturally a most powerful influence on a spirited and proud young man.
He finds that the church is the most favourite topic of ridicule, among the far greater proportion of both the young and old men of fortune, fashion, spirit, and talent. While on this topic even dulness can contrive to be almost smart, he finds that no small share of the real wit and humour, which kindle the glee of gay and genteel companies, crackles and sparkles from lucky hits at the church. He is repeatedly mortified in such companies, by sly inuendoes at his own destination, and arch apologies for those inuendoes being sometimes too obvious. He is not less mortified to witness the kind of respect, sometimes practised in such sociсty, toward the ecclesiastical order in the person of one of its members; a respect exhibited in occasional affectations of extra decorum (particularly as to the article of profane language) in consideration of his being present, followed and explained by pleasant experiments how far he will quietly suffer this decorum to be violated, and by exulting looks of challenge to rally in its defence when some gallant son of Mars puts it entirely to the rout. Nor will our spirited undergraduate feel the situation of the reverend gentleman much more enviable, when the squire or the knight, with a grin, refers to him some question of moral casuistry, while the counsellor and the physician make some leering compliment to the authority which his opinion derives from his spiritual function.
It is with extreme vexation, that this incipient divine recollects all the current malicious jests about a very ordinary share of ability sufficing for the church, about its being the destination of the less mercurial branches of the family who would have no chance of succeeding in any department demanding acuteness or enterprise; its being the convenient receptacle for the humble third cousins of persons of distinction, and the like. It mortifies him still more deeply to observe, that though there is at all times a grand aggregate of talent in the church, yet those brilliant exhibitions of genius and wit, of eloquence or science, which command the admiration of the whole country, are chiefly made on the secular field.
The condition of the laymen excites his envy, even by their having to claim the most distinguished of the infidel corps ; and, without really approximating to their principles, he is tempted to like his religion and his church somewhat the less, for their having been held in scorn by these fine spirits. In surrendering himself to an institution and profession, from which so vast a host of talents have at all times kept aloof with the pride of choosing a freer and ampler ground for their operation, he is but imperfectly consoled by recounting the names and appropriate epithets of the judicious Hooker, the witty South, the scientific and eloquent Barrow, and the profound Butler. He murmurs at his stars, and revolts at putting on the sacred habiliments, while each journal is l'ecalling his attention and admiration to the examples of forensic and parliamentary eminence, or to the brilliance of martial achievements; or, if his ambition takes chiefly a literary direction, he has the greatest difficulty to pacify his pride, when forced to recollect how few of the great philosophers, historians, and poets, have been churchmen. Oh! that Locke, and Pope, and Gibbon (his scepticism notwithstanding), had been rectors, deans, or bishops; or that I had been privileged to affix to my name in the title-pages of my future performances that mark of independence and secularity, Esq. But even if his mind could divest the clerical character of these associated ungracious recollections of the immense number of able men, who never thought, and many of whom he is mortified to reflect would have scorned to think, of assuming it, he has but little complacency in the very nature of the profession. He feels as if the office and character of a priest were something akin to a formality, a mechanical order, exceedingly uncongenial with the varying, and, as he deems it, energetic activity of his mind. Much of the required service he is disposed to regard as routine, and therefore he anticipates a sense of wearing and painful monotony. His pride, or, as he calls it, his intellectual independence, struggles violently against submitting to be bound up by a system of complete prescription, by which he is solemnly interdicted all option
or change in opinions, ceremonial observances, and even personal attire. He knows that the public does not regard an ecclesiastical situation as any thing of the nature of an arena for either proving superior ability, or training it. Not a very large share is in general, as in many secular offices, peremptorily demanded, or even expected; and therefore there is but a very faint degree of that stimulus to excellence, which in other departments is involved in the very fact of possessing the office. He foresees a deficiency of any thing tending to exhilirate his imagination ; as all the provision for it in ecclesiastical ornaments, movements, or even music, affords but little variety, and has already lost its effect through familiarity. And then as to the chief matter of all, the influential communication of divine knowledge to an assembly of human beings, he does not feel such an affecting impression of the importance of this instruction and the infinite value of these rational beings, as to save him from the apprehension that he shall find it a very dull and tiresome task to discourse again and again on what are necessarily become in a Christian country some of the inost trite of all topics.
No rich uncle bequeaths a fortune and opportunely demises; no fortunate casualty of introduction to persons of high rank, no intimacy with the sons of political chieftains, in or out, suggests a chance of the honours and emoluments of the state; a preparation for the law would be a long course of heavy toil and expense, with an exceedingly dubious prospect of success; in short, the time arrives when our young genius must take upon him the indelible character, which assigns him to a class that he has never admired, and shuts against him for ever the highest theatre in which ambitious talent aspires to figure. It is not wonderful, if he accomplishes his formal and solemn dedication to the sacred function with nearly such feelings, as we may have perceived in an elegant and tolerably proud young man, whom the parsimony of his fortune had brought to the altar with a disagreeable and ancient, but wealthy dame. Thus dedicated, it becomes a question which of the several roads