« PreviousContinue »
These lectures abound with novel suggestions, some of which have been already noticed. Of the remainder our limits will permit us barely to advert to a few. On page 113, the reader will find the hints of a new theory for improving the world and rendering mankind better fitted for moral and rational institutions, viz., by improving their brains. The author appears to think that some method may be discovered for “enlarging the moral and intellectual organs,” a sure consequence of which would be a rapid progress among all those thus “enlarged,” in the arts of civilization. Mothers, therefore, may hope for the invention of a phrenological instrument which, being applied to the heads of their infants, will enable them to prevent the growth of the propensities, and to push the mass of brain towards the frontal and coronal regions, until those infants are made as much wiser and better than their fathers as said fathers will permit-nay, we should not be surprised, if, among the visions which Mr. Combe boasts of having enjoyed from " the Pisgah of Knowledge,” (p. 24) one should have been a contrivance for producing at pleasure, (a given mass of infant's brains being furnished), the head of a Howard, a Newton, or a Shakspeare. It must be admitted, that such a mode of manufacturing great men is much to be preferred to the toilsome one contemplated by our schools and churches; and with a sufficient number of the proposed instruments, it is evident that the world might be regenerated in a much shorter space of time than is generally imagined.
Mr. Combe deserves praise, too, for having pointed out to young ladies and gentlemen a new method of courtship, which is warranted to prevent all incongruous and discordant matches, (p. 53) and for recommending houses of refuge, in which children with bad heads can be placed and treated on phrenological principles. He shows, also, that phrenology is the only science which can account adequately for the origin of society or of civil government--for the variety of occupations among mankind, and for gradations in rank !! But the new results at which he has arrived, are too numerous even to mention.
It is plain that we are drawing near to a new and more auspicious era
. The Constitution of Man has been stereotyped and published as a reading book for schools! This, its supplement will
, we presume, be adopted as a vade mecum by legislators, instructors, parents, lovers, and in short, by all who wish to have happiness without interruption or alloy. We already know men, who, instructed by the former work, have come to regard sickness as a crime, and death as little more than the penalty for violating the known and unknown laws of life ;-and we apprehend that, under the light which will be shed by these
lectures on the duties and obligations of men, a new catalogue of criminal offences will require to be made out, and that sickness, improper diet, neglect of exercise, ill-assorted matches, and above all, deficiencies of brain in the right part of the heads of our children, will be ranked with felony and misprison of treason. Perhaps they will be esteemed more flagrant offences ; inasmuch as the latter may be traced to an unfortunate conformation of the head, whereas the former, under the new dispensation, can result from nothing but voluntary ignorance and deliberate disobedience.
Art. XII.-The Religious Opinions and Character of Washing
ton. By E. C. M'GUIRE. New-York: Harper & Brothers, 1836. 12mo. pp. 414.
The assertion has been often lightly made-by such as wished it truc—that George Washington was an infidel. On the other hand, there have been a great many who, without giving credit to that assertion, have yet too readily admitted the impression that it was very far from being clear he was a Christian. The evidence contained in this book ought to convince both these sorts of persons of their mistake. Nobody can read it without coming to the conclusion, that Washington was either a true believer in the Christian religion--or else a hypocrite of the basest sort, destitute of every honorable and upright principle.
In saying this, we do not, of course, lay any stress upon the mass of evidence-collected by the author from Washington's letters, journals, official writings, and from other authentic sources-going to illustrate his worth and excellence in the social relations : the strength and fineness of his filial and domestic affections, his charity to the poor, his liberality, disinterestedness and self-denial; his integrity and conscientious uprightness in the discharge of all his moral obligations, his temperance, and his entire freedom from the vices of gaming, profanity, &c. which too frequently stained the characters of his distinguished contemporaries. The proofs on these points, which Mr. M'Guire has arranged in several chapters, exhibit indeed a character of exalted virtue.
But we are quite aware that all this would by no means be accepted by the infidel in proof that Washington was a Christian ; and we are not now going into a discussion of the difference between that social and moral excellence which may exist independently of a belief in Christianity, and that which springs from, or is modified and sustained by, a deep religious and Christian faith.
Nor, taken by itself, shall we insist upon his devout and habitual recognition of God and a particular Providence, the i nstances of which—so strikingly scattered throughout his private, as well as official letters—are brought together by Mr. M'Guire; nor upon the abundant evidence of the respect he always paid to the institutions and ministers of the Christian religion: for as to the first point, it has never been supposed that Washington was an Atheist; and as to the second, it might be said that it proved nothing more than a large and prudent policy, or a liberal and good natured allowance to the prejudices of his countrymen. Washington certainly was a gentleman: if an infidel, he knew too well what belonged to honor and propriety, not to treat with respect the honest opinions and settled institutions of the body of his countromen.
But though the facts just adverted to, may not in themselves be conclusive of the point in question, they certainly are in harmony with the supposition that Washington was a Christian believer, and, taken with other and positive evidence, they cannot by any possibility be fairly regarded otherwise than as manifestations of his Christian faith; especially when it is remembered that his character, among all its remarkable traits, was in nothing more remarkable than for its wonderful consistency, its perfect unity and proportion. He was the last man in the world to act without principles, or by any actions to lead his fellow men to attribute to him opinions and principles which he did not entertain.
Keeping this in mind, we will proceed to place upon our pages the most material facts and testimonies brought together in this book. Before doing this it may be well enough to state that Washington was baptized and educated in the bosom of the Protestant Episcopal Church, of which his parents were members, and which was at that time the established church of Virginia. Mr. M'Guire gives the following record from the old family Bible: “ George Washington, son to Augustine and Mary his wife, was born the 11th day of February, 1731-2, about 10 in the morning, and was baptized on the 5th of April following—Mr. Beverly Whiting and Captain Christopher Brooks, godfathers, and Mrs. Mildred Gregory, godmother.”
In a quotation from Mr. Jefferson's - Ana,” given on a former page, it will be recollected that among the on dits there set down respecting the religious opinions of Washington, the late
Dr. Rush is recorded as having “observed” that Washington had never “ said a word on the subject [of his faith in Christianity] in any of his public papers, except in his valedictory letter to the governors of the states, when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion."" The letter here referred to was a circular, dated Head-Quarters, Newberg, June 8, 1783. Perhaps Mr. Jefferson did not intend to represent Dr. Rush as quoting the exact language of the letter; for in that document the passage referred to stands thus: “ The free cultivation of letters, the unbounded extension of commerce, the progressive refinement of manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind, &c." There is a difference of expression here which our readers will immediately perceive, and they will attach whatever importance to it they please. We think it by no means inconsiderable. We have not adverted, however, to Mr. Jefferson's memorandum for the sake of pointing it out; but in order to notice a very material sin of omission in it. For in this very valedictory letter there is a clause which is much more decisive than the one referred to in the “ Ana,” and given above. We quote the two concluding paragraphs, as given in Mr. M.Guire's book:
“ It remains then to be my final and only request, that your Ex. cellency will communicate these sentiments to your legislature at their next meeting, and that they may be considered as the legacy of one, who has ardently wished, on all occasions, to be useful to his country, and who, even in the shade of retirement, will not fail to im. plore the Divine benediction.
“ I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the state over which you preside, in his holy protection ; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love to one another, for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who served in the field; and finally that he would most graciously be pleased, to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.” p. 72.
Now, it strikes us, every one must immediately feel that the strain of this whole passage is such, that Washington must have known he would be understood by his countrymen at large to be speaking throughout as a Christian believer; and conse
quently intended to be so understood. This is so perfectly obvious that we cannot help suspecting that Dr. Rush—if he had been alive when the “ Ana” were published—would have protested against the way in which his name is introduced. He certainly had no personal feelings to be gratified by finding reason to consider Washington's belief in Christianity questionable. He might have “ told” Mr. Jefferson something that “ Asa Green” said ; he might, also, have “observed” to Mr. Jefferson, that this letter was the only “public paper" of Washington's that contained any thing explicit on the subject of Christianity; but we do not believe he meant to intimate any doubt on his part as to Washington's opinions. For Dr. Rush must have known very well, even if the language above quoted were not in itself decisive, that the question was not one to be settled only by numerous or express declarations in official papers. The absence of every thing of the kind would afford neither proof nor presumption of his unbelief. Propriety and good taste would prevent, in such documents, an ostentatious, or any thing like a direct and formal, profession of his religious crced; while on the other hand, if there be evidence, from other quarters, of his Christian belief, then the language of his public papers, though very general and indirect, may be fairly taken as expressive of that belief, especially if he must have supposed it would be so understood.
But it is needless to pursue or apply this reasoning in regard to the passage in question. We take it that the expression respecting “the Divine Author of our blessed religion," is sufficiently direct and explicit. It is not merely an admission of the salutary social influence of Christianity, which it was the object of Mr. Jefferson—under cover of Dr. Rush's nameto represent as the extent of Washington's public declarations. It is language which none but a Christian believer could honestly employ; and therefore we must conclude he was such, or else he was guilty of the most dishonorable hypocrisy.
The best sources of evidence, however, in a question of this sort are, as we have already intimated, to be found in the habits and professions of a man's more private life, and in the testimonies and convictions of those who knew him best; and if we consider how habitually grave and reserved Washington was on all subjects in the ordinary intercourse of society, we shall be somewhat surprised at the amount and variety of evidence from such sources. The testimony of Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, is of a great deal more weight than all of Mr. Jefferson's on dits. He was the personal friend of Washington, possessed his entire confidence, and had the best opportunity of knowing