An Essay on the Evils of Popular Ignorance
John Foster

Part 2 out of 5

acting on the community, and how slow and partial must have been their
efficacy, for either the dissipation of ignorance in general, or the
riddance of that worst part of it which had thickened round the Romish
delusion, as malignant a pestilence as ever walked in darkness. There was
an alteration of formularies, a curtailment of rites, a declaration of
renouncing, in the name of the church and state, the most palpable of the
absurdities; and a change, in some instances of the persons, but in very
many others of the professions merely, of the hierarchy. Such were the
appointments and instrumentality, for carrying an innovation of opinions
and practices through a nation in which the profoundest ignorance and the
most inveterate superstition fortified each other. And we may well imagine
how fast and how far they would be effective, to convey information and
conviction among a people whose reason had been just so much the worse,
with respect to religion at least, as it had not been totally dormant; and
who were too illiterate to be ever the wiser for the volume of inspiration
itself, had it been in their native language, in every house, instead of
being scarcely in one house in five thousand.

Doubtless some advantage was gained through this change of institutions,
by the abolition of so much of the authority of the spiritual despotism as
it possessed in virtue of being the imperative national establishment. And
if, under this relaxation of its grasp, a number of persons declined and
escaped into the new faith, they hardly knew how or why, it was happy to
make the transition on _any_ terms, with however little of the exercise of
reason, with however little competence to exercise it. Well was it to be
on the right ground, though a man had come thither like one conveyed while
partly asleep. To have grown to a state of mind in which he ceased and
refused to worship relics and wafers, to rest his confidence on penance
and priestly absolution, and to regard the Virgin and saints as in effect
the supreme regency of heaven, was a valuable alteration _though_ he could
not read, and _though_ he could not assign, and had not clearly
apprehended, the arguments which justified the change. Yes, this would be
an important thing gained; but not even thus much _was_ gained to the
passive slaves of popery but in an exceedingly limited extent, during a
long course of time after it was supplanted as a national institution. It
continued to maintain in the faith, feelings, and more private habits of
the people, a dominion little enfeebled by the necessity of dissimulation
in public observances. As far as to secure this exterior show of
submission and conformity, it was an excellent argument that the state had
decreed, and would resolutely enforce, a change in religion,--that is to
say, till it should be the sovereign pleasure of the next monarch, readily
seconded by a majority of the ecclesiastics, just to turn the whole affair
round to its former position.

But the argument would expend nearly its whole strength on this policy of
saving appearances. For what was there conveyed in it that could strike
inward to act upon the fixed tenets of the mind, to destroy there the
effect of the earliest and ten thousand subsequent impressions, of
inveterate habit and of ancient establishment? Was it to convince and
persuade by authority of the maxim, that the government in church and
state is wiser than the people, and therefore the best judge in every
matter? This, as asserted generally, was what the people firmly believed:
it has always, till lately, been the popular faith. But then, was the
benefit of this obsequious faith to go exclusively to the government of
just that particular time,--a government which, by its innovations and
demolitions, was exhibiting a contemptuous dissent from all past
government remembered in the land? Were the people not to hesitate a
moment to take this innovating government's word for it that all their
forefathers, up through a long series of ages, had been fools and dupes in
reverencing, in their time, the wisdom and authority of _their_ governors?
The most unthinking and submissive would feel that this was too much:
especially after they had proof that the government demanding so
prodigious a concession might, on the substitution of just one individual
for another at its head, revoke its own ordinances, and punish those who
should contumaciously continue to be ruled by them. You summon us, they
might have said to their governors, at your arbitrary dictate to renounce,
as what you are pleased to call idolatries and abominations, the faith and
rites held sacred by twenty generations of our ancestors and yours. We are
to do this on peril of your highest displeasure, and that of God, by whose
will you are professing to act; now who will ensure us that there may not
be, some time hence, a vindictive inquisition, to find who among us have
been the most ready of obedience to offer wicked insult to the Holy
Catholic Apostolic Church?

This deficiency of the moral power of the government, to promote the
progress of conviction in the mind of the nation, would be slenderly
supplied by the authority of the class next to the government in the claim
to deference, and even holding the precedence in actual influence,--that
is, the families of rank and consequence throughout the country. For the
people well knew, in their respective neighborhoods, that many of these
had never in reality forsaken the ancient religion, consulting only the
policy of a time-serving conformity; and that some of them hardly
attempted or wished to conceal from their inferiors that they preserved
their fidelity. And then the substituted religion, while it came with a
great diminution of the pomp which is always the delight of the ignorant,
acknowledged,--proclaimed as one of its chief merits,--a still more fatal
defect for attracting converts from among beings whose ignorance had never
been suffered to doubt, till then, that men in ecclesiastical garb could
modify, or suspend, or defeat for them the justice of God; it proclaimed
itself unable to give any exemptions or commutations in matters of

When such were the recommendations which the new mode of religion _not_,
and when the recommendation which it _had_ was simply, (the royal
authority set out of the question,) an offer of evidence to the
understanding _that it was true_, no wonder that many of a generation so
insensate through ignorance should never become its proselytes. But even
as to those who did, while it was a happy deliverance, as we have said, to
escape almost any way from the utter grossness of popery, still they would
carry into their better faith much of the unhappy effect of that previous
mental debasement. How should a man in the rudeness of an intellect left
completely ignorant of truth in general, have a luminous apprehension of
its most important division? There could not be in men's minds a
phenomenon similar to what we image to ourselves of Goshen in the
preternatural night of Egypt, a space of perfect light, defined out by a
precise limit amidst the general darkness.

Only consider, that the new ideas admitted into the proselyte's
understanding as the true faith, were to take their situation there in
nearly those very same encompassing circumstances of internal barbarism
which had been so perfectly commodious to the superstition recently
dwelling there; and that which had been favorable and adapted in the
utmost degree, that which had afforded much of the sustenance of life, to
the false notions, could not but be most adverse to the development of the
true ones. These latter, so environed, would be in a condition too like
that of a candle in the mephitic air of a vault. The newly adopted
religion, therefore, of the uncultivated converts from popery, would be
far from exhibiting, as compared with the renounced superstition, a
magnitude of change, and force of contrast, duly corresponding to the
difference between the lying vanities of priestcraft and a communication
from the living God. The reign of ignorance combined with imposture had
fixed upon the common people of the age of the Reformation, and of several
generations downward, the doom of being incapable of admitting genuine
Christianity but with an excessively inadequate apprehension of its
attributes;--as in the patriarchal ages a man might have received with
only the honors appropriate to a saint or prophet, the visitant in whom he
was entertaining an angel unawares. Happy for both that ancient
entertainer of such a visitant, and the ignorant but honest adopter of the
reformed religion, when that which they entertained rewarded them
according to its own celestial quality, rather than in proportion to their
inadequate reception. We may believe that the Divine Being, in special
compassion to that ignorance to which barbarism and superstition had
condemned inevitably the greater number of the early converts to the
reformed religion, did render that faith beneficial to them beyond the
proportion of their narrow and still half superstitious conception of it.
And this is, in truth, the consideration the most consolatory in looking
back to that tenebrious period in which popery was slowly retiring, with a
protracted exertion of all the craft and strength of an able and veteran
tyrant contending to the last for prolonged dominion.

It is, however, no consideration of a portion of the people sincere,
inquiring, and emerging, though dimly enlightened, from the gloom of so
dreary a scene, that is most apt to occur to our thoughts in extenuation
of that gloom. Our unreflecting attention allows itself to be so engrossed
by far different circumstances of that period of our history, that we are
imposed upon by a spectacle the very opposite of mournful. For what is it
but a splendid and animating exhibition that we behold in looking back to
the age of Elizabeth?

And _was_ not that, it may be asked, an age of the highest glory to our
nation? Why repress our delight in contemplating it? How can we refuse to
indulge an inspiring sympathy with the energy of those times, an elation
of spirit at beholding the unparalleled allotment of her reign, of
statesmen, heroes, and literary geniuses, but for whom, indeed, "that
bright occidental star" would have left no such brilliant track of fame
behind her?

Permit us to answer by inquiring, What should the intellectual condition
of the _people_, properly so denominated, have been in order to correspond
in a due proportion to the magnificence of these their representative
chiefs, and complete the grand spectacle as that of a _nation_? Determine
that; and then inquire what actually _was_ the state of the people all
this while. There is evidence that it was, what the fatal blight and blast
of popery might be expected to have left it, generally and most wretchedly
degraded. What it was is shown by the facts, that it was found impossible,
even under the inspiring auspices of the learned Elizabeth, with her
constellation of geniuses, orators, scholars, to supply the churches
generally with officiating persons capable of going with decency through
the task of the public service, made ready, as every part of it was, to
their hands; and that to be able to read, was the very marked distinction
of here and there an individual. It requires little effort but that of
going low enough, to complete the general estimate in conformity to these
and similar facts.

And here we cannot help remarking what a deception we suffer to pass on us
from history. It celebrates some period in a nation's career, as
pre-eminently illustrious, for magnanimity, lofty enterprise, literature,
and original genius. There was, perhaps, a learned and vigorous monarch,
and there were Cecils and Walsinghams, and Shakspeares and Spensers, and
Sidneys and Raleighs, with many other powerful thinkers and actors, to
render it the proudest age of our national glory. And we thoughtlessly
admit on our imagination this splendid exhibition as in some manner
involving or implying the collective state of the people in that age! The
ethereal summits of a tract of the moral world are conspicuous and fair in
the lustre of heaven, and we take no thought of the immensely greater
proportion of it which is sunk in gloom and covered with fogs. The general
mass of the population, whose physical vigor, indeed, and courage, and
fidelity to the interests of the country, were of such admirable avail to
the purposes, and under the direction, of the mighty spirits that wielded
their rough agency,--this great assemblage was sunk in such mental
barbarism, as to be placed at about the same distance from their
illustrious intellectual chiefs, as the hordes of Scythia from the finest
spirits of Athens. It was nothing to this debased, countless multitude
spread over the country, existing in the coarsest habits, destitute, in
the proportion of thousands to one, of cultivation, and still in a great
degree enslaved by the popish superstition,--it was nothing to them, in
the way of direct influence to draw forth their minds into free exercise
and acquirement, that there were, within the circuit of the island, a
profound scholarship, a most disciplined and vigorous reason, a masculine
eloquence, and genius breathing enchantment. Both the actual possessors of
this mental opulence, and the part of society forming, around them, the
sphere immediately pervaded by the delight and instruction imparted by
them, might as well, for anything they diffused of this luxury and benefit
among the general multitude, have been a Brahminical caste, dissociated by
an imagined essential distinction of nature. While they were exulting in
this elevation and free excursiveness of mental existence, the prostrate
crowd were grovelling through a life on a level with the soil where they
were at last to find their graves. But this crowd it was that constituted
the substance of the _nation_; to which, nation, in the mass, the
historian applies the superb epithets, which a small proportion of the men
of that age claimed by a striking _exception_ to the general state of the
community. History too much consults our love of effect and pomp, to let
us see in a close and distinct manner anything

"On the low level of th' inglorious throng;"

and our attention is borne away to the intellectual splendor exhibited
among the most favored aspirants of the seats of learning, or in councils,
courts, and camps, in heroic and romantic enterprises, and in some
immortal works of genius. And thus we are gazing with delight at a fine
public bonfire, while, in all the cottages round, the people are shivering
for want of fuel.

Our history becomes very bright again with the intellectual and literary
riches of a much later period, often denominated a golden age,--that which
was illustrated by the talents of Addison, Pope, Swift, and their numerous
secondaries in fame; and could also boast its philosophers, statesmen, and
heroes. And in the lapse of four or five ages, according to the average
term of human life, since the earlier grand display of mind, what had been
effected toward such an advancement of intelligence in the community, that
when this next tribe of highly endowed spirits should appear, they would
stand in much loss opprobrious contrast to the main body of the nation,
and find a much larger portion of it qualified to receive their
intellectual effusions. By this time, the class of persons who sought
knowledge on a wider scale than what sufficed for the ordinary affairs of
life, who took an interest in literature, and constituted the _Authors'
Public_, had indeed extended a little, extremely little, beyond the people
of condition, the persons educated in learned institutions, and those
whose professions involved some necessity, and might create some taste for
reading. Still they _were a class_, and that with a limitation marked and
palpable, to a degree very difficult for us now to conceive. They were in
contact, on the one side, with the great thinkers, moralists, poets, and
wits, but very slightly in communication with the generality of the people
on the other. They received the emanations from the assemblage of talent
and knowledge, but did not serve as conductors to convey them down
indefinitely into the community. The national body, regarded in its
intellectual character, had an inspirited and vigorous superior part, as
constituted of these men of eminent talents and attainments, and this
small class of persons in a measure assimilated to them in thinking and
taste; but it was in a condition resembling that of a human frame in
which, (through an injury in the spinal marrow,) some of the most
important functions of vitality have terminated at some precise limit
downward, leaving the inferior extremities devoid of sensation and the
power of action.

It is on record, that works admirably adapted to find readers and to make
them, had but an extremely confined and slowly widening circulation,
according to _our_ standard of the popular success of the productions of
distinguished talents. Nor did the writers _reckon_ on any such popular
success. In the calculations of their literary ambition, it was a thing of
course that the people went for nothing. It is apparent in allusions to
the people occurring in these very works, that "the lower sort," "the
vulgar herd," "the canaille," "the mob," "the many-headed beast," "the
million," (and even these designations generally meant something short of
the lowest classes of all,) were no more thought of in any relation to a
state of cultivated intelligence than Turks or Tartars. The readers are
habitually recognized as a kind of select community, conversed with on
topics and in a language with which the vulgar have nothing at all to
do,--a converse the more gratifying on that account. And any casual
allusions to the bulk of the people are expressed in phrases unaffectedly
implying, that they are a herd of beings existing on quite other terms and
for essentially other ends, than we, fine writers, and you, our admiring
readers. It is evident in our literature of that age, (a feature still
more prominent in that of France, at the same and down to a much later
period,) that the main national population, accounted as creatures to
which souls and senses were given just to render their limbs mechanically
serviceable, were regarded by the intellectual aristocracy with hardly so
active a sentiment as contempt; they were not worth that; it was the easy
indifference toward what was seldom thought of as in existence.

Wickedly wrong as such a feeling was, there is no doubt that the actual
state of the people was quite such as would naturally cause it, in men
whose large and richly cultivated minds did not contain philanthropy or
Christian charity enough to regret and pity the popular debasement as a
calamity. For while they were indulging their pride in the elevation, and
their taste in all the luxuries and varieties, of that ampler higher range
of existence enjoyed by such men, in what light must they view the bulk of
a nation, that knew nothing of their wit, genius, or philosophy, could not
even read their writings, but as a coarse mass of living material, the
mere earthy substratum of humanity, not to be accounted of in any
comparison or even relation to what man is in his higher style? While they
of that higher style were revelling in their mental affluence, the vast
majority of the inhabitants of the island were subsisting, and had always
subsisted, on the most beggarly pittance on which mind could be barely
kept alive. Probably they had at that time still fewer ideas than the
people of the former age which we have been describing. For many of those
with which popery had occupied the faith and fancy of that earlier
generation, had now vanished from the popular mind, without being replaced
in equal number by better ideas, or by ideas of any kind. And then their
vices had the whole grossness of vice, and their favorite amusements were
at best rude and boisterous, and a large proportion of them savage and
cruel. So that when we look at the shining wits, poets, and philosophers,
of that age, they appear like gaudy flowers growing in a putrid marsh.

And to a much later period this deplorable ignorance, with all its
appropriate consequences, continued to be the dishonor and the plague of
the intellectual and moral condition of the inhabitants of England. Of
England! which had through many centuries made so great a figure in
Christendom; which has been so splendid in arms, liberty, legislation,
science, and all manner of literature: which has boasted its universities,
of ancient foundation and proudest fame, munificently endowed, and
possessing, in their accumulations of literary treasure, nearly the whole
results of all the strongest thinking there had been in the world: and
which has had also, through the charity of individuals, such a number of
minor institutions for education, that the persons intrusted to see them
administered have, in very numerous instances, not scrupled to divert
their resources to total different purposes, lest, perchance, the cause of
damage to the people should change from a lack of knowledge to a repletion
of it. Of England! so long after the Reformation, and all the while under
the superintendence and tuition of an ecclesiastical establishment for
both instruction and jurisdiction, co-extended with the entire nation, and
furnished for its ministry with men from the discipline of institutions
where everything the most important to be known was professed to be
taught. Thus endowed had England been, thus was she endowed at the period
under our review, (the former part of the last century,) with the
facilities, the provisions, the great intellectual apparatus, to be
wielded in any mode her wisdom might devise, and with whatever strength of
hand she chose to apply, for promoting her several millions of rational,
accountable, immortal beings, somewhat beyond a state of mere physical
existence. When therefore, notwithstanding all this, an awful proportion
of them were under the continual process of destruction for want of
knowledge, what a tremendous responsibility was borne by whatever part of
the community it was that stood, either by office and express vocation, or
by the general obligation inseparable from ability, in the relation of
guardianship to the rest.

But here the voice of that sort of patriotism which is in vogue as well in
England as in China, may perhaps interpose to protest against malicious
and exaggerated invective. As if it were a question of what might
beforehand be reasonably expected, instead of an account of what actually
exists, it may be alleged that surely it is a representation too much
against antecedent probability to be true, that a civilized, Christian,
magnanimous, and wealthy state like that of England, can have been so
careless and wicked as to tolerate, during the lapse of centuries, a
hideously gross and degraded condition of the people.

But besides that the fact is plainly so, it were vain to presume, in
confidence on any supposed consistency of character, that it _must_ be
otherwise. There is no saying _what_ a civilized and Christian nation, (so
called,) may not tolerate. Recollect the Slave Trade, which, with the
magnitude of a national concern, continued its abominations while one
generation after another of Englishmen passed away; their intelligence,
conscience, humanity, and refinement, as quietly accommodated to it, as if
one portion of the race had possessed an express warrant from Heaven to
capture, buy, sell, and drive another. This is but one of many mortifying
illustrations how much the constitution of our moral sentiments resembles
a Manichaean creation, how much of them is formed in passive submission to
the evil principle, acting through prevailing custom; which determines
that it shall but very partially depend on the real and most manifest
qualities of things present to us, whether we shall have any right
perception of their characters of good and evil. The agency which works
this malformation in our sentiments needs no greater triumph, than that
the true nature of things should be disguised to us by the very effect of
their being constantly kept in our sight. Could any malignant enchanter
wish for more than this,--to make us insensible to the odious quality of
things not only _though_ they stand constantly and directly in our view,
but _because_ they do so? And while they do so, there may also stand as
obviously in our view, and close by them, the truths which _expose_ their
real nature, and might be expected to make us instantly revolt from them;
and these truths shall be no other than some of the plainest principles of
reason and religion. It shall be as if men of wicked designs could be
compelled to wear labels on their breasts wherever they go, to announce
their character in conspicuous letters; or nightly assassins could be
forced to carry torches before them, to reveal the murder in their
visages; or, as if, according to a vulgar superstition, evil spirits could
not help betraying their dangerous presence by a tinge of brimstone in the
flame of the lamps. Thus evident, by the light of reason and religion,
shall have been the true nature of certain important facts in the policy
of a Christian nation; and nevertheless, even the cultivated part of that
nation, during a series of generations, having directly before their sight
an enormous nuisance and iniquity, shall yet never be struck with its
quality, never be made restless by its annoyance, never seriously think of
it. And so its odiousness shall never be decidedly apprehended till some
individual or two, as by the acquisition of a new moral sense, receive a
sudden intuition of its nature, a disclosure of its whole essence and
malignity,--the essence and malignity of that very thing which has been
exposing its quality, without the least reserve, by the most flagrant
signs, to millions of observers.

Thus it has been with respect to the barbarous ignorance under which
nine-tenths of the population of our country have continued, through a
number of ages subsequent to the Reformation, surrendered to everything
low, vicious, and wretched. This state of national debasement and dishonor
lay spread out, a wide scene of moral desolation, in the sight of
statesmen, of dignified and subordinate ecclesiastics, of magistrates, of
the philosophic speculators on human nature, and of all those whose rank
and opulence brought them hourly proofs what great influence they might
have, in any way in which, they should choose to exert it, on the people
below them. And still it was all right that the multitudes, constituting
the grand living agency through the realm, should remain in such a
condition that, when they died, the country should lose nothing but so
much animated body, with the quantum of vice which helped to keep it in
action. When at length some were beginning to apprehend and proclaim that
all this was wrong, these classes were exceedingly slow in their assent to
the reformed doctrine. A large proportion of them even declared, on
system, against the speculations and projects for giving the people, at
last, the use and value of their souls as well as their hands. The earnest
and sanguine philanthropists might be pardoned the simplicity of not
foreseeing such an opposition, though they ought, perhaps, to have known
better than to be surprised at the phenomenon. They were to be made wiser
by force, with respect to men's governing prejudices and motives. And from
credulity mortified is a short transit to suspicion. So ungracious a
manner of having the insight into motives sharpened, does not tend to make
its subsequent exercise indulgent, when it comes to inspect the altered
appearances assumed by persons and classes who have previously been in
decided opposition. What arguments have prevailed with you, (the question
might be,) since you have never frankly retracted your former contempt of
those which convinced _us_? May any sinister thought have occurred, that
you might defeat our ends by a certain way of managing the means? Or do
you hope to deter mine and limit to some subordinate purposes, what we
wish to prosecute for the most general good? Or would you rather impose on
yourselves the grievance of promoting an object which you dislike, than
that we should have the chief credit of promoting it? Do you sometimes
accompany your working in the vineyard with maledictions on those who have
reduced you to such a necessity? Would you have been glad to be saved the
unwelcome service by _their_ letting it alone?

Those friends of man and their country who were the earliest to combine
in schemes for enlightening the people, and who continue to prosecute the
object on the most liberal and comprehensive principle, have to
acknowledge surmises like these. Nevertheless, they are willing to forego
any shrewd investigation into the causes of the later silence and
apparent acquiescence of former opposers; and into the motives which have
induced some of them, though in no very amicable mood, to take a part in
measures tending in their general effect to the same end. Whatever were
their suspicion of those motives, they would be reminded of an example,
not altogether foreign to the nature of their business, and quite in
point to their duty,--that of the magnanimous principle through which the
great Apostle disappointed his adversaries, by finding his own triumph in
that of his cause, while he saw that cause availing itself of these foes
after the manner of some consummate general, who has had the art to make
those who have come into the field as but treacherous auxiliaries,
co-operate effectually in the battle which they never intended he should
gain. Some preached Christ of envy, and strife, and contention, supposing
to add affliction to his bonds; but, says he, What then? notwithstanding
every way, whether in pretence or truth, Christ is preached--_the thing
itself is done_--and I therein rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. When
animated by this high principle, this ambition absolutely _for the cause
itself_, its servant is a gainer, because _it_ is a gainer, by all things
convertible into tribute, whatever may be the temper or intention of the
officers, either as towards the cause or towards himself. He may say to
them, I am more pleased by what you are actually doing, be the motive
what it will, in advancement of the object to which I am devoted, than it
is possible for you to aggrieve me by letting me see that you would not
be sorry for the frustration of _my_ schemes and exertions for its
service; or even by betraying, though I should lament such a state of
your minds, that you would be content to sacrifice _it_ if that might be
the way to defeat _me_.

We revert but for a moment to the review of past times.--We said that long
after the brilliant show of talent, and the creation of literary supplies
for the national use, in the early part of the last century, the
deplorable mental condition of the people remained in no very great degree
altered. To pass from beholding that bright and sumptuous display, in
order to see what there was corresponding to it in the subsequent state of
the popular cultivation, is like going out from some magnificent apartment
with its lustres, music, refections, and assemblage of elegant personages,
to be beset by beggars in the gloom and cold of a winter night.

Take a few hours' indulgence in the literary luxuries of Addison, Pope,
and their secondaries, and then turn to some authentic plain
representation of the attainments and habits of the mass of the people, at
the time when Whitefield and Wesley commenced their invasion of the
barbarous community. But the benevolent reader, (or let him be a
patriotically proud one,) is quite reluctant to recognize his country, his
celebrated Christian nation, "the most enlightened in the world," (as song
and oratory have it,) in a populace for the far greater part as perfectly
estranged from the page of knowledge, as if printing, or even letters, had
never been invented; the younger part finding their supreme delight in
rough frolic and savage sports, the old sinking down into impenetrable
stupefaction with the decline of the vital principle.

If he would eagerly seek to fix on something as a counterbalance to this,
and endeavor to modify the estimate and relieve the feeling, by citing
perhaps the courage, and a certain rudimental capacity of good sense, in
which the people are deemed to have surpassed the neighboring nations, he
will be compelled to see how these native endowments were overrun and
befooled by a farrago of contemptible superstitions;--contemptible not
only for their stupid absurdity, but also as having in general nothing of
that pensive, solemn, and poetical character which superstition is capable
of assuming.--It is an exception to be made with respect to the
northernmost part of the island, that superstition did there partake of
this higher character. It seems to have had somewhat of the tone imitated,
but in a softer mode, in the poetry, denominated of Ossian.

As to religion, there is no hazard in saying, that several millions had
little further notion of it than that it was an occasional, or, in the
opinion of perhaps one in twenty, a regular appearance at church, hardly
taking into the account that they were to be taught anything there. And
what _were_ they taught--those of them who gave their attendance and
attention? What kind of notions it was that had settled in their minds
under such ministration, would be, so to speak, brought out, it would be
made apparent what they were or were not taught, when so strong and
general a sensation was produced by the irruption among them of the two
reformers just named, proclaiming, as they both did, (notwithstanding very
considerable differences of secondary order,) the principles which had
been authoritatively declared to be of the essence of Christianity, in
that model of doctrine which had been appointed to prescribe and conserve
the national faith. If such doctrine _had_ been imparted to a portion of
the popular mind, even though with somewhat less positive statement, less
copiousness of illustration, and less cogency of enforcement than it
ought; if it had been but in crude _substance_ fixed in the people's
understanding, by the ministry of the many thousand authorized
instructors, who were by their institute solemnly enjoined and pledged not
to teach a different sort of doctrine, and not to fail of teaching this;
if, we repeat, this faith, so conspicuously declared in the articles,
liturgy, and homilies, had been in any degree in possession of the people,
they would have recognized its main principles, or at least a similarity
of principles, in the addresses of these two new preachers. They would
have done so, notwithstanding a peculiarity of phraseology which
Whitefield and Wesley carried to excess; and notwithstanding certain
specialities which the latter did not, even supposing them to be truths,
keep duly subordinate in exhibiting the prominent essentials of
Christianity. The preaching, therefore, of these men was a test of what
the people had been previously taught or allowed to repose in as Christian
truth, under the tuition of their great religious guardian, the national
church. What it was or was not would be found, in their having a sense of
something like what they had been taught before, or something opposite to
it, or some thing altogether foreign and unknown, when they were hearing
those loud proclaimers of the old doctrines of the Reformation. Now then,
as carrying with them this quality of a test, how were those men received
in the community? Why, they were generally received, on account of the
import of what they said, still more than from their zealous manner of
saying it, with as strong an impression of novelty, strangeness, and
contrariety to everything hitherto heard of, as any of our voyagers and
travellers of discovery have been by the barbarous tribes who had never
before seen civilized man, or as the Spaniards on their arrival in Mexico
or Peru. They might, as the voyagers have clone, experience every local
difference of moral temperament, from that which hailed them with
acclamations, to that which often exploded in a volley of mud and stones;
but through all these varieties of greetings, there was a strong sense of
something then brought before them for the first time. "Thou bringest
certain strange things to our ears," was an expression not more
unaffectedly uttered by any hearer of an apostle, preaching in a heathen
city. And to many of the auditors, it was a matter of nearly as much
difficulty as it would to an inquisitive heathen, and required as new a
posture of the mind, to attain an understanding of the evangelical
doctrines, though they were the very same which had been held forth by the
fathers and martyrs of the English Church.

We have alluded to the violence, which sometimes encountered the endeavor
to restore these doctrines to the knowledge and faith of the people. And
if any one should have thought that, in the descriptions we have been
giving, too frequent and willing use has been made of the epithet
"barbarous," or similar words, as if we could have a perverse pleasure in
degrading our nation, we would request him to select for himself the
appropriate terms for characterizing that state of the people, in point of
sense and civilization, to say nothing of religion, which could admit such
a fact as this to stand in their history--namely, that, in a vast number
of instances and places, where some person unexceptionable in character as
far as known, and sometimes well known as a worthy man, has attempted to
address a number of the inhabitants, under a roof or under the sky, on
what it imported them beyond all things in the world to know and consider,
a multitude have rushed together, shouting and howling, raving and
cursing, and accompanying, in many of the instances, their furious cries
and yells with loathsome or dangerous missiles; dragging or driving the
preacher from his humble stand, forcing him, and the few that wished to
encourage and hear him, to flee for their lives, sometimes not without
serious injury before they could escape. And that such a history of the
people may show how deservedly their superiors were denominated their
"betters," it has to add, that these savage tumults were generally
instigated or abetted, sometimes under a little concealment, but often
avowedly, by persons of higher condition, and even by those consecrated to
the office of religious instruction; and this advantage of their station
was lent to defend the perpetrators against shame, or remorse, or just
punishment, for the outrage.

There would be no hazard in affirming, that since Wesley and Whitefield
began the conflict with the heathenism of the country, there have been in
it hundreds of occurrences answering in substance to this description.
From any one, therefore, who should be inclined to accuse us of harsh
language, we may well repeat the demand in what terms _he_ would think he
gave the true character of a mental and moral condition, manifested in
such uproars of savage violence as the Christian missionaries among
eastern idolaters never had the slightest cause to apprehend. These
outrages were so far from uncommon, or confined to any one part of the
country, some time before, and for a very long while after, the middle of
the last century, that they might be fairly taken as indicating the depth
at which the greatest part of the nation lay sunk in ignorance and
barbarism. Yet the good and zealous men whose lot it was to be thus set
upon by a depraved, infuriate rabble, the foremost of them active in
direct assault, and the rest venting their ferocious delight in a hideous
blending of ribaldry and execration, of joking and cursing, were taxed
with a canting hypocrisy, or a fanatical madness, for speaking of the
prevailing ignorance and barbarism in terms equivalent to our sentence
from the Prophet, "The people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," and
for deploring the hopelessness of any revolution in this empire of
darkness by means of the existing institutions, which seemed indeed to
have become themselves its strong-holds.

But they whom serious danger could not deter from renewing and
indefinitely repeating such attempts at all hazards, were little likely to
be appalled by these contumelies of speech. To the persons so abusing them
they might coolly reply, "Now really you are inconsiderately wasting your
labor. Don't you know, that on the account of this same business we have
sustained the battery of stones, brickbats, and the contents of the ditch?
And can you believe we can much care for mere _words_ of insult, after
that? Albeit the opprobrious phrases _have_ the fetid coarseness befitting
the bluster of property without education, or the more highly inspirited
tone of railing learnt in a college, they are quite another kind of thing
to be the mark for, than such assailments as have come from the brawny
arms of some of your peasants, set on probably by broad hints or plain
expressions how much you would be pleased with such exploits."--It is
gratifying to see thus exemplified, in the endurance of evil for a good
cause, that provision in our nature for economizing the expense of
feeling, through which the encountering of the greater creates a hardihood
which can despise the less.

* * * * *

That our descriptive observations do not exaggerate the popular
ignorance, with its natural concomitants, as prevailing at the middle of
the last century and far downward, many of the elderly persons among us
can readily confirm, from what they remember of the testimony of their
immediate ancestors. It will be recollected what pictures they gave of
the moral scene spread over the country when they were young. They could
convey lively images of the situations in which the vulgar notions and
manners had their free display, by representing the assemblages, and the
fashion of discourse and manners, at fairs, revels, and other rendezvous
of amusement; or in the field of rural employment, or on the village
green, or in front of the mechanic's workshop. They could recount various
anecdotes characteristic of the times; and repeat short dialogues, or
single sayings, which expressed the very essence of what was to the
population of the township or province instead of law and prophets, or
sages or apostles. They could describe how free from all sense of shame
whole families would seem to be, from grand-sires down to the third rude
reckless generation, for not being able to read; and how well content,
when there was some one individual in the neighborhood who could read an
advertisement, or ballad, or last dying speech of a malefactor, for the
benefit of the rest. They could describe the desolation of the land, with
respect to any enlightening and impressive religious instruction in the
places of worship; in the generality of which, indeed, the whole spirit
and manner of the service tended to what we just now described as the
fact--that religion, in its proper sense, was absolutely _a thing not
recognized at all_. To most of the persons there the forms attended to
were _representative_ of literally nothing--they were _themselves_ the
all. [Footnote: None of the anecdotes, that have come down in traditions
now fading away, are more illustrative of those times, than those which
show both people and priest satisfied with the observances at church as
_constituting_ religion, never thinking of them as but the means to
_teach_ and _inspire_ it. Such anecdotes must have been heard by every
one who has conversed much with such aged persons as remember the most of
former times. Some traditions of this kind may be recalled to mind,
through similarity of character, by hearing such an instance as the
following. A friend of the writer mentions, that he heard his father,
whose veracity was above all question, relate as one of the recollections
of the time when he was a young man, that in the parish church where he
attended, the service was one Sunday morning performed with a somewhat
unusual despatch, and every abbreviation that depended on the discretion
of the minister; who at the conclusion explained the circumstance
publicly, by saying, that as neighbor such-a-one (mentioning the name)
was going to bait his bull in the afternoon, he had been as short as
possible that the congregation might have good time for the sport.--It is
on the same principle that the Catholics on the continent, having
attended mass in the morning, never think of doubting their license for
every frivolity the rest of the day.] And as to those who really did in
the course of their attendance acquire something assignable as their
creed, our supposed reporters could tell what wretched and delusive
notions of religion, or rather instead of religion, they were permitted
and authorized, by their appointed spiritual guides, to carry with them
to their last hour. At which hour, some ceremonial form was to be a
passport to heaven: a little bread and wine, converted into a mysterious
object of superstition, by receiving an ecclesiastical name of unknown
import, accompanied with some sentences regarded much in the nature of an
incantation--and all was safe! The sinner expiring believed so, and the
sinners surviving were left to go on in their thoughtless way of life, on
a calculation of the same final resource.

Thus the past age has left an image of its character in the minds of the
generation now themselves grown old, received by immediate tradition from
persons who lived in it. Here and there, indeed, there still lingers, so
long after the departure of the great company to which he belonged, an
ancient who retains a trace of this image immediately from the reality, as
having become of an age to look at the world, and take a share in its
activities, about the middle of the last century. [Footnote: They are here
supposed to be looking back from about the year 1820.] And it might be an
employment of considerable though rather melancholy interest, for a person
visiting many parts of the land, to put in requisition, in each place, for
a day or two, the most faithful of the memories of the most narrative of
the oldest people, for materials toward forming an estimate of the mental
and moral state of the main body of the inhabitants, of town or country,
in the period of which they themselves saw the latter part, and remember
it in combination with what their progenitors related of the former. After
these few retainers of the original picture from the life shall have left
the world, it will be comparatively a faint conception that can be formed
of that age from written memorials, which exist but in a very imperfect
and scattered state.

But supposing the scene could be brought back to the mental eye, in full
verity and distinctness, as in a vision supernaturally imparted, are we
sure we should not have the mortification of perceiving that the change,
from the condition of the people then to their condition now, has been in
but poor proportion to the amount of the advantages, which we are apt to
be elated in recounting as the boast and happiness of later times? To
assume that we should _not_, is to impute to that former age still more
ignorance and debasement than appear in the above description. For what
could, what must that condition have been, if it was worse than the
present by anything near the difference made by what would be a tolerably
fair improvement of the additional means latterly afforded? An estimate
being made of the measure of intelligence and worth found among the
descendants, let so much be taken out as we would wish to attribute to the
effect of the additional means, and what will that remainder be which is
to represent the state of the ancestors, formed under a system of means
wanting all those which we are allowing ourselves to think important
enough to warrant the frequent expression, "This new era?"

The means wanting to the former generation, and that have sprung into
existence for the latter, may be briefly noted; and those of a religious
nature may be named first. It is the most obvious of public expedients,
that good men who wish to make others _so should preach_ to them. And
there has been a wonderful extension of this practice since the zealous
exertions of Whitefield, Wesley, and their co-operators awakened other
good men to a sense of their capacity and duty. The spirit actuating the
associated followers of the latter of those two great agitators, has
impelled forth their whole disposable force (to use a military phrase) to
this service; and they have sent preachers into many parts of the land
where preaching itself, in any fair sense of the term, was wholly a
novelty; and where there was roused as earnest a zeal to crush this
alarming innovation, as the people of Iceland are described to feel on the
occasion of the approach of a white bear to invade their folds or poorly
stocked pastures. [Footnote: The writer had just been reading that
description.] To a confederacy of Christians so well aware of their own
strength and progress, it may seem a superfluous testimony that they are
doing incalculable good among our population, more good probably than any
other religious sect. This tribute is paid not the less freely for a
material difference in theological opinion; nor for a wish, a quite
friendly one, that they may admit some little modification of a spirit
perhaps rather too sectarian in religion, and rather less than independent
in politics.

An immense augmentation has been brought to the sum of public instruction,
by the continually enlarging numbers of dissenters of other denominations.
Whatever may be thought of some of the consequences of the great extension
of dissent, it will hardly be considered as a circumstance tending to
prolong the reign of _ignorance_ that thus, within the last fifty years,
there have been put in activity to impart religious ideas to the people
not fewer (exclusively of the Wesleyans) than several thousand minds that
would, under a continuance of the former state of the nation, have been
doing no such service; that is to say, the service would not have been
done at all. Let it be considered, too, that the doctrines inculcated as
of the first importance, in the preaching of far the greatest number of
them, were exactly those which the Established Church avowed in its
formularies and disowned in its ministry,--one of the circumstances which
contributed the most to _make_ dissenters of the more seriously disposed
among the people.--It is to be added, that so much public activity in
religious instruction could not be unaccompanied by an increase of
exertion in the more private methods of imparting it.

It is another important accession to the enlarged system of operations
against religious ignorance, that a proportion of the Established Church
itself has been recovered to the spirit of its venerable founders, by the
progressive formation in it of a zealous evangelical ministry; dissenters
within their own community, if we may believe the constant loud
declarations of the bulk of that community, and especially of the most
dignified, learned, and powerful classes in it. But in spite of whatever
discredit they may suffer from being thus disowned, these worthy and
useful men have still, in their character of clergymen, a material
advantage above other faithful teachers, for influence on many of the
people, by being invested with the credentials of the ancient institution,
from which the popular mind has been slow and reluctant in withdrawing its
veneration; and for which that sentiment, when not quite extinct, is ready
to revive at any manifestation in it of the quickening spirit of the
Gospel. We say, if the sentiment be not quite extinct; for we are aware
what a very large proportion of the people are gone beyond the possibility
of feeling it any more. But still the number is great of those who
experience, at this new appearance, a reanimation of their affection for
the Church; and so fondly identify the partial change with the whole
institution, that they feel as if a parent, who had for a long while
neglected or deserted them, but for whom they could never cease to cherish
a filial regard, were beginning to be restored to them, with a renewal of
the benignant qualities and cares of the parental character.

* * * * *

Thus far the account of the means which England was not to furnish for its
people till the latter part of the eighteenth century, relates to their
better instruction in religion. This will not be thought beside the
purpose of an enumeration of expedients for lessening their _ignorance_,
by any one who can allow that religion, regarded as a subject of the
understanding, is the most important part of knowledge, and who has
observed the fact that religion, when it begins to _interest_ uncultivated
minds, works surprisingly in favor of the intellectual faculties; an
effect exactly the reverse of that of superstition, and produced by the
contrary operation; for while superstition represses, and even curses any
free action of the intellect, genuine religion both requires and excites
it. Though it is too true that the great Christian principles, when
embraced with conviction and seriousness by a very uneducated man, must
greatly partake, by contractedness of apprehension, the ill fortune which
has confined his mental growth, yet they will often do more than any other
thing within the same space of time to avenge him of it.

In addition to the great extension of instruction in a form specifically
religious, there have been various causes and means contributing to the
increase of knowledge among the people. After it had been seen for
centuries in what manner the children of the poor were suffered to spend
the Sunday, it struck one observer at last, that they might on that day
be taught to read!--a possibility which had never been suspected; a
disclosure as of some hitherto hidden power of nature. And then the
schools which taught the children to read made some of the parents so
much better pleased with their children for their first steps in so new
an attainment, that they could not be indifferent to the opening of other
schools of a humble order to continue that instruction through the week.
It was within the same period that there was a large circulation of
tracts, by some of which many who might be little desirous of
instruction, were beguiled into it by the amusing vehicle ingeniously
contrived to convey it; and the most popular of which will remain a
monument of the talent, knowledge, and benevolence, of that distinguished
benefactor of her country and age, Mrs. H. More, perhaps even pre-eminent
above her many excellent works in a higher strain. Later and continual
issues of this class of papers, of every diversity of composition, and
diffused by the activity of numberless hands, have solicited perhaps a
fourth part of the thoughtless beings in the nation to make at least one
short effort to think.

The enormous flight of periodical miscellanies, and of newspapers, must be
taken as both the indication and the cause that hundreds of thousands of
persons were giving some attention to the matters of general information,
where their grandfathers had been, during the intervals of time allowed by
their employments, prating, brawling, sleeping, or drinking their hours
away. [Footnote: Since this was written there has been a prodigious
augmentation of all such means of general excitement; and happily a
diversified multiplication of a class of them calculated to benefit the
inferior people, at once by giving them a new and enlarged range of ideas,
and by bringing them on some tracts of common ground with the liberally
educated; thus abating the former almost total incapacity, on the part of
those inferiors, for intelligent intercommunication.]

It is perhaps an item of some small value in the account, that a new class
of ideas was furnished by the many wonderful effects of science, in the
application of the elements and mechanical powers. The people saw human
intelligence so effectually inspiriting inanimate matter, as to create a
new and mighty order of agency, appearing in a certain degree independent
of man himself, and in its power immensely surpassing any simple immediate
exertion of _his_ power. They saw wood and iron, fire, water, and air,
actuated to the production of effects which might vie with what their rude
ancestors had been accustomed to believe, (those of them who had heard of
such beings,) of giants, magicians, alchymists, and monsters; effects, the
dream of which, if any one could so have dreamed, would have been scoffed
at by even the more intelligent of the former race.

It is true that very ignorant persons can wonder at such things without
deriving much instruction from them; and that much sooner than the more
cultivated ones they become so familiarized with them as not to think of
them. All _effects_, however astonishing, are apt, if they are but regular
in their recurrence, to become soon insignificant to those who have never
learnt to inquire into _causes_. But still, it would be some little
advantage to the people's understanding to see what prodigious effects
could be produced without any preternatural interference. Though not
comprehending the science employed, they could comprehend that what they
saw _was_ purely a matter of science, and that the cause and the effect
were natural and definite; unlike the present race of Egyptians, who not
long since regarded the very mechanics of an European as an operation of
magic; and were capable of suspecting that a machine constructed by a man
from England, for raising water from the Nile, should inundate the country
in an hour. These wonders of science and art must therefore have
contributed somewhat to rid our people of the impression of being at every
turn beset by occult powers, under the name perhaps of witchcraft, and to
expel the notions of a vague and capricious agency interfering and
sporting with events throughout the system around them. Their rationality
thus obtained an improvement, which may be set against the injury
undoubtedly done them through that diminished exercise of the
understanding which accompanied the progressive division of labor; an
alteration rendered inevitable, and in other respects so advantageous.

When we come down to a comparatively recent time, we see the Bible "going
up on the breadth of the land." In passing by any given number of houses
of the inferior class, we may presume there are in them four or five times
as many copies of that sacred book as there were in the same number thirty
or forty years since. And when we consider how many more persons in those
houses can read, and that in some of them the book may be _more_ read for
having come there as a novelty, than it is in many others where it has
been an old article of the furniture, we may fairly presume that the
increased reading is in a greater proportion than the increased number of
Bibles.--This late period has also brought into action a new expedient,
worthy to stand, in the province of education, parallel and rival to the
most useful modern inventions in the mechanical departments; an
organization for schools, by which, instead of one or two overlabored
agents upon a mass of reluctant subjects, that whole mass itself shall be
animated into a system of reciprocal agency. It has all the merit of a
contrivance which associates with mental labor a pleasure never known to
young learners before.

One more distinction of our times has been, that effect which missionary
and other philanthropic societies have had, to render familiar to common
knowledge, by means of their meetings and publications, a great number of
such interesting and important facts, in the state of other countries and
our own, as were formerly quite beyond the sphere of ordinary information.

In aid of all these means at work in the trial to raise the people from
the condition in which they had been so many ages sunk and immovable,
there has been of late years the unpretending but important ministration
of an incessant multifarious inventiveness in making almost every sort of
information offer itself in brief, familiar, and attractive forms, adapted
to youth or to adult ignorance; so that knowledge, which was formerly a
thing to be searched and dug for "as for hid treasures," has seemed at
last beginning to effloresce through the surface of the ground on all
sides of us.

The statement of what recent times have produced for effecting an
alteration among the people, must include the prodigious excitement in the
political world. It were absurd, it is true, to name this in the simple
character of a _cause_, when we speak of the rousing of the popular mind
from a long stagnation; it being itself a proof and result of some
preceding cause beginning to pervade and disturb that stagnation. But
whatever may be assigned as the true and sufficient explanation of its
origin, we have to look on the mighty operation of its progress, forcing a
restlessness, instability, and tendency to change, into almost every part
of the social economy. In the whole compass of time there has been no
train of events, that has within so short a period stirred to the very
bottom the mind of so vast a portion of the race. And the power of this
great commotion has less consisted in what may be termed its physical
energy, evinced in grand exploits and catastrophes, than in its being an
intense activity of _principles_. It was as different from other
convulsions in the moral world, as would be a tempest attributed to the
direct intervention of a mighty spirit, whether believed celestial or
infernal, from one raised in the elements by mere natural causes. The
people were not, as in other instances of battles, revolutions, and
striking alternations of fortune, gazing a at mere show of wonderful
events, but regarded these events as the course of a great practical
debate of questions affecting their own interests.

And now, when we have put all these things together, we may well pause to
indulge again our wonder what _could_ have been the mental situation of a
majority of the inhabitants of this country, antecedently to this creation
and conjunction of so many means and influences for awaking them to
something of an intelligent existence.

Section III.

The review of the past may here be terminated. And how welcome a change
it would be if we might here completely emerge from the gloom which has
overspread it. How happy were it if in proceeding to an estimate of the
people of the present times, we found so rich a practical result of the
means for forming a more enlightened race, that we should have no further
recollection of that sentence from the Prophet, which has hitherto
suggested itself again at every step in prosecution of the survey. But we
are compelled to see how slow is the progress of mankind toward thus
rendering obsolete any of the darker lines of the sacred record. So
completely, so desperately, had the whole popular body and being been
pervaded by the stupifying power of the long reign of ignorance, with
such heavy reluctance, at the best, does the human mind open its eyes to
admit light,--and so incommensurate as yet, even on the supposition of
its having much less of this reluctance, has been in quantity the whole
new supply of means for a happy change,--that a most melancholy spectacle
still abides before us. Time, in sweeping away successive generations,
has preserved, in substance, the sad inheritance to that which is as yet
the latest.

Even that portion of beneficial effect which actually has resulted from
this co-operation of new forces, has served to make a more obvious
exposure of the unhappiness and offensiveness of what is still the
condition of the far greater part of our population; as a dreary waste is
made, to give a more sensible impression how dreary it is, by the little
inroads of cultivation and beauty in its hollows, and the faint advances
of an unwonted green upon its borders. The degradation of the main body of
the lower classes is exposed by a comparison with the small reclaimed
portion within those classes themselves. It is not with the philosophers,
literati, and most accomplished persons in higher life, that we should
think of placing in immediate comparison the untutored rustics and workmen
in stones and timber, for the purpose of showing how much is wanting to
them. These extreme orders of society would seem less related in virtue of
their common nature, than separated by the wide disparity of its
cultivation. They would appear so immeasurably asunder, such antipodes in
the sphere of human existence, that the state of the one could afford no
standard for judging of the defects or wants of the other. It was not in a
speculation which amused itself, as with a curious fact, in seeing that
the same material can be made into scholars, legislators, sages, and
models of elegance--and also into helots; and then went into a fanciful
question of how near they might possibly be brought together: it was in a
speculation which, instead of dwelling on the view of what was impossible
to the common people in a comparative reference to the highest classes of
their fellow-men, considered what was left practicable to them within
their own narrow allotment, that the schemes originated which have
actually imparted to a proportion of them an invaluable share of the
benefits of knowledge. There has thus been formed a small improved order
of people amidst the multitude; and it is the contrast between these and
the general state of that multitude that most directly exposes the popular
debasement. It certainly were ridiculous enough to fix on a laboring man
and his family, and affect to deplore that he is doomed not to behold the
depths and heights of science, not to expatiate over the wide field of
history, not to luxuriate among the delights, refinements, and infinite
diversities of literature; and that his family are not growing up in a
training to every high accomplishment, after the pattern of some family in
the neighborhood, favored by fortune, and high ability and cultivation in
those at their head. But it is a quite different thing to take this man
and his family, hardly able, perhaps, even to read, and therefore sunk in
all the grossness of ignorance,--and compare them with another man and
family in the same sphere of life, but who have received the utmost
improvement within the reach of that situation, and are sensible of its
value; who often employ the leisure hour in reading, (sometimes socially
and with intermingled converse,) some easy work of instruction or innocent
entertainment; are detached, in the greatest degree that depends on their
choice, from society with the absolute vulgar; have learnt much decorum of
manners; can take an intelligent interest in the great events of the
world; and are prevented, by what they read and hear, from forgetting that
there is another world. It is, we repeat, after thus seeing what may, and
in particular instances does exist, in a humble condition, that we are
compelled to regard as really a dreadful spectacle the still prevailing
state of our national population.

We shall endeavor to exhibit, though on a small scale, and perhaps not
with a very strict regularity of proportion and arrangement, a faithful
representation of the most serious of the evils conspicuous in an
uneducated state of the people. Much of the description and reflections
must be equally applicable to other countries; for spite of all their
mutual antipathies and hostilities, and numberless contrarieties of
customs and fashions, they have been wonderfully content to resemble one
another in the worst national feature, a deformed condition of their
people. But it is here at home that this condition is the most painfully
forced on our attention; and here also of all the world it is, that such a
wretched exhibition is the severest reproach to the nation for having
suffered its existence.

The subject is to the last degree unattractive, except to a misanthropic
disposition; or to that, perhaps, of a stern theological polemic, when
tempted to be pleased with every superfluity of evidence for overwhelming
the opposers of the doctrine which asserts the radical corruption of our
nature. As spread over a coarse and repulsive moral and physical scenery,
it is a subject in the extreme of contrast with that susceptibility of
magnificent display, on account of which some of the most cruel evils that
have preyed on mankind have ever been favorite themes with writers
ambitious to shine in description. Nor does it present a wild and varying
spectacle, where a crowd of fantastic shapes (as in a view of the pagan
superstitions,) may stimulate and beguile the imagination though we know
we are looking on a great evil. It is a gloomy monotony; Death without his
dance. Moreover, the representation which exhibits one large class
degraded and unhappy, reflects ungraciously, and therefore repulsively, by
an imputation of neglect of duty, on the other classes who are called upon
to look at the spectacle. There is, besides, but little power of arresting
the attention in a description of familiar matter of fact, plain to every
one's observation. Yet ought it not to be so much the better, when we are
pleading for a certain mode of benevolent exertion, that every one can
see, and that no one can deny, the sad reality of all that forms the
object, and imposes the duty, of that exertion?

Look, then, at the neglected ignorant class in their childhood and youth.
One of the most obvious circumstances is the _perfect non-existence in
their minds of any notion or question what their life is for, taken as a
whole._ Among a crowd of trifling and corrupting ideas that soon find a
place in them, there is never the reflective thought,--For what purpose am
I alive? What is it that I should be, more than the animal that I am? Does
it signify _what_ I may be?--But surely, it is with ill omen that the
human creature advances into life without such a thought. He should in the
opening of his faculties receive intimations, that something more belongs
to his existence than what he is about to-day, and what he may be about
to-morrow. He should be made aware that the course of activity he is
beginning ought to have a leading principle of direction, some predominant
aim, a general and comprehensive purpose, paramount to the divers
particular objects he may pursue. It is not more necessary for him to
understand that he must in some way be employed in order to live, than to
be apprized that life itself, that existence itself, is of no value but as
a mere capacity of something which he should realize, and of which he may
fail. He should be brought to apprehend that there is a something
essential for him to _be_, which he will not _become_ merely by passing
from one day into another, by eating and sleeping, by growing taller and
stronger, seizing what share he can of noisy sport, and performing
appointed portions of work; and that if he do _not_ become that which, he
_cannot_ become without a general and leading purpose, he will be
worthless and unhappy.

We are not entertaining the extravagant fancy that it is possible, except
in some rare instances of premature thoughtfulness, to turn inward into
deep habitual reflection, the spirit that naturally goes outward in these
vivacious, active, careless beings, when we assert that it _is_ possible
to teach many of them with a degree of success, in very juvenile years, to
apprehend and admit somewhat of such a consideration. We have many times
seen this exemplified in fact. We have found some of them appearing
apprized that _life is for something as a whole_; and that, to answer this
general purpose, a mere succession of interests and activities, each gone
into for its own sake, will not suffice. They could comprehend, that the
multiplicity of interests and activities in detail, instead of
constituting of themselves the purpose of life, were to be regarded as
things subordinate and subservient to a general scope, and judged of,
selected, and regulated, in reference and amenableness to it.--By the
presiding comprehensive purpose, we do not specifically and exclusively
mean a direction of the mind to the _religious_ concern, viewed as a
separate affair, and in _contradistinction_ to other interests; but a
purpose formed upon a collective notion of the person's interests, which
shall give one general right bearing to the course of his life; an aim
proceeding in fulfilment of a scheme, that comprehends and combines with
the religious concern all the other concerns for the sake of which it is
worth while to dispose the activities of life into a _plan_ of conduct,
instead of leaving them to custom and casualty. The scheme will look and
guide toward ultimate felicity: but will at the same time take large
account of what must be thought of, and what may be hoped for, in relation
to the present life.

Now, we no more expect to find any such idea of a presiding purpose of
life, than we do the profoundest philosophical reflection, in the minds of
the uneducated children and youth. They think nothing at all about their
existence and life in any moral or abstracted or generalizing reference
whatever. They know not any good that it is to have been endowed with a
rational rather than a brute nature, excepting that it affords more
diversity of action, and gives the privilege of tyrannizing over brutes.
They think nothing about what they shall become, and very little about
what shall become of them. There is nothing that tells them of the
relations for good and evil, of present things with future and remote
ones. The whole energy of their moral and intellectual nature goes out as
in brute instinct on present objects, to make the most they can of them
for the moment, taking the chance for whatever may be next. They are left
totally devoid even of the thought, that what they are doing is the
beginning of a life as an important adventure for good or evil; their
whole faculty is engrossed in the doing of it; and whether it signify
anything to the next ensuing stage of life, or to the last, is as foreign
to any calculation of theirs, as the idea of reading their destiny in the
stars. Not only, therefore, is there an entire preclusion from their minds
of the faintest hint of a monition, that they should live for the grand
final object pointed to by religion, but also, for the most part, of all
consideration of the attainment of a reputable condition and character in
life. The creature endowed with faculties for "large discourse, looking
before and after," capable of so much design, respectability, and
happiness, even in its present short stage, and entering on an endless
career, is seen in the abasement of snatching, as its utmost reach of
purpose, at the low amusements, blended with vices, of each passing day;
and cursing its privations and tasks, and often also the sharers of those
privations, and the exactors of those tasks.

When these are grown up into the mass of mature population, what will it
be, as far as their quality shall go toward constituting the quality of
the whole? Alas! it will be, to that extent, just a continuation of the
ignorance, debasement, and misery, so conspicuous in the bulk of the
people now. And to _what_ extent? Calculate _that_ from the unquestionable
fact that hundreds of thousands of the human beings in our land, between
the ages, say of six and sixteen, are at this hour thus abandoned to go
forward into life at random, as to the use they shall make of it,--if,
indeed, it can be said to be at random, when there is strong tendency and
temptation to evil, and no discipline to good. Looking at this proportion,
does any one think there will be, on the whole, wisdom and virtue enough
in the community to render this black infusion imperceptible or innoxious?

But are we accounting it absolutely inevitable that the sequel must be in
full proportion to this present fact,--_must_ be everything that this fact
threatens, and _can_ lead to,--as we should behold persons carried down in
a mighty torrent, where all interposition is impossible, or as the Turks
look at the progress of a conflagration or an epidemic? It is in order to
"frustrate the tokens" of such melancholy divination, to arrest something
of what a destructive power is in the act of carrying away, to make the
evil spirit find, in the next stages of his march, that all his enlisted
host have not followed him, and to quell somewhat of the triumph of his
boast, "My name is legion, for we are many;"--it is for this that the
friends of improvement, and of mankind, are called upon for efforts
greatly beyond those which are requisite for maintaining in its present
extent of operation the system of expedients for intercepting, before it
be too late, the progress of so large a portion of the youthful tribe
toward destruction.

Another obvious circumstance in the state of the untaught class is, _that
they are abandoned, in a direct, unqualified manner, to seize recklessly
whatever they can of sensual gratification_. The very narrow scope to
which their condition limits them in the pursuit of this, will not prevent
its being to them the most desirable thing in existence, when there are so
few other modes of gratification which they either are in a capacity to
enjoy, or have the means to obtain. By the very constitution of the human
nature, the mind seems half to belong to the senses, it is so shut within
them, affected by them, dependent on them for pleasure, as well as for
activity, and impotent but through their medium. And while, by this
necessary hold which they have on what would call itself a spiritual
being, they absolutely will engross to themselves, as of clear right, a
large share of its interest and exercise, they will strive to possess
themselves of the other half too. And they will have it, if it has not
been carefully otherwise claimed and pre-occupied. And when the senses
have thus usurped the whole mind for their service, how will you get any
of it back? Try, if you will, whether this be a thing so easy to be done.
Present to the minds so engrossed with the desires of the senses, that
their main action is but in these desires and the contrivances how to
fulfil them,--offer to their view nobler objects, which are appropriate to
the spiritual being, and observe whether that being promptly shows a
sensibility to the worthier objects, as congenial to its nature, and,
obsequious to the new attraction, disengages itself from what has wholly
absorbed it.

Nor would we require that the experiment be made by presenting something
of a precisely religious nature, to which there is an innate aversion on
account of its _divine_ character, separately from its being an
intellectual thing,--an aversion even though the mental faculties _be_
cultivated. It may be made with something that ought to have power to
please the mind as simply a being of intelligence, imagination, and
sentiment,--a pleasure which, in some of its modes, the senses themselves
may intimately partake; as when, for instance, it is to be imparted by
something beautiful or grand in the natural world, or in the works of art.
Let this refined solicitation be addressed to the grossly uncultivated, in
competition with some low indulgence--with the means, for example, of
gluttony and inebriation. See how the subjects of your experiment,
(intellectual and moral natures though they are,) answer to these
respective offered gratifications. Observe how these more dignified
attractives encounter and overpower the meaner, and reclaim the usurped,
debased spirit. Or rather, observe whether they can avail for more than an
instant, so much as to divide its attention. But indeed you can foresee
the result so well, that you may spare the labor. Still less could you
deem it to be of the nature of an experiment, (which implies uncertainty,)
to make the attempt with ideal forms of nobleness or beauty, with
intellectual, poetical, or moral captivations.

Yet this addiction to sensuality, beyond all competition of worthier modes
and means of interest, does not altogether refuse to admit of some
division and diversion of the vulgar feelings, in favor of some things of
a more mental character, provided they be vicious. A man so neglected in
his youth that he cannot spell the names of Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon,
or read them if he see them spelt, may feel the strong incitement of
ambition. This, instead of raising him, may only propel him forward on the
level of his debased condition and society; and it is a favorable
supposition that makes him "the best wrestler on the green," or a manful
pugilist; for it is probable his grand delight may be, to indulge himself
in an oppressive, insolent arrogance toward such as are unable to maintain
a strife with him on terms of fair rivalry, making his will the law to all
whom he can force or frighten into submission.

Coarse sensuality admits, again, an occasional competition of the
gratifications of cruelty; a flagrant characteristic, generally, of
uncultivated degraded human creatures, both where the whole community
consists of such, as in barbarian and savage tribes, and where they form a
large portion of it, as in this country.--It is hardly worth while to put
in words the acknowledgment of the obvious and odious fact, that a
considerable share of mental attainment is sometimes inefficient to
extinguish, or even repress, this infernal principle of human nature, by
which it is gratifying to witness and inflict suffering, even separately
from any prompting of revenge. But why do we regard such examples as
peculiarly hateful, and brand them with the most intense reprobation, but
_because_ it is judged the fair and natural tendency of mental cultivation
to repress that principle, insomuch that its failure to do so is
considered as evincing a surpassing virulence of depravity? Every one is
ready with the saying of the ancient poet, that liberal acquirements
suppress ferocious propensities. But if the whole virtue of such
discipline may prove insufficient, think what must be the consequence of
its being almost wholly withheld, so that the execrable propensity may go
into action with its malignity unmitigated, unchecked, by any remonstrance
of feeling or taste, or reason or conscience.

And such a consequence is manifest in the lower ranks of our self-extolled
community; notwithstanding a diminution, which the progress of education
and religion has slowly effected, in certain of the once most favorite and
customary practices of cruelty; what we might denominate the classic games
of the rude populace. These very practices, nevertheless, still keep their
ground in some of the more heathenish parts of the country; and if it were
possible, that the more improved notions and taste of the more respectable
classes could admit of any countenance being given to their revival in the
more civilized parts, it would be found that, even there, a large portion
of the people is to this hour left in a disposition which would welcome
the return of savage exhibitions. It may be, that some of the most
atrocious forms and degrees of cruelty would not please the greater number
of them; there have been instances in which an English populace has shown
indignation at extreme and _unaccustomed_ perpetrations, sometimes to the
extent of cruelly revenging them; very rarely, however, when only brute
creatures have been the sufferers. Not many would be delighted with such
scenes as those which, in the _Place de Greve_, used to be a gratification
to a multitude of all ranks of the Parisians. But how many odious facts,
characteristic of our people, have come under every one's observation.

Who has not seen numerous instances of the delight with which advantage is
taken of weakness or simplicity, to practise upon them some sly mischief,
or inflict some open mortification; and of the unrepressed glee with which
the rude spectators can witness or abet the malice? And if, in such a
case, an indignant observer has hazarded a remark or expostulation, the
full stare, and the quickly succeeding laugh and retort of brutal scorn,
have thrown open to his revolting sight the state of the recess within,
where the moral sentiments are; and shown how much the perceptions and
notions had been indebted to the cares of the instructor. Could he help
thinking what was deserved somewhere, by individuals or by the local
community collectively, for suffering a being to grow up to quite or
nearly the complete dimensions and features of manhood, with so vile a
thing within it in substitution for what a soul should be? We need not
remark, what every one has noticed, how much the vulgar are amused by
seeing vexatious or injurious incidents, (if only not quite disastrous or
tragical,) befalling persons against whom they can have no resentment; how
ferocious often their temper and means of revenge when they _have_ causes
of resentment; or how intensely delighted, (in company, it is true, with
many that are called their betters,) in beholding several of their
fellow-mortals, whether in anger or athletic competition, covering each
other with bruises, deformity, and blood.

Our institutions, however, protect, in some considerable degree, man
against man, as being framed in a knowledge of what would else become of
the community. But observe a moment what are the dispositions of the
vulgar as indulged, and with no preventive interference of those
institutions, on the inferior animals. To a large proportion of this class
it is, in their youth, one of the most vivid exhilarations to witness the
terrors and anguish of living beings. In many parts of the country it
would be no improbable conjecture in explanation of a savage yell heard at
a distance, that a company of rationals may be witnessing the writhings,
agonies, and cries, of some animal struggling for escape or for life,
while it is suffering the infliction, perhaps, of stones, and kicks, or
wounds by more directly fatal means of violence. If you hear in the clamor
a sudden burst of fiercer exultation, you may surmise that just then a
deadly blow has been given. There is hardly an animal on the whole face of
the country, of size enough, and enough within reach to be a marked object
of attention, that would not be persecuted to death if no consideration of
ownership interposed. The children of the uncultivated families are
allowed, without a check, to exercise and improve the hateful disposition,
on flies, young birds, and other feeble and harmless creatures; and they
are actually encouraged to do it on what, under the denomination of
vermin, are represented in the formal character of enemies, almost in such
a sense as if a moral responsibility belonged to them, and they were
therefore not only to be destroyed as a nuisance, but deserving to be
punished as offenders.

The hardening against sympathy, with the consequent carelessness of
inflicting pain, combined as this will probably be, with the _love_ of
inflicting it, must be confirmed by the horrid spectacle of slaughter; a
spectacle sought for gratification by the children and youth of the lower
order; and in many places so publicly exhibited that they cannot well
avoid seeing it, and its often savage preliminary circumstances, sometimes
directly wanton aggravations; perhaps in revenge of a struggle to resist
or escape, perhaps in a rage at the awkward manner in which the victim
adjusts itself to a convenient position for suffering. Horrid, we call the
prevailing practice, because it is the infliction, on millions of sentient
and innocent creatures every year, in what calls itself a humane and
Christian nation, of anguish unnecessary to the purpose. Unnecessary--what
proof is there to the contrary?--To _what_ is the present practice
necessary?--Some readers will remember the benevolent (we were going to
say _humane_, but that is an equivocal epithet,) attempt made a number of
years since by Lord Somerville to introduce, but he failed, a mode of
slaughter, without suffering; a mode in use in a foreign nation with which
we should deem it very far from a compliment to be placed on a level in
point of civilization. And it is a flagrant dishonor to such a country,
and to the class that virtually, by rank, and formally, by official
station, have presided over its economy, one generation after another,
that so hideous a fact should never, as far as we know, have been deemed
by the highest state authorities worth even a question whether a
mitigation might not be practicable. An inconceivable daily amount of
suffering, inflicted on unknown thousands of creatures, dying in slow
anguish, when their death might be without pain as being instantaneous, is
accounted no deformity in the social system, no incongruity with the
national profession of religion of which the essence is charity and mercy,
nothing to sully the polish, or offend the refinement, of what demands to
be accounted, in its higher portions, a pre-eminently civilized and
humanized community. Precious and well protected polish and refinement,
and humanity, and Christian civilization! to which it is a matter of easy
indifference to know that, in the neighborhood of their abode, those
tortures of butchery are unnecessarily inflicted, which could not be
actually witnessed by persons in whom the pretension to these fine
qualities is anything better than affectation, without sensations of
horror; which it would ruin the character of a fine gentleman or lady to
have voluntarily witnessed in a single instance.

They are known to be inflicted, and yet this is a trifle not worth an
effort toward innovation on inveterate custom, on the part of the
influential classes; who may be far more worthily intent on a change in
the fashion of a dress, or possibly some new refinement in the cookery of
the dead bodies of the victims. Or the _living_ bodies; as we are told
that the most delicious preparation of an eel for exquisite palates is to
thrust the fish alive into the fire: while lobsters are put into water
_gradually_ heated to boiling. The latter, indeed, is an old practice,
like that of _crimping_ another fish. Such things are allowed or required
to be done by persons pretending to the highest refinement. It is a matter
far below legislative attention; while the powers of definition are
exhausted under the stupendous accumulation of regulations and
interdictions for the good order of society. So hardened may the moral
sense of a community be by universal and continual custom, that we are
perfectly aware these very remarks will provoke the ridicule of many
persons, including, it is possible enough, some who may think it quite
consistent to be ostentatiously talking at the very same time of Christian
charity and benevolent zeal. [Footnote: This was actually done in a
religious periodical publication.] Nor will that ridicule be repressed by
the notoriety of the fact, that the manner of the practice referred to
steels and depraves, to a dreadful degree, a vast number of human beings
immediately employed about it; and, as a spectacle, powerfully contributes
to confirm, in a greater number, exactly that which it is, by eminence,
the object of moral tuition to counteract--men's disposition to make-light
of all suffering but their own. This one thing, this not caring for what
may be endured by other beings made liable to suffering, is the very
essence of the depravity which is so fatal to our race in their social
constitution. This selfish hardness is moral plague enough even in an
inactive state, as a mere carelessness what other beings may suffer; but
there lurks in it a malignity which is easily stimulated to delight in
seeing or causing their suffering. And yet, we repeat it, a civilized and
Christian nation feels not the slightest self-displacency for its allowing
a certain unhappy but necessary part in the economy of the world to be
executed, (by preference to a harmless method,) in a manner which probably
does as much to corroborate in the vulgar class this essential principle
of depravity, as all the expedients of melioration yet applied are doing
to expel it.

Were it not vain and absurd to muse on supposable new principles in the
constitution of the moral system, there is one that we might have been
tempted to wish for, namely, that, of all suffering _unnecessarily_ and
wilfully inflicted by man on any class of sentient existence, a bitter
intimation and participation might be conveyed to him through a mysterious
law of nature, enforcing an avenging sympathy in severe proportion to that
suffering, on all the men who are really accountable for its being

After children and youth are trained to behold with something worse than
hardened indifference, with a gratifying excitement, the sufferings of
creatures dying for the service of man, it is no wonder if they are
barbarous in their treatment of those that serve him by their life. And
in fact nothing is more obvious as a prevailing disgrace to our nation,
than the cruel habits of the lower class toward the laboring animals
committed to their power. These animals have no security in their best
condition and most efficient services; but generally the hateful
disposition is the most fully exercised on those that have been already
the greatest sufferers. Meeting, wherever we go, with some of these
starved, abused, exhausted figures, we shall not unfrequently meet with
also another figure accompanying them--that of a ruffian, young or old,
who with a visage of rage, and accents of hell, is wreaking his utmost
malevolence on a wretched victim for being slow in performing, or quite
failing to perform, what the excess of loading, and perhaps the
feebleness of old age, have rendered difficult or absolutely
impracticable; or for shrinking from an effort to be made by a pressure
on bleeding sores, or for losing the right direction through blindness,
and that itself perhaps occasioned by hardship or savage violence. Many
of the exacters of animal labor really seem to resent it as a kind of
presumption and insult in the slave, that it would be anything else than
a machine, that the living being should betray under its toils that it
suffers, that it is pained, weary, or reluctant. And if, by outrageous
abuse, it should be excited to some manifestation of resentment, that is
a crime for which the sufferer would be likely to incur such a fury and
repetition of blows and lacerations as to die on the spot, but for an
interfering admonition of interest against destroying such a piece of
property, and losing so much service. When that service has utterly
exhausted, often before the term of old age, the strength of those
wretched animals, there awaits many of them a last short stage of still
more remorseless cruelty; that in which it is become a doubtful thing
whether the utmost efforts to which the emaciated, diseased, sinking
frame can be forced by violence, be worth the trouble of that violence,
the delays and accidents, and the expense of the scanty supply of
subsistence. As they must at all events very soon perish, it has ceased
to be of any material consequence, on the score of interest, how grossly
they may be abused; and their tormentors seem delighted with this release
from all restraint on their dispositions. Those dispositions, as indulged
in some instances, when the miserable creatures are formally consigned to
be destroyed, cannot be much exceeded by anything we can attribute to
fiends. Some horrid exemplifications were adduced, not as single casual
circumstances, but as usual practices, by a patriotic senator some years
since, in endeavoring to obtain a legislative enactment in mitigation of
the sufferings of the brute tribes. The design vanished to nothing in the
House of Commons, under the effect of argument and ridicule from a person
distinguished for intellectual cultivation; whose resistance was not only
against that specific measure, but avowedly against the principle itself
on which _any_ measure of the same tendency could ever be founded.
[Footnote: Lord Erskine's memorable Bill, triumphantly scouted by the
late Mr. Windham.--Undoubtedly there are considerable difficulties in the
way of legislation on the subject; but an equal share of difficulty
attending some other subjects--an affair of revenue, for instance, or a
measure for the suppression (at that time) of political opinion--would
soon have been overcome.] Nor could any victory have pleased him better,
probably, than one which contributed to prolong the barbarism of the
people, as the best security, he deemed, for their continuing fit to
labor at home and fight abroad. It might have added to this gratification
to hear (as was the fact) his name pronounced with delight by ruffians of
all classes, who regarded him as their patron saint.

If any one should be inclined to interpose here with a remark, that after
_such_ a reference, we have little right to ascribe to those classes, as
if it were peculiarly one of their characteristics, the insensibility to
the sufferings of the brute creation, and to number it formally among the
results of the "lack of knowledge," we can only reply, that however those
of higher order may explode any attempt to make the most efficient
authority of the nation bear repressively upon the evil, and however it
may in other ways be abetted by them, it is, at any rate, in those
inferior classes chiefly that the actual perpetrators of it are found. It
is something to say in favor of cultivation, that it does, generally
speaking, render those who have the benefit of it incapable of practising,
_themselves_, the most palpably flagrant of these cruelties which they may
be virtually countenancing, by some things which they do, and some things
which they omit or refuse to do. Mr. Windham would not himself have
practised a wanton barbarity on a poor horse or ass, though he scouted any
legislative attempt to prevent it among his inferiors.

* * * * *

The proper place would perhaps have been nearer the beginning of this
description of the characteristics of our uneducated people, for one so
notorious, and one entering so much into the essence of the evils already
named, as that we mention next; _a rude, contracted, unsteady, and often
perverted sense of right and wrong in general_.

It is curious to look into a large volume of religious casuistry, the work
of some divine of a former age, (for instance Bishop Taylor's _Ductor
Dubitantium,_) with the reflection what a conscience disciplined in the
highest degree might be; and then to observe what this regulator of the
soul actually is where there has been no sound discipline of the reason,
and where there is no deep religious sentiment to rectify the perceptions
in the absence of an accurate intellectual discrimination of things. This
sentiment being wanting, dispositions and conduct cannot be taken account
of according to the distinction between holiness and sin; and in the
absence of a cultivated understanding, they cannot be brought to the test
of the distinguishing law between propriety and turpitude; nor estimated
upon any comprehensive notion of utility. The evidence of all this is
thick and close around us; so that every serious observer has been struck
and almost shocked to observe, in what a very small degree conscience is a
_necessary_ attribute of the human creature; and how nearly a nonentity
the whole system of moral principles may be, as to any recognition of it
by an unadapted spirit. While that system is of a substance veritable and
eternal, and stands forth in its exceeding breadth, marked with the
strongest characters and prominences, it has to these persons hardly the
reality or definiteness of a shadow, except in a few matters, if we may so
express it, of the grossest bulk. There must be glaring evidence of
something bad in what is done, or questioned whether to be done, before
conscience will come to its duty, or give proof of its existence. There
must be a violent alarm of mischief or danger before this drowsy and
ignorant magistrate will interfere. And since occasions thus involving
flagrant evil cannot be of very frequent occurrence in the life of the
generality of the people, it is probable that many of them have
considerably protracted exemptions from any interference of conscience at
all; it is certain that they experience no such pertinacious attendance of
it, as to feel habitually a monitory intimation, that without great
thought and care they will inevitably do something wrong. But what may we
judge and presage of the moral fortunes of a sojourner, of naturally
corrupt propensity, in this bad world, who is not haunted, sometimes to a
degree of alarm, by this monitory sense, through the whole course of his
life? What is likely to become of him, if he shall go hither and thither
on the scene exempt from all sensible obstruction of the many
interdictions, of a nature too refined for any sense but the vital
tenderness of conscience to perceive?

Obstructions of a more gross and tangible nature he is continually
meeting. A large portion of what he is accustomed to see presents itself
to him in the character of boundary and prohibition; on every hand there
is something to warn him what he must not do. There are high walls, and
gates, and fences, and brinks of torrents and precipices; in short, an
order of things on all sides signifying to him, with more or less of
menace,--Thus far and no further. And he is in a general way obsequious to
this arrangement. We do not ordinarily expect to see him carelessly
transgressing the most decided of the artificial boundaries, or daring
across those dreadful ones of nature. But, nearly destitute of the faculty
to perceive, (as in coming in contact with something charged with the
element of lightning,) the awful interceptive lines of that other
arrangement which he is in the midst of as a subject of the laws of God,
we see with what insensibility he can pass through those prohibitory
significations of the Almighty will, which are to devout men as lines
streaming with an infinitely more formidable than material fire. And if we
look on to his future course, proceeding under so fatal a deficiency, the
consequence foreseen is, that those lines of divine interdiction which he
has not conscience to perceive as meant to deter him, he will seem as if
he had acquired, through a perverted will, a recognition of in another
quality--as temptations to attract him.

But to leave these terms of generality and advert to a few particulars of
illustration:--Recollect how commonly persons of the class described are
found utterly violating truth, not in hard emergencies only, but as an
habitual practice, and apparently without the slightest reluctance or
compunction, their moral sense quite at rest under the accumulation of a
thousand deliberate falsehoods. It is seen that by far the greater number
of them think it no harm to take little unjust advantages in their
dealings, by deceptive management; and very many would take the greatest
but for fear of temporal consequences; would do it, that is to say,
without inquietude of conscience, in the proper sense. It is the testimony
of experience from persons who have had the most to transact with them,
that the indispensable rule of proceeding is to assume generally their
want of principle, and leave it to time and prolonged trial to establish,
rather slowly, the individual exceptions. Those unknowing admirers of
human nature, or of English character, who are disposed to exclaim against
this as an illiberal rule, may be recommended to act on what they will
therefore deem a liberal one--at their cost.

That power of established custom, which is so great, as we had occasion to
show, on the moral sense of even better instructed persons, has its
dominion complete over that of the vulgar; insomuch that the most
unequivocal iniquity of a practice long suffered to exist, shall hardly
bring to their mere recollection the common acknowledged rule not to do as
we would wish not done to us. From recent accounts it appears, that the
entire coast of our island is not yet clear of those people called
_wreckers_, who felt not a scruple to appropriate whatever they could
seize of the lading of vessels cast ashore, and even whatever was worth
tearing from the personal possession of the unfortunate beings who might
be escaping but just alive from the most dreadful peril. The cruelty we
have so largely attributed to our English vulgar, never recoils on them in
self-reproach. The habitual indulgence of the irascible, vexatious, and
malicious tempers, to the plague or terror of all within reach, scarcely
ever becomes a subject of judicial estimate, as a character hateful in the
abstract, with them a reflection of that estimate on the man's own self.
He reflects but just enough to say to himself that it is all right and
deserved, and unavoidable, too, for he is unpardonably crossed and
provoked; nor will he be driven from this self-approval, when it may be
evident to every one else that the provocations are comparatively slight,
and are only taken as offences by a disposition habitually seeking
occasions to vent its spite. The inconvenience and vexation incident to
low vice, may make the offenders fret at themselves for having been so
foolish, but it is in general with an extremely trifling degree of the
sense of guilt. Suggestions of reprehension, in even the discreetest
terms, and from persons confessedly the best authorized to make them,
would not seldom be answered by a grinning, defying carelessness, in some
instances by abusive retort; instead of any betrayed signs of an internal
acknowledgment of deserving reproof.

And while thus the censure of a fellow-mortal meets no internal testimony
to own its justice, this insensate self-complacency is undisturbed also on
the side toward heaven. A mere philosopher, that should make little
account of religion, otherwise than as capable of being applied to enforce
and aggravate the sense of obligation with respect to rules of conduct,
and would not, provided it may have this effect, care much about its truth
or falsehood,--might be disposed to assert that the ignorant and debased
part of the population, of this Christian and Protestant country, are but
so much the worse for the riddance of some parts of the superstitions of
former ages. He might allege, with plausibility, that the system which
imposed so many falsehoods, vain observances, and perversions of moral
principles, acknowledging nevertheless _some_ correct rules of morality,
as an external practical concern, had the advantage of enjoining them, as
far as it chose to do so, with the force of superstition, a stronger
authority with a rude conscience than that of plain simple religion. That
system exercised a mighty complexity and accumulation of authority, all
avowedly divine; by which it could artificially augment, or rather
supersede, the mere divine prescription of such rules, making _itself_ the
authority and prescriber; and thus could infix them in the moral sense of
the people with something more, or something else, than the simple divine
sanction. Whereas, now when those superstitions which held the people so
powerfully in awe, are gone, and have taken away with them that spurious
sanction, there remains nothing to exert the same power of moral
enforcement; since the people have not, in their exemption from the
superstitions of their ancestors, come under any solemn and commanding
effect of the true idea of the Divine Majesty. And it is undeniable that
this is the state of conscience among them. The vague, faint notion, as
they conceive it, of a being who is said to be the creator, governor,
lawgiver, and judge, and who dwells perhaps somewhere in the sky, has not,
to many of them, the smallest force of intimidation from evil, at least
when they are in health and daylight. One of the large sting-armed insects
of the air does not alarm them less. A certain transitory fearfulness that
occasionally comes upon them, points more to the Devil, and perhaps (in
times now nearly gone by) to the ghosts of the dead, than to the Almighty.
It may be, indeed, that this feeling is in its ultimate principle, if it
were ever followed up so far, an acknowledgment of justice and power in
God, reaching to wicked men through these mysterious agents; who though
intending no service to him, but actuated by dispositions of their own,
malignant in the greatest of them, and supposed inauspicious in the
others, are yet carrying into effect his hostility. But it is little
beyond such proximate objects of apprehension that many minds extend their
awe of invisible spiritual existence. Even the notion really entertained
by them of the greatness of God, may be entertained in such a manner as to
have but slight power to restrain the inclinations to sin, or to impress
the sense of guilt after it is committed. He is too great, they readily
say, to mind the little matters that such creatures as we may do amiss;
they can do _him_ no harm. The idea, too, of his bounty, is of such
unworthy consistency as to be a protection against all conscious reproach
of ingratitude and neglect of service toward him;--he has made us to need
all this that it is said he does for us; and it costs him nothing, it is
no labor, and he is not the less rich; and besides, we have toil, and
want, and plague enough, notwithstanding anything that he gives.

It is probable this unhappiness of their condition, oftener than any other
cause, brings God into their thoughts, and that as a being against whom
they have a complaint approaching to a quarrel on account of it. And this
strongly assists the reaction against whatever would enforce the sense of
guilt on the conscience. When he has done so little for us, (something
like this is the sentiment,) he cannot think it any such great matter if
we _do_ sometimes come a little short of his commands. There is no doubt
that their recollections of him as a being to murmur against for their
allotment, are more frequent, more dwelt upon, and with more of an excited
feeling, than their recollections of him as a being whom they ought to
have loved and served, but have offended against. The very idea of such
offence, as the chief and essential constituent of wickedness, is so
slightly conceived, (because he is invisible, and has his own felicity,
and is secure against all injury,) that if the thoughts of one of these
persons _should_, by some rare occasion, be forced into the direction of
unwillingly seeing his own faults, it is probable his impiety would appear
the most inconsiderable thing in the account; that he would easily forgive
himself the negation of all acts and feelings of devotion towards the
Supreme Being, and the countless multiplications of insults to him by
profane language.

To conclude this part of the melancholy statement; it may be observed of
the class in question, that they have but very little notion of guilt, or
possible guilt, in anything but external practice. That busy interior
existence, which is the moral person, genuine and complete; the thoughts,
imaginations, volitions; the motives, projects, deliberations, devices,
the indulgence of the ideas of what they cannot or dare not practically
realize,--all this, we have reason to believe, passes nearly exempted from
jurisdiction, even of that feeble and undecisive kind which _may_
occasionally attempt an interference with their actions. They do indeed
take such notice of the quality of these things within, as to be aware
that some of them are not to be disclosed in their communications; which
prudential caution has of course little to do with conscience, when the
things so withheld are internally cherished in perfect disregard of the
Omniscient Observer, and with hardly the faintest monition that the
essence of the guilt is the same, with only a difference in degree, in
intending or deliberately desiring an evil, and in acting it.

It is not natural obtuseness of mental faculty that we are attributing,
all this while, to the uneducated class of our people, in thus exposing
the defectiveness of their discernment between right and wrong. If it
were, there might arise somewhat of the consolation afforded in
contemplating some of the very lowest of the savage tribes of mankind, by
the idea that such outcasts of the rational nature must stand very nearly
exempt from accountableness, through absolute natural want of mind. But in
the barbarians of our country we shall often observe a very competent, and
now and then an abundant, share of native sense. We may see it evinced in
respect to the very questions of morality, in cases where they are quite
compelled, as will occasionally happen, to feel themselves brought within
the cognizance of one or other of its plainest rules. In such cases we
have witnessed a sharpness and activity of intellect claiming almost our
admiration. What contrivance of deception and artful evasion. What
dexterity of quibble, and captious objection, and petty sophistry. What
vigilance to observe how the plea in justification or excuse takes effect,
and, if they perceive it does not succeed, what address in sliding into a
different one. What quickness to avail themselves of any mistake, or
apparent concession, in the examiner or reprover. What copious rhetoric in
exaggeration of the cause which tempted to do wrong, or of the great good
hoped to be effected by the little deviation from the right,--a good
surely enough to excuse so trifling an impropriety. What facility of
placing between themselves and the censure, the recollected example of
some good man who has been "overtaken in a fault."

Here _is_ mind, after all, we have been prompted to exclaim; mind
educating itself to evil, in default of that discipline which should have
educated it to good. How much of the wisdom of evil, (if we may be allowed
the expression,) there is faculty enough in the neglected corrupt popular
mass of this nation to attain, by the exercise into which the individual's
mind is carried by its own impulse, and in which he may everywhere and
every hour find ample co-operation. Each of these self-improvers in
depraved sense has the advantage of finding himself among a great tribe of
similar improvers, forming an immense school, as if for the promotion of
this very purpose; where they all teach by a competition in learning;
where the rude faculty which is not expanded into intelligence is,
however, sharpened into cunning; where the spirit which cannot grow into
an eagle, may take the form and action of a snake. This advantage,--that
there should not be a diminution of the superabundant plenty of associates
always at hand, to assist each man in making the most of his native
intellect for its least worthy use,--has been from age to age secured to
our populace, as if it had been the most valuable birthright of
Englishmen. Whatever else the person born to the inheritance of low life
was destined to find in it, the national state had made as sure to him as
it had before made the same privilege to his ancestors, that the
generality of his equals should be found fit and ready to work with him in
the acquirement of a depraved shrewdness.

But while the bulk of the people have been, in every period, abandoned to
such a process of educating themselves and one another, where has been
that character of parental guardianship, which seems to be ascribed when
poets, orators, and patriots, are inspired with tropes, and talk of
England and her children? This imperial matron of their rhetoric seems to
have little cared how much she might be disgraced in the larger portion of
her progeny, or how little cause they might have to all eternity to
remember her with gratitude. She has had far other concern about them, and
employment for them, than that of their being taught the value of their
spiritual nature, and carefully trained to be enlightened, good, and
happy. Laws against crime, it is true, she has enacted for them in liberal
quantity; appointed her quorums of magistrates; and not been sparing of
punishments. She has also maintained public sabbath observances to remind
them of religion, of which observances she cared not that they little
understood the very terms; except when the reading of a Book of Sports was
appointed an indispensable part at one time long after her adoption of the
Reformation. But she might plainly see what such provisions did _not_
accomplish. It was a glaring fact before her eyes, that the majority of
her children had far more of the mental character of a colony from some
barbarian nation, than of that which an enlightened and Christian state
might have been expected to impart. She had most ample resources indeed
for supplying the remedy; but, provided that the productions of the soil
and the workshop were duly forthcoming, she thought it of no consequence,
it should seem, that the operative hands belonged to degraded minds. And
then, too, as at all times, her lofty ambition destined a good proportion
of them to the consumption of martial service, she perhaps judged that the
less they were trained to think, the more fit they might be to be actuated
mechanically, as an instrument of blind impetuous force. Or perhaps she
thought it would be rather an inconsistency, to be making much of the
inner existence of a thing which was to be, in frequent wholesale lots,
sent off to be cut or dashed to pieces. [Footnote: "Killed off," was the
sentimental phrase emitted in parliament, in easy unconsciousness of
offence, by the accomplished senator named in a former page. He probably
was really unaware that the creatures were made for anything better.] And
besides, a certain measure of instruction to think, especially if
consisting, in a considerable part, of the inculcation of religion, might
have done something to disturb that notion, (so worthy to have been
transferred from the Mohammedan creed,) which she was by no means desirous
to expel from her fleets and armies, that death for "king and country"
clears off all accounts for sin.

Let our attention be directed a little while to the effects of the
privation of knowledge, as they may be seen conspicuous in the several
parts of the economy of life, in the uneducated part of the community.
Observe those people in their daily occupations. None of us need be told
that, of the prodigious diversity of manual employments, some consist of,
or include, operations of such minuteness or complexity, and so much
demanding nicety, arrangement, or combination, as to necessitate the
constant and almost entire attention of the mind; nor that all of them
must require its full attention at times, at particular stages, changes,
and adjustments, of the work. We allow this its full weight, to forbid any
extravagant notion of how much it is possible to think of other things
during the working time. It is however to be recollected, that persons of
a class superior to the numerous one we have in view, take the chief share
of those portions of the arts and manufactures which require the most of
mental effort,--those which demand extreme precision, or inventive
contrivance, or taste, or scientific skill. We may also take into the
account of the allotment of employments to the uncultivated multitude, how
much facility is acquired by habit, how much use there is of instrumental
mechanism, (a grand exempter from the responsibility that would lie on the
mind,) and how merely general and very slight an attention is exacted in
the ordinary course of some of the occupations. These things considered,
we may venture perhaps to assume, on an average of those employments, that
the persons engaged in them might be, as much at least as one third part
of the time, without detriment to the manual performance, giving the
thoughts to other things with attention enough for such interest as would
involve improvement. This is particularly true of the more ordinary parts
of the labors of agriculture, when not under any critical circumstances,
or special pressure owing to the season.

But as the case at present is, what does become, during such portion of
the time, of the ethereal essence which inhabits the corporeal laborer,
this spirit created, it is commonly said and without contradiction, for
thought, knowledge, religion, and immortality? If we be really to believe
this doctrine of its nature and destiny, (for we are not sure that
politicians think so,) can we know without regret, that in very many of
the persons in the situations supposed, it suffers a dull absorption,
subsides into the mere physical nature, is sunk and sleeping in the animal
warmth and functions, and lulled and rocked, as it were, in its lethargy,
by the bodily movements, in the works which it is not necessary for it to
keep habitually awake to direct? And its obligation to keep just enough
awake to see to the right performance of the work, seems to give a
licensed exemption from any other stirring of its faculties. The
employment _is something to be minded_, in a general way, though but now
and then requiring a pointed attention; and therefore this said
intellectual being, if uninformed and unexercised, will feel no call to
mind anything else: as a person retained for some service which demands
but occasionally an active exercise, will justify the indolence which
declines taking in hand any other business in the intervals, under the
pretext that he has his appointment; and so, when not under the immediate
calls of that appointment, he will trifle or go to sleep, even in the full
light of day, with an easy conscience.

But here we are to beware of falling into the inadvertency of appearing to
say, that the laboring classes, in this country and age, have actually
this full exemption, during their employments, from all exercise of
thought beyond that which is immediately requisite for the right
performance of their work. It is true that there is little enough of any
such mental activity directed to the instructive uses we were supposing.
But while such partial occupation of the thoughts (of course it is
admitted, in an irregular and discontinuous, but still a beneficial
manner) with topics and facts of what may be called intellectual and moral
interest as we are assuming to be compatible with divers of the manual
operations, is a thing to which most among the laboring classes are
strangers, many of them are equally strangers to an easy vacancy of mind;
experiencing amidst their employments a severe arrest of those thoughts
which the mere employment itself may leave free. During the little more
than mechanical action of their hands and eyes, the circumstances of their
condition press hard into their minds. The lot of many of those classes is
placed in a melancholy disproportion between what _must_ be given to the
cares and toils for a bare subsistence, and what _can_, at most, be given
to the interests of the nobler part of their nature, either during their
work or in its intervals. It is a sad spectacle to behold so many myriads
of spiritual beings, (proviso, again, that we may call them so without
being suspected to forget that their proper calling is to work with their
hands,) doomed to consume a proportion so little short of the whole of
their vigor and time, in just merely supporting so many bodies in the
struggle to live.

When it is in special relation to the present times that we speak of this
struggle to live, we of course mean by it something more than that
circumstance of the general lot of humanity which is expressed in the
sentence, "In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat thy bread," We put the
emphasis on the peculiar aggravation of that circumstance in this part of
the world in this and recent times, by the adventitious effect of some
dreadful disorder of the social economy, in consequence of which the
utmost exertions of the body and mind together but barely suffice in so
many cases, in some hardly do suffice, for the mere protraction of life;
comfortable life being altogether out of the question. The course of the
administration of the civilized states, and the recent dire combustion
into which they have almost unanimously rushed, as in emulation which of
them should with the least reserve, and with the most desperate rapidity,
annihilate the resources that should have been for the subsistence and
competence of their people, have resulted in such destitution and misery
in this country as were never known before, except as immediately
inflicted by the local visitation of some awful calamity. The state of
very many of our people, at this hour, is nearly what might be conceived
as the consequence of a failure of the accustomed produce of the earth.
[Footnote: No exaggeration at the time when it was written. The condition
of the working classes during the subsequent years does not admit of any
comprehensive uniform description. It has suffered successive harassing
fluctuations, and been probably at all times severely distressing in one
part of the country or another.]

There is no wish to deny or underrate the additions made to the evil by
the intervention of causes, whose operation admits of being traced in some
measure distinctly from the effect of this grand one. They may be traced
in an operation which is _distinguishable_; and referable to each
respectively; but it were most absurd to represent them as working out of
connection, or otherwise than subordinately concurring, with that cause
which has invaded with its pernicious effects everything that has an
existence or a name in the social system. And it were simply monstrous to
attribute the main substance of so wide and oppressive an evil to causes
of any debateable quality, while there is glaring in sight a cause of
stupendous magnitude, which _could not possibly do otherwise than_ produce
immense and calamitous effects. It would be as if a man were prying about
for this and the other cause of damage, to account for the aspect of a
region which has recently been devastated by inundations or earthquakes.
It has become much a fashion to explain the distresses of a country on any
principles rather than those that are taught by all history, and
prominently manifest in the nature of things. And airs of superior
intelligence shall be assumed on hearing a plain man fix the main charge
of national exhaustion and distress on the nation's consuming its own
strength in an unquenchable fury to destroy that of others; just as if
such madness had never been known to result in poverty and distress, and
it were perfectly inexplicable how it should. This is partly an
affectation of science, accompanied, it is likely, by somewhat of that
sincere extravagance with which some newly developed principle is apt to
be accounted the comprehension of all wisdom, a nostrum that will explain
everything. But we suspect that in many instances this substitution of
subordinate causes for a great substantial one, proceeds from something
much worse than such affectation or self-duped extravagance. It is from a
resolute determination that ambition shall be the noblest virtue of a
state; that martial glory shall maintain its ground in human idolatry and
that wars and their promoters shall be justified at all hazards.

We were wishing to show how the laboring people's thoughts might be partly
employed, during their daily task, and consistently with industry and good
workmanship. But what a state of things is exhibited where the very name
of industry, the virtue universally honored, the topic of so many human
and divine inculcations, cannot be spoken without offering a bitter
insult; where the heavy toil, denounced on man for his transgression, in
the same sentence as death, is in vain implored as the greatest privilege;
or thought of in despair, as a blessing too great to be attainable; and
when the reply of the artisan to an unwitting admonition, that even amidst
his work he might have some freedom for useful thinking, may be,
"Thinking! I have no work to confine my thinking; I may, for that, employ
it all on other subjects; but those subjects are, whether I please or not,
the plenty and luxury in which many creatures of the same kind as myself
are rioting, and the starvation which I and my family are suffering."

We hope in Providence, more than in any wisdom or disposition shown by
men, that this melancholy state of things will be alleviated, otherwise
than by a reduction of number through the diseases generated by utter
penury. [Footnote: It _has_ been alleviated; but not till after a
considerable duration. In England it has; but look at Ireland?] We trust
the time will come when the Christian monitor shall no longer be silenced
by the apprehension of such a reply to the suggestion he wishes to make to
the humble class, that they should strive against being reduced to mere
machines amidst their manual employments; that it is miserable to have the
whole mental existence shrunk and shrivelled as it were to the breadth of
the material they are working upon; that the noble interior agent, which
lends itself to maintain the external activity, and direct the operations
required of the bodily powers for the body's welfare, has eminently a
right and claim to have employments on its own account, during such parts
of those operations as do not of necessity monopolize its attention. It
may claim, in the superintendence of these, a privilege analogous to that
possessed in the general direction of subordinate agents by a man of
science, who will interfere as often as it is necessary, but will not give
up all other thought and employment to be a constant mere looker-on,
during such parts of the operations as are of so ordinary a nature that he
could not really fix his attention on them.

But how is the mind of the laborer or artisan to be delivered from the
blank and stupified state, during the parts of his employment that do not
necessarily engross his thoughts? How, but by its having within some store
of subjects for thought; something for memory, imagination, reflection; in
a word, by the possession of knowledge? How can it be sensibly alive and
active, when it is placed fully and decidedly out of communication with
all things that are friendly to intellectual life, all things that apply a
beneficial stimulus to the faculties, all things, of this world or
another, that are the most inviting or commanding to thought and emotion?
We can imagine this ill-fated spirit, especially if by nature of the
somewhat finer temperament, thus detached from all vital connection,
secluded from the whole universe, and inclosed as by a prison wall,--we
can imagine it sometimes moved with an indistinct longing for its
appropriate interests; and going round and round by this dark, dead wall,
to seek for any spot where there might be a chance of escape, or any
crevice where a living element for the soul transpires; and then, as
feeling it all in vain, dejectedly resigning itself again to its doom.
Some ignorant minds have instinctive impulses of this kind; though far
more of them are so deeply stupified as to be habitually safe from any
such inquietude. But let them have received, in their youth and
progressively afterwards, a considerable measure of interesting
information, respecting, for instance, the many striking objects on the
globe they inhabit, the memorable events of past ages, the origin and uses
of remarkable works within their view, remaining from ancient times; the
causes of effects and phenomena familiar to their observation as now
unintelligible facts; the prospects of man, from the relation he stands in
to time, and eternity, and God, explained by the great principles and
facts of religion. Let there be fixed in their knowledge so many ideas of
these kinds, as might be imparted by a comparatively humble education,
(one quite compatible with the destination to a life of ordinary
employment,) and even involuntarily the thoughts would often recur to
these subjects, in those moments and hours when the manual occupation can,
and actually will, be prosecuted with but little of exclusive attention.
Slight incidents, casual expressions, would sometimes suggest these
subjects; by association they would suggest one another. The mere reaction
of a somewhat cultivated spirit against invading dulness, might recall
some of the more amusing and elating ones; and they would fall like a
gleam of sunshine on the imagination. An emotion of conscience, a
self-reflection, an occurring question of duty, a monitory sensation of
defective health, would sometimes point to the serious and solemn ones.
The mind might thus go a considerable way, to recreate or profit itself,
and, on coming back again, find all safe in the processes of the field or
the loom. The man would thus come from these processes with more than the
bare earnings to set against the fatigue. There would thus be scattered
some appearances to entertain, and some sources and productions to
refresh, over what were else a dead and barren flat of existence.

There is no romancing in all this; we have known instances of its
verification to a very pleasing and exemplary extent. We have heard
persons of the class in question tell of the exhilarating imaginations, or
solemn reflections, which, through the reminiscences of what they had read
in youth or more advanced years, had visited their minds; and put them, as
it were, in communication for a while with diversified, remote, and
elevated objects, while in their humble employments under the open sky or
the domestic roof. And is not this, (if it be true, after all, that the
intellectual, immortal nature is by emphasis the man,) is not this vastly
better than that this mind should lie nearly as dormant, during the
laborer's hours of business, as his attendant of the canine species shall


Back to Full Books