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author of this book, though using the figure of Christ to fortify his theories, at the same time is guilty of the most daring assault upon His work and character when they cannot be made to harmonise with his latest evangel.
The book professes to be the biography of a Cornish journeyman carpenter, written by a friend and lifelong companion. An imitation of the workman's style and dialect is attempted, but is so slight as not to deceive at all; while the vigor and educated character of the thought, and the literary facility, clearly betray a skilled writer. The author, however, appears to have fully familiarised himself with the modes of thought and feeling of the class of which he writes, so that his book may perhaps be taken as a fair exponent of the discontent and undefined aspiration of the dumb masses. And if so, it should have a value as helping to a better understanding between the extremes of society, between whom a great gulf now yawns.
Like many other heroes, Joshua Davidson is the son of “poor but worthy” parents, and by an inconsistency which is quite frequent among writers of agrarian tendencies, our author has given his protégé something more than a suspicion of noble blood.
There was nothing remarkable about Joshua's childhood; he was a quiet, thoughtful boy and noticeably pious; given to the inconvenient habit of most children of asking " why?” His first exploit, prognostic of his future career, was his overthrow of the Vicar in the matter of catechising. One Sunday afternoon his class was being questioned before a number of ladies and gentlemen :
“ After catechism was over he stood out before the rest, just in his rough country clothes as he was, and said very respectfully to the Vicar, Mr. Grand : 'If you please, sir, I would like to ask you a few questions.' 'Certainly, my lad, what have you to say?' said Mr. Grand rather shortly. He did not seem over well pleased at the boy's addressing him; but he could not well refuse to hear him because of the ladies and gentlemen with him; and especially wr. Freeman, a very good old man who thought well of everybody, and let everybody do pretty much as they liked.
"If we say, sir, that Jesus Christ was God,' said Joshua, 'surely all that He said and did must be the real right? There cannot be a better way than His?' 'Surely not, my lad,” Mr. Grand made answer, 'what else have you been taught all your life? what else have you been saying in your catechism just now?' And His apostles and disciples, they showed the way too?' said Joshua. “And they showed the way too, as you say; and if you come up to half they taught, you'll do well, Joshua.' The Vicar laughed a little laugh as he said this; but it was a laugh, Joshua's mother said, that seemed to mean the same thing as a 'scat'-our Cornish word for a blowonly the boy didn't seem to see it. ‘Yes; but, sir, it is not of myself I am thinking, it is of the world,' said Joshua. 'If we are Christians, why don't we live as Christians ?' 'Ah, indeed! why don't we?' said Mr. Grand. 'Because of the wickedness of the human heart; because of the world, the flesh, and the devil!' Then, sir, if you feel this, why don't you and all the clergy live like the apostles and give what you have to the poor?' cried Joshua, clasping his hands
and making a step forward, the tears in his eyes. "Why, when you read that verse, “Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” do you live in a fine house, and have grand dinners, and let Peggy Bray nearly starve in that old mud-hut of hers, and widow Tregellis there, with her six children and no fire or clothing for them? I can't make it out, sir! Christ was God; and we are Christians; yet we don't do as He ordered, though you tell us it is a sin that can never be forgiven if we dispute what the Bible says.' * And so it is,' said Mr. Grand sternly. “Who has been putting these bad thoughts into your head?' 'No one, sir. I have been thinking for myself. Michael, out by Lion's Den, is called an infidel; he calls himself one; and you preached last Sunday that no infidel can be saved; but Michael helped Peggy and her base child when the Orphan Fund people took away her pension, because, as you yourself told her, she was a bad woman, and it was encouraging wickedness; and he worked early and late for widow Tregellis and her children, and shared with them all he had, going short for them many a time. And I can't help thinking, sir, that Christ, who forgave all manner of sinners, would have helped Peggy with her base child, and that Michael, being an infidel and such a good man, is something like that second son in the parable who said he would not do his Lord's will when he was ordered, but who went all the same — And that your Vicar is like the first?' interrupted Mr. Grand angrily. Well, yes, sir, if you please,' said Joshua quite modestly, but very fervently."
This colloquy proceeds to greater length, and it must be confessed contains some awkward questions, and home-thrusts which the Vicar can only parry by indignant reproof. But one gross unfairness of the book is that all through it represents the attitude of the Church towards the poor and vicious, by the person of Mr. Grand, a worldly, well-fed and self-indulgent member of the rich Establishment, who though truly typical of a number of men who are a scandal to the body to which they belong, by no means represents the spirit and action of the whole Christian church. In his person, the Church is made to appear as the enemy of the poor, the advocate of political and spiritual despotism, the foe of social progress and amelioration. While in truth the position of the Church is one of shortcoming in its duty to the masses, not in any degree of antagonism. Within the scope of its present philanthropic agencies the Church embraces every rank and condition of men - even the vilest and most hopelessly depraved. And in her membership she includes thousands of noble spirits who are emulating their Master in their ministry of love to the outcast and forsaken. What the Church needs, and what Society needs, is that the example of these truly devoted ones should be followed by all her members. But the Church does not contemplate, nor did Christ, we believe, ever contemplate any such system of Communism as that countenanced by this author, where the pure and the vicious should associate in the closest intimacy; and any effort at reform would be very justly scandalised by the associations of Joshua Davidson in London. That Christian charity is to go the extent of compelling a young unmarried man to attempt the reformation of a fallen woman by supporting her in his own house is, it seems to us, an impious travesty upon the life and conduct of the pure and holy One.
This new reformer commences life by accepting Scripture in its literal import with the most implicit faith; going to the extent of praying that a certain large rock might be removed, and taking up vipers in his hand, preaching against the sins of Christians, and practising the greatest simplicity, pureness, and charity in his own life. His aim was “to bring back the world to the simplicity and broad humanity of Christ's acted life." His failure to obtain an answer to his special prayers greatly perplexed him, and his perplexity finally issues in an interpretation of Scripture and Christ's character which will probably be considered liberal enough to please the most advanced of modern biographers of the Sacred Life. Urged by the restlessness which characterises his class, he leaves his quiet country home and goes up to London ; soon after which he announces his creed thus: “Friends,” he said, “I have at last cleared my mind and come to a belief. I have proved to myself the sole meaning of Christ : it is Humanity. I relinquish the miracles, the doctrine of the Atonement, the doctrine of the Divinity of Jesus, and the unelastic fipality of His knowledge. He was the product of His time ; and if He went beyond it in some things, He was only abreast of it in others. His views of human life were Oriental ; His images were drawn from the autocratic despotism of the great and the slavish submission of the humble; and there is never a word of reprobation of these conditions as conditions, only of the individuals according to their desert. He did His best to remedy that injustice, so far as there might be solace in the thought, by proclaiming the spiritual equality of all men, and the greater value of worth than status; but He left the social question where He found it — paying tribute to Cæsar without reluctance — His mind not being ripe to accept the idea of a radical revolution, and His hands not strong enough to accomplish it, if ever He had imagined it. But neither He nor His disciples imagined more than the communism of their own sect; they did not touch the throne of Cæsar, or the power of the hereditary irresponsible lord. Their communism never aimed at the equalisation of classes throughout all society. Hence, I cannot accept the beginning of Christian politics as final; but hold that we have to carry on the work under different forms. The modern Christ would be a politician. His aim would be to raise the whole platform of society; He would not try to make the poor contented with a lot in which they cannot be much better than savages or brutes. He would work at the destruction of caste, which is the vice at the root of all our creeds and institutions. He would not content himself with denouncing sin as merely spiritual evil ; He would go into its economic causes and destroy the flower by cutting at the roots - poverty and ignorance. He would accept the truths of science, and He would teach that a man saves his own soul best by helping his neighbor. That, indeed, He did teach ; and that is the one solid foothold I have. Friends, Christianity according to Christ is the creed of human progress, not that of resignation to the avoidable miseries of class; it is the confession that society is elastic,
and that no social arrangements are final; that morals themselves are only experimental, and that no laws are divine — that is, absolute and unchangeable by circumstance. It is the doctrine of evolution, of growth; and just as Christ was the starting-point of a new era of theological thought, so is the present the starting-point of a new era of social fact. Let us then strip our Christianity of all the mythology, the fetichism that has grown about it. Let us abandon the idolatry with which we have obscured the meaning of the Life ; let us go back to the Man, and carry on His work in its essential spirit in the direction suited to our times and social conditions. Those of you who still cling to the mystical aspect of the creed, and who prefer to worship the God rather than imitate the Man, must here part company with me. You know that, as a youth, I went deep into the life of prayer and faith ; as a man, I have come out into the upper air of action ; into the understanding that Christianity is not a creed as dogmatised by churches, but an organisation having politics for its means and the equalisation of classes as its end. It is Communism. Friends, the doctrine I have chosen for myself is Christian Communism, and my aim will be, the Life after Christ in the service of humanity, without distinction of persons or morals. The Man Jesus is my master, and by His example I will walk.”
Even Mr. John Stuart Mill, and those who believe with him that the Christian system partakes of the nature of a reaction, would have little fault to find with such a confession of faith. But why should a man profess to follow in the footsteps of Christ, and yet repudiate His course of action ? If a new Christ is to be constructed, why should not the whole character be evolved out of Mr. Davidson's consciousness, and not marred with patches from the Evangelists? Such a proceeding would be more consistent, and no more audacious.
Joshua Davidson's life after this harmonises entirely with his creed. He joins the International Society of course ; in fact it was he who helped mainly to establish it. But he is represented as discountenancing all the extravagances which have disgraced it before the world ; he endeavored to moderate the ferocity of the great body of its members, and to direct and use their energies to the accomplishment of his own scheme of reform. His own conduct was blameless, or rather highly praiseworthy in most respects. He established a night-school for the improvement of the idle and vicious of his neighborhood, was unremitting in his efforts to help up the fallen, pursued his trade of carpenter with the greatest industry all the while, controlled his passions under most trying circumstances and was respectful and charitable to all; and with the exception that in one instance his associations were of such a character as would justly excite scandal, and that he was a very active propagandist of his own distorted views of Christianity, he was a model of propriety and noble living. When the Commune declared itself in Paris, he left for that city and shared its fortunes, while deprecating all the horrors that stained its record. He even risked his life to save those of the Archbishop and the other hostages. When the Versaillists finally triumphed he escaped into England, but did not long survive his
return. Abandoning his trade of carpenter he became a political
. lecturer, and made a tour through the country preaching his doctrine of Christian communism. Finally he announced that he would deliver a lecture at Lowbridge, and gave as his usual programme, “that he would show how Christ and His apostles were Communists, and how they preached the same doctrines which the Commune of Paris strove to embody.” When the evening came there was a boisterous crowd in attendance, and among them his old friend Mr. Grand, the vicar. At the first word he spoke they sent up a great yell, and wrought to frenzy by a speech from Mr. Grand, they beset poor Joshua and beat him to death, who died thus a martyr to his faith.
Such is the story of this life, told most effectively by a skilled narrator, a book we doubt not that will do much harm by its specious
It appeals continually to the nobler instincts of our nature, espousing as it does the cause of the poor and wretched; but it instils vain hopes among these classes, and preaches a false and shallow social philosophy. Christianity does not contemplate as its object the “equalisation of all classes” any more than it intends the reduction of all external nature to a barren plain. It seeks to ciothe every hill and valley of human society with the mantle of charity and mutual understanding and helpfulness; it countenances the healthful development of the social body, by giving to every man the opportunity to rise according to his ability. It aims to remove the hard and dangerous circumstances of life among the lowly. But it does not set itself against the ordinances of natural law, nor blind itself to the fact that poverty is not the essential cause of crime. The selfishness and indifference of the rich may do much to aggravate and prolong the sufferings of the outcast; but primarily it is their own sin, and the sin of their fathers visiting itself upon the children that causes their misery. When will we learn that it is not a dilution of Christianity, nor a distortion of Christianity that is to cure the ills of human life, but pure, unalloyed Christianity as Christ preached it by His life and words, applied more broadly and more persistently to every class and condition of men? The Gospel according to Joshua Davidson, is not an improvement upon the Gospel according to St. John.
Eunice Earld. A Poem. By Fred. Williams. Augusta, Ga. 1873.
. When we say that this poem is, in our opinion, an utter mistake in conception, and grievously faulty in every point of execution that perhaps a third part of it has nothing whatever to do with poetry, that the measure chosen, an unmanageable one at the best, is so awkwardly handled that it would have been much better had the form of versedivision been altogether omitted ; that the expression is often clumsy, sometimes obscure, and the syntax not always accurate — we shall seem to pass sentence of condemnation upon Eunice Earld altogether. Yet such is by no means our thought. There is very much highly finished, lucid, grammatical verse which we see in print and MS. that has not, to our mind, the promise of this extremely imperfect piece.