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THE LIBERTY OF THE PULPIT
but to supply more powerful means of reformation ; to add pain where shame was insufficient; and when men were proclaimed unworthy of the society of the faithful, to restrain them, by imprisonment, from spreading abroad the contagion of wickedness.
" It is not improbable that from this acknowledged power of public censure grew in time the practice of auricular confession. Those who dreaded the blast of public reprehension were willing to submit themselves to the priest, by a private accusation of themselves; and to obtain a reconciliation with the Church by a kind of clandestine absolution and invisible penance ; conditions with which the priest would, in times of ignorance and corruption, easily comply, as they increased his influence by adding the knowledge of secret sins to that of notorious offences, and enlarged his authority by making him the sole arbiter of the terms of reconcilement.
"From this bondage the Reformation set us free. The minister has no longer power to press into the retirements of conscience, to torture us by interro
From an engraving by Ravenet gatories, or put himself in possession of
GENERAL OGLETHORPE (6. 1696, d. 1785) our secrets and our lives.
But though we have thus controlled his usurpations,
celebrated by Pope and Thomson, lauded by
Johnson, Hannah More and Horace Walpole, his just and original power remains
this brave old soldier consummated and completed
the great work of American colonization which unimpaired. He may still see, though he
Raleigh had begun. may not pry: he may yet hear, though he may not question. And that knowledge which his eyes and ears force upon him, it is still his duty to use, for the benefit of his flock. A father, who lives near a wicked neighbour, may forbid a son to frequent his company. A minister, who has in his congregation a man of open and scandalous wickedness, may warn his parishioners to shun his conversation. To warn them is not only lawful, but not to warn them would be criminal. He may warn them, one by one, in friendly converse, or by a parochial visitation. But if he may warn each man singly, what shall forbid him to warn them all together? Of that which is to be made known to all
, how is there any difference whether it be communicated to each singly, or to all together? What is known to all, must necessarily be public. Whether it shall be public at once, or public by degrees, is the only question. And of a sudden and solemn publication the impression is deeper, and the warning more effectual.
“It may easily be urged, if a minister be thus left at liberty to delate sinners from the pulpit, and to publish at will the crimes of a parishioner, he may often blast the innocent, and distress the timorous. He may be suspicious, and condemn without evidence ; he may be rash, and judge without examination ; he may be severe, and treat slight offences with too much harshness; he may be malignant and partial, and gratify his private interest or resentment under the shelter of his pastoral character.
“Of all this there is possibility, and of all this there is danger. But if possibility of evil be to exclude good, no good ever can be done. If nothing is to be attempted in which there is danger, we must all sink into hopeless inactivity. The evils that may be feared from this practice arise not from any defect in the institution, but from the infirmities of human nature. Power, in whatever hands it is placed, will be sometimes improperly exerted : yet courts of law must judge, though they will sometimes judge amiss. A father must instruct his children, though he himself may often want instruction. A minister must censure sinners, though his censure may be sometimes erroneous by want of judgment, and sometimes unjust by want of honesty.
“If we examine the circumstances of the present case, we shall find the sentence neither erroneous nor unjust; we shall find no breach of private confidence, no intrusion into secret transactions. The fact was notorious and indubitable; so easy to be proved that no proof was desired. The act was base and treacherous, the perpetration insolent and open, and the example naturally mischievous. The minister, however, being retired and recluse, had not yet heard what was publicly known throughout the parish ; and, on occasion of a public election, warned his people, according to his duty, against the crimes which public elections frequently produce. His warning was felt by one of his parishioners, as pointed particularly at himself. But instead of producing, as might be wished, private compunction and immediate reformation, it kindled only rage and resentment. He charged his minister in a public paper with scandal, defamation, and falsehood. The minister, thus reproached, had his own character to vindicate, upon which his pastoral authority must necessarily depend. To be charged with a defamatory lie is an injury which no man patiently endures in common life. To be charged with polluting the pastoral office with scandal and falsehood, was a violation of character still more atrocious, as it affected not only his personal but his clerical veracity. His indignation naturally rose in proportion to his honesty; and, with all the fortitude of injured honesty, he dared this calumniator in the church, and at once exonerated himself from censure, and rescued his flock from deception and from danger. The man whom he accuses pretends not to be innocent; or at least only pretends ; for he declines a trial. The crime of which he is accused has frequent opportunities and strong temptations. It has already spread far, with much depravation of private morals, and much injury to public happiness. To warn the people, therefore, against it was not wanton and officious, but necessary and pastoral.
What then is the fault with which this worthy minister is charged ? He has usurped no dominion over conscience. He has exerted no authority in support of doubtful and controverted opinions. He has not dragged into light a bashful and corrigible sinner. His censure was directed against a breach of morality, against an act which no man justifies. The man who appropriated this censure to himself is evidently and notoriously guilty. His consciousness of his own wickedness incited him to attack his faithful reprover with open insolence and printed accusations. Such an attack made defence necessary; and we hope it will be at last decided that the means of defence were just and lawful.”
When I read this to Mr. Burke, he was highly pleased, and exclaimed, “Well; he does his work in a workman-like manner." *
* As a proof of Dr. Johnson's extraordinary powers of composition, it appears from the original manuscript of this excellent dissertation, of which he dictated the first eight paragraphs on the 10th of May, and the remainder on the 13th, that there are in the whole only seven corrections, or rather variations, and those not considerable. Such were at once the vigorous and accurate emanations of his mind.
REV. JAMES THOMSON'S CASE
Mr. Thomson wished to bring the cause by appeal before the House of Lords, but was dissuaded by the advice of the noble person who lately presided so ably in that most Honourable House, and who was then Attorney-General. As my readers will no doubt be glad also to read the opinion of this eminent man upon the same subject, I shall here insert it.
“THERE is herewith laid before you,
“1. Petition for the Reverend Mr. James Thomson, minister of Dumfermline.
decree is grounded.
being reversed, if Mr. Thomson should appeal from the same ?”
“I don't think the appeal advisable : not only because the value of the judgment is in no degree adequate to the expense ; but because there are many chances, that, upon the general complexion of the case, the impression will be taken to the disadvantage of the appellant.
“ It is impossible to approve the style of that sermon. But the complaint was not less ungracious from that man, who had behaved so ill by his original libel, and at the time when he received the reproach he complains of. In the last article, all the plaintiffs are equally concerned. It struck me also with some wonder that the judges should think so much fervour apposite to the occasion of reproving the defendant for a little excess.
"Upon the matter, however, I agree with them, in condemning the behaviour of the minister; and in thinking it a subject fit for ecclesiastical censure ; and even for an action, if any individual could qualify * a wrong, and a damage arising from it. But this I doubt. The circumstance of publishing the reproach in a pulpit, though extremely indecent, and culpable in another view, does not constitute a different sort of wrong, or any other rule of law, than would have obtained if the same words had been pronounced elsewhere. I don't know whether there be any difference in the law of Scotland in the definition of slander before the Commissaries or the Court of Session. The common law of England does not give way to actions for every reproachful word. An action cannot be brought for general damages, upon any words which import less than an offence cognizable by law; consequently, no action could have been brought here for the words in question. Both laws admit the truth to be a justification in action for words; and the law of England does the same in actions for libels. The judgment, therefore, seems to me to have been wrong, in that the Court repelled that defence.
It is curious to observe that Lord Thurlow has here, perhaps in compliment to North Britain, made use of a term of the Scotch Law, which to an English reader may require explanation. To qualify 4 wrong, is to point out and establish it.
CHAPTER XXXIV— 1776
THE DINNER AT DILLY'S
Dr. Johnson meets John Wilkes at Dilly's Dinner-Party-Arthur Lee--Wilkes's Attention to Johnson
An Anecdote of Foote-Garrick — Johnson and his “Life of Dryden”—Cibber-Horace-Elkanah Settle—The Scotch-Mrs. Macaulay—Mrs. Knowles—Mrs. Rudd - Johnson's Epitaph on Goldsmith for Westminster Abbey—The Round Robin-Johnson's Letter to Mrs. Boswell-He Rebukes
Boswell—Count Manucci-At Brighton-Johnson's Indisposition-Dr. Hugh Blair. I AM now to record a very curious incident in Dr. Johnson's Life, which fell under my own observation ; of which pars magna fui, and which, I am persuaded, will, with the liberal minded, be much to his credit.
My desire of being acquainted with celebrated men of every description, had made me, much about the same time, obtain an introduction to Dr. Samuel Johnson and to John Wilkes, Esq. Two men more different could perhaps not be selected out of all mankind. They had even attacked one another with some asperity in their writings; yet I lived in habits of friendship with both. I could fully relish the excellence of each ; for I have ever delighted in that intellectual chemistry, which can separate good qualities from evil in the same person.
Sir John Pringle, “mine own friend and my father's friend,” between whom and Dr. Johnson I in vain wished to establish an acquaintance, as I respected and lived in intimacy with both of them, observed to me once, very ingeniously, “ It is not in friendship as in mathematics, where two things, each equal to a third, are equal between themselves. You agree with Johnson as a middle quality, and you agree with me as a middle quality ; but Johnson and I should not agree.
agree.” Sir John was not sufficiently flexible ; so I desisted; knowing, indeed, that the repulsion was equally strong on the part of Johnson ; who, I know not from what cause, unless his being a Scotchman, had formed a very erroneous opinion of Sir John. But I conceived an irresistible wish, if possible, to bring Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes together. How to manage it, was a nice and difficult matter.
My worthy booksellers and friends, Messieurs Dilly in the Poultry, at whose hospitable and well-covered table I have seen a greater number of literary men than at any other, except that of Sir Joshua Reynolds, had invited me to meet Mr. Wilkes and some more gentlemen, on Wednesday, May 15. Pray (said I), let us have Dr. Johnson.”_" What, with Mr. Wilkes ? Not for the world (said Mr. Edward Dilly); Dr. Johnson would never forgive me.”—“Come (said I), if you'll let me negotiate for you, I will be answerable that all shall go well.” DILLY :
Nay, if you will take it upon you, I am sure I shall be very happy to see them both here.”
Notwithstanding the high veneration which I entertained for Dr. Johnson, I was sensible that he was sometimes a little actuated by the spirit of contradiction, and by means of that I hoped I should gain my point. I was persuaded that if I had come upon him with a direct proposal, “Sir, will you dine in company with Jack Wilkes?” he would have flown into a passion, and would probably have answered,
From a mezzotint engraving by James Watson after a painting by R. E. Pine
JOHN WILKES (b. 1727, d. 1797) The association of two such opposite characters as Johnson and Wilkes seems strange, yet it was not really so. Wilkes possessed many qualities that Johnson much admired, such as the address of a gentleman, scholarly attainments, good conversational powers, and a sociable disposition. On the occasion of the meeting of these two celebrated men, the storm and stress of Wilkes's eventful life was almost passed. He was at the time M.P. for Middlesex, after having been elected four times, and declared ineligible. Rake, profligate, man of fashion, he was also a strenuous politician ; high-sheriff for Bucks, editor of the North Briton, and Alderman ; he was once confined to the Tower, and on another occasion in prison-he had also been outlawed, and in 1774 he was a popular Lord Mayor of London.