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its faith unknown. Infancy came into the world without a blessing, age left it without a hope ; marriage no longer received a benediction, sickness was left without consolation ; the village bell ceased to call the poor to their weekly day of sanctity and repose ; the village churchyard to witness the weeping train of mourners attending their rude forefathers to their last home. The grass grew in the churches of every parish in France ; the dead without a blessing were thrust into vast charnel-houses ; marriage was contracted before a civil magistrate ; and infancy, untaught to pronounce the name of God, longed only for the period when the passions and indulgences of life were to com
It was in these disastrous days that Chateaubriand arose, and bent the force of his lofty mind to restore the fallen but imperishable faith of his fathers. In early youth, he was at first carried away by the fashionable infidelity of his times; and in his Essais Historiques, which he published in 1792 in London, while the principles of virtue and natural religion are unceasingly maintained, he seems to have doubted whether the Christian religion was not crumbling with the institutions of society, and speculated what faith was to be established on its ruins. But misfortune, that great corrector of the vices of the world, soon changed these faulty views
In the days of exile and adversity, when by the waters of Babylon he sat down and wept, he reverted to the faith and the belief of his fathers, and inhaled in the school of adversity those noble maxims of devotion and duty which haveever since regulated his conduct in life. Undaunted, though alone, he placed himself on the ruins of the Christian faith; renewed, with Herculean strength, a contest which the talents and vices of half a century had to all appearance rendered hopeless; and, speaking to the hearts of men, now purified by suffering, and cleansed by the agonising ordeal of revolution, scattered far and wide the seeds of a rational and manly piety. Other writers have followed in the same noble career : Salvandy and Guizot have traced the beneficial effects of religion upon modern society, and drawn from the last results of revolutionary experience just and sublime conclusions as to the adaptation of Christianity to the wants of humanity ; but it is the glory of Chateaubriand to have come forth alone the foremost in the fight; to have planted himself on the breach, when it was strewed only with the dying and dead, and, strong in the consciousness of gigantic powers, stood undismayed against a nation in
To be successful in the contest, it was indispensable that the weapons of warfare should be totally changed. When the ideas of men were set adrift by revolutionary changes, when the authority of ages was set at naught, and from centuries of experience appeals were made to weeks of innovation, it was in vain to refer to the great or the wise of former ages. Perceiving at once the immense change that had taken place in the world which he addressed, Chateaubriand saw that he must alter altogether the means by which it was to be influenced. Disregarding, therefore, entirely the weight of authority, laying aside almost everything which had been advanced in support of religion by its professed disciples, he applied himself to accumulate the conclusions in its favour which arose from its internal beauty; from its beneficent effect upon society ; from the changes it had wrought upon the civilisation, the happiness, and destinies of mankind; from its analogy with the sublimest tenets of natural religion ; from its unceasing progress, its indefinite extension, and undecaying youth. He observed that it drew its support from such hidden recesses of the human heart, that it flourished most in periods of disaster and calamity ; derived strength from the fountains of suffering, and, banished in all but form from the palaces of princes, spread its roots far and wide in the cottages of the poor. From the intensity of suffering produced by the Revolution, therefore, he conceived the hope that the feelings of religion would ultimately resume their sway; when the waters of bitterness were let loose, the consolations of devotion would again be felt to be indispensable ; and the spirit of the Gospel, banished during the sunshine of corrupt prosperity, return to the repentant human heart with the tears and the storms of adversity.
Proceeding on these just and sublime principles, this great author availed himself of every engine which fancy, experience, or poetry could suggest, to sway the hearts of his readers. He knew well that he was addressing an impas
sioned and volatile generation, upon whom reason would be thrown away, if not enforced with eloquence; and argument lost, if not clothed in the garb of fancy. To effect his purpose, therefore, of reopening in the hearts of his readers the all but extinguished fountains of religious feeling, he summoned to his aid all that learning, or travelling, or poetry, or fancy could supply ; and scrupled not to employ his powers as a writer of romance, a historian, a descriptive traveller, and a poet, to forward the great work of Christian renovation. Of his object in doing this, he has himself given the following account :
“ There can be no doubt that the Genius of Christianity would have been a work entirely out of place in the age of Louis XIV.; and the critic who observed that Massillon would never have published such a book, spoke an undoubted truth. Most certainly the author would never have thought of writing such a work if there had not existed a host of poems, romances, and books of all sorts, where Christianity was exposed to every species of derision. But since these poems, romances, and books exist, and are in every one's hands, it becomes indispensable to extricate religion from the sarcasms of impiety ; when it has been written on all sides that Christianity is barbarous, ridiculous, the eternal enemy of the arts and of genius ; ' it is necessary to prove that it is neither barbarous, nor ridiculous, nor the enemy of arts or of genius; and that that which is made by the pen of ridicule to appear diminutive, ignoble, in bad taste, without either charms or tenderness, may be made to appear grand, noble, simple, impressive, and divine, in the hands of a man of religious feeling.
“ If it is not permitted to defend religion on what may be called its terrestrial side, if no effort is to be made to prevent ridicule from attaching to its sublime institutions, there will always remain a weak and undefended quarter. There all the strokes at it will be aimed ; there you will be caught without defence; from thence you will receive your death-wound. Is not that what has already arrived ? Was it not by ridicule and pleasantry that Voltaire succeeded in shaking the foundations of faith? Will yon attempt to answer by theological arguments, or the forms of the syllogism, licentious novels or irreligious epigrams ? Will formal disquisitions ever prevent an infidel generation from being carried away by clever verses, or deterred from the altar by the fear of ridicule? Does not every one know that in the French nation à happy bon-mot, impiety clothed in a felicitous expression, a felix culpa, produce a greater effect than volumes of reasoning or metaplıysics ? Persuade young men that an honest man can be a Christian without being a fool; convince bim that he is in error when he believes that none but capuchins and old women believe in religion, and your cause is gained: it will be time enough, to complete the victory, to present yourself armed with theological reasons ; but what you must begin with is, an inducement to read your book. What is most needed is a popular work on religion. Those who have hitherto written on it have too often fallen into the error of the traveller who tries to get his companion at one ascent to the summit of a rugged mountain when he can hardly crawl at its foot : you must show him at every step varied and agreeable objects; allow him to stop to gather the flowers which are scattered along his path ; and from one resting place to another he will at length gain the summit.
“ The author has not intended this work merely for scholars, priests, or doctors; what he wrote for was the men of the world, and what he aimed at chiefly were the considerations calculated to affect their minds. If you do not keep steadily in view that principle, if you forget for a moment the class of readers for whom the Genius of Christianity was intended, you will understand nothing of this work. It was intended to be read by the most incredulous man of letters, the most volatile youth of pleasure, with the same facility as the first turns over a work of impiety, or the second devours a corrupting novel. Do you intend then, exclaim the well-meaning advocates for Christianity, to render religion a matter of fashion ? Would to God, I reply, that that divine religion was really in fashion, in the sense that what is fashionable indicates the prevailing opinion of the world! Individual hypocrisy, indeed, might be increased by such a change, but public morality would unquestionably be a gainer. The rich would no longer make it a point of vanity to corrupt the poor, the master to pervert the mind of bis domestic
, the fathers of families to pour lessons of atheism into their children : the practice of piety would lead to a belief in its truths, and with the devotion we should see revive the manners and the virtues of the best ages of the world.
*** Voltaire, when he attacked Christianity, knew mankind well enough not to seek to avail himself of what is called the opinion of the world, and with that view he employed his talents to bring impiety into fashion. He succeeded by rendering religion ridiculous in the eyes of a frivolous generation. It is this ridicule which the author of the Genius of Christianity has, beyond everything, sought to efface; that was the object of his work. He may have failed in the execution, but the object surely was highly important. To consider Christianity in its relation with human society ; to trace the changes which it has effected in the reason and the passions of man; to show how it has modified the genius of arts and of letters, moulded the spirit of modern nations ; in a word, to unfold all the marvels which religion bas wrought in the regions of poetry, morality, politics, history, and public charity, must always be esteemed a noble undertaking. As to its execution, he abandons himself, with submission, to the criticisms of those who appreciate the spirit of the design.
" Take, for example, a picture, professedly of an impious tendency, and place beside it another picture on the same subject from the Genius of Christianity, and I will venture to affirm that the latter picture, however feebly executed, will weaken the impression of the first ; so powerful is the effect of simple truth when compared to the most brilliant sophisms. Voltaire has frequently turned the religious orders into ridicule: well, put beside one of his burlesque representations the chapter on the Missions, that where the order of the Hospitallers is depicted as succouring the travellers in the desert; or the monks relieving the sick in the hospitals, attending those dying of the plague in the lazarettos, or accompanying the criminal to the scaffold, --wbat irony will not be disarmed? what malicious smile will not be converted into tears? Answer the reproaches made to the worship of the Christians for their ignorance, by appealing to the immense labours of the ecclesiastics who saved from destruction the manuscripts of antiquity. Reply to the accusations of bad taste and barbarity, by referring to the works of Bossuet and Fenelon. Oppose to the caricatures of saints and of angels, the sublime effects of Christianity on the dramatic part of poetry, on eloquence, and the fine arts, and say whether the impression of ridicule will long maintain its ground! Should the author have no other success than that of having displayed before the eyes of an infidel age a long series of religious pictures without exciting disgust, he would deem his labours pot useless to the cause of humanity.”_Vol. iji. 263, 266.
These observations appear to us as just as they are profound; and they are the reflections not merely of a sincere Christian, but of a man practically acquainted with the state of the world. It is of the utmost importance, no doubt, that there should exist works on the Christian faith, in which the arguments of the sceptic should be combated, and to which the Christian disciple might refer with confidence for a refutation of the objections which have been urged against his religion. But great as is the merit of such productions, their beneficial effects are limited in their operation compared with those which are produced by such writings as we are considering. The hardened sceptic will never turn to a work on divinity for a solution of his paradoxes; and men of the world can never be persuaded to enter on serious arguments even on the most momentous subject of human belief. It is the indifference, not the scepticism of such men, which is chiefly to be dreaded : the danger to be apprehended is not that they will say there is no God, but that they will live altogether without God in the world. It has happened but too frequently that divines, in their zeal for the progress of Christianity among such men, have augmented the very evil they intended to remove. They have addressed themselves in general to them as if they were combatants drawn out in a theological dispute; they have urged a mass of arguments which they were unable to refute, but which were too uninteresting to be even examined ; and while they flattered themselves that they had effectually silenced their opponents' objections, those whom they addressed have silently passed by on the other side. It is, therefore, of incalculable importance that some writings should exist which should lead men imperceptibly into the ways of truth, which should insinuate themselves into the tastes, and blend themselves with the refinements of ordinary life, and perpetually recur to the cultivated mind with all that it admires, or loves, or venerates, in the world.
Nor let it be imagined that reflections such as these are not the appropriate theme of religious instruction—that they do not form the fit theme of Christian meditation. Whatever leads our minds habitually to the Author of the Universe ; whatever mingles the voice of nature with the revelation of the Gospel ; whatever teaches us to see, in