Sivut kuvina

subjects, labour under a peculiar inconvenience, not shared by any others of that class. For if the mass of men are inaccurate and capricious in their mode of employing the abstruse portion of language, they entertain too often, in what relates to religion, certain capital errors—errors which ordinarily possess the force and activity of virulent prejudices, and which impart to their modes of speaking, not indistinctness indeed, but the vivid and positive colours of a strong delusion.

It is not the small minority of persons soundly informed in matters of religion, that gives law to the language of a country ;-or even if it did, this class is not generally qualified, by habits or education, to fix and authenticate a philosophical nomenclature. From these peculiar disadvantages it inevitably follows that when, by giving attention to facts, we have obtained precise notions on subjects of this sort, or at least have approximated to truth, it will be found impracticable to adjust the result of our inquiries to the popular and established sense of any of the terms which may offer themselves to our option. The mass of mankind; besides their backwardness always to exchange a loose and vague, for a definite and restricted notion, do not fail to descry, in any definition that is at once philosophical and religious, some cause of offence.The new-sharpened phrase is felt to have an edge that wounds inveterate prejudice, and rankles in the heart; and the writer who is seen to be thus whetting afresh his words, is deemed to entertain a hostile purpose, and is met with a correspondent hostility. Nor is much more favour to be looked for from the religious classes who, always alarmed at the slightest change in venerable modes of speech, will scent a heresy in every such definition.

If then new terms are not to be created (a procedure always undesirable) and if the intolerable inconvenience of a ponderous periphrasis is also to be avoided, the best that can be done, amid so many difficulties, is to select a phrase which, more nearly than any other (of those commonly in use) conveys the notion we have obtained; and then to append a caution, explicit or implied, against the misunderstandings to which the writer, from the peculiar circumstances of the case, is exposed.

In the instance of every term connected with religious principles or modes of feeling, there must of course be admitted a far wider departure from the etymological or ancient, than from the modern and popular sense they bear. If the recent and vulgar meaning of such phrases be incorrect, or delusive, how much more so must be the remote and original meaning !Whither does the etymon carry us, but to altogether a foreign region of thought ? In matters of religion a revolution has taken place, upon all lettered nations, which, while it leaves

human nature the same, has imparted a new substance, a new form, and a new relative position, to every notion that respects Invisible Power, and human conduct.

Preposterous therefore would be the pedantry of a writer who, in discoursing, for example, of Superstition, or Enthusiasm, should confine himself to such a definition of those terms as might comport with the sense they bore, centuries ago, in the minds of Lucian, Plutarch, Epictetus, or Aristotle! Even many of the less fluctuating ethical abstractions have dropped almost the whole of their primeval significance in the course of ages. Is Justice, in the sense of an Athenian populace, or in the sense of the “ Senate and People of Rome,” the justice either of English law, or of English opinion ? Has the Virtue of Sparta much analogy with the virtue of Christian ethics? Where, in modern times (except indeed among the slave-holders of republican America) where shall we find a meaning of the word Liberty which has even a remote resemblance to the sense attached to it by the ferocious lords of miserable Lacedæmonian helots ?

The passions of man are permanent; but the difference between polytheism and true theology -how much soever true theology may in any instance be encumbered or obscured, is so vast, as to leave nothing that belongs to the circle of religious emotion unchanged.

Thus it is that the Fanatic of the Grecian and Roman writers is hardly, if at all, to be recognized as predecessor of the Fanatic of Christendom; and although, for purposes of illustration, or of mere curiosity, we may hereafter glance (once and again) at some of the ancient and long-obsolete forms of religious extravagance, it is with the modern species (practical inferences being our prime object) that we shall, in the following pages, chiefly be conversant.

In a former instance (Natural History of Enthusiasm) the author was not insensible of the disadvantage he laboured under in adopting a phrase which perhaps more than any other (the one he has now to do with excepted) is employed in every imaginable diversity of meaning, and to which, in truth, every man, as he utters it, assigns a sense that reflects his personal rate of feeling in matters of religion. One man's Enthusiasm being only another man's Sobriety. Before such diversities can be harmonised not only must mankind be taught to think with precision, but must come also to an agreement on the great principles of piety.

Discordances, still more extreme, belong to the popular senses of the word FANATICISM ; for inasmuch as it takes up a more pungent element than the term Enthusiasm, it commonly draws some special emphasis from the virulence or prejudices of the mouth whence it issues :--the word is the favourite missile of that opprobrious contempt wherewith Irreligion defends itself in its difficult position; and it is hurled often with the indiscriminate vehemence that belongs to infuriate fear. The sense attached to a term when so employed must of course differ immensely from that which it bears in the mind of the dispassionate observer of mankind, and especially of one who takes up the truths of Christianity as the best and most certain clew to the philosophy of human nature.

Once for all then, the author requests the reader to remember that he is not professing to be either lexicographer or scholastic disputant; nor does he assume it as any part of his business to adjust the nice proprieties of language; but aims rather, on a very important subject, to make himself understood, while he describes a certain class of pernicious sentiments, which too often have been combined with religious belief. In another volume spurious and imaginative religious emotions were spoken of: our present task is to describe the various combinations of THE SAME SPURIOUS PIETISM with the MALIGN PASSIONS.

After quite rejecting from our account that opprobrious sense of the word Fanaticism which the virulent calumniator of religion and of the religious assigns to it, it will be found, as we believe, that the elementary idea attaching to the term in its manifold applications, is that of fictitious fervour in religion, rendered turbulent,

« EdellinenJatka »