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Literary Life of the Rev. William Harness
Chapter VIII.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
‣ Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
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It will be unnecessary to inform the reader who has perused the foregoing chapters that Mr. Harness was, in every sense, a clergyman of the old school. He took a pride in being so, and as he advanced in life his character became more marked in this respect. It must be remembered that he had lived in times widely different from the present, and had known the day when he incurred the charge of affectation for not powdering his hair like his brother clergymen. He was then regarded as somewhat in advance of his age; but he still retained a great suspicion of novelties, and was doubtful whether changes would be found generally advantageous. His deportment was in every respect in unison with his sentiments. No one could be in his
company without observing the neatness of his attire, the precision of his language, and the studious politeness of his manner. He was an admirable specimen of the past age, and deplored the careless dress, the ‘fast’ conversation, and the broad opinions of the rising generation. “There seems to be some truth,” he would say, “in what I have heard among my contemporaries, that there are no gentlemen like the old gentlemen.” In politics, Mr. Harness belonged to the old ‘Church and King’ school—a staunch conservative; but if not professedly ‘liberal’ in principle he was always practically generous; and that he held enlightened views may be inferred from the following passages:—

“The Gospel naturally directs to equal rule and liberal government. It opposes a permanent resistance to every species of tyranny and injustice; it operates with a steady, even, and continued agency for the amelioration of the condition of mankind. It is the good seed which the Lord has sown; and it will inevitably arise in majesty and spread its protecting branches over us, if, with faith in the wisdom and devout reliance on the Providence of God, we will allow it to grow up and flourish beneath the genial influence of Heaven, and not destroy the promise of its blossoms by endeavours to anticipate the fruit.”

“Savage and barbarous life is not an unmixed
evil; civil and orderly life is not an unmixed good. And it most unfortunately happens that the evils of civil and orderly life always seem to bear, with the full oppression of their weight, on that most numerous class among whom its good is least immediately perceptible. The benefits which result from the existence of an established government, and from the due subordination of the different classes of society, are very distinctly seen by those who enjoy (under such a state of things) the security of their property, and the possession of all the luxuries and comforts which such security affords. But the wisdom of such a system is by no means so self-evident to the humbler and poorer many. The meditative mind, indeed, may trace its kindly influence from the heart to the extremities of society, and discover that, as there is no part uncherished by the support which it diffuses, neither is there any part (however abject or remote) that would not be injured by its abolition. This is a truth—but it is an obscure truth. The good which the poor and labouring class derive from the institutions of civil life approaches them by such circuitous and complicated channels that none but an educated eye can follow it through all its windings, and track it upwards to its source. Doubtless, the poor would be sufferers from the miseries of anarchy; doubtless, they have a vital interest in the security of govern-
ment and the inviolability of the laws; but the portion of that general benefit which descends to them appears so small, in comparison with that which is afforded their superiors, and sheds so cold a comfort around their destitute and narrow homes, that they may well be pardoned if they sometimes fail to perceive in what manner their welfare can be connected with the orderly and tranquil subsistence of institutions which secure to their masters the enjoyment of ease, wealth, and power, and seem to leave nothing for them but an unwelcome residue of indigence, labour, and privations.”

“Exactly in proportion as property is secure, civilization advances: exactly in proportion as property is insecure, civilization declines. ‘Righteousness,’ says Solomon, ‘exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” As governments are oppressive, as laws are partially administered, as the dealings between man and man become more mingled with falsehood or attainted by fraud, as rapine and violence are allowed to escape unpunished—the fair fruits of art and science, of sound learning and liberal opinion, of gentle manners and mild affections, perish gradually away, and give place to all the evil progeny which are engendered of malignant passions, narrow-minded bigotry, and all-grasping selfishness.”

Mr. Harness very seldom touched upon politics in
his public ministry; he wished to remove as far as possible all party feeling from the worship of God. Alluding to his conduct in this respect, he observes: “I have purposely avoided all allusion to subjects of a mere temporal nature. The passing interests of the day—the dissensions of politicians—the occurrences which engage and disturb society, have found no reverberating echoes here. My desire has been that when we were met together for our brief Sabbath hour, that hour should be one of calm and peace, shedding over the soul the purifying rest of Sabbath feelings; an hour snatched from the ordinary cares, thoughts, and business of the world, and saved from the turmoil of those factions and feuds, competitions and enmities, which tumultuously rage without the wall of this ‘house of prayer,’ like the angry waves of the deluge about the Ark. On the same principle, we have never perplexed ourselves, here, with the disputes of the religious parties of the day. Without ever shrinking from the full and distinct avowal of my own views, which, I trust, are alike supported by the authority of Scripture and the Church, I have abstained from disturbing your minds with the discussion of the views of those who differ from us. I have studiously avoided stimulating your animosities against any class of your brother Christians, either by denunciations of the Roman Catholics, or attacks on the Calvinists, or
anathemas against the Tractarians. I have shunned such topics, because they tend to produce malignity, and not charity; because the preaching against others is virtually an exalting of ourselves, and I know whom it is the Lord delighteth to abase; because every error of opinion among the disciples of the Gospel is combined with a certain degree of truth derived from the Gospel, and it requires far greater nicety of discrimination than the brief and hasty notices of the pulpit will allow to escape the danger of treading down the wheat of truth, while attempting to eradicate the tares of error; and because every year I live, my conviction becomes stronger that ‘piety never begins till controversy ends.’ My only object has been to concentrate your attention on the great essential doctrines of Christianity, and so to bring them to bear on your consciences as to secure their practical influence on your duty towards God and man. Apart from all exciting arguments—all declamatory appeals to the passions—all startling paradoxes which are gradually resolved by the alchemy of rhetoric into axiomatic truths—all subtle theological disquisitions—and all ingenious and novel but very questionable interpretations of Scripture, I have been content to tread the level ground offered by the common themes of pastoral instruction, without regarding the imputation of being considered common-place; for I have
always felt that my office here is not to teach divinity, as a science, to the learned few, but religion to the ignorant many, as presenting the highest objects of human hopes, and the noblest and purest motives of human conduct.”

But there were occasions on which he deemed it culpable that a Minister of the Gospel should hold his peace. Under such pressure he felt it his duty to express his opinion in firm and uncompromising terms, and boldly condemned the temporizing policy of expediency.

“Either the information flowing in upon us day by day, and from different quarters, must be subject to a strange perversion, or there are delinquencies attaching to the Indian Government and to the English sojourners in India, which alone may be accounted as sufficient to invite the wrath of the Almighty against them; delinquencies, not only of such a description as could never have occurred, had the great body of our countrymen in the East been duly sensible of the responsibility of their position as Christian men among heathen people, but such as were sure, according to those ordinary counsels of Divine Providence which are revealed to us in the Bible, to expose and lay them bare to the wrath of God. I refer to no mere temporal transactions; I ignore all allusion to their civil oppressions—their heavy exactions—their deadly opium trade—their
grasping avarice—their questionable annexations; I speak simply of their conduct as members of the Church of Christ, and with reference to the Gospel of Christ. Has their influence been righteously employed for the diminution of Heathenism among the people? Has it not been employed in a contrary direction? And has not Idolatry of the grossest description been sustained, in decided opposition to God’s commandments, by the fostering smiles and cheering patronage of the authorities? It is one thing to abstain from attacking a false religion with violence, and another to pay homage to it; but unless the information of competent authorities deceives us, we have, by our conduct, been inducing the belief that religious error and religious truth are matters of indifference—that Idolatry is no vain thing—and that we, who are worshippers of Jehovah, may, at any time, and with impunity, be allowed to mingle our devotions with the votaries of Baal and Moloch.”

Again, with reference to our Home legislation, he observes:—

“Look to the great councils of the nation! What is the operation of faith there? Where do you find among the members who form them the pure, the righteous, the holy principles of the Gospel referred to, with the view of discovering what God’s Word really does direct, that that
Word may be taken as their guide, and strictly followed out in their acts of legislation? No. It is cited as if they believed in it; a courteous obeisance of respect is made to it in passing; but passed by it is; and while they acknowledge its divine authority with their lips, they repudiate its divine authority by their practice. I would cite, in proof of this statement, the bent of modern legislation to relax the restraints which our Christian forefathers have placed upon the passions, as evinced in the Divorce Bill, and in the repeated attempts to authorize a man’s marriage with his wife’s sister. In the first of these bills, the legislation is directly opposed to God’s Word; in the second, it is, to say the least, but little accordant with the spirit of God’s law. Christian faith, if it really and influentially possessed the hearts of our legislators, would direct them to an opposite course. It would prompt them to strengthen, and not to weaken, the marriage tie—to extend, and not to contract, the circle of pure affections about the hearth.”

Directing his views by the light of God’s Word alone, he alternately reprobated the irreligious conduct both of rulers and people. Some good remarks on the fluctuations of public opinion are contained in the following passage:

“If it were allowed us to form our notions of
the Divine Government from what we see going on in the world around us, we might be led to believe that any course of conduct, however vicious, if followed by the majority of a nation, must necessarily pass unpunished. As far as this world is concerned we know that all things are ultimately governed by opinion—that the opinion which governs is the opinion of the many—that the opinion of the many, like every other earthly thing, is liable to incessant mutation—that if, in one age, Religion and Virtue be sustained by the suffrages of the people, in another, ungodliness and vice may, under the same powerful auspices, become ascendant—and that when evil, sanctioned by the sentiments and habits of the multitude, thus stands omnipotent in the support of public opinion, any human monarch who might attempt to restrain it by laws or subject it to penalties, would as much exert himself in vain as if he tried to control the violence of the winds or to regulate the rush and swell of the ocean.

“But is such the case with the Government of God? Is His authority liable to be controlled or swayed by any such external influences? Can the fluctuations of human opinion affect the measures of His dominion? No. The most mighty Lord of Heaven and Earth holds in His own wisdom the certain invariable principles of moral good and evil.
And, in accordance with those principles, the reward and punishment of His justice will inevitably be determined. All other things may change; God is immutable.”

From a due appreciation of the weakness and instability of human nature, Mr. Harness considered it of importance that the Church should be supported by the State:*

“Although State aid was necessary, in the dark days of barbarism, it is presumed that no such help is required in our present times of light and civilization—that Christianity may now be safely left to find its level without the superintending care of Government—and that, as with every other essentials to the welfare of human life, the want would create the demand, and the demand would secure the supply. Nothing can be more erroneous than such a supposition. It is founded on a fallacy altogether. There is not only no analogy between the cases; but, as Dr. Chalmers admirably demonstrated in his evidence before the Irish Committee, there is the most direct opposition between them. With regard

* In late years, speaking of the Bill for the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, he observed how great were the disadvantages of the Voluntary system. A clergyman under it must preach what the people wish to hear. “A Dissenting congregation,” he added, “lately dismissed their minister, on the ground that no man could make a living if he acted on the principles which he advocated!”

to all other things that are necessary to our happiness, the demand increases in proportion to the want, and consequently the supply may be safely entrusted to the operation of ordinary causes, without requiring the interference of the legislator to stimulate or assist their action; but with Religion, on the contrary, the demand always diminishes in proportion to the want, and the greater the state of spiritual destitution, the greater need there is for the interposition of some extraordinary means to induce the apprehension of it.”

On the subject of Education, Mr. Harness did not take such wide views as are in favour at the present day. He was entirely opposed to those visionary theorists who think that all classes should receive instruction in the higher branches of literature and science. “People,” he said “should be educated according to their station;” and reading, writing, and arithmetic were all that he considered necessary for the National Schools, with the exception of religious training, and such instruction in industrial work as might be of use to the children in after-life. “I cannot help thinking that such instruction is sufficient. I cannot perceive the wisdom of attempting to teach more. It is certainly just and right—kind to the individual and advantageous to the public—that every man endowed with extraordinary talents, such as Sir Richard
Arkwright or Professor Lee, should, however humble his condition, be afforded the educational means of raising himself above it. To effect this, if he be imbued with sound Christian principles as his guide, reading and writing—the ability of collecting the ideas of others and imparting his own—are quite enough; while, with regard to the great mass of the population, which must always consist of persons endowed with ordinary talents, it is a subject of grave doubt whether a wider range of instruction should be provided for them by public or charitable sources. Education above a man’s condition, implies wants above his wages; and when those wants exist without the natural capacity which may be required to raise his condition to their level, they only too frequently become the origin of a painful but ineffective hankering after something better—a restless impatience of labour—an undefined sense of injury, and a resentful feeling of envy against all persons of a superior position.

“But crime, misery, and drunkenness are on the increase; and it is presumed that ignorance lies at the root of all this evil. Ignorance of what? If it be said, virtual ignorance of the faith, then we are agreed. That sort of ignorance does lie at the root of all this evil. But if it be asserted that the moral mischief follows as the consequence of ignorance of secular knowledge, the proposition is refuted by
the facts which are, day by day, taking place before our eyes. Are the fraudulent offences, of which we have lately witnessed such oft-recurring and ingenious instances, to be attributed to ignorance in secular knowledge? Does the licentiousness by which so many fair-looking streets of the Metropolis are rendered disreputable, emanate from ignorance in secular knowledge? There is undoubtedly a class of violent crimes and an immense amount of misery which ensue from drunkenness; and that may be a reason why the drunkard should be rigorously punished; but I have yet to learn that the great mass of drunkards have become the degraded things they are, on account of their being less well-informed than others of their own rank. On the contrary, as far as my own experience of the class will enable me to judge, they would appear to be chiefly composed of persons who are somewhat better educated than the poor generally are—who have a taste for the conversation, the music, the gaming, the politics, the conviviality of the tavern—who from the force of such allurements have been led to neglect their business, till they were alike bankrupt of capital and character—and who, having once given way to dissolute habits, have gravitated from lower and lower, to the lowest depths of wretchedness, under the depressing weight of their vices.”


“But it has been assumed that all such characters must of necessity be ignorant, and that if they had possessed some branch of knowledge to occupy their minds, they would never have fallen into such a state of degradation. ‘Impart to them,’ it is said, ‘the rudiments of Science and Art in childhood, and provide for them the means of intellectual amusement in their manhood, and they will be drawn away by such attractions from the present haunts of their drunkenness and gaming and impurity.’ Will they? Do we find this to be the case among the dissolute of our own station? Are they only lost in sin because they have not an ear for music or an eye for colour? Are they only fraudulent and licentious because they have not been so deeply imbued with secular learning as their compeers? Is it a property of our nature to extinguish the stronger excitement by the weaker? No; depend upon it, the scientific lecture, the reading-room, will avail nothing in effecting the reformation of that vicious portion of society for whom their attractions are prepared.”

Mr. Harness thought that the advantages to be derived from intellectual endowments were erroneously estimated. “Nothing,” he says, “is so common as to hear persons dilate in society on the humanizing influences of painting and statuary, of music and poetry, and recommend the encourage-
ment of a taste for these things as a means of elevating and refining the public mind, But by what intelligible process is this effected? In what manner do they act upon each other? It is possible—and I think it is so—that persons born with that peculiar temperament which is called genius, and by which they are rendered easily impressible by works of Art, appear to be distinguished above their fellows by a rare tenderness and instinctive delicacy of nature. It is a perilous gift to them. Their sensibility to pain is more than an equivalent to their susceptibility of pleasure; and we may fairly doubt whether the few by whom it is possessed ought to be allowed more than a very limited indulgence of their taste for the things that they delight in. Its gratification only serves to soften a character which requires to be annealed—to excite feelings which ought to be repressed—to encourage visions of happiness which can never be realized—to cherish affections which never can be reciprocated—and to prepare the heart for the reception of sorrows which can never be consoled. How far it may, or may not, be desirable, in this hard, struggling, working-day world of ours, to have that kind of character more generally diffused among us, I leave for others to decide. I am quite sure that it cannot be good to induce an affectation of its qualities; and I am equally sure that their reality will never be created
by any attempt of ours to cultivate an exotic taste for the productions of Art in the minds of the people. Such things do not modify the national character; the national character modifies them. This is seen by the differences by which the different schools of Art are distinguished. The Dutch or the Italian masters took their models from the objects before their eyes; and both one and the other seem to have left their countrymen pretty much what they had found them. Indeed, to suppose that the higher moral sensibilities of genius can be engendered in souls of a coarser nature by imparting to them a critical appreciation of pictures and statues, and music and poetry, involves, to my mind, as gross a metaphysical absurdity as if we should expect to awaken a grateful sense of melody in the deaf by teaching them harmonies—or to impart a feeling for the beauties of nature in the blind by making them acquainted with the rules of perspective. Pleasure in works of art, all men take; because, perhaps, we are of an imitative nature, and are intuitively pleased by witnessing efforts of successful imitation. But the pleasure will only be produced by such efforts as accord with the state of our character and the habits of our lives.”

“Many horrors were perpetrated in the most enlightened period of the Heathen world. The progress of the arts and sciences did nothing for religion.
It enabled the idolater to erect more splendid temples, to carve larger and finer statues, to overlay them curiously with ivory, to invent more ornamental rites, to weave more graceful dances, and to breathe more refined and complicated harmonies around the shrines of his visionary deities; but it did no more. This was all that the March of Intellect, in classic times, ever effected for national religion.”

The advocates of unsectarian education found no favour with Mr. Harness. He did not believe that, even if such a system could be practically carried out, it would really tend to the benefit of the community. “Secular instruction,” he writes, “worketh, with other things, for good when it is combined with Religion; but separated from Religion, it is a mere accident whether it have a good, or an evil, or any influence at all on the formation of moral character. Yet, as I have said, an opinion is gaining ground among, a certain class of philanthropists, that, as Religion cannot be taught, on account of our sectarian differences, the Government should produce some measure for the establishment of common schools in which—Religion being excluded—the teaching might be confined to such secular matters as we are all perfectly agreed upon. Now, this scheme, if it is ever brought to bear, must prove injurious to Christian faith. Such a measure—what-
ever may be the preamble of the Bill—would have the effect of placing the knowledge of God’s Word and Law in a secondary position. The multitude would infer that what the State refrained from teaching must needs be of very inferior consequence to that which it undertakes to teach; and the result would be a gradual diminution and final loss of reverence for the Gospel.

“Nothing can sound more innocent than the proposition of assembling the children of all denominations in a common school-room, to be taught literature and science. But the common school-room involves a common school-master; and of what religion is that master to be? Is he to be of no religion? or of no particular religion? or of what religion? I know not how the Vicar of Leeds* may feel upon the matter; but, for myself, no amount of literary or scientific attainments would induce me to entrust any child in whom I was interested, during six hours a day for six days in the week, within the contagious sphere of the principles of a master who either held extreme Calvinistic views or who denied the divinity of our Lord. Others would act the same—and properly too, if they felt the same—towards a master who maintained the doctrines of the Roman or of the English Churches. But we are told that a man is

* Dr. Hook had published a letter on the subject.

not to teach Religion! Why, he can’t help teaching it! If he have any religious opinions they will inevitably evince themselves; and if he be of no religion, it will have an influence on his instructions.

“Why, ever since the first dawn of the Reformation, the characters who occupy the principal places in our annals bear a different hue to every class of religionists among us. According to the bias of one sect, the chief promoters of the Reformation are regarded either as ministers of Satan or of God. Anne Bullen is either an incestuous adultress, the wily instigator of the ruin of ‘Wolsey and the murder of Sir Thomas More; or she is the loveliest and the gayest, the most artless and the most innocent of victims! Queen Mary the First is either a patriot queen, acting justly and firmly, but not more severely than the spirit of her age allowed, in opposition to the attacks of a band of rebellious fanatics; or she is a benighted and unrelenting bigot, rejoicing in the persecution and polluted with the blood of the Saints! Now, these contradictory historical opinions are inseparably amalgamated. To every High Churchman, Charles the First is the last, and not the least revered, of Anglican Martyrs; to the whole body of Dissenters, he is the most subtle and impracticable of hypocrites.”

Again, he remarks: “If schools of such an un-
sanctified description as some desire to see, be raised and continued, it is to be apprehended that ‘when the Son of Man cometh’ He will not ‘find faith on the earth.’ Such a fearful consequence may be inferred from an experiment of nineteen years which has been tried in the United States of America. There, they have a general education on this plan. They have tried the effect of such common schools for worldly literature and art and science, but without religion; and I will cite a few passages from a considerable number of authorities at my command, which will enable you to form some notion of its results. The opinions I am about to adduce were all delivered by citizens of the United States, not by clergymen who might be suspected of taking a prejudiced view of the question, but by laymen to whom no such suspicion can attach.

“‘The persons,’ says one, ‘who, in former years were zealous in maturing our common school system have begun to open their eyes. They stand aghast at their own work, fearing that, instead of cherishing a lamb, they have been training up a wolf.’ ‘I know,’ says another, ‘thirteen young men who came from one school, and every one of them has rushed headlong to destruction.’ ‘I do not affirm,’ says another, ‘that education causes crime; I only affirm that the two are co-existing facts, and that
the system of common school education is attended with an increase of crime, because it is the education of only one side of human nature, and that not the controlling side. Man’s moral and religious nature constitutes his other and better but undeveloped self.’ ‘The common school system,’ says another, ‘is proving a disastrous failure. From its first establishment to the present time it has been injurious to the character of the rising generation. The patrons of the system forgot that educated mind, without religion, is educated vice; and that mind can only be stimulated to seek its improvement by something higher, deeper, and more earnest than itself. Now they are reminded of it by the failure of the experiment.’”

“My plan,” continues Mr. Harness, “a plan which has been floating in my mind for years and been often discussed among my friends, is simply this. The Government, insisting on its right, as rulers of a Christian nation, to see the people abundantly provided with the facilities of education and religious worship, should institute a permanent rate on all dwelling-houses, payable by the landlord, for building educational and religious edifices in populous places, and for supplying them with efficient ministers and masters. On paying the rate, the ratepayer should intimate whether his quota should contribute to the fund of the Church of
England, the Roman Catholics, or the Dissenters.” 
Mr. Harness had observed in his own parishes the happy results of religious education, not only upon the children, bub also upon their parents. He alludes to them as follows:—

“‘Truly do I thank my God,’ said a mother, whose children had been educated at one of the National Schools, ‘truly do I thank my God for the instruction which my children have received.’ And hear her reason! Before her children were admitted to the school, she and her husband never attended any place of worship and were almost ignorant of God. After the elder daughter had been there some time, she said to her mother, ‘Mother, you never go either to church or chapel; why do you not go?’ She was so struck with this, and at her being taught in this manner by her child that from that time she has constantly attended Divine Service; and the united examples of the mother and the children have not been lost upon the father.

“Another instance is yet more strong. It relates to a father—a loose, disorderly, profligate kind of man, who spent much of his time and money in low excesses, and had reduced his wife and child to a state of the most abject and starving poverty. One Sunday afternoon, the intoxicated father had been swearing much, when his child told him that, from
what she had learnt at school, she knew such conduct to be extremely wicked. The father made no reply at the time; but on the Monday morning his wife was surprised to see him go out and procure food for his family; and so strong was the influence of his child’s reproof, that he has been from that hour a reformed and altered being—a sober, quiet, and industrious man, a good husband, and a good father.”