Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

wherein the characters, which they mean to represent in a favourable light, are drawn vastly more observant of the peculiarities of their religion.”* In a note, he observes that Richardson's writings constitute the only exception to his observations. Of all our writers of novels Fielding is generally allowed to have been one of the most discriminating in the characters he has drawn; to have known human nature in all her varying colours and evanescent shades; to have caught, with singular felicity, her fleeting robes; and to have given them to his reader with all the delicate tints of his pencil. His Tom Jones is well known to be the most distinguished of his productions. In that celebrated work, two Clergymen are brought upon the stage, and both of them are made to act such parts as determine their respective characters beyond the possibility of a doubt. The first that he intro. duces is Mr. Thwackum. He is represented as an excel. lent scholar, and in this one qualification all his excellencies are comprehended. He is a compound of pride, ill-nature, cruelty, injustice, covetousness, and ingratitude; and yet with all these he is represented as possessing a most devout attachment to religion. How a fellow so mean and base, could be devoutly attached to a religion so humble and so gentle as Christianity, of which disinterested benevolence, and a deep sensibility of favours conferred, are cardinal virtues, is a thing of no easy comprehension. He might, for any thing we know, have been a most devout Mohammedan, and the perfect image of his Prophet, with similar temper and dispositions, unsubdued and unbroken. But the disciple of the blessed

• Mr. Wilberforce's Practical View, &c. Chap. vi.

VOL. II.

2 Q

Jesus he never could be, till darkness and light, heaven and hell, the image of God and that of Satan, can be reconciled, and brought to meet in harmony. But we must not pass over, in silence, Thwackum's religious Creed. Of it, this is a leading article, that " The human mind, since the Fall, is nothing but a sink of iniquity, till purified and redeemed by grace.” In short, this wretch is set up as the representative of the Evangelical Clergy, and from his temper, disposition, and doctrines, they are to be portrayed and exposed to the detestation of the world. The doctrine of Original Sin is, certainly, a fundamental Article of their Creed; but few of them would express it by so gross a metaphor. In Mr. Fielding's sense of the word virtue, it will, however, be allowed that there have been, and that there are, many virtuous and amiable persons, who never were sanctified by the grace of God, and who with respect to their fellow men, are even meritorious characters, and entitled to the respect and gratitude of society. The most splendid actions of such men, the Evangelical Clergy will, indeed, while they admit their claim to the gratitude of their fellow creatures, deny to have any value in the sight of God, because they are not done from the principles which alone his word approves. They will deny, that God ever can be pleased by accident, or with those actions wbich were never done with a design to please him. They will insist that the love of God is not a branch, but the root of morality; and that where that is not, though men may gather and be benefited by the fruits, as these were never offered to God, they cannot be acceptable to him.

Mr. Thwackum is represented as highly offended by a position laid down by one of his pupils, - 'That there is no merit in Faith without works.” It was an unfortunate thing that Mr. Fielding should have introduced his fourteenth Book of the History of a Foundling, with an essay to prove that an author will write the better for having some knowledge of the subject on which he writes, without acting upon it in the present instance, and taking some pains to know, before he sat down to draw the portraiture of the Evangelical Clergy, what their sentiments really were. The ignorance he displays is so palpable, that on any other subject it would have exposed him to ridicule. Had he possessed the hundredth part of the knowledge of Christianity, that he had of the maxims of the world, he would have known that neither Faith without works, nor Faith with works, had any merit at all. As all men are sinners, they are by nature in a state of condemnation for their evil works, and as Bishop Sherlock well observes, it is absurd to inquire whether he who is already condemned for his evil works, can be justified by his good works. Even Faith, which is the principle of every good work, is the gift of God, and how that which is the gift of God can become the merit of man, even the abilities of Mr. Fielding were utterly. inadequate to illustrate. Mr. Fielding knew human nature, in almost every other shape and shade which she assumes, but had never traced her to that form in which the Divine pencil has drawn her. He indeed insinuates, that Mr. Thwackum was a hypocrite, and such he most certainly was; but the men of the world are always ready to rank in this class, all whose faith or whose virtue rises above their own. That among the professors, and even among the Ministers of Evangelical Religion, such hypocrites have sometimes been found, is an undeniable fact. But what is the chaff to the wheat ? Was it consistent with justice to represent the character of an individual, as the character of a species? Mr. Fielding has exposed

the rapacity and knavery of several gentlemen of the law; but he took care not to disgrace the profession, by introducing into his work some who were an ornament to it. Are the peculiar doctrines of Evangelical religion of such a kind as must necessarily contaminate the man who professes them? There were in Mr. Fielding's time, as there are now, Ministers of Evangelical religion, whose characters seldom or never were outshone, but by the Son of God while he dwelt with men upon the earth.

The other Clergyman is Mr. Supple, and the name well expresses his character. Besides the ridiculous and affected solemnity of his style, he is remarkable only for the patience with which he suffered his ears to be violated with the almost continual volleys of oaths and curses, discharged from the lips of a boisterous and brutal country Squire; at whose table he tamely heard such blasphemies, for the sake of pleasing his palate, and from the hope of obtaining a good living. From these honourable motives he submitted to the offices of an upper servant, without wearing the Squire's livery, and was sometimes sent on the most important business, to save the labours of a groom, or of a footman. “I have sent," said the Squire to Mr. Allworthy, when he invited that gentleman to dine with him at the Hercules' Pillars, in London, “ Parson Supple down to Basingstoke, after my tobaccobox, which I left at an inn there, and I would not lose it for the world, for it is an old acquaintance of about twenty years standing." Now, that Mr. Supple may have had his archetype in some Clergyman of the Church of England, is possible, though one would hope that such characters are not easily to be found, in any religious party in her communion.

But why are Thwackum and Supple exhibited as the portraits of the Clergy of the

Church of England? Are the Clergy composed only of hypocrites and spaniels? Mr. Thwackum's Creed is as well discriminated, as the author knew how to do it; but Mr. Supple's religious sentiments are so equivocal, and so little connexion has any thing that he either says or does, with the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, that if we did not know that the Christian Religion is established in England, we should be utterly at a loss to determine whether he were a priest of the Saviour of the world, of Mohammed, or of Juggernaut.

In another work, the History of Joseph Andrews, he has brought forward two other Clergymen to the observation of the world. In Parson Trulliber, he exposes to the derision and contempt of mankind, an arrant scoundrel, a hog-merchant, who during six days of the week follows the sty, and sinks himself in hoggism below the beasts he feeds, and tends, and takes to the market. On the Sabbath, he pollutes the pulpit and disgraces religion. Every day the savageness of his manners conspires with the vileness of his favourite employment, to. desecrate his character, and to disgust human nature. Of the eighteen thousand Clergymen which the Church is supposed to have in holy orders, we trust eighteen Trullibers cannot be found. It seems to have been Mr. Field. ing's deliberate purpose to vilify an order of men, invested with a public character; from the purity, or from the contamination of whose principles, lives, and manners, the most salutary, or the most pernicious consequences are sure to result to the community at large.

There yet remains a fourth clerical character, which he has delineated in the last mentioned work, under the name of Mr. Abraham Adams. He is represented as possessed of a large stock of classical learning; of an inexhaustible

« AnteriorContinuar »