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and the force to be given to each must necessarily be understood from the context furnished by the conversation in which they are used, or by the tone, manner, character, and style of the speaker, which are seldom to be mistaken by the person to whom they are addressed. In a world, necessarily of a thousand shades of opinion, it surely cannot be desirable, that in speaking of the faults or follies of others, we should restrict ourselves to the least qualifying mode of speech that we can frame, to suit our own particular ideas! Freethinking, gallantry, jollity," generally mean no more than the terms naturally import; and in the absence of the explanation of manner or emphasis above alluded to, I should understand no more by them, than that the person in question was supposed to differ from the speaker's or from the popular creed; that his manner was considered not sufficiently controlled in female society, or that he was either of a convivial disposition or easily excited by society or wine; all crimes, no doubt, much more venial in my estimation than in estimation than in yours, but yet the inadequacy of my opinion remains to be proved. "A libertine" is another sort of term; and how you make this out to be a diminutive, I do not understand. I should imagine even that it would sound incomparably stronger and more harshly in my mouth than in yours, as it probably would be
said upon much better, that is, much stronger grounds. As to the epithet "good," when coupled with the words "fellow or companion," barring the effect of particular emphasis, it is sufficiently explained by its adjunct, and it is mere idle cavilling to pretend not to understand its meaning. If I say, "a good man," I should expect, and should almost universally be understood to speak, of moral qualities; if I say, "good fellow," or "good companion," nobody, who understood English, would understand more than pleasant, agreeable, or instructive. "A good heart," is usually meant to imply a disposition generally free from rancour, malice, or uncharitableness, but no more; and that and "good nature" are not unfrequently used as a sort of tacit admission that we reluctantly give up the defence of the accused. I fear you are not correct though, about there being no qualifying terms for theft and fraud. 66 Taking a fair advant
age," making a perquisite, a harvest, a good thing,' doing, humbugging a man," and many more, are all terms used to express very different degrees of these offences'. We, Sir, suppose our acquaintance to be as well aware of the claims of
1 I feel that an apology is due to the reader for having said so much upon this subject; but a recent occurrence has impressed me with the necessity of a full explanation.
religion as ourselves, and should conceive it would be a needless impertinence in us to tell them, upon every occasion, how they or others, who may be the subjects of conversation, are infringing those claims. I really can see no good that could arise from it. You say, (p. 226), a man may go on in the frequent commission of known sins, and yet no inference be drawn respecting the absence of religious principle." This, Sir, is not true! The inference, as regards religious principle, would obtrude itself; we could not help drawing it, if we would. But what you probably mean is, that we do not punish it, at least, until it reaches to a certain extent. It is true we do not. We are living in a world where it is necessary, for general quiet and good order, that we should not require special conformity to our opinions, excepting in certain particulars. We do not even make profession of Christianity a requisite; we tolerate all alike that will conform to our general rules, and, by common consent, leave religion as a matter between man and God. A Jew, Mahommedan, or Atheist, may, as far as the term imports, be" a mighty worthy creature;" but a man who goes on in the frequent commission of known sins, provided the sins be known, would not acquire the title of a " very good Christian." You tell us, you read of "no little sins" in Scripture, and that the Sermon on the Mount is
much of it expressly pointed against " so dangerous a misconception '," (p. 226). As what? As that there are different degrees of guilt? If such is your interpretation, you really must excuse our adopting it. We believe that the laws of conduct imposed by God upon man, were imposed, not capriciously, but wholly and solely for the benefit of those who were to obey them, and that sins are consequently offensive to God in proportion as they have a tendency to be injurious to man. If this offends you, reverse it; it will come to the same thing.
Your doctrine, of being guilty of the whole law by infringing the slightest particle, is just calculated to drive us to that very state of reckless desperation, from which Christianity was designed to save us. If a man hangs over the precipice only by a single hair, he will look upon his condition as hopeless if it is to be broken, as broken it must be, it will little matter to him by what weight of guilt the destruction is to be effected. But if his support be a rope of many strands, he will have hope of preserving it, and jealously watch its fraying. Your accusation, so plainly repeated here, of our having a different scale of morals for the
1 Is it the text, "Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven," that Mr. Wilberforce alludes to ?
higher and lower classes, (p. 226), is both unjust and untrue. We make no such distinction more than you do. If you mean the insinuation to apply to the restraints imposed by human laws operating more against one class than against the other, where the moral and religious guilt are equal, I answer, that the result is not our fault, but one that flows unavoidably from the nature of the case, as in the instance above mentioned, of the strong and the weak. The laws, in fact, judge not the moral and religious criminality, but the consequences of the act; and if you would contend, that because they cannot prevent all, that therefore they should prevent none, that all might have an equal degree of liberty, your argument is little to the cause you seek to advocate. You differ from the democratic declaimers of the day, only in being a dupe; they urging the argument for an object which would be answered did they succeed; you, for an object that would be annihilated by your success. But, Sir, to what purpose all this wild declamation against us? At least, if you find so much fault, you should propose a remedy. We must live in this week-day world such as we find it, and do our best in it, or we must withdraw from it.
us do? Is every one who
Which would you have calls himself a Christian,
and who would be more than nominal, bound to