The Controversy on important Theological Questions, between the Eclectic Review, the Rev. Newman Hall, and fifteen other Ministers on the one side, and Mr. J. Grant, Editor of The Morning Advertiser, on the other (by W.H. Collingridge, 1856).
We have never seen a more curious illustration of the character of one of the greatest social nuisances of the age than is afforded by the pamphlet before us. We live under a religious tyranny of the most degrading and unscrupulous description; for it is exercised chiefly, though not exclusively, by anonymous writers, who—too often successfully—attempt to obtain by the basest arts of flattery, falsehood, and intimidation, that influence from which their stupidity and insignificance would otherwise debar them. We have already described the malignant virulence with which one great party in the Church of England is tyrannized over by a paper by which it most unwisely allows itself to be caricatured. We take the opportunity which Mr. Grant's publication affords, of calling attention to the fact that the Dissenting bodies live under a similar and, if possible, a still more degrading bondage. The political character of the Morning Advertiser is pretty extensively known. It forms the most marked exception to the general improvement which of late years has come over the tone of the daily press. In its columns may still be found the rabid ferocity, the callousness to honourable feeling, the reckless propagation of absurd accusations, which in former times too often characterized newspaper writers; and, not content with doing its utmost for the cause of strife upon earth and ill will amongst men, it has for some time been—to use the slang of its worthy coadjutor, the Record—“hearing a faithful testimony" upon religious matters. In other words, it has devoted a certain part of its space to denouncing men whose opinions it is utterly unable to understand, and to enforcing, as far as its influence extends, conformity with a certain narrow, ill-understood tradition which it calls orthodoxy. Unhappily there is amongst us so much self-conceit, so much shallow bigotry, so much inclination to denounce our neighbours for not seeming to agree with us upon matters which neither side understands, that such writers are sure not to want readers. It therefore becomes matter of no small importance to show the public the character of those blind guides whom they so submissively follow. This is our reason for calling attention to the dispute which the pamphlet before us records.
Some time ago, a Mr. Lynch, a Dissenting minister, published a book called The Rivulet, a Contribution to Sacred Song, which was denounced by the Morning Advertiser as "spiritually dead and dreary," and as not containing “one particle of vital religion or evangelical piety.” The Eclectic Review, on the other hand, called The Rivulet “a charming volume,” calculated to “refresh and delight the heart of the Christian." Here, under ordinary circumstances, one would have supposed the matter might rest. The one critic thought the book good, and the other thought it bad, and in any ordinary case each might have rested satisfied with his own opinion; but this is not the way in which “ Christian reviewing" is carried on.
The Morning Advertiser published an article on the Eclectic Review, accusing it of “adopting and endorsing the cold, cheerless theology of Germany"—on the ground that it did not agree with the Morning Advertiser in the opinion that the absence from a volume of hymns of certain explicit doctrinal statements roved the book to be heretical. With characteristic taste and feeling, it went on to inform its readers that “ a change as to editorship and proprietorship had taken place in the Eclectic Review, and it warned that journal that, “unless it did something to neutralize the mischief which this review was calculate to produce, all confidence in its criticisms, so far as relates to theology, would be destroyed, and with the loss of confidence there must needs follow a loss of circulation.” Nothing can illustrate the character of the religious tyranny to which we have referred more curiously than the manner in which the Eclectic Review treated this piece of low and coarse insolence. Instead of treating the beery controversialist with the contempt which he deserved, the editor wrote to his critic, the very day after the publication of the article, a most penitential letter, stating that Mr. Lynch’s book had been “ put into the hands of a friend,” whom, “from several believer"—that he and is friend both felt it “abhorrent to their hearts and minds to endorse the cold, cheerless theology of Germany”—and that “in the forthcoming number there would appear articles," in particular, one “on German Protestantism, written by men whose names would afford the most ample guarantee for the theological character of the review.” This timidity produced its natural result, in the shape of a notice by the Editor of the Morning Advertiser, in which, with all the impudent swagger natural to a “religious” bully, he remarked—"We would advise the Editor of the Eclectic Review to publish, as a postscript, in the February number, an explicit and decide repudiation of all sympathy with the incriminated article, accompanied with an expression of regret that it should have found its way into the columns of is journal." Otherwise “we feel assured that the Eclectic Review will be a heavy sufferer in circulation as well as in character." This produced a somewhat indignant retort in the following number of the Eclectic, which was followed in the March number by a sort of testimonial, signed by Mr. Newman Hall, an fifteen other Dissenting ministers, who reprobated in strong terms the manner in which the Morning Advertiser had treated Mr. Lynch. They expressed their conviction that though, as was surely natural enough in a volume of Hymns for the Heart and Voice, the book did not contain “didactic theological statements," it nevertheless afforded evidence of the fact that the writer was a man of “earnest piety,” and of “eminently Christian experience.” The necessity of such a protest is not very obvious to the lay understanding. We should have thought that no human being whose opinion was worth having would have cared for the circumstance that a scurrilous paper had made a characteristically scurrilous remark upon a subject of which it would seem to be utterly ignorant, both theoretically and experimentally. It is a striking proof of the existence of the tyranny of which we complain, that these sixteen reverend gentlemen thought otherwise.
The treatment which the "protesters" received at the hands of the Morning Advertiser throws a curious light on the character of their antagonist. The issue between them was narrow. The sixteen ministers affirmed that the Morning Advertiser had treated Mr. Lynch unfairly, in drawing, from the admitted fact that his hymns contained no explicit dogmatic statement of three specified doctrines, the inference that they were destitute of all Christian characteristics—which inference Mr. Grant maintained to be legitimate. Such a controversy one would have supposed might have been conducted with logic, or at any rate with temper; but Mr. Grant seems quite incapable of either. Of his logic is it will be enough to say that his argument is suicidal. He asserts again and again that there is nothing in the hymns in question which a Unitarian might not join in; and he maintains that the statement of a Unitarian, that there is nothing in the book which he could not use, is “conclusive upon the whole subject." Inasmuch as there is nothing in the Bible itself of which Unitarians would not say the same, this would put the Bible in the very same category with the hymns in question. Yet Mr. Grant has the astonishing impudence and ignorance to say that he "will not be put off by implied evidence that Mr. Lynch holds” the doctrines in question; for “the Scriptures do not deal in implied teachings on these” doctrines, all of which are therein “emphatically and dogmatically taught”—as if the world had not been debating on the import of the Biblical teaching respecting these subjects long before Mr. Grant became the oracle of a single beer-house, and would not continue to do so long after he has ceased to excite the fuddled polemics of a single taproom. Of the style and temper in which the controversy is conducted, we will leave our readers to judge from a few specimens. Here is a description of Mr. Grant's antagonists. We call particular attention to the foot-note, to the paltry personal spite of the whole passage, and to the characteristic threat of personal consequences with which the passage closes:—
‘Several of the Rev. Gentlemen, whose names appear at the foot of this “Protest" against our criticisms, are known to have unsound views on some important religious points. One rejects entirely the second chapter of the Second Epistle of Peter, which he regards as an interpolation; another is known only for his strenuous and consistent opposition to the doctrine of eternal punishments; a third, when on the Continent, some few years ago, went duly through the forms of worship in a Popish cathedral, with as much seeming sympathy with the modes of devotion practised there, as if he had been one of the most zealous of Roman Catholics; and since his return he has been suspected, because of his intimate associations with Roman Catholics’, of laxity in his Protestant principles. The views of a fourth are little worth, because, though a man of undoubted piety, he is the reverse of strongminded, and is easily led by others; while the opinions of a fifth, on more points than one, have long been regarded, by many of his brethren in the ministry, as anything but orthodox. We shall hereafter give the names of these gentlemen, with the authentication of our statements, in order that the religious world may know what value ought to be attached to their testimony in favour of the orthodoxy of Mr. Lynch's creed.’
[The most manifest fruits of this Rev. Gentleman's ministerial labours consist, we are assured, of the great number of beards and moustaches to be found among his hearers. In this respect his congregation is described to us, as presenting a most picturesque facial aspect. While the crop of beards and moustaches is most abundant, no one can fail to be struck with the diversified and fantastic forms which the bushy protuberances have been made, in many instances, to assume.]
Another instance of the miserable spirit in which such questions are treated in papers which “bear a faithful testimony," is to be found in the imputations which Mr. Grant throws out against his antagonist. “We beg to ask Mr. Newman Hall—who has the credit of having taken the initiative in the movement whether he has read all our articles? We further ask the reverend gentleman, whether he has not admitted that he has not read all our articles on the subject?" It is natural enough, perhaps, that Mr. Grant should not consider that there is anything offensive in cross-examining a clergyman of eminence in the style in which members of the Old Bailey bar, who want to get a reputation for browbeating, cross-examine a ticket-of-leave man who comes to prove an alibi. But what are we to say of a man who, having made such an imputation as this, has the cowardice-after receiving an explicit statement from Mr. Hall that he had read the articles in question-to sneak out of the position which he had assumed, and, at the same time, to repeat the imputation in a still more offensive form, and with an assumption of the possession of some private information about the gentleman whom he attacks, which recals the worst features in the conduct of the Age and Satirist:—
‘The reverend gentleman further oversteps the limits of fact, when he represents us as directly affirming that he did not read all our articles in reference to this Subject. We merely put the question to him, whether he had read them all? We made no assertion on the subject. We further asked him whether he had not admitted that he had not read all our articles? To the latter question he gives no direct answer. But, for reasons which he well knows, we will not press that matter further at present.’As the character of the business in which he is engaged might have led us to expect, Mr. Grant is quite insensible to the distinction between fact and fiction. He has all the disingenuousness, with little of the cunning, which popular opinion attributes to special pleaders. Mr. Newman Hall asserted that he had read all the articles in the Morning Advertiser upon Mr. Lynch's book before he signed the postscript in the Eclectic Review. As his statement and Mr. Grant’s contradiction are a perfect specimen of the disingenuousness of “religious” journalists, we give them at length. Mr. Hall says:--
‘It was the perusal of your first three notices of the Rivule, which induced me, under a sense of the injustice done to its author, to express my admiration of the book at the meeting of the Colonial Missionary Society. Then followed two other articles, in one of which you expressed your surprise that I alone had ventured to recommend the book. These also I read several days before the Protest was drawn up.’Mr. Grant replies:--
‘The reverend gentleman admits, without seeming to be aware of it, that he has not read all our articles; for he says that he read three of them before he commended Mr. Lynch's book at the meeting of the Colonial Society. Now, we had published four articles before the time of that meeting; so that there was one which, according to his own showing, he had not read. He is no less mistaken, though in a different way, when he says that he read two more of our articles, published between the meeting of the Colonial Society and the signing of the “Protest.” He could not have done this, inasmuch as he could not do an impossibility; for it so happens that only one article appeared in the interval which he specifies.’If our readers will take the trouble to look at the two extracts, the will see that Mr. Grant takes advantage of the ambiguity of the word “then,” to misrepresent Mr. Hall's meaning in the most absurd manner. It is exquisitely characteristic of the mixture of effrontery and want of logic which distinguishes Mr. Grant, that because Mr. Hall thought his insulting questions worth answering, he infers that the other gentlemen of whom he asked the same questions, and who did not answer him, confess the imputation which the question conveyed.
One of the most revolting peculiarities of this system of religious tyranny is its inquisitorial character. Just as the Record publishes all sorts of scandal about the private affairs of the clergy, the Morning Advertiser is continually making statements which violate all the privacies and decencies of life. For example:—
‘Just as the last paragraph of this pamphlet was about to be put to press, we have received the astounding information that the reverend gentleman who drew up the protest had actually only read two out of our five articles. How a minister of the Gospel could deliberately sit down and draw out a formal condemnation of articles which he had never seen, we leave others to say. And to awfully aggravate the matter, he commences the document with the assertion of what is absolutely untrue, &c.’So again,--
‘Mr. Newman Hall says, he feels satisfaction, &c. We are bound to believe the reverent gentleman, although those who have conversed with him on the subject have left a contrary impression on our minds.’Who is safe if a man is to go on day by day printing or hinting at reports of private conversations about a man's private feelings? Hardy less characteristic of the temper of controversies of this kind is the keen eye to business with which they are conducted. Mr. Grant’s pamphlet is full of assertions that he is doing the world the greatest possible service; and that he receives acknowledgments on all hands of the extraordinary effect which he is producing, and of insinuations that this kind of occupation is as profitable to the circulation of his paper as to the welfare of his readers’ souls. We conclude with an extract which sets this in a clearer light than anything which we could say. We wish more particularly to point out Mr. Grant's determination not to be proud, because it is wrong, and the astonishing impudence with which he insinuates though, characteristically enough, he does not directly assert that his Paterfamilias is identical with the well-known correspondent of the Times. If he is, we can only say that such of our readers as have the curiosity to refer to the pamphlet will find a wonderful falling-off in his style:—
‘The Light in which this Important Controversy is regarded by the Public.—The number of letters which we have received, relative to this controversy, exceeds anything which we could have conceived within the pale of probability. And what is to us as gratifying, as it is extraordinary, is the tact, that in no one single instance has an one undertaken to offer even a modified vindication of the conduct of the fifteen Protesters. It is generally said, that there are always two sides to a question; we have not found it so in this case. All the letters we have received have been of one uniform tenor, and that tenor what we have stated. Numbers, too, of evangelical clergyman of the Church of England, and ministers of both the two great Dissenting bodies, have waited personally on us, to express their gratitude and gladness at the course we have pursued in connexion with this most momentous controversy. We do not allude to these facts in any spirit of boasting. We do it, on the contrary, in a spirit of deep humility; but we deem it to be our duty to acknowledge how much cheered and encouraged we have been by the marked and manifold expressions of a royal and regard which have greeted us in the course of the great conflict or truths which so deeply involve the Divine glory and the eternal interests of man, in which we have been on for the last two months,—amidst the most arduous and onerous secular hours which it could possibly fall to the lot of man to perform.Of the subject-matter of the controversy we have nothing to say. We know nothing whatever of the gentlemen engaged in it, nor do we know anything of Mr. James Grant beyond the facts which he communicates to all the world; but we feel it a duty to expose the true character of persons who, presuming upon the lamentable ignorance of theology which exists in all classes, and especially amongst the clergy, have set on foot a sort of quackery by which they become, like all quacks, the most intolerable tyrants over those who put faith in them. We will only add, in justice to ourselves and to English journalism generally, that nothing would have induced us to allude to Mr. Grant personally in this matter had he not thought fit publicly to advertise himself as the editor of the newspaper which he conducts. We greatly regret that he has taken this course; and nothing could illustrate more forcibly the desirableness of invariably maintaining the well-understood rule which has hitherto so powerfully contributed to raise the character of the press of this country.
There is one letter, and only one, out of the multitude which we have received, to which we think it right to make articular reference, and from which to give‘ one or two short extracts. We allude to a letter addressed to us by “PATER FAMILIAS,” which signature must be familiar to all the readers of the public journals, since the letters of few men have more frequently appeared in the Times, Morning Advertiser, and other morning papers, than those which have proceed from his pen. For point, pungency, and conclusive argument, he has few equals among the newspaper writers of the day. Let us, then, invite attention to the way in which he—an eminent literary man-speaks of the “Protest” of the “Fifteen,” in a letter addressed to us in our capacity of Editor of the Morning Advertiser.’
Saturday Review, April 26, 1856.