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same day he sent Mr. C. a letter, saying, his reasoning was so clear and satisfactory, that he had changed his views, and was now “a theist.”. The next sun beheld him an atheist again : but whether he called himself this or that, his character was the same.
Soon after the foregoing incident, Mr. Coleridge said, he found himself in a large party, at the house of a man of letters, amongst whom, to his surprise, he saw Mr. and Mrs. Holcroft, when, to incite to a renewal of their late dispute, and before witnesses in the full consciousness of strength) Mr. C. enforced the propriety of teaching children, as soon as they could articulate, to lisp the praises of their Maker ; “ for,” said he, “ though they can form no correct idea of God, yet they entertain a high opinion of their father, and it is an easy introduction to the truth, to tell them that their Heavenly Father is stronger, and wiser, and better, than their earthly father.”
The whole company looked at Mr. Holcroft, implying that now was the time for him to meet a competent opponent, and justify sentiments which he had so often triumphantly advanced. They looked in vain. Mr. Holcroft maintained, to their surprise, a total silence, well remembering the
severe castigation he had so recently received. But a very different effect was produced on Mrs. Holcroft. She indignantly heard, when, giving vent to her passion and her tears, she said, “ She was quite surprised at Mr. Coleridge talking in that way before her, when he knew that both herself and Mr. Holcroft were atheists !"
Mr. C. spoke of the unutterable horror he felt, when Holcroft's son, a boy eight years of age, came up to him and said, “There is no God!" so that these wretched parents, alike father and mother! were as earnest in inculcating atheism on their children, as christian parents are in inspiring their offspring with respect for religious truth.
Actions are often the best illustration of principles. Mr. Coleridge also stated the following circumstance, (notorious at the time) as an evidence of the disastrous effects of atheism. Holcroft's tyrannical conduct toward his children was proverbial. An elder son, (with a mind embued with his father's sentiments) from extreme severity of treatment, had run away from his paternal roof, and entered on board a ship. Holcroft pursued his son, and when the fugitive youth saw his father in a boat, rowing toward the vessel, rather than endure his frown and his chastisement, he seized a pistol, and blew his brains out !
I now proceed to say, it was with extreme reluctance that the Socinians in Bristol resigned their champion, especially as other defections had recently occurred in their community, and that among the more intellectual portion of their friends. Although the expectation might be extravagant, they all still cherished the hope, however languid, that Mr. C. after some oscillations, would once more bestow on them his suffrage; but an occurrence took place, which dissipated the last vestige of this hope, and formed between them a permanent wall of separation.
Mr. Coleridge was lecturing in Bristol, surrounded by a numerous audience, when, in referring to the “ Paradise Regained,” he said, that Milton had clearly represented SATAN, as a “sceptical Socinian.” This was regarded as a direct and undisguised declaration of war.* It so happened that indisposition prevented me from attending that lecture, but I received from Mr. C. directly after, a letter, in which he thus writes:
* When I speak of a declaration of war, it must be understood as a war of sentiment. In all the intercourses of man with man, Mr. C. very properly allowed no bigoted feelings to interfere, arising out of any diversity of Theological sentiment, but, indiscriminately, manifested toward all, that suavity of manner which became the gentleman and the christian; and this, on all proper occasions, without relaxing an atom of his principles. His zeal was moderated by the recollection, that, “ To our own Master we stand or fall.”
66* * * * Mr. – I find is raising the city against me, (as far as he and his friends can) for having stated a mere matter of fact; viz. that Milton had represented SATAN as a sceptical Socinian ; which is the case; and I could not have explained the excellence of the sublimest single passage in all his writings, had I not previously informed the audience, that Milton had represented Satan, as knowing the Prophetic and Messianic character of Christ, but was sceptical as to any higher claims. And what other definition could Mr. — himself give of a sceptical Socinian ? (with this difference indeed, that Satan's faith somewhat exceeded that of Socinians.) Now that Satan has done so, will you consult · Paradise Regained,' Book IV. from line 196, and the same Book, from line 500.”
It is of consequence that Mr. Coleridge's later
sentiments on the subject of Socinianism should be given ; but as I had no opportunity of ascertaining what those sentiments were, it was satisfactory to learn, from the testimony of Mr. C.'s “ Table Talk,” that his last and maturest opinions were, to the fullest, confirmatory of those expressed by him in these pages. The introduction of the following extracts from the “ Table Talk,” arises from the belief, that the giving of Mr. C.'s sentiments in different periods of his life, on this vital subject, and in a consecutive form, will be acceptable to most readers.
Mr. Coleridge says, “Table Talk, “On Socinians ; I think Priestley must be considered the author of modern Unitarianism. I owe, under God, my return to the faith, to my having gone much further than the Unitarians, and so having come round to the other side. I can truly say, I never falsified the Scriptures. I always told them (the Socinians) that their interpretations of Scripture were intolerable, on any principles of sound criticism ; and that, if they were to offer to construe the will of their neighbour, as they did that of their Maker, they would be scouted out of society. I said, plainly and openly, that it was clear enough, John and Paul were not Unitarians.