Page images

published at Bristol. This was shortly followed by his Arcana, or the Principles of the late petitioners to Parliament for relief in matter of subscription in eight letters to a friend. This was written at a period when dissenting ministers and schoolmasters were by law required to subscribe thirty six, and part of a thirty seventh, of the thirty nine articles of the established church; but as the generality of them, to their honour, had long refused to submit to. this unjust requisition, their situation was somewhat precarious : after two appeals in which the bill for their relief, although it passed the Commons, was, owing to the opposition of the bishops rejected by the Lords, they made a third appeal which proved successful, and the bill passed both houses without opposition.*

men of

* See that fine Apostrophe to Liberty, on the rejection of the Bill in the house of Lords, in The History and the Mystery of Good Friday. Vol III. p. 183, 184.

The conduct of the Bishops on the occasion alluded to affords a curious illustration of the insincerity, and the suppleness of the episcopal order. They had twice represented the relief solicited by the dissenters as dangerous to the interests of both Church and State, and the dissenting ministers as “ close ambition, not to be trusted.” On the third application it appeared that their lordships had only acted throughout the whole of the business, as they were directed by certain great men. One of the Archbishops frankly confessed They were (speaking in the name of his right reverend bre. 6 thren) all the time the friends of the dissenters, but were

PUT on by others to act as they had done.” See Dr, Priestley's Letters to Mr. Burke.


A considerable number of the most respectable members of the church of England about the same time applied for similar relief, but notwithstanding reason and religion most forcibly supported their claims, they were rejected by a large majority of the commons. A declaration of unfeigned assent and consent to ALL and EVERY THING contained in the articles and the book of Common Prayer, is to this day the indispensible condition of entering the church; a declaration which it is hardly possible to conceive any clergyman, if he thinks at all about the matter, can make with common sincerity. The Arcana embracing the various topics arising out of the controversy, contains a forcible vindication of the rights of conscience. The manner in which it is written is truly original; a few quaint expressions may occasionally be found, but seldom has a piece appeared on the subject, in which wit and argument are so happily blended. This work procured for its author much respect from the most eminent men amongst the dissenters. The late Dr. Furneaux, famed for his learning and his masterly letters on Toleration, expressed his admiration of both the performance and the writer, Mr. Daniel Turner, of Abingdon, in Berkshire, a most respectable Baptist minister, in whom it may be truly said orthodoxy and charity were united, and whose friendship for our author remained unshaken, speaks of the work alluded to, in the following terms:-“ When I was informed that “the Arcana was written by a Baptist minister,

" I replied no; it cannot bé; we have not one

amongst us who can write such a book as the Arcana.

In June 1773, Mr. Robinson removed from Hauxton to Chesterton, a pleasant village by the river side, about two miles from Cambridge. His family now consisted of a wife, nine children, and an aged mother. One of his children died at Hauxton in infancy. Neither his income, nor the produce of his literary labours were sufficient to provide for the necessary wants of so large a family; he therefore turned his thoughts to other pursuits. In the course of two or three years he was engaged in various agricultural concerns; made several purchases of copyhold houses and lands, and was much employed in alterations and improvements; he hired the ferry adjoining his house, and would frequently employ himself in ferrying passengers across the river : he was also a considerable dealer in coals and corn. His agricultural and mercantile pursuits were it should seem in general succesful, as he maintained his family in reputation, and left behind him some property: a!though he received at different times pecuniary favours from friends, their total amount, in addition to his stated income, and the profits arising from his literary concerns were by no means adequate to the support of his family.

It is not my design nor will my limits allow me to enter into further particulars of Mr. Robinson's secular employments. How some of his days were spent may be learned from a curious letter written to one of his most intimate friends :* and with respect to his various pursuits during the major part of his life, Mr. Dyer has so happily expressed himself, that I cannot refrain from presenting his sentiments in his own language.

“ It would be no less agreeable, than instructive, to survey Robinson's rural economy, and “ domestic arrangements in his new situation : " the versatility of his genius was uncommon; and " whether he was making a bargain, repairing an

house, stocking a farm, giving directions to “ workmen, or assisting their labours, he was the

same invariable man, displaying no less vigour " in the execution of his plans, than ingenuity in “ their contrivance. The readiness with which he “ passed from literary pursuits to rural occupa

tions, from rural occupations to domestic engagements, from domestic engagements to the forming of plans for dissenting ministers, to the

settling of churches, to the solving of cases of “ conscience, to the removing of the difficulties of ignorant, or the softening of the asperities “ of quarrelsome brethren, was surprising."

Mr. Robinson in spite of the prejudices cherished too generally in the christian world, justly concluded, that engaging in secular concerns so far from being dishonourable to a minister of the gospel was, in certain circumstan

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

ces, truly honourable. His sentiments on this subject, which it is to be lamented are not more prevalent, may be seen in a letter to one of his brethren of the ministry.* To the censures which certain clericals passed on his conduct he disdained a serious reply. “ Godly boobies," he would exclaim, "too idle, many of them, to work,

too ignorant to give instruction, and too con“ceited to study, spending their time in tattling “and mischief,---are these the men to direct my “ conduct, to censure my industry?"

It is indeed truly surprising that any man should dare to censure a christian teacher who works with his own hands, in order that he may provide things honest in the sight of all men, and obtain an honourable independence.

But it i.ay perhaps be objected, that a minister by engaging in secular employments may render himself unfit for the duties of his pastoral office; in answer to which we will venture to ask—What duties? Will any one say that an hour or two daily spent in reading and studying, would not be sufficient to enable a christian teacher to address his congregation in a manner well calculated to promote their edification. Judging not merely from my own observation, but from that of others, I may affirm there are ministers in country villages, who might in such circumstances address, without suffering shame, even a London audience, at

* Vol. IV. p. 246.

« EelmineJätka »