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with so much apparent impartiality, that those who could not assent, had at least no title to be angry. The opinions of the various classes of free-thinkers are combated by an appeal to those feelings of the human mind, which always acknowledge an of. fended Deity, and to the various modes in which all ages and nations have shewn their sense of the necessity of an atonement by sacrifice and penance. Dryden, however, differs from most philosophers, who suppose this consciousness of guilt to be originally implanted in our bosoms: he, somewhat fantastically, argues, as if it were some remnants of the original faith revealed to Noah, and preserved by the posterity of Shem. The inadequacy of sacrifices and oblations, when compared with the crimes of those by whom they are made, and with the grandeur of the omnipotent Being, to whom they are offered, paves the way for the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, the fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion. The fitness of this vicarious sacrifice to accomplish the redemption of man, and vindicate the justice and mercy of God; the obvious impossibility that the writings, or authors, by which it has been conveyed to us, should be less than inspired; the progress of the Christian faith itself, though militating against the corrupt dispositions of humanity, and graced with none of those attractions by which Mahomet, and other false prophets, bribed their followers, are then successively urged as evidences of the Christian religion. The poet then recurs to an objection, at which he had hinted in his preface. If the Christian religion is necessary to salvation, why is it not extended to all nations of the earth? And suppose we grant that the circumstance of the revealed religion having been formerly preached and embraced in great part of the world where it is now unknown, shall be sufficient to subject those regions to be judged by its laws, what is to become of the generations who have lived before the coming of the Messiah? what of the inhabitants of those countries on which the beams of the gospel have never shone ? To these doubts, I hope most Christians will think our author returns a liberal, and not a presumptuous answer, in supposing that the heathen will be judged according to the light which it has pleased God to afford them; and that, infinitely less fortunate than us in the extent of their spiritual knowledge, they will only be called upon to answer for their conformity with the dictates of their own conscience. The authority of St Athanasius our author here sets aside, either because in the ardour of his dispute with Arius he carried his doctrine too far, or because his creed only has reference to the decision of a doctrinal question in the Christian church ; and the anathema annexed applies not to the heathen world, but to those, who, having heard the orthodox faith preached, have wil. fully chosen the heresy. Dryden next takes under review the work of Father Simon; and, after an culogy on the author and
translator, pronounces, that the former was not a bigotted Catholic, since he did not hesitate to challenge some of the traditions of the church of Rome. To these traditions, these “ brushwood helps," with which the Catholics endeavoured to fence the doctrines of their church, our author proceeds, and throws them aside as liable to error and corruption. The pretensions of the church of Rome, by her pope and general councils, infallibly to determine the authenticity of church tradition, is the next propoşition. To this the poet answers, that if they possess infallibility at all, it ought to go the length of restoring the 'canon, or correcting the corrupt copies of seripture; a reply which seems to concede to the Romans; as, without denying the grounds of their claim, it only asserts, that it is not sufficiently extended. Upon the ground, however, that the plea of infallibility, by which the poet is obviously somewhat embarrassed, must be dismissed, as proving too much, the holy scriptures are referred to as the sole rule of faith; admitting such explanations as the church of England has given to the contested doctrines of Christianity. The unlettered Christian, we are told, does well to pursue, in simplicity, his path to heaven; the learned divine is to study well the sacred scriptures, with such assistance as the most early traditions of the church, especially those which are written, may, in doubtful points, afford him. It is in this argument chiefly, that there may be traced a sort of vacillation and uncertainty in our author's opinion, boding what afterwards took place---his acquiescence in the church authority of Rome. Nevertheless, having vaguely pronounced, that some traditions are to be received, and others rejected, he gives his opinion against the Roman see, which dictated to the laity the explications of doctrine as adopted by the church, and prohibited them to form their own opinion upon the text, or even to peruse the sacred volume which contains it. This Dryden contrasts with the opposite evil, of vulgar enthusiasts debasing scripture by their own absurd commentaries, and dividing into as many sects, as there are wayward opinions formed upon speculative doctrine. He concludes, that both extremes are to be avoided; that saving faith does not depend on nice disquisitions ; yet, if inquisitive minds are hurried into such, the scripture, and ihe commentary of the fathers, are their only safe guides:
And after hearing what our church can say,
But common quiet is mankind's concern. In considering Dryden's creed thus analyzed, I think it will appear, that the author, though still holding the doctrines of the
church of England, had been biassed, in the course of his enquiry, by those of Rome. His wish for the possibility of an infallible guide, * expressed with almost indecent ardour, the difficul. ty, nay, it would seem, in his estimation, almost the impossibility, of discriminating between corrupted and authentic traditions, while the necessity of the latter to the interpretation of scripture is plainly adınitted, appear, upon the whole, to have left the poet's mind in an unpleasing state of doubt, from which he rather escapes than is relieved. He who only acquiesces in the doc. trines of his church, because the exercise of his private judgement may disturb the tranquillity of the state, can hardly be said to be in a state 'to give a reason for the faith that is in him.
The doctrine of the Religio Laici is admirably adapted to the subject : though treating of the most abstruse doctrines of Christianity, it is as clear and perspicuous as the most humble prose, while it has all the elegance and effect which argument is capable of receiving from poetry. Johnson, usually sufficiently niggard of praise, has allowed, that this “ is a composition of great excellence in its kind, in which the familiar is very properly diversified with the solemn, and the grave with the humorous; in which metre has neither weakened the force, nor clouded the perspicuity of argument; nor will it be easy to find another example, equally happy, of this middie kind of writing, which, though prosaic in some parts, rises to high poetry in others, and neither towers to the skies, nor creeps along the ground.”+ I cannot help remarking, that the style of the Religio Laici has been imitated success. fully by the late Mr Cowper m some of his pieces. Yet he has not been always able to maintain the resemblance, but often crawls where Dryden would have walked. The natural dig. nity of our author may be discovered in the lamest lines of the poem, whereas his imitator is often harsh and embarrassed. Both are occasionally prosaic ; but in such passages Dryden's verse resembles good prose, and Cowper's that which is feeble and involved.
The name which Dryden has thought proper to affix to this declaration of his faith, seems to have been rather fashionable about that time. There is a treatise de Religione Laici, attached to the work of Lord Herbert of Cherburg, De Veritate, first published in 1633. But the most famous work, with a similar title, was the Religio Medici of Thomas Browne, which was translated into Latin by Meryweather, and afterwards into French, Italian, Dutch, German, and most of the languages of Europe. In 1683, Charles Blount, of Staffordshire, son to Sir Henry Blount, published a short treatise, entitled, Religio Laici, which he inscribed to his “ much honoured friend, John Dryden, Esq. ;" whom he informed, in the epistle-dedicatory, “ I have endeavoured that my discourse should only be a continuance of yours; and that, as you taught men how to believe, so I might instruct them how to live."*
• Such an omniscient church we wish indeed;
'Twere worth bob Testaments, cast in the creed. + Johnson's Life of Dryden.
It has been suggested, that the purpose of the Religio Laici of Dryden was to bring the contending factions to sober and philosophical reflection on their differences in points of faith, and to abate, if possible, the acrimony with which they contended upon the most obscure subjects of polemical divinity. But to attempt, by an abstracted disquisition on the original cause of quarrel, to stop a controversy, in which all the angry passions had been roused, and which indeed was fast verging towards blows, is as vain an attempt, as it would be to turn the course of a river, swoln with a thousand tributary streams, by draining the original springhead. From the cold reception of this poem, compared to those political and personal satires which preceded it, Dryden might learn the difference of interest, excited by productions which tended to fan party rage, and one which was designed to mitigate its ferocity. The Religio Laici, which first appeared in November 1682, neither attracted admiration nor censure; it was neither hailed by the acclamations of the one party, nor attacked by the indignant answers of the other. The public were, however, sufficiently interested in it to call for a renewal of the impression in the following year. This second edition, which had escaped even the researches of Mr Malone, is in the collection of my friend Mr Heber. It might probably have been again reprinted with advantage. but our author's change of faith must necessarily have rendered him unwilling to give a third edition. The same circumstance called the attention of his enemies towards this neglected poem, who, in many libels, upbraided him with the versatility of his religious opinions. The author of a pamphlet, called “ The Revolter," was at the pains to print the tenets of the Religia Laici concerning the Catholic controversy, in contrast with those which our author had adopted and expressed in the “ Hind and Panther.”+ Another turned our author's own title against him,
Malone, Vol. III. p. 310. 7" The Revolter, a T'ragi-Comedy, acted between the Hind and Panther and Religio Laici. London. 1687."
and published “ Religio Laici, or a Layman's Faith touching the Supream and Infallible Guide of the Church, by J. R. a Convert of Mr Bayes. In Twe, Letters to a friend in the Country. Licenced June the ist, 1688.” In both these pamphlets our author is treated with the grossest insolence and brutality. * Excepting these malig
• As will appear from the following extracts :- While he sat thus in his poetical throne, or rather acting upon the stage of fable and pagan mythology, and transfiguring into beasts almost all mankind, but Turks and infidels, that were out of his road, he never considered what a monster he was himself; a second Gorgon with three beads, for each of which he had a particular employment; with the onc, to fawn upon the most infamous of usurpers; with the other, at one time to lick the beneficent bands of his Protestaut mother, and, bye and bye, to court the charity of his Catholic manıma; while, with the third, be barked and snarled, not only at his first deserted female parent, but also at all other differing sentiments and opinions, which his sovereign had so graciously and generously indulged.
He saw the play-wright lawreate debauched
The Revolter, p. 2.
But, to give the devil his due, I must needs own Mr Bayes bas a most powerful and luxurious hand at satire, and may challenge all Christendom to match him; for indeed I never, in my slender province, met any that was worthy to compare to him, unless that unknown, but supposed worthy author, that writ to him upon his at last turning Roman Catholic; for Baves, like the Vicar of Bray, in Henry VIII. Edward VI. Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth's times, was resolved io keep his place; (and the quotin an author