History of Mormonism


Southern Quarterly Review

❮ Community

“History of Mormonism.” Southern Quarterly Review (New Orleans) 1, no. 2 (April1842): 398–413.

History of Mormonism

ART V.— Mormonism Exposed: being a Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Latter Day Saints. New-York. Harper & Brothers. 1841.

We take the occasion presented by the appearance of this work, to proclaim open war against imposture in every shape,-in literature, in art, in science, in politics, and in morals. It does positively seem that human gullibility, like a lover’s appetite, ‘grows with what it feeds on,’ until all healthy taste is extinguished, and nothing left in its place, but never-ceasing, gnawing hunger after imposition. From trifles, it has gradually assumed a controlling influence over the graver and more important matters of social and political government. Common sense and common judgment, frightened by the noise and clamor of king humbug and his train, hide their diminished heads, and are no more allowed a place in the counsels which direct men’s actions. He is the general idol. We run after him, we bow down before him, we worship him. We ask of him concerning our business,-our moral and social duties; we invoke his aid in the education of our children; we conjure his presence to the couch of the sick and the dying. If we be elated with some great public excitement, nine times in ten imposition is at the bottom of it. If we weep with commiseration at the woes of our fellow creatures, imposture is even there; and a high-sounding society, or something which catches and fills the ear, receives the outpourings of sensibilities, which plain, unvarnished misery would fail to excite.

Although we be no great believers in human perfectibility, and the steady progress of intelligence, yet we had believed that that horrible monster, superstition, with its multitudinous heads and horns, which has glutted itself with human victims, from age to age, and from generation to generation, had, at length, fallen before the march of civilization, to rise no more. We had fondly deemed, that burning men at the stake, because they could not see how two and two made five,-or roasting them before a green-wood fire, for opinion’s sake,-or imprisoning them in loathsome dungeons, for daring to make new discoveries in science,-or burning for witches miserable old women who [398] had lost their beauty,-or hanging sober, well-informed citizens, because they persisted in wearing shad-bellied coats, were practices never more to be indulged in. We hoped,-and as we thought with reason,-that the demoniac trait in man’s character, which originated these things, had been long since obliterated, and that, henceforth, whatever else might come to pass, the world never gain would bleed and groan beneath the iron rod of superstition.

We confess, however, that our confidence in the humanizing influences of modern civilization has been, within a few brief years, greatly shaken. Let us look at the social history of this country, as written in the memories of all, as recorded in our newspapers, and as it is developing itself day after day, under our own observation, and we shall find much to startle and alarm.

All remember and shudder at the infamous doctrines and preachings of the knot of free thinkers and moral free-booters, under the direction of Owen and Wright, and which, festering and gendering in the filthy purlieus of London, sent its swarms of young vipers across the Atlantic, to poison simple minds in the new world; until, what with the force of preaching and lecturing, and printed appeals to the basest passions, urged on and assisted, withal, by some trifling show of persecution, adroitly got up for the purpose, a large and “respectable” (!) Society of men and women was formed, in which the rights of property and the relations of parent and child were declared to be extinguished, and promiscuous prostitution proclaimed, as a fundamental bond of union!

But this infamous abomination passed away, and then came Father Mathias,–the weakest and most shallow of impostors,–but who had, notwithstanding, his dupes and disciples among the wealthy and respectable; and had he been possessed of ordinary judgment, he might have pushed his villainy to an unimagined extent. He too is gone.

Then comes Joe Smith,–then hero of the brazen plates,– with his pretended revelations from the Almighty Father of the universe! Twelve years ago, we laughed at this imposture; but now we are more inclined to weep. Already has Mormonism taken deep root in this country, and in christian and enlightened England! Already more than one hundred thousand persons, reared in a christian land, [399] and within the sound, at each returning sabbath, of “the church going bell,’ have become converts to this species of delusion. Already do cities, populous with the deluded and wretched dupes of this gigantic imposture, rise, in the face of day, as if to mock Heaven’s long-delaying vengeance; increasing each month by hundreds, and aknowledging obedience to no law but the mandate of their leader! Who can tell where this is to stop? Who can say, that in the future there may not lie concealed a bloody sceptre for the hand of the chief of these miserable and knavish fanatics? Who can say, that in the lapse of time it may not be deemed heresy, to disbelieve in the doctrines of Mormonism, or be punished as blasphemy, to speak lightly of them? Or that, in time to come, the gallows will not be raised and the faggot lighted at the stake to punish the revilers of the brazen bible, and the scoffers of this imposture, or his hereditary descendants! The deep, wild, scathing ferocity of fanaticism lives and swells in the hearts of those who manage this imposition, and if ever sufficient power fall into their hands, the records of the sanguinary past may be eclipsed by the more vivid atrocities of the present.

We would fain hope that our apprehensions are groundless, but still a brief history of the rise and progress of this sect, must leave a sad train of reflections.

What is Mormonism? It is a new species of religion, which sprang up upon the extinction of the fanaticism of “Mathias,” and contemporaneously with the enthusiasm of the “Holy Rollers.”

It seems that one Joe Smith or some of his relations, while digging for something else, turned up form the earth a most wonderful book, upon which was carved the "Book of Mormon." As in olden time, "the gift of tongues" had not been unheard of,—he was, instantly, upon the discovery, endowed with a power to translate its contents. among other matters of serious import, it contained a concluding clause, whereof, he was forthwith to be constituted the high priest of the religion it had been written some thousands of years before to teach, and to him, exclusively, the gift of its solemn interpretation was to be confided. to the infinite joy of the antiquarian, and the glory of our literature this work of accidental exhumation [400] is found to contain the lost chronicles of several kings of Israel,—for the original loss of which, the muse of history has been held responsible until now, and therefore not unto here, but to the finer is to be rendered all the praise for the unseasonable but certain redemption of these biographies.

The book purports to derive its authentic name from some ancient character, nowhere else mentioned and called Mormon,— who, in the patent genealogical tables thereto attached, can be very satisfactorily identified in the absence of any thing to the contrary, for as touching the matter at all, as a son of Lot's wife. this veritable book is, of course, wisely arranged without the aid of either printing or paper, for the discoverer had sufficient sagacity to know, that publishing in this style was of rather more modern date than the proposed age of the book would warrant, and that an oversight in this respect would either have suggested incredulity as to the authenticity of the work, or else have compelled the future believers in it to conclude, that printing was not a late affair, after, as has been supposed. so, by way of a safe substitution, brass plates, about as thin as the doctrines they have perpetrated, are inserted between a couple of covers of the same material, and curiously carved over with mysterious hieroglyphics, to which the inscriptions of Thebes and Gaza are quite readable literature, by a happy analogy to the movements on a chess-board, these brazen pages can be read by the no less brazen inventor, with equal facility, either forwards or backwards, or by beginning in the middle and reading either or both ways.

In the explanation of its doctrines, he is always particular not to give so marked an interpretation as would at all interfere with the consistency of giving the direct reverse afterwards, in case he should forget the former construction;—while in his lucid commentaries upon the several passages, which are forbidden to be copied, he is equally careful not be so explicit as to preclude contradictory explanations, in case they should be needed. however unfounded the truth of this revelation may appear to the newly initiated upon a first hearing, they soon become reconciled to its verity, from that constant repetition which, in all matters, renders things less incredible than originally they may have seemed. The adroitness of Smith, in [401] ringing the doctrines in their ears upon all convenient occasions, has rendered their faith quite easy, and his liability to mistake less probable. one of the considerable conveniences in facilitating immediate belief among the stupid and incredulous is, that every thing is required to be taken for granted, either as regards its precepts, tenets, illustrations, parables or prophecies. The author regards this as one of the beauties of his system , for the mind can thus be relieved of its doubts at once, and be saved the infliction of those troublesome modes of settling matters by the a priori and a posteriori methods, so foolishly incorporated by hair-splitting logicians into the more modern systems of popular ethics. Hence, should an hour's argument be proposed to a believer in the faith, regarding the matter of its inspiration, the question is instantly disposed of, on his part, by thrusting into the face of the ill-timed proposition that most accommodating carnal weapon of the anti-belligerent disputant, known in Mormon polemics as a petitio principii, as to the absolute infallibility of the brazen bible.

By that unaccountable accident, the original loss of the book, the faith has been deprived of a powerful argument, which most unquestionably would have contributed to the establishment of its truth, independent of any other, and none seem to regret this deprivation more than its founder and apostle. It is, that the several prophecies recorded in the book have all been punctiliously fulfilled, not in the spirit, but even to the letter.

Had the book not been lucklessly lost, the world would have read its prophetic auguries at the the time they were made, and kept an eye upon the coming occurrence, and thus for ever have settled with favor the now roughly bandied question of its truth. But the mind can at once be relieved of the mingled doubt and sadness caused by this untoward circumstance, if it will only admit the proposed antiquity of the book, believe its author to be inspired as well as the work, repose implicit confidence in the correctness of his interpretations regarding the mention of any prophecies, and withal take for granted, as the time for fulfilment has gone by, that, as a matter of course, the events must all have happened. This plan of compromise between regret and faith has been deemed so reasonable among the Mormons, that no difficulty has been experienced in producing entire satisfaction. [402]

Some short time after this newly-discovered bible was extricated from the soil of a land where it was lost, before the land had been discovered, numbers began to flock slowly to the faith upon the first promulgation thereof by its vicegerent. A certain number of priests, of a more reduced order than himself, were duly commissioned, at such points as were deemed expedient and safe for the operation. Their tenures of office, however, were only temporary, and so abridged in their power as to deduct but little from the founder's prerogatives; the appeal form all sorts of actual and conceivable grievances being up to him. As a dim promise of bounty was offered to all new converts, in the tracing shape of rations from a prospective fund, the increase of piety was almost alarming in the vicinities where it was supposed the treasuries would be located. As the amount for distribution increased, by a singular coincidence converts did also; and a gratifying symptom of the spread of the cause was noticed in the remarkable fact, that many were impressed with a full conviction of the truth of the doctrines before they had ever heard what they were. This latter fact was a movement in morals entirely unprecedented, and, to whatever cause it may be referred, could have no possible connection with the suggestions as touching the expected distribution of the funds.

However, the distribution was duly made, and as the stock, which was not particularly overgrown, soon gave out, so did the faith and zeal of such as had been wrongly impressed as to the amount of the funds; and after giving due warning that they had discovered certain errors in the system, which they had vainly attempted to reconcile to their consciences, they returned again to the world.

After this revulsion in morals, the apostle of this new faith discovered that banking was indispensable to the furtherance of the cause, and forthwith commenced operation in finance at a new town, which a part of his followers had founded, called Kirtland, Ohio. As a specie basis might be troublesome and take up too much room, or be feloniously abstracted, it was deemed most safe, as against fire and robbery, to dispense with it altogether. The amount of ills issued being looked upon as rather an unimportant matter, an almost indefinite quantity was go tout, and all kinds of deposits were loudly solicited for the better safety [403] of their owner. Matters beginning to shape to a crisis, it was found most convenient to suspend, before the creditors of the concern imposed upon it any further, and Smith was advised, by a simultaneous revelation, to travel for the benefit of his failing health and the spiritual good of his scattered people, beyond the jurisdiction of the courts of that State, as fast as possible. His health improved wonderfully after crossing the line, and was quite restored by the time he reached the western boundary of Missouri. Finding none of tents of his followers pitched in that region, and, under present circumstances, deeming it scarce worth while to return, for several important reasons, he was fortunately visited, it seems, by an angel. The angel told him that a certain town called Dewitt, in Jackson County, must forthwith be named Mount Zion, and that, before long, “streets of gold and gates of jasper” would entirely supersede all its muddy lanes and chinked huts. He had this revelation duly announced, and required all the faithful to direct their course for Mount Zion, Jackson County, Missouri, as fast as horses and wagons could carry them there, and those who refused to go were to be cut off, and that without remedy. To hurry matters, he laid an embargo on all argument about the probability of the truth of the revelation. Each man was to bring a gun and a certain number of rounds of powder and shot; thus, “the sword should be beaten into a ploughshare, and the spear into a pruning-hook.” After the arrival of a goodly number of disciples, he commenced his inspired operations by announcing that, on the coming Sunday, an angel would be seen on the opposite side of the creek from where the initiatory performances were to come off. The anticipation of this sight in the surrounding region. As soon as they had all arrived, he turned aside from the waiting congregation t pray, as he said, in secret, —taking especial care to utter certain injunctions, hieroglyphically enforced by sundry terrible gyrations of the finger, that none should leave their seats or watch very reasonable instruction, hinted the case of Lot’s wife in pre [404] suming to look behind her. As the people all felt a disposition to be preserved,—though not, like this scriptural personage, in the capacity of salt,—they obeyed to the letter, and Smith retired to his devotions. In a few minutes, sure enough, some angel or other, or just about his shape and gait, with a white garment on, loomed up from the woods, on the other side of the creek. The sight was vouchsafed to the amazement of their dyes but a minute, and the angel went back to heaven or somewhere else; at any rate, wherever it went, it was by way of the woods. Shortly after this vision, he returned from his prayer, much refreshed, as he announced, by his devotions, and had only to regret that his private exercises unfortunately interfered with his desire to see the angel too; however, said he, “Heaven’s will be done.” as the business had been accomplished so well, and the faith of many confined, it was announced that the meeting would stand adjourned, and the visit of the angel be repeated on the next Sunday, at the same time and place. The next week was a pretty long one for some, who were away from home and otherwise detained form the first visitation. At length, Sunday in the former instance, to perform his devotions, with a due notice of the old injunctions, coupled with divers allusions to Lot’s wife. Just about the time the angel was approaching the creek, a couple of skeptics in the Mormon faith pitched out a piece of timber in the rear, and, seizing the angelic figure, launched him, head foremost, into the creek, stripped of wings and other celestial appendages, and forbade any landing being mad eon that side, at the peril of even returning to heaven, or wherever else he belonged, the unexpected result was, that Smith, in proper person, and blubbering like a schoolboy, anchored on a sand-bar, in his prayer clothes, directly in front of his half-converted unbelievers. Since that time, angels have been exceedingly scarce in that neighborhood.

This affair came well night making an end of the Mormon religion, but Smith, shortly after, had another revelation, which explained the matter to the entire satisfaction of many who were hanging around Mount Zion just then, without any particular credit or funds. By way of redeeming his impeached infallibility, the miracle of waking upon[405] water was afterwards attempted, but failed, because some fellows were profane enough to take from under the water the benches that Smith had fixed for the better success of the performance. Pronouncing a very divinely authorized and somewhat serious malediction against the old locality, removed further up the creed, for the exhibitions yet in reserve. So, by way of testing the virtues of the new location, he gave exclusion invitations to a few, to see water turned into wind, and vice versa, but somehow or other, the jugs were accidentally changed, and remaining miracles were postponed to a more convenient season, so that he could have some definite understanding in the course of his next revelation, as to how such things were to be done. He has finally concluded that the power to work miracles is a non-essential as far as regards the truth of the brazen bible and the Mormon faith in general.

Soon after these proceedings had taken place, several difficulties arose between the Mormons and other citizens of the State, which, in the end, became so serious, that the militia were marched up to settle the growing mischief. Some shots were exchanged without much serious damage, and the “Latter-day saints,” as they now term themselves, were routed, “horse, foot and dragoons.” whereupon our afflicted and accidentally spared apostle, without the chance of establishing a bank, shook the dust of the State of Missouri form his feet, which led the retreat at the engagement, and ordered the Missouri and all her people to be cursed, not even reserving Mount Zion in Jackson county from its rateable share in the rigors of the anathema. With his valiant followers, nervous with wrath, he moved into Illinois, and built up another town with the more modest and more original name of Nauvoo,—the precise derivation of which, and the reason for the particular application of it, in the present instance, he deems not politic to disclose, in the existing heretical state of the world. The faith is recruiting again, and weekly adding to its numbers; and, in view of the want of means among many in that region, it would be strange indeed if the fact were not so,—for the principle of right and possession among them is, that all property, real and personal, is to held in common, and the united proceeds of their barter and labor is to be divided periodically, and in equal dividends, among the whole, whether all origin [406] ally brought any capital into the concern or not. None can fail to see the finger of policy in a system so well calculated to procure an increase of membership. But to prevent elopement of some sly brother when the yearly dividends are declared, Smith has wisely managed to require that the funds be not handed over to the people, but that they become a deposit to their credit in the treasury house,— parts of which can be drawn out by a correct statement of the particular purposes for which it is needed, but in quantities so exceedingly small, as to offer less inducement to abscond with the pittance and forfeit the remainder, than to stay and secure it. All articles of merchandise are required to be bought form the regularly licensed dealers, and the system of license being one altogether of favoritism, it might be supposed that a large profit would be made by the salesman,—but it must be remembered, that the resulting profits are thrown into the common fund, and the original capital again employed in the purchase of a new stock in trade; while favoritism is only shown and sought after, because the post of a merchant is deemed one of honor, and relieves those who are fortunate enough to secure it from the drudgery of the field and workshop.

The church government is under just such a management as one would naturally expect form the cunning character of the inspired founder. All power from above coming through him, as a channel of mediation and forgiveness to a certain extent, as well as of exclusive official appointment, he bestows his ministerial and judicial offices—which are not subject to the ordeal of confirmation—as he may deem proper for his purposes. As he is the highest visible authority in the matter, there can be no appeal from such appointments, decisions, orders and prohibitions between persons as he may make from time to time,—neither from such convenient interpretations as he may put, at pleasure, upon the passages and requirements of the brazen bible. If his assertion upon any point be questioned, (for he never stoops to vulgar argument,) he can quickly set the matter at rest by whispering an allusion to some recent revelation that he has had upon that very subject; and after this is hinted, all doubt must necessarily cease, for if yet harbored by the continued obstinacy of the rebellious disclaimer, his [407] excommunication from the grace of the church and the droppings of that better sanctuary, the treasury, is as sure as his existence. As this act of excommunication is a very solemn one, and performed by Smith himself, in propria persona, who is supposed in all respects infallible, no hope of readmission can ever dawn upon the excluded saint; for this would admit the occasional fallibility of the excommunicating party, the high priest. Of the prerogative of exclusion and the summary reasons of its exercise, they are all fully aware; and if the founder is known to have any fixed opinion upon any possible subject, an universal acquiescence upon the part of the people is dictated for the security of a continued communion. From time to time, new additions are made to the doctrines of the brazen bible, although the system was declared complete when the book was first found; yet accumulation is safe, even to infinity, inasmuch as no prohibitory curse is denounced in it against adding any thing thereto. Certain doctrines, recently revealed were foretold by our prophet in advance; but one of the peculiar beauties of this system pertaining to no other, is, that not unfrequently the fulfilment precedes the prophecy. Its author certainly possesses miraculous power in the affairs of divination, in all those cases in which the first intimation of the augury is subsequent to the fulfilment, instead of the more consecutive plan of record first and occurrence afterwards. When discharging the duties of the prophetic office, he frequently announces that such and such things will come to pass, and he is almost invariably right, for the events could not well happen otherwise, unless something went wrong in the ordinary course of nature; and yet, in these cases, he argues divine interference—probably upon the ground that nothing under heaven could happen at all without it. In the even of the failure of any prophecy, (which, by the bye, is not unusual, when he leaps beyond the rules of natural philosophy,) and some one watchful of the prediction reminds him of the short-coming, he has an ample refuge in suggesting the high probability of a misunderstanding either between himself and the angel, or else between himself and the people; and yet the occurrence of any thing, however usual, if only foretold, is regarded with a degree of amazement commensurate with the imposing forms and ceremonies of prediction. [408]

Every new applicant for admission is subjected to prescribed initiation, attended with an ample share of attractive formality, instigated by a shrewd knowledge of the value of first impressions. To avail themselves of all applications, nothing is said or done but what might invite the assent of the subject applying. None were ever known to be rejected, as each applicant has the privilege of recommending himself, and should he, unfortunately, have any compunctions upon that point, he is privileged to keep silent; and if any of the saints are aware of his failings, the mention of them would be entirely superfluous, inasmuch as the fact of the application is construed as the result of a satisfactory penitence. This accommodating arrangement renders the approach of all applicants smooth and easy, the whole of them protesting that nothing but a thorough and heartfelt conviction of the entire truth of Mormonism ever prompted them to apply; and among the questions of faith propounded to the disinterested converts, in regard to the present state of the treasury. The most popular time for applicants appears to be, just anterior to the period adopted, by established custom, for the distribution of the annual dividends.

Some short time since, the governor of Missouri made a requisition upon the executive of Illinois for the surrender of Smith, to answer for some of his unatoned old scores, but, from some informality in the process of requisition, the matter was delayed until the error could be adjusted. In the mean time, Smith got news of the affair, and thinking a compliance with the demand highly probable, received about the same time a divine intimation that he must depart immediately for Iowa, to receive a new revelation from an angel, there in patient waiting. Without delaying for the return mail from Missouri, he started, and, by a happy coincidence, the revelation was concluded simultaneously with a hint form some one in Iowa, that the affair of the requisition would be dropped for the present. No doubt, an adjourned meeting between himself and the angel will be held in Iowa about the time the governor renews his application.

Smith is in bad repute all over that region. Like the Arab, “his hand is against every man, and every man’s [409] against his.” From the beginning until now, the only object he has had in view has been to secure, by his present station, that prominence, regard and authority, which he has not sufficient force of character or talent to secure under any other circumstances. Nature has endowed him well with art and cunning, which years of duplicity and experience have strengthened, in the prosecution of his ends and purposes. His natural bent of mind is ambitious, though his spirit is timid; and yet he never deserts a favorite point or adventure, unless the opposition is likely to prove serious. Wherever he has been located before, for the furtherance of his designs, some untoward circumstance has intervened for his temporary failure. The germs of disruption are budding among his people now. The numbers are becoming so great, that, from the necessities of the case, new offices must be created, the respective powers of which must abridge and conflict with his own. This cannot occur without instant danger; and when difficulty once commences, anarchy must finish the work. Of this he is already aware; and the only remedy for prevention, is to close the door upon a further increase of his followers. Yet this he dares not do, for he has declared that his religion will one day be universal, and the act would defeat the hopes of his ambitious spirit. That his efforts can establish a faith so foolish, none but his interested enthusiasts believe; that another relapse is near, is known from the nature of the work. Ambition has drawn some to its adoption, who may have calculated too indiscreetly on its spread; novelty had given it many followers, who hoped to fin, in its shifting forms, that food for the wonderful, furnished by no other church; selfishness has sent up its votaries, to feed and fatten on the heard-earned means that others may have brought, and which, by an act of legalized robbery, have become part and parcel of a common stock. Fanaticism like this, if indeed, any of its followers be sincere, can only be excused by the rebuking appeal it carries to the enthusiasm and folly of every age. Greece had her mythology and Pantheon, the islands, the shrines of Neptune; Arabia worshipped the voices that were fancied in the wind; and Persia fell down to the chariot of the sun. But religion had not dawned in those days of false worship and folly. If to the [410] faith we have delineated its followers are false, and carry their pretence where they would be less safe in sincerity, then, indeed, is a beautiful commentary furnished for the humility, simplicity and truth of the religion of Bethlehem: “hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.”

In addition to these facts, we learn, that in England, to which benighted and heathenish country Mormon missionaries were despatched about two years ago, the spread of the doctrines of the brazen bible has been little less than miraculous,-the inhabitants of almost one entire shire having become Latter Day Saints, as the Mormons call themselves; many wealthy and long-established families selling out their farms and homesteads, crossing the Atlantic, and threading the Mississippi for more than fifteen hundred miles, to lay their services and their fortunes, at the feet of this impostor! One hundred and thirty of these of these misguided men passed through New Orleans and St. Louis last summer, on a single steam-boat, on their way to Nauvoo, the “Holy City.” At the latter place, we went on board, and looked in vain at the countenances of these victims of so miserable a delusion for some signs of lunacy, or, at least, idiocy. No! In nothing that we could discover, were they different from the mass of Christian emigrants who crowd our steam-boats; and we turned with disgust, as the conviction forced itself upon us, that it was, after all, scarcely even an exaggerated exhibition of human credulity.

But we have already lingered too long over this topic, which, in the estimation of our readers, is not perhaps, worthy of such serious notice. We think differently. We solemnly believe that the tendency of the age is towards credulity. Our readers may smile at this, and may deem it absurd to forbode such results, from the intelligence of the present century. We have the Press, they will say. True; and so have the apostles of imposture: and, as Satan is said sometimes to disguise himself in the garb of an angel of light, so is there not one of all the long list of impositions, which now thrive and flourish on the face of the earth, which has not its advocate in the press. The Mormons have newspapers of their own; and right plausibly and ingeniously do they advocate in the press. The Mormons have newspapers of their own; and right plausibly and ingeniously do they advocate their cause, until, in the eyes of many careless and weak-minded individuals, they “make the worse appear the better reason.” They [411] make stirring appeals to the sympathy of the world; they cry out “persecution!” they assume a humble and modest demeanor, until they obtain the power to strike another blow for their permanent advancement; while, to the ignorant, who are selected for their proselytes and dupes, the most magnificent prospects of temporal and spiritual rewards are held out, if they will embrace the true faith. The superstitious are frightened by denunciation; the licentious purchased by the promise of indulgence; the avaricious tempted by the allurement of wealth, and the ambitious by glowing prospects of power and honor. There is no imposture so absurd or ridiculous, but those very qualities furnish the foundation for a sophistry, which, to the weak-minded, looks like reason, and for appeals, which, to the soft-hearted, seem to demand sympathy and protection. The much-vaunted universality of education furnishes but a feeble barrier to the march of imposition. In fact, what is that which, amongst the masses of our population, is termed “education?” Is it a capacity to reason, and to discriminate between true and false logic? Is it the faculty of analyzing subjects of great and overwhelming interest, connected with the sources of moral, political, and social well-being? Is it the power of examining important questions, upon enlarged and comprehensive views of the powers, duties, attributes, and final destinies of our race? Or is it not rather a meagre familiarity with a few arbitrary forms of speech and writing, to which no higher power is ever attributed, and final destinies of our race? Or is it not rather a meager familiarity with a few arbitrary forms of speech and writing, to which no higher power is ever attributed, than that they are the means of ordinary communication in the concerns of every day existence? How few of all the thousands, nay millions, of “enlightened men,” who live under the influence of this boasted era of intelligence, have power to think, act or judge, from the independent, unaided promptings of their own intellect! In our day, men spend their profitless lives in going about among water-fretted rocks, which stand hundreds of feet above what is now the river’s surface, crawling, like earth-worms, into poisonous caves, in search of parti-colored rocks, or burrowing, like short-sighted moles, into the bowels of the earth, after fossil-remains,-to prove, what? Why, that the section of the earth’s surface, upon which they vegetate, was not always what it is; that, perhaps, vast inland seas once flowed above now verdure-crowned and life-resounding fields and [412] cities; that a race of animals, and, perhaps, men, now extinct, once trod the boundless wilderness around them; in short, that change, in its eternal course, has swept over the earth, and that they, in their wisdom, have been able to discover a few straggling proofs of this self-evident proposition!

Let the empiric knowledge, who uses these dainty colorings of expression, stand before the pyramids upon the banks of the Nile, and ask, where, in the whole range of modern science, he can find even the mechanical power sufficient to erect those mysterious and awe inspiring monuments of a forgotten race. Let him gaze upon the living and immortal beauty, leaping, like rays of light, from the marble of Praxitiles and the canvass of Titian; let him contemplates the grandeur, blending with most exquisite beauty, of those temples which have furnished models to all succeeding time; let him thrill beneath the majestic verse of Homer, or melt under the delicious influences of Sappho’s wondrous song,-and then, if he can, turn to the present, and find cause for gratulation and vain-glorious self-applause.

❮ Back