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will write to Dr. R-- before the post goes; you shall go to school, I'm d--d if you shan't."
Great as was Mr. Sinclair's ingenuity, he could not hit upon any severer punishment for his son than sending him to school.
Everard said nothing; but his heart was ready to leap from his bosom. With sorrow? No: with joy! How impotent is the malevolence of the ignorant.
"Those books,"-continued Mr. Sinclair, "those rascally books have been the ruin of you. I wish that you had never learnt to read. Books are the curse of society; they are the subversion of all order and decency. I hate books, I will never suffer another one to enter the doors of my house. I will burn all that we have; I'll petition Parliament to put a stop to the printing-press! Get out of my sight! You are an atheist! and will some day be a poet." And Everard walked out of the room.
But Mr. Sinclair was lamentably mistaken; his son was not an atheist. It is almost ridiculous to enlarge upon the religious opinions of a boy but that boy had read much, and he had reflected still more. Besides, he was very talented; and the opinions of a clever boy are better than those of a dull man, upon every thing but matters of experience.
However, talented as he was, his opinions were not worth much. "The true object of juvenile education," says Mr.Godwin, "is to provide, against the age of five-and-twenty, a mind well-regulated, active, and prepared to learn." But Everard was scarcely fourteen, and he was not only prepared to learn, but he had learnt.
His opinions, if they were nothing else, were genuine. Though he lacked wisdom, he did not lack sincerity: he was honest. His creed, such as it was, was the offspring of conviction, not convenience. He recognized an invisible Spirit of consummate intellectual beauty, pervading and governing the universe. He admired, he loved, he worshipped this Spirit; not with any set ceremonies, -as he was wont to express,-not with any periodical and circumscribed formalities of lip and knee-worship,—but with a devout heart, whose temple was the mighty universe, whose sabbath was a whole life. The flame upon his altar was ever burning like that of the vestals of old. He honoured the Creator by doing good to the creature he believed that a pure heart and a benevolent spirit were more acceptable to God than blind faith and religious enthusiasm. He thought that piety was better than superstition, and that one good action was worth a volume of theology. Thus far, and no farther, he was an atheist.
"But, at all events, he was no Christian, and he did not believe in the Bible." I will explain: he had read the sacred writings; he had studied them very intently, and believed them, as others believe them, to be works of divine revelation: but he did not interpret the scriptures precisely as the churchman is wont. He looked more to the spirit than to the letter. He recognized a deep vein of allegory pervading, in many instances, the narrative portion of holy writ. He read the Bible somewhat as the Swedenborgian does, though he did not know that such a sect was in existence. He believed in a future state, but not in the ultimate damnation of the wicked. He did not comprehend (and who at his age ever did?) the complicated nature of the Trinity; but he did not on that account reject it. The divine incarnation of the Messiah was a mystery which baffled his researches he did not understand it, and a person can scarcely believe that which he does not understand. Yet he did not discard it: his faith hovered like a bird between earth and heaven,-between the man and the God. "He was a sceptic, then?" Well; granted; but not an universal sceptic."The dogmatist," says Watts, "is sure of every thing; the sceptic believes nothing." Allowing this to be correct, Everard was neither the one nor the other.
"But how could he believe in the Bible without believing in the divinity of the Messiah?"-Perhaps Everard Sinclair could not have answered that question himself in a manner satisfactory to the interrogator. But the boy with all his ingenuity was no match for a practised theologian. Everything as yet was crude, uncertain, unfixed in his mind. He could scarcely convince himself that he was right, much less could he convince another. But the inconsistency spoken of above was not altogether irreconcileable. He did not read the scriptures as we do, neither did he dis-believe in the divine incarnation. I must not suffer myself to wander into the thorny paths of theological controversy. I already have gone too far, considering the profane nature of this work. But it is requisite to the full development of Everard's character, that these things should at least be partially understood.
But Everard was in reality a Christian,—a sincere and devout Christian. The character of the Messiah, as recorded in the New Testament, he looked upon as the most beautiful impersonation of unsullied virtue upon record: the Sermon on the Mount he regarded as the most perfect collection of moral ethics ever framed for the amelioration of mankind. Both the person and his doctrines were so intrinsically excellent, that whether they were
human or divine, they were equally worthy of imitation and observance. In this point of view, the divine incarnation affected not the lustre of the example or the excellence of the instruction presented to him. Everard was no casuist; he did not throw aside Christian morality because he did not comprehend Christian theology; on the contrary, he endeavoured with his whole soul to assimilate the conduct of his life, as far as humanity would suffer him, to the unblameable tenor of that upright One's ways, who lived a fair pattern of humility,-who reviled not when he was reviled, -who endured suffering but inflicted none. He was essentially a believer and a Christian. His faith was made apparent by his acts. He did not array himself against divine, but against civil institutions: he lacked not faith in God, but in man, -not in the spirit, but in the form,-not in the book, but in the commentator.
He thought that the great machine of society was badly organized. He thought that there was more unhappiness and unrighteousness in the world, than is accordant with the desire of a merciful God. He conceived that by a concurrence of voluntary energies, very much of this evil might be amended. He did not think that the institutions of humanity were founded upon true Christian principles. This was unfortunate; for people