Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Thoughts on the Religious State of the Country,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), pp. 33-36


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[page 33, continued:]

THOUGHTS ON THE RELIGIOUS STATE OF THE COUNTRY; WITH REASONS FOR PREFERRING EPISCOPACY. BY REP. CALVIN COLTON. NEW YORK: HARPER & BROTHERS.

[Southern Literary Messenger, June, 1836.]

IF we are to consider opinions of the press, when in perfect accordance throughout so wide a realm as the United States, as a fair criterion by which to estimate the opinions of the people, then it must be admitted that Mr. Cotton’s late work, “Four Years in Great Britain,” was received, in the author’s native land at least, with universal approbation. We heard not a dissenting voice. The candor, especially — the good sense, the gentlemanly feeling, and the accurate and acute observation of the traveller, were the daily themes of high, and, we have no doubt, of well merited panegyric. Nor in any private circle, we believe, were the great merits of the work disputed. The book now before us, which bears the running title of “Reasons for Episcopacy,” is, it cannot be denied, a sufficiently well-written performance, in which is evident a degree of lucid arrangement, and simple perspicuous reason, not to be discovered, as a prevailing feature, in the volumes to which we have alluded. [page 34:] The candor of the “Four years in Great Britain,” is more particularly manifest in the “Reasons for Episcopacy.” What a lesson in dignified frankness, to say nothing of common sense, may the following passage afford to many a dunder-headed politician!

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But the truth is that Mr. Colton has been misunderstood. To be sure, he has frequently treated of the evils attending the existence and operation of the church establishment in England — the union of Church and State. He manifested deep sympathy for those who suffered under the oppression of this establishment, and even allowed himself to be carried so far (in some early communications on the subject which appeared in the columns of a New York weekly paper,) as to animadvert in unbecoming trims upon a class of British clergymen, whose exemplary conduct deserved a more lenient treatment, but whose zeal for the Church of England blinded them to a sense of justice towards Dissenters, and induced them to oppose that just degree of reform which would have proved effectual in remedying the great causes of complaint. He contended, however, if we are not greatly in error, that total reform, to be safe, must be slow — that a separation at a single blow, could not be effected without great hazard to the public interest, and great derangement of private society.

It is even possible (and Mr. Colton himself admits the possibility) that, mingled up with these animadversions of which we speak, might have been some censures upon the Church itself. This was nothing more than natural in an honest and indignant man — an American too, who beheld the vices of the British Church Establishment. But it appears to us quite evident, that the strictures of the author (when considered [page 35:] as a whole and in their general bearing,) have reference to the character — not of the Church — but of the Church of England. Let us turn, for an exemplification of what we say, to his chapter on “The Church of England,” in the “Four Years in Great Britain.” This chapter consists principally of a collection of facts, tending to show the evils of a conjoined Church and State, and intended especially for the perusal of Americans. It is great injustice to confound what we find here, with an attack upon Episcopacy. Yet it seems to us, that this chapter has been repeatedly so misunderstood, by a set of people who are determined to understand every thing in their own particular fashion. “That Episcopacy,” says Mr. Colton, in vindicating himself from the charge adduced, “ is the established Church of England is an accident. Presbyterianism is the established religion of Scotland and of some parts of the north of Europe. So was it of England under the Protectorate of Cromwell. No matter what had been the form of the established religion of Great Britain, in the same circumstances the results must have been substantially the same. It is not Episcopacy that has induced these evils, but the vicious and impracticable plan of uniting Church and State for the benefit of society.”

While in England Mr. Colton wrote and published a book on the subject of Revivals, and declared himself their advocate. In the fifth chapter of his present work he opposes them, and in the Preface alludes to his so doing, maintaining that these religious excitements are materially changed in their character. He speaks also of a chapter in a former work, entitled “The Americans, by an American in England” — a chapter devoted to the removal of aspersions cast in [page 36:] England upon the developments of religion in America. For some such defence it appears that he was called upon by friends. The effort itself was, as Mr. C. assures us, of the nature of an apology — neither attempting to recommend or establish any thing — and he thus excuses himself for apparent inconsistency in now declaring an opinion against the expediency of the practices which were scandalized.

The Episcopacy of Mr. Colton will be read with pleasure and profit by all classes of the Christian community who admire perspicuity, liberality, frankness, and unprejudiced inquiry. It is not our purpose to speak of the general accuracy of his data, or the soundness of his deductions. In style the work appears to us excessively faulty — even uncouth.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Thoughts on the Religious State of the Country)