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tion in England, puts forward this proposition—' It should be clearly understood, that every man has an absolute and irrefragable right to treat any doctrine as he thinks proper, either to argue against it, or to ridicule it. If his arguments are wrong, he can be refuted; if his ridicule is foolish, he can be outridiculed. “Every species of attack is legitimate.' Again, 'Any punishment inflicted for the use of language which does not tend to break the public peace, and which is neither seditious in reference to the state, nor libellous in reference to individuals, is simply a wanton cruelty ;' and he puts the proposition in the form of a question, thus :—' Is it proper that law or public opinion should discourage an individual from publishing sentiments which are hostile to the prevailing notions, and are considered by the rest of society to be false and mischievous ?' In other words," continued Mr. Lewis, "our objectors say Deorum injurive deis curce !”
“Here, then, is the problem which it is my object to submit for your consideration. Here is the issue which remains to be decided by the educated mind of the country, and which it especially befits us, as jurists, to aid in the determination of. The protest against the existing law is made, not by Mr. Buckle only, but also by a writer of even higher repute and consideration--Mr. John Stuart Millwhom, in fact, Mr. Buckle only followed in order of tiine; but whom he has far outstripped-if I ought not rather to say, contrasted with himself—in the intemperance of the remarks which he has published on the subject, and the unjustifiable mode in which, in his eagerness to heap abuse upon the law, personal character has been traduced by him.”
Upon this last paragraph we must interpose one remark. As a lawyer, Mr. Lewis ought to command a fair amount of accuracy in his language. Now, if he “ought rather to say" that Mr. Buckle's language is in contrast with Mr. Mill's as regards intemperance, he ought not to say that the former has “outstripped” before, or when, or how long after it was published ? Did it cease to be a
promising” work before Mr. Lewis read it, or when he read it, or after the remarks above quoted appeared ? It certainly is a “promising” work in respect of future volum.es, which we are anxiously awaiting..
the latter in this respect. And Mr. Lewis ought to have known which assertion he meant to make. That Mr. Buckle “ followed Mr. Mill in order of time,” is indeed referable to the fact, that the book reviewed' generally does precede in order of time the review itself. As regards the attack on Sir John Coleridge, and the sentence in Pooley's case, the matter was stale, and it was quite unnecessary to revive its consideration in the Juridical Society, and it would have been better on all grounds to have omitted the personalities indulged in by the lecturer.
The lecturer. then proceeded, “ Has, then, the law a right to restrain offensive attacks on religion ? 'No!' says the lover of liberty; or,' he says, 'if you interdict the use of such weapons, interdict them equally on both sides. Restrain the employment of invective, sarcasm, contumely, and other intemperate means against irreligious opinions, if you forbid their use in opposition to the prevailing—that is, the Christian-opinion.' This ground is taken by Mr. Mill and others. Mr. Mill says, “If it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on infidelity than on religion. It is obvious, however, that law and authority have no business with restraining either.' So it is asked by an anonymous writer, as to those who would punish blasphemy because it is offensive to believers, will they similarly punish believers for language offensive to those of other creeds, with equal virulence and wilfulness ?'”
We must presently make a somewhat longer extract from Mr. Lewis's paper, that our readers may distinctly see the mode in which, at the present day, the subject under consideration may be and is conducted. Although his treatment of it affects, no doubt, to be philosophical, they will observe that it involves several of the more vulgar vices of controversy ; such as imperfect application of terms, lax definition, and flagrant examples of petitio principii and pulpit eloquence. Indeed, some part of the lecture reminded us strongly of the story which Curran used to tell of his mother, who, when he had achieved the reputation
16 Mill on Liberty” was reviewed in Fraser's Magazine, by Mr. Buckle, as our readers are aware.- Vide L. M. and R., No. XIV., p. 263.
of being the most eloquent man at the bar, could not but help believing that his talents were misplaced. “Oh Jacky, Jacky," would she say, “what a preacher was lost in you !” Moreover, one sentence from Paley would seem to contain all the actual argument which Mr. Lewis has laboured, as we venture to think, so inefficaciously. Paley has said, “Serious arguments are fair on all sides. Christianity is but ill defended by refusing audience and toleration to the objections of unbelievers. But whilst we would have freedom of inquiry restrained by no laws but those of decency, we are entitled to demand, on behalf of a religion which holds forth to mankind assurances of immortality, that its credit be assailed by no other weapons than those of sober discussion and legitimate reasoning.” It was in enforcing the above passage, that Mr. Justice Erskine remarked, “Sober argument you may answer, but indecent reviling you cannot, and therefore the law steps in and punishes it.” So far Paley, to whom the reply has been made, that a wise man “would rather be vituperated as an infamous scoundrel, than demonstrated to be irregular in his habits." And further, that an ancient authority has pointed out that the best way to meet ridicule is by serious argument, and serious argument by ridicule.
There is another authority who has also expressed shortly one of the points much laboured by Mr. Lewis, which it is worth noticing. Michaelis on the Mosaic law has argued that the doctrine, “that blasphemy ought not to be punished, appears to me to border upon the persecution of religion ; for thus the infidel would have a right to blaspheme and we should be obliged to bear it;” and he adds, that to revile religion “is to persecute it.” But let us now turn to the treatment which the subject receives in the year
of grace and light, 1859.
Mr. Lewis's expansion of the doctrine of modified and undefined toleration
be read in the following passages :
* By “serious” the archdeacon must have meant “logical and sound” well as “ sober," for it is very possible for sobriety of argument to reach the deepest depths of serious dulness, and, at the same time, to be so fallacious as not to have the slightest symptom of "fairness."
“Now, it would be mere disingenuousness, a mere evasion, were I to profess myself satisfied with the alternative offered of an equality of treatment to be extended to the defamers of Christianity, and the supposed defamers of unbelief. I shall not shelter myself under any such comprounise!
Part of my argument, indeed, will be, that there is nothing in unbelief to defame! It is plausible, but utterly false (as I shall hope to show), to assume that there is room, or material, here for any bargain. The man who rejects religion has nothing to offer which can entitle him to put the Christian under terms. There is no subject-matter for an exchange! The offence (supposing the fact of an offence to be established) is all on one side. How can any one defume infidelity, which, in its very nature, abjures all claim to veneration, and which says, Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die!' Its own description of itself confesses that there is no sacredness in it to desecrate. It may be arguable theoretically whether Christianity is or is not true, and the unbeliever is not sought to be precluded from denying its truth; but if I establish, as I hope to do, that Christianity may, for certain limited purposes, be treated by the State as it would be were it certainly known to be true, then we must take its own description of itself, and, according to that description, it offers sanctions with which disbelief has nothing to compare-against which it has nothing to set-off ; sanctions which are of such a nature that an attack
be indecent-may be profane ; sanctions, moreover, which being profaned, there is no longer even equality (as I shall show), for Christian opinion (that equality which the unbeliever himself insists on), but a gross inequality, to the unfair hindrance and disparagement of those opinions.
"The arguments which establish, as I conceive, the right to visit blasphemy with legal penalties, are of two kinds. One class of arguments is derived from the essential nature of Christian doctrines, and the intrinsic difference between their sanctions and those of infidelity (if the latter can be said to claim any sanctions). In other words, from the very nature and character of Ciiristian opinions, they occupy, in regard to protection from the State, a preferable position to disbelief. The other line of argument is either historical, or bases itself on existing facts. *
“The line of argument which I first venture to subunit, is derived, as I before said, from the very nature and character of Christian opinions. The essence of the Christian's faith—as we all know-is God, a future state, a revelation, sin, redemption, and a final judgment. Now, I admit that, in so far as we claim a right to punish the ridicule of Christian tenets, on the ground of their Divine character, we deny Mr. Mill's theory of the per
fect equality of opinion in the just view of liberty, and assert or insist on the soundness, or the right to assume the soundness, of our own as against those of the infidel, though we claim no right to persecute or be intolerant. If the law cannot take cognizance of the fact that Christian opinions have, or claim, Divine sanction, it cannot, on the mere ground of their alleged orthodoxy, deem the irreverent aspersion of those opinions a crime; or, supposing that the law could so treat it, then, upon the hypothesis I have mentioned, it must equally punish any contumely of the opinions of the infidel.
“This, then, is the position of the argument:—There is no attempt to proscribe freedom of opinion as such ; and, for the purpose of the enjoyment of that freedom, it is agreed to be assumed, that the opinions commonly deemed orthodox may prove wrong, and those of the unbeliever sound. But, when the greater licence of derision and reproach is claimed, those who refuse to concede it, rely, though not exclusively, on the assumption that there is something in the protected creed which the State is at liberty to take notice of, as entitling it to that protection, and that in this respect the creed of the infidel cannot be treated as on a level with it. Undoubtedly, then, I am concerned to show that the sanctions of Christianity are matters which the State, i. e. the nation at large, may, for some purposes of police, inform itself of, without unduly infringing on what all allow to le the just liberty of opinion, and, therefore, of infidelity. *
"Now one thing, at all events, it may be expected the objector to our laws against blasphemy will concede :—The questions involved in religion may be of eternal moment. His own proposition is, that we can never be sure of our opinion being a sound opinion, or another's a false one. He says, that we cannot call any proposition certain, because we are not the judges of certainty. He says that creeds Auctuate, and that we find an improvement in the character of successive creeds. Now, this being his own view of opinions generally, he will admit that the Christian may be right, when he declares that religion is of eternal moment, and that Christianity furnishes the means of knowing what are the obligations, what the perils, and what the rewards of religion.
" It is, therefore, a fact, which no licence of opinion can dissemble, that a most serious, indeed, an awful choice, is presented when the rival opinions are Christianity on the one hand, and infidelity on the other. To say that this is a case merely of opinion against opinion is deceptive. Granted, for the purpose of argument, that either may be true, yet there is this difference —the one offers nothing, entails nothing, involves no risk of losing anything ; it is a simple negation, and presents a mere