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greater encroachments upon their opinions and property; they did not oppose the grant of a large sum of money to the poor clergy, nor the vote of a million for the erection of new churches. But if they did not here oppose Government, a writer of less shrewdness than this might have guessed that the true reason was very different from their satisfaction in these measures. Let the Dissenters, however, learn a lesson of zeal and courage from such reproaches. Their silence, they perceive, is interpreted into acquiescence. It becomes a precedent; and if they ever afterwards speak out, they are charged with inconsistency and even with faction.
“To urge upon Dissenters, as the Reviewer does, the necessity of sacrifices for the public good, is in this case preposterous. To what are they to sacrifice, except to the complacency or ambition of the author of the Bill? They can give up only what regards their consciences; he has an easy surrender to make: his Bill is not essential to his own or others' happiness, and he may re-cast it so as to make it worthy of himself and of the great nation to whom it is proposed. The history of the sacrifices of the Dissenters is, in fact, the exposition of the loss of their liberty. By one concession they fastened the yoke of the Test Act upon their own necks and those of their children, and by another they lost, for a century at least, the only probable chance of their emancipation.
“Nothing would be more dangerous to the Dissenters than that the Legislature should presume upon their willingness to make concessions of conscience for the supposed public good. Were it allowed to proceed upon this principlea very mistaken one, and one which no man could have adopted who knew the people to whom it relates—the present measure would speedily be followed by other and more fatal aggressions upon religious liberty."
The pamphlet from which this extract is taken was reviewed, together with some others directed against his Education Bill, by Mr. Brougham in the Edinburgh Review (Vol. XXXV. 214–257). Some of the objections were allowed to be weighty, and alterations in the Bill were suggested in order to remove them. The incurable evil of the plan was its professed and avowed connection with the Church Establishment. No alteration of details could remove the objections of Dissenters founded on this principle. The Protestant Society and the General Body of Protestant Dissenting Ministers of the Three Denominations passed resolutions and agreed on petitions to Parliament against the scheme, and, in the session of 1821, Mr. Brougham dropped the Bill immediately after its first reading.
The proceedings connected with this abortive scheme of national education are worthy of attention, as shewing the tide-marks of religious liberty. That respect for the rights of conscience has advanced with great rapidity during the past quarter of a century, is shewn by the fate of the Education Bill more recently introduced by Sir James Graham, viewed side by side with that of Mr. Brougham. Both plans had the same fault of a too exclusive regard to the power and dignity of the clergy; but, compared with Mr. Brougham's Bill, that of Sir James Graham was almost harmless, yet it raised throughout the nation a storm of indignant opposition, before which the measure was instantly withdrawn. Had Mr. Brougham proposed in 1820 a Bill resembling that afterwards offered by the Government of Sir Robert Peel, there can be little doubt that the active opponents of it would have been found amongst the clergy rather than amongst the Nonconformists. The character and well-deserved fate of each Bill served to mark an era in the history of religious liberty in England. It may be confidently anticipated that one result of these successive failures in the attempt to bribe the clergy to become supporters of education by the offer of exclusive privileges and dignity, will be, that no sagacious English statesman will hereafter venture to propose a scheme of national education giving any obvious and unfair advantage to Churchmen or the clergy.
The increased power of Protestant Dissenters of the present day in vindicating their just rights, is no doubt in part the result of their larger numbers, and their admission to electoral, municipal and legislative privileges; but it must also in part be attributed to the watchful prudence and courage of the leaders of the Dissenters, in asserting, equally against friend and foe, the inalienable rights of conscience.
To one of the meetings of the London ministers, convened Feb. 14, 1821, to take Mr. Brougham's Bill into consideration, a painful and almost tragic interest attached, as it proved the death-scene of Dr. Jas. Lindsay, who had been for more than thirty-five years the pastor of the ancient Presbyterian congregation in Monkwell Street. Mr. Aspland was an eye-witness of this awful event, and continued, with a few others, to watch the corpse of his friend until the unmistakeable signs of death appeared.* He, in company with Mr. Belsham and others, was
* The following narrative of the circumstances attending the death of Dr. Lindsay (the fullest published) was penned by Mr. Aspland. “On Wednesday, the 14th inst., the Dissenting Ministers of the Three Denominations had assembled to receive the Report of a Committee previously appointed to consider and watch the progress of Mr. Brougham's Education Bill. There were probably fifty in number. Dr. Rippon was in the chair. The business was opened by Dr. Rees, the chairman of the Committee, who related the substance of a conversation with which Mr. Brougham had favoured the Committee, we think the preceding day. He was followed by Mr. Innes, another member of the Committee, who corroborated Dr. Rees's statements and added other particulars. It being known that Dr. Lindsay differed in some degree from most of his brethren with regard to the magnitude of the evil involved in the Bill, there was now a general but friendly call upon the Doctor, who was also on the Committee, to explain his sentiments. This wish expressed by the Body, proceeded from that cordial respect which they universally entertained for him, and which his uniformly frank and courteous manners never for a moment permitted any dif. ference of opinion to lessen. He rose and spoke with great ability, and with some animation, though not, in our judgment, with quite his usual energy, for about ten minutes. He did not defend Mr. Brougham's Bill, as has been reported, but maintained that some of its clauses were highly objectionable, and pledged himself to unite with his brethren in an honourable and candid opposi. tion to them. He stated most clearly, however, that such, in his opinion, was the power of education over error and injustice, and even over whatever might be faulty in the plan of education itself, that he would rather have the Bill as it was than risk the postponement of a scheme of National Education to an indefinite period. At the same time, no one could have gone farther than he went in disclaiming all approbation of national religious establishments, and in asserting the principles of Nonconformity. He expressed a more than ordinary warmth of esteem for his brethren around him, and especially for the venerable Dr. Rees, who, he said, would have swayed his mind somewhat differently on the question, if he could have allowed himself to be determined by any authority whatever. He sate down, declaring that he would go with the meeting as far as he could, and that when he could go no further he would make no opposition, but cheerfully yield to the decision of the majority. Mr. Clayton then spoke for two or three minutes, and Dr. Waugh for about the same time. Something dropped by this last gentleman, led Dr. Rees to rise again to explain the principle of the Bill, which was not education simply, but education under ecclesiastical patronage. At this moment the eye of the writer met Dr. Lindsay's, and he assented by a decisive motion of the head to Dr. Rees's explanation, saying, without rising
one of the pall-bearers on the occasion of the funeral at Bunhill Fields ; and, on the Sunday following, closed a sermon to his own congregation, on The Excellence and Reward of Christian Integrity, with the following address :
“ The suddenness of Dr. LINDSAY's departure was awful, and gave a temporary shock to every feeling of the heart. Yet as an eye-witness of the mournful stroke, I now consider it as a most happy death. It was such a mode of dying as, in dependence on the Divine will, he had ventured amongst his more intimate friends to declare desirable. It was unattended (as far as spectators could judge) by the smallest sense of pain. The summons found the faithful servant of Christ at the post of duty. He fell in the arms of his brethren, who next to his family enjoyed his warmest affections; and he breathed his last in a place endeared to him by numberless associations of ideas, the very place that, had it been permitted us to choose, we should have selected for his closing scene. There seems a consistency in the order of Providence, that so public-spirited a life should terminate by a public death.
“Sudden dissolution is deprecated in the prayers of some churches, on the too rational presumption that all men are not at all times prepared for their final account. In this case, no one could entertain such a fear. Our departed brother had received a warning, if to his truly Christian mind any warning had been needful, in a long and severe illness, from which it appears he had but imperfectly recovered, and his character, always excellent, was ripened by his affliction, and his spirit was prepared for its translation to heaven.
“The mind of Dr. Lindsay was happily formed. His intellectual powers and his social affections were remarkably strong, and the purest moral and Christian principles put them in harmonious action. Every one knows that he was a just man and a good man; and every one feels that he was great by being just and good.
“There was in his whole character a pure and noble-minded simplicity. Never was human breast more free from sinister design, envy and suspicion. Never were manners more remote from art and affectation. In public and private he was the same man-warm-hearted, disinterested, open and generous.
“ The religious circle in which he moved and shone has had in it men of deeper learning, of more extensive knowledge, of more brilliant talents, and of greater opportunities of professional distinction; but it never possessed an individual who carried with him more completely the affections of all that approached him, who drew to himself without design or effort more respect
from his seat, Certainly, I admit it: that is the principle of the Bill,' These were his last words. After Dr. Rees had made one or two remarks, and Mr. Innes had thrown in an explanatory sentence, the Secretary, Dr. Morgan, was proceeding to read a series of resolutions proposed by the Committee to the adoption of the meeting, and had advanced to the fourth or fifth, when the attention of the persons around Dr. Lindsay was attracted by a sort of groan, three times repeated. They found him inclining forward on his walking-stick, and on lifting him up, perceived that he had been seized with a fit. A slight convulsive motion of the head and face was observed by the gentleman nearest to him. He was instantly carried into the inner library, and within five or six minutes medical aid was procured; but in vain: pulsation had ceased, and the spirit had fled. Till long after his death was matter of certainty he continued to be surrounded by his sorrowing brethren, one of whom, Dr. Waugh, offered up on the occasion a solemn and deeply impressive prayer to the Almighty.
“The shock of this calamity put an end to the business of the meeting; and as soon as the persons present could compose themselves sufficiently to recollect what had passed before their lamented brother's seizure, they congratulated each other that not the least deviation from urbanity or friendship had taken place in the conversation in which Dr. Lindsay had shared, and in fact, that no single expression had been uttered which even now any one of the speakers would have wished to retract or alter."
and confidence, or whom a religious denomination would be more proud to put forth and say, 'He is one of us.
“In any walk of literature or science, Dr. Lindsay might have been eminent. It may be regretted that circumstances over which he had no control prevented his being a benefactor to nations and ages. Yet he is not without a memorial upon earth. The present generation must be totally forgotten before his name will be lost to conversation; and his published Sermons will, if I mistake not, give him a lasting station amongst the superior English divines.
“Though brought up in a national religious Establishment, that of Scotland, Dr. Lindsay was a decided and zealous Protestant Dissenter. The rights of conscience in their greatest latitude were his favourite theme, in discoursing on which his fine countenance was lighted up with its brightest expression, and his hearty voice rose to its highest and most commanding tone.
“He was in the best, the Christian sense of the word, a patriot. He loved his country because he loved mankind. His zeal was ardent, but equable, for public morals and national freedom. His generosity of soul preserved him from political enmities, but it urged him to be the foremost to assert great moral principles, and to stand forward, even though he should stand alone, in the cause of innocence and justice and humanity and liberty.
“One subject of late engaged in a peculiar degree his thoughts and affections; I mean, the Education of the People. All other interests, those of patriotism, morals and religion, he considered to be involved in this. "Give me,' he would say with his cordial warmth, .Give me an educated population, and I care not what errors and delusions are abroad. They will be sooner or later scattered by the power of knowledge. This is in the hands of Providence the mighty instrument of reformation, and it will go on working until it subdue all opposition to the rights and peace and happiness of mankind, and prepare the way for the universal spread of the pure gospel of Christ.'
“ This was, in fact, the substance of the last speech which he uttered uttered, alas! with his dying voice. One would willingly take it as prophetic; and, for one's self, a better wish cannot be entertained than that in mature years, and even in age, there may be experienced the generous, the almost youthful enthusiasm of philanthropy which to the last moment animated and delighted this good man's bosom.
“ To Protestant Dissenting ministers, a more encouraging spectacle cannot be exhibited than the history of their lamented and revered brother. He was scarcely a popular preacher, in the vulgar estimation of pulpit talents and services. He never canvassed for applause, nor ran about to gather fame. The attendants on his ministry were not the crowd. Yet his condition was such as a mitred head might envy. His hearers were personal friends. Every year proofs accumulated of their affection, and even of their devotion to his welfare. He had nothing more in this respect to desire. And, further, when death had finished his character, it appeared, perhaps to the surprise of some persons, that no man, no minister of the gospel, ever enjoyed a greater share of well-earned and rational popularity; not that noisy breath which goes before, but that steady respect and love which follow, exalted merit. His funeral obsequies, however mournful, were in one respect the triumph of integrity and charity, verifying the consolatory, animating truth, that notwithstanding the occasional prevalence of prejudice and bigotry, The memory of the just is blessed.”
The removal of Dr. Lindsay and the increasing years and infirmities of Dr. Abraham Rees and Mr. Belsham, were the occasion of Mr. Aspland's being called on to undertake a still larger share than hitherto in the administration of Dissenting trusts and the conduct of public business. From this time he appears to have acted a prominent part
in the occasional meetings of the General Body of London Dissenting Ministers.
He had the satisfaction of preparing and submitting to them a series of resolutions on the subject of the severe Penal Laws which then stained the Statute-book of this country. The resolutions were adopted by an unanimous vote, and a Petition to Parliament was founded on them, praying for such a revision of the criminal code as would assimilate it more closely to the spirit of the Christian religion.*
Mr. Aspland never advocated the entire abolition of death-punishments, but he beheld with shame and grief the infliction of death for mere offences against the rights of property. His long-cherished opinion of the inexpediency and wickedness of capital punishments in all but cases of murder and extreme personal violence, were soon after this strengthened by a case which fell under his own notice, in which he had reasons for fearing that the irrevocable punishment of death was inflicted on one innocent of the crime of which he was convicted.
A man named Harris was tried and convicted at the Old Bailey, in November 1824, on the charge of robbing and attempting to drown, in a pond in the Hackney Fields, one Sarah Drew. The woman was the principal witness against him, and her identification of him as her assailant was unhesitating. From the report of the trial in the newspapers, Mr. Aspland, who was well acquainted with the spot where the robbery and assault were alleged to have been committed, felt some doubts about the truth of the story. He began to institute minute inquiries into the case, and found that, though the convict was by habit and repute a thief, and went amongst the fraternity of evil-doers by the slang name of Kiddy Harris, there were strong reasons for doubting his guilt in this particular instance. Mr. Aspland and the prisoner's attorney went together to Newgate, and conversed with Mr. Wontner, the jailer, and Mr. Cotton, the ordinary. Mr. Aspland had several interviews with the convict. He subsequently personally sifted all the evidence which the convict's family and associates offered in proof of his innocence. In this distasteful duty, the scene of which was a public-house in Brick Lane, near the haunts of a nest of thieves, he was assisted by an attorney's managing clerk, accustomed to criminal investigations. The case had its difficulties, and he was not without his doubts; but in the end saw reason to rest in his first impression of Harris's innocence. He drew up a memorial on the case, which he forwarded to the Home Secretary, Mr. Peel. The memorial was illustrated by a ground-plan of the Hackney Fields, which he had caused to be prepared after an exact admeasurement of the distances of the several points, and by comments on the discrepancies as to time and place in the evidence of the prosecutrix. Instead of entering into the investigation for himself, or referring it to the Judge before whom it was tried, the Secretary unfortunately referred the whole matter to the committing Magistrate. Mr. Aspland was more grieved than surprised to find this stipendiary officer, to whom the character and habits of Harris were known, impenetrable to every impression in favour of the convict. The Recorder's report was at length made, and Harris was ordered for execution. Mr. Aspland had a final interview with him in the condemned cell. The
* See Votes of House of Commons, May 23, 1821, and Mon. Rep. XVI. 372.