London, Volume 5

Knight, Charles

1843

CXVI.-Exeter Hall.

CXVI.-Exeter Hall.

 

 

The social principle applied in carrying out the designs of charity and benevolence is a remarkable feature of the present times. There are so many objects of this nature which it is quite clear no single-handed exertions could compass that the union of numbers to effect them must be regarded as an improvement of vast importance. It is this spirit of aggregation which has extended so widely the scope of philanthropic efforts, and given them a larger sphere of action. The entire world is grasped in the designs of modern philanthropy: the strength of individual charity has perhaps been weakened by the effort. In old times how splendid were its noble gifts and endowments. Though directed towards few objects, the benefit conferred was generally substantial and often of striking utility, evincing a liberal and thoughtful public spirit which we cannot think of without a deep sense of admiration. Many of the founders of our grammarschools, who perhaps came to London from some remote part of the country in

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early life, and raised themselves from indigence to wealth, marked their sense of the blessings they had enjoyed by endowing an institution for education in their native place, where boys were to be instructed

in learning and good manners;

or

in grammar and other good learning ;

or

freely and carefully taught and instructed;

or

piously educated;

or instructed

in religion and good literature.

The number of these nurseries for youth in every part of England are noble monuments of the wisdom and charity of our ancestors. The schools which early in June every year pour forth their thousands into belong to another era in the history of educational charities, and such of them as are endowed were mostly established during the last century, though or came into existence just at the close of the century. The assemblage of the children took place for the time in , in St. Andrew's, , when were present; and subsequently they met at , . ,In , of the children assembled for the time at , where they have since annually been collected, and the effect of so large a number uniting their voices in the responses and the singing is highly impressive and affecting. That eccentric but powerful artist, Blake, was probably present at the anniversary of , for in his singular little volume entitled

Songs of Innocence,

he has the following lines on the occasion:--

'Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean, The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green. Grey-headed beadles walk'd before with wands as white as snow, Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames' waters flow.

O, what a multitude they seem'd, these flowers of London town, Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own; The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs, Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song, Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among; Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor; Then cherish pity lest you drive an angel from your door.

Proceed we, however, to the more complicated schemes of modern charity, or at least those of them which naturally suggest themselves in connexion with Exeter Hall; and something must we say also of the general influence which brings the place into importance as an actual and living part of our institutions, as, in these days, a sort of

fourth

estate

of the realm.

is not better known as the scat of legislation than Exeter Hall as the recognised temple of modern philanthropy: The associations connected with it are peculiarly characteristic of an age which, in many respects, is marked and distinct from all other eras in the history of the national manners, and which had scarcely exhibited any of its phases half a century ago. He who would rightly estimate the present power and influence of our various institutions, must be blind if he omit all consideration of the moral and religious feelings which are concentrated at Exeter Hall, and there find a voice which is heard from extremity of the kingdom to the other. In order clearly to understand that the spirit which animates the frequenters of this place is distinctly a feature of the present age, we must go back to the period when Exeter Hall was not, before Freemasons'

243

Hall or the Crown and Anchor had resounded with the plaudits of the religious and benevolent, even before the

religious world

itself existed. We must retrace briefly the progress and the efflux of improvement in manners and habits, for at times the tide has advanced, and then again it has receded.

The supremacy of the Puritans, and their fervour of spirit, might, under more genial circumstances, have produced enlarged and comprehensive schemes of benevolence such as we now see; but, as it was, under the influence of political and religious fanaticism combined, zeal degenerated into bigotry, and warmth of devotion into a narrow ascetism. A more healthy tone would have succeeded this fever, no doubt, but the national feeling of merry England revolted against the puritanical system, and then succeeded by way of reaction the trifling and profligate temper of the Restoration. The thoughtless spirit both of the court and the country, at this period, were altogether incompatible with earnest moral efforts of any kind. The Revolution checked the light-heartedness of the nation, which had been already over-shadowed by the gloomy character of James II. In the reign of Anne a more zealous religious temper again prevailed. In societies were instituted for the reformation of manners, which dealt much in warrants, and placed too great a reliance on the constable. In the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, now the most venerable institution of the kind, was established for the education and religious instruction of the poor in the principles of the Established Church. In , the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which had been already some time in existence, was incorporated, its chief members being the prelates and dignitaries of the Established Church, and some of the most eminent persons in the State. In the year, after it had received its Charter, the receipts amounted to ; and the printed list of subscribers, in , contained names. The British Colonies are to be understood as the

Foreign Parts,

to which the Society confined its operations. The year before it was incorporated, the question of counteracting the political influence of the French Missionaries in Canada was much agitated, and partly from political motives, as well as from feelings of interest in their welfare, the Society's efforts for the conversion of the heathen were made among the American Indians; but at a very early period the Society gave its support to the Danish Foreign Mission, which was commenced under Frederic IV., about , and sent spiritual labourers to the Danish settlements in India. The reports of these missionaries were translated from the Danish, and for many years published annually in England, under the title of

A Brief Account of the Measures taken in Denmark for the Conversion of the Heathen.

Nearly a century elapsed after the establishment of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel before any kindred institution arose in England. The existence of the Societies above-mentioned, and of those for the reformation of manners, is a proof of a more zealous spirit having partially found its way into the Church, and also to some, though not perhaps to any great extent, into society generally. But it is unquestionable that the reigns of the and Georges were characterised by an extraordinary degree of apathy in the Church, and amongst the higher classes, on religious, moral, and social questions. At length the zeal and energy of Wesley and Whitefield aroused the Church from its slumbers, and it began slowly to awaken to a sense of the duties required from

244

it, and from all who enjoyed wealth and influence; but not until the religious fervour of the poorer classes had been already powerfully excited by the system of Methodism, and they were ready to point indignantly at the Church as an obstacle rather than a guide. There needed yet a religious regenerator, whose voice would be listened to in high places, for there the moral insensibility was as dull as ever. At the period which just preceded the French Revolution,

the gay and busy world were almost ignorant of Christianity, amidst the lukewarmness and apathy which possessed the very watchmen of the faith.

[n.244.1]  Amongst the most conspicuous of those who endeavoured to regenerate the national spirit were Wilberforce and Hannah More. Wilberforce proposed to form an association, like its precursor in , to resist the spread of open immorality. His plan was, in the instance, to obtain a Royal proclamation against vice, and then to form an association for carrying it into effect. Writing to Mr. Hey, of Leeds, in , he announces that in a few days he would hear of

a proclamation being issued for the discouragement of vice, of letters being written by the Secretaries of State to the Lords Lieutenant, expressing his Majesty's pleasure that they recommend it throughout their several counties, to be active in the execution of the laws against immoralities, and of a Society being formed in London for the purpose of carry into effect his Majesty's good and generous intentions . .. The objects to which the Committee will direct their attention are the offences specified in the proclamation,--profanation of the Sabbath, swearing, drunkenness, licentious publications, unlicensed places of public amusement, the regulation of licensed places, &c.

He mentions in this letter that he had received a formal invitation to cards, for Sunday evening, from a person high in the king's service. In June, Wilberforce was visiting the bishops in their respective dioceses, as he wished to communicate with them separately,

lest the scruples of a few might prevent the acquiescence of the rest.

His sons state, in the biography of their father, that

the Society was soon in active and useful operation. The Duke of Montagu opened his house for its reception, and presided over its meetings,--a post which was filled after his death by the late Lord (Chancellor) Bathurst, who was followed by Bishop Porteus; and before its dissolution it had obtained many valuable Acts of Parliament, and greatly checked the spread of blasphemous and indecent publications.

Its existence was, at all events, a proof that the apathy of former years was passing away. In Hannah More published

Thoughts on the Manners of the Great,

with a view of inducing them to reflect on the levity of many of their pursuits. In fact this class began to be seriously annoyed at the invasion of their pleasures by the greater strictness which public opinion now demanded from them. In Hannah More again endeavoured to arouse attention by her

Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World.

In she had commenced writing the of the modern religious tracts. Bishop Porteus, writing to her in , says,

The sublime and immortal publication, of the

Cheap Repository,

I hear of from every quarter of the globe.

millions of these tracts were disposed of in the year. In , Wilberforce published his

Practical Christianity,

a work which had undoubtedly a great effect on the higher classes. Within half a year, editions, of altogether

245

copies, were printed. This popularity is to be attributed partly to the author's intimate friendship with Mr. Pitt, and his connexion with the most distinguished men of the day, and partly also to the warmer and more earnest moral spirit which began to prevail. In attempts at legislative interference having been dropped, Wilberforce was active in inducing persons of the higher ranks to adopt a voluntary engagement to promote the observance of the Sabbath. Hannah More, writing from Bishop Porteus's, at Fulham, in , says,

The

Morning Chronicle,

and other

pious newspapers

, have laboured to throw such a stigma on the association for the better observance of the Sunday, that the timid great are steering off, and very few indeed have signed.

The Bishop of Durham laid the declaration before George III.; but Wilberforce states in his

Diary,

that the king

turned the conversation.

Wilberforce himself waited upon the Speaker to induce him to give up his Sunday parliamentary dinners, but the Commoner in the land grew angry, and took his interference as a personal insult. In a bill was brought into Parliament for the suppression of Sunday newspapers, which Pitt promised to support, but Dundas induced him to retract his pledge, on the plea that out of the Sunday newspapers supported the ministry; and after Sheridan's gibes at the measure it was thrown out on the reading. Hannah More relates a more hopeful incident on the authority of Lady Cremorne, who told her that on coming down stairs on Sunday morning at o'clock, she found

Admiral C., another Admiral, and a General, with their Bibles, each separately, in different parts of the room, and so at times all the day.

Then, in , years afterwards, she writes from Fulham that the Bishop of London was making a stand against Sunday concerts.

He has,

she says,

written an admirable letter, very strong and very pious, but temperate and well-mannered, to all the great ladies concerned in this un-Christian practice. They have in general behaved well, and promised amendment.

Again writing from Fulham, in , she says that the Bishop (Porteus) having heard of the institution of a club, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, which was to meet on a Sunday, he asked for an audience to entreat the Prince to fix on some other day.

Supported by

two

servants, and hardly able to move with their assistance, he got to the apartment of the Prince, and with agitated earnestness conjured him to fix on some other day for this meeting. The Prince received him most graciously, seemed much affected, said it was not a new institution, and that it was founded on charity, but that if the day could be changed to Saturday it should.

A few months before, Perceval, the Prime Minister, had been induced to alter the day for Parliament meeting, which, as it was to have been Monday, would have involved the necessity of a great amount of Sunday travelling. Wilberforce drew his attention to this circumstance, and the Minister apologized for the inadvertency; and days after he wrote to Wilberforce, stating that the meeting was postponed to Thursday,

to obviate the objections which you have suggested.

In his

Diary,

Wilberforce says,

The House put off nobly by Perceval, because of the Sunday travelling it would occasion.

Sunday card-parties and Sunday concerts amongst the higher classes are now unheard of; as the more thoughtful views which this class entertain, as well as the general state of public opinion, have put an end to such a mode of spending any portion of the Sunday.

246

 

There are subjects involving religious, moral, and political considerations, on which the stricter (and in so many things juster) spirit of the last years has exercised a most important influence. The death-blow of slavery may be said to have proceeded from Exeter Hall; and the abolition of capital punishment, except for atrocious crimes, is the result of the same religious feeling. years ago Granville Sharpe proved slavery to be illegal in England. -years ago Bishop Porteus preached against the Slave Trade. A quarter of a century elapsed, and in , after arduous struggles, the trade is abolished. Another quarter of a century runs its course, and in an Act is passed for emancipating every slave in the British dominions. The agitation of this question for years, the discussions to which it led of the rights of humanity and the principles of justice and Christianity, were singularly favourable to the development of the peculiar spirit which has its altars at Exeter Hall. For some years the struggle was chiefly confined to Parliament, aided by friends of abolition here and there. The public were spectators rather than actors, deeply interested ones no doubt, but not assembling in

conventions

and great

abolition meetings,

to concentrate public opinion in its utmost strength, as they have done since the formation of the Anti-Slavery Society in . It was in that many of the friends of abolition determined to abstain from the consumption of West India produce, so long as it was raised by slaves.

We use East Indian sugar entirely,

writes Mr. Babington to Mr. Wilberforce,

and so do full

two

-thirds of the friends of abolition in Leicester.

Mr. W. Smith says to Wilberforce,

Please to take notice that I have left off sugar completely and entirely for some time past, and shall certainly persevere in my resolution, though I am not yet at all reconciled to the deprivation of the most favourite gratification of my palate.

Associations were rapidly formed to stop the consumption of West India produce, and Wilberforce, it appears, was at disposed to recommend this course, but he afterwards decided

that it should be suspended until, if necessary, it might be adopted with effect by general concurrence.

The struggle excited a bitterness of feeling amongst some of the West Indian body which years ago showed itself in ways calculated to astonish those who are accustomed to the more tolerant spirit of the present day.

The box in which our petition is enclosed,

says a Glasgow correspondent to Mr. Wilberforce,

has been directed to another, that its contents may be unsuspected.

Residents in Liverpool, of the same rank in life as Dr. Currie, asked of Mr. Wilberforce,

If you write, be pleased to direct without franking it.

The biographers of Wilberforce state that the anti-slavery correspondence was in many instances conducted

in unsigned letters, sent under the covers of unsuspected persons.

In a letter which did not at all allude to West Indian matters, and was therefore openly transmitted to Mr. Wilberforce, Dr. Currie adds this postscript,

Trusting this letter to our post-office with your address, I shall be anxious to hear of its safe arrival.

Besides the selfishness of traders there were other obstacles to be encountered, and the strength of the parliamentary opposition may be judged of from the fact that in of the royal family came down to the to vote against the abolition of the Slave Trade: it had, however, been carried in the Commons.

The amelioration of our sanguinary criminal laws encountered difficulties

247

almost as great as those which retarded the abolition of the Slave Trade. It is but justice to state that in a committee of the on the laws relating to felonies reported

that it was reasonable to exchange the punishment of death for some other reasonable punishment;

and a Bill founded on this resolution passed the , but was rejected by the Lords. The question rested here for above half a century, until, in , Sir Samuel Romilly brought forward his motion for the reform of the criminal laws, and an Act was passed for abolishing the punishment of death for pocket-picking (stealing privately from the person to the value of ). In Sir Samuel Romilly's Bill to abolish capital punishment for the crime of stealing privately in a shop to the amount of was rejected in the by a majority of to . In the majority were not fewer than prelates, namely, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of London and Salisbury, Dampier, Bishop of Ely, Luxmore, Bishop of Hereford, Sparke, the new Bishop of Chester, and Porter, an Irish bishop. It was alleged as a reason for not going further that the crime of pocket-picking had alarmingly increased since the capital punishment for it had been abolished; but it was forgotten that the increased number of convictions was rather a proof of the success of the former measure, for the previous inordinate severity of the law prevented those who had been robbed from prosecuting, and crime was encouraged by impunity. In the Bill to repeal the Shoplifting Act was again thrown out in the Lords, and royal dukes and bishops were in the majority, with the Lord Chancellor and the ministers. In , although the measure had several times passed the Commons, it was still pending; and on Romilly bringing it forward this year, he stated that a boy of only years of age had been convicted at the under the Act, and was then lying under sentence of death in Newgate; and he drew attention to the fact, because, some time before, the Recorder of London had declared from the bench that it was the determination of the Prince Regent, in consequence of the number of boys who had been lately detected in committing felonies, to make an example of the next offender of this description. A few months afterwards a boy of was actually hung at Newgate for highway robbery. The Bill was again rejected. In , it was again brought in by its author, who alluded to the ill success of excessive severity in repressing forgery; for though the Crown seldom pardoned, the offence was rapidly increasing. Sir Samuel Romilly died in the autumn of the same year, and the progress of enlightened opinion has enabled others to carry out his benevolent views, while time has proved that they were not less benevolent than practically successful in securing the object at which he aimed. In , , , , there were persons executed in England and Wales, and in the years ending with , only . Persons being less reluctant to prosecute, the number of convictions has increased from to out of every offenders. The proportion of atrocious offences has been gradually diminishing, and those against property committed without violence have increased from per cent. in to per cent. in . These facts show that, on some important questions, there is not only the enthusiasm of warm and generous tempers in the Exeter Hall spirit, but at times excellent sense and sound philosophy. The State Lotteries fell before the same power. Lastly, the

248

cruel practices connected with the employment of climbing boys in sweeping chimneys have been abolished.

It must be confessed that a dilettanti spirit of enthusiasm and benevolence, which disregards the attainment of practical objects by plain means, is sometimes rather too prominent at Exeter Hall, though it is true that the influential leaders here are generally at the same time conspicuous for their activity in promoting good works generally; but this is scarcely sufficient to redeem the mass from the charge of an insensibility to evils less remote than those which, in many instances, exclusively bring their sympathies into full play. Carried away by the grandeur of the object they propose to accomplish, they are led to applaud ill-considered and impracticable modes of attaining it. This is very creditable perhaps to their feelings, warmed into excitement by declamatory appeals under which the imagination becomes too powerful for the reason and intelligence of the listeners. Thus the famous Niger expedition, with its model farms and apparatus and schemes for civilizing Africa, finds favour at Exeter Hall, while the safe and practical plan set on foot by the government for promoting the emigration of the natives of Africa to the British Colonies in the West, and who, after acquiring a higher civilization, and valuable knowledge of the arts of life, would return to Africa to disseminate in that barbaric land the seeds of improvement ;--this is a measure, though protected by every necessary check which can be thought of, which is loudly denounced. From Exeter Hall the view of remote evils is more distinct than of those which lie everywhere around us. The eye pierces, as well as it can, into the obscure horizon, but does not behold the objects at hand which stand broadly in the full daylight, because its gaze, though embracing the furthest limits of the globe, is not directed downward as well. This characteristic has led a nervous and powerful writer into of his striking apostrophes:--

O Anti-Slavery Convention,

he exclaims,

loud-sounding, long-eared Exeter Hall! But in thee too is a kind of instinct towards justice, and I will complain of nothing. Only black Quashee over the seas being once sufficiently attended to, wilt not thou perhaps open thy dull sodden eyes to the hunger-stricken, pallid,

yellow

--coloured

free labourers

in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Buckinghamshire, and all other shires? These yellow-coloured for the present absorb all my sympathies: if I had

twenty

millions, with model farms and Niger expeditions, it is to these that I would give them. Quashee has already victuals, clothing; Quashee is not dying of such despair as the yellow-coloured pale man's. Quashee, it must be owned, is hitherto a kind of blockhead. The Haiti Duke of Marmalade, educated now for almost half a century, seems to have next to no sense in him. Why, in

one

of those Lancashire weavers, dying of hunger, there is more thought and heart, a greater arithmetical amount of misery and desperation, than in whole gangs of Quashees. It must be owned, thy eyes are of the sodden sort; and with thy emancipations, and thy

twenty

-millionings, and long-eared clamourings, thou, like Robespierre with his pasteboard

Être Suprême

, threatenest to become a bore to us,

Avec ton être Suprême tu commences m'embéter!

[n.248.1]  Thus much it may be remarked in defence of Exeter Hall,--that as the consideration of domestic evils can rarely be separated from questions to which a political character, whether rightly or wrongly, is given, it may be that most of those who, in moral and religious questions,

249

display such strong and fervid feelings, fear nevertheless to plunge into the agitated waters of politics, and content themselves with exertions of a private nature.

We have, however, paused too long on the-threshold, and will now notice Exeter Hall itself. In was deformed by an ill-shaped clumsy building called Exeter 'Change, of which an account has already been given.[n.249.1]  The wild beasts at Exeter 'Change were lions of the town quite as much as those of the Tower. The menagerie was removed in .

Passing

one

day,

says Mr. Leigh Hunt,

by Exeter 'Change, we beheld a sight strange enough to witness in a great thoroughfare--a fine horse startled, and pawing the ground, at the roar of lions and tigers. It was at the time probably when the beasts were being fed.

When it was determined to pull down the old 'Change and widen the street, several persons of influence in the religious world proposed a scheme for building a large edifice, which should contain rooms of different sizes, to be appropriated exclusively to the uses of religious and benevolent societies, especially for their anniversary--meetings, with committee-rooms and offices for several societies whose apartments were at that time crowded in houses taken for the purpose, as is the case at present with several scientific bodies, who might take a hint on the subject, and erect a large building for their joint accommodation. Exeter Hall was completed in . It attracts little attention from the passenger, as the frontage is very narrow, and the exterior simply consists of a lofty portico formed of handsome Corinthian pillars, with a flight of steps from the street to the Hall door. But when any great meeting is assembled, or is about to break up, there is no mistaking the place. The building stretches backward and extends to the right and left a considerable space. entrance leads to a wide passage, which at the extremity branches off into transverse passages. flights of steps, which meet above, lead to the great Hall, feet broad, long, and high. It will hold persons, and, with scarcely any discomfort, a much larger number. The ranges of half the seats rise in an amphitheatrical form, and the platform, at end, is raised about feet, and will accommodate persons. The

chair

in the front is not unlike that of Edward the Confessor in . The speakers, near the front, are accommodated with chairs, behind which rise rows of benches. flights of steps extend from the front row to the entrances at the back. or years ago the capacity of the great Hall was enlarged by the erection of a gallery at the end opposite the platform, and or years afterwards the curve of the platform on each side was extended into galleries reaching a considerable distance into the middle of the room along the walls. When the Hall is quite filled the sight is grand and striking. An habitual attendant at Exeter Hall; in his

Recollections,

has described the (to him) familiar aspect of the place on these occasions:--

The finest view is from the deep recesses behind the platform. Below you lies the platform, slanting downwards, and extending into a crescent shape, with its crowds sitting or standing; beyond them is the large flat surface of the area, its close benches all filled, and the avenues among them occupied by chairs or by persons who are fain to stand for want of sitting-room. Behind this are the raised seats, gradually appearing

one

behind another, and occupying a space equal to half the size of the whole room; all again fully

crowded, and the descending steps among the benches filled by the standing multitude. Over their heads, the whole scene is crowned by the back gallery, at a height of many feet. Those who wish to realise the idea of

a sea of heads

should take this view of Exeter Hall on some popular occasion. When such an assembly rises, for prayer or praise, at the beginning or end of a meeting, the sight is still more stupendous, and the degree of sound they are able to produce, in the way of cheering or singing, is almost incredible. There have been occasions when that vast room has rung with the voices of those assembled within its walls; and a

second

peal of cheers succeeding, before the echos of the

first

have died away, the noise altogether has been of a nature that few persons could hear unmoved.

Underneath the great Hall is a smaller , with a gallery and platform adapted to the size of the apartment, but it has no raised seats. There are sometimes meetings in both halls at the same time, and the acclamations of the larger audience reverberating in the smaller hall, a speaker unaccustomed to the place perhaps pauses until the plaudits have died away, thinking they proceeded from the audience he was addressing. From April to the end of May about different societies hold their anniversary meetings at Exeter Hall, either in the larger or smaller hall, the latter of which will hold about a persons; and there is still smaller which will hold about a of this number. On great occasions the street entrance is often crowded for some time before the doors are opened, which is usually about hours before the chair is taken. Instances have occurred in which persons have been waiting for the opening of the doors from the early hour of in the morning. To fill up the vacant time, books and newspapers are resorted to, and even needle-work is taken out; but in general, if the visitor arrive an hour before the chair is taken, there will be no difficulty in obtaining room. The number of tickets issued is always greater than the Hall will contain, as those experienced in such matters are able to form a tolerably correct estimate of the number who, from various circumstances, will not be able to attend. A singular instance of mistaken reckoning on this point occurred on Thursday, the , when the largest meeting assembled which had ever been known at Exeter Hall. The weather had been for some time so unfavourable that about tickets were issued, under the idea that a full meeting would not be obtained without making an unusually large allowance for the absence of those whose attendance would be prevented by the weather; but the object of the meeting was felt to be so important that the muster was or times as great as was anticipated, and though the smaller hall received the overflowings of the larger , there were still or persons who could not gain admittance after the doors were opened at o'clock in the morning. Many of these assembled at Chapel, which was filled by about persons. The object of the meeting is interesting as an illustration of the Exeter Hall spirit, being for the purpose of promoting Christian union among the different religious bodies in this country. On the platform were to be seen clergymen of the Established Church and ministers of all the dissenting communities of Christians. A report was read in which the desire was expressed that the meeting should

forget their distinctive opinions in the contemplation of their common Christianity as a sufficient ground of fraternal regard and confidence.

The document went on to say that

no practical object is connected

with this meeting. It has been felt to be necessary,

first

, to raise the tone of Christian feeling and communion, by confining attention to the object already stated; and by exercises of a hallowed nature, adapted to promote it, in the hope that our combining together in any great movement, either for the defence or propagation of the common faith, might thus be rendered more practical, and more likely to be of a sound and lasting character.

The enthusiasm which prevails at meetings of this kind, and at the

May meetings

generally, would surprise most persons. A large proportion of those present are females of that portion of the middle classes who are in easy circumstances, who are shut out by their views, opinions, and habits from many of the common sources of emotion. At Exeter Hall, their sympathies are powerfully exercised; the range of subjects in which they are most conversant are dwelt upon with exciting interest; the imagination is awakened, and distant objects are viewed in an enchanted light. Considering the topics of declamation which abound at Exeter Hall, many of them truly grand in their scope and character, it--is not at all wonderful that their discussion should inflame the mind and kindle the religious and moral feelings of the hearers. In scenes like those witnessed at Exeter Hall, there is, as Wilberforce remarks,

a moral sublimity which, if duly estimated, would be worthy of the tongues of angels.

The artist finds in such scenes a great subject for the pencil. It is sufficient to refer to Haydon's Picture of the Great Meeting of Delegates for the Abolition of Slavery and the Slave Trade throughout the World, held in , under the presidency of the venerable Clarkson. The artist left his painting-room unwillingly, in the belief that the scene would be of a very common-place character. The account of his visit is graphic and striking, and we give an extract from it as being calculated to familiarize the reader with the general spirit of a great religious meeting.

In a few minutes an unaffected man got up, and informed the meeting that Thomas Clarkson would attend shortly: he begged no tumultuous applause would greet his entrance, as his infirmities were great, and he was too nervous to bear, without risk of injury to his health, any such expressions of their good feeling towards him. The Friend who addressed them was Joseph Sturge, a man whose whole life has been devoted to ameliorate the condition of the unhappy. In a few minutes, the aged Clarkson came in, grey and bent, leaning on Joseph Sturge for support, and approached with feeble and tottering steps the middle of the convention. I had never seen him before, nor had most of the foreigners present; and the anxiety to look on him, betrayed by all, was exceedingly unaffected and sincere. Immediately behind Thomas Clarkson were his daughter-in-law, the widow of his son, and his little grandson. Aided by Joseph Sturge and his daughter, Clarkson mounted to the chair, sat down in it as if to rest, and then, in a tender, feeble voice, appealed to the assembly for a few minutes' meditation before he opened the convention. The venerable old man put his hand simply to his forehead, as if in prayer, and the whole assembly followed his example; for a minute there was the most intense silence I ever felt. Having inwardly uttered a short prayer, he was again helped up; and bending forward, leaning on the table, he spoke to the great assembly as a patriarch standing near the grave, or as a kind father who felt an interest for his children. Every word he uttered was from his heart-he spoke tenderly, tremulously; and, in alluding to Wilberforce, acknowledged, just as an aged man would acknowledge,

his decay of memory in forgetting many other dear friends whom he could not then recollect. After solemnly urging the members to persevere to the last, till slavery was extinct, lifting his arm and pointing to heaven (his face quivering with emotion), he ended by saying,

May the Supreme Ruler of all human events, at whose disposal are not only the hearts but the intellects of men-may He, in His abundant mercy, guide your councils and give His blessing upon your labours.

There was a pause of a moment, and then, without an interchange of thought or even of look, the whole of this vast meeting, men and women, said, in a tone of subdued and deep feeling,

Amen! Amen!

To the reader not present it is scarcely possible to convey without affectation the effect on the imagination of

one

who, like myself, had never attended benevolent meetings, had no notion of such deep sincerity in any body of men, or of the awful and unaffected piety of the class I had been brought amongst....... I have seen the most afflicting tragedies, imitative and real; but never did I witness, in life or in the drama, so deep, so touching, so pathetic an effect produced on any great assembly as by the few, unaffected, unsophisticated, natural, and honest words of this aged and agitated person. The women wept--the men shook off their tears, unable to prevent their flowing; for myself, I was so affected and so astonished, that it was many minutes before I recovered, sufficiently to perceive the moment of interest I had longed for had come to pass-and this was the moment I immediately chose for the picture.

This Anti-Slavery Convention was succeeded by the annual meeting of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, at which the late Duke of Sussex presided. Clarkson was present, also Monsieur Guizot and Mrs. Fry, and many persons whose services in the Anti-Slavery cause are known in every part of the world. Amongst the speakers were an American judge, an English missionary, a French philanthropist, and a man of colour. In the following year Prince Albert made his appearance at any public meeting in England. The great hall was filled hours before the proceedings commenced, and the platform was crowded by some of the most distinguished men in England. The meeting was that of the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade, and the Civilization of Africa.

The speakers at the

May meetings

comprise a few of the Members of both Houses of Parliament; at the Church Missionary Society, and the Bible Society anniversaries, some of the bishops; at the meetings of other denominations, the leading men in each. Persons of provincial celebrity make their before a London audience; and the variety and peculiarities of the speakers are a sufficiently tempting theme to the critical among the fair sex. In year Wilberforce attended of these meetings in as many days, and spoke times. To a man of strong philanthropic feelings, and of sufficient consideration to attract the public eye, especially also if he be a fluent speaker, and have the business habits which constitute a good

committee-man,

the various religious and benevolent institutions in London open a very active field of exertion and usefulness. The Exeter Hall class of societies so entirely depend upon the principle of aggregation, that to gain influence in the direction of their operations and affairs necessarily presumes the existence in some degree of qualifications which in another popular body leads to the highest distinctions. But however eminent and influential any of the well-known speakers and leaders at Exeter Hall may be, their fame is circumscribed and limited to a world of its own, unless they happen to

253

have achieved importance in some other sphere; and out of their own region they would be unknown if the newspapers did not make the public familiar with their names; though a large territory, no doubt it is, in which they find enthusiastic admirers, and wherein they are appreciated. Then again, to the world at large, Exeter Hall is only regarded as a single arena, whereas it is field with many encampments of distinct tribes; or, as a writer lately remarked,

The manner in which they club and congregate, and yet keep apart in distinct groups, reminds

one

of the rival orders in the Church of Rome. Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Monks, Friars, and Canons-regular-all had their independent organization; all were rivals, though zealous members and supporters of

one

Church. And Wesleyan, Church, Baptist Missionary Societies-all maintain a certain degree of reserve towards each other; all are jealous of the claims of rival sects; and yet are all attracted by a common sense of religious earnestness. The independent and often mutually repelling bodies who congregate in Exeter Hall are

one

in spirit, with all their differences. Without a pervading organization, they are a Church.

[n.253.1] 

The days of May in the present year () were each the anniversaries of of the great religious societies. On the lst, the Wesleyan Missionary Society held its meeting, which was addressed by a converted American Indian in his native costume. The income of the Society for the preceding year was , and the Report stated that it supports principal mission stations. On the following day the meeting of the Church Missionary Society took place. The income for - was The next day was the anniversary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the most Catholic of all the religious societies. On the , when a committee met to complete the organization of the new institution, a motion was made to appoint the Rev. Joseph Hughes to the office of secretary, but was opposed by the Rev. J. Owen, who urged the impolicy of constituting a dissenting minister the secretary of an institution which was to unite the whole body of Christians. This led to an arrangement, the principle of which was at once so judicious and liberal that it has constituted of the chief corner-stones of the Society's stability and success. secretaries were appointed--a clergyman, a dissenting minister, and a foreign secretary, in order that the foreign churches might be represented in the Society. Thus, as Mr. Owen, the historian of the Bible Society, remarks,

The progress of an hour carried the committee on, from the hasty suggestions of a--short-sighted attachment to the wise determination of a liberal policy.

At the same time, the future proportion of churchmen, dissenters, and foreigners in the governing body was distinctly defined. It consists of foreigners resident in or near the metropolis, churchmen, and dissenters, the whole of the being laymen. The meeting of the Society was held on the , when Lord Teignmouth was appointed president, and on the following day of the bishops sent in their names as subscribers. The Bible Society has affiliated societies in this country, of which were formed in . In , years after the establishment of the Parent Society, there were but branch Societies in existence, and the annual income was only years afterwards, in , the income amounted to The Bible

254

Society has issued about million copies of the Scriptures, and it has caused them to be translated, either wholly or in part, into the languages

of every nation under heaven.

The Baptist Missionary Society celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in , by the collection of a fund called the Jubilee Fund, which amounted to , and the ordinary receipts for - were , making a total of upwards of raised by a comparatively small and not wealthy body. The Baptist Missionary Society was the which sprung up in England after an interval of nearly a century from the establishment of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. It was succeeded in by the London Missionary, which also holds its anniversaries at Exeter Hall. At the last meeting, , the income of this Society for the past year was stated to be , and its expenditure Altogether a sum of about a-year is annually collected for missions, and as a very large amount is obtained in small sums, the number of contributors must be prodigious. In , the income of the Church, Wesleyan, and London Missionary Societies was ; but it is now triple this amount. Besides the Missionary Societies, there are kindred institutions, whose object is to supply the want of religious instruction at home. The Baptist Home Missionary Society has an income of above , and the Home Missionary Society of above The Church Pastoral Aid Society (income ), and the Clerical Aid Society (income ), both in connexion with the Established Church, are designed to provide more adequately for the religious wants of the people in populous districts. The Society for the Propagation of Christianity amongst the Jews has an income of a-year. The Bible Society circulates the Scriptures alone, but there are other Societies which undertake the distribution of works of a religious and moral nature. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, with an annual income of about , circulates nearly million publications in the course of /the year, of which about millions are tracts. The Religious Tract Society, established in , has an income of above , of which less than is derived from voluntary contributions, the remainder being the produce of sales of publications, which comprise every variety, from a hand-bill and

broadside

for cottage walls to a commentary on the Bible. In - the number of publications issued exceeded millions, and above new ones were added to the Society's list. Since the formation of the Society, publications have been circulated in different languages. There is series of tracts adapted for sale by hawkers, in which improvements have been successively made at various intervals during the last years as the popular taste advanced; and as some notice of this change will probably be interesting to many readers, we give it in the form of a note.[n.254.1]  The Sunday School Union, established in , has an income of nearly a year from

255

the sale of publications. The City Mission and District Visiting Societies are recently established institutions, for the purpose of relieving the spiritual and temporal necessities of the poor in London. The London City Mission has an income of a year; and during the year preceding the last report, visits were made amongst the poor, in a population exceeding millions, within miles of . We here place before the reader a summary of the Receipts and Expenditure of Religious and Benevolent Societies for -, taken from the

Christian Almanac

for :--
African Civilization Society3,692
Aged Pilgrim's Friend1,600
Anti-Slavery*2,840
Baptist Missionary22,727
Baptist Home Missionary5,153
Baptist Irish2,300
Baptist Colonial Missionary507
Bible Translation (Baptist)1,600
British and Foreign Bible95,095
British and Foreign Sailors'2,500
British and Foreign School7,080
British and Foreign Temperance1,100
British Reformation*1,508
Christian Knowledge*90,476
Christian Instruction1,428
Church Missionary93,592
Church of Scotland Missions4,577
----Jewish Mission5,839
---- Colonial4,160
----Education Scheme5,684
----Church Extension3,403
----Ditto Supplementary Fund1,240
Church Pastoral Aid18,900
Clerical Aid7,818
Colonial Church1,700
Colonial Missionary2,200
District Visiting250
Foreign Aid1,935
Gospel Propagation66,213
Hibernian7,050
Home and Colonial Infant School (1841)1,905
Home Missionary9,402
Irish4,136
Irish Evangelical, about2,000
Jews, for Propagation of Christianity among the24,699
----Operative Converts' Institution799
London City Mission5,534
London Missionary80,874
Lord's Day Observance513
Moravian Missionary10,651
National School, annual subscriptions, about6,000
Naval and Military Bible*2,809
New British and Foreign Temperance*2,137
Newfoundland School3,470
Peace768
Prayer Book and Homily2,496
Protestant Association1,376
Religious Tract *56,014
Sailors' Home2,811
Scottish United Secession Mission Fund4,196
Sunday School Union10,241
Suppression of Intemperance908
Trinitarian Bible*2,201
Wesleyan Missionary101,618
* The total of the receipts of the Societies thus marked includes sales of publications.
very uninformed minds; there were, however, many of a better description. By degrees, the worst of the profane and vicious publications were supplanted. The supply from the Society, of Hawkers' Tracts, fairly met them in the general market, and was generally preferred wherever education had extended; but it was plain that, had not a superior article been supplied, the old wretched tracts would still have been forced upon the Sunday school scholars, and others who were acquiring the ability to read. And in the year , the public cry was changed; it was then generally said, this series must be improved. This was done; several of the old tracts were discontinued and many others were introduced much , .

256

 

The rooms are occasionally used for the meetings of religious societies, but the place is not so favourable as Exeter Hall to the enthusiasm of an audience, at least any warmth of feeling which is excited is expressed far less lustily, if with more decorum. Freemasons' Hall, a very fine room for the purpose, is also still used by religious bodies; but there is an increasing disposition to assemble at Exeter Hall, which combines every convenience necessary, and is in a good situation with regard to other parts of the town. Our view of the interior of the great hall represents the great exhibition of Mr. Hullah's system of popular singing, when pupils combined their voices in the performances. Concerts not unfrequently take place at Exeter Hall, besides being the place where Mr. Hullah's musical classes and the drawing classes (both under the Committee of Privy Council on Education) assemble for instruction.

 
 
 
Footnotes:

[n.244.1] Life of Wilberforce, by his Sons.

[n.248.1] Mr. Carlyle's Past and Present.

[n.249.1] No. XXXVI., vol. ii., p. 174.

[n.253.1] Spectator.

[n.254.1] Soon after the formation of the Society, small publications usually sold by itinerant vendors were found, for the most part, immoral and disgusting in their contents; the best among them were absurd and puerile. In 1805, the attention of the Committee was especially directed to these publications, when it was deemed expedient to supply a better article at a lower price to the vendors. The Committee were obliged, in the first instance, to prepare tracts with striking titles, and in some degree inferior in their contents, to prevent too great a discrepancy from those they were designed to supplant. The titles of some of them fully evince this :-- The Fortune Teller's Conjuring Cap, The Wonderful Cure of General Naaman, The Stingy Farmer's Dream, Tom Toper's Tale over his Jug of Ale, Rhyming Dick and the Strolling Player, all indicate that it was necessary to catch at

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