CONFORMIST AND NONCONFORMIST CONSCIENCE.
lr HE Bishop of Wakefield, in a very fair and moderate • letter published in another column, says that he does not share our perplexity at "consciences more scandalised by private sin than by public, although the consequences of the public sin may be infinitely more disastrous. But he omits one main element of our perplexity, which was that Nonconformist ministers should be more scandalised by private sin for which they were in no way responsible, and which could not in any sense have been regarded as countenanced by them, than they are by public sin for which all those who supported the policy which resulted from it were quite certainly more or less responsible. We do not know that we either formed or expressed any opinion as to which of the two classes of sin was the more hateful, and we should be prepared to insist that whichever of the two was really the more guilty, ought to be, whether it is or is not, the more hateful. But we did say that we thought any clear-headed man who had to choose between the one class of sin, with its infinitely more widely ramified and disastrous conse- quences, and the other, relatively at least, limited in extent, would not or should not feel any certainty as to which was the more puiRy. Hatefulness is a very subjective affair, and depends in a very considerable degree on the complex motives which may or may not be imputed to the individual agent. We will undertake to say that any clever novelist,—Mr. Justin McCarthy, for instance,—would be perfectly competent to delineate either the one sin or the other so as to make it look much the more hateful of the two,—so dressing it up in circumstance as to make either of the two appear, on the one hand, the pro- duct of malignant selfishness, or, on the other hand, the almost inevitable consequence of hasty passions not wholly unmingled with a certain amount of disin- terested emotion. The true question for politicians is, not which is the more hateful act, which we hardly have the means of deciding till we know the mixed motives by which even the most guilty acts are determined, but for which of the two those who have been - the poli- tical supporters of the Irish leaders in their demands are most clearly responsible, and from which of the two, therefore, they are most bound in conscience to separate themselves publicly. Now, our contention was and is, that all who lend support to the Irish Home-rule Party are more or less identified with the means used by that party, and boasted of by that party, for the attainment of its ends ; while it seems quite impossible to hold them responsible for the evil conduct in private life by which the careers of the leaders may have been marked, The Bishop of Wakefield says that a man who breaks the Eighth Com- mandment to cause a rise of rents amongst miserable Irish tenants is not so hateful as a man who violates a trust ; not so hateful as afraudulent trustee, who commits a breach of trust to provide his own family with the means of living. That seems to us altogether to depend on the motives mixed up in the two cases. Fraudulent trustees have been painted before now so that no reader of their story could help palliating their sin, and hoping for their moral recovery. And Jacobins have been painted before now so that no one would entertain the slightest hope of such a recovery. Of course, where you really believe the disinterested motive to have been in the ascendant, you can excuse what you nevertheless utterly condemn. But the disin- terested motive may have been, and often has been, in the ascendant in the act of a fraudulent trustee. There is no knowing where the sophistry of the human heart will not contrive to place some disinterested motive in the ascendant. Of such matters we are not competent judges. We are competent judges as to the amount of guilt we should ourselves incur by supporting a party leader who boasts of acts of this kind, and what we incur by leaving the Irish Party to choose for themselves Whether they will or will not follow a leader who has disgraced him- self by private misconduct of the worst kind. In the former case, we give a very clear sanction to the politica policy adopted. In the latter case, we give no sanction whatever to the private vices of the leader whom the Irish Party choose to support.
Besides, it is precisely those acts which, being intrinsi- cally wrong, and the prolific source of further wrong, are least superficially "hateful,"—least " hateful" to the popular and ordinary imagination,—against which it is most needful to utter a decisive and effective protest. The really hateful acts produce their own effect in the world, and inevitably lower the moral and political influence of the men who do them ; but the immoralities over which it is possible to throw a colourable appearance of disinterested- ness are precisely those which do most harm in the world and are most likely to corrupt others. In the singularly able and elaborate letter which the Rev. W. Arthur sent to Wednesday's Times, that great Nonconformist leader says most truly, that what the Irish revolutionaries want of the Nonconformist conscience is not at all to palliate, or even so much as tolerate, the crimes which are committed as the consequence of the " Boycotting " orders or "Plan of Campaign" orders of Mr. Parnell and his lieutenants, but to lend a certain amount of influence and respectability to the names of the Irish leaders and organisers who do not themselves carry out or even locally apply the prin- ciples which in the abstract they lay down. All that , Parnollism sought "from the Protestant clergy," says Mr. Arthur, "was certificates of good character for the instigators,—not, indeed, certificates of past good character ; that point might be omitted or glossed over ; but bold, clear certificates of good conduct for the future, upon which portion of the history of their ornaments, Par- nellism held them bound to store their minds with unimpeachable information. And unimpeachable their information as to the future of Mr. Parnell in particular was." "Prom them the last 'thing that Parnellism would ask for, would be to apprbve of crime. That once frankly done by them, their usefulness to instigator, organiser, per- petrator, was gone. What all these want from Christian ministers is to lend them respectability, and to get them power. As to the use to be made of that power, they can see to that. While employed in getting them the power, the more respectable detestation of crime you show, the better their chances, the worse those of their victims." Now, this is precisely the point which so much excited our wonder,—namely, that the Nonconformist conscience should assume an attitude towards Mr. Parnell's vices which could hardly be expected to press with any sort of weight on the actual discouragement and retributive punishment of those vices, while it refused to take up an attitude towards Mr. Parnell's and his colleagues' public sins which must have had the effect of seriously dis- couraging and circumscribing the moral contagion of those sins. So long as the Nonconformist Conscience approved of Mr. Gladstone's co-operation with the author of the "Boycotting" policy and the authors of the "Plan of Cam- paign" policy, and spoke of these gentlemen with respect, anticipating for them, as Mr. Arthur says, all sorts of future credit as regards the moderation of their statesmanship, it did all in its power to lend them respectability and in- fluence, and, indeed, to do for them what it would be utterly out of its power to do if it expressed the smallest sympathy with crime, and did not when occasion offered pour forth its abstract detestation of crime. As Mr. Arthur tells us, the Nonconformist clergy are not wanted to absolve the poor wretches who commit the crime ; they are not wanted to find excuses for the organisers who wink at it ; they are not wanted even to give a •clean bill of health to the leaders who declare a policy which leads as surely to crime as temptations scattered liberally among weak, pleasure-loving mortals lead to vice. What they are wanted for is just to establish the habit of looking for good behaviour from the Irish leaders in the, future, to lead the way in pro- phesying smooth things for the Irish revolution, to give the pass-word which shall introduce these gentlemen with their terribly blotted past to the sympathy and favour of the electors of the present. And this is what the Nonconformists of Mr. Price Hughes's way of thinking have freely done. They have trusted to their imagination for their auguries of the future. They have conveniently ignored the only records on which such creatures as we are, are justified in anticipating the future. And we must deliberately say that it seems to us, on the whole, rather more probable that Mr. Parnell's private life in future will be stainless and pure, than that, if he or his colleagues are given the chance of governing Ireland, their public life for the future will be wise, magnanimous, and just.