Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mr. Anything, an "Anarchist" of 1807

Here's an interesting item: a very early use of the term "anarchist," and one which is rather more sympathetic than most early uses, although it is still, in this instance, a pejorative. I'm inclined to read this one against the grain, and be rather fond of the anarchistic Mr. Anything.

Mr. Anything, the "Anarchist."


To the Editor of the Christian Observer. [May, 1807]
- -
SHOULD your observing eye, in the course of its comprehensive range, have lighted on any character in the religious world at all resembling the picture I am about to exhibit; I shall depend on the insertion of this paper for the benefit of the present generation of professed Christians.

Mr. Anything, an acquaintance of mine, is a man blameless in his morals, and amiable in his disposition. His views of religious truth so nearly coincide, as to all material points, with my own, that I have no difference with him on the subject of Christian doctrine. But, as this intelligence will not much enlighten the Christian Observer as to my friend's orthodoxy, I ball make bold to add, that you, Sir, as fir as I can judge from the principles of your work, would perhaps object as little as I do to the main articles of his creed. His natural understanding is of a respectable class. In conversation he is somewhat loquacious, as you will presently perceive; but there is a vivacity in his discourse which atones (his friends say) in some measure for its rattle. In short, Mr. Anything is a benevolent member of society, a loyal subject, and notwithstanding all his blunders, I verily believe, a sincere Christian.

I fancy, Mr. Observer, I see your curiosity on tiptoe to discover what failings can be justly imputed to a character to all appearance so excellent and amiable. To make short of the story, then, Mr. Anything is an Anarchist.—An Anarchist! I thought you just now told us he was a loyal subject. Patience: Mr. Anything is a downright Anarchist—in religious discipline; a person who, virtually at least, acknowledges no temporal jurisdiction in the Church, is subject to no ecclesiastical control, but assumes an unbounded licence to ramble every where, to hear every body, and to say his prayers (as far as form is concerned) any how. Do you ask him to what communion he belongs? He belongs to no Church but the Church of Christ. The old philosopher who, when questioned concerning his native country, boasted that he was a citizen of the world, was not more liberal and enlarged in his views of things. He was not more a citizen of the civil, than the other is of the religious world. My friend's notions of Church discipline are as flexible as his limbs; and these accommodate themselves with wonderful facility to any posture of devotion his circumstances may seem to require. Is he at Meeting? No poker can stand stiffer. Is he at Church? No Papist can bend more profoundly: and to him Church and Meeting are alike. Provided the doctrine be good in his estimation, he cares not for the form of worship; and, in such case he could listen, I will venture to say, with equal complacency to a prelate in a cathedral, or to an itinerant upon a common. He cannot divest himself of one unfortunate association which haunts his understanding, and misguides his judgment. He constantly confounds an adherence to some particular system of religious worship, be that adherence ever so temperate, with bigotry. At least; if it be not bigotry, it has a tendency that way. He considers not that, in this particular as well as in most others, there are two extremes, of which bigotry is but one, and that human frailty is ever in danger of edifying the ancient proverb.—"Incidit in scyllam qui vult vitare Charybdin." But, when my friend Anything becomes once possessed with the notion of bigotry, farewell to reason and moderation. The bugbear drives out every thing before it, and usurps the vacant throne of sobriety and reflection. It comes armed with all the frightful apparatus of persecuting zeal:

Clavos trabales, et cuneos manu
Gestuns ahena; nec severus
Uncus abest, liquidumve plumbum.
[Hor. Lib. 1. Ode 35.]

Anything is, in the main, a good tempered creature. I never see hint in anger but when contending for moderation. I never find him to be a bigot but when declaiming against bigotry.

Overtaking Mr. Anything one day, I entered into conversation with him as we walked on together. One subject insensibly made way for another, till I happened to observe to him,—no matter in what connection,—"You, Sir, I think are in principle a Dissenter."—"Why, truly," replied my companion with a smile, "I scarcely know what I am:

"I'm every thing by turns, and nothing long:"

now a Churchman, now an Independent, now a Presbyterian, now a Moravian, now a Baptist, and now and then a Quaker. In short, my dear Sir, nothing comes amiss to me in the way of Church discipline. In this respect I am the very easiest creature in the world. Give me plain Bible truth, and you give me every thing. Would you believe it? two of my children have been christened by a clergyman, and two more by a dissenter: I wished to oblige a friend of each denomination, and so halved the business between them." "Pretty liberal," thought I. However, Mr. Anything proceeded: "Now you, for instance, are never in your element but when you are on your knees. For my part, I can sit, or I can stand, or I can kneel: what's posture? I wish nobody minded any posture but that of the heart." "Undoubtedly," interrupted I, ''this is the most important of all, and I wish no one minded any posture in comparison of this; but, so long as we continue to be composed of two parts, body and spirit, (and I am no friend to the refinements of mysticism) perhaps the posture of the one may assist in some degree the devotion of the other." "Well," resumed Mr. Anything, "let that pass for the present. To convince you how easy a man I am in point of Church discipline, I'll just give you an account of a little tour I made last autumn, round part of the coast. In these sort of peregrinations, one may be permitted to ramble a little in all respects. No smiles, Mr. Something, I know you are one of those who can swallow nothing but a steeple. Well, as I was going to inform you, my first Sunday brought me to a village, where, according to the information I had received, the Church was supplied by a pious and exemplary Clergyman. This was enough: to the Church I went; for, trust me, I am no enemy to the Church. However, to proceed with my story, on the following Sunday I found myself at —— where was both Church and Meeting. Having never heard of the Clergyman in the circle of my religious acquaintance, I immediately formed my own conclusions, and"—"Surely," interrupted I, "that was a little uncharitable. You had never heard of him! and was that a reason, pray, why he should not be a godly character ? Perhaps he was one of those who,

'Along the cool sequestered vale of life
Kept the noiseless, (but not useless) tenor of his way',"

"Aye, aye," resumed my companion, 't it is all ,very fine, but I'll take upon me to pronounce that there are not many godly clergymen in the kingdom I have not heard spoken of. Besides, to go to Church upon a pure chance: it would not do, Sir: and then again, having paid my homage to episcopacy only the last Sunday, the love of variety concurred to lead me to the Meeting. So, frown as you please, I went to the Meeting, and I think in my life I never heard a more able discourse. Well, Sir, my third Sunday brought me to a place—I can't now remember the name of it—where there was a Church but no Meeting. What was to be done now? Meeting there was none; and you may guess what opinion I formed of the Church, when, on alighting at my inn on Saturday afternoon, I spied a gentleman in his shooting jacket returning from his sport, upon which a poor fellow at my right hand called out: 'There goes the parson, that's the way he studies his sarmant,' Now you must needs think I was in a pretty dilemma. To Meeting I could not go. To Church I did not care to go. However, by the rarest piece of good fortune in the world, whom should I hear of but an honest itinerant, who was to hold forth in an adjacent barn! Here, thought I, we shall have wholesome food, however plain it may prove: accordingly I went. Twas a simple soul to be sure! But, 'bating a total want of method, and a few digressions which were nothing to the purpose, be treated us with an excellent discourse. You begin, I see, to be wearied. I am come to my last Sunday;

"Longe finis Chartæque viæque."

My last Sunday brought me to —— where, as you well know, there are Churches and Meetings of all descriptions. Here was room, you will say, for choice. Accordingly, I was not a man to confine myself to one dish. I went to Church in the morning, to a Baptist Chapel in the afternoon, and to a Quaker's Meeting in the evening. At the first of these places I heard a good sermon, at the next a better, and at the last—nothing at all, good, bad, or indifferent. This, Sir, is my way of life. I am pleased with all communions; and all communions, as far; as I know, are pleased with me. I can take any Christian by the hand, and call him brother. I bear no malice nor hatred in my heart. I am not of Paul, of Apollos, or of Cephas. And, would you know my character, I am, I speak it, I trust, without vanity, A CANDID CHRISTIAN."

I was about to reply: but Mr. Anything, just as he had finished his narrative, turned into a friend's house, and took his leave of me, bidding me to beware of bigotry. I walked on, and the conduct of my acquaintance gave rise to a train of reflections, which I may make the subject of a future paper.
SOLOMON SOMETHING.