A Funeral Sermon
Occasioned by the Death of Richard Carlile
February 26, 1843 — Hall of Science, City Road, London, England
“Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price.”—Psalm xliv. 12.
The mouldering pillars of church and state have long supported a fabric of injustice and oppression, under whose dense shade intolerance and vice have triumphed, and from which virtue, and freedom, and peace have been exiled.
It is true, we have not been without warm hearts, and honest tongues, and ready pens, to battle with our tyrants; and even in the prospect of the felons’ bar, and the prison’s solitary gloom, to tell them, that, “their evil is not good.”
Yet those valiant struggles, and even our most brilliant success, has been dimmed with the recollection that our warriors are no more, — “their sun is gone down while it is yet day,” and we have in bitterness exclaimed to our rulers (whose true glory can only be derived from the happiness of their people) in words borrowed from the grand engine of their tyranny: —
“Thou sellest thy people for nought,” while we have added, with no slight satisfaction and hope, but thou “dost not increase thy wealth by their price.”
There was a time in England’s history, when its feudal tenures permitted the sale of the serf, together with the land on which he toiled; but the principles of natural freedom rebelled against, and finally overthrew that despotism; and honoured be the remembrance of the men who brought about this enfranchisement of the body, and confounded the distinctions of serf and baron — of lord and slave. There is a nobler freedom which the present generation has to gain, — a more perfect and glorious Magna-Charta awaits its efforts. The slavery of the body is enough of evil, but how much more galling the slavery of the mind not indeed that it is possible for kings, even when assisted by priests, to fetter universally the free thoughts — to prevent the calm inquiry; but even to limit the expression of those thoughts — to prevent the communication of the results of our inquiries, is an exercise of lawless power, which, however necessary to the existence of the church or state, is as insulting to the intelligence of the age, as it is subversive of truth and virtue. Free inquiry lay bound, like Prometheus, to the rock of bigotry, with the vulture, law, ever ready to prey upon its vitals.
The golden apples of reason were guarded by the hundred-eyed dragon of intolerance, till a moral Hercules arose and said, not so much in words as in acts — “The press shall be free!”
That, to so great an enterprise he should have brought none of the usual appliances, and yet should have accomplished so much, must command our admiration of his heroism, and excite our faith in the invincible nature of truth, — that truth, the mother of freedom, which was his only sword and shield. Neither the money, which seems so necessary in an attack upon venal power and time-hallowed errors, nor the literary talents which appear indispensable to combat the learned doctors of divinity and law, nor the popular eloquence by which the people may be stirred to unite in so holy a warfare, and thus to assist those who wish to work out their salvation, — none of these advantages did he, at the outset of his career, possess; yet, nothing daunted, he went forward honestly, consistently, and valiantly towards the desired end. That end was the establishment of true civil and religious liberty; for what nation can dare to boast of these rights for its people, when the bridle of authority is placed upon the tongue and pen? — when, to urge the necessity of improvement in its government, is called sedition; and in its religion, is denominated blasphemy; and each are visited with grievous punishments.
He set about the attainment of this desirable object in earnest, sparing no labour, and shrinking from no sacrifice; he conquered the law by enduring its inflictions, and by patient perseverance, accomplished what talent or influence could not alone have ever effected.
Wrapped in the darkness of superstition, and consequently of ignorance, it is not difficult to persuade a people that it is for their interest and happiness, present and future, that the voice of the sceptical reasoner should not be heard in the land; and passive obedience and unreasoning faith become elevated to the rank of virtues.
There never was a religion whose books — whose sybil leaves were not too sacred for the prying eye of the investigator; that which could never be reconciled to the cool calculations of reason, was always affirmed, by priestly teachers, to be above and superior to it; and wherever that which was known, was in contradiction to that which was to be believed, then was it declared that “the things which were unseen were most deserving our regard, for they were eternal;” and ” the wisdom of this world” was affirmed to be ” foolishness with God.”
In vain was it urged to those whose apparent interest lay in the perpetuation of the popular delusions, that if the glorious attribute of reason was the gift of God, he never could have sent to us a commandment, or a truth, on which that ever-busy questioner may not exercise itself; and further, if HE has not prohibited our investigations, they do him but little honour, who, trembling for his religion, and distrustful of his power, should with their
“Weak and erring hand
Presume his bolts to throw
And deal damnation round the land
On each they judge his foe.”
But common sense, philosophy, and nature, lift up their voice in vain, when the all-powerful interests of a dominant class lie on the side of error.
The clergy, who drew large revenues from the people, by working upon their fears, and pandering to their hopes, — and the aristocracy, Who looked to “orders” as a neat provision for the younger members of their families, — and the state, who knew well the value of their spiritual jackalls, were all equally interested in prohibiting officious tongues and pens from too rigid an inquiry into things hitherto deemed sacred by the deluded masse; as;nd scarcely could they fear any change in the popular tone, when they had succeeded in sanctifying ignorance, and making all objectors to their nostrums things to be feared and hated, when they had frightened freedom’s self, by attaching fines and imprisonment (often but the prelude to lingering death) as the penalty of disbelief.
The publication of works of a seditious or blasphemous character, which the laws had designated as so flagrant a crime, and which it had determined to punish so malignantly, was the head and front of Richard Carlile’s offending; it was for this that he was “sold to oppression, to prison, and to judgement.” The truth of the accusation, ” Thou sellest thy people for nought,” (for no crime) was never more distinctly seen than in the prosecutions for sedition and blasphemy which have occurred within the last half century.
Are either religion or government sciences in which no further discoveries can be made, more than any of the other branches of human knowledge? Can no improvement take place in either? Shall there be no more revolutions, or restorations, or reformations? Shall they alone be stationary amidst perpetual change? If God gave to man both the Christian and the Jewish religions” which I know not, nor believe,” he has himself set the example of improving religion to suit the advanced intelligence of the race. How, then, dare those who do believe that to have been the case, endeavour to place the barrier of positive institution to arrest our onward progress.
But, to establish that which is better, we must expose the faults we can discover in that which exists; to manifest truth, we must lift the veil of error which has obscured it; are they, then, guilty of a crime who make a rigid examination into those subjects for which our veneration has been so much demanded? — No and the remembrance of those men shall be sacred in the hearts of their posterity, when the institutions they have attacked are crumbling in the dust of oblivion, or are loaded with the execration of mankind.
The disproportion between the crime of venturing to speak our thoughts — albeit the sound should be unwelcome — and the punishment it involved roused many to inquire into subjects which otherwise would for them have rested still; and a suspicion has naturally been excited that there must be some reasons for so much vengeance other than those which were avowed. The result of their reasonings was the conclusion that ” the people were sold for nought.”
It was also for nought, if the probable injury likely to accrue from the spread of infidelity be considered. Her Majesty’s proclamation against blasphemy and immorality, made in every criminal court at its opening, presumes that infidelity and immorality ever accompany each other, — a mistake which its framers could not have fallen into themselves, but which they hoped the world would make.
If it could be proved that any set of principles led to immorality (not fancied, but real) in the lives of its professors, that would be a good reason why the teaching of such principles should be discountenanced; but who can, with truth, lay this to the charge of scepticism? On the contrary, it can easily be shown that morality can never have any sure foundation except philosophy; and philosophy can only triumph when creeds are overthrown. Even those who have not mental energy sufficient to examine this subject philosophically, must, I should have thought, have discovered the falsehood of the popular notion, — that orthodoxy in the creed tended to the establishment of virtue in the life, — for even they seem capable of looking round the world, and learning the great lessons of its past experience; and no one of those lessons is more decided than that which would be the antipodes of the notion in question.
It cannot, then, be from solicitude for the public morals that such heavy punishments have been awarded to the advocates for the right of free discussion; for not only are these not endangered, but true morality must, by such means, be placed on the sure basis of science and reason, instead of resting on the ever-shifting sands of religious faiths.
“They have sold their people for nought” when their own motives are considered. The price looked for by them was not in reality that for which their anxiety was expressed. The good of the people — the promotion of virtue — and even the advancement of piety, were equally left out of their calculations, except m semblance; for well must they have known, even with their surface-reading of the book of humanity, how little such effects were to be produced from such causes.
No; the price which they secretly put upon the people was (was? — nay, is) that splendour and influence which wealth so abundantly provides for its lawless possessors. The children of larger growth, dazzled with the external grandeur which makes a show of happiness, but has not its substance, thought that they had a good price for the people, whom they sold to dishonour, imprisonment, and death, if by such means they were able to retain their misused power.
But what is the value of such distinctions, if disgust attend their possession? What, though the gilded chariot should bear its possessor through awe-struck thousands What, though the puppet-king shall ride a career of uncaring despotism over the necks of prostrate and starving millions True happiness forswears the palace where virtue is unhonoured, nor visits the stately mansion where benevolence has not taken up her abode: they have lost the rewards which a pure heart and ready hand might have procured. What are the empty titles, the gaudy decorations, which they thought might have supplied their place, and to retain which they were willing to ” sell” those, who wished to rectify the popular taste — to correct the popular ignorance.
If they had gained all their price — all the price of the liberty and lives of their victims — still its value was nought in reality, though specious in appearance. But even that, valueless as it is, cannot be secured long under so great oppression. “National glory,” and “glorious constitutions,” and “priestly” and “kingly dignities” are finding their true level, in the opinion of the people; and they who have sold them may perhaps learn, too late, that those who “sow the wind” must expect but ” to reap the whirlwind.”
And to what were the people sold?
To that contumely and reproach which should be the punishment of vice alone. There are minds which can face all the horrors of law, — who would never shrink from the daring which the invincible straggler for human rights should possess, who will start from the scorn of the public voice. It requires no small degree of courage to persist in the course once adopted, when the many-tongued people shall be almost unanimous in condemnation. How conscious must the moral warrior be of the rectitude of his motive ; of the truth of his principles; of their importance to the very men who, in the spirit of the fanatics of a former time, cried “Crucify him — crucify him!” — and how much must the true interests of the world be, in his estimation, Superior to petty individualisms, to prevent his staggering in his high resolves, and giving up the apparently unequal contest!
How little do they seek the welfare of a nation who misdirect so powerful a stimulus, or restraint, as the popular reproach, until it ceases to be the test of the excellent or worthless; and is alone to be regarded as the thermometer of the principles or practices which are in .good repute, only because they serve, or seem to serve, the cause of venal power and authorized oppression!
They are not only sold thus to calumny and reproach, but lawless villany has no bounds set to its malignity, when the victim is the advocate of human rights. It has recently been decided by a magisterial worthy of this metropolis (the metropolis of the most enlightened nation of the world), that, should an aristocratic brute, excited by an attack upon the prejudices of his babyhood, set all law at defiance, and commit injuries upon person or property, his holy zeal would do him “infinate honour.”
Thus are our notions of honour and justice confounded, the distinction between vice and virtue destroyed, and a precedent in our own times given to impunity for the most barbarous acts, when the victim shall have rendered himself obnoxious — not by aristocratic vices — but by a plebeian love of truth. Nor have they stopped even here with this approval of lynch-law. The vengeance of deluded numbers, or individual spite, however recklessly indulged upon our advocates, was not enough to satisfy the demon thirst of bigotry.
The mockery of trial, at the felons’ bar, has been followed by the lingering deaths of repeated imprisonments. Permit me, in Mr. Carlile’s own words, to give a specimen of these legalized enormities.
“While at the mechanic’s bench, in the year 1816, my first idea in politics was, that the printing press was not worked with sufficient courage, honesty, and freedom, for the largest degree of public good, and that a little martyrdom arrayed against the official powers that would institute prosecutions, would set the press free from all official thraldoms.
“In the month of March, 1817, I began to vend the boldest publications of that day, at the moment when the ministers Liverpool, Castlereagh, and Sidmouth, had suspended the Habeas Corpus Act, and issued a circular to the magistracy, calling for the arrest and prosecution of every one selling such publications. I found the London trade in such pamphlets paralyzed by that ministerial circular; so, against its workings I worked, to encourage the trade to renew the sale. In this I succeeded; my unchecked example became the encouragement of others, and before the end of that year there was a greater freedom of the press, and the sale of its produce, than had before been been known in England.
“The Parodies on the Book of Common Prayer cost me eighteen weeks’ imprisonment in the King’s Bench Prison, from which I was liberated without trial, on the acquittal of William Hone.
“At that moment, then twenty-seven years of age, married, and the parent of two children, I had not conceived any errors in the article religion; but I soon discovered that the suppressed writings chiefly related to religion. This fact gave me the first idea of errors in the religion of the people. Robert Owen had just then made his public appearance, proclaiming that there were errors in all the religions o the earth. I had been charged by the Attorney-General, in his prosecution f r the publication of the Parodies, with being profane and irreligious; but the accusation was false — no young man could stand more acquit of such a character.
“By the end of the year 1818, 1 had published the Theological Works of Thomas Paine, which had been suppressed through twenty years. Prosecutions were immediately instituted, which had no other effect than to induce me to go on printing other similar works, such as the “Doubts of Infidels,” “Watson Refuted,” “Palmer’s Principles of Nature,’” “The God of the Jews,” &c, &c. By the month of October, 1819, I had at least six indictments pending against me; and the sale of my publications so large as to produce a profit o fifty pounds per week. Two of the indictments were tried, f rom the 12th to the 16th of October, and verdicts obtained against me. I was committed to the King’s Bench Prison, and on the 16th of November sentenced to fifteen hundred pounds fine, and three years’ imprisonment in Dorchester Gaol. In the dead of the night I was handcuffed, and driven off between t wo armed officers to Dorchester, a a distance of one hundred and twenty miles.
“The first thing I did, at the close of my trial, was to print the “Age of Reason,” in twopenny sheets, as part of the report of the trial, having taken care to read the whole in defence. Of these I sold more in a month than of the volumes in a year. For this publication, a prosecution was instituted against Mrs. Carlile, but was dropped on her declining the sale. She was not however long unmolested.
“Under pretence of seizing for my fines, the sheriff, with a writ of levari facias, from the Court of King’s Bench, took possession of my house, furniture, stock in trade, and closed the shop. It was thus held, from the 16th of November to the 24th of December, that rent became due, and then emptied.
“Under my desire Mrs. Carlile renewed a business, in January, 1820, with what could be scraped together from the unseized wreck of our property. In February she was arrested; but the first indictment failed through a flaw in the verdict. She was immediately proceeded against by the Attorney-General, and became my fellow-prisoner in Dorchester Gaol in February, 1821, after having done good service in the shop for a year.
“My sister succeeded my wife in the management of the business, but was also immediately prosecuted. The first indictment failed in this case, by the honesty of one of the jurymen. In the second, the judge (Best)s suppressed the defence. By the month of November, 1821, my sister was also a prisoner n Dorchester Gaol, with a fine of five hundred pounds.
“In the course of the year 1821, a new association had been formed, called the “Constitutional Association,” for a subscription o pay the expenses of prosecuting the assistants of my business. Six thousand pounds were subscribed, and the Duke of Wellington disgraced his name by putting it, with his money, at the head of the list. My sister’s trial was the first check it received. The unsuccessful prosecution of Thomas Dolby, the second. Then came a batch of my assistants to the encounter: to wit, Susanna Wright, George Beer, John Barkley, Humphrey Boyle, Joseph Rhodes, William Holmes, and John Jones. All these, save Jones, sustained terms of imprisonment, from six months to two years; but they succeeded in breaking down the ‘Constitutional Association.’
“Then came James Watson and William Tunbridge, both meeting imprisonment.
“In the month of February 1822, Mrs. Wright being then in possession of the house, the very week that Mr. Peel had taken possession of the Home Office, a second seizure was made of the house and stock of 55, Fleet-street, and the house finally wrested from me. This was done on the pretence of satisfying the fines; but neither from this nor the former seizure was a farthing allowed in the abatement of the fines, and I was detained in Dorchester Gaol to the end of the sixth year, three years’ imprisonment having been taken in lieu of the fines.
“Joseph Trust was the only person prosecuted in 1823, and the Lord Chief Justice Abbott intimated that enough had been done; but in May, 1824, there came a new rage for prosecutions from the Government, when Charles Sanderson, Thos. Jefferies, William Haley, William Campion, Richard Hansell, Michael O’Connor, Wilham Cochrane, John Clarke, John Christopher, and Thomas Riley Perry, were severally arrested, and the last nine imprisoned, through various periods, from six months to three years.
“Two years Mr. Carlile was kept in Dorchester Gaol; so was my sister, a year having been taken for her five hundred pounds fine. After this it was reported that the Cabinet had, in council, acknowledged me invincible in the course of moral resistance which I had taken, and no more persons were arrested from my shop, while no one of my publications had been suppressed and every year brought forth something more important than the former. By the month of June, 1824, in the fifth year of my imprisonment, according to my first calculation, I had accomplished the freedom of the press in England, such as was not before known in the world.
“My imprisonment in Dorchester Gaol was very strict and severe. The first magisterial order was, that I should be led into the open air only as a caged animal, to be exhibited to the gaze of the passing curious, half an hour each day, or an hour every other day, or as the gaoler may be pleased. This and similar orders caused me to pass two years and a half in my chamber without going into the open air.”
“In 1834 and 5, I passed ten weeks in the same Compter, for resistance to the payment of Church Rates; making my total of imprisonment nine years and four months.”
And oh, England! thy crimes stop not here, “thou sellest thy people” even to death! It is true that the star-chamber is closed, and the fires of Smithfield have gone out; but as truly as they ever witnessed the sentence and death of martyrs, so truly have we done the same.
Do the lingering cheerless hours of prison solitude, and the long catalogue of prison privations, do nothing towards drying up the springs of life and abridging its duration If the evidence lately given to the world, in the excellent work of Southwood Smith, produces its legitimate conviction on our minds, we shall admit that longevity and happiness, or the greatest sum of the most pleasurable emotions, accompany each other.
The effects of many and long-continued privations do not cease with their actual infliction; the nerves, shattered by solitude and suffering, do not so easily recover their tone; and though life may be for a short time continued, it will never recover the buoyancy of former times.
Richard Carlile bore, for a short time only, the evidences of the sacrifices of which he had not failed to offer the last item the law demanded; the wreck of his former being, alone, has he now borne with him to the quiet grave; but that premature grave shall be eloquent of his endurance and his wrongs. The years abridged from the sum of his life, shall tell a tale to other times, at which even religion herself shall learn to blush.
But if “the people have thus been sold for nought,” it is consolatory to know that their tyrants ” do not increase their wealth by the price.” How stands the rotten fabric of superstition now, twenty-five years after his first campaign? Is it safer for the props which have been sought to be placed around it, by the prosecutions of its oppugners Have the human agonies, endured in cold prison cells, cemented its stones more firmly No and humanity, reason, truth, exultingly re-echo, no
The reign of mental darkness is drawing to a close, and we may accost the genius of superstition in the language of our poet.
“Aye! now contempt is mocking thy grey hairs.
Thou art descending to the darksome grave,
Unhonoured and unpitied, save by those
Whose pride is passing by like thine, and sheds,
Like thine, a glare that fades before the sun
Of truth, and shines but in the dreadful night,
That long has lowered above the ruined world.”
The persecution of the sceptic’s words have but given a new zest to investigation. The lightning shaft of in tolerance, so far from blasting, has but rendered more quick and penetrating the eye of reason. The natural result of opposition to the voice of freedom, in such an age as this, is but to give to it a new impetus.
Gradually, but safely, will proceed the overthrow of despotism, whether existent in church or state, and every means used to arrest it, will but accelerate our journey to the goal of peace and happiness.
Let us refresh ourselves, amidst our recollections of human thraldom, with the evident progress which has already been made in the emancipation of the press and tongue, since the formation of his noble resolution, which has been as nobly kept.
It is true that bigotry has not yet exhausted its efforts — its death-struggles are even now occasionally violent — it still demands its martyrs, as prison walls, yet responding to the steps of incarcerated men can testify; but how much fainter are the efforts for the suppression of truth, how many lips are free to utter it — how many places are consecrate by its dissemination? It remains therefore a demonstrable fact, that if superstition, or religion, is their “wealth,” it has not been “increased” by the “price” which has been demanded of those who ventured to question the intrinsic value of that which they affirmed to be the ” pearl of great price,” and which they recommended us to ” sell all we had to obtain,” while for themselves, however beautiful in their eyes the gospel gem might be, they preferred it, all the world to nothing, when accompanied with a gorgeous setting.
Turn we now to another class. It is not the church and the state alone who sell their “people” for “nought;” the professedly liberal world is not guiltless of a fault so glaringly set up for its imitation. Too many are there, who, shrinking themselves from the arduous conflict, turn their backs upon the enemy, and leave a few, betrayed, or at least forsaken, to fight the great battle of their rights. The time-serving policy of many among them, creates a timidity which is the grand barrier in our path to complete enfranchisement; and produces an inconsistency, which greatly characterizes the machinery by which that regeneration must eventually be produced.
Few, comparatively, have the moral courage for which they would take credit. They are one thing to-day, and to-morrow, if the popular horizon looks lowering, they are another; and inconsistent they must ever be, if their actions are to be dictated by expediency, rather than guided by principle. Even the liberal portion of the press are equally open to this charge; the Dispatch one week says it does not know what Mr. Carlile’s opinions were, and thinks no one else does; and in the very next number declares — it always disapproved them! Now, if the truth was stated in the first instance, and his principles were really unknown, why were they always repudiated? Why? I will tell you, my friends, — because it was fashionable to do so; and because the supposed interests of the proprietors of that paper lay, not at all in leading the people on towards truth and freedom, but only in following a little in the rear: —they follow where they should lead; and only follow, lest they should fall into contempt and neglect. This is the reason why the people, oppressed and sold, are sold for “nought,” — that is, without effort on the part of those who should have been their defenders and friends; or, if occasionally there should be a few wordy boasts, or a little expostulation, it dies away powerless; — as it began without feeling, it expires without effect.
Whence arises this timidity in the liberal world at large, but from fears of their own safety It is to increase their individual security that they shrink from the contest, and thus sell their champions for “nought:” — and equally true is it of this, as of the other class, they do not “increase their wealth by the price;” for if we should refuse to stand up nobly in defence of the truth, and of its advocates, to-day, we shall have the combat still awaiting us to-morrow. If our help should not be offered to the achievement of human emancipation, our children will have to overcome what our own energies should have destroyed. Oh! let us never bequeath to them a badge of slavery, which we may, by our own industry and fortitude, remove.
Richard Carlile was, during the last two or three years of his life, discountenanced by a number of his former most zealous friends, on account of his supposed vaccilation in the profession of apparently very different principles to those which had won for him their attachment; and hence arose the lukewarmness which is known to have existed to a great extent. But this change was one in appearance, but none in reality. It was no change in the great object he had in view, but an alteration in the means by which he sought to bring it about. That those means would be ineffectual, and from their very nature must necessarily be so, many of us foresaw; and we might further have been of opinion, that any attempt to reconcile fanaticism to philosophy was undesirable, even if it could be successful in gaining, for a time, the attention, or in softening the malignity of the ” blind,” who are drawn by their equally “blind leaders into the ditch.” From that ditch, whenever reason’s strong arm releases them, it can only be by compelling them to leave behind their long cherished delusions. If to humour them a little with their toy might have made them more tractable, it did not to us appear likely to lead them away from errors of which that was the chief — the sacred foundation. And time has shown that, by his late efforts to give such a complexion to his opinions as would less shock the prejudices of the world, he lost the co-operation of the majority of his common-sense friends, and gained none from among those for whose sake he made so complete a change, not in his general principles, but only in his mode of teaching them. It is known that I, in a discussion with Mr. Carlile, held in this place about two years ago, urged strong objections to a course which I considered so useless, if not replete with danger; but justice forbids that we should construe a defect in judgment, or matter of taste, into a crime; or that they should be used as reasons why he who ” hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” — whose endurance has bought us so much of liberty, should be denied the tribute of our gratitude and applause.
We may now forget the things in which we differed from him, and, though we cannot think that he was faultless, we may turn from minor points in which we may have discovered blemishes, to those leading features in his life, which have honoured him and advantaged us; and, if the projects of his later years were such as could not meet our approval; when his long seclusion from society is considered, it may, reasonably, be a matter of wonder that they were not more singular and impracticable than they were found to be.
Death has now drawn his curtain over the things of life, — the voice of envy will soon be hushed, — the tongue of calumny mute as his own’; for men will ever do that justice to the dead which they deny to the living. And, in the great revolution of popular sentiment and knowledge, ‘ which time is fast maturing,’ the names of Wesley, Watts, and Whitfield shall excite no emotion, save one of laughter, or of pity. Nelson and Wellington, and their blood-stained victories, shall be things of which our children shall be ashamed, loaded, as they are, with the widow’s curse, and with the orphan’s tear. The wholesale butchery, called war, shall meet its deserved execration, and its heroes claim but the shudder and the sigh; while that of Carlile, linked as it is with the progress of liberty, shall be greeted with an esteem which shall but increase as intelligence advances.
And, think you, that death can ever annihilate the spirit which animated him in so dangerous and difficult an undertaking No! The mantle of Elijah has fallen on us That spirit lives within us, fostered by his example, nay, in many of us, born under his auspices; and, in this, perhaps, has been his greatest success — the leading on so many to assist in so glorious a task. If he could not have imbued others with the fire which burned in him so brightly, when he was “sold to prison and to judgment,” the cause in which he toiled must have suffered a natural decay; but another, and another still, spurred by his example, offered themselves to all the consequences of their opposition to the “might” which sought to overcome “right.”
There are some, who, on occasions like the present, would chiefly have directed your attention to another world, who would have pointed you to its hopes, its joys, and its rewards. I confess to you that mine are of a higher order than those for which the selfish religionist pants.
The supposed cheerless aspect of infidelity appals the minds trained to the exercise of unfounded hopes for future high-seasoned joys; and they prefer to toy, in imagination, with a heaven in expectance, to the enjoyment and improvement of the realties of the world around them. Of what value is it, that we should be led on by the ignis-fatuus hope, if the chase must end in the bog of disappointment The wise man will scarcely expend his strength in toiling for that which may never be possessed, while, at the same time, his utmost energies are no more than what is necessary to enable him to reach that which he knows to be attainable.
We are not without hope in the death of our friends, but those hopes are of a holy and benevolent character. We leave to those who think they can obtain it, a heaven, in which white robes, and golden harps, and crowns, and never-ceasing songs, are to be the prominent features; and we content ourselves with trying to make a heaven of earth, for the enjoyment of the human family, both now and through future generations. Our prayers are not poured forth for present or eternal happiness for ourselves or others, but our strenuous efforts (worth a thousand prayers) are used for the release of our race from a double slavery — that political and religious, which is the cherubim whose fiery sword, turning every way, would guard the Eden of our happiness from our approach, and bar the pathway to the tree of life, — that tree of knowledge, the life of the soul,
To us, and to the world, death — even the martyr’s death — shall furnish a lesson of the most salutary character. If we have not lived in vain, we cannot die without hope that around death itself the halo of usefulness shall be formed; and even this day, with the circumstances of its interment, will prove us right. Not only did the same consistency with which his life was honoured, characterize him in death, but he, being dead in the body, yet lives, and acts by means of the memory of his wishes and his sentiments. It was the infusion of his spirit, proceeding from the lips of his son (in this case proving himself worthy such a father), which refused to sanction to-day the formalities of a church he had at so much cost denounced. And those who, when the insult of a funeral ceremony from priestly hands was persisted in, left the scene, which, though consecrated to the spirit of superstition, could not affect “the dull cold eye or ear of death,” have performed an action suitable to him, and which will speak louder than words could do, how many steps have been taken towards rationality by no inconsiderable number of the present generation.
It may be that no mausoleum may be reared for him in the usual style of ostentatious mourning; but a monument (more enduring than marble) is already raised to him in the memory of the people. But not with this alone shall we be content; we must show the world, by a sympathy excited by this event, not so much how we admire the man, useful and brave though he has been, as how deeply we venerate, how unweariedly we will assist, the great cause in which he laboured.
If that labour, and the sufferings consequent upon it, have brought him to a martyr’s grave, and thus taken an invaluable protection and support from that portion of his family who are yet dependent on the fostering care of others, we shall at least improve so sad a circumstance by showing that we can, and will, do something to repair a loss we cannot wholly supply.
In accordance with the ordinary expectation of human life, he should have survived to rear them to maturity; but since that life has been evidently curtailed by his efforts in our cause, who is there that has been brought out of the darkness of superstition into the light of truth, who will not feel it a justice to his principles, and a privilege he would not willingly relinquish, to be enabled, in some way equally honourable to himself and to the memory of the departed, to assist in the great, and in this case pleasing, though melancholy duty, of providing for the requirements of their childhood?
They are a legacy, — the only one their father could bequeath to you, — for he died in a poverty more honourable.
You will know how to dispose of such a legacy to your own credit and their advantage; and most happy shall I be to assist, by the exercise of whatever talents or influence I may possess, the advancement of such an object; for it is that by which we shall be able to demonstrate to the world, not only how many there are in this country who have embraced the principles of reason and philosophy, but that those principles have taught us their legitimate lesson, which is this: —
That to embody in our lives the best sentiments of those whom we esteem on account of their excellence, and to perform for them, if possible, the duties which death has prevented them from fulfilling, is more acceptable to the wise man, and more worthy in those who admire him, than expensive monuments, which oftener await the remains of the wealthy and the worthless, than those of the philanthropist, the philosopher, or the patriot.
Source: A Funeral Sermon, Occasioned by the Death of Richard Carlile, Preached at the Hall of Science, City Road, London, by Emma Martin on Sunday evening, the 26th of February, 1843 (London: Watson) 1843.