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parts of London, to meet them to tea, to discuss the desirableness and practicability of such a conference as had been proposed. An evening ensued which few who were present are likely to forget. The working men occupied nearly the whole of the time, and one after the other opened the whole question of the religious relations of their own order. Interesting as the larger conference proved, it can hardly be compared in accuracy, in thoroughness, or in breadth of discussion with this miniature anticipation of it. The free scope afforded to each speaker in point of time allowed of the full play of his mind, and the almost passionate earnestness with which the matter was debated and the required reforms pressed home upon the clergy, was such as to leave an indelible impression on their minds of the good sense and good faith of their artisan companions across the table. At that meeting, too, several topics were handled, particularly the unsatisfactory quality of the Sunday-school teaching, and of church preaching, which were scarcely alluded to at the London Coffee House, and they were handled in such a manner as to leave no doubt on those who heard the men's utterances, that it is utterly useless to attempt the conversion of the artisans by ill-informed city missionaries or milksop curates. Unless men of at least the class of Messrs. Mc Cree and G. M. Murphy can be obtained for this work, the various Evangelical societies had better hold their hands, or employ only Biblewomen.
From the first, working men were associated with the gentlemen who proposed the execution of the design—and with them the important question was discussed of the best method of obtaining a really representative conference. It was necessary to provide a body of persons really representative on either side. At first the design extended to the representation of the country; but in addition to the enormous correspondence and labour which such a project would impose, it was soon found that the single necessity of paying the expenses of the operative delegates would inflict irreparable damage upon the authority of the conference. It would at once have been said that the working men had been paid for their appearance, and their opinion would have lost its value.' Leaving therefore the provinces to consult for themselves, it was resolved to restrict operations to the metropolis—under the belief that a large number of the artisans of London, having a good acquaintance with the country, would be able to afford information of general value, and to speak practically in the name of their order throughout England.
After the discussion of many plans for securing the attendance of a body of workmen who should not be simply clever and
talkative individuals, with an idiosyncrasy for objection to everything established, and a taste for railing at the class whence come the employers of labour (an issue which it was foreseen would deprive the meeting of all real weight), it was resolved not to throw the election upon the trades-unions, or their leaders, or to depend upon any single method of choice, but to gather up small companies of men from many parts of London, of both opinions on trades-unions, of both opinions on politics, of every variety of doctrine and practice in point of religion, and of every variety of employment and connection. The only condition was that they must be men of decent character, who could in good measure be depended on to describe, not merely their own notions, but the notions of the multitude around them. Application was therefore made, in all parts of the metropolis, to ministers, to persons engaged in manufactures, to secretaries of working men's clubs and trades-unions, for introduction to persons of the class sought for. A certain small proportion were nominated by the political leaders of the working men, but the large majority was composed of men taken from too many different quarters to be capable of collusion. When, therefore, the whole company so assembled expressed, by the usual signs, their assent to the statements of any speaker, there was a moral certainty that he was speaking the language of the whole body of London artisans. And to the extent to which any speaker was contradicted by those who followed, it was easy to perceive that his opinions were either peculiar to himself or to a fraction of the operative community. This is worthy of note; for it is remarkable that a number of the absurd pretexts commonly set forth by working men out of doors for neglecting church worship were not so much as mentioned at the conference; and of those which were mentioned, not one received the hearty and unanimous assent of the company of workmen, while the replies from the other side were welcomed almost as warmly by the workmen as by the ministers. The only statements set forth as reasons for alieniation from the Churches which seemed to command the unanimous sympathy of the artisans and to elicit their hearty cheers, were precisely those of which it was the general opinion that there was something in them well worthy of consideration. This is deserving of remembrance, since printed reports seldom convey the spirit of a meeting; and it may perhaps be imagined that equal assent was given to the affirmation of a long-tongued licensed hawker, that the working men did not come to church “because of the Mosaic cosmogony," and to that of the ablest working men present, that the class-feeling generated by political exclusion and disputes on wages, had greatly operated in producing an alienation from the religion of the middle classes. The one statement was
received with the derision it deserved, the latter was repeatedly supported by the cheers of the whole body of artisans at the conference.
We enter in some detail into these matters because it is necessary to re-assure the public against the statement of the Pall Mall Gazette that the utterances of the London Coffee House conference were in no sense representative, but simply the calumnious and one-sided criticisms of a body of conceited workmen, who were not average specimens of their class. That some of them were conceited and calumnious we do not deny, but the composition of the artisan side of the company was such as to ensure on the whole a faithful representation and description of the habits and notions of their own order. Their speaking was not so effective as it would have been in a smaller assembly and with fuller time at command; but the deficiencies of one were compensated by the speeches of others, so that during the eight hours' sitting it is tolerably certain that the truth was ascertained. And none seemed more convinced than the men themselves, as the unfolding of their case proceeded, that as reasons for neglecting a Divine Revelation nothing could be imagined more weak and pitiful than that case as stated by themselves, whatever ground there might be for complaint of the stumbling-blocks placed in their way by the church-going classes.
Of the conference itself we have little to say in the way of special comment on the speeches delivered. The assembly was from its singular composition, one of no ordinary interest. A large room in the London Coffee House, Ludgate Hill, with two good fires on one side, was divided into a broad centre and two side aisles by two rows of columns running down its length for the support of the floor above. At one end a little in front of a circular recess lighted by a large window sat the president on a dais slightly raised above the ground. Before him a long table was set for the public press, which did not fail to avail itself of the accommodation. On his left hand were grouped the representatives of the Churches, both laics and clerics. On the other side facing the clergy sat the working men. This arrangement was deliberately adopted chiefly for the sake of the artificers, under the conviction that greater interest would be given to the proceedings if the two parties to the conference were visibly distinguished, and that the artisans would probably gather courage for a freer expression of their opinions if they were supported by the neighbourhood of those who agreed with them.
The lower part of the room was devoted to visitors who had no right to take part in the conference, and these sat on cross benches at right angles to the parties in the upper portion of the room. The artisans were supported by the presence of their chosen leaders, among whom sat Mr. Ludlow and Mr. Potter; and on the other side were many distinguished persons whose names are familiar to all readers of English books and newspapers; Dean Stanley, Canon Miller, Mr. Maurice, Mr. Macgregor (author of " The Cruise of the Rob Roy."), Dr. Irons, Dr. Raleigh, Mr. Thomas Hughes, M.P., Mr. Nevile, Mr. Solly, Mr. Harris Cowper, Mr. Newman Hall, and many other chieftains of Nonconformity. Mr. Charles Miall sat at the Chairman's left hand as assistant secretary, and, as in every detail that belonged to the previous arrangements, undertook the main burden of the practical business and judgment, which brought the purposes of the committee to a favourable issue.
And now that each party in England has delivered its opinion of that issue through their own organs, we also may be permitted to sum up the evidence taken, and to reckon our gains. The Saturday Review has delivered its pitiable toothless sarcasm on the criticisms of the working-men, and advised that we should consult them, in the fulness of their wisdom, not only on religious and political matters, but on the question of toothbrushes and towels. The Pall Mall Gazette has scoffed in the most approved fashion of the high-polite school of literature. The Times has preserved a dignified contemptuous silence on the whole affair. The Spectator, in order to have a fling at sermons, has summoned a conference of its own ingenious writers to enquire why gentlefolks do, and not, go to church. The Daily News devoted a whole side of its sheet to a full report of the proceedings, and commended the conference to public attention as one of the most hopeful movements of the time. The Daily Telegraph extended a patronizing half-sanction to the concern, and wished well to the enterprise of conciliating the operatives and of reforming the Church. The Globe dismissed the business in a short and spiteful paragraph, no doubt believing, with other old women, that what is required in order to convert the workmen is an increase of Church mummery and altar-histrionics. The Guardian entered into a careful and respectful summing up of the case, and allowed that not even the highest of High Church reformations would avail unless the Church of England could succeed in attaining to internal unity. The l'nitarian Inquirer obligingly bestowed its approbation on the “Evangelical gentlemen ” who had devised the meeting, but informed us that the main hope of England lay in the direction of the Socinian theology. The Christian World, with its 100,000 numbers was not, apparently, quite sure, at least in some of its utterances, that it was worth while holding such an incongruous assembly, but hoped for the best, with its usual candour, since the fates had decreed that it should become a reality. The Nonconformist, as it had been the first to welcome the project, maintained to the last that the conference might, if the Churches so pleased, inaugurate a new era of good understanding between them and the working people, and steadfastly persisted in asserting, with the Daily News, that if good did not come of it, it was the fault of the Christian communities, to whom it had been made clearer than ever that many of the causes of the apostasy of the workmen from the Church were remediable and removable, so that the blood of these myriads Jies in a certain sense at the door of those who refuse reformation.
Dismissing, then, the trumpery and superficial pretexts with which the irreligion of the artisan seeks to cover itself from the reproaches of conscience and the judgment of God, and which were torn to tatters by the replies of Canon Miller, Mr. Newman Hall, and the City Missionary McCree, let us set down the matters of graver moment which invite the regard of the churchgoing classes.
It was made clear to all present that the causes of the alienation of the non-church-going community of working men are of four kinds, spiritual, theological, political, and social.
The SPIRITUAL causes at work to hinder the approach of the men to the sanctuaries of God are not peculiar to the lower ranks of society, although they operate there with fearful intensity. The large majority of mankind are paralysed in their moral nature. They take no interest in the spiritual realms with which that nature unites them. They are blind to the realities of Divine government and judgment to come, and equally blind to the evidence of Divine Revelation. The force of their being is spent upon their intellectual and physical powers, chiefly on the
latter. They are “at home in the body.” They are “in the flesh.” · They do not care to “serve God.” In this condition what reck
they of churches and chapels, of Bibles and ministries—the visible symbols of an unrealised, invisible region, or the hated signs of a moral government which they strive to ignore. They prefer animal indulgence to any form of religious instruction or worship—and this is the chief and most common cause of the absence from church of the working class, as of every other class. And since fashion, or the love of display does not lead them there, as it does lead multitudes above them, they yield themselves servants to obey” the “lusts” which inspire them,