When any species of wrong-doing can wear the
righteousness, the blindest among us can see how dangerous that
of crime may become—how hard to prove, punish and put down.
There are immense Arabian plains where nomad robbers have practised
their profession, from a time whereof the memory of man runneth not
to the contrary; yet those plains and the nomad bands that pitch
their tents beneath the Oriental sun remain very much as they were
the days of Abraham.
But where robbery has disguised itself
as Law, and one class
has aimed the law-making machine at the others, saying "
and deliver!" whole regions have become deserts, and great
peoples have been blotted out.
In fact, the highwayman, the cattle-lifter and the pickpocket have
never in the least affected the destinies of nations. The pirate
the buccaneer have never been able to destroy the commerce of the
seas, beggar provinces, and change noble harbors into neglected
It is when the robbers intrench themselves in Parliaments,
and Congresses, and the robbery takes the form of "Law,"
that spoliation becomes destructive. Bank laws and
laws beat down more victims than armies. Protective Tariff "laws,"
infinitely more ruinous than all the Lafittes and Captain Kidds,
drive the American flag from the seas, while on land they make a
thousand Rockefellers, Carnegies, Morgans, Guggenheims, McCormicks
and Armours, at the same time that they are casting millions of the
despoiled out of house and home.
There are realms where religious mendicancy keeps to the primitive
forms of the beggar's bowl and pouch. It is the free-will
In these countries of voluntary tributes, religious feeling has
branched into the fewest channels, has lost the least of its
force, and maintains today its most impregnable position. But where
the priestly caste was able to intrench its mendicancy in Law, and
arrogantly say to the laity, "
Pay me one-tenth of all thou
hast!" religion was first to well-nigh lose its beauty and
its strength, and like, the Rhine, almost disappear into the
intricate morasses of subdivisions.
Ten thousand virulent disputes about tithes ushered in the
of the French Revolution; and many of my readers will remember how
Charles Dickens, when a Parliamentary reporter, dropped his pencil
tears, unable to go on, as Daniel O'Connell described one of the
tragedies of a tithe-riot in Ireland.
When Religion went forth as Christ sent it forth,
nothing for the priest. Yet, the same religion, organized into
episcopacy, afterwards wrote the tax of one-tenth upon the
statute-book, and sold the widow's cow to pay the priest for his
prayer. In those days, it must have been a gruesome spectacle as
burly parson, a picture of physical fullness, stood in the
background, personifying Law and Religion, while the bailiff raided
the cotter's wretched premises, pounced upon pigs and poultry, or
dragged household goods off to public sale. Yet, during centuries
outrage, pain and starvation, this sort of robbery disguised itself
a double domino of Law and Religion.
Forgive me, if I digress briefly to mention how vividly I was
reminded of all this, by the thrifty, business-like manner in which
Bishop P. J. Donohue, of Wheeling, West Virginia, sold out a
man, S. W. Hawley,
for rent, in the year of our Crucified
To satisfy the debt due to this most worshipful Bishop of God, the
following personal property was seized, and advertised for sale,
to-wit: 3 bed springs and 3 beds, 3 mattresses, 1 stove, 2 tables,
chairs, 3 pictures, 1 broom, 4 comforts, 2 blankets, 3 quilts, 4
pillows, and some dishes.
(It was further stated that Hawley's back was broken, while working
in the coal mines.)
Alfred Townsend, who was so well known to journalism as
wrote a novel which he called "The Entailed Hat." The book
would have lived gloriously, had it not been for the hat: the
absurd conditions which this idea about the Entailed Hat
upon the author, killed his novel.
But there was in it one passage which lingers yet in my
after the lapse of more than 30 years. There were two brothers,
shrewd, pushing, flinty Jews, who drove hard bargains, hard
collections, and filled a store-room with household plunder sold
debt, and bought in by the Jews, to be resold at a profit. "Gath"
gave tongue to each article of this pitiful domestic furniture,
from the homes of the poor, and auctioned at public outcry.
The old rickety cradle spoke of the babes that had lain in it, and
the mother-songs that had been sung over it, as the foot which
the world softly pedalled the wooden rockers.
The loom and the spindle had their stories to tell: the table and
dishes spoke of the plain meals and unpretentious hospitalities of
the lowly: the chairs remembered the humble hearth and fireside,
many a circle of bright faces they had helped to form around the
cheerful glow of the burning logs.
The silent clock, with no life of moving hands on its dust-covered
face, spoke of how the short and simple annals of the poor had been
measured by it, how it had timed the marriage and the funeral, the
birth and death; and how it had missed the toil-hardened hands that
used to wind it up, every night.
And so on—the dirge of the Household Goods!
As my eye ran over the items of the poor man's goods ordered to
for the most worshipful Bishop Donohue—the consecrated disciple of
Christ who didn't even have as much of a home as the foxes and the
might have thought of one or two blistering passages
in the glorious old Code of Moses; I
might have recalled some
of the bitterest of the words of Jesus Christ, against those rich,
haughty, unmerciful lordlings who grind the faces of the poor.
But I did not: on the contrary, that passage in "Gath's"
novel rose out of the mist of 30 years, and brought back the
plaintive lament of the household goods, seized, carried away, and
sold into strange hands to pay a trifling debt. "Gath,"
following literary tradition, most canonically chose
act as shylocks: it would never have occurred to him that a
consecrated Bishop of Jesus Christ could sell the poor Christian's
blanket off the bed, sell the bed itself, sell the table at which
family ate, and the chairs that they sat on. Not only the mattress
which the tired limbs of labor stretched themselves to rest, and
pillows upon which the aching head had lain, but the very broom
swept the floor, had to be seized to satisfy the rent of this godly
the Bishop of a homeless Christ!
To make this picture perfect, the family Bible ought to have been
levied on—and this Catholic Bishop ought to have bought it in.
Having acquired the Book in that manner, a natural curiosity might
have prompted him to read it.
One thing, however, the most worshipful Bishop might yet do: he
take the proceeds of the sale of Hawley's beds, mattresses,
stove, dishes, comforts, blankets, chairs and broom—and contribute
the whole sum to Foreign Missions.
"Thou shalt not commit adultery!"
All Christians take their laws and their religion more or less from
the Jews. Who the Jews took it from, is another question. Skeptical
scholars say that they took it from the older peoples of the East,
the Nile, the Euphrates: orthodox Christianity maintains that they
took it by revelation direct from Jehovah. Therefore, every sect in
Christendom stands committed to the proposition that God Almighty,
clothed in all His terrors, with the clouds darkening the skies,
thunders for His heralds and the lightenings for the flaming swords
that went before His face, came down to Sinai, and wrote upon the
shalt not commit adultery!"