The Rationale of Reward

Appendix (A)

To Book I, Chapter VIII
On Subscriptions to Matters of Opinion

0f the two English Universities, Oxford is the most ancient and most dignified. Of its numerous statutes which are penned in Latin, as many as may fill a moderate duodecimo volume are published, as the title-page declares, for the use of youth: and of these care is taken (for the honour of the government let it be spoken) that those for whose observance the are designed, shall not, without their own default, be ignorant since, at every man's admission, a copy is put into his hands. All the statutes, as well those that are seen as those that are not seen, every student at his admission is sworn in Latin to observe, ``So help me God'', says the matriculated person, ``touching as I do the most holy Gospel of Christ.''

The barbers, cooks, bed-makers, errand-boys, and other unlettered retainers to the University, are sworn in English to the observance of these Latin statutes. The oath thus solemnly taken, there has not, we may be morally certain, for a course of many generations, perhaps from the first era of its institution, been a single person that has ever kept. Now though customary, it is perhaps not strictly proper, as it tend to confusion and to false estimates, to apply the term perjury, without distinction, to the breach of an assertive and to that of a promissive declaration---to the breach of a oath and to that of a vow; and to brand with the same mark of infamy a solemn averment, which at the time of making it was certainly false,---and a single departure from a declared resolution, which at the time of declaring it might possibly have been sincere.[2] But, if they themselves are to be believed who have made the oath, and who break it,---the university of Oxford, for this century and half has been, and at the time I am writing is, a commonwealth of perjurers. The streets of Oxford, said the first Lord Chatham once, ``are paved with disaffection''. That weakness is outgrown: but he might have added then (if that had been the statesman's care) and any one may add still, ``and with perjury''. The face of this, as of other prostitutions, varies with the time: perjurers in their youth, they become suborners of perjury in their old age.

It should seem that there was once a time, when the persons subjected to this yoke, or some one on their behalf, began to murmur: for, to quiet such murmurs, or at any rate to anticipate them, a practitioner, of a faculty now extinct, then very much in vogue,---a physician of the soul, a casuist, was called in. His prescription, at the end of every one of these abridged editions of the statutes---his prescription under the title of Epinomis seu explanatio juramenti &c. stands annexed. This casuist is kind enough to inform you, that though you have taken an oath indeed, to observe all these statutes---and that without exception, yet, in ninety-nine instances out of a hundred, it amounts to nothing. What, in those instances, you are hound to do is---not to keep your oath, but to take your choice whether you will do that or suffer---not to do what you are bid; but, if you happen to be found out (for this proviso, I take for granted, is to be supplied) to bear your penalty. For---what now do you think your sovereign seriously wishes you to do, when he forbids you to commit murder? That you should abstain from murder at all events? No surely; but that, if you happen to be found out and convicted, you should sit quiet while the halter is fitted to your neck.

Who is this casuist, who by his superior power washes away the guilt from perjury, and controuls the judgments of the almighty? Is it the legislator himself? By no means: that indeed might make a difference. The sanction of an oath would then not with certainty be violated; it would only with certainty be profaned. It was a Bishop Saunderson, who, in the bosom of a Protestant church, before he was made a bishop, had set up a kind of confessional box, whither tender consciences repaired from all parts to heal their scruples.

This institution, whether it were the fruit of blindness or of a sinister policy, has answered in an admirable degree, some at least of the purposes for which it was probably designed. It has driven the consciences of the greater part of those by whom the efficient parts of government are one day to be filled, into a net, of which the clergy hold the cords. The fear and shame of every young man of sense, of spirit, and reflection, on whom these oaths are imposed, must at one time or other take the alarm. What! says he to himself, am I a perjurer? If he ask his own judgment, it condemns him. What then shall he do? Perjury, were it only for the shame of it, is no light matter: if his education have been ever so loose, he has frequently heard it condemned; if strict and virtuous, he has never heard it mentioned without abhorrence. But, when he thinks of the guilt of it, hell yawns under his feet. What then shall he do? Whither then shall he betake himself? He flies to his reverend instructors in a state of desperation. ``These men are older than myself'', says he; ``they are more learned, they are therefore wiser: on them rests the charge of my education. My own judgment, indeed, condemns me; but my own judgment is weak and uninformed. Why may not I trust to others? See, their hands are outstretched to comfort me! Where can he the blame in listening to them? in being guided by them? in short, in surrendering my judgment into their hands? Are not they my rulers, my instructors? the very persons whom my parents have appointed to take charge of me to check my presumption, and to inform my ignorance? What obligation am I under, nay, what liberty have I to oppose my feeble lights to theirs? Do they not stand charged with the direction of my conscience?---charged by whatsoever I ought to hold most sacred? Are they not the ministers of God's word? the depositaries of our holy religion? the very persons, to whose guidance I vowed, in the person of my godfathers and godmothers, to submit myself, under the name of my spiritual pastors and masters? And are they not able and willing to direct me? In all matters of conscience then, let me lay down to myself the following as inviolable rules:---not to be governed by my own reason; not to endeavour at the presumptuous and unattainable merit of consistency not to consider whether a thing is right or wrong in itself, but what {\it they} think of it. On all points, then, let me receive my religion at their hands: what to them is sacred, let it to me be sacred; what to them is wickedness, let it to me be wickedness; what to them is truth, let it to me be truth; let me see as they see, believe as they believe, think as they think, feel as they feel, love as they love, fear as they fear, hate as they hate, esteem as they esteem, perform as they perform, subscribe as they subscribe, and swear as they swear. With them is honour, peace, and safety; without them, is ignominy, contention and despair.'' Such course must every young man, who is brought up under the rod of a technical religion, distinct from morality, and bestrewed with doubts and dangers, take on a thousand occasions, or run mad. To whom else should he resort for counsel?---to whom else should he repair? To the companions of his own age They will laugh at him, and call him methodist: for many a one who dreads even hobgoblins alone laughs at them in company. To their friends and relations who are advanced in life, and who live in the world? The answer they get from them, if they are fortunate enough to get a serious one, is---that in all human establishments there are imperfections; but that innovation is dangerous, and reformation can only come from above: that young men are apt to be hurried away by the warmth of their temper, led astray by partial views of things, of which they are unable to see the whole: that these effusions of self-sufficiency are much better repressed than given way to: that what it is not in our power to correct it were better to submit to without notice, that prudence commands what custom authorizes---to swim quietly with the stream: that to bring matters of religion upon the carpet, is a ready way to excite either aversion or contempt: that humanity forbids the raising of scruples in the breast of the weak,---good humour, the bringing up of topics that are austere,---good manners topics that are disgusting: that policy forbids our offending the incurious with the display of our sagacity, the ignorant with the ostentation of our knowledge, the loose with the example of our integrity, and the powerful with the noise of our complaints: that, with regard to the point in question, oaths, like other obligations, are to be held for sacred or insignificant, according to the fashion: that perjury is no disgrace, except when it happens to be punished: and that, as a general rule, it concerns every man to know and to remember, as he tenders his peace of mind and his hopes of fortune, that there are institutions, which though mischievous are not to be abolished, and though indefensible are not to be condemned.

A sort of tacit convention is established: ``Give our soul up into my hands---I ensure it from perdition. Surely the terms, on your part, are easy enough: exertion there needs none: all that is demanded of you is---to shut your eyes, ears, lips, and to sit quiet. The topic of religion is surely forbidding enough, as well as a forbidden topic: all that you have to do then, is to think nothing about the matter; look not into, touch not the ark of the Lord, and you are safe.''

[RR, Book III, Chapter III] [RR, Appendix (B)]