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LIFE OF JAMES LACKINGTON.
The Autobiographical labours of this most eccentric of booksellers did not terminate with the foregoing publication, which was succeeded in 1803 by a small nondescript volume, entitled “The Confessions of J. Lackington, late bookseller at the Temple of the Muses, in a series of Letters to a friend." The following extract from the preface will shew the change of mind and of circumstances which led Mr Lackington to regard himself as compelled by duty to favour the world with a few further particulars of his life: unhappily they form a very disproportionate supply of matter of fact, for a large share of observation and opinion, of which the oddity and self-sufficiency are frequently much more apparent than the modesty or good sense.
“ Several of my friends have thought that, if the following letters were made public, they might prove useful as a warning to others not to fall into those errors which had nearly proved fatal to me; and also as an alarm to some of those who are already fallen into that dreadful state of infidelity from which, by the great mercy of God, I am happily escaped.
They were also of opinion, that as I had publicly ridiculed a very large and respectable body of Christians, and thus, in fact, made a thrust at the very vitals
of Christianity itself, by this means giving occasion to speculative infidels and practical unbelievers to triumph and blaspheme; that therefore my recantation ought to be made as public as possible, and that by so doing I should give great pleasure to many real Christians, who, with the angels in heaven, will rejoice over a repenting sinner.
“To the preceding reasons the author is obliged to add, that without publishing something of the kind, he thinks he should not have performed his duty to God or man, nor have had any just ground to expect pardon from either—such is his sense and abhorrence of the pernicious and infidel tendency of those parts of his Memoirs, in which, through the side of Methodism, he even wounds the Church of England, and attacks the whole of evangelical piety.
“In order that my readers might be able to forin clear ideas of the state of my mind through the whole progress of my present happy change, I thought it best to insert two letters which I wrote while I was an infidel, and others written during my gradual discovery of the truths which are revealed in the scriptures. And I request my readers to take notice, that the first twenty-four letters were all written before I was convinced of the truth of those doctrines which are taught by the Methodists, and also by our reformers, as appears by the liturgy, articles, and homilies of the Church of England.
“I found it necessary to make some small alterations in some of the letters. I have divided what was originally sent to a friend in one long letter into two. In the letter on a death-bed repentance, which was written four years since, I have introduced a quotation from the Farmer's Boy, a poem not published when that letter was written. In some of the other letters additional quotations from the poets have been inserted since they were sent to my friends.
“ I have called my old acquaintances by fictitious names, because I would not publicly expose either
those that are dead, or such as are still living ; and I presume no one has any reason to complain; for should any of them be known by my sketches, it can only be by such as were acquainted with the originals.
• In one or two instances I have, for particular rea. sons, made use of a fictitious vehicle to introduce real facts, reasonings, reflections, &c.
necessary to inform my readers, that I am not (as some suppose) again become a partner in the bookselling trade. It is now five years since I made over the whole of that "business to Messrs George Lackington, Allen, and Co., since which time I have had no share or interest in it; and I am very sorry that they last summer published a new edition of the Memoirs of my Life; but I believe they had no intention to disoblige the Methodists, but merely published it as a matter of course to promote their trade. And although I at that time was not pleased with its being republished, yet I did not see the evil tendency which that work certainly has in so strong a light as I have since.”
As but a small part of the “Confessions” are in any sense biographical, a few extracts and detached passages from the curious farrago, which partake most of that character, will suffice; and first, as a matter of justice, the author's amende honorable to the Wesleyan Methodists :
“ In my Memoirs I told you that I married Miss Dorcas Turner. This girl had for some years divided her spare
hours between devotion and novel reading ; on Sundays she would attend the sermons of two or three of those who are called Calvinist-Methodist preachers; the intervals were often filled up by reading of novels : and after her return from the Tabernacle in the evening, the novel was resumed, and perhaps not quitted until she had seen the hero and heroine happily married, which often kept her out of
bed until morning. On other evenings also she would often hear a sermon at the Tabernacle, and devote the remainder ef the night to reading “Tales of love and maids forsaken.'
“ I had no sooner married this young woman than Mr Wesley's people began to prophecy that I should soon lose all my religion. This prophecy I must confess was too soon fulfilled. And although she was not the sole cause of it, yet, as I often was prevailed upon to hear her read those gay, frothy narratives, I by degrees began to lose my relish for more important subjects; and it was not long before novels, romances, and poets, occupied a considerable part of our time, so that I even neglected my shop; for being so much delighted with those fairy regions, I could scarce bear the idea of business : I also sometimes neglected the preaching at the Foundery, at other times hurried home, impatient until I had again got into the realms of fiction. Some months passed away in this man
At last I was roused from those dreams, and again I paid attention to my trade.
“ I observed, in my Memoirs, that Mr Denis vi. sited me during my long illness, when I was again constantly to be found in my shop. He often called, and having little to do, and being fond of disputation, he would seat himself on the counter, and, as occasion offered, attack me, or any of my customers, on our religious opinions. He was acquainted with the various controversies which have divided the Christian world ; and appeared to take delight in pulling systems to pieces, without establishing anything. He owned that he was greatly attached to alchymical and mystical authors; but he would confess that, although he believed some of their writings were dictated by the Spirit of God, yet that he did not pretend to understand them. He allowed that the authors of the Old and New Testaments sometimes wrote as the Spirit dictated, but contended that they had written many things without such assistance; that, like other
pious authors, they at times only wrote their own opinions; so that Mr Denis only believed so much of the bible as he approved of. The divinity of Christ, the doctrine of the atonement, &c., he did not believe. From Jane Leed, madame Bourignon, madame Guion, he had filled his head with associating and concentering with the divinity, which was the way to be all light, all eye, all spirit, all joy, all gladness, all love; pure love, rest in quietness, absorbed in silent spiritual pleasure, and inexpressible sweetness, &c. Mr D. did not attend any place of worship, except the Horse and Groom public-louse, near Moorfields, could he called such.' In Moorfields he sometimes would hear part of a sermon or two, and for an hour or two after the orations were ended, he was to be seen disputing among the mechanics, who very often came there for that purpose. In the afternoon on Sunday, he would go to the above public-house, where a room full of persons of this description usually met, and one or other of them would first read a chapter in the bible, and afterwards animadvert on what he had read, and as many as were disposed to it added their curious remarks. To this odd group of expositors I was once introduced, but I did not repeat my visit.
“ From the disputes in my shop, example, &c., I soon came to think that the sabbath day was no more sacred than any other day; so that instead of attending at places of worship, I sometimes read the whole of the day; at other times I walked in the fields with Mr D., his son, and other disputants, where we debated various subjects.
“ I believe when any one willingly neglects public worship, he will not long be attentive to private devotion ; it was at least the case with me.
I also soon began to entertain doubts concerning the doctrines of the trinity, atonement, &c. And in proportion as I relaxed in Christian duties, I grew more fond of such disputes as had a tendency to make my mind easy on that score.