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The Spectator’s compliments

03 January 2020

January 2nd, 1920.

THE Spectator, in last week’s issue, quotes the following dictum of F. W. Robertson: “Popular religion only represents the female element in the national mind. Hence it is at once devotional, slanderous, timid, gossiping, narrow, shrieking, and prudish.”

On which our contemporary comments: “He lived under the rule of the Record: we are living under that of The Church Times.” The implication is obvious; the epithets which Robertson showered on the Record seventy years ago are commended to the Spectator’s readers as suitable to our unworthy selves to-day. We make no complaint: hard words break no bones. But it occurs to us to ask what kind of a retort the Spectator would have made if we had assailed it with a Robertsonian torrent of abuse. Probably a solemn leading article would have been devoted to the arrogance and bitterness and mendacity of sacerdotalists; and for weeks afterwards excited correspondents would have sent in instances of those qualities that had occurred in their experience, or, more likely, existed only in their imaginations. Controversy is never an agreeable pastime, but those who engage in it should endeavour to keep within the limits of decency and politeness. When Robertson wrote and flourished, the methods of controversy were far from restrained. They seem to most of us nowadays barbarous, but the Spectator appears to cherish the early Victorian tradition.

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