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From a College Window by Arthur Christopher Benson

Part 4 out of 4

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pasture with its ruined wall, and I felt creeping upon me that old
inheritance of humanity, that terror in the presence of the unseen,
which sets the mind at work, distorting and exaggerating the
impressions of eye and ear. How easy, in such a mood, to grow tense
and expectant--

"Till sight and hearing ache
For something that may keep
The awful inner sense
Unroused, lest it should mark
The life that haunts the emptiness
And horror of the dark."

Face to face with the impenetrable mystery, with the thought of
those whom we have loved, who have slipped without a word or a sign
over the dark threshold, what wonder if we beat with unavailing
hands against the closed door? It would be strange if we did not,
for we too must some day enter in; well, the souls of all those who
have died, alike those whom we have loved, and the spirits of those
old Romans whose mortal bodies melted into smoke year after year in
the little enclosure into which I look, know whatever there is to
know. That is a stern and dreadful truth; the secret is impenetrably
sealed from us; but, "though the heart ache to contemplate it, it
is there."



Walter Pater says, in his most oracular mood, in that fine
manifesto of a lofty Epicureanism which is known as the Conclusion
to the Renaissance essays, that to form habits is failure in life.
The difficulty in uttering oracles is that one is obliged for the
sake of being forcible to reduce a statement to its simplest terms;
and when one does that, there are generally a whole group of cases
which appear to be covered by the statement, which contradict it.
It is nearly impossible to make any general statement both simple
enough and large enough. In the case of Pater's pronouncement, he
had fixed his mental gaze so firmly on a particular phenomenon,
that he forgot that his words might prove misleading when applied
to the facts of life. What he meant, no doubt, was that one of the
commonest of mental dangers is to form intellectual and moral
prejudices early in life, and so to stereotype them that we are
unable to look round them, or to give anything that we
instinctively dislike a fair trial. Most people in fact, in matters
of opinion, tend to get infected with a species of Toryism by the
time that they reach middle age, until they get into the frame of
mind which Montaigne describes, of thinking so highly of their own
conjectures as to be prepared to burn other people for not
regarding them as certainties. This frame of mind is much to be
reprobated, but it is unhappily common. How often does one meet
sensible, shrewd, and intelligent men, who say frankly that they
are not prepared to listen to any evidence which tells against
their beliefs. How rare it is to meet a man who in the course of an
argument will say, "Well, I had never thought of that before; it
must be taken into account, and it modifies my view." Such an
attitude is looked upon by active-minded and energetic men as
having something weak and even sentimental about it. How common it
is to hear people say that a man ought to have the courage of his
opinions; how rare it is to find a man who will say that one ought
to have the courage to change one's opinions. Indeed, in public
life it is generally considered a kind of treachery to change,
because people value what they call loyalty above truth. Pater no
doubt meant that the duty and privilege of the philosopher is to
keep his inner eye open to new impressions, to be ready to see
beauty in new forms, not to love comfortable and settled ways, but
to bring the same fresh apprehension that youth brings, to art and
to life.

He is merely speaking of a mental process in these words; what he
is condemning is the dulling and encrusting of the mind with
prejudices and habits, the tendency, as Charles Lamb wittily said,
whenever a new book comes out, to read an old one, to get into the
fireside-and-slippers frame of mind, to grumble at novelty, to
complain that the young men are violating all the sacred canons of
faith and art.

This is not at all the same thing as knowing one's own limitations;
every one, whether he be artist or writer, critic or practitioner,
ought to take the measure of his forces, and to determine in what
regions he can be effective; indeed it is often necessary for a man
of artistic impulses to confine his energies to one specific
department, although he may be attracted by several. Pater was
himself an instance of this. He knew, for instance, that his
dramatic sense was weak, and he wisely let drama alone; he found
that certain vigorous writers exercised a contagious influence over
his own style, and therefore he gave up reading them. But within
his own region he endeavoured to be catholic and sympathetic; he
never tied up the contents of his mind into packets and labelled
them, a task which most men between thirty and forty find highly

But I desire here to go into the larger question of forming habits;
and as a general rule it may be said that Pater's dictum is
entirely untrue, and that success in life depends more upon forming
habits than upon anything else, except good health. Indeed, Pater
himself is an excellent instance in point. He achieved his large
output of beautiful literary work, the amazing amount of perfectly
finished and exquisitely expressed writing that he gave to the
world, by an extreme and patient regularity of labour. He did not,
as some writers do, have periods of energetic creation, interrupted
by periods of fallow idleness. Perhaps his work might have been
more spontaneous if he could, like Milton's friend, have been wise
enough "of such delights to judge, and interpose them oft." But the
achievement of Pater was to realize and to carry out his own
individual method, and it is upon doing this that successful
productivity depends.

I could name, if I chose, two or three friends of my own, men of
high and subtle intelligence, admirable humour, undiminished zest,
who have failed, and will fail, to realize their possibilities,
simply by a lack of method. Who does not know the men whom Mr.
Mallock so wittily describes, of whom, up to the age of forty,
their friends say that they could do anything if they only chose,
and after the age of forty that they could have done anything if
they had chosen? I have one particular friend in my eye at this
moment, the possessor of wealth and leisure, who is a born writer
if any man ever was. He has no particular duties, except the duties
of a small landowner and the father of a family; he is a wide
reader, and a critic of delicate and sympathetic acuteness. He is
bent on writing; and he has written a single book crammed from end
to end with good and beautiful things, the stuff of which would
have sufficed, in the hands of a facile writer, for half-a-dozen
excellent books. He is, moreover, sincerely anxious to write, but
he does nothing. If you ask him--and I conceive it to be my duty
at intervals to chide him for not producing more--what he does with
his time, he says with a melancholy smile: "Oh, I hardly know: it
goes!" I trace his failure to produce, simply to the fact that he
has never set apart any particular portion of the day for writing;
he allows himself to be interrupted; he entertains many guests whom
he has no particular wish to see; he "sets around and looks
ornery," like the frog; he talks delightfully; an industrious
Boswell could, by asking him questions and taking careful notes of
his talk, fill a charming volume in a month out of his shrewd and
suggestive conversation; of course it is possible to say that he
practises the art of living, to talk of "gems of purest ray serene"
and flowers "born to blush unseen" and all the rest of it. But his
talk streams to waste among guests who do not as a rule appreciate
it; and if there is any duty or responsibility in the world at all,
it is a duty for men of great endowments, admirable humour, and
poetical suggestiveness, to sow the seed of the mind freely and
lavishly. We English are of course the chosen race; but we should
be none the worse for a little more intellectual apprehension, a
little more amiable charm. If my friend had been a professional
man, obliged to earn a living by his pen, he would, I do not doubt,
have given to the world a series of great books, which would have
done something to spread the influence of the kingdom of heaven.

Of course there is a sense in which it is a mistake to let habits
become too tyrannical; one ought not to find oneself hopelessly
distracted and irritated if one's daily programme is interfered
with at any point; one ought to be able to enjoy leisure, to pay
visits, to converse volubly. Like Dr. Johnson, one ought to be
ready for a frolic. But, on the other hand, if a man takes himself
seriously--and I am here not speaking of people with definite
engagements, but of people, like writers and artists, who may
choose their own times to do their work--he ought to have a regular
though not an invariable programme. If he is possessed of such
superabundant energy as Walter Scott possessed, he may rise at
five, and write ten immortal octavo pages before he appears at
breakfast. But as a rule the vitality of ordinary people is more
limited, and they are bound to husband it, if they mean to do
anything that is worth the name; an artist then ought to have his
sacred hours, secure from interruption; and then, let him fill the
rest of the day with any amusement that he finds to be congenial.

Of course the thing is easy enough if one's work is really the
thing in which one is most interested. There is very little danger,
in the case of a man who likes and relishes the work he is doing
more than he relishes any form of amusement; but we many of us have
the unhappy feeling that we enjoy our work very much, if we can
once sit down to it; only we do not care about beginning it. We
read the paper, we write a few letters, we look out an address in
Who's Who, and we become absorbed in the biographies of our fellow-
men; very soon it is time for luncheon, and then we think that we
shall feel fresher if we take a little exercise; after tea, the
weather is so beautiful that we think it would be a pity not to
enjoy the long sunset lights; we come in; the piano stands
invitingly open, and we must strike a few chords; then the bell
rings for dressing, and the day is gone, because we mistrust the
work that we do late at night, and so we go to bed in good time.
Not so does a big book get written!

We ought rather to find out all about ourselves; when we can work
our best, how long we can work continuously with full vigour; and
then round these fixed points we should group our sociability, our
leisure, our amusement. If we are altruistically inclined, we
probably say that it is a duty to see something of our fellow-
creatures, that we ought not to grow morose and solitary; there is
an abundance of excuses that can be made; but the artist and the
writer ought to realize that their duty to the world is to perceive
what is beautiful and to express it as resolutely, as attractively
as they can; if a writer can write a good book, he can talk in its
pages to a numerous audience; and he is right to save up his best
thoughts for his readers, rather than to let them flow away in
diffuse conversation. Of course a writer of fiction is bound to
make the observation of varieties of temperament a duty; it is his
material; if he becomes isolated and self-absorbed, his work
becomes narrow and mannerized; and it is true, too, that, with most
writers, the collision of mind with mind is what produces the
brightest sparks.

And then to step into a still wider field, there is no sort of
doubt that the formation of reasonable habits, of method, of
punctuality, is a duty, not from an exalted point of view, but
because it makes enormously for the happiness and convenience of
every one about us. In the old-fashioned story-books a prodigious
value, perhaps an exaggerated value, was set upon time; one was
told to redeem the time, whatever that might mean. The ideal mother
of the family, in the little books which I used to read in my
childhood, was a lady who appeared punctually at breakfast, and had
a bunch of keys hanging at her girdle. Breakfast over, she paid a
series of visits, looked into the larder, weighed out stores, and
then settled down to some solid reading or embroidered a fire-
screen; the afternoon would be spent in visits of benevolence,
carrying portions of the midday dinner to her poorer neighbours;
the evening would be given to working at the fire-screen again,
while some one read aloud. Somehow it is not an attractive picture,
though it need not have been so dull as it appears. The point is
whether the solid reading had a useful effect or not. In the books
I have in view, it generally led the materfamilias into having an
undue respect for correct information, and a pharisaical contempt
for people who indulged their fancy. In Harry and Lucy, for
instance, Lucy, who is the only human figure in the book, is
perpetually being snubbed by the terrible hard-headed Harry, with
his desperate interest in machinery, by the repellent father who
delights to explain the laws of gravity and the parabola described
by the stone which Harry throws. What was undervalued in those old,
dry, high-principled books was the charm of vivid apprehension, of
fanciful imagination, of simple, neighbourly kindliness. The aim
was too much to improve everybody and everything, to impart and
retain correct information. Nowadays the pendulum has swung a
little too far the other way, and children are too much encouraged,
if anything, to be childish; but there is a certain austere charm
in the old simple high-minded household life for all that.

The point is that habit should be there, like the hem of a
handkerchief, to keep the fabric together; but that it should not
be relentlessly and oppressively paraded; the triumph is to have
habits and to conceal them, just as in Ruskin's celebrated dictum,
that the artist's aim should be to be fit for the best society, and
then that he should renounce it. One ought to be reliable, to
perform the work that one undertakes without ceaseless reminders,
to discharge duties easily and satisfactorily; and then, if to this
one can add the grace of apparent leisureliness, the power of never
appearing to be interrupted, the good-humoured readiness to amuse
and to be amused, one is high upon the ladder of perfection. It is
absolutely necessary, if one is to play a satisfactory part in the
world, to be in earnest, to be serious; and it is no less necessary
to abstain from ostentatiously parading that seriousness. One has
to take for granted that others are serious too; and far more is
effected by example than by precept, in this, as in most matters.
But if one cannot do both, it is better to be serious and to show
it, than to make a show of despising seriousness and decrying it.
It is better to have habits and to let others know it, than to lose
one's soul by endeavouring to escape the reproach of priggishness,
a quality which in these easy-going days incurs an excessive degree
of odium.



There is a motto which I should like to see written over the door
of every place of worship, both as an invitation and a warning:
invitation to those who enter, to come and participate in a great
and holy mystery; and it is a warning to those who believe that in
the formalities of religion alone is the secret of religion to be
found. I will not here speak of worship, of the value of the
symbol, the winged prayer, the uttered word; I wish rather to speak
for a little of religion itself, a thing, as I believe, greatly
misunderstood. How much it is misunderstood may be seen from the
fact that, though the word itself, religion, stands for one of the
most beautiful and simple things in the world, there yet hangs
about it an aroma which is not wholly pleasing. What difficult
service that great and humble name has seen! With what strange and
evil meanings it has been charged! How dinted and battered it is
with hard usage! how dimmed its radiance, how stained its purity!
It is the best word, perhaps the only word, for the thing that I
mean; and yet something dusty and technical hangs about it, which
makes it wearisome instead of delightful, dreary rather than
joyful. The same is the case with many of the words which stand for
great things. They have been weapons in the hands of dry, bigoted,
offensive persons, until their brightness is clouded, their keen
edge hacked and broken.

By religion I mean the power, whatever it be, which makes a man
choose what is hard rather than what is easy, what is lofty and
noble rather than what is mean and selfish; that puts courage into
timorous hearts, and gladness into clouded spirits; that consoles
men in grief, misfortune, and disappointment; that makes them
joyfully accept a heavy burden; that, in a word, uplifts men out of
the dominion of material things, and sets their feet in a purer and
simpler region.

Yet this great thing, which lies so near us that we can take it
into our grasp by merely reaching out a hand; which is as close to
us as the air and the sunlight, has been by the sad, misguided
efforts, very often of the best and noblest-minded men, who knew
how precious a thing it was, so guarded, so wrapped up, made so
remote from, so alien to, life and thought, that many people who
live by its light, and draw it in as simply as the air they
breathe, never even know that they have come within hail of it. "Is
he a good man?" said a simple Methodist once, in reply to a
question about a friend. "Yes, he is good, but not religious-good."
By which he meant that he lived kindly, purely, and unselfishly as
a Christian should, but did not attend any particular place of
worship, and therefore could not be held to have any religious
motive for his actions, but was guided by a mere worthless
instinct, a preference for unworldly living.

Now, if ever there was a Divine attempt made in the world to shake
religion free of its wrappings, it was the preaching of Christ. So
far as we can gather from records of obscure and mysterious origin,
transcriptions, it would seem, of something oral and traditional,
Christ aimed at bringing religion within the reach of the humblest
and simplest souls. Whatever doubt men may feel as to the literal
accuracy of these records in matters of fact, however much it may
be held that the relation of incidents was coloured by the popular
belief of the time in the possibility of miraculous manifestations,
yet the words and sayings of Christ emerge from the narrative,
though in places it seems as though they had been imperfectly
apprehended, as containing and expressing thoughts quite outside
the range of the minds that recorded them; and thus possess an
authenticity, which is confirmed and proved by the immature mental
grasp of those who compiled the records, in a way in which it would
not have been proved, if the compilers had been obviously men of
mental acuteness and far-reaching philosophical grasp.

To express the religion of Christ in precise words would be a
mighty task; but it may be said that it was not merely a system,
nor primarily a creed; it was a message to individual hearts,
bewildered by the complexity of the world and the intricacy of
religious observances. Christ bade men believe that their Creator
was also a Father; that the only way to escape from the
overwhelming difficulties presented by the world was the way of
simplicity, sincerity, and love; that a man should keep out of his
life all that insults and hurts the soul, and that he should hold
the interests of others as dear as he holds his own. It was a
protest against all ambition, and cruelty, and luxury, and self-
conceit. It showed that a man should accept his temperament and his
place in life, as gifts from the hands of his Father; and that he
should then be peaceful, pure, humble, and loving. Christ brought
into the world an entirely new standard; He showed that many
respected and reverenced persons were very far indeed from the
Father; while many obscure, sinful, miserable outcasts found the
secret which the respectable and contemptuous missed. Never was
there a message which cast so much hope abroad in rich handfuls to
the world. The astonishing part of the revelation was that it was
so absolutely simple; neither wealth, nor intellect, nor position,
nor even moral perfection, were needed. The simplest child, the
most abandoned sinner, could take the great gift as easily as the
most honoured statesman, the wisest sage--indeed more easily; for
it was the very complexity of affairs, of motives, of wealth, that
entangled the soul and prevented it from realizing its freedom.

Christ lived His human life on these principles; and sank from
danger to danger, from disaster to disaster, and having touched the
whole gamut of human suffering, and disappointment, and shame, died
a death in which no element of disgust, and terror, and pain was

And from that moment the deterioration began. At first the great
secret ran silently through the world from soul to soul, till the
world was leavened. But even so the process of capturing and
transforming the faith in accordance with human weakness began. The
intellectual spirit laid hold on it first. Metaphysicians
scrutinized the humble and sweet mystery, overlaid it with
definitions, harmonized it with ancient systems, dogmatized it,
made it hard, and subtle, and uninspiring. Vivid metaphors and
illustrations were seized upon and converted into precise
statements of principles. The very misapprehensions of the original
hearers were invested with the same sanctity that belonged to the
Master Himself. But even so the bright and beautiful spirit made
its way, like a stream of clear water, refreshing thirsty places
and making the desert bloom like the rose, till at last the world
itself, in the middle of its luxuries and pomp, became aware that
here was a mighty force abroad which must be reckoned with; and
then the world itself determined upon the capture of Christianity;
and how sadly it succeeded can be read in the pages of history;
until at last the pure creature, like a barbarian captive, bright
with youth and beauty, was bound with golden chains, and bidden,
bewildered and amazed, to grace the triumph and ride in the very
chariot of its conqueror.

Let me take one salient instance. Could there, to any impartial
observer, be anything in the world more incredible than that the
Pope, surrounded by ritual and pomp, and hierarchies, and policies,
should be held to be the representative on earth of the peasant-
teacher of Galilee? And yet the melancholy process of development
is plain enough. As the world became Christianized, it could not be
expected to give up its social order, its ambitions, its love of
power and influence. Christianity uncurbed is an inconvenient, a
dangerous, a subversive force; it must be tamed and muzzled; it
must be robed and crowned; it must be given a high and honoured
place among institutions. And so it has fallen a victim to bribery
and intrigue and worldly power.

I do not for a moment say that it does not even thus inspire
thousands of hearts to simple, loving, and heroic conduct. The
secret is far too vital to lose its power. It is a vast force in
the world, and indeed survives its capture in virtue of its truth
and beauty. But instead of being the most free, the most
independent, the most individualistic force in the world, it has
become the most authoritarian, the most traditional, the most rigid
of systems. As in the tale of Gulliver, it is a giant indeed, and
can yet perform gigantic services; but it is bound and fettered by
a puny race.

Further, there are some who would divide religion sharply into two
aspects, the objective and the subjective. Those who emphasize the
objective aspect, would maintain that the theory that underlies all
religion is the idea of sacrifice. This view is held strongly by
Roman Catholics and by a large section of Anglicans as well. They
would hold that the duty of the priest is the offering of this
sacrifice, and that the essential truth of the Christian revelation
was the sacrifice of God Himself upon God's own altar. This
sacrifice, this atonement, they would say, can be and must be made,
over and over, upon the altar of God. They would hold that this
offering had its objective value, even though it were offered
without the mental concurrence of those for whom it was offered.
They would urge that the primal necessity for the faithful is that
by an act of the will,--not necessarily an emotional act, but an
act of pure and definite volition,--they should associate
themselves with the true and perfect sacrifice; that souls that do
this sincerely are caught up, so to speak, into the heavenly
chariot of God, and move upward thus; while the merely subjective
and emotional religion is, to continue the metaphor, as if a man
should gird up his loins to run in company with the heavenly
impulse. They would say that the objective act of worship may have
a subjective emotional effect, but that it has a true value quite
independent of any subjective effect. They would say that the idea
of sacrifice is a primal instinct of human nature, implanted in
hearts by God Himself, and borne witness to by the whole history of

Those who, like myself, believe rather in the subjective side, the
emotional effect of religion, would hold that the idea of sacrifice
is certainly a primal human instinct, but that the true
interpretation has been put upon it by the teaching of Christ. I
should myself feel that the idea of sacrifice belonged wholly to
the old dispensation. That man, when he began to form some mental
picture of the mysterious nature of the world of which he found
himself a part, saw that there was, in the background of life, a
vast and awful power, whose laws were mysterious and not,
apparently, wholly benevolent; that this power sometimes sent
happiness and prosperity, sometimes sorrow and adversity; and that
though to a certain extent calamities were brought about by
individual misconduct, yet that there were innumerable instances in
the world where innocence and even conscientious conduct were just
as heavily penalized as guilt and sin. The apparently fortuitous
distribution of happiness would alarm and bewilder him. The natural
instinct of man, thus face to face with a Deity which he could not
hope to overcome or struggle with, would be to conciliate and
propitiate him by all the means in his power, as he would offer
gifts to a prince or chief. He would hope thus to win his favour
and not to incur his wrath.

But the teaching of the Saviour that God was indeed a Father of men
seems to me to have changed all this instantaneously. Man would
learn that misfortune was sent him, not wantonly nor cruelly, but
that it was an educative process. If even so he saw cases, such as
a child tortured by agonizing pain, where there seemed to be no
personal educative motive that could account for it, no sense of
punishment which could be meant to improve the sufferer, he would
fall back on the thought that each man is not isolated or solitary,
but that there is some essential unity that binds humanity
together, and that suffering at one point must, in some mysterious
way that he cannot understand, mean amelioration at another. To
feel this would require the exercise of faith, because no human
ingenuity could grasp the method by which such a system could be
applied. But there would be no choice between believing this, or
deciding that whatever the essential nature of the Mind of God was,
it was not based on human ideas of justice and benevolence.

The theory of religion would then be that the crude idea of
propitiatory and conciliatory sacrifice would fall to the ground;
that to use the inspired words of the old Roman poet--

"Aptissima quaeque dabunt Di.
Carior est illis homo quam sibi;"

and that the only sacrifices required of man would be, on the one
hand, the sacrifice of selfish desires, evil tendencies, sinful
appetites; and, on the other hand, the voluntary abnegation of
comfortable and desirable things, in the presence of a noble aim, a
great idea, a generous purpose.

Religion would then become a purely subjective thing; an intense
desire to put the human will in harmony with the Divine will, a
hopeful, generous, and trustful attitude of soul, a determination
to receive suffering and pain as a gift from the Father, as bravely
and sincerely as the gifts of happiness and joy, with a fervent
faith that God did indeed, by implanting in men so ardent a longing
for strength and joy, and so deeply rooted a terror of pain and
weakness, imply that He intended joy, of a purified and elevated
kind, to be the ultimate inheritance of His creatures; and the
sacrifice of man would then be the willing resignation of
everything which could in any degree thwart the ultimate purpose of

That I believe from the depths of my heart to be the meaning of the
Christian revelation; and I should look upon the thought of
objective sacrifice as being an unworthy survival from a time when
men had little true knowledge of the Fatherly Heart of God.

And thus, to my mind, the only possible theory of worship is that
it is a deliberate act, an opening of the door that leads to the
Heavenly presence. Any influence is religious which fills the mind
with gratitude and peace, which makes a man humble and patient and
wise, which teaches him that the only happiness possible is to
attune and harmonize his mind with the gracious purpose of God.

And so religion and worship grow to have a larger and wider
significance; for though the solemnities of religion are one of the
doors through which the soul can approach God, yet what is known as
religious worship is only as it were a postern by the side of the
great portals of beauty and nobility and truth. One whose heart is
filled with a yearning mystery at the sight of the starry heavens,
who can adore the splendour of noble actions, courageous deeds,
patient affections, who can see and love the beauty so abundantly
shed abroad in the world, who can be thrilled with ecstasy and joy
by art and music, can at all these moments draw near to God, and
open his soul to the influx of the Divine Spirit.

Religion can only be of avail so long as it takes account of all
the avenues by which the soul can reach the central presence; and
the error into which professional ecclesiastics fall is the error
of the scribes and Pharisees, who said that thus and thus only, by
these rites and sacrifices and ceremonies, shall the soul have
access to the Father of all living. It is as false a doctrine as
would be the claim of scientific men or artists, if they maintained
that only through science or only through art should men draw near
to God. For all the intuitions by which men can perceive the Father
are sacred, are religious. And no one may perversely bind that
which is free, or make unclean that which is pure, without
suffering the doom of those who would delude humanity into
worshipping an idol of man's devising, rather than the Spirit of
God Himself.

Now the question must be asked, how are those who are Christians
indeed, who adore in the inmost shrine of their spirit the true
Christ, who believe that the Star of the East still shines in
unveiled splendour over the place where the young child is, how are
they to be true to their Lord? Are they to protest against the
tyranny of intellect, of authority, of worldliness, over the
Gospel? I would say that they have no need thus to protest. I would
say that, if they are true to the spirit of Christ, they have no
concern with revolutionary ideals at all; Christ's own example
teaches us to leave all that on one side, to conform to worldly
institutions, to accept the framework of society. The tyranny of
which I have spoken is not to be directly attacked. The true
concern of the believer is to be his own attitude to life, his
relations with the circle, small or great, in which he finds
himself. He knows that if indeed the spirit of Christ could truly
leaven the world, the pomps, the glories, the splendours which veil
it, would melt like unsubstantial wreaths of smoke. He need not
trouble himself about traditional ordinances, elaborate
ceremonials, subtle doctrines, metaphysical definitions. He must
concern himself with far different things. Let him be sure that no
sin is allowed to lurk unresisted in the depths of his spirit; let
him be sure that he is patient, and just, and tender-hearted, and
sincere; let him try to remedy true affliction, not the affliction
which falls upon men through their desire to conform to the
elaborate usage of society, but the affliction which seems to be
bound up with God's own world. Let him be quiet and peaceable; let
him take freely the comfort of the holy influences which Churches,
for all their complex fabric of traditions and ceremony, still hold
out to the spirit; let him drink largely from all sources of
beauty, both natural and human; the Churches themselves have
gained, by age, and gentle associations, and artistic perception, a
large treasure of things that are full of beauty--architecture and
music and ceremony--that are only hurtful when held to be special
and peculiar channels of holiness and sweetness, when they are
supposed to have a definite sanctification which is opposed to the
sanctification of the beauty exterior to them. Let the Christian be
grateful for the beauty they hold, and use it freely and simply.
Only let him beware of thinking that what is the open inheritance
of the world is in the possession of any one smaller circle. Let
him not even seek to go outside of the persuasion, as it is so
strangely called, in which he was born. Christ spoke little of
sects, and the fusion of sects, because He contemplated no Church,
in the sense in which it is now too often used, but a unity of
feeling which should overspread the earth. The true Christian will
recognize his brethren not necessarily in the Church or sect to
which he belongs, but in all who live humbly, purely, and lovingly,
in dependence on the Great Father of all living.

For after all, disguise it from ourselves as we will, we are all
girt about with dark mysteries, into which we have to look whether
we dare or not. We fill our life as full as we can of occupation
and amusements, of warmth and comfort; yet sometimes, as we sit in
our peaceful room, the gust pipes thin and shrill round the corners
of the court, the rain rustles in the tree; we drop the book which
we hold, and wonder what manner of things we indeed are, and what
we shall be. Perhaps one of our companions is struck down, and goes
without a word or sign on his last journey; or some heavy calamity,
some loss, some bereavement hangs over our lives, and we enter into
the shadow; or some inexplicable or hopeless suffering involves one
whom we love, from which the only deliverance is death; and we
realize that there is no explanation, no consolation possible. In
such moments we tend to think that the world is a very terrible
place, and that we pay a heavy price for our share in it. How
unsubstantial then appear our hopes and dreams, our little
ambitions, our paltry joys! In such a mood we feel that the most
definite creed illumines, as it were, but a tiny streak of the
shadowy orb; and we are visited, too, by the fear that the more
definite the creed, the more certain it is that it is only a
desperate human attempt to state a mystery which cannot be stated,
in a world where all is dark.

In such a despairing mood, we can but resign ourselves to the awful
Will of God, who sets us here, we know not why, and hurries us
hence, we know not whither. Yet the very sternness and
inexorability of that dread purpose has something that sustains and
invigorates. We look back upon our life, and feel that it has all
followed a plan and a design, and that the worst evils we have had
to bear have been our faithless terrors about what should be; and
then we feel the strength that ebbed from us drawing back to
sustain us; we recognize that our present sufferings have never
been unbearable, that there has always been some residue of hope;
we read of how brave men have borne intolerable calamities, and
have smiled in the midst of them, at the reflection that they have
never been so hard as was anticipated; and then we are happy if we
can determine that, whatever comes, we will try to do our best, in
our small sphere, to live as truly and purely as we can, to
practise courage and sincerity, to help our fellow-sufferers along,
to guard innocence, to guide faltering feet, to encourage all the
sweet and wholesome joys of life, to be loving, tender-hearted,
generous, to lift up our hearts; not to be downcast and resentful
because we do not understand everything at once, but humbly and
gratefully to read the scroll as it is unrolled.


The night grows late. I rise to close my outer door to shut
myself out from the world; I shall have no more visitors now. The
moonlight lies cold and clear on the little court; the shadow of
the cloister pillars falls black on the pavement. Outside, the town
lies hushed in sleep; I see the gables and chimneys of the
clustered houses standing in a quiet dream over the old ivy-
covered wall. The college is absolutely still, though one or two
lights still burn in studious rooms, and peep through curtained
chinks. What a beautiful place to live one's life in, a place which
greets one with delicate associations, with venerable beauty, at
every turn! The moonlight falls through the tall oriel of the Hall,
and the armorial shields burn and glow with rich points of colour.
I pace to and fro, wondering, musing. All here seems so permanent,
so still, so secure, and yet we are spinning and whirling through
space to some unknown goal. What are the thoughts of the mighty
unresting Heart, to whose vastness and agelessness the whole mass
of these flying and glowing suns are but as a handful of dust that
a boy flings upon the air? How has He set me here, a tiny moving
atom, yet more sure of my own minute identity than I am of all the
vast panorama of things which lie outside of me? Has He indeed a
tender and a patient thought of me, the frail creature whom He has
moulded and made? I do not doubt it; I look up among the star-sown
spaces, and the old aspiration rises in my heart, "Oh, that I knew
where I might find Him! that I might come even into His presence!"
How would I go, like a tired and sorrowful child to his father's
knee, to be comforted and encouraged, in perfect trust and love, to
be raised in His arms, to be held to His heart! He would but look
in my face, and I should understand without a question, without a

Now in its mouldering turret the old clock wakes and stirs, moves
its jarring wires, and the soft bell strikes midnight. Another of
my few short days gone, another step nearer to the unseen. Slowly
but not sadly I return, for I have been for a moment nearer God;
the very thought that rises in my mind, and turns my heart to His,
comes from Him. He would make all plain, if He could; He gives us
what we need; and when we at last awake we shall be satisfied.


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