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The Faith of the Millions (2nd series) by George Tyrrell

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in respect to its expediency and in all its detail. Thus it seemed to
him that the ideal for which he had lived was shattered by a
self-inflicted blow. The infallible voice of humanity had declared
against the cause of humanity. He found himself compelled, in virtue of
his principles, to choose between two alternatives. Either the cause of
humanity, as he conceived it, was not the cause of God; or else the Pope
was not the Vicar of Christ and the divinely-appointed guardian of that
cause. But of the two denials the former was now to him the least
tolerable. "Catholicism," he said, "was my life, because it was that of
humanity." _Sacramenta, propter homines_; the Church was made for man,
and not man for the Church. Given the dilemma, who shall blame his
choice? But the dilemma was purely subjective and imaginary. Though
truths are never irreconcilable, the exaggerations of truth may well
be so.

Had he possessed that intellectual patience in perplexity, without which
not only faith, but true science, is impossible, he would have been
driven not to apostasy, but to a careful re-sifting of his views,
issuing, perhaps, in a reconciliation of apparently adverse positions,
or at all events in a confession of subjective, uncertainty and
confusion. Faith, in the wider sense of the word, would have bid him to
believe, without seeing, what we have lived to see under Leo XIII.

This seems to be the intellectual aspect of his defection, though of
course there were many accelerating causes at work. Perhaps if Gregory
XVI. had met his appeal with a few words of simple explanation and
advice, instead of with that mysterious reticence which is falsely
supposed to be the soul of diplomacy, the issue might have been as happy
as it was miserable. De Lamennais himself, in his _Affaires de Rome_,
makes the same remark in so many words. Again, the illiberal and
ungenerous persecution of his triumphant adversaries, who endeavoured to
goad him into some open act of rebellion in order to bring him under
still heavier condemnation, can scarcely have failed to embitter and
harden a soul naturally disposed to pessimism and melancholy. Nor can we
omit from the influences at work upon him, that dramatic instinct which
makes a mediocre and colourless attitude impossible for those who are
strongly under its influence. Perhaps no nation is more governed by it
than the French, with their partiality for _tableaux_ and _sensation_;
and in De Lamennais its presence was most marked, as the pages of his
_Paroles_ will witness. In the _Too Late_ with which he received the
overtures of Pius IX.; in the studied sensationalism of his funeral
arrangements, and in many other minute points, we are made sensible that
if his life culminated in a tragedy, the tragic aspect of it was not
altogether displeasing to him. Still it would be a grievous slur on so
great a character to suppose that such a weakness could have had any
considerable part in his steady and deliberate refusal to see a priest
at the last. This is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that he
believed he could not be absolved without accepting the condemnation of
his own views, and so abandoning the cause of humanity. While under the
spell of his imaginary dilemma, he was constrained to follow the rule
for a perplexed conscience, and to choose what seemed to him the less of
two evils.

After his ideal had been destroyed, and the Church could no longer be
for him the Saviour of the Nations, he threw himself without reserve
into the cause of humanity and liberty. But his aims were now almost
entirely destructive and revolutionary. His enthusiasm was rather a
hatred of the things that were, than an ardent zeal for the things that
ought to be; and the bitter elements in his character become more and
more accentuated as he finds himself gradually thrust aside and
forgotten--cast off by the Church, ignored by the revolution. Even his
friends, with one or two exceptions, dropped off one by one; some
fleeing like rats from a sinking ship, others perplexed at his obstinacy
or offended by his violence; others removed by death or distance; and we
see him in his old age poor and lonely, and intensely unhappy.

When dangerously ill in 1827, he exclaimed, on being told that it was a
fine night, "For my peace, God grant that it may be my last." The prayer
was not heard, for, as he felt on his recovery, God had a great work for
him to do. How that work was done we have just seen. Feli de Lamennais,
who would have been buried as a Christian in 1827, was buried as an
infidel in 1854.

It is vain to contend that he was not a man of prayer. That he had a
keen discernment in spiritual things is evident from his _Commentary on
the Imitation_ and his other spiritual writings, as well as from the
testimony of his young disciples at La Chenaie, to whom he was not
merely a brilliant teacher, a most affectionate friend and father, but
also a trusted guide in the things of God. Yet this would be little had
we not also assurance of his personal and private devoutness.

All this would make his unfortunate ending a stumbling-block to those
who cannot acquiesce in the fact that in every soul tares and wheat in
various proportions grow side by side, and that which growth is to be
victorious is not possible to predict with certainty; who deem it
impossible that one who ends ill could ever have lived well; or that one
who loses his faith, or any other virtue, could ever at any time have
really possessed it. There is indeed some kind of double personality in
us all which is perhaps more observable in strongly-marked characters
like De Lamennais, where, so to say, the bifurcating lines are produced
further. Proud men have occasional moods of genuine humility; and
habitual bitterness is allayed by intervals of sweetness; and
conversely, there are ugly streaks in the fairest marble.

And as to the fate of that restless soul, who shall dare to speak
dogmatically? We cling gladly to the story of the tear that stole down
his face in death, and would fain see in it some confirmation of the
view according to which the soul receives in that crucial hour a final
choice based on the collective experience of its mortal life. We would
hope that as there is a baptism of blood or of charity, so there may
perhaps be some uncovenanted absolution for one who so earnestly loved
mankind at large, and especially the poor and the oppressed; who in his
old age and misery was found by their sick-bed; who willed to be with
them in his death and burial. And yet we feel something of that
agonizing uncertainty which forced from the aged Abbe Jean the bitter
cry, "Feli, Feli, my brother!"

_Jan._ 1897.



"What pains me most," writes the late Sir Joseph Crowe in the
_Nineteenth Century_ for October, 1896, "is to think that the art of Fra
Filippo, the loose fish, and seducer of holy women, looks almost as
pure, and is often quite as lovely as that of Fra Giovanni Angelico of
Fiesole." And indeed, if the fact be admitted, it cannot but be a shock
to all those high-minded thinkers who have committed themselves
unreservedly to the view that personal sanctity and elevation of
character in the artist is an essential condition for the production of
any great work of art, and especially of religious art. As regards the
fact, we need not concern ourselves very long. If Rio and others,
presumably biassed by the same theory, are inclined to see Lippi's moral
depravity betrayed in every stroke of his brush, yet the more general
and truer verdict accords him a place among the great masters of his
age, albeit beneath Angelico and some others. Beyond all doubt it must
be allowed that even in point of spirituality and heavenliness of
expression, he stands high above numbers of artists of pure life and
blameless reputation; and this fact leaves us face to face with the
problem already suggested as to the precise connection between high
morality and high art--if any.

Plainly a good man need not be a good artist. Must a good artist be a
good man? I suppose from a vague feeling in certain minds that it ought
to be so, there rises a belief that it must be so, and that it is so;
and from this belief a disposition to see that it is so, and to read
facts accordingly. Prominent among the advocates of this view is Mr.
Ruskin in his treatment of the relation of morality to art. He holds
"that the basis of art is moral; that art cannot be merely pleasant or
unpleasant, but must be lawful or unlawful, that every legitimate
artistic enjoyment is due to the perception of moral propriety, that
every artistic excellence is a moral virtue, every artistic fault is a
moral vice; that noble art can spring only from noble feeling, that the
whole system of the beautiful is a system of moral emotions, moral
selections, and moral appreciation; and that the aim and end of art is
the expression of man's obedience to God's will, and of his recognition
of God's goodness." [1]

But a man who can characterize a vulgar pattern as immoral, plainly uses
the term "morality" in some transcendental, non-natural sense, and
therefore cannot be regarded as an exponent of the precise theory
referred to. Still, as this larger idea of morality includes the lesser
and more restricted, we may consider Mr. Ruskin and his disciples among
those to whom the case of Lippo Lippi and many another presents a
distinct difficulty. "Many another," for the principle ought to extend
to every branch of fine art; and we should be prepared to maintain that
there never has been, or could have been, a truly great musician, or
sculptor, or poet, who was not also a truly good man. In a way the
position is defensible enough; for one can, in every contrary instance,
patch up the artist's character or else pick holes in his work. Who is
to settle what is a truly great work or a truly good man. But a position
may be quite defensible, yet obviously untrue. Again, if by great art we
mean that which is subordinated to some great and good purpose, we are
characterizing it by a goodness which is extrinsic to it, and is not the
goodness of art itself, as such. If the end of fine art is to teach,
then its goodness must be estimated by the matter and manner of its
teaching, and a "moral pocket-handkerchief" must take precedence of many
a Turner. Yet it would even then remain questionable whether a good and
great moral teacher is necessarily a good man. In truth, a good man is
one who obeys his conscience, and whose conscience guides him right. If,
in defect of the latter condition, we allow that a man is good or
well-meaning, it is because we suppose that his conscience is erroneous
inculpably, and that he is faithful to right order as far as he
understands it. But one who sees right and wills wrong is in no sense
good, but altogether bad. Allowing that for the solution of some
delicate moral problems a certain height of tone and keenness of insight
inseparable from habitual conscientiousness is necessary, yet mere
intellectual acumen, in the absence of any notably biassing influence,
suffices to give us as great a teacher as Aristotle, who, if exonerated
from graver charges, offers no example of astonishing elevation of heart
at all proportioned to the profundity of his genius. We do not deny that
in the case of free assent to beliefs fraught with grave practical
consequences, the moral condition of the subject has much to do with the
judgments of the intellect. But first principles and their logical
issues belong to the domain of necessary truth; while in other matters a
teacher may accept current maxims and sentiments with which he has no
personal sympathy, and weave from all these a whole system of excellent
and orthodox moral teaching. And if one may be a good moralist and a bad
man, why _a fortiori_ may one not be a good artist and a bad man? If
vice does not necessarily dim the eye to ethical beauty, why should it
blind it to aesthetic beauty? In order to get at a solution we must fix
somewhat more definitely the notion of fine art and its scope.

I think it is in a child's book called _The Back of the North Wind_,
that a poet is somewhat happily and simply defined as a person who is
glad about something and wants to make other people glad about it too.
Yet mature reflection shows two flaws in this definition. First of all,
the theme of poetry, or any other fine art, need not always be gladsome,
but can appeal to some other strong emotion, provided it be high and
noble. The tragedian is one who is thrilled with awe and sorrow, and
strives to excite a like thrill in others. Again, though the craving for
sympathy hardly ever fails to follow close on the experience of deep
feeling; and though, as we shall presently see, fine art is but an
extension of language whose chief end is intercommunion of ideas, yet
this altruist end of fine art is not of its essence, but of its
superabundance and overflow. Expression for expression's sake is a
necessity of man's spiritual nature, in solitude no less than in
society. To speak, to give utterance to the truth that he sees, and to
the strong emotions that stir within his heart, is that highest
energizing in which man finds his natural perfection and his rest. His
soul is burdened and in labour until it has brought forth and expressed
to its complete satisfaction the word conceived within it. Nor is it
only within the mind that he so utters himself in secret self-communing;
for he is not a disembodied intelligence, but one clothed with body and
senses and imagination. His medium of expression is not merely the
spiritual substance of the mind, but his whole complex being. Nor has he
uttered his "word" to his full satisfaction till it has passed from his
intellect into his imagination, and thence to his lips, his voice, his
features, his gesture. And when the mind is more vigorous and the
passion for utterance more intense, he will not be at rest while there
is any other medium in which he can embody his conception, be it stone,
or metal, or line, or colour, or sound, or measure, or imagery, which
under his skilled hand can be made to shadow out his hidden thought and
emotion. We cannot hold with Max Mueller and others, who make thought
dependent and consequent on language.

For it is evident, on a moment's introspection, that thought makes
language for itself to live in, just as a snail makes its own shell or a
soul makes its own body. Who has not felt the anguish of not being able
to find a word to hit off his thought exactly?--which surely means that
the thought was already there unclothed, awaiting its embodiment. As the
soul disembodied is not man, so thought not clothed in language is not
perfect human thought. Its essence is saved, but not its substantial, or
at least its desirable, completeness. A man thinks more fully, more
humanly, who thinks not with his mind alone, but with his imagination,
his voice, his tongue, his pen, his pencil. If, therefore, solitary
contemplative thought is a legitimate end in itself; if it is that
_ludus_, or play of the soul, which is the highest occupation of man, a
share in the same honour must be allowed to its accompanying embodiment;
to the music which delights no ear but the performer's; to poetry, to
painting, to sculpture done for the joy of doing, and without reference
to the good of others communicating in that joy. And if the Divine
Artist, whose lavish hand fills everything with goodness; who pours out
the treasures of His love and wisdom in every corner of our universe; of
whose greatness man knows not an appreciable fraction; who "does all
things well" for the very love of doing and of doing well; who utters
Himself for the sake of uttering, not only in His eternal, co-equal,
all-expressive Word, but also in the broken, stammering accents of a
myriad finite words or manifestations--if this Divine Artist teaches us
anything, it is that man, singly or collectively, is divinest when he
finds rest and joy in utterance for its own sake, in "telling the glory
of God and showing forth His handiwork," or, as Catholic doctrine puts
it, in praise; for praise is the utterance of love, and love is joy in
the truth.

As most of the useful arts perfect man's executive faculties, and thus
are said to improve upon, while in a certain sense they imitate nature;
so the fine arts extend and exalt man's faculty of expression, or
self-utterance, regarded not precisely as useful and _propter aliud_;
but as pleasurable and _propter se_. Even the most uncultivated savage
finds pleasure in some discordant utterance of his subjective frame of
mind; and it is really hard to find any tribe so degraded as to show no
rudiment of fine art, no sign of reflex pleasure in expression, and of
inventiveness in extending the resources nature has provided us with for
that end.

The artist as such aims at self-expression for its own sake. It is a
necessity of his nature, an outpouring of pent-up feeling, as much as is
the song of the lark. Of course we are speaking of the true creative
artist, and not of the laborious copyist. If he subordinates his work as
a means to some further end; if his aim is morality or immorality, truth
or error, pleasure or pain; if it is anything else than the embodiment
or utterance of his own soul, so far he is acting riot as an artist, but
as a minister of morality, or truth, or pleasure, or their contraries.
If we keep this idea steadily in view, we can see how much truth, or how
little, is contained in the various theories of fine art which have been
advanced from the earliest times. We can see how truly art is a [Greek:
mimaesis] an imitating of realities; not that art-objects are, as Plato
supposes, faint and defective representations, vicegerent species of the
external world, whose beauty is but the transfer and dim reflection of
the beauty of nature. Were it so, then the mirror, or the camera, were
the best of all artists. As expression, fine art is the imitation of the
soul within; of outward realities as received into the mind and heart of
the artist, in their ideal and emotional setting. The artist gives word
or expression to what he sees; but what he sees is within him. His work
is self-expression. We can from this infer where to look for a solution
of the controversy between idealism and realism. We can also see how,
owing to the essential disproportion between the material and sensible
media of expression which art uses, and the immaterial and spiritual
realities it would body forth, its utterances must always be symbolic,
never literal. We can see how needlessly they embarrass themselves who
deny the name of fine art to any work whose theme is not beautiful, or
which is not morally didactic. Finally, we can see that if fine art be
but an extension of language, there can be no immediate connection
between art as art, and general moral character; no more reason for
supposing that skilful and beautiful self-utterance is incompatible with
immorality, than that its absence is incompatible with sanctity.

Yet, as a matter of fact, and rightly, we judge of art not merely as
art, or as expression; but we look to that which is expressed, to the
inner soul which is revealed to us, to the "matter" as well as to the
"form." And it maybe questioned whether our estimate of a work is not
rather determined in most cases by this non-artistic consideration.
Obviously it is possible in our estimate of a landscape, to be drawn
away from the artistic to the real beauty; from its merits as a "word,"
or expression, to the merits of the thing signified. And still more
naturally is our admiration drawn from the artist's self-utterance, to
the self which he endeavours to utter, and we are brought into sympathy
with his thought and feeling. Much of the fascination exercised over us
by art, which precisely as art is rude and imperfect in many ways, is to
be ascribed to this source. Though here we must remember that the soul
is often more truly and artistically betrayed by the simple lispings of
childhood than by the ornate and finished eloquence of a rhetorician.

It is in regard to the matter expressed, rather than to the mode of
expression, that we have a right to look for a difference between such
men as Lippo Lippi and Fra Angelico. According to a man's inner tone and
temperament and character, will be the impression produced upon him by
the objects of his contemplation. These will determine him largely in
the choice of his themes, and in the aspect under which he will treat
them. Obviously in many cases there are noble themes of art for whose
appreciation no particular delicacy of moral or religious taste is
required. There is no reason why such a subject as the Laocoon should
make a different impression on a saint and on a profligate. It appeals
to the tragic sense, which may be as highly developed in one as in the
other. But if the Annunciation be the theme, we can well understand how
differently it will impress a man of lively and cultured faith, a
contemplative and mystic, with an appreciative and effective love of
reverence and purity; and another whose faith is a formula, whose life
is impure, frivolous, worldly. Why then is there not a more distinctly
marked inferiority in the religious art of Lippi to that of Angelico?
Why does it look "almost as pure," and "often quite as lovely"? Two very
clear reasons offer themselves in reply. First of all, the art of such a
man as Angelico falls far more hopelessly short of his ideal. Most of
the beauties which such a soul would find in the contemplation of Mary,
or of Gabriel, are spiritual, moral, non-aesthetic, and can embody
themselves in form and feature only most imperfectly. Given equal skill
in expression, equal command of words, one man can say all that he
feels, and more, while another is tortured with a sense of much more to
be uttered, were it not unutterable. Perhaps it is in some hint of this
hidden wealth of unuttered meaning that skilled eyes find in Angelico
what they can never find in Lippi. A second reason might be found in the
external influence exerted on the artist by society, its requirements,
fashions, and conventions. It is plain that Lippi, left to himself,
would never have chosen religious themes as such: it is equally plain,
that having chosen them, he would naturally try to emulate and eclipse
what was most admired in the great works of his predecessors and
contemporaries. It would need little more than a familiar acquaintance
with the great models, together with the artist's discriminating
observance, for a man of Lippi's talent to catch those lines and shades
of form and feature which hint at, rather than express, the inward
purity, the reverence, the gentleness, with which he himself was so
little in sympathy.

No doubt, were two such men equally skilled in all the arts of
expression, in language, in verse, in song and music, in sculpture and
painting, and acting, their general treatment of religious themes would
be more glaringly different; but within the comparatively narrow limits
of painting, we cannot reasonably expect more than we actually find.

The saint, as such, and the artist, as such, are occupied with different
facets of the world; the former with its moral, the latter with its
aesthetic beauty. Even were the artist formally to recognize that all the
beauty in nature is but the created utterance of the Divine thought and
love, and that the real, though unknown, term of his abstraction is not
the impersonal symbol, but the person symbolized; yet it is not enough
for sanctity or morality to be attracted to God viewed simply as the
archetype of aesthetic beauty. On the other hand, one may be drawn,
through the love of moral beauty in creatures, of justice, and mercy,
and liberality, and truthfulness, to the love of God as their archetype,
and yet be perfectly obtuse to aesthetic beauty; and thus again we see
that high aestheticism is compatible with low morality, and conversely.
Doubtless when produced to infinity, all perfections are seen to
converge and unite in God, but short of this, they retain their
distinctness and opposition. At the same time, it cannot for a moment be
denied that keenness of moral, and of aesthetic perception, act and react
upon one another. He gains much morally whose eyes are opened to the
innumerable traces of the Divine beauty with which he is surrounded, and
there are aesthetic joys which are necessarily unknown to a soul which is
selfish and gross--still more to a soul from which the glories of
revealed religion are hidden, either through unbelief or sluggish
indifference. Yet, on the whole, it may be said that sanctity is
benefited by art more than art is by sanctity, especially where we deal
with so limited a medium of expression as painting. And so it seems to
us that, after all, there is nothing to surprise or pain us in the fact
that "the art of a Fra Filippo, the loose fish, looks almost as pure,
and is often quite as lovely as that of Fra Giovanni Angelico of

_Dec._ 1896.


[Footnote 1: Vernon Lee, _Belcaro_.]



There are few books more difficult to estimate than those in which M.
Huysman sets forth the story of a conversion generally supposed to bear
no very distant resemblance to his own. It would be easy to find
excellent reasons for a somewhat sweeping condemnation of his work, and
others as excellent for a most cordial approval; and, indeed, we find
critics more than usually at variance with one another in its regard. To
be judged justly, these books must be judged slowly. The source of
perplexity is to be found in the fact that the author, who has recently
passed from negation to Catholicism, carries with him the language, the
modes of thought, the taste and temper of the literary school of which
he was, and, in so many of his sympathies, is still a pupil, a school
which regards M. Zola as one of its leading lights. _En Route_, and its
sequels, portray in the colours of realism, in the language of
decadence, the conversion of a realist, nay, of a decadent, to mysticism
and faith. "The voice indeed is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are
the hands of Esau," and according as the critic centres his attention
too exclusively on one or the other, such will his judgment be.

That his works have commanded attention, and awakened keen interest
among members of the most varying and opposite schools of thought, is an
undeniable fact which at all events proves them to be worth careful

The story of a soul's passage from darkness to light, of its wanderings,
vacillations, doubts, and temptations, must necessarily exercise a
strong fascination over all minds of a reflective cast: "The development
of a soul!" says Browning, "little else is worth study. I always thought
so; you, with many known and unknown to me, think so; others may one day
think so." [1] It is from this attraction of soul to soul that the
_Pilgrim's Progress_, together with many kindred works, derives its
spell; and indeed it is to this that all that is best and greatest in
art owes its power and immortal interest. Here, however, is one reason
why _The Cathedral_ [2] can never be so attractive as _En Route_,
ministering as it does but little to that deepest and most insatiable
curiosity concerning the soul and its sorrows. It portrays but little
perceptible movement, little in the way of violent revulsion and
conflict; the spiritual growth which it registers is mostly underground,
a strengthening and spreading of the roots. It deals with a period of
quiet healing and convalescence after a severe surgical operation; with
the "illuminative" stage of conversion--for there is scarcely any doubt
that the three volumes correspond to the "purgative," "illuminative,"
and "unitive" ways respectively.

Between pulling down and building up--both sensational processes,
especially the former--there intervenes a sober time of planning and
surveying, a quiet taking of information before entering on a new
campaign of action. When the affections have been painfully and
violently uprooted from earth, then first is the mind sufficiently free
from the bias of passion and base attachments to be instructed and
illuminated with profit in the things concerning its peace, and to be
prepared for the replanting of the affections in the soil of Heaven. The
arid desert, with its seemingly aimless wanderings, intervenes between
the exodus from Egypt and the entrance into the Land of Promise.

Dealing with this stage of the process of conversion, _The Cathedral_ is
comparatively monotonous and barren of spiritual incident. What removes
it still further from all chances of anything like popularity in this
country is the extent to which it is occupied with matters of purely
archaeological and artistic interest, and more especially with the
mystical symbolism of the middle ages as chronicled in every detail of
the great Cathedral of Chartres. Little as may be the enthusiasm for
such lore in France, it is far less in England, where the people have
for three centuries been out of all touch with the Catholic Church, and
therefore with whatever modicum of mediaevalism she still preserves as
part of her heritage from the past. Architecturally we appreciate our
dismantled cathedrals to some extent, but their symbolism is far less
understood than even the language and theology of the schools, while the
study of it meets as much sympathy as would the study of heraldry in a
modern democracy. Yet we may say that the bulk of the book consists of
an inventory of every symbolic detail in architecture, in sculpture, in
painting, in glass-colouring, to be found at Chartres; to which is added
a careful elaboration of the symbolism of beasts, flowers, colours,
perfumes, all very dreary reading for the uninitiated, and to be
criticized only by the expert.

Little scope as the plan of the book offers for any variety or display
of character, being mainly occupied with erudite monologue, put
sometimes into the mouth of Durtal, sometimes into that of the Abbe
Plomb, yet the personalities of these two, as well as those of Geversin,
Madame Bavoil, and Madame Mesurat, stand out very vividly, and make us
wish for that fuller acquaintance with them which a little more movement
and incident would have afforded.

But what will give most offence, and tend to alienate a certain amount
of intelligent and valuable sympathy, is the violence, and even the
coarseness, with which the author, or at least his hero, handles, not
only the opinions, but the very persons of those from whom he differs;
the intemperance of his invective, the narrow intolerance and absolute
self-confidence with which he sits in judgment on men and things.

As a matter of fact, this is rather a defect of style and expression
than of the inner sentiment. It is part and parcel of the realist temper
to blurt out the thought in all the clothing or nakedness with which it
first surges up into consciousness, before it has been submitted to the
censorship of reason; in a word, to do its thinking aloud, or on paper;
to give utterance not to the tempered and mature judgment--the last
result of refinement and correction, but to display the whole process
and working by which it was reached. As it is part of M. Zola's art to
linger lovingly over each little horror of some slaughter-house scene,
until the whole lives for us again as in a cinematograph, so M. Huysman,
engaged in the portrayal of a spiritual conflict, spares us no link in
the chain of causes by which the final result is produced; he bares the
brain, and exposes its workings with all the scientific calmness of the

Whether we like or dislike this realism, we must allow for it in forming
our judgment on these volumes, nor must we treat as final and approved
opinions what are often the mere spontaneous suggestions and first
thoughts of the mind, the oscillations through which it settles down to
rest. Over and over again we shall find that Durtal subsequently raises
the very objection to his own view that was on our lips at the first
reading of it.

But even making such allowance, it none the less remains a matter of
regret that one who, with perhaps some justice, considers that in point
of art-appreciation "the Catholic public is still a hundred feet beneath
the profane public," and chides them for "their incurable lack of
artistic sense," who speaks of "the frightful appetite for the hideous
which disgraces the Church of our day," who himself in many ways, in a
hundred passages of sublime thought, of tender piety, of lyrical poesy,
has proved beyond all cavil his delicacy of sentiment, his exquisite
niceness in matters of taste, his reverence for what is chaste and
beautiful, should at times be so deplorably unfaithful to his better
instincts, so forgetful of the close and inseparable alliance between
restraint and elegance. What can be weaker or uglier, more unbecoming an
artist, more becoming a fish-wife, than his description of Lochner's
picture of the Virgin: "The neck of a heifer, and flesh like cream or
hasty-pudding, that quivers when it is touched;" or of the picture of
St. Ursula's companions, by the same hand: "Their squab noses poking out
of bladders of lard that did duty for their faces;" not to speak of the
characterization of a "Sacred Heart" too revolting to reproduce? Surely
when, after having reviled M. Tissot almost personally, he describes his
works as painted with "muck, wine-sauce, and mud," it is difficult not
to answer with a _tu quoque_ as far as this word-painting is
concerned--difficult not to see here some morbid and "frightful appetite
for the hideous" struggling with the healthy appetite for better things.

However lame and ridiculous an artist's utterance may be, yet there is a
certain reverence sometimes due to what he is endeavouring to say, and
even to his desire to say it. We do not think it very witty or tasteful
or charitable to laugh at a man because he stammers; still less do we
overwhelm him with the coarsest abuse. One may well shudder at most
presentments of the Sacred Heart, but even apart from all consideration
for the artist, a certain reverence for the idea there travestied and
unintentionally dishonoured, should forbid our insulting what after all
is so nearly related to that idea, and in the eyes of the untaught very
closely identified with it.

But an occasional trespass of this kind, however offensive, is not
enough to detract materially from the value of so much that is
meritorious; nor again will that outspoken treatment of delicate topics
(less observable in _The Cathedral_ than in _En Route_), which makes the
book undesirable for many classes of readers, prevent its due
appreciation on the part of others--unless we are going to put the
Sacred Scriptures on the Index. In this vexed question, M. Huysman takes
what seems the more robust and healthy view, but he appears to be quite
unaware how many difficulties it involves; and consequently lashes out
with his usual intemperance against the contrary tradition, which is
undeniably well represented. It is not as though the advocates of the
"flight" policy in regard to temptations against this particular virtue
were ignorant of the general principle which undoubtedly holds as
regards all other temptations, and bids us turn and face the dog that
barks at our heels. This counsel is as old as the world. But from the
earliest time a special exception has been made to it in the one case of
impurity by those who have professedly spoken in the light of experience
rather than of _a priori_ inference. Both views are encompassed with
difficulty, nor does any compromise suggest itself.

What seems to us one of the most interesting points raised by the story
of Durtal's spiritual re-birth and development is the precise relation
between the Catholic religion and fine art.

God has not chosen to save men by logic; so neither has He chosen to
save them by fine art. If the "election" of the Apostolic Church counted
but few scribes or philosophers among its members--and those few
admitted almost on sufferance--we may also be sure that the followers of
the Galilean fishermen were not as a body distinguished by a fastidious
criticism in matters of fine art. In after ages, when the Church
asserted herself and moulded a civilization more or less in accordance
with her own exigencies and ideals, it is notorious how she made
philosophy and art her own, and subjected them to her service; but
whether in so doing she in any way departed from the principles of
Apostolic times is what interests us to understand.

There is certainty no more unpardonable fallacy than that of "Bible
Christians," who assume that the Church in the Apostolic age had reached
its full expansion and expression, and therefore in respect of polity,
liturgy, doctrinal statement and discipline must be regarded as an
immutable type for all ages and countries; from which all departure is
necessarily a corruption. They take the flexible sapling and compare it
with aged knotty oak, and shake their heads over the lamentable
unlikeness: "That this should be the natural outgrowth of that! _O
tempora, O mores!_"

Like every organism, in its beginning, the Church was soft-bodied and
formless in all these respects; but she had within her the power of
fashioning to herself a framework suited to her needs, of assuming
consistency and definite shape in due time. The old bottles would not
serve to hold the new wine, but this did not mean that new bottles were
not to be sought. Because the philosophy, the art, the polity of the age
in which she was born were already enlisted in the service of other
ideas and inextricably associated with error in the minds of men, it was
needful for her at first to dissociate herself absolutely from the use
of instruments otherwise adaptable in many respects to her own ends, and
to wait till she was strong enough to alter them and use them without
fear of scandal and misinterpretation.

The Church is many-tongued; but though she can deliver her message in
any language, yet she is not for that reason independent of language in
general. There is no way to the human ear and heart but through language
of some kind or another. It is not her mission to teach languages, but
to use the languages she finds to hand for the expression of the truths,
the facts, the concrete realities to which her dogmas point. This does
not deny that one language may not be more flexible, more graphic than
any other, more apt to express the facts of Heaven as well as those of
earth. It only denies that any one is absolutely and exclusively the

It is no very great violence to include rhetoric, music, painting,
sculpture, architecture, ritual, and every form of decorative art in the
category of language and to bring them under the same general laws,
since even philosophy may to a large extent be treated in the same way.
Christ has not commissioned His Church to teach science or philosophy,
nor has He given her an infallible _magisterium_ in matters of fine art.
She uses what she finds in use and endeavours with the imperfect
implements, the limited colours, the coarse materials at her disposal to
make the picture of Christ and His truth stand out as faithful to
reality as possible; and--to press the illustration somewhat crudely--as
what is rightly black, in a study in black and white, may be quite
wrongly black in polychrome; so what the Church approves according to
one convention, she may condemn according to another. May we not apply
to her what Durtal says of our Lady: "She seems to have come under the
semblance of every race known to the middle ages; black as an African,
tawny as a Mongolian;"--"she unveils herself to the children of the soil
... these beings with their rough-hewn feelings, their shapeless ideas,
hardly able to express themselves"? The more we study the visions and
apparitions with which saints have been favoured and the revelations
which have been vouchsafed to them, the more evident is it that they are
spoken to in their own language, appealed to through their own imagery.
Indeed, were it not so, how could they understand? Our Lady is the
all-beautiful for every nation, but the type of human beauty is not the
same for all. The Madonna of the Ethiopian might be a rather terrifying
apparition in France or Italy.

There is no art too rough or primitive, or even too vulgar, for the
Church to disdain, if it offers the only medium of conveying her truth
to certain minds. Though custom has made it classical, her liturgical
language, whether Latin or Greek, when first assumed, was that of the
mob--about as elegant as we consider the dialects of the peasantry. She
did not use plain-chaunt for any of those reasons which antiquarians and
ecclesiologists urge in its favour now-a-days, but because it was the
only music then in vogue. Even to-day the breeziest popular melodies in
the East are suggestive of the _Oratio Jeremiae_. Her vestments (even
Gothic vestments!) were once simply the "Sunday best" of the fashion of
those days. If to-day these things have a different value and
excellence, it is in obedience to the law by which what is "romantic" in
one age becomes "classical" in the next, or what is at first useful and
commonplace becomes at last ceremonial and symbolic; and by which the
common tongue of the vulgar comes by mere process of time to be archaic
and stately. To "create" ancient custom and ritual on a sudden, or to
resuscitate abruptly that which has lapsed into oblivion, is, to say the
least, a very Western idea, akin to the pedantry of trying to restore
Chaucer's English to common use. _Nascitur non fit_, is the law in all
such matters.

While we assert the Church's independence of any one in particular of
these means of self-expression, her indifference to style and mode of
speech so long as substantial fidelity is secured, we must not deny that
some of them are, of their own nature, more apt to her purpose than
others and allow a fuller revelation of her sense; and that in
proportion as her influence is strong in the world she tends to modify
human thought and language, to leaven philosophy and fine art, so as to
form by a process of selection and refusal, and in some measure even to
create, an ever richer and more flexible medium of utterance.

In this sense we can with some caution speak of "Catholic art" in music,
architecture, and painting, so far, that is, as we can determine the
extent and nature of the Church's action, and therefore the tendency of
her influence in the way of stimulus and restraint with regard to
subject and treatment. We do not unjustly discern an author's style as a
personal element distinct from the language and phraseology of which no
item is his own. The manner in which he uses that language, his
selections and refusals make, in union with the borrowed elements, a
tongue that may be called his, in an exclusive sense. The Church, too,
has her style, which, though difficult to discern amid her use of a
Pentecostal variety of languages, is no doubt always the same--at least
in tendency.

Salvation-Army worship is certainly not of the Church's style, but I do
not think, were there no absolute irreverence and scandal to be feared,
that she would hesitate to use such a language, were it the only one
understood by such a people. St. Francis Xavier's "catechisms" were
often hardly less uncouth. Still, her whole tendency would be towards
restraint, order, and exterior reverence. Again, the stoical coldness
and formalism of a liturgical worship, centered round no soul-stirring
mystery of Divine love where there can be feeling so strong as to need
the restraint of liturgy and ritual, has still less of the Church's
style about it. For she is human, not merely in her reason and
self-restraint, but in the fulness of her passion and enthusiasm; and
restraint is only beautiful and needful where there is something to

We are now in a position to consider the surface objection that will
present itself to many a reader concerning Durtal's conversion. "He has
been converted," it will be said, "by a fallacy. He has identified the
Catholic religion with the cause of plain-chaunt and Gothic
architecture, and of all that is, or that he considers to be, best in
art. He has laid hold not of Catholicism, but of its merest accessories,
which it might shake off any day, and him along with them. Indeed, he
scarcely makes any pretence at being in sympathy with the Catholicism of
to-day, which he regards as almost entirely philistine and degenerate,
if we except La Trappe and Solesmes and a few other corners where the
old observances linger on. 'It was so ugly, so painfully adorned with
images, that only by shutting his eyes could Durtal endure to remain in
Notre Dame de la Breche.' Yes, but what sort of convert is this who is
so insensible to substantials, so morbidly sensitive about mere
accidentals? We come to the Church for the true faith and the
sacraments, not for 'sensations.' In fine, Durtal has not observed the
route prescribed by the apologetics for reaching the door of the
sheep-fold, but has climbed over in his own way, like a thief and a
robber; he has not (as a recent critic says of him) _tombe entre les
bras maternals de l'Eglise selon toutes les regles_."

Without for a moment denying one of the legitimate claims of scientific
apologetic, we may at once dismiss the idea that it pretends to
represent a process through which the mind of the convert to
Christianity either does or ought necessarily to pass. Its sole purport
is to show that if it is not always possible to synthetize Christianity
with the current philosophy, science, and history of the day, at least
no want of harmony can be positively demonstrated. As secular beliefs
and opinions are continually shifting, so too apologetic needs continual
adjustment: and as that of a century back is useless to us now, so will
ours be in many ways inadequate a century hence. It is fitting for the
Church at large that she should in each age and country have a suitable
apologetic, taking cognizance of the latest developments of profane
knowledge. It is needful for her public honour in the eyes of the world
that she should not seem to be in contradiction with truth, but that
either the apparent truth should be proved questionable, or else that
her own teaching should be shown to be compatible with it. But in no
sense is such apologetic always a necessity for the individual, still
less a safe or adequate basis for a solid conversion, which in that case
would be shaken by every new difficulty unthought of before.

Our subjective faith in the Church must be like the faith of the
disciples of Christ, an entirely personal relation; an act of implicit
trust based on no lean argument or chain of reasoning, but on the
irresistible spell, the overmastering impression created upon us by a
character manifested in life, action, speech, even in manner; as
impossible to state in its entirety and as impossible to doubt as are
our reasons for loving or loathing, for trusting or fearing.

No doubt we hear of men of intellect and learning "reading" or
"reasoning" themselves into the Church; but others as able have read and
reasoned along the same line, and yet have not come; for in truth,
reason at the most can set free a force of attraction created by motives
other than reason.

What this attraction is in each case is impossible to specify
accurately--"Ask me and I know not," one might say, "do not ask me and I
know." Each soul is hooked with its own bait, called by its own name,
drawn in its own way; and as the attractiveness of Christ is virtually
infinite in its multiformity, so is that of His Church, nor is there a
more unpardonable narrowness than that of insisting that others shall be
drawn in the same way as we ourselves, or not at all.

Let it also be noticed that a very prolonged and minute intimacy is not
always necessary in order that we should feel the spell of personality.
Much depends on our own gifts of sympathy, insight and apprehension, on
the simplicity and strength of the personality in question, on the
nature of the incidents by which it is disclosed to us. We know one man
in a moment, another only after years of intimacy, while others in
regard to the same individuals might experience the converse. We must
not then suppose that because in one case the impression is the result
of slowly-accumulated observations, and in another the work of an
instant, it is less trustworthy in the latter instance than in the
former. It may be, or it may not be. St. Augustine needed years to feel
the spell that one word, nay, one glance from Christ cast upon St.
Peter. Nor again is it always in some striking and notable crisis that a
character reveals itself abruptly, but often in the merest nuance--a
manner, an intonation, something quite unintentional, unpremeditated. We
know well, if we know ourselves at all, how irresistible is the
impression created on us at times by such trifles, and yet how more than
reasonable it often is.

Who shall say, then, that to an eye and heart attuned to quick sympathy,
any indication is too small to betray the inward spirit and character of
the Catholic Church, or to magnetize a soul and render it restless,
until it obeys her attraction and rests in union with her?

To a sensitively artistic temperament such as Durtal's, the indications
of the Church's "style," revealed in her influence upon art, in her
creations, in her selections and refusals, would be eloquent of her
whole character and ethos; it would be to him what the very tone of
Christ's voice was to the Baptist, or what His glance was to Peter, or
what His silence was to Pilate. We have known too many instances of
deep-seated and entire conviction, based on seemingly as little or less,
to wish for one moment to indulge in any foolish rationalizing or to
question the possibility or probability of God's drawing souls to
Himself by such methods.

We must, however, remember that it is not merely by the Church's
mediaeval art that Durtal is attracted, but still more by that mysticism
which created it, and by which it was served and fostered in return.
Mysticism must necessarily excite the sympathy of one who is in devout
pursuit of the highest and most spiritual forms of aesthetic beauty.
Whatever be the long-sought and never-to-be-forgotten definition of the
Beautiful, of this much at least a mere process of induction will assure
us, that men count things beautiful in the measure that they are
released from the grossness, formlessness, and heaviness of matter, and
by their delicacy, shapeliness, and unearthliness, betray the influence
of that principle which is everywhere in conflict with matter and is
called spirit. Man at his best is most at home, where at his worst he is
least at home, namely, in the world of those super-realities which are
touched and felt by the soul, but refuse to be pictured or spoken in the
language of the five senses. A hard, "common-sense," labour-and-wages
religion, such as is consonant with the utilitarianism of a commercial
civilization, could never appeal to a temperament like Durtal's.

Doubtless Catholic Christianity admits of being apprehended under the
narrower and grosser aspect, which however inadequate and unworthy, is
not absolutely false. The Jews were suffered to believe not merely that
God rewards the just and punishes the wicked--which is eternally
true--but that He does so in this life, which is true only with
qualification; and that He rewards them with temporal prosperity and
adversity--which is hardly true at all. Catholic truth, in itself the
same, can only be received according to the recipient's capacity and
sensitiveness. What one age or country is alive to, another may be dead
to; nor can we pretend that here all is progress and no regress, unless
we are prepared to say that in no respect have we anything to learn from
the past. The Ignatian meditation on the "Kingdom of Christ" evoked
heroic response in an age impregnated with the sentiments of chivalry,
but to-day it needs to be adapted to a great extent, and some have
vainly hoped to gather grapes from a thistle by substituting a parable
drawn from some soul-stirring commercial enterprise--a colossal
speculation in cheese.

Whatever signs there may be of a reaction, yet the whole temper and
spirit of our age is unfavourable to that mysticism which is the very
choicest flower of the Catholic religion. The blame is not with the
seed, but with the soil. Even where least of all we should look for such
indifference, among those who have built up the sepulchres and shrines
of the great masters of mysticism, we sometimes observe a profound
distrust for what is esteemed an unpractical, unhealthy kind of piety,
while every preference is given to what is definite and tangible in the
way of little methods and industries, multitudinous practices, lucrative
prayers, in a word, to what a critic already quoted describes as _les
petitesses des cerveaux etroits et les anguleuses routines_. [3]

It is one of the narrownesses of Durtal himself to ascribe all this to
the wilful perversity of a person or persons unknown, and not to see in
it the inevitable result of the vulgarizing tendency of modern life upon
the masses. Things being as they are, surely it is better that the
Church should do the little she can than do nothing at all. The
"meditative mind" is incompatible with the rush and worry of a busy
life, especially where educational methods substitute information for
reflection, and so kill the habit, and eventually the faculty, of
thought in so many cases. But if the higher prayer is impossible, the
lower is possible and profitable. Again, if the liturgical sense has in
a great measure become extinct among the faithful owing to the
unavoidable disuse of the public celebration of the Church's worship, it
is well that they should be allowed devotions accommodated to their
limited capacity. As the Church would never dream of expecting a keen
sympathy with her higher dogmas, her mystical piety, her artistic
symbolism, her transcendent liturgy, on the part of a newly-converted
tribe of savages, so neither is she impatient with the civilized
Philistine, but is willing to speak to him in a language all his own,
hoping indeed to tune his tongue one day to something less uncouth. None
can sympathize more cordially than the writer does with Durtal in his
horror of unauthorized devotions, of insufferable vernacular litanies,
of nerveless and sickly hymns, of interminable "acts of consecration"
void of a single definite idea, more especially when these things are
brought into the very sanctuary itself, with stole and cope and every
apparent endeavour to fix the responsibility on the Universal Church.
But if the Church is willing to go in rags to save those who are in
rags, she is only using her invariable economy. We know well the sort of
robe that befits her dignity, and no doubt it is this contrast that
makes the trial of her present humiliation more difficult for us to

We do not for a moment allow that the difference between bad taste and
good is merely relative, or that a language or art which is externally
vulgar can ever be the adequate and appropriate expression of the
Catholic religion, whose tendency when unimpeded is ever to refine and
purify. But it is perhaps another narrowness to suppose that a reform
can only be effected by a return to the past, to mediaeval symbolism and
music and architecture. No effort of the kind has ever met with more
than seeming success. What is consciously imitated from the past is not
the same as that natural growth which it imitates, and which was as
congenial to those days as it is uncongenial to ours. It is all the
difference between the Mass ceremonial in a Ritualist church and in a
Catholic church--the historical sense is violated in one case and
satisfied in the other.

What is once really dead can never revive in the same form--at best we
get a cast from the dead face. No doubt the old music and the old
symbolism always will have a beauty of antiquity that can never belong
to the new; but it was not this beauty--the beauty of death, of autumn
leaves, that made them once popular, but the beauty of fresh green life
and flexibility. The effort to make antiquity popular is almost a
contradiction in terms. What we may hope for at most is an improvement
in the aesthetic tastes of the Catholic public which comes from freer and
healthier surroundings, from saner ideas and wider opportunities of
education and liberal culture. When they begin to speak a richer
language, the Church will take that language and find in it a fuller
expression of her mind than she can in the present _patois_; she will be
able again to say to them in other words, as yet unknown, what she said
to the middle ages in Gregorian chaunt and Gothic cathedral. She, who in
virtue of her Pentecostal gift of tongues, speaks in sundry times and
divers manners, may in due season find words as eloquent of her heart
and mind as those which she spoke to Durtal in the aisles of Chartres
and in the cadences of Solesmes.

_July_, 1898.


[Footnote 1: Introduction to Sordello.]

[Footnote 2: _The Cathedral_. By M.T.K. Huysman. Translated by
Clare Bell.]

[Footnote 3: R. P. Pacher, S.J., _De Dante a Verlaine_.]



The paradoxes of one generation are the common-places of the next; what
the savants of to-day whisper in the ear, the Hyde Park orators of
to-morrow will bawl from their platforms. Moreover, it is just when its
limits begin to be felt by the critical, when its pretended
all-sufficingness can no longer be maintained, that a theory or
hypothesis begins to be popular with the uncritical and to work its
irrevocable ill-effects on the general mind. In this, as in many other
matters, the lower orders adopt the abandoned fashions of their betters,
though with less of the well-bred taste which sometimes in the latter
makes even absurdity graceful. In this way it has come to pass that at
the very moment in which a reaction against the irreligious or
anti-religious philosophy of a couple of generations ago is making
itself felt in the study, the spreading pestilence of negation and
unbelief has gained and continues to gain possession of the street. Some
fifty years ago religion and even Christianity, seemed to the sanguine
eyes of Catholics so firmly rooted in England that the recovery of the
country to their faith depended almost entirely on the settlement of the
Anglo-Roman controversy; to which controversy they accordingly devoted,
and, in virtue of the still unexhausted impetus of that effort, do still
devote their energies, almost exclusively. But together with a dawning
consciousness that times and conditions have considerably changed, there
is growing up in certain quarters a feeling that we too shall have to
make some modifications in order to adapt ourselves to the altered
circumstances. It is becoming increasingly evident that even could the
said Anglo-Roman controversy be settled by some argument so irresistibly
evident as to leave no _locus standi_ to the opponents of the Petrine
claims, yet the number of those Anglicans who admit the historical,
critical, philosophical, and theological assumptions upon which the
controversy is based and which are presumed as common ground, is so
small and dwindling that, were they all gained to the Church, we should
be still a "feeble folk" in the face of that tidal wave of unbelief
whose gathering force bids fair to sweep everything before it. Also the
lingering impression left from "Tractarian" days as to the intellectual
pre-eminence of the Catholicizing party in the Anglican Church, which
pre-eminence might make amends for their numerical insignificance, is
gradually giving way to the recognition of the sobering fact that at
present that party in no exclusive sense represents the cultivated
intellect of the country. It is no disrespect to that party to say that
while scholarship and intelligence are therein well represented by
scattered individuals, yet it is cumbered, like most religious movements
after they have streamed some distance from their source, with a
majority of those whose adhesion has little or no pretence to an
intellectual basis; and whose occasional accession to the Catholic
Church is almost entirely their own gain.

To give the last decisive push to those who are already toppling over
the border-line that divides England from Rome, to reap and gather-in
the harvest already ripe for the sickle, is a useful, a necessary, and a
charitable work; one that calls for a certain kind of patient skill not
to be underestimated; but there is a wider and perhaps more fruitful
field whose soil is as yet scarcely broken. It may even be asserted with
only seeming paradox that the best religious intelligence of the country
is to be found in the camp of negation rather than in that of
affirmation; among Broad Churchmen, Nonconformists, Unitarians, and
Positivists, rather than among those who seek rest in the unstable
position of a modified Catholicism. The very instability and difficulty
of that position elicits much ingenuity from its theological defenders,
though it also divides their counsels not a little; nor do we quarrel
with them for affirming instead of denying, but for not affirming
enough. But this attempt at compromise, this midway abortion of the
natural growth of an idea, even were it justifiable as sometimes happens
when legitimate issues are obscured through failure of evidence, repels
the great multitude of religious thinkers who are not otherwise
sufficiently drawn towards Catholicism to care to examine these claims.
To say that there is no logical alternative between Rome and Agnosticism
is a sufficiently shallow though popular sophism. At most it means that
from certain given premisses one or other of those conclusions must
follow syllogistically--a statement that would be more interesting were
the said premisses indisputable and admitted by all the world. Still it
may be allowed that a criticism of these premisses, which is a third
alternative, opens up to religious thought a number of roads, all of
which lead away from, rather than towards the extreme Anglican position,
and hence that the more searching religious intelligence of the country
is as adverse to that position--and for the same reasons--as it is to
our own. And by the "religious intelligence" I mean all that
intelligence that is interested in the religious problem; be that
interest hostile or friendly; be it, in its issue, negative or
constructive. For it must not be forgotten that the enemies of a truth
are as interested in it as its friends; or that the friendliest
interest, the strongest "wish to believe," may at times issue in
reluctant negation. So far then as the great mass of religious
intelligence in this country is not "Anglo-Catholic" in its sympathies;
and so far as it is chiefly on the "Anglo-Catholic" section that we make
any perceptible impression, the conversion of England, for what depends
on our own efforts, does not seem to be as imminent a contingency as it
would appear to be in the eyes of those foreign critics for whom Lord
Halifax is the type of every English Churchman and the English Church
co-extensive with the nation--save for a small irreclaimable residue of
Liberals and Freemasons.

Those who, influenced by such considerations, would have us extend our
efforts from the narrowing circle of Anglo-Catholicism to the
ever-widening circle of doubt and negation, are not always clear about
the practically important distinction to be drawn between the active
leaders of doubt, and those who are passively led; the more or less
independent few, and the more or less dependent many; between the man of
the study and the man of the street--a distinction analogous to that
between the _Ecclesia docens_ and _Ecclesia discens_, and which
permeates every well-established school of belief, whether historical,
ethical, political, or religious.

Dealing first with the latter, that is, with those who are led; we are
becoming more explicitly conscious of the fact that in all departments
of knowledge and opinion the beliefs of the many are not determined by
reasoning from premisses, but by the authority of reputed specialists in
the particular matter, or else by the force of the general consent of
those with whom they dwell. There may be other non-rational causes of
belief, but these are the principal and more universal. And when we say
they are non-rational causes, we do not mean that they are
non-reasonable or unreasonable. They provide such a generally
trustworthy, though occasionally fallible, method of getting at truth,
as is sufficient and possible for the practical needs of life--social,
moral, and religious. There is an inborn instinct to think as the crowd
does and to be swayed by the confident voice of authority. If at times
it fail of its end, as do other instincts, yet it is so trustworthy in
the main that to resist it in ordinary conditions is always imprudent.
That our eyes sometimes deceive us would not justify us in always
distrusting their evidence. If a child is deceived through instinctively
trusting the word of its parents, the blame of its error rests with
them, not with it. And so, whatever error the many are led into by
obeying the instinct of submission to authority or to general consent,
is their misfortune, not their fault. Of course there are higher
criteria by which the general consent and the opinion of experts can be
criticized and modified; but such criticism is not obligatory on the
many who have neither leisure nor competence for the task. For here, as
elsewhere, a certain diversity of gifts results in a natural division of
labour in human society; those who have, giving to those who have not;
some ministering spiritual, others temporal benefits to their
neighbours. Not that a man can save another's soul for him any more than
he can eat his dinner for him, but he can minister to him better food or

The Mussulman child, then, may be bound, during his intellectual
minority, to accept the religious teaching of its parents, just as is
the Christian child. That one, in obeying this natural but fallible
rule, is led into error, the other into, truth, only verifies the
principle that right faith is a gift of God,--a grace, a bit of good
fortune. None of those who are not professedly teachers of religion and
experts, can be morally bound to a criticism above their competence, or
to more than an obedience to those ordinary causes of assent to whose
influence they are subjected by their circumstances. The ideal of a
Catholic religion is to provide, by means of a divinely guided body of
authorities and experts, an universal, international, inter-racial
consensus regarding truths that are as obscure as they are vital to
individual and social happiness; and thus to afford a means of sure and
easy guidance to those uncritical multitudes whose necessary
preoccupations forbid their engaging in theology and controversy. This
ideal was sufficiently realized for practical purposes in the "ages of
faith," when the whole public opinion of Europe, then believed to be
coterminous with civilization, was Catholic; when dissent needed as much
independence of character, as in so many places, profession does now.
And surely it is a narrow-hearted criticism to prefer the primitive
conditions in which none but those strong enough to face persecution
could reap the benefits of Christianity. The weak and dependent are ever
the majority, and if Christianity had been intended to pass them by or
sift them out, "its province were not large," nor could it claim to be
the religion of humanity. The Christian leaven was never meant to be
kept apart, but to be hidden and lost in that unleavened mass which it
seeks slowly to transform into its own nature. The majority, in respect
to religion and civilization, are like unwilling school-boys who need to
be coerced for their own benefit, to be kept to their work till they
learn (if they ever do) to like it, and to need no more coercion. The
support that Catholic surroundings give to numbers, who else were too
weak to stand alone, cannot be overvalued, although it may weaken a few
who else had exerted themselves more strenuously, or may foster
hypocrisy in secret unbelievers who would like to, but dare not
withstand public opinion.

Now it is the gradual decay of this support--of this non-rational yet
most reasonable cause of belief, that is rendering the religious
condition of the man in the street so increasingly unsatisfactory. Not
only is there no longer an agreement of experts, and a consequent
consensus of nations, touching the broad and fundamental truths of
Christianity, but what is far more to the point, the knowledge of this
Babylonian confusion has become a commonplace with the multitudes. No
doubt there are yet some shaded patches where the dew still struggles
with the desiccating sun--old-world sanctuaries of Catholicism whose
dwellers hardly realize the existence of unbelief or heresy, or who give
at best a lazy, notional assent to the fact. But there are few regions
in so-called Christendom where the least educated are not now quite
aware that Christianity is but one of many religions in a much larger
world than their forefathers were aware of; that the intellect of
modern, unlike that of mediaeval Europe, is largely hostile to its
claims; that its defenders are infinitely at variance with one another;
that there is no longer any social disgrace connected with a
non-profession of Christianity; in a word, that the public opinion of
the modern world has ceased to be Christian, and that the once
all-dominating religion which blocked out the serious consideration of
any other claimant, bids fair to be speedily reduced to its primitive
helplessness and insignificance. The disintegrating effect of such
knowledge on the faith of the masses must be, and manifestly is, simply
enormous. Not that there is any rival consensus and authority to take
the place of dethroned Catholicism. Even scepticism is too little
organized and embodied, too chaotic in its infinite variety of
contradictory positions, to create an influential consensus of any
positive kind against faith. Its effect, as far as the unthinking masses
are concerned, is simply to destroy the chief extrinsic support of their
faith and to throw them back on the less regular, less reliable causes
of belief. If in addition it teaches them a few catchwords of
free-thought, a few smart blasphemies and syllogistic impertinences,
this is of less consequence than at first sight appears, since these are
attempted after-justifications, and no real causes of their unbelief.
For they love the parade of formal reason, as they love big words or
technical terms, or a smattering of French or Latin, with all the
delight of a child in the mysterious and unfamiliar; but their pretence
to be ruled by it is mere affectation, and the tenacity with which they
cling to their arguments is rather the tenacity of blind faith in a
dogma, than of clear insight into principles.

And this brings us to the problem which gave birth to the present essay.

The growing infection of the uneducated or slightly educated masses of
the Catholic laity with the virus of prevalent unbelief is arousing the
attention of a few of our clergy to the need of coping with what is to
them a new kind of difficulty. Amongst other kindred suggestions, is
that of providing tracts for the million dealing not as heretofore with
the Protestant, but with the infidel controversy. While the danger was
more limited and remote it was felt that, more harm than good would come
of giving prominence in the popular mind to the fact and existence of so
much unbelief; that in many minds doubts unfelt before would be
awakened; that difficulties lay on the surface and were the progeny of
shallow-mindedness, whereas the solutions lay deeper down than the
vulgar mind could reasonably be expected to go; that on the whole it was
better that the few should suffer, than that the many should be
disturbed. The docile and obedient could be kept away from contagion, or
if infected, could be easily cured by an act of blind confidence in the
Church; while the disobedient would go their own way in any case. Hence
the idea of entering into controversy with those incompetent to deal
with such matters was wisely set aside. But now that the prevalence and
growth of unbelief is as evident as the sun at noon--now that it is no
longer only the recalcitrant and irreligious, but even the religious and
docile-minded who are disturbed by the fact, it seems to some that, a
policy of silence and inactivity may be far more fruitful in evil than
in good, that reverent reserve must be laid aside and the pearls of
truth cast into the trough of popular controversy.

But to this course an almost insuperable objection presents itself at
first seeming. Seeing that, the true cause of doubt and unbelief in the
uncritical, is to be sought for proximately in the decay of a popular
consensus in favour of belief, and ultimately in the disagreements and
negations of those who lead and form public opinion, and in no wise in
the reasons which they allege when they attempt a criticism that is
beyond them; what will it profit to deal with the apparent cause if we
cannot strike at the real cause? In practical matters, the reasons men
give for their conduct, to themselves as well as to others, are often
untrue, never exhaustive. Hence to refute their reasons will not alter
their intentions. To dispel the sophisms assigned by the uneducated as
the basis of their unbelief, is not really to strike at the root of the
matter at all. Besides which, the work is endless; for if they are
released from one snare they will be as easily re-entangled in the next;
and indeed what can such controversy do but foster in them the false
notion that, belief in possession may be dispossessed by every passing
difficulty, and that their faith is to be dependent on an intellectual
completeness of which they are for ever incapable. Indeed the
unavoidable amount of controversy of all kinds, dinned into the ears of
the faithful in a country like this, favours a fallacy of
intellectualism very prejudicial to the repose of a living faith founded
on concrete reasons, more or less experimental.

As far as the many are concerned, much the same difficulty attends the
preservation of their faith in these days, as attended its creation in
the beginnings of Christianity, before the little flock had grown into a
kingdom, when the intellect and power of the world was arrayed against
it, when it had neither the force of a world-wide consensus nor the
voice of public authority in its favour. In those days it was not by the
"persuasive words of human wisdom" that the crowds were gained over to
Christ, but by a certain _ostensio virtutis_, by an experimental and not
merely by a rational proof of the Gospel--a proof which, if it admitted
of any kind of formulation, did not compel them in virtue of the
logicality of its form. Further, when the conditions and helps needed by
the Church in her infancy, gave way to those belonging to her
established strength, it was by her ascendency over the strong, the
wealthy, and the learned, that she secured for the crowd,--for the weak
and the poor and the ignorant,--the most necessary support of a
Christianized, international public opinion, and thereby extended the
benefit of her educative influence to those millions whom disinclination
or weakness would otherwise have deterred from the profession and
practice of the faith.

If the Church of to-day is to retain her hold of the crowd in modernized
or modernizing countries, it must either be by renewing her ascendency
over those who form and modify public opinion, who even in the purest
democracy are ever the few and not the many; or else by a reversion to
the methods of primitive times, by some palpable argument that speaks as
clearly to the simplest as to the subtlest, if only the heart be right.
An outburst of miracle-working and prophecy is hardly to be looked for;
while the argument from the tree's fruits, or from the moral miracle, is
at present weakened by the extent to which non-Christians put in
practice the morality they have learnt from Christ. Other non-rational
causes of belief draw individuals, but they do not draw crowds.

If we cannot see very clearly what is to supply for the support once
given to the faith of the millions by public opinion, still their
incapacity for dealing with the question on rational grounds will not
justify us altogether in silence. For in the first place it is an
incapacity of which they are not aware, or which at least they are very
unwilling to admit. A candidate at the hustings would run a poor chance
of a hearing who, instead of seeming to appeal to the reason of the mob
should, in the truthfulness of his soul, try to convince them of their
utter incompetence to judge the simplest political point. Again, though
unable to decide between cause and cause, yet the rudest can often see
that there is much to be said on both sides--though what, he does not
understand; and if this fact weakens his confidence in the right, it
also weakens it in the wrong; whereas had the right been silent, the
wrong, in his judgment, would thereby have been proved victorious. This
will justify us at times in talking over the heads of our readers and
hearers, and in not sparing sonorous polysyllables, abstruse
technicalities, or even the pompous parade of syllogistic arguments with
all their unsightly joints sticking out for public admiration. Some
hands may be too delicate for this coarse work; but there will always be
those to whom it is easy and congenial; and its utility is too evident
to allow a mere question of taste to stand in the way.

Moreover, it must be remembered that while many of the class referred to
are glad to be free from the pressure of a Christianized public opinion,
and are only too willing to grasp at any semblance of a reason for
unbelief; others, more religiously disposed, are really troubled by
these popular, anti-Christian difficulties, the more so as they are
often infected with the fallacy, fostered by ceaseless controversy,
which makes one's faith dependent on the formal reason one can give for

Though this is not so, yet moral truthfulness forbids us to assent to
what we, however falsely, believe to be untrue. Hence while the virtue
of faith remains untouched, its exercise with regard to particular
points may be inculpably suspended through ignorance, stupidity,
misinformation, and other causes.

In the interest of these well-disposed but easily puzzled believers of
the ill-instructed and uncritical sort, a series of anti-agnostic tracts
for the million would really seem to be called for. Yet never has the
present writer felt more abjectly crushed with a sense of incompetence
than when posed by the difficulties of a "hagnostic" greengrocer, or of
a dressmaker fresh from the perusal of "Erbert" Spencer. Face to face
with chaos, one knows not where to begin the work of building up an
orderly mind; nor will the self-taught genius brook a hint of possible
ignorance, or endure the discussion of dull presuppositions, without
much pawing of the ground and champing on the bit: "What I want," he
says, "is a plain answer to a plain question." And when you explain to
him that for an answer he must go back very far and become a little
child again, and must unravel his mind to the very beginning like an
ill-knit stocking, he looks at once incredulous and triumphant as who
should say: "There, I told you so!" Yet the same critical incompetence
that makes these simple folk quite obtuse to the true and adequate
solution of their problems (I am speaking of cases where such solutions
are possible), makes them perfectly ready to accept any sort of
counter-sophistry or paralogism. A most excellent and genuine "convert"
of that class told me that he had stood out for years against the
worship of the Blessed Virgin, till one day it had occurred to him that,
as a cause equals or exceeds its effect, so the Mother must equal the
Son. Another, equally genuine, professed to have been conquered by the
reflection that he had all his life been saying: "I believe in the Holy
Catholic Church," and he could not see the use of believing in it if he
didn't belong to it. If their faith in Catholicism or in any other
religion depended on their logic, men of this widespread class were in a
sorry plight. Like many of their betters, these two men probably
imagined the assigned reasons to be the entire cause of their
conversion, making no account of the many reasonable though non-logical
motives by which the change was really brought about. Hence to have
abruptly and incautiously corrected them, would perhaps but have been to
reduce them to confusion and perplexity, and to "destroy with one's
logic those for whom Christ died."

That we do not sufficiently realize the dialectical incompetence of the
uneducated is partly to be explained by the fact that they often get
bits of reasoning by rote, much as young boys learn their Euclid; and
that they frequently seem to understand principles because they apply
them in the right cases, just as we often quote a proverb appropriately
without the slightest idea of its origin or meaning beyond that it is
the right thing to say in a certain connection. As we ascend in the
scale of education, there is more and more of this reasoning by rote, so
that critical incompetence is more easily concealed and may lurk
unsuspected even in the pulpit and the professorial chair, where logic
alone seems paramount. The "hagnostic" greengrocer, in all the
self-confidence of his ignorance, is but the lower extreme of a class
that runs up much higher in the social scale and spreads out much wider
in every direction.

But when we have realized more adequately how hopelessly incompetent the
multitude must necessarily be in the problems of specialists, we shall
also see that it is only by inadequate and even sophistical reasoning
that most of their intellectual difficulties can be allayed; that the
full truth (and the half-truth is mostly a lie) would be Greek to them.
If, then, _Tracts for the Million_ seem a necessity, they also seem an
impossibility; for what self-respecting man will sit down to weave that
tissue of sophistry, special-pleading, violence, and vulgarity, which
alone will serve the practical purpose with those to whom trenchency is
everything and subtlety nothing? Even though the means involve a
violation of taste rather than of morals, yet can they be justified by
the goodness of the end? Fortunately, however, the difficulty is met by
a particular application of God's universal method in the education of
mankind. In every grade of enlightenment there are found some who are
sufficiently in advance of the rest to be able to help them, and not so
far in advance as practically to speak a different language. What is a
dazzling light for those just emerging from darkness, is darkness for
those in a yet stronger light. A statement may be so much less false
than another, as to be relatively true; so much less true than a third,
as to be relatively false. For a mind wholly unprepared, the full truth
is often a light that blinds and darkness; whereas the tempered
half-truth prepares the way for a fuller disclosure in due time, even as
the law and the prophets prepared the way for the Gospel and Christ, or
as the enigmas of faith school us to bear that light which now no man
can gaze on and live. Thus, though we may never use a lie in the
interest of truth, or bring men from error by arguments we know to be
sophistical, yet we have the warrant of Divine example, both in the
natural and supernatural education of mankind, for the passive
permission of error in the interest of truth, as also of evil in the
interest of good. Since then there will ever be found those who in all
good faith and sincerity can adapt themselves to the popular need and
supply each level of intelligence with the medicine most suited to its
digestion, all we ask is that a variety of standards in controversial
writings be freely recognized; that each who feels called to such
efforts should put forth his very best with a view to helping those
minds which are likest his own; that none should deliberately condescend
to the use of what from his point of view would be sophistries and
vulgarities, remembering at the same time that the superiority of his
own taste and judgment is more relative than absolute, and that in the
eyes of those who come after, he himself may be but a Philistine.

We conclude then that all that can be done in the way of _Tracts for the
Million_ should be done; that seed of every kind should be scattered to
the four winds, hoping that each may find some congenial soil.

But even when all that can be done in this way to save the masses from
the contagion of unbelief has been done, we shall be as far as ever from
having found a substitute for the support which formerly was lent to
their faith by a Christianized public opinion. Can we hope for anything
more than thus to retard the leakage? The answer to this would take us
to the second of our proposed considerations, namely, our attitude
towards those who form and modify that public opinion by which the
masses are influenced for good or for evil. But it is an answer which
for the present must be deferred. [1]

_Nov._ 1900.


[Footnote 1: The Introduction to the First Series of these essays
attempts to deal with this further question.]



"A man that could look no way but downwards, with a
muck-rake in his hand" and "did neither look up nor regard,
but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks, and the dust
of the floor.... Then said Christiana, 'Oh, deliver me
from this muck-rake.'"--Bunyan.

Naturalism includes various schools which agree in the first principle
that nothing is true but what can be justified by those axiomatic truths
which every-day experience forces upon our acceptance, not indeed as
self-evident, but as inevitable, unless we are to be incapacitated for
practical life. It is essentially the philosophy of the unphilosophical,
that is, of those who believe what they are accustomed to believe, and
because they are so accustomed; who are incapable of distinguishing
between the subjective necessity imposed by habits and the objective
necessity founded in the nature of things. It is no new philosophy, but
as old as the first dawn of philosophic thought, for it is the form
towards which the materialistic mind naturally gravitates. Given a
population sufficiently educated to philosophize in any fashion, and of
necessity the bent of the majority will be in the direction of some form
of Naturalism. Hence we find that the "Agnosticism" of Professor Huxley
is eminently suited to the capacity and taste of the semi-educated
majorities in our large centres of civilization. Still it must not be
supposed that the majority really philosophizes at all even to this
extent. The pressure of life renders it morally impossible. But they
like to think that they do so. The whole temper of mind, begotten and
matured by the rationalistic school, is self-sufficient: every man his
own prophet, priest, and king; every man his own philosopher. Hence, he
who poses as a teacher of the people will not be tolerated. The theorist
must come forward with an affectation of modesty, as into the presence
of competent critics; he must only expose his wares, win for himself a
hearing, and then humbly wait for the _placet_ of the sovereign people.
But plainly this is merely a conventional homage to a theory that no
serious mind really believes in. We know well enough, that the opinions
and beliefs of the multitude are formed almost entirely by tradition,
imitation, interest, by in fact any influence rather than that of pure
reason. Taught they are, and taught they must be, however they repudiate
it. But the most successful teachers and leaders are those who contrive
to wound their sense of intellectual self-sufficiency least, and to
offer them the strong food of dogmatic assertion sugared over and
sparkling with the show of wit and reason.

Philosophy for the million may be studied profitably in one of its
popular exponents whose works have gained wide currency among the class
referred to. Mr. S. Laing is a very fair type of the average
mind-leader, owing his great success to his singular appreciation of the
kind of treatment needed to secure a favourable hearing. We do not
pretend to review Mr. Laing's writings for their own sake, but simply as
good specimens of a class which is historically rather than
philosophically interesting.

We have before us three of his most popular books: _Modern Science and
Modern Thought_ (nineteenth thousand), _Problems of the Future_
(thirteenth thousand), _Human Origins_ (twelfth thousand), to which we
shall refer as M.S., P.F., H.O., in this essay; taking the
responsibility of all italics on ourselves, unless otherwise notified.

Mr. Laing is not regretfully forced into materialism by some mental
confusion or obscurity, but he revels in it, and invites all to taste
and see how gracious a philosophy it is. There is an ill-concealed
levity and coarseness in his handling of religious subjects which

At seasons, through the gilded pale,

and which warns us from casting reasons before those who would but
trample them under foot. It is rather for the sake of those who read
such literature, imprudently perhaps, but with no sympathy, and yet find
their imagination perplexed and puzzled with a swarm of minute
sophistries and difficulties, collectively bewildering, though
contemptible singly, that we think it well to form some estimate of the
philosophical value of such works.

Nothing in our study of Mr. Laing surprised us more than to discover [1]
that he had lived for more than the Scriptural span of three-score and
ten years, a life of varied fortunes and many experiences. It seems to
us incredible that any man of even average thoughtfulness could, after
so many years, find life without God, without immortality, without
definite meaning or assignable goal, "worth living," and that "to be
born in a civilized country in the nineteenth century is a boon for
which a man can never be sufficiently thankful." [2] [Thankful to whom?
one might ask parenthetically.] In other words, he is a bland optimist,
and has nothing but vials of contempt to pour upon the pessimists, from
Ecclesiastes down to Carlyle. Pessimism, we are told confidentially, is
not an outcome of just reasoning on the miserable residue of hope which
materialism leaves to us, but of the indisposition "of those digestive
organs upon which the sensation of health and well-being so mainly
depends." "It is among such men, with cultivated intellects, sensitive
nerves, and bad digestion, that we find the prophets and disciples of
pessimism." [3] The inference is, that men of uncultivated intellects,
coarse nerves, and ostrich livers will coincide with Mr. Laing in his
sanguine view of the ruins of religion. The sorrowing dyspeptic asks in
despair: "Son of man, thinkest thou that these dry bones will live
again?" "I'm cock-sure of it," answers Mr. Laing, and the ground of his
assurance is the healthiness of his liver.

Carlyle, who in other matters is, according to Mr. Laing, a great
genius, a more than prophet of the new religion, on this point suddenly
collapses into "a dreadful croaker," styling his own age "barren,
brainless, soulless, faithless." [4] But the reason is, of course, that
"he suffered from chronic dyspepsia" and was unable "to eat his three
square meals a day." A very consistent explanation for an avowed
materialist, but slightly destructive to the value of his own
conclusions, being a two-edged sword. Indeed he almost allows as much.
"For such dyspeptic patients there is an excuse. Pessimism is probably
as inevitably their creed, as optimism is for the more fortunate mortals
who enjoy the _mens sana in corpore sano_." [5] However, there are some
pessimists for whom indigestion can plead no excuse, [6] but for whose
intellectual perversity some other cosmic influence must be sought
"behind the veil, behind the veil,"--to borrow Mr. Laing's favourite
line from his favourite poem. These are not only "social swells,
would-be superior persons and orthodox theologians, but even a man of
light and learning like Mr. F. Harrison." "Religion, they say, is
becoming extinct.... Without a lively faith in such a personal,
ever-present deity who listens to our prayers, ... there can be, they
say, no religion; and they hold, and I think rightly hold, that the only
support for such a religion is to be found in the assumed inspiration of
the Bible and the Divinity of Christ." "Destroy these and they think the
world will become vulgar and materialized, losing not only the surest
sanction of morals, but ... the spiritual aspiration and tendencies," &c.
[7] "To these gloomy forebodings I venture to return a positive and
categorical denial ... Scepticism has been the great sweetener of modern
life." [8] How he justifies his denial by maintaining that morality can
hold its own when reduced to a physical science; that the "result of
advancing civilization" and of the materialistic psychology is "a
clearer recognition of the intrinsic sacredness and dignity of every
human soul;" [9] that Christianity without dogma, without miracles [or,
as he calls it, "Christian agnosticism"], shall retain the essential
spirit, the pure morality, the consoling beliefs, and as far as possible
even the venerable form and sacred associations of the old faith, may
appear later. At present we are concerned directly with pointing out how
Mr. Laing's optimism at once marks him off from those men who, whether
believing or misbelieving or unbelieving, have thought deeply and felt
deeply, who have seen clearly that materialism leaves nothing for man's
soul but the husks of swine; who have therefore boldly faced the
inevitable alternative between spiritualistic philosophy and hope, and
materialism with its pessimistic corollary. That a man may be a
materialist or atheist and enjoy life thoroughly, who does not know? but
then it is just at the expense of his manhood, because he lives without
thought, reflection, or aspiration, _i.e.,_ materialistically. Mr. Laing
no doubt, as he confesses, has lived pleasantly enough. He has found in
what he calls science an endless source of diversion, he betrays himself
everywhere as a man of intense intellectual curiosity in every
direction, and yet withal so little concerned with the roots of things,
so easily satisfied with a little plausible coherence in a theory, as
not to have found truth an apparently stern or exacting mistress, not to
have felt the anguish of any deep mental conflict. His intellectual
labours have been pleasurable because easy, and, in his own eyes,
eminently fruitful and satisfactory. He has adopted an established
cause, thrown himself into it heart and soul; others indeed had gone
before him and laboured, and he has entered into their labours. Indeed,
he is frank in disclaiming all originality of discovery or theory; [10]
he has not risked the disappointment and anxiety of improving on the
Evolution Gospel, but he has collected and sorted and arranged and
published the evidence obtained by others. This has always furnished him
with an interest in life; [11] but whether it be a rational interest or
not depends entirely on the usefulness or hurtfulness of his work. He
admits, however, that though life for him has been worth living, "some
may find it otherwise from no fault of their own, more by their own
fate." [12] But all can lead fairly happy lives by following his
large-type platitudinous maxim, "Fear nothing, make the best of
everything." [13] In other words, the large majority, who are not and
never can be so easily and pleasantly circumstanced as Mr. Laing, are
told calmly to make the best of it and to rejoice in the thought that
their misery is a necessary factor in the evolution of their happier
posterity. This is the new gospel: _Pauperes evangelizantur_--"Good
news for the poor." [14] "Progress and not happiness" is the end we are
told to make for, over and over again; but, progress towards what, is
never explained, nor is any basis for this duty assigned. Indeed, duty
means nothing for Mr. Laing but an inherited instinct, which if we
choose to disobey or if we happen not to possess, who shall blame us or
talk to us of "oughts"?

And now to consider more closely the grounds of Mr. Laing's very
cheerful view of a world in which, for all we know, there is no soul, no
God, and certainly no faith. Since of the two former we know and can
know nothing, we must build our happiness, our morality, our "religion,"
on a basis whereof they form no part. He believes that morality will be
able to hold its own distinct, not only from all belief in revelation,
in a personal God, and in a spiritual soul, but in spite of a philosophy
which by tracing the origin of moral judgments to mere physical laws of
hereditary transmission of experienced utilities, robs them of all
authority other than prudential, and convicts them of being illusory so
far as they seem to be of higher than human origin.

Herein, as usual, he treads in the steps of Professor Huxley, "the
greatest living master of English prose" (though why his mastery of
prose should add to his weight as a philosopher, we fail to see). "Such
ideas _evidently_ come from education, and are not the results either of
inherited instinct [15] or of supernatural gift.... Given a being with
man's brain, man's hands, and erect stature, _it is easy to see_ how ...
rules of conduct ... must have been formed and fixed by successive
generations, according to the Darwinian laws." [16]

He tells us: "We may read the Athanasian Creed less, but we practise
Christian charity more in the present than in any former age." [17]
"Faith has diminished, charity increased." [18]

Of moral principles, he says: "Why do we say that ... they carry
conviction with them and prove themselves?... Still, there they are, and
being what they are ... it requires no train of reasoning or laboured
reflection to make us _feel_ that 'right is right,' and that it is
_better_ for ourselves and others to act on such precepts ... rather
than to reverse these rules and obey the selfish promptings of animal
nature." [19] "It is _clearly_ our highest wisdom to follow right, not
from selfish calculation, ... but because 'right is right.' ... For
practical purposes it is comparatively unimportant how this standard got
there ... as an absolute imperative rule." [20] As to the apprehended
ill effect of agnosticism on morals, he says: "The foundations of
morals [21] are fortunately built on solid rock and not on shifting sand.
It may truly be said in a great many cases that, as individuals and
nations become more sceptical, they become more moral." [22] "_If there
is one thing more certain than another_ in the history of evolution, it
is that morals have been evolved by the same laws as regulate the
development of species." [23]

These citations embody Mr. Laing's opinions on this point, and show very
clearly his utter incapacity for elementary philosophic thought. Here,
as elsewhere, as soon as he leaves the bare record of facts and embarks
in any kind of speculation, he shows himself helpless; however, he tries
to fortify his own courage and that of his readers, with "it is clear,"
"it is evident," "it is certain."

To say that "right is right," sounds very oracular; but it either means
that "right" is an ultimate spring of action, inexplicable on
evolutionist principles, or that right is the will of the strongest, or
an illusory inherited foreboding of pain, or a calculation of future
pleasure and pain, or something which, in no sense, is a true account of
what men _do_ mean by right. To say that moral principles "carry
conviction with them, and prove themselves" _(i.e._, are self-evident),
unless, as we suspect, it is mere verbiage conveying nothing particular
to Mr. Laing's brain, is to deny that right has reference to the
consequences of action as bearing on human progress and evolution, which
is to deny the very theory he wishes to uphold. No intuitionist could
have spoken more strongly. Then we are assured that we "feel" rightness,
or that "right is right"--apparently as a simple irresoluble quality of
certain actions--and with same breath, that "it is _better_ for
ourselves and others to act on these rules," where he jumps off to
utilitarianism again; and then we are forbidden to "obey the selfish
impulses of our animal nature"--a strange prohibition for one who sees
in us nothing but animal nature, who denies us any free power to
withstand its impulses. Then it is "clearly our highest wisdom to follow
right"--an appeal to prudential motives--"not from any selfish
calculations"--a repudiation of prudential motives--"but because 'right
is right'"--an appeal to a blind unreasoning instinct, and a prohibition
to question its authority. We are told that for practical purposes it
matters little whence this absolute imperative rule originates. Was
there ever a more unpractical and short-sighted assertion! Convince men
that the dictates of conscience are those of fear or selfishness, that
they are all mere animal instincts, that they are anything less than
divine, and who will care for Mr. Laing's appeal to blind faith in the
"rightness of right"?

As long as Christian tradition lives on, as it will for years among the
masses, the effects of materialist ethics will not be felt; but as these
new theories filter down from the few to the many, they will inevitably
produce their logical consequences in practical matters. No one with
open eyes can fail to see how the leaven is spreading already. Still the
majority act and speak to a great extent under the influence of the old
belief, which they have repudiated, in the freedom of man's will and the
Divine origin of right. It is quite plain that Mr. Laing has either
never had patience to think the matter out, or has found it beyond his
compass. Having thus established morality on a foundation independent of
religion and of everything else, making "right" rest on "right," he
assumes the prophetic robe, and on the strength of his seventy years of
experience and philosophy poses as a _Cato Major_ for the edification of
the semi-scientific millions of young persons to whom he addresses his
volumes. We have a whole chapter on Practical Life, [24] on
self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control, full of portentous
platitudes and ancient saws; St. Paul's doctrine of charity, and all
that is best in the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, is liberated
from its degrading association with the belief in a God who rewards and
punishes.[25] We are "to act strenuously in that direction which, after
_conscientious_ inquiry, seems the best, ... and trust to what religious
men call Providence, and scientific men Evolution, for the result," and
all this simply on the bold assertion of this sage whose sole aim is "to
leave the world a little better rather than a little worse for my
individual unit of existence." [26]

And here we may inquire parenthetically as to the motive which urges Mr.
Laing to throw himself into the labours of the apostolate and to become
such an active propagandist of agnosticism. We are told[27] that the
enlightened should be "liberal and tolerant towards traditional opinions
and traditional practices, and trust with cheerful faith to evolution to
bring about _gradually_ changes of form," &c.; that the influence of the
clergy is "on the whole exerted for good," and it is frankly
acknowledged that Christianity has been a potent factor in the evolution
of modern civilization. It has, however, nearly run its course, and the
old order must give place to the new, _i.e._, to agnosticism. But even
allowing, what we dare say Mr. Laing would not ask, that the speculative
side of the new religion is fully defined and worked out, and ready to
displace the old dogmatic creeds, yet its practical aspect is so vague
that he writes: "I think the time is come when the intellectual victory
of agnosticism is so far assured, that it behoves thinking men to _begin
to consider_ what practical results are likely to follow from it." [28]
In the face of this confession we find Mr. Laing industriously
addressing himself to "those who lack time and opportunity for
studying," [29] to the "minds of my younger readers, and of the working
classes who are striving after culture," [30] "to what may be called the
semi-scientific readers, ... who have already acquired some elementary
ideas about science," "to the millions;" [31] and endeavouring by all
means in his power to destroy the last vestige of their faith in that
religion which alone provides for them a definite code of morality
strengthened by apparent sanctions of the highest order, and venerable
at least by its antiquity and universality. [32] And while he is thus
busily pulling down the old scaffolding, he is calmly _beginning_ to
consider the practical results. This is his method of "leaving the world
a little better than he found it." He professes to understand and
appreciate "In Memoriam." Has he ever reflected on the lines: "O thou
that after toil and storm," [33] when the practical conclusion is--

Leave thou thy sister, when she prays,
Her early Heaven, her happy views;
Nor thou with shadowed hint infuse
A life that leads melodious days.
Her faith through form is pure as thine,
Her hands are quicker unto good;
O sacred be the flesh and blood,
To which she links a truth divine.

On his own principles he is convicted of being a lover of mischief. No,
one is sorely tempted to think that these men are well aware that the
moral sense which sound philosophy and Christian faith have developed,
is still strong in the minds and deeper conscience of the
English-speaking races, and that were they to present materialism in all
its loathsome nudity to the public gaze, they would be hissed off the
stage. And so they dress it up in the clothes of the old religion just
for the present, with many a quiet wink between themselves at the
expense of the "semi-scientific" reader.

We have already adverted to Mr. Laing's utter incapacity for anything
like philosophy, except so far as that term can be applied to a power of
raking together, selecting, and piling up into "a popular shape" the
scraps of information which favour the view whose correctness he was
convinced of ere he began. A few further remarks may justify this
somewhat severe estimate. After stating that in the solution of life and
soul problems, science stops short at germs and nucleated cells, he
proceeds with the usual tirade against metaphysics: "Take Descartes'
fundamental axiom: _Cogito ergo sum_.... Is it really an axiom?... If
the fact that I am conscious of thinking proves the fact that I exist,
is the converse true that whatever does not think does not exist?...
Does a child only begin to exist when it begins to think? If _Cogito
ergo sum_ is an institution to which we can trust, why is not _Non
cogito ergo non sum?_" [34] Here is a man posing before the gaping
millions as a philosopher and a severe logician, who thinks that the
proposition, "every cow is a quadruped," is disproved by the evident
falsehood of, "what is not a cow is not a quadruped," which he calls
"the converse." He sums up magnificently by saying: "These are questions
to which no metaphysical system that I have ever seen, can return the
semblance of an answer;" giving the impression of a life devoted to a
deep and exhaustive study of all schools of philosophy. Mr. Laing here
surely is addressing his "younger readers."

He tells us elsewhere [35] that, "when analyzed by science, spiritualism
leads straight to materialism;" free-will "can be annihilated by the
simple mechanical expedient of looking at a black wafer stuck on a white
wall;" that if "Smith falls into a trance and believes himself to be
Jones, he really is Jones, and Smith has become a stranger to him while
the trance lasts.... I often ask myself the question, If he died during
one of these trances, which would he be, Smith or Jones? and I confess
it takes some one wiser than I am to answer it." Without pretending to
be wiser than Mr. Laing, we hope it will not be too presumptuous for us
to suggest that if Smith dies in a trance _believing_ himself to be
Jones, he is under a delusion, and that he really is Smith. Else it
would be very awkward for poor Jones, who in nowise believes himself to
be Smith. Mr. Laing would have to break it gently to Jones, that, "in
fact, my dear sir, Smith borrowed your personality, and unfortunately
died before returning it; and as to whether you are yourself or Smith,
as to whether you are alive or dead, 'I confess it takes some one wiser
than I am to decide.'" That a man's own name, own surroundings, own
antecedents, are all objects of his thought, and distinguished from the
_self, ego,_ or _subject_ which contemplates them, has never suggested
itself to Mr. Laing. That though Smith may mistake every one of these,
yet the term "I" necessarily and invariably means the same for him, the
one central, constant unity to which every _non-ego_ is opposed. And
this from a man who elsewhere claims an easy familiarity with Kant.
"Again what can be said of love and hate if under given circumstances
they can be transformed into one another by a magnet?" What indeed? And
how is it that the gold-fish make no difference in the weight of the
globe of water?

His conclusion to these inquiries is: "When Shakespeare said, 'We are
such stuff as dreams are made of,' he enumerates what has become a
scientific fact. The 'stuff' is in all cases the same--vibratory motions
of nerve particles." [36] Thus knowledge, self-consciousness,
free-choice, is as much a function of matter as fermentation, or
crystallisation--a mode of motion, not dissimilar from heat, perhaps
transformable therewith.

Recapitulating this farrago of nonsense on p. 188, he adds a new
difficulty which ought to make him pause in his wild career. "What is
the value of the evidence of the senses if a suggestion can make us see
the hat, but not the man who wears it; or dance half the night with an
imaginary partner? Am I 'I myself, I,' or am I a barrel-organ playing
'God save the Queen,' if the stops are set in the normal fashion, but
the 'Marseillaise' if some cunning hand has altered them without my
knowledge? These are questions which I cannot answer." He cannot answer
a question on which the value of his whole system of physical philosophy
depends; uncertain about his own identity, about the evidence of his
senses, he would make the latter the sole rule and measure of certitude,
and deny to man any higher faculty by which alone he can justify his
trust in his cognitive faculties. Another instance of his absolute
ignorance of common philosophic terminology is when he asserts that
according to theology we know the dogmas of religion by "intuition." [37]

This doctrine rests on Cardinal Newman's celebrated theory of the
"Illative Sense." Surely a moment's reflection on the meaning of words,
not to speak of a slight acquaintance with the book referred to, would
have saved him from confounding two notions so sharply distinguished as
"intuition" and "inference." Again, "There can be no doubt there are men
often of great piety and excellence who have, or fancy they have, a sort
of sixth sense, or, as Cardinal Newman calls it, an 'illative sense,' by
which they see by intuition ... things unprovable or disprovable by
ordinary reason." [38] Can a man who makes such reckless travesties of a
view which he manifestly has never studied, be credited with
intellectual honesty?

Doubtless, the semi-scientific millions will be much impressed by the
wideness of Mr. Laing's reading and his profound grasp of all that he
has read, when they are told casually that "space and time are, ... to
use the phraseology of Kant, 'imperative categories;'" [39] but perhaps
to other readers it may convey nothing more than that he has heard a dim
something somewhere about Kant, about the categories, about space and
time being schemata of sense, and about the _categorical imperative._
It is only one instance of the unscrupulous recklessness which shows
itself everywhere. Akin to this is his absolute misapprehension of the
Christian religion which he labours to refute. He never for a moment
questions his perfect understanding of it, and of all it has got to say
for itself. Brought up apparently among Protestants, who hold to a
verbal inspiration [40] and literal interpretation of the Scriptures,
who have no traditional or authoritative interpretation of it, he
concludes at once that his own crude, boyish conception of Christianity
is the genuine one, and that every deviation therefrom is a "climbing
down," or a minimizing. He has no suspicion that the wider views of
interpretation are as old as Christianity itself, and have always
co-existed with the narrower.

He regards the Christian idea of God as essentially anthropomorphic.
Indeed, whether in good faith or for the sake of effect, he brings
forward the old difficulties which have been answered _ad nauseam_ with
an air of freshness, as though unearthed for the first time, and
therefore as setting religion in new and unheard-of straits. So, at all
events, it will seem to the millions of his young readers and to the
working classes.

Let us follow him in some of his destructive criticism, or rather
denunciations, in order to observe his mode of procedure. "The
discoveries of science ... make it impossible for _sincere_ men to
retain the faith," &c., [41] therefore all who differ from Mr. Laing are
insincere. "It is _absolutely certain_ that portions of the Bible are
not true; and those, important portions." [42] This is based on two
premisses which are therefore absolutely certain, (i) Mr. Laing's
conclusions about the antiquity of man--of which more anon; (43) his
baldly literal interpretation of the Bible as delivered to him in his
early "infancy. On p. 253, we have the ancient difficulty from the New
Testament prophecy of the proximate end of the world, without the
faintest indication that it was felt 1800 years ago, and has been dealt
with over and over again. Papias [44] is lionized [45] in order to upset
the antiquity of the four Gospels--which upsetting, however, depends on
a dogmatic interpretation of an ambiguous phrase, and the absence of
positive testimony. Here again there is no evidence that Mr. Laing has
read any elementary text-book on the authenticity of the Gospels. He is
"perfectly clear" as to the fourth Gospel being a forgery; again for
reasons which he alone has discovered. [46] Paul is the first inventor
of Christian dogma, without any doubt or hesitation. But the undoubted
results of modern science ... shatter to pieces the whole fabric. _It is
as certain as that_ 2 + 2 = 4 that the world was not created in the
manner described in Genesis."

As regards harmonistic difficulties of the Old and New Testaments, he
assumes the same confident tone of bold assertion without feeling any
obligation to notice the solutions that have been suggested. It makes
for his purpose to represent the orthodox as suddenly struck dumb and
confounded by these amazing discoveries of his. He sees discrepancies
everywhere in the Gospel narrative, e.g.: [47]

"Judas' death is _differently_ described." "Herod is introduced by
Luke and not mentioned by the others." "Jesus carried His own Cross in
one account, while Simon of Cyrene bore it in another. Jesus gave no
answer to Pilate, says Matthew; He explains that His Kingdom was not
of the world, says John. Mary His Mother sat _(sic)_ at the foot of
the Cross, according to St. John; it was not His Mother, but Mary the
mother of Salome _(sic)_ 'who beheld Him from afar,' according to Mark
and Matthew. There was a guard set to watch the tomb, says Matthew;
there is no mention of one by the others."

At first we thought Mr. Laing must have meant _differences_ and not
discrepancies; but the following paragraph forbade so lenient an
interpretation. "The only other mention of Mary by St. John, who
describes her as sitting _(sic)_ by the foot of the Cross, is
apocryphal, being directly contradicted by the very precise statement [48]
in the three other Gospels, that the Mary who was present on that
occasion was a different woman, the mother of Salome." Even his youngest
readers ought to open their eyes at this. Similarly he thinks the
omission of the Lord's Prayer by St. Mark tells strongly against its
authenticity. [49]


We must now say something about the great facts of evolutionary
philosophy which have shattered dogmatic Christianity to pieces, and
have made it impossible for any sincere man to remain a Christian. To
say that Mr. Laing is absolutely certain of the all-sufficiency of
evolutionism to explain everything that is knowable to the human mind,
that he does not hint for a moment that this philosophy is found by the
"bell-wethers" of science to be every day less satisfactory as a
complete _rationale_ of the physical cosmos; is really to understate the
case for sheer lack of words to express the intensity of his conviction.
His fundamental fact is that, however theologians may shuffle out of the
first chapter of Genesis by converting days into periods, when we come
to the story of the Noachean Deluge, we are confronted with such a
glaring absurdity that we must at once allow that the Bible is full of
myths. For history and science show that man existed probably two
hundred thousand years ago, at all events not less than twenty thousand;
also that five thousand B.C., a highly organized civilization existed in
Egypt, whose monuments of that date give evidence to the full
development of racial and linguistic differences as now existing among
men; that this plants the common stem from which these have branched
off, in an indefinitely remote pre-historic period; that to suppose that
the present races and tongues are all derived from one man (Noe), who
lived only two thousand B.C., is a monstrous impossibility; still more
so, to believe that the countless thousands of species of animals which
populate the world were collected from the four quarters of the globe,
were housed and fed in the Ark, landed on Mount Ararat, and thence
spread themselves out over the world again regardless of interjacent
seas. Hence the Bible story of human origins is a mere myth; man has not
fallen, but has risen by slow evolution from some ancestor common to him
and apes, at a remote period, long sons prior even to the miocene
period, which shows man to have been then as obstinately differentiated
from the apes as ever. Therefore "all did not die in Adam," and seeing
this is the foundation of the dogmatic Christianity invented by Paul,
the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. [45]

And indeed, given that the Bible means what Mr. Laing says it means, and
that science has proved what he says it has proved, that the two results
are incompatible, few would care to deny. As regards the latter
condition, let us see some of his reasonings. We are told that "modern
science shows that uninterrupted historical records, confirmed by
contemporary monuments, carry history back at least one thousand years
before the supposed creation of man ... and show then no trace of a
commencement, but populous cities, celebrated temples, great engineering
works, and a high state of the arts and of civilization already
existing." [46] Strange to say, Mr. Laing developes a sudden reverence
for the testimony of _priests_ at the outset of his historical
inquiries, and finds that history begins with "priestly organizations;"
[47] that the royal records are "made and preserved by special castes of
priestly colleges and learned scribes, and that they are to a great
extent precise in date and accurate in fact." Of course this does not
include Christian priests, but the priests of barbarous cults of many
thousand years ago, who, as well as their royal masters, are at once
credited with all the delicacy of the accurate criticism which we boast
of in these days--how vainly, God knows. We are told one moment that
Herodotus "was credulous, and not very critical in distinguishing
between fact and fable," that his "sources of information were often not
much better than vague popular traditions, or the tales told by guides;"
[48] and yet we are to lay great stress on his assertion that the
Egyptian priests told him "that during the long succession of ages of
the three hundred and forty-five high priests of Heliopolis, whose
statues they showed him in the Temple of the Sun, there had been no
change in the length of human life or the course of nature." [49] A
valuable piece of evidence _if_ Herodotus reports rightly, and _if_ the
priest was not like the average guide, and _if_ the statues answered to
real existences, and _if_ each of the three hundred and forty-five high
priests made a truthful assertion of the above to his successor for the
benefit of posterity.

Manetho's History is, however, the chief source of our information as to
the antiquity of Egyptian civilization. He was commissioned to compile
this History by Ptolemy Philadelphus, "from the most authentic temple
records and other sources of information," [50] whose infallibility is
taken for granted. He was "eminently qualified for such a task, being,"
as Mr. Laing will vouch, [51] "a learned and judicious man, and a priest
of Sebbenytus, one of the oldest and most famous temples." Let us by all
means read Manetho's History; but where is it? It is "unfortunately
lost, ... but fragments of it have been preserved in the works of
Josephus, Eusebius, Julius Africanus, and Syncellus.... With the curious
want of critical faculty of almost all the Christian Fathers" [52] (so
different from the learned, judicious, upright priests of the sun),
"these extracts, though professing to be quotations from the same book,
contain many inconsistencies and in several instances they have been
obviously tampered with, especially by Eusebius, in order to bring their
chronology more in accordance with that of the Old Testament, ... but
there can be _no doubt_ that his original work assigned an antiquity to
Menes of over 5500 B.C." [53] "On the whole, we have to fall back on
Manetho as the only authority for anything like precise dates and
connected history."

Manetho, however, needed confirmation against the aspersions of the
orthodox, who thought he might be deficient in critical delicacy, and
prone to exaggerate as even later historians had done. Their casuistic
minds also suggested that his list comprised Kings who had ruled
different provinces simultaneously. But this "effugium" was cut off by
the witness of contemporary monuments and manuscripts. "This has now
been done to such an extent that it may be fairly said that Manetho is
confirmed, and it is fully established, as a fact acquired by science,
that nearly all his Kings and dynasties are proved by monuments to have
existed, and that, successively." [54]

What is needed for the validity of this argument is a concurrence, which
could not possibly be fortuitous, between the clear and undoubted
testimony of Manetho and of the monuments. But first of all, what sort
of probability is there left of our possessing anything approximately
like the results of Manetho: and if we had them, of their historical
accuracy? Secondly, is it at all credible that so fragmentary and
fortuitous a record as survives in monuments (allowing again their very
dubious historical worth) should just happen to coincide with the

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