« PrécédentContinuer »
his time. Greatness is often solitary; power is generally sympathetic. Mr. Smith is not a man seeing far over the heads of his contemporaries, alone in his intellectual elevation, originating ideas which will shape the character of nations when he is in the tomb; but his sympathetic nature, like a well-strung harp, is resonant to all the finer influences of his time, its manliest thought, its purest aspiration. We think of him, therefore, as a representative man, as a leader among the high-minded youth of England ; one who is especially fitted to guide in the path of progress, whose ardour of moral impulse, boldness of thought and speech, manly religion, and English sense, it will be well for young men to admire and emulate. In his works there is hopefulness, and sunny vigour, and trust in the destinies of England and mankind; there is resolute clearness in the enunciation of all that is believed to be true, honourable, and of good report, with bold assault upon speciosities and abuses; there is no affectation of mystery or profundity, or of emotions too refined for general sympathy; no oracular utterance of truisms, no attempt to dazzle with tricks of rhetoric. If we do not meet with original thoughts, we are yet greeted at every turn with pertinent remarks, striking home to the matter in hand, sending the arrow into the white. If we are not startled by impassioned eloquence, we are constantly charmed with picturesque and felicitous expressions. Mr. Smith's style has nearly as much vigour as Arold's, with more freedom, grace, and vivacity.
His views on the Irish Church, and his emphatic announcement of them, are characteristic of the man. The Established Church of Ireland may be pronounced an infallible touchstone of sincerity, conscientiousness, and moral courage, by which to try the members of the Established Church of England. It is possible to be an honest and clear-seeing man, and yet to believe that the Church of England is just and beneficent ; but charity can require no man to say that an Anglican supporter of the Irish establishment is at once capable and conscientious. Such an one may believe himself conscientious, but the fact must be, that he has administered an opiate to his conscience. Conscience would really deserve no credit at all, if, in an unsophisticated state, and fairly interrogated, it gave its voice for the Irish Church. It is unjust, for justice can never sanction the saddling, upon a nation of poor men, of a Church which ministers to a wealthy minority. Being an injustice, it has of course barred the advance of truth, endearing to Irishmen the tattered, poverty-stricken, Popish priests who administered consolation in their cabins, and exciting their bitterest animosity against the lazy and lordly Protestant clergywen, who lived on the fat of the land. The Irish Church has done more than any other agency to paralyze Protestantism in Ireland, and it is in a high degree probable that, if it had been abolished a
century ago, the island would at this day have been Protestant. Still, though, as Macaulay said, no man ever attempted to defend the Irish Church on its merits, there are plausibilities in abundance by which Anglicans dull their consciences into tolerating it. They may dilate on the personal respectability of the Irish clergy. They may speak of their augmented zeal in establishing schools, and of their liberality to the poor. They may enlarge on the danger of overthrowing a Church so closely connected with the home establishment, and urge that wrong must be inflicted on Ireland, in order that good may come upon England. It is, perhaps, not astonishing to one who has some notion of human nature, that arguments like these should satisfy the conscience of Mr. Newdegate, or even of Lord Shaftesbury. Conscience lies very quiet when lapped in the soft music of Evangelical expediency. But it is surprising that a whole political party which, in the days of its youth, felt the power of high moral impulse, and was vehement in its attacks on the Irish Church, should have sunk into indolent acquiescence in its perpetuation. The decadence, the moral apathy and atrophy, of the Liberal party, are in no respect so manifest as in their attitude towards the Church of Ireland. But Mr. Goldwin Smith, Oxford Professor as he is, has not only penetrated these fallacies, but, by an unsparing assault on the Irish establishment, has set the example to Liberals of a political virtue to which they have too long been strangers. Once more he sets the institution before the world as what is it, a blunder, a crime, an offence to moral civilization, a standing satire on English justice, a theoretical anomaly, a practical evil, a thing that would not paint if you had all the brushes and all the pigments in Europe. A voice from Oxford, clear, loud, thrilling, proclaims to High Churchmen and Evangelicals, that an injustice cannot be right, and that a lie cannot be beneficent. A Churchman reminds the Nonconformists of England, who have been so vivacious in attacking Church rates, and any other grievance which they may themselves endure, that it is their duty, as well as their policy, to assail the incalculably greater wrong inflicted upon their neighbours. In renewing the attack upon the Irish Church, Goldwin Smith is, we trust, representative of a new Liberal party, which will take the place of the somnolent Whigs, do what they have left undone, assail abuses which they have winked at, and put an end, once for all, to this Conservative reaction of which we have heard so much. In his opinions on Italian and American questions, as well as those on the Irish Church, Mr. Smith recals the earlier and better days of the Liberal party.
One of the most valuable of Mr. Smith's literary performances is that lecture in which he has discussed the compatibility of belief in the doctrine of historical progress with faith in Christianity. It is not an exhaustive treatment of that momentous question, nor is its
conclusion based upon grounds so broad as were legitimately available for the purpose of the lecturer. But it is fair to recollect that a lecture is a lecture, not to be tried by the tests which apply to a treatise. It is absurd to expect in a sketch what is indispensable in a picture. The sketch of a master, however, is distinguished from that of a tyro by giving as much of truth and of beauty as was possible with the means used; and we demand of a lecturer that he shall penetrate to the heart of his subject, and set before us, with force and felicity, what is conclusive concerning it; what, practically, is enough to satisfy the mind. This Mr. Smith has done in the lecture before us. He proves his point. He adduces enough to convince any open-minded, truth-loving young man, that the human race has not outstripped Christianity, and that it is in the nature of things impossible that Christianity should ever be outstripped. Let us glance at his argument.
He sets out with a fair statement of the proposition which it is his object to contest :-"If we accept historical progress, it it said, we must give up Christianity. Christianity, we are told, like other phases of the great onward movement of humanity, has had its place, and that a great place, in history. In its allotted epoch it was progressive in the highest degree, and immense veneration and gratitude are due to it on that account; but, like other phases of the same movement, it has had its appointed term. That term it has already exceeded. It has already become stationary, and even retrograde ; it has begun, instead of being the beneficent instrument, to be the arch-enemy of, human progress. It cumbers the earth, and the effort of all honest, scientific free-thinking men, who are lovers of their kind, should quicken the death-pangs into which it has manifestly fallen, and remove once for all this obstruction to the onward movement of the race. Confusion and distress will probably attend the final abandonment of " the popular religion ;" but it is better at once to encounter them, than to keep up any longer an imposture which is disorganizing and demoralising to society, as well as degrading to the
In the first place, answers Mr. Smith, what has been the fact in respect of historical progress? It is assumed by those against whom he argues
, that sustained historical progress has been universal. But this is a mistake.
Various races and nations have advanced to a certain point and have there paused. To the Chinese, to the Indians, to the Mahommedan nations, some force, whether of circumstances, as may have been the case with the Mongol populations of Central Asia, or of moral influence incarnated in some strongly religious nature like Mabomet's, has communicated an impulse of progress. For a time, the advance has continued. Indian civilisation, Chinese civilisation, Mahommedan civilisation, have reached a
mind of man.'
certain point of perfection. But when the force was spent, the civilisation drooped. There was no internal energy, no unconquerable instinct of progress, no self-originating power, such as the atheistic apostles of progress imagine, to take the place of the waning flame of the old enthusiasm. There is no historical evidence that a nation, having exhausted the force, generally a religious force, which originally bore it on, can supply itself with another. Christianity, it is allowed, has carried nations farther on than any other moral force known to history ; but there is no proof, no presumption, that, if Christianity were discarded, the Christian nations could extemporise a force adequate to maintain the ad
At this point, however, a critical point in the conduct of Mr. Smith's argument, the opposite party adduce what they maintain to be a conclusive historical instance on their side. "It is confidently said," we quote from Mr. Smith, “that the historical progress of the most advanced nations of Europe during recent times has been beyond the pale of Christendom, and that, it forms a conclusive proof of the exhaustion and decline of Christianity. The intellect of Protestant Germany, which has played so momentous a part in the historical progress of the last century is triumphantly cited as a palpable instance of this fact.”
Mr. Smith's reply is that Christianity is to be viewed not only as a theological but as a moral system, and that “much which to the eye of the theologian, looking to religious professions, is without the pale of Christendom,” is still“ to the historical eye, looking to moral connections, within it.” For sundry causes, — the divisions of the Churches, their impotent controversies on points of dogma, their sinister alliances with political obstructiveness and injustice, their false ground in relation to science, and so on,—“ great masses of intelligence and eminent leaders of thought in all departments have been nominally and outwardly estranged from Christendom.” But this estrangement is more apparent than real. In their view of the Divine Being ; of human character and destiny; of duty; of social relations; they continue Christian. “Many a great writer who is brought forwards as a proof that the intellect of the age is Christian no longer, will be found, on examination, to have nothing in his writings which is not derived from a Christian source. Schleiermacher received the Eucharist on his death-bed, and died declaring that he had adhered to the living spirit of Christianity rather than to the dead letter. He may have been illogical ; but he cannot be said, historically, not to have been a Christian.'
This argument is, we believe, conclusive in proving what it is Mr. Smith's object to establish. The moral and intellectual atmosphere of Europe is still saturated with Christianity. No great writers have so completely emancipated themselves from its
influence, as to furnish evidence that progress could continue if it were extinct. Mr. Smith refers to Schleiermacher, a man touching whose Christianity, defective as it may have been, we knew not that a doubt had ever been suggested. But he might have referred to Fichte, to Goethe, to Carlyle. As moralists, these men have been to a large extent Christian ; and precisely where they bave not been Christian, have their systems been erroneous and temporary. Fichte maintained that his distinctive ethics were but an interpretation of the Christianity of the apostle John and his Master. In proclaiming the unselfishness of duty, in declaring that the fear of hell or the hope of heaven will never make a man virtuous, Fichte merely reminded Christians of the morality of the New Testament. That morality is a life, a new life in Christ, a life unchanging and immortal, independent of circumstance in all its range, from hell-flames to heavenly glory. When he deviated from Christianity, when he enunciated å system of his own, Fichte passed into the vague infinitudes of Pantheism, and found himself, as every Pantheist must, dumb before the essential but elementary question, Why is right better than wrong? In that passage in “Wilhelm Meister” where Goethe must elaborately moralises, where we are introduced to the three reverences in which perfect moral culture consists, where we are informed of the all-importance of self-abnegation and the “divine depth of sorrow," he says nothing which might not be diffused through sound Christian sermons, and headed with texts from the gospels and epistles. But when Goethe turned from the Christian beacon-lights, and gave us hints of that perfect morality with which the advocates of atheistic progress will enlighten a race emerging from the twilight of Christianity, we have nothing better than insinuations of the occasional propriety of incest
, and seeming indications that the philosophy of the future will re-adjust the relations of man and woman on the model of the animal creation. Mr. Carlyle owes all his best power as a moralist to his profound appreciation of certain parts of the Christian system. He deserves that high and beautiful, yet touching, compliment paid him by Chalmers, that, in relation to Christianity he is as a man on the wall of a city, who, though not within, sees more of it than those who are walking in its streets. But where Carlyle has spoken on his own account, where his moral system is distinctive, what has been its advance beyond the Christian code ? To omit consideration of that underlying Pantheism by which his teaching is vitiated and confused, what has he been doing of late but trying to induce us to prefer a rod of iron to Christ's
And the further he has departed from the Christianity of his youth, the more questionable have bis estimates of historical characters become, until the panegyrist of Martin Luther has become the panegyrist of Frederick the Great.
golden sceptre ?