By A.K.H. Boyd.
When my friend Smith’s drag comes round to his door, as he and I are standing on the steps ready to go out for a drive, how cheerful and frisky the horses look! I think I see them, as I saw them yesterday, coming round from the stable-yard, with their glossy coats and the silver of their harness glancing in the May sunshine, the May sunshine mellowed somewhat by the green reflection of two great leafy trees. They were going out for a journey of twenty miles. They were, in fact, about to begin their day’s work, and they knew they were; yet how buoyant and willing they looked! There was not the faintest appearance of any disposition to shrink from their task, as if it were a hard and painful one. No; they were eager to be at it: they were manifestly enjoying the anticipation of the brisk exertion in the midst of which they would be in five minutes longer. And by the time we have got into our places, and have wrapped those great fur robes comfortably about our limbs, the chafing animals have their heads given them; and instantly they fling themselves at their collars, and can hardly be restrained from breaking into a furious gallop. Happy creatures, you enjoy your work; you wish nothing better than to get at it!
And when I have occasionally beheld a ploughman, bricklayer, gardener, weaver, or blacksmith, begin his work in the morning, I have envied him the readiness and willingness with which he took to it. The plough-man, after he has got his horses harnessed to the plough, does not delay a minute: into the turf the shining share enters, and away go horses, plough and man. It costs the ploughman no effort to make up his mind to begin. He does not stand irresolute, as you and I in childish days have often done when taken down to the sea for our morning dip, and when trying to get courage to take the first plunge under water. And the bricklayer lifts and places the first brick of his daily task just as easily as the last one. The weaver, too, sits down without mental struggle at his loom, and sets off at once. How different is the case with most men whose work is mental; more particularly how different is the case with most men whose work is to write—to spin out their thoughts into compositions for other people to read or to listen to! How such men, for the most part, shrink from their work—put it off as long as may be; and even when the paper is spread out and the pen all right, and the ink within easy reach, how they keep back from the final plunge! And after they have begun to write, how they dally with their subject; shrink back as long as possible from grappling with its difficulties; twist about and about, talking of many irrelevant matters, before they can summon up resolution to go at the real point they have got to write about! How much unwillingness there is fairly to put the neck to the collar!
Such are my natural reflections, suggested by my personal feelings at this present time. I know perfectly well what I have got to do. I have to write some account, and attempt some appreciation, of a most original, acute, well-expressed, and altogether remarkable book—the book, to wit, which bears the comprehensive title of Man and his Dwelling-Place. It is a metaphysical book; it is a startling book; it is a very clever book; and though it is published anonymously, I have heard several acquaintances say, with looks expressive of unheard-of stores of recondite knowledge, that they have reason to believe that it is written by, this and that author, whose name is already well known to fame. It may be so, but I did not credit it a bit the more because thus assured of it. In most cases the people who go about dropping hints of how much they know on such subjects, know nothing earthly about the matter; but still the premises (as lawyers would say) make it be felt that the book is a serious one to meddle with. Not that in treating such a volume, plainly containing the careful and deliberate views and reflections of an able and well-informed man, I should venture to assume the dignified tone of superiority peculiar to some reviewers in dissecting works which they could not have written for their lives. There are not a score of men in Britain who would be justified in reviewing such a book as this de haut en has. I intend the humbler task of giving my readers some description of the work, stating its great principle, and arguing certain points with its eminently clever author; and under the circumstances in which this article is written, it discards the dignified and undefined We, and adopts the easier and less authoritative first person singular. The work to be done, therefore, is quite apparent: there is no doubt about that. But the writer is most unwilling to begin it. Slowly was the pen taken up; oftentimes was the window looked out of. I am well aware that I shall not settle steadily to my task till I shall have had a preliminary canter, so to speak. Thus have I seen school-hoys, on a warm July day, about to jump from a sea-wall into the azure depths of ocean. But after their garments were laid aside, and all was ready for the plunge, long time sat they upon the tepid stones, and paddled with idle feet in the water.
How shall I better have that preliminary and moderate exercitation which serves to get up the steam, than by talking for a little about the scene around me? Through diamond-shaped panes the sunshine falls into this little chamber; and going to the window you look down upon the tops of tall trees. And it is pleasant to look down upon the tops of tall trees. The usual way of looking at trees, it may be remarked, is from below. But this chamber is high up in the tower of a parish church far in the country. Its furniture is simple as that of the chamber of a certain prophet, who lived long ago. There are some things here, indeed, which he had not; for yesterday’s Times lies upon the floor drying in the morning sunbeams, and Fraser’s Magazine for May is on a chair by the window. Why does that incomparable monthly act blisteringly upon the writer’s mind? It never did so till May, 1859. Why does he put it for the time out of sight? Why, but because, for once, he has read in that Magazine an article—by a very eminent man, too—written in what he thinks a thoroughly mistaken spirit, and setting out views which he thinks to be utterly false and mischievous. Not such, the writer knows well, are the views of his dear friend the Editor; not such are the doctrines which Fraser teaches to a grateful world. In the latter pages of his review of Mill on Liberty, Mr. Buckle spoke solely for himself; he did not express the opinions which this Magazine upholds, nor commit for one moment the staff of men who write in it; and, as one insignificant individual who has penned a good many pages of Fraser, I beg to express my keen disapprobation of Mr. Buckle’s views upon the subject of Christianity. They may be right, but I firmly believe they are wrong; they may be true, but I think them false. I repudiate any share in them: let their author bear their responsibility for himself. Alas, say I, that so able a man should sincerely think (I give him credit for entire sincerity) that man’s best refuge and most precious hope is vain delusion! Very jarringly to my mind sound those eloquent periods, so inexpressibly sad and dreary, amid pages penned in many quiet parsonages, by many men who for the truth of Christianity would, God helping them, lay down their lives. So, you May magazine, get meanwhile out of sight: I don’t want to think of you. Rather let me stay this impatient throbbing of heart by looking down on the green tops of those great silent trees.
Thick ivy frames this mullioned window, with its three lance-shaped lights. Seventy feet below, the grassy graves of the churchyard swell like green waves. The white headstones gleam in the sun. Ancient oaks line the lichened wall of the churchyard: their leaves not yet to thick as they will be a month hereafter. Beyond the wall, I see a very verdant field, between two oaks; six or seven white lambs are lying there, or frisking about. The silver gleam of a river bounds the field; and beyond are thick hedges, white with hawthorn blossoms. In the distance there is a great rocky hill, which bounds the horizon. There is not a sound, save when a little flaw of air brushes a twig against the wall some feet below me. The smoke of two or three scattered cottages rises here and there.
The sky is very bright blue, with many fleecy clouds. Quiet, quiet! And all this while the omnibuses, cabs, carriages, drays, horses, men, are hurrying, sweltering, and fretting along Cheapside!
Man and his Dwelling-Place! Truly a comprehensive subject. For man’s dwelling-place is the universe; and remembering this, it is plain that there is not much to be said which might not be said under that title. But, of course, there are sweeping views and opinions which include man and the universe, and which color all beliefs as to details. And the author of this remarkable book has arrived at such a sweeping view. He holds, that where-as we fancy that we are living creatures, and that inanimate nature is inert, or without life, the truth is just the opposite of this fancy. He holds that man wants life, and that his dwelling-place possesses life. We are dead, and the world is living. No doubt it would be easy to laugh at all this; but I can promise the thoughtful reader that, though after reading the book he may still differ from its author, he will not laugh at him. Very moderately informed folk are quite aware of this—that the fact of any doctrine seeming startling at the first mention of it, is no argument whatever against its truth. Some centuries since you could hardly have startled men more than by saying that the earth moves, and the sun stands still. Nay, it is not yet forty years since practical engineers judged George Stephenson mad, for saying that a steam-engine could draw a train of carriages along a rail-way at the rate of fourteen miles an hour. It is certainly a startling thing to be told that I am dead, and that the distant hill out there is living. The burden of proof rests with the man who propounds the theory; the prima facie case is against him. Trees do not read newspapers; hills do not write articles. We must try to fix the author’s precise meaning when he speaks of life; perhaps he may intend by it something quite different from that which we understand. And then we must see what he has to say in support of a doctrine which at the first glance seems nothing short of monstrous and absurd.
No: I cannot get on. I cannot forget that May magazine that is lying in the corner. I must be thoroughly done with it before I can fix my thoughts upon the work which is to be considered. Mr. Buckle has done a service to my mind, entirely analogous to that which would be done to a locomotive engine by a man who should throw a handful of sand into its polished machinery. I am prepared, from personal experience, to meet with a flat contradiction his statement that a man does you no harm by trying to cast doubt and discredit upon the doctrines you hold most dear. Mr. Buckle, by his article, has done me an injury. It is an injury, irritating but not dangerous. For the large assertions, which if they stated truths, would show that the religion of Christ is a miserable delusion, are unsupported by a tittle of proof: and the general tone in regard to Christianity, though sufficiently hostile, and very eloquently expressed, appears to me uncommonly weak in logic. But as Mr. Buckle’s views have been given to the world, with whatever weight may be derived from their publication in this magazine, it is no more than just and necessary that through the same channel there should be conveyed another contributor’s strong disavowal of them, and keen protest against them. I do not intend to argue against Mr. Buckle’s opinions. This is not the time or place for such an undertaking. And Mr. Buckle, in his article, has not argued but dogmatically asserted, and then called hard names at those who may conscientiously differ from him. Let me suggest to Mr. Buckle that such names can very easily be retorted. Any man who would use them, very easily could. Mr. Buckle says that any man who would punish by legal means the publication of blasphemous sentiments, should be regarded as a noxious animal. It is quite easy for me to say, and possibly to prove, that the man who advocates the free publication of blasphemous sentiments, is a noxious animal. So there we are placed on an equal footing; and what progress has been made in the argument of the question in debate? Then Mr. Buckle very strongly disapproves a certain judgment of, as I believe, one of the best judges who ever sat on the English Bench: I mean Mr. Justice Coleridge. That judge on one occasion sentenced to imprisonment a poor, ignorant man, convicted of having written certain blasphemous words upon a gate. I am prepared to justify every step that was taken in the prosecution and punishment of that individual. That, however, is not the point at issue. Even supposing that the magistrates who committed, and the judge who sentenced, that miserable wretch, had acted wrongly and unjustly, could not Mr. Buckle suppose that they had acted conscientiously? What right had he to speak of Mr. Justice Coleridge as a ‘stony-hearted man?’ What right had he to say that the judge and the magistrates, in doing what they honestly believed to be right, were ‘criminals,’ who had ‘committed a great crime?’ What right had he to say that their motives were ‘the pride of their power and the wickedness of their hearts?’ What right had he to call one of the most admirable men in Britain ‘this unjust and unrighteous judge?’ And where did Mr. Buckle ever see anything to match the statement, that Mr. Justice Coleridge grasped at the opportunity of persecuting a poor blasphemer in a remote county, where his own wickedness was likely to be overlooked, while he durst not have done as much in the face of the London press? Who will believe that Mr. Justice Coleridge is distinguished for his ‘cold heart and shallow understanding?’ But I feel much more comfortable now, when I have written upon this page that I, as one humble contributor to this Magazine, utterly repudiate Mr. Buckle’s sentiments with regard to Sir J. T. Coleridge, and heartily condemn the manner in which he has expressed them.
If there be any question which ought to be debated with scrupulous calmness and fairness, it is the question whether it is just that human laws should prevent and punish the publication of views commonly regarded as blasphemous. I deny Mr. Buckle’s statement, that all belief is involuntary. I say that in a country like this, every man of education is responsible for his religious belief; but of course responsible only to his Maker. Thus, on totally different grounds from Mr. Buckle, I agree with him in thinking that no human law should interfere with a man’s belief. I am not prepared, without much longer thought than I have yet given to the subject, to agree with Mr. Buckle and Mr. Mill, that human law should never interfere with the publication of opinions, no matter how blasphemous they may be esteemed by the great majority of the nation to which they are published. I might probably say that I should not interfere with the publication of any book, however false and mischievous I might regard the religious doctrines it taught, provided the book were written in the interest of truth—provided its author manifestly desired to set out doctrines which he regarded as true and important. But if the book set out blasphemous doctrine in such a tone and temper as made it evident that the writer’s main intention was to irritate and distress those who held the belief regarded as orthodox, I should probably suppress or punish the publication of such a book. Sincere infidelity is a sad thing, with little of the propagandist spirit. Even if it should think that those Christian doctrines which afford so much comfort and support to men are fond delusions, I think its humane feeling would be,--Well, I shall not seek to shatter hopes which I cannot replace. I know that such was the feeling of the most amiable of unbelievers—David Hume. I know how he regularly attended church, anxious that he might not by his example dash in humble minds the belief which tended to make them good and happy, though it was a belief which he could not share. My present notion is, that laws ought to punish coarse and abusive blasphemy. They may let thoughtful and philosophic skepticism alone. It will hardly reach, it will never distress, the masses. But if a blackguard goes up to a parsonage door, and bellows out blasphemous remarks about the Trinity; or if a man who is a blockhead as well as a malicious wretch writes blasphemous words upon a parsonage gate, I cannot for an instant recognize in these men the champions of freedom of religious thought and speech. Even Mr. Buckle cannot think that their purpose is to teach the clergymen important truth. They don’t intend to proselytize. Their object is to insult and annoy and shock. And I think it is right to punish them. They are not punished for setting out their peculiar opinions. They are punished for designedly and maliciously injuring their neighbors. Mr. Justice Coleridge punished the blasphemer in Cornwall, not because he held wrong views, not because he expressed wrong views. He might have expressed them in a decent way as long as he liked, and no one would have interfered with him. He was punished because, with malicious and insulting intention, he wrote blasphemous words where he thought they would cause pain and horror. He was punished for that: and rightly. Mr. Buckle seeks to excite sympathy for the man, by mixing up with the question whether or no his crime deserved punishment, the wholly distinct question, whether or no the man was so far sane as to deserve punishment for any crime whatever. These two questions have no connection; and it is unfair to mingle them. The question of the man’s sanity or insanity was for the jury to decide. The jury decided that he was so sane as to be responsible. Mr. Buckle’s real point is, that however sane the man might have been, it was wicked to punish him; and I do not hesitate to say, for myself, that looking to the entire circumstances of the case, the magistrates who committed that nuisance of his neighborhood, and the judge who sent him to jail, did no more than their duty.
There are several statements made by Mr. Buckle which must not be regarded as setting forth the teaching of the Magazine in which they were made. Mr. Buckle says that no man can be sure that any doctrine is divinely revealed: that whoever says so must be ‘absurdly and immodestly confident in his own powers.’ I deny that. Mr. Buckle says that it is part of Christian doctrine that rich men cannot be saved. I deny that. Christ’s statement as to the power of worldly possessions to concentrate the affections upon this world, went not an inch further than daily experience goes. What said Samuel Johnson when Garrick showed him his grand house? ‘Ah, David, these are the things that make death terrible!’ Mr. Buckle says that Christianity gained ground in early ages because its doctrines were combated. They were not combated. Its professors were persecuted, which is quite another thing. Mr. Buckle says that the doctrine of Immortality was known to the world before Christianity was heard of, or any other revealed religion. I deny that. Greek and Roman philosophers of the highest class regarded that doctrine as a delusion of the vulgar. Did Mr. Buckle ever read the letter of condolence which Sulpicius wrote to Cicero after the death of Cicero’s daughter? A beautiful letter, beautifully expressed; stating many flimsy and wretched reasons for drying one’s tears; but containing not a hint of any hope of meeting in another world. And the same may be said of Cicero’s reply. As for Mr. Buckle’s argument for Immortality, I think it extremely weak and inconclusive. It certainly goes to prove, if it proves anything, that my cousin Tom, who lately was called to the bar, is quite sure to be Lord Chancellor; and that Sam Lloyd, who went up from our village last week to a merchant’s counting-house in Liverpool, is safe to rival his eminent namesake in wealth. Mr. Buckle’s argument is just this: that if your heart is very much set upon a thing, you are perfectly sure to get it. Of course everybody has read the soliloquy in Addison’s Cato, where Mr. Buckle’s argument is set forth. I deem it not worth a rush. Does any man’s experience of this life tend to assure him, that because some people (and not all people) would like to see their friends again after they die, therefore they shall? Do things usually turn out just as we particularly wish that they should turn out? Has not many a young girl felt, like Cato, a ‘secret dread and inward horror’ lest the picnic day should be rainy? Did that ensure its being fine? Was not I extremely anxious to catch the express train yesterday, and did not I miss it? Does not every child of ten years old know, that this is a world in which things have a wonderful knack of falling out just in the way least wished for? If I were an infidel, I should believe that some spiteful imp of the perverse had the guidance of the affairs of humanity. I know better than that: but for my knowledge I have to thank Revelation. But is it philosophical, is it common sense, in a man who rejects Revelation, and who must be guided in his opinions of a future life by the analogy of the present, to argue that because here the issue all but constantly defeats our wishes and hopes, therefore an end on which (as he says) human hearts are very much set shall certainly be attained hereafter? ‘If the separation were final,’ says Mr. Buckle, in a most eloquent and pathetic passage, ‘how could we stand up and live?’ Fine feeling, indeed, but impotent logic. When a man has worked hard and accumulated a little competence, and then in age loses it all in some swindling bank, and sees his daughters, tenderly reared, reduced to starvation, I doubt not he may think ‘How can I live?’ but will all this give him his fortune back again? Has not many a youthful heart, crushed down by bitter disappointment, taken up the fancy that surely life would now be impossible; but did the fancy, by the weight of a feather, affect the fact? I remember, indeed, seeing Mr. Buckle’s question put with a wider reach of meaning. Poor Uncle Tom, torn from his family, is sailing down the Mississippi, and finding comfort as he reads his well-worn Bible. How could that poor negro weigh the arguments on either side, and be sure that the blessed Faith, which was then his only support, was true? With better logic than Mr. Buckle’s, he drew his best evidence from his own consciousness. ‘It fitted him so well: it was so exactly what he needed. It must be true, or how could he live?’
Having written all this, I feel that I can now think without distraction of Man and his Dwelling-Place, I have mildly vented my indignation; and I now, in a moral sense, extend my hand to Mr. Buckle. Had he come up that corkscrew stair an hour or two ago, I am not entirely certain that I might not have taken him by the collar and shaken him. And had I found him standing on a chair in the green behind the church, and indoctrinating my simple parishioners with his peculiar notions, I have an entire conviction that I should have forgotten my theoretical assent to the doctrine of religious toleration, and by a gentle hint to my sturdy friends, procured him an invigorating bath in that gleaming river. I have got rid of that feeling now. And although Mr. Buckle is the last man who would find fault with any honest opposition, I yet desire to express my regret if I have written any word that passes the limit of good-natured though sturdy conflict. I respect Mr. Buckle’s earnestness and moral courage: I heartily admire his eloquence: I give him credit for entire sincerity in the opinions he holds, though I think them sadly mistaken.
So now for Man and his Dwelling-Place. Twice already has the writer put his mind at that book, but it has each time swerved, like a middling hunter from a very stiff fence, and taken a circle round the field. Now at last the thing matt really be done.
If you, my reader, are desirous of discovering a book which shall entirely knock up your previous views upon all possible subjects, read this Essay Towards the Interpretation of Nature. It does, indeed, interpret Nature, and Man too, in a fashion which, to the best of my knowledge, is thoroughly original. And the book is distinguished not more by originality than by piety, earnestness, and eloquence. Its author is an enthusiastic Christian; and indeed his peculiar views in metaphysics and science are founded upon his interpretation of certain passages in the New Testament. It is from the sacred volume that he derives his theory that man is at present dead. The work appears likely to appeal to a limited circle of readers; it will be understood and appreciated by few. Though its style is clear, the abstruseness of the subjects discussed and the transcendental scope of its author, make the train of thought often difficult to follow. Possibly the fault is not in the book, but in the reader: possibly it may result from the book having been read rapidly and while pressed by many other concerns; but there seems to me a certain want of clearness and sharpness of presentment about it. The great principle maintained is indeed set forth with unmistakable force; but, it is hard to say how, there appears in details a certain absence of method, and what in Scotland is called a drumliness of style. There is a good deal of repetition too; but for that one is rather thankful than otherwise; for the great idea of the deadness of man and the life and spirituality of nature grows much better defined, and is grasped more completely and intelligently, as we come upon it over and over again, put in many different ways and with great variety of illustration. It is a humiliating confession for a reviewer to make, but, to say the truth, I do not know what to make of this book. If its author should succeed in indoctrinating the race with his views, he will produce an intellectual revolution. Every man who thinks at all will be constrained for the remainder of his days (I must not say of his life) to think upon all subjects quite differently from what he has ever hitherto thought. As for readers for amusement, and for all readers who do not choose to read what cannot be read without some mental effort, they will certainly find the first half-dozen pages of this work quite sufficient for them. Without pretending to follow the author’s views into the vast number of details into which they reach, I shall endeavor in a short compass to draw the great lines of them.
There is an interesting introduction, which gradually prepares us for the announcement of the startling fact, that all men hitherto have been entirely mistaken in their belief both as to themselves and the universe which surrounds them. It is first impressed upon us that things may be in themselves very different indeed from that which they appear to us: that phenomenon may be something far apart from actual being. Yet though our conceptions, whether given by sense or intellect, do not correspond with the truth of things, still they are the elements from which truth is to be gathered. The following passage, which occurs near the beginning of the introduction, is the sharp end of the wedge:--
All advance in knowledge is a deliverance of man from himself. Slowly and painfully we learn that he is not the measure of truth, that the fact may be very different from the appearance to him. The lesson is hard, but the reward is great. So he escapes from illusion and error, from ignorance and failure. Directing his thoughts and energies no longer according to his own impressions, but according to the truth of things, he finds himself in possession of an unimaginable power alike of understanding and of acting. To a truly marvelous extent he is the lord of nature.
But the conditions of this lordship are inexorable. They are the surrender of prepossessions, the abandonment of assumption, the confession of ignorance: the open eye and the humble heart. Hence in all passing from error to truth we learn something respecting ourselves, as well as something respecting the object of our study. Simultaneously with our better knowledge we recognize the reason of our ignorance, and perceive what defect on our part has caused us to think wrongly.
Either the world is such as it appears to us, or it is not. If it be not, there must be some condition affecting ourselves which modifies the impression we receive from it. And this condition must be operative upon all mankind: it must relate to man as a whole rather than to individual men.
Thus does the author lay down the simple, general principle from which he is speedily to draw conclusions so startling. Nothing can be more innocuous than all this. Every one must agree in it. Now come the further steps.
The study of nature leads to the conclusion that there is a defectiveness in man which modifies his perception of all external things; and that thus in so far as the actual fact of the universe differs from our impression of it, the actual fact is better, higher, more complete, than our impression of it. There are qualities, there is a glory about the universe, which our defective condition prevents our seeing or discerning. The universe, or nature, is not in itself such as it is to man’s feeling; and man’s feeling of it differs from the fact by defect. All that we discern in the universe is there: and a great deal besides.
Now, we think of nature as existing in a certain way which we call physical. We call the world the physical world. This mode of existence involves inertness. That which is physical does not act, except passively, as it is acted upon. Inertness is inaction. That which is inert, therefore, differs from that which is not inert by defect. The inert wants something of being active.
Next, we have a conception of another mode of being besides the inert. We conceive of being which possesses a spontaneous and primary activity. This kind of being is called spiritual. This kind of being has shaken off the reproach of inertness. It can act, and originate action. The physical thus differs from the spiritual (as regards inertness) by defect. The physical wants something of being spiritual.
So far, my reader, we do not of necessity start back from anything our author teaches us. Quite true, we think of matter, a kind of being which can do nothing of itself. Quite true, we think of spirit, a kind of being which can do. And no doubt that which is able to do is (quoad hoc) a higher and more noble kind of being than that which cannot do, but only be done to. But remember here, I do not admit that in this point lies the differentia between matter and spirit. I do not grant that by taking from matter the reproach of inertness, you would make it spirit. The essential difference seems to me not to lie there. We could conceive of matter as capable of originating action, and yet as material. This is by the bye—but now be on your guard. Here is our author’s great discovery—
It is man’s defectiveness which makes him feel the world as thus defective. Nature is really not inert, though it appears so to man. We have been wont to think that nature, the universe, is inert or physical; that man is not-inert, or spiritual. Now, there is no doubt at all that there is inertness somewhere. Here are the two things, Man and Nature; with which thing does the inertness lie? Our author maintains that it lies with man, not with nature. Science has proved to us that nature is not-inert. As there is inertness somewhere, and as it is not in nature, of course the conclusion is that it is in man. Inertness is in the phenomenon; that is, in nature as it. appears to us. There cannot be any question that nature seems to us to be inert. But the author of this book declares that this inertness, though in the phenomenon, is not in the fact. Nature LOOKS inert; it is not-inert. How does the notion of inertness come at all, then? Now comes the very essence of the new theory;
I give it in its author’s words:--
The inertness is introduced by man. He perceives defect without him, only because there is defect within him.
To be inert has the same meaning as to be dead. So we speak of nature, thinking it to be inert, as ‘dead matter.’ To say that man introduces inertness into nature implies a deadness in him: it is to say that he wants life. This is the proposition which is affirmed. This condition which we call our life, is not the true life of man.
The Book that has had greater influence upon the world than all others, differs from all others, in affirming that man wants life, and in making that statement the basis of all that it contains respecting the past and present and future of mankind.
Science thus pays homage to the Bible. What that book has declared as if with authority, so long ago, she has at last deciphered on the page of nature. This is not man’s true life.
And who is there who can doubt, looking at man as lie is now, and then thinking of what he is to be in another world, that there is about him, now, great defect? There is truly much wanting which it is hoped will one day be supplied. What shall we call this lacking thing—this one thing lacking whose absence is felt in every fiber of our being? Our author chooses to call it life; I am doubtful with how much felicity or naturalness of expression. Of course we all know that in the New Testament life does not mean merely existence continued; eternal life does not mean merely existence continued for ever: it means the highest and purest form of our being continued for ever;--happiness and holiness continued for ever. We know, too, that holy Scripture describes the step taken by any man in becoming an earnest believer in Christ, as ‘passing from death to life;’ we remember such a text as ‘This is life eternal, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and-Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.’ We know that a general name for the Gospel, which grasps its grand characteristics, is ‘The Word of Life;’ and that, in religious phrase, Christianity is concerned with the revealing, the implanting, the sustaining, the crowning, of a certain better life. Nor is it difficult to trace out such analogies between natural and spiritual death, between natural and spiritual life, as tend to prove that spiritual life and death are not spoken of in Scripture merely as the strongest words which could be employed, but that there is a further and deeper meaning in their constant use. But I do not see any gain in forcing figurative language into a literal use. Everybody knows what life and death, in ordinary language, imply. Life means sensibility, consciousness, capacity of acting, union with the living. Death means senselessness, helplessness, separation. No doubt we may trace analogies, very close and real, between the natural and the spiritual life and death. But still they are no more than analogies. You do not identify the physical with the spiritual. And it is felt by all that the use of the words in a spiritual sense is a figurative use. To the common understanding, a man is living, when he breathes and feels and moves. He is dead when he ceases to do all that. And it is a mere twisting of words from their understood sense to say that in reality, and without a figure, a breathing, feeling, moving man is dead, because he lacks some spiritual quality, however great its value may be. It may be a very valuable quality; it may be worth more than life; but it is not life, as men understand it; and as words have no meaning at all except that which men agree to give these arbitrary sounds, it matters not at all that this higher quality is what you may call true life, better life, real life. If you enlarge the meaning of the word life to include, in addition to what is generally understood by it, a higher power of spiritual action and discernment, why, all that can be said is, that you understand by life something quite different from men in general. If I choose to enlarge the meaning of the word black to include white, of course I might say with truth (relatively to myself) that white forms the usual clothing of clergymen. If I extend the meaning of the word fast to include slow, I might boldly declare that the Great Northern express is a slow train. And the entire result of such use of language would be, that no mortal would understand what I meant.
Thus it is that I demur to any author’s right to tell me that such and such a thing is, or is not, ‘the true life of man.’ And when he says ‘that man wants life, means that the true life of man is of another kind from this,’ I reply to him, Tell me what is the blessing man needs; Tell me, above all, where and how he is to get it: but as to its name, I really do not care what you call it, so you call it by some name that people will understand. Call it so that people will know what you mean—Salvation, Glory, Happiness, Holiness, Redemption, or what else you please. Do not mystify us by saying we want life, and then, when we are startled by the perfectly intelligible assertion, edge off by explaining that by life you mean something quite different from what we do. There is no good in that. If I were to declare that this evening, before I sleep, I shall cross the Atlantic and go to America, my readers would think the statement a sufficiently extraordinary one; but if, after thus surprising them, I went on to explain that by the Atlantic I did not mean the ocean, nor by America the western continent, but that the Atlantic meant the village green, and America the squire’s house on the other side of it, I should justly gain credit for a very silly mystification. As Nicholas Nickleby very justly remarked, If Dotheboy’s Hall is not a hall, why call it one? Mr. Squeers, in his reply, no doubt stated the law of the case: If a man chooses to call his house an island, what is to hinder him? If the author of Man and his Dwelling-Place means to tell us only that we want some spiritual capacity, which it pleases him to call life, but which not one man in a million understands by that word, is he not amusing himself at our expense by telling us we want life? We know what we mean by being dead: our author means something quite different. Let him speak for himself:
That man wants life means that the true life of man is of another kind from this. It corresponds to that true, absolute Being which he as he now is cannot know.
He cannot know it because he is out of relation with it. THIS IS HIS DEADNESS. To know it is to have life.
Yes, reader—this is his deadness! Something, that is, which no plain mortal would ever understand by the word. When I told you, a long time ago, that this book taught that man is dead and nature living, was this what the words conveyed to you?
Still, though there may be something not natural in the word, the author’s meaning is a broad and explicit one. For the want of that which he calls our true life (he maintains) utterly distorts and deforms this world to our view. Here is his statement as to the things which surround us:
There is not a physical world and a spiritual world besides; but the spiritual world which alone is physical to man, the physical being the mode in which man, by his defectiveness, perceives the spiritual. We feel a physical world to be: that which is is the spiritual world.
The phenomenon, that is, is physical: the fact is spiritual. A tree looks to us material, because we want life: if we had life, we should see that it is spiritual. Really, there is no such thing as matter. Our own defectiveness makes us fancy that to be material which in truth is spiritual. So I was misinterpreting the author, when I said that all that we see in nature is there, and a great deal more. The defect in us, it appears, not only subtracts from nature, it transforms it. Not merely do we fail to discern that which is in nature, we do actually discern that which is not in nature.
And to be delivered from all this deadness and delusion, what we have to do is to betake ourselves to the Savior. Christianity is a system which starts from the fundamental principle that man is dead, and proposes to make him alive. Under its working man gains true life, otherwise called eternal life; and in gaining that life he finds himself ipso facto conveyed into a spiritual world. This world ceases to be physical to him, and becomes spiritual.
Such are the great lines of the new theory as to Man and his Dwelling-Place. Thus does our author interpret Nature. I trust and believe that I have not in any way misrepresented or caricatured his opinions. His Introduction sets out in outline the purport of the entire book. The remainder of the volume is given to carrying out these opinions into detail, as they are suggested by or as they affect the entire system of things. It is divided into four Hooks. Book I. treats Of Science; Book II. Of Philosophy; Book III. Of Religion; Book IV. Of Ethics; and the volume is closed by four dialogues between the Writer and Reader, in which, in a desultory manner, the principles already set forth are further explained and enforced.
Early in the first chapter of the Book Of Science, the author anticipates the obvious objection to his use of the terms Life and Death. I do not think he succeeds in justifying the fashion in which he employs them. But let him speak for himself:
It may seem unnatural to speak of a conscious existence as a state of death. But what is affirmed is, that a sensational existence such as ours is not the life of MAN; that a consciousness of physical life does itself imply a deadness. The affirmations that we are living men, and that man has not true and absolute life, are not opposed. Life is a relative term. Our possession of a conscious life in relation to the things that we feel around us, is itself the evidence of man’s defect of life in a higher and truer sense.
Let a similitude make the thought more clear. Are not we, as individuals, at rest, steadfast in space; evidently so to our own consciousness, demonstrably so in relation to the objects around us? But is man at rest in space? By no means. We are all partakers of a motion. Nay, if we were truly at rest, we could not have this relative steadfastness, we should not beat rest to the things around us: they would fleet and slip away. Our relative rest, and consciousness of steadfastness, depend upon our being not at rest. There are moving things, to which he only can be steadfast who is moving too. Even Buch is the life of which we have consciousness. We have a life in relation to these physical things, because man wants life. True life in man would alter his relation to them. They could not be the realities any more: he could not have a life in them. As rest to moving things is not truly rest, but motion; so life to inert things is not truly life, but deadness.
Very ingeniously thought out: very skillfully put, with probably the only illustration which would go on all fours. But to me all this is extremely unsatisfactory: and unsatisfactory in a much farther sense than merely that it is using terms in a non-natural sense. I know, of course, that to look at Nature through blue spectacles will make Nature blue: but I cannot see that to look at Nature through dead eyes should make Nature dead. I see no proof that Nature, in fact, is living and active, though it admittedly looks inert and dead. And I can discover nothing more than a daring assertion, in the statement that we are dead, and that we project our own deadness upon living nature. I cannot see how to the purest and most elevated of beings, a tree should look less solid than it does to me. I cannot discover how greater purity of heart, and more entire faith in Christ, should turn this material world into a world of spirit. I doubt the doctrine that spirit in itself, as usually understood (apart from its power of originating action) is a higher and holier existence than matter. It seems to me that very much from a wrong idea that it is, come those vague, unreal, intangible notions as to the Christian Heaven, which do so much to make it a chilly, unattractive thing, to human wishes and hopes. It is hard enough for us to feel the reality of the things beyond the grave, without having the additional stumbling-block cast in our way, of being told that truly there is nothing real there for us to feel. As for the following eloquent passage, in which our author subsequently returns to the justification of his great doctrine, no more need be said than that it is rhetoric, not logic:--
That man has not his true life, must have taken him long to learn. All our prepossessions, all our natural convictions, are opposed to that belief. If these activities, these powers, these capacities of enjoyment and suffering, this consciousness of free will, this command of the material world, be not life, what is life? What more do we want to make us truly man? This is the feeling that has held men captive, and biased all their thoughts so that they could not perceive what they themselves were saying.
Yet the sad undercurrent has belied the boast. From all ages and all lands the cry of anguish, the prayer for life unconscious of itself, has gone up to heaven. In groans and curses, in despair and cruel rage, man pours out his secret to the universe; writing it in blood, and lust, and savage wrong, upon the fair bosom of the earth; he alone not knowing what he does. If this be the life of man, what is his death?
No doubt this would form a very eloquent and effective paragraph in a popular sermon. But in a philosophic treatise, where an author is tied to the severely precise use of terms, and where it will not do to call a thing death merely because it is very bad, nor to call a thing life merely because it is very good, the argument appears to have but little weight.
You must see, intelligent reader, that one thing which we are entitled to require our author to satisfactorily prove, is the fact that Nature is not inert, as it appears to man. If you can make it certain that Nature is living and active, then, no doubt, some explanation will be needful as to how it comes to look so different to us; though, even then, I do not see that it necessarily follows that the inertness is to be supposed to exist in ourselves. But unless the author can prove that Nature is not inert, he has no foundation to build on. He states three arguments, from which he derives the grand principle:--
1. Inertness necessarily belongs to all phenomena. That which is only felt to be, and does not truly or absolutely exist, must have the character of inaction. It must be felt as passive A phenomenon must be inert because it is a phenomenon. We cannot argue from inertness in that which appears to us, to inertness in that which is. Of whatsoever kind the essence of nature may be, if it be unknown, the phenomenon must be equally inert. We have no ground, therefore, in the inertness which we feel, for affirming of nature that it is inert. We must feel it so, by virtue of our known relation to it, as not perceiving its essence.
2. The question, therefore, rests entirely upon its own evidence.
Since we have no reason, from the inertness of the phenomenal, for inferring the inertness of the essential, can we know whether that essential be inert or not? We can know. Inertness, as being absolute inaction, cannot belong to that which truly is. Being and absolute inaction are contraries. Inertness, therefore, must be a property by which the phenomenal differs from the essential or absolute.
3. Again, nature does act: it acts upon us, or we could not perceive it at all. The true being of nature is active therefore. That we feel it otherwise shows that we do not feel it as it is. We must look for the source of nature’s apparent or felt inertness in man’s condition. Never should man have thought to judge of nature without remembering his own defectiveness.
Such are the grounds upon which rests the belief, that nature is not inert. It appears to me that there is little force in them. To a great extent they are mere assumptions and assertions; and anything they contain in the nature of argument is easily answered.
First: Why must every phenomenon be felt as inert? Why must a ‘phenomenon be inert because it is a phenomenon?’ I cannot see why. We know nothing but phenomena; that is, things as they appear to us. Where did we get the ideas of life and activity, if not from phenomena? Many things appear to us to have life and activity. That is, there are phenomena which are not inert.
Secondly: Wherefore should we conclude that the phenomenon differs essentially from the fact? The phenomenon is the fact-as-discerned-by-us. And granting that our defectiveness forbids our having a full and complete discernment of the fact, why should we doubt that our discernment is right so far as it goes? It is incomparably more likely that things (not individual things, but the entire system, I mean) are what they seem, than that they are not. Why believe that we are gratuitously and needlessly deluded? God made the universe; he placed us in it; he gave us powers whereby to discern it. Is it reasonable to think that he did so in a fashion so blundering or so deceitful that we can only discern it wrong? And if nature seems inert, is not the rational conclusion that it is so?
Thirdly: Why cannot ‘inertness, as being absolute inaction, belong to that which truly is?’ Why cannot a thing exist without doing anything? Is not that just what millions of things actually do? Or if you intend to twist the meaning of the substantive verb, and to say that merely to be is to do something,--that simply to exist is a certain form of exertion and action,--I shall grant, of course, that nothing whatever that exists is in that sense inert; but I shall affirm that you use the word inert in quite a different sense from the usual one. And in that extreme and non-natural sense of the word, the phenomenon is no more inert than is the essence. Certainly things seem to us to be: and if just to be is to be active, then no phenomenon is inert; no single thing discerned by us appears to be inert.
Fourthly: I grant that ‘nature does act upon us, or we could not perceive it at all.’ But then I maintain that this kind of action is not action as men understand the word. This kind of action is quite consistent with the general notion of inertness. A thing may be inert, as mankind understand the word; and also active, as the author of this book understands the word. To discern this sort of activity and life in nature we have no need to ‘pass from death to life’ ourselves. We simply need to have the thing pointed out to us, and it is seen at once. It is playing with words to say that nature acts upon us, or we could not perceive it. No doubt, when you stand before a tree, and look at it, it does act in so far as that it depicts itself upon your retina; but that action is quite consistent with what we understand by inertness. It does not matter whether you say that your eye takes hold of the tree, or that the tree takes hold of your eye. When you hook a trout, you may say either that you catch the fish, or that the fish catches you. Is the alternative worth fighting about? Which is the natural way of speaking: to say that the man sees the tree, or that the tree shows itself to the man? All the activity which our author claims for nature goes no farther than that. Our reply is that that is not activity at all. If that is all he contends for, we grant it at once; and we say that it is not in the faintest degree inconsistent with the fact of nature’s being inert, as that word is understood. You come and tell me that Mr. Smith has just passed your window flying. I say no; I saw him; he was not flying, but walking. Ah, you reply, I hold that walking is an indicate flying; it is a rudimentary flying, the lowest form of flying; and therefore I maintain that he flew past the window. My friend, I answer, if it be any satisfaction to you to use words in that way, do so and rejoice; only do not expect any human being to understand what you mean; and beware of the lunatic asylum.
Why, I ask again, are we to cry down man for the sake of crying up nature? Why are we to depreciate the dweller that we may magnify the dwelling-place? Is not, man (to say the least) one of the works of God? Did not God make, both man and nature? And does not Revelation (which our author holds in so deep reverence) teach that man was the last and noblest of the handiworks of the Creator? And thus it is that I do not hesitate to answer such a question as that which follows, and to answer it contrariwise to what the author expects. It is from the human soul that glory and meaning are projected upon inanimate nature. To Newton, and to Newton’s dog, the outward creation was physically the same; to the apprehension of Newton and of Newton’s dog, how different! Hear the author:--
To this clear issue the case is brought: Man does introduce into nature something from himself: either the inertness, the negative quality, the defect, or the beauty, the meaning, the glory. Either that whereby the world is noble comes from ourselves, or that whereby it is mean; that which it has, or that which it wants. Can it be doubtful which it is?
Not in the least! Give me the rational and immortal man, made in God’s image, rather than the grandest oak which the June sunbeams will be warming when you read this, my friend—rather than the most majestic mountain which by and bye will be purple with the heather. Reason, immortality, love, and faith, are things liker God than ever so many cubic feet of granite, than ever so many loads of timber. ‘Behold,’ says Archer Butler, ‘we stand alone in the universe!
Earth, air, and ocean can show us nothing so awful as we!’
You fancy, says our author, that Nature is inert, because it goes on in so constant and unvarying a course. You know, says he, what conscious exertion it costs you to produce physical changes; you can trace no such exertion in Nature. You would believe, says he, that Nature is active, but for the fact that her doings are all conformed to laws that you can trace. But invariableness, he maintains, is no proof of inaction. RIGHT ACTION is invariable; RIGHT ACTION is absolutely conformed to law. Why, therefore, should not the secret of nature’s invariableness be, not passiveness, but rightness?’ The unchanging uniformity of Nature’s course proves her holiness—her willing, unvarying obedience to the Divine law. ‘The invariableness of Nature bespeaks Holiness as its cause.’
May we not think upon all this (not dogmatically) in some such fashion as this?
Which is likelier:
1. That Nature has it in her power to vary from the well-known laws of Nature; that she could disobey God if she pleased; but that she is so holy that she could not think of such a thing, and so through all ages has never swerved once. Or,
2. That Nature is bound by laws which she has not the power to disobey; that she is what she looks, an inanimate, passive, inert thing, actuated, as her soul and will, by the will of the Creator?
And to aid in considering which alternative is the likelier, let it be remembered that Revelation teaches that this is a fallen world; that experience proves that this world is not managed upon any system of optimism; that in this creation things are constantly going wrong; and especially, that all history gives no account of any mere creature whose will was free to do either good or ill; and yet who did not do ill frequently. Is it likely that to all this there is one entire exception; one thing, and that so large a thing as all inanimate nature, perfectly obedient, perfectly holy, perfectly right-and all by its own free will? I grant there is something touching in the author’s eloquent words:--
Because she is right, Nature is ours: more truly ours than we ourselves. We turn from the inward ruin to the outward glory, and marvel at the contrast. But we need not marvel: it is the difference of life and death: piercing the dimness even of man’s darkened sense, jarring upon his fond illusion like waking realities upon a dream. Without is living holiness, within is deathly wrong.
Let the reader, ever remembering that in such cases analogy is not argument but illustration—that it makes a doctrine clearer, but does not in any degree confirm it—read the chapter entitled ‘Of the illustration from Astronomy.’ It will tend to make the great doctrine of Man and his Dwelling-Place comprehensible; you will see exactly what it is, although you may not think it true. As astronomy has transferred the apparent movements of the planets from them to ourselves, so, says our author, has science transferred the seeming inertness of Nature from it to us. The phenomenon of Nature is physical and inert: the being is spiritual and active and holy. And if we now seem to have an insuperable conviction that Man is not inert and that Nature is inert, it is not stronger than our apparent consciousness that the earth is unmoving. Man lives under illusion as to himself and as to the universe. Reason, indeed, furnishes him with the means of correcting that illusion; but in that illusion is his want of life.
Strong in his conviction of the grand principle which he has established, as he conceives, in his first book, the author, in his second book, goes crashing through all systems of philosophy. His great doctrine makes havoc of them all. All are wrong; though each may have some grain of truth in it. The Idealists are right in so far as that there is no such thing as Matter. Matter is the vain imagination of man through his wrong idea of Nature’s inertness. But the Idealists are wrong if they fancy that because there is no Matter, there is nothing but Mind, and ideas in Mind. Nature, though spiritual, has a most real and separate existence. Then the skeptics are right in so far as they doubt what our author thinks wrong; but they are wrong in so far as they doubt what our author thinks right. Positivism is right in so far as it teaches that we see all things relatively to ourselves, and so wrongly; but it is wrong in teaching that what things are in themselves is no concern of ours, and that we should live on as though things were what they seem.
If it were not that the reader of Man and his Dwelling-Place is likely, after the shock of the first grand theory, that Man is dead and the Universe living, to receive with comparative coolness any further views set out in the book, however strange, I should say that probably, the third Book, ‘Of Religion,’ would startle him more than anything else in the work. Although this Book stands third in the volume, it is first both in importance and in chronology. For the author tells us that his views Of Religion are not deduced from the theoretical conceptions already stated, but have been drawn immediately from the study of Scripture, and that from them the philosophical ideas are mainly derived. And indeed it is perfectly marvelous what doctrines men will find in Scripture, or deduce from Scripture. Is there not something curious in the capacity of the human mind, while glancing along the sacred volume, to find upon its pages both what suits its prevailing mood and its firm conviction at the time? You feel buoyant and cheerful: you open your Bible and read it; what a cheerful, hopeful book it is! You are depressed and anxious: you open your Bible; surely it was written for people in your present frame of mind! It is wonderful to what a degree the Psalms especially suit the mood and temper of all kinds of readers in every conceivable position. I can imagine the poor suicide, stealing towards the peaceful river, and musing on a verse of a psalm. I can imagine the joyful man, on the morning of a marriage day which no malignant relatives have embittered, finding a verse which will seem like the echo of his cheerful temper. And passing from feeling to understanding, it is remarkable how, when a man is possessed with any strong belief, he will find, as he reads the Bible, not only many things which appear to him expressly to confirm his view, but something in the entire tenor of what he reads that appears to harmonize with it. I doubt not the author of Man and his Dwelling-Place can hardly open the Bible at random without chancing upon some passage which he regards as confirmatory of his opinions. I am quite sure that to ordinary men his opinions will appear flatly to conflict with the Bible’s fundamental teaching. It has already been indicated in this essay in what sense the statements of the New Testament to the following effect are to be understood:--
The writers of the New Testament declare man to be dead. They speak of men as not having life, and tell of a life to be given them. If, therefore, our thoughts were truly conformed to the New Testament, how could it seem a strange thing to us that this state of man should be found a state of death; how should its very words, reaffirmed by science, excite our surprise? Would it not have appeared to us a natural result of the study of nature to prove man dead? Might we not, if we had truly accepted the words of Scripture, have anticipated that it should be so? For, if man be rightly called dead, should not that condition have affected his experience, and ought not a discovery of that fact to be the issue of his labors to ascertain his true relation to the universe? Why does it seem a thing incredible to us that man should be really, actually dead: dead in such a sense as truly to affect his being, and determine his whole state? Why have we been using words which affirm him dead in our religious speech, and feel startled at finding them proved true in another sphere of inquiry?
It is indeed true—it is a thing to be taken as a fundamental truth in reading the Bible—that in a certain sense man is dead, and is to be made alive; and the analogy which obtains between natural death and what in theological language is called spiritual death, is in several respects so close and accurate that we feel that it is something more than a strong figure when the New Testament says such things as ‘You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.’ But it tends only to confusion to seek to identify things so thoroughly different as natural and spiritual death. It is trifling with a man to say to him ‘You are dead!’ and having thus startled him, to go on to explain that you mean spiritually dead. ‘Oh,’ he will reply, ‘I grant you that I may be dead in that sense, and possibly that is the more important sense, but it is not the sense in which words are commonly understood.’ I can see, of course, various points of analogy between ordinary death and spiritual death. Does ordinary death render a man insensible to the presence of material things? Then spiritual death renders him heedless of spiritual realities, of the presence of God, of the value of salvation, of the closeness of eternity. Does natural death appear in utter helplessness and powerlessness? So does spiritual death render a man incapable of spiritual action and exertion. Has natural death its essence in the entire separation it makes between dead and living? So has spiritual death its essence in the separation of the soul from God. But, after all, these things do but show an analogy between natural death and spiritual: they do not show that the things are one; they do not show that in the strict unfigurative use of terms man’s spiritual condition is one of death. They show that man’s spiritual condition is very like death; that is all. It is so like as quite to justify the assertion in Scripture: it is not so identical as to justify the introduction of a new philosophical phrase. It is perfectly true that Christianity is described in Scripture as a means for bringing men from death to life; but it is also described, with equal meaning, as a means for bringing men from darkness to light. And it is easy to trace the analogy between man’s spiritual condition and the condition of one in darkness—between man’s redeemed condition and the condition of one in light; but surely it would be childish to announce, as a philosophical discovery, that all men are blind, because they cannot see their true interests and the things that most concern them. They are not blind in the ordinary sense, though they may be blind in a higher; neither are they dead in the ordinary sense, though they may be in a higher. And only confusion, and a sense of being misled and trifled with, can follow from the pushing figure into fact and trying to identify the two.
Stripping our author’s views of the unusual phraseology in which they are disguised, they do, so far as regards the essential fact of man’s loss and redemption, coincide exactly with the orthodox teaching of the Church of England. Man is by nature and sinfulness in a spiritual sense dead; dead now, and doomed to a worse death hereafter. By believing in Christ he at once obtains some share of a better spiritual life, and the hope of a future life which shall be perfectly holy and happy. Surely this is no new discovery. It is the type of Christianity implied in the Liturgy of the Church, and weekly set out from her thousands of pulpits. The startling novelties of Man and his Dwelling-Place are in matters of detail. He holds that fearful thing, Damnation, which orthodox views push off into a future world, to be a present thing. It is now men are damned. It is now men are in hell. Wicked men are now in a state of damnation: they are now in hell. The common error arises from our thinking damnation a state of suffering. It is not. It is a state of something worse than suffering, viz., of sin:--
We find it hard to believe that damnation can he a thing men like. But does not—what every being likes depend on what it is? Is corruption less corruption, in man’s view, because worms like it? Is damnation less damnation, in God’s view, because men like it? And God’s view is simply the truth. Surely one object of a revelation must be to show us things from God’s view of them, that is. as they truly are. Sin truly is damnation, though to us it is pleasure. That sin is pleasure to us, surely is the evil part of our condition.
And indeed it is to be admitted that there is a great and much-forgotten truth implied here. It is a very poor, and low, and inadequate idea of Christianity, to think of it merely as something which saves from suffering—as something which saves us from hell, regarded merely as a place of misery. The Christian salvation is mainly a deliverance from sin. The deliverance is primarily from moral evil; and only secondarily from physical or moral pain. ‘Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ No doubt this is very commonly forgotten. No doubt the vulgar idea of salvation and perdition founds on the vulgar belief that pain is the worst of all things, and happiness the best of all things. It is well that the coarse and selfish type of religion which founds on the mere desire to escape from burning and to lay hold of bliss, should be corrected by the diligent instilling of the belief, that sin is worse than sorrow. The Savior's compassion, though ever ready to well out at the sight of suffering, went forth most warmly at the sight of sin.
Here I close the book, not because there is not much more in it that well deserves notice, but because I hope that what has here been said of it will induce the thoughtful reader to study it for himself, and because I have space to write no more. It is a May afternoon; not that on which the earliest pages of my article were written, but a week after it. I have gone at the ox-fence at last, and got over it with several contusions. Pardon me, unknown author, much admired for your ingenuity, your earnestness, your originality, your eloquence, if I have written with some show of lightness concerning your grave book. Very far, if you could know it, was any reality of lightness from your reviewer’s feeling. He is non ignarus mali: he has had his full allotment of anxiety and care; and he hails with you the prospect of a day when human nature shall cast off its load of death, and when sinful and sorrowful man shall be brought into a beautiful conformity to external nature. Would that Man were worthy of his Dwelling-place as it looks upon this summer-like day! Open, you latticed window: let the cool breeze come into this somewhat feverish room. Again, the tree-tops; again the white stones and green graves; again the lambs, somewhat larger; again the distant hill. Again I think of Cheapside, far away. Yet there is trouble here. Not a yard of any of those hedges but has worried its owner in watching that it be kept tight, that sheep or cattle may not break through. Not a gate I see but screwed a few shillings out of the anxious farmer’s pocket, and is always going wrong. Not a field but either the landlord squeezed the tenant in the matter of rent, or the tenant cheated the landlord. Not the smoke of a cottage but marks where pass lives weighted down with constant care, and with little end save the sore struggle to keep the wolf from the door. Not one of these graves, save perhaps the poor friendless tramp’s in the corner, but was opened and closed to the saddening of certain hearts. Here are lives of error, sleepless nights, over-driven brains; wayward children, unnatural parents, though of these last, God be thanked, very few. Yes, says Adam Bede, ‘there’s a sort of wrong that can never be made up for.’ No doubt we are dead: when shall we be quickened to a better life? Surely, as it is, the world is too good for man. And I agree, most cordially and entirely, with the author of this book, that there is but one agency in the universe that can repress evil here, and extinguish it hereafter.
This is taken from Recreations of a Country Parson.
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