FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE (Nineteenth Century, May 1884.) The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice. Edited by his son Frederick Maurice (London: Macmillan and Co. 1884).
THE publication of this book has been expected with eagerness, and it is not surprising that such has been the case. It is just twelve years since a unique personality passed away from among men; a name which had occupied a most prominent place in the world of thought and of controversy ceased to appear any longer as that of a contemporary, and a voice was silent which, within a certain range at least, had stirred the heart and spirit as no voice in modern times had ever done. If any surprise were expressed, it would almost seem to be caused by the patience with which the absence of any biography of Mr. Maurice has been borne; but the reason of this is, I think, not far to seek. Those who knew Mr. Maurice, either personally or by his writings, knew him so well--his presence was so constant, and his thoughts and convictions were so real to them, and had become so perfectly their own--that they felt less the need of a biography than in the case of almost any other man.
I am inclined to think, however, that all feeling of indifference will be exchanged for enthusiasm when the present volumes are perused, for, if the subject of the biography was unique, the work itself may, I think, be said to be unique also. It cannot be said to be an autobiography, for no autobiography could possibly be so spontaneous, or have contented itself so exclusively with thought and opinion; but for this very reason it is not so much a book at all as it is Mr. Maurice himself, not perhaps in the flesh, but certainly in the spirit. The book is unique in the position and circumstances of its editor, and it has been produced upon principles of candour and personal abnegation which, if not unique, are at least infrequent. Few biographers have said less about their subject than Colonel Maurice has said about his father, and few have allowed their subject to speak so largely and unreservedly. Colonel Maurice says in his Preface: "Nothing whatever has been kept back or concealed as to my father. My sole object has been to present him as he was." The question whether letters do represent a man is one which must, I think, be decided afresh in each individual case; but, caeteris paribus, no one can be so good a judge of this as a son can be, because he has fuller opportunities of knowing how far the private life corresponds to the public, and he is less liable to be biassed in his judgment by party or theological prejudice. Where Colonel Maurice has departed from his usual method, as in chapter viii. of the second volume, the result is so charming as to make us wish for more personal reminiscences. The candour with which the letters and extracts of letters have been given to us is remarkable, extending, I should say, in a few instances, to the publication of what Mr. Maurice himself would have suppressed. To some of those who have only known Mr. Maurice in his books, it is possible that some of these letters, written under circumstances of excitement and impulse, will convey an impression of unrest and anxiety foreign to the serene result to which, in the sermons, thought and experience had given a prophetic calm; but we shall all feel the privilege of being thus admitted into the workshop of the mind, obtaining, I think, by such means, as true, as vivid, and as detailed a presentment of the personality which it is our wish to realise as we could with any reasonableness expect.
His biographer says that Maurice's position was unique. I conceive that Mr. Maurice himself was absolutely unique. I conceive that no other man ever occupied his precise mental standpoint, for he combined two qualities which are generally found to be incompatible--he united an almost perfect freedom and toleration of thought with the most entire certitude of conviction and teaching. It was this quality beyond every other which made him emphatically the teacher of teachers; for a teacher who attracted the freest and most acute intellects by his sympathy with their doubts and speculations, believing, as he did, that God's guidance was to be perceived not so much in men's opinions and conclusions as in their struggles and questionings and glimpses of light (vol. ii. p. 338), and at the same time appeared possessed of a certitude at least equal to that of the narrowest dogmatist, could not fail to command an influence over thinking men. It is easy for a man who has not to teach to assume a generous breadth and freedom of opinion; but it is obvious that the teacher must have something to teach, and must have arrived at some point of certitude from which, as from a rock, he can draw up his hearers from among the waves of perplexity and unrest. This was what emphatically Mr. Maurice did.
There is, however, another point in Mr. Maurice's character which I think well to touch upon here at the outset as giving a note most important to be struck thus early--I mean his saintliness. "He was the only saint I ever knew," was said to me the other day by one well known in letters and in society; "others have aimed at it. He was a saint." Dr. Goodeve, of Clifton, his cousin, the companion of his boyhood, says of him (vol. i. p. 38):
He was the gentlest, most docile and affectionate of creatures; but he was equally earnest in what he believed to be right and energetic in the pursuit of his views. It may be thought an extravagant assertion, a mere formal tribute to a deceased friend and companion, but, after a long and intimate experience of the world, I can say with all sincerity that he was the most saint-like individual I ever met--Christ-like, if I dare to use the word.
I wish thus early to insist upon this, because I have no doubt that to a character of this description only that secret is entrusted which becomes the method of attraction which Mr. Maurice possessed. Others may have been holy as he was, though I think they have been few; but none could have possessed his attraction, however gifted with like gifts, save the holy, for he himself would tell us that none but the pure can see God, and the secret of his certitude and of his charm was that he had seen God.
"I was sent into the world," he writes to his son, in one of his carefully prepared autobiographical letters--"I was sent into the world that I might persuade men to recognise Christ as the centre of their fellowship with each other, so that they might be united in their families, their countries, and as men, not in schools and factions"; that is, as I understand him, the bond of interest and union is not opinion, but that humanity which has been taken up into God.
Very early in life, in the little Quaker village of Frenchay, with its quiet greens and leafy parks, it was borne in upon the mind of this exceptional boy that there was nothing strange or exceptional in his circumstances, but that he "was one of a race." This, undoubtedly, is the key-note of Mr. Maurice's teaching to the end of his life--not children by election or adoption; not disciples or followers by choice or opinion, but children by natural birth, elect in virtue of the common humanity by which alone every human being is the son of God. The distinction between his view of baptism and Dr. Pusey's was just this: the latter regarded baptism as a change of nature; he saw in it the coming out of the infant into the first radiance of a light which had been ever shining for it and for all the world.
In the very remarkable mental atmosphere in which the boy grew up, amid those religious questionings which led to the entire family of the Unitarian minister leaving their husband and father to follow other forms of faith, it was perhaps natural that, to such a mind, this principle should be strengthened, if indeed it was not suggested; for a craving would arise in an affectionate and susceptible nature for some other bond of union than that of mere opinion. When, after many discussions, he went to Cambridge, he came under the influence of a remarkable man in a very characteristic way. In a most interesting extract from his own papers, he gives an account of Julius Hare's lectures during two terms, first upon the Antigone of Sophocles, and secondly upon the Gorgias of Plato. Hare himself wrote of him "that there was in his classroom a pupil whose metaphysical powers were among the greatest he had ever come in contact with, but that the man was so shy that it was almost impossible to know him." Entirely unknown to the man who was afterwards to be his intimate friend and brother, this was what was passing in the boy's mind (he was eighteen):--
I do recollect Hare's classroom exceedingly well. I am often surprised how clearly all the particulars of what passed in it come back to me, when so much else that I should like to preserve has faded away.
You will suppose, perhaps, that this was owing to some novelty in his method of teaching. You will inquire whether he assumed more of a professional air than is common in a College, and gave disquisitions instead of calling on his pupils to construe a book? Not the least. We construed just as they did elsewhere. I do not remember his indulging in a single excursus. The subject in our first term was the Antigone of Sophocles. . . .
We hammered at the words and at the sense. The lecturer seemed most anxious to impress us with the feeling that there was no road to the sense which did not go through the words.
He took infinite pains to make us understand the force of nouns, verbs, particles, and the grammar of the sentences. We often spent an hour on the strophe or antistrophe of a chorus. . . .
If there had been disquisitions about the Greek love of beauty, about the classical and romantic schools, and so forth, I should have been greatly delighted. I should have rushed forth to retail to my friends what I had heard, or have discussed it, and refuted it as long as they would listen to my nonsense. What we did and heard in the lecture-room could not be turned to this account. One could not get the handy phrase one wished about Greek ideals and poetical unity; but, by some means or other, one rose to the apprehension that the poem had a unity in it, and that the poet was pursuing an ideal, and that the unity was not created by him, but perceived by him, and that the ideal was not a phantom, but something which must have had a most real effect upon himself, his age, and his country. I cannot the least tell you how Hare imparted this conviction to me; I only know that I acquired it, and could trace it very directly to his method of teaching. I do not suppose that he had deliberately invented a method; in form, as I have said, he was adapting himself exactly to the practice of English Colleges; in spirit, he was following the course which a cultivated man, thoroughly in earnest to give his pupils the advantage of his cultivation, and not ambitious of displaying himself, would fall into. Yet I have often thought since, that if the genius of Bacon is, as I trust it is and always will be, the tutelary one of Trinity, its influence was scarcely more felt in the scientific lecture-rooms than in this classical one; we were, just as much as the students of natural philosophy, feeling our way from particulars to universals, from facts to principles.
One felt this method, without exactly understanding it, in reading our Greek play. The next term it came much more distinctly before us. Then we were reading the Gorgias of Plato. But here, again, the lecturer was not tempted for an instant to spoil us of the good which Plato could do us by talking to us about him, instead of reading him with us. There was no résumé of his philosophy, no elaborate comparison of him with Aristotle, or with any of the moderns. Our business was with a single dialogue; we were to follow that through its windings, and to find out by degrees, if we could, what the writer was driving at, instead of being told beforehand. I cannot recollect that he ever spoke to us of Schleiermacher, whose translations were, I suppose, published at that time; if they were, he had certainly read them; but his anxiety seemed to be that Plato should explain himself to us, and should help to explain us to ourselves. Whatever he could do to further this end, by bringing his reading and scholarship to bear upon the illustration of the text, by throwing out hints as to the course the dialogue was taking, by exhibiting his own fervent interest in Plato and his belief of the high purpose he was aiming at, he did. But to give us second-hand reports, though they were ever so excellent--to save us the trouble of thinking--to supply us with a moral, instead of showing us how we might find it, not only in the book but in our hearts, this was clearly not his intention.
Then Mr. Maurice goes on to say that Hare first set before his pupils
an ideal not for a few "religious" people, but for all mankind, which can lift men out of the sin which "assumes selfishness as the basis of all actions and life"; and secondly, the teaching them that "there is a way out of party opinions which is not a compromise between them, but which is implied in both, and of which each is bearing witness." "Hare did not tell us this. . . . Plato himself does not say it; he makes us feel it."
I do not apologise for the length of these extracts: they are so interesting in themselves, and are so intensely valuable as showing the forces that were at work in the boy's mind. "The most enlightened men in Germany, France, and England," he wrote afterwards, "are acknowledging the deep obligation which they have owed to Plato for having enfranchised them from systems, and sent them to seek for wisdom, not in the strife of parties, but in the quiet of their own hearts." "Maurice says," writes his pupil, Edward Strachey, to Lady Louis--"Maurice says all little children are Platonists"; and we know of Another who said that only as little children could we enter the kingdom of God. It was through this portal, then, that young Maurice, like so many others, entered into intellectual life.
On leaving Cambridge, not having made up his mind to the required subscription to the 36th canon, he took his name off the University books, without taking a degree, declining the kindly suggestion of the Senior Tutor of his College that he should allow the full term of five years' standing to expire before taking so decisive a step. Whatever his future opinions might be, he characteristically said he could not hazard their being influenced by any considerations of worldly interest. During his stay in London, where he wrote for and finally edited the Athenaeum, during an interval at home during which he wrote his novel, Eustace Conway, and at Exeter College, Oxford, to which college he was attracted by the kindness of Dr. Jacobson, he was gradually forming those convictions which resulted in his taking orders in the English Church, of which, I imagine, it would be difficult to find a more ardent or a more thorough adherent than he became.
I have agreed with Colonel Maurice that his father's position with regard to the Church was unique, but in addition to this I should not hesitate to say that at first sight it seems, and all through his life it did seem, intensely subtle: so much so that he himself could scarcely expect it to be grasped by religious people of ordinary calibre; still further, I am not ashamed to admit that it has often appeared to me so subtle that I have failed for some time altogether to grasp it; nevertheless I am perfectly certain that it was of the simplest description. We have seen that Mr. Maurice's idea of God was that of a God of the natural human race. He conceived of a living God, the Author, Origin, and Support of the race--a God who in all ages had not only been speaking to it, but had been living in it, teaching, leading, drawing it to Himself--a God who was doing this now as much as ever. In the Hebrew Scriptures he found the fullest and clearest proof and exposition of this immortal fact. He believed, with his whole heart, in the existence of this ceaseless Energy, this unwearying Love and Power. He believed, also with his whole heart, that the English Church, in its formularies, in its Articles, in its Liturgy, in its Creeds, literally, and in the plain and ordinary English interpretation of the words, inculcated this truth; just as the English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, in their literal sense, also inculcated it. "The errors of the Oxford Tracts," i.e. of the High Church movement, he wrote to Edward Strachey,
consist, I think in opposing to "to pneuma tou aiwnoV toutou" (the spirit of the present age) the spirit of a former age, instead of the ever-living and acting Spirit of God, of which the spirit of each age is, at once, the adversary and the parody. The childlike spirit of the Fathers, say they, must be brought in to counteract the intellectual spirit of these times--the spirit of submission to Church authority against the spirit of voluntary association.
It was not that he objected to the spirit of the Fathers--so far from it, he was most deeply read in and conversant with them, especially with St. Augustine--but their utterance was not that ever-living and acting Spirit to which he believed the formularies of the English Church bore witness, and any slighting or crippling or ignoring of which Spirit he believed to be heresy against such formularies and articles.
Now this ever-living and acting Spirit of God pervades the whole human race, absorbing all its functions into Himself, so that, as in the old Jewish times, king and priest and prophet were the instrument and mouthpiece of this Spirit, so now king and state and commonwealth are as much, and no more, manifestations of this Spirit as the Church itself. There is no power whatever but that of God; all else is mere lawlessness and anarchy. So far as the democracy declared itself absolute, he opposed it to the death, but he would have been the first to recognise in the most stifled outcry of a democracy the voice of God proclaiming, as by the wild cry of a gaunt and ragged prophet by the wayside, wrath and future judgment against the selfishness and atheism of kings and states. So far as the sectaries set themselves up against the visible unity of the one Kingdom and Church of God--so far he would have no fellowship with them; but he would have been the first to recognise the side of truth each of them had grasped, as a witness against the error and backsliding of the Church. "I write of Quakers," he says, "but I write to Church people."
I will quote a passage from the Prophets and Kings, partly because of its extreme beauty, but chiefly because it explains, more than any other word could do, this simple and clear position as to the relations of Church and State:--
We have been hearing of a Vision. Does that word sound as if it belonged to times which we have left far behind, as if it pointed to something fantastical and incredible? Oh! if there were no such visions, brethren, what an utterly dark and weary and unintelligible place this world would be! How completely we should be given up to the emptiest phantoms, to the basest worship of phantoms! What mere shows and mockeries would the state and ceremonial of kings, the debates of legislators, the yearnings and struggles of people, become! How truly would the earth be what it seemed to the worn-out misanthropical libertine, "a stage, and all the men and women merely players"; a thousand times we have been all tempted to think it so. The same painted scenery, the same shifting pageants, the same unreal words spoken through different masks by counterfeit voices, the same plots which seem never to be unravelled: what does it all mean? How do men endure the ceaseless change, the dull monotony? Satirists and keen observers of the world's follies have asked this question again and again. The best man may often doubt what he should reply. But he hears a voice saying to him, "Try to be true to thyself; resist the powers which are tempting thee to go through thy acts, common or sacred, as if thou wert a mere machine; hold fast thy faith that God is, and is working, when thou seest least of this working, and when the world seems most to be going on without Him; assure thyself that there is an order in the universe when all its movements seem most disorderly. So will the things around thee by degrees acquire a meaning and a purpose. Those divine services and sacraments which have partaken of their insincerity, which have become shadows like them, will show thee what a truth and substance lies behind them. In English temples thou mayst hear 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts,' resounding from the lips of seraphim. In them thou mayest know that thou art in the midst of a company of angels and archangels and just men made perfect; nay, that thou art in the presence of Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and of God, the Judge of all. And if the sense of that presence awaken all the consciousness of thine own evil, and of the evil of the people among whom thou dwellest, the taste of that sacrifice, which was once offered for thee and for all the world, will purge thine iniquity. When that divine love has kindled thy flagging and perishing thoughts and hopes, thou mayest learn that God can use thee to bear the tidings of His love and righteousness to a sense-bound land that is bowing to silver and gold, to horses and chariots. And if there should come a convulsion in that land, such as neither thou nor thy fathers have known, be sure that it signifies the removal of such things as can be shaken, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain."
Now, if his position is so simple and so orthodox as it appears to be--and I think the fact cannot be disputed--how is it that Mr. Maurice's mental and doctrinal standpoint appeared so subtle and obscure? how was it that he seemed to be constantly contradicting and disappointing the expectations of simple-minded people? and how is it that this man, who was by every possibility of expression the most orthodox of Churchmen and the most unswerving of believers in the inspiration of the Bible, should have left his name as a by-word among a large and varied class of Church people, for a monster of heresy and misbelief? The question seems to me full of interest both as it relates to peculiarities of character and of the times, and illustrates some traits of our common nature which are alike in all times.
Some reflection on Mr. Maurice's principle of interpretation of Scripture, if so simple a process can be called by such a name, will, I think, assist us in this perplexity. His faith in the letter of Scripture was entire. "If the Bible shrank from difficulties," he said, "if it had not a stronger evidence in itself than all the ingenuity of apologists could supply, it was not the book which I took it to be--it had not the power for which I gave it credit." The absence of all difficulty, the ease with which obstacles apparently insurmountable are overcome, give the reader at first a sense of amused surprise, as though some ingenious casuistry or legerdemain was at work; but this is only because we are so unused to his plain and simple principles. We are so accustomed to difficulties and apologies and German criticism and to etymological niceties and ethnological refinements, that when all our difficulties vanish before the simple story of a life like our own, when the record is revealed to us as being nothing but the history of struggles and failures, sins and repentances, of men and women and people like ourselves, and of the clear and still clearer shining of a light into their hearts and lives by which the mysteries of time and of the future appear, if not altogether vanquished and brought to naught, yet, at least, as ranging themselves on the side of righteousness and development, and not of anarchy and despair; when, instead of the elaborate exegesis we expected, we hear only the charmed rhythm of this divine message through page of story, and prophet's cry, and psalmist's song--we can hardly credit that our trouble has been in such sort laid to rest. And, as a matter of fact, it is certain that this method of interpretation staggered the so-called religious world. Indeed, to please this world it is not enough that you profess your belief that the Bible is inspired; this will serve you little, unless you add your conviction that the religious world is inspired in its interpretation of it. This is true of all times; but a wonderful change has passed over the religious world of England since Mr. Maurice took orders fifty years ago. It requires some effort to realise the position of those days: so many questions have been set at rest, so many outworks abandoned, so many crises which were to have ruined the Church and religion safely passed through. The whole power of the Church, and indeed of the religious world, was in the hands of the Evangelical party--a party only just entering on its decadence. The triumphs and spiritual victories of this great and missionary section of the Church were fresh in men's minds. The mental atmosphere was redolent with the names of such men as Simeon, Venn, and Romaine. The invariable result had occurred. The leaders of thought being removed, their followers adopted their formulas, and, like the Israelites with the ark at Eben-ezer, supposed, because of their adherence to these formulas, that God was still in the camp. The religious patronage of the country and the revenue of the religious societies were in their hands, and its distribution was decided, and the thought and opinions of the congregations guided, by the so-called religious newspapers. Now a man who believed that God's voice was heard not in formulas and systems, not in opinions and conclusions, but in "struggles and questionings and glimpses of light," could not expect much appreciation from excellent and formal people trained and drilled in a system like this. His interpretation of Scripture was to them naught, for they recognised in it none of their familiar phrases. To many of these people, to attempt to see two sides of a question is not only perplexing--it is positively wicked; to endeavour to discover the particle of truth which exists in your opponent's opinion is to pander to the Devil himself. The best and most charitable of these people would say, "I cannot understand him"; and no wonder, for it is impossible to give the reader, who is unacquainted with his character, any just idea of the exquisite balance of Mr. Maurice's mind. If his whole life and writings failed to give it to so many thousands of his fellow-countrymen, it would be ridiculous to attempt it here. All I can do, it seems to me, is to insist as often as possible on this one point, that the distinguishing quality he possessed, and the quality which prevented his position from being understood and his influence felt, which caused him to be suspected of casuistry and rejected as obscure and unintelligible, was simply and solely this exquisite balance of mind and thought.
But there were other forces which, while they could not cause this estrangement, yet strengthened and perpetuated it when caused. One of these was Mr. Maurice's connection with what was called, then as now, Christian Socialism. I shall allude very briefly to this. I would rather hope that some of those men, and they are many, now in orders in the English Church, who are carrying on his work under the influence of his spirit, and who look upon him as the inspirer and guide of their cause, will give us some account of the result of his connection with it. I will only say that the quality I have mentioned,--a balanced intellect and a consequent wisdom superior to all those who worked with him--appears to me most prominent in this phase of his work. In those days, however, of continental revolution and of political excitement, a man who had actually converted some Chartists, and was known to be intimately associated with intelligent artisans, "naturally all atheists, you know," was regarded in many circles with horror. Nothing was too bad to believe of such a one. The clergy would say to younger men, with that recklessness of speech which is not confined to parsons, "Has no belief in the Atonement, you know"--an assertion about equivalent to denying to St. Paul any belief in the doctrine of Justification by Faith.
It is almost impossible at the present day to realise the anonymous and irresponsible tyranny wielded by the religious newspapers at the time of which we are speaking. Colonel Maurice contrasts the power of this tyranny in 1842-6, when the Record won its great victory over Bishop Blomfield, and the bishop, to escape the storm, actually had to abandon all those clergy who had followed his advice, and to approve of those who had refused to obey him, with its weakness in 1860, when, in response to its demand that Bishop Tait should resist Mr. Maurice's appointment to St. Peter's, Vere Street, only twenty of the London clergy signed the address to the bishop, against three hundred and thirty-two who signed the counter-address to Mr. Maurice. Mr. Maurice's antagonism to the "immoral and godless domination of anonymous religious journalism" had been consistent, determined, and uncompromising from the beginning of his career; a great part of his unpopularity with Church people was earned in this single-handed combat with an impalpable malific power and to him in great measure is to be attributed its fall. It would be necessary to study the files of these forgotten instruments of bigotry to understand the position truly, but this were a task before which even German conscientiousness and enterprise might well quail.
It was the chivalrous instinct which saw injustice in ex parte statements of an opponent's position which first roused his indignation against the religious newspapers, and it was this same habit of Mr. Maurice's mind which was a fertile source of misunderstanding between himself and the so-called religious world. To go out of your way to point out what truth there may be in the position of a man whom you firmly believe to be fighting against truth, seems to many people to be treason against the truth itself. When the honest acceptance of the Articles was in question, and an attempt was being made at Oxford to vindicate the act of subscription from an open avowal of dishonesty, to find the strong advocate of subscription, in the literal and plain sense, openly siding with the offender was no doubt puzzling to many simple people; and when Mr. Maurice approved the Dissenters' Chapels Bill, which appeared to confirm the possession of endowments to those who had departed from the faith in support of which such endowments had been bequeathed, many good and formal people who never saw below the crust of things, and to whom no distinction ever occurred between "the eternal verities on which their faith stands, and the points which must receive a different solution in each different age,"--a distinction vital to Mr. Maurice,--were inclined to think his conduct disingenuous. Mr. Maurice did not accept the Articles and formularies as a particular righteous creed admirably expressed in language by the English Reformers, although he believed that the men of the sixteenth century were far more capable of such a task than those of the nineteenth; he accepted them as the plain testimony to the truth of an "ever-living and acting spirit of righteousness," which had ever taught the Church, and was still teaching her in his own day. He was apparently open to the retort that after all it was only Mr. Maurice's own opinion which he advocated, just as it was the opinion of other people which he opposed; but in his own mind he escaped this dilemma. "For me to assume that I am right or you are wrong," he wrote to Mr. Strachey, "in the way of putting down idolatry or any form of error is hateful and immoral, confusing ends and means, leading to the most melancholy consequences to the mind of the individual and of the country--consequences which are every day making themselves manifest." "The exquisite acuteness of his intellectual perceptions," to use Mr. Ludlow's words, was indeed always leading him to perceive distinctions which were quite imperceptible to ordinary minds; but it would be the very greatest of mistakes to suppose that there was in Mr. Maurice anything of the tolerant laissez-faire of the worldly-minded statesman or divine, to whom life and religion are a fine art. On the contrary, an almost painful earnestness pervades his language at every crisis--and such crises were chronic--of religious matters in his time.
All Christian liberty, all manly divinity, and I believe all honesty of purpose, is in peril if one step be taken in this course,
he writes on one occasion.
To lie down and sleep till the fates accomplish their own purposes, which it seems impossible that we can promote, and very likely that we may hinder, is the inference which the devil has whispered to every one a thousand times, and which most of us have obeyed till a louder whisper has awakened us. Oh, there is nothing so emasculating as the atmosphere of Eclecticism! Who that has dwelt in it has not longed for "the keen mountain" misty air of Calvinism, or anything, however biting, that would stir him to action?
he writes again. In 1843 he writes this remarkable sentence to Archdeacon Hare:
I have even thought of addressing a letter to him (Lord Ashley) on the fearful danger of making Tractarians, and Romanists too, by these violent efforts of suppressing them. But I scarcely dare meddle with such subjects; they are too exacting, and I sometimes think with trembling that that way madness lies. Nothing goes nearer to take away one's senses than the clatter of tongues, when you feel every one is wrong, and know that if you tried to set them right you would most likely be as wrong as any. It would not be so if one had learnt how to keep sabbath days in the midst of the world's din.
This intense earnestness, this terror of, and determination to grapple with, erroneous opinion, seems indeed at times almost inconsistent with the equally intense faith in the living and acting Spirit that was guiding the world. There are in the world two principles of action--I had almost said of culture--that of Luther and that of Erasmus. I mention these two names, so often used in this connection, because it is very curious that, while we might have expected that Mr. Maurice's sympathies would have been on the side of the cultured, tolerant, sweet-tempered, and sweet-voiced reformer, the exact contrary is the fact. He despised Erasmus from his heart. He speaks of him as "the selfish dilettante"--of Luther as "the Christian Hero." I think that this combination of tolerance with earnestness is the most unique thing about Mr. Maurice. His toleration was infinite; we feel disposed to wish sometimes that his earnestness had been a little less intense. Of the great controversy of his life,--that with Mr., afterwards Dean, Mansel,--he says that, had he listened to advice, he should have let it alone.
There is a passage on St. Augustine in the Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy which seems to show that he was incapable of realising the position of a conscientious agnostic. We do not like to fancy even the slightest resemblance between him and those good people whose distress and dread would be pitiful if it were not grotesque. To hear some of these talk, for instance, at the present day, one would almost suppose that they believed that some twenty years ago there had been a God, but that Professor Huxley and Professor Tyndall had killed Him, and that, in consequence, not unnaturally, some considerable perplexity and distress was being felt. If there be a God, it would seem probable that He will be able to protect Himself against Professor Tyndall, and I do not imagine that the Third Person of the Trinity was in such imminent danger of annihilation from Henry Longueville Mansel, D.D., as to make it necessary for Mr. Maurice to come to the rescue without an hour's delay.
It seems only yesterday, though it is a quarter of a century ago, that the controversy with Dean Mansel began. I remember with distinctness the effect that "What is Revelation?" had upon myself. The prominent feeling was how gracious it was of Mr. Maurice to lavish such a wealth of spiritual thought and vitality merely to crush that most unique, surely, of all champions of orthodoxy--the man who implicitly denied the existence and ridiculed the office and functions of the Third Person of the Trinity. It is difficult to believe that the effect of the lectures could have been such as to require such a confutation. Mr. Mansel was an acute logician, but he was not a metaphysician any more than he was a theologian. His position is utterly untenable except from a purely logical standpoint. He speaks indeed of a "revelation," but, whatever this may be, it is evident that it must be of the vaguest description, for he commences by stating that it is evident that no systematic theology has been given by it, and he exposes with admirable acuteness the absurd statements which dogmatism has made in its attempts to formulate one. As therefore Mr. Mansel denied the possibility of any communication or acquaintance with God except by means of this shadowy nothing, it is not perhaps an unfair presumption that the tendency of the Bampton Lectures that year was towards practical atheism. His position at any rate was exactly that which Mr. Maurice felt himself, as his biographer points out, sent into the world to protest against--the establishment of some system, some idol of opinion--in place of the energising Spirit of the living God. Mr. Mansel puts passages from the New Testament at the head of his lectures, and intersperses a few more in the course of them. It is therefore fair to suppose that he had looked into that book, otherwise it would be difficult to believe that he had even heard of it.
It is very doubtful whether personal controversy is at any time productive of an advance in the apprehension of truth,--so much is lost by the introduction of the necessary personal allusion and recrimination; at any rate I think it will be admitted that Mr. Maurice did not shine in it. His conceptions and faculties were of a character too lofty for success in mere personal word-play. He is too much in earnest. He is absorbed by the splendour of his conception; dazzled, it may be, "by the abundance of the revelation." His line of argument, as relates to his opponent, is confused; it is needlessly protracted; the point seems constantly lost sight of; long extracts from his adversary confuse the reader, who at last does not know which of his teachers is speaking. Distracted between two disputants, neither of whom evidently in the least understand one another, attempting in vain to grasp the real meaning of the one in order that he may see how it is to be confuted by the other, the reader is at last tempted to exclaim in Mr. Maurice's own graphic words: "This way madness lies." Mr. Mansel's point of view is easily realised. He had written and preached his Bampton Lectures with considerable applause. He had previously had a correspondence with Mr. Maurice, which he appears to have conducted with courtesy. Suddenly there burst upon him an assault which he was utterly incapable of either comprehending or repulsing. He was somewhat in the position of a Weaver Bottom, who through a troubled dream is dimly conscious of a world of mystery and glamour, which he can in no way realise, of heights and depths of starry firmament, of the mountain full of horses of fire and chariots of fire round about the prophet. The certain deductions, as they seemed to him, of his logical sequences are perverted and mis-stated; the pure unaffected humility of Mr. Maurice appears to him to be sarcasm. The result on both sides is painful. How much better would it have been had Mr. Maurice ignored Mr. Mansel altogether, preached a series of sermons embodying all thoughts aroused by the lecturer, and left the good seed to produce its natural harvest. He might have lost some little publicity, but what an immeasurable gain! No loss of space and time on formal statement and denial; no waste of nerve-tissue and of physical power, of which nothing is more destructive than the irritation of personal conflict; nothing but a sublime calm, a ceaseless flow of the Divine Reason exalting, refining, purifying the reader, raising him above the partial understandings, the inadequate conceptions, of personal debate, into the certainties of absolute truth. He always spoke of the controversy in after times as forgotten, and while, as he could not fail to do, maintaining that his position was the true one, as regretting the personalities involved in it. At the very moment it was taking place he was writing of Mr. Spurgeon, and of what he conceived to be his errors, in a tone of perfect insight and calm; but Mr. Spurgeon's position at that time was very different to Mr. Mansel's, and his particular opinions did not touch Mr. Maurice so nearly. In one of the last things he wrote--the preface to the final edition of the Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy--he has the following passage, which forms so appropriate a conclusion to the remarks upon a once famous controversy that I hope to be allowed to quote it:--
I would not willingly have been spared one of these conflicts, for they have forced me to observe what conflicts there are in myself. Butler and Paley did not invent the questions about a conscience; they do not exist in a volume of sermons at the Rolls, or of lectures on moral philosophy. If thou hast not a conscience, Butler will not give it thee. If thou hast one, Paley cannot take it away. They can only between them set thee upon considering what it is or is not. Thou hast senses which Locke did not endow thee with; thou thinkest and thou actest, whether Descartes tells thee so or not.
What signifies it that Bentham laughs at sympathy, if there are sympathies between thee and the members of thy kind? How canst thou feel otherwise than grateful to Bentham for showing thee that there is a something called happiness which men are striving after, and that it may be a general, not a mere separate, happiness? If he can see nothing above or beneath but utility, was it not his function to speak of that?
The remarks which I have ventured to make upon Mr. Maurice as a controversialist apply only to pure controversy. Where he is simply stating his case, in reply forced upon him by attack, as in his "Letter to Dr. Jelf on the word 'Eternal,'" nothing can be clearer or more concise than his method and argument. Indeed, his position was so absolutely unassailable that it would have been difficult for any man to have gone wrong in it. It is not necessary to do more than allude to the miserable business of the King's College fiasco. A mere majority, promoted by selfish ignorance and bigotry, and snatched by fraud, had no other real effect than that of increasing Mr. Maurice's influence twenty-fold. The one point which seems to me worthy of notice is the instance it affords of the supreme intolerance and ignorance of laymen. A fact well worth considering at a time when schemes of Church councils and government are constantly discussed.
We have seen Mr. Maurice as a teacher of theology; we have yet to consider him as a scholar and a man of letters. This is a point of view from which he is not perhaps usually regarded, but it is assuredly a necessary one if we wish really to understand his power and influence. The Prophets and Kings, simple as its pages seem in the stately rhythm of their majestic thought, could never have been written save by a Platonic scholar, and a man of literary and dramatic genius; but what shall we say of his great work, the work of his life, which repeated editions and ceaseless labour had wrought to the point at which we have it in the last years of his life--the Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy? He would be a bold man who would undertake to criticise this book. Colonel Maurice cites the testimony of specialists in any particular period, and of teachers, who have used the book. They testify, in the only way in which, in the case of a book of such extent (not less, indeed, than the entire history of human thought), it is possible for any one to testify, to its value. If I might venture to add anything to what they have said, I should wish to call attention to the intellectual instinct which realised the later Latin genius, and, with it, the situations of absorbing interest, in which it was developed, amid the conflicts and alternating vices and virtues of the old and new faiths. No one, I imagine, can read the pages which describe the Emperor Julian, Augustine, Gregory the Great, and others, without being aware of the presence of this graphic perception, to which only genius attains--the grasp of what human thought was like during the procession of those weird centuries through which East and West passed alike, when the future of the race seemed perpetually to tremble in the balance "amid the extravagances, follies, tyrannies, rebellions of the world, which rose out of the ruins of the Empire of Augustus." In the biography are one or two letters of great interest, addressed by Mr. Maurice to the author of Hypatia, recommending to him the introduction of this Latin race-spirit in a more direct manner than Mr. Kingsley seemed to have intended. One passage upon St. Augustine I cannot resist quoting, it so exactly expresses the leading principle of Mr. Maurice's own life:--
He had no doubt a craving, felt in his youth and never lost, for a very definite system of opinions. But the influences which crossed this desire and drove him in search of another object were really the blessed influences of his life,--those to which he owed all the strength of his own belief and all his power of teaching others. When he had got his system nearly complete, the voice which asked him "What art thou?" and forced him in the heights or in the depths to find an answer to the question, broke the thread of his speculations and forced him to begin anew. The oftener in his after-life he heard that voice, and believed that it was the one which he was to make others to hear, the more fresh and living and full of instruction for all ages did his words become. When he forgot it, and sought to build earthly tabernacles for Moses and Elias and his Divine Lord, his spirit became confused, and he forged afresh for mankind some of those very chains from which he had been set free.
I should anticipate for the beautiful edition of this book published in 1882, with its etched portrait, an increasing and enduring recognition not only from scholars, but also from the general reader. For the latter will find in it a singular clearness and brilliancy of diction while treating of subjects usually dry and formal, and a picture of the real life of successive centuries through which runs a vein of quiet humour often very effective. It would be easy to select, indeed, from Mr. Maurice's letters, and even from his sermons, instances of this quiet humour and of perception of the characteristics of social life which go to form genial satire.
Colonel Maurice, in the chapter we have already alluded to, gives us the following charming passage:--
It was almost painful to walk with him in any part of the town where it was necessary for him to ask his way. In the noisiest and most crowded places he would inquire his direction in the gentlest and most apologetic tone, perhaps of some bluff old costermonger woman, who, unaccustomed to hear such subdued language, would continue to shove her way along, utterly unconscious of having been addressed. He would instantly draw back as though he had been rebuffed in an intrusion which, on reflection, he felt to have been quite unwarrantable, and would watch for a more favourable opportunity of attracting the attention of some other passer-by.
This perfectly, I will not say sincere, but instinctive humility of Mr. Maurice is shown in numberless passages in his letters. One particular trait is, I think, worthy of notice. He believed that he was very deficient in a love of Nature, and says, in one place, that his first wife, whose approbation he valued above all things, was constantly regretting his deficiency in this respect. In spite of this, however, I cannot help connecting him, in my own mind, with one for whom he had the greatest admiration and respect, and who, though essentially the poet of man, is most truly associated with the love of Nature--William Wordsworth. In the Christian Year are some lines which throw, I think, considerable light on this connection.
And wilt thou seek again
Thy howling waste, thy charnel house and chain?
He, merciful and mild,
As erst, beholding, loves his wayward child.
When souls of highest birth
Waste their impassioned might on dreams of earth,
He opens Nature's book,
The revolution which Wordsworth wrought in the realm of English thought--the change from pseudo-civilisation, from artificial emotion, from false taste to the true life of simple manhood--made it possible for the gospel of humanity to be heard again.
Thus Nature spoke. The work was done.
He laid us as we lay at birth
On the cool flowery lap of earth.
In Wordsworth's pages we breathe again the air of Palestine, when the world was young. The singleness of character and of life is before us, as in the old Hebrew pages which Maurice restored again to reality and being. Wordsworth, though perchance he was unconscious of it, was a Christian Platonist, as was Maurice. They are both of them poets in the highest sense, for they are both of them seers. They are raised above the slime of earth, into the life of the ideal. We are taught by a new philosophy, whose note seems to me to ring with a somewhat vulgar and false tone, that this is a shallow optimism; and we are referred to other poets and novelists who, we are told, are "courageous thinkers, and face the ghosts of the mind." "The business of intellect is to master, not to shun, the disturbing elements of life." This we shall all admit; but how can those poets be said to master such elements who pander to mankind in its lowest and vilest forms? He is not a regenerator who resigns all hope and effort towards the pure and the spiritual, and contents himself with describing, in forcible rhythm, the debased and distracted life of a reckless humanity, which he lives as well as they. An optimist, however "shallow," who believes, and acts as a believer, in a regenerating energy, which is permeating the race, is a truer friend to his kind than such as these. The "living God" of Frederick Maurice solves many questions that have perplexed the wise. His teaching solves that great perplexity which has haunted the students of Spinoza from before the time of Lessing, for it explains that belief of Spinoza in a God who exists within human consciousness alone--a belief which Dr. James Martineau says is atheism, and Mr. Frederick Pollock says is not. The God of Frederick Maurice, infinite and incomprehensible as He doubtless is, enters into human consciousness by virtue of His gracious will, and may be known in consciousness by whosoever seek Him. There is no dogma of Christianity, however grotesque it may appear in its popular form, but what has its germ in the profoundest scientific truth, and none can be more certainly traced to such truth than the "living God" of Platonism and of the Christian Church, whom Frederick Maurice was sent into the world to proclaim, who enters into consciousness by the Divine Humanity, and continues His energising power by the living Spirit, which enlightens the world. It is not necessary to dispute of the "unknowable," or of the range of consciousness of all. Within consciousness, and as a man sees his friend, Frederick Maurice knew God. His portrait might tell us this, where
Promise and presage of sublime emprise
Wear evermore the seal of his believing,
Deep in the dark of solitary eyes.
On the 15th of June, 1856, in the chapel of Lincoln's Inn, the sermon was drawing to a close. The somewhat strained attention became relaxed, for the well-known change in the preacher's face, the slight alteration of the voice, showed that the appeal to the reasoning faculty was over, and that the veil was rent for a moment, and that the High Priest had entered into the Holy of Holies, the "Cyte of Sarras in the Spyrituel Place":--
Towards this resurrection all creation is groaning and travailing, and that groan which burst from Christ at the grave of Lazarus was the expression of His sympathy in that groan of His creatures. . . . Do we not feel sometimes as if all power of believing in anything that is great and noble were departing from us? Do we not feel as if to believe in Him who is goodness and truth were the hardest effort of all? Does it not appear as if a second death were coming upon us, a death of all energy, of all trust, of all power to look beyond ourselves? Oh, if this numbness and coldness have overtaken us or should overtake us--if we should be tempted to sit down in it and sink to sleep--let the cry which awakened Lazarus awake us. Let us be sure that He who is the Resurrection and the Life is saying to each of us, however deep the cave in which he is buried, "Come forth!"--however stifling the grave-clothes with which he is bound, "Loose him, and let him go!"
Yes. Emboldened by the gracious utterance of the divinest mercy, which permits us to believe that the servant may be even as his master, and the disciple as his lord, I do not hesitate to apply these words to him of whom we speak. For these two great cries, spoken centuries ago before an open grave, have re-echoed in men's hearts before all graves, whether of the flesh or of the spirit, ever since; and have formed the note of all prophetic utterance, and of none more so than of his. "Come forth! Loose him, and let him go!" Come forth out of the lower life: out of the life, lovely in its kind--the life of self, of fleshly beauty, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life;--and at his call the soul came forth. But this was not enough. The soul, thus aroused from death, and stirred into a strange activity, is still crippled and wrapped in the grave-clothes of the imperfect dispensation in which we live--the grave-clothes of superstition, of formalism, of systems, and of burdens laid by human imposition upon the righteous whom the Lord has not made sad. "Loose him, and let him go!" This was the distinctive proclamation which it was the mission of Frederick Maurice to announce. How true he proved to this mission I shall not ask. I leave it for those to testify from whose stiffened limbs the grave-clothes fell at his word. Much has happened since his voice was still, but, across the lapse of time, the words are still ringing in their ears, "Loose him, and let him go!"