Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

greatest could do this, and they went so deep that they appeared rather to bring spirit through the old channels than to find it in them. For those of less perfect vision to attempt this is to make a patchwork fit only for intellectual old women to wear. For examples we have but to turn to portions of the Talmud, to Maurice on the Athanasian Creed, and we say it with regret, to an occasional mystification of Mr. Arnold's.

His “Fourth Gospel from Within” we regard as the finest section of “God and the Bible." In the quiet land afar from the clash of argument, Mr. Arnold penetrates by subtle historical methods, for which mode of work his fine apprehensiveness fits him well, to the circumstances that might be expected to attend a prophet of the time of our era. The criticism resulting as to the gnomic form of speech and the manner of a Greek editor, the observations with regard to the natural and probable misunderstandings of the meanings of the Master by those about him, and the conclusion that he was over the heads of all his reporters ;” all this is of real value. The instances adduced to shew the constant effort of Jesus to elevate the materialistic Messianism of the time; these too are a valuable contribution towards our slowly developing conclusions. “While an allegorising theologian, such as Philo, uses images" (such as the “bread of the soul")" like a pedant, Jesus uses them like a poet,” says Matthew Arnold. We do not know how far in his secret soul this fact would depreciate their value. Certainly the poetic method in question is very different from that of selecting a stated subject, preferably an action, and building an artistic structure upon it, such as Mr. Arnold would teach us to learn to form; so that it is allowed the method of a neo-classical drama is not the only way of attaining poetry. But we are not sure whether Mr. Arnold feels that if a being were to come to our world from a sphere of love, and to remember it, his language must be poetry; he could not speak in prose. But into the very heart of Mr. Arnold's sublimations we doubt whether we are fully admitted. We do not know, for instance, whether or no he is satisfied as to continued identity past death. We do not speak of personal or individual immortality for the reason that part of the apparent man is hereditary and local, and must vanish. Jesus “lived in the eternal order, and the eternal order never dies”; what does this Rénanesque assertion mean? immortality propounded by Jesus must be looked for elsewhere than in the materialistic aspirations of our popular religion." Does Mr. Arnold merely abandon the harps and crowns laid up for souls indiscriminately, even for souls without music, and feeble souls that

The

have no kingdom; or does he abandon all that makes the battle of life worth fighting, that old dream of the impossibility of utter vanquishment for ever so long as we strive, whether on plane of earth or plane of spirit? We cannot tell, and this brings down Mr. Arnold from the position of a friend standing on higher ground and in clearer light than ourselves, to that of a literary critic—of unusual power indeed, but not a prophet.

In his preface to the second edition of his “Higher Schools and Universities in Germany," Mr. Arnold writes :—“Men in general may think little and feel bluntly; but the chief exercise of the higher thought and emotion which they have, is their religion. Their conduct may be very imperfect, but the chief guide and stay of conduct, so far as it has any at all, is their religion. Nothing, therefore, is of so much importance to them. This is where the philosophical Liberals, who think that religion is a noxious thing, and that it must die out, make so great a mistake. Their mistake is so great, indeed, that they themselves cannot persistently keep to it, and we find even the acutest of them contradicting themselves flatly.” Here Matthew Arnold shews his strength ; when he passes into deeper regions there is something lacking in him. The following is about as flat and tame a conception of religion as could be found anywhere :-"Men want religion, a rule and sanctions of conduct which enlist their feelings; and the actual forms of Christianity are approximations to this. And men want it public and national, to prevent religion, the proper source of all solidity and union, from being precarious and divided. Hence the national Churches." In other words, the sole reason for unity is union. That union without unity should be sought, is a comprehensible thing; for the only unity worth striving for is a spiritual unity, not an external concurrence; the former may be obtained through freedom, and by consent to abandon things indifferent; the latter is only maintained by shutting out the deepest. We wonder that sense of order should have so blinded a poet to the joy and value of freedom. We have compared M. Rénan with Mr. Arnold. They differ also. Mr. Arnold writes-—"Church history,' says M. Rénan, with a wistful gaze towards that happy time, 'was a tissue of schisms till the Christian Emperors stopped them ;' to an ordinary mortal, that is just the merit of Constantine's work.” Surely it is possible to form a happier ideal than that of either the great French or the great English critic.

"A Study of Celtic Literature” and “Friendship’s Garland,” two very dissimilar books, we ought not to forget in enumerating Mr. Arnold's writings. Another work, and one to which special attention is due, is “A Bible-Reading for Schools: the Great Prophecy of Israel's Restoration." This is a little book, published at a small price, and is a brave attempt to bring literature, in the pure sense of the word, within the reach of school children. The revision of the translation is so excellent as to make us wish Mr. Arnold were on the Revision Committee.

It is a hard lesson, but we have to learn that novelty is a drug useful where aspiration is weak; we think Matthew Arnold shews traces. of having learned it :

The Master stood upon the Mount, and taught.

He saw a fire in his disciples' eyes ;
“ The old law,” they said, “is wholly come to nought !

Behold the new world rise !"
“ Was it,” the Lord then said, “with scorn ye saw

The old law observed by Scribes and Pharisees ?
I
say
unto

you, see ye keep that law
More faithfully than these!”

*

Children of men ! the unseen Power, whose eye

For ever doth accompany mankind,
Hath looked on no religion scornfully

That men did ever find. The danger is to give up the stimulant novelty before the uplooking faith is strong enough to do without it. It would be better to allow “extra-belief” as the tempting novelty than in giving it up too soon, and before the eternal lights are clear to us, to reduce religion to a too orderly level of expedience, political, moral, or even emotional.

Mr. Arnold's theological works have been described as probably having their “value as a sort of intellectual stimulant, and as a warning to the clerical order to put themselves en rapport with the littérateur order.” If we read rightly Mr. Arnold's mind, he would, at such a criticism, be consumed with almost Aristophanic laughter at the idea of a blend of the Daily Telegraph with Mr. Mackonochie. But that so desirable a rapprochement as that of religion (even of orthodox nurture) and letters is not absolutely impossible, may be discerned by the appreciators of Bishops Fraser and Temple, Dean Stanley, Canon Lightfoot, Stopford Brooke, Baldwin Brown, and a host of others, all on that gradual mission of reconciling literature and religion.

The Greeks seek after wisdom : how far Mr. Arnold is Hellenic may be discerned from the ease with which his own modes of thought, wherever expressed, blend with the thoughts he partly borrows from, partly gives to, the Greek thinker in “Empedocles on Etna :”

I will not judge ; that man,

How beit, I judge as lost,
Whose mind allows a plan

Which would degrade it most ;
And he treats doubt the best who tries to see least ill.

Be not, then, fear's blind slave !

Thou art my friend ; to thee,
All knowledge that I have,

All skill I wield, are free ;
Ask not the latest news of the last miracle.

Ask not what days and nights

In trance Pantheia lay,
But ask how thou such sights

May'st see without dismay;
Ask what most helps when known, thou son of Anchitus.

Once read thy own breast right,

And thou hast done with fears !
Man gets no other light

Search he a thousand years.
Sink in thyself ! there ask what ails thee, at that shrine !

In vain our pent wills fret,

And would the world subdue !
Limits we did not set

Condition all we do ;
Born into life are we, and life must be our mould.

Born into life—man grows

Forth from his parents' stem,
And blends their blood, as those

Of theirs are blent in them;
So each new man strikes root into a far fore-time.

Born into life-we bring

A bias with us here.

We do not what we ought,

What we ought not, we do,
And lean upon the thought

That chance will bring us through ;
But our own acts, for good or ill, are mightier powers.

Fools ! that so often here

Happiness mocked our prayer,
I think, might make us fear

A like event elsewhere !
Make us, not fly to dreams, but moderate desire.

Strange! to come to the same conclusion as the Philistines, who do not "fly to dreams" but very "moderate desire,"-so moderate, indeed, that comfortable houses and carriages mostly satisfy it. The next poem we will quote marks a higher mood :

RUGBY CHAPEL, November, 1857.
Solemn, unlighted, austere,
Through the gathering darkness, arise
The chapel walls in whose bound
Thou, my father ! art laid.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Most men eddy about
Here and there, eat and drink,
Chatter and love and hate,
Gather and squander, are raised
Aloft, are hurled in the dust,
Striving blindly, achieving
Nothing; and then they die-
Perish ! and no one asks
Who or what they have been,
More than he asks what waves,
In the moonlit solitudes mild
Of the midmost ocean, have swelled,
Foamed for a moment, and gone.
And there are some, whom a thirst
Ardent, unquenchable fires,
Not with the crowd to be spent,
Not without aim to go round,

In an eddy of purposeless dust. Mr. Arnold may fairly be called a great poet; poetry we deem his most sublime function ; the form of the poem just quoted is, however,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »