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I believe it would startle and move anyone if they could make a certain effort of imagination and read it freshly like a book, not droningly and dully like a portion of the Bible. Anyone would then be able to see in it those truths which we are all courteously supposed to know and all modestly refrain from applying. But upon this subject it is perhaps better to be silent.
Rider Haggard, beginning at the age of eight, like many boys, with Robinson Crusoe, passed on to the Arabian Nights, the Three Musketeers, and the poems of Poe and Macaulay, until at seventeen he reached Kenelm Chillingly and, somewhat later, Dickens's Tale of Troo Cities and Lytton's Coming Race. But reciting the chief books that mastered, moved, and molded him, early and late, his personal confession culminates thus: “ And one immortal work moved me still more—a work that utters all the world's yearning anguish and disillusionment in one sorrow-laden and bitter cry, and whose stately music thrills like the voice of pines heard in the darkness of a midnight gale, and that is the Book of Ecclesiastes.”
FORMATIVE INFLUENCE OF GREAT BOOKS.
A VISITING university president speaking to Yale alumni on “Reading,” expressed regret that the reading of the really big books of the world seems to be falling into a desuetude not innocuous, meaning by big books those which for generations or longer have molded the minds of men and the institutions of society. This, if true, is deplorable, because the educational power of literature is so searching that “no one can know thoroughly the great books of the world and remain a Provincial or a Philistine ; the very air of these works is fatal to narrow views, to low standards, and to self-satisfaction.” The books recognized as great are not new, but weather-beaten with years. It was affirmed by some one that Grotius's book De Jure Belli ac Pacis is perhaps the greatest service ever rendered by man to his fellow-men. Doubtless the perhaps in that sentence ought to be italicized ; yet it is assuredly true that in individual life and in general history vast service has sometimes been rendered by a single book. When the university president came to mention some spermatic and imperial books be named first, according to report, Coleridge's Aids to Reflection. How much that modest-titled small big book influenced Horace Bushnell, Dr. T. T. Munger has recently told us in his study of the great Hartford preacher and theologian. Therein we are informed that Bushnell almost owed himself to that one volume; that he developed under its teaching, and was one of the first to turn its light on the theology of New England. Beginning to read it in college, and finding it then foggy and unintelligible, he put it aside for a long time and then took it up again with a maturer mind. Concerning his experience with it Bushnell
For a whole half year I was buried under the Aids to Reflection, and trying vainly to look up through. I was sure that I saw a star glimmer, but I could not quite see the stars. My habit was only landscape before ; but now I saw enough to convince me of a whole other world somewhere overhead, a range of realities in higher tier, that I must climb after and, if possible apprehend.
The following passage is quoted as indicative of the sort of light which Bushnell received from Coleridge :
Too soon did the doctors of the Church forget that the heart, the moral nature, was the beginning and the end; and that truth, knowledge, and insight were comprehended in its expansion. This was the true and first apostasy, when in council and synod the divine humanities of the Gospel gave way to speculative systems, and religion became a science of shadows under the name of theology, or at best a bare Skeleton of Truth, without life or interest, alike inaccessible and unintelligi. ble to the majority of Christians. For these there remained only rites and ceremonies and spectacles, shows and semblances. Thus among the learned the Substance of things hoped for passed off into Notions ; and for the unlearned the Surfaces of things became Substance. The Christian world was for centuries divided into the Many that did not think at all and the Few who did nothing but think, both alike unreflecting, the one from defect of the act, the other from the absence of an object.
Bushnell's biographer wonders whether the lines from Daniel on the original title page of Aids to Reflection struck fire on a nature all ready to be set aflame :
This makes that, whatsoever here befalls,
This one great book, we are informed, gave Bushnell his method and his general attitude to the whole field of thought, and unsealed to him such a fountain of light that looking back from old age he confessed more indebtedness to it than to any other book except the Bible. That it was from its first publication an epoch-making book is undeniable, and a host of men could doubtless declare that from then till now it has held what seems a permanent place among the intellectual forces of the world. Could we not have guessed that early influence of Coleridge on Ruskin which was confessed by that pure, beautiful, aspiring, and transcendent spirit, but lately ascended from the earth?
F. W. Farrar places Coleridge in the front rank of authors who have potently affected his opinions and life, naming especially Aids to Reflection, although, receiving the entire works of Coleridge as a college prize, he absorbed them all, thereby learning permanent lessons of philosophy and theology, particularly on two subjects of utmost importance—the doctrine of the Atonement and that of the inspiration of the Scriptures, Dr. W. C. Smith, author of Olrig Grange, says that he owes what is deepest and best in himself to Coleridge, who did most for him on the religious side, influencing his spiritual nature, giving him clear guiding lights in the realm of theology, and especially helping him to a larger and better faith than Calvinism had furnished him. W. E. H. Lecky, the historian, cites from Coleridge the following passage, which he chose for the motto of almost his first published writing, as influential, also, over his later studies :
Let it be remembered by controversialists on all subjects, that every speculative error which boasts a multitude of advocates has its golden as well as its dark side; that there is always some truth connected with it, the exclusive attention to which has misled the understanding; some moral beauty which has given it charms for the heart. Let it be remembered that no assailant of an error can reasonably hope to be listened to by its advocates, who has not proved to them that he has seen the disputed subject in the same point of view and is capable of contem. plating it with the same feelings as themselves ; for why should we abandon a cause at the persuasion of one who is ignorant of the reasons which have attached us to it?
Gladstone specified Aristotle, St. Augustine, Dante, and Bishop Butler as the authors who had done most for him. From Aristotle's Ethics Edward A. Freeman, the historian, testifies that he gained a power of discerning likeness and unlikeness, of distinguishing real from false analogies, and that from Butler's Sermons one learns and does not straight way forget what manner of man one is. By Butler, as also by Hooker, Archdeacon Farrar confesses himself to have been early and strongly affected ; and W. E. H. Lecky when a student at Dublin University received from Bishop Butler's works his first great and determining intellectual impulse. The criticism he makes in maturer years is that
While the Analogy is perhaps the most original, if not the most powerful, book ever written in defense of the Christian creed; yet it has probably been the parent
of much modern Agnosticism, for its method is to parallel every difficulty in revealed religion by a corresponding difficulty in natural religion, and to argue that the two must stand or fall together. Butler's unrivaled sermons on human nature, on the other hand, have been essentially conservative and constructive, and their infuence has been at least as great on character as on belief. Their doctrine is that consciousness reveals in the inner principles of our being a moral hierarchy, “a difference in nature and kind altogether distinct from strength," and that among these principles conscience has, by the very structure of our nature, a recognized supremacy or guiding authority which clearly distinguishes it from all others.
That John Bunyan is among the authors of books incontestably great is confirmed by the immortal fascination of the Pilgrim's Progress, maintaining a perpetual demand for it, and is explicitly acknowledged even by such writers as Louis Stevenson, who owned the irresistible spell of that book which “breathes of every beautiful and valuable emotion,” and Sir Walter Besant, who says it most seized his young imagination, and still seems to him the book which has influenced the minds of Englishmen more than any other except the Bible, adding that “while it survives and is read by our youth two or three great truths will remain deeply burned into the English soul; the first of which is the personal responsibility of each man; and the next is that Christianity does not want, and cannot have, a
Milton also stands among the mighty masters of really great literature. To him Philip Gilbert Hamerton, like many others, was attracted by the high degree of finish in Milton's literary workmanship in both prose and verse, giving the reader profound and unfailing satisfaction, while Shakespeare's rougher work frequently repels. The English writer whom F. W. Farrar knew best and loved most in his formative years was Milton, whose poems were kept always on the table and largely learned by heart. From boyhood he felt supreme admiration for the sublime mind of Milton, and he says that the one piece of English prose which has exerted on him most lasting in. fluence is that passage from the Reason of Church Government which points to “the inward reverence of a toward his own person” as one of the chief principles of all godly and virtuous action, one sentence of the passage being the following:
He that holds himself in reverence and due esteem, both for the dignity of God's image upon him and for the price of his redemption, which he thinks is visibly marked upon his forehead, accounts himself both a fit person to do the noblest and godliest deeds, and much better worth than to deject and defile with such a debasement and pollution as sin is, himself so highly ransomed and ennobled to a new friendship and filial relation with God.
Archbishop Whately is reckoned by Mr. Lecky as a powerful, original, and independent thinker, whose style, as he says, though without grace, is admirable in its lucidity, and whose writings, though they appeal but little to common passions or wide sympathies, are infilled with one noble passion, the rarest and highest of all the love of truth for its own sake. Whately was a reasoner who believed that most controversies can be resolved into verbal ambignities, holding with Hobbes that “words are the counters of wise men, but the money of fools.” In theology Whately practiced and urged the severest and most searching critical inquiry, believing that, if honestly and reverently pursued, it would lead only to orthodox belief; for he had firmer faith in the solidity of orthodoxy than have the muchafraids of our later day who fear that its foundations are imperiled by keen scholarship, unflinching analysis, and critical assault.
By vote of a multitude innumerable Sir Walter Scott holds a foremost place in English literature. Mr. Hamerton testifies that of all authors Scott has given him the greatest sum of pleasure, and that of a very healthy kind. The delight of his youth was Scott's poetry, especially the Lady of the Lake and Marmion, both of which Ruskin names among books that are good for everybody, and of which he never tired. Hamerton thinks the grand test of a really good book is that you should remember it, and says that, though he has read none of the Waverly Novels since he was sixteen, he remembers them all. The Lady of the Lake implanted in him a love of beautiful lakes with romantic islands in them, and his delight in them abides lifelong. To a youth who becomes thoughtful, Hamerton thinks, Scott is insufficient, but a man who has got through most of his serious thinking may return to him again and receive from him much of the old refreshment and delight. Professor Blackie has said that when he had appropriated and turned into blood and bone all the nutriment that Wordsworth could give him, he sought for some one who could help him achieve for the objective half of his nature what the Bible and Wordsworth had done for the subjective. He saw the necessity of getting