Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/867

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849
LITERARY NOTICES.

epidemic character of crime; or the remarks on the rise of self-distrust consequent on the decline of authority; or the view that the modern schoolmaster is a kind of professional parent. And joined to this power of observation is found the power of expressing its results in short, pithy phrases or sentences that stick in the memory. "Life is interesting if not happy" is a whole answer to Mr. Mallock. "Is life but a livelihood?" is a home-thrust at a certain school of politicians. "Worship is habitual admiration" is not likely to be bettered for some time as a working definition.

Nowadays one is not allowed to call a book brilliant unless it says some witty and therefore spiteful things. Even these are not wanting in the pages of "Natural Religion." Let us cull a few that display this quality:

"If you want to see the true white-heat of controversial passion—if you want to see men fling away the very thought of reconciliation, and close in internecine conflict, yon should look at controversialists who do not differ at all, but who have adopted different words to express the same opinion."

"What should we think, then, if its name and its glories formed the staple of our religious worship, if our church-goers sang, ' Oh, pray for the peace of England—they shall prosper that love thee'?"

"'Erudition' and 'philosophy' are terms of contempt in their mouths. They denounce the former as a busy idleness, and the latter as a sham wisdom, consisting mainly of empty words, and offering solutions either imaginary or unintelligible of problems which are either imaginary or unintelligible themselves."

But of far more importance than these isolated instances of acuteness of thought or phrase are the many new positions taken up in this book. The distinction between theology and religion has never been brought so clearly into connection with the difference between scientific and imaginative knowledge. The three different phases of atheism—by which term is meant by this author want of adaptation to the environment—are excellently discriminated.

It may cause some surprise, but can not fail to cause as much enlightenment, to find our author, most modern of the moderns as he is, advocating the closest possible union between Church and state, and defending his position by all the wealth of his historical knowledge. But has ever the modern temper been hit off more exactly than in the following passage?—

"Another maxim has to be learned in time, that some things are impossible, and to master this is to enter upon the manhood of the higher life. But it ought not to be mastered as a mere depressing negation, but rather as a new religion. The law that is independent of us, and that conditions all our activity, is not to be reluctantly acknowledged, but studied with absorbing delight and awe. At the moment when our own self-consciousness is liveliest, when our own beliefs, hopes, and purposes are most precious to us, we are to acknowledge that the universe is greater than ourselves, and that our wills are weak compared with the law that governs it, and our purposes futile except so far as they are in agreement with that law."

But enough. We have given the main argument of the book, and selected some of its details for discussion or for admiration. It remains to discuss its probable effect on the two parties between whom, in a measure, it attempts to effect a reconciliation. It has already been pointed out that the religious world will regard its religion as having been misunderstood, and not sympathized with; and this complaint will be just. It is natural, at this point, to compare the somewhat similar attempts of Mr. Matthew Arnold in this direction; and it must be owned that, with regard to knowledge of and sympathy with orthodox belief, the whilom Oxford professor is the superior of his Cambridge rival, if we may venture so to term the author of "Ecce Homo." Mr. Matthew Arnold was bent on battling with religious Philistinism, and did not disdain to deal it some heavy and rather unfair blows, chiefly by way of irony. Our author, on the contrary, cares more to expound the position of nous autres, and has, for the first time, given an adequate exposition of the creed of culture. "Religion," he says, "has been revived under the artificial name of culture"; and, again, "The momentary evanescence of the Church in modern life is only caused by the decay of one sort of Church coinciding in time with the infancy of another." In thus boldly pointing out that the spiritual currents now flow in other channels than those that are technically called religious, the book says what many have been feeling. It must necessarily give courage to the Antinomians, and give, for the first time, a true sense of their position to the followers of ancient lines of thought. That the followers cf culture will consent, to call their ideal by the name of religion, and that the believers of religion in its old sense will grant that name, full of the most sacred associations, to fie pursuit of truth and of beauty, are very doubtful propositions. So far, therefore, as our author seriously aims at these innovations his efforts appear doomed to failure. No eirenicon can be effected between two opposing schools by inducing them to adopt the same name on their banners. It is by bringing into full consciousness the thoughts and feelings of modern men that this book will exercise its chief influence It will enable the adherents of the old and of the new faith to know for what the strife is being carried on. And it shows how fast and for the world has been drifting since 1866 to reflect that this book takes the place of an exposition of "Christ's theology" promised in the preface of "Ecce Homo." But the second or "practical" part of the book is not practical in any sense that leads to action. It merely shows that the natural religion which is his theme is really in action among us in influencing men's lives. It may set men thinking, it can not Kid them to act. Meanwhile, let us close t' is notice of a book which we assume will be read by most thinking Englishmen with a