Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/865

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LITERARY NOTICES.

LITERARY NOTICES.

Natural Religion. By the author of "Ecce Homo." Boston: Roberts Brothers. Pp. 251. Price, $1.25.

This little book, by Professor J. R. Seeley, of the Cambridge University (England), deserves the most serious consideration on the part of all who care for the higher questions of modern controversy. Some of its chapters first appeared in "Macmillan's Magazine," and were reprinted in the "Monthly," while the author's name was unknown. But they were evidently by a man of power, insight, independence, and great catholicity of spirit; and they handled the exciting and even the exasperating questions of the time, not only with a striking originality, but with a forecast of new agreements most encouraging to all who are concerned about the religious progress of mankind. The great distinctions and differences over which people are quarreling and disputing in the religious and anti-religious world Professor Seeley does not regard as finalities. Under severe critical examination, they diminish and are found to have no justification in the truth of things. The work is one of the most composing and harmonizing that has appeared in this age. That the writer deals with the most radical problems of religious thought is shown in the titles of his chapters. In Part I the subjects treated are: (1) "God in Nature," (2) "The Abuse of the Word Atheism," (3) The words "Theology and Religion," (4) "The Three Kinds of Religion," (5) "Natural Religion in Practice," while in Part IT the questions discussed are: (1) "Religion and the World," (2) "Religion and Culture," (3) "Natural Christianity," (4) "Natural Religion and the State," (5) "Natural Religion and the Church."

Holding this book to be of unusual importance, we are desirous of conveying to our readers a fuller account of it than we can prepare, or are in the habit of allowing in these pages, and we therefore reprint the review of it which appeared in the London "Athenæum" of July 29th:

If it be the function of genius to interpret the age to itself, this is a work of genius. It gives articulate expression to the higher strivings of the time. It puts plainly the problem of these latter days, and so far contributes to its solution; a positive solution it scarcely claims to supply. No such important contribution to the question of the time has been published in England since the appearance, in 1866, of "Ecce Homo." That the same man should have written both books, that none but himself can be his parallel, argues a unique order of mind. He is a teacher whose words it is well to listen to. His words are wise but sad; it has not been given him to fire them with faith, but only to light them with reason. His readers may at least thank him for the intellectual illumination, if they can not owe him gratitude for any added fervor.

The object of this book, one might say with logical precision, is to extend the connotation of the term "religion." It groups together all the great idealisms—art, science, culture—and claims that these are natural religion. Thus, according to this author, everything that takes us beyond and above our selfish aims is religion. The opposition between science and theology becomes vain and of no effect: both are forms of religion. The indifference of art for the conventions is but another form of the struggle against worldliness, and here again art and religion join hands. "Wer Wissenschaft und Kunst besitzt," said Goethe, and our author repeats the saying with approval, "hat auch Religion." Professor Huxley and Mr. Burne Jones will be somewhat surprised to find themselves regarded as great lights in the religious world. The old triad of ideals—the good, the true, and the beautiful—are classed by this observer under the one genus of religion.

Turning to the practical side of the book, we have the demand that the Church should learn the error of her ways in not recognizing her two companions in the struggle against the lower life, and should renounce the parts of her doctrine that conflict with their ideals. The idea of development must be applied to religion as to everything else, and the conception of prophecy be revived in the modern form of a philosophy of history. Let the cultured classes teach culture, which is religion, to the lower classes, who will otherwise lapse into Nihilism; and let the cultured nations of Christendom spread the light of religion till one great bond of civilization span the earth. Above all. if we wish to master the art of life, let us study the experiments that have been made by time in the field of history, and learn the lessons of "philosophy teaching by example."

Such, in main outline, are the theorems and problems of this brilliant book. The boldness of the eirenicon can not but strike every reader; but the age is bold in these matters, and this quality is only another mark of the timeliness of the book. In looking at its practicability, however, a critic has to remember that, while it takes two parties to make a quarrel, it also requires two to patch one up. Our author is wanting in one of the qualities of the peace-maker that are almost necessary for the due performance of his office: he lacks sympathy with one of the sides. He is entirely on the side opposed