« PreviousContinue »
1815, in which, under the name of "Thoughts on History,” he went through the characteristics of the chief ancient and modern historians. And it is almost startling, in the midst of a rhetorical burst of his youthful Toryism in a journal of 1815, to meet with expressions of real feeling about the social state of England such as might have been written in his latest years; or amidst the commonplace remarks which accompany an analysis of St. Paul's Epistles and Chrysostom's Homilies, in 1818, to stumble on a statement, complete as far as it goes, of his subsequent doctrine of the identity of Church and State.
Meanwhile he had been gradually led to fix upon his future course in life. In December, 1818, he was ordained deacon at Oxford; and on August 11th, 1820, he married Mary, youngest daughter of the Rev. John Penrose, Rector of Fledborough, in Nottinghamshire, and sister of one of his earliestschool and college friends, Trevenen Penrose; having previously settled in 1819 at Laleham, near Staines, with his mother, aunt, and sister, where he remained for the next nine years, taking seven or eight young men as private pupils in preparation for the Universities, for a short time in a joint establishment with his brother-in-law, Mr. Buckland, and afterwards independently by himself.
In the interval which had elapsed betwen the end of his under-graduate career at Oxford, and his entrance upon life, had taken place the great change from boyhood to manhood, and with it a corresponding change or growth of character, more marked and more important than at any subsequent period of his life. There was indeed another great step to be taken before his mind reached that later stage of development which was coincident with his transition from Laleham to Rugby. The prosaic and matter of fact element which has been described in his early Oxford life still retained its predominance, and to a certain extent dwarfed and narrowed his sphere of thought; the various principles of political and theological science which contained in germ all that was to grow out of them, had not yet assumed their proper harmony and proportions; his feelings of veneration, if less confined than in later years, were also less intense ; his hopes and views, if more practicable and more easily restrained by the advice of others, were also less wide in their range, and less lofty in their conception.
But however great were the modifications which his character subsequently underwent, it is the change of tone at this time, between the earlier letters of this period (such as the one or two first of the ensuing series) and those which immediately succeed them, that marks the difference between the high spirit and warm feelings of his youth and the fixed earnestness and devotion which henceforth took possession of his whole heart and will. Whatever may have been the outward circumstances which contributed to this—the choice of a profession—the impression left upon him by the sudden loss of his elder brotherthe new and to him elevating influences of married life-the responsibility of having to act as the guide and teacher of others, it was now for the first time that the principles, which before he had followed rather as a matter of course, and as held and taught by those around him, became emphatically part of his own convictions, to be embraced and carried out for life and for death.
From this time forward such defects as were peculiar to his boyhood and early youth entirely disappear; the indolent habits --the morbid restlessness and occasional weariness of duty-the indulgence of vague schemes without definite purpose-the intellectual doubts which beset the first opening of his mind to the realities of religious belief, when he shared at least in part the state of perplexity which in his later sermons he feelingly describes as the severest of earthly trials, and which so endeared to him throughout life the story of the consession of the Apostle Thomas-all seem to have vanished away and never again to have diverted him from the decisive choice and energetic pursuit of what he set before him as his end and duty. From this time forward no careful observer can fail to trace that deep consciousness of the invisible world, and that power of bringing it before him in the midst and through the means of his most active engagements, which constituted the peculiarity of his religious life, and the moving spring of his whole lise. It was not that he frequently introduced sacred names in writing or in conversation, or that he often dwelt on divine interpositions; where many would have done so without scruple, he would shrink from it, and in speaking of his own religious feelings, or in appealing to the religious feelings of others, he was, except to those most intimate with him, exceedingly reserved. But what was true generally of the thorough interpenetration of the several parts of his character, was peculiarly true of it in its religious aspect: his natural faculties were not unclothed, but clothed upon; they were at once coloured by, and gave a colour to, the belief which they received. It was in his common acts of life, whether public or private, that the depth of his religious convictions most visibly appeared ; it was in his manner of dwelling on religious subjects, that the characteristic tendencies of his mind chiefly displayed themselves.
Accordingly, whilst it is impossible, for this reason, to understand his religious belief except through the knowledge of his actual life and his writings on ordinary subjects, it is impossible, on the other hand, to understand his life and writings without bearing in mind how vivid was his realization of those truths of the Christian Revelation on which he most habitually dwelt. It was this which enabled him to undertake labours wliich without such a power must have crushed or enfeebled the spiritual growth which in him they seemed only to foster. It was the keen sense of thankfulness consciously awakened by every distinct instance of his many blessings, which more than any thing else explained his close union of joyousness with seriousness. In his even tenor of life it was difficult for any one who knew him not to imagine " the golden chain of heavenward thoughts and humble prayers by which, whether standing or sitting, in the intervals of work or of amusement,” he “linked together" his "more special and solemn devotions,” (Serm. vol. iii. p. 277,) or not to trace something of the consciousness of an invisible presence in the collectedness with which, at the call of his common duties, he rose at once from his various occupations; or in the calm repose which, in the midst of his most active labours, took all the disturbing accidents of life as a matter of course, and made toil so real a pleasure, and relaxation so real a refreshment to him. And in his solemn and emphatic expressions on subjects expressly religious; in his manner of awful reverence when speaking of God or of the Scriptures; in his power of realizing the operation of something more than human, whether in his abhorrence of evil, or in his admiration of goodness ;-the impression on those who heard him was often as though he knew what others only believed, as though he had seen what others only talked about. “No one could know him even a little,” says one who was himself not amongst his most intimate friends, * and not be struck by his absolute wrestling with evil, so that like St. Paul he seemed to be battling with the wicked one, and yet with the feeling of God's help on his side, scorning as well as hating him.'
Above all, it was necessary for a right understanding. not only of his religious opinions, but of his whole character, to enter into the peculiar feeling of love and adoration which he entertained towards our Lord Jesus Christ,- peculiar in the distinctness and intensity which, as it characterized almost all his common impressions, so in this case gave adılitional strength and meaning to those feelings with which he regarded not only His work of Redemption but Himself. as a living Friend and Mas
“In that unknown world in which our thoughts become inftantly lost." it was his real support and delight to remember that "still there is one object on which our thoughts and imaginations may fasten, no less than our aflections; that amidst the light, dark from excess of brilliance which surrounds the throne of God, we may yet discern the gracious form of the Son of Man," (Serm. vol. iii. p. 90.). In that consciousness which pressed upon him at times even heavily, of the difficulty of considering God in his own nature. believing as he did that « Providence, the Supreme Being, the Deity, and other such terms repel us to an infinite distance," and that the revelation of the Father, in Himself unapproachable, is to be looked upon rather as the promise of another lise, than as the support of this life, it was to bim a thought of perhaps more than usual comfort to feel that "our God” is “Jesus Christ our Lord, the image of the invisible God” and that in Him is represented all the fulness of the Godhead, until we know even as we are known,” (vol. v. p. 222.) And with this full conviction both of his conscience and understanding, that He of whom he spoke was “still the very seltsame Jesus in all human affections and divine excellences;" there was a vividness and tenderness in his conception of Him, on which, if one may so sy, all his feelings of human friend-hip and affection seemed to fasten as on their natural object, “ bring. ing before him His actions, imaging to himself His very voice and look," there was to him (so to speak) a greainess in the image thus formed of Him, on which all his natural instincts of reverence, all his range of historical interest, all his admiration of truth and goodness at once centred. “Where can we find a name so holy as that we may surrender our whole souls to it, before which obedience, reverence without measure, intense humility, most unreserved adoration may all be duly rendered ?" was the earnest inquiry of his whole nature intellectual and moral, no less than religious. And the answer to it in like manner expressed what he endeavoured to make the rule of his own personal conduct, and the centre of all his moral and religious convictions: “One name there is, and one alone, one alone in heaven and earth-not truth, not justice, not benevolence, not Christ's mother, not His holiest servants, not his blessed sacraments, nor His very mystical body the Church, but Himself only who died for us and rose again, Jesus Christ, both God and man.” (Serm. vol. iv. p. 210.)
These were the feelings which, though more fully developed with the advance of years, now for the first time took thorough possession of his mind; and which struck upon his moral nature at this period, with the same kind of force (if one may use the comparison) as the new views, which he acquired from time to time of persons and principles in historical or philosophical speculations, impressed themselves upon his intellectual nature. There is naturally but little to interrupt the retirement of his life at Laleham, which was only broken by the short tours in England or on the Continent, in which then, as afterwards, he employed his vacations. Still it is not without interest to dwell on these years, the profound peace of which is contrasted so strongly with the almost incessant agitations of bis subsequent life, and “to remain awhile” (thus applying his own words on another subject) " on the high ground where the waters which are hereafter to form the separate streams” of his various social and theological views, "lie as yet undistinguished in their common parent lake."
Whatever may have been the exact notions of his future course which presented themselves to him, it is evident, that he was not ineensible to the attraction of visions of extensive influence, and almost to his latest hour he seems to have been conscious of the existence of the temptation within him, and of the necessiiy of contending against it. “I believe,” he said, many years afterwards, in speaking of these early struggles to a Rugby pupil who was consulting him on the choice of a profession, " I believe that naturally I am one of the most ambitious men alive,” and “ the three great objects of human ambition,” he added, to which alone he could look as deserving the name, were “ to be the prime minister of a great kingdom, the governor of a great empire, or the writer of works which should live in every age and in every country.” But in some respects the loftiness of his aims made it a matter of less difficulty to confine himself at once to a sphere in which, whilst he felt himself well and usefully employed, he felt also that the practical business of his daily duties acted as a check upon his own inclinations and speculations. Accordingly, when he entered upon his work at Laleham, he seems to have regarded it as his work for life. “I have always thought,” he writes in 1823, “ with regard to ambition, that I should like to be aut Cæsar aut nullus, and as it is pretty well settled for me that I shall not be Cæsar, I am quite content to live in peace as nullus."
It was a period indeed on which he used himself to look back, even from the wider usefulness of his later years, almost with a fond regret, as to the happiest time of his life. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all other things shall be added to you,” was a passage to which now more than any other time he was in the habit of recurring as one of peculiar truth and comfort. His situation supplied him exactly with that union of retirement and work which more than any other condition suited his natural inclinations, and enabled him to keep up more uninterrupted than was ever again in his power the communication which he so much cherished with his friends and relations. Without undertaking any directly parochial charge, he was in the habit of rendering constani assistance to Mr. Hearn, the curate of the place, both in the parish church and workhouse, and in visiting the villagers--thus uniting with his ordinary occupations greater means than he was afterwards able to command, of familiar intercourse with his poorer neighbours, which he always so highly valued. Bound as he was to Laleham by all these ties, he long loved to look upon it as his final home;-and the first reception of the tidings of his election at Rugby was overclouded with deep sorrow at leaving the scene of so much happiness. Years after he had left it, he still retained his early affection for it, and till he had purchased his house in Westmoreland, he entertained a lingering hope that he might return to it in his old age, when he should have retired from Rugby. Often he would revisit it, and delighted in renewing his acquaintance with all the families of