Page images

ate, and, as far as his own occupations would allow him, to emulate.

On his view of Roman History its effect was immediate : “It is a work (he writes on first perusing it) of such extraordinary ability and learning, that it opened wide before my eyes the extent of my own ignorance ;” and he at once resolved to delay any independent work of his own till he had more completely studied the new field of inquiry suggested to him, in addition to the doubts he had himself already expressed as to the authenticity of much of the early Roman history in one of his first articles in the Encyclopædia Metropolitana. In an article in the Quarterly Review of 1925, he was (to use Niebuhr's own words of thanks to him in the second edition of his first volume, Note 1053, i. p. 451. Eng. Transl.) “the scholar who introduced the first edition of this history to the English public;" and the feeling which had dictated this friendly notice of it grew with years. The reluctance which he had at first entertained to admit the whole of Niebuhr's conclusions, and which remained even to 1832, when in regard to his views of ancient history he was inclined to “charge him with a tendency to excessive skepticism,” (Pres. to 1st ed. of 2nd vol. of Thucyd. p. xiv.,) settled by degrees into a determination never to differ from him without a full consciousness of the probability that further inquiry might prove him to be right;" (Pref. to Hist. of Rome, vol. i. p. x.;) and his admiration for him rose at last into a sentiment of personal veneration, which made him, as he used to say, at once emulous and hopeless, rendering him jealous for Niebuhr's reputation, as if for his own, and anxious, amidst the pressure of his other occupations, to undertake, or at least superintend, the translation of the third volume when it was given up by Hare and Thirlwall, from a desire to have his name connected with the translation of that great work, which no one had studied more or admired more entirely." But yet more than by his mere reading, all these feelings towards Niebuhr, towards Germany, and towarde Roman history, were strengthened by his visit to Rome in 1827, and by the friendship which he there formed with Chevalier Bunsen, successor to Niebuhr as minister at the Papal court. He was at Rome only thirteen days, but the sight of the city and of the neighbourhood, to which he devoted himself to the almost entire exclusion of the works of art, gave him a living interest in Rome which he had before wanted and which he never lost. The Chevalier Bunsen he saw no more till 1838; but the conversation which he had there enjoyed with him formed the ground of an unbroken intercourse by letters between them: by his encouragement he was principally induced in later years to resume the History of Rome, which he eventually dedicated to him; whilst from the resemblance in many points of their peculiar pursuits and general views, he used to turn with enthusiastic delight to seek for his

sympathy from the isolation in which he often seemed to be placed in

But now, as afterwards, he found himself most attracted towards the Interpretation of Scripture and the more practical aspect of Theology; and he was only restrained from entering upon the study of them more directly, partly by diffidence in his own powers, partly by a sense that more iime was needed for their investigation than he had at his command. His early intimacy with the leading men of the then Oriel school, remarkable as it was for exhibiting a union of religious earnesiness with intellectual activity, and distinct from any existing party amongst the English clergy, contributed to foster the independence which characterized his theological and ecclesiastical views from the first time that he took any real interest in serious matters. And he used to look back to a visit to Dr. Whately, then residing on his cure in Suffolk, as a marked era in the formation of his views, especially as opening to his mind, or impressing upon it more strongly, some of the opinions on which he afterwards laid sg much stress with regard to the Christian Priesthood.

But although in the way of modification or confirmation his thoughts owed much to the influence of others, there was always, even at this less stirring period of his mind, an original spring within. The distinctness and force with which the words and acts recorded in the Gospel History came before him, seem to have impressed him early with a conviction that there was comething in them very different from what was implied in the common mode of talking and acting on religious subjects. The recollections of his conversations which have been preserved from this period, abound with expressions of his strong sense of "the want of Christian principle in the literature of the day," and an anxious foreboding of the possible results which might thence ensue in the case of any change in existing notions and circumstances. “I fear,” he said, “ the approach of a greater struggle between good and evil than the world has yet seen, in which there may well happen the greatest trial to the faith of good men that can be imagined, if the greatest talent and ability are decidedly on the side of their adversaries, and they will have nothing but faith and holiness to oppose to it.” Something of this kind," he said, “may have been the meaning or part of the meaning of the words, that by signs and wonders they should deceive even the elect. What I should be afraid of would be, that good men, taking alarm at the prevailing spirit, would fear to yield even points they could not maintain, instead of wisely giving them up and holding on where they could.” Hence one object of his early attempts at his Roman History was the hope, as he said, that its tone might be such “ that the strictest of what is called the Evangelical party would not object to putting it into the hands of their children.” Hence again, he earnestly

[ocr errors]

desired to eee some leading periodical taking a decidedly religious tone, unconnected with any party feeling:

“ It would be a most happy event,” he writes in 1822,“ if a work which has so great a sale, and contains so much curious information, and has so much the tone of men of the world, (as the Quarterly Review] could be disciplined to a uniformly Christian spirit, and appear to uphold good principles for their own sake, and not merely as tending to the maintenance of things as they are. It would be delightful to see a work sincerely Christian, which should be neither High Church, nor what is called Evangelical.”

Out of this general sense of the extreme contrast between the high standard of the Christian religion and the evils of the existing state of Christendom, especially in his own age and country, arose one by one those views which, when afterwards formed into a collected whole, became the animating principle of his public life, but which it is not necessary to anticipate here, except by indicating how rapidly they were in the process of formation in his own mind.

It was now that his political views began 10 free themselves alike from the merechildish Jacobinism of his boyhood, and from the hardly less stable Toryism which he had imbibed from the influence of his early Oxford friends—a change which is best to be seen in his own words, in a letter to Mr. Justice Coleridge many years afterwards (Jan. 26, 1840). And though his interest in public affairs was much less keen at this period than in the subsequent stages of his life, his letters contain, especially after 1826, indications of the same lively sense of social evils, founded on his knowledge of history, which became more and more a part of his habitual thoughts.

“ I think daily,” he said, in speaking of the disturbances in 1819, “ of Thucydides, and the Corcyrean sedition, and of the story of the French Revolution, and of the Cassandra-like fate of history, whose lessons are read in vain even to the very next generation.”

“I cannot tell you," he writes in 1826,“ how the present state of the country occupies my mind, and what a restless desire I feel that it were in my power to do any good. My chief fear is, that when the actual suffering is a little abated, people will go on as usual, and not probing to the bottom the deep disease which is to my mind ensuring no ordinary share of misery in the country before many years are over. But we know that it is our own fault if our greatest trials do not turn out to be our greatest advantages.”

In ecclesiastical matters in like manner he had already begun to conceive the necessity of great alterations in the Church Establishment, a feeling which at this period, when most persons seemed to acquiesce in its existing state, was naturally stronger than in the later years of his life, when the attacks to which it was exposed from without and from within, appeared at times to endanger its existence.

“ I hope to be allowed, before I die, to accomplish 'something on Edacation, and also with regard to the Church,” he writes in 1826 ; "the last indeed even more than the other, were not the task, humanly speak. ing, so hopeless. But the more I think of the matter, and the more I read of the Scriptures themselves, and of the history of the Church, the more intense is my wonder at the language of admiration with which some men speak of the Church of England, which certainly retains the foundation sure, as all other Christian societies do, except the Unitarians, but has overlaid it with a very sufficient quantity of hay and stubble, which I devoutly hope to see burnt one day in the fire. I know that other Churches have their 'faults also, but what have I to do with them? It is idle to speculate in alienâ republicà, but to reform one's own is a business which nearly concerns us."

His lively appreciation of the high standard of practical and social excellence, enjoined in the Christian dispensation, was also guiding him to those principles of interpretation of Scripture, which he applied so extensively in his later works.

“ The tendency," he writes to Dr. Hawkins in 1827, “which so many Christians have had and still have, to fancy that the goodness of the old Patriarchs was absolute rather than relative, and that men who are spoken of as having had personal communication with God, must have had as great knowledge of a future state as ourselves, is expressed in one of G. Herbert's poems, in which he seems to look upon the revelations of the patriarchal Church almost with envy, as if they had nearer communion with God than Christians have. All which seems to me to arise out of a forgetfulness or misapprehension of the privileges of Christians in their communion with the Holy Spirit,—and to originate parily in the tritheistic notions of the Trinity, which make men involuntarily consider the Third Person as inferior in some degree to those who are called First and Second, whereas the Third relation of the Deity to man is rather the most perfect of all; as it is that in which God communes with man, not as a man talketh with his friend, but as a Spirit holding discourse invisibly and incomprehensibly, but more effectually than by any outward address,—with the spirits only of his creatures. And therefore it was expedient for the disciples that God should be with their hearts as the Spirit, rather than speaking to their ears as the Son. This will give you the clue to my view of the Old Testament, which I never can look upon as addressed to men having a Faith in Christ such as Christians have, or looking forward to eternal life with any settled and uniform hope."

Lastly, the following extracts give his approaches to his subsequent views on Church and State.

“ What say you,” he writes in 1827, to Dr. Whately,“ to a work on FOAITIKý, in the old Greek sense of the word, in which I should try to apply the principles of the Gospel to the legislation and administration of a

state. It would begin with a simple statement of the rédos of man according to Christianity, and then would go on to show how the knowledge of this rédos would affect all our views of national wealth, and the whole question of political economy; and also our practice with regard to wars, oaths, and various other relicts of the στοιχεία του κόσμου.

And to Mr. Blackstone in the same year:

I have long had in my mind a work on Christian Politics, or the application of the Gospel to the state of man as a citizen, in which the whole question of a religious establishment and of the education proper for Christian members of a Christian commonwealth would naturally find a place. It would embrace also an historical sketch of the pretended conversion of the kingdoms of the world to the kingdom of Christ in the fourth and fifth centuries, which I look upon as one of the greatest tours d'adresse that Satan ever played, except his invention of Popery. I mean that by inducing kings and nations to conform nominally to Christianity, and thus to get into their hands the direction of Christian society, he has in a great measure succeeded in keeping out the peculiar principles of that society from any extended sphere of operation, and in ensuring the ascendancy of his own. One real conversion there seems to have been, that of the Anglo-Saxons ; but that he soon succeeded in corrupting; and at the Norman Conquest we had little, I suppose, to lose even from the more direct introduction of Popery and worldly religion which came in with the conqueror.”

All these floating visions, which were not realized till long afterwards, are best represented in the first volume of his Sermons, which were preached in the parish church at Laleham, and form by far the most characteristic record of this period.

My object,” he said in his Preface, " has been to bring the great principles of the Gospel home to the hearts and practices of my own countrymen in my own time-and particularly to those of my own station in society, with whose sentiments and language I am naturally most familiar. And for this purpose, I have tried to write in such a style as might be used in real life, in serious conversation with our friends, or with those who asked our advice; in the language, in short, of common life, and applied to the cases of common life ; but ennobled and strengthened by those principles and feelings which are to be found only in the Gospel.”

This volume is not only in the time of its appearance, but also in its style and substance, the best introduction to all his later works; the very absence of any application to particular classes or states of opinion, such as gives more interest to his subsequent sermons, is the more fitted to exhibit his fundamental views, often not developed in his own mind, in their naked simplicity. And it is in itself worthy of notice, as being the first or nearly the first attempt, since followed in many other quarters, at breaking through the conventional phraseology with which

« PreviousContinue »