« PreviousContinue »
culture address the mammon-worshippers—those who have either gotten wealth, or, being hot in the pursuit of it, regard wealth and welfare as synonymous
“Consider,” he makes culture say, “these people, their way of life, their habits, their manners, the very tones of their voice; look at them attentively, observe the literature they read (if they read any), the things that give them pleasure, the words which come forth from their mouths, the thoughts which make the furniture of their minds; would any amount of wealth be worth having with the condition that one was to become like these people by. having it? Thus,” he says, “ culture
culture begets a dissatisfaction which is of the highest possible value in stemming the common tide of men's thoughts in a wealthy and industrious community, and which saves the future, as one may hope, from being wholly materialized and vulgarized, ii it cannot save the present." Against all this absorbing faith in machinery, whatever form it takes, whether faith in wealth or in liberty, used or abused, or in coals and railroads, or in bodily health and vigor, or in population, Mr. Arnold lifts up an earnest protest.
It is an old lesson, but one which each age forgets and needs to be taught anew, men forgetting the inward and spiritual goods, and setting their hope on the outward and material ones. Against this all the wise of the earth have, each one in his day, cried aloud—the philosophers, moralists, and satirists of Greece and Rome, Plato, Epictetus, Seneca, and Juvenal, not less than Hebrew prophets and Christian apostles, up to that divine voice which said, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
This same old lesson Mr. Arnold repeats, but in modern language, and turns against the shapes of idol-worship, which he sees everywhere around him. In contrast, then, to all the grosser interests that absorb us, he pleads for a mental and spiritual perfection, which has two sides, or prominent notes-beauty and intelligence-or, borrowing words which Swift first used, and which, since Mr. Arnold reproduced them, have become proverbial, “Sweetness and Light”-“An inward and spiritual activity having for its characters increased sweetness, increased light, increased life, increased sympathy."
The age of the world in which these two, “sweetness and light,” were preëminently combined was, Mr. Arnold tlıinks, the best age of Athens—that which is represented in the poetry of Sophocles, in whom “the idea of beauty and a full-developed humanity" took to itself a religious and devout energy, in the strength of which it worked. But this was but for a moment of time, when the Athenian mind touched its acme. It was a hint of what might be when the world was ripe for it, rather than a condition which could then continue. In our own countrymen, Mr. Arnold believes, partly from the toughness and earnestness of the Saxon nature, partly from the predominance in our education of the Hebrew teaching, the moral and religious element has been drawn out too exclusively. There is among us an entire want of the idea of beauty, harmony, and completely rounded human excellence. These ideas are either unknown to us, or entirely misapprehended.
Mr. Arnold then goes on to contrast his idea of a perfectly and harmoniously developed human nature with the idea set up by Puritanism, and prevalent amid our modern multifarious churches. He grants that the church organizations have done much. They have greatly helped to subdue the grosser animalities, they have made life orderly, moral, serious. But when we go beyond this, and look at the standards of perfection which these religious organizations have held up, he finds them poor and miserable, starving more than a half, and that the finest part of human nature. He turns to modern religious life, as imaged in the “Noncomformist,” or some other religious newspaper of the hour, and asks, What do we find there? “A life of jealousy of other churches, disputes, tea-meetings, openings of chapels, sermons.' And then he exclaims, “Think of this as an ideal of human life, completing itself on all sides, and aspiring with all its organs after sweetness, light, and perfection!” • How,” he asks, “is the ideal of a life so unlovely, so unattractive, so narrow, so far removed from a true and satisfying ideal of human perfection,
to conquer and transform all the vice and hideousness” that we see around us? “Indeed, the strongest plea for the study of perfection as pursued by culture, the clearest proof of the actual inade
quacy of the idea of perfection held by the religious organizations—expressing, as I have said, the most widespread effort which the human race has yet made after perfection—is to be found in the state of our life and society with these in possession of it, and having been in possession of it I know not how many years. We are all of us included in some religious organization or other; we all call ourselves, in the sublime and aspiring language of religion, children of God. Children of God-it is an immense pretension and how are we to justify it? By the works which we do, and the words which we speak. And the work which we collective children of God do, our grand center of life, our city, is London! London, with its unutterable external hideousness, and with its internal canker, publicè egestas, privatim opulentia, unequaled in the world!”
These are severe words, yet they have a side of truth in them. They portray our actual state so truly that, though they may not be the whole truth, it is well we should remember them, for they cannot be altogether gainsaid.
I have now done with the exposition of Mr. Arnold's theory. Before going on to note what seems to me to be its radical defect, let me first draw attention to two of its most prominent merits. His pleading for a perfection which consists in a condition of soul, evenly and harmoniously developed, is but a new form of saying, “A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." You will say, perhaps, Is not this a very old truth? Why make such ado about it, as though it were a new discovery? Has it not been expressed far more strongly in the Bible than by Mr. Arnold? True, it is an old truth, and we all know it is in the Bible. But it is just these old truths which we know so well by the ear, but so little with the heart, that need to be reiterated to each age in the new language which it speaks. The deepest truths are always becoming commonplaces, till they are revivified by thought. And they are true thinkcrs and benefactors of their kind who, having thought them over once more, and passed them through the alembic of their own hearts, bring them forth fresh minded, and make them tell anew on their generation.
And of all the old proverbs that this age needs applied to it, none is more needed than that which Mr. Arnold has proclaimed so forcibly.
Again, as to the defects which Mr. Arnold charges against our many and divided religious organizations, it cannot be denied that the moral and social results we see around us are far from satisfactory. In this state of things we cannot afford to neglect whatever aid that culture or any other power offers—to ignore those sides and forces of human nature which, if called into play, might render our ideal at once more complete and more efficient. There is much to excuse the complaints which highly educated men are apt to make, that religious minds have often been satisfied with a very partial and narrow development of humanity, such as does not satisfy, and ought not to satisfy, thoughtful and cultivated men. The wise and truly religious thing to do is not to get angry at such criticisms, and give them bad names, but to be candid, and listen to those who tell us of our shortcomings—try to see what justice there may be in them, and to turn whatever truth they may contain to good account.
Mr. Arnold sets before us a lofty aim; he has bid us seek our good in something unseen, in a spiritual energy. In doing this he has done well. But I must hold that he has erred in his estimate of what that spiritual energy is, and he has missed, I think, the true source from which it is to be mainly derived. For in his account of it he has placed that as primary which is secondary and subordinate, and made that secondary which by right ought to be supreme.
You will remember that when describing his idea of the perfection to be aimed at he makes religion one factor in it-an important and powerful factor, no doubt, still but one element out of several, and that not necessarily the ruling element, but a means toward an end, higher, more supreme, more all-embracing than itself. The end was a many-sided, harmonious development of human nature, and to this end religion was only an important means. In thus assigning to religion a secondary, however important, place, this theory, as I conceive, if consistently acted on, would annihilate religion. There are things which are either ends in themselves or they are nothing; and such, I conceive, religion is. It either is
supreme, a good in itself and for its own sake, or it is not
The first and great commandment must either be so set before us as to be obeyed, entered into, in and for itself, without any ulterior view, or it cannot be obeyed at all. It cannot be made subservient to any ulterior purpose. And herein is instanced "a remarkable law of ethics, which is well known to all who have given their minds to the subject.” I shall give it in the words of one who has expressed it so well in his own unequaled language that it has been proposed to name it after him, Dr. Newman's law: “All virtue and goodness tend to make men powerful in this world; but they who aim at the power have not the virtue. Again: Virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasures; but they who cultivate it for the pleasure-sake are selfish, not religious, and will never gain the pleasure, because they never can have the virtue.”
Apply this to the present subject. They who seek religion for culture-sake are ästhetic, not religious, and will never gain that grace which religion adds to culture, because they never can have the religion. To seek religion for the personal elevation, or even for the social improvement it brings, is really to fall from faith which rests in God and the knowledge of Him as the ultimate good, and has no by-ends to serve. And what do we see in actual life? There shall be two men, one of whom has started on the road of self-improvement from a mainly intellectual interest, from the love of art, literature, science, or from the delight these give, but has not been actuated by a sense of responsibility to a Higher than himself. The other has begun with some sense of God, and of his relation to Him, and starting from this center has gone on to add to it all the moral and mental improvement within his reach, feeling that, beside the pleasure these things give in themselves, he will thus best fulfil the purpose of Him who gave them, thus best promote the good of his fellow men, and attain the end of his own existence. Which of these two will be the highest man, in which will be gathered up the most excellent graces of character, the truest nobility of soul? You cannot doubt it. The sense that a man is serving a Higher than himself, with a service which will become ever more and more perfect freedom, evokes