Poems and Prose Remains, Vol. I



Mr. Newman’s ‘The Soul.’

Arthur Hugh Clough

THE APPEARANCE of this book is a novelty, and may be thought an epoch, we do not say in literature, but in a more weighty matter, religious writing. For the first time since we know not what remote period, mercy and truth are met together in the world of publication, religion and knowledge have kissed each other. He whom our fathers would have called a Methodist, is also what our contemporaries entitle a Rationalist: one well known to be rich in historical and philological lore and great in critical acumen, is found also possessed of those stores of devout experience which delight the readers of pious biography, proves himself also powerful in those searchings of spirit and delicate self-introspections which are the shibboleth to the tender conscience. We have before us the true Christian scribe instructed into the Kingdom of Heaven, who, like unto a man that is an householder, bringeth forth out of his treasure things both new and old.

For Mr. Newman is not only powerful in these two departments, but, a more rare felicity, is sincere with himself and outspoken with others. His religious mind holds communion with his scientific, and compares spiritual things with spiritual; his consciousness pervades his whole being; he will not keep his knowledge in one drawer and his devotion in another, put his lexicon on this shelf and his bible on that; he is not worldly for six days and spiritual on one day—a heathen in the lectureroom, a good Christian at his bedside; his mind is not a railway with one line exclusively up and the other no less incommunicably down; he is not content to travel one while towards Zion and anon towards Babylon; he has set his face to a single definite terminus, towards which, faster or slower, he will make his way.

There are men of this kind in the world, but somehow they are either silent or inarticulate—books of this kind there are not. There are men who have found for themselves this unity of mind and heart; but, in entering this door, they let it close behind them, and cannot say to their excluded brethren what is the secret of its spring; they are contented, but they know not how or why. They tell you, like the peasant, to hold straight on, meaning that you are always to take the right turn. They talk to you of being natural and sensible; they use language and profess convictions wholly at variance, though they see it not, with their conduct and actions. If you seek to put them right, they are a little perplexed, but more angry; they discourage and turn you back. You may not be like them, if you will not—which you cannot—talk like them. There are men—such was Arnold—too intensely, fervidly practical to be literally, accurately, consistently theoretical; too eager to be observant, too royal to be philosophical, too fit to head armies and rule kingdoms to succeed in weighing words and analysing emotions; born to do, they know not what they do. There are men—such are many who see something of the solution, but think the unsolved problem more expedient—who will not speak the truth till everybody has begun to whisper it, who put off to more convenient seasons, and wait on providence and the public. Such are many; such, most emphatically, is not Mr. Newman.

Yet (and this to such as him is their exceeding great reward), we believe the public, or, if not the public, yet many thousand quiet souls in private, are prepared to hear what he has spoken—are ready for all this, and perhaps for more than this.

On two points at least, and one of them is the fundamental proposition of his book, Mr. Newman may hope for ample sympathy. In the name of more than one individual we beg to tender him ours. Most grateful must many souls be for the serious and religious expression which here is given them of the conviction, that not in dictionaries and chronicles, nor yet in traditions and articles, is our religion to be sought: our faith must not rest on historical facts, however strongly attested, not on theological articles, however ancient and venerable, not on any written semper, ubique, ab omnibus, but on the instincts of the spiritual sense, on the demands of the spiritual nature. Our gospel must not be after man, neither received of man, nor taught: the abiding revelation is written, not on hard tables of stone, legal, historic, or dogmatic, but on the fleshy tablets of the human heart and conscience. The Kingdom of God is within us.

This is Mr. Newman’s fundamental doctrine, his first and great commandment, a gnothi seauton which descends from heaven—Believe thine own soul.

From this great principle he sets out, and his whole book is an essay towards developing out of it something of a religious ontology, an attempt to find in the phenomena of the human soul reasons practically sufficient for belief in certain actual superhuman correlative existences.

How far in this he has succeeded it is harder to determine. A single reviewer, in a single review, can scarcely presume to go duly into the question: on the rock of the human soul stands the mystic inscription, the characters of the strange alphabet, arrow-headed, phonetic, pictorial, what not?—to us unlearned ones they seem variable, shifting, now this, now that, Egyptian, Chaldean, Etruscan, Assyrian; for the perfect determination the reader must be referred to transactions more philosophical than the present.

Believe thine own soul. This first and great commandment we welcome. But the details of the second, which is like unto it, and all the intricacies of the law and prophets that hang thereon, we confess ourselves hardly prepared to investigate. How far and in what precise sense the freedom of will, the personal existence of God, &c. &c., are discoverable in the human soul as intuitive principles, axioms of spiritual theory, and postulates of conscience, essential for solution of all future human theorems and problems, is a matter perhaps beyond the limits of the reviewer’s province. We presume neither to doubt nor to dogmatize.

That second point of sympathy and gratitude which many readers will, we think, discover in the book, is perhaps theoretically a minor matter, but practically one of high importance. It will be found in the chapter on the Sense of Sin.

A spiritual friend of some experience relates that, when he was a boy at school, tormented by the very obvious contradiction between the evangelical exhortations given him at home, and the common school-boy view of life and conduct, distracted between conscientiousness and sociability, he received a relief, which he never forgot, from hearing one of his elders, whom he respected, speak of an act which he regarded himself as being dreadfully sinful, simply as foolishness.

At college again he states that he found similar spiritual comfort from some verses, signed 8 (Mr. Newman’s brother, we believe, used that signature), in the ‘Lyra Apostolica.’

Time was I shrank from what was right
    For fear of what was wrong,

But now I cast that finer sense
    And sorer shame aside;
Such dread of sin was indolence,
    Such aim at heaven was pride.

One could almost fancy that in the spiritual, as in the intellectual region, there are Antinomies. It is needful to believe that between the doing and not doing of a given act there is a difference simply infinite—it is needful also to believe that it is indifferent. Some men are nerved, some unnerved, by the sense of imminent danger. Said Mirabeau, ‘I must succeed or perish.’ Says another, ‘After all, perishing doesn’t matter.’ One man leaps the chasm by thinking of the void below, another by ignoring it. To remember gives us force; to forget, steadiness.

Is it, perhaps, that in our times the conscience has been over irritated? Yet, certain it is, that at present, for young minds, there is at least as much harm as good in calling things very wrong. Be strict, if you please; be severe, be inflexible. If a rule is made, it must and shall be observed: such and such a practice is not and cannot be allowed; this true discipline makes boys men, teaches them the laws of life. But meddle not rashly, O pedagogue, with the conscience; or, if you will and must, be it like the good Samaritan, to pour in oil and wine, not vinegar and vitriol. The child has done wrong, doubtless, and must suffer for it; but do not therefore talk of guilt, repentance, and redemption. In him, perhaps, it was the merest and most innocent inattention; a good tendency even, it may be, a little misdirected. Yea, though he seem incorrigible, do not think him, for God’s sake do not call him, a reprobate. Give a dog a bad name and hang him; give a boy a bad name and he will hang himself. Freedom for experimentation is essential; to refuse it is a spiritual despotism. But it is in education and amongst the young that this mischief is mostly prevalent. Few persons perhaps pass the age of thirty, very few males reach it, without having somehow or other, by atonement or assurance doctrines, by confessions or sacraments, by religious hypothesis or plain common sense and carelessness, quieted their conscience and brought their minds to the comfortable conclusion that they must get on as best they may. If they have taken any decisive step, made any irremediable religious profession, entered the pulpit, or joined some sect, in their early too-poetical rashness, doubtless it is awkward, but somehow it is managed. As the great traveller said, the world is much the same everywhere. Common sense permeates even into the prayer-meeting, is even there found indispensable.

There is much more in Mr. Newman’s book with which we cordially sympathise, and from which we could willingly make citations. But there is a tendency noticeable in it throughout, more particularly in the chapter on the Sense of the Personal Relation to God, which seems to us likely indeed to be to many the sole recommendation of the other portions and other tendencies, but likely on that very account to foster diseases of the age, and give strength to misdirections of the modern English character.

Be it far from either the present, or any other reviewer, to speak lightly, or otherwise than reverently, of the mysterious instinct of prayer. In no list of gases, mephitic or otherwise, shall this delicate exhalation of man’s inmost humanity be written down; let no man desire to analyse and decompose it. The overflowings of the grateful heart, the aspiration of the imprisoned, the cries of the troubled soul, shall not be tried in any chemist’s retort or crucible. All that, here at least, shall be said, is that, for the spirit’s health, it is essential that these effluxes be limited; better far that this precious imponderable lie crystallised or metallized within us, than be disengaged and let free to escape in profuse and idle volumes into the vast uncongenial expanses of atmosphere. If you cannot contain yourself, go, like Joseph, to your inner chamber for a moment; but be speedy; wash your face and come forth quickly, to speak calmly and reasonably with your brethren.

To be enthusiastic for the realisation of an idea, to be faithful amidst privation and sickly or carnal longings to some ideal—these are possible things and wholesome things. But there is some truth as well as some extravagance—more pertinence, we think, than impertinence—in the question which a young man once put, we believe, to himself only, ‘How can I love God without having seen Him?’ Love implies a sensible consciousness of an object: is it safe to ascribe an objective actual. character to any picture of our imagination, even in its highest moments of beatitude? is it otherwise than superstitious for a Protestant devotee to recognise the sensuous presence of the Son, or for the Romish to believe in the visits of the Mother, who lived and died in Palestine eighteen centuries ago.

To believe such spiritual communion possible is perhaps not unwise; to expect it is perilous; to seek it pernicious. To make it our business here is simply suicidal; to indulge in practices with a view to it most unwholesome and dangerous. The belief that religion is, or in any way requires, devotionality, is, if not the most noxious, at least the most obstinate form of irreligion; if not the wide wasting epidemic of a season, it is the permanent ineradicable phthisis inherent in climate and constitution.

Is this vague and unmeaning declamation? Ah, reader, it is not pleasant for the new convalescent to talk of his sick-room phenomena, to re-enter the diseased past, and dwell again among the details of pathology and morbid anatomy. Yet, if we needs must classify the results of this spiritual misconception, and give a list of the forms of the evil, first we must mention and dismiss that of pure devotionality, more common in Roman Catholic countries than in England. Here the religionist simply ignores the exterior world; all that is done is merely mechanical; absorption in the contemplation of the Deity is the whole life. To sit at the feet of an Unseen Visitant, to gaze on a celestial countenance, visible to the entranced one alone, and to listen to words spiritually discerned, inaudible to the carnal, this is the one thing needful with which Martha must not interfere, however much Mary be needed for the many things of service. In this life, except perhaps that the beatified Mary of necessity postulates the existence of the unblest Martha, there is at least consistency and unity.

But, obliged as most people must be to mix with things earthly, and be cumbered and careful and troubled, they have to settle the question of reconciling the world and the Spirit, they have to make themselves holy friendships out of the unrighteous Mammon, to serve God in the world and in their generation. For the solution of this problem, so little information is apparently derivable from devotional habits, so alien on the contrary are they to the cultivation of plain sense and worldly wisdom, that those who indulge in them are usually forced to take refuge in a position either of mere fantastical caprice or of hard unmeaning formalism. Powerless to decide, unable to discern, stimulated by vague enthusiasm, and tortured by over-irritable conscience, some begin by accepting, as the promptings of the Spirit, any random suggestion of the fancy: if it occurs to them to write a letter to an irreligious relation, it must be done; if they chance to think of rebuking some innocent levity, the task must, in season or out of season, be gone through; if a text turns up in their mind, it must be applied forthwith—after a course of which sad mistakings, distressed by their uninstructed enthusiasm, yet baffled by defeats and obliged to foresee evil consequence, they end, perhaps, by leaving the decision to the turning of a piece of money, and find the spirit of wisdom in the head or tail of an appointed providential sixpence. O reader, have you not known this? Ah, but fact is stronger than fiction! Yet indeed be thankful, O ye Protestants, for to you belongs this special ill; rejoice and be triumphant, the dead sixpence is less pernicious than the living confessor.

Let us pass to a manifestation common to both developments of Christianity, that of blind benevolence and alms-giving. This, in its mildest form, is perhaps found in the Roman Catholic case; beggary and laziness are the earthly results; so plain, that nothing but devotional blindness could fail to observe them; so sad, that nothing could be found in compensation, but a conviction of a supernatural blessing arbitrarily attached to what, in the natural world, is a palpable curse. The more enlightened philanthropism of England resorts to the formation of charitable societies, to district-visiting, distribution of tracts, and teaching in charity schools. Doubtless it is more enlightened; happy are they who in simplicity and godliness

Keep among the thirsty poor
God’s holy waters flowing.

Yet it is to be feared that to many of these teachers, advisers, and visitors, occurs more or less frequently and sadly the question, What is it I shall say? As my own religion consists in praying, hearing sermons, and visiting the poor, so that which I am to teach consists in praying, hearing sermons, and . . . . resignation to poverty! A felicitous godsend of substitution, truly, yet not wholly satisfactory, it is to be feared, to the patient, or even to the physician!

There is a religion whose revelation it is to be what religion so-called calls irreligion. It is, shall we say, Silence.

You have found out God, have you? Why, who can it be that made all these contrivances for our comfortable existence here; who put things together for us; who built the house we live in, and the mill that we work in, and made the tools that we use; who keeps the clock in order, and rings the bell for us, and lights the fire and cooks the victuals and lays the table for us? Don’t we find it laid every day? Was it nobody, think you, that put salt in the sea for us?

You have found out God, have you? The vessel goes on its way: how? You conclude there is someone somewhere working these wheels, these pistons, these strong and exquisitely-adapted means. Oh, my friends! and if in a dark room, under the main deck, you have hunted out a smudgy personage with a sub-intelligent look about the eyes, is that so great a gospel for me? No, not even should you go further, and signalise to me James Watt! Am I, therefore, to fall down and worship? No; silly as it seems, if you insist upon my knee-dropping, I will worship rather the broad sea, the wavy hills, and the empty sky round about and above me, or the chance volume of I know not what in my hand.

Ah, my friends, gravitation is discovered; and behold, a law within the law, a something that is interior to it, that comprehends it and other things; an attraction of attractions—who can say?—begins to be talked of! Ptolemy, in old times, thought he had made it out, and Ptolemaic theories perish with the long ages of puzzle; and victorious over cycle and epicycle, behold the perfect Newtonian, which explains all! And the world has not done congratulating itself on moving in an ascertained ellipse around an established centre of all, when lo, the centre is no centre, there is another somewhere—a centre of centres: it is not the sun now, but is in the constellation Hercules or something or other. We touch the line which we thought our horizon; it was a line of shadow which we enter and discern not. We approach, and behold, leagues away, and receding and receding yet again beyond each new limit of the known, a new visible unknown.

You have found out God, have you? Ah, my friends! let us be—silent.

Let there be priests, if you please, to preserve the known, and let them, as is their office, magnify their office, and say, It is all. But there shall also be priests to vindicate the unknown; nor shall it be accounted presumption in them to maintain,—It is not all. Let there be preachers of tradition which is express; let there also be of that tradition which implies.

‘The Kingdom of God is within us,’ but it is also without us. On this text, O reader, we propose to write you a brief lay sermon; this truth, specially that latter part which Mr. Newman we think has neglected, we propose for the benefit of your soul, as best we may from our unclerical pulpit, with all due diffidence to expound. There is a love, we think, which constraineth us—with the vanity of the critic something better does at the bottom lie immingled.

And now, O reader, ask yourself this question! At the end of your religious exercise and devotional indulgence, returning from prayer-meetings and sacrament, and rising from the knees that bend in the closet to the Father that seeth in secret—at the end of all this what remains? An earnest desire to serve Him, to do His will, to do good: a desire, and—is it not true?—a question, What shall I do?

This question, O reader, does it always find its answer and end where it found its beginning? You come back to us with the innocence of the dove; do you bring also with you the wisdom of the serpent? Are you not tempted at times to run headlong into very doubtful good deeds, into imprudent interferences, into spurious benevolence? Does not the river of your piety lose itself in the sands of the world, and run dry? Do you not end, ere next prayer-meeting or sacrament, with a sense which that excitement alone can dispel, that after all religion is in daily life sadly impracticable? When, in a long succession of these godly assistances and worldly hindrances, you have wearied yourself with drawing water into a cask that lets it through, do you never feel tempted to take refuge simply in devotional exaltations, or give up religion altogether for business? At the best, if you settle down into district-visiting, society-management, or school-attendance, do you find after all that these matters have any essential, any more than arbitrary, connection with your devotions? If you, O my male reader, proceed, as the most likely step, to devote yourself to the ministry, do you not discover a sad discrepancy between your pulpit-self and your dining-room-self? Does the latter quite give satisfaction to the former? and yet has the former any very precise directions to give for the improvement of the latter?

Is it not this sense of the dumbness of the spiritual oracles that makes some of you take refuge in the old Catholic forms, which at least have the prestige of antiquity and the superiority of better taste over those newfangled observances which, after all, are equally formal. The prayer-meeting is unsatisfactory wholly: let us try the daily service, and if a still small voice call this a vain oblation, we can at least stifle the sound by the echo from the voices of the saints of eighteen hundred years. Was it not this conviction that Methodism had no answer to the question, What shall we do? that gave its spiritual allurements to Tractarian renovations?—which, after all, you, O reader, are beginning ere this to find a vain imagination.

Your religious experience will indeed have been idle if you now resort again to your old Evangelicisms, or fix yourself in simple devotionality; if all this end in unmeaning oscillation, or stupid immobility. Your religious experience will not have been idle if you come forth with but the one conviction that the Kingdom of God is without us, and, in one sense, does come of observation.

We are here, however we came, to do something, to fulfil our ergon, to live according to nature, to serve God: the world is here, however it came here, to be made something of by our hands. Not by prayer, but by examination; examination, not of ourselves, but of the world, shall we find out what to do, and how to do it. Not by looking up into our Master’s face shall we learn the meaning of the book which He has put into our hands; not by hanging to our mother’s apron-strings shall we perform the errand on which she has sent us; not by saying, ‘I go, Sir,’ shall we do work in the vineyard; nor by exclaiming, ‘Lord, Lord!’ enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

And now, O reader, farewell? Will you tell us that we are mere insignificant cetaceous flounderers sending up our puny spout after the pattern of that leviathan whom God has made to take his pastime therein? Will you say that this petty writer even more, and much more inexcusably than that great writer, evades answer to the question ‘What shall we do?’ Will you call our performance the noise of a penny imitation of the great Carlylian trumpet? Be it so; yet to clear away obstacles is something; to call off the hounds from the false scent is not nothing. We have said, Look not up into the empty air, but upon the solid, somewhat dirty earth around, underfoot; and if we, poor trumpeters, do but bring the soldiers from the wrong ground to the right we shall be content, and shall trust that they, at least, will do something.

To drop all foolish metaphors; is it certain that this devotional pseudo-religion in no way interferes with reforms and improvements, most obvious, most practicable? The machinery for education, will you say it is in no degree impeded by such prejudices as we have been attacking? Who is it hampers the Committee of Privy Council?


And now, O reader, once more farewell! and this time in good earnest. You will tell us perhaps, as we leave you, that we are preaching an unchristian, ungodly doctrine, contravening both the Law and the Gospel. ‘We are not careful to answer in this matter.’ It may be that He who preached against vain repetitions and warned his disciples not to trust in ejaculations, ‘Lord! Lord!’—it may be that in the synagogue of Capernaum and the mountains of Decapolis, He did not, totidem verbis, urge this doctrine. Nevertheless, it may yet fit well the mouths of His true believers in the churches of England and in the streets of London. In His name, and in the name of the Past and of the Future, once more we repeat it—Let us have done with Methodism.

To Mr. Newman, meantime, let us repeat once more our expressions of general sympathy and of cordial thanks.

Poems and Prose Remains vol. I - Contents

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