Ҿ˹˹ѧ
PDF
ePub

ironical self

a

He has solved
the problem
of life; he is a
success.

which the poet has fitted on the shoulders of his “Blougram”; and very possibly some Catholics may have sighed as they reflected what an apologist and casuist was lost to the Church in Mr. Browning.

Most briefly let us recall the features of Blougram as peculiarities of self-described. He is a man fond of good living; fond from Bis seni besides, of books and pictures, of intellectual speculation ; description. of all in short that we designate “culture.” He has body and a soul which “exact a comfortable care in many ways” (p. 274). Withal, he has the instinct of a powerful nature for domination over others; he needs the respect and obedience of mankind. Lastly, he is a man of delicate and fastidious taste; which leads him to veil these instincts under a high grace of manner, an affected modesty and reluctance to take the honours and good things the world would force upon him. There is a better side to his nature; but G. is not the man to whom he will show it.

“ Thus I am made, thus life is best for me,
And thus that it should be I have procured ;
And thus it could not be another way,

I venture to imagine." Why then apologize for such a life? So utterly convinced that he is “the right man in the right place,” why entrap poor Mr. Gigadibs, the obscure and despised scribbler, into a situation where hospitality is the pretext for opening upon him so tremendous a battery of rhetoric? The answer is, that the Bp. has heard a voice, whether that of Gigadibs or of his own conscience, or the one in echo of the other, which clearly says, in spite of all his self-complacency: Your life is not ideal.

He is really This is what stings him, more perhaps than any charge that stung by the

imputation that could be brought against a man of such tastes and such he is a sham. aspirations. This is the voice he would so eloquently clamour down, and with which at the end he remains secretly contending. For he knows, if any man does, that if that nameless charm, that last inexpressible grace we term the Ideal, be wanting to the boasted construction of his life, it is a failure. Or say that it is “all but” a success, how damning is the exception which lies in that little “ all but.”'

Here, then, is the point of attack, not for a moment The Ideal Life: to be lost sight of amidst the cloud of the Bp.'s defensive movements.

What is the ideal life? According to Mr. Gigadibs' definition it is : “to do what one prefers, to speak as one loosely by G. thinks, and as one cannot help (p. 264); to believe or disbelieve no matter what, so long as on that point, whate'er it be, one looses one's mind, and is wholly true to oneself.” In other words, it is Freedom

requisite to selfessential to the life for the Ideal that a man should have realization fair opportunity for self-realization and self-representation in the

66

characterized

[ocr errors]

neither.

sense of those words. If he, by his own act, like Bp. Blougram, cuts himself off from the hope of this self-realization, his life must be unand sincerity. ,

ideal, that is mean and vulgar. In particular, it is essential to the ideal life that the man should bring his belief and his external calling into correspondence. This B. does not and cannot do in the Blougram has opinion of G.); therefore his life is not ideal.

The assumption of G. is that B. is not the absolute believer in the dogmas of the Church he allows the world to suppose bim to be. G., then, sces through him, and despises him. The reply of B. is indirect, and aims to show that G.'s reasoning is based upon ignorance and assumption. It is mere assumption that absolute belief is possible for any man. It is mere ignorance of life to suppose that it can be led upon some ideal or abstract plan. B. admits that he is not an absolute believer, and grounds the defence of his life on the following principles : 1. That absolute faith and absolute unbelief are equally impossible states of mind for any man. 2. An imperfect unbelief, therefore, or an imperfect belief is alone possible. These are only two different ways of describing the same intermediate state of mind. If a man, e. g., finds more difficulty in believing in the existence and goodness of God than in disbelieving, this is imperfect unbelief. If another sees more difficulty in disbelieving the same, this is imperfect faith. B. has imperfect faith, and having it, he has all that is required. Thus B.'s self-defence resolves itself into an examination of the practical problem of life. He cleverly chooses his own ground, and evades his antagonist from the first. It may be convenient to divide the whole Apology as follows: I. The The Apology. Problem of Life: what it is, and how B. has solved it. II. Criticisms of this view of life examined and replied to. III. Defence of “imperfect faith " as a spring of action. IV. Defence of worldliness as a spring of action.

I.

The Problem of Life: (1) Stated in general.

The problem of life (says B.) for every man, is in

some sense self-realization. But the way to set about its solution is not to follow our imagination and endeavour to make the facts bend to our fancies ; but it is first to find out what the laws of living actually are, and then to realize as much of the good or beautiful as we can in accordance with them. We must make a compromise, in short, between the claims of the ideal and the real. And if our attachment to the ideal stands in the way of our actual comfort

and enjoyment (p. 265), let the ideal for the time be cast

overboard. Life is like a six months' voyage, and we like cabin passengers.

If you, G., persist in bringing a little library of

The fallacious siinile.

(2) From the

the

We are

Greek and French books, an Italian picture and a marble bath on board, you will have proved your good taste and your folly at the same time. You will have to leave those luxuries behind; while I, having furnished my cabin for comfort, shall have proved that I understand what the case requires. The problem of life, then, is to extract as much of comfort as we may out of existing situations, and let all our higher tastes have our second thoughts. (This may be so to an old man of sixty, but not to a young man of thirty.) It is always fallacious to reason from illustrations; and this cabin-simile contains the root of B.'s fallacies. G. ought not to have let it pass.

Life cannot be seriously compared to a mere v sea-passage, except in one or two points. The simile begs the whole question in favour of a realistic view of life.

(p. 268.) But next let us consider the problem of life from the stand-point of the unbeliever or free-thinker, such per believer of as is Mr. G., and as the Bp. will assume himself for the or free-thinker. sake of argument to be. You will find then that “absolute” Fixed unbelief a

psychological unbelief is just as impossible as “absolute” belief. Im- impossibility. agination is very near to faith, if it be not faith itself. governed by imagination ; and sights and sounds of nature and other fragmentary experiences stimulate the imagination and hint the existence of a supersensual world which you had resolved to banish from your thoughts. “ Just when we are safest, there's a sunset-touch,

Involuntary
A fancy from a flower-bell, some one's death,
A chorus-ending from Euripides,-

supernatural in
And that's enough for fifty hopes and fears
As old and new at once as Nature's self,
To rap and knock and enter in our soul,
Take hands and dance there, a fantastic ring
Round the ancient idol, on his base again,-

The grand Perhaps !”
So says Byron :-

“Slight withal may be the things which bring

Back on the heart the weight which it would fling
Aside for ever : it may be a sound-
A tone of music-summer's eve—or spring-
A flower—the wind—the ocean—which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we are darkly bound;
And how and why we know not, nor can trace
Home to its cloud this lightning of the mind,

a

mental representation of the

certain experi-
ences.

[blocks in formation]

"Childe Harold, xxiii. and xxiv. Cf. a beautiful passage in X. de Maistre's Voyage autour de ma Chambre, Chap. xxi: “ ce n'est point sur un syllogisme, etc.”

[ocr errors]

A state of soul 11.terieliale te weetier tretirs a'one

but a man

position.

The man who

Then again the ordinary arguments for Christianity will occur to you, not because they are in every book on the “ Evidences"; they are in the books because they are in the heart. Follow the lead of the heart, anél in some sense or other you will be brought to Christ. Difficulties of belief may arise from our ignorance of the perspective of thought ; or possibly, may be for the trial and education of faith.

(p. 270.) The actual condition then of every thoughtful

mind is that of oscillation between belief and unbelief in pusslinde; matters of religion. The demand for absoluteness or fixity on the one side, the pretence to it on the other, is made by those who talk in abstractions, not really knowing what they are talking about. S. Paul says that at present our thought moves in the sphere of Enigma (1 Cor. xiii). Consequently, it is a mistake to be too knowing in our dogmatism, or too dogmatic in our agnosticism. Now comes in the

practical problem : Shall a man standing in this twilight, Pavar prosess an or chiaro-scuro of intuition, say that he stands in the light

or in the darkness ? Shall he (in B’s phraseology) “ choose belief” or unbelief? What he means by this fallacious phrase is

Shall the man represent himself to the world as a believer the best of this or as an unbeliever? (pp. 270—1.) The answer is, that his

worldly interest lies on the side of affirmation. The man present belief,

who chooses the part of the doubter or critic is like a man who prefers to be a bed-ridden dreamer rather than to act and enjoy. The world will treat him as an impracticable, and keep its good things for the man who assumes the good of life in his particular sphere of

action. (p. 272.) Again, if one resolves to assume the part of a believer, it will be well to play it thoroughly. Although, as B. has admitted, and as he will presently again

insist, absolute belief is not a possible state of mind, and there are doubts he can never solve; it would be very unsuccessfu? acting of the part were this allowed to appear to the public. The world “ that gives us the good things ” we must have constantly in our eye. It is for the most part a weak “purblind mass,” looking to B. and his fellows for guidance; and it will do this no longer, if B. honestly confesses that he is only purblind himself.

(p. 273.

) Now to apply; these principles to B. himself. He was born into a certain ecclesiastical system. And this B.'s triumphant

system had the following surpassing advantages for him:

1. It offered him an easy means of living. 2. It was the most precise and definite representation of Christianity existing in the world. 3. It was a most potent instrument for working upon the world. Here then was the Bp.'s “cabin” furnished for him completely

world must affirm, é e. re

and this as thoroughly as possible. Be in earnest in your acting of the part.

Sarcastic
self-application
of this theory,

success in life proves its truth and worth.

to his mind. He took the place so admirably fitted for him; all has turned out well; his life is a perfect success. And the implication is, that had B., as a young man, rejected these advantages to dream of the ideal, he would have been a fool, as G. actually is.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

II.

is low

of success,

[ocr errors]

66

will not bear

But now the Bp. will listen to objections and criticisms

Objections : and reply to them. 1. “Yours is a mean view of life and (1) B.’s notion of

says

G. “You have substituted vulgar comfort and vulgar. and ambition for a noble self-realization.” (p. 275.) “Well," replies the Bp., "if I am a vulgar man, I must pursue vulgar objects. Reply. Beasts must live beasts' lives.” (Yes; but a beast never said nor could say so.

Only a man can say this, and thereby betray the consciousness that he is not a beast.) ' My life on the contrary is one of subtle intellectual enjoyment”: this is what he means to hint. 2. “But,” (2) Your success urges G., "your success will not bear true criticism. A man

the highest like you cannot be content with the undiscriminating admir- criticism. ation of the many; you must be anxious to know what profound judges really think of your life-performance; just as Verili amidst the uproarious applause which rewards his poor opera, steals a glance at Rossini sitting calmly in his stall.” The reply of B. to this remark Reply. shows a consummate knowledge of human nature, and a triumphant audacity founded on that knowledge. It is just these keen judges whom he delights to fascinate and to bewilder. In the first place these deep judges of human nature bewilder themselves by their own subtlety. In the second place, they are fascinated by dubious characters (pp. 276-7), who hover in the twilight : "honest thieves, tender murderers, superstitious atheists, demireps ”—and Bp. Blougrams. If such people make a false step and cease to be dubious, it is all over with them. But so long as they keep their giddy equilibrium, like a boy astride a chimney-pot, they will be wondered at, and treated as mysteries and psychological enigmas. Now B. has the secret of perfect equilibrium; in other words, perfect presence of mind and audacity, founded on knowledge of the situation. And lastly, the time itself favours him. As compared with previous periods, this latter half of this 19th century is in thought and feeling itself dubious. It does not blindly believe, like the Middle Age, nor disbelieve as a matter of course with the “ Illumination of a century ago. It is the very twilight time that favours a twilight creature like B. His chief adroitness,

it seems, consists in having selected this period to be born in ! He snaps his fingers at your clever men. It is just they whom he bafiles and commands.

« ͹˹Թõ
 »