« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
all that was coarse and low with a woman's shrinking, detesting all field-sports as barbarous and brutal,—presented a phase of humanity utterly alien to the rampant and “healthy animalism” of Mr. Kingsley's nature. In early life Shelley, habitually the purest and least sensual of men, committed one grievous fault, so far as we can judge, less at the instigation of wrong passions than under the delusion of a false theory. In early life, too, when wild and flighty almost to the verge of insanity, if not sometimes beyond it,—when smarting under bitter wrongs, enthusiastic for the regeneration of the world, burning with boyish zeal for the destruction of what he held to be a mischievous and tyrannical delusion, and full of the self-opinion which belongs to youth, and not unfrequently survives it,- he poured forth mad anathemas against Christianity and social law. It availed nothing that he denounced unnatural and ascetic priests with a pertinacious eloquence akin to Mr. Kingsley's own; that his purse, his time, his strength, were always at the call of the suffering and the sad ; that his blood boiled as fiercely as that of the strongest at the bare idea of injustice and oppression, and that in such a cause he was as brave as a lion, and would take any odds; that he exercised over the coarser mind of Byron a strange influence, which, if not intellectually wholesome, was always morally improving; and that he even persuaded him to abstain from continuing his profligate poem ;-all this goes for nothing: the one poet was sympathetic, the other antipathic to Mr. Kingsley's tastes; and accordingly, Shelley, whose life, we believe (except in the one instance referred to), was strictly chaste, and whose pages are as pure as Mr. Kingsley's own,—for he, like Shelley, sometimes errs in saying things better left unsaid, and like Shelley, too, errs from mistaken theory, and not from wrong design, -Shelley is “ lewd” and a “ satyr.” “Byron may be brutal, but he never cants;"_“if Byron sinned more desperately and more flagrantly, it was done under the temptations of rank, wealth, disappointed love, and the impulses of an animal nature, to which Shelley's passions were
* As moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine.'” To Shelley, therefore, is attributed “ the lewdness of the gentle and sensitive vegetarian ;” and Byron is “the sturdy peer, proud of his bull-neck and his boxing, who kept bears and bull-dogs, and drilled Greek ruffians at Missolonghi, and had no objection to a pot of beer;' and who might, if he had been reformed, have made a gallant English gentleman: while Shelley, if once bis intense self-opinion had deserted him, would probably have ended in Rome as an Oratorian or a Passionist."*
* It is singular that, a few pages further on, we find Mr. Kingsley speaking
A more characteristic passage-one more richly redolent of unregenerate Kingsleianism-it would be difficult to find. It suggests, too, another criticism we have to make upon our author,—the close connection, namely, of his greatest merits and his greatest faults with the intensely social character of his mind. His test, not only of good and evil, but of truth and falsehood, may be said to be the tendency of actions or doctrines to dissolve the bonds of social unity, or to draw them closer. This perhaps lies at the root of his dislike to political economy. Competition which political economy recognises as the law of trade-he sees, truly enough, to be the source of much selfishness, many jealousies, and occasionally of bitter animosities and heart-burnings; and hence he tries to sweep the whole system away with the strong wind of religious faith. His deep respect for sanitary laws, for bodily exercises, for field sports, is in a great measure due to the connection of these things with social health, and the effect they have in clearing away the secret morbidness of exclusive temperaments, and opening the communications between mind and mind. He knows well that there is scarcely any root of exclusiveness, of moral cowardice, of self-involvement, of social blight, so common as the neglect of physical health and exercise; and he is aware, too, that the social and buoyant tone of his own Christianity arises in a great measure from his building it up on a sound foundation of physical health. There are evidently few things he hates so much as the morbid fancifulness of solitary and sedentary minds.
But this social test of right and truth, sound enough as far as it goes, is, more consueto, so exaggerated by Mr. Kingsley that it often brings out very false results. It is true that there must be a seed of error and of poison in any mind, or in any system of belief, which leads permanently to isolation, narrowness, and frigid self-sufficiency. But it is not true- as Mr. Kingsley thinks-that the characteristic sins of social temperaments are less heinous or less dangerous than the characteristic sins of solitary temperaments; nor even that convictions which for a time may seem to sever men from their fellow-creatures, and to remove them painfully from human sympathy, are less true than those which give an immediate and commanding hold of the popular mind. Now Mr. Kingsley falls into both these of Shelley in almost the precise terms in which we have spoken of himself. " Whether it be vegetarianism or liberty, the rule (with Shelley) is practically the same-sentiment; which in this case, as in the case of all sentimentalists, turns out to mean at last, not the sentiments of mankind in general, but the private sentiments of the writer. This is Shelley; a sentimentalist pure and simple ; incapable of any thing like inductive reasoning, unable to take cognisance of any facts but those which please his taste, or to draw any conclusion from them but such as also pleases his taste” (p. 314).
errors. In that essay on Shelley and Byron to which we have just referred, the man of social temperament, of unbridled passions, and of unbridled selfishness, is contrasted with a man whose complex, benevolent, sensitive, but in several points unhealthy, spirit was of such a kind that few could understand him fully, and few were fully understood by him. That the one was morbid, and the other manly, we do not deny ; but we cannot conceive how any just-minded moralist, who judged by a true test—or, indeed, by any standard at all other than his own self-will and predilections—could compare Byron with Shelley, and feel inclined to give judgment in favour of the hardy reprobate over the gentle and aspiring enthusiast. But what Mr. Kingsley feels so strongly is, that Byron's sins against the social bond, though deep and gross, were open and easily exposed : Shelley's life and poetry, on the other hand, he thinks likely to fascinate men with an appearance of beauty and nobility which will end in eating out the manliness of their life and the heart of their faith. It is possible enough, perhaps, that a Shelley school of thought—though not half so likely to become prevalent-might, if prevalent, be more evil in its influences than a Byronic school, because it would be a more complex and subtle combination of noble sentiments with emotional self-indulgence. But what right have we, in comparing the two men, to judge them by the probable effects upon society of their characteristic faults? The fact remains, that Shelley—though afflicted with a morbid and unsocial nature, which, however, he did much to elevate and purify — was self-controlled, benevolent, dignified, courageously true, and comparatively pure in life; while Byron was selfish, sensual, covetous of fame, not above dissimulation, and without the power of mastering himself. Yet the Christian minister prefers the strong fast sinner to the erroneous and antipathic thinker!
But Mr. Kingsley not only makes social influence a test of good and evil; he too much inclines to make it a test of Truth also. In the Dialogue of Phaethon-a book, by the way, which if a man wishes to fill his belly with the east wind (as Solomon says), he had better read to-morrow—he is not ashamed to assert that a man who has reached what he is convinced is positive truth, should suppress the expression of that conviction if it seems to be in conflict with (what Mr. Kingsley, we suppose, deems to be) the more happy and useful belief of society at large. The atheist, we are told, even if moved by the “ Spirit of Truth,” is bound to conceal his unbelief; “ for there would be far more chance that he alone was wrong, and the many right, than that the many were wrong, and he alone right. He would, therefore, commit an insolent and conceited action, and moreover a cruel and shameless one; for he would certainly make miserable, were he believed, the hearts of many virtuous persons who had never harmed him, for no immediate or demonstrable purpose except that of pleasing his own self-will” (p. 41).
This is perhaps the worst instance to be found in Mr. Kingsley's writings of his undiscriminating worship of the social bond. If he had given himself time to think, or had asked any reasoning friend to think for him, he would scarcely have published such a passage; or, indeed, any portion of the slipshod volume which contains it. No doubt, in the end, any creed must be false, or must contain a large element of error, which tends to drive men asunder; and all true faith ought ultimately to draw them into closer union and harmony. But this is not, and cannot be, our main test of their truth; and those who make it so commit exactly the same mistake as the utilitarian moralist, who judges of moral actions only by their consequences. Deep conviction is the sole sine quâ non of the duty of public expression. Of course, no man is bound, and no man has a right, to throw forth to the world his crude, basty, passing notions on serious subjects-especially if those notions are likely to prove perturbing or offensive, and if he has not qualified himself by years, by study, by patient inquiry, and by modest reflection, to form and to propound independent opinions: and Mr. Kingsley might take this lesson home. But the mature convictions of mature minds are the great instruments of social progress and purification: all who read history know them to be so; all who believe in God should feel them to be so likewise; and should beware lest, out of mere timid unfaithfulness of soul, they “quench the spirit,” and fight against the suggestions of the Most High.
As in the few pages which remain of our allotted space we shall address our criticisms to Mr. Kingsley alone, we should be sorry to leave our readers under the impression that what we have said of his analogue, Mr. Carlyle, comprises our whole opinion of that eminent man, or at all faithfully conveys the sentiments with which we regard him. We have spoken of his faults freely and severely; and we have nothing more to add on that score. But Mr. Carlyle is a man to be spoken of with respect, even where we cannot speak of himn with patience. The present age owes to few a deeper debt of gratitude. He has infused into it something of his own uncompromising earnestness. He has preached up the duty and the dignity of WORK, with an eloquence which has often made the idle shake off their idleness, and the frivolous feel ashamed of their frivolity. He has proclaimed, in tones that have stirred many
hearts, that in toil, however humble, if honest and hearty, lie our true worth and felicity here below.
“ Blessed is the man who has found his work,” he somewhere says: “ let him ask no other blessedness." He has inspired in others something of his own contempt for animal indulgence, and for unproductive and unaspiring ease.
He is the most terrible scourge the fruges consumere nati ever had. For every thing unreal and deceptive he has a keen eye and a withering denunciation. He has broken in pieces many hollow idols, and scattered to the winds many empty pretensions, many time-honoured falsehoods, many half-held creeds. He has forced a conventional and shallow generation to test and try many things, and to abandon what has clearly been found wanting. If he has built up little, he has destroyed much; he has prepared the way for future workinen by removing vast heaps of encumbering rubbish. On thinkers and on the young he has exercised an influence which has always been remarkable, and generally salutary; and if he has been usually scouted and neglected by statesmen and politicians, by the practical and the sober-minded, he owes it to his inveterate habit-in which again, by the way, Mr. Kingsley resembles him- of stating truth with such outrageous exaggeration that it looks like falsehood, and almost becomes such.
We have two more criticisms to make on Mr. Kingsley's writings; and both relate to very grave faults. With faculties equal to turning out work of almost any degree of excellence, his ordinary style of workmanship is slovenly and slipshod. With power to reach almost any standard, his ordinary standard is unfixed and low. He, who can do so well, is content often to do ill. We are sure that he writes as he thinks, hastily and inconsiderately. His rattling, random, galloping, defiant fashion of writing irresistibly conveys the impression of a man of overflowing mind coming in from a breathless burst with the foxhounds, rushing to his desk with muddy boots, battered hat, and disordered dress, and dashing off with vast rapidity the teeming fancies suggested to him by a brisk circulation and a fertile and vivid brain. He is essentially an improvisatore-an extempore writer. His luxuriance is marvellous; but he never prunes or tones it down. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, conscious of his own great gifts, he thinks that his loosest and most careless thoughts are good enough for the world. He wants respect for his readers, for his art, and for his own powers. He does not value the talent God has given him sufficiently to cultivate it to its highest point of perfection, to dress it in the most fitting drapery, or to be on the watch against its straggling