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But he not only excels in criticism of individual writers; he is equally, as the following passage will demonstrate, an adept in the philosophy of literary expression in general. He is speaking of the view taken by many writers, that the
and mould of all written language should be spoken language':
• There are more reasons,' he says, “for demurring to the soundness of the latter doctrine, than can conveniently be made to fill a digression here. For one thing, spoken language necessarily implies one or more listeners, whereas written language may often have to express meditative moods and trains of inward reflection that move through the mind without trace of external reference, and that would lose their special traits by the introduction of any suspicion that they were to be overheard.
This is equal, if not superior, to anything in the criticisms of Mr. Matthew Arnold. But Mr. Morley is not only a critic of good writing in others. He shows us occasionally, as has been already said, that he might have been, had he chosen, a singularly fine writer himself. The specimens of his style with which the reader has been just presented are, in point of style, far above his usual level. Even in them, however, the manner is noticeably inferior to the matter. It is not a laboured manner, but it is a labouring manner. It not only shows us the victories which his thought wins, but it shows us the painful and often ungainly struggle which he goes through in winning each of them. Words, with him, convey little to us beyond their bald intellectual meaning; they rarely gain any added force, from judicious placing, or from the music which in other writers Mr. Morley so much admires. In other writers he can detect the roll of an organ. His own tunes, if he has any, are for the most part played on a table. But here and there, not often, yet still often enough to show that it is not the result of chance, he turns from the table, he lays his hands on the keyboard, and we suddenly hear the prolonged and appealing notes of the open diapason' and of the vox humana.' Here is a passage which will justify what we say, and which shows him as critic of literature, and as master of style as well :
• The few with minds touched by nature or right cultivation to the finer issues admire the supreme genius [of Shakspeare) which takes some poor
Italian tale, with its coarse plot and gross personages, and shooting it through with the threads of variegated meditation, produces a masterpiece of penetrative reflection and high pensive suggestion as to the deepest things and the most secret parts of the life of men. But to the general, these finer threads are indiscernible. What touches them in the Shakespearean poetry, and most rightly
touches them and us all, are topics eternally old, yet of eternal freshness, the perennial truisms of the grave and the bridechamber, of shifting fortunes, of the surprises of destiny, and the emptiness of the answered vow. This is the region in which the poet wins his widest if not his hardest triumphs, the region of the noble Commonplace.'*
Here is another passage, dealing not only with literature, but with human character, which for music, for dignity, and for profound pathos, it would be hard for any writer to excel. Mr. Morley is speaking of the best of Rousseau's Musings,'
masterpieces,' as he calls them, “in the style of contemplative prose':
• The third, the fifth, and the seventh,' he says, especially abound in that even, full, and mellow gravity of tone which is so rare in literature, because the deep absorption of spirit which is its source, is so rare in life. They reveal Rousseau to us with & truth beyond that attained in any other of his pieces- a mournful, sombre figure, looming shadowily in the dark glow of sundown among sad and desolate places. There is nothing like them in the French tongue, which is the speech of the clear, the cheerful, or the august among men; nothing like this sonorous plain song, the strangely melodious expression in the music of prose of a darkened spirit which yet had imaginative visions of beatitude.'t
In these last words we have a specimen of Mr. Morley's literary handling, not of literature but of life; and this brings us to the second of the three capacities, in which, as we have said, he exhibits his highest qualities, his capacity of philosophic biographer. Philosophic biography, as we venture to call what forms at least seven-tenths of Mr. Morley's works, is a kind of writing of which there are too few examples. It is not history, it is not philosophy, it is not literary criticism, it is not biography; but it is a union of them all. It takes a man's life for its central theme; but it deals with such a man mainly for the sake of his influence on the world ; his work, if literary, is subjected to literary criticism, with a view to understanding the cause that produced a given practical effect; and philosophy is invoked in order to connect the individual with the larger movements of history, which preceded, which surrounded, and which succeeded him. History has been described as philosophy teaching by the example of men: ordinary biography we may describe as ethics teaching by the example of a man: the sort of biography written by Mr. Morley, we may describe as a compound of the two; its teaching is the teaching of the first; its method is the method of the second.
* Miscellanies,' vol. i. p. 268. t Rousseau,' vol. ii. p. 315.
Mr. Morley's Mr. Morley's range of studies is no doubt narrow; but within his own period, his knowledge is singularly searching and thorough ; and equally singular is the capacity he shows, for extracting a meaning out of immense masses of detail. No writer has made a more clear-sighted attempt to explain the ideas which underlay the watchwords of the French Revolution, to exhibit the various theories, passions, and protests that met in them, and through these ideas to arrive at a clearer understanding of the ideas, which animate the democratic parties of to-day. That Mr. Morley's pictures are always just, we are very far from saying; and there is much that is faulty in the artistic form of his work. But all that we are concerned to insist upon is, not that in dealing with historical questions he achieved a complete success of even a second-rate kind, but that he exhibits qualities by which he might have achieved, though he has not, a success of the highest kind, but for certain unfortunate circumstances.
The circumstances we have alluded to may be described briefly, but sufficiently, as follows. They are the circumstances, no matter what, which have made Mr. Morley a Radical (we do not mean merely a man of letters who votes on the Radical side, and gives to Radicalism the sympathies he can spare from literature, but a Radical who is a Radical first, and a man of letters afterwards); which have made his convictions in the former capacity the guide of his work in the second; which have, in fact, made the modern Creed of Progress the same thing for him, for his thoughts, and his interests, and his sympathies, that the Church and the Bible were for the Medieval Schoolmen. Mr. Morley, from many passages in his writings, seems not only conscious of this result, but proud of it. For literature as literature, although it evidently attracts him personally, he is careful to let us see he entertains a grim contempt. Most literature,' he says, 'nearly all literature, only serves to pass the time of the learned or cultured class.' And even of such writing as aims not at the amusement of the few, but at stirring the minds and forming the opinions of all, he impatiently insists that its importance is far below the importance of action. Action, however, is not always possible for everybody; and according to Mr. Morley, the next best thing to action is the writing by which action is most directly influenced. Thus it has come to pass that his own writings are in reality something entirely different from what they seem to be. In form, as we have seen, they are a series of studies and
* • Miscellanies,' vol. ii. p. 148.
biographies, biographies, and we have seen that as such they have a number of admirable qualities ; but what gives them their chief interest, their unity, and their practical meaning, is the fact, that indirectly they are treatises on contemporary Radicalism. When he criticizes the errors in the democratic creed of the last century, he is setting forth what he considers the truths of the democratic creed of this. When he ridicules the worship of the Goddess of Reason, he is inculcating another worship, which he thinks should take its place. When he is deploring that the Jacobin spirit went too far in France, he is arguing that it does not as yet go far enough in England.
We will now proceed to set before our readers what Radicalism is, as expressed, analyzed, and defined, by Mr. Morley. Let us begin then by repeating, what we have already hinted, that the doctrines which compose
it are by no means all of them political. A part of them are moral and philosophic, and a part religious. Logically and practically they are all inseparably connected ; but for purposes of criticism and explanation they can be, and they require to be, separated. Put into the briefest form possible, the sum and substance of these various doctrines is as follows. As regards morals, right and wrong have no standard other than social utility. As regards religion, there is no God, and there is no future life, and religion is some mode of feeling, the object of which is humanity. As regards philosophy, there is no free-will ; thus human actions, equally with the movements of matter, are included amongst the subjects of science; and science shows that these actions, as a whole, produce a movement which is fittingly called progress. Finally, as to politics, this progress is bound up with the destruction, rapid or gradual, of all forms of monarchy and all forms of aristocracy, and the transference, in fact, not only in form, of all power to the poorest and most numerous classes. The logical connection of these various views is obvious. The negation of a God and a future life gives a harsher aspect to the darker sides of civilization, and thus creates a desire for reforms that would be otherwise unimportant. By making morals relative solely to social expediency, the area of reform, or at least of change, is widened, and the dignity of reform is increased. By the negation of free-will, and the inclusion of human action amongst the subjects of science, a theoretical basis is made possible for a positive doctrine as to progress ; and thus, the idea of progress being essential to the modern idea of Democracy, the philosophy of Radicalism supplies the ideal state with its ends, and the politics of Radicalism supplies the ideal state with its means.
We say, that this connection between these various views is obvious; but though obvious, it is possible that the reader may think it slight. He shall learn from Mr. Morley's own words, whether it is really slight in the eyes of intellectual Radicalism. Let us begin with what we have said is the Radical doctrine as to religion, namely, the negation of Christianity, and the substitution for it of some humanitarian enthusiasm. No doubt, at the present moment, many Radicals are Christians; but we must judge of the character of a movement, not from superficial observation of opinions which accidentally are held by a number of its supporters, but from a careful examination of the opinions which animate its most influential leaders, and which are acted on, even when not recognized, by their followers.
Mr. Morley's views, as we have said before, are for the most part insinuated, rather than formally stated; but on this point, at all events, he is in one place sufficiently plain-spoken. • The first condition of the farther elevation of humanity,' is, he says, the more or less gradually accelerated extinction of all theological ways of regarding life, and prescribing right conduct.' It is true that he is not often so blunt or so explicit as this; but the intensity with which he holds the view in question, and the importance which he attaches to it, are constantly shown in indirect ways, which are far more forcible than any direct repetition. The importance which he attaches to the destruction of Christianity is best measured by the spirit in which he treats and attacks it. From the point of view of the intellectual man, it is true, he regards it with contempt rather than anger. He begs that his readers will not think him a * sceptic. The sceptic's is a 'shivering mood; it is a mood of • sentimental juvenility, only fit for such poems as 'In Memoriam.' • The whole system of objective propositions which make up the popular belief of the day, in one and all of its theological expressions,' that is to say, the whole of Christianity, is not worth the trouble of doubting about; and Mr. Morley tells us that “he rejects them as false positively, absolutely, and without reserve.' † But when he turns from the truth or the falsehood of these beliefs, and regards them as facts in society, which still exercise an influence, his contempt changes into vehement denunciation and anger. The Church is for him the 'infamous almost as much as it was for Voltaire. The great ship of your Church, once so stout and fair and laden with good destinies, is become a skeleton ship; it is a phantom hulk, with warped planks and sere canvas, and you who work
Miscellanies,' vol. ii. p. 259.
+ Voltaire,' p. 69, and . Compro:nise,' p. 160. Vol. 168 — No. 335.