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Memoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore (Volume 2) online

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scarcely surprising that he increasingly clung to soli-
tude and to silence.

Indeed, so deeply was he convinced that the most
direct if not the only approach to spiritual truth was
by introspective rumination, that he would advise his
intimates to put aside all reading, all active thought,
and to remain passive to revelation from within.


which he believed was bound to come to others as it
came to him. If he detected in a friend any capacity
for innate spiritual ideas, he would, by way of the
highest compliment, desire for him "six months of
solitary confinement."

The intuitions which he valued were, he believed,
vouchsafed to all. To some they were occasional
and intermittent, to others more continuous ; but they
are " the light which lighteth every man that cometh
into the world." To most the occasion of them is
first love, which, if pure and unselfish, necessarily
opens the soul to the loftiest conceptions of the In-
finite ; but the same revelation may come through
other affections, from external nature, or even in
dreams. The main duty of man is to live up to the
standard of such inspiration, to keep it from fading,
and even in the darkest moments to preserve the
memory of it for encouragement and hope.^

It is moreover to this mental attitude that we
must attribute the tendency, frequently betrayed, to
depreciate works of active benevolence. That he
should himself have found his main vocation in con-
templative life is not surprising; nor will any who
have reaped due advantage from his writings regret
that he thus understood his own proper function ;
but his characteristic preoccupation with his own
individual view made him careless or indifferent
as to the effect which the strong expression of a
somewhat special and exclusive opinion might have
upon others : he was apt to present to his readers
as a general " counsel of perfection " what was, after
all, applicable only to himself and to those of similar
idiosyncrasy. Be it noted, however, that this dis-
paragement of works of active kindness went no
further than theory, and that he, throughout his life,

' A short poem which appeared in the " Germ," entitled " Stars
and Moon," shows how early he had conceived this idea.


even when his means were small, was unostenta-
tiously liberal in charity.

Further, his belief that sex is a primary and essen-
tial relation, co-extensive with every form of existence,
natural and Divine, made him utterly intolerant of
any doctrines which seemed to him likely to upset
the ordered relation between man and woman.
Though the best part of his earlier life had been
spent in doing loyal and tender homage to woman-
hood, and though later he had found in the worship
of Our Lady the consummation of all his earlier
concepts, he was in no degree prepared to counten-
ance any tampering with woman's proper attitude,
that of due subordination to man. He had no sym-
pathy whatever with movements towards female
emancipation, though he held man primarily respon-
sible for the attempted usurpation. The fault, as he
thought, originated in failure of manliness on the part
of the male sex, which had induced woman to en-
deavour to occupy the position which man was abro-
gating. So long however as the proper relation was
inviolate, there was no limit to the chivalrous admira-
tion which he was prepared to devote to the " weaker

It would, I think, be scarcely fanciful to trace his
political convictions to the same essential ideas. It
was, in his view, necessary that the weaker or more
" feminine" element in the state should be governed
by the " masculine " and strong, its emotional and
thouehtless members, those who seek the mere e^ati-
fication of the moment, by the wise and far-sighted
who can apprehend more permanent interests. He
had no belief whatever in the collective wisdom of the
multitude, — failed to see how any number of "grains
of sifted sand heap'd make a likely house to stand,"
any number of "fools one Solomon." He held that ac-


cording to eternal and irrefragable law, power should
be exclusively in the hands of those who by birth
and education were in a position to attain to political
wisdom. That the material interests of the masses
could be promoted only by their having a share in
government was an argument which did not touch
him. He cared not a jot for " comfort," holding
that it had proved in no degree conducive to spiritual
and moral growth, but rather the reverse ; and this
was the only kind of welfare for which he had the
least regard. To him, a democratic constitution was
not merely a house built with sand, but was further
a direct violation of the eternal and immutable law
by which, as with the sexes, the weak must always
be, and find their true happiness in being, subordin-
ate to the strong. This attitude of a convinced
aristocrat was equally evident in other domains, and
by no means least in religion. Though he would in
theory by no means have underrated the value of
true faith to the averag^e man, the results of relisfion
interested him only so far as they showed themselves
as spiritual apprehension in the higher sphere, and in
some approach to actual saintliness. Neither in his
vvrritings nor in his talk is there much to be found
which is not addressed exclusively to those who can
apprehend exalted religious ideas. The appeal is
always to the few, never to the multitude ; and this
not because he consciously or intentionally ignored
the "people," but because the lower spheres of edu-
cation and intelligence were never present to his
imagination as objects of interest.

It seems scarcely necessary to add that, if he was
in such respects an " aristocrat," the term must not
be taken in any social sense : no one could have
been more free from any approach to snobbishness.
The one exclusiveness which he showed was the de-
sire to associate only with what seemed to him to be


best in character, intellect, and capacity for religious
ideas ; nor in such matters was he likely to accept
any standard but that of his individual judgment.

It is in some such manner as this that his most
important views in matters philosophical, religious,
social and political, may be shown to be coherent,
and may be traced to a common origin. If he ap-
peared as one self-centred, a law to himself, this was
only because he showed a constant fidelity to that
which he believed to be a Divine principle revealed
to him from within, and confirmed from without by
" infinite corroboration."



"Rich ....

Its fruit, beneath whose rough, concealing rind,

They that will break it find

Heart-succouring savour of each several meat."

OF Patmore's attitude towards and position in
his own Church it is naturally somewhat
difficult for me, as one outside it, to judge.
Though he always spoke on such subjects with ab-
solute candour and apparently without restraint, it is
still possible that there may have been, on certain
matters, a greater degree of reserve than would have
been shown in his intercourse with his fellow-Church-
men, — possible too (though this is scarcely in accord-
ance with his character, seeing that it was not usual
for him to strain his opinions or modify the expression
of them with a view to conciliation), that he may
have been unconsciously led to present his views in
the form most likely to prove attractive to one in my
position. Such possibilities of reticence or accom-
modation may be discounted so far as is necessary.
I can only deal with this section of my subject ac-
cording to the light afforded to me by personal con-
verse, disclaiming most sincerely any desire to make
controversial capital out of anything which is here
set down. And it is a satisfaction to me to think
that there is very little that it will be in my power
to record, which the careful reader of his published
works will not find directly or indirectly confirmed

II. c


I may say, in the first place, that no single word
of Patmore's ever came to my ears, however widely
his manner of talk differed from that which is
usual among his co-religionists, which gave me
the slightest impression of his feeling any dissat-
isfaction with or of failing in full loyalty to the
Church which he had joined. On the contrary, he
was always anxious to find for his most original and
most startling apprehensions the definite confirmation
of authority ; nor did anything appear to gratify him
so much as the discovery that some truth, at which
he had intuitively arrived in the course of his intro-
spective meditations, was a cardinal doctrine of the
more mystic orthodox writers. It was clearly his
view that religious conceptions came from within,
and that the main function of a dogmatic creed was
to encourage, guide, and keep within bounds the
ideas which arose in a soul " naturally Christian."

To one advanced in spiritual ideas and instinc-
tively orthodox, such authority v/as a charter of
perfect freedom, and manifested itself as encourage-
ment or confirmation rather than as limitation or
repression. As the true poet with rhyme and metre,
so he with dogma, " found in it not bonds but wings."
He often said to me, " I could never be happy in
any Communion but my own. There is no other
which would allow me to think and say so exactly
what I choose."

It is, however, worth observing in how extended a
sense he employed the word " Catholic ; " so widely
indeed, that for him it came to embrace all that was
essentially good and true either in religion or in
morals. I remember his telling me that when he
first became a " Catholic" he was in doubt how far
it would be right for him to associate with " non-
Catholics," and that he was told that he need have
no hesitation, for in the first place he might do good


to others by intercourse, and In the second place he
had no right to assume that his friends, though pro-
fessing other creeds or none at all, might not be in
their own manner and on their own ground essentially
better " Catholics " than himself. Once, too, when
the dogma was mentioned, " No salvation out of the
Catholic Church," he said that he accepted this, but
only in the sense intended ; that to limit grace to
the external church was to be guilty of the rankest
heresy, and that many known here as heretics, or
possibly as infidels, were truly entitled to rank in the
real Catholic Church above some of its most orthodox
professing members. The same width of view was
held by him with regard to philosophical theologians.
Swedenborg, by whom he had been deeply influenced
in early years, and whose writings had greatly en-
couraged his tendency towards mysticism, Butler,
Hooker, Keble, and others, were accepted by him
as of only less weight than the Catholic Fathers.
Nor did he limit his study and approval to Christian
or to quasi-Christian writers. He was for ever find-
ing in Pagan mythologies hints and adumbrations of
Divine truth. Mr. Gosse records a characteristic
conversation, in which Patmore stated his doubts
whether the Venus of Milo or the Sistine Madonna
should be accorded the place of honour in his house,
and remarked that the former is at least as " Catholic "
as the latter ; and, though in this instance one may
suspect some touch of a humour which revelled in
paradox, he scarcely goes further here than he does
in a paragraph in " Rod, Root and Flower," wherein
he states, with absolute seriousness, that "the Pagan
who had been initiated into the unspeakable names
of Bacchus and Persephone knew more of living
Christian doctrine than any ' Christian ' who refuses
to call Mary the ' Mother of God.' " For Patmore,
as I have said, Pagan and more especially Greek


mythology abounded in hints of the Incarnation
and of other essentially Christian doctrines, which,
fully to interpret, would, he said, quoting the words
of a friend (Mr. E. H. Pember), require " the spiritual
insight of a prophet and the purity of a saint."

But it was not only of religious truth or spiritual
insight that the term ** Catholic " was habitually used.
If he were told of any great act, whether of heroism
or of suffering nobly borne, the encomium passed
was sure to be, "That is truly Catholic" — a word
which was constantly on his lips, and which was
often rendered by the context an exact synonym of
"good" or "true." I remember telling him that
Dean Church's *' History of the Oxford Movement"
had made it clear that Keble's, rather than New-
man's, had been the primary influence ; and he an-
swered, " I am glad to hear that, as I have always
thouorht that Keble had a more Catholic mind than


Newman." (Though his admiration for the latter
was ardent and affectionate, he always detected in him
a certain " Protestant" taint.) Possibly, the strongest
example of this comprehensiveness of view, this un-
willingness to put any bounds to the scope of Divine
influence, was shown in his opinion of the Salvation
Army. In this case, all his natural instincts, his
aristocratic tendencies, his hatred of Puritanism, of
vulgarity, of teetotalism, must have been in direct
opposition to the tolerant conclusion at which he
arrived, namely, that it would be rash to conclude
that the movement might not be of Divine instiga-
tion. If it were argued against any such sect that
it entirely rejected the sacraments both in theory
and in practice, Patmore would reply, in the words
of St. Augustine, that " Love is above the Sacra-

It is fair to observe that these charitable views of
other creeds and communions were in no degree


connected with any desire for external rapprochement
or reunion of Churches. In efforts towards such ends
he took not the smallest interest either positive or

It was impossible for me, hearing the expression
of such comprehensive views, not to ask him what
special and exclusive advantages he considered to
appertain to membership of his Church. To such a
question he would answer that no other seemed to
him to teach or produce so complete a surrender to
the Divine Will, nor, for that very reason, to give
equal aid to spiritual development. It was however
only as it might satisfy genuine aspirations or might
lead to such results that he attached any value to
external assent. His views were diametrically op-
posed to eagerness for such conversions as were not
the consequence of actual spiritual need and likely
to prove the occasion of spiritual growth. Speaking
of the proselytizers of his own communion, who
seemed to seek and care for external assent for its
own sake, he remarked, " What's the good of it ?
If they get them over they will probably only have
made them ten thousand times worse than they were
before." He thoug-ht that those who were livinof
good and Christian lives in other Communions should
be let alone ; that it argued a most culpable rashness
to disturb a position which, as affirmative of essen-
tials, was compatible with true religion. He even
publicly deprecated disturbance of existing institu-
tions such as the Anglican Established Church, as
for instance in the following letter to " The St.
James's Gazette," in which he makes an appeal
to the Nonconformists to give up their efforts to-
wards disestablishment because, if successful, they
will inevitably lead to wholesale conversions to



" To the Editor of the St. James's Gazette.

" Sir, — The supreme struggle for and against the exist-
ence of the Established Church is about to commence ;
and no one who has observed Mr. Gladstone's peculiar
modes of procedure can doubt that he has been long pre-
paring to take the side of Disestablishment. It is some
years, for example, since Mr. Gladstone published an article
in a popular magazine, in which he appeared, on the whole,
to defend the Establishment. Thousands, as he knew,
would read the article, but millions read the title, advertised
as it was all over the kingdom ; and this title was, ' Is the
Church of England Worth Preserving ? By the Right Hon.
W. E. Gladstone.'

" Now there is one certain result of Disestablishment
which has not yet been put before the electors with the
emphasis which its importance demands. I mean the im-
mense and almost immediate preponderance which it would
give to the Roman Catholic Church in England. Were
the national sanction withdrawn from the Protestant Epis-
copal Church in England, that Church would at once be-
come, in the presence of the Church which has been estab-
lished for nearly two thousand years, nothing more than
the principal of the numerous Dissenting bodies in the
country ; and the craving for external sanction would send
thousands of all classes, but especially the most ' respect-
able,' into the Roman fold. This is a consideration which
will appear the more weighty the more it is pondered ; and
it is one especially for the Dissenters, and for such as would
otherwise be more or less indifferent, to reflect upon. Are
they willing to give the Roman Catholic Church an enormous
immediate extension, and an argument by which they will
make thousands of converts in every succeeding year ? — I
am. Sir, your obedient servant,

"A Dissenter.

" October i6th, 1885."

In fact the Roman Catholic Church was valued by
him mainly, if not solely, as the best school for saints.
The aristocratic and exclusive bent of his mind was


no less manifest in religion than in politics. To join
the Church without assimilating its higher spiritual
teaching was only to swallow the husk without di-
gesting the kernel. Indeed, on the ground that the
corruption of the best is the worst, the professed
Catholic without inward grace was in the worst
position of all. To the great majority their creed
was " no better than a degrading superstition " ; and
again, he quoted from a sermon by a Roman Catholic
prelate with a general assent qualified by some
amusement at the crudity of the expression and the
impolicy of the utterance, " The heathen are those
who have grace without the sacraments, Catholics
those who have the sacraments without grace."
However, notwithstanding that he saw so little ad-
vantage in conversion to his Church except where
the change seemed likely to lead to the spiritual
results he valued, I am sure that he would have
welcomed with the utmost joy the accession to it of
any one of his intimates whom he considered en-
dowed with a "Catholic mind," and would have con-
sidered him to be substantially gaining by the change.
He was however far too wise to exercise any
pressure or to attempt to influence his friends other-
wise than by presenting his creed in its most human,
most sympathetic, and most attractive aspect.

Patmore's writings on religious subjects have
been held by many to conduce towards the unity of
Christendom and to constitute an eirenicon between
rival Churches. This is true as regards their effect,
though I doubt if he was conscious of any such inten-
tion. It is to his habitual attitude in spiritual
matters rather than to any purpose of conciliation
that such a result should be attributed. Without
ignoring the risks which attend all generalisations or
the exceptions to which they are necessarily subject,
I may explain my meaning as follows.


There may be said to be three strata or stages of
religious thought. The first is represented by those
whose creed is so simple as to afford little or no
ground for contention ; the second by such as, in their
search for greater precision, enlarge the domain of
dogma, but fail to pass beyond its mere technical
aspect ; the third consists of those who rise from the
technical to the spiritual, and, without repudiating
or disparaging dogma, use it mainly as a guide
and support to thought which transcends mere de-

While few are content to remain within the first
category, and even these are in constant danger of
being influenced or annexed by the second, many
fail to pass beyond this intermediate stage in which
religious animosity mainly thrives.

Patmore has consistently identified himself with
this final stage of thought : so much so that his
writings on religion may be found generally accept-
able by the more spiritually-minded members of all
Christian Churches. For this reason he may prove
to have done more to promote mutual understanding
and sympathy than many who have consciously
laboured towards this end.'

Very rarely in my presence were any matters that
are in dispute between the branches of the Christian
Church brought under discussion. On the few occa-
sions when such questions arose, it appeared to be
quite impossible to bring Patmore's mind down to
the technical point at issue. He was so exclusively
occupied with great and far-reaching principles as
completely to rise above controversial detail. It

^ Another Roman Catholic writer of the present day who may
be compared to Patmore for a spirituaUty which rises above the
controversial sphere, and who in other respects shows great similarity
of religious thought, is Rev. G. Tyrrell, S.J., the author of " Nova
et Vetera" and "Hard Sayings."


was, so to speak, impossible to bring him to the
ground, so habitually did he soar in the higher
regions of thought. As an example, I remember
that on one occasion he was questioned as to his
Church's definition of Transubstantiation, the usual
argument being employed, that the philosophical
theory on which it was based was no longer tenable.
His reply was that the whole object of his Church
had been so to define the dogma as to predicate real
and actual contact ; and this concept he illustrated as
follows (the metaphor of sex was never far away) :
" A man may woo a woman, praise her, do her ser-
vice in a thousand ways, and yet never really touch
her heart ; whereas a single grasp of the hand may
do for him all that he has otherwise failed to accom-
plish ; " and in a similar manner would he habitually
override all considerations of mere matter-of-fact
reasoning by reference to some great spiritual truth.
This aloofness of his made definite argument with
him on technical points as impossible as it was clearly
unprofitable. If sympathy could be established in
the higher regions of thought it was as unnecessary
as it was futile to obtrude the lower. He was to be
understood only in his own sphere.

So too it was evident that the ceremonial of his
Church attracted him only so far as it implied for
him recondite transcendental truths. At the time of
his change of creed he was unusually ignorant of
ceremony, and, in the earlier years of his conversion,
it did not appear to be specially congenial to him.
He seemed too to adopt with some degree of shy
reluctance such personal action as it involved. Even
in later days, if I visited with him some Roman
Catholic church, I seemed to detect in the manner
of his genuflexions a moral as well as a physical
effort. On the other hand he loved to expatiate on
the inner meaning of the Church's ritual, finding in it


intentions which could have been patent to but few
of his co-reHgionists, if indeed to any but himself.

His method of interpreting Scripture was of a
piece with all his other religious ideas. To the literal
and obvious meaning of large portions of the Sacred
Writings he attached comparatively little importance.
There was, as he believed, in every passage, however
ordinary and trivial it might appear to the average
mind, some secondary and mystic meaning. " He
must be a very great fool (so he wrote) who thinks
that he can understand the simplest chapter in the
Bible." To some extent this inner sense could be
apprehended by the spiritually-minded, who would
be further greatly assisted by the use of a sort of
key to the occult meaning, which was to be found in
Catholic writings and manuals. Thus " the names of
the four points of the compass, and water, fire, cloud,
thunder, etc., have fixed significances without the
knowledge of which thousands of passages of Scrip-
ture, even those not involving any enigmatic mean-
ing, cannot be understood." This system of inter-
pretation would be applied by him to many dark
sentences with such astonishing ability as almost to
convince the most recalcitrant that he had finally
resolved the enigma ; and it is needless to say that
he found in a multitude of passages thus interpreted

Online LibraryBasil ChampneysMemoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 36)