Alexander Henry Craufurd.

Recollections of James Martineau: with some letters from him and an essay on his religion online

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Online LibraryAlexander Henry CraufurdRecollections of James Martineau: with some letters from him and an essay on his religion → online text (page 1 of 12)
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As this little volume is intended to deal with
James Martineau principally as a great spiritual
teacher and as a friend in private life, it is scarcely
necessary to say very much about the merely
external events of his life, though I have a good
deal to say as to his personality and his conversa-
tions with me. I will give only a brief statement
of such outward circumstances as helped to deter-
mine his intellectual, moral, and religious char-
acter. A very good summary of his long life
may be found in an article about him in the
" Dictionary of National Biography."

No doubt, my friend's French Protestant an-
cestry to a great extent helped to determine
his moral and intellectual nature. His father
was a man of fine character, but not remarkable
intellectually. His mother was a woman of
great force of mind. The father failed in busi-


ness about the end of his life ; and James Mar-
tineau for many years had a hard and struggling
existence. His school life at Norwich was by
no means happy, though he only attended the
Grammar School as a day scholar. He was too
delicate, refined, and sensitive to be happy in
a rather rough school. Later on he went for
about two years to a school in Bristol kept by
Dr. Lant Carpenter, where he learnt much. He
afterwards went to study the profession of an
engineer in Derby ; but the mechanical work
failed to satisfy him. Whilst in Derby he lived
in the house of a Unitarian minister named
Higginson, whose daughter he afterwards married.
The marriage was an extremely happy one. Mrs.
Martineau died of a distressing brain disease in

Having determined to change his intended pro-
fession and to become a minister of religion,
Martineau went to study at Manchester New
College, a Unitarian institution then established
in York. Here he remained for about five years
and gained much knowledge. Here also he
formed a quite romantic friendship with another
student named Francis Darbishire.


Harriet Martineau was rather older than her
brother James, and influenced him greatly in
his earlier years. When he was about nineteen
years old, he went for a walking tour with her
in the Scottish Highlands. Later on in life they
quarrelled. Originally the cause of dissension
appears to have been that James refused to
return to his sister or to destroy the letters that
she had written to him in former days ; but the
quarrel was finally rendered an irreparable one
by his writing a most unfavourable review of an
Atheistic book published by Harriet Martineau
in conjunction with a Mr. Atkinson.

In some ways the five years spent in the College
in York were a rather poor substitute for a train-
ing in a great university. They gave very little
knowledge of the world. The students were
too exclusively of one type. The atmosphere
was one of intense respectability ; and so Mar-
tineau's knowledge of human nature was not
adequately enlarged.

After leaving York, this young student became
for a short time a schoolmaster. He went back
to Bristol and helped Dr. Carpenter in the work
of his school. In the year 1828 he became


assistant minister of a Presbyterian church in
Dublin. Though the church was called Presby-
terian, the views of those who worshipped in it
were Unitarian or at least Arian. He remained
in Dublin till 1832. On the death of the In-
cumbent in 1 83 1, Martineau became the chief
minister of the church ; and he finally resigned
his position, because he could not accept an
annual grant of money derived from the state,
and called the Regium Donum. To receive
this grant was contrary to his religious convic-
tions. In this resignation of his church we have
a good illustration of my friend's rigid con-

In 1832 James Martineau went to be an assis-
tant minister in Liverpool. There he worked
very hard and took pupils. He had been married
at the end of the year 1828. In the year 1846
a great grief came upon him. He lost his charm-
ing boy Herbert, to whom he was most fondly
attached. In 1840 Martineau was appointed a
professor in Manchester New College. That
establishment was at that time removed from
York to Manchester. In 1848 he went abroad
for about a year, and studied philosophy and


religion in Germany. This study had a great
and permanent effect on his intellectual and
spiritual development. In the year 1853 Man-
chester New College was moved to London.
Martineau became a professor in it, and from
1869 till 1885 was Principal of it. He resigned
in 1857 the church in Liverpool of which he had
been for some time the Incumbent. He was for
some years connected with the Unitarian chapel
in Little Portland Street, London, first as an
assistant and afterwards as Incumbent. He
resigned the Incumbency in 1872 on account of
ill health. His sermons in this church were
profoundly intellectual, but not very easy to

Martineau was not pleased with the removal
of Manchester College from London to Oxford.
He spoke thus in a speech against the proposed
move : " For natures and types of thought cast
in a different mould from ours Oxford may fur-
nish all that can be desired. But not yet is it
the true nursery for the children of the Puritans.
The mountain flower transported to the hothouse
or the southern garden-bed is not more sure to
fade than would be the simple veracities and


hardy vitality of devotion which it is ours to
transmit, were they exposed to the enervating
spiritual climate which is proposed for their

From 1885 till his death in 1900, at the age of
nearly ninety-five, Martineau's life was one of
studious retirement. He lived during part of
each year at his delightful Highland home at
Aviemore, in Inverness-shire, and during the rest
of the year in his house in Gordon Square,
London. In the year 1890 he published his last
great work, " The Seat of Authority in Religion."
He retained his fine intellectual faculties almost
unimpaired till about a year before his death,
which was a very easy and peaceful one. Two
unmarried daughters took excellent care of him
in his advanced old age.

This little book will appeal chiefly to those
who fervently admire the intellectual, moral,
and spiritual genius of James Martineau, whilst
they are unable to accept his Unitarian and in
some ways semi-Deistic creed. It is intended
to supplement and not to supersede that very
valuable work, the " Life and Letters of James
Martineau " by Dr. Drummond and Professor


Upton. It is a tribute offered to the great Uni-
tarian by a man of widely different temperament.
It may perhaps serve in some measure to express
that profound feeling of lasting gratitude to Mar-
tineau which is so strongly felt by thousands of
people in the Church of England, in the Scottish
churches, and amongst Liberal Nonconformists,
and which has as yet found no adequate utter-
ance. Even if my work should have no other
value, it may at least show how vast and how
penetrating has been the spiritual influence of this
inspired seer over minds cast in different moulds
and mainly dominated by different religious ideas.
His central thoughts may perhaps become all
the more extensively and deeply operative
when released from their transient embodiment
in the formal creed of a small denomination.
James Martineau was too noble to belong to
any sect. In a spiritual sense he was no pro-
vincialist. To me it seems that his formal
Unitarianism often veiled rather than revealed
his real soul, his permanent personality. In
some ways it was to him what Judaic Rabbinism
was to St. Paul. He longed for a universal
church which should find its true enlightenment


and guidance, not in any feeble glimmerings of
sectarian candles, but in the abiding revelations
of universal reason and conscience, in God's
progressive manifestations of Himself to man's
expanding faculties, in an ever-moving pillar of
fire, in " the light which lighteth every man that
cometh into the world."

My best thanks are due to Messrs. Nisbet
(the publishers) for their kind permission to
quote a rather long passage from the " Life and
Letters of James Martineau." And I wish very
strongly to recommend that work to all students
of that deep thinker's religion and philosophy.
Mr. Upton's presentation of Martineau's philo-
sophy is so entirely admirable that it is not
likely to be ever superseded ; and, though I
have not scrupled to say that I have found
Dr. Drummond's portrayal of the illustrious Uni-
tarian's personality somewhat lacking in vivid-
ness, I am quite convinced that all lovers of
Martineau owe a real debt of gratitude to this
very able and accomplished writer. His work
is thoroughly conscientious and candid and in
some ways very complete. It will always re-
main a very valuable store-house of interesting


information, which cannot be safely ignored or
neglected by any who desire to understand the
intellectual, moral, and spiritual development
of one of the grandest religious teachers of
our age.



My first acquaintance with Dr. Martineau — Objects aimed
at in this work — First impressions as to Martineau's
character — His dislike of flippancy — His intellectual
fairness — A staunch friend — Not so solemn as he is
often thought to have been — He loved fine scenery,
music, and poetry — Was he a mystic or a rationalist ? —
Different kinds of Mysticism — Martineau a mystic of
the more rational sort — Also a rationalist and in some
ways very sceptical — His opinion of Cotter Morison's
" Service of Man" — He preferred Coleridge to Words-
worth in some respects — His opinion of Pascal — His
views of Kingsley, Cardinal Newman, and Bishop
Thirl wall — His dislike of Hegelianism — His estimate
of Butler's "Analogy" — His disgust with Dean Mansel's
teaching — His opinion of Balfour's " Foundations of
Belief" — His appreciation of Jowett of Balliol and of
Professor John Nichol— His affection for R. H. Hutton
— His dislike of High Church Anglicans and his prefer-
ence of some Roman Catholics — His deep sympathy
with Evangelicalism — His antipathy to Calvinism —
He accepted the doctrine of Evolution with some modi-
fications — Preferred the Scottish Established Church to
the English — His opinion of the Scottish Free Church
— His despair as to the Church of England — His low
opinion of the English Bishops — His dislike of the
Litany of the English Church — His austere opinions as



to the ethics of subscription to religious creeds — He
thought that Broad Churchmen ought to leave the
Church of England — Enjoyed the debates of the Meta-
physical Society — His friendship with Dr. W. G. Ward
and Father Dalgairns — His opinions as to "Robert
Elsmere" and "David Grieve" and Mrs. Humphry
Ward — His estimate of James Hinton — His admiration
of Harnack — His political affinities were Whig — He
rather dreaded uneducated democracy — Had no belief
in socialism — His estimate of Emerson — He came to
think Liberal orthodoxy a more satisfying creed than
Unitarianism — He objected to the word Unitarian as a
name for a church or creed — Yet remained intellectually
Unitarian even to the end — His judgment of Bishop
Gore's writings on the divinity of Christ.

V c


James Martineau was born in Norwich in April
1805, and died in London in January 1900. His
father was a merchant of French descent. The
earliest known Martineau is said to have married
a German Lutheran, and through this connection
the family become Protestants. At the time of
the revocation of the edict of Nantes, in October
1685, Gaston Martineau, a surgeon of Dieppe,
removed to Norwich.

The intellectual greatness of James Martineau
is sufficiently proved by the fact — mentioned by
Mr. Knowles in an article on Lord Tennyson in
the Nineteenth Century — that the author of
" In Memoriam " considered him far the greatest
member of the famous Metaphysical Society,
which included in its ranks such celebrated men
as Ruskin, Gladstone, Dr. Ward, Professors


Tyndall, Huxley, and Henry Sidgwick, Mr.
R. H. Hutton (editor of the Spectator), and
Connop Thirlwall (Bishop of St. David's), as well
as Tennyson himself and other men of con-
spicuous ability.

Long before I made acquaintance with Dr.
Martineau, I had been a devoted admirer of his
writings, though not agreeing with his Unitarian
opinions. I remember that I first read his " En-
deavours after the Christian Life " at the time
when I was also reading the sermons of Robertson
of Brighton ; and I was very much struck by the
great superiority of the former as compared with
the latter in depth and condensation of thought
as well as in power of expression. It appeared
to me that one discourse of the Unitarian philo-
sopher contained matter enough to make at least
a dozen sermons of the eloquent Anglican preacher.
In fact Martineau's addresses are too full of ideas
to be adequately comprehended when delivered
from the pulpit ; they need to be carefully thought
over, in order that their power and beauty may
be really appreciated.

I did not know this great teacher personally
until he was far on in old age, though his faculties
were quite unimpaired and vigorous. In the


summer of the year 1892 I was fortunate enough
to make friends with him when he was staying
in his beloved Highland home at Aviemore in
Inverness-shire. He received me in the most
friendly manner, and from that time until a few
months before his death I was in the habit of
going to see him frequently at his house in London
and also of receiving letters from him on a con-
siderable variety of deep and interesting subjects.
A few weeks after our first meeting he read a
book of mine called " Enigmas of the Spiritual
Life," and sent me a most sympathetic letter
about it.

Very ample details of my friend's long life have
been given in the " Life and Letters of James
Martineau " by Dr. James Drummond, of Man-
chester College, Oxford ; and in the same work
is to be found an excellent account of Martineau's
philosophy, by Professor Upton of the same
college. In this book of mine I make no attempt
to deal with the philosophy of my revered friend.
I am content to do two things only, (1) to en-
deavour to set forth plainly the strong and the
weak points of his religion, and (2) to try to set
before my readers and myself some few of the
more striking features of his rare and fascinating


personality. I am very grateful to Dr. Drummond
for a large store of information as to Martineau's
external life ; but the account seems to me rather
deficient in two important ways. It makes no
attempt to estimate the permanent value of his
religion as compared with that of other guides ;
and it almost smothers or buries his vivid and
remarkable personality under a huge mass of un-
important and sometimes rather wearisome de-
tails. We fail to appreciate the solemn beauty
and significance of the great forest as a whole
because of the thick growth of its almost count-
less trees. In order to give a real idea of a man's
life and personality, it is necessary to select some
facts and ignore others, since some exhibit his
deliberate preferences, whilst others disclose to
us only his half-mechanical customs. A few
characteristic actions or utterances tell us far
more of a man's inner nature than the most
faithful portrayal of long years of routine. In
the case of a man of genius we chiefly want to
know in what respects he transcended or differed
from ordinary men, and not in what ways he re-
sembled them and conformed to their habits.

But I must not seem to promise what I am
quite unable to perform. My recollections of my


friend are essentially fragmentary. I cannot
pretend to give anything like a complete account
of his intellectual and spiritual character. Yet
in some respects I think that I may safely say
that I knew him well. On one occasion, when a
well-known Scottish philosopher of the Hegelian
school had unintentionally misrepresented his
views by saying that to Martineau a God imma-
nent in the universe appeared to be no real God,
I said to my friend that I had thought of writing
to this philosopher to point out his mistake, as I
considered that I was as intimately acquainted
with my teacher's mind as any of his admirers in
the Church of England ; and he said to me in
reply, " Yes, I certainly believe that you are."
Of course Martineau decidedly held that God is
immanent in the universe ; but he did not believe
that He is merely immanent in it ; he thought
that God also transcends it ; that a large portion
of the divine life is separate from, and not ex-
pressed in the Cosmos ; that God is greater than
the sum total of finite phenomena. The mistake
of the Hegelian philosopher may very probably
have been caused by the fact that Martineau,
owing to his lingering Deism, sometimes failed to
appreciate the full extent of God's habitual imma-


nence in the creation. His zeal for free will and
his intensely individualistic ethics sometimes made
him for the time almost forget that in God we
" live, move, and have our being," that we are
His offspring and His temple, and not merely
His subjects.

Of all his qualities I think that the one which
impressed me most at first in this Unitarian philo-
sopher was his absolute integrity, his great though
entirely unobtrusive sanctity. His intellectual
power was less apparent at first, and was perhaps
always more manifest in his writings than in his
conversation. It seemed to be almost impossible
to imagine that this saint of Theism had ever
done anything morally wrong. To a great extent
he escaped from a sense of sin, though feeling
keenly a deep sense of imperfection. He had a
very large amount of reverence and of fineness
of taste. Flippancy always jarred on him pain-
fully. And so Renan often displeased him, and
he failed to appreciate the good qualities of men
like the late Mr. H. R. Haweis and my friend
Professor Momerie. The latter of these two
divines had a singularly acute and logical intel-
lect ; but Dr. Martineau never cared for his
writings. Of purely intellectual differences my


teacher was extremely tolerant ; but the intense
seriousness of his ethical nature, together with
his fastidious refinement of taste, made him some-
times a little intolerant of moral heresies and of
anything approaching to spiritual coarseness.
The main offence of the book written by his sister
and her friend Mr. Atkinson did not consist in
any merely speculative errors, but in its coarse-
ness and its incompatibility with any elevated
form of morality as he conceived it.

Still, though occasionally a little prejudiced by
reason of his imperious and exacting ethical
instincts, James Martineau always wished to be
fair to all thinkers. Thus I remember his point-
ing out to me that some writers of the old Deistical
school, such as Lord Herbert of Cherbury, were
free from the spiritual defects of the ordinary
teachers of that school ; and he also declared that
those defects belonged to the whole spirit of the
age, and not exclusively to the Deists. Conse-
quently he considered my censure of the Deistical
writers rather too undiscriminating. He had
suffered much from the Deists in his earlier years ;
but he still wished to be perfectly equitable in
judging them. In a similar spirit he once invited
me to a discussion of Renan, saying that we must


try to be perfectly impartial in forming a judgment
of that brilliant critic. The superficial flippancy
of that great French writer did not make my
friend blind to the extraordinary beauty of his
style and the laborious honesty with which he
sought for historical truth.

Like most people of genius, Dr. Martineau was
extremely sensitive in his feelings. He told me
once how greatly he felt a temporary alienation
from him of his friend Mr. Herbert Spencer. And
it is plain enough that his long quarrel with his
sister Harriet caused him much real grief by
compelling him to suppress his natural feelings
towards her. Yet I imagine that this prolonged
estrangement was almost unavoidable and not
altogether to be deplored. Real intimacy or com-
munion of soul was no longer possible between
people so fervently holding such discordant and
irreconcilable opinions on the most important

Though somewhat Stoical in his attitude to-
wards pain, this great spiritual leader had much
compassion and really warm affections. He was
a true and very staunch friend. Dr. John Watson
(the accomplished Ian Maclaren) has said, in an
article in the Hibbert Journal, that he was very


impartial in judging of the performances of his
friends ; and so no doubt he usually was. But
I think that generosity did sometimes cause him
to overrate their merits. It certainly did in my
case. On one occasion he gave me a recommen-
dation of two books of mine to a publisher in
the United States, and he rather made me feel
ashamed by writing these words of excessive
appreciation of them : " Dealing as they do with
the most affecting problems of morals and religion
in a spirit of unshrinking impartiality and a style
of rare literary charm, they might be expected
to have great attraction for the quick-sighted
public which was the first to appreciate the
significance of ' Sartor Resartus.' Both volumes
indicate a mind drawn in opposite directions by
compassion for suffering and intuitions of faith,
unable to escape from either, or always to find
the point of rest between them, yet resolved to
justify them both. If in the first work, ' The
Unknown God,' the author's anxiety to be fair
leads him at times to overstate the case against
himself, so as even to leave a balance of difficulties
unrelieved, the second work, ' Enigmas of the
Spiritual Life,' does much to redress the inequality,
though not perhaps exhausting the legitimate


pleas which give final preponderance to the
optimist's faith. Be this as it may, both volumes
are full of interest for readers in search of the
true interpretation of human life."

Perhaps my teacher was unduly influenced in
favour of my writings by finding in them so often
an echo, in other and inferior language, of many
of his own profoundest and most cherished
thoughts and feelings. In my earnest but rather
abortive strivings he saw a kind of reflection —
though a partial and distorted one — of his own
serene and victorious achievements.

Though very exacting ethically, J ames Mar tineau
was not nearly so solemn as some people have
thought that he was. Unlike the old Puritans,
he was no foe to wit, humour, or any other pure
form of enjoyment. His face seen in repose had
a rather stern and severely intellectual appearance;
but it was soon lighted by very genial smiles when
one told him any amusing stories, and he seemed
to delight in them greatly. He was quite capable
of receiving amusement from very ordinary things.
I remember how much he laughed at the account
which I once gave him of a learned but very
timid scholar of the Scottish Episcopalian Church.
This excellent divine in teaching students was


accustomed to give them a long list of supposed
authorities on either side of a question, and then
to suggest that it was safer to take the view
recommended by the larger number of the autho-
rities, at the same time offering a kind of apology
to those who had advocated an opposite opinion.
I said to my friend that this mode of proceeding
was essentially Pickwickian, and that it reminded
me of Mr. Pickwick's sagacious advice to his
followers when hemmed in by excited crowds,
during the memorable Eatanswill election. On

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Online LibraryAlexander Henry CraufurdRecollections of James Martineau: with some letters from him and an essay on his religion → online text (page 1 of 12)