Alexander Henry Craufurd.

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

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that occasion the immortal man thus counselled
his bewildered friends : " Hush, don't ask any
questions. It's always best on these occasions to
do what the mob do." " But suppose there are
two mobs," suggested Mr. Snodgrass. " Shout
with the largest," replied Mr. Pickwick. Dr.
Martineau and I agreed cordially that this Pick-
wickian method was hardly likely to lead to
satisfactory results when applied to the solution
of difficult intellectual problems.

On another occasion I remember how much my
teacher was amused at the very just reproof
administered to him and to myself by one of the
company gathered in his house. We had been
discussing the future career of a learned but very


dry young Unitarian thinker ; and we had agreed
in hoping that he would become a professor and
not a preacher or a minister of religion, holding
— as we both did — that a deficiency of vivid
emotions would be more fatal to success in the
pulpit than in a lecture-room. But one of the
company perceived that our opinion was rather
too one-sided, and admonished us in the following
words : "I don't agree with you two at all ; you
and Mr. Craufurd talk as if it did not matter how
dry a professor is ; but I think that it does matter
a great deal." With much mirth the philosopher
accepted this wise correction, and we both owned
readily that dryness is eminently undesirable in
a professor, though rather less fatal to usefulness
than in a preacher.

Even in Dr. Martineau's controversial writings
on deep subjects we often meet with many traces
of humour, and his mind had a good deal of that
fine sense of irony which almost always charac-
terises the noblest human intellects. In his con-
troversy with Professor Tyndall about Materialism
we sometimes find a kind of subtle intellectual
playfulness such as Socrates displayed so abun-
dantly in the Platonic dialogues. In his essay
on " Religion as Affected by Modern Materialism "


our Theistic philosopher wrote thus : " But
surely you must observe how this Matter of yours
alters its style with every change of service ;
starting as a beggar, with scarce a rag of ' pro-
perty ' to cover its bones, it turns up as a prince,
when large undertakings are wanted, loaded with
investments, and within an inch of a pleni-
potentiary. In short, you give it precisely what
you require to take from it ; and when your
definition has made it ' pregnant with all the
future,' there is no wonder if from it all the future
might be born." And he says further : " It is
easy travelling through the stages of such an
hypothesis ; you deposit at your bank a round
sum ere you start ; and drawing on it piecemeal
at every pause, complete your grand tour without
a debt. Such extremely clever matter, matter
that is up to everything, even to writing Hamlet,
and finding out its own evolution, and substi-
tuting a molecular plebiscite for a divine monarchy
of the world, may fairly be regarded as a little too
modest in its disclaimer of the attributes of Mind."
Dr. Martineau was a very exact and careful
student. He once told me that the severe studies
which he carried on in his youth and early man-
hood had so affected his mental habits that he


could not read anything in a partial or fragmentary
way. He felt compelled either to master books
thoroughly or else to leave them alone entirely.
He could not read in a desultory way, merely to
pass the time.

This philosopher found his best recreations in
fine scenery and fine music. He had quite a
Wordsworthian love of the mountains. They
refreshed his worn spirit by ministering to his
craving for the sublime. His soaring spiritual
imagination could amongst them freely exercise
its wings, which were apt to droop and grow
languid in the polluted and relaxing atmospaere
of sordid and commonplace life. Even in extreme
old age he retained his intense love for music. He
clung to it instinctively as a heavenly and soul-
animating voice. It was perhaps in some ways
his best mode of access to the Infinite. In-
sensibly it counteracted the depressing influence
of his old indwelling Deism. In sober truth,
poetry and music were to him what Emerson called
" liberating Gods." These two divine visitants,
aided by the majestic spectacle of the starry
heavens, constituted a kind of self-revealing and
irresistible apocalypse or evangel of the sublime,
before whose glorious and thrilling splendours the


pale, ineffective, and ghostlike revelations of arti-
ficial Deism faded away. To souls listening to
that great evangel all things seemed possible.
The grievous limitations of a narrow and un-
hopeful creed passed away. The power of God
no longer seemed restricted. From the central
depths of the universe the Infinite and the Eternal
seemed to speak to outcast man, cheering half-
starved and half-withered Deistic spirits with the
old consolatory words, " Our mouth is open unto
you, our heart is enlarged ; ye are not straitened
in us ; but ye are straitened in your own bowels.' '
Philosophical and religious writers have been a
good deal in doubt as to the class of thinkers in
which Martineau ought to be ranked. To some
he has appeared a rationalist, whilst others have
regarded him as a mystic. To some he has
seemed to approach divine things almost ex-
clusively by reason and conscience, whilst to
others he has seemed to approach them by direct
spiritual intuition. Mr. Stopford Brooke thinks
that he was primarily a rationalist and an ethical
philosopher, and only in a secondary sense a
mystic. I imagine that there is some important
truth in this view, though it scarcely gives us
the whole truth on this subject.



The word mysticism is used in rather different
ways by different thinkers. It seems to me that
there is a good mysticism and a bad or injurious
mysticism. The former seeks only to supplement
reason, whilst the latter seeks to supersede it.
The former works in staunch alliance with intellect,
whereas the latter claims a right to suppress it,
even as the wicked old prophet of Bethel cancelled
the earlier revelation which had been given to
the man of God, whom he deceived. The false
mysticism is very like Calvinism in one respect :
it greatly disparages and underrates the faculties
of the natural man ; there is something essentially
sacerdotal and almost Papal in its claims; it
seeks to establish a despotism, and will not hear
of a well-ordered republic or a strictly constitu-
tional monarchy. This evil spirit hates philosophy
and is the sworn foe of developed reason. It tends
to make religion the exclusive property of a small
class. It has often something of that inhuman
intolerance which expressed itself in the old words
of unsympathetic Pharisees : " This people, who
knoweth not the law, are cursed." It helps to
wither strong human affection by representing
love for man as in opposition to love for God. To
a great extent it bids men become divine by


ceasing to be human. It is as unfriendly to man's
heart as it is to his normal mind. It would make
men blush, like Plotinus, at the thought that they
have bodies. It is far removed from the spirit
of Christ who " had compassion on the multitude,"
and accommodated His celestial message to the
understandings of His ignorant followers. Jesus
sought to save men by becoming like them.
Ascetic mysticism aims at becoming radically un-
like them. Even if its followers save themselves,
they are powerless to save others, since they
cannot speak their language or understand their
hearts. Far different was the mysticism of St.
Paul, the man of many visions. His passionate
humanity made him genuinely Utilitarian in some
ways. He cared little or nothing for an exclusive
religion. He said plainly : "I will pray with the
spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also ;
I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the
understanding also. ... In the church I had
rather speak five words with my understanding,
that by my voice I might teach others also, than
ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."

The higher mysticism is not really opposed to
reason. It holds with the free-thinking Emerson
that " there is no doctrine of the reason which will


bear to be taught by the understanding." It
never seeks to escape from reason, but only from
the transitional forms of the logical understanding.
It maintains that there are many deep truths
which our present imperfect logic fails to grasp.
It teaches that God's best revelations come to us
by inspiration and not by syllogisms. It holds
that the proper work of the logical understanding
is critical and not creative. Mysticism of the
best sort is but reason gone into retreat, reason
bruised and buffeted by formal arguments which
admit of no refutation and yet carry no real
conviction, reason " turning to the Gentiles," and
heretically seeking strength and refreshment from
the vivid intuitions of the heart and soul. Mysti-
cism at least affords a temporary home for truths
cast out and rejected by the logical understanding
unduly enamoured of system. It is a veritable
cave Adullam, in which are gathered together
those lofty idealisms of the soul which are for a
time " in distress " and discontented because
unable to make good their claims in the law-
courts of a provisional and domineering logic.
When driven from the stately cathedrals of an
exultant Theism, rational mysticism is well con-
tent to worship quietly in the silent catacombs


of man's unfathomable nature. There its sacred
instincts find an inviolable sanctuary. From that
retreat it cannot be dislodged. No vulture's eye
of a fierce sectarian understanding can ever trace
the hidden paths of the soul's secret pilgrimage
towards the Divine. Even if all objective evi-
dences of God's existence are for a time taken
away, the subjective evidences still remain. The
soul itself is at least as important as the external
world. " The kingdom of God is within us " still.
When confronted with the menacing hosts of
victorious Atheistic science, the rational mystic
can face them all with his old rallying cry of
irrepressible faith, the old war-song of baffled
but unconquerable subjectivity, the old sorrowful
yet defiant declaration, " God is a sigh in the
depths of the soul." Before science can annihi-
late religion it must destroy the finest and most
characteristic attributes of humanity, since these
are ever haunted by God.

A kind of genuine Catholicity is one sure mark
of the higher mysticism. It bids men use their
whole higher nature in the search for truth. It
vindicates the legitimate functions of imagination
and sympathy as the best handmaids or coadjutors
of reason in the search for vital and satisfying


knowledge. Science is often sectarian in its
methods of research, forgetting how great is its
own debt to imagination. Tyndall found a most
valuable intellectual stimulus in the works of
Emerson. The great inductive philosopher Lord
Bacon was immensely helped by that singularly
keen perception of analogies throughout the
universe which at times made him half a poet.
Constructive imagination suggests brilliant hypo-
theses which science afterwards patiently verifies.
The best mysticism does not wish to abnegate
human reason, but only to have it enlarged,
vivified, and expanded by the invigorating in-
spiration of the Over-Soul. The cry of Pauline
mystics is ever this : " We that are in this
tabernacle do groan, being burdened ; not for
that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon,
that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
Not to lose their human faculties, but to have
God shining through them is the profound desire of
such aspiring spirits. They would retain their own
spiritual eyes, reason and conscience, and yet in
very deed, like Malebranche, see all things in God.
The catholicity of the • better mysticism is
opposed to the dry religious rationalism of men
like Paley and Whately almost as much as to the


sectarian rationalism of science. The religion of
Coleridge at his best was a fine blending of reason,
imagination, ethics, and emotion. Such also was
the religion of Pascal. That great mathematician
plainly declared that " the heart has its reasons
which the reason knows not." He saw clearly
that, in order to find really satisfying truth, we
must seek for it with all our higher faculties, that
God speaks to us " at sundry times and in divers
manners," that there are many different avenues
through which God approaches us. Plato also
manifestly held a similar view in some respects.
He regarded some kinds of madness as a species
of divine inspiration, the breaking up, as it were,
of the tyrannous and limiting forms of our finite
understandings before the inflowing rush of a
grander and transcendent revelation.

Pascal's saying, however, was chiefly intended
to emphasise the truth that moral and emotional
qualities are necessary for the seeker after religious
knowledge. We may say of our understanding
what St. Paul said of the law, that it is good —
or in its right place — " if a man use it lawfully."
The deliverances of the understanding and con-
science constitute to some men a kind of natural
religion, whilst those of the higher reason and of


our spiritual nature constitute a kind of revealed
religion ; and it is not fitting that either of these
religions should disparage or seek to suppress the
other. Nor must either seek to trespass unlaw-
fully on the proper territory of the other. Re-
vealed religion of the right sort is not a cancelling
but a transfiguration of natural religion. In
order to be adequately equipped for his work, the
mystic should first serve a long apprenticeship to
science, reasoning, and conscience. Thus only, in
most circumstances, can he be really prepared to
receive the higher revelations to which he aspires.
We must obey Nature before we think of tran-
scending or conquering it. We must be under the
law before we are under grace. We must learn
the messages of " the visible things of God "
before we seek to apprehend the invisible things.
Thus a kind of reasonable mysticism carries on
our intellectual, moral, and spiritual education.
It fills up provisionally the gaps left or made by
unavoidable scepticism. It, to a certain extent,
anticipates the future gains of reason. It slightly
outruns reason in its own highest path, as the
apostle of love once outran the apostle of faith.
By faith it beholds the promised land of a
harmonised knowledge even when it is very far off.

{ UMt


Thus the finer sort of mysticism is not really
unfriendly to philosophy or the loftier kind of
rationalism. It seeks only to moralise and
spiritualise rationalism, to give it a living soul and
a refined and delicate conscience. It tries to
prevent rationalism from being too precipitate in
its conclusions. It pleads often for a suspended
judgment, for reverent and teachable Agnosticism
as a better thing than blank denial. With the
ethical nature this sort of mysticism is in close
alliance ; for one of its main functions is to set
forth the great, though often latent, evidential
power and value of man's partially developed
moral and emotional instincts. It is for ever
declaring that we must do the will of God, if we
would to any extent apprehend His nature and
character. It can never talk of " mere morality,"
if it aims at anything like consistency.

The best mystical religion is also profoundly
human. It " bears the grief and carries the
sorrows " of our struggling race, and finds in these
a strong argument for its own highest hopes in
another world. No abundance of celestial visions
prevented St. Paul from hearing " the whole
creation groaning." The loneliness of the Pauline
mystic indicates no hard alienation from the mass


of mankind. The tender and fervent heart of the
great apostle to the Gentiles brooded much over
human misery during its protracted sojourn in the
deserts of Arabia. Such lonely spirits know how
to use the mystical tendency without abusing it.
They are to a great extent absorbed in God for
the sake of man. They are not really selfish.
Rather are they the true priests of the whole
family of man, clad in the old consecrating ephod
of the one abiding religion, that ephod which is
the very sign of a universal and everlasting
priesthood, the old garment on which sympathy
has engraved for ever the names of the children
of Israel, the names of the whole family of

In some ways mysticism is certainly natural
to man. Almost all men, except the very dullest,
are mystical on some subjects at certain times.
We none of us think that our knowledge is entirely
satisfactory. We all acknowledge that there are
more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt
of in our formal philosophy. In the emergencies
of life we all seek mystical sources of consolation.
Death is a fathomless mystery. Awe and wonder
are man's natural response to the encompassing
mysteries of the universe.


In the case of the loftier souls in the higher
ranges of their activity it is evident enough that
some degree of mysticism is natural and inevitable.
The vestiges of the Infinite are manifest in their
intellects, in their consciences, and in their affec-
tions ; and these mysterious vestiges can never
be adequately interpreted by the logical under-
standing. We cannot doubt their reality and
their deep significance ; and yet we are often
wholly unable to explain them or to vindicate
their validity by formal logic. Their very great-
ness prevents our understandings from grasping
them. They are " more than we are able to
express." They are as some mighty and un-
intelligible prophet troubling the conventional
Israel of self-possessed mediocrity. We cannot
explain our deep affinity with Nature ; we cannot
tell why our souls are so thrilled in response to
her varying manifestations. We cannot explain
the marvellous heights and depths of human love.
We cannot explain our hunger and thirst after
knowledge of things that appear to have little or
no relation to our lowly condition here on earth.
We cannot explain our own abiding discontent
with finite things. We cannot tell why the idea
of spiritual perfection haunts us like a tantalising


dream. We cannot tell why we are for ever urged
by some abiding and imperious instinct to seek
diligently for that far-off God who seems for ever
to hide Himself. We know not why we are com-
pelled to live as pilgrims and strangers here on
earth, and to confess that our true citizenship is
in the invisible heavens. We know not why we
feel so keen an interest in things apparently so
remote from the routine of our daily lives.

In one of his very greatest discourses, in a
sermon on " The Finite and the Infinite in Human
Nature," Dr. Martineau has eloquently expressed
his view as to the significance of these vestiges
of the Infinite in man's marvellous being. He
writes thus : " To go forth and see where the
stars are and how they lie ; to get round them
and dive into the fountain of their light ; to
frustrate their eternal silence and make them tell
their paths ; to pass from station to station and
gain assurance that there is no end to their
geometry ; and then to drop back on the grass-
plot of this world, mentally sublimed by the sense
of physical insignificance, has ever had a solemn
charm for human intelligence. . . . How is it
that the intensest interest hangs around these
far-off sciences ? that we cite them as among the


greatest triumphs of human research ? What
concern so deep can we have with lines of thought
that scarcely keep within the limits of the finite ?
Why do they strike in upon us and stir us in the
very seats of intellectual romance ? Tell me not
of their indirect utility, though it is indisputable.
Does a Herschel live for the sake of the Nautical
Almanack, or a Murchison and Lyell for the sake
of Californian mines ? It is because we love to
be spoken to in tones from the borders of the
infinite, and feel them to have a native sound.
Carrying in ourselves secret relationships with
universal space and unbeginning time through
Him that fills them both and lives in us, we know
the tidings which come furthest from them to be
nearest to us ; they remind us of our augustest
kindred ; they free us from our momentary
prison ; they show us the white sail, they breathe
on us with the very wind, that shall take us out
of exile. Their awful fascination bespeaks a
nature mysteriously blending in its affections the
finite and the infinite, and standing on the con-
fines of both."

This beautiful passage seems to me quite worthy
of Plato, and it shows plainly how deep-seated
was the mystical element in Martineau's spirit.


It shows that in some ways he was naturally a
Platonist, though much fettered by early Deistic
teaching. The true Martineau, the man within
the man, was to a very great extent imaginative
and mystical, though for a long time he wore the
uniform of a disciple of arid Utilitarian and
necessitarian Deism. As Professor Upton has re-
marked in his admirable account of Martineau's
philosophy, it often takes a long time for a specu-
lative belief to unfold its necessary implications ;
and so the future champion of a profoundly
spiritual religion found his way only gradually out
of his old house of bondage. Moreover, Hartley's
philosophy had at least this merit, that it did not
end in selfishness, but incomplete disinterestedness.
In this respect it was far higher than the philo-
sophy of Paley.

In some moods of mind Martineau appears to
have thought that a kind of mysticism is needed
to save us from Agnosticism, since the purely
intellectual evidence for the most important
spiritual truths is sometimes insufficient to pro-
duce real conviction. The " natural man " in
his search for God needs the help of the spiritual
man, as Coleridge also declared. In a sermon on
" The Besetting God " our great Theistic teacher


writes thus : " The confession of our ignorance
once made, we may proceed to use such poor
thought and language as we find least unsuitable
to so high a matter ; for it is the essence and
beginning of religion to feel that all our belief
and speech respecting God is untrue, yet infinitely
truer than any non-belief and silence." A man's
religious creed, when it is real and vivid, is the
expression or outcome of his whole nature, and not
merely of his reasoning faculty. It is only thus
that it can have any moral character at all.
Christ's sheep are drawn to Him because essen-
tially they are His own, because the slumbering
and baffled ideal in them is woke up, quickened,
and allured by the irresistible attraction of the
realised ideal which gleamed upon them in His
actions and thrilled them in His words. Men
followed Jesus because He already was what they
dimly aspired to be, because in a very real way
He was more themselves than they were.

I hold, then, that James Martineau was a mystic
of the better or more rational sort. No doubt he
would have vigorously repudiated some forms of
mysticism. He would have looked with special
disgust on the antinomian forms which it some-
times assumes. He would never have allowed it


to encroach on the domains of conscience. The
spirit of the ethically lawless Carpocratian Gnostics
was utterly hateful to him. Men have too often
supposed that union with God emancipated them
from the jurisdiction of moral law. The passage
from religious ecstasy to corporeal licentiousness
has often been an easy one. Any such kind of
mysticism would have incurred the severest
censure of my rigidly conscientious friend. Nor
did he feel much sympathy with those who dis-
paraged reason as Cardinal Newman often did.
Like Bishop Butler, he clung to reason as our
absolutely necessary guide. He had not much
patience with any who set up their unexamined
intuitions in rivalry with reason. He was for
proving all things, so far as is possible. Whilst
gladly welcoming the intimations afforded us by
imagination and our spiritual faculties, he refused
to concede to them any sort of Papal infallibility.
He required them to confer with reason. In some

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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 2 of 12)