Alexander Henry Craufurd.

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

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must exercise a selecting and not an omnivorous
memory. In great measure progress consists for
us in " forgetting the things that are behind," in
unlearning the provisional lessons of our old
imperfect instructor. The earlier stages of human
development were in some ways a dark, unintel-
ligible, incoherent, provisional, and much-erased
epistle of God. And this needs to be interpreted
in the light of that glorious later revelation which
He has sent us in these days in the ever-growing
band of disinterested Sons of Consolation, in those
deep-souled lovers of their race, whose priesthood
is not transient but abiding, not of man's de-
vising, but of God's, hallowed for ever by those
old consecrating words of final election and
approval, " Ye are our epistle, written in our
hearts, known and read of all men."

Another well-known writer whom Dr. Martineau
very much disliked was the late Dean Mansel. I


once said to him that I had been much attracted
by Mansel's famous Bampton Lectures on " The
Limits of Religious Thought." He looked much
surprised, and said to me in reply, " How can you
like such a horrible book ? " I then explained
that, though attracted by it, I did not like it, but
utterly abhorred it. I rejoiced at its publication
merely because I perceived that certain scattered
or sporadic tendencies of pernicious thought were
in this work gathered together, concentrated, and
brought to a culminating head, so that they could
be finally examined, dealt with, and permanently
confuted. That evil tendency to " speak wickedly
for God," to abase and crush the profoundly
human beneath the destroying Juggernaut's car
of the superficially or nominally divine, that false,
injurious, and hateful religion which first mani-
fested itself in the heartless, unfair, shallow
arguments of Job's commonplace and aggravating
friends, that intellectual and spiritual Satan
assuming the garb of humility and piety, that
veritable moral Antichrist, could now at last be
fought to the death and irretrievably overthrown.
I am sure that James Martineau was quite right in
considering Mansel's teaching absolutely fatal to
all true religion. If, as Mansel declared, divine


and human goodness are different in kind, and
not merely in degree, there can be no true com-
munion or moral and spiritual sympathy between
man and his Maker. Then there would remain
to us no possible religion except that of unintelligent
slaves through fear obeying a hard task-master
whose character they could neither understand,
nor admire, nor love.

Martineau considered that John Stuart Mill's
attack on Mansel's teaching has never been
answered. Ignorant religious people foolishly
declared that Mill's view was Atheistic, because
he resolutely refused to worship a being who was
not to be conceived as good in any sense that
we can understand. But the great Connop
Thirlwall — always ready to fight for rational
religion — boldly proclaimed his conviction that,
if Mill's teaching on this subject was Atheistic,
that of the great Hebrew prophets was quite
equally Atheistic. Abraham also was no Atheist ;
yet when he exclaimed so vehemently, " Shall not
the judge of all the earth do right ? " he took up
a position exactly like that of Mill ; he assumed
that divine and human morality are essentially
the same. Without this underlying assumption,
his plea would have been quite meaningless.


Christ Himself throughout His whole teaching
made the same assumption, and especially in
those memorable and comforting words of His,
" If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good
gifts unto your children, how much more shall
your Father which is in heaven give good things
to them that ask him ? " This passage plainly
teaches that we may safely argue from the human
to the divine, that though God's goodness im-
measurably transcends ours, it never contradicts
or cancels it. Even Dean Mansel was constrained
by his Christianity to abate somewhat of the
rigour of his logic, and to concede, contrary to his
own fundamental principles, that the noblest
moral qualities in man have some very faint
resemblance to the divine attributes. Otherwise
Christ could never have said to His followers, " Be
ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is
in heaven is perfect." Otherwise the imitation of
Christ as a divine being, or the imitation of the
Father Himself, would be meaningless or im-
possible ; and so practical Christianity would be
destroyed at its very roots. Mill pressed home
this concession of Mansel's and asked whether the
likeness between divine and human excellence
is a likeness in essence or not. If the dean con-


ceded that the likeness is in essence, his whole
elaborate theory would fall to the ground. On
the other hand, if he maintained that the likeness
is not in essence, it would follow that it is not a
real or important likeness at all ; and practical
religion, seeking conformity to the divine image,
would be as baseless as ever.

The religion of James Martineau was widely
different from that of Mansel in this matter. He
considered that all Christ's moral and spiritual
teaching postulated kinship and affinity between
the divine and the human. Jesus did not move
about amongst men as amongst a race of spiritual
slaves, who must be made to follow a prescribed
course which they could not understand. He
appealed to spirits that had genuine affinity with
Himself and secretly aspired and longed to be-
come that which He already was. He disclosed
Himself to sinners as their very own long-lost ideal.
Standing serenely amidst the world's innumer-
able moral outcasts, He claimed their homage
and their allegiance as a thing profoundly natural.
He saw even in them the " image and super-
scription " of absolute nobleness, and fearlessly
declared to these lost and abandoned wanderers,
" The kingdom of God is within you." Nor


was that wise and all-pitying appeal in vain.
" Then drew near unto Him all the publicans
and sinners, for to hear Him." The attractive
majesty of goodness penetrated into the recesses
of many hearts. Men loved it better than their
own lives. Even many doubters thought that
it ought to reign. They followed it with a resolute
and disinterested affection, an affection well
expressed in the heroic loyalty of unhopeful
Thomas when he exclaimed, " Let us also go,
that we may die with Him."

There is little to wonder at in the great Unitarian
philosopher's disgust with Mansel's religion. Con-
science was one of the two strong foundations on
which Martineau built the whole fabric of his
religion. If the testimony of conscience were
discredited, the whole majestic superstructure
would collapse. And if our human conscience
was no longer to be regarded as a veritable,
though dim, reflection of the all-holy and omni-
present moral nature of God, but only as a kind of
local, transient, and sectarian ethical preference,
then assuredly it would be hopelessly discredited.
Men might still find it convenient to use conscience
as a kind of moral policeman ; but they would
no longer bow down before it as the vicegerent


of the Infinite and Eternal. Moral obligation
would vanish, and be replaced by calculating
prudence. We men might be compelled by cir-
cumstances to be respectable ; but the Cosmos
in general might live in complete and disdainful
indifference to our provincial ten commandments.

So intensely ethical was the inner spirit of
Dr. Martineau that I believe that he could not
have lived in friendship with any one who sincerely
held and promulgated Mansel's destroying moral
heresy. The blank Agnosticism of Mr. Herbert
Spencer tried my revered friend's endurance a
good deal ; but a doctrine which corroded the
very roots of ethics would have been a great deal
worse. " The spirit that denies " is far worse
than the spirit which merely doubts or questions.
To have a friend disregarding what we think holy
is very trying ; but to have one disparaging and
paralysing it is very far worse.

In very advanced old age Martineau thought
that another, though far less deadly, enemy to
rational religion had appeared in the person of our
present Prime Minister, Mr. Balfour. To the
veteran advocate of a rationalistic though pro-
foundly spiritual creed Mr. Balfour's " Founda-
tions of Belief " could not but appear as a highly


objectionable work. Accordingly, he criticised
it unfavourably in the Nineteenth Century. I
suppose that most impartial thinkers perceive
clearly that Mr. Balfour's work is in some ways
extremely unsatisfactory. It is written in a
brilliant and forcible style, and its criticism of
Absolute Idealism is acute and valuable. But
with the main object of the book it is not easy to
sympathise. The author makes it plain enough
that philosophical and religious beliefs generally
are to a great extent the products of custom ; but
he quite fails to show that they ought to be. With
all its brilliancy, the Prime Minister's work is
essentially reactionary in its spirit. It is strangely
un-Socratic. It would substitute the general
consent of the half informed for the cross-
examining logic of careful philosophers. Dr.
Martineau thought that one of the chief aims
of preachers and thinkers ought to be to take men
out of the religion of custom into the religion of
consciousness. Mr. Balfour apparently wishes to
reverse the route ; he seems in favour of return-
ing to the old " city of destruction " in an in-
tellectual sense. Convinced of the many perils
of our intellectual pilgrimage, and doubting
greatly the possibility of reaching the celestial


city of reasoned truth and harmonised knowledge,
this rather despondent guide would have us
return to the doomed and precarious, though
comfortable, dwelling - place of undisturbed
ancestral conviction.

I imagine that the great Unitarian philosopher
was quite right in deprecating all attempts to
base religion on the partial or entire abnegation
of reason. If our human reason be discredited,
not orthodoxy, but complete scepticism must be
the natural and logical result. We cannot build
an abiding temple of God on the ruins of our own
highest faculties. Custom is a poor substitute for
reflective consciousness. Suppressed doubts are
very dangerous. They are apt to burst out with
volcanic violence and destroy all edifices erected
over them. Thinkers like Mr. Balfour cry peace
when there is no peace.

Dr. Martineau thought that the Prime Minister's
book contained a good many confusions of thought.
One of these certainly is the frequent identification
of reason with reasoning or ratiocination. The
former is a far greater thing than the latter. It
is like some large, broad, and still lake, whilst
ratiocination is like some small, narrow, fretting,
and turbulent river which flows out of it. Reason


contains much wealth which is never made mani-
fest in logic. And so Emerson declared that " we
are wiser than we know." Moreover, Mr. Balfour's
identification of Rationalism with what he calls
Naturalism, or a denial of spiritual truths, is
gravely misleading. Some Rationalism in un-
questionably very unspiritual ; but the Ration-
alism of Emerson and Martineau is profoundly
spiritual. On the whole, the Prime Minister's
work fails to achieve its object, though, like Mr.
Mallock, he has done valuable service by ex-
posing the exclusive pretensions of science to
severe exactness of reasoning. One other thing
that annoyed Martineau in " The Foundations of
Belief " was the apparent attempt to claim for
the doctrines of revealed religion the same degree
of certitude as is granted to those of natural
religion. At times it seemed as if the author of
that interesting work went further than this, as
if he almost thought that the traditional dogmas
of the churches were more self-evident than the
primal deliverances of reason and the soul, as if
the conclusions had rightly more validity than
their own premises.

A thinker very different from Mr. Balfour
was Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol, who was


a valued friend of James Martineau. This care-
ful thinker declared plainly his conviction that
we know the truth or validity of our own
moral beliefs more clearly than we know the
existence of God, and that we know the exist-
ence of God more clearly than we know the truth
of the doctrine of a future life for man. This
view as to the relative order of our highest beliefs
was quite congenial to my friend's mind. He
would have said that Mr. Balfour and others
of his school often illegitimately inverted this
natural order, and so created much confusion of
thought. To him it seemed that conscience and
reason were the revealers of God, and not God —
or rather our conception of God — the revealer of
conscience and reason. The true logical road for
us was from man to God, and not from God to
man. In the order of existence, no doubt, God
was prior to our highest faculties ; but in the order
of human revelation these faculties come first.
To invalidate the testimony of reason and con-
science was to destroy the proofs of God's exist-
ence. However great and glorious the conclusions
of a logical process may be, they have no right
to " wax fat and kick " against their own indis-
pensable premises. We must not put out,


suppress, or injure our eyes, in order that we may
look through a telescope. Revelation may well
give us a wider view of things divine than natural
religion can ; but this more extensive view would
be of small use to us if, in expectation of it,
we had already very much damaged our visual
faculties. Those who promise us that we "shall
be as Gods " ourselves, if we suppress our highest
human gifts, speak falsely. To "be as Gods,"
to know the truths of the universe by direct and
immediate intuition, is for us impossible. And
the ambitious attempt to realise this impossible
aim often prevents men from attaining what
should be their true aim or object, viz., to become
the sons of God. Our aim should be, not to take
by storm the heavenly city of satisfying and
abiding knowledge, but rather " so to pass through
things temporal that we lose not finally the
things eternal," so to use and trade with our
earthly faculties and talents that the divine
wisdom may hereafter welcome each of us into
its quickening presence with the old consolatory
words : " Well done, thou good and faithful
servant : thou hast been faithful over a few
things, I will make thee ruler over many things :
enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."


Really wise and liberal Christianity is essentially
friendly to the best and finest development of our
whole higher nature. This religion knows well
that it is only by being adequately human that
we can learn to become even incipiently divine.

Dr. Martineau had in some ways a very high
opinion of Jowett. Their common love of Plato
was a great bond of union. Both these thinkers
were naturally idealistic in their temperaments,
though the idealism of the Master of Balliol had
been grievously baffled and sorely battered, and
even in its original state it had been qualified
by an abundance of practical shrewdness and
common sense. The Unitarian philosopher very
much admired Jowett's college sermons. Per-
haps in them were to some extent expressed those
deep spiritual aspirations which had almost
ceased to hope much from the study of philosophy.
I think that it must be confessed that this great
educator had sought God early, and had not
found Him in any satisfying way. I have some-
times wondered that Martineau's austerity was
not repelled by Jowett's apparent worldliness ;
but I suppose that he interpreted it rightly and
fairly, perceived that, like Renan's frivolity, it
was but the superficial expression of baffled and


sorely disappointed seriousness. Originally both
Renan and Jowett craved for " the bread of life,"
and if they afterwards spoke as if they over-
valued mere husks, their language was really
that of spiritual despair rather than that of
natural carnality or indifference to higher things.
Just as warm affectionateness is often petrified
into hard and repellent cynicism by an unfor-
tunate experience of the world, so is aspiring
devoutness often petrified into apparently soul-
less worldliness.

Martineau did not think that Jowett, as he
knew him in his later years, was suited to be a
great religious leader or teacher. He considered
his teaching too negative, too wanting in positive
convictions and in enthusiasm. He sometimes
spoke with a kind of perplexed amusement of
Jowett's ideas as to miracles. The Master of
Balliol seemed to look upon disbelief in miracles
as the one sure sign of religious enlightenment.
His opinion on this subject was much like that
which Mrs. Humphry Ward expressed in her
" Robert Elsmere." Martineau, on the other
hand, looked on miracles with comparative in-
difference, regarded them as merely the rind of
religion, and thought that either their accept-



ance or their rejection was quite compatible with
profound spiritual and intellectual life. He con-
sidered that a man's attitude towards the miracu-
lous or the apparently miraculous told us little or
nothing as to the inner nature of his soul. Jowett
once said to him approvingly of Bishop Temple
that he had quite given up the miracles of the
Old Testament ; but my friend thought that
this information told him very little as to that
prelate's real religion.

Another Balliol man with whom the Unitarian
philosopher sympathised was my old tutor and
friend, the late John Nichol, Professor of English
Literature in the University of Glasgow. He
recognised in the brilliant, erratic, and highly
combative professor a man of real genius who
never had any adequate opportunity to do him-
self justice. To my great delight, he told me
that he thought that Nichol's little book on
Carlyle contained in a small space the best and
fairest account that we have in the English lan-
guage of the powers, the limitations, and the
achievements of the sage of Chelsea.

Professor Nichol's wife was also very congenial
to Martineau, though she never knew him well.
She had been brought up in a convent, and had


afterwards abandoned a good deal of her early
faith, whilst retaining a most ample share of
these fine moral and spiritual qualities which
Catholicism so often fosters in its best adherents.
The Catholicism in her soul at once gladly recog-
nised a corresponding Catholicism reigning in
partibus infidelium, in the great Unitarian. In
their self-suppression, in their deep humility, in
their tender charity, in their purity, in their
serenity and quietistic contentment, and in their
noble spirituality, these two beautiful souls were
genuinely akin. I have often much regretted
that they knew each other so slightly, that they
made acquaintance so very late in life. I re-
member that Mrs. Nichol copied and treasured
as golden words certain sentences out of a letter
addressed to me by Dr. Martineau. In this
letter, which is given in this volume, he reproved
me with great justice for my apparent contempt
for dull and commonplace people wanting in
vivacity ; and he suggested that there is often
" something essentially, though silently, heroic "
in the patient fidelity of dull people, and he
pleaded for a gentler and a fairer judgment of
them. Mrs. Nichol thoroughly appreciated my
friend's wise teaching on this subject, being, as


she was, herself one of the gentlest and most
tolerant of the human race. It is interesting to
recall the fact that Thomas Arnold of Rugby
thoroughly agreed with James Martineau in
this matter. Though naturally quick-tempered
and impatient with stupidity, the great Rugby
teacher plainly declared that he often felt a
real respect and even reverence for dull but
conscientious schoolboys. In ethical matters
the affinity between Martineau and Arnold was
very great.

Of all his friends the one whom my teacher
seems, in his maturer years, to have loved best
was Richard Hutton, the editor of The Spectator.
To me he appears to have rather over-valued
Hutton's intellectual gifts. To me that candid
and very thoughtful writer often seemed a little
ponderous and wanting in vivacity. But he had
been a pupil of Martineau, and, no doubt, his old
tutor was able to appraise his capacities far better
than those who, like myself, knew him only by his
writings. Hutton's secession from Unitarianism
and his devotion to the theology of Canon Liddon
and other thinkers of the High Church school
were at once a source of perplexity, disquietude,
and hidden grief to the veteran philosopher who


could not follow his beloved friend in his spiritual

Dr. Martineau had extremely little sympathy
with the High Church party in the national
church. At first this appears a little strange, as
he so highly valued some of the great Catholic
thinkers and writers. One of his staunchest
philosophical allies was the Roman Catholic Dr.
Ward ; and he also had a profound admiration
for Father Dalgairns, who belonged to the same
fold. I imagine that my friend's antipathy to
High Church Anglicans in some measure arose
from the fact that he regarded many such divines
as somewhat lacking in honesty, sincerity, and
spiritual depth. I believe that he thought that
they ought to join the Church of Rome. He had
no patience with their logic. Probably he also
thought that they flaunted their sacerdotalism
in people's faces more than the better Roman
Catholics generally do, that they were always
challenging contradiction, that they were per-
petually emphasising a good deal that the Catholic
Church took for granted and allowed to lie more
or less latent in its system ; that they were rather
like children with a new box of toys which they
called upon every one to notice and admire. In


some ways it might well seem that the Ritualists
have more need for self-assertion than the heredi-
tary Catholics whose claim has had the sanction
of so many centuries. And I think that the
fervently ethical spirit of Martineau would rather
grudge the time and labour given to making good
ecclesiastical claims, and would look upon them
as wasted, as so much deducted from the energy
that might otherwise have been employed in
directly moral and spiritual work.

With Evangelicalism my friend had far more
sympathy, as had also Jowett and Dean Stanley.
That form of Christianity at least dealt with un-
deniable realities. Its religion was intensely
spiritual and internal. Its almost complete in-
difference to the rind of religion was eminently
congenial to Martineau, who had a good deal of
the Quaker in his inmost spirit. Sacraments
meant very little to him. One might perhaps
have expected that the apparent Antinomianism
of much Evangelical religion would make it un-
acceptable to this austere moralist ; and so it did
at times in some of its more extreme forms. But
I believe that Martineau's penetrating intellect
in great measure discerned the truth that Evan-
gelicalism really aimed at holiness, though some-


times seeming to seek it in a rather indirect way.
The great Unitarian saint had much in common
with John Wesley. Both these elect souls were
fired by a sacred ambition which urged them on
in quest of moral and spiritual perfection.

Moreover, James Martineau knew well, by
prolonged experience, the moral and religious
deficiencies of ordinary Unitarianism. In a half-
conscious way he seems to have realised the fact
that Unitarian religion needed, like Prometheus,
to steal fire from heaven, to appropriate to itself
some of that spiritual and emotional fervour in
which it was so sorely deficient, and which so
strikingly characterised the Evangelical religion
that it had been accustomed to despise. I once
asked my friend if he did not consider Unitarian-
ism a rather chilling religion, and he said in reply,
" Yes, very." A sarcastic observer might feel in-
clined to say that some Unitarians have appar-
ently some reason for questioning the existence
of the Holy Ghost, inasmuch as He bestows on
them so wonderfully little vivifying inspiration.
Religious thinkers of the Unitarian school have in

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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 4 of 12)