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 9 of 12)
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struggling and baffled wanderers. We venture


to think that he now " bears our griefs and carries
our sorrows," more fully than he ever did in this
world. We believe that in heart he is now
" numbered with the transgressors " in a way
that he could not be on earth. We believe that
the inner significance of vicarious suffering has
been revealed to him at last. We believe that
the great Unitarian has gazed with opened eyes
on the fathomless heart of Jesus ; that the sacred
Christ of a measureless compassion has been
formed in him; that he would now gladly ex-
change the white robes of an intensely indivi-
dualistic and fastidious sanctity for the " garments
rolled in blood " of those great Pauline warriors
who love their converts better than they love
their own salvation. And so we expect from our
transfigured leader fuller sympathy than he ever
gave us in the days of his fleshly finiteness, and
we cry to him with yearning confidence,

" O white soul from that far-offshore,
Float some sweet song the waters o'er,
Our hopes confirm, our fears dispel,
With the dear voice we loved so well."



In character as well as in intellect Dr. Martineau
was in most respects admirably fitted to be a
great religious teacher and guide. His sanctity,
his absolute sincerity, his gentleness, his charm-
ing courtesy and unsectarian friendliness, and his
intense refinement and elevation of soul were
manifest to all who really knew him. Probably
no man of genius was ever more profoundly
modest and free from all traces of self-assertion.
His deep holiness had conspired with his delicacy
and simplicity of nature to eradicate all germs of
arrogance. The best and rarest form of Catholic
self-suppression and disinterestedness was in him
subtly blended with complete mental fearlessness.
The heart of a Thomas a Kempis was joined with
the head of one of the boldest of intellectual
pioneers. In some ways he resembled the illus-


trious Spinoza. Vulgarity, in all its varied forms,
was almost as alien from his character as licentious-
ness. He always shuddered at self -advertising
charlatans. Though he never sounded the depths
of human passion, he was endowed with a large
share of human tenderness ; and this, combined
with a rare fineness of spirit and an almost Greek
sense of nobleness and beauty, made him shrink
with abhorrence from the unimaginative hardness
of the religion of Whately and the grovelling
coarseness and selfishness of the moral philosophy
of Paley.

My friend's guilelessness and detestation of all
forms of craftiness were very marked. I once
said to him that it is sometimes necessary to
manage our fellow-creatures by a kind of harmless
guile, after the fashion of St. Paul thus dealing
with his converts. And I shall never forget the
way in which he said to me, " I do not like guile
of any sort."

In his conversation no man was ever more
entirely candid. He had a very firm faith in a
future life ; yet, when I once asked him whether
he was not occasionally troubled by passing
spasms of doubt on that great subject, he replied
plainly, " I cannot say that I am entirely free


from them ; but they are only transient." He
had evidently no wish for confirmation of
the soul's faith in immortality by means of
the signs and wonders of modern spiritualism.
He distrusted all such signs and wonders,
and seemed to think that they would inter-
fere with the proper functions of our rational
and spiritual nature in evincing its own im-
perishable vitality.

Dr. Martineau's serene optimism combined with
his very modest estimate of his own claims on his
Creator to make him shrink from demanding a
future life as his right, though he confidently
expected it as a free gift from God. I once
told him that, if this life were our all, I
could not thank God for my creation. Much
to my surprise, he said that, even if there
were no future existence, he should yet, on the
whole, be grateful for his life on earth. Of
all deep thinkers whom I have ever known
he was the most free from the depressing
modern malady of pessimism, a malady which
may perhaps to some extent be ascribed to our
exaggerated sense of our own merits, though
it certainly springs also from other and far
nobler sources.


Asa" Ductor Dubitantium " in our perplexed
age, this profound thinker was in some respects al-
most unequalled. To me he has always seemed
the greatest of all English defenders of rational
Theism. His knowledge was large and varied ;
his penetration was extraordinary ; and his dia-
lectical skill has hardly ever been surpassed. He
had a marvellous power of getting at the very
roots of difficult questions, and of putting them
in their true light. His writings are entirely free
from that irritating obscurity which so marred
the works of Maurice. His " Study of Religion,"
his " Types of Ethical Theory," and his " Seat
of Authority in Religion " are, in my judgment,
our most effective modern defence against the
manifold assaults of Atheism.

But perhaps this philosopher was at his very
best when engaged in controverting the Mate-
rialism of Tyndall. Materialism in its vary-
ing forms is the true Apollyon of our days, and
its most formidable foe was James Martineau.
Professor Tyndall said to a friend of mine that
he considered Martineau's reply the only real one
that was ever given in our country to the teaching
of his famous Belfast address. Viewed only as
a feat of dialectical skill, the pamphlet called


" Religion as affected by Modern Materialism " is
a delightful masterpiece.

Two passages may be given as summing up our
veteran philosopher's views on this subject. In
an essay called " Modern Materialism ; its Atti-
tude towards Theology " he wrote thus : " Till we
accept the faiths which our faculties postulate, we
can never know even the sensible world ; and
when we accept them, we shall know much more."
In taking away the grounds of Theism, Material-
istic philosophy takes away also the basis of
science. In " Religion as affected by Modern
Materialism " Martineau wrote as follows : "If
indeed you could ever show that the method of the
universe is one along which no Mind could move,
that it is absolutely incoherent and unideal, you
would destroy the possibility of religion as a
doctrine of causality ; only, however, by simul-
taneously discovering the impossibility of science,
which wholly consists in organising the phenomena
of the world into an intellectual scheme reflecting
the structure of its archetype. That those who
labour to render the universe intelligible should
call in question its relation to intelligence, is one
of those curious inconsistencies to which the ablest
specialists are often the most liable, when medi-


tating in foreign fields. If it takes mind to con-
strue the world, how can the negation of mind
suffice to constitute it ? "

The two chief roots of Martineau's Theism are
causality and conscience. His treatment of con-
science is, for the most part, profoundly wise and
suggestive. He vindicates its unique functions
with admirable force and clearness. In his
system it plays as prominent a part as in that of
Cardinal Newman. But there is an important
difference between the way in which our moral
faculty manifested itself to the Cardinal and that
in which it appeared to the great Unitarian. To
Newman the functions of conscience were chiefly
minatory ; to Martineau they were chiefly ad-
monitory and instructive. The former thinker
deliberately preferred some of the cruder and
more barbaric utterances of conscience as the
truest and most authoritative, whilst the latter
very much preferred its mellower and more
rationalised deliverances. To the one conscience
was as a goad or a scourge ; to the other it was as
the " still, small voice " of serenest wisdom. To
the great Catholic, in his darker hours, the realms
of conscience sometimes appeared almost as a
chamber of horrors, or at least as the prophet's


roll in which were written " lamentations, and
mourning and woe," whereas to the Theist
these same realms were a kind of " Interpreter's
House " in man's long pilgrimage from the animal
to the spiritual. To the one conscience was like
savage Saul " breathing out threatenings and
slaughter " ; to the other it was more like sym-
pathising Paul, first listening eagerly to the un-
speakable words of di vines t revelation, and then
cheering the hearts of despondent followers with
the triumphant declaration, " We can do all
things through Christ who strengtheneth us."

In their respective attitudes towards conscience
the soul of Martineau gives us the more inspiring
and invigorating spectacle, but the soul of Newman
gives us the more pathetic. Tragedy is more
deeply impressive in many ways than serene
success. In the case of the Unitarian moralist
the supply of spiritual power seems to have been
tolerably adequate to the demand in most ways ;
but it was not so with the Catholic saint ; in his
case the supply of power was always lamentably
deficient ; there was in this life a great gulf fixed
between his ideal and his actual. And so he once
said, in a letter to the late Dean Plumptre, that
a necessary element of the heaven for which he



longed was the entire cessation of wearying moral
effort and strife. The iron had entered into the
inmost soul of that sad pilgrim of eternity. To
the end of his days he was like a captive and
baffled eagle.

In some ways James Martineau appears even
greater in his " Endeavours after the Christian
Life " and in his " Hours of Thought on Sacred
Things " than in his more formal and contro-
versial works. In these more devotional utter-
ances he escaped to a great extent from that
aboriginal Deism which more or less influenced
his speculations to the end of his life. In them
the Infinite had more room to expand itself. His
soaring imagination and his sense of beauty also
found more scope for their exercise. He says
plainly that " there is no prose religion." Mysti-
cism is an essential ingredient of all the highest
devotional thought, a veritable Jacob's ladder
connecting earth with heaven. In discourses such
as " The Finite and the Infinite in Man," " Great
Hopes for Great Souls," " Life to the Children of
the Prophets," " The Communion of Saints,"
" The Sphere of Silence," and in many others
Dr. Martineau seems to lead us into a stately
cathedral, a house not made with hands, in which




the celestial music of some noble and unearthly
organ thrills our inmost spirits, during the mystic
silence of night, with divine soul-cheering messages
from our long-lost home. We are pierced with a
penetrating sense of the profound glory of true
religion. Almost all our noblest faculties are
touched to fine issues. The Infinite itself speaks
to us. Our humiliating feeling of provincialism
is taken away, and we taste the very life eternal.
Our citizenship is already in the heavens. We
gaze with awe-struck eyes on the secret mysteries
of the universe. Our whole being is enlarged and
vivified. Our depressing sense of our own mean-
ness and littleness passes away, and we realise
the true import of that old saying of Jesus, " The
kingdom of God is within us." God is no longer
far off. Man's nature is now in very deed " a
city not forsaken," a vestibule of an everlasting
kingdom that cannot be shaken. We have seen
a vision too transcendently fair to be false or
misleading, too sublime to be a product or a re-
velation of mere flesh and blood.

No English teacher has written so beautifully
as James Martineau concerning the meaning and
functions of sorrow. He has almost elevated it
from a curse to'a sacrament. In a discourse on


" The Discipline of Darkness " he writes thus :
" Unless all character is to perish, the contin-
gencies must stay. . . . The inspiration that
descends on us from the past, and makes us heirs
of accumulated thought and enriched affections,
from whom chiefly does it come ? Is it from
the uniformly happy and the untempted good ?
from those who have most realised the lot for
which our sentient and intellectual instincts cry
aloud ? No ; but from the central figures of the
great tragedies of our humanity ; from the
conquerors of desolating monsters ; from the
creators of law and tamers of the people ; from
love beyond death, that carried its plaintive music
to the shades ; from the avengers of wrong ;
from the martyrs of right ; from the missionaries
of mercy ; from the pass of Thermopylae ; from
the Sublician bridge ; from the fires of Smith-
field ; from the waters of Solway ; from the cross
of Calvary. A world without a contingency or
an agony could have no hero and no saint, and
could enable no Son of man to discover that he was
a son of God. . . . Whatever touches and en-
nobles us in the lives and in the voices of the past
is a divine birth from human doubt and pain."
Out of this noble master's three volumes of


sermons one might compile a splendid manual of
devout thought, lit up by piercing moral insight,
and pervaded by the very finest spiritual judgment,
a manual which might well be to our age what the
Pensees of Pascal have been to former ages.
Scarcely can we find elsewhere in English litera-
ture such a rare combination of delicacy of per-
ception, purity of nature, strength of intellect,
and beauty of expression. Hardly any thinker
since the days of Plato has linked such profound
and subtle thoughts with such glorious language.
The "old war" between poetry and philosophy,
having partially ceased in a few other writers, en-
tirely ceased in James Martineau. Imagination in
him welcomed the dry bones of science and made
them minister freely to its wants, made them live
and stand erect in their places as a kind of
advanced guard of a coming heavenly kingdom.
Common sense found its very soul in Idealism.
Force of mind and beauty of mind learnt that
they are brethren . Intellect was no longer divorced
from devoutness ; both found a congenial resting-
place in the vast regions of awe and wonder.
Man was greater than he knew. His own faculties,
touched by the master hands of genius, began to
disclose to him a religion grander far than that


of any church or any formal creed, a temple to be
compacted of all that is freest and most glorious
in the universe, a spacious realm of abiding peace,
where reason shall no longer " envy " instinct, and
instinct shall no longer " vex " reason, where on-
ward-looking wisdom shall displace all rigid eccle-
siastical dogmas, where a broad psychology shall
begin to take the place of a narrow priestcraft,
where the Infinite shall be its own interpreter,
and the inquiring spirit may henceforth slake its
sacred thirst at the fresh unwasting springs of
God's unceasing and progressive revelations of

Though hardly any other modern teacher has
helped me so much as Dr. Martineau has done in
the multitudinous difficulties of my intellectual
and religious life, I was nevertheless always con-
scious of differing from some of his views in many
important ways. In my personal intercourse
with him I always felt that I belonged by tem-
perament to a world very different from his, and
that it was very good of him to tolerate a disciple
and a friend who was neither a saint nor a meta-
physician. In his serene and saintly presence I
always felt rather like the man in the Bible who
" had not on a wedding garment." It was a


relief to my mind to know that he did not believe
in any hopeless hell, as, if he had believed in it,
his ethical austerity might almost have compelled
him to send some of his friends to that region of
woe for a time.

Nor did he ever satisfy some of my most
urgent wants. My teacher was too far above
ordinary men, an angel of contemplation rather
than an angel of the agony to man. He never
adequately understood struggling, heavy-laden,
and baffled souls. His knowledge of ordinary
human nature and of some very extraordinary
phases of that same nature was neither very
varied nor very deep. He was not capable of
really understanding an Augustine, a Luther, a
Shelley, or a Burns. Nor could he adequately
understand those leading a merely instinctive life,
such as soldiers, sailors, and labourers. The
" Word of God " dwelt in this great seer richly ;
but it was never quite effectually " made flesh."
Men admired its celestial beauty and splendour ;
but they felt sorrowfully that it was not ade-
quately " nigh unto them." We besought this
heavenly visitant to pray for us, but we scarcely
dared to ask him to pray with us.

This philosopher had lived almost exclusively


amongst intensely respectable and well-educated
people ; and he was far too apt to take the char-
acters of these as types of humanity in general,
and to construct an ethical and religious code to
suit their wants alone. Professor Caldecott writes
thus of Martineau's view of man : " Yet Mar-
tineau's view of the individual is not that man is
a lonely being who wakes all his own echoes ;
society is the means of discovering us to ourselves ;
but the inherent essence after all is a self-judgment
made by every man as a type of human nature ;
we are all members of a kind ; my fellow is myself
over again ; and he thinks that, by taking this
view, our experiences enable us to sweep into the
widest generality, yet without asking a question
of our fellow-men, the revelation of authority to
one mind being valid for all."

Now, regarding this teaching one might observe
that, though the fundamental unity of man's
nature is a very important truth, yet the diversity
of that same nature is an almost equally important
matter for consideration. It is often rather mis-
leading for a man to take himself as an adequate
type of men in general. No amount of self-
knowledge would have enabled Martin Tupper
to fathom the nature, the wants, the capacities,


and the responsibilities of beings such as Byron,
Emily Bronte, or Walt Whitman. But in truth
it was characteristic of the old ordinary Deism to
be ignorant of the heights and the depths of man's
nature. A semi-mechanical conception of man
was joined appropriately enough to a similar
conception of God. That most disturbing factor,
the Infinite, was quite banished from the idea
of man, and almost banished from the idea of
God. The unusual in man was almost as hateful
as the miraculous in God. The orderly mechani-
calness of the Deistic God was a kind of magnified
reflection of the commonplace bourgeois medio-
crity of the Deistic saint. And though Martineau's
higher moods of mind were utterly alien from
this unaspiring form of religion, yet in his more
formal writings, when dealing with religion in a
non-devotional way, he sometimes almost re-
lapsed into it in some directions.

My teacher's delicate and almost fastidious
sanctity also prevented him from discerning the
real kinship or affinity which there often is
between good and evil, though Aristotle's doctrine
of virtue as a mean between extremes might well
have suggested it. Like Tennyson, Martineau
believed in the ultimate complete victory of


holiness ; but he scarcely even dimly descried
its coming. He saw, as he indicates to us, the
soul of goodness in things intellectually evil, but
not in things morally evil. To poet and philo-
sopher alike "the Word of the Lord was precious" ;
the hopeful vaticinations of reason were highly
valuable ; but " there was no open vision " in
the realms of moral regeneration. Neither poet
nor philosopher saw much of the processes by
which sinfulness is day by day being transformed
into nobleness. Wise physicians or psychologists
often almost saw what theologians and saints only
" faintly trust." Oliver Wendell Holmes and
Robert Browning saw already in the hearts of
many outcasts a glorious city of God which
righteous men like Tennyson and Martineau
vainly longed to see.

Moreover, there was an element of Stoicism
in my teacher's character with which I could not
sympathise. To him sin always appeared to be
the greatest tragedy of human life, whereas I am
far more painfully impressed and perplexed by
the hideous amount of human suffering and of
apparently useless or injurious suffering. This
rather defective sympathy with suffering tended
to lessen Martineau's influence amongst a large


portion of mankind, amongst such as cry aloud
for a high priest who is " touched with a feeling
of our infirmities." Stoicism combined with
ethical austerity to diminish my friend's attrac-
tiveness to those who often most needed his
services. Thus on page 295 of the first volume
of his " Hours of Thought on Sacred Things " he
speaks of it as being desirable to " bind the
wounds without indulgence to the sins of men."
To me this teaching is neither very attractive
nor very wise. When the good Samaritan was
binding up the wounds of the forlorn traveller,
he probably forgot all about the poor man's sins,
or perhaps he even forgave them. A nurse should
not be a preacher. And even austere preachers
might well remember the wisdom of Jesus, who
thought that the " Neither do I condemn thee "
of unrestrained and undiluted human sympathy
is the indispensable prelude to the salutary moral
warning, " Go and sin no more."

In James Martineau the ethical nature was
rather too predominant. His conscience often
encroached upon his sympathies ; it grasped at
everything that came near it. Just as Spinoza
was called a God-intoxicated man, so we might,
with perhaps greater truth, call this Christian


philosopher a conscience-intoxicated man. His
zeal for morality sometimes led him to give a
rather untrue account of the way in which con-
science works. He represented its utterances as
more uniform and more categorically explicit than
they really are. He sometimes spoke as if our
moral faculty was more akin to an automatically
working sense than to a special function of reason
directed upon action. He almost ignored its
hesitations and its many variations. He declared
that " when the same occasion calls up simul-
taneously two or more springs of action, imme-
diately, in their juxtaposition, we intuitively
discern the higher quality of one than another,
giving it a divine and authoritative right of
preference ; but, when the whole series of springs
of action has been experienced, the feeling or
' knowledge with ourselves ' of their relative rank
constitutes the individual conscience ; all human
beings, when their conscience is faithfully inter-
preted, as infallibly arrive at the same series of
moral estimates as at the same set of rational
truths ; it is therefore no less correct to speak
of a universal conscience than of a universal
reason in mankind." (See the " Life and Letters
of James Martineau," vol. ii. page 302.)


This teaching appears to me partly untrue. We
are sometimes in real doubt as to which motive
ought to prevail on a certain critical occasion ;
and our difficulty is finally solved by a careful
consideration of circumstances or consequences,
and not merely by intuition. Besides this, the
element of taste, with all its endless sources of
variation, enters into the region of ethics, whilst
it is wholly excluded from mathematics. It is
far easier to question the doctrines of morals
than those of pure science.

I think also that Dr. Martineau's ethics were
rather too abstract and non-human. He assigned
to the Categorical Imperative a dynamic force
which it very often has not. To a large portion
of our race mere duty frequently seems more
repulsive than attractive. It has " neither form
nor comeliness," and it needs the sense of beauty
or the enthusiasm of humanity to give it power
to sway men's hearts. Our duties sometimes
appear more or less nauseous, and must be taken
infused in our sympathies or our affections, if
they are to operate adequately. Many have
willingly died for their country or their friends,
who would never have given their lives for any
mere code of moral laws.


Moreover, the very clearest discernment of moral
obligation is often powerless to strengthen weak

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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 9 of 12)