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ment or two Renan entered. He was very amiable;
it was kind of me to come, he said: would I not sit
down and take coffee; Sir Charles Dilke was one
of the politicians whom he most esteemed; his inti-
mate knowledge of France and his liking for things
French seemed to promise a more cordial under-
standing between the two peoples. . . . While he
talked fluent amiabilities of this sort, I tried to take
a mental photograph of him.

Renan was a short man, not more than five feet
three or four in height and very stout. Fat had
swamped all the outlines of his face except the fore-
head, which appeared narrow in comparison with
the large jaws and porky jowl. Yet looked at by



itself the forehead was not narrow, of fair size
indeed and shapely, and the eyes, which at first
seemed small and watchful, were more usually intent
and a little sad, as of one who had had his share
of life's disappointments and disillusions. The nose
was of good form, but thick and fleshy, suiting the
face. The mouth was a better feature ; a little small,
the upper lip firm, the lower sensitive and sinuous —
the mouth of a born orator and artist. The voice
was more than worthy of the lips, a sweet clear
tenor, pleasant and supple, with a myriad graceful
inflections in it and significant pauses — the soul of
the man to me was in his charming, light, flexible

As Renan sat on the edge of the chair, his pear-
shaped stomach appeared to keep his short legs
apart; he had a trick of planting his hands palm
downwards on his stout thighs, or of interlacing his
fingers across his paunch, while twirling his thumbs.
His nails were ill-kept, and the front of his frock-
coat had grease stains on it; his hair, worn in long
locks and fringing his collar behind, was dirty grey
in color, and looked untidy.

Altogether he was the very type of a French
village priest: easy-going and good-natured, care-
less of cleanhness and neatness as if lax conduct had
been further relaxed by years of self-indulgence.
Nothing distinguished in his appearance; nothing
beyond fair intelligence and much patience in the


brooding regard; hardly a trace of will-power to be
found; but plenty of fat kindness and ample toler-
ance, and a shrewd reading of facts and men with the
searching, intent eyes.

His talk that first afternoon was not remarkable:
fluent and graceful with here and there a touch of
irony curving the fine lips to a smile. He seemed
rather to evade knotty points, to wish to keep in
the shallows of ordinary social intercourse. Behind
his smiling amiability I divined a colossal conceit
quick to suspect and resent any lack of reverence.
I paid him compliments, therefore ; praised his Life
of Jesus, his Dialogues, and even his plays effusively.
He lapped it all up with smiling satisfaction: evi-
dently he had been very well treated in life, this
priest who had turned worship into one of the grace-
ful arts.

I made my visit short. At first he had seemed a
little on his guard, but at the end of our talk he
showed himself most kindly, amiable. My praise
must have been grateful to him, for he pressed me
to come again : he would always be delighted to see
me, he repeated.

A little later I called on him again and heard all
about his travels in Palestine. He insisted on the
obvious fact that topographical knowledge is of the
utmost importance to the historian,

"When you see the Plain of Gennesaret, or the


Lake of Galilee or Jerusalem," he said, "your un-
derstanding of the events and of the personages Is
enormously vivified and quickened: the milieu ex-
plains the man much as the soil explains the tree.
The best part of my Life of Jesus was prepared In
Palestine. It was there Jesus became completely
comprehensible to me."

In spite of myself I smiled a little at this flat-
tering self-estimate, but outwardly I was quite po-
lite, and followed his lead by saying that Carlyle
had told me the same thing; he had gone to Dunbar
before writing the history of the battle; Curtlus, too,
always declared his history of Greece was Inspired
by his travels In the peninsula.

Renan was Interested In this, and generalized the
experience at once:

"The literary and artistic movement of our day,"
he said, "Is towards realism; the wish to see the thing
as it is : everywhere the love of the document, trust
in the fact— very Interesting."

Sometime after this I happened to mention casu-
ally that I was going to see Renan, when an Ameri-
can acquaintance asked me whether It would be
possible to Introduce him? He assured me he would
enjoy It above everything. I knew him only slightly,
but he seemed so eager about It that I took his de-
sire for half-proof of sympathy and understanding,
and accordingly wrote to Renan that I would call
on him on a certain day, and, if he would allow me,


present a friend who much wished to know him.
We called; Renan was cordial and charming, but the
American turned out to be a terror. Again and
again he tried to Impress Renan with the fact that
life In Paris was exceedingly Immoral, that incidents
took place there every day which would not be tol-
erated In an Anglo-Saxon town. Renan smiled, and
listened politely for some little time; but at length
his patience was exhausted; looking up at him under
his grey brows, and evidently taking him for an
Englishman, he asked in his silkiest voice:

"Have you ever seen anything In Paris, Mon-
sieur, more immoral than a leader in The Times?''

"What does he mean?" the American asked me
In English. "There can be nothing immoral in a
leading article In The Times/'

"Oh yes, there can be," I gasped, "and there
often Is, and the American newspaper is just as im-
moral as the English."

After this I cut the interview as short as pos-
sible and ended it with the most flattering things
I could say to Renan. I told him how I admired
his celebrated letter to Berthelot and how right I|
was that the first artist in creative criticism should
write to the first master of synthetic chemistry on
such a subject as the life of Christ.

A day or two afterwards I called again to apolo-
gize to Renan for having introduced my compa-
triot. I found he had understood everything. He


had seen that the American did not mean to be rude,
and he was desirous of explaining to me that he
had not wished to reprove him, but just to Induce
him to think of the shortcomings of his own race.

"It Is the rudeness," Renan continued, "of Ger-
mans and Enghshmen that always astonishes us
Frenchmen. They are rude unconsciously; It is not
a rudeness of self-absorption or of excitement — that
we could easily pardon; but the rudeness of a lower
plane of thought and feeling, the rudeness of self-
ishness or want of consideration. . . .

"I sometimes think that it takes a civilization of
thousands of years to make a nation polite. When
you tell a Frenchman that he is impolite he Is
shocked, he insists on your proving It. Even when
he is most angry he understands that it Is a grave
delinquency. But I am Informed that If you tell an
angry Englishman or an American that he Is im-
polite, he simply laughs at you; it would not seem
to him a disgraceful charge at all. He sees nothing
in impoliteness, and therefore does not resent the
accusation. . . .

"Your English civilization Is too young; it Is only
four or five centuries old, and the German clvihza-
tlon In the sense of national life is shorter even than
yours. Our civilization, on the other hand, goes
back to Roman times; we have been civilized for
two thousand years, and the Italians, whose civiliza-
tion Is still older than ours, are still more exquisitely


polite than we are. We Latin peogle have a great
inheritance," he concluded, pursing his lips; "we
ought therefore to be very considerate of
others. . . ."

I remembered something Matthew Arnold had
written once on this subject, and I told him of it.
Arnold classed English and French civilizations to-
gether, saying that in literature and art they have
the same canons, the same understanding of high
artistic work, the same keen feeling for faults and
shortcomings, even in masterpieces; because they
both possess an old and rich national life: they have
a long rule wherewith to measure.

"It is no doubt conceit," I added, "that made
Matthew Arnold assume that our language goes back
to Beowulf, and that Enghsh civilization dates from
the landing of Augustine in the sixth century."

Renan was quick to take it that I was putting
forward my disagreement with him under the shield
of Matthew Arnold.

"But your language," he said, "surely began with
Chaucer about the middle of the fourteenth cen-

"Our Saxon Chronicle is, of course, far earlier,"
I remarked, "centuries earlier, and there are poems
and things before that."

"But can you read them?" he asked.

"They are difficult," I replied, "but I think they


are as easy to read as your oldest poetry written in
the Isle de France."

"Really, really," he replied, while apparently
seeking for a telling rejoinder. "At any rate you
will admit that Rome was the hearth of civilization
from which radiated all this pleasant intellectual
warmth and light, and we are a little nearer the
centre than you are."

"Much, much nearer," I replied politely.

Was it possible I asked myself, as I went away,
that the nation of Racine and Pascal and Balzac
should think itself superior to the race that had
produced Shakespeare and Bacon and Emerson?
I could not help smiling a little at Renan's amiable

I had seen him many times, talked with him on
many matters, become almost an intimate indeed
before we grappled finally over The Life of Jesus.
I must confess that my ideas at first were not very
clear on the subject. I admired Renan's book, but
took it rather as a romance than a biography. In its
own way it was very interesting and worthful, but
there seemed to me appalling mistakes in it, miscon-
ceptions even, as well as faults of irreverence and
impiety which put my back up. No one, I thought,
should approach that theme save on his knees. I
could not pardon the easy, careless, condescending
treatment of the subject. All sorts of men have


handled it, great and small : Rubens and Rembrandt,
Velasquez, and Fra Angelico. The best presenta-
tions have always been the most reverent: The Stran-
ger at Emmaus of Rembrandt, The Master with
Judas of Fra Angelico.

I did not want to discuss his book with Renan: he
had always been particularly courteous and kind to
me, and I was afraid I should hurt him. But there
was in him an irrepressible curiosity as to the posi-
tion he and his work held in other countries. He
saw, as Bacon saw, that the judgment of other peo-
ples had in it something of the detachment and im-
partiality necessary to a definitive decision. One
day he pressed me to tell him frankly what English-
men thought of his Life of Jesus.

"They don't think of it," I replied laughing,
"but," I hastened to add, "there's no class in any
country, is there, at all able to judge your work?"

"Perhaps you're right," he rejoined, smiling at
the implied compliment, "tell me, will you, what you
think of it?"

"Oh, I love it," I replied. "It is a charming and
beautiful work of art: the romance of religion."

"I see," he took up the thought gravely; "you
think it is too artistic, not true enough, eh? Please
be frank with me. It would be the truest kindness."

He used sincere words and I had to respond to

"As you insist upon it," I said, "that is some-


thing like my meaning. The Life is written by one
more occupied with the idea of painting a complete
picture than by a man who is resolved to set down
just what lie sees, no jot more, no tittle less.

"In face of that world-tragedy I think we Eng-
lish want the actual story with all Its gaps, the frag-
mentary truth and the truth alone with nothing
added, rather than a story pieced out by the imagi-
nation. We're afraid of a syllable beyond what is
Imphcit In the known facts."

"You must give a concrete Instance," he cried.
"What you say Interests me enormously. Where
have I put In patches that swear at the rest of the

"Forgive me," I cried; "I did not go so far as
that," and then, smiling In deprecation, I went on;
for I felt that my frankness had touched him on the
quick; "sometimes even when the patch is of the same
cloth, I dislike It because it Is not the actual garment,
and I will not have that added to by any artist in
clothes however clever."

"An Instance, an Instance," he cried, "one in-
stance. You keep me on tenterhooks."

"You will excuse my memory," I stipulated, "If
I try to quote you without the book? (He nodded.)
Comparing Paul once with Jesus you say, 'he had
not his adorable Indulgence: his way of excusing
everything: his divine Inability to see the wrong.


Paul was often imperious and made his aut^iorlty
felt with an assurance that shocks us.'

*'Now Jesus may have been of an 'adorable in-
dulgence'; but he did not excuse everything; he was
not unable to see the wrong, nor would such Ina-
bility be generally regarded as divine. Jesus was
indulgent to sins of the flesh; but he was very severe
on sins of the spirit. 'Woe unto you, Scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites! . . . for ye pay tithe of
mint and anise and cumin and have omitted the
weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and
faith.' Jesus saw the wrong very clearly and did
not excuse it."

"Ah," replied Renan, as if reheved, "you can
take a brush-stroke and say it is too heavy, but In
comparison with Paul, I maintain that Jesus was of
an 'adorable indulgence.' It is all right enough; but
each sentence must be looked at as part of a whole."

His happy carelessness, his invincible resolve not
to see himself as I saw him, or the faults in his book,
as they would be seen by others, challenged me to
continue : he would not judge himself though severe
self-criticism is the first condition of great work. I
answered lightly to be in tune with his manner.

"I do not want to make a point unfairly," I re-
plied. "I chose what I regard as a most charac-
teristic passage. You appear to think that the ina-
bility to see the wrong is a divine virtue. I regard
that indulgence as merely the amiability of a good-


humored sceptic. But what you have written all
hangs together," I broke off, "and forms a whole
— a fine French picture of the world-shaking event."

"What do you mean?" he cried, "why do you
say a 'French' picture? Do deal frankly with me,"
he pleaded. "The question interests me greatly;
why not treat me as you would wish to be treated?"
and he looked at me gravely.

The appeal was irresistible.

"You say that Paul was 'ugly' — 'an ugly little
Jew,'" I replied; "you use the epithet again and
again as a term of reproach. You dwell with pleas-
ure on the personal beauty of Jesus — *a handsome
Jewish youth' are your words." (He nodded.)
"Well," I went on, "that is another instance of what
I mean. We do not know whether Jesus was hand-
some or not. One feels certain that no one could
have lived habitually in communion with the High-
est as He did without bearing signs of it in His face.
On the other hand, His disciples never speak of
His personal beauty, so we must take it that His
message was infinitely more important than His
looks. A biographer, it seems to me, would have
done well to follow their example. The spirit-
beauty of Jesus must have been infinitely rarer and
more impressive than any regularity of feature."

"You will admit," said Renan, "that the beauty
of feature must add to the spirit-beauty, and the
weight of evidence is on my side."


He then went on to talk of the various traditions
of the Greek and Roman churches with what seemed
to me great learning. He discussed the question
with such a wealth of special knowledge, that the
same evening I could not recall a tenth part of what
he had said, and he summed it all up by declaring
that whatever evidence there was, seemed to him to
favor the idea that Jesus was personally handsome.

His argument left me unconvinced. The Silenus
ugliness of Socrates always appeared to me to in-
crease the effect of that death-scene in the Phaedo,
while the emphasis laid upon the personal beauty
of Mahomet seems to show that his influence was
rather one of personality than of spirit.

''Why should we even ask ourselves what Jesus
was like?" I questioned. "What he said was so
ineffably beautiful that we assume everything else
was in harmony with it."

Renan was just as obstinate. "We must agree
to disagree on that matter," he said shortly, "but
if that is your chief objection to my Life of Jesus
I am delighted, for you admit that in the main the
book is very interesting."

Renan's longing for praise seemed to me almost
childish. What can praise or blame matter to one
who knows he has done the work? His cawing like
a hungry baby-rook for a morsel of praise, stiffened

"Oh, no," I said, "it is not my chief objection;


it is only one small instance of what my chief ob-
jection is. The main thing is I would not have the
story added to or improved even, in any way."

"But you would round his hfe to completeness?"
Renan said, "fill up the gaps in the story?"

"If the facts are implicit in the story," I said,
"but not otherwise. I would not use my own imagi-
nation at all."

"I do not quite follow you," he replied. "You
would not have one merely rewrite the story set
forth in the Gospels? Besides, they contradict one
another again and again on essential points. You
have to use your judgment, your sympathy, your im-
agination even, when deciding between flagrant con-

"Certainly," I admitted, not wishing to give away
my whole thought, "that is only reasonable. What
I mean is that the divine figure is there in the Gos-
pels: at least it seems so to me. It may be relieved
out from the encumbering dross by judgment and
sympathy; but should not be altered."

"But in what way have I altered it?" he cried Im-

"Just as you have made Him beautiful," I replied,
"so you have made Him heroic. He Is the saint to
me and not the hero; in Gethsemane He prays that
the cup may pass from Him and yet not My will
but Thine he done. He is the conscience and not
the courage of humanity, or, to put it in modern


terms, the impulse of the plant upwards to the light,
and not the struggle of the plant with other plants
to Hve."

Renan dismissed my objections as insignificant.

"All great men have something of the hero in
them, and so had Jesus in spite of his self-abnega-
tion. It is like the question of His handsome per-
son. He went up to Jerusalem though He must
have known what would happen to Him; He dared
death then as He endured it later — heroically.

"But of course all these are small matters. The
important point is, have I understood the miracles
aright? Was he self-deceived in regard to them,
or did he deceive others? His character must suffer
in the one case. His wisdom in the other.

"I have shown, I think, that it was the people
about him who desired the miracles. He did not
like wonders; refused indeed to give His enemies
any sign, and appears only to have yielded to the
desire of the disciples now and then, and with re-
luctance. Again and again He requests those He
has healed to keep His work secret, to tell no one.
I hope you agree with me in this view that He only
became a wonder-worker late in life, and against
His own inclination."

"I am prepared to go further," I confessed,
"though I am at least as sceptical as you are about
so-called miracles. I feel certain that He healed the
sick again and again : that virtue went out of Him and


was felt by those who came near Him; much more
by those who touched His garment, and still more
by those who had His divine hands laid upon them.

"How far He worked what we call miracles,
I don't know, or even care greatly. The word itself
is hard to define. We live in the midst of miracles.
How the unconscious seed can carry in itself the
experience of a thousand thousand years ; how a baby
can hold in its comprehension all the thoughts and
peculiarities of its myriad forefathers, and thus be
an epitome of the race, I can't even imagine : our
living and being are a perpetual miracle. Jesus was,
no doubt, disinclined to gratify the childish desire of
His disciples for signs and wonders; but "

"Then I was right," cried Renan, "on the main
point, though I do not quite follow what you mean
by virtue coming out of him, or your insistence on
his divinity. Surely you do not believe in that?"

I did not wish to push our disagreement to a dis-

"We have all something of the divine in us, have
we not?" I replied. "Virtue comes out of you even
in a discussion, cher maitre.

"One cannot but agree with the greater part of
what you say about miracles and other occurrences,
and you have said it all wonderfully. Every one
acknowledges that you are one of the great masters
of French prose; the garment of your thought is so
easy, so graceful, so rhythmic. Besides you have


dared to appeal to the heart, and yet avoided maw-
kishness by deft touches of irony — spangles on the

He swallowed it all greedily, smiling and twirling
his thumbs. The "spangles" on the robe even,
pleased him. The theatricality of the phrase he put
down to my weakness in French, whereas I really
meant that the Parisian touches of irony — "One
can't live up to being always a son of God" — were
revolting mistakes in a life of Jesus, and the touches
of amused superiority which please nearly all
Frenchmen, offend our severer tastes. But it was
not worth while to try to correct his illimitable

It now remains for me to discover the reason
of Renan's partial failure; to show why he was
unable to see Jesus as He was. I might do this
through his intellect or through his character, or
both. I should perhaps first trace his philosophy
to its sources and show its inadequacy, demonstrate
that the conclusions on which his mind rested were
not certainties, as he imagined, but self-deceptions,
that at bottom he was an absolute infidel. Incapable
of believing in miracles or in prayer, or indeed in
virtue, in any vital distinction between good and evil.
And a man by nature incredulous is constitutionally
Incapable of understanding a believer, much less a
prophet or a saint.


Renan is a sort of glass In which one sees the
reflection of all the important thought-waves of his
time: he had learnt from Kant to believe in the
spiritual or, rather, in the mental world; from Hegel
a certain tinge of mysticism and a desire to reconcile
contradictions in a higher synthesis; but it was Scho-
penhauer's pessimism which had affected the very
current of his blood. All this, his own intellectual
limitations and the various influences which had
played upon him from different angles, so to speak,
can be traced in his philosophic writings. He shows
his naive, youthful enthusiasm in The Future of
Science, and his later complete disillusion in Meta-
physics and its Future, and in the famous Letter to

A glance at his so-called contradictions will lead
us to the heart of the mystery. One critic com-
plains that Renan's contradictions are "wilful." Or
do they arise, as Renan himself explained, from a
desire to show all the different facets of truth?
Another condemns his "liking for contradictions" as
having degenerated Into a trick of manner, and this
Is a friendly French critic. The thinker should
resemble a lighthouse, according to Renan, and
throw the white radiance now through green and
now through red glasses In order to attract the In-
attentive; but the high seriousness of truth hardly
lends Itself to such illusion. Many of Renan's con-
tradictions are not accidental or formal, but of the


essence; the assertions of a Galllo who will use fact
or fiction Indifferently as they chance to suit his
immediate purpose.

His treatment of Moses is typical of his whole
method. First of all, he states the problem admir-
ably, without shirking any of Its difficulties; coolly,
dispassionately, as a scientist and historian he tells
us that Moses, unlike Jesus, Is not an historical

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