Isreal Smith Clare.

Library of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) online

. (page 39 of 60)
Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 39 of 60)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


takes, mediocrity, the common lot of by far the greatest number, is
leagued against it in a conspiracy to resist, and if possible, to suppress it.
The pass-word of this league is A bas le merits. Nay more ; those who
have done something themselves, and enjoy a certain amount of fame, do
not care about the appearance of a new reputation, because its success is
apt to throw theirs into the shade. Hence, Goethe declares that if we
had to depend for our life upon the favor of others, we should never
have lived at all ; from their desire to appear important themselves, peo-
ple gladly ignore our very existence :

Hittte ich gezaudert zu werden,
Bis man mir's Leben gegSnnt,

Ich ware nock nicht auf Erden,

Wie ihr begreifen kOnnt,

Wenn ihr seAt, voie sie sich geberden,

Die, um etwas zu scheinen,
Mich gerne mOchten verneinen.

Honor, on the contrary, generally meets with fair appreciation, and is
not exposed to the onslaught of envy ; nay, every man is credited with
the possession of it until the contrary is proved. But fame has to be
won in despite of envy, and the tribunal which awards the laurel is com-
posed of judges biassed against the applicant from the very first. Honor
is something which we are able and ready to share with everyone ; fame
suffers encroachment and is rendered more unattainable in proportion as
more people come by it. Further, the difficulty of winning fame by any
given work stands in inverse ratio to the number of people who are
likely to read it ; and hence it is so much harder to become famous as the
author of a learned work than as a writer who aspires only to amuse. It
is hardest of all in the case of philosophical works, because the result at
which they aim is rather vague, and, at the same time, useless from a
material point of view; they appeal chiefly to readers who are working
on the same lines themselves.

It is clear, then, from what I have said as to the difficulty of winning
fame, that those who labor, not out of love for their subject, nor from
pleasure in pursuing it, but under the stimulus of ambition, rarely or
never leave mankind a legacy of immortal works. The man who seeks
to do what is good and genuine, must avoid what is bad, and be ready
to defy the opinions of the mob, nay, even to dispise it and its misleaders.
Hence the truth of the remark (especially insisted upon by Osorius de
Gloria), that fame shuns those who seek it, and seeks those who shun it ;



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 329

for the one adapt themselves to the taste of their contemporaries, and th
others work in defiance of it

But, difficult though it be to acquire fame, it is an easy thing to keep
it when once acquired. Here, again, fame is in direct opposition to
honor, with which everyone is presumably to be accredited. Honor has
not to be won ; it must only not be lost But there lies the difficulty !
For, by a single unworthy action, it is gone irretrievably. But fame, in
the proper sense of the word, can never disappear ; for the action or
work by which it was acquired can never be undone ; and fame attaches
to its author, even though he does nothing to deserve it anew. The
fame which vanishes, or is outlived, proves itself thereby to have been
spurious, in other words, unmerited, and due to a momentary over-
estimate of a man's work ; not to speak of the kind of fame which Hegel
enjoyed, and which Lichtenberg describes as trumpeted forth by a clique of
admiring undergraduates the resounding echo of empty heads ; such a fame
as will make posterity smile when it lights upon a grotesque architecture of
words, a fine nest with the birds long ago flown ; it will knock at the door of
this decayed structure of conventionalities and find it utterly empty ! not even
a trace of thought there to invite the passer-by,

The truth is that fame means nothing but what a man is in comparison
with others. It is essentially relative in character, and therefore only
indirectly valuable ; for it vanishes the moment other people become
what the famous man is. Absolute value can be predicated only of
what a man possesses under any and all circumstances, here, what a man
is directly and in himself. It is the possession of a great heart or a great
head, and not the mere fame of it, which is worth having, and con-
ducive to happiness. Not fame, but that which deserves to be famous,
is what a man should hold in esteem. This is, as it were, the true
underlying substance, and fame is only an accident, affecting its subject
chiefly as a kind of external symptom, which serves to confirm his own
opinion of himself. Light is not visible unless it meets with something
to reflect it ; and talent is sure of itself only when its fame is noised
abroad. But fame is not a certain symptom of merit ; because you can
have the one without the other ; or, as Lessing nicely puts it, Some people
obtain fame, and others deserve it.

It would be a miserable existence which should make its value or want
of value depend upon what other people think ; but such would
life of a hero or a genius if its worth consisted in fame, that is, in the
applause of the world. Every man lives and exists on his own account,
and, therefore, mainly in and for himself; and what he is and the whole
manner of his being concern himself more than any one else ; so if he is
not worth much in this respect, he cannot be worth much otherwise,
idea which other people form of his existence is something secondary,
derivative, exposed to all the chances of fate, and in the end affecting
him but very indirectly. Besides, other people's heads are a wretched

69



33 o BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

place to be the home of a man's true happiness a fanciful happiness per-
haps, but not a real one.

And what a mixed company inhabits the Temple of Universal Fame 1
generals, ministers, charlatans, jugglers, dancers, singers, mllionaires
and Jews 1 li is a temple in which more sincere recognition, more
genuine esteem, ts given to the several excellences of such folk, than to
superiority of mind, even of a high order, which obtains from the great
majority only a verbal acknowledgment.

From the point of view of human happiness, fame is, surely, nothing
but a very rare and delicate morsel for the appetite that feeds on pride and
vanity an appetite which, however carefully concealed, exists to an im-
moderate degree in every man, and is, perhaps, strongest of all in those
who set their hearts on becoming famous at any cost. Such people
generally have to wait some time in uncertainty as to their own value,
before the opportunity comes which will put it to the proof and let other
people see what they are made of ; but until then, they feel as if they were
suffering secret injustice. 1

But, as I explained at the beginning of this chapter, an unreasonable
value is set upon other people's opinion, and one quite disproportionate
to its real worth. Hobbes has some strong remarks on this subject ;
and no doubt he is quite right. Mental pleasure, he writes, and ecstasy of
any kind, arise when, on comparing ourselves with others, we come to the con-
clusion that we may think well of ourselves. So we can easily understand
the great value which is always attached to fame, as worth any sacrifices
if there is the slightest hope of attaining it.

Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise

(That last infirmity of noble mind)

To scorn delights and live laborious days.*

And again :

How hard it is to climb
The heights where Fame's proud temple shines afar !

We can thus understand how it is that the vainest people in the world
are always talking about la gloire, with the most implicit faith in it as a
stimulus to great actions and great works. But there can be no doubt
that fame is something secondary in its character, a mere echo or reflec-
tion as it were, a shadow or symptom of merit : and, in any case,
what excites admiration must be of more value than the admiration itself.
The truth is that a man is made happy, not by fame, but by that which
brings him fame, by his merits, or to speak more correctly, by the disposi-
tion and capacity from which his merits proceed, whether they be moral
or intellectual. The best side of a man's nature must of necessity be

1 Our greatest pleasure consists in being admired ; but those who admire us, even if
they have every reason to do so, are slow to express their sentiments. Hence he is the
happiest man who, no matter how, manages sincerely to admire himself so long as
other people leave him aloac. a Milton. Lycidas.

70



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 331

more important for him than for anyone else : the reflection of it, the

opinion which exists in the heads of others, is a matter that can effect him
only in a very subordinate degree. He who deserves fame without getting
it possesses by far the more important element of happiness, which should
console him for the loss of the other. It is not that a man is thought to
be great by masses of incompetent and often infatuated people, but that
he really is great, which should move us to envy his position ; and his
happiness lies, not in the fact that posterity will hear of him, but that he
is the creator of thoughts worthy to be treasured up and studied for
hundreds of years.

Besides, if a man has done this, he possesses something which cannot
be wrested from him ; and, unlike fame, it is a possession dependent
entirely upon himself. If admiration were his chief aim, there would be
nothing in him to admire. This is just what happens in the case of false,
that is unmerited, fame ; for its recipient lives upon it without actually
possessing the solid substratum of which fame is the outward and visible
sign. False fame must often put its possessor out of conceit with him-
self ; for the time may come when, in spite of the illusions born of self-
love, he will feel giddy on the heights which he was never meant to
climb, or look upon himself as spurious coin ; and in the anguish of
threatened discovery and well-merited degradation, he will read the sen-
tence of posterity on the foreheads of the wise like a man who owes his
property to a forged will.

The truest fame, the fame that comes after death, is never heard of by
its recipient ; and yet he is called a happy man. His happiness lay both
in the possession of those great qualities which won him fame, and in the
opportunity that was granted him of developing them the leisure he had
to act as he pleased, to dedicate himself to his favorite pursuits. It is
only work done from the heart that ever gains the laurel.

Greatness of soul, or wealth of intellect, is what makes a man happy
intellect, such as, when stamped on its productions, will receive the
admiration of centuries to come, thoughts which made him happy at the
time, and will in their turn be a source of study and delight to the noblest
minds of the most remote posterity. The value of posthumous fame lies
in deserving it ; and this is its own reward. Whether works destined to
fame attain it in the life-time of their author is a chance affair, of no very
great importance. For the average man has no critical power of his own
and is absolutely incapable of appreciating the difficulty of a great work.
People are always swayed by authority ; and where fame is widespread, it
means that ninety-nine out of a hundred take it on faith alone. If a man
is famed far and wide in his own life-time, he will, if he is wise, not set
too much value upon it, because it is no more than the echo of a few
voices, which the chance of a day has touched in his favor.

Would a musician feel flattered by the loud applause of an audience
if he knew that they were nearly all deaf, and that to conceal their

71



33 2 BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

infirmity, they set to work to clap vigorously as soon as ever they saw one
or two persons applauding ? And what would he say if he got to know
that those one or two persons had often taken bribes to secure the loudest
applause for the poorest player 1

It is easy to see why contempory praise so seldom develops into
posthumous fame. D'Alembert, in an extremely fine description of the
temple of literary fame, remarks that the sanctuary of the temple is
inhabited by the great dead, who during their life had no place there, and
by a very few living persons, who are nearly all ejected on their death.
Let me remark, in passing, that to erect a monument to a man in his life-
time is as much as declaring that posterity is not to be trusted in its
judgment of him. If a man does happen to see his own true fame, it can
very rarely be before he is old, though there have been artists and musi-
cians who have been exceptions to this rule, but very few philosophers.
This is confirmed by the, portraits of people celebrated by their works ;
for most of them are taken only after their subjects have attained celebrity,
generally depicting them as old and grey ; more especially if philosophy
has been the work of their lives. From a eudaemonistic standpoint, this
is a very proper arrangement ; as fame and youth are too much for a mortal
at one and the same time. Life is such a poor business that the strictest
economy must be exercised in its good things. Youth has enough and
to spare in itself, and must rest content with what it has. But when the
delights and joys of life fall away in old age, as the leaves from a tree
in autumn, fame buds forth opportunely, like a plant that is green in
winter. Fame is, as it were, the fruit that must grow all the summer
before it can be enjoyed at Yule. There is no greater consolation in age
than the feeling of having put the whole force of one's youth into works
which still remain young.

Finally, let us examine a little more closely the kinds of fame which
attach to various intellectual pursuits ; for it is with fame of this sort that
my remarks are more immediately concerned.

I think it may be said broadly that the intellectual superiority tt
denotes consists in forming theories, that is, new combinations of certain
facts. These facts may be of very different kinds ; but the better they
are known, and the more they come within everyday experience, the
greater and wider will be the fame which is to be won by theorizing about
them. For instance, if the facts in question are numbers or lines or
special branches of science, such as physics, zoology, botany, anatomy,
or corrupt passages in ancient authors, or undecipherable inscriptions,
written, it may be, in some unknown alphabet, or obscure points in his-
tory ; the kind of fame which may be obtained by correctly manipulating
such facts will not extend much beyond those who make a study of them
a small number of persons, most of whom lived retired lives and are
envious of others who become famous in their special branch of knowl-
edge,

72



THE WISDOM OF LIFE. 333

But if the facts be such as are known to everyone, for example, the

fundamental characteristics of the human mind or the human heart,
which are shared by all alike ; or the great physical agencies which are
constantly in operation before our eyes, or the general course of natural
laws; the kind of fame which is to be won by spreading the light of a
new and manifestly true theory in regard to them, is such as in time will
extend almost all over the civilized world : for if the facts be such as
everyone can grasp, the theory also will be generally intelligible. But
the extent of the fame will depend upon the difficulties overcome ; and
the more generally known the facts are, the harder it will be to form a
theory that shall be both new and true : because a great many heads will
have been occupied with them, and there will be little or no possibility
of saying anything that has not been said before.

On the other hand, facts which are not accessible to everybody, and
can be got at only after much difficulty and labor, nearly always admit of
new combinations and theories : so, that, if sound understanding and
judgment are brought to bear upon them qualities which do not involve
very high intellectual power a man may easily be so fortunate as to
light upon some new theory in regard to them which shall be also true.
But fame won on such paths does not extend much beyond those who
possess a knowledge of the facts in question. To solve problems of this
sort requires, no doubt, a great deal of study and labor, if only to get at
the facts ; whilst on the path where the greatest and most widespread
fame is to be won, the facts may be grasped without any labor at all.
But just in proportion as less labor is necessary, more talent or genius
is required ; and between such qualities and the drudgery of research no
comparison is possible, in respect either of their intrinsic value, or of the
estimation in which they are held.

And so people who feel that they possess solid intellectual capacity
and a sound judgment, and yet cannot claim the highest mental powers,
should not be afraid of laborious study ; for by its aid they may work
themselves above the great mob of humanity who have the facts con-
stantly before their eyes, and reach those secluded spots which are acces-
sible to learned toil. For this is a sphere where there are infinitely fewer
rivals, and a man of only moderate capacity may soon find an opportunity
of proclaiming a theory that shall be 'both new and true; nay, the merit
of his discovery will partly rest upon the difficulty of coming at the facts.
But applause from one's fellow-students, who are the only persons with a
knowledge of the subject, sounds very faint to the far-off multitude.
And if we follow up this sort of fame far enough, we shall at last come
to a point where facts very difficult to get at are in themselves sufficient
to lay a foundation of fame, without any necessity for forming a theory ;
travels, for instance, in remote and little-known countries, which make
a man famous by what he has seen, not by what he has thought. The
great advantage of this kind of fame is that to relate what one has seen,

73



334



BEACON LIGHTS OF SCIENCE.



is much easier than to impart one's thoughts, and people are apt to
understand descriptions better than ideas, reading the one more readily
than the other : for, as Asm us says,

When one goes forth a-voy aging
He has a tale to tell.

And yet, for all that, a personal acquaintance with celebrated travelers
often reminds us of a line from Horace new scenes do not always mean
new ideas

Coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. 1

But if a man finds himself in possession of great mental faculties, such
as alone should venture on the solution of the hardest of all problems
those which concern nature as a whole and humanity in its widest range,
he will do well to extend his view equally in all directions, without ever
straying too far amid the intricacies of various by-paths, or invading re-
gions little known ; in other words, without occupying himself with specia 1
branches of knowledge, to say nothing of their petty details. There
is no necessity for him to seek out subjects difficult of access, in order to
escape a crowd of rivals ; the common objects of life will give him material
for new theories at once serious and true ; and the service he renders will
be appreciated by all those and they form a great part of mankind who
know the facts of which he treats. What a vast distinction there is
between students of physics, chemistry, anatomy, mineralogy, zoology,
philology, history, and the men who deal with the great facts of human
life, the poet and the philosopher !

Eput.1. H



74



CHRISTIANITY
AND AGNOSTICISM



CONSISTING OF PAPERS BY

HENRY WAGE, D.D., PROF. THOS. H. HUXLEY,

THE BISHOP OF PETERBOROUGH,
W. H. MALLOCK.




CONTENTS.



I. ON AGNOSTICISM. By HENBY WAGE, D. D., Prebendary of St. Paul's

Cathedral ; Principal of King's College, London 339

(Read at the Manchester Church Congress, 1889.)

II. AGNOSTICISM. By Prof. THOMAS H. HUXLEY 343

(From "The Nineteenth Century," February } 1889.)

III. AGNOSTICISM. A Reply to Prof. HUXLEY. By HENRY WAGE, D. D 364

(From "The Nineteenth Century," March, 1889.)

IV. AGNOSTICISM. By W. C. MAGEE, D. D., Bishop of Peterborough 378

(From " The Nineteenth Century," March, 1889.)

V. AGNOSTICISM: A REJOINDER. By Prof. THOMAS H. HUXLEY 380

(From "The Nineteenth Century," April, 1889.)

VI. CHRISTIANITY AND AGNOSTICISM. By HENBY WACE, D. D 400

(From " The Nineteenth Century," May, 1889.)

VII. AN EXPLANATION TO PROF. HUXLEY. By W. C. MAGEE, D. D.,

Bishop of Peterborough 417

(From " The Nineteenth Century," May, 1889.)

VIII. THE VALUE OF WITNESS TO THE MIRACULOUS. By Prof.

THOMAS H. HUXLEY 418

(From " The Nineteenth Century," March, 1889.)

IX. AGNOSTICISM AND CHRISTIANITY. By Prof. THOMAS H. HUXLEY. 430

(From " The Nineteenth Century," June, 1889.)

X. "COWARDLY AGNOSTICISM." A WORD WITH PROF. HUXLEY.

By W. H. MALLOCK 453

(From " The Fortnightly Review," April, 1889.)



ON AGNOSTICISM

A PAPER READ AT THE MANCHESTER CHURCH CONGRESS, 1886
BY HENRY WAGE, D. D.,

PREBENDARY OF ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL ; PRINCIPAL OF KING'S COLLEGE, LONDON.



WHAT is agnosticism ? In the new Oxford " Dictionary of the
English Language," we are told that " an agnostic is one who holds
that the existence of anything beyond and behind natural phenomena
is unknown, and (so far as can be judged) unknowable, and especially
that a First Cause and an unseen world are subjects of which we
know nothing." The same authority quotes a letter from Mr. R. H.
Hutton, stating that the word was suggested in his hearing, at a party
held in 1869, by Prof. Huxley, who took it from St. Paul's mention
of the altar at Athens to the Unknown God. "Agnostic," it is
further said, in a passage quoted from the " Spectator" of June 11,
1876, "was the name demanded by Prof. Huxley for those who dis-
claimed atheism, and believed with him in an unknown and unknowable
God, or, in other words, that the ultimate origin of all things must be
some cause unknown and unknowable." Again, the late honored
bishop of this diocese is quoted as saying, in the " Manchester
Guardian" in 1880, that "the agnostic neither denied nor affirmed
God. He simply put him on one side." The designation was sug-
gested, therefore, for the purpose of avoiding a direct denial of beliefs
respecting God such as are asserted by our faith. It proceeds, also,
from a scientific source, and claims the scientific merit, or habit, of
reserving opinion respecting matters not known or proved.

Now we are not here concerned with this doctrine as a mere ques-
tion of abstract philosophy respecting the limits of our natural capaci-
ties. We have to consider it in relation to the Church and to
Christianity, and the main consideration which it is the purpose of
this paper to suggest is that, in this relation, the adoption of the term
agnostic is only an attempt to shift the issue, and that involves a
mere evasion. A Christian Catechism says : " First, I learn to believe
in God the Father, who hath made me, and all the world; secondly,
in God the Son, who hath redeemed me, and all mankind ; thirdly, in
God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me, and all the elect people of
God." The agnostic says: "How do you know all that? I consider
I have no means of knowing these things you assert respecting God.
I do not know, and can not know that God is a Father, and that he
has a Son; and I do not and can not know that such a Father made
me, or that such a Son redeemed me." But the Christian did not
speak of what he knew, but of what he believed. The first word of a
Christian is not "I know," but "I believe." He professes, not a
science, but a faith; and at baptism he accepts, not a theory, but
a creed.

Now it is true that in one common usage of the word, belief IB
practically equivalent to opinion. A man may Bay he believes in a



340 BEACOX LIGHTS OJ- SCIENCE.

scientific theory, meaning that he is strongly of opinion that it is
true ; or, in still looser language, he may say he believes it is going to
be a fine day. I would observe, in passing, that even in this sense of
the word, a man who refused to act upon what he could not know
would be a very unpractical person. If you are suffering from an
obscure disease, you go to a doctor to obtain, not his knowledge of
your malady, but his opinion; and upon that opinion, in defiance of
other opinions, even an emperor may have to stake his life. Simi-
larly, from what is known of the proceedings in Parliament respecting
the Manchester Ship-Canal, it may be presumed that engineers were
not unanimous as to the possibilities and advantages of that under-



Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 39 of 60)