W. E. (William Ewart) Gladstone.

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required for grasping firmly the connexion between them is
less. When Pitt had recommended the perusal of Butler to
Wilberforce, he in his turn records in his diary ^ that he had
the Analogy read aloud to him for two hours : it is not,
I think, too much to say that we might run through many
thousands of educated minds before lighting upon one which
could take real benefit from such an exercise ; and the
strength of Wilberforce, not small in its own line, was
mainly dependent upon susceptibility and pious emotion,
warm but without extravagance. Butler assuredly was not
made for butterflies to flutter about. He demands the sur-
render, not to him but to his subject, of the entire man. It
has been well said of him that he is as much in earnest, as if
he were a gamester. Still better, perhaps, Fitzgerald supplies
us with the remark of ' an ingenious person ' who said that
each single sentence is, with Butler, ' like a well-considered
move in chess -" ; a most felicitous illustration of its proper
subject, which may well dispense with all others, but need
not exclude that able writer's description of many a com-
pressed clause or single word of his author, as o-^upr/Aaros
vovs iv oAiyw oymo.

iii. His Courage.

With the circumspection which is one of his most marked
characteristics, Butler appears to unite a great boldness upon
occasion ; sometimes he even makes the occasion. As examples
of this boldness, I would refer to the following heads :

I. The possible development of the brute creation and its
elevation to a higher stage of existence ^.

From the frequency and gravity of his references to the
lower animals, it plainly appears that Butler had thought
much, and with adequate care, about them. Even in our own
day there are many who resent any attempt to draw closer
the ties of relationship to our humble kindred •*. But in those

Life of Wilberforce, i. pp. 89, 90. ■* I seem to recollect a speech of

Fitzgerald, preface, p. xci. Lord Beaconsfield, in which he was

Anctlogi/, I. i. 21. reported to have said that there


times, when a lady of rank reproached Lady Huntingdon for
applying the same doctrines concerning sin to the case of
her own equals as were applicable to the common people in
the street, it is probable that such ideas concerning the brutes
would be yet more repulsive than, outside the scientific
domain, they may still be. But he was not a man to be bound
by mere prepossessions, nor did he estimate opinion according
to the breadth of its prevalence. And besides the courage
which in this instance he exhibited, I cannot but admire the
insight of anticipation which, without a manuduction (if
the term may be allowed) by natural science, enabled him
to forecast what is now, though not a scientific truth, yet at
least an agreeable and widely accepted opinion. At least
it cannot be denied that the flint and bone discoveries, and
the remains of the geologic man, have been narrowing the
interval between the orders of creation ; for it must be borne
in mind that the effect of these discoveries may be to exhibit
our race, not at its present and known standard of faculty,
but in the possession of inferior powers, and only on the way
upwards to the more elevated plane.

2. Not less boldness did Butler exhibit when he pro-
pounded that the whole scheme of Scripture is not yet under-
stood : and that (apart from miracle) if progi^ess was to be
made in understanding it, such progress must be effected in
the same way as natural knowledge is come at. It may
contain many truths as yet undiscovered^. This is surely
a very remarkable declaration, especially as coming from
Butler. For his early training could hardly have been
altogether discharged from the narrow ideas of Scripture
interpretation which must have been most unfavourable to
such progress ; and, again, he had a most vivid sense of the
corruptions which, under the mask of development, and
through enlarged interpretations, had made their way into
the Christian Church. Yet he was not to be deterred, when
he saw his way, from enunciating ideas on this topic which
seem to be of considerable breadth.

were two theories of our descent. his part he preferred the descent

Some would have it that we were from the angels,

descended from the apes; others ^ Analogy, II. iii. 21.
derived us from the angels. For


3. Still more striking, perhaps, are the original conceptions
which Butler applied to the great subject of eschatology. He
nowhere dogmatizes beyond the language of the Apostles'
and the Nicene Creeds. He has unfolded no theory which
disposes of the final condition of all souls hereafter ; and his
subject did not require it. But his subject did suggest to
him the glorification of virtue ; and, with this end in view,
he considered not only what virtue does, but what under
favouring circumstances it might do. He found the pre-
vailing tradition, due to the biassing circumstances of the
Reformation, too narrow ; and he conceives that the power
of virtue, rising upwards in distant scenes with less of
hindrance, may then newly amend those who are capable
of amendment. I reserve for another place a fuller state-
ment on this subject ^

4. Butler has also achieved an important work with
regard to the respective departments of reason and faith,
a favourite subject for the sneers of some sceptical writers.
No one charges Butler with having robbed faith of its due
pi'erogatives. Yet surely none could on the other hand desire
a greater boldness in defining the office of reason. ' I express
myself with caution, lest I should be mistaken to vilify
reason ; which is indeed the only faculty we have where-
with to judge concerning any thing, even revelation itself :
or be misunderstood to assert, that a supposed revelation
cannot be proved false, from internal characters".' And
Butler may embolden many to maintain, as he does, that
there is not only no contradiction, but no opposition, between
faith and reason; the intellectual element in faith being
reason employed upon a special subject-matter.

All these are instances in which Butler's prescient courage
had a tendency to place him at issue with friends of his
own cause, less sagacious than himself. There are other
cases worthy of notice, in which no such likelihood was
before him.

5. Such is the treatment of the word ' natural ' in ch. i,
a treatment which may involve the solution of many dij95-
culties. There is no absurdity, he tells us, in supposing that

^ Analogy, II. iii. 3. Inf. Part II. Chap. iii. "^ Analogy, II. iii. 3.


there may be beings in the univ^erse so enlarged in capacity
an<l experience, as that the whole Christian dispensation may
to them appear natural, i.e. conformable to God's dealings
with other parts of His creation ; as natural, as the visible
known course of things appears to us ^

6. Again, when confronting the objector who dwelt on
difficulties apparent in the scheme of providential govern-
ment, he is not content with defence, but betakes himself also
to retaliation in argument. The things to which objection
is commonly taken in the scheme of providential government
may be things good in themselves, and even indispensable^;
and the entire scheme may prove to have been the best that
it could be.

7. And again, outside the contentious portion of his
teaching, he goes far beyond the ordinary stream of Cln-istian
instruction in his suggestions respecting future bliss, which,
as he thinks, may include the opening up of kinds of vision
altogether strange to the human soul. For what we now see
of the goodness of God is by seeing Him in His works ; but
we may come to see Him, and His glorious attributes, as
they are in themselves ^.

iv. His Questionable Theses.

It may seem as if eulogy of this kind stood in ill-assorted
companionship with the admission that in very rare instances
his critics appear to catch him tripping ; as when Miss Hennell
arraigns him for saying that one or two actions of a par-
ticular character have no aptitude, if few and detached, to
create a bad mental habit. But the fact seems to be this.
Circumspection is easy or difficult according to the subject-
matter. It is easy in copying a letter ; it is most difficult
in a philosophical treatise such as Butler's. And from the
effort required to maintain continuously such a circumspec-
tion as this it is inseparable from humanity that the mind
should occasionally and for moments recoil. Take the case
of two horses ; one travelling on a road absolutely smooth,

^ Analogy, I. i. 31. - Ibid. viii. 15.

^ Sermons, xiv. 15, 18.


the other happening to tread a mountain path, its surface
ahnost made of broken stones. The last may stumble once
in a day's work, where the first does not ; and yet may be
by far the more sure-footed of the two.

Even in Butler, then, we may expect to find scattered
about cases of inconsistencj^, or of deviation from absolute
precision. Among them, not wholly without misgiving,
I should reckon the following instances.

1. He seems to deviate from his own doctrine when in
a particular passage he couples self-love with conscience ;
seeing that he has never ascriljed to self-love a judicial or
magisterial faculty ^

2. In twice using the phrase ' vicarious punishment,' he
departs from his customary use of the better phrase ' vicarious
sufferings,' without any apparent recollection that he is in-
troducing a new and important element into his argument,
and indeed so as to create presumptions that this is done
simply through inadvertence ^.

3. He sometimes expressly distinguishes between passion
and affections ; but at other times, without expressly identi-
fying them, he seems not to exclude the supposition that
the terms are interchangeable.

He makes also a different and relaxed use of the term
' affections,' so as to let it include ' appetites, passions, senses.'

And j ust afterwards he restrains the sense, without noticing
the change ; but again returns to the wider sense soon after '\

4. Again, he says that ' any disposition, prevailing beyond
a certain degree, becomes somewhat wrong ' : yet the love
of God is a disposition, and to this he (most justly) affixes
no limit*.

5. The language of one of the Sermons seems wholly to
exclude self-love from the category of affections ; but can this
in strictness be maintained ^ 1

6. It seems difficult to sustain the proposition that our
bodies consist of foreign matter '', if the word ' body ' be taken
in its most comprehensive sense.

^ Sermons, iii. 13. ■* Ihid. 8.

"^ Analogy, II. v. 22. ^ ihid- lo.

^ Sermons, v. 6-9. *^ Analogy, I. i. 11.


7. Or the proposition that ' a few detached commands '
have no ' natural tendency to the formation of a habit '
which is surely in keeping with their subject-matter.

8. The term ' imagination ' in the first chapter would
appear to be a misnomer \

9. We have also the well-known passage where the name
of Caesar occurs, and where probabilities appear to be confused
with chances ^.

10. Does not it appear questionable whether Butler does
not venture upon hazardous ground, when he says that the
ideas of happiness and misery are more important to us than
those of virtue and religion '^ ? Some qualilEication appears to
be here required.

Unless, however, this list of seriously questionable propo-
sitions could be largely extended, we need not fear that the
fame of Butler's circumspection will seriously dwindle.

v. His Supposed Defect in Imagination.

It is sometimes said that Butler is deficient in imagination.
I am aware of no plausible ground for this imputation, except
that supplied by the passage in which, employing the actual
word, he has made imagination, ' that forward delusive faculty,'
the subject of warning and censure. ' It ever obtrudes beyond
its sphere.' It is ' the author of all error.' It is singular that
what he denounces is not ' the imagination,' but ' imagination,'
as if he were dealing with a process rather than a faculty.
But we can hardly dwell upon this, since he proceeds to
describe it as a faculty, and, moreover, assigns to it a ' sphere.'
The mischievous products of this abusive practice were, we
must suppose, those of which Butler was cognizant, and with
which he deals so largely in his work. But these, mentioned
almost in every page, are not, in truth, errors of the imagina-
tion, but of unbridled fancy and caprice ; of unbalanced,
ill-regulated judgement. It seems probable that this is one of
the rare instances in which Butler, relaxing the firmness
of his hold, forgets himself and assumes licence in the use of

^ Analogy, I. i. 9. ^ Tbki. II. ii. 11, 12.

^ Sermons, xi. 21.

ch.v.] on his mental qualities 93

words. Sometimes, though rarely, he deals with schemes
purely metaphj^sical ; but these, if erroneous, are not errors
of the imagination properly so called.

If the question be only verbal, all reason for maiming the
mind of Butler in this particular disappears. But it does
not seem hard to assign some positive reasons for asserting
that Butler was duly — indeed, as I think, somewhat more
than commonly — endowed with his share of this faculty.
I should assign in proof of this the felicity of his illustra-
tions, which, though less copious (as being indeed less germane
to his subject), may remind us of Macaulay. As another
indication of the same kind, I notice the fact that Butler
is a believer in beauty. He believes in it not merely as,
like colour, an impression on the brain ; not merely as a
fashion or a Avhim ; but as a true entity. No one would
describe Burke as a man void of imagination ; but Butler
masters the conception of beauty in a way more effective
than Burke, when he classes it with other ideas such as all
admit to be definite and substantive. The ideas of happi-
ness and misery, he says, will and ought to prevail over
those of order and beauty, and harmony, and proportion,
if they could clash, which he thinks they cannot ^ Yet more
strongly does he mark his sense of the self-consistent and
substantive character of beauty in his ascription of it to the
character of the Almighty. This, he says, possesses in per-
fection ' everything of grace and beauty ' which is variously
distributed in degree among the orders of creation -.

vi. llis Originality.

It is perhaps right to introduce the present section with the
inquiry, What is originality ? Can nothing be original which
has already been said or suggested by another? Buskin^ has
taught us that originality ' is only genuineness.' I understand
this to mean that, while a mechanical appropriation is pla-
giarism, there is also such a thing as a vital appropriation,
both intellectual and moral, which is of an order essentially

^ Sermons, xi. 21. ^ IhicL xiv. 14.

* Quoted in Morley's Diderot, vol. i. p. 303.


different. Moreover, the man who creates a thought, deposits
a seed, which carries in it Hfe, and which is to be sown in
the minds of others. It may there germinate and bear fruit :
and, if the second mind supplies a soil richer than the first,
the thought primarily borrowed may spring up anew,
endowed with a deeper life, with a greater force of nutritive
quality, than it drew from the earlier source where it first
received its form. Again, the hot light of the sun, transfused
through coloured glass, may in its disintegration supply tints
of beauty sought in vain from the outward glare. Or we
may once more turn to another side of the subject, and say
that, as many seeds spring from one parent seed, so it may be
given to an author, who begins with being no more than
a borrower, to embody this single thought in vast and varied
combinations, to which its relation may eventually become to
be that of the individual to the community in which he
moves. Such is the work of Butler in its relation to the
parent suggestion of Origen. May it not have been also such
in relation to the anticipatory productions of Cumberland ?

It is not, however, necessary to dwell at great length on the
originality of Bishop Butler.

The highest form of originality is ' discovery ' ; and this is
the phrase of eulogy which Macintosh has applied to the
Sermons of Butler. But it is with regard to the Analogy that
the question of originality has been principally raised.

This subject was opened by Hallam, the historian. His
HUtory of European Literature terminates with the seven-
teenth century. The works of Butler, therefore, were not
within his subject. But he has noticed at length, and greatly
commended in certain portions of its argument, the treatise of
Bishop Cumberland, c?e Legibus Naturae, which was published
in 1679. In a brief note he takes occasion to observe that
the second and third chapters of the first part of the Analogy
are in great part to be found in it \

But he also shows in his text how much, in using the work
of Cumberland, Butler had to avoid. Indeed, he had not only
to avoid particular arguments, but to adopt a different
method of reasoning; for Cumberland had an ambition to

Hallam's History of European Literature, vol. iv. p. 317 n.


put his processes of reasoning into mathematical form. But
he gave to ethics a basis independently of revelation, and, as
Butler did after him, he resorted to experience as the source
from which to draw his supplies of argument^.

Again. In the preface to his edition of the Analoyij-,
Bishop Fitzgerald has the following observation :

' The second chapter of Foster's Reply to Tindal, for in-
stance, is a remarkable anticipation of Butler's reasoning,
in P. ii. c. vi. upon the want of universality in revelation ■' ;
while the following passage in Bishop Berkeley's Minute
Philosopher clearly contains the germ of the whole argu-

Then follows a long extract, of which the pith is contained
in a single sentence :

' It will be sufficient, if such analogy appears between the
dispensations of grace and nature, as may make it probable
(although much should be unaccountable in both) to suppose
them derived from the same author, and the workmanship of
one and the same hand.'

This is indeed a remarkable passage. It corresponds, not
with the declaration of Origen, on which Butler founds
himself, but more nearly with Butler's own amendment of
that declaration^. It was published in the year 1732, and it
contains a summary of the entire argument. For that very
reason, although it sets forth a grand anticipation of Butler,
yet we cannot suppose Butler to have been indebted to it.
The Analogy bears the date of 1736. It must have been
published early in the year, for a second and amended edition
appeared before the year expired. The Servians had been
published in 1726. Viewing the distribution of Butler's
works over his life, as well as the character of his mind, we
can hardly doubt that he had been working out his great

* History of European Literature, gen (see Analogy, Introd. § 8) is be-
vol. ill. p. 301, et seq. tween nature and Scripture. The

^ Fitzgerald's Analogy, preface, analogy exhibited by Butler is be-

p. xxxviii. tween nature in its ordinary course

^ See Defence of the Usefulness, and constitution, on the one side,

Truth, andExcellency of the Christian and religion, natural and revealed,

Beligion. London, 1731. on the other. Butler widens the

* The analogy suggested by Ori- field both of Origen and of Berkeley.


argument from a date considerably antecedent to 1732, and
not improbably prior even to 1726. The germ must have
been deposited, and begun to develop, long before Berkeley
gave his work to the world.

Once more, Dr. Bernard, a Professor of Divinity in Dublin
University, has printed a noteworthy paper entitled ' The
Predecessors of Bishop Butler \' He gives a list of writers
to whom he thinks that Butler was variously indebted.

The first is Wilkins, Bishop of Chester, the author of
The Principles and Duties of Natural Religion. In his
third chapter he pointed out that in common life men are
to guide their actions by probable evidence when they cannot
attain to certainty.

Wilkins has also cited from Grotius the passage cited by
Butler in the Analogy, II. vi. 19. Butler's debt is, I think (if
any), to Grotius, rather than to Wilkins, as the terms of the
citation would seem to me to imply.

The gratification of a passion, according to Butler, would
not please, but for *a prior suitableness between the object
and the passion.' This doctrine had been previously laid
down by Wilkins.

Wilkins has very clearly defined superstition. Butler has
not, and Dr. Bernard thinks the sense he puts upon it is not
immediately apparent.

Butler and Wilkins have both referred to the Jews as
a standing memorial and example. They both regard the cor-
respondence between conscience and self-love as indications
of the wisdom and power of God.

Dr. Bernard points out some heads under which the philo-
sophy of Butler coincides with that of Shaftesbury ; and also
thinks that Colliber's work on Natural and Revealed Religion
might liav^e suggested some of the arguments used in the

It may perhaps be held that coincidences at certain points
in two philosophical systems cannot always be regarded as
proofs that the one later in date is indebted to the earlier.
Upon all subjects that have undergone open and repeated
discussion, there is gradually accumulated a common stock

' The Predecessors of Bishop Butler,' Hermathena, vol. xl. No. xx. 1894.

ch.v.] on his mental qualities 97

of materials which cannot be regarded as exclusive properties,
but remain open to the use of all. Much of what the acute-
ness and research of Dr. Bernard have drawn from Bishop
Wilkins may fall within the scope of this remark. It is only
when there is something decidedly peculiar in the matter, or in
the form given to it, that we can safely predicate derivation
by the later author as probable or certain. The passages
from Wilkins, who was a very considerable person, on
probable evidence, and of the harmony between a passion
and its objects, appear to me to be probably of this character.

Or again, we may say the case is like that of a young man
beginning his career in the world of business, who receives
from some friend a gift or loan of capital comparatively
small, which by skill, courage, and assiduity he develops into
a magnificent fortune.

It seems to me far from unlikely that the colossal character
of Achilles may have been suggested to Homer by the great
martial figure of Rameses the Second, a figure not less excep-
tional than that of the Achaian hero ; but that, even if this
should be the fact, it in no way detracts from the paramount
conception presented to us in the Iliad. It may indeed be
a specific gift of genius to appropriate elementary material
for the purposes of its grand combinations, and to give them
an execution of which their original author had never
dreamed. We may, then, securely say that Butler has a
stock of originality amply sufficient to maintain his literary
credit ; and the question which has been raised, though
worthy of discussion on its own grounds, is not one of great
moment in reference to the claims of Butler and of his main
works on the attention of the world.

As I own, it appears to me that if a student of Butler, after
perusing and intelligently apprehending the Analojy, were to
be told that it was not a work of originality, his nature, from
its inmost depths, would cry out against the assertion. It
matters not that particular thoughts, or even that some
portions of the argument may have been promulgated before
him by others ; even if we are to suppose, and the supposition
might be somewhat violent if universally applied, that he was
in every case cognizant of the passage cited against him.
Surely if all this be granted, and be taken at the highest



value which can be assigned to it, the originality ot* Butler's
work remains indisputable. Are not these thoughts of other
writers, scattered and uncombined, in the main like the bricks
lying here and there, and from which a building may be
constructed? But the original mind in this case is not
that which moulded the bricks ; it is that which raised the
building. Or if we go further and admit that we find here and
there the embryo of substantive portions of the Treatise, as

Online LibraryW. E. (William Ewart) GladstoneStudies subsidiary to the Works of Bishop Butler → online text (page 9 of 34)