William Rounseville Alger.

A critical history of the doctrine of a future life online

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University of California.


Received October, i8g4.
Accessions No.~J^'\^QJ^ Class No.





Complete liHiograp^g of i^t ^uhjtti


One question, more than others all,
From thoughtful minds implores reply:

It is, as breathed from star and pall.
What fate awaits us when we die?





Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1860, by


in the Clerk's OlEce of the District Court of the United States for the District of




"Who follows truth carries his star in his brain. Even so bold
a thought is no inappropriate motto for an intellectual workman,
if his heart be filled with loyalty to God, the Author of truth and
the Maker of stars. In this double spirit of independence and
submission it has been my desire to perform the arduous task now
finished and offered to the charitable judgment of the reader.
One may be courageous to handle both the traditions and the
novelties of men, and yet be modest before the solemn mysteries
of fate and nature. He may place no veil before his eyes and no
finger on his lips in presence of popular dogmas, and yet shrink
from the conceit of esteeming his mind a mirror of the universe.
Ideas, like coins, bear the stamp of the age and brain they were
struck in. Many a phantom which ought to have vanished at the
first cock-crowing of reason still holds its seat on the oppressed
heart of faith before the terror-stricken eyes of the multitude.
Every thoughtful scholar who loves his fellow-men must feel it an
obligation to do what he can to remove painful superstitions, and
to spread the peace of a cheerful faith and the wholesome light
of truth. The theories in theological systems being but philosophy,
why should they not be freely subjected to philosophical criticism ?
I have endeavored, without virulence, arrogance, or irreverence
towards any thing sacred, to investigate the various doctrines per-
taining to the great subject treated in these pages. Many persons,
of course, will find statements from which they dissent, — senti-
ments disagreeable to them. But, where thought and discussion
are so free and the press so accessible as with us, no one but a
bigot will esteem this a ground of complaint. May all such pass-
ages be charitably perused, fairly weighed, and, if unsound,
honorably refuted ! If the work be not animated with a mean or
false spirit, but be catholic and kindly, — if it be not superficial and


pretentious, but be marked by patience and thoroughness, — is it
too much to hope that no critic will assail it with wholesale con-
demnation simply because in som^ parts of it there are opinions
which he dislikes ? One dispassionate argument is more valuable
than a shower of missile names. The most vehement revulsion
from a doctrine is not inconsistent, in a Christian mind, with the
sweetest kindness of feeling towards the persons who hold that
doctrine. Earnest theological debate may be carried on without
the slightest touch of ungenerous personality. Who but must feel
the pathos and admire the charity of these eloquent words of
Henry Giles ? —

" Every deep and reflective nature looking intently 'before and
after,' looking above, around, beneath, and finding silence and
mystery to all his questionings of the Infinite, cannot but conceive
of existence as a boundless problem, perhaps an inevitable dark-
ness between the limitations of man and the incomprehensibility of
God. A nature that so reflects, that carries into this sublime and
boundless obscurity * the large discourse of Eeason,' will not narrow
its concern in the solution of the problem to its own petty safety,
but will brood over it with an anxiety which throbs for tbe whole
of humanity. Such a nature must needs be serious ; but never will
it be arrogant : it will regard all men with an embracing pity.
Strange it should ever be otherwise in respect to inquiries which
belong to infinite relations, — that mean enmities, bitter hatreds,
should come into play in these fathomless searehings of the soul !
Bring what solution we may to this problem of measureless alter-
natives, whether by Eeason, Scripture, or the Church, faith will
never stand for fact, nor the firmest confidence for actual con-
sciousness. The man of great and thoughtful nature, therefore,
who grapples in real earnest with this problem, however satisfied
he may be with his own solution of it, however implicit may be
his trust, however assured his convictions, will yet often bow
down before the awful veil that shrouds the endless future, put
his finger on his lips, and weep in silence.^'

The present work is, in a sense, an epitome of the thought of
mankind on the destiny of man. I have striven to add value to it
by comprehensiveness of plan, — not confining myself, as most of my
predecessors have confined themselves, to one province or a few
narrow provinces of the subject, but including the entire subject in
one volume; by carefulness of arrangement, — not piling the material
together or presenting it in a chaos of facts and dreams, but group-


ing it all in its proper relations; by clearness of explanation, — not
leaving the curious problems presented wholly in the dark with a
mere statement of them, but as far as possible tracing the phe-
nomena to their origin and unveiling their purport ; by jpoetic life
of treatment, — not handling the different topics dryly and coldly,
but infusing warmth and color into them; by copiousness of infor-
mation, — not leaving the reader to hunt up every thing for himself,
but referring him to the best sources for the facts, reasonings, and
hints which he may wish; and hj persevering patience of toil, — not
hastily skimming here and there and hurrying the task off, but
searching and re-searching in every available direction, examining
and re-examining each mooted point, by the devotioii of twelve
years of anxious labor. How far my efforts in these particulars
have been successful is submitted to the public.

To avoid the appearance of pedantry in the multiplication of
foot-notes, I have inserted many authorities incidentally in the
text itself, and have omitted all except such as I thought would
be desired by the reader. Every scholar knows how easy it
IS to increase the number of references almost indefinitely, and
also how deceptive such an ostensible evidence of wide reading
may be. .

Online LibraryWilliam Rounseville AlgerA critical history of the doctrine of a future life → online text (page 1 of 147)