THE PLEASURES OF ENGLAND.
LECTURES GIVEN IN OXFORD.
JOHN RUSKIN, D.C.L., LL.D.,
HONORARY STUDENT OF CHRIST CHURCH, AND HONORARY FELLOW OF CORPUS-CHRISTI COLLEGE.
SECOND TENURE OF THE SLADE PROFESSORSHIP.
NEW YORK: JOHN WILEY AND SONS. 1888.
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THE PLEASURES OF LEARNING. Bertha to Osburga 5
THE PLEASURES OF FAITH. Alfred to the Confessor 31
THE PLEASURES OF DEED. Alfred to Coeur de Lion 61
THE PLEASURES OF FANCY. Coeur de Lion to Elizabeth 91
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THE PLEASURES OF LEARNING.
BERTHA TO OSBURGA.
In the short review of the present state of English Art, given you last year, I left necessarily many points untouched, and others unexplained. The seventh lecture, which I did not think it necessary to read aloud, furnished you with some of the corrective statements of which, whether spoken or not, it was extremely desirable that you should estimate the balancing weight. These I propose in the present course farther to illustrate, and to arrive with you at, I hope, a just—you would not wish it to be a flattering—estimate of the conditions of our English artistic life, past and present, in order that with due allowance for them we may determine, with some security, what those of us who have faculty ought to do, and those who have sensibility, to admire.
2. In thus rightly doing and feeling, you will find summed a wider duty, and granted a greater power, than the moral philosophy at this moment current with you has ever conceived; and a prospect opened to you besides, of such a Future for England as you may both hopefully and proudly labour for with your hands, and those of you who are spared to the ordinary term of human life, even see with your eyes, when all this tumult of vain avarice and idle pleasure, into which you have been plunged at birth, shall have passed into its appointed perdition.
3. I wish that you would read for introduction to the lectures I have this year arranged for you, that on the Future of England, which I gave to the cadets at Woolwich in the first year of my Professorship here, 1869; and which is now placed as the main conclusion of the "Crown of Wild Olive": and with it, very attentively, the close of my inaugural lecture given here; for the matter, no less than the tenor of which, I was reproved by all my friends, as irrelevant and ill-judged;—which, nevertheless, is of all the pieces of teaching I have ever given from this chair, the most pregnant and essential to whatever studies, whether of Art or Science, you may pursue, in this place or elsewhere, during your lives.
The opening words of that passage I will take leave to read to you again,—for they must still be the ground of whatever help I can give you, worth your acceptance.
"There is a destiny now possible to us—the highest ever set before a nation to be accepted or refused. We are still undegenerate in race: a race mingled of the best northern blood. We are not yet dissolute in temper, but still have the firmness to govern, and the grace to obey. We have been taught a religion of pure mercy, which we must either now finally betray, or learn to defend by fulfilling. And we are rich in an inheritance of honour, bequeathed to us through a thousand years of noble history, which it should be our daily thirst to increase with splendid avarice; so that Englishmen, if it be a sin to covet honour, should be the most offending souls alive. Within the last few years we have had the laws of natural science opened to us with a rapidity which has been blinding by its brightness; and means of transit and communication given to us, which have made but one kingdom of the habitable globe.
"One kingdom;—but who is to be its king? Is there to be no king in it, think you, and every man to do that which is right in his own eyes? Or only kings of terror, and the obscene empires of Mammon and Belial? Or will you, youths of England, make your country again a royal throne of kings; a sceptred isle; for all the world a source of light, a centre of peace; mistress of Learning and of the Arts;—faithful guardian of great memories in the midst of irreverent and ephemeral visions—faithful servant of time-tried principles, under temptation from fond experiments and licentious desires; and amidst the cruel and clamorous jealousies of the nations, worshipped in her strange valour, of goodwill towards men?"
The fifteen years that have passed since I spoke these words must, I think, have convinced some of my immediate hearers that the need for such an appeal was more pressing than they then imagined;—while they have also more and more convinced me myself that the ground I took for it was secure, and that the youths and girls now entering on the duties of active life are able to accept and fulfil the hope I then held out to them.
In which assurance I ask them to-day to begin the examination with me, very earnestly, of the question laid before you in that seventh of my last year's lectures, whether London, as it is now, be indeed the natural, and therefore the heaven-appointed outgrowth of the inhabitation, these 1800 years, of the valley of the Thames by a progressively instructed and disciplined people; or if not, in what measure and manner the aspect and spirit of the great city may be possibly altered by your acts and thoughts.
In my introduction to the Economist of Xenophon I said that every fairly educated European boy or girl ought to learn the history of five cities,—Athens, Rome, Venice, Florence, and London; that of London including, or at least compelling in parallel study, knowledge also of the history of Paris.
A few words are enough to explain the reasons for this choice. The history of Athens, rightly told, includes all that need be known of Greek religion and arts; that of Rome, the victory of Christianity over Paganism; those of Venice and Florence sum the essential facts respecting the Christian arts of Painting, Sculpture, and Music; and that of London, in her sisterhood with Paris, the development of Christian Chivalry and Philosophy, with their exponent art of Gothic architecture.
Without the presumption of forming a distinct design, I yet hoped at the time when this division of study was suggested, with the help of my pupils, to give the outlines of their several histories during my work in Oxford. Variously disappointed and arrested, alike by difficulties of investigation and failure of strength, I may yet hope to lay down for you, beginning with your own metropolis, some of the lines of thought in following out which such a task might be most effectively accomplished.
You observe that I speak of architecture as the chief exponent of the feelings both of the French and English races. Together with it, however, most important evidence of character is given by the illumination of manuscripts, and by some forms of jewellery and metallurgy: and my purpose in this course of lectures is to illustrate by all these arts the phases of national character which it is impossible that historians should estimate, or even observe, with accuracy, unless they are cognizant of excellence in the aforesaid modes of structural and ornamental craftsmanship.
In one respect, as indicated by the title chosen for this course, I have varied the treatment of their subject from that adopted in all my former books. Hitherto, I have always endeavoured to illustrate the personal temper and skill of the artist; holding the wishes or taste of his spectators at small account, and saying of Turner you ought to like him, and of Salvator, you ought not, etc., etc., without in the least considering what the genius or instinct of the spectator might otherwise demand, or approve. But in the now attempted sketch of Christian history, I have approached every question from the people's side, and examined the nature, not of the special faculties by which the work was produced, but of the general instinct by which it was asked for, and enjoyed. Therefore I thought the proper heading for these papers should represent them as descriptive of the Pleasures of England, rather than of its Arts.
And of these pleasures, necessarily, the leading one was that of Learning, in the sense of receiving instruction;—a pleasure totally separate from that of finding out things for yourself,—and an extremely sweet and sacred pleasure, when you know how to seek it, and receive.
On which I am the more disposed, and even compelled, here to insist, because your modern ideas of Development imply that you must all turn out what you are to be, and find out what you are to know, for yourselves, by the inevitable operation of your anterior affinities and inner consciences:—whereas the old idea of education was that the baby material of you, however accidentally or inevitably born, was at least to be by external force, and ancestral knowledge, bred; and treated by its Fathers and Tutors as a plastic vase, to be shaped or mannered as they chose, not as it chose, and filled, when its form was well finished and baked, with sweetness of sound doctrine, as with Hybla honey, or Arabian spikenard.
Without debating how far these two modes of acquiring knowledge—finding out, and being told—may severally be good, and in perfect instruction combined, I have to point out to you that, broadly, Athens, Rome, and Florence are self-taught, and internally developed; while all the Gothic races, without any exception, but especially those of London and Paris, are afterwards taught by these; and had, therefore, when they chose to accept it, the delight of being instructed, without trouble or doubt, as fast as they could read or imitate; and brought forward to the point where their own northern instincts might wholesomely superimpose or graft some national ideas upon these sound instructions. Read over what I said on this subject in the third of my lectures last year (page 79), and simplify that already brief statement further, by fastening in your mind Carlyle's general symbol of the best attainments of northern religious sculpture,—"three whalecubs combined by boiling," and reflecting that the mental history of all northern European art is the modification of that graceful type, under the orders of the Athena of Homer and Phidias.
And this being quite indisputably the broad fact of the matter, I greatly marvel that your historians never, so far as I have read, think of proposing to you the question—what you might have made of yourselves without the help of Homer and Phidias: what sort of beings the Saxon and the Celt, the Frank and the Dane, might have been by this time, untouched by the spear of Pallas, unruled by the rod of Agricola, and sincerely the native growth, pure of root, and ungrafted in fruit of the clay of Isis, rock of Dovrefeldt, and sands of Elbe? Think of it, and think chiefly what form the ideas, and images, of your natural religion might probably have taken, if no Roman missionary had ever passed the Alps in charity, and no English king in pilgrimage.
I have been of late indebted more than I can express to the friend who has honoured me by the dedication of his recently published lectures on 'Older England;' and whose eager enthusiasm and far collected learning have enabled me for the first time to assign their just meaning and value to the ritual and imagery of Saxon devotion. But while every page of Mr. Hodgett's book, and, I may gratefully say also, every sentence of his teaching, has increased and justified the respect in which I have always been by my own feeling disposed to hold the mythologies founded on the love and knowledge of the natural world, I have also been led by them to conceive, far more forcibly than hitherto, the power which the story of Christianity possessed, first heard through the wreaths of that cloudy superstition, in the substitution, for its vaporescent allegory, of a positive and literal account of a real Creation, and an instantly present, omnipresent, and compassionate God.
Observe, there is no question whatever in examining this influence, how far Christianity itself is true, or the transcendental doctrines of it intelligible. Those who brought you the story of it believed it with all their souls to be true,—and the effect of it on the hearts of your ancestors was that of an unquestionable, infinitely lucid message straight from God, doing away with all difficulties, grief, and fears for those who willingly received it, nor by any, except wilfully and obstinately vile persons, to be, by any possibility, denied or refused.
And it was precisely, observe, the vivacity and joy with which the main fact of Christ's life was accepted which gave the force and wrath to the controversies instantly arising about its nature.
Those controversies vexed and shook, but never undermined, the faith they strove to purify, and the miraculous presence, errorless precept, and loving promises of their Lord were alike undoubted, alike rejoiced in, by every nation that heard the word of Apostles. The Pelagian's assertion that immortality could be won by man's will, and the Arian's that Christ possessed no more than man's nature, never for an instant—or in any country—hindered the advance of the moral law and intellectual hope of Christianity. Far the contrary; the British heresy concerning Free Will, though it brought bishop after bishop into England to extinguish it, remained an extremely healthy and active element in the British mind down to the days of John Bunyan and the guide Great Heart, and the calmly Christian justice and simple human virtue of Theodoric were the very roots and first burgeons of the regeneration of Italy. But of the degrees in which it was possible for any barbarous nation to receive during the first five centuries, either the spiritual power of Christianity itself, or the instruction in classic art and science which accompanied it, you cannot rightly judge, without taking the pains, and they will not, I think, be irksome, of noticing carefully, and fixing permanently in your minds, the separating characteristics of the greater races, both in those who learned and those who taught.
[Footnote 1: Gibbon, in his 37th chapter, makes Ulphilas also an Arian, but might have forborne, with grace, his own definition of orthodoxy:—and you are to observe generally that at this time the teachers who admitted the inferiority of Christ to the Father as touching his Manhood, were often counted among Arians, but quite falsely. Christ's own words, "My Father is greater than I," end that controversy at once. Arianism consists not in asserting the subjection of the Son to the Father, but in denying the subjected Divinity.]
Of the Huns and Vandals we need not speak. They are merely forms of Punishment and Destruction. Put them out of your minds altogether, and remember only the names of the immortal nations, which abide on their native rocks, and plough their unconquered plains, at this hour.
Briefly, in the north,—Briton, Norman, Frank, Saxon, Ostrogoth, Lombard; briefly, in the south,—Tuscan, Roman, Greek, Syrian, Egyptian, Arabian.
Now of these races, the British (I avoid the word Celtic, because you would expect me to say Keltic; and I don't mean to, lest you should be wanting me next to call the patroness of music St. Kekilia), the British, including Breton, Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Scot, and Pict, are, I believe, of all the northern races, the one which has deepest love of external nature;—and the richest inherent gift of pure music and song, as such; separated from the intellectual gift which raises song into poetry. They are naturally also religious, and for some centuries after their own conversion are one of the chief evangelizing powers in Christendom. But they are neither apprehensive nor receptive;—they cannot understand the classic races, and learn scarcely anything from them; perhaps better so, if the classic races had been more careful to understand them.
Next, the Norman is scarcely more apprehensive than the Celt, but he is more constructive, and uses to good advantage what he learns from the Frank. His main characteristic is an energy, which never exhausts itself in vain anger, desire, or sorrow, but abides and rules, like a living rock:—where he wanders, he flows like lava, and congeals like granite.
Next, I take in this first sketch the Saxon and Frank together, both pre-eminently apprehensive, both docile exceedingly, imaginative in the highest, but in life active more than pensive, eager in desire, swift of invention, keenly sensitive to animal beauty, but with difficulty rational, and rarely, for the future, wise. Under the conclusive name of Ostrogoth, you may class whatever tribes are native to Central Germany, and develope themselves, as time goes on, into that power of the German Caesars which still asserts itself as an empire against the licence and insolence of modern republicanism,—of which races, though this general name, no description can be given in rapid terms.
And lastly, the Lombards, who, at the time we have to deal with, were sternly indocile, gloomily imaginative,—of almost Norman energy, and differing from all the other western nations chiefly in this notable particular, that while the Celt is capable of bright wit and happy play, and the Norman, Saxon, and Frank all alike delight in caricature, the Lombards, like the Arabians, never jest.
These, briefly, are the six barbaric nations who are to be taught: and of whose native arts and faculties, before they receive any tutorship from the south, I find no well-sifted account in any history:—but thus much of them, collecting your own thoughts and knowledge, you may easily discern—they were all, with the exception of the Scots, practical workers and builders in wood; and those of them who had coasts, first rate sea-boat builders, with fine mathematical instincts and practice in that kind far developed, necessarily good sail-weaving, and sound fur-stitching, with stout iron-work of nail and rivet; rich copper and some silver work in decoration—the Celts developing peculiar gifts in linear design, but wholly incapable of drawing animals or figures;—the Saxons and Franks having enough capacity in that kind, but no thought of attempting it; the Normans and Lombards still farther remote from any such skill. More and more, it seems to me wonderful that under your British block-temple, grimly extant on its pastoral plain, or beside the first crosses engraved on the rock at Whithorn—you English and Scots do not oftener consider what you might or could have come to, left to yourselves.
Next, let us form the list of your tutor nations, in whom, it generally pleases you to look at nothing but the corruptions. If we could get into the habit of thinking more of our own corruptions and more of their virtues, we should have a better chance of learning the true laws alike of art and destiny. But, the safest way of all, is to assure ourselves that true knowledge of any thing or any creature is only of the good of it; that its nature and life are in that, and that what is diseased,—that is to say, unnatural and mortal,—you must cut away from it in contemplation, as you would in surgery.
Of the six tutor nations, two, the Tuscan and Arab, have no effect on early Christian England. But the Roman, Greek, Syrian, and Egyptian act together from the earliest times; you are to study the influence of Rome upon England in Agricola, Constantius, St. Benedict, and St. Gregory; of Greece upon England in the artists of Byzantium and Ravenna; of Syria and Egypt upon England in St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, and St. Athanase.
St. Jerome, in central Bethlehem; St. Augustine, Carthaginian by birth, in truth a converted Tyrian, Athanase, Egyptian, symmetric and fixed as an Egyptian aisle; Chrysostom, golden mouth of all; these are, indeed, every one teachers of all the western world, but St. Augustine especially of lay, as distinguished from monastic, Christianity to the Franks, and finally to us. His rule, expanded into the treatise of the City of God, is taken for guide of life and policy by Charlemagne, and becomes certainly the fountain of Evangelical Christianity, distinctively so called, (and broadly the lay Christianity of Europe, since, in the purest form of it, that is to say, the most merciful, charitable, variously applicable, kindly wise.) The greatest type of it, as far as I know, St. Martin of Tours, whose character is sketched, I think in the main rightly, in the Bible of Amiens; and you may bind together your thoughts of its course by remembering that Alcuin, born at York, dies in the Abbey of St. Martin, at Tours; that as St. Augustine was in his writings Charlemagne's Evangelist in faith, Alcuin was, in living presence, his master in rhetoric, logic, and astronomy, with the other physical sciences.
A hundred years later than St. Augustine, comes the rule of St. Benedict—the Monastic rule, virtually, of European Christianity, ever since—and theologically the Law of Works, as distinguished from the Law of Faith. St. Augustine and all the disciples of St. Augustine tell Christians what they should feel and think: St. Benedict and all the disciples of St. Benedict tell Christians what they should say and do.
In the briefest, but also the perfectest distinction, the disciples of St. Augustine are those who open the door to Christ—"If any man hear my voice"; but the Benedictines those to whom Christ opens the door—"To him that knocketh it shall be opened."
Now, note broadly the course and action of this rule, as it combines with the older one. St. Augustine's, accepted heartily by Clovis, and, with various degrees of understanding, by the kings and queens of the Merovingian dynasty, makes seemingly little difference in their conduct, so that their profession of it remains a scandal to Christianity to this day; and yet it lives, in the true hearts among them, down from St. Clotilde to her great grand-daughter Bertha, who in becoming Queen of Kent, builds under its chalk downs her own little chapel to St. Martin, and is the first effectively and permanently useful missionary to the Saxons, the beginner of English Erudition,—the first laid corner stone of beautiful English character.
I think henceforward you will find the memorandum of dates which I have here set down for my own guidance more simply useful than those confused by record of unimportant persons and inconsequent events, which form the indices of common history.
From the year of the Saxon invasion 449, there are exactly 400 years to the birth of Alfred, 849. You have no difficulty in remembering those cardinal years. Then, you have Four great men and great events to remember, at the close of the fifth century. Clovis, and the founding of Frank Kingdom; Theodoric and the founding of the Gothic Kingdom; Justinian and the founding of Civil law; St. Benedict and the founding of Religious law.
Of, Justinian, and his work, I am not able myself to form any opinion—and it is, I think, unnecessary for students of history to form any, until they are able to estimate clearly the benefits, and mischief, of the civil law of Europe in its present state. But to Clovis, Theodoric, and St. Benedict, without any question, we owe more than any English historian has yet ascribed,—and they are easily held in mind together, for Clovis ascended the Frank throne in the year of St. Benedict's birth, 481. Theodoric fought the battle of Verona, and founded the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy twelve years later, in 493, and thereupon married the sister of Clovis. That marriage is always passed in a casual sentence, as if a merely political one, and while page after page is spent in following the alternations of furious crime and fatal chance, in the contests between Fredegonde and Brunehaut, no historian ever considers whether the great Ostrogoth who wore in the battle of Verona the dress which his mother had woven for him, was likely to have chosen a wife without love!—or how far the perfectness, justice, and temperate wisdom of every ordinance of his reign was owing to the sympathy and counsel of his Frankish queen.
You have to recollect, then, thus far, only three cardinal dates:—
449. Saxon invasion. 481. Clovis reigns and St. Benedict is born. 493. Theodoric conquers at Verona.
Then, roughly, a hundred years later, in 590, Ethelbert, the fifth from Hengist, and Bertha, the third from Clotilde, are king and queen of Kent. I cannot find the date of their marriage, but the date, 590, which you must recollect for cardinal, is that of Gregory's accession to the pontificate, and I believe Bertha was then in middle life, having persevered in her religion firmly, but inoffensively, and made herself beloved by her husband and people. She, in England, Theodolinda in Lombardy, and St. Gregory in Rome:—in their hands, virtually lay the destiny of Europe.
Then the period from Bertha to Osburga, 590 to 849—say 250 years—is passed by the Saxon people in the daily more reverent learning of the Christian faith, and daily more peaceful and skilful practice of the humane arts and duties which it invented and inculcated.
The statement given by Sir Edward Creasy of the result of these 250 years of lesson is, with one correction, the most simple and just that I can find.
"A few years before the close of the sixth century, the country was little more than a wide battle-field, where gallant but rude warriors fought with each other, or against the neighbouring Welsh or Scots; unheeding and unheeded by the rest of Europe, or, if they attracted casual attention, regarded with dread and disgust as the fiercest of barbarians and the most untameable of pagans. In the eighth century, England was looked up to with admiration and gratitude, as superior to all the other countries of Western Europe in piety and learning, and as the land whence the most zealous and successful saints and teachers came forth to convert and enlighten the still barbarous regions of the continent."
This statement is broadly true; yet the correction it needs is a very important one. England,—under her first Alfred of Northumberland, and under Ina of Wessex, is indeed during these centuries the most learned, thoughtful, and progressive of European states. But she is not a missionary power. The missionaries are always to her, not from her:—for the very reason that she is learning so eagerly, she does not take to preaching. Ina founds his Saxon school at Rome not to teach Rome, nor convert the Pope, but to drink at the source of knowledge, and to receive laws from direct and unquestioned authority. The missionary power was wholly Scotch and Irish, and that power was wholly one of zeal and faith, not of learning. I will ask you, in the course of my next lecture, to regard it attentively; to-day, I must rapidly draw to the conclusions I would leave with you.
It is more and more wonderful to me as I think of it, that no effect whatever was produced on the Saxon, nor on any other healthy race of the North, either by the luxury of Rome, or by her art, whether constructive or imitative. The Saxon builds no aqueducts—designs no roads, rounds no theatres in imitation of her,—envies none of her vile pleasures,—admires, so far as I can judge, none of her far-carried realistic art. I suppose that it needs intelligence of a more advanced kind to see the qualities of complete sculpture: and that we may think of the Northern intellect as still like that of a child, who cares to picture its own thoughts in its own way, but does not care for the thoughts of older people, or attempt to copy what it feels too difficult. This much at least is certain, that for one cause or another, everything that now at Paris or London our painters most care for and try to realize, of ancient Rome, was utterly innocuous and unattractive to the Saxon: while his mind was frankly open to the direct teaching of Greece and to the methods of bright decoration employed in the Byzantine Empire: for these alone seemed to his fancy suggestive of the glories of the brighter world promised by Christianity. Jewellery, vessels of gold and silver, beautifully written books, and music, are the gifts of St. Gregory alike to the Saxon and Lombard; all these beautiful things being used, not for the pleasure of the present life, but as the symbols of another; while the drawings in Saxon manuscripts, in which, better than in any other remains of their life, we can read the people's character, are rapid endeavours to express for themselves, and convey to others, some likeness of the realities of sacred event in which they had been instructed. They differ from every archaic school of former design in this evident correspondence with an imagined reality. All previous archaic art whatsoever is symbolic and decorative—not realistic. The contest of Herakles with the Hydra on a Greek vase is a mere sign that such a contest took place, not a picture of it, and in drawing that sign the potter is always thinking of the effect of the engraved lines on the curves of his pot, and taking care to keep out of the way of the handle;—but a Saxon monk would scratch his idea of the Fall of the angels or the Temptation of Christ over a whole page of his manuscript in variously explanatory scenes, evidently full of inexpressible vision, and eager to explain and illustrate all that he felt or believed.
Of the progress and arrest of these gifts, I shall have to speak in my next address; but I must regretfully conclude to-day with some brief warning against the complacency which might lead you to regard them as either at that time entirely original in the Saxon race, or at the present day as signally characteristic of it. That form of complacency is exhibited in its most amiable but, therefore, most deceptive guise, in the passage with which the late Dean of Westminster concluded his lecture at Canterbury in April, 1854, on the subject of the landing of Augustine. I will not spoil the emphasis of the passage by comment as I read, but must take leave afterwards to intimate some grounds for abatement in the fervour of its self-gratulatory ecstasy.
"Let any one sit on the hill of the little church of St. Martin, and look on the view which is there spread before his eyes. Immediately below are the towers of the great abbey of St. Augustine, where Christian learning and civilization first struck root in the Anglo-Saxon race; and within which now, after a lapse of many centuries, a new institution has arisen, intended to carry far and wide, to countries of which Gregory and Augustine never heard, the blessings which they gave to us. Carry your view on—and there rises high above all the magnificent pile of our cathedral, equal in splendour and state to any, the noblest temple or church that Augustine could have seen in ancient Rome, rising on the very ground which derives its consecration from him. And still more than the grandeur of the outward buildings that rose from the little church of Augustine and the little palace of Ethelbert have been the institutions of all kinds of which these were the earliest cradle. From Canterbury, the first English Christian city,—from Kent, the first English Christian kingdom—has by degrees arisen the whole constitution of Church and State in England which now binds together the whole British Empire. And from the Christianity here established in England has flowed, by direct consequence, first the Christianity of Germany; then, after a long interval, of North America; and lastly, we may trust, in time, of all India and all Australasia. The view from St. Martin's Church is indeed one of the most inspiriting that can be found in the world; there is none to which I would more willingly take any one who doubted whether a small beginning could lead to a great and lasting good;—none which carries us more vividly back into the past, or more hopefully forward into the future."
To this Gregorian canticle in praise of the British constitution, I grieve, but am compelled, to take these following historical objections. The first missionary to Germany was Ulphilas, and what she owes to these islands she owes to Iona, not to Thanet. Our missionary offices to America as to Africa, consist I believe principally in the stealing of land, and the extermination of its proprietors by intoxication. Our rule in India has introduced there, Paisley instead of Cashmere shawls: in Australasia our Christian aid supplies, I suppose, the pious farmer with convict labour. And although, when the Dean wrote the above passage, St. Augustine's and the cathedral were—I take it on trust from his description—the principal objects in the prospect from St. Martin's Hill, I believe even the cheerfullest of my audience would not now think the scene one of the most inspiriting in the world. For recent progress has entirely accommodated the architecture of the scene to the convenience of the missionary workers above enumerated; to the peculiar necessities of the civilization they have achieved. For the sake of which the cathedral, the monastery, the temple, and the tomb, of Bertha, contract themselves in distant or despised subservience under the colossal walls of the county gaol.
THE PLEASURES OF FAITH.
ALFRED TO THE CONFESSOR.
I was forced in my last lecture to pass by altogether, and to-day can only with momentary definition notice, the part taken by Scottish missionaries in the Christianizing of England and Burgundy. I would pray you therefore, in order to fill the gap which I think it better to leave distinctly, than close confusedly, to read the histories of St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Columban, as they are given you by Montalembert in his 'Moines d'Occident.' You will find in his pages all the essential facts that are known, encircled with a nimbus of enthusiastic sympathy which I hope you will like better to see them through, than distorted by blackening fog of contemptuous rationalism. But although I ask you thus to make yourselves aware of the greatness of my omission, I must also certify you that it does not break the unity of our own immediate subject. The influence of Celtic passion and art both on Northumbria and the Continent, beneficent in all respects while it lasted, expired without any permanent share in the work or emotion of the Saxon and Frank. The book of Kells, and the bell of St. Patrick, represent sufficiently the peculiar character of Celtic design; and long since, in the first lecture of the 'Two Paths,' I explained both the modes of skill, and points of weakness, which rendered such design unprogressive. Perfect in its peculiar manner, and exulting in the faultless practice of a narrow skill, it remained century after century incapable alike of inner growth, or foreign instruction; inimitable, yet incorrigible; marvellous, yet despicable, to its death. Despicable, I mean, only in the limitation of its capacity, not in its quality or nature. If you make a Christian of a lamb or a squirrel—what can you expect of the lamb but jumping—what of the squirrel, but pretty spirals, traced with his tail? He won't steal your nuts any more, and he'll say his prayers like this—; but you cannot make a Beatrice's griffin, and emblem of all the Catholic Church, out of him.
[Footnote 2: Making a sign.]
You will have observed, also, that the plan of these lectures does not include any reference to the Roman Period in England; of which you will find all I think necessary to say, in the part called Valle Crucis of 'Our Fathers have told us.' But I must here warn you, with reference to it, of one gravely false prejudice of Montalembert. He is entirely blind to the conditions of Roman virtue, which existed in the midst of the corruptions of the Empire, forming the characters of such Emperors as Pertinax, Carus, Probus, the second Claudius, Aurelian, and our own Constantius; and he denies, with abusive violence, the power for good, of Roman Law, over the Gauls and Britons.
Respecting Roman national character, I will simply beg you to remember, that both St. Benedict and St. Gregory are Roman patricians, before they are either monk or pope; respecting its influence on Britain, I think you may rest content with Shakespeare's estimate of it. Both Lear and Cymbeline belong to this time, so difficult to our apprehension, when the Briton accepted both Roman laws and Roman gods. There is indeed the born Kentish gentleman's protest against them in Kent's—
"Now, by Apollo, king, Thou swear'st thy gods in vain";
but both Cordelia and Imogen are just as thoroughly Roman ladies, as Virgilia or Calphurnia.
Of British Christianity and the Arthurian Legends, I shall have a word or two to say in my lecture on "Fancy," in connection with the similar romance which surrounds Theodoric and Charlemagne: only the worst of it is, that while both Dietrich and Karl are themselves more wonderful than the legends of them, Arthur fades into intangible vision:—this much, however, remains to this day, of Arthurian blood in us, that the richest fighting element in the British army and navy is British native,—that is to say, Highlander, Irish, Welsh, and Cornish.
Content, therefore, (means being now given you for filling gaps,) with the estimates given you in the preceding lecture of the sources of instruction possessed by the Saxon capital, I pursue to-day our question originally proposed, what London might have been by this time, if the nature of the flowers, trees, and children, born at the Thames-side, had been rightly understood and cultivated.
Many of my hearers can imagine far better than I, the look that London must have had in Alfred's and Canute's days. I have not, indeed, the least idea myself what its buildings were like, but certainly the groups of its shipping must have been superb; small, but entirely seaworthy vessels, manned by the best seamen in the then world. Of course, now, at Chatham and Portsmouth we have our ironclads,—extremely beautiful and beautifully manageable things, no doubt—to set against this Saxon and Danish shipping; but the Saxon war-ships lay here at London shore—bright with banner and shield and dragon prow,—instead of these you may be happier, but are not handsomer, in having, now, the coal-barge, the penny steamer, and the wherry full of shop boys and girls. I dwell however for a moment only on the naval aspect of the tidal waters in the days of Alfred, because I can refer you for all detail on this part of our subject to the wonderful opening chapter of Dean Stanley's History of Westminster Abbey, where you will find the origin of the name of London given as "The City of Ships." He does not, however, tell you, that there were built, then and there, the biggest war-ships in the world. I have often said to friends who praised my own books that I would rather have written that chapter than any one of them; yet if I had been able to write the historical part of it, the conclusions drawn would have been extremely different. The Dean indeed describes with a poet's joy the River of wells, which rose from those "once consecrated springs which now lie choked in Holywell and Clerkenwell, and the rivulet of Ulebrig which crossed the Strand under the Ivy bridge"; but it is only in the spirit of a modern citizen of Belgravia that he exults in the fact that "the great arteries of our crowded streets, the vast sewers which cleanse our habitations, are fed by the life-blood of those old and living streams; that underneath our tread the Tyburn, and the Holborn, and the Fleet, and the Wall Brook, are still pursuing their ceaseless course, still ministering to the good of man, though in a far different fashion than when Druids drank of their sacred springs, and Saxons were baptized in their rushing waters, ages ago."
[Footnote 3: Here Alfred's Silver Penny was shown and commented on, thus:—Of what London was like in the days of faith, I can show you one piece of artistic evidence. It is Alfred's silver penny struck in London mint. The character of a coinage is quite conclusive evidence in national history, and there is no great empire in progress, but tells its story in beautiful coins. Here in Alfred's penny, a round coin with L.O.N.D.I.N.I.A. struck on it, you have just the same beauty of design, the same enigmatical arrangement of letters, as in the early inscription, which it is "the pride of my life" to have discovered at Venice. This inscription ("the first words that Venice ever speaks aloud") is, it will be remembered, on the Church of St. Giacomo di Rialto, and runs, being interpreted—"Around this temple, let the merchant's law be just, his weights true, and his covenants faithful."]
Whatever sympathy you may feel with these eloquent expressions of that entire complacency in the present, past, and future, which peculiarly animates Dean Stanley's writings, I must, in this case, pray you to observe that the transmutation of holy wells into sewers has, at least, destroyed the charm and utility of the Thames as a salmon stream, and I must ask you to read with attention the succeeding portions of the chapter which record the legends of the river fisheries in their relation to the first Abbey of Westminster; dedicated by its builders to St. Peter, not merely in his office of cornerstone of the Church, nor even figuratively as a fisher of men, but directly as a fisher of fish:—and which maintained themselves, you will see, in actual ceremony down to 1382, when a fisherman still annually took his place beside the Prior, after having brought in a salmon for St. Peter, which was carried in state down the middle of the refectory.
But as I refer to this page for the exact word, my eye is caught by one of the sentences of Londonian thought which constantly pervert the well-meant books of pious England. "We see also," says the Dean, "the union of innocent fiction with worldly craft, which marks so many of the legends both of Pagan and Christian times." I might simply reply to this insinuation that times which have no legends differ from the legendary ones merely by uniting guilty, instead of innocent, fiction, with worldly craft; but I must farther advise you that the legends of these passionate times are in no wise, and in no sense, fiction at all; but the true record of impressions made on the minds of persons in a state of eager spiritual excitement, brought into bright focus by acting steadily and frankly under its impulses. I could tell you a great deal more about such things than you would believe, and therefore, a great deal more than it would do you the least good to hear;—but this much any who care to use their common sense modestly, cannot but admit, that unless they choose to try the rough life of the Christian ages, they cannot understand its practical consequences. You have all been taught by Lord Macaulay and his school that because you have Carpets instead of rushes for your feet; and Feather-beds instead of fern for your backs; and Kickshaws instead of beef for your eating; and Drains instead of Holy Wells for your drinking;—that, therefore, you are the Cream of Creation, and every one of you a seven-headed Solomon. Stay in those pleasant circumstances and convictions if you please; but don't accuse your roughly bred and fed fathers of telling lies about the aspect the earth and sky bore to them,—till you have trodden the earth as they, barefoot, and seen the heavens as they, face to face. If you care to see and to know for yourselves, you may do it with little pains; you need not do any great thing, you needn't keep one eye open and the other shut for ten years over a microscope, nor fight your way through icebergs and darkness to knowledge of the celestial pole. Simply, do as much as king after king of the Saxons did,—put rough shoes on your feet and a rough cloak on your shoulders, and walk to Rome and back. Sleep by the roadside, when it is fine,—in the first outhouse you can find, when it is wet; and live on bread and water, with an onion or two, all the way; and if the experiences which you will have to relate on your return do not, as may well be, deserve the name of spiritual; at all events you will not be disposed to let other people regard them either as Poetry or Fiction.
[Footnote 4: Not Londinian.]
With this warning, presently to be at greater length insisted on, I trace for you, in Dean Stanley's words, which cannot be bettered except in the collection of their more earnest passages from among his interludes of graceful but dangerous qualification,—I trace, with only such omission, the story he has told us of the foundation of that Abbey, which, he tells you, was the Mother of London, and has ever been the shrine and the throne of English faith and truth.
"The gradual formation of a monastic body, indicated in the charters of Offa and Edgar, marks the spread of the Benedictine order throughout England, under the influence of Dunstan. The 'terror' of the spot, which had still been its chief characteristic in the charter of the wild Offa, had, in the days of the more peaceful Edgar, given way to a dubious 'renown.' Twelve monks is the number traditionally said to have been established by Dunstan. A few acres further up the river formed their chief property, and their monastic character was sufficiently recognized to have given to the old locality of the 'terrible place' the name of the 'Western Monastery,' or 'Minster of the West.'"
The Benedictines then—twelve Benedictine monks—thus begin the building of existent Christian London. You know I told you the Benedictines are the Doing people, as the disciples of St. Augustine the Sentimental people. The Benedictines find no terror in their own thoughts—face the terror of places—change it into beauty of places,—make this terrible place, a Motherly Place—Mother of London.
This first Westminster, however, the Dean goes on to say, "seems to have been overrun by the Danes," and it would have had no further history but for the combination of circumstances which directed hither the notice of Edward the Confessor.
I haven't time to read you all the combination of circumstances. The last clinching circumstance was this—
"There was in the neighbourhood of Worcester, 'far from men in the wilderness, on the slope of a wood, in a cave deep down in the grey rock,' a holy hermit 'of great age, living on fruits and roots.' One night when, after reading in the Scriptures 'how hard are the pains of hell, and how the enduring life of Heaven is sweet and to be desired,' he could neither sleep nor repose, St. Peter appeared to him, 'bright and beautiful, like to a clerk,' and warned him to tell the King that he was released from his vow; that on that very day his messengers would return from Rome;" (that is the combination of circumstances—bringing Pope's order to build a church to release the King from his vow of pilgrimage); "that 'at Thorney, two leagues from the city,' was the spot marked out where, in an ancient church, 'situated low,' he was to establish a perfect Benedictine monastery, which should be 'the gate of heaven, the ladder of prayer, whence those who serve St. Peter there, shall by him be admitted into Paradise.' The hermit writes the account of the vision on parchment, seals it with wax, and brings it to the King, who compares it with the answer of the messengers, just arrived from Rome, and determines on carrying out the design as the Apostle had ordered.
"The ancient church, 'situated low,' indicated in this vision the one whose attached monastery had been destroyed by the Danes, but its little church remained, and was already dear to the Confessor, not only from the lovely tradition of its dedication by the spirit of St. Peter;" (you must read that for yourselves;) "but also because of two miracles happening there to the King himself.
"The first was the cure of a cripple, who sat in the road between the Palace and 'the Chapel of St. Peter,' which was 'near,' and who explained to the Chamberlain Hugolin that, after six pilgrimages to Rome in vain, St. Peter had promised his cure if the King would, on his own royal neck, carry him to the Monastery. The King immediately consented; and, amidst the scoffs of the court, bore the poor man to the steps of the High Altar. There the cripple was received by Godric the sacristan, and walked away on his own restored feet, hanging his stool on the wall for a trophy.
"Before that same High Altar was also believed to have been seen one of the Eucharistical portents, so frequent in the Middle Ages. A child, 'pure and bright like a spirit,' appeared to the King in the sacramental elements. Leofric, Earl of Mercia, who, with his famous countess, Godiva, was present, saw it also.
"Such as these were the motives of Edward. Under their influence was fixed what has ever since been the local centre of the English monarchy."
"Such as these were the motives of Edward," says the Dean. Yes, certainly; but such as these also, first, were the acts and visions of Edward. Take care that you don't slip away, by the help of the glycerine of the word "motives," into fancying that all these tales are only the after colours and pictorial metaphors of sentimental piety. They are either plain truth or black lies; take your choice,—but don't tickle and treat yourselves with the prettiness or the grotesqueness of them, as if they were Anderssen's fairy tales. Either the King did carry the beggar on his back, or he didn't; either Godiva rode through Coventry, or she didn't; either the Earl Leofric saw the vision of the bright child at the altar—or he lied like a knave. Judge, as you will; but do not Doubt.
"The Abbey was fifteen years in building. The King spent upon it one-tenth of the property of the kingdom. It was to be a marvel of its kind. As in its origin it bore the traces of the fantastic and childish" (I must pause, to ask you to substitute for these blameful terms, 'fantastic and childish,' the better ones of 'imaginative and pure') "character of the King and of the age; in its architecture it bore the stamp of the peculiar position which Edward occupied in English history between Saxon and Norman. By birth he was a Saxon, but in all else he was a foreigner. Accordingly the Church at Westminster was a wide-sweeping innovation on all that had been seen before. 'Destroying the old building,' he says in his charter, 'I have built up a new one from the very foundation.' Its fame as a 'new style of composition' lingered in the minds of men for generations. It was the first cruciform church in England, from which all the rest of like shape were copied—an expression of the increasing hold which, in the tenth century, the idea of the Crucifixion had laid on the imagination of Europe. The massive roof and pillars formed a contrast with the rude wooden rafters and beams of the common Saxon churches. Its very size—occupying, as it did, almost the whole area of the present building—was in itself portentous. The deep foundations, of large square blocks of grey stone, were duly laid; the east end was rounded into an apse; a tower rose in the centre, crowned by a cupola of wood. At the western end were erected two smaller towers, with five large bells. The hard strong stones were richly sculptured; the windows were filled with stained glass; the roof was covered with lead. The cloisters, chapter-house, refectory, dormitory, the infirmary, with its spacious chapel, if not completed by Edward, were all begun, and finished in the next generation on the same plan. This structure, venerable as it would be if it had lasted to our time, has almost entirely vanished. Possibly one vast dark arch in the southern transept, certainly the substructures of the dormitory, with their huge pillars, 'grand and regal at the bases and capitals,' the massive, low-browed passage leading from the great cloister to Little Dean's Yard, and some portions of the refectory and of the infirmary chapel, remain as specimens of the work which astonished the last age of the Anglo-Saxon and the first age of the Norman monarchy."
Hitherto I have read to you with only supplemental comment. But in the next following passage, with which I close my series of extracts, sentence after sentence occurs, at which as I read, I must raise my hand, to mark it for following deprecation, or denial.
"In the centre of Westminster Abbey thus lies its Founder, and such is the story of its foundation. Even apart from the legendary elements in which it is involved, it is impossible not to be struck by the fantastic character of all its circumstances. We seem to be in a world of poetry." (I protest, No.) "Edward is four centuries later than Ethelbert and Augustine; but the origin of Canterbury is commonplace and prosaic compared with the origin of Westminster." (Yes, that's true.) "We can hardly imagine a figure more incongruous to the soberness of later times than the quaint, irresolute, wayward prince whose chief characteristics have just been described. His titles of Confessor and Saint belong not to the general instincts of Christendom but to the most transitory feelings of the age." (I protest, No.) "His opinions, his prevailing motives, were such as in no part of modern Europe would now be shared by any educated teacher or ruler." (That's true enough.) "But in spite of these irreconcilable differences, there was a solid ground for the charm which he exercised over his contemporaries. His childish and eccentric fancies have passed away;" (I protest, No;) "but his innocent faith and his sympathy with his people are qualities which, even in our altered times, may still retain their place in the economy of the world. Westminster Abbey, so we hear it said, sometimes with a cynical sneer, sometimes with a timorous scruple, has admitted within its walls many who have been great without being good, noble with a nobleness of the earth earthy, worldly with the wisdom of this world. But it is a counterbalancing reflection, that the central tomb, round which all those famous names have clustered, contains the ashes of one who, weak and erring as he was, rests his claims of interment here, not on any act of power or fame, but only on his artless piety and simple goodness. He, towards whose dust was attracted the fierce Norman, and the proud Plantagenet, and the grasping Tudor, and the fickle Stuart, even the Independent Oliver, the Dutch William, and the Hanoverian George, was one whose humble graces are within the reach of every man, woman, and child of every time, if we rightly part the immortal substance from the perishable form."
Now I have read you these passages from Dean Stanley as the most accurately investigatory, the most generously sympathetic, the most reverently acceptant account of these days, and their people, which you can yet find in any English history. But consider now, point by point, where it leaves you. You are told, first, that you are living in an age of poetry. But the days of poetry are those of Shakespeare and Milton, not of Bede: nay, for their especial wealth in melodious theology and beautifully rhythmic and pathetic meditation, perhaps the days which have given us 'Hiawatha,' 'In Memoriam,' 'The Christian Year,' and the 'Soul's Diary' of George Macdonald, may be not with disgrace compared with those of Caedmon. And nothing can be farther different from the temper, nothing less conscious of the effort, of a poet, than any finally authentic document to which you can be referred for the relation of a Saxon miracle.
I will read you, for a perfectly typical example, an account of one from Bede's 'Life of St. Cuthbert,' The passage is a favourite one of my own, but I do not in the least anticipate its producing upon you the solemnizing effect which I think I could command from reading, instead, a piece of 'Marmion,' 'Manfred,' or 'Childe Harold.'
... "He had one day left his cell to give advice to some visitors; and when he had finished, he said to them, 'I must now go in again, but do you, as you are inclined to depart, first take food; and when you have cooked and eaten that goose which is hanging on the wall, go on board your vessel in God's name and return home.' He then uttered a prayer, and, having blessed them, went in. But they, as he had bidden them, took some food; but having enough provisions of their own, which they had brought with them, they did not touch the goose.
"But when they had refreshed themselves they tried to go on board their vessel, but a sudden storm utterly prevented them from putting to sea. They were thus detained seven days in the island by the roughness of the waves, and yet they could not call to mind what fault they had committed. They therefore returned to have an interview with the holy father, and to lament to him their detention. He exhorted them to be patient, and on the seventh day came out to console their sorrow, and to give them pious exhortations. When, however, he had entered the house in which they were stopping, and saw that the goose was not eaten, he reproved their disobedience with mild countenance and in gentle language: 'Have you not left the goose still hanging in its place? What wonder is it that the storm has prevented your departure? Put it immediately into the caldron, and boil and eat it, that the sea may become tranquil, and you may return home.'
"They immediately did as he commanded; and it happened most wonderfully that the moment the kettle began to boil the wind began to cease, and the waves to be still Having finished their repast, and seeing that the sea was calm, they went on board, and to their great delight, though with shame for their neglect, reached home with a fair wind. Now this, as I have related, I did not pick up from any chance authority, but I had it from one of those who were present, a most reverend monk and priest of the same monastery, Cynemund, who still lives, known to many in the neighbourhood for his years and the purity of his life."
* * * * *
I hope that the memory of this story, which, thinking it myself an extremely pretty one, I have given you, not only for a type of sincerity and simplicity, but for an illustration of obedience, may at all events quit you, for good and all, of the notion that the believers and witnesses of miracle were poetical persons. Saying no more on the head of that allegation, I proceed to the Dean's second one, which I cannot but interpret as also intended to be injurious,—that they were artless and childish ones; and that because of this rudeness and puerility, their motives and opinions would not be shared by any statesmen of the present day.
It is perfectly true that Edward the Confessor was himself in many respects of really childish temperament; not therefore, perhaps, as I before suggested to you, less venerable. But the age of which we are examining the progress, was by no means represented or governed by men of similar disposition. It was eminently productive of—it was altogether governed, guided, and instructed by—men of the widest and most brilliant faculties, whether constructive or speculative, that the world till then had seen; men whose acts became the romance, whose thoughts the wisdom, and whose arts the treasure, of a thousand years of futurity.
I warned you at the close of last lecture against the too agreeable vanity of supposing that the Evangelization of the world began at St. Martin's, Canterbury. Again and again you will indeed find the stream of the Gospel contracting itself into narrow channels, and appearing, after long-concealed filtration, through veins of unmeasured rock, with the bright resilience of a mountain spring. But you will find it the only candid, and therefore the only wise, way of research, to look in each era of Christendom for the minds of culminating power in all its brotherhood of nations; and, careless of local impulse, momentary zeal, picturesque incident, or vaunted miracle, to fasten your attention upon the force of character in the men, whom, over each newly-converted race, Heaven visibly sets for its shepherds and kings, to bring forth judgment unto victory. Of these I will name to you, as messengers of God and masters of men, five monks and five kings; in whose arms during the range of swiftly gainful centuries which we are following, the life of the world lay as a nursling babe. Remember, in their successive order,—of monks, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Martin, St. Benedict, and St. Gregory; of kings,—and your national vanity may be surely enough appeased in recognizing two of them for Saxon,—Theodoric, Charlemagne, Alfred, Canute, and the Confessor. I will read three passages to you, out of the literal words of three of these ten men, without saying whose they are, that you may compare them with the best and most exalted you have read expressing the philosophy, the religion, and the policy of to-day,—from which I admit, with Dean Stanley, but with a far different meaning from his, that they are indeed separate for evermore. I give you first, for an example of Philosophy, a single sentence, containing all—so far as I can myself discern—that it is possible for us to know, or well for us to believe, respecting the world and its laws.
"OF GOD'S UNIVERSAL PROVIDENCE, RULING ALL, AND COMPRISING ALL.
"Wherefore the great and mighty God; He that made man a reasonable creature of soul and body, and He that did neither let him pass unpunished for his sin, nor yet excluded him from mercy; He that gave, both unto good and bad, essence with the stones, power of production with the trees, senses with the beasts of the field, and understanding with the angels; He from whom is all being, beauty, form, and number, weight, and measure; He from whom all nature, mean and excellent, all seeds of form, all forms of seed, all motion, both of forms and seeds, derive and have being; He that gave flesh the original beauty, strength, propagation, form and shape, health and symmetry; He that gave the unreasonable soul, sense, memory, and appetite; the reasonable, besides these, fantasy, understanding, and will; He, I say, having left neither heaven, nor earth, nor angel, nor man, no, nor the most base and contemptible creature, neither the bird's feather, nor the herb's flower, nor the tree's leaf, without the true harmony of their parts, and peaceful concord of composition:—It is in no way credible that He would leave the kingdoms of men and their bondages and freedom loose and uncomprised in the laws of His eternal providence."
[Footnote 5: From St. Augustine's 'Citie of God,' Book V., ch. xi. (English trans., printed by George Eld, 1610.)]
This for the philosophy. Next, I take for example of the Religion of our ancestors, a prayer, personally and passionately offered to the Deity conceived as you have this moment heard.
[Footnote 6: Here one of the "Stones of Westminster" was shown and commented on.]
"O Thou who art the Father of that Son which has awakened us, and yet urgeth us out of the sleep of our sins, and exhorteth us that we become Thine;" (note you that, for apprehension of what Redemption means, against your base and cowardly modern notion of 'scaping whipping. Not to take away the Punishment of Sin, but by His Resurrection to raise us out of the sleep of sin itself! Compare the legend at the feet of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the golden Gospel of Charles le Chauve:—
"HIC LEO SURGENDO PORTAS CONFREGIT AVERNI QUI NUNQUAM DORMIT, NUSQUAM DORMITAT IN AEVUM;")
"to Thee, Lord, I pray, who art the supreme truth; for all the truth that is, is truth from Thee. Thee I implore, O Lord, who art the highest wisdom. Through Thee are wise all those that are so. Thou art the true life, and through Thee are living all those that are so. Thou art the supreme felicity, and from Thee all have become happy that are so. Thou art the highest good, and from Thee all beauty springs. Thou art the intellectual light, and from Thee man derives his understanding.
[Footnote 7: At Munich: the leaf has been exquisitely drawn and legend communicated to me by Professor Westwood. It is written in gold on purple.]
"To Thee, O God, I call and speak. Hear, O hear me, Lord! for Thou art my God and my Lord; my Father and my Creator; my ruler and my hope; my wealth and my honour my house, my country, my salvation, and my life! Hear, hear me, O Lord! Few of Thy servants comprehend Thee. But Thee alone I love, indeed, above all other things. Thee I seek: Thee I will follow: Thee I am ready to serve. Under Thy power I desire to abide, for Thou alone art the Sovereign of all. I pray Thee to command me as Thou wilt."
[Footnote 8: Meaning—not that he is of those few, but that, without comprehending, at least, as a dog, he can love.]
You see this prayer is simply the expansion of that clause of the Lord's Prayer which most men eagerly omit from it,—Fiat voluntas tua. In being so, it sums the Christian prayer of all ages. See now, in the third place, how far this king's letter I am going to read to you sums also Christian Policy.
"Wherefore I render high thanks to Almighty God, for the happy accomplishment of all the desires which I have set before me, and for the satisfying of my every wish.
"Now therefore, be it known to you all, that to Almighty God Himself I have, on my knees, devoted my life, to the end that in all things I may do justice, and with justice and rightness rule the kingdoms and peoples under me; throughout everything preserving an impartial judgment. If, heretofore, I have, through being, as young men are, impulsive or careless, done anything unjust, I mean, with God's help, to lose no time in remedying my fault. To which end I call to witness my counsellors, to whom I have entrusted the counsels of the kingdom, and I charge them that by no means, be it through fear of me, or the favour of any other powerful personage, to consent to any injustice, or to suffer any to shoot out in any part of my kingdom. I charge all my viscounts and those set over my whole kingdom, as they wish to keep my friendship or their own safety, to use no unjust force to any man, rich or poor; let all men, noble and not noble, rich and poor alike, be able to obtain their rights under the law's justice; and from that law let there be no deviation, either to favour the king or any powerful person, nor to raise money for me. I have no need of money raised by what is unfair. I also would have you know that I go now to make peace and firm treaty by the counsels of all my subjects, with those nations and people who wished, had it been possible for them to do so, which it was not, to deprive us alike of kingdom and of life. God brought down their strength to nought: and may He of His benign love preserve us on our throne and in honour. Lastly, when I have made peace with the neighbouring nations, and settled and pacified all my dominions in the East, so that we may nowhere have any war or enmity to fear, I mean to come to England this summer, as soon as I can fit out vessels to sail. My reason, however, in sending this letter first is to let all the people of my kingdom share in the joy of my welfare: for as you yourselves know, I have never spared myself or my labour; nor will I ever do so, where my people are really in want of some good that I can do them."
What think you now, in candour and honour, you youth of the latter days,—what think you of these types of the thought, devotion, and government, which not in words, but pregnant and perpetual fact, animated these which you have been accustomed to call the Dark Ages?
The Philosophy is Augustine's; the Prayer Alfred's; and the Letter Canute's.
And, whatever you may feel respecting the beauty or wisdom of these sayings, be assured of one thing above all, that they are sincere; and of another, less often observed, that they are joyful.
Be assured, in the first place, that they are sincere, The ideas of diplomacy and priestcraft are of recent times. No false knight or lying priest ever prospered, I believe, in any age, but certainly not in the dark ones. Men prospered then, only in following openly-declared purposes, and preaching candidly beloved and trusted creeds.
And that they did so prosper, in the degree in which they accepted and proclaimed the Christian Gospel, may be seen by any of you in your historical reading, however partial, if only you will admit the idea that it could be so, and was likely to be so. You are all of you in the habit of supposing that temporal prosperity is owing either to worldly chance or to worldly prudence; and is never granted in any visible relation to states of religious temper. Put that treacherous doubt away from you, with disdain; take for basis of reasoning the noble postulate, that the elements of Christian faith are sound,—instead of the base one, that they are deceptive; reread the great story of the world in that light, and see what a vividly real, yet miraculous tenor, it will then bear to you.
Their faith then, I tell you first, was sincere; I tell you secondly that it was, in a degree few of us can now conceive, joyful. We continually hear of the trials, sometimes of the victories, of Faith,—but scarcely ever of its pleasures. Whereas, at this time, you will find that the chief delight of all good men was in the recognition of the goodness and wisdom of the Master, who had come to dwell with them upon earth. It is almost impossible for you to conceive the vividness of this sense in them; it is totally impossible for you to conceive the comfort, peace, and force of it. In everything that you now do or seek, you expose yourselves to countless miseries of shame and disappointment, because in your doing you depend on nothing but your own powers, and in seeking choose only your own gratification. You cannot for the most part conceive of any work but for your own interests, or the interests of others about whom you are anxious in the same faithless way; everything about which passion is excited in you or skill exerted is some object of material life, and the idea of doing anything except for your own praise or profit has narrowed itself into little more than the precentor's invitation to the company with little voice and less practice to "sing to the praise and glory of God."
I have said that you cannot imagine the feeling of the energy of daily life applied in the real meaning of those words. You cannot imagine it, but you can prove it. Are any of you willing, simply as a philosophical experiment in the greatest of sciences, to adopt the principles and feelings of these men of a thousand years ago for a given time, say for a year? It cannot possibly do you any harm to try, and you cannot possibly learn what is true in these things, without trying. If after a year's experience of such method you find yourself no happier than before, at least you will be able to support your present opinions at once with more grace and more modesty; having conceded the trial it asked for, to the opposite side. Nor in acting temporarily on a faith you do not see to be reasonable, do you compromise your own integrity more, than in conducting, under a chemist's directions, an experiment of which he foretells inexplicable consequences. And you need not doubt the power you possess over your own minds to do this. Were faith not voluntary, it could not be praised, and would not be rewarded.
If you are minded thus to try, begin each day with Alfred's prayer,—fiat voluntas tua; resolving that you will stand to it, and that nothing that happens in the course of the day shall displease you. Then set to any work you have in hand with the sifted and purified resolution that ambition shall not mix with it, nor love of gain, nor desire of pleasure more than is appointed for you; and that no anxiety shall touch you as to its issue, nor any impatience nor regret if it fail. Imagine that the thing is being done through you, not by you; that the good of it may never be known, but that at least, unless by your rebellion or foolishness, there can come no evil into it, nor wrong chance to it. Resolve also with steady industry to do what you can for the help of your country and its honour, and the honour of its God; and that you will not join hands in its iniquity, nor turn aside from its misery; and that in all you do and feel you will look frankly for the immediate help and direction, and to your own consciences, expressed approval, of God. Live thus, and believe, and with swiftness of answer proportioned to the frankness of the trust, most surely the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing.
But, if you will not do this, if you have not courage nor heart enough to break away the fetters of earth, and take up the sensual bed of it, and walk; if you say that you are bound to win this thing, and become the other thing, and that the wishes of your friends,—and the interests of your family,—and the bias of your genius,—and the expectations of your college,—and all the rest of the bow-wow-wow of the wild dog-world, must be attended to, whether you like it or no,—then, at least, for shame give up talk about being free or independent creatures; recognize yourselves for slaves in whom the thoughts are put in ward with their bodies, and their hearts manacled with their hands: and then at least also, for shame, if you refuse to believe that ever there were men who gave their souls to God,—know and confess how surely there are those who sell them to His adversary.
THE PLEASURES OF DEED.
ALFRED TO COEUR DE LION.
It was my endeavour, in the preceding lecture, to vindicate the thoughts and arts of our Saxon ancestors from whatever scorn might lie couched under the terms applied to them by Dean Stanley,—'fantastic' and 'childish.' To-day my task must be carried forward, first, in asserting the grace in fantasy, and the force in infancy, of the English mind, before the Conquest, against the allegations contained in the final passage of Dean Stanley's description of the first founded Westminster; a passage which accepts and asserts, more distinctly than any other equally brief statement I have met with, the to my mind extremely disputable theory, that the Norman invasion was in every respect a sanitary, moral, and intellectual blessing to England, and that the arrow which slew her Harold was indeed the Arrow of the Lord's deliverance.
"The Abbey itself," says Dean Stanley,—"the chief work of the Confessor's life,—was the portent of the mighty future. When Harold stood beside his sister Edith, on the day of the dedication, and signed his name with hers as witness to the Charter of the Abbey, he might have seen that he was sealing his own doom, and preparing for his own destruction. The solid pillars, the ponderous arches, the huge edifice, with triple tower and sculptured stones and storied windows, that arose in the place and in the midst of the humble wooden churches and wattled tenements of the Saxon period, might have warned the nobles who were present that the days of their rule were numbered, and that the avenging, civilizing, stimulating hand of another and a mightier race was at work, which would change the whole face of their language, their manners, their Church, and their commonwealth. The Abbey, so far exceeding the demands of the dull and stagnant minds of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, was founded not only in faith, but in hope: in the hope that England had yet a glorious career to run; that the line of her sovereigns would not be broken, even when the race of Alfred had ceased to reign."
There must surely be some among my hearers who are startled, if not offended, at being told in the terms which I emphasized in this sentence, that the minds of our Saxon fathers were, although fantastic, dull, and, although childish, stagnant; that farther, in their fantastic stagnation; they were savage,—and in their innocent dullness, criminal; so that the future character and fortune of the race depended on the critical advent of the didactic and disciplinarian Norman baron, at once to polish them, stimulate, and chastise.
Before I venture to say a word in distinct arrest of this judgment, I will give you a chart, as clear as the facts observed in the two previous lectures allow, of the state and prospects of the Saxons, when this violent benediction of conquest happened to them: and especially I would rescue, in the measure that justice bids, the memory even of their Pagan religion from the general scorn in which I used Carlyle's description of the idol of ancient Prussia as universally exponent of the temper of Northern devotion. That Triglaph, or Triglyph Idol, (derivation of Triglaph wholly unknown to me—I use Triglyph only for my own handiest epithet), last set up, on what is now St. Mary's hill in Brandenburg, in 1023, belonged indeed to a people wonderfully like the Saxons,—geographically their close neighbours,—in habits of life, and aspect of native land, scarcely distinguishable from them,—in Carlyle's words, a "strong-boned, iracund, herdsman and fisher people, highly averse to be interfered with, in their religion especially, and inhabiting a moory flat country, full of lakes and woods, but with plenty also of alluvial mud, grassy, frugiferous, apt for the plough"—in all things like the Saxons, except, as I read the matter, in that 'aversion to be interfered with' which you modern English think an especially Saxon character in you,—but which is, on the contrary, you will find on examination, by no means Saxon; but only Wendisch, Czech, Serbic, Sclavic,—other hard names I could easily find for it among the tribes of that vehemently heathen old Preussen—"resolutely worshipful of places of oak trees, of wooden or stone idols, of Bangputtis, Patkullos, and I know not what diabolic dumb blocks." Your English "dislike to be interfered with" is in absolute fellowship with these, but only gathers itself in its places of Stalks, or chimneys, instead of oak trees, round its idols of iron, instead of wood, diabolically vocal now; strident, and sibilant, instead of dumb.
Far other than these, their neighbour Saxons, Jutes and Angles!—tribes between whom the distinctions are of no moment whatsoever, except that an English boy or girl may with grace remember that 'Old England,' exactly and strictly so called, was the small district in the extreme south of Denmark, totally with its islands estimable at sixty miles square of dead flat land. Directly south of it, the definitely so-called Saxons held the western shore of Holstein, with the estuary of the Elbe, and the sea-mark isle, Heligoland. But since the principal temple of Saxon worship was close to Leipsic, we may include under our general term, Saxons, the inhabitants of the whole level district of North Germany, from the Gulf of Flensburg to the Hartz; and, eastward, all the country watered by the Elbe as far as Saxon Switzerland.
[Footnote 9: Turner, vol. i., p. 223.]
Of the character of this race I will not here speak at any length: only note of it this essential point, that their religion was at once more practical and more imaginative than that of the Norwegian peninsula; the Norse religion being the conception rather of natural than moral powers, but the Saxon, primarily of moral, as the lords of natural—their central divine image, Irminsul, holding the standard of peace in her right hand, a balance in her left. Such a religion may degenerate into mere slaughter and rapine; but it has the making in it of the noblest men.
[Footnote 10: Properly plural 'Images'—Irminsul and Irminsula.]
More practical at all events, whether for good or evil, in this trust in a future reward for courage and purity, than the mere Scandinavian awe of existing Earth and Cloud, the Saxon religion was also more imaginative, in its nearer conception of human feeling in divine creatures. And when this wide hope and high reverence had distinct objects of worship and prayer, offered to them by Christianity, the Saxons easily became pure, passionate, and thoughtful Christians; while the Normans, to the last, had the greatest difficulty in apprehending the Christian teaching of the Franks, and still deny the power of Christianity, even when they have become inveterate in its form.
Quite the deepest-thoughted creatures of the then animate world, it seems to me, these Saxon ploughmen of the sand or the sea, with their worshipped deity of Beauty and Justice, a red rose on her banner, for best of gifts, and in her right hand, instead of a sword, a balance, for due doom, without wrath,—of retribution in her left. Far other than the Wends, though stubborn enough, they too, in battle rank,—seven times rising from defeat against Charlemagne, and unsubdued but by death—yet, by no means in that John Bull's manner of yours, 'averse to be interfered with,' in their opinions, or their religion. Eagerly docile on the contrary—joyfully reverent—instantly and gratefully acceptant of whatever better insight or oversight a stranger could bring them, of the things of God or man.
And let me here ask you especially to take account of that origin of the true bearing of the Flag of England, the Red Rose. Her own madness defiled afterwards alike the white and red, into images of the paleness, or the crimson, of death; but the Saxon Rose was the symbol of heavenly beauty and peace.
I told you in my first lecture that one swift requirement in our school would be to produce a beautiful map of England, including old Northumberland, giving the whole country, in its real geography, between the Frith of Forth and Straits of Dover, and with only six sites of habitation given, besides those of Edinburgh and London,—namely, those of Canterbury and Winchester, York and Lancaster, Holy Island and Melrose; the latter instead of Iona, because, as we have seen, the influence of St. Columba expires with the advance of Christianity, while that of Cuthbert of Melrose connects itself with the most sacred feelings of the entire Northumbrian kingdom, and Scottish border, down to the days of Scott—wreathing also into its circle many of the legends of Arthur. Will you forgive my connecting the personal memory of having once had a wild rose gathered for me, in the glen of Thomas the Rhymer, by the daughter of one of the few remaining Catholic houses of Scotland, with the pleasure I have in reading to you this following true account of the origin of the name of St. Cuthbert's birthplace;—the rather because I owe it to friendship of the same date, with Mr. Cockburn Muir, of Melrose.
"To those who have eyes to read it," says Mr. Muir, "the name 'Melrose' is written full and fair, on the fair face of all this reach of the valley. The name is anciently spelt Mailros, and later, Malros, never Mulros; ('Mul' being the Celtic word taken to mean 'bare'). Ros is Rose; the forms Meal or Mol imply great quantity or number. Thus Malros means the place of many roses.
"This is precisely the notable characteristic of the neighbourhood. The wild rose is indigenous. There is no nook nor cranny, no bank nor brae, which is not, in the time of roses, ablaze with their exuberant loveliness. In gardens, the cultured rose is so prolific that it spreads literally like a weed. But it is worth suggestion that the word may be of the same stock as the Hebrew rosh (translated ros by the Septuagint), meaning chief, principal, while it is also the name of some flower; but of which flower is now unknown. Affinities of rosh are not far to seek; Sanskrit, Raj(a), Ra(ja)ni; Latin, Rex, Reg(ina)."
I leave it to Professor Max Muller to certify or correct for you the details of Mr. Cockburn's research,—this main head of it I can positively confirm, that in old Scotch,—that of Bishop Douglas,—the word 'Rois' stands alike for King, and Rose.
[Footnote 11: I had not time to quote it fully in the lecture; and in my ignorance, alike of Keltic and Hebrew, can only submit it here to the reader's examination. "The ancient Cognizance of the town confirms this etymology beyond doubt, with customary heraldic precision. The shield bears a Rose; with a Maul, as the exact phonetic equivalent for the expletive. If the herald had needed to express 'bare promontory,' quite certainly he would have managed it somehow. Not only this, the Earls of Haddington were first created Earls of Melrose (1619); and their Shield, quarterly, is charged, for Melrose, in 2nd and 3rd (fesse wavy between) three Roses gu.
"Beyond this ground of certainty, we may indulge in a little excursus into lingual affinities of wide range. The root mol is clear enough. It is of the same stock as the Greek mala, Latin mul(tum), and Hebrew m'la. But, Rose? We call her Queen of Flowers, and since before the Persian poets made much of her, she was everywhere Regina Florum. Why should not the name mean simply the Queen, the Chief? Now, so few who know Keltic know also Hebrew, and so few who know Hebrew know also Keltic, that few know the surprising extent of the affinity that exists—clear as day—between the Keltic and the Hebrew vocabularies. That the word Rose may be a case in point is not hazardously speculative."]
Summing now the features I have too shortly specified in the Saxon character,—its imagination, its docility, its love of knowledge, and its love of beauty, you will be prepared to accept my conclusive statement, that they gave rise to a form of Christian faith which appears to me, in the present state of my knowledge, one of the purest and most intellectual ever attained in Christendom;—never yet understood, partly because of the extreme rudeness of its expression in the art of manuscripts, and partly because, on account of its very purity, it sought no expression in architecture, being a religion of daily life, and humble lodging. For these two practical reasons, first;—and for this more weighty third, that the intellectual character of it is at the same time most truly, as Dean Stanley told you, childlike; showing itself in swiftness of imaginative apprehension, and in the fearlessly candid application of great principles to small things. Its character in this kind may be instantly felt by any sympathetic and gentle person who will read carefully the book I have already quoted to you, the Venerable Bede's life of St. Cuthbert; and the intensity and sincerity of it in the highest orders of the laity, by simply counting the members of Saxon Royal families who ended their lives in monasteries.