Talk at a Country House: Books, Tennyson, Maurice
IT was raining hard; and as it is the fashion, in a country house, to like a fire on a wet day even in summer, we sat before the logs blazing on the hearth in the great parlor, while in front of us sat purring the family cat, who answered, when he thought fit to answer, to the name of Jim. Books were all round us, and our talk naturally turned on them. I said,—
“ Of all our English books existing and to come, how many will always live ? ”
Squire. There are two ways in which a book may live. It may live, age after age, in itself, like one of our great oaks, as Carlyle has finely described it in Sartor Resartus. I think the book is on the table : pray read the passage.
Foster (takes the book, turns over the pages, and reads). “ Wondrous, indeed, is the virtue of a true Book. Not like a dead city of stones, yearly crumbling, yearly needing repair; more like a tilled field, but then a spiritual field : like a spiritual tree, let me rather say, it stands from year to year, and from age to age (we have Books that already number some hundred and fifty human ages) ; and yearly comes its new produce of leaves (Commentaries, Deductions, Philosophical, Political Systems; or were it only Sermons, Pamphlets, Journalistic Essays), every one of which is talismanic and thaumaturgic, for it can persuade men. O thou who art able to write a Book, which once in the two centuries or oftener there is a man gifted to do, envy not him whom they name Citybuilder, and inexpressibly pity him whom they name Conqueror or City-burner ! Thou too art a Conqueror and Victor, but of the true sort, namely, over the Devil ; thou too hast built what will outlast all marble and metal, and be a wonder-bringing city of the mind, a Temple and Seminary and Prophetic Mount, whereto all kindreds of the Earth will pilgrim. Fool! why journeyest thou wearisomely in thy antiquarian fervor to gaze on the stone pyramids of Geeza or the clay ones of Sacchara ? These stand there, as I can tell thee, idle and inert, looking over the Desert, foolishly enough, for the last three thousand years ; but canst thou not open thy Hebrew Bible, thus, or even Luther’s version thereof ? ”
Squire. For “Luther’s” read “the English,” and then add Shakespeare, and you will have one answer to your question. I cannot doubt that so long as English shall endure as the speech of a civilized people, so long will the English Bible and Shakespeare endure ; and English-speaking people will still, like Archbishop Sharp, owe all their success in life to those two books.
Foster. Did Archbishop Sharp know anything of either the English Bible or Shakespeare ?
Squire. Not the archbishop of tragic Scottish history, but the Archbishop of York, Queen Anne’s trusted counselor, who, Burnet tells us, so spoke of what he owed to the Bible and Shakespeare, and used to recommend the like studies to the young clergy. And Tennyson is said to have advised a young man to read a verse of the Bible and one of Shakespeare every day. “ From the one,”he said, “ you will learn your relations with God ; from the other, your relations with man.” But there is another way in which books live. To illustrate this, let me go from Carlyle to Chaucer:—
Cometh all this new corn, from year to year.
And out of olde bookes, in good faith,
Cometh all this new science that men lere.”
Without mistaking an illustration for an argument, and so working it to death, we may say that, with a very few exceptions, the knowledge which we derive from books is not derived direct from the original books in which it was first brought forth, but from a succession of new books, in which the experiences and the thoughts of the preceding generation are represented with the new developments and in the new forms suited to the new generation. Each year yields its harvest of new books, which supply our mental and moral food for the day, and no more ; while a small portion of the knowledge they contain becomes a reserve of seed corn, which is resown to provide the new books of the next year or the next generation. If we say, with Chaucer, that the new knowledge comes from the old books, as the new wheat does from the old fields, we must then shift the comparison, and say that the new books are the new corn, and that the old books have lost their individuality, ceasing to be more than the clods of the ploughed fields.
Foster. I believe you might have quoted Carlyle as well as Chaucer for this comparison, too. I think he somewhere says, perhaps quoting Goethe, “ A loaf of bread is good and satisfying for a single day; but corn cannot be eaten, and seed corn must not be ground.” But do you think that the Bible and Shakespeare are the only books which will themselves live on so long as the world of civilization lasts ? Even within the limits of English-speaking civilization, will not Paradise Lost and The Pilgrim’s Progress live on, not merely in spirit, but in their actual old forms ?
Squire. Since the art of printing has come in aid of the earlier institution of public libraries, it may seem impossible that anything short of an universal return to barbarism should utterly destroy the great masterpieces of literature, ancient or modern, so that they should no longer live in the very forms in which they were first given to the world. Yet we know that the readers of each of such books are a small and limited class; and of these, again, the number is still smaller of readers who find in the particular book the last and best expression of the subject of which it treats. Poetry must always be read for its own sake, and there will always be a few who will continue thus to read Homer and Horace, Dante, Chaucer and Spenser, for their own sake. But even of those who in each generation are really lovers of poetry, by far the greater number will seek and find what they want in the poets of their own time, because such poets most directly bring forth the deepest thoughts and feelings of that time ; while the reader of the older poetry must be able — and every one is not able —either to translate old thoughts into new for himself, or else to transport himself in imagination into the far-off time and place to which the book before him belongs. And when we turn from poetry to philosophy, history, or science, it is mainly, if not entirely, for the sake of the materials which the old books supply for making new ones that the old are studied. In each of these kinds of knowledge there is an absolute need that the old facts, arguments, and methods of thought and reasoning should be reproduced in new forms, generation after generation. To do this work, through the study of the old books, is the calling of one or two men in each generation ; and they, and they only, find in themselves the ability for the work. Such a student will no doubt often be charmed by the style and language of the book itself, be it Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Bacon, Tacitus, Hume, or Gibbon ; but his main business will still be with the materials which his author supplies for new work.
Foster. I cannot deny that there is a good deal of truth in what you say; but I am glad to believe that, like a man who belongs to several London clubs, I belong to several of those limited classes of readers of old books, and that there are a good many books beside the Bible and Shakespeare which I can read and enjoy for their own sakes. But may I ask you again whether you think those the only two books of universal interest to English-speaking men, at least ? Will you not include Paradise Lost and The Pilgrim’s Progress with these, and indeed some others, too, which I could name ?
Squire. I decline to dogmatize. I am too old to believe that I possess any formula which will methodize and explain the facts of the universe, or that, like the Alchemist in the Oriental Tales, I can hold in a ladle the solvent which dissolves all things. I feel more certain about the Bible and Shakespeare than about any other books ; but there are others, and especially those you mention, as to which facts are at present in favor of their personal immortality, if I may use so vile a phrase. Neither the religious nor the human interest of Paradise Lost and The Pilgrim’s Progress is so absolute and universal as that of the Bible and Shakespeare respectively. Yet it is very great, and you may almost say that every one who reads at all reads both of these books. Every one to whom the conflict of nature and spirit is a practical reality, and many to whom it is only a curiously interesting dream, find the most lifelike representation of this conflict in Bunyan’s allegory. And Milton embodies for us in forms at once of deepest human interest and perfect beauty of imagination, thought, and language, the most popular and most widely accepted attempt to solve the great problem of the existence of evil, and so lighten the burden and the mystery which have weighed so heavily on us in all ages.
Foster. That is indeed the awful riddle of the Sphinx, which she calls on every thoughtful man to answer or be devoured. Happy is he who can even baffle or otherwise put off the question which no one can answer ! You cannot think that Milton has done more than this? He invokes the highest inspiration, that he may rise to the height of this great argument, and justify the ways of God to man ; but in truth he gets no further than St. Paul had done before him when he declared that those ways were past finding out. Indeed, Milton seems, half cynically, to admit this to be so, when, later on, he makes the more amiable of his devils sit on a hill retired, discussing these questions till they lose themselves in wandering mazes. The answer that came to Job out of the whirlwind was only that finite and mortal man cannot fathom the purposes and the methods of the Almighty Creator of the universe ; nor does the writer of the book, in his visionary narrative, carry the argument any further. The book of Ecclesiastes, that practical summary of the worldly experiences of man’s frustrated ideals and hopes of life, can give no other conclusion of the matter than the direction to “ fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” Nor does St. Paul help us. He declares, indeed, with absolute confidence and conviction, that the problem will hereafter be solved in the complete and absolute triumph of good over evil ; but after an attempt to apply his argument to the story of Pharaoh, in a way which I must think no argument at all, he gives it up, and falls back, as I said just now, on that which still remains the only answer. I forget how Robinson Crusoe evaded the difficulty when Friday asked him, in the course of his religious education, “ Why God no kill devil ? ” I suppose, by making a metaphysical distinction between necessity and free will. Our modern Agnostics, interested only in physical science, will say that they do not know whether there be any God or devil, and so pass by on the other side. There is no answer to the Sphinx’s riddle ; but to say that there is no riddle is to deny half the facts of our life.
Squire. I quite agree with you. Indeed, you have understated your case and its complications. Not only is the existence of evil a mystery to all who believe intelligently in a wise and good Creator, but there is the yet deeper mystery that all the higher forms of any human virtue, affection, sympathy, are called forth by the contradiction of corresponding forms of evil; nay, the highest of all, self-sacrifice for the sake of others, seems to owe its very existence to the evil which it rises up to meet. A man may judge for himself whether the sufferings of mind or body which he is called on to endure are compensated, or more than compensated, by the blessings which they have brought with them, and giving, as they so often do, a double power to every power above their original functions and offices. But how can it be morally worth while that the highest goodness and happiness of some men should have as necessary conditions not merely the suffering and misery of others, but even their crimes and sins ? And again, how can it be reasonable or right that my happiness, however great, should have been bought by the horrible sufferings of the martyrs by whom it has been so won? You may say that they were willing to pay that price for the happiness of a world. I believe they were so willing ; but how can I have any moral right to benefit by a sacrifice such as I certainly could not make myself? I have no doubt — I am heartily convinced— that there is a solution to the problem, an answer to the Sphinx ; and I could supply myself with more than one fanciful explanation which I like better than those of my neighbors. But I do not pretend to understand, nor that any understanding is possible for me till I have crossed the bar.
Foster. You quote Tennyson : do you think he has given us any new light on the subject ? It has manifestly occupied his deepest thoughts and feelings, and influenced his whole career as a poet.
Squire. I think he is the greatest teacher of our generation in this matter. He has stated the question in the most complete and adequate way in which it is possible to state it, —for our generation, at least; for each age has its own way of looking at such questions, and demands its own requirements to be respected. His In Memoriam sets out fully, and his poem of Vastness and that on the death of the Duke of Clarence sum up in the plainest terms, the real problem, without any shirking or evasion. With equal clearness he points out the direction to which we must look for the solution which will come hereafter ; and he declares, and calls on all true hearts to accept, his conviction that the death of those we love is the link which connects the now insoluble problem with the promise that it shall be one day answered.
Foster. Yes: Tennyson states the insoluble problem without reticence or rhetorical evasion. He talks no stuff about partial evil being universal good, or of good and evil being opposite sides of a whole, in which they are equally necessary complements of each other. He treats them as not merely opposites, but as contradictory. There is no place for evil in his ideal of a perfect universe. There can be no belief in a divine Creator, and no peace or happiness for the heart of man, but in the ultimate elimination and destruction of all evil, moral and physical. But does he carry us any farther than this ?
Squire. One step, at least; and I should say more than one. It is from Death—‘‘his truer name is Onward,” he says — that Tennyson draws the promise of the solution hereafter. The great argument which he gradually opens out in In Memoriam he sums up again in the concluding words of Vastness : —
are not dead, but alive.”
That is to say that the love which he bore to his friend, and again to his son did not die with their deaths, but still lives, and will live forever. This undying love is to him a witness that its object is actually living, too, in spite of what Death may seem to say to the contrary. For that apparent contradiction is but the shadow, while the reality is to be found in the Sun of Life towards which Death’s face is looking. And if this experience, this conviction, be true, and there is a love and a life stronger and more lasting than death, then there is a Lord of Life who rules all this world by perfect love. When we have gone into that world of light, then and there the mystery will be made clear.
Foster. He has crossed the bar, and put out to sea on that voyage of discovery : let us hope that he has found his Pilot in the ship, able and ready to carry him to the harbor where he would be.
Squire. I cannot doubt it. Metaphors and allegories are no proofs, as I often say ; but it is pleasant to think how often that image of a voyage and a harbor has presented itself to all sorts of men. Cicero makes Cato, after speaking of this life as a mere inn, compare that future life, to which he so earnestly looked forward, to the harbor at the end of the voyage. Sa’di, quoting, I think, from the Koran, says, “ He who has Noah for a pilot need not fear the waves of the sea.” And if you will forgive the garrulousness of an old man, I may add a little experience of my own, which comes back to me as often as I recall Tennyson’s verses on Crossing the Bar.
Foster. What is that ?
Squire. In the old days before there were any railways in Italy, most of us who went to Naples went by way of steamer from Marseilles ; and it was at the end of November, five - and - thirty years ago, that I took passage in such a steamer. All day there had raged one of those gales of wind and rain which sweep the plains of Provence and the Gulf of Lyons with such terrible fury. But no delay more than of a few hours was possible, and we were required to embark at midnight. The water seemed smooth as we went into the ship in the port; but as we crossed the bar and put out to sea, the leap into the utterly black night of wind and waves and rain was terrific. I could not see our pilot face to face ; but I knew that he was there through all that long night and day, and that on his skill it depended whether we should reach the harbor where we would be. At last I slept, while the storm still raged. When I awoke we were in smooth water, through which our ship was gliding on with an imperceptible motion, along that lovely scene of mountains and islands, and vineyards, orange orchards, and olive woods, which open out into the Bay of Naples. The day was breaking, the sun was rising upon that land of beauty, and the cloudless depth of the blue sky was reflected in the not less intense blue of the sea.
Foster. I know that sight, and cannot wonder that the Neapolitans themselves should call it a piece of heaven fallen upon earth, or say that he who has seen it may die content. But you said just now that Tennyson is our greatest teacher in the matter of the Sphinx’s riddle : do you put him above Frederick Maurice, of whom you often speak as the greatest teacher of our generation ?
Squire. No. Each stands first in his own plane of thought and life ; but I should rather put them side by side than either above the other. Each learnt, and knew that he learnt, much from the other. Each of them — the poet and the prophet alike — felt and knew himself to be a man sent from God, and that the calling and the mission of both were essentially the same. Maurice was primarily a teacher of the gospel; but while he never ceased to declare the good tidings of a kingdom of God in and for itself, he recognized its pervading presence in every form and every relation of man’s life, to which it gave a new and higher worth and meaning. Tennyson, on the other hand, shows us earth and man as they are in themselves, with all their complications and interfusions of good and evil, happiness and misery, vice and virtue, and then finds himself obliged — drawn as it were by an irresistible intuition — to look out of and above this earth for a clue through its contradictions into a true order.
Foster. Certainly it is so. Few of the greatest poets, in any age or country, have been irreligious; most have been religious, recognizing a government of the world by God. But even among Christian poets of the higher order of genius, I can think of no one who rests on the faith of another life than this so distinctly as Tennyson does. To eliminate this faith from Tennyson’s poetry would indeed be to reduce it to dust and ashes. What would In Memoriam or the parting of Arthur and Guinevere, Crossing the Bar or The Two Voices, be without it ?
Squire. You see this distinction if you compare Wordsworth with Tennyson. Wordsworth was a Christian in faith as well as life, and his mind was formed in and through the great burst of enthusiastic belief in the perfectibility of human nature to which all generous spirits gave themselves up in the later years of the eighteenth century. In many respects he shared to the full in the general reaction which followed on the excesses of the French Revolution ; he became a Tory, and he wrote the Ecclesiastical Sonnets. But his mind retained much of its first bias. You see this in The Excursion, where, while admitting and allowing for the moral and the bodily ills of the society and the human nature generally around him, he looks forward to universal education of the people by the state as the sufficient remedy for all the evil. We have the education, and it is well worth having; but I suppose few expect from it now what Wordsworth expected. I, at least, look with Tennyson for a remedy different in kind, and not merely in degree.
Foster. Was Maurice a man of letters as well as a theologian ?
Squire. He would have liked to be called a man of action better than by either of the other names. But he was a true lover of books, and he always seemed to me to know everything about every book and every writer of books, in his own day or in times past. His literary culture was greater than that of most men, — you see the evidence of this in every one of his books; and I believe that he who himself knows most of other men’s books will know most of the use which Maurice made of books, not as mere storehouses of facts or thought, but as supplying the memory and mind with a knowledge and a culture which were all his own. But with him literature and literary culture were means to an end, and not the end itself, He always spoke with scornful contempt of the fine gentlemen of letters ; and you may remember a letter of his to a pupil —with whom, by the bye, he had been reading Plato — urging him to make politics the main study of his life.
Foster. But I suppose he was a political philosopher rather than a politician ?
Squire. He would not have thanked you for telling him so. He would indeed have told you that philosophy being the search after wisdom, politics, like everything else, should be an object of that search. But he despised the habit of mind which affects to rise above party politics while really sinking below them. He was a keen and eager politician on all the great questions of the day, though he was sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other. The earliest of his tracts in political controversy was in defense of university subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles, but he was found in hearty sympathy with Lord John Russell’s abolition of all such tests. He was a leader in the struggle to keep the education of the nation in the hands of the Church, but he heartily approved Mr. Forster’s Education Act. He recognized that the time had come for the disestablishment of the Irish Church, notwithstanding his hearty sympathies with the like institution in England. And while I recall his predicting to me, more than fifty years ago, and with warm political sympathy, the future eminence of the then unknown but strong conservative Mr. Gladstone, I recall also his appearance, thirty years afterwards, as the supporter of John Mill, the radical candidate for Westminster. These are brief instances of what the man was; and all through, no one who knew him could doubt either his honesty or his consistency, as he looked in succession at the many ways in which the progress of the world was fulfilling itself.
Which made a selfish war begin ;
Dispute the claims, arrange the chances;
Emperor, Ottoman, which shall win :
Shall lash all Europe into blood.”
Squire. I always thought that Tennyson and Maurice lost their heads a little over the Crimean war, as most other people did; and I have therefore been inclined to suppose, though without any authority for doing so, that when the excitement was over they looked back on it, as did Lord Aberdeen, the minister who let us drift into it, as not only a blunder, but a crime.
Foster. Yet I have heard German statesmen say that they owe to that war the loosening from their necks of the yoke of Russian policy and diplomacy under which they had so long groaned.
Squire. No doubt some good was done in that way, but they would not touch the roasting chestnuts with their own fingers.
Foster. Well, at least the war gave us The Charge of the Light Brigade ; and though I do not mean to compare Sir Francis Doyle with Tennyson, perhaps one might say his no less fine ballad upon the same subject.
Squire. They are fine ballads, and bring out freely the English soldier’s ideal of duty as the rule of his life. But those who, like me, remember the sufferings not only of the army through that terrible winter, but also of the wives and mothers at home, may think the price high, even for two such songs.
Foster (humming half to himself).
Or, still better, Pope of Rome,
I ’d have no fighting men abroad,
No weeping maids at home.”
But, squire, are you really for peace at any price ? I remember what you once wrote in approval of the extermination of the Canaanites by the children of Israel, and of the soldier’s duty, taught not only at the Pass of Thermopylæ, but in the Balaclava charge.
Squire. No, not at any price, but at almost any price, as Sir John Lubbock said the other day in the House of Commons. For every nation there exists a real danger of attacks, from within or without, on its laws and liberties ; and it is not only its right, but its duty, to defend itself, and sometimes its weaker neighbors too, against such attacks. If we cannot keep our national life, with its laws and its freedom, without war, let us have war; but let us not go into it " with a light heart,” talking glibly of honor and spirit on the one hand, and of humiliation and shop-keeping on the other. I am old enough to remember when even many a wise and good man talked that sort of stuff about dueling, and really believed that it was a moral duty to shoot, or be shot by, any ruffian who called him a liar or struck him. No one says or thinks that now, and ruffianism has abated, not increased, in proportion.
Foster. Is it not the fact that all the great nations of the world, modern as well as ancient, have had their foundations laid by war, and that they have been from time to time enlarged and strengthened and invigorated by means of war, and all this in such a way that we cannot conceive how the results could have been brought about except by war?
Squire. As I said just now, I do not deny the existence of evil, nor the still more mysterious fact that it is inconceivable how many of the highest forms of moral good could have been brought into existence except by means of evil. I neither understand nor deny, but I will not call evil good for all that. War has brought into existence soldiers like Chaucer’s Knight, Wordsworth’s Happy Warrior, and Schiller’s Max Piccolomini; but they have been but few in comparison with the countless swarms of ruffians licensed for murder, robbery, and lust. And free as the German army was from all these crimes in the late Franco-German war, it is said that after the war was over there was an increase in crime throughout Germany which could be explained only by the general demoralization which the war had produced.
Foster. The other day you quoted from the Persian poet Sa’di that it had been said that, in the last great day, the All-Merciful would forgive the had for the sake of the good; but now you seem to hold that all the good must be condemned on account of the bad. I think of what the world would have been in the past and present, and what the world would be in the future, with no England and no United States, and I ask myself whether too high a price was paid for these in the Anglo-Saxon and Norman conquests, the wars of the barons and of the king and Parliament, or in the American wars of independence and emancipation.
Squire. With reservation of Friday’s theological difficulty, I agree with you not only ungrudgingly, but with hearty sympathy. I believe the price was not too great. But was the price necessary in the past, and will it be so in the future ? I say, Yes, men being what they were; but, No, men being what they ought to be and well may be now. It is better to do a good thing badly than not to do it at all; but it is better still to do it well. We talk too much about necessary evils, and think too little of necessary good ; forgetting that all good is possible, and that in every case what is possible is necessary. In this matter of war, as in so many other things, successive generations, advancing in the possession of ever fuller national life, with its rights and liberties, find many necessary evils to be unnecessary, and much more impossible good to be possible. And so, if you will grant the evils of war, and I its good, we may be able, like Dogberry and Verges, to “draw to a point.”
Foster. Did Maurice change or modify his views on this subject?
Squire. He has discussed this question of war in the eleventh of his Cambridge Lectures on Social Morality, published in 1869, to which I would refer you. But I can tell you a little incident, trivial in itself, yet perhaps interesting when told of a great man. No one shared more eagerly than did Maurice in the outbreak of enthusiasm with which the war was hailed at first. When I ventured to doubt the righteousness of the war, he declared, with indignation, that only the Spirit of God could stir up and maintain such a national enthusiasm as the English people were then showing. I suppose we agreed to differ, and not to argue. I do not think I asked him what he thought of that to me pathetic account of the regiments of Russian conscripts having hardly arrived at the seat of war from very distant parts of the empire when, at two o’clock in the morning of that cold day of November, all the church bells of Sevastopol rang out, and these men, having received the sacrament, went to die for their Czar in the lines of Inkerman. But after the war was over, I was breakfasting with Maurice, and there met a man who told the story of the Balaclava charge as he had lately heard it from one of the officers in it. He said the cursing and swearing of the troopers as they rode into and out of the Russian battery were awful. And I guessed what thoughts might be passing through my friend’s mind when he said, with that quiet and almost sad seriousness which so often characterized his words and manner, “ I am afraid many things in that war happened differently from what we supposed,” or words to that effect.
Foster. I should have thought, as I now think, of Uncle Toby and his account of our soldiers in Flanders. I think, too, of the tear of the recording angel. The poor fellows were doing their duty, and their profane swearing did not mean much more than any other form of battle shout. I do not recollect the mention of shouting in modern stories of battles, but soldiers do shout in a charge, do they not ?
Squire. Sir William Napier, the historian of the Peninsular war, told a cousin of mine, Charles Buller, that it was the British shout which carried the day in our great battles; nothing could withstand it. Of course, the shout is the man ; he utters what is in him. I remember that Marshal MacMahon, when comparing the soldiers of different nations, said, “ The English do not understand campaigning, but they are the best on the day of battle.” We have wandered far, however, and I do not wish you to think that when my dear old friend and I met, either in this house or in his own, our talk was of nothing but soldiers. With him as with Tennyson, he would always
Dear to the man that is dear to God’;
How mend the dwellings of the poor;
How gain in life, as life advances,
Valor and charity more and more.”
Foster. Yet there is something of the soldier’s desire for action implied in the poet’s description in those words ; and I can fancy that with Maurice the heart of the man of thought would always warm to the man of action.
Squire. Yes; Maurice must have understood how Luther — with whom he had, indeed, many points of likeness — felt when he was going into the Diet of Worms, and the old soldier, Georg von Freundsberg, called out to him, “Monk, monk, you have before you such a day’s work as neither I nor our bravest captains have seen in our hardest fought battles. But if your cause is just, go forward boldly God will not forsake you,” Maurice wrote two books which will live, for they are full of learning, thought, and genius, — The Kingdom of Christ, and Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy; but he expressed the temper of his whole life when he once said to me that a man might bring greater honor to his name by writing a great book, — I think he instanced Gibbon, — yet that he believed more real work was done in the world by having a part in, and writing on, the actual controversies of the day in which men were taking a practical interest. And though it was after he said this that he wrote the two books I have mentioned, you may see by the number, and still more by the subjects, of the many volumes of his collected works how fully he carried out through his life the principles he had laid down for himself.
Foster. Is Dickinson’s portrait like him ?
Squire. I think so, but it is difficult to know how far I may be reading into it my own recollections of the man himself. There it is, and you may try it by my description. His face was very fine and delicate in feature ; the expression was saintly, though not quite the ascetic saintliness which characterizes some of the portraits of great men of the Roman Catholic Church; it was rather tinged with the sweet, homely humorousness which you see in Cranach’s portrait of Luther. The eyes were bright and piercing, and the mouth was firm and compressed. The whole expression of the face was energetic, almost aggressive, and yet kind and gentle : it was the look of a man who had a message to give, and who was resolved to give it; but the resoluteness had more of selfsacrifice than of self-assertion in it.
Foster. You spoke of a humorous expression. Was he a humorist?
Squire. You could not be long in his company without seeing how strong his sense of humor was ; but, like every man of humor who is wise and better than a humorist, he kept his love of humor within the limits of becoming mirth; nay, within limits which were habitually serious, often almost to sadness.
Foster. He had a fine voice, had he not ?
Squire. A grand, deep voice, well fitted to pour out the volume of thought and feeling behind it. Bunsen said to hear him read the prayers at Lincoln’s Inn, where he was chaplain, was in itself to hear a sermon; and some one else said, still more expressively, that he prayed the prayers. I remember the outspoken delight of one of the cottagers as we came out of the church here when Maurice had been preaching.
It reminded me of the story of the learned Pococke, of which he (Maurice) was fond: that when a friend, visiting him at his country parish, asked one of the villagers how they liked their new parson, the answer was, “He is not much of a Latiner, but he tells us what we poor folks want to know about God and Jesus Christ.”
Foster. Nullum tetegit quod non ornavit, — would you say that of his conversation generally ?
Squire. He was shy and retiring,— a lamb among the lions, as a lady described him at a great party of Mrs. Charles Buller’s. He was free from the foible of omniscience attributed to one of his countless contemporaries, and far above the vanity of the good talker. But no one could listen to him for five minutes without perceiving that no ordinary man was speaking. In serious controversy and with his pen in his hand he hit very hard. I used to tell him that he reminded me of a story of his own, how, when he was a young curate, he stopped in the High Street in Leamington to remonstrate with a man who was belaboring his donkey furiously, when the man replied in an appealing voice, “Why is he so stupid, then? ”
Foster. What does Tennyson refer to in those lines at the beginning of his Invitation, about giving the fiend his due, and the anathemas of college councils?
Squire. You will find the whole story in Colonel Maurice’s admirable life of his father; but it was, shortly, this: Maurice denounced the irreligious spirit of the so-called religious newspapers, and they retaliated by not only denouncing him, but also warning the authorities of King’s College that they had better dismiss him from his professorship of divinity in that college. A packed council was convened, a lately published essay in which the professor had “given the fiend his due” was made the pretext, and Maurice was dismissed, in the face of the clearest evidence that he had maintained nothing contrary to the acknowledged doctrines of the English Church. Maurice was one of the very few men whom I have known as lovers of justice for its own sake; yet he got little justice himself on that occasion. But the rain is over; let us take a walk, and leave Jim to keep his paws warm at the fire.