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It is obvious, I think, both from the poem, and from these reflections, that what attracted Bagehot in the Church of Rome was the historical prestige and social authority which she had accumulated in believing and uncritical ages for use in the unbelieving and critical age in which we live,—while what he condemned and dreaded in her was her tendency to use her power over the multitude for purposes of a low ambition. From childhood he was what he certainly remained to the last, in spite of the rather antagonistic influence of the able, scientific group of men from whom he learned so much—a thorough transcendentalist, by which I mean one who could never doubt that there was a real foundation of the universe distinct from the outward show of its superficial qualities, and that the substance is never exhaustively expressed in these qualities.

But generally about this interior existence children are dumb.

By Lord Macaulay

But what do you think, aunt? However, the transcendental or intellectual basis of religious belief was soon strengthened in him, as readers of his remarkable paper on Bishop Butler will easily see, by those moral and retributive instincts which warn us of the meaning and consequences of guilt:—. Conscience is the condemnation of ourselves; we expect a penalty. How to be free from this is the question. How to get loose from this—how to be rid of the secret tie which binds the strong man and cramps his pride, and makes him angry at the beauty of the universe, which will not let him go forth like a great animal, like the king of the forest, in the glory of his might, but which restrains him with an inner fear and a secret foreboding that if he do but exalt himself he shall be abased, if he do but set forth his own dignity he will offend One who will deprive him of it.

This, as has often been pointed out, is the source of the bloody rites of heathendom. And then, after a powerful passage, in which he describes the sacrificial superstitions of men like Achilles, he returns, with a flash of his own peculiar humour, to Bishop Butler, thus:—. But though the costume and circumstances of life change, the human heart does not; its feelings remain. The same anxiety, the same consciousness of personal sin, which lead, in barbarous times, to what has been described, show themselves in civilised life as well.

I am not criticising the paper, or I should point out that Bagehot failed in it to draw out the distinction between the primitive moral instinct and the corrupt superstition into which it runs; but I believe that he recognised the weight of this moral testimony of the conscience to a divine Judge, as well as the transcendental testimony of the intellect to an eternal substance of things, to the end of his life. And certainly in the reality of human free-will as the condition of all genuine moral life, he firmly believed.


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On the latter point he adds:—. The conception of the nervous organs as stores of will-made power, does not raise or need so vast a discussion.

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Indeed, in conversation with me on this subject, he often said how much higher a conception of the creative mind, the new Darwinian ideas seemed to him to have introduced, as compared with those contained in what is called the argument from contrivance and design. On the subject of personal immortality, too, I do not think that Bagehot ever wavered.

Certainly he became much more doubtful concerning the force of the historical evidence of Christianity than I ever was, and rejected, I think, entirely, though on what amount of personal study he had founded his opinion I do not know, the Apostolic origin of the fourth Gospel. Possibly his mind may have been latterly in suspense as to miracle altogether, though I am pretty sure that he had not come to a negative conclusion. He belonged, in common with myself, during the last years of Edition: current; Page: [ 19 ] his life, to a society in which these fundamental questions were often discussed; but he seldom spoke in it, and told me very shortly before his death that he shrank from such discussions on religious points, feeling that, in debates of this kind, they were not and could not be treated with anything like thoroughness.

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On the whole, I think, the cardinal article of his faith would be adequately represented even in the latest period of his life by the following passage in his essay on Bishop Butler:—. If we grant this, the difficulty of the opposition between what is here called the natural and the supernatural religion is removed; and without granting it, that difficulty is perhaps insuperable. If we assume this, life is simple; without this, all is dark. Evidently, then, though Bagehot held that the doctrine of evolution by natural selection gave a higher conception of the Creator than the old doctrine of mechanical design, he never took any materialistic view of evolution.

Bagehot had subscribed for the erection of University Hall, and took an active part at one time on its council. Thus he saw a good deal of Clough, and did what he could to mediate between that enigma to Presbyterian parents—a college-head who held himself serenely neutral on almost all moral and educational subjects interesting to parents and pupils, except the observance of disciplinary rules—and the managing body who bewildered him and were by him bewildered.

There were some points of likeness between Bagehot and Clough, but many more of difference. When, however, Clough was happy and at ease, there was a calm and silent radiance in his face, and his head was set with a kind of stateliness on his shoulders, that gave him almost an Olympian air; but this would sometimes vanish in a moment into an embarrassed taciturnity that was quite uncouth. There was in Clough, too, a large Chaucerian simplicity and a flavour of homeliness, so that now and then, when the light shone into his eyes, there was something, in spite of the air of fine scholarship and culture, which reminded one of the best likenesses of Burns.

Be Edition: current; Page: [ 22 ] content; when the veil is raised, perhaps they will make five! Who knows?

The stronger the desire, he teaches, the greater is the danger of illegitimately satisfying that desire by persuading ourselves that what we wish to believe, is true, and the greater the danger of ignoring the actual confusions of human things:—. This is the point, you know. What one wants, I suppose, is to predetermine the action, So as to make it entail, not a chance belief, but the true one. Indeed, it affected him much more in later days than in the years immediately following his first friendship with Clough.

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With all his boyish dash, there was something in Bagehot even in youth which dreaded precipitancy, and not only precipitancy itself, but those moral situations tending to precipitancy which men who have no minds of their own to make up, so often court. And while all England was assailing Louis Napoleon justly enough, as I think for his perfidy, and his impatience of the self-willed Assembly he could not control, Bagehot was preparing a deliberate and very masterly defence of that bloody and high-handed act. Certainly, he always spoke somewhat apologetically of these early letters, though I never heard him expressly retract their doctrine.

In a knot of young Unitarians, of whom I was then one, headed by the late Mr. Langton Sanford—afterwards the historian of the Great Rebellion, who survived Bagehot barely four months—had engaged to help for a time in conducting the Inquirer, which then was, and still is, the chief literary and theological organ of the Unitarian body.

Sanford and Osler did a good deal to throw cold water on the rather optimist and philanthropic politics of the most sanguine, because the most benevolent and open-hearted, of Dissenters. Roscoe criticised their literary work from the point of view of a devotee of the Elizabethan poets; and I attempted to prove to them in distinct heads, first, that their laity ought to have the protection afforded by a liturgy against the arbitrary prayers of their ministers; and next, that at least the great majority of their sermons ought to be suppressed, and the habit of delivering them discontinued almost altogether.

Nor do I wonder, even now, that a sincere friend of constitutional freedom and intellectual liberty, like Crabb Robinson, found them difficult to forgive. They were light and airy, and even flippant, on a very grave subject. Nevertheless, they had a vast deal of truth in them, and no end of ability, and I hope that there will be many to read them with interest now that they are here republished.

There is a good deal of the raw material of history in them, and certainly I doubt if Bagehot ever again hit the satiric vein of argument so well. Here is a passage that will bear taking out of its context, and therefore not so full of the shrewd malice of these letters as many others, but which will illustrate their ability. It is one in which Bagehot maintained for the first time the view which I believe he subsequently almost persuaded English politicians to accept, though in it was a mere flippant novelty, a paradox, and a heresy that free institutions are apt to succeed with a stupid people, and to founder with a ready-witted and vivacious one.

After broaching this, he goes on:—. Not to begin by wounding any present susceptibilities, let me take the Roman character, for, with one great exception—I need not say to whom I allude—they are the great political people of history. Now is not a certain dulness their most visible characteristic? What is the history of their speculative mind? A blank. What their literature? A copy. They have left not a single discovery in any abstract science, not a single perfect or well-formed work of high imagination.

The Greeks, the perfection of human and accomplished genius, bequeathed to mankind the ideal forms of self-idolising art; the Romans imitated and admired. The Greeks explained the laws of nature; the Romans wondered and despised. The Greeks invented a system of numerals second only to that now in use; the Romans counted to the end of their days with the clumsy apparatus which we still call by their name.

The Greeks made a capital and scientific calendar; the Romans began their month when the Pontifex Maximus happened to spy out the new moon. Throughout Latin literature this is the perpetual puzzle—Why are we free and they slaves? Why do the stupid people always win and the clever people always lose? I need not say that in real sound stupidity the English people are unrivalled. These valuable truths are no discoveries of mine. They are familiar enough to people whose business it is to know them.

Hear what a douce and aged attorney says of your peculiarly promising barrister. The permanent value of these papers is due to the freshness of their impressions of the French capital, and their true criticisms of Parisian journalism and society; their perverseness consists in this, that Bagehot steadily ignored in them the distinction between the duty of resisting anarchy, and the assumption of the Prince-President that this could only be done by establishing his own dynasty, and deferring sine die that great constitutional experiment which is now once more, no thanks to him or his Government, on its trial; an experiment which, for anything we see, had at least as good a chance then as now, Edition: current; Page: [ 27 ] and under a firm and popular chief of the executive like Prince Louis, would probably have had a better chance then than it has now under MacMahon.

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Moreover, he rejoiced heartily in the moderation of the republican statesmen during the severe trials of the months which just preceded his own death, in , and expressed his sincere belief—confirmed by the history of the last year and a half—that the existing Republic has every prospect of life and growth. During that residence in Paris, Bagehot, though, as I have said, in a somewhat cynical frame of mind, was full of life and courage, and was beginning to feel his own genius, which perhaps accounts for the air of recklessness so foreign to him, which he never adopted either before or since.

During the riots he was a good deal in the streets, and from a mere love of art helped the Parisians to construct some of their barricades, notwithstanding the fact that his own sympathy was with those who shot down the barricades, not with those who manned them. He climbed over the rails of the Palais Royal on the morning of 2nd December to breakfast, and used to say that he was the only person who did breakfast there on that day. Victor Hugo is certainly wrong in asserting that no one expected Louis Napoleon to use force, and that the streets were as full as usual when the people were shot down, for the gates of the Palais Royal were shut quite early in the day.

Bagehot was very much struck by the ferocious look of the Montagnards. They have systematised it in a way which is pleasing to the cultivated intellect. But I took a quiet walk over the barricades in the morning, and superintended the construction of three with as much keenness as if I had been clerk of the works. The Montagnards Edition: current; Page: [ 28 ] are a scarce commodity, the real race—only three or four, if so many, to a barricade.

Buonaparte is entitled to great praise. He has very good heels to his boots, and the French just want treading down, and nothing else—calm, cruel, business-like oppression, to take the dogmatic conceit out of their heads. So I am for any carnivorous government. Tous mes amis sont mis en prison. I do not think he had at any time any keen sympathy with the multitude, i.

Such sympathy, even when men really desire to feel it, is, indeed, very much oftener coveted than actually felt by men as a living motive; and I am not quite sure that Bagehot would have even wished to feel it. Nevertheless, he had not the faintest trace of real hardness Edition: current; Page: [ 29 ] about him towards people whom he knew and understood.

He could not bear to give pain; and when, in rare cases by youthful inadvertence, he gave it needlessly, I have seen how much and what lasting vexation it caused him. Indeed, he was capable of great sacrifices to spare his friends but a little suffering.