MR. ARNOLD AS A MORAL AND RELIGIOUS TEACHER.
THE new number of the Contemporary has two papers which 1. contain valuable data for the appreciation of Mr. Matthew Arnold as a religious writer and teacher,—the one a paper in which he takes leave, or at least, professes his intention to take leave, of theology, not without a very characteristic rehearsal of his teach- ing, on that subject ; the other, a very skilful and able paper by Dr. Appleton on Mr. Arnold's " Metaphysical " works, i.e., the works in which he has dealt constructively with " politics and religion," though we suspect Mr. Arnold will make a wry face over the praise which is bestowed upon his " metaphysical " achievements. Nor do we happen to agree with Dr. Appleton in rating these achievements of Mr. Arnold's among his highest efforts ; in- deed we regard them as considerable only in that way in which a true poet of the reflective kind is sure to make his work con- siderable, when he criticises writings which have fascinated him all his life, however little he may satisfy us with his interpretation or estimate of them. We are, however, in harmony with Dr. Appleton in thinking Mr. Arnold, for the most part, a very skilful and delicate interpreter of the " spirit of the times," or " Zeit-geist." And if Dr. Appleton be right in thinking that the art of interpreting the social consciousness is the art of the " meta- physician,"—that the "better self," to which appeal should• be made from the "lower self" of mere selfish desire, is the self which the social spirit, as such, sanctions and approves,—then, unquestionably, Mr. Arnold is a skilful metaphysician, for he seems to us to show a very delicate appreciation of the advanced spirit of the times, and to know, almost by instinct, what ideas are gaining weight with the most influential men. of his age, and what are losing weight. This, however, is a somewhat new de- finition of the metaphysician. And for our own parts, we are disposed to think that the true metaphysician is he who gets beneath the mere spirit of the times, and can distinguish the true ideas and beliefs which the spirit of the times is tempted and almost compelled to neglect and underrate, as well as those with which the spirit of the times occupies itself fruitfully and successfully, and which it is destined therefore to develope in a way which may give them a permanent hold on the mind of man. Now, though Mr. Arnold recognises the true and fruitful part of the thought of his generation, he is, for so able a man, curiously under the spell of those plausible fallacies of the reigning culture, which are no more part of the inheritance of the ages than the fashionable eclecticism of Roman philosophy in the first century was part of the inheritance of the ages. It seems to us that Mr. Arnold's felicity as a teacher has always lain in his skill in finding happy expression and apt illustration for a prevalent thought, whether it be true or false, often quite as happy an ex-
pression for it when it is false as when it is true. In other words, he has shown in his writings on theology and politics the same skill which he has always shown as a reflective poet. He is always well aware whether or not he is in the track of an influential idea—positive or negative., true or false—and he not only knows this, but he can find a language for such ideas, and concrete illus- trations for them, such as very few of the professed spokesmen of those ideas could find. But we do not recognise in Mr. Arnold any power of resisting the encroachment of a reigning idea in at province in which it has no jurisdiction. He seems to us the preacher of principles which, in the name of culture, may but too probably destroy the root of all true culture, and in the name of religion may but too probably eat the heart out of all religion. And we think he gives some remarkable illustrations of this latter tendency in the paper which he calls his last contribution to theological literature, and which almost immediately precedes Dr. Appleton's thoughtful estimate of him.
We have admitted that Mr. Arnold never fails to give character, istic expression to the thoughts which powerfully move the wider and freer intellects of the present day. Yet for our own part, we far prefer his poetic to his prose expression of them, and this for two reasons,—first, that it is vivider, terser, and more from the heart ; and next, that beneath it we can ahnost always discern in his poems a " lyrical cry " of pain at the loss of the deeper elements of belief dropped out of the, spirit of. the times, a cry which is not repeated in his prose works, where we are too apt to find. instead a vein of skilful,, but sometimes shallow irony and satire. Nothing, for instance, can be more effective, as Dr. Appleton points out, than. the manner in which Mr. Arnold enforces on his readers in "Culture and Anarchy " that a man is not at liberty to follow his own individual likings-; that the politica idolatry with which the notion of liberty, as the mere freedom from superior constraint, is regarded, is a bad idolatry ; and that our "best self," which may at times be fairly embodied in the. State or in- a National Church, has a power to unite us, by subduing, the anarchy always latent in our worst selves, so that we ought not to regard such a national embodiment of our best ideas with jealous suspicion and distrust, but with loyal obedience. But while no one could' enforce this with more grace and point, and more humorous illustration than Mr. Arnold it :always seemed to us that in striking the note of " culture " as the opponent of anarchy,—which he does in his prose, but not in his poetry,— he made a most characteristic- mistake, and brought out just the very stratum of our nature which, so far from having it in its power to put down anarchy, is in itself' specially liable to a neutral equipoise and an incapacity for resolve, which is but another phase of anarchy. Culture may show, and in Mr. Arnold's hands does show, how narrow are the prepossessions which often furnish the excuse for anarchy, how one-idead are the anarchists, and how' overridden by some hard-worked principle which has no proper application to the case in point. But nothing is so dangerously liable to anarchy, anarchy of a very passive but a most fatal kind, as mere culture,—the culture which teaches us to despise vulgar errors, without teaching us to put much confidence in any authority such as this imperfect life can show. Culture is specially liable to an anarchy of its own, and we know no better source whence to illustrate the hopelessness of that anarchy than some. of Mr. Arnold's own writings. Who levels more deadly thrusts than he at the Philistinism of the actual State ? Who exposes the common assumptions of Parliamentary debate with more scorn? Who leaves us with less respect for the actual authority over us,. considered as any approximation to the better self' of his ideal ? Culture as such is rather• critical and destructive than creative' and constructive,' and it is so essentially in Mr. Arnold's hands.
Again, in " St. Paul and Protestantism,"—much the best of his religious efforts,—our author seems to us to make the same kind of mistake, though it is kept comparatively in the background. Dr. Appleton especially commends Mr. Arnold for the humour which saves him from treating " any idea as too serious a thing and giving it too much power," and for saying so clearly that' " the human spirit is wider than the most priceless of the forces which bear it onwards, and that to the whole development of man, Hebraism itself is, like Hellenism, but a contribution." There, however, Dr. Appleton seems to us to lay his finger not on a strong but on a weak point of Mr. Arnold's teaching. It is quite true, of course, that the aesthetic sphere is not contained within the moral sphere, and that the region of thought to which the word
righteousness ' is the key does not include the region of thought to which the word ' beauty' or perfection' is the key. But Mr. Arnold's implicit teaching is that these two regions are related to each other only as a larger and smaller province of the same life—supplementing each other, and supplement- ing each other on equal terms. But the matter cannot be disposed of in the arithmetical sort of way in which Mr. Arnold disposes of it, when he says that the Hebraistic teach-
ing as to ' conduct' covers (say) four-fifths of human life, while the Hellenistic teaching covers very much less indeed. It is the essence of the matter to recollect that when the notion of right comes into competition with the notion of beauty or fitness, as it often does, the former ought to prevail over the latter, and has the right to prevail. That is just the teaching which we cannot find in Mr. Arnold, just the finch-pin which is wanting in his thought, and which seems to us of the very heart and soul of the notion of righteousness itself. While he admits to Hebraism a much greater range than to Hellenism, he does not see the right of command of the one over the other where they come into com- petition, and he is, if we rightly understand Dr. Appleton, virtually 'praised 'by his critic for not seeing it.
Again, and most of all, in his interpretation of the religious writers of the Old and New Testaments, Mr. Arnold strikes a deadly blow at all the essential and vital principles of these great teachers, — at the principle of all that controls the passions, of all that inspires the will, of all that moves the affeetions,—and then presents •the empty shell to us as the kernel freed from its decaying husk. He has some very fine passages on the "secret of Jesus,"—the secret, that is, of acquiescing willingly in the •wounds -which come to our in- most desires and self-love, instead of smarting and fretting under them, but he rejects the very charm which makes that secret so potent,—the belief, •that is, that in thus acting we are sub- mitting to the will of a perfect spiritual Being, who is teaching us in these disappointments to love Him better than any of the temporary and earthly blessings which He gives. Mr. Arnold tells us that the secret of the peace which Christ -found is not in the thought "Thy will be done,"—for " Thy will be done" is but a poetical rendering of the nation that we ought to conform ourselves to the "stream of tendency not-ourselves which makes for righteousness;"—but in the thought that by part- ing gladly with our own will we regain our true selves. Yet who would find bliss in conforming themselves to that stream of -tendency, if they had no firm belief that that stream takes its spring in aBeing-whose love is worth more than any love beside, and whose power guides the destinies of the universe? In this last paper of his, Mr. Arnold expreesly teaches that the two principles of " salva- tion by righteousness" and 4, righteousness by Jesus Christ" are 'the whole essence of the -Christian Church's teaching, and that the essential elements -of •that teaching may be held without recognising any scientific truth in the teaching as'to the personal life and kve of 'God, or the continued life and permanent in- spiration of Christ. In other words, he does not object to use the languagewbich is the very life of the Christian affections, as mere poetry, which has -no more stffistantial support for those affec- tions than the language which treats a man's University as his "mother," or the language which treats -" nature " as his 14 nurse," or than any other vague symbolic terms used to give expression to what we may call the affections of the fancy- -not the affections of the heart. Even the essential formulas -by "which Mr. Arnold still holds, 'salvation by righteousness' and ''righteousness by Christ,' would be, for ninety-nine men out of every hundred, emptied of all their best meaning, if interpreted in Mr. Arnold's sense. For to him 'salvation by righteousness' means only that we make the best of ourselves by righteousness, not that we secure for ourselves thereby any everlasting love ; and 'righteousness by Christ' means only that we can best secure righteousness by learning the secret of Jesus,' the secret of giving up our own self-will, and does not.mean that we give up that self-will to a Being infinitely higher and -more loving and more august, who sees the end from the beginning, and gives us life in Himself for all that we surrender of our own. All this to Mr. Arnold is the mere language of imagination, which a teacher of the Gospel may believe or disbelieve at pleasure, and which it is certainly the tendency of his own teaching to induce us to dis- believe. 'Yet-Christianity without this faith is a thing which may perhaps appeal to the conscience,-but cannot by a possibility reach 'the affections, or put in motion any of the highest motives which impel the will. Mr. Arnold may be, as Dr. Appleton believes, -and as we partly agree, a wise interpreter of the highest social culture of the day, but if it be so, it is only because the highest social culture of the day has lost the spell by which humanity is moved, and vainly hopes that it can conjure with a charm from -which-all-the magic has been stolen-away.