MR. BROOKE HERFORD'S " STORY OF RELIGION IN ENGLAND."
To write a "Story of Religion" even "in England," is to undertake a most invidious task. Many will be ready to ask, " Who is there that occupies so elevated a position that he can survey such a subject with equal eyes? who is there so dispassionate that he can judge impartially in the fiercest, the bitterest, the most entangled of all human controversies?" Is his stand-point to be within or without the Christian community ? If he be without, every section will join in denying his competence ; and if he be within, every section but his own. Earnestness of belief is essential to the sympathy without which no history can be complete, and at the same time is scarcely consistent with that which is of equal im- portance,—the judicial temper. These difficulties, like those which seem to beset religious teaching, are more formidable in theory than in practice. Mr. Herford, anyhow, has overcome them with remarkable success. We gather from his book that personally he holds Unitarian opinions, or is, to say the least, as was remarked of Eusebius of Caesarea, Arianispartibus non iniquus. We should be sorry to think that an Unitarian possesses any abstract superiority over an orthodox historian of religion. He has to en- counter the difficulty that the main current of Christian thought has • The Story of Religion is &Wax& A Book for Young Yolk. By Brooke Herford. London: C. Maya Paul and Co. 1878.
always been adverse to his own views, and may be met with the criticism that if these views had prevailed in the beginning of the faith of which he has made himself the historian, that faith would not have survived to be the subject of his pen. But the Unitarian body has been always honourably distinguished by liberality and candour, and the defects iu its belief, as we hold them to be, are for this purpose less disqualifying than pietist or sacerdotal
theories have before this been found to be. To search, without an a priori definition of the limits within which it can be possibly found, for the genuine emotion which witnesses to man of his relation to a Divine Father, to recognise it by its true outcome of
an earnest and pure life, even amidst the distortion and debase- ment of ignorance and superstition, is the function of the historian
of religion, and the qualifications for its discharge are sincerity of conviction and breadth of view. We could name writers with whom we should have found ourselves more in sympathy than
we can be with Mr. Herford, but to the ordinary Church historian, so far at least as the special purpose of this book is concerned, we far prefer him.
Mr. Herford begins his work with a short chapter on the Druids, in which he tells us all, and perhaps, we may say, more than all that is kuown about this curious order. We have often wondered that a destructive criticism has not been more stringently applied to the stories of the Druidic sacrifices which Caesar heard from his Gallic informants, and reported, if he did not believe. That they slew human victims on their altars need not be questioned, but " the huge figure of a giant in basket-work, filled with criminals or prisoners taken in fight," has an apocryphal appearance. Basket-work is much more combustible than human flesh, and the " giant " must have disappeared before all of the multitude enclosed within him could have been even scorched.
The following chapters, treating the topic of British and Early English Christianity, deserve special praise, and will find, we imagine, favour in the eyes of most readers. Such personages as St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert not only are interesting and pictur- esque, but are remote from the turbulent eddies of controversies, except, indeed, for those who are troubled with the problem of the Anglican succession, a question with which, we need scarcely say, our author does not concern himself. We have also pleasant representations of men not included in the lists of the duly canonised,—of Caadmon, for instance, the poet of " Creation," and Alfred, best of kings. Passing on beyond the period . of the Conquest, we come to an excellent sketch of the great church-building epoch, and another of the vigorous move- ment which covered England with so many monastic institutions. Mr. Herford does full justice to the devotion and unselfishness of the Religious Orders in their best day, rebuking, in passing, the sarcastic praise which is sometimes given to them for having selected the most beautiful and fertile spots for their settlements. They did not find these spots beautiful and fertile, but made them so ; so the sneer is as unjust, to use Mr. ilerford's apposite illustration, as if " centuries hence, when the interior of Africa shall have been opened up, people should sneer at Dr. Living- stone for having chosen such a pleasant country for his labours."
We may quote a capital description of the early monastic founda- tions, and of the changes which took place in them :-
" The old Cistercian rule carried a sort of Puritanism into everything. It mapped out the arrangement of their buildings, in order that they might be kept to one simple hardy plan of life ; and if you look into a hundred of their ruined monasteries, you always find that that arrange- ment was at first adhered to. Tho monastery was ranged about the four sides of a square court, or quadrangle, round which on the inside ran the cloisters, a wooden penthouse shelter built against the wall. On the north side of this court, sheltering its grassy walk from the wildest storms, was the great church. On the oast side, joining to the transept of the church, came the chapter-house (where the business of the abbey was transacted), with the Scriptorium, or writing-room, over it. Con- tinning in the same line, extended the mon& common room, with their dormitory over it, a passage and flight of stops leading from the dormi- tory into the church, that the monks might be able to go to and from their midnight services without leaving the building. On the third aide, facing the long side of the church, stood the refectory or dining- hall, and the few rooms which at first were all that the abbot required for his separate use. And the west side of the quadrangle, joining up to the other end of the church, was one long range of buildings for the abbey servants and retainers, and for the entertainment of strangers; the lower story being their day-room, and the upper for their sleeping quarters. All this you find has originally existed at Furness, and Fountains, and Kirkstall, and wherever ruins enough of the buildings are still standing for the old plan to be made out. The curious thing is to trace bow gradually that old plan was departed from. At first the great church was built strictly according to Cistercian rule—stern, simple, and unadorned. They might have no tracery in their windows, no images of saints, no sculpturing of the human figure at all, no pretty ornamented stonework, such as the groat architects of the time de- lighted in, and were putting into the magnificent cathedrals. And, looking carefully about the church at Furness, you find that, originally, it was even so ; there is, indeed, plenty of the forbidden ornamentation to be seen, but it is all of a later style and date. You can see the patched masonry, whore the plain Norman windows have been replaced by traceried ones of later style, or where the small chancel has been enlarged into the magnificent choir and lady-chapel, to admit of the wide and lofty east window, with its forbidden painted glass. They might not have any lofty tower, only a low belfry or lantern tower in the centre; and if you examine tho massive tower which now seems to form one of the finest parts of the Furness ruins, you find it is of a style which dates only just before the Reformation, so that probably it was still unfinished when the final blow came, and the monasteries were abolished and swept away. All through the buildings you come upon traces of the same gradual change. Only one more instance, however, but it is most significant of what the hardness of their life must origin- ally have been. If you look at the long building still left standing at Furness, which was the monks' day-room—their common room for assembling and sitting, when they needed more shelter than the wooden cloisters—you find that this long day-room originally had no fire-place, and was entirely open to the weather—open at the southern end by six great archways, in which there is no trace of door or closing of any kind. At some time, however, these arched openings were walled up, leaving a single doorway, and the stone-work built into one of them was formed into a fireplace and chimney. But it is evidently of later work. You can see where the newer masonry has been joined on to the old. It is a startling testimony to the original hardihood and zeal of the Cistercians, that a door and a fireplace were among the effemi- nacies of their decline !"
As Mr. Herford proceeds with the story, he naturally finds himself traversing water more and more troubled. The "constitu- tional opposition," if we may use the phrase, which the Plantagenet offered to the Papal aggrandisement, the religious movement of which Wiclif was the centre, the rebellion of the Tudors against Rome, Elizabeth's struggle for life against Papal enemies at home and abroad, the Puritan movement, the growth of the Noncon- formist communities, all these are subjects in dealing with which Mr. Herford cannot hope to conciliate all sympathies, though he must always be credited with the genuine desire to do justice. Now and then, we think, he writes without full justification from his authorities. The Puritans, for instance, were not so utterly opposed to " sport and play " as he seems to suppose. We re- member to have read of some Lancashire worthies of that way of thinking who did not think cock-fighting at all inconsistent with piety. And it is scarcely correct to speak of the Grammar Schools founded at the Reformation as " few." They may be counted, we fancy, by hundreds. But on the whole, we have to thank Mr. Herford for a very careful, as well as a very able book.