27 JUNE 1896, Page 29


WE wonder what the special correspondent of the Daily Chronicle meant by "Fate" when he concluded his able letter on Mr. Marquardt's rescue from the ' Drummond Castle' in the following words :—" He is a man of coolness and great courage, but it was his fate that saved him only of all that company. The sea, saan-waster and man-lover, has its bounds, and Charles Marquardt was beyond them." He certainly did not mean what the common saying meant, that -a man who is born for a grimmer fate will never be drowned, for he evidently admires heartily Mr. Marquardt's pluck and constancy. Nor is it much easier to explain in what sense that grimmer saying understands of any man that he is born to fulfil a certain sinister destiny. But both the Daily 'Chronicle special correspondent and the sinister saying to which we refer, imply, as we understand the words, that special men have special destinies, while ordinary men are at liberty, as it were, either to fall into the clutches of fate or to escape them, because it is of no particular -consequence what happens to them. It is evident that the writer in the Daily Chronicle thinks that Mr. Marquardt has a destiny over which the sea has no power. But if there be such a thing as "fate" at all, surely every particle of the universe, living or dead, has a fate, and ordinary beings are just as much the victims of "fate " as select beings. Fate, as distinguished from providence, is much more con- ceivable as applied to the whole universe than as applied to select portions of it.. It is easy enough to think of the laws of Nature as connected together by necessary and inevitable links, but extremely difficult to think of any destiny as avoidable, except under the conditions of a free-will in separate natures, portions of the whole, which, if it exists at all, must imply that an iron destiny is not the controlling secret of the universe, but that everything is under the control of a power that chooses for us, that can tie some of the threads of life into final knots, and subject others to the judgment of isolated centres of rational volition. It is conceivable enough that if the universe is governed by mind, there may be both large determinate elements in it, and also many that are indeterminate. But a destiny that can loose its own knots is surely inconceivable. If the fates determined that three out of the two hundred and forty-four lives on the Drummond Castle' were to be saved, they can hardly have failed to determine that two hundred and forty-one out of these two hundred and forty-four were to be lost; indeed, we can hardly talk of predestina- tion at all without thinking of a mind which discrimi- nates one fate from another, before it assigns them to given persons. Even the old Greek conception of the Three Fates, though it rather suggests conscious instruments of some wider purpose, than beings who themselves distri- buted joy and grief, was not a conception of blind necessity, but of something like deliberate choice. The thread was spun by one agent of the creative power, the lot was drawn by another, and the end was finally appointed by a third. But evidently the Fates themselves were fated. They were not powerful divinities, bat three feeble old women who could only perform the homeliest offices. And even the very etymology of the word " fate " suggests some pre- disposing power behind. Fate is that which has been -"said," and to say what is to happen is to conceive the event before it is described. It indicates, no doubt, that the predicted tot is more or less woven into the very fabric of the future, but as it is appointed by some preconceiving mind, it may, if that preconceiving mind chooses, be made in part conditional on the way in which it is accepted by the subject of the destiny. The man who bends all his powers to modify a given lot for the better is permitted so to modify it. (Edipus averts the pursuing Furies. Nineveh repents at the preaching of

Jonah, and the predicted destruction is turned aside. Deep in the very conception of predestination is involved the belief in some power to dictate conditions and to soften the catas- trophe according as those conditions are cordially accepted and complied with. Even destiny can be more or less defied by a bold and faithful will, for destiny is appointed by a power behind the mere blind instruments of fate,—a power which can and does take into account how, as Huxley put it, the human player plays against that disguised and dread angel who is delighted to lose the stakes for which he strives against his comparatively feeble opponent. If that opponent plays well, his great antagonist would rather lose than win.

Looking to this, the deeply-rooted conception of "fate," as something against which it is possible to strive with more or less success, though it may be often rather less than more, we do not understand why any power,--call it fate, or what you will,—that saves one man "only of all that company," should be regarded as less personal than Providence himself. What- ever the power is that discriminated "him only of all that company" from the rest, as a man to be saved, it was a dis- criminating power, and those who speak of " fate " as dis- tinguished from providence are usually anxious to avoid the idea of a discriminating power, as if the mere vision of so many (as it seems) ruthlessly extinguished lives, made it impossible for them to speak of the one life saved as de- liberately saved, just because in that case so many that were lost must also have been deliberately lost. And, of course, we are clearly bound to think that the same providence which saved Mr. Marquardt gave up all the other passengers to the merciless waves. Nor do we see why any one should shrink from that conclusion. Death can come but once to any man, nor is there any reason to suppose that a premature death is at all less merciful than the death of the aged. The Greeks thought that " those whom the gods love die young." And whether that be true or false, it is at least not less likely to be true, possibly even more likely to be true, than that " those whom the gods love die old." Much more probable is it that neither proposition is tree at all, and that the Greek maxim arose from the pure superstition that the gods sent early death to those for whose companionship in the region of the unseen they themselves wished, and were yet not able to enjoy so long as they lived on earth. Under the higher conceptions of the Christian religion, it is impos- sible to say that those who are doing God's work on earth are in any sense whatever farther from the divine spirit than those who are doing his work in any other spiritual field. But to return to the reason which induces a writer to prefer speaking of " fate " rather than " providence " as dis- criminating one man for an earthly career, and dooming all the others to life in the world beyond,—it does seem to us a very blind and illogical sort of reason. Far more coherent would it be, to give up the idea of any discrimination at all, than to speak of one man's rescue as determined by a special fate, unless the deaths of all the others were so deter- mined also. What really seems to be the motive of such incoherent conceptions, is that those who use such language wish to envelop that notion of purpose which they cannot altogether exclude from their minds, in as much vagueness and mist as possible. They want to get the advantage of a. certain sort of predestination for one man, without claiming it for the herd, for all the rest. They seem to think that here is something which marks one man out as the subject of some special care, without going so far as to mark out the whole human race for care of the same kind. But clearly that is very hard to conceive. What it implies is that there is a power behind Nature which concerns itself with a chosen few but not with the multitude, whereas any power behind or in Nature which is competent to guide or overrule the laws of Nature for one purpose, must clearly be able to guide or overrule them for the general purpose of eliciting from the universe the most happy general result. " Fate " is a word used for the purpose of clothing men's thoughts in a fog, not for the purpose of making them clear. We can understand those who say that there is no government of the universe at all. But we cannot understand those who think that there is such a government, but that, while commanding all the various springs of human destiny, it leaves the masses of men to compete and wrangle with each other as they please, while it selects a few individuals for special dis- tinction, guidance, and protection.