2 APRIL 1948, Page 18


Traditions of Civility

NOBODY who knows anything about Sir Ernest Barker can think of him as living in retirement. The habits of a lifetime and a strong and urgent sense of public duty could not, in him, be stayed by the cessation of professional obligations. Yet release from statutory duties and from attendance at academic boards does bring some relaxation to the busiest of men, and Sir Ernest has been quick to realise and to make the most of " a benefit of retirement and the autumn of life." He describes the last four years as " a time of harvest in which crops have been gathered and stored from seeds sown long ago." The first fruits of harvest are to be found in this series of essays, linked in the tradition of civility or freedom from barbarity, but separable in theme and treatment into two groups of five and three. The first five, united by the writer's intense and practical interest in Greek influences upon subsequent forms of cultivated life, are slighter and more discursive than the last aired, which are entitled Oliver Cromwell and the English People, Paley and his Political Philosophy, and Natural Law and the American Revolution ; but all of them have in. common the qualities familiar to readers of Sir Ernest Barker in his more spacious moods. Here these qualities have been given free play : the untiring sense of appreciation, the lucidity which, whether effortless or not, seems so natural to him as to be devoid of conscious art, the lingering touches of meditative recollection and personal reminiscence, as though he were caressing his theme. Here, I think, in his appropriation of a subject, a danger may lurk. The reader must sometimes crave to be. presented with something stark, aloof, inscrutable. Humanism has always been too possessive.

Of the first five essays, the opening paper on Greek Influences in English Life and Thought seems to me the best. In it Sir Ernest, as a student of life and books, has distilled the convictions and experience of a lifetime. In the third paper he writes, with zest and ease, of Dante and the Last Voyage of Ulysses ; it is a literary study, in which he plays variations upon the theme of the wanderers "in the realms both of space and the spirit " ; and, as I read, my thoughts went back to the first essay and the adventure in search of knowledge. I wished that Sir Ernest, who considers that Euclid was perhaps the most typical expression of the Greek genius, " more typical even than Sophocles," had given some attention to a point made by a great modern mathematician and philosopher, the late A. N. Whitehead : " The pilgrim fathers of live scientific imagination as it exists today are the great tragedians of ancient Athens, Aembylus, Sophocles, Euripides." In Whitehead's view the essence of ramatic tragedy " resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things." The driving force of a controlled adventure sweeps through all periods, and has, it may be, done more to maintain the spirit of Greece and to create such unity as Europe has than the " sharing in a single paideia (or; as the Romans called

it, humanitas)" in which Sir Ernest finds the essential argument in favour of Greek studies.

I must pass by the other three studies, on Cycles of Change in the Island of Rhodes (an admirable piece of what is conveniently described as vulgarisation), The Connection of the Renaissance and the Reformation, and The Education of the English Gentleman in the Sixteenth Century, to the second series, for here we have Sir Ernest at his best in his threefold capacity as a scholar, a political theorist and a publicist. He does not try to idealise Cromwell, and he is aware of the tendencies in modern scholarship which would give him a low place in the history of civility ; but (rightly, in my

view) he rejects them, and in doing so he emphasises once again the outstanding significance of the Protector as a Puritan who, within the limits imposed by his outlook and circumstance, believed in liberty, civil and religious. In an illuminating note Sir Ernest finds in Cromwell something more important than a hero or leader—a seeker who, in the nature of the case, could not reconcile the claims of the two peoples, the people of England and the people of God, in both of which his affections were set and from which he sprang. A recent writer has suggested that Puritanism " in its fiery zeal would reflect the religious approach of the unenfranchised ' and that its flame was fanned by social inequality and religious discrimination. The measure of truth in this view depends on the meaning attached to the word " Puritanisni."

There seems to be no doubt that English Dissent sprang from those whom Cromwell described as the people of God, and it would be very hard to prove that these people were distinguishable in status and education from the conformists about them. Of the 1,760 persons ejected from their livings, etc., in the years 166o and 1662, only 171 afterwards conformed, and 843 of them remained to take out licences under the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672. At least 1,240 of the bi'iginal number had been educated at Oxford and Cambridge, and 42o had been in full Anglican orders before the outbreak of the Civil War. (I take these figures from Mr. A. G. Matthews.) Their successors do not seem to have differed from their neighbours very much in education or wealth ; and founded influential academies, some of which were at least as fruitful in learn- ing as the ancient universities. Naturally, the Dissenters chafed under the Test Acts, but they were far from being a revolutionary or fiery element in society. As late as 1883, under very different conditions, Beatrice Potter found the same independence, capacity for self-government and general happiness among the mill-hands at Bacup. For good or ill Cromwell's people of God were part of the people of England, though their more masterful kindred in New England have the greater name in history.

One of the English clergymen who made friends among Dissenters was William Paley, described by Sir Ernest in a most helpful and interesting study as one of the great codifiers of English thought and experience in the eighteenth century. Sir Ernest's genial memoir of Paley is one of the best things he has ever written and deserves to be widely read. It reveals' a cross-section of English academic, ecclesiastical and moral life in the late eighteenth cen- tury, during the period when in Boston and other cities across the ocean the preachers and lawyers of New England and Pennsylvania

were defining the principles on which they were to justify resistance to the British Parliament. The influences and political circum-

stances which brought the Americans to base their political philosophy on the claims of "natural law" are the theme of Sir Ernest's longest paper, a model of what such a paper should try to

be. The thought, a reflection of political needs and of the experience of a living society, loses any vestige of aridity ; for one can trace it as it becomes the ground, not merely the excuse, for action, until it is embodied in set phrases in a written constitution. Here the assiduous student of Greek political thought, the translator of Gierke and the author of Reflections on Government join hands with the