MR. LECKY ON HUMAN LIFE.*
Mn. LECKY has written much and well on the eighteenth century, and we should say that there are few, if any, writers living who better represent the excellent aide of that century than he. Calm sagacity, good sense, rational views of things, absence of hysteria, the cultivation of the Aristotelian mean, —these are the qualities of the age of Montesquieu, of Gibbon, of Franklin, and these are the leading qualities of Mr. Leaky. It must not be supposed that this frame of mind excludes passion, but that the passion is restrained and sub- ordinated to large and dispassionate general views. Such general views mark Mr. Lecky's latest work, which is in the main a calm survey of life. We are inclined to wish that it were entirely such a survey, and that the portions devoted to a consideration of political machinery had been omitted. It is, indeed, interesting to see how the House of Commons, filled • The Map of Life: Conduct and Character. By Vt::.illarn Edward Hartpole Lecky. London : Longtoans and Co. Due. W.]
with practical men of action, strikes a thinker from the library like Mr. Lecky. Evidently he looks down on it from a somewhat lofty height, thinks it rather crude and decidedly unintellectual, and is shocked at the way in which Members vote on questions about which they are quite ignorant. The methods of average practical men never do commend them- selves to theorists and students. Mr. Lecky, seeing that that is so, holds that, under such circumstances, to vote with your party, as a general rule, is the only way out of the difficulty. Many suggestions are made as to political action and the way of transacting public business; but we frankly confess that this political portion of Mr. Lecky's work interests us less that the rest of its contents—save and except the measured but severe castigation dealt out to Mr. Rhodes for lowering the moral standard of politics—and we turn with more satisfaction to the discussion of individual and social ethics and the conduct of life.
Here Mr. Lecky touches on that subject of all others which presents the greatest difficulty alike to the thinker and to the earnest man who wishes to order his life aright; a problem which will present even greater difficulty as civilisa- tion grows more universal and complex. What is to be the relation between the Christian ideal of life and the ideal of the political economist ? That the two are widely sundered, and in some respects antagonistic, is as clear as that modern society is trying hard to reconcile them. Christianity on its secular side commands extreme simplicity of life ; the minds of its devotees are presumed to be too absorbed in constant endeavours after the spiritual life to care for the mundane things on which the average sensual man is set. Christ does not, it is true, commend idleness, and St. Paul, who worked with his own hands, urged diligence in business life; but, on the whole, it cannot be doubted that if men lived according to the plain injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount and the general tenotir and spirit of the New Testament, the greater part of the world's business would come to an end, because there would be only a demand, as in the Orient, for compara- tively few and simple things. But from the point of view of the political economist, the progress of mankind may be said to be measured in terms of greater material production; the more a man can effectively demand the higher he is in the scale of humanity, and the cities which are the great centres of accumulation are also the great centres of civilisation and culture. We pay homage to a creed which sets simplicity of life as an ideal, but we practically serve the ideal of com- plexity of life, and thus our modern life, unlike that of antiquity, is sundered in a dualism which makes many of us genuinely unhappy.
Thus does Mr. Leaky state the problem, and being a staunch believer in the Aristotelian mean, he solves it, or thinks he solves it, by a judicious compromise between Christianity and political economy. We cannot, on the one hand, escape from the general secular evolution which sweeps us all into its onward movement and compels us, whether we like it or not, to adopt certain fashions and to live a certain kind of life. On the other hand, if we obliterate the Christian ideal, we sink into an appalling slough of sensualism in which not only our lofty ideals, but our very civilisation itself, goes down in ruin. We must handle life at both ends, live and act as part of our age, and yet try also to live in an unseen world whose ends are infinite, and whose ideals are those of spotless purity. This is Mr. Lecky's eminently judicious, if not heroic, solution of our modern problem. He has not considered the Oriental solution which resolutely accepts the tremendous contrast, and prefers the ideal religious life to the life of political economy and secular progress. Yet we must remem- ber that that is the ideal of nearly half the human race, and one feels by no means certain that it may not in the future strongly affect Western civilisation. The world of antiquity grew absolutely weary of its splendid but burdensome civilisa- tion. It is quite possible that the mad rush and the dominant material inventions, having entirely changed the face of the world, may present no more attractions for the Western peoples, and that our conception of what "progress" means may become vitally changed.
A very large part of this book is devoted to practical questions of duty, in regard to which Mr. Lecky speaks out of a mellowed experience of life and from a high ethical standard. He thinks we pay too much attention to politics
and athletics. Some pay too much attention to the first, many to the second ; but we doubt whether many persona devote a great deal of their time to politics. The general complaint is rather of political apathy save in times of crisis ; but we quite agree with Mr. Lecky that all-pervading political activity, with its excitement and partisan excesses, is not favourable to the cultivation of the inner and finer virtues of the souL The athletic craze is a reaction from town life, and will probably only abate when population is better distri- buted and when men are once more willing to work on the soil. Healthy labour in theopen air gives of itself most of the benefits which are now sought in violent forms of exercise. Mr. Lecky, while glad to find the health of women improved by outdoor life and exercise, yet thinks that this is carried too far, and that many young girls become loud and vulgar through undue devotion to amusements and bodily culture. He is shocked at the extravagance and luxury of our great cities, and he says very truly that "the choicest masterpieces of the human mind" might all be purchased, "I do not say by the cost of a lady's necklace, but by that of one or two of the little stones of which it is composed." True enough, and pity 'tis 'Lis true ; but the political economist view of life favours the production of wealth, and the old "classic" political economy never even considered the human value of contrasting descriptions of wealth ; and so we are brought round once more to our old problem. There is another dualism in modern life, of which Mr. Lecky treats,—the dualism between real belief and modes of expression which the Church presents to us. Mr. Lecky evidently holds to an esoteric and exoteric interpretation of the creeds, many of the statements of which, in their literal and obvious sense, are not held by educated people. He sees keenly the intellectual deficiencies of the Church, but thinks it so valuable a means of keeping alive and extending the Christian flame for good works and noble self-devotion, that he is willing to tolerate crudities which, after all, do not injure the popular mind. Is there not danger, however, in a sort of intellectual division of the people into classes which cannot even hold communion with one another because they speak, as it were, different intel- lectual languages ? Would it not be better to abandon or to greatly modify some of the scientific definitions of doctrine formulated by the Greek logic of the early Councils,—logic quite alien to the English mind ?
The practical advice and serene judgment on such questions as marriage and success show Mr. Lecky at his best, and his final chapter on "The End" is especially good, though there is here, as all through this work, slightly too much of the Stoic spirit for us. Respice fluent is Mr. Lecky's watchword, and yet we are not to think too much of the end, but to do our work honestly, live our life faithfully, and await the inevitable with calmness,—perhaps rather with the calmness of Marcus Aurelius than the joy of St. Paul. Indeed, there is more than a shade of the finer paganism suffused with Mr. Lecky's thought. A characteristic, again, of the eighteenth century.