THE dialogue form has great advantages for the discussion of such matters as fitly admit its application ; those, namely, with respect to which men of mature intellect actually hold different opinions, not from ignorance of the evidence that bears upon them, but from a varying estimate of the value of such evidence. Perhaps even this limitation has no real basis ; as persons are to be found every- where of such different degrees of knowledge and faculty, that doubts arise in their minds on what appears to others the plainest sequence of demonstration or the moat irresistible chain of evi- dence. We have seen, accordingly, all the sciences exhibited in the form of dialogue between teacher and pupil ; and this, no doubt, is the natural form in which we do acquire most of the knowledge that we owe to others ; nor are any of the processes of education more favourable to development of faculty than the free conversa- tional intercourse between pupil and teacher, in which the former is allowed and encouraged to state all his doubts and difficulties, and receives such solutions of them as are adapted to his special case. This species of dialogue, having a distinct dogmatic purpose, may fairly take its place among recognized instructional methods for young people. But the essence of the higher philosophical dia- logue seems to us to lie in the subject-matter being such as grown people, in full face of the evidence, can differ about, and do differ about, without incurring from their rational neighbours the epi- thets of " idiot " or " madman " or "dishonest sophist." In subjects where absolute demonstration is beyond our faculties, or has not at least been attained by men, the interest of dis- cussion lies in eliciting existing varieties of opinion ; in investi- gating the deeper differences of constitution and circumstances on which they rest, and to which they would seem to be organically related ; and in endeavouring to find some truth towards which all these apparent contradictions converge, and in which they find their reconciliation, allowance being made for the different media through which this one central truth is variously refracted. In the discussion of such topics, the dialogue has the advantage of being able to present at one view, without awkwardness or tedious- ness, the opinions held by different types of character;' to brush out of the way of the argument the cobwebs of sophistry or the masses of obstinacy which lie in the path, obstructing a clear view of what genuine honest-minded men really think and feel about the matter. No other form could so well exhibit the substantial agreement of instinct which often underlies intellectual differences, or the convergence, before alluded to, of the opinions themselves towards some point in a higher region of truth than the one tra- versed by the interlocutors. Then, the opinions are given as the utterance of living men, with whom, if the writer has competent skill, the reader interests himself in turn ; and no one is ignorant how much difference one finds in opinions uttered by men, and corresponding to their whole temperaments, circumstances, and characters, and the same opinions stated abstractedly by an op- ponent, or even abstractedly at all. We thus get in the dialogue a drama of thought and character, as in the drama properly so called we get a dialogue of passion and character. In each case, the highest truth taught is a revelation of man, not a proposition merely in the dialogue, nor in the drama a bare catastrophe of ac- tion and suffering. An enlargement of mind and heart, a wider and more genial comprehension of opinions and characters different from our own, is the natural effect. Then again, the dialogue ad- mits of digressions, of personal and local allusions, of changes of tone ; which the treatise rejects as incompatible its authori- tative character, but which belong to the dialogue as an imitation of the best conversation, of which such changes are characteristic. These special advantages demand corresponding powers in the writer to render them anything but causes of failure. If the dia- logue admits of freer treatment than other forms under which opin- ions are discussed and inculcated, this is itself a temptation to a writer to be diffuse, to wander at his will over the unlimited range of human discourse, and quite to forget that he has a purpose. It also makes demands upon the writer's knowledge, taste, and fancy. If variety is an advantage, the power to command variety, the great gift of invention, is by no means common. Most writers have a tone of their own, which they cannot put off; a limit of their own, beyond which their thoughts and sympathies never stray. In the parallel case of the drama, despite the temptations of the stage, how few good plays there are ! how few in which the writer represents more than his own limited character under different names and dif- ferent circumstances ! No gift is so rare as that of vividly under- standing and appreciating characters different from one's own, so vividly as to create the character and make it talk from within. Description, answering to clear outward observation, is not rare in literature ; but that other gift of entering into the souls of men, and passing through their experiences and their emotions, so as out of the utterance of them to give the world a realizable conception of a concrete man—this gift has been bestowed scarcely upon a score in any very high degree since men spoke articulately. The difficulty is not perhaps so great that the writer of philosophical dia- logue has to encounter, because it is easier to comprehend intellectual than moral differences; though, in so far as the one are connected with and arise out of the other, it will be of the same kind. The dramatist will show his narrowness in selecting his heroes from one
• Phaethon; or Loose Thoughts for Loose Thinkers. By the Reverend Charles Kingsley, Canon of Middleham, and Rector of Evereley. Published by Macmillan and Co., Cambridge.
type, and in giving to his subordinate characters a shadowy ab- stract existence, proving that he never felt their life. The writer of philosophical dialogue will likewise be in danger of giving to his hero-opinion, and the man who advocates it, a superiority in living reality and intellectual power over those with whom he combats. He will be liable to set up men of straw for the plea- sure of knocking them down again; to put worthless arguments into the mouths of those who maintain opinions opposite to his own, and triumphant refutations will of course be provided to crash them. He must, in a word, be a very calm man, a very large-hearted man, a man who is widely conversant not only with the varying opinions held, but with the men who hold them, and must comprehend their opinions not simply in their abstract state- ment, but in their relation to types of character, and to the circum- stances of the time and country that may have called them into activity ; and, however earnest he may be in his own convictions, he must not assail the motives or the capacities of those who do not share them, except on good and demonstrable ground.
Mr. Kingsley's previous writings give evidence that he possesses in a high degree many of the faculties required for success in phi- losophical dialogue. He can create character, and exhibit it in dia- logue ; he has a rich, clear, energetic flow of language, that reflects faithfully a luxuriant imagination, a masculine understanding, and a strong healthy emotional nature. He is a manysided man himself, and has that tolerance, comprehension, and appreciation of various characters and forms of activity, which spring from containing in his own highly-endowed being the elements of those characters and forms of life. His convictions are besides strong enough to be an equipoise to any amount of largeness, to any breadth of sympathy, and to prevent these from degenerating into indifference or want of definite purpose. And lastly, his artistic faculty—his keen sense of individuality in objects, and the correlative power of presenting them in language—is of so masterly an order, that each form in which he has expressed himself seems successively the one for which his talents most fit him. Take him all in all, England has no literary man of his years who can be set up beside him as his equal in va- riety and quality of endowments, and in richness of promise. But (and what is a critic unless he be critical?) these endowments do not seem to us to be related to .the region of pure speculation, so much as to the domain- of passion and of action; and if his sympathies and his tolerance are more limited in one direction than another, it is just in that direction in which for the purpose of phi- losophical dialogue, and of philosophy itself, they ought to be most extended. In other words, Mr. Kingsley is more a man of emo- tion and of action than of reasoning;. and his width of oompre- hension and of sympathy is more with passional, sensational, and active life, than with the activities and aberrations of the intellect. His writings leave upon us the impression that he cannot compre- hend a man who feels or fancies hiniself under the necessity of re- fusing to accept a proposition which is not made good to his in- tellect, however convenient it might seem to be, if assumed true, as a basis of moral life and practical action. Differences of opinion on the most important subjects he can understand and allow for, provided they spring from motives in which the pas- sions, the affections, or the senses are the producing forces ; but that logical processes, or a love of abstract truth, or a fine sense of evidence, should rule a man's practical and moral life—this seems to him to be unaccountable, unreasonable, and a phase of human error to be vehemently combated. And he goes about his task in the spirit in which Hercules may be sup- posed to have donned his lion's skin, shouldered his club, and bid Deianira, or whoever was pro tempore Mrs. Hercules, good bye for the campaign. The monsters Mr. Kingsley is after just now are the so-called Spiritualists, of whom Emerson and Theodore Parker are fair types ; and them Mr. Kingsley has before his imagination, —though perhaps F. W. Newman would be the fittest representa- tive of the widespread and very various group, if England is to be the scene of the combat and an English knight the champion of the orthodox faith.
The weapon employed is a mace from Plato's armoury ; a dia- logue in which Socrates, Alcibiades, and Phaethon, discourse con- cerning absolute truth, and the possibility of man's attaining it. We have little doubt that Mr. Grote's friends the Sophists would have often made a better fight of it in their own persons than they are permitted to make in the dialogues of the Socratic disciple. But we have no records to confute Plato ; and therefore we accept with a latent reservation his version of the story, and regale ourselves on the rich stores of Attic wit, homely illustration, and picturesque eloquence, in which the dialogues abound. But a modern Plato must not be allowed to set up wooden antagonists, and christen them with the names of his contemporaries, while he takes no care to invest his dummies with any of the higher qualities which the writings of those contemporaries display on any page that may be opened at random. Alcibiades may have maintained, as a thesis caught from a lecture of Protagoras, that in matters lying beyond the perceptive and sensitive faculties of man there was no truth to be ascertained ; but neither Mr. Emerson nor any leaders of the Spiritualist school would assert such a proposition, though they may deny the efficacy. of Christian methods of seeking such truth, and refuse to accept the Christian solutions of the problems of life and of the universe. If Mr. Kingsley wishes to exhibit the defeat of the Spiritualist leaders in dialogue or in any other form, the first essential is to seize their doctrines in their completeness, in relation both to the men who hold them and to the doctrines from which they are in great part a reaction and a protest. So much was neces- sary to be said for fair-play's sake. The dialogue of Phaethon has striking beauties, viewed apart from its expressed reference to this modern form of heresy; and its suggestions may meet half-way many a latent doubt, and, like a light breeze, lift from the soul clouds that are gathering heavily, and threatening to settle down in wintry gloom on the summer of many a fair and promising young life.
The dialogue opens, not in Athens but in Herefordshire, with a picture that may take its place beside the thoroughly-felt landscapes of Alton Locke and Yeast,—landscapes which, if Ruskin is the Turner of word-painting, will give Kingsley a right to be called its Constable or De Wint.
"Templeton and I were lounging by the clear limestone stream which crossed his park, and wound away round wooded hills toward the distant Severn. A lovelier fishingmorning, sportsmen never saw. A soft grey under- roof of cloud slid on before a soft West wind ; and here and there a stray gleam of sunlight shot into the vale across the purple mountain-tops, and awoke into busy life the denizens of the water, already quickened by the mysterious electric influences of the last night's thunder-shower. The long- winged cinnamon-flies spun and fluttered over the pools ; the sand-bees hummed merrily round their burrows in the marly bank ; and delicate iri- descent ephemerae rose by hundreds from the depths, and, dropping their shells, floated away, each a tiny Venus Anadyomene, down the glassy ripples of the reaches. Every moment a heavy splash beneath some overhanging tuft of milfoil or water-hemlock proclaimed the death-doom of a hapless beetle who had dropped into the stream beneath ; yet still we fished, and fished, and caught nothing, and seemed utterly careless about catching any- thing; till the old keeper who followed us, sighing and shrugging his shoulders, broke forth into open remonstrance-
" 'Excuse my liberty, gentlemen, but whatever is the matter with you and master, sir. I never did see you miss so many honest rises before.'
"' It is too true,' said Templeton to me with a laugh. ' I must confess I have been dreaming instead of fishing the whole morning. But what has happened to you, who are not as apt as I am to do nothing by trying to do two things at once ?'
"' My hand may well be somewhat unsteady; for, to tell the truth, I sat up all last night writing.'
A hopeful preparation for a day's fishing in limestone water! But whit can have set you on writing all night, after so busy and talkative an evening as the last, ending too, as it did, somewhere about half-past twelve ?
" Perhaps the said talkative evening itself : and I suspect, if you will confess the truth, you will say that your morning's meditations are running very much in the same channel.' "
The angel that had troubled, not the waters, but the souls of the fishermen, was an American Professor Windrush, (a sobriquet re- called from Alton Locke for an Emersonian doctor,) who had come from Manchester; " where, you know, all such prophets are wel- comed with open arms, their only credentials being, that, whatso- ever they believe, they shall not believe the Bible." (P. 4.) This professor, among other "magniloquent unwisdom," had maintained that if a man does but believe a thing, he has a right to speak it and act on it, right or wrong. The Italics are ours ; and the words seem to us to mark the exaggerating temper in which the,:-.00r Wdudisandana are made to talk, not only ' magniloquent unie., • dom," but nonsense, so palpably self-contradictory, that except a mere tongue-slip no sane man could so commit himself. Mr. Tem- pleton does not, however, in the course of the conversation, seem him- self in a very satisfactory state as regards his beliefs : indeed, he ra- ther reminds us of Mr. Britain, who held that there was nothing new, and nothing true, and it didn't matter. The state of mind is none the less common, and none the less mournful, for having a touch of the comic in it. In order to do his part towards setting his friend in the way of recovery, Mr. Kingsley throws by his fishing-rod, and while they are sitting by the stream waiting for luncheon, reads him the Platonic dialogue which follows, and which he had sat up all night composing, to the destruction of much tobacco and the salvation of many otherwise doomed trout.
At this point, then, we are transported to the Pnyx at Athens; time early dawn, before the people are assembled for discussion of public business. Phaethon narrates how he and Alcibiades found Socrates at this hour praying for the illumination of the people who were to discuss there the business of the state, that they might have light to see the truth. The two youths had been themselves arguing about truth and what it might be; and the conversation proceeds between the three, starting from a thesis of Protagoras, that truth was what each man troweth or believeth to be true. Alcibiades maintains this opinion stoutly for a time, with the philosophical rhetoric which Plato loves to put into the mouths of the Sophists ; but is brought up by a clever illustration —" lest, coming to a river over which it is subjectively true to us that there is a bridge, and trying to walk over that work of our own mind but no one's hands, the bridge prove to be objectively false, and we, walking over the bank into the water, be set free from that which is subjective on the further bank of Styx." (P. 26.) Alcibiades of course backs out of this scrape, by limiting his pro- position to things not cognizable by the senses,—as, for instance, religion ; on which error is, he says, both pardonable and harmless. The argument with which Socrates meets this position is admir- able, and as true now as at any other time, supposing (which is important as regards the modern application of this dialogue) any one maintained the position without qualifying it so as totally to alter its character and meaning.
"S. But tell me, Alcibiades, with what matters does religion deal?" "A. With the Gods."
"S. Then it is not hurtful to speak false things of the Gods ?"
"A. Not unless you know them to be false."
"S. But answer me this, Alcibiades. If you made a mistake concerning numbers, as that twice two made five, might it not be hurtful to you ?" "A. Certainly ; for I might pay away five obols instead of four." "S. And so be punished, not by any anger of two and two against you,
but by those very necessary laws of number which you had mistaken ?" "A. Yes."
"8. Or if you made a mistake concerning music, as that two consecutive notes could produce harmony, that opinion also, if you acted upon it, would be hurtful to you?"
Certainly; for I should make a discord, and pain my own ears and my hearers'."
"S. And, in this case also, be punished, not by any anger of the lyre against you, but by those very necessary laws of music which you had mistaken?"
"S. Or if you mistook concerning a brave man, believing him to be a coward, .might not this also be hurtful to you ? If, for instance, you at- tacked lum carelessly expecting him to run away, and he defended himself valiantly, and conquered you ; or if you neglected to call for his help in need, expecting him falsely, as in the former case, to run away ; would not such e mistake be hurtful to you, and punish you, not by any anger of the man against you, but by your mistake itself?"
" A. It is evident.'
"S. We may assume, then, that such mistakes at least are hurtful, and that they are liable to be punished by the very laws of that concerning which we mistake ?"
" A. We may so assume."
"S. Suppose, then, we were to say, What argument is this of yours,- Protagoras ?—that concerning lesser things, both intellectual and moral, such as concerning number, music, or the character of a man, mistakes are hurt- ful, and liable to bring punishment, in proportion to our need of using those things ; but concerning the Gods, the vary authors and lawgivers of num.: ber, music, human character, and all other things whatsoever, mistakes are of no consequence, nor in any way hurtful to man, who stands in need of their help, not only in stress of battle once or twice in his life, as he might of the brave man, but always and in all things, both outward and inward? Does it not seem strange to you, for it does to me, that to make mistakes concerning such beings should not bring an altogether infinite and daily pu- nishment, not by any resentment of theirs, but as in the case of music or numbers, by the very fact of our having mistaken the laws of their being, on which the whole universe depends P—What do you suppose Protagoras would be able to answer, if he faced the question boldly ?" "A. I cannot tell."
The next stage of the discussion leads to the conclusion that our mistakes concerning Zeus are certain to be mistakes of defect, so that we shall conceive of him as less just, wise, good, and beauti- ful, than he is ; and the possible harm that may arise to our prac- tical life from this misconception is pointed out. But here Aid- biades, completely beaten from his original standing—beaten far more easily than the historical Alcibiades would have been, if his- tory and tradition have not grossly over-estimated his cleverness— takes refuge in a vehement burst, closing with the assertion that he is not to be terrified into believing that it is not a noble thing to speak out whatsoever a man believes, and to go forward boldly in the spirit of truth. The argument, after a specimen of genuine Socratic chaff, settles down upon this unfortunate phrase, " the spirit of truth." We call it unfortunate, not because it is the trap in which Alcibiades is finally held by the leg and ignominiously limps from the field of battle, but because it sounds to us as no Greek phrase at all—as conceived in a thoroughly modern or at least Iudaieo-Christian spirit. Allowing, however, the anachron- ism to pass, the use made of it by Socrates is accurately Platonic. He first shows that " the spirit of truth," in the sophistical or Pro- tagorean sense, cares neither for the truth nor the right of what it bids men say and do—is neither an intellectual nor a moral spirit, but simply an appetite or tendency, desirable to be possessed of, but requiring the instruction of the intellect, and the guidance of the reason and conscience, before it can be valuable for man's life. Then, Alcibiades having been driven from the argument in some dudgeon, and Phaethon taking it up with more genuine feeling i and earnestness, Socrates shows that the phrase is notwithstand- ing a true expression of a fact, and stands there as a testimony to the very truth which the Sophists misuse it to deny and confute, —the existence, namely, of an absolute truth, attainable in reli- gious as in other matters by man, but truth residing in a person, and that person the absolute Zeus himself; so that it is not man who can possess the spirit of truth, but the spirit of truth who possesses man, and imparts to him of truth according to his good pleasure, or rather according to the temper of the recipient. A beautiful and thoughtful but perhaps too thoroughly Christian application of the Greek myth of Prometheus adds a familiar fea- ture of the Socratic teaching, as reported by Plato ; and the dia- logue is wound up by the following hint towards an Universalist theoly.
"P. Yet what are we to say of those who, sincerely loving and longing after knowledge, yet arrive at false conclusions, which are proved to be false by contradicting each other ? "
"S. We are to say, Phaethon, that they have not loved knowledge enough to desire utterly to see facts as they are, but only to see them as they would wish them to be ; and loving themselves rather than Zeus, have wished to remodel in some things or other his universe, according to their own sub- jective opinions. By this, or by some other act of self-will, or self-conceit, or self-dependence, they have compelled Zeus, not, as I think, without pity and kindness to them, to withdraw from them in some degree the sight of his own beauty. We must therefore, I fear, liken them to Acharis, the painter of Lemnos, who, intending to represent Phoebus, painted from a mir- ror a copy of his own defects and deformities ; or perhaps to that Nymph, who finding herself beloved by Phcobus, instead of reverently and silently re- turning the affection, boasted of it to all her neighbours as a token of her own beauty, and despised the god; so that he, being angry, changed her in- to a chattering magpie ; or again, to Arachne, who, having been taught the art of weaving by Athens, pretended to compete with her own instructress, and being metamorphosed by her into a spider, was condemned, like the So- phists, to spin out of her own entrails endless ugly webs, which are destroyed, as soon as finished, by every slave-girl's broom."
" P. But shall we despise and hate such, 0 Socrates ?"
" S. No, dearest boy, we will rather pity and instruct them lovingly ; re- membering always that we shall become such as they the moment we begin to fancy that truth is our own possession, and not the very beauty of Zeus Himself, which he shows to those whom He will, and in such measure as He finds them worthy to behold. But to me, considering how great must be the condescension of Zeus in unveiling to any man, even the worthiest, the least portion of his own loveliness, there has come at times a sort of dream, that the divine splendour will at last pierce through and illumine all dark souls, even in the house of Hades, showing them, as by a great sunrise, both what they themselves, and what all other things are, really and in the sight of Zeus ; which, if it happened even to Ixion, Ibelieve that his wheel would stop, and his fetters drop off of themselves, and that he would return freely to the upper air for as long as he himself might choose." - " Just then the people began to throng into the Pnyx ; and we took our places with the rest to hear the business of the day, after Socrates had pri- vately uttered this prayer—' 0 Zeu, give to me and to all who shall counsel here this day, that spirit of truth by which we may behold that whereof we deliberate, as it is in Thy eight "
An Epilogue follows ; in which Mr. Templeton discloses his unsatisfactory state of general incertitude more plainly, and traces it, with his friend's help, to his early " Evangelical " training. The polemic is, as usual in Mr. Kingsley, exaggerated and indis- tinct; but Templeton's description of his own mental condition is one which may be claimed by thousands at the present day, and is dramatically told.
" And so what ? ' asked I.
"Ant so, Ibelieve, I am growing to have no religion at all, and no sub- stitute for it either ; for I feel I have no ground or reason for admiring or working out any subject. I have tired of philosophy. Perhaps it's all wrong—at least I can't see what it he to do with God, and Christianity, and all which, if it is true, must be more important than anything else. I have tired of art for the same reason. How can I be anything but a wretched dilettante, when I have no principles to ground my criticism on beyond bosh about the Beautiful.' I did pluck up heart and read Mr. lluskua's books when they came out, because I heard he was a good Christian. But I fell upon a little tract of his, Notes on Sheepfolds' and gave him up again, when I found that he had a leaning to the Clapham sect. I have dropped politica ; for I have no reason, no ground, no principle in them, but expedi- ency. When they asked me this summer to represent the interests of the County in Parliament, I asked them how they came to make such a mistake as to fancy that I knew what was their interest, or any one else's ? I am becoming more and more of an animal—fragmentary, divided, seeing to the root of nothing, unable to unite things in my own mind. I just do the duty which lies nearest and looks simplest. I try to make the boys grow up plucky and knowing—though what's the use of it ? They will go to college with even less principles than I had, and will get into proportionably worse scrapes. I expect to be ruined by their debts before I die. And forthe rest, I read nothing but the Edinburgk' and the Agricultural Gazette.' My talk is of bullocks. I just know right from wrong enough to see that the farms are in good order, and pay my labourers living wages, keep the old people out of the workhouse, and see that my cottages and schools are all right.; for I suppose I was put here for some purpose of that kind—though
what it ia, I can't very clearly define And there's an end of my long
" Not quite an animal yet, it seems?' said I, with a smile, half to hide ray own sadness at a set of experiences which are, alas l already far too com- mon, end will soon be more common still.
" Nearer it than you fancy. I am getting fonder and fonder of a good din- :ter and a second bottle of claret : about their meaning there is no mistake. And my principal reason for taking the hounds two years ago, was, I da be- lieve, to have something to do in the winter which required no thought, and to have an excuse for falling asleep after dinner, insteadof arguing with Jane about her scurrilous religious newspapers. . . There is a great gulf open-
ing, I see, between me and her And as I can't bridge it over, I may as well forget it. Pah ! I am boring you, and over-talking myself. Have a cigar, and let us say no more about it. There is more here, old fellow, than you will cure by doses of Socratic dialectics" We have given to this little book a space very disproportionate to its size. But a sovereign has always been held, of more worth than two hundred pennies ; and the man who packs into a hundred ages suggestive matter that may come up at odd times into men's tights, and help them. to fight against feelings that are distress- ing them and impairing their activity, and who combines this ex- cellence of matter with the beauty of form which results from genius and cultivation, is not to be measured by quantity. We have, moreover, indicated what appears to us Mr. Kingsley 's faults and temptations in this class of writing, because we hope that he will cultivate a. form at once so attractive and useful ; and in so doing be led to cure himself, as well as his readers, of a vehemence in attacking intellectual opponents, and a tendency to caricature and misrepresent their opinions, which both mar the artistic per- fection of his works and hinder them from producing all the. good effects of which they are otherwise capable. Practically we should advise him to confine himself to the discussion of those opinions which do not excite his indignation • or if this is too close a limit, at least never to discuss an opinion unless he knows it, not merely from books, but as held by some living man with whom he has had in- tercourse. So he will avoid fighting a mere form-of words, which he translates into a living monster, a Frankenstein of his own ima- gination ; and will deal his real English blows at real human errors of intellect and heart, which he will both understand better, and more gently though not less firmly handle' when he sees them as parts of a man of like passions, sense, and affections with him- self, than when exhibited in the abstract, in the cold lifeless form of logical_ propositions.