6 MARCH 1869, Page 17


SIR J. T. COLERIDGE'S MEMOIR OF KEBLE.* rum is a fascinating book, because it is a book written from the heart, and concerning one whose great qualities,---and they were very great, —were in the main qualities of the heart. We say this without forgetting Keble's claims as a poet,—indeed, with special reference to them. No doubt the poetic eye, the love and grasp of beauty in detail, is not precisely, certainly not exclusively a characteristic of the affections. But the charm and inspiration of all Keble's poetry is unquestionably a sort of intensely loving, intensely refined, and decidedly despondent religious domesticiry,— the farthest removed in the world from that truly Roman spirit of Catholicism with which his high sacerdotal and eucharistic views were generally supposed to bring him into close sympathy. We can imagine almost anything more possible, after reading this remarkable memoir, than that Keble could have followed his friend Newman into the fold of the great inedimval Church. Even his imagination was never caught by the grandeur, or power, or the political and social triumphs of the Roman Church. The sentence of St. Augustine, which made such an impression on Dr. Newman's imagination, and rang a peal in it, to use his own illustration, like the celebrated "Turn again, W hittington,"—secarms judicat orbis terrarum,—would never have made the faintest impression on Keble. His imagination was one which pursued the track of " the particular affections," as Butler calls them, and which was attracted to the high Anglican system partly for its temperate spiritual beauty, and quiet, home-like humility of sentiment, partly for its tender conservatism ;—for conservative it was in the minds of very many of the true Anglicans. Dr. Newman has told us that Dr. Pusey very early vaunted the "stationariness" of the Anglican appeal to antiquity and the Primitive Church, and did so in perfect good faith. Keble seems throughout life not only to have felt no necessity for "developing" the doctrines which Protestants held Roman izing in his faith, but to have adopted them rather from love of the subduing and majestic features of the past, than from any sense that they contained the germs of a great power in the future. The theory to which he clung throughout life with a certain pathetic resignation was very characteristic of him. It was, that the Church is, and has long been, " in a state of decay." lie not only had no objection to be a priest in such a Church, and could see nothing iu it at all inconsistent with his profound faith in its Divine Founder, but the dejected, humble, and obedient attitude of mind becoming a priest in such a Church rather strikingly suited him,—fitted closely, at all events, the musing and melancholy receptiveness of his nature. In the most lovely of all his poems he declared that he hail learnt from the "sweet messenger of calm decay," " rather in all to be resigned than blest ;" and that most sweet and characteristic line seems stamped, not only on every page of this volume, but on almost all his ecclesiastical and theological writings as well. For instance, in an essay on the relations between Church and State, which Keble published in the British Critic, in October, 1839, and which Mr. Liddell has just republished,f Mr. Keble asserts that the uniform failure of the Church Conservatives, combined with the almost equally uuiforui and still more unexpected impediments and hindrances put in the way of the Church Liberals when they were contemplating any peculiarly heinous offence, produce an impression of the Anglican Church " analogous to that which has been stated to result from a certain cast of features, majestic yet melancholy, such as those of King Charles I. ; they lead, as we contemplate them, in spite of ourselves, to anticipations of violence borne with composure; they seem to bid us hope that our Lord will still have a Church here, yet to warn us that its existence must be purchased by no slight privation and suffering." That is the view of the Church which Keble has embodied in the poetry of the Christian Year, and which expresses the very essence of his long correspondence with his friend Sir J. T. Coleridge,—an intensely conservative view, a dignified indeed but dejected view, a thoroughly resigned view, a profoundly calm view, and let us add a view keeuly alive to the beauty of patient and humble melancholy. If there is a single stanza in the whole Christian Year which concentrates in it the fullness of Keble's poetic nature, it is the following stanza in the exquisite poem for the Wednesday before Easter :—

" Lord my God, do thou Thy holy Will ; I will lie still—

I will not stir, lest I forsake thine arm, And break the charm Which lulls mo, clinging to my Father's breast

In perfect rest."

And the poem ends as it began, with perhaps a still more perfect reflection of Keble's nature :— " 0 Father! not my will, but thine be done!

So spice the Son.

Bo this our charm mellowing Earth's ruder noise Of griefs and joys : That wo may cling for ever to thy breast

In perfect rest."

To our mind Sir J. T. Coleridge's memoir is a mere expansion of this inner heart of Keble's nature into the prose detail and circumstance of daily life. Thus when he concludes his treatise on the worship of Christ in the Eucharist in the following words, quoted by his biographer (p. 427), it will he seen that his mind is dominated by the very Sallie conception of religion which we have just adduced from his essay on Church and State, and which runs through every page of the Christina Year. " Many a devout and loving heart, I well know, will rise up against this view of our case. To be on this conditional footing will strike them ass something so unsatisfactory, so miserably poor and meagre, so unlike the glorious vision which they have been used to gaze on, of the one Catholic Apostolic Church. And poor indeed and disappointing it undoubtedly is, but not otherwise gam as the aspect of chez,

tianity itself in the world is poor and disappointing compared with what we read of it in the Gospel. Men will not escape from this state of decay by going elsewhere, though they may shut their eyes to the reality of it. Rather, whatever be our position in the Church, since God Almighty has assigned it to us for our trial,. shall we not accept it, and make the beat of it, in humble confidence that, according to our faith, it will be to us?'

Such is Keble's tone for his Church, and such also is his tone for himself. Even in the earliest of his letters here published, written at the age of twenty-two, the tone is always alike, whether most cheerful or most suffering, rather patient than anything else. The happiness of his letters never rises above a gentle smile ; their pain never rises above a soft but serene melancholy. His whole correspondence and his whole poetry are steeped in " a light nor dark nor clear," to use his own phrase ; the light never stronger than what he calls " the softest moonlight of the soul," the shadow never deeper than " the gathering twilight" in which he wraps the true " watchman" of the Church. In his letter to Sir J. T. Coleridge on his first family trouble, the death of his sister Sarah, when he was twenty-two years of age, he says very characteristically, " Not that I have been so much overwhelmed by what I have lately seen and heard, as to be unable to write or to enter into common subjects. Indeed, when I look back, I wonder at my own hard-heartedness. I do not believe there has been one day since my dear sister was given over, that I have not been able to go on with my reading as usual. Yet I do not think it is insensi bility " The farthest possible from that. Tenderness breathes through every page of his letters. No sensibility could be finer than Keble's, but there was nothing passionate about him, and the line, " rather in all to be resigned than blest," expressed as much the inclination of a constitutional temperament, as the ideal of a spiritual desire.

One thing that strikes us perhaps more in this memoir than anything else, is the total and entire absence of any touch , however sli gli t, of the ordinary vanity of the poet. Most poets are constitutionally vain by the very necessity of their natures. Without the desire for appreciation and sympathy, not to say praise, the poet would scarcely have enough impulse to utter his thoughts in poetry ; and consequently we rarely meet with any man of the true artistic temperament, whether poetry or any other of the fine arts be his special piovinee, without some more or less simple kind of vanity, some betrayal, at all events, of a chronic consciousness of being an object of interest to others and of taking some delight in that interest. But Keble seems to us utterly without any share of this quality, though we are not sure that he was quite without it as regards what we may call his moral saintliness. We say we are not sure, because on that subject he was a shade morbid, though he showed it in the usual fashion of intense and excessive self-depreciation. But on his merits as a poet he never seems to have cast a thought. His only self-consciousness as regarded the Christian Year was in rela tion to the saintly ideal it contained, which, as he held it to be far above his own practice, caused him many pangs of disgust, as though he had been a sort of hypocrite to write it. He says in one place in the memoir, and in one place in the Christian Year, that he was keenly sensible to the enjoyment of tender moral flattery, for which, however, he evidently hated himself. The two passages show so naturally and unconsciously the identity of the man and the poet, that it will be worth while to place them side by side. Most of our readers probably recollect the second stanza in the poem for the Wednesday before Easter :—

"Wild Fancy, peace ! Thou must not me beguile With thy false smile ; I know thy flatteries, and thy cheating ways, Be silent, Praise, Blind guide with siren voice, and blinding all That hear thy call !"

Compare this with Keble's reply to Sir J. T. Coleridge's letter of sympathy on his mother's death (a letter which seems to have contained kind expressions as to the tenderness and goodness of Keble as a son). He calls his friend's letter, "Kind in all respects, except some partial expressions which I would beg of you as a kindness to forbear ; they please me so well at first, that I am quite sure they are best not thrown in my way.; and when I come to look at them or think of them afterwards, they seem, as it were, to spoil the rest of the letter ; if you please, therefore, do not send me any more of them." And he repeated the same thing almost in the same words to his friend Dyson at the same time. There is not a single expression of pleasure throughout the memoir at the popularity of the Christian Year. On the contrary, there is the

frequent expression of a sort of disgust for it, as for a book which painted a very much holier mind than that of the author really was. Sir J. T. Coleridge thinks that Keble scarcely ever read

it, and certainly avoided as much as possible all reference to it. In

writing to his friend of the Christian Year at the time he was about to publish the Lyra Innocentium, Keble says, in a very unusual passion of self-disgust, " May it please God to preserve me from

writing as unreally and deceitfully as I did then ! and if I could tell you the whole of my shameful history, you would join with all your heart in this prayer." His biographer ascribes this, with evident truth, to that saintly exaggeration of self-dissatisfaction " which is the natural growth of remarkable purity of heart and

the most unusual humility." But it is remarkable that while this excessive and only half-natural humility grew out of the poet's severe moral estimate of himself, his intellectual estimate of himself was so naturally humble that he never apparently needed to attack himself about it. Nothing can be more simply indifferent than his mode of writing about his religious poems, of which he very seldom writes at all, and never with any anxiety to hear others write back of them. He seems to us well nigh the only poet of whom we ever heard or read who had not a trace of the consciousness of deserving intellectual admiration, nor a trace of the craving for it.

Next to the sweetness and tenderness of the man, and his excessive moral and singular intellectual humility, the chief point which strikes us in the memoir is the very narrow range of his interests, both intellectual and moral. As a politician his timid conservatism is almost ludicrous. No reform is ever suggested on University matters, for instance, or on Church matters either, which does not strike him with dread, — except, indeed, Mr. Gladstone's suggested disestablishment of the Irish Church, on which, owing partly to his dislike of the Erastian principle, partly to a true feeling of equity towards the people of Ireland, he seems to have looked with approval. The very simple measure for simplifying the oaths and declarations of the clergy which was recommended by a Comtnission, and passed by Parliament a few years ago, filled him with melancholy forebodings. The Oxford Reform Act of 1854 filled him with forebodings. Every decision of the Privy Council on theological questions filled him with forebodings. The Divorce Act of 1857 filled him with horror. This correspondence is one long melancholy twitter on all questions of this kind,—and, then, his sympathies pass so little beyond questions of this kind, if we may judge by this memoir. Perhaps it was natural that in the very close of life he should shrink from reading Mr. Robertson's biography, or Ecce Homo. They were books with which he was certain not to agree, and at his age and in his health one does not wonder that he disliked the mere jar that a fair consideration of them would give to his nerves. Still, we doubt if any memoir of any equally able man ever could give the conception of a more contracted range of interests. There is no trace of the Reform Bill, no trace of the Corn Laws, no trace of interest in the Crimean war and its political issues, no trace of interest in the great events going on in France in 1832, or 1848, or 1852, or in Italy in 1860, or in Ireland in 1847, in the whole memoir. On the Poor Law, indeed, he wrote with knowledge, acumen, and apparently wisdom, for it affected the actual condition of his parish. But beyond this there is no instance in the memoir of any political interest not included in ecclesiastical and University legislation. More than this, there is no trace of any living interest in the development of English literature. There is not a criticism or allusion to Tennyson, or Browning, or Macaulay, or Froude, much less, of course, Dickens or Thackeray. There is not, moreover, a metaphysical speculation, or a philosophical criticism, or a psychological note, in the whole volume. Religion, ecclesiastical polity, University administration, and the poetical criticism of natural scenery, apparently absorbed the whole man.

And naturally enough a nature so limited, in spite of its wonderful purity and sincerity, became not only at times shockingly bigoted, but on points excessively finikin. Can anything be more ludicrously petty than the advice which his biographer prints on pp. 357-8? It appears that some clergyman in the Judge's parish, " a pious and amiable man," with whom Sir J. T. Coleridge had lived " in a good deal of social intimacy," had gone over to Rome. For some reason or other,—we do not know what,—this secession created a difficulty in the Judge's mind as to the amount of intimacy to be kept up. Keble advised him, in reply, to keep up as much intercourse as he could, "in the way of morning visits with the rest of the family," but " not to have him to dine." " should consider it scandalous, in respect of the servants, to say no other; they know that he is a clergyman who has renounced his orders ; and it cannot be but certain thoughts must enter into their minds, if they think of such things at all." To such wonderful pettiness could Keble descend ! Probably we scarcely apprehend what he alludes to. Even if it were so terrible to suggest to a footman that Anglican orders might not be indelible, why such an idea should be borne in upon him more strongly on seeing the ex-clergyman eat, than on any other occasion, does not seem clear.

The Dean of Westminster has shown ns in his fine tribute to Keble in this month's Macmillan's Magazine, that Keble's poetry often betrayed him into a larger and truer theology than his own. That is perfectly true, but it is equally true that the habitually low flight of his intellectual sympathies often injured his poetry. The poet who in treating of the Eucharist could be generous and bold because he was announcing a faith, in treating of eternal torments became narrow because ho felt it his duty to define a creed. He defended,

" 0 come to our Communion Feast, There present in the heart,

Not in the hands, the eternal priest Will His true self impart,"

in spite of his belief that He was present in the hands as well, on the same principle on which our Lord said that the time cometh when neither on this mountain nor at Jerusalem ye shall worship the Father," when he meant that God should be there and every

where else too, or on which St. Paul said that the Creator of heaven and earth " dwelleth not in temples made with hands,"—meaning not there more than elsewhere. And this logic was generous. But what logic could be narrower than the dilemma of the poem for the Second Sunday in Lent, that if the eternal Word is true in promising joy to the good, it must be equally true in promising woe to the wicked,—which, of course, is so,—and, therefore,—

. . . . "If the treasures of Thy wrath could waste, Thy lovers must their promised heaven forego."

Could anything be more prosaic than the logical form of the dilemma? or, as a consequence, more morally false? The Catechism was apt to get into Keble's poetry and spoil it, just as his poetry was apt to break through the Catechism and spiritualize it.

But we cannot close with any carping sentence. Sir J. T. Coleridge has portrayed here a rare mind,—narrow, indeed, in its sympathies and interests, but of wonderful beauty, of a domes tic tenderness passing the love of women, of purity that is incapable of a blot, of a sweet self-forgetfulness, humility, and resignation almost unparalleled in the history of poets, of a love for

Christ and God that was as intense as it was shy, reserved, and refined, and of a benevolence which in its own parochial field was without limit. Sir J. T. Coleridge says that Keble and his wife regarded themselves simply as the servants of the parish of Hursley, and acted through life as if they were so. liable went there not " to be ministered unto, but to minister ;" and in the most trying of all senses, to a scholar and a poet, laid town his life for his people. We may fairly say of him that a man in many respects so near Christ was never before so churchy as Keble : that

one so churchy,—in a sense in which we feel instinctively that our Lord and St. Paul and St. John could not have been churchy,—was never before so near the saintly love of the divine world.