24 APRIL 1880, Page 9


lecture of yesterday week, " is bracing, but not con- solatory; it leaves in the soul a void which is at the same time delicious and cruel, which one would not give in exchange for complete satisfaction." " This is, in truth, characteristic of Marcus Aurelius," said Matthew Arnold, in his essay on him, " that he is blameless, yet in a certain sense unfortunate ; in his character, beautiful as it is, there is something melancholy, circumscribed, and ineffectual." And in another passage the same writer declares, " I have said that religious emotion has the power to light up morality ; the emotion of Marcus Aurelius does not quite light up his morality, but it suffuses it ; it has not the power to melt the clouds of effort and austerity quite away, but it shines through them, and glorifies them ; it is a spirit not so much of gladness and elation, as of gentleness and sweetness ; a delicate and tender sentiment, which is less than joy, and more than resignation."

These two judgments, delivered by the greatest French and the greatest English admirer of Marcus Aurelius, come, we suppose, to much the same thing; both writers miss something in the great Emperor, and though M. Renan says that the void is at once " delicious and cruel," while Mr. Arnold finds it a void simply, and does not go into any ecstasy over it, we suppose that this is only M. Renan's way. M. Renan makes up, too, for his rapture over the missing somewhat, by bringing a rather severe charge against Marcus Aurelius of indulging in unreal conventionalities in his praise of other people. " He saw clearly men's baseness, but he did not own it to himself. The habit of blinding them- selves voluntarily is the defect of choice souls. The world being not all they could wish, they lie to their own hearts in order to see it otherwise than it is. Thence comes the slight conven- tionalism in their judgments. In the instance of Marcus Aurelius, this conventionalism now and then sets our teeth a little on edge." " It is certain that the good Emperor was capable of great illusions, when it was a question of lending another his own virtues." And, according to M. Renan, this was not only a fault in the judgments of Marcus Aurelius,— it was a defect in his practice. He associated a " worthless fribble " with him in the government of the Empire, whose character he resolutely persisted in treating as serious, and in order to restrain whom from committing " disastrous acts of folly," he was compelled to invent " prodigies of kindness and address." So, too, in associating the child Commodus with him in the purple, and presenting him to the Legions as perfect and accomplished, he committed himself to a course which, long before his death, he knew to be full of a very miserable kind of responsibility, and indeed handed over the Empire to a profligate and a buffoon. But, says M. Renan, after so often pronouncing him perfect and accomplished before the Legions, "to go the length of declaring him unworthy in the face of the world would have been a scandal." And so the long " dissimulation " of feigning others better than they were went on, and to the good Emperor there succeeded one of the worst of the whole line.

We mark these points, not for the sake of depreciating the most spiritual work and the most spiritual life which Stoicism ever produced, but because our modern panegyrists of Marcus Aurelius,

while candidly enough noting the deficiencies of their favourite writer, appear to conspire together to ignore, or even deny, the obvious cause to which that deficiency was due. M. Renan, after his peculiar fashion, declares the defect cruel, but "delicious." He would not supply it, if he could. Nay, in summing up his praise of the " Thoughts," he declares it the very crown and charm of the book that "it affirms no dogma," that it has no dogma to affirm. "Veritably an everlasting gospel, the book of the Thoughts ' of Marcus Aurelius will never grow old, for it affirms no dogma. The virtue of Marcus Aurelius, like our own, rests on reason, on nature. St. Louis was a very virtuous man because he was a Christian, Marcus Aurelius was the most pious of men, not because he was a Pagan, but because he was a perfected man. He was the honour of human kind, and not of any determinate religion. Science would come to destroy seemingly God and the immortal soul, which the book of the ' Thoughts ' would give us back still young in life andtruth. The religion of Marcus Aurelius is the absolute religion, that which results from the simple fact of a lofty moral con- science confronting the universe. It is of no race, of no country either. No revolution, no change, no discovery, can alter it." And M. Renan knows exactly what he means when he pro- nounces this panegyric. "In theology," he says, "Marcus Aurelius floats between pure Deism, polytheism interpreted physically in the Stoic manner, and a sort of cosmical pan- theism." "Marcus Aurelius had no speculative philosophy ; his theology was altogether made up of contradictions ; he had no formed idea about the soul and immortality." " Never did he care to put himself in harmony with himself as to God and the soul." And this is just what M. Renan regards as the ideal condition of the mind which is to give us an " absolute religion." M. Henan himself indulges, it is clear, some hope of personal immortality, some more or less of belief in a personal God; nevertheless, he says, " I want the future world to remain a riddle." Why does he indulge this singular desire ? Because, he says, " too precise belief as to the destiny of man would sweep away all moral merit." " It might be said without paradox that if these doubts were removed, the truths themselves which they attack would vanish by the same strokes of the pen. Let us suppose, in fact, future punishments and rewards to be proved directly, practi- cally, in a manner evident to all, where would be the merit of well-doing? None but madmen would light-heartedly hurry on to their damnation. A crowd of ignoble souls would win their salvation, with the cards on the table ; they would force, in a manner, the hand of the Deity. People do not see that in such

a system there is no longer any morality or religion. In the moral and religious order of things, it is indispensable to believe without demonstration. It is no longer a ques- tion of certainty, but of faith." If M. Renan could be offered a full proof of the reality of the eternal world, he would " refuse to go and see it." " What need have we of these brutish proofs, which have no application, save in the grosser order of facts, and which would cramp our free- dom ?" This, then, is why M. Renan thinks Marcus Aurelius, in his complete absence of any sort of theological conviction, the true exponent of the " absolute religion." If he had acted more on conviction, his actions would have been pre-engaged in the interest of his convictions, would have been less free, would have been more the expression of the logic of those convictions.

Mr. Arnold does not take the same delight in the void which he finds in Marcus Aurelius that M. Renan takes. He laments, in fact, that religious emotion does not " light up " the morality of the great Emperor, that it only "suffuses it," and leaves something " melancholy, circumscribed, and ineffec- tual" iu it. But he can get no further than the absence of the sufficient religious emotion. It never occurs to him to ask why the sufficient religious emotion was absent. As far as we can make out Mr. Arnold's teaching, the religious emotion ought, in his opinion, to come without the religion. It is the emotion with which morality is touched which constitutes religion. There is no special source of it, no revelation which inspires it, nothing, in fact, beyond it. If Marcus Aurelius had felt more emotion in relation to morality, the deficiency in him would have been supplied ; the morality would have been " lit up;" the Stoic would have been merged in the Christian,—the real and essential difference between them being, not that they had different objects of belief, but that they had been vouchsafed by that mysterious " stream of tendency, not ourselves, which

makes for righteousness," different and very unequal supplies of emotion in their treatment of moral questions. Hence, while M. Renan makes it a fault, almost a fatal flaw in Chris- tianity, that it believes in God and immortality too strongly to admit of the proper freedom in facing moral questions, and while he desires to see religion return, for its own sake, into the enigmatic phase in which it stood to Mama Aurelius, Mr. Arnold ignores the phase of intellectual conviction alto- gether, evidently regarding this as the mere spontaneous reflex upon the intellect of the flood of emotion with which, in the higher class of minds, the moral issues of life are regarded. He does not think the religion of Marcus Aurelius all the greater because Marcus Aurelius believed less, but he thinks that where his defect lay was, not in believing less, but in feeling less ; and that if he had felt more, though that might have resulted undoubtedly in his also believing more, yet it would not have been in any degree:because he believed more, but solely because he felt more, that he would have produced the higher effect upon the world.

Both these views of Marcus Aurelius seem to us alike false and misleading. We agree with M. Renan that the Emperor's thoughts are noble but "not consolatory," but we do not at all agree with him that the void in his teaching is " delicious." We agree with Mr. Arnold that, beautiful as his character was, there was something in it " melancholy, circumscribed, and ineffectual;" and we agree with him that this is partly due to an insufficiency of the emotion with which his morality is touched, but then we see to what that insufficiency of emotion is due,—namely, to the inadequacy of his vision of any object worthy of the fullest emotion, of the most perfect love. It is this which, instead of making his religion the " absolute religion," seems to us to leave it the very crudest form of religion on which any high type of character could feed. The great void in the " thoughts " of Marcus Aurelius is a very plain one. It is a vacuum just where a vacuum is to a strong nature most enfeebling,—a void where the active affections of his spiritual nature, his " ruling faculty," as he called it, needed something to anchor themselves upon. "In the same degree in which a man's mind is nearer to freedom from all passion," he says (xi., 18), in " the same degree also is it nearer to strength." It is clear from the con- text that the only " passion " Marcus Aurelius contemplated here, was a passion of discontent with something inferior ; that it hardly occurred to him as possible that the mind might be infinitely strengthened by a passion of love for something above it. In the next section but one he says, " When the ruling faculty is discontented with anything that happens, then, too, it deserts its post;" and hence his "conventionalism," as M. Renan very rightly calls it, in trying to reason himself into a very artificial content with all sorts of evil outside himself. Hence, too, such false sayings as these :—" Generally wickedness does no harm at all to the universe ; and particularly the wickedness of one man does no harm to another." (viii., 55.) The persistent attempt of the Stoic to calm his own mind into simple acquiescence in everything outside the province of his own free-will, was but an exact reflexion of the vacancy and blank in which his soul lived as to the will and love of God. He could see neither that the true strength of " the ruling faculty " was an intense love of God, nor consequently that evil, like good, propagates itself through the channels of the human affections, no less than through the deliberate acts of the will. The whole religion of Marcus Aurelius breaks down, from the same cause which paralyses all our modern Agnostics, that he virtually deemed God not so much unknowable as unlovable, and that therefore it never even occurred to him that a passionate indignation with evil, combined with the deepest pity for many of its victims, might sweep away much evil which the Stoic indifference could never even reach. Now, this overruling love for the supreme righteousness, and this chivalric indignation against human evil, cannot, of course, come of themselves,—cannot come from a God who is, like M. Renan's, not merely an enigma, but one who is bound to stay an enigma, lest he injure our free- dom,—cannot come from Mr. Arnold's "stream of tendency, not ourselves," which is hardly a hopeful object of passion or appeal. For love of God, there must be a revelation of God. Marcus Aurelius had not the latter, and as a consequence, he had not the former. his not the knowledge of rewards and punishments which can pervert to selfishness a mind to which the love of God is revealed. And certainly it is not the revelation of rewards and punishments which can enable "ignoble souls" to win their salvation by " the cards on the table," since the first requisite for salvation is to love God for himself, and not because he will punish the evil-doer. Again, for a sufficient supply of " emotion" with which to touch our morality, there must be some spring, some source of that emotion. Usually we find great emotions springing up only towards great personalities. They do not spring up in vacuo. They do not spring up even towards possible tendencies which are " unknown and unknowable." Marcus Aurelius respected his unknown divinity, but he did not love it. He thought the highest sign of respect was to keep his own " ruling faculty " calm and unimpassioned. Hence " the melancholy, circumscribed, and ineffectual " element in his great character. Hence, too, the "melancholy, circumscribed, ineffec- tual " element in the teaching of the great modern critic who has so well criticised Marcus Aurelius, and who is always trying to conjure a plentiful supply of emotion out of that empty abstrac- tion " a stream of tendency, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness."