7 OCTOBER 1882, Page 9


ENGLISHMEN will not, we fear, be greatly impressed by Mr. Matthew Arnold's new definition of their greatest want. When he originally told a half-amused, half-awestruck population that the Middle-class, of which they were so proud, was wholly deficient in "sweetness and light," and, in conse- quence, collectively made up nothing better than an enlarged Islington, there was, amid all the raspy criticisms, a visible response. The sentence was almost Papal in its pomp, the pre- tensions of the high-sniffing, new aristocracy, the aristocracy of Culture, were all embodied in the words; and universal Islington resented, in its half-articulate way, the trenchant satire upon its smug ideal, Comfort in this world and the next. Still, there

was response. Whatever its impelling motive, whether Vol- ta.iroau scorn or pitying kindness, truer sentence was never uttered; and while the words passed into the language, the habit of extolling the Middle-class as the source of all intelligence and civilisation, and the fly-wheel of the State machine, percep- tibly declined. We do not know that the citizens grew sweeter or more earnestly sought the light, but at least they recognised that in their much lauded lives sweetness and light were scant. The Ten-pounder doubted for a moment if he were the noblest work of God. They remembered, too, the speaker, and scores of thousands are to this day aware of Matthew Arnold, not as the poet who wrote " Obermanu," and sang of England the " weary Titan," but as the prophet of culture, who had told them to take • moreof sweetness and light into their dingy minds. Such a suc- cess most naturally tempts the man who has achieved it to try a second blow, to give forth another word which sh;iuld have the .power of a lightning-flash, to light up, if it could not dry, the morass ; but this time the blow has failed, the flash reveals nothing but itself. The word has been bright enough to be visible, for even while the speech was being delivered, the audience fastened on it, and Lord Derby took it up, and " lacidity " became to all Liverpool the key-note of the discourse. But there its influence stopped, " Lucidity " will not be accepted as the word embodying the mental defect of the English people. In the first place, the utterance is not new, for the want of " lucidity," as explained by Mr. Matthew Arnold himself, is nothing in the world but want of logic; and the English people are not only well aware that they are not logical, but are rather proud:of the deficiency. And in the second place, the utterance is'not true, or at least not so certainly true as to live, for there is' a, large probability that the defect is not a defect at all, but a quality tending, on the whole, to produce something of sweet- ness and light.

Lord Derby struck the weak place at once. Mr. Arnold had said that "the great want of the French was morality,"— which is true, if by morality is meant, not the perception of right, but the subordination of all things to the sense of right s that " the great want of the Germans was civil courage,"—. which is true, but rather accidentally than inherently true, Germans in America displaying the quality in noticeable strength ; and that " the groat want of the English was lucidity," which he defined as " the perception of the want of truth and validness in notions long current, the perception that they are- no longer possible, that their time is finished, and they can serve us no more." "Practical considerations," he said, " swayed the English ; the danger signal went up ; they often stopped short, turned their eyes another way, or drew down a curtain between their eyes and the light." He gave the success of Puseyism and of the Salvation Army as illustrations, but we will venture to suggest a less controversial and still more exact one. A large number of cultivated English- men, probably a great majority, have ceased to believe that Sabbath observance is matter of divine law. That "long- current notion" is "for them no longer possible ; its time is finished, it can serve no more." Nevertheless, they go on, observing, and even thinking, as if Sabbatarianism were still-for them a conceivable law. That arises, says Mr. Matthew Arnold,. from their want of "lucidity." Perhaps not, remarks Lord, Derby ; the " defect" may not arise from want of lucidity, but from mental modesty, or even a secret scepticism of the accuracy of the conclusion at which, nevertheless, they have arrived. That is, in many cases, no doubt, the true explanation, a secret scepticism as to scepticism', a secret doubt about negations being one of the marks of the Englishman, who in his thinking, as in his action, strives hard to keep cool, and often succeeds. As Mr. Morley has hinted this week, in his. farewell to the readers of the Fortnightly, a good many dis- believers are not quite sure that their faith can never be set up again by very feeble touches. There are heretics, incredible as it may seem, to whom Mr. Mallock has seemed a lnalleas hereticomcm. But Lord Derby's explanation does not cover the whole ground. A good many men are as sure that Sabbatarianism is baseless as that they have minds, and still neither act nor even continuously think from that postulate; show, in fact, what Mr. Arnold calls complete want of lucidity. They do not play whist on Sunday, when they want to play whist. The explanation is not, we think, doubt, so much as an intense, almost instinctive, perception, springing from deep places in the national character, of the uses of truth

as material. Mr. Matthew Arnold's idea is that truth, being recognised, must be used ; the Englishman's idea is to'recognise, but not use till use is required. " There is the stone," says Mr. Arnold, " and the river ; build a bridge." " Nay," says the average Englishman, " the stone is there and the river is there, I admit both facts as certain ; but is the bridge wanted P If it is, heave away ; if not, why waste strength ?" If, to take once more our chosen illustration, the bel f in Sabbatarianism causes oppression, or suffering, or moral deterioration, strike out at it ; but if not, why not act, and even think, as if Sunday observances were an inevitable part of life P Why wake a needless war, not for the sake of truth, for that may be frankly admitted, but for the sake of some doubtful, or unimportant, or even possibly hurtful result of truth. The stone will not melt, because it lies there unhidden till the structure which could be built with it is re. quired. There is no want of lucidity as regards the stone, but a presence of lucidity as regards the relation between effort and its object.

We admit, of course, the dangers of this mental attitude. The man who professes to wait, may be waiting, not because he sees no need of exertion, but because he hates exertion, or is afraid of its consequences. The Englishman's temptation in thought is hypocrisy, or wilful mental blindness, just as his temptation in action is to confuse the interest of the world with his own interest; but then, also, we see the benefits. The Englishman, in the first place, tests everything by result ; and result, though no Ithuriel's spear, but only a very earthy touch- stone, still is one sort of test, and greatly helps on thought. It is not an answer to those who say that celibacy is good for man, to reply that mankind would perish of the doctrine, for why should mankind not perish, if God commands P but the certainty of that immense result is a reason for reconsidering very care- fully the original proposition. Every man must test his thought, even if the thought be a new geometrical axiom ; and the Englishman uses all the tests, and one more,—result. The consequence is, that an Englishman rarely makes the French mistake of using an idea recklessly, pushing it to conclu- sions it will not support, or erecting on it systems too heavy for it to boar. He avoids a certain chance of catastrophes arising from his thinking, and that prudence, though liable to become base, like all prudence, is in itself not a defect, but a good quality. It impels him to act with ideas as he does with rights. A Frenchman with a right frets until he has used it to the full ; an Englishman constantly feels that a pushed right may become an oppression. Does his abstinence, in Mr. Arnold's opinion, destroy the right, or convict him of want of lucidity as to the existence of the right and its mean- ing? In the second place, the Englishman, by his non- lucid method of thought avoids causing those deep cleav- ages in the structure of society which embarrass all Conti- nental States, and which are due mainly to "lucidity." If the shopkeeper, because he disbelieves in the Sabbath as a divine law, therefore thinks himself bound to keep his shop open on Sun- day—which is Mr. Arnold's theory, and the Belgian shop- keeper's theory, of his duty as a lucid person—he at once declares war on all shopkeepers who thiuk differently, and there is violent hatred about Sabbatarianism. Where is the good to mankind in that? The shopkeeper is bound not to lie about his reason for closing, but he is not bound not to close. Let every man who believes negations write like Voltaire, as Mr. Arnold would have him, and publicly preach his view " lucidly," and English society would be cleft, as by an earthquake, into two parties, which before long would either cease to understand one another, or would be at one another's throats. The French lucidity makes combination between a sceptic and a believer, impossible,—a mingling of good with evil, to the tainting of good; but in England, the two can help to set up road- side fountains, because the English hesitation in thought enables both to avoid the action which should logically spring from their opinions. And finally, the Englishman's want of lucidity immensely diminishes intellectual fear, and widens, not, indeed, the range, but the area of intellectual activity. He can examine a subject upon which his conviction should logically produce certain consequences, without being frightened by dread of those consequences. "If you read Colenso," says the British Evangelical spinster—who is the most lucid of mankind, on Mr. Arnold's theory—" you will become an atheist." " Not a bit," replies the Etonian ; " I shall stop at the pigeons." And he does stop, and has gained

this,—that he has examined the matter of the pigeons, and found that, as regards that verse, verbal inspiration is impossible. Mr. Arnold says he is a Briton, that is an idiot, for not going further ; but without his certainty that he could stop, he would not have gone even that far. That is, surely, a gain, as far as the number of inquirers is concerned. If lucidity were imperative, if the inquirer convinced by Pusey Must go to Rome, and the questioner answered by Huxley must turn materialist, inquirers on either side may go very far, as far as Frenchmen, instead of Englishmen, but at least they will be very few. The Englishman's idea that he need never go through the forest into which he enters may not be lucid, but at least it tempts many into the forest who, but for that idea, would never have entered. Aud though those who enter so may never know well the forest geography, they will know much more than they did about the trees.