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Ten years ago I warned Mr. Herbert Spencer that his Religion of the Unknowable was certain to lead him into strange company. To invoke the Unknowable,' I said, is to re-open the whole range of Metaphysics; and the entire apparatus of Theology will follow through the breach. I quoted Mr. G. Lewes's admirable remark, that the foundations of a Creed can rest only on the Known and the Knowable.' We see the result. Mr. Spencer has developed his Unknowable into an · Infinite and Eternal Energy, by which all things are created and sustained.' He has discovered it to be the Ultimate Cause, the AllBeing, the Creative Power, and all the other alternative impossibilities of thought' which he once cast in the teeth of the older theologies. Naturally there is joy over one philosopher that repenteth. The Christian World claims this as equivalent to the assertion that God is the mind and spirit of the universe; and the Christian World says these words might have been used by Butler or Paley. This is, indeed, very true; but it is strange to find the philosophy of one who makes it a point of conscience not to enter a church described as the fitting and natural introduction to inspiration !

The admirers of Mr. Spencer's genius—and I count myself amongst the earliest—will not regret that he has been induced to lay aside his vast task of philosophic synthesis, in order more fully to explain his views about Religion. This is, indeed, for the thoughtful, as well as the practical, world the great question of our age, and the discussion that was started by his paper and by mine has opened

· Problems of Life and Mind, vol. i. Preface.
? The Christian World, June 5 and July 3, 1884.
: H. Spencer, in Nineteenth Century, January and July, 1884.

• F. Harrison, in Nineteenth Century, March 1884.
VOL. XVI.No. 91.


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many topics of general interest. Mr. Spencer has been led to give to some of his views a certainly new development, and he has treated of matters which he had not previously touched. Various crities have joined the debate. Sir James Stephen 5 has brought into play his Nasmyth hammer of Common Sense, and has asked the bold and truly characteristic question : Can we not do just as well without any religion at all?' The weekly Reviews, I am told, have been poking at us their somewhat hebdomadal fun. And then Mr. Wilfrid Ward,

the rising hope of the stern and unbending' Papists, steps in to remind us of the ancient maxim-extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.

I cannot altogether agree with a friend who tells me that controversy is pure evil. It is not so when it leads to a closer sifting of important doctrines ; when it is inspired with friendly feeling, and has no other object than to arrive at the truth. There were no mere

compliments’ in my expressions of respect for Mr. Spencer and his work. I habitually speak of him as the only living Englishman who can fairly lay claim to the name of philosopher; nay, he is, I believe, the only man in Europe now living who has constructed a real system of philosophy. Very much in that philosophy I willingly adopt ; as a philosophical theory I accept his idea of the Unknowable. My rejection of it as the basis of Religion is no new thing. The substance of my essay on the “Ghost of Religion’ I have long ago taught at Newton Hall. The difference between Mr. Spencer and myself as to what religion means is vital and profound. So deep is it that it justifies me in returning to these questions, and still further disturbing his philosophic labour. But our long friendship I trust will survive the inevitable dispute.

It will clear up much at issue between us if it be remembered that to me this question is one primarily of religion; to Mr. Spencer, one primarily of philosophy. He is dealing with transcendental conceptions, intelligible only to certain trained metaphysicians : I have been dealing with religion as it affects the lives of men and women in the world. Hence, if I admit with him that philosophy points to an unknowable and inconceivable Reality behind phenomena, I insist that, to ordinary men and women, an unknowable and inconceivable Reality is practically an Unreality. The Everlasting Yes which the Evolutionist metaphysician is conscious of, but cannot conceive, is in effect on the public a mere Everlasting No; and a religion which begins and ends with the mystery of the Unknowable is not religion at all, but a mere logician's formula. This is how it comes about that Mr. Spencer complains that I have misunderstood him or have not read his books, that I fail to represent him, or even misrepresent him. I cannot admit that I have either misunderstood him or misrepresented him on any single point. I have studied his

5 Sir J. Stephen, in Nineteenth Century, June 1884.
6 W. Ward, in National Review, June 1884.


books part by part and chapter by chapter, and have examined the authorities on which he relies.

He seems to think that all hesitation to accept his views will disappear if men will only turn to his First Principles, his Principles of Sociology and his Descriptive Sociology, where he has proved' this and disproved' that, and arrayed the arguments and the evidence for every doctrine in turn. Now, for my part, I have studied all this, to my great pleasure and profit, since the first number of A Synthetic Philosophy appeared. Mr. Spencer objects to discipleship, or I would say that I am in very many things one of his disciples myself. But in this matter of religion I hold still, as I have held from the first, that Mr. Spencer is mistaken as to the history, the nature, and the function of religion. It is quite true that he and I are at opposite poles in what relates to the work of religion on man and on life. In all he has written, he treats religion as mainly a thing of the mind, and concerned essentially with mystery. I say, and here I am on my own ground--that religion is mainly a thing of feeling and of conduct, and is concerned essentially with duty. I agree that religion has also an intellectual base; but here I insist that this intellectual basis must rest on something that can be known and conceived and at least partly understood; and that it cannot be found at all in what is unknowable, inconceivable, and in no way whatever to be understood.

Now, in maintaining this, I have with me almost the whole of the competent minds which have dealt with this question. Mr. Spencer puts it rather as if it were merely fanaticism on my part which prevents me from accepting his theory of Religion; as if Sir James Stephen's difficulties would disappear if he could be induced to read the Principles of Sociology and the rest. Mr. Spencer must remember that in his Religion of the Unknowable he stands almost alone. He is, in fact, insisting to mankind, in a matter where all men have some opinion, on one of the most gigantic paradoxes in the history of thought. I know myself of no single thinker in Europe who has come forward to support this religion of an Unknowable Cause, which cannot be presented in terms of consciousness, to which the words emotion, will, intelligence cannot be applied with any meaning, and yet which stands in the place of a supposed anthropomorphic Creator. Mr. George H. Lewes, who of all modern philosophers was the closest to Mr. Spencer, and of recent English philosophers the most nearly his equal, wrote ten years ago :• Deeply as we may feel the mystery of the universe and the limitations of our faculties, the foundations of a creed can only rest on the Known and the Knowable. With that I believe every school of thought but a few dreamy mystics have agreed. Every religious teacher, movement, or body, has equally started from that. For myself, I feel that I stand alongside of the religious spirits of every

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