3. Secular Knowledge not a direct Means of Moral Improvement

{269} THERE are two Schools of philosophy, in high esteem, at this day, as at other times, neither of them accepting Christian principles as the guide of life, yet both of them unhappily patronized by many whom it would be the worst and most cruel uncharitableness to suspect of unbelief. Mr. Bentham is the master of the one; and Sir Robert Peel is a disciple of the other.

Mr. Bentham's system has nothing ideal about it; he is a stern realist, and he limits his realism to things which he can see, hear, taste, touch, and handle. He does not acknowledge the existence of anything which he cannot ascertain for himself. Exist it may nevertheless, but till it makes itself felt, to him it exists not; till it comes down right before him, and he is very short-sighted, it is not recognized by him as having a co-existence with himself, any more than the Emperor of China is received into the European family of Kings. With him a being out of sight is a being simply out of mind; nay, he does not allow the traces or glimpses of facts to have any claim on his regard, but with him to have a little and not much, is to have nothing at all. With him to speak truth is to be ready with a definition, and to imagine, to guess, to doubt, or to falter, is much the same as to lie. What opinion will such an iron thinker entertain of Cicero's "glory," or Lord Brougham's "truth," or Sir {270} Robert's "scientific consolations," and all those other airy nothings which are my proper subject of remark, and which I have in view when, by way of contrast, I make mention of the philosophy of Bentham? And yet the doctrine of the three eminent orators, whom I have ventured to criticise, has in it much that is far nobler than Benthamism; their misfortune being, not that they look for an excellence above the beaten path of life, but that whereas Christianity has told us what that excellence is, Cicero lived before it was given to the world, and Lord Brougham and Sir Robert Peel prefer his involuntary error to their own inherited truth. Surely, there is something unearthly and superhuman in spite of Bentham; but it is not glory, or knowledge, or any abstract idea of virtue, but great and good tidings which need not here be particularly mentioned, and the pity is, that these Christian statesmen cannot be content with what is divine without as a supplement hankering after what was heathen.

Now, independent of all other considerations, the great difference, in a practical light, between the object of Christianity and of heathen belief, is this—that glory, science, knowledge, and whatever other fine names we use, never healed a wounded heart, nor changed a sinful one; but the Divine Word is with power. The ideas which Christianity brings before us are in themselves full of influence, and they are attended with a supernatural gift over and above themselves, in order to meet the special exigencies of our nature. Knowledge is not "power," nor is glory "the first and only fair;" but "Grace," or the "Word," by whichever name we call it, has been from the first a quickening, renovating, organizing principle. It has new created the individual, and transferred and knit him into a social body, composed of members {271} each similarly created. It has cleansed man of his moral diseases, raised him to hope and energy, given him to propagate a brotherhood among his fellows, and to found a family or rather a kingdom of saints all over the earth;—it introduced a new force into the world, and the impulse which it gave continues in its original vigour down to this day. Each one of us has lit his lamp from his neighbour, or received it from his fathers, and the lights thus transmitted are at this time as strong and as clear as if 1800 years had not passed since the kindling of the sacred flame. What has glory or knowledge been able to do like this? Can it raise the dead? can it create a polity? can it do more than testify man's need and typify God's remedy?

And yet, in spite of this, when we have an instrument given us, capable of changing the whole man, great orators and statesmen are busy, forsooth, with their heathen charms and nostrums, their sedatives, correctives, or restoratives; as preposterously as if we were to build our men-of-war, or conduct our iron-works, on the principles approved in Cicero's day. The utmost that Lord Brougham seems to propose to himself in the education of the mind, is to keep out bad thoughts by means of good—a great object, doubtless, but not so great in philosophical conception, as is the destruction of the bad in Christian fact. "If it can be a pleasure," he says, in his Discourse upon the Objects and Advantages of Science, "if it can be a pleasure to gratify curiosity, to know what we were ignorant of, to have our feelings of wonder called forth, how pure a delight of this very kind does natural science hold out to its students! How wonderful are the laws that regulate the motions of fluids! Is there anything in all the idle books of tales and horrors, more truly astonishing {272} than the fact, that a few pounds of water may, by mere pressure, without any machinery, by merely being placed in one particular way, produce very irresistible force? What can be more strange, than that an ounce weight should balance hundreds of pounds by the intervention of a few bars of thin iron? Can anything surprise us more than to find that the colour white is a mixture of all others? that water should be chiefly composed of an inflammable substance? Akin to this pleasure of contemplating new and extraordinary truths is the gratification of a more learned curiosity, by tracing resemblances and relations between things which to common apprehension seem widely different," etc., etc. And in the same way Sir Robert tells us even of a devout curiosity. In all cases curiosity is the means, diversion of mind the highest end; and though of course I will not assert that Lord Brougham, and certainly not that Sir Robert Peel, denies any higher kind of morality, yet when the former rises above Benthamism, in which he often indulges, into what may be called Broughamism proper, he commonly grasps at nothing more real and substantial than these Ciceronian ethics.

In morals, as in physics, the stream cannot rise higher than its source. Christianity raises men from earth, for it comes from heaven; but human morality creeps, struts, or frets upon the earth's level, without wings to rise. The Knowledge School does not contemplate raising man above himself; it merely aims at disposing of his existing powers and tastes, as is most convenient, or is practicable under circumstances. It finds him, like the victims of the French Tyrant, doubled up in a cage in which he can neither lie, stand, sit, nor kneel, and its highest desire is to find an attitude in which his unrest may be least. Or it finds him like some musical instrument, {273} of great power and compass, but imperfect; from its very structure some keys must ever be out of tune, and its object, when ambition is highest, is to throw the fault of its nature where least it will be observed. It leaves man where it found him—man, and not an Angel—a sinner, not a Saint; but it tries to make him look as much like what he is not as ever it can. The poor indulge in low pleasures; they use bad language, swear loudly and recklessly, laugh at coarse jests, and are rude and boorish. Sir Robert would open on them a wider range of thought and more intellectual objects, by teaching them science; but what warrant will he give us that, if his object could be achieved, what they would gain in decency they would not lose in natural humility and faith? If so, he has exchanged a gross fault for a more subtle one. "Temperance topics" stop drinking; let us suppose it; but will much be gained, if those who give up spirits take to opium? Naturam expellas furcā, tamen usque recurret, is at least a heathen truth, and universities and libraries which recur to heathenism may reclaim it from the heathen for their motto.

Nay, everywhere, so far as human nature remains hardly or partially Christianized, the heathen law remains in force; as is felt in a measure even in the most religious places and societies. Even there, where Christianity has power, the venom of the old Adam is not subdued. Those who have to do with our Colleges give us their experience, that in the case of the young committed to their care, external discipline may change the fashionable excess, but cannot allay the principle of sinning. Stop cigars, they will take to drinking parties; stop drinking, they gamble; stop gambling, and a worse license follows. You do not get rid of vice by human expedients; you can but use them according to circumstances, {274} and in their place, as making the best of a bad matter. You must go to a higher source for renovation of the heart and of the will. You do but play a sort of "hunt the slipper" with the fault of our nature, till you go to Christianity.

I say, you must use human methods in their place, and there they are useful; but they are worse than useless out of their place. I have no fanatical wish to deny to any whatever subject of thought or method of reason a place altogether, if it chooses to claim it, in the cultivation of the mind. Mr. Bentham may despise verse-making, or Mr. Dugald Stewart logic, but the great and true maxim is to sacrifice none—to combine, and therefore to adjust, all. All cannot be first, and therefore each has its place, and the problem is to find it. It is at least not a lighter mistake to make what is secondary first, than to leave it out altogether. Here then it is that the Knowledge Society, Gower Street College, Tamworth Reading-room, Lord Brougham and Sir Robert Peel, are all so deplorably mistaken. Christianity, and nothing short of it, must be made the element and principle of all education. Where it has been laid as the first stone, and acknowledged as the governing spirit, it will take up into itself, assimilate, and give a character to literature and science. Where Revealed Truth has given the aim and direction to Knowledge, Knowledge of all kinds will minister to Revealed Truth. The evidences of Religion, natural theology, metaphysics,—or, again, poetry, history, and the classics,—or physics and mathematics, may all be grafted into the mind of a Christian, and give and take by the grafting. But if in education we begin with nature before grace, with evidences before faith, with science before conscience, with poetry before practice, we shall be doing much the same as if we were to {275} indulge the appetites and passions, and turn a deaf ear to the reason. In each case we misplace what in its place is a divine gift. If we attempt to effect a moral improvement by means of poetry, we shall but mature into a mawkish, frivolous, and fastidious sentimentalism; —if by means of argument, into a dry, unamiable long-headedness;—if by good society, into a polished outside, with hollowness within, in which vice has lost its grossness, and perhaps increased its malignity;—if by experimental science, into an uppish, supercilious temper, much inclined to scepticism. But reverse the order of things: put Faith first and Knowledge second; let the University minister to the Church, and then classical poetry becomes the type of Gospel truth, and physical science a comment on Genesis or Job, and Aristotle changes into Butler, and Arcesilas into Berkeley [Note].

Far from recognizing this principle, the teachers of the Knowledge School would educate from Natural Theology up to Christianity, and would amend the heart through literature and philosophy. Lord Brougham, as if faith came from science, gives out that "henceforth nothing shall prevail over us to praise or to blame any one for" his belief, "which he can no more change than he can the hue of his skin, or the height of his stature." And Sir Robert, whose profession and life give the lie to his philosophy, founds a library into which "no works of controversial divinity shall enter," that is, no Christian doctrine at all; and he tells us that "an increased sagacity will make men not merely believe in the cold doctrines of Natural Religion, but that it will so prepare {276} and temper the spirit and understanding that they will be better qualified to comprehend the great scheme of human redemption." And again, Lord Brougham considers that "the pleasures of science tend not only to make our lives more agreeable, but better;" and Sir Robert responds, that "he entertains the hope that there will be the means afforded of useful occupation and rational recreation; that men will prefer the pleasures of knowledge above the indulgence of sensual appetite, and that there is a prospect of contributing to the intellectual and moral improvement of the neighbourhood."

Can the nineteenth century produce no more robust and creative philosophy than this?

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[On the supremacy of each science in its own field of thought, and the encroachments upon it of other sciences, vide the author's "University Teaching," Disc. 3, and "University Subjects," No. 7 and 10.]
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