Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Critical Introduction by J. H. Millar
Henry Longueville Mansel (18201871)
[Henry Longueville Mansel was born in 1820. He was educated at Merchant Taylors School and at St. Johns College, Oxford, where his eminence in ability and learning soon brought him into notice, and where he became in due time Waynflete Professor of Moral Philosophy, and subsequently Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Canon of Christ Church. Until his residence at Oxford was terminated, shortly before his death, by his preferment to the Deanery of St. Pauls, he was by far the most distinguished and formidable champion of the Conservative party in the University; and he never for one instant flagged in his strenuous opposition to Liberal ideas, as they were understood in the middle of the century, and particularly as they were formulated in the report of the first Universities Commission. These theories he held up to merciless ridicule in jeux desprit like the brilliant Phrontisterion, as well as to unsparing reprobation from the pulpit of St. Marys. Thence in 1858 he delivered his celebrated Bampton Lectures on The Limits of Religious Thought Examined, which aroused a tempest of discussion, and involved their author in an animated and often bitter controversy with sceptics like Mr. John Mill on the one hand, and latitudinarians like Mr. Maurice on the other. Dean Mansel died in 1871.]
PHILOSOPHY, like most other things, is subject to the vicissitudes of fashion, and a sufficient number of years has probably not yet elapsed to rehabilitate the popularity of the Hamiltonian system. If ever that body of doctrine find itself once more in vogue, due recognition will then perhaps be given to the powers of its greatest advocate, though their brilliance is essentially of a sort more apt to dazzle than to illuminate the vision of the general public. The qualities that almost inevitably condemn Mansel to neglect in an age when religious speculation is upon the town are precisely those which recommend him to the true lover of metaphysics. He was a man of exceptionally wide reading and profound learning. He had applied himself assiduously not only to the writings of Aristotle, but also to those of his commentators and of the schoolmen, while a prodigious memory enabled him to turn that application to the best account. He chanced to be endowed with one of the subtlest intellects of his generation; and the speculations of a subtle intellect must often seem mere logomachies to a plain man. Moreover, his mind was of a rigidly logical cast. It would have been impossible for him to perpetrate a work like Mr. Mills System of Logic, the unique educational value of which consists in the number and transparency of its inconsistencies and blunders. It was, perhaps, this habit of severely accurate reasoning which, while it enabled him to maintain an impersonal and even judicial tone in his warmest moments, stung his opponents into ecstasies of irritation and bad temper. The petulance of Mr. Mill becomes almost majestic in the most famous sentence that ever came from his pen. Mr. Maurices retorts it were common kindness not to disinter. Whether Mansels views were right or wrong this is not the place to discuss or to determine; but it may at least be said that he was not of those who guard the point no enemies attack; that if he proved too much, many Christian apologists have been content to prove too little; that for grasp of subject and for instant and unerring perception of the point at issue it is neither partiality nor wrongheadedness to compare him to Butler; and that the view he consistently expounded must be reckoned with and fairly faced by any one who has the slightest pretensions to be a serious thinker.
To treat the most delicate topics of philosophy in the language of everyday life is to sow the seeds of confusion and misunderstanding. A technical vocabulary is indispensable, and a technical vocabulary Mansel never hesitated to employ. Yet he used as not abusing it, and studiously avoided those crude and ill-digested importations from the German, which even in his day were in a fair way to obtain currency. He had a happy gift of illustration and metaphor, and the dilemma is in his hands a weapon which seldom fails to inflict a deadly wound. For the rest his phraseology betrays no seeking after the curious, the quaint, or the affected, and he drew but little upon the inexhaustible stores of the Elizabethan and Caroline divines. His style is essentially manly and straightforward, and he never beats the bush without starting a hare. But his prose, though devoid of ornament, was far from being colloquial. On the contrary, much of what he wrote is pitched in a high strain of rhetoric. It is rhetoric charged with unbending gravity; rhetoric in which the strokes of humour are severe and grim; rhetoric that often breaks into scathing rebuke and merciless denunciation; rhetoric withal that is never palpably forced, exaggerated, or insincere; but it is rhetoric the sombre tone of which is scarce once relieved by a touch of the gentler sentiments or kindlier feelings. In this respect Mansel presents a curious contrast to Butler. Butler is nothing if not persuasive and winning. Mansel would compel assent by sheer force of logic, nor does he condescend to disguise or keep in the background the consequences necessarily involved in the acceptance of his first proposition in a chain of reasoning. To persons of loose habits of thought he must be unsympathetic, if not actually repellent. But he will ever occupy a high place in the esteem of those who value consistency in argument, skill in controversy, and a powerful and impressive style of writing, which is often lofty and impassioned, though never animated by those tender and amiable emotions which are so popular with the mass of mankind.