Lectures on the Harvard Classics. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
IV. Carlyle and Newman
By Frank Wilson Cheney Hersey
AMONG the great voices that stirred England in the early years of the Victorian era, none were more eloquent than those of Newman and Carlylethe one a suave ecclesiastic who lighted again the candles of the mediæval church; the other a volcanic Scots peasant who set the Thames on fire. We may still hear the sound of their voices, and note the vast difference in their appearance, their manner, their tone and method, their appeal to their generation. Matthew Arnolds description of Newman at Oxford1 remains forever in the memory:
Who could resist the charm of that spiritual apparition, gliding in the dim afternoon light through the aisles of St. Marys, rising into the pulpit, and then, in the most entrancing of voices, breaking the silence with words and thoughts which were a religious musicsubtle, sweet, mournful? I seem to hear him still, saying: After the fever of life, after weariness and sickness, fightings and despondings, languor and fretfulness, struggling and succeeding; after all the changes and chances of this troubled, unhealthy state,at length comes death, at length the white throne of God, at length the beatific vision.
Carlyle soon appeared, and looked as if he felt a well-dressed London audience scarcely the arena for him to figure in as a popular lecturer. He is a tall, robust-looking man; rugged simplicity and indomitable strength are in his face, and such a glow of genius in itnot always smouldering there, but flashing from his beautiful gray eyes, from the remoteness of their deep setting under that massive brow. His manner is very quiet, but he speaks like one tremendously convinced of what he utters, and who had muchvery muchin him that was quite unutterable, quite unfit to be uttered to the uninitiated ear; and when the Englishmans sense of beauty or truth exhibited itself in vociferous cheers, he would impatiently, almost contemptuously, wave his hand, as if that were not the kind of homage which Truth demanded.
And this man flung forth such ringing words as: Be no longer a Chaos but a World or even Worldkin. Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it, in Gods name! Tis the utmost thou hast in thee: out with it, then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called To-day: for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work.
The careers of Newman and Carlyle were no more similar than their personalities. Newman spent his life in the heat of theological controversy. He was the leader and kindling spiritual force of the Oxford Movement, 18331845, often called the Tractarian Movement from Tracts for the Times. This was a movement within the Church of England to revive the Catholic doctrines which had always been retained in the Prayer Book. These doctrines were the apostolic succession, the priesthood, the sacramental system, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Anglican Church was sadly in need of zeal. Instead of heroic martyr Conduct, said Carlyle2 in 1831, and inspired and soul-inspiring Eloquence, whereby Religion itself were brought home to our living bosoms, to live and reign there, we have Discourses on the Evidences, endeavoring, with smallest result, to make it probable that such a thing as Religion exists. Soul-inspiring eloquence was just what Newman brought to the Movement. Sunday after Sunday, year after year, his sermons and tracts quickened the spirit of men. A mysterious veneration gathered round him. In Oriel Lane light-hearted undergraduates would drop their voices and whisper, Theres Newman. In his eyes the Christian Church was the concrete representative of things invisible. The pageant of ritual was necessary to bring home the symbolism of the Church to the imagination. Dogmas, far from being barnacles on Scriptural tradition, were defenses erected by authority to preserve the spirit of primitive Christianity against barnacles. Newman had defended the Church of England as the Via Mediathe middle roadbetween the theology of the Church of Rome and the theology of Calvinism. But he and his younger followers gradually came to believe that the weight of authority and permanence was on the side of Rome. Tract 90, on the Catholic doctrines in the Thirty-nine Articles, the bulwarks of the Protestant Church, raised a storm of opposition in that church. And finally in a dramatic scene at the Convocation of February 13, 1845, the Oxford Movement was snuffed out. Newman at once left the Via Media for the Via Appia and entered the Roman Catholic Church. Several years later, in 1864, he became involved in a controversy with Charles Kingsley, during which he wrote his religious autobiography, the Apologia pro Vita Sua.3 This famous book, though it cannot be considered a convincing refutation of the charges which Kingsley brought against Rome, was a triumphant vindication of Newmans integrity and nobility of spirit.
With Newman, Carlyle had little sympathy. John Henry Newman, he said, has not the intellect of an average-sized rabbit. Carlyles own life4 was spent in writing the histories of great movements such as the French Revolution, and of great men such as Cromwell and Frederick the Great. He thundered forth denunciations of the evils of society. The gospel he preached was of Books, Silence, Work, and Heroes. In Books lie the soul of the whole Past Time. Silence is the eternal Duty of a man. Work while it is called To-day. Universal history is at bottom the history of the Great Men who have worked here. These doctrines you will find summed up in the Inaugural Address at Edinburgh.5 Carlyle, wrote George Meredith in one of the most luminous estimates6 of the Sage of Chelsea, Carlyle was one who stood constantly in the presence of those Eternal verities of which he speaks . The spirit of the prophet was in him . He was the greatest of the Britons of his timeand after the British fashion of not coming near perfection: Titanic, not Olympian: a heaver of rocks, not a shaper. But if he did no perfect work, he had lightnings power to strike out marvelous pictures and reach to the inmost of men with a phrase.
Could men so apparently antipodal as these in temperament, utterance, and life have a thought or doctrine in common? Yet it was the great paradox of the Victorian era that the heart of their mystery, the source and pivot of their teaching, was the same dominating idea. The same idea led one man to insist on the value of the oldest clothes, and led the other to insist on getting rid of them. This dominating principle was the Doctrine of the Unconscious.7
Carlyle first expounded this doctrine in his essay Characteristics.8 The truly strong mind, he says, view it as Intellect, as Morality, or under any other aspect, is nowise the mind acquainted with its strength; here as before the sign of health is unconsciousness. In our inward, as in our outward, world what is mechanical lies open to us; not what is dynamical and has vitality. Of our thinking, we might say, it is but the mere upper surface that we shape into articulate Thoughts; underneath the region of argument and conscious discourse lies the region of meditation; here, in its quiet mysterious depths, dwells what vital force is in us; here, if aught is to be created, and not merely manufactured and communicated, must the work go on. Manufacture is intelligible, but trivial; Creation is great, and cannot be understood. What is intuitive and spontaneous should be our guide. The healthy understanding is not the Logical, argumentative, but The Intuitive. The characteristic of right performance is a certain spontaneity, an unconsciousness; the healthy know not of their health, but only the sick. On this idea Carlyle bases his doctrines of Work and Heroes. By work the spontaneous self has a chance to reveal itself. Heroes are those Great Men who are spontaneous and sincere, those masters of their time who draw up into themselves the thoughts of masses of men.
Newmans belief in the power of the unconscious was equally firm and thoroughgoing. In his sermon on Explicit and Implicit Reason, he means by implicit reason unconscious meditation. Reasoning is a living, spontaneous energy within us, not an art. Progress, he said later, is a living growth, not a mechanism; and its instruments are mental acts, not the formulas and contrivances of language. As each individual has certain instincts of right and wrong antecedently to reasoning, on which he actsand rightlyso has the world of men collectively. God gave them truths in His miraculous revelations . These are transmitted as the wisdom of our ancestors. It was Newmans staunch belief in what is intuitive and instinctive that made him accept the wisdom of the race as more trustworthy than the reason of the individual. Consequently he believed that Christian truth is preserved not by the reasoning of the individual but by the diversified powers, insight, and feeling which are found in a long-continuing society. For Newman, therefore, the Catholic Church was the articulate voice of the body of Christian believers in the pastthe concrete representative of things invisible.9
These two great men, who did not understand each other, based their teachings on the same initial principlethe doctrine of the unconscious. However far apart they were at the end, they insisted with graceful pleading or with tumultuous eloquence on these high moral truths: faith in what is spontaneous and sincere in ones own nature, and spontaneous and instinctive submission to those highly endowed men whose innate sincerity will redeem the world.