1. Great talkers are not always wise; nor is every silent man a fool. There are many
who talk without thinking; and many who think without talking.
2. No fault is more common with mankind than a proneness to generalize from their own particular case.
3. Vulgar minds and men of narrow observation are always imagining that there is something extraordinary in the character of the present season. This is from not recollecting its character in former years. Those who attend to the subject are surprised at the regularity which marks the operations of nature, and admire the uniformity of those general laws, which tho' occasionally interrupted by exceptions, on ye whole make one year very much to resemble another.
4. "Waste not, want not", is a good maxim, but it may be carried too far. I have known a person spend nearly half an hour in unpicking a knot. Surely time has its value as well as a piece of string.
5. One mark of wisdom is to know the exact point where our wisdom ends and our ignorance commences. Some persons, who wish to be thought clever, will hazard an opinion upon all subjects, but they seldom fail to expose themselves in the end.
6. We sometimes get a distaste for home; but it appears in all its value, when we return to it after a long absence.
7. It will very much add to the happiness of life, if we endeavor to acquire a habit of observation. A man may be shut out from the society of his books and friends, but if his eyes are always about him he can hardly be so circumstanced as not to have some sources of amusement and information still open to him.
8. It very much enhances my opinion of a man's character, to find him rigidly punctual in all matters in which others are concerned. He who knows how to value time, will seldom fail to get a right value upon other things.
9. Were I the father of a family I should forbid my children from reading novels and discourage them as much as possible from having recourse to such books in after life. Many are positively mischievous from their immoral tendency; others may not be of this character, but they still in general give a very erroneous view of actual life: and it may be said of all that they tend to vitiate the taste and to take off all relish for more serious books. If a man desire light reading as an occasional relaxation to his mind from severe studies, I would recommend above everything, biography. The lives of great and good men are not merely replete with entertainment and instruction, but they act as strong incentives to self-improvement.
10. Where is the wisdom of the policy of appearing to be what we are not?
11. I am unfortunately subject to severe headaches which for a time quite incapacitate me from doing anything. But when they are fairly over my head always feels clearer than before. They seem to me like storms which purify the air, and rendering it more salubrious after they are passed.
12. It is a constant complaint with some persons that they can remember nothing. The fact is that they seldom try. Were they enjoined to call at a certain house on a given day in order to receive a sum of money, would they forget it?
Our memories are not so bad as we suppose, but, like all other faculties of the mind, they must be disciplined and exercised in order to be of any service to us.
I have known persons almost discouraged from reading by finding how little they appear to remember afterwards. This is wrong and may be met by several arguments. In the first place, how much they remember will depend upon their habits of attention. Secondly, there are many facts and statements which they may think they have forgotten, but which if read attentively will recur to the mind when wanted, or on the occasion of being made the subject of conversation. Thirdly, it is not so much the recollection of all the little details of a book which is of importance, as that general impression which results from an enlarged view of the whole subject.*
* "Though the books which you have lately read may make no strong impression on you, they nevertheless improve your mind; just as food, though we forget what it was after we have eaten it, gives strength to the body" [ See Rogers Table Talk p.128]
13. How many persons will wish upon their deathbeds that they had not lived in vain!
14. "Pride was not made for man". This is true of all kinds of pride. But to see a man priding himself for that of which he ought to be ashamed is sad indeed.
15. When I read of the excruciating tortures to which many of the early Christian martyrs were subjected and of their patient endurance under suffering, I think I see irrefutable proof of the truth of their religion. Considered as enthusiasts it is imaginable that they might brave death in support of their doctrines; but I can hardly conceive it possible for human nature to bear, without flinching or complaint, the agony they must have felt in some cases, except it had been supported by more than human fortitude. I believe their indifference to pain to have been on many occasions the result of a direct miraculous interference on their behalf.
16.This is a great age for sermon-reading and sermon-printing; but in my opinion, a large proportion of the sermons now-a-days published sink far below mediocrity, and very many had better never have seen the light. There are two faults which I observe especially in the discourses of the younger clergy. One is that they deal too much in mere declamation, without any reference to a connected train of reasoning. The other, in some measure the consequence of the first, a want of dependence of the several parts upon each other. The sentences are strung together in such a loose manner, that one might strike half of them out without affecting the sense of those that are next them. To use an expression of Coleridge's "they are like marbles in a bag; they touch but they don't cohere".
17. How very common it is for half-informed and ill-educated persons to argue from the abuse of a thing against the use of it. And in no one instance is this more observable than in the matter of education itself as extended to the lower orders. Because some of the poor take afterwards to reading the newspapers, or it may be improper books, they would not have them taught to read the bible in their youth. One might as well debar men from eating and drinking, because some choose to make beasts of themselves by excess or intemperance. What blessing or advantage do we enjoy in this world, which the evil-disposed will not find the means of perverting to an ill purpose?
18. To converse freely is almost as much an art to be acquired by practice as any thing one could name. They who are doomed to live for the most part in solitude and close retirement, know how sadly at a loss they sometimes feel in the midst of company. They find a difficulty in expressing their sentiments. And this, even tho' perhaps the conversation turn to such subjects as they feel conscious they understand better than anyone else present. We must not always judge of a man's mind from his powers of conversation.(a)
(a) See back to no. 1.
19. The present age is peculiarly distinguished by what may not ineptly be termed a "religious bustle". Societies are formed without number and public meetings convened almost every day to consider of different matters more or less connected, as it is thought, with the welfare and stability of the Established Church. I sincerely hope that good may come of all this; but at the same time I rejoice, that I do not think myself bound to join, or to take any part in, their proceedings. Shall I go wrong in confirming my endeavours to be useful to my own parish? That, as it appears to me, is the field marked out for my labours.
20. Few things provoke me more in a little way than to hear persons "tell their dreams". It is the sign of a very weak mind to suppose that the jingle of incongruous ideas which float upon the brain during sleep can afford the slightest interest to others, if it afford any to themselves.
Telling dreams should have ceased with the age for believing in them.
21. It is common with a certain class of religionists to be always talking of special and particular providences, or of things happening in a strictly providential manner. Surely this language is wrong, as implying that the operations of the Deity, connected with the government of the world, are not uniform. We are taught by the gospel to believe, that all things are providential; that "not a sparrow falls to the ground" but by God's appointment, and that consequently one thing is not more a special act of Providence than another.
22. I have known persons of the most industrious habits complain of " the little which they do in a day". They may console themselves with the reflection, that it is only those who make much of time, that will inquire at all in what way they have spent it.
23. Early rising is a habit to which we should habituate ourselves from our youth. It not only adds to the length of each day, but increases the number of our days by promoting health. It has been observed that long livers have in almost all cases been early risers.
24. Some persons are weak enough to believe that because dreams sometimes "come true", they are often the effect of an immediate inspiration from Heaven; that is to say, that men in such instances are gifted with a foresight founded upon no principle of reasoning nor train of observation. Yet what is this but a miracle? and, consequently, what but asserting that the age of miracles is not yet past.
25. Perhaps nearly half the complaints to which the human body is liable, are brought on by over eating and drinking. The right time to stop at meals is when we are beginning to doubt whether we shall stop or not.
26. We should hardly give a man credit for his talents, though we may for his learning. Talents are the gift of God, and therefore independent of any self-exertion, or application of the mind: but learning, which is the fruit of a man's own industry, justly entitles him to our praise and approbation.
27. When I see a man impatient of the slightest supposed attack upon his character, I am led by that very circumstance to suspect that it will not bear investigation. The matter whereof he is charged may be unfounded; but great jealousy of reputation looks like an apprehension, lest the charge lead to the exposure of something else in his conduct which is true but which he would wish concealed from the eye and knowledge of the public.
The true Christian, whose own conscience acquits him of wrong is not easily disturbed by the slanders of the malevolent. Like the upright man described by Horace, "Integer vitae sceleris que purus, Non eget Mauris jaculis neque arcu, Nec veneratis gravida sagettis, - pharetra.
"Men , when accused of any fault, are generally in a great hurry to defend themselves: but strictly speaking, if the accusation be just, defense in most cases is impossible; if unjust, or so far as it is unjust, it becomes unnecessary.
28. Extremes meet: thus what is of very great value is invaluable; anything in large numbers is said to be numberless; a matter of the first importance is also of the last importance.
29. Languages, though costing so much trouble to acquire, are, after all, only so many keys to knowledge, which last is still to be attained. It is mortifying to think of the time which is consumed in opening the lock, before we can get at the treasure.
30. Some persons have a habit of collecting indiscriminately almost everything that comes in their way, without any reference to its utility. Collections in the fine arts, or in illustration of any department of science, if made with judgement may be of real benefit to the world; but to keep together articles of imaginary value, that can be of no earthly use to any one, nor tend to the advancement of any branch of knowledge, is, to say the least, childish and trifling.
31. We may to a certain extent estimate a man's knowledge by his desire to get more, and his frankness in confessing his ignorance where he is ignorant. Men of shallow attainments often pretend to know more than they do, and are equally unwilling to confess their ignorance and to be taught by others.
32. "That man thinks" said I to myself of one in company, who had, nevertheless, taken scarcely any part in the conversation: but from a peculiar cast of his eye, arched over by a fullness of forehead, I felt sure that he had a well stored mind, and one habituated to reflection. Some persons think that there is nothing in physiognomy; but what are laughing, crying, and all the other outward expressions of the passions, but the impress produced upon the features thro' the action of the mind. The impress is here sudden and more striking, but transitory; in the above instance gradual and less striking, but permanent. Who cannot distinguish between the vacant stare of the uneducated countrey-men, and the intelligent countenance of a Newton?
33. A man never will be happy, till he has learnt to live above the world, and to have some inward spring of enjoyment and satisfaction independent of outward circumstances. And to encourage him in the attainment of these elevated views, let him remember, that there is no happiness in the world to come but what is independent of this , and all its concerns, altogether.
34. One secret in the art of happiness is to have plenty of resources to turn to for occupation and amusement. I suppose a man to have a clear conscience, and a good hope in the Gospel sense of that word, without which there can be no happiness anywhere. But having secured those two inestimable blessings, the next thing is to have something to do. A few books and other trivial possessions may be requisite to pass time always profitably, but a very few will serve for this purpose. With the assistance of these, and the Book of Nature spread for us abroad, the mind that will only exercise its own faculties, may not only be always well-employed, but even cheerful and contented under great reverses of fortune. It may choose too its own companions in solitude as well as in society, in one place as well as in another. It is a great advantage, to be able thus to draw water out of ones own cistern. It is the inability to do this which creates ennui, and drives a man to seek relief in change of place. Such change may be sometimes necessary for the body, but when it is in health, it should not be needed for the mind. A well ordered and well disciplined mind never quarrels with home. It may take and enjoy changes and variety as they come, but it does not run after them. When all other things fail, it falls back upon its own resources, which never satiate or tire.
I rejoice to think that there are two things of which nothing can deprive me, my own mind within, and Nature without. In the possession of these, tomorrow may be as happy as today, and the next day as tomorrow. *
* See some good remarks on Happiness, in the works of Jonathan Richardson. 4 to 1792 p.226, &c
35. Life is, and even must be, uncertain, so many accidents beyond our control may bring it suddenly to an end. But, barring unforeseen events of this kind, health, upon which life mainly depends, is very much in our own keeping, much more so at least than is commonly supposed. If a man inherit a sound constitution, and is free from the seeds of any organic disease, most illnesses arising from other sources may, with a moderate share of prudence, be staved off. He may, indeed, take the infection of some prevailing epidemic, but if he was previously in good health, if is not liable to do so. Abernethy used to say that half the complaints from which his patients consulted him were due either to stuffing or fretting. If to these causes of indisposition we add taking cold, no doubt the three together will account for a very large proportion of the maladies that most commonly occur. Yet temperance, evenness of mind, and avoiding unnecessary exposure to cold, along with warm clothing, would generally secure a man from such ailments. But how many pay not the least attention to these three precautions, How many, in early life especially, take liberties, as it is called, with their constitution, and lay the foundation of lasting illnesses in after years. They cannot do this and be morally blameless. It would be considered an act of suicide, for a man to administer to himself a slow poison, whereby he gradually shortened his days; it partakes of the guilt of that crime to undermine his health by courses of intemperance and folly. He may not have self-destruction in view, but it as surly follows in the end, as if he had at once put a pistol to his head.
[Abernethy, John F.R.S. an eminent surgeon 1764-1831. (1)]
36. It is a grave consideration that a man may utterly disqualify himself for the duties of his calling, by habitual illness, brought on entirely by his own sin or imprudence. How many who retire from their profession, on the score, as it is said, of health, are inwardly conscious, or would be, if they looked closely into themselves, that what they are now suffering, and which unnerves them for active business and employment, must be laid at the door of sinful indulgences in early life. If God send us bad health, he will not require the work we might otherwise have done. But if we disable ourselves in the above manner, we get largely into his debt indeed. And to be obliged to quit the post he had assigned us, on account of our having wasted or misused the strengths he gave us wherewith to discharge its duties, calls for very earnest and deep repentance, as well as self-abasement and humiliation.
37.There are three kinds of person silent in company. Some are silent because they have nothing in them, and have consequently nothing to say; others because they are to shy to speak in the presence of strangers; others again are silent because they are over scrupulous as to what they say, and how they express themselves. These last are afraid of being caught tripping, or of making some mistake which, tho' not detected at the time, may be fastened upon them afterwards. Diffident of their own attainments, they forebear speaking even on subjects, which, it is probable, they understand quite as well as, or better than, any one else present. Sometimes the opportunity of making a remark passes by before they can decide with themselves whether they shall make it or not. There is fault in all this, tho' doubtless the fault is on the right side. We may have too mean as well as too high an opinion of our own knowledge. By never speaking lest we should say something foolish or ill-timed, society loses the benefit of our conversation and we lose any improvement we might get by hearing what others say in reply to our observations.
38. As there are three kinds of silent persons in company, so are there three kinds of talkers: those who talk to the purpose, and those who do not; these last being further distinguishable into such as talk what is not worth listening to, and such as talk what they should be ashamed of saying. In the two latter cases, the more a man holds his tongue the better.
39. Man has been defined to be " a bundle of habits"; and habits of some kind he will infallibly contract as he grows up to years. It is therefore of the greatest importance that in early life he be led to form good habits. I speak not now of moral and religious habits, but of such as are more or less conducive to health and happiness in the present life. Such habits are those of early rising, temperance at meals, and taking regular exercise; of punctuality in business , as well as on all other occasions; of making the most of our time, and having fixt employments for the different portions of each day; a habit of turning the thoughts to some matter of profitable reflection when not otherwise engaged; habits of independence, to which may be added a habit of indifference to little things which others consider necessary to their comfort or happiness, but which we cannot always command exactly as we could wish. There can be no question that these habits give a man an immense advantage in the world, and greatly facilitate his right discharge of all the duties of life. And when thoroughly acquired, as they easily may be in youth, they become a second nature. It is then as natural to retain and practise good habits, as it is difficult, sometimes almost impossible, for those who have once contracted bad habits, to shake them off.
40. Some angry disputants make a great point of having the last word with their opponents. They seem to think that the oftener and louder they can thunder out their opinions, the better for the question they are attempting to defend. But what does this indicate but a desire to make up by vehemence of diction for the weakness of their cause? What, in general is the last word but a reiteration of the first? Such a practice may have a crushing, but it cannot have a convincing effect. For my part I am quite content with delivering my opinion on any matter once. If my arguments are good they will stand, and in the end prevail, without further support. If they are worth nothing, no mere repeating of the same words will give them any real value.
41. How few persons get any real addition to their happiness by an accession of fortune. They mostly think it necessary immediately to launch out into some more lavish system of expenditure, keeping their carriage, adding to the number of their servants, or in some other way increasing their establishment; or they mix more in gay and fashionable society, denying themselves no pleasures now, as the expression is, they are so much better off. All these things call of course for a great additional outlay; and until the novelty of them has worn off, they may be a source of some positive enjoyment. But how transitory this enjoyment is! How soon do these things become as insipid, and as mere matter-of-course, as the things they were used to in former times! And then, without feeling one jot the happier, they find themselves, perhaps, after a time, as much straitened in their circumstances as ever; well if they do not overstep their income, largely increased as it may have been. Far better plan is it never materially to alter our habits of life, when we become richer, unless our riches bring with them some title of rank, or place us altogether in a different sphere, in which we are reasonably expected, if not obliged, to live differently. We may rightly indulge in some few additional comforts, but whatever is more than sufficient to procure us these, let us put by against seasons of adversity or sickness, or let it serve as a provision for our children, or, if we have none who look to us for support, let us ( and this is by far the best way of spending riches) spend it in almsgivings and charities, and so "lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that we may hold on eternal life".
42. We are sent into the world to do all the good we can, and to relieve, so far as we are able, every case of misery and distress, as well as every spiritual want, that falls under our notice. And for this purpose, it is necessary to acquaint ourselves with the actual state and condition of those about us. But to the evil which it is quite out of our power to remedy, it is better to shut our eyes, lest by too great familiarity with it,our feelings of compassion become blunted. It has been well said that "the mere passive contemplation of suffering which we cannot stir to relieve, which is not to call upon us for any active exertion or resolve, hardens the mind rather than softens it".* The reading of trials, accidents, and offences, in the public prints, appears to me to be attended by this disadvantage, if it has not a worse effect. We can do nothing ourselves, generally speaking, towards alleviating the suffering, or correcting the guilt, that attends these cases. What then is it but a morbid curiosity that causes us to take delight in reading or hearing of them? The recital of dreadful calamities, such as fires, shipwrecks, and the like, serves only to harrow and agonise the feelings, or, when the impression weakens by repetition, to render us indifferent to such occurrences. And far more prejudicial, to young persons especially, is the very knowledge of the existence of those crimes, which are daily being committed in our streets. How many tender minds have thereby received a stain which was never afterwards thoroughly effaced. The knowledge of sin is the first step towards the practice of it; and this first step being taken, the rest, in most cases, too easily follows.
* Thomson's Bampton Lectures, 1853, p.101.[at Oxford] [Thomson, Rev. William, Archbishop of York. "The Atoning Work of Christ Viewed in relation to some Current Theories". (2)]
43. A good Christian will be always prepared for such trials and evils are more or less inseparable from our present condition. I do not mean that he should be even expecting and looking for them, which is clearly contrary to the advice and directions of scripture. We are taught to "be careful for nothing" to "cast all our care upon God", to "take no thought for the morrow", and that "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof". But this does not interfere with, nor prevent that watchfulness, which is equally inculcated upon us, and who so far from making us melancholy and desponding, as those generally are who are always anticipating the worst, renders us cheerful and composed on all occasions, happen what may. To walk in constant recollection of the ills of life, to keep always an eye to those losses and afflictions, from which none are altogether exempt on this side the grave, is not to make ourselves miserable without purpose or cause, but to walk warily: it leads to fortifying our souls betimes with those arguments for resignation to the divine will, which will best support and comfort us when the day of trial is at hand. One sometimes hears persons say that they cannot bear to think of death, or of the time when near and dear relations, already perhaps sick and aged, must be taken from them. What is the consequence? When the blow comes, as it must come at last, it takes them entirely off their guard; it is "as if some strange thing had happened to them", and they are in a state of utter prostration from excessive grief and dejection of spirits. This is not, surely, in keeping with our religion, or with the feelings of the great Apostle St. Paul. We can hardly be said with him to "die daily", to be loosening our hold upon earthly things and objects more and more each day, if we shrink from the contemplation of death itself, whether to ourselves or others, that last act of "dying", which is to effect the final separations between us and them.
44. I should feel no security for my fitness to hold any high ministerial office in the church, to which I had been raised upon my own suit: but if God so order events, that, without myself cooperating in any way, I were called to some more honorable or more lucrative post than what I at present fill, I should know that it were God's doing, and that therefore I might confidently rely on his grace to assist me in carrying out its obligations. Church preferment, though so much coveted by some, is one of "those things, which for my unworthiness I dare not, and for my blindness I could not ask". A clergyman may very properly seek, and ought to seek, employment in his Lord's vineyard, but when a cure has been found him, let him rest satisfied with that, till his divine Master call him elsewhere. To ask for a living, as is so commonly done, is to doubt God's promises to give us what is best, and to let go our faith in his Providence. At the same time it is little less than an avowal that we take charge of the flock of Christ "for filthy lucre's sake", more than from any other motive. He who does this, and gains his end, must not be surprized at anything untoward occurring in his parish afterwards to let him know that it was not God who placed him there, but himself. As Bishop Hall says, "it is no marvel if what we bring from God profit not".
45. It is of great importance to health that a proper balance be kept up between the mind and the body; that neither be overtasked, while the other is suffered to remain inactive. Man is compounded of soul and body, and each has its own allotted work. Some men live almost entirely in their studies, even sharpening and strengthening their wits, but subjecting themselves to many diseases the result of sedentary habits. Others spend their whole time abroad, occupying themselves with their farms, and such like out-of-door pursuits, and in general enjoying bodily health, but at the expense of their minds which become enfeebled by disuse. Neither of these ways is according to nature. Both the bodily and mental faculties alike prematurely decay if not called constantly into exercise. I believe especially, with regard to the latter, that most cases of imbecility and childishness in old age arise from the cultivation of the mind having been long neglected, whereby its reasoning powers are gradually impaired, and at length rendered incompetent for action altogether.
46. To steady himself thro' life, every man ought to have some first and well-established principles to guide him in acting and judging on all occasions. These principles should of course in the first instance relate to religion and morals. But they should not be confined to these. They should guide us in many things besides; in the choice of our friends and books, in the estimation of character, in the distribution of our time, in the management of our expenses, in the administering of our charities, in the preserving of our health; nay there is no matter so small, that it may not be brought under the influence of certain determinate rules. Such principles and rules should not be hastely taken up, nor, after having been adopted, hastely laid aside. At some former period of our life they should have undergone a thorough examination, and been sifted thro' and thro' to ascertain their truth. But when once we have been persuaded of them, we should not let them go for all that others may have to say against them. We may perhaps hear arguments adduced to turn us from our opinion, which at the moment we may not be able readily to answer.* But this should not weigh with us. It is enough to reply that we once gave the subject our full consideration, and were quite satisfied with the correctness of our conclusion, tho' we may have forgotten the exact chain of reasoning that led us to it. We cannot be always travelling over the same ground again. We are not to be shaken from our convictions by any subtle disputant, because our memory is weak or our learning powers impaired by years of bodily infirmity. It is only this making up one's mind once for all in things that admit of any balancing of opinions, that will keep us from constant wavering, and being (like "the double minded man" in Scripture) "unstable in all our ways".*
* Bp. Butler well observes that "a man may be fully convinced of the truth of a matter, and upon the strongest reasons, and yet not be able to answer all the difficulties which may be raised upon it" (Charge to the Clergy of Durham, 1751.)
* A clever writer says he has "a shelf in his mind" for established principles, as he has one in his bookcase for tried and approved authors. (See Todd's Student's Guide, 3rd Edit.p.56.)
47. Avoid controversy in conversation, if possible, unless you have a thorough knowledge of the matter in dispute, and are well skilled in wrangling, and have a ready command of language. Otherwise, tho' you may feel quite sure the truth is on your side, you may be compelled in the end to surrender to your opponent. "Not every man (says the celebrated Sir Thomas Brown of Norwich) is a proper champion for truth, nor fit to take up the gauntlet in the cause of verity." To dispute and fail will have a two-fold damaging effect. It will prejudice the heavens against the side for which you contend, and so far prejudice the truth itself, if it is really with you, while your opponent will become the more deeply settled in his error.* The citadel that is attacked, and defended and yet taken will be considered weak. That which is left to itself on the approach of an enemy may still be found unimpregnable when put into a proper state of defense.
* The celebrated Bp. Butler (author of the "Analogy",) when "earnestly entreated by Lord Karnes that he might have a personal interview with him, in order to the removal of certain doubts which arose in his mind" with respect to the evidences of Christianity, is said to have "declined a meeting, alleging his own diffidence and reserve, his inexperience in oral controversy, and his fear that the cause of truth would suffer from the unskillfulness of the advocate." (Blunts Essays)
[Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham 1692=1752. "Analogy of Religion, Natural and revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature"(1)]
[Sir Thomas Brown, 1605=1682. English Scholar, Physician and Author. Author of Religio Medici (4)]
48. Seek to deserve honour, rather than to be honoured. "before honour is humility".
49. If a man is long idle, the devil soon finds him something to do.
50. It is chiefly by parties embracing opposite and extreme opinions that truth is advanced. Men suddenly start extreme views, the result of some particular course of reading or meditation to which there are immediately opposed extreme views on the other side. There is much contention and violent argument between them. In the mean while the world looks on, leaning sometimes to one side and sometimes to the other, but sooner or later setting down to a middle course of action or belief between the two. As matters proceed the original movers of the controversy either cool down in their opinions with the advance of years, or are gradually removed by death, the succeeding generation being mainly brought up in the middle way. It may be, after a time, some other question in dispute arises, and is made the subject of fresh consideration and inquiry. The same division of parties takes place with the same results. In this manner it is that truth is elicited: and better is it that men's minds should be thus agitated than rest in sloth and indifference, content with the opinions they have always held, and not caring to inquire whether they have reason on their side or not.
What has been said above applies especially to questions in Church and State. There have always been parties in politics and religion, and it is well there should be. Yet a wise man will be slow to connect himself with them, rather standing in the gap, under persuasion that truth generally lies between extremes, and holding himself ready to adopt any views that are ultimately established.
51. I do not join in the alarm and apprehensions felt by so many persons in reference to the extent to which Biblical criticism is carried at the present day. I fear nothing from what Colenso and others have said and published on the subject of the Inspiration of scripture, the discrepancies and contradictions to be met with in certain compared passages, and the untrustworthiness of some of its historical portions. These things disturb me not They may be right, or they may be wrong; of this I am not a competent judge, and will give no opinion. But in neither case are my hopes and prospects affected. I feel that my faith rests upon something beyond what they can touch or take away.
Nor, is it possible to stop inquiry, or wise, in my opinion, to attempt to stop it, in the advanced age (intellectually considered) in which we live. Whatever there is of truth in the writings of these authors, we should be glad to welcome, though it runs counter to all our former opinions; if it be truth, it must infallibly be one day received, though by very gradual steps, so as to form more and more a part of the general belief, and in that case why should it not? Whatever there is of error, and the whole if it be error, cannot fail in the end to be clearly shown to rest upon false reasoning and fall to the ground. "Magna est veritas et provalebit".
[Colenso, Rev. John William, Bishop of Natal. b.24.1.1814 (2)] [Colenso published "Critical Examination of the Pentateuch" to which the above must relate, between 1862 and 1879 (DNB)]
52. A preacher ought to be very cautious how he alludes in his discourses to the controversies of the day. I do not mean that he should never do so, but he should consider well what he is about. For it is probable, from the very fact of his bringing the subject forward, that he has himself a strong leaning towards one side of the question, rather than the other, whereas it remains to be shown on which side the truth really lies. Time has brought about many startling revelations of opinion, even in matters of religion, which at first were most strongly opposed as dangerous inroads upon the faith. It is controversy which leads to the sifting of many questions, that were thought to have been long since answered, but which never had the full light of inquiring minds, such as have risen up afterwards thrown upon them, so as to put them beyond all doubt.
53. I do not, as a rule, think Fellows of Colleges make good parish priests. Their ways are so different. Residents in College are accustomed to much society and conviviality; and tho' the society may be of a kind favourable for the improvement of the mind, and the exercise of a good feeling towards those with whom they mix, it belongs to a standard above what is usually required in the intercourse of a clergyman with his parishioners, and ill adapted especially to making much way among the poor if his lot be cast in a country village. He finds it difficult (if he attempts it) to enter into their thoughts and feelings, and to bring himself down to their level in his conversation and preaching. If he be a studious man he generally shuts himself up among his books, or if he does not care for reading, he seeks - as the nearest approach to what he has been used to - the society and entertainments of his richer neighbours, leaving the poorer classes very much to themselves. He may be good and charitable to the latter in many ways, but seldom gains their affections so as to get them to look up to him as their friend and adviser at all times and on all occasions. He may have a fair congregation at Church, but it would be chiefly made up of those who come on religious principles, without any particular attachment to the clergyman. Few would probably be induced to go who were not in the habit of going. The man, in my opinion, who makes the best parish priest, is one, who is a thorough gentleman, of a good Education and well informed in general subjects, though not necessarily a learned Theologian, and especially acquainted with the habits and ideas of that particular class in society to which his parishioners belong. Dec.1881.
54. I have been reading with pleasure and profit Bp. Thirlwall's Letters. And his case may, perhaps, be adduced as in some respects bearing upon what has been said above of parish priests coming from a College residence. After being for some years fellow and tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge, he was appointed to a living in Yorkshire before his elevation to the Bench. It does not appear that he neglected his people, but his heart was evidently among his books, with which his Library , almost his whole house, was filled to overflowing. It was in the retirement of a country village that he wrote his "History of Greece" and his studious habits were very remarkable. It was arranged that he should furnish a volume every six months, which it seems he had hard labour to effect. He speaks of his whole life as a struggle with time, reading from morning till night, without feeling any want of relaxation or exercise. It is a marvel that under such a strain he lived so long, dying in the 79th year of his age. We are not surprised, however, when we read that a few months before his death, his pen suddenly fell from his paralyzed hand and his eyes lost their sight. Dec.1881.
[Thirlwall, Connop. Historian 1797=1875. (3)]
55. In these days of infidelity and free thinking , when there are very many avowed unbelievers, and many more reputed to be such, we must be cautious yet how we lay the charge of unbelief at the doors of individuals. We never know what is passing in a man's heart, (men's words and outward conduct are not always in accordance with their real thoughts). The late John Stewart Mill was one who had the character of being opposed to all religions. And such was really the case with his father, James Mill, who ignored the subject entirely in the education of his son, while other branches of learning, classics and literature of all kinds, were crammed into his head from early childhood. Under such circumstances, J.S. Mill naturally grew up to be an unbeliever. But it is clear, from the concluding portion of his "Three Essays on Religion" (published after his death) that he was led to think differently of Christianity towards the close of life; and it is gratifying to find, from "Caroline Fox's Diary", which I have been lately reading, and who seems to have been intimate with the Mill family, that of J.S.Mill, many years before his end, had joined with her in religious conversation on certain occasions, when he showed that his inmost heart could not resist the influences of that same religion, which he saw to be the support and comfort of others under the heaviest trials and afflictions. It was not exactly the case of Agrippa and St. Paul, but Mill might have said "Almost have I persuaded myself to be a Christian".
[Fox, Caroline. English diarist and translator, 1819=1871. (3)]
[Mill,John Stewart. English Philos. and Econ., 1806=1873.(3)]
[Mill, James. Political Economist and Historian of British India 1774=1836 (3)]
56. Irish crimes and atrocities, combined with hostile attempts to overturn all government, all law and order, seem spreading to this country, tho' we may hope that, in the main, they are confined here to the Irish lying concealed in London and other of our larger towns, and that as yet there is no contamination of our own people. The outlook, however, is bad over all Europe in this respect. Secret anarchical societies appear to be rising up in almost every large kingdom, having for their object the destruction of all crowned heads, authorities and powers, the levellers of all classes, tending to universal confusion, amid which, the nihilists, socialists and communists, will carve out for themselves just what their own likings incline to. Such is the prospect looming in the distance! What is it all to end in? There must inevitably, sooner or later, be a struggle for the mastery; a final conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, till one get the victory over the other. Are we then coming to another battle of Armageddon? If so, we can only hope and trust that the devil and his angels will be as completely routed in this instance as in that last fight, which ended with a great voice from Heaven, saying "It is done!" But none of the men of this generation are likely to live to see the end. Mar.1883.
57. Though I call myself a liberal, and stand up for reform and progress in every way, church as well as state, I am not a party man; i.e. one who goes with his party thro' thick and thin, and would not separate himself from them on any account. If right measures, according to the best of my judgement, are advanced, and accepted by the Legislature and the country, I care not who has the merit of bringing them in. I often think of some excellent remarks on party spirit in one of Sarah Coleridge's Letters, which though in reference to the Oxford (Tractarian) party in 1839, are just as applicable to political parties as to church parties. "The worst of them, in my opinion, (she says) is that they are, one and all, party men; and just so far as we become absorbed in a party, just so far are we in danger of parting with honesty and good sense". Some are for letting things alone, suffering them to remain just as they are. But though they would stand still themselves, the world will not stand still. It has been always moving and it will continue to move; and if an advance is to be made for good, all things must advance together. As civilisation and education extend, there must, pari passer be an adaptation of outward things to meet it, or all tends to confusion.
[Sarah Coleridge, 1802=1852. English translator and writer (3)]
58. This is, unhappily, an age of skepticism and infidelity. Amid the many complaints one hears on the subject, a friend remarked to me lately that he lost all patience when Butler and Paley, and such like champions of the faith, were cried down in his presence, as if the "Analogy" of the one and the "Evidences" of the other afforded no argument that would stand its ground in these days of advanced thought and criticism. But, perhaps, in making such remarks, due consideration is not given to the circumstances of the case. The works of these Divines, Butler's especially, were grand works in themselves, and well suited to the age in which they were written. But how is every thing changed since their time! Think of the vast strides that have been made in all branches of science and literature during the present century, and the handles thereby afforded to the enemies of our religion for attacks totally different from those formerly made. A different line of defense is called for accordingly, and evidences of a different character from those of Paley. And it must not be forgotten, that the same growth of learning and discovery which favours the opponents of our faith puts also a more powerful weapon into the hands of those who would defend it. Such new weapons, if I am not mistaken, are being wielded with success. The battle is raging; and controversial literature on the subject of religion is at a fierce heat: and the supply of such evidences as are now called for is not lacking. I should say, from my own reading and observation, that Christianity and religion are yearly gaining ground upon their objectors.
A huge wave of infidelity, no doubt, has for some years back been passing over the whole civilised world, but those who keep abreast with the age, and acquaint themselves with the contemporary literature on the subject, are beginning to allow, I think, the tide is turning, that the crest of the wave is past, and the wave itself slowly moving off; impressing upon us, however, this lesson as its result; that we must take broader views, and enlarge our ideas, respecting the church of Christ, to enable it to withstand in future any further shocks such as it has received of late. We need not fear its stability if we have faith. Let us remember our Lord's words, "In your patience possess ye your souls"; and confide in his assurance to Peter, that "on that rock he would build his church, and that the gates of hell should not prevail against it".
[Paley, William. 1743=1805. Divine of the English Church (3)]
59. [not written]
1. The New Treasury of Biography, Samuel Maunder. Longmans, Green & Co. London. 1887.
2. Men of the Time, 10th Edition, Thompson Cooper, F.S.A., George Routledge & Sons, London. 1879.
3. A Dictionary of Universal Biography, Albert M. Hyamson, F.R.Hist.S., George Routledge & Sons, London. 1916.
4. The Macmillan Dictionary of Biography, Barry Jones & M.V. Dixon, The Macmillan Press Ltd., London and Basingstoke. 1981.