Page images

their national church; both drew to their capital a crowd of literary foreigners from a country far advanced in intellect and infidelity. “ Voltaire, D'Alembert, Helvetius, Maupertuis, and Wolf, were modern copies of Theodorus, Hegesias, Menedemus, Straton, and Colotes." And we are reminded of the same literary rivalry between the king and the scholars ; the same petits soupers ; the same envyings and quarrellings; the same comprehensive liberality in matters of religion. As Frederic patronised Wolf with one hand, and the Jesuits with the other, making his owu infidelity a middle term, so did Ptolemy pay his orisons to Isis and Venus, under the intermediate abstraction of Serapis. And to the Academy, founded by Frederic, corresponds the Museum founded by Ptolemy.* Great and sedulous was his Egyptian majesty's care for, and interest in, the well-being and working of his collegiate and educational institutes. Mr. Kingsley's verdict on their working is, that in Physics the product was next to nothing, in Art nothing, and in Metaphysics less than nothing. Among the literary and scientific Notables of Alexandria, he devotes a few words to Euclid, whose genius he considers a complete type of the general tendency of the Greek mind, deductive, rather than inductive; of unrivalled subtlety in obtaining results from principles, and results again from them, ad infinitum, but deficient in the sturdy moral patience of the Baconian ideal and the British actual, necessary to a due examination of facts ;-to Eratosthenes, immortalised by the one mite he contributed to science, and not by the profuse dissertations he indited on Ethics, Chronology, and Dramatic Criticism ;-to Hipparchus, in whom “astronomic science seemed to awaken suddenly to a true inductive method, and after him to fall into its old slumber for 300 years," a method which enabled him and his successors to calculate and predict the changes of the heavens, in spite of their clumsy instruments, with almost as much accuracy as we do now ;-to Callimachus, that encyclopædic favourite of Philadelphus, and founder of Alexandrian literature; and to the Lycophrons and Philetases, bardlings and poetasters, some of whom, however, were the models of Propertius and Ovid and Rome's most ambitious lyrists. “One natural strain"-we quote one of the lecturer's pleasantest bits of criticism " is heard amid all this artificial jingle ; that of Theocritus. It is not altogether Alexandrian. Its sweetest notes were learnt amid the chesnut groves and orchards, the volcanic glens and sunny pastures of Sicily : but the intercourse between the courts of Hiero and the Ptolemies seems to have been continual. ... The real value of Theocritus lies in his powers of landscape-painting. One can well conceive the delight which his idyls must have given to those dusty Alexandrians, pent up for ever between sea and sand-hills, drinking the tank-water, and never hearing the sound of a running stream,-whirling, too, for ever, in all the bustle and intrigue of a commercial and literary city. Refreshing indeed it must have been to them to hear of those simple joys and simple sorrows of the Sicilian shepherd, in a land where toil was but exercise, and mere existence was enjoyment. To them, and to us also. I believe Theocritus is one of the poets who will never die. He sees men and things, in his own light way, truly; and he describes then simply, honestly, with little careless touches of pathos and humour, while he foods his whole scene with that gorgeous Sicilian air, like one of Titian's pictures ; with still sunshine, whispering pines, the lizard sleeping on the wall, and the sunburnt cicala shrieking on the spray, the pears and apples dropping from the orchard bough, the goats clambering from crag to crag after the cistus and the thyme, the brown youths and wanton lasses singing under the dark chesnut boughs, or by the leafy arch of some

* See a learned and lively essay, which all Mr, Kingsley's readers will gladly refer to, on “ Alexandria and the Alexandrians," in the Quarterly Review, vol. lxvi.

Grot nymph-haunted, Garlanded over with vine, and acanthus, and clambering roses, Cool in the fierce still noon, where the streams glance clear in the moss-beds ; and here and there, between the braes and meads, blue glimpses of the far-off summer sea; and all this told in a language and a metre which shapes itself almost unconsciously, wave after wave, into the most luscious song. Doubt not that many a soul then was the simpler, and purer, and better, for reading the sweet singer of Syracuse. He has his immoralities; but they are the immoralities of his age : his naturalness, his sunny calm and cheerfulness, are all his own.” Surely a charming glimpse of

Theocritus, with glittering locks,
Dropt sideways, as betwixt the rocks

He watched the visionary flocks,* as Mrs. Browning pictures the poet whom Mr. Bruce,t allowing him to be the simplest and the most natural of all rural poets, yet mistrusts as an aristocratic and courtly minstrel, wholly ignorant of the country life he painted so attractively, wallowing the while in wealth and luxury, and robed in purple and fine linen, in the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Mr. Kingsley gives a highly interesting sketch of the character of Neo-Platonism in his third lecture; dealing thoughtfully and frankly with a difficult subject, and throwing out many a pregnant hint, and suggesting many a weighty matter of speculation, as might be expected from one of his hardihood and outspoken earnestness. He makes this section of his subject the most valuable of any, as it was of itself the most attractive, and the most delicate to handle before a mixed multitude. Firmly stating and standing to his own convictions as a Christian priest, he disserts with the manliest freedom on the inter-agencies and co-relations of philosophy and religion in the schools of Alexandria. He passes in review the tenets of Philo, the father of Neo-Platonism, who seemed "to himself to find in the sacred books of his nation that which agreed with the deepest discoveries of Greek philosophy, which explained and corroborated them," and who saw partially and yet clearly that great metaphysic idea of the Logos, which, after Coleridge, Mr. Kingsley believes to be " at once the justifier and the harmoniser of all philosophic truth which man has ever discovered, or will discover;"—of Plotinus, “slavishly enough reverencing the opinion of Plato, whom he quotes as an infallible oracle, with a · He says, as if there were but one he in the universe," but who at least tried honestly to develop Plato, or what he

* Vision of Poets.

† Classic and Historic Portraits.

conceived to be Plato, on the method which Plato had laid down, and who approved himself in practical life as a benignant and upright sage, one who could and would give good advice about earthly matters, was a faithful steward of moneys deposited with him, a guardian of widows and orphans, a righteous and loving man;"—and of Proclus, to whom the golden chain of the Platonic succession descended from the murdered maiden-philosopher Hypatia, — Proclus, whom Victor Cousin lauds as the priest of the whole universe by right of having mastered and harmonised all religions, but who, to our lecturer, seems at once the most timid and servile of commentators, and the most cloudy of declaimers-one who “can rave symbolism like Jacob Böhmen, but without an atom of his originality and earnestness," and can “develop an inverted pyramid of demonology, like Father Newman himself, but without an atom of his art, his knowledge of human cravings." "He combines all schools, truly, Chaldee and Egyptian as well as Greek ; but only scraps from their mummies, drops from their quintessences, which satisfy the heart and conscience as little as they do the logical faculties." A memorable prayer of Proclus for more light is, however, reverently done justice to by his critic, as the last Pagan Greek prayer we have on record, “ the death-wail of the old world—not without a touch of melody"--and not without an affecting likeness to that In Memoriam figure of

An infant crying in the night;

An infant crying for the light;

And with no language but a cry. And then comes the Christian school of Alexandrian philosophy, concerning which Mr. Kingsley, in opposition to the current contempt of the Alexandrian divines as mere mystics, who corrupted Christianity by an admixture of Oriental and Greek thought, avows his belief that "they expanded and corroborated Christianity, in spite of great errors and defects on certain points, far more than they corrupted it; that they presented it to the minds of cultivated and scientific men in the only form in which it would have satisfied their philosophic aspirations, and yet contrived, with wonderful wisdom, to ground their philosophy on the very same truths which they taught to the meanest slaves, and to appeal in the philosophers to the very same inward faculty to which they appealed in the slave; namely, to that inward eye, that moral sense and reason, whereby each and every man can, if he will, judge of himself that which is right.?” He contends that what there was of esoteric and exoteric distinctions in their teaching, was not what it was with the Heathen schools, a separate sum of faith for men of culture and for the vulgar herd severally, the kernel for the privileged illuminati, and the husk for the incapable mob; but that, exactly on the contrary, these Christian philosophers boldly called those vulgar eyes to enter into the very holy of holies, and there gaze on the very deepest root-ideas of their philosophy. “They owned no ground for their own speculations which was not common to the harlots and the slaves around"—the ground being (and this is the key to the whole) a moral ground, and not a merely intellectual one, and the only prohibition imposed being the meddling with intellectual matters, before the meddlers (to whom the entire moral field was open) had had a regular intellectual training. Hence their apologist sees in their teaching a truly practical human element-purely ethical and metaphysical, and yet palpable to the simplest and lowest, which exerted a regenerating force never attained by the highest efforts of Neo-Platonism. That capital doctrine of the very Personality and the real Fatherhood of God, upon which Mr. Maurice insists with so much emphasis and solicitude, is reiterated and illustrated by his friend and fellow-labourer Mr. Kingsley, with equal prominency and persistency of statement. And when sunimoned to observe the decline and fall of Alexandrian Christianity, and to say why it rotted away, and perished hideously, he at once proclaims the causes of its decay and death to lie in its having been untrue to itself, and faithless to the cardinal point of its religious philosophy. They forgot practically, these religious philosophers, that the light of truth proceeded from a Personand that if He was a Person, He had a character, and that that character was a righteous and loving one-they became Dogmatists, fierce assertors of a truth which they were forgetting was meant to be used, and not barely asserted—the divine Logos, "and theology as a whole, receded further and further aloft into abysmal heights, as it became a mere dreary system of dead scientific terms, having no practical bearing on their hearts and lives;" and thus the Christian Alexandrians, as the Heathen had done, took to demonologies and image-worship, and all those drivelling idolatries which made their Mohammedan invaders regard them as polytheists, no better than the Pagan Arabs of the desert.

And justly so regard them, Mr. Kingsley holds. Little tolerance has he for that degraded aspect of the Christian world of which Islam was indignantly intolerant. Little sympathy with those Jacobite and Melchite controversies and riots, in the midst of which uprose the avenging Mussulmans. Little courtesy towards that chaos of profligacy and chicanery, in rulers and people, in the home and in the market, in the theatre and in the senate, such as the world has rarely seen before or since; a chaos, he says, which reached its culmination in the seventh century, the age of Justinian and Theodora, whom he pronounces the two most hideous sovereigns, worshipped by the most hideous empire of parasites and cowards, hypocrites and wantons, that ever insulted the long-suffering of a righteous God. And what of Islam and Mohammed ? Much the same in substance with what Carlyle teaches in his “ Hero-worship,” modified by the views of Maurice in his “Religions of the World." Islam was strong, because it was the “result of a true insight into the nature of God," as a God who "showeth [in the words of the Koran] to man the thing which he knew not;" for this, we are assured, is the end and object of all metaphysic, “that external and imperishable beauty for which Plato sought of old, and had seen that its name was righteousness, and that it dwelt absolutely in an absolutely righteous Person; and moreover, that this Person was no careless self-contented epicurean deity,” but One who cared for men, and desired to make them righteous.

But Islam soon deteriorated. Polygamy, inducing the degradation of woman—the loss of the sense of inspiration, and the loss of the knowledge of God, dwindling into a dark, slavish, benumbing fatalism,-the cultivation of the Aristotelian philosophy (Mr. Kingsley's Platonic zeal never spares the Stagyrite when he can deal him a blow, deserved or otherwise) ;-these things sped the decline of Islamism. To polygamy alone the lecturer attributes nine-tenths of the present decay and old age of every Mussulman nation, and maintains that until it be utterly abolished, all Western civilisation and capital, and all the civil and religious liberty on earth, will not avail one jot toward their revival.

And here we must not omit mention of his allusions (in the Preface) to the state and prospects of Turkey. He doubts the possibility of the “regeneration" of any nation which has sunk, “not into mere valiant savagery, but into effete and profligate luxury" -of any people which has “ lost the one great quality which was the tenure of its existence, military skill.” He bids us remember the Turkish armies of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, “ when they were the tutors and models of all Europe in the art of war," and then ponder on the fact of their now requiring to be “ officered by foreign adventurers” to be kept going or standing at all. “When, in the age of Theodosius, and again in that of Justinian, the Roman armies had fallen into the same state; when the Italian legions required to be led by Stilicho the Vandal, and the Byzantine by Belisar the Sclav and Narses the Persian, the end of all things was at hand, and came; and it will come soon to Turkey." The Turkish empire, as it now exists, seems to Mr. Kingsley “an altogether unrighteous and worthless thing," which stands no longer upon the assertion of the greath truth of Islam, but on the merest brute force and oppression. But then, if Turkey deserves to fall, and must fall, let it not fall (he is careful to add) by any treachery of ours. “Whatsoever element of good is left in the Turk, to that we must appeal as our only means, if not of saving him, still of helping him to a quiet euthanasia and absorption into a worthier race of successors.” Parson Lot, the Christian Socialist, the author of “ Alton Locke,” will not be suspected of Russian sympathies; and if, as he says he does, he looks with sad forebodings on the destiny of the war, it is because of the promises made by “our own selfish shortsightedness,” under the “hollow name of the Cause of Order," that “the wrongs of Italy, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, shall remain unredressed, and that Prussia and Austria, two tyrannies, the one far more false and hypocritical, the other even more rotten than that of Turkey, shall, if they will but observe a hollow and uncertain neutrality (for who can trust the liar and the oppressor?)—be allowed not only to keep their ill-gotten spoils, but even now to play into the hands of our foe, by guarding his Polish frontier for him, and keeping down the victims of his cruelty, under pretence of keeping down those of their own.” Here, as throughout this paper, we leave the lecturer to speak for himself, and forbear caution or comment; for so many and so knotty are the debateable things involved in these pages, that had we tarried to inquire and take exception, our present terminus would be but the initial à quo instead of the ultimate ad quem.

« EelmineJätka »