Page images
PDF
EPUB

lately appeared, dealing more or less fully with John Keble. So, presuming on that knowledge, let us be content to dwell upon a few points to which we think attention should be especially directed.

And, in the first place, what is the meaning of that perpetual yearning after quietness, sobriety, peace, which Keble betrayed long before the Oxford Movement aroused the Church and nation ? Why does he take as his motto for the Christian Year, ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength'? Why does he insist upon the fact that next to a sound rule of faith there is nothing of so much consequence as a sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion? Why does he call attention to 'that soothing tendency in the Prayer Book'? Why does he describe those pre-Tractarian times (1827) as times of much leisure and unbounded curiosity, when excitement of every kind is sought after with a morbid eagerness'? The answer to this last question, which includes by implication all the rest, is, ‘Simply because they were so. But what a different view does this give of the state of Church affairs in the early part of the nineteenth century from that which is generally taken! One superficial writer after another persists in describing the Church as being fast asleep before it was awakened by the Oxford Movement. The real historian knows better. Canon Perry, for instance, very properly dates the commencement of the Church revival' from 1800. In the eighteenth century, or rather from the accession of the first George, the Church was fast asleep, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was very wide awake indeed. Unfortunately, however, its activity did not take what Keble thought to be the right direction. The dominant spiritual form was Evangelicalism, or, as Keble called it, not quite accurately, Puritanism. Now, not only were Keble's Church principles quite different from those of the popular religionism, but the bustle, the fuss, the excitement, the public meetings, composed of the most heterogeneous materials, the irregular private societies or prayer meetings, the declamatory preaching, the tendency to rush, with a very insufficient equipment of learning, into all sorts of profound subjects—unfulfilled prophecy, the Millennium, the restoration of the Jews to their own land, the five points of Calvinism, and so forth-were utterly alien to Keble's tone of mind. Still less would he approve of the drastic schemes of reform which were proposed, and the latitudinarian opinions which were aired by the rising school of liberalism, the ablest and most prominent leaders of which had been closely

associated with him at Oxford. The compact little body of High Churchmen who went under the name of the Hackney Phalanx'or the ‘Clapton Sect,' from the residences of their leaders, do not appear to have come much under his notice; so that we can well understand how his dissatisfaction with the Church as it was would arise, not on account of the inactivity with which it is credited, but on account of its activity in wrong directions. He wanted to see more clergymen like his own father, who quietly did their duty on Church lines, without making any fuss about it.

Another feature in Keble's character seems to us to have been very generally misunderstood. From quite early days even his own friends. mistook his gentle, retiring disposition, not exactly for weakness, but at any rate for an inability or unwillingness to assert himself, and to grapple with and overcome difficulties. Hence arose the hesitation which his friends showed about voting for his election to the provostship of Oriel in 1828. Was so diffident, so humble-minded a man quite the person to hold his own as head of a college like Oriel, the centre of the intellectual life of Oxford ? Was he the sort of character to keep well in hand a number of highspirited undergraduates at the most critical period of their lives?' We believe that both these questions might have been unhesitatingly answered in the affirmative, and this we know was the opinion of many whose Oxford days dated so far back. Keble's character was a not very uncommon combination of gentle meekness and iron inflexibility. He would have been the very last man to allow either fellows or undergraduates to take the reins into their own hands, and though it might not, perhaps, have been so well for the Church at large—for part of Keble's attractiveness and force lies in the fact that he was from first to last a plain country parson-it would have been infinitely to the advantage of Oriel if he had been elected Provost.

A kindred misunderstanding of Keble's mind is that which regards it as of an effeminate cast. Even so keen an observer as the late Mr. Walter Bagehot characterises Keble's poetry as Wordsworth adapted to the feminine mind, and there is, or used to be, a general impression that there was a sort of effeminacy about Keble. Never, we believe, was there a greater mistake. Keble had the tenderness of a woman or of a little child, but his mind was essentially of a robust, masculine type. His favourite author, Sir Walter Scott, was the very model of healthy, manly vigour. Bishop Butler and William Wordsworth, his philosophical and poetical guides respectively, were both writers for men, if ever writers were. His friends were of the same type ; Coleridge, Dyson, and the rest were all 'men's men,' and so was Keble himself.

Again, Keble has been represented as 'homo unius libri'— not in the sense in which John Wesley so described himself, but as the writer of only one book of paramount value—that is, of course, the Christian Year. Now it seems to us that Keble's writings are like himself: there is much more in them than appears at first sight. No one would have suspected that plain, homely, retiring, rather silent man of being the primary author of the greatest religious movement since the Reformation; and no one would suspect the unpretentious sermons, essays, biography, of exercising a widely-spread influence. But one finds oneself, after reading Keble's prose writings, unconsciously taking Keble's tone, uttering Keble's sentiments, without remembering that they are his. Of course no one will contend that he had the brilliancy, the genius, the eloquence of Newman, the profound learning of Pusey, or the patient research of Marriott ; but we doubt whether for the sort of effect which it was the object and the tendency of the Oxford revival to produce Keble was not naturally adapted to exercise more influence than any of them. If his rôle had been to preach a new crusade, like a second Peter the Hermit, or to convert the Indians, like a second Francis Xavier, Keble would not have been the man to do it. But it was nothing of the kind ; it was simply to lead men back into 'the old paths,' to turn an 'otiose assent' (to use the happy phrase of Keble's great guide) which thousands would have given into active assent. And Keble grasped the situation far better and sooner than, from the nature of the case, Newman or Pusey or Marriott could do. While Newman was yet an Evangelical curate at St. Clement's, while Pusey was yet toying with Liberalism, while Marriott was yet in absolute obscurity, Keble was, as he had always been, on the path from which he never diverged, and into which it was the purpose of the revival to lead men. He had a whole catena of favourite divines to fall back upon, all of whom harmonized with his views, from Dick Hooker' (as he was wont to call him) in the sixteenth century, through the whole array of Caroline divines in the seventeenth, down to Thomas Wilson and William Law in the eighteenth. It was no new truth that was proclaimed, no fresh discovery that was made. Just give the clue, and the inquirer could find the way for himself.

But those who did find the way before the Oxford Movement guided them were few and far between. Hence Keble's obvious dissatisfaction with his Church as it was. This dis

satisfaction differentiated him from the High Churchmen of the generation that was passing away when Keble was in his prime. Joshua Watson and his brother the Archdeacon, Henry Handley Norris, Charles Daubeny, Christopher Wordsworth the elder, would differ in no important point from Keble ; but their ideal was the Church of England as it was—that is, as it was apart from the glaring abuses which none were more anxious than they to reform. But Keble went further ; he was not an ecclesiastical optimist who regarded the Church in which his lot was cast as the best of all possible Churches, as Candide regarded the world he lived in as the best of all possible worlds. The furthest he could go was to contend that it was the safer course to stay where one was. In this, as in so many other respects, Bishop Butler was his sheet anchor. As probability,' not certainty, 'was the very guide of life,' so an imperfect, not a perfect Church was the best home that could be reasonably hoped for here below. This was a very different line to take from that which was taken, say, by Daubeny in his Guide to the Church; but it was a line that was calculated at once to take the wind out of the sails of would-be Church destroyers, and also to give a rational satisfaction to unsettled minds. “You are expecting,' he said in effect, 'an impossibility ; you are as unreasonable as the man who would pull down his house about his ears because every room and passage in it was not just the size and shape that he thought most convenient. If it is not all to your mind, still, stay where you are, and hope and work for better things. Be loyal to your spiritual mother, though she may be less attractive to the imagination than the ideal mother might be.' There was something singularly characteristic in his mode of reasoning when matters seemed to be at their very worst—when Newman was drifting and had drifted away; when admission to the priesthood was persistently refused to his admirable curate, that most loyal son of the Church, Peter Young ; when his beloved Oxford had made a complete muddle in its dealing with Tract go and with Ward's Ideal Church ; when the only question seemed to be whether the Church was to fall into the Scylla of Puritanism or into the Charybdis of Liberalism. At this trying time his only brother and his wife seemed to be hanging between life and death, and their firm, unclouded faith established Keble himself in his position. He argued that a Church which had produced such saints as these must have the root of the matter in her. The home that was good enough for Charlotte' and 'Tom' was good enough for him. At the same time his attitude towards the Church of his baptism was very different from that of the High Churchmen of the preceding generation. So far from dwelling, as they loved to dwell, upon our excellent establishment,''our happy constitution in Church and State,' and so forth, he thought and wrote of her, especially in his earlier life, as a Church in decay. He never really wavered in his allegiance to her, but he fully recognized her imperfections; and the fact that he did so, and could therefore sympathize with the many who could not shut their eyes to those imperfections, was, in our opinion, one of the reasons why he exercised the influence he did. One may feel a pardonable pride in reflecting that if Keble were now alive he would see most of the defects which he deplored remedied, and that without any radical alteration whatever in her organization.

If this were a sermon instead of an article, the practical lesson which we should be inclined to draw from Keble's career would be a lesson of patience. John Wesley, like Keble, yearned for reforms in the Church which he loved with a sincere love ; but he was impatient, and the result was that, quite against his intention and his will, he became the founder of a sect which everybody except himself saw to be drifting away from the Church long before its founder's death. John Henry Newman was impatient, and therefore he left the Church of his baptism for a Church which only a very few years before he had pronounced hopelessly corrupt. But John Keble, though he saw with quite as keen an eye as either Wesley or Newman the shortcomings of the Church as she was, showed more humility, more intellectual modesty, and, we may add, a truer estimate of her capabilities; and so he was content to live and die where his lot was cast, and his own life and teaching were in no slight degree responsible for the rise of a brighter day for the Church, the dawn of which he lived to see and rejoice in.

Art. VIII.—THE DOCTRINE OF THE PROPHETS. The Doctrine of the Prophets. The Warburtonian Lectures

for 1886–1890. By A. F. KIRKPATRICK, D.D., Regius Professor of Hebrew and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Canon of Ely Cathedral. (London and

New York, 1892.) THERE are few subjects of more importance in their bearing on some controversies of the present time than that of the work of the prophets of the Old Testament. In the consi

« EelmineJätka »