Literary and General Lectures and Essays
Charles Kingsley

Part 4 out of 5

reason, either, why their righteous daring may not have been crowned
with victory; and suspect that on such events were gradually built up
the dragon-slaying legends which charmed all Europe, and grew in
extravagances and absurdities, till they began to degenerate into the
bombast of the "Seven Champions," and expired in the immortal ballad
of the "Dragon of Wantley," in which More of More Hall, on the
morning of his battle with the monster, invoked the saints no more,

To make him strong and mighty--
He drank by the tale
Six pots of ale
And a quart of aqua-vitae.

So ended the sublime sport of dragon-slaying. Its only remnant may
now be seen in Borneo, whither that noble Christian man, Bishop
Macdougall, took out the other day a six-chambered rifle, on the
ground that "while the alligators ate his school-children at Sarawak,
it was his duty as a bishop to shoot the alligators."


Introductory Lectures given at Queen's College, London, 1848.

An introductory lecture on English composition is, I think, as much
needed as one on any other subject taught in this College. For in
the first place, I am not sure whether we all mean the same thing
when we speak of English composition; and in the next place, I
believe that pupils themselves are very often best able to tell their
teachers what sort of instruction they require. I purpose therefore
to-day, not only to explain freely my intentions with regard to this
course of lectures, but to ask you to explain freely your own wants.

I must suppose, however, that the ladies who attend here wish to be
taught how to write English better. Now the art of writing English
is, I should say, the art of speaking English, and speech may be used
for any one of three purposes: to conceal thought, as the French
diplomatist defined its use; to conceal the want of thought, as the
majority of popular writers and orators seem nowadays to employ it;
or, again, to express thought, which would seem to have been the
original destination of the gift of language. I am therefore, I
suppose, in duty bound to take for granted that you come here to be
taught to express your thoughts better.

The whole matter then will very much depend on what thoughts you have
to express. For the form of the symbol must depend on the form of
the thing symbolised, as the medal does upon its die; and thus style
and language are the sacraments of thoughts, the outward and visible
signs of the inward and spiritual grace, or want of grace, in the
writer. And even where language is employed to conceal either
thought, or want thereof, it generally tells a truer tale than it was
meant to do. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth must speak,
and the hollowness or foolishness of the spirit will show itself, in
spite of all cunning sleights, in unconscious peculiarities or
defects of style.

Hence I say style, as the expression of thought, will depend entirely
on what there is within to be expressed, on the character of the
writer's mind and heart. We all allow this implicitly in the
epithets which we apply to different styles. We talk of a vigorous,
a soft, a weak, a frigid, an obscure style, not meaning that the
words and sentences in themselves are vigorous, soft, weak, or even
obscure (for the words and their arrangement may be simple enough all
the while). No, you speak of the quality of the thoughts conveyed in
the words; that a style is powerful, because the writer is feeling
and thinking strongly and clearly; weak or frigid, because his
feelings on the subject have been weak or cold; obscure to you,
because his thoughts have been obscure to himself--because, in short,
he has not clearly imagined to himself the notion which he wishes to
embody. The meaning of the very words "expression" and "composition"
prove the truth of my assertion. Expression is literally the
pressing out into palpable form that which is already within us, and
composition, in the same way, is the composing or putting together of
materials already existing--the form and method of the composition
depend mainly on the form and quality of the materials. You cannot
compose a rope of sand, or a round globe of square stones--and my
friend Mr. Strettell will tell you, in his lectures on grammar, that
words are just as stubborn and intractable materials as sand or
stone, and that we cannot alter their meaning or value a single
shade, for they derive that meaning from a higher fountain than the
soul of man, from the Word of God, the fount of utterance, who
inspires all true and noble thought and speech--who vindicated
language as His own gift, and man's invention, in that miracle of the
day of Pentecost. And I am bound to follow up Mr. Strettell's
teaching by telling you that what holds true of words, and of their
grammatic and logical composition, holds true also of their aesthetic
and artistic composition, of style, of rhythm, of poetry, and
oratory. Every principle of these which is true and good, that is,
which produces beauty, is to be taken as an inspiration from above,
as depending not on the will of man but of God; not on any abstract
rules, of pedant's invention, but on the eternal necessities and
harmony, on the being of God Himself.

These may seem lofty words, but I do not think they are likely to
make us lofty-minded. I think that the belief of them will tend to
make us all more reverent and earnest in examining the utterances of
others, more simple and truthful in giving vent to our own, fearing
equally all prejudiced and hasty criticism, all self-willed
mannerism, all display of fine words, as sins against the divine
dignity of language. From these assertions I think we may conclude
what is the true method of studying style. The critical examination
of good authors, looking at language as an inspiration, and its laws
as things independent of us, eternal and divine, we must search into
them as we would into any other set of facts, in nature, or the
Bible, by patient induction. We must not be content with any
traditional maxims, or abstract rules, such as have been put forth in
Blair and Lord Kaimes, for these are merely worked out by the head,
and can give us no insight into the magic which touches the heart.
All abstract rules of criticism, indeed, are very barren. We may
read whole folios of them without getting one step farther than we
were at first, viz. that what is beautiful is beautiful. Indeed,
these abstract rules generally tend to narrow our notions of what is
beautiful, in their attempt to explain spiritual things by the carnal
understanding. All they do is to explain them away, and so those who
depend on them are tempted to deny the beauty of every thing which
cannot be thus analysed and explained away, according to the
established rule and method. I shall have to point out this again to
you, when we come to speak of the Pope and Johnson school of critics,
and the way in which they wrote whole folios on Shakespeare, without
ever penetrating a single step deeper towards the secret of his
sublimity. It was just this idolatry of abstract rules which made
Johnson call Bishop Percy's invaluable collection of ancient ballads
"stuff and nonsense." It was this which made Voltaire talk of
"Hamlet" as the ravings of a drunken savage, because forsooth it
could not be crammed into the artificial rules of French tragedy. It
is this which, even at this day, makes some men of highly-cultivated
taste declare that they can see no poetry in the writings of Mr.
Tennyson; the cause, little as they are aware of it, simply being
that neither his excellences nor his faults are after the model of
the Etonian classical school which reigned in England fifty years
ago. When these critics speak of that with which they sympathise
they are admirable. They become childish only when they resolve to
bind all by maxims which may suit themselves.

We must then, I think, absolutely eschew any abstract rules as
starting-points. What rules we may require, we must neither borrow
nor invent, but discover, during the course of our reading. We must
take passages whose power and beauty is universally acknowledged, and
try by reverently and patiently dissecting them to see into the
secret of their charm, to see why and how they are the best possible
expressions of the author's mind. Then for the wider laws of art, we
may proceed to examine whole works, single elegies, essays, and

In carrying out all this, it will be safest, as always, to follow the
course of nature, and begin where God begins with us. For as every
one of us is truly a microcosm, a whole miniature world within
ourselves, so is the history of each individual more or less the
history of the whole human race, and there are few of us but pass
through the same course of intellectual growth, through which the
whole English nation has passed, with an exactness and perfection
proportionate, of course, to the richness and vigour of each person's
character. Now as in the nation, so in the individual, poetry
springs up before prose. Look at the history of English literature,
how completely it is the history of our own childhood and
adolescence, in its successive fashions. First, fairy tales--then
ballads of adventure, love, and war--then a new tinge of foreign
thought and feeling, generally French, as it was with the English
nation in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries--then elegiac and
reflective poetry--then classic art begins to influence our ripening
youth, as it did the youth of our nation in the sixteenth century,
and delight in dramatic poetry follows as a natural consequence--and
last, but not least, as the fruit of all these changes, a vigorous
and matured prose. For indeed, as elocution is the highest melody,
so is true prose the highest poetry. Consider how in an air, the
melody is limited to a few arbitrary notes, and recurs at arbitrary
periods, while the more scientific the melody becomes, the more
numerous and nearly allied are the notes employed, and the more
complex and uncertain is their recurrence--in short, the nearer does
the melody of the air approach to the melody of elocution, in which
the notes of the voice ought continually to be passing into each
other, by imperceptible gradations, and their recurrence to depend
entirely on the emotions conveyed in the subject words. Just so,
poetry employs a confined and arbitrary metre, and a periodic
recurrence of sounds which disappear gradually in its higher forms of
the ode and the drama, till the poetry at last passes into prose, a
free and ever-shifting flow of every imaginable rhythm and metre,
determined by no arbitrary rules, but only by the spiritual intent of
the subject. The same will hold good of whole prose compositions,
when compared with whole poems.

Prose then is highest. To write a perfect prose must be your
ultimate object in attending these lectures; but we must walk before
we can run, and walk with leading-strings before we can walk alone,
and such leading-strings are verse and rhyme. Some tradition of this
is still kept up in the practice of making boys write Latin and Greek
verses at school, which is of real service to the intellect, even
when most carelessly employed, and which, when earnestly carried out,
is one great cause of the public school and University man's
superiority in style to most self-educated authors. And why should
women's writings be in any respect inferior to that of men, if they
are only willing to follow out the same method of self-education?

Do not fancy, when I say that we must learn poetry before we learn
prose, that I am only advancing a paradox; mere talking is no more
prose than mere rhyme is poetry. Monsieur Jourdain, in Moliere's
comedy, makes, I suspect, a very great mistake, when he tells his
master: "If that means prose, I've been talking prose all my life."
I fancy the good man had been no more talking prose, than an awkward
country boy has been really walking all his life, because he has been
contriving somehow to put one leg before the other. To see what
walking is, we must look at the perfectly-drilled soldier, or at the
perfectly-accomplished lady, who has been taught to dance in order
that she may know how to walk. Dancing has been well called the
poetry of motion; but the tender grace, the easy dignity in every
gesture of daily life which the perfect dancer exhibits answers
exactly to that highly-organised prose which ought to be the
offspring of a critical acquaintance with poetry. Milton's matchless
prose style, for instance, grows naturally from his matchless power
over rhyme and metre. Practice in versification might be unnecessary
if we were all born world-geniuses; so would practice in dancing, if
every lady had the figure of a Venus and the garden of Eden for a
playground. But even the ancient Greeks amid every advantage of
climate, dress, and physical beauty, considered a thorough
instruction in all athletic and graceful exercises as indispensably
necessary, not only to a boy's but also to a girl's education, and in
like manner, I think the exquisite models of prose with which English
literature abounds will not supersede the necessity of a careful
training in versification, nay, will rather make such a training all
the more requisite for those who wish to imitate such excellence.
Pray understand me: by using the word "imitate," I do not mean that
I wish you to ape the style of any favourite author. Your aim will
not be to write like this man or that woman, but to write like
yourselves, being of course responsible for what yourselves are like.
Do not be afraid to let the peculiarities of your different
characters show yourselves in your styles. Your prose may be the
rougher for it, but it will be at least honest; and all mannerism is
dishonesty, an attempt to gain beauty at the expense of truthful
expression which invariably defeats its own ends, and produces an
unpleasing effect, so necessarily one are truth and beauty. So far
then from wishing to foster in you any artificial mannerism,
mannerism is that foul enchanter from whom, above all others, I am
sworn "en preux chevalier" to deliver you. As Professor Maurice
warned me when I undertook this lectureship, my object in teaching
you about "styles" should be that you may have no style at all. But
mannerism can be only avoided by the most thorough practice and
knowledge. Half-educated writers are always mannerists; while, as
the ancient canon says, "the perfection of art is to conceal art"--to
depart from uncultivated and therefore defective nature, to rise
again through art to a more organised and therefore more simple
naturalness. Just as, to carry on the analogy which I employed just
now, it is only the perfect dancer who arrives at that height of art
at which her movements seem dictated not by conscious science, but
unconscious nature.

I do hope then that the study, and still more the practice of
versification, may produce in you the same good effects which they do
in young men; that they may give you a habit of portioning out your
thoughts distinctly and authentically in a more simple, condensed,
and expressive style; that they may teach you what elevation of
language, what class of sounds, what flow of words may best suit your
tone of thought and feeling, that they may prevent in you that
tendency to monotonous repetition, and vain wordiness, which is the
bosom sin of most uneducated prose writers, not only of the ladies of
the nineteenth century, but of the Middle Age monks, who, having in
general no poetry on which to form their taste, except the effeminate
and bombastic productions of the dying Roman empire, fell into a
certain washy prolixity, which has made monk Latin a byword, and puts
one sadly in mind of what is too truly called "young ladies'

I should like then to begin with two or three of the early ballads,
and carefully analyse them with you. I am convinced that in them we
may discover many of the great primary laws of composition, as well
as the secrets of sublimity and pathos in their very simplest
manifestations. It may be that there are some here to whom the study
of old ballads may be a little distasteful, who are in an age when
the only poetry which has charms is the subjective and self-conscious
"poetry of the heart"--to whom a stanza of "Childe Harolde" may seem
worth all the ballads that ever were written: but let me remind them
that woman is by her sex an educator, that every one here must
expect, ay hope, to be employed at some time or other in training the
minds of children; then let me ask them to recall the years in which
objective poems, those which dealt with events, ballads, fairy tales,
down to nursery rhymes, were their favourite intellectual food, and
let me ask them whether it will not be worth while, for the sake of
the children whom they may hereafter influence, to bestow a little
thought on this earlier form of verse.

I must add too, that without some understanding of these same
ballads, we shall never arrive at a critical appreciation of
Shakespeare. For the English drama springs from an intermarriage
between this same ballad poetry, the poetry of incidents, and that
subjective elegiac poetry which deals with the feelings and
consciousnesses of man. They are the two poles, by whose union our
drama is formed, and some critical knowledge of both of them will be,
as I said, necessary before we can study it.

After the ballads, we ought, I think, to know a little about the
early Norman poetry, whose fusion with the pure north Saxon ballad
school produced Chaucer and the poets previous to the Reformation.
We shall proceed to Chaucer himself; then to the rise of the drama;
then to the poets of the Elizabethan age. I shall analyse a few of
Shakespeare's masterpieces; then speak of Milton and Spenser; thence
pass to the prose of Sidney, Hooker, Bacon, Taylor, and our later
great authors. Thus our Composition lectures will follow an
historical method, parallel with, and I hope illustrative of, the
lectures on English History.

But it will not be enough, I am afraid, to study the style of others
without attempting something yourselves. No criticism teaches so
much as the criticism of our own works. And I hope therefore that
you will not think that I ask too much of you when I propose that
weekly prose and verse compositions, on set subjects, be sent in by
the class. To the examination of these the latter half of each
lecture may be devoted, and the first half-hour to the study of
various authors: and in order that I may be able to speak my mind
freely on them I should propose that they be anonymous. I hope that
you will all trust me when I tell you that those who have themselves
experienced what labour attends the task of composition, are
generally most tender and charitable in judging of the work of
others, and that whatever remarks I may make will be such only as a
man has a right to make on a woman's composition.

And if I may seem to be asking anything new or troublesome, I beg you
to remember, that it is the primary idea of this College to vindicate
women's right to an education in all points equal to that of men; the
difference between them being determined not by any fancied
inferiority of mind, but simply by the distinct offices and character
of the sexes. And surely when you recollect the long drudgery at
Greek and Latin verses which is required of every highly-educated
man, and the high importance which has attached to them for centuries
in the opinion of Englishmen, you cannot think that I am too exigeant
in asking you for a few sets of English verses. Believe me, that you
ought to find their beneficial effect in producing, as I said before,
a measured deliberate style of expression, a habit of calling up
clear and distinct images on all subjects, a power of condensing and
arranging your thoughts, such as no practice in prose themes can ever
give. If you are disappointed of these results it will not be the
fault of this long-proved method of teaching, but of my own inability
to carry it out. Indeed I cannot too strongly confess my own
ignorance or fear my own inability. I stand aghast when I compare my
means and my idea, but I believe that "by teaching thou shalt learn,"
is a rule of which I too shall take the benefit, and having begun
these lectures in the name of Him who is The Word, and with the firm
intention of asserting throughout His claims as the inspirer of all
language and of all art, I may perhaps hope for the fulfilment of His
own promise: "Be not anxious what you shall speak, for it shall be
given you in that day and in that hour what you shall speak."


Introductory Lecture given at Queen's College, London, 1848.

An introductory lecture must, I suppose, be considered as a sort of
art-exhibition, or advertisement of the wares hereafter to be
furnished by the lecturer. If these, on actual use, should prove to
fall far short of the promise conveyed in the programme, hearers must
remember that the lecturer is bound, even to his own shame, to set
forth in all commencements the most perfect method of teaching which
he can devise, in order that human frailty may have something at
which to aim; at the same time begging all to consider that in this
piecemeal world, it is sufficient not so much to have realised one's
ideal, as earnestly to have tried to realise it, according to the
measure of each man's gifts. Besides, what may not be fulfilled in a
first course, or in a first generation of teachers, may still be
effected by those who follow them. It is but fair to expect that if
this Institution shall prove, as I pray God it may, a centre of
female education worthy of the wants of the coming age, the method
and the practice of the College will be developing, as years bring
experience and wider eye-range, till we become truly able to teach
the English woman of the nineteenth century to bear her part in an
era, which, as I believe, more and more bids fair to eclipse, in
faith and in art, in science and in polity, any and every period of
glory which Christendom has yet beheld.

The first requisite, I think, for a modern course of English
Literature is, that it be a whole course or none. The literary
education of woman has too often fallen into the fault of our
"Elegant Extracts," and "Beauties of British Poetry." It has neither
begun at the beginning nor ended at the end. The young have been
taught to admire the laurels of Parnassus, but only after they have
been clipped and pollarded like a Dutch shrubbery. The roots which
connect them with mythic antiquity, and the fresh leaves and flowers
of the growing present, have been generally cut off with care, and
the middle part only has been allowed to be used--too often, of
course, a sufficiently tough and dry stem. This method is no doubt
easy, because it saves teachers the trouble of investigating
antiquity, and saves them too the still more delicate task of judging
contemporaneous authors--but like all half measures, it has bred less
good than evil. If we could silence a free press, and the very free
tongues of modern society; if we could clip the busy, imaginative,
craving mind of youth on the Procrustean bed of use and wont, the
method might succeed; but we can do neither--the young _will_ read
and _will_ hear; and the consequence is, a general complaint that the
minds of young women are outgrowing their mothers' guidance, that
they are reading books which their mothers never dreamt of reading,
of many of which they never heard, many at least whose good and evil
they have had no means of investigating; that the authors which
really interest and influence the minds of the young are just the
ones which have formed no part of their education, and therefore
those for judging of which they have received no adequate rules;
that, in short, in literature as in many things, education in England
is far behind the wants of the age.

Now this is all wrong and ruinous. The mother's mind should be the
lodestar of the daughter's. Anything which loosens the bond of
filial reverence, of filial resignation, is even more destructive, if
possible, to womanhood than to manhood--the certain bane of both.
And the evil fruits are evident enough--self-will and self-conceit in
the less gentle, restlessness and dissatisfaction in many of the
meekest and gentlest; talents seem with most a curse instead of a
blessing; clever and earnest young women, like young men, are
beginning to wander up and down in all sorts of eclecticisms and
dilettanteisms--one year they find out that the dark ages were not
altogether barbarous, and by a revulsion of feeling natural to youth,
they begin to adore them as a very galaxy of light, beauty, and
holiness. Then they begin to crave naturally enough for some real
understanding of this strange ever-developing nineteenth century,
some real sympathy with its new wonders, some real sphere of labour
in it; and this drives them to devour the very newest authors--any
book whatever which seems to open for them the riddle of the mighty
and mysterious present, which is forcing itself on their attention
through every sense. And so up and down, amid confusions and
oscillations from pole to pole, and equally eclectic at either pole,
from St. Augustin and Mr. Pugin to Goethe and George Sand, and all
intensified and coloured by that tender enthusiasm, that craving for
something to worship, which is a woman's highest grace, or her
bitterest curse--wander these poor Noah's doves, without either ark
of shelter or rest for the sole of their foot, sometimes, alas! over
strange ocean-wastes, into gulfs of error--too sad to speak of here--
and _will_ wander more and more till teachers begin boldly to face
reality, and interpret to them both the old and the new, lest they
misinterpret them for themselves. The educators of the present
generation must meet the cravings of the young spirit with the bread
of life, or they will gorge themselves with poison. Telling them
that they ought not to be hungry, will not stop their hunger;
shutting our eyes to facts, will only make us stumble over them the
sooner; hiding our eyes in the sand, like the hunted ostrich, will
not hide us from the iron necessity of circumstances, or from the
Almighty will of Him, who is saying in these days to society, in
language unmistakable: "Educate, or fall to pieces! Speak the
_whole_ truth to the young, or take the consequences of your

On these grounds I should wish to see established in this College a
really entire course of English Literature, such as shall give
correct, reverent, and loving views of every period, from the
earliest legends and poetry of the Middle Age, up to the latest of
our modern authors, and in the case of the higher classes, if it
should hereafter be found practicable, lectures devoted to the
criticism of such authors as may be exercising any real influence
upon the minds of English women. This, I think, should be our ideal.
It must be attempted cautiously and step by step. It will not be
attained at the first trial, certainly not by the first lecturer.
Sufficient, if each succeeding teacher shall leave something more
taught, some fresh extension of the range of knowledge which is
thought fit for his scholars.

I said that the ages of history were analogous to the ages of man,
and that each age of literature was the truest picture of the history
of its day; and for this very reason English literature is the best
perhaps, the only teacher of English history, to women especially.
For it seems to me that it is principally by the help of such an
extended literary course, that we can cultivate a just and enlarged
taste, which will connect education with the deepest feelings of the
heart. It seems hardly fair, or reasonable either, to confine the
reading of the young to any certain fancied Augustan age of authors,
I mean those of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; especially
when that age requires, in order to appreciate it, a far more
developed mind, a far greater experience of mankind and of the world,
than falls to the lot of one young woman out of a thousand. Strong
meat for men, and milk for babes. But why are we to force on any age
spiritual food unfitted for it? If we do we shall be likely only to
engender a lasting disgust for that by which our pupils might have
fully profited, had they only been introduced to it when they were
ready for it. And this actually happens with English literature: by
having the so-called standard works thrust upon them too early, and
then only in a fragmentary form, not fresh and whole, but cut up into
the very driest hay, the young too often neglect in after-life the
very books which then might become the guides of their taste. Hence
proceed in the minds of the young sudden and irregular revulsions of
affection for different schools of writing: and all revolutions in
the individual as well as in the nation are sure to be accompanied by
some dead loss of what has been already gained, some disruption of
feelings, some renunciation of principles, which ought to have been
preserved; something which might have borne fruit is sure to be
crushed in the earthquake. Many before me must surely have felt
this. Do none here remember how, when they first escaped from the
dry class-drudgery of Pope and Johnson, they snatched greedily at the
forbidden fruit of Byron, perhaps of Shelley, and sentimental novel-
writers innumerable? How when the luscious melancholy of their
morbid self-consciousness began to pall on the appetite, they fled
for refuge as suddenly to mere poetry of description and action, to
Southey, Scott, the ballad-literature of all ages? How when the
craving returned (perhaps unconsciously to themselves) to understand
the wondrous heart of man, they tried to satisfy it with deep
draughts of Wordsworth's celestial and pure simplicity? How again,
they tired of that too gentle and unworldly strain, and sought in
Shakespeare something more exciting, more genial, more rich in the
facts and passions of daily life? How even his all-embracing genius
failed to satisfy them, because he did not palpably connect for them
their fancy and their passions with their religious faith--and so
they wandered out again over the sea of literature, heaven only knows
whither, in search of a school of authors yet, alas! unborn. For the
true literature of the nineteenth century, the literature which shall
set forth in worthy strains the relation of the two greatest facts,
namely, of the universe and of Christ, which shall transfigure all
our enlarged knowledge of science and of society, of nature, of art,
and man, with the eternal truths of the gospel, that poetry of the
future is not yet here: but it is coming, ay even at the doors, when
this great era shall become conscious of its high vocation, and the
author too shall claim his priestly calling, and the poets of the
world, like the kingdoms of the world, shall become the poets of God
and of His Christ.

But to return. Should we not rather in education follow that method
which Providence has already mapped out for us? If we are bound, as
of course we are, to teach our pupils to breathe freely on the
highest mountain-peaks of Shakespeare's art, how can we more
certainly train them to do so, than by leading them along the same
upward path by which Shakespeare himself rose--through the various
changes of taste, the gradual developments of literature, through
which the English mind had been passing before Shakespeare's time?
For there was a literature before Shakespeare. Had there not been,
neither would there have been a Shakespeare. Critics are now
beginning to see that the old fancy which made Shakespeare spring up
at once, a self-perfected poet, like Minerva full-armed from the head
of Jove, was a superstition of pedants, who neither knew the ages
before the great poet, nor the man himself, except that little of him
which seemed to square with their shallow mechanical taste. The old
fairy superstition, the old legends and ballads, the old chronicles
of feudal war and chivalry, the earlier moralities and mysteries, and
tragi-comic attempts--these were the roots of his poetic tree--they
must be the roots of any literary education which can teach us to
appreciate him. These fed Shakespeare's youth; why should they not
feed our children's? Why indeed? That inborn delight of the young
in all that is marvellous and fantastic--has that a merely evil root?
No surely! It is a most pure part of their spiritual nature; a part
of "the heaven which lies about us in our infancy;" angel-wings with
which the free child leaps the prison-walls of sense and custom, and
the drudgery of earthly life--like the wild dreams of childhood, it
is a God-appointed means for keeping alive what noble Wordsworth

those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realised;


by which

Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither:
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the children sporting on the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

And those old dreams of our ancestors in the childhood of England,
they are fantastic enough, no doubt, and unreal, but yet they are
most true and most practical, if we but use them as parables and
symbols of human feeling and everlasting truth. What, after all, is
any event of earth, palpable as it may seem, but, like them, a shadow
and a ghostly dream, till it has touched our _hearts_, till we have
found out and obeyed its spiritual lesson? Be sure that one really
pure legend or ballad may bring God's truth and heaven's beauty more
directly home to the young spirit than whole volumes of dry abstract
didactic morality. Outward things, beauty, action, nature, are the
great problems for the young. God has put them in a visible world,
that by what they _see_ they may learn to know the _unseen_; and we
must begin to feed their minds with that literature which deals most
with visible things, with passion manifested in action, which we
shall find in the early writing of our Middle Ages; for then the
collective mind of our nation was passing through its natural stages
of childhood and budding youth, as every nation and every single
individual must at some time or other do; a true "young England,"
always significant and precious to the young. I said there was a
literary art before Shakespeare--an art more simple, more childlike,
more girlish as it were, and therefore all the more adapted for young
minds. But also an art most vigorous and pure in point of style:
thoroughly fitted to give its readers the first elements of taste,
which must lie at the root of even the most complex aesthetics. I
know no higher specimens of poetic style, considering the subject,
and the belief of the time about them, than may be found in many of
our old ballads. How many poets are there in England now, who could
have written "The Twa Bairns," or "Sir Patrick Spens?" How many such
histories as old William of Malmesbury, in spite of all his foolish
monk miracles? As few now as there were then; and as for lying
legends--they had their superstitions, and we have ours; and the next
generation will stare at our strange doings as much as we stare at
our forefathers. For our forefathers they were; we owe them filial
reverence, thoughtful attention, and more--we must know them ere we
can know ourselves. The only key to the present is the _past_.

But I must go farther still, and after premising that the English
classics, so called, of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries will
of course form the bulk of the lectures, I must plead for some
instruction in the works of recent and living authors. I cannot see
why we are to teach the young about the past and not about the
present. After all, they have to live now, and at no other time; in
this same nineteenth century lies their work: it may be unfortunate,
but we cannot help it. I do not see why we should wish to help it.
I know no century which the world has yet seen so well worth living
in. Let us thank God that we are here now, and joyfully try to
understand _where_ we are, and what our work is _here_. As for all
superstitions about "the good old times," and fancies that _they_
belonged to God, while this age belongs only to man, blind chance,
and the Evil One, let us cast them from us as the suggestions of an
evil lying spirit, as the natural parents of laziness, pedantry,
popery, and unbelief. And therefore let us not fear to tell our
children the meaning of this present day, and of all its different
voices. Let us not be content to say to them, as we have been doing:
"We will see you well instructed in the past, but you must make out
the present for yourselves." Why, if the past is worth explaining,
far more is the present--the pressing, noisy, complex present, where
our work-field lies, the most intricate of all states of society, and
of all schools of literature yet known, and therefore the very one
requiring most explanation.

How rich in strange and touching utterances have been the last fifty
years of English literature. Do you think that God has been teaching
us nothing in them? Will He not _make_ our children listen to that
teaching, whether we like or not? And suppose our most modern
writers _had_ added nothing to the stock of national knowledge, which
I most fervently deny, yet are they not actually influencing the
minds of the young? and can we prevent their doing so either directly
or indirectly? If we do not find them right teaching about their own
day, will they not be sure to find self-chosen teachers about it
themselves, who will be almost certainly the first who may come to
hand, and therefore as likely as not to be _bad_ teachers? And do we
not see every day that it is just the most tender, the most
enthusiastic, the most precious spirits, who are most likely to be
misled, because their honest disgust at the follies of the day has
most utterly outgrown their critical training? And that lazy
wholesale disapprobation of living writers, so common and convenient,
what does it do but injure all reverence for parents and teachers,
when the young find out that the poet, who, as they were told, was a
bungler and a charlatan, somehow continues to touch the purest and
noblest nerves of their souls, and that the author who was said to be
dangerous and unchristian, somehow makes them more dutiful, more
earnest, more industrious, more loving to the poor? I speak of
actual cases. Would to God they were not daily ones!

Is it not then the wiser, because the more simple and trustful
method, both to God and our children, to say: "You shall read living
authors, and we will teach you how to read them; you, like every
child that is born into the world, must eat the fruit of the tree of
knowledge of good and evil; we will see that you have your senses
exercised to discern between that good and that evil. You shall have
the writers for whom you long, as far as consists with common
prudence and morality, and more, you shall be taught them: all we
ask of you is to be patient and humble; believe us, you will never
really appreciate these writers, you will not even rationally enjoy
their beauties, unless you submit to a course of intellectual
training like that through which most of them have passed, and
through which certainly this nation which produced them has passed,
in the successive stages of its growth."

The best method, I think, of working out these principles would be to
devote a few lectures in the last term of every complete course, to
the examination of some select works of recent writers, chosen under
the sanction of the Educational Committee. But I must plead for
_whole_ works. "Extracts" and "Select Beauties" are about as
practical as the worthy in the old story, who, wishing to sell his
house, brought one of the bricks to market as a specimen. It is
equally unfair on the author and on the pupil; for it is impossible
to show the merits or demerits of a work of art, even to explain the
truth or falsehood of any particular passage, except by viewing the
book as an organic whole. And as for the fear of raising a desire to
read more of an author than may be proper--when a work has once been
pointed out as really hurtful, the rest must be left to the best
safeguard which I have yet discovered, in man or woman--the pupil's
own honour.

Such a knowledge of English literature would tend no less, I think,
to the spread of healthy historic views among us. The literature of
every nation is its autobiography. Even in its most complex and
artistic forms, it is still a wonderfully artless and unconscious
record of its doubts and its faith, its sorrows and its triumphs, at
each era of its existence. Wonderfully artless and correct--because
all utterances which were not faithful to their time, which did not
touch some sympathetic chord in their heart's souls, are pretty sure
to have been swept out into wholesome oblivion, and only the most
genuine and earnest left behind for posterity. The history of
England indeed is the literature of England--but one very different
from any school history or other now in vogue. You will find it
neither a mere list of acts of parliament and record-office, like
some; nor yet an antiquarian gallery of costumes and armour, like
others; nor a mere war-gazette and report of killed and wounded from
time to time; least of all not a "Debrett's Peerage," and catalogue
of kings and queens (whose names are given, while their souls are
ignored), but a true spiritual history of England--a picture of the
spirits of our old forefathers, who worked, and fought, and sorrowed,
and died for us; on whose accumulated labours we now here stand.
_That_ I call a history--not of one class of offices or events, but
of the living human souls of English men and English women. And
therefore one most adapted to the mind of woman; one which will call
into fullest exercise her blessed faculty of sympathy, that pure and
tender heart of flesh, which teaches her always to find her highest
interest in mankind, simply as mankind; to see the Divine most
completely in the human; to prefer the incarnate to the disembodied,
the personal to the abstract, the pathetic to the intellectual; to
see, and truly, in the most common tale of village love or sorrow, a
mystery deeper and more divine than lies in all the theories of
politicians or the fixed ideas of the sage.

Such a course of history would quicken women's inborn _personal
interest_ in the actors of this life-drama, and be quickened by it in
return, as indeed it ought: for it is thus that God intended woman
to look instinctively at the world. Would to God that she would
teach us men to look at it thus likewise! Would to God that she
would in these days claim and fulfil to the uttermost her vocation as
the priestess of charity!--that woman's heart would help to deliver
man from bondage to his own tyrannous and all-too-exclusive brain--
from our idolatry of mere dead laws and printed books--from our daily
sin of looking at men, not as our struggling and suffering brothers,
but as mere symbols of certain formulae), incarnations of sets of
opinions, wheels in some iron liberty-grinding or Christianity-
spinning machine, which we miscall society, or civilisation, or,
worst misnomer of all, the Church!

This I take to be one of the highest aims of woman--to preach
charity, love, and brotherhood: but in this nineteenth century,
hunting everywhere for law and organisation, refusing loyalty to
anything which cannot range itself under its theories, she will never
get a hearing, till her knowledge of the past becomes more organised
and methodic. As it is now, for want of large many-sided views of
the past, her admiration is too apt to attach itself to some two or
three characters only in the hero-list of all the ages. Then comes
the temptation to thrust aside all which interferes with her
favourite idols, and so the very heart given her for universal
sympathy becomes the organ of an exclusive bigotry, and she who
should have taught man to love, too often only embitters his hate. I
claim, therefore, as necessary for the education of the future, that
woman should be initiated into the thoughts and feelings of her
countrymen in every age, from the wildest legends of the past to the
most palpable naturalism of the present; and that not merely in a
chronological order, sometimes not in chronological order at all; but
in a true spiritual sequence; that knowing the hearts of many, she
may in after life be able to comfort the hearts of all.

But there is yet another advantage in an extended study of English
literature--I mean the more national tone which it ought to give the
thoughts of the rising generation. Of course to repress the reading
of foreign books, to strive after any national exclusiveness, or mere
John-Bullism of mind, in an age of railroads and free press, would be
simply absurd--and more, it would be fighting against the will of God
revealed in events. He has put the literary treasures of the
Continent into our hands; we must joyfully accept them, and earnestly
exhaust them. This age is craving for what it calls catholicity; for
more complete interchange and brotherhood of thought between all the
nations of the earth. This spirit is stirring in the young
especially, and I believe that God Himself has inspired it, because I
see that He has first revealed the means of gratifying the desire, at
that very time in which it has arisen.

But every observant person must be aware that this tendency has
produced its evils as well as its good. There is a general complaint
that the minds of young women are becoming un-English; that their
foreign reading does not merely supply the deficiencies of their
English studies, but too often completely supersedes them; that the
whole tone of their thoughts is too often taken from French or German
writings; that by some means or other, the standard works of English
literature are becoming very much undervalued and neglected by the
young people of this day; and that self-will and irregular
eclecticism are the natural results.

I must say that I consider the greater part of these evils as the
natural consequence of past mis-education; as the just punishment of
the old system, which attached the most disproportionate importance
to mere acquirements, and those mostly of foreign languages, foreign
music, and so forth, while the "well of English undefiled," and not
only that, but English literature, history, patriotism, too often
English religion, have been made quite minor considerations.
Therefore so few of the young have any healthy and firm English
standard whereby to try and judge foreign thought. Therefore they
fancy, when they meet with anything deep and attractive in foreign
works, that because they have no such thoughts put before them in
English authors, no such thoughts exist in them.

But happily we may do much towards mending this state of things, by
making our pupils thoroughly conversant with the aesthetic treasures
of English literature. From them I firmly believe they may derive
sufficient rules whereby to separate in foreign books the true from
the false, the necessary from the accidental, the eternal truth from
its peculiar national vesture. Above all, we shall give them a
better chance of seeing things from that side from which God intended
English women to see them: for as surely as there is an English view
of everything, so surely God intends us to take that view; and He who
gave us our English character intends us to develop its
peculiarities, as He intends the French woman to develop hers, that
so each nation by learning to understand itself, may learn to
understand, and therefore to profit, by its neighbour. He who has
not cultivated his own plot of ground will hardly know much about the
tillage of his neighbour's land. And she who does not appreciate the
mind of her own countrymen will never form any true judgment of the
mind of foreigners. Let English women be sure that the best way to
understand the heroines of the Continent is not by mimicking them,
however noble they may be, not by trying to become a sham Rahel, or a
sham De Sevigne, but a real Elizabeth Fry, Felicia Hemans, or Hannah
More. What indeed entitles either Madame de Sevigne or Rahel to
fame, but their very nationality--that intensely local style of
language and feeling which clothes their genius with a living body
instead of leaving it in the abstractions of a dreary cosmopolitism?
The one I suppose would be called the very beau-ideal, not of woman,
but of the French woman--the other the ideal, not even of the Jewess,
but of the German Jewess. We may admire wherever we find worth; but
if we try to imitate, we only caricature. Excellence grows in all
climes, transplants to none: the palm luxuriates only in the
tropics, the Alp-rose only beside eternal snows. Only by standing on
our own native earth can we enjoy or even see aright the distant
stars: if we try to reach them, we shall at once lose sight of them,
and drop helpless in a new element, unfitted for our limbs.

Teach, then, the young, by an extended knowledge of English
literature, thoroughly to comprehend the English spirit, thoroughly
to see that the English mind has its peculiar calling on God's earth,
which alone, and no other, it can fulfil. Teach them thoroughly to
appreciate the artistic and intellectual excellences of their own
country; but by no means in a spirit of narrow bigotry: tell them
fairly our national faults--teach them to unravel those faults from
our national virtues; and then there will be no danger of the
prejudiced English woman becoming by a sudden revulsion an equally
prejudiced cosmopolite and eclectic, as soon as she discovers that
her own nation does not monopolise all human perfections; and so
trying to become German, Italian, French woman, all at once--a
heterogeneous chaos of imitations, very probably with the faults of
all three characters, and the graces of none. God has given us our
own prophets, our own heroines. To recognise those prophets, to
imitate those heroines, is the duty which lies nearest to the English
woman, and therefore the duty which God intends her to fulfil.

I should wish therefore in the first few lectures on English
literature to glance at the character of our old Saxon ancestors, and
the legends connected with their first invasion of the country; and
above all at the magnificent fables of King Arthur and his times
which exercised so great an influence on the English mind, and were
in fact, although originally Celtic, so thoroughly adopted and
naturalised by the Saxon, as to reappear under different forms in
every age, and form the keynote of most of our fictions, from
Geoffrey of Monmouth and the medieval ballads, up to Chaucer,
Spenser, Shakespeare, and at last Milton and Blackmore. This series
of legends will, I think, as we trace its development, bring us in
contact one by one with the corresponding developments of the English
character; and, unless I am much mistaken, enable us to explain many
of its peculiarities.

Of course nothing more than sketches can be given; but I think
nothing more is required for any one but the professed historian.
For young people especially, it is sufficient to understand the tone
of human feeling expressed by legends, rather than to enter into any
critical dissertations on their historic truth. They need, after
all, principles rather than facts. To educate them truly we must
give them inductive habits of thought, and teach them to deduce from
a few facts a law which makes plain all similar ones, and so acquire
the habit of extracting from every story somewhat of its kernel of
spiritual meaning. But again, to educate them truly we must
ourselves have faith; we must believe that in every one there is a
spiritual eye which can perceive those great principles when they are
once fairly presented to it, that in all there are some noble
instincts, some pure yearnings after wisdom, and taste, and
usefulness, which, if we only appeal to them trustfully through the
examples of the past, and the excitements of the present, will wake
into conscious life. Above all, both pupils and teachers must never
forget that all these things were written for their examples; that
though circumstances and creeds, schools and tastes, may alter, yet
the heart of man, and the duty of man, remain unchanged; and that

The old order changes, giving place to the new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways--

yet again

Through the ages one unaltered purpose runs--

and the principles of truth and beauty are the same as when the
everlasting Spirit from whom they come "brooded upon the face" of the
primeval seas.

But once more, we must and will by God's help try to realise the
purpose of this College, by boldly facing the facts of the age and of
our own office. And therefore we shall not shrink from the task,
however delicate and difficult, of speaking to our hearers as to
women. Our teaching must be no sexless, heartless abstraction. We
must try to make all which we tell them bear on the great purpose of
unfolding to woman her own calling in all ages--her especial calling
in this one. We must incite them to realise the chivalrous belief of
our old forefathers among their Saxon forests, that something Divine
dwelt in the counsels of woman; but, on the other hand, we must
continually remind them that they will attain that divine instinct,
not by renouncing their sex, but by fulfilling it; by becoming true
women, and not bad imitations of men; by educating their heads for
the sake of their hearts, not their hearts for the sake of their
heads; by claiming woman's divine vocation, as the priestess of
purity, of beauty, and of love; by educating themselves to become,
with God's blessing, worthy wives and mothers of a mighty nation of
workers, in an age when the voice of the ever-working God is
proclaiming through the thunder of falling dynasties, and crumbling
idols: "He that will not work, neither shall he eat."


This lecture is intended to be suggestive rather than didactic; to
set you thinking and inquiring for yourselves, rather than learning
at second-hand from me. Some among my audience, I doubt not, will
neither need to be taught by me, nor to be stirred up to inquiry for
themselves. They are already, probably, antiquarians; already better
acquainted with the subject than I am. But they will, I hope,
remember that I am only trying to excite a general interest in that
very architecture in which they delight, and so to make the public do
justice to their labours. They will therefore, I trust--

Be to my faults a little blind,
Be to my virtues very kind--

and if my architectural theories do not seem to them correct in all
details--well-founded I believe them myself to be--remember that if
it be a light matter to me, or to the audience, whether any special
and pet fancy of mine should be exactly true or not; yet it is not a
light matter that my hearers should be awakened--and too many just
now need an actual awakening--to a right, pure, and wholesome
judgment on questions of art, especially when the soundness of that
judgment depends, as in this case, on sound judgments about human
history, as well as about natural objects.

Now, it befell me that, fresh from the tropic forests, and with their
forms hanging always as it were in the background of my eye, I was
impressed more and more vividly the longer I looked, with the
likeness of those forest forms to the forms of our own Cathedral of
Chester. The grand and graceful Chapter-house transformed itself
into one of those green bowers, which, once seen, and never to be
seen again, make one at once richer and poorer for the rest of life.
The fans of groining sprang from the short columns, just as do the
feathered boughs of the far more beautiful Maximiliana palm, and just
of the same size and shape; and met overhead, as I have seen them
meet, in aisles longer by far than our cathedral nave. The free
upright shafts, which give such strength, and yet such lightness, to
the mullions of each window, pierced upward through those curving
lines, as do the stems of young trees through the fronds of palm;
and, like them, carried the eye and the fancy up into the infinite,
and took off a sense of oppression and captivity which the weight of
the roof might have produced. In the nave, in the choir, the same
vision of the tropic forest haunted me. The fluted columns not only
resembled, but seemed copied from the fluted stems beneath which I
had ridden in the primeval woods; their bases, their capitals, seemed
copied from the bulgings at the collar of the root, and at the spring
of the boughs, produced by a check of the redundant sap; and were
garlanded often enough, like the capitals of the columns, with
delicate tracery of parasite leaves and flowers; the mouldings of the
arches seemed copied from the parallel bundles of the curving bamboo
shoots; and even the flatter roof of the nave and transepts had its
antitype in that highest level of the forest aisles where the trees,
having climbed at last to the light-food which they seek, care no
longer to grow upward, but spread out in huge limbs, almost
horizontal, reminding the eye of the four-centred arch which marks
the period of perpendicular Gothic.

Nay, to this day there is one point in our cathedral which, to me,
keeps up the illusion still. As I enter the choir, and look upward
toward the left, I cannot help seeing, in the tabernacle work of the
stalls, the slender and aspiring forms of the "rastrajo;" the
delicate second growth which, as it were, rushes upward from the
earth wherever the forest is cleared; and above it, in the tall lines
of the north-west pier of the tower--even though defaced, along the
inner face of the western arch, by ugly and needless perpendicular
panelling--I seem to see the stems of huge cedars, or balatas, or
ceibas, curving over, as they would do, into the great beams of the
transept roof, some seventy feet above the ground.

Nay, so far will the fancy lead, that I have seemed to see, in the
stained glass between the tracery of the windows, such gorgeous
sheets of colour as sometimes flash on the eye, when, far aloft,
between high stems and boughs, you catch sight of some great tree
ablaze with flowers, either its own or those of a parasite; yellow or
crimson, white or purple; and over them again the cloudless blue.

Now, I know well that all these dreams are dreams; that the men who
built our northern cathedrals never saw these forest forms; and that
the likeness of their work to those of tropic nature is at most only
a corroboration of Mr. Ruskin's dictum, that "the Gothic did not
arise out of, but developed itself into, a resemblance to vegetation
. . . It was no chance suggestion of the form of an arch from the
bending of a bough, but the gradual and continual discovery of a
beauty in natural forms which could be more and more transferred into
those of stone, which influenced at once the hearts of the people and
the form of the edifice." So true is this, that by a pure and noble
copying of the vegetable beauty which they had seen in their own
clime, the medieval craftsmen went so far--as I have shown you--as to
anticipate forms of vegetable beauty peculiar to tropic climes, which
they had not seen; a fresh proof, if proof were needed, that beauty
is something absolute and independent of man; and not, as some think,
only relative, and what happens to be pleasant to the eye of this man
or that.

But thinking over this matter, and reading over, too, that which Mr.
Ruskin has written thereon in his "Stones of Venice," vol. ii. cap.
vi., on the nature of Gothic, I came to certain further conclusions--
or at least surmises--which I put before you to-night, in hopes that
if they have no other effect on you, they will at least stir some of
you up to read Mr. Ruskin's works.

Now Mr. Ruskin says: "That the original conception of Gothic
architecture has been derived from vegetation, from the symmetry of
avenues and the interlacing of branches, is a strange and vain
supposition. It is a theory which never could have existed for a
moment in the mind of any person acquainted with early Gothic; but,
however idle as a theory, it is most valuable as a testimony to the
character of the perfected style."

Doubtless so. But you must remember always that the subject of my
lecture is Grots and Groves; that I am speaking not of Gothic
architecture in general, but of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture;
and more, almost exclusively of the ecclesiastical architecture of
the Teutonic or northern nations; because in them, as I think, the
resemblance between the temple and the forest reached the fullest

Now the original idea of a Christian church was that of a grot--a
cave. That is a historic fact. The Christianity which was passed on
to us began to worship, hidden and persecuted, in the catacombs of
Rome, it may be often around the martyrs' tombs, by the dim light of
candle or of torch. The candles on the Roman altars, whatever they
have been made to symbolise since then, are the hereditary memorials
of that fact. Throughout the North, in these isles as much as in any
land, the idea of the grot was, in like wise, the idea of a church.
The saint or hermit built himself a cell; dark, massive, intended to
exclude light as well as weather; or took refuge in a cave. There he
prayed and worshipped, and gathered others to pray and worship round
him, during his life. There he, often enough, became an object of
worship in his turn, after his death. In after ages his cave was
ornamented, like that of the hermit of Montmajour by Arles; or his
cell-chapel enlarged, as those of the Scotch and Irish saints have
been, again and again; till at last a stately minster rose above it.
Still, the idea that the church was to be a grot haunted the minds of

But side by side with the Christian grot there was throughout the
North another form of temple, dedicated to very different gods,
namely, the trees from whose mighty stems hung the heads of the
victims of Odin or of Thor--the horse, the goat, and, in time of
calamity or pestilence, of men. Trees and not grots were the temples
of our forefathers.

Scholars know well--but they must excuse my quoting it for the sake
of those who are not scholars--the famous passage of Tacitus which
tells how our forefathers "held it beneath the dignity of the gods to
coop them within walls, or liken them to any human countenance; but
consecrated groves and woods, and called by the name of gods that
mystery which they held by faith alone;" and the equally famous
passage of Claudian, about "the vast silence of the Black Forest, and
groves awful with ancient superstition; and oaks, barbarian deities;"
and Lucan's "groves inviolate from all antiquity, and altars stained
with human blood."

To worship in such spots was an abomination to the early Christian.
It was as much a test of heathendom as the eating of horse-flesh,
sacred to Odin, and therefore unclean to Christian men. The Lombard
laws and others forbid expressly the lingering remnants of grove
worship. St. Boniface and other early missionaries hewed down in
defiance the sacred oaks, and paid sometimes for their valour with
their lives.

It is no wonder, then, if long centuries elapsed ere the likeness of
vegetable forms began to reappear in the Christian churches of the
North. And yet both grot and grove were equally the natural temples
which the religious instinct of all deep-hearted peoples, conscious
of sin, and conscious, too, of yearnings after a perfection not to be
found on earth, chooses from the earliest stage of awakening
civilisation. In them, alone, before he had strength and skill to
build nobly for himself, could man find darkness, the mother of
mystery and awe, in which he is reminded perforce of his own
ignorance and weakness; in which he learns first to remember unseen
powers, sometimes to his comfort and elevation, sometimes only to his
terror and debasement; darkness; and with it silence and solitude, in
which he can collect himself, and shut out the noise and glare, the
meanness and the coarseness of the world; and be alone awhile with
his own thoughts, his own fancy, his own conscience, his own soul.

But for awhile, as I have said, that darkness, solitude, and silence
were to be sought in the grot, not in the grove.

Then Christianity conquered the Empire. It adapted, not merely its
architecture, but its very buildings, to its worship. The Roman
Basilica became the Christian church; a noble form of building
enough, though one in which was neither darkness, solitude, nor
silence, but crowded congregations, clapping--or otherwise--the
popular preacher; or fighting about the election of a bishop or a
pope, till the holy place ran with Christian blood. The deep-hearted
Northern turned away, in weariness and disgust, from those vast
halls, fitted only for the feverish superstition of a profligate and
worn-out civilisation; and took himself, amid his own rocks and
forests, moors and shores, to a simpler and sterner architecture,
which should express a creed, sterner, and at heart far simpler,
though dogmatically the same.

And this is, to my mind, the difference, and the noble difference,
between the so-called Norman architecture, which came hither about
the time of the Conquest; and that of Romanised Italy.

But the Normans were a conquering race; and one which conquered, be
it always remembered, in England at least, in the name and by the
authority of Rome. Their ecclesiastics, like the ecclesiastics on
the Continent, were the representatives of Roman civilisation, of
Rome's right, intellectual and spiritual, to rule the world.

Therefore their architecture, like their creed, was Roman. They took
the massive towering Roman forms, which expressed domination; and
piled them one on the other, to express the domination of Christian
Rome over the souls, as they had represented the domination of
heathen Rome over the bodies of men. And so side by side with the
towers of the Norman keep rose the towers of the Norman cathedral--
the two signs of a double servitude.

But with the thirteenth century there dawned an age in Northern
Europe which I may boldly call an heroic age--heroic in its virtues
and in its crimes; an age of rich passionate youth, or rather of
early manhood; full of aspirations of chivalry, of self-sacrifice as
strange and terrible as it was beautiful and noble, even when most
misguided. The Teutonic nations of Europe--our own forefathers most
of all--having absorbed all that heathen Rome could teach them, at
least for the time being, began to think for themselves; to have
poets, philosophers, historians, architects, of their own. The
thirteenth century was especially an age of aspiration; and its
architects expressed, in building, quite unlike those of the
preceding centuries, the aspirations of the time.

The Pointed Arch had been introduced half a century before. It may
be that the Crusaders saw it in the East and brought it home. It may
be that it originated from the quadripartite vaulting of the Normans,
the segmental groins of which, crossing diagonally, produced to
appearance the pointed arch. It may be that it was derived from that
mystical figure of a pointed oval form, the vesica piscis. It may
be, lastly, that it was suggested simply by the intersection of
semicircular arches, so frequently found in ornamental arcades. The
last cause may perhaps be the true one; but it matters little whence
the pointed arch came. It matters much what it meant to those who
introduced it. And at the beginning of the Transition or semi-Norman
period, it seems to have meant nothing. It was not till the
thirteenth century that it had gradually received, as it were, a
soul, and had become the exponent of a great idea. As the Norman
architecture and its forms had signified domination, so the Early
English, as we call it, signified aspiration--an idea which was
perfected, as far as it could be, in what we call the Decorated

There is an evident gap, I had almost said a gulf, between the
architectural mind of the eleventh and that of the thirteenth
century. A vertical tendency, a longing after lightness and freedom
appears; and with them a longing to reproduce the graces of nature
and art. And here I ask you to look for yourselves at the buildings
of this new era--there is a beautiful specimen in yonder arcade
{278}--and judge for yourselves whether they, and even more than they
the Decorated style into which they developed, do not remind you of
the forest shapes?

And if they remind you, must they not have reminded those who shaped
them? Can it have been otherwise? We know that the men who built
were earnest. The carefulness, the reverence, of their work have
given a subject for some of Mr. Ruskin's noblest chapters, a text for
some of his noblest sermons. We know that they were students of
vegetable form. That is proved by the flowers, the leaves, even the
birds, with which they enwreathed their capitals and enriched their
mouldings. Look up there, and see.

You cannot look at any good church-work from the thirteenth to the
middle of the fifteenth century, with out seeing that leaves and
flowers were perpetually in the workman's mind. Do you fancy that
stems and boughs were never in his mind? He kept, doubtless, in
remembrance the fundamental idea, that the Christian church should
symbolise a grot or cave. He could do no less; while he again and
again saw hermits around him dwelling and worshipping in caves, as
they had done ages before in Egypt and Syria; while he fixed, again
and again, the site of his convent and his minster in some secluded
valley guarded by cliffs and rocks, like Vale Crucis in North Wales.
But his minster stood often not among rocks only, but amid trees; in
some clearing in the primeval forest, as Vale Crucis was then. At
least he could not pass from minster to minster, from town to town,
without journeying through long miles of forest. Do you think that
the awful shapes and shadows of that forest never haunted his
imagination as he built? He would have cut down ruthlessly, as his
predecessors the early missionaries did, the sacred trees amid which
Thor and Odin had been worshipped by the heathen Saxons; amid which
still darker deities were still worshipped by the heathen tribes of
Eastern Europe. But he was the descendant of men who had worshipped
in those groves, and the glamour of them was upon him still. He
peopled the wild forest with demons and fairies; but that did not
surely prevent his feeling its ennobling grandeur, its chastening
loneliness. His ancestors had held the oaks for trees of God, even
as the Jews held the cedar, and the Hindoos likewise; for the Deodara
pine is not only, botanists tell us, the same as the cedar of
Lebanon, but its very name--the Deodara--signifies naught else but
"the tree of God."

His ancestors, I say, had held the oaks for trees of God. It may be
that as the monk sat beneath their shade with his bible on his knee,
like good St. Boniface in the Fulda forest, he found that his
ancestors were right.

To understand what sort of trees they were from which he got his
inspiration, you must look, not at an average English wood,
perpetually thinned out as the trees arrive at middle age. Still
less must you look at the pines, oaks, beeches, of an English park,
where each tree has had space to develop itself freely into a more or
less rounded form. You must not even look at the tropic forests.
For there, from the immense diversity of forms, twenty varieties of
tree will grow beneath each other, forming a close-packed heap of
boughs and leaves, from the ground to a hundred feet and more aloft.

You should look at the North American forests of social trees--
especially of pines and firs, where trees of one species, crowded
together, and competing with equal advantages for the air and light,
form themselves into one wilderness of straight smooth shafts,
surmounted by a flat sheet of foliage, held up by boughs like the
ribs of a groined roof, while underneath the ground is bare as a
cathedral floor.

You all know, surely, the Hemlock spruce of America; which, while
growing by itself in open ground, is the most wilful and fantastic,
as well as the most graceful, of all the firs; imitating the shape,
not of its kindred, but of an enormous tuft of fern.

Yet if you look at the same tree, when it has struggled long for life
from its youth amid other trees of its own kind and its own age, you
find that the lower boughs have died off from want of light, leaving
not a scar behind. The upper boughs have reached at once the light
and their natural term of years. They are content to live, and
little more. The central trunk no longer sends up each year a fresh
perpendicular shoot to aspire above the rest, but, as weary of
struggling ambition as they are, is content to become more and more
their equal as the years pass by. And this is a law of social forest
trees, which you must bear in mind whenever I speak of the influence
of tree-forms on Gothic architecture.

Such forms as these are rare enough in Europe now.

I never understood how possible, how common they must have been in
medieval Europe, till I saw in the forest of Fontainebleau a few
oaks, like the oak of Charlemagne and the Bouquet du Roi, at whose
age I dare not guess, but whose size and shape showed them to have
once formed part of a continuous wood, the like whereof remains not
in these isles--perhaps not east of the Carpathian mountains. In
them a clear shaft of at least sixty, it may be eighty feet, carries
a flat head of boughs, each in itself a tree. In such a grove, I
thought, the heathen Gaul, even the heathen Frank, worshipped beneath
"trees of God." Such trees, I thought, centuries after, inspired the
genius of every builder of Gothic aisles and roofs.

Thus, at least, we can explain that rigidity, which Mr. Ruskin tells
us, "is a special element of Gothic architecture. Greek and Egyptian
buildings," he says--and I should have added, Roman building also, in
proportion to their age, i.e. to the amount of the Roman elements in
them--"stand for the most part by their own weight and mass, one
stone passively incumbent on another: but in the Gothic vaults and
traceries there is a stiffness analogous to that of the bones of a
limb, or fibres of a tree; an elastic tension and communication of
force from part to part; and also a studious expression of this
throughout every part of the building." In a word, Gothic vaulting
and tracery have been studiously made like to boughs of trees. Were
those boughs present to the mind of the architect? Or is the
coincidence merely fortuitous? You know already how I should answer.
The cusped arch, too, was it actually not intended to imitate
vegetation? Mr. Ruskin seems to think so. He says that it is merely
the special application to the arch of the great ornamental system of
foliation, which, "whether simple as in the cusped arch, or
complicated as in tracery, arose out of the love of leafage. Not
that the form of the arch is intended to imitate a leaf, "but to be
invested with the same characters of beauty which the designer had
discovered in the leaf." Now I differ from Mr. Ruskin with extreme
hesitation. I agree that the cusped arch is not meant to imitate a
leaf. I think with Mr. Ruskin, that it was probably first adopted on
account of its superior strength; and that it afterwards took the
form of a bough. But I cannot as yet believe that it was not at last
intended to imitate a bough; a bough of a very common form, and one
in which "active rigidity" is peculiarly shown. I mean a bough which
has forked. If the lower fork has died off, for want of light, we
obtain something like the simply cusped arch. If it be still living-
-but short and stunted in comparison with the higher fork--we obtain,
it seems to me, something like the foliated cusp; both likenesses
being near enough to those of common objects to make it possible that
those objects may have suggested them. And thus, more and more
boldly, the medieval architect learnt to copy boughs, stems, and at
last, the whole effect, as far always as stone would allow, of a
combination of rock and tree, of grot and grove.

So he formed his minsters, as I believe, upon the model of those
leafy minsters in which he walked to meditate, amid the aisles which
God, not man, has built. He sent their columns aloft like the boles
of ancient trees. He wreathed their capitals, sometimes their very
shafts, with flowers and creeping shoots. He threw their arches out,
and interwove the groinings of their vaults, like the bough-roofage
overhead. He decked with foliage and fruit the bosses above and the
corbels below. He sent up out of those corbels upright shafts along
the walls, in the likeness of the trees which sprang out of the rocks
above his head. He raised those walls into great cliffs. He pierced
them with the arches of the triforium, as with hermits' cells. He
represented in the horizontal sills of his windows, and in his
horizontal string-courses, the horizontal strata of the rocks. He
opened the windows into high and lofty glades, broken, as in the
forest, by the tracery of stems and boughs, through which was seen,
not merely the outer, but the upper world. For he craved, as all
true artists crave, for light and colour; and had the sky above been
one perpetual blue, he might have been content with it, and left his
glass transparent. But in that dark, dank, northern clime, rain and
snowstorm, black cloud and gray mist, were all that he was like to
see outside for nine months in the year. So he took such light and
colour as nature gave in her few gayer moods; and set aloft his
stained-glass windows, the hues of the noonday and the rainbow, and
the sunrise and the sunset, and the purple of the heather, and the
gold of the gorse, and the azure of the bugloss, and the crimson of
the poppy; and among them, in gorgeous robes, the angels and the
saints of heaven, and the memories of heroic virtues and heroic
sufferings, that he might lift up his own eyes and heart for ever out
of the dark, dank, sad world of the cold north, with all its
coarsenesses and its crimes, toward a realm of perpetual holiness,
amid a perpetual summer of beauty and of light; as one who--for he
was true to nature, even in that--from between the black jaws of a
narrow glen, or from beneath the black shade of gnarled trees,
catches a glimpse of far lands gay with gardens and cottages, and
purple mountain ranges, and the far-off sea, and the hazy horizon
melting into the hazy sky; and finds his heart carried out into an
infinite at once of freedom and of repose.

And so out of the cliffs and the forests he shaped the inside of his
church. And how did he shape the outside? Look for yourselves, and
judge. But look, not at Chester, but at Salisbury. Look at those
churches which carry not mere towers, but spires, or at least
pinnacled towers approaching the pyramidal form. The outside form of
every Gothic cathedral must be considered imperfect if it does not
culminate in something pyramidal.

The especial want of all Greek and Roman buildings with which we are
acquainted is the absence--save in a few and unimportant cases--of
the pyramidal form. The Egyptians knew at least the worth of the
obelisk; but the Greeks and Romans hardly knew even that: their
buildings are flat-topped. Their builders were contented with the
earth as it was. There was a great truth involved in that; which I
am the last to deny.

But religions which, like the Buddhist or the Christian, nurse a
noble self-discontent, are sure to adopt sooner or later an upward
and aspiring form of building. It is not merely that, fancying
heaven to be above earth, they point towards heaven. There is a
deeper natural language in the pyramidal form of a growing tree. It
symbolises growth, or the desire of growth. The Norman tower does
nothing of the kind. It does not aspire to grow. Look--I mention an
instance with which I am most familiar--at the Norman tower of Bury
St. Edmund's. It is graceful--awful, if you will--but there is no
aspiration in it. It is stately, but self-content. Its horizontal
courses, circular arches, above all, its flat sky-line, seem to have
risen enough, and wish to rise no higher. For it has no touch of
that unrest of soul which is expressed by the spire, and still more
by the compound spire, with its pinnacles, crockets, finials--which
are finials only in name; for they do not finish, and are really
terminal buds, as it were, longing to open and grow upward, even as
the crockets are bracts and leaves thrown off as the shoot has grown.

You feel, surely, the truth of these last words. You cannot look at
the canopy work or the pinnacle work of this cathedral without seeing
that they do not merely suggest buds and leaves, but that the buds
and leaves are there carven before your eyes. I myself cannot look
at the tabernacle work of our stalls without being reminded of the
young pine forests which clothe the Hampshire moors. But if the
details are copied from vegetable forms, why not the whole? Is not a
spire like a growing tree, a tabernacle like a fir-tree, a compound
spire like a group of firs? And if we can see that, do you fancy
that the man who planned the spire did not see it as clearly as we
do; and perhaps more clearly still?

I am aware, of course, that Norman architecture had sometimes its
pinnacle, a mere conical or polygonal capping. I am aware that this
form, only more and more slender, lasted on in England during the
thirteenth and the early part of the fourteenth century; and on the
Continent under many modifications, one English kind whereof is
usually called a "broach," of which you have a beautiful specimen in
the new church at Hoole.

Now, no one will deny that that broach is beautiful. But it would be
difficult to prove that its form was taken from a North European
tree. The cypress was unknown, probably, to our northern architects.
The Lombardy poplar--which has wandered hither, I know not when, all
the way from Cashmere--had not wandered then, I believe, farther than
North Italy. The form is rather that of mere stone; of the obelisk
or of the mountain-peak; and they, in fact, may have at first
suggested the spire. The grandeur of an isolated mountain, even of a
dolmen or single upright stone, is evident to all.

But it is the grandeur not of aspiration, but of defiance; not of the
Christian, not even of the Stoic, but rather of the Epicurean. It
says--I cannot rise. I do not care to rise. I will be contentedly
and valiantly that which I am; and face circumstances, though I
cannot conquer them. But it is defiance under defeat. The mountain-
peak does not grow, but only decays. Fretted by rains, peeled by
frost, splintered by lightning, it must down at last; and crumble
into earth, were it as old, as hard, as lofty as the Matterhorn
itself. And while it stands, it wants not only aspiration, it wants
tenderness; it wants humility; it wants the unrest which tenderness
and humility must breed, and which Mr. Ruskin so clearly recognises
in the best Gothic art. And, meanwhile, it wants naturalness. The
mere smooth spire or broach--I had almost said, even the spire of
Salisbury--is like no tall or commanding object in nature. It is
merely the caricature of one--it may be of the mountain-peak. The
outline must be broken, must be softened, before it can express the
soul of a creed which in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, far
more than now, was one of penitence as well as of aspiration, of
passionate emotion as well as of lofty faith. But a shape which will
express that soul must be sought, not among mineral, but among
vegetable, forms. And remember always, if we feel thus even now, how
much more must those medieval men of genius have felt thus, whose
work we now dare only copy line by line?

So--as it seems to me--they sought among vegetable forms for what
they needed: and they found it at once in the pine, or rather the
fir--the spruce and silver firs of their own forests. They are not,
of course, indigenous to England. But they are so common through all
the rest of Europe, that not only would the form suggest itself to a
continental architect, but to any English clerk who travelled, as all
did who could, across the Alps to Rome. The fir-tree, not growing on
level ground, like the oaks of Fontainebleau, into one flat roof of
foliage, but clinging to the hillside and the crag, old above young,
spire above spire, whorl above whorl--for the young shoots of each
whorl of boughs point upward in the spring; and now and then a whole
bough breaking away, as it were, into free space, turns upward
altogether, and forms a secondary spire on the same tree--this surely
was the form which the medieval architect seized, to clothe with it
the sides and roof of the stone mountain which he had built; piling
up pinnacles and spires, each crocketed at the angles; that, like a
group of firs upon an isolated rock, every point of the building
might seem in act to grow toward heaven, till his idea culminated in
that glorious Minster of Cologne, which, if it ever be completed,
will be the likeness of one forest-clothed group of cliffs,
surrounded by three enormous pines.

One feature of the Norman temple he could keep; for it was copied
from the same Nature which he was trying to copy--namely, the high-
pitched roof and gables. Mr. Ruskin lays it down as a law, that the
acute angle in roofs, gables, spires, is the distinguishing mark of
northern Gothic. It was adopted, most probably, at first from
domestic buildings. A northern house or barn must have a high-
pitched roof, or the snow will not slip off it. But that fact was
not discovered by man; it was copied by him from the rocks around.
He saw the mountain-peak jut black and bare above the snows of
winter; he saw those snows slip down in sheets, rush down in torrents
under the sun, from the steep slabs of rock which coped the hillside;
and he copied, in his roofs, the rocks above his town. But as the
love for decorations arose, he would deck his roofs as nature had
decked hers, till the gray sheets of the cathedral slates should
stand out amid pinnacles and turrets rich with foliage, as the gray
mountain-sides stood out amid knolls of feathery birch and towering

He failed, though he failed nobly. He never succeeded in attaining a
perfectly natural style.

The medieval architects were crippled to the last by the tradition of
artificial Roman forms. They began improving them into naturalness,
without any clear notion of what they wanted; and when that notion
became clear, it was too late. Take, as an instance, the tracery of
their windows. It is true, as Mr. Ruskin says, that they began by
piercing holes in a wall of the form of a leaf, which developed, in
the rose window, into the form of a star inside, and of a flower
outside. Look at such aloft there. Then, by introducing mullions
and traceries into the lower part of the window, they added stem and
bough forms to those flower forms. But the two did not fit. Look at
the west window of our choir, and you will see what I mean. The
upright mullions break off into bough curves graceful enough: but
these are cut short--as I hold, spoiled--by circular and triangular
forms of rose and trefoil resting on them as such forms never rest in
nature; and the whole, though beautiful, is only half beautiful. It
is fragmentary, unmeaning--barbaric, because unnatural.

They failed too, it may be, from the very paucity of the vegetable
forms they could find to copy among the flora of this colder clime;
and so, stopped short in drawing from nature, ran off into mere
purposeless luxuriance. Had they been able to add to their stock of
memories a hundred forms which they would have seen in the tropics,
they might have gone on for centuries copying nature without
exhausting her.

And yet, did they exhaust even the few forms of beauty which they saw
around them? It must be confessed that they did not. I believe that
they could not, because they dared not. The unnaturalness of the
creed which they expressed always hampered them. It forbade them to
look Nature freely and lovingly in the face. It forbade them--as one
glaring example--to know anything truly of the most beautiful of all
natural objects--the human form. They were tempted perpetually to
take Nature as ornament, not as basis; and they yielded at last to
the temptation; till, in the age of Perpendicular architecture, their
very ornament became unnatural again; because conventional, untrue,

But the creed for which they worked was dying by that time, and
therefore the art which expressed it must needs die too. And even
that death, or rather the approach of it, was symbolised truly in the
flatter roof, the four-centred arch, the flat-topped tower of the
fifteenth-century church. The creed had ceased to aspire: so did
the architecture. It had ceased to grow: so did the temple. And
the arch sank lower; and the rafters grew more horizontal; and the
likeness to the old tree, content to grow no more, took the place of
the likeness to the young tree struggling toward the sky.

And now--unless you are tired of listening to me--a few practical

We are restoring our old cathedral stone by stone after its ancient
model. We are also trying to build a new church. We are building
it--as most new churches in England are now built--in a pure Gothic

Are we doing right? I do not mean morally right. It is always
morally right to build a new church, if needed, whatever be its
architecture. It is always morally right to restore an old church,
if it be beautiful and noble, as an heirloom handed down to us by our
ancestors, which we have no right--I say no right--for the sake of
our children, and of our children's children, to leave to ruin.

But are we artistically, aesthetically right? Is the best Gothic fit
for our worship? Does it express our belief? Or shall we choose
some other style?

I say that it is; and that it is so because it is a style which, if
not founded on Nature, has taken into itself more of nature, of
nature beautiful and healthy, than any other style.

With greater knowledge of nature, both geographical and scientific,
fresh styles of architecture may and will arise, as much more
beautiful, and as much more natural, than the Gothic, as Gothic is
more beautiful and natural than the Norman. Till then we must take
the best models which we have; use them; and, as it were, use them up
and exhaust them. By that time we may have learnt to improve on
them; and to build churches more Gothic than Gothic itself, more like
grot and grove than even a northern cathedral.

That is the direction in which we must work. And if any shall say to
us, as it has been said ere now--"After all, your new Gothic churches
are but imitations, shams, borrowed symbols, which to you symbolise
nothing. They are Romish churches, meant to express Romish doctrine,
built for a Protestant creed which they do not express, and for a
Protestant worship which they will not fit." Then we shall answer--
Not so. The objection might be true if we built Norman or Romanesque
churches; for we should then be returning to that very foreign and
unnatural style which Rome taught our forefathers, and from which
they escaped gradually into the comparative freedom, the comparative
naturalness, of that true Gothic of which Mr. Ruskin says so well:

It is gladdening to remember that, in its utmost nobleness, the very
temper which has been thought most adverse to it, the Protestant
temper of self-dependence and inquiry, were expressed in every case.
Faith and aspiration there were in every Christian ecclesiastical
building from the first century to the fifteenth: but the moral
habits to which England in this age owes the kind of greatness which
she has--the habits of philosophical investigation, of accurate
thought, of domestic seclusion and independence, of stern self-
reliance, and sincere upright searching into religious truth--were
only traceable in the features which were the distinctive creations
of the Gothic schools, in the varied foliage and thorny fretwork, and
shadowy niche, and buttressed pier, and fearless height of subtle
pinnacle and crested tower, sent "like an unperplexed question up to

So says Mr. Ruskin. I, for one, endorse his gallant words. And I
think that a strong proof of their truth is to be found in two facts,
which seem at first paradoxical. First, that the new Roman Catholic
churches on the Continent--I speak especially of France, which is the
most highly-cultivated Romanist country--are like those which the
Jesuits built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, less and
less Gothic. The former were sham-classic; the latter are rather of
a new fantastic Romanesque, or rather Byzantinesque style, which is a
real retrogression from Gothic towards earlier and less natural
schools. Next, that the Puritan communions, the Kirk of Scotland and
the English Nonconformists, as they are becoming more cultivated--and
there are now many highly-cultivated men among them--are introducing
Gothic architecture more and more into their churches. There are
elements in it, it seems, which do not contradict their Puritanism;
elements which they can adapt to their own worship; namely, the very
elements which Mr. Ruskin has discerned.

But if they can do so, how much more can we of the Church of England?
As long as we go on where our medieval forefathers left off; as long
as we keep to the most perfect types of their work, in waiting for
the day when we shall be able to surpass them, by making our work
even more naturalistic than theirs, more truly expressive of the
highest aspirations of humanity; so long we are reverencing them, and
that latent Protestantism in them, which produced at last the

And if any should say: "Nevertheless your Protestant Gothic Church,
though you made it ten times more beautiful, and more symbolic than
Cologne Minster itself, would still be a sham. For where would be
your images? And still more, where would be your Host? Do you not
know that in the medieval church the vistas of its arcades, the
alternation of its lights and shadows, the gradations of its
colouring, and all its carefully subordinated wealth of art, pointed
to, were concentrated round, one sacred spot, as a curve, however
vast its sweep through space, tends at every moment toward a single
focus? And that spot, that focus was, and is still in every Romish
church, the body of God, present upon the altar in the form of bread?
Without Him, what is all your building? Your church is empty; your
altar bare; a throne without a king; an eye-socket without an eye."

My friends, if we be true children of those old worthies, whom
Tacitus saw worshipping beneath the German oaks, we shall have but
one answer to that scoff:

"We know it; and we glory in the fact. We glory in it, as the old
Jews gloried in it, when the Roman soldiers, bursting through the
Temple and into the Holy of Holies itself, paused in wonder and in
awe when they beheld neither God, nor image of God, but--blank yet
all-suggestive--the empty mercy-seat.

"Like theirs, our altar is an empty throne; for it symbolises our
worship of Him who dwelleth not in temples made with hands; whom the
heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain. Our eye-socket
holds no eye. For it symbolises our worship of that Eye which is
over all the earth; which is about our path, and about our bed, and
spies out all our ways. We need no artificial and material presence
of Deity. For we believe in That One Eternal and Universal Real
Presence--of which it is written 'He is not far from anyone of us;
for in God we live and move and have our being;' and again: 'Lo, I
am with you even to the end of the world;' and again: 'Wheresoever
two or three are gathered together in My Name there am I in the midst
of them.'

"He is the God of nature, as well as the God of grace. Forever He
looks down on all things which He has made, and behold, they are very
good. And, therefore, we dare offer to Him, in our churches, the
most perfect works of naturalistic art, and shape them into copies of
whatever beauty He has shown us, in man or woman, in cove or
mountain-peak, in tree or flower, even in bird or butterfly.

"But Himself?--Who can see Him? Except the humble and the contrite
heart, to whom He reveals Himself as a Spirit to be worshipped in
spirit and in truth, and not in bread, nor wood, nor stone, nor gold,
nor quintessential diamond."

So we shall obey the sound instinct of our Christian forefathers,
when they shaped their churches into forest aisles, and decked them
with the boughs of the woodland and the flowers of the field: but we
shall obey too, that sounder instinct of theirs, which made them at
last cast out of their own temples, as misplaced and unnatural
things, the idols which they had inherited from Rome.

So we shall obey the sound instinct of our heathen forefathers when
they worshipped the unknown God beneath the oaks of the primeval
forests: but we shall obey, too, that sounder instinct of theirs,
which taught them this, at least, concerning God--That it was beneath
His dignity to coop Him within walls; and that the grandest forms of
nature, as well as the deepest consciousness of their own souls,
revealed to them a mysterious Being, who was to be beheld by faith


Few readers of this magazine probably know anything about "Mystics;"
know even what the term means: but as it is plainly connected with
the adjective "mystical" they probably suppose it to denote some sort
of vague, dreamy, sentimental, and therefore useless and undesirable
personage. Nor can we blame them if they do so; for mysticism is a
form of thought and feeling now all but extinct in England. There
are probably not ten thorough mystics among all our millions; the
mystic philosophers are very little read by our scholars, and read
not for, but in spite of, their mysticism; and our popular theology
has so completely rid itself of any mystic elements, that our divines
look with utter disfavour upon it, use the word always as a term of
opprobrium, and interpret the mystic expressions in our liturgy--
which mostly occur in the Collects--according to the philosophy of
Locke, really ignorant, it would seem, that they were written by
Platonist mystics.

We do not blame them either, save in as far as teachers of men are
blameworthy for being ignorant of any form of thought which has ever
had a living hold upon good and earnest men, and may therefore take
hold of them again. But the English are not now a mystic people, any
more than the old Romans were; their habit of mind, their destiny in
the world, are like those of the Romans, altogether practical; and
who can be surprised if they do not think about what they are not
called upon to think about?

Nevertheless, it is quite a mistake to suppose that mysticism is by
its own nature unpractical. The greatest and most prosperous races
of antiquity--the Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindoos, Greeks--had the
mystic element as strong and living in them as the Germans have now;
and certainly we cannot call them unpractical peoples. They fell and
came to ruin--as the Germans may do--when their mysticism became
unpractical: but their thought remained, to be translated into
practice by sounder-hearted races than themselves. Rome learnt from
Greece, and did in some confused imperfect way that which Greece only
dreamed; just as future nations may act hereafter, nobly and
usefully, on the truths which Germans discover, only to put in a book
and smoke over. For they are terribly practical people, these
mystics, quiet students and devotees as they may seem. They go, or
seem to go, down to the roots of things, after a way of their own;
and lay foundations on which--be they sound or unsound--those who
come after them cannot choose but build; as we are building now. For
our forefathers were mystics for generations; they were mystics in
the forests of Germany and in the dales of Norway; they were mystics
in the convents and the universities of the Middle Ages; they were
mystics, all the deepest and noblest minds of them, during the
Elizabethan era.

Even now the few mystic writers of this island are exercising more
influence on thought than any other men, for good or for evil.
Coleridge and Alexander Knox have changed the minds, and with them
the acts, of thousands; and when they are accused of having
originated, unknowingly, the whole "Tractarian" movement, those who
have watched English thought carefully can only answer, that on the
confession of the elder Tractarians themselves, the allegation is
true: but that they originated a dozen other "movements" beside in
the most opposite directions, and that free-thinking Emersonians will
be as ready as Romish perverts and good plain English churchmen to
confess that the critical point of their life was determined by the
writings of the fakeer of Highgate. At this very time too, the only
real mystic of any genius who is writing and teaching is exercising
more practical influence, infusing more vigorous life into the minds
of thousands of men and women, than all the other teachers of England
put together; and has set rolling a ball which may in the next half
century gather into an avalanche, perhaps utterly different in form,
material, and direction, from all which he expects.

So much for mystics being unpractical. If we look faithfully into
the meaning of their name, we shall see why, for good or for evil,
they cannot be unpractical; why they, let them be the most self-
absorbed of recluses, are the very men who sow the seeds of great
schools, great national and political movements, even great

A mystic--according to the Greek etymology--should signify one who is
initiated into mysteries, one whose eyes are opened to see things
which other people cannot see. And the true mystic in all ages and
countries, has believed that this was the case with him. He believes
that there is an invisible world as well as a visible one--so do most
men: but the mystic believes also that this same invisible world is
not merely a supernumerary one world more, over and above the earth
on which he lives, and the stars over his head, but that it is the
cause of them and the ground of them; that it was the cause of them
at first, and is the cause of them now, even to the budding of every
flower, and the falling of every pebble to the ground; and therefore,
that having been before this visible world, it will be after it, and
endure just as real, living, and eternal, though matter were
annihilated to-morrow.

"But, on this showing, every Christian, nay, every religious man, is
a mystic; for he believes in an invisible world?" The answer is
found in the plain fact, that good Christians here in England do not
think so themselves; that they dislike and dread mysticism; would not
understand it if it were preached to them; are more puzzled by those
utterances of St. John, which mystics have always claimed as
justifying their theories, than by any part of their bibles. There
is a positive and conscious difference between popular metaphysics
and mysticism; and it seems to lie in this: the invisible world in
which Englishmen in general believe, is one which happens to be
invisible now, but which will not be so hereafter. When they speak
of the other world they mean a place which their bodily eyes will see
some day, and could see now if they were allowed; when they speak of
spirits they mean ghosts who could, and perhaps do, make themselves
visible to men's bodily eyes. We are not inquiring here whether they
be right or wrong; we are only specifying a common form of human

The mystic, on the other hand, believes that the invisible world is
so by its very nature, and must be so for ever. He lives therein
now, he holds, and will live in it through eternity: but he will see
it never with any bodily eyes, not even with the eyes of any future
"glorified" body. It is ipso facto not to be seen, only to be
believed in; never for him will "faith be changed for sight," as the
popular theologians say that it will; for this invisible world is
only to be "spiritually discerned."

This is the mystic idea, pure and simple; of course there are various
grades of it, as there are of the popular one; for no man holds his
own creed and nothing more; and it is good for him, in this piecemeal
and shortsighted world, that he should not. Were he over-true to his
own idea, he would become a fanatic, perhaps a madman. And so the
modern evangelical of the Venn and Newton school, to whom mysticism
is neology and nehushtan, when he speaks of "spiritual experiences,"
uses the adjective in its purely mystic sense; while Bernard of
Cluny, in his once famous hymn, "Hic breve vivitur," mingles the two
conceptions of the unseen world in inextricable confusion. Between
these two extreme poles, in fact, we have every variety of thought;
and it is good for us that we should have them; for no one man or
school of men can grasp the whole truth, and every intermediate
modification supplies some link in the great cycle of facts which its
neighbours have overlooked.

In the minds who have held this belief, that the unseen world is the
only real and eternal one, there has generally existed a belief, more
or less confused, that the visible world is in some mysterious way a
pattern or symbol of the invisible one; that its physical laws are
the analogues of the spiritual laws of the eternal world: a belief
of which Mr. Vaughan seems to think lightly; though if it be untrue
we can hardly see how that metaphoric illustration in which he
indulges so freely, and which he often uses in a masterly and
graceful way, can be anything but useless trifling. For what is a
metaphor or a simile but a mere paralogism--having nothing to do with
the matter in hand, and not to be allowed for a moment to influence
the reader's judgment, unless there be some real and objective
analogy--homology we should call it--between the physical phenomenon
from which the symbol is taken, and the spiritual truth which it is
meant to illustrate? What divineness, what logical weight, in our
Lord's parables, unless He was by them trying to show his hearers
that the laws which they saw at work in the lilies of the field, in
the most common occupations of men, were but lower manifestations of
the laws by which are governed the inmost workings of the human
spirit? What triflers, on any other ground, were Socrates and Plato.
What triflers, too, Shakespeare and Spenser. Indeed, we should say
that it is the belief, conscious or unconscious, of the eternal
correlation of the physical and spiritual worlds, which alone
constitutes the essence of a poet.

Of course this idea led, and would necessarily lead, to follies and
fancies enough, as long as the phenomena of nature were not carefully
studied, and her laws scientifically investigated; and all the dreams
of Paracelsus or Van Helmont, Cardan or Crollius, Baptista Porta or
Behmen, are but the natural and pardonable errors of minds which,
while they felt deeply the sanctity and mystery of Nature, had no
Baconian philosophy to tell them what Nature actually was, and what
she actually said. But their idea lives still, and will live as long
as the belief in a one God lives. The physical and spiritual worlds
cannot be separated by an impassable gulf. They must, in some way or
other, reflect each other, even in their minutest phenomena, for so
only can they both reflect that absolute primeval unity, in whom they
both live and move and have their being. Mr. Vaughan's object,
however, has not been to work out in his book such problems as these.
Had he done so, he would have made his readers understand better what
Mysticism is; he would have avoided several hasty epithets, by the
use of which he has, we think, deceived himself into the notion that
he has settled a matter by calling it a hard name; he would have
explained, perhaps, to himself and to us, many strange and seemingly
contradictory facts in the annals of Mysticism. But he would also
not have written so readable a book. On the whole he has taken the
right course, though one wishes that he had carried it out more

A few friends, literate and comfortable men, and right-hearted
Christians withal, meet together to talk over these same mystics, and
to read papers and extracts which will give a general notion of the
subject from the earliest historic times. The gentlemen talk about
and about a little too much; they are a little too fond of
illustrations of the popular pulpit style; they are often apt to say
each his say, with very little care of what the previous speaker has
uttered; in fact these conversations are, as conversations, not good,
but as centres of thought they are excellent. There is not a page
nor a paragraph in which there is not something well worth
recollecting, and often reflections very wise and weighty indeed,
which show that whether or not Mr. Vaughan has thoroughly grasped the
subject of Mysticism, he has grasped and made part of his own mind
and heart many things far more practically important than Mysticism,
or any other form of thought; and no one ought to rise up from the
perusal of his book without finding himself if not a better, at least
a more thoughtful man, and perhaps a humble one also, as he learns
how many more struggles and doubts, discoveries, sorrows and joys,
the human race has passed through, than are contained in his own
private experience.

The true value of the book is, that though not exhaustive of the
subject, it is suggestive. It affords the best, indeed the only
general, sketch of the subject which we have in England, and gives
therein boundless food for future thought and reading; and the
country parson, or the thoughtful professional man, who has no time
to follow out the question for himself, much less to hunt out and
examine original documents, may learn from these pages a thousand
curious and interesting hints about men of like passions with
himself, and about old times, the history of which--as of all times--
was not the history of their kings and queens, but of the creeds and
deeds of the "masses" who worked, and failed, and sorrowed, and
rejoiced again, unknown to fame. Whatsoever, meanwhile, their own
conclusions may be on the subject-matter of the book, they will
hardly fail to admire the extraordinary variety and fulness of Mr.
Vaughan's reading, and wonder when they hear--unless we are wrongly
informed--that he is quite a young man--

How one small head could compass all he knew.

He begins with the mysticism of the Hindoo Yogis. And to this, as we
shall hereafter show, he hardly does justice; but we wish now to
point out in detail the extended range of subjects, of each of which
the book gives some general notion. From the Hindoos he passes to
Philo and the neo-Platonists; from them to the pseudo-Dionysius, and
the Mysticism of the early Eastern Church. He then traces, shrewdly
enough, the influence of the pseudo-Areopagite and the Easterns on
the bolder and more practical minds of the Western Latins, and gives
a sketch of Bernard and his Abbey of Clairvaux, which brings
pleasantly enough before us the ways and works of a long-dead world,
which was all but inconceivable to us till Mr, Carlyle disinterred it
in his picture of Abbot Sampson, the hero of "Past and Present."

We are next introduced to the mystic schoolmen--Hugo and Richard of
St. Victor; and then to a far more interesting class of men, and one
with which Mr. Vaughan has more sympathy than with any of his
characters, perhaps because he knows more about them. His chapters
on the German Mysticism of the fourteenth century; his imaginary, yet
fruitful chronicle of Adolf of Arnstein, with its glimpses of Meister
Eckart, Suso, the "Nameless Wild," Ruysbroek, and Tauler himself, are
admirable, if merely as historic studies, and should be, and we doubt
not will be, read by many as practical commentaries on the "Theologia
Germanica," and on the selection from Tauler's "Sermons," now in
course of publication. Had all the book been written as these
chapters are, we should not have had a word of complaint to make,
save when we find the author passing over without a word of comment,
utterances which, right or wrong, contain the very keynote and
central idea of the men whom he is holding up to admiration, and as
we think, of Mysticism itself. There is, for instance, a paragraph
attributed to Ruysbroek, in p. 275, vol. i., which, whether true or
false--and we believe it to be essentially true--is so inexpressibly
important, both in the subject which it treats, and in the way in
which it treats it, that twenty pages of comment on it would not have
been misdevoted. Yet it is passed by without a word.

Going forward to the age of the Reformation, the book then gives us a
spirited glimpse of John Bokelson and the Munster Anabaptists, of
Carlstadt and the Zurichian prophets, and then dwells at some length
on the attempt of that day to combine physical and spiritual science
in occult philosophy. We have enough to make us wish to hear more of
Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Behmen, with their alchemy, "true
magic," doctrines of sympathies, {309} signatures of things, Cabbala,
and Gamahea, and the rest of that (now fallen) inverted pyramid of
pseudo-science. His estimate of Behmen and his writings, we may
observe in passing, is both sound and charitable, and speaks as much
for Mr. Vaughan's heart as for his head. Then we have a little about
the Rosicrucians and the Comte de Gabalis, and the theory of the
Rabbis, from whom the Rosicrucians borrowed so much, all told in the
same lively manner, all utterly new to ninety-nine readers out of a
hundred, all indicating, we are bound to say, a much more extensive
reading than appears on the page itself.

From these he passes to the Mysticism of the counter-Reformation,
especially to the two great Spanish mystics, St. Theresa and St. John
of the Cross. Here again he is new and interesting; but we must
regret that he has not been as merciful to Theresa as he has to poor
little John.

He then devotes some eighty pages--and very well employed they are--
in detailing the strange and sad story of Madame Guyon and the
"Quietist" movement at Louis Quatorze's Court. Much of this he has
taken, with all due acknowledgment, from Upham; but he has told the
story most pleasantly, in his own way, and these pages will give a
better notion of Fenelon, and of the "Eagle" (for eagle read vulture)
"of Meaux," old Bossuet, than they are likely to find elsewhere in
the same compass.

Following chronological order as nearly as he can, he next passes to
George Fox and the early Quakers, introducing a curious--and in our
own case quite novel--little episode concerning "The History of Hai
Ebn Yokhdan," a medieval Arabian romance, which old Barclay seems to
have got hold of and pressed into the service of his sect, taking it
for literal truth.

The twelfth book is devoted to Swedenborg, and a very valuable little
sketch it is, and one which goes far to clear up the moral character,
and the reputation for sanity also, of that much-calumniated
philosopher, whom the world knows only as a dreaming false prophet,
forgetting that even if he was that, he was also a sound and severe
scientific labourer, to whom our modern physical science is most
deeply indebted.

This is a short sketch of the contents of a book which is a really
valuable addition to English literature, and which is as interesting
as it is instructive. But Mr. Vaughan must forgive us if we tell him
frankly that he has not exhausted the subject; that he has hardly
defined Mysticism at all--at least, has defined it by its outward
results, and that without classifying them; and that he has not
grasped the central idea of the subject. There were more things in
these same mystics than are dreamt of in his philosophy; and he has
missed seeing them, because he has put himself rather in the attitude
of a judge than of an inquirer.

He has not had respect and trust enough for the men and women of whom
he writes; and is too much inclined to laugh at them, and treat them
de haut en bas. He has trusted too much to his own great power of
logical analysis, and his equally great power of illustration, and is
therefore apt to mistake the being able to put a man's thoughts into
words for him, for the being really able to understand him. To
understand any man we must have sympathy for him, even affection. No
intellectual acuteness, no amount even of mere pity for his errors,
will enable us to see the man from within, and put our own souls into


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