Transcribed by David Price, email email@example.com
PHAETHON; LOOSE THOUGHTS FOR LOOSE THINKERS. 1852.
Templeton and I were lounging by the clear limestone stream which
crossed his park and wound away round wooded hills toward the
distant Severn. A lovelier fishing morning sportsman never saw. A
soft gray under-roof of cloud slid on before a soft west wind, and
here and there a stray gleam of sunlight shot into the vale across
the purple mountain-tops, and awoke into busy life the denizens of
the water, already quickened by the mysterious electric influences
of the last night's thunder-shower. The long-winged cinnamon-flies
spun and fluttered over the pools; the sand-bees hummed merrily
round their burrows in the marly bank; and delicate iridescent
ephemerae rose by hundreds from the depths, and, dropping their
shells, floated away, each a tiny Venus Anadyomene, down the glassy
ripples of the reaches. Every moment a heavy splash beneath some
overhanging tuft of milfoil or water hemlock proclaimed the death-
doom of a hapless beetle who had dropped into the stream beneath;
yet still we fished and fished, and caught nothing, and seemed
utterly careless about catching anything; till the old keeper who
followed us, sighing and shrugging his shoulders, broke forth into
"Excuse my liberty, gentlemen, but what ever is the matter with you
and master, sir? I never did see you miss so many honest rises
"It is too true," said Templeton to me with a laugh. "I must
confess I have been dreaming instead of fishing the whole morning.
But what has happened to you, who are not as apt as I am to do
nothing by trying to do two things at once?"
"My hand may well be somewhat unsteady; for to tell the truth, I sat
up all last night writing."
"A hopeful preparation for a day's fishing in limestone water! But
what can have set you on writing all night after so busy and
talkative an evening as the last, ending too, as it did, somewhere
about half-past twelve?"
"Perhaps the said talkative evening itself; and I suspect, if you
will confess the truth, you will say that your morning's meditations
are running very much in the same channel."
"Lewis," said he, after a pause, "go up to the hall, and bring some
luncheon for us down to the lower waterfall."
"And a wheelbarrow to carry home the fish, sir?"
"If you wish to warm yourself, certainly. And now, my good fellow,"
said he, as the old keeper toddled away up the park, "I will open my
heart-a process for which I have but few opportunities here-to an
old college friend. I am disturbed and saddened by last night's
talk and by last night's guest."
"By the American professor? How, in the name of English
exclusiveness, did such a rampantly heterodox spiritual guerilla
invade the respectabilities and conservatisms of Herefordshire?"
"He was returning from a tour through Wales, and had introductions
to me from some Manchester friends of mine, to avail himself of
which I found he had gone some thirty miles out of his way."
"Complimentary to you, at least."
"To Lady Jane, I suspect, rather than to me; for he told me broadly
enough that all the flattering attentions which he had received in
Manchester-where, you know, all such prophets are received with open
arms, their only credentials being that, whatsoever they believe,
they shall not believe the Bible-had not given him the pleasure
which he had received from that one introduction to what he called
'the inner hearth-life of the English landed aristocracy.' But what
did you think of him?"
"Do you really wish to know?"
"Then, honestly, I never heard so much magniloquent unwisdom talked
in the same space of time. It was the sense of shame for my race
which kept me silent all the evening. I could not trust myself to
argue with a gray-haired Saxon man, whose fifty years of life seemed
to have left him a child in all but the childlike heart which alone
can enter into the kingdom of heaven."
"You are severe," said Templeton, smilingly though, as if his
estimate were not very different from mine.
"Can one help being severe when one hears irreverence poured forth
from reverend lips? I do not mean merely irreverence for the
Catholic Creeds; that to my mind-God forgive me if I misjudge him-
seemed to me only one fruit of a deep root of irreverence for all
things as they are, even for all things as they seem. Did you not
remark the audacious contempt for all ages but 'our glorious
nineteenth century,' and the still deeper contempt for all in the
said glorious time who dared to believe that there was any
ascertained truth independent of the private fancy and opinion of-
for I am afraid it came to that-him, Professor Windrush, and his
circle of elect souls? 'You may believe nothing if you like, and
welcome; but if you do take to that unnecessary act, you are a fool
if you believe anything but what I believe-though I do not choose to
state what that is.' Is not that, now, a pretty fair formulisation
of his doctrine?"
"But, my dear raver," said Templeton, laughing, "the man believed at
least in physical science. I am sure we heard enough about its
"It may be so. But to me his very 'spiritualism' seemed more
materialistic than his physics. His notion seemed to be, though
heaven forbid that I should say that he ever put it formally before
"Or anything else," said Templeton, sotto voce.
"-that it is the spiritual world which is governed by physical laws,
and the physical by spiritual ones; that while men and women are
merely the puppets of cerebrations and mentations, and attractions
and repulsions, it is the trees, and stones, and gases, who have the
wills and the energies, and the faiths and the virtues and the
"You are caricaturing."
"How so? How can I judge otherwise, when I hear a man talking, as
he did, of God in terms which, every one of them involved what we
call the essential properties of matter-space, time, passibility,
motion; setting forth phrenology and mesmerism as the great organs
of education, even of the regeneration of mankind; apologising for
the earlier ravings of the Poughkeepsie seer, and considering his
later eclectico-pantheist farragos as great utterances: while,
whenever he talked of Nature, he showed the most credulous craving
after everything which we, the countrymen of Bacon, have been taught
to consider unscientific-Homoeopathy, Electro-biology, Loves of the
Plants a la Darwin, Vestiges of Creation, Vegetarianisms,
Teetotalisms-never mind what, provided it was unaccredited or
condemned by regularly educated men of science?"
"But you don't mean to assert that there is nothing in any of these
"Of course not. I can no more prove a universal negative about them
than I can about the existence of life on the moon. But I do say
that this contempt for that which has been already discovered-this
carelessness about induction from the normal phenomena, coupled with
this hankering after theories built upon exceptional ones-this
craving for 'signs and wonders,' which is the sure accompaniment of
a dying faith in God, and in nature as God's work-are symptoms which
make me tremble for the fate of physical as well as of spiritual
science, both in America and in the Americanists here at home. As
the Professor talked on, I could not help thinking of the neo-
Platonists of Alexandria, and their exactly similar course-downward
from a spiritualism of notions and emotions, which in every term
confessed its own materialism, to the fearful discovery that
consciousness does not reveal God, not even matter, but only its own
existence; and then onward, in desperate search after something
external wherein to trust, towards theurgic fetish worship, and the
secret virtues of gems and flowers and stars; and, last of all, to
the lowest depth of bowing statues and winking pictures. The sixth
century saw that career, Templeton; the nineteenth may see it re-
enacted, with only these differences, that the Nature-worship which
seems coming will be all the more crushing and slavish, because we
know so much better how vast and glorious Nature is; and that the
superstitions will be more clumsy and foolish in proportion as our
Saxon brain is less acute and discursive, and our education less
severely scientific, than those of the old Greeks."
"Silence, raver!" cried Templeton, throwing himself on the grass in
fits of laughter. "So the Professor's grandchildren will have
either turned Papists, or be bowing down before rusty locomotives
and broken electric telegraphs? But, my good friend, you surely do
not take Professor Windrush for a fair sample of the great American
"God forbid that so unpractical a talker should be a sample of the
most practical people upon earth. The Americans have their
engineers, their geographers, their astronomers, their scientific
chemists; few indeed, but such as bid fair to rival those of any
nation upon earth. But these, like other true workers, hold their
tongues and do their business."
"And they have a few indigenous authors too: you must have read the
'Biglow Papers,' and the 'Fable for Critics,' and last but not
least, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'?"
"Yes; and I have had far less fear for Americans since I read that
book; for it showed me that there was right healthy power, artistic
as well as intellectual, among them, even now-ready, when their
present borrowed peacocks' feathers have fallen off, to come forth
and prove that the Yankee Eagle is a right gallant bird, if he will
but trust to his own natural plumage."
"And they have a few statesmen also."
"But they are curt, plain-spoken, practical-in everything antipodal
to the knot of hapless men, who, unable from some defect or
morbidity to help on the real movement of their nation, are fain to
get their bread with tongue and pen, by retailing to 'silly women,'
'ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth,'
second-hand German eclecticisms, now exploded even in the country
where they arose, and the very froth and scum of the Medea's
caldron, in which the disjecta membra of old Calvinism are pitiably
"Ah! It has been always the plan, you know, in England, as well as
in America, courteously to avoid taking up a German theory till the
Germans had quite done with it, and thrown it away for something
new. But what are we to say of those who are trying to introduce
into England these very Americanised Germanisms, as the only
teaching which can suit the needs of the old world?"
"We will, if we are in a vulgar humour, apply to them a certain old
proverb about teaching one's grandmother a certain simple operation
on the egg of the domestic fowl; but we will no less take shame to
ourselves, as sons of Alma Mater, that such nonsense can get even a
day's hearing, either among the daughters of Manchester
manufacturers, or among London working men. Had we taught them what
we were taught in the schools, Templeton-"
"Alas, my friend, we must ourselves have learnt it first. I have no
right to throw stones at the poor Professor, for I could not answer
"Do not suppose that I can either. All I say is-mankind has not
lived in vain. Least of all has it lived in vain during the last
eighteen hundred years. It has gained something of eternal truth in
every age, and that which it has gained is as fresh and young now as
ever; and I will not throw away the bird in the hand for any number
of birds in the bush."
"Especially when you suspect most of them to be only wooden
pheasants, set up to delude poachers. Well, you are far more of a
Philister and a Conservative than I thought you."
"The New is coming, I doubt not; but it must grow organically out of
the Old-not root the old up, and stick itself full-grown into the
place thereof, like a French tree of liberty-sure of much the same
fate. Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid
already, in spiritual things or in physical; as the Professor and
his school will surely find."
"You recollect to whom the Bible applies that text?"
"And yet you say you cannot answer the Professor?"
"I do not care to do so. There are certain root-truths which I
know, because they have been discovered and settled for ages; and
instead of accepting the challenge of every I-know-not-whom to re-
examine them, and begin the world's work all over again, I will test
his theories by them; and if they fail to coincide, I will hear no
more speech about the details of the branches and flowers, for I
shall know the root is rotten."
"But he, too, acknowledged certain of those root-truths," said
Templeton, who seemed to have a lingering sympathy with my victim;
"he insisted most strongly, and spoke, you will not deny, eloquently
and nobly on the Unity of the Deity."
"On the non-Trinity of _it_, rather; for I will not degrade the word
'Him,' by applying it here. But, tell me honestly-c'est le timbre
qui fait la musique-did his 'Unity of the Deity' sound in your
English Bible-bred heart at all like that ancient, human, personal
'Hear, O Israel! the Lord thy God is one Lord'?"
"Much more like 'The Something our Nothing is one Something.'"
"May we not suspect, then, that his notion of the 'Unity of the
Deity' does not quite coincide with the foundation already laid,
whosesoever else may?"
"You are assuming rather hastily."
"Perhaps I may prove also, some day or other. Do you think,
moreover, that the theory which he so boldly started, when his
nerves and his manners were relieved from the unwonted pressure by
Lady Jane and the ladies going upstairs, was part of the same old
"That, if a man does but believe a thing, he has a right to speak it
and act on it, right or wrong. Have you forgotten his vindication
of your friend, the radical voter, and his 'spirit of truth'?"
"What, the worthy who, when I canvassed him as the Liberal candidate
for ---, and promised to support complete freedom of religious
opinion, tested me by breaking out into such blasphemous ribaldry as
made me run out of the house, and then went and voted against me as
"I mean him, of course. The Professor really seemed to admire the
man, as a more brave and conscientious hero than himself. I am not
squeamish, as you know; but I am afraid that I was quite rude to him
when he went as far as that."
"What-when you told him that you thought that, after all, the old
theory of the Divine Right of Kings was as plausible as the new
theory of the Divine Right of Blasphemy? My dear fellow, do not
fret yourself on that point. He seemed to take it rather as a
compliment to his own audacity, and whispered to me that 'The Divine
Right of Blasphemy' was an expression of which Theodore Parker
himself need not have been ashamed."
"He was pleased to be complimentary. But, tell me, what was it in
his oratory which has so vexed the soul of the country squire?"
"That very argument of his, among many things. I saw, or rather
felt, that he was wrong; and yet, as I have said already, I could
not answer him; and, had he not been my guest, should have got
thoroughly cross with him, as a pis-aller."
"I saw it. But, my friend, used we not to read Plato together, and
enjoy him together, in old Cambridge days? Do you not think that
Socrates might at all events have driven the Professor into a
"He might: but I cannot. Is that, then, what you were writing
about all last night?"
"It was. I could not help, when I went out on the terrace to smoke
my last cigar, fancying to myself how Socrates might have seemed to
set you, and the Professor, and that warm-hearted, right-headed,
wrong-tongued High-Church Curate, all together by the ears, and made
confusion worse confounded for the time being, and yet have left for
each of you some hint whereby you might see the darling truth for
which you were barking, all the more clearly in the light of the one
which you were howling down."
"And so you sat up, and-I thought the corridor smelt somewhat of
"Forgive, and I will confess. I wrote a dialogue;-and here it is,
if you choose to hear it. If there are a few passages, or even
many, which Plato would not have written, you will consider my age
and inexperience, and forgive."
"My dear fellow, you forget that I, like you, have been ten years
away from dear old Alma-Mater, Plato, the boats, and Potton Wood.
My authorities now are 'Morton on Soils' and 'Miles on the Horse's
Foot.' Read on, fearless of my criticisms. Here is the waterfall;
we will settle ourselves on Jane's favourite seat. You shall
discourse, and I, till Lewis brings the luncheon, will smoke my
cigar; and if I seem to be looking at the mountain, don't fancy that
I am only counting how many young grouse those heath-burning
worthies will have left me by the twelfth."
So we sat down, and I began:
Alcibiades and I walked into the Pnyx early the other morning,
before the people assembled. There we saw Socrates standing, having
his face turned toward the rising sun. Approaching him, we
perceived that he was praying; and that so ardently, that we touched
him on the shoulder before he became aware of our presence.
"You seem like a man filled with the God, Socrates," said
"Would that were true," answered he, "both of me and of all who will
counsel here this day. In fact, I was praying for that very thing;
namely, that they might have light to see the truth, in whatsoever
matter might be discussed here."
"And for me also?" said Alcibiades; "but I have prepared my speech
"And for you also, if you desire it-even though some of your periods
should be spoiled thereby. But why are you both here so early,
before any business is stirring?"
"We were discussing," said I, "that very thing for which we found
you praying-namely, truth, and what it might be."
"Perhaps you went a worse way toward discovering it than I did. But
let us hear. Whence did the discussion arise?"
"From something," said Alcibiades, "which Protagoras said in his
lecture yesterday-How truth was what each man troweth, or believeth,
to be true. 'So that,' he said, 'one thing is true to me, if I
believe it true, and another opposite thing to you, if you believe
that opposite. For,' continued he, 'there is an objective and a
subjective truth; the former, doubtless, one and absolute, and
contained in the nature of each thing; but the other manifold and
relative, varying with the faculties of each perceiver thereof.'
But as each man's faculties, he said, were different from his
neighbour's, and all more or less imperfect, it was impossible that
the absolute objective truth of anything could be seen by any
mortal, but only some partial approximation, and, as it were, sketch
of it, according as the object was represented with more or less
refraction on the mirror of his subjectivity. And therefore, as the
true inquirer deals only with the possible, and lets the impossible
go, it was the business of the wise man, shunning the search after
absolute truth as an impious attempt of the Titans to scale Olympus,
to busy himself humbly and practically with subjective truth, and
with those methods-rhetoric, for instance-by which he can make the
subjective opinions of others either similar to his own, or, leaving
them as they are-for it may be very often unnecessary to change
them-useful to his own ends."
Then Socrates, laughing:
"My fine fellow, you will have made more than one oration in the
Pnyx to-day. And indeed, I myself felt quite exalted, and rapt
aloft, like Bellerophon on Pegasus, upon the eloquence of Protagoras
and you. But yet forgive me this one thing; for my mother bare me,
as you know, a man-midwife, after her own trade, and not a sage."
ALCIBIADES. "What then?"
SOCRATES. "This, my astonishing friend-for really I am altogether
astonished and struck dumb, as I always am whensoever I hear a
brilliant talker like you discourse concerning objectivities and
subjectivities, and such mysterious words; at such moments I am like
an old war-horse, who, though he will rush on levelled lances,
shudders and sweats with terror at a boy rattling pebbles in a
bladder; and I feel altogether dizzy, and dread lest I should suffer
some such transformation as Scylla, when I hear awful words, like
incantations, pronounced over me, of which I, being no sage,
understand nothing. But tell me now, Alcibiades, did the opinion of
Protagoras altogether please you?"
A. "Why not? Is it not certain that two equally honest men may
differ in their opinions on the same matter?"
A. "But if each is equally sincere in speaking what he believes, is
not each equally moved by the spirit of truth?"
S. "You seem to have been lately initiated, and that not at Eleusis
merely, nor in the Cabiria, but rather in some Persian or Babylonian
mysteries, when you discourse thus of spirits. But you, Phaethon"
(turning to me), "how did you like the periods of Protagoras?"
"Do not ask me, Socrates," said I, "for indeed we have fought a
weary battle together ever since sundown last night, and all that I
had to say I learnt from you."
S. "From me, good fellow?"
PHAETHON. "Yes, indeed. I seemed to have heard from you that truth
is simply 'facts as they are.' But when I urged this on Alcibiades,
his arguments seemed superior to mine."
A. "But I have been telling him, drunk and sober, that it is my
opinion also as to what truth is. Only I, with Protagoras,
distinguish between objective fact and subjective opinion."
S. "Doing rightly, too, fair youth. But how comes it then that you
and Phaethon cannot agree?"
"That," said I, "you know better than either of us."
"You seem both of you," said Socrates, "to be, as usual, in the
family way. Shall I exercise my profession on you?"
"No, by Zeus!" answered Alcibiades, laughing; "I fear thee, thou
juggler, lest I suffer once again the same fate with the woman in
the myth, and after I have conceived a fair man-child, and, as I
fancy, brought it forth; thou hold up to the people some dead puppy,
or log, or what not, and cry: 'Look what Alcibiades has produced!'"
S. "But, beautiful youth, before I can do that, you will have
spoken your oration on the bema, and all the people will be ready
and able to say 'Absurd! Nothing but what is fair can come from so
fair a body.' Come, let us consider the question together."
I assented willingly; and Alcibiades, mincing and pouting, after his
fashion, still was loath to refuse.
S. "Let us see, then. Alcibiades distinguishes, he says, between
objective fact and subjective opinion?"
A. "Of course I do."
S. "But not, I presume, between objective truth and subjective
truth, whereof Protagoras spoke?"
A. "What trap are you laying now? I distinguish between them also,
S. "Tell me, then, dear youth, of your indulgence, what they are;
for I am shamefully ignorant on the matter."
A. "Why, do they not call a thing objectively true, when it is true
absolutely in itself; but subjectively true, when it is true in the
belief of a particular person?"
S. "-Though not necessarily true objectively, that is, absolutely
and in itself?"
S. "But possibly true so?"
A. "Of course."
S. "Now, tell me-a thing is objectively true, is it not, when it is
a fact as it is?"
S. "And when it is a fact as it is not, it is objectively false;
for such a fact would not be true absolutely, and in itself, would
A. "Of course not."
S. "Such a fact would be, therefore, no fact, and nothing."
A. "Why so?"
S. "Because, if a thing exists, it can only exist as it is, not as
it is not; at least my opinion inclines that way."
"Certainly not," said I; "why do you haggle so, Alcibiades?"
S. "Fair and softly, Phaethon! How do you know that he is not
fighting for wife and child, and the altars of his gods? But if he
will agree with you and me, he will confess that a thing which is
objectively false does not exist at all, and is nothing."
A. "I suppose it is necessary to do so. But I know whither you are
S. "To this, dear youth, that, therefore, if a thing subjectively
true be also objectively false, it does not exist, and is nothing."
"It is so," said I.
S. "Let us, then, let nothing go its own way, while we go on ours
with that which is only objectively true, lest coming to a river
over which it is subjectively true to us that there is a bridge, and
trying to walk over that work of our own mind, but no one's hands,
the bridge prove to be objectively false, and we, walking over the
bank into the water, be set free from that which is subjectively on
the farther bank of Styx."
Then I, laughing: "This hardly coincides, Alcibiades, with
Protagoras's opinion, that subjective truth was alone useful."
"But rather proves," said Socrates, "that undiluted draughts of it
are of a hurtful and poisonous nature, and require to be tempered
with somewhat of objective truth, before it is safe to use them-at
least in the case of bridges."
"Did I not tell you," interrupted Alcibiades, "how the old deceiver
would try to put me to bed of some dead puppy or log? Or do you not
see how, in order, after his custom, to raise a laugh about the
whole question by vulgar examples, he is blinking what he knows as
well as I?"
S. "What then, fair youth?"
A. "That Protagoras was not speaking about bridges, or any other
merely physical things, on which no difference of opinion need
occur, because every one can satisfy himself by simply using his
senses; but concerning moral and intellectual matters, which are not
cognisable by the senses, and therefore permit, without blame, a
greater diversity of opinion. Error on such points, he told us-on
the subject of religion, for example-was both pardonable and
harmless; for no blame could be imputed to the man who acted
faithfully up to his own belief, whatsoever that might be."
S. "Bravely spoken of him, and worthily of a free state. But tell
me, Alcibiades, with what matters does religion deal?"
A. "With the Gods."
S. "Then it is not hurtful to speak false things of the Gods?"
A. "Not unless you know them to be false."
S. "But answer me this, Alcibiades. If you made a mistake
concerning numbers, as that twice two made five, might it not be
hurtful to you?"
A. "Certainly; for I might pay away five obols instead of four."
S. "And so be punished, not by any anger of two and two against
you, but by those very necessary laws of number, which you had
S. "Or if you made a mistake concerning music, as that two
consecutive notes could produce harmony, that opinion also, if you
acted upon it, would be hurtful to you?"
A. "Certainly; for I should make a discord, and pain my own ears,
and my hearers'."
S. "And in this case also, be punished, not by any anger of the
lyre against you, but by those very necessary laws of music which
you had mistaken?"
S. "Or if you mistook concerning a brave man, believing him to be a
coward, might not this also be hurtful to you? If, for instance,
you attacked him carelessly, expecting him to run away, and he
defended himself valiantly, and conquered you; or if you neglected
to call for his help in need, expecting him falsely, as in the
former case, to run away; would not such a mistake be hurtful to
you, and punish you, not by any anger of the man against you, but by
your mistake itself?"
A. "It is evident."
S. "We may assume, then, that such mistakes at least are hurtful,
and that they are liable to be punished by the very laws of that
concerning which we mistake?"
A. "We may so assume."
S. "Suppose, then, we were to say: 'What argument is this of
yours, Protagoras?-that concerning lesser things, both intellectual
and moral, such as concerning number, music, or the character of a
man, mistakes are hurtful, and liable to bring punishment, in
proportion to our need of using those things: but concerning the
Gods, the very authors and lawgivers of number, music, human
character, and all other things whatsoever, mistakes are of no
consequence, nor in any way hurtful to man, who stands in need of
their help, not only in stress of battle, once or twice in his life,
as he might of the brave man, but always and in all things both
outward and inward? Does it not seem strange to you, for it does to
me, that to make mistakes concerning such beings should not bring an
altogether infinite and daily punishment, not by any resentment of
theirs, but, as in the case of music or numbers, by the very fact of
our having mistaken the laws of their being, on which the whole
universe depends?'-What do you suppose Protagoras would be able to
answer, if he faced the question boldly?"
A. "I cannot tell."
S. "Nor I either. Yet one thing more it may be worth our while to
examine. If one should mistake concerning God, will his error be
one of excess, or defect?"
A. "How can I tell?"
S. "Let us see. Is not Zeus more perfect than all other beings?"
A. "Certainly, if it be true that, as they say, the perfection of
each kind of being is derived from him; he must therefore be himself
more perfect than any one of those perfections."
S. "Well argued. Therefore, if he conceived of himself, his
conception of himself would be more perfect than that of any man
A. "Assuredly; if he have that faculty, he must needs have it in
S. "Suppose, then, that he conceived of one of his own properties,
such as his justice; how large would that perfect conception of his
A. "But how can I tell, Socrates?"
S. "My good friend, would it not be exactly commensurate with that
justice of his?"
A. "How then?"
S. "Wherein consists the perfection of any conception, save in
this, that it be the exact copy of that whereof it is conceived, and
neither greater nor less?"
A. "I see now."
S. "Without the Pythia's help, I should say. But, tell me-We agree
that Zeus's conception of his own justice will be exactly
commensurate with his justice?"
A. "We do."
S. "But man's conception thereof, it has been agreed, would be
certainly less perfect than Zeus's?"
A. "It would."
S. "Man, then, it seems, would always conceive God to be less just
than God conceives himself to be?"
A. "He would."
S. "And therefore to be less just, according to the argument, than
he really is?"
S. "And therefore his error concerning Zeus, would be in this case
an error of defect?"
A. "It would."
S. "And so on of each of his other properties?"
A. "The same argument would likewise, as far as I can see, apply to
S. "So that, on the whole, man, by the unassisted power of his own
faculty, will always conceive Zeus to be less just, wise, good, and
beautiful than he is?"
A. "It seems probable."
S. "But does not that seem to you hurtful?"
A. "Why so?"
S. "As if, for instance, a man believing that Zeus loves him less
than he really does, should become superstitious and self-
tormenting. Or, believing that Zeus will guide him less than he
really will, he should go his own way through life without looking
for that guidance: or if, believing that Zeus cares about his
conquering his passions less than he really does, he should become
careless and despairing in the struggle: or if, believing that Zeus
is less interested in the welfare of mankind than he really is, he
should himself neglect to assist them, and so lose the glory of
being called a benefactor of his country: would not all these
mistakes be hurtful ones?"
"Certainly," said I: but Alcibiades was silent.
S. "And would not these mistakes, by the hypothesis, themselves
punish him who made them, without any resentment whatsoever, or
Nemesis of the Gods being required for his chastisement?"
"It seems so," said I.
S. "But can we say of such mistakes, and of the harm which may
accrue from them, anything but that they must both be infinite;
seeing that they are mistakes concerning an infinite Being, and his
infinite properties, on every one of which, and on all together, our
daily existence depends?"
P. "It seems so."
S. "So that, until such a man's error concerning Zeus, the source
of all things, is cleared up, either in this life or in some future
one, we cannot but fear for him infinite confusion, misery, and
harm, in all matters which he may take in hand?"
Then Alcibiades, angrily: "What ugly mask is this you have put on,
Socrates? You speak rather like a priest trying to frighten rustics
into paying their first-fruits, than a philosopher inquiring after
that which is beautiful. But you shall never terrify me into
believing that it is not a noble thing to speak out whatsoever a man
believes, and to go forward boldly in the spirit of truth."
S. "Feeling first, I hope, with your staff, as would be but
reasonable in the case of the bridge, whether your belief was
objectively or only subjectively true, lest you should fall through
your subjective bridge into objective water. Nevertheless, leaving
the bridge and the water, let us examine a little what this said
spirit of truth may be. How do you define it?"
A. "I assert that whosoever says honestly what he believes, does so
by the spirit of truth."
S. "Then if Lyce, patting those soft cheeks of yours, were to say:
'Alcibiades, thou art the fairest youth in Athens,' she would speak
by the spirit of truth?"
A. "They say so."
S. "And they say rightly. But if Lyce, as is her custom, wished,
by so saying, to cheat you into believing that she loved you, and
thereby to wheedle you out of a new shawl, she would still speak by
the spirit of truth?"
A. "I suppose so."
S. "But if, again, she said the same thing to Phaethon, she would
still speak by the spirit of truth?"
"By no means, Socrates," said I, laughing.
S. "Be silent, fair boy; you are out of court as an interested
party. Alcibiades shall answer. If Lyce, being really mad with
love, like Sappho, were to believe Phaethon to be fairer than you,
and say so, she would still speak by the spirit of truth?"
A. "I suppose so."
S. "Do not frown; your beauty is in no question. Only she would
then be saying what is not true?"
"I must answer for him after all," said I.
S. "Then it seems, from what has been agreed, that it is
indifferent to the spirit of truth, whether it speak truth or not.
The spirit seems to be of an enviable serenity. But suppose again,
that I believed that Alcibiades had an ulcer on his leg, and were to
proclaim the same now to the people, when they come into the Pnyx,
should I not be speaking by the spirit of truth?"
A. "But that would be a shameful and blackguardly action."
S. "Be it so. It seems, therefore, that it is indifferent to the
spirit of truth whether that which it affirms be honourable or
blackguardly. Is it not so?"
A. "It seems so, most certainly, in that case at least."
S. "And in others, as I think. But tell me-Is not the man who does
what he believes, as much moved by this your spirit of truth as he
who says what he believes?"
A. "Certainly he is."
S. "Then if I believed it right to lie or steal, I, in lying or
stealing, should lie or steal by the spirit of truth?"
A. "Certainly: but that is impossible."
S. "My fine fellow, and wherefore? I have heard of a nation among
the Indians who hold it a sacred duty to murder every one not of
their own tribe, whom they can waylay: and when they are taken and
punished by the rulers of that country, die joyfully under the
greatest torments, believing themselves certain of an entrance into
the Elysian fields, in proportion to the number of murders which
they have committed."
A. "They must be impious wretches."
S. "Be it so. But believing themselves to be right, they commit
murder by the spirit of truth."
A. "It seems to follow from the argument."
S. "Then it is indifferent to the spirit of truth whether the
action which it prompts be right or wrong?"
A. "It must be confessed."
S. "It is therefore not a moral faculty, this spirit of truth. Let
us see now whether it be an intellectual one. How are intellectual
things defined, Phaethon? Tell me, for you are cunning in such
P. "Those things which have to do with processes of the mind."
S. "With right processes, or with wrong?"
P. "With right, of course."
S. "And processes for what purpose?"
P. "For the discovery of facts."
S. "Of facts as they are, or as they are not?"
P. "As they are."
S. "And he who discovers facts as they are, discovers truth; while
he who discovers facts as they are not, discovers falsehood?"
P. "He discovers nothing, Socrates."
S. "True; but it has been agreed already that the spirit of truth
is indifferent to the question whether facts be true or false, but
only concerns itself with the sincere affirmation of them,
whatsoever they may be. Much more then must it be indifferent to
those processes by which they are discovered."
P. "How so?"
S. "Because it only concerns itself with affirmation concerning
facts; but these processes are anterior to that affirmation."
P. "I comprehend."
S. "And much more is it indifferent to whether those are right
processes or not."
P. "Much more so."
S. "It is therefore not intellectual. It remains, therefore, that
it must be some merely physical faculty, like that of fearing,
hungering, or enjoying the sexual appetite."
A. "Absurd, Socrates!"
S. "That is the argument's concern, not ours: let us follow
manfully whithersoever it may lead us."
A. "Lead on, thou sophist!"
S. "It was agreed, then, that he who does what he thinks right,
does so by the spirit of truth-was it not?"
A. "It was."
S. "Then he who eats when he thinks that he ought to eat, does so
by the spirit of truth?"
A. "What next?"
S. "This next, that he who blows his nose when he thinks that it
wants blowing, blows his nose by the spirit of truth."
A. "What next?"
S. "Do not frown, friend. Believe me, in such days as these, I
honour even the man who is honest enough to blow his nose because he
finds that he ought to do so. But tell me-a horse, when he shies at
a beggar, does not he also do so by the spirit of truth? For he
believes sincerely the beggar to be something formidable, and
honestly acts upon his conviction."
"Not a doubt of it," said I, laughing, in spite of myself, at
S. "It is in danger, then, of proving to be something quite brutish
and doggish, this spirit of truth. I should not wonder, therefore,
if we found it proper to be restrained."
A. "How so, thou hair-splitter?"
S. "Have we not proved it to be common to man and animals; but are
not those passions which we have in common with animals to be
P. "Restrain the spirit of truth, Socrates?"
S. "If it be doggishly inclined. As, for instance, if a man knew
that his father had committed a shameful act, and were to publish
it, he would do so by the spirit of truth. Yet such an act would be
blackguardly, and to be restrained."
P. "Of course."
S. "But much more, if he accused his father only on his own private
suspicion, not having seen him commit the act; while many others,
who had watched his father's character more than he did, assured him
that he was mistaken."
P. "Such an act would be to be restrained, not merely as
blackguardly, but as impious."
S. "Or if a man believed things derogatory to the character of the
Gods, not having seen them do wrong himself, while all those who had
given themselves to the study of divine things assured him that he
was mistaken, would he not be bound to restrain an inclination to
speak such things, even if he believed them?"
P. "Surely, Socrates; and that even if he believed that the Gods
did not exist at all. For there would be far more chance that he
alone was wrong, and the many right, than that the many were wrong,
and he alone right. He would therefore commit an insolent and
conceited action, and, moreover, a cruel and shameless one; for he
would certainly make miserable, if he were believed, the hearts of
many virtuous persons who had never harmed him, for no immediate or
demonstrable purpose except that of pleasing his own self-will; and
that much more, were he wrong in his assertion."
S. "Here, then, is another case in which it seems proper to
restrain the spirit of truth, whatsoever it may be?"
P. "What, then, are we to say of those who speak fearlessly and
openly their own opinions on every subject? for, in spite of all
this, one cannot but admire them, whether rationally or
S. "We will allow them at least the honour which we do to the wild
boar, who rushes fiercely through thorns and brambles upon the dogs,
not to be turned aside by spears or tree-trunks, and indeed charges
forward the more valiantly the more tightly he shuts his eyes. That
praise we can bestow on him, but, I fear, no higher one. It is
expedient, nevertheless, to have such a temperament as it is to have
a good memory, or a loud voice, or a straight nose unlike mine;
only, like other animal passions, it must be restrained and
regulated by reason and the law of right, so as to employ itself
only on such matters and to such a degree as they prescribe."
"It may seem so in the argument," said I. "Yet no argument, even of
yours, Socrates, with your pardon, shall convince me that the spirit
of truth is not fair and good, ay, the noblest possession of all;
throwing away which, a man throws away his shield, and becomes
unworthy of the company of gods or men."
S. "Or of beasts either, as it seems to me and the argument.
Nevertheless, to this point has the argument, in its cunning and
malice, brought us by crooked paths. Can we find no escape?"
P. "I know none."
S. "But may it not be possible that we, not having been initiated,
like Alcibiades, into the Babylonian mysteries, have somewhat
mistaken the meaning of that expression, 'spirit of truth'? For
truth we defined to be 'facts as they are.' The spirit of truth
then should mean, should it not, the spirit of facts as they are?"
P. "It should."
S. "But what shall we say that this expression, in its turn, means?
The spirit which makes facts as they are?"
A. "Surely not. That would be the supreme Demiurgus himself."
S. "Of whom you were not speaking, when you spoke of the spirit of
A. "Certainly not. I was speaking of a spirit in man."
S. "And belonging to him?"
S. "And doing-what, with regard to facts as they are? for this is
just the thing which puzzles me."
A. "Telling facts as they are."
S. "Without seeing them as they are?"
A. "How you bore one! of course not. It sees facts as they are,
and therefore tells them."
S. "But perhaps it might see them as they are, and find it
expedient, being of the same temperament as I, to hold its tongue
about them? Would it then be still the spirit of truth?"
A. "It would, of course."
S. "The man then who possesses the spirit of truth will see facts
as they are?"
A. "He will."
S. "And conversely?"
S. "But if he sees anything only as it seems to him, and is not in
fact, he will not, with regard to that thing, see it by the spirit
A. "I suppose not."
S. "Neither then will he be able to speak of it by the spirit of
S. "Because, by what we agreed before, it will not be there to
speak of, my wondrous friend. For it appeared to us, if I recollect
right, that facts can only exist as they are, and not as they are
not, and that therefore the spirit of truth had nothing to do with
any facts but those which are."
"But," I interrupted, "O dear Socrates, I fear much that if the
spirit of truth be such as this, it must be beyond the reach of
S. "Why then?"
P. "Because the immortal gods only can see things as they really
are, having alone made all things, and ruling them all according to
the laws of each. They therefore, I much fear, will be alone able
to behold them, how they are really in their inner nature and
properties, and not merely from the outside, and by guess, as we do.
How then can we obtain such a spirit ourselves?"
S. "Dear boy, you seem to wish that I should, as usual, put you off
with a myth, when you begin to ask me about those who know far more
about me than I do about them. Nevertheless, shall I tell you a
P. "If you have nothing better."
S. "They say, then, that Prometheus, when he grew to man's estate,
found mankind, though they were like him in form, utterly brutish
and ignorant, so that, as AEschylus says:
Seeing they saw in vain,
Hearing they heard not; but were like the shapes
Of dreams, and long time did confuse all things
being, as I suppose, led, like the animals, only by their private
judgments of things as they seemed to each man, and enslaved to that
subjective truth, which we found to be utterly careless and ignorant
of facts as they are. But Prometheus, taking pity on them,
determined in his mind to free them from that slavery and to teach
them to rise above the beasts, by seeing things as they are. He
therefore made them acquainted with the secrets of nature, and
taught them to build houses, to work in wood and metals, to observe
the courses of the stars, and all other such arts and sciences,
which if any man attempts to follow according to his private
opinion, and not according to the rules of that art, which are
independent of him and of his opinions, being discovered from the
unchangeable laws of things as they are, he will fail. But yet, as
the myth relates, they became only a more cunning sort of animals;
not being wholly freed from their original slavery to a certain
subjective opinion about themselves, that each man should, by means
of those arts and sciences, please and help himself only. Fearing,
therefore, lest their increased strength and cunning should only
enable them to prey upon each other all the more fiercely, he stole
fire from heaven, and gave to each man a share thereof for his
hearth, and to each community for their common altar. And by the
light of this celestial fire they learnt to see those celestial and
eternal bonds between man and man, as of husband to wife, of father
to child, of citizen to his country, and of master to servant,
without which man is but a biped without feathers, and which are in
themselves, being independent of the flux of matter and time, most
truly facts as they are. And since that time, whatsoever household
or nation has allowed these fires to become extinguished, has sunk
down again to the level of the brutes: while those who have passed
them down to their children burning bright and strong, become
partakers of the bliss of the Heroes, in the Happy Islands. It
seems to me then, Phaethon and Alcibiades, that if we find ourselves
in anywise destitute of this heavenly fire, we should pray for the
coming of that day, when Prometheus shall be unbound from Caucasus,
if by any means he may take pity on us and on our children, and
again bring us down from heaven that fire which is the spirit of
truth, that we may see facts as they are. For which, if he were to
ask Zeus humbly and filially, I cannot believe that He would refuse
it. And indeed, I think that the poets, as is their custom, corrupt
the minds of young men by telling them that Zeus chained Prometheus
to Caucasus for his theft; seeing that it befits such a ruler, as I
take the Father of gods and men to be, to know that his subjects can
only do well by means of his bounty, and therefore to bestow it
freely, as the kings of Persia do, on all who are willing to use it
in the service of their sovereign."
"So then," said Alcibiades, laughing, "till Prometheus be unbound
from Caucasus, we who have lost, as you seem to hint, this heavenly
fire, must needs go on upon our own subjective opinions, having
nothing better to which to trust. Truly, thou sophist, thy
conclusion seems to me after all not to differ much from that of
S. "Ah dear boy! know you not that to those who have been
initiated, and, as they say in the mysteries, twice born, Prometheus
is always unbound, and stands ready to assist them; while to those
who are self-willed and conceited of their own opinions, he is
removed to an inaccessible distance, and chained in icy fetters on
untrodden mountain-peaks, where the vulture ever devours his fair
heart, which sympathises continually with the follies and the
sorrows of mankind? Of what punishment, then, must not those be
worthy, who by their own wilfulness and self-confidence bind again
to Caucasus the fair Titan, the friend of men?"
"By Apollo!" said Alcibiades, "this language is more fit for the
tripod in Delphos, than for the bema in the Pnyx. So fare-thee-
well, thou Pythoness! I must go and con over my oration, at least
if thy prophesying has not altogether addled my thoughts."
But I, as soon as Alcibiades was gone, for I was ashamed to speak
before, turning to Socrates said to him, all but weeping:
"Oh Socrates, what cruel words are these which you have spoken? Are
you not ashamed to talk thus contemptuously to one like me, even
though he be younger and less cunning in argument than yourself;
knowing as you do, how, when I might have grown rich in my native
city of Rhodes, and marrying there, as my father purposed, a wealthy
merchant's heiress, so have passed my life delicately, receiving the
profits of many ships and warehouses, I yet preferred Truth beyond
riches; and leaving my father's house, came to Athens in search of
wisdom, dissipating my patrimony upon one sophist after another,
listening greedily to Hippias, and Polus, and Gorgias, and
Protagoras, and last of all to you, hard-hearted man that you are?
For from my youth I loved and longed after nothing so much as Truth,
whatsoever it may be; thinking nothing so noble as to know that
which is Right, and knowing it, to do it. And that longing, or love
of mine, which is what I suppose Protagoras meant by the spirit of
truth, I cherished as the fairest and most divine possession, and
that for which alone it was worth while to live. For it seemed to
me, that even if in my search I never attained to truth, still it
were better to die seeking, than not to seek; and that even if
acting by what I considered to be the spirit of truth, and doing
honestly in every case that which seemed right, I should often,
acting on a false conviction, offend in ignorance against the
absolute righteousness of the gods, yet that such an offence was
deserving, if not of praise for its sincerity, yet at least of pity
and forgiveness; but by no means to be classed, as you class it,
with the appetites of brutes; much less to be threatened, as you
threaten it, with infinite and eternal misery by I know not what
necessary laws of Zeus, and to be put off at last with some myth or
other about Prometheus. Surely your mother bare you a scoffer and
pitiless, Socrates, and not, as you boast, a man-midwife fit for
Then, smiling sweetly, "Dear boy," said he, "were I such as you
fancy, how should I be here now, discoursing with you concerning
truth, instead of conning my speech for the Pnyx, like Alcibiades,
that I may become a demagogue, deceiving the mob with flattery, and
win for myself houses, and lands, and gold, and slave-girls, and
fame, and power, even to a tyranny itself? For in this way I might
have made my tongue a profitable member of my body; but now, being
hurried up and down in barren places, like one mad of love, from my
longing after fair youths, I waste my speech on them; receiving, as
is the wont of true lovers, only curses and ingratitude from their
arrogance. But tell me, thou proud Adonis-This spirit of truth in
thee, which thou thoughtest, and rightly, thy most noble possession-
did it desire truth, or not?"
P. "But, Socrates, I told you that very thing, and said that it was
a longing after truth, which I could not restrain or disobey."
S. "Tell me now, does one long for that which one possesses, or for
that which one does not possess?"
P. "For that which one does not possess."
S. "And is one in love with that which is oneself, or with that
which is not?"
P. "With that which is not oneself, thou mocker. We are not all,
surely, like Narcissus?"
S. "No, by the dog! not quite all. But see now: it appears that
when any one is in love with a thing, and longs for it, as thou
didst for truth, it must be something which is not himself, and
which he does not possess?"
S. "You, then, while you were loving facts as they are, and longing
to see them as they are, yet did not possess that which you longed
P. "True, indeed; else why should I have been driven forth by the
anger of the gods, like Bellerophon, to pace the Aleian plain,
eating my own soul, if I had possessed that for which I longed?"
S. "Well said, dear boy. But see again. This truth which you
loved, and which was not yourself or part of yourself, was certainly
also nothing of your own making?-Though they say that Pygmalion was
enamoured of the statue which he himself had carved."
P. "But he was miserable, Socrates, till the statue became alive."
S. "They say so; but what has that to do with the argument?"
P. "I know not. But it seems to me horrible, as it did to
Pygmalion, to be enamoured of anything which cannot return your
love, but is, as it were, your puppet. Should we not think it a
shameful thing, if a mistress were to be enamoured of one of her own
S. "We should; and that, I suppose, because the slave would have no
free choice whether to refuse or to return his mistress's love; but
would be compelled, being a slave, to submit to her, even if she
were old, or ugly, or hateful to him?"
P. "Of course."
S. "And should we not say, Phaethon, that there was no true
enjoyment in such love, even on the part of the mistress; nay, that
it was not worthy of the name of love at all, but was merely
something base, such as happens to animals?"
P. "We should say so rightly."
S. "Tell me, then, Phaethon-for a strange doubt has entered my mind
on account of your words. This truth of which you were enamoured,
seems, from what has been agreed, not to be a part of yourself, nor
a creation of your own, like Pygmalion's statue-how then has it not
happened to you to be even more miserable than Pygmalion till you
were sure that truth loved you in return?-and, moreover, till you
were sure that truth had free choice as to whether it should return
or refuse your love? For, otherwise, you would be in danger of
being found suffering the same base passion as a mistress enamoured
of a slave who cannot resist her."
P. "I am puzzled, Socrates."
S. "Shall we rather say, then, that you were enamoured, not of
truth itself, but of the spirit of truth? For we have been all
along defining truth to be 'facts as they are,' have we not?"
P. "We have."
S. "But there are many facts as they are, whereof to be enamoured
would be base, for they cannot return your love. As, for instance,
that one and one make two, or that a horse has four legs. With
respect to such facts, you would be, would you not, in the same
position as a mistress towards her slave?"
P. "Certainly. It seems, then, better to assume the other
S. "It does. But does it not follow, that when you were enamoured
of this spirit, you did not possess it?"
P. "I fear so, by the argument."
S. "And I fear, too, that we agreed that he only who possessed the
spirit of truth saw facts as they are; for that was involved in our
definition of the spirit of truth."
P. "But, Socrates, I knew, at least, that one and one made two, and
that a horse had four legs. I must then have seen some facts as
S. "Doubtless, fair boy; but not all."
P. "I do not pretend to that."
S. "But if you had possessed the spirit of truth, you would have
seen all facts whatsoever as they are. For he who possesses a thing
can surely employ it freely for all purposes which are not contrary
to the nature of that thing; can he not?"
P. "Of course he can. But if I did not possess the spirit of
truth, how could I see any truth whatsoever?"
S. "Suppose, dear boy, that instead of your possessing it, it were
possible for it to possess you; and possessing you, to show you as
much of itself, or as little, as it might choose, and concerning
such things only as it might choose: would not that explain the
P. "It would assuredly."
S. "Let us see, then, whether this spirit of truth may not be
something which is capable of possessing you, and employing you,
rather than of being possessed and employed by you. To me, indeed,
this spirit seems likely to be some demon or deity, and that one of
P. "Why then?"
S. "Can lifeless and material things see?"
P. "Certainly not; only live ones."
S. "This spirit, then, seems to be living; for it sees things as
S. "And it is also intellectual; for intellectual facts can be only
seen by an intellectual being."
S. "And also moral; for moral facts can only be seen by a moral
P. "True also."
S. "But this spirit is evidently not a man; it remains therefore,
that it must be some demon."
P. "But why one of the greatest?"
S. "Tell me, Phaethon, is not God to be numbered among facts as
P. "Assuredly; for he is before all others and more eternal and
absolute than all."
S. "Then this spirit of truth must also be able to see God as he
P. "It is probable."
S. "And certain, if, as we agreed, it be the very spirit which sees
all facts whatsoever as they are. Now tell me, can the less see the
greater as it is?"
P. "I think not; for an animal cannot see a man as he is, but only
that part of him in which he is like an animal, namely, his outward
figure and his animal passions; but not his moral sense or reason,
for of them it has itself no share."
S. "True; and in like wise, a man of less intellect could not see a
man of greater intellect than himself as he is, but only a part of
S. "And does not the same thing follow from what we said just now,
that God's conceptions of himself must be the only perfect
conceptions of him? For if any being could see God as he is, the
same would be able to conceive of him as he is: which we agreed was
S. "Then surely this spirit which sees God as he is, must be equal
P. "It seems probable; but none is equal to God except himself."
S. "Most true, Phaethon. But what shall we say now, but that this
spirit of truth, whereof thou hast been enamoured, is, according to
the argument, none other than Zeus, who alone comprehends all
things, and sees them as they are, because he alone has given to
each its inward and necessary laws?"
P. "But, Socrates, there seems something impious in the thought."
S. "Impious, truly, if we held that this spirit of truth was a part
of your own self. But we agreed that it was not a part of you, but
something utterly independent of you."
P. "Noble would the news be, Socrates, were it true; yet it seems
to me beyond belief."
S. "Did we not prove just now concerning Zeus, that all mistakes
concerning him were certain to be mistakes of defect?"
P. "We did, indeed."
S. "How do you know, then, that you have not fallen into some such
error, and have suspected Zeus to be less condescending towards you
than he really is?"
P. "Would that it were so! But I fear it is too fair a hope."
S. "Do I seem to thee now, dear boy, more insolent and unfeeling
than Protagoras, when he tried to turn thee away from the search
after absolute truth, by saying sophistically that it was an attempt
of the Titans to scale heaven, and bade thee be content with
asserting shamelessly and brutishly thine own subjective opinions?
For I do not bid thee scale the throne of Zeus, into whose presence
none could arrive, as it seems to me, unless he himself willed it;
but to believe that he has given thee from thy childhood a glimpse
of his own excellence, that so thy heart, conjecturing, as in the
case of a veiled statue, from one part the beauty of the rest, might
become enamoured thereof, and long for that sight of him which is
the highest and only good, that so his splendour may give thee light
to see facts as they are."
P. "Oh Socrates! and how is this blessedness to be attained?"
S. "Even as the myths relate, the nymphs obtained the embraces of
the gods; by pleasing him and obeying him in all things, lifting up
daily pure hands and a thankful heart, if by any means he may
condescend to purge thine eyes, that thou mayest see clearly, and
without those motes, and specks, and distortions of thine own organs
of vision, which flit before the eyeballs of those who have been
drunk over-night, and which are called by sophists subjective truth;
watching everywhere anxiously and reverently for those glimpses of
his beauty, which he will vouchsafe to thee more and more as thou
provest thyself worthy of them, and will reward thy love by making
thee more and more partaker of his own spirit of truth; whereby,
seeing facts as they are, thou wilt see him who has made them
according to his own ideas, that they may be a mirror of his
unspeakable splendour. Is not this a fairer hope for thee, oh
Phaethon, than that which Protagoras held out to thee-that neither
seeing Zeus, nor seeing facts as they are, nor affirming any truth
whatsoever, nor depending for thy knowledge on any one but thine own
ignorant self, thou mightest nevertheless be so fortunate as to
escape punishment: not knowing, as it seems to me, that such a
state of ignorance and blindfold rashness, even if Tartarus were a
dream of the poets or the priests, is in itself the most fearful of
P. "It is, indeed, my dear Socrates. Yet what are we to say of
those who, sincerely loving and longing after knowledge, yet arrive
at false conclusions, which are proved to be false by contradicting
S. "We are to say, Phaethon, that they have not loved knowledge
enough to desire utterly to see facts as they are, but only to see
them as they would wish them to be; and loving themselves rather
than Zeus, have wished to remodel in some things or other his
universe, according to their own subjective opinions. By this, or
by some other act of self-will, or self-conceit, or self-dependence,
they have compelled Zeus, not, as I think, without pity and kindness
to them, to withdraw from them in some degree the sight of his own
beauty. We must, therefore, I fear, liken them to Acharis, the
painter of Lemnos, who, intending to represent Phoebus, painted from
a mirror a copy of his own defects and deformities; or perhaps to
that Nymph, who finding herself beloved by Phoebus, instead of
reverently and silently returning the affection, boasted of it to
all her neighbours, as a token of her own beauty, and despised the
god; so that he, being angry, changed her into a chattering magpie;
or again to Arachne, who having been taught the art of weaving by
Athene, pretended to compete with her own instructress, and being
metamorphosed by her into a spider, was condemned, like the
sophists, to spin out of her own entrails endless ugly webs, which
are destroyed, as soon as finished, by every slave-girl's broom."
P. "But shall we despise and hate such, Oh Socrates?"
S. "No, dearest boy, we will rather pity and instruct them
lovingly; remembering always that we shall become such as they the
moment we begin to fancy that truth is our own possession, and not
the very beauty of Zeus himself, which he shows to those whom he
will, and in such measure as he finds them worthy to behold. But to
me, considering how great must be the condescension of Zeus in
unveiling to any man, even the worthiest, the least portion of his
own loveliness, there has come at times a sort of dream, that the
divine splendour will at last pierce through and illumine all dark
souls, even in the house of Hades, showing them, as by a great
sunrise, both what they themselves, and what all other things are,
really and in the sight of Zeus; which if it happened, even to
Ixion, I believe that his wheel would stop, and his fetters drop off
of themselves, and that he would return freely to the upper air, for
as long as he himself might choose."
Just then the people began to throng into the Pnyx; and we took our
places with the rest to hear the business of the day, after Socrates
had privately uttered this prayer:
"Oh Zeus, give to me and to all who shall counsel here this day,
that spirit of truth by which we may behold that whereof we
deliberate, as it is in thy sight!"
"As I expected," said Templeton, with a smile, as I folded up my
manuscript. "My friend the parson could not demolish the poor
Professor's bad logic without a little professional touch by way of
"What do you mean?"
"Oh-never mind. Only I owe you little thanks for sweeping away any
one of my lingering sympathies with Mr. Windrush, if all you can
offer me instead is the confounded old nostrum of religion over
"Heydey, friend! What next?"
"Really, my dear fellow, I beg your pardon, I forgot that I was
speaking to a clergyman."
"Pray don't beg my pardon on that ground. If what you say be right,
a clergyman above all others ought to hear it; and if it be wrong,
and a symptom of spiritual disease, he ought to hear it all the
more. But I cannot tell whether you are right or wrong, till I know
what you mean by religion; for there is a great deal of very truly
confounded and confounding religion abroad in the world just now, as
there has been in all ages; and perhaps you may be alluding to
Templeton sat silent for a few minutes, playing with the tackle in
his fly-book, and then murmured to himself the well-known lines of
"Humana ante oculos foede cum vita jaceret
In terris oppressa gravi sub Relligione
Quae caput a coeli regionibus ostendebat,
Horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans.
There!-blasphemous reprobate fellow, am I not?"
"On the contrary," I said, "I think that in the sense in which
Lucretius intended that the lines should be taken, they contain a
great deal of truth. He had seen the basest and foullest crimes
spring from that which he calls Relligio, and he had a full right to
state that fact. I am not aware that one blasphemes the Catholic
and Apostolic Faith by saying that the devilries of the Spanish
Inquisition were the direct offspring of that 'religious sentiment'
which Mr. Windrush's school-though they are at all events right in
saying that its source is in man himself, and not in the 'regionibus
Coeli'-are now glorifying, as something which enables man to save
his own soul without the interference of 'The Deity'-indeed, whether
'The Deity' chooses or not."
"Do leave these poor Emersonians alone for a few minutes, and tell
me how you can reconcile what you have just said with your own
"Is not Lucretius glorying in the notion that the gods do not
trouble themselves with mortals, while you have been asserting that
'The Deity' troubles Himself even with the souls of heathens?"
"Certainly. But that is quite a distinct matter from his dislike of
what he calls Relligio. In that dislike I can sympathise fully:
but on his method of escape Mr. Windrush will probably look with
more complaisance than I do, who call it by the ugly name of
"Then I fear you would call me an Atheist, if you knew all. So we
had better say no more about it."
"A most curious speech, certainly, to make to a parson, or soul-
curer by profession!"
"Why, what on earth have you to do but to abhor and flee me?" asked
he, with a laugh, though by no means a merry one.
"Would your having a headache be a reason for the medical man's
running away from you, or coming to visit you?"
"Ah, but this, you know, is my 'fault,' and my 'crime,' and my
'sin.' Eh?" and he laughed again.
"Would the doctor visit you the less, because it was your own fault
that your head ached?"
"Ah, but suppose I professed openly no faith in his powers of
curing, and had a great hankering after unaccredited Homoeopathies,
like Mr. Windrush's; would not that be a fair cause for interdiction
from fire and water, sacraments and Christian burial?"
"Come, come, Templeton," I said; "you shall not thus jest away
serious thoughts with an old friend. I know you are ill at ease.
Why not talk over the matter with me fairly and soberly? How do you
know till you have tried, whether I can help you or not?"
"Because I know that your arguments will have no force with me; they
will demand of me or assume in me, certain faculties, sentiments,
notions, experiences-call them what you like; I am beginning to
suspect sometimes with Cabanis that they are 'a product of the small
intestines'-which I never have had, and never could make myself
have, and now don't care whether I have them or not."
"On my honour, I will address you only as what you are, and know
yourself to be. But what are these faculties, so strangely beyond
my friend Templeton's reach? He used to be distinguished at college
for a very clear head, and a very kind heart, and the nicest sense
of honour which I ever saw in living man; and I have not heard that
they have failed him since he became Templeton of Templeton. And as
for his Churchmanship, were not the county papers ringing last month
with the accounts of the beautiful new church which he had built,
and the stained glass which he brought from Belgium, and the marble
font which he brought from Italy; and how he had even given for an
altar-piece his own pet Luini, the gem of Templeton House?"
"Effeminate picture!" he said. "It was part and parcel of the idea-
Before I could ask him what he meant, he looked up suddenly at me,
with deep sadness on his usually nonchalant face.
"Well, my dear fellow, I suppose I must tell you all, as I have told
you so much without your shaking the dust off your feet against me,
and consulting Bradshaw for the earliest train to Shrewsbury. You
knew my dear mother?"
"I did. The best of women."
"The best of women, and the best of mothers. But, if you recollect,
she was a great Low-Church saint."
"Why 'but'? How does that derogate in any wise from her
"Not from her excellence; God forbid! or from the excellence of the
people of her own party, whom she used to have round her, and who
were, some of them, I do believe, as really earnest, and pious, and
charitable, and all that, as human beings could be. But it did take
away very much indeed from her influence on me."
"Surely she did not neglect to teach you."
"It is a strange thing to say, but she rather taught me too much. I
don't deny that it may have been my own fault. I don't blame her,
or any one. But you know what I was at college-no worse than other
men, I dare say; but no better. I had no reason for being better."
"No reason? Surely she gave you reasons."
"There-you have touched the ailing nerve now. The reasons were what
you would call paralogisms. They had no more to do with me than
with those trout."
"You mistake, friend, you mistake, indeed," said I.
"I don't mistake at all about this; that whether or not the reasons
in themselves had to do with me, the way in which she put them made
them practically so much Hebrew. She demanded of me, as the only
grounds on which I was to consider myself safe from hell, certain
fears and hopes which I did not feel, and experiences which I did
not experience; and it was my fault, and a sign of my being in a
wrong state-to use no harder term-that I did not feel them; and yet
it was only God's grace which could make me feel them: and so I
grew up with a dark secret notion that I was a very bad boy; but
that it was God's fault and not mine that I was so."
"You were ripe indeed then," said I sadly, "like hundreds more, for
Professor Windrush's teaching."
"I will come to that presently. But in the meantime-was it my
fault? I was never what you call a devout person. My 'organ of
veneration,' as the phrenologists would say, was never very large.
I was a shrewd dashing boy, enjoying life to the finger-tips, and
enjoying above all, I will say, pleasing my mother in every way,
except in the understanding what she told me-and what I felt I could
not understand. But as I grew older, and watched her, and the men
round her, I began to suspect that religion and effeminacy had a
good deal to do with each other. For the women, whatsoever their
temperaments, or even their tastes might be, took to this to me
incomprehensible religion naturally and instinctively; while the
very few men who were in their clique were-I don't deny some of them
were good men enough-if they had been men at all: if they had been
well-read, or well-bred, or gallant, or clear-headed, or liberal-
minded, or, in short, anything but the silky, smooth-tongued hunt-
the-slippers nine out of ten of them were. I recollect well asking
my mother once, whether there would not be five times more women
than men in heaven-and her answering me sadly and seriously, that
she feared there would be. And in the meantime she brought me up to
pray and hope that I might some day be converted, and become a child
of God-And one could not help wishing to enjoy oneself as much as
possible before that event happened."
"Before that event happened, my dear fellow? Pardon me, but your
tone is somewhat irreverent."
"Very likely. I had no reason put before me for regarding such a
change as anything but an unpleasant doom, which would cut me off,
or ought to do so, from field sports, from poetry, from art, from
science, from politics-for Christians, I was told, had nothing to do
with the politics of this world-from man and all man's civilisation,
in short; and leave to me, as the only two lawful indulgences, those
of living in a good house, and begetting a family of children."
"And did you throw off the old Creeds for the sake of the
civilisation which you fancied that they forbid?"
"No. I am a Churchman, you know; principally on political grounds,
or from custom, or from-the devil knows what, perhaps-I do not."
"Probably it is God, and not the devil, who knows why, Templeton."
"Be it so-Frightful as it is to have to say it-I do not so much
care-I suppose it is all right: if it is not, it will all come
right at last. And in the meantime, I compromise, like the rest of
the world; and hear Jane making the children every week-day pray
that they may become God's children, and then teaching them every
Sunday evening the Catechism, which says that they are so already.
I don't understand it-I suppose if it was important, one would
understand it. One knows right from wrong, you know, and other
fundamentals. If that were necessary, one would know that too."
"But can you submit quietly to such a barefaced contradiction?"
"I? I am only a plain country squire. Of course I should call such
dealing with an Act of Parliament a lie and a sham-But about these
things, I fancy, the women know best. Jane is ten thousand times as
good as I am-you don't know half her worth-And I haven't the heart
to contradict her-nor the right either; for I have no reasons to
give her; no faith to substitute for hers."
"Our friend, the High-Church curate, could have given you a few
plain reasons, I should think."
"Of course he could. And I believe in my heart the man is in the
right in calling Jane wrong. He has honesty and common sense on his
side, just as he has when he calls the present state of Convocation,
in the face of that prayer for God's Spirit on its deliberations, a
blasphemous lie and sham. Of course it is. Any ensign in a
marching regiment could tell us that from his mere sense of
soldier's honour. But then-if she is wrong, is he right? How do I
know? I want reasons: he gives me historic authorities."
"And very good things too; for they are fair phenomena for
"But how will proving to me that certain people once thought a thing
right prove to me that it is right? Good people think differently
every day. Good people have thought differently about those very
matters in every age. I want some proof which will coincide with
the little which I do know about science and philosophy. They must
fight out their own battle, if they choose to fight it on mere
authority. If one could but have the implicit faith of a child, it
would be all very well: but one can't. If one has once been fool
enough to think about these things, one must have reasons, or
something better than mere ipse dixits, or one can't believe them.
I should be glad enough to believe; do you suppose that I don't envy
poor dear Jane from morning to night?-but I can't. And so-"
"And so what?" asked I.
"And so, I believe, I am growing to have no religion at all, and no
substitute for it either; for I feel I have no ground or reason for
admiring or working out any subject. I have tired of philosophy.
Perhaps it's all wrong-at least I can't see what it has to do with
God, and Christianity, and all which, if it is true, must be more
important than anything else. I have tired of art for the same
reason. How can I be anything but a wretched dilettante, when I
have no principles to ground my criticism on, beyond bosh about 'The
Beautiful'? I did pluck up heart and read Mr. Ruskin's books
greedily when they came out, because I heard he was a good
Christian. But I fell upon a little tract of his, 'Notes on
Sheepfolds,' and gave him up again, when I found that he had a
leaning to that 'Clapham sect.' I have dropped politics: for I
have no reason, no ground, no principle in them, but expediency.
When they asked me this summer to represent the interests of the
county in Parliament, I asked them how they came to make such a
mistake as to fancy that I knew what was their interest, or anyone
else's? I am becoming more and more of an animal; fragmentary,
inconsistent, seeing to the root of nothing, unable to unite things
in my own mind. I just do the duty which lies nearest, and looks
simplest. I try to make the boys grow up plucky and knowing-though
what's the use of it? They will go to college with even less
principles than I had, and will get into proportionably worse
scrapes, I expect to be ruined by their debts before I die. And for
the rest, I read nothing but "The Edinburgh" and "The Agricultural
Gazette." My talk is of bullocks. I just know right from wrong
enough to see that the farms are in good order, pay my labourers
living wages, keep the old people out of the workhouse, and see that
my cottages and schools are all right; for I suppose I was put here
for some purpose of that kind-though what it is I can't very clearly
define-And there's an end of my long story."
"Not quite an animal yet, it seems?" said I with a smile, half to
hide my own sadness at a set of experiences which are, alas! already
far too common, and will soon be more common still.
"Nearer it than you fancy. I am getting fonder and fonder of a good
dinner and a second bottle of claret-about their meaning there is no
mistake. And my principal reason for taking the hounds two years
ago was, I do believe, to have something to do in the winter which
required no thought, and to have an excuse for falling asleep after
dinner, instead of arguing with Jane about her scurrilous religious
newspapers-There is a great gulf opening, I see, between me and her-
And as I can't bridge it over I may as well forget it. Pah! I am
boring you, and over-talking myself. Have a cigar, and let us say
no more about it. There is more here, old fellow, than you will
cure by doses of Socratic Dialectics."
"I am not so sure of that," I replied. "On the contrary, I should
recommend you in your present state of mind to look out your old
Plato as quickly as possible, and see if he and his master Socrates
cannot give you, if not altogether a solution for your puzzle, at
least a method whereby you may solve it yourself. But tell me
first-What has all this to do with your evident sympathy for a man
so unlike yourself as Professor Windrush?"
"Perhaps I feel for him principally because he has broken loose from
it all in desperation, just as I have. But, to tell you the truth,
I have been reading more than one book of his school lately; and, as
I said, I owe you no thanks for demolishing the little comfort which
I seemed to find in them."
"And what was that then?"
"Why-in the first place, you can't deny that however incoherent they
may be they do say a great many clever things, and noble things too,
about man, and society, and art, and nature."
"No doubt of it."
"And moreover, they seem to connect all they say with-with-I suppose
you will laugh at me-with God, and spiritual truths, and eternal
Divine laws; in short, to consecrate common matters in that very
way, which I could not find in my poor mother's teaching."
"No doubt of that either. And therein is one real value of them, as
protests in behalf of something nobler and more unselfish than the
mere dollar-getting spirit of their country."
"Well, then, can you not see how pleasant it was to me to find
someone who would give me a peep into the unseen world, without
requiring as an entrance-fee any religious emotions and experiences?
Here I had been for years, shut out; told that I had no business
with anything eternal, and pure, and noble, and good; that to all
intents and purposes I was nothing better than a very cunning animal
who could be damned; because I was still 'carnal,' and had not been
through all Jane's mysterious sorrows and joys. And it was really
good news to me to hear that they were not required after all, and
that all I need do was to be a good man, and leave devotion to those
who were inclined to it by temperament."
"Not to be a good man," said I, "but only a good specimen of some
sort of man. That, I think, would be the outcome of Emerson's
'Representative Men,' or of those most tragic 'Memoirs of Margaret
"How then, hair-splitter? What is the mighty difference?"
"Would you call Dick Turpin a good man, because he was a good
"That he would be an excellent representative man of his class; and
therefore, on Mr. Emerson's grounds, a fit subject for a laudatory
"I hate reductiones ad absurdum. Let Turpin take care of himself.
I suppose I do not belong to such a very bad sort of men, but that
it may be worth my while to become a good specimen of it?"
"Certainly not; only I think, contrary to Mr. Emerson's opinion,
that you will not become even that, unless you first become
something better still, namely, a good man."
"There you are too refined for me. But can you not understand, now,
the causes of my sympathy even with Windrush and his 'spirit of
"I can, and those of many more. It seems that you thought you found
in that school a wider creed than the one to which you had been
"There was a more comprehensive view of humanity about them, and
that pleased me."
"Doubtless, one can be easily comprehensive if one comprehends good
and bad, true and false, under one category, by denying the absolute
existence of either goodness or badness, truth or falsehood. But
let the view be as comprehensive as it will, I am afraid that the
creed founded thereon will not be very comprehensive."
"Because it will comprehend so few people; fewer even than the sect
of those who will believe, with Mr. Emerson, that Harvey and Newton
made their discoveries by the 'Aristotelian method.' The sect of
those who believe that there is no absolute right and wrong, no
absolute truth external to himself, discoverable by man, will, it
seems to me, be a very narrow one to the end of time; owing to a
certain primeval superstition of our race, who, even in barbarous
countries, have always been Platonists enough to have some sort of
instinct and hope that there was a right and a wrong, and truths
independent of their own sentiments and faculties. So that, though
this school may enable you to fancy that you understand Lady Jane
somewhat more, by the simple expedient of putting on her religious
experiences an arbitrary interpretation of your own, which she would
indignantly and justly deny, it will enable her to understand you
all the less, and widen the gulf between you immeasurably."
"You are severe."
"I only wish you to face one result of a theory, which, while it
pretends to offer the most comprehensive liberality, will be found
to lead in practice to the most narrow and sectarian Epicurism for a
cultivated few. But for the many, struggling with the innate
consciousness of evil, in them and around them-an instinctive
consciousness which no argumentation about 'evil being a lower form
of good' will ever explain away to those who 'grind among the iron
facts of life, and have no time for self-deception'-what good news
for them is there in Mr. Emerson's cosy and tolerant Epicurism?
They cry for deliverance from their natures; they know that they are
not that which they were intended to be, because they follow their
natures; and he answers them with: 'Follow your natures, and be
that which you were intended to be.' You began this argument by
stipulating that I should argue with you simply as a man. Does Mr.
Emerson's argument look like doing that, or only arguing as with an
individual of that kind of man, or rather animal, to which some iron
Fate has compelled you to belong?"
"But, I say, these books have made me a better man."
"I do not doubt it. An earnest cultivated man, speaking his whole
mind to an earnest cultivated man, will hardly fail of telling him
something he did not know before. But if you had not been a
cultivated man, Templeton, a man with few sorrows, and few trials,
and few unsatisfied desires-if you had been the village shopkeeper,
with his bad debts, and his temptations to make those who can pay
for those who cannot,-if you had been one of your own labourers,
environed with the struggle for daily bread, and the alehouse, and
hungry children, and a sick wife, and a dull taste, and a duller
head-in short, if you had been a man such as nine out of ten are-
what would his school have taught you then? You want some truths
which are common to men as men, which will help and teach them, let
their temperament or their circumstances be what they will-do you
not? If you do not, your complaint of Lady Jane's exclusive Creed
is a mere selfish competition on your part, between a Creed which
will fit her peculiarities, and a Creed which will fit your
peculiarities. Do you not see that?"
"I do-go on."
"Then I say you will not find that in Professor Windrush's school.
I say you will find it in Lady Jane's Creed."
"What? In the very Creed which excludes me?"
"Whether that Creed excludes you or not is a question of the true
meaning of its words. And that again is a question of Dialectics.
I say it includes you and all mankind."
"You must mistake her doctrines, then."
"I do not, I assure you. I know what they are; and I know, also,
the misreading of them to which your dear mother's school has
accustomed her, and which has taught her that these Creeds only
belong to the few who have discovered their own share in them. But
whether the Creeds really do that or not-whether Lady Jane does not
implicitly confess that they do not by her own words and deeds of
every day, that, I say, is a question of Dialectics, in the Platonic
sense of that word, as the science which discovers the true and
false in thought, by discovering the true and false concerning the
meanings of words, which represent thought."
"Be it so. I should be glad to hold what Jane holds, for the sake
of the marvellous practical effect on her character-sweet creature
that she is!-which it has produced in the last seven years."
"And which effect, I presume, was not increased by her denying to
you any share in the same?"
"Alas, no! It is only when she falls on that-when she begins
denouncing and excluding-that all the old faults, few and light as
they are, seem to leap into ugly life again for the moment."
"Few and light, indeed! Ah, my dear Templeton, the gulf between you
and happiness looks wide; but only because it is magnified in mist."
"Which you would have me disperse by lightning-flashes of
Dialectics, eh? Well, every man has his nostrum."
"I have not. My method is not my own, but Plato's."
"But, my good fellow, the Windrush school admire Plato as much as
you do, and yet certainly arrive at somewhat different conclusions."
"They do Plato the honour of patronising him, as a Representative
Man; but their real text-book, you will find, is Proclus. That
hapless philosophaster's a priori method, even his very verbiage, is
dear to their souls; for they copy it through wet and dry, through
sense and nonsense. But as for Plato-when I find them using Plato's
weapons, I shall believe in their understanding and love of him."
"And in the meanwhile claim him as a new verger for the Reformed
"Not a new verger, Templeton. Augustine said, fourteen hundred
years ago, that Socrates was the philosopher of the Catholic Faith.
If he has not seemed so of late years, it is, I suspect, because we
do not understand quite the same thing as Augustine did, when we
talk of the Catholic Faith and Christianity."
"But you forget, in your hurry of clerical confidence, that the
question still remains, whether these Creeds are true."
"That, too, as I take it, is a question of Dialectics, unless you
choose to reduce the whole to a balance-of-probabilities argument-
rather too narrow a basis for a World-faith to stand upon. Try all
'mythic' theories, Straussite and others, by honest Dialectics. Try
your own thoughts and experiences, and the accredited thoughts and
experiences of wise men, by the same method. Mesmerism and 'The
Development of Species' may wait till they have settled themselves
somewhat more into sciences; at present it does not much matter what
agrees or disagrees with them. But using this weapon fearlessly and
honestly, you will, unless Socrates and Plato were fools, arrive at
absolute eternal truths, which are equally true for all men, good or
bad, conscious or unconscious; and I tell you-of course you need not
believe me till you have made trial-that those truths will coincide
with the plain honest meaning of the Catholic Creeds, as determined
by the same method-the only one, indeed, by which they or anything
else can be determined."
"You forget Baconian induction, of which you are so fond."
"And pray what are Dialectics, but strict Baconian induction applied
to words, as the phenomena of mind, instead of to things, the
"I can't tell you; or, rather, I will not. I have my own opinion
about what those trees and stones are; but it will require a few
years' more verification before I tell."
"Really, you and your Dialectics seem in a hopeful and valiant state
"Why not? Can truth do anything but conquer?"
"Of course-assuming, as every one does, that the truth is with you."
"My dear fellow, I have seldom met a man who could not be a far
better dialectician than I shall ever be, if he would but use his
"Common Sense? That really sounds something like a bathos, after
the great big Greek word which you have been propounding to me as
the cure for all my doubts."
"What? Are you about to 'gib' after all, just as I was flattering
myself that I had broken you in to go quietly in harness?"
"I am very much minded to do so. The truth is, I cannot bring
myself to believe that the universal panacea lies in an obscure and
ancient scientific method."
"Obscure and ancient? Did I not just say that any man might be a
dialectician? Did Socrates ever appeal to any faculty but the
Common Sense of man as man, which exists just as much in England
now, I presume, as it did in Athens in his day? Does he not, in
pursuance of that method of his, draw his arguments and
illustrations, to the horror of the big-worded Sophists, from dogs,
kettles, fishwives, and what not which is vulgar and commonplace?
Or did I, in my clumsy attempt to imitate him, make use of a single
argument which does not lie, developed or undeveloped, in the Common
Sense of every clown; in that human Reason of his, which is part of
God's image in him, and in every man? And has not my complaint
against Mr. Windrush's school been, that they will not do this; that
they will not accept the ground which is common to men as men, but
disregard that part of the 'Vox Populi' which is truly 'Vox Dei,'
for that which is 'Vox Diaboli'-for private sentiments, fancies, and
aspirations; and so casting away the common sense of mankind, build
up each man, on the pin's point of his own private judgment, his own
"But are you not asking me to do just the same, when you propose to
me to start as a Scientific Dialectician?"
"Why, what are Dialectics, or any other scientific method, but
conscious common sense? And what is common sense, but unconscious
scientific method? Every man is a dialectician, be he scholar or
boor, in as far as he tries to use no words which he does not
understand, and to sift his own thoughts, and his expression of
them, by that Reason which is at once common to men, and independent
"As M. Jourdain talked prose all his life without knowing it. Well-
I prefer the unconscious method. I have as little faith as Mr.
Carlyle would have in saying: 'Go to, let us make'-an induction
about words, or anything else. It seems to me no very hopeful
method of finding out facts as they are."
"Certainly; provided you mean any particular induction, and not a
general inductive and severely-inquiring habit of mind; that very
'Go to' being a fair sign that you have settled beforehand what the
induction shall be; in plain English, that you have come to your
conclusion already, and are now looking about for facts to prove it.
But is it any wiser to say: 'Go to, I will be conscious of being
unconscious of being conscious of my own forms of thought'? For
that is what you do say, when, having read Plato, and knowing his
method, and its coincidence with Common Sense, you determine to
ignore it on common-sense questions."
"But why not ignore it, if mother-wit does as well?"
"Because you cannot ignore it. You have learnt it more or less, and
cannot forget it, try as you will, and must either follow it, or
break it and talk nonsense. And moreover, you ought not to ignore
it. For it seems to me, that you were sent to Cambridge by One
greater than, your parents, in order that you might learn it, and
bring it home hither for the use of the M. Jourdains round you here,
who have no doubt been talking prose all their life, but may have
been also talking it very badly."
"You speak riddles."
"My dear fellow, may not a man employ Reason, or any other common
human faculty, all his life, and yet employ them very clumsily and
"I should say so, from the gross amount of human unwisdom."
"And that, in the case of uneducated persons, happens because they
are not conscious of those faculties, or of their right laws, but
use them blindly and capriciously, by fits and starts, talking sense
on one point and nonsense on another?"
"Too true, Heaven knows."
"But the educated man, if education mean anything, is the man who
has become conscious of those common human faculties and their laws,
and has learnt to use them continuously and accurately, on all
"True, O Socraticule!"
"Then is it not his especial business to teach the right use of them
to the less educated?-unless you agree with the old Sophists, that
the purpose of education is to enable us to deceive or coerce the
uneducated for our own aggrandisement."
"I am therefore, it seems, to get up Platonic Dialectics simply in
order to teach my ploughmen to use their common sense?"
"Exactly so. Teach yourself first, and every one around you
afterwards, not the doctrines, nor the formulas-though he had none-
but the habit of mind which Socrates tried in vain to teach the
Athenian youth. Teach them to face all questions patiently and
fearlessly: to begin always by asking every word, great or small,
from 'Predestination' to 'Protection,' what it really means. Teach
them that 'By your words you shall be justified, and by your words
you shall be condemned,' is no barren pulpit-test, but a tremendous
practical law for every day, and for every matter. Teach them to be
sure that man can find out truth, because God his Father and
Archetype will show it to those who hunger after it. Try to make
them see clearly the Divine truths which are implied, not only in
their creeds, but in their simplest household words; and-"
"And fail as Socrates failed, or rather worse; for he did teach
himself: but I shall not even do that."
"Do not despair in haste. In the first place, I deny that Socrates
taught himself, for I believe that One taught him, who has promised
to teach every man who desires wisdom; and in the next place, I have
no fear but that the sound practical intellect which that same One
has bestowed on the Englishman, will give you a far better auditory
in any harvest field, than Socrates could find among the mercurial
Athenians of a fallen age."
"Well, that is, at all events, a comfort for poor me. I will really
take to my Plato again, till the hunting begins."
"And even then, you know, you don't keep two packs; so you will have
three days out of the six wherein to study him."
"Four, you mean-for I have long given up reading Sunday books on
"Then you read your Bible and Prayer-book; or even borrow some of
Lady Jane's devotional treatises; and try, after you have translated
the latter into plain English, to make out what they one and all
really do mean, by the light which old Socrates has given you during
the week. You will find them wiser than you fancy, and simpler
"So be it, my dear Soul-doctor. Here come Lewis and the luncheon."
And so ended our conversation.
Back to Full Books