Lecture 4. Newman's Psychological Insight

{124} THIS lecture will be in some sense an epilogue, but I hasten to remind you that a woman's postscript is often proverbially the most important thing in her letter. I propose to speak of Newman's psychological insight. This gift constitutes perhaps the most important clue to the main problem I raised in my first lecture. I pointed out in that lecture how much of Newman's deepest work is widely unnoticed and unappreciated by the world of savants. In subsequent lectures I analysed much of that work. The scope of those lectures has been mainly to draw attention to gifts not generally admitted or realised to the full. But one gift is universally admitted—namely, his psychological insight. I speak of it in the form of an epilogue for this very reason, because it falls outside the primary scope of my lectures. Yet, by a curious paradox, this universally recognised gift is one main cause of other gifts I have claimed for him being disguised and thus not recognised. I have insisted that in philosophy, theology and history he really had the specialist's gifts, yet he did not so use them as to do a specialist's work on a considerable scale and secure recognition from specialists in general. I have no doubt shown that this was partly due to such studies being undertaken not for their own sake, but as ministering to the defence of religion. This limited the extent to which such studies were pursued. But in addition to this I have pointed out that we never find in his writings quite the objective scientific treatment natural to the specialist, and the fundamental reason for this was, as I shall now endeavour to explain, because {124} his psychological insight—of which everyone knows in general—haunted him in a degree which is perhaps not generally understood, and disabled him from such merely objective treatment. His consciousness (while writing) of the living minds with which his words were bringing him into contact was almost like a sixth sense. He was so acutely conscious of the effect of any sentence he wrote on the various minds of different classes of readers that merely objective treatment, which neglects the mentality of the reader or is designed for expert minds all on one plane, was impossible to him. I should say that he had an almost uncanny insight into the minds he was addressing. He could not bring himself to say merely what was objectively true while he so exactly saw that the impression such utterance would produce on A, B, or C would not be true, and would not correspond to what he had in his own mind. He met this difficulty with great dexterity in his writings, introducing saving clauses to forestall and prevent misunderstanding on the part of certain classes of readers. But this course was at once to desert the straight logical road and take to devious psychological by-roads. The plain, objective, scientific treatment of philosophy, theology and history for expert readers was impossible to one who was so haunted by the effect of each word on others who were not experts. He could not bring himself to go straight ahead regardless of these personal understandings. And his insight into the minds of his hearers was part of his extraordinary psychological insight into the various phases of human nature.

Therefore these lectures—designed mainly to point out gifts which are not generally observed—would be incomplete if I did not speak expressly of this quality though it is universally acknowledged. But, indeed, though acknowledged in general terms, it is in every respect worth attention in detail, for its scope is not by any means as widely realised as its existence. It was the secret of his greatest gifts as a writer. And it was also responsible for his limitations. I shall first dwell simply on the various fields in which this psychological insight was {126} apparent. Afterwards I shall speak of some of its consequences, over and above the special consequence I have alluded to.

In the first place, psychological insight was specially apparent in the pulpit—the earliest field of his influence. He was not, in the ordinary sense, an eloquent preacher. But James Anthony Froude and others of his Oxford disciples have told us how in the pulpit at St. Mary's he would pierce the heart by a sentence which revealed to the hearer the secret of his own soul. The half-acknowledged or unacknowledged doubts and difficulties which held many back from genuine religion were vividly and truly painted by the preacher to whom religion was the most real of all things. Men were overcome by the vision of the unseen which was so completely undimmed in the very man who saw so clearly the difficulties which dimmed it for themselves.

But this penetrating psychological insight was not confined to the knowledge of the human conscience and human nature in general, which he showed in the pulpit. Its range was wider, and gave special persuasiveness to his prose writings. He read the minds he addressed and knew how to touch them. He saw how men of various sorts and antecedents were thinking about life. He noted the peculiarities of national character. He was alive to the strength and weakness of various types—the man of learning, the mere abstract philosopher, the man of letters. He analysed the mind of the unspeculative man of action, of the man of narrow mind, of the victim of invincible prejudice, of the sceptic whom no reason satisfies, of the spiritual genius who sees reasons unseen to the unspiritual. It was this universal sense of the most various mentalities among his readers which gave his prose writing a character quite as persuasive as his preaching. No doubt he was an artist in prose, but his art was guided by these subtle perceptions as a preliminary to delineation, enabling him so to delineate as to produce the desired effect on those whom he addressed.

I will cite some instances of his powers of psychological observation and analysis. The typical narrow mind is {127} described by him with remarkable subtlety in the University Sermons, and I will read a portion of his analysis:

Narrow minds have no power of throwing themselves into the minds of others. They have stiffened in one position, as limbs of the body subjected to confinement, or as our organs of speech, which after a while cannot learn new tones and inflections. They have already parcelled out to their own satisfaction the whole world of knowledge; they have drawn their lines, and formed their classes, and given to each opinion, argument, principle, and party, its own locality; they profess to know where to find everything; and they cannot learn any other disposition. They are vexed at new principles of arrangement, and grow giddy amid cross divisions; and, even if they make the effort, cannot master them. They think that any one truth excludes another which is distinct from it, and that every opinion is contrary to their own opinions which is not included in them. They cannot separate words from their own ideas, and ideas from their own associations; and if they attain any new view of a subject, it is but for a moment. They catch it one moment, and let it go the next; and then impute to subtlety in it, or obscurity in its expression, what really arises from their own want of elasticity or vigour. And when they attempt to describe it in their own language, their nearest approximation to it is a mistake; not from any purpose to be unjust, but because they are expressing the ideas of another mind, as it were, in translation. [Note 1]

So much for the narrow mind in general. Elsewhere, in the 'Idea of a University,' he analyses one particular class of narrow mind—that of a man who may be so full of curious and varied learning as to appear at first sight to have a claim to real intellectual breadth. Yet in reality his knowledge is no guarantee of real mental perception, of elasticity of mind, of a philosophical view of the large mass of facts which such minds may indeed know, but cannot locate or reconcile. Here again his analysis, though brief, is penetrating.

There are men who embrace in their minds a vast multitude of ideas, but with little sensibility about their real relations towards each other. These may be antiquarians, annalists, naturalists; they may be learned in the law; they may be {128} versed in statistics; they are most useful in their own place; I should shrink from speaking disrespectfully of them; still there is nothing in such attainments to guarantee the absence of narrowness of mind. [Note 2]

It is no great gain to the intellect to have enlarged the memory at the expense of faculties which are indisputably higher. [Note 3]

A great memory ... does not make a philosopher, any more than a dictionary can be called a grammar. [Note 4]

It is to be observed—by the way—that this subtle perception of intellectual narrowness not only enabled Newman in his persuasive prose to manipulate and persuade men of narrow mind whom he understood so well, but it also enabled him to forestall an occasional disparagement of his reasonings in the terrain of history, on the ground that acknowledged experts in history disagreed with him. His analysis rules out of court as real judges or authorities on trains of historical reasoning many supposed experts. The supposed expert may be, for all his learning, narrow in his angle of vision, or deficient in historical imagination and philosophical observation, and therefore incompetent as a judge on the particular point at issue.

Still more impervious than the narrow mind to an argument that tells for an unwelcome conclusion is the typical prejudiced man, though he too may not be destitute of ability. The narrow man or the merely learned man may have the will to understand, though his idiosyncrasy may deny him adequate power. But the prejudiced man is so convinced that he is right that he does not even try to weigh the reasoning against his favourite conclusions, though that reasoning may include statements of actual fact. Newman's analysis of this type has a true touch of humour. It occurs in the lectures on 'The Present Position of Catholics,' and is there applied to the attitude of many an Englishman in 1850 towards the Roman Catholic religion and its defenders. He sets before us the picture of a big, blustering bully, who holds by right of invincible prejudice that certain popular charges against Rome are so notorious that to deny them {129} is absurd. He is angry at being asked even to consider their denial or the reasons by which it is supported. It is, he declares, like being asked to consider arguments to show that America or India do not exist. No one would think of taking such arguments seriously. Newman's account of the attitude of the Prejudiced Man when someone shows him a controversial article on the Roman Catholic side is too long for quotation in full, but I will read a typical extract:

What is the good [asks the Prejudiced Man in anger], of laboriously vindicating St. Eligius, or exposing a leading article in a newspaper, or a speaker at a meeting, or a popular publication, when the thing is notorious; and to deny it is nothing else than a vexatious demand upon his time, and an insult to his common sense? He feels the same sort of indignation which the Philistine champion, Goliath, might have felt when David went out to fight with him, 'Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with a staff? and the Philistine cursed him by his gods.' And, as the huge giant, had he first been hit, not in the brain, but in the foot or the shoulder, would have yelled, not with pain, but with fury at the insult, and would not have been frightened at all or put upon the defensive, so our Prejudiced Man is but enraged so much the more, and almost put beside himself, by the presumption of those who, with their doubts or their objections, interfere with the great Protestant Tradition about the Catholic Church. To bring proof against us is, he thinks, but a matter of time; and we know in affairs of every day, how annoyed and impatient we are likely to become, when obstacles are put in our way in any such case. We are angered at delays when they are but accidental, and the issue is certain; we are not angered, but we are sobered, we become careful and attentive to impediments, when there is a doubt about the issue. The very same difficulties put us on our mettle in the one case, and do but irritate us in the other. If, for instance, a person cannot open a door, or get a key into a lock, which he has done a hundred times before, you know how apt he is to shake, and to rattle, and to force it, as if some great insult was offered him by its resistance; you know how surprised a wasp, or other large insect is, that he cannot get through a window-pane; such is the feeling of the Prejudiced Man when we urge our objections—not softened by them at all, but exasperated the more; for what is the use of even incontrovertible {130} arguments against a conclusion which he already considers to be infallible? [Note 5]

Newman's psychological insight is not only directed towards analysing the mentality which fails to appreciate really cogent reasoning. But, as I have said, it also permeates his own way of presenting his own reasoning, so as to persuade men of the most various mentality among his readers. And I will, therefore, give some instances illustrating the extent of his sympathetic understanding—which guides his pen with a constant and subtle sense of effect, much as a tactful converser in a mixed company instinctively says what is suitable to all.

His wide outlook on life is shown in his perception of the peculiar genius of different callings, and this is sometimes indicated in a few pregnant sentences. I will first take as instances his words on the soldier's life work, and his analysis of literary genius—two very opposite fields. His sympathy with a calling so far removed from his own as that of a soldier is remarkable. When he read Gurwood's 'Despatches of the Duke of Wellington,' he said to James Anthony Froude, 'They make one burn to be a soldier!' And the same keen sympathy is visible in a passing allusion in one of the 'Sermons on Subjects of the Day':

[A soldier] comes more nearly than a King to the pattern of Christ. He not only is strong but he is weak. He does and he suffers. He succeeds through a risk. Half his time is on the field of battle, and half of it on the bed of pain. And he does this for the sake of others; he defends us by it; we are indebted to him; we gain by his loss; we are at peace by his warfare. [Note 6]

Far removed from the soldier in his calling and ideals is the man of letters. And here, typical man of letters though he himself was, he was keenly alive to the weakness to which the literary temperament is liable. He depicts it no doubt in many places at its best and in its strength; but he also depicts it at its worst and in its weakness. Literature that has no due regard to the realities of life degenerates {131} into the use of what he calls 'unreal words.' But if it takes its proper place in life it is an immense practical force. Great master though he was of literary form, he never forgot the danger lest literature, instead of ministering to action, inspiring it or expressing it so as to communicate the inspiration to others, should be content with merely an artistic aim; should be simply pursued as an art without ministering to the deeds which make up all that really matters in human life. 'Let not your words run on,' he says in an early sermon; 'force every one of them into action as it goes.' And again, 'That a thing is true is no reason why it should be said, but that it should be done.' For the mere literary man who disclaims partisanship as vulgar and decries what he has not the courage or sense of duty and reality to act on, he has the contempt, which the following passage expresses:

A man of literature is considered to preserve his dignity by doing nothing; and when he proceeds forward into action, he is thought to lose his position, as if he were degrading his calling by enthusiasm, and becoming a politician and a partisan. Hence mere literary men are able to say strong things against the opinions of their age, whether religious or political, without offence; because no one thinks they mean anything by them. They are not expected to go forward to act upon them, and mere words hurt no one. [Note 7]

On the other hand, no one was more alive to the greatness of literature in the hands of those who added reality of mind and purpose to the gift of expression.

As I have said in my lecture on the sources of his style, Newman himself regarded the true function of really great literature to be the full expression of the inspiring visions before a writer's mind. Thus it had a normal alliance with action as its incentive or its expression. [Note 8] {132}

He sums up the part actually played by great literature in the field of life in a passage in the Irish Lectures, in which accuracy of perception and practical good sense accompany the touch of grandiloquence which the taste of his Irish audience so often prompted. The immediate purport of this passage is an exhortation to the young Irishmen of his University to be thorough students of literature.

If then the power of speech is a gift as great as any that can be named,—if the origin of language is by many philosophers even considered to be nothing short of divine,—if by means of words the secrets of the heart are brought to light, pain of soul is relieved, hidden grief is carried off, sympathy conveyed, counsel imparted, experience recorded, and wisdom perpetuated—if by great authors the many are drawn up into unity, national character is fixed, a people speaks, the past and the future, the East and the West are brought into communication with each other.—if such men are, in a word, the spokesmen and prophets of the human family,—it will not answer to make light of Literature or to neglect its study; rather we may be sure that, in proportion as we master it in whatever language, and imbibe its spirit, we shall ourselves become in our own measure the ministers of like benefits to others, be they many or few, be they in the obscurer or the more distinguished walks of life,—who are united to us by social ties, and are within the sphere of our personal influence. [Note 9]

In this connection be it observed that Newman's analysis of literary genius is too true to be touched by sectarianism. He makes no claim for great literature as being {133} primarily or exclusively a weapon for doing good in the world or justifying a particular religion. Its alliance with action does not mean this. It expresses the whole breadth of human nature and human history which are full of crime, therefore it cannot be always religious or even moral.

Man's work will savour of man; in his elements and powers excellent and admirable, but prone to disorder and excess, to error and to sin. Such, too, will be his literature; it will have the beauty and the fierceness, the sweetness and the rankness, of the natural man, and, with all its richness and greatness, will necessarily offend the senses of those who, in the Apostle's words, are really 'exercised to discern between good and evil.' 'It is said of the holy Sturme,' says an Oxford writer, 'that, in passing a horde of unconverted Germans, as they were bathing and gambolling in the stream, he was so overpowered by the intolerable scent which arose from them that he nearly fainted away.' National Literature is, in a parallel way, the untutored movements of the reason, imagination, passions, and affections of the natural man, the leapings and the friskings, the plungings and the snortings, the sportings and the buffoonings, the clumsy play and the aimless toil, of the noble, lawless savage of God's intellectual creation. [Note 10]

So much for Newman's subtle analysis of the gifts and powers of the man of letters with all his occasional defects, and with the immense possibilities of his vocation.

Besides the types produced by various callings, Newman's psychology notes the types produced by various nationalities. Of his observations on national character I will give two instances. He was impressed by the conspicuous practical success of Englishmen, and yet their inability to theorise or systematise. The Crimean War was the occasion of his observations. It found Englishmen wholly unprepared—so little was this unimaginative race impelled to forecast the future or prepare for its eventualities systematically. Yet when Englishmen were actually in the field of war, and face to face with its practical necessities, their efficiency was amazing. It was the individual Englishman {134} in action who did great deeds. The Government which represented the department of systematic planning and arrangement was again and again at fault. This was conspicuous in the story of the Empire. Our Colonies began for the most part in private enterprises. The United States are the outcome of the endeavours of individual Englishmen. Even our great Indian Empire was the outcome of the labours of the men who united and formed the East India Company. The turning-point was the unofficial military exertion of Clive. Newman's psychological analysis of our national character in this respect, at this moment offers an interesting contrast to the German who does all by the medium of planned organisation under official authority. He leads off with Clive's work:

Suddenly a youth, the castaway of his family, half-clerk, half-soldier, puts himself at the head of a few troops, defends posts, gains battles, and ends in founding a mighty empire over the graves of Mahmood and Aurungzebe.

It is the deed of one man; and so, wherever we go all over the earth, it is the solitary Briton, the London agent, or the Milordos, who is walking restlessly about, abusing the natives, and raising a colossus, or setting the Thames on fire, in the East or the West. He is on the top of the Andes, or in a diving-bell in the Pacific, or taking notes at Timbuctoo or grubbing at the Pyramids, or scouring over the Pampas, or acting as prime minister to the King of Dahomey, or smoking the pipe of friendship with the Red Indians, or hutting at the Pole. No one can say beforehand what will come of these various specimens of the independent, self-governing, self-reliant Englishman. Sometimes failure, sometimes openings for trade, scientific discoveries, or political aggrandisements. His country and his government have the gain; but it is he who is the instrument of it, and not political organisation, centralisation, systematic plans, authoritative acts. The polity of England is what it was before,—the Government weak, the Nation strong,—strong in the strength of its multitudinous enterprise, which gives to its Government a position in the world, which that Government could not claim for itself by any prowess or device of its own. [Note 11]

Less sure and exhaustive perhaps is his analysis of the {135} genius of the Turks—yet worth studying. I will read a section of it.

[The Ottoman Empire] has in its brute clutch the most famous countries of classical and religious antiquity ... ignorantly holding in possession one-half of the history of the whole world. There it lies and will not die, and has not in itself the elements of death, for it has the life of a stone, and unless pounded and pulverized, is indestructible. Such is it in the simplicity of its national existence, while that mode of existence remains, while it remains faithful to its religion and its imperial line. Should its fidelity to either fail, it would not merely degenerate or decay; it would simply cease to be. [Note 12]

Let these last words be noted, for they place the policy of the Young Turk as spelling the annihilation of Ottoman power. It is characteristic of his accurate sense of the effect of his words on various readers that he anticipates some hesitation to accept some of his criticisms on Turkish cruelty, on the part of the traveller in Turkey who may have liked and admired his hosts there.

A traveller finds [the Turks] in their ordinary state in repose and serenity ... He finds them mild and patient, tender to the brute creation, as becomes the children of a Tartar shepherd, kind and hospitable, self-possessed and dignified, the lowest classes sociable with each other, and the children gamesome. It is true; they are as noble as the lion of the desert, and as gentle and as playful as the fireside cat. Our traveller observes all this; and seems to forget that from the humblest to the highest of the feline tribe, from the cat to the lion, the most wanton and tyrannical cruelty alternates with qualities more engaging or more elevated. [Note 13]

I will pass now from Newman's psychology of national character and speak in some detail of what I alluded to in general terms in connection with his influence as a preacher—his psychological insight into the way in which men reflect on life and on religion. He is alive to the trying thoughts which often subconsciously haunt this or that man in reflecting on his destiny, and to those which trouble {136} us all. He often—even in a pregnant passing sentence or brief paragraph—gives that relief to the mind which comes when we see clearly expressed the explanation of what has long obscurely haunted and tried us. He does not insist. He does not develop. But he puts his finger with a sure touch on the source of the evil. And the man who feels the healing touch is thereby inspired with confidence in the moral physician and open to persuasion from him. I will give one instance. How many of us are tried by the disenchantments of life—by the failure of the causes and the men whom we once idealised not only to realise their full promise but even so far to justify it as to sustain our allegiance. This depression gives a pessimism which may make us sceptical of all inspiring causes. 'This is no doubt plausible,' we are inclined to say, 'but we should find it out in the end as we have found out others.' Newman forestalls this attitude by reducing the truth which underlies it to its just limits. A certain measure of disenchantment in life is but the inevitable continuation of a process which begins in infancy. Human nature instinctively forms at first sight dazzling fancies, which gradually give place to rigid facts. This is the normal condition of the growth of knowledge, and begins in childhood.

The little babe [he writes] stretches out his arms and fingers, as if to grasp or to fathom the many coloured vision; and thus he gradually learns the connection of part with part, separates what moves from what is stationary, watches the coming and going of figures, masters the idea of shape and of perspective, calls in the information conveyed through the other senses to assist him in his mental process, and thus gradually converts a kaleidoscope into a picture. The first view was the more splendid, the second the more real; the former more poetical, the latter more philosophical. Alas! what are we doing all through life, both as a necessity and as a duty, but unlearning the world's poetry, and attaining to its prose! [Note 14]

This brief comment goes deep into the experiences of life. It allays pessimism and scepticism. And by the very recognition that such trials, such disenchantments, are part {137} of the law of life he prevents his readers from being unduly disheartened by them when they come. The thought comes home to the experiences of so many. The heroes of our youth cease to be heroes when we know them as well as the great man is known to his valet de chambre. The boy who has regarded his father and mother as infallibly right in all their differences with others mixes with the world and learns that there are two sides to the question. Lacordaire, young and ardent, idealised the Liberal party of France. He gained a seat in the Chamber in 1848 as a Liberal candidate. He found himself side by side with scoffers and atheists. Pius IX dreamt of adapting the Papal Government of Rome to modern requirements, and early in his reign a lay Prime Minister—Count de Rossi—for the first time presided in the Councils of the Pope-king. The result was De Rossi's assassination, the flight of Pius to Gaeta. He awoke from his dream, and the rest of his life was marked by intense conservatism. These were cases of disenchantment by experienced facts. But there are also the disenchantments of argument. Take a man whose whole soul is intent on his country's success in a great war. Resentment against its foes, enthusiasm for the triumph of its cause are his deepest feelings in life. There will be many such on both sides. Yet one side may be flagrantly in the wrong, and the man who, in the midst of the struggle, for the first time reads the white book which shows the state of the case may, if his mind is just and candid, experience a disenchantment which is harder to bear than defeat itself. He finds that he is staking his happiness, perhaps his life, on the triumph of patent injustice.

These are specimens of a law of disenchantment which holds in every field. Life for a man of open mind is a succession of disappointing discoveries paralysing to enthusiasm and action. Such a comment as I have read from Newman's lecture gives at least the sense that this is due to an inevitable law which begins in infancy. We submit and cease to rebel when we understand that it must be so, and why it must be so. Our hopes are no doubt tempered. The ready enthusiasm of youth and inexperience is parted with. {138} But the general panic is destroyed when we realise that we are in presence not of a capricious demon who makes all our faiths crumble to dust when we hoped to realise them, but of a law of nature which has its assigned limits and ministers not to universal scepticism, but to exact knowledge.

Somewhat similar in its soothing effect is a passage in one of his Sermons, in which he analyses the greatness and the littleness of human life. Here again the failure of great ideals, the disproportion between our sense of the possibilities we feel within ourselves and see suggested in the great field of life, and our actual achievement, the sudden breakdown of high aspiration and the occasional irresistible imperiousness of the lower nature, which almost suggests that the consistent assertion of the higher was a mere unpractical dream, leave us torn between the thought that human life is a sphere of incalculably great possibilities and that it is nothing at all. The only solution lies in the thought of a field for our action more adequate than this present life by itself. And this life itself then takes on some reflection of the greatness of the larger scheme of which it is a part. He suggests this solution in a single sentence.

The very greatness of our powers makes this life look pitiful; the very pitifulness of this life forces on our thoughts to another; and the prospect of another gives a dignity and value to this life which promises it; and thus this life is at once great and little, and we rightly contemn it while we exalt its importance. [Note 15]

Again in the case of religious knowledge when, in spite of all Newman's persuasiveness, his readers are dissatisfied with the religious solution of human life as being inadequate, and incline to pessimism and scepticism, once more Newman's psychology comes to our rescue. For he warns us beforehand that there are moods in which we shall not find even the truest solutions satisfactory. The highest and the truest view is not seen by us steadily, but only at moments. To this thought he recurs again and again. He does not scoff at the pessimistic mood as unreal. He shows that it corresponds {139} with a not unnatural view of human life, though it falls short of the widest and deepest. He admits that pessimism may even have a pleasure of its own which is alluring. He gives us in the 'Grammar of Assent' a whole page on the resigned philosophy of the confirmed doubter or agnostic with a sympathy which no religious writer except Pascal has ever shown.

Are there pleasures of Doubt? ... In one sense, there are. Not indeed, if doubt simply means ignorance, uncertainty, or hopeless suspense; but there is a certain grave acquiescence in ignorance, a recognition of our impotence to solve momentous and urgent questions, which has a satisfaction of its own. After high aspirations, after renewed endeavours, after bootless toil, after long wanderings, after hope, effort, weariness, failure, painfully alternating and recurring, it is an immense relief to the exhausted mind to be able to say, 'At length I know that I can know nothing about anything.' ... But here the satisfaction does not lie in not knowing, but in knowing there is nothing to know ... Ignorance remains the evil which it ever was, but something of the peace of Certitude is gained in knowing the worst, and in having reconciled the mind to the endurance of it. [Note 16]

Such an attitude of resigned and almost satisfied pessimism is then a real one, which Newman recognises. It accords with a genuine mood of human nature. Yet he shows that it does not accord with human nature as a whole. It ignores aspects which in other moods are vividly apparent. And the pessimists' mood with its one-sided vision cannot last. Thus he takes the sting out of the pessimistic mood by acknowledging that it is plausible, and yet pointing out that it fails to take account of our deepest thoughts and instincts.

The deeper view is witnessed to most clearly by the greater spirits of our race whose instincts penetrate beneath the changing surface, and recognise unity beneath—though even the greatest may only see the complete truth by flashes which come and go. The view such flashes give is unmistakable, as a flash of lightning may show the landscape in an instant with absolute {140} clearness. His psychology depicts the seer as it depicts the doubter. Such great souls confirm the masses of men whose view is weak and unstable.

Firmness and greatness of soul are shown, when a ruler stands his ground on his instinctive perception of a truth which the many scoff at, and which seems failing. The religious enthusiast bows the heads of men to a voluntary obedience, who has the keenness to see, and the boldness to appeal to, principles and feelings deep buried within them, which they know not themselves, and which he himself but by glimpses and at times realises, and which he pursues from the intensity, not the steadiness of his view of them. [Note 17]

And this leads me to say a word more of that thought which haunted him in his psychological study of the religious mind—the witness borne to religion by the heroes of goodness. His insight was as piercing in detecting heroism and its significance as in detecting human weakness. The clear recognition of whole-hearted devotion and religion in the few whose vision was strong enabled him to keep the religious ideal at its very highest in his preaching to those in whom it was weak, without its failing to be practical, without its degenerating into hypocrisy or unreality, for the saints did practise what they preached. There are preachers who take so unreal a note—a note which removes their sermons so far from what is practical or what they can possibly be supposed to regard as practical—as almost to throw doubt on their sincerity. They use the stock phrases of religious sentiment, and their preaching impresses the many as mere unreal cant. Straightforward men of the world who don't like being preached to perhaps even by saints rejoice to have an opportunity of showing up these preachers as pretenders. Mr. Chadband and Mr. Stiggins were popular with many readers of Dickens for this reason. A reaction against such cant was visible in the healthy, practical, moral preaching of the liberal Churchmen—which in different degrees watered down ultra-religious phraseology and even the high ideals of the Gospel, while exhorting men in sober language {141} to a healthy practical morality. The element of religion, though not to be discarded, should, in their view, refrain from being too obtrusive lest it should become morbid—in some hypocritical, in others unreal. Kingsley and the muscular Christians belonged to this school. It decried celibacy and the saintly ideal as superstitious and unnatural. Its line was a concession to the actual capacities of human nature, a watering down of the Gospel. Newman had all the practicalness of this school—all its hatred of unreality. He realised as much as they how far removed was ordinary human nature from the full Gospel ideals. But in place of watering them down he pointed to their realisation in a chosen few. And he attempted so to exhibit high ideals that instead of repelling ordinary men as unreal they should be intelligible and admirable; though their great difficulty is admitted by him for the mass of men. Men cannot scale the heights before they have learned to walk on the plains. Newman in this endeavour put his mind to that of the man of the world. He took infinite trouble to be persuasive to the man of the world. But he made no concession to his lower standards. This is an important trait in his mental character. We are familiar with the sympathetic mind which sees another's point so clearly that it is weak and cannot hold its own. We are familiar with the strong and narrow religionist who regards the worldly as in outer darkness and refrains from entering at all into a state of mind which he simply reprobates. But keen sympathy allied with uncompromising firmness is very rare indeed. Newman, as I have said, reconciled the high standard of the Gospel with the obvious facts of human weakness by concentrating the limelight of his pictorial and rhetorical art on the Christian heroes who practised what they preached, and who showed our nature's possibilities, and thus stood out as a witness against the canters on the one hand, and those who decried true religion as cant on the other.

Faith, viewed in its history through past ages, presents us with the fulfilment of one great idea in particular—that, namely, of an aristocracy of exalted spirits, drawn together out of all {142} countries, ranks, and ages, raised above the condition of humanity, specimens of the capabilities of our race, incentives to rivalry and patterns for imitation. [Note 18]

In the University Sermons we have the idea of a succession of great spirits, each holding the torch of faith for his own generation, and then transmitting it to the great ones who shall succeed him:

A few highly-endowed men will rescue the world for centuries to come. Before now even one man [Note 19] has impressed an image on the Church, which, through God's mercy, shall not be effaced while time lasts. Such men, like the Prophet, are placed upon their watch-tower, and light their beacons on the heights. Each receives and transmits the sacred flame, trimming it in rivalry of his predecessor, and fully purposed to send it on as bright as it has reached him; and this the self-same fire, once kindled on Moriah, though seeming at intervals to fail, has at length reached us in safety, and will in like manner, as we trust, be carried forward even to the end. [Note 20]

Of the moments of spiritual illumination which come to great souls and are tokens of a greatness in man out of all proportion to his earthly destinies, he speaks in the 'Parochial Sermons':

Men there are, who, in a single moment of their lives, have shown a superhuman height and majesty of mind which it would take ages for them to employ on its proper objects, and as it were to exhaust; and who by such passing flashes, like rays of the sun, and the darting of lightning, give token of their immortality. [Note 21]

And, in another of these sermons, he depicts the inner life of peace and contemplation which possesses those great spirits who are the strength of the many weak ones who wish to be good but need the guidance and encouragement of the strong.

Holy souls ... have risen with Christ, and they are like persons who have climbed a mountain and are reposing at the top. All is noise and tumult, mist and darkness at its foot; but on the mountain's top it is so very still, so very calm and {143} serene, so pure, so clear, so bright, so heavenly, that to their sensations it is as if the din of earth did not sound below, and shadows and gloom were nowhere to be found.

Now it is characteristic of his accurate psychology, and of his divination of the minds of those to whom he speaks, that he is aware that some hearers will not rise to this picture of the Saints. Very few religious writers indeed realise so clearly the repellent elements which some would find in the saintly souls who are the beacon lights of the world. Many a man of the world will see in them something not congenial to his habits of thought and action. The picture of a saint is to him the picture of a bore. Moreover, he will not be attracted by the intensely religious men he happens to meet—the living examples of Newman's spiritual aristocracy. They may be wanting in refinement, not agreeable, not well-informed. In his treatment of this feeling Newman is true to his role. He does not inveigh against it, but he faces it to the full. He shows that he is quite aware of it. He explains elaborately the causes why minds differing so widely as the saint and the man of the world are not congenial to each other. But in this instance again he does not forget that it is the Saints who represent what is highest, while their critics dwell on what is trivial. He yields in no degree to the criticism which he sees and meets. Of the deficiencies which may make some holy men unpersuasive he speaks in the 'Occasional Sermons':

I grant, that, from the disorder and confusion into which the human mind has fallen, too often good men are not attractive, and bad men are; too often cleverness, or wit, or taste, or richness of fancy, or keenness of intellect, or depth, or knowledge, or pleasantness and agreeableness, is on the side of error and not on the side of virtue. Excellence, as things are, does lie, I grant, in more directions than one, and it is ever easier to excel in one thing than in two. [Note 22]

He speaks more fully in an earlier Sermon—too long to quote—of the inevitable want of sympathy between those {144} who live for and in another world—in aim and in imagination—and those, even good men, whose thoughts and actions are habitually concentrated on this world. The men of spiritual insight cannot bring their perceptions down to the categories of thought by which the ordinary man judges and reasons. And the want of understanding is reciprocal. The spiritual rarely grasps fully the mind of the unspiritual.

Newman's psychological insight which showed itself in so many fields had a marked effect on his philosophical writings. It was responsible for the strong points and the weak in his philosophy of reasoning which I described in my fourth lecture. It made him so keenly conscious of the way the human mind actually reasons that the imperfect account of it given by the logicians was exhibited by him with singular perspicacity. His theory of the illative sense was far truer to fact than any theory involving the all-sufficiency of explicit logic. But he was at times so preoccupied with the psychology of actual reasoning as to seem almost to lose sight of the distinction between accurate spontaneous reasoning and inaccurate. His perfect psychology of reasoning seemed to make him at times forget his epistemology.

I do not think that his psychological insight damaged his power as a historian. On the contrary, it helped him to write history, for it gave him the keen imaginative perception of the workings of human minds in the past, which is so valuable for the historian. It was more unreservedly a source of strength than in the case of his philosophy. It is also, I think, a chief source of his power as a writer of verse. The two poems which have become universally popular are 'Lead, Kindly Light' and 'The Dream of Gerontius.' And in each it is insight into man's life that holds us. The life of faith is depicted in one—the following of a light amid darkness; the attitude of hopeful trust; the dream of the happy vision in the end, when

Those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

And the 'Dream of Gerontius' depicts the last act of a Christian—the separation of body and soul—with a power which one of his best critics considers unrivalled in literature. The psychological insight on which I am insisting forms a large part of that element of personality in Newman which, as we have seen in my last lecture, pervades his writing on all subjects. He was not, indeed, like some writers, so overcome by psychological insight and sympathy as to lose his own individuality. What was remarkable was the combination of a closeness and variety of psychological perceptions which almost invariably leads to weakness, with a strong individuality which in most other cases is accompanied by a certain narrowness of sympathy and outlook. If 'personality' is very marked it means more often than not that there is an individual way of treatment which, though compelling by its force, fails in—does not even aim at—delicate universal sympathy. Personality in Newman combined the two sources of influence—strength and sympathy. And this is a very rare combination.

Thus I bring to an end my account of a genius, spiritual and intellectual, marked by rare concentration and unity of purpose, and rare variety of gifts and perceptions. The unity of purpose made him occasionally enter fields in which he does not stand in the first rank. He was not a great writer of fiction. He was not a great poet, though he wrote true poetry. It also led him into several fields in which he might have been a great specialist—theology, history, and philosophy. That he never acquired the reputation of a great specialist in these fields was partly due to the fact that his use for them was confined to the limits in which they subserved his life work, which was the preservation and deepening of religious belief for the modern civilised world. And it was due also to the various other causes I have enumerated in my first lecture, which all had a common source in the fact emphasised in the present lecture, that he was an artist haunted and inspired by the intense psychological insight which enabled him and compelled him so to depict his conclusions as to appeal to living minds. He addressed sometimes special groups of readers, at others {146} a large and motley number. He could only have gained the reputation of a great specialist by writing expressly for specialists. Had duty called him to make a department of the learned world his special audience, to bring his psychological insight to bear on the specialists themselves, had his purpose exactly coincided with his specialist gifts, we should have had a work which he never in fact produced. But his purpose and mission were those of a prophet; and he spoke to those who needed him—either to his close followers who depended on him or to the world at large as a religious missionary; while the group of academic students in each department were disposed to listen rather to a professor. They had no relish for an apostle. Though he respected their labours and learnt much from them, they were not those whose needs inspired him to white heat. He never brought to bear on them his special powers of persuasion, his special psychological treatment, his special gift of sympathy, by adopting provisionally their own standpoint, their own methods, their own language—I might add their own prejudices. Newman was ever an apostle, and they were never his special disciples. His was no doubt an adaptable apostolate. He wrote theology, philosophy, history, poetry, fiction, to help the religious inquirer in very various fields. He devoted himself in Ireland to the cause of university training as an educative force for young men at large, but to undertake the prolonged studies of a specialist professor for the merely intellectual instruction of the purely academic world would have meant a change in his whole life-work. Such a task would have been too elaborate to leave time for much else; and nothing short of this would have taken from his writing the persuasive touch of the rhetorician, and would have transferred his psychological insight to the tastes and needs of a class which required rather a rigidly scientific method of writing. Had he been, as he once contemplated, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, I believe that the apostle in him would have reinforced the philosopher in him. He would have adopted the appropriate method and terminology which were necessary in order to influence the world of {147} philosophical thought and win its recognition. The effective propagation of a true philosophy, the winning of a reputation in philosophy in order to gain influence for great ends, would, at the call of duty, have appealed to him as a veritable apostolate. But as this would have been an absorbing life-work in itself, one may be thankful that we have kept the preacher, the essayist, the literary artist, the poetic thinker which we might have lost in the philosophical professor. The gain to philosophical specialists would have been loss to the world at large; and the world would have known only one side of a genius especially noteworthy for its many-sidedness.

It would have understood better the Newman of the 'Grammar of Assent,' but it would have lost entirely the Newman of the 'Apologia,' of 'Lead, Kindly Light,' of 'The Dream of Gerontius,' the brilliant chastiser of Kingsley's impudent slander, the painter of the picture of the Christian maiden in 'Callista,' the delineator of the Church of the Fathers. And such a loss would seem greater the more closely we contemplate it. It would not merely have meant the loss of individual writings, it would have been the loss of the exhibition of peculiar genius which their combination presents. That combination illustrates the power of the human mind to grasp religious belief on many sides and with many faculties, and this power it was the dominating wish of Newman's life to bring home to his own generation. We might afford to lose any one of the works I have named, we could not afford to lose the exhibition of his many-sided religious genius in their combination. That combination is a far more convincing argument for Christianity than the best philosophical or historical specialist could supply. It gives us the spectacle of Christianity fully satisfying one great mind, his spiritual needs, his poetic dreams, his affections, his historical research and imagination, as well as his philosophical thought—of the authority of the Christian Church directing and developing by the very restraint it imposed on this many-sided genius. This is an invaluable influence on behalf of Christianity. We can then afford to accept with equanimity the fact that the {148} learned world has not as yet done Newman entire justice either as a philosopher or as an historian. And we can be thankful that we have as the legacy of his life-work not a few technical magna opera sealed with the approval of the savants, but the outpourings of a rich nature, rich in the gifts of spiritual insight and devotion to duty, rich in the imagination and knowledge of the historian, and the fancy of the poet, rich in the brilliancy of literary form as well as in philosophic meditation—riches not cast in scientific mould, but the free outpourings of his nature, given to the world as occasion offered, bringing the man in close contact not with the learned few, but with the human many, realising his chosen motto by making his heart speak to theirs, refining them, enlarging their minds, deepening their thoughts, directing their consciences, imparting to them a deep sense that while the riddle of life, which was present to him so vividly, can never be solved, its keys are held by God and the Christ whom He has sent.

Follow His teaching through the darkness of life and you will in the end come to the daylight where riddles are solved and all is plain.

This is the lesson, moral and intellectual, which Newman's varied writings read to us all, and it is contained in the simplest form in that early hymn of his which you all know, and which is known wherever the English tongue is spoken, 'Lead, Kindly Light.' The man speaks in this hymn more truly than he could speak in any philosophic tome, and as I should wish you to leave this hall at the end of my course of lectures, which you have followed with an attention for which I am profoundly grateful, with his own words ringing in your ears rather than mine, I will read before we part those tender, wistful lines, so full of humble, patient faith and hope amid the trials and mysteries of our existence, of hope that those who are faithful in the darkness will one day reach the daylight where they will see again those 'angel faces,' which were near us in the innocence of childhood, but have been lost amid the confusion and obscurity of life. {149}

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene,—One step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

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1. Oxford University Sermons, pp. 307-8.
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2. Idea of a University, p. 135.
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3. Ibid., p. 142.
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4. Ibid., p. 135.
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5. Present Position of Catholics, pp. 239-40.
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6. Sermons on Subjects of the Day, p. 57.
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7. Parochial Sermons, vol. v. p. 42.
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8. How great literature may express even the simpler and more obvious facts of the life of the writer himself, he notes in the case of Cicero:

'Cicero vividly realized the status of a Roman senator and statesman, and the "pride of place" of Rome, in all the grace and grandeur which attached to her; and he imbibed, and became what he admired. As the exploits of Scipio or Pompey are the expression of this greatness in deed, so the language of Cicero is the expression of it in word.' (Idea of a University, pp. 281-2.)

Again classical English literature has made the thoughts and the genius of those who formed it a part of ourselves, expressed in the language which is in daily use:

'The literature of England is no longer a mere letter, printed in books and shut up in libraries, but it is a living voice, which has gone forth in its expressions and its sentiments into the world of men, which daily thrills upon our ears and syllables our thoughts, which speaks to us through our Correspondents, and dictates when we put pen to paper. Whether we will or no, the phraseology and diction of Shakespeare, of the Protestant formularies, of Milton, of Pope, of Johnson's Table Talk, and of Walter Scott, have become a portion of the vernacular tongue, the household words, of which perhaps we little guess the origin, and the very idioms of our familiar conversation.' (Idea of a University, p. 313.)
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9. Idea of a University, pp. 293-4.
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10. Idea of a University, pp. 316-17.
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11. "Who's to blame?" Discussions and Arguments, pp. 337-8.
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12. Historical Sketches, vol. i. p. 220.
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13. Ibid., pp. 186-7.
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14. Idea of a University, pp. 331-2.
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15. Parochial Sermons, vol. iv. p. 218.
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16. Grammar of Assent, p. 208.
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17. Oxford University Sermons, pp. 219-20.
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18. Discussions and Arguments, p. 288.
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19. Athanasius.
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20. University Sermons, p. 97.
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21. Parochial Sermons, vol. iv. p. 218.
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22. Occasional Sermons, p. 8.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.