XV. John Davison

[British Critic, April 1842]

{375} THE author on whose character and writings we are now proposing to remark, Mr. Davison, may be considered as an instance of the operation of a mysterious law which is often witnessed in the course of history. It is surely mysterious, considering what the world is, how it needs improvement, and moreover that this life is the appropriate time for action, or, what is emphatically called in Scripture, work, that they who seem gifted for the definite purpose of influencing and edifying their brethren, should be allowed to do so much less than might be expected. For instance, no one certainly, it must be admitted, can pretend to measure the effect produced by as much as Mr. Davison has been appointed to say and to do; still, left to ourselves, we are apt to grudge that the powers of such a mind as his have not had full range in his age and country, and that a promise of such high benefits, should, owing to circumstances beyond man's control, have been but partially accomplished. Here is one of the most original thinkers of his day, deep, serious, reverential, various, suffered to end his course, as it may be called, prematurely; absorbed moreover during the greater {376} part of it in employments which, though sacred in their nature and honoured by a special blessing, and zealously fulfilled by him, yet apparently might have been left to those who had not his particular endowments; and, as the consequence of those employments, stinted in his apprehension and possession of dogmatic knowledge, so that what he has written is rather true in principle and admirable in sentiment, than complete in system. Here is a man of the cast of Hooker and Butler, fitted to be a doctor of the Church, yet confined pretty much to the contemplation of the first principles of Christian doctrine, and allowed but once or twice to give utterance to the truths on which he lived, and to manifest the flame which burned unceasingly within him.

Of course in such cases we may rest quite secure that all is ordered according to the most perfect wisdom, though we do not understand it. But what deserves notice in the case before us is, that the bent and temper of Mr. Davison's own mind did but concur in and carry out this external disposition of things, which we have been noticing, as if within and without one Agent was present, or as if his inner man was instinctively resigning itself to his outward destination. At the time of his death, the common report was that he had ordered all his manuscripts to be destroyed; and in the Preface to the present collection it is pointedly observed that "nothing hitherto unpublished appears in it." We also learn from the Preface that the same feeling has operated to the maintenance of an almost absolute silence about the author's history. It professes to give "the few brief notes of his life, which those who are entrusted with his Remains feel to be all that they are permitted here to set down. A Memoir greatly more detailed, and {377} so far more satisfactory, might very easily have been compiled. But in this, and in many like particulars, the wishes of those who survive have given way to their decided conviction of what his would have been."—P. iii.

Moreover, if we may continue our remarks on this subject, it would appear as if there were something even in the outward bearing and demeanour of this revered person, which answered the same purpose of concealing from the gaze of the world what he was. We do not write as being his friends or acquaintance; he was of a generation before us; we do not write as if in apology or explanation; but we write as thinking him a man of a great mind, and as feeling, we cannot deny, some curiosity and pleasure in contemplating an instance, the more interesting because not uncommon, of the secresy and solitude in which great minds move, as if, like our Lord's forerunner, they would not force themselves on the world, but were bidding it, if it thought worth while, to "go out into the wilderness" after them. In the Preface to these Remains, it is observed of their author, that "perhaps his whole character might be cast in a mould of severer goodness than this age could easily endure,"—p. v., reminding us of the plaintive distich, "Few were the admirers of Thucydides, son of Olorus." "They that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses." We can conceive such an one, epicurean or academic, refined, fastidious, accomplished, indolent, spending an aimless life amid society and literary leisure, falling in with the subject of these remarks, and shrinking from the reality of mind which he could not appreciate, and disgusted with the staidness or abruptness which he could.

The confessions of such a man of the world, small in the midst of his endowments and advantages, have lately {378} got abroad. "I saw D. the other day in town," he says: "it is quite astonishing that with such an understanding and such acquirements, his manners should be entirely odious and detestable. How you could live with him without hating him, I do not understand. Clever as he is, there must be some great defect in his mind, or he would try to make himself a little more sufferable."—Letters, p. 58. Of course such a judgment can give pain to no friend of the subject of it. Probably Lord Dudley was very offensive in his own way, and found his match. Of course he would have no perception that this was the case; and feeling that he had been struck by something very hard, would consider, not that he had himself impinged, but that he had been assailed. Certainly men of reverential and religious tempers are apt to hide themselves from those who are not worthy of them; nay, it must be confessed too, they often put on a very rough jacket for their special benefit. The above record then on the part of a man, whom with all his estimable points few persons will take as an authority, is not one which deserves dwelling on for its own sake; yet it may be taken, not without profit, as a specimen of the judgments, so often found in history, so often at this day, which the world forms of those who are endeavouring to live within the veil, and to view things as He views them who sees all things as they really are. Men of cultivated minds consider great divines or great philosophers merely in an intellectual point of view, and think they have a right to be admitted at once to their familiarity, when they meet them. They have no objection to exclusiveness, when talent and education, or again when wealth and station, are made the tickets of admission; but they are very much disgusted, when they find the exclusiveness conducted on quite another principle, {379} when the brotherhood of mind or the talisman of good society avails them nothing, and when they find themselves without, not within, the privileged circle. Till this "odious" and "insufferable" reserve is introduced, they will bear with a great deal in the way of difference, singularity, or, as they call it, even error of opinion. A man, for instance, to take what principally meets our view at this time, may go a great way in Catholic opinions, and will be allowed to say and do what would be considered monstrous in another, if he does but conform himself to the existing state of things, adopt the tone of the world, take his place in the social body, and become an integral member, and a breathing and living portion, and a contented servant, of things which perish. But if he will not put an establishment or a philosophy in the place of the Church, if he will not do homage to talent as such, or wealth as such, or official eminence as such, then he is out of joint with the age, and not only his words, but his look and his air, are like a pail of cold water thrown over every man of the world whom he meets. Thus, to instance the phenomenon in an extreme case, Hume, as is well known, said he never fell in with a religious man who was not melancholy.

The writer of the Preface to these Remains makes one remark about Mr. Davison, which serves with much appositeness to illustrate what we have been saying:

"He always showed himself particularly anxious to favour and befriend all kinds of moral worth, as distinct from mere ability. His pupils knew him to be especially on his guard against the idolizing of intellectual talent or successful study. He saw nothing admirable in it, except as guided by an energetic sense of duty."

This seems written at Lord Dudley by anticipation: the writer proceeds; {380}

"The following extract of a letter is inserted as expressive of this feeling: 'I am cast upon this place' (Colstersworth) 'by the division of my journey between York and London. It is a great spot, for it has Newton on the right, and Sanderson on the left. My mind turns most to Boothby Pagnel. Newton I can only admire. Sanderson is nearer to imitation, though still far above it. What a delight it is to dwell upon the memory of such a man! much more would it be to be able to live like him.'"—P. v.

In like manner the following noble passage occurs in his note upon his Sermon on Education:

"Our civilization itself, what is it but a speculative or a mechanical phantom, except as it gives larger scope to the exercise of virtue, private, social, or religious? We might as well be in the woods, where our forefathers were, as in the midst of looms and engines, pictures and libraries, or in the midst of the enjoyments of pleasure or accommodation which these things produce, unless we lift our views to a point of moral elevation above them, and are intent on some better object which the conscience can approve, as the proper aim and business of the responsible creatures of God."—P. 250.


We have got into our subject without such introductory formalities as are usual and befitting; and now it is too late to do more than notice our irregularity. And, since the "qualis ab incepto" is always more respectable than inconsistency, we hope to be allowed, as we have begun, so to proceed, not without something of arrangement in our own minds, but with not a very perceptible one, and with frequent digressions as they occur, and at last perhaps without any plan or order at all. It will be recollected that we have been speaking of that economy of reserve and secresy, to which our author seems to have been inclined, as other similar minds; and now we will point out another of its secondary causes, or, as they may be called, its phenomena. We {381} mean the difficulty he seems to have had in expressing himself, and the consequent effort which, not only composition, but even conversation, or we may say speech, cost him, and the effect of this difficulty visible in his writings.

It would be great presumption, except in one who knew such a person well, to attempt to analyze the causes in his particular case for this peculiarity, and the manner in which it operated; and we have no sort of intention of incurring it. Yet, viewing him not in himself, but, as it were, in the abstract, as an historical portrait offered for our contemplation, it may be not without its use to set down, not what actually were the causes, but some of what might be its causes, and what are the causes of this characteristic in similar instances. We suppose it then to be undeniable, that there are persons, whose minds are full of thought even to bursting, in whom it is pent up in a strange way, and in whom, when it at last forces itself out in language, it does so with the suddenness, brevity, completeness, and effectiveness (if the comparison be allowed) of a steam-boiler. The more fully formed is the image of truth in the mind, the greater task is it to find door or window for it to escape by; and, when it makes egress, perhaps it comes head-foremost. Again, minds which vividly realize conclusions, often are irritated at the necessity of drawing out premisses; or they are inadequate to the task; or they are impatient of many words; or they are at a loss where to begin; or they despair of conveying their meaning to others; or they find a relief to their feelings in some sudden and strong outbreak. When, under such circumstances, there is a habit of self-government, and a watchful control of feeling and language, there will often be an abruptness of speech in consequence; {382} or an unseasonable silence; or an uneasy patience, an unaccountable constraint, a composure without repose; or a variable jerking manner, as if a man were riding his horse with a tight rein. Or sometimes, to recur to our former figure, he will let off the steam in the shape of humour. Or when the mind feels its own separation from others, its strangeness, its isolation, a distance of demeanour in general society is the consequence, which apparently argues a want of frankness and cordiality, or a recklessness, which may be set down to arrogance and pride. All these mental states are destructive of ease of deportment; to which must be added what is sometimes called consciousness, the painful perception of the presence of self, quite distinct from self-importance and self-conceit, though looking like them to undiscriminating eyes.

Mr. Davison's style is an illustration of what we have been saying. We consider its characteristic to lie in the force and vividness of its separate expressions, phrases, or sentences; and, though there is always a danger of generalizing beyond our data, we are tempted to pronounce that he is more happy in his words and clauses than in his conduct of an argument. His style, viewed in its general tenor and substance, is but one of those imperfect manifestations of the inner man, which are characteristic of him. He does not compose well; there is a want of vigour and skilfulness in putting his arguments and views out of hand; he is circuitous and unready in the management of his matter, and inelegant in his grammatical constructions. And where this is the case, that very force and richness in the lesser portions of the composition, which we would specially ascribe to Mr. Davison, does but increase of course the appearance of elaborateness, we may even add of heaviness, in it, {383} viewed as a whole. They act as weights upon it, not as supports. It may be added that, in consequence of what may be called his unreadiness, he promises more than he fulfils, and gives us the appearance of a mere dwelling on the style more than on the argument, and of selecting his words and phrases more for the sake of embellishment than of illustration. Nor is it any disparagement of him to say, that in his case his words do sometimes go beyond what they convey, though this at first sight may sound like a paradox; for in truth, he had deeper thoughts than he could well bring to light; so that his language is rather the index of his mind than of his sense, of the objects which possessed him than of the subject-matter which he treated. And again, we may bear to say that his style is laboured in its details; for what is this but to allow that he is so engrossed with realities which are close at hand, and feels it so difficult to shake off their impression, that he is but a second-rate artist in bringing out those broad lights and effects, and in taking those general views, which are so clear and so persuasive in the literature of the day, because they are so superficial? We will add, that his apparent negligence in composition is sometimes so great, as almost to look like intention. What, for instance, if it be worth noticing, can be more inartificial and ungraceful, than the following commencement, literally the first sentence, of a Sermon delivered, if we mistake not, at an anniversary meeting of some very high persons?

"In the following discourse I propose, first, to consider these words of the Apostle, as they encourage to active usefulness in life; next to speak of the value and advantage of societies instituted for the furtherance of objects of public utility; and lastly, to advert to some of the peculiar objects which come under the care of your ancient incorporated Society."—Remains, p. 205. {384}

And these three separate heads, when entered upon, prove to be so distinct from each other, so entire in themselves, that we are presented rather with three half-finished sermons, preached one after another, than with the bonâ fide treatment of one subject, such as we might fairly anticipate on such an occasion. But we shall have more to say about this Sermon by-and-by, in a different connexion.


We have been speaking of Mr. Davison's style, as unattractive in its general course, yet as happy in its separate portions, as being a sort of type of that economy of reserve which an unseen hand wrapped round him. Of its excellence indeed, in its separate portions, it is impossible to speak too highly; the energy of his mind discharges itself concisely and forcibly on the matter in hand, with the flashing power of artillery directed against a fortress; at other times with the calm clear light of some sudden rent in a dark sky. His brilliant sententiousness, the beauty of his images, the terseness and truth and freshness of his expressions, their graphic distinctness,—in a word, his remarkable originality, an originality more remarkable in style even than in matter, give a charm to his discussion which amply compensates for whatever is wanting in its set, in the vigour and ease of its movements, or the knitting and suppleness of its joints. The mere man of letters will desiderate purity and harmony of language; but Mr. Davison is sui similis beyond any other religious writer of his day, and, though it is very difficult to analyze what it consists in, there is a certain definite character, one and the same, which all persons will recognize, running through his sayings, his conversation, and his writings, which belongs to no one else. If {385} any writer has reason to have his name turned into a grammatical root, surely as Cicero is the author of Ciceronian Latin, so we may be permitted without offence to call Mr. Davison's style Davisonian. It was probably in allusion to this peculiarity that a French refugee, resident in Oxford in his day, used to say of his language that it was like Minerva, issuing armed cap-à-pie from Jupiter's head. No better illustration can be given of it than the short dialogue about truth and accuracy, which for a different purpose is recorded in the Preface. It is an instance of a remark, grave and sensible indeed in itself, but striking especially from the manner in which it is conveyed.

"'D. That is rather a minute accuracy. But I have a respect for all accuracy, for all accuracy is of the noble family of truth.' Answ., 'And is to be respected accordingly.' D. 'Even to her most menial servant.'"—P. 10.

Accordingly, few persons seem to have left more of their sayings in the memory of their friends than Mr. Davison; and that quite as much from their being like their author, and reminding them of one they loved and admired, as because of their intrinsic value. Some of them are in their circumstances of a lighter character. A college servant used to tell a story how, when Mr. Davison in his younger years was pro-proctor, he chased an undergraduate all the way from Magdalen Bridge to the Star Hotel, where he caught him; by which time the narrator, who was his "bull-dog," was, to use a familiar word, completely winded. Mr. Davison, however, was as even in his breathing and sedate in his deportment as before the race begun, and thereupon spoke his first and last words to his captive, "Sir, it has not availed." One day a pupil burst into his dressing-room full of hope and joy to tell him that the report was, that he had got the {386} Newdigate; he replied with mock gravity, "Do you come here, Mr. Rickards, to occupy me with rumours?" On another occasion he interrupted a rambling reasoner in a low tone, "Stop, stop, you reason uncomfortably." We hope these instances, which of course only occur at random out of an indefinite number of similar ones, are not beneath the purpose for which we select them, nor are inconsistent with the reverent feelings which we entertain and wish to express towards the subject of them; but they seem to us to have their value, as serving to depict a mind under control, relieving itself briefly and strongly, not without a dash of humour in the expression, by way of discharging itself the more safely.

But it is hardly fair to the reader, to say nothing of the claims of our author himself, to record the mere colloquial effusions of a great mind. In order to form a judgment of the vividness, felicity, and graceful festivity of Mr. Davison's language, we extract the following locus classicus, as it may be called, from his review of Edgeworth's Professional Education. He has told us in a previous page that "in a series of Essays Mr. Edgeworth has traced different plans of education, calculated for the wants of the several professions. His plans begin at a very early period, and undertake to regulate the habits, studies, and sometimes the amusements of the boy, in almost every particular, with a view to his civil employment in future life. The advantage to be secured by this concentration of his tastes and studies is the enabling him to fulfil his station well, and enlarge his attainments, as applicable to it."—P. 422. This theory was supremely distasteful to Mr. Davison, and he thus comments on it:—

"Instead of making well-educated men, the object of his system is to make pleading and prescribing machines. So far does he {387} carry the subdivision of his relative aims, that the knowledge of the first and plainest truths of religion, is made to belong to a particular profession. The little uncassocked clergyman, of six years old, is to be made acquainted with the being of a God, in a proper philosophical way. But his lay-brothers have no such regular instruction provided for them. It is no part of their business. They must recollect that they are not designed for the Church, and follow their proper profane studies. Who knows but that they may live to hear their brother in the pulpit, and get some religion from him there?

"The lawyer is to have his appropriate management as soon as he begins to speak. A nurse of good accent is to be procured for him, to modulate his first babbling to the right tone of the bar. He is to prattle for a fee. He is afterwards to be encouraged to a little ill-bred disputatiousness for the same worthy purpose. Mr. Edgeworth quotes a trite passage of Roman history to show that the Romans bestowed much care upon the elocution of their children, and repeats over again the tale of Cornelia and the Gracchi. The Romans thought it a grace in their children to speak their own language well. So thinks every one. The peculiarity of Mr. Edgeworth's mind consists in making it exclusively a lawyer's accomplishment.

"The physician that is to be, as soon as he can wield a spade, is to have his garden in imitation of the great Sir Charles Linnæus, and vex the ground with his botanical arrangements. The culture of opium and rhubarb will be his first step to the prescription of them.

"The infant soldier is to be made a hero as soon as possible. Indeed no time is to be lost with him, for Mr. Edgeworth recommends that he be accustomed to the presence of domestic animals without terror, 'and be taken to the exhibitions of wild beasts, that he may be familiarized to their forms and cries.' His nurse too must be chosen for her aptitude to the duties of rearing a great captain. When the defender of his country is grown up to be a boy, his sports should be of the military cast. Without making too much parade, he should begin to work upon some fortification in the corner of a shrubbery. He must be trained also to a sense of honour, and abhor the disgrace of corporal punishment as a soldier ought.

"Such is the grand scheme of partition to be made among the professional aspirants according to their destinations of future life. {388} Religion, a good elocution, gardening and other amusements, a manly constitution of body and mind, and a tenderness of honour, we have always thought to be good for boys as sensitive rational beings capable of instruction, health, and pleasure. To make cunning sport for them, and defraud them of the natural right of amusing themselves in their own way, does not agree with our feelings of kindness for them. It sophisticates them in the very point where they should be most free and natural. But to delegate the moral qualities, such as a just impression of religion and a right sense of honour, to a station or title, or a piece of cloth, or to make the slightest difference in these respects, is to confound the essence of morality, and run deliberately insane upon a spurious conceited wisdom."—P. 452-454.


We have already alluded to Mr. Davison's images: they are severe, yet graceful; just and natural, yet poetical. They are sometimes introduced into the gravest discussion, yet without any detriment to its keeping. For instance, Mr. Edgeworth, as we have seen, is for settling every one's profession in his cradle, which he considers, to use his own words, "in a family where there are more sons than one, would prevent all injurious competition. As all the brothers would early know that they were to pursue different modes of life, there could never be any crossing interests or jealousy of particular talents, though there might and ought to be among them an emulation of general excellence." Mr. Davison observes upon the hint thrown out in the last words:

"A more unlikely method of inspiring emulation, or leaving any scope for it, we can hardly conceive, than a complete separation, at an early age, of every feeling and pursuit among them. It is like setting horses on their speed against each other, by running them on different grounds that they may not jostle."—P. 418.

In a later part of the same paper he observes: {389}

"To make the connexion of them (the liberal studies) with the immediate technical business of any profession apparent, is no part of our manner of arguing. If they cherish and invigorate the mental powers, it is enough. When the tide flows strong in the main sea we shall never doubt but it will, in due time, fill every channel, creek, and harbour."—P. 444.

In his review of the charges of the Edinburgh Review against Oxford and the controversy which they occasioned, he speaks of the fallacy of making the University examinations in the last century the measure of what was taught in Oxford, when "everything of importance, in the way of examination, and by far the greatest part in the way of instruction, was done," whether rightly or wrongly, "within the walls of each particular college, and could be seen only there." This takes him to the image contained in the last extract for a fresh illustration:

"When the reviewer is disposed to propagate the belief that either the subjects or the state of learning in the place were to be judged of by those open examinations, mere relics of form, he proceeds upon what we know to be a most gross historical mistake; and a person might as well record the rise of the tide by measures taken on a shore which the sea had abandoned."—P. 463.

Presently he pursues the subject thus:

[The Review] "enters upon a train of reflections which suppose all along the existence of some forms or statutes at Oxford at this day in force, to 'chain down the mind and check inquiry.' Acquitting the critic of unfairness, we cannot so easily acquit him of palpable false reasoning about forms and statutes. These things may be of very little efficacy, to do either good or harm. If the public mind is not conformable to them, they are virtually abolished while they subsist. So it was in Oxford, according to the author's statement, that 'the new doctrines were received and taught' in the face of the old exercises: that is, the genius of the place was not so feeble but that it could carry a few links of the old chain about it, after it had sprung into liberty."—P. 371. {390}

These illustrations are sufficient for the purpose which has led us to cite them; but there are others of a different kind, introduced as if rather for his own refreshment and recreation in the midst of a dry discussion, than for the sake of the subject. Sometimes they have a character of grave humour; sometimes they are almost eccentric. The Edinburgh Reviewer had been labouring to show that what he considered in a former publication to be beyond the elements of mathematics might be included within those elements, by the time at which he was then writing. Mr. Davison uses a figure quite his own on the occasion;—not to confute a quibble, but to vent his disdain of it:

"The idea of a floating boundary, which is included in that criterion, is rather exceptional; but, granting it, still we cannot suppose that science has made such a flight during the last six years, active as it has been, that conic sections, which Professor Playfair in 1804 ranked beyond the elements, should now be considered as only 'elementary.' Does the boundary of the elements advance so rapidly? Let the empire abroad be extended in all quarters; but we do not wish, upon every new conquest, to have the pomœria put in motion."—P. 369.

In his Considerations on the Poor Laws, a matter-of-fact subject, if any other, in the midst of a grave paragraph, he suddenly breaks out into the vivid and energetic image contained in the following extract; which is almost as startling, where it occurs, as if in the middle of a college lecture he had attempted to fulfil it in his own person:

"At the same time, projects of amendment have no right to be very sanguine in the extent of their aims. For the particular interests of the country, which are the most nearly affected by the constitution of our poor laws, are by no means beholden to those laws for all the injury or benefit of which they are capable. We must not suppose, therefore, that, if those interests were set as {391} completely at ease, as the most satisfactory removal of all that is objectional in those laws could set them, they would immediately pass at once into a state of extraordinary high order, vigour, and perfection, like so many smooth spheres, spinning on their axes, in free space, along the national ecliptic. This is no more than a truism, resulting from the complexity of all such affairs; and I mention it," etc., etc.—P. 569.

This extraordinary capriccio has brought to our minds a reminiscence of Bishop Butler, which, we believe, is a tradition at Stanhope, and may, for what we know, have before this got into print, viz., that he was a very hard rider. Cannot we trace something of a common cause in these two similar minds, grave, contemplative, reserved, profound, manifesting itself in the violent exercise of the one, and the sallies of wit in conversation or in writing of the other?

If the reader is tired of these specimens, it is because we have no business to transplant them out of their proper soil, into, as it were, a nursery garden, where they lose their meaning; yet, at the risk of this damage, we are tempted to give one more, and it shall be the image of a tree, and that growing out of the rock of that same dry Essay on the Poor Laws. He is contrasting the national debt with the then poor law system:

"It is quite possible for a very opulent country to be most seriously shaken, and disturbed by obstructions and embarrassments in the balance of a sum, or the making up of a debt, which may be absolutely insignificant in comparison of its whole opulence. It makes a vast difference, whereabout in the sum of its public affairs, that difficulty of balance or debt may happen to rest. If it affects the first sources of supply, if it cramps and disorganizes the system of the labour of the country, by converting labourers into mere spenders and consumers, the real detriment produced by it is infinitely greater than it would be if there be a defalcation from its means to the same nominal extent in any other part of its system. {392} ... A nation would better afford to owe its stockholders five times the amount. It eats, in fact, like a canker, at the root of our resources, for the labour of the kingdom, with its myriads of working hands, is that fibrous root, which extracts for us the first element of our growth and sap of circulation. If this root of labour makes its way, and can strike its last fibres freely, the timber will thrive in its strength of trunk, and pride of branch and foliage; if it does not, the finest suns and rains overhead will not be able to make the plant grow. It is commonly said of the palm tree, that no weight laid upon its head can kill it. I have not heard whether naturalists have made the other experiment upon that indestructible species, but I should suppose that a much smaller force would be sufficient to do it a serious mischief at the root."—Pp. 566, 567.


We have above remarked on the inequality of excellence between the course of Mr. Davison's composition and his separate sentences and phrases. Some of the above extracts may seem to disprove this distinction, and, as has already been remarked, it is true that he is at one time far more successful than at another. He sometimes writes without effort, and at another he is like an Atlas with the world on his shoulders. We supposed at first that this was owing to increasing expertness in composition, and that his last writings were his more vigorous and well compacted: but this is by no means the case. His review of Mr. Edgeworth's Professional Education, the best sustained and most self-possessed, is also one of the earliest of his writings. His Inquiry into the Origin of Sacrifice, not to say his Lectures on Prophecy, which, eloquent as they are, can neither of them be called easy compositions, were published thirteen or fourteen years later. In truth, it is very plain that the subject was the cause of the difference; and so we think it will be found respecting him generally, that according as he approaches religious {393} topics, his power of sustaining an argument flags, and his course becomes impeded; but as soon as he has no overshadowing awe to subdue him, he is able again to write with vigour and grace. Hence his occasional Sermons, though very valuable in point of matter, are some of his least satisfactory specimens of style. Again, his Essay on Baptismal Regeneration, which appeared as a Review, begins at a distance from its subject, and with an elasticity of step, which is just the quality we generally desiderate in him; but he loses it page by page as he gradually comes to walk amid sacred truths and solemn arguments. We shall quote the opening, as a rare specimen of what may be called momentum in style; it has all the weight of Johnson, with a lighter, more springy tread:

 … "We wish openly to disavow the officious service of labouring for an accommodation of opinion, between persons who may have their reasons for avoiding all approaches to it. Because, first, we cannot pretend to the authority which ought to go along with the assumption of such an office; and next, not being willing to concede any part of our own belief, we will adopt no principle of accommodation between others, except the firm and temperate statement of our own opinions, which could be conciliatory only just so far as the grounds of them are convincing; and lastly, we are well aware that nothing is less welcome to persons strongly engaged in a debate than the neutrality of a peace-maker, who is likely with many to provoke the anger he would disarm, by his suspected censure of it. And therefore, as we have no special call, in our pages, to this offensive and ungracious moderation, we request that we may not incur the prejudice and evil report of it with any description of men …

"Controversy, when it is carried on in the sound and manly spirit of investigation, is so favourable to the advancement or the more firm establishment of our knowledge, that we shall never presume to check or decry it. While it is so conducted, religion is only more securely rooted by its friendly violence. Indolent and implicit knowledge is roused by it to a more honest discipline; and {394} error flies before it. If some degree of animation, inspired perhaps more by the ardour of conflict in discussion than by the exact unprejudiced concern for the subject, should insinuate itself, we still should regard that accident as a venial one, which may render the advocates on either side more alert, and quicken their research without perverting their principles of judgment. The more severe and jealous accuracy, which we must be contented often to take from personal feelings, may in the end produce that best of all results, a more certain and a better reasoned apprehension of the truth. In this light our infirmities may serve us better than our duties. They may give us a vigour of research, which those more tardy motives might fail to supply; for we never hail the progress of truth so much as when we hope ourselves to share her triumph." ...—P. 280.

Such is the vigour and exactness of his gait when his mind is at ease; but in proportion as it becomes anxious, serious, or abstracted, and

"Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labours and the words move slow."


An intimate friend of Mr. Davison's, Mr. Keble, was once asked what he considered to be Mr. Davison's habitual and ruling idea. It was at the time when his Visitation Sermon, preached at St. Helen's, Worcester, which is reprinted among his "Remains," had just made its appearance. Mr. Keble took it up and turned to the page in it in which the following sentence occurs, and put his finger upon the words which we have printed in italics:

"A clergyman's virtue ... consists not in singularities. All Christian excellence is in great and substantial duties; in the doctrines of faith cordially embraced and applied; in the love of God; in charity to man; in temperance, in integrity, in humility; in the control of the appetites and desires; in prayer and other exercises of piety; in the fixed love and admiration of heavenly things."—P. 269. {395}

We should say that Mr. Davison's writings abundantly confirm this testimony,—if we understand it to ascribe to him, as we consider was meant as his special characteristic, an awful contemplation of the providential dealings of God with man. This is the occupation in which he is engaged through his greater works, and to which we find him drawn even amid subjects of secular interest. His Discourses on Prophecy and Inquiry into the Origin of Sacrifice are but simple exercises of this habit of mind, and it manifests itself again and again in the occasional Sermons and Essays of which the Volume of his Remains mainly consists. It is remarkable, there is very little dogmatic teaching in his writings, as in the case of Bishop Butler's; vast as is the store of holy meditations which the articles of the faith provide, and essential as they are to all Christian life, yet these were not the characteristic subjects of either the Bishop or Mr. Davison. But they each seem to have been absorbed in the vision of the Scheme of Religion Natural and Revealed, of the divine judgments, the divine ways, the divine works; and at this great sight, the latter, not to speak of Butler, seems to have been unable to go forward, and, somewhat after the pattern of the man greatly beloved, to have "set his face towards the ground, and" as regards the great objects of faith themselves, to have "become dumb."

In the Sermon just now quoted, he enumerates the parts of Christian knowledge, with a selection, and a relative prominence, remarkably illustrative of this characteristic of his mind:

"And here, if I did not hasten to a conclusion, I might enter upon an inviting subject, in descanting upon the excellence and intrinsic pleasure of Christian knowledge, with its kindred pursuits, whatever they may be. The mystery of our Redemption; the dispensations {396} of God; the economy of His all-wise governing Providence; the life, death, doctrines, and mercies of the Holy Jesus, our Saviour; our own moral nature; our duties; the prospects of our future immortal state; the history of the Church of Christ in its brighter and its darker periods; the fortunes of its propagation; with the lives of its pastors, sages, and martyrs; these are subjects for which other literature can furnish no equivalent in dignity of character, and which, if cultivated, will yield to none in point of interest to our feelings. No good reason, therefore, can be assigned why our taste should be directed, by preference, to other studies, even if motives of duty did not intervene to decide our choice."—P. 275.

In like manner his Assize Sermon on the text, "For rulers are not a terror," etc., begins by reminding us that "our own nature and the scene of life around us" are "equally the subject of Divine Revelation, and the improvement of the one" is "designed by every light thrown upon the constitution of the other" (p. 179); and proceeds in a similar strain; speaking presently of our being able "to perceive the agency of a divine appointment in the affairs of men, deterring and restraining crime, supporting its first efforts of virtue, and providing for a system of improvement and discipline among men, by the very frame of society itself, by sanctions temporal as well as eternal, the terror of the first being only a present, sensible anticipation of the other" (p. 190). In his Sermon at Deptford he finds his favourite subject on the sea, and breaks out into a meditation, which we are prompted by its beauty to transfer to our pages:

"Its [this earth] intercepting seas were meant to provoke his enterprise; its divided climates and countries to diversify his enjoyments and his arts for obtaining them. The dispersion of his kind was thus counteracted by the bonds of a mutual communication. The works of God were to be seen and known in the great waters. And how rich and various in its stores is this world made, to create {397} the desire, invigorate the faculties, and reward the labour of that master being, who has received for a time the delegated possession of it. Sea and land yield him their increase. Productions are removed to a distance to be recommended by their cost and peril of acquisition. The whole society of the species consolidated by the intervention of a mutual want, and the variety of a partial privation; and many wholesome qualities of morals and understanding, with the general circulation of arts and knowledge growing out of the meaner pursuits, which are secured in their activity by the progressive demands of our mere physical nature. The worse is here made to serve the better part; for that some may eat the fruit or wear the clothing of foreign lands, what labour and skill to be laid out in the attempt, and how richly freighted does the vessel return, in experience, in discovery, in information, in the value of hardships patiently endured, and of dangers bravely encountered. And this commerce of the world is daily becoming an object which the wise and good man may contemplate with the greater pleasure, as he sees it purged of one evil which an inveterate avarice had long been permitted to reckon among its acquired possessions."—Pp. 216, 217.

To this "fixed love and admiration" of the providences of Almighty Wisdom we trace many of the characteristics of Mr. Davison's writings. One is that embarrassment and constraint to which we have already referred, and which is analogous to what a subordinate feels every day when told to do a thing in the presence of superiors. If we consider how awkward a young teacher or a schoolmaster feels when bid to catechise when his instructor or employer is by, or the anxiety and distrust of self with which a well-conducted child undergoes an examination, we shall have some insight perhaps into the diffidence and fear with which Mr. Davison touches on sacred subjects. Again, it seems to have led him to elaborate embellishment of style, from the feeling with which devout persons spend time, thought, and substance on the decoration of churches. There is often an evident prolonged dwelling on the {398} subject on which he is speaking, or the low tones of a yearning affection, or a beating of heart, or a glow of delight, or an importunate exhibition, or a simple earnest statement, which show what is going on within him. Of course it is very difficult to show this in isolated passages detached from the context, and chosen by the arbitrary feeling and taste of individual critics, yet we will attempt, even at this risk, to convey what we mean to the reader, leaving it to him, when he has once entered into our view, to find more apposite passages for himself, and not doubting that he will enter into it.

Sometimes, as in the following extract, his deep thoughts make him eloquent, not constrained; but the principle is the same:

"Sacred religious knowledge," he says, in a Sermon from the Note to which we made our opening extract, "if it feed not the flame of a holy and obedient life, is vain and unprofitable like the rest. For what is knowledge? Evil spirits have it, and in great perfection. Bad men may have it. But the soul, actuated by its knowledge to obedience, and governed by this divine principle of the love of God, this it is which is the glory of saints, and which peoples heaven, and turns the schools of education into nurseries of God's Church, and does His work in the world, and makes the world and His Church to be the nurseries of His eternal kingdom."—P. 236.

Again, the following passage brings to remembrance that calm, tender, eager, wistful, unearthly tone, which is characteristic of a very different author of a very different age—St. Cyprian:

"The devout apprehension of God is better than the unhallowed speculation of His works ... All other knowledge, if unaccompanied with this, or not ministering to it, is but a learned ignorance, a stir and curiosity after shadows and trifles. For God, and our duty, and our last end, and the doctrines of salvation and humility {399} which illuminate the Christian faith, are the greatest things that we can know, and the highest objects upon which we can exercise our understanding."—P. 234.

In the sentences with which he concludes his Origin of Sacrifice, we find the same contemplative spirit, the same affectionate reverence for the saints of other days, the same solemn waiting for the future, which have appeared in some former extracts:

"Of the first generations of men, and of their faith and piety, a brief memorial is all that remains. We might wish to see further into the lives and notions of the progenitors of our race, but the wish is denied to us; and our researches in that line must rest where the only authentic record terminates our view. But this memorial of the Old World, brief as it is, is not insufficient to the ends of a Christian contemplation. 'Abel was a righteous man, and God testified of his gifts;' and 'Enoch walked with God, and God took him;' and 'Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations.' These are the great relics of piety and virtue, spared to us out of the ruins of time and the deluge. They are monuments which perpetuate the names of those servants of God from the beginning of things, and occupy the annals of His Church beyond the flood with an imperishable inscription to their memory. We do not look back into the distant antediluvian scene as to a dreary void. We find there the instances of their approved faith and obedience, and therein a bond and a motive to our sympathy of communion with them.

"If their information, in the method of their redemption and ours, was less, whilst they remained upon earth, than was given to some later ages, perhaps by this time the defects of it have been supplied, and its measure made complete. But if not opened to them already, the full revelation of that mystery, we know, is only delayed. It is only deferred till the time arrives which shall symmetrize all irregularities of faith and knowledge; when the Church of God of every age shall be but 'one general assembly,' and 'the spirits of just men made perfect,' being gathered to the holy Jesus, 'the mediator of the new covenant,' shall receive the completion of whatever has been wanting in their faith, by a direct illumination from the Fountain of Light."—Pp. 162, 163. {400}

To make one more extract, in illustration of the point under review:—who will not discern in the following passage that same devout sedulous earnestness to offer his best eloquence to the divine honour, which is so well understood in regard to the obligations and dedications of pious opulence?

"The doctrine of the Gospel had been revealed, and not revealed. It was dark with the excess of the mystery, till it shone in the person of the Saviour; in Him was seen 'the fulness of grace and truth.' For then was come the time when the plan of grace and redemption was to be revealed by being accomplished, and the doctrines of it to be made explicit objects of faith. These doctrines were no more to be wrapped in figure, nor taught by the tongue of prophecy, which spoke the secrets of heaven to earthly ears, and represented things which the eye had not yet seen. They were things too precious to lie buried any longer, like gold in the Indian mines, to ripen against a distant day; or to shine darkly, as jewels at the bottom of the great deep, the abyss of God's counsels. They were brought forth in their lustre, and planted, where they now are seen, on the forehead of the evangelical revelation. Thus we receive the completion of type and of prophecy, and the luminous crown of Christian faith."—Pp. 156, 157.


The reverence which Mr. Davison's writings show toward sacred subjects, they also pay in free and ungrudging measure to the institutions and the persons whereby he had learned his knowledge of them. We do not augur much good of any one who does not in the first instance throw himself into the system under which he has been born, accept the voices of the teachers, divines, and pastors, by which he is providentially surrounded, as the voice of heaven, and identify their pattern and their faith with the holy doctrine which they have been the instruments of conveying to him. Of course, such implicit confidence cannot last in {401} all cases, as time goes on, for there is but one truth, whatever it is, whereas there are "many kinds of voices in the world;" and it is not to be anticipated that all minds everywhere, as they grow morally and intellectually, will just happen felicitously to concur in the respective systems in which they find themselves. And, moreover, as regards the multitude of sects, there cannot, from the nature of the case, be any loyal attachment to them on the part of their individual members, seeing they do not call for it, or provide any object for its exercise. So far from it, their very principle commonly is, that every one is as able to judge as another, that every one should follow his own judgment, and that they are narrow-minded and superstitious who do not. However, as regards the members of any Christian community of long standing, with ranks and offices, with a succession of divines, and with a traditionary body of doctrine, that is, any community which asks for their allegiance and trust, that heart and mind must be in a very unsound state which does not from the first, without formal deliberation, but spontaneously and generously, accord it. Certainly with such a temper Mr. Davison would appear to have no sort of sympathy, which is the more remarkable, for he is just such a person as, from his peculiar manner of writing and speaking, a superficial observer might have set down as a man of what is called "original mind;" that is, one who despises all who have gone before him, and employs himself in framing new truths expressly for the benefit of the nineteenth century. On the contrary, we suppose scarcely a writer can be produced, who in the same compass (that is to say, in the Volume containing his miscellaneous publications and Remains, a thick one, but still only one, and of which two hundred pages are on {402} politics, economy, and law,) has introduced, in one way or other, a respectful mention or eulogy of so many of our writers, and that of different schools. Never certainly was an author further removed from "setting up for himself" than the subject of these remarks. He speaks of Hooker's as "a great judgment, with which I reckon it almost a pledge of the truth of any opinion to agree"—(p. 111); "of the incomparable Bishop Taylor," "the high authority of his mind and reason, which is as great as any can be," and "his freedom of strength of thought," and "his immortal work, the 'Ductor Dubitantium'" (p. 30); presently of "the services of Hooker's great and capacious mind, the eloquent wisdom of Taylor, and the patient and laborious learning of the excellent Hammond" (p. 96); of his "affection to the memory, and respect to the orthodox learning, of Hammond," ibid.; again, of Sanderson, in language which has already been quoted; of Bacon, as "an author whom it is much safer to take as an authority than to attempt to copy" (p. 441); of "our own virtuous and learned Bishop Bull, whose mind was much nurtured in the sentiments of the primitive Church" (p. 260); of Tillotson, as one of "our best divines" (p. 345); of Burke, as "our immortal statesman, whose eloquence is inferior only to his more admirable wisdom" (p. 442).

This characteristic in Mr. Davison will go far to account for certain opinions or avowals which we find in his writings, and in which it is very obvious that we ourselves, for instance, should be unable to follow him. He put himself, as it were, into the hands of the authors he respected. A friend of his and ours was once asked, "Why Mr. Davison did not attempt the interpretation of the Apocalypse?" he answered, that Mr. Davison had expressed to him that overwhelming sense of Mede's {403} powers, which made it seem quite presumptuous in him to attempt it after him. And accordingly, in his Discourse upon the "Prediction of the great Apostasy," we find him speaking of the system contained in the Apocalypse as having given "scope to the exercise of Mede's capacious understanding." Probably we owe to Mede, not only what he did not write in way of comment on the Apocalypse, but in a measure what he did write; though doubtless we owe it to the provisions of the Warburton Lecture that he committed himself to the theory to which we allude, viz., that the prophecies concerning Antichrist have been fulfilled in the Church of Rome. That is, he was bound by the very foundation which gave occasion to his Discourses to take this side of the controversy; and the following passage, with which he introduces his contribution to it, is sufficient to suggest how much he may have been unconsciously biassed by his deference to the authority which exacted it of him:

"As the distinguished prelate, the founder of this Lecture, had it in view, as one object of his institution, to enforce a special reference to those parts of prophecy which will fall within my present discourse, by bringing them under your notice I shall comply with that his particular design, and at the same time prosecute the inquiry into the use and inspiration of the Scripture oracles, which I have wished to follow in a settled course and order, and with a more extended view. As to this one subject of prophecy, on which his mind was intent, he has not only prescribed it to others, but he has cultivated it himself, and that with so much strength of reason and eloquence of discussion, in one of those learned and argumentative discourses which he delivered in this place, that the author has in a manner surpassed the founder, by anticipating, in this argument at least, with so much skill and success, the purpose of his institution."—Prophecy, Discourse X.

It will be observed that the author here says that it was "one object" of Warburton to secure lectures against {404} the Church of Rome, whereas the words of the endowment, we believe, speak of Lectures "to prove the truth of revealed religion in general, and of the Christian in particular, from the completion of the prophecies of the Old and New Testament, which relate to the Christian Church, and especially to the apostasy of papal Rome." We believe we are correct in saying, that in the great controversy between the Roman and Anglican divines in the reign of Charles II. and James II., the topic of Antichrist was never brought forward; its revival is due to Bishops Newton, Warburton, and Hurd, men of not very serious or spiritual minds, in the middle of the following century.

There is another eminent person for whom he has a great respect, and to whose memory we should be unjust, if we did not mention the fact,—Bishop Jewel. Parties impeached ought always to have every possible advantage given them, and, if testimonies to character can possibly avail in what is a question of fact, Bishop Jewel certainly should have the benefit of a witness so very different in mind and temper from himself. And we have another reason for citing Mr. Davison's testimonial; it is drawn up in such very choice and significant language, that, even were we disposed to be unfair, we should not have the heart to pass over what is as pregnant in meaning as beautiful in expression:

"Had all the serious and learned divines of our Church to give their voice in favour of the one man whom they would hold forth as the greatest light of the Reformation,—as the person whose mind had most fully comprehended and laboured upon the whole compass of reformed truth, and whose writings do still preserve the most highly sanctioned memorial of it,—we know not whether they would name any other than him, who, having received from the great fathers of the Reformation the office of unfolding, complete in all its parts, that truth which they with their faithful voices had {405} proclaimed among us, first reduced and recorded our whole national creed with its illustration and evidence, Bishop Jewel. He, with a more leisurely survey of the bearing of every doctrine than could be taken even by the leading reformers themselves, who, in the first effort and agony of their work, with rude and noble simplicity, threw down the fabric of error, and hewed the granite from the quarry, and brought it for the building, he, coming in the close of their labours, executed and perfected all that they had prepared or done, as much as any one man can be said to have done it. To the theological inquirer he is a master-builder of the system of our doctrine. His formal and deliberate judgment, therefore, is of the greatest value."—Pp. 300, 301.

Presently he adds, that Jewel's Defence of his Apology "may be reckoned perhaps the most accurately digested system of reformed doctrine, as far as it goes, the most scrupulously and deliberately worded, which our Church produced in its debate with the Church of Rome."—P. 312.

What makes this testimony of the greater value is, that Mr. Davison, in spite of his reverent and admiring temper, is not indiscriminate in his praise. He has his antipathies and dislikes; and it will serve to give some further notions of his theological system, on which we have imperceptibly fallen, to state who are the objects of them. This will be pretty evident by two or three clauses or expressions from his various works. Lightfoot, he says, "is one of the last writers to deserve our confidence, either for his perspicuity as a scholar, or his justness of thinking as a divine" (p. 60); though he owns him (p. 62) as a "really learned and good man." Speaking of Bochart, he says, "Here is a person, a prodigy of learning," yet "setting the example of" a "licentious theology" (p. 144). He speaks of "the rash positions of Clopperburch, Heidegger, and Witzius" (p. 96); and of certain "superficial ideas of Witzius," whom he calls a {406} "foreign divine." He speaks of some arguments of Carpzov and Leidekker, as "planè inepta et futilia" (p. 111, note); is disrespectful towards Buddeus (p. 128); considers certain representations of Warburton as "most unsatisfactory or erroneous" (p. 151), and observes that that writer "had no dislike of bold ingenuity, not free from paradox" (p. 152). Although he speaks respectfully of the continental Reformers, he says, "We do not require any foreign aid, either to ascertain or uphold our own belief" (p. 317), and refuses "to accept them as arbiters or witnesses in our own doctrine" (p. 318). He speaks of Beccaria, Voltaire, and the Empress Catherine as "all foreigners," and adds, "perhaps there is a vulgar taste in many of our speculators at home to admire the wisdom of other countries, as we do their fashions" (p. 486).

Considering the hereditary and habitual opinions of his day, it is not wonderful that he does not look upon the Fathers as the spokesmen and witnesses of a far more pure and religious age than our own; yet it is remarkable, still, how different his tone is concerning them from that of most of his contemporaries. Speaking of an opinion on the Origin of Sacrifice in "modern theology," which contradicted theirs, he says:

"This, at the best, is a cheerless and unsatisfactory state of the controversy. For, although the Fathers of the Church are neither to be reckoned infallible, nor free from serious error, yet it is a mortification to our charity, in our communion with them, to find that any important opinion which they have taught shall be deemed to be at variance with the foundations of our faith. One would wish to think there might be piety and safety in their error; although, if we have been blessed in later times with some superior light, there can be no reason for us to retain their mistakes, but only to spare their honour and memory. But when the primitive Fathers took their impression from the Scripture history, concerning the first {407} appointment of Sacrifice, I believe that they derived it by reading, in this instance, with a candour and ingenuousness of mind, which we should do well to imitate."—P. 128.

The writer of the Preface informs us that Mr. Davison, after he had completed his Origin of Sacrifice, entertained an intention of editing a selection from the writings of the early Church, with a view, as he expressed it, of "introducing the study of the Fathers a little, and blending old and new divinity together."—P. x. He also observes, with reference to the additional notes which he now publishes of Mr. Davison's upon that work, that "many of them are references to the Fathers, to the study of whose works he found himself drawn more and more in the later years of his theological reading."—P. xiii.


It has been suggested above, that Mr. Davison is rather a teacher of principles than of doctrines. This might be illustrated at some length from his separate publications; the Essay on Baptismal Regeneration is of course doctrinal, but, with this exception, nearly every one of them, as it comes, has its own philosophical principle or view which it undertakes to maintain. Thus, in the Essay on Sacrifice, we are taught with great force of reasoning the acceptableness of "will worship," or spontaneous piety, the real obligation and character of Natural Religion, and the mistake of "asking a revelation for every duty of religion," which, he adds, "has been actively employed in the Christian Church, to its misfortune and disturbance, ever since the Reformation," and "has been the master-engine of the Puritan system."—P. 95. In his Assize Sermon he considers "this principle laid down by the Apostle, that lawful power for the administration of justice {408} is not less than the minister of God."—P. 183. In his Sermon before the Corporation of the Trinity House, he lays down the maxim, that "the union of religion with all our graver concerns is in a manner the main, I had almost said the only, work of our lives here." "And," he proceeds, "to point out the consistency of the one with the other, and the strict relation they bear to each other, may be useful to their joint interests. It is a vain faith and piety which does not penetrate the concerns of life."—P. 210. In his National School Sermon (which embraces most important subjects, and in which he was the first distinctly and boldly to lay down positions, at the time almost paradoxes, but now happily taken for granted among religious people), he says that "education will never produce virtue by precepts repeated and truths inculcated," that "the power of reading, or the use of it, makes no man either wise or virtuous," and that "no mechanism as yet has invented the wheel to make a nation brave, united, or happy." In his review of Mr. Edgeworth's work, he insists that "the professional character is not the only one which a person engaged in a profession has to support" (p. 424), and "that certain studies improve the judgment and others do not" (p. 434). In his remarks on our criminal law, he discusses the true principles of punishment, capital punishment, the expedience of discretionary power, and the like. And his Dialogue between a Christian and a Reformer lays down the duty of religious fear, as of the essence of all true religion.

Doctrines are the limits or issues of principles, and if the principles be religious, they do legitimately and naturally lead to revealed doctrines, where such revelation is made. It vas Mr. Davison's unhappiness to live at a time when Christian doctrine was under a partial {409} eclipse, and hence his principles are far more Catholic, or, we will rather say, positive and defined, than his dogmatic statements. His principles and their definiteness are his own; his doctrines, or rather their indistinctness, is the peculiarity of his age. Thus, to take one instance, in his Assize Sermon some excellent remarks occur on the necessity which exists, that the principles of morals and religion should be externally recommended to the individual, as a memento and protection to him, by public positive institutions; and he says, and truly, that the law of the land fulfils this office; but still, it is observable, he keeps a profound silence about the Institution, directly divine, which has been far more highly honoured and favoured than any national law, and which is the true realization of the principle under review.

What a most serious witness is it against an age, when so deep and reverential a writer, giving utterance to its meditations in the heart of the most religious University in the world, does not recognize the Church Catholic as an authoritative instrument of teaching, warning, impressing, fortifying the minds of a Christian people; but speaks as he does, of the human law as "their most certain instruction," as their earliest guardian, as furnishing them at least "with some stock of ideas for duty," as "their plainest rule of action;" nay, as if the Mother of Saints were dead or banished, a thing of past times or other countries, actually applies to the law of the land language which she had introduced, figures of which she exemplified the reality, and speaks of the law as "laying crime under the interdict and infamy of a public condemnation"!

Men cannot at their will change the state of things; it would have been unreal in Mr. Davison to have spoken otherwise. Had he said that the law was not the most {410} authoritative teacher in the country, but that the Church had the higher authority and the more urgent influence, he would have said the thing that was not. Had he enlarged on the prerogatives of the Church, he would have been set down as a theorist or a papist for his pains. He was quite bold enough in publishing his Remarks on Education; and we know an instance of a young clergyman, not very long afterwards,—one of the many who are indebted to his writings,—preaching a Sermon for some schools near London, in which he innocently ventured to repeat some of the sentiments of Mr. Davison's own discourse, and encountering thereupon the extreme surprise and disgust of his principal hearers, who hardly would speak to him when they met in vestry to count the collection, and who pronounced his composition to be "truly a charity sermon, for it required great charity to sit it out." This was, at that day, the award of opinions which now are taken as first principles within the Church, which circulate as free as air, and which the stars of the season go about spouting, with great satisfaction, at all meetings, and in any episcopal chapel, secure of the risk of any ism whatever being affixed to their names in consequence. But, if such was the strangeness of opposing Campbell the poet and my Lord Brougham in the year 1827, how great would have been the extravagance, the wildness, the inanity, in 1817, of speaking, in the pulpit of St. Mary's, of the Rule and the Majesty and the Jurisdiction and the Sanctions of Holy Church? We know the fate of St. Paul at Areopagus, and without forgetting the venerated names of Van Mildert and others, then in authority, we suspect they would have been as quite alive as others, though more indulgent, to so unseasonable and abrupt an exhibition of the pearls of the Gospel. {411}


There is another quality akin to reverence in Mr. Davison, which makes it unsafe to accept his words in their very letter; and that is his extreme courteousness and consideration towards those for or to whom he is writing. He adopts somewhat of the tone of St. Paul on the occasion just referred to, or before Festus and Agrippa, and takes their part or their side as much as ever he can, sometimes, perhaps, a little too much. It should be recollected, for instance, that the panegyric on the Law of the land to which we have referred, was preached before the Judges; one is only tempted to regret that he had not sometimes the Church herself to preach before, as well as the Queen's representatives. The same tendency is conspicuous in his praise of Warburton, in the passage from his Warburtonian Lectures above quoted; a very different view of that bold writer being given us in his Origin of Sacrifice. On such occasions we could even suspect our revered author of indulging in a little amiable rhetoric. Surely it is not unnatural to suppose that the extreme goût with which he sets about the production of Jewel's evidence, arises from the circumstance of its telling so completely on the side of the high Church.

One other instance shall be given of this peculiarity of Mr. Davison's manner; and, since it is very tame to carry a critique to an end without some spice of criticism, we shall take the opportunity of raising a small quarrel with him upon it, even were it only to show that we have views of our own, and then we shall take our leave of him and his writings.

Mr. Davison, then, in his Sermon at Deptford, is led to praise Societies for public objects generally, and that {412} of the Trinity House in particular. We cannot of course quarrel with such a judgment, because, as any one will admit, there is, to say the least, a great deal of truth in it. But what we think ungracious and hard is, that, by way of heightening his eulogy, the author contrasts the Societies of this day with a certain Institution of times past, as if the latter just did not contemplate, and did not do, what present Societies both contemplate and do; whereas it both contemplated and it did what existing Societies, even if they all contemplate, certainly often fail to do, and fully exemplified all those benefits which Mr. Davison justly attributes to the principle of combination itself,—we mean the Monastic Rule. Let our complaint be clearly apprehended; Mr. Davison does not merely contrast Monastic with Protestant and other Societies of this day, as if, whereas they both had the same general end, the former failed in what the latter succeeded in effecting; but, what seems to us paradoxical, he denies that the monastic principle is gregarious, co-operative, industrious, practical, and productive. This seems to be contrary to well-known historical fact. His words are these:

"[The Gospel] is full and positive in requisitions applying to the distributive welfare of society; insomuch that it may be reckoned one of the most evident perversions of religious doctrine, which in an age of darkness exalted the secluded exercise of a monastic virtue as the perfection of a Christian spirit. Read but the discourses of our Saviour, or His parables, or read a page of His apostles, and you will see they all imply, that the persons to whom they are addressed are engaged in the active and mixed duties; and were they not so engaged, that those discourses and writings might in great measure have been spared. The matter contained in them would have nothing to attach upon; it would be addressed to beings not in the state which the instruction supposes, and would be instructing them in sentiments and offices which their actual occupation did not need."—Pp. 206, 207. {413}

Now it is difficult to do justice to the various thoughts to which this representation gives rise. First of all, is it not a violence to history to speak of "monastic virtue" as "secluded," in the sense here intended, viz., as not "engaged in the active and mixed duties"? Would our author say that a family was secluded from social relations and occupations? would he speak of "the secluded exercise of a domestic virtue"? for what is a monastery but a family? and in what sense is it secluded, in which the greater part of the world is not secluded already? How was a nun more secluded from active duties in her cloister, who had her duties found for her, than most single women of small means and few acquaintances, who have no duties at all, are secluded now? The difference is, that the one may walk about as she will, may speak to whom she will, may dress as she will, may read what she will, may visit about if she will, and may do nothing if she will; and does the exercise of "the active and mixed duties" so depend upon this liberty, that not to have this liberty is to be cut off from that exercise altogether? Would our author go the length of saying that it is a duty for every young woman to marry, lest she should incur the "perversion" of a dark age?

Supposing a monastic life were nothing else than seclusion in the cloister, would it in consequence have no trials and duties? Is there not trial, duty, self-denial, of many kinds in a family? Is it not as difficult, as it is "good and joyful, for brethren to dwell together in unity"? Is there not much exercise of temper, much call on a placable, unselfish, patient, forbearing, cheerful disposition, much occasion for self-control in word and in deed, in family life? How is it then to the purpose, true though it be, as Mr. Davison says, that "meekness, {414} forgiveness of injuries, humility, preference of each other in honour, would have no room to be practised, if every man, as he is a Christian, were to be shut up in solitude in a sphere of his own"? It is true that "the meek and chastened spirit, which is the sum of these duties, could neither be tried nor acquired, were the collision and intercourse of other men's feelings and interests so studiously avoided, as that we should have nothing to conceal, nothing to forgive, nothing to forbear" (p. 207); but what a pretty sort of a monk is he who has a will of his own, and is not meek, not self-abasing, not forgiving? Obedience is one of the three special characteristics of the monastic life, as its professed instance in our Great Exemplar is that of his "going down to Nazareth and being subject to his parents;" had He no opportunity of meekness and humility till He was thirty, and began to preach?

We have said this as contemplating a monastic life in its essence, and when viewed at the least advantage. But commonly it has been united or rather devoted to employments, directly productive of the graces specified; or, again, of a directly beneficial and useful nature. Mr. Davison says that—"the whole of the active part of a Christian charity manifestly derives its very being from a participation in the concerns of our fellow-creatures. Bountifulness, beneficence, personal kindness, personal service, are only so many other modes of expression for a manner of living with others, and living for them. They are wholly relative in their feeling and their practice; and the same divine authority which enjoins them, places us in that busy and peopled world which gives them their proximate motive and their opportunity of action. In short, the very love of our neighbour, which is the second great commandment, must fall to the {415} ground, unless we keep a station of intercourse with him, and make him the better for our existence; and even the first commandment, the love of God, is made to have its evidence and its perfect work in the fulfilment of the second."—P. 207.

Most accurate and important sentiments surely; but in order to show how a monastic life is not destructive, but rather is the great fulfilment of both the first and the second commandment of the law, it is only necessary to take up any work such as Alban Butler's, in which a hundred instances will be found of active and self-denying charity, in men and women bound by the monastic vows. The service of hospitals is one out of various religious objects and active labours with which the religious life has ever been connected. Schools, whether for high or low, are another; orphan-houses are another; literary or theological pursuits another. Again, from the first the monastic bodies have been an instrument in the hands of Providence for the maintenance of orthodoxy; the sons of St. Antony were the champions and the refuge of St. Athanasius. All the great Fathers and Bishops of the Church were monks; yet who was more busy in the crowd of men than Chrysostom? who has been so influential in theology as Augustine? who such revivers of religion as Gregory and Basil? who is more fruitful in practical lessons than Pope Gregory? who so large and so minute and exact in thought as St. Thomas? Even in those times when monastic bodies seemed to do least, and when the sloth and corruption of some brought disgrace upon all, they were, as we all know, the preservers of ancient literature; and let any one reflect what the state of our historical and doctrinal knowledge would be now, were it not for those whom we are tempted to accuse as "fruges consumere nati." {416} And as regards the other sex, so far from making women idle and profitless, it is the only institution which hitherto has been able to give dignity, and, as it were, rank to female celibacy, and to secure an honourable and useful application of it. How great a number of women in this Protestant land spend their lives in doing nothing! how much labour, to use secular language, is lost to the community! what numbers are led to throw themselves and their happiness away on husbands unworthy of them, because, when they would fain not be useless in their day, marriage is the only path open to their ambition!

Mr. Davison speaks forcibly and well of the divine wisdom of the Gospel in "reducing the matter of duty to some plain specific exercise, some direct and substantial instance of application" (p. 209); now is not this one special object of the monastic rule, to give a definite penance to those who would repent, definite duties to those who would grow in love, definite safeguards to those who are under temptation, definite objects to those who have high but vague aspirations? Again, he says, that "when that object is really a good and praiseworthy one," Societies for the furtherance of objects of public utility are like main works and fortresses in the map of life against the evils and deficiencies which lie around it" (p. 211); but why are the learned Benedictines, or the Order of the Trinity for the redemption of captives, to be exempted from this eulogy? We can enter into, though we disown, the opinion or prejudice that the monastic rule does more harm than good, nay, is to be condemned as pure evil; but we do not know what is meant by the statement, as an historical fact, that it has been destructive of the action and influence of man on man. If retirement and secresy are incompatible with usefulness, {417} what becomes of the remarks on Mr. Davison's own history with which we commenced? Was his life at Oriel College a more public one than that of St. Jerome at Bethlehem, or St. Anselm at Bec? Again, it is in Societies for public objects, says our author, "that the better feelings of our kind, being trained and brought forward, look abroad for connection and co-operation; that men attract one another to a common cause; and their union becomes safe and useful under the auspices of responsible personal character, and with the sanction of an acknowledged public confidence" (p. 211). And in a passage already quoted, "Such institutions give a fixed point and a tone, as well as a system, to the purpose which they adopt." But it would be as tedious, as it is, we think, a needless work, to show in all its details, that the wise and philosophical remarks he has made upon the principle of combination for public objects, do in a special and singular way find their fulfilment and exemplification in that holy and ancient discipline which he opens them by disparaging.

But there is one sentiment of his which surprises us more than any other, viz., that monachism is inconsistent with our Lord's precepts, which literally have no subjects, no drift, if it is to be allowed. Now let us take the monastic rule, not as practised by those who lived in community, but even as carried out into its extreme by hermits, anchorites, fathers of the desert, and the like: are there no commands, as, for instance, concerning poverty and humility, which, taken in their first and obvious meaning, such a life literally and strikingly fulfils? We are not at all saying or dreaming, of course not, that all our Lord's precepts must be taken in the letter, yet it is better to observe them in the letter, than not to observe them at all. Now it is pretty clear that {418} society, as at present constituted, does not keep the commands in question either in letter or spirit; also it seems to us clear, that whether a literal observance of them be necessary or not, monastic institutions do, of all others, most accurately and comprehensively fulfil the code of Gospel commandments, whether those which the present age does not fulfil, or those which it does. Indeed there cannot be a doubt who they are, and where they are to be found, who give us instances of obedience to the precept of "not resisting evil;" of "turning the cheek to the smiter;" of "selling that we have and giving alms;" "of selling all that we have," in order to be "perfect;" of having our "loins girded about and lights burning;" of "watching and praying always;" of "taking no thought for the morrow;" of "taking up the cross daily;" and a number of other particulars which might be mentioned. And if, as we have already been urging, monastic bodies are on the other hand far from neglecting those social duties which Mr. Davison truly says have so essential a portion and so exalted a place in Christian obedience, then it will follow that they fulfil more of our Lord's precepts than any other set of men, and instead of being "one of the most violent perversions of religious doctrines," they are the nearest approach to the perfection of a Christian spirit.

Nor is even the eremitical rule itself, nor surely (much less) are associations for the main purpose of prayer and intercession, incapable of justification or excuse. Mr. Davison excepts all associations which are for the good of the community; and considering that Christianity has made the offering of praise and prayer its especial "Liturgy," or public service, it is surely a want of faith to deny that those above all men may be benefactors to their brethren, who spend their lives in devotional exercises. {419} Moreover, it should be recollected that there is no one, to speak in general terms, but is the better for occasional retreats from the world; and the more active and useful is a man's life, the greater is his need of them. But the occasional retirement of the many requires the livelong retirement of the few, and an establishment of recluses is but the sanctuary of the uncloistered. To be shut out from the world is their very duty to the world; to be in leisure is their business; and as well might we call a schoolmaster inactive, or a private circle anti-social, as an institution which devotes itself to repentance, intercession, and giving of thanks, for the benefit of seculars,—as a propitiation in the sight of heaven, and a witness and warning before men,—as the home of the helpless, and the refuge of the downcast,—as a common mould of character, and a bond of mutual love, and a principle of united worship to all, because it is successively the school and confessional of each.

And, lastly, if objectors point to the well-known history of St. Simeon Stylites as an instance of that "secluded exercise of a monastic virtue in an age of darkness," to which Mr. Davison must be referring, we remind such persons that Theodoret, an author for whom he entertained a special respect, informs us, on his own knowledge, that this mystical religionist converted, by means of his pillar, "many myriads" of pagans, which is good work for any man's lifetime, and more than they are likely to do by their own rational religion, one and all of them together.

On the whole, then, we look upon the sentiment of Mr. Davison, on which we have been thus freely commenting, as only another instance, in addition to those which we have mentioned, in which a great mind was unconsciously swayed by deference to the opinions {420} among which he lived, and which, for what we know, could not have been rejected by him, in his particular place and time, without some portion of irreverence, love of paradox, or self-confidence, most foreign to his character. There are ten thousand questions, whether of fact or of opinion, on which every one of us must be content to remain without any view of his own, and must take the current notions of his day, unless he would incur the certainty of being unreal and the risk of being untrue. Mr. Davison probably as little thought of analyzing the popular sentiments of which he was the spokesman, as of looking out for "death in the pot" at his meals, or suspecting arsenic in his candles. It is the trial and mystery of our position in this age and country, that a religious mind is continually set at variance with itself, that its deference to what is without contradicts its suggestions from within, and that it cannot follow what it presages without rebelling against what it has received.

April, 1842.

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