Chapter 3.

{16} NEITHER of the friends had what are called views in religion; by which expression we do not here signify that neither had taken up a certain line of opinion, though this was the case also; but that neither of them—how could they at their age?—had placed his religion on an intellectual basis. It may be as well to state more distinctly what a "view" is, what it is to be "viewy," and what is the state of those who have no "views". When, then, men for the first time look upon the world of politics or religion, all that they find there meets their mind's eye as a landscape addresses itself for the first time to a person who has just gained his bodily sight. One thing is as far off as another; there is no perspective. The connection of fact with fact, truth with truth, the bearing of fact upon truth, and truth upon fact, what leads to what, what are points primary and what secondary—all this they have yet to learn. It is all a new science to them, and they do not even know their ignorance of it. Moreover, the world of today has no connection in their minds with the world of yesterday; time is not a stream, but stands before them round and full, like the moon. {17} They do not know what happened ten years ago, much less the annals of a century; the past does not live to them in the present; they do not understand the worth of contested points; names have no associations for them, and persons kindle no recollections. They hear of men, and things, and projects, and struggles, and principles; but everything comes and goes like the wind, nothing makes an impression, nothing penetrates, nothing has its place in their minds. They locate nothing: they have no system. They hear and they forget; or they just recollect what they have once heard, they can't tell where. Thus they have no consistency in their arguments; that is, they argue one way today, and not exactly the other way tomorrow, but indirectly the other way, at random. Their lines of argument diverge; nothing comes to a point; there is no one centre in which their minds sits, on which their judgment of men and things proceeds. This is the state of many men all through life; and miserable politicians or Churchmen they make, unless by good luck they are in safe hands, and ruled by others, or are pledged to a course. Else they are at the mercy of the winds and waves; and, without being Radical, Whig, Tory, or Conservative, High Church or Low Church, they do Whig acts, Tory acts, Catholic acts, and heretical acts, as the fit takes them, or as events or parties drive them. And sometimes, when their self-importance is hurt, they take refuge in the idea that all this is a proof that they are unfettered, moderate, dispassionate, that they observe the mean, that they are "no party men"; when they are, in {18} fact, the most helpless of slaves; for our strength in this world is, to be the subjects of the reason, and our liberty, to be captives of the truth.

Now Charles Reding, a youth of twenty, could not be supposed to have much of a view in religion or politics; but no clever man allows himself to judge of things simply at haphazard; he is obliged, from a sort of self-respect, to have some rule or other, true or false; and Charles was very fond of the maxim, which he has already enunciated, that we must measure people by what they are, and not by what they are not. He had a great notion of loving every one—of looking kindly on every one; he was pierced with the sentiment which he had seen in a popular volume of poetry, that—

                         "Christian souls, ...
Though worn and soil'd with sinful clay,
Are yet, to eyes that see them true,
All glistening with baptismal dew".

He liked, as he walked along the road, and met labourer or horseman, gentleman or beggar, to say to himself, "He is a Christian". And when he came to Oxford, he came there with an enthusiasm so simple and warm as to be almost childish. He reverenced even the velvet of the Pro.; nay, the cocked hat which preceded the Preacher had its claim on his deferential regard. Without being himself a poet, he was in the season of poetry, in the sweet spring-time, when the year is most beautiful, because it is new. Novelty was beauty to a heart so open and cheerful as his; not only because it was novelty, and had its proper charm as such, but because when we first see things, we see {19} them in a "gay confusion," which is a principal element of the poetical. As time goes on, and we number and sort and measure things—as we gain views—we advance towards philosophy and truth, but we recede from poetry.

When we ourselves were young, we once on a time walked on a hot summer day from Oxford to Newington—a dull road, as any one who has gone it knows; yet it was new to us; and we protest to you, reader, believe it or not, laugh or not, as you will, to us it seemed on that occasion quite touchingly beautiful; and a soft melancholy came over us, of which the shadows fall even now, when we look back on that dusty, weary journey. And why? because every object which met us was unknown and full of mystery. A tree or two in the distance seemed the beginning of a great wood or park, stretching endlessly; a hill implied a vale beyond, with that vale's history; the bye-lanes, with their green hedges, wound and vanished, yet were not lost to the imagination. Such was our first journey; but when we had gone it several times, the mind refused to act, the scene ceased to enchant, stern reality alone remained; and we thought it one of the most tiresome, odious roads we ever had occasion to traverse.

But to return to our story. Such was Reding. But Sheffield, on the other hand, without possessing any real view of things more than Charles, was, at this time, fonder of hunting for views, and more in danger of taking up false ones. That is, he was "viewy," in a bad sense of the word. He was not satisfied intellectually with things as they are; he was critical, {20} impatient to reduce things to system, pushed principles too far, was fond of argument, partly from pleasure in the exercise, partly because he was perplexed, though he did not lay anything very much to heart.

They neither of them felt any special interest in the controversy going on in the University and country about High and Low Church. Sheffield had a sort of contempt for it; and Reding felt it to be bad taste to be unusual or prominent in anything. An Eton acquaintance had asked him to go and hear one of the principal preachers of the Catholic party, and offered to introduce him; but he had declined it. He did not like, he said, mixing himself up with party; he had come to Oxford to get his degree, and not to take up opinions; he thought his father would not relish it; and, moreover, he felt some little repugnance to such opinions and such people, under the notion that the authorities of the University were opposed to the whole movement. He could not help looking at its leaders as demagogues; and towards demagogues he felt an unmeasured aversion and contempt. He did not see why clergymen, however respectable, should be collecting undergraduates about them; and he heard stories of their way of going on which did not please him. Moreover, he did not like the specimens of their followers whom he fell in with; they were forward, or they "talked strong," as it was called; did ridiculous, extravagant acts; and sometimes neglected their college duties for things which did not concern them. He was unfortunate, certainly: for this is a very unfair account of the most exemplary men of that day, who doubtless {21} are still, as clergymen or laymen, the strength of the Anglican Church; but in all collections of men, the straw and rubbish (as Lord Bacon says) float on the top, while gold and jewels sink and are hidden. Or, what is more apposite still, many men, or most men, are a compound of precious and worthless together, and their worthless swims, and their precious lies at the bottom.

Chapter 1-4

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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