THE QUESTIONING FERVOUR.
And now I turn to the other class--that which, while the former has fled
to tradition for refuge from doubt, sets its face towards the spiritual
east, and in prayer and sorrow and hope looks for a dawn--the noble band
of reverent doubters--as unlike those of the last century who scoffed, as
those of the present who pass on the other side. They too would know; but
they know enough already to know further, that it is from the hills and
not from the mines their aid must come. They know that a perfect
intellectual proof would leave them doubting all the same; that their
high questions cannot be answered to the intellect alone, for their whole
nature is the questioner; that the answers can only come as questioners
and their questions grow towards them. Hence, growing hope, blossoming
ever and anon into the white flower of confidence, is their answer as
yet; their hope--the Beatific Vision--the happy-making sight, as Milton
renders the word of the mystics.
It is strange how gentle a certain large class of the priesthood will be
with those who, believing there is a God, find it hard to trust him, and
how fierce with those who, unable, from the lack of harmony around and in
them, to say they are sure there is a God, would yet, could they find
him, trust him indeed. "Ah, but," answer such of the clergy and their
followers, "you want a God of your own making." "Certainly," the doubters
reply, "we do not want a God of your making: that would be to turn the
universe into a hell, and you into its torturing demons. We want a God
like that man whose name is so often on your lips, but whose spirit you
understand so little--so like him that he shall be the bread of life to
all our hunger--not that hunger only already satisfied in you, who take
the limit of your present consciousness for that of the race, and say,
'This is all the world needs:' we know the bitterness of our own hearts,
and your incapacity for intermeddling with its joy. We
have another mountain-range, from whence
Bursteth a sun unutterably bright;
nor for us only, but for you also, who will not have the truth except it
come to you in a system authorized of man."
I have attributed a general utterance to these men, widely different from
each other as I know they are.
Here is a voice from one of them, Arthur Hugh Clough, who died in 1861,
well beloved. It follows upon two fine poems, called The Questioning
Spirit, and Bethesda, in which is represented the condition of many of
the finest minds of the present century. Let us receive it as spoken by
one in the foremost ranks of these doubters, men reviled by their
brethren who dare not doubt for fear of offending the God to whom they
attribute their own jealousy. But God is assuredly pleased with those who
will neither lie for him, quench their dim vision of himself, nor count
that his mind which they would despise in a man of his making.
Across the sea, along the shore,
In numbers more and ever more,
From lonely hut and busy town,
The valley through, the mountain down,
What was it ye went out to see,
Ye silly folk of Galilee?
The reed that in the wind doth shake?
The weed that washes in the lake?
The reeds that waver, the weeds that float?--
young man preaching in a boat.
What was it ye went out to hear
By sea and land, from far and near?
A teacher? Rather seek the feet
Of those who sit in Moses' seat.
Go humbly seek, and bow to them,
Far off in great Jerusalem.
From them that in her courts ye saw,
Her perfect doctors of the law,
What is it came ye here to note?--
A young man preaching in a boat
- prophet! Boys and women weak!
Declare, or cease to rave:
Whence is it he hath learned to speak?
Say, who his doctrine gave?
- prophet? Prophet wherefore he
Of all in Israel tribes?--
He teacheth with authority,
And not as do the Scribes.
Here is another from one who will not be offended if I class him with
this school--the finest of critics as one of the most finished of
poets--Matthew Arnold. Only my reader must remember that of none of my
poets am I free to choose that which is most characteristic: I have the
scope of my volume to restrain me.