Imatges de pÓgina
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mean and despicable. This or worse is probably Hamlet's opinion for the moment, but that he banishes the thought is curiously proved by the tender passage which follows; for, after sternly rebuking Polonius, Hamlet may be said to excuse himself by implication, and to ask pardon indirectly for the seeming reproach. “Be thou as chaste, he says, 'as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.

And now Hamlet's excitement reaches its greatest height. Goaded within and without, nay, dragged even by his own feelings in two opposite directions, in each of which he suspects he may have gone too far under the eyes of malignant witnesses, he is maddened by the thought that they are still observing him, and as usual, half in wild exultation, half by design, begins to pour forth more and more ,

extravagant reproaches on his kind, He must not commit himself to his love, nor unbosom his hate, nor has he a moment's pause in which to set in order a contrived display of random lunacy. As usual, passion and preconceived gloomy broodings abundantly supply him with declamation which may indicate a deep meaning or be mere madness according to the ears that hear it, while through all his bitter ravings there is visible the anguish of a lover forced to be cruel, and of a destined avenger almost beside himself with the horrors of his provocation and his task. The shafts fly wildly, and are tipped with cynic poison; the bow from which they are sped is a strong and constant though anxious nature, steadily, though with infinite excitement, bent upon the one great purpose fate has imposed upon it. The fitful excesses of his closing speech are the twangings of the bow from which the arrow of avenging destiny shall one day fly straight to the mark.

The exit of Hamlet after this outburst can only be described -as it has been-as 'a flash of frenzy. What that flash reveals--the tenderness, the hate, the despair, the lurid glimpse of a horrid future -must be left to the individual actor. For these things Shakspeare gives no counsel but the teaching of his previous text. If I have read that teaching aright in the few pages I have written, there can be little doubt that the aim of one who acts Hamlet should be to express in this scene as fully as finite powers will permit the conflict of motive and variety of passion which it is as necessary to unite in a credible and vivid personality as to bring out boldly and distinctly in separate relief.

I will only add that Ophelia's understanding of her lover, as revealed in her succeeding speech, is exquisitely compassionate. Her feeling is that of the deepest pity. She is unwounded, though overwhelmed by loss and sorrow. She thinks only of the wreck that fate has made of her beloved. She cannot know or even snspect his grief or his obligations, and to her his state is mere calamity-a sad and unmitigated visitation from Heaven.

HENRY IRVING.

A MODERN 'SYMPOSIUM.'

THE INFLUENCE UPON MORALITY OF A

DECLINE IN RELIGIOUS BELIEF.

DR. WARD.

I agree with the Dean of St. Paul's, that the wording of our question is unfortunately ambiguous ; and I think that this fact has made the discussion in several respects less pointed and less otherwise interesting than it might have been.

For my present purpose, I understand the term religious belief' as including essentially belief in a Personal God and in personal immortality. Less than this is not worthy the name of religious belief; and, on the other hand, I will not refer to any other religious truths than these. I am to inquire, therefore, what would be the influence on morality of a decline in these two beliefs.

But next, what is meant by 'morality'? I will explain as clearly as brevity may permit what I should myself understand by the term; though I am, of course, well aware, that this is by no means the sense in which Sir J. Fitzjames Stephen, or Mr. Harrison, or Professor Clifford, understands it.

I consider that there is a certain authoritative Rule of life,' necessarily not contingently existing, which may be regarded under a twofold aspect. It declares that certain acts (exterior or interior) are intrinsically and necessarily evil; it declares again that some certain act (exterior or interior), even where not actually evil, is by intrinsic necessity, under the circumstances of some given moment, less morally excellent than some certain other act. Any given man, therefore, more effectively practises “morality,' in proportion as he more energetically, predominantly, and successfully aims at adjusting his whole

' To prevent misapprehension I may explain that, in my view, those various neces. sary truths which collectively constitute this rule are, like all other necessary truths, founded on the Essence of God: they are what they are because He is what He is.

conduct, interior and exterior, by this authoritative Rule. Accordingly, when I am asked what is the bearing of some particular influence on morality, I understand myself to be asked how far such influence affects for good or evil the prevalence of that practical habit which I have just described; how far such influence disposes men (or the contrary) to adjust their conduct by this authoritative Rule.

These explanations having been premised, my answer to the proposed question is this. The absence of religious belief- of belief in a Personal God and personal immortality-does not simply injure morality, but, if the disbelievers carry their view ont consistently, utterly clestroys it. I affirm--which, of course, requires proof, though I have no space here to give it—that no one except a Theist can,

in consistency, recognise the necessarily existing authoritative Rule of which I have spoken. But for practical purposes there is no need of this affirmation, because in what follows I shall refer to no other opponents of religion, except that antitheistic body-consisting of Agnostics, Positivists, and the like—which in England just now heads the speculative irreligious movement. Now it is manifest on the very surface of philosophical literature that, as a matter of fact, these men deny in theory the existence of any such necessary authoritative Rule, as that on which I have dwelt. A large proportion of Theists accept it, and call it “the Natural Law;'2 an Agnostic or Positivist denies its existence. It is very clear that he who denies that there is such a thing as a necessarily existing authoritative Rule of life, cannot consistently aim at adjusting any even the smallest part of his conduct by the intimations of that Rule; or, in other words, cannot consistently do so much as one act, which (on the theory which I follow) can be called morally good.

Here, however, a most important explanation must be made. It continually happens that some given philosopher holds some given doctrine speculatively and theoretically, while he holds the precisely contradictory doctrine implicitly and unconsciously; insomuch that it is the latter, and not the former, which he applies to his estimate of events as they successively arise. Now the existence of the Natural Law,—so I would most confidently maintain,-is a truth so firmly rooted by God Himself in the conviction of every reasonable creature, that practically to leaven the human mind with belief of its contradictory is, even under the circumstances most favourable to that purpose, a slow and uphill process. In the early stages, therefore, of antitheistic persuasion, there is a vast gulf between the antitheist's speculative theory and his practical realisation of that theory. Mr. Mallock has set forth this fact, I think, with admirable force, in an article con

1

? The Natural Law more strictly includes only God's prohibition of acts intrinsi. cally evil, and his preception of acts which cannot be omitted without doing what is intrinsically evil. But we may with obvious propriety so extend the term as to include under it God's counselling of those acts which, as clothed in their full cir. cumstances, are by intrinsic necessity the more morally excellent,

tributed by him to the Contemporary of last January. When antitheists say,--such is his argument,—that the pursuit of truth is a sacred,' heroic,“ noble’exercise—when they call one way of living mean, and base, and hateful, and another way of living great, and blessed, and admirable 3_they are guilty of most flagrant inconsistency. They therein use language and conceive thoughts, which are utterly at variance with their own speculative theory. If it be admitted (1) that the idea expressed by the term “moral goodness' is a simple idea, an idea incapable of analysis ; and (2) that to this idea there corresponds a necessary objective reality in rerum naturâ ;-if these two propositions be admitted, the existence of the Natural Law is a truth which irresistibly results from the admission. On the other hand, if these two propositions be not postulated, then to talk of one human act being higher' or “nobler' than another, is as simply unmeaning as to talk of a bed being nobler than a chair, or a plough than a harrow. Whether it be the bed, or the plough, or the human act, it may be more useful than the other article with which it is brought into comparison ; but to speak in either case of nobleness,' is as the sound of a tinkling cymbal. Or rather, which is my present point, the fact of antitheists using such language shows, that their practical belief is so far essentially opposed and (as 1, of course, should say) immeasurably superior to their speculative theory. To my mind there is hardly any truth which needs more to be insisted on than this, in the present crisis of philosophical thought: when antitheism successfully conceals its hideous deformity from its own votaries, by dressing itself up in the very garments of that rival creed which it derides as imbecile and obsolete. I heartily wish I had space for setting forth in full and clear light the argument on which I would here insist. I may refer, however, to Mr. Mallock's article, for an excellent exposition of it from his own point of view; and, in particular, I cannot express too strongly my concurrence with the following remarks:

All the moral feelings (he says) at present afloat in the world depend, as I have already shown, on the primary doctrines of religion; but that the former would outlive the latter is nothing more than we should naturally expect: just as water may go on boiling after it is taken off the fire, as flowers keep their scent and colour after we have plucked them, or as a tree whose roots have been cut may yet put out green leaves for one spring more. But a time must come when all this will be over, and when the true effects of what has been done will begin to show themselves. Nor can there be any reason brought forward to show why, if the creed of unbelief was once fully assented to by the world, all morality—a thing always attended by some pain and struggle--would not gradually wither away, and give place to a more or less successful seeking after pleasure, no matter of what kind.

I would also recall to Sir J. Fitzjames Stephen's remembrance an admirable statement of his, which occurs in the work on · Liberty,

3 Pp. 177-8.

course, that

Equality, and Fraternity.' We cannot judge of the effects of Atheism,' he says, 'from the conduct of persons who have been educated as believers in God, and in the midst of a nation which believes in God. If we should ever see a generation of men, especially a generation of Englishmen, to whom the word “God” has no meaning at all, we should get a light on the subject which might be lurid enough.''

So far I have used the word “morality' in that sense which I account the true one. But a different acceptation of the word is very common; and it will be better perhaps briefly to consider our proposed question, in the sense which that acceptation would give it. Morality, then, is often spoken of as consisting in a man's sacrifice of his personal desires for the public good ; so that each man more faithfully practises (morality,' in proportion as he more effectively postpones private interests to public ones. I have always been extremely surprised that any Theist can use this terminology; though I am well

aware,
of

many

do so. To mention no other of its defects, it excludes from the sphere of morality precisely what a Theist must consider the most noble and elevating branch thereof, viz., men's duties to their Creator. Constant remembrance of God's presence, prayer to Him for moral strength, purging the heart from any such worldly attachment as may interfere with His sovereignty over the affections—these, and a hundred others, which are man's highest moral actions, are excluded by this strange terminology from being moral actions at all. Still in one respect there is great agreement between the two “moralities' in question, for under either of them morality very largely consists in self-denial and selfsacrifice.

Now, if it be asked in what way morality, as so understood, would be affected by the absence of religious belief, I think the true reply is one which has so often been drawn out that I need do no more than indicate it. Firstly, apart from Theistic motives there is no sufficient moral leverage; men would not have the moral strength required for sustained self-denial and self-sacrifice. Secondly and more importantly, if Theistic sanctions were away, no theory could be drawn out explaining why it should be reasonable that a man sacrifice his personal interest to that of his fellows.

On this matter I am glad that I have the opportunity of drawing attention to a very fine passage of Mr. Goldwin Smith's, published in the Macmillan of last January.

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Materialism has in fact already begun to show its effects on human conduct and on society. They may perhaps be more visible in communities where social conduct depends greatly on individual conviction and motive than in communities which are more ruled by tradition and bound together by strong class organisations ; though the decay of morality will perhaps be more complete and disastrous in the latter than in the former. God and future retribution being out of the question, it

. Second edition, p. 326.

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