The Pleasures of England (1888)/The Pleasures of Faith

 

LECTURE II.

THE PLEASURES OF FAITH.


ALFRED TO THE CONFESSOR.

I WAS forced in my last lecture to pass by altogether, and to-day can only with momentary definition notice, the part taken by Scottish missionaries in the Christianizing of England and Burgundy. I would pray you therefore, in order to fill the gap which I think it better to leave distinctly, than close confusedly, to read the histories of St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Columban, as they are given you by Montalembert in his 'Moines d'Occident.' You will find in his pages all the essential facts that are known, encircled with a nimbus of enthusiastic sympathy which I hope you will like better to see them through, than distorted by blackening fog of contemptuous rationalism. But although I ask you thus to make yourselves aware of the greatness of my omission, I must also certify you that it does not break the unity of our own immediate subject. The influence of Celtic passion and art both on Northumbria and the Continent, beneficent in all respects while it lasted, expired without any permanent share in the work or emotion of the Saxon and Frank. The book of Kells, and the bell of St. Patrick, represent sufficiently the peculiar character of Celtic design; and long since, in the first lecture of the 'Two Paths,' I explained both the modes of skill, and points of weakness, which rendered such design unprogressive. Perfect in its peculiar manner, and exulting in the faultless practice of a narrow skill, it remained century after century incapable alike of inner growth, or foreign instruction; inimitable, yet incorrigible; marvellous, yet despicable, to its death. Despicable, I mean, only in the limitation of its capacity, not in its quality or nature. If you make a Christian of a lamb or a squirrel—what can you expect of the lamb but jumping—what of the squirrel, but pretty spirals, traced with his tail? He won't steal your nuts any more, and he'll say his prayers like this—[1]; but you cannot make a Beatrice's griffin, and emblem of all the Catholic Church, out of him.

You will have observed, also, that the plan of these lectures does not include any reference to the Roman Period in England; of which you will find all I think necessary to say, in the part called Valle Crucis of 'Our Fathers have told us.' But I must here warn you, with reference to it, of one gravely false prejudice of Montalembert. He is entirely blind to the conditions of Roman virtue, which existed in the midst of the corruptions of the Empire, forming the characters of such Emperors as Pertinax, Carus, Probus, the second Claudius, Aurelian, and our own Constantius; and he denies, with abusive violence, the power for good, of Roman Law, over the Gauls and Britons.

Respecting Roman national character, I will simply beg you to remember, that both St. Benedict and St. Gregory are Roman patricians, before they are either monk or pope; respecting its influence on Britain, I think you may rest content with Shakespeare's estimate of it. Both Lear and Cymbeline belong to this time, so difficult to our apprehension, when the Briton accepted both Roman laws and Roman gods. There is indeed the born Kentish gentleman's protest against them in Kent's—

"Now, by Apollo, king,
Thou swear'st thy gods in vain";

but both Cordelia and Imogen are just as thoroughly Roman ladies, as Virgilia or Calphurnia.

Of British Christianity and the Arthurian Legends, I shall have a word or two to say in my lecture on "Fancy," in connection with the similar romance which surrounds Theodoric and Charlemagne: only the worst of it is, that while both Dietrich and Karl are themselves more wonderful than the legends of them, Arthur fades into intangible vision:—this much, however, remains to this day, of Arthurian blood in us, that the richest fighting element in the British army and navy is British native,—that is to say, Highlander, Irish, Welsh, and Cornish.

Content, therefore, (means being now given you for filling gaps,) with the estimates given you in the preceding lecture of the sources of instruction possessed by the Saxon capital, I pursue to-day our question originally proposed, what London might have been by this time, if the nature of the flowers, trees, and children, born at the Thames-side, had been rightly understood and cultivated.

Many of my hearers can imagine far better than I, the look that London must have had in Alfred's and Canute's days.[2] I have not, indeed, the least idea myself what its buildings were like, but certainly the groups of its shipping must have been superb; small, but entirely seaworthy vessels, manned by the best seamen in the then world. Of course, now, at Chatham and Portsmouth we have our ironclads,—extremely beautiful and beautifully manageable things, no doubt—to set against this Saxon and Danish shipping; but the Saxon war-ships lay here at London shore—bright with banner and shield and dragon prow,—instead of these you may be happier, but are not handsomer, in having, now, the coal-barge, the penny steamer, and the wherry full of shop boys and girls. I dwell however for a moment only on the naval aspect of the tidal waters in the days of Alfred, because I can refer you for all detail on this part of our subject to the wonderful opening chapter of Dean Stanley's History of Westminster Abbey, where you will find the origin of the name of London given as "The City of Ships." He does not, however, tell you, that there were built, then and there, the biggest war-ships in the world. I have often said to friends who praised my own books that I would rather have written that chapter than any one of them; yet if I had been able to write the historical part of it, the conclusions drawn would have been extremely different. The Dean indeed describes with a poet's joy the River of wells, which rose from those "once consecrated springs which now lie choked in Holywell and Clerkenwell, and the rivulet of Ulebrig which crossed the Strand under the Ivy bridge"; but it is only in the spirit of a modern citizen of Belgravia that he exults in the fact that "the great arteries of our crowded streets, the vast sewers which cleanse our habitations, are fed by the life-blood of those old and living streams; that underneath our tread the Tyburn, and the Holborn, and the Fleet, and the Wall Brook, are still pursuing their ceaseless course, still ministering to the good of man, though in a far different fashion than when Druids drank of their sacred springs, and Saxons were baptized in their rushing waters, ages ago."

Whatever sympathy you may feel with these eloquent expressions of that entire complacency in the present, past, and future, which peculiarly animates Dean Stanley's writings, I must, in this case, pray you to observe that the transmutation of holy wells into sewers has, at least, destroyed the charm and utility of the Thames as a salmon stream, and I must ask you to read with attention the succeeding portions of the chapter which record the legends of the river fisheries in their relation to the first Abbey of Westminster; dedicated by its builders to St. Peter, not merely in his office of cornerstone of the Church, nor even figuratively as a fisher of men, but directly as a fisher of fish:—and which maintained themselves, you will see, in actual ceremony down to 1382, when a fisherman still annually took his place beside the Prior, after having brought in a salmon for St. Peter, which was carried in state down the middle of the refectory.

But as I refer to this page for the exact word, my eye is caught by one of the sentences of Londonian[3] thought which constantly pervert the well-meant books of pious England. "We see also," says the Dean, "the union of innocent fiction with worldly craft, which marks so many of the legends both of Pagan and Christian times." I might simply reply to this insinuation that times which have no legends differ from the legendary ones merely by uniting guilty, instead of innocent, fiction, with worldly craft; but I must farther advise you that the legends of these passionate times are in no wise, and in no sense, fiction at all; but the true record of impressions made on the minds of persons in a state of eager spiritual excitement, brought into bright focus by acting steadily and frankly under its impulses. I could tell you a great deal more about such things than you would believe, and therefore, a great deal more than it would do you the least good to hear;—but this much any who care to use their common sense modestly, cannot but admit, that unless they choose to try the rough life of the Christian ages, they cannot understand its practical consequences. You have all been taught by Lord Macaulay and his school that because you have Carpets instead of rushes for your feet; and Feather-beds instead of fern for your backs; and Kickshaws instead of beef for your eating; and Drains instead of Holy Wells for your drinking;—that, therefore, you are the Cream of Creation, and every one of you a seven-headed Solomon. Stay in those pleasant circumstances and convictions if you please; but don't accuse your roughly bred and fed fathers of telling lies about the aspect the earth and sky bore to them,—till you have trodden the earth as they, barefoot, and seen the heavens as they, face to face. If you care to see and to know for yourselves, you may do it with little pains; you need not do any great thing, you needn't keep one eye open and the other shut for ten years over a microscope, nor fight your way through icebergs and darkness to knowledge of the celestial pole. Simply, do as much as king after king of the Saxons did,—put rough shoes on your feet and a rough cloak on your shoulders, and walk to Rome and back. Sleep by the roadside, when it is fine,—in the first outhouse you can find, when it is wet; and live on bread and water, with an onion or two, all the way; and if the experiences which you will have to relate on your return do not, as may well be, deserve the name of spiritual; at all events you will not be disposed to let other people regard them either as Poetry or Fiction.

With this warning, presently to be at greater length insisted on, I trace for you, in Dean Stanley's words, which cannot be bettered except in the collection of their more earnest passages from among his interludes of graceful but dangerous qualification,—I trace, with only such omission, the story he has told us of the foundation of that Abbey, which, he tells you, was the Mother of London, and has ever been the shrine and the throne of English faith and truth.

"The gradual formation of a monastic body, indicated in the charters of Offa and Edgar, marks the spread of the Benedictine order throughout England, under the influence of Dunstan. The 'terror' of the spot, which had still been its chief characteristic in the charter of the wild Offa, had, in the days of the more peaceful Edgar, given way to a dubious 'renown.' Twelve monks is the number traditionally said to have been established by Dunstan. A few acres further up the river formed their chief property, and their monastic character was sufficiently recognized to have given to the old locality of the 'terrible place' the name of the 'Western Monastery,' or 'Minster of the West.'"

The Benedictines then—twelve Benedictine monks—thus begin the building of existent Christian London. You know I told you the Benedictines are the Doing people, as the disciples of St. Augustine the Sentimental people. The Benedictines find no terror in their own thoughts—face the terror of places—change it into beauty of places,—make this terrible place, a Motherly Place—Mother of London.

This first Westminster, however, the Dean goes on to say, "seems to have been overrun by the Danes, and it would have had no further history but for the combination of circumstances which directed hither the notice of Edward the Confessor.

I haven't time to read you all the combination of circumstances. The last clinching circumstance was this—

"There was in the neighbourhood of Worcester, 'far from men in the wilderness, on the slope of a wood, in a cave deep down in the grey rock,' a holy hermit 'of great age, living on fruits and roots.' One night when, after reading in the Scriptures 'how hard are the pains of hell, and how the enduring life of Heaven is sweet and to be desired,' he could neither sleep nor repose, St. Peter appeared to him, 'bright and beautiful, like to a clerk,' and warned him to tell the King that he was released from his vow; that on that very day his messengers would return from Rome;" (that is the combination of circumstances—bringing Pope's order to build a church to release the King from his vow of pilgrimage); "that 'at Thorney, two leagues from the city,' was the spot marked out where, in an ancient church, 'situated low,' he was to establish a perfect Benedictine monastery, which should be 'the gate of heaven, the ladder of prayer, whence those who serve St. Peter there, shall by him be admitted into Paradise.' The hermit writes the account of the vision on parchment, seals it with wax, and brings it to the King, who compares it with the answer of the messengers, just arrived from Rome, and determines on carrying out the design as the Apostle had ordered.

"The ancient church, 'situated low,' indicated in this vision the one whose attached monastery had been destroyed by the Danes, but its little church remained, and was already dear to the Confessor, not only from the lovely tradition of its dedication by the spirit of St. Peter;" (you must read that for yourselves;) "but also because of two miracles happening there to the King himself.

"The first was the cure of a cripple, who sat in the road between the Palace and 'the Chapel of St. Peter,' which was 'near,' and who explained to the Chamberlain Hugolin that, after six pilgrimages to Rome in vain, St. Peter had promised his cure if the King would, on his own royal neck, carry him to the Monastery. The King immediately consented; and, amidst the scoffs of the court, bore the poor man to the steps of the High Altar. There the cripple was received by Godric the sacristan, and walked away on his own restored feet, hanging his stool on the wall for a trophy.

"Before that same High Altar was also believed to have been seen one of the Eucharistical portents, so frequent in the Middle Ages. A child, 'pure and bright like a spirit,' appeared to the King in the sacramental elements. Leofric, Earl of Mercia, who, with his famous countess, Godiva, was present, saw it also.

"Such as these were the motives of Edward. Under their influence was fixed what has ever since been the local centre of the English monarchy."

"Such as these were the motives of Edward," says the Dean. Yes, certainly; but such as these also, first, were the acts and visions of Edward. Take care that you don't slip away, by the help of the glycerine of the word "motives," into fancying that all these tales are only the after colours and pictorial metaphors of sentimental piety. They are either plain truth or black lies; take your choice,—but don't tickle and treat yourselves with the prettiness or the grotesqueness of them, as if they were Anderssen's fairy tales. Either the King did carry the beggar on his back, or he didn't; either Godiva rode through Coventry, or she didn't; either the Earl Leofric saw the vision of the bright child at the altar—or he lied like a knave. Judge, as you will; but do not Doubt.

"The Abbey was fifteen years in building. The King spent upon it one-tenth of the property of the kingdom. It was to be a marvel of its kind. As in its origin it bore the traces of the fantastic and childish" (I must pause, to ask you to substitute for these blameful terms, 'fantastic and childish,' the better ones of 'imaginative and pure') "character of the King and of the age; in its architecture it bore the stamp of the peculiar position which Edward occupied in English history between Saxon and Norman. By birth he was a Saxon, but in all else he was a foreigner. Accordingly the Church at Westminster was a wide sweeping innovation on all that had been seen before. 'Destroying the old building,' he says in his charter, 'I have built up a new one from the very foundation.' Its fame as a 'new style of composition' lingered in the minds of men for generations. It was the first cruciform church in England, from which all the rest of like shape were copied—an expression of the increasing hold which, in the tenth century, the idea of the Crucifixion had laid on the imagination of Europe. The massive roof and pillars formed a contrast with the rude wooden rafters and beams of the common Saxon churches. Its very size—occupying, as it did, almost the whole area of the present building—was in itself portentous. The deep foundations, of large square blocks of grey stone, were duly laid; the east end was rounded into an apse; a tower rose in the centre, crowned by a cupola of wood. At the western end were erected two smaller towers, with five large bells. The hard strong stones were richly sculptured; the windows were filled with stained glass; the roof was covered with lead. The cloisters, chapter-house, refectory, dormitory, the infirmary, with its spacious chapel, if not completed by Edward, were all begun, and finished in the next generation on the same plan. This structure, venerable as it would be if it had lasted to our time, has almost entirely vanished. Possibly one vast dark arch in the southern transept, certainly the substructures of the dormitory, with their huge pillars, 'grand and regal at the bases and capitals,' the massive, low-browed passage leading from the great cloister to Little Dean's Yard, and some portions of the refectory and of the infirmary chapel, remain as specimens of the work which astonished the last age of the Anglo-Saxon and the first age of the Norman monarchy."

Hitherto I have read to you with only supplemental comment. But in the next following passage, with which I close my series of extracts, sentence after sentence occurs, at which as I read, I must raise my hand, to mark it for following deprecation, or denial.

"In the centre of Westminster Abbey thus lies its Founder, and such is the story of its foundation. Even apart from the legendary elements in which it is involved, it is impossible not to be struck by the fantastic character of all its circumstances. We seem to be in a world of poetry." (I protest, No.) "Edward is four centuries later than Ethelbert and Augustine; but the origin of Canterbury is commonplace and prosaic compared with the origin of Westminster." (Yes, that's true.) "We can hardly imagine a figure more incongruous to the soberness of later times than the quaint, irresolute, wayward prince whose chief characteristics have just been described. His titles of Confessor and Saint belong not to the general instincts of Christendom; but to the most transitory feelings of the age." (I protest, No.) "His opinions, his prevailing motives, were such as in no part of modern Europe would now be shared by any educated teacher or ruler." (That's true enough.) "But in spite of these irreconcilable differences, there was a solid ground for the charm which he exercised over his contemporaries. His childish and eccentric fancies have passed away;" (I protest, No;) "but his innocent faith and his sympathy with his people are qualities which, even in our altered times, may still retain their place in the economy of the world. Westminster Abbey, so we hear it said, sometimes with a cynical sneer, sometimes with a timorous scruple, has admitted within its walls many who have been great without being good, noble with a nobleness of the earth earthy, worldly with the wisdom of this world. But it is a counterbalancing reflection, that the central tomb, round which all those famous names have clustered, contains the ashes of one who, weak and erring as he was, rests his claims of interment here, not on any act of power or fame, but only on his artless piety and simple goodness. He, towards whose dust was attracted the fierce Norman, and the proud Plantagenet, and the grasping Tudor, and the fickle Stuart, even the Independent Oliver, the Dutch William, and the Hanoverian George, was one whose humble graces are within the reach of every man, woman, and child of every time, if we rightly part the immortal substance from the perishable form."

Now I have read you these passages from Dean Stanley as the most accurately investigatory, the most generously sympathetic, the most reverently acceptant account of these days, and their people, which you can yet find in any English history. But consider now, point by point, where it leaves you. You are told, first, that you are living in an age of poetry. But the days of poetry are those of Shakespeare and Milton, not of Bede: nay, for their especial wealth in melodious theology and beautifully rhythmic and pathetic meditation, perhaps the days which have given us 'Hiawatha,' 'In Memoriam,' 'The Christian Year,' and the 'Soul's Diary' of George Macdonald, may be not with disgrace compared with those of Caedmon. And nothing can be farther different from the temper, nothing less conscious of the effort, of a poet, than any finally authentic document to which you can be referred for the relation of a Saxon miracle.

I will read you, for a perfectly typical example, an account of one from Bede's 'Life of St. Cuthbert.' The passage is a favourite one of my own, but I do not in the least anticipate its producing upon you the solemnizing effect which I think I could command from reading, instead, a piece of 'Marmion,' 'Manfred,' or 'Childe Harold.'


. . . "He had one day left his cell to give advice to some visitors; and when he had finished, he said to them, 'I must now go in again, but do you, as you are inclined to depart, first take food; and when you have cooked and eaten that goose which is hanging on the wall, go on board your vessel in God's name and return home.' He then uttered a prayer, and, having blessed them, went in. But they, as he had bidden them, took some food; but having enough provisions of their own, which they had brought with them, they did not touch the goose.

"But when they had refreshed themselves they tried to go on board their vessel, but a sudden storm utterly prevented them from putting to sea. They were thus detained seven days in the island by the roughness of the waves, and yet they could not call to mind what fault they had committed. They therefore returned to have an interview with the holy father, and to lament to him their detention. He exhorted them to be patient, and on the seventh day came out to console their sorrow, and to give them, pious exhortations. When, however, he had entered the house in which they were stopping, and saw that the goose was not eaten, he reproved their disobedience with mild countenance and in gentle language: 'Have you not left the goose still hanging in its place? What wonder is it that the storm has prevented your departure? Put it immediately into the caldron, and boil and eat it, that the sea may become tranquil, and you may return home.'

"They immediately did as he commanded; and it happened most wonderfully that the moment the kettle began to boil the wind began to cease, and the waves to be still. Having finished their repast, and seeing that the sea was calm, they went on board, and to their great delight, though with shame for their neglect, reached home with a fair wind. Now this, as I have related, I did not pick up from any chance authority, but I had it from one of those who were present, a most reverend monk and priest of the same monastery, Cynemund. who still lives, known to many in the neighbourhood for his years and the purity of his life."


I hope that the memory of this story, which, thinking it myself an extremely pretty one, I have given you, not only for a type of sincerity and simplicity, but for an illustration of obedience, may at all events quit you, for good and all, of the notion that the believers and witnesses of miracle were poetical persons. Saying no more on the head of that allegation, I proceed to the Dean's second one, which I cannot but interpret as also intended to be injurious,—that they were artless and childish ones; and that because of this rudeness and puerility, their motives and opinions would not be shared by any statesmen of the present day.

It is perfectly true that Edward the Confessor was himself in many respects of really childish temperament; not therefore, perhaps, as I before suggested to you, less venerable. But the age of which we are examining the progress, was by no means represented or governed by men of similar disposition. It was eminently productive of—it was altogether governed, guided, and instructed by—men of the widest and most brilliant faculties, whether constructive or speculative, that the world till then had seen; men whose acts became the romance, whose thoughts the wisdom, and whose arts the treasure, of a thousand years of futurity.

I warned you at the close of last lecture against the too agreeable vanity of supposing that the Evangelization of the world began at St. Martin's, Canterbury. Again and again you will indeed find the stream of the Gospel contracting itself into narrow channels, and appearing, after long-concealed filtration, through veins of unmeasured rock, with the bright resilience of a mountain spring. But you will find it the only candid, and therefore the only wise, way of research, to look in each era of Christendom for the minds of culminating power in all its brotherhood of nations; and, careless of local impulse, momentary zeal, picturesque incident, or vaunted miracle, to fasten your attention upon the force of character in the men, whom, over each newly-converted race. Heaven visibly sets for its shepherds and kings, to bring forth judgment unto victory. Of these I will name to you, as messengers of God and masters of men, five monks and five kings; in whose arms during the range of swiftly gainful centuries which we are following, the life of the world lay as a nursling babe. Remember, in their successive order,—of monks, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Martin, St. Benedict, and St. Gregory; of kings,—and your national vanity may be surely enough appeased in recognizing two of them for Saxon,—Theodoric, Charlemagne, Alfred, Canute, and the Confessor. I will read three passages to you, out of the literal words of three of these ten men, without saying whose they are, that you may compare them with the best and most exalted you have read expressing the philosophy, the religion, and the policy of to-day,—from which I admit, with Dean Stanley, but with a far different meaning from his, that they are indeed separate for evermore.

I give you first, for an example of Philosophy, a single sentence, containing all—so far as I can myself discern—that it is possible for us to know, or well for us to believe, respecting the world and its laws.

"Of God's Universal Providence, ruling all, and comprising all.

"Wherefore the great and mighty God; He that made man a reasonable creature of soul and body, and He that did neither let him pass unpunished for his sin, nor yet excluded him from mercy; He that gave, both unto good and bad, essence with the stones, power of production with the trees, senses with the beasts of the field, and understanding with the angels; He from whom is all being, beauty, form, and order, number, weight, and measure; He from whom all nature, mean and excellent, all seeds of form, all forms of seed, all motion, both of forms and seeds, derive and have being; He that gave flesh the Original beauty, strength, propagation, form and shape, health and symmetry; He that gave the unreasonable soul, sense, memory, and appetite; the reasonable, besides these, fantasy, understanding, and will; He, I say, having left neither heaven, nor earth, nor angel, nor man, no, nor the most base and contemptible creature, neither the bird's feather, nor the herb's flower, nor the tree's leaf, without the true harmony of their parts, and peaceful concord of composition:—It is in no way credible that He would leave the kingdoms of men and their bondages and freedom loose and uncomprised in the laws of His eternal providence."[4]


This for the philosophy.[5] Next, I take for example of the Religion of our ancestors, a prayer, personally and passionately offered to the Deity conceived as you have this moment heard.


"O Thou who art the Father of that Son which has awakened us, and yet urgeth us out of the sleep of our sins, and exhorteth us that we become Thine;" (note you that, for apprehension of what Redemption means, against your base and cowardly modern notion of 'scaping whipping. Not to take away the Punishment of Sin, but by His Resurrection to raise us out of the sleep of sin itself! Compare the legend at the feet of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the golden Gospel of Charles le Chauve[6]:—

"Hic Leo Surgendo portas confregit Averni
 Qui nunquam dormit, nusquam dormitat in ævum;")


"to Thee, Lord, I pray, who art the supreme truth; for all the truth that is, is truth from Thee. Thee I implore, O Lord, who art the highest wisdom. Through Thee are wise all those that are so. Thou art the true life, and through Thee are living all those that are so. Thou art the supreme felicity, and from Thee all have become happy that are so. Thou art the highest good, and from Thee all beauty springs. Thou art the intellectual light, and from Thee man derives his understanding.

"To Thee, O God, I call and speak. Hear, O hear me, Lord! for Thou art my God and my Lord; my Father and my Creator; my ruler and my hope; my wealth and my honour; my house, my country, my salvation, and my life! Hear, hear me, O Lord! Few of Thy servants comprehend Thee. But Thee alone I love,[7] indeed, above all other things. Thee I seek: Thee I will follow: Thee I am ready to serve. Under Thy power I desire to abide, for Thou alone art the Sovereign of all. I pray Thee to command me as Thou wilt."


You see this prayer is simply the expansion of that clause of the Lord's Prayer which most men eagerly omit from it,—Fiat voluntas tua. In being so, it sums the Christian prayer of all ages. See now, in the third place, how far this king's letter I am going to read to you sums also Christian Policy.


"Wherefore I render high thanks to Almighty God, for the happy accomplishment of all the desires which I have set before me, and for the satisfying of my every wish.

"Now therefore, be it known to you all, that to Almighty God Himself I have, on my knees, devoted my life, to the end that in all things I may do justice, and with justice and rightness rule the kingdoms and peoples under me; throughout everything preserving an impartial judgment. If, heretofore, I have, through being, as young men are, impulsive or careless, done anything unjust, I mean, with God's help, to lose no time in remedying my fault. To which end I call to witness my counsellors, to whom I have entrusted the counsels of the kingdom, and I charge them that by no means, be it through fear of me, or the favour of any other powerful personage, to consent to any injustice, or to suffer any to shoot out in any part of my kingdom. I charge all my viscounts and those set over my whole kingdom, as they wish to keep my friendship or their own safety, to use no unjust force to any man, rich or poor; let all men, noble and not noble, rich and poor alike, be able to obtain their rights under the law's justice; and from that law let there be no deviation, either to favour the king or any powerful person, nor to raise money for me. I have no need of money raised by what is unfair. I also would have you know that I go now to make peace and firm treaty by the counsels of all my subjects, with those nations and people who wished, had it been possible for them to do so, which it was not, to deprive us alike, of kingdom and of life. God brought down their strength to nought: and may He of His benign love preserve us on our throne and in honour. Lastly, when I have made peace with the neighbouring nations, and settled and pacified all my dominions in the East, so that we may nowhere have any war or enmity to fear, I mean to come to England this summer, as soon as I can fit out vessels to sail. My reason, however, in sending this letter first is to let all the people of my kingdom share in the joy of my welfare: for as you yourselves know, I have never spared myself or my labour; nor will I ever do so, where my people are really in want of some good that I can do them."


What think you now, in candour and honour, you youth of the latter days,—what think you of these types of the thought, devotion, and government, which not in words, but pregnant and perpetual fact, animated these which you have been accustomed to call the Dark Ages?

The Philosophy is Augustine's; the Prayer Alfred's; and the Letter Canute's.

And, whatever you may feel respecting the beauty or wisdom of these sayings, be assured of one thing above all, that they are sincere; and of another, less often observed, that they are joyful.

Be assured, in the first place, that they are sincere. The ideas of diplomacy and priestcraft are of recent times. No false knight or lying priest ever prospered, I believe, in any age, but certainly not in the dark ones. Men prospered then, only in following openly-declared purposes, and preaching candidly beloved and trusted creeds.

And that they did so prosper, in the degree in which they accepted and proclaimed the Christian Gospel, may be seen by any of you in your historical reading, however partial, if only you will admit the idea that it could be so, and was likely to be so. You are all of you in the habit of supposing that temporal prosperity is owing either to worldly chance or to worldly prudence; and is never granted in any visible relation to states of religious temper. Put that treacherous doubt away from you, with disdain; take for basis of reasoning the noble postulate, that the elements of Christian faith are sound,—instead of the base one, that they are deceptive; reread the great story of the world in that light, and see what a vividly real, yet miraculous tenor, it will then bear to you.

Their faith then, I tell you first, was sincere; I tell you secondly that it was, in a degree few of us can now conceive, joyful. We continually hear of the trials, sometimes of the victories, of Faith,—but scarcely ever of its pleasures. Whereas, at this time, you will find that the chief delight of all good men was in the recognition of the goodness and wisdom of the Master, who had come to dwell with them upon earth. It is almost impossible for you to conceive the vividness of this sense in them; it is totally impossible for you to conceive the comfort, peace, and force of it. In everything that you now do or seek, you expose yourselves to countless miseries of shame and disappointment, because in your doing you depend on nothing but your own powers, and in seeking choose only your own gratification. You cannot for the most part conceive of any work but for your own Interests, or the interests of others about whom you are anxious in the same faithless way; everything about which passion is excited in you or skill exerted is some object of material life, and the idea of doing anything except for your own praise or profit has narrowed itself into little more than the precentor's invitation to the company with little voice and less practice to "sing to the praise and glory of God."

I have said that you cannot imagine the feeling of the energy of daily life applied in the real meaning of those words. You cannot imagine it, but you can prove it. Are any of you willing, simply as a philosophical experiment in the greatest of sciences, to adopt the principles and feelings of these men of a thousand years ago for a given time, say for a year? It cannot possibly do you any harm to try, and you cannot possibly learn what is true in these things, without trying. If after a year's experience of such method you find yourself no happier than before, at least you will be able to support your present opinions at once with more grace and more modesty; having conceded the trial it asked for, to the opposite side. Nor in acting temporarily on a faith you do not see to be reasonable, do you compromise your own integrity more, than in conducting, under a chemist's directions, an experiment of which he foretells inexplicable consequences. And you need not doubt the power you possess over your own minds to do this. Were faith not voluntary, it could not be praised, and would not be rewarded.

If you are minded thus to try, begin each day with Alfred's prayer,—fiat voluntas tua; resolving that you will stand to it, and that nothing that happens in the course of the day shall displease you. Then set to any work you have in hand with the sifted and purified resolution that ambition shall not mix with it, nor love of gain, nor desire of pleasure more than is appointed for you; and that no anxiety shall touch you as to its issue, nor any impatience nor regret if it fail. Imagine that the thing is being done through you, not by you; that the good of it may never be known, but that at least, unless by your rebellion or foolishness, there can come no evil into it, nor wrong chance to it. Resolve also with steady industry to do what you can for the help of your country and its honour, and the honour of its God; and that you will not join hands in its iniquity, nor turn aside from its misery; and that in all you do and feel you will look frankly for the immediate help and direction, and to your own consciences, expressed approval, of God. Live thus, and believe, and with swiftness of answer proportioned to the frankness of the trust, most surely the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing.

But, if you will not do this, if you have not courage nor heart enough to break away the fetters of earth, and take up the sensual bed of it, and walk; if you say that you are bound to win this thing, and become the other thing, and that the wishes of your friends,—and the interests of your family,—and the bias of your genius,—and the expectations of your college,—and all the rest of the bow-wow-wow of the wild dog-world, must be attended to, whether you like it or no,—then, at least, for shame give up talk about being free or independent creatures; recognize yourselves for slaves in whom the thoughts are put in ward with their bodies, and their hearts manacled with their hands: and then at least also, for shame, if you refuse to believe that ever there were men who gave their souls to God,—know and confess how surely there are those who sell them to His adversary.

  1. Making a sign.
  2. Here Alfred's Silver Penny was shown and commented on, thus:—Of what London was like in the days of faith, I can show you one piece of artistic evidence. It is Alfred's silver penny struck in London mint. The character of a coinage is quite conclusive evidence in national history, and there is no great empire in progress, but tells its story in beautiful coins. Here in Alfred's penny, a round coin with L.O.N.D.I.N.I.A. struck on it, you have just the same beauty of design, the same enigmatical arrangement of letters, as in the early inscription, which it is "the pride of my life" to have discovered at Venice. This inscription ("the first words that Venice ever speaks aloud") is, it will be remembered, on the Church of St. Giacomo di Rialto, and runs, being interpreted—"Around this temple, let the merchant's law be just, his weights true, and his covenants faithful."
  3. Not Londinian.
  4. From St. Augustine's 'Citie of God,' Book V., ch. xi. (English trans., printed by George Eld, 1610.)
  5. Here one of the "Stones of Westminster" was shown and commented on.
  6. At Munich: the leaf has been exquisitely drawn and legend communicated to me by Professor Westwood. It is written in gold on purple.
  7. Meaning—not that he is of those few, but that, without comprehending, at least, as a dog, he can love.