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writings of Strauss or Ewald, of Renan or Colenso. If what they said had an honest ring, I was delighted, for I felt quite certain that they could never deprive me of the little I really wanted. That little could never be little enough; it was like a stronghold with no fortifications, no trenches, and no walls around it. I had little to carry, no learned impedimenta to safeguard my faith. If a man possesses this one pearl of great price, he may save himself and his treasure, but neither the tinselled vestments of a Cardinal, nor the triple tiara that crowns the Head of the Church, will serve as lifebelts in the gales of doubt and controversy."
Much as I admired Ruskin when I saw him with his spade and wheel-barrow, encouraging and helping his undergraduate friends to make a new road from one village to another, I never myself took to digging, and shovelling, and carting. Nor could I quite agree with him, happy as I always felt in listening to him, when he said: “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe, is in the end of little consequence. The only thing of consequence is what we do.” My view of life has always been the very opposite! What we do, or what we build
up, has always seemed to me of little consequence. Even Nineveh is now a mere desert of sand, and Ruskin's new road also has long since been worn away. The only thing of consequence, to my mind, is what we think, what we know, what we believe !
Our soul here may be said to have risen without any recollection of itself and of the circumstances of 1 From My Autobiography: A Fragment, chap. viii.
Ibid., chap. ix.
its former existence. It may not even recollect the circumstances of its first days on earth, but it has within it the consciousness of its eternity, and the conception of a beginning is as impossible for it as that of an end, and if souls were to meet again hereafter as they met in this life, as they loved in this life, without knowing that they had met and loved before, would the next life be so very different from what this life has been here on earth—would it be so utterly intolerable and really not worth living? Personally I must confess to one small weakness. I cannot help thinking that the souls towards whom we feel drawn in this life
souls whom we knew and loved in a former life, and that the souls who repel us here, we do not know why, are the souls that earned our disapproval, the souls from which we kept aloof, in a former life. But let that pass as what others have a perfect right to call it-a mere fancy. Only let us remember that if our love is the love of what is merely phenomenal, the love of the body, the kindness of the heart, the vigour and wisdom of the intellect, our love is the love of changing and perishable things, and our soul may have to grope in vain among the shadows of the dead. But if our love, under all its earthly aspects, was the love of the true soul, of what is immortal and divine in every man and woman, that love cannot die, but will find once more what seems beautiful, true, and lovable in worlds to come as in worlds that have passed. This is very old wisdom, but we have forgotten it. Thousands of years ago an Indian sage, when parting from his wife, told her in plain words: “We do not love the husband in the husband, nor the wife in the wife, the children in the children. What we love in them, what we
truly love in everything, is the eternal âtman, the immortal self,” and, as we should add, the immortal God, for the immortal self and the immortal God must be one.1
THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY
(1825-1895) I NEITHER deny nor affirm the immortality of
I see no reason for believing in it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it. Pray understand that I have no à priori objections to the doctrine. No man who has to deal daily and hourly with nature can trouble himself about à priori difficulties. Give me such evidence as would justify me in believing anything else, and I will believe that. Why should I not? It is not half so wonderful as the conservation of force or the indestructibility of matter. Whoso clearly appreciates all that is implied in the falling of a stone can have no difficulty about any doctrine simply on account of its marvellousness.
Science warns me to be careful how I adopt a view which jumps with my preconceptions. .. My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonise with my aspirations. . . . Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.
1 From “ Is Man Immortal?” (Last Essays).
I have the firmest belief that the Divine government (if we may use such a phrase to express the sum of the customs of matter”) is wholly just. The more I know intimately of the lives of other men (to say nothing of my own), the more obvious it is to me that the wicked does not flourish, nor is the righteous punished. But for this to be clear we must bear in mind what almost all forget, that the rewards of life are contingent upon obedience to the whole lawphysical as well as moral—and that moral obedience will not atone for physical sin, or vice versa. . . . The ledger of the Almighty is strictly kept, and every one of us has the balance of his operations paid over to him at the end of every minute of his existence. .
Kicked into the world a boy without guide or training, or with worse than none, I confess to my shame that few men have drunk deeper of all kinds of sin than I. Happily, my course was arrested in timebefore I had earned absolute destruction—and for long years I have been slowly and painfully climbing, with many a fall, towards better things. And when I look back, what do I find to have been the agents of my redemption? The hope of immortality or of future reward? I can honestly say that for these fourteen years such a consideration has not entered my head. No, I can tell you exactly what has been at work. Sartor Resartus led me to know that a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology. Secondly, science and her methods gave me a resting-place independent of authority and tradition. Thirdly, love opened up to me a view of the sanctity of human nature, and impressed me with a deep sense of responsibility.
If at this moment I am not a worn-out, debauched, useless carcass of a man, if it has been or will be my fate to advance the cause of science, if I feel that I have a shadow of a claim on the love of those about me, if in the supreme moment when I looked down into my boy's grave my sorrow was full of submission and without bitterness, it is because these agencies have worked upon me, and not because I have ever cared whether my poor personality shall remain distinct for ever from the All from whence it came and whither it goes.
It is a curious thing that I find my dislike to the thought of extinction increasing as I get older and nearer the goal.
I am a very strong believer in the punishment of certain kinds of actions, not only in the present, but in all the future a man can have, be it long or short. Therefore in hell, for I suppose that all men with a clear sense of right and wrong (and I am not sure that any others deserve such punishment) have now and then “descended into hell," and stopped there quite long enough to know what infinite punishment means.
And if a genuine, not merely subjective, immortality awaits us, I conceive that, without some such change as that depicted in the fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, immortality must be eternal misery. The fate of Swift's Struldbrugs seems to me not more horrible than that of a mind imprisoned for ever within the flammantia moenia of inextinguishable memories.3 1 From letter to Charles Kingsley, September 23, 1860.
2 From letter to J. Morley, December 1883.
3 From An Apologetic Irenicon, 1892.