Page images
PDF
EPUB

revealed truths, who saw another way open. Authorities and ancient names were being called into court ; philosophers who had written from a Christian point of view were supposed to speak professionally ; a daring thought struck them : what if they could trace a connection between the earlier sources of Revelation and the noblest name that philosophy had ever enrolled ? What if they could show that Plato himself owed his highest ideas to the transient influence of that teaching—the Law of Moses—which they themselves possessed in the entirety of a broad development ? Pythagoras was said to have sojourned on Carmel and interviewed the priests of Jehovah; the Cabbala—the Law embroidered by metaphysical and mystical minds—was in their hands, and even their adversaries would

allow to Plato the spiritual insight that they denied to St. Paul."

At Cambridge this idea took shape in four remarkable minds; Dr. Cudworth, Master of Clare and afterwards of Christ's, Dr. Whichcote, Provost of King's, John Smith, Fellow of Queen's, and Dr. Henry More, Fellow of Christ's, applied themselves to the solution of the problem.

The interest of the situation lies in the fact that these men were pure and devoted beyond measure in life as well as in thought. Smith did more by direct influence and personal weight than even by his "Select Discourses." Dr. Patrick at his death preached on the cry of Elisha, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horses thereof :" he said that a light had been extinguished in Israel. Cudworth had perhaps the most logical mind. He wrote an “Intellectual System " that was supposed to give Hobbes a death-blow. Whichcote wrote discourses delivered at St. Laurence, Jewry, and originated an immense mass of aphorisms, afterwards published.

But, of the four, More was the man of genius: he was divinely gifted in body and mind; with passionate earnestness he combined humour and delicacy of thought, a trick of suggestive style, and a personality at once genial and commanding. The following pages profess to give a slight account of him.

The movement had unhappily no coherence. We class the four together as Cambridge Platonists because they were possessed by the same idea and worked it out on individual lines; but they did not write or think in concert. They were acquaintances—More and Cudworth close friends, and Whichcote died in Cudworth's house-but it can never have occurred to them that their names would have been connected in later times, because they had no scheme of concerted action, --they originated no movement.

Their unique interest lies in this that, in an age when both religion and philosophy were

Own.

)

making huge strides into materialism, they discerned and strove to indicate this truth,—that the capacity in the human soul of conceiving ideals, and in part transfusing them into life, is at once its highest boast and the most potent factor of its eternal quest.

Henry More was the son of a gentleman who lived near Grantham on a small estate of his

The principles of the family were those of the straitest Calvinism, though sufficiently cultivated for the father to read the “Faerie Queene” aloud in the evenings; and the boy, after being carefully trained in a private school, kept by a master of this persuasion, was sent to Eton, with strict injunctions from his father and uncle to hold to the faith delivered by Calvin to the Saints.

But the boy's instinct for philosophy was greater than his loyalty to family principles. He had, moreover, none of that gloomy and business-like habit of mind that demanded an accurate and severe disposal of the future of the entire human race as the basis for a creed. Though melancholy as a boy, he had the beginnings of that serene and even temperament, that afterwards was so conspicuous. He was immaturely an optimist: the beauty and kindliness of the world occupied a large share in his thoughts; and, when his elder brother came down to see him at Eton, he maintained the brutal inadequacy of Predestinarianism

so strongly, that his uncle, to whom this scandalous position was reported, fell back upon threats of personal chastisement.

He gives us a strange picture of himself at Eton, walking slowly in the Playing Fields while his comrades were at their games, with his head on one side, kicking the stones with his feet, while he murmured to himself the lines of Claudian :

Saepe mihi dubiam traxit sententia mentem;
Curarent Superi terras; an nullus inesset

Rector, et incerto fluerent mortalia casu. Such a precocious, anxious childhood is generally, alas! only a sign of deficient vitality-a disposition to embrace a religious life and die early; but the event proved a singular contradiction to this.

More was, it seems, a lovable lad—very simpleminded and sweet; resolving that, should the horrid phantom of inevitable destruction be true, should he be destined to that bitter place, yet that he would even there behave himself with such submissive patience that God should not have the heart to keep him there. In his studies he made great progress, troubled more than elated by success, because he was too diffident to believe anything in his triumphs but that he would break down next time.

The Provost of Eton at that time was Sir Henry Wotton-ambassador, courtier, poet, and

philosopher. It was an encouraging and stimulating time to be at the school, for Sir Henry, with his romantic past and his courtly, affectionate manners, must have been a fascinating figure for the boys; and he was, moreover, fond of their society ; had constantly one or two about him ; put up pictures of great orators and statesmen in their schoolroom; and used frequently to walk in to their lessons, never leaving the room without dropping some aphorism or epigram worthy of a place in the memory of a growing scholar.

At the age of seventeen More went up to Christ's College, Cambridge, just at the time when Milton was leaving it; and at his earnest desire was entered under a tutor that was not a Calvinist. On getting established at Cambridge he found himself in an atmosphere, which then, at least, teemed with inducements to study, for the studious. There was little of the social life of a modern university-hours were longer, earlier, and more regularly kept; there was no prejudice in favour of bodily exercise as a means of improving health : for the more absorbed students a turn in the cloisters as a remedy for cold feet was deemed sufficient, the fen invaded Cambridge on every side; the wild birds screamed in the pools, and snipe were snared where Downing now stands.

The high-road to Ely was fenced from the marsh by a few farms, and the ruins still ugly-of a religious house ; beyond Ely lay

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »