Home Education Appendix

Home Education Appendix

[p 303-ed3]



(The Sermons of Eugène Bersier)


We live in an age when many serious souls are liberating themselves from the bonds of recognised religion. So far as external, formal religion goes, their protest against that is at an end; they bow the knee and worship, and say it is fit that they should; but they decline to have their beliefs bound by the dogmas, their ideas inspired by the teachings, of the ancient creed. This attitude of many thoughtful minds need not fill us, to whom He is all-in-all, with despair for the cause of Christ. Above all, we need not keep a dark closet wherein lies, perdu, the possibility of doubt. If we do this, if we go about with a secret unnameable dread lest, if we open our eyes to all that is to be known, we, too, may pass over the ranks of the Unbeliever, why, perhaps we may “save our own souls” if we care about it, but we have sold birth-right and blessing, we have nothing to pass on to our children of the golden heritage of Christian hope. No man can give what he has not got; and this is true, above all, of the certainties of the faith. But we are in the dark hour before dawn; such a Christianity is coming upon us as neither the world nor the Church [p 304-ed3] has ever dreamed of; even now we begin to see our way out of the darkness, because we begin to see why it has fallen upon us. To use the language of philosophy, religion, as we know it, is subjective, not objective; that is, our religious idea is directly opposed to the genius of Christianity. Oh, the appalling egoism of “Christian” literature! while, of that name,

“Which whoso preacheth

Speaks like music to the ear,”

of that enthralling Personality which is capable of ever-fresh unfoldings to meet the needs of all the ages, we hear, only, as it is subservient to our poor uses. “For me” is the keynote of one great school of religious thought; “By me” that of another; but how seldom is Christ Himself, for Himself—not for what He is for us, or has done for us, or worketh in us—placed in the foreground of religious thought!

Possibly it is for this that many consciences are in revolt against religion as it is taught. “What think ye of Christ?” is the question that is searching all hearts, and it is only as we are able to ring out our answer in the clear glad tones of passionate conviction, that we have any sure and certain hope to communicate to the children.

It is for this reason that parents are profoundly indebted to a prophet who is able to lift the veil and give us any living thought of Christ; such thoughts, for example, as are scattered, “few, faint, and feeble” it may be, through the pages of The Christian Year; such simple image as of—in the words of another poet—

“Jesus sitting by Samarian well,

Or teaching some few fishers on the shore,”

is very precious to us. If any teacher is able to [p 305-ed3] measure the surging shallow thought of our day, and show us how Christ still sitteth above the water floods, a king for ever, he does an unspeakable service to parents, many of whom are suffering under an anxious sense that they are the conservators of Christianity for their children, but that they hold their treasure with uncertain grasp. How to communicate the treasure is not the question. Give them the idea, and none in the world knows so well as parents how to convey it to the minds and hearts of the young.

We think we have found such a teacher as our times demand in the late Eugène Bersier, Pastor of the Reformed Church of France. His important works demand more than a brief notice; and we propose to introduce any of our readers, to whom his teaching is not familiar, to the incisive thought of one who has set himself to the solution of the anxious question of the age with profound insight and triumphant faith. Let us hear him, first, on The Royalty of Jesus Christ, bearing in mind how much his nervous and eloquent language loses by translation:—

Men of the highest intellectual calibre, who, nevertheless, hold themselves for Christians, and whose sincerity is beyond a doubt, believe that they will render Christianity more acceptable to our contemporaries if they can reduce it to the proportions of an historic fact produced by the religious conscience of humanity, and that the figure of Jesus Christ will attract the greater respect and sympathy the more it is divested of the bedazzling nimbus of a supernatural origin and of supernatural powers.

“Let go,” they say to us, “all those marvellous incidents to which modern criticism has done justice, and which are repugnant to our reason, trained by the severe methods of positive science. Present Jesus [p 306-ed3] Christ no longer as He appears to you, transformed by the enthusiasm of His disciples, elevated by them to the right hand of the Father, and participating in the worship which belongs to God alone. What do you lose thereby? There remains to Christ the unique glory of having been the greatest of the prophets, the preacher of a spiritual religion, the initiator of the Divine paternity, of human brotherhood. Alone among the children of men, He felt beat in His heart the certainty that He is a Son of God; He gave God His true name, that of Father; He established between man and God the true relation which produces in our souls confiding faith and love. It is for this that He will always be in our eyes alike Master and model. In the incomparable precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, in His sublime parables, in the spectacle of His sufferings and of His death, He shows us what human life penetrated by the Divine love may become; and this example will be so much the more contagious when Christ, become truly our brother, shall appear to us no more in the diaphanous light of a legend belonging to the dawn of reason, and when we shall see in Him a son of man, subject to the same temptations as we, and conquering, by moral struggles valiantly supported, His title and His dignity of Son of God.”

Such is the language we hear about us, and which from sincere lips cannot leave us indifferent; for in an epoch troubled as ours, when so many minds turn with cold disdain from all eternal hope, it is something, it is much, to recognise in Jesus Christ the initiator of religious truth. Wherefore, to those who speak thus, we would not respond in the well-satisfied accents and with the sententious affirmations of an orthodoxy which believes itself infallible. But, on the other hand, we should be blind did we not see the immense importance [p 307-ed3] of the concessions which they demand of us. Whether Christianity is a gift of God made to humanity, or is only the supreme effort of the human conscience, is a fundamental question. Instead of seeing in Jesus Christ, with the whole Church, divinity revealing itself in a man, they demand that we see in Him humanity made divine, because it has arrived for the first time by Him at the full possession of the divine. To those who believe that at this price they can save the cause of Christianity, we say, with the ardour of profound conviction, in the first place, their illusion is enormous; and next, that their Christ, reduced to quite human proportions, is a Being far more incomprehensible than ours, of whom they will none.

I have said their illusion; let me explain. They believe—do they not?—that the Gospel, despoiled of all supernatural elements, reduced to the simple proportions of a moral life, of which the Sermon on the Mount should be the eternal code, would impose itself henceforth on the conscience, and would no longer excite any revolt of the reason. Now I appeal to all who have studied the movement of contemporaneous thought—is it true that their hopes are realised in any degree whatever? Where are the proselytes gained to this new gospel? Where are they who find in it peace of mind and of heart? Would you know what I observe to-day? It is, that that which is attacked the most bitterly, the most disdainfully, at this hour, is precisely the whole conception of morality of which the Sermon on the Mount is, in our eyes, the sublime and popular expression. Ask of our Positivists—I do not say only of those who, in the silence of the study, follow with inexorable logic their system to its final consequences; I say of the popular leaders, of those whose words I heard recently applauded with frantic [p 308-ed3] enthusiasm by our Parisian workmen—ask them what they think of a God of Providence who nourishes the birds of the air, and clothes the lilies of the field, who counts the hairs of our heads, and to whom we should pray with the simple trust of a child. Ask them what they think of the Beatitudes. Ask these apostles of the redemption of humanity by science how they conceive of the promises addressed to the poor in spirit. Ask these politicians how they regard the triumph which Christ announces to the meek. Ask of these social reformers what judgment they form as to the eternal compensation assured to the afflicted and the persecuted. And when you have collected their answers, given in a frenzy of wrath and scorn, you will tell us if it is sufficient to abandon this folly of the Cross and of supernatural Christianity in order to win to the Gospel the generations of the future.

I have a right, then, to say that the illusion of those I combat is profound. I add that the Christ whom they present to us is an imaginary Christ of whom history knows nothing. When we would know what Jesus Christ was, there is one whom we should interrogate before all others—Jesus Christ Himself. Let us hear His testimony. Lest we accord too much to the enthusiasm of His disciples, let us consult, not Saint Paul, whose letters, however, of incontestable authenticity, are the most ancient historical documents of primitive Christianity; nor Saint John or his school, whose mystic thought has, we are told, idealised Jesus. Let us hold to the three first Gospels, which are the faithful echo of the ministry of Christ in Galilee and its bloody epilogue in Jerusalem. You know them by heart; for I appeal to that first impression within you which no critical analysis has been able to affect. Is it true that Christ, such as He there appears to us, is [p 309-ed3] no more than an humble Israelite, attaining, by means of the moral struggles of life, and by the study of the ancient prophets, to feel vibrate for the first time in His heart the certainty of the Divine paternity and of human brotherhood, and founding thus, by the spontaneous effort of His genius, that magnificent reality which He calls the kingdom of God? I do not prejudge your response, but this is mine: in my eyes, the Christ of Matthew, of Mark, of Luke, as that of Paul and of John, is a Being who, from the first, acts and speaks as a king.

The domain in which Jesus Christ moves is a domain exclusively religious; in all that He teaches and in all that He does He occupies himself solely with the relations of man with God, and of man with man. He touches neither social nor political questions. Never is He engaged in that region of things terrestrial and transitory, nor yet with those scientific truths which God has delivered over to the free investigations of men. And let us say in passing, it is because the Gospel has contracted no alliance with the powers of this order, it is because it has espoused no policy, no social system, no cosmogony, no philosophy, that it proves itself to be addressed to man himself in that which man has of central and of essential, that it is able to adapt itself to all ages and all races, that it is universal, and that it is always actual.

When I affirm that Jesus Christ pretended to royalty, it is to royalty neither of the order temporal nor of the order intellectual. We must, to quote a sublime saying of Pascal’s, elevate ourselves to a sphere beyond that of Alexander, as of Archimedes; we must place ourselves on grounds moral and religious. It is there that Jesus Christ appears to me a king.

Let us consider Jesus Christ in the character of a [p 310-ed3] teacher. Compare His attitude with that of the philosophers, of the greatest of all, of Socrates, for example. We remember the famous parallel between Socrates and Jesus Christ which Jean Jacques Rousseau traced. On one point this parallel is erroneous; the death of Jesus Christ was not more calm than that of the Sage of Athens. It is not of serenity that one can speak before the Cross of Calvary, echoing still the Eli sabachthani which escaped the expiring Redeemer. Let us have courage to confess it—the death of Jesus was a death full of anguish; but it is this very anguish which has become for all the faithful an eternal source of ineffable peace. But between the teaching of Socrates and that of Jesus Christ, how striking the contrast! Socrates is a man who has measured his own ignorance, and who, with the candour of an enlightened conscience and of sound sense elevated to the point of genius, essays to discover the law of his destiny. What course does he take? He observes, he analyses human actions and the motives which inspire them; he seeks for the true moral laws underlying the syllogisms of the sophists; he collects the materials upon which his disciple, Plato, should erect a philosophy, admirable indeed, but full of subtle hypotheses, ingenious conjectures, wild phantasies, and which is, in the end, no more than the most sublime effort of human curiosity seeking to fathom the infinite.

After Socrates, let us hear Jesus Christ. Where find you in Him the effort of the inquiring reason? By what signs do you recognise in His language the travail of the intelligence labouring after truth? Where are the hesitations, the conjectures, the anguish, the doubts, which accompany with all men the conception of profound convictions, and which appear even by reason of the intensity of these convictions? From [p 311-ed3] His first word, Jesus affirms. Never does His word mount from the earth as the supreme elaboration of a holy soul in travail; always, it descends from on high with the authority of a revelation. It is this accent of authority which strikes the crowd on the mount of the Beatitudes, and which retains through the ages its character, distinctive and sovereign. That which He predicates of God, of His nature, of His holiness, of His mercy, of the true worship which is owing to Him; that which He declares of man, of the eternal value of each soul, of obedience interior and spiritual, of the law of justice and charity by which human beings should be bound; that which He declares of our immortal destiny, of the life to come, and of the final judgment, Jesus speaks as a master. On each of these subjects he speaks the true and definite word which awakens an echo in the depths of the human conscience in all times, among all races, in all quarters of the world.

We shall be told, no doubt, that this accent of authority is not foreign to the lips of a son of Israel, that from this race, formed upon the law and the prophets, one cannot demand the language of philosophy, nor the methods of the dialectics they have never acquired. Let us admit that the criticism is legitimate—compare Jesus, as a teacher, not with the greatest of the Greeks, but with another son of Israel whom we Christians hold to be inspired, and who has an unparalleled intensity of conviction in his own inspiration, with that disciple of the law and of the prophets named Saul of Tarsus. If ever man were convinced of his Divine mission, if ever man laid at the service of his faith a sincere and ardent soul, surely it is he whose zeal has in these days won for him the glory which, in his eyes, would have been [p 312-ed3] a blasphemy, of having been the true founder of Christianity. It is as we compare him with his Master that we are able to measure all the distance which separates Him who possesses the truth to the point of saying, “I am the truth,” from him who was possessed by the truth to the point of becoming the most ardent of the Apostles.

Yes, it is in Saint Paul that we can study that travail of mind, that anguish, that spiritual drama, which I look for in vain in Jesus Christ. Read those letters, whose style, so original, so personal, so vivid, guarantees for ever their authenticity. Under this style, striking, palpitating, sometimes incorrect, under these tortured phrases, under this language which bursts as a vase too slight to contain the new wine, effervescing and running over, I perceive a soul, inspired, indeed, but a soul of man after all, which finds itself compelled to recount, in such poor words as it has, the mighty things of God. Of a surety, I bow before the apostle. I recognise in his words the message of a faithful witness of the Gospel; but with the apostle himself, I bow before Him whom Paul calls his Lord and his Master; before Him who opposes to the ancient law His own sovereign authority, who speaks of heaven as a son would speak of the house of his father; who says, “No one knows the Father save the Son;” who affirms that the heavens and the earth shall pass, but that His words shall never pass; before Him who, in a word, in the order of the revelation of religion, speaks always and acts always as a king.

This royalty—so unquestionable in Jesus Christ when He reveals the truths of religion—I find, in the second place, in the attitude which He takes, brought face to face with the human conscience, of [p 313-ed3] which, above all, He proclaims Himself the Master and the Judge.

Let us consider for a moment, from this point of view, the thesis which I combat. They tell us that Jesus, simple son of Galilee, by His experiences and His struggles, conquered, little by little, the possession of the internal peace and the religious truth of which He was the initiator, the witness, and the martyr; they tell us, that the more we bring ourselves to regard Him in this light, divesting ourselves of every supernatural preconception, the better shall we be able to comprehend Him and to love Him. Here, again, let us interrogate Jesus Christ Himself, and see what is the true impression which He produces upon our souls.

We are all agreed upon one point—that the moral law preached by Him is the most spiritual and the most holy that the world has yet heard. It judges not only the words or the actions of men: it reaches the hidden, the hardly-conscious thoughts; it is an inexorable illumination, which penetrates into the last folds of the heart; it sees murder, not only in the act, but in the hatred—what say I?—in the egotism which leaves him to perish whom we are able to save; it discovers adultery in an impure look; it ordains a sanctity and a justice of which God is called to be the secret witness.

Whilst worldly livers, frivolous, or sold to the servitude of a culpable passion, say that we exaggerate, that we calumniate human nature in speaking thus, they accuse themselves the first who accomplish in silence the hidden works of holiness and of charity. It has ever been thus. If you would collect avowals the most poignant, confession the most heartbroken of human misery, it is of the souls of the élite you must demand them; the very vision which reveals to them the immaculate summit of moral perfection [p 314-ed3] shows them at the same time the profundity of the abyss which separates them from it; witness, among thousands, this Saint Paul of whom we have been speaking, surely one of the most valiant, the most holy, and the most loving souls the world has ever known, and who, in the impressive description he gives of the internal struggles between the law of the spirit and the law of the flesh, lets this cry of anguish escape him, “Miserable that I am, who shall deliver me from this corpse?”

Now let us examine the phenomenon in face of which we are placed. We see before us a Being who without hesitation, without research, without a doubt, announces to men this law of perfection which, since His coming, can never more be relegated by the human conscience. This man, in preaching this so perfect law, has the absolute conviction that He has always accomplished it. He who wrings from humanity the avowal of its misery, who troubles even the consciences until then the most peaceable. He never confesses His sins, He never lets escape him a word of remorse, a cry of repentance, an avowal of regret. Not a ripple, even the slightest, ruffles the surface of His own conscience. He believes Himself holy, absolutely holy; and His disciples, witnesses of His most intimate life, have called Him the Holy and the Just. In the records they have left us of His ministry—records of which the simple style, artless and unstudied, testifies abundantly that the writers have followed no preconceived plan—we perceive that they describe a life in which the penetrating eye of the critic has been unable to discover, I do not say any crime, I say any fault, any defect, a single weakness, one vulgar trait. Every act, every thought, every sentiment of this Man was the constant realisation of the ideal law of love and holiness. Not [p 315-ed3] only does this Being affirm His own perfection, but from the moment of His appearance He erects Himself the absolute master of consciences; He binds and He unbinds; He sends away sinners absolved by a sovereign sentence; He saves or He condemns; it is before His tribunal that all souls shall one day appear, and it shall suffice that He say to them “I never knew you” for that word to decide their eternal future.

… What becomes, before this figure, of the theory of the young Galilean, arriving by slow interior travail at the possession of peace, pardon, of the sentiment of adoption and of Divine filiation? If He is only a man, let them tell me how He has conquered moral peace; let them show me the traces of those internal struggles, the inevitable anguish of the birth-throes of perfect sanctity! Let them explain to me this rôle of Judge and Master pronouncing on all men a supreme sentence, of which eternity shall see the accomplishment! Since eighteen hundred years the Christian conscience has resolved this question, and its verdict is final. It has felt that here are a sanctity and an authority which do not belong to the earth; it has saluted in the Christ its Prophet and its King.


[We have already considered our Lord Jesus Christ’s claims to be our King, as supported by (a) the manner in which He teaches the understanding, and (b) the manner in which He judges the conscience. The parents of little children can hardly do a better thing for their children than to make these arguments of M. Eugène Bersier their own, become imbued with the like passionate conviction, and read the Gospel history (with a note-book) in order to establish every point, [p 316-ed3] with many examples. All of us who have to do with children should be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and such a reason as will satisfy the keen and critical young mind. Where only little children are concerned, it may be enough to fill ourselves with convictions which will inevitably flow from the full heart in the most simple talks, which the little ones can understand, about Christ the King. But where parents have young people growing up about them, would it not be well to make these sermons the bases of a careful study of the Gospels? A young person fortified with this kind of teaching, having such arguments by heart (in the best sense), will not be carried away by every wind of doctrine. The shame of having nothing to say for the faith they profess is the real cause of the falling away of many an ardent young soul. We absolutely must face the questions that are in the air. However much we elders choose to shut our eyes and say we see no danger, it is certain that no young person of education and intelligence will long escape the necessity of having to contend for or deny the faith. Surely education should make some provision for this exigency.

Let us now consider M. Bersier’s teaching as to (c) the manner in which Christ presents Himself as the Master of hearts, and (d) in the exercise of the supernatural power which He claims to possess:—]

This royalty of Jesus Christ, which manifests itself in the manner in which it reveals the truth, in which it judges the conscience, appears to me (M. Bersier), in the third place, and with still greater force, when I consider the place which He vindicates for Himself in the love and in the life of those who come to Him. We must give to this fact its full importance. It is, no doubt, natural that He who said to men “Love you [p 317-ed3] one another” ought Himself to be beloved. We learn in the school of Jesus Christ two things—the love of man, and that which is called in religious language detachment from the creature. How reconcile the two duties? The contradiction between them is only apparent. Christianity would establish its hierarchy in the affections, in the world of the heart, as elsewhere it establishes the reign of law. It renders to God His place and relegates man to His. Yes, it is love which should bind all creatures, but in binding them to God. God—behold the only Being who can possess our love in its plenitude. To created beings we give a part; and if one of these absorb the whole there ensue disorder and idolatry; so the more holy the creature, the more elevated in the moral scale of things, the more it fears to attract to itself the homage which belongs to God alone; it humbles itself, it effaces itself, it cries “Not to me, not to me, Lord, but to Thy name give the glory.” Thus is realised that hierarchy of beings of which Pythagoras of old had a glimpse when he said, that harmony is the law of the world. Of this fugitive vision of genius Jesus Christ has made the religion of humanity.

In this hierarchy of beings, what is the place which Jesus Christ vindicates for Himself? What pretends He to be among men? I interrogate the Gospels, and they respond: Jesus Christ pretends to nothing less than to be the supreme end of all love, and the profound source of all life. From His first public words, He declares that it is for the love of Him that His disciples shall suffer persecution. Little by little, He reveals to them all the grandeur of His office and of His person. By that slow method of education which is His own, and which consists, not in imposing the truth by means of formulas, but in giving it birth in the hearts and the [p 318-ed3] minds of His followers, He prepares them to comprehend that which He is. It is only after a year and a half of teaching that He poses them with this decisive question, “Whom say ye that I am?” He directs upon His own person the regards, the attention, the faith of His disciples; it is to Him they must come, it is in Him they must believe, He it is whom they must love. All affection must be subordinated to this dominant affection; all bonds of flesh and blood must be broken if they oppose themselves to it; and as if to make this truth live in men’s hearts, Jesus did not recoil before that most formidable of paradoxes: “Whosoever hate not his father and his mother, whosoever shall hate not his own life, cannot be My disciple.”

And even as Jesus lays claim to all love, He reveals Himself as the source of all life. From His person flows henceforth an inexhaustible stream of life and of holiness. Think what there is in these simple words, “Come unto Me,” addressed to all the afflicted of the earth, and in that promise, as magnificent as superhuman, “You shall find the rest of your souls.” It is in the same spirit that He founds the holy Sacrament, inviting through it all believers of the future to contemplate His flesh broken and His blood shed for the sins of the world, and making of His sacrifice the eternal object of their faith. It is in the same spirit that, when about to leave His disciples, in that supreme moment when, having achieved His work, He should, had He been no more than the greatest of the prophets, have effaced Himself, and directed their regards to God alone, He addresses to them those words which will, throughout the ages, sustain all the believers of the future, “Behold I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

[p 319-ed3]

It is not only by His words that Jesus affirms His spiritual royalty; it is yet more in His acts; it is in the order of facts. He acts as much as He teaches, and in the action, as in the teaching, He displays a sovereign power to which we must give the only name which belongs to it; it is supernatural. Here we touch on an actual and burning question. The more it is to-day the subject of controversy, the more I feel bound to approach it freely and without reticence.

That Jesus Christ pretended to supernatural power is the teaching of all the evangelical texts, without any exceptions, and I have no need to stop in order to prove this. It is not only the letters of St. Paul which affirm it; it is those most ancient and most authentic documents in which the most prejudiced critic is compelled to recognise the faithful echo of His ministry. Let us admit, as many think to-day, that the narrative of St. Mark constitutes what may be called the primitive evangel; we all know that from the beginning to the end it recounts to us the miraculous activity of Jesus Christ. We shall be told, no doubt, that all these marvellous incidents are the spontaneous creation of the popular Jewish imagination, which is unable to represent to itself a religious hero without crowning him with the aureole of the thaumaturgist. But one fact gives to this assertion a peremptory denial, and proves that the evangelists knew how to resist this tendency. There existed in the first century of our era a prophet who enjoyed an enormous popularity, a man of such eminence that the historian Josephus, who seems hardly to have known Jesus Christ, gives him, on the contrary, a prominent place. This man is John the Baptist, whom Jews and Christians venerate equally. Now we see that the evangelists attribute no miraculous acts to him. They [p 320-ed3] retrace for us, in a manner precise and striking, his ministry, his preaching, his death, without the introduction of a single supernatural circumstance, which fact proves that they were able to conceive of a mission divinely authenticated, without accompanying prodigies.[1] When they come to Jesus it is quite otherwise; and on each of these pages we find ourselves in presence of acts which suppose a power absolutely superhuman. That is to say, that their language changes, that their narrations become from that point less precise, more vague, more legendary, and that one feels less in them the mark of witnesses who have seen, who have heard, that which they recount? On the contrary, these same evangelists give us of Jesus, of His character, of His attitude, of His teaching, a picture so living, so original, so powerful, that it has traversed the centuries; they have preserved to us His words, of such grandeur that their authenticity imposes itself on every intelligence which is not blinded by miserable prejudices. Each one feels that these maxims, so profound and so penetrating, that these answers which reach to the bottom of things, that these parables of a style so pure and so marvellously original, that these discourses, have been really pronounced and faithfully reproduced. Now, many of these words are interlaced so closely with the acts of Jesus, with His healings, with what we call His miracles, that it is impossible to imagine a texture more close and more compact.

I cannot restrain myself from making here an historical parallel. The earliest biographers of Mahomet filled his life with the marvellous: now, it is a tree which, before him, advances or retires; now [p 321-ed3] water, which, at his touch, throws up citrons; now, apparitions of legions of harnessed angels come to take his part in his battles. Now you may suppress all these marvels, and the personality of Mahomet is not the least in the world altered, the Souras of the Koran lose nothing of their sombre and monotonous originality; and this observation which I apply to Mahomet touches equally many others of the heroes of religion. Very little critical sagacity suffices to separate in their lives the primitive source from the later accretions. This separation between the supernatural and the real, cannot, I maintain, be carried out in the history of Christ without disfiguring His personality, and making of Him a being incomprehensible and monstrous. Of two things, we must, in fact, choose one: either the acts which He accomplished are real, or they are purely imaginary. If they are real, and if we deny their supernatural character, one is reduced to see in them only the tours de force of a thaumaturgist able to impose on a credulous crowd; miserable explanation which the critic can apply only by having recourse himself to very tours de force of subtlety, and which is in such contrast with the moral sublimity of Christ that it can never satisfy the instructed conscience, nor even the simple good sense of the uneducated. If these acts are imaginary, the difficulty still remains insoluble, for then it is necessary to admit this: that His biographers—who have transmitted to us with a scrupulous fidelity so many of His words, so many lengthy discourses even, which they could not have invented, because the teaching there collected is absolutely beyond their range—that they are deceived all at once; become the victims of their own imbecility, or of the most fantastic hallucinations, when, in the same pages, they recount the acts of [p 322-ed3] Jesus. And this, though these acts were infinitely more easy to verify than the words, because they fell under the senses of those who were the witnesses of them.

The problem, you see, is inextricable and desperate. So we have a right to conclude on this point, that those who refuse to admit the miracles of Jesus Christ do so not only because the historic testimony appears to them defective, but, in the first place, for reasons preconceived; it is because they have erected into a dogma the impossibility of the supernatural. Let us examine for a moment this pretended axiom and see what we think of it.

The notion of the supernatural suffers at this moment such discredit, that many minds believe it to be exploited. “One can foresee the day,” writes recently M. Renan, “when belief in facts supernatural will be in the world a thing as little considerable as is to-day the faith in sorceries and ghosts.” The cause of this discredit is complex. It holds, above all, to the method to which Auguste Comte has given the name of positive, and which consists in excluding from science all explanation, metaphysical and religious, in order to hold only to facts rigorously observed. Thanks to its apparent simplicity, this method is to-day triumphant, but it remains to be seen how far it suffices to explain our destiny, moral and religious; now, it is that which we deny energetically.

There is a system, as old as Epicurus, which consists in maintaining that Nature is sufficient to explain herself, and that all in Nature is reducible to matter and its properties. This system, very logical and very familiar, is materialism. It is evident that those who accept it have nothing to do with the supernatural, nor with God, nor with first cause, nor with moral [p 323-ed3] liberty, nor with a future life, nor with religion. All is, for them, gathered into a single substance, matter; into a single principle, force, which, in its successive evolutions, has produced the world such as it appears to us.

I do not discuss this system; I state simply the immense popularity which it enjoys to-day. But it is not to materialists that I address myself; it is to men who admit that thought is not the result of a displacement of molecules, that spirit is of another order than matter, that moral liberty is a reality, that the world was not conceived without a supreme Cause, intelligent and perfect. It seems that men, in virtue of even these premises, should be logically conducted to accept the notion of the supernatural. It is, however, amongst these that I meet some of its most resolute adversaries. It is not that they deny the theoretical possibility. The idea which even they have formed of the liberty and of the omnipotence of God will not permit them to render the Creator the slave of the laws which He has made, but this simple possibility, empty and bare, cannot struggle against the repugnance which their reason, formed by our positive methods, experiences against admitting the reality of miraculous facts. Will they permit me to say to them that this repugnance is not worthy of the philosophic mind, and that they alone are truly independent who are able to resist the current of their age!

Consider the favourite argument which they allege. They appeal to the general impression which the religious history of humanity makes upon us; they tell us that all religions, whatever they be, have their origins shrouded in the marvellous, that this pretension is null, even because it is universal, that it simply proves one thing—the aberration of the human imagination [p 324-ed3] over-excited by the religious ideal; they demand of us, why even we who oppose ourselves instinctively to the reception of the legends of all the mythologies, why we pretend to make an exception in favour of the evangelical legends, why we claim for Christ that which we refuse to all the soi-disant thaumaturgists of ancient and of modern times. The objection is specious. Let us see if it is as peremptory as they pretend.

It is incontestable that always and everywhere man has believed that, if the divinity intervened in his destinies, such intervention should manifest itself by acts which, behind all second causes, allow the first and sovereign Cause to be perceived. This presumption has, it is equally certain, given birth to an innumerable multitude of absurdities and legendary marvels. Does it necessarily follow that it is false? That is the true question. For me, I confess that this presumption has great weight, not only because it is universal, and because there is always a strong philosophic tendency to recognise an aspiration of the human conscience which is produced always and everywhere but still; more because it is justifiable in reason; because if there is a God, if this God wills to make Himself known and to establish His reign, it seems impossible that He should not reveal Himself as the Master of Nature, as the sovereign and all-powerful Being. To take away the supernatural from religion because of the aberrations which it has produced, is unworthy of a thoughtful mind. As well might you remove prayer, adoration, the hope of a future life—religion, in a word—for the sole reason that these manifestations of the human soul have been often extraordinary, fantastic, even monstrous. Now, here as elsewhere, we must distinguish the true from the false, and the [p 325-ed3] ideal from its gross perversions; even so, in face of the supernatural facts of the Gospel, so clearly attested by the first witnesses, our duty is, not to proceed by arbitrary negations, but to ascertain if these facts do not reveal an intervention of God in the history of humanity.

To this consideration, already so strong, let us add another. The study of Nature reveals to us in the whole creation what may be called an ascending series. At the foot is chaotic matter, ruled by laws purely mechanical; then, above, life, at first vegetative, afterwards endowed with movement, with instinct and a confused conscience which is elevated little by little towards intelligence, morality. They tell us now that this ascending progression is the simple result of an evolution pursued through millions of years or of ages. I leave this hypothesis on one side, as I have no call to discuss it, and I simply state that at each of these stages we may observe a new manifestation of life, which is supernatural in regard to the preceding, because it is affirmed by phenomena which the preceding would not have been able to produce. It is evident, for example, that when life appears where, until then, simple mechanism had reigned, life brings with it phenomena of the biological order; life in the animal would have manifestations superior to those one sees in vegetation.

Suppose now that man should appear where the animal only had preceded him, he would exercise there immediately a power of a new order; he would modify the effects of the laws of Nature; he would make brute force serve a pre-determined and intelligent end. He would suspend the laws of gravitation; he would graft on a tree a branch which that tree would never produce; he would create in the animal [p 326-ed3] series, by the crossing of species, a type unknown until then. The human reign, then, is manifested by phenomena which would be supernatural for him who was acquainted only with mechanical forces, only with the manifestations of animal or vegetable life. Suppose now we elevate ourselves to a sphere higher still; that, above the human reign, we admit that reality which the Gospel calls the reign of God amongst men. I say that the advent of this reign would draw with it, by an irresistible analogy, phenomena attesting the sovereignty of spirit over matter and of holiness over evil.

To this reason let us add a third, still more powerful and, in our eyes, decisive. Only the most superficial optimist can pretend that nature, such as we contemplate it in man, is in its true and normal condition; disorder is everywhere, in the domain of the intelligence under the form of error sometimes monstrous, in the domain of the conscience under the form of falsehood, in the domain of the heart under the form of egotism or of lawless affections, in the physical domain under the form of sensuality, of deformity, or of sorrow. To the wilful sophists who say that all is well, humanity responds by the cry of its sufferings. To those who affirm that evil must needs be, it responds by the clamorous protestations of its conscience and by the sorrowful confession of its misery; for the human soul has, like the ocean, its ebb and its flow, and to the rising tide of its crimes corresponds the sinking tide of its remorse. If evil were with us only the simple heritage of a primitive animal nature, we should commit it naturally; but man is not a brute; so when he becomes brutal, he descends lower than the brute itself. He is false to his nature; he perverts it; his tendency is sub-natural, so to speak, [p 327-ed3] contra-natural. If, then, the redemption of humanity is to be accomplished, it must be by the re-establishment of the true nature created in the image of God. The sub-natural calls invincibly for the supernatural.

Now, that which we call the supernatural in the work of Jesus Christ, what is it if it is not, before all, the restoration of human nature to its normal state, such as it is according to the will of God? It is this character, so profoundly moral, which ever distinguishes the miracles of the Christ from the multitude of legendary feats, born of the love of the marvellous. This desire for the marvellous has been by no one so severely condemned as by Christ Himself; no one has said more clearly that the prodigy alone is utterly useless, and it is because He thinks thus that He always refuses to make parade of His divine power. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in Him awakens the idea of a thaumaturgist; His acts are simple and sublime as His words, and in the one as in the other it is, before all, the Redeemer who manifests Himself. But the redemption He would accomplish has for its object the entire human nature, corporeal and spiritual at the same time. I insist upon the word corporeal; for Christianity, in opposition to all the religions of the East, and to the ancient philosophies, has never placed in the body the principle of evil; and Christianity alone proposes to sanctify and to save the entire man.

How should this restoration of the integral nature have been accomplished by the Christ if He had been limited to teach, if He had not acted, if He had not touched with His divine hands the born-blind, the demoniacs, and the lepers? What! you find it good that, in His discourses, Jesus Christ protests against the insolent triumph of violence, against the perversions of justice and of right, against moral evil in its triple manifestation [p 328-ed3] —sensuality, selfishness, and pride; you are moved when, in the face of the ruins of the Divine handiwork, so profoundly altered, He traces before you the grand outlines of the kingdom of God; in this language you recognise the revealer of religious truth: now, by what right, or in virtue of what preconceived idea, do you interdict Him from realising in facts that which He proclaims in His words? Is it necessary then that He remain powerless before physical suffering, and that He limit Himself to contemplate with a sterile sympathy the hideous malady which decays the leper, the extinguished sight of the blind, or the overthrown reason which betrays the terror and the anguish of the miserable possessed? Is it necessary that He stand, disarmed, face to face with death? Is it necessary that He, in His turn, submit to it, vanquished by it, as all the children of men, throwing to the world, by way of last adieu, a theoretic protest to which responds the implacable irony of Nature immutable, subject to the eternal fatality of evil?

It is not thus that Christianity understands the work of the redemption. It shows us in Jesus Christ a Being who is truly the Son of man, subject to all the conditions of humanity; a Being who grows, struggles, and sanctifies Himself; but, at the same time, a Being who, by His acts as by His words, reveals to us the intervention of God in humanity; a Being who, always and everywhere, affirms the sovereignty of spirit over matter, of holiness over evil, of life over death.

One can explain Cæsar, Mahomet, Buddha, Confucius; one cannot explain Jesus Christ. Do you desire the proof of it? It is that the attempts at such explanation recommence without ceasing; it is that you are satisfied by none of them; it is that every epoch in turn exercises itself upon this problem [p 329-ed3] without ever resolving it. “What hast Thou to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” cried, one day, a possessed of Capernaum. It is the cry of the human conscience, and each generation repeats it, transported in turn by admiration and by revolt from adoration to blasphemy, before this Figure whose perfection attracts it and repulses it, and understanding by an infallible instinct stronger than all sophisms that Jesus Christ can be nothing if He be not the Master and the King.



[Having considered how our Lord Jesus Christ supports His claim to universal kingship in these four aspects—the manner in which He teaches the intellect, in which He judges the conscience, in which He claims to be the master of hearts, and in the exercise of the supernatural power which He claimed to possess—M. Bersier proceeds to consider how these pretensions have been supported by history:—

Is it not evident, he says, that the more magnificent the dream, the more miserable must be the awakening?]

Let us then interrogate history, and ask of it what testimony it has to render to the royalty of Jesus. We have seen that the claim of Jesus Christ is to a royalty, moral and religious. It would be absurd, then—is it not so?—to inquire if this royalty is exercised in the order political, or in the order purely intellectual, and to repeat the old sarcasms of the Romans upon a King who let Himself be crucified, or the ancient pleasantries upon that religion of the ignorant which gathers its votaries amongst cobblers, fishers, and journeymen.

[p 330-ed3]

This royalty, being of the moral order, can exercise itself only as it respects human liberty. It will impose itself, then, neither by brutal force nor by phenomena which would produce upon the senses an irresistible and fatal impression, nor by a scientific demonstration which would strike only a small minority of minds, and would subjugate them by mathematical evidence which would have in it nothing of moral force. If the Church, forgetting this great principle, would fain realise this kingdom of Christ by the arm of the flesh, she would be doing despite to the expressed will of her Chief.

Therefore, we must expect to see this royalty accepted or combated in turn, blessed or cursed. And this is, in fact, what Jesus Christ most plainly announced. Often did He speak to His disciples of the future which awaited them. I defy any one to find in these words of His any optimistic hope, any promise of success, immediate or universal. The impression left on the mind is, rather, sombre; not more sombre, alas! than that produced by the history of the Church during these eighteen hundred years. There shall be struggles, says the Master, there shall be persecutions and defections, there shall be, always, bitter hatred against the truth. Events still follow this monotonous course; there are wars and rumours of war now as in all time. But, the grain of mustard shall become a great tree, and the people shall seek refuge in its shade; but, the Gospel shall be preached to every nation under heaven.

Two things, then, are clearly announced: opposition and progress, persecution and victory, or, more exactly, success even by means of defeat; as on the day of Calvary, so until the end. I know that this divine plan astonishes us: we cannot conceive how God, all-powerful [p 331-ed3] and all-good, consents to these long adjournments, to these momentary recoils of His cause, to these apparent defeats. Were we in His place we should ordain, without doubt, the immediate triumph of justice and the splendid manifestation of truth. God has not willed it. It has pleased Him that religious truth should submit to all the laws which regulate human things; and that, even as on the day of its incarnation in the holy humanity of Christ it was contradicted by the Pharisees and scribes, denied by its own disciples, railed upon by Herod and Pilate, delivered to the buffetings and spittings of the Pretorium;—even so, in its incarnation during eighteen centuries in the bosom of our corrupt humanity it has pleased Him that the truth should be held in vessels of clay, transmitted from men to men, imperfectly translated in their imperfect languages, travestied, calumniated, often persecuted, liable to suffer from the infirmities of its disciples, compromised by their errors, served by their devotion, by their knowledge, or their energy, propagated by their discoveries, by the art of printing, by the triumphs of steam, by the diffusion of light and of liberty; then, all at once, arrested, perhaps for long, by some common accident, by causes fatal in appearance, which deprive it of its most valiant apostles, and leave it without defence. Such appears to me to be the aspect in history of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, divine in its origin, human in its destiny, subject to all the vicissitudes of things here below, and marching across its momentary defeat towards its assured triumph.

We do not ask, then, if the cause of Christ is a cause always popular and always victorious. In advance, the Gospel before us, we tell you that that is impossible. But we ask, in the first place, if His spiritual [p 332-ed3] kingdom is real, and for an answer to this question we shall appeal first to those who accept it, afterwards to those who reject, whether because they hate it, or because they misunderstand it.

Let us first hear those who accept it. “He is the King!” Here is the canticle which is chanted by the Christian Church everywhere under the heavens, and the singers are all those who have bent under the gentle and pacific yoke of Jesus Christ. At this day, at this hour, we may hear it on the lips of millions of adorers of all ages and of every nation. These say it in the naїf glow of their young enthusiasm, those myriads of children that each generation leads to the feet of Him who has said, “Let them come unto Me;” others, with the strong affirmation of a conviction, powerful and rational; those, with the repentant cry of the sinner who mourns over his sins of the past; others, in the tears of an unspeakable sorrow which have cleared their vision to perceive the apparition of the Sovereign Consoler. This kingdom,—the sons of Shem were the first to salute it; then Greece perceived its moral beauty; Rome submitted to its ascendency; and when races, haughty and savage, poured forth from the forests of Germany and the steppes of the antique Orient, they, in turn, bowed themselves before the Crucified—as those Goths of the yellow locks, ancestors of the Anglo-Saxon races, whom Chrysostom saw adoring the Christ in a basilicon of Constantinople, and of whom he said, with prophetic instinct, that they should one day carry the flambeau of the Gospel which the Greeks had let fall from unworthy hands.

Thus from age to age Christianity extends its limits. To-day there is not a believer who, looking [p 333-ed3] at Africa on the map of the world, land long accursed, and whose sands have drunk in human blood by torrents—even as those old empires of China and the Indies—does not say, “One day these people shall be subdued to Christ Jesus.”

Now in the midst of so many races, so dissimilar in aspect, in language, in temperament, in genius, Jesus Christ has known how to create an empire, founded alone on that which there is in man of most intimate and most profound—as many of those who hear me would attest, were it necessary, who attribute to His name the greatest emotions of their interior life, and the decisions which have many times saved them. What empire can be compared to His? As the flow which, at each tide, brings the ocean to all the shores of the world, even so does adoration carry to the feet of Christ the homage of those hearts whose master He is; and even of those others, who are so carried away by the current of passing events that they do not allow to escape from their lips the avowal that none among the children of men is beloved as He.

It will be said, no doubt, that in this concert there are discordant voices, and that the kingdom has been from the first combated with furious resistance. I do not forget it, and, instantly, I recall the fact that Christ has foretold as much. Always, let us remember, truth can be recognised by two signs: by the love which it inspires, and by the hatred which it excites. There are maledictions which do it a more magnificent homage than adoration itself. When all the voluptuousness, all the infamies, all the cruelties of ancient Rome united themselves against the new-born Church in her virginal robes, pouring out upon her the fierceness of their wrath, these voices attest, [p 334-ed3] after their manner, even as the Christians in their canticles, that Christ is a king of love, of justice, and of holiness! Do you not understand? Would you have Nero salute Christ otherwise than by his hatred? and that, as so many other Cæsars of his kind, he should mingle in his atrocities and his massacres the invocation of the holy God? Is it not enough, is it not too much, that the Church should have had as protector a Constantine, a Charles IX., a Philip II.?

You will answer, I know, and I say it myself, that the question does not stand thus in our days, and that it would be iniquitous to rank all those who turn themselves to-day from Jesus Christ amongst those who follow the inspiration of their pride and of their corrupt heart. You point me to men of eminent intellect who have openly broken with Christianity, and who seek sincerely in the inspirations of their conscience for the rule of their conduct and the direction of their life. I recognise these facts, convinced beforehand that I am not permitted to call evil that which is good, and that I am required to salute integrity of life wherever I may meet with it, whether—which I have often seen—it ally itself to superstitious ideas which I condemn, or, on the other hand, to the negations which desolate me.

Yes, it is only too true that under the flag of Jesus Christ march men whose life is for the Church a subject of humiliation and of scandal, and that amongst those who attack it we meet adversaries to whom we cannot refuse our respect. It is eighteen centuries since the Master predicted that the tares should mingle with the wheat in the field until the harvest, and that it does not pertain to His disciples to separate them. This fact saddens me, but it [p 335-ed3] presents no difficulties to my faith, and I will tell you very sincerely why.

Submission to Jesus Christ implies two things: faith in His person, and obedience to His will; these two elements united form the Christian life; the more strict their union, the more intense is this life. But history shows us that this union is rare. There are epochs, long epochs, when the conservation of the faith, the unity of the faith, its orthodoxy, has been the dominant and often exclusive idea of the Church, where Christian life was all but dried up, and become more and more exterior, intellectual, dead. Recall Byzantium, where discussions, as subtle as they were furious, on the divine essence, mingled themselves with the refined pleasures of a corrupt court. Recall the epoch of the Merovingians, when assassinations and poisonings multiplied, whilst upon the basilicon were to be read these triumphant words: Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. Recall Italy in the fifteenth century, the court of Valois in the sixteenth, and the old age of Louis XIV. The exterior edifice stands, imposing, majestic, but moral rottenness secretly consumes the foundations until the hour when it falls with a sound of tempest.

Inevitably these excesses call forth others, otherwise humanity would be humanity no longer. When the hour of emancipation sounds, men scorn, curse, that teaching, those dogmas, in whose name so many iniquities have been committed. And in order to refute them the better, what do they? They oppose to them principles of justice, of equity, of love, of mercy, forgetting only one thing—that these principles are the very foundation of the Gospel as set forth by Jesus Christ. Yes, it is Jesus Christ whom they oppose to Jesus Christ. On the one hand are those [p 336-ed3] who do this with the skill of enemies knowing well how to choose their arms; as Voltaire, of whom it has been said with truth that, in shaking the dry tree of Christianity, he shook down fruits which the believers forgot to gather. Others know nothing of Christ; they have never been able to perceive Him through the dark thicket of their ignorance or of invincible hindrances; but even in fighting against Him they submit, without knowing Him, to the ascendency of His spirit and His precepts, and while Christians in name give to Jesus Christ their faith without giving Him their life, these unbelievers in name serve Him in their life even while they refuse to Him their faith. “Is Christ divided?” said Saint Paul. Alas! history shows us too much of this cruel division: on the one side, those who believe without doing; on the other, those who do, without believing. And when we think of these last, must we not recall that sublime scene of the parable of the Last Judgment? “Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee hungry? when saw we Thee a stranger, sick, and in prison, and went unto Thee? And the King shall answer them, Verily, I say unto you, insomuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done them unto Me” (Matt. xxv. 37-40). Who shall say, who can say, what is the number in the world to-day of these unconscious servants of the unknown Christ?

Thus, then, above all in this much troubled age, do I discern the influence of Jesus Christ. Oh! I know that on all hands the Church is battered by tempest shocks which should cause her to founder. From above descend the high glaciers of incredulous science; from below ascend the cries of wrath, hatred, blasphemy, of the multitudes exasperated by secular [p 337-ed3] sufferings; and I recollect, as I hear the tumult of voices, the sweet word of the Master, “Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him,” and this prayer, supreme expression of the infinite clemency, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But when, alarmed by these clamours on every hand, believers come to us and say that the reign of Christ is coming to an end, I am tempted to answer them, “O men of little faith, weep no more for the Christ, for He remains, but weep for yourselves and for that blind race which denies Him who is able to save.”

No! His reign is not finished, and in this twilight, which, according to you, heralds the darkness, we salute the aurora of a day of which the renewed Church shall see the splendour. Would you have proof of it? Interrogate these men whose menaces alarm you; ask them what is their programme of the future for the amelioration of human society, and you will see that the most generous and the most practical of their ideas are merely plagiarised from this Gospel of which they will no more, from this Gospel of which the practical realisation, far from being achieved, has, we must say it, to the humiliation of Christians, only commenced.

What do they demand? Liberty? Listen to the Gospel: “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them, but it is not so among you.” Justice? Listen to the Gospel: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Equality? Listen to the Gospel: “You are all brothers.” The independence of the religious conscience? Listen to the Gospel: “Call no one on earth your father, for [p 338-ed3] you have only one Father, even God.” The liberation of civil society from all spiritual domination? Listen to the Gospel: “Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s.” The destruction of all slavery, the protection of the young and the feeble, the freer participation of all in every right, the destruction of misery and of ignorance, the practical realisation of the great law of solidarity? Can the Gospel be hostile to these, when it was the first to proclaim them? What demand they more? The end of national rivalries and of wars, the reign of peace? Where has this reign been depicted with such magnificence as in that book which, under Tiberius and under Nero, affirmed that the heritage and the possession of the earth should be to those who seek and who will peace? Say not then that you have got beyond the Gospel while it presents itself before you as the resplendent pharos of the future. Say we to ourselves, we Christians, that we make a miserable travesty of it. We bow the head because we know this to be true; but the shame, at least, should not fall upon Him whom we name our King.

I know that there is yet more in this Gospel. There are those religious truths of which you believe that man may henceforth pass them by; there is the affirmation of the existence of a God, creator, legislator, and judge; there is the proclamation of our moral responsibility, of our culpability, and of the necessity for us to repent and to believe; there is the Divine promise of a pardon which is an act of grace; there is the assurance of the love, profound, infinite, of Him whom we call our Father; there is the certitude of His incessant action in the history of this world, and in the most humble of our destinies; there is, lastly, the life eternal, with all which the word [p 339-ed3] contains of consolation for hearts like ours, whose terrestrial felicity is at the mercy of a moment’s experience, which may have, to-morrow, perhaps, to place their dearest treasure under planks of oak. These religious truths, which we call doctrines, Christianity has strictly united to the moral truths which men pretend to-day to separate from them. In her profound knowledge of humanity she has seen that these proceed from those. The desire to suppress religion for the better conservation of the moral life is, as it were, to level the gigantic Alps by way of shortening the descent of the deep waters which take their rise therein, as if it were not from the deep glaciers accumulated at their summits that the Rhone and the Rhine are fed.

Ah, well! It remains to be seen if they are able to level the doctrines of religion, which are the Alps of the human soul; if it is possible for them to extinguish the great light which the Gospel has projected on our destinies, and if the generation which follows us will indeed inscribe on the portals of the twentieth century these words, in which Saint Paul summed up the condition of the pagan world of his times: “Without God, without hope.” None can say how far will descend the intoxication of atheism which, to-day, troubles so many spirits; but for its honour I affirm that Humanity will not be able to remain in these depths profound; and when she would mount towards the light, she must needs seize, not the trembling hand of a simple child of men, but the all-powerful hand of Him who has resolved the mysteries of sin, of sorrow, and of death, and who, since eighteen centuries ago, has said to men: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; none cometh to God but by Me.”

For us, Christians, who have found in the Christ the King of our souls, let us muster more resolutely than [p 340-ed3] ever under His banner; and since God calls us to serve Him in the religious liberty so valiantly vindicated by our fathers; since, in the order of religious revelation, as in the order of grace, as in the order of the Church, we have only one master, Christ—we swear to remain faithful to Him until the hour of death, which, thanks to Him, proclaims for us the entry into the life eternal.

Three centuries ago the greatest hero of the French Reformation, Gaspard de Coligny, defended the little town of Saint-Quentin against the formidable invasion of the Spaniards. The imprudence of Valois had delivered to foreigners the frontiers of France. … Saint-Quentin had only ramparts in ruins; fever and famine decimated its defenders; the terrified population spoke of surrender, treason lurked in corners. One day the enemy shot over the walls of the town an arrow bearing a strip of parchment with an inscription which promised the inhabitants, if they would surrender, to accord them their lives and their goods. For all response, a Spanish officer tells us, Coligny took a strip of parchment and wrote thereon these simple words, Regem habemus; then he fixed it to a spear, which he threw into the camp of the enemy. Regem habemus. We have a king. This was for him the heroic expression of his faith in his country, which his loyal soul incarnated in his king, even though that king were Henry II., the husband of Catherine de Médicis, the father of that Charles IX. who became the assassin of the great Huguenot captain.

And we, Christians, enclosed within this ancient citadel of the Church, attacked on all sides to-day, without, our ramparts too often falling into decay, within, too many cowardly counsels and sinister rumours which announce approaching defeat, we, in our turn, say Regem habemus. We have a King! a [p 341-ed3] King of righteousness and of truth, who shall yet vanquish the world, and to whom belong the empire and the glory for ever. Amen!

Note.—Messrs. James Nisbet & Co., 21 Berners Street, W., have, we believe, published a translation of the first volume of M. Eugène Bersier’s Sermons, and also a volume of translated extracts under the title of The Gospel in Paris. The seven volumes of Sermons may be had at the Libraire Tischbacher, 33 Rue de Seine à Paris, price 3 fr. 50 c. per volume; each Tome contains incomparable sermons.

[p 342-ed3]


“The children walk every day; they are never out less than an hour when the weather is suitable.” That is better than nothing; so is this:—An East London schoolmistress notices the pale looks of one of her best girls. “Have you had any dinner, Nellie?” “Ye-es” (with hesitation). “What have you had?” “Mother gave Jessie and me a halfpenny to buy our dinners, and we bought a haporth of aniseed drops—they go further than bread”—with an appeal in her eyes against possible censure for extravagance. Children do not develop at their best upon aniseed drops for dinner, nor upon an hour’s “constitutional” daily. Possibly science will bring home to us more and more the fact, that animal life, pent under cover, is supported under artificial conditions, just as is plant life in a glass house. Here is where most Continental nations have the advantage over us; they keep up the habit of out-of-door life; and as a consequence, the average Frenchman, German, Italian, Bulgarian is more joyous, more simple, and more hardy than the average Englishman. Climate? Did not Charles II.—and he knew—declare for the climate of England because you could be abroad “more hours in the day and more days in the year” in England than “in any other country”? We lose sight of the fact that we are not like that historical personage who “lived upon nothing but [p 343-ed3] victuals and drink.” “You can’t live upon air!” we say to the invalid who can’t eat. No; we cannot live upon air; but if we must choose among the three sustainers of life, air will support us the longest. We know all about it; we are deadly weary of the subject; let but the tail of your eye catch “oxygenation” on a page, and the well-trained organ skips that paragraph of its own accord. No need to tell Macaulay’s schoolboy, or anybody else, how the blood of the body is brought to the lungs and there spread about in a huge extent of innumerable “pipes” that it may be exposed momentarily to the oxygen in the air; how the air is made to blow upon the blood, so spread out in readiness, by the bellows-like action of inspiration; how the air penetrates the very thin walls of the pipes; and then, behold, a magical (or chemical) transmutation; the worthless sewage of the system becomes on the instant the rich vivifying fluid whose function it is to build up the tissues of muscle and nerve. And the Prospero that wears the cloak? Oxygen, his name; and the marvel that he effects within us some fifteen times in the course of a minute is possibly without parallel in the whole array of marvels which we “tot up” with easy familiarity, setting down “life,” and carrying—a cypher!


We know all about it; what we forget, perhaps, is, that even oxygen has its limitation: nothing can act but where it is, and waste attends work,—hold true for this vital gas as for other matters. Fire and lamp and breathing beings are all consumers of the oxygen which sustains them. What follows? Why, that this element, which is present in the ratio of twenty-three parts to the hundred in pure air, is subject to an enormous [p 344-ed3] drain within the four walls of a house, where the air is more or less stationary. We are not speaking just now of the vitiation of the air—only of the drain upon its life-sustaining element. Think, again, of the heavy drain upon the oxygen which must support the multitudinous fires and many breathing beings congregated in a large town! “What follows?” is a strictly vital question. Man can enjoy the full measure of vigorous, joyous existence possible to him only when his blood is fully aerated; and this takes place when the air he inhales contains its full complement of oxygen. Is it too much to say that vitality is reduced, other things being equal, in proportion as persons are house-dwellers rather than open-air dwellers? The impoverished air sustains life at a low and feeble level; wherefore, in the great towns stature dwindles, the chest contracts, men hardly live to see their children’s children. True, we must needs have houses for shelter from the weather by day and for rest at night; but in proportion as we cease to make our houses “comfortable,” as we regard them merely as necessary shelters when we cannot be out of doors, shall we enjoy to the full the vigorous vitality possible to us.


Parents of pale-faced town children, think of these things! The gutter children who feed on the pickings of the streets are better off (and healthier looking) in this one respect than your cherished darlings, because they have more of the first essential of life—air. There is some circulation of air even in the slums of the city, and the child who spends its days in the streets is better supplied with oxygen than he who spends most of his hours in the unchanged air of a spacious apartment. But it is not the air of the streets the [p 345-ed3] children want. It is the delicious life-giving air of the country. The outlay of the children in living is enormously in excess of the outlay of the adult. The endless activity of the child, while it develops muscle, is kept up at the expense of very great waste of tissue. It is the blood which carries material for the reparation of this loss. The child must grow, every part of him, and it is the blood which brings material for the building up of new tissues. Again, we know that the brain is, out of all proportion to its size, the great consumer of the blood-supply, but the brain of the child, what with its eager activity, what with its twofold growth, is insatiable in its demands!


“I feed Alice on beef-tea, cod-liver oil, and all sorts of nourishing things, but it’s very disheartening, the child doesn’t gain flesh!” It is probable that Alice breathes for twenty-two of the twenty-four hours the impoverished and more or less vitiated air pent within the four walls of a house. The child is practically starving; for the food she eats is very imperfectly and inadequately converted into the aerated blood that feeds the tissues of the body.


And if she is suffering from bodily inanition, what about the eager, active, curious, hungering mind of the little girl? “Oh, she has her lessons regularly every day.” Probably; but lessons which deal with words—only the signs of things—are not what the child wants. There is no knowledge so appropriate to the early years of a child as that of the name and look and [p 346-ed3] behaviour in situ of every natural object he can get at.


“He hath so done His marvellous works that they ought to be had in remembrance.”


Here is a suggestive anecdote of the childhood of Mrs. Harrison, one of the pair of little Quaker maidens introduced to us in the Autobiography of Mary Howitt, the better known of the sisters. “One day she found her way into a lumber room. There she caught sight of an old Bible, and turning over its yellow leaves she came upon words that she had not heard at the usual morning readings, the opening chapters of St. Luke—which her father objected to read aloud—and the closing chapter of Revelation. The exquisite picture of the Great Child’s birth in the one chapter, and the beauty of the description of the New Jerusalem in the other, were seized upon by the eager little girl of six years old with a rapture which, she used to say, no novel in after years ever produced.”

And here is a story of a child of five. “The little ones read every day the events of Holy Week with me. Z. is inexpressibly interesting in his deep, reverent interest, almost excitement.”


We are probably quite incapable of measuring the religious receptivity of children. Nevertheless, their fitness to apprehend the deep things of God is a fact with which we are called to “deal prudently,” and to deal reverently. And that, because, as none can appreciate more fully than the “Darwinian,” the attitude of thought and feeling in which you place a child is the vital factor in his education.

[p 347-ed3]

“Begin it, and the thing will be completed!” is infallibly true of every mental and moral habitude: completed, not on the lines you foresee and intend, but on the lines appropriate and necessary to that particular habitude. In the phrase “unconscious cerebration,” we are brought face to face with the fact that, whatever seed of thought or feeling you implant in a child—whether through inheritance or by early training—grows, completes itself, and begets after its kind, even as a corporeal organism. It is a marvellous and beautiful thing to perceive an idea—when the idea itself is a fine one—developing within you of its own accord, to find your pen writing down sentences whose logical sequence delights you, and yet in the conception of which you have had no conscious part. When the experienced writer “reels off” in this fashion, he knows that so far as the run of the words, the ordering of the ideas, go, his work will need no revision. So fine a thing is this that the lingering fallacy of the infallible reason established itself thereupon. The philosopher, who takes pleasure in observing the ways of his own mind, is a thinker of high thoughts, and he is apt to forget that the thought which defiles a man behaves in precisely the same way as that which purifies: the one, as the other, develops, matures, and increases after its kind.


How does this bear on the practical work of bringing up children? In this way: We think, as we are accustomed to think; ideas come and go and carry on a ceaseless traffic in the rut—let us call it—you have made for them in the very nerve substance of the brain. You do not deliberately intend to think these thoughts; you may, indeed, object strongly to the [p 348-ed3] line they are taking (two “trains” of thought going on at one and the same time!), and, objecting, you may be able to barricade the way, to put up “No Road” in big letters, and to compel the busy populace of the brain-world to take another route. But who is able for these things? Not the child immature of will, feeble in moral power, unused to the weapons of the spiritual warfare. He depends upon his parents; it rests with them to initiate the thoughts he shall think, the desires he shall cherish, the feelings he shall allow. Only to initiate; no more is permitted to them; but from this initiation will result the habits of thought and feeling which govern the man—his character, that is to say. But is not this assuming too much, seeing that, to sum up roughly all we understand by heredity, a child is born with his future in his hands? The child is born, doubtless, with the tendencies which should shape his future; but every tendency has its branch roads, its good or evil outcome; and to put the child on the right track for the fulfilment of the possibilities inherent in him, is the vocation of the parent.


But religious training, and the Bible? It is so hard to know what to teach when everything is an “open question.” Courage. Nothing is lost yet, and the future is for us. We yield, not the Scriptures, but one or other of the old canons of interpretation, as Science shows it to be untenable; but we look her in the eyes and interrogate her sharply; and, above all, we are intolerant of the assumption of infallibility in a teacher who is ever smearing out with wet finger some lesson of yesterday, because it is not the truth of to-day. Are we not on the verge of a new criticism, [p 349-ed3] not historical, and not natural, but personal? Is not physiology hurrying up with the announcement that to every man it is permitted to mould and modify his own brain? That not heredity, and not environment, but education is the final and the formative power? That character is the man, and education is the maker of character, howsoever much she owe her material to the other two?


And how should this affect our study of Holy Writ? By concentrating criticism upon the personages of the Bible rather than upon the recorded events. First upon the authors—known or unknown: the instruction in righteousness is not less or more, whether Moses or another, Isaiah or another, wrote the words. Is it in human nature, is it in the nature of authors, for a man to suppress himself as the authors here? Where do the little affectations and vanities of the man of letters crop up? Where are the turgid utterances, the egotistical, the bombastic? Even Plutarch, prince of biographers, cannot refrain himself; he gives you his opinion of his man, and illustrates it by delightful anecdotes; but to set the man himself before you for judgment without a yea or a nay—not Plutarch or another has been able for this, least of all the biographers of to-day. Where, in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, of prophet, priest, or king, have we moral disquisitions? Is not rather the principle made plain all along the line that right and wrong are self-evidenced, calling for neither praise nor blame; unadorned straightforward narrative is enough when every man carries the judge in his bosom. And then the persons—how the springs of human action are laid bare, how they rise from [p 350-ed3] out the sacred page, not a gallery of Hebrew portraits, but a procession of the living, more manifest than the people with whom you sit at table every day! Whence is this, if not by the inspiration of God? And how majestical do some of them take shape before us! How feeble are patriotism, enthusiasm, altruism, all the fine words of to-day, to express the law-giver of Israel, the prophet, the poet, the leader of men, a man of like passions with ourselves, too, but how incapable of self! “Moses, Moses, und immer Moses!” Truly this one character is enough to stimulate us to the bringing up of godly and manly youth. And in what two or three wonderful touches have we set before us the education that made him. And all the time, no praises, never a story told for his exaltation, no more ever than the flow of lucid narrative showing only events in their course. Here is essential truth; here is a twofold inspiration. First, to produce the man Moses; next, to portray him. Ah, but the “evolution of history”! Truly, if man is to be measured by the heaped-up praises of his biographers, every year we produce many, not only greater than Moses, but greater than Christ! When does biography issue from the press so free of laudations as are the four evangels? Oh, “the sweet reasonableness of Christianity,” the most sober sanity of that great company elected to hand over to us the counsels of God!


Is it true that the charming art of letter-writing has gone out with the introduction of the halfpenny postcard? “There is a great deal to be said on both sides” would, doubtless, be Sir Roger de Coverley’s decision; anyway, if we do not write letters, the useful little post-card [p 351-ed3] is not to blame. But do we not? Have we not all correspondents whose epistles are delightful in their rippling, sparkling flow of talk, with just the little touches of tenderness and confidence which makes a letter a personal thing? Do we not know what it is to open an envelope with the certainty that we shall take pure delight in every line of its enclosure? Because we love the writer? Not necessarily. The morning’s post may bring you an epistle from an unknown correspondent which shall captivate you, fill you with a sense of well-being for a whole day; and this, not because of the contents, but simply because the gracious courtesy of it puts you on good terms with yourself and the world. One man may refuse a favour and another grant it; and the way in which the refusal is couched may give you more pleasure than the concession.


Possibly, sincere deference is the ingredient which gives flavour to a gracious letter; and if we do not write epistles as charming as those of our grandfathers and grandmothers, is it because we do not think enough of one another to make a spontaneous outpouring worth while? The children of parents living in India usually write and receive interesting letters, and this because they are glad to make the most of the only means of knowing each other. Perhaps no opportunity of writing detailed, animated letters to children should be omitted. Let them grow up with the idea that it is worth while to write good letters. That schoolboy whose correspondence for a term was comprised in two post-cards, “All right:” “Which train?” is not a good model, except as brevity is the soul of wit.

[p 352-ed3]


Do we incline with lingering fondness rather to the things of the past than to the eager stir of the present, the promise of the future? Not so; we appreciate to the full the joy of living in days characterised by childlike frankness, openness to conviction, readiness to try all things and choose that which is good. We have our faults—grave and depressing enough—but we are ready for better things, ready, indeed, for any great crusade, if some modern Luther or Savonarola should arise and tell us the thing to do. To endeavour ourselves to the daily effort of education, to live and act, think and speak before the children, so that they shall be hourly the better for all that we are, is harder, no doubt, than to make one enormous sacrifice. But even for this we shall be enabled in these inspiring days, when it seems to some of us that the people are being made willing in the day of His power. The outlook is very cheering: we begin to see that education is the elected handmaid of religion, and get stimulating glimpses of the stature of the perfect man, possible to redeemed humanity.


But the past offers us its accumulated treasures of wisdom and experience—

“And (we) could wish (our) days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.”

Few things could be more disastrous (as, alas, few are more imminent) than a sudden break with the traditions of the past; wherefore, let us gently knit the bonds that bind us to the generation all too rapidly dying out. Without a thought of disloyalty towards [p 353-ed3] our own most earnest days, perhaps some of us feel that the cultivated men and women of the early decades of the century had more breadth and sweetness—any way, more delightful humour—than we perceive in our contemporaries. It is well that we gather up, with tender reverence, such fragments of their insight and experience as come in our way. We would, each, fain be as an householder, bringing forth out of his treasures things new and old.


“Lose this day loitering, and ’twill be the same story

To-morrow; and the next, more dilatory:

The indecision brings its own delays,

And days are lost, lamenting o’er lost days,”[2]

says Goethe, who, like many of us, knew the misery of the intellectual indolence which cannot brace itself to “𝔇𝔬 𝔶𝔢 𝔫𝔢𝔵𝔱 𝔱𝔥𝔦𝔫𝔤𝔢.” No question concerning the bringing up of children can, conceivably, be trivial, but this, of dilatoriness, is very important. The effort of decision, somebody says, is the greatest effort of life; not the doing of the thing, but the making up of one’s mind as to which thing to do first. It is commonly this sort of mental indolence, born of indecision, which leads to dawdling habits. How is the dilatory child to be cured? Time? She will know better as she grows older? Not a bit of it: “And the next, more dilatory” will be the story of her days, except for occasional spurts. Punishments? No; your dilatory person is a fatalist; “What can’t be cured must be endured,” he says, but he will endure without any effort to cure. Rewards? No; to him a reward is a punishment presented under another [p 354-ed3] aspect: the possible reward he realises as actual; there it is, within his grasp, so to say; in foregoing the reward he is punished; and he bears the punishment. What remains to be tried when neither time, reward, nor punishment is effectual? That panacea of the educationist: “One custom overcometh another.” This inveterate dawdling is a habit to be supplanted only by the contrary habit, and the mother must devote herself for a few weeks to this cure as steadily and untiringly as she would to the nursing of her child through measles. Having in a few—the fewer the better—earnest words pointed out the miseries that must arise from this fault, and the duty of overcoming it, and having so got the (sadly feeble) will of the child on the side of right-doing, she simply sees that for weeks together the fault does not recur. The child goes to dress for a walk; she dreams over the lacing of her boots—the tag in her fingers poised in mid air—but her conscience is awake; she is constrained to look up, and her mother’s eye is upon her, hopeful and expectant. She answers to the rein and goes on; midway, in the lacing of the second boot, there is another pause, shorter this time; again she looks up, and again she goes on. The pauses become fewer day by day, the efforts steadier, the immature young will is being strengthened, the habit of prompt action acquired. After that first talk, the mother would do well to refrain from one more word on the subject; the eye (expectant, not reproachful), and, where the child is far gone in a dream, the lightest possible touch, are the only effectual instruments. By-and-by, “Do you think you can get ready in five minutes to-day without me?” “Oh yes, mother.” “Do not say ‘yes’ unless you are quite sure.” “I will try.” [p 355-ed3] And she tries, and succeeds. Now, the mother will be tempted to relax her efforts—to overlook a little dawdling because the dear child has been trying so hard. This is absolutely fatal. The fact is, that the dawdling habit has made an appreciable record in the very substance of the child’s brain. During the weeks of cure new growth has been obliterating the old track, and the track of a new habit is being formed. To permit any reversion to the old bad habit is to let go all this gain. To form a good habit is the work of a few weeks; to guard it is a work of incessant, but by no means anxious care. One word more,—prompt action on the child’s part should have the reward of absolute leisure, time in which to do exactly as she pleases, not granted as a favour, but accruing (without any words) as a right.


Here are some of the points which make a story worth studying to tell to the nestling listeners in many a sweet “Children’s Hour”—graceful and artistic details; moral impulse of a high order, conveyed with a strong and delicate touch; sweet human affections; a tender, fanciful link between the children and the Nature-world; humour, pathos, righteous satire, and last, but not least, the fact that the story does not turn on children, and does not foster that self-consciousness, the dawn of which in the child is, perhaps, the individual “Fall of Man.” But children will not take in all this? No; but let it be a canon that no story, nor part of a story, is ever to be explained. You have sown the seed; leave it to germinate.


“But I can’t stop thinking. I can’t make my mind sit down!” Poor little girl! All children owe you [p 356-ed3] thanks for giving voice to their dumb woes. And we grown-up people have so little imagination, that we send a little boy with an over-active brain to play by himself in the garden in order to escape the fag of lessons. Little we know how the brain-people swarm in and out and rush about!

“The human (brain) is like a millstone, turning ever round and round;

If it have nothing else to grind, it must itself be ground.”

Set the child to definite work by all means, and give him something to grind. But, pray, let him work with things and not with signs—the things of Nature in their own place, meadow and hedgerow, woods and shore.


“Dost thou like fair lands?”

“Why should I not like fair lands? How? Is not that the fairest part of God’s creation?”—King Alfred (from his translation of Bœtius).

Where shall we go this year? is—the question of the day. We want to make the most of that delightful holiday month when we need do nothing but “enjoy ourselves.” But, alas,

“Pleasure is spread through the earth

In stray gifts, to be claimed by whoever shall find;”

and we are not always lucky. Pleasure may be spread in stray gifts, but the gifts lie in likely places, and the quest must be undertaken with circumspection. We crave “fair lands”; town dwellers, especially, sicken for “the green”; the sea, perhaps; but, any way, grass and trees. We look out for pure air and pretty country, and having secured these, we settle down and say, Let us be therewith content. For the first few days, [p 357-ed3] all is delightful; we explore, we botanise, we find many interests; then, boredom sets in; and we secretly tick off the days that separate us from the cares and pleasures of our everyday lives.


Here is the whole secret of a successful holiday: the mind must be actively, unceasingly, and involuntarily engaged with fresh and ever-changing interests; and this is why to take a holiday is by no means the easy thing it looks. The little child, indeed, is made happy day after day with spade and bucket, but that is because his unjaded imagination works without spur, and he is able to fill his sunny hours with glad interest, to make some ever new—

“Little plan or chart,

Some fragment of his dream of human life,

Shaped by himself with newly-learned art.”

But the child who has outgrown spade and bucket, and who is a little fagged with school work, needs, like his elders, engrossing interests which shall compel him to think new thoughts. Fresh air for the lungs, fresh scenes for the eye, are fully healing and helpful only when the mind, too, is taken into account, and the jaded brain is spoon-fed, as it were, with new ideas. This is why foreign travel is delightful; a delight which is, alas, commonly out of the question for the parents of growing children, much more so for the children themselves; and the question is, can we stay at home, and, with the minimum of expense, and the maximum of convenience, get all the stimulus of foreign travel?


Indeed we can; disclaimers should come from those [p 358-ed3] only who have tried our plan; we have tried it, and know it to be easy, economical, and infinitely pleasant. Treat an English county as you would a foreign country; not a district, observe, but a county: we seldom realise how individual each county is in its landscape and history, its weather and ways;—who, for example, would confound the blue skies of Sussex with the blue skies of Cambridgeshire? “There is a delicateness in the air” of each, but it is not the same delicateness. But, to be practical: we choose our county—almost any one will do, and the choice may well be influenced by the cost of taking a family far afield. We get up, roughly, in advance, its history, geology, scenery, flora; and pleasant family evenings are spent over Murray and a map: but once on our travels, nothing will satisfy us but the literature indigenous to the spot, the lives of the people who have made their dwelling-place illustrious, the books these may have written, the scenes of English history here played out. Having chosen our county, we fix upon some half-dozen centres, country towns, from which we can easily cover the interests of the whole county. Lodgings for a family can be obtained easily in towns where visitors are few and far between; we want but little luggage, for only the simplest dread-nought garments are suitable for the sort of life we have in view; it is easy to get from centre to centre; in an hour or two from leaving the last, the children are rejoicing in the investigation of new quarters. Each centre will probably afford a dozen walks and excursions of extreme interest, while the cost of the little transits is more than saved, because the rates of lodging and living in unfrequented country towns are far less than in the ordinary watering-places.


[p 359-ed3]

But our readers are not convinced; they still think it better to settle down quietly “in a place you know,” than to wander like tramps about the country, where, “What is there to see after all?” A single example is worth a peck of precepts, so let us glance at the possibilities of an English county, not a show county, either; but to know Hampshire is a liberal education in itself, and the recollection of its pleasant places and wonderfully interesting associations will stir

“Sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,”

in many a dreary interval of life.

Are you an archæologist? You may examine half-a-dozen churches with fragments of the original Norman structure in the course of one day’s walk, and get quite new ideas of what the Norman conquerors did in scattering centres of light through the land. Are you an ornithologist? You may study the graceful ways of the swallows, and the habits of many of the “feathered nation,” in Gilbert White’s own “sweet Selborne.” Are you a botanist? Here are rare treasures for your herbarium; in and about the Great Wood of Alton alone you may find seventeen of the thirty-eight British species of orchis.[3] Do you care for history, for good and great men, for Miss Austen, for the Christian Year—does geology interest you? Here is a field [p 360-ed3] “all dedicate” to each. Do you wish your children to enter fully upon the inheritance of culture and virtue which is theirs in right of their English birth? Bring them here, or to some other lovely and pleasant county in the three kingdoms. A month spent thus in gathering the lore of a single county is more educative than five terms of vigorous school work.


One thing more: it is good, doubtless, to be cosmopolitan in our tastes, liberal and unprejudiced in our judgments; but he who would love all the world must begin with the brother whom he has seen, and enlightened sympathy with other nations can coexist only with profound and instructed patriotism. In the noble character, patriotism is the warp with which every fine and delicate attribute is interwoven. The child who is not trained in patriotic feeling will not, as a man, live at the highest level possible to him; and this noblest virtue is best instilled, not by vulgar vaunting of ourselves, but by the gradual introduction of the child to the lovely lives that have been lived, the great work that has been done, in quiet places in every county of Britain through the long period of our history.


The habit of casual reading, about which Sir John Lubbock says such wise and pleasant words, is a form of mild intellectual dissipation which does more harm than we realise. Many who would not read even a brilliant novel of a certain type, sit down to read twaddle without scruple. Nothing is too scrappy, nothing is too weak to “pass the time”! The “scraps” literature of railway bookstalls is symptomatic. We do not all read scraps, under whatever piquant title, but the locust-swarm of this class of literature points to the small [p 361-ed3] reading power amongst us. The mischief begins in the nursery. No sooner can a child read at all than hosts of friendly people show their interest in him by a present of a “pretty book.” A “pretty book” is not necessarily a picture book, but one in which the page is nicely broken up in talk or short paragraphs. Pretty books for the schoolroom age follow those for the nursery, and nursery and schoolroom outgrown, we are ready for “Mudie’s” lightest novels; the succession of “pretty books” never fails us; we have no time for works of any intellectual fibre, and we have no more assimilating power than has the schoolgirl who feeds upon cheese-cakes. Scott is dry as dust, even Kingsley is “stiff.” We remain, though in another sense than that of the cottage dame, “poor readers” all our days. Very likely these strictures do not touch a single reader of this page, and we are like a parson of the three-decker age inveighing against the ways of the thieves and drunkards who were not in the pews. But the mischief is catching, and the children of even reading parents are not safe. Guard the nursery; let nothing in that has not the true literary flavour; let the children grow up on a few books read over and over, and let them have none, the reading of which does not cost an appreciable mental effort. This is no hardship. Activity, effort, whether of body or mind, is joyous to a child. We older people who went out of our Robinson Crusoe into our Scott did not find the strong meat too much for us. We wonder does any little girl in these days of many books experience the keen joy of the girl of eleven we can recall, crouching by the fireside, clasping her knees, and listening, as she has never listened since, to the reading of Anne of Geierstein? Somehow, the story has never been re-read; but to this day, no sense impressions are more vivid than [p 362-ed3] those of the masked faces, the sinking floor, the weird trial, the cold bright Alpine village—and no moral impression stronger than that made by the deferential behaviour of Philip to his father. Perhaps the impression made later by the Heir of Redclyffe ranks next in intensity. But we must adapt ourselves to new conditions; “books for the young” used to be few and dull; now, they are many and delightful.


We are in a bad way for epithets: there are hardly more than a dozen current amongst us; and of these one person has seldom more than one or two in everyday use. A cup of tea, a dress, a picture, a book, a person,—is “nice,” “perfect,” “delicious,” “delightful,” “jolly,” according to the speaker; not at all according to the thing spoken of. Adverbs help a little; a thing may be “nice,” “how nice!” or “too awfully nice!” but the help is rather in the way of force than of variety. J. finds all agreeable things “too awfully nice!” while B. finds the same things only “nice.” As a rule, things and persons have each one distinctive quality; to see what that is in a flash, and to express it in the fittest word, is a proof of genius, or of the highest culture. “That abysmal question, the condition of East London:”—if one had not known that the speaker was a man of just perceptions and wide range of thought, intimately conversant with the questions of the day, that one phrase of a short conversation would have conveyed all that and more. The fitness of this use of “abysmal” stamped the speaker. Little children often surprise and amuse their elders by the fitness and elegance of their phraseology. We have only to foster this power of theirs, to put good words in their way, to treat the perpetual use of “jolly” or “delicious” as rather idiotic, and we are not only [p 363-ed3] fitting our children to shine in society, but doing something to conserve the treasures of the beautiful mother-tongue of our inheritance. It might be worth while to hunt up good strong Saxon epithets for everyday use from the writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Milton alone is a treasure-trove. In the hymn beginning

“Let us with a gladsome mind,”

there are half-a-dozen adjectives used with original force; perhaps half-a-dozen peculiar to that hymn, in their use if not in their form. We cannot go about talking of the “golden-tressèd sun”; that is too good for us; but to get “gladsome” into our common speech is worth an effort. “Happy-making,” again, in the wonderful Ode to Time,—could we have a fitter word for our best occasions?


A generation ago, a great teacher amongst us never wearied of reiterating that in the Divine plan “the family is the unit of the nation”: not the individual, but the family. There is a great deal of teaching in the phrase, but this lies on the surface; the whole is greater than the part, the whole contains the part, owns the part, orders the part; and this being so, the children are the property of the nation, to be brought up for the nation as is best for the nation, and not according to the whim of individual parents. The law is for the punishment of evil-doers, for the praise of them that do well; so, practically, parents have very free play; but it is as well we should remember that the children are a national trust whose bringing up is the concern of all—even of those unmarried and childless persons whose part in the game is the rather dreary one of “looking on.”

[p 364-ed3]

“So grew my own small life complete,

As Nature obtained her best of me—

One born to love you, sweet!”

And so of those parents who say, “In bringing up our own children as well as we know how, we fulfil our debt to the community.” No doubt, “Nature obtains her best” of every parent who loves his own children and brings them up heedfully. But Browning’s “best” was a power, and not a condition; a force which he put forth as light and leading for us all. “The family is the unit of the nation,” but an aggregate of units does not compose a nation. The parts must cohere. Were heads of families in touch with heads of families all round, each helping all, and each helped by all, we should have an ideal national education, ideal progress in virtue and worth. It is impossible to estimate the impulse to be given to the truly “higher education” by the enthusiasm of many parents working together.


Nothing is trivial that concerns a child; his foolish-seeming words and ways are pregnant with meaning for the wise. It is in the infinitely little we must study the infinitely great; and the vast possibilities, and the right direction of education, are indicated in the open book of the little child’s thoughts. Nor need any friendly critic fear that parents will not observe the reticence due to their children. They know what to tell, and what to keep back; and it rests with them to give us educational problems, dark-sayings, truth at the bottom of a well of fictitious circumstances, when they wish questions to be discussed with which they would not have their children identified.


[p 365-ed3]

The parent begins instinctively by regarding his child as an unwritten tablet, and is filled with great resolves as to what he shall write thereon. By-and-by, traits of disposition appear, the child has little ways of his own; and, at first, every new display of personality is a delightful surprise. That the infant should show pleasure at the sight of his father, that his face should cloud in sympathy with his mother, must always be wonderful to us. But the wonder stales, his parents are used to the fact by the time the child shows himself a complete human being like themselves, with affections, desires, powers; taking to his book, perhaps, as a duck to the water; or to the games which shall make a man of him. The notion of doing all for the child with which the parents began gradually recedes. So soon as he shows that he has a way of his own he is encouraged to take it. Father and mother have no greater delight than to watch the individuality of their child unfold as a flower unfolds. But Othello loses his occupation. The more the child shapes his own course, the less do the parents find to do, beyond feeding him with food convenient, whether of love, or thought, or of bodily meat and drink. And here, we may notice, the parents need only supply, the child knows well enough how to appropriate. The parents’ chief care is, that that which they supply shall be wholesome and nourishing, whether in the way of picture-books, lessons, playmates, bread and milk, or mother’s love. This is education as most parents understand it, with more of meat, more of love, more of culture, according to their kind and degree. They let their children alone, allowing human nature to develop on its own lines, modified by facts of environment and descent.


[p 366-ed3]

Nothing could be better for the child than this “masterly inactivity,” so far as it goes. It is well he should be let grow and helped to grow according to his nature; and so long as the parents do not step in to spoil him, much good and no very evident harm comes of letting him alone. But this philosophy of “let him be,” while it covers a part, does not cover the serious part of the parents’ calling; does not touch the strenuous incessant efforts upon lines of law which go to the producing of a human being at his best.


Those of us who have come face to face with the problem of education have had some such experience as this. The children are bright, loving, docile, as “’tis their nature to”; take kindly to their sums, their story-books, their play, their lessons, to whatever in the way of food or exercise is provided for their manifold nature. They get on, of course, surprisingly, if they be quick children of a good stock; and the educator cannot enough plume himself upon his easy success, until, one day, it dawns upon him that all this delightful progress is no more than natural growth; the child is growing, every part of him, and under favouring conditions, upon the food of various sorts that you provide him with, in the atmosphere that you surround him with. If no more is wanted of him than to grow, you may sit at your ease. But if you are not content that he should grow as he is, if you see that this must be strengthened and that reduced, it is a source of deep distress to parent or teacher to perceive that, in all that makes for character—the one sterling achievement of human life—the children are where they were; the bright, impulsive child is as hopelessly idle; the slow child is no quicker; the [p 367-ed3] reticent child no franker; the sullen, no more amiable; the volatile, no steadier.


Every father and mother should have a repertoire of stories—a dozen stories will do, beautiful stories beautifully told; children cannot stand variations. “You left out the rustle of the lady’s gown, mother!” expresses reasonable irritation; the child cannot endure a suggestion that the story he lives in is no more than the “baseless fabric of a vision.” Away with books, and “reading to”—for the first five or six years of life, at any rate. The endless succession of story-books, scenes, shifting like a panorama before the child’s vision, is a mental and moral dissipation; he gets nothing to grow upon, or is allowed no leisure to digest what he gets. It is contrary to nature, too. “Tell us about the little boy who saved Haarlem!” How often do the children who know it ask for that most hero-making of all tales! And here is another advantage of the story told over the story read. Lightly come, lightly go, is the rule for the latter. But if you have to make a study of your story, if you mean to appropriate it as bread of life for your children, why, you select with the caution of the merchantman seeking goodly pearls. Again, in the story read, the parent is no more than the middleman; but the story told is food as directly and deliberately given as milk from the mother’s breast. Wise parents, whose children sit with big eyes pondering the oft-told tale, could tell us about this.


To appropriate an anecdote from an admirable little volume: “But yesterday, in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the faculty was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other [p 368-ed3] day his successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the University to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject that were no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: ‘Take every text-book that is more than ten years old, and put it down in the cellar.’” So far as education is a science, the truth of even ten—much more, a hundred—years ago is not the whole truth of to-day.

“Thoughts beyond their thought to those high seers were given;

and in proportion as the urgency of educational effort presses upon us, will be the ardour of our appreciation, the diligence of our employment, of those truths which the great pioneers, Froebel and the rest, have won for us by no less than prophetic insight. But, alas, and alas! for the cravings of lazy human nature—we may not have an educational pope; we must think out for ourselves, as well as work out, those things that belong to the perfect bringing-up of our children.


All our great educational reformers have been men. The reforms of women have taken the direction rather of practical application than of original thought. This is worth thinking of in connection with the theory that the home-training of the children is the mother’s concern. Happily, it does not fall to each of us to conceive, for the first time, the principles which underlie our work. But when we take the conceptions of other minds into ours so that we are able to work them out—to handle them as the skilled artisan handles his tools, to produce by their means—why, then, we do originate. Such exercise of original thought on the subject of the bringing up of their children falls to [p 369-ed3] both father and mother. “Oh that all children were born orphans!” cries an irate schoolmaster. They are not so born, and neither are they born fatherless; and, that the father should be, as a bird, ever on the wing homewards with a worm in his bill, is not, however praiseworthy, the sole duty that attaches to human paternity. This is not a protest against the practice of fathers. The annals of fatherhood, no doubt, furnish as fine reading as those of motherhood. But it is a protest against the notion that early education is the concern of the mother alone.

[1] “John did no miracle.”—John x. 41.

[2] Faust (Anster’s translation).

[3] 1. Orchis mascula (early orchis); 2. Orchis latifolia (marsh orchis); 3. Orchis maculata (spotted orchis); 4. Orchis morio (green-winged orchis); 5. Orchis pyramidalis (pyramidal orchis); 6. Orchis conopsea (fragrant orchis) or Gymnadenia; 7. Habenaria bifolia (butterfly Habenaria or orchis); 8. Habenaria chlorantha (a variety or another species of No. 7); 9. Ophrys apifera (bee ophrys or orchis); 10. Ophrys muscifera (fly ophrys or orchis); 11. Epipactis latifolia (broad epipactis); 12. Cephalanthera grandiflora (large cephalanthera); 13. Cephalanthera entifolia (narrow cephalanthera); 14. Neottia Nidus-anis (bird’s nest neottia); 15. Listera ovata (twayblade listera) or twayblade; 16. Spiranthes autumnalis (lady’s tresses).