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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83

Mansel and Maurice

Mansel and Maurice.

Henry Irving tells a story of a very bad actor, whom the audiences in a certain town would not allow the manager to dismiss, because he was so kind to his mother. This is somewhat of the opposite principle to that enunciated by the Rev. Sydney Smith. "Though I cannot act the smallest part in a farce, I have a perfect right to hiss Romeo Coates." Labouchere again, the fulminator of Truth, will not allow that Mrs. Kendal is a greater actress than Sarah Bernhardt, by reason of her being so good at home.

There are constant appeals from the public acts to the private life. Mr. Gladstone may bungle the Soudan, but then look how nicely he reads the prayers behind the eagle lectern of Hawarden Church, where, by the way, his son, the Rev. Stephen, enjoys a trifling pittance of about three thousand per annum. Yet the G.O.M. did put his foot in it by roaring over the whimsicalities of Charles Wyndham, in the "Candidate," at the Criterion Theatre, just when the news of Gordon's murder, at Khartoum, was rushing over the nerves of the telegraphic wires, to thrill England. But then he had the Franchise Bill in the other pocket.

What are we writing about? Well, generally on the topic that the individual must be divorced from the act. The publication of the "Life of the Rev. F. D. Maurice" has been followed, in the Quarterly Review, by an article on his great antagonist, the Rev. Henry Longueville Mansel, D.D., who succeded Dr. Milman as Dean of St. Paul's. Mansel is shown to have been a most admirable and pious man, besides possessing an ability which was transcendent in ecclesiastical circles. Mansel and Maurice have page 14 long departed from this planet. Both were noble characters, and it is a pity they fought over religion like Kilkenny cats. Let us proceed to indicate how far-reaching and vitally important was their antagonism. It should be added, however, in fairness, that the violence and virulence were so much on the part of Mr. Maurice, that he made it an affair of personal hostility, and Mr Mansel at last ignored him. Mansel wrote that he would answer all attacks save one—but that happened to be the most desperate and penetrating.

The mind of Mansel was somewhat of the order of Bishop Warburton's, the author of the profoundly able but paradoxical "Divine Legation." Great powers, and immeasurable subtlety, are brought to prove the truth of something against which the intellect revolts, and we are perpetually troubled with doubts as to the author's sincerity. This is the explanation of the bitterness of the truth-seeking Maurice against the superb dialectician Mansel.

The contention was over Hansel's Bampton Lectures, his subject being "The Limits of Religious Thought Defined and Explained." We must confess that at the time, and for long afterwards, we failed to understand why Maurice's feelings should be so deep over the matter, but reflection has shown us that it is the very pivot of the battle between Liberal and Conservative Theology.

Mansel's starting point was "The Finite cannot comprehend the Infinite." Now everyone will assent to this as a bald proposition, but when Mansel came to define it, he set up the back even of such a conservative theologian as Dr. Thomson, the Archbishop of York, and author of the "Laws of Thought," something akin to Mansel. In the "Life of Maurice," Dr. Thomson is reported to have said that Mansel's Lectures were enough to make a man an atheist. But bishops do not expect to find the habitual exaggerations of friendly converse published in books.

The crux between Mansel and Maurice may be embodied in the question, "Is there one morality for God, and another for man?" With Maurice the human conscience is a supreme judge. Mansel limits its authority. The conscience is only a limited function, given for earthly purposes. Such, at least, appears to us to be his teaching. It provoked a very strong expression from John Stuart Mill, to the effect that if he was condemned for following his conscience, to Hades he would go.

The gravamen of the whole thing is the inspiration of the Scriptures. Mansel, by an opportune instinct, came out with his lectures just on the eve of the birth of Colenso's first volume on the Pentateuch, and the Essays and Reviews, which were almost contemporaneous with such tearers of the mind as Buckle's History of Civilization," and Darwin's "Origin of Species." Maurice and Robertson were the chief liberalising clergymen of page 15 that era—that is to say of the milder type than Bishop Coleuso, and Dr. Temple, who afterwards became Bishop of Exeter, and is now Bishop of London, having played the Galileo a little. "It moves for all that," said Galileo, on his knees, and perhaps London's bishop says with Hamlet, "Although I do most potently believe it, I hold it not expedient to be here set down."

Mansel's bold contention pushed home, would be this: "Old Testament occurrences, which you object to, on man's morality, are justified on God's morality. So with occurrences like the Immaculate Conception, the Miracles, the Resurrection, the Atonement. They are outside human judgment, beyond the limits of religious thought, as I define and explain them."

Now there is undoubtedly something—a tinge, at any rate, of the Jesuitical in this. One only needs to suggest how a freethinker—we mean an untrammeled thinker, even Orthodox—will batter down such an argument, to the satisfaction of all other such thinkers. But then Mansel is impregnable to the Deductionists. It is not difficult to enter into the irritated feelings of Maurice and his ultimate attitude of uncompromising—contempt, we had almost written.