“I Believe” and other essays

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F. V. WHITE & CO., Limited

Richard Clay & Sons, Limited,


I.“I Believe”1
II.The Fires of Moloch49
III.The Historicides of Oxford93
IV.The Brown and Yellow Peril139
V.The Menaces of Modern Sport161
VI.Vagrom Men211
VII.An Author’s Post-bag263

To F. V. WHITE, Esquire.

My dear White,
The publication of this book is a business arrangement between you and me. Its dedication however has nothing to do with the relations of author and publisher in those capacities, but is merely an expression of friendship and esteem. This then is to remind you of pleasant hours we have spent together on the other side of the channel, in your house at London, and my house in Kent.

Yours ever sincerely,

Guy Thorne.


Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision.”

When I was a boy I made an occasional invasion of my father’s study, and in the absence of more congenial matter tried to extract some amusement from the shelves devoted to Christian apologetics. At any rate the pictures of the portly divines, which sometimes prefaced their polemics, interested me, and I was sometimes allured to read a few pages of their scripture. I remember that I enjoyed the sub-acid flavour of Bishop Butler’s advertisement, prefixed to the First Edition of his Analogy, at an early age, and I have thought lately that in certain circles one hundred and seventy years have not greatly modified the mental attitude.

Hear what the Rector of Stanhope who, as Horace Walpole said, was shortly to be “Wafted to the see of Durham in a cloud of metaphysics,” says about his literary contemporaries—

“It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted, by many persons that Christianity is not so much as a subject for inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious, and accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were, by way of reprisals for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”

Perhaps the difference between the times of George the Second and Edward the Seventh may be best discerned in the status and calibre of the popular penmen who in either age have found, or furnished amusement in a tilt against the Catholic Faith.

The man in the street, as we know him, did not exist in the eighteenth century. He is the predominant person to-day, and he requires the services of able authors to assure him of immunity, when he is inclined to frolic away from chastity or integrity, much as did the county members who pocketed the bribes of Sir Robert Walpole and prated of patriotism.

Fortunately for society the man in the street is a very decent fellow, and generally finds out before long that Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness. A man may enjoy posing as an agnostic when he wants an excuse for—as the negro said—“doing what he dam please,” but when he takes to himself a wife, and children are born to him, a certain anxiety as to the continuity and perpetuation of these relationships begins to show itself. A man who has lost a little child, or waited in agonizing suspense to hear the physician’s verdict, when sickness overshadows his home, discovers that he needs something beyond negations, something that will bring life and immortality to light again within his soul.

Moreover, the man in the street finds it necessary to come to some decision on other problems of existence. He is a citizen and must needs exercise his enfranchisement and give his vote at an election now and again. He must help to decide whether the State shall ignore religion and establish a system of ethical education, of which the ultimate sanction is social convenience, or maintain the thesis that Creed and Character are mutually inter-dependent.

As he pays his poor rate wrathfully, or with resignation, its annual increase reminds him of the necessity of curing or eliminating the unfit. When he reads of Belgian and Prussian colonial enterprise, or ponders on the perplexing problem of the Black Belt which the Southern States must solve, he is compelled to consider whether it is true that “God has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth,” or whether this shall be accounted as another of the delusions of Saul of Tarsus whom Governor Festus found to be mad.

Indeed, our friend, the man in the street, when he becomes a family man, without any pretensions to be a man of family, very often finds himself face to face with other problems. Shall he simply sing with the Psalmist “Like as the arrows in the hand of the giant, even so are the young children. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them,” or shall he be guided by the gloss of a modern interpreter who maintains that the oriental quiver was designed to hold but two or three arrows at most?

Even when the plain man confines his interests to his business and seeks relaxations in “sport” alone, endeavouring to evade the puzzles of politics and avoid all theologized inquiry, he cannot escape from ethical consideration. Professionalism in athletics and questions of betting and bribery contend with his conviction that there is something which ennobles man in running and striving for mastery, and it is futile to curse the bookmaker when his clients are so many, his occupation so lucrative.

The average man gets little guidance from pulpit or press. It is dull work reading sermons, even if sermons came in his way. From time to time some eloquent bishop or canon is reported in the Monday morning papers, but journalists know that the publication of a summary with, in the case of a few of the preachers, some epigrams or denunciations, is all that can be permitted or expected. These may arouse the attention to the existence of evils, but give no guiding principle for their cure.

The habit of attendance at some place of worship is easily abandoned in the days of bachelor freedom, and rarely regained in maturer years. Men for the most part find the preacher unconvincing. The usual audience does not desire discussion of difficulties. When the honest instinct of devotional worship is gratified by common praise and prayer, the people who regularly go to church, elderly, and orthodox in their own way, resent a demand upon their intellectual exertion, and the Northern farmer of Tennyson hardly misrepresents them, “I thought he said what he ought to ha’ said and I comed away.” The great Nonconformist societies may, in some congregations, give a larger latitude to the preacher, but his freedom is rather in the direction of divinity than of ethics. Mr. Rockefeller is a prominent pillar of Protestantism in the States, and Mr. Jabez Balfour, in another congregation at Croydon, apparently knew no qualms of conscience before his actual conviction, which was public, of sin.

There is an old proverb which tells us that “A man is either a fool or a philosopher at forty”—and, though proverbs are often only venerable prejudices in disguise, it is true that a man, who has attained his eighth lustrum and is of average ability, generally has come to certain definite conclusions as to the rudimentary laws of health. He knows enough about his body to avoid fatal errors in diet, and has learned the necessity of exercise and fresh air. But when he is called upon, as a member of the body politic, to decide questions of ethics on which the sanitation of society must depend, he feels himself at a loss. To many people it will seem a hard saying that a man must be either a fool or a philosopher at forty, but long ere he has reached that age he will have encountered problems of philosophy which it is impossible to shirk if he is to do his duty as a free man.

St. Paul, it is true, when writing to a Christian Community in Asia Minor, bids them “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy.” And the unfortunate habit of Bible Christians, of tearing a text from a treatise and making it into a precept, has thrown a sort of discredit upon philosophic thinking, while the mass of mankind will always prefer rules to principles of conduct. But in vain do we clamour against intellectual complications which are the inevitable endowment of these days. Life is necessarily intricate, subtle and anxious, and Democracy has made of each man a ruler and governor in his degree. Is it possible to point to a single principle which shall be a motive and a standard of duty, which shall establish a synthetic method after the ruthless analysis of the later Victorian days?

How searching that analysis has been! Fifty years ago the man in the street might rarely read the Bible, but he had a tolerably assured conviction that the Bible was infallible, however resolutely he might refuse its interpretation by an infallible church.


“…the Essays and Reviews debate
Begins to tell on the public mind, and Colenso’s views have weight.”

Plain people were taught to look on the Old Testament as a library of Hebrew literature containing not only poetry and history, but romance.

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