Saturday, 13 May 2017


The Spirit of Fascism.



No one can appreciate the vast changes which have revolutionised the political, social, and economic life of Italy during the last four years, without some understanding of the spirit of Fascism, and of its fundamental ideas. It is an unmitigated misfortune that circumstances have conspired to cloak Fascism with the mantle of an anti-communist movement; a white dictatorship which arose as an answer to a red one. The superficial and specious grounds on which this view rests have been exploited, partly through ignorance but chiefly through prejudice. Consequently, its achievements have been alternately applauded and denounced for reasons which show a complete misunderstanding of the ideas which the achievements express.

The fundamental fact about Fascism is that it represents a moral, political, and intellectual revolution, every whit as apocalyptic, as cataclysmic, and as universally valid as was the French Revolution. There is significance as well as egotism in the fact that revolutionary Italy, like revolutionary France, introduced a new calendar in which the year of the revolution becomes the Year I.

The true relation of Fascism to Bolshevism is that of an alternative, not merely a reaction. Indeed, though violently opposed to each other, both, in their purest forms, are revolts from that Liberalism which the French Revolution grafted on to European civilisation: both reflect the individualism which it represents, and the economic and parliamentary systems which it inspired. Fascism was born in 1919 when Bonito Mussolini and 145 others formed themselves into a fascio (bundle) to revitalise their country by imbuing it with a new ideal of life and a new theory of the State, hostile to 10th century Liberalism and present-day Communism alike Communism did not seriously threaten Italy till two years later, and though the impotence of the old regime to deal with it thrust Fascism into the position of its chief opponent and thereby hastened its culmination in the march on Rome (1922), there can be little doubt that Fascism would have arisen even if Communism had never gained a foothold in Italy.

Fascism, then, is a revolution and not a counter-revolution. The violence of its clash with Communism is due to the fact that both are new theories of the State; equally uncompromising; equally rigid; and equally disciplinarian. They are the rival spirits of a new age. This will explain, if it does not excuse, many of its excesses. Never has so great a change been carried out with less destruction and less bloodshed. When one considers that the total death-roll of the revolution is less than 4000, and that over half of this number were Fascists; when one contrasts this figure with the millions that have perished in the French and Russian holocausts, one feels that Fascism, when arraigned for its excesses, would be justified, like Clive, in proclaiming itself amazed at its own moderation.


Fascism is a compound of three different elements—Syndicalism, Nationalism, and Catholicism. Its intellectual foundations are to be found in the teachings of Sorel, the Syndicalist; of Nietzsche, the Nationalist; of William James, the Pragmatist; and of Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic. It has been the triumph of Fascism to reduce so strange a medley to order, but, incompatible as these diverse theories may seem, they all, so far as their place in the structure of Fascism goes, find common ground in the traditions of the Roman Empire.

Catholicism and Nationalism need not detain us long; for, representing the spiritual side, and therefore the driving force of Fascism, they defy close analysis because they represent a frame of mind rather than a practical policy. They impress on Fascism a spirit of revolt against the hedonist materialism into which modern democracy is apt to degenerate, and they endow it with its rigid sense of discipline. Moreover, they sup-ply the links which bind Fascism to the traditions of the Roman Empire. Was not the Papacy long ago described by one of the most perspicacious of mankind as "the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof"? Practical difficulties still prevent the conclusion of a concordat between the Fascist Government and the Vatican, but they are now allied in spirit, and, as the influence of the Ultramontanes declines (as it must do now that its last refuge, the Austrian Empire, is destroyed) the time comes nearer when they will be allied in fact.

By its Nationalism, Fascism rejects the whole conception of individual rights upon which the Liberal philosophy, which was ushered in by the French Revolution, is based. The nation becomes the unit, the vigour and the greatness of the civilisation it supports, the test. It is the revolt of quality against quantity. "It is better," Mussolini has said, "to suffer heroically than to live comfortably as a mug." Fascism has adopted the Nietzschean motto, "Live dangerously." By exalting the State, Fascism conceives citizenship as only embracing these "in a state of grace," a conception taken from the mediaeval Church. Such a conception leaves no room for the modern idea of democracy. When Mussolini claims that Fascism is democratic, it is only in the sense that it is "the judicial incarnation of the nation" which is to govern "for all, over the heads of all, and if necessary against all."


Syndicalism is the third component part of Fascism, and is of supreme importance, not only because it represents the material goal of the Fascist State, but because Mussolini himself has avowed that "it is to Georges Sorel that I owe the greatest debt." Syndicalism, as the Fascist understands it, and as it was taught by Corridoni, Sorel's great Italian disciple, is an effort to give every individual a property interest, and to subordinate all endeavour to the control of the State. As such, it is an essentially Latin tradition, and has nothing in common with the international socialism of Marx or its doctrine of class-war.

The motive underlying the conception of a "Corporative State" has been clearly stated by Mussolini.
  "Fascism leads mankind out of the blind alleys. It reconciles capital and labour in a new synthesis. Capital and labour had grown too strong for the State. Parliamentary Government proved itself a helpless nurse, unable to control these unruly young giants till Fascism stepped in."

Though the ideal of this unique experiment is a fundamental tenet of Fascism, there is little fear that it will be exploited ruthlessly, It is one of the principal characteristics of Fascism that its idealism is always linked with realism; it is too strongly imbued with Pragmatism to be doctrinaire in matters of practical policy. Fascism is not of the mentality that allows "one good custom to corrupt the world," and if it aspires to the clouds, it has its feet firmly planted in its mother soil.

It is necessary, then to differentiate between the two aspects of Fascism, for it is at once a great revolutionary movement with fundamental and immutable principles, and a political party with a particular programme. It is only when this differentiation is fully realised that the apparent inconsistency of Fascism in its attitude towards criticism can be understood. In its latter form if welcomes it ; in its former, it repudiates it. For it is the essence of all new and virile creeds that they are uncompromising where their fundamental tenets are concerned, and Fascism, as a creed, is no exception.

"Fascism must not admit heterodoxy," Mussolini has proclaimed, "This is its peculiar character, this is its fundamental reason of its life. . . Fascism won because it never tolerated any difference of opinion: its block is monolithic, Fascism wins and will win while it preserves this austere unitarian Spirit, this religious obedience, this aesthetic discipline.

When Fascism seems ruthless to English eyes, it is well to remember that it represents a new code of basic beliefs which has yet to gain general recognition, and it is only when men are agreed on fundamentals that they can afford to allow conflict of opinion in matters of policy. But as the fundamental principles of Fascism gain universal acceptance, as attention is diverted from upholding these principles to construing a practical policy embodying them, the ranks of Fascism will tend to break into sections. A converse example is at work in England to-day, where the Conservative and Liberal parties which fought over practical policy as long as the basic principles on which the State rested received general recognition, are closing their ranks now that these principles are being challenged. If dissension in the ranks of the Fascists is increasing, it is a sign, not of weakness, but of latent strength.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Tuesday 29 March 1927, page 10

Friday, 12 May 2017



The "anti-aesthetical" anti-hygienic, anti-ethical handshake, with democratic associations, "has had its day," and must go.
 So says a Lombardy newspaper, and the principal organ of Fascism (whose editor is generally held to voice the sentiments of his brother Mussolini) expresses hearty concurrence.
 "One thing should distinguish the people of Mussolini at home and abroad — the Fascist Roman salute."
 The gripping of hands, being a token of recognition between freemasons, is intolerable. Its use in modern Europe "is equivalent to the nose-rubbing of Red-skins." But the Roman salute (upward and outward extension of the right arm) avoids "unjustified physical contacts."


 Sad to say, Fascists and Civil servants in accordance with orders, greet friends or superiors in the Roman fashion, and then, forgetting themselves, follow up with a handshake. When all Italians adopt the Roman salute, without having it enjoined on them by public notices, then Fascism "will have accomplished its spiritual revolution and will have evolved the most powerful, compact and disciplined people in the old or new world."
 Meantime, pending this "revolution," it may be that the familiar notices in offices and schools to "salute Romanly" will be supplemented by others to the effect that "handshaking is forbidden."

Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 - 1954), Sunday 5 February 1928, page 16

Thursday, 11 May 2017




By Rev. W. A. SPENCE

In the following well-informed analysis of the present position of Italy under the Fascist regime, the "Catholic Times" correspondent sets a new and extremely interesting angle upon a subject that is of very real importance to Catholics, and particularly those in England. The relations between Church and State in the Italy of to-day, as well as a thought-provoking view of what they may become in the future, are matters of prime concern in view of the recent dispute between the Holy Father and Signor Mussolini.

Fifty Years of Liberalism.

The Italian nation is a Catholic people, and their culture is a Catholic culture. It is evidently difficult for the average Englishman, who is still insular, to appreciate many of the qualities of the Italian mind. A tincture of cosmopolitanism, where it is found, does not help; for no more than insularity does cosmopolitanism make for the valuing of national distinctions.
In spite of a mischievous propaganda, Protestantism gains no ground in recommending itself to the Italian mind. The vast mass of the people cannot understand it at all; it is simply a form of infidelity. Where the propaganda—which is indirect—makes any way, it succeeds only in robbing the Italian of his own religion; but that is probably sufficient to satisfy its agents.
Italians are realists; they are apt to be passionate, but not sentimental, as the English are. Generally, they do not suffer from the idealistic philosophy which, consciously, or (for the most part) unconsciously, forms the mentality of the non-Catholic English man. If the idealism of Croce and Gentile should spread beyond the intellectuals who at present affect it, it will be a serious thing for the national character.
There is still, at least latent, a good deal of Liberalism, both anti-clerical and of that peculiarly incoherent and distressing kind known as "Catholic Liberalism." We have to remember that the cause of Italian unity was, as it happened, bound up with Liberalism, and that for half a century the united nation suffered Liberal Government, whether of the Right or of the Left. Loyal Catholics were for long deterred from an exercise of political power at the elections by the non-expedit; the State schools and the Government offices were in the hands of Liberals.
Where Liberalism prevails, there Freemasonry find a home. Though the actual number of Freemasons in Italy was never very large, they were very powerful in proportion to that number, and had great influence over national and municipal politics. It will take time to undo the harm done between 1870 and 1922.
Liberalism, as the Holy Father has lately reminded us, is the parent of Socialism, and until the advent of the Fascist regime, Socialism had made considerable progress among the working classes and middle-class "intellectuals." Though it is now suppressed, and though most of the Socialists have been converted to Fascism, no doubt in some cases—perhaps in many—that conversion is not altogether sincere, and as somebody has said, underneath a good many black shirts there is still a red one, and from time to time a rent lets that appear. Freemasonry, too, is scotched, but not killed, and the peculiar conscience it produces does not favor sincerity and thoroughness in conversion. It is not easy for the leopard to change his spots.
All this has to be taken into account in estimating the political condition of the country, and the relations between Church and State in Italy.

 . . . .

National Unity and Religion.

We know Italy as a united nation; but we have to remember that its unity is of very recent growth. It is not many years since it was said, with a good deal of truth, "United Italy is a geographical expression." The Great War, more than anything else, unified Italy politically, and Fascism has consolidated its work. Hence the saying, "Fascism was born in the trenches." Liberalism was never really at home in Italy; nor did the Liberal-Democratic regime suit the country, nor govern it effectually and profitably, still less unify it.
Until the war the only unifying force in the country was its religion, and the religious revival under Pius X. came before, or at any rate, advanced more rapidly than the national movement. I think it is true to say that without the religious revival the Fascist success would have been impossible.

The Nationalist Spirit.

The Fascist State is, then, intensely nationalistic, and in that quality there are, of course, dangers. As we know very well, nationalism may be carried too far, and produce a bellicose and chauvinistic spirit. The sense of national greatness and desire for national glory (in themselves good in the natural order) may lead to an aggressive imperialism and contempt for other nations' rights. It may do so eventually in Italy; but it need not do so, and there is no sufficient reason to think that it will grow beyond bounds under Mussolini. He wants peace in order to consolidate his work, and is hardly likely to run the risk of an aggressive war, and the ruin of the prosperity which he is slowly building up amid great difficulties.
The "sabre rattling" is largely dramatic, and intended to keep up the military spirit of the nation; and that is clearly necessary.
Fascism is the foe of Internationalism and Communism, and we shall do well to remember that these are the chief enemies of the Church. No Pope has ever condemned nationalism as such (which is patriotism), but excessive nationalism; and certainly no Pope has ever blessed or encouraged godless internationalism, which is a more deadly enemy of the Church even than extreme or perverted nationalism.
Now, International Communism is out for the conquest of Europe, and, indeed, of the world. It cannot permeate Catholic Italy as it is attempting to permeate Protestant England, and it has failed once to raise a successful Bolshevist revolution, such as it seems to have inaugurated in Spain. It will probably try, later, conquest by arms. Hence the need for a militant nationalistic spirit in the Italian people. If Fascism remains what it is—still more if it becomes more and more permeated and informed by the Catholic religion—it would seem that Fascist Italy has to look forward to a time (perhaps not so very far distant) when she will have to fight for her life, or at least for all that makes life worth living. No greater disaster could befall the world than the conquest of Italy by Atheistic Communism.

Fascism and Liberal Democracy.

If Fascism is the enemy of Communism (itself hostis humani generis), it is also opposed to Liberal Democracy. Now, Liberal Democracy is the offspring of the "Reformation" and the French Revolution. Consequently, although a working agreement may be come to between a Liberal Democratic State and the Church (of course, many such agreements or concordats have been made), Liberal Democracy cannot be ultimately reconciled with Catholicism. I do not say Democracy, but Liberal Democracy. Liberalism is its specific quality, and Liberalism has been condemned by Pope after Pope in the course of the last hundred years or more. But the only Pope who has had experience of Fascism has not condemned that system—at any rate, as yet. On the contrary, Pius XI. has said in his Encyclical, "Non-Abbiamo Bisogno" (on Catholic Action):—
"In everything that we have said up to the present we have not said that we wished to condemn the party [i.e., the Fascist Party] as such. Our aim has been to point out and to condemn all those things in the programme and in the activities of the party which have been found to be contrary to Catholic doctrine and Catholic practice, and therefore irreconcilable with the Catholic name and profession."
The Liberal State is agnostic, mechanical, individualistic; the Fascist State is dogmatic, organic, authoritative. The Fascist State is monarchical and hierarchical, and is not divided horizontally into classes, but rather vertically into professions and occupations. The Liberal State leaves the seat of authority with the people, and is governed (at least in theory) by the will of mechanical majorities. It would seem, then, that the Fascist State can become a truly Catholic State in that it is consonant with the Catholic doctrine of authority. But it is not yet a fully Catholic State. As the Pope says: There are—"things in the programme and in the activities of the party which have been found contrary to Catholic doctrine and Catholic practice."
The Fascist State in Italy does not yet, perhaps, see (by reason of the foreign elements already mentioned, which cloud its vision) the full implication of its principles. If it develops, as it should do, into fully right relations with the Church—if it sincerely and whole-heartedly acknowledges the Church's magisterium in faith and morals, and her supreme rights as guardian of the moral law—it will surely become a Catholic State, which no Liberal State can do. If the Liberal, Socialistic, and Masonic elements, not yet completely absorbed and transformed, gain the upper hand, and the State presses its claims beyond their proper limits, it will become, no doubt, a form of Socialism, and eventually Communistic.

The "National Church" Danger.

All discerning Catholics must rejoice that the late quarrel of the Fascist Government with the Church has been made up. If a final rupture between the Church and the Italian State were to take place, Fascism would almost certainly break up, and Italy would suffer what Spain is now suffering— and perhaps a worse fate. As things are we have to expect disagreements between Church and State from time to time; but as long as the government is in the hands of wise, patriotic, and honest (if fallible) men, such disagreements will eventually be settled. Even in a fully Catholic State clashes would sometimes occur, as they did frequently in the Middle Ages.
To some people there has seemed to be a danger that the Fascist State may come to regard the Church as a national thing, or attempt to set up a national Church. But if Italianita is a mark of Fascist Italy, so is Romanita; and the Roman spirit is supranational. Rome, it is true, is now the capital of Italy, and as such, it will never become the capital of the world. But Rome is also the seat of the Papacy, for the Pope is still the Bishop of Rome, and as such it is the centre of a supranational and world-wide institution.

. . . . .

Fascist Discipline.

The Fascist regime is authoritative and disciplinarian; the Government really governs. Firm government—and therefore strict discipline — is not tyranny if it is not arbitrary, but is in accordance with justice. The laws of Italy are more satisfactory of the requirements of Christianity than are those of England. For example: the Catholic religion must be taught in the State schools; adultery is a crime; divorce is not recognised; the sale of birth-preventive literature and appliances is forbidden. The discipline is, no doubt, strict; but strictness is required. The Italians, having undergone a terrible experience, have no desire to see it repeated. "But there is a censorship of the press." Yes! Articles subversive of morality, order, and political security fall under the ban, and the immodest pictures which disgrace so many of our English papers are not seen in Italy now. Secret societies and subversive movements and their agents are severely dealt with; but there is no tyranny in this. A good dose of Fascist discipline would not be amiss in England !
In more tranquil and less perilous days that discipline may be safely, and no doubt will, be relaxed; meanwhile it is necessary.
English Catholics will do well to follow the development of Fascism with more attention and greater sympathy than many of them do now—and with earnest prayer. Much that concerns ourselves, and the future of Europe, depends upon its fate.—"Catholic Times."

Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1954), Friday 26 February 1932, page 5

Thursday, 4 May 2017


We have not yet heard the last of Dr. Tyndall and his views about the origin of the universe. It was currently believed by the more orthodox party in science that he had so far explained or modified the celebrated sentence occurring in his British Association address as to come within the category of Pyrrhonists or doubters. But it seems from an article in the Fortnightly for November that he is no doubter, but a strong and an ardent believer in the potentiality of matter to produce, by its own inherent activity, every possible form of life. Still further has he stretched his view, backward and forward — backward into the " infinite-azure" of the past, and forward into the infinite development of the future, and he sees only matter advancing by successive creations, or rather by a sequential progress, throughout the unending eternity. Possibly his opponents, and especially his clerical opponents, have said quite enough in defence of faith, and, too little in the way of philosophical reasoning, but to herd them all together, under the contemptuous phrase of  "his more noisy and unreasonable assailants" is certainly not to argue with the spirit of Plato, nor according  to the canons of Aristotle. Calm and settled conviction is wont to be courteous, and even to treat the most antagonistic views as springing from a love of truth, however much they may pass beside it. There is a dogmatism in science as well as in religion. The true thinker of our age, as of all the ages, recognises the limitations of the human vision and the fallibility of the human mind, and is prepared to concede both earnestness and fairness to all truth seekers, and the possibility of very wide divergences in opinion and belief. In the Tusculan disputations of Cicero there occurs a sentence which is worthy of heed by all who would dogmatise on matters that are evidently beyond human ken, and has a special application to the theories of Mr. Tyndall: —"If I have not forgotten, these are all the opinions concerning the soul. I have omitted Democritus, a very great man indeed, but who deduces the soul from the fortuitous concourse of light and round corpuscles, as with them the crowd of atoms can effect everything. Which of these opinions is true some god must determine ; the great question with us is which has most the appearance of truth.
 The controversy between Tyndall and his opponents centres upon the origin of being. There was a time when things that are now, were not, when all that vast succession of beings that people the air, the earth, and water, had not begun to be. How are we to conceive of creation? Abandoning the merciless paradox of Hegel —"Das seyn ist das nichts?" we want to form some idea more or less definite of the beginning of things, and of the power or force by which they were created. The ordinary doctrine of development, as expounded by a living and yet more illustrious philosopher than Tyndall, will not serve us here. A mode of development no more explains the commencement of being, than a knowledge of the gyrations of a top explains the act of spinning. Creation cannot be eternal. Far back in the illimitable past there must have been a time when creatures began to be. It matters not how great the period of actual existence. The beginning may have been six thousand years ago, or six thousand ages ago, or six thousand millions of ages ago— at a time so remote as to transcend the arithmetic of men or angels. But the beginning must have been ; and how ? Mr. Tyndall says— " Matter I define as the mysterious thing by which all this is accomplished." In matter, then, visible or invisible, in the elementary atoms ever changing, but all enduring, of which the universe is composed, there is inherent, there always has been inherent, the power, or force, or potentiality of all existing forms of being and life. All the elementary substances and the endless variety of forms in the inorganic world, all the untold species of vegetable organisms, from the minute diatom of our running streams to the gigantic gum tree of our forests, and all the innumerable kinds of animate life, from the monad up to man, have been successively produced by the inherent and active force of matter. Even the soul —there is no escape from the conclusion —is a product of mere matter. The genius of Shakspeare was evolved out of existing atoms. All things that we can see or hear or feel, in the heavens above or on the earth beneath, have had a merely material origin. Matter they are, and unto matter they will return.
 This is no exaggerated view of the opinions held by Tyndall touching the origin of the universe. They are opposed by nearly all teachers of science, both in the past and present. The eternity of matter has indeed been held by many of the greatest and most reverent minds, but this is altogether different from believing that matter itself is possessed of potency equal to all the demands made upon it by the ages of duration. The majority of men believe, and we confess ourselves to be among them, that as mind, even within the sphere of human life, is infinitely above matter, so must we conceive mind to have exercised itself upon matter before the simplest phenomenon of the visible universe could be brought about. The Professor himself would seem to be scarcely content with his position, although he vehemently defends it. One needs to have one's system conceivably possible in its earliest as well as its latest stages, and yet thus it is he has written in one of his works — endorsing his, statement in the recent article : — " You cannot satisfy the human understanding in its demand for logical continuity between molecular processes and the phenomena of the human mind. This is a rock on which materialism must inevitably split, whenever it pretends to be a complete philosophy of the human mind." Now, what we hold is that, although a teacher of science is not bound to explain all the processes of nature, and specially those hidden processes which link the universe of matter with the universe of mind, he is bound to adopt a theory which does not render them absolutely inconceivable. Mr. Tyndall's materialism differ in some of its phases from the vulgar materialistic philosophies, but it seems to us more absolutely and utterly materialistic than any. In refusing to admit the idea of a First Cause, a Supreme Mind, a Creator, and confining all potency to material atoms, he has gone further than any philosopher of note since the days of Democritus. Cicero tells us of one Aristoxenus, a musician, who taught that a "certain intension of the body, like what is called harmony in music," was the soul. He adds, after declaring that, he could not understand him, "he had better, learned as he is, leave this to his master, Aristotle, and follow his trade as a musician." Similar advice might be given to Professor Tyndall. As an original investigator into natural phenomena and as a master of applied physics, he stands almost without a rival in Britain. Let him cleave to experimental and practical science, and leave to others the task of constructing a philosophy of the universe.

South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1868 - 1881), Saturday 29 January 1876, page 6

Saturday, 29 April 2017



Rev. R. Eyton, M.A., commenced a series of lectures on Shakespeare...

Mr Eyton said: "Shakespeare was not of an age, but for all time," said Ben Johnson, his friend, and it did credit to his perception that he grasped this fact about him. About much writing and literary effort which attracts and often too, arrests the men of any age, the crucial question remains to be answered " Will it live," and only men of real insight are able to give the answer. That Shakespeare's plays have lived was sufficiently evidenced by the fact that more quotations from his works have entered into common speech than from any other source except the Bible. One of those half educated women often found in London society was taken to see one of his plays and her only remark was that it was "full of quotations." There could not be a more convincing proof of the way in which his phrases have become the property of all because they were recognised as the truest expression of the facts of common life. In the wonderful grasp that he had of human nature in all its phases, grave and gay. " Shakespeare was not of an age but for all time." But he was also a man of his own age as his great rival called him in the same poem "The Soul of the Age." Every man who moves the world powerfully must be. He must be the child of the previous ages — their outgrowth — receiving from them a vast inheritance. Shakespeare showed that he was this in his historical plays especially. But he must be also the man of his own time, colored and influenced by its tendencies and aims, ethical, religious, political, social— and the Elizabethean age was pre-eminently a strong one in its temperament, in its facts, in its activities — it was an age of awakening and an age of growth, it was an age of great men with great minds, strong in literary power, for it was the age of Spenser, Raleigh, Shakespeare, Bacon, strong in its statesmen, such as Burleigh, strong in its theologians such as Hooker. It was an age in which a great man was sure of understanding, and of that audience which elicits his greatness ; a protestant age, a monarchical age, an age eminently practical, it knew what it wanted and how to get it, an age that was alive, very much alive indeed, full of vitality.
  It would be worth our while to go a little more into particulars in order to understand the nature of the forces which culminated in the appearance of Shakespeare. (1) We must take into account the two great preceding movements, the Renaissance and the Reformation. Through them the world had again arrived at the curiousness of being alive in every sense of the word. The Renaissance had flooded Europe with a great literature which had been long since dead and buried and with countless forms of art it had come like the spring after the long wintry frost of the middle ages. We make a mistake, however, when we suppose that there was no interest in the classics in the middle ages. Let us be just in acknowledging our debts. It was to the monks that we largely owe their preservation and the scholars of the 13th century probably knew the great latin authors. Horace and Virgil as well as the scholars of our day. Dante, in the 14th century, Petrarch a little later, had done much to make the best Latin poets familiar, while Boccacio about the same time (1313 — 1375) did some thing to create an interest in the Greek poets. The awakening made some great progress even before the invention of printing (1440) came like a new gift of tongues upon the earth and lent wings to knowledge. But though the monks preserved the classics to a large extent it must also be said that they kept a knowledge of them to themselves. It was not till the fall of Constantinople (1453) that Europe (Italy above all else) was covered with the fugitives of that mighty ruin. It was these who escaped with apparently little more than their lives who yet saved out of the general wreck treasures of unspeakable value and not only a living familiarity with Greek but Greek authors almost unknown in the West. The more distinguished refugees were received gladly, often with extravagant honor by the Princes of Italy, by Lorenzo the Magnificent at Florence, and at Rome by Popes such as Nicolas V, founder of the great Vatican Library, by Pius II (1456— 1464) and by Leo X.  Professorships, canonries were found for them; almost every little place had its academia centre of classical studies and of a stirring intellectual life, and if Italy was the cradle for this new enthusiasm it went forth throughout Europe. In Italy new learning became almost a new religion, so we read of Licinius burning a lamp before the bust of Plato as, though be were a saint, a most significant fact was the expression of such a homage but the movement did not remain Italian. The youth of Europe was attracted to Italy, Colet and Linacre, for example from England, and carried back to their own land the learning which they had acquired. And in other lands the revived interest in classical antiquity assumed a much more healthy diversion than it did in Italy. The foremost of our English humanists were Sir Thomas More and Colet, Melanchthon in Germany, Erasmus in Holland were the best representatives in their own lands, they put the new learning into its right place us the handmaid of theology they threw their knowledge of Greek into elucidating the true meaning of the Scriptures which had been darkened and overlaid in the middle ages. "The best grammarian," said Luther, "is the best theologian." It was an exaggeration, but one not without meaning and underlying truth.
 Out of the Renaissance grew the Reformation, though the Renaissance would never have produced the Reformation. It was to Pagan in its spirit ; it is faith that overcomes the world, and the forms of the medieval Papacy would have been too strong for a spirit like that of the Renaissance nourished merely by acquaintance with the beauties of classical literature. In the reformation we believe that the world was born again into religious freedom, not into Paganism or unbelief. The history of Erasmus, the chief of the humanists, is the most instructive as showing how it was possible to combine ceaseless activity in editing and elucidating heathen authors with producing the first edition of the New Testament in the original Greek that had ever appeared, an edition whose publication (1516) gave a great impulse to the Reformation though he himself never took any real share in the progress of that movement. Yet he remains the real father of the Reformation ; "The bird that laid the egg that Luther hatched," and it is impossible to over estimate his services to the cause of religious truth as we conceive it. These two great movements the Renaissance and the Reformation which we have barely glanced at made Shakespeare possible. He would not have been possible before that time. His view of life was too broad ; he had not the contempt for all the vanities of the world which characterised the best medieval thought to contrast his attitude towards life with that of Dante who finds his highest imagination centred, not in Florence and Pisa and Venice, but in Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. The kingdoms of the world were by the medieval writers given over to Satan, and all who did not abandon the world and become monks were more or less Satan's servants. In such a world Shakespeare would have been impossible, inconceivable, a fish out of water, for there was in him a present sense of truth, an overshadowing divine order, which makes men see the importance of a realisation of facts as they are, and especially of the greatest of all, the moral law of the universe. The sense that he spoke of—

 The divinity that doth shape our ends,
 Rough hew them as we will.

This sense of an overruling God manifested in a present moral order would put him for ever at issue with, at the best, as well as the worst side of the middle ages, the mystic grief that sighed for Urbs Beata Jerusalem, or lamented over the vanity of human life and human grief. But under the influence of the Renaissance and the Reformation man recurred to hard facts, the earth was good ; it was not damned or damnable. The earth was meant to be explored. Instead of bringing back from his voyages stones of demon haunted valleys, Raleigh brought back the potato plant and tobacco. The great moral discovery of the time lay in the dawning conscience of the immanence of God, both in nature and in man. In the middle ages God had been conceived of as afar off, as only touching earth through rare points of contact, and these beyond the sphere of nature. It began to be realised that he was not far from every one of us, that human life was sacred and time was in eternity. The modern Elizabethean spirit then would interrogate nature and investigate human life. It wanted no miracles nor interferences of ecclesiastical Magii. It found that the more truthfully it looked at things the more full of light things as they were in themselves appeared. Conscience and actual sense of sin, and an actual need of rightuousness were things which would not be dealt with by ecclesiastical mechanism. Woman was neither a Satanic bait to trap the soul of man nor was she the ideal of the chivalric devotion of the Middle Ages ; she was just woman, the complement, the helpmate of man, often tiresome, always interesting. The blessings and curses of human life were substantial and indubitable facts and must be dealt with as such. Such was the atmosphere of the period that produced Shakespeare. As Bunyan's Pilgrim Progress makes the essential problem of Puritanism how a man may escape from earth to heaven, so his contemporary Spenser's "Fairy Queen" endeavors to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline. It was an age when man wanted to be great and do great things, an age conscious of the greatness of human power, and Spenser wrote his illustration of its tendencies in his fashion. Then again is the scientific movement represented by Bacon. Bacon's one link with Shakespeare was in his desire for facts and for inference from facts and observation and experience. In some sense he was the pioneer of the scientific movement. His aim was to extend man's dominion over nature, and to enrich man's life. Science was to be the minister to human welfare, which was conceived by Bacon no doubt in a materialistic fashion. Devotion to the fact, a return from supernatural to material and human, this is the characteristic attitude.
 Besides the ethical and scientific influence of the age there was the religious influence. The English Reformation only came to its final form in Elizabeth's reign by combined firmness and easiness of temper, by concessions, by compromises, by good sense. A Reformed church emerged in which a man could find a refined type of pity free from ceremonial or emotional extravagance, offending neither by excessive rigidity or exaggerated fervor. Anglicanism grew up as a system after the Mariau persecution chiefly taking the note of the majestic commonsense of Hooker. The renaissance philosopher had appealed to human reason alone. Hooker would assign a judicial place to reason but he appealed also both to scripture, church, and tradition. His aim was to root feeling in concrete fact. His work which always lay close to reality was always practical in its tendency, always moderate, always sensible. But its innermost idea is a thorough realization of facts as they are. He is the embodiment of the ecclesiastical wisdom of England. Anglicanism as a system owes at once its obvious defects and its chief characteristic excellencies to the spirit that animated Hooker.
 I may not pursue a tempting subject. I only alluded to it to illustrate the trend of spirit that permeated at once every species of thought and influence that was alive in Shakespeare's day. Shakespeare's genius grew in the age of Bacon, Spenser, and Hooker, and the great thing common to all is the characteristic of the age, the strong feeling of the positive concrete fact ; only Shakespeare's work was to be true to facts, not in scientific research like Bacon, not in realisation of facts in reference to religion like Hooker, but to facts received dramatically, that is to human character in living play. And even the moat casual reader of his plays must be struck by the absolute truth of the picture that he presents. It is the stuff of life itself, the coarse and the fine, the mean and the heroic, the humorous and the tragic, the grotesque and the terrible. There is the mixture everywhere in the characters themselves. Life itself is put before us with a truth, a reality, a perfection, the highest ever attained by man. Life in its strength and life in its weakness, life in its possibilities, and life with its terrible burden of a self caused necessity. Everyone is in his eyes going through a kind of perpetual trial, though the fact of the trial is never obtruded ; yet it is always there. Has the man strength and honesty to break through the meshes of pretence and plausibility, or will he let himself be fascinated, spell-bound, blinded by evil. It is that sense of truth to life which makes the intense interest of his dramas. The agony of temptation is there vividly before us and the man's freedom is there too — if he chooses he need not do the thing — there is no false or irrational necessitarianism or any false excursive attitude for once allowed. It is in his absolute truth to human nature, to its possibilities and to its dark damning failures, to its splendid achievements and its piteous insincerities, it is the picture drawn with such vivid colors of the trial of the human soul ; that affects us so powerfully, whether it be the picture of the captive king musing over the vanity of a world which he has misused or the frenzy of a revenged father driven to madness by children's ingratitude and his own folly, or in that piteous debate in which the alternative is a brother's death or a sister's shame, or in the jealousy of the husband who yields against his better self to the fiendish treason of the slanderer, or in the terrible struggles of the sinner who would repent and cannot, who only binds the web of self deceit faster round him, "O timid soul that struggling to be free, art more engaged." It is his wise and accurate presentation of the facts of our experience and observation that make his works as powerful a moral factor in our own age as in his. We are like, then, in our temptations and trials and weaknesses, is our verdict on his characters. Again it is the strength of Shakespeare, that is a perpetual attraction. Strength of life is always perceptive of the reality of the darker and the lighter side of tragedy and comedy. Love and hatred, life and death, become very real to a rigorous nature.
 Languid existence knows of neither passion nor resurrection. Strength of life—a vigorous vitality alone, can conceive extremes of rapture and woe. A languid emotionalism may try to paint them, but the coloring is blurred and sickly in hue. Shakespeare's charactors live in their joy and sorrow. The unutterable woe of Lear, the spasm of anguish which makes Othello writhe in body as in mind, are one side of real life, and the trembling expectation of Troilus before the entrance of Cressida,the rapture of Pericles on the recovery of Marina are as real at the other end. (Troilus and Cressida, Act 3, Scene, II, " I am giddy, etc.,"). And this same strength helps him to understand the deep contrasts which make the comedy of life. The earnest man who is conscious of his own earnestness is not afraid to laugh. He knows that he may have his laugh out and that the reality of things will not be disturbed. The weak and languid life never understands this, it regards all laughter as mockery. The laughter that is not afraid to laugh at things, because they are too real, and the laughter that giggles at everything because it holds nothing close. These people who are only half in earnest, who cherish their seriousness for the sake of their dignity never laugh properly. So, it comes to pass that an age of reality when great tragedies can be written, great comedies can be written also. But when it grows trivial as in the Restoration, in the reign of Charles II, great tragedy ceases, false heroics and mere sentimentalisms takes the place of tragic passion. The laughter of men becomes brutal and joyless, the crackling of thorns under the pot.
 There is no mere preaching in Shakespeare, no mere efforts to improve the occasion. But the moral tendency, and even the religious, is immensely powerful. All the more powerful through being indirect, through the fact that it recognises the action of the Divine on human affairs without vulgarising it or reducing it to bald commonplace. But the need evidently felt most of all was to bring back sanity into the estimate of human things, to have the things as they are, the good things of the world as they are, the good things of the world that are common, the good things of the world that are rare, to show that life is not a little common dust. He was practical and this appears in all his view of things and he does not think it necessary to answer every question. He knows that there are mysteries, he feels the supreme problems. If he does not furnish us with ready made answers, he tries to give us that feeling of solemn awe which alone can appreciate the answers when they have come, and to bow the head in reverent silence until they came.
 The question is still discussed as to whether Shakespeare was a Protestant or a Catholic. A celebrated German holds that the question is settled by the remark in Romeo and Juliet (Act 4, Scene I) " Or shall I come to you at evening mass." No Catholic would have spoken of evening mass. But it is a question hardly worth discussing, because whatever the form of his religion, the influence of its working is easy to read. That influence is the fostering and sustenance of a certain type of human character which, at any rate, has its greatest historical representatives in Protestantism. The character that is shaped by energy, by devotion to fact, by self control, by tolerance, by disbelief in the minutiae, by indifference to externals, these are the habits of thought and feeling which belong to the Protestant ideal of manhood. This much, at any rate, is evident and indeed, unless he were in antagonism to his old age it would not be otherwise, for with all its defects and faults the characteristic of every thing that was great and strong in the Elizabethan age, not merely in its negative aspects, but in its positive tendencies in the formation of its characters it was essentially Protestant. Farther than this one cannot go. It seems rather true his was one of those gifted minds, who see that there is a great unity underlying all religions, that if you descend to the inner life and all deep things and essence of character, to the internal and imperishable, then delimitations necessary enough to our ordinary thought become blurred and pass away. The great gift, which his genius was meant to convey, and did convey, his great and lasting legacy to his country and to the world was a resolute call to strength and to courage and to pursue the path of rectitude, honesty, and virtue, with clinging resolution through pain or through joy, and weal or woe.

National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 - 1954), Saturday 13 August 1904, page 2

Monday, 3 April 2017




This year is the occasion of many notable anniversaries, but perhaps the most interesting of them all is the bicentenary of the birth of Jean Jacques Rousseau—inspirer of the French Revolution and the American Constitution, philosopher, educationalist, writer of novels, and composer of operas, the most potent influence of the 18th century, and one of the greatest minds of the present era.

To this day violent controversies range round his influence on the Revolution, his character, and his inspiration of literature. In spite of all that Mrs. Macdonald and others have done in recent years to lessen the impression generally accepted of the ignoble side of his character, his gross, non-moral life is made clear from his "Confessions," which Burke described as a record of a life flung with wild defiance in the face of his Creator. Here he set down with extraordinary literary charm and an almost reckless candour the pettiness and immorality of his thoughts and actions—his quarrels with his friends, his ingratitude towards his patrons, his desertion of his mistress and neglect of his children, his vanity and caprice, incapacity for recording the truth, and numerous other undesirable traits of character, both small and great. Yet, apart from its worth as a literary production, the "Confessions" must be reckoned as a remarkable psychological study, as the revelation of one of the greatest minds in history, and as involving no little courage and self-sacrifice in its composition. Samuel Johnson did not approve of Rousseau, but we suspect that if the prim and proper doctor had set down faithfully and scrupulously his innermost thoughts and the smallest of his actions, the result would have made the hair of James Boswell stand on end. "Let not Donna Bertha, of Ser Martino, suppose that, because this man steals, and that man makes offerings, it may seem so within the divine counsel, for one may rise and the other may fall." Dante was no sentimentalist with regard to sinners, but he also knew a good deal about the saints.


But, after all, however interesting it is to pierce through the veil concealing the inner life of great men, Rousseau's influence will abide, whether or not he quarrelled with Diderot, and Grimm, and Hume, and the Duke of Luxemburg, or wrongfully accused a servant girl of stealing a ribbon, or behaved with unnatural cruelty to his children. The fame of Nelson or Napoleon does not rest on their irregular marital relations. Men who have never read a line of Rousseau's writings accuse him of direct responsibility for the jacqueries of the French Revolution, whereas he undoubtedly hated the thought of revolution, and loathed agitation. That he achieved what Voltaire failed to accomplish is unquestioned. Not only did statesmen obey his dictates, but mothers suckled their babes because he told them to do so.

"Man is born free, and is everywhere in chains"—the opening words of the "Contrat Social"—provided a clue to the whole of his treatise, which fired the imaginations of his countrymen by the impassioned eloquence and emotional rhetoric with which he had clothed the cold logic of his philosophical argument. Burke, whose prejudiced and violent attacks on Rousseau did much to influence public opinion in England against him, was compelled to confess In his "Letter to a Member of the National Assembly" (1791): "Him they study; him they meditate; him they turn over in all the time they can spare from the laborious mischief of the day or the debauches of the night. Rousseau is their canon of holy writ; in his life he is their canon of Polyclitus; he is their standard figure of perfection." Sir James Mackintosh, In his "Vindiciae Gallicae," and Lord Morley, and other writers in modern times have placed in their proper perspective Rousseau's lack of responsibility for the excesses of the revolution, and have vindicated him as one of the immortal band of sages, "who unshackled and emancipated the human mind." His influence on the American Revolution has also been questioned, but the constitution was In its very phraseology based on his writings, and Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and other framers of the constitution were clearly much influenced by him.


Rousseau has often been accused of plagiarism. So has Shakespeare. But the schoolboy has settled the latter question by defining a plagiarist as a person who writes plays. The root principles of his philosophy may be traced to Bentham, Hobbes, Locke, or Althusen. The educational theories he set out in "Emile" were in part at least borrowed from Rabelais, Montesquieu, Locke, and the Jesuits. He has even been accused of moulding his "Nouvelle Heloise" on Richardson's "Clarissa." But if all this be granted his place in history is not lessened, his influence was not less great. One is reminded in a discussion of the ethics of plagiarism which so often arises in connection with Rousseau of the line in Aristophanes, when Cleon, convinced at last by his own confessions of too-glaring obligations to the public treasury, blurts out an apology: "Well, if I stole, 'twas for the public good." Rousseau was clearly one of the fathers of the romanticist school of literature. Of his direct influence on the sentimental "pantisocracy" of the youthful Lake poets there are differences of opinion. It is at least debatable whether Wordsworth and Southey would have written as they did it it had not been for Rousseau's inspiration, although Coleridge called him "the trimmer of love-sick tales and the spinner of speculative cobwebs." Hazlitt, In the "Round Table," in 1814, described the "Confessions" as "the most valuable of all Rousseau's writings. The pilgrimage which Byron and Shelley made to the scenes of Rousseau's novels, and how they steeped themselves in his works, is recorded in Shelley's "Letters." Byron's enthusiasm took the form of the famous stanzas in "Childe Harold," beginning, "Here the self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau," and Rousseau is the first illustrious name mentioned in Byron's "Heroes of Immortality."


Walter Scott, in a review of the "Nouvelle Heloise," In the "Quarterly Review," wrote that "the dulness of the story is the last apology for its exquisite immorality," but, at least two later famous English writers acknowledged their indebtedness to Rousseau. George Eliot wrote to a friend in 1849: "It would signify nothing to me if a very wise person were to stun me with proofs that Rousseau's views of life, religion, and government were miserably erroneous—that he was guilty of some of the worst "bassesses" that have degraded civilised man. I might admit all this; and it would not be the less true that Rousseau's genius has sent that electric thrill through my intellectual and moral frame which has awakened me to new perceptions." And John Ruskin wrote the following confession in 1862: "I know of no man whom I more entirely resemble than Rousseau. If I were asked whom of all men of any name in past time I thought myself to be grouped with, I should answer unhesitatingly, Rousseau." In "Preterita" he openly acknowledged his life-long debt to Rousseau.

Individuals will differ upon this phase of his character and upon that. But whenever we look to the well from which men have drunk the waters of liberty, and have sought inspiration from the blessings of individual freedom and social and economic equality; if we seek the sources of much that is best in our literature, and search for the fundamental principles upon which the education of our children and ourselves are based, we shall have to include in our quest the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Saturday 31 August 1912, page 5

Sunday, 26 March 2017


 (BY " BALAAM.")
 I know of no other word in the English language so generally misunderstood and so frequently misapplied, as the word freethinker. By a certain section of orthodox churchgoers (moral or immoral as the case may be) it is regarded as synonymous with atheist. Another section of the same community, in a mysterious and altogether inexplicable manner, associate the word with free love, while the ignorantly pious contingent, although they have no conception of its meaning, yet, with one accord, proclaim it to be something very bad, just as—being told to do so—they proclaim many things which they do not understand to be very good. Now, this widespread misapprehension arises from the prevalence amongst us of that social plague spot, the spurious freethinker. This noxious and objectionable animal may be found in any part of the civilised world, but his favorite haunt, or burrow, is in large towns. Not only a foe to Christianity, but absolutely without any religion, he writhes under the idea of individual responsibility to a higher power; all moral restraint, as far an the law will allow, he throws to the winds; his passions and lusts (again, as far as the law will allow) remain unbridled ; religion of any sort is hateful to him, involving as it does a necessity upon the part of its votaries to rise superior to the animal ; and boldly proclaiming that there is no God, no hereafter, no such thing as sin, he pursues his brute boast existence. And then, my friends, is the animal that calls himself a freethinker and so casts discredit upon a most estimable class of men—a class that as far as morality, honesty, and charity are concerned, will compare favorably with any sect or denomination upon the face of the earth. The bona fide believer in free thought—or as it is now generally termed, modern thought—is an individual whose mind is liberated from dogmatism and superstition. He asserts his individuality, and values at its true worth the reasoning power with which he finds himself endowed. The power he cultivates, and makes use of, regarding it as the most precious of all the "talents" entrusted to his care. Believing in his ability to distinguish between the probable and the improbable he will not accept of anything without evidence of, at least, probability. He understands the meaning of the word faith ; he also understands that "credulity is the disease of feeble intellects, and ill-regulated winds; believing everything, and investigating nothing, the mind accumulates errors, till its overgrown faith overmasters its untutored reason." Fully aware of his many imperfections, he yet refrains from grovelling in the dust, and calling himself a miserable offender, knowing full well that he is a decided improvement upon his prehistoric ancestor. He meets with a difficulty as follows
 —Supposing that scientists are right, and that the human race, instead of having fallen from a perfect state, have been gradually developing from a very low original; and as century succeeded century, most certainly rising instead of falling. Supposing such to have been the case, the tradition of man's fall must be rejected, and rejecting it, what then becomes of the Atonement? Meeting with such a problem, he does not cry " Get thee behind me Satan" and shut his eyes, but boldly, and to the best of of his ability, faces it, considering that he is not only justified in facing it, but that it is his bounden duty to do so. Earnest of purpose, honest of thought, open to conviction he grapples with the difficulty, and at length arrives at a conclusion of his own (not of his ancestors), and thus asserts his individuality as a reasoning, responsible being. He pays but little heed to the conflicting doctrines and dogmas of diverse churches, and the various and antagonistic creeds of religious sects trouble him not, what is opposed to reason he refuses to accept. He accept however, the certainties revealed by scientists, and if those should clash, as they sometimes do, with the traditions of a bygone age, why then, the latter must go to the wall. There are two words in the English language that the freethinker utterly disbelieves in, and those are the words atheist and devil. He cannot realize the possibility of any one—not wholly insane— doubting the existence of a God ; nor can he understand a rational human being believing in the existence of a devil. Looking things squarely in the face, he sees that the religious belief of the majority is entirely the result of their education and training, and in fact, it is not THEIR belief, but the belief of their teachers.
 " By education, most have been misled.
 They so believe, because they so were bred;
 The priest continues what the nurse began,
 And thus the child imposes on the man."

And pondering over this, he sees plainly that the man who accepts and believes without enquiry, completely ignores his individual responsibility, and forfeits all claim to be considered a rational being. To religious traditionalism the freethinker gives exactly the same weight that he does to any other traditionalism. His object is to arrive as nearly as possible at "the truth"; and he believes that the only method of doing so is by fearless and conscientious investigation, adopting what seems to him just and true ; and this he considers to be the only means by which one can ever reach a faith worthy of a rational human being. Appeal to the freethinker if you are in distress; ask him to co-operate in any scheme calculated to lessen the sorrow and suffering by which we are surrounded, and then you will find out what he is. But do not talk to him of such things as Adam and Eve, or the setting back of the sun—that is unless you wish him to bid you a hasty good day. This is no imaginary character that I have drawn, my friends ; he belongs to a class that is increasing daily, and that will go on increasing ; for the old order of things is passing away, as it has passed away before, and as it must assuredly pass away again, and yet again. It is an age of doubt— of scepticism, if you will—and better that than blind unreasoning follow-my-leaderism. Men are daring to think for themselves, to decide for themselves—sure sign to the thinking mind that the childhood of our world is passed.

Alexandra and Yea Standard, Gobur, Thornton and Acheron Express (Vic. : 1877 - 1908), Friday 4 September 1885, page 3