Wednesday, 20 May 2015


A Chapter of Autobiography.


To the New York Forum for October Mr. Frederic Harrison contributes an article under the head of "Formative Influences." in which he essays to explain "how he came by the bundle of opinions with which he was credited," We do not know that the explanation is very clear on this particular matter ; but as a chapter of autobiography the article is very interesting. A few passages, are subjoined:—
 My first definite impression of public life was the coronation, of the Queen, of which I witnessed the procession in Palace-yard at "Westminster. There, for the first time I began to conceive what living history means; to think about statesmen, nations, and government. I saw the great Duke and the heroes of Waterloo — it was then only three years further off than is Sedan from us now — I remember Marshal Soult and Esterhazy, and the ambassadors of many kings. There, too, I first heard the roar of a vast crowd ; and I was told how the Abbey and the Hall at Westminster before me had been the scene of the coronation of a score of kings and queens, and had been built by men who fought in the crusades and at Crecy and Agincourt. I can recall now, like a series of historical pictures, every separate scene in that long and, to me, a small country child, most wonder-stirring day.
 My childhood was thus passed in the midst of the great epoch of progress which followed on the break-up of the old absolutism in Europe after 1830 . . . It gave me a general sense that everything around me was an open question that there was no habit of life which we might not expect to see changed. My father, a cautious city man, conservative by instinct and by conviction, shook his head, even while his good sense admitted the improvement. For my part, I liked the new thing ; waited to see what would come next ; and, except that I admired Alcibiades, the Crusaders, and Charles I., had no particular prejudices. . . . I went to London to be educated at King's College ; and I was a boy at school when the great movement of 1848 swept over Europe. . . . Gradually I settled into a deep, lasting, and passionate sympathy with the popular cause everywhere and in all forms. Having no hereditary or acquired prejudices in favour of any class or of any special type of society, I slowly parted with my boyish liking for conquerors, cavaliers, and princesses in distress, and took my side with the cause of oppressed nations and the struggling people. As a schoolboy, three times I passed my autumn in France ; once, in a French family in Normandy, connected with my own. While living among them, I saw every phase of French provincial life. This commenced my close familiarity with France, which for 40 years, I have visited almost without the interruption of a single year. The infamies of the empire of 1852 stirred me to the soul. By the time I was 25 I had seen most of the principal cities of France, Germany, and northern Italy ; I had some knowledge of the language, circumstances, and recent history of all these countries ; I was a republican by conviction, had a deep enthusiasm for the popular cause throughout Europe, and was inclined to the Socialist solution of the great class question.
 I went up to Oxford from school about 1850; at a time when the great controversy in theology, which shook the church and led to the conversion of Cardinal Newman, Cardinal Manning, and, many others, was passing into a new phase. Liberalism was in the ascendant, and the dominant type of thought presented to me was Positive rather than Catholic. J. Stuart Mill, George Grote, Arnold and his historical school, Carlyle and his political school, Comte and his Positive school, were the influences under which my mind was formed. I was still a student when Kingsley published " Alton Locke"' and "Yeast," Ruskin his "Modern Painters "'and "Seven Lamps of Architecture,", and F. Denison Maurice his "Theological Essays." As usual, the minds of raw youths are influenced first, not by the great masters of thought, but by the masters of expression and of pathos. I spent six years at Oxford as student, fellow, and tutor. And besides the regular curriculum of the ancient and modern historians and philosophers, I became saturated with Mill's "Logic" and Political Economy;" Grote's "History of Greece," the works of Carlyle, the earlier pieces of Lewes, Herbert Spencer, and Miss Martineau, the English classical historians, and Guizot, Michelet, Mazzini, and Quinet. Comte I knew only through G. Lewes, Littre, and Harriet Martineau. At the same time I read not a little theology, both orthodox and unorthodox. Cardinal Newman's "Parish Sermons," Keble's "Christian Year;" Jeremy Taylor, Bishop Butler, Dante, "Paradise Lost," and the Bible were my constant reading, along with Robertson of Brighton. F. D. Maurice, Francis Newman, Theodore Parker, Strauss, Lewes, and the two Martineaus. John Henry Newman, the cardinal, and Francis Newman, the theist, interested me almost equally ; Lewes's "History of Philosophy" and the "Lives of the Saints" occupied me alternately. I hardly ever missed a university sermon or a number of the Westminster Review.
At school I had been something of a Neo-Catholic, and took the sacrament with a leaning towards transubstantiation.  As a student at college, I slowly came to regard the entire scheme of theology as an open question, and I ultimately left the assured belief in any form of supernatural doctrine. But, as the supernatural died out of my view the natural took its place and amply covered the same ground. . .I have never known any abrupt break in mental attitude, nor have I ever felt change of belief to involve moral deterioration, loss of peace, or storms of soul. . . .   I have at no time of my life lost faith in a supreme Providence, in an immortal soul, and in spiritual life, but I came to find these much nearer to me on earth than I had imagined. . . I was quite 35 before I fully absorbed the Positive, system. I had been a systematic student of it for 10 or 12 years before. . . The acceptance of the general principles of Auguste Comte had been the result of very long and unremitting study, and it proceeded by a series of marked stages.
 MEN VERSUS BOOKS.               
   My interests have always led me to study movements on the spot, and from the lips of those who originate them. In this spirit I have sought to understand the various social and labour questions by personal intercourse with practical men. . . . I am sure whole libraries would not give me what I have gained in converse with Gambetta, Mazzini, John Bright, J. Stuart Mill, G. Eliot, Ruskin, Cardinal Manning, John Dillon, John Burns, Spencer, Comte, John Morley,and Gladstone. 
 As I have sought to teach many things, and have fought hard for many opinions. I have tried to put what I had to say as well as I could. But as I have always some practical object in view, my eagerness keeps me from spending thought over the mode of saying it. Mark Pattison, of Oxford, used to say to a pupil who happens to be now both a brilliant writer and a leading statesman : " My good friend, you are not of the stuff of which men of letters are made. You want to make people do something, or you want to teach something; that is fatal to your literature." I am afraid that I have a dash of the same vice, and something of the Jacobin within me murmurs that "the Republic has no need of men of letters." . . .All my formal Positivist teaching is necessarily gratuitous ; and as I have to print and to circulate most of my pieces at my own cost, I have long found literature not so much a profession as an expensive taste. . . My profession was the law, the practice of which I followed for some fifteen years without great zest and without any ambition. I afterwards taught jurisprudence as professor; and, having inherited a modest fortune, which I have no desire to increase, I eventually withdrew to my present occupation of urging on my neighbours opinions which meet, I must admit, with but moderate acceptance.

 — Pall Mall, October 16. 1890

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