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French, which he read as fluently as English, an accomplish-
long, and about one wide, crumpled up in the waistcoat pocket, were all he carried to remind him of the points in the subject. The language was always admirable, rising, at times to a high pitch of eloquence, perhaps occasionally a little too ornate, but producing a distinct thrill through the audience. It was said sometimes that the matter was more emotional than argumentative ; but those who had to reply found the task by no means an easy one. His extraordinary and irrepressible fluency amounted to a distinct defect, however inconceivable that may appear to an Englishman ; and, probably later in life, it marred his success as a Parliamentary speaker. He complained that no reporter could keep pace with him, and probably the intellect of the average member was not more nimble. Whether he could ever have become a great platform or Parliamentary speaker is doubtful. His tall and striking appearance was in his favour, and care and training might have modified the peculiarity of his gesture ; it was, probably, not beyond the limits of possibility to check the exuberance of speech ; but unfortunately his voice was deficient in compass and melody. There can be little doubt that for a long time his chief ambition was to become a great orator. His library was full of the speeches of the Irish orators. He rushed off every Sunday morning after chapel to hear Dr. Gregg (afterwards the Bishop of Cork), who was then considered the greatest pulpit orator in Dublin. Whenever Whiteside, who had a similar reputation at the Bar, was to be heard, Lecky might usually be seen an admiring listener. He frequently practised extemporary speaking to himself in his own rooms, and no honour he received was so highly prized as the gold medal of the Historical Society. Unfortunately he had not sufficient family interest to hope for an early seat in Parliament ; he never seems to have thought of going to the Bar ; and there was a family living which ultimately threatened to engulf him. For two years before he left college he was a student in the Divinity School, preparing for what was considered at that time to be his final destination. This gave a new direction to his reading, though I do not recollect that it sensibly altered the turn of his conversation. As the event proved, however, the subject of theology took a very strong hold upon his mind, and for a long time it occupied a large share of his thoughts. It was the subject of his first published book, and, indeed, he was chiefly occupied with it in various forms till after the publication of his History of Morals in 1869, nearly ten years later. He was never infected by the narrow sectarian bigotry which prevailed at that time in Ireland, an advantage he derived from having spent so much of his early life abroad and at school in England, and from having read so widely in English and French literature. He accordingly came to the study of theology with a far broader mind than was generally to be found among his fellow students or even among the Professors. He could never understand the extraordinary intolerance towards Catholics and Catholicism which was the prevailing note of Irish Protestant society, and which arose, perhaps, as much from political as religious causes. He could never resist going to listen to an orator, no matter to what school he belonged, and he excited some little scandal by occasionally attending the Catholic University chapel in Stephen's Green, where Dr. Anderdon, who had some feeble claim to that distinction, might then be heard. The possession of a Douay Bible also caused a painful impression. It was the time of the Oxford movement, and he was known to read and admire Dr. Newman. One of his own most intimate friends threw up a scholarship and joined the Roman Communion, and some began to fear that Lecky would also be lost to the enemy. He had, indeed, an inveterate habit, which exposed him to a great deal of misunderstanding, of defending in conversation whatever position happened to be attacked. If he found himself face to face with a vehement Protestant, he would mildly but, sometimes with very inconvenient cogency, represent what might be said on the other side. An hour afterwards a friend, tending to Catholicism, would be disconcerted to find him arguing no less eloquently on the Protestant side. This power of realising the full force of two, or even more sides, of the same question, may be clearly seen in the Religious Tendencies, and it was perhaps strengthened by his oratorical training, where it is necessary for an effective reply, to study the opponent's side with equal care to his own. These discussions were always conducted on his side, at least, with the utmost reverence, and if they threatened to pass the proper bounds, he at once diverted the conversation into other channels. It must not be thought that he was without settled convictions of his own ; for the Religious Tendencies show clearly enough that he had thought out very definite opinions for himself. He was always distinguished by the most unaffected and transparent goodness of character, but he never belonged to the “serious set.” He seemed to be less accessible to the emotional element in religion than to its intellectual and practical aspects. It would be impossible to imagine him ever taking part in a revivalist meeting or sharing even in any of the less hysterical manifestations of the same spirit.
Lecky celebrated his majority by printing a volume of poetry entitled Friendship and other Poems, 1859 ; and he continued throughout life “in many years and in many moods” to add to their number.
His volume of poetry was followed a year later by his first published work, The Religious Tendencies of the Age, which thus made its appearance when he had just reached the age of twenty-two. In it, he passed in review, the leading features of Catholicism, Tractarianism, and Latitudinarianism, but his principal object was to determine the legitimate sphere of private judgment and the limitations that should be imposed upon its exercise. Evangelical Protestantism thus found itself classed in the somewhat uncongenial company of Latitudinarianism. His chapter on Catholicism shows how profoundly he had entered into its spirit and how powerfully he felt its fascination. He recurs to the subject again and again. His most eloquent pages are devoted to the defence of its doctrines, to the description of its ceremonies and to an appreciation of its vast services to religion in the past and present. He considered that it was the best and, indeed, the only practicable form of religion for the ages preceding the invention of printing, and that it is so still for the imaginative races of the South. He considered that a mixture of error was inseparable from the weakness of our faculties. Truth, no doubt, there was, but, like the light of the sun, it could only be looked upon through the darkened medium of error; and he went so far as to say that Catholicism as expounded by a Bossuet, a Fénélon, or a Thomas-à-Kempis was not inferior to Protestantism, “its errors are in most respects trivial and unimportant.” He argues with such force against the right of private judgment that we might almost fancy he was on the point of renouncing it. His treatment of the High Church party was much less sympathetic. It reckoned, he says, “in its ranks many well-read students of antiquity and multitudes of young ladies,” but “its position was clearly anomalous”—it appealed to an authority superior to that of private judgment, which could only be found in the Church of Rome. But, notwithstanding the spell that Catholicism exercised over his imagination it does not appear that it ever entered his mind at any time to join its fold. His education had given him too clear an appreciation of the other side of the question. Its doctrines may have presented little more difficulty to his mind than those of them which are retained by the Protestant churches; but he saw clearly enough that history and Liberal principles were alike fatal to its claims. Protestantism, in some form, he recognised to be
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the necessary result of the more general spread of culture that followed the invention of printing and better suited to the argumentative and independent people of the North. But his defence of the Protestant position strikes the reader as feeble and half-hearted in comparison. Lecky, however, shows with unanswerable force that it is impossible to surrender the right of private judgment except by an initial exercise of that right. “A critical spirit must be called forth to sign its own death warrant,” and “the existence of an infallible Church can never be infallibly ascertained.” The question then arises, What is to be done with this right of private judgment, and how far is it to carry us? Lecky took up a position of absolute orthodoxy with reference to the main issue involved. “Upon the one hand,” he writes, “nothing seems more certain than that Christianity is true : upon the other nothing more uncertain than what Christianity is.” He considered that the historical evidence for its truth was conclusive and irrefragable ; and that there were a few cardinal doctrines which all candid men must acknowledge to be found in Scripture. His enumeration of cardinal doctrines was, however, still, very comprehensive, and many a modern clergyman would probably find them rather more than the feebler digestion of later times could easily assimilate. The book was, certainly, a remarkable performance to be published by a young man of twenty-two. Many of the excellences that distinguished his later writings had been already acquired. We may remark the same power of marshalling facts and arguments, of throwing himself into the feelings of other men and other ages, of lucid and eloquent exposition. The writing, as was natural at that time of life, is occasionally too ornate and declamatory ; but these were defects, which, unlike the rapidity of his oratory, he afterwards corrected. With this exception his later style is already formed. The Religious Tendencies was the present with which he took leave of his college and friends. In July he gave up his rooms and resumed his wanderings abroad. His letters testify to the weariness theological discussions caused him ; he was quite satisfied with the orthodox citadel he had reared for himself ; he looked forward to inhabiting it in peace ; and he hoped he would never again require to investigate its foundations. He seemed to regard his digression into the field of theology as something of an episode : it grew out of his enforced studies in the Divinity school and the necessity of clearing up his position with regard to the family living. He was gratified to be able to return to those literary and historical subjects which had originally engrossed his thoughts; and the result of his recovered freedom was the Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, which appeared