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Law's Friends a feeble Folk.
competent person to go on.' Moreover, it occurs to him as just within the bounds of possibility that Law will be more acceptable to some people in his own dress than in Okely's, Byrom's or anybody else's, and so he makes this kind concession :- Should any one, whether before acquainted with Mr. Law, or now by this means first made so, prefer the original prose to this metrical, or even to the very best poetical version, I shall have no reason to regret the inclination of either.'
The general impression which one gathers from the accounts of Law's friends is that, though they all belonged to what are called the educated classes, they were (exceptis excipiendis) but a feeble folk. And it is distinctly a misfortune to Law in more ways than one that this was the case. Law himself is in danger of being compromised by such absurdities as those which have been quoted ; his strong sense, his good judgment, and his intellectual powers generally would never be suspected by those who regarded him through the distorting medium in which some of his injudicious friends have presented him. And then it is never wholesome for a man to be always king of his company; the friction of equal minds is necessary to bring out a man's brightness ; Law seldom or never had the benefit of such friction. And once more, a certain peremptoriness of tone was constitutional to Law; at bottom he was the humblest man living ; but his humility does not always appear upon the surface ; it was not good for him always to be bowed down to, always to be made an oracle of. In short, it would have been well for him if he had sometimes been brought into personal communication with men of the calibre of some of those who will be noticed in the next chapter.
In the admirable essay “On the Mysticism attributed to the Early Fathers,' in Tract 89 of the ‘Tracts for the Times,' the writer (Mr. Keble), observes :—Mysticism is not a hard word, having been customarily applied to such writers as Fenelon and William Law, whom all parties have generally agreed to praise and admire. So far as William Law is concerned this remark is only applicable to his personal character. No one could help admiring that. The thorough reality of the man, his ardent piety, his splendid intellectual powers were undeniable ; and with very few exceptions, his warmest opponents did homage to them. But, just in proportion as they admired the man, they abominated all the more the opinions which seemed to them to spoil so fine a character. “The person I greatly reverence and love. The doctrine I utterly abhor. These words of one of the most distinguished of Law's opponents express the pretty general feeling among them all.
In fact, instead of 'praise and admiration,' few writers (quâ writers) have met with so much abuse from so many different quarters as Law did in his later years. It could hardly be otherwise. The eighteenth century was, of all periods, that in which popular sentiment was most unfavourable to anything which savoured of enthusiasm, mysticism, idealism, whatever vague term best expressed the pet
Opposition to Law's views natural.
abhorrences of the day. All men, it is said, are born Aristotelians or Platonists. If there had been a registry of births on this principle, there would have been found an enormous preponderance of Aristotelians in the period we are speaking of. Perhaps at no other period could such an utterance have been made as that which Voltaire—the very incarnation of eighteenth century feeling in its most unspiritual formmade when he called Locke 'the English Plato, so far superior to the Plato of Greece,' nor as that which Gibbon made when he unhesitatingly declared his preference for Xenophon over Plato, as an exponent of Socrates. But the opponents of Law were not men of the stamp of Voltaire and Gibbon. They were, for the most part, orthodox divines of the Church of England, thoughtful men and well read in theological literature. And, really, one cannot wonder that such men should have taken exception to many of Law's sentiments, and, still more, to many of his incidental expressions. Law's later works certainly breathe the spirit of earnest piety; they are full of beautiful thoughts, beautifully expressed ; they deal in a very striking and suggestive way with difficulties which press upon the minds of thoughtful men in all ages; but, on the other hand, they are certainly full of strange theories and interpretations ; they cannot, to say the least of it, bear to be judged by the 'quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus ' standard. His views on the Atonement, on the Wrath of God, on the creation of the world, on the state of the universe before the creation, and on many other points, range beyond the beaten track of theology, to put it in the mildest form. His speculations on the 'glassy sea,' on the universal fire, on the Pearl of Eternity, &c., are curious and fascinating, but often very wild and fanciful. His admiration of Behmen almost amounted to an infatuation; and his violent diatribes against human learning' were not unnaturally
offensive to a church which has always taken a reasonable pride in having a learned clergy.
One of the best types of an opponent to Law on these grounds was Mr., afterwards Bishop Horne. He had been an ardent admirer of Law's earlier works, and had 'conformed himself' (his biographer tells us), ‘in many respects to the strictness of Law's rules of devotion.'' But Law's later theology shocked him. Speaking of Law's Behmenism, 'We have seen,' he says, 'one of the brightest stars in the firmament of the church (oh! lamentable and heartbreaking sight), falling from the heaven of Christianity.' Briefly but very pointedly he states his objections to each of Law's peculiar views; and though he is sometimes rather too violent, and sometimes misunderstands Law's real meaning, yet on the whole his treatise is a weighty and useful one. It would swell the bulk of this volume too much to quote it in detail ; it must therefore suffice to cite one very reasonable remark :-'Mr. Law,' he says, 'is injudicious in condemning all human learning ; though all that tends not to the knowledge of God deserves the censure which he bestows in a very masterly manner. But I see not why time is not as well spent in the writings of the noble army of saints and martyrs and confessors, as in those of Jacob Behmen, much better than in searching for truth in the inward depth and ground of the heart, which is indeed deceitful above all things—who can know it?'2
Another opponent of Law on similar grounds was Bishop Horne's friend, chaplain, and biographer, Mr. Jones of Nayland. He too had a very high opinion of Law's earlier works. His praise of the Letters to Bishop Hoadly' has already been quoted, and he valued equally
"Life of Bishop Horne, prefixed to his Works,' in 6 vols., by Rev. W. Jones (of Nayland), i. 68.
? See Horne's Cautions to the Readers of Mr. Law.
Law's practical treatises. He had, morever, a deep admiration for Law's personal character ; but, for these very reasons, he was all the more opposed to his later views; for he was 'sensible how easy it was for many of those who took their piety from Law, to take his errors along with it,'' and therefore he felt it his duty to lift up his testimony against one who, after writing so excellently upon the vanity of the world, and the follies of human life (on which subjects he has no superior), has left us nothing to depend upon but imagination, &c.'?
We next come to our old friend Bishop Warburton, who assailed Law repeatedly in true Warburtonian language. Warburton has been accused of waiting till Law's death before he ventured to attack him ;3 but the imputation is an unjust one ; for, in point of fact, he attacked him pretty freely during his lifetime. Whatever Warburton's faults may have been, cowardice was not among the number; the antagonist of Lowth and Gibbon cannot be fairly charged with shrinking from strong adversaries. It is true that Warburton's bitterest invectives were not uttered until after Law's death ; but then it must be remembered that Law's strictures on the Divine Legation were written within a short period of his death, and his further strictures on Warburton when he was actually a dying man. Still, if there is anything in the 'de mortuis, &c.' rule, Warburton certainly violated it most grossly. Indeed, whether he had been writing of the dead or the living, such language as the following was rather strong :— The late Mr. Law obscured a good understanding by the fumes of the rankest enthu
Jones, of Nayland, Life of Bishop Horne, p. 68. ? Jones' Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity, p. xiii. •To the Reader.' See also his Letters to a Lady on Jacob Behmen's Writings, passim.
3 Thus Okely writes to Byrom, Some of my friends think he (Warburton) would not have ventured to attack Mr. Law had he been alive.' See also Hartley's Defence of the Asystic Writers appended to his Paradise Restored.