In making our own venture we will begin with what seems to us incontestable. In the first place, but that it has been questioned, we should say that there could be no question of the surpassing ability which the book displays. It is far beyond the power of the average clever and practised writer of our days. It is the work of a man in whom thought, sympathy, and imagination are equally powerful and wealthy, and who exercises a perfect and easy command over his own conceptions, and over the apt and vivid language which is their expression. Few men have entered so deeply into the ideas and feelings of the time, or have looked at the world, its history and its conditions, with so large and piercing an insight. But it is idle to dwell on what must strike, at first sight, any one who but opens the book. We go on to observe, what is equally beyond dispute, the deep tone of religious seriousness which pervades the work. The writer’s way of speaking is very different from that of the ascetic or the devotee; but no ascetic or devotee could be more profoundly penetrated with the great contrast between holiness and evil, and show more clearly in his whole manner of thinking the ineffaceable impression of the powers of the world to come. Whatever else the book may be, this much is plain on the face of it—it is the work of a mind of extreme originality, depth, refinement, and power; and it is also the work of a very religious man: Thomas a Kempis had not a more solemn sense of things unseen and of what is meant by the Imitation of Christ.
What the writer wishes his book to be understood to be we must gather from his Preface:—
Those who feel dissatisfied with the current conceptions of Christ, if they cannot rest content without a definite opinion, may find it necessary to do what to persons not so dissatisfied it seems audacious and perilous to do. They may be obliged to reconsider the whole subject from the beginning, and placing themselves in imagination at the time when he whom we call Christ bore no such name, but was simply, as St. Luke describes him, a young man of promise, popular with those who knew him, and appearing to enjoy the Divine favour, to trace his biography from point to point, and accept those conclusions about him, not which church doctors or even apostles have sealed with their authority, but which the facts themselves, critically weighed, appear to warrant.
This is what the present writer undertook to do for the satisfaction of his own mind, and because, after reading a good many books on Christ, he felt still constrained to confess that there was no historical character whose motives, objects, and feelings remained so incomprehensible to him. The inquiry which proved serviceable to himself may chance to be useful to others.
What is now published is a fragment. No theological questions whatever are here discussed. Christ, as the creator of modern theology and