The book is indeed a protest against the stiffness of all cast-iron systems, and a warning against trusting in what is worn out. But it shows how the modern world, so complex, so refined, so wonderful, is, in all that it accounts good, but a reflection of what is described in the Gospels, and its civilisation, but an application of the laws of Christ, changing, it may be, indefinitely in outward form, but depending on their spirit as its ever-living spring. If we have misunderstood this book, and its cautious understatements are not understatements at all, but represent the limits beyond which the writer does not go, we can only say again it is one-of the strangest among books. If we have not misunderstood him, we have before us a writer who has a right to claim deference from those who think deepest and know most, when he pleads before them that not Philosophy can save and reclaim the world, but Faith in a Divine Person who is worthy of it, allegiance to a Divine Society which He founded, and union of hearts in the object for which He created it.
THE AUTHOR OF “ROBERT ELSMERE” ON A NEW REFORMATION
Guardian, 6th March 1889.
Mrs. Ward, in the Nineteenth Century, develops with warmth and force the theme and serious purpose of Robert Elsmere; and she does so, using the same literary method which she used, certainly with effect, in the story itself. Every age has its congenial fashion of discussing the great questions which affect, or seem to affect, the fate of mankind. According to the time and its circumstances, it is a Summa Theologiae, or a Divina Commedia, or a Novum Organum, or a Calvin’s Institutes, or a Locke On the Understanding, or an Encyclopedia, or a Candide, which sets people thinking more than usual and comparing their thoughts. Long ago in the history of human questioning, Plato and Cicero discovered the advantages over dry argument of character and easy debate, and so much of story as clothed abstractions and hard notions with human life and affections. It is a weighty precedent. And as the prophetess of a “New Reformation” Mrs. Ward has reverted to what is substantially the same method. She is within her right. We do not blame her for putting her argument into the shape of a novel, and bringing out the points of her case in the trials and passionate utterances of imaginary