A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 488 pages of information about A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.).

“Not those of a noble life,” argues Gigadibs, “nor in the judgment of the best men.  You are debasing your standard by living for the many fools who cannot see through you, instead of the wiser few who can.”

To which the Bishop replies that he lives according to the nature which God has given him, and which is not so ignoble after all; and that he succeeds with wise men as well as with fools, because they do not see through him either:  because their judgment is kept in constant suspension as to whether he can believe what he professes or cannot; whether, in short, he is a knave or a fool.  The proposition is vividly illustrated; and a few more obvious sophistries complete this portion of the argument.

Gigadibs still harps upon the fact that conformity cannot do the work of belief; and the Bishop now changes his ground.  “He conforms to Christianity in the wish that it may be true; and he thinks that this wish has all the value of belief, and brings him as near to it as the Creator intends.  The human mind cannot bear the full light of truth; and it is only in the struggle with doubt and error that its spiritual powers can be developed.”  He concedes, in short, that he is much more in earnest than he appeared; and the concession is confirmed when he goes on to declare that we live by our instincts and not by our beliefs.  This is proved—­he alleges—­by such a man as Gigadibs, who has no warrant in his belief for living a moral life, and does so because his instincts compel it.  Just so the Bishop’s instincts compel a believing life.  They demand for him a living, self-proving God (here the doctrine of expediency re-asserts itself), and they tell him that the good things which his position confers are the gift of that God, and intended by Him for his enjoyment.  “You,” he adds, “who live for something which never is, but always is to be, are like a traveller, who casts off, in every country he passes through, the covering that will be too warm for him in the next; and is comfortable nowhen and nowhere.”

One of his latest arguments is the best.  Gigadibs has said:  “If you must hold a dogmatic faith, at all events reform it.  Prune its excrescences away.”

“And where,” he retorts, “am I to stop, when once that process has begun?  I put my knife to the liquefaction,[58] and end, like Fichte, by slashing at God Himself.  And meanwhile, we have to control a mass of ignorant persons whose obedience is linked to the farthest end of the chain (to the first superstition which I am called upon to lop off).  We have here again a question of making the best of our cabin-fittings, the best of the opportunities which life places to our hand.”  In conclusion, he draws a contemptuous picture of the obscure and inconsequent existence which Gigadibs accepts, as the apostle without genius and without enthusiasm, of what is, if it be one at all, a non-working truth.

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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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