Of one whose scholarship greatly impresses her, and for whose spiritual life she has true respect, but whose theology fills her soul with dark shadows and cold shudders, she exclaimed, as though it were her own fault for not understanding him, “It is as if God were dead!”
Always she wants Christianity as life and power.
She remains a social reformer, and is disposed to agree with Bishop Gore that the present system is so iniquitous that it cannot be Christianised. She thinks it must be destroyed, but admits the peril of destructive work till a new system is ready to take its place.
Yet I feel fairly certain that she would admit, if pressed with the question, that the working of any better system can depend for its success only upon a much better humanity. For she is one of those who is bewildered by the selfishness of men and women, a brutal, arrogant, challenging, and wholly unashamed selfishness, which publicly seeks its own pleasures, publicly displays the offending symbols of its offensive wealth, publicly indulges itself in most shameful and infuriating luxuries, even at a time when children are dying like flies of starvation and pestilence, and while the men of their own household, who fought to save civilisation from the despotism of the Prussian theory, tramp the streets, hungry and bitter-hearted, looking for work.
On her mind, moving about England at all times of the year, the reality of these things is for ever pressing; the unthinkable selfishness of so many, and the awful depression of the multitude. She says that a system which produces, or permits, such a state of things must be bad, and radically bad.
There are moments, when she speaks of these things, which reveal to one a certain anger of her soul, a disposition, if I may say so with great respect, towards vehemence, a temper of impatience and indignation which would surely have carried her into the camp of anarchy but for the restraining power of her religious experience. She feels, deeply and burningly, but she has a Master. The flash comes into her eyes, but the habitual serenity returns.
I think, however, she might be persuaded to believe that it is not so much the present system but the pagan selfishness of mankind which brings these unequal and dreadful things to pass. The lady in the closed carriage would not be profoundly changed, we may suppose, by a different system of economics, but surely she might be changed altogether—body, soul, and spirit—if she so willed it, by that Power which has directed Miss Royden’s own life to such beautiful and wonderful ends.
Nevertheless, Miss Royden must be numbered among the socialists, the Christian socialists, and Individualism will be all the better for asking itself how it is that a lady so good, so gentle, so clear-headed, and so honest should be arrayed with its enemies.
I should like to speak of one memorable experience in Miss Royden’s later life.