Page images

dividual revelation acting by inspiration on my own reason; but a supernatural revelation, in the common acceptation of the term, it cannot be.

Such has been the actual result of the transcendental philosophy, or more properly speaking of the transcendental phraseology. No sooner had the Kantian system been thoroughly received and established in Germany, than the philosophical world were startled by the appearance of a work entitled "A Critique of all Revelation," in which these principles are carried forward to this result. It was anonymous, but it was so consistent and thorough that it was at first attributed to Kant, though afterwards claimed by Fichte. No one needs to be told that this argument is the basis of the philosopical anti-supernaturalism of Germany, or that it has been extensively carried to this conclusion in this country. We do not deny that Coleridge held it back from this result, by asserting as he does the moral depravity and ruin of the race as the occasion for a revelation. Nor do we deny that he and other ideal philosophers can so define their terms as to escape this conclusion; but the charge we make is, that they use these terms so loosely, and press them with such confidence, that taken on their own saying, it is the easiest thing to lead them to this conclusion of anti-supernaturalism. The German philosopher does not define. It is below his dignity to do it, and so his adversary takes up his proposition and putting it into the iron enginery of his logic, turns it out upon him in all its frightful consequences. And as far as Coleridge or his admirers adhere to this method of solemnly asseverating without condescending to explain, or if they do explain, yet forgetting it, the next time they propound, they must bear the responsibility of furthering the conclusions of which their propositions are capable. This spiritual philosophy may be and is the fruitful parent of atheism and unbelief, and it yet remains to be seen, whether its harvest shall not be a harvest of deeper and more enduring woe, than that which sprung up from the seed sown by the sensual school.

And now having followed our friends fairly up to the line that separates the philosophy of the finite and that of the infinite, we must shake hands with them, if they will go further. For we have no belief in the reality or the possibility of such a philosophy. We are willing to remain along the border line as long as they may choose. We believe in the attempt to answer all the questions which relate to the region on this side. We think, too, that the line itself between the finite and the infinite, between


Influence of Coleridge in America and England.


the knowable and the unknowable, should be drawn, definite and ineffaceable, and that its monumental stones should be fixed deep and unshaken; but as to going over it at present after them, their own success is not so flattering as to encourage us in the least. We should as soon think of following the dog which is shown off in the Grotto del Cane of which we used to read in our school days.

Coleridge has occasionally attempted a flight of this kind. He is quite confident for instance that he can demonstrate a Trinity as necessary to the idea of God, and has besides favored us with sundry disquisitions upon substance and the absolute; but his speculations are not sufficiently wrought out to render it fair to criticise them, even if we were disposed to attempt it. We will use all the efforts to see the star to which the astronomer directs our attention in the remotest heaven; we will gladly employ his best instruments, and follow obediently his minutest directions; but as to receiving a blow on the forehead, so that we may make our own stars, that is a little too much to ask of us. There is so much in the lawful metaphysics to strain and confuse the mind, that we have no present intention to submit ourselves to any voluntary bewilderment.

The American disciples of Coleridge have been numerous, and in the variety of uses to which they have applied his principles and his name, they have certainly been sufficiently diversified." Indeed, his influence in this country has been wider, and his reputation more sudden than in England. Certainly his principles have been more thoroughly adopted and tested, and the extravagance of his devotees has been more ridiculous. Among many other services which America renders to the Old World, one of the most conspicuous is that of furnishing a field and room for all sorts of principles to be received and tested, and to be carried out to practical results. The American people and not a few of the American scholars, perform the same service to the European philosophers and theologians, which certain unfortunate rabbits and caniculae do to chemists and physicians, in receiving a dose or two of every newly invented potion. If the potion be innocent or healthful, we are the gainers; but if not, we must take it notwithstanding. In Europe, old laws, old creeds, old customs, and old prejudices stand greatly in the way of the general and rapid adoption of new principles and systems; but in young America,

[ocr errors]

which sometimes means L'Amerique verte, there is so little respect for the past, and so much hope for the future, that we are ready to hail every new prophet, as the harbinger of a new era, and to give ourselves up to his experimenting. Carlyle here gets his greatest reputation, and the echo of the plaudits of thousands sounds louder across the seas, than the whisper of his fame slowly waxing at home, and quickens the sale of his heavy-going editions. Fourier here can find " Communities" ready to gather themselves in his name, and Strauss, when forbidden to lecture in the universities of Germany, can preach in our churches. All this as we have already remarked, is both well and ill. In Coleridge's influence the good and evil have both been conspicuous.

His general influence upon our literary men has been in some respects salutary. It were quite impossible indeed, that anything good could be glorified by so splendid a genius, and enforced by so fiery an eloquence, and not obtain a deep and rooted lodgment in the mind. Then, too, Coleridge was not a preacher, or a trader in religion or morals in any sense, and of course was unsuspected of sectarian bigotry or party zeal. When he sternly rebuked the shallowness of modern scholarship and the want of thorough principles in morals, and brought up new fields of honorable enterprise, resplendent as the field of the cloth of gold, he did a good service. When he brought to the illustration of writers unknown and neglected, his own glowing criticism, and contended against the undeserved reputation of infidel philosophers and historians, and in commanding words as those of a prophet, called us again to the consecration of all genius and of all learning to the highest service in the honor of God and the advancement of spiritual religion, he did a great and a good work. There are many hundreds now living, on whose minds his writings dawned like a new light, and on whose ears his words fell like the trumpet note, to stir all their better nature, and to strengthen and confirm their holier purposes. The infusion of his influence into our literature, and indeed into our literary atmosphere, is yet to be traced and will long be felt for good. We bless its presence, and rejoice in its healthful promise.

Coleridge had the advantage of being introduced to our theological arena, by one of the most worthy and distinguished of our scholars. The lamented President Marsh will not be soon forgotten by any who had the happiness to know him. His modest demeanor, his amiable disposition, his freedom from craft and cunning, his obvious and ardent love of truth, wherever it was to be

[ocr errors]


Remains of President Marsh.


found, the thoroughness of his scholarship, his iron diligence, his warm susceptibility to the good and the noble, and his disposition to master every subject in its principles, were such as to merit for him a reputation and an earthly reward far higher than he in fact received. His essay preliminary to the Aids to Reflection and his criticism on Stuart's Commentary on the Hebrews, are among the first specimens of writing in their kind. He was no parasite or dependent, in his nature, on the dicta of any man. The fragment on Psychology, which he left behind him, shows conclusively that he would take no man's system without examination; that it was his aim and effort to work out for himself and express in his own language, the philosophical truths on which he rested. And yet his reverence for Coleridge sometimes shows itself to be excessive, especially in his theology. There is in his sermons, a more strict and subservient adoption of Coleridge's phraseology, and a closer imitation of his style of thought than we should like to see, and than we were prepared to expect. We were surprised, too, to see in all his Remains, that he adopted Coleridge's theory of the atonement, and threw aside the Pauline doctrine of a forensic justification. We must own our surprise, that an interpreter so able as he, should have failed to detect the careless unfairness of Coleridge's expositions, and to supply from Coleridge himself, the refutation of his own reasonings.

The influence of Coleridge on the philosophy and theology of New England, has been in some respects, what President Marsh desired it should be. It has opened new fields of inquiry, and put us in possession of other modes of viewing religious truth. It has brought within our notice, writers which used to be unknown in our libraries. It has rendered our theology tolerant, by showing that the same faith may be held under different formulas of expression. At the same time it has made it free, by giving to the freest inquirer, strong principles of faith and piety, holding to which, he might be sure that he would not make shipwreck of the faith. It may have served to abate the harsh spirit that had grown out of our controversies, and to depress the tendency to low arts, and whispering cunning, and to break down all that wire-pulling apparatus, which is too often present in the religious as well as in the political world. Above all, it has contended for a wakeful, thorough, and scientific theology, in which, let alarmists and incapables say what they will, rests the hope of the church. We should say no more than we believe, if we add,

that it has deepened the channel of our psychological inquiries, and started new questions in our schools of mental and moral science.

This certainly forms no objection to it in our view. For our New England theology has for its genius and aim, to acquaint itself with mental and moral science as it is, during the current generation, in order to correct its errors if it have any, and to avail itself of its better analysis, and above all, to influence the philosophical world for good. So did Edwards, who was a most assiduous student of the philosophy of his day. His correspondence shows that he eagerly sought for every new book from Europe. Some of his leading works were written against evil principles in philosophy. There are those who think, that it is more Edwardean to do the same thing in their own day, than it is to put his writings on their book shelves, and leave them there, and then ejaculate: "there were giants in the earth in those days." As far as Coleridge has had influence to create a taste for psychological studies and to send our theologians to a thorough study of the philosophy of the day, so far has it done us good.

And yet this Coleridgism, if we may use so barbarous a term, has a foreign look in our New England theology. Geologists tell us that in a uniform and homogeneous stratum, one often meets with a dyke or a rock formation, which was violently thrust up in a liquid state, across the level strata, disturbing all its ancient arrangements, and introducing into all the interstices a new substance. Such has been this new system in its relations to all the old principles and methods of the New England theology. Ours is a Puritan theology. This is more or less of a church theology, invigorated and guarded indeed, but still adapted to the feelings of a devout reader of the liturgy. Ours is severe in its simplicity, plain in its nomenclature, and sternly logical in all its arrangements. This is gorgeous in its ornaments, ambitious in its terminology and imagination, as well as philosophical in its addresses to the mind. The New England theology is stern in its love of the truth, and rigid in its scrutiny of evidence. This is an avowed devotee of beauty as well as of truth, and easily believes what suits its taste. Above all, the eloquence of the New England theology is founded on convictions, and warmly and frequently addresses the conscience, which it carries by its solemn appeals and its awful earnestness. That nurtured by the system of Coleridge is less severe, more calm, and appeals less to the conscience. The one system is more earnest, direct and practical; the other

« PreviousContinue »