Is Life Worth Living?
by William Hurrell Mallock
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'Man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain.'

'How dieth the wise man? As the fool.... That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth the beasts, even one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth so dieth the other, yea they have all one breath; so that man hath no preeminence above a beast; for all is vanity.'

'[Greek: talaiporos ego anthropos, tis me rudetai ek tou somatos tou thanatou toutou];'

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NEW YORK G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS 182 Fifth Avenue 1879





My dear Mr. Ruskin,—You have given me very great pleasure by allowing me to inscribe this book to you, and for two reasons; for I have two kinds of acknowledgment that I wish to make to you—first, that of an intellectual debtor to a public teacher; secondly, that of a private friend to the kindest of private friends. The tribute I have to offer you is, it is true, a small one; and it is possibly more blessed for me to give than it is for you to receive it. In so far, at least, as I represent any influence of yours, you may very possibly not think me a satisfactory representative. But there is one fact—and I will lay all the stress I can on it—which makes me less diffident than I might be, in offering this book either to you or to the world generally.

The import of the book is independent of the book itself, and of the author of it; nor do the arguments it contains stand or fall with my success in stating them; and these last at least I may associate with your name. They are not mine. I have not discovered or invented them. They are so obvious that any one who chooses may see them; and I have been only moved to meddle with them, because, from being so obvious, it seems that no one will so much as deign to look at them, or at any rate to put them together with any care or completeness. They might be before everybody's eyes; but instead they are under everybody's feet. My occupation has been merely to kneel in the mud, and to pick up the truths that are being trampled into it, by a headstrong and uneducated generation.

With what success I have done this, it is not for me to judge. But though I cannot be confident of the value of what I have done, I am confident enough of the value of what I have tried to do. From a literary point of view many faults may be found with me. There may be faults yet deeper, to which possibly I shall have to plead guilty. I may—I cannot tell—have unduly emphasized some points, and not put enough emphasis on others. I may be convicted—nothing is more likely—of many verbal inconsistencies. But let the arguments I have done my best to embody be taken as a whole, and they have a vitality that does not depend upon me; nor can they be proved false, because my ignorance or weakness may here or there have associated them with, or illustrated them by, a falsehood. I am not myself conscious of any such falsehoods in my book; but if such are pointed out to me, I shall do my best to correct them. If what I have done prove not worth correction, others coming after me will be preferred before me, and are sure before long to address themselves successfully to the same task in which I perhaps have failed. What indeed can we each of us look for but a large measure of failure, especially when we are moving not with the tide but against it—when the things we wrestle with are principalities and powers, and spiritual stupidity in high places—and when we are ourselves partly weakened by the very influences against which we are struggling?

But this is not all. There is in the way another difficulty. Writing as the well-wishers of truth and goodness, we find, as the world now stands, that our chief foes are they of our own household. The insolence, the ignorance, and the stupidity of the age has embodied itself, and found its mouthpiece, in men who are personally the negations of all that they represent theoretically. We have men who in private are full of the most gracious modesty, representing in their philosophies the most ludicrous arrogance; we have men who practise every virtue themselves, proclaiming the principles of every vice to others; we have men who have mastered many kinds of knowledge, acting on the world only as embodiments of the completest and most pernicious ignorance. I have had occasion to deal continually with certain of these by name. With the exception of one—who has died prematurely, whilst this book was in the press—those I have named oftenest are still living. Many of them probably are known to you personally, though none of them are so known to me; and you will appreciate the sort of difficulty I have felt, better than I can express it. I can only hope that as the falsehood of their arguments cannot blind any of us to their personal merits, so no intellectual demerits in my case will be prejudicial to the truth of my arguments.

To me the strange thing is that such arguments should have to be used all; and perhaps a thing stranger still that it should fall to me to use them—to me, an outsider in philosophy, in literature, and in theology. But the justification of my speaking is that there is any opening for me to speak; and others must be blamed, not I, if

the lyre so long divine Degenerates into hands like mine.

At any rate, however all this may be, what I here inscribe to you, my friend and teacher, I am confident is not unworthy of you. It is not what I have done; it is what I have tried to do. As such I beg you to accept it, and to believe me still, though now so seldom near you,

Your admiring and affectionate friend,


P.S.—Much of the substance of the following book you have seen already, in two Essays of mine that were published in the 'Contemporary Review,' and in five Essays that were published in the 'Nineteenth Century.' It had at one time been my intention, by the kindness of the respective Editors, to have reprinted these Essays in their original form. But there was so much to add, to omit, to rearrange, and to join together, that I have found it necessary to rewrite nearly the whole; and thus you will find the present volume virtually new.

Torquay, May, 1879.




The question may seem vague and useless; but if we consider its real meaning we shall see that it is not so 1

In the present day it has acquired a new importance 2

Its exact meaning. It does not question the fact of human happiness 3

But the nature of happiness, and the permanence of its basis 4

For what we call the higher happiness is essentially a complex thing 5

We cannot be sure that all its elements are permanent 7

Without certain of its elements it has been declared by the wisest men to be valueless 8

And it is precisely the elements in question that modern thought is eliminating 11

It is contended that they have often been eliminated before; and that yet the worth of life has not suffered 13

But this contention is entirely false. They were never before eliminated as modern thought is eliminating them now 17

The present age can find no genuine parallels in the past 19

Its position is made peculiar by three facts 19

Firstly, by the existence of Christianity 19

Secondly, the insignificance to which science has reduced the earth 23

Thirdly, the intense self-consciousness that has been developed in the modern world 25

It is often said that a parallel to our present case is to be found in Buddhism 27

But this is absolutely false. Buddhist positivism is the exact reverse of Western positivism 29

In short, the life-problem of our day is distinctly a new and an as yet unanswered one 31



The worth the positive school claim for life, is essentially a moral worth 33

As its most celebrated exponents explicitly tell us 34

This means that life contains some special prize, to which morality is the only road 34

And the value of life depends on the value of this prize 35

J.S. Mill, G. Eliot, and Professor Huxley admit that this is a correct way of stating the case 36

But all this language as it stands at present is too vague to be of any use to us 38

The prize in question is to be won in this life, if anywhere; and must therefore be more or less describable 39

What then is it? 40

Unless it is describable it cannot be a moral end at all 41

As a consideration of the raison d'etre of all moral systems will show us 42

The value of the prize must be verifiable by positive methods 43

And be verifiably greater, beyond all comparison, than that of all other prizes 44

Has such a prize any real existence? This is our question 44

It has never yet been answered properly 45

And though two sets of answers have been given it, neither of them are satisfactory 45

I shall deal with these two questions in order 47



The positive theory is that the health of the social organism is the real foundation of morals 49

But social health is nothing but the personal health of all the members of the society 51

It is not happiness itself, but the negative conditions that make happiness for all 51

Still less is social health any high kind of happiness 54

It can only be maintained to be so, by supposing 55

Either, that all kinds of happiness are equally high that do not interfere with others 55

Or, that it is only a high kind of happiness that can be shared by all 56

Both of which suppositions are false 57

The conditions of social health are a moral end only when we each feel a personal delight in maintaining them 58

In this case they will supply us with a small portion of the moral aid needed 59

But this case is not a possible one 60

There is indeed the natural impulse of sympathy that might tend to make it so 61

But this is counterbalanced by the corresponding impulse of selfishness 63

And this impulse of sympathy itself is of very limited power 63

Except under very rare conditions 63

The conditions of general happiness are far too vague to do more than very slightly excite it 64

Or give it power enough to neutralise any personal temptation 66

At all events they would excite no enthusiasm 67

For this purpose there must be some prize before us, of recognised positive value, more or less definite 67

And before all things, to be enjoyed by us individually 67

Unless this prize be of great value to begin with, its value will not become great because great numbers obtain it 71

Nor until we know what it is, do we gain anything by the hope that men may more completely make it their own in the future 72

The modern positive school requires a great general enthusiasm for the general good 73

They therefore presuppose an extreme value for the individual good 74

Our first enquiry must be therefore what the higher individual good is 76



What has been said in the last chapter is really admitted by the positive school themselves 77

As we can learn explicitly from George Eliot 78

In Daniel Deronda 78

That the fundamental moral question is, 'In what way shall the individual make life pleasant?' 79

And the right way, for the positivists, as for the Christians, is an inward way 80

The moral end is a certain inward state of the heart, and the positivists say it is a sufficient attraction in itself, without any aid from religion 81

And they support this view by numerous examples 82

But all such examples are useless 83

Because though we may get rid of religion in its pure form 83

There is much that we have not got rid of, embodied still in the moral end 84

To test the intrinsic value of the end, we must sublimate this religion out of it 86

For this purpose we will consider, first, the three general characteristics of the moral end, viz. 88

Its inwardness 88

Its importance 89

And its absolute character 91

Now all these three characteristics can be explained by religion 93

And cannot be explained without it 96

The positive moral end must therefore be completely divested of them 100

The next question is, will it be equally attractive then? 100



The positivists represent love as a thing whose value is self-dependent 101

And which gives to life a positive and incalculable worth 103

But this is supposed to be true of one form of love only 104

And the very opposite is supposed to hold good of all other forms 105

The right form depends on the conformity of each of the lovers to a certain inward standard 105

As we can see exemplified in the case of Othello and Desdemona, etc. 107

The kind and not the degree of the love is what gives love its special value 108

And the selection of this kind can be neither made nor justified on positive principles 109

As the following quotations from Theophile Gautier will show us 110

Which are supposed by many to embody the true view of love 110

According to this view, purity is simply a disease both in man and woman, or at any rate no merit 116

If love is to be a moral end, this view must be absolutely condemned 117

But positivism cannot condemn it, or support the opposite view 117

As we shall see by recurring to Professor Huxley's argument 118

Which will show us that all moral language as applied to love is either distinctly religious or else altogether ludicrous 122

For it is clearly only on moral grounds that we can give that blame to vice, which is the measure of the praise we give to virtue 123

The misery of the former depends on religious anticipations 124

And so does also the blessedness of the latter 125

As we can see in numerous literary expressions of it 126

Positivism, by destroying these anticipations, changes the whole character of the love in question 128

And prevents love from supplying us with any moral standard 131

The loss sustained by love will indicate the general loss sustained by life 131



We must now examine what will be the practical result on life in general of the loss just indicated 132

To do this, we will take life as reflected in the mirror of the great dramatic art of the world 134

And this will show us how the moral judgment is the chief faculty to which all that is great or intense in this art appeals 136

We shall see this, for instance, in Macbeth 137

In Hamlet 137

In Antigone 137

In Measure for Measure, and in Faust 138

And also in degraded art just as well as in sublime art 139

In profligate and cynical art, such as Congreve's 140

And in concupiscent art 141

Such as Mademoiselle de Maupin 141

Or such works as that of Meursius, or the worst scenes in Petronius 142

The supernatural moral judgment is the chief thing everywhere 143

Take away this judgment, and art loses all its strange interest 144

And so will it be with life 145

The moral landscape will be ruined 145

Even the mere sensuous joy of living in health will grow duller 146

Nor will culture be of the least avail without the supernatural moral element 148

Nor will the devotion to truth for its own sake, which is the last refuge of the positivists when in despair 149

For this last has no meaning whatever, except as a form of concrete theism 152

The reverence for Nature is but another form of the devotion to truth, and its only possible meaning is equally theistic 157

Thus all the higher resources of positivism fail together 161

And the highest positive value of life would be something less than its present value 161



From what we have just seen, the visionary character of the positivist conception of progress becomes evident 163

Its object is far more plainly an illusion than the Christian heaven 164

All the objections urged against the latter apply with far more force to the former 165

As a matter of fact, there is no possible object sufficient to start the enthusiasm required by the positivists 167

To make the required enthusiasm possible human nature would have to be completely changed 168

Two existing qualities, for instance, would have to be magnified to an impossible extent—imagination 169

And unselfishness 170

If we state the positive system in terms of common life, its visionary character becomes evident 172

The examples which have suggested its possibility are quite misleading 173

The positive system is really far more based on superstition than any religion 175

Its appearance can only be accounted for by the characters and circumstances of its originators 175

And a consideration of these will help us more than anything to estimate it rightly 178

And will let us see that its only practical tendency is to deaden all our present interests, not to create any new ones 179



It is not contended that the prospect just described will, as a fact, ever be realised 183

But only that it will be realised if certain other prospects are realised 185

Which prospects may or may not be visionary 186

But the progress towards which is already begun 187

And also the other results, that have been described already 187

Positive principles have already produced a moral deterioration, even in places where we should least imagine it 187

As we shall see if we pierce beneath the surface 189

In the curious condition of men who have lost faith, but have retained the love of virtue 189

The struggle was hard, when they had all the helps of religion 190

It is harder now 190

Conscience still survives, but it has lost its restraining power 191

Temptation almost inevitably dethrones it 192

And its full prestige can never be recovered 193

It can do nothing but deplore; it cannot remedy 194

In such cases the mind's decadence has begun; and its symptoms are 194

Self-reproach 195

Life-weariness 195

And indifference 195

The class of men to whom this applies is increasing, and they are the true representatives of the work of positive thought 196

It is hard to realise this ominous fact 197

But by looking steadily and dispassionately at the characteristics of the present epoch we may learn to do so 198

We shall see that the opinions now forming will have a weight and power that no opinions ever had before 199

And their tendency, as yet latent, towards pessimism is therefore most momentous 200

If it is to be cured, it must be faced 200

It takes the form of a suppressed longing for the religious faith that is lost 200

And this longing is wide-spread, though only expressed indirectly 201

It is felt even by men of science 202

But the longing seems fruitless 203

This dejection is in fact shared by the believers 203

And is even authoritatively recognised by Catholicism 204

The great question for the world now, and the one on which its whole future depends, is, will the lost faith ever be recovered? 205

The answer to this will probably have to be decisive, one way or the other 206



What gives the denials of positivism their general weight, is the impression that they represent reason 208

They are supported by three kinds of arguments: physical, moral, and historical 209

The two first bear upon all religion; the latter only on special revelations 210

Natural religion is the belief in God, immortality, and the possibility of miracles generally 210

Physical science prefers to destroy natural religion by its connection of mind with matter 210

1st. Making conscious life a function of the brain. 2nd. Evolving the living organisms from lifeless matter. 3rd. Making this material evolution automatic 210

Thus all external proofs of God are destroyed 212

And also of the soul's immortality 213

External proof is declared to be the test of reality 213

And therefore all religion is set down as a dream 215

But we believe that proof is the test of reality, not because it is proved to be so, but because of the authority of those who tell us so 215

But it will be found that these men do not understand their own principle 216

And, that in what they consider their most important conclusions they emphatically disregard it 217

One or other, therefore, of their opinions is worthless—their denial of religion or their affirmation of morality 219

But we shall see this more clearly in considering the question of consciousness and will 220

We shall see that, as far as science can inform us, man is nothing but an automaton 220

But the positive school are afraid to admit this 221

And not daring to meet the question, they make a desperate effort to confuse it 222

Two problems are involved in the matter: 1st. How is brain action connected with consciousness 223

2nd. Is the consciousness that is connected with it something separable from, and independent of it 223

The first of these problems has no bearing at all on any moral or religious question. It is insoluble. It leaves us not in doubt but in ignorance 224

The doubt, and the religious question is connected solely with the second problem 228

To which there are two alternative solutions 228

And modern science is so confused that it will accept neither 228

As Dr. Tyndall's treatment of the subject very forcibly shows us 230

And Dr. Tyndall in this way is a perfect representative of the whole modern positive school 231

Let us compare the molecules of the brain to the six moving billiard-balls 231

The question is, are these movements due to the stroke of one cue or of two 233

The positive school profess to answer this question both ways 234

But this profession is nonsense 236

What they really mean is, 1st. That the connection of consciousness with matter is a mystery; as to that they can give no answer. 2nd. That as to whether consciousness is wholly a material thing or no, they will give no answer 237

But why are they in this state of suspense? 238

Though their system does not in the least require the hypothesis of an immaterial element in consciousness 239

They see that the moral value of life does 239

The same reasons that will warrant their saying it may exist, will constrain them to say it must 240

Physical science, with its proofs, can say nothing in the matter, either as to will, immortality, or God 242

But, on the other hand, it will force us, if we believe in will, to admit the reality of miracles 243

So far as science goes, morality and religion are both on the same footing 243



Supposing science not to be inconsistent with theism, may not theism be inconsistent with morality? 247

It seems to be so; but it is no more so than is morality with itself. Two difficulties common to both:—1st. The existence of evil; 2nd. Man's free will and God's free will 248

James Mill's statement of the case represents the popular anti-religious arguments 249

But his way of putting the case is full of distortion and exaggeration 250

Though certain of the difficulties he pointed out were real 251

And those we cannot explain away; but if we are to believe in our moral being at all, we must one and all accept 252

We can escape from them by none of the rationalistic substitutes for religion 252

A similar difficulty is the freedom of the will 257

This belief is an intellectual impossibility 258

But at the same time a moral necessity 260

It is typical of all the difficulties attendant on an assent to our own moral nature 260

The vaguer difficulties that appeal to the moral imagination we must meet in the same way 261



Should the intellect of the world return to theism, will it ever again acknowledge a special revelation? 264

We can see that this is an urgent question 265

By many general considerations 265

Especially the career of Protestantism 267

Which is visibly evaporating into a mere natural theism 268

And, as such, is losing all restraining power in the world 271

Where then shall we look for a revelation? Not in any of the Eastern creeds 275

The claims of the Roman Church are the only ones worth considering 276

Her position is absolutely distinct from that of Protestantism, and she is not involved in its fall 277

In theory she is all that the enlightened world could require 279

The only question is, is she so in practice? This brings us to difficulties 282

1st. The partial success of her revelation; and her supposed condemnation of the virtues of unbelievers. But her partial success is simply the old mystery of evil 282

And through her infinite charity, she does nothing to increase that difficulty 283

The value of orthodoxy is analogous to the value of true physical science 285

All should try to learn the truth who can; but we do not condemn others who cannot 286

Even amongst Catholics generally no recondite theological knowledge is required 287

The facts of the Catholic religion are simple. Theology is the complex scientific explanation of them 288

Catholicism is misunderstood because the outside world confuses with its religion—1st. The complex explanations of it 289

2nd. Matters of discipline, and practical rules 290

3rd. The pious opinions, or the scientific errors of private persons, or particular epochs 291

None of which really are any integral part of the Church 293

Neither are the peculiar exaggerations of moral feeling that have been prevalent at different times 293

The Church theoretically is a living, growing, self-adapting organism 295

She is, in fact, the growing, moral sense of mankind organised and developed under a supernatural tutelage 295



We must now consider the Church in relation to history and external historical criticism 297

1st. The history of Christianity; 2nd. The history of other religions 298

Criticism has robbed the Bible of nearly all the supposed internal evidences of its supernatural character 298

It has traced the chief Christian dogmas to non-Christian sources 300

It has shown that the histories of other religions are strangely analogous to the history of Christianity 300

And to Protestantism these discoveries are fatal 302

But they are not fatal to Catholicism, whose attitude to history is made utterly different by the doctrine of the perpetual infallibility of the Church 305

The Catholic Church teaches us to believe the Bible for her sake, not her for the Bible's 305

And even though her dogmas may have existed in some form elsewhere, they become new revelations to us, by her supernatural selection of them 306

The Church is a living organism, for ever selecting and assimilating fresh nutriment 307

Even from amongst the wisdom of her bitterest enemies 309

All false revelations, in so far as they have professed to be infallible, are, from the Catholic standpoint, abortive Catholicisms 311

Catholicism has succeeded in the same attempt in which they have failed 313



The aim of this book 315

Has been to clear the great question as to man's nature, and the proper way of regarding him, from the confusion at present surrounding it 317

And to show that the answer will finally rest, not on outer evidence, but on himself, and on his own will, if he have a will 319


In this book the words 'positive,' 'positivist,' and 'positivism' are of constant occurrence as applied to modern thought and thinkers. To avoid any chance of confusion or misconception, it will be well to say that these words as used by me have no special reference to the system of Comte or his disciples, but are applied to the common views and position of the whole scientific school, one of the most eminent members of which—I mean Professor Huxley—has been the most trenchant and contemptuous critic that 'positivism' in its narrower sense has met with. Over 'positivism' in this sense Professor Huxley and Mr. Frederic Harrison have had some public battles. Positivism in the sense in which it is used by me, applies to the principles as to which the above writers explicitly agree, not to those as to which they differ.


Is Life Worth Living?



A change was coming over the world, the meaning and direction of which even still is hidden from us, a change from era to era.—Froude's History of England, ch. i.

What I am about to deal with in this book is a question which may well strike many, at first sight, as a question that has no serious meaning, or none at any rate for the sane and healthy mind. I am about to attempt inquiring, not sentimentally, but with all calmness and sobriety, into the true value of this human life of ours, as tried by those tests of reality which the modern world is accepting, and to ask dispassionately if it be really worth the living. The inquiry certainly has often been made before; but it has never been made properly; it has never been made in the true scientific spirit. It has always been vitiated either by diffidence or by personal feeling; and the positive school, though they rejoice to question everything else, have, at least in this country, left the worth of life alone. They may now and then, perhaps, have affected to examine it; but their examination has been merely formal, like that of a customs-house officer, who passes a portmanteau, which he has only opened. They have been as tender with it as Don Quixote was with his mended helmet, when he would not put his card-paper vizor to the test of the steel sword. I propose to supply this deficiency in their investigations. I propose to apply exact thought to the only great subject to which it has not been applied already.

To numbers, as I have just said, this will of course seem useless. They will think that the question never really was an open one; or that, if it ever were so, the common sense of mankind has long ago finally settled it. To ask it again, they will think idle, or worse than idle. It will express to them, if it expresses anything, no perplexity of the intellect, but merely some vague disease of the feelings. They will say that it is but the old ejaculation of satiety or despair, as old as human nature itself; it is a kind of maundering common to all moral dyspepsia; they have often heard it before, and they wish they may never hear it again.

But let them be a little less impatient. Let them look at the question closer, and more calmly; and it will not be long before its import begins to change for them. They will see that though it may have often been asked idly, it is yet capable of a meaning that is very far from idle; and that however old they may think it, yet as asked by our generation it is really completely new—that it bears a meaning which is indeed not far from any one of them, but which is practical and pressing—I might almost say portentous—and which is something literally unexampled in the past history of mankind.

I am aware that this position is not only not at first sight obvious, but that, even when better understood, it will probably be called false. My first care, therefore, will be to explain it at length, and clearly. For this purpose we must consider two points in order; first, what is the exact doubt we intend to express by our question; and next, why in our day this doubt should have such a special and fresh significance.

Let us then make it quite plain, at starting, that when we ask 'Is life worth living?' we are not asking whether its balance of pains is necessarily and always in excess of its balance of pleasures. We are not asking whether any one has been, or whether any one is happy. To the unjaundiced eye nothing is more clear than that happiness of various kinds has been, and is, continually attained by men. And ingenious pessimists do but waste their labour when they try to convince a happy man that he really must be miserable. What I am going to discuss is not the superfluous truism that life has been found worth living by many; but the profoundly different proposition that it ought to be found worth living by all. For this is what life is pronounced to be, when those claims are made for it that at present universally are made; when, as a general truth, it is said to be worth living; or when any of those august epithets are applied to it that are at present applied so constantly. At present, as we all know, it is called sacred, solemn, earnest, significant, and so forth. To withhold such epithets is considered a kind of blasphemy. And the meaning of all such language is this: it means that life has some deep inherent worth of its own, beyond what it can acquire or lose by the caprice of circumstance—a worth, which though it may be most fully revealed to a man, through certain forms of success, is yet not destroyed or made a minus quantity by failure. Certain forms of love, for instance, are held in a special way to reveal this worth to us; but the worth that a successful love is thus supposed to reveal is a worth that a hopeless love is supposed not to destroy. The worth is a part of life's essence, not a mere chance accident, as health or riches are; and we are supposed to lose it by no acts but our own.

Now it is evident that such a worth as this, is, in one sense, no mere fancy. Numbers actually have found it; and numbers actually still continue to find it. The question is not whether the worth exists, but on what is the worth based. How far is the treasure incorruptible; and how far will our increasing knowledge act as moth and rust to it? There are some things whose value is completely established by the mere fact that men do value them. They appeal to single tastes, they defy further analysis, and they thus form, as it were, the bases of all pleasures and happiness. But these are few in number; they are hardly ever met with in a perfectly pure state; and their effect, when they are so met, is either momentary, or far from vivid. As a rule they are found in combinations of great complexity, fused into an infinity of new substances by the action of beliefs and associations; and these two agents are often of more importance in the result than are the things they act upon. Take for instance a boy at Eton or Oxford, who affects a taste in wine. Give him a bottle of gooseberry champagne; tell him it is of the finest brand, and that it cost two hundred shillings a dozen. He will sniff, and wink at it in ecstasy; he will sip it slowly with an air of knowing reverence; and his enjoyment of it probably will be far keener, than it would be, were the wine really all he fancies it, and he had lived years enough to have come to discern its qualities. Here the part played by belief and associations is of course evident. The boy's enjoyment is real, and it rests to a certain extent on a foundation of solid fact; the taste of the gooseberry champagne is an actual pleasure to his palate. Anything nauseous, black dose for instance, could never raise him to the state of delight in question. But this simple pleasure of sense is but a small part of the pleasure he actually experiences. That pleasure, as a whole, is a highly complex thing, and rests mainly on a basis that, by a little knowledge, could be annihilated in a moment. Tell the boy what the champagne really is, he has been praising; and the state of his mind and face will undergo a curious transformation. Our sense of the worth of life is similar in its complexity to the boy's sense of the worth of his wine. Beliefs and associations play exactly the same part in it. The beliefs in this last case may of course be truer. The question that I have to ask is, are they? In some individual cases certainly, they have not been. Miss Harriet Martineau, for instance, judging life from her own experience of it, was quite persuaded that it was a most solemn and satisfactory thing, and she has told the world as much, in no hesitating manner. But a part at least of the solemn satisfaction she felt in it was due to a grotesque over-estimate of her own social and intellectual importance. Here, then, was a worth in life, real enough to the person who found it, but which a little knowledge of the world would have at once taken away from her. Does the general reverence with which life is at present regarded rest in any degree upon any similar misconception? And if so, to what extent does it? Will it fall to pieces before the breath of a larger knowledge? or has it that firm foundation in fact that will enable it to survive in spite of all enlightenment, and perhaps even to increase in consequence of it?

Such is the outline of the question I propose to deal with. I will now show why it is so pressing, and why, in the present crisis of thought, it is so needful that it should be dealt with. The first impression it produces, as I have said, is that it is superfluous. Our belief in life seems to rest on too wide an experience for us to entertain any genuine doubt of the truth of it. But this first impression does not go for much. It is a mere superficial thing, and will wear off immediately. We have but to remember that a belief that was supposed to rest on an equally wide basis—the belief in God, and in a supernatural order—has in these days, not been questioned only, but has been to a great degree, successfully annihilated. The only philosophy that belongs to the present age, the only philosophy that is a really new agent in progress, has declared this belief to be a dissolving dream of the past. And this belief, as we shall see presently, is, amongst civilized men at least, far older than the belief in life; it has been far more widely spread, and experience has been held to confirm it with an equal certainty. If this then is inevitably disintegrated by the action of a widening knowledge, it cannot be taken for granted that the belief in life will not fare likewise. It may do so; but until we have examined it more closely we cannot be certain that it will. Common consent and experience, until they are analysed, are fallacious tests for the seekers after positive truth. The emotions may forbid us to ask our question; but in modern philosophy the emotions play no part as organs of discovery. They are facts in themselves, and as such are of course of value; but they point to no facts beyond themselves. That men loved God and felt his presence close to them proves nothing, to the positive thinker, as to God's existence. Nor will the mere emotion of reverence towards life necessarily go any farther towards proving that it deserves reverence. It is distinctly asserted by the modern school that the right state in which to approach everything is a state of enlightened scepticism. We are to consider everything doubtful, until it is proved certain, or unless, from its very nature, it is not possible to doubt it.

Nor is this all; for, apart from these modern canons, the question of life's worth has, as a matter of fact, been always recognised as in a certain sense an open one. The greatest intellects of the world, in all ages, have been at times inclined to doubt it. And these times have not seemed to them times of blindness; but on the contrary, of specially clear insight. Scales, as it were, have fallen from their eyes for a moment or two, and the beauty and worth of existence has appeared to them as but a deceiving show. An entire book of the Hebrew Scriptures is devoted to a deliberate exposition of this philosophy. In 'the most high and palmy state' of Athens it was expressed fitfully also as the deepest wisdom of her most triumphant dramatist.[1] And in Shakspeare it appears so constantly, that it must evidently have had for him some directly personal meaning.

This view, however, even by most of those who have held it, has been felt to be really only a half-view in the guise of a whole one. To Shakspeare, for instance, it was full of a profound terror. It crushed, and appalled, and touched him; and there was not only implied in it that for us life does mean little, but that by some possibility it might have meant much. Or else, if the pessimism has been more complete than this, it has probably been adopted as a kind of solemn affectation, or has else been lamented as a form of diseased melancholy. It is a view that healthy intellects have hitherto declined to entertain. Its advocates have been met with neglect, contempt, or castigation, not with arguments. They have been pitied as insane, avoided as cynical, or passed over as frivolous. And yet, but for one reason, to that whole European world whose progress we are now inheriting, this view would have seemed not only not untenable, but even obvious. The emptiness of the things of this life, the incompleteness of even its highest pleasures, and their utter powerlessness to make us really happy, has been, at least for fifteen hundred years, a commonplace, both with saints and sages. The conception that anything in this life could of itself be of any great moment to us, was considered as much a puerility unworthy of a man of the world, as a disloyalty to God. Experience of life, and meditation on life, seemed to teach nothing but the same lesson, seemed to preach a sermon de contemptu mundi. The view the eager monk began with, the sated monarch ended with. But matters did not end here. There was something more to come, by which this view was altogether transmuted, and which made the wilderness and the waste place at once blossom as the rose. Judged of by itself, this life would indeed be vanity; but it was not to be judged of by itself. All its ways seemed to break short aimlessly into precipices, or to be lost hopelessly in deserts. They led to no visible end. True; but they led to ends that were invisible—to spiritual and eternal destinies, to triumphs beyond all hope, and portentous failures beyond all fear. This all men might see, if they would only choose to see. The most trivial of our daily actions became thus invested with an immeasurable meaning. Life was thus evidently not vanity, not an idiot's tale, not unprofitable; those who affected to think it was, were naturally disregarded as either insane or insincere: and we may thus admit that hitherto, for the progressive nations of the world, the worth of life has been capable of demonstration, and safe beyond the reach of any rational questioning.

But now, under the influence of positive thought, all this is changing. Life, as we have all of us inherited it, is coloured with the intense colours of Christianity; let us ourselves be personally Christians or not, we are instinct with feelings with regard to it that were applicable to it in its Christian state: and these feelings it is that we are still resolved to retain. As the most popular English exponent of the new school says: 'All positive methods of treating man, of a comprehensive kind, adopt to the full all that has ever been said about the dignity of man's moral and spiritual life.' But here comes the difficulty. This adoption we speak of must be justified upon quite new reasons. Indeed it is practically the boast of its advocates that it must be. An extreme value, as we see, they are resolved to give to life; they will not tolerate those who deny its existence. But they are obliged to find it in the very place where hitherto it has been thought to be conspicuous by its absence. It is to be found in no better or wider future, where injustice shall be turned to justice, trouble into rest, and blindness into clear sight; for no such future awaits us. It is to be found in life itself, in this earthly life, this life between the cradle and the grave; and though imagination and sympathy may enlarge and extend this for the individual, yet the limits of its extension are very soon arrived at. It is limited by the time the human race can exist, by the space in the universe that the human race occupies, and the capacities of enjoyment that the human race possesses. Here, then, is a distinct and intelligible task that the positive thinkers have set themselves. They have taken everything away from life that to wise men hitherto has seemed to redeem it from vanity. They have to prove to us that they have not left it vain. They have to prove those things to be solid that have hitherto been thought hollow; those things to be serious that have hitherto been thought contemptible. They must prove to us that we shall be contented with what has never yet contented us, and that the widest minds will thrive within limits that have hitherto been thought too narrow for the narrowest.

Now, of course, so far as we can tell without examining the matter, they may be able to accomplish this revolution. There is nothing on the face of it that is impossible. It may be that our eyes are only blinded to the beauty of the earth by having gazed so long and so vainly into an empty heaven, and that when we have learnt to use them a little more to the purpose, we shall see close at hand in this life what we had been looking for, all this while, in another. But still, even if this revolution be possible, the fact remains that it is a revolution, and it cannot be accomplished without some effort. Our positive thinkers have a case to be proved. They must not beg the very point that is most open to contradiction, and which, when once duly apprehended, will be most sure to provoke it. If this life be not incapable of satisfying us, let them show us conclusively that it is not. But they can hardly expect that, without any such showing at all, the world will deliberately repel as a blasphemy what it has hitherto accepted as a commonplace.

This objection is itself so obvious that it has not escaped notice. But the very fact of its obviousness has tended to hide the true force of it, and coming so readily to the surface, it has been set down as superficial. It is, however, very constantly recognised, and is being met on all sides with a very elaborate answer. It is this answer that I shall now proceed to consider. It is a very important one, and it deserves our most close attention, as it contains the chief present argument for the positive faith in life. I shall show how this argument is vitiated by a fundamental fallacy.

It is admitted that to a hasty glance there may certainly seem some danger of our faith in life's value collapsing, together with our belief in God. It is admitted that this is not in the least irrational. But it is contended that a scientific study of the past will show us that these fears are groundless, and will reassure us as to the future. We are referred to a new branch of knowledge, the philosophy of history, and we are assured that by this all our doubts will be set at rest. This philosophy of history resembles, on an extended scale, the practical wisdom learnt by the man of the world. As long as a man is inexperienced and new to life, each calamity as it comes to him seems something unique and overwhelming, but as he lives on, suffers more of them, and yet finds that he is not overwhelmed, he learns to reduce them to their right dimensions, and is able, with sufficient self-possession, to let each of them teach some useful lesson to him.

Thus we, it is said, if we were not better instructed, might naturally take the present decline of faith to be an unprecedented calamity that was ushering in an eve of darkness and utter ruin. But the philosophy of history puts the whole matter in a different light. It teaches us that the condition of the world in our day, though not normal, is yet by no means peculiar. It points to numerous parallels in former ages, and treats the rise and fall of creeds as regular phenomena in human history, whose causes and recurrence we can distinctly trace. Other nations and races have had creeds, and have lost them; they have thought, as some of us think, that the loss would ruin them: and yet they have not been ruined. Creeds, it is contended, were imaginative, provisional, and mistaken expressions of the underlying and indestructible sense of the nobility of human life. They were artistic, not scientific. A statue of Apollo, for instance, or a picture of the Madonna, were really representations of what men aimed at producing on earth, not of what actually had any existence in heaven. And if we look back at the greatest civilisations of antiquity, we shall find, it is said, that what gave them vigour and intensity were purely human interests: and though religion may certainly have had some reflex action on life, this action was either merely political or was else injurious.

It is thus that intense Greek life is presented to us, the influence of which is still felt in the world. Its main stimulus we are told was frankly human. It would have lost none of its keenness if its theology had been taken from it. And there, it is said, we see the positive worth of life; we see already realised what we are now growing to realise once more. Christianity, with its supernatural aims and objects, is spoken of as an 'episode of disease and delirium;' it is a confusing dream, from which we are at last awaking; and the feelings of the modern school are expressed in the following sentence of a distinguished modern writer:[2] 'Just as the traveller,' he says, 'who has been worn to the bone by years of weary striving among men of another skin, suddenly gazes with doubting eyes upon the white face of a brother, so if we travel backwards in thought over the darker ages of the history of Europe we at length reach back with such bounding heart to men who had like hopes with ourselves, and shake hands across that vast with ... our own spiritual ancestors.'

Nor are the Greeks the only nation whose history is supposed to be thus so reassuring to us. The early Jews are pointed to, in the same way, as having felt pre-eminently the dignity of this life, and having yet been absolutely without any belief in another. But the example, which for us is perhaps the most forcible of all, is to be found in the history of Rome, during her years of widest activity. We are told to look at such men as Cicero or as Caesar—above all to such men as Caesar—and to remember what a reality life was to them. Caesar certainly had little religion enough; and what he may have had, played no part in making his life earnest. He took the world as he found it, as all healthy men have taken it; and, as it is said, all healthy men will still continue to take it. Nor was such a life as Caesar's peculiar to himself. It represents that purely human life that flourished generally in such vigour amongst the Romans. And the consideration of it is said to be all the more instructive, because it flourished in the face of just the same conditions that we think so disheartening now. There was in those times, as there is in ours, a wide disintegration of the old faiths; and to many, then as now, this fact seemed at once sad and terrifying. As we read Juvenal, Petronius, Lucian, or Apuleius, we are astounded at the likeness of those times to these. Even in minute details, they correspond with a marvellous exactness. And hence there seems a strange force in the statement that history repeats itself, and that the wisdom learnt from the past can be applied to the present and the future.

But all this, though it is doubtless true, is in reality only half the truth; and as used in the arguments of the day, it amounts practically to a profound falsehood. History in a certain sense, of course, does repeat itself; and the thing that has been is in a certain sense the thing that shall be. But there is a deeper and a wider sense in which, this is not so. Let us take the life of an individual man, for instance. A man of fifty will retain very likely many of the tastes and tricks that were his, when a boy of ten: and people who have known him long will often exclaim that he is just the same as he always was. But in spite of this, they will know that he is very different. His hopes will have dwindled down; the glow, the colour, and the bright haze will have gone from them; things that once amused him will amuse him no more: things he once thought important, he will consider weary trifles; and if he thinks anything serious at all, they will not be things he thought serious when a boy. The same thing is true of the year, and its changing seasons. The history of a single year may be, in one sense, said to repeat itself every day. There is the same recurrence of light and darkness, of sunrise and of sunset: and a man who had lived only for a month or two, might fancy that this recurrence was complete. But let him live a little longer, and he will come to see that this is not so. Slowly through the summer he will begin to discern a change; until at last he can contrast the days and nights of winter with the days and nights of summer, and see how flowers that once opened fresh every morning, now never open or close at all. Then he will see that the two seasons, though in many points so like each other, are yet, in a far deeper way, different.

And so it is with the world's history. Isolate certain phenomena, and they do, without doubt, repeat themselves; but it is only when isolated that they can be said to do so. In many points the European thought and civilisation of to-day may seem to be a repetition of what has been before; we may fancy that we recognise our brothers in the past, and that we can, as the writer above quoted says, shake hands with them across the intervening years. But this is really only a deceiving fancy, when applied to such deep and universal questions as those we have now to deal with—to religion, to positive thought, and to the worth of life. The positivists and the unbelievers of the modern world, are not the same as those of the ancient world. Even when their language is identical, there is an immeasurable gulf between them. In our denials and assertions there are certain new factors, which at once make all such comparisons worthless. The importance of these will by-and-by appear more clearly, but I shall give a brief account of them now.

The first of these factors is the existence of Christianity, and that vast and undoubted change in the world of which it has been at once the cause and the index. It has done a work, and that work still remains: and we all feel the effects of it, whether we will or no. Described in the most general way, that work has been this. The supernatural, in the ancient world, was something vague and indefinite: and the classical theologies at any rate, though they were to some extent formal embodiments of it, could embody really but a very small part. Zeus and the Olympian hierarchies were dimly perceived to be encircled by some vaster mystery; which to the popular mind was altogether formless, and which even such men as Plato could only describe inadequately. The supernatural was like a dim and diffused light, brighter in some places, and darker in others, but focalised and concentrated nowhere. Christianity has focalised it, united into one the scattered points of brightness, and collected other rays that were before altogether imperceptible. That vague 'idea of the good,' of which Plato said most men dimly augured the existence, but could not express their augury, has been given a definite shape to by Christianity in the form of its Deity. That Deity, from an external point of view, may be said to have acquired His sovereignty as did the Roman Caesar. He absorbed into His own person the offices of all the gods that were before him, as the Roman Caesar absorbed all the offices of the state; and in His case also, as has been said of the Roman Caesar, the whole was immeasurably greater than the mere sum of the parts. Scientifically and philosophically He became the first cause of the world; He became the father of the human soul, and its judge; and what is more, its rest and its delight, and its desire. Under the light of this conception, man appeared an ampler being. His thoughts were for ever being gazed on by the great controller of all things; he was made in the likeness of the Lord of lords; he was of kin to the power before which all the visible world trembled; and every detail in the life of a human soul became vaster, beyond all comparison, than the depths of space and time. But not only did the sense of man's dignity thus develop, and become definite. The accompanying sense of his degradation became intenser and more definite also. The gloom of a sense of sin is to be found in AEschylus, but this gloom was vague and formless. Christianity gave to it both depth and form; only the despair that might have been produced in this way was now softened by hope. Christianity has, in fact, declared clearly a supernatural of which men before were more or less ignorantly conscious. The declaration may or may not have been a complete one, but at any rate it is the completest that the world has yet known. And the practical result is this: when we, in these days, deny the supernatural, we are denying it in a way in which it was never denied before. Our denial is beyond all comparison more complete. The supernatural, for the ancient world, was like a perfume scenting life, out of a hundred different vessels, of which only two or three were visible to the same men or nations. They therefore might get rid of these, and yet the larger part of the scent would still remain to them. But for us, it is as though all the perfume had been collected into a single vessel; and if we get rid of this, we shall get rid of the scent altogether. Our air will be altogether odourless.

The materialism of Lucretius is a good instance of this. In many ways his denials bear a strong resemblance to ours. But the resemblance ceases a little below the surface. He denied the theology of his time as strongly as our positive thinkers deny the theology of ours. But the theology he denied was incomplete and puerile. He was not denying any 'All-embracer and All-sustainer,' for he knew of none such. And his denial of the gods he did deny left him room for the affirmation of others, whose existence, if considered accurately, was equally inconsistent with his own scientific premisses. Again, in his denial of any immortality for man, what he denied is not the future that we are denying. The only future he knew of was one a belief in which had no influence on us, except for sadness. It was a protraction only of what is worst in life; it was in no way a completion of what is best in it. But with us the case is altogether different. Formerly the supernatural could not be denied completely, because it was not known completely. Not to affirm is a very different thing from to deny. And many beliefs which the positivists of the modern world are denying, the positivists of the ancient world more or less consciously lived by.

Next, there is this point to remember. Whilst during the Christian centuries, the devotion to a supernatural and extramundane aim has been engendering, as a recent writer has observed with indignation, a degrading 'pessimism as to the essential dignity of man,'[3] the world which we have been to a certain extent disregarding has been changing its character for us. In a number of ways, whilst we have not been perceiving it, its objective grandeur has been dwindling; and the imagination, when again called to the feat, cannot reinvest it with its old gorgeous colouring. Once the world, with the human race, who were the masters of it, was a thing of vast magnitude—the centre of the whole creation. The mind had no larger conceptions that were vivid enough to dwarf it. But now all this has changed. In the words of a well-known modern English historian, 'The floor of heaven, inlaid with stars, has sunk back into an infinite abyss of immeasurable space; and the firm earth itself, unfixed from its foundations, is seen to be but a small atom in the awful easiness of the universe.'[4] The whole position, indeed, is reversed. The skies once seemed to pay the earth homage, and to serve it with light and shelter. Now they do nothing, so far as the imagination is concerned, but spurn and dwarf it. And when we come to the details of the earth's surface itself, the case is just the same. It, in its extent, has grown little and paltry to us. The wonder and the mystery has gone from it. A Cockney excursionist goes round it in a holiday trip; there are no

Golden cities, ten months journey deep, In far Tartarian wilds;[5]

nor do the confines of civilisation, melt as they once did, into any unknown and unexplored wonderlands. And thus a large mass of sentiment that was once powerful in the world is now rapidly dwindling, and, so far as we can see, there is nothing that can ever exactly replace it. Patriotism, for instance, can never again be the religion it was to Athens, or the pride it was to Rome. Men are not awed and moved as once they were by local and material splendours. The pride of life, it is true, is still eagerly coveted; but by those at least who are most familiar with it, it is courted and sought for with a certain contempt and cynicism. It is treated like a courtesan, rather than like a goddess. Whilst as to the higher enthusiasm that was once excited by external things, the world in its present state could no more work itself up to this than a girl, after three seasons, could again go for dissipation to her dolls. She might look back to the time of dolls with regret. She might see that the interest they excited in her was, perhaps, far more pleasing than any she had found in love. But the dolls would never rival her lovers, none the less. And with man, and his aims and objects, the case is just the same. And we must remember that to realise keenly the potency of a past ideal, is no indication that practically it will ever again be powerful.

Briefly, then, the positive school of to-day we see thus far to be in this position. It has to make demands upon human life that were never made before; and human life is, in many ways, less able than it ever was to answer to them.

But this is not all. There is a third matter yet left to consider—a third factor in the case, peculiar to the present crisis. That is the intense self-consciousness that is now developed in the world, and which is something altogether new to it. During the last few generations man has been curiously changing. Much of his old spontaneity of action has gone from him. He has become a creature looking before and after; and his native hue of resolution has been sickled over by thought. We admit nothing now without question; we have learnt to take to pieces all motives to actions. We not only know more than we have done before, but we are perpetually chewing the cud of our knowledge. Thus positive thought reduces all religions to ideals created by man; and as such, not only admits that they have had vast influence, but teaches us also that we in the future must construct new ideals for ourselves. Only there will be this difference. We shall now know that they are ideals, we shall no longer mistake them for objective facts. But our positive thinkers forget this. They forget that the ideals that were once active in the world were active amongst people who thought that they were more than ideals, and who very certainly did mistake them for facts; and they forget how different their position will be, as soon as their true nature is recognised. There is no example, so far as I know, to be found in all history, of men having been stimulated or affected in any important way—none, at any rate, of their having been restrained or curbed—by a mere ideal that was known to have no reality to correspond to it. A child is frightened when its nurse tells it that a black man will come down the chimney and take it away. The black man, it is true, is only an ideal; and yet the child is affected. But it would cease to be affected the instant it knew this.

As we go on with our enquiry these considerations will become plainer to us. But enough has even now been said to show how distinct the present position is from any that have gone before it, and how little the experience of the past is really fitted to reassure us. Greek and Roman thought was positive, in our sense of the word, only in a very small degree. The thought of the other ancient empires was not positive at all. The oldest civilisation of which any record is left to us—the civilisation of Egypt—was based on a theism which, of all other theisms, most nearly approaches ours. And the doctrine of a future life was first learnt by the Jews from their masters during the Captivity. We search utterly in vain through history for any parallel to our own negations.

I have spoken hitherto of those peoples only whose history more or less directly has affected ours. But there is a vast portion of the human race with which, roughly speaking, our progress has had no connection; and the religions of these races, which are now for the first time beginning to be accurately studied, are constantly being appealed to in support of the positive doctrines. Thus it is urged by Mr. Leslie Stephen that 'the briefest outline of the religious history of mankind shows that creeds which can count more adherents than Christianity, and have flourished through a longer period, have omitted all that makes the Christian doctrine of a future state 'valuable in the eyes of the supporters;' and Dr. Tyndall points with the same delighted confidence to the gospel of Buddhism, as one of 'pure human ethics, divorced not only from Brahma and the Brahminic Trinity, but even from the existence of God.'[6] Many other such appeals are made to what are somewhat vaguely called 'the multitudinous creeds of the East;' but it is to Buddhism, in its various forms, that they would all seem to apply. Let us now consider the real result of them. Our positivists have appealed to Buddhism, and to Buddhism they shall certainly go. It is one of the vastest and most significant of all human facts. But its significance is somewhat different from what it is popularly supposed to be.

That the Buddhist religion has had a wide hold on the world is true. Indeed, forty per cent. of the whole human race at this moment profess it. Except the Judaic, it is the oldest of existing creeds; and beyond all comparison it numbers most adherents. And it is quite true also that it does not, in its pure state, base its teaching on the belief in any personal God, or offer as an end of action any happiness in any immortal life. But it does not for this reason bear any real resemblance to our modern Western positivism, nor give it any reason to be sanguine. On the contrary, it is most absolutely opposed to it; and its success is due to doctrines which Western positivism most emphatically repudiates. In the first place, so far from being based on exact thought, Buddhism takes for its very foundation four great mysteries, that are explicitly beyond the reach either of proof or reason; and of these the foremost and most intelligible is the transmigration and renewal of the existence of the individual. It is by this mystical doctrine, and by this alone, that Buddhism gains a hold on the common heart of man. This is the great fulcrum of its lever. Then further—and this is more important still—whereas the doctrine of Western positivism is that human life is good, or may be made good; and that in the possibility of the enjoyment of it consists the great stimulus to action; the doctrine of Buddhism is that human life is evil, and that man's right aim is not to gratify, but to extinguish, his desire for it. Love, for instance, as I have said before, is by most Western positivists held to be a high blessing. Buddhism tells us we should avoid it 'as though it were a pit of burning coals.' The most influential positive writer in England[7] has said: 'I desire no future that will break the ties of the past.' Buddhism says that we should desire no present that will create any ties for the future. The beginning of the Buddhist teaching is the intense misery of life; the reward of Buddhist holiness is to, at last, live no longer. If we die in our sins, we shall be obliged to live again on the earth; and it will not be, perhaps, till after many lives that the necessity for fresh births will be exhausted. But when we have attained perfection, the evil spell is broken; and 'then the wise man,' it is said, 'is extinguished as this lamp.' The highest life was one of seclusion and asceticism. The founder of Buddhism was met, during his first preaching, with the objection that his system, if carried out fully, would be the ruin and the extermination of humanity. And he did not deny the charge; but said that what his questioners called ruin, was in reality the highest good.

It is then hard to conceive an appeal more singularly infelicitous than that which our modern positivists make to Buddhism. It is the appeal of optimists to inveterate pessimists, and of exact thinkers to inveterate mystics. If the consideration of it tells us anything of importance, it tells us this—that by far the largest mass of mankind that has ever been united by a single creed has explicitly denied every chief point that our Western teachers assert. So far then from helping to close the question we are to deal with—the question as to the positive worth of life, the testimony of Buddhism, if it be of any weight at all, can only go to convince us that the question is at once new and open—new, because it has never yet been asked so fully; and open, because in so far as it has been asked, nearly half mankind has repudiated the answer that we are so desirous of giving it. Mr. Leslie Stephen calls Buddhism 'a stupendous fact,' and I quite agree with him that it is so; but taken in connection with the present philosophy of Europe, it is hardly a fact to strengthen our confidence in the essential dignity of man, or the worth of man's life.

In short, the more we consider the matter, and the more various the points from which we do so, the more plain will it become to us that the problem the present age is confronted by is an altogether unanswered one; and that the closest seeming parallels to be found amongst other times and races, have far less really of parallelism in them than of contrast. The path of thought, as it were, has taken a sudden turn round a mountain; and our bewildered eyes are staring on an undreamed-of prospect. The leaders of progress thus far have greeted the sight with acclamation, and have confidently declared that we are looking on the promised land. But to the more thoughtful, and to the less impulsive, it is plain that a mist hangs over it, and that we have no right to be sure whether it is the promised land or no. They see grave reasons for making a closer scrutiny, and for asking if, when the mist lifts, what we see will be not splendour, but desolation.

Such, in brief outline, is the question we are to deal with. We will now go on to approach it in a more detailed way.


[1] Vide Sophocles, OEdipus Coloneus.

[2] Professor Clifford, whose study of history leads him to regard Catholicism as nothing more than an 'episode' in the history of Western progress.

[3] Mr. Frederic Harrison.

[4] Mr. Froude, History of England, chap. i.

[5] Wordsworth.

[6] Quoted by Dr. Tyndall from Professor Blackie.

[7] George Eliot.



'The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field.'

Having thus seen broadly what is meant by that claim for life that we are about to analyse, we must now examine it more minutely, as made by the positive school themselves.

This will at once make evident one important point. The worth in question is closely bound up with what we call morality. In this respect our deniers of the supernatural claim to be on as firm a footing as the believers in it. They will not admit that the earnestness of life is lessened for them; or that they have opened any door either to levity or to licentiousness. It is true indeed that it is allowed occasionally that the loss of a faith in God, and of the life in a future, may, under certain circumstances, be a real loss to us. Others again contend that this loss is a gain. Such views as these, however, are not much to the purpose. For those even, according to whom life has lost most in this way, do not consider the loss a very important, still less a fatal one. The good is still to be an aim for us, and our devotion to it will be more valuable because it will be quite disinterested. Thus Dr. Tyndall informs us that though he has now rejected the religion of his earlier years, yet granting him proper health of body, there is 'no spiritual experience,' such as he then knew, 'no resolve of duty, no word of mercy, no act of self-renouncement, no solemnity of thought, no joy in the life and aspects of nature, that would not still be' his. The same is the implicit teaching of all George Eliot's novels; whilst Professor Huxley tells us that come what may to our 'intellectual beliefs and even education,' 'the beauty of holiness and the ugliness of sin' will remain for those that have eyes to see them, 'no mere metaphors, but real and intense feelings.' These are but a few examples, but the view of life they illustrate is so well known that these few will suffice. The point on which the modern positivist school is most vehement, is that it does not destroy, but that on the contrary it intensifies, the distinction between right and wrong.

And now let us consider what, according to all positive theories, this supremacy of morality means. It means that there is a certain course of active life, and a certain course only, by which life can be made by everyone a beautiful and a noble thing: and life is called earnest, because such a prize is within our reach, and solemn because there is a risk that we may fail to reach it. Were this not so, right and wrong could have no general and objective meaning. They would be purely personal matters—mere misleading names, in fact, for the private likes and the dislikes of each of us; and to talk of right, and good, and morality, as things that we ought all to conform to, and to live by, would be simply to talk nonsense. What the very existence of a moral system implies is, that whatever may be our personal inclinations naturally, there is some common pattern to which they should be all adjusted; the reason being that we shall so all become partakers in some common happiness, which is greater beyond comparison than every other kind.

Here we are presented with two obvious tasks: the first, to enquire what this happiness is, what are the qualities and attractions generally ascribed to it; the second, to analyse it, as it is thus held up to us, and to see if its professed ingredients are sufficient to make up the result.

To proceed then, all moral systems must, as we have just seen, postulate some end of action, an end to which morality is the only road. Further, this end is the one thing in life that is really worth attaining; and since we have to do with no life other than this one, it must be found amongst the days and years of which this short life is the aggregate. On the adequacy of this universal end depends the whole question of the positive worth of life, and the essential dignity of man.

That this is at least one way of stating the case has been often acknowledged by the positive moralists themselves. The following passage, for instance, is from the autobiography of J.S. Mill. 'From the winter of 1821,' he writes, 'when I first read Bentham.... I had what might truly be called an object in life, to be a reformer of the world.... I endeavoured to pick up as many flowers as I could by the way; but as a serious and permanent personal satisfaction to rest upon, my whole reliance was placed on this.... But the time came when I awakened from this as from a dream.... It occurred to me to put the question directly to myself: "Suppose that all your objects in life realised; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you were looking forward to, could be completely effected in this very instant, would this be a very great joy and happiness to you?" And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered "No!" At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down.... The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.... The lines in Coleridge's "Dejection" exactly describe my case:—

"_O grief without a pang, void, dark and drear, A dreary, stifled, unimpassioned grief, Which finds no natural outlet nor relief In word, or sigh, or tear.

* * * * *

Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve, And life without an object cannot live._"'

And the foregoing confession is made more significant by the author's subsequent comment on it. 'Though my dejection,' he says, 'honestly looked at, could not be called other than egotistical, produced by the ruin, as I thought, of my fabric of happiness, yet the destiny of mankind was ever in my thoughts, and could not be separated from my own. I felt that the flaw in my life must be a flaw in life itself; and that the question was whether, if the reformers of society and government could succeed in their objects, and every person in the community were free, and in a state of physical comfort, the pleasures of life being no longer kept up by struggle and privation, would cease to be pleasures. And I felt that unless I could see some better hope than this for human happiness in general, my dejection must continue.' It is true that in Mill's case the dejection did not continue; and that in certain ways at which it is not yet time to touch, he succeeded, to his own satisfaction, in finding the end he was thus asking for. I only quote him to show how necessary he considered such an end to be. He acknowledged the fact, not only theoretically, or with his lips, but by months of misery, by intermittent thoughts of suicide, and by years of recurring melancholy. Some ultimate end of action, some kind of satisfying happiness—this, and this alone, he felt, could give any meaning to work, or make possible any kind of virtue. And a yet later authority has told us precisely the same thing. He has told us that the one great question that education is of value for answering, is this very question that was so earnestly asked by Mill. 'The ultimate end of education,' says Professor Huxley, 'is to promote morality and refinement, by teaching men to discipline themselves, and by leading them to see that the highest, as it is the only content, is to be attained not by grovelling in the rank and steaming valleys of sense, but by continually striving towards those high peaks, where, resting in eternal calm, reason discerns the undefined but bright ideal of the highest good—"a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night."' And these words are an excellent specimen of the general moral exhortations of the new school.

Now all this is very well as far as it goes; and were there not one thing lacking, it would be just the answer that we are at present so anxious to elicit. But the one thing lacking, is enough to make it valueless. It may mean a great deal; but there is no possibility of saying exactly what it means. Before we can begin to strive towards the 'highest good,' we must know something of what this 'highest good' is. We must make this 'higher ideal' stand and unfold itself. If it cannot be made to do this, if it vanishes into mist as we near it, and takes a different shape to each of us as we recede from it; still more, if only some can see it, and to others it is quite invisible—then we must simply set it down as an illusion, and waste no more time in pursuit of it. But that it is not an illusion is the great positivist claim for it. Heaven and the love of God, we are told, were illusions. This 'highest good' we are offered, stands out in clear contradistinction to these. It is an actual attainable thing, a thing for flesh and blood creatures; it is to be won and enjoyed by them in their common daily life. It is, as its prophets distinctly and unanimously tell us, some form of happiness that results in this life to us, from certain conduct; it is a thing essentially for the present; and 'it is obviously,' says Professor Huxley, 'in no way affected by abbreviation or prolongation of our conscious life.'

This being the case, it is clearly not unreasonable to demand some explicit account of it; or if no sound account of it be extant, to enquire diligently what sort of account of it is possible. And let it be remembered that to make this demand is in no way to violate the great rule of Aristotle, and to demand a greater accuracy than the nature of the subject will admit of. The 'highest good,' it is quite possible, may be a vague thing; not capable, like a figure in Euclid, of being defined exactly. But many vague things can be described exactly enough for all practical purposes. They can be described so that we at once know what is meant, and so that we can at once find and recognise them. Feelings, characters, and personal appearance are things of this sort; so too is the taste of food, the style of furniture, or the general tone and tenour of our life, under various circumstances. And the 'good' we are now considering can surely be not less describable than these. When therefore our exact thinkers speak to us about the highest happiness, we want to know what meaning they attach to the words. Has Professor Huxley, for instance, ever enjoyed it himself, or does he ever hope to do so? If so, when, where, and how? What must be done to get it, and what must be left undone? And when it is got, what will it be like? Is it something brief, rapturous, and intermittent, as the language often used about it might seem to suggest to one? Is it known only in brief moments of Neoplatonic ecstasy, to which all the acts of life should be stepping stones? It certainly cannot be that. Our exact thinkers are essentially no mystics, and the highest happiness must be something far more solid than transcendental ecstasies. Surely, therefore, if it exists at all we must be able somewhere to lay our hands upon it. It is a pillar of fire by night; surely then it will be visible. It is to be lifted up, and is to draw all men unto it. It is nothing if not this: and we shall see more clearly if we consider the matter further.

This chief good, or this highest happiness, being the end of moral action, one point about it is at once evident. Its value is of course recognised by those who practise morality, or who enunciate moral systems. Virtuous men are virtuous because the end gained by virtue is an end that they desire to gain. But this is not enough; it is not enough that to men who are already seeking the good the good should appear in all its full attractiveness. It must be capable of being made attractive for those who do not know it, and who have never sought it, but who have, on the contrary, always turned away from everything that is supposed to lead to it. It must be able, in other words, not only to satisfy the virtuous of the wisdom of their virtue, it must be able to convince the vicious of the folly of their vice. Vice is only bad in the eye of the positive moralist because of the precious something that we are at the present moment losing by it. He can only convince us of our error by giving us some picture of our loss. And he must be able to do this, if his system is worth anything; and in promulgating his system he professes that he can do it. The physician's work is to heal the sick; his skill must not end in explaining his own health. It is clear that if a morality is incapable of being preached, it is useless to say that it is worthy of being practised. The statement will be meaningless, except to those for whom it is superfluous. It is therefore essential to the moral end that in some way or other it be generally presentable, so that its excellence shall appeal to some common sense in man. And again, be it observed, that we are demanding no mathematical accuracy. We demand only that the presentation shall be accurate enough to let us recognise its corresponding fact in life.

Now what is a code of morals, and why has the world any need of one? A code of morals is a number of restraining orders; it rigorously bids us walk in certain paths. But why? What is the use of bidding us? Because there are a number of other paths that we are naturally inclined to walk in. The right path is right because it leads to the highest kind of happiness; the wrong paths are wrong because they lead to lower kinds of happiness. But when men choose vice instead of virtue, what is happening? They are considering the lower or the lesser happiness better than the greater or the higher. It is this mistake that is the essence and cause of immorality; it is this mistake that mankind is ever inclined to make, and it is only because of this inclination that any moral system is of any general value.

Were we all naturally inclined to morality, the analysis of it, it is true, might have great speculative interest; but a moral system would not be needed as it is for a great practical purpose. The law, as we all know, has arisen because of transgressions, and the moralist has to meddle with human nature mainly because it is inconstant and corrupted. It is a wild horse that has not so much to be broken, once for all, as to be driven and reined in perpetually. And the art of the moralist is, by opening the mind's eye to the true end of life, to make us sharply conscious of what we lose by losing it. And the men to whom we shall chiefly want to present this end are not men, let us remember, who desire to see it, or who will seek for it of their own accord, but men who are turned away from it, and on whose sight it must be thrust. It is not the righteous but the sinners that have to be called to repentance. And not this only: not only must the end in question be thus presentable, but when presented it must be able to stand the inveterate criticism of those who fear being allured by it, who are content as they are, and have no wish to be made discontented. These men will submit it to every test by which they may hope to prove that its attractions are delusive. They will test it with reason, as we test a metal by an acid. They will ask what it is based upon, and of what it is compounded. They will submit it to an analysis as merciless as that by which their advisers have dissolved theism.

Here then is a fact that all positive morality presupposes. It presupposes that life by its very nature contains the possibility in it of some one kind of happiness, which is open to all men, and which is better than all others. It is sufficiently presentable even to those who have not experienced it; and its excellence is not vaguely apparent only, but can be exactly proved from obvious and acknowledged facts. Further, this happiness must be removed from its alternatives by some very great interval. The proudest, the serenest, the most successful life of vice, must be miserable when compared with the most painful life of virtue, and miserable in a very high degree; for morality is momentous exactly in proportion to the interval between the things to be gained and escaped by it. And unless this interval be a very profound one, the language at present current as to the importance of virtue, the dignity of life, and the earnestness of the moral struggle, will be altogether overstrained and ludicrous.

Now is such a happiness a reality or is it a myth? That is the great question. Can human life, cut off utterly from every hope beyond itself—can human life supply it? If it cannot, then evidently there can be no morality without religion. But perhaps it can. Perhaps life has greater capacities than we have hitherto given it credit for. Perhaps this happiness may be really close at hand for each of us, and we have only overlooked it hitherto because it was too directly before our eyes. At all events, wherever it is let it be pointed out to us. It is useless, as we have seen, if not generally presentable. To those who most need it, it is useless until presented. Indeed, until it is presented we are but acting on the maxim of its advocates by refusing to believe in its existence. 'No simplicity of mind,' says Professor Clifford, 'no obscurity of station, can escape the universal duty of questioning all that we believe.'

The question, then, that we want answered has by this time, I think, been stated with sufficient clearness, and its importance and its legitimacy been placed beyond a doubt. I shall now go on to explain in detail how completely unsatisfactory are the answers that are at present given it; how it is evaded by some and begged by others; and how those that are most plausible are really made worthless, by a subtle but profound defect.

These answers divide themselves into two classes, which, though invariably confused by those that give them, are in reality quite distinct and separable. Professor Huxley, one of the most vigorous of our positive thinkers, shall help us to understand these. He is going to tell us, let us remember, about the 'highest good'—the happiness, in other words, that we have just been discussing—the secret of our life's worth, and the test of all our conduct. This happiness he divides into two kinds.[8] He says that there are two things that we may mean when we speak about it. We may mean the happiness of a society of men, or we may mean the happiness of the members of that society. And when we speak of morality, we may mean two things also; and these two things must be kept distinct. We may mean what Professor Huxley calls 'social morality,' and of this the test and object is the happiness of societies; or we may mean what he calls 'personal morality,' and of this the test and object is the happiness of individuals. And the answers which our positive moralists make to us divide themselves into two classes, according to the sort of happiness they refer to.

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