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SIN HELPS TO SAVE US

the victory is ever with good. No battle, no victory. Made to know, we must wage war just for soul's instruction, and so we have

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"Pain with joy,

Folly with wisdom, all that works annoy
With all that quiets and contents." 1

Thus it is that for our benefit evil must always stay with us

"For mankind springs Salvation by each hindrance interposed." 2

And so Browning teaches us that even our sins help to save our souls. The sense of sin has been said to be the basis of all religions. There is a process, he tells us, of unsinning sin by beginning to do well somehow else. Many of the greatest saints who now stand "fullstatured in magnificence" became such by the loathing and disgust excited in their souls by long acquaintance with evil. Just so much knowledge was needed to call forth the spark of good which burnt up the vileness of their lives, and so, the poet tells us―

"Where the salt marshes stagnate, crystals branch:
Blood dries to crimson; Evil's beautified
In every shape. Thrust Beauty then aside
And banish Evil! Wherefore? After all,
Is Evil a result less natural than Good?" 4

1 Parleyings with Francis Furini. 2 Sordello.
3 The Ring and the Book: "Tertium Quid," II. 285-86.
4 Sordello.

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CHAPTER XV

BROWNING'S ATTITUDE TOWARDS SCIENCE

WHEN, in a paper read before the Browning Society, and since published in a little book entitled Browning's Message to His Time, I called Browning "a scientific poet," I wished to imply merely that he used a great number of scientific facts to illustrate his imaginative works. Mr. Browning had more than the usual share of scientific knowledge possessed by literary men, and he made good use of his information in his poems from first to last. I did not intend to express at that time any opinion as to Browning's attitude towards physical science, and this omission led to some criticism. My wider acquaintance with the poet's works now enables me to deal with the question from the aspect I neglected on the former occasion. It has often been charged against Browning that he was anti-scientific; that he feared science because it is often supposed to be antagonistic to religion, and that there is evidence in his works that he disparaged knowledge, and rested his theory of

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IGNORANCE AND FAITH

his

life on Agnosticism. Professor Jones, in
learned and valuable work Browning as a Philo-
sophical and Religious Teacher, devotes many
pages of his book to establish this antagonism of
the poet to science. Browning's doctrine of evil
seems to prove that he rejects the testimony of
the head in favour of that of the heart; that
"God has not held even ignorance to be too
great a price for man to pay for goodness," that
"knowledge is not the fit atmosphere for moral-
ity. It is faith and not reason, hope and trust
but not certainty, that lend vigour to the good life.
The heart may trust, and must trust, if it faith-
fully listens to its own natural voice; but reason
must not demonstrate. Ignorance on the side
of intellect, faith on the side of the emotions;
distrust of knowledge, absolute confidence in
love; such is the condition of man's highest
welfare; it is only then that the purpose of his
life, and of the world which is his instrument, can
be achieved" (p. 273). Browning is charged
with teaching that it is "impossible to re-
establish faith in God, except by turning his
back on knowledge." Mr. Jones declares that
"Browning appeals in defence of his optimistic
faith from the intellect to the heart. His theory
rests on three main assumptions, namely~(1)
that knowledge of the true nature of things is
impossible to man, and that, therefore, it is
necessary to find other and better evidence than

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BROWNING AND AGNOSTICISM

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the intellect can give for the victory of good over evil; (2) that the failure of knowledge is a necessary condition of the moral life, inasmuch as certain knowledge would render all moral effort futile or needless; (3) that after the failure of knowledge there still remains possible a faith of the heart, which can furnish a sufficient objective basis to morality and religion" (p. 308). The writer grounds on this evidence a charge of "Agnosticism" against Browning, "antagonism to the intellect and distrust of its deliverances." Surely the use of the term "Agnosticism" in this connection is both new and inappropriate.

Browning has done no more than the greatest thinkers from ancient times to the present, who have told us that by searching man cannot find out God. Seeking knowledge has always been held to be like wandering in a labyrinth, the farther we go the farther we are from the end. Byron truly said "Science is but an interchange of ignorance for that which is another kind of ignorance." And Emerson expressed the same truth when he said "Knowledge is the knowing that we cannot know." Browning certainly invites us to faith, but "faith does not supplant but supplements reason." He does not disparage knowledge when he points out its limitations. As well argue that the anatomist and physiologist disparage the powers of man

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SCIENTIFIC IGNORANCE

when they tell us that we are not constituted like birds for flying in the air or like fish for living under water. Browning protests against the notion that

"Man, with the narrow mind, must cram inside
His finite God's infinitude. . .

Since Man may claim a right to understand
What passes understanding."

1

Man cannot explain his own mind. It is all very well to spell the unknowable with a capital U, and then call sensation, emotion, and thought "modes of the Unknowable" as Mr. Herbert Spencer does, but this is not "golden knowledge," but what Browning terms "lacquered ignorance." No doubt it is vastly comforting to a young scientist to settle the difficulty that way, but it is no better after all than the comfort the old lady obtained from "that blessed word Mesopotamia." Browning was not to be taken in by that sort of wisdom. He knew

"That becoming wise meant making slow and sure advance

From a knowledge proved in error to acknowledged ignorance." "

Man buys knowledge only to discover that his purchase is absolute nescience.1 In a sense this

1 Parleyings with Bernard de Mandeville.

2 Ferishtah's Fancies: "A Pillar at Sebzevah."

3 La Saisiaz.

4 Parleyings with Charles Avison.

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