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THE LITERATURE OF THE VICTORIAN ERA

by Hugh Walker (1910)

18

Previous Page  ...has often been said, was asleep; and loud are the denunciations against the officials who permitted and shared the slumber. Certain it is that if the sheep looked up hungry they were not fed. But the denunciations are perhaps a little unjust. The clergy were, after all, only yielding to forces which hardly any were powerful enough to resist. Even when the tide was already on the turn, we find a poet so intensely spiritual as Shelley was, imagining himself to be, and loudly proclaiming himself, an atheist. Robert Owen the socialist, like Lucretius of old, held religion to be the great obstacle to human progress. And yet Robert Owen was a man filled with that enthusiasm of humanity which under other influences would have made him zealous, perhaps a fanatic, in religion.

No wonder that in such an atmosphere the vision of the clearest eyes was blurred and dimmed. Goethe was the wisest man then living in Europe, the one most likely to see the truth through the mists of futurity; and Goethe thought that the Catholic Church was doomed and could hardly survive long. Yet even as Goethe spoke, the Counter-Revolution was in progress; and towards the close of the century which was then beginning the greatest statesman of the mighty empire of united Germany received at the hands of the Catholic party the most damaging defeat of his life; while in France Thiers prophesied that the Republic would fall if ever it quarrelled completely with the Catholic Church. The quarrel has taken place, and one of the most interesting questions of the future is, what will be the issue ?

The causes of such reversions are obscure. The arguments of the Encyclopaedists had not been answered. It is true, Kant had put philosophy on a new foundation; but it is a far cry from the Kantian philosophy to the dogma of the Catholic Church. Probably the explanation lies partly in the fact that the success of the rationalistic school had never been as complete as it appeared to the superficial observer. Even in France itself, men no longer believe that the Catholic Church had lost its hold on the people as completely as was once supposed. Though the Encyclopaedists had carried with them the thinkers and the multitudes of the cities, it is by no means so clear that they had ...Next Page




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