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THE NEW AGE

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Previous Page  ...won the rural population. But in the main we must be content to attribute the change to one of those silent and mysterious movements of thought of which we only feel the effects without being able to trace them to a cause. Both Lecky in his History of Rationalism and Leslie Stephen in his English Thought in the Eighteenth Century remark how modes of thought pass away - and the latter adds, how superstitions revive - without direct proof or disproof. Beliefs draw their nourishment from the atmosphere of thought, just as truly as plants draw theirs from the oxygen around them. And this doubtless is the element of truth in the common saying that certain ideas are "in the air." The mental conditions are favourable, and the ideas spring up and seed and multiply, like plants in a suitable soil and climate.

Not only did this movement give birth to a literature, not only did it influence far more than it produced; it is interesting also as an illustration of the close connexion between the most various manifestations of intellect. It is the most striking jaspect of an all-pervading contrast. A multitude of other things, outwardly unconnected, are really in close affinity with this Catholic movement. All romanticism is, often unconsciously, cognate to it. The revival of Gothic architecture; the change in the spirit of poetry - the consciousness of the supernatural in Coleridge, the sensuousness of Keats, the feeling in Shelley of a spiritual element in all things, in the west wind, in the cloud, in mountains, seas and streams, - these were kindred manifestations. Above all, this Catholic revival was stimulated by, as it in turn stimulated, that imaginative sympathy with the Middle Ages, of which the most curious and in some respects the profoundest products are Kenelm Digby's (1800-1880) Broad Stone of Honour (1826-1827) and Mores Catholici (1831-1840). The former in its four books, Godefridus, Tancredus, Morus and Orlandus, as it were incarnates the cardinal virtues of the Middle Ages as they appear to the eye of a believer, and suggests, as effectively in its way as Carlyle's Past and Present, that the changes of modern times are by no means all improvements.

It was, however, Scott who gave the most powerful and the most vivid expression to this imaginative sympathy with the ...Next Page




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