Saturday, 20 August 2016

Leslie Stephen - Hours in a Library

There is something very modern about the note of plangent sadness which Leslie Stephen sounds as he regrets the seeking of signs and wonders by the devotee who is looking for confirmation of the truth of his faith. One might read this gentle lament in an essay by Gary Gutting in the Opininator of the New York Times.

You are seeking for outwards signs and wonders when you should be impressed by the profound and all pervading mysteries of the universe; and therefore falling into the hands of mere charlatans, and taking the morbid hysterics of over excited women for the revelation conveyed by all nature to those who have ears to hear. Has not the word 'spiritual' till now expressive of the highest emotions possible to human beings, got itself somehow stained and debased by association with the loathsome tricks practiced by importers aided by the prurient curiosity of their dupes?

Stephen is writing about Carlyle's Ethics and mentioning in passing the sad decline into what he could only see as charlatanry of Edward Irving, Carlyle's friend.

This point is made as it were in passing but from other of his writings I feel that he went out of his way. You see Sir Leslie Stephen was a Victorian freethinker and therefore somewhat at bay and inclined to growl. The portrait of him in To The Lighthouse as Mr. Ramsey does not shed a kindly light. The Calvin Carlyle which he offers us was probably influential. More on that perhaps.

Find the essay on Carlyle's Ethics in Bk.III of Hours in a Library
Hours in a library

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