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Chapter VI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4


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On the 23rd of April, 1864, exactly three hundred years would have elapsed since the birth of Shakespeare; and before the anniversary arrived there was a general stir in literary and dramatic circles, out of a persuasion that a date so marked should be signalised by a national festival of a splendid character, which would show the world how England honoured her great poet. But it is one thing to resolve upon a festival, and another thing to carry it out. Our English system of every man doing just as he pleases, of voluntary and irregular effort, while it conduces to the development of trade and the spread of colonisation, is unfavourable to all that requires unity of design and harmony of arrangement for its successful execution. There was no proper central authority to take the business in hand; whoever, therefore, was most forward and fussy naturally obtained an undue prominence for his views in the programme of festivities; then persons who thought that they had done more for Shakespeare, or had a better claim to be consulted, went about asking, " Who is Mr. So-and-so, or Miss So-and- so, that they should stick themselves into such a prominent place? The whole affair will be a dead failure in such hands, and I shall have nothing to do with it." Something, however, was done, and, to some limited extent, well done. A great pavilion was erected by public subscription at Stratford-upon-Avon, which was to serve the threefold purpose of dining-room, theatre, and hall of discussion. On the morning of the 23rd of April, the Mayor of Stratford received, in the Town Hall, an address from the " Free German Institute of Arts and Sciences at Frankfort on the Main," describing in the glowing language of hero-worship the intellectual, and even moral, benefits which the signers believed to have been derived, for Germany not less than England, from the perusal and representation of the immortal dramas of Shakespeare. Professor Max Müller, in presenting this address, delivered a remarkable speech. He urged that hero-worship should henceforward replace for England that veneration of the saints which was so dear to our forefathers. M As the height of the Alps is measured by Mont Blanc, let the greatness of England be measured by the greatness of Shakespeare. Great nations make great poets; great poets make great nations. Happy the nation that possesses a poet like Shakespeare. Happy the youth of England, whose first ideas of this world in which they are to live are taken from his pages. That silent influence of Shakespeare's poetry on millions of young hearts, in England, in Germany, in all the world, shows the almost superhuman power of human genius. If one looks at that small house, in a small street of a small town of a small island, and then thinks of the world- embracing, world-quickening world-ennobling spirit that burst forth from that small garret, one has learnt a lesson and carried off a blessing for which no pilgrimage would have been too long. Though the great festival which in former days brought together people from all parts of Europe to worship at the shrine of Canterbury exists no more, let us hope, for the sake of England more than for the sake of Shakespeare, that this will not be the last Shakespeare festival in the annals of Stratford-upon-Avon. In this cold and critical age of ours, the power of worshipping, the art of admiring, the passion of loving what is good and great, are fast dying out. May England never be ashamed to show to the world that she can love, that she can admire, that she can worship the greatest of her poets! May Shakespeare live on in the love of each generation that grows up in England! May the youth of England still continue to be nursed, to be fed, to be reproved and judged by his spirit! "

Grand words, but, alas! words merely. If it be true that persons of literary culture, in certain phases of mind, can be said, without any great abuse of language, to worship the genius of a poet, it is equally certain that ordinary mortals, and persons of culture themselves in their ordinary moods, cannot and do not worship anything of the kind. Men worship, or reverence, not genius, but virtue; and there would be something so unreal, so factitious, and so forced in a series of festivals instituted to honour and glorify mere gifts of the intellect, that the I common sense of mankind would speedily put them: down. It is not Shakespeare tercentenary festivals, nor I the familiarity with Shakespeare's plays - no, nor the familiarity with the best that has been said and thought by men of genius in every age - that can rekindle the flame of pure and deep feeling in the breasts of a " cold and critical " generation.

In London, the great memory of Shakespeare was honoured in various ways, but the only truly public demonstration was that arranged by the Working Men's Committee. It was resolved to plant an oak in honour of Shakespeare at the foot of Primrose Hill. A young oak sapling was, by the Queen's gracious permission, obtained from Windsor Park; a procession of trades was organised from Russell Square; and after an oration had been delivered by Mr. George Moore, the chairman of the committee, Mr. Phelps, the celebrated actor at Sadler's Wells Theatre, planted the tree, and a Mrs. Banks, sprinkling it with water brought from the Avon at Stratford, christened it " Shakespeare's Oak."

The progress of Rationalism on all sides, and even among the clergy of the Establishment, made itself felt 'this year in various ways. The same Lord Chancellor, who made so merry in Parliament with the " synodical judgment " of Convocation upon " Essays and Reviews," had previously, in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, given to two of the contributors to that volume the full benefit of the extremely latitudinarian character of his own theological sentiments. Dr. Rowland Williams and Mr. Wilson had been condemned in the Court of Arches on two of the reformed articles of charge exhibited against them, and sentenced to a year's suspension. One article exhibited against Dr. Williams, which the Court below held to be proved, charged him with maintaining that the Bible, or Holy Scripture, was an expression of devout reason," and the written voice of the congregation - not the Word of God, nor containing any special revelation of His truth, or of His dealings with mankind, nor of the rule of our faith. Another charged him with alleging that "the doctrine of merit by transfer is a fiction," and argued that this was at variance with the express language of the eleventh of the Thirty-nine Articles, which teaches that "we are accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not of our own works and deservings." With regard to the first article, the judgment of the Judicial Committee, as delivered by the Chancellor, was to the effect that the language used by Dr. Williams had been too harshly interpreted; as to the second, the Court accepted Dr. Williams's explanation, that by the term " fiction " he did not intend "false or fictitious statement," but merely "the phantasm in the mind of an individual that he has received or enjoyed merit by transfer." Upon the whole, the committee were of opinion that Dr. Williams had not outstepped the limits imposed by the formularies of the Church of England on the freedom of thought and discussion, and therefore decided that the sentence of a year's suspension must be reversed. In the case of Mr. Wilson, charged with encouraging the hope that the last judgment of God upon the wicked might not be really one consigning them to eternal punishment, the committee similarly held that this opinion was fairly tenable by clergymen of the Church of England, and therefore reversed the penal sentence of the Court of Arches.

An incident in the great Colenso anomaly, which occurred partly in this and partly in the following year, when stripped of the legal technicalities in which it was enveloped, resulted no less favourably for the advocates of free thought than the trial of Dr. Williams and Mr. Wilson. In virtue of letters-patent issued from the Crown, erecting Capetown into a metropolitan see, with Dr. Gray for its first bishop, and Natal as one of the suffragan sees, giving also to the metropolitan bishop jurisdiction over his suffragans, with a right of appeal only to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Gray had cited Bishop Colenso to appear in his Diocesan court of Capetown and answer to the charges of heresy, founded on the novel doctrines broached in his Essay on the Pentateuch, which had been brought against him. Dr. Colenso denied the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Capetown in hac re, and declined to appear; nevertheless, Bishop Gray proceeded to hear the charges, and, having decided them to be proved, he pronounced a sentence of deposition against Bishop Colenso, and prohibited his clergy from paying him canonical obedience. Dr. Colenso then appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which is at the present day the depositary of the royal supremacy in ecclesiastical causes, and prayed, not only that the sentence against him might be declared null and void, but that the letters-patent conferring jurisdiction on the Bishop of Capetown might be declared to have been illegal and of no effect ab initio. The case was argued on the 14th December and following days, but the judgment of the Judicial Committee was not delivered till March in the following year (1865). Of the contents of this curious and important judgment the reader will find a summary in a future chapter.

But the rationalising and anti-dogmatic party were not allowed to carry all before them; their flank was vigorously assailed by Mr. Disraeli, in November, who, in a speech delivered at a meeting of the Oxford Diocesan Society, attacked the new scepticism with all the resources of his bitter wit and unsparing rhetoric. He spoke of the clerical underminers of the doctrines which at their ordination they had vowed to maintain, whose works, he said - insufferably dull and interminably prolix - would, if we were compelled to peruse them, go far to realise for us that perpetuity of punishment which their authors deny. Speaking of the vitality of Christianity, he said: " The leading community of the continent of Europe has changed all its landmarks, altered its boundaries, erased its local names; the whole jurisprudence of Europe has been subverted; even the tenure of land, which of all human institutions most affects the character of man, has been altered; the feudal system has been abolished.... And what happened? When the turbulence was over - when the shout of triumph and the wail of agony were alike stilled - when, as it were, the waters had disappeared, the sacred heights of Sinai and Calvary were again revealed, and amid the wreck of thrones and tribunals, of extinct nations and abolished laws, mankind bowed again before the divine truths that had been by omnipotent power, in His ineffable wisdom, intrusted to the custody and promulgation of a chosen people." The highest science, he went on to say, was that which interpreted the highest nature, namely, the nature of man; but when he compared the new interpretations with the old, he was not prepared to say that the lecture-room was more scientific than the church. " What is the question which is now placed before society with the glib assurance which to me is most astounding? That question is this - Is a man an ape or an angel? My lord, I am on the side of the angels. I repudiate with indignation and abhorrence these new-fangled theories. I believe they are foreign to the conscience of humanity; and I say more - that even in the strictest intellectual point of view, I believe the severest metaphysical analysis is opposed to such conclusions."

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Pictures for Chapter VI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

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