Culture and Anarchy by Mathew Arnold

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  • Topic: Religion, State religion, Church of England
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  • Published : May 14, 2013
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Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism (1869) Mthew Arnold original
[iii] My foremost design in writing this Preface is to address a word of exhortation to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. In the essay which follows, the reader will often find Bishop Wilson quoted. To me and to the members of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge his name and writings are still, no doubt, familiar; but the world is fast going away from old-fashioned people of his sort, and I learnt with consternation lately from a brilliant and distinguished votary of the natural sciences, that he had never so much as heard of Bishop Wilson, and that he imagined me to have invented him. At a moment when the Courts of Law have just taken off the embargo from the recreative religion furnished on Sundays by my gifted acquaintance and others, and when St. Martin’s Hall [iv] and the Alhambra will soon be beginning again to resound with their pulpit-eloquence, it distresses one to think that the new lights should not only have, in general, a very low opinion of the preachers of the old religion, but that they should have it without knowing the best that these preachers can do. And that they are in this case is owing in part, certainly, to the negligence of the Christian Knowledge Society. In old times they used to print and spread abroad Bishop Wilson’s Maxims of Piety and Christianity; the copy of this work which I use is one of their publications, bearing their imprint, and bound in the well-known brown calf which they made familiar to our childhood; but the date of my copy is 1812. I know of no copy besides, and I believe the work is no longer one of those printed and circulated by the Society. Hence the error, flattering, I own, to me personally, yet in itself to be regretted, of the distinguished physicist already mentioned.

But Bishop Wilson’s Maxims deserve to be circulated as a religious book, not only by comparison with the cartloads of rubbish circulated at present under this designation, but for their own sake, and even by comparison with the other works of the same [v] author. Over the far better known Sacra Privata they have this advantage, that they were prepared by him for his own private use, while the Sacra Privata were prepared by him for the use of the public. The Maxims were never meant to be printed, and have on that account, like a work of, doubtless, far deeper emotion and power, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, something peculiarly sincere and first-hand about them. Some of the best things from the Maxims have passed into the Sacra Privata; still, in the Maxims, we have them as they first arose; and whereas, too, in the Sacra Privata the writer speaks very often as one of the clergy, and as addressing the clergy, in the Maxims he almost always speaks solely as a man. I am not saying a word against the Sacra Privata, for which I have the highest respect; only the Maxims seem to me a better and a more edifying book still. They should be read, as Joubert says Nicole should be read, with a direct aim at practice. The reader will leave on one side things which, from the change of time and from the changed point of view which the change of time inevitably brings with it, no longer suit him; enough [vi] will remain to serve as a sample of the very best, perhaps, which our nation and race can do in the way of religious writing. Monsieur Michelet makes it a reproach to us that, in all the doubt as to the real author of the Imitation, no one has ever dreamed of ascribing that work to an Englishman. It is true, the Imitation could not well have been written by an Englishman; the religious delicacy and the profound asceticism of that admirable book are hardly in our nature. This would be more of a reproach to us if in poetry, which requires, no less than religion, a true delicacy of spiritual perception, our race had not done such great things; and if the Imitation, exquisite as it is, did not, as...
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