[Letter of John James Taylor to Francis William Newman.]
November 27th, 1849
Since I saw you in my passage through London at the end of September, I have had no tidings from you or to you, and scarce any token of your existence beyond your article on Hungary in the last Prospective. I should really like to know, that you are yet among the living. That story of Hungary is crushing to one's feelings. Will the spark of nationality ever revive in the ashes that have been so foully trampled by the bloody hoofs of tyranny? There is a sentiment, coming ultimately I believe from Euripides, but clothed, as I have met with it, in Latin, which has indelibly impressed itself on my memory, and which always recurs to me in beholding these apparent frustrations of the moral order of the universe:—"Deus tacito ingrediens vestigio secundum justitiam res tractat humans!" A day of retribution must come, to restore the moral balance of things. But how, and when? And with what accumulation of vengeance, one shudders to conceive. The wrongs of Poland seem to me to have been avenging themselves in the elements of disorder and revolution, which her scattered and houseless sons have for years been fomenting in the bosom of the nations which perpetrated or acquiesced in the injustice, of which she has been the victim. I wish your article may be the means of circulating juster views and more generous sentiments about Hungary. I am sorry to say I find too frequently ignorance or apathy upon the subject among those from whom better things might have been expected, English and German.—In preparation for a course of supplementary lectures, which I shall commence after Christmas, and of which I enclose you a Syllabus, I have been endeavouring to make myself more familiar with the state of mind and feeling that has distinguished the more earnest religious sects in England and Germany during the last century and a half; more particularly the Moravians, the Wesleyans, and the Swedenborgians. With this view, I lately ran over John Wesley's Diary. It is a curious and interesting document. What a strange mixture there was in that man! The pure religious element in his mind was beautiful, breathing holiness and love, and as catholic in its affections and aspirations as a servile scripturalism would allow; but it was sadly alloyed by weakness and credulity that one hardly knows how to reconcile with the strong practical sense that shone forth so conspicuously in many parts of his character. I should like to know more of the personal history of his brother Charles. I suspect he was a man of deeper sensibility and more childlike simplicity than John, who knew the world better, and in the wish to govern it (no doubt, in the main, with righteous and benevolent ends in view), could more easily forego its social sympathies. This cost Charles intense pain. I gather this from his Sacred Poems, which I have been reading through. The devotional spirit they breathe is intense, and often exquisitely beautiful, but sometimes painfully ascetic, as if he felt it a duty to extinguish every earthly affection. I am astonished at the ease, the variety and the freedom of his versification. His whole soul seems to flow out spontaneously into metre. There is no hardness, no labour. All is evident inspiration. It is such verse as only the deepest feeling and conviction could produce.—I have got but a slight insight into the Swedenborgian system, having read but one considerable treatise of Swedenborg himself. Like Moravianism and Methodism, it seems to me a sort of spiritual reaction against the cold, dead rationalism of the Established Church. But though Swedenborg himself was a visionary (John Wesley puts him down at once as lunatic), his peculiar movement was less due to feeling than the workings of a systematic intellect. His mind had more of the scientific than the poetical character. His very visions are as sharp and well-defined as the ground plan of an engineer. He saw everything in the spiritual world in marvellous distinct-ness and congruity.—I think I have heard you decry the Republic of Plato. What will you say to my judgment? I am now reading it with my son; and we are just finishing the second book, which strikes me as a very fine philosophical effort. For the luminous clearness with which it traces the formative principles of society, and sets forth the necessity of the division of labour, it would not, I think, at this day disgrace an introductory chapter in a work on Political Economy. One cannot but feel, moreover, that this was probably the very first analysis that was attempted of Society. And then how beautiful is the style! as fluent and copious as Cicero's, with far more of philosophical precision. Did it ever occur to you, that there is a great similarity between the style of Bishop Berkeley and that of Plato, making due allowance for languages so different as English and Greek?