[Letter of John James Taylor to Francis William Newman.]
April 4th, 1849
I duly received your notice of Froude's book, and forwarded it to Thom. A few hours after I had despatched your MS., I finished the book itself. I like your notice of it much, and think it in the main just and discriminating. Perhaps my own judgment would be more favourable than yours. From the impression you gave me of it some time ago, I was prepared to expect something more revolting to reason and moral feeling than I find to be the case. Considering the extreme painfulness of the situation described in the last part of the book, I think nothing could be told with more exquisite purity and tenderness. It is deeply interesting and shows profound insight into the human heart, without being seductive; for a stern moral corrective runs through the whole narrative in the vivid painting of mental agony, which makes one feel intensely how every deviation from strict rectitude even of feeling carries its own sure penalty along with it, in all minds that have not been made callous by the practice of vice. It is perhaps difficult to catch the meaning of the narrative as a whole. I describe it to myself as a psychological fragment, offering glimpses of a mind in a state of intellectual dissolution, with its moral and its religious feeling still strong. If it yields any definite moral, it is perhaps this—that a state of doubt and unbelief as to the grounds of duty and expectation, must of itself be a painful and dangerous state, and should only be transitional to some state of fixedness. Sutherland vanishes from the scene before that state is reached, but the condition in which the reader leaves him, impresses the mind more deeply than any other catastrophe with the peril and wretchedness of resting in doubt. To complete the moral there should unquestionably be a sequel, to show that doubt is not necessarily a final state. However, I am almost inclined to believe the tale is more suggestive, and produces a stronger effect as it is. It is a single page torn from the vast volume of the mental history of the 19th century. Froude is clearly a philosophical necessarian; I suppose Spinoza taught him that; I do not see that he is chargeable with actual fatalism. But what thought and genius there are throughout the book! His sympathy with nature and glowing pictures from it are exquisite: and his figures and illustrations, drawn from the fields of science, are unrivalled for freshness and felicity.—There is a passage, which I observe you have marked for quotation, on the inevitableness of Christianity, and the final junction in its single stream, of the tributaries of Zoroastrianism, Hebrew and Grecian thought, which quite startled me when I came upon it, not from its strangeness, but from its so completely realising what I had often dimly felt, but had never before so distinctly and consciously expressed to myself.