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Mr. MacDonald's Heroines.
greatest difficulty in attaining spiritual peace through the Calvinistic theology.
George MacDonald, however, is not blind to the grander aspects of character which Calvinism has produced in Scotland. In Thomas Crann, the stonemason, we have the Puritan type of man delineated with sympathetic and masterly skill, and it towers in lofty pre-eminence over lower forms of character.
Surely it is something more to stand with Moses upon Mount • Sinai, and see the back of God through ever so many folds of cloudy darkness, than be sitting down to eat and drink, or rising up to play about the golden calf, at the foot of the mountain.' Child Annie could see clearly that Thomas was possessed of some · Divine secret,' and reverenced him accordingly. Perfect, unquestioning, unfaltering submission to God's will, iron stedfastness of resolution in the performance of duty, entire uprightness and openness in all dealings, absolute fearlessness in regard to any power in the universe except the might of God—such were the qualities of Thomas Crann. Better be * damned,' said Thomas, doing the will of God, than saved
doing nothing. After all, Calvinism, when you see it in a great strong man-in a Cromwell, for example—is a sublime faith. It is a sacrifice of humanity, without conditions, on the altar of Godhead ; an acceptance of God's will as the law, of God's glory as the end, of the universe : but that will is the expression of infinite rightness, and that glory is the realization of infinite good; the finite is swallowed up in the infinite, but it is not lost-it is irradiated and transfigured.
MacDonald's Scottish heroines are, on the whole, hardly equal to his heroes. Maggie Elginbrod is executed too much on the saint and angel pattern. Very lovely she is, and not without a certain recognisable Scotticism; but she is too good to be strongly interesting. The tranquil approbation with which she beholds the love of another woman for the man to whom she is in her heart devoted, which love is vehemently returned, is not according to the instincts of the female breast. Jeanie Deans could not have loved a fine lady who had won the heart of Reuben Butler. Female weakness and female witchery are closely connected. There is no piquancy, no raciness, no zest, in Maggie's character ; her sweetness is saccharine, and cloys.
Her father calls her his dove, and the epithet is appropriate; • but the fascination of dove-like beauties is not irresistible. Annie Anderson is better. But she also verges on
the mawkishly good, and she also is rather too angelically impassive when her lover falls in love with another woman. She is, however, we repeat, more vigorously conceived than Maggie Elginbrod, and her frank confession to Willie, when he asks her
to marry him, that she has long loved Alec, is natural and characteristic.
Cosmo Cupples, the learned nondescript, hanging about a Scottish University town, squat, queer, sparingly supplied with cash, and given to strong drink, is a powerful sketch. A drunkard himself, Cosmo is frantically anxious that the young friend who has shown him kindness, and whom he loves, shall escape a drunkard's doom. I want no companion in hell to cast his • damnation in my teeth. He is a classical and mathematical scholar, with the metaphysics which are second nature to a Scotch graduate. “The hypostasis o' her,' he says of the girl he had loved, 'was just perfection itsel'.' He is ultimately rescued from drink,- never, we fear, from metaphysics.
Ericson, who appears in Robert Falconer, one of the latest of the author's performances, is a still more carefully-drawn portrait, and one of far deeper and more pathetic interest. Noble in all tones of mind, generous, tender, aspiring, Ericson cannot lay his grasp firmly on truth as it is in God and in the God
He cannot see God through the obscuring clouds of human misery, and his impassioned enthusiasm for the good, the true and the beautiful finds no sure centre to which it can cling. As Carlyle says of Lessing," he stands before us like a *toilworn but unwearied and heroic champion, earning not • the conquest, but the battle.' He cannot believe, and he will not pretend that he believes; he will not be driven by mere unmanly terror to force himself to believe; he dies in hope, not in faith. This is, perhaps, the most finished and masterly portrait in the whole range of George MacDonald's works, and it is alone sufficient to prove that he has made great progress since the time when he drew David Elginbrod.
MacDonald himself, as he is revealed in his books, is in all things the reverse of a sceptic. He can sympathise, delicately and deeply sympathise, with doubt, but, for his own part, he seems literally to be destitute of the faculty of dubitation. The universe for him beams and blazes with the light of God. He will not hear of it that evil has a chance in the world of his Father. The central idea of all his thinking is that the universe is but subject matter for the love of God, a tree to be penetrated with life to its remotest branch, to be thrown out into eternal blossoming of holiness and of joy, a lamp to be filled with Divine radiance. Nay, the universe is but the embodiment of a Divine idea, and that idea is love. Let the old heathens,' he exclaims, 'count Darkness the womb of all things. I count * Light the older, from the tread of whose feet fell the first 'shadow—and that was Darkness. Darkness exists but by the • light and for the light. But (it is objected) that is all mysticism.
* Look about you. The dark places of the earth are the habitations of cruelty. Men and women blaspheme God, and die. * How can this, then, be an hour for rejoicing ? They are (such ' is the reply) in God's hands. Take from me my rejoicing, and 'I am powerless to help them. It shall not destroy the whole 'bright holiday to me, that my father has given my brother a 'beating. It will do him good. He needed it somehow. He * is looking after them.' And as for us men and women, our part is to work together with God; patiently, unweariedly, in gladness and in sorrow; lessening the evil, increasing the good, pushing the triumph of the morning on the borders of the night. Infinite rhythmic activity in well-doing, modulated to the harmonies, to the laws, of the universe; unresting, unhasting, in step and tune with the stars, the tides, the seasons; the problems of speculation to wait; the mystery of evil to be solved by annihilating it; this to be the rule for man. Such is our general impression of MacDonald's scheme of belief derived from his works. His faith may seem to theologians objectionable ; it can seem to no man dead.
Our God is a consuming fire.' How reconcile this with the theory that the universe is all light, or the shadow of light? The words form the text of perhaps the most remarkable sermon in the highly remarkable volume of sermons which MacDonald has published. The consuming fire,' he holds, ' is love. But it is not less a fire. Nothing is inexorable . but love.
For love loves unto purity. Love has rever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds.
Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love's kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire. . . It ' is the nature of God, so terribly pure that it destroys all
that is not pure as fire, which demands like purity in our 'worship. He will have purity. It is not that the fire will 'burn us if we do not worship thus ; but that the fire will burn ' us until we worship thus; yea, will go on burning within us • after all that is foreign to it has yielded to its force no longer ' with pain and consuming, but as the highest consciousness of • life, the presence of God.' The burning may be very terrible, but it will not cease to be the burning of love. Even in the outer darkness, 'God hath withdrawn Himself, but not lost His hold. . His heart has ceased to beat into the man's • heart, but He keeps him alive by His fire. And the burning will go on until impurity is burnt out of every one of God's immortal progeny.
The idea of eternal perdition is abhorrent to MacDonald's mind, and he never hesitates to proclaim his faith in ultimate restitution. 'At length, O God,
wilt Thou not cast Death and Hell into the lake of Fireinto thine own consuming self? Death shall then die everlastingly.
· And hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peeriug day.' * Then, indeed, wilt Thou be all in all. For then our poor • brothers and sisters, every one-0 God, we trust in Thee, the * Cousuming Fire-shall have been burnt clean and brought • home. For if their moans, myriads of ages away, would turn 'heaven for us into hell—shall a man be more merciful than * God ? Shall, of all His glories, His mercy alone not be infinite ? * Shall a brother love a brother more than the Father loves a 'son ?-more than the Brother Christ loves His brother? • Would He not die yet again to save one brother more ?'
We are not called upon to discuss these opinions from a theological point of view. Mr. MacDonald would not shrink from the admission that he looks beyond the letter of Scripture, and many of our readers will think that all speculation which is wise beyond what is written must be thin and unsubstantial. The simplicity of the Saviour's declarations, reinforcing the decision of conscience that sin is the object of God's wrath and curse, and appointing for the obdurate sinner a future of calamity, will satisfy the majority of devout and reverent minds. If, however, we would apprehend the scheme of thought which, in poem, in novel, and in sermon, George MacDonald consistently carries out, it is necessary for us to have clear conceptions as to its fundamental principles and its leading propositions. A novel in these days may be anything, from a system of theology or philosophy to a nursery tale; and MacDonald does not cease to be a thinker and a moralist when he becomes a novelist.
At first glance, we might call his scheme that of Christian pantheism, with suggestion and modification from Fichte, Novalis, Wordsworth, Maurice. But we are soon admonished that this would be incorrect. We find him specially insisting upon human personality. He pointedly and earnestly maintains that we shall know and converse with our friends in a future state of existence. With his whole heart, he would say with Tennyson--
Eternal form shall still divide
Eternal forın from all beside.' But there is something which we can represent to ourselves only as a combination of Christian pantheism and Christian mysticism in his view of the physical universe. To apply to him words which he uses in describing the state of mind of one of his favourite heroes, “Nature reveals herself to him full of life, yea
Mr. MacDonald's Universalism.
* of the life of life, namely, of God Himself.' Nature is for him full of symbolism; voices reach him from the depths of blue air, from the great caverns, from the glistening stars. She is a power of life, and can speak to the heart and conscience * mighty words about God, and Truth, and Love.' This thought is constantly recurring in his works. The universe is for him a vision of God.
Human personality nevertheless he will admit to be a greater thing than nature. It is nearer than nature to God. It
be said, “so to drink of the sun-rays of God, as to radiate them forth, ' for very fulness, upon the clouded world.' But with personality enters sin. And though we are not aware that there occurs in any part of George MacDonald's works an express definition of sin, its essential character, as he conceives it, is not difficult to understand. It is the assertion by the human personality of a selfish will, out of harmony with the will of God and the law of the universe, which is love. The Divine Being will never absorb man into His essence ; human personality will never be destroyed ; but the evil thing, the separating, sectarian, stunting element of selfishness, will sooner or later be purged out. In the immortality of all, MacDonald believes ; but he appears to hold with equal decision that the purifying influence-the consuming fire-will continue to operate upon human souls after what we call death ; and its operation, both before and after death, may involve unspeakable mental, and we presume also, corporeal anguish. Selfishness in relation to man takes the form of unforgivingness; selfishness in relation to God, takes the form of resistance to the Divine Spirit. So long as these continue, repentance has not taken place, and the consuming fire has not prepared the way for pardon. It is through the incarnation and death of Christ that the love of God saves the world; and as, on the one hand, God meets us in the Man Christ Jesus, so, on the other, it is through humanity that we rise to the conception of Divine holiness. The notion of one morality for man, and another for God, he indignantly rejects. One of those recurrent ideas on which it is habitual for him to insist, is that human compassion cannot possibly exceed Divine compassion, and that, therefore, no sentient being will be doomed to everlasting pain. He never shrinks from maintaining his thesis as it presents itself in an extreme instance. Very characteristic, for example, is his incidental discussion of the case of Judas :
““ Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” said the Divine, making excuse for His murderers, not after it was all over, but at the very moment when he was dying by their hands. Lord Christ be thanked for that! That was like Thee! But must