His aspirations were individual and metaphysical. At the present hour, so complete is the revolution which has overturned the puritanism of which he was perhaps the latest surviving type, that all classes of religious persons combine in placing philanthropic activity, the objective attitude, in the foreground. It is extraordinary how far-reaching the change has been, so that nowadays a religion which does not combine with its subjective faith a strenuous labour for the good of others is hardly held to possess any religious principle worth proclaiming.
This propaganda of beneficence, this constant attention to the moral and physical improvement of persons who have been neglected, is quite recent as a leading feature of religion, though indeed it seems to have formed some part of the Saviour's original design. It was unknown to the great preachers of the seventeenth century, whether Catholic or Protestant, and it offered but a shadowy attraction to my Father, who was the last of their disciples. When Bossuet desired his hearers to listen to the cri de misere l'entour de nous, qui devrait nous fondre le coeur, he started a new thing in the world of theology. We may search the famous 'Rule and Exercises of Holy Living' from cover to cover, and not learn that Jeremy Taylor would have thought that any activity of the district-visitor or the Salvation lassie came within the category of saintliness.
My Father, then, like an old divine, concentrated on thoughts upon the intellectual part of faith. In his obsession about me, he believed that if my brain could be kept unaffected by any of the seductive errors of the age, and my heart centred in the adoring love of God, all would be well with me in perpetuity. He was still convinced that by intensely directing my thoughts, he could compel them to flow in a certain channel, since he had not begun to learn the lesson, so mournful for saintly men of his complexion, that 'virtue would not be virtue, could it be given by one fellow creature to another'. He had recognized, with reluctance, that holiness was not hereditary, but he continued to hope that it might be compulsive. I was still 'the child of many prayers', and it was not to be conceded that these prayers could remain unanswered.
The great panacea was now, as always, the study of the Bible, and this my Father never ceased to urge upon me. He presented to me a copy of Dean Alford's edition of the Greek New Testament, in four great volumes, and these he had had so magnificently bound in full morocco that the work shone on my poor shelf of sixpenny poets like a duchess among dairy maids. He extracted from me a written promise that I would translate and meditate upon a portion of the Greek text every morning before I started for business. This promise I presently failed to keep, my good intentions being undermined by an invincible ennui; I concealed the dereliction from him, and the sense that I was deceiving my Father ate into my conscience like a canker. But the dilemma was now before me that I must either deceive my Father in such things or paralyse my own character.
My growing distaste for the Holy Scriptures began to occupy my thoughts, and to surprise as much as it scandalized me. My desire was to continue to delight in those sacred pages, for which I still had an instinctive veneration. Yet I could not but observe the difference between the zeal with which I snatched at a volume of Carlyle or Ruskin--since these magicians were now first revealing themselves to me--and the increasing languor with which I took up Alford for my daily 'passage'. Of course, although I did not know it, and believed my reluctance to be sinful, the real reason why I now found the Bible so difficult to read was my familiarity with its contents. These had the colourless triteness of a story retold a hundred times. I longed for something new, something that would gratify curiosity and excite surprise. Whether the facts and doctrines contained in the Bible were true or false was not the question that appealed to me; it was rather that they had been presented to me so often and had sunken into me so far that, as someone has said, they 'lay bedridden in the dormitory of the soul', and made no impression of any kind upon me.
It often amazed me, and I am still unable to understand the fact, that my Father, through his long life--or until nearly the close of it--continued to take an eager pleasure in the text of the Bible. As I think I have already said, before he reached middle life, he had committed practically the whole of it to memory, and if started anywhere, even in a Minor Prophet, he could go on without a break as long as ever he was inclined for that exercise. He, therefore, at no time can have been assailed by the satiety of which I have spoken, and that it came so soon to me I must take simply as an indication of difference of temperament. It was not possible, even through the dark glass of correspondence, to deceive his eagle eye in this matter, and his suspicions accordingly took another turn. He conceived me to have become, or to be becoming, a victim of 'the infidelity of the age.' In this new difficulty, he appealed to forms of modern literature by the side of which the least attractive pages of Leviticus or Deuteronomy struck me as even thrilling. In particular, he urged upon me a work, then just published, called The Continuity of Scripture by William Page Wood, afterwards Lord Chancellor Hatherley. I do not know why he supposed that the lucubrations of an exemplary lawyer, delivered in a style that was like the trickling of sawdust, would succeed in rousing emotions which the glorious rhetoric of the Orient had failed to awaken; but Page Wood had been a Sunday School teacher for thirty years, and my Father was always unduly impressed by the acumen of pious barristers.
As time went on, and I grew older and more independent in mind, my Father's anxiety about what he called 'the pitfalls and snares which surround on every hand the thoughtless giddy youth of London' became extremely painful to himself. By harping in private upon these 'pitfalls'--which brought to my imagination a funny rough woodcut in an old edition of Bunyan, where a devil was seen capering over a sort of box let neatly into the ground-- he worked himself up into a frame of mind which was not a little irritating to his hapless correspondent, who was now 'snared' indeed, limed by the pen like a bird by the feet, and could not by any means escape. To a peck or a flutter from the bird the implacable fowler would reply:
You charge me with being suspicious, and I fear I cannot deny the charge. But I can appeal to your own sensitive and thoughtful mind for a considerable allowance. My deep and tender love for you; your youth and inexperience; the examples of other young men; your distance from parental counsel; our absolute and painful ignorance of all the details of your daily life, except what you yourself tell us:--try to throw yourself into the standing of a parent, and say if my suspiciousness is unreasonable. I rejoicingly acknowledge that from all I see you are pursuing a virtuous, steady, worthy course. One good thing my suspiciousness does:--ever and anon it brings out from you assurances, which greatly refresh and comfort me. And again, it carries me ever to God's Throne of Grace on your behalf Holy Job suspected that his sons might have sinned, and cursed God in their heart. Was not his suspicion much like mine, grounded on the same reasons and productive of the same results? For it drove him to God in intercession. I have adduced the example of this Patriarch before, and he will endure being looked at again.