Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 38

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Chapter XXXVIII: Miracles and Science

Sunrise, they say, often at first draws up and deepens the very mists which it is about to scatter: and even so, as the excitement of my first conviction cooled, dark doubts arose to dim the new-born light of hope and trust within me. The question of miracles had been ever since I had read Strauss my greatest stumbling-block—perhaps not unwillingly, for my doubts pampered my sense of intellectual acuteness and scientific knowledge; and "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." But now that they interfered with nobler, more important, more immediately practical ideas, I longed to have them removed—I longed even to swallow them down on trust—to take the miracles "into the bargain" as it were, for the sake of that mighty gospel of deliverance for the people which accompanied them. Mean subterfuge! which would not, could not, satisfy me. The thing was too precious, too all-important, to take one tittle of it on trust. I could not bear the consciousness of one hollow spot—the nether fires of doubt glaring through, even at one little crevice. I took my doubts to Lady Ellerton—Eleanor, as I must now call her, for she never allowed herself to be addressed by her title—and she referred me to her uncle—

"I could say somewhat on that point myself. But since your doubts are scientific ones, I had rather that you should discuss them with one whose knowledge of such subjects you, and all England with you, must revere."

"Ah, but—pardon me; he is a clergyman."

"And therefore bound to prove, whether he believes in his own proof or not. Unworthy suspicion!" she cried, with a touch of her old manner. "If you had known that man's literary history for the last thirty years, you would not suspect him, at least, of sacrificing truth and conscience to interest, or to fear of the world's insults."

I was rebuked; and not without hope and confidence, I broached the question to the good dean when he came in—as he happened to do that very day.

"I hardly like to state my difficulties," I began—"for I am afraid that I must hurt myself in your eyes by offending your—prejudices, if you will pardon so plain-spoken an expression."

"If," he replied, in his bland courtly way, "I am so unfortunate as to have any prejudices left, you cannot do me a greater kindness than by offending them—or by any other means, however severe—to make me conscious of the locality of such a secret canker."

"But I am afraid that your own teaching has created, or at least corroborated, these doubts of mine."

"How so?"

"You first taught me to revere science. You first taught me to admire and trust the immutable order, the perfect harmony of the laws of Nature."

"Ah! I comprehend now!" he answered, in a somewhat mournful tone—"How much we have to answer for! How often, in our carelessness, we offend those little ones, whose souls are precious in the sight of God! I have thought long and earnestly on the very subject which now distresses you; perhaps every doubt which has passed through your mind, has exercised my own; and, strange to say, you first set me on that new path of thought. A conversation which passed between us years ago at D * * * * on the antithesis of natural and revealed religion—perhaps you recollect it?"

Yes, I recollected it better than he fancied, and recollected too—I thrust the thought behind me—it was even yet intolerable.

"That conversation first awoke in me the sense of an hitherto unconscious inconsistency—a desire to reconcile two lines of thought—which I had hitherto considered as parallel, and impossible to unite. To you, and to my beloved niece here, I owe gratitude for that evening's talk; and you are freely welcome to all my conclusions, for you have been, indirectly, the originator of them all."

"Then, I must confess, that miracles seem to me impossible, just because they break the laws of Nature. Pardon me—but there seems something blasphemous in supposing that God can mar His own order: His power I do not call in question, but the very thought of His so doing is abhorrent to me."

"It is as abhorrent to me as it can be to you, to Goethe, or to Strauss; and yet I believe firmly in our Lord's miracles."