Epistle of the Elder of Omaha
“To the elect lady and her children
“whom I love in Truth” 2 John 2:1
Evolution, Tennyson, and Maurice
Be that it may, let us continue to work backward at the relationship of these three principals. Tennyson, the son of a priest of The Church of England, looked upon Maurice as his Godfather. In 1854, he composed a poem inviting Maurice, at the time under attack by college-councils and churchmen for heresy, to come to the Ilse of Wright for a visit where he would find a welcome. p. 895 CW Tennyson, Delphi Classic
Tennyson’s poem, “Memoriam” was published 1849 and been widely accepted by the public including Queen Victoria. The poem was a dirge and/or eulogy for his very close college friend, Arthur Hellam, who died suddenly in 1833. The poem is a profoundly personal expression of grief and hope devoid of religious platitudes. Close to end of the poem of 133 canto, he, without out warning, takes his grief and hope into the arena of science. In the 118th canto p, 835 he asks his reader to “Contemplate all this work of time,” the sweep of nature and yet to “trust that those we call the dead are breathers of an ampler day.” He then, a decade prior to Darwin’s Origin of the Species, he presents the idea of an evolutionary process which accounts of the origin of man.
The solid earth whereon we tread
in tracts of fluent heat began
And grew to seeming random forms,
The seeming prey of cyclic storms,
Till at last arose the man
who throve and branch’d from clime to clime
To this naturalistic version of human origins, he adds his theory of what we might call humanization in order to account for the spiritual nature of humankind.
then life is not idle ore
but iron dug from central gloom
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And batter’d with shocks of doom
To shape and use. Arise and fly
The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
Moved upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.
Two things deserve to be underlined. (1) Well before Darwin there are forms of evolutionary theory that seem beyond dispute even in such an establishment figure as Tennyson. (2) The poet sees himself in dialogue with science, so that a humanized science seems to be possible.
Yet two cantos later, he offers science a warning. If it does not engage in this dialogue, it will make itself irrelevant. So he begins an attack on a strictly empirical, materialistic, science. p. 837
I trust I have not wasted breath:
I think we are not wholly brain,
Magnetic mockeries; not in vain
Like Paul with beasts, I fought with Death;
Not only cunning casts in clay;
Let Science prove we are and then,
What matters Science unto men,
At least to me? I would not stay.
Let him, the wiser man who springs
Hereafter, up from childhood shape
His action like the greater ape,
But I was born to other things.
Then he expands this thought in canto 128 p.845 speaking to science, or better to its self-appointed spoke’s men,
If all your office had to do
With old results that look like new;
If this were all your mission here,
To draw, to sheathe a useless sword,
To fool the crowd with glorious lies,
To cleave a creed in sects and cries,
To change the bearing of a word,
To shift an arbitrary power,
To cramp the student at his desk,
To make old bareness picturesque
And tuft with grass a feudal tower;
Why then my scorn might well descend
On you and yours. I see in part
That all, as in some piece of art,
Is toil cöoperant to an end.
I have put two section in red, because it completes the circle. Maurice’s primary claim in his theological work The Kingdom of Christ is that Christianity is creedal, not doctrinal which inevitable states the negative, what is not true, who is not in. This makes the church sectarian, something as old as Arius whose program was halted by the Nicene Creed. Maurice’s primary claim in his Christian Socialism was that core human value was “cooperation.” In Maurice’s understand these two elements govern a process which ends in God.
In an Epilogue, Tennyson ends his lengthy project with words that convey not only how much his friend’s life has marked him, but also how well he has understood Maurice’s process thinking.
Whereof that man, that with me trod
This planet was a noble type
Appearing ere the times were ripe,
That friend of mine lives in God,
That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
and one far off divine event
to which the whole creation moves.
Tennyson anticipates scientific evolution and encompasses it within a spirituality, which is very much indebted to the theology of Maurice and to romanticism in general. The romantic theme of progressive development is argued over against the Enlightenment’s theme of static equilibrium. The significance of this study of the interplay between mid 19th century art, theology and science is that it gives rise to the question of whether there was a different outcome for their relationship with each other could have turned out different that in did in the post Darwinian era. This not a matter or wish, but of hope that something can be done in the present between the divorces languages of art, science and theology which find that they still live with the indifference and hostility, which was their fate in the late Victorian period. It seems to still be in play, both in arcane in way the evolution debate hangs on, but also in the scepticism of scientific claims about global warming.
Science has not found language that is morally convincing. Theology is morally convincing, but lacks science. Art is unwilling to involve itself its role as mediator, avoiding any tie to serious science or morality.