Here we print publisher Bertram Dobell’s 1908 introduction to Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditation, written circa 1674
IT IS now four years since it fell to my lot to make known to the world the poems of Thomas Traherne. For considerably more than two centuries they had remained in manuscript, unknown and uncared for. They had fallen into my hands by what I must needs think was a very remarkable series of accidents; and I account it as one of the most fortunate incidents of my life that I immediately discerned their value and importance. When I published them I did not fear to express my belief that they were the work of one of the finest and noblest spirits that ever existed, and it was a great gratification to me that my own estimate of Traherne was accepted as a true one by all competent judges. I do not think that any one whose opinions are worth consideration would now deny that this successor of George Herbert, and contemporary of Milton, Crashaw and Vaughan, is worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with them. Or, if indeed any one should think that Traherne’s poems, fine as they are in substance, are yet, owing to their occasional defects of expression, inferior to those of the poets I have named, I cannot doubt that with the publication of the present volume all question as to his claim to rank with them in force of intellect and power of expression must be finally set at rest.
When I published the poems I prefixed to them an introduction in which I gave all the facts about the author’s life and works which I had then been able to discover. I need not travel again over this ground, since most of my present readers will have seen the previous volume. What I said in that preface I do not now see any reason to modify or withdraw.
About the present work there is much to be said and I at first intended to attempt to say all that needed saying. But after some endeavour to do this, I came to see that with all my admiration for Traherne as a literary artist, I was so far out of sympathy with many of his ideas that I could not deal with them from the proper standpoint without exposing myself to some risk of misapprehension. Though it is certainly not necessary that any one who writes about Traherne should believe all that he did, it is yet desirable that he should be generally in sympathy with the faith of which our author was so earnest a professor. For myself then all I now propose to do is, firstly, to make some remarks on the characteristics of Traherne as a man and an author; and secondly, to endeavour to bring out, by comparison with the most famous work of the same kind, the peculiar merits of his “Centuries of Meditations.”
In the character of Traherne the qualities of the poet, the mystic, and the saint are all to be found in a very high degree, if not indeed in their highest manifestations. And these qualities were all so happily combined in him that they make up together a perfect unity. He was not more a poet than a mystic, nor more a mystic than a saint; but each at all times, and never one rather than the other. To set out to prove this is not perhaps very necessary, since few or none who study attentively this and the former volume will be likely to question it; but I cannot resist the temptation of making some relative quotations from an author who, though utterly different as it may seem at first, from Traherne, had yet not a few qualities in common with him. The writer of “The City of Dreadful Night,” though he did not and could not know anything of Traherne, has yet, in his essay called “Open Secret Societies,” in describing the typical characteristics of the Poet, the Mystic, and the Saint, produced a living picture of our “splendid alien,” as he has been called.
Let me quote first Thomson’s description of the Poet:-
“There is the Open Secret Society of the Poets. These are they who feel that the universe is one mighty harmony of beauty and joy; and who are continually listening to the rhythms and cadences of the eternal music whose orchestra comprises all things from the shells to the stars; all beings from the worm to man, all sounds from the voice of the little bird to the voice of the great ocean; and who are able partially to reproduce these rhythms and cadences in the language of men. In all these imitative songs of theirs is a latent undertone, in which the whole infinite harmony of the whole lies furled; and the fine ears catch this undertone, and convey it to the soul, wherein the furled music unfurls to its primordial infinity, expanding with rapturous pulses and agitating with awful thunders this soul which has been skull-bound, so that it is dissolved and borne away beyond consciousness, and becomes as a living wave in a shoreless ocean. If, however these their poems be read silently in books, instead of being heard chanted by the human voice, then for the eye which has vision an underlight stirs , and quickens among the letters which grow translucent and throb with light; and this mysterious splendour entering by the eyes into the soul fills it with spheric illumination, and like the mysterious music swells to infinity, consuming with quick fire all the bonds and dungeon-walls of the soul, dazing it out of consciousness and dissolving it in a shoreless ocean of light.”
That this passage might very well stand for a particular description of Traherne’s character as a poet can, I think, hardly be disputed. If ever man felt that ‘the universe is one mighty harmony of beauty and joy,’ that man was most certainly Traherne. In all his writings (save his “Roman Forgeries”) his continual endeavour, conscious or unconscious, was to reproduce ‘the rhythms and cadences of the eternal music.’ That he did not entirely succeed in this endeavour, but sometimes stammered or sang only in broken accents, is but to say that in striving to utter
“Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme,”
he failed where all must fail, until the Super-man is evolved, or the human race invents a new medium of expression.
In a passage no less applicable to Traherne, Thomson describes the Saints:-
“There is the Open Secret Society of the Saints. In how many books, in how many lovely lives, have their mysteries been published! yet how dark and unintelligible is their simplest vernacular to the learned as to the ignorant, to the learned even more than to the ignorant, who are not of the Society! These are they who know, and live up to the knowledge, that love is the one supreme duty and good, that love is wisdom and purity and valour and peace, and that its infinite sorrow is infinitely better than the world’s richest joy.”
From Thomson’s delineation of the Mystics I quote the following passage, though it is much too short to give an adequate idea of the manner in which the whole description applies to Traherne :—
“Lastly there is the Open Secret Society of the Mystics. These are the very flower and crown of the four already touched upon, Saints of Saints, Heroes of Heroes, Philosophers of Philosophers, Poets of Poets; the identity of the masculine ideal of Hero and Philosopher and the feminine ideal of Poet and Saint. Their mysteries have been published to all the world is the choicest visions and actions, thoughts and strophes, of the choicest members of these other fraternities; yet not only do they remain utterly obscure and illegible to the common world of men, they are dark to all of even those fraternities who have not been initiated to the supreme degree.”
There is much more in this remarkable essay that I should like to quote: but I must restrict myself to one other passage, in which Thomson enunciates a truth which Traherne was the first, I think, distinctly to apprehend, and which he was never tired of enforcing:-
“Such are a few of the loftiest Open Secret Societies, these organisations of Nature so perfect and enduring, so superior to the most subtle organisations elaborated by man. And in all of them, I think, we find that the poor and the mean and the ignorant and the simple have their part no less-nay, have their part even more-than the rich and the great and the learned and the clever. Let us praise the impartiality of our Mother Nature, the most venerable, the ever young, the fountain of true democracy, the generous annunciator of true liberty and equality and fraternity: who bestoweth on all her children alike all things most necessary to true health and wealth, the sunshine, the air, the water, the fruits of the earth; and opens to rich and poor alike the golden doors of enfranchisement and initiation into the mysteries of heroism, purity, wisdom, beauty, and infinite love.”
To no man who ever lived were these mysteries more open than to Traherne, and no man was ever more constantly in communion with them. It has been said that most men have only enough religion to make them hate one another; and it is at least certain that in the past religion has more often been the cause of strife and division among mankind than of love and concord. But Traherne at least knew well and acted up to the knowledge that “love is the one supreme duty and good, that love is wisdom and purity and valour and peace, and that its infinite sorrow is infinitely better than the world’s richest joy.” The love of love filled him and possessed him, guided his every action, and ruled all his thoughts. He lived habitually on the highest levels of spiritual life, without any of those ignoble descents to the depths of sensualism which, in men compounded, as most of us are, more of sense than spirit, too often follow hard upon our moods of exaltation.
In writing his latest work it is plain that Traherne’s design, after he had proceeded a little way in it,* [*That he intended it at first for one person only we may well believe: but he must have seen as he went on that if it was fitted for the edification of his friend, it was equally well fitted for general use.] was to produce a manual of devotion suitable for the members of the Church of England, and more particularly for the less learned and cultivated adherents of it. He probably thought that none of the then existing manuals were altogether fitted for their purpose. When he began it was doubtless without any thought of imitating or rivalling the best known of all treatises of the kind, “The Imitation of Christ:” but before he had got to the end of his first “Century” he must have seen that his work was resolving itself into a somewhat similar production. He must have been well acquainted with the “Imitation,” since he makes at least one quotation from it: but it can hardly be doubted that he thought it was too exclusively Romanist in its tone and teaching to be fit for use by members of the English Church. Certainly he might justly have thought so: for with all its merits that work, if regarded as a manual for general use, and not merely for the cloister; has at least one serious defect. Instead of pointing out that defect myself-since it might be thought that I am not in this case an impartial judge-I will quote two passages from writers who cannot reasonably be accused of having any undue bias against the book. And first I will quote from the Rev. T. F. Dibdin’s Introduction to his fine edition of the “Imitation”—
“The ‘Imitation’ is clearly the production of a writer deeply versed in holy writ; but it is also the production of one who has applied that knowledge more exclusively to the purposes of private meditation, confession, and prayer. It is beyond all doubt a work of great singleness of heart and simplicity of character; but its cloistered author rarely appears to have raised his eyes through his grated window to contemplate a sun which was shining upon the good and the bad alike; or to have looked abroad and viewed his fellow creatures, hastening, in their several careers, to perform those offices which Providence had destined them to fulfil:”
I will quote next a passage from the Quarterly Review for July 1895, which appears in an article entitled “The Passing of the Monk”:-
“Monastic Christianity finds its most complete expression in that small manual of devotion put forth in the fifteenth century, known as ‘The Imitation of Christ.’ Its boundless popularity reminds us, said Dean Milman, that it supplies some imperious want in the Christianity of mankind; but, like monasticism, of which it is the perfect exponent,
‘it is absolutely and entirely selfish in its aims as in its acts; its sole, single, exclusive object is the purification, the elevation of the individual soul, of the man absolutely isolated from his kind, with no fears, no sympathies, and no hopes of our common nature; he has absolutely withdrawn himself not only from the cares, the sins, the trials, but from the duties, the moral and religious fate of the world.'”
It may be thought at first that I have quoted these passages without any sufficient justification; but I think it will be seen directly that they are entirely relevant and even illuminating. The “Imitation,” as Dean Milman so well says, represents the spirit of the Cloister, and—shall we add?-of a narrow and rigid Catholicism. The “Centuries of Meditations” represents (in comparison at least) the spirit of free religious thought. In the “Imitation” we behold the doubts, fears, and perplexities of a soul oppressed by the consciousness of real or imaginary sins: in the “Centuries” the rapturous aspirings of a joyful and happy soul, conscious of its kinship with God Himself, and sure of its own divinity and of its glorious destiny. The author of the “Imitation” wanted to save his own soul; Traherne wanted to save the world. However much assured he might have been of his own salvation, the latter writer would never have been content merely with that. He desired with an exceeding great desire to make all men as happy as himself. All were immortal creatures, and it was within the power of all to make their peace with God, and enter into their great inheritance. This is the continual burden of his verse, and the message which informs his prose with its fire of conviction, and its unmatched persuasiveness. He would have rejected with scorn any faith whose benefits were to be confined to himself, or to a narrow circle of the elect. It was a matter of the deepest sorrow to him that men should be so indifferent to those things which to himself seemed to be the only objects worthy of thought. He could not even conceive that God Himself could be content or happy while men rebelled against His ordinances, or rejected His offered love.
Perhaps some readers may think that it is unfair to bring the two writers, whose aims were so different, thus into seeming antagonism. My object, however, as I have explained, is not to disparage the “Imitation;’ but merely to bring out as strongly as I can, by comparison with it, the particular merits of the “Centuries.” I certainly do not wish to displace the former from its position as a devotional classic: all I desire is to show that the “Centuries” is well worthy to take its place beside it. Bearing this in mind, the reader, I hope, will not refuse to follow me while I continue and complete the parallel between the two works.
“He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life.” Thus, quoting the words of Christ, does the “Imitation” begin. The writer therein declares his object to be the setting up of a Light whereby the life of man may be guided and ruled in accordance with the will of God. That also was Traherne’s object in writing his “Centuries of Meditations.” Had he deemed that the “Imitation” satisfactorily fulfilled its avowed purpose he would not have thought it was necessary to write another work of the same kind; for he could not have failed to see that his “Centuries” must inevitably be brought into comparison with it. Perhaps he did not at first realise this; but it must soon have become apparent to him. Both writers, according to their lights, were earnestly intent upon fulfilling the will of God-but how different is the spirit in which they write!
Traherne dwells continually upon the goodness, the love, and the mercy of God, whom we are to love in return for His love to us: the God of the author of the “Imitation” is a hard taskmaster, who is to be feared rather than loved. Is it necessary that I should prove this statement? I think not; but if I am asked for chapter and verse in support of my contention, I do not believe I shall have any difficulty in producing them. Where, however, we find the greatest difference between the two writers is in their attitude towards that Nature and human nature which the author of the “Imitation” seems (consciously or unconsciously) to have thought of as things separate and apart from himself; things not to delight and rejoice in, but to be avoided and shunned as much as might be: whereas to Traherne they were, after God Himself, the great fountains of his happiness and the source of his enjoyments. It seems necessary to support such a statement as this by producing sufficient evidence to justify it. Therefore I will now quote some parallel passages which do, as I conceive, display this radical and profound difference between the two writers; and I will first quote a very characteristic passage from the twentieth chapter of the “Imitation”* [* My quotations from this book are from the edition published in 1828, under the editorship of the Rev. T. F. Dibdin.]:
“7. In solitude and silence the devout soul advances with speedy steps, and learns the hidden truths of the oracles of God. There, she finds the fountain of tears, in which she bathes and purifies herself every night: there, she riseth to a more intimate union with her Creator, in proportion as she leaves the darkness, impurity, and tumult of the world. To him, who withdraws himself from his friends and acquaintance to seek after God, will God draw near with his holy Angels. It is better for a man ‘ to live in a corner; so he have a regard for himself; than, neglecting that ‘one thing needful,’ to go abroad, and even work miracles. It is highly commendable in all that are devoted to a religious life to go seldom abroad, to shun being seen of men, and to be as little fond of seeing them.
“8. Why, shouldst thou desire to see that, which thou hast not permission to enjoy? For ‘the world passeth away and the lust thereof.’ Our sensual appetites continually prompt us to range abroad; but when the hour of wandering is over, what do we bring home but remorse of conscience, and weariness and dissipation of spirit? A joyful going out is often succeeded by a sad return; and a merry evening often brings forth a sorrowful morning. Thus, all carnal joy enters delightfully; but ere it departs, bites and kills.
“9. What canst thou see anywhere else which thou canst not see in thy retirement? Behold the heavens, the earth, and all the elements!-for out of those were all things made. What canst thou see there or anywhere, that will ‘continue long under the sun’? Thou hopest perhaps to subdue desire by the power of enjoyment: but thou wilt find it impossible for the eye to be satisfied with seeing, or the ear to be filled with hearing: If all visible nature could pass in review before thee, what would it be but a vain vision?”
Of this passage all I will say is that I believe it could have been written only by one who was shut up within the walls of a monastery, and whose ideas and interests were bounded by its walls. Now let us listen to the voice of one whose sympathies knew no narrow limitations; whose interest in things human was only less than his interest in things divine; and within whose veins the pulse of the universe never ceased to throb with the fullest current of intense vitality.
“28. Your enjoyment of the world is never right till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air, as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels. The bride of a monarch in her husband’s chamber, hath no such causes of delight as you.
“29. You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.
“30. Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels: till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never enjoy the world. Till you more feel it than your private estate, and are more present in the hemisphere, considering the glories and the beauties there, than in your own house: till you remember how lately you were made, and how wonderful it was when you came into it: and more rejoice in the palace of your glory, than if it had been made but to-day morning.
“31. Yet further, you never enjoy the world aright, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it. And so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it, that you had rather suffer the flames of hell than willingly be guilty of their error. There is so much blindness, and ingratitude, and damned folly in it. The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen, than it was before. It is the place of Angels, and the Gate of Heaven. When Jacob awaked out of his dream, he said, God is here, and I wist it not. How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the House of God, and the gate of Heaven.”
Are any words of mine needed in order to make clear how vastly different were the ideas and opinions of the writers of those typical passages? Surely not. But possibly some readers may think that the passages I have chosen from the “Imitation” do not fairly represent its general spirit. Well, let such readers judge for themselves. It will be an easy and profitable task for them to go carefully through .the two books, comparing them for themselves. For myself I will say, whatever risks I may thereby run of being accused of undue partiality, or want of critical insight, that I believe the comparison will nowhere be found disadvantageous to Traherne, while it will be in many points much in his favour. I could easily prove this by quoting other parallel passages: but I will not further pursue the subject. I can well imagine that some readers, to whom the “Imitation” has been endeared by long use, and who have derived mach spiritual benefit from it, will not be pleased at the manner in which I have spoken of it: but I hope they will not on that account, refuse to make themselves acquainted with Traherne’s “Meditations,” since it is not he who is responsible for what is said herein.
Of Traherne’s theological opinions, and of the soundness or otherwise of his teaching, I must, as I have intimated, leave others to speak. My own interest is rather in the man himself than in his beliefs. The latter he shared with many dull and uninspired theologians of his time, though with the difference that his was a living and burning faith while theirs was a matter of custom and convention. It is hardly possible that any one can now believe in the Christian faith (as it was then understood) as Traherne and his contemporaries believed in it. But this, I think, matters not, or matters very little. It is not at all necessary to believe as Milton believed in order to appreciate “Paradise Lost”: nor is it any more necessary to subscribe to the doctrines of Christianity as Traherne subscribed to them in order to derive much spiritual benefit from the “Centuries.” Notwithstanding the fervour of the author’s faith in his creed, it is noteworthy that there is much in his work which is not distinctively Christian; and which may be accepted by men of all shades of opinion. This is not to say that there is anything in the book which is contrary to the Christian faith; but only that there is much besides in it. It might indeed be fitted by omission only for the use of members of any creed or sect. Nor will Theists or even Pantheists fail to find much in it with which they will be in thorough agreement or complete sympathy. None in short save those who are so firmly wedded to their own narrow creed that they can see nothing good in anything outside it, can fail to find in the “Centuries” guidance, refreshment and inspiration for their spiritual life. The books which render such services are few in number; and few of those few are so little alloyed with matter of inferior worth or of questionable tendency as the “Centuries.” There are, I suppose, hardly any books in which a serious and thoughtful reader cannot discover some blemish, though it may be one which only slightly affects their worth or usefulness. Nor is the present work free from one such blemish: or at least what appears to me to be one. There is a passage in it which to all—or nearly all—readers of the present day will seem entirely repellent, and entirely at variance with the general spirit of the work. I wish indeed I could have omitted it; and I would have; done so could I have reconciled the act to my conscience. But Traherne, like Cromwell, is too great to weed to have his blemishes concealed. So great was his sense of the necessity of faith in God and in the Christian doctrines that he thought no punishment could be to a great for those who, as he judged, wilfully rejected the means of salvation. This was pardonable enough; since it was the frame of mind in which most believers of his time regarded the sins of heresy or unbelief. But Traherne went a step farther even than this. It was a sensation no less of grief than of astonishment that filled me when I first came upon the following passage in the first “Century” (No. 48):—
“They that look into Hell here map avoid it hereafter. They that refuse to look into Hell upon earth to consider the manner of the torments of the damned shall be forced in Hell to see all the earth, and remember the felicities which they had when they were living. Hell itself is a part of God’s kingdom, to wit His prison. It is fitly mentioned in the enjoyment of the world: And is itself by the happy enjoyed, as a part of the world:”
That Traherne should have believed in a material hell, can be, of course, no matter of surprise; though we may regret that he was not, in that respect, in advance of his time. But that he should actually have thought that the knowledge that countless multitudes were suffering eternal torments would add to the enjoyment of the blessed (for I cannot see that his words will bear any other construction) is, I must needs think, much to be lamented. It is true that the thought did not originate with Traherne, and that others before and since his time have entertained it; but that one so enlightened as he should have held so inhuman a belief is surely a thing to be deeply regretted. So much I have felt bound to say, for I hold (as I think most men, whatever their religious opinions may be, now hold) that any belief which shocks our sense of humanity must necessarily be false. Better not believe in God at all than believe Him to be a cruel and unforgiving tyrant. But that was not, unhappily, the general opinion until long after Traherne’s time; and I suppose that even now there are some few zealots who believe in predestination and eternal punishment. That it is not now possible for any good man to think or write as Traherne thought and wrote in the passage I have quoted is at any rate a proof that humanity since his time has gone forward a long way upon the path of enlightenment.
Of our author as a literary artist much might be said and it was my first intention to dwell at considerable length upon this aspect of his work. This, however, I will not now attempt to do, except in the merest outline. A good many critics, judging only from the specimen extracts from the “Centuries” and “Christian Ethicks,” which I quoted in the Introduction to the poems, have expressed the opinion that Traherne was a greater master of prose than of verse and must, I think, be confessed that his pose is free from some defects with which his verse may be fairly charged. His prose style, it seems to me, was entirely his own; for I know of no model which he could have followed or imitated. Certainly it was not the usual style of his own time, or of the Elizabethan period. It has not the least resemblance to the style of Milton, of Jeremy Taylor, or of Sir Thomas Browne. Nor was it, I think, the result of any conscious effort on the authors’ part to distinguish himself as a master of style. He wrote clearly, strongly, and beautifully because his mind was full of his subject, and he had a most earnest desire to impart to others those truths which he himself fervently believed, and which he was convinced that all must believe who would attain the life of blessedness. It was said of Robespierre, I think, that “this man will go far, for he believes every word he says!” Whether that was true of him I do not know: but assuredly it might have been truly said of Traherne. Whatever the worth of his ideas may be, it is certain that he fervently believed in them; and therefore his words still pulsate with vital force, and still glow with the warmth of conviction. This utter sincerity of thought, though it is not indeed the only requisite for a great writer, is yet, I think, the one indispensable quality without which all others are useless. With it and with little else, Bunyan produces a work which, in the universality of its appeal, is almost without a rival: without it, how many works full of learning, eloquence, and a hundred other good qualities, have fallen into entire oblivion! No toil of the brain, no effort of will, no learning or study, could ever have produced such a passage as the following, had there not been in the author’s soul a fire of conviction which gave life and heat to his conceptions as they issued in rapid succession from the forge of thought:-
“You are as prone to love as the sun is to shine; it being the most natural and delightful employment of the soul of Man: without which you are dark and miserable. Consider therefore the extent of Love, its vigour and excellency. For certainly he that delights not in Love makes vain the universe, and is of necessity to himself the greatest burden. The whole world ministers to you as the theatre of your Love. It sustains you and all objects that you may continue to love them. Without which it were better for you to have no being. Life without objects is sensible emptiness, and that is a greater misery than death or nothing. Objects without Love are the delusion of life. The Objects of Love are its greatest treasures: and without Love it is impossible they should be treasures. For the objects which we love are the pleasing objects, and delightful things. And whatsoever is not pleasing and delightful to you can be no treasure, nay, it is distasteful and worse, since we had rather it should have no being.”
Is there any passage in prose or verse in which the praise of love is chanted more eloquently or more convincingly than it is chanted here? Did even Shelley in his “Epipsychidion” eulogise it with more power of expression, or greater force of persuasiveness? Yet if we analyse the passage we shall find that it is made up of simple and common words, put together seemingly without art or contrivance, and with no attempt to do anything save to write down as rapidly as might be the thoughts that surged through the author’s brain, and imperatively demanded utterance. Throughout the work indeed the author, it appears to me, was writing at high pressure, urged on by a belief that he had a duty to perform, which perhaps he feared that death might prevent him from accomplishing. Shall we say even that there is some trace of feverishness, or of the over-excitement of the enthusiast in his work? Possibly it may be so; but Traherne’s enthusiasm was the source of his power, and the motive-force of his spirit. It was not in his nature to balance between two opinions, or act upon motives of expediency. A positive faith, admitting of no doubts or misgivings, was a necessity of his existence. It was easier for him to understand how men could be absolute unbelievers, than how they could be mere indifferent conformists. I am almost tempted to assert that he was the truest Christian that ever lived, by which I mean that he was the one who believed most entirely in the faith, and ruled his conduct most strictly in accordance with its precepts. Of course this may be disputed by all those Christians who are not members of the Church of England; but all who look to the essentials of the faith, and disregard the minor differences of its various sects, will, I am sure, allow that a more perfect Christian than Traherne could not be. Nor has the Church, I firmly believe, ever had an advocate whose life and whose works could plead more eloquently in its favour than the life and the works of the author of “Centuries of Meditations.”
Here I must end. I am well aware how lamely and how imperfectly I have dealt with my theme. Perhaps I should have entrusted the task to some more competent and sympathetic hand; but I preferred to try how far it was possible for me, whose opinions differ so widely from Traherne’s, to do justice to so fine a spirit and so admirable a writer. Whether I have altogether failed I do not know: but if I have, it will matter little. It is not by any words of another that Traherne will be finally judged. If his own words still have the fire of life in them-as I firmly believe they have-they will carry their message to the ears of those fitted to receive it during many coming generations: may I not say indeed even as long as the language of Shakespeare and Milton endures?
A friend, who has been kind enough to look over the proof-sheets of this book, thinks that I have somewhat misapprehended the author’s meaning in my comments upon the passage in which Traherne, as I understand him, seems to assert that the happiness of the blessed will be enhanced by the thought that others are suffering eternal torments I should, of course, be very glad to find myself mistaken on this point: but at present I am unable to see that any meaning can be placed upon the last sentence of the passage which I have quoted, save that which I have indicated.
Another friend, who has also seen the proof-sheets of the Introduction, is moved to protest against the statement of my opinion as to the unsuitability of “The Imitation of Christ” for the use of members of the Church of England. He has pointed out to me that ever since its first translation into the English language, it has been very largely used by members of the English Church, not only with the approval, but with the direct sanction of many of the leading authorities of the Anglican communion. There are, he adds, not more than two or three passages in the “Imitation” which can possibly be regarded as contrary to the tenets of the English Church. I am a child in these matters, and I will not dispute these facts. After all, my argument was not so much directed to show that the “Imitation” was an unsuitable book for Protestant readers, as to point out that Traherne’s work, having been written by one of the most zealous ministers of the English Church, is necessarily better suited for members of that Church, and of the Nonconformist Churches, than a work which was written by a Roman Catholic for Roman Catholics. But, as I have already said, I have no wish to disparage the “Imitation”; all I desire to do is to show that Traherne’s “Centuries” is worthy to be placed beside it.