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Among Famous Books   By: (1864-1929)

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Printed in 1912


The object of the following lectures is twofold. They were delivered in the first place for the purpose of directing the attention of readers to books whose literary charm and spiritual value have made them conspicuous in the vast literature of England. Such a task, however, tends to be so discursive as to lose all unity, depending absolutely upon the taste of the individual, and the chances of his experience in reading.

I have accordingly taken for the general theme of the book that constant struggle between paganism and idealism which is the deepest fact in the life of man, and whose story, told in one form or another, provides the matter of all vital literature. This will serve as a thread to give continuity of thought to the lectures, and it will keep them near to central issues.

Having said so much, it is only necessary to add one word more by way of explanation. In quest of the relations between the spiritual and the material, or (to put it otherwise) of the battle between the flesh and the spirit, we shall dip into three different periods of time: (1) Classical, (2) Sixteenth Century, (3) Modern. Each of these has a character of its own, and the glimpses which we shall have of them ought to be interesting in their own right. But the similarity between the three is more striking than the contrast, for human nature does not greatly change, and its deepest struggles are the same in all generations.


LECTURE I The Gods of Greece

LECTURE II Marius the Epicurean

LECTURE III The Two Fausts

LECTURE IV Celtic Revivals of Paganism

LECTURE V John Bunyan

LECTURE VI Pepys' Diary

LECTURE VII Sartor Resartus

LECTURE VIII Pagan Reactions

LECTURE IX Mr. G.K. Chesterton's Point of View

LECTURE X The Hound of Heaven



It has become fashionable to divide the rival tendencies of modern thought into the two classes of Hellenistic and Hebraistic. The division is an arbitrary and somewhat misleading one, which has done less than justice both to the Greek and to the Hebrew genius. It has associated Greece with the idea of lawless and licentious paganism, and Israel with that of a forbidding and joyless austerity. Paganism is an interesting word, whose etymology reminds us of a time when Christianity had won the towns, while the villages still worshipped heathen gods. It is difficult to define the word without imparting into our thought of it the idea of the contrast between Christian dogma and all other religious thought and life. This, however, would be an extremely unfair account of the matter, and, in the present volume, the word will be used without reference either to nationality or to creed, and it will stand for the materialistic and earthly tendency as against spiritual idealism of any kind. Obviously such paganism as this, is not a thing which has died out with the passing of heathen systems of religion. It is terribly alive in the heart of modern England, whether formally believing or unbelieving. Indeed there is the twofold life of puritan and pagan within us all. A recent well known theologian wrote to his sister: "I am naturally a cannibal, and I find now my true vocation to be in the South Sea Islands, not after your plan, to be Arnold to a troop of savages, but to be one of them, where they are all selfish, lazy, and brutal." It is this universality of paganism which gives its main interest to such a study as the present. Paganism is a constant and not a temporary or local phase of human life and thought, and it has very little to do with the question of what particular dogmas a man may believe or reject... Continue reading book >>

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