Second Spring- Cardinal John Henry Newman
“Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come.
For the winter is now past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers have appeared in our land.” —Cant., ii. 10-12.
WE have familiar experience of the order, the constancy, the perpetual renovation of the material world which surrounds us.
Frail and transitory as is every part of it, restless and migratory as are its elements, never-ceasing as are its changes, still it abides.
It is bound together by a law of permanence, it is set up in unity; and, though it is ever dying, it is ever coming to life again.
Dissolution does but give birth to fresh modes of organization,
and one death is the parent of a thousand lives. Each hour, as it comes, is but a testimony, how fleeting, yet how secure, how certain,
is the great whole.
It is like an image on the waters, which is ever the same, though the waters ever flow.
Change upon change—yet one change cries out to another,
like the alternate Seraphim, in praise and in glory of their Maker.
The sun sinks to rise again; the day is swallowed up in the gloom of the night,
to be born out of it, as fresh as if it had never been quenched.
Spring passes into summer, and through summer and autumn into winter,
only the more surely, by its own ultimate return,
to triumph over that grave, towards which it resolutely hastened from its first hour.
We mourn over the blossoms of May, because they are to wither; but we know, withal, that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of that solemn circle which never stops—
which teaches us in our height of hope,
ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation,
never to despair.
And forcibly as this comes home to every one of us,
not less forcible is the contrast which exists between this material world,
so vigorous, so reproductive, amid all its changes,
and the moral world,
so feeble, so downward, so resourceless, amid all its aspirations.
That which ought to come to nought, endures;
that which promises a future, disappoints and is no more.
The same sun shines in heaven from first to last,
and the blue firmament, the everlasting mountains, reflect his rays;
but where is there upon earth
the champion, the hero, the lawgiver, the body politic, the sovereign race,
which was great three hundred years ago,
and is great now?
Moralists and poets, often do they descant upon this innate vitality of matter,
this innate perishableness of mind.
Man rises to fall: he tends to dissolution from the moment he begins to be;
he lives on, indeed, in his children,
he lives on in his name,
he lives not on in his own person.
He is, as regards the manifestations of his nature here below, as a bubble that breaks,
and as water poured out upon the earth.
He was young, he is old, he is never young again.
This is the lament over him, poured forth in verse and in prose,
by Christians and by heathen.
The greatest work of God’s hands under the sun, he, in all the manifestations
of his complex being, is born only to die.
His bodily frame first begins to feel the power of this constraining law,
though it is the last to succumb to it.
We look at the bloom of youth with interest, yet with pity;
and the more graceful and sweet it is, with pity so much the more;
for, whatever be its excellence and its glory, soon it begins to be
deformed and dishonoured by the very force of its living on.
It grows into exhaustion and collapse,
till at length it crumbles into that dust out of which it was originally taken.
So is it, too, with our moral being,
a far higher and diviner portion of our natural constitution;
it begins with life, it ends with what is worse than the mere loss of life, with a living death.
How beautiful is the human heart, when it puts forth its first leaves,
and opens and rejoices in its spring-tide.
Fair as may be the bodily form, fairer far, in its
green foliage and bright blossoms, is natural virtue.
It blooms in the young, like some rich flower,
so delicate, so fragrant, and so dazzling.
Generosity and lightness of heart and amiableness,
the confiding spirit, the gentle temper, the elastic cheerfulness,
the open hand, the pure affection, the noble aspiration,
the heroic resolve, the romantic pursuit,
the love in which self has no part,—are not these beautiful?
and are they not dressed up and set forth for admiration
in their best shapes, in tales and in poems?
and ah! what a prospect of good is there!
who could believe that it is to fade!
and yet, as night follows upon day,
as decrepitude follows upon health,
so surely are failure, and overthrow, and annihilation,
the issue of this natural virtue,
if time only be allowed to it to run its course.
There are those who are cut off in the first opening of this excellence,
and then, if we may trust their epitaphs, they have lived like angels;
but wait a while, let them live on, let the course of life proceed,
let the bright soul go through the fire and water of the world’s temptations and seductions
and corruptions and transformations;
and, alas for the insufficiency of nature!
alas for its powerlessness to persevere,
its waywardness in disappointing its own promise!
Wait till youth has become age; and not more different is
the miniature which we have of him when a boy,
when every feature spoke of hope,
put side by side of the large portrait painted to his honour,
when he is old, when his limbs are shrunk, his eye dim,
his brow furrowed, and his hair grey,
than differs the moral grace of that boyhood
from the forbidding and repulsive aspect of his soul, now that he has lived to the age of man.
For moroseness, and misanthropy, and selfishness, is the ordinary winter of that spring.
Such is man in his own nature, and such, too, is he in his works.
The noblest efforts of his genius, the conquests he has made,
the doctrines he has originated, the nations he has civilized,
the states he has created, they outlive himself, they outlive him by many centuries,
but they tend to an end,
and that end is dissolution.
Powers of the world,
sooner or later come to nought; they have their fatal hour.
The Roman conqueror shed tears over Carthage,
for in the destruction of the rival city he discerned too truly an augury of the fall of Rome;
and at length, with the weight and the responsibilities,
the crimes and the glories, of centuries upon centuries,
the Imperial City fell.
Thus man and all his works are mortal;
they die, and they have no power of renovation.
But what is it, my Fathers,my Brothers,
what is it that has happened in England just at this time?
Something strange is passing over this land, by the very surprise, by the very commotion, which it excites.
Were we not near enough the scene of action to be able to say what is going on,
—were we the inhabitants of some sister planet possessed of a more perfect mechanism than this earth has discovered for surveying the transactions of another globe,—and did we turn our eyes thence towards England just at this season, we should be arrested by a political phenomenon as wonderful as any which the astronomer notes down from his physical field of view. It would be the occurrence of a national commotion, almost without parallel, more violent than has happened here for centuries, — at least in the judgements and intentions of men, if not is act and deed. We should note it do
that soon after St. Michael’s day, 1850, a storm arose in the moral world,
so furious as to demand some great explanation,
and to rouse in us an intense desire to gain it.
We should observe it increasing from day to day,
and spreading from place to place, without remission,
almost without lull, up to this very hour,
when perhaps it threatens worse still,
or at least gives no sure prospect of alleviation.
Every party in the body politic undergoes its influence,
—from the Queen upon her throne, down to the little ones in the infant or day school.
The ten thousands of the constituency,
the sum-total of Protestant sects,
the aggregate of religious societies and associations,
the great body of established clergy in town and country,
the bar, even the medical profession, nay, even literary and scientific circles,
every class, every interest,
every fireside, gives tokens of this ubiquitous storm.
This would be our report of it, seeing it from the distance,
and we should speculate on the cause. What is it all about? against what is it directed? what wonder has happened upon earth? what prodigious, what preternatural event is adequate to the burden of so vast an effect? ……
We should judge rightly in our curiosity about a phenomenon like this;
it must be a portentous event, and it is.
It is an innovation, a miracle, I may say, in the course of human events.
The physical world revolves year by year, and begins again;
but the political order of things does not renew itself,
does not return; it continues, but it proceeds; there is no retrogression.
This is so well understood by men of the day,
that with them progress is idolized as another name for good. The past never returns—it is never good;
—if we are to escape existing ills, it must be by going forward.
The past is out of date; the past is dead.
As well may the dead live to us,
well may the dead profit us, as the past return.
This, then, is the cause of this national transport,
this national cry, which encompasses us.
The past has returned, the dead lives. Thrones are overturned and are never restored; States live and die, and then are matter only for history.
Babylon was great, and Tyre, and Egypt, and Nineve,
and shall never be again.
The English Church was, and the English Church was not, and the English Church is once again. This is the portent, worthy of a cry.
It is the coming of a Second Spring; it is a restoration in the moral world,
such as that which yearly takes place in the physical..
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