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STRAUSS AND RENAN.
WHEN the solution of the same problem is simultaneously undertaken by different individuals, it may be considered as a proof that the attempt to solve it is in accordance with the spirit of the time, and the more certainly so in proportion to the importance of the persons devoting themselves to that solution, and the confidence with which they may be credited with a right understanding of what the present time requires and is competent to perform. So far, the mere fact that two learned men like Strauss and Renan, quite independently of one another, considered that the time had arrived for undertaking a discussion of the life of Jesus, could not have failed to excite our attention in the highest degree. When, four years ago, Renan visited the Lebanon, and there wrote his first sketch of the “Life of Jesus," it was impossible that he should know that in Germany his celebrated predecessor had some time before returned to his New Testament investigations in order to supplement his earlier work by a fresh discussion of the historical matter of the Gospels. So, on the other hand, Strauss had already completed the greater portion of his work when that of the French critic began its brilliant career. But it was not merely a Life of Jesus in general which each undertook to write, but also a “ Popular Life of Jesus.” And though only the German author added to his title-page the distinguishing term of “popular," it was in the case of the French self-evident that his work was intended not merely for the learned but for the general reader. This popular destination of the two works is very characteristic of the religious conditions as well as of the education of the time. Our age will. no longer submit to the theory that investigations so closely connected with the highest interests of mankind are to be dealt with as the exclusive property of one particular order of men. This age demands of theology, as well as of natural science and history, that its results shall be made public property, shall be devoted to the purposes of general enlightenment; and though in this department, as well as in the two others, only the expert can be in possession of all the principles, ideas, and methods requisite for the complete solution of the problems proposed, still people cannot persuade themselves that theologians are to pursue their calling with closed doors, to communicate to the public in general at the most a portion of the results at which they arrive, but, as to the course of their investigations and the grounds of their assumptions, only to give an account to those who are in a condition to work through the whole mass of their learned investigations. On the contrary, the more contradictory, in theological matters, the dicta of the professors are accustomed to be, so much the more justifiable appears the desire that these professors should condescend to permit a wider circle of educated men to inspect not merely the results at which they arrive, but also the processes and grounds by which and upon which they arrive at these results ; that they should write not merely for learned men like themselves, but also for the people, and more especially for the educated portion of them. And this demand appears all the more fair, as among our people the numbers are very considerable of those who are indeed without special theological knowledge, but who, in point of general education, of unprejudiced judgment, of exercise of extensive thought, are far in advance of the majority of professed theologians. · Thus, Strauss expressly says that he intended his first “Life of Jesus” for theologians exclusively, but that he now writes for non-theologians, and has taken pains not in any single proposition to be unintelligible to any educated and thoughtful person among them; and that it is indifferent to him whether theologians choose to read him or not. As in the Acts of the Apostles Paul declares to his Jewish countrymen that as they despise him he will turn to the heathens, so here the critic says to his theological colleagues, that as they have not chosen to listen to him he attaches himself to the laity. Only it would be a great mistake to suppose that personal considerations alone induced him to discuss the life of Jesus for the German people. On the contrary, the allegation that he should have either not written at all, or exclusively for the learned, would involve no less an anachronism than that of those who, thirty years since, were so simple as to think that if he considered it his duty to write so dangerous a book he should have written it in Latin, so that, at all events, it might not have been read.
There are, indeed, great differences of degree in what is meant by the word popular. What appears to one person popular, another possibly may find very difficult; and what is popular in one country is not necessarily so in another. Everything depends upon the degree of general intelligibility to which the author proposes to attain-upon the class of readers upon which he reckons. How great, in this respect, is the difference between the German and
the French authors of the “Life of Jesus” is shown at the very beginning of the respective works of each by a characteristic feature. It happens, by a remarkable coincidence, that each dedicates his book to the memory of a deceased relative: Renan, “ to the pure soul of his sister Henrietta, who died at Byblus on 24th September, 1861;" Strauss to his only brother, who had been a manufacturer at Cologne, and died at Darmstadt, 2nd February, 1863. The former puts the question to his sister, “now sleeping in the country of Adonis near the sacred Byblus,” whether, in the bosom of God, she still remembers the day when his work was begun in her company and with her lively sympathy. The latter, in his dedication, which he had written as an address to the living and now prints as an invocation to the dead, says “ that he conceives as among his readers men who, like his brother, unsatisfied with the gains of industry, hanker after spiritual things ; who, after laborious days, find their best recreation in serious reading; who have the rare inclination, unconcerned about the ban of traditional belief and ecclesiastical ordinances, to think for themselves about questions of the utmost importance to mankind, and the still rarer intelligence to look upon even political progress, at all events in Germany, as not sufficiently secured until provision has been made for the deliverance of men’s minds from religious delusion, for the purely human culture of the people.” These two dedications express the whole difference between the two writings in purpose, in tenor, and in tone. It is the object of Renan's book—and, undoubtedly, not so much from intention as from agreement with the author's own peculiar taste—to be as welcome and intelligible to a reader of the female sex, and in particular of the French nation as to any reader whomsoever; and if we imagine such a reader as possessed of the finest cultivation, the most intelligent mind, and the tenderest feeling, we shall not need to make any broad distinction between her qualities and those of her sex and nation generally in order to credit her with the power of following throughout complicated critical analysis with sympathy and intelligence; of calmly balancing, in the case of questions which make strong demands on the heart and imagination, all the grounds for and against; of preferring a thorough insight into the defects of our historical knowledge to belief in a pleasing supposition ; of distrusting a comprehensive or striking feature simply because it admits of no historical proof; of thoroughly recognising and keeping' in sight the peculiarity of primeval Christian views; of looking suspiciously at oratorical effects and modern sensibility in consequence of the damage done by them to historical truth. Strauss, on the other hand, addresses himself to men who indeed do not require to have engaged in learned studies, but who are penetrated sufficiently with the spirit of German science not to shrink from mental labour however serious and continuous; who would wish to be acquainted not only with the results of scientific investigation, but also, more than superficially, with the grounds of those results ; to whom beauty of form is no reason for being more easily satisfied with the internal substance, and whom the attractiveness of a combination cannot bribe into acquiescence with defects of proof. Renan’s exposition also is grounded upon sufficient preliminary labours, which is only what might be expected in an author of such distinguished learning ; but still we cannot compare him with Strauss as regards accuracy in his use of the original sources; and the results of modern German