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For myself I must own that the longer I live, and the more my experience grows, the more dense and impenetrable becomes the mystery of life. I mean the relation of God to the individual and the question of a future state. If we are to guide our lives with a view to a future life, it is inexplicable to me that we should not have more certainty-and certainty (setting aside a belief in the Christian Revelation which many sincerely pure and honest people cannot conscientiously accept) we most assuredly have not, as has been admitted in all ages. This difficulty, like many others, such as the origin of evil, would be removed if we supposed that life was designed for probation, and this seems to me the real solution. I suppose everyone would admit that to make the very best of ourselves here on earth, morally and intellectually, would be the best preparation for a more advanced stage in progressive development. I accept therefore the uncertainty as a part of the process of probation, as a thong in the scourge of which pain and calamity, disappointment and all the other ills and troubles of life are other thongs.
With regard to Christianity I believe it contains more essential truth, moral and spiritual, than any other religion which has taken form among men, but if you ask me whether it be final I should hesitate to say so. All truth, on this earth at least, is progressive, requiring progressive development to realize it.
And again to Miss Agnes Kendall, who had known him from infancy, and to whom he wrote on her having sustained a bereavement :
I often, often think about you, and I felt more than I can express the anxiety you evinced in your letter that I should at last feel no doubts but become a true believer. I am nearer it than you think, my words to you about Faith are not merely conventional-you know me too well to think that. We are clay, the events of life knead us, and restless wanderings in error, so they be not for love of error, bring us necessarily on the high road to Truth, at the last.
It is usual and becoming, I believe, to offer some excuse for the publication of a biography. To those who knew him but as a name, or not even as that, the hitherto unpublished interviews will perhaps be of most interest, and indeed must afford the excuse for the appearance of this book.
To the many, many thousands who heard him interpret the works of the giant minds of humanity in all ages, teaching his hearers how to discriminate the good from the bad, opening their eyes to the beauties of the world's masterpieces and infusing into his interpretations his own enthusiastic personality – to those who are aware how he strove to raise the tone of contemporary literature and criticism to a higher plane and for a nobler purpose—to these I feel that no apology is needed.
For much of the early part of his life I have to thank Miss Agnes Kendall and his cousin, Mrs Caroline Gordon (wife of Mr T. J. Gordon of Edinburgh), and, for additional information about this period, his cousin, Mrs Agnes Mary Taylor (wife of Mr Henry Taylor of Chester), his brother, Mr Henry Ramsay Collins, Mr W. A. Potts, and the Very Reverend Arnold Page, Dean of Peterborough.
I am also obliged to the editors of the Athenæum, the Nineteenth Century, the Quarterly Review, and the University Extension Journal for their courteous permission in allowing me to publish extracts from their columns.
I owe much to all those who have so kindly sent me letters written by him, and much also to those who have allowed me to publish letters written to him; especially am I indebted to Mr Theodore Watts-Dunton for the privilege of including the letters of Swinburne.
I have also to thank the editor of The Times for allowing me to reprint the letters on pages 125-6 which have appeared in its columns, and also the editor of The Pall Mall Gazette for a like permission in respect of the letters on English Literature at the Universities.
I have, I think, shown my indebtedness to others, as it occurs in the body of the book.
L. C. C. WEST HAMPSTEAD,