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the age of twenty-two, devoting himself to a lifework of erudition and letters. A stay in the East in 1860–61, as director of a Commission for the exploration of ancient Phænicia, gave him the desired opportunity of composing the first draft of his “Life of Jesus” under fresh impressions of the climate and soil of Palestine ;and a second visit, in 1864, deepened that colouring of Oriental life which so strongly marks his historical expositions. The first edition of this work was published in 1863; the fifteenth, thoroughly revised, — with sundry changes in its critical view, expressed in the elaborate Preface and Appendix of the present volume, - appeared in 1876 as Volume I. in the series of the Origines du Christianisme, which was completed in 1881 by Volume VII., on the reign of Marcus Aurelius. The “ Life of Jesus” is, accordingly, at once the crowning volume of the “History of Israel” (five volumes, 1887–1894), and the opening one of the Origines, making the keystone of the large historical construction to which Renan devoted the chief labour of his life. Its success was “immediate and immense.” Eleven editions, published within six months, brought its circulation to 66,000 copies; while “ there were already two German and two Dutch translations of it, with one Italian,” and an English translation (London: Trübner & Co.) appeared in the course
of the year.
The extraordinary impression made by this work upon the religious world, and the numerous replies which it called forth, most of them hostile, are a notable part of the literary history of our time. To the charge of an irreligious motive or tendency, Renan made the following reply in his Introduction to the second volume of the Origines, that entitled “The Apostles”:
page 72 of the present volume.
“Let us enjoy our freedom [of thought] as sons of God, but let us have no hand in that weakening of virtue which would menace society itself if Christianity should be undermined. Where should we be without it? Who would make good the lack of those great schools of sobriety and reverence, such as St. Sulpice, or of that devoted service of the Daughters of Charity? How can we view without alarm the poverty of heart and the meanness of motive which even now invade the world ? Our dissent from those who uphold the dogmatic faith is, after all, a mere difference of opinion : at heart we are their allies. We have but one enemy, who is also theirs, – a vulgar materialism, and the baseness of him who serves himself alone.”
Of the author of this volume the historian Mommsen pronounced that he was a true scholar, “ in spite of the beauty of his style;” and of his personal character — including the qualities of tenderness, devoutness, and ardent love of truth - it was said by an English friend that, though on some points "an agnostic, whose opinions may have been as detestable as pos. sible,” he was yet “a saint, even if judged by the teachings of
, the Galilean Lake.” On the other hand, a French critic has strikingly shown the results of his indeterminate method of thought, with the relaxed ethical tone it entailed, “his philosophy without logic, his morality without rules of life, his religion without dogma or symbol,” — as shown in his later writings, especially after the violent disillusion of the FrancoGerman war.1
JOSEPH HENRY ALLEN. CAMBRIDGE, Mass.,
i Gabriel Séailles: Ernest Renan, Essai de Biographie Psychologique (Paris : Perrin et Cie., 1895), pp. 258-276, 322–332.