Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Judicious Hooker
By Edwin Percy Whipple (18191886)
[From The Literature of the Age of Elizabeth. 1869.]
HOOKERS nature was essentially an intellectual one; and the wonder of his mental biography is the celerity and certainty with which he transmuted knowledge and experience into intelligence. It may be a fancy, but we think it can be detected in an occasional uncharacteristic tartness of expression, that he had carried up even Mrs. Hooker into the region of his intellect, and dissolved her termagant tongue into a fine spiritual essence of gentle sarcasm. Not only did his vast learning pass, as successively acquired, from memory into faculty, but the daily beauty of his life left its finest and last result in his brain. His patience, humility, disinterestedness, self-denial, his pious and humane sentiments, every resistance to temptation, every benevolent act, every holy prayer, were by some subtile chemistry turned into thought, and gave his intellect an upward lift,increasing the range of its vision, and bringing it into closer proximity with great ideas. We cannot read a page of his writings without feeling the presence of this spiritual power in conception, statement, and argument. And this moral excellence, which has thus become moral intelligence, this holiness which is in perfect union with reason, this spirit of love which cannot only feel but see, gives a softness, richness, sweetness, and warmth to his thinking, quite as peculiar to it as its dignity, amplitude, and elevation.
As a result of this deep, silent, and rapid growth of nature, this holding in his intelligence all the results of his emotional and moral life, he attaches our sympathies as we follow the stream of his arguments; for we feel that he has communed with all the principles he communicates, and knows by direct perception the spiritual realities he announces. His intellect, accordingly, does not act by intuitive flashes; but his soul has sight of eternal verities, and directs at them a clear, steady, divining gaze. He has no lucky thoughts; everything is earned; he knows what he knows, in all its multitudinous relations, and cannot be surprised by sudden objections, convicting him of oversight of even the minutest application of any principle he holds in his calm, strong grasp. And as a controversialist he has the immense advantage of descending into the field of controversy from a height above it, and commanding it, while his opponents are wrangling with their minds on a level with it. The great difficulty in the man of thought is, to connect his thought with life; and half the literature of theology and morals is therefore mere satire, simply exhibiting the immense, unbridged, ironic gulf that yawns, wide as that between Lazarus and Dives, between truth and duty on the one hand and the actual affairs and conduct of the world on the other. But Hooker, one of the loftiest of thinkers, was also one of the most practical. His shining idea, away up in the heaven of contemplation, sends its rays of light and warmth in a thousand directions upon the earth; illuminating palace and cottage; piercing into the crevices and corners of concrete existence; relating the high with the low, austere obligation with feeble performance; and showing the obscure tendencies of imperfect institutions to realize divine laws.
This capacious soul was lodged in one of the feeblest of bodies. Physiologists are never weary of telling us that masculine health is necessary to vigor of mind; but the vast mental strength of Hooker was independent of his physical constitution. His appearance in the pulpit conveyed no idea of a great man. Small in stature, with a low voice, using no gesture, never moving his person or lifting his eyes from his sermon, he seemed the very embodiment of clerical incapacity and dulness; but soon the thoughtful listener found his mind fascinated by the automaton speaker; a still, devout ecstasy breathed from the pallid lips; the profoundest thought and the most extensive learning found calm expression in the low accents; and, more surprising still, the somewhat rude mother-tongue of Englishmen was heard for the first time from the lips of a master of prose composition, demonstrating its capacity for all the purposes of the most refined and most enlarged philosophic thought. Indeed, the serene might of Hookers soul is perhaps most obviously perceived in his style,in the easy power with which he wields and bends to his purpose a language not yet trained into a ready vehicle of philosophic expression. It is doubtful if any English writer since his time has shown equal power in the construction of long sentences.those sentences in which the thought, and the atmosphere of the thought, and the modifications of the thought, are all included in one sweeping period, which gathers clause after clause as it rolls melodiously on to its foreseen conclusion, having the general gravity and grandeur of its modulated movement pervaded by an inexpressibly sweet undertone of individual sentiment. And his strength is free from every fretful and morbid quality such as commonly taint the performances of a strong mind lodged in a sickly body. It is as serene, wholesome, and comprehensive as it is powerful.