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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Edmond Henri Adolphe Schérer (1815–1889)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Victor Charbonnel (1863–1927)
 
EDMOND SCHÉRER was at once a very learned theologian, a very profound philosopher, a very vigorous writer. What makes him especially interesting is the crisis in his faith and in his thought which led him to abandon theology for philosophy and literature. He is one of those great spirits, very numerous in our century, who have delivered themselves from the formulas of an unquestioning and passive faith, and sought with absolute sincerity the religion of the conscience.  1
  Edmond Schérer was born at Paris, in 1815. His family was of Swiss descent, and held the Protestant faith. He early manifested an ardent love of reading: his school tasks suffered somewhat from it. Moreover, his father sent him to England to be with the Rev. Thomas Loader of Monmouth. This earnest clergyman had a salutary influence upon the young man; he inspired him with the love of duty and of work, he made a Christian of him. When Edmond Schérer, after an absence of two years, was about to leave England, he determined to become a shepherd of souls; and besides, he now understood the language admirably, and had made a study of English literature.  2
  He then entered upon the course of the Faculty of Theology at Strasbourg, where celebrated professors were among the instructors, notably Édouard Reuss. When his theological studies were over, he retired for several years, and published his first writings.  3
  Owing to the reputation thus achieved, he was elected in 1845 professor in the School of Liberal Theology at Geneva. The instruction he gave at that time had no small renown. But one of the fundamental doctrines of the School of Liberal Theology was faith in the full inspiration of the Bible. He soon declared himself unable to accept it, and spoke of resigning his chair.  4
  In his remarkable article, the ‘Crisis of the Faith,’ he protested against the abuse of authority in religious things, and affirmed the duty of personal examination, of unrestricted investigation, of religion founded on criticism. Thenceforward, according to Sainte-Beuve, he was “an indefatigable intelligence, ever advancing in ceaseless evolution.”  5
  Having resigned his professorship in 1850, he became, with Colani, the head of the new French school of liberal Protestantism, and took a most active part in editing the Review of Theology and Christian Philosophy, of Strasbourg. His articles and his studies gave rise to violent discussions. Assuredly he recognized that “if there is anything certain in the world, it is that the destiny of the Bible is closely linked with the destiny of holiness upon the earth.” But he whom he called with full conviction a great Christian—a Goethe or a Hegel in intellectual power and literary talent, but carrying the Evangel in his heart—was “he who will let fall like a worn-out garment all that is temporary in the faith of past ages, all that criticism has victoriously assailed, all that divides the churches, but who shall know at the same time how to speak to men’s consciences, how to revive the love of the truth, how to find the word of the future, while disengaging all that is identical, eternal in the Christianity of all ages.”  6
  Suddenly in 1860, a volume that he published under the title ‘Miscellanies of Religious Criticism,’—containing vigorous studies of Joseph de Maistre, Lamennais, Le P. Gratry, Veuillot, Taine, Proudhon, Renan,—revealed in the theologian a very searching critic. Sainte-Beuve hailed the book with many encomiums, and placed the author in “the front rank of French writers.”  7
  Also, the contradictions perceptible between different parts of this work clearly show that Edmond Schérer continually sought his way; and that he tended towards that philosophical rather than theological conception, which makes of Christianity the perfect and definitive religion, but not the absolute and complete truth. Christianity appeared to him the result of a long elaboration of the human conscience, destined to prepare further elaborations; in a word, one of the phases of universal transformation. The theory of the evolution of the human mind became his new religion.  8
  But if he ceased to be an orthodox believer, Edmond Schérer was always a man of noble moral faith, a true Christian; and he was so throughout his work of literary criticism. When the newspaper Le Temps was established in 1861, he did a share of the editing; he wrote for it political articles, and above all studies in literature. They showed the talent of a writer, the force of a thinker; and the prodigious extent of knowledge manifested in the care he took to attack all subjects, to reduce them to two or three essential points, to discuss them exhaustively, to give a concise opinion in regard to ideas and a firm judgment in regard to literary qualities,—and that with reference to works that chance brought to his notice. However, the preoccupations of a high morality of art, frankness and rectitude,—in a word, virtue and character,—were still more perceptible in his work. “He held,” says M. Gréard, “that there is an infection of the taste that is not compatible with honesty of the soul. He reckoned among the virtues of a man of letters of the first rank, self-respect and decency, that supreme grace.” And Sainte-Beuve considers him a true judge, who neither gropes nor hesitates, having in his own mind the means of taking the exact measure of any other mind.  9
  His literary criticism forms a collection of several volumes, bearing the title ‘Studies in Contemporary Literature.’ His other principal works are ‘Criticism and Belief’ (1850), ‘Letters to my Pastor’ (1853), ‘Miscellanies of Religious Criticism’ (1860), ‘Miscellanies of Religious History’ (1864); and a considerable number of articles for the newspapers and magazines.  10
  Edmond Schérer died in 1889. He had taken for rule the maxim of Emerson: “Express clearly to-day what thou thinkest to-day; to-morrow thou shalt say what thou thinkest to-morrow.” To this rule he was ever faithful. He was grandly sincere.  11
 
 
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