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(M): BISHOP BUTLER - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone) 
Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, edited with and Introduction by John Neville Figgis and Renald Vere Laurence. Vol. I Correspondence with Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone and Others (London: Longmans, Gree and Co., 1917).
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Hawarden,Nov. 17, 1890.
My dear Acton,—
1. Only a hard necessity has kept me silent so long after receiving the most welcome intelligence from Oxford that you had been elected Honorary Fellow of All Souls. This is the sort of act which is good for him that gives and him that takes: but I rather think the college gets the larger share of benefit. My faint hope and keen desire now are to visit the College and Oxford at the same time with you, if this can be brought about: though I could not carry you in my arms about Oxford so efficiently as you carried me about when we went to Germany together.
I yearn mainly for two things in Oxford:
2. I lost no time in doing my small possible with Murray under the authority you had committed to me: and rejoice to find that he caught at the opportunity like a man of sense. I have not yet read you in the Historical Review, where I understand you appear; for my arrear of correspondence and business has been since I came back from Scotland more heavy than at any former time. Except my friends, mankind at large seem to consider that with my years my capacity for business and my store of time go on steadily enlarging.
3. I have the idea that you are writing on the Life of Milnes. The work has been sent me in proof sheets, and, yielding in some degree to the pressure of Mr. Wemyss Reid, I have written a Speaker article on the work, or rather on the man, and this I found in more ways than one no easy matter. But the book is very interesting: and the man was not commonplace, but was a study of human nature. . . . .
5. Scott’s Journal is a touching, soothing, and, on the whole, certainly ennobling specimen of human nature.
All, I trust, goes well with you abroad and at Oxford.—Ever yours,
W. E. Gladstone.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
If I rightly grasp your question about Paris, my answer would be that almost all the great divines were there, as students, or teachers, or both. Every one would remember the following: Innocent III, Albertus Magnus, Alexander of Hales, St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, St. Amour, Scotus, Ægidius, Bacon, Oresme, Grossteste, Ockam, Gerson. Let me remove your scruples about the other Bacon. He was no metaphysician; still less a divine; and he was the worst of politicians. He did not understand the science of his time, and on its subsequent course his influence was less than used to be supposed. For Harvey, Boyle, and Newton, it was as if he had never existed. But his position is immense as a destroyer of the Past, and as a writer of almost unexampled cleverness (esprit). It is not too much to say that he is the most famous Englishman, in prose. The man who claims a place next to those three at Cambridge is Barrow. At Trinity he is reckoned a good third. Apart from his prodigious successor,1 he is, I am told, nearly our greatest mathematician. And he is the most solid, complete, and unapproachable of scholars, among English divines.
I proceed cautiously to tread on treacherous embers. Butler is very little remembered, or read, in Germany, because of Kant. They do not know it, but Kant is the macrocosm of Butler. He is Butler writ very large. His main argument, founded on the deification of Conscience, came to him from the Analogy and the Sermons. I do not mean to say that Butler was the innovator and discoverer in ethical science that people (like Martineau) say he was. It is not impossible, I maintain, to show where he got that theory of Conscience which has so much influenced political as well as religious thought. But it is pretty certain that Kant, who was no great reader, took it from him, and dug no deeper into seventeenth-century literature. It is impossible to utter a greater heresy here; for his countrymen derive him from Hume, Adam Smith, and Rousseau. And his most famous saying, on the teaching of Conscience within us and the firmament above, is taken straight from the latter. But I do not despair of convincing German friends that what Butler compressed into a crowded and obscure volume is substantially expanded into the minute and subtle philosophy of his successor.
I have to spend a fortnight at the Museum, because Macmillan proposes to publish a volume of my Essays, and they have to be selected and revised. In revising one of them, I hope to say something of Butler’s importance where one seldom finds him, in political science.—Ever truly yours,
Tegernsee,September 23rd, 1892.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
I did not mean to bear exclusively on the Sermons, although I do think their importance, if not their merit, greater than that of the Analogy. The appendix to the larger work points the connection and unity of the two.
Kant stands on the shoulders of the Analogy when he elevates the probability into a substitute for proof; and on those of the Sermons, when he makes the infallible Conscience the basis of certainty and the source of the Categorical Imperative. And my point is that he hails really from Butler, directly or indirectly, and not as they say, and he seems himself to imply, from Rousseau.
Although Newman, in spite of Development, cared little for the pedigree of ideas, it was curious to see how, towards the end, the Butler of early life coalesced with Kant, whom he only got to know very late.
Your decision about Uganda covers a good deal more ground than that, and not only marks a policy, but improves Rosebery’s position, and strengthens him. Especially as he showed his own mind before the Cabinet met.
I have exchanged signals with Carrington, but have received no orders yet.
Bentley’s place is assuredly high; but then he is not only objectionable, but unsound as a critic. The beauty of Barrow is that you can so seldom pick a hole.
Let me thank you for your oriental address in the grand way in which the Pope acknowledges things, before reading it. It has just reached me here, in the midst of entertainments most unsuited to the study of anything that emanates from you.—Ever yours,
Cologne,Oct. 3, 1892.
Athenæum,April 12, 1896.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
The point that troubled me was Pitt’s remark. For you say, I think in a supplementary interpolation, that it cannot be true.
There were two conversations in which Butler was mentioned, according to the Biography. One was on November 24, the other was on December 3.
In the earlier conversation Pitt commends Butler and in the other apparently disparages him. There is no room for a change of opinion. But there is, in fact, no inconsistency.
I would undertake to praise Burke for an hour, one day, and to disparage him for just as long a week later. And the two treatments that Pitt is said to have applied to Butler might, with perfect sincerity, be employed on other great writers, such as Pascal or Vinet, whom everybody commends, but of whom anybody would think it obvious to say that they raise more doubts than they answer.
For myself I would say the same thing of Leibniz and of Newman; and I can remember when people said it of Kant. Bossuet says almost the same thing of Descartes, and Fénelon of Malebranche.
The change of tone is fully accounted for, something had happened in the interval. Wilberforce had written to tell Pitt that he had become serious, and scrupulous, and must not be accounted a follower.
Pitt comes to dissuade him, and to undermine his authorities. That is, assuming that the conversational fragment, p. 95, is inserted at the right place.
The original commendation is not connected with any serious or religious purpose, and Pitt so little knew at the time what was going on in his friend’s mind that Wilberforce only then began to think of telling him.
Some day, I shall say to a pupil: Read Burke, night and day. He is our best political writer, and the deepest of all Whigs—and he will answer: Dear me! I thought he broke up the party, carried it over to the Tories, admired the despotism of the Bourbons, and trained no end of men towards Conservatism? I shall have to answer: So he did. Both sayings are true. Or I may say: Read Newman; he is by far the best writer the Church of Rome has had in England since the Reformation. And the pupil will come back and say: But do you think his arguments sound, or his religion Catholic? I shall have to say: No; if you work it out, it is a school of Infidelity.—I remain, ever truly yours,
[1 ]I.e. Newton.