The classical ideal of citizenship faces different threats in America today than it has in other countries and times, and Scialabba is right to point out that the humanist essay is not particularly well suited to confronting those particular threats. The need for specialized empirical intellectuals who can clarify technical problems for the public does indeed overshadow the other roles that intellectuals might take on, and the experience of residing in a republic that often resembles an oligarchy or an empire can be, for American intellectuals, horribly disorienting. To respond with essays and reviews is, to say the least, awkward. But that turns out not to matter as much as one might think. The grace and integrity and sympathy required of the good citizen must be learned, and we cannot afford to neglect any opportunity for that education. The humanist essay cannot put together all of culture or make social relations fully transparent. It certainly cannot replace the kinds of education citizens get through participation in political campaigns or trade unions or social movements. It can, however, provide some occasions for some parts of our education as citizens. That is a small thing, but to be good for a small thing is still to be good for something.
His essay, like Frederick Temples, "The Education of the World," was pious and conciliatory, though both included (what, indeed, gives unity to the whole collection of essays) a strong plea for free criticism. "He is guilty of high treason against the faith," wrote Temple, "who fears the result of any investigation, whether philosophical, or scientific, or historical." Yet, the future archbishop may have had some qualms when he read Rowland Williamss essay on Bunsens Biblical Researches. The shock was not mediated by the English writer, but rendered liable to cause the maximum of offence. Williamss Psalms and Litanies, published by his widow in 1872, proves him to have had a true devotional feeling, and a desire to enter into communion with the Eternal Spirit, but it also shows how he consistently reduced ancient collects to a unitarian standard. Maurice had, indeed, touched the chief defect of Essays and Reviews, a defect which the lapse of time has made even more apparent. The disparagement of doctrine, and, especially, the neglect to contribute anything to the understanding of the person and nature of Jesus Christ, render it of little service to a later age, which, like other ages before it, sees that here is the core of essentially Christian thinking. The true claim of the essayists to grateful remembrance is that they asserted with one voice the duty of the Christian church to welcome new truth, and the right of her accredited sons to make it known. Not in vain is one of the essayists commemorated on the walls of his college chapel as a scholar qui libertatem cleri anglicani feliciter vindicavit.
Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews | Library of America
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