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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

Gigadibs considers the courage of his convictions


Gigadibs' reasoning resolves itself into this: "_he_ does not believe in dogmas, and he says so. The Bishop cannot believe in them, but does not say so. He is true to his own convictions: the Bishop is not true to his." And the Bishop's defence is as follows.

"Mr. Gigadibs aims at living his own life: in other words, the ideal life. And this means that he is living no life at all. For a man, in order to live, must make the best of the world he is born in; he must adapt himself to its capabilities as a cabin-passenger to those of his cabin. He must not load himself with moral and intellectual fittings which the ship cannot carry, and which will therefore have to be thrown overboard. He (the Bishop) has chosen to live a real life; and has equipped himself accordingly."

"And, supposing he displays what Mr. Gigadibs considers the courage of his convictions, and flings his dogmas overboard,--what will he have gained? Simply that his uncertainty has changed sides. Believing, he had shocks of unbelief. Disbelieving, he will have shocks of belief (note a fine passage, vol. iv. p. 245): since no certainty in these matters is possible."

"But," says Gigadibs; "on that principle, your belief is worth no more than my unbelief."

"Yes," replies the Bishop, "it is worth much more in practice, if no more in theory. Life cannot be carried on by negations. Least

of all will religious negations be tolerated by those we live with. And the more definite the religion affirmed, the better will the purposes of life be advanced by it."

"Not those of a noble life," argues Gigadibs, "nor in the judgment of the best men. You are debasing your standard by living for the many fools who cannot see through you, instead of the wiser few who can."

To which the Bishop replies that he lives according to the nature which God has given him, and which is not so ignoble after all; and that he succeeds with wise men as well as with fools, because they do not see through him either: because their judgment is kept in constant suspension as to whether he can believe what he professes or cannot; whether, in short, he is a knave or a fool. The proposition is vividly illustrated; and a few more obvious sophistries complete this portion of the argument.

Gigadibs still harps upon the fact that conformity cannot do the work of belief; and the Bishop now changes his ground. "He conforms to Christianity in the _wish_ that it may be true; and he thinks that this wish has all the value of belief, and brings him as near to it as the Creator intends. The human mind cannot bear the full light of truth; and it is only in the struggle with doubt and error that its spiritual powers can be developed." He concedes, in short, that he is much more in earnest than he appeared; and the concession is confirmed when he goes on to declare that we live by our instincts and not by our beliefs. This is proved--he alleges--by such a man as Gigadibs, who has no warrant in his belief for living a moral life, and does so because his instincts compel it. Just so the Bishop's instincts compel a believing life. They demand for him a living, self-proving God (here the doctrine of expediency re-asserts itself), and they tell him that the good things which his position confers are the gift of that God, and intended by Him for his enjoyment. "You," he adds, "who live for something which never is, but always is _to be_, are like a traveller, who casts off, in every country he passes through, the covering that will be too warm for him in the next; and is comfortable nowhen and nowhere."

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