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Agnosticism: A Rejoinder
by [?]

[1889]

Those who passed from Dr. Wace’s article in the last number of the “Nineteenth Century” to the anticipatory confutation of it which followed in “The New Reformation,” must have enjoyed the pleasure of a dramatic surprise–just as when the fifth act of a new play proves unexpectedly bright and interesting. Mrs. Ward will, I hope, pardon the comparison, if I say that her effective clearing away of antiquated incumbrances from the lists of the controversy, reminds me of nothing so much as of the action of some neat-handed, but strong-wristed, Phyllis, who, gracefully wielding her long-handled “Turk’s head,” sweeps away the accumulated results of the toil of generations of spiders. I am the more indebted to this luminous sketch of the results of critical investigation, as it is carried out among these theologians who are men of science and not mere counsel for creeds, since it has relieved me from the necessity of dealing with the greater part of Dr. Wace’s polemic, and enables me to devote more space to the really important issues which have been raised.[64]

Perhaps, however, it may be well for me to observe that approbation of the manner in which a great biblical scholar, for instance, Reuss, does his work does not commit me to the adoption of all, or indeed any of his views; and, further, that the disagreements of a series of investigators do not in any way interfere with the fact that each of them has made important contributions to the body of truth ultimately established. If I cite Buffon, Linnaeus, Lamarck, and Cuvier, as having each and all taken a leading share in building up modern biology, the statement that every one of these great naturalists disagreed with, and even more or less contradicted, all the rest is quite true; but the supposition that the latter assertion is in any way inconsistent with the former, would betray a strange ignorance of the manner in which all true science advances.

Dr. Wace takes a great deal of trouble to make it appear that I have desired to evade the real questions raised by his attack upon me at the Church Congress. I assure the reverend Principal that in this, as in some other respects, he has entertained a very erroneous conception of my intentions. Things would assume more accurate proportions in Dr. Wace’s mind, if he would kindly remember that it is just thirty years since ecclesiastical thunderbolts began to fly about my ears. I have had the “Lion and the Bear” to deal with, and it is long since I got quite used to the threatenings of episcopal Goliaths, whose croziers were like unto a weaver’s beam. So that I almost think I might not have noticed Dr. Wace’s attack, personal as it was; and although, as he is good enough to tell us, separate copies are to be had for the modest equivalent of twopence, as a matter of fact, it did not come under my notice for a long time after it was made. May I further venture to point out that (reckoning postage) the expenditure of twopence-halfpenny, or, at the most, threepence, would have enabled Dr. Wace so far to comply with ordinary conventions as to direct my attention to the fact that he had attacked me before a meeting at which I was not present? I really am not responsible for the five months’ neglect of which Dr. Wace complains. Singularly enough, the Englishry who swarmed about the Engadine, during the three months that I was being brought back to life by the glorious air and perfect comfort of the Maloja, did not, in my hearing, say anything about the important events which had taken place at the Church Congress; and I think I can venture to affirm that there was not a single copy of Dr. Wace’s pamphlet in any of the hotel libraries which I rummaged, in search of something more edifying than dull English or questionable French novels.