An Emotional Unity. A review of Selected Letters, 1896-1924, by Baron Friedrich von Hügel, ed. with a memoir by Bernard Holland
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[ 337 An Emotional Unity1 A review of Selected Letters, 1896-1924, by Baron Friedrich von Hügel, ed. with a memoir by Bernard Holland London: J. M. Dent & Sons; New York: E. P. Dutton, 1927. Pp. vii + 377. The Dial, 84 (Feb 1928) [109]-112 The late Baron von Hügel occupied, for many years, a privileged place both in society and in the world of religion. By birth he was an Austrian of Rhineland origin; but his mother belonged to a distinguished military Scotch family, and his wife was English.2 He had been given an informal sort of education, in several countries, chiefly in Belgium and Italy; and his favourite place of residence was England. He retained his Austrian nationality until the war; but his loyalty to the British cause was undoubted, and soon after the outbreak of the war he was accepted as a British subject. Yet he always kept up the many and affectionate friendships which he had formed in Germany as in every other country. Similarly in religion. He was a Roman Catholic, whose orthodoxy was never called into question; yet his greatest activities, many of his warmest friendships, and perhaps his strongest influence, were among German and English Protestants and among French Modernists. He moved unscathed through the thick of the Modernist movement , and was intimate with Father Tyrrell until the end.3 He filled a peculiar position. I never met Baron von Hügel, and I have never read his greatest book, The Mystical Element in Religion.4 The latter defect I do not regret; it is easily repaired, though I am not sure that I shall ever repair it. But I regret very much not having even seen him. For testimony of friends who knew him makes it evident that there was far more in the man than in any of his books.Hisstyle,itmustbeadmitted,isnotencouraging.Hehadthoroughly mastered grammatical English; but his style is heavy, difficult, Germanic. He was the victim of a passion for thoroughness, and was indeed rather longwinded . But his Letters are comparatively readable; here we are concerned not with following any close reasoning but with the cumulative effect of a rather grand personality, as it overflowed here and there over his innumerable correspondents, who range from prelates and philosophers to an 1928 338 ] anonymous young girl. In this volume we get as near as possible to a personality which far exceeded in value any of its printed monuments. In some important respects, in fact, we realize that von Hügel, and his interests, are out of date. On the one hand we must remain grateful to him as one who, in Matthew Arnold’s phrase, kept open his communications with the future.5 He was always in the midst of the theological and ecclesiastical battle – in the midst, but loved by all sides and attacked by none – at a time which is now quite past. Their quarrels and their problems are not ours: though perhaps since the early seventeenth century there has been no age of such acute theological controversy as is our own. The alteration is too great for von Hügel to have understood, if he had lived longer. We have a different attitude towards science – we have had Einstein and Whitehead – and a new attitude towards religion – we are brawling over Thomism and the Liturgy.6 It is possible to say that von Hügel in his time was Orthodox; it would be difficult to say whether he could be orthodox now. At all events, he would have had to make a choice that he never had to make.   I can speak of von Hügel as belonging to a past age, although he died only two years ago. For his greatest work and his greatest influence belong to the earlier part of the period covered; and end, we may say, with such events as thedeathofGeorgeTyrrellandthewithdrawalofLoisy.7 VonHügel,though not a Modernist, belongs to the period of Modernism. And von Hügel’s varietyoforthodoxy,Isuspect,isasoutofdateasTyrrell’svarietyofModern­ ism. The last survival of the old Modernism is that elusive sprite which appears at the Abbé Brémond’s literary séances: La Poésie Pure.8 In those stormy remote days it may appear that the good Baron, as a good Roman Catholic, skated upon pretty thin ice. But although he remained loyal to his friends, even when they had been excommunicated, I feel sure that a curious instinct prevented him from sharing their views even...