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The Regenerators

The Regenerators: Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada

Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 290
  • Book Info
    The Regenerators
    Book Description:

    A crisis of faith confronted many Canadian Protestants in the late nineteenth century. Their religious beliefs were challenged by the new biological sciences and by historical criticism of the Bible. Personal salvation, for centuries the central concern of Christianity, no longer seemed an adequate focus in an age that gave rise to industrial cities and grave social problems.

    No single word, Cook claims, catches more correctly the spirit of the late Victorian reform movement than 'regeneration': a concept originall meaning rebirth and applied to individuals, now increasingly used to describe social salvation.

    In exploring the nature of social criticism and its complex ties to the religious thinking of the day, Cook analyses the thought of an extraordinary cast of characters who presented a bewildering array of nostrums and beliefs, from evolutionists, rationalists, higher critcis, and free-thinkers, to feminists, spiritualists, theosophists, socialists, communists, single-taxers, adn many more. THere is Goldwin Smith, 'the sceptic who needed God,' spreading gloom and doom from the comfort of the Grange; W.D. LeSueur, the 'positvist in the Post Office'; the heresiarch Dr R.M. Bucke, overdosed on Whitman, with his message of 'cosmis consciousness'; and a free-thinking, high-rolling bee-keeper named Allen Pringle, whose perorations led to 'hot, exciting nights in Napanee.' It is a world of such diverse figures as Phillips Thompson, Floar MacDonald Denison, Agnes Machar, J.W. Bengough, and J.S. Woodsworth, a world that made Mackenzie King.

    Cook concludes that the path blazed by nineteenth-century religious liberals led not to the Kingdom of God on earth, as many had hoped, but, ironically, to the secular city.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2731-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    In 1893The Canadian Magazinepublished a gentle satire on social reform and social reformers. Signed ‘Uncle Thomas,’ its author probably was S.T. Wood, a Toronto journalist whose talents combined an ability to make economics simple with a genius for describing the natural beauty he observed on his many rambles through Toronto’s ravines. Sam Wood, whose friends called him ‘Single Tax,’ selected the title for his humorous piece with unerring accuracy, for he too on occasion ‘undertook to regenerate the universe and oil the wheels of the social structure.’ He laboured long and hard promoting Henry George’s patented social medicine....

  5. 2 The Roots of Modernism: Darwinism and the Higher Critics
    (pp. 7-25)

    Karl Marx, no mere dabbler in theological questions, concluded in 1844 that ‘the criticism of religion is the presupposition of all criticism.’ To make his meaning unmistakable, he continued: ‘The abolition of theillusoryhappiness of the people is the demand for theirrealhappiness. The demand to abandon the illusions about their condition is thedemand to give up a condition thatrequired illusions. Hence criticism of religion is in embryo acriticism of this vale of tearswhose halo is religion.’¹ For Marx the only salvation was to be found in this world, and the road to that...

  6. 3 The Anxieties of a Moral Interregnum
    (pp. 26-40)

    The great debate over God’s place in the universe and man’s place in nature that consumed so much energy in the post-Darwinian intellectual world was also, necessarily, a debate about God’s and man’s place in the social order. Sir William Dawson had recognized that, though it was not his major preoccupation. Others with much less scientific training became almost exclusively concerned with the social implications of the new biological hypothesis. Religious uncertainty might cause some to fret about immortality; for others the most immediate anxiety was about life here and now.

    In 1886 a critique of socialism inThe Week...

  7. 4 Positivism, Secular Thought, and the Religion of Humanity
    (pp. 41-64)

    ‘Scepticism is becoming more general and is protean in its adaptability to circumstance,’ a worried Protestant clergyman wrote in 1880. ‘There is philosophical scepticism for the cultured and popular scepticism for the masses, the Reviews for the select, Colonel Ingersoll for the people.’ That was a neat summary of the religious atmosphere of ‘the times,’ when ‘the work of a conscientious minister is becoming increasing difficult.’¹ Indeed, the very publication in which the Reverend Hugh Pedley expressed his uneasiness, theCanadian Monthly and National Review, frequently carried expressions of philosophical scepticism, mainly from the Ottawa savant and civil servant W.D....

  8. 5 Spiritualism, Science of the Earthly Paradise
    (pp. 65-85)

    ‘Is There Another Life?’ was the title that Goldwin Smith, almost inevitably, gave to a lengthy chapter in hisGuesses at the Riddle of Existence.¹ His answer recognized that he, like many Victorian intellectuals, was unable to respond with an easy, automatic affirmative. But even if he wras unable to patch together from his substantial theological knowledge a convincing demonstration of immortality, Smith knew that the yearning for such reassurance remained strong. It was so strong, he had written twenty years earlier, that in ‘twilight caused by the temporary eclipse of faith, physical or semi-physical superstitions are apt to abound.’²...

  9. 6 Richard Maurice Bucke: Religious Heresiarch and Utopian
    (pp. 86-104)

    Dr Richard Maurice Bucke, superintendent of the London Insane Asylum, was one of Colonel Robert Ingersoll’s many acquaintances in Canada. In March 1892 the Canadian psychologist and the American free thinker both participated in a funeral service at Camden, New Jersey, for the controversial American poet Walt Whitman. Despite the colonel’s celebrated atheism, he admitted that ‘death is less terrible now than it was before, thousands and millions will walk into the dark valley of the shadow holding Walt by the hand.’ There were other eulogies, including one by Bucke, interspersed with readings from Confucius, Buddha, Plato, the Koran, the...

  10. 7 Toward a Christian Political Economy
    (pp. 105-122)

    That Dr Maurice Bucke should have been invited to meet Henry George when the famous American social critic visited London, Ontario, in 1895 was entirely appropriate. It was not just that Bucke was the city’s most illustrious intellectual and reformer, though that counted for something. More important was the two men’s shared conviction that Christianity had to adapt and evolve to meet the scientific and social challenges of a rapidly changing world. George would almost certainly have agreed with Bucke’s belief that God should be made in the image of man, for that was merely a rather blunt way of...

  11. 8 ‘A Republic of God, a Christian Republic’
    (pp. 123-151)

    John Wilson Bengough, editor ofGrip, the superb weekly magazine of caricature, light verse, puns, and satirical paragraphs, subscribed fully to Henry George’s 1897 creed: ‘My republic is the republic that is coming; not a republic of tramps and millionaires; not a republic in which one man has the power of a czar; not a republic where women faint and go hungry; but a republic of God, a Christian republic.’¹ That republic would be reached through the application of Christian ethical teachings, and in Bengough’s view Henry George had showed the way to do that, too: the single tax. Henry...

  12. 9 ‘The New City of Friends’: Evolution, Theosophy, and Socialism
    (pp. 152-173)

    ‘The Single Tax movement,’ Phillips Thompson wrote inThe Labor Advocatein 1891, ‘is the Unitarianism of political economy — a half-way house where the investigator may find rest for a breathing spell, but not a permanent abode.’ A few months later he asserted that Canadian reformers were divided into two distinct camps: single-taxers and socialists. He challenged his readers to a public discussion of the two options. He must surely have known that one of the first to enter the lists would beGrip’s editor, J.W. Bengough, who naturally championed the single-tax cause. But that defence, predictable as it...

  13. 10 ‘Was Christ, After All, a Social Reformer?’
    (pp. 174-195)

    In the depths of his ‘crisis of faith,’ Ryerson Embury, Albert Carman Jr’s fictional hero, finally experienced the conversion for which he had previously struggled unavailingly. But the author of that conversion was neither an emotional revivalist preacher nor a modernist minister explaining difficult scriptural passages in symbolic terms. Rather, it was Henry George, the author ofProgress and Poverty, a work combining Christian moralism and unorthodox economics. Reading that book led young Embury to answer what for him had become an increasingly urgent question: ‘Was Christ, after all, a social reformer?’¹

    That was a question many Christians in late...

  14. 11 The Modernist Pilgrim’s Progress
    (pp. 196-227)

    If Jesus Christ was pre-eminently a social reformer, the task of interpreters was to expound not a theology but a sociology, a program for reform. By the beginning of the twentieth century there was general agreement among social reformers who took Christianity as their point of departure that the new industrial society failed to measure up to Christ’s ethical teachings. Henry Harvey Stuart, a New Brunswick social critic, expressed this sentiment in 1912 in a fashion that would have won wide general consent. ‘Our economic system and the religious ideas we have founded upon it are wrong,’ he wrote. ‘Only...

  15. 12 The Sacred Becomes the Secular
    (pp. 228-232)

    Nineteenth-century social critics concocted many recipes for a perfecct Christian sociology. Most included at least one common ingredient — the conviction that ‘all true reformers must at heart be religious.’¹ Thos words, spoken in 1913 by the agrarian reformer W.C. Good, expressed new understanding of the relationship between religion and society. I religion had once been called upon to buttress the social order, now it function was to change it; the enemy was no longer ‘personal vice’ but rather ‘social sin.’ Here was a view of religion that embraced the conclusions of J.W. Bengough and Phillips Thompson, Dr R.M. Buckel...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 233-274)
  17. Index
    (pp. 275-291)