Here distinguished historian Gertrude Himmelfarb displays her usual lucidity and good sense. Her range is considerable, encompassing expected figures—Edmund Burke, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, and John Stuart Mill, for example—but also extending to a superb appreciation of the neglected novelist (and statesman) John Buchan.

There's a theme running just beneath the surface of these essays that can only be fully grasped over the span of the whole book, concerning the relationship between the "moral imagination" and the claims of revealed religion. On the one hand, Himmelfarb expresses sympathy for religion under the sign of tradition. On the other hand, she finds David Hume's "fear of the practical 'dangers' of religion" quite reasonable. After all, Hume "was close enough to the Puritan experience, and a witness in his own day of the Methodist revival … , to feel a lively sense of the power of religion, of the passion it might evoke and the divisive effect it might have upon society and the polity."

The primness of this is telling. Methodist enthusiasm! Ghastly stuff. Reminds you of those dreadful … evangelicals.

Ah, well. Read on. You'll not be bored in the company of this penetrating intelligence.



Related Elsewhere:

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