John Campbell Shairp

British writer

John Campbell Shairp (July 30, 1819 – September 18, 1885) was a Scottish critic and man of letters.


  • Beauty comes, we scarce know how, as an emanation from sources deeper than itself.
    • Studies in Poetry and Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1868), "The Moral Dynamic", p. 434.
  • Great men, great events, great epochs, it has been said, grow as we recede from them; and the rate at which they grow in the estimate of men is in some sort a measure of their greatness.
    • Robert Burns (London: Macmillan and Co., 1879), Ch. I: "Youth in Ayrshire", p. 1 (opening sentence of book).

Culture and Religion (1870)

Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1870
  • The ground of all religion, that which makes it possible, is the relation in which the human soul stands to God.
    • Lecture I. "The Aim of Culture—Its Relation to Religion", p. 14.
  • They who seek religion for culture-sake are æsthetic, not religious, and will never gain that grace which religion adds to culture, because they never can have the religion.
    • Lecture III, "The Literary Theory of Culture", pp. 61–62.
  • The sense that a man is serving a Higher than himself, with a service which will become ever more and more perfect freedom, evokes more profound, more humbling, more exalted emotions than any thing else in the world can do. The spirit of man is an instrument which cannot give out its deepest, finest tones, except under the immediate hand of the Divine Harmonist.
    • Lecture III. "The Literary Theory of Culture", pp. 62–63.
  • There is perhaps no truer sign that a man is really advancing than that he is learning to forget himself, that he is losing the natural thoughts about self in the thought of One higher than himself, to whose guidance he can commit himself and all men.
    • Lecture III. "The Literary Theory of Culture", p. 64.
  • The fact is, those root-truths, on which the foundations of our being rest, are apprehended not logically at all, but mystically. This faculty of spiritual apprehension, which is a very different one from those which are trained in schools and colleges, must be educated and fed, not less but more carefully than our lower faculties, else it will be starved and die, however learned and able in other respects we may become.
    • Lecture IV. "Hindrances to Spiritual Growth", pp. 81–82.
  • The main condition is that the spiritual ear should be open to overhear and patiently take in, and the will ready to obey that testimony which, I believe, God bears in every human heart, however dull, to those great truths which the Bible reveals. This, and not logic, is the way to grow in religious knowledge, to know that the truths of religion are not shadows, but deep realities.
    • Lecture IV. "Hindrances to Spiritual Growth", p. 83
  • We are not called on to believe this or that doctrine which may be proposed to us till we can do so from honest conviction. But we are called on to trust—to trust ourselves to God, being sure that He will lead us right—to keep close to Him—and to trust the promises which He whispers through our conscience; this we can do, and we ought to do.
    • Lecture IV. "Hindrances to Spiritual Growth", p. 91.
  • Not as men of science, not as critics, not as philosophers, but as little children, shall we enter into the kingdom of heaven.
    • Lecture IV. "Hindrances to Spiritual Growth", p. 91
  • [I]t is quite certain that if from childhood men were to begin to follow the first intimations of conscience, honestly to obey them and carry them out into act, the power of conscience would be so strengthened and improved within them, that it would soon become, what it evidently is intended to be, "a connecting principle between the creature and the Creator."
    • Lecture V. "Religion Combining Culture with Itself", p. 99.
  • For with all our pretension to enlightenment, are we not now a talking, desultory, rather than a meditative generation?
    • Lecture V. "Religion Combining Culture with Itself", p. 103
  • Criticism is not religion, and by no process can it be substituted for it. It is not the critic's eye but the child's heart that most truly discerns the countenance that looks out from the pages of the Gospel.
    • Lecture V. "Religion Combining Culture with Itself", p. 105.
  • That image, or rather that Person, so human, yet so entirely divine, has a power to fill the imagination, to arrest the affections, to deepen and purify the conscience, which nothing else in the world has.
    • Lecture V. "Religion Combining Culture with Itself", p. 106.
  • [T]he belief in a Divine education open to each man and to all men, takes up into itself all that is true in the end proposed by Culture, supplements and perfects it.
    • Lecture V. "Religion Combining Culture with Itself", p. 131.
  • Were it not well then to begin with the substance, to learn to apprehend the reality of that kingdom which is all around us now, whether we recognize it or not—to take our aims and endeavors into it that they may be made part of it, however small—to surrender ourselves to it, that our lives may do something towards its advancement, and that so we may become fellow-workers, however humble, with all the wise and good who have gone before us, and with Him who made them what they were?
    • Lecture V. "Religion Combining Culture with Itself", p. 132.

Glen Desseray and Other Poems (1888)


Glen Desseray and Other Poems: Lyrical and Elegiac, edited by Francis T. Palgrave (London: Macmillan and Co., 1888)

  • From old foundations where the nation rears
    Her darlings, came that flower of England's youth
    And here in latest teens, or riper years,
    Stood drinking in all nobleness and truth.
    • "Balliol Scholars 1840–1843: A Remembrance", stanza 3, line 1; p. 210.
  • So full of power, yet blithe and debonair,
    Rallying his friends with pleasant banter gay,
    Or half a-dream chaunting with jaunty air
    Great words of Goethe, catch of Béranger.
    • "Balliol Scholars 1840–1843: A Remembrance", stanza 26, line 1; p. 218. On Matthew Arnold.
  • Subtlest thought shall fail, and learning falter,
    Churches change, forms perish, systems go,
    But our human needs, they will not alter,
    Christ no after age shall e'er outgrow.
    • "Memories", line 45; p. 261.
  • Hidden from others do we know ourselves?
    Albeit the surface takes the common light;
    Who hath not felt that this our being shelves
    Down to abysses, dark and infinite?
    • "Hidden Life", line 13; p. 262.
  • So some small consciousness doth play
    On the surface of our being, but the broad
    And permanent foundations every way
    Pass into mystery, are hid in God.
    • "Hidden Life", line 21; p. 263.
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