Spoon Feeding Essay By William Ralph Inge

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William Ralph Inge was known to the public as ‘The Gloomy Dean’ for the sharp cultural criticism of his columns in the Evening Standard. He was a passionate Christian Platonist known in the academy for his work on mysticism, Plotinus and a synthesis of Christianity and Platonism.

William Ralph Inge was born 6 June 1860 in Crayke, Yorkshire, England, into a family of clerics. His father was an Anglican curate and provost of Worcester College, Oxford, while his mother’s father was the Archdeacon of Cleveland. After education at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, Inge returned to his alma mater as Assistant Master at Eton in 1884. The year 1888 marked the beginning of Inge’s twin paths of scholar and churchman as he was elected Fellow and Tutor at Hertford College, Oxford, and ordained Deacon in the Church of England. His early work at Oxford centered on Christian mysticism, and his Bampton Lectures on the same theme were published in 1899.

Inge remained at Oxford until 1905, when he became vicar of All Saints’ Church, Knightsbridge. In 1907 Inge was installed as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity and Fellow of Jesus College at Cambridge, where he taught until becoming Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1911. Inge delivered his two sets of Gifford Lectures on ‘The Philosophy of Plotinus’ in 1917–1918 while at St Paul’s. He retired in 1934 to a life of writing and study. Inge married Mary Catharine Spooner in 1904, and they had three children. He delivered a number of lectureships in the United Kingdom and the United States and received honorary degrees from the universities of Aberdeen, Durham, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Oxford and St. Andrews. He died 26 February 1954.

Inge wrote over thirty-five books in the areas of mysticism, Christianity, Platonism, ethics and contemporary issues. A number of his books were collections of his essays, including two series of Outspoken Essays, a title that betrays much about its author. For Inge was a controversialist, even a contrarian. In theology he was a liberal, in politics something of a reactionary. A supporter of animal rights and the arts (serving as trustee of the National Portrait Gallery from 1926 to 1951), he was a constant critic of the state of modern civilization, particularly in its democratic form. It was this criticism in the form of regular columns in the Evening Standard (1921–1946) that earned him his reputation as ‘The Gloomy Dean’.

Yet Inge’s reputation as public gadfly is tempered by the depth of feeling in his writing on the mysticism of Christian Platonism. His integration of and apology for Christian Platonism took the form of an impassioned commendation of humanity’s ascent to God. His at-times overappreciative analysis of Plotinus is understandable in light of his express desire to offer Plotinus as not only ancient philosopher but also contemporary teacher. Inge undoubtedly accommodated the Christian and Platonic mindset to one another, but not uncritically. As a Christian, he spoke of the transcendentals of Truth, Goodness and Beauty as attributes of a personal God rather than abstract Forms. Whether and how far Christianity and Platonism are compatible is a still-searing question. But one must admire the embodiment of an attempt to articulate a universal cosmic movement from and to God that is to be found in W. R. Inge.

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This book has everything a reader needs to explore the world of German mysticism. William Inge begins with an introduction of histories, biographies, and summaries of the movement, and his scholarly articles will prove useful for the student of mysticism. Then he includes in the book many examples of the writings of the 14th century Dominicans, the Friends of God. These friends were an informal group of Catholics who strove to deepen both their communal relationships as well as their inner spirituality. Eckhardt, Tauler, and Suso were the major proponents of this theology, and each is represented in Inge's collection. This book is a unique and convenient volume that will assist readers interested in the fascinating movement of German mysticism.

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William Ralph Inge (6 June1860 – 26 February1954), popularly referred to simply as Dean Inge, was an English author, Anglican prelate, professor of divinity at Cambridge, and Dean of St Paul's Cathedral.


  • No word in our language — not even "Socialism"— has been employed more loosely than "Mysticism." … The history of the word begins in close connexion with the Greek mysteries. A mystic is one who has been, or is being, initiated into some esoteric knowledge of Divine things, about which he must keep his mouth shut…
  • The phase of thought or feeling which we call Mysticism has its origin in that which is the raw material of all religion, and perhaps of all philosophy and art as well, namely, that dim consciousness of the beyond, which is part of our nature as human beings. Men have given different names to these "obstinate questionings of sense and outward things." We may call them, if we will, a sort of higher instinct, perhaps an anticipation of the evolutionary process; or an extension of the frontier of consciousness; or, in religious language, the voice of God speaking to us. Mysticism arises when we try to bring this higher consciousness into relation with the other contents of our minds.
    • Christian Mysticism (1899), Preface
  • True contemplation considers Reality (or Being) in its manifestations as well as in its origin. If this is remembered, there need be no conflict between social morality and the inner life.Eckhart recognises that it is a harder and a nobler task to preserve detachment in a crowd than in a cell; the little daily sacrifices of family life are often a greater trial than selfimposed mortifications. "We need not destroy any little good in ourselves for the sake of a better, but we should strive to grasp every truth in its highest meaning, for no one good contradicts another." "Love God, and do as you like, say the Free Spirits. Yes; but as long as you like anything contrary to God's will, you do not love Him."
    There is much more of the same kind in Eckhart's sermons — as good and sensible doctrine as one could find anywhere.
  • The old civilisation, with all the brilliant qualities which make many moderns regret its destruction, rested on too narrow a base. The woman and the slave were left out, the woman especially by the Greeks, and the slave by the Romans.
    • "St Paul". The Quarterly Review220: 45–68. January 1914, p. 61
  • Patriotism varies, from a noble devotion to a moral lunacy.
    • "Our Present Discontents" (August 1919) in Outspoken Essays (1919), p. 2
  • It is becoming impossible for those who mix at all with their fellow-men to believe that the grace of God is distributed denominationally.
  • It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favour of vegetarianism while the wolf remains of a different opinion.
    • "Patriotism" (August 1919) in Outspoken Essays (1919), pp. 42-43
  • The fruit of the tree of knowledge, always drives man from some paradise or other.
  • We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.
  • I have never understood why it should be considered derogatory to the Creator to suppose that he has a sense of humour.
  • So the pendulum swings, now violently, now slowly; and every institution not only carries within it the seeds of its own dissolution, but prepares the way for its most hated rival.
  • There are two kinds of fools: one says, "This is old, therefore it is good"; the other says, "This is new, therefore it is better."
    • More Lay Thoughts of a Dean (1931), p. 200
  • A nation is a society united by a delusion about its ancestry and by a common hatred of its neighbours.
    • The End of an Age: and other essays (1948), p. 127
  • When our first parents were driven out of Paradise, Adam is believed to have remarked to Eve: "My dear, we live in an age of transition."
  • Events in the past may be roughly divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter. This is what makes the trade of historian so attractive.
    • Assessments and Anticipations, "Prognostications" (1929)


  • Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due.
    • Attributed to Inge in The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993), which cites the London Observer, 14 February 1932. However, this aphorism was in circulation decades earlier, e.g., it features in an advertisement in The Grape Belt, 2 October 1906, p. 5

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There are two kinds of fools: one says, "This is old, therefore it is good"; the other says, "This is new, therefore it is better."


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