Home  »  Volume XIV: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part Two The Nineteenth Century, III  »  § 31. Stirling’s Secret of Hegel

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

I. Philosophers

§ 31. Stirling’s Secret of Hegel

The first English work directly due to the influence of Hegel was The Secret of Hegel (1865) by James Hutchison Stirling. Educated as a physician, he first heard of Hegel in accidental conversation. Hegel was described as the reconciler of philosophy and religion, and Stirling, fascinated by the thought, soon afterwards threw up his practice, settled for some years on the continent—in Germany and in France—and devoted himself with ardour to philosophical study, especially to the mastery of Hegel’s system. He returned to publish the results of his work; and, although he wrote many books afterwards—especially an important Text-Book to Kant (1881)—The Secret of Hegel remains his greatest work. It consists of translation, commentary, introduction and original discourse; and it shows the process by which the author approached and grappled with his subject. Sometimes it is as difficult as its original; more frequently, it illuminates Hegel both by a persistent effort of thought and by occasional flashes of insight. Its style is characteristic. Altogether lacking in the placid flow of the academic commentator, and suggesting the influence of Carlyle, it is irregular, but forceful and imaginative, a fit medium for the thinking which it expressed. What Stirling meant by the “secret” of Hegel was presumably the relation of Hegel’s philosophy to that of Kant. In Hegel’s construction he found a method and point of view which justified the fundamental ideas of religion, and, at the same time, made clear the one-sidedness of the conceptions of the “age of enlightenment,” at the end of which Kant stood, still hampered by its negations and abstractions. And Stirling’s favourite and most lively criticisms were directed against the apostles of the enlightenment and their followers of the nineteenth century.