"A Sort of Masonry": Secrecy
and "Manliness" in Early
I have strange glimpses of the power of spiritual union, of Association among men of like object.
Thomas Carlyle, Two Notebooks ( 1896)
"What I feel daily more and more to need," Thomas Arnold confided to a friend in 1836,
is to have intercourse with those who take life in earnest. It is very painful to me to be always on the surface of things.... It is not that I want much of what is called religious conversation ... but I want a sign, which one catches as by a sort of masonry, that a man knows what he is about in life,—whither tending, and in what cause he is engaged. ( Stanley, Life 275)
Arnold's longing for solidarity sheds unexpected light on the psychic and social economies informing that familiar Victorian virtue, earnestness. As it dwells in a deep subjectivity, defined in antagonism to the "surfaces" of life, earnestness tends to be a very lonely discipline. For those under its sway, most forms of social affiliation seem superficial. If earnestness is to find collective embodiment, it can only be as a community hidden or withdrawn from the larger society. And this logic