Bishop Blougram's Apology "When The Fight Begins Within Himself, A Man's Worth Something"

Robert Browning

"When The Fight Begins Within Himself, A Man's Worth Something"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As Bishop Blougram and Gigadibs discuss the problem of faith and doubt, it becomes clear that what the bishop has to say is an apologia for his own life and attitudes. The bishop's life is one of faith diversified by doubt, which he feels is better than that of Gigadibs which is one of doubt diversified by faith. The bishop says he cannot help it if he seems out of step with his age; it is historical accident that has placed him where he is. As his argument develops, the bishop creates a deliberate ambiguity about his ideas. In his attack on Gigadibs' philosophy, the bishop believes "say, half he spoke." At the close of his argument he hints at a deeper faith that will not fail him: "if ground should break away/ I take my stand on, there's a firmer yet/ Beneath it." The bishop emphasizes to Gigadibs that doubt is a vital element in belief:

With me, faith means perpetual unbelief
Kept quiet like the snake 'neath Michael's foot
Who stands calm just because he feels it writhe.
. . .
"Leave it in peace!" advise the simple folk:
Make it aware of peace by itching-fits,
Say I–let doubt occasion still more faith!
. . .
No, when the fight begins within himself,
A man's worth something. God stoops o'er his head,
Satan looks up between his feet–both tug–
He's left, himself, i' the middle: the soul wakes
And grows. . . .