THE WORLD AND THE THINKING BEING.
The universe is a thought of God. After this ideal thought-fabric passed out into reality, and the new-born world fulfilled the plan of its Creator—permit me to use this human simile—the first duty of all thinking beings has been to retrace the original design in this great reality; to find the principle in the mechanism, the unity in the compound, the law in the phenomenon, and to pass back from the structure to its primitive foundation. Accordingly to me there is only one appearance in nature—the thinking being. The great compound called the world is only remarkable to me because it is present to shadow forth symbolically the manifold expressions of that being. All in me and out of me is only the hieroglyph of a power which is like to me. The laws of nature are the cyphers which the thinking mind adds on to make itself understandable to intelligence—the alphabet by means of which all spirits communicate with the most perfect Spirit and with one another. Harmony, truth, order, beauty, excellence, give me joy, because they transport me into the active state of their author, of their possessor, because they betray the presence of a rational and feeling Being, and let me perceive my relationship with that Being. A new experience in this kingdom of truth: gravitation, the circulation of the blood, the natural system of Linnaeus, correspond essentially in my mind to the discovery of an antique dug up at Herculaneum—they are both only the reflections of one spirit, a renewed acquaintance with a being like myself. I speak with the Eternal through the instrument of nature,—through the world's history: I read the soul of the artist in his Apollo.
If you wish to be convinced, my clear Raphael, look back. Each state of the human mind has some parable in the physical creation by which it is shadowed forth; nor is it only artists and poets, but even the most abstract thinkers that have drawn from this source. Lively activity we name fire; time is a stream that rolls on, sweeping all before it; eternity is a circle; a mystery is hid in midnight gloom, and truth dwells in the sun. Nay, I begin to believe that even the future destiny of the human race is prefigured in the dark oracular utterances of bodily creation. Each coming spring, forcing the sprouts of plants out of the earth, gives me explanations of the awful riddle of death, and contradicts my anxious fears about an everlasting sleep. The swallow that we find stiffened in winter, and see waking up to life after; the dead grub coming to life again as the butterfly and rising into the air,—all these give excellent pictures of our immortality.
How strange all seems to me now, Raphael! Now all seems peopled round about me. To me there is no solitude in nature. Wherever I see a body I anticipate a spirit. Wherever I trace movement I infer thought.
Where no dead lie buried, where no resurrection will be, Omnipotence speaks to me this through His works, and thus I understand the doctrine of the omnipresence of God.
All spirits are attracted by perfection. There may be deviations, but there is no exception to this, for all strive after the condition of the highest and freest exercise of their powers; all possess the common instinct of extending their sphere of action; of drawing all, and centring all in themselves; of appropriating all that is good, all that is acknowledged as charming and excellent. When the beautiful, the true, and the excellent are once seen, they are immediately grasped at. A condition once perceived by us, we enter into it immediately. At the moment when we think of them, we become possessors of a virtue, authors of an action, discoverers of a truth, possessors of a happiness. We ourselves become the object perceived. Let no ambiguous smile from you, dear Raphael, disconcert me here,—this assumption is the basis on which I found all that follows, and we must be agreed before I take courage to complete the structure.
His inner feeling or innate consciousness tells every man almost the same thing. For example, when we admire an act of magnanimity, of bravery and wisdom, does not a secret feeling spring up in our heart that we are capable of doing the same? Does not the rush of blood coloring our cheeks on hearing narratives of this kind proclaim that our modesty trembles at the admiration called forth by such acts? that we are confused at the praise which this ennobling of our nature must call down upon us? Even our body at such moments agrees with the attitude of the man, and shows clearly that our soul has passed into the state we admire. If you were ever present, Raphael, when a great event was related to a large assembly, did you not see how the relater waited for the incense of praise, how he devoured it, though it was given to the hero of his story,—and if you were ever a relater did you not trace how your heart was subject to this pleasing deception? You have had examples, my dear Raphael, of how easily I can wrangle with my best friend respecting the reading aloud of a pleasing anecdote or of a beautiful poem, and my heart told me truly on these occasions that I was only displeased at your carrying off the laurels because these passed from the head of author to that of the reader. A quick and deep artistic appreciation of virtue is justly held to be a great aptitude for virtue, in the same way as it is usual to have no scruple in distrusting the heart of a man whose intelligence is slow to take in moral beauty.
You need not advance as an objection that, frequently, coupled with a lively perception of a perfection, the opposite failing is found to coexist, that evil-doers are often possessed with strong enthusiasm for what is excellent, and that even the weak flame up into enthusiasm of herculean growth. I know, for example, that our admired Haller, who unmasked in so manly a spirit the sickly nothingness of vain honors; a man whose philosophical greatness I so highly appreciated, that he was not great enough to despise the still greater vanity of an order of knighthood, which conferred an injury on his greatness. I am convinced that in the happy moment of their ideal conceptions, the artist, the philosopher, and the poet are really the great and good man whose image they throw out; but with many this ennobling of the mind is only an unnatural condition occasioned by a more active stirring of the blood, or a more rapid vibration of the fancy: it is accordingly very transient, like every other enchantment, disappearing rapidly and leaving the heart more exhausted than before, and delivered over to the despotic caprice of low passions. I expressly said more exhausted than before, for universal experience teaches that a relapsing criminal is always the most furious, and that the renegades of virtue seek additional sweets in the arms of crime to compensate for the heavy pressure of repentance.
I wished to establish, my Raphael, that it is our own condition, when we feel that of another, that perfection becomes ours for the moment during which we raise in ourselves the representation of it; that the delight we take in truth, beauty, and virtue shows itself when closely analyzed to be the consciousness of our individual ennobling and enriching; and I think I have proved this.
We have ideas of the wisdom of the highest Being, of His goodness, of His justice, but none of His omnipotence. To describe His omnipotence, we help ourselves by the graduated representation of three successions: Nothing, His Will, and Something. It is waste and empty; God calls on light; and there is light. If we had a real idea of His operative omnipotence we should be creators, as He.
Accordingly, every perfection which I perceive becomes my own; it gives me joy, because it is my own; I desire it, because I love myself. Perfection in nature is no property of matter, but of spirits. All spirits are happy through their perfection. I desire the happiness of all souls, because I love myself. The happiness which I represent to myself becomes my happiness; accordingly I am interested in awakening these representations, to realize them, to exalt them; I am interested in diffusing happiness around me. Whenever I produce beauty, excellence, or enjoyment beyond myself, I produce myself; when I neglect or destroy anything, I neglect, I destroy myself. I desire the happiness of others, because I desire my own; and the desire of the happiness of others we call benevolence and love.
Now, my most worthy Raphael, let me look round. The height has been ascended, the mist is dissipated; I stand in the midst of immensity, as in the middle of a glowing landscape. A purer ray of sunlight has clarified all my thoughts. Love is the noblest phenomenon in the world of souls, the all-powerful magnet in the spiritual sphere, the source of devotion and of the sublimest virtue. Yet love is only the reflection of this single original power, an attraction of the excellent, based upon an instantaneous permutation of individuality, an interchange of being.
When I hate, I take something from myself; when I love, I become richer by what I love. To pardon is to recover a property that has been lost. Misanthropy is a protracted suicide: egotism is the supremest poverty of a created being.
When Raphael tore himself from my embrace my soul was rent in twain, and I weep over the loss of my nobler half. On that holy evening—you must remember it—when our souls first communed together in ardent sympathy, all your great emotions became my own, and I only entered into my unvarying right of property over your excellence; I was prouder to love you than to be loved by you, for my own affection had changed me into Raphael.
That forced our hearts to meet
In the eternal bond of love?
Raphael! enraptured, resting on your arm,
I venture, joyful, the march towards perfection,
That leadeth to the spiritual sun.
Happy! happy! I have found thee,
Have secured thee 'midst millions,
And of all this multitude thou art mine!
Let the wild chaos return;
Let it cast adrift the atoms!
Forever our hearts fly to meet each other.
Must I not draw reflections of my ecstasy
From thy radiant, ardent eyes?
In thee alone do I wonder at myself.
The earth in brighter tints appears,
Heaven itself shines in more glowing light,
Seen through the soul and action of my friend.
Sorrow drops the load of tears;
Soothed, it rests from passion's storms,
Nursed upon the breast of love.
Nay, delight grows torment, and seeks
My Raphael, basking in thy soul,
Sweetest sepulchre! impatiently.
If I alone stood in the great All of things,
Dreamed I of souls in the very rocks,
And, embracing, I would have kissed them.
I would have sighed my complaints into the air;
The chasms would have answered me.
O fool! sweet sympathy was every joy to me.
Love does not exist between monotonous souls, giving out the same tone; it is found between harmonious souls. With pleasure I find again my feelings in the mirror of yours, but with more ardent longing I devour the higher emotions that are wanting in me. Friendship and love are led by one common rule. The gentle Desdemona loves Othello for the dangers through which he has passed; the manly Othello loves her for the tears that she shed hearing of his troubles.
There are moments in life when we are impelled to press to our heart every flower, every remote star, each worm, and the sublimest spirit we can think of. We are impelled to embrace them, and all nature, in the arms of our affection, as things most loved. You understand me, Raphael. A man who has advanced so far as to read off all the beauty, greatness, and excellence in the great and small of nature, and to find the great unity for this manifold variety, has advanced much nearer to the Divinity. The great creation flows into his personality. If each man loved all men, each individual would possess the whole world.
I fear that the philosophy of our time contradicts this doctrine. Many of our thinking brains have undertaken to drive out by mockery this heavenly instinct from the human soul, to efface the effigy of Deity in the soul, and to dissolve this energy, this noble enthusiasm, in the cold, killing breath of a pusillanimous indifference. Under the slavish influence of their own unworthiness they have entered into terms with self-interest, the dangerous foe of benevolence; they have done this to explain a phenomenon which was too godlike for their narrow hearts. They have spun their comfortless doctrine out of a miserable egotism, and they have made their own limits the measure of the Creator; degenerate slaves decrying freedom amidst the rattle of their own chains. Swift, who exaggerated the follies of men till he covered the whole race with infamy, and wrote at length his own name on the gallows which he had erected for it—even Swift could not inflict such deadly wounds on human nature as these dangerous thinkers, who, laying great claim to penetration, adorn their system with all the specious appearance of art, and strengthen it with all the arguments of self-interest.
Why should the whole species suffer for the shortcomings of a few members?
I admit freely that I believe in the existence of a disinterested love. I am lost if I do not exist; I give up the Deity, immortality, and virtue. I have no remaining proof of these hopes if I cease to believe in love. A spirit that loves itself alone is an atom giving out a spark in the immeasurable waste of space.
But love has produced effects that seem to contradict its nature.
It can be conceived that I increase my own happiness by a sacrifice which I offer for the happiness of others; but suppose this sacrifice is my life? History has examples of this kind of sacrifice, and I feel most vividly that it would cost me nothing to die in order to save Raphael. How is it possible that we can hold death to be a means of increasing the sum of our enjoyments? How can the cessation of my being be reconciled with the enriching of my being?
The assumption of immortality removes this contradiction; but it also displaces the supreme gracefulness of this act of sacrifice. The consideration of a future reward excludes love. There must be a virtue which even without the belief in immortality, even at the peril of annihilation, suffices to carry out this sacrifice.
I grant it is ennobling to the human soul to sacrifice present enjoyment for a future eternal good; it is the noblest degree of egotism; but egotism and love separate humanity into two very unlike races, whose limits are never confounded.
Egotism erects its centre in itself; love places it out of itself in the axis of the universal whole. Love aims at unity, egotism at solitude. Love is the citizen ruler of a flourishing republic, egotism is a despot in a devastated creation. Egotism sows for gratitude, love for the ungrateful. Love gives, egotism lends; and love does this before the throne of judicial truth, indifferent if for the enjoyment of the following moment, or with the view to a martyr's crown—indifferent whether the reward is in this life or in the next.
Think, O Raphael, of a truth that benefits the whole human race to remote ages; add that this truth condemns its confessor to death; that this truth can only be proved and believed if he dies. Conceive this man gifted with the clear all-embracing and illumining eye of genius, with the flaming torch of enthusiasm, with all the sublime adaptations for love; let the grand ideal of this great effect be presented to his soul; let him have only an obscure anticipation of all the happy beings he will make; let the present and future crowd at the same time into his soul; and then answer me,—does this man require to be referred to a future life?
The sum of all these emotions will become confounded with his personality; will flow together in his personal identity, his I or Ego. The human race he is thinking of is himself. It is a body, in which his life swims forgotten like a blood-drop, forgotten, but essential to the welfare of the economy; and how quickly and readily he will shed it to secure his health.
All perfections in the universe are united in God. God and nature are two magnitudes which are quite alike. The whole sum of harmonic activity which exists together in the divine substance, is in nature the antitype of this substance, united to incalculable degrees, and measures, and steps. If I may be allowed this expressive imagery, nature is an infinitely divided God.
Just as in the prism a white ray of light is split up into seven darker shades of color, so the divine personality or Ego has been broken into countless susceptible substances. As seven darker shades melt together in one clear pencil of light, out of the union of all these substances a divine being would issue. The existing form of nature's fabric is the optical glass, and all the activities of spirits are only an endless play of colors of that simple divine ray. If it pleased Omnipotence some day to break up this prism, the barrier between it and the world would fall down, all spirits would be absorbed in one infinite spirit, all accords would flow together in one common harmony, all streams would find their end in the ocean.
The bodily form of nature came to pass through the attractive force of the elements. The attraction of spirits, varied and developed infinitely, would at length lead to the cessation of that separation (or may I venture the expression) would produce God. An attraction of this kind is love.
Accordingly, my dear Raphael, love is the ladder by which we climb up to likeness to God. Unconsciously to ourselves, without laying claim to it, we aim at this.
Gods, when we cling; in love to one another,
Rejoicing in the gentle bond of love.
Upwards this divinest impulse holdeth sway
Through the thousandfold degrees of creation
Of countless spirits who did not create.
Arm-in-arm, higher and still higher,
From the savage to the Grecian seer,
Who is linked to the last seraph of the ring,
We turn, of one mind, in the same magic dance,
Till measure, and e'en time itself,
Sink at death in the boundless, glowing sea.
Friendless was the great world's blaster;
And feeling this, he made the spirit world
Blessed mirrors of his own blessedness!
And though the Highest found no equal,
Yet infinitude foams upward unto Him
From the vast basin of creation's realm.
Love is, Raphael, the great secret that can restore the dishonored king of gold from the flat, unprofitable chalk; that can save the eternal from the temporal and transient, and the great oracle of duration from the consuming conflagration of time.
What does all that has been said amount to?
If we perceive excellence, it is ours. Let us become intimate with the high ideal unit, and we shall be drawn to one another in brotherly love. If we plant beauty and joy we shall reap beauty and joy. If we think clearly we shall love ardently. "Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect," says the Founder of our Faith. Weak human nature turned pale at this command, therefore He explained himself in clearer terms: "Love one another!"
Awful goddess! turn thee back,
And give way to Love;
Who before thee went, with hero heart,
Up the steep and stormy path
To the Godhead's very throne;
Who, unveiling the Holiest,
Showed to thee Elysium
Through the vaulted sepulchre.
Did it not invite us in?
Could we reach immortality—
Or could we seek the spirit
Without Love, the spirit's master?
Love, Love leadeth only to Nature's Father,
Only love the spirits.
I have now given you, Raphael, my spirit's confession of faith—a flying outline of the creation I have undertaken. As you may perceive, the seed which you scattered in my soul took root. Mock, or rejoice, or blush at your scholar, as you please. Certain it is this philosophy has ennobled my heart, and extended and beautified the perspective of my life. It is possible, my excellent friend, that the entire structure of my conclusions may have been a baseless and visionary edifice. Perhaps the world, as I depicted it, nowhere exists, save in the brain of your Julius. Perhaps, after the lapse of thousands on thousands of years, when the wiser Judge promised in the future, sits on the judgment-seat, at the sight of the true original, filled with confusion, I should tear in pieces my schoolboy's design. All this may happen—I expect it; and even if not a vestige of reality is found in my dream, the reality will fill me with proportionately greater delight and wonder. Ought my ideas to be more beautiful than those of the Creator? How so? Could we tolerate that His exalted artistic structure should fall beneath the expectations of a mortal connoisseur? This is exactly the fiery probation of His great perfection, and the sweetest triumph for the Exalted Spirit, that false conclusions and deception do not injure His acknowledgment; that all tortuous deviations of the wandering reason at length strike into the straight road of everlasting truth; that all diverging arms and currents ultimately meet in the main stream. What an idea, Raphael, I form of the Great Artist, who, differently travestied in a thousand copies, still retains identical features in all this diversity, from which even the depreciating hand of a blunderer cannot remove admiration.
Moreover, my representation may certainly be fallacious, wholly an invention,—nay, I am persuaded that it must necessarily be so; and yet it is possible that all results of this may come to pass. All great sages are agreed that our whole knowledge moves on ultimately to a conventional deception, with which, however, the strictest truth can co-exist. Our purest ideas are by no means images of things, but only their signs or symbols determined by necessity, and co-existing with them.
Neither God, nor the human soul, nor the world are really what we consider them. Our thoughts of these are only the endemic forms in which the planet we inhabit hands them to us. Our brain belongs to this planet; accordingly, also, the idioms of our ideas, which are treasured up in it. But the power of the soul is peculiar, necessary, and always consistent: the capricious nature of the materials through which it finds expression changes nothing in the eternal laws, as long as this capriciousness does not stand in contradiction with itself, and so long as the sign remains true to the thing it designates. As the thinking power develops the relations of the idioms, these relations of things must also really be present in them. Therefore, truth is no property of the idioms, but of the conclusion; it is not the likeness of the sign with the thing signified, of the conception with the object; but the agreement of this conception with the laws of thought. In a similar manner, the doctrine of quantity makes use of cyphers which are nowhere present, except upon paper, and yet it finds with them what is present in the world of reality. For example, what resemblance is there between the letters A and B, the signs : and =, +, and -, and the fact that has to be ascertained? Yet the comet, foretold centuries before, advances from a remote corner of the heavens and the expected planet eclipses the disk at the proper time. Trusting to the infallibility of his calculation, the discoverer Columbus plunges into unknown regions of the sea to seek the missing other half of the known hemisphere—the great island of Atlantis—to fill up a blank in his geographical map. He found this island of his paper calculation, and his calculation was right. Would it have been less great if a hostile storm had shattered his fleet or driven it back? The human mind makes a similar calculation when it measures the super-sensual by means of the sensible, and when mathematics applies its conclusions to the hidden physics of the superhuman. But the last test of its calculations is still wanting, for no traveller has come back from that land to relate his discovery. Human nature has its proper bounds, and so also has the individual. We will give each other mutual comfort respecting the former: Raphael will concede this to the boyish age of his Julius. I am poor in conceptions, a stranger in many branches of knowledge which are thought to be essential in inquiries of this nature. I have not belonged to any philosophical school, nor have I read many printed books. It may quite well be that I occasionally substitute my fancies in the place of stricter logical proofs, that I mistake the rush of my blood or the hopes of my heart for sound wisdom; yet, my dear friend, you must not grudge me the moments I have thus lost. It is a real gain for universal perfection: it was the provision of the Wisest Spirit that the erring reason should also people the chaotic world of dreams, and make fruitful even the barren ground of contradiction. It is not only the mechanical artist who polishes the rough diamond into a brilliant whom we ought to value, but also that one who ennobles mere ordinary stones by giving them the apparent dignity of the diamond. The industry displayed in the forms may sometimes make us forget the massive truth of the substance. Is not every exercise of the thinking power, every sharpening of the edge of the spirit, a little step towards its perfection; and every perfection has to obtain a being and substantial existence in a complete and perfect world. Reality is not confined to the absolutely necessary; it also embraces the conditionally necessary: every offspring of the brain, every work elaborated by the wit, has an irresistible right of citizenship in this wider acceptation of creation. In the measureless plan of nature no activity was to be left out, no degree of enjoyment was to be wanting in universal happiness. The great Inventive Spirit would not even permit error to be wasted, nor allow this wide world of thought to remain empty and chaotic in the mind of man. For the Great Ruler of His world does not even allow a straw to fall without use, leaves no space uninhabited where life may be enjoyed; for He converts the very poison of man into the food of vipers; He even raises plants from the realm of corruption, and hospitably grants the little glimmer of pleasure that can co-exist with madness. He turns crime and folly into excellence, and weaves out of the very vices of a Tarquin the great idea of the universal monarchy of Rome. Every facility of the reason, even in error, increases its readiness to accept truth.
Dear friend of my soul, suffer me to add my contribution to the great woof of human wisdom. The image of the sun is reflected differently in the dewdrop and in the majestic mirror of the wide-stretching ocean. Shame to the turbid, murky swamp, which never receives and never reflects this image! Millions of plants drink from the four elements of nature; a magazine of supplies is open for all: but they mix their sap in a thousand different ways, and return it in a thousand new forms. The most beautiful variety proclaims a rich Lord of this house. There are four elements from which all spirits draw their supplies: their Ego or individuality, Nature, God, and the Future All intermingle in millions of ways and offer themselves in a million differences of result: but one truth remains which, like a firm axis, goes through all religions and systems—draw nigh to the Godhead of whom you think!