Infomotions, Inc.Winds Of Doctrine Studies in Contemporary Opinion / Santayana, George, 1863-1952



Author: Santayana, George, 1863-1952
Title: Winds Of Doctrine Studies in Contemporary Opinion
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Title: Winds Of Doctrine
       Studies in Contemporary Opinion

Author: George Santayana

Release Date: February 16, 2006 [EBook #17771]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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                          WINDS OF DOCTRINE

                             STUDIES IN
                        CONTEMPORARY OPINION



                                 BY

                            G. SANTAYANA

          LATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY




                  NEW YORK: CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS



                        FIRST PRINTED IN 1913




CONTENTS



I. THE INTELLECTUAL TEMPER OF THE AGE

II. MODERNISM AND CHRISTIANITY

III. THE PHILOSOPHY OF M. HENRI BERGSON

IV. THE PHILOSOPHY OF MR. BERTRAND RUSSELL--

     i. A NEW SCHOLASTICISM

     ii. THE STUDY OF ESSENCE

     iii. THE CRITIQUE OF PRAGMATISM

     iv. HYPOSTATIC ETHICS

V. SHELLEY: OR THE POETIC VALUE OF REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES

VI. THE GENTEEL TRADITION IN AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY




WINDS OF DOCTRINE




I

THE INTELLECTUAL TEMPER OF THE AGE


The present age is a critical one and interesting to live in. The
civilisation characteristic of Christendom has not disappeared, yet
another civilisation has begun to take its place. We still understand
the value of religious faith; we still appreciate the pompous arts of
our forefathers; we are brought up on academic architecture,
sculpture, painting, poetry, and music. We still love monarchy and
aristocracy, together with that picturesque and dutiful order which
rested on local institutions, class privileges, and the authority of
the family. We may even feel an organic need for all these things,
cling to them tenaciously, and dream of rejuvenating them. On the
other hand the shell of Christendom is broken. The unconquerable mind
of the East, the pagan past, the industrial socialistic future
confront it with their equal authority. Our whole life and mind is
saturated with the slow upward filtration of a new spirit--that of an
emancipated, atheistic, international democracy.

These epithets may make us shudder; but what they describe is
something positive and self-justified, something deeply rooted in our
animal nature and inspiring to our hearts, something which, like every
vital impulse, is pregnant with a morality of its own. In vain do we
deprecate it; it has possession of us already through our
propensities, fashions, and language. Our very plutocrats and monarchs
are at ease only when they are vulgar. Even prelates and missionaries
are hardly sincere or conscious of an honest function, save as they
devote themselves to social work; for willy-nilly the new spirit has
hold of our consciences as well. This spirit is amiable as well as
disquieting, liberating as well as barbaric; and a philosopher in our
day, conscious both of the old life and of the new, might repeat what
Goethe said of his successive love affairs--that it is sweet to see
the moon rise while the sun is still mildly shining.

Meantime our bodies in this generation are generally safe, and often
comfortable; and for those who can suspend their irrational labours
long enough to look about them, the spectacle of the world, if not
particularly beautiful or touching, presents a rapid and crowded drama
and (what here concerns me most) one unusually intelligible. The
nations, parties, and movements that divide the scene have a known
history. We are not condemned, as most generations have been, to fight
and believe without an inkling of the cause. The past lies before us;
the history of everything is published. Every one records his opinion,
and loudly proclaims what he wants. In this Babel of ideals few
demands are ever literally satisfied; but many evaporate, merge
together, and reach an unintended issue, with which they are content.
The whole drift of things presents a huge, good-natured comedy to the
observer. It stirs not unpleasantly a certain sturdy animality and
hearty self-trust which lie at the base of human nature.

A chief characteristic of the situation is that moral confusion is not
limited to the world at large, always the scene of profound conflicts,
but that it has penetrated to the mind and heart of the average
individual. Never perhaps were men so like one another and so divided
within themselves. In other ages, even more than at present, different
classes of men have stood at different levels of culture, with a
magnificent readiness to persecute and to be martyred for their
respective principles. These militant believers have been keenly
conscious that they had enemies; but their enemies were strangers to
them, whom they could think of merely as such, regarding them as blank
negative forces, hateful black devils, whose existence might make life
difficult but could not confuse the ideal of life. No one sought to
understand these enemies of his, nor even to conciliate them, unless
under compulsion or out of insidious policy, to convert them against
their will; he merely pelted them with blind refutations and clumsy
blows. Every one sincerely felt that the right was entirely on his
side, a proof that such intelligence as he had moved freely and
exclusively within the lines of his faith. The result of this was that
his faith was intelligent, I mean, that he understood it, and had a
clear, almost instinctive perception of what was compatible or
incompatible with it. He defended his walls and he cultivated his
garden. His position and his possessions were unmistakable.

When men and minds were so distinct it was possible to describe and to
count them. During the Reformation, when external confusion was at
its height, you might have ascertained almost statistically what
persons and what regions each side snatched from the other; it was not
doubtful which was which. The history of their respective victories
and defeats could consequently be written. So in the eighteenth
century it was easy to perceive how many people Voltaire and Rousseau
might be alienating from Bossuet and Fenelon. But how shall we satisfy
ourselves now whether, for instance, Christianity is holding its own?
Who can tell what vagary or what compromise may not be calling itself
Christianity? A bishop may be a modernist, a chemist may be a mystical
theologian, a psychologist may be a believer in ghosts. For science,
too, which had promised to supply a new and solid foundation for
philosophy, has allowed philosophy rather to undermine its foundation,
and is seen eating its own words, through the mouths of some of its
accredited spokesmen, and reducing itself to something utterly
conventional and insecure. It is characteristic of human nature to be
as impatient of ignorance regarding what is not known as lazy in
acquiring such knowledge as is at hand; and even those who have not
been lazy sometimes take it into their heads to disparage their
science and to outdo the professional philosophers in psychological
scepticism, in order to plunge with them into the most vapid
speculation. Nor is this insecurity about first principles limited to
abstract subjects. It reigns in politics as well. Liberalism had been
supposed to advocate liberty; but what the advanced parties that still
call themselves liberal now advocate is control, control over
property, trade, wages, hours of work, meat and drink, amusements,
and in a truly advanced country like France control over education and
religion; and it is only on the subject of marriage (if we ignore
eugenics) that liberalism is growing more and more liberal. Those who
speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality; how
many people read and write, or how many people there are, or what is
the annual value of their trade; whereas true progress would rather
lie in reading or writing fewer and better things, and being fewer and
better men, and enjoying life more. But the philanthropists are now
preparing an absolute subjection of the individual, in soul and body,
to the instincts of the majority--the most cruel and unprogressive of
masters; and I am not sure that the liberal maxim, "the greatest
happiness of the greatest number," has not lost whatever was just or
generous in its intent and come to mean the greatest idleness of the
largest possible population.

Nationality offers another occasion for strange moral confusion. It
had seemed that an age that was levelling and connecting all nations,
an age whose real achievements were of international application, was
destined to establish the solidarity of mankind as a sort of axiom.
The idea of solidarity is indeed often invoked in speeches, and there
is an extreme socialistic party that--when a wave of national passion
does not carry it the other way--believes in international
brotherhood. But even here, black men and yellow men are generally
excluded; and in higher circles, where history, literature, and
political ambition dominate men's minds, nationalism has become of
late an omnivorous all-permeating passion. Local parliaments must be
everywhere established, extinct or provincial dialects must be
galvanised into national languages, philosophy must be made racial,
religion must be fostered where it emphasises nationality and
denounced where it transcends it. Man is certainly an animal that,
when he lives at all, lives for ideals. Something must be found to
occupy his imagination, to raise pleasure and pain into love and
hatred, and change the prosaic alternative between comfort and
discomfort into the tragic one between happiness and sorrow. Now that
the hue of daily adventure is so dull, when religion for the most part
is so vague and accommodating, when even war is a vast impersonal
business, nationality seems to have slipped into the place of honour.
It has become the one eloquent, public, intrepid illusion. Illusion, I
mean, when it is taken for an ultimate good or a mystical essence, for
of course nationality is a fact. People speak some particular language
and are very uncomfortable where another is spoken or where their own
is spoken differently. They have habits, judgments, assumptions to
which they are wedded, and a society where all this is unheard of
shocks them and puts them at a galling disadvantage. To ignorant
people the foreigner as such is ridiculous, unless he is superior to
them in numbers or prestige, when he becomes hateful. It is natural
for a man to like to live at home, and to live long elsewhere without
a sense of exile is not good for his moral integrity. It is right to
feel a greater kinship and affection for what lies nearest to oneself.
But this necessary fact and even duty of nationality is accidental;
like age or sex it is a physical fatality which can be made the basis
of specific and comely virtues; but it is not an end to pursue or a
flag to flaunt or a privilege not balanced by a thousand incapacities.
Yet of this distinction our contemporaries tend to make an idol,
perhaps because it is the only distinction they feel they have left.

Anomalies of this sort will never be properly understood until people
accustom themselves to a theory to which they have always turned a
deaf ear, because, though simple and true, it is materialistic:
namely, that mind is not the cause of our actions but an effect,
collateral with our actions, of bodily growth and organisation. It may
therefore easily come about that the thoughts of men, tested by the
principles that seem to rule their conduct, may be belated, or
irrelevant, or premonitory; for the living organism has many strata,
on any of which, at a given moment, activities may exist perfect
enough to involve consciousness, yet too weak and isolated to control
the organs of outer expression; so that (to speak geologically) our
practice may be historic, our manners glacial, and our religion
palaeozoic. The ideals of the nineteenth century may be said to have
been all belated; the age still yearned with Rousseau or speculated
with Kant, while it moved with Darwin, Bismarck, and Nietzsche: and
to-day, in the half-educated classes, among the religious or
revolutionary sects, we may observe quite modern methods of work
allied with a somewhat antiquated mentality. The whole nineteenth
century might well cry with Faust: "Two souls, alas, dwell in my
bosom!" The revolutions it witnessed filled it with horror and made it
fall in love romantically with the past and dote on ruins, because
they were ruins; and the best learning and fiction of the time were
historical, inspired by an unprecedented effort to understand remote
forms of life and feeling, to appreciate exotic arts and religions,
and to rethink the blameless thoughts of savages and criminals. This
sympathetic labour and retrospect, however, was far from being merely
sentimental; for the other half of this divided soul was looking
ahead. Those same revolutions, often so destructive, stupid, and
bloody, filled it with pride, and prompted it to invent several
incompatible theories concerning a steady and inevitable progress in
the world. In the study of the past, side by side with romantic
sympathy, there was a sort of realistic, scholarly intelligence and an
adventurous love of truth; kindness too was often mingled with
dramatic curiosity. The pathologists were usually healers, the
philosophers of evolution were inventors or humanitarians or at least
idealists: the historians of art (though optimism was impossible here)
were also guides to taste, quickeners of moral sensibility, like
Ruskin, or enthusiasts for the irresponsibly beautiful, like Pater and
Oscar Wilde. Everywhere in the nineteenth century we find a double
preoccupation with the past and with the future, a longing to know
what all experience might have been hitherto, and on the other hand to
hasten to some wholly different experience, to be contrived
immediately with a beating heart and with flying banners. The
imagination of the age was intent on history; its conscience was
intent on reform.

Reform! This magic word itself covers a great equivocation. To reform
means to shatter one form and to create another; but the two sides of
the act are not always equally intended nor equally successful.
Usually the movement starts from the mere sense of oppression, and
people break down some established form, without any qualms about the
capacity of their freed instincts to generate the new forms that may
be needed. So the Reformation, in destroying the traditional order,
intended to secure truth, spontaneity, and profuseness of religious
forms; the danger of course being that each form might become meagre
and the sum of them chaotic. If the accent, however, could only be
laid on the second phase of the transformation, reform might mean the
creation of order where it did not sufficiently appear, so that
diffuse life should be concentrated into a congenial form that should
render it strong and self-conscious. In this sense, if we may trust
Mr. Gilbert Murray, it was a great wave of reform that created Greece,
or at least all that was characteristic and admirable in it--an effort
to organise, train, simplify, purify, and make beautiful the chaos of
barbaric customs and passions that had preceded. The clanger here, a
danger to which Greece actually succumbed, is that so refined an
organism may be too fragile, not inclusive enough within, and not
buttressed strongly enough without against the flux of the uncivilised
world. Christianity also, in the first formative centuries of its
existence, was an integrating reform of the same sort, on a different
scale and in a different sphere; but here too an enslaved rabble
within the soul claiming the suffrage, and better equipped
intellectual empires rising round about, seem to prove that the
harmony which the Christian system made for a moment out of nature and
life was partial and insecure. It is a terrible dilemma in the life of
reason whether it will sacrifice natural abundance to moral order, or
moral order to natural abundance. Whatever compromise we choose proves
unstable, and forces us to a new experiment.

Perhaps in the century that has elapsed since the French Revolution
the pendulum has had time to swing as far as it will in the direction
of negative reform, and may now begin to move towards that sort of
reform which is integrating and creative. The veering of the advanced
political parties from liberalism to socialism would seem to be a
clear indication of this new tendency. It is manifest also in the love
of nature, in athletics, in the new woman, and in a friendly medical
attitude towards all the passions.

In the fine arts, however, and in religion and philosophy, we are
still in full career towards disintegration. It might have been
thought that a germ of rational order would by this time have
penetrated into fine art and speculation from the prosperous
constructive arts that touch the one, and the prosperous natural and
mathematical sciences that touch the other. But as yet there is little
sign of it. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century painting and
sculpture have passed through several phases, representatives of each
naturally surviving after the next had appeared. Romanticism, half
lurid, half effeminate, yielded to a brutal pursuit of material truth,
and a pious preference for modern and humble sentiment. This realism
had a romantic vein in it, and studied vice and crime, tedium and
despair, with a very genuine horrified sympathy. Some went in for a
display of archaeological lore or for exotic _motifs_; others gave all
their attention to rediscovering and emphasising abstract problems of
execution, the highway of technical tradition having long been
abandoned. Beginners are still supposed to study their art, but they
have no masters from whom to learn it. Thus, when there seemed to be
some danger that art should be drowned in science and history, the
artists deftly eluded it by becoming amateurs. One gave himself to
religious archaism, another to Japanese composition, a third to
barbaric symphonies of colour; sculptors tried to express dramatic
climaxes, or inarticulate lyrical passion, such as music might better
convey; and the latest whims are apparently to abandon painful
observation altogether, to be merely decorative or frankly mystical,
and to be satisfied with the childishness of hieroglyphics or the
crudity of caricature. The arts are like truant children who think
their life will be glorious if they only run away and play for ever;
no need is felt of a dominant ideal passion and theme, nor of any
moral interest in the interpretation of nature. Artists have no less
talent than ever; their taste, their vision, their sentiment are often
interesting; they are mighty in their independence and feeble only in
their works.

In philosophy there are always the professors, as in art there are
always the portrait painters and the makers of official sculpture; and
both sorts of academicians are often very expert and well-educated.
Yet in philosophy, besides the survival of all the official and
endowed systems, there has been of late a very interesting fresh
movement, largely among the professors themselves, which in its
various hues may be called irrationalism, vitalism, pragmatism, or
pure empiricism. But this movement, far from being a reawakening of
any organising instinct, is simply an extreme expression of romantic
anarchy. It is in essence but a franker confession of the principle
upon which modern philosophy has been building--or unbuilding--for
these three hundred years, I mean the principle of subjectivity.
Berkeley and Hume, the first prophets of the school, taught that
experience is not a partial discovery of other things but is itself
the only possible object of experience. Therefore, said Kant and the
second generation of prophets, any world we may seem to live in, even
those worlds of theology or of history which Berkeley or Hume had
inadvertently left standing, must be an idea which our present
experience suggests to us and which we frame as the principles of our
mind allow and dictate that we should. But then, say the latest
prophets--Avenarius, William James, M. Bergson--these mental
principles are no antecedent necessities or duties imposed on our
imagination; they are simply parts of flying experience itself, and
the ideas--say of God or of matter--which they lead us to frame have
nothing compulsory or fixed about them. Their sole authority lies in
the fact that they may be more or less congenial or convenient, by
enriching the flying moment aesthetically, or helping it to slip
prosperously into the next moment. Immediate feeling, pure experience,
is the only reality, the only _fact_: if notions which do not
reproduce it fully as it flows are still called true (and they
evidently ought not to be) it is only in a pragmatic sense of the
word, in that while they present a false and heterogeneous image of
reality they are not practically misleading; as, for instance, the
letters on this page are no true image of the sounds they call up, nor
the sounds of the thoughts, yet both may be correct enough if they
lead the reader in the end to the things they symbolise. It is M.
Bergson, the most circumspect and best equipped thinker of this often
scatter-brained school, who has put this view in a frank and tenable
form, avoiding the bungling it has sometimes led to about the "meaning
of truth." Truth, according to M. Bergson, is given only in intuitions
which prolong experience just as it occurs, in its full immediacy; on
the other hand, all representation, thought, theory, calculation, or
discourse is so much mutilation of the truth, excusable only because
imposed upon us by practical exigences. The world, being a feeling,
must be felt to be known, and then the world and the knowledge of it
are identical; but if it is talked about or thought about it is
denaturalised, although convention and utility may compel the poor
human being to talk and to think, exiled as he is from reality in his
Babylon of abstractions. Life, like the porcupine when not ruffled by
practical alarms, can let its fretful quills subside. The mystic can
live happy in the droning consciousness of his own heart-beats and
those of the universe.

With this we seem to have reached the extreme of self-concentration
and self-expansion, the perfect identity and involution of everything
in oneself. And such indeed is the inevitable goal of the malicious
theory of knowledge, to which this school is committed, remote as that
goal may be from the boyish naturalism and innocent intent of many of
its pupils. If all knowledge is of experience and experience cannot be
knowledge of anything else, knowledge proper is evidently impossible.
There can be only feeling; and the least self-transcendence, even in
memory, must be an illusion. You may have the most complex images you
will; but nothing pictured there can exist outside, not even past or
alien experience, if you picture it.[1] Solipsism has always been the
evident implication of idealism; but the idealists, when confronted
with this consequence, which is dialectically inconvenient, have never
been troubled at heart by it, for at heart they accept it. To the
uninitiated they have merely murmured, with a pitying smile and a wave
of the hand: What! are you still troubled by that? Or if compelled to
be so scholastic as to labour the point they have explained, as usual,
that oneself cannot be the absolute because the _idea_ of oneself, to
arise, must be contrasted with other ideas. Therefore, you cannot well
have the idea of a world in which nothing appears but the _idea_ of
yourself.

[Footnote 1: Perhaps some unsophisticated reader may wonder if I am
not trying to mislead him, or if any mortal ever really maintained
anything so absurd. Strictly the idealistic principle does not justify
a denial that independent things, by chance resembling my ideas, may
actually exist; but it justifies the denial that these things, if they
existed, could be those I know. My past would not be my past if I did
not appropriate it; my ideas would not refer to their objects unless
both were ideas identified in my mind. In practice, therefore,
idealists feel free to ignore the gratuitous possibility of existences
lying outside the circle of objects knowable to the thinker, which,
according to them, is the circle of his ideas. In this way they turn a
human method of approach into a charter for existence and
non-existence, and their point of view becomes the creative power.
When the idealist studies astronomy, does he learn anything about the
stars that God made? Far from him so naive a thought! His astronomy
consists of two activities of his own (and he is very fond of
activity): star-gazing and calculation. When he has become quite
proficient he knows all about star-gazing and calculation; but he
knows nothing of any stars that God made; for there are no stars
except his visual images of stars, and there is no God but himself. It
is true that to soften this hard saying a little he would correct me
and say his _higher_ self; but as his lower self is only the idea of
himself which he may have framed, it is his higher self that is
himself simply: although whether he or his idea of himself is really
the higher might seem doubtful to an outsider.]

This explanation, in pretending to refute solipsism, of course assumes
and confirms it; for all these _cans_ and _musts_ touch only your idea
of yourself, not your actual being, and there is no thinkable world
that is not within you, as you exist really. Thus idealists are wedded
to solipsism irrevocably; and it is a happy marriage, only the name of
the lady has to be changed.

Nevertheless, lest peace should come (and peace nowadays is neither
possible nor desired), a counter-current at once overtakes the
philosophy of the immediate and carries it violently to the opposite
pole of speculation--from mystic intuition to a commercial cult of
action and a materialisation of the mind such as no materialist had
ever dreamt of. The tenderness which the pragmatists feel for life in
general, and especially for an accelerated modern life, has doubtless
contributed to this revulsion, but the speculative consideration of
the immediate might have led to it independently. For in the immediate
there is marked expectancy, craving, prayer; nothing absorbs
consciousness so much as what is not quite given. Therefore it is a
good reading of the immediate, as well as a congenial thing to say to
the contemporary world, that reality is change, growth, action,
creation. Similarly the sudden materialisation of mind, the
unlooked-for assertion that consciousness does not exist, has its
justification in the same quarter. In the immediate what appears is
the thing, not the mind to which the thing appears. Even in the
passions, when closely scanned introspectively, you will find a new
sensitiveness or ebullition of the body, or a rush of images and
words; you will hardly find a separate object called anger or love.
The passions, therefore, when their moral essence is forgotten, may be
said to be literally nothing but a movement of their organs and their
objects, just as ideas may be said to be nothing but fragments or
cross-threads of the material world. Thus the mind and the object are
rolled into one moving mass; motions are identified with passions,
things are perceptions extended, perceptions are things cut down. And,
by a curious revolution in sentiment, it is things and motions that
are reputed to have the fuller and the nobler reality. Under cover of
a fusion or neutrality between idealism and realism, moral
materialism, the reverence for mere existence and power, takes
possession of the heart, and ethics becomes idolatrous. Idolatry,
however, is hardly possible if you have a cold and clear idea of
blocks and stones, attributing to them only the motions they are
capable of; and accordingly idealism, by way of compensation, has to
take possession of physics. The idol begins to wink and drop tears
under the wistful gaze of the worshipper. Matter is felt to yearn, and
evolution is held to be more divinely inspired than policy or reason
could ever be.

Extremes meet, and the tendency to practical materialism was never
wholly absent from the idealism of the moderns. Certainly, the tumid
respectability of Anglo-German philosophy had somehow to be left
behind; and Darwinian England and Bismarckian Germany had another
inspiration as well to guide them, if it could only come to
consciousness in the professors. The worship of power is an old
religion, and Hegel, to go no farther back, is full of it; but like
traditional religion his system qualified its veneration for success
by attributing success, in the future at least, to what could really
inspire veneration; and such a master in equivocation could have no
difficulty in convincing himself that the good must conquer in the end
if whatever conquers in the end is the good. Among the pragmatists the
worship of power is also optimistic, but it is not to logic that power
is attributed. Science, they say, is good as a help to industry, and
philosophy is good for correcting whatever in science might disturb
religious faith, which in turn is helpful in living. What industry or
life are good for it would be unsympathetic to inquire: the stream is
mighty, and we must swim with the stream. Concern for survival,
however, which seems to be the pragmatic principle in morals, does not
afford a remedy for moral anarchy. To take firm hold on life,
according to Nietzsche, we should be imperious, poetical, atheistic;
but according to William James we should be democratic, concrete, and
credulous. It is hard to say whether pragmatism is come to emancipate
the individual spirit and make it lord over things, or on the contrary
to declare the spirit a mere instrument for the survival of the flesh.
In Italy, the mind seems to be raised deliriously into an absolute
creator, evoking at will, at each moment, a new past, a new future, a
new earth, and a new God. In America, however, the mind is recommended
rather as an unpatented device for oiling the engine of the body and
making it do double work.

Trustful faith in evolution and a longing for intense life are
characteristic of contemporary sentiment; but they do not appear to be
consistent with that contempt for the intellect which is no less
characteristic of it. Human intelligence is certainly a product, and
a late and highly organised product, of evolution; it ought apparently
to be as much admired as the eyes of molluscs or the antennae of ants.
And if life is better the more intense and concentrated it is,
intelligence would seem to be the best form of life. But the degree of
intelligence which this age possesses makes it so very uncomfortable
that, in this instance, it asks for something less vital, and sighs
for what evolution has left behind. In the presence of such cruelly
distinct things as astronomy or such cruelly confused things as
theology it feels _la nostalgie de la boue_. It was only, M. Bergson
tells us, where dead matter oppressed life that life was forced to
become intelligence; for this reason intelligence kills whatever it
touches; it is the tribute that life pays to death. Life would find it
sweet to throw off that painful subjection to circumstance and bloom
in some more congenial direction. M. Bergson's own philosophy is an
effort to realise this revulsion, to disintegrate intelligence and
stimulate sympathetic experience. Its charm lies in the relief which
it brings to a stale imagination, an imagination from which religion
has vanished and which is kept stretched on the machinery of business
and society, or on small half-borrowed passions which we clothe in a
mean rhetoric and dot with vulgar pleasures. Finding their
intelligence enslaved, our contemporaries suppose that intelligence is
essentially servile; instead of freeing it, they try to elude it. Not
free enough themselves morally, but bound to the world partly by piety
and partly by industrialism, they cannot think of rising to a detached
contemplation of earthly things, and of life itself and evolution;
they revert rather to sensibility, and seek some by-path of instinct
or dramatic sympathy in which to wander. Having no stomach for the
ultimate, they burrow downwards towards the primitive. But the longing
to be primitive is a disease of culture; it is archaism in morals. To
be so preoccupied with vitality is a symptom of anaemia. When life was
really vigorous and young, in Homeric times for instance, no one
seemed to fear that it might be squeezed out of existence either by
the incubus of matter or by the petrifying blight of intelligence.
Life was like the light of day, something to use, or to waste, or to
enjoy. It was not a thing to worship; and often the chief luxury of
living consisted in dealing death about vigorously. Life indeed was
loved, and the beauty and pathos of it were felt exquisitely; but its
beauty and pathos lay in the divineness of its model and in its own
fragility. No one paid it the equivocal compliment of thinking it a
substance or a material force. Nobility was not then impossible in
sentiment, because there were ideals in life higher and more
indestructible than life itself, which life might illustrate and to
which it might fitly be sacrificed. Nothing can be meaner than the
anxiety to live on, to live on anyhow and in any shape; a spirit with
any honour is not willing to live except in its own way, and a spirit
with any wisdom is not over-eager to live at all. In those days men
recognised immortal gods and resigned themselves to being mortal. Yet
those were the truly vital and instinctive days of the human spirit.
Only when vitality is low do people find material things oppressive
and ideal things unsubstantial. Now there is more motion than life,
and more haste than force; we are driven to distraction by the ticking
of the tiresome clocks, material and social, by which we are obliged
to regulate our existence. We need ministering angels to fly to us
from somewhere, even if it be from the depths of protoplasm. We must
bathe in the currents of some non-human vital flood, like consumptives
in their last extremity who must bask in the sunshine and breathe the
mountain air; and our disease is not without its sophistry to convince
us that we were never so well before, or so mightily conscious of
being alive.

When chaos has penetrated so far into the moral being of nations they
can hardly be expected to produce great men. A great man need not be
virtuous, nor his opinions right, but he must have a firm mind, a
distinctive, luminous character; if he is to dominate things,
something must be dominant in him. We feel him to be great in that he
clarifies and brings to expression something which was potential in
the rest of us, but which with our burden of flesh and circumstance we
were too torpid to utter. The great man is a spontaneous variation in
humanity; but not in any direction. A spontaneous variation might be a
mere madness or mutilation or monstrosity; in finding the variation
admirable we evidently invoke some principle of order to which it
conforms. Perhaps it makes explicit what was preformed in us also; as
when a poet finds the absolutely right phrase for a feeling, or when
nature suddenly astonishes us with a form of absolute beauty. Or
perhaps it makes an unprecedented harmony out of things existing
before, but jangled and detached. The first man was a great man for
this latter reason; having been an ape perplexed and corrupted by his
multiplying instincts, he suddenly found a new way of being decent, by
harnessing all those instincts together, through memory and
imagination, and giving each in turn a measure of its due; which is
what we call being rational. It is a new road to happiness, if you
have strength enough to castigate a little the various impulses that
sway you in turn. Why then is the martyr, who sacrifices everything to
one attraction, distinguished from the criminal or the fool, who do
the same thing? Evidently because the spirit that in the martyr
destroys the body is the very spirit which the body is stifling in the
rest of us; and although his private inspiration may be irrational,
the tendency of it is not, but reduces the public conscience to act
before any one else has had the courage to do so. Greatness is
spontaneous; simplicity, trust in some one clear instinct, are
essential to it; but the spontaneous variation must be in the
direction of some possible sort of order; it must exclude and leave
behind what is incapable of being moralised. How, then, should there
be any great heroes, saints, artists, philosophers, or legislators in
an age when nobody trusts himself, or feels any confidence in reason,
in an age when the word _dogmatic_ is a term of reproach? Greatness
has character and severity, it is deep and sane, it is distinct and
perfect. For this reason there is none of it to-day.

There is indeed another kind of greatness, or rather largeness of
mind, which consists in being a synthesis of humanity in its current
phases, even if without prophetic emphasis or direction: the breadth
of a Goethe, rather than the fineness of a Shelley or a Leopardi. But
such largeness of mind, not to be vulgar, must be impartial,
comprehensive, Olympian; it would not be greatness if its miscellany
were not dominated by a clear genius and if before the confusion of
things the poet or philosopher were not himself delighted, exalted,
and by no means confused. Nor does this presume omniscience on his
part. It is not necessary to fathom the ground or the structure of
everything in order to know what to make of it. Stones do not
disconcert a builder because he may not happen to know what they are
chemically; and so the unsolved problems of life and nature, and the
Babel of society, need not disturb the genial observer, though he may
be incapable of unravelling them. He may set these dark spots down in
their places, like so many caves or wells in a landscape, without
feeling bound to scrutinise their depths simply because their depths
are obscure. Unexplored they may have a sort of lustre, explored they
might merely make him blind, and it may be a sufficient understanding
of them to know that they are not worth investigating. In this way the
most chaotic age and the most motley horrors might be mirrored
limpidly in a great mind, as the Renaissance was mirrored in the works
of Raphael and Shakespeare; but the master's eye itself must be
single, his style unmistakable, his visionary interest in what he
depicts frank and supreme. Hence this comprehensive sort of greatness
too is impossible in an age when moral confusion is pervasive, when
characters are complex, undecided, troubled by the mere existence of
what is not congenial to them, eager to be not themselves; when, in a
word, thought is weak and the flux of things overwhelms it.

Without great men and without clear convictions this age is
nevertheless very active intellectually; it is studious, empirical,
inventive, sympathetic. Its wisdom consists in a certain contrite
openness of mind; it flounders, but at least in floundering it has
gained a sense of possible depths in all directions. Under these
circumstances, some triviality and great confusion in its positive
achievements are not unpromising things, nor even unamiable. These are
the _Wanderjahre_ of faith; it looks smilingly at every new face,
which might perhaps be that of a predestined friend; it chases after
any engaging stranger; it even turns up again from time to time at
home, full of a new tenderness for all it had abandoned there. But to
settle down would be impossible now. The intellect, the judgment are
in abeyance. Life is running turbid and full; and it is no marvel that
reason, after vainly supposing that it ruled the world, should
abdicate as gracefully as possible, when the world is so obviously the
sport of cruder powers--vested interests, tribal passions, stock
sentiments, and chance majorities. Having no responsibility laid upon
it, reason has become irresponsible. Many critics and philosophers
seem to conceive that thinking aloud is itself literature. Sometimes
reason tries to lend some moral authority to its present masters, by
proving how superior they are to itself; it worships evolution,
instinct, novelty, action, as it does in modernism, pragmatism, and
the philosophy of M. Bergson. At other times it retires into the
freehold of those temperaments whom this world has ostracised, the
region of the non-existent, and comforts itself with its indubitable
conquests there. This happened earlier to the romanticists (in a way
which I have tried to describe in the subjoined paper on Shelley)
although their poetic and political illusions did not suffer them to
perceive it. It is happening now, after disillusion, to some radicals
and mathematicians like Mr. Bertrand Russell, and to others of us who,
perhaps without being mathematicians or even radicals, feel that the
sphere of what happens to exist is too alien and accidental to absorb
all the play of a free mind, whose function, after it has come to
clearness and made its peace with things, is to touch them with its
own moral and intellectual light, and to exist for its own sake.

These are but gusts of doctrine; yet they prove that the spirit is not
dead in the lull between its seasons of steady blowing. Who knows
which of them may not gather force presently and carry the mind of the
coming age steadily before it?




II

MODERNISM AND CHRISTIANITY


Prevalent winds of doctrine must needs penetrate at last into the
cloister. Social instability and moral confusion, reconstructions of
history and efforts after reform, are things characteristic of the
present age; and under the name of modernism they have made their
appearance even in that institution which is constitutionally the most
stable, of most explicit mind, least inclined to revise its collective
memory or established usages--I mean the Catholic church. Even after
this church was constituted by the fusion of many influences and by
the gradual exclusion of those heresies--some of them older than
explicit orthodoxy--which seemed to misrepresent its implications or
spirit, there still remained an inevitable propensity among Catholics
to share the moods of their respective ages and countries, and to
reconcile them if possible with their professed faith. Often these
cross influences were so strong that the profession of faith was
changed frankly to suit them, and Catholicism was openly abandoned;
but even where this did not occur we may detect in the Catholic minds
of each age some strange conjunctions and compromises with the
_Zeitgeist_. Thus the morality of chivalry and war, the ideals of
foppishness and honour, have been long maintained side by side with
the maxims of the gospel, which they entirely contradict. Later the
system of Copernicus, incompatible at heart with the anthropocentric
and moralistic view of the world which Christianity implies, was
accepted by the church with some lame attempt to render it innocuous;
but it remains an alien and hostile element, like a spent bullet
lodged in the flesh. In more recent times we have heard of liberal
Catholicism, the attitude assumed by some generous but divided minds,
too much attached to their traditional religion to abandon it, but too
weak and too hopeful not to glow also with enthusiasm for modern
liberty and progress. Had those minds been, I will not say
intelligently Catholic but radically Christian, they would have felt
that this liberty was simply liberty to be damned, and this progress
not an advance towards the true good of man, but a lapse into endless
and heathen wanderings. For Christianity, in its essence and origin,
was an urgent summons to repent and come out of just such a worldly
life as modern liberty and progress hold up as an ideal to the
nations. In the Roman empire, as in the promised land of liberalism,
each man sought to get and to enjoy as much as he could, and supported
a ponderous government neutral as to religion and moral traditions,
but favourable to the accumulation of riches; so that a certain
enlightenment and cosmopolitanism were made possible, and private
passions and tastes could be gratified without encountering
persecution or public obloquy, though not without a general relaxation
of society and a vulgarising of arts and manners. That something so
self-indulgent and worldly as this ideal of liberalism could have been
thought compatible with Christianity, the first initiation into which,
in baptism, involves renouncing the world, might well astonish us,
had we not been rendered deaf to moral discords by the very din which
from our birth they have been making in our ears.

But this is not all. Primitive Christianity was not only a summons to
turn one's heart and mind away from a corrupt world; it was a summons
to do so under pain of instant and terrible punishment. It was the
conviction of pious Jews since the days of the Prophets that
mercilessness, avarice, and disobedience to revealed law were the
direct path to ruin; a world so wicked as the liberal world against
which St. John the Baptist thundered was necessarily on the verge of
destruction. Sin, although we moderns may not think so, seemed to the
ancient Jews a fearful imprudence. The hand of the Lord would descend
on it heavily, and very soon. The whole Roman civilisation was to be
overthrown in the twinkling of an eye. Those who hoped to be of the
remnant and to be saved, so as to lead a clarified and heavenly life
in the New Jerusalem, must hasten to put on sackcloth and ashes, to
fast and to pray, to watch with girded loins for the coming of the
kingdom; it was superfluous for them to study the dead past or to take
thought for the morrow. The cataclysm was at hand; a new heaven and a
new earth--far more worthy of study--would be unrolled before that
very generation.

There was indeed something terribly levelling, revolutionary, serious,
and expectant about that primitive gospel; and in so far as liberalism
possessed similar qualities, in so far as it was moved by indignation,
pity, and fervent hope, it could well preach on early Christian texts.
But the liberal Catholics were liberals of the polite and
governmental sort; they were shocked at suffering rather than at sin,
and they feared not the Lord but the movement of public opinion. Some
of them were vaguely pious men, whose conservativism in social and
moral matters forbade them to acquiesce in the disappearance of the
church altogether, and they thought it might be preserved, as the
English church is, by making opportune concessions. Others were simply
aristocrats, desirous that the pacifying influence of religion should
remain strong over the masses. The clergy was not, in any considerable
measure, tossed by these opposing currents; the few priests who were
liberals were themselves men of the world, patriots, and orators. Such
persons could not look forward to a fierce sifting of the wheat from
the tares, or to any burning of whole bundles of nations, for they
were nothing if not romantic nationalists, and the idea of faggots of
any sort was most painful to their minds. They longed rather for a
sweet cohabitation with everybody, and a mild tolerance of almost
everything. A war for religion seemed to them a crime, but a war for
nationality glorious and holy. No wonder that their work in
nation-building has endured, while their sentiments in religion are
scattered to the winds. The liberalism for the sake of which they were
willing to eviscerate their Christianity has already lost its
vitality; it survives as a pale parliamentary tradition, impotent
before the tide of socialism rising behind its back. The Catholicism
which they wished to see gently lingering is being driven out of
national life by official spoliations and popular mockeries. It is
fast becoming what it was in the beginning, a sect with more or less
power to alienate the few who genuinely adhere to it from the pagan
society in which they are forced to live.

The question what is true or essential Christianity is a thorny one,
because each party gives the name of genuine Christianity to what it
happens to believe. Thus Professor Harnack, not to mention less
distinguished historians, makes the original essence of Christianity
coincide--what a miracle!--with his own Lutheran and Kantian
sentiments. But the essence of Christianity, as of everything else, is
the whole of it; and the genuine nature of a seed is at least as well
expressed by what it becomes in contact with the earth and air as by
what it seems in its primitive minuteness. It is quite true, as the
modernists tell us, that in the beginning Christian faith was not a
matter of scholastic definitions, nor even of intellectual dogmas.
Religions seldom begin in that form, and paganism was even less
intellectual and less dogmatic than early Christianity. The most
primitive Christian faith consisted in a conversion of the whole
man--intellect, habits, and affections--from the life of the world to
a new mystical life, in answer to a moral summons and a prophecy about
destiny. The moral summons was to renounce home, kindred, possessions,
the respect of men, the hypocrisies of the synagogue, and to devote
oneself to a wandering and begging life, healing, praying, and
preaching. And preaching what? Preaching the prophecy about destiny
which justified that conversion and renunciation; preaching that the
world, in its present constitution, was about to be destroyed on
account of its wickedness, and that the ignorant, the poor, and the
down-trodden, if they trusted this prophecy, and turned their backs at
once on all the world pursues, would be saved in the new deluge, and
would form a new society, of a more or less supernatural kind, to be
raised on the ruins of all present institutions. The poor were called,
but the rich were called also, and perhaps even the heathen; for there
was in all men, even in all nature (this is the one touch of
speculative feeling in the gospel), a precious potentiality of
goodness. All were essentially amiable, though accidentally wretched
and depraved; and by the magic of a new faith and hope this soul of
goodness in all living things might be freed from the hideous incubus
of circumstance that now oppresses it, and might come to bloom openly
as the penetrating eye of the lover, even now, sees that it could
bloom. Love, then, and sympathy, particularly towards the sinful and
diseased, a love relieved of sentimentality by the deliberate practice
of healing, warning, and comforting; a complete aversion from all the
interests of political society, and a confident expectation of a
cataclysm that should suddenly transfigure the world--such was
Christian religion in its origin. The primitive Christian was filled
with the sense of a special election and responsibility, and of a
special hope. He was serene, abstracted, incorruptible, his inward eye
fixed on a wonderful revelation. He was as incapable of attacking as
of serving the state; he despised or ignored everything for which the
state exists, labour, wealth, power, felicity, splendour, and
learning. With Christ the natural man in him had been crucified, and
in Christ he had risen again a spiritual man, to walk the earth, as a
messenger from heaven, for a few more years. His whole life was an
experience of perpetual graces and miracles.

The prophecy about the speedy end of this wicked world was not
fulfilled as the early Christians expected; but this fact is less
disconcerting to the Christian than one would suppose. The spontaneous
or instinctive Christian--and there is such a type of mind, quite
apart from any affiliation to historic Christianity--takes a personal
and dramatic view of the world; its values and even its reality are
the values and reality which it may have for him. It would profit him
nothing to win it, if he lost his own soul. That prophecy about the
destruction of nature springs from this attitude; nature must be
subservient to the human conscience; it must satisfy the hopes of the
prophet and vindicate the saints. That the years should pass and
nothing should seem to happen need not shatter the force of this
prophecy for those whose imagination it excites. This world must
actually vanish very soon for each of us; and this is the point of
view that counts with the Christian mind. Even if we consider
posterity, the kingdoms and arts and philosophies of this world are
short lived; they shift their aims continually and shift their
substance. The prophecy of their destruction is therefore being
fulfilled continually; the need of repentance, if one would be saved,
is truly urgent; and the means of that salvation cannot be an
operation upon this world, but faith in another world that, in the
experience of each soul, is to follow upon it. Thus the summons to
repent and the prophecy about destiny which were the root of
Christianity, can fully retain their spirit when for "this wicked
world" we read "this transitory life" and for "the coming of the
Kingdom" we read "life everlasting." The change is important, but it
affects the application rather than the nature of the gospel. Morally
there is a loss, because men will never take so hotly what concerns
another life as what affects this one; speculatively, on the other
hand, there is a gain, for the expectation of total transformations
and millenniums on earth is a very crude illusion, while the relation
of the soul to nature is an open question in philosophy, and there
will always be a great loftiness and poetic sincerity in the feeling
that the soul is a stranger in this world and has other destinies in
store.

What would make the preaching of the gospel utterly impossible would
be the admission that it had no authority to proclaim what has
happened or what is going to happen, either in this world or in
another. A prophecy about destiny is an account, however vague, of
events to be actually experienced, and of their causes. The whole
inspiration of Hebraic religion lies in that. It was not
metaphorically that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. The promised
land was a piece of earth. The kingdom was an historical fact. It was
not symbolically that Israel was led into captivity, or that it
returned and restored the Temple. It was not ideally that a Messiah
was to come. Memory of such events is in the same field as history;
prophecy is in the same field as natural science. Natural science too
is an account of what will happen, and under what conditions. It too
is a prophecy about destiny. Accordingly, while it is quite true that
speculations about nature and history are not contained explicitly in
the religion of the gospel, yet the message of this religion is one
which speculations about nature and reconstructions of history may
extend congruously, or may contradict and totally annul. If physical
science should remove those threats of destruction to follow upon sin
which Christian prophecy contains, or if it should prove that what
brings destruction is just that unworldly, prayerful, all-forgiving,
idle, and revolutionary attitude which the gospel enjoins, then
physical science would be incompatible with Christianity; not with
this or that text of the Bible merely, about the sun standing still or
the dead rising again, but with the whole foundation of what Christ
himself, with John the Baptist, St. Paul, St. James, and St. John,
preached to the world.

Even the pagan poets, when they devised a myth, half believed in it
for a fact. What really lent some truth--moral truth only--to their
imaginations was indeed the beauty of nature, the comedy of life, or
the groans of mankind, crushed between the upper and the nether
millstones; but being scientifically ignorant they allowed their
pictorial wisdom to pass for a revealed science, for a physics of the
unseen. If even among the pagans the poetic expression of human
experience could be mistaken in this way for knowledge of occult
existences, how much more must this have been the case among a more
ignorant and a more intense nation like the Jews? Indeed, _events_ are
what the Jews have always remembered and hoped for; if their religion
was not a guide to events, an assured means towards a positive and
experimental salvation, it was nothing. Their theology was meagre in
the description of the Lord's nature, but rich in the description of
his ways. Indeed, their belief in the existence and power of the Lord,
if we take it pragmatically and not imaginatively, was simply the
belief in certain moral harmonies in destiny, in the sufficiency of
conduct of a certain sort to secure success and good fortune, both
national and personal. This faith was partly an experience and partly
a demand; it turned on history and prophecy. History was interpreted
by a prophetic insight into the moral principle, believed to govern
it; and prophecy was a passionate demonstration of the same
principles, at work in the catastrophes of the day or of the morrow.

There is no doubt a Platonic sort of religion, a worship of the ideal
apart from its power to realise itself, which has entered largely into
the life of Christians; and the more mystical and disinterested they
were, the more it has tended to take the place of Hebraism. But the
Platonists, too, when left to their instincts, follow their master in
attributing power and existence, by a sort of cumulative worship and
imaginative hyperbole, to what in the first place they worship because
it is good. To divorce, then, as the modernists do, the history of the
world from the story of salvation, and God's government and the
sanctions of religion from the operation of matter, is a _fundamental
apostasy_ from Christianity. Christianity, being a practical and
living faith in a possible eventual redemption from sin, from the
punishment for sin, from the thousand circumstances that make the most
brilliant worldly life a sham and a failure, essentially involves a
faith in a supernatural physics, in such an economy of forces, behind,
within, and around the discoverable forces of nature, that the
destiny which nature seems to prepare for us may be reversed, that
failures may be turned into successes, ignominy into glory, and humble
faith into triumphant vision: and this not merely by a change in our
point of view or estimation of things, but by an actual historical,
physical transformation in the things themselves. To believe this in
our day may require courage, even a certain childish simplicity; but
were not courage and a certain childish simplicity always requisite
for Christian faith? It never was a religion for the rationalist and
the worldling; it was based on alienation from the world, from the
intellectual world no less than from the economic and political. It
flourished in the Oriental imagination that is able to treat all
existence with disdain and to hold it superbly at arm's length, and at
the same time is subject to visions and false memories, is swayed by
the eloquence of private passion, and raises confidently to heaven the
cry of the poor, the bereaved, and the distressed. Its daily bread,
from the beginning, was hope for a miraculous change of scene, for
prison-walls falling to the ground about it, for a heart inwardly
comforted, and a shower of good things from the sky.

It is clear that a supernaturalistic faith of this sort, which might
wholly inspire some revolutionary sect, can never wholly inspire human
society. Whenever a nation is converted to Christianity, its
Christianity, in practice, must be largely converted into paganism.
The true Christian is in all countries a pilgrim and a stranger; not
his kinsmen, but whoever does the will of his Father who is in heaven
is his brother and sister and mother and his real compatriot. In a
nation that calls itself Christian every child may be pledged, at
baptism, to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil; but the
flesh will assert itself notwithstanding, the devil will have his due,
and the nominal Christian, become a man of business and the head of a
family, will form an integral part of that very world which he will
pledge his children to renounce in turn as he holds them over the
font. The lips, even the intellect, may continue to profess the
Christian ideal; but public and social life will be guided by quite
another. The ages of faith, the ages of Christian unity, were such
only superficially. When all men are Christians only a small element
can be Christian in the average man. The thirteenth century, for
instance, is supposed to be the golden age of Catholicism; but what
seems to have filled it, if we may judge by the witness of Dante?
Little but bitter conflicts, racial and religious; faithless
rebellions, both in states and in individuals, against the Christian
regimen; worldliness in the church, barbarism in the people, and a
dawning of all sorts of scientific and aesthetic passions, in
themselves quite pagan and contrary to the spirit of the gospel.
Christendom at that time was by no means a kingdom of God on earth; it
was a conglomeration of incorrigible rascals, intellectually more or
less Christian. We may see the same thing under different
circumstances in the Spain of Philip II. Here was a government
consciously labouring in the service of the church, to resist Turks,
convert pagans, banish Moslems, and crush Protestants. Yet the very
forces engaged in defending the church, the army and the Inquisition,
were alien to the Christian life; they were fit embodiments rather of
chivalry and greed, or of policy and jealous dominion. The
ecclesiastical forces also, theology, ritual, and hierarchy, employed
in spreading the gospel were themselves alien to the gospel. An
anti-worldly religion finds itself in fact in this dilemma: if it
remains merely spiritual, developing no material organs, it cannot
affect the world; while if it develops organs with which to operate on
the world, these organs become a part of the world from which it is
trying to wean the individual spirit, so that the moment it is armed
for conflict such a religion has two enemies on its hands. It is
stifled by its necessary armour, and adds treason in its members to
hostility in its foes. The passions and arts it uses against its
opponents are as fatal to itself as those which its opponents array
against it.

In every age in which a supernaturalistic system is preached we must
accordingly expect to find the world standing up stubbornly against
it, essentially unconverted and hostile, whatever name it may have
been christened with; and we may expect the spirit of the world to
find expression, not only in overt opposition to the supernaturalistic
system, but also in the surviving or supervening worldliness of the
faithful. Such an insidious revulsion of the natural man against a
religion he does not openly discard is what, in modern Christendom, we
call the Renaissance. No less than the Revolution (which is the later
open rebellion against the same traditions) the Renaissance is
radically inimical to Christianity. To say that Christianity survives,
even if weakened or disestablished, is to say that the Renaissance and
the Revolution are still incomplete, Far from being past events they
are living programmes. The ideal of the Renaissance is to restore
pagan standards in polite learning, in philosophy, in sentiment, and
in morals. It is to abandon and exactly reverse one's baptismal vows.
Instead of forsaking this wicked world, the men of the Renaissance
accept, love, and cultivate the world, with all its pomp and vanities;
they believe in the blamelessness of natural life and in its
perfectibility; or they cling at least to a noble ambition to perfect
it and a glorious ability to enjoy it. Instead of renouncing the
flesh, they feed, refine, and adorn it; their arts glorify its beauty
and its passions. And far from renouncing the devil--if we understand
by the devil the proud assertion on the part of the finite of its
autonomy, autonomy of the intellect in science, autonomy of the heart
and will in morals--the men of the Renaissance are possessed by the
devil altogether. They worship nothing and acknowledge authority in
nothing save in their own spirit. No opposition could be more radical
and complete than that between the Renaissance and the anti-worldly
religion of the gospel.

"I see a vision," Nietzsche says somewhere, "so full of meaning, yet
so wonderfully strange--Caesar Borgia become pope! Do you understand?
Ah, that would verily have been the triumph for which I am longing
to-day. Then Christianity would have been done for." And Nietzsche
goes on to accuse Luther of having spoiled this lovely possibility,
which was about to be realised, by frightening the papacy out of its
mellow paganism into something like a restoration of the old acrid
Christianity. A dream of this sort, even if less melodramatic than
Nietzsche's, has visited the mind of many a neo-Catholic or
neo-pagan. If the humanistic tendencies of the Renaissance could have
worked on unimpeded, might not a revolution from above, a gradual
rationalisation, have transformed the church? Its dogma might have
been insensibly understood to be nothing but myth, its miracles
nothing but legend, its sacraments mere symbols, its Bible pure
literature, its liturgy just poetry, its hierarchy an administrative
convenience, its ethics an historical accident, and its whole function
simply to lend a warm mystical aureole to human culture and ignorance.
The Reformation prevented this euthanasia of Christianity. It
re-expressed the unenlightened absolutism of the old religion; it
insisted that dogma was scientifically true, that salvation was urgent
and fearfully doubtful, that the world, and the worldly paganised
church, were as Sodom and Gomorrah, and that sin, though natural to
man, was to God an abomination. In fighting this movement, which soon
became heretical, the Catholic church had to fight it with its own
weapons, and thereby reawakened in its own bosom the same sinister
convictions. It did not have to dig deep to find them. Even without
Luther, convinced Catholics would have appeared in plenty to prevent
Caesar Borgia, had he secured the tiara, from being pope in any novel
fashion or with any revolutionary result. The supernaturalism, the
literal realism, the other-worldliness of the Catholic church are too
much the soul of it to depart without causing its dissolution. While
the church lives at all, it must live on the strength which these
principles can lend it. And they are not altogether weak. Persons who
feel themselves to be exiles in this world--and what noble mind, from
Empedocles down, has not had that feeling?--are mightily inclined to
believe themselves citizens of another. There will always be
spontaneous, instinctive Christians; and when, under the oppression of
sin, salvation is looked for and miracles are expected, the
supernatural scheme of salvation which historical Christianity offers
will not always be despised. The modernists think the church is doomed
if it turns a deaf ear to the higher criticism or ignores the
philosophy of M. Bergson. But it has outlived greater storms. A moment
when any exotic superstition can find excitable minds to welcome it,
when new and grotesque forms of faith can spread among the people,
when the ultimate impotence of science is the theme of every cheap
philosopher, when constructive philology is reefing its sails, when
the judicious grieve at the portentous metaphysical shams of yesterday
and smile at those of to-day--such a moment is rather ill chosen for
prophesying the extinction of a deep-rooted system of religion because
your own studies make it seem to you incredible; especially if you
hold a theory of knowledge that regards all opinions as arbitrary
postulates, which it may become convenient to abandon at any moment.

Modernism is the infiltration into minds that begin by being Catholic
and wish to remain so of two contemporary influences: one the
rationalistic study of the Bible and of church history, the other
modern philosophy, especially in its mystical and idealistic forms.
The sensitiveness of the modernists to these two influences is
creditable to them as men, however perturbing it may be to them as
Catholics; for what makes them adopt the views of rationalistic
historians is simply the fact that those views seem, in substance,
convincingly true; and what makes them wander into transcendental
speculations is the warmth of their souls, needing to express their
faith anew, and to follow their inmost inspiration, wherever it may
lead them. A scrupulous honesty in admitting the probable facts of
history, and a fresh upwelling of mystical experience, these are the
motives, creditable to any spiritual man, that have made modernists of
so many. But these excellent things appear in the modernists under
rather unfortunate circumstances. For the modernists to begin with are
Catholics, and usually priests; they are pledged to a fixed creed,
touching matters both of history and of philosophy; and it would be a
marvel if rationalistic criticism of the Bible and rationalistic
church history confirmed that creed on its historical side, or if
irresponsible personal speculations, in the manner of Ritschl or of M.
Bergson, confirmed its metaphysics.

I am far from wishing to suggest that an orthodox Christian cannot be
scrupulously honest in admitting the probable facts, or cannot have a
fresh spiritual experience, or frame an original philosophy. But what
we think probable hangs on our standard of probability and of
evidence; the spiritual experiences that come to us are according to
our disposition and affections; and any new philosophy we frame will
be an answer to the particular problems that beset us, and an
expression of the solutions we hope for. Now this standard of
probability, this disposition, and these problems and hopes may be
those of a Christian or they may not. The true Christian, for
instance, will begin by regarding miracles as probable; he will either
believe he has experienced them in his own person, or hope for them
earnestly; nothing will seem to him more natural, more in consonance
with the actual texture of life, than that they should have occurred
abundantly and continuously in the past. When he finds the record of
one he will not inquire, like the rationalist, how that false record
could have been concocted; but rather he will ask how the rationalist,
in spite of so many witnesses to the contrary, has acquired his fixed
assurance of the universality of the commonplace. An answer perhaps
could be offered of which the rationalist need not be ashamed. We
might say that faith in the universality of the commonplace (in its
origin, no doubt, simply an imaginative presumption) is justified by
our systematic mastery of matter in the arts. The rejection of
miracles _a priori_ expresses a conviction that the laws by which we
can always control or predict the movement of matter govern that
movement universally; and evidently, if the material course of history
is fixed mechanically, the mental and moral course of it is thereby
fixed on the same plan; for a mind not expressed somehow in matter
cannot be revealed to the historian. This may be good philosophy, but
we could not think so if we were good Christians. We should then
expect to move matter by prayer. Rationalistic history and criticism
are therefore based, as Pius X. most accurately observed in his
Encyclical on modernism, on rationalistic philosophy; and we might add
that rationalistic philosophy is based on practical art, and that
practical art, by which we help ourselves, like Prometheus, and make
instruments of what religion worships, when this art is carried beyond
the narrowest bounds, is the essence of pride and irreligion. Miners,
machinists, and artisans are irreligious by trade. Religion is the
love of life in the consciousness of impotence.

Similarly, the spontaneous insight of Christians and their new
philosophies will express a Christian disposition. The chief problems
in them will be sin and redemption; the conclusion will be some fresh
intuition of divine love and heavenly beatitude. It would be no sign
of originality in a Christian to begin discoursing on love like Ovid
or on heaven like Mohammed, or stop discoursing on them at all; it
would be a sign of apostasy.

Now the modernists' criterion of probability in history or of
worthiness in philosophy is not the Christian criterion. It is that of
their contemporaries outside the church, who are rationalists in
history and egotists or voluntarists in philosophy. The biblical
criticism and mystical speculations of the modernists call for no
special remark; they are such as any studious or spiritual person,
with no inherited religion, might compose in our day. But what is
remarkable and well-nigh incredible is that even for a moment they
should have supposed this non-Christian criterion in history and this
non-Christian direction in metaphysics compatible with adherence to
the Catholic church. That seems to presuppose, in men who in fact are
particularly thoughtful and learned, an inexplicable ignorance of
history, of theology, and of the world.

Everything, however, has its explanation. In a Catholic seminary, as
the modernists bitterly complain, very little is heard of the views
held in the learned world outside. It is not taught there that the
Christian religion is only one of many, some of them older and
superior to it in certain respects; that it itself is eclectic and
contains inward contradictions; that it is and always has been divided
into rancorous sects; that its position in the world is precarious and
its future hopeless. On the contrary, everything is so presented as to
persuade the innocent student that all that is good or true anywhere
is founded on the faith he is preparing to preach, that the historical
evidences of its truth are irrefragable, that it is logically perfect
and spiritually all-sufficing. These convictions, which no breath from
the outside is allowed to ruffle, are deepened in the case of pensive
and studious minds, like those of the leading modernists, by their own
religious experience. They understand in what they are taught more,
perhaps, than their teachers intend. They understand how those ideas
originated, they can trace a similar revelation in their own lives.
This (which a cynic might expect would be the beginning of
disillusion) only deepens their religious faith and gives it a wider
basis; report and experience seem to conspire. But trouble is brewing
here; for a report that can be confirmed by experience can also be
enlarged by it, and it is easy to see in traditional revelation itself
many diverse sources; different temperaments and different types of
thought have left their impress upon it. Yet other temperaments and
other types of thought might continue the task. Revelation seems to be
progressive; a part may fall to us also to furnish.

This insight, for a Christian, has its dangers. No doubt it gives him
a key to the understanding and therefore, in one sense, to the
acceptance of many a dogma. Christian dogmas were not pieces of wanton
information fallen from heaven; they were imaginative views,
expressing now some primordial instinct in all men, now the national
hopes and struggles of Israel, now the moral or dialectical philosophy
of the later Jews and Greeks. Such a derivation does not, of itself,
render these dogmas necessarily mythical. They might be ideal
expressions of human experience and yet be literally true as well,
provided we assume (what is assumed throughout in Christianity) that
the world is made for man, and that even God is just such a God as man
would have wished him to be, the existent ideal of human nature and
the foregone solution to all human problems. Nevertheless, Christian
dogmas are definite,[2] while human inspirations are potentially
limitless; and if the object of the two is identical either the dogmas
must be stretched and ultimately abandoned, or inspiration which does
not conform to them must be denounced as illusory or diabolical.

[Footnote 2: At least in their devotional and moral import. I suggest
this qualification in deference to M. Le Roy's interesting theory of
dogma, viz., that the verbal or intellectual definition of a dogma may
be changed without changing the dogma itself (as a sentence might be
translated into a new language without altering the meaning) provided
the suggested conduct and feeling in the presence of the mystery
remained the same. Thus the definition of transubstantiation might be
modified to suit an idealistic philosophy, but the new definition
would be no less orthodox than the old if it did not discourage the
worship of the consecrated elements or the sense of mystical union
with Christ in the sacrament.]

At this point the modernist first chooses the path which must lead him
away, steadily and for ever, from the church which he did not think to
desert. He chooses a personal, psychological, variable standard of
inspiration; he becomes, in principle, a Protestant. Why does he not
become one in name also? Because, as one of the most distinguished
modernists has said, the age of partial heresy is past. It is suicidal
to make one part of an organic system the instrument for attacking
another part; and it is also comic. What you appeal to and stand
firmly rooted in is no more credible, no more authoritative, than what
you challenge in its name. In vain will you pit the church against the
pope; at once you will have to pit the Bible against the church, and
then the New Testament against the Old, or the genuine Jesus against
the New Testament, or God revealed in nature against God revealed in
the Bible, or God revealed in your own conscience or transcendental
self against God revealed in nature; and you will be lucky if your
conscience and transcendental self can long hold their own against the
flux of immediate experience. Religion, the modernists feel, must be
taken broadly and sympathetically, as a great human historical symbol
for the truth. At least in Christianity you should aspire to embrace
and express the whole; to seize it in its deep inward sources and
follow it on all sides in its vital development. But if the age of
partial heresy is past, has not the age of total heresy succeeded?
What is this whole phenomenon of religion but human experience
interpreted by human imagination? And what is the modernist, who would
embrace it all, but a freethinker, with a sympathetic interest in
religious illusions? Of course, that is just what he is; but it takes
him a strangely long time to discover it. He fondly supposes (such is
the prejudice imbibed by him in the cradle and in the seminary) that
all human inspirations are necessarily similar and concurrent, that by
trusting an inward light he cannot be led away from his particular
religion, but on the contrary can only find confirmation for it,
together with fresh spiritual energies. He has been reared in profound
ignorance of other religions, which were presented to him, if at all,
only in grotesque caricature; or if anything good had to be admitted
in them, it was set down to a premonition of his own system or a
derivation from it--a curious conceit, which seems somehow not to have
wholly disappeared from the minds of Protestants, or even of
professors of philosophy. I need not observe how completely the secret
of each alien religion is thereby missed and its native accent
outraged: the most serious consequence, for the modernist, of this
unconsciousness of whatever is not Christian is an unconsciousness of
what, in contrast to other religions, Christianity itself is. He feels
himself full of love--except for the pope--of mysticism, and of a sort
of archaeological piety. He is learned and eloquent and wistful. Why
should he not remain in the church? Why should he not bring all its
cold and recalcitrant members up to his own level of insight?

The modernist, like the Protestants before him, is certainly justified
in contrasting a certain essence or true life of religion with the
formulas and practices, not all equally well-chosen, which have
crystallised round it. In the routine of Catholic teaching and worship
there is notoriously a deal of mummery: phrases and ceremonies abound
that have lost their meaning, and that people run through without even
that general devout attitude and unction which, after all, is all that
can be asked for in the presence of mysteries. Not only is all sense
of the historical or moral basis of dogma wanting, but the dogma
itself is hardly conceived explicitly; all is despatched with a stock
phrase, or a quotation from some theological compendium.
Ecclesiastical authority acts as if it felt that more profundity would
be confusing and that more play of mind might be dangerous. This is
that "Scholasticism" and "Mediaevalism" against which the modernists
inveigh or under which they groan; and to this intellectual barrenness
may be added the offences against taste, verisimilitude, and justice
which their more critical minds may discern in many an act and
pronouncement of their official superiors. Thus both their sense for
historical truth and their spontaneous mysticism drive the modernists
to contrast with the official religion what was pure and vital in the
religion of their fathers. Like the early Protestants, they wish to
revert to a more genuine Christianity; but while their historical
imagination is much more accurate and well-fed than that of any one in
the sixteenth century could be, they have no hold on the Protestant
principle of faith. The Protestants, taking the Bible as an oracle
which personal inspiration was to interpret, could reform tradition in
any way and to any extent which their reason or feeling happened to
prompt. But so long as their Christianity was a positive faith, the
residue, when all the dross had been criticised and burned away, was
of divine authority. The Bible never became for them merely an
ancient Jewish encyclopaedia, often eloquent, often curious, and often
barbarous. God never became a literary symbol, covering some
problematical cosmic force, or some ideal of the conscience. But for
the modernist this total transformation takes place at once. He keeps
the whole Catholic system, but he believes in no part of it as it
demands to be believed. He understands and shares the moral experience
that it enshrines; but the bubble has been pricked, the painted world
has been discovered to be but painted. He has ceased to be a Christian
to become an amateur, or if you will a connoisseur, of Christianity.
He believes--and this unquestioningly, for he is a child of his
age--in history, in philology, in evolution, perhaps in German
idealism; he does not believe in sin, nor in salvation, nor in
revelation. His study of history has disclosed Christianity to him in
its evolution and in its character of a myth; he wishes to keep it in
its entirety precisely because he regards it as a convention, like a
language or a school of art; whereas the Protestants wished, on the
contrary, to reduce it to its original substance, because they fondly
supposed that that original substance was so much literal truth.
Modernism is accordingly an ambiguous and unstable thing. It is the
love of all Christianity in those who perceive that it is all a fable.
It is the historic attachment to his church of a Catholic who has
discovered that he is a pagan.

When the modernists are pressed to explain their apparently double
allegiance, they end by saying that what historical and philological
criticism conjectures to be the facts must be accepted as such; while
the Christian dogmas touching these things--the incarnation and
resurrection of Christ, for instance--must be taken in a purely
symbolic or moral sense. In saying this they may be entirely right; it
seems to many of us that Christianity is indeed a fable, yet full of
meaning if you take it as such; for what scraps of historical truth
there may be in the Bible or of metaphysical truth in theology are of
little importance; whilst the true greatness and beauty of this, as of
all religions, is to be found in its _moral idealism_, I mean, in the
expression it gives, under cover of legends, prophecies, or mysteries,
of the effort, the tragedy, and the consolations of human life. Such a
moral fable is what Christianity is in fact; but it is far from what
it is in intention. The modernist view, the view of a sympathetic
rationalism, revokes the whole Jewish tradition on which Christianity
is grafted; it takes the seriousness out of religion; it sweetens the
pang of sin, which becomes misfortune; it removes the urgency of
salvation; it steals empirical reality away from the last judgment,
from hell, and from heaven; it steals historical reality away from the
Christ of religious tradition and personal devotion. The moral summons
and the prophecy about destiny which were the soul of the gospel have
lost all force for it and become fables.

The modernist, then, starts with the orthodox but untenable persuasion
that Catholicism comprehends all that is good; he adds the heterodox
though amiable sentiment that any well-meaning ambition of the mind,
any hope, any illumination, any science, must be good, and therefore
compatible with Catholicism. He bathes himself in idealistic
philosophy, he dabbles in liberal politics, he accepts and emulates
rationalistic exegesis and anti-clerical church history. Soon he finds
himself, on every particular point, out of sympathy with the acts and
tendencies of the church to which he belongs; and then he yields to
the most pathetic of his many illusions--he sets about to purge this
church, so as not to be compelled to abandon it; to purge it of its
first principles, of its whole history, and of its sublime if
chimerical ideal.

The modernist wishes to reconcile the church and the world. Therein he
forgets what Christianity came into the world to announce and why its
message was believed. It came to announce salvation from the world;
there should be no more need of just those things which the modernist
so deeply loves and respects and blushes that his church should not be
adorned with--emancipated science, free poetic religion, optimistic
politics, and dissolute art. These things, according to the Christian
conscience, were all vanity and vexation of spirit, and the pagan
world itself almost confessed as much. They were vexatious and vain
because they were bred out of sin, out of ignoring the inward and the
revealed law of God; and they would lead surely and quickly to
destruction. The needful salvation from these follies, Christianity
went on to announce, had come through the cross of Christ; whose
grace, together with admission to his future heavenly kingdom, was
offered freely to such as believed in him, separated themselves from
the world, and lived in charity, humility, and innocence, waiting lamp
in hand for the celestial bridegroom. These abstracted and elected
spirits were the true disciples of Christ and the church itself.

Having no ears for this essential message of Christianity, the
modernist also has no eyes for its history. The church converted the
world only partially and inessentially; yet Christianity was outwardly
established as the traditional religion of many nations. And why?
Because, although the prophecies it relied on were strained and its
miracles dubious, it furnished a needful sanctuary from the shames,
sorrows, injustices, violence, and gathering darkness of earth; and
not only a sanctuary one might fly to, but a holy precinct where one
might live, where there was sacred learning, based on revelation and
tradition, to occupy the inquisitive, and sacred philosophy to occupy
the speculative; where there might be religious art, ministering to
the faith, and a new life in the family or in the cloister,
transformed by a permeating spirit of charity, sacrifice, soberness,
and prayer. These principles by their very nature could not become
those of the world, but they could remain in it as a leaven and an
ideal. As such they remain to this day, and very efficaciously, in the
Catholic church. The modernists talk a great deal of development, and
they do not see that what they detest in the church is a perfect
development of its original essence; that monachism, scholasticism,
Jesuitism, ultramontanism, and Vaticanism are all thoroughly
apostolic; beneath the overtones imposed by a series of ages they give
out the full and exact note of the New Testament. Much has been added,
but nothing has been lost. Development (though those who talk most of
it seem to forget it) is not the same as flux and dissolution. It is
not a continuity through changes of any sort, but the evolution of
something latent and preformed, or else the creation of new
instruments of defence for the same original life. In this sense there
was an immense development of Christianity during the first three
centuries, and this development has continued, more slowly, ever
since, but only in the Roman church; for the Eastern churches have
refused themselves all new expressions, while the Protestant churches
have eaten more and more into the core. It is a striking proof of the
preservative power of readjustment that the Roman church, in the midst
of so many external transformations as it has undergone, still demands
the same kind of faith that John the Baptist demanded, I mean faith in
another world. The _mise-en-scene_ has changed immensely. The gospel
has been encased in theology, in ritual, in ecclesiastical authority,
in conventional forms of charity, like some small bone of a saint in a
gilded reliquary; but the relic for once is genuine, and the gospel
has been preserved by those thick incrustations. Many an isolated
fanatic or evangelical missionary in the slums shows a greater
resemblance to the apostles in his outer situation than the pope does;
but what mind-healer or revivalist nowadays preaches the doom of the
natural world and its vanity, or the reversal of animal values, or the
blessedness of poverty and chastity, or the inferiority of natural
human bonds, or a contempt for lay philosophy? Yet in his palace full
of pagan marbles the pope actually preaches all this. It is here, and
certainly not among the modernists, that the gospel is still believed.

Of course, it is open to any one to say that there is a nobler
religion possible without these trammels and this officialdom, that
there is a deeper philosophy than this supernaturalistic rationalism,
that there is a sweeter life than this legal piety. Perhaps: I think
the pagan Greeks, the Buddhists, the Mohammedans would have much to
say for themselves before the impartial tribunal of human nature and
reason. But they are not Christians and do not wish to be. No more, in
their hearts, are the modernists, and they should feel it beneath
their dignity to pose as such; indeed the more sensitive of them
already feel it. To say they are not Christians at heart, but
diametrically opposed to the fundamental faith and purpose of
Christianity, is not to say they may not be profound mystics (as many
Hindus, Jews, and pagan Greeks have been), or excellent scholars, or
generous philanthropists. But the very motive that attaches them to
Christianity is worldly and un-Christian. They wish to preserve the
continuity of moral traditions; they wish the poetry of life to flow
down to them uninterruptedly and copiously from all the ages. It is an
amiable and wise desire; but it shows that they are men of the
Renaissance, pagan and pantheistic in their profounder sentiment, to
whom the hard and narrow realism of official Christianity is offensive
just because it presupposes that Christianity is true.

Yet even in this historical and poetical allegiance to Christianity I
suspect the modernists suffer from a serious illusion. They think the
weakness of the church lies in its not following the inspirations of
the age. But when this age is past, might not that weakness be a
source of strength again? For an idea ever to be fashionable is
ominous, since it must afterwards be always old-fashioned. No doubt it
would be dishonest in any of us now, who see clearly that Noah surely
did not lead all the animals two by two into the Ark, to say that we
believe he did so, on the ground that stories of that kind are rather
favourable to the spread of religion. No doubt such a story, and even
the fables essential to Christian theology, are now incredible to most
of us. But on the other hand it would be stupid to assume that what is
incredible to you or me now must always be incredible to mankind. What
was foolishness to the Greeks of St. Paul's day spread mightily among
them one or two hundred years later; and what is foolishness to the
modernist of to-day may edify future generations. The imagination is
suggestible and there is nothing men will not believe in matters of
religion. These rational persuasions by which we are swayed, the
conventions of unbelieving science and unbelieving history, are
superficial growths; yesterday they did not exist, to-morrow they may
have disappeared. This is a doctrine which the modernist philosophers
themselves emphasise, as does M. Bergson, whom some of them follow,
and say the Catholic church itself ought to follow in order to be
saved--for prophets are constitutionally without a sense of humour.
These philosophers maintain that intelligence is merely a convenient
method of picking one's way through the world of matter, that it is a
falsification of life, and wholly unfit to grasp the roots of it. We
may well be of another opinion, if we think the roots of life are not
in consciousness but in nature, which intelligence alone can reveal;
but we must agree that in life itself intelligence is a superficial
growth, and easily blighted, and that the experience of the vanity of
the world, of sin, of salvation, of miracles, of strange revelations,
and of mystic loves is a far deeper, more primitive, and therefore
probably more lasting human possession than is that of clear
historical or scientific ideas.

Now religious experience, as I have said, may take other forms than
the Christian, and within Christianity it may take other forms than
the Catholic; but the Catholic form is as good as any intrinsically
for the devotee himself, and it has immense advantages over its
probable rivals in charm, in comprehensiveness, in maturity, in
internal rationality, in external adaptability; so much so that a
strong anti-clerical government, like the French, cannot safely leave
the church to be overwhelmed by the forces of science, good sense,
ridicule, frivolity, and avarice (all strong forces in France), but
must use violence as well to do it. In the English church, too, it is
not those who accept the deluge, the resurrection, and the sacraments
only as symbols that are the vital party, but those who accept them
literally; for only these have anything to say to the poor, or to the
rich, that can refresh them. In a frank supernaturalism, in a tight
clericalism, not in a pleasant secularisation, lies the sole hope of
the church. Its sole dignity also lies there. It will not convert the
world; it never did and it never could. It will remain a voice crying
in the wilderness; but it will believe what it cries, and there will
be some to listen to it in the future, as there have been many in the
past. As to modernism, it is suicide. It is the last of those
concessions to the spirit of the world which half-believers and
double-minded prophets have always been found making; but it is a
mortal concession. It concedes everything; for it concedes that
everything in Christianity, as Christians hold it, is an illusion.




III

THE PHILOSOPHY OF M. HENRI BERGSON


The most representative and remarkable of living philosophers is M.
Henri Bergson. Both the form and the substance of his works attract
universal attention. His ideas are pleasing and bold, and at least in
form wonderfully original; he is persuasive without argument and
mystical without conventionality; he moves in the atmosphere of
science and free thought, yet seems to transcend them and to be
secretly religious. An undercurrent of zeal and even of prophecy seems
to animate his subtle analyses and his surprising fancies. He is
eloquent, and to a public rather sick of the half-education it has
received and eager for some inspiriting novelty he seems more eloquent
than he is. He uses the French language (and little else is French
about him) in the manner of the more recent artists in words,
retaining the precision of phrase and the measured judgments which are
traditional in French literature, yet managing to envelop everything
in a penumbra of emotional suggestion. Each expression of an idea is
complete in itself; yet these expressions are often varied and
constantly metaphorical, so that we are led to feel that much in that
idea has remained unexpressed and is indeed inexpressible.

Studied and insinuating as M. Bergson is in his style, he is no less
elaborate in his learning. In the history of philosophy, in
mathematics and physics, and especially in natural history he has
taken great pains to survey the ground and to assimilate the views and
spirit of the most recent scholars. He might be called outright an
expert in all these subjects, were it not for a certain externality
and want of radical sympathy in his way of conceiving them. A genuine
historian of philosophy, for instance, would love to rehearse the
views of great thinkers, would feel their eternal plausibility, and in
interpreting them would think of himself as little as they ever
thought of him. But M. Bergson evidently regards Plato or Kant as
persons who did or did not prepare the way for some Bergsonian
insight. The theory of evolution, taken enthusiastically, is apt to
exercise an evil influence on the moral estimation of things. First
the evolutionist asserts that later things grow out of earlier, which
is true of things in their causes and basis, but not in their values;
as modern Greece proceeds out of ancient Greece materially but does
not exactly crown it. The evolutionist, however, proceeds to assume
that later things are necessarily better than what they have grown out
of: and this is false altogether. This fallacy reinforces very
unfortunately that inevitable esteem which people have for their own
opinions, and which must always vitiate the history of philosophy when
it is a philosopher that writes it. A false subordination comes to be
established among systems, as if they moved in single file and all had
the last, the author's system, for their secret goal. In Hegel, for
instance, this conceit is conspicuous, in spite of his mastery in the
dramatic presentation of points of view, for his way of
reconstructing history was, on the surface, very sympathetic. He too,
like M. Bergson, proceeded from learning to intuition, and feigned at
every turn to identify himself with what he was describing, especially
if this was a philosophical attitude or temper. Yet in reality his
historical judgments were forced and brutal: Greece was but a
stepping-stone to Prussia, Plato and Spinoza found their higher
synthesis in himself, and (though he may not say so frankly) Jesus
Christ and St. Francis realised their better selves in Luther. Actual
spiritual life, the thoughts, affections, and pleasures of
individuals, passed with Hegel for so much moonshine; the true spirit
was "objective," it was simply the movement of those circumstances in
which actual spirit arose. He was accordingly contemptuous of
everything intrinsically good, and his idealism consisted in forcing
the natural world into a formula of evolution and then worshipping it
as the embodiment of the living God. But under the guise of optimism
and belief in a cosmic reason this is mere idolatry of success--a
malign superstition, by which all moral independence is crushed out
and conscience enslaved to chronology; and it is no marvel if,
somewhat to relieve this subjection, history in turn was expurgated,
marshalled, and distorted, that it might pass muster for the work of
the Holy Ghost.

In truth the value of spiritual life is intrinsic and centred at every
point. It is never wholly recoverable. To recover it at all, an
historian must have a certain detachment and ingenuousness; knowing
the dignity and simplicity of his own mind, he must courteously
attribute the same dignity and simplicity to others, unless their
avowed attitude prevents; this is to be an intelligent critic and to
write history like a gentleman. The truth, which all philosophers
alike are seeking, is eternal. It lies as near to one age as to
another; the means of discovery alone change, and not always for the
better. The course of evolution is no test of what is true or good;
else nothing could be good intrinsically nor true simply and
ultimately; on the contrary, it is the approach to truth and
excellence anywhere, like the approach of tree tops to the sky, that
tests the value of evolution, and determines whether it is moving
upward or downward or in a circle.

M. Bergson accordingly misses fire when, for instance, in order
utterly to damn a view which he has been criticising, and which may be
open to objection on other grounds, he cries that those who hold it
"_retardent sur Kant;_" as if a clock were the compass of the mind,
and he who was one minute late was one point off the course. Kant was
a hard honest thinker, more sinned against than sinning, from whom a
great many people in the nineteenth century have taken their point of
departure, departing as far as they chose; but if a straight line of
progress could be traced at all through the labyrinth of philosophy,
Kant would not lie in that line. His thought is essentially excentric
and sophisticated, being largely based on two inherited blunders,
which a truly progressive philosophy would have to begin by avoiding,
thus leaving Kant on one side, and weathering his philosophy, as one
might Scylla or Charybdis. The one blunder was that of the English
malicious psychology which had maintained since the time of Locke that
the ideas in the mind are the only objects of knowledge, instead of
being the knowledge of objects. The other blunder was that of
Protestantism that, in groping after that moral freedom which is so
ineradicable a need of a pure spirit, thought to find it in a revision
of revelation, tradition, and prejudice, so as to be able to cling to
these a little longer. How should a system so local, so accidental,
and so unstable as Kant's be prescribed as a sort of catechism for all
humanity? The tree of knowledge has many branches, and all its fruits
are not condemned to hang for ever from that one gnarled and contorted
bough. M. Bergson himself "lags behind" Kant on those points on which
his better insight requires it, as, for instance, on the reality of
time; but with regard to his own philosophy I am afraid he thinks that
all previous systems empty into it, which is hardly true, and that all
future systems must flow out of it, which is hardly necessary.

The embarrassment that qualifies M. Bergson's attainments in
mathematics and physics has another and more personal source. He
understands, but he trembles. Non-human immensities frighten him, as
they did Pascal. He suffers from cosmic agoraphobia. We
might think empty space an innocent harmless thing, a mere opportunity
to move, which ought to be highly prized by all devotees of motion.
But M. Bergson is instinctively a mystic, and his philosophy
deliberately discredits the existence of anything except in immediacy,
that is, as an experience of the heart. What he dreads in space is
that the heart should be possessed by it, and transformed into it. He
dreads that the imagination should be fascinated by the homogeneous
and static, hypnotised by geometry, and actually lost in
_Auseinandersein_. This would be a real death and petrifaction of
consciousness, frozen into contemplation of a monotonous infinite
void. What is warm and desirable is rather the sense of variety and
succession, as if all visions radiated from the occupied focus or
hearth of the self. The more concentration at this habitable point,
with the more mental perspectives opening backwards and forwards
through time, in a word, the more personal and historical the
apparition, the better it would be. Things must be reduced again to
what they seem; it is vain and terrible to take them for what we find
they are. M. Bergson is at bottom an apologist for very old human
prejudices, an apologist for animal illusion. His whole labour is a
plea for some vague but comfortable faith which he dreads to have
stolen from him by the progress of art and knowledge. There is a
certain trepidation, a certain suppressed instinct to snap at and
sting the hated oppressor, as if some desperate small being were at
bay before a horrible monster. M. Bergson is afraid of space, of
mathematics, of necessity, and of eternity; he is afraid of the
intellect and the possible discoveries of science; he is afraid of
nothingness and death. These fears may prevent him from being a
philosopher in the old and noble sense of the word; but they sharpen
his sense for many a psychological problem, and make him the spokesman
of many an inarticulate soul. Animal timidity and animal illusion are
deep in the heart of all of us. Practice may compel us to bow to the
conventions of the intellect, as to those of polite society; but
secretly, in our moments of immersion in ourselves, we may find them
a great nuisance, even a vain nightmare. Could we only listen
undisturbed to the beat of protoplasm in our hearts, would not that
oracle solve all the riddles of the universe, or at least avoid them?

To protect this inner conviction, however, it is necessary for the
mystic to sally forth and attack the enemy on his own ground. If he
refuted physics and mathematics simply out of his own faith, he might
be accused of ignorance of the subject. He will therefore study it
conscientiously, yet with a certain irritation and haste to be done
with it, somewhat as a Jesuit might study Protestant theology. Such a
student, however, is apt to lose his pains; for in retracing a free
inquiry in his servile spirit, he remains deeply ignorant, not indeed
of its form, but of its nature and value. Why, for instance, has M.
Bergson such a horror of mechanical physics? He seems to think it a
black art, dealing in unholy abstractions, and rather dangerous to
salvation, and he keeps his metaphysical exorcisms and antidotes
always at hand, to render it innocuous, at least to his own soul. But
physical science never solicited of anybody that he should be wholly
absorbed in the contemplation of atoms, and worship them; that we must
worship and lose ourselves in reality, whatever reality may be, is a
mystic aberration, which physical science does nothing to foster. Nor
does any critical physicist suppose that what he describes is the
whole of the object; he merely notes the occasions on which its
sensible qualities appear, and calculates events. Because the
calculable side of nature is his province, he does not deny that
events have other aspects--the psychic and the moral, for
instance--no less real in their way, in terms of which calculation
would indeed be impossible. If he chances to call the calculable
elements of nature her substance, as it is proper to do, that name is
given without passion; he may perfectly well proclaim with Goethe that
it is in the accidents, in the _farbiger Abglanz_, that we have our
life. And if it be for his freedom that the mystic trembles, I imagine
any man of science would be content with M. Bergson's assertion that
true freedom is the sense of freedom, and that in any intelligible
statement of the situation, even the most indeterministic, this
freedom disappears; for it is an immediate experience, not any scheme
of relation between events.

The horror of mechanical physics arises, then, from attributing to
that science pretensions and extensions which it does not have; it
arises from the habits of theology and metaphysics being imported
inopportunely into science. Similarly when M. Bergson mentions
mathematics, he seems to be thinking of the supposed authority it
exercises--one of Kant's confusions--over the empirical world, and
trying to limit and subordinate that authority, lest movement should
somehow be removed from nature, and vagueness from human thought. But
nature and human thought are what they are; they have enough affinity
to mathematics, as it happens, to suggest that study to our minds, and
to give those who go deep into it a great, though partial, mastery
over things. Nevertheless a true mathematician is satisfied with the
hypothetical and ideal cogency of his science, and puts its dignity in
that. Moreover, M. Bergson has the too pragmatic notion that the use
of mathematics is to keep our accounts straight in this business
world; whereas its inherent use is emancipating and Platonic, in that
it shows us the possibility of other worlds, less contingent and
perturbed than this one. If he allows himself any excursus from his
beloved immediacy, it is only in the interests of practice; he little
knows the pleasures of a liberal mind, ranging over the congenial
realm of internal accuracy and ideal truth, where it can possess
itself of what treasures it likes in perfect security and freedom. An
artist in his workmanship, M. Bergson is not an artist in his
allegiance; he has no respect for what is merely ideal.

For this very reason, perhaps, he is more at home in natural history
than in the exact sciences. He has the gift of observation, and can
suggest vividly the actual appearance of natural processes, in
contrast to the verbal paraphrase of these processes which is
sometimes taken to explain them. He is content to stop at habit
without formulating laws; he refuses to assume that the large obvious
cycles of change in things can be reduced to mechanism, that is, to
minute included cycles repeated _ad libitum_. He may sometimes defend
this refusal by sophistical arguments, as when he says that mechanism
would require the last stage of the universe to be simultaneous with
the first, forgetting that the unit of mechanism is not a mathematical
equation but some observed typical event. The refusal itself, however,
would be honest scepticism enough were it made with no _arriere
pensee_, but simply in view of the immense complexity of the facts and
the extreme simplicity of the mechanical hypothesis. In such a
situation, to halt at appearances might seem the mark of a true
naturalist and a true empiricist not misled by speculative haste and
the human passion for system and simplification. At the first reading,
M. Bergson's _Evolution Creatrice_ may well dazzle the professional
naturalist and seem to him an illuminating confession of the nature
and limits of his science; yet a second reading, I have good authority
for saying, may as easily reverse that impression. M. Bergson never
reviews his facts in order to understand them, but only if possible to
discredit others who may have fancied they understood. He raises
difficulties, he marks the problems that confront the naturalist, and
the inadequacy of explanations that may have been suggested. Such
criticism would be a valuable beginning if it were followed by the
suggestion of some new solution; but the suggestion only is that no
solution is possible, that the phenomena of life are simply
miraculous, and that it is in the tendency or vocation of the animal,
not in its body or its past, that we must see the ground of what goes
on before us.

With such a philosophy of science, it is evident that all progress in
the understanding of nature would cease, as it ceased after Aristotle.
The attempt would again be abandoned to reduce gross and obvious
cycles of change, such as generation, growth, and death, to minute
latent cycles, so that natural history should offer a picturesque
approach to universal physics. If for the magic power of types,
invoked by Aristotle, we substituted with M. Bergson the magic power
of the _elan vital_, that is, of evolution in general, we should be
referring events not to finer, more familiar, more pervasive
processes, but to one all-embracing process, unique and always
incomplete. Our understanding would end in something far vaguer and
looser than what our observation began with. Aristotle at least could
refer particulars to their specific types, as medicine and social
science are still glad enough to do, to help them in guessing and in
making a learned show before the public. But if divination and
eloquence--for science is out of the question--were to invoke nothing
but a fluid tendency to grow, we should be left with a flat history of
phenomena and no means of prediction or even classification. All
knowledge would be reduced to gossip, infinitely diffuse, perhaps
enlisting our dramatic feelings, but yielding no intellectual mastery
of experience, no practical competence, and no moral lesson. The world
would be a serial novel, to be continued for ever, and all men mere
novel-readers.

Nothing is more familiar to philosophers nowadays than that criticism
of knowledge by which we are thrown back upon the appearances from
which science starts, upon what is known to children and savages,
whilst all that which long experience and reason may infer from those
appearances is set down as so much hypothesis; and indeed it is
through hypothesis that latent being, if such there be, comes before
the mind at all. Now such criticism of knowledge might have been
straightforward and ingenuous. It might have simply disclosed the
fact, very salutary to meditate upon, that the whole frame of nature,
with the minds that animate it, is disclosed to us by intelligence;
that if we were not intelligent our sensations would exist for us
without meaning anything, as they exist for idiots. The criticism of
knowledge, however, has usually been taken maliciously, in the sense
that it is the idiots only that are not deceived; for any
interpretation of sensation is a mental figment, and while experience
may have any extent it will it cannot possibly, they say, have
expressive value; it cannot reveal anything going on beneath.
Intelligence and science are accordingly declared to have no
penetration, no power to disclose what is latent, for nothing latent
exists; they can at best furnish symbols for past or future sensations
and the order in which they arise; they can be seven-league boots for
striding over the surface of sentience.

This negative dogmatism as to knowledge was rendered harmless and
futile by the English philosophers, in that they maintained at the
same time that everything happens exactly _as if_ the intellect were a
true instrument of discovery, and _as if_ a material world underlay
our experience and furnished all its occasions. Hume, Mill, and Huxley
were scientific at heart, and full of the intelligence they dissected;
they seemed to cry to nature: Though thou dost not exist, yet will I
trust in thee. Their idealism was a theoretical scruple rather than a
passionate superstition. Not so M. Bergson; he is not so simple as to
invoke the malicious criticism of knowledge in order to go on thinking
rationalistically. Reason and science make him deeply uncomfortable.
His point accordingly is not merely that mechanism is a hypothesis,
but that it is a wrong hypothesis. Events do not come as if mechanism
brought them about; they come, at least in the organic world, as if a
magic destiny, and inscrutable ungovernable effort, were driving them
on.

Thus M. Bergson introduces metaphysics into natural history; he
invokes, in what is supposed to be science, the agency of a power,
called the _elan vital,_ on a level with the "Will" of Schopenhauer or
the "Unknowable Force" of Herbert Spencer. But there is a scientific
vitalism also, which it is well to distinguish from the metaphysical
sort. The point at issue between vitalism and mechanism in biology is
whether the living processes in nature can be resolved into a
combination of the material. The material processes will always remain
vital, if we take this word in a descriptive and poetic sense; for
they will contain a movement having a certain idiosyncrasy and taking
a certain time, like the fall of an apple. The movement of nature is
never dialectical; the first part of any event does not logically
imply the last part of it. Physics is descriptive, historical,
reporting after the fact what are found to be the habits of matter.
But if these habits are constant and calculable we call the vitality
of them mechanical. Thus the larger processes of nature, no matter how
vital they may be and whatever consciousness may accompany them, will
always be mechanical if they can be calculated and predicted, being a
combination of the more minute and widespread processes which they
contain. The only question therefore is: Do processes such as
nutrition and reproduction arise by a combination of such events as
the fall of apples? Or are they irreducible events, and units of
mechanism by themselves? That is the dilemma as it appears in science.
Both possibilities will always remain open, because however far
mechanical analysis may go, many phenomena, as human apprehension
presents them, will always remain irreducible to any common
denominator with the rest; and on the other hand, wherever the actual
reduction of the habits of animals to those of matter may have
stopped, we can never know that a further reduction is impossible.

The balance of reasonable presumption, however, is not even. The most
inclusive movements known to us in nature, the astronomical, are
calculable, and so are the most minute and pervasive processes, the
chemical. These are also, if evolution is to be accepted, the earliest
processes upon which all others have supervened and out of which, as
it were, they have grown. Apart from miraculous intervention,
therefore, the assumption seems to be inevitable that the intermediate
processes are calculable too, and compounded out of the others. The
appearance to the contrary presented in animal and social life is
easily explicable on psychological grounds. We read inevitably in
terms of our passions those things which affect them or are analogous
to what involves passion in ourselves; and when the mechanism of them
is hidden from us, as is that of our bodies, we suppose that these
passions which we find on the surface in ourselves, or read into other
creatures, are the substantial and only forces that carry on our part
of the world. Penetrating this illusion, dispassionate observers in
all ages have received the general impression that nature is one and
mechanical. This was, and still remains, a general impression only;
but I suspect no one who walks the earth with his eyes open would be
concerned to resist it, were it not for certain fond human conceits
which such a view would rebuke and, if accepted, would tend to
obliterate. The psychological illusion that our ideas and purposes are
original facts and forces (instead of expressions in consciousness of
facts and forces which are material) and the practical and optical
illusion that everything wheels about us in this world--these are the
primitive persuasions which the enemies of naturalism have always been
concerned to protect.

One might indeed be a vitalist in biology, out of pure caution and
conscientiousness, without sharing those prejudices; and many a
speculative philosopher has been free from them who has been a
vitalist in metaphysics. Schopenhauer, for instance, observed that the
cannon-ball which, if self-conscious, would think it moved freely,
would be quite right in thinking so. The "Will" was as evident to him
in mechanism as in animal life. M. Bergson, in the more hidden reaches
of his thought, seems to be a universal vitalist; apparently an _elan
vital_ must have existed once to deposit in inorganic matter the
energy stored there, and to set mechanism going. But he relies on
biology alone to prove the present existence of an independent effort
to live; this is needed to do what mechanism, as he thinks, could
never do; it is not needed to do, as in Schopenhauer, what mechanism
does. M. Bergson thus introduces his metaphysical force as a peculiar
requirement of biology; he breaks the continuity of nature; he loses
the poetic justification of a metaphysical vitalism; he asks us to
believe that life is not a natural expression of material being, but
an alien and ghostly madness descending into it--I say a ghostly
madness, for why should disembodied life wish that the body should
live? This vitalism is not a kind of biology more prudent and literal
than the mechanical kind (as a scientific vitalism would be), but far
less legitimately speculative. Nor is it a frank and thorough
mythology, such as the total spectacle of the universe might suggest
to an imaginative genius. It is rather a popular animism, insisting on
a sympathetic interpretation of nature where human sympathy is quick
and easy, and turning this sympathy into a revelation of the absolute,
but leaving the rest of nature cold, because to sympathise with its
movement there is harder for anxious, self-centred mortals, and
requires a disinterested mind. M. Bergson would have us believe that
mankind is what nature has set her heart on and the best she can do,
for whose sake she has been long making very special efforts. We are
fortunate that at least her darling is all mankind and not merely
Israel.

In spite, then, of M. Bergson's learning as a naturalist and his eye
for the facts--things Aristotle also possessed--he is like Aristotle
profoundly out of sympathy with nature. Aristotle was alienated from
nature and any penetrating study of it by the fact that he was a
disciple of Socrates, and therefore essentially a moralist and a
logician. M. Bergson is alienated from nature by something quite
different; he is the adept of a very modern, very subtle, and very
arbitrary art, that of literary psychology. In this art the
imagination is invited to conceive things as if they were all centres
of passion and sensation. Literary psychology is not a science; it is
practised by novelists and poets; yet if it is to be brilliantly
executed it demands a minute and extended observation of life. Unless
your psychological novelist had crammed his memory with pictures of
the ways and aspects of men he would have no starting-point for his
psychological fictions; he would not be able to render them
circumstantial and convincing. Just so M. Bergson's achievements in
psychological fiction, to be so brilliantly executed as they are,
required all his learning. The history of philosophy, mathematics, and
physics, and above all natural history, had to supply him first with
suggestions; and if he is not really a master in any of those fields,
that is not to be wondered at. His heart is elsewhere. To write a
universal biological romance, such as he has sketched for us in his
system, he would ideally have required all scientific knowledge, but
only as Homer required the knowledge of seamanship, generalship,
statecraft, augury, and charioteering, in order to turn the aspects of
them into poetry, and not with that technical solidity which Plato
unjustly blames him for not possessing. Just so M. Bergson's proper
achievement begins where his science ends, and his philosophy lies
entirely beyond the horizon of possible discoveries or empirical
probabilities. In essence, it is myth or fable; but in the texture and
degree of its fabulousness it differs notably from the performances of
previous metaphysicians. Primitive poets, even ancient philosophers,
were not psychologists; their fables were compacted out of elements
found in practical life, and they reckoned in the units in which
language and passion reckon--wooing, feasting, fighting, vice, virtue,
happiness, justice. Above all, they talked about persons or about
ideals; this man, this woman, this typical thought or sentiment was
what fixed their attention and seemed to them the ultimate thing. Not
so M. Bergson: he is a microscopic psychologist, and even in man what
he studies by preference is not some integrated passion or idea, but
something far more recondite; the minute texture of sensation, memory,
or impulse. Sharp analysis is required to distinguish or arrest these
elements, yet these are the predestined elements of his fable; and so
his anthropomorphism is far less obvious than that of most poets and
theologians, though no less real.

This peculiarity in the terms of the myth carries with it a notable
extension in its propriety. The social and moral phenomena of human
life cannot be used in interpreting life elsewhere without a certain
conscious humour. This makes the charm of avowed writers of fable;
their playful travesty and dislocation of things human, which would be
puerile if they meant to be naturalists, render them piquant
moralists; for they are not really interpreting animals, but under the
mask of animals maliciously painting men. Such fables are morally
interesting and plausible just because they are psychologically false.
If AEsop could have reported what lions and lambs, ants and donkeys,
really feel and think, his poems would have been perfect riddles to
the public; and they would have had no human value except that of
illustrating, to the truly speculative philosopher, the irresponsible
variety of animal consciousness and its incommensurable types. Now M.
Bergson's psychological fictions, being drawn from what is rudimentary
in man, have a better chance of being literally true beyond man.
Indeed what he asks us to do, and wishes to do himself, is simply to
absorb so completely the aspect and habit of things that the soul of
them may take possession of us: that we may know by intuition the
_elan vital_ which the world expresses, just as Paolo, in Dante, knew
by intuition the _elan vital_ that the smile of Francesca expressed.

The correctness of such an intuition, however, rests on a circumstance
which M. Bergson does not notice, because his psychology is literary
and not scientific. It rests on the possibility of imitation. When the
organism observed and that of the observer have a similar structure
and can imitate one another, the idea produced in the observer by
intent contemplation is like the experience present to the person
contemplated. But where this contagion of attitude, and therefore of
feeling, is impossible, our intuition of our neighbours' souls remains
subjective and has no value as a revelation. Psychological novelists,
when they describe people such as they themselves are or might have
been, may describe them truly; but beyond that limit their personages
are merely plausible, that is, such as might be conceived by an
equally ignorant reader in the presence of the same external
indications. So, for instance, the judgment which a superficial
traveller passes on foreign manners or religions is plausible to him
and to his compatriots just because it represents the feeling that
such manifestations awaken in strangers and does not attempt to convey
the very different feeling really involved for the natives; had the
latter been discovered and expressed the traveller's book would have
found little understanding and no sale in his own country. This
plausibility to the ignorant is present in all spontaneous myth.
Nothing more need be demanded of irresponsible fiction, which makes no
pretensions to be a human document, but is merely a human
entertainment.

Now, a human psychology, even of the finest grain, when it is applied
to the interpretation of the soul of matter, or of the soul of the
whole universe, obviously yields a view of the irresponsible and
subjective sort; for it is not based on any close similarity between
the observed and the observer: man and the ether, man and cosmic
evolution, cannot mimic one another, to discover mutually how they
feel. But just because merely human, such an interpretation may remain
always plausible to man; and it would be an admirable entertainment if
there were no danger that it should be taken seriously. The idea Paul
has of Peter, Spinoza observes, expresses the nature of Peter less
than it betrays that of Paul; and so an idea framed by a man of the
consciousness of things in general reveals the mind of that man rather
than the mind of the universe; but the mind of the man too may be
worth knowing, and the illusive hope of discovering everything may
lead him truly to disclose himself. Such a disclosure of the lower
depths of man by himself is M. Bergson's psychology; and the
psychological romance, purporting to describe the inward nature of the
universe, which he has built out of that introspection, is his
metaphysics.

Many a point in this metaphysics may seem strange, fantastic, and
obscure; and so it really is, when dislocated and projected
metaphysically; but not one will be found to be arbitrary; not one
but is based on attentive introspection and perception of the
immediate. Take, for example, what is M. Bergson's starting-point, his
somewhat dazzling doctrine that to be is to last, or rather to feel
oneself endure. This is a hypostasis of "true" (_i.e._ immediately
felt) duration. In a sensuous day-dream past feelings survive in the
present, images of the long ago are shuffled together with present
sensations, the roving imagination leaves a bright wake behind it like
a comet, and pushes a rising wave before it, like the bow of a ship;
all is fluidity, continuity without identity, novelty without
surprise. Hence, too, the doctrine of freedom: the images that appear
in such a day-dream are often congruous in character with those that
preceded, and mere prolongations of them; but this prolongation itself
modifies them, and what develops is in no way deducible or predictable
out of what exists. This situation is perfectly explicable
scientifically. The movement of consciousness will be self-congruous
and sustained when it rests on continuous processes in the same
tissues, and yet quite unpredictable from within, because the direct
sensuous report of bodily processes (in nausea, for instance, or in
hunger) contains no picture of their actual mechanism. Even wholly new
features, due to little crises in bodily life, may appear in a dream
to flow out of what already exists, yet freely develop it; because in
dreams comparison, the attempt to be consistent, is wholly in
abeyance, and also because the new feature will come imbedded in
others which are not new, but have dramatic relevance in the story. So
immediate consciousness yields the two factors of Bergsonian freedom,
continuity and indetermination.

Again, take the somewhat disconcerting assertion that movement exists
when there is nothing that moves, and no space that it moves through.
In vision, perhaps, it is not easy to imagine a consciousness of
motion without some presentation of a field, and of a distinguishable
something in it; but if we descend to somatic feelings (and the more
we descend, with M. Bergson, the closer we are to reality), in
shooting pains or the sense of intestinal movements, the feeling of a
change and of a motion is certainly given in the absence of all idea
of a _mobile_ or of distinct points (or even of a separate field)
through which it moves; consciousness begins with the sense of change,
and the terms of the felt process are only qualitative limits, bred
out of the felt process itself. Even a more paradoxical tenet of our
philosopher's finds it justification here. He says that the units of
motion are indivisible, that they are acts; so that to solve the
riddle about Achilles and the tortoise we need no mathematics of the
infinitesimal, but only to ask Achilles how he accomplishes the feat.
Achilles would reply that in so many strides he would do it; and we
may be surprised to learn that these strides are indivisible, so that,
apparently, Achilles could not have stumbled in the middle of one, and
taken only half of it. Of course, in nature, in what non-Bergsonians
call reality, he could: but not in his immediate feeling, for if he
had stumbled, the real stride, that which he was aware of taking,
would have been complete at the stumbling-point. It is certain that
consciousness comes in stretches, in breaths: all its data are
aesthetic wholes, like visions or snatches of melody; and we should
never be aware of anything were we not aware of something all at once.

When a man has taught himself--and it is a difficult art--to revert in
this way to rudimentary consciousness and to watch himself live, he
will be able, if he likes, to add a plausible chapter to speculative
psychology. He has unearthed in himself the animal sensibility which
has thickened, budded, and crystallised into his present somewhat
intellectual image of the world. He has touched again the vegetative
stupor, the multiple disconnected landscapes, the "blooming buzzing
confusion" which his reason has partly set in order. May he not have
in all this a key to the consciousness of other creatures? Animal
psychology, and sympathy with the general life of nature, are vitiated
both for naturalists and for poets by the human terms they must use,
terms which presuppose distinctions which non-human beings probably
have not made. These distinctions correct the illusions of immediate
appearance in ways which only a long and special experience has
imposed upon us, and they should not be imported into other souls. We
are old men trying to sing the loves of children; we are wingless
bipeds trying to understand the gods. But the data of the immediate
are hardly human; it is probable that at that level all sentience is
much alike. From that common ground our imagination can perhaps start
safely, and follow such hints as observation furnishes, until we learn
to live and feel as other living things do, or as nature may live and
feel as a whole. Instinct, for instance, need not be, as our human
prejudice suggests, a rudimentary intelligence; it may be a parallel
sort of sensibility, an imageless awareness of the presence and
character of other things, with a superhuman ability to change oneself
so as to meet them. Do we not feel something of this sort ourselves in
love, in art, in religion? M. Bergson is a most delicate and charming
poet on this theme, and a plausible psychologist; his method of
accumulating and varying his metaphors, and leaving our intuition to
itself under that artful stimulus, is the only judicious and
persuasive method he could have employed, and his knack at it is
wonderful. We recover, as we read, the innocence of the mind. It seems
no longer impossible that we might, like the wise men in the
story-books, learn the language of birds; we share for the moment the
siestas of plants; and we catch the quick consciousness of the waves
of light, vibrating at inconceivable rates, each throb forgotten as
the next follows upon it; and we may be tempted to play on Shakespeare
and say:

    "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
     So do _their spirits_ hasten to their end."

Some reader of M. Bergson might say to himself: All this is ingenious
introspection and divination; grant that it is true, and how does that
lead to a new theory of the universe? You have been studying surface
appearances and the texture of primitive consciousness; that is a part
of the internal rumble of this great engine of the world. How should
it loosen or dissolve that engine, as your philosophy evidently
professes that it must? That nature exists we perceive whenever we
resume our intellectual and practical life, interrupted for a moment
by this interesting reversion to the immediate. The consciousness
which in introspection we treat as an object is, in operation, a
cognitive activity: it demonstrates the world. You would never
yourself have conceived the minds of ethereal vibrations, or of birds,
or of ants, or of men suspending their intelligence, if you had known
of no men, ants, birds, or ether. It is the material objects that
suggest to you their souls, and teach you how to conceive them. How
then should the souls be substituted for the bodies, and abolish them?

Poor guileless reader! If philosophers were straightforward men of
science, adding each his mite to the general store of knowledge, they
would all substantially agree, and while they might make interesting
discoveries, they would not herald each his new transformation of the
whole universe. But philosophers are either revolutionists or
apologists, and some of them, like M. Bergson, are revolutionists in the
interests of apologetics. Their art is to create some surprising
inversion of things, some system of the universe contrary to common
apprehension, or to defend some such inverted system, propounded by
poets long ago, and perhaps consecrated by religion. It would not
require a great man to say calmly: Men, birds, even ether-waves, if you
will, feel after this and this fashion. The greatness and the excitement
begin when he says: Your common sense, your practical intellect, your
boasted science have entirely deceived you; see what the real truth is
instead! So M. Bergson is bent on telling us that the immediate, as he
describes it, is the sole reality; all else is unreal, artificial, and a
more or less convenient symbol in discourse--discourse itself being
taken, of course, for a movement in immediate sensibility, which is what
it is existentially, but never for an excursion into an independent
logical realm, which is what it is spiritually and in intent. So we must
revise all our psychological observations, and turn them into
metaphysical dogmas. It would be nothing to say simply: _For immediate
feeling_ the past is contained in the present, movement is prior to that
which moves, spaces are many, disconnected, and incommensurable, events
are indivisible wholes, perception is in its object and identical with
it, the future is unpredictable, the complex is bred out of the simple,
and evolution is creative, its course being obedient to a general
tendency or groping impulse, not to any exact law. No, we must say
instead: _In the universe at large_ the whole past is preserved bodily
in the present; duration is real and space is only imagined; all is
motion, and there is nothing substantial that moves; times are
incommensurable; men, birds, and waves are nothing but the images of
them (our perceptions, like their spirits, being some compendium of
these images); chance intervenes in the flux, but evolution is due to an
absolute Effort which exists _in vacuo_ and is simplicity itself; and
this Effort, without having an idea of what it pursues, nevertheless
produces it out of nothing.

The accuracy or the hollowness of M. Bergson's doctrine, according as
we take it for literary psychology or for natural philosophy, will
appear clearly in the following instance. "Any one," he writes,[3]
"who has ever practised literary composition knows very well that,
after he has devoted long study to the subject, collected all the
documents, and taken all his notes, one thing more is needful before
he can actually embark on the work of composition; namely, an effort,
often a very painful one, to plant himself all at once in the very
heart of the subject, and to fetch from as profound a depth as
possible the momentum by which he need simply let himself be borne
along in the sequel. This momentum, as soon as it is acquired, carries
the mind forward along a path where it recovers all the facts it had
gathered together, and a thousand other details besides. The momentum
develops and breaks up of itself into particulars that might be
retailed _ad infinitum._ The more he advances the more he finds; he
will never have exhausted the subject; and nevertheless if he turns
round suddenly to face the momentum he feels at his back and see what
it is, it eludes him; for it is not a thing but a direction of
movement, and though capable of being extended indefinitely, it is
simplicity itself."

[Footnote 3: "Introduction a la Metaphysique." _Revue de Metaphysique
et de Morale_, Janvier, 1903.]

This is evidently well observed: heighten the tone a little, and you
might have a poem on those joyful pangs of gestation and parturition
which are not denied to a male animal. It is a description of the
_sensation_ of literary composition, of the _immediate experience_ of
a writer as words and images rise into his mind. He cannot summon his
memories explicitly, for he would first have to remember them to do
so; his consciousness of inspiration, of literary creation, is nothing
but a consciousness of pregnancy and of a certain "direction of
movement," as if he were being wafted in a balloon; and just in its
moments of highest tension his mind is filled with mere expectancy and
mere excitement, without images, plans, or motives; and what guides it
is inwardly, as M. Bergson says, simplicity itself. Yet excellent as
such a description is psychologically, it is a literary confession
rather than a piece of science; for scientific psychology is a part of
natural history, and when in nature we come upon such a notable
phenomenon as this, that some men write and write eloquently, we
should at once study the antecedents and the conditions under which
this occurs; we should try, by experiment if possible, to see what
variations in the result follow upon variations in the situation. At
once we should begin to perceive how casual and superficial are those
data of introspection which M. Bergson's account reproduces. Does that
painful effort, for instance, occur always? Is it the moral source, as
he seems to suggest, of the good and miraculous fruits that follow?
Not at all: such an effort is required only when the writer is
overworked, or driven to express himself under pressure; in the
spontaneous talker or singer, in the orator surpassing himself and
overflowing with eloquence, there is no effort at all; only facility,
and joyous undirected abundance. We should further ask whether _all_
the facts previously gathered are recovered, and all correctly, and
what relation the "thousand other details" have to them; and we should
find that everything was controlled and supplied by the sensuous
endowment of the literary man, his moral complexion, and his general
circumstances. And we should perceive at the same time that the
momentum which to introspection was so mysterious was in fact the
discharge of many automatisms long imprinted on the system, a system
(as growth and disease show) that has its internal vegetation and
crises of maturity, to which facility and error in the recovery of the
past, and creation also, are closely attached. Thus we should utterly
refuse to say that this momentum was capable of being extended
indefinitely or was simplicity itself. It may be a good piece of
literary psychology to say that simplicity precedes complexity, for it
precedes complexity in consciousness. Consciousness dwindles and
flares up most irresponsibly, so long as its own flow alone is
regarded, and it continually arises out of nothing, which indeed is
simplicity itself. But it does not arise without real conditions
outside, which cannot be discovered by introspection, nor divined by
that literary psychology which proceeds by imagining what
introspection might yield in others.

There is a deeper mystification still in this passage, where a writer
is said to "plant himself in the very heart of the subject." The
general tenor of M. Bergson's philosophy warrants us in taking this
quite literally to mean that the field from which inspiration draws
its materials is not the man's present memory nor even his past
experience, but the subject itself which that experience and this
memory regard: in other words, what we write about and our latent
knowledge are the same thing. When Shakespeare was composing his
_Antony and Cleopatra,_ for instance, he planted himself in the very
heart of Rome and of Egypt, and in the very heart of the Queen of
Egypt herself; what he had gathered from Plutarch and from elsewhere
was, according to M. Bergson's view, a sort of glimpse of the remote
reality itself, as if by telepathy he had been made to witness some
part of it; or rather as if the scope of his consciousness had been
suddenly extended in one direction, so as to embrace and contain
bodily a bit of that outlying experience. Thus when the poet sifts his
facts and sets his imagination to work at unifying and completing
them, what he does is to pierce to Egypt, Rome, and the inner
consciousness of Cleopatra, to fetch _thence_ the profound momentum
which is to guide him in composition; and it is there, not in the
adventitious later parts of his own mind, that he should find the
thousand other details which he may add to the picture.

Here again, in an exaggerated form, we have a transcript of the
immediate, a piece of really wonderful introspection, spoiled by being
projected into a theory of nature, which it spoils in its turn.
Doubtless Shakespeare, in the heat of dramatic vision, lived his
characters, transported himself to their environment, and felt the
passion of each, as we do in a dream, dictating their unpremeditated
words. But all this is in imagination; it is true only within the
framework of our dream. In reality, of course, Shakespeare never
pierced to Rome nor to Egypt; his elaborations of his data are drawn
from his own feelings and circumstances, not from those of Cleopatra.
This transporting oneself into the heart of a subject is a loose
metaphor: the best one can do is to transplant the subject into one's
own heart and draw _from oneself_ impulses as profound as possible
with which to vivify tradition and make it over in one's own image.
Yet I fear that to speak so is rationalism, and would be found to
involve, to the horror of our philosopher, that life is cognitive and
spiritual, but dependent, discontinuous, and unsubstantial. What he
conceives instead is that consciousness is a stuff out of which things
are made, and has all the attributes, even the most material, of its
several objects; and that there is no possibility of knowing, save by
becoming what one is trying to know. So perception, for him, lies
where its object does, and is some part of it; memory is the past
experience itself, somehow shining through into the present; and
Shakespeare's Cleopatra, I should infer, would have to be some part of
Cleopatra herself--in those moments when she spoke English.

It is hard to be a just critic of mysticism because mysticism can
never do itself justice in words. To conceive of an external actual
Cleopatra and an external actual mind of Shakespeare is to betray the
cause of pure immediacy; and I suspect that if M. Bergson heard of
such criticisms as I am making, he would brush them aside as utterly
blind and scholastic. As the mystics have always said that God was not
far from them, but dwelt in their hearts, meaning this pretty
literally: so this mystical philosophy of the immediate, which talks
sometimes so scientifically of things and with such intimacy of
knowledge, feels that these things are not far from it, but dwell
literally in its heart. The revelation and the sentiment of them, if
it be thorough, is just what the things are. The total aspects to be
discerned in a body _are_ that body; and the movement of those
aspects, when you enact it, _is_ the spirit of that body, and at the
same time a part of your own spirit. To suppose that a man's
consciousness (either one's own or other people's) is a separate fact
over and above the shuffling of the things he feels, or that these
things are anything over and above the feeling of them which exists
more or less everywhere in diffusion--that, for the mystic, is to be
once for all hopelessly intellectual, dualistic, and diabolical. If
you cannot shed the husk of those dead categories--space, matter,
mind, truth, person--life is shut out of your heart. And the mystic,
who always speaks out of experience, is certainly right in this, that
a certain sort of life is shut out by reason, the sort that reason
calls dreaming or madness; but he forgets that reason too is a kind of
life, and that of all the kinds--mystical, passionate, practical,
aesthetic, intellectual--with their various degrees of light and heat,
the life of reason is that which some people may prefer. I confess I
am one of these, and I am not inclined, even if I were able, to
reproduce M. Bergson's sentiments as he feels them. He is his own
perfect expositor. All a critic can aim at is to understand these
sentiments as existing facts, and to give them the place that belongs
to them in the moral world. To understand, in most cases, is intimacy
enough.

Herbert Spencer says somewhere that the yolk of an egg is homogeneous,
the highly heterogeneous bird being differentiated in it by the law of
evolution. I cannot think what assured Spencer of this homogeneity in
the egg, except the fact that perhaps it all tasted alike, which might
seem good proof to a pure empiricist. Leibnitz, on the contrary,
maintained that the organisation of nature was infinitely deep, every
part consisting of an endless number of discrete elements. Here we
may observe the difference between good philosophy and bad. The idea
of Leibnitz is speculative and far outruns the evidence, but it is
speculative in a well-advised, penetrating, humble, and noble fashion;
while the idea of Spencer is foolishly dogmatic, it is a piece of
ignorant self-sufficiency, like that insular empiricism that would
deny that Chinamen were real until it had actually seen them. Nature
is richer than experience and wider than divination; and it is far
rasher and more arrogant to declare that any part of nature is simple
than to suggest the sort of complexity that perhaps it might have. M.
Bergson, however, is on the side of Spencer. After studiously
examining the egg on every side--for he would do more than taste
it--and considering the source and destiny of it, he would summon his
intuition to penetrate to the very heart of it, to its spirit, and
then he would declare that this spirit was a vital momentum without
parts and without ideas, and was simplicity itself. He would add that
it was the free and original creator of the bird, because it is of the
essence of spirit to bestow more than it possesses and to build better
than it knows. Undoubtedly actual spirit is simple and does not know
how it builds; but for that very reason actual spirit does not really
create or build anything, but merely watches, now with sympathetic,
now with shocked attention, what is being created and built for it.
Doubtless new things are always arising, new islands, new persons, new
philosophies; but that the real cause of them should be simpler than
they, that their Creator, if I may use this language, should be
ignorant and give more than he has, who can stomach that?

Let us grant, however, since the thing is not abstractly
inconceivable, that eggs really have no structure. To what, then,
shall we attribute the formation of birds? Will it follow that
evolution, or differentiation, or the law of the passage from the
homogeneous to the heterogeneous, or the dialectic of the concept of
pure being, or the impulse towards life, or the vocation of spirit is
what actually hatches them? Alas, these words are but pedantic and
rhetorical cloaks for our ignorance, and to project them behind the
facts and regard them as presiding from thence over the course of
nature is a piece of the most deplorable scholasticism. If eggs are
really without structure, the true causes of the formation of birds
are the last conditions, whatever they may be, that introduce that
phenomenon and determine its character--the type of the parents, the
act of fertilisation, the temperature, or whatever else observation
might find regularly to precede and qualify that new birth in nature.
These facts, if they were the ultimate and deepest facts in the case,
would be the ultimate and only possible terms in which to explain it.
They would constitute the mechanism of reproduction; and if nature
were no finer than that in its structure, science could not go deeper
than that in its discoveries. And although it is frivolous to suppose
that nature ends in this way at the limits of our casual apprehension,
and has no hidden roots, yet philosophically that would be as good a
stopping place as any other. Ultimately we should have to be satisfied
with some factual conjunction and method in events. If atoms and their
collisions, by any chance, were the ultimate and inmost facts
discoverable, they would supply the explanation of everything, in the
only sense in which anything existent can be explained at all. If
somebody then came to us enthusiastically and added that the Will of
the atoms so to be and move was the true cause, or the Will of God
that they should move so, he would not be reputed, I suppose, to have
thrown a bright light on the subject.

Yet this is what M. Bergson does in his whole defence of metaphysical
vitalism, and especially in the instance of the evolution of eyes by
two different methods, which is his palmary argument. Since in some
molluscs and in vertebrates organs that coincide in being organs of
vision are reached by distinct paths, it cannot have been the
propulsion of mechanism in each case, he says, that guided the
developments, which, being divergent, would never have led to
coincident results, but the double development must have been guided
by a common _tendency towards vision_. Suppose (what some young man in
a laboratory may by this time have shown to be false) that M.
Bergson's observations have sounded the facts to the bottom; it would
then be of the ultimate nature of things that, given light and the
other conditions, the two methods of development will end in eyes;
just as, for a peasant, it is of the ultimate nature of things that
puddles can be formed in two quite opposite ways, by rain falling from
heaven and by springs issuing from the earth; but as the peasant would
not have reached a profound insight into nature if he had proclaimed
the presence in her of a _tendency to puddles_, to be formed in
inexplicably different ways; so the philosopher attains to no profound
insight when he proclaims in her a _tendency to vision._ If those
words express more than ignorance, they express the love of it. Even
if the vitalists were right in despairing of further scientific
discoveries, they would be wrong in offering their verbiage as a
substitute. Nature may possibly have only a very loose hazy
constitution, to be watched and understood as sailors watch and
understand the weather; but Neptune and AEolus are not thereby proved
to be the authors of storms. Yet M. Bergson thinks if life could only
be safely shown to arise unaccountably, that would prove the invisible
efficacy of a mighty tendency to life. But would the ultimate
contexture and miracle of things be made less arbitrary, and less a
matter of brute fact, by the presence behind them of an actual and
arbitrary effort that such should be their nature? If this word
"effort" is not a mere figure of rhetoric, a name for a movement in
things of which the end happens to interest us more than the
beginning, if it is meant to be an effort actually and consciously
existing, then we must proceed to ask: Why did this effort exist? Why
did it choose that particular end to strive for? How did it reach the
conception of that end, which had never been realised before, and
which no existent nature demanded for its fulfilment? How did the
effort, once made specific, select the particular matter it was to
transform? Why did this matter respond to the disembodied effort that
it should change its habits? Not one of these questions is easier to
answer than the question why nature is living or animals have eyes.
Yet without seeking to solve the only real problem, namely, how nature
is actually constituted, this introduction of metaphysical powers
raises all the others, artificially and without occasion. This side
of M. Bergson's philosophy illustrates the worst and most familiar
vices of metaphysics. It marvels at some appearance, not to
investigate it, but to give it an unctuous name. Then it turns this
name into a power, that by its operation creates the appearance. This
is simply verbal mythology or the hypostasis of words, and there would
be some excuse for a rude person who should call it rubbish.

The metaphysical abuse of psychology is as extraordinary in modern
Europe as that of fancy ever was in India or of rhetoric in Greece. We
find, for instance, Mr. Bradley murmuring, as a matter almost too
obvious to mention, that the existence of anything not sentience is
unmeaning to him; or, if I may put this evident principle in other
words, that nothing is able to exist unless something else is able to
discover it. Yet even if discovered the poor candidate for existence
would be foiled, for it would turn out to be nothing but a
modification of the mind falsely said to discover it. Existence and
discovery are conceptions which the malicious criticism of knowledge
(which is the psychology of knowledge abused) pretends to have
discarded and outgrown altogether; the conception of immediacy has
taken their place. This malicious criticism of knowledge is based on
the silent assumption that knowledge is impossible. Whenever you
mention anything, it baffles you by talking instead about your idea of
what you mention; and if ever you describe the origin of anything it
substitutes, as a counter-theory, its theory of the origin of your
description. This, however, would not be a counter-theory at all if
the criticism of knowledge had not been corrupted into a negative
dogma, maintaining that ideas of things are the only things possible
and that therefore only ideas and not things can have an origin.
Nothing could better illustrate how deep this cognitive impotence has
got into people's bones than the manner in which, in the latest
schools of philosophy, it is being disavowed; for unblushing idealism
is distinctly out of fashion. M. Bergson tells us he has solved a
difficulty that seemed hopeless by avoiding a fallacy common to
idealism and realism. The difficulty was that if you started with
self-existent matter you could never arrive at mind, and if you
started with self-existent mind you could never arrive at matter. The
fallacy was that both schools innocently supposed there was an
existing world to discover, and each thought it possible that its view
should describe that world as it really was. What now is M. Bergson's
solution? That no articulated world, either material or psychical,
exists at all, but only a tendency or enduring effort to evolve images
of both sorts; or rather to evolve images which in their finer texture
and vibration are images of matter, but which grouped and
foreshortened in various ways are images of minds. The idea of nature
and the idea of consciousness are two apperceptions or syntheses of
the same stuff of experience. The two worlds thus become substantially
identical, continuous, and superposable; each can merge insensibly
into the other. "To perceive all the influences of all the points of
all bodies would be to sink to the condition of a material object."[4]
To perceive some of these influences, by having created organs that
shut out the others, is to be a mind.

[Footnote 4: _Matiere et Memoire_, p. 38.]

This solution is obtained by substituting, as usual, the ideas of
things for the things themselves and cheating the honest man who was
talking about objects by answering him as if he were talking about
himself. Certainly, if we could limit ourselves to feeling life flow
and the whole world vibrate, we should not raise the question debated
between realists and idealists; but not to raise a question is one
thing and to have solved it is another. What has really been done is
to offer us a history, _on the assumption of idealism,_ of the idea of
mind and the idea of matter. This history may be correct enough
psychologically, and such as a student of the life of reason might
possibly come to; but it is a mere evasion of the original question
concerning the relation of this mental evolution to the world it
occurs in. In truth, an enveloping world is assumed by these
hereditary idealists not to exist; they rule it out _a priori,_ and
the life of reason is supposed by them to constitute the whole
universe. To be sure, they say they transcend idealism no less than
realism, because they mark the point where, by contrast or selection
from other objects, the mind has come to be distinguished: but the
subterfuge is vain, because by "mind" they mean simply the idea of
mind, and they give no name, except perhaps experience, to the mind
that forms that idea. Matter and mind, for these transcendentalists
posing as realists, merge and flow so easily together only because
both are images or groups of images in an original mind presupposed
but never honestly posited. It is in this forgotten mind, also, as
the professed idealists urge, that the relations of proximity and
simultaneity between various lives can alone subsist, if to subsist is
to be experienced.

There is, however, one point of real difference, at least initially,
between the idealism of M. Bergson and that of his predecessors. The
universal mind, for M. Bergson, is in process of actual
transformation. It is not an omniscient God but a cosmic sensibility.
In this sensibility matter, with all its vibrations felt in detail,
forms one moving panorama together with all minds, which are patterns
visible at will from various points of view in that same woof of
matter; and so the great experiment crawls and shoots on, the dream of
a giant without a body, mindful of the past, uncertain of the future,
shuffling his images, and threading his painful way through a
labyrinth of cross-purposes.

Such at least is the notion which the reader gathers from the
prevailing character of M. Bergson's words; but I am not sure that it
would be his ultimate conclusion. Perhaps it is to be out of sympathy
with his spirit to speak of an ultimate conclusion at all; nothing
comes to a conclusion and nothing is ultimate. Many dilemmas, however,
are inevitable, and if the master does not make a choice himself, his
pupils will divide and trace the alternative consequences for
themselves in each direction. If they care most for a real fluidity,
as William James did, they will stick to something like what I have
just described; but if they care most for immediacy, as we may suspect
that M. Bergson does, they will transform that view into something far
more orthodox. For a real fluidity and an absolute immediacy are not
compatible. To believe in real change you must put some trust in
representation, and if you posit a real past and a real future you
posit independent objects. In absolute immediacy, on the contrary,
instead of change taken realistically, you can have only a feeling of
change. The flux becomes an idea in the absolute, like the image of a
moving spiral, always flowing outwards or inwards, but with its centre
and its circumference always immovable. Duration, we must remember, is
simply the sense of lasting; no time is real that is not lived
through. Therefore various lives cannot be dated in a common time, but
have no temporal relations to one another. Thus, if we insist on
immediacy, the vaunted novelty of the future and the inestimable
freedom of life threaten to become (like all else) the given _feeling_
of novelty or freedom, in passing from a given image of the past to a
given image of the future--all these terms being contained in the
present; and we have reverted to the familiar conception of absolute
immutability in absolute life. M. Bergson has studied Plotinus and
Spinoza; I suspect he has not studied them in vain.

Nor is this the only point at which this philosophy, when we live a
while with it, suddenly drops its mask of novelty and shows us a
familiar face. It would seem, for instance, that beneath the drama of
creative evolution there was a deeper nature of things. For apparently
creative evolution (apart from the obstacle of matter, which may be
explained away idealistically) has to submit to the following
conditions: first, to create in sequence, not all at once; second, to
create some particular sequence only, not all possible sequences side
by side; and third, to continue the one sequence chosen, since if the
additions of every new moment were irrelevant to the past, no
sequence, no vital persistence or progress would be secured, and all
effort would be wasted. These are compulsions; but it may also, I
suppose, be thought a _duty_ on the part of the vital impulse to be
true to its initial direction and not to halt, as it well might, like
the self-reversing Will of Schopenhauer, on perceiving the result of
its spontaneous efforts. Necessity would thus appear behind liberty
and duty before it. This summons to life to go on, and these
conditions imposed upon it, might then very plausibly be attributed to
a Deity existing beyond the world, as is done in religious tradition;
and such a doctrine, if M. Bergson should happen to be holding it in
reserve, would perhaps help to explain some obscurities in his system,
such, for instance, as the power of potentiality to actualise itself,
of equipoise to become suddenly emphasis on one particular part, and
of spirit to pursue an end chosen before it is conceived, and when
there is no nature to predetermine it.

It has been said that M. Bergson's system precludes ethics: I cannot
think that observation just. Apart from the moral inspiration which
appears throughout his philosophy, which is indeed a passionate
attempt to exalt (or debase) values into powers, it offers, I should
say, two starting-points for ethics. In the first place, the _elan
vital_ ought not to falter, although it can do so: therefore to
persevere, labour, experiment, propagate, must be duties, and the
opposite must be sins. In the second place, freedom, in adding
uncaused increments to life, ought to do so in continuation of the
whole past, though it might do so frivolously: therefore it is a duty
to be studious, consecutive, loyal; you may move in any direction but
you must carry the whole past with you. I will not say this suggests a
sound system of ethics, because it would be extracted from dogmas
which are physical and incidentally incredible; nor would it represent
a mature and disillusioned morality, because it would look to the
future and not to the eternal; nevertheless it would be deeply
ethical, expressing the feelings that have always inspired Hebraic
morality.

A good way of testing the calibre of a philosophy is to ask what it
thinks of death. Philosophy, said Plato, is a meditation on death, or
rather, if we would do justice to his thought, an aspiration to live
disembodied; and Schopenhauer said that the spectacle of death was the
first provocation to philosophy. M. Bergson has not yet treated of
this subject; but we may perhaps perceive for ourselves the place that
it might occupy in his system.[5] Life, according to him, is the
original and absolute force. In the beginning, however, it was only a
potentiality or tendency. To become specific lives, life had to
emphasise and bring exclusively to consciousness, here and there,
special possibilities of living; and where these special lives have
their chosen boundary (if this way of putting it is not too Fichtean)
they posit or create a material environment. Matter is the view each
life takes of what for it are rejected or abandoned possibilities of
living. This might show how the absolute will to live, if it was to be
carried out, would have to begin by evoking a sense of dead or
material things about it; it would not show how death could ever
overtake the will itself. If matter were merely the periphery which
life has to draw round itself, in order to be a definite life, matter
could never abolish any life; as the ring of a circus or the sand of
the arena can never abolish the show for which they have been
prepared. Life would then be fed and defined by matter, as an artist
is served by the matter he needs to carry on his art.

[Footnote 5: M. Bergson has shown at considerable length that the idea
of non-existence is more complex, psychologically, than the idea of
existence, and posterior to it. He evidently thinks this disposes of
the reality of non-existence also: for it is the reality that he
wishes to exorcise by his words. If, however, non-existence and the
idea of non-existence were identical, it would have been impossible
for me not to exist before I was born: my non-existence then would be
more complex than my existence now, and posterior to it. The initiated
would not recoil from this consequence, but it might open the eyes of
some catechumens. It is a good test of the malicious theory of
knowledge.]

Yet in actual life there is undeniably such a thing as danger and
failure. M. Bergson even thinks that the facing of increased dangers
is one proof that vital force is an absolute thing; for if life were
an equilibrium, it would not displace itself and run new risks of
death, by making itself more complex and ticklish, as it does in the
higher organisms and the finer arts.[6] Yet if life is the only
substance, how is such a risk of death possible at all? I suppose the
special life that arises about a given nucleus of feeling, by
emphasising some of the relations which that feeling has in the
world, might be abolished if a greater emphasis were laid on another
set of its relations, starting from some other nucleus. We must
remember that these selections, according to M. Bergson, are not
apperceptions merely. They are creative efforts. The future
constitution of the flux will vary in response to them. Each mind
sucks the world, so far as it can, into its own vortex. A cross
apperception will then amount to a contrary force. Two souls will not
be able to dominate the same matter in peace and friendship. Being
forces, they will pull that matter in different ways. Each soul will
tend to devour and to direct exclusively the movement influenced by
the other soul. The one that succeeds in ruling that movement will
live on; the other, I suppose, will die, although M. Bergson may not
like that painful word. He says the lower organisms store energy for
the higher organisms to use; but when a sheep appropriates the energy
stored up in grass, or a man that stored up in mutton, it looks as if
the grass and the sheep had perished. Their _elan vital_ is no longer
theirs, for in this rough world to live is to kill. Nothing arises in
nature, Lucretius says, save helped by the death of some other thing.
Of course, this is no defeat for the _elan vital_ in general; for
according to our philosopher the whole universe from the beginning has
been making for just that supreme sort of consciousness which man, who
eats the mutton, now possesses. The sheep and the grass were only
things by the way and scaffolding for our precious humanity. But would
it not be better if some being should arise nobler than man, not
requiring abstract intellect nor artificial weapons, but endowed with
instinct and intuition and, let us say, the power of killing by
radiating electricity? And might not men then turn out to have been
mere explosives, in which energy was stored for convenient digestion
by that superior creature? A shocking thought, no doubt, like the
thought of death, and more distressing to our vital feelings than is
the pleasing assimilation of grass and mutton in our bellies. Yet I
can see no ground, except a desire to flatter oneself, for not
crediting the _elan vital_ with some such digestive intention. M.
Bergson's system would hardly be more speculative if it entertained
this possibility, and it would seem more honest.

[Footnote 6: This argument against mechanism is a good instance of the
difficulties which mythological habits of mind import unnecessarily
into science. An equilibrium would not displace itself! But an
equilibrium is a natural result, not a magical entity. It is
continually displaced, as its constituents are modified by internal
movements or external agencies; and while many a time the equilibrium
is thereby destroyed altogether, sometimes it is replaced by a more
elaborate and perilous equilibrium; as glaciers carry many rocks down,
but leave some, here and there, piled in the most unlikely pinnacles
and pagodas.]

The vital impulse is certainly immortal; for if we take it in the
naturalistic exoteric sense, for a force discovered in biology, it is
an independent agent coming down into matter, organising it against
its will, and stirring it like the angel the pool of Bethesda. Though
the ripples die down, the angel is not affected. He has merely flown
away. And if we take the vital impulse mystically and esoterically, as
the _only_ primal force, creating matter in order to play with it, the
immortality of life is even more obvious; for there is then nothing
else in being that could possibly abolish it. But when we come to
immortality for the individual, all grows obscure and ambiguous. The
original tendency of life was certainly cosmic and not distinguished
into persons: we are told it was like a wireless message sent at the
creation which is being read off at last by the humanity of to-day. In
the naturalistic view, the diversity of persons would seem to be due
to the different material conditions under which one and the same
spiritual purpose must fight its way towards realisation in different
times and places. It is quite conceivable, however, that in the
mystical view the very sense of the original message should comport
this variety of interpretations, and that the purpose should always
have been to produce diverse individuals.

The first view, as usual, is the one which M. Bergson has prevailingly
in mind, and communicates most plausibly; while he holds to it he is
still talking about the natural world, and so we still know what he is
talking about. On this view, however, personal immortality would be
impossible; it would be, if it were aimed at, a self-contradiction in
the aim of life; for the diversity of persons would be due to
impediments only, and souls would differ simply in so far as they
mutilated the message which they were all alike trying to repeat. They
would necessarily, when the spirit was victorious, be reabsorbed and
identified in the universal spirit. This view also seems most
consonant with M. Bergson's theory of primitive reality, as a flux of
fused images, or a mind lost in matter; to this view, too, is
attributable his hostility to intelligence, in that it arrests the
flux, divides the fused images, and thereby murders and devitalises
reality. Of course the destiny of spirit would not be to revert to
that diffused materiality; for the original mind lost in matter had a
very short memory; it was a sort of cosmic trepidation only, whereas
the ultimate mind would remember all that, in its efforts after
freedom, it had ever super added to that trepidation or made it turn
into. Even the abstract views of things taken by the practical
intellect would, I fear, have to burden the universal memory to the
end. We should be remembered, even if we could no longer exist.

On the other more profound view, however, might not personal
immortality be secured? Suppose the original message said: Translate
me into a thousand tongues! In fulfilling its duty, the universe would
then continue to divide its dream into phantom individuals; as it had
to insulate its parts in the beginning in order to dominate and
transform them freely, so it would always continue to insulate them,
so as not to lose its cross-vistas and its mobility. There is no
reason, then, why individuals should not live for ever. But a
condition seems to be involved which may well make belief stagger. It
would be impossible for the universe to divide its images into
particular minds unless it preserved the images of their particular
bodies also. Particular minds arise, according to this philosophy, in
the interests of practice: which means, biologically, to secure a
better adjustment of the body to its environment, so that it may
survive. Mystically, too, the fundamental force is a half-conscious
purpose that practice, or freedom, should come to be; or rather, that
an apparition or experience of practice and freedom should arise; for
in this philosophy appearance is all. To secure this desirable
apparition of practice special tasks are set to various nuclei in felt
space (such, for instance, as the task to see), and the image of a
body (in this case that of an eye) is gradually formed, in order to
execute that task; for evidently the Absolute can see only if it
looks, and to look it must first choose a point of view and an optical
method. This point of view and this method posit the individual; they
fix him in time and space, and determine the quality and range of his
passive experience: they are his body. If the Absolute, then, wishes
to retain the individual not merely as one of its memories but as one
of its organs of practical life, it must begin by retaining the image
of his body. His body must continue to figure in that landscape of
nature which the absolute life, as it pulses, keeps always composing
and recomposing. Otherwise a personal mind, a sketch of things made
from the point of view and in the interests of that body, cannot be
preserved.

M. Bergson, accordingly, should either tell us that our bodies are
going to rise again, or he should not tell us, or give us to
understand, that our minds are going to endure. I suppose he cannot
venture to preach the resurrection of the body to this weak-kneed
generation; he is too modern and plausible for that. Yet he is too
amiable to deny to our dilated nostrils some voluptuous whiffs of
immortality. He asks if we are not "led to suppose" that consciousness
passes through matter to be tempered like steel, to constitute
distinct personalities, and prepare them for a higher existence. Other
animal minds are but human minds arrested; men at last (what men, I
wonder?) are "capable of remembering all and willing all and
controlling their past and their future," so that "we shall have no
repugnance in admitting that in man, though perhaps in man alone,
consciousness pursues its path beyond this earthly life." Elsewhere he
says, in a phrase already much quoted and perhaps destined to be
famous, that in man the spirit can "spurn every kind of resistance and
break through many an obstacle, perhaps even death." Here the tenor
has ended on the inevitable high note, and the gallery is delighted.
But was that the note set down for him in the music? And has he not
sung it in falsetto?

The immediate knows nothing about death; it takes intelligence to
conceive it; and that perhaps is why M. Bergson says so little about
it, and that little so far from serious. But he talks a great deal
about life, he feels he has penetrated deeply into its nature; and yet
death, together with birth, is the natural analysis of what life is.
What is this creative purpose, that must wait for sun and rain to set
it in motion? What is this life, that in any individual can be
suddenly extinguished by a bullet? What is this _elan-vital_, that a
little fall in temperature would banish altogether from the universe?
The study of death may be out of fashion, but it is never out of
season. The omission of this, which is almost the omission of wisdom
from philosophy, warns us that in M. Bergson's thought we have
something occasional and partial, the work of an astute apologist, a
party man, driven to desperate speculation by a timid attachment to
prejudice. Like other terrified idealisms, the system of M. Bergson
has neither good sense, nor rigour, nor candour, nor solidity. It is a
brilliant attempt to confuse the lessons of experience by refining
upon its texture, an attempt to make us halt, for the love of
primitive illusions, in the path of discipline and reason. It is
likely to prove a successful attempt, because it flatters the
weaknesses of the moment, expresses them with emotion, and covers
them with a feint at scientific speculation. It is not, however, a
powerful system, like that of Hegel, capable of bewildering and
obsessing many who have no natural love for shams. M. Bergson will
hardly bewilder; his style is too clear, the field where his just
observations lie--the immediate--is too well defined, and the
mythology which results from projecting the terms of the immediate
into the absolute, and turning them into powers, is too obviously
verbal. He will not long impose on any save those who enjoy being
imposed upon; but for a long time he may increase their number. His
doctrine is indeed alluring. Instead of telling us, as a stern and
contrite philosophy would, that the truth is remote, difficult, and
almost undiscoverable by human efforts, that the universe is vast and
unfathomable, yet that the knowledge of its ways is precious to our
better selves, if we would not live befooled, this philosophy rather
tells us that nothing is truer or more precious than our rudimentary
consciousness, with its vague instincts and premonitions, that
everything ideal is fictitious, and that the universe, at heart, is as
palpitating and irrational as ourselves. Why then strain the inquiry?
Why seek to dominate passion by understanding it? Rather live on;
work, it matters little at what, and grow, it matters nothing in what
direction. Exert your instinctive powers of vegetation and emotion;
let your philosophy itself be a frank expression of this flux, the
roar of the ocean in your little sea-shell, a momentary posture of
your living soul, not a stark adoration of things reputed eternal.

So the intellectual faithlessness and the material servility of the
age are flattered together and taught to justify themselves
theoretically. They cry joyfully, _non peccavi_, which is the modern
formula for confession. M. Bergson's philosophy itself is a confession
of a certain mystical rebellion and atavism in the contemporary mind.
It will remain a beautiful monument to the passing moment, a capital
film for the cinematography of history, full of psychological truth
and of a kind of restrained sentimental piety. His thought has all the
charm that can go without strength and all the competence that can go
without mastery. This is not an age of mastery; it is confused with
too much business; it has no brave simplicity. The mind has forgotten
its proper function, which is to crown life by quickening it into
intelligence, and thinks if it could only prove that it accelerated
life, that might perhaps justify its existence; like a philosopher at
sea who, to make himself useful, should blow into the sail.




IV

THE PHILOSOPHY OF MR. BERTRAND RUSSELL

I. A NEW SCHOLASTICISM


In its chase after idols this age has not wholly forgotten the gods,
and reason and faith in reason are not left without advocates. Some
years ago, at Trinity College, Cambridge, Mr. G.E. Moore began to
produce a very deep impression amongst the younger spirits by his
powerful and luminous dialectic. Like Socrates, he used all the sharp
arts of a disputant in the interests of common sense and of an almost
archaic dogmatism. Those who heard him felt how superior his position
was, both in rigour and in force, to the prevailing inversions and
idealisms. The abuse of psychology, rampant for two hundred years,
seemed at last to be detected and challenged; and the impressionistic
rhetoric that philosophy was saturated with began to be squeezed out
by clear questions, and by a disconcerting demand for literal
sincerity. German idealism, when we study it as a product of its own
age and country, is a most engaging phenomenon; it is full of
afflatus, sweep, and deep searchings of heart; but it is essentially
romantic and egotistical, and all in it that is not soliloquy is mere
system-making and sophistry. Therefore when it is taught by unromantic
people _ex cathedra,_ in stentorian tones, and represented as the
rational foundation of science and religion, with neither of which it
has any honest sympathy, it becomes positively odious--one of the
worst imposture and blights to which a youthful imagination could be
subjected. It is chiefly against the incubus of this celestial monster
that Mr. Moore dared to lift up his eyes; and many a less courageous
or less clear-sighted person was thankful to him for it. But a man
with such a mission requires a certain narrowness and concentration of
mind; he has to be intolerant and to pound a good deal on the same
notes. We need not wonder if Mr. Moore has written rather meagerly,
and with a certain vehemence and want of imagination.

All this, however, was more than made up by the powerful ally who soon
came to his aid. Mr. Bertrand Russell began by adopting Mr. Moore's
metaphysics, but he has given as much as he has received. Apart from
his well-known mathematical attainments, he possesses by inheritance
the political and historical mind, and an intrepid determination to
pierce convention and look to ultimate things. He has written
abundantly and, where the subject permits, with a singular lucidity,
candour, and charm. Especially his _Philosophical Essays_ and his
little book on _The Problems of Philosophy_ can be read with pleasure
by any intelligent person, and give a tolerably rounded picture of the
tenets of the school. Yet it must be remembered that Mr. Russell, like
Mr. Moore, is still young and his thoughts have not assumed their
ultimate form. Moreover, he lives in an atmosphere of academic
disputation which makes one technical point after another acquire a
preponderating influence in his thoughts. His book on _The Problems
of Philosophy_ is admirable in style, temper, and insight, but it
hardly deserves its title; it treats principally, in a somewhat
personal and partial way, of the relation of knowledge to its objects,
and it might rather have been called "The problems which Moore and I
have been agitating lately." Indeed, his philosophy is so little
settled as yet that every new article and every fresh conversation
revokes some of his former opinions, and places the crux of
philosophical controversy at a new point. We are soon made aware that
exact thinking and true thinking are not synonymous, but that one
exact thought, in the same mind, may be the exact opposite of the
next. This inconstancy, which after all does not go very deep, is a
sign of sincerity and pure love of truth; it marks the freshness, the
vivacity, the self-forgetfulness, the logical ardour belonging to this
delightful reformer. It may seem a paradox, but at bottom it is not,
that the vitalists should be oppressed, womanish, and mystical, and
only the intellectualists keen, argumentative, fearless, and full of
life. I mention this casualness and inconstancy in Mr. Russell's
utterances not to deride them, but to show the reader how impossible
it is, at this juncture, to give a comprehensive account of his
philosophy, much less a final judgment upon it.

The principles most fundamental and dominant in his thought are
perhaps the following: That the objects the mind deals with, whether
material or ideal, are what and where the mind says they are, and
independent of it; that some general principles and ideas have to be
assumed to be valid not merely for thought but for things; that
relations may subsist, arise, and disappear between things without at
all affecting these things internally; and that the nature of
everything is just what it is, and not to be confused either with its
origin or with any opinion about it. These principles, joined with an
obvious predilection for Plato and Leibnitz among philosophers, lead
to the following doctrines, among others: that the mind or soul is an
entity separate from its thoughts and pre-existent; that a material
world exists in space and time; that its substantial elements may be
infinite in number, having position and quality, but no extension, so
that each mind or soul might well be one of them; that both the
existent and the ideal worlds may be infinite, while the ideal world
contains an infinity of things not realised in the actual world; and
that this ideal world is knowable by a separate mental consideration,
a consideration which is, however, empirical in spirit, since the
ideal world of ethics, logic, and mathematics has a special and
surprising constitution, which we do not make but must attentively
discover.

The reader will perceive, perhaps, that if the function of philosophy
is really, as the saying goes, to give us assurance of God, freedom,
and immortality, Mr. Russell's philosophy is a dire failure. In fact,
its author sometimes gives vent to a rather emphatic pessimism about
this world; he has a keen sense for the manifold absurdities of
existence. But the sense for absurdities is not without its delights,
and Mr. Russell's satirical wit is more constant and better grounded
than his despair. I should be inclined to say of his philosophy what
he himself has said of that of Leibnitz, that it is at its best in
those subjects which are most remote from human life. It needs to be
very largely supplemented and much ripened and humanised before it can
be called satisfactory or wise; but time may bring these fulfilments,
and meantime I cannot help thinking it auspicious in the highest
degree that, in a time of such impressionistic haste and plebeian
looseness of thought, scholastic rigour should suddenly raise its head
again, aspiring to seriousness, solidity, and perfection of doctrine:
and this not in the interests of religious orthodoxy, but precisely in
the most emancipated and unflinchingly radical quarter. It is
refreshing and reassuring, after the confused, melodramatic ways of
philosophising to which the idealists and the pragmatists have
accustomed us, to breathe again the crisp air of scholastic common
sense. It is good for us to be held down, as the Platonic Socrates
would have held us, to saying what we really believe, and sticking to
what we say. We seem to regain our intellectual birthright when we are
allowed to declare our genuine intent, even in philosophy, instead of
begging some kind psychologist to investigate our "meaning" for us, or
even waiting for the flux of events to endow us with what "meaning" it
will. It is also instructive to have the ethical attitude purified of
all that is not ethical and turned explicitly into what, in its moral
capacity, it essentially is: a groundless pronouncement upon the
better and the worse.

Here a certain one-sidedness begins to make itself felt in Mr.
Russell's views. The ethical attitude doubtless has no _ethical_
ground, but that fact does not prevent it from having a _natural_
ground; and the observer of the animate creation need not have much
difficulty in seeing what that natural ground is. Mr. Russell,
however, refuses to look also in that direction. He insists, rightly
enough, that good is predicated categorically by the conscience; he
will not remember that all life is not moral bias merely, and that, in
the very act of recognising excellence and pursuing it, we may glance
back over our shoulder and perceive how our moral bias is conditioned,
and what basis it has in the physical order of things. This backward
look, when the hand is on the plough, may indeed confuse our ethical
self-expression, both in theory and in practice; and I am the last to
deny the need of insisting, in ethics, on ethical judgments in all
their purity and dogmatic sincerity. Such insistence, if we had heard
more of it in our youth, might have saved many of us from chronic
entanglements; and there is nothing, next to Plato, which ought to be
more recommended to the young philosopher than the teachings of
Messrs. Russell and Moore, if he wishes to be a moralist and a
logician, and not merely to seem one. Yet this salutary doctrine,
though correct, is inadequate. It is a monocular philosophy, seeing
outlines clear, but missing the solid bulk and perspective of things.
We need binocular vision to quicken the whole mind and yield a full
image of reality. Ethics should be controlled by a physics that
perceives the material ground and the relative status of whatever is
moral. Otherwise ethics itself tends to grow narrow, strident, and
fanatical; as may be observed in asceticism and puritanism, or, for
the matter of that, in Mr. Moore's uncivilised leaning towards the
doctrine of retributive punishment, or in Mr. Russell's intolerance
of selfishness and patriotism, and in his refusal to entertain any
pious reverence for the nature of things. The quality of wisdom, like
that of mercy, is not strained. To choose, to love and hate, to have a
moral life, is inevitable and legitimate in the part; but it is the
function of the part as part, and we must keep it in its place if we
wish to view the whole in its true proportions. Even to express justly
the aim of our own life we need to retain a constant sympathy with
what is animal and fundamental in it, else we shall give a false
place, and too loud an emphasis, to our definitions of the ideal.
However, it would be much worse not to reach the ideal at all, or to
confuse it for want of courage and sincerity in uttering our true
mind; and it is in uttering our true mind that Mr. Russell can help
us, even if our true mind should not always coincide with his.

In the following pages I do not attempt to cover all Mr. Russell's
doctrine (the deeper mathematical purls of it being beyond my
comprehension), and the reader will find some speculations of my own
interspersed in what I report of his. I merely traverse after him
three subjects that seem of imaginative interest, to indicate the
inspiration and the imprudence, as I think them, of this young
philosophy.


II. THE STUDY OF ESSENCE


"The solution of the difficulties which formerly surrounded the
mathematical infinite is probably," says Mr. Russell, "the greatest
achievement of which our own age has to boast.... It was assumed as
self-evident, until Cantor and Dedekind established the opposite,
that if, from any collection of things, some were taken away, the
number of things left must always be less than the original number of
things. This assumption, as a matter of fact, holds only of finite
collections; and the rejection of it, where the infinite is concerned,
has been shown to remove all the difficulties that hitherto baffled
human reason in this matter." And he adds in another place: "To
reconcile us, by the exhibition of its awful beauty, to the reign of
Fate ... is the task of tragedy. But mathematics takes us still
further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to
which not only the actual world, but every possible world, must
conform; and even here it builds a habitation, or rather finds a
habitation eternally standing, where our ideals are fully satisfied
and our best hopes are not thwarted. It is only when we thoroughly
understand the entire independence of ourselves, which belongs to this
world that reason finds, that we can adequately realise the profound
importance of its beauty."

Mathematics seems to have a value for Mr. Russell akin to that of
religion. It affords a sanctuary to which to flee from the world, a
heaven suffused with a serene radiance and full of a peculiar
sweetness and consolation. "Real life," he writes, "is to most men a
long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the
possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no
practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying
in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from
which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even
from the pitiful laws of nature, the generations have gradually
created an ordered cosmos where pure thought can dwell as in its
natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can
escape from the dreary exile of the actual world." This study is one
of "those elements in human life which merit a place in heaven." "The
true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than
man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found
in mathematics as surely as in poetry."

This enthusiastic language might have, I should think, an opposite
effect upon some readers to that which Mr. Russell desires. It might
make them suspect that the claim to know an absolute ideal necessity,
so satisfying to one of our passionate impulses, might be prompted by
the same conceit, and subject to the same illusion, as the claim to
know absolute truth in religion. Beauty, when attributed to necessary
relations between logical entities, casts a net of subjectivity over
them; and at this net the omnivorous empiricist might be tempted to
haul, until he fancied he had landed the whole miraculous draught of
fishes. The fish, however, would have slipped through the meshes; and
it would be only his own vital emotion, projected for a moment into
the mathematical world, that he would be able to draw back and hug to
his bosom. Eternal truth is as disconsolate as it is consoling, and as
dreary as it is interesting: these moral values are, in fact, values
which the activity of contemplating that sort of truth has for
different minds; and it is no congruous homage offered to ideal
necessity, but merely a private endearment, to call it beautiful or
good. The case is not such as if we were dealing with existence.
Existence is arbitrary; it is a questionable thing needing
justification; and we, at least, cannot justify it otherwise than by
taking note of some affinity which it may show to human aspirations.
Therefore our private endearments, when we call some existing thing
good or beautiful, are not impertinent; they assign to this chance
thing its only assignable excuse for being, namely, the service it may
chance to render to the spirit. But ideal necessity or, what is the
same thing, essential possibility has its excuse for being in itself,
since it is not contingent or questionable at all. The affinity which
the human mind may develop to certain provinces of essence is
adventitious to those essences, and hardly to be mentioned in their
presence. It is something the mind has acquired, and may lose. It is
an incident in the life of reason, and no inherent characteristic of
eternal necessity.

The realm of essence contains the infinite multitude of Leibnitz's
possible worlds, many of these worlds being very small and simple, and
consisting merely of what might be presented in some isolated moment
of feeling. If any such feeling, however, or its object, never in fact
occurs, the essence that it would have presented if it had occurred
remains possible merely; so that nothing can ever exist in nature or
for consciousness which has not a prior and independent locus in the
realm of essence. When a man lights upon a thought or is interested in
tracing a relation, he does not introduce those objects into the realm
of essence, but merely selects them from the plenitude of what lies
there eternally. The ground of this selection lies, of course, in his
human nature and circumstances; and the satisfaction he may find in
so exercising his mind will be a consequence of his mental disposition
and of the animal instincts beneath. Two and two would still make four
if I were incapable of counting, or if I found it extremely painful to
do so, or if I thought it naive and pre-Kantian of these numbers not
to combine in a more vital fashion, and make five. So also, if I
happen to enjoy counting, or to find the constancy of numbers sublime,
and the reversibility of the processes connecting them consoling, in
contrast to the irrevocable flux of living things, all this is due to
my idiosyncrasy. It is no part of the essence of numbers to be
congenial to me; but it has perhaps become a part of my genius to have
affinity to them.

And how, may I ask, has it become a part of my genius? Simply because
nature, of which I am a part, and to which all my ideas must refer if
they are to be relevant to my destiny, happens to have mathematical
form. Nature had to have some form or other, if it was to exist at
all; and whatever form it had happened to take would have had its
prior place in the realm of essence, and its essential and logical
relations there. That particular part of the realm of essence which
nature chances to exemplify or to suggest is the part that may be
revealed to me, and that is the predestined focus of all my
admirations. Essence as such has no power to reveal itself, or to take
on existence; and the human mind has no power or interest to trace all
essence. Even the few essences which it has come to know, it cannot
undertake to examine exhaustively; for there are many features
nestling in them, and many relations radiating from them, which no
one needs or cares to attend to. The implications which logicians and
mathematicians actually observe in the terms they use are a small
selection from all those that really obtain, even in their chosen
field; so that, for instance, as Mr. Russell was telling us, it was
only the other day that Cantor and Dedekind observed that although
time continually eats up the days and years, the possible future
always remains as long as it was before. This happens to be a fact
interesting to mankind. Apart from the mathematical puzzles it may
help to solve, it opens before existence a vista of perpetual youth,
and the vital stress in us leaps up in recognition of its inmost
ambition. Many other things are doubtless implied in infinity which,
if we noticed them, would leave us quite cold; and still others, no
doubt, are inapprehensible with our sort and degree of intellect.
There is of course nothing in essence which an intellect postulated
_ad hoc_ would not be able to apprehend; but the kind of intellect we
know of and possess is an expression of vital adjustments, and is
tethered to nature.

That a few eternal essences, then, with a few of their necessary
relations to one another, do actually appear to us, and do fascinate
our attention and excite our wonder, is nothing paradoxical. This is
merely what was bound to happen, if we became aware of anything at
all; for the essence embodied in anything is eternal and has necessary
relations to some other essences. The air of presumption which there
might seem to be in proclaiming that mathematics reveals what has to
be true always and everywhere, vanishes when we remember that
everything that is true of any essence is true of it always and
everywhere. The most trivial truths of logic are as necessary and
eternal as the most important; so that it is less of an achievement
than it sounds when we say we have grasped a truth that is eternal and
necessary.

This fact will be more clearly recognised, perhaps, if we remember
that the cogency of our ideal knowledge follows upon our intent in
fixing its object. It hangs on a virtual definition, and explicates
it. We cannot oblige anybody or anything to reproduce the idea which
we have chosen; but that idea will remain the idea it is whether
forgotten or remembered, exemplified or not exemplified in things. To
penetrate to the foundation of being is possible for us only because
the foundation of being is distinguishable quality; were there no set
of differing characteristics, one or more of which an existing thing
might appropriate, existence would be altogether impossible. The realm
of essence is merely the system or chaos of these fundamental
possibilities, the catalogue of all exemplifiable natures; so that any
experience whatsoever must tap the realm of essence, and throw the
light of attention on one of its constituent forms. This is, if you
will, a trivial achievement; what would be really a surprising feat,
and hardly to be credited, would be that the human mind should grasp
the _constitution of nature_; that is, should discover which is the
particular essence, or the particular system of essences, which actual
existence illustrates. In the matter of physics, truly, we are reduced
to skimming the surface, since we have to start from our casual
experiences, which form the most superficial stratum of nature, and
the most unstable. Yet these casual experiences, while they leave us
so much in the dark as to their natural basis and environment,
necessarily reveal each its ideal object, its specific essence; and we
need only arrest our attention upon it, and define it to ourselves,
for an eternal possibility, and some of its intrinsic characters, to
have been revealed to our thought.

Whatever, then, a man's mental and moral habit might be, it would
perforce have affinity to some essence or other; his life would
revolve about some congenial ideal object; he would find some sorts of
form, some types of relation, more visible, beautiful, and satisfying
than others. Mr. Russell happens to have a mathematical genius, and to
find comfort in laying up his treasures in the mathematical heaven. It
would be highly desirable that this temperament should be more common;
but even if it were universal it would not reduce mathematical essence
to a product of human attention, nor raise the "beauty" of mathematics
to part of its essence. I do not mean to suggest that Mr. Russell
attempts to do the latter; he speaks explicitly of the _value_ of
mathematical study, a point in ethics and not directly in logic; yet
his moral philosophy is itself so much assimilated to logic that the
distinction between the two becomes somewhat dubious; and as Mr.
Russell will never succeed in convincing us that moral values are
independent of life, he may, quite against his will, lead us to
question the independence of essence, with that blind gregarious drift
of all ideas, in this direction or in that, which is characteristic of
human philosophising.


III. THE CRITIQUE OF PRAGMATISM


The time has not yet come when a just and synthetic account of what is
called pragmatism can be expected of any man. The movement is still in
a nebulous state, a state from which, perhaps, it is never destined to
issue. The various tendencies that compose it may soon cease to appear
together; each may detach itself and be lost in the earlier system
with which it has most affinity. A good critic has enumerated
"Thirteen Pragmatisms;" and besides such distinguishable tenets, there
are in pragmatism echoes of various popular moral forces, like
democracy, impressionism, love of the concrete, respect for success,
trust in will and action, and the habit of relying on the future,
rather than on the past, to justify one's methods and opinions. Most
of these things are characteristically American; and Mr. Russell
touches on some of them with more wit than sympathy. Thus he writes:
"The influence of democracy in promoting pragmatism is visible in
almost every page of William James's writing. There is an impatience
of authority, an unwillingness to condemn widespread prejudices, a
tendency to decide philosophical questions by putting them to a vote,
which contrast curiously with the usual dictatorial tone of
philosophic writings.... A thing which simply is true, whether you
like it or not, is to him as hateful as a Russian autocracy; he feels
that he is escaping from a prison, made not by stone walls but by
'hard facts,' when he has humanised truth, and made it, like the
police force in a democracy, the servant of the people instead of
their master. The democratic temper pervades even the religion of the
pragmatists; they have the religion they have chosen, and the
traditional reverence is changed into satisfaction with their own
handiwork. 'The prince of darkness,' James says, 'may be a gentleman,
as we are told he is, but whatever the God of earth and heaven is, he
can surely be no gentleman,' He is rather, we should say, conceived by
pragmatists as an elected president, to whom we give a respect which
is really a tribute to the wisdom of our own choice. A government in
which we have no voice is repugnant to the democratic temper. William
James carries up to heaven the revolt of his New England ancestors:
the Power to which we can yield respect must be a George Washington
rather than a George III."

A point of fundamental importance, about which pragmatists have been
far from clear, and perhaps not in agreement with one another, is the
sense in which their psychology is to be taken. "The facts that fill
the imaginations of pragmatists," Mr. Russell writes, "are psychical
facts; where others might think of the starry heavens, pragmatists
think of the perception of the starry heavens; where others think of
God, pragmatists think of the belief in God, and so on. In discussing
the sciences, they never think, like scientific specialists, about the
facts upon which scientific theories are based; they think about the
theories themselves. Thus their initial question and their habitual
imaginative background are both psychological." This is so true that
unless we make the substitution into psychic terms instinctively, the
whole pragmatic view of things will seem paradoxical, if not actually
unthinkable. For instance, pragmatists might protest against the
accusation that "they never think about the facts upon which
scientific theories are based," for they lay a great emphasis on
facts. Facts are the cash which the credit of theories hangs upon. Yet
this protest, though sincere, would be inconclusive, and in the end it
would illustrate Mr. Russell's observation, rather than refute it. For
we should presently learn that these facts can be made by thinking,
that our faith in them may contribute to their reality, and may modify
their nature; in other words, these facts are our immediate
apprehensions of fact, which it is indeed conceivable that our
temperaments, expectations, and opinions should modify. Thus the
pragmatist's reliance on facts does not carry him beyond the psychic
sphere; his facts are only his personal experiences. Personal
experiences may well be the basis for no less personal myths; but the
effort of intelligence and of science is rather to find the basis of
the personal experiences themselves; and this non-psychic basis of
experience is what common sense calls the facts, and what practice is
concerned with. Yet these are not the _pragmata_ of the pragmatist,
for it is only the despicable intellectualist that can arrive at them;
and the bed-rock of facts that the pragmatist builds upon is avowedly
drifting sand. Hence the odd expressions, new to literature and even
to grammar, which bubble up continually in pragmatist writings. "For
illustration take the former fact that the earth is flat," says one,
quite innocently; and another observes that "two centuries later,
nominalism was evidently true, because it alone would legitimise the
local independence of cities." Lest we should suppose that the
historical sequence of these "truths" or illusions is, at least, fixed
and irreversible, we are soon informed that the past is always
changing, too; that is (if I may rationalise this mystical dictum),
that history is always being rewritten, and that the growing present
adds new relations to the past, which lead us to conceive or to
describe it in some new fashion. Even if the ultimate inference is not
drawn, and we are not told that this changing idea of the past is the
only past that exists--the real past being unattainable and therefore,
for personal idealism, non-existent--it is abundantly clear that the
effort to distinguish fact from theory cannot be successful, so long
as the psychological way of thinking prevails; for a theory,
psychologically considered, is a bare fact in the experience of the
theorist, and the other facts of his experience are so many other
momentary views, so many scant theories, to be immediately superseded
by other "truths in the plural." Sensations and ideas are really
distinguishable only by reference to what is assumed to lie without;
of which external reality experience is always an effect (and in that
capacity is called sensation) and often at the same time an
apprehension (and in that capacity is called idea).

It is a crucial question, then, in the interpretation of pragmatism,
whether the psychological point of view, undoubtedly prevalent in that
school, is the only or the ultimate point of view which it admits. The
habit of studying ideas rather than their objects might be simply a
matter of emphasis or predilection. It might merely indicate a special
interest in the life of reason, and be an effort, legitimate under
any system of philosophy, to recount the stages by which human
thought, developing in the bosom of nature, may have reached its
present degree of articulation. I myself, for instance, like to look
at things from this angle: not that I have ever doubted the reality of
the natural world, or been able to take very seriously any philosophy
that denied it, but precisely because, when we take the natural world
for granted, it becomes a possible and enlightening inquiry to ask how
the human animal has come to discover his real environment, in so far
as he has done so, and what dreams have intervened or supervened in
the course of his rational awakening. On the other hand, a
psychological point of view might be equivalent to the idealistic
doctrine that the articulation of human thought constitutes the only
structure of the universe, and its whole history. According to this
view, pragmatism would seem to be a revised version of the
transcendental logic, leaving logic still transcendental, that is,
still concerned with the evolution of the categories. The revision
would consist chiefly in this, that empirical verification, utility,
and survival would take the place of dialectical irony as the force
governing the evolution. It would still remain possible for other
methods of approach than this transcendental pragmatism, for instinct,
perhaps, or for revelation, to bring us into contact with
things-in-themselves. A junction might thus be effected with the
system of M. Bergson, which would lead to this curious result: that
pragmatic logic would be the method of intelligence, because
intelligence is merely a method, useful in practice, for the symbolic
and improper representation of reality; while another non-pragmatic
method--sympathy and dream--would alone be able to put us in
possession of direct knowledge and genuine truth. So that, after all,
the pragmatic "truth" of working ideas would turn out to be what it
has seemed hitherto to mankind, namely, no real truth, but rather a
convenient sort of fiction, which ceases to deceive when once its
merely pragmatic value is discounted by criticism. I remember once
putting a question on this subject to Professor James; and his answer
was one which I am glad to be able to record. In relation to his
having said that "as far as the past facts go, there is no difference
... be the atoms or be the God their cause,"[7] I asked whether, if
God had been the cause, apart from the value of the idea of him in our
calculations, his existence would not have made a difference to him,
as he would be presumably self-conscious. "Of course," said Professor
James, "but I wasn't considering that side of the matter; I was
thinking of our idea." The choice of the subjective point of view,
then, was deliberate here, and frankly arbitrary; it was not intended
to exclude the possibility or legitimacy of the objective attitude.
And the original reason for deliberately ignoring, in this way, the
realistic way of thinking, even while admitting that it represents the
real state of affairs, would have been, I suppose, that what could be
verified was always some further effect of the real objects, and never
those real objects themselves; so that for interpreting and predicting
our personal experience only the hypothesis of objects was pertinent,
while the objects themselves, except as so represented, were useless
and unattainable. The case, if I may adapt a comparison of Mr.
Russell's, was as if we possessed a catalogue of the library at
Alexandria, all the books being lost for ever; it would be only in the
catalogue that we could practically verify their existence or
character, though doubtless, by some idle flight of imagination, we
might continue to think of the books, as well as of those titles in
the catalogue which alone could appear to us in experience.
Pragmatism, approached from this side, would then seem to express an
acute critical conscience, a sort of will not to believe; not to
believe, I mean, more than is absolutely necessary for solipsistic
practice.

[Footnote 7: _Pragmatism_, p. 101.]

Such economical faith, enabling one to dissolve the hard materialistic
world into a work of mind, which mind might outflank, was traditional
in the radical Emersonian circles in which pragmatism sprang up. It is
one of the approaches to the movement; yet we may safely regard the
ancestral transcendentalism of the pragmatists as something which they
have turned their back upon, and mean to disown. It is destined to
play no part in the ultimate result of pragmatism. This ultimate
result promises to be, on the contrary, a direct materialistic sort of
realism. This alone is congruous with the scientific affinities of the
school and its young-American temper. Nor is the transformation very
hard to effect. The world of solipsistic practice, if you remove the
romantic self that was supposed to evoke it, becomes at once the
sensible world; and the problem is only to find a place in the mosaic
of objects of sensation for those cognitive and moral functions which
the soul was once supposed to exercise in the presence of an
independent reality. But this problem is precisely the one that
pragmatists boast they have already solved; for they have declared
that consciousness does not exist, and that objects of sensation
(which at first were called feelings, experiences, or "truths") know
or mean one another when they lead to one another, when they are
poles, so to speak, in the same vital circuit. The spiritual act which
was supposed to take things for its object is to be turned into
"objective spirit," that is, into dynamic relations between things.
The philosopher will deny that he has any other sort of mind himself,
lest he should be shut up in it again, like a sceptical and
disconsolate child; while if there threatens to be any covert or
superfluous reality in the self-consciousness of God, nothing will be
easier than to deny that God is self-conscious; for indeed, if there
is no consciousness on earth, why should we imagine that there is any
in heaven? The psychologism with which the pragmatists started seems
to be passing in this way, in the very effort to formulate it
pragmatically, into something which, whatever it may be, is certainly
not psychologism. But the bewildered public may well ask whether it is
pragmatism either.

There is another crucial point in pragmatism which the defenders of
the system are apt to pass over lightly, but which Mr. Russell regards
(justly, I think) as of decisive importance. Is, namely, the pragmatic
account of truth intended to cover all knowledge, or one kind of
knowledge only? Apparently the most authoritative pragmatists admit
that it covers one kind only; for there are two sorts of self-evidence
in which, they say, it is not concerned: first, the dialectical
relation between essences; and second, the known occurrence or
experience of facts. There are obvious reasons why these two kinds of
cognitions, so interesting to Mr. Russell, are not felt by pragmatists
to constitute exceptions worth considering. Dialectical relations,
they will say, are verbal only; that is, they define ideal objects,
and certainty in these cases does not coerce existence, or touch
contingent fact at all. On the other hand, such apprehension as seizes
on some matter of fact, as, for instance, "I feel pain," or "I
expected to feel this pain, and it is now verifying my expectation,"
though often true propositions, are not _theoretical_ truths; they are
not, it is supposed, questionable beliefs but rather immediate
observations. Yet many of these apprehensions of fact (or all,
perhaps, if we examine them scrupulously) involve the veracity of
memory, surely a highly questionable sort of truth; and, moreover,
verification, the pragmatic test of truth, would be obviously
impossible to apply, if the prophecy supposed to be verified were not
assumed to be truly remembered. How shall we know that our expectation
is fulfilled, if we do not know directly that we had such an
expectation? But if we know our past experience directly--not merely
knew it when present, but know now what it was, and how it has led
down to the present--this amounts to enough knowledge to make up a
tolerable system of the universe, without invoking pragmatic
verification or "truth" at all. I have never been able to discover
whether, by that perception of fact which is not "truth" but fact
itself, pragmatists meant each human apprehension taken singly, or the
whole series of these apprehensions. In the latter case, as in the
philosophy of M. Bergson, all past reality might constantly lie open
to retentive intuition, a form of knowledge soaring quite over the
head of any pragmatic method or pragmatic "truth." It looks, indeed,
as if the history of at least personal experience were commonly taken
for granted by pragmatists, as a basis on which to rear their method.
Their readiness to make so capital an assumption is a part of their
heritage from romantic idealism. To the romantic idealist science and
theology are tales which ought to be reduced to an empirical
equivalent in his personal experience; but the tale of his personal
experience itself is a sacred figment, the one precious conviction of
the romantic heart, which it would be heartless to question. Yet here
is a kind of assumed truth which cannot be reduced to its pragmatic
meaning, because it must be true literally in order that the pragmatic
meaning of other beliefs may be conceived or tested at all.

Now, if it be admitted that the pragmatic theory of truth does not
touch our knowledge either of matters of fact or of the necessary
implications of ideas, the question arises: What sort of knowledge
remains for pragmatic theory to apply to? Simply, Mr. Russell answers,
those "working hypotheses" to which "prudent people give only a low
degree of belief." For "we hold different beliefs with very different
degrees of conviction. Some--such as the belief that I am sitting in a
chair, or that 2+2=4--can be doubted by few except those who have had
a long training in philosophy. Such beliefs are held so firmly that
non-philosophers who deny them are put into lunatic asylums. Other
beliefs, such as the facts of history, are held rather less firmly....
Beliefs about the future, as that the sun will rise to-morrow and
that the trains will run approximately as in Bradshaw, may be held
with almost as great conviction as beliefs about the past. Scientific
laws are generally believed less firmly.... Philosophical beliefs,
finally, will, with most people, take a still lower place, since the
opposite beliefs of others can hardly fail to induce doubt. Belief,
therefore, is a matter of degree. To speak of belief, disbelief,
doubt, and suspense of judgment as the only possibilities is as if,
from the writing on the thermometer, we were to suppose that blood
heat, summer heat, temperate, and freezing were the only
temperatures." Beliefs which require to be confirmed by future
experience, or which actually refer to it, are evidently only
presumptions; it is merely the truth of presumptions that empirical
logic applies to, and only so long as they remain presumptions.
Presumptions may be held with very different degrees of assurance, and
yet be acted upon, in the absence of any strong counter-suggestion; as
the confidence of lovers or of religious enthusiasts may be at blood
heat at one moment and freezing at the next, without a change in
anything save in the will to believe. The truth of such presumptions,
whatever may be the ground of them, depends in fact on whether they
are to lead (or, rather, whether the general course of events is to
lead) to the further things presumed; for these things are what
presumptions refer to explicitly.

It sometimes happens, however, that presumptions (being based on
voluminous blind instinct rather than on distinct repeated
observations) are expressed in consciousness by some symbol or myth,
as when a man says he believes in his luck; the presumption really
regards particular future chances and throws of the dice, but the
emotional and verbal mist in which the presumption is wrapped, veils
the pragmatic burden of it; and a metaphysical entity arises, called
luck, in which a man may think he believes rather than in a particular
career that may be awaiting him. Now since this entity, luck, is a
mere word, confidence in it, to be justified at all, must be
transferred to the concrete facts it stands for. Faith in one's luck
must be pragmatic, but simply because faith in such an entity is not
needful nor philosophical at all. The case is the same with working
hypotheses, when that is all they are; for on this point there is some
confusion. Whether an idea is a working hypothesis merely or an
anticipation of matters open to eventual inspection may not always be
clear. Thus the atomic theory, in the sense in which most philosophers
entertain it to-day, seems to be a working hypothesis only; for they
do not seriously believe that there are atoms, but in their ignorance
of the precise composition of matter, they find it convenient to speak
of it as if it were composed of indestructible particles. But for
Democritus and for many modern men of science the atomic theory is not
a working hypothesis merely; they do not regard it as a provisional
makeshift; they regard it as a probable, if not a certain,
anticipation of what inspection would discover to be the fact, could
inspection be carried so far; in other words, they believe the atomic
theory is true. If they are right, the validity of this theory would
not be that of pragmatic "truth" but of pragmatic "fact"; for it would
be a view, such as memory or intuition or sensation might give us, of
experienced objects in their experienced relations; it would be the
communication to us, in a momentary dream, of what would be the
experience of a universal observer. It would be knowledge of reality
in M. Bergson's sense. Pragmatic "truth," on the contrary, is the
relative and provisional justification of fiction; and pragmatism is
not a theory of truth at all, but a theory of theory, when theory is
instrumental.

For theory too has more than one signification. It may mean such a
symbolic or foreshortened view, such a working hypothesis, as true and
full knowledge might supersede; or it may mean this true and full
knowledge itself, a synthetic survey of objects of experience in their
experimental character. Algebra and language are theoretical in the
first sense, as when a man believes in his luck; historical and
scientific imagination are theoretical in the second sense, when they
gather objects of experience together without distorting them. But it
is only to the first sort of theory that pragmatism can be reasonably
applied; to apply it also to the second would be to retire into that
extreme subjectivism which the leading pragmatists have so hotly
disclaimed. We find, accordingly, that it is only when a theory is
avowedly unreal, and does not ask to be believed, that the value of it
is pragmatic; since in that case belief passes consciously from the
symbols used to the eventual facts in which the symbolism terminates,
and for which it stands.

It may seem strange that a definition of truth should have been based
on the consideration of those ideas exclusively for which truth is not
claimed by any critical person, such ideas, namely, as religious myths
or the graphic and verbal machinery of science. Yet the fact is
patent, and if we considered the matter historically it might not
prove inexplicable. Theology has long applied the name truth
pre-eminently to fiction. When the conviction first dawned upon
pragmatists that there was no absolute or eternal truth, what they
evidently were thinking of was that it is folly, in this changing
world, to pledge oneself to any final and inflexible creed. The
pursuit of truth, since nothing better was possible, was to be
accepted instead of the possession of it. But it is characteristic of
Protestantism that, when it gives up anything, it transfers to what
remains the unction, and often the name, proper to what it has
abandoned. So, if truth was no longer to be claimed or even hoped for,
the value and the name of truth could be instinctively transferred to
what was to take its place--spontaneous, honest, variable conviction.
And the sanctions of this conviction were to be looked for, not in the
objective reality, since it was an idle illusion to fancy we could get
at that, but in the growth of this conviction itself, and in the
prosperous adventure of the whole soul, so courageous in its
self-trust, and so modest in its dogmas.

Science, too, has often been identified, not with the knowledge men of
science possess, but with the language they use. If science meant
knowledge, the science of Darwin, for instance, would lie in his
observations of plants and animals, and in his thoughts about the
probable ancestors of the human race--all knowledge of actual or
possible facts. It would not be knowledge of selection or of
spontaneous variation, terms which are mere verbal bridges over the
gaps in that knowledge, and mark the _lacunae_ and unsolved problems
of the science. Yet it is just such terms that seem to clothe
"Science" in its pontifical garb; the cowl is taken for the monk; and
when a penetrating critic, like M. Henri Poincare, turned his subtle
irony upon them, the public cried that he had announced the
"bankruptcy of science," whereas it is merely the language of science
that he had reduced to its pragmatic value--to convenience and economy
in the registering of facts--and had by no means questioned that
positive and cumulative knowledge of facts which science is attaining.
It is an incident in the same general confusion that a critical
epistemology, like pragmatism, analysing these figments of scientific
or theological theory, should innocently suppose that it was analysing
truth; while the only view to which it really attributes truth is its
view of the system of facts open to possible experience, a system
which those figments presuppose and which they may help us in part to
divine, where it is accidentally hidden from human inspection.


IV. HYPOSTATIC ETHICS


If Mr. Russell, in his essay on "The Elements of Ethics," had wished
to propitiate the unregenerate naturalist, before trying to convert
him, he could not have chosen a more skilful procedure; for he begins
by telling us that "what is called good conduct is conduct which is a
means to other things which are good on their own account; and hence
... the study of what is good or bad on its own account must be
included in ethics." Two consequences are involved in this: first,
that ethics is concerned with the economy of all values, and not with
"moral" goods only, or with duty; and second, that values may and do
inhere in a great variety of things and relations, all of which it is
the part of wisdom to respect, and if possible to establish. In this
matter, according to our author, the general philosopher is prone to
one error and the professed moralist to another. "The philosopher,
bent on the construction of a system, is inclined to simplify the
facts unduly ... and to twist them into a form in which they can all
be deduced from one or two general principles. The moralist, on the
other hand, being primarily concerned with conduct, tends to become
absorbed in means, to value the actions men ought to perform more than
the ends which such actions serve.... Hence most of what they value in
this world would have to be omitted by many moralists from any
imagined heaven, because there such things as self-denial and effort
and courage and pity could find no place.... Kant has the bad eminence
of combining both errors in the highest possible degree, since he
holds that there is nothing good except the virtuous will--a view
which simplifies the good as much as any philosopher could wish, and
mistakes means for ends as completely as any moralist could enjoin."

Those of us who are what Mr. Russell would call ethical sceptics will
be delighted at this way of clearing the ground; it opens before us
the prospect of a moral philosophy that should estimate the various
values of things known and of things imaginable, showing what
combinations of goods are possible in any one rational system, and
(if fancy could stretch so far) what different rational systems would
be possible in places and times remote enough from one another not to
come into physical conflict. Such ethics, since it would express in
reflection the dumb but actual interests of men, might have both
influence and authority over them; two things which an alien and
dogmatic ethics necessarily lacks. The joy of the ethical sceptic in
Mr. Russell is destined, however, to be short-lived. Before proceeding
to the expression of concrete ideals, he thinks it necessary to ask a
preliminary and quite abstract question, to which his essay is chiefly
devoted; namely, what is the right definition of the predicate "good,"
which we hope to apply in the sequel to such a variety of things? And
he answers at once: The predicate "good" is indefinable. This answer
he shows to be unavoidable, and so evidently unavoidable that we might
perhaps have been absolved from asking the question; for, as he says,
the so-called definitions of "good"--that it is pleasure, the desired,
and so forth--are not definitions of the predicate "good," but
designations of the things to which this predicate is applied by
different persons. Pleasure, and its rivals, are not synonyms for the
abstract quality "good," but names for classes of concrete facts that
are supposed to possess that quality. From this correct, if somewhat
trifling, observation, however, Mr. Russell, like Mr. Moore before
him, evokes a portentous dogma. Not being able to define good, he
hypostasises it. "Good and bad," he says, "are qualities which belong
to objects independently of our opinions, just as much as round and
square do; and when two people differ as to whether a thing is good,
only one of them can be right, though it may be very hard to know
which is right." "We cannot maintain that for me a thing ought to
exist on its own account, while for you it ought not; that would
merely mean that one of us is mistaken, since in fact everything
either ought to exist, or ought not." Thus we are asked to believe
that good attaches to things for no reason or cause, and according to
no principles of distribution; that it must be found there by a sort
of receptive exploration in each separate case; in other words, that
it is an absolute, not a relative thing, a primary and not a secondary
quality.

That the quality "good" is indefinable is one assertion, and obvious;
but that the presence of this quality is unconditioned is another, and
astonishing. My logic, I am well aware, is not very accurate or
subtle; and I wish Mr. Russell had not left it to me to discover the
connection between these two propositions. Green is an indefinable
predicate, and the specific quality of it can be given only in
intuition; but it is a quality that things acquire under certain
conditions, so much so that the same bit of grass, at the same moment,
may have it from one point of view and not from another. Right and
left are indefinable; the difference could not be explained without
being invoked in the explanation; yet everything that is to the right
is not to the right on no condition, but obviously on the condition
that some one is looking in a certain direction; and if some one else
at the same time is looking in the opposite direction, what is truly
to the right will be truly to the left also. If Mr. Russell thinks
this is a contradiction, I understand why the universe does not
please him. The contradiction would be real, undoubtedly, if we
suggested that the idea of good was at any time or in any relation the
idea of evil, or the intuition of right that of left, or the quality
of green that of yellow; these disembodied essences are fixed by the
intent that selects them, and in that ideal realm they can never have
any relations except the dialectical ones implied in their nature, and
these relations they must always retain. But the contradiction
disappears when, instead of considering the qualities in themselves,
we consider the things of which those qualities are aspects; for the
qualities of things are not compacted by implication, but are
conjoined irrationally by nature, as she will; and the same thing may
be, and is, at once yellow and green, to the left and to the right,
good and evil, many and one, large and small; and whatever verbal
paradox there may be in this way of speaking (for from the point of
view of nature it is natural enough) had been thoroughly explained and
talked out by the time of Plato, who complained that people should
still raise a difficulty so trite and exploded.[8] Indeed, while
square is always square, and round round, a thing that is round may
actually be square also, if we allow it to have a little body, and to
be a cylinder.

[Footnote 8: Plato, _Philebus_, 14, D. The dialectical element in this
dialogue is evidently the basis of Mr. Russell's, as of Mr. Moore's,
ethics; but they have not adopted the other elements in it, I mean the
political and the theological. As to the political element, Plato
everywhere conceives the good as the eligible in life, and refers it
to human nature and to the pursuit of happiness--that happiness which
Mr. Russell, in a rash moment, says is but a name which some people
prefer to give to pleasure. Thus in the _Philebus_ (11, D) the good
looked for is declared to be "some state and disposition of the soul
which has the property of making all men happy"; and later (66, D) the
conclusion is that insight is better than pleasure "as an element in
human life." As to the theological element, Plato, in hypostasising
the good, does not hypostasise it as good, but as cause or power,
which is, it seems to me, the sole category that justifies hypostasis,
and logically involves it; for if things have a ground at all, that
ground must exist before them and beyond them. Hence the whole
Platonic and Christian scheme, in making the good independent of
private will and opinion, by no means makes it independent of the
direction of nature in general and of human nature in particular; for
all things have been created with an innate predisposition towards the
creative good, and are capable of finding happiness in nothing else.
Obligation, in this system, remains internal and vital. Plato
attributes a single vital direction and a single moral source to the
cosmos. This is what determines and narrows the scope of the true
good; for the true good is that relevant to nature. Plato would not
have been a dogmatic moralist, had he not been a theist.]

But perhaps what suggests this hypostasis of good is rather the fact
that what others find good, or what we ourselves have found good in
moods with which we retain no sympathy, is sometimes pronounced by us
to be bad; and far from inferring from this diversity of experience
that the present good, like the others, corresponds to a particular
attitude or interest of ours, and is dependent upon it, Mr. Russell
and Mr. Moore infer instead that the presence of the good must be
independent of all interests, attitudes, and opinions. They imagine
that the truth of a proposition attributing a certain relative quality
to an object contradicts the truth of another proposition, attributing
to the same object an opposite relative quality. Thus if a man here
and another man at the antipodes call opposite directions up, "only
one of them can be right, though it may be very hard to know which is
right."

To protect the belated innocence of this state of mind, Mr. Russell,
so far as I can see, has only one argument, and one analogy. The
argument is that "if this were not the case, we could not reason with
a man as to what is right." "We do in fact hold that when one man
approves of a certain act, while another disapproves, one of them is
mistaken, which would not be the case with a mere emotion. If one man
likes oysters and another dislikes them, we do not say that either of
them is mistaken." In other words, we are to maintain our prejudices,
however absurd, lest it should become unnecessary to quarrel about
them! Truly the debating society has its idols, no less than the cave
and the theatre. The analogy that comes to buttress somewhat this
singular argument is the analogy between ethical propriety and
physical or logical truth. An ethical proposition may be correct or
incorrect, in a sense justifying argument, when it touches what is
good as a means, that is, when it is not intrinsically ethical, but
deals with causes and effects, or with matters of fact or necessity.
But to speak of the truth of an ultimate good would be a false
collocation of terms; an ultimate good is chosen, found, or aimed at;
it is not opined. The ultimate intuitions on which ethics rests are
not debatable, for they are not opinions we hazard but preferences we
feel; and it can be neither correct nor incorrect to feel them. We may
assert these preferences fiercely or with sweet reasonableness, and we
may be more or less incapable of sympathising with the different
preferences of others; about oysters we may be tolerant, like Mr.
Russell, and about character intolerant; but that is already a great
advance in enlightenment, since the majority of mankind have regarded
as hateful in the highest degree any one who indulged in pork, or
beans, or frogs' legs, or who had a weakness for anything called
"unnatural"; for it is the things that offend their animal instincts
that intense natures have always found to be, intrinsically and _par
excellence_, abominations.

I am not sure whether Mr. Russell thinks he has disposed of this view
where he discusses the proposition that the good is the desired and
refutes it on the ground that "it is commonly admitted that there are
bad desires; and when people speak of bad desires, they seem to mean
desires for what is bad." Most people undoubtedly call desires bad
when they are generically contrary to their own desires, and call
objects that disgust them bad, even when other people covet them. This
human weakness is not, however, a very high authority for a logician
to appeal to, being too like the attitude of the German lady who said
that Englishmen called a certain object _bread_, and Frenchmen called
it _pain_, but that it really was _Brod_. Scholastic philosophy is
inclined to this way of asserting itself; and Mr. Russell, though he
candidly admits that there are ultimate differences of opinion about
good and evil, would gladly minimise these differences, and thinks he
triumphs when he feels that the prejudices of his readers will agree
with his own; as if the constitutional unanimity of all human animals,
supposing it existed, could tend to show that the good they agreed to
recognise was independent of their constitution.

In a somewhat worthier sense, however, we may admit that there are
desires for what is bad, since desire and will, in the proper
psychological sense of these words, are incidental phases of
consciousness, expressing but not constituting those natural relations
that make one thing good for another. At the same time the words
desire and will are often used, in a mythical or transcendental sense,
for those material dispositions and instincts by which vital and moral
units are constituted. It is in reference to such constitutional
interests that things are "really" good or bad; interests which may
not be fairly represented by any incidental conscious desire. No doubt
any desire, however capricious, represents some momentary and partial
interest, which lends to its objects a certain real and inalienable
value; yet when we consider, as we do in human society, the interests
of men, whom reflection and settled purposes have raised more or less
to the ideal dignity of individuals, then passing fancies and passions
may indeed have bad objects, and be bad themselves, in that they
thwart the more comprehensive interests of the soul that entertains
them. Food and poison are such only relatively, and in view of
particular bodies, and the same material thing may be food and poison
at once; the child, and even the doctor, may easily mistake one for
the other. For the human system whiskey is truly more intoxicating
than coffee, and the contrary opinion would be an error; but what a
strange way of vindicating this real, though relative, distinction, to
insist that whiskey is more intoxicating in itself, without reference
to any animal; that it is pervaded, as it were, by an inherent
intoxication, and stands dead drunk in its bottle! Yet just in this
way Mr. Russell and Mr. Moore conceive things to be dead good and dead
bad. It is such a view, rather than the naturalistic one, that renders
reasoning and self-criticism impossible in morals; for wrong desires,
and false opinions as to value, are conceivable only because a point
of reference or criterion is available to prove them such. If no point
of reference and no criterion were admitted to be relevant, nothing
but physical stress could give to one assertion of value greater force
than to another. The shouting moralist no doubt has his place, but not
in philosophy.

That good is not an intrinsic or primary quality, but relative and
adventitious, is clearly betrayed by Mr. Russell's own way of arguing,
whenever he approaches some concrete ethical question. For instance,
to show that the good is not pleasure, he can avowedly do nothing but
appeal "to ethical judgments with which almost every one would agree."
He repeats, in effect, Plato's argument about the life of the oyster,
having pleasure with no knowledge. Imagine such mindless pleasure, as
intense and prolonged as you please, and would you choose it? Is it
your good? Here the British reader, like the blushing Greek youth, is
expected to answer instinctively, No! It is an _argumentum ad hominem_
(and there can be no other kind of argument in ethics); but the man
who gives the required answer does so not because the answer is
self-evident, which it is not, but because he is the required sort of
man. He is shocked at the idea of resembling an oyster. Yet changeless
pleasure, without memory or reflection, without the wearisome
intermixture of arbitrary images, is just what the mystic, the
voluptuary, and perhaps the oyster find to be good. Ideas, in their
origin, are probably signals of alarm; and the distress which they
marked in the beginning always clings to them in some measure, and
causes many a soul, far more profound than that of the young
Protarchus or of the British reader, to long for them to cease
altogether. Such a radical hedonism is indeed inhuman; it undermines
all conventional ambitions, and is not a possible foundation for
political or artistic life. But that is all we can say against it. Our
humanity cannot annul the incommensurable sorts of good that may be
pursued in the world, though it cannot itself pursue them. The
impossibility which people labour under of being satisfied with pure
pleasure as a goal is due to their want of imagination, or rather to
their being dominated by an imagination which is exclusively human.

The author's estrangement from reality reappears in his treatment of
egoism, and most of all in his "Free Man's Religion." Egoism, he
thinks, is untenable because "if I am right in thinking that my good
is the only good, then every one else is mistaken unless he admits
that my good, not his, is the only good." "Most people ... would admit
that it is better two people's desires should be satisfied than only
one person's.... Then what is good is not good _for me_ or _for you_,
but is simply good." "It is, indeed, so evident that it is better to
secure a greater good for _A_ than a lesser good for _B_, that it is
hard to find any still more evident principle by which to prove this.
And if _A_ happens to be some one else, and _B_ to be myself, that
cannot affect the question, since it is irrelevant to the general
question who _A_ and _B_ may be." To the question, as the logician
states it after transforming men into letters, it is certainly
irrelevant; but it is not irrelevant to the case as it arises in
nature. If two goods are somehow rightly pronounced to be equally
good, no circumstance can render one better than the other. And if the
locus in which the good is to arise is somehow pronounced to be
indifferent, it will certainly be indifferent whether that good arises
in me or in you. But how shall these two pronouncements be made? In
practice, values cannot be compared save as represented or enacted in
the private imagination of somebody: for we could not conceive that an
alien good _was_ a good (as Mr. Russell cannot conceive that the life
of an ecstatic oyster is a good) unless we could sympathise with it in
some way in our own persons; and on the warmth which we felt in so
representing the alien good would hang our conviction that it was
truly valuable, and had worth in comparison with our own good. The
voice of reason, bidding us prefer the greater good, no matter who is
to enjoy it, is also nothing but the force of sympathy, bringing a
remote existence before us vividly _sub specie boni_. Capacity for
such sympathy measures the capacity to recognise duty and therefore,
in a moral sense, to have it. Doubtless it is conceivable that all
wills should become co-operative, and that nature should be ruled
magically by an exact and universal sympathy; but this situation must
be actually attained in part, before it can be conceived or judged to
be an authoritative ideal. The tigers cannot regard it as such, for it
would suppress the tragic good called ferocity, which makes, in their
eyes, the chief glory of the universe. Therefore the inertia of
nature, the ferocity of beasts, the optimism of mystics, and the
selfishness of men and nations must all be accepted as conditions for
the peculiar goods, essentially incommensurable, which they can
generate severally. It is misplaced vehemence to call them
intrinsically detestable, because they do not (as they cannot)
generate or recognise the goods we prize.

In the real world, persons are not abstract egos, like _A_ and _B_, so
that to benefit one is clearly as good as to benefit another. Indeed,
abstract egos could not be benefited, for they could not be modified
at all, even if somehow they could be distinguished. It would be the
qualities or objects distributed among them that would carry, wherever
they went, each its inalienable cargo of value, like ships sailing
from sea to sea. But it is quite vain and artificial to imagine
different goods charged with such absolute and comparable weights; and
actual egoism is not the thin and refutable thing that Mr. Russell
makes of it. What it really holds is that a given man, oneself, and
those akin to him, are qualitatively better than other beings; that
the things they prize are intrinsically better than the things prized
by others; and that therefore there is no injustice in treating these
chosen interests as supreme. The injustice, it is felt, would lie
rather in not treating things so unequal unequally. This feeling may,
in many cases, amuse the impartial observer, or make him indignant;
yet it may, in every case, according to Mr. Russell, be absolutely
just. The refutation he gives of egoism would not dissuade any fanatic
from exterminating all his enemies with a good conscience; it would
merely encourage him to assert that what he was ruthlessly
establishing was the absolute good. Doubtless such conscientious
tyrants would be wretched themselves, and compelled to make sacrifices
which would cost them dear; but that would only extend, as it were,
the pernicious egoism of that part of their being which they had
allowed to usurp a universal empire. The twang of intolerance and of
self-mutilation is not absent from the ethics of Mr. Russell and Mr.
Moore, even as it stands; and one trembles to think what it may become
in the mouths of their disciples. Intolerance itself is a form of
egoism, and to condemn egoism intolerantly is to share it. I cannot
help thinking that a consciousness of the relativity of values, if it
became prevalent, would tend to render people more truly social than
would a belief that things have intrinsic and unchangeable values, no
matter what the attitude of any one to them may be. If we said that
goods, including the right distribution of goods, are relative to
specific natures, moral warfare would continue, but not with poisoned
arrows. Our private sense of justice itself would be acknowledged to
have but a relative authority, and while we could not have a higher
duty than to follow it, we should seek to meet those whose aims were
incompatible with it as we meet things physically inconvenient,
without insulting them as if they were morally vile or logically
contemptible. Real unselfishness consists in sharing the interests of
others. Beyond the pale of actual unanimity the only possible
unselfishness is chivalry--a recognition of the inward right and
justification of our enemies fighting against us. This chivalry has
long been practised in the battle-field without abolishing the causes
of war; and it might conceivably be extended to all the conflicts of
men with one another, and of the warring elements within each breast.
Policy, hypnotisation, and even surgery may be practised without
exorcisms or anathemas. When a man has decided on a course of action,
it is a vain indulgence in expletives to declare that he is sure that
course is absolutely right. His moral dogma expresses its natural
origin all the more clearly the more hotly it is proclaimed; and
ethical absolutism, being a mental grimace of passion, refutes what it
says by what it is. Sweeter and more profound, to my sense, is the
philosophy of Homer, whose every line seems to breathe the conviction
that what is beautiful or precious has not thereby any right to
existence; nothing has such a right; nor is it given us to condemn
absolutely any force--god or man--that destroys what is beautiful or
precious, for it has doubtless something beautiful or precious of its
own to achieve.

The consequences of a hypostasis of the good are no less interesting
than its causes. If the good were independent of nature, it might
still be conceived as relevant to nature, by being its creator or
mover; but Mr. Russell is not a theist after the manner of Socrates;
his good is not a power. Nor would representing it to be such long
help his case; for an ideal hypostasised into a cause achieves only a
mythical independence. The least criticism discloses that it is
natural laws, zoological species, and human ideals, that have been
projected into the empyrean; and it is no marvel that the good should
attract the world where the good, by definition, is whatever the world
is aiming at. The hypostasis accomplished by Mr. Russell is more
serious, and therefore more paradoxical. If I understand it, it may be
expressed as follows: In the realm of eternal essences, before
anything exists, there are certain essences that have this remarkable
property, that they ought to exist, or at least that, if anything
exists, it ought to conform to them. What exists, however, is deaf to
this moral emphasis in the eternal; nature exists for no reason; and,
indeed, why should she have subordinated her own arbitrariness to a
good that is no less arbitrary? This good, however, is somehow good
notwithstanding; so that there is an abysmal wrong in its not being
obeyed. The world is, in principle, totally depraved; but as the good
is not a power, there is no one to redeem the world. The saints are
those who, imitating the impotent dogmatism on high, and despising
their sinful natural propensities, keep asserting that certain things
are in themselves good and others bad, and declaring to be detestable
any other saint who dogmatises differently. In this system the
Calvinistic God has lost his creative and punitive functions, but
continues to decree groundlessly what is good and what evil, and to
love the one and hate the other with an infinite love or hatred.
Meanwhile the reprobate need not fear hell in the next world, but the
elect are sure to find it here.

What shall we say of this strangely unreal and strangely personal
religion? Is it a ghost of Calvinism, returned with none of its old
force but with its old aspect of rigidity? Perhaps: but then, in
losing its force, in abandoning its myths, and threats, and rhetoric,
this religion has lost its deceptive sanctimony and hypocrisy; and in
retaining its rigidity it has kept what made it noble and pathetic;
for it is a clear dramatic expression of that human spirit--in this
case a most pure and heroic spirit--which it strives so hard to
dethrone. After all, the hypostasis of the good is only an
unfortunate incident in a great accomplishment, which is the
discernment of the good. I have dwelt chiefly on this incident,
because in academic circles it is the abuses incidental to true
philosophy that create controversy and form schools. Artificial
systems, even when they prevail, after a while fatigue their
adherents, without ever having convinced or refuted their opponents,
and they fade out of existence not by being refuted in their turn, but
simply by a tacit agreement to ignore their claims: so that the true
insight they were based on is too often buried under them. The
hypostasis of philosophical terms is an abuse incidental to the
forthright, unchecked use of the intellect; it substitutes for things
the limits and distinctions that divide them. So physics is corrupted
by logic; but the logic that corrupts physics is perhaps correct, and
when it is moral dialectic, it is more important than physics itself.
Mr. Russell's ethics _is_ ethics. When we mortals have once assumed
the moral attitude, it is certain that an indefinable value accrues to
some things as opposed to others, that these things are many, that
combinations of them have values not belonging to their parts, and
that these valuable things are far more specific than abstract
pleasure, and far more diffused than one's personal life. What a pity
if this pure morality, in detaching itself impetuously from the earth,
whose bright satellite it might be, should fly into the abyss at a
tangent, and leave us as much in the dark as before!




V

SHELLEY: OR THE POETIC VALUE OF REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES


It is possible to advocate anarchy in criticism as in politics, and
there is perhaps nothing coercive to urge against a man who maintains
that any work of art is good enough, intrinsically and incommensurably,
if it pleased anybody at any time for any reason. In practice, however,
the ideal of anarchy is unstable. Irrefutable by argument, it is readily
overcome by nature. It melts away before the dogmatic operation of the
anarchist's own will, as soon as he allows himself the least creative
endeavour. In spite of the infinite variety of what is merely possible,
human nature and will have a somewhat definite constitution, and only
what is harmonious with their actual constitution can long maintain
itself in the moral world. Hence it is a safe principle in the criticism
of art that technical proficiency, and brilliancy of fancy or execution,
cannot avail to establish a great reputation. They may dazzle for a
moment, but they cannot absolve an artist from the need of having an
important subject-matter and a sane humanity.

If this principle is accepted, however, it might seem that certain
artists, and perhaps the greatest, might not fare well at our hands.
How would Shelley, for instance, stand such a test? Every one knows
the judgment passed on Shelley by Matthew Arnold, a critic who
evidently relied on this principle, even if he preferred to speak only
in the name of his personal tact and literary experience. Shelley,
Matthew Arnold said, was "a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating
his wings in a luminous void in vain." In consequence he declared that
Shelley was not a classic, especially as his private circle had had an
unsavoury morality, to be expressed only by the French word _sale_,
and as moreover Shelley himself occasionally showed a distressing want
of the sense of humour, which could only be called _bete_. These
strictures, if a bit incoherent, are separately remarkably just. They
unmask essential weaknesses not only in Shelley, but in all
revolutionary people. The life of reason is a heritage and exists only
through tradition. Half of it is an art, an adjustment to an alien
reality, which only a long experience can teach: and even the other
half, the inward inspiration and ideal of reason, must be also a
common inheritance in the race, if people are to work together or so
much as to understand one another. Now the misfortune of
revolutionists is that they are disinherited, and their folly is that
they wish to be disinherited even more than they are. Hence, in the
midst of their passionate and even heroic idealisms, there is commonly
a strange poverty in their minds, many an ugly turn in their lives,
and an ostentatious vileness in their manners. They wish to be the
leaders of mankind, but they are wretched representatives of humanity.
In the concert of nature it is hard to keep in tune with oneself if
one is out of tune with everything. We should not then be yielding to
any private bias, but simply noting the conditions under which art may
exist and may be appreciated, if we accepted the classical principle
of criticism and asserted that substance, sanity, and even a sort of
pervasive wisdom are requisite for supreme works of art. On the other
hand--who can honestly doubt it?--the rebels and individualists are
the men of direct insight and vital hope. The poetry of Shelley in
particular is typically poetical. It is poetry divinely inspired; and
Shelley himself is perhaps no more ineffectual or more lacking in
humour than an angel properly should be. Nor is his greatness all a
matter of aesthetic abstraction and wild music. It is a fact of
capital importance in the development of human genius that the great
revolution in Christendom against Christianity, a revolution that
began with the Renaissance and is not yet completed, should have found
angels to herald it, no less than that other revolution did which
began at Bethlehem; and that among these new angels there should have
been one so winsome, pure, and rapturous as Shelley. How shall we
reconcile these conflicting impressions? Shall we force ourselves to
call the genius of Shelley second rate because it was revolutionary,
and shall we attribute all enthusiasm for him to literary affectation
or political prejudice? Or shall we rather abandon the orthodox
principle that an important subject-matter and a sane spirit are
essential to great works? Or shall we look for a different issue out
of our perplexity, by asking if the analysis and comprehension are not
perhaps at fault which declare that these things are not present in
Shelley's poetry? This last is the direction in which I conceive the
truth to lie. A little consideration will show us that Shelley really
has a great subject-matter--what ought to be; and that he has a real
humanity--though it is humanity in the seed, humanity in its internal
principle, rather than in those deformed expressions of it which can
flourish in the world.

Shelley seems hardly to have been brought up; he grew up in the
nursery among his young sisters, at school among the rude boys,
without any affectionate guidance, without imbibing any religious or
social tradition. If he received any formal training or correction, he
instantly rejected it inwardly, set it down as unjust and absurd, and
turned instead to sailing paper boats, to reading romances or to
writing them, or to watching with delight the magic of chemical
experiments. Thus the mind of Shelley was thoroughly disinherited; but
not, like the minds of most revolutionists, by accident and through
the niggardliness of fortune, for few revolutionists would be such if
they were heirs to a baronetcy. Shelley's mind disinherited itself out
of allegiance to itself, because it was too sensitive and too highly
endowed for the world into which it had descended. It rejected
ordinary education, because it was incapable of assimilating it.
Education is suitable to those few animals whose faculties are not
completely innate, animals that, like most men, may be perfected by
experience because they are born with various imperfect alternative
instincts rooted equally in their system. But most animals, and a few
men, are not of this sort. They cannot be educated, because they are
born complete. Full of predeterminate intuitions, they are without
intelligence, which is the power of seeing things as they are. Endowed
with a specific, unshakable faith, they are impervious to experience:
and as they burst the womb they bring ready-made with them their final
and only possible system of philosophy.

Shelley was one of these spokesmen of the _a priori_, one of these
nurslings of the womb, like a bee or a butterfly; a dogmatic,
inspired, perfect, and incorrigible creature. He was innocent and
cruel, swift and wayward, illuminated and blind. Being a finished
child of nature, not a joint product, like most of us, of nature,
history, and society, he abounded miraculously in his own clear sense,
but was obtuse to the droll, miscellaneous lessons of fortune. The
cannonade of hard, inexplicable facts that knocks into most of us what
little wisdom we have left Shelley dazed and sore, perhaps, but
uninstructed. When the storm was over, he began chirping again his own
natural note. If the world continued to confine and obsess him, he
hated the world, and gasped for freedom. Being incapable of
understanding reality, he revelled in creating world after world in
idea. For his nature was not merely predetermined and obdurate, it
was also sensitive, vehement, and fertile. With the soul of a bird, he
had the senses of a man-child; the instinct of the butterfly was
united in him with the instinct of the brooding fowl and of the
pelican. This winged spirit had a heart. It darted swiftly on its
appointed course, neither expecting nor understanding opposition; but
when it met opposition it did not merely flutter and collapse; it was
inwardly outraged, it protested proudly against fate, it cried aloud
for liberty and justice.

The consequence was that Shelley, having a nature preformed but at the
same time tender, passionate, and moral, was exposed to early and
continual suffering. When the world violated the ideal which lay so
clear before his eyes, that violation filled him with horror. If to
the irrepressible gushing of life from within we add the suffering and
horror that continually checked it, we shall have in hand, I think,
the chief elements of his genius.

Love of the ideal, passionate apprehension of what ought to be, has
for its necessary counterpart condemnation of the actual, wherever the
actual does not conform to that ideal. The spontaneous soul, the soul
of the child, is naturally revolutionary; and when the revolution
fails, the soul of the youth becomes naturally pessimistic. All moral
life and moral judgment have this deeply romantic character; they
venture to assert a private ideal in the face of an intractable and
omnipotent world. Some moralists begin by feeling the attraction of
untasted and ideal perfection. These, like Plato, excel in elevation,
and they are apt to despise rather than to reform the world. Other
moralists begin by a revolt against the actual, at some point where
they find the actual particularly galling. These excel in sincerity;
their purblind conscience is urgent, and they are reformers in intent
and sometimes even in action. But the ideals they frame are
fragmentary and shallow, often mere provisional vague watchwords, like
liberty, equality, and fraternity; they possess no positive visions or
plans for moral life as a whole, like Plato's _Republic_. The Utopian
or visionary moralists are often rather dazed by this wicked world;
being well-intentioned but impotent, they often take comfort in
fancying that the ideal they pine for is already actually embodied on
earth, or is about to be embodied on earth in a decade or two, or at
least is embodied eternally in a sphere immediately above the earth,
to which we shall presently climb, and be happy for ever.

Lovers of the ideal who thus hastily believe in its reality are called
idealists, and Shelley was an idealist in almost every sense of that
hard-used word. He early became an idealist after Berkeley's fashion,
in that he discredited the existence of matter and embraced a
psychological or (as it was called) intellectual system of the
universe. In his drama _Hellas_ he puts this view with evident
approval into the mouth of Ahasuerus:

                    "This whole
    Of suns and worlds and men and beasts and flowers,
    With all the silent or tempestuous workings
    By which they have been, are, or cease to be,
    Is but a vision;--all that it inherits
    Are motes of a sick eye, bubbles and dreams.
    Thought is its cradle and its grave; nor less
    The future and the past are idle shadows
    Of thought's eternal flight--they have no being:
    Nought is but that which feels itself to be."

But Shelley was even more deeply and constantly an idealist after the
manner of Plato; for he regarded the good as a magnet (inexplicably
not working for the moment) that draws all life and motion after it;
and he looked on the types and ideals of things as on eternal
realities that subsist, beautiful and untarnished, when the
glimmerings that reveal them to our senses have died away. From the
infinite potentialities of beauty in the abstract, articulate mind
draws certain bright forms--the Platonic ideas--"the gathered rays
which are reality," as Shelley called them: and it is the light of
these ideals cast on objects of sense that lends to these objects some
degree of reality and value, making out of them "lovely apparitions,
dim at first, then radiant ... the progeny immortal of painting,
sculpture, and rapt poesy."

The only kind of idealism that Shelley had nothing to do with is the
kind that prevails in some universities, that Hegelian idealism which
teaches that perfect good is a vicious abstraction, and maintains that
all the evil that has been, is, and ever shall be is indispensable to
make the universe as good as it possibly could be. In this form,
idealism is simply contempt for all ideals, and a hearty adoration of
things as they are; and as such it appeals mightily to the powers that
be, in church and in state; but in that capacity it would have been as
hateful to Shelley as the powers that be always were, and as the
philosophy was that flattered them. For his moral feeling was based on
suffering and horror at what is actual, no less than on love of a
visioned good. His conscience was, to a most unusual degree, at once
elevated and sincere. It was inspired in equal measure by prophecy and
by indignation. He was carried away in turn by enthusiasm for what his
ethereal and fertile fancy pictured as possible, and by detestation of
the reality forced upon him instead. Hence that extraordinary moral
fervour which is the soul of his poetry. His imagination is no playful
undirected kaleidoscope; the images, often so tenuous and
metaphysical, that crowd upon him, are all sparks thrown off at white
heat, embodiments of a fervent, definite, unswerving inspiration. If
we think that the _Cloud_ or the _West Wind_ or the _Witch of the
Atlas_ are mere fireworks, poetic dust, a sort of _bataille des
fleurs_ in which we are pelted by a shower of images--we have not
understood the passion that overflows in them, as any long-nursed
passion may, in any of us, suddenly overflow in an unwonted profusion
of words. This is a point at which Francis Thompson's understanding of
Shelley, generally so perfect, seems to me to go astray. The universe,
Thompson tells us, was Shelley's box of toys. "He gets between the
feet of the horses of the sun. He stands in the lap of patient Nature,
and twines her loosened tresses after a hundred wilful fashions, to
see how she will look nicest in his song." This last is not, I think,
Shelley's motive; it is not the truth about the spring of his genius.
He undoubtedly shatters the world to bits, but only to build it nearer
to the heart's desire, only to make out of its coloured fragments some
more Elysian home for love, or some more dazzling symbol for that
infinite beauty which is the need--the profound, aching, imperative
need--of the human soul. This recreative impulse of the poet's is not
wilful, as Thompson calls it: it is moral. Like the _Sensitive Plant_

    "It loves even like Love,--its deep heart is full;
     It desires what it has not, the beautiful."

The question for Shelley is not at all what will look nicest in his
song; that is the preoccupation of mincing rhymesters, whose well is
soon dry. Shelley's abundance has a more generous source; it springs
from his passion for picturing what would be best, not in the picture,
but in the world. Hence, when he feels he has pictured or divined it,
he can exclaim:

    "The joy, the triumph, the delight, the madness,
     The boundless, overflowing, bursting gladness,
     The vaporous exultation, not to be confined!
     Ha! Ha! the animation of delight,
     Which wraps me like an atmosphere of light,
     And bears me as a cloud is borne by its own wind!"

To match this gift of bodying forth the ideal Shelley had his vehement
sense of wrong; and as he seized upon and recast all images of beauty,
to make them more perfectly beautiful, so, to vent his infinite horror
of evil, he seized on all the worst images of crime or torture that he
could find, and recast them so as to reach the quintessence of
distilled badness. His pictures of war, famine, lust, and cruelty are,
or seem, forced, although perhaps, as in the _Cenci_, he might urge
that he had historical warrant for his descriptions, far better
historical warrant, no doubt, than the beauty and happiness actually
to be found in the world could give him for his _Skylark_, his
_Epipsychidion_, or his _Prometheus_. But to exaggerate good is to
vivify, to enhance our sense of moral coherence and beautiful
naturalness; it is to render things more graceful, intelligible, and
congenial to the spirit which they ought to serve. To aggravate evil,
on the contrary, is to darken counsel--already dark enough--and the
want of truth to nature in this pessimistic sort of exaggeration is
not compensated for by any advantage. The violence and, to my feeling,
the wantonness of these invectives--for they are invectives in
intention and in effect--may have seemed justified to Shelley by his
political purpose. He was thirsting to destroy kings, priests,
soldiers, parents, and heads of colleges--to destroy them, I mean, in
their official capacity; and the exhibition of their vileness in all
its diabolical purity might serve to remove scruples in the
half-hearted. We, whom the nineteenth century has left so tender to
historical rights and historical beauties, may wonder that a poet, an
impassioned lover of the beautiful, could have been such a leveller,
and such a vandal in his theoretical destructiveness. But here the
legacy of the eighteenth century was speaking in Shelley, as that of
the nineteenth is speaking in us: and moreover, in his own person, the
very fertility of imagination could be a cause of blindness to the
past and its contingent sanctities. Shelley was not left standing
aghast, like a Philistine, before the threatened destruction of all
traditional order. He had, and knew he had, the seeds of a far
lovelier order in his own soul; there he found the plan or memory of a
perfect commonwealth of nature ready to rise at once on the ruins of
this sad world, and to make regret for it impossible.

So much for what I take to be the double foundation of Shelley's
genius, a vivid love of ideal good on the one hand, and on the other,
what is complementary to that vivid love, much suffering and horror at
the touch of actual evils. On this double foundation he based an
opinion which had the greatest influence on his poetry, not merely on
the subject-matter of it, but also on the exuberance and urgency of
emotion which suffuses it. This opinion was that all that caused
suffering and horror in the world could be readily destroyed: it was
the belief in perfectibility. An animal that has rigid instincts and
an _a priori_ mind is probably very imperfectly adapted to the world
he comes into: his organs cannot be moulded by experience and use;
unless they are fitted by some miraculous pre-established harmony, or
by natural selection, to things as they are, they will never be
reconciled with them, and an eternal war will ensue between what the
animal needs, loves, and can understand and what the outer reality
offers. So long as such a creature lives--and his life will be
difficult and short--events will continually disconcert and puzzle
him; everything will seem to him unaccountable, inexplicable,
unnatural. He will not be able to conceive the real order and
connection of things sympathetically, by assimilating his habits of
thought to their habits of evolution. His faculties being innate and
unadaptable will not allow him to correct his presumptions and axioms;
he will never be able to make nature the standard of naturalness. What
contradicts his private impulses will seem to him to contradict
reason, beauty, and necessity. In this paradoxical situation he will
probably take refuge in the conviction that what he finds to exist is
an illusion, or at least not a fair sample of reality. Being so
perverse, absurd, and repugnant, the given state of things must be, he
will say, only accidental and temporary. He will be sure that his own
_a priori_ imagination is the mirror of all the eternal proprieties,
and that as his mind can move only in one predetermined way, things
cannot be prevented from moving in that same way save by some strange
violence done to their nature. It would be easy, therefore, to set
everything right again: nay, everything must be on the point of
righting itself spontaneously. Wrong, of its very essence, must be in
unstable equilibrium. The conflict between what such a man feels ought
to exist and what he finds actually existing must, he will feel sure,
end by a speedy revolution in things, and by the removal of all
scandals; that it should end by the speedy removal of his own person,
or by such a revolution in his demands as might reconcile him to
existence, will never occur to him; or, if the thought occurs to him,
it will seem too horrible to be true.

Such a creature cannot adapt himself to things by education, and
consequently he cannot adapt things to himself by industry. His choice
lies absolutely between victory and martyrdom. But at the very moment
of martyrdom, martyrs, as is well known, usually feel assured of
victory. The _a priori_ spirit will therefore be always a prophet of
victory, so long as it subsists at all. The vision of a better world
at hand absorbed the Israelites in exile, St. John the Baptist in the
desert, and Christ on the cross. The martyred spirit always says to
the world it leaves, "This day thou shall be with me in paradise."

In just this way, Shelley believed in perfectibility. In his latest
poems--in _Hellas_, in _Adonais_--he was perhaps a little inclined to
remove the scene of perfectibility to a metaphysical region, as the
Christian church soon removed it to the other world. Indeed, an earth
really made perfect is hardly distinguishable from a posthumous
heaven: so profoundly must everything in it be changed, and so
angel-like must every one in it become. Shelley's earthly paradise, as
described in _Prometheus_ and in _Epipsychidion_, is too
festival-like> too much of a mere culmination, not to be fugitive: it
cries aloud to be translated into a changeless and metaphysical
heaven, which to Shelley's mind could be nothing but the realm of
Platonic ideas, where "life, like a dome of many-coloured glass," no
longer "stains the white radiance of eternity." But the age had been
an age of revolution and, in spite of disappointments, retained its
faith in revolution; and the young Shelley was not satisfied with a
paradise removed to the intangible realms of poetry or of religion; he
hoped, like the old Hebrews, for a paradise on earth. His notion was
that eloquence could change the heart of man, and that love, kindled
there by the force of reason and of example, would transform society.
He believed, Mrs. Shelley tells us, "that mankind had only to will
that there should be no evil, and there would be none." And she adds:
"That man could be so perfectionised as to be able to expel evil from
his own nature, and from the greater part of creation, was the
cardinal point of his system." This cosmic extension of the conversion
of men reminds one of the cosmic extension of the Fall conceived by
St. Augustine; and in the _Prometheus_ Shelley has allowed his fancy,
half in symbol, half in glorious physical hyperbole, to carry the warm
contagion of love into the very bowels of the earth, and even the
moon, by reflection, to catch the light of love, and be alive again.

Shelley, we may safely say, did not understand the real constitution
of nature. It was hidden from him by a cloud, all woven of shifting
rainbows and bright tears. Only his emotional haste made it possible
for him to entertain such, opinions as he did entertain; or rather,
it was inevitable that the mechanism of nature, as it is in its
depths, should remain in his pictures only the shadowiest of
backgrounds. His poetry is accordingly a part of the poetry of
illusion; the poetry of truth, if we have the courage to hope for such
a thing, is reserved for far different and yet unborn poets. But it is
only fair to Shelley to remember that the moral being of mankind is as
yet in its childhood; all poets play with images not understood; they
touch on emotions sharply, at random, as in a dream; they suffer each
successive vision, each poignant sentiment, to evaporate into nothing,
or to leave behind only a heart vaguely softened and fatigued, a
gentle languor, or a tearful hope. Every modern school of poets, once
out of fashion, proves itself to have been sadly romantic and
sentimental. None has done better than to spangle a confused sensuous
pageant with some sparks of truth, or to give it some symbolic
relation to moral experience. And this Shelley has done as well as
anybody: all other poets also have been poets of illusion. The
distinction of Shelley is that his illusions are so wonderfully fine,
subtle, and palpitating; that they betray passions and mental habits
so singularly generous and pure. And why? Because he did not believe
in the necessity of what is vulgar, and did not pay that demoralising
respect to it, under the title of fact or of custom, which it exacts
from most of us. The past seemed to him no valid precedent, the
present no final instance. As he believed in the imminence of an
overturn that should make all things new, he was not checked by any
divided allegiance, by any sense that he was straying into the vapid
or fanciful, when he created what he justly calls "Beautiful idealisms
of moral excellence."

That is what his poems are fundamentally--the _Skylark_, and the
_Witch of the Atlas_, and the _Sensitive Plant_ no less than the
grander pieces. He infused into his gossamer world the strength of his
heroic conscience. He felt that what his imagination pictured was a
true symbol of what human experience should and might pass into.
Otherwise he would have been aware of playing with idle images; his
poetry would have been mere millinery and his politics mere business;
he would have been a worldling in art and in morals. The clear fire,
the sustained breath, the fervent accent of his poetry are due to his
faith in his philosophy. As Mrs. Shelley expressed it, he "had no care
for any of his poems that did not emanate from the depths of his mind,
and develop some high and abstruse truth." Had his poetry not dealt
with what was supreme in his own eyes, and dearest to his heart, it
could never have been the exquisite and entrancing poetry that it is.
It would not have had an adequate subject-matter, as, in spite of
Matthew Arnold, I think it had; for nothing can be empty that contains
such a soul. An angel cannot be ineffectual if the standard of
efficiency is moral; he is what all other things bring about, when
they are effectual. And a void that is alive with the beating of
luminous wings, and of a luminous heart, is quite sufficiently
peopled. Shelley's mind was angelic not merely in its purity and
fervour, but also in its moral authority, in its prophetic strain.
What was conscience in his generation was life in him.

The mind of man is not merely a sensorium. His intelligence is not
merely an instrument for adaptation. There is a germ within, a nucleus
of force and organisation, which can be unfolded, under favourable
circumstances, into a perfection inwardly determined. Man's
constitution is a fountain from which to draw an infinity of gushing
music, not representing anything external, yet not unmeaning on that
account, since it represents the capacities and passions latent in him
from the beginning. These potentialities, however, are no oracles of
truth. Being innate they are arbitrary; being _a priori_ they are
subjective; but they are good principles for fiction, for poetry, for
morals, for religion. They are principles for the true expression of
man, but not for the true description of the universe. When they are
taken for the latter, fiction becomes deception, poetry illusion,
morals fanaticism, and religion bad science. The orgy of delusion into
which we are then plunged comes from supposing the _a priori_ to be
capable of controlling the actual, and the innate to be a standard for
the true. That rich and definite endowment which might have made the
distinction of the poet, then makes the narrowness of the philosopher.
So Shelley, with a sort of tyranny of which he does not suspect the
possible cruelty, would impose his ideal of love and equality upon all
creatures; he would make enthusiasts of clowns and doves of vultures.
In him, as in many people, too intense a need of loving excludes the
capacity for intelligent sympathy. His feeling cannot accommodate
itself to the inequalities of human nature: his good will is a geyser,
and will not consent to grow cool, and to water the flat and vulgar
reaches of life. Shelley is blind to the excellences of what he
despises, as he is blind to the impossibility of realising what he
wants. His sympathies are narrow as his politics are visionary, so
that there is a certain moral incompetence in his moral intensity. Yet
his abstraction from half of life, or from nine-tenths of it, was
perhaps necessary if silence and space were to be won in his mind for
its own upwelling, ecstatic harmonies. The world we have always with
us, but such spirits we have not always. And the spirit has fire
enough within to make a second stellar universe.

An instance of Shelley's moral incompetence in moral intensity is to
be found in his view of selfishness and evil. From the point of view
of pure spirit, selfishness is quite absurd. As a contemporary of ours
has put it: "It is so evident that it is better to secure a greater
good for A than a lesser good for B that it is hard to find any still
more evident principle by which to prove this. And if A happens to be
some one else, and B to be myself, that cannot affect the question."
It is very foolish not to love your neighbour as yourself, since his
good is no less good than yours. Convince people of this--and who can
resist such perfect logic?--and _presto_ all property in things has
disappeared, all jealousy in love, and all rivalry in honour. How
happy and secure every one will suddenly be, and how much richer than
in our mean, blind, competitive society! The single word love--and we
have just seen that love is a logical necessity--offers an easy and
final solution to all moral and political problems. Shelley cannot
imagine why this solution is not accepted, and why logic does not
produce love. He can only wonder and grieve that it does not; and
since selfishness and ill-will seem to him quite gratuitous, his ire
is aroused; he thinks them unnatural and monstrous. He could not in
the least understand evil, even when he did it himself; all villainy
seemed to him wanton, all lust frigid, all hatred insane. All was an
abomination alike that was not the lovely spirit of love.

Now this is a very unintelligent view of evil; and if Shelley had had
time to read Spinoza--an author with whom he would have found himself
largely in sympathy--he might have learned that nothing is evil in
itself, and that what is evil in things is not due to any accident in
creation, nor to groundless malice in man. Evil is an inevitable
aspect which things put on when they are struggling to preserve
themselves in the same habitat, in which there is not room or matter
enough for them to prosper equally side by side. Under these
circumstances the partial success of any creature--say, the
cancer-microbe--is an evil from the point of view of those other
creatures--say, men--to whom that success is a defeat. Shelley
sometimes half perceived this inevitable tragedy. So he says of the
fair lady in the _Sensitive Plant_:

    "All killing insects and gnawing worms,
     And things of obscene and unlovely forms,
     She bore in a basket of Indian woof,
     Into the rough woods far aloof--
     In a basket of grasses and wild flowers full,
     The freshest her gentle hands could pull
     For the poor banished insects, whose intent,
     Although they did ill, was innocent."

Now it is all very well to ask cancer-microbes to be reasonable, and
go feed on oak-leaves, if the oak-leaves do not object; oak-leaves
might be poison for them, and in any case cancer-microbes cannot
listen to reason; they must go on propagating where they are, unless
they are quickly and utterly exterminated. And fundamentally men are
subject to the same fatality exactly; they cannot listen to reason
unless they are reasonable; and it is unreasonable to expect that,
being animals, they should be reasonable exclusively. Imagination is
indeed at work in them, and makes them capable of sacrificing
themselves for any idea that appeals to them, for their children,
perhaps, or for their religion. But they are not more capable of
sacrificing themselves to what does not interest them than the
cancer-microbes are of sacrificing themselves to men.

When Shelley marvels at the perversity of the world, he shows his
ignorance of the world. The illusion he suffers from is
constitutional, and such as larks and sensitive plants are possibly
subject to in their way: what he is marvelling at is really that
anything should exist at all not a creature of his own moral
disposition. Consequently the more he misunderstands the world and
bids it change its nature, the more he expresses his own nature: so
that all is not vanity in his illusion, nor night in his blindness.
The poet sees most clearly what his ideal is; he suffers no illusion
in the expression of his own soul. His political utopias, his belief
in the power of love, and his cryingly subjective and inconstant way
of judging people are one side of the picture; the other is his
lyrical power, wealth, and ecstasy. If he had understood universal
nature, he would not have so glorified in his own. And his own nature
was worth glorifying; it was, I think, the purest, tenderest,
richest, most rational nature ever poured forth in verse. I have not
read in any language such a full expression of the unadulterated
instincts of the mind. The world of Shelley is that which the vital
monad within many of us--I will not say within all, for who shall set
bounds to the variations of human nature?--the world which the vital
monad within many of us, I say, would gladly live in if it could have
its way.

Matthew Arnold said that Shelley was not quite sane; and certainly he
was not quite sane, if we place sanity in justness of external
perception, adaptation to matter, and docility to the facts; but his
lack of sanity was not due to any internal corruption; it was not even
an internal eccentricity. He was like a child, like a Platonic soul
just fallen from the Empyrean; and the child may be dazed, credulous,
and fanciful; but he is not mad. On the contrary, his earnest
playfulness, the constant distraction of his attention from
observation to daydreams, is the sign of an inward order and fecundity
appropriate to his age. If children did not see visions, good men
would have nothing to work for. It is the soul of observant persons,
like Matthew Arnold, that is apt not to be quite sane and whole
inwardly, but somewhat warped by familiarity with the perversities of
real things, and forced to misrepresent its true ideal, like a tree
bent by too prevalent a wind. Half the fertility of such a soul is
lost, and the other half is denaturalised. No doubt, in its sturdy
deformity, the practical mind is an instructive and not unpleasing
object, an excellent, if somewhat pathetic, expression of the climate
in which it is condemned to grow, and of its dogged clinging to an
ingrate soil; but it is a wretched expression of its innate
possibilities. Shelley, on the contrary, is like a palm-tree in the
desert or a star in the sky; he is perfect in the midst of the void.
His obtuseness to things dynamic--to the material order--leaves his
whole mind free to develop things aesthetic after their own kind; his
abstraction permits purity, his playfulness makes room for creative
freedom, his ethereal quality is only humanity having its way.

We perhaps do ourselves an injustice when we think that the heart of
us is sordid; what is sordid is rather the situation that cramps or
stifles the heart. In itself our generative principle is surely no
less fertile and generous than the generative principle of crystals or
flowers. As it can produce a more complex body, it is capable of
producing a more complex mind; and the beauty and life of this mind,
like that of the body, is all predetermined in the seed. Circumstances
may suffer the organism to develop, or prevent it from doing so; they
cannot change its plan without making it ugly and deformed. What
Shelley's mind draws from the outside, its fund of images, is like
what the germ of the body draws from the outside, its food--a mass of
mere materials to transform and reorganise. With these images Shelley
constructs a world determined by his native genius, as the seed
organises out of its food a predetermined system of nerves and
muscles. Shelley's poetry shows us the perfect but naked body of human
happiness. What clothes circumstances may compel most of us to add may
be a necessary concession to climate, to custom, or to shame; they
can hardly add a new vitality or any beauty comparable to that which
they hide.

When the soul, as in Shelley's case, is all goodness, and when the
world seems all illegitimacy and obstruction, we need not wonder that
_freedom_ should be regarded as a panacea. Even if freedom had not
been the idol of Shelley's times, he would have made an idol of it for
himself. "I never could discern in him," says his friend Hogg, "any
more than two principles. The first was a strong, irrepressible love
of liberty.... The second was an equally ardent love of toleration ...
and ... an intense abhorrence of persecution." We all fancy nowadays
that we believe in liberty and abhor persecution; but the liberty we
approve of is usually only a variation in social compulsions, to make
them less galling to our latest sentiments than the old compulsions
would be if we retained them. Liberty of the press and liberty to vote
do not greatly help us in living after our own mind, which is, I
suppose, the only positive sort of liberty. From the point of view of
a poet, there can be little essential freedom so long as he is
forbidden to live with the people he likes, and compelled to live with
the people he does not like. This, to Shelley, seemed the most galling
of tyrannies; and free love was, to his feeling, the essence and test
of freedom. Love must be spontaneous to be a spiritual bond in the
beginning and it must remain spontaneous if it is to remain spiritual.
To be bound by one's past is as great a tyranny to pure spirit as to
be bound by the sin of Adam, or by the laws of Artaxerxes; and those
of us who do not believe in the possibility of free love ought to
declare frankly that we do not, at bottom, believe in the possibility
of freedom.

    "I never was attached to that great sect
     Whose doctrine is that each one should select,
     Out of the crowd, a mistress or a friend
     And all the rest, though fair and wise, commend
     To cold oblivion; though it is the code
     Of modern morals, and the beaten road
     Which those poor slaves with weary footsteps tread
     Who travel to their home among the dead
     By the broad highway of the world, and so
     With one chained friend, perhaps a jealous foe,
     The dreariest and the longest journey go.
     True love in this differs from gold and clay,
     That to divide is not to take away.
     Love is like understanding that grows bright
     Gazing on many truths.... Narrow
     The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates,
     The life that wears, the spirit that creates
     One object and one form, and builds thereby
     A sepulchre for its eternity!"

The difficulties in reducing this charming theory of love to practice
are well exemplified in Shelley's own life. He ran away with his first
wife not because she inspired any uncontrollable passion, but because
she declared she was a victim of domestic oppression and threw herself
upon him for protection. Nevertheless, when he discovered that his
best friend was making love to her, in spite of his free-love
principles, he was very seriously annoyed. When he presently abandoned
her, feeling a spiritual affinity in another direction, she drowned
herself in the Serpentine: and his second wife needed all her natural
sweetness and all her inherited philosophy to reconcile her to the
waves of Platonic enthusiasm for other ladies which periodically swept
the too sensitive heart of her husband. Free love would not, then,
secure freedom from complications; it would not remove the present
occasion for jealousy, reproaches, tragedies, and the dragging of a
lengthening chain. Freedom of spirit cannot be translated into freedom
of action; you may amend laws, and customs, and social entanglements,
but you will still have them; for this world is a lumbering mechanism
and not, like love, a plastic dream. Wisdom is very old and therefore
often ironical, and it has long taught that it is well for those who
would live in the spirit to keep as clear as possible of the world:
and that marriage, especially a free-love marriage, is a snare for
poets. Let them endure to love freely, hopelessly, and infinitely,
after the manner of Plato and Dante, and even of Goethe, when Goethe
really loved: that exquisite sacrifice will improve their verse, and
it will not kill them. Let them follow in the traces of Shelley when
he wrote in his youth: "I have been most of the night pacing a
church-yard. I must now engage in scenes of strong interest.... I
expect to gratify some of this insatiable feeling in poetry.... I
slept with a loaded pistol and some poison last night, but did not
die," Happy man if he had been able to add, "And did not marry!"

Last among the elements of Shelley's thought I may perhaps mention his
atheism. Shelley called himself an atheist in his youth; his
biographers and critics usually say that he was, or that he became, a
pantheist. He was an atheist in the sense that he denied the orthodox
conception of a deity who is a voluntary creator, a legislator, and a
judge; but his aversion to Christianity was not founded on any
sympathetic or imaginative knowledge of it; and a man who preferred
the _Paradiso_ of Dante to almost any other poem, and preferred it to
the popular _Inferno_ itself, could evidently be attracted by
Christian ideas and sentiment the moment they were presented to him as
expressions of moral truth rather than as gratuitous dogmas. A
pantheist he was in the sense that he felt how fluid and vital this
whole world is; but he seems to have had no tendency to conceive any
conscious plan or logical necessity connecting the different parts of
the whole; so that rather than a pantheist he might be called a
panpsychist; especially as he did not subordinate morally the
individual to the cosmos. He did not surrender the authority of moral
ideals in the face of physical necessity, which is properly the
essence of pantheism. He did the exact opposite; so much so that the
chief characteristic of his philosophy is its Promethean spirit. He
maintained that the basis of moral authority was internal, diffused
among all individuals; that it was the natural love of the beautiful
and the good wherever it might spring, and however fate might oppose
it.

    "To suffer ...
     To forgive ...
     To defy Power ...
     To love and bear; to hope, till hope creates
     From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
     Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
     This ... is to be
     Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free."

Shelley was also removed from any ordinary atheism by his truly
speculative sense for eternity. He was a thorough Platonist All
metaphysics perhaps is poetry, but Platonic metaphysics is good
poetry, and to this class Shelley's belongs. For instance:

         "The pure spirit shall flow
    Back to the burning fountain whence it came,
    A portion of the eternal, which must glow
    Through time and change, unquenchably the same.
    Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep!
    He hath awakened from the dream of life.
    'Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
    With phantoms an unprofitable strife.

    "He is made one with Nature. There is heard
    His voice in all her music, from the moan
    Of thunder, to the song of night's sweet bird.

    "He is a portion of the loveliness
    Which once he made more lovely.

    "The splendours of the firmament of time
    May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not:
    Like stars to their appointed height they climb,
    And death is a low mist which cannot blot
    The brightness it may veil. When lofty thought
    Lifts a young heart above its mortal lair,
    ... the dead live there."

Atheism or pantheism of this stamp cannot be taxed with being gross or
materialistic; the trouble is rather that it is too hazy in its
sublimity. The poet has not perceived the natural relation between
facts and ideals so clearly or correctly as he has felt the moral
relation between them. But his allegiance to the intuition which
defies, for the sake of felt excellence, every form of idolatry or
cowardice wearing the mask of religion--this allegiance is itself the
purest religion; and it is capable of inspiring the sweetest and most
absolute poetry. In daring to lay bare the truths of fate, the poet
creates for himself the subtlest and most heroic harmonies; and he is
comforted for the illusions he has lost by being made incapable of
desiring them.

We have seen that Shelley, being unteachable, could never put together
any just idea of the world: he merely collected images and emotions,
and out of them made worlds of his own. His poetry accordingly does
not well express history, nor human character, nor the constitution of
nature. What he unrolls before us instead is, in a sense, fantastic;
it is a series of landscapes, passions, and cataclysms such as never
were on earth, and never will be. If you are seriously interested only
in what belongs to earth you will not be seriously interested in
Shelley. Literature, according to Matthew Arnold, should be criticism
of life, and Shelley did not criticise life; so that his poetry had no
solidity. But is life, we may ask, the same thing as the circumstances
of life on earth? Is the spirit of life, that marks and judges those
circumstances, itself nothing? Music is surely no description of the
circumstances of life; yet it is relevant to life unmistakably, for it
stimulates by means of a torrent of abstract movements and images the
formal and emotional possibilities of living which lie in the spirit.
By so doing music becomes a part of life, a congruous addition, a
parallel life, as it were, to the vulgar one. I see no reason, in the
analogies of the natural world, for supposing that the circumstances
of human life are the only circumstances in which the spirit of life
can disport itself. Even on this planet, there are sea-animals and
air-animals, ephemeral beings and self-centred beings, as well as
persons who can grow as old as Matthew Arnold, and be as fond as he
was of classifying other people. And beyond this planet, and in the
interstices of what our limited senses can perceive, there are
probably many forms of life not criticised in any of the books which
Matthew Arnold said we should read in order to know the best that has
been thought and said in the world. The future, too, even among men,
may contain, as Shelley puts it, many "arts, though unimagined, yet to
be." The divination of poets cannot, of course, be expected to reveal
any of these hidden regions as they actually exist or will exist; but
what would be the advantage of revealing them? It could only be what
the advantage of criticising human life would be also, to improve
subsequent life indirectly by turning it towards attainable goods, and
is it not as important a thing to improve life directly and in the
present, if one has the gift, by enriching rather than criticising it?
Besides, there is need of fixing the ideal by which criticism is to be
guided. If you have no image of happiness or beauty or perfect
goodness before you, how are you to judge what portions of life are
important, and what rendering of them is appropriate?

Being a singer inwardly inspired, Shelley could picture the ideal
goals of life, the ultimate joys of experience, better than a
discursive critic or observer could have done. The circumstances of
life are only the bases or instruments of life: the fruition of life
is not in retrospect, not in description of the instruments, but in
expression of the spirit itself, to which those instruments may prove
useful; as music is not a criticism of violins, but a playing upon
them. This expression need not resemble its ground. Experience is
diversified by colours that are not produced by colours, sounds that
are not conditioned by sounds, names that are not symbols for other
names, fixed ideal objects that stand for ever-changing material
processes. The mind is fundamentally lyrical, inventive, redundant.
Its visions are its own offspring, hatched in the warmth of some
favourable cosmic gale. The ambient weather may vary, and these
visions be scattered; but the ideal world they pictured may some day
be revealed again to some other poet similarly inspired; the
possibility of restoring it, or something like it, is perpetual. It is
precisely because Shelley's sense for things is so fluid, so illusive,
that it opens to us emotionally what is a serious scientific
probability; namely, that human life is not all life, nor the
landscape of earth the only admired landscape in the universe; that
the ancients who believed in gods and spirits were nearer the virtual
truth (however anthropomorphically they may have expressed themselves)
than any philosophy or religion that makes human affairs the centre
and aim of the world. Such moral imagination is to be gained by
sinking into oneself, rather than by observing remote happenings,
because it is at its heart, not at its fingertips, that the human soul
touches matter, and is akin to whatever other centres of life may
people the infinite.

For this reason the masters of spontaneity, the prophets, the inspired
poets, the saints, the mystics, the musicians are welcome and most
appealing companions. In their simplicity and abstraction from the
world they come very near the heart. They say little and help much.
They do not picture life, but have life, and give it. So we may say, I
think, of Shelley's magic universe what he said of Greece; if it

                  "Must be
    A wreck, yet shall its fragments re-assemble,
    And build themselves again impregnably
          In a diviner clime,
    To Amphionic music, on some cape sublime
    Which frowns above the idle foam of time."

"Frowns," says Shelley rhetorically, as if he thought that something
timeless, something merely ideal, could be formidable, or could
threaten existing things with any but an ideal defeat. Tremendous
error! Eternal possibilities may indeed beckon; they may attract those
who instinctively pursue them as a star may guide those who wish to
reach the place over which it happens to shine. But an eternal
possibility has no material power. It is only one of an infinity of
other things equally possible intrinsically, yet most of them quite
unrealisable in this world of blood and mire. The realm of eternal
essences rains down no Jovian thunderbolts, but only a ghostly Uranian
calm. There is no frown there; rather, a passive and universal welcome
to any who may have in them the will and the power to climb. Whether
any one has the will depends on his material constitution, and whether
he has the power depends on the firm texture of that constitution and
on circumstances happening to be favourable to its operation.
Otherwise what the rebel or the visionary hails as his ideal will be
no picture of his destiny or of that of the world. It will be, and
will always remain, merely a picture of his heart. This picture,
indestructible in its ideal essence, will mirror also the hearts of
those who may share, or may have shared, the nature of the poet who
drew it. So purely ideal and so deeply human are the visions of
Shelley. So truly does he deserve the epitaph which a clear-sighted
friend wrote upon his tomb: _cor cordium_, the heart of hearts.




VI

THE GENTEEL TRADITION IN AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY

_Address delivered before the Philosophical Union of the University of
California, August_ 25, 1911.


LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,--The privilege of addressing you to-day
is very welcome to me, not merely for the honour of it, which is
great, nor for the pleasures of travel, which are many, when it is
California that one is visiting for the first time, but also because
there is something I have long wanted to say which this occasion seems
particularly favourable for saying. America is still a young country,
and this part of it is especially so; and it would have been nothing
extraordinary if, in this young country, material preoccupations had
altogether absorbed people's minds, and they had been too much
engrossed in living to reflect upon life, or to have any philosophy.
The opposite, however, is the case. Not only have you already found
time to philosophise in California, as your society proves, but the
eastern colonists from the very beginning were a sophisticated race.
As much as in clearing the land and fighting the Indians they were
occupied, as they expressed it, in wrestling with the Lord. The
country was new, but the race was tried, chastened, and full of solemn
memories. It was an old wine in new bottles; and America did not have
to wait for its present universities, with their departments of
academic philosophy, in order to possess a living philosophy--to have
a distinct vision of the universe and definite convictions about human
destiny.

Now this situation is a singular and remarkable one, and has many
consequences, not all of which are equally fortunate. America is a
young country with an old mentality: it has enjoyed the advantages of
a child carefully brought up and thoroughly indoctrinated; it has been
a wise child. But a wise child, an old head on young shoulders, always
has a comic and an unpromising side. The wisdom is a little thin and
verbal, not aware of its full meaning and grounds; and physical and
emotional growth may be stunted by it, or even deranged. Or when the
child is too vigorous for that, he will develop a fresh mentality of
his own, out of his observations and actual instincts; and this fresh
mentality will interfere with the traditional mentality, and tend to
reduce it to something perfunctory, conventional, and perhaps secretly
despised. A philosophy is not genuine unless it inspires and expresses
the life of those who cherish it. I do not think the hereditary
philosophy of America has done much to atrophy the natural activities
of the inhabitants; the wise child has not missed the joys of youth or
of manhood; but what has happened is that the hereditary philosophy
has grown stale, and that the academic philosophy afterwards developed
has caught the stale odour from it. America is not simply, as I said a
moment ago, a young country with an old mentality: it is a country
with two mentalities, one a survival of the beliefs and standards of
the fathers, the other an expression of the instincts, practice, and
discoveries of the younger generations. In all the higher things of
the mind--in religion, in literature, in the moral emotions--it is the
hereditary spirit that still prevails, so much so that Mr. Bernard
Shaw finds that America is a hundred years behind the times. The truth
is that one-half of the American mind, that not occupied intensely in
practical affairs, has remained, I will not say high-and-dry, but
slightly becalmed; it has floated gently in the back-water, while,
alongside, in invention and industry and social organisation, the
other half of the mind was leaping down a sort of Niagara Rapids. This
division may be found symbolised in American architecture: a neat
reproduction of the colonial mansion--with some modern comforts
introduced surreptitiously--stands beside the sky-scraper. The
American Will inhabits the sky-scraper; the American Intellect
inhabits the colonial mansion. The one is the sphere of the American
man; the other, at least predominantly, of the American woman. The one
is all aggressive enterprise; the other is all genteel tradition.

Now, with your permission, I should like to analyse more fully how
this interesting situation has arisen, how it is qualified, and
whither it tends. And in the first place we should remember what,
precisely, that philosophy was which the first settlers brought with
them into the country. In strictness there was more than one; but we
may confine our attention to what I will call Calvinism, since it is
on this that the current academic philosophy has been grafted. I do
not mean exactly the Calvinism of Calvin, or even of Jonathan Edwards;
for in their systems there was much that was not pure philosophy, but
rather faith in the externals and history of revelation. Jewish and
Christian revelation was interpreted by these men, however, in the
spirit of a particular philosophy, which might have arisen under any
sky, and been associated with any other religion as well as with
Protestant Christianity. In fact, the philosophical principle of
Calvinism appears also in the Koran, in Spinoza, and in Cardinal
Newman; and persons with no very distinctive Christian belief, like
Carlyle or like Professor Royce, may be nevertheless, philosophically,
perfect Calvinists. Calvinism, taken in this sense, is an expression
of the agonised conscience. It is a view of the world which an
agonised conscience readily embraces, if it takes itself seriously,
as, being agonised, of course it must. Calvinism, essentially, asserts
three things: that sin exists, that sin is punished, and that it is
beautiful that sin should exist to be punished. The heart of the
Calvinist is therefore divided between tragic concern at his own
miserable condition, and tragic exultation about the universe at
large. He oscillates between a profound abasement and a paradoxical
elation of the spirit. To be a Calvinist philosophically is to feel a
fierce pleasure in the existence of misery, especially of one's own,
in that this misery seems to manifest the fact that the Absolute is
irresponsible or infinite or holy. Human nature, it feels, is totally
depraved: to have the instincts and motives that we necessarily have
is a great scandal, and we must suffer for it; but that scandal is
requisite, since otherwise the serious importance of being as we ought
to be would not have been vindicated.

To those of us who have not an agonised conscience this system may
seem fantastic and even unintelligible; yet it is logically and
intently thought out from its emotional premises. It can take
permanent possession of a deep mind here and there, and under certain
conditions it can become epidemic. Imagine, for instance, a small
nation with an intense vitality, but on the verge of ruin, ecstatic
and distressful, having a strict and minute code of laws, that paints
life in sharp and violent chiaroscuro, all pure righteousness and
black abominations, and exaggerating the consequences of both perhaps
to infinity. Such a people were the Jews after the exile, and again
the early Protestants. If such a people is philosophical at all, it
will not improbably be Calvinistic. Even in the early American
communities many of these conditions were fulfilled. The nation was
small and isolated; it lived under pressure and constant trial; it was
acquainted with but a small range of goods and evils. Vigilance over
conduct and an absolute demand for personal integrity were not merely
traditional things, but things that practical sages, like Franklin and
Washington, recommended to their countrymen, because they were virtues
that justified themselves visibly by their fruits. But soon these
happy results themselves helped to relax the pressure of external
circumstances, and indirectly the pressure of the agonised conscience
within. The nation became numerous; it ceased to be either ecstatic or
distressful; the high social morality which on the whole it preserved
took another colour; people remained honest and helpful out of good
sense and good will rather than out of scrupulous adherence to any
fixed principles. They retained their instinct for order, and often
created order with surprising quickness; but the sanctity of law, to
be obeyed for its own sake, began to escape them; it seemed too
unpractical a notion, and not quite serious. In fact, the second and
native-born American mentality began to take shape. The sense of sin
totally evaporated. Nature, in the words of Emerson, was all beauty
and commodity; and while operating on it laboriously, and drawing
quick returns, the American began to drink in inspiration from it
aesthetically. At the same time, in so broad a continent, he had
elbow-room. His neighbours helped more than they hindered him; he
wished their number to increase. Good will became the great American
virtue; and a passion arose for counting heads, and square miles, and
cubic feet, and minutes saved--as if there had been anything to save
them for. How strange to the American now that saying of Jonathan
Edwards, that men are naturally God's enemies! Yet that is an axiom to
any intelligent Calvinist, though the words he uses may be different.
If you told the modern American that he is totally depraved, he would
think you were joking, as he himself usually is. He is convinced that
he always has been, and always will be, victorious and blameless.

Calvinism thus lost its basis in American life. Some emotional
natures, indeed, reverted in their religious revivals or private
searchings of heart to the sources of the tradition; for any of the
radical points of view in philosophy may cease to be prevalent, but
none can cease to be possible. Other natures, more sensitive to the
moral and literary influences of the world, preferred to abandon
parts of their philosophy, hoping thus to reduce the distance which
should separate the remainder from real life.

Meantime, if anybody arose with a special sensibility or a technical
genius, he was in great straits; not being fed sufficiently by the
world, he was driven in upon his own resources. The three American
writers whose personal endowment was perhaps the finest--Poe,
Hawthorne, and Emerson--had all a certain starved and abstract
quality. They could not retail the genteel tradition; they were too
keen, too perceptive, and too independent for that. But life offered
them little digestible material, nor were they naturally voracious.
They were fastidious, and under the circumstances they were starved.
Emerson, to be sure, fed on books. There was a great catholicity in
his reading; and he showed a fine tact in his comments, and in his way
of appropriating what he read. But he read transcendentally, not
historically, to learn what he himself felt, not what others might
have felt before him. And to feed on books, for a philosopher or a
poet, is still to starve. Books can help him to acquire form, or to
avoid pitfalls; they cannot supply him with substance, if he is to
have any. Therefore the genius of Poe and Hawthorne, and even of
Emerson, was employed on a sort of inner play, or digestion of
vacancy. It was a refined labour, but it was in danger of being
morbid, or tinkling, or self-indulgent. It was a play of intra-mental
rhymes. Their mind was like an old music-box, full of tender echoes
and quaint fancies. These fancies expressed their personal genius
sincerely, as dreams may; but they were arbitrary fancies in
comparison with what a real observer would have said in the premises.
Their manner, in a word, was subjective. In their own persons they
escaped the mediocrity of the genteel tradition, but they supplied
nothing to supplant it in other minds.

The churches, likewise, although they modified their spirit, had no
philosophy to offer save a new emphasis on parts of what Calvinism
contained. The theology of Calvin, we must remember, had much in it
besides philosophical Calvinism. A Christian tenderness, and a hope of
grace for the individual, came to mitigate its sardonic optimism; and
it was these evangelical elements that the Calvinistic churches now
emphasised, seldom and with blushes referring to hell-fire or infant
damnation. Yet philosophic Calvinism, with a theory of life that would
perfectly justify hell-fire and infant damnation if they happened to
exist, still dominates the traditional metaphysics. It is an
ingredient, and the decisive ingredient, in what calls itself
idealism. But in order to see just what part Calvinism plays in
current idealism, it will be necessary to distinguish the other chief
element in that complex system, namely, transcendentalism.

Transcendentalism is the philosophy which the romantic era produced in
Germany, and independently, I believe, in America also.
Transcendentalism proper, like romanticism, is not any particular set
of dogmas about what things exist; it is not a system of the universe
regarded as a fact, or as a collection of facts. It is a method, a
point of view, from which any world, no matter what it might contain,
could be approached by a self-conscious observer. Transcendentalism is
systematic subjectivism. It studies the perspectives of knowledge as
they radiate from the self; it is a plan of those avenues of inference
by which our ideas of things must be reached, if they are to afford
any systematic or distant vistas. In other words, transcendentalism is
the critical logic of science. Knowledge, it says, has a station, as
in a watch-tower; it is always seated here and now, in the self of the
moment. The past and the future, things inferred and things conceived,
lie around it, painted as upon a panorama. They cannot be lighted up
save by some centrifugal ray of attention and present interest, by
some active operation of the mind.

This is hardly the occasion for developing or explaining this delicate
insight; suffice it to say, lest you should think later that I
disparage transcendentalism, that as a method I regard it as correct
and, when once suggested, unforgettable. I regard it as the chief
contribution made in modern times to speculation. But it is a method
only, an attitude we may always assume if we like and that will always
be legitimate. It is no answer, and involves no particular answer, to
the question: What exists; in what order is what exists produced; what
is to exist in the future? This question must be answered by observing
the object, and tracing humbly the movement of the object. It cannot
be answered at all by harping on the fact that this object, if
discovered, must be discovered by somebody, and by somebody who has an
interest in discovering it. Yet the Germans who first gained the full
transcendental insight were romantic people; they were more or less
frankly poets; they were colossal egotists, and wished to make not
only their own knowledge but the whole universe centre about
themselves. And full as they were of their romantic isolation and
romantic liberty, it occurred to them to imagine that all reality
might be a transcendental self and a romantic dreamer like themselves;
nay, that it might be just their own transcendental self and their own
romantic dreams extended indefinitely. Transcendental logic, the
method of discovery for the mind, was to become also the method of
evolution in nature and history. Transcendental method, so abused,
produced transcendental myth. A conscientious critique of knowledge
was turned into a sham system of nature. We must therefore distinguish
sharply the transcendental grammar of the intellect, which is
significant and potentially correct, from the various transcendental
systems of the universe, which are chimeras.

In both its parts, however, transcendentalism had much to recommend it
to American philosophers, for the transcendental method appealed to
the individualistic and revolutionary temper of their youth, while
transcendental myths enabled them to find a new status for their
inherited theology, and to give what parts of it they cared to
preserve some semblance of philosophical backing. This last was the
use to which the transcendental method was put by Kant himself, who
first brought it into vogue, before the terrible weapon had got out of
hand, and become the instrument of pure romanticism. Kant came, he
himself said, to remove knowledge in order to make room for faith,
which in his case meant faith in Calvinism. In other words, he applied
the transcendental method to matters of fact, reducing them thereby
to human ideas, in order to give to the Calvinistic postulates of
conscience a metaphysical validity. For Kant had a genteel tradition
of his own, which he wished to remove to a place of safety, feeling
that the empirical world had become too hot for it; and this place of
safety was the region of transcendental myth. I need hardly say how
perfectly this expedient suited the needs of philosophers in America,
and it is no accident if the influence of Kant soon became dominant
here. To embrace this philosophy was regarded as a sign of profound
metaphysical insight, although the most mediocre minds found no
difficulty in embracing it. In truth it was a sign of having been
brought up in the genteel tradition, of feeling it weak, and of
wishing to save it.

But the transcendental method, in its way, was also sympathetic to the
American mind. It embodied, in a radical form, the spirit of
Protestantism as distinguished from its inherited doctrines; it was
autonomous, undismayed, calmly revolutionary; it felt that Will was
deeper than Intellect; it focussed everything here and now, and asked
all things to show their credentials at the bar of the young self, and
to prove their value for this latest born moment. These things are
truly American; they would be characteristic of any young society with
a keen and discursive intelligence, and they are strikingly
exemplified in the thought and in the person of Emerson. They
constitute what he called self-trust. Self-trust, like other
transcendental attitudes, may be expressed in metaphysical fables. The
romantic spirit may imagine itself to be an absolute force, evoking
and moulding the plastic world to express its varying moods. But for
a pioneer who is actually a world-builder this metaphysical illusion
has a partial warrant in historical fact; far more warrant than it
could boast of in the fixed and articulated society of Europe, among
the moonstruck rebels and sulking poets of the romantic era. Emerson
was a shrewd Yankee, by instinct on the winning side; he was a cheery,
child-like soul, impervious to the evidence of evil, as of everything
that it did not suit his transcendental individuality to appreciate or
to notice. More, perhaps, than anybody that has ever lived, he
practised the transcendental method in all its purity. He had no
system. He opened his eyes on the world every morning with a fresh
sincerity, marking how things seemed to him then, or what they
suggested to his spontaneous fancy. This fancy, for being spontaneous,
was not always novel; it was guided by the habits and training of his
mind, which were those of a preacher. Yet he never insisted on his
notions so as to turn them into settled dogmas; he felt in his bones
that they were myths. Sometimes, indeed, the bad example of other
transcendentalists, less true than he to their method, or the pressing
questions of unintelligent people, or the instinct we all have to
think our ideas final, led him to the very verge of system-making; but
he stopped short. Had he made a system out of his notion of
compensation, or the over-soul, or spiritual laws, the result would
have been as thin and forced as it is in other transcendental systems.
But he coveted truth; and he returned to experience, to history, to
poetry, to the natural science of his day, for new starting-points and
hints toward fresh transcendental musings.

To covet truth is a very distinguished passion. Every philosopher
says he is pursuing the truth, but this is seldom the case. As Mr.
Bertrand Russell has observed, one reason why philosophers often fail
to reach the truth is that often they do not desire to reach it. Those
who are genuinely concerned in discovering what happens to be true are
rather the men of science, the naturalists, the historians; and
ordinarily they discover it, according to their lights. The truths
they find are never complete, and are not always important; but they
are integral parts of the truth, facts and circumstances that help to
fill in the picture, and that no later interpretation can invalidate
or afford to contradict. But professional philosophers are usually
only apologists: that is, they are absorbed in defending some vested
illusion or some eloquent idea. Like lawyers or detectives, they study
the case for which they are retained, to see how much evidence or
semblance of evidence they can gather for the defence, and how much
prejudice they can raise against the witnesses for the prosecution;
for they know they are defending prisoners suspected by the world, and
perhaps by their own good sense, of falsification. They do not covet
truth, but victory and the dispelling of their own doubts. What they
defend is some system, that is, some view about the totality of
things, of which men are actually ignorant. No system would have ever
been framed if people had been simply interested in knowing what is
true, whatever it may be. What produces systems is the interest in
maintaining against all comers that some favourite or inherited idea
of ours is sufficient and right. A system may contain an account of
many things which, in detail, are true enough; but as a system,
covering infinite possibilities that neither our experience nor our
logic can prejudge, it must be a work of imagination and a piece of
human soliloquy. It may be expressive of human experience, it may be
poetical; but how should anyone who really coveted truth suppose that
it was true?

Emerson had no system; and his coveting truth had another exceptional
consequence: he was detached, unworldly, contemplative. When he came
out of the conventicle or the reform meeting, or out of the rapturous
close atmosphere of the lecture-room, he heard Nature whispering to
him: "Why so hot, little sir?" No doubt the spirit or energy of the
world is what is acting in us, as the sea is what rises in every
little wave; but it passes through us, and cry out as we may, it will
move on. Our privilege is to have perceived it as it moves. Our
dignity is not in what we do, but in what we understand. The whole
world is doing things. We are turning in that vortex; yet within us is
silent observation, the speculative eye before which all passes, which
bridges the distances and compares the combatants. On this side of his
genius Emerson broke away from all conditions of age or country and
represented nothing except intelligence itself.

There was another element in Emerson, curiously combined with
transcendentalism, namely, his love and respect for Nature. Nature,
for the transcendentalist, is precious because it is his own work, a
mirror in which he looks at himself and says (like a poet relishing
his own verses), "What a genius I am! Who would have thought there was
such stuff in me?" And the philosophical egotist finds in his doctrine
a ready explanation of whatever beauty and commodity nature actually
has. No wonder, he says to himself, that nature is sympathetic, since
I made it. And such a view, one-sided and even fatuous as it may be,
undoubtedly sharpens the vision of a poet and a moralist to all that
is inspiriting and symbolic in the natural world. Emerson was
particularly ingenious and clear-sighted in feeling the spiritual uses
of fellowship with the elements. This is something in which all
Teutonic poetry is rich and which forms, I think, the most genuine and
spontaneous part of modern taste, and especially of American taste.
Just as some people are naturally enthralled and refreshed by music,
so others are by landscape. Music and landscape make up the spiritual
resources of those who cannot or dare not express their unfulfilled
ideals in words. Serious poetry, profound religion (Calvinism, for
instance), are the joys of an unhappiness that confesses itself; but
when a genteel tradition forbids people to confess that they are
unhappy, serious poetry and profound religion are closed to them by
that; and since human life, in its depths, cannot then express itself
openly, imagination is driven for comfort into abstract arts, where
human circumstances are lost sight of, and human problems dissolve in
a purer medium. The pressure of care is thus relieved, without its
quietus being found in intelligence. To understand oneself is the
classic form of consolation; to elude oneself is the romantic. In the
presence of music or landscape human experience eludes itself; and
thus romanticism is the bond between transcendental and naturalistic
sentiment. The winds and clouds come to minister to the solitary ego.
Have there been, we may ask, any successful efforts to escape from the
genteel tradition, and to express something worth expressing behind
its back? This might well not have occurred as yet; but America is so
precocious, it has been trained by the genteel tradition to be so wise
for its years, that some indications of a truly native philosophy and
poetry are already to be found. I might mention the humorists, of whom
you here in California have had your share. The humorists, however,
only half escape the genteel tradition; their humour would lose its
savour if they had wholly escaped it. They point to what contradicts
it in the facts; but not in order to abandon the genteel tradition,
for they have nothing solid to put in its place. When they point out
how ill many facts fit into it, they do not clearly conceive that this
militates against the standard, but think it a funny perversity in the
facts. Of course, did they earnestly respect the genteel tradition,
such an incongruity would seem to them sad, rather than ludicrous.
Perhaps the prevalence of humour in America, in and out of season, may
be taken as one more evidence that the genteel tradition is present
pervasively, but everywhere weak. Similarly in Italy, during the
Renaissance, the Catholic tradition could not be banished from the
intellect, since there was nothing articulate to take its place; yet
its hold on the heart was singularly relaxed. The consequence was that
humorists could regale themselves with the foibles of monks and of
cardinals, with the credulity of fools, and the bogus miracles of the
saints; not intending to deny the theory of the church, but caring for
it so little at heart that they could find it infinitely amusing that
it should be contradicted in men's lives and that no harm should come
of it. So when Mark Twain says, "I was born of poor but dishonest
parents," the humour depends on the parody of the genteel Anglo-Saxon
convention that it is disreputable to be poor; but to hint at the
hollowness of it would not be amusing if it did not remain at bottom
one's habitual conviction.

The one American writer who has left the genteel tradition entirely
behind is perhaps Walt Whitman. For this reason educated Americans
find him rather an unpalatable person, who they sincerely protest
ought not to be taken for a representative of their culture; and he
certainly should not, because their culture is so genteel and
traditional. But the foreigner may sometimes think otherwise, since he
is looking for what may have arisen in America to express, not the
polite and conventional American mind, but the spirit and the
inarticulate principles that animate the community, on which its own
genteel mentality seems to sit rather lightly. When the foreigner
opens the pages of Walt Whitman, he thinks that he has come at last
upon something representative and original. In Walt Whitman democracy
is carried into psychology and morals. The various sights, moods, and
emotions are given each one vote; they are declared to be all free and
equal, and the innumerable commonplace moments of life are suffered to
speak like the others. Those moments formerly reputed great are not
excluded, but they are made to march in the ranks with their
companions--plain foot-soldiers and servants of the hour. Nor does the
refusal to discriminate stop there; we must carry our principle
further down, to the animals, to inanimate nature, to the cosmos as a
whole. Whitman became a pantheist; but his pantheism, unlike that of
the Stoics and of Spinoza, was unintellectual, lazy, and
self-indulgent; for he simply felt jovially that everything real was
good enough, and that he was good enough himself. In him Bohemia
rebelled against the genteel tradition; but the reconstruction that
alone can justify revolution did not ensue. His attitude, in
principle, was utterly disintegrating; his poetic genius fell back to
the lowest level, perhaps, to which it is possible for poetic genius
to fall. He reduced his imagination to a passive sensorium for the
registering of impressions. No element of construction remained in it,
and therefore no element of penetration. But his scope was wide; and
his lazy, desultory apprehension was poetical. His work, for the very
reason that it is so rudimentary, contains a beginning, or rather many
beginnings, that might possibly grow into a noble moral imagination, a
worthy filling for the human mind. An American in the nineteenth
century who completely disregarded the genteel tradition could hardly
have done more.

But there is another distinguished man, lately lost to this country,
who has given some rude shocks to this tradition and who, as much as
Whitman, may be regarded as representing the genuine, the long silent
American mind--I mean William James. He and his brother Henry were as
tightly swaddled in the genteel tradition as any infant geniuses could
be, for they were born before 1850, and in a Swedenborgian household.
Yet they burst those bands almost entirely. The ways in which the two
brothers freed themselves, however, are interestingly different. Mr.
Henry James has done it by adopting the point of view of the outer
world, and by turning the genteel American tradition, as he turns
everything else, into a subject-matter for analysis. For him it is a
curious habit of mind, intimately comprehended, to be compared with
other habits of mind, also well known to him. Thus he has overcome the
genteel tradition in the classic way, by understanding it. With
William James too this infusion of worldly insight and European
sympathies was a potent influence, especially in his earlier days; but
the chief source of his liberty was another. It was his personal
spontaneity, similar to that of Emerson, and his personal vitality,
similar to that of nobody else. Convictions and ideas came to him, so
to speak, from the subsoil. He had a prophetic sympathy with the
dawning sentiments of the age, with the moods of the dumb majority.
His scattered words caught fire in many parts of the world. His way of
thinking and feeling represented the true America, and represented in
a measure the whole ultra-modern, radical world. Thus he eluded the
genteel tradition in the romantic way, by continuing it into its
opposite. The romantic mind, glorified in Hegel's dialectic (which is
not dialectic at all, but a sort of tragi-comic history of
experience), is always rendering its thoughts unrecognisable through
the infusion of new insights, and through the insensible
transformation of the moral feeling that accompanies them, till at
last it has completely reversed its old judgments under cover of
expanding them. Thus the genteel tradition was led a merry dance when
it fell again into the hands of a genuine and vigorous romanticist
like William James. He restored their revolutionary force to its
neutralised elements, by picking them out afresh, and emphasising them
separately, according to his personal predilections.

For one thing, William James kept his mind and heart wide open to all
that might seem, to polite minds, odd, personal, or visionary in
religion and philosophy. He gave a sincerely respectful hearing to
sentimentalists, mystics, spiritualists, wizards, cranks, quacks, and
impostors--for it is hard to draw the line, and James was not willing
to draw it prematurely. He thought, with his usual modesty, that any
of these might have something to teach him. The lame, the halt, the
blind, and those speaking with tongues could come to him with the
certainty of finding sympathy; and if they were not healed, at least
they were comforted, that a famous professor should take them so
seriously; and they began to feel that after all to have only one leg,
or one hand, or one eye, or to have three, might be in itself no less
beauteous than to have just two, like the stolid majority. Thus
William James became the friend and helper of those groping, nervous,
half-educated, spiritually disinherited, passionately hungry
individuals of which America is full. He became, at the same time,
their spokesman and representative before the learned world; and he
made it a chief part of his vocation to recast what the learned world
has to offer, so that as far as possible it might serve the needs and
interests of these people.

Yet the normal practical masculine American, too, had a friend in
William James. There is a feeling abroad now, to which biology and
Darwinism lend some colour, that theory is simply an instrument for
practice, and intelligence merely a help toward material survival.
Bears, it is said, have fur and claws, but poor naked man is condemned
to be intelligent, or he will perish. This feeling William James
embodied in that theory of thought and of truth which he called
pragmatism. Intelligence, he thought, is no miraculous, idle faculty,
by which we mirror passively any or everything that happens to be
true, reduplicating the real world to no purpose. Intelligence has its
roots and its issue in the context of events; it is one kind of
practical adjustment, an experimental act, a form of vital tension. It
does not essentially serve to picture other parts of reality, but to
connect them. This view was not worked out by William James in its
psychological and historical details; unfortunately he developed it
chiefly in controversy against its opposite, which he called
intellectualism, and which he hated with all the hatred of which his
kind heart was capable. Intellectualism, as he conceived it, was pure
pedantry; it impoverished and verbalised everything, and tied up
nature in red tape. Ideas and rules that may have been occasionally
useful it put in the place of the full-blooded irrational movement of
life which had called them into being; and these abstractions, so soon
obsolete, it strove to fix and to worship for ever. Thus all creeds
and theories and all formal precepts sink in the estimation of the
pragmatist to a local and temporary grammar of action; a grammar that
must be changed slowly by time, and may be changed quickly by genius.
To know things as a whole, or as they are eternally, if there is
anything eternal in them, is not only beyond our powers, but would
prove worthless, and perhaps even fatal to our lives. Ideas are not
mirrors, they are weapons; their function is to prepare us to meet
events, as future experience may unroll them. Those ideas that
disappoint us are false ideas; those to which events are true are true
themselves.

This may seem a very utilitarian view of the mind; and I confess I
think it a partial one, since the logical force of beliefs and ideas,
their truth or falsehood as assertions, has been overlooked
altogether, or confused with the vital force of the material processes
which these ideas express. It is an external view only, which marks
the place and conditions of the mind in nature, but neglects its
specific essence; as if a jewel were defined as a round hole in a
ring. Nevertheless, the more materialistic the pragmatist's theory of
the mind is, the more vitalistic his theory of nature will have to
become. If the intellect is a device produced in organic bodies to
expedite their processes, these organic bodies must have interests and
a chosen direction in their life; otherwise their life could not be
expedited, nor could anything be useful to it. In other words--and
this is a third point at which the philosophy of William James has
played havoc with the genteel tradition, while ostensibly defending
it--nature must be conceived anthropomorphically and in psychological
terms. Its purposes are not to be static harmonies, self-unfolding
destinies, the logic of spirit, the spirit of logic, or any other
formal method and abstract law; its purposes are to be concrete
endeavours, finite efforts of souls living in an environment which
they transform and by which they, too, are affected. A spirit, the
divine spirit as much as the human, as this new animism conceives it,
is a romantic adventurer. Its future is undetermined. Its scope, its
duration, and the quality of its life are all contingent. This spirit
grows; it buds and sends forth feelers, sounding the depths around for
such other centres of force or life as may exist there. It has a vital
momentum, but no predetermined goal. It uses its past as a
stepping-stone, or rather as a diving-board, but has an absolutely
fresh will at each moment to plunge this way or that into the unknown.
The universe is an experiment; it is unfinished. It has no ultimate or
total nature, because it has no end. It embodies no formula or
statable law; any formula is at best a poor abstraction, describing
what, in some region and for some time, may be the most striking
characteristic of existence; the law is a description _a posteriori_
of the habit things have chosen to acquire, and which they may
possibly throw off altogether. What a day may bring forth is
uncertain; uncertain even to God. Omniscience is impossible; time is
real; what had been omniscience hitherto might discover something more
to-day. "There shall be news," William James was fond of saying with
rapture, quoting from the unpublished poem of an obscure friend,
"there shall be news in heaven!" There is almost certainly, he
thought, a God now; there may be several gods, who might exist
together, or one after the other. We might, by our conspiring
sympathies, help to make a new one. Much in us is doubtless immortal;
we survive death for some time in a recognisable form; but what our
career and transformations may be in the sequel we cannot tell,
although we may help to determine them by our daily choices.
Observation must be continual if our ideas are to remain true. Eternal
vigilance is the price of knowledge; perpetual hazard, perpetual
experiment keep quick the edge of life.

This is, so far as I know, a new philosophical vista; it is a
conception never before presented, although implied, perhaps, in
various quarters, as in Norse and even Greek mythology. It is a vision
radically empirical and radically romantic; and as William James
himself used to say, the visions and not the arguments of a
philosopher are the interesting and influential things about him.
William James, rather too generously, attributed this vision to M.
Bergson, and regarded him in consequence as a philosopher of the first
rank, whose thought was to be one of the turning-points in history. M.
Bergson had killed intellectualism. It was his book on creative
evolution, said James with humorous emphasis, that had come at last to
"_ecraser l'infame_." We may suspect, notwithstanding, that
intellectualism, infamous and crushed, will survive the blow; and if
the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes were now alive, and heard that
there shall be news in heaven, he would doubtless say that there may
possibly be news there, but that under the sun there is nothing
new--not even radical empiricism or radical romanticism, which from
the beginning of the world has been the philosophy of those who as yet
had had little experience; for to the blinking little child it is not
merely something in the world that is new daily, but everything is new
all day. I am not concerned with the rights and wrongs of that
controversy; my point is only that William James, in this genial
evolutionary view of the world, has given a rude shock to the genteel
tradition. What! The world a gradual improvisation? Creation
unpremeditated? God a sort of young poet or struggling artist? William
James is an advocate of theism; pragmatism adds one to the evidences
of religion; that is excellent. But is not the cool abstract piety of
the genteel getting more than it asks for? This empirical naturalistic
God is too crude and positive a force; he will work miracles, he will
answer prayers, he may inhabit distinct places, and have distinct
conditions under which alone he can operate; he is a neighbouring
being, whom we can act upon, and rely upon for specific aids, as upon
a personal friend, or a physician, or an insurance company. How
disconcerting! Is not this new theology a little like superstition?
And yet how interesting, how exciting, if it should happen to be true!
I am far from wishing to suggest that such a view seems to me more
probable than conventional idealism or than Christian orthodoxy. All
three are in the region of dramatic system-making and myth to which
probabilities are irrelevant. If one man says the moon is sister to
the sun, and another that she is his daughter, the question is not
which notion is more probable, but whether either of them is at all
expressive. The so-called evidences are devised afterwards, when faith
and imagination have prejudged the issue. The force of William James's
new theology, or romantic cosmology, lies only in this: that it has
broken the spell of the genteel tradition, and enticed faith in a new
direction, which on second thoughts may prove no less alluring than
the old. The important fact is not that the new fancy might possibly
be true--who shall know that?--but that it has entered the heart of a
leading American to conceive and to cherish it. The genteel tradition
cannot be dislodged by these insurrections; there are circles to which
it is still congenial, and where it will be preserved. But it has been
challenged and (what is perhaps more insidious) it has been
discovered. No one need be browbeaten any longer into accepting it. No
one need be afraid, for instance, that his fate is sealed because some
young prig may call him a dualist; the pint would call the quart a
dualist, if you tried to pour the quart into him. We need not be
afraid of being less profound, for being direct and sincere. The
intellectual world may be traversed in many directions; the whole has
not been surveyed; there is a great career in it open to talent. That
is a sort of knell, that tolls the passing of the genteel tradition.
Something else is now in the field; something else can appeal to the
imagination, and be a thousand times more idealistic than academic
idealism, which is often simply a way of white-washing and adoring
things as they are. The illegitimate monopoly which the genteel
tradition had established over what ought to be assumed and what ought
to be hoped for has been broken down by the first-born of the family,
by the genius of the race. Henceforth there can hardly be the same
peace and the same pleasure in hugging the old proprieties. Hegel will
be to the next generation what Sir William Hamilton was to the last.
Nothing will have been disproved, but everything will have been
abandoned. An honest man has spoken, and the cant of the genteel
tradition has become harder for young lips to repeat.

With this I have finished such a sketch as I am here able to offer you
of the genteel tradition in American philosophy. The subject is
complex, and calls for many an excursus and qualifying footnote; yet I
think the main outlines are clear enough. The chief fountains of this
tradition were Calvinism and transcendentalism. Both were living
fountains; but to keep them alive they required, one an agonised
conscience, and the other a radical subjective criticism of knowledge.
When these rare metaphysical preoccupations disappeared--and the
American atmosphere is not favourable to either of them--the two
systems ceased to be inwardly understood; they subsisted as sacred
mysteries only; and the combination of the two in some transcendental
system of the universe (a contradiction in principle) was doubly
artificial. Besides, it could hardly be held with a single mind.
Natural science, history, the beliefs implied in labour and invention,
could not be disregarded altogether; so that the transcendental
philosopher was condemned to a double allegiance, and to not letting
his left hand know the bluff that his right hand was making.
Nevertheless, the difficulty in bringing practical inarticulate
convictions to expression is very great, and the genteel tradition has
subsisted in the academic mind for want of anything equally academic
to take its place.

The academic mind, however, has had its flanks turned. On the one side
came the revolt of the Bohemian temperament, with its poetry of crude
naturalism; on the other side came an impassioned empiricism,
welcoming popular religious witnesses to the unseen, reducing science
to an instrument of success in action, and declaring the universe to
be wild and young, and not to be harnessed by the logic of any school.

This revolution, I should think, might well find an echo among you,
who live in a thriving society, and in the presence of a virgin and
prodigious world. When you transform nature to your uses, when you
experiment with her forces, and reduce them to industrial agents, you
cannot feel that nature was made by you or for you, for then these
adjustments would have been pre-established. Much less can you feel it
when she destroys your labour of years in a momentary spasm. You must
feel, rather, that you are an offshoot of her life; one brave little
force among her immense forces. When you escape, as you love to do, to
your forests and your sierras, I am sure again that you do not feel
you made them, or that they were made for you. They have grown, as you
have grown, only more massively and more slowly. In their non-human
beauty and peace they stir the sub-human depths and the superhuman
possibilities of your own spirit. It is no transcendental logic that
they teach; and they give no sign of any deliberate morality seated in
the world. It is rather the vanity and superficiality of all logic,
the needlessness of argument, the relativity of morals, the strength
of time, the fertility of matter, the variety, the unspeakable
variety, of possible life. Everything is measurable and conditioned,
indefinitely repeated, yet, in repetition, twisted somewhat from its
old form. Everywhere is beauty and nowhere permanence, everywhere an
incipient harmony, nowhere an intention, nor a responsibility, nor a
plan. It is the irresistible suasion of this daily spectacle, it is
the daily discipline of contact with things, so different from the
verbal discipline of the schools, that will, I trust, inspire the
philosophy of your children. A Californian whom I had recently the
pleasure of meeting observed that, if the philosophers had lived among
your mountains their systems would have been different from what they
are. Certainly, I should say, very different from what those systems
are which the European genteel tradition has handed down since
Socrates; for these systems are egotistical; directly or indirectly
they are anthropocentric, and inspired by the conceited notion that
man, or human reason, or the human distinction between good and evil,
is the centre and pivot of the universe. That is what the mountains
and the woods should make you at last ashamed to assert. From what,
indeed, does the society of nature liberate you, that you find it so
sweet? It is hardly (is it?) that you wish to forget your past, or
your friends, or that you have any secret contempt for your present
ambitions. You respect these, you respect them perhaps too much; you
are not suffered by the genteel tradition to criticise or to reform
them at all radically. No; it is the yoke of this genteel tradition
itself that these primeval solitudes lift from your shoulders. They
suspend your forced sense of your own importance not merely as
individuals, but even as men. They allow you, in one happy moment, at
once to play and to worship, to take yourselves simply, humbly, for
what you are, and to salute the wild, indifferent, non-censorious
infinity of nature. You are admonished that what you can do avails
little materially, and in the end nothing. At the same time, through
wonder and pleasure, you are taught speculation. You learn what you
are really fitted to do, and where lie your natural dignity and joy,
namely, in representing many things, without being them, and in
letting your imagination, through sympathy, celebrate and echo their
life. Because the peculiarity of man is that his machinery for
reaction on external things has involved an imaginative transcript of
these things, which is preserved and suspended in his fancy; and the
interest and beauty of this inward landscape, rather than any fortunes
that may await his body in the outer world, constitute his proper
happiness. By their mind, its scope, quality, and temper, we estimate
men, for by the mind only do we exist as men, and are more than so
many storage-batteries for material energy. Let us therefore be
frankly human. Let us be content to live in the mind.

       *       *       *       *       *






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