heaven thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. And yet in Homer as in Shakespeare the worship of Nature holds but a subordinate place. To these great brains the folds of many-fountained Ida, the waste of hoary brine, the moonlight sleeping on the bank, the morn walking over the dew of some high eastern hill—these are but the frame wherein are set their pictures of men, and women, and societies ; of passions, sufferings, character; of hope, despair, love, devotion.

Poetry, taken as a whole, presents us with an image of man, not of Nature; the drama of real life, not a dream of the Universe. And if the starry night is beautiful, it may be nothing to the smile of a child. One speech of Prometheus, or of Hamlet, or Faust, teaches us more than ten thousand sunsets.

And this poetic idealisation of Nature is a choice of certain facts for the sake of their beauty and their majesty. It deliberately excludes myriads of other facts that are not beautiful, and yet are very real and act potently on us. Deep is our debt to the magicians who have shown us how to see the world radiant and harmonious. It is an ideal, infinitely precious and invigorating. But it is not the real truth, or rather not the whole truth, far from it. The world is not all radiant and harmonious; it is often savage and chaotic. In thought we can see only the bright, but in hard fact we are brought face to face with the dark side. Waste, ruin, conflict, rot, are about us everywhere. If tornadoes, earthquakes, glacier epochs, are not very frequent, there is everywhere decay, dissolution, waste, every hour and in every pore of the vast Cosmos. See Nature at its richest on the slopes of some Andes or Himalayas where a first glance shows us one vision of delight and peace. We gaze more steadily, we see how animal, and vegetable, and inorganic life are at war, tearing each the other: every leaf holds its destructive insect, every tree is a scene of torture, combat, death ; everything preys on everything ; animals, storms, suns, and snows waste the flower and the herb; climate tortures to death the living world, and the inanimate world is wasted by the animate, or by its own pent-up forces. We need as little think this earth all beauty as think it all horror. It is made up of loveliness and ghastliness; of harmony and chaos; of agony, joy, life, death. The nature-worshippers are blind and deaf to the waste and the shrieks which meet the seeker after truth.

And if beauty and harmony are ascendant in these spots of earth which we fill, are they in the South Pole and the North Pole and the depths of the Atlantic and Pacific; or in the extreme icy heavens and in the fiery whirlwinds of the Sun, and in those regions of Space where they tell us Suns explode and disappear, annibilating whole solar systems at once? The Moon of the poets is an image of peace and tenderness; but the Moon of science makes the imagination faint with the sense of a lifeless, motionless, voiceless,


sightless solitude. What a mass is there in Nature that is appalling, almost maddening to man, if we coolly resolve to look at all the facts, as facts!

Nay, has this wandering speck of dust, that we call ours, one of the motes that people the sun systems, has it always been beautiful ? Parts of it now are. But in the infinite ages of geologic time, even in the vast glacier epochs, and the drift, and the like, or when this island lay drenched in a monotonous ooze—was beauty, or what man thinks beauty, the rule then? The flowers, the forests, the plantations, the meadows, the uplands waving with corn and poppies, are the work of man. The earth was a grisly wilderness till man appeared; and it had but patches of beauty here and there, until after man had conquered it.

Man made the country as much as he made the town; the one out of organic, the other out of inorganic materials.

And what is beauty, and harmony, and majesty in Nature ? Nothing but what Man sees in it and feels in it. It is beautiful to us; it has a relation to our lives and our nature. Absolutely, it may be a wilderness or a chaos. The poets indeed are the true authors of the beauty and order of Nature ; for they see it by the eye of genius. And they only see it. Coldly, literally examined, beauty and horror, order and disorder seem to wage an equal and eternal war. Morally, intellectually, truly, Man stands face to face with Nature—not her inferior, not her equal, but her superior, like the poet's last man confronting the Sun in death. The laws of Nature are the ideas whereby Man has arranged the phenomena offered to his senses; the beauty of Nature is the joy whereby he grasps the relations of his environment to his own being. When we think we worship Nature, we are really worshipping Homer and Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Shelley, Byron and Scott. As Comte said in a bold but not irreverent moment—the Heavens declare the glory of Galileo and Kepler and Newton; for the ceaseless spectacle of mysterious movement they present recalls to us the minds which first saw unity and law therein.

There is, as we say, another and a far deeper spirit of Pantheism, more subtle and more philosophical than any Nature worship, than this love of the beauty and life in the world. It has forms infinite, that cannot be numbered : the sense of immensity in the sum of things—not-ourselves : the sense of stupendous Order around us, of convoluted Life around us, or of Force around us : or it may be a trust that things are tending towards good around us: intoxication with the fumes of Godhead reduced to vapour which marked the metapbysical Pantheism of Spinoza. There are some whose faith is sustained on even more ethereal food ; who idealise the Universe as such, the Good, the Beautiful, the True.

What are all these, if we take them to be quite independent of God, and yet outside of and sovereign over Man? I know what is meant by the Power and Goodness of an Almighty Creator; I know


or that

[ocr errors]

what is meant by the genius, and patience, and sympathy of Man. But what is the All, or the Good, or the True, or the Beautiful ? What is the Anima Mundi, if it is neither God nor Man, neither animate nor inanimate, but both or neither? And what is the Eternal that makes for righteousness, if only Philistines can take it to be Providence? If God and Universe are identical expressions, we had better drop one or other. If the Universal Mind' is nothing so grossly anthropomorphic as the old idea of God, but really is the cause of all things and is indeed all things, if being and not being are identical and the identity of being consists in its being the union of two contradictories, let us, in the name of sense, get rid of these big vague words, and having got rid of God as a term of a narrow dogmatism, and Mind and Soul, as a verbal spiritualism, let us say simply Things, and have the courage of our opinions, and boldly profess as our creed · I believe in nothing except in Things in general.'

For, what this metaphysical Pantheism gains in breadth and philosophic subtlety over the mere poet's worship of Nature, it loses in distinctness, even in meaning, till it becomes a phrase, with as little reality in it as the Supreme of the latest school of unutterables. The . All' is a very big thing, but why am I to fall down before it ? The Good is very precious, but good for what, to whom? Cobras and mosquitoes are good at biting; volcanoes are good to look at from a safe distance; and bloody battle-fields are good for the worms underground. The · All' is not good nor beautiful; it is full of horror and ruin. And Truth is simply any positive statement about the “ All.' When people decline to be bound by the cords of a formal Theology, and proclaim their devotion to these facile abstractions, they are really escaping in a cloud of words from giving their trust to anything; for Things in general as understood by myself' is a roundabout phrase for that good old rule, the simple plan viz. :

—what I like. There lies this original blot on every form of philosophic Pantheism when tried as a basis of Religion, or as the root idea of our lives, that it jumbles up the moral, the immoral, the non-human and the anti-human world : the animated, and the inanimate; cruelty, filth, horror, waste, death; virtue and vice ; suffering and victory; sympathy and insensibility. The dualism between moral being and material being is as old as the conscience of man. It is impossible to efface the antagonism between them ; their disparate

; nature is a consequence of the laws of thought and the fibres of the brain and the heart. No force can amalgamate in one idea tornadoes, earthquakes, interstellar space, pestilences, brotherly love, unselfish energy, patience, hope, lust, and greed. No single conception at all can ever issue out of such a medley; and any idea that is wide enougb to relate to the whole must be a mere film of an idea, and one as little in contact with the workings of the heart or the needs of society as the undulatory theory of Light or the Music of the Spheres. Vol. X.–No. 54.



Try any one of these sublimities in any of the crises of life in which men and women in old days used to turn for help to what used to be called Religion. A human heart is wrung with pain, despair, remorse ; a parent watches the child of his old age sinking into vice and crime; a thinker, an inventor, a worker breaks down with toil, and unrequited hope, and sees the labour of a life ending in failure and penury; a widow is crushed by the loss of her husband and the destitution of their children ; the poor see their lives ground out of them by oppressors, without mercy, justice, or hope. Go then, with the Gospel of Pantheism, to the fatherless and the widow, and console them by talking of sunsets, or the universal order; tell the heartbroken about the permutations of energy; ask the rich tyrant to remember the sum of all things and to listen to the teaching of the Anima Mundi; explain to the debauchee, and the glutton, and the cheat, the Divine essence permeating all things and causing all things -including his particular vice, his passions, his tastes, his greed and his lust. And when social passions rage their blackest, and the demon of anarchy is goashing its fangs at the demon of despotic cruelty, step forward with the religion of sweetness and light and try if self-culture so exquisitely sung by Goethe and his followers will not heal the social delirium.

We know what a mockery this would be. It would be like offering roses to a famished tiger, or the playing a sonata to a man in a fever. To soften grief, to rouse despair, to curb passion, to purify manners, to allay strife, to form man and society, everything is vain but that which strikes on the heart and the brain of man, stirring the soul with a trumpet tone of command, sympathy, exhortation, and warning. Men on a battle-field may be reached by the ringing voice of their leader; but Madonnas by Raffaelle or sonnets by Shakespeare are not likely to touch them; and a man aflame with greed or revenge is as deaf as a crocodile to the general fitness of things. In agony, struggle, rage of passion, and interest, the suffering look of a child, the sympathetic voice of a friend, the remonstrance of a teacher, the loving touch of a wife is stronger than the Force of the solar system, more beautiful and soothing than a sunset on the pinnacles of Apennines or Alps.

We all know how uncertain is the effect even of the most powerful human sympathy; but nothing has a chance of effect in the terrible crises but that which speaks to human feeling and is akin to the human heart. The Universal Good, the Beauty of Nature, Force, or Harmony are abstractions, ideas, possible in the more thoughtful natures, at the sweeter and calmer moments of life, but lifeless phrases to the mass in the fiercer hours of life, out of all relation with action, and effort, work, and the play of passion. A Power which is to comfort us, control us, unite us—and a Power that is to have any religious effect on us must comfort, control, unite-must be a power


that we conceive as akin to our human souls, a moral power, not a physical power; a sympathetic, acting, living power, not a group of phenomena, or a law of matter. The Theisms in all their forms had this human quality; the gods of the Greeks and the Romans were the glorified beings residing in things; the God of Paul and Mabomet, Augustine and Calvin, was the living Maker of all things and ruler of all things. He was always a person, and a being more or less close to the human heart and the human will. And so every form of faith in which morality, or humanity, or the progress of mankind, or the spirit of civilisation, or anything human, moral, sympathetic, stands for the highest object and ideal of life--all of these speak to man as man in a like moral, social, or emotional atmosphere.

We know how imperfectly even these act, bow little men and women are affected by the love of an all-perfect Creator, and the agony of atonement, by a mediating God, or by the Judgment Day, by the hopes of Heaven and the terrors of Hell, when once they have begun to doubt the authenticity of these promises and these warnings, or to find them out of place in the busy work of earth. Where the wrath of God and the love of Christ, and the Passion and Fall and Redemption have ceased to control, and soothe, and unite, it is an affectation to pretend that the pleasure in the world's beauty, or the mystery of existence can take the vacant place. Here and there are found natures of a meditative cast, and of native refinement of spirit, in whom these ideals and subtleties supply real moral and mental food. But for the mass the result is impossible, and can only deepen the anarchy and stimulate the passion and the selfishness. These sublimities of the universe are in essence vague; and what is vague lends itself easily to what is vicious and self-seeking. The energies and passions of men are of force infinitely more massive and keen than are their tastes, their reveries, and their meditations. The deepest of the moral impressions is often not enough to anchor the soul tossed and buffeted in a storm of passion. The mere analogies of the intellect would prove as feeble as packthread. .. Let us ask ourselves what the thing is that has to be done; who the people are that have to be changed; what is the change that has to be wrought before Religion can be said to be doing its work. Religion is not a thing for the halting places and the resting hours of life, for a quiet Sunday afternoon, for the moments of contentment and gentle repose in thought. The strain of religion comes like that of the pilot in a gale, or the captain on the battle-field, of the heroic spirit in agony, doubt, temptation, loneliness. Where pain is, and cruelty is, and struggle is; where the flesh is tempted, and the brain reels with ambition; where human justice, and tenderness, and purity are outraged; where rich and poor hate and war; where nations trample on the weak; where classes rage after gain; where folly, and self-indulgence, and gross appetites for base things, and base aims

« VorigeDoorgaan »