J. EDWARD MERCER, D.D., OXON. BISHOP OF TASMANIA
LONDON GEORGE ALLEN & COMPANY, Ltd. 44 & 45 RATHBONE PLACE
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The aims of this study of Nature Mysticism, and the methods adopted for attaining them, are sufficiently described in the introductory chapter. It may be said, by way of special preface, that the nature mystic here portrayed is essentially a "modern." He is assumed to have accepted the fundamentals of the hypothesis of evolution. Accordingly, his sympathy with the past is profound: so also is his sense of the reality and continuity of human development, physical, psychic, and mystical. Moreover, he tries to be abreast of the latest critical and scientific conclusions. Imperfections manifold will be discovered in the pages that follow; but the author asks that a percentage of them may be attributed to the difficulties of writing in Tasmania and publishing at the antipodes.
J. E. M.
Bishop's Court, Hobart, March, 1912.
Chapter I. Introductory 1 Chapter II. Nature, and the Absolute 7 Chapter III. Mystic Intuition and Reason 15 Chapter IV. Man and Nature 23 Chapter V. Mystic Receptivity 30 Chapter VI. Development and Discipline of Intuition 38 Chapter VII. Nature not Symbolic 45 Chapter VIII. The Charge of Anthropomorphism 54 Chapter IX. The Immanent Idea 65 Chapter X. Animism, Ancient and Modern 71 Chapter XI. Will and Consciousness in Nature 79 Chapter XII. Mythology 90 Chapter XIII. Poetry and Nature Mysticism 97 Chapter XIV. The Beautiful and the Ugly 106 Chapter XV. Nature Mysticism and the Race 117 Chapter XVI. Thales 123 Chapter XVII. The Waters under the Earth 129 Chapter XVIII. Springs and Wells 138 Chapter XIX. Brooks and Streams 145 Chapter XX. Rivers and Life 151 Chapter XXI. Rivers and Death 158 Chapter XXII. The Ocean 165 Chapter XXIII. Waves 172 Chapter XXIV. Still Waters 179 Chapter XXV. Anaximenes and the Air 187 Chapter XXVI. Winds and Clouds 192 Chapter XXVII. Heracleitus and the Cosmic Fire 203 Chapter XXVIII. Fire and the Sun 211 Chapter XXIX. Light and Darkness 222 Chapter XXX. The Expanse of Heaven—Colour 228 Chapter XXXI. The Moon—A Special Problem 235 Chapter XXXII. Earth, Mountains, and Plains 242 Chapter XXXIII. Seasons, Vegetation, Animals 248 Chapter XXXIV. Pragmatic 257
A wave of Mysticism is passing over the civilised nations. It is welcomed by many: by more it is mistrusted. Even the minds to which it would naturally appeal are often restrained from sympathy by fears of vague speculative driftings and of transcendental emotionalism. Nor can it be doubted that such an attitude of aloofness is at once reasonable and inevitable. For a systematic exaltation of formless ecstasies, at the expense of sense and intellect, has a tendency to become an infirmity if it does not always betoken loss of mental balance. In order, therefore, to disarm natural prejudice, let an opening chapter be devoted to general exposition of aims and principles.
The subject is Nature Mysticism. The phenomena of "nature" are to be studied in their mystical aspects. The wide term Mysticism is used because, in spite of many misleading associations, it is hard to replace. "Love of nature" is too general: "cosmic emotion" is too specialised. But let it at once be understood that the Mysticism here contemplated is neither of the popular nor of the esoteric sort. In other words, it is not loosely synonymous with the magical or supernatural; nor is it a name for peculiar forms of ecstatic experience which claim to break away from the spheres of the senses and the intellect. It will simply be taken to cover the causes and the effects involved in that wide range of intuitions and emotions which nature stimulates without definite appeal to conscious reasoning processes. Mystic intuition and mystic emotion will thus be regarded, not as antagonistic to sense impression, but as dependent on it—not as scornful of reason, but merely as more basic and primitive.
Science describes nature, but it cannot feel nature; still less can it account for that sense of kinship with nature which is so characteristic of many of the foremost thinkers of the day. For life is more and more declaring itself to be something fuller than a blind play of physical forces, however complex and sublimated their interactions. It reveals a ceaseless striving—an elan vital (as Bergson calls it) to expand and enrich the forms of experience—a reaching forward to fuller beauty and more perfect order.
A certain amount of metaphysical discussion will be necessary; but it will be reduced to the minimum compatible with coherency. Fortunately, Nature Mysticism can be at home with diverse world-views. There is, however, one exception—the world-view which is based on the concept of an Unconditioned Absolute. This will be unhesitatingly rejected as subversive of any genuine "communion" with nature. So also Symbolism will be repudiated on the ground that it furnishes a quite inadequate account of the relation of natural phenomena to the human mind. The only metaphysical theory adopted, as a generalised working basis, is that known as Ideal-Realism. It assumes three spheres of existence—that which in a peculiar sense is within the individual mind: that which in a peculiar sense is without (external to) the individual mind: and that in which these two are fused or come into living contact. It will be maintained, as a thesis fundamental to Nature Mysticism, that the world of external objects must be essentially of the same essence as the perceiving minds. The bearing of these condensed statements will become plain as the phenomena of nature are passed in review. Of formal theology there will be none.
The more certain conclusions of modern science, including the broader generalisations of the hypothesis of evolution, will be assumed. Lowell, in one of his sonnets, says:
"I grieve not that ripe knowledge takes away The charm that nature to my childhood wore For, with that insight cometh, day by day, A greater bliss than wonder was before: The real doth not clip the poet's wings; To win the secret of a weed's plain heart Reveals some clue to spiritual things, And stumbling guess becomes firm-rooted art."
Admirable—as far as it goes! But the modern nature-mystic cannot rest content with the last line. The aim of nature-insight is not art, however firm-rooted; for art is, so to speak, a secondary product, a reflection. The goal of the nature-mystic is actual living communion with the Real, in and through its sensuous manifestations.
Nature Mysticism, as thus conceived, does not seek to glorify itself above other modes of experience and psychic activity. The partisanship of the theological or of the transcendental type is here condemned. Nor will there be an appeal to any ecstatic faculty which can only be the vaunted appanage of the few. The appeal will lie to faculties which are shared in some degree by all normal human beings, though they are too often neglected, if not disparaged. Rightly developed, the capacity for entering into communion with nature is not only a source of the purest pleasure, but a subtle and powerful agent in aiding men to realise some of the noblest potentialities of their being.
When treating of specific natural phenomena, the exposition demands proof and illustration. In certain chapters, therefore, quotations from the prose and poetry of those ancients and moderns who, avowedly or unavowedly, rank as nature-mystics, are freely introduced. These extracts form an integral part of the study, because they afford direct evidence of the reality, and of the continuity, of the mystical faculty as above defined.
The usual method of procedure will be to trace the influence of certain selected natural phenomena on the human mind, first in the animistic stage, then in the mythological stage, and lastly in the present, with a view to showing that there has been a genuine and living development of deep-seated nature intuitions. But this method will not be too strictly followed. Special subjects will meet with special treatment, and needless repetition will be carefully avoided. The various chapters, as far as may be, will not only present new themes, but will approach the subject at different angles.
It is obvious that severe limitations must be imposed in the selection from so vast a mass of material. Accordingly, the phenomena of Water, Air, and Fire have received the fullest attention—the first of the triad getting the lion's share; but other marked features of the physical universe have not been altogether passed by. The realm of organic life—vegetable and animal—does not properly fall within the limits of this study. For where organised life reveals itself, men find it less difficult to realise their kinship with existences other than human. The curious, and still obscure, history of totemism supplies abundant evidence on this point; and not less so that modern sympathy with all living things, which is largely based on what may be termed the new totemism of the Darwinian theory. But while attention will thus be focussed on the sphere of the inorganic, seemingly so remote from human modes of experience, some attempt will nevertheless be made to suggest the inner harmonies which link together all modes of existence. A further limitation to be noted is that "nature" will be taken to cover only such natural objects as remain in what is generally called their "natural" condition—that is, which are independent of, and unaffected by, human activities.
Let Goethe, in his Faust hymn, tell what is the heart and essence of Nature Mysticism as here to be expounded and defended.
"Rears not the heaven its arch above? Doth not the firm-set earth beneath us lie? And with the tender gaze of love Climb not the everlasting stars on high? Do I not gaze upon thee, eye to eye? And all the world of sight and sense and sound, Bears it not in upon thy heart and brain, And mystically weave around Thy being influences that never wane?"
NATURE, AND THE ABSOLUTE
As just stated, metaphysics and theology are to be avoided. But since Mysticism is generally associated with belief in an Unconditioned Absolute, and since such an Absolute is fatal to the claims of any genuine Nature Mysticism, a preliminary flying incursion into the perilous regions must be ventured.
Mysticism in its larger sense is admittedly difficult to define. It connotes a vast group of special experiences and speculations which deal with material supposed to be beyond the reach of sense and reason. It carries us back to the strangely illusive "mysteries" of the Greeks, but is more definitely used in connection with the most characteristic subtleties of the wizard East, and with certain developments of the Platonic philosophy. Extended exposition is not required. Suffice it to state what may fairly be regarded as the three fundamental principles, or doctrines, on which mystics of the orthodox schools generally depend. These principles will be subjected to a free but friendly criticism: considerable modifications will be suggested, and the way thus prepared for the study of Nature Mysticism properly so-called.
The three principles alluded to are the following. First, the true mystic is one possessed by a desire to have communion with the ultimately Real. Second, the ultimately Real is to be regarded as a supersensuous, super-rational, and unconditional Absolute— the mystic One. Third, the direct communion for which the mystic yearns—the unio mystica—cannot be attained save by passive contemplation, resulting in vision, insight, or ecstasy.
With a view to giving a definite and concrete turn to the critical examination of these three fundamentals, let us take a passage from a recently published booklet. The author tells how that on a certain sunny afternoon he flung himself down on the bank of a brimming mill-stream. The weir was smoothly flowing: the mill-wheel still. He meditates on the scene and concludes thus: "Perhaps we are never so receptive as when with folded hands we say simply, 'This is a great mystery.' I watched and wondered until Jem called, and I had to leave the rippling weir and the water's side, and the wheel with its untold secret."
There are certain forms, or modes, of experience here presented which are at least mystical in their tendency—the sense of a deeper reality than that which can be grasped by conscious reason—a desire to penetrate a secret that will not yield itself to articulate thought and which nevertheless leaves a definite impress on the mind. There is also a recognition of the passive attitude which the ordinary mystic doctrine avers to be essential to vision. Will these features warrant our regarding the experiences as genuinely mystical?
The answer to this question brings into bold relief a vital difference between orthodox mystics and those here called nature-mystics, and raises the issue on which the very existence of a valid Nature Mysticism must depend. The stricter schools would unhesitatingly refuse to accord to such experiences the right to rank with those which result in true insight. Why? Because they obviously rest on sense impressions. An English mystic, for example, states in a recent article that Mysticism is always and necessarily extra-phenomenal, and that the man who tries to elucidate the visible by means of the invisible is no true mystic; still less, of course, the man who tries to elucidate the invisible by means of the visible. The true mystic, he says, fixes his eyes on eternity and the infinite; he loses himself when he becomes entangled in the things of time, that is, in the phenomenal. Still more explicit is the statement of a famous modern Yogi. "This world is a delusive charm of the great magician called Maya. . . . Maya has imagined infinite illusions called the different things in the universe. . . . The minds which have not attained to the Highest, and are a prey to natural beauties in the stage of Maya, will continually have to turn into various forms, from one to another, because nothing in the stage of Maya is stable." Nor would the Christian mystics allow of any intermediaries between the soul and God; they most of them held that the soul must rise above the things of sense, mount into another sphere, and be "alone with the Alone."
What, then, is the concept of the ultimately Real which these stricter mystics have evolved and are prepared to defend? It is that of pure and unconditioned Being—the One—the Absolute. By a ruthless process of abstraction they have abjured the world of sense to vow allegiance to a mode of being of which nothing can be said without denying it. For even to allow a shadow of finiteness in the Absolute is to negate it; to define it is to annihilate it! It swallows up all conditions and relations without becoming any more knowable; it embraces everything and remains a pure negation. It lies totally and eternally beyond the reach of man's faculties and yet demands his perfect and unreasoning surrender. A concept, this, born of the brains of logical Don Quixotes.
And it is for such a monstrous abstraction we are asked to give up the full rich world of sense, with all it means to us. It is surely not an intellectual weakness to say: "Tell us what you will of existence above and beyond that which is known to us; but do not deny some measure of ultimate Reality to that which falls within our ken. Leave us not alone with the Absolute of the orthodox mystic, or we perish of inanity! Clearly the elan vital—the will to live—gives us a more hopeful starting-point in our search for the Real. Clearly the inexhaustible variety of the universe of sense need not be dubbed an illusion to save the consistency of a logic which has not yet succeeded in grasping its own first principles. No, the rippling weir and the mill-wheel were real in their own degree, and the intuitions and emotions they prompted were the outcome of a contact between the inner and the outer—a unio mystica—a communion between the soul of a man and the soul in the things he saw.
"But" (says the orthodox mystic) "there is a special form of craving—the craving for the Infinite. Man cannot find rest save in communion with a supreme Reality free from all imperfections and limitations; and such a Reality can be found in nothing less than the Unconditioned Absolute." Now we may grant the existence and even the legitimacy of the craving thus emphatically asserted while questioning the form which it is made to assume. The man gazing at the mill-wheel longed to know its secret. Suppose he had succeeded! We think of Tennyson's "little flower in the crannied wall." We think of Blake's lines:
"To see the world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour."
Is it really necessary to forsake the finite to reach the infinite— whatever that term may be taken to mean? Do we not often better realise the infinity of the sky by looking at it through the twigs of a tree?
For the craving itself, in its old mystic form, we can have nothing but sympathy. Some of its expressions are wonderfully touching, but their pathos must not blind us to the maimed character of the world-view on which they rest. Grant that the sphere of sense is limited and therefore imperfect, let it at any rate be valid up to the limit it does actually attain. The rippling weir and the mill-wheel did produce some sort of effect upon the beholder, and therefore must have been to that extent real. What do we gain by flinging away the chance to learn, even though the gain be small? And if, as the nature-mystic claims, the gain be great, the folly is proportionately intensified.
Coleridge is quoted as an exponent of the feeling of the stricter mystics.
"It were a vain endeavour, Though I should gaze for ever On the green light that lingers in the West; I may not hope from outward forms to win The passion and the life whose fountains are within."
This, however, is too gentle and hesitating, too tinged with love of nature, to convey the fierce conviction of the consistent devotee of the Absolute, of the defecated transparency of pure Being. If, as is urged by Recejac, we find among some of the stricter mystics a very deep and naive feeling for nature, such feeling can only be a sign of inconsistency, a yielding to the solicitations of the lower nature. Granted their premisses, the world of sense can teach nothing. It is well to face this issue squarely—let the mystic choose, either the Absolute and Maya, or a Ground of existence which can allow value to nature, and which therefore admits of limitations. Or, if there is to be a compromise, let it be on the lines laid down by Spinoza and Schelling. That is to say, let the name God be reserved for the phenomenal aspect of the Absolute. But the nature-mystic will be wise if he discards compromise, and once for all repudiates the Unconditioned Absolute. His reason can then chime in with his intuitions and his deepest emotions. He loses nothing; he gains intellectual peace and natural joy.
The never-ceasing influence of the genuine Real is bound to declare itself sooner or later. Buddhism itself is yielding, as witness this striking pronouncement of the Buddhist Lord Abbot, Soyen Shaku. "Buddhism does not, though sometimes understood by Western people to do so, advocate the doctrine of emptiness or annihilation. It most assuredly recognises the multi-tudinousness and reality of phenomena. This world as it is, is real, not void. This life, as we live it, is true, and not a dream. We Buddhists believe that all these particular things surrounding us come from one Ultimate Source, all-knowing and all-loving. The world is the manifestation of this Reason, or Spirit, or Life, whatever you may designate it. However diverse, therefore, things are, they all partake of the nature of the Ultimate Being. Not only sentient beings, but non-sentient, reflect the glory of the Original Reason."
Assuredly a comforting passage to set over against that of the Yogi quoted above! But is not the good Abbot a little hard on the Westerners? For the full truth is that while the Yogi represents the old Absolutism, the Abbot is feeling his way to a wider and more human world-view. Buddhism has evidently better days in store. Let our views of ultimate Reality be what they may, the nature-mystic's position demands not only that man may hold communion with nature, but that, in and through such communion, he is in living touch with the Ground of Existence.
MYSTIC INTUITION AND REASON
So much for the nature-mystic's relation to the concept of the Absolute. It would be interesting to discuss, from the same point of view, his relations to the rival doctrines of the monists, dualists, and pluralists. But to follow up these trails with any thoroughness would lead us too far into the thickets and quagmires of metaphysics. Fortunately the issues are not nearly so vital as in the case of the Absolute; and they may thus be passed by without serious risk of invalidating subsequent conclusions. It may be worth our while, however, to note that many modern mystics are not monists, and that the supposed inseparable connection between Mysticism and Monism is being thrown overboard. Even the older mystics, when wrestling with the problem of evil, were dualists in their own despite. Of the moderns, so representative a thinker as Lotze suggested that Reality may run up, not into one solitary peak, but into a mountain chain. Hoeffding contends that we have not yet gained the right to career rough-shod over the antinomies of existence. James, a typical modern mystic, was an avowed pluralist. Bergson emphasises the category of Becoming, and, if to be classed at all, is a dualist. Thus the nature-mystic is happy in the freedom to choose his own philosophy, so long as he avoids the toils of the Absolute. For, as James remarks, "oneness and manyness are absolutely co-ordinate. Neither is primordial or more excellent than the other."
It remains, then, to subject to criticism the third principle of Mysticism, that of intuitional insight as a mode of knowing independent of the reasoning faculties, at any rate in their conscious exercise. Its root idea is that of directness and immediacy; the word itself prepares us for some power of apprehending at a glance—a power which dispenses with all process and gains its end by a flash. A higher stage is known as vision; the highest is known as ecstasy. Intuition has its own place in general psychology, and has acquired peculiar significance in the domains of aesthetics, ethics, and theology; and the same root idea is preserved throughout—that of immediacy of insight. The characteristic of passivity on which certain mystics would insist is subsidiary—even if it is to be allowed at all. Its claims will be noted later.
Now Nature Mysticism is based on sense perception, and this in itself is a form of intuition. It is immediate, for the "matter" of sensation presents itself directly to the consciousness affected; it simply asserts itself. It is independent of the conscious exercise of the reasoning powers. It does not even permit of the distinction between subject and object; it comes into the mind as "a given." When conscious thought grips this "given," it can put it into all manner of relations with other "givens." It may even to some extent control the course of subsequent sensations by the exercise of attention and in accordance with a conscious purpose. But thought cannot create a sensation. The sensation is thus at the base of all mental life. It furnishes material for the distinction between subject and object—between the outer and the inner. The conscious processes, thus primed, rise through the various stages of contemplation, reflection, abstraction, conception, and reasoning.
The study of sense perception is thus seen to be a study of primary mystical intuition. But the similarity, or essential bond, between the two may be worked at a deeper level. When an external object stimulates a sensation, it produces a variety of changes in the mind of the percipient. Most of these may remain in the depths of subconscious mental life, but they are none the less real as effectual agents of change. Now what is here implied? The external object has somehow or other got "inside" the percipient mind—has penetrated to it, and modified it. In other words, a form of mystical communion has been established. The object has penetrated into the mind, and the mind has come into living touch with the Real external to itself. The object and the subject are to this extent fused in a mystic union. How could the fusion take place unless the two were linked in some fundamental harmony of being? Other and higher modes of mystical union may be experienced; but sense perception contains them all in germ. How vain, then, the absolutist's attempt to sever himself from the sphere of sense!
Intuition, we have seen, must be deemed to be independent of conscious reasoning processes. But this is not to say that it is independent of reason, either objectively or subjectively. Not objectively, for if the world is a cosmos, it must be rationally constituted. Not subjectively, for man's reasoning faculties may influence many of his mental activities without rising to the level of reflective ratiocination. And thus man's communion with the cosmos, of which he is himself a part, will be grounded in the reason which permeates the whole.
If we go on to ask what is the relation between intuition and conscious reflective processes, the answer would seem to be somewhat of this kind. "Intuition, in its wide sense, furnishes material; reason works it up. Intuition moves about in worlds not systematised; reason reduces them to order. Reflective thought dealing with the phenomena presented to it by sensation has three tasks before it—to find out the nature of the objects, to trace their causes, and to trace their effects. And whereas each intuitional experience stands alone and isolated in its immediacy, reason groups these single experiences together, investigates their conditions, and makes them subserve definite conscious purposes.
But if mystics have too often made the mistake of underrating the powers and functions of reflective reason, the champions of logic have also been guilty of the counter-mistake of disparaging intuition, more especially that called mystical. That is to say, the form of thought is declared to be superior to the matter of thought—a truly remarkable contention! What is reason if it has no material to work up? And whence comes the material but from sensation and intuition? Moreover, even when the material is furnished to the reasoning processes, the conclusions arrived at have to be brought continuously and relentlessly to the bar, not only of physical fact, but also to that of intuition and sentiment, if serious errors are to be avoided. Systematising and speculative zeal have a tendency to run ahead of their data.
Bergson has done much to restore to intuition the rights which were being filched or wrenched from it. He has shown (may it be said conclusively?) that systematised thought is quite unequal to grappling with the processes which constitute actual living. Before him, Schopenhauer had poured well-deserved contempt on the idea that the brain, an organ which can only work for a few hours at a stretch, and is dependent on all the accidents of the physical condition of the body, should be considered equal to solving the problems of existence. "Certainly" (writes Schwegler) "the highest truths of reason, the eternal, the divine, are not to be proved by means of demonstration." But this is no less true of the simplest manifestations of reality. Knowledge is compelled to move on the surface when it aims at scientific method and demonstrated results. Intuitive knowledge can often penetrate deeper, get nearer to the heart of things and divine their deeper relations. When intuitions can be gripped by conscious reasoning processes, man gains much of the knowledge which is power. But the scope of knowledge in the fullest sense is indefinitely greater than that of science and philosophy.
Nor is it hard to see why the sphere of reflective thought is thus comparatively limited. For modern speculations, and even the straitest psychology, have familiarised us with the idea of a larger self that is beyond the reach of conscious analysis. Obscure workings of the mind—emotions, moods, immediate perceptions, premonitions, and the rest—have a potent part to play in the actual living of a life. Consider in this connection such a passage as the following, taken from Jefferies' "Story of My Heart." It means something, though it is not scientific.
"Three things only have been discovered of that which concerns the inner consciousness since before written history began. Three things only in twelve thousand written, or sculptured years, and in the dumb, dim time before them. Three ideas the cavemen wrested from the unknown, the night which is round us still in daylight—the existence of the soul, immortality, the deity. These things . . . do not suffice me. I desire to advance farther, and to wrest a fourth, and even still more than a fourth, from the darkness of thought. I want more ideas of soul-life. . . . My naked mind confronts the unknown. I see as clearly as the noonday that this is not all; I see other and higher conditions than existence; I see not only the existence of the soul, but, in addition, I realise a soul-life illimitable. . . . I strive to give utterance to a Fourth Idea. The very idea that there is another idea is something gained. The three gained by the cavemen are but stepping-stones, first links of an endless chain."
Of course, we are here reminded of Wordsworth's "obstinate questionings of sense and outward things"; of his "misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realised." Intuition is feeling its way outwards beyond the sphere of the known, and emotion is working in harmony with it, the reason still fails to grip. Morris' description of a like sense of unrealised possibilities applies, in varying degrees, to men of all sorts and conditions, though the poets of whom he speaks are the most favoured.
"Blind thoughts which occupy the brain, Dumb melodies which fill the ear, Dim perturbations, precious pain, A gleam of hope, a chill of fear— These seize the poet's soul, and mould The ore of fancy into gold."
Language is thus employed to proclaim its own inadequacy. And who can fail to see that between the rich complexity of the workings of the whole mind and the means by which we would fain render them articulate, there yawns a gap which no effort can bridge over? Even the poet fails—much more the scientist! To refuse to take cognisance of the fresh spontaneity of feeling and intuition is to rob life of its higher joys and its deeper meanings.
MAN AND NATURE
Many thinkers of the present day pride themselves upon the growth of what they call the naturalistic spirit. What do they mean by this? They mean that the older ways of interpreting nature, animistic or supernatural, are being supplanted by explanations founded on knowledge of physical facts and "natural" laws. And, up to a point, there are but few natural mystics who will not concur in their feelings of satisfaction that ignorance and superstition are disappearing in rough proportion as exact knowledge advances. At any rate, in this study, the more solid conclusions of science will be freely and gladly accepted. The very idea of a conflict between Science and Natural Mysticism is to be mercilessly scouted.
But this concurrence must be conditional. Tait, for example, was scornful of any form of animism. He wrote thus: "The Pygmalions of modern days do not require to beseech Aphrodite to animate the world for them. Like the savage with his Totem, they have themselves already attributed life to it. 'It comes,' as Helmholtz says, 'to the same thing as Schopenhauer's metaphysics. The stars are to love and hate one another, feel pleasure and displeasure, and to try to move in a way corresponding to these feelings.' The latest phase of this peculiar non-science tells us that all matter is alive; or at least that it contains the 'promise and potency' (whatever these may be) 'of all terrestrial life.' All this probably originated in the very simple manner already hinted at; viz., in the confusion of terms constructed for application to thinking beings only, with others applicable only to brute matter, and a blind following of this confusion to its necessarily preposterous consequences. So much for the attempts to introduce into science an element altogether incompatible with the fundamental conditions of its existence."
This is vigorous! But how does the matter now stand? Since Tait wrote his invective, many physicists of at least equal rank with himself, and with some undreamt-of discoveries to the good, have subscribed to the views which he so trenchantly condemns. As for the metaphysicians, there are but few of the first flight who do not conceive of consciousness as the ultimate form of existence. Again, the reference to the Pygmalion myth implies the view that mythology was a mere empty product of untutored fancy and imaginative subjectivism. Here also he is out of harmony with the spirit now pervading the science of religion and the comparative study of early modes of belief. It will be well to devote some chapters to a survey of the problems thus suggested, and to preface them by an enquiry, on general lines, into man's relation to nature.
We shall best come to grips with the real issue by fastening on Tait's "brute matter." For the words contain a whole philosophy. On the one hand, matter, inert, lifeless: on the other hand, spirit, living, supersensuous: between the two, and linking the two, man, a spirit in a body. Along with this there generally goes a dogma of special creations, though it may perhaps be held that such a dogma is not essential to the distinction between the two realms thus sharply sundered. It is at once obvious that, starting from such premisses, Tait's invective is largely justified. For if matter is inert, brute, dead—it certainly seems preposterous to speak of its having within it the potency of life—using "life" as a synonym for living organisms, including man. The nature-mystic is overwhelmed with Homeric laughter.
But the whole trend of scientific investigation and speculation is increasingly away from this crude and violent dualism. The relation of soul to body is still a burning question, but does not at all preclude a belief that matter is one mode of the manifestation of spirit. Indeed, it is hard to understand how upholders of the disappearing doctrine would ever bring themselves to maintain, even on their own premisses, that any creation of the Supreme Spirit could be "brute"—that is, inert and irrational! Regarded from the new view-point, all is what may, for present purposes, be called spiritual. And when man appeared upon the globe, he was not something introduced from without, different from and alien to the world of matter, but merely the outcome of a more intense activity of the same forces as were at work from the first and in the whole—in brief, a higher manifestation of the life which is the ultimate Ground of all modes of existence. There are not two different realms, that of brute matter and living spirit; but various planes, or grades, of life and consciousness. Leibniz had the beautiful and profound idea that life has three modes on earth—it sleeps in plants, it dreams in animals, and it wakes in man. Modern thought is expanding, universalising, this idea.
Man's relation to nature, in the light of this newer doctrine, thus becomes sufficiently clear. He is not an interloper, but an integral part of a whole. He is the highest outcome (so far as our world of sense is concerned) of a vast upward movement. Nay, modern science links him on to other worlds and other aeons. Cosmic evolution is "all of a piece," so to speak, and man takes his own special place in an ordered whole. The process is slow, measured by the standard of human life. Countless ages have lapsed to bring us and our world to its present degree of conscious life. Countless ages are yet to elapse. What shall be the end—the goal? Who can tell? Judging by what we know, it would seem simplest to say that the trend of the evolutionary process is towards the increase of internal spontaneity and consciously formed and prosecuted purpose. In his "Songs before Sunrise," Swinburne calls this spontaneity "freedom."
"Freedom we call it, for holier Name of the soul's there is none; Surelier it labours, if slowlier, Than the metres of star and of sun; Slowlier than life unto breath, Surelier than time unto death, It moves till its labour is done."
The nature-mystic, then, is bound to reject the "brute" matter doctrine just as decidedly as the doctrine of the unconditioned Absolute. Each, in its own way, robs nature of its true glory and significance. Nature, for him, is living: and that, not indirectly as a "living garment" (to quote Goethe's Time Spirit) of another Reality, but as itself a living part of that Reality—a genuine, primary manifestation of the ultimate Ground. And man is an integral living part of living nature.
There is another aspect of this "brute" matter doctrine which leads to the same conclusions. If matter be held to possess no other properties than those known to the physicist, it might be possible to account for what may be termed the utilitarian side of human development, social and individualistic. Nature makes demands upon man's energies and capacities before she will yield him food and shelter, and his material requirements generally. The enormously important and far-reaching range of facts here brought to view have largely determined the chequered course of industrial and social evolution. But even so, weighty reservations must be made. There is the element of rationality (implicit in external phenomena) which has responded to the workings of human reason. There are the manifestations of something deeper than physics in the operations of so-called natural laws, and all the moral influences those laws have brought to bear on man's higher development. There is the significant fact that as the resources of civilisation have increased, the pressure of the utilitarian relation has relaxed.
According fullest credit, however, to the influence of the purely "physical" properties of nature, has man no other relation to his external environment than the utilitarian? The moral influence has been just suggested; the exploitation of this rich vein has for some time past engaged the attention of evolutionary moralists. Our more immediate concern is with the aesthetic influences. And in nature there is beauty as well as utility. Nor is the beauty a by-product of utility; it exists on its own account, and asserts itself in its own right. As Emerson puts it—"it is its own excuse for being." As another writer puts it—"in the beauty which we see around us in nature's face, we have felt the smile of a spiritual Being, as we feel the smile of our friend adding light and lustre to his countenance." Yes, nature is beautiful and man knows it. How great the number and variety of the emotions and intuitions that beauty can stir and foster will be seen in detail hereafter.
But beauty is not the only agent in moulding and developing man's character. Nature, as will be shown, is a manifestation of immanent ideas which touch life at every point. Ugliness, for example, has its place as well as beauty, and will be dealt with in due course. So with ideas of life and death, of power and weakness, of hope and despondency—these and a thousand others, immanent in external phenomena, have stimulated the powerful imaginations of the infant race, and still maintain their magic to move the sensitive soul. The wonderful mythological systems of the past enshrine science, philosophy, and poetry— and they were prompted by physical phenomena. The philosophy and poetry of the present are still largely dependent on the same phenomena. So it will be to the end.
That the revelation of Reality is a partial one—that the highest summits are veiled in mists—this is freely granted. But the very fact constitutes in itself a special charm. If what we see is so wonderful, what must that be which is behind!
The general character of the nature-mystic's main contention will now be sufficiently obvious. He maintains that man and his environment are not connected in any merely external fashion, but that they are sharers in the same kind of Being, and therefore livingly related. If this be sound, we shall expect to find that wherever and whenever men are in close and constant touch with nature they will experience some definite sort of influence which will affect their characters and their thoughts. Nor, as will already have been obvious, are we disappointed in this expectation. Let us turn to a somewhat more detailed study of the evidence for the reality and potency of the mystic influence continuously exercised by physical phenomena on man's psychic development.
As has been stated, the nature-mystic lays considerable, though by no means exclusive, stress upon what he calls "intuition." His view of this faculty or capacity is not quite that of the strict psychologist. Herbert Spencer, for instance, in his "Psychology," uses the term intuition in what he deems to be its "common acceptation"—"as meaning any cognition reached by an undecomposable mental act." Of course much would turn on what is implied by cognition, and it is impossible to embark on the wide sea of epistemology, or even on that of the intuitional controversy, with a view to determining this point. Spencer's own illustration of an intuited fact for knowledge—relations which are equal to the same relation are equal to one another— would appear to narrow its application to those so-called self- evident or necessary truths which are unhesitatingly accepted at first sight. The nature-mystic, however, while unreservedly recognising this kind of intuition (whatever may be its origin) demands a wider meaning for the term. A nearer approach to what he wants is found in the feats of certain calculating prodigies, who often seem to reach their astounding results rather by insights than operations. The celebrated mathematician, Euler, is said to have possessed, in addition to his extraordinary memory for numbers, "a kind of divining power," by which he perceived almost at a glance, the most complicated relations of factors and the best modes of manipulating them. As regards the calculating prodigies, a thought suggests itself. It has been almost invariably found that as they learnt more, their special power decreased. Has this any bearing on the loss of imaginative power and aesthetic insight which often accompanies the spread of civilisation?—or on the materialisms and the "brute matter" doctrines which so often afflict scientists?
But even this expansion of meaning does not satisfy the nature-mystic. Perhaps the case of musical intuition comes still nearer to what he is looking for, inasmuch as cognition, in the sense of definite knowledge, is here reduced to a minimum. On the other hand there is more at work than mere feeling. The soul of the music-lover moves about in a world which is at once realised and yet unrealised—his perceptions are vivid and yet indefinable. And it is important to note that the basis is sense-perception.
And thus we say of mystical intuition that it is a passing of the mind, without reasoned process, behind the world of phenomena into a more central sphere of reality—an insight into a world beyond the reach of sense—a direct beholding of spiritual facts, guided by a logic which is implicit, though it does not emerge into consciousness. It is intuition of this fuller and deeper kind which in all likelihood forms the core of what some would call the aesthetic and the moral senses.
And here an interesting question presents itself. The older mystics, and the more orthodox of modern mystics, would have us believe that the intuition for which they contend is purely passive. The mind must be quieted, the will negated, until a state of simple receptivity is attained. Is this contention valid? It is difficult to break away from venerable traditions, but the nature-mystic who would be abreast of the knowledge of his day must at times be prepared to submit even intuition itself to critical analysis. And in this instance, criticism is all the more necessary because the doctrine of pure passivity is largely a corollary of belief in an unconditioned Absolute. If union with such an Absolute is to be enjoyed, the will must be pulseless, the intellect atrophied, the whole soul inactive: otherwise the introduction of finite thoughts and desires inhibits the divine afflatus!
Now it was noted, when intuition was first mentioned, that, like sensation (which is an elementary form of intuition) it provides "matter" for the mind to work upon. So far, it may rightly be deemed passive—receptive. But only half the story is thus told. The mind reacts upon the "matter" so provided, and gives it context and meaning. Even the sense-organ reacts to the physical stimulus, and conditions it in its own fashion; much more will the mind as a whole assert itself. Indeed it is only on condition of such action and reaction that any union, or communion, worthy of the name, can be effected. And should it be suspected that the distinction between "matter" and "form" is too Kantian and technical (though it is not intended to be such) the matter can be stated in more general terms by saying that in all forms of intuition, from the lowest to the highest, the mind goes out to meet that which comes to it—there is always some movement from within, be it desire, emotion, sympathy, or other like affection. In short, the self, as long as it is a self, can never be purely passive.
Consider from this point of view the following passage from Jefferies. "With all the intensity of feeling which exalted me, all the intense communion I held with the earth, the sun and sky, the stars hidden by the light, with the ocean—in no manner can the thrilling depth of these feelings be written—with these I prayed, as if they were the keys of an instrument, of an organ, with which I swelled forth the notes of my soul, redoubling my own voice by their power. The great sun burning with light; the strong earth, dear earth; the warm sky; the pure air; the thought of ocean; the inexpressible beauty of all filled me with a rapture, an ecstasy, an inflatus. With this inflatus, too, I prayed." How strong throughout the activity of the soul—culminating in prayer! And by "prayer," Jefferies distinctly states that he means, not "a request for anything preferred to a deity," but intense soul-emotion, intense aspiration, intense desire for fuller soul-life—all the marks of the highest forms of mysticism, and proportionately strengthened soul-activities.
And what, then, shall be said of Wordsworth?
"I deem that there are Powers Which of themselves our minds impress; That we can feed these minds of ours In a wise passiveness. Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum Of things for over speaking, That nothing of itself will come, But we must still be seeking."
Is not this, it may be asked, in harmony with the older doctrine? Not so. There is a rightful and wholesome insistence on the necessity for a receptive attitude of mind. Jefferies, too, was intensely receptive as well as intensely active. But Wordsworth is contrasting concentration of the mind on definite studies and on book-lore with the laying of it open to the influences of nature. He calls this latter a "wise passiveness"—a "dreaming": but is nevertheless an active passivity—a waking dream. All the senses are to be in healthy working order; a deep consciousness is to be gently playing over the material which nature so spontaneously supplies. And so it comes that he can tell of
"A Presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts."
Is not this the same experience as that of Jefferies, only passing through a mind of calmer tone. And if at times Wordsworth also is lifted into an ecstasy, when
"the light of sense Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed The invisible world,"
his mind is not in an Absolutist state of passivity, but, on the contrary, is stirred to higher forms of consciousness. The experiences may, or may not be such as subsequent reflection can reduce to order—that is immaterial to the issue—but at any rate they imply activity. We may safely conclude, therefore, that intuition in all its grades necessitates a specialised soul-activity as well as a specialised soul-passivity.
It will have been apparent in what has preceded that there are many grades of intuition, rising from sense-perception to what is known as ecstasy. Some may doubt the wisdom of admitting ecstasy among the experiences of a sane, modern nature-mystic. Certainly the word raises a prejudice in many minds. Certainly the fanaticisms of religious Mysticism must be avoided. But Jefferies was not frightened of the word to describe an unwonted experience of exalted feeling; nor was Wordsworth afraid to describe the experience itself:
"that serene and blessed mood In which the affections gently lead us on— Until the breath of this corporeal flame, And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul; While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things."
This is in many respects the same type of experience as that described by Plotinus—"the life of the gods, and of divine and happy men"—but shorn of its needless degradation of the body and the senses, which, with Wordsworth are still and transcended, but remain as a foundation for all the rest. There is yet another and very significant point of difference. Porphyry, a disciple of Plotinus, tells us that his master attained to the ecstatic condition four times only in the six years which he spent in his company. How often Wordsworth attained to his form of ecstasy we do not know. But there is the little word "we" which occurs throughout his description: and this evidently links the past on to his readers. That is to say, he does not sever his experience from that which is open to ordinary humanity. He called for and anticipated genuine sympathy. Nor was he wrong in making this demand, for there are few sensitive lovers of nature who are not able to parallel, in some degree, what the English high-priest of Nature Mysticism has so wonderfully described. And as for the lower and simpler grades of feeling for nature, given that the conditions of life are "natural," they are practically universal, though often inarticulate.
DEVELOPMENT AND DISCIPLINE OF INTUITION
Although the outstanding mark of intuition is its immediacy, that does not imply that it is independent of mental development, of culture, or of discipline. So far all classes of mystics would be agreed. Nevertheless a certain amount of comment and criticism will be useful even in this regard. For erroneous conceptions, especially in matters so largely influenced by belief in an unconditioned Absolute, may frequently issue in harmful practices. For proof and illustration of the danger, need one do more than point to the terrible excesses of asceticism still prevalent in India?
And first, of the normal development of the mystic feeling for nature in the case of the individual mind. "The child is father of the man," said Wordsworth. But in what sense is this true? Let us turn to the immortal Ode, which is undoubtedly a record of vivid personal experience.
"Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy, But he beholds the light and whence it flows, He sees it in his joy; The youth who daily farther from the east Must travel, still is Nature's priest, And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended; At length the man perceives it die away And fade into the light of common day."
Of course the poet was in dead earnest in writing thus; but the two last lines give us pause. How about
"The light that never was on land or sea"?
Was not that with the poet to the end? How about the
"Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears"?
Would those have been possible for the child or growing boy? If there had been a loss, had there not also been a very real gain as the years rolled over his head? Such questions are forced upon us by an examination of the records themselves. Somewhat of the brightness and freshness of "the vision splendid" might evaporate; but the mystic glow, the joy, the exaltation, remained—and deepened—
"So was it when I was a child, So is it now I am a man, So may it be when I am old, Or let me die"—
only that childlike fancy yields place to matured imagination. And if this was so with Wordsworth, whose childhood was so exceptional, still more shall we find it to be true of the average child. The early freshness of the senses may be blunted; the eager curiosity may be satiated; but where the nature remains unspoilt, the sense of wonder and of joy will extend its range and gain in fullness of content.
If we compare Kingsley's development, he was in a way a great "boy" to the end—but a boy with a deepening sense of mystery mellowing his character and his utterances. And thus it was that he could say, looking back on his intercourse with the wonders of nature: "I have long enjoyed them, never I can honestly say alone, because when man was not with me I had companions in every bee and flower and pebble, and never idle, because I could not pass a swamp or a tuft of heather without finding in it a fairy tale of which I could but decipher here and there a line or two, and yet found them more interesting than all the books, save one, which were ever written upon earth."
True, there is another range of experiences to be reckoned with, such as that of Omar Khayyam—
"Yet ah that Spring should vanish with the Rose! That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close! The Nightingale that on the branches sang, Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows?"
Yes, but what might Omar have been with a nobler philosophy of life, and a more wholesome self-restraint. Blase, toper as he was, how did he begin his Rubaiyat? Thus finely!
"Wake! For the Sun who scatter'd into flight The stars before him from the Field of Night, Drives Night along with them from Heav'n and strikes The Sultan's turret with a Shaft of Light."
There was poetry in the man still—and that, too, of the kind stirred by nature. And from nature likewise comes the pathos of a closing verse—
"Yon rising Moon that looks for us again— How oft hereafter will she wax and wane; How oft hereafter rising look for us Through this same Garden—and for one in vain! "
And if in spite of all that is said, Wordsworth's haunting Ode still asserts its sway, then let there be a still more direct appeal to its author. One of his loveliest sonnets is that which opens—
"It is a beauteous evening, calm and free."
He tells of the holy stillness, the setting of the broad sun, the eternal motion of the sea. He is filled with a sense of mystic adoration. And then there is a sudden turn of thought—
"Dear child! dear girl! that walkest with me here, If thou appear untouch'd by solemn thought, Thy nature is not therefore less divine."
What is this but to regard the intuitional faculty as still largely latent, awaiting the maturing processes of the passing years? There is no place for further argument.
What has just been said of the child may be said of the race, especially if there is anything in the theory that the child recapitulates in brief the stages through which the race has passed in its upward progress. In the dawn of civilisation the senses would be comparatively fresh and keen, though lacking in delicacy of aesthetic discrimination; the imagination would be powerful and active. Hence the products, so varied and immense, of the animistic tendency and the mytho-poeic faculty. To these stages succeed the periods of reflective thought and accurate research, which, while blunting to some degree the sharp edge of sensibility, more than atone for the loss by the widening of horizons and the deepening of mysteries. We must be careful, however, not to press the analogy, or parallel, too far. Important modifications of the recapitulation theory are being urged even on its biological side; it is wise, therefore, to be doubly on guard when dealing with the complexities of social development. Still, it is safe to assert that, for the race as for the individual, the modes of cosmic emotion grow fuller and richer in "the process of the suns." Would it be easy to parallel in any previous period of history that passage from Jefferies?— "With all the intensity of feeling which exalted me, all the intense communion I held with the earth, the sun, and the sky, the stars hidden by the light, with the ocean—in no manner can the thrilling depth of these feelings be written—with these I prayed, as if they were the keys of an instrument."
Starting from an acknowledgment that the intuitional faculty is capable of development, it is an easy, and indeed inevitable, step to the conclusion that training and discipline can aid that development. As noted above, mystics have gone, and still go, to lengths which make the world wonder, in their efforts to enjoy the higher forms of mystic communion with the Real. The note of stern renunciation has persisted like a bourdon down the ages in the lives of those who have devoted themselves to the quest of the Absolute. In the East, and more especially in India, the grand aim of life has come to be the release from the appetites and the senses. The Buddhist struggles to suppress all natural desires, and undergoes all manner of self-inflicted tortures, that he may rise above the world of illusion, and attain to absorption in the Universal Spirit. He sacrifices the body that the soul may see. Similar views, though varying much in detail, have flourished at the heart of all the great religions, and have formed almost the sole substance of some of the smaller. Nor has Christianity escaped. An exaggerated and uncompromising asceticism has won for many Christian saints their honours on earth and their assurance of special privileges in heaven.
Contrast with this sterner and narrower type, the mystic who loves the natural world because he believes it to be, like himself, a genuine manifestation of the ultimately Real, and to be akin to his own inmost life. He, too, acknowledges the need for the discipline of the body—he, too, has his askesis—but he cherishes the old Greek ideal which does not call for a sacrifice of sense as such, but for a wise abstinence from those sensual pleasures, or over-indulgences in pleasure, which endanger the balance of the powers of the body and the mind. The nature- mystic, more particularly, maintains that there is no form of human knowledge which may not be of service to him in attaining to deeper insight and fuller experience in his intercourse with nature. He is therefore a student, in the best sense of the word—not a slave to mere erudition, but an alert and eager absorber of things new and old according to his abilities and opportunities. He tries to survey life as a whole, and to bring his complete self, body and soul, to the realisation of its possibilities. And he looks to nature for some of his purest joys and most fruitful experiences. He knows that the outward shows of heaven and earth are manifestations of a Reality which communes with him as soul with soul.
NATURE NOT SYMBOLIC
Mysticism and symbolism are generally regarded as inseparable: some may go so far as to make them practically synonymous. Hence the large space devoted to symbols in most treatises on Mysticism. Recejac, for instance, in his treatise on the "Bases of the Mystic Belief," devotes about two-thirds of the whole to this subject. Whence such preponderating emphasis? There are, of course, many conspiring causes, but the conception of the Absolute is still the strongest. Given an Unconditioned which is beyond the reach of sense and reason, the phenomenal is necessarily degraded to the rank of the merely symbolical. Nature, being at an infinite distance from the Real, can only "stand for" the Real; and any knowledge which it can mediate is so indirect as to be hardly worthy of the name.
To this degradation of the phenomenal the true nature-mystic is bound to demur, if he is to be faithful to his fundamental principle. He desires direct communion with the Real, and looks to external nature as a means to attain his end. To palm off upon him something which "stands for" the Real is to balk him of his aim; for the moment the symbol appears, the Real disappears: its place is taken by a substitute which at the best is Maya—an illusion; or, to use technical phraseology of the metaphysical sort, is "mere appearance."
But further, the symbolic conception of nature would seem to contradict the requirement of immediacy—a requirement more vital to the Absolutist than to the genuine nature-mystic, and yet apparently lost from the view of those who are the strongest advocates of symbolism. For intuition implies direct insight, independent of reasoning process and conceptual construction. Whereas, a symbol, in any ordinary acceptation of the word, is indisputably a product of conscious mental processes: its very reference beyond itself demands conscious analysis and synthesis, and a conscious recognition of complicated systems of relations. The doctrine of symbols is thus in reality subversive of Mysticism of any kind, and more especially of Nature Mysticism.
Let it not be supposed that to argue thus is to repudiate symbolism as such. Whoever understands the nature and conditions of human knowledge sees that symbolic systems, of endless variety, are necessary instruments in almost every department of theory, research, and practice. We cannot move without them. Some symbols are thoroughly abstract and artificial, but frequently of the utmost value, in spite of their being pure creations of the mind. Other symbols are founded on analogies and affinities deep down in the nature of things, and so come nearer to the matter of genuine intuition. Between the two extremes there are an infinite number of graded systems, some of which enter into the very texture of daily life. But so long as, and in so far as, there is a "standing for" instead of a "being," the mystic, qua mystic, is defrauded of his direct communion with the Ground of things.
But the mystic who champions symbolism may object that the definition of that term must not be taken so narrowly, and that there is the wider sense in which it is taken by writers on aesthetics. Some such definition as this may be attempted: A symbol is something which does not merely "stand for" something else, but one which, while it has a meaning of its own, points onward to another thing beyond itself, and suggests an ideal content which of itself it cannot fully embody. But are we really cleared of our difficulty by substituting "suggests" for "stands for"? Again it must be insisted that the mystic aims at direct communion, not with that which is "suggested," but that which "is." An object may be low or high in the scale of existence, may be rich or poor in content—but it is what it is, and, as such, and in and for itself, may be the source of an intuition. The man lying on the bank of the mill-stream and meditating on the water-wheel wanted the secret of the wheel itself, not what the wheel "suggested." Jefferies, yearning for fuller soul-life, and sensitive to nature's aspects, felt that the life was there—that the universe is the life—that the life is intuited in and through the universe, though not grasped as yet by the conscious reasoning processes.
As an interesting example, the symbol of the cross may be briefly considered. Why should a form so simple and so familiar have acquired an astonishingly wide range and be generally regarded as symbolic of life? Much has to be learnt before the problem is solved. One thing seems fairly certain—the choice has not been wholly arbitrary; there has been at work an intuitional, subconscious factor. Is it possible that the negativing of a line in one direction by a line in another direction raises subliminally a sense of strain, then of effort, then of purposeful will, and so, lastly, of life? Probably a piece of pure imagination! And yet there must be some real power in the symmetrical form itself to account for its symbolic career. Conscious reason, obscurely prompted by this power, evolved the symbolic use; and the strange interminglings of intuition, rational action, and force of circumstance, during the long course of civilised history, have accomplished the rest.
The train of reflection thus started will add special point to a passage from an early letter of Kingsley's, quoted by Inge in a slightly curtailed form, but here given in full. "The great Mysticism is the belief that is becoming every day stronger with me, that all symmetrical natural objects, aye, and perhaps all forms, colours, and scents which show organisation or arrangement, are types of some truth or existence, of a grade between the symbolical type and the mystic type. When I walk the fields I am oppressed every now and then with an innate feeling, that everything I see has a meaning, if I could but understand it. And this feeling of being surrounded with truths which I cannot grasp, amounts to indescribable awe sometimes! Everything seems to be full of God's reflex, if we could but see it."
The passage is of profound significance when taken as a whole, and will serve as a remarkable description of the genuine mystic experience which can be prompted by nature, without going to the length of "vision," still less of ecstasy. But the stress now lies on the words—"a grade between the symbolical type and the mystic type." Kingsley evidently realised the insufficiency of symbolism to meet his demands, while he shrank from the vagueness of what was called Mysticism. Objects for him had a meaning in their own right, and he was casting about for a fitting term to express this fact. He also distinctly states that to him, "Everything seems to be full of God's reflex." Once grant that Nature Mysticism, as denned and illustrated in the preceding chapters, is a genuine form of Mysticism, and his difficulty would be solved. The natural objects which stirred his emotions would be acknowledged as part and parcel of the ultimate Ground itself, and therefore competent to act, not as substitutes for something else not really present, but in their own right, and of their own sovereign prerogative. Nature, in short, is not a mere stimulus for a roving fancy or teeming imagination: it is a power to be experienced, a secret to be wrested, a life to be shared.
The famous "Canticle of the Sun" of St. Francis d'Assisi gives naive and spontaneous expression to the same truth. Natural objects, for this purest of mystics, were no bare symbols, nor did they gain their significance by suggesting beyond themselves. He addressed them as beings who shared with him the joy of existence. "My Brother the Sun"—"my Sister the Moon"—"our Mother the Earth"—"my Brother the Wind"—"our Sister Water"—"Brother Fire." The same form of address is maintained for things living and things lifeless. And it is obvious that the endearing terms of relationship are more than metaphors or figures of speech. His heart evidently goes with them: he genuinely claims kinship. Differences dissolve in a sense of common being. It would be an anachronism to read into these affectionate names the more fully developed mysticism of Blake, or Shelley, or Emerson. But the absence of any tinge of symbolic lore is noteworthy.
Kingsley, as was just seen, was feeling about for something more satisfactory than mystic symbolism; so also was Emerson. "Mysticism" (he writes) "consists in the mistake of an accidental and individual symbol for an universal one. . . . The mystic must be steadily told, 'All that you say is just as true without the tedious use of that symbol as with it.'" Emerson's uneasiness is manifest. He is rebelling, but is not quite sure of his ground. At one time he inclines to think the mystic in fault because he "nails a symbol to one sense, which was a true sense for a moment, but soon becomes old and false." At another time he is inclined to condemn the symbol altogether as being of too "accidental" a character. But it is surely simpler to throw symbolism overboard so far as genuine mystic experience is concerned. What the mystic is in search of is "meaning" in its own right—"meaning" existing in and for itself. Anything less is a fraud. Emerson nearly reached this conclusion, as witness the following passage: "A happy symbol is a sort of evidence that your thought is just. . . . If you agree with me, or if Locke or Montesquieu agree, I may yet be wrong; but if the elm tree thinks the same thing, if running water, if burning coal, if crystals, if alkalies, in their several fashions, say what I say, it must be true." Here Emerson is all but clean out of the tangle. He speaks of a "happy symbol." But inasmuch as this "happy symbol" is to express what the elm tree, the running water, and the rest, actually say in their several fashions, it is safer to drop the idea of symbolism altogether; for what they say, is not what they "stand for," but what they actually are.
If the contention is renewed that the elm tree, running water, and the rest, suggest truths and thoughts beyond themselves, of course the point may be readily granted. But this is only to affirm that every object is linked on to every other object by a multiplicity of relations—that each part is woven into the texture of a larger whole in a universe of interpenetrations. The consistent working out of the organic interdependence of the modes and forms of existence is found in such a system as that of Hegel, where each part pre-supposes correlatives, and where each stage or "moment" includes all the past, and presses on to that which dialectically succeeds. It is not necessary to be a Hegelian to appreciate the grand idea of his doctrine—that all modes and manifestations of the Real are logically and organically connected. But to say that one stage of the evolution of the Idea is dependent on another, or essentially involves another, is not to make the lower of the stages symbolic of the higher. Indeed to introduce the concept of symbolism at all into such a context is to court inextricable confusion. Let symbolism be one thing, and let organic (or dialectic) connection be another—then we know where we are when we claim for natural objects that they have a being and a meaning in their own right, and that they are akin to the soul of man. Emerson had a firm grasp of the nature-mystic's inevitable contention.
"The rounded world is fair to see, Nine-times folded in mystery: Though baffled seers cannot impart The secret of its labouring heart. Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast, And all is clear from east to west. Spirit that lurks each form within Beckons to spirit of its kin; Self-kindled every atom glows,— And hints the future which it owes."
THE CHARGE OF ANTHROPOMORPHISM
There are many thinkers who are ready to acknowledge that the contemplation of nature leads to various kinds of emotional and aesthetic experience, but who at the same time deny that the results of such contemplation have any other than a subjective character; they argue that the validity of the results evaporates, so to speak, with the mood which brought them into being. Myths, for example, from this point of view are "simply the objectification of subjective impulses"; and modern sympathy with nature is aesthetic feeling which "breaks free of the fetters laid upon it by mythological thought, constantly to create at its own sovereign pleasure myths which pass with the passing of the end that they have served and give place to other fancies." This "subjective" doctrine will meet us often, and will call for various answers. Let it now be considered in its most general and formidable shape, that to which Wundt has given weighty support in his treatise on the "Facts of the Moral Life." The sentences quoted just above are from those sections of this work which deal with man's aesthetic relation to nature; and it is with their teaching on the subject that this chapter will be chiefly concerned.
Here is a statement which raises a clear issue. The influence of nature, says Wundt, is not immutable. "The same mountains and rivers and forests lie before the modern European that lay before his ancestors thousands of years ago; but the effect which they produce is very different. In this change there is reflected a change in man's aesthetic view of the world, itself connected with a change in his moral apprehension of life." Now every word of this passage may be welcomed by the nature-mystic without his thereby yielding his contention that mountains and rivers and forests have a definite and immanent objective significance of their own. The phenomena of sunrise and sunset, which lay before our European ancestors thousands of years ago, are the same as those which present themselves to the modern astronomer, and yet how differently interpreted! Does the difference imply that the early observer had no objective facts before him, and that modern astronomy has advanced to a freedom which enables it to frame hypotheses at its sovereign will? Such a conclusion is just possible as we meditate on the mutability of many scientific concepts! Still, the conclusion would be regarded as somewhat violent. But if it is allowed that in the latter case, the basis of objective fact gives continuity to the development of astronomic lore, why should the same privilege not be accorded to the objective element in the continuity of mystical lore? As knowledge grows, interpretations become more adequate to the objective facts, but it does not negate them. And Wundt himself allows that "it is from the mythological form of the feeling (for nature), which reaches back to the first beginnings of human civilisation, that the aesthetic feeling for nature with which we are ourselves familiar has been slowly and gradually evolved." How could such continuity be secured without some basis in the world of fact?
And the basis in fact is surely easy of discovery. Man is not a solitary being, suspended between earth and heaven. On the contrary, he is related to all below him and all that is above him by ties which enter into the very fibre of his being. He is himself a child of nature, nurtured on the bosom of Mother Earth and raising his eyes to the height of the Empyrean. Evolution, whatever it may be, is a cosmic process—and man is a link in a chain, or rather, a living member of a living universe. For an evolutionist to argue man's relation to his physical environment to be external in its physical aspects would be deemed arrant folly. Is it less foolish for an evolutionist to isolate man's emotions, feelings, and thoughts?
"In proportion" (says Wundt) "as nature lost her immediate and living reality" (by the passing of mythology) "did the human mind possess itself of her, to find its own subjective states reflected in her features." Much obviously turns on the implications of the word "reflected." We are led to hope much when he speaks of "the kinship of the emotions set up by certain phenomena of nature with moods arising from within"—but he empties his statement of mystic meaning by adding, "at the mind's own instance." "Nature" (says Auerbach in plainer terms)" has no moods, they belong to man alone." Tennyson gives expression to this view (not on his own behalf!):
"all the phantom, Nature, stands, With all the music in her tone A hollow echo of my own— A hollow form with empty hands."
But surely all this negation of moods in nature, this determination to empty natural phenomena of all definite human significance, is invalidated by one very simple consideration. There must be some correspondence between cause and effect. When certain moods are stimulated by certain physical phenomena, there must be some sort of real causation. It is not any scene that can harmonise with or foster any mood. The range of variety in the effects produced by mountains, rivers, sunsets, and the rest, is admittedly great, but it is not chaotic. The nature-mystic admits variety, nay, rejoices in it, but he postulates an equivalent variety of influences immanent in the phenomena. Of course Auerbach is right if by mood in nature he means an experience similar to that of the human observer: but he is wrong if he implies that the mood is wholly a subjective creation, and that the object, or group of objects, which stimulates the mood has no quality or power which corresponds to, or is essentially connected with, the mood.
Turner's famous "Fighting Temeraire" combines into an exquisite whole a group of human moods and natural phenomena. Was his choice of phenomena determined by purely subjective considerations? A veteran warship is being towed by a little steamer to her last berth. The human interest is intense. The problem is to give it a fitting and noble setting. Study the nature-setting which the artist has chosen for his theme—the wealth of glowing, but gently subdued colour—the sun setting, like the old ship, in mellow glory—the crescent moon that speaks of the birth of a new economic era—the cool mists stealing up, precursors of the night when work is done— how marvellously all these tone with the general sentiment. Shall it be maintained that they are arbitrary conventions, mere fanciful products of the association of ideas? Armed with triple brass must be the breast of the critic who could uphold such a view. For the common heart of humanity repudiates it, and intuitively feels that in such a picture there is more than a display of artistic skill embodying subtle symbols—it feels that there is a blending of elements which share a common spiritual nature.
The same conclusion is reached when the matter is brought to the test of science and philosophy. Science, in its own domain, is every whit as anthropomorphic as Nature Mysticism—and inevitably so if it is to exist at all; for it rests upon the assumption that the behaviour of external objects is in harmony with the workings of human reason. In other words, it postulates a vital relationship between man's inner nature and the inner nature of his material environment. Human reason goes out into nature expecting to find there something akin to itself, and is not disappointed of its hope. Man's conceptions of this kinship were at first, like all his other conceptions, crude and confused; but as his experience widened and ripened, his outlook became more adequate to the infinite complexity and variety of the phenomena with which he has to deal. And throughout, both in the lower and in the higher stages of intellectual development, the same truth unchangingly asserts itself, that man is a microcosm. His reason proves it by finding itself in the macrocosm. And what holds good of the imperfect and recently developed rational faculties holds good even more substantially of the fundamental instincts and emotions, and of intuitions and spiritual promptings.
The scientist of a materialistic bent may here object that as the sphere of human knowledge extends it becomes increasingly evident that all the operations in the universe are under the sway of inexorable laws. The issues thus raised are obviously too large to be discussed at any length in the present context. But two observations of a general character will serve to indicate that there are weighty counter-considerations. The first is that the human heart rebels against the conception of a mechanically determined universe while conceiving itself a product of, or integral part of, that universe. That is to say, we reject the strange theory of a mechanical universe rebelling against itself! Some of the inexorable laws must, to say the least, be of a very different character from that which the scientist postulates! The second consideration is almost a corollary of the first, but also occupies new ground. These "laws" which are so indefatigably hurled at us—what are they? Who can say? Even in their simplest manifestations they pass out of our ken. The most fundamental of them all, from the scientific point of view—the law of the conservation of energy—is now being openly questioned. Much more is there uncertainty as to the laws of life, and the obscure trends and impulses grouped under the head of evolution. So strongly does the stream of criticism bear upon the foundations of the house of the physical scientist, that the old temptation to hasty, and sometimes arrogant, dogmatism is rapidly disappearing. The knowledge of "laws" still leaves, and ever will leave, ample breathing room for the poet, the artist, the nature-mystic, and the soul that loves.
There is, however, another aspect of the charge of anthropomorphism—one which is more difficult to deal with because it affects at times the nature-mystic himself. In attempting to deal with it, it will be well to let representative thinkers put their own case. Jefferies, for example, writes thus: "There is nothing human in nature. The earth, though loved so dearly, would let me perish on the ground, and neither bring forth food nor water. Burning in the sky, the great sun, of whose company I have been so fond, would merely burn on and make no motion to assist me. . . . As for the sea, it offers us salt water which we cannot drink. The trees care nothing for us; the hill I visited so often in days gone by has not missed me. . . . There is nothing human in the whole round of nature. All nature, all the universe that we can see, is absolutely indifferent to us, and except to us human life is of no more value than grass."
Now what does the charge, as thus stated, really amount to? There is no implication that nature is hostile, as some (perhaps including Huxley) would have us think. There is simply a feeling that nature is remote from human modes of experience, indifferent to human interests. And it would be puerile to dispute the rightness of this impression so long as the standpoint of the individual human being is adopted. The individual man is a centre of self-consciousness in a peculiar sense. He has numberless and interminable particular wants, hopes, fears, pleasures, pains. Whereas, the infra-human objects in nature have not attained to his particular mode of consciousness: theirs differs from his in degree, perchance in kind. A tree, a cloud, a mountain, a wave—these cannot enter into what we call "personal" relations with each other or with human beings. But this is not to say that they may not possess a consciousness, which though different from man's consciousness, is yet akin to it and linked to it. Nay, the nature-mystic's experiences, as well as the metaphysician's speculations, declare that the linking up must be regarded as a fact. And when we examine more carefully what Jefferies says, we find that he in no way disputes this fact. How could it be, with his vivid sense of communion with forms of being still more remote from the human than the sea-monsters he names? What oppressed him was a feeling of strangeness. In other words, nature was "remote" for him because he felt he did not understand it well enough.
Further discussion of the important issues thus raised will be postponed until certain forms of modern animism come under review. One or two preliminary observations, however, will be in place at this earlier stage. It is wise, for example, not to forget the limitations of our knowledge. A platitude! Yes—but one which even the greatest thinkers are apt to lose sight of, with consequent tendency to hasty generalisation and undue neglect of deep-seated instincts and intuitions. The discovery of some new cosmic law may change the whole face of nature, and set in a new light its apparent remoteness or indifference. Again, as has just been shown, natural phenomena are in definite relationship to human reason. They are comprehensible— therefore not alien. By their aid we can organise our conduct, and even our ideals—therefore they are factors in our self-realisation. Thus, underlying their seeming indifference, it is possible even now to trace their beneficent influences in the evolutionary process. And since they embody reason, beauty, and goodness, we can afford to await in patience the solution of many problems which trouble us, and surrender ourselves trustfully to the calm, resistless forces which are weaving the web of cosmic destinies.
A fine example of the trustful attitude is found in an article of Lord Dunraven's describing his life in the woods of New Brunswick: "The earth sleeps. A silence that can be felt has fallen over the woods. The stars begin to fade. A softer and stronger light wells up and flows over the scene as the broad moon slowly floats above the tree tops. . . . The tree trunks stand out distinct in the lessening gloom; the dark pine boughs overhead seem to stoop caressingly towards you. Amid a stillness that is terrifying, man is not afraid. Surrounded by a majesty that is appalling, he shrinks not nor is he dismayed. In a scene of utter loneliness he feels himself not to be alone. A sense of companionship, a sensation of satisfaction, creep over him. He feels at one with Nature, at rest in her strong protecting arms."
There is no need, then, to be afraid of a charge ofanthropomorphism, if only our conceptions of nature do not lag behind our clear knowledge of its forms and forces. Man, being what he is, is, of course, compelled to think as man and to speak as man; he cannot jump off his own shadow. But since he is himself part and parcel of the cosmos, his thinking and speaking are within, not external to, the material cosmos. So completely is he within, that his knowledge of himself comes to him only by seeing himself reflected in the greater whole. And thus, provided we are true to the highest principles we have attained, we shall be safer when we look out on nature with the analogy of human agency in our mind, than when we regard its course as alien and indifferent. In other words, Nature is not merely an AEolian harp which re-echoes tones given out by the human soul—though that would be much!—but an indispensable agent in producing them. The action is reciprocal, just because man and his external world interpenetrate at every point, and are united organically in a common life.
THE IMMANENT IDEA
So much by way of direct answer to the formidable attack upon the nature-mystic's position. In turning to more constructive work, which will furnish many indirect answers, it will be necessary to take another brief but exhilarating plunge into metaphysics.
We found that external objects somehow, through sensations, obtain admission into the mind, and become part of its possessions in the form of experience. Intuition of various grades is at the base of all mental development. Reflective thought goes to work on the material thus provided, and weaves certain portions of it into the structure of systematised knowledge. Much of it, however, never emerges into clear consciousness—it is felt rather than known—sometimes not even felt, though it influences the mind, affects its mood or tone, and largely moulds its character and the products of its more conscious processes. Intuition thus contains implicitly what reflection and reason strive to render explicit.
It will be remembered that, in the first chapter, the metaphysical theory broadly adopted was that which may be called Ideal-Realism. The distinctive teaching is that while Materialism stops short at external objects which can resist, and while Subjective Idealism stops short at the perceiving mind, Ideal-Realism affirms the reality of objects and perceiving mind alike, but regards them as mutually dependent, and as fused in the activity of consciousness. Can the conclusions just summed up and the metaphysical theory adopted be brought into helpful connection?
Yes, if the human mind and the external world are made of the same stuff—if the mind is invisible nature, and nature visible mind. For Materialism cannot bridge the gap between matter and consciousness; Subjective Idealism can never move out into a real world. But if nature and mind are genuinely akin, as the nature-mystic holds, there is no gap to bridge, no mind condemned to hopeless isolation. Nature is then seen to be a manifestation of the same mental factors which we discover when we analyse our inner experience—namely, consciousness, feeling, will, and reason. The nature-mystic's communion with the external world takes its place as a valid mode of realising the essential sameness of all forms of existences and of all cosmic activities. Science is another such valid mode, art another, philosophy another, religion yet another—none of them ultimately antagonistic, but mutually supplementary. Some mystics will say that the union of man with nature is actually at any moment complete, but has to be brought into the light of conscious experience. Other mystics, who hold dualistic, pluralistic, or pragmatic views, will maintain that the union may assume ever new forms and develop ever new potentialities. But such differences are subsidiary, and cannot obscure the fundamental doctrine on which all consistent nature-mystics must be agreed, that man and nature are essentially manifestations of the same Reality.