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philosopher and the true poet are one; and a beauty which is truth, and a truth which is beauty, is the aim of both. Is not the charm of one of Plato's or Aristotle's definitions strictly like that of the Antigone of Sophocles ? It is, in both cases, that a spiritual life has been imparted to Nature ; that the solid-seeming block of matter has been pervaded and dissolved by a thought; that this feeble human being has penetrated the vast masses of Nature with an informing soul, and recognised itself in their harmony, that is, seized their law. In physics, when this is attained, the memory disburthens itself of its cumbrous catalogues of particulars, and carries centuries of observation in a single formula.
Thus, even in physics, the material is degraded before the spiritual. The astronomer, the geometer, rely on their irrefragable analysis, and disdain the results of observation. The sublime remark of Euler, on his law of arches—“ This will be found contrary to all experience, yet is true” — had already transferred Nature into the mind, and left matter like an outcast corpse.
4. Intellectual science has been observed to beget invariably a doubt of the existence of matter. Turgot said, “ He that has never doubted the existence of matter may be assured he has no aptitude for metaphysical inquiries." It fastens the attention upon immortal necessary uncreated natures, that is, upon Ideas ; and in their presence, we feel that outward circumstance is a dream and a shade. Whilst we wait in this Olympus of gods, we think of Nature as an appendix to the soul. We ascend into their region, and know that these are the thoughts of the Supreme Being. “These are they who were set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When He prepared the heavens, they were there; when He established the clouds above, when He strengthened the fountains of the deep, then they were by Him, as one brought up with Him. Of them took he counsel.”
Their influence is proportionate. As objects of science, they are accessible to few men; yet all men are capable of being raised by piety or by passion into their region; and no man touches these divine natures without becoming, in some degree, himself divine. Like a new soul, they renew the body. We become physically nimble and lightsome; we tread on air; life is no longer irksome, and we think it will never be so. No man fears age, or misfortune, or death, in their serene company, for he is transported out of the district of change. Whilst we behold unveiled the nature of Justice and Truth, we learn the difference between the absolute and the conditional, or relative. We apprehend the absolute. As it were, for the first time, we exist. We become immortal, for we learn that time and space are relations of matter; that, with a perception of truth, or a virtuous will, they have no affinity.
5. Finally, religion and ethics—which may be fitly called the practice of ideas, or the introduction of ideas into life-have an analogous effect with all lower culture, in degrading Nature and suggesting its dependence on spirit. Ethics and religion differ herein, that the one is the system of human duties commencing from man; the other, from God. Religion includes the personality of God; Ethics does not. They are one to our present design. They both put Nature under foot. The first and last lesson of religion is, “ The things that are seen are temporal; the things that are unseen are eternal.” It puts an affront upon Nature. It does that for the unschooled which philosophy does for Berkeley and Viasa. The uniform language that may be heard in the churches of the most ignorant sects is :-“ Contemn the unsubstantial shows of the world; they are vanities, dreams, shadows, unrealities : seek the realities of religion.” The devotee flouts Nature. Some theosophists have arrived at a certain hostility and indignation towards matter, as the Manichean and Plotinus. They distrusted in themselves any looking back to these flesh-pots of Egypt. Plotinus was ashamed of his body. In short, they might all say of matter what Michael Angelo said of external beauty, “ It is the frail and weary weed in which God dresses the soul, which he has called into time.”
It appears that motion, poetry, physical and intellectual science, and religion, all tend to affect our convictions of the reality of the external world. But I own there is something ungrateful in expanding too curiously the particulars of the general proposition, that all culture tends to imbue us with idealism. I have no hostility to Nature, but a child's love to it. I expand and live in the warm day, like corn and melons. Let us speak her fair. I do not wish to fling stones at my beautiful mother, nor soil my gentle nest. I only wish to indicate the true position of Nature in regard to man, wherein to establish man all right education tends ; as the ground which, to attain, is the object of human life, that is, of man's connexion with Nature. Culture inverts the vulgar views of Nature, and brings the mind to call that apparent which it uses to call real, and that real which it
uses to call visionary. Children, it is true, believe in the external world. The belief that it appears only, is an after-thought; but, with culture, this faith will as surely arise on the mind as did the first.
The advantage of the ideal theory over the popular faith is this, that it presents the world in precisely that view which is most desirable to the mind. It is, in fact, the view which Reason, both speculative and practical—that is, philosophy and virtue-take ; for, seen in the light of thought, the world always is phenomenal, and virtue subordinates it to the mind. Idealism sees the world in God. It beholds the whole circle of persons and things, of actions and events, of country and religion, not as painfully accumulated, atom after atom, act after act, in an aged creeping Past, but as one vast picture, which God paints on the instant eternity, for the contemplation of the soul. Therefore the soul holds itself off from a too trivial and microscopic study of the universal tablet. It respects the end too much to immerse itself in the means. It sees something more important in Christianity than the scandals of ecclesiastical history, or the niceties of criticism ; and, very incurious concerning persons or miracles, and not at all disturbed by chasms of historical evidence, it accepts from God the phenomenon as it finds it, as the pure and awful form of religion in the world. It is not hot and passionate at the appearance of what it calls its own good or bad fortune, at the union or opposition of other persons. No man is its enemy. It accepts whatsoever befalls, as part of its lesson. It is a watcher more than a doer; and it is a doer, only that it may the better watch.
SPIRIT.—It is essential to a true theory of Nature and of man, that it should contain somewhat progressive. Uses that are exhausted, or that may be, and facts that end in the statement, cannot be all that is true of this brave lodging, wherein man is harboured, and wherein all his faculties find appropriate and endless exercise; and all the uses of Nature admit of being summed in one, which yields the activity of man an infinite scope. Through all its kingdoms, to the suburbs and outskirts of things, it is faithful to the cause whence it had its origin. It always speaks of Spirit. It suggests the absolute. It is a perpetual effect. It is a great shadow pointing always to the sun behind us.
The aspect of Nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The
happiest man is he who learns from Nature the lesson of worship.
Of that ineffable essence which we call Spirit, he that thinks most will say least. We can foresee God in the coarse, and, as it were, distant phenomena of matter; but when we try to define and describe himself, both language and thought desert us, and we are as helpless as fools and savages. That essence refuses to be recorded in propositions ; but when man has worshipped him intellectually, the noblest ministry of Nature is to stand as the apparition of God. It is the organ through which the universal Spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to it.
When we consider Spirit, we see that the views already presented do not include the whole circumference of man. We must add some related thoughts.
Three problems are put by Nature to the mind: What is matter? whence is it, and whereto ? The first of these questions only the ideal theory answers. Idealism saith: Matter is a phenomenon, not a substance.
Idealism acquaints us with the total disparity between the evidence of our own being, and the evidence of the world's being. The one is perfect ; the other, incapable of any assurance. The mind is a part of the nature of things; the world is a divine dream, from which we may presently awake to the glories and certainties of day. Idealism is an hypothesis to account for Nature by other principles than those of carpentry and chemistry. Yet, if it only deny the existence of matter, it does not satisfy the demands of the spirit. It leaves God out of me. It leaves me in the splendid labyrinth of my perceptions to wander without end. Then the heart resists it, because it baulks the affections in denying substantive being to men and women. Nature is so pervaded with human life, that there is something of humanity in all and in every particular. But this theory makes Nature foreign to me, and does not account for that consanguinity which we acknowledge to it.
Let it stand, then, in the present state of our knowledge, merely as a useful introductory hypothesis, serving to apprise us of the eternal distinction between the soul and the world.
But when, following the invisible steps of thought, we come to inquire, Whence is matter, and whereto? many truths arise to us out of the recesses of consciousness. We learn that the highest is present to the soul of man, that the dread universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are,--that spirit creates,--that, behind Nature, throughout Nature, spirit is present; one, and not compound; it does not act upon us from without - that is, in space and time -- but spiritually, or through ourselves, Therefore, that spirit — that is, the Supreme Being — does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old. As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God; he is nourished by unfailing fountains, and draws, at his need, inexhaustible power. Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator-is himself the creator in the finite. This view, which admonishes me where the sources of wisdom and power lie, and points to virtue as to
The golden key
carries upon its face the highest certificate of truth, because it animates me to create my own world through the purification of
The world proceeds from the same spirit as the body of man. It is a remoter and inferior incarnation of God—a projection of God in the unconscious. But it differs from the body in one important respect. It is not, like that, now subjected to the human will. Its serene order is inviolable by us. It is, therefore, to us, the present expositor of the Divine mind. It is a fixed point whereby we may measure our departure. As we degenerate, the contrast between us and our house is more evident. We are as much strangers in nature as we are aliens from God. We do not understand the notes of birds. The fox and the deer run away from us; the bear and tiger rend us. We do not know the uses of more than a few plants, as corn and the apple, the potato and the vine. Is not the landscape, every glimpse of which hath a grandeur, a face of him ? Yet this may show us what discord is between man and nature, for you cannot freely admire a noble landscape if labourers are digging in the field hard by. The poet finds something ridiculous in his delight, until he is out of the sight of men.