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its beauty, and that a kind of nebular taste should prevail, for preferring that gorgeous dimness to vulgar daylight; nothing short of this could afford a parallel to the mischief done to the 'public mind by some late writers both in England and America ;—a sort of Children of the Mist,' who bring forward their speculations-often very silly, and not seldom very mischievous-under cover of the twilight. They have accustomed their disciples to admire as a style sublimely philosophical, what may best be described as a certain haze of words imperfectly understood, through which some seemingly original ideas, scarcely distinguishable 'in their outlines, loom, as it were, on the view, in a kind of dusky magnificence, that greatly exaggerates their real dimensions.'
In the October number of the Edinburgh Review, 1851 (p. 513), the reviewer, though evidently disposed to regard with some favour a style of dim and mystical sublimity, remarks, that a strange notion, which many have adopted of late years, is that a poem cannot be profound unless it is, in whole or in part, obscure; the people like their prophets to foam and speak riddles.'
But the reviewer need not have confined his remark to poetry; a similar taste prevails in reference to prose writers also. I have ventured,' says the late Bishop Copleston (in a letter published in the Memoir of him by his nephew), 'to give the whole class the appellation of the magic-lanthorn school, for, their writings have the startling effect of that toy; children delight in it, and grown people soon get tired of it.'
The passages here subjoined, from modern works in some repute, may serve as specimens (and a multitude of such might have been added) of the kind of style alluded to:
'In truth, then, the idea (call it that of day or that of night) is threefold, not twofold:-day, night, and their relation. Day is the thesis, night the antithesis, their relation the mesothesis of the triad,-for triad it is, and not a mere pair or duad, after all. It is the same with all the other
couples cited above, and with all couples, for every idea is a trinitarian. Positive pole, negative one, and that middle term wherein they are made one; sun, planet, their relation; solar atom, planetary one, their conjunction, and so forth. The term of relation betwixt the opposites in these ideal pairs is sometimes called the point of indifference, the mesoteric point, the mid-point. This mid-point is to be seen standing betwixt its right and left fellow-elements in every dictionary: for example, men, man, women; or adjectively, male, human, female. 'So God created man in His own image: in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them."
'Now, this threefold constitution of ideas is universal. As all things seem to go in pairs to sense, and to the understanding, so all are seen in threes by reason. This law of antinomy is no limited, no planetary law, nor yet peculiarly human; it is cosmical, all-embracing, ideal, divine. Not only is it impossible for man to think beauty without simultaneously thinking deformity and their point of indifference, justice without injustice and theirs, unity without multiplicity and theirs, but those several theses (beauty, justice, unity, namely) cannot be thought without these their antitheses, and without the respective middle terms of the pairs. As the eye of common sense cannot have an inside without an outside, nor a solar orb without a planetary orbicle (inasmuch as it ceases to be solar the instant it is stript of its planet), so the eye of reason cannot see an inside without seeing an outside, and also their connexion as the inside and the outside of one and the same thing, nor a sun without his planet and their synthesis in a solar system. In short, three-in-one is the law of all thought and of all things. Nothing has been created, nothing can be thought, except upon the principle of three-in-one. Three-in-one is the deepest-lying cypher of the universe."1
This must have been in the mind of the poet who wrote
Again: The relativity' of human knowledge, i.e., the metaphysical limitation of it, implies, we are told, the relation of a subject knowing to an object known. And what is known must be qualitatively known, inasmuch as we must conceive every object of which we are conscious, in the relation of a quality depending upon a substance. Moreover, this qualitatively known object must be protended, or conceived as existing in time, and extended, or regarded as existing in space; while its qualities are intensive, or conceivable under degree. The thinkable, even when compelled by analysis to make the nearest approach that is possible to a negation of intelligibility, thus implies phenomena objectified by thought, and conceived to exist in space and time. With the help of these data, may we not discover and define the highest law of intelligence, and thus place the key-stone in the metaphysic arch ?'
If thou hast any tidings' (says Falstaff to Ancient Pistol) 'prithee deliver them like a man of this world.'
Again: Thus to the ancient, well-known logic, which we might call the logic of identity, and which has for its axiom,
A thing can never be the contrary of that which it is,' Hegel opposes his own logic, according to which 'everything is at once that which it is, and the contrary of that which it is.' By means of this he advances à priori; he proposes a thesis, from which he draws a new synthesis, not directly (which might be impossible), but indirectly, by means of an antithesis.'
Again: It [Religion] is a mountain air; it is the embalmer of the world. It is myrrh, and storax, and chlorine, and rosemary. It makes the sky and the hills sublime; and the silent song of the stars is it. Always the seer is a sayer. Somehow his dream is told, somehow he publishes it with solemn joy, sometimes with pencil on canvas, sometimes with chisel on stone; sometimes in towers and aisles of granite, his soul's worship is builded. . Man is the wondermaker. He is seen amid miracles. The stationariness of re
ligion; the assumption that the age of inspiration is past, that
the Bible is closed; the fear of degrading the character of Jesus by representing him as a man, indicate with sufficient clearness the falsehood of our theology. It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was-that He speaketh, not spoke. The true Christianity-a faith like Christ's in the infinitude of Man-is lost. None believeth in the soul of Man, but only in some man or person old and departed! In how many churches, and by how many prophets, tell me, is Man made sensible that he is an infinite soul; that the earth and heavens are passing into his mind; and that he is drinking for ever the soul of God!
The very word Miracle, as pronounced by christian Churches, gives a false impression: it is a monster; it is not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain. Man's life is a miracle, and all that man doth. . . . A true conversion, a true Christ, is now, as always, to be made by the reception of beautiful sentiments. . . . The gift of God to the soul is not a vaunting, overpowering, excluding sanctity, but a sweet natural goodness like thine and mine, and that thus invites thine and mine to be, and to grow."
Now, without presuming to insinuate that such passages as these convey no distinct meaning to any reader, or to the writer, it may safely be maintained that to above ninety-nine hundredths—including, probably, many who admire them as profoundly wise they are very dimly, if at all, intelligible. If the writers of them were called on to explain their meaning, as Mr. Bayes is, in The Rehearsal, they might perhaps confess as
It is worth observing that this writer, as well as very many others of the same stamp, professes to be a believer in what he chooses to call Christianity; and would, of course, not scruple to take the oath (so strenuously maintained by some as a safeguard to the christian religion) on the true faith of a Christian,' though he is further removed from what is commonly meant by Christianity,' than a Jew or a Mussulman. And it should be remembered that this case is far different from that (with which it is sometimes confounded) of hypocritical profession. He who uses the word 'Christian' avowedly in a sense quite different from the established one, is to be censured indeed for an unwarrantable abuse of language, but is not guilty of deception.
frankly as he does, that the object was merely to elevate and surprise.' Some knowledge of a portion of human nature was certainly possessed by that teacher of Rhetoric mentioned by Quintilian, whose constant admonition to his pupils was [OKOTIOOV] 'darken, darken!' as the readiest mode of gaining admiration.
One may often hear some writers of the 'magic-lanthorn school' spoken of as possessing wonderful power, even by those who regret that this power is not better employed. 'It is pity,' we sometimes hear it said, 'that such and such an author does not express in simple, intelligible, unaffected English such admirable matter as his.' They little think that it is the strangeness and obscurity of the style that make the power displayed seem far greater than it is; and that much of what they now admire as originality and profound wisdom, would appear, if translated into common language, to be mere common-place matter. Many a work of this description may remind one of the supposed ancient shield which had been found by the antiquary Martinus Scriblerus, and which he highly prized, incrusted as it was with venerable rust. He mused on the splendid appearance it must have had in its bright newness; till, one day, an over-sedulous house-maid having scoured off the rust, it turned out to be merely an old pot-lid.
It is chiefly in such foggy forms that the metaphysics and theology of Germany, for instance, are exercising a greater influence every day on popular literature. It has been zealously instilled into the minds of many, that Germany has something far more profound to supply than anything hitherto extant in our native literature; though what that profound something is, seems not to be well understood by its admirers. They are, most of them, willing to take it for granted, with an implicit faith, that what seems such hard thinking, must be very accu
1 This passage is from the Cautions for the Times, No. 29.