Transcendentalism in Germany.

From: Transcendentalism in New England: A History (1880)
Author: Octavius Brooks Frothingham
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1880 New York



  THERE is no call to discuss here the system of Kant, or even to describe it in detail. The means of studying the system are within easy reach of English readers.* Our concern is to know the method which Kant employed, and the use he made of it, the ground he took and the positions he held, so far as this can be indicated within reasonable compass, and without becoming involved in the complexity of the author’s metaphysics. The Critique of Pure Reason is precisely what the title imports-a searching analysis of the human mind; an “attempt to get· at the ultimate grounds of thought, to discover the a priori principles.” Reason is the faculty which furnishes the principles of cognition a priori. Therefore pure reason is that which contains the principles of knowing something, absolutely a priori. An organon of pure reason would be a summary of these principles, according to which all pm e cognition a priori can be obtained, and really accomplished. The extended application of such an organon would furnish a system of pure reason.”

  The problem of modern philosophy may be thus stated: Have we or have we not ideas that are true of necessity, and absolutely f Are there ideas that can fairly be pronounced independent in their origin of experience, and out of the reach of experience by their nature? One party contended that all knowledge was derived from experience; that there was nothing in the intellect that had not previously been in the senses: the opposite party maintained that a portion, at least, of knowledge came from the mind itself; that the intellect contained powers of its own, and impressed its forms upon the phenomena of sense. The extreme doctrine of the two schools was represented, on the one side by the materialists, on the other by the mystics. Between these two extremes various degrees compromise were offered.

  The doctrine of innate ideas, ascribed to Descartes—though he abandoned it as untenable in its crude form,—affirmed that certain cardinal ideas, such as causality, infinity, substance, eternity, were native to the mind, born in it as part of its organic constitution, wholly independent therefore of experience. Locke claimed for the mind merely a power of reflection by which it was able to modify and alter the material given by the senses, thus exploding the doctrine of innate ideas.

  Leibnitz, anxious to escape the danger into which Descartes fell, of making the outward world purely phenomenal, an expression of unalterable thought, and also to escape the consequences of Locke’s position that all knowledge originates in the senses, suggested that the understanding itself was independent of experience, that though it did not contain ideas like a vessel, it was entitled to be called a power of forming ideas, which have, as in mathematics, a character of necessary truths. These necessary laws of the understanding, which experience had no hand in creating, are, according to Leibnitz, the primordial conditions of human knowledge.

  Hume, taking Locke at his word, that all knowledge came from experience, that the mind was a passive recipient of impressions, with no independent intellectual substratum, reasoned that mind was a fiction; and taking Berkeley at his word that the outward world had no material existence, and no apparent existence except to our perception, he reasoned that matter was a fiction. Mind and matter both being fictions, there could be no certain knowledge; truth was unattainable; ideas were illusions. The opposing schools of philosophers annihilated each other, and the result was scepticism.

  Hume started Kant on his long and severe course of investigation, the result of which was, that neither of the antagonist parties could sustain itself: that Descartes was wrong in asserting that such abstract ideas as causality, infinity, substance, time, space, are independent of experience, since without experience they would not exist, and experience takes from them form only; that Locke was wrong in asserting that all ideas originated in experience, and were resolvable into it, since the ideas of causality, substance, infinity and others certainly did not so originate, and were not thus resolvable. It is idle to dispute whether knowledge comes from one source or another—from without through sensation, or from within through intuition; the everlasting battle between idealism and realism, spiritualism and materialism, can never result in victory to either side. Mind and universe, intelligence and experience, suppose each other; neither alone is operative to produce knowledge. Knowledge is the product of their mutual co-operation. Mind does not originate ideas, neither does sensation impart them. Object and subject, sterile by themselves, become fruitful by conjunction. There are not two sources of knowledge, but one only, and that one is produced by the union of the two apparent opposites. Truth is the crystallization, so to speak, that results from the combined elements.

  Let us follow the initial steps of Kant’s analysis. Mind and Universe-Subject and Object-Ego and Non-ego, stand opposite one another, front to front. Mind is conscious only of its own operations: the subject alone considers. The first fact noted is, that the subject is sensitive to impressions made by outward things, and is receptive of them. Dwelling on this fact, we discover that while the impressions are many in number and of great variety, they all, whatever their character, fall within certain inflexible and unalterable conditions—those of space and time—which must, therefore, be regarded as pre-established forms of sensibility. “Time is no empirical conception which can be deduced from experience. Time is a necessary representation which lies at the foundation of all intuitions. Time is given a priori. In it alone is any reality of phenomena possible. These disappear, but it cannot be annihilated.” So of space. “Space is an intuition, met with in us a priori, antecedent to any perception of objects, a pure, not an empirical intuition.” These two forms of sensibility, inherent and invariable, to which all experiences are subject, are primeval facts of consciousness. Kant’s argument on the point whether or no space and time have an existence apart from the mind, is interesting, but need not detain us.

  The materials furnished by sensibility are taken up by the understanding, which classifies, interprets, judges, compares, reduces to unity, eliminates, converts, and thus fashions sensations into conceptions, transmutes impressions into thoughts. Here fresh processes of analysis are employed in classifying judgments, and determining their conditions. All judgments, it is found, must conform to one of four invariable conditions. I. Quantity, which may be subdivided into unity, plurality, and totality: the one, the many, the whole. II. Quality, which is divisible as reality, negation, and limitation: something, nothing, and the more or less. III. Relation, which also comprises three heads: substance and accident, cause and effect, reciprocity, or action and reaction. IV. Modality, which embraces the possible and the impossible, the existent and the non-existent, the .necessary and the contingent. These categories, as they were called, after the terminology of Aristotle, were supposed to exhaust the forms of conception.

  Having thus arrived at conceptions, thoughts, judgments, another faculty comes in to classify the conceptions, link the thoughts together, reduce the judgments to general laws, draw inferences, fix conclusions, proceed from the particular to the general, recede from the general to the particular, mount from the conditioned to the unconditioned, till it arrives at ultimate principles. This faculty is reason,—the supreme faculty, above sensibility, above understanding. Reason gives the final generalization, the idea of a universe comprehending the infinitude of details presented by the senses, and the worlds of knowledge shaped by the understanding; the idea of a personality embracing the infinite complexities of feeling, and gathering under one dominion the realms of consciousness; the idea of a supreme unity combining in itself both the other ideas; the absolute perfection, the infinite and eternal One, which men describe by the word God.

  Here the thinker rested. His search could be carried no further. He had, as he believed, established the independent dominion· of the mind, had mapped out its confines, had surveyed its surface; he had confronted the idealist with the reality of an external world; he had confronted the sceptic with laws of min4 that were independent of experience; and, having done so much, he was satisfied, and refused to move an inch beyond the ground he occupied. To those who applied to him for a system of positive doctrines, or for ground on which a system of positive doctrines could be erected, he declined to give aid. The mind, he said, cannot go out of itself, cannot transgress its own limits. It has no faculty by which it can perceive things as they are; no vision to behold objects corresponding to its ideas; no power to bridge over the gulf between its own consciousness and a world of realities existing apart from it. Whether there be a spiritual universe answering to our conception, a Being justifying reason’s idea of supreme unity, a soul that can exist in an eternal, supersensible world, are questions the philosopher declined to discuss. The contents of his own mind were revealed to him, no more. Kant laid the foundations, he built no structure. He would not put one stone upon another; he declared it to be beyond the power of man to put one stone upon another. The attempts which his earnest disciples-Fichte, for example-made to erect a temple on his foundation he repudiated. As the existence of an external world, though a necessary postulate, could not be demonstrated, but only logically affirmed; so the existence of a spiritual world of substantial entities corresponding to our conceptions, though a necessary inference, could only be logically affirmed, not demonstrated. Our idea of God is no proof that God exists. That there is a God may be an irresistible persuasion, but it can be nothing more; it cannot be knowledge. Of the facts of consciousness, the reality of the ideas in the mind, we may be certain; our belief in them is clear and solid; but from belief in them there is no bridge to them.

  Kant asserted the veracity of consciousness, and demanded an absolute acknowledgment of that veracity. The fidelity of the mind to itself was a first principle with him. Having these ideas, of the soul, of God, of a moral law; being certain that they neither originated in experience, nor depended on experience for their validity, that they transcended experience altogether—man was committed to an unswerving and uncompromising loyalty to himself. His prime duty consisted in deference to the integrity of his own mind. The laws of his intellectual and moral nature were inviolable. Whether there was or was not a God; whether there was or was not a substantial world of experience where the idea of rectitude could be realized, the dictate of duty justified, the soul’s affirmation of good ratified by actual felicity,—rectitude was none the less incumbent on the rational mind; the law of duty was none the less imperative; the vision of good none the less glorious and inspiring. Virtue had its principle in the constitution of the mind itself. Every virtue had there its seat. There was no sweetness of purity, no heroism of faith, that had not an abiding-place in this impregnable fortress.

  Thus, while on the speculative side Kant came out a sceptic in regard to the dogmatic beliefs of mankind, on the practical side he remained the fast friend of intellectual truth and moral sanctity. Practical ethics never had a more stanch supporter than Immanuel Kant. If a man cannot pass beyond the confines of his own mind, he has, at all events, within his own mind a temple, a citadel, a home.

  The “Critique of Pure Reason” made no impression on its first appearance. But no sooner was its significance apprehended, than a storm of controversy betrayed the fact that even the friends of the new teacher were less content than he was to be shut up in their own minds. The calm, passionless, imperturbable man smoked his pipe in the peace of meditation; eager thinkers, desirous of getting more out of the system than its author did, were impatient at his backwardness, and made the intellectual world ring with their calls to improve upon and complete his task.

  The publication of Kant’s great work did not put an end to the wars of philosophy. On the contrary, they raged about it more furiously than ever. As the two schools found in Locke fresh occasion for renewing their strife under the cover of that great name, so here again the latent elements of discord were discovered and speedily brought to the surface. The ·sceptics seized on the sceptical bearings of the new analysis, and proceeded to build their castle from the materials it furnished; the idealists took advantage of the positions gained by the last champion, and pushed their lines forward in the direction of transcendental conquest. We are not called on to follow the sceptics, however legitimate their course, and we shall but indicate the progress made by the idealists, giving their cardinal principles, as we have done those of their master.


  The first important step in the direction of pure transcendentalism was taken by Frederick Henry Jacobi, who was born at Düsseldorf, January 25, 1743. He was a man well educated in philosophy, with a keen interest in the study of it, though not a philosopher by profession, or a systematic writer on metaphysical subjects. His position was that of a civilian who devoted the larger part of his time to the duties of a public office under the government. His writings consist mainly of letters, treatises on special points of metaphysical inquiry, and articles in the philosophical journals. His official position gave repute to the productions of his pen, and the circumstance of his being, not an amateur precisely, but a devotee of philosophy for the love of it and not as a professional business, imparted to his speculation the freshness of personal feeling. His ardent temperament, averse to scepticism, and touched with a mystical enthusiasm, rebelled against the formal and deadly precision of the analytical method, and sought a way out from the intellectual bleakness of the Kantean metaphysics into; the sunshine and air of a living spiritual world. The critics busied themselves with mining and sapping the foundations of consciousness as laid by the philosopher of Konigsberg, who, they complained, had been too easy in conceding the necessity of an outward world. Jacobi accepted with gratitude the intellectual basis afforded, and proceeded to erect thereupon his observatory for studying the heavens. Though not the originator of the “Faith Philosophy,” as it was called, he became the finisher and the best known expositor of it. “Since the time of Aristotle,” he said, “it has been the effort of philosophical schools to rank direct and immediate knowledge below mediate and indirect; to subordinate the capacity for original perception to the capacity for reflection on abstract ideas; to make intuition secondary to understanding, the sense of essential things to definitions. Nothing is accepted that does not admit of being proved by formal and logical process, so that, at last, the result is looked for there, and there only. The validity of intuition is disallowed.”

  Jacobi’s polemics were directed therefore against the systems of Spinoza, Leibnitz, Wolf—in a word against all systems that led to scepticism and dogmatism; and his positive efforts were employed in constructing a system of Faith. His key-word was” Faith,” by which he meant intuition, the power of gazing immediately on essential truth; an intellectual faculty which he finally called Reason, by which supersensual objects become visible, as material objects become visible to the physical eye; an inward sense, a spiritual eye, that “gives evidence of things not seen and substance to things hoped for;” a faculty of vision to which truths respecting God, Providence, Immortality, Freedom, the Moral Law, are palpably disclosed. Kant had pronounced it impossible to prove that the transcendental idea had a corresponding reality as objective being. Jacobi declared that no such proof was needed; that the reality was necessarily assumed. Kant had denied the existence of any faculty that could guarantee the existence of either a sensual or a supersensual world. Jacobi was above all else certain that such a faculty there was, that it was altogether trustworthy, and that it actually furnished material for religious hope and spiritual life: the only possible material, he went on to say; for without this capacity of intuition, philosophy could be in his judgment nothing but an insubstantial fabric, a castle in the air, a thing of definitions and terminologies, a shifting body of hot and cold vapor.

  This, it will be observed, seemed a legitimate consequence of Kant’s method. Kant had admitted the subjective reality of sensible impressions, and had claimed a similar reality for our mental images of supersensible things. He allowed the validity as conceptions, the practical validity, of the ideas of God, Duty, Immortality. Jacobi contended that having gone so far, it was lawful if not compulsory to go farther; that the subjective reality implied an objective reality; that the practical inference was as valid as any logical inference could be; and that through the intuition of reason the mind was placed again in a living universe of divine realities.

  Chalybäus says of Jacobi: “With deep penetration he traced the mystic fountain of desire after the highest and best, to the point where it discloses itself as an immediate feeling in consciousness; that this presentiment was nothing more than Kant said it was-a faint mark made by the compressing chain of logic, he would not allow; he described it rather as the special endowment and secret treasure of the human mind, which he that would not lose it must guard against the touch of evil-minded curiosity; for whoever ventures into this sanctuary with the torch of science, will fare as did the youth before the veiled image at Sais.” And again: “This point, that a self-subsisting truth must correspond to the conscious idea, that the subject must have an object which is personal like itself, is the ore that Jacobi was intent on extracting from the layers of consciousness: he disclosed it only in part, but unsatisfactory as his exposition was to the stern inquisition of science, his purpose was so strong, his aim so single, we cannot wonder that, in spite of the outcry and the scorn against his ‘Faith or Feeling Philosophy,’ his thought survived, and even entered on a new career in later times. It must, however, be confessed that instead of following up his clue, speculative fashion, he laid down his undeveloped theorem as an essential truth, above speculation, declaring that speculation must end in absolute idealism, which was but another name for nihilism and fatalism, Jacobi made his own private consciousness a measure for the human mind.” At the close of his chapter, Chalybäus quotes Hegel’s verdict, expressed in these words: “Jacobi resembles a solitary thinker, who, in his life’s morning, finds an ancient riddle hewn in the primeval rock; he believes that the riddle contains a truth, but he tries in vain to discover it. The day long he carries it about with him; entices weighty suggestions from it; displays it in shapes of teaching and imagery that fascinate listeners, inspiring noblest wishes and anticipations: but the interpretation eludes him, and at evening he lays him down in the hope that a celestial dream or the next morning’s waking will make articulate, the word he longs for and has believed in.”


  The transcendental philosophy received from Jacobi an impulse toward mysticism. From another master it received an impulse toward heroism. This master was Johann Gottlieb Fichte, born at Rammenau, in Upper Lusatia, on the 19th of May, 1762. A short memoir of him by William Smith, published in 1845, with a translation of the “Nature of the Scholar,” and reprinted in Boston, excited a deep interest among people who had neither sympathy with his philosophy nor intelligence to comprehend it. He was a great mind, and a greater character—sensitive, proud, brave, determined, enthusiastic, imperious, aspiring; a mighty soul; “ a cold, colossal, adamantine spirit, standing erect and clear, like a Cato Major among degenerate men; fit to have been the teacher of the Stoa, and to have discoursed of beauty and virtue in the groves of Academe! So robust an intellect, a soul so calm, so lofty, massive, and immovable, has not mingled in philosophical discussion since the time of Luther. For the man rises before us amid contradiction and debate like a granite mountain amid clouds and winds. As a man approved by action and suffering, in his life and in his death, he ranks with a class of men who were common only in better ages than ours. Thus wrote Thomas Carlyle of him more than a generation ago.

  The direction given to philosophy by such a man could not but be decided and bold. His short treatises, all marked by intellectual power, some by glowing eloquence, carried his thoughts beyond the philosophical circle and spread his leading principles far beyond the usual speculative lines. “The Destination of Man,” “The Vocation of the Scholar,” “The Nature of the Scholar,” “The Vocation of Man,” “The Characteristics of the Present Age,” “The Way towards the “ Blessed Life,” were translated into English, published in the “Catholic Series” of John Chapman; and extensively read. The English reviewers helped to make that author and his ideas known to many readers.

  The contribution that Fichte made to the transcendental philosophy may be described without using many words. He became acquainted with Kant’s system in Leipsic, where he was teaching, in 1790. The effect it had on him is described in letters to his friends. To one he wrote: “The last four or five months which I have passed in Leipsic have been the happiest of my life; and the most satisfactory part of it is, that I have to thank no man for the smallest ingredient in its pleasures. When I came to Leipsic my brain swarmed with great plans. All were wrecked; and of so many soap-bubbles there now remains not even the light froth that composed them. This disturbed a little my peace of mind, and half in despair I joined a party to which I should long ere this have belonged. Since I could not alter my outward condition, I resolved on internal change. I threw myself into philosophy, and, as you know, the Kantean. Here I found the remedy for my ills, and joy enough to boot. The influence of this philosophy, the moral part of it in particular (which, however, is unintelligible without previous study of the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’), on the whole spiritual life, and especially the revolution it has caused in my own mode of thought, is indescribable.” To another he wrote in similar strain: “I have lived in a new world since reading the ‘Critique of Pure Reason.’ Principles I believed irrefragable are refuted; things I thought could never be proved-the idea of absolute freedom, of duty, for example-are demonstrated; and I am so much the happier. It is indescribable what respect for humanity, what power this system gives us. What a blessing to an age in which morality was tom up by the roots, and the word duty blotted out of the dictionary!” To Johanna Rahn he expresses himself in still heartier terms: “My scheming mind has found rest at last, and I thank Providence that shortly before all my hopes were frustrated I was placed in a position which enabled me to bear the disappointment with cheerfulness. A circumstance that seemed the result of mere chance induced me to devote myself entirely to the study of the Kantean philosophy—a philosophy that restrains the imagination, always too strong with me, gives reason sway, and raises the soul to an unspeakable height above all earthly concerns. I have accepted a nobler morality, and instead of busying myself with outward things, I concern myself more with my own being. It has given me a peace such as I never before experienced; amid uncertain worldly prospects I have passed my happiest days. It is difficult beyond all conception, and stands greatly in need of simplification. . . . The first elements are hard speculations, that have no direct bearing on human life, but their conclusions are most important for an age whose morality is corrupted at the fountain head; and to set these consequences before the world would, I believe, be doing it a good service. I am now thoroughly convinced that the human will is free, and that to be happy is not the purpose of our being, but to deserve happiness.” So great was Fichte’s admiration of Kant’s system, that he became at once an expositor of its principles, in the hope that he might render it intelligible and attractive to minds of ordinary culture.

  Fichte considered himself a pure Kantean, perhaps the only absolutely consistent one there was; and that he did so is not surprising; for, in mending the master’s positions, he seemed to be strengthening them against assault. He did not, like Jacobi, draw inferences which Kant had laboriously, and, as it seemed, effectually cut off; he merely entrenched himself within the lines the philosopher of Konigsberg had drawn. Kant had, so his critics charged, taken for granted the reality of our perceptions of outward things. This was the weak point in his system, of which his adversaries took advantage. On this side he allowed empiricism to construct his wall, and left incautiously an opening which the keen-sighted foe perceived at once. Fichte bethought him to fortify that point, and thus make the philosophy unassailable; to take it, in fact, out of the category of a philosophical system, and give it the character of a science. To this end, with infinite pains and incredible labor, he tested the foundations to discover the fundamental and final facts which rested on the solid rock. The ultimate facts of consciousness were in question.

  Fichte accepted without hesitation the confinement within the limits of consciousness against which Jacobi rebelled, and proceeded to make the prison worthy of such an occupant. The facts of consciousness, he admitted, are all we have. The states and activities of the mind, perceptions, ideas, judgments, sentiments, or by whatever other name they may be called, constitute, by his admission, all our knowledge, and beyond them we cannot go. They are, however, solid and substantial. Of the outward world he knew nothing and had nothing to say; he was not concerned with that. The mind is the man; the history of the mind is the man’s history; the processes of the mind report the whole of experience; the phenomena of the external universe are mere phenomena, reflections, so far as we know, of our thought; the mountains, woods, stars, are facts of consciousness, to which we attach these names. To infer that they exist because we have ideas of them, is illegitimate in philosophy. The ideas stand by themselves, and are sufficient of themselves.

  The mind is first, foremost, creative and supreme. It takes the initiative in all processes. He that assumes the existence of an external world does so on the authority of consciousness. If he says that consciousness compels us to assume the existence of such a world, that it is so constituted as to imply the realization of its conception, still we have simply the fact of consciousness; power to verify the relation between this inner fact and a corresponding physical representation, there is none. Analyze the facts of consciousness as much as we may, revise them, compare them, we are still within their circle and cannot pass beyond its limit. Is it urged that the existence of an external world is a necessary postulate? The same reply avails, namely, that the idea of necessity is but one of our ideas, a conception of the mind, an inner notion or impression which legitimates itself alone. Does the objector further insist, in a tone of exasperation caused by what seems to him quibbling, that in this case consciousness plays us false, makes a promise to the ear which it breaks to the hope—lies, in short? The imperturbable philosopher sets aside the insinuation as an impertinence. The fact of consciousness, he maintains, stands and testifies for itself. It is not answerable for anything out of its sphere. In saying what it does it speaks the truth; the whole truth, so far as we can determine. Whether or no it is absolutely the whole truth, the truth as it lies in a mind otherwise constituted, is no concern of ours.

  The reasoning by which Fichte cut off the certainty of a material world outside of the mind, told with equal force against the objective existence of a spiritual world. The mental vision being bounded by the mental sphere, its objects being there and only there, with them we must be content. The soul has its domain, untrodden forests to explore, silent and trackless ways to follow, mystery to rest in, light to walk by, fountains and floods of living water, starry firmaments of thought, continents of reason, zones of law, and with this domain it must be satisfied. God is one of its ideas; immortality is another; that they are anything more than ideas, cannot be known.

  That the charge of atheism should be brought against so uncompromising a thinker, is a less grave imputation upon the discernment of his contemporaries than ordinarily it is. That he should have been obliged, in consequence of it, to leave Jena, and seek an asylum in Prussia, need not excite indignation, at least in those who remember his unwillingness or inability to modify his view, or explain the sense in which he called himself a believer. To “charge” a man with atheism, as if atheism were guilt, is a folly to be ashamed of; but to “class” a man among atheists who in no sense accepts the doctrine of an intelligent, creative Cause, is just, while language has meaning. And this is Fichte’s position. In his philosophy there was no place for assurance of a Being corresponding to the mental conception. The word “God” with him expressed the category of the Ideal. The world being but the incarnation of our sense of duty, the reflection of the mind, the creator of it is the mind. God, being a reflection of the soul in its own atmosphere, is one of the soul’s creations, a shadow on the surface of a pool. The soul creates; deity is created. This is not even ideal atheism, like that of Etienne Vacherot; it may be much nobler and more inspiring than the recognized forms of theism; it is dogmatic or speculative atheism only: but that it is, and that it should confess itself. It was natural that Fichte, being perfect master of his thought, should disclaim and resent an imputation which in spirit he felt was undeserved. It was natural that people who were not masters of his thought, and would not have appreciated it if they had been, should judge him by the only definitions they had. Berkeley and Fichte stood at opposite extremes in their Idealism. Berkeley, starting from the theological conception of God, maintained that the outward world had a real existence in the supreme mind, being phenomenal only to the human. Fichte, starting from the human mind, contended that it was altogether phenomenal, the supreme mind itself being phantasmal.

  How came it, some will naturally ask, that such a man escaped the deadly consequences of such resolute introspection? Where was there the indispensable basis for action and reaction? Life is conditioned by limitation; the shore gives character to the sea; the outward world gives character to the man, excites his energy, defines his aim, trains his perception, educates his will, offers a horizon to his hope. The outward world being removed, dissipated, resolved into impalpable thought, what substitute for it can be devised? Must not the man sink into a visionary, and waste his life in dream?

  That Fichte was practically no dreamer, has already been said. The man who closed a severe, stately, and glowing lecture on duty with the announcement—it was in 1813, when the French drums were rattling in the street, at times drowning the speaker’s voice—that the course would be suspended till the close of the campaign, and would be resumed, if resumed at all, in a free country, and thereupon, with a German patriot’s enthusiasm, rushed himself into the field-this man was no visionary, lost in dreams. The internal world was with him a living world; the mind was a living energy; ideas were things; principles were verities; the laws of thought were laws of being. So intense was his feeling of the substantial nature of these invisible entities, that the obverse side of them, the negation of them, had all the vis inertia, all the objective validity of external things. He spoke of “absolute limitations,” “inexplicable limitations,” against which the mind pressed as against palpable obstacles, and in pressing against which it acquired tension and vigor. Passing from the realm of speculation into that of practice, the obstacles assumed the attributes of powers, the impediments became foes, to be resisted as strenuously as ever soldier opposed soldier in batt1e. From the strength of this conviction he was enabled to say: “I am well convinced that this life is not a scene of enjoyment, but of labor and toil, and that every joy is granted but to strengthen us for further exertion; that the control of our fate is not required of us, but only our self-culture. I give myself no concern about external things; I endeavor to be, not to seem,—I am no man’s master, and no man’s slave.”

  Fichte was a sublime egoist. In his view, the mind was sovereign and absolute, capable of spontaneous, self-determined, originating action, having power to propose its own end and pursue its own freely-chosen course; a live intelligence, eagerly striving after self-development, to fulfil all the possibilities of its nature. Of one thing he was certain-the reality of the rational soul, and in that certainty lay the ground of his tremendous weight of assertion, His professional chair was a throne; his discourses were prophecies; his tone was the tone of an oracle. It made the blood burn to hear him; it makes the blood burn at this distance to read his printed words. To cite a few sentences from his writings in illustration of the man’s way of dealing with the great problems of life, is almost a necessity. The following often-quoted but pregnant passage is from “The Destination of Man:” “I understand thee now, spirit sublime! I have found the organ by which to apprehend this reality, and probably all other. It is not knowledge, for knowledge can only demonstrate and establish itself; every kind of knowledge supposes some higher knowledge upon which it is founded; and of this ascent there is no end. It is faith, that voluntary repose in the ideas that naturally come to us, because through these only we can fulfil our destiny; which sets its seal on knowledge, and raises to conviction, to certainty, what, without it, might be sheer delusion. It is not knowledge, but a resolve to commit one’s self to knowledge. No merely verbal distinction .this, but a true and deep one, charged with momentous consequences to the whole character. All conviction is of faith, and proceeds from the heart, not from the understanding. Knowing this, I will enter into no controversy, for I foresee that in this way nothing can be gained. I will not endeavor, by reasoning, to press my conviction on others, nor will I be discouraged if such an attempt should fail. My mode of thinking I have adopted for myself, not for others, and to myself only need I justify it. Whoever has the same upright intention will also attain the same or a similar conviction, and without it that is impossible. Now that I know this, I know also from what point all culture of myself and others must proceed; from the will, and not from the understanding. Let but the first be steadily directed toward the good, the last will of itself apprehend the true. Should the last be exercised and developed, while the first remains neglected, nothing can result but a facility in vain and endless refinements of sophistry. In faith I possess the test of all truth and all conviction; truth originates in the conscience, and what contradicts its authority, or makes us unwilling or incapable of rendering obedience to it, is most certainly false, even should I be unable to discover the fallacies through which it is reached. . . . . . . . . What unity, what completeness and dignity, our human nature receives from this view! Our thought is not based on itself, independently of our instincts and inclinations. Man does not consist of two beings running parallel to each other; he is absolutely one. Our entire system of thought is founded our intuition; as is the heart of the individual, so is his knowledge.”

  “The everlasting world now rises before me more brightly, and the fundamental laws of its order are more clearly revealed to my mental vision. The will alone, lying hid from mortal eyes in the obscurest depths of the soul, is the first link in a chain of consequences that stretches through the invisible realm of spirit, as, in this terrestrial world, the action itself, a certain movement communicated to matter, is the first link in a material chain that encircles the whole system. The will is the effective cause, the living principle of the world of spirit, as motion is of the world of sense. The will is in itself a constituent part of the transcendental world. By my free determination I change and set in motion something in this transcendental world, and my energy gives birth to an effect that is new, permanent, and imperishable. Let this will find expression in a practical deed, and this deed belongs to the world of sense and produces effects according to the virtue it contains.”

  This is the stoical aspect of the doctrine. The softer side of it appears throughout the book that is entitled “The Way towards the Blessed Life.” We quote a few passages from the many the eloquence whereof does no more than justice to the depth of sentiment:

  “Full surely there is a blessedness beyond the grave for those who have already entered on it here, and in no other form than that wherein they know it here, at any moment. By mere burial man arrives not at bliss; and in the future life, throughout its whole infinite range, they will seek for happiness as vainly as they sought it here, who seek it in aught else than that which so closely surrounds them here—the Infinite.”

  “Religion consists herein, that man in his own person, with his own spiritual eye, immediately beholds and possesses God. This, however, is possible through pure independent thought alone; for only through this does man assume real personality, and this alone is the eye to which God becomes visible. Pure thought is itself the divine existence; and conversely, the divine existence, in its immediate essence, is nothing else than pure thought.”

  “The truly religious man conceives of his world as action, which, because it is his world, he alone creates, in which alone he can live and find satisfaction. This action he does not will for the sake of results in the world of sense; he is in no respect anxious in regard to results, for he lives in action simply as action; he wills it because it is the will of God in him, and his own peculiar portion in being.”

  “As to those in whom the will of God is not inwardly accomplished,—because there is no inward life in them, for they are altogether outward,—upon them the will of God is wrought as alone it can be; appearing at first sight bitter and ungracious, though in reality merciful and loving in the highest degree. To those who do not love God, all things must work together immediately for pain and torment, until, by means of the tribulation, they are led to salvation at last.”

  Language like this from less earnest lips might be deceptive; but from the lips of a teacher like Fichte it tells of the solid grandeurs that faithful men possess in the ideal creations of their souls; the habitableness of air-castles.


  The chief sources from which the transcendental philosophy came from Germany to America have been indicated. The traces of Jacobi and Fichte are broad and distinct on the mind of the New World. Of Schelling little need be said, for his works were not translated into English, and the French translation of the “Transcendental Idealism” was not announced till 1850, when the movement in New England was subsiding. His system was too abstract and technical in form to interest any but his countrymen. Coleridge was fascinated by it, and yielded to the fascination so far as to allow the thoughts of the German metaphysician to take possession of his mind; but for Coleridge, indeed, few English-speaking men would have known what the system was. Transcendentalism in New England was rather spiritual and practical than metaphysical. Jacobi and Fichte were both; it can scarcely be said that Schelling was either. His books were hard; his ideas underwent continual changes in detail; his speculative system was developed gradually in a long course of years. But for certain grandiose conceptions which had a charm for the imagination and fascinated the religious sentiment, his name need not be mentioned in this little incidental record at all. There was, however, in Schelling something that recalled the ideal side of Plato, more that suggested Plotinus, the neo-Platonists and Alexandrines, a mystical pantheistic quality that mingled well with the general elements of Idealism, and gave atmosphere, as it were, to the tender feeling of Jacobi and the heroic will of Fichte.

  Schelling was Fichte’s disciple, filled his vacant chair in Jena in 1798, and took his philosophical departure from certain of his positions. Fichte had shut the man up close in himself, had limited the conception of the world by the boundaries of consciousness, had reduced; the inner universe to a full-orbed creation, made its facts substantial and its fancies solid, peopled it with living forces, and found room in it for the exercise of a complete moral and spiritual life. In his system the soul was creator. The outer universe had its being in human thought. Subject and object were one, and that one was the subject.

  Schelling restored the external world to its place as an objective reality, no fiction, no projection from the human mind. Subject and object, in his view, were one, but in the ABSOLUTE, the universal soul, the infinite and eternal mind. His original fire mist was the unorganized intelligence of which the universe was the expression. Finite minds are but phases of manifestation of the infinite mind, inlets into which it flows, some deeper, wider, longer than others. Spirit and matter are reverse aspects of being. Spirit is invisible nature, nature invisible spirit. Starting from nature, we may work our way into intelligence; starting from intelligence, we may work our way out to nature. Thought and existence having the same ground, ideal and real being one, the work of philosophy is twofold—from nature to arrive at spirit, from spirit to arrive at nature. They who wish to know how Schelling did it must consult the histories of philosophy; the most popular of them will satisfy all but the experts. It is easy to conjecture into what mysterious ways the clue might lead, and in what wilderness of thickets the reader might be lost; how in mind we are to see nature struggling upward into consciousness, and in nature mind seeking endless forms of finite expression. To unfold both processes, in uniform and balanced movement, avoiding pantheism on one side, and materialism on the other, was the endeavor we shall not attempt, even in the most cursory manner, to describe. God becomes conscious in man, the philosophic man, the man of reason, in whom the absolute being recognizes himself. The reason gazes immediately on the eternal realities, by virtue of what was called “intellectual intuition,” which beholds both subject and object as united in a single thought. Reason was impersonal, no attribute of the finite intelligence, no fact of the individual consciousness, but a faculty, if that be the word for it, that transcended all finite experience, commanded a point superior to consciousness, was, in fact, the all-seeing eye confronting itself. What room here for intellectual rovers! What mystic groves for ecstatic souls to lose themselves in! What intricate mazes for those who are fond of hunting phantoms! Flashes of dim glory from this tremendous speculation are seen in the writings of Emerson, Parker, Alcott, and other seers, probably caught by reflection, or struck out, as they were by Schelling himself, by minds moving on the same level. In Germany the lines of speculation were carried out in labyrinthine detail, as, fortunately, they were not elsewhere.

  Of Hegel, the successor in thought of Schelling, there is no call here to speak at all. His speculation, though influential in America, as influential as that of either of his predecessors, was scarcely known thirty-five years ago, and if it had been, would have possessed little charm for idealists of the New England stamp. That system has borne fruits of a very different quality, being adopted largely by churchmen, whom it has justified and fortified in their ecclesiastical forms, doctrinal and sacramental, and by teachers of moderately progressive tendencies. The duty of unfolding his ideas has devolved upon students of German, as no other language has given them anything like adequate expression. Hegel, too, was more formidable than Schelling: the latter was brilliant, dashing, imaginative, glowing; his ideas shone in the air, and were caught with little toil by enthusiastic minds. To comprehend or even to apprehend Hegel requires more philosophical culture than was found in New England half a century ago, more than is by any means common to-day. Modern speculative philosophy is, as a rule, Hegelian. Its spirit is conservative, and it scarcely at all lends countenance to movements so revolutionary as those that shook New England.

  Long before the time we are dealing with—as early as 1824—the philosophy of Hegel had struck hands with church and state in Prussia; Hegel was at once prophet, priest, and prince. In the fulness of his powers, ripe in ability and in fame, he sat in the chair that Fichte had occupied, and gave laws to the intellectual world. He would “teach philosophy to talk German, as Luther had taught the Bible to do.” A crowd of enthusiasts thronged about him. The scientific and literary celebrities of Berlin sat at his feet; state officials attended his lectures and professed themselves his disciples. The government provided liberally for his salary, and paid the travelling expenses of this great ambassador of the mind. The old story of disciple become master was told again. The philosopher was the friend of those that befriended him; the servant, some say, of those that lavished on him honors. Then the new philosophy that was to reconstruct the mental world learned to accept the actual world as it existed, and lent its powerful aid to the order of things it promised to reconstruct. Throwing out the aphorism, “The rational is the actual, the actual is the rational,” Hegel declared that natural right, morality, and even religion are properly subordinated to authority. The despotic Prussian system welcomed the great philosopher as its defender. The Prussian Government was not tardy in showing appreciation of its advocate’s eminent services.

  The church, taking the hint, put in its claim to patronage. It needed protection against the rationalism that was coming up; and such protection the majesty of Hegel vouchsafed to offer. Faith and philosophy formed a new alliance. Orthodox professors gave in their loyalty to the man who taught that “God was in process of becoming,” and the man who taught that “God was in process of becoming” welcomed the orthodox professors to the circle of his disciples. He was more orthodox than the orthodox; he gave the theologians new explanations of their own dogmas, and supplied them with arguments against their own foes. Trinity, incarnation, atonement, redemption, were all interpreted and justified, to the complete satisfaction of the ecclesiastical powers.

  This being the influence of the master, and of philosophy as he explained it, the formation of a new school by the earnest, liberal men who drew very different conclusions from the master’s first principles, was to be expected. But the “New Hegelians,” as they were called, became disbelievers in religion and in spiritual things altogether, and either lapsed, like Strauss, into intellectual scepticism, or, like Feuerbach, became aggressive materialists. The ideal elements in Hegel’s system were appropriated by Christianity, and were employed against liberty and progress. Spiritualists, whether in the old world or the new, had little interest in a philosophy that so readily favored two opposite tendencies, both of which they abhorred. To them the spiritual philosophy was represented by Hegel’s predecessors. The disciples of sentiment accepted Jacobi; the loyalists of conscience followed Fichte; the severe metaphysicians, of whom there were a few, adhered to Kant; the soaring specula tors and imaginative theosophists spread their “sheeny vans,” and soared into the regions of the absolute with Schelling. The idealists of New England were largest debtors to Jacobi and Fichte.

* See Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, London, 1838; Morell’s History of Modem Philosophy; Chalybäus’ Historical Development of Speculative Philosophy from Kant to Hegel; Lewes’ Biographical History of Philosophy; Cousin’s Leçons, Œuvres, 1ere série, vol. 5, give a clear account of Kant’s philosophy.

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