Transcendentalism in England.

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



  THE prophet of the new philosophy in England was Samuel Taylor Coleridge; in the early part of the present century, perhaps the most conspicuous figure m our literary world; the object of more admiration, the centre of more sympathy, the source of more intellectual life than any individual of his time; the criticism, the censure, the manifold animadversion he was made the mark for, better attest his power than the ovations he received from his worshippers. The believers in his genius lacked words to express their sense of his greatness. He was the “eternal youth,” the “divine child.” The brilliant men of his period acknowledged his surpassing brilliancy; the deep men confessed his depth; the spiritual men went to him for inspiration. His mind, affluent and profuse, contained within no barriers of conventional form, poured an abounding flood’ of thoughts over the whole literary domain. He was essayist, journalist, politician, poet, dramatist, metaphysician, philosopher, theologian, divine, critic, expositor, dreamer, soliloquizer; in all eloquent, in all intense. The effect he produced on the minds of his contemporaries will scarcely be believed now. At present he is little more than a name: his books are pronounced unreadable; his opinions are not quoted as authority; his force is spent. But in 1851, Thomas Carlyle, then past the years of his enthusiasm, and verging on the scornful epoch of his intellectual career, spoke of him, in the “Life of Sterling,” as “A sublime man, who, alone in those dark days, had saved his crown of spiritual manhood; escaping from the black materialisms and revolutionary deluges, with God, freedom, immortality still his; a king of men. The practical intellects of the world did not much heed him, or carelessly reckoned him a metaphysical dreamer; but to the rising spirits of the young generation he had this dusky, sublime character, and sat there as a kind of Magus, girt in mystery and enigma, his Dodona oak grove (Mr. Gillman’s house at Highgate) whispering strange things, uncertain whether oracles or jargon.” “To the man himself, Nature had given in high measure the seeds of a noble endowment, and to unfold it was forbidden him. A subtle, lynx-eyed intellect, tremulous, pious sensibility to all good and all beautiful; truly a ray of empyrean light,—but imbedded in such weak laxity of character, in such indolences and esuriences, as made strange work with it. Once more, the tragic story of a high endowment with an insufficient will.”

  The abatement is painfully just; but while Coleridge lived, this very indolence and moral imbecility added to the interest he excited, and gave a mystic splendor as of a divine inspiration to his mental performances. The distinction between unhealthiness and inspiration has never been .clearly marked, and the voluble utterances of the feebly outlined and loosely jointed soul easily passed for oracles. Thus his moral deficiencies aided his influence. His wonderful powers of conversation or rather of effusion in the midst of admiring friends helped the illusion and the fascination. He really seemed inspired while he talked; and as his talk ranged through every domain, the listeners carried away and communicated the impression of a superhuman wisdom.

  The impression that Coleridge made on minds of a very different order from Carlyle’s, is given in the following lines by Aubrey de Vere:

No loftier, purer soul than his hath ever
With awe revolved the planetary page
From infancy to age,
Of knowledge, sedulous and proud to give her
The whole of his great heart, for her own sake;
For what she is: not what she does, or what can make.

And mighty voices from afar came to him;
Converse of trumpets held by cloudy forms
And speech of choral storms.
Spirits of night and noontide bent to woo him;
He stood the while lonely and desolate
As Adam when he ruled a world, yet found no mate.

His loftiest thoughts were but as palms uplifted;
Aspiring, yet in supplicating guise—
His sweetest songs were sighs.
Adown Lethean streams his spirit drifted,
Under Elysian shades from poppied bank,
With amaranths massed in dark luxuriance dank.

Coleridge, farewell! That great and grave transition
Which may not king or priest or conqueror spare.
And yet a babe can bear,
Has come to thee. Through life a goodly vision
Was thine; and time it was thy rest to take.
Soft be the sound ordained thy sleep to break;
When thou art waking, wake me, for thy Master’s sake.”

  In May, 1796,—he was then twenty-four years old,—Coleridge wrote to a friend, “I am studying German, and in about six weeks shall be able to read that language with tolerable fluency. Now I have some thoughts of making a proposal to Robinson, the great London bookseller, of translating all the works of Schiller, which would make a portly quarto, on condition that he should pay my journey and my wife’s to and from Jena, a cheap German University where Schiller resides, and allow me two guineas each quarto sheet, which would maintain me. If I could realize this scheme, I should there study chemistry and anatomy, and bring over with me all the works of Semler and Michaelis, the German theologians, and of Kant, the great German metaphysician.” In September, 1798, in company with Wordsworth and his sister, and at the expense of his munificent friends Josiah and Thomas Wedgewood, he went to Germany and spent fourteen months in hard study. There he attended the lectures of Eichhorn and Blumenbach, made the acquaintance of Tieck, dipped quite deeply into philosophy and general literature, and took by contagion the speculative ideas that filled his imagination with visions of intellectual discovery. Schelling’s “Transcendental Idealism,” with which Coleridge was afterwards most in sympathy, was not published till 1800. The “Philosophy of Nature” was published in 1797, the year before Coleridge’s visit. In 1817, he tells the readers of the “Biographia Literaria” that he had been able to procure only two of Schelling’s books—the first volume of his “Philosophical Writings,” and the “System of Transcendental Idealism;” these and “a small pamphlet against Fichte, the spirit of which was, to my feelings, painfully incongruous with the principles, and which displayed the love of wisdom rather than the wisdom of love.”

  The philosophical ideas of Schelling commended themselves at once to Coleridge, who was a born idealist, of audacious genius, speculative, imaginative, original, capable of any such abstract achievement as the German undertook.

  “In Schelling’s Natur Philosophie and the System des Transcendentalen Idealismus, I first found a genial coincidence with much that I had toiled out for myself, and a powerful assistance in what I had yet to do. All the main and fundamental ideas were born and matured in my mind before I had ever seen a single page of the German philosopher; and I might indeed affirm with truth, before the more important works of Schelling had been written, or at least made public. Nor is this at all to be wondered at. We had studied in the same school; been disciplined by the same preparatory “philosophy, namely, the writings of Kant; we had both equal obligations to the polar logic and dynamic philosophy of Giordano Bruno; and Schelling has lately, and, as of recent acquisition, avowed that same affectionate reverence for the labors of Behmen and other mystics which I had formed at a much earlier period. God forbid that I should be suspected of a wish to enter into a rivalry with Schelling for the honors so unequivocally his right, not only as a great original genius, but as the founder of the Philosophy of Nature, and as the most successful improver of the Dynamic system, which, begun by Bruno, was reintroduced (in a more philosophical form, and freed from all its impurities and visionary accompaniments) by Kant, in whom it was the native and necessary growth of his own system. Kant’s followers, however, on whom (for the greater part) their master’s cloak had fallen, without, or with a very scanty portion of his spirit, had adopted his dynamic ideas, only as a more refined species of mechanics. With exception of one or two fundamental ideas which cannot be withheld from Fichte, to Schelling we owe the completion and the important victories of this revolution in philosophy. To me it will be happiness and honor enough, should I succeed in rendering the system itself intelligible to my countrymen, and in the application of it to the most awful of subjects for the most important of purposes. Whether a work is the, offspring of a man’s own spirit and the product of original thinking, will be discovered by those who are its sole legitimate judges, by better tests than the mere reference to dates.”

  The question of Coleridge’s alleged plagiarism from Schelling does not concern us here. Whether the philosophy he taught was the product of his own thinking, or whether he was merely the medium for communicating the system of Schelling to his countrymen, is of no moment to us. For us it is sufficient to know that the English-speaking people on both shores of the Atlantic received them chiefly through the Englishman. Those who are interested in the other matter will find Coleridge’s reputation vindicated in a long and elaborate introduction to the “Biographia Literaria,” edition of 1847, by the poet’s son.

  Coleridge was a pure Transcendentalist, of the Schelling school. The transcendental phrases came over and over in book and conversation, “reason” and “understanding,” “intuition,” “necessary truths,” “consciousness,” and the rest that were used to describe the supersensual world and the faculties by which it was made visible. He shall speak for himself. The following passage from the “Biographia Literaria,” Chapter XII., will be sufficiently intelligible to those who have read the previous chapters, or enough of them to comprehend their cardinal ideas:

  “The criterion is this: if a man receives as fundamental facts, and therefore of course indemonstratable and incapable of further analysis, the general notions of matter, spirit, soul, body, action, passiveness, time, space, cause and effect, consciousness, perception, memory and all these, and is satisfied if only he can analyze all other notions into some one or more of these supposed elements, with plausible subordination and apt arrangement; to such a mind I would as courteously as possible convey the hint, that for him this chapter was not written. . . . For philosophy, in its highest sense, as the science of ultimate truths, and therefore scientia scientiarum, this mere analysis of terms is preparative only, though as a preparative discipline indispensable.

  “Still less dare a favorable perusal be anticipated from the proselytes of that compendious philosophy which, talking of mind, but thinking of brick and mortar, or other images equally abstracted from body, contrives a theory of spirit by nicknaming matter, and in a few hours can qualify its dullest disciples to explain the omne scibile by reducing all things to impressions, ideas, and sensations.

  “But it is time to tell the truth; though it requires some courage to avow it in an age and country in which disquisitions on all subjects not privileged to adopt technical terms or scientific symbols, must be addressed to the public. I say, then, that it is neither possible nor necessary for all men, nor for many, to be philosophers. There is a philosophic consciousness which lies beneath or (as it were) behind the spontaneous consciousness natural to all reflecting beings. As the elder Romans distinguished their northern provinces into Cis-Alpine and Trans-Alpine, so may we divide all the objects of human knowledge into those on this side and those on the other side of the spontaneous consciousness. The latter is exclusively the domain of pure philosophy, which is therefore properly entitled transcendental, in order to discriminate it at once, both from mere reflection and re-presentation on the one hand, and on the other from those flights of lawless speculation which, abandoned by all distinct consciousness, because transgressing the bounds and purposes of our intellectual faculties, are justly condemned as transcendent.

  “The first range of hills that encircles the scanty vale of human life is the horizon for the majority of its inhabitants. On its ridges the sun is born and departs. From them the stars rise, and touching them they vanish. By the many, even this range, the natural limit and bulwark of the vale, is but imperfectly known. Its higher ascents are too often hidden in mists and clouds from uncultivated swamps which few have courage or curiosity to penetrate. To the multitude below these vapors appear, now as the dark haunts of terrific agents, on which none may intrude with impunity; and now all aglow, with colors not their own, they are gazed at as the splendid palaces of happiness and power. But in all ages there have been a few who, measuring and sounding the rivers of the vale at the feet of their farthest inaccessible falls, have learned that the sources must be far higher and far inward; a few who, even in the level streams, have detected elements which neither the vale itself nor the surrounding mountains contained or could supply. How and whence to these thoughts, these strong probabilities, the ascertaining vision, the intuitive knowledge may finally supervene, can be learned only by the fact. I might oppose to the question the words with which Plotinus supposes Nature to answer a similar difficulty: ‘Should any one interrogate her how she works, if graciously she vouchsafe to listen and speak, she will reply, it behooves thee not to disquiet me with interrogatories, but to understand in silence, even as I am silent, and work without words.’

  “They and they only can acquire the philosophic imagination, the sacred power of self-intuition, who within themselves can interpret and understand the symbol, that the wings of the air-sylph are forming within the skin of the caterpillar; those only, who feel in their own spirits the same instinct which impels the chrysalis of the horned fly to leave room in its involucrum for antennæ yet to come. They know and feel that the potential works in them, even as the actual works in them! In short, all the organs of sense are framed for a corresponding world of sense; and we have it. All the organs of spirit are framed for a correspondent world of spirit; though the latter organs are not developed in all alike. But they exist in all, and their first appearance discloses itself in the moral being. How else could it be that even worldlings, not wholly debased, will contemplate the man of simple and disinterested goodness with contradictory feelings of pity and respect. ‘Poor man, he is not made for this world.’ Oh, herein they utter a prophecy of universal fulfilment, for man must either rise or sink.

  “It is the essential mark of the true philosopher to rest satisfied with no imperfect light, as long as the impossibility of attaining a fuller knowledge has not been demonstrated. That the common consciousness itself “will furnish proofs by its own direction that it is connected with master currents below the surface, I shalt merely assume as a postulate pro tempore. . . . On the IMMEDIATE which dwells in every man, and on the original intuition or absolute affirmation of it (which is likewise in every man, but does not in every man rise into consciousness), all the certainty of our knowledge depends; and this becomes intelligible to no man by the ministry of mere words from without. The medium by which spirits understand each other is not the surrounding air, but the freedom which they possess in common, as the common ethereal element of their being, the tremulous reciprocations of which propagate themselves even to the inmost of the soul. Where the spirit of a man is not filled with the consciousness of freedom (were it only from its restlessness, as of one struggling in bondage) all spiritual intercourse is interrupted, not only with others, but even with himself. No wonder, then, that he remains incomprehensible to himself as well as to others. No wonder that in the fearful desert of his consciousness he wearies himself out with empty words to which no friendly echo answers, either from his own heart or the heart of a fellow-being; or bewilders himself in the pursuit of notional phantoms, the mere refractions from unseen and distant truths through the distorting medium of his own unenlivened and stagnant understanding! To remain unintelligible to such a mind, exclaims Schelling on a like occasion, is honor and a good name before God and man.

  “Philosophy is employed on objects of the inner sense,” and cannot, like geometry, appropriate to every construction a corresponding outward intuition. . . . Now the inner sense has its direction determined for the greater part only by an act of freedom. One man’s consciousness extends only to the pleasant or unpleasant sensations caused in him by external impressions; another enlarges his inner sense to a consciousness of forms and quantity; a third, in addition to the image, is conscious of the conception or notion of the thing; a fourth attains to a notion of his notions—he reflects on his own reflections; and thus we may say without impropriety, that the one possesses more or less inner sense than the other. . . .

  “The postulate of philosophy, and at the same time the test of philosophical capacity, is no other than the heaven-descended KNOW THYSELF. And this at once practically and speculatively. For as philosophy is neither a science of the reason or understanding only, nor merely a science of morals, but the science of BEING altogether, its primary ground can be neither merely speculative nor merely practical, but both in one. All knowledge rests upon the coincidence of an object with a subject. For we can know only that which is true; and the truth is universally placed in the coincidence of the thought with the thing, of the representation with the object represented.”

  Coleridge then puts and argues the two alternatives. 1. Either the Objective is taken as primary, and then we have to account for the supervention of the Subjective which coalesces with it, which natural philosophy supposes. 2. Or the Subjective is taken as primary, and then we have to account for the supervention of the objective, which spiritual philosophy supposes. The Transcendentalist accepts the latter alternative.

  “The second position, which not only claims but necessitates the admission of its immediate certainty, equally for the scientific reason of the philosopher as for the common-sense of mankind at large, namely, I AM, cannot properly be entitled a prejudice. It is groundless indeed; but then in the very idea it precludes all ground, and, separated from the immediate consciousness, loses its whole sense and import. It is groundless; but only because it is itself the ground of all other certainty. Now the apparent contradiction, that the first position—namely, that the existence of things without us, which from its nature cannot be immediately certain—should be received as blindly and as independently of all grounds as the existence of our own being, the transcendental philosopher can solve only by the supposition that the former is unconsciously involved in the latter; that it is not only coherent, but identical, and one and the same thing with our own immediate self-consciousness. To demonstrate this identity is the office and object of his philosophy.

  “If it be said that this is idealism, let it be remembered that it is only so far idealism, as it is at the same time and on that very account the truest and most binding realism.”

  To follow the exposition further is unnecessary for the present purpose, which is to state the fundamental principles of the philosophy, not to give the processes of reasoning by which they are illustrated. Had Coleridge been merely a philosopher, his influence on his generation, by this means, would have been insignificant; for his expositions were fragmentary; his thoughts were too swift and tumultuous in their flow to be systematically arranged; his style, forcible and luminous in passages, is interrupted by too frequent episodes, excursions and explanatory parentheses, to be enjoyed by the inexpert. Besides being a philosopher, he was a theologian. His deepest interest was in the problems of theology. His mind was perpetually turning over the questions of trinity, incarnation, Holy Ghost, sin, redemption, salvation. He meditated endless books on these themes, and, in special, one “On the Logos,” which was to remove all difficulties and reconcile all contradictions. “On the whole, those dead churches, this dead English church especially, must be brought to life again. Why not? It was not dead; the soul of it, in this parched-up body, was tragically asleep only. Atheistic philosophy was, true, on its side; and Hume and Voltaire could, on their own ground, speak irrefragably for themselves against any church: but lift the church and’ them into a higher sphere of argument, they died into inanition, the church revivified itself into pristine florid vigor, became once more a living ship of the desert, and invincibly bore you over stock and stone.”

  The philosophy was accepted as a basis for the theology, and apparently only so far as it supplied the basis. Mrs. Coleridge declares, in a note to Chapter IX. of the “Biographia Literaria,” that her father, soon after the composition of that work, became dissatisfied with the system of Schelling, considered as a fundamental and comprehensive scheme intended to exhibit the relations of God to the world and man. He objected to it, she insists, as essentially pantheistic, radically inconsistent with a belief in God as himself moral and intelligent, as beyond and above the world, as the supreme mind to which the human mind owes homage and fealty—inconsistent with any just view and deep sense of the moral and spiritual being of man. He was mainly concerned with the construction of a” philosophical system, in which Christianity,—based on the triune being of God, and embracing a primal fall and universal redemption, (to use Carlyle’s words) Christianity, ideal, spiritual,’ eternal, but likewise and necessarily historical, realized and manifested in time, —should be shown forth as accordant, or rather as one with ideas of reason, and the demands of the spiritual and of the speculative mind, of the heart, conscience, reason, which should all be satisfied and reconciled in one bond of peace.”

  This explains the interest which young and enthusiastic minds in the English Church took in Coleridge, the verses just quoted from Aubrey de Vere, one of the new school of believers, the admiring discipleship of Frederick Denison Maurice, the hearty allegiance of the leaders of the spiritual reformation in England. Coleridge was the real founder of the Broad Church, which attempted to justify creed and sacrament, by substituting the ideas of the spiritual philosophy for the formal authority of traditions which the reason of the age was discarding.

  The men who sympathized with the same movement in America felt the same gratitude to their leader. Already in 1829 “The Aids to Reflection” were republished by Dr. James Marsh. Caleb Sprague Henry, professor of philosophy and history in the University of New York in 1839, and before that a resident of Cambridge, an enthusiastic thinker and eloquent talker, loved to dilate on the genius of the English philosopher, and was better than a book in conveying information about him, better than many books in awakening interest in his thought. The name of Coleridge was spoken with profound reverence, his books were studied industriously, and the terminology of transcendentalism was as familiar as commonplace in the circles of divines and men of letters. At present Hegel is the prophet of these believers, Schelling is obsolete, and Coleridge, the English Schelling, has had his day. The change is marked by an all but entire absence of the passionate, enthusiasm, the imaginative glow and fervor, that characterized the transcendental phase of the movement Coleridge was a vital thinker; his mind was a flame; his thoughts burned within him, and issued from him in language that trembled and throbbed with the force of the ideas committed to it. He was a divine, a preacher of most wonderful eloquence. At the age of three or four and forty Serjeant Talfourd heard him talk.

  “At first his tones were conversational: he seemed to dally with the shallows of the subject and with fantastic images which bordered it; but gradually the thought grew deeper, and the voice deepened with the thought; the stream gathering strength seemed to bear along with it all things which opposed its progress, and blended them with its current; and stretching away among regions tinted with ethereal colors, was lost at airy distance in the horizon of fancy.” At five-and-twenty William Hazlitt heard him preach.

  “It was in January, 1798, that I rose one morning before daylight, to walk ten miles in the mud, to hear this celebrated person preach. Never, the longest day I have to live, shall I have such another walk as this cold, raw, comfortless one, in the winter of the year 1798. Il y a des impressions que ni le temps ni les circonstances peuvent effacer. Dusse je vivre des siècles entiers, le doux temps de ma jeunesse ne peut renaître pour moi, ni s’effacer jamais dans ma memoire. When I got there the organ was playing the hundredth psalm, and when it was done Mr. Coleridge rose and gave out his text, ‘He departed again into a mountain himself alone.’ As he gave out this text his voice ‘rose like a stream of rich distilled perfumes;’ and when he came to the last two words, which he pronounced loud, deep, and distinct, it seemed to me, who was then young, as if the sounds had echoed from the bottom of the human heart, and as if that prayer might have floated in solemn silence through the universe. The idea of St. John came into my mind, of one crying in the wilderness, who had his loins girt about, and whose food was locusts and wild honey. The preacher then launched into his subject, like an eagle dallying with the wind. The sermon was upon peace and war, upon church and state, not their alliance, but their separation; on the spirit of the world and the spirit of Christianity, not as the same, but as opposed to one another. He talked of those who had inscribed the cross of Christ on banners dripping with human gore. He made a poetical and pastoral excursion, and to show the effects of war, drew a striking contrast between the simple shepherd boy, driving his team afield, or sitting under the hawthorn, piping to his flock as though he should never be old; and the same poor country lad, crimped, kidnapped, brought into town, made drunk at an ale-house, turned into a wretched drummer-boy, with his hair sticking on end with powder and pomatum, a long cue at his back, and tricked out in the finery of the profession of blood.

‘Such were the notes our once loved poet sung;’

and for myself I could not have been more delighted if I had heard the music of the spheres. Poetry and Philosophy had met together, Truth and Genius had embraced, under the eye and with the sanction of Religion. This was even beyond my hopes. I returned home well satisfied.”

  The influence of Coleridge was greatly assisted by contemporary magazines, which helped by their furious efforts to crush him, and won sympathy for him by their attempts to laugh and hoot him down. Jeffrey handled the “Biographia Literaria” in the Edinburgh Review, August, 1817; “as favorable to the book as could be expected,” the editor quietly says. The numberless varieties of judgment were represented in the Dublin University Magazine, British and Foreign Quarterly, Fraser, Blackwood, Christian Quarterly, Spectator, Monthly Review, Eclectic, Westminster, most of which contained several articles on different aspects of the subject. In America, Geo. B. Cheever wrote in the North American Review, F. H. Hedge in the Christian Examiner, D. N. Lord in Lord’s Theological Journal, H. T. Tuckerman in the Southern Literary Messenger, Noah Porter in the Bibliotheca Sacra. The New York Review, the American Quarterly, American Whig Review, all made contributions to the Coleridgian literature,* and exhibited the extensive reaches of his power. The readers of Lamb, Hazlitt, Wordsworth, Southey and the brilliant essayists that made so fascinating the English literature of the first third of our century must perforce be introduced to Coleridge. The “Ancient Mariner “ and “Christabel,” which lay on every table, excited interest in the man from whom such astonishing pieces proceeded; so that many who understood little or nothing of his philosophical ideas, appropriated something of the spirit and tone of them. He had disciples who never heard him speak even in print, and followers who never saw his form even as sketched by critics. His thoughts were in the air; the mental atmosphere of theological schools was modified by them. They insensibly transplanted establishments and creeds from old to new regions.

  In 1851, Thomas Carlyle burlesqued Coleridge, took off his solemn oracular manner, made fun of his “plaintive snuffle and sing-song,” his” om-m-ject and sum-mject,” his “talk not flowing anywhither like a river, but spreading everywhither in inextricable ‘currents and regurgitations like a lake or sea; terribly deficient in definite goal or aim, nay often in logical intelligibility; what you were to believe or do, on any earthly or heavenly thing, obstinately refusing to appear from it, so that, most times, you felt logically lost; swamped near to drowning in this tide of ingenious vocables spreading out boundless as if to submerge the world.” But in his earlier days the “windy harangues” and “dizzying metaphysics” had their charm for him too; the philosophy of the Highgate sage was in essence and fruit his own. He explained at some length and with considerable frequency, as well as much eloquence, the distinction between “understanding,” the faculty that observed, generalized, inferred, argued, concluded, and “reason,” the faculty that saw the ideal forms of truth face to face, and beheld the inmost reality of things. He dilated with a disciple’s enthusiasm on the principles of the transcendental philosophy, painted in gorgeous colors the promises it held forth, prophesied earnestly respecting the better time for literature, art, social ethics and religious faith it would bring in, preached tempestuously against shams in church and state, from the mount of vision that it disclosed. We have already seen how he could speak of Kant, Fichte, Novalis, of Goethe and Jean Paul. Thirty-five years ago Carlyle was the high priest of the new philosophy. Emerson edited his miscellanies, and the dregs of his ink-bottle were welcomed as the precious sediment of the fountain of inspiration. In 1827 he defended the “Kritik of Pure Reason” against stupid objectors from the sensational side, as, in the opinion of the most competent judges, “distinctly the greatest intellectual achievement of the century in which it came to light,” and affirmed as by authority, that the seeker for pure truth must begin with intuition and proceed outward by the light of the revelation thence derived. In 1831 he carried this principle to the extreme of maintaining that a complete surrender to the informing genius, a surrender so entire as to amount to the abandonment of definite purpose and will, was evidence of perfect wisdom; for such is the interpretation we give to the paradoxical doctrine of “unconsciousness” which implied that in order to save the soul it must be forgotten; that consciousness was a disease; that in much wisdom was much grief.

  Had Carlyle been more of a philosopher and less of a preacher, more a thinker and less a character, more a patient toiler after truth, and less a man of letters, his first intellectual impulse might have lasted. As it was the reaction came precisely in middle life, and the apostle pf transcendental ideas became the champion of Force. ‘His Transcendentalism seems to have been a thing of sentiment rather than of conviction. A man of tremendous strength of feeling, his youth, as is the case with men of feeling, was romantic, enthusiastic, hopeful, exuberant; his manhood, as is also the case with men of feeling, was wilful and overbearing, with sadness deepening into moroseness and unhopefulness verging towards despair.

  The era of despair had not set in at the period when the mind of New England was fermenting with the ideas of the new philosophy. Then all was brave, humane, aspiring. The denunciations of materialism in philosophy, formalism in religion and utilitarianism in personal and social ethics, rang through the land; the superb vindications of soul against sense, spirit against letter, faith against rite, heroism and nobleness against the petty expediencies of the market, kindled all earnest hearts. The emphatic declarations that “wonder and reverence are the conditions of insight and the source of strength; that faith is prior to knowledge and deeper too; that empirical science can but play on the surface of unfathomable mysteries; that in the order of reality the ideal and invisible are the world’s true adamant, and the laws of material appearance only its alluvial growths; that in the inmost thought of men there is a thirst to which the springs of nature are a mere mirage, and which presses on to the waters of eternity,” fell like refreshing gales from the hills on the children of men imprisoned in custom and suffocated by tradition. The infinitely varied illustrations of the worth of beauty, the grandeur of truth, the excellence of simple, devout sincerity in nature, literature, character; the burning insistance on the need of fresh inspiration from the region of serene ideas, seemed to proceed from a soul newly awakened, if not especially endowed with the seer’s vision. It was better than philosophy; it was philosophy made vital with sentiment and purpose.

  Carlyle early learned the German language as Coleridge did, and drank deep from the fountains of its best literature. To him it opened a new world of thought, which the ordinary Englishman had no conception of. Coleridge found himself at home there by virtue of his natural genius, and also by the introduction given him by Wm. Law, John Pordage, Richard Saumarez, and Jacob Behmen, so that the suddenly discovered continent broke on him with less surprise; but Carlyle was as one taken wholly unawares, fascinated, charmed, intoxicated with the sights and sounds about him. Being unprepared by previous reflection and overpowered by the gorgeousness of color, the wealth was too much for him; it palled at last on his appetite, and he experienced a reaction similar to that of the sensualist whose delirium first persuades him that he has found his soul, and then makes him fear that he has lost it.

  With the reactionary stage of Carlyle’s career when, as a frank critic observes, “he flung away with a shriek the problems his youth entertained, as the fruit by which paradise was lost; repented of all knowledge of good and evil; clapped a bandage round the open eyes of morals, religion, art, and saw no salvation but in spiritual suicide by plunging into the currents of instinctive nature that sweep us we know not whither”—we are not concerned. His interest for us ceases with his moral enthusiasm.

  A more serene and beneficent influence proceeded from the poet Wordsworth, whose fame rose along with that of Coleridge, struggled against the same opposition, and obtained even a steadier lustre. There was a kindred between them which Wordsworth did not acknowledge, but which Coleridge more than suspected and tried to divulge. One chapter in the first volume of the “Biographia Literaria “ and four chapters in the second volume are devoted to the consideration of Wordsworth’s poetry, and effort is made, not quite successfully, to bring Wordsworth’s psychological faith into sympathy with his own.

  Wordsworth’s genius has furnished critics with materials for speculation that must be sought in their proper places. We have no fresh analysis to offer. That the secret of his power over the ingenuous and believing minds of his age is to be found in the sentiment with which he invested homely scenes and characters is a superficial conjecture. What led him to invest homely scenes and characters with sentiment, and what made this circumstance interesting to precisely that class of minds? What, but the same latent idealism that came to deliberate and formal expression in Coleridge, and suggested in the one what was proclaimed by the other? For Wordsworth was a metaphysician, though he did not clearly suspect it; at least, if he did, he was careful not to betray himself by the usual signs. The philosophers recognized him and paid to him their acknowledgments.

  In the “Dial,” Wordsworth is mentioned with honor; not discussed as Goethe was, but pleasantly talked about as a well-known friend. The third volume of that magazine, April, 1843, contains an article on “Europe and European Books” in which occurs the following tribute to Wordsworth:

  “The capital merit of Wordsworth is that he has done more for the sanity of this generation than any other writer. Early in life, at a crisis, it is said, in his private affairs, he made his election between assuming and defending some legal rights with the chances of wealth and a position in the world—and the inward promptings of his heavenly genius; he took his part; he accepted the call to be a poet, and sat down, far from cities, with coarse clothing and plain fare to obey the heavenly vision. The choice he had made in his will manifested itself in every line to be real. We have poets who write the poetry of society, of the patricians and conventional Europe, as Scott and Moore; and others, who, like Byron or Bulwer, write the poetry of vice and disease. But Wordsworth threw himself into his place, made no reserves or stipulations; man and writer were not to be divided. He sat at the foot of Helvellyn and on the margin of Windermere, and took their lustrous mornings and their sublime midnights, for his theme, and not Marlowe nor Massinger, nor Horace, nor Milton nor Dante. He once for all forsook the styles and standards and modes of thinking of London and Paris and the books read there, and the aims pursued, and wrote Helvellyn and Windermere and the dim spirits which these haunts harbored. There was not the least attempt to reconcile these with the spirit of fashion and selfishness, nor to show, with great deference to the superior judgment of dukes and earls, that although London was the home for men of great parts, yet Westmoreland had these consolations for such as fate had condemned to the country life; but with a complete satisfaction he pitied and rebuked their false lives, and celebrated his own with the religion of a true priest. Hence the antagonism which was immediately felt between his poetry and the spirit of the age, that here not only criticism but conscience and will were parties; the spirit of literature, and the modes of living, and the conventional theories of the conduct of life were called in question on wholly new grounds, not from Platonism, nor from Christianity, but from the lessons which the country muse taught a stout pedestrian climbing a mountain, and following a river from its parent rill down to the sea. The Cannings and Jeffreys of the capital, the Court Journals and Literary Gazettes were not well pleased, and voted the poet a bore. But that which rose in him so high as to the lips, rose in many others as high as to the heart. What he said, they were prepared to hear and to confirm. The influence was in the air, and was wafted up and down into lone and populous places, resisting the popular taste, modifying opinions which it did not change, and soon came to be felt in poetry, in criticism, in plans of life, and at last in legislation. In this country it very early found a stronghold, and its effect may be traced on all the poetry both of England and America.”

  This is truly and well said, though quite inadequate. The slighting allusion to Platonism might have been omitted, for possibly Wordsworth had caught something of the philosophy that was in the air. Mr. Emerson, in “Thoughts on Modern Literature,” in the second number of the “Dial,” Oct. 1840, touched a deeper chord.

  “The fame of Wordsworth” he says, “is a leading fact in modern literature, when it is considered how hostile his genius at first seemed to the reigning taste, and with what feeble poetic talents his great and steadily growing dominion has been established. More than any poet his success has been not his own, but that of the idea which he shared with his coevals, and which he has rarely succeeded in adequately expressing. The Excursion awakened in every lover of nature the right feeling. We saw the stars shine, we felt the awe of mountains, we heard the rustle of the wind in the grass, and knew again the ineffable secret of solitude. It was a great joy. It was nearer to nature than any thing we had before. But the interest of the poem ended almost with the narrative of the influences of nature on the mind of the Boy, in the the first book. Obviously for that passage the poem was written, and with the exception of this and a few strains of like character in the sequel, the whole poem was dull. Here was no poem, but here was poetry, and a sure index where the subtle muse was about to pitch her tent and find the argument of her song. It was the human soul in these last ages striving for a just publication of itself. Add to this, however, the great praise of Wordsworth, that more than any other contemporary bard he is pervaded with a reverence of somewhat higher than (conscious) thought. There is in him that property common to all great poets-a wisdom of humanity, which is superior to any talents which they exert. It is the wisest part of Shakespeare and Milton, for they are poets by the free course which they allow to the informing soul, which through their eyes beholdeth again and blesseth the things which it hath made. The soul is superior to its knowledge, wiser than any of its works.”

  In the general Preface to his poems, where Wordsworth discusses the principles of the poetic art, he wrote: “The imagination is conscious of an indestructible dominion; the soul may fall away, from its not being able to sustain its grandeur, but if once felt and acknowledged, by no act of any other faculty of the mind can it be relaxed, impaired or diminished. Fancy is given to quicken and to beguile the temporal part of our nature; Imagination to incite and support the eternal.” And in the appendix: “Faith was given to man that his :affections, detached from the treasures of time, might be inclined to settle on those of eternity: the elevation of his nature, which this habit produces on earth, being to him a presumptive evidence of a future state of existence, and giving him a title to partake of its holiness. The religious man values what he sees, chiefly as an ‘imperfect shadowing forth’ of what he is incapable of seeing.” Was this an echo from the German Jacobi, whose doctrine of Faith had been some time abroad in the intellectual world?

  The ode “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” was a clear reminiscence of Platonism. This famous poem was the favorite above all other effusions of Wordsworth with the Transcendentalists, who held it to be the highest expression of his genius, and most characteristic of its bent. Emerson in his last discourse on Immortality, calls it “the best modern essay on the subject.” Many passages in the longer poems attest the transcendental character of the author’s faith. Coleridge quotes from “Tintern Abbey:”

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A. presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.”

  This passage from the” Excursion” suggests language of Fichte in his Bestimmung des Menschen, “In der Liebe nur ist das Leben, ohne Sie ist Tod und Vernichtung.”

This is the genuine course, the aim, the end,
Of prescient Reason; all conclusions else
Are abject, vain, presumptuous and perverse,
The faith partaking of those holy times.

Life, I repeat, is energy of Love,
Divine or human; exercised in pain,
In strife and tribulation; and ordained,
If so approved and sanctified, to pass
Through shades and silent rest, to endless joy.

  Another extract recalls the “pantheism” of Schelling.

Thou—who didst wrap the cloud
Of infancy around us, that Thyself
Therein with our simplicity awhile
Might’st hold, on earth, communion undisturbed,
Who from the anarchy of dreaming sleep,
Or from its death-like void, with punctual care,
And touch as gentle as the morning light,
Restorest us, daily, to the powers of sense
And reason’s steadfast rule,-Thou, thou alone
Art everlasting, and the blessed Spirits,
Which Thou includest, as the Sea her Waves.
For adoration Thou endurest; endure
For consciousness the motions of Thy will;
For apprehension those transcendent truths
Of the pure Intellect, that stand as laws;
Submission constituting strength and power,
Even to Thy Being’s infinite majesty!

  Having before me a copy of Wordsworth’s poems, once the possession of an earnest Transcendentalist, I find these, and many lines of similar import, underlined; showing how dear the English poet was to the American reader.

  There were others who held and enunciated the new faith that came from Germany, the transfigured Protestantism of the land of Luther. But these three names will suffice to indicate the wealth of England’s contribution to the spiritual life of the New World—Coleridge, Carlyle, Wordsworth—the philosopher, the preacher, the poet; the man of thought, the man of letters, the man of imagination. These embrace all the methods by which the fresh enthusiasm for the soul communicated its power. These three were everywhere read, and everywhere talked of. They occupied prominent places in the public eye. They sank into the shadow only when the faith that glorified them began to decline.

  It is remarkable that Emerson in the paper just quoted, written in 1840, passes from Wordsworth to Landor; while the author of the other paper, written in 1843, passes, and almost with an expression of relief, from Wordsworth to Tennyson, the new poet whose breaking glory threatened the morning star with eclipse. By this, time Transcendentalism was on the wane. The “Dial” marked for one year longer the hours of the great day, and then was removed from its place, and the scientific method of measuring progress was introduced. Wordsworth from year to year had a diminishing proportion of admirers: from year to year the admirers of Tennyson increased. As early as 1843 the passion for music, color, and external polish was manifest. Tennyson’s elegance and subtlety, his rich fancy, his mastery of language, his metrical skill, his taste for the sumptuous and gorgeous, were winning their way to popularity. The critic in the “Dial” has misgivings: “In these boudoirs of damask and alabaster one is further off from stern nature and human life than in “Lalla Rookh” and “The Loves of the Angels.” Amid swinging censers and perfumed lamps, amidst velvet and glory, we long for rain and frost. Otto of roses is good, but wild air is better.” But the sweets have been tasted, and have spoiled the relish for the old homeliness. For the man who loved him the charm of Wordsworth was idyllic; for the few who bent the head to him it was mystical and prophetic. The idyllic sentiment palled on the taste. It was a reaction from artificial forms of sensibility, and having enjoyed its day, submitted to the law of change that called it into being. The moral earnestness, the mystic idealism became unpopular along with the school of philosophy from which it sprung, and gave place to the realism of the Victorian bards, who expressed the sensuous spirit of a more external age. Transcendentalism lurks in corners of England now. The high places of thought are occupied by men who approach the great problems from the side of nature, and through matter feel after mind; by means of the senses, attempt the heights of spirit.

* See for references. Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature.

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