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



  IT was by no accident that the transcendental philosophy addressed itself at once to the questions of religion. It did so at the beginning, in Germany, and later, in England, and did so from the nature of the case. Its very name implied that it maintained the existence of ideas in the mind which transcended sensible experience. Such ideas fall within the domain of religion; ideas of the infinite, the eternal, the absolute; and the significance and import of these ideas exercised the minds of transcendental thinkers, according to their genius. Kant felt it necessary to reopen the problem of God and immortality; Fichte followed, Schelling and Hegel moved on the same plane.

  Transcendentalism was, in fact, a reaction against the moral and political skepticism which resulted directly from the prevailing philosophy of sensation. Since Bacon’s day, religious beliefs had been losing hold on the enlightened mind of England and Europe. The drift of speculation was strongly against, not the Christian system alone, but natural religion, and the ideal foundation of morality. The writings of Collins, Dodwell, Mandeville, expressed more skepticism than they created, and betrayed a deeply-seated and widely spread misgiving in regard to the fundamental truths of theology. Hume’s argument against the credibility of miracles was never answered, and the anxiety to answer it was a confession of alarm from the heart of the church. The famous XVIth chapter of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire “was assailed furiously, but in vain, each assault exposing the weakness of the assailants; and it was only by adopting his history, and editing it with judicious notes, that the church silenced the enemy it could not crush. The deists of the seventeenth century in no wise balanced their denials by their affirmations, but left Christianity fearfully shattered by their blows. The champions of the church fought skepticism with skepticism, conceding in substance the points they superficially attacked. Towards the close of the seventeenth century Cudworth confronted atheism with idealism, retreating upon Plato when the foe had carried the other works; early in the century following, Butler, in the celebrated “Analogy,” fought infidelity with weapons that infidelity might have turned, and since has turned with deadly effect, against himself. The ablest representative of Unitarianism was Joseph Priestley, a materialist of the school of Hartley. The cardinal beliefs of religion were debated in a way that was quite unsatisfactory in the light of reason, showing the extent to which faith had been undermined. Indeed, had it not been for the power of institutions, customs, respectability, and tradition, the popular beliefs would have all but disappeared, so deep into the heart of the people unbelief had penetrated. The church stood fast, because it was allied with power and fashion, not because it was supported by reason or faith. The whole tone of feeling on sacred and ethical topics was low; divine ideas were defended by considerations of expediency; God was a probability; the immortality of the soul a possibility, a supplement to skepticism, an appendix to a philosophy which, finding no God here, presumed there must be one hereafter. There is no more soulless reading than the works of the Christian apologists of the seventeenth century. The infidels had more ideas, and apparently more sincerity, but in neither was there any spiritual impulse or fervor.

  In Germany the philosophy of Bacon and Locke did not strike deep root. The day of Germany was to come later. Her thoughts were pent up in her own breast. She was isolated, and almost speechless. Her genius awoke with the new philosophy. Under the influence of idealism it bloomed in the richest of modern literatures. Her very skepticism, the much talked-of rationalism, had an ideal origin. Strauss was a disciple of Hegel. Baur, and the “historical school” of Tübingen worked out their problem of New Testament criticism from the Hegelian idea, the constructive force whereof was so powerful, that the negations lost their negative character, and showed primarily as affirmations of reason. By being adopted into the line of intellectual development of mankind, Christianity, though dethroned and disenchanted, was dignified as a supreme moment in the autobiography of God.

  Frederick the Great, in the middle of the eighteenth century, attracted literary celebrities to his court, and gave an impulse, so far, to the German mind; but the French genius found more encouragement there than the German, and in his time French genius was speeding fast in the way of skepticism. Condillac, Cabanis, d’Holbach, Helvetius, were of that generation. The “Encyclopædists,” the most brilliant men and women of the generation, were planning their work of demolition. Voltaire was the great name in contemporary literature. The books of Volney were popular towards the end of the century. Skepticism and materialism had the floor. It was fashionable to ridicule the belief in personal immortality, and in enlightened circles to deny the existence of God. The doctrines of Christianity were abandoned to priests and women; philosophers deemed them too absurd to be argued against. Had the assault been less witty and more scientific, less acrimonious and more reasonable, less scornful and more consistent, its apparent success might have been permanent. As it was, a change of mood occurred; a conservative spirit succeeded the destructive; order prevailed over anarchy; and the Catholic church, which had only been temporarily thrust aside—not fatally wounded, not by any means disposed of—regained its suspended power.

  But rational or intellectual Christianity—in other words the system of Protestantism, in whatever form held—received a severe blow in France from these audacious hands. Religion took refuge in institutions and ceremonial forms; and there remained little else except a kernel of sentiment in a thin shell of traditional beliefs were entertained were accepted on authority, reason sought other fields of exercise, scientific, philosophical, literary; and a chill of indifference crept over the once religious world. From France, opinions adverse to Christianity were brought to America by travelled or curious people; they pervaded the creative minds of our earliest epoch, and penetrated far into the popular intelligence. The habit of thinking independently of authority and tradition became confirmed, and as a matter of course led to doubts and denials; for thinking was done in a temper of defiance, which constrained the thought to obey the wish. Such philosophical ideas as there were, came from France and England. Paley’s was the last word in morals; the “Bridgewater Treatises” were the received oracles in religion; the rules of practical judgment had usurped the dominion of faith.

  What pass things had come to in New England, in the centre of its culture, has been described in a previous chapter. It was time for a reaction to set in; and it came in the form of Transcendentalism. The “sensational” philosophy, it was contended, could not supply a basis for faith. Its first principle was “Nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu.” “There is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses.” From this principle nothing but skepticism could proceed. How, for instance, asks the Transcendentalist, can the sensational philosophy of Locke and his disciples give us anything approaching to a certainty of the existence of God? The senses furnish no evidence of it. God is not an object of sensation. He is not seen, felt, heard, tasted or smelt. The objects of sense are material, local, incidental; God is immaterial, universal, eternal. The objects of sense are finite; but a finite God is no God; for God is infinite. Is it said that by men of old, bible men, God was seen, heard, clasped in human arms? The reply is, that whatever Being was so apparent and tangible, could not have been God. To the assertion that the Being announced himself as God,—the infinite, the eternal God,—the challenge straightway is given: To whom did he say it? How can it be proved that he said it? Is the record of his saying it authentic? Might not the Being have made a false statement? Can we be certain there was no mental hallucination? Suppose these and other doubts of a similar character dispelled, still, hearing is not knowing. All we have is a tradition of God, a legend, a rumor, a dim reminiscence, that passes like a shadow across men’s minds. The appeal to miracle is set aside by historical skepticism. The wonder lacks evidence; and to prove the wonder a miracle, is beyond achievement. A possibility, or at most, a probability of God’s existence is all that sensationalism, with every advantage given it, can supply.

  And if this philosophy fails to give an assurance of God’s existence, the failure to throw light on his attributes is more signal. The senses report things as they exist in relations, not as they exist in themselves. Neither absolute power, absolute wisdom nor absolute goodness is hinted at by the senses. The visible system of things abounds in contradictions that we cannot reconcile, puzzles we cannot explain, mysteries we cannot penetrate, imperfections we cannot account for, wrongs we cannot palliate, evils we cannot cover up or justify. That a vein of wisdom, an element of goodness, an infusion of loving-kindness is in the world is evident; but to show that, is to go very little way towards establishing the attributes of a Perfect Being. A God of limited power, wisdom or goodness, is no God, and no other does Sensationalism offer. Transcendentalism points to the fact that under the auspices of this philosophy atheism has spread; and along with atheism the intellectual demoralization that accompanies the disappearance of a cardinal idea.

  From this grave peril the Transcendentalist found an escape in flight to the spiritual nature of man, in virtue of which he had an intuitive knowledge of God as a being, infinite and absolute in power, wisdom and goodness; a direct perception like that which the senses have of material objects; a perception that gains in distinctness, clearness and positiveness as the faculties through which it is obtained increase in power and delicacy. To the human mind, by its original constitution, belongs the firm assurance of God’s existence, as a half latent “fact of consciousness, and with it a dim sense of his moral attributes. To minds capacious and sensitive the truth was disclosed in lofty ranges that lifted the horizon line, in every direction; above the cloud land of doubt; to minds cultivated, earnest, devout, aspiring, the revelation came in bursts of glory. The experiences of inspired men and women were repeated. The prophet, the seer, the saint, was no ‘longer a favored person whose sayings and doings were recorded in the Bible, but a living person, making manifest the wealth of soul in all human beings. Communication with the ideal world was again opened through conscience; and communion with God, close and tender as is anywhere described by devotees and mystics, was promised to the religious affections.

  The Transcendentalist spoke of God with authority. His God was not possible, but real; not probable, but certain. In his high confidence he had small respect for the labored reasonings of “Natural Religion;” the argument from design, so carefully elaborated by Paley, Brougham and the writers of the “Bridgewater Treatises,” was interesting and useful as far as it went, but was remanded to an inferior place. The demonstration from miracle was dismissed with feelings bordering on contempt, as illogical and childish.

  Taking his faith with him into the world of nature and of human life, the Transcendentalist, sure of the divine wisdom and love, found everywhere joy for mourning and beauty for ashes. Passing through the valley of Baca, he saw springs bubbling up from the sand, and making pools for thirsty souls. Wherever he came, garments of heaviness were dropped and robes of praise put on. Evil was but the prophecy of good, wrong the servant of right, pain the precursor of peace, sorrow the minister to joy. He would acknowledge no exception to the rule of an absolute justice and an inexorable love. It was certain that all was well, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. He was, as we have said, an optimist—not of the indifferent sort that make the maxim “Whatever is, is right” an excuse for idleness—but of the heroic kind who, by refreshing their minds with thoughts of the absolute goodness, keep alive their faith, hope, endeavor, and quicken themselves to efforts at understanding, interpreting and bringing to the surface the divine attributes. For himself he had no misgivings, and no alarm at the misgivings of others; believing them due, either to some misunderstanding that might be corrected, or to some moral defect that could be cured. Even Atheism, of the crudest, coarsest, most stubborn description, had no terrors for him. It was in his judgment a matter of definition mainly. Utter atheism was all but inconceivable to him; the essential faith in divine things under some form of mental perception being too deeply planted in human nature to be eradicated or buried.

  Taking his belief with him into the world of history, the Transcendentalist discovered the faith in God beneath all errors, delusions, idolatries and superstition. He read it into unintelligible scriptures; he drew it forth from obsolete symbols; he dragged it to the light from the darkness of hateful shrines and the bloody mire of pagan altars. Mr. Parker meditated a work on the religious history of mankind in which the development of the theistic idea was to be traced from its shadowy beginnings to its full maturity; and this he meant should be the crowning work of his life. Sure of his first principle, he had no hesitation in going into caves and among the ruins of temples. Had that work been completed, the Transcendentalist’s faith in God would have received its most eloquent statement.

  The other cardinal doctrine of religion—the immortality of the soul,—Transcendentalism was proud of having rescued from death in the same way. The philosophy of sensation could give no assurance of personal immortality. Here, too, its fundamental axiom, “Nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu,” was discouraging to belief. For immortality is not demonstrable to the senses. Experience affords no basis for conviction, and knowledge cannot on any pretext be claimed. The sensational school was divided into two parties. The first party confessed that the immortality of the soul was a thing not only unprovable, but a thing easily disproved, a thing improbable, and, to a clear mind, impossible to believe. The soul being a product of organization, at all events fatally implicated in organization, conditioned by it in all respects, must perish with organization, as the flower perishes with the stem. Of a spirit distinct from body there is, according to this school, no evidence, either before death or after. Man’s prospect, therefore, is bounded by this life. Dreamers may have visions of another; mourners may sigh for another; ardent natures may hope for another; but to believe in another is, to the rational mind, according to this philosophy, impossible. The sentence “dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return,” may seem a hard one; but as it cannot be reversed or modified, it must be accepted with submission; and in default of another life, the honest man will make the most of the life he has; not necessarily saying with the sensualist: “ Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;” but with the hero reminding himself that he must” Work while it is day, for the night cometh in which no man can work.” The modern disciples of this doctrine of annihilation speak in a tone of lofty courage of their destiny, and disguise under shining and many-colored garments of anticipation, the fact of their personal cessation. The thinkers find refuge in the intellectual problems of the present; the workers pile up monuments that shall endure when they are gone; poets like George Eliot, make grand music on the harp-strings of the common humanity; but the fact remains that the philosophy of experience abandons, or did before the advent of spiritualism—the expectation of an existence after death.

  The other branch of the Sensational school fell back on authority, and received on the tradition of history what could not be verified by science. Immortality was accepted as a doctrine of instituted religion, taken on the credit of revelation, and sealed by the resurrection of Jesus. As an article of faith it was accepted without comment. If we have not seen the glorified dead, others have, and their witness is recorded in the Scriptures. Beyond that believers did not care to go; beyond that advised no one else to go. To question the genuineness of the Scriptures, to cast doubt on the resurrection of Jesus, to intimate that the tradition of the church is a thin stream that murmurs pleasantly in the shade of the sacred groves, but would dry up if the sun-light were let in, was resented as an offence against reverence and morality. By such as these the belief that slipped away from the reason was detained by the will.

  But beliefs thus appropriated are insecurely held. The inactivity of the mind cannot be guaranteed; a slight disturbance of its tamely acquiescent condition may set its whole scheme of opinions afloat. A sentence on a printed page, a word let fall in conversation, a discovered fact, an awakened suspicion, a suggestion of doubt by a friend, may stir the thought whose movement will bring the whole structure down. There being no certainty, only arbitrary consent; no personal conviction, only formal acquiescence; there was nothing to prevent the belief from disappearing altogether, and leaving the mind vacant.

  Even when retained, beliefs thus held have no vitality. They are not living faiths in any intelligent sense. Useful they may be for pulpit declamation and closet discussion; serviceable on funeral occasions and in chambers of sorrow; available for purposes of moral impression; but inspiring they are not; actively sustaining and consoling they are not. Their effect on the conduct of life is almost imperceptible. They are appendages to the mind, not parts of it; proprieties, not properties. They are to be reckoned as part of a man’s stock in trade, not as part of his being.

  Transcendentalism, by taking the belief in immortality out of these incidental and doubtful associations, and making it a constituent element in the constitution of the mind itself, thought to rescue it from its precarious position, and place it beyond the reach of danger. No belief was, on the whole, so characteristic of Transcendentalism as this; none was so steadfastly assumed, so constantly borne in view. Immortality was here a postulate, a first principle. Theodore Parker called it a fact of consciousness—the intensity of his conviction rendering him careless of precision in speech. The writings of Emerson are redolent of the faith. Even when he argues in his way against the accepted creed, and casts doubt on every form in which the doctrine is entertained, the loftiness of his language about the soul carries the presage of immortality with it. The “Dial” has no argument about immortality; no paper in the whole series is devoted to the subject; the faith was too deep and essential to be talked about—it was assumed. The Transcendentalist was an enthusiast on this article. He spoke, not as one who surmises, conjectures, is on the whole inclined to think; but as one who knows beyond cavil or question. We never met a man whose assurance of immortality was as strong as Theodore Parker’s. The objections of materialists did not in the least disturb him. In the company of the most absolute of them he avowed his conviction. What others clung to as supports—the church tradition, the story of the raising of Lazarus, the account of the resurrection of Jesus—were to him stumbling blocks in the way of spiritual faith, for they drew attention away from the witness of the soul.

  The preaching of Transcendentalists caused, in all parts of the country, a revival of interest and of faith in personal immortality; spiritualized the idea of it; enlarged the scope of the belief, and ennobled its character; established an organic connection between the present life and the future, making them both one in substance; disabused people of the coarse notion that the next life was an incident of their experience, and compelled them to think of it as a normal extension of their being; substituted aspiration after spiritual deliverance and perfection, for hope of happiness and fear of misery; recalled attention to the nature and capacity of the soul itself; in a word, announced the natural immortality of the soul by virtue of its essential quality. The fanciful reasoning of Plato’s “Phædon” was supplemented by new readings in psychology, and strengthened by powerful moral supports; the highest desires, the purest feelings, the deepest sympathies, were enlisted in its cause; death was made incidental to life; lower life was made subordinate to higher; and men who were beginning to doubt whether the demand for personal immortality was entirely honorable in one who utterly trusted in God, thoroughly appreciated the actual world, and fairly respected his own dignity, were reassured by a faith which promised felicity on terms that compromised neither reason nor virtue. The very persons who had let go the hope of immortality because they could not accept it at the cost of sacrificing their confidence in God’s instant justice, were glad to recover it as a promise of fulfilment to their dearest desire for spiritual expansion.

  The Sensational philosophy had done a worse harm to the belief in immortality, than by rendering the prospect of it uncertain; it had rendered the character of it pusillanimous and plebeian; it had demanded it on the ground that God must explain himself, must correct his blunders and apologize for his partiality in distributing sugar plums; it had argued for it from personal, social, sectarian, and other sympathies and antipathies; it had expected it on the strength of a rumor that a specially holy man, a saint of Judea, had appeared after death to his peculiar friends; it had pleaded for it, as children beg for dessert after bread and meat. The transcendental philosophy dismissed these unworthy claims, made no demand, put up no petition, but simply made articulate the prophecy of the spiritual nature in man, and trusted the eternal goodness for its fulfilment. Other arguments might come to the support of this anticipation; history might bring its contribution of recorded facts; suffering and sorrow might add their pathetic voices, bewailing the oppressive power of circumstance, and crying for peace out of affliction; the biographies of Jesus might furnish illustration of the victory of the greatest souls over death; but considerations of this kind received their importance from the light they threw on the immortal attributes of spirit. Apart from these their significance was gone.

  The pure Transcendentalists saw everywhere evidence of the greatness of the soul. Christianity they regarded as its chief manifestation. Imperfect Transcendentalists there were, who used the fundamental postulates of the transcendental philosophy to confirm their faith in supernatural realities. Their Transcendentalism amounted merely to this, that man had a natural capacity for receiving supernatural truths, when presented by revelation. The possession of such truths, even in germ; the power to unfold them naturally, by process of mental or spiritual growth; the faculty to seize, define, shape, legitimate and enthrone them, they denied. The soul, according to them, was recipient, not originating or creative. They continued to be Christians of the “Evangelical” stamp; champions of special intervention of light and grace; hearty believers in the divinity of the Christ and the saving influence of the Holy Ghost; holding to the peculiar inspiration of the Bible, and the personal need of regeneration. The wisest teachers of orthodoxy belonged to this school.

  The pure Transcendentalist went much further. According to him, the seeds of truth, if not the out-line forms of truth, were contained in the soul itself, all ready to expand in bloom and beauty, as it felt the light and heat of the upper world. Sir Kenelm Digby relates that in Padua he visited the laboratory of a famous physician, and was there shown a small pile of fine ashes under a glass. On the application of a gentle heat, it arose, assumed the shape of its original flower, all its parts being perfectly distinct in form and well defined in character. During the application of the heat, the spectral plant preserved its delicate outline; but on withdrawal of the heat, it became dust again. So, according to the Transcendentalist, the spiritual being of man—which apparently is a heap of lifeless ashes on the surface of material existence—when graciously shone upon by knowledge and love, puts on divine attributes, glows with beauty, palpitates with joy, gives out flashes of power, distils odors of sanctity, and exhibits the marks of a celestial grace. The soul, when thus awakened, utters oracles of wisdom, sings, prophesies, thunders decalogues, pronounces beatitudes, discourses grandly of God and divine things, performs wonders of healing on sick bodies and wandering minds, rises to heights of heroism and saintliness.

  From this point of vision, it was easy to survey the history of mankind, and, in the various religions of the world, see the efforts of the soul to express itself in scriptures, emblems, doctrines, altar forms, architecture, painting, moods and demonstrations of piety. The Transcendentalist rendered full justice to all these, studied them, admired them, confessed their inspiration. Of these faiths Christianity was cheerfully acknowledged to be the queen. The supremacy of Jesus was granted with enthusiasm. His teachings were accepted as the purest expressions of religious truth; His miracles were regarded as the natural achievements of a soul of such originality and force. In his address to the senior class in Divinity College, 1838, Mr. Emerson spoke of Christ’s miracles as being “one with the blowing clover and the falling rain,” and urged the young candidates for the ministry to let his life and dialogues “lie as they befel, active and warm, part of human life, and of the landscape, and of the cheerful day.” When, in 1840, Theodore Parker wrote his “Levi Blodgett” letter, he believed in miracles, the miracles of the New Testament and many others besides, more than the Christians about him were willing to accept.

  “It may be said these religious teachers (Zoroaster, Buddha, Fo) pretended to work miracles. I would not deny that they did work miracles. If a man is obedient to the law of his mind, conscience and heart, since his intellect, character and affections are in harmony with the laws of God, I take it he can do works that are impossible to others, who have not been so faithful, and consequently are not “one with God” as he is; and this is all that is meant by a miracle.” “The possession of this miraculous power, when it can be proved, as I look at the thing, is only a sign, which may be uncertain, of the superior genius of a religious teacher, or a sign that he will utter the truth, and never a proof thereof.”

  The Transcendentalist was a cordial believer in marvels, as being so hearty a believer in the potency of the spiritual laws. Parker’s opposition to the miracles of the New Testament was provoked by the exclusive claim that was put forward by their defenders, and by the position they were thrust into as pillars of doctrine. His wish to make it appear that truth could stand without them, impelled him to strain at their overthrow. Later, his studies in New Testament criticism confirmed his suspicion that the testimony in their favor was altogether inadequate to sustain their credibility. The theory of Baur and his disciples of the Tübingen school seemed to him unanswerable, and he abandoned, as a scholar, much that as a Transcendentalist he might have been disposed to retain. W. H. Furness, author of several biographical studies on the life and character of Jesus—a Transcendentalist of the most impassioned school, but no adept in historical criticism—maintained to the last the credibility of the Christian miracles, and purely on the ground of their perfect naturalness as performed by a person so spiritually exalted as Jesus was. The more ardent his admiration of that character, the more unshrinking his belief in these manifestations of its superiority. Dr. Furness is prepared to think that if no miracles had been recorded, nevertheless miracles must have been wrought, and would, but for some blindness or skepticism, have been mentioned.

  The charge that Transcendentalism denied the reality of supernatural powers and influences shows how imperfectly it was apprehended. It seemed to deny them because it transferred them to another sphere. It regarded man himself as a supernatural being; not the last product of nature, but the lord of nature; not the creature of organization, but its creator. In its extreme form, Transcendentalism was a deification of nature, in the highest aspects of Beauty. It raised human qualities to the supreme power; it ascribed to extraordinary virtue in its exalted states the efficient grace that is commonly attributed to the Holy Spirit. The pure Transcendentalist spoke of the experiences and powers of the illuminated soul with as much extravagance of rapture as one of the newly redeemed ever expressed. The profane made sport of his fanaticisms and fervors in the same way that they made sport of the wild over-gush of a revival meeting. The demonstrations of feeling were in fact, precisely similar; only in the one case the excitement was traced to the Christ in the skies, in the other to the Christ who was the soul of the man; in the one case a superhuman being was imagined as operating un the soul; in the other case the soul was supposed to be giving expression to itself.

  The Transcendentalist was not careful enough in making this distinction, and was, therefore, to blame for a portion of the misapprehension that ensued. He often found in sacred literature, thoughts which he himself put there. Parker, discoursing of inspiration, cites Paul and John as holding the same doctrine with himself; though it is plain to the single mind that their doctrine was in no respect the same, but so different as to be in contradiction. Paul and John, it is hardly too much to say, set up their doctrine in precise opposition to the doctrine of the Transcendentalists. Paul declared that the natural man could not discern divine things; that they were foolishness to him; that they must be spiritually discerned; that the Christian was able to discern them spiritually because he had the “mind of Christ.” The eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans contains sentences that, taken singly, apart from their connection, comfort the cockles of the transcendental heart; but the writer is glorifying Christ the inspirer; not the soul the inspired. He opens the chapter with the affirmation that “there is no condemnation to them which are in CHRIST JESUS, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit,” and follows it with the saying that” if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” This is the spirit that “quickens mortal bodies,” that makes believers to be “Sons of God,” giving them the spirit of adoption whereby they cry” Abba, Father,” bearing witness with, their spirit that they are “the children of God.” This is the spirit that “helpeth our infirmities,” and “maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Transcendentalism deliberately broke with Christianity. Paul said “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Transcendentalism responded: “Jesus Christ built on my foundation, the soul;” and, for thus answering, was classed with those who used as building materials “wood, hay, stubble,” which the fire would consume. In the view of Transcendentalism, Christianity was an illustrious form of natural religion—Jesus was a noble type of human nature; revelation was disclosure of the soul’s mystery; inspiration was the filling of the soul’s lungs; salvation was spiritual vitality.

  Transcendentalism carried its appeal to metaphysics. At present physics have the floor. Our recent studies have been in the natural history of the soul. Its spiritual history is discredited. But the human mind ebbs and flows. The Bains and Spencers and Taines may presently give place to other prophets; psychology may come to the front again, and with it will reappear the sages and seers. In that event, the religion of Transcendentalism will revive, and will have a long and fair day.

  For it can hardly be supposed that the present movement in the line of observation is the final one; that henceforth we are to continue straight on till; by the path of physiology, we arrive at absolute truth; that idealism is dead and gone for ever, and materialism of a refined type holds the future in its hand. The triumphs of the scientific method in the natural world are wonderful. The law of evolution has its lap full of promise. But one who has studied at all the history of human thought; who has seen philosophies crowned and discrowned, sceptred and outcast; who has followed the changing fortunes of opposing schools, and witnessed the alternate victories and defeats that threatened, each in its turn, to decide the fate of philosophy, will be slow to believe that the final conflict has been fought, or is to be, for hundreds of years to come. The principles of the “Sensational” philosophy have, within the last half century, been revived and restated with great power by Mill, Bain, Spencer, Taine, and other leaders of speculative opinion both in England and Europe. Recent discoveries and generalizations in physical science have lent countenance to them. The investigations in physiology and biology, the researches in the regions of natural history, the revelations of chemistry, have all combined to confirm their truth. Psychology, in the hands of its latest masters, has worked successfully in their interest. The thinness, shallowness and dry technicality of the original school have given place to a rich and varied exposition of the facts of organic life in its origin, development and results. The original form of the Sensational philosophy as it prevailed in Europe is described by Mill as “the shallowest set of doctrines which perhaps, were ever passed off upon a cultivated age as a complete psychological system; a system which affected to resolve all the phenomena of the human mind into sensation, by a process which essentially consisted in merely calling all states of mind, however heterogeneous, by that name; a philosophy now acknowledged to consist solely of a set of verbal generalizations, explaining nothing, distinguishing nothing, leading to nothing.” The “Sensational” philosophy is now presented as the philosophy of “experience.” Its occupation is to resolve into results of experience and processes of organic life the à priori conceptions that have been accepted as simple and primitive data of consciousness, by the Ideal philosophy. Mill was one of the first to undertake this from the psychological side, analyzing the processes of reason, and making account of the contents of the mind. Lewes, Spencer, Tyndall have approached the same problem from the side of organization. In the first edition of the Logic, Mill clearly indicated the ground he took in the controversy between the two schools; in the last edition, he defined his position more clearly, against Whewell, and in agreement with Bain.

  In the article on Coleridge, published in the London and Westminister Review, March, 1840, and republished in the second volume of “Dissertations and Discussions,” Mill declares explicitly, that in his judgment, the truth on the much-debated question between the two philosophies lies with the school of Locke and Bentham:

  “The nature of laws and things in themselves, or the hidden causes of the phenomena which are the objects of experience, appear to us radically inaccessible to the human faculties. We see no ground for believing that any thing can be the object of our knowledge except our experience, and what can be inferred from our experience by the analogies of experience itself; nor that there is any idea, feeling or power in the human mind, which, in order to account for it, requires that its origin should be referred to any other source. We are, therefore, at issue with Coleridge on the central idea of his philosophy; and we find no need of, and no use for, the peculiar technical terminology which he and his masters, the Germans, have introduced into philosophy, for the double purpose of giving logical precision to doctrines which we do not admit, and of marking a relation between those abstract doctrines and many concrete experimental truths, which this language, in our judgment, serves not to elucidate, but to disguise and obscure.”

  In the examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, he still more emphatically expressed his dissent from Schelling, Cousin, and every school of idealism, rejecting the doctrine of intuitive knowledge; taking the eternal ground from beneath the ideas of the Infinite and Absolute; sharply questioning the well-conceded interpretations of consciousness; resolving the “first principles” into mental habits; and even going so far as to doubt whether twice two necessarily made four.*

  The system of Spencer and other expositors of the doctrine of evolution is, in its general features and its ultimate tendency, too familiar to be stated. Its hostility to the intuitive philosophy must be obvious even to unpractised minds. The atomic theory of the constitution of matter, which, in one or another form, is accepted by the majority of scientific men, gives ominous prediction of disaster to every scheme that is built on the necessary truths of pure reason.

  But the philosophers of the experimental school are by no means in accord among themselves, on a matter so cardinal as the relation of mind to organization. In the latest edition of the Logic, Mill repeats the language used in the first:

  “That every mental state has a nervous state for its immediate antecedent, though extremely probable, cannot hitherto be said to be proved, in the conclusive manner in which this can be proved of sensations; and even were it certain, yet every one must admit that we are wholly ignorant of the characteristics of these nervous states; we know not, and have no means of knowing, in what respect one of them differs from another. . . . The successions, therefore, which obtain among mental phenomena, do not admit of being deduced from the physiological laws of our nervous organization.” “It must by no means be forgotten that the laws of mind may be derivative laws resulting from laws of animal life, and that their truth, therefore, may ultimately depend on physical conditions; and the influence of physiological states or physiological changes in altering or counteracting the mental successions, is one of the most important departments of psychological study. But on the other hand, to reject the resource of psychological analysis, and construct the theory of mind solely on such data as physiology affords at present, seems to me as great an error in principle, and an even more serious one in practice. Imperfect as is the science of mind, I do not scruple to affirm that it is in a considerably more advanced state than the portion of physiology which corresponds with it; and to discard the former for the latter appears to me to be an infringement of the true canons of inductive philosophy.”

  In a previous chapter Mill had said:

  “I am far from pretending that it may not be capable of proof, or that it is not an important addition to our knowledge, if proved, that certain motions in the particles of bodies are the conditions of the production of heat or light; that certain assignable physical modifications of the nerves may be the conditions, not only of our sensations and emotions, but even of our thoughts; that certain mechanical and chemical conditions may, in the order of nature, be sufficient to determine to action the physiological laws of life. All I insist upon, in common with every thinker who entertains any clear idea of the logic of science, is, that it shall not be supposed that by proving these things, one step would be made toward a real explanation of heat, light, or sensation; or that the generic peculiarity of those phenomena can be in the least degree evaded by any such discoveries, however well established. Let it be shown, for instance, that the most complex series of physical causes and effects succeed one another in the eye and in the brain, to produce a sense of color; rays falling on the eye, refracted, converging, crossing one another, making an inverted image on the retina; and after this a motion—let it be a vibration, or a rush of nervous fluid, or whatever else you are pleased to suppose, along the optic nerve—a propagation of this motion to the brain itself, and as many more different motions as you choose; still, at the end of these motions there is something which is not motion, there is a feeling or sensation of color. The mode in which any one of the motions produces the next, may possibly be susceptible of explanation by some general law of motion; but the mode in which the last motion produces the sensation of color cannot be explained by any motion; it is the law of color, which is, and must always remain a peculiar thing. Where our consciousness recognizes between two phenomena an inherent distinction; where we are sensible of a difference, which is not merely of degree; and feel that no adding one of the phenomena to itself will produce the other; any theory which attempts to bring either under the laws of the other must be false.”

  To precisely the same effect, DuBois Reymond, in an address to the Congress of German Naturalists given in Leipsic:

  “It is absolutely and forever inconceivable that a number of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen atoms, should be otherwise than indifferent to their own position and motion, past, present, or future. It is utterly inconceivable how consciousness should result from their joint action.”

  The position of John Tyndall is well understood. It was avowed in 1860 in the Saturday Review; again in his address to the Mathematical and Physical Section of the British Association in 1868, wherein he declared that

  “The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a thought and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously, we do not possess the organ, nor, apparently, any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass by a process of reasoning from the one phenomenon to the other. They appear together, but we do not know why.”

  In 1875, reviewing Martineau in the Popular Science Monthly for December. Tyndall calls attention to these declarations, and quotes other language of his own to the same purpose:

  “You cannot satisfy the understanding in its demand for logical continuity between molecular processes and the phenomena of consciousness. This is a rock on which materialism must inevitably split whenever it pretends to be a complete philosophy of the human mind.”

  Mr. John Fiske, a disciple of Herbert Spencer, and an exceedingly able expositor of the philosophy of which Spencer is the acknowledged chief, makes assertions equally positive:§

  “However strict the parallelism may be within the limits of our experience, between the phenomena of the mind, and the segment of the circle of motions, the task of transcending or abolishing the radical antithesis between the phenomena of mind and the phenomena of matter, must always remain an impracticable task; for, in order to transcend or abolish this radical antithesis, we must be prepared to show how a given quantity of molecular motion in nerve tissue can be transformed into a definable amount of ideation or feeling. But this, it is quite safe to say, can never be done.”

  There are of course, distinguished names on the other side. The work on “Intelligence,” by Mr. Taine, which Mr. Mill warmly commends as the “the first serious effort (in France) to supply the want of a better than the official psychology,” cannot be wisely overlooked by any one interested in this problem. Taine objects to Tyndall’s statement of the problem, declares that by approaching it from another point, it is soluble, and frankly undertakes to solve it.**

  “When we consider closely any one of our conceptions—that of a plant, an animal, a mineral—we find that the primitive threads of which it is woven, are sensations, and sensations only. We have proof of this already if we recollect that our ideas are only reviving sensations, that our ideas are nothing more than images which have become signs, and that thus this elementary tissue subsists in a more or less disguised form at all stages of our thought.” “It is true that we cannot conceive the two events otherwise than as irreducible to one another; but that may depend on the way we conceive them, and not on their actual qualities; their incompatibility is perhaps rather apparent than real; it arises on our side and not on theirs.”

  Mr. George H. Lewes†† follows closely Taine’s line of argument, but developes it with more system. He too quotes Tyndall, alludes to DuBois Reymond and makes reference to Mill. Lewes holds it to be a severe deduction from proven facts “that the neural process and the feeling are one and the same process viewed under different aspects. Viewed from the physical or objective side, it is a neural process; viewed from the psychological or subjective side, it is a sentient process.”

  “It is not wonderful that conceptions so dissimilar as those of Motion and Feeling should seem irreducible to a common term, while the one is regarded as the symbol of a process in the object, and the other as the symbol of a process in the subject. But psychological analysis leads to the conclusion that the objective process and the subjective process are simply the twofold aspects of one and the same fact; in the one aspect it is the Felt, in the other it is the Feeling.”

  For the remarkable reasonings by which these assertions are justified, the readers must consult the works quoted. Their novelty renders any but an extended account of them unfair; and an extended account would be out of place in a general study like this.

  Should the analyses of Taine and Lewes prove successful at last, and be accepted by the authorities in speculative philosophy, idealism, as a philosophy, must disappear. The days of metaphysics in the old sense, will be numbered; the German schools from Kant to Hegel will become obsolete; Jacobi’s doctrine of faith, Fichte’s doctrine of the absolute Ego, Schelling’s doctrine of intellectual intuition, will be forgotten; Cousin’s influence will be gone; the fundamental ideas of Transcendental teachers, French, English, American, will be discredited; and the beliefs founded on them will fade away. There will, however, be no cause to apprehend the personal, social, moral or spiritual demoralization which the “Sensualist” doctrines of the last century were accused of encouraging. The attitude of the human mind towards the great problems of destiny has so far altered, the problems themselves have so far changed their face, that no shock will be felt in the passage from the philosophy of intuition to that of experience. Questions respecting the origin, order and regulation of the world, the laws of character, the constitution of society, the conditions of welfare, the prospects and relations of the individual, are put in new forms, discussed by new arguments, and answered by new assurances. The words atheism and materialism have passed through so many definitions, the conceptions they stand for have become so completely transformed by the mutations of thought, that the ancient antipathies are not longer excusable; the ancient fears are weak. The sanctities that once were set apart in ideal shrines will be perfectly at home among the demonstrated facts of common life.

  If, on the other hand, the school to which Spencer, Fiske and Tyndall belong is right, the science of mind will recover its old dignity, though under new conditions. Nobody has spoken more plainly against the intuitive philosophy, than Mill. No one probably is further from it than Tyndall, though he responds in sentiment to the eloquent affirmations of Martineau, and quotes Emerson enthusiastically, as “a profoundly religious man who is really and entirely undaunted by the discoveries of science, past, present or prospective; one by whom scientific conceptions are continually transmuted into the finer forms and warmer hues of an ideal world.” Under the influences of the new psychology, dogmatic idealism will probably be deprived of its sceptre and sway. The claim to intuitive knowledge of definite truths of any order whatsoever will be abandoned, as untenable on scientific or philosophical grounds; but imagination, which, as Emerson says, “respects the cause,”—“the vision of an inspired soul reading arguments and affirmations in all nature of that which it is driven to say;” emotion, which contains all the possibilities of feeling and. hope; the moral sentiment, which affirms principles with imperative authority; these remain, and claim their right to create ideal worlds of which the natural world is image and symbol. The Transcendentalism which concedes to all mankind spiritual faculties by virtue whereof divine entities are seen in definite shape—the personal God—the city of the heavenly Jerusalem-will be superseded by the poetic idealism that is the cheer and inspiration of poetic minds, animating them with fine visions, and gladdening them with unfading, though vague, anticipations.

  The Transcendental doctrine has been exposed to most deadly assault on the ethical side. The theory of moral intuition, which held that “every man is, according to the cautious statement of James Walker, born with a moral faculty, or the elements of a moral faculty, which, on being developed, creates in him the idea of a right and a wrong in human conduct; which summons him before the tribunal of his own soul for judgment on the rectitude of his purposes; which grows up into an habitual sense of personal responsibility, and thus prepares him, as his views are enlarged, to comprehend the moral government of God, and to feel his own responsibility to God as a moral governor,”—has fallen into general disrepute; and in its place a persuasion is abroad, that, in the language of Grote, “ the universal and essential tendencies of the moral sense, admit of being most satisfactorily deduced from other elementary principles of our nature.” It is now a widely accepted belief among conservative thinkers, that “conscience” is not a faculty, or an element, existing here in germ, there in maturity; but is the result of social experience. Moderate Transcendentalists conceded the necessity of educating conscience, which still implied the existence of a conscience or moral sense to be educated. It is now contended that conscience itself is a product of education, a deposit left in the crucible of experiment, a habit formed by the usage of mankind. The justification of this view has gone so far, that it seems likely to become the recognized account of this matter; but in course of substantiating this doctrine, a new foundation for ethical feeling and judgment is laid, which is as immovable as the transcendental “facts of consciousness.” The moral sentiments are represented as resting on the entire past of the race, on reefs of fact built up by the lives of millions of men, from the bottom of the deep of humanity. The finest moral sensibility caps the peak of the world’s effort at self-adjustment as the white, unsullied snow rests on the summit of the Jungfrau. The intuition is referred to another genesis, but it is equally clear and equally certain. The difference of origin creates no difference of character. Moral distinctions are precisely the same for idealists and sensationalists. Here, at least, the transcendentalist and his adversary can dwell in amity together.

* Vol 1, page 89, 90.
† Logic, p. 591. Amer. Edition.
‡ Logic, p. 548. Amer. Edition.
§ Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, Vol. II. 1 p. 442.
** On Intelligence, Book III., chap. I.
†† Problems of Life and Mind II. pp. 410, 415.

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