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Title: Mysticism in English Literature
Author: Spurgeon, Caroline F. E., 1869-1942
Language: English
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Mysticism in English Literature


Caroline F. E. Spurgeon

"Many are the thyrsus-bearers, but few are the mystics"


Mysticism in English Literature


The variety of applications of the term "mysticism" has forced me to
restrict myself here to a discussion of that philosophical type of
mysticism which concerns itself with questions of ultimate reality. My
aim, too, has been to consider this subject in connection with great
English writers. I have had, therefore, to exclude, with regret, the
literature of America, so rich in mystical thought.

I wish to thank Mr John Murray for kind permission to make use of an
article of mine which appeared in the _Quarterly Review_, and also Dr
Ward and Mr Waller for similar permission with regard to certain
passages in a chapter of the _Cambridge History of English Literature_,
vol. ix.

I am also indebted to Mr Bertram Dobell, Messrs Longmans, Green, Mrs
Coventry Patmore and Mr Francis Meynell for most kindly allowing me to
quote from the works respectively of Thomas Traherne, Richard Jefferies,
Coventry Patmore, and Francis Thompson.


_April_ 1913.


I. Introduction

     Definition of Mysticism. The Early Mystical Writers. Plato.
     Plotinus. Chronological Sketch of Mystical Thought in England.

II. Love and Beauty Mystics

     Shelley, Rossetti, Browning, Coventry Patmore, and Keats.

III. Nature Mystics

     Henry Vaughan, Wordsworth, Richard Jefferies.

IV. Philosophical Mystics

     (i) _Poets._--Donne, Traherne, Emily Brontë, Tennyson.

     (ii) _Prose Writers._--William Law, Burke, Coleridge, Carlyle.

V. Devotional and Religious Mystics

     The Early English Writers: Richard Rolle and Julian; Crashawe,
     Herbert, and Christopher Harvey; Blake and Francis Thompson.



Mysticism in English Literature

Chapter I


Mysticism is a term so irresponsibly applied in English that it has
become the first duty of those who use it to explain what they mean by
it. The _Concise Oxford Dictionary_ (1911), after defining a mystic as
"one who believes in spiritual apprehension of truths beyond the
understanding," adds, "whence _mysticism_ (n.) (often contempt)."
Whatever may be the precise force of the remark in brackets, it is
unquestionably true that mysticism is often used in a semi-contemptuous
way to denote vaguely any kind of occultism or spiritualism, or any
specially curious or fantastic views about God and the universe.

The word itself was originally taken over by the Neo-platonists from the
Greek mysteries, where the name of μύστης given to the initiate,
probably arose from the fact that he was one who was gaining a knowledge
of divine things about which he must keep his mouth shut (μύω = close
lips or eyes). Hence the association of secrecy or "mystery" which still
clings round the word.

Two facts in connection with mysticism are undeniable whatever it may
be, and whatever part it is destined to play in the development of
thought and of knowledge. In the first place, it is the leading
characteristic of some of the greatest thinkers of the world--of the
founders of the Eastern religions of Plato and Plotinus, of Eckhart and
Bruno, of Spinoza, Goethe, and Hegel. Secondly, no one has ever been a
lukewarm, an indifferent, or an unhappy mystic. If a man has this
particular temperament, his mysticism is the very centre of his being:
it is the flame which feeds his whole life; and he is intensely and
supremely happy just so far as he is steeped in it.

Mysticism is, in truth, a temper rather than a doctrine, an atmosphere
rather than a system of philosophy. Various mystical thinkers have
contributed fresh aspects of Truth as they saw her, for they have caught
glimpses of her face at different angles, transfigured by diverse
emotions, so that their testimony, and in some respects their views, are
dissimilar to the point of contradiction. Wordsworth, for instance,
gained his revelation of divinity through Nature, and through Nature
alone; whereas to Blake "Nature was a hindrance," and Imagination the
only reality. But all alike agree in one respect, in one passionate
assertion, and this is that unity underlies diversity. This, their
starting-point and their goal, is the basic fact of mysticism, which, in
its widest sense, may be described as an attitude of mind founded upon
an intuitive or experienced conviction of unity, of oneness, of
alikeness in all things. From this source springs all mystical thought,
and the mystic, of whatever age or country, would say in the words of

    There is true knowledge. Learn thou it is this:
    To see one changeless Life in all the Lives,
    And in the Separate, One Inseparable.
    _The Bhagavad-Gîtâ_, Book 18.

This fundamental belief in unity leads naturally to the further belief
that all things about us are but forms or manifestations of the one
divine life, and that these phenomena are fleeting and impermanent,
although the spirit which informs them is immortal and endures. In other
words, it leads to the belief that "the Ideal is the only Real."

Further, if unity lies at the root of things, man must have some share
of the nature of God, for he is a spark of the Divine. Consequently, man
is capable of knowing God through this godlike part of his own nature,
that is, through his soul or spirit. For the mystic believes that as the
intellect is given us to apprehend material things, so the spirit is
given us to apprehend spiritual things, and that to disregard the spirit
in spiritual matters, and to trust to reason is as foolish as if a
carpenter, about to begin a piece of work, were deliberately to reject
his keenest and sharpest tool. The methods of mental and spiritual
knowledge are entirely different. For we know a thing mentally by
looking at it from outside, by comparing it with other things, by
analysing and defining it, whereas we can know a thing spiritually only
by becoming it. We must _be_ the thing itself, and not merely talk about
it or look at it. We must be in love if we are to know what love is; we
must be musicians if we are to know what music is; we must be godlike if
we are to know what God is. For, in Porphyry's words: "Like is known
only by like, and the condition of all knowledge is that the subject
should become like to the object." So that to the mystic, whether he be
philosopher, poet, artist, or priest, the aim of life is to become like
God, and thus to attain to union with the Divine. Hence, for him, life
is a continual advance, a ceaseless aspiration; and reality or truth is
to the seeker after it a vista ever expanding and charged with ever
deeper meaning. John Smith, the Cambridge Platonist, has summed up the
mystic position and desire in one brief sentence, when he says, "Such as
men themselves are, such will God Himself seem to them to be." For, as
it takes two to communicate the truth, one to speak and one to hear, so
our knowledge of God is precisely and accurately limited by our capacity
to receive Him. "Simple people," says Eckhart, "conceive that we are to
see God as if He stood on that side and we on this. It is not so: God
and I are one in the act of my perceiving Him."

This sense of unity leads to another belief, though it is one not always
consistently or definitely stated by all mystics. It is implied by Plato
when he says, "All knowledge is recollection." This is the belief in
pre-existence or persistent life, the belief that our souls are
immortal, and no more came into existence when we were born than they
will cease to exist when our bodies disintegrate. The idea is familiar
in Wordsworth's _Ode on the Intimations of Immortality_.

Finally, the mystic holds these views because he has lived through an
experience which has forced him to this attitude of mind. This is his
distinguishing mark, this is what differentiates him alike from the
theologian, the logician, the rationalist philosopher, and the man of
science, for he bases his belief, not on revelation, logic, reason, or
demonstrated facts, but on _feeling_, on intuitive inner knowledge.

He has felt, he has seen, and he is therefore convinced; but his
experience does not convince any one else. The mystic is somewhat in the
position of a man who, in a world of blind men, has suddenly been
granted sight, and who, gazing at the sunrise, and overwhelmed by the
glory of it, tries, however falteringly, to convey to his fellows what
he sees. They, naturally, would be sceptical about it, and would be
inclined to say that he is talking foolishly and incoherently. But the
simile is not altogether parallel. There is this difference. The mystic
is not alone; all through the ages we have the testimony of men and
women to whom this vision has been granted, and the record of what they
have seen is amazingly similar, considering the disparity of personality
and circumstances. And further, the world is not peopled with totally
blind men. The mystics would never hold the audience they do hold, were
it not that the vast majority of people have in themselves what William
James has called a "mystical germ" which makes response to their

James's description of his own position in this matter, and his feeling
for a "Beyond," is one to which numberless "unmystical" people would
subscribe. He compares it to a tune that is always singing in the back
of his mind, but which he can never identify nor whistle nor get rid of.
"It is," he says, "very vague, and impossible to describe or put into
words.... Especially at times of moral crisis it comes to me, as the
sense of an unknown something backing me up. It is most indefinite, to
be sure, and rather faint. And yet I know that if it should cease there
would be a great hush, a great void in my life."[1]

This sensation, which many people experience vaguely and intermittently,
and especially at times of emotional exaltation, would seem to be the
first glimmerings of that secret power which, with the mystics, is so
finely developed and sustained that it becomes their definite faculty of
vision. We have as yet no recognised name for this faculty, and it has
been variously called "transcendental feeling," "imagination," "mystic
reason," "cosmic consciousness," "divine sagacity," "ecstasy," or
"vision," all these meaning the same thing. But although it lacks a
common name, we have ample testimony to its existence, the testimony of
the greatest teachers, philosophers, and poets of the world, who
describe to us in strangely similar language--

              That serene and blessed mood
    In which ... the breath of this corporeal frame,
    And even the motion of our human blood,
    Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
    In body, and become a living soul:
    While with an eye made quiet by the power
    Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
    We see into the life of things.
                                     _Tintern Abbey._

"Harmony" and "Joy," it may be noted, are the two words used most
constantly by those who have experienced this vision.

The mystic reverses the ordinary methods of reasoning: he must believe
before he can know. As it is put in the _Theologia Germanica_, "He who
would know before he believeth cometh never to true knowledge." Just as
the sense of touch is not the faculty concerned with realising the
beauty of the sunrise, so the intellect is not the faculty concerned
with spiritual knowledge, and ordinary intellectual methods of proof,
therefore, or of argument, the mystic holds, are powerless and futile
before these questions; for, in the words of Tennyson's Ancient Sage--

    Thou canst not prove the Nameless, O my son,
    Nor canst thou prove the world thou movest in:
    Thou canst not prove that thou art body alone,
    Nor canst thou prove that thou art spirit alone,
    Nor canst thou prove that thou art both in one:
    Thou canst not prove thou art immortal, no,
    Nor yet that thou art mortal--nay, my son,
    Thou canst not prove that I who speak with thee
    Am not thyself in converse with thyself,
    For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
    Nor yet disproven.

Symbolism is of immense importance in mysticism; indeed, symbolism and
mythology are, as it were, the language of the mystic. This necessity
for symbolism is an integral part of the belief in unity; for the
essence of true symbolism rests on the belief that all things in Nature
have something in common, something in which they are really alike. In
order to be a true symbol, a thing must be partly the same as that which
it symbolises. Thus, human love is symbolic of divine love, because,
although working in another plane, it is governed by similar laws and
gives rise to similar results; or falling leaves are a symbol of human
mortality, because they are examples of the same law which operates
through all manifestation of life. Some of the most illuminating notes
ever written on the nature of symbolism are in a short paper by R. L.
Nettleship,[2] where he defines true mysticism as "the consciousness
that everything which we experience, every 'fact,' is an element and
only an element in 'the fact'; i.e. that, in being what it is, it is
significant or symbolic of more." In short, every truth apprehended by
finite intelligence must by its very nature only be the husk of a deeper
truth, and by the aid of symbolism we are often enabled to catch a
reflection of a truth which we are not capable of apprehending in any
other way. Nettleship points out, for instance, that bread can only be
itself, can only _be_ food, by entering into something else,
assimilating and being assimilated, and that the more it loses itself
(what it began by being) the more it "finds itself" (what it is intended
to be). If we follow carefully the analysis Nettleship makes of the
action of bread in the physical world, we can see that to the man of
mystic temper it throws more light than do volumes of sermons on what
seems sometimes a hard saying, and what is at the same time the ultimate
mystical counsel, "He that loveth his life shall lose it."

It is worth while, in this connection, to ponder the constant use Christ
makes of nature symbolism, drawing the attention of His hearers to the
analogies in the law we see working around us to the same law working in
the spiritual world. The yearly harvest, the sower and his seed, the
leaven in the loaf, the grain of mustard-seed, the lilies of the field,
the action of fire, worms, moth, rust, bread, wine, and water, the
mystery of the wind, unseen and yet felt--each one of these is shown to
contain and exemplify a great and abiding truth.

This is the attitude, these are the things, which lie at the heart of
mysticism. In the light of this, nothing in the world is trivial,
nothing is unimportant nothing is common or unclean. It is the feeling
that Blake has crystallised in the lines:

    To see a world in a grain of sand
    And a Heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
    And Eternity in an hour.

The true mystic then, in the full sense of the term, is one who _knows_
there is unity under diversity at the centre of all existence, and he
knows it by the most perfect of all tests for the person concerned,
because he has felt it. True mysticism--and this cannot be
over-emphasised--is an experience and a life. It is an experimental
science, and, as Patmore has said, it is as incommunicable to those who
have not experienced it as is the odour of a violet to those who have
never smelt one. In its highest consummation it is the supreme adventure
of the soul: to use the matchless words of Plotinus, it is "the flight
of the Alone to the Alone."

As distinguished, therefore, from the mystical thinker or philosopher,
the practical mystic has direct knowledge of a truth which for him is
absolute. He consequently has invariably acted upon this knowledge, as
inevitably as the blind man to whom sight had been granted would make
use of his eyes.

Among English writers and poets the only two who fulfil this strict
definition of a mystic are Wordsworth and Blake. But we are not here
concerned primarily with a study of those great souls who are mystics
in the full and supreme sense of the word. For an examination of their
lives and vision Evelyn Underhill's valuable book should be consulted.
Our object is to examine very briefly the chief English writers--men of
letters and poets--whose inmost principle is rooted in mysticism, or
whose work is on the whole so permeated by mystical thought that their
attitude of mind is not fully to be understood apart from it.

Naturally it is with the poets we find the most complete and continuous
expression of mystical thought and inspiration. Naturally, because it
has ever been the habit of the English race to clothe their profoundest
thought and their highest aspiration in poetic form. We do not possess a
Plato, a Kant, or a Descartes, but we have Shakespeare and Wordsworth
and Browning. And further, as the essence of mysticism is to believe
that everything we see and know is symbolic of something greater,
mysticism is on one side the poetry of life. For poetry, also, consists
in finding resemblances, and universalises the particulars with which it
deals. Hence the utterances of the poets on mystical philosophy are
peculiarly valuable. The philosopher approaches philosophy directly, the
poet obliquely; but the indirect teaching of a poet touches us more
profoundly than the direct lesson of a moral treatise, because the
latter appeals principally to our reason, whereas the poet touches our
"transcendental feeling."

So it is that mysticism underlies the thought of most of our great
poets, of nearly all our greatest poets, if we except Chaucer, Dryden,
Pope, and Byron. Shakespeare must be left on one side, first, because
the dramatic form does not lend itself to the expression of mystical
feeling, and secondly, because even in the poems there is little real
mysticism, though there is much of the fashionable Platonism.
Shakespeare is metaphysical rather than mystical, the difference being,
roughly, that the metaphysician seeks to know the beginnings or causes
of things, whereas the mystic feels he knows the end of things, that all
nature is leading up to union with the One.

We shall find that mystical thought, and the mystical attitude, are
curiously persistent in English literature, and that although it seems
out of keeping with our "John Bull" character, the English race has a
marked tendency towards mysticism. What we do find lacking in England is
the purely philosophical and speculative spirit of the detached and
unprejudiced seeker after truth. The English mind is anti-speculative;
it cares little for metaphysics; it prefers theology and a given
authority. English mystics have, as a rule, dealt little with the
theoretical side of mysticism, the aspect for instance with which
Plotinus largely deals. They have been mainly practical mystics, such as
William Law. Those of the poets who have consciously had a system and
desired to impart it, have done so from the practical point of view,
urging, like Wordsworth, the importance of contemplation and meditation,
or, like Blake, the value of cultivating the imagination; and in both
cases enforcing the necessity of cleansing the inner life, if we are to
become conscious of our divine nature and our great heritage.

For the sake of clearness, this thought may first be traced very briefly
as it appears chronologically; it will, however, be considered in
detail, not in order of time, but according to the special aspect of
Being through which the writer felt most in touch with the divine life.
For mystics, unlike other thinkers, scientific or philosophical, have
little chronological development, since "mystic truths can neither age
nor die." So much is this the case that passages of Plotinus and
Tennyson, of Boehme and Law, of Eckhart and Browning, may be placed side
by side and be scarcely distinguishable in thought. Yet as the race
evolves, certain avenues of sensation seem to become more widely opened
up. This is noticeable with regard to Nature. Love, Beauty, Wisdom, and
Devotion, these have been well-trodden paths to the One ever since the
days of Plato and Plotinus; but, with the great exception of St Francis
of Assisi and his immediate followers, we have to wait for more modern
times before we find the intense feeling of the Divinity in Nature which
we associate with the name of Wordsworth. It is in the emphasis of this
aspect of the mystic vision that English writers are supreme. Henry
Vaughan, Wordsworth, Browning, Richard Jefferies, Francis Thompson, and
a host of other poet-seers have crystallised in immortal words this
illuminated vision of the world.

The thought which has been described as mystical has its roots in the
East, in the great Oriental religions. The mysterious "secret" taught by
the Upanishads is that the soul or spiritual consciousness is the only
source of true knowledge. The Hindu calls the soul the "seer" or the
"knower," and thinks of it as a great eye in the centre of his being,
which, if he concentrates his attention upon it, is able to look
outwards and to gaze upon Reality. The soul is capable of this because
in essence it is one with Brahman, the universal soul. The apparent
separation is an illusion wrought by matter. Hence, to the Hindu, matter
is an obstruction and a deception, and the Eastern mystic despises and
rejects and subdues all that is material, and bends all his faculties on
realising his spiritual consciousness, and dwelling in that.

This type of thought certainly existed to some extent in both Greece
and Egypt before the Christian era. Much of Plato's thought is mystical
in essence, and that which be points out to be the motive force of the
philosophic mind is also the motive force of the mystic, namely, the
element of attraction, and so of love towards the thing which is akin to
him. The illustration of the dog being philosophic because he is angry
with a stranger but welcomes his friend,[3] though at first it may seem,
like many of Plato's illustrations, far-fetched or fanciful, in truth
goes to the very root of his idea. Familiarity, akinness, is the basis
of attraction and affection. The desire of wisdom, or the love of
beauty, is therefore nothing but the yearning of the soul to join itself
to what is akin to it. This is the leading conception of the two great
mystical dialogues, the Symposium and the Phædrus. In the former,
Socrates, in the words of the stranger prophetess Diotima, traces the
path along which the soul must travel, and points out the steps of the
ladder to be climbed in order to attain to union with the Divine. From
beauty of form and body we rise to beauty of mind and spirit, and so to
the Beauty of God Himself.

     He who under the influence of true love rising upward from these
     begins to see that beauty, is not far from the end. And the true
     order of going or being led by another to the things of love, is to
     use the beauties of earth as steps along which he mounts upwards
     for the sake of that other beauty, going from one to two, and from
     two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair practices, and
     from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he
     arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what
     the essence of beauty is. This ... is that life above all others
     which man should live, in the contemplation of beauty absolute.[4]

That is a passage whose music re-echoes through many pages of English
literature, especially in the poems of Spenser, Shelley, and Keats.

Plato may therefore be regarded as the source of speculative mysticism
in Europe, but it is Plotinus, his disciple, the Neo-platonist, who is
the father of European mysticism in its full sense, practical as well as
speculative, and who is also its most profound exponent. Plotinus (A.D.
204-270), who was an Egyptian by birth, lived and studied under Ammonius
Sakkas in Alexandria at a time when it was the centre of the
intellectual world, seething with speculation and schools, teachers and
philosophies of all kinds, Platonic and Oriental, Egyptian and
Christian. Later, from the age of forty, he taught in Rome, where he was
surrounded by many eager adherents. He drew the form of his thought both
from Plato and from Hermetic philosophy (his conception of Emanation),
but its real inspiration was his own experience, for his biographer
Porphyry has recorded that during the six years he lived with Plotinus
the latter attained four times to ecstatic union with "the One."
Plotinus combined, in unusual measure, the intellect of the
metaphysician with the temperament of the great psychic, so that he was
able to analyse with the most precise dialectic, experiences which in
most cases paralyse the tongue and blind the discursive reason. His
sixth Ennead, "On the Good or the One," is one of the great philosophic
treatises of the world, and it sums up in matchless words the whole
mystic position and experience. There are two statements in it which
contain the centre of the writer's thought. "God is not external to any
one, but is present in all things, though they are ignorant that he is
so." "God is not in a certain place, but wherever anything is able to
come into contact with him there he is present" (_Enn._ vi. 9, §§ 4, 7).
It is because of our ignorance of the indwelling of God that our life is
discordant, for it is clashing with its own inmost principle. We do not
know ourselves. If we did, we would know that the way home to God lies
within ourselves. "A soul that knows itself must know that the proper
direction of its energy is not outwards in a straight line, but round a
centre which is within it" (_Enn._ vi. 9, § 8).

The whole Universe is one vast Organism (_Enn._ ix. 4, §§ 32, 45), and
the Heart of God, the source of all life, is at the centre, in which all
finite things have their being, and to which they must flow back; for
there is in this Organism, so Plotinus conceives, a double circulatory
movement, an eternal out-breathing and in-breathing, the way down and
the way up. The way down is the out-going of the undivided "One" towards
manifestation. From Him there flows out a succession of emanations. The
first of these is the "Nous" or Over-Mind of the Universe, God as
thought. The "Mind" in turn throws out an image, the third Principle in
this Trinity, the Soul of all things. This, like the "Nous," is
immaterial, but it can act on matter. It is the link between man and
God, for it has a lower and a higher side. The lower side _desires_ a
body and so creates it, but it is not wholly incarnate in it, for, as
Plotinus says, "the soul always leaves something of itself above."

From this World Soul proceed the individual souls of men, and they
partake of its nature. Its nature is triple, the animal or sensual soul,
closely bound to the body, the logical reasoning human soul, and the
intellectual soul, which is one with the Divine Mind, from whence it
comes and of which it is an image.

Souls have forgotten then: divine origin because at first they were so
delighted with their liberty and surroundings (like children let loose
from their parents, says Plotinus), that they ran away in a direction as
far as possible from their source. They thus became clogged with the
joys and distractions of this lower life, which can never satisfy them,
and they are ignorant of their own true nature and essence. In order to
return home, the soul has to retrace the path along which she came, and
the first step is to get to know herself, and so to know God. (See
_Enn._ vi. 9, § 7.) Thus only can she be restored to the central unity
of the universal soul. This first stage on the upward path is the
purgative life, which includes all the civic and social virtues, gained
through general purification, self-discipline, and balance, with, at the
same time, a gradual attainment of detachment from the things of sense,
and a desire for the things of the spirit.

The next step is to rise up to mind (_Enn._ v. 1, § 3) to the world of
pure thought, the highest unity possible to a self-conscious being. This
is often called the illuminative life, and it might be summed up as
concentration of all the faculties--will, intellect, feeling--upon God.
And lastly comes the unitive life, which is contemplation, the intense
desire of the soul for union with God, the momentary foretaste of which
has been experienced by many of the mystics. This last stage of the
journey home, the supreme Adventure, the ascension to the One above
thought, this cannot be spoken of or explained in words, for it is a
state beyond words, it is "a mode of vision which is ecstasy." When the
soul attains to this state, the One suddenly appears, "with nothing
between," "and they are no more two but one; and the soul is no more
conscious of the body or of whether she lives or is a human being or an
essence; she knows only that she has what she desired, that she is where
no deception can come, and that she would not exchange her bliss for the
whole of Heaven itself" (paraphrased from _Enn._ vi. 7, § 24).

The influence of Plotinus upon later Christian mysticism was immense,
though mainly indirect, through the writings of two of his spiritual
disciples, St Augustine (354-450), and the unknown writer, probably of
the early sixth century, possibly a Syrian monk, who ascribes his works
to Dionysius the Areopagite, the friend of St Paul. The works of
"Dionysius" were translated from Greek into Latin by the great Irish
philosopher and scholar, John Scotus Erigena (Eriugena), and in that
form they widely influenced later mediæval mysticism.

The fusion of Eastern mysticism with Christianity finally brought about
the great change which constitutes the difference between Eastern and
Western mysticism, a change already foreshadowed in Plato, for it was
in part the natural outcome of the Greek delight in material beauty, but
finally consummated by the teachings of the Christian faith. Eastern
thought was pure soul-consciousness, its teaching was to annihilate the
flesh, to deny its reality, to look within, and so to gain
enlightenment. Christianity, on the other hand, was centred in the
doctrine of the Incarnation, in the mystery of God the Father revealing
Himself in human form. Hence the human body, human love and
relationships became sanctified, became indeed a means of revelation of
the divine, and the mystic no longer turned his thoughts wholly inwards,
but also outwards and upwards, to the Father who loved him and to the
Son who had died for him. Thus, in the West, mystical thought has ever
recognised the deep symbolism and sacredness of all that is human and
natural, of human love, of the human intellect, and of the natural
world. All those things which to the Eastern thinker are but an
obstruction and a veil, to the Western have become the very means of
spiritual ascent[5]. The ultimate goal of the Eastern mystic is summed
up in his assertion, "I am Brahman," whereas the Western mystic
believes that "he who sees the Infinite in all things, sees God."

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the mystical tradition was
carried on in France by St Bernard (1091-1153), the Abbot of Clairvaux,
and the Scotch or Irish Richard of the Abbey of St Victor at Paris, and
in Italy, among many others, by St Bonaventura (1221-1274), a close
student of Dionysius, and these three form the chief direct influences
on our earliest English mystics.

England shares to the full in the wave of mystical experience, thought,
and teaching which swept over Europe in the fourteenth and early
fifteenth centuries, and at first the mystical literature of England, as
also of France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, is purely religious or
devotional in type, prose treatises for the most part containing
practical instruction for the inner life, written by hermits, priests,
and "anchoresses." In the fourteenth century we have a group of such
writers of great power and beauty, and in the work of Richard Rolle,
Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, and the author of the _Cloud of
Unknowing_, we have a body of writings dealing with the inner life, and
the steps of purification, contemplation, and ecstatic union which throb
with life and devotional fervour.

From the time of Julian of Norwich, who was still alive in 1413, we
find practically no literature of a mystical type until we come to
Spenser's _Hymns_ (1596), and these embody a Platonism reached largely
through the intellect, and not a mystic experience. It would seem at
first sight as if these hymns, or at any rate the two later ones in
honour of Heavenly Love and of Heavenly Beauty, should rank as some of
the finest mystical verse in English. Yet this is not the case. They are
saturated with the spirit of Plato, and they express in musical form the
lofty ideas of the _Symposium_ and the _Phædrus_: that beauty, more
nearly than any other earthly thing, resembles its heavenly prototype,
and that therefore the sight of it kindles love, which is the excitement
and rapture aroused in the soul by the remembrance of that divine beauty
which once it knew. And Spenser, following Plato, traces the stages of
ascent traversed by the lover of beauty, until he is caught up into
union with God Himself. Yet, notwithstanding their melody and their
Platonic doctrine, the note of the real mystic is wanting in the
_Hymns_, the note of him who writes of these things because he knows

It would take some space to support this view in detail. Any one
desirous of testing it might read the account of transport of the soul
when rapt into union with the One as given by Plotinus (_Enn._ vi. 9,
§ 10), and compare it with Spenser's description of a similar experience
(_An Hymne of Heavenly Beautie_, 11. 253-273). Despite their poetic
melody, Spenser's words sound poor and trivial. Instead of preferring to
dwell on the unutterable ecstasy, contentment, and bliss of the
experience, he is far more anxious to emphasise the fact that "all that
pleased earst now seemes to paine."

The contradictory nature of his belief is also arresting. In the early
part of the _Hymne of Heavenly Beautie_, in-speaking of the glory of God
which is so dazzling that angels themselves may not endure His sight, he
says, as Plato does,

    The meanes, therefore, which unto us is lent
    Him to behold, is on his workes to looke,
    Which he hath made in beauty excellent.

This is the view of the true mystic, that God may be seen in all His
works, by the eye which is itself purified. Yet, in the last stanza of
this beautiful Hymn, this is how Spenser views the joy of the union of
the soul with its source, when it looks

            at last up to that Soveraine Light,
    From whose pure beams al perfect beauty springs,
    That kindleth love in every godly spright
    Even the love of God; _which loathing brings
    Of this vile world and these gay-seeming things_.

This is not the voice of the mystic. It is the voice of the Puritan,
who is also an artist, who shrinks from earthly beauty because it
attracts him, who fears it, and tries to despise it. In truth, the
dominating feature in Spenser's poetry is a curious blending of
Puritanism of spirit with the Platonic mind.

In the seventeenth century, however, England is peculiarly rich in
writers steeped in mystical thought.

First come the Quakers, headed by George Fox. This rediscovery and
assertion of the mystical element in religion gave rise to a great deal
of writing, much of it very interesting to the student of religious
thought. Among the _Journals_ of the early Quakers, and especially that
of George Fox, there are passages which charm us with their sincerity,
quaintness, and pure flame of enthusiasm, but these works cannot as a
whole be ranked as literature. Then we have the little group of
Cambridge Platonists, Henry More, John Smith, Benjamin Whichcote, and
John Norris of Bemerton. These are all Platonic philosophers, and among
their writings, and especially in those of John Norris, are many
passages of mystical thought clothed in noble prose. Henry More, who is
also a poet, is in character a typical mystic, serene, buoyant, and so
spiritually happy that, as he told a friend, he was sometimes "almost
mad with pleasure." His poetical faculty is, however, entirely
subordinated to his philosophy, and the larger portion of his work
consists of passages from the _Enneads_ of Plotinus turned into rather
obscure verse. So that he is not a poet and artist who, working in the
sphere of the imagination, can directly present to us mystical thoughts
and ideas, but rather a mystic philosopher who has versified some of his
discourses. At this time also many of the "metaphysical poets" are
mystical in much of their thought. Chief among these is John Donne, and
we may also include Henry Vaughan, Traherne, Crashaw, and George

Bunyan might at first sight appear to have many of the characteristics
of the mystic, for he had certain very intense psychic experiences which
are of the nature of a direct revelation of God to the soul; and in his
vivid religious autobiography, _Grace Abounding_, he records sensations
which are akin to those felt by Rolle, Julian, and many others. But
although psychically akin, he is in truth widely separated from the
mystics in spirit and temperament and belief. He is a Puritan,
overwhelmed with a sense of sin, the horrors of punishment in hell, and
the wrath of an outside Creator and Judge, and his desire is aimed at
escape from this wrath through "election" and God's grace. But he is a
Puritan endowed with a psychopathic temperament sensitive to the point
of disease and gifted with an abnormally high visualising power. Hence
his resemblance to the mystics, which is a resemblance of psychical
temperament and not of spiritual attitude.

In the eighteenth century the names of William Law and William Blake
shine out like stars against a dark firmament of "rationalism" and
unbelief. Their writings form a remarkable contrast to the prevailing
spirit of the time. Law expresses in clear and pointed prose the main
teachings of the German seer Jacob Boehme;[6] whereas Blake sees visions
and has knowledge which he strives to condense into forms of picture and
verse which may be understood of men. The influence of Boehme in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is very far-reaching. In addition to
completely subjugating the strong intellect of Law, he profoundly
influenced Blake. He also affected Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, and
through him, Carlyle, J. W. Farquhar, F. D. Maurice, and others. Hegel,
Schelling, and Schlegel are alike indebted to him, and through them,
through his French disciple St Martin, and through Coleridge--who was
much attracted to him--some of his root-ideas returned again to England
in the nineteenth century, thus preparing the way for a better
understanding of mystical thought. The Swedish seer Emmanuel Swedenborg
(1688-1772) was another strong influence in the later eighteenth and the
nineteenth centuries. Swedenborg in some ways is curiously material, at
any rate in expression, and in one point at least he differs from other
mystics. That is, he does not seem to believe that man has within him a
spark of the divine essence, but rather that he is an organ that
reflects the divine life. He is a recipient of life, but not a part of
life itself. God is thought of as a light or sun outside, from which
spiritual heat and light (= love and wisdom) flow into men. But, apart
from this important difference Swedenborg's thought and teaching are
entirely mystical. He believes in the substantial reality of spiritual
things, and that the most essential part of a person's nature, that
which he carries with him into the spiritual world, is his love. He
teaches that heaven is not a place, but a condition, that there is no
question of outside rewards or punishments, and man makes his own heaven
or hell; for, as Patmore pointedly expresses it--

    Ice-cold seems heaven's noble glow
    To spirits whose vital heat is hell.

He insists that Space and Time belong only to physical life, and when
men pass into the spiritual world that love is the bond of union, and
thought or "state" makes presence, for thought is act. He holds that
instinct is spiritual in origin; and the principle of his science of
correspondences is based on the belief that everything outward and
visible corresponds to some invisible entity which is its inward and
spiritual cause. This is the view echoed by Mrs Browning more than once
in _Aurora Leigh_--

                There's not a flower of spring,
    That dies in June, but vaunts itself allied
    By issue and symbol, by significance
    And correspondence, to that spirit-world
    Outside the limits of our space and time,
    Whereto we are bound.

In all this and much more, Swedenborg's thought is mystical, and it has
had a quite unsuspected amount of influence in England, and it is
diffused through a good deal of English literature.

Blake knew some at least of Swedenborg's books well; two of his friends,
C. A. Tulk and Flaxman, were devoted Swedenborgians, and he told Tulk
that he had two different states, one in which he liked Swedenborg's
writings, and one in which he disliked them. Unquestionably, they
sometimes irritated him, and then he abused them, but it is only
necessary to read his annotations of his copy of Swedenborg's _Wisdom of
the Angels_ (now in the British Museum) to realise in the first place
that he sometimes misunderstood Swedenborg's position and secondly,
that when he did understand it, he was thoroughly in agreement with it,
and that he and the Swedish seer had much in common. Coleridge admired
Swedenborg, he gave a good deal of time to studying him (see Coleridge's
letter to C. A. Tulk, July 17, 1820), and he, with Boehme, were two of
the four "Great Men" unjustly branded, about whom he often thought of
writing a "Vindication" (Coleridge's Notes on Noble's Appeal, _Collected
Works_, ed. Shedd, 1853 and 1884, vol. v. p. 526).

Emerson owes much to Swedenborg,[7] and Emerson's thought had much
influence in England. Carlyle also was attracted to him (see his letter
from Chelsea, November 13, 1852); Mrs Browning studied him with
enthusiasm and spent the winter of 1852-3 in meditation on his
philosophy (_Letters_, vol. ii. p. 141), which bore fruit four years
later in _Aurora Leigh_.

Coventry Patmore is, however, the English writer most saturated with
Swedenborg's thought, and his _Angel in the House_ embodies the main
features of Swedenborg's peculiar views expressed in _Conjugial Love_,
on sex and marriage and their significance. It is not too much to say
that Swedenborg influenced and coloured the whole trend of Patmore's
thought, and that he was to him what Boehme was to Law, the match which
set alight his mystical flame. He says Swedenborg's _Heaven and Hell_
"abounds with perception of the truth to a degree unparalleled perhaps
in uninspired writing," and he asserts that he never tires of reading
him, "he is unfathomably profound and yet simple."[8]

Whatever may be the source or reason, it is clear that at the end of the
eighteenth century we begin to find a mystical tinge of thought in
several thinkers and writers, such as Burke, Coleridge, and Thomas
Erskine of Linlathen. This increases in the early nineteenth century,
strengthened by the influence, direct and indirect, of Boehme,
Swedenborg, and the German transcendental philosophers and this mystical
spirit is very marked in Carlyle, and, as we shall see, in most of the
greatest nineteenth-century poets.

In addition to those writers which are here dealt with in detail, there
is much of the mystic spirit in others of the same period, to name a few
only, George Meredith, "Fiona Macleod," Christina Rossetti, and Mrs
Browning; while to-day writers like "A. E.," W. B. Yeats, and Evelyn
Underhill are carrying on the mystic tradition.

Chapter II

Love and Beauty Mystics

In studying the mysticism of the English writers, and more especially of
the poets, one is at once struck by the diversity of approach leading to
unity of end.

     "There are," says Plotinus, "different roads by which this end
     [apprehension of the Infinite] may be reached. The love of beauty,
     which exalts the poet; that devotion to the One and that ascent of
     science which makes the ambition of the philosopher; and that love
     and those prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its
     moral purity towards perfection. These are the great highways
     conducting to that height above the actual and the particular,
     where we stand in the immediate presence of the Infinite, who
     shines out as from the deeps of the soul."--_Letter to Flaccus._

We have grouped together our English writers who are mystical in
thought, according to the five main pathways by which they have seen the
Vision: Love, Beauty, Nature, Wisdom, or Devotion. Even within these
groups, the method of approach, the interpretation or application of the
Idea, often differs very greatly. For instance, Shelley and Browning may
both be called love-mystics; that is, they look upon love as the
solution of the mystery of life, as the link between God and man. To
Shelley this was a glorious intuition, which reached him through his
imagination, whereas the life of man as he saw it roused in him little
but mad indignation, wild revolt, and passionate protest. To Browning
this was knowledge--knowledge borne in upon him just because of human
life as he saw it, which to him was a clear proof of the great destiny
of the race. He would have agreed with Patmore that "you can see the
disc of Divinity quite clearly through the smoked glass of humanity, but
no otherwise." He found "harmony in immortal souls, spite of the muddy
vesture of decay."

The three great English poets who are also fundamentally mystical in
thought are Browning, Wordsworth, and Blake. Their philosophy or
mystical belief, one in essence, though so differently expressed, lies
at the root, as it is also the flower, of their life-work. In others, as
in Shelley, Keats, and Rossetti, although it is the inspiring force of
their poetry, it is not a flame, burning steadily and evenly, but rather
a light flashing out intermittently into brilliant and dazzling
radiance. Hence the man himself is not so permeated by it; and hence
results the unsatisfied desire, the almost painful yearning, the
recurring disappointment and disillusionment, which we do not find in
Browning, Wordsworth, and Blake.

In our first group we have four poets of markedly different
temperaments--Shelley intensely spiritual; Rossetti with a strong tinge
of sensuousness, of "earthiness" in his nature; Browning, the keenly
intellectual man of the world, and Patmore a curious mixture of
materialist and mystic; yet to all four love is the secret of life, the
one thing worth giving and possessing.

Shelley believed in a Soul of the Universe, a Spirit in which all things
live and move and have their being; which, as one feels in the
_Prometheus_, is unnamable, inconceivable even to man, for "the deep
truth is imageless." His most passionate desire was not, as was
Browning's, for an increased and ennobled individuality, but for the
mystical fusion of his own personality with this Spirit, this object of
his worship and adoration. To Shelley, death itself was but the rending
of a veil which would admit us to the full vision of the ideal, which
alone is true life. The sense of unity in all things is most strongly
felt in _Adonais_, where Shelley's maturest thought and philosophy are
to be found; and indeed the mystical fervour in this poem, especially
towards the end, is greater than anywhere else in his writings. The
_Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_ is in some ways Shelley's clearest and
most obvious expression of his devotion to the Spirit of Ideal Beauty,
its reality to him, and his vow of dedication to its service. But the
_Prometheus_ is the most deeply mystical of his poems; indeed, as Mrs
Shelley says, "it requires a mind as subtle and penetrating as Shelley's
own to understand the mystic meanings scattered throughout the poem."

Shelley, like Blake, regarded the human imagination as a divine creative
force; Prometheus stands for the human imagination, or the genius of the
world; and it is his union with Asia, the divine Idea, the Spirit of
Beauty and of Love, from which a new universe is born. It is this union,
which consummates the aspirations of humanity, that Shelley celebrates
in the marvellous love-song of Prometheus. As befitted a disciple of
Godwin, he believed in the divine potentiality of man, convinced that
all good is to be found within man's own being, and that his progress
depends on his own will.

                        It is our will
    That thus enchains us to permitted ill--
    We might be otherwise--we might be all
    We dream of happy, high, majestical.
    Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek
    But in our mind?

    _Julian and Maddalo._

In the allegorical introduction to the _Revolt of Islam_, which is an
interesting example of Shelley's mystical mythology, we have an insight
into the poet's view of the good power in the world. It is not an
almighty creator standing outside mankind, but a power which suffers and
rebels and evolves, and is, in fact, incarnate in humanity, so that it
is unrecognised by men, and indeed confounded with evil:--

    And the Great Spirit of Good did creep among
    The nations of mankind, and every tongue
    Cursed and blasphemed him as he passed, for none
    Knew good from evil.

There is no doubt that to Shelley the form assumed by the divine in man
was love. Mrs Shelley, in her note to _Rosalind and Helen_, says that,
"in his eyes it was the essence of our being, and all woe and pain arose
from the war made against it by selfishness or insensibility, or
mistake"; and Shelley himself says, "the great secret of morals is love;
or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves
with the beautiful which exists in thought, action or person, not our

Shelley was always searching for love; and, although he knew well,
through his study of Plato, the difference between earthly and spiritual
love, that the one is but the lowest step on the ladder which leads to
the other, yet in actual practice he confounded the two. He knew that he
did so; and only a month before his death, he summed up in a sentence
the tragedy of his life. He writes to Mr Gisborne about the
_Epipsychidion_, saying that he cannot look at it now, for--

     "the person whom it celebrates was a cloud instead of a Juno," and
     continues, "If you are curious, however, to hear what I am and have
     been, it will tell you something thereof. It is an idealized
     history of my life and feelings. I think one is always in love with
     something or other; the error--and I confess it is not easy for
     spirits cased in flesh and blood to avoid it--consists in seeking
     in a mortal image the likeness of what is, perhaps, eternal."

No poet has a more distinct philosophy of life than Browning. Indeed he
has as much a right to a place among the philosophers, as Plato has to
one among the poets. Browning is a seer, and pre-eminently a mystic; and
it is especially interesting as in the case of Plato and St Paul, to
encounter this latter quality as a dominating characteristic of the mind
of so keen and logical a dialectician. We see at once that the main
position of Browning's belief is identical with what we have found to be
the characteristic of mysticism--unity under diversity at the centre of
all existence. The same essence, the one life, expresses itself through
every diversity of form.

He dwells on this again and again:--

                                       God is seen
    In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod.

And through all these forms there is growth upwards. Indeed, it is only
upon this supposition that the poet can account for

          many a thrill
    Of kinship, I confess to, with the powers
    Called Nature: animate, inanimate
    In parts or in the whole, there's something there
    Man-like that somehow meets the man in me.

    _Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau._

The poet sees that in each higher stage we benefit by the garnered
experience of the past; and so man grows and expands and becomes capable
of feeling for and with everything that lives. At the same time the
higher is not degraded by having worked in and through the lower, for he
distinguishes between the continuous persistent life, and the temporary
coverings it makes use of on its upward way;

    From first to last of lodging, I was I,
    And not at all the place that harboured me.

Humanity then, in Browning's view, is not a collection of individuals,
separate and often antagonistic, but one whole.

    When I say "you" 'tis the common soul,
    The collective I mean: the race of Man
    That receives life in parts to live in a whole
    And grow here according to God's clear plan.

    _Old Pictures in Florence._

This sense of unity is shown in many ways: for instance, in Browning's
protest against the one-sidedness of nineteenth-century scientific
thought, the sharp distinction or gulf set up between science and
religion. This sharp cleavage, to the mystic, is impossible. He knows,
however irreconcilable the two may appear, that they are but different
aspects of the same thing. This is one of the ways in which Browning
anticipates the most advanced thought of the present day.

In _Paracelsus_ he emphasises the fact that the exertion of power in the
intelligence, or the acquisition of knowledge, is useless without the
inspiration of love, just as love is waste without power. Paracelsus
sums up the matter when he says to Aprile--

    I too have sought to KNOW as thou to LOVE
    Excluding love as thou refusedst knowledge....
                           We must never part ...
    Till thou the lover, know; and I, the knower,
    Love--until both are saved.

Arising logically out of this belief in unity, there follows, as with
all mystics, the belief in the potential divinity of man, which
permeates all Browning's thought, and is continually insisted on in such
poems as _Rabbi ben Ezra, A Death in the Desert_, and _The Ring and the
Book_. He takes for granted the fundamental position of the mystic, that
the object of life is to know God; and according to the poet, in knowing
love we learn to know God. Hence it follows that love is the meaning of
life, and that he who finds it not

                   loses what he lived for
    And eternally must lose it.


    For life with all it yields of joy and woe
    And hope and fear ...
    Is just our chance o' the prize of learning love.

    _A Death in the Desert._

This is Browning's central teaching, the key-note of his work and
philosophy. The importance of love in life is to Browning supreme,
because he holds it to be the meeting-point between God and man. Love is
the sublimest conception possible to man; and a life inspired by it is
the highest conceivable form of goodness.

In this exaltation of love, as in several other points, Browning much
resembles the German mystic, Meister Eckhart. To compare the two writers
in detail would be an interesting task; it is only possible here to
suggest points of resemblance. The following passage from Eckhart
suggests several directions in which Browning's thought is peculiarly

     Intelligence is the youngest faculty in man.... The soul in itself
     is a simple work; what God works in the simple light of the soul is
     more beautiful and more delightful than all the other works which
     He works in all creatures. But foolish people take evil for good
     and good for evil. But to him who rightly understands, the one work
     which God works in the soul is better and nobler and higher than
     all the world. Through that light comes grace. Grace never comes in
     the intelligence or in the will. If it could come in the
     intelligence or in the will, the intelligence and the will would
     have to transcend themselves. On this a master says: There is
     something secret about it; and thereby he means the spark of the
     soul, which alone can apprehend God. The true union between God and
     the soul takes place in the little spark, which is called the
     spirit of the soul.[9]

The essential unity of God and man is expressed more than once by
Browning in Eckhart's image: as when he speaks of God as Him

    Who never is dishonoured in the spark
    He gave us from his fire of fires.

He is at one with Eckhart, and with all mystics, in his appeal from the
intellect to that which is beyond intellect; in his assertion of the
supremacy of feeling, intuition, over knowledge. Browning never wearies
of dwelling on the relativity of physical knowledge, and its inadequacy
to satisfy man. This is perhaps best brought out in one of the last
things he wrote, the "Reverie" in _Asolando_; but it is dwelt on in
nearly all his later and more reflective poems. His maxim was--

    Wholly distrust thy knowledge, then, and trust
    As wholly love allied to ignorance!
    There lies thy truth and safety. ...
                           Consider well!
    Were knowledge all thy faculty, then God
    Must be ignored: love gains him by first leap.

    _A Pillar at Sebzevar._

Another point of resemblance with Eckhart is suggested by his words:
"That foolish people take evil for good, and good for evil." Browning's
theory of evil is part of the working-out of his principle of what may
be called the coincidence of extreme opposites. This is, of course, part
of his main belief in unity, but it is an interesting development of it.
This theory is marked all through his writings; and, although
philosophers have dealt with it, he is perhaps the one poet who faces
the problem, and expresses himself on the point with entire conviction.
His view is that good and evil are purely relative terms (see _The
Bean-stripe_), and that one cannot exist without the other. It is evil
which alone makes possible some of the divinest qualities in
man--compassion, pity, forgiveness patience. We have seen that Shelley
shares this view, "for none knew good from evil"; and Blake expresses
himself very strongly about it, and complains that Plato "knew nothing
but the virtues and vices, the good and evil.... There is nothing in all
that.... Everything is good in God's eyes." Mysticism is always a
reconcilement of opposites; and this, as we have seen in connection with
science and religion, knowledge and love, is a dominant note of
Browning's philosophy. He brings it out most startlingly perhaps in _The
Statue and the Bust_, where he shows that in his very capacity for
vice, a man proves his capacity for virtue, and that a failure of energy
in the one implies a corresponding failure of energy in the other.

At the same time, clear knowledge that evil is illusion would defeat its
own end and paralyse all moral effort, for evil only exists for the
development of good in us.

             Type needs antitype:
    As night needs day, as shine needs shade, so good
    Needs evil: how were pity understood
    Unless by pain?

This is one reason why Browning never shrank from the evil in the world,
why indeed he expended so much of his mind and art on the analysis and
dissection of every kind of evil, laying bare for us the working of the
mind of the criminal, the hypocrite, the weakling, and the cynic;
because he held that--

    Only by looking low, ere looking high
    Comes penetration of the mystery.

There are other ways in which Browning's thought is especially mystical,
as, for instance, his belief in pre-existence, and his theory of
knowledge, for he, like Plato, believes in the light within the soul,
and holds that--

                               To know
    Rather consists in opening out a way
    Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
    Than in effecting entry for a light
    Supposed to be without.

    _Paracelsus_, Act I.

But the one thought which is ever constant with him, and is peculiarly
helpful to the practical man, is his recognition of the value of
limitation in all our energies, and the stress he lays on the fact that
only by virtue of this limitation can we grow. We should be paralysed
else. It is Goethe's doctrine of _Entbehrung_, and it is vividly
portrayed in the epistle of Karshish. Paracelsus learns it, and makes it
clear to Festus at the end.

The natural result of Browning's theory of evil, and his sense of the
value of limitation, is that he should welcome for man the experience of
doubt, difficulty, temptation, pain; and this we find is the case.

    Life is probation and the earth no goal
    But starting point of man ...
    To try man's foot, if it will creep or climb
    'Mid obstacles in seeming, points that prove
    Advantage for who vaults from low to high
    And makes the stumbling-block a stepping-stone.

    _The Ring and the Book_: The Pope, 1436-7, 410-13.

It is this trust in unending progress, based on the consciousness of
present failure, which is peculiarly inspiriting in Browning's thought,
and it is essentially mystical. Instead of shrinking from pain, the
mystic prays for it, for, properly met, it means growth.

                          Was the trial sore?
    Temptation sharp? Thank God a second time!
    Why comes temptation but for man to meet
    And master and make crouch beneath his foot,
    And so be pedestaled in triumph?

    _The Ring and the Book_: The Pope, 1182-02.

Rossetti's mysticism is perhaps a more salient feature in his art than
is the case with Browning, and the lines of it, and its place in his
work, have been well described by Mr Theodore Watts-Dutton.[10] We can
only here indicate wherein it lies, and how it differs from and falls
short of the mysticism of Shelley and Browning. Rossetti, unlike
Browning, is not the least metaphysical; he is not devoured by
philosophical curiosity; he has no desire to solve the riddle of the
universe. All his life he was dominated and fascinated by beauty, one
form of which in especial so appealed to him as at times almost to
overpower him--the beauty of the face of woman.[11] But this beauty is
not an end in itself; it is not the desire of possession that so stirs
him, but rather an absolute thirst for the knowledge of the mystery
which he feels is hiding beneath and beyond it. Here lies his
mysticism. It is this haunting passion which is the greatest thing in
Rossetti, which inspires all that is best in him as artist, the belief
that beauty is but the expression or symbol of something far greater and
higher, and that it has kinship with immortal things. For beauty, which,
as Plato has told us, is of all the divine ideas at once most manifest
and most lovable to man, is for Rossetti the actual and visible symbol
of love, which is at once the mystery and solution of the secret of
life.[12] Rossetti's mystical passion is perhaps most perfectly
expressed in his little early prose romance, _Hand and Soul_. It is
purer and more austere than much of his poetry, and breathes an amazing
force of spiritual vision. One wonders, after reading it, that the
writer himself did not attain to a loftier and more spiritual
development of life and art; and one cannot help feeling the reason was
that he did not sufficiently heed the warning of Plotinus, not to let
ourselves become entangled in sensuous beauty, which will engulf us as
in a swamp.

Coventry Patmore was so entirely a mystic that it seems to be the first
and the last and the only thing to say about him. His central conviction
is the unity of all things, and hence their mutual interpretation and
symbolic force. There is only one kind of knowledge which counts with
him, and that is direct apprehension or perception, the knowledge a man
has of Love, by being in love, not by reading about its symptoms. The
"touch" of God is not a figure of speech.

     "Touch," says Aquinas, "applies to spiritual things as well as to
     material things.... The fulness of intelligence is the obliteration
     of intelligence. God is then our honey, and we, as St Augustine
     says, are His; and who wants to understand honey or requires the
     _rationale_ of a kiss?" (_Rod, Root, and Flower_, xx.)

Once given the essential idea, to be grasped by the intuitive faculty
alone, the world is full of analogies, of natural revelations which help
to support and illustrate great truths. Patmore was, however, caught and
enthralled by one aspect of unity, by one great analogy, almost to the
exclusion of all others. This is that in human love, but above all in
wedded love, we have a symbol (that is an expression of a similar force
in different material) of the love between God and the soul. What
Patmore meant was that in the relationship and attitude of wedded lovers
we hold the key to the mystery at the heart of life, and that we have in
it a "real apprehension" (which is quite different from real
comprehension[13]) of the relationship and attitude of humanity to God.
His first wife's love revealed to him this, which is the basic fact of
all his thought and work.

     The relationship of the soul to Christ _as His betrothed wife_ is
     the key to the feeling with which prayer and love and honour should
     be offered to Him ... _She_ showed me what that relationship
     involves of heavenly submission and spotless passionate

He believed that sex is a relationship at the base of all things natural
and divine;

    Nature, with endless being rife,
      Parts each thing into "him" and "her"
    And, in the arithmetic of life,
      The smallest unit is a pair.[15]

This division into two and reconciliation into one, this clash of forces
resulting in life, is, as Patmore points out in words curiously
reminiscent of those of Boehme, at the root of all existence. All real
apprehension of God, he says, is dependent upon the realisation of his
triple Personality in one Being.

     Nature goes on giving echoes of the same living triplicity in
     animal, plant, and mineral, every stone and material atom owing its
     being to the synthesis or "embrace" of the two opposed forces of
     expansion and contraction. Nothing whatever exists in a single
     entity but in virtue of its being thesis, antithesis, and synthesis
     and in humanity and natural life this takes the form of sex, the
     masculine, the feminine, and the neuter, or third, forgotten sex
     spoken of by Plato, which is not the absence of the life of sex,
     but its fulfilment and power, as the electric fire is the
     fulfilment and power of positive and negative in their "embrace."

The essay from which this passage is taken, _The Bow set in the Cloud_,
together with _The Precursor_, give in full detail an exposition of this
belief of Patmore's, which was for him "_the burning heart of the

    Female and male God made the man;
      His image is the whole, not half;
    And in our love we dimly scan
      The love which is between Himself.[16]

God he conceived of as the great masculine positive force, the soul as
the feminine or receptive force, and the meeting of these two, the
"mystic rapture" of the marriage of Divinity and Humanity, as the source
of all life and joy.

This profound and very difficult theme is treated by Patmore in a manner
at once austere and passionate in the exquisite little preludes to the
_Angel in the House_, and more especially in the odes, which stand alone
in nineteenth-century poetry for poignancy of feeling and depth of
spiritual passion. They are the highest expression of "erotic
mysticism"[17] in English; a marvellous combination of flaming ardour
and sensuousness of description with purity and austerity of tone. This
latter effect is gained largely by the bare and irregular metre, which
has a curiously compelling beauty of rhythm and dignity of cadence.

The book into which Patmore put the fullness of his convictions, the
_Sponsa Dei_, which he burnt because he feared it revealed too much to a
world not ready for it, was says Mr Gosse, who had read it in
manuscript, "a transcendental treatise on Divine desire seen through the
veil of human desire." We can guess fairly accurately its tenor and
spirit if we read the prose essay _Dieu et ma Dame_ and the wonderful
ode _Sponsa Dei_, which, happily, the poet did not destroy.

It may be noted that the other human affections and relationships also
have for Patmore a deep symbolic value, and two of his finest odes are
written, the one in symbolism of mother love, the other in that of
father and son.[18]

We learn by human love, so be points out, to realise the possibility of
contact between the finite and Infinite, for divinity can only be
revealed by voluntarily submitting to limitations. It is "the mystic
craving of the great to become the love-captive of the small, while the
small has a corresponding thirst for the enthralment of the great."[19]

And this process of intercourse between God and man is symbolised in
the Incarnation, which is not a single event in time, but the
culmination of an eternal process. It is the central fact of a man's
experience, "for it is going on perceptibly in himself"; and in like
manner "the Trinity becomes the only and self-evident explanation of
mysteries which are daily wrought in his own complex nature."[20] In
this way is it that to Patmore religion is not a question of blameless
life or the holding of certain beliefs, but it is "an experimental
science" to be lived and to be felt, and the clues to the experiments
are to be found in natural human processes and experiences interpreted
in the light of the great dogmas of the Christian faith.

For Keats, the avenue to truth and reality took the form of Beauty. The
idea, underlying most deeply and consistently the whole of his poetry,
is that of the unity of life; and closely allied with this is the belief
in progress, through ever-changing, ever-ascending stages. _Sleep and
Poetry, Endymion_, and _Hyperion_ represent very well three stages in
the poet's thought and art. In _Sleep and Poetry_ Keats depicts the
growth even in an individual life, and describes the three stages of
thought, or attitudes towards life, through which the poet must pass.
They are not quite parallel to the three stages of the mystical ladder
marked out by Wordsworth in the main body of his poetry, because they do
not go quite so far, but they are almost exactly analogous to the three
stages of mind he describes in _Tintern Abbey_. The first is mere animal
pleasure and delight in living--

    A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air;
    A laughing school-boy without grief or care
    Hiding the springy branches of an elm.

Then follows simple unreflective enjoyment of Nature. The next stage is
sympathy with human life, with human grief and joy, which brings a sense
of the mystery of the world, a longing to pierce it and arrive at its
meaning, symbolised in the figure of the charioteer.

Towards the end of Keats's life this feeling was growing stronger; and
it is much dwelt upon in the _Revision of Hyperion_. There he plainly
states that the merely artistic life, the life of the dreamer, is
selfish; and that the only way to gain real insight is through contact
and sympathy with human suffering and sorrow; and in the lost Woodhouse
transcript of the _Revision_, rediscovered in 1904, there are some lines
in which this point is still further emphasised. The full realisation of
this third stage was not granted to Keats during his short life; he had
but gleams of it. The only passage where he describes the ecstasy of
vision is in _Endymion_ (bk. i., 1. 774 ff.), and this resembles in
essentials all the other reports of this experience given by mystics.
When the mind is ready, anything may lead us to it--music, imagination,
love, friendship.

    Feel we these things?--that moment have we stept
    Into a sort of oneness, and our state
    Is like a floating spirit's.

Keats felt this passage was inspired, and in a letter to Taylor in
January 1818 he says, "When I wrote it, it was a regular stepping of the
Imagination towards a truth."

In _Endymion_, the underlying idea is the unity of the various elements
of the individual soul; the love of woman is shown to be the same as the
love of beauty; and that in its turn is identical with the love of the
principle of beauty in all things. Keats was always very sensitive to
the mysterious effects of moonlight, and so for him the moon became a
symbol for the great abstract principle of beauty, which, during the
whole of his poetic life, he worshipped intellectually and spiritually.
"The mighty abstract Idea I have of Beauty in all things stifles the
more divided and minute domestic happiness," he writes to his brother
George; and the last two well-known lines of the _Ode on a Grecian Urn_
fairly sum up his philosophy--

    Beauty is truth, truth Beauty, that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

So that the moon represents to Keats the eternal idea, the one essence
in all. This is how he writes of it, in what is an entirely mystical
passage in _Endymion_--

     ... As I grew in years, still didst thou blend
    With all my ardours: thou wast the deep glen;
    Thou wast the mountain-top, the sage's pen,
    The poet's harp, the voice of friends, the sun;
    Thou wast the river, thou wast glory won;
    Thou wast my clarion's blast, thou wast my steed,
    My goblet full of wine, my topmost deed:
    Thou wast the charm of women, lovely Moon!

In his fragment of _Hyperion_, Keats shadows forth the unity of all
existence, and gives magnificent utterance to the belief that change is
not decay, but the law of growth and progress. Oceanus, in his speech to
the overthrown Titans, sums up the whole meaning as far as it has gone,
in verse which is unsurpassed in English--

    We fall by course of Nature's law, not force
    Of thunder, or of Jove ...
     ... on our heels a fresh perfection treads,
    A power more strong in beauty, born of us
    And fated to excel us, as we pass

    In glory that old Darkness ...
    ... for 'tis the eternal law
    That first in beauty should be first in might.

This is true mysticism, the mysticism Keats shares with Burke and
Carlyle, the passionate belief in continuity of essence through
ever-changing forms.

Chapter III

Nature Mystics

Vaughan and Wordsworth stand pre-eminent among our English poets in
being almost exclusively occupied with one theme, the mystical
interpretation of nature. Both poets are of a meditative, brooding cast
of mind; but whereas Wordsworth arrives at his philosophy entirely
through personal experience and sensation, Vaughan is more of a mystical
philosopher, deeply read in Plato and the mediæval alchemists. The
constant comparison of natural with spiritual processes is, on the
whole, the most marked feature of Vaughan's poetry. If man will but
attend, he seems to say to us, everything will discourse to him of the
spirit. He broods on the silk-worm's change into the butterfly
(_Resurrection and Immortality_); he ponders over the mystery of the
continuity of life as seen in the plant, dying down and entirely
disappearing in winter, and shooting up anew in the spring (_The Hidden
Flower_); or, while wandering by his beloved river Usk, he meditates
near the deep pool of a waterfall on its mystical significance as it
seems to linger beneath the banks and then to shoot onward in swifter
course, and he sees in it an image of life beyond the grave. The seed
growing secretly in the earth suggests to him the growth of the soul in
the darkness of physical matter; and in _Affliction_ he points out that
all nature is governed by a law of periodicity and contrast, night and
day, sunshine and shower; and as the beauty of colour can only exist by
contrast, so are pain, sickness, and trouble needful for the development
of man. These poems are sufficient to illustrate the temper of Vaughan's
mind, his keen, reverent observation of nature in all her moods, and his
intense interest in the minutest happenings, because they are all
manifestations of the one mighty law.

Vaughan appears to have had a more definite belief in pre-existence than
Wordsworth, for he refers to it more than once; and _The Retreate_,
which is probably the best known of all his poems and must have
furnished some suggestion for the _Immortality Ode_, is based upon it.
Vaughan has occasionally an almost perfect felicity of mystical
expression, a power he shares with Donne, Keats, Rossetti, and
Wordsworth. His ideas then produce their effect through the medium of
art, directly on the feelings. The poem called _Quickness_ is perhaps
the best example of this peculiar quality, which cannot be analysed but
must simply be felt; or _The World_, with its magnificent symbol in the
opening lines:--

      I saw Eternity the other night,
    Like a great _Ring_ of pure and endless light,
       All calm, as it was bright;
    And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days, years,
      Driv'n by the spheres,
    Like a vast shadow mov'd.[21]

Mysticism is the most salient feature of Wordsworth's poetry, for he was
one who saw, whose inward eye was focussed to visions scarce dreamt of
by men. It is because of the strangeness and unfamiliarity of his vision
that he is a difficult poet to understand, and the key to the
understanding of him is a mystic one. People talk of the difficulty of
Browning, but he is easy reading compared with a great deal of
Wordsworth. It is just the apparent simplicity of Wordsworth's thought
which is so misleading. A statement about him of the following kind
would be fairly generally accepted as the truth. Wordsworth was a
simple-minded poet with a passion for nature, he found great joy and
consolation in the contemplation of the beauty of hills and dales and
clouds and flowers, and urged others to find this too; he lived, and
recommended others to live a quiet retired unexciting kind of life, and
he preached a doctrine of simplicity and austerity. Now, except that
Wordsworth had a passion for Nature, there is not a single true
statement here. Wordsworth was not only a poet, he was also a seer, a
mystic and a practical psychologist with an amazingly subtle mind, and
an unusual capacity for feeling; he lived a life of excitement and
passion, and he preached a doctrine of magnificence and glory. It was
not the beauty of Nature which brought him joy and peace, but the _life_
in Nature. He himself had caught a vision of that life, he knew it and
felt it, and it transformed the whole of existence for him. He believed
that every man could attain this vision which he so fully possessed, and
his whole life's work took the form of a minute and careful analysis of
the processes of feeling in his own nature, which he left as a guide for
those who would tread the same path. It would be correct to say that the
whole of his poetry is a series of notes and investigations devoted to
the practical and detailed explanation of how he considered this state
of vision might be reached. He disdained no experience--however trivial,
apparently--the working of the mind of a peasant child or an idiot boy,
the effect produced on his own emotions by a flower, a glowworm, a
bird's note, a girl's song; he passed by nothing which might help to
throw light on this problem. The experience which Wordsworth was so
anxious others should share was the following. He found that when his
mind was freed from pre-occupation with disturbing objects, petty cares,
"little enmities and low desires," that he could then reach a condition
of equilibrium, which he describes as a "wise passiveness," or a "happy
stillness of the mind." He believed this condition could be deliberately
induced by a kind of relaxation of the will, and by a stilling of the
busy intellect and striving desires. It is a purifying process, an
emptying out of all that is worrying, self-assertive, and self-seeking.
If we can habitually train ourselves and attune our minds to this
condition, we may at any moment come across something which will arouse
our emotions, and it is then, when our emotions--thus purified--are
excited to the point of passion, that our vision becomes sufficiently
clear to enable us to gain actual experience of the "central peace
subsisting for ever at the heart of endless agitation." Once seen, this
vision changes for us the whole of life; it reveals unity in what to our
every-day sight appears to be diversity, harmony where ordinarily we
hear but discord, and joy, overmastering joy, instead of sorrow.

It is a kind of illumination, whereby in a lightning flash we see that
the world is quite different from what it ordinarily appears to be, and
when it is over--for the experience is but momentary--it is impossible
to describe the vision in precise terms, but the effect of it is such as
to inspire and guide the whole subsequent life of the seer. Wordsworth
several times depicts this "bliss ineffable" when "all his thought were
steeped in feeling." The well-known passage in _Tintern Abbey_ already
quoted (p. 7) is one of the finest analysis of it left us by any of the
seers, and it closely resembles the accounts given by Plotinus and
Boehme of similar experiences.

To Wordsworth this vision came through Nature, and for this reason. He
believed that all we see round us is alive, beating with the same life
which pulsates in us. It is, he says,--

      my faith that every flower
    Enjoys the air it breathes.

and that if we will but listen and look, we will hear and see and feel
this central life. This is the pith of the message we find repeated
again and again in various forms throughout Wordsworth's poetry, and
perhaps best summed up at the end of the fourth book of the _Excursion_,
a book which should be closely studied by any one who would explore the
secret of the poet's outlook upon life. He tells us in the _Prelude_
(Book iii.) that even in boyhood it was by this feeling he "mounted to
community with highest truth"--

    To every natural form, rock, fruits, or flower,
    Even the loose stones that cover the highway,
    I gave a moral life: I saw them feel,
    Or linked them to some feeling: the great mass
    Lay bedded in a quickening soul, and all
    That I beheld respired with inward meaning.

Wordsworth, in short, was haunted by the belief that the secret of the
universe is written clearly all round us, could we but train and purify
our mind and emotions so as to behold it. He believed that we are in
something the same attitude towards Nature as an illiterate untrained
person might be in the presence of a book containing the philosophy of
Hegel. To the educated trained thinker, who by long and arduous
discipline has developed his mental powers, that book contains the
revelation of the thought of a great mind; whereas to the uneducated
person it is merely a bundle of paper with words printed on it. He can
handle it, touch it, see it, he can read the words, he can even
understand many of them separately, but the essence of the book and its
meaning remains closed to him until he can effect some alteration in
himself which will enable him to understand it.

Wordsworth's claim is that he had discovered by his own experience a way
to effect the necessary alteration in ourselves which will enable us to
catch glimpses of the truths expressing themselves all round us. It is a
great claim, but he would seem to have justified it.

It is interesting that the steps in the ladder of perfection, as
described by Wordsworth, are precisely analogous to the threefold path
or "way" of the religious and philosophic mystic, an ethical system or
rule of life, of which, very probably, Wordsworth had never heard.

The mystic vision was not attained by him, any more than by others,
without deliberate renunciation. He lays great stress upon this; and yet
it is a point in his teaching sometimes overlooked. He insists
repeatedly upon the fact that before any one can taste of these joys of
the spirit, he must be purified, disciplined, self-controlled. He leaves
us a full account of his purgative stage. Although he started life with
a naturally pure and austere temperament, yet he had deliberately to
crush out certain strong passions to which he was liable, as well as all
personal ambition, all love of power, all desire for fame or money; and
to confine himself to the contemplation of such objects as--

    No morbid passions, no disquietude,
    No vengeance and no hatred.

In the _Recluse_ he records how he deliberately fought, and bent to
other uses, a certain wild passionate delight he felt in danger, a
struggle or victory over a foe, in short, some of the primitive
instincts of a strong, healthy animal, feelings which few would regard
as reprehensible. These natural instincts, this force and energy, good
in themselves, Wordsworth did not crush, but deliberately turned into a
higher channel.

At the end of the _Prelude_ he makes his confession of the sins he did
not commit.

    Never did I, in quest of right and wrong,
    Tamper with conscience from a private aim;
    Nor was in any public hope the dupe
    Of selfish passions; nor did ever yield
    Wilfully to mean cares or low pursuits.

Such a confession, or rather boast, in the mouth of almost any other man
would sound hypocritical or self-complacent; but with Wordsworth, we
feel it is the bare truth told us for our help and guidance, as being
the necessary and preliminary step. It is a high standard which is held
up before us, even in this first stage, for it includes, not merely the
avoidance of all obvious sins against man and society, but a tuning-up,
a transmuting of the whole nature to high and noble endeavour.
Wordsworth found his reward, in a settled state of calm serenity,
"consummate happiness," "wide-spreading, steady, calm, contemplative,"
and, as he tells us in the fourth book of the _Prelude_, on one evening
during that summer vacation,

           Gently did my soul
    Put off her veil, and, self-transmuted, stood
    Naked, as in the presence of her God.

When the mind and soul have been prepared, the next step is
concentration, aspiration. Then it is borne in upon the poet that in the
infinite and in the eternal alone can we find rest, can we find
ourselves; and towards this infinitude we must strive with unflagging

    Our destiny, our being's heart and home,
    Is with infinitude, and only there.

         _Prelude_, Book vi. 604.

The result of this aspiration towards the infinite is a quickening of
consciousness, upon which follows the attainment of the third or unitive
stage, the moment when man can "breathe in worlds to which the heaven of
heavens is but a veil," and perceive "the forms whose kingdom is where
time and place are not." Such minds--

             need not extraordinary calls
    To rouse them; in a world of life they live,
    By sensible impressions not enthralled,
     ... the highest bliss
    That flesh can know _is theirs_--the consciousness
    Of Whom they are.

          _Prelude_, Book xiv. 105, 113,

Wordsworth possessed in a peculiar degree a mystic sense of infinity,
of the boundless, of the opening-out of the world of our normal finite
experience into the transcendental; and he had a rare power of putting
this into words. It was a feeling which, as he tells us in the _Prelude_
(Book xiii.), he had from earliest childhood, when the disappearing line
of the public highway--

    Was like an invitation into space
    Boundless, or guide into eternity,

a feeling which, applied to man, gives that inspiriting certitude of
boundless growth, when the soul has--

     ... an obscure sense
    Of possible sublimity, whereto
    With growing faculties she doth aspire.

It is at this point, and on this subject, that Wordsworth's poetical and
ethical imagination are most nearly fused. This fusion is far from
constant with him; and the result is that there are tracts of his
writings where the sentiments are excellent, the philosophy
illuminating, but the poetry is not great: it does not awaken the
"transcendental feeling."[22] The moments when this condition is most
fully attained by Wordsworth occur when, by sheer force of poetic
imagination combined with spiritual insight, in some mysterious and
indescribable way, he flashes upon us a sensation of boundless infinity.
Herein consists the peculiar magic of such a poem as _Stepping
Westward_; and there is a touch of the same feeling in the _Solitary

It is hardly necessary to dwell on other mystical elements in
Wordsworth, such as his belief in the one law governing all things,
"from creeping plant to sovereign man," and the hint of belief in
pre-existence in the _Ode on Immortality_. His attitude towards life as
a whole is to be found in a few lines in the "after-thought" to the
Duddon sonnets.

    The Form remains, the Function never dies;
    While we, the brave, the mighty and the wise,
    We Men, who in our morn of youth defied
    The elements, must vanish:--be it so!
    Enough, if something from our hands have power
    To live, and act, and serve the future hour;
    And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
    Through love, through hope, and faith's transcendent dower,
    We feel that we are greater than we know.

Richard Jefferies is closely akin to Wordsworth in his overpowering
consciousness of the life in nature. This consciousness is the strongest
force in him, so that at times he is almost submerged by it, and he
loses the sense of outward things. In this condition of trance the sense
of time vanishes, there is, he asserts, no such thing, no past or
future, only now, which is eternity. In _The Story of my Heart_, a
rhapsody of mystic experience and aspiration he describes in detail
several such moments of exaltation or trance. He seems to be peculiarly
sensitive to sunshine. As the moon typifies to Keats the eternal essence
in all things, so to Jefferies the sun seems to be the physical
expression or symbol of the central Force of the world, and it is
through gazing on sunlight that he most often enters into the trance

Standing, one summer's morning, in a recess on London Bridge, he looks
out on the sunshine "burning on steadfast," "lighting the great heaven;
gleaming on my finger-nail."

     "I was intensely conscious of it," he writes, "I felt it; I felt
     the presence of the immense powers of the universe; I felt out into
     the depths of the ether. So intensely conscious of the sun, the
     sky, the limitless space, I felt too in the midst of eternity then,
     in the midst of the supernatural, among the immortal, and the
     greatness of the material realised the spirit. By these I saw my
     soul; by these I knew the supernatural to be more intensely real
     than the sun. I touched the supernatural, the immortal, there that

When he reaches this state, outer things drop away,[24] and he seems to
become lost, and absorbed into the being of the universe. He partakes,
momentarily, of a larger, fuller life, he drinks in vitality through
nature. The least blade of grass, he says, or the greatest oak, "seemed
like exterior nerves and veins for the conveyance of feeling to me.
Sometimes a very ecstasy of exquisite enjoyment of the entire visible
universe filled me."[25]

This great central Life Force, which Jefferies, like Wordsworth, seemed
at moments to touch, he, in marked contrast to other mystics, refuses to
call God. For, he says, what we understand by deity is the purest form
of mind, and he sees no mind in nature. It is a force without a mind,
"more subtle than electricity, but absolutely devoid of consciousness
and with no more feeling than the force which lifts the tides."[26] Yet
this cannot content him, for later he declares there must be an
existence higher than deity, towards which he aspires and presses with
the whole force of his being. "Give me," he cries, "to live the deepest
soul-life now and always with this 'Highest Soul.'"[27]

This thrilling consciousness of spiritual life felt through nature,
coupled with passionate aspiration to be absorbed in that larger life,
are the two main features of the mysticism of Richard Jefferies.

His books, and especially _The Story of my Heart_, contain, together
with the most exquisite nature description, a rich and vivid record of
sensation, feeling, and aspiration. But it is a feeling which, though
vivifying, can only be expressed in general terms, and it carries with
it no vision and no philosophy. It is almost entirely emotional, and it
is as an emotional record that it is of value, for Jefferies'
intellectual reflections are, for the most part, curiously contradictory
and unconvincing.

The certainty and rapture of this experience of spiritual emotion is all
the more amazing when we remember that the record of it was written in
agony, when he was wrecked with mortal illness and his nerves were
shattered with pain. For with him, as later with Francis Thompson,
physical pain and material trouble seemed to serve only to direct him
towards and to enhance the glory of the spiritual vision.

Chapter IV

Philosophical Mystics

The mystical sense may be called philosophical in all those writers who
present their convictions in a philosophic form calculated to appeal to
the intellect as well as to the emotions. These writers, as a rule,
though not always, are themselves markedly intellectual, and their
primary concern therefore is with truth or wisdom. Thus Donne, William
Law, Burke, Coleridge, and Carlyle are all predominantly intellectual,
while Traherne, Emily Brontë, and Tennyson clothe their thoughts to some
extent in the language of philosophy.

The dominating characteristic of Donne is intellectuality; and this may
partly account for the lack in him of some essentialty mystical
qualities, more especially reverence, and that ascension of thought so
characteristic of Plato and Browning. These shortcomings are very well
illustrated in that extraordinary poem, _The, Progress of the Soul_. The
idea is a mystical one, derived from Pythagorean philosophy, and has
great possibilities, which Donne entirely fails to utilise; for, instead
of following the soul upwards on its way, he depicts it as merely
jumping about from body to body, and we are conscious of an entire lack
of any lift or grandeur of thought. This poem helps us to understand how
it was that Donne, though so richly endowed with intellectual gifts, yet
failed to reach the highest rank as a poet. He was brilliant in
particulars, but lacked the epic qualities of breadth, unity, and
proportion, characteristics destined to be the distinctive marks of the
school of which he is looked upon as the founder.

Apart from this somewhat important defect, Donne's attitude of mind is
essentially mystical. This is especially marked in his feeling about the
body and natural law, in his treatment of love, and in his conception of
woman. The mystic's postulate--if we could know ourselves, we should
know all--is often on Donne's lips, as for instance in that curious poem
written in memory of Elizabeth Drury, on the second anniversary of her
death. It is perhaps best expressed in the following verse:

      But we know our selves least; Mere outward shews
        Our mindes so store,
    That our soules, no more than our eyes disclose
    But forme and colour. Onely he who knowes
        Himselfe, knowes more.

    _Ode: Of our Sense of Sinne._

One of the marked characteristics of Donne's poetry is his continual
comparison of mental and spiritual with, physical processes. This sense
of analogy prevailing throughout nature is with him very strong. The
mystery of continual flux and change particularly attracts him, as it
did the Buddhists[28] and the early Greek thinkers, and Nettleship's
remarks about the nature of bread and unselfishness are akin to the
following comparison:--

                  Dost thou love
    Beauty? (And beauty worthy'st is to move)
    Poor cousened consener, _that_ she, and _that_ thou,
    Which did begin to love, are neither now;
    Next day repaires (but ill) last dayes decay.
    Nor are, (although the river keepe the name)
    Yesterdaies waters, and to-daies the same.

    _Of the Progresse of the Soule. The second
    Anniversarie_, 389-96.

Donne believes firmly in man's potential greatness, and the power within
his own soul:

    Seeke wee then our selves in our selves; for as
    Men force the Sunne with much more force to passe.
    By gathering his beames with a chrystall glasse;

    So wee, If wee into our selves will turne,
    Blowing our sparkes of virtue, may out-burne
    The straw, which doth about our hearts sojourne.

    _Letter to Mr Roland Woodward._

And although, in the _Progress of the Soul_, he failed to give
expression to it, yet his belief in progress is unquenchable. He fully
shares the mystic's view that "man, to get towards Him that's Infinite,
must first be great" (_Letter to the Countess of Salisbury_).

In his treatment of love, Donne's mystical attitude is most clearly
seen. He holds the Platonic conception, that love concerns the soul
only, and is independent of the body, or bodily presence; and he is the
poet, who, at his best, expresses this idea in the most dignified and
refined way. The reader feels not only that Donne believes it, but that
he has in some measure experienced it; whereas with his imitators it
degenerated into little more than a fashionable "conceit." The
_Undertaking_ expresses the discovery he has made of this higher and
deeper kind of love; and in the _Ecstasy_ he describes the union of the
souls of two lovers in language which proves his familiarity with the
description of ecstasy given by Plotinus (_Enn._ vi. 9, § 11). The great
value of this spiritual love is that it is unaffected by time and space,
a belief which is nowhere more exquisitely expressed than in the refrain
of his little song, _Soul's Joy_.[29]

    O give no way to griefe,
    But let beliefe
      Of mutuall love,
    This wonder to the vulgar prove
      Our Bodyes, not wee move.

In one of his verse letters to the Countess of Huntingdon[30] he
explains how true love cannot be desire:

    'Tis love, but with such fatall weaknesse made,
    That it destroyes it selfe with its owne shade.

He goes still further in the poem entitled _Negative Love_, where he
says that love is such a passion as can only be defined by negatives,
for it is above apprehension, and his language here is closely akin to
the description of the One or the Good given by Plotinus in the sixth

Thomas Traherne is a mystical writer of singular charm and originality.
The manuscripts of his poems and his prose _Meditations_, a kind of
spiritual autobiography and notebook, were only discovered and printed
quite recently, and they form a valuable addition to the mystical
literature of the seventeenth century.

He has affinities with Vaughan, Herbert, and Sir Thomas Browne, with
Blake and with Wordsworth. He is deeply sensitive to the beauty of the
natural world, and he insists on the necessity for rejoicing in this
beauty if we are really to live. By love alone is God to be approached
and known, he says, but this love must not be finite. "He must be loved
in all with an unlimited love, even in all His doings, in all His
friends, in all His creatures." In a prose passage of sustained beauty
Traherne thus describes the attitude towards earth which is needful
before we can enter heaven.

     You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in
     your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with
     the stars:.... Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as
     misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the

     Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your
     jewels;.... till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with
     a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for
     being good to all: you never enjoy the world.... The world is a
     mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of
     Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace,
     did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God.... It is, the
     place of Angels and the Gate of Heaven.[31]

He is for ever reiterating, in company with all the mystics, that

    'Tis not the object, but the light
    That maketh Heaven: 'tis a purer sight.

He shares Wordsworth's rapture in the life of nature, and Browning's
interest in his fellow-men; he has Shelley's belief in the inner meaning
of love, and much of Keats's worship of beauty, and he expresses this in
an original and lyrical prose of quite peculiar and haunting beauty. He
has embodied his main ideas, with a good deal of repetition both in
prose and verse, but it is invariably the prose version, probably
written first, which is the most arresting and vigorous.

His _Meditations_ well repay careful study; they are full of wisdom and
of an imaginative philosophy, expressed in pithy and telling form, which
continually reminds the reader of Blake's _Proverbs of Hell_.

    To have no principles or to live beside them, is equally miserable.
    Philosophers are not those that speak but do great things.
    All men see the same objects, but do not equally understand them.
    Souls to souls are like apples, one being rotten rots another.

This kind of saying abounds on every page. Some of his more sustained
philosophic passages are also noteworthy; such, for instance, is his
comparison of the powers of the soul to the rays of the sun, which carry
light in them unexpressed until they meet an object (_Meditations_,
second century, No. 78). But Traherne's most interesting contribution to
the psychology of mysticism is his account of his childhood and the
"vision splendid" that he brought with him. Even more to him than to
Vaughan or Wordsworth,

    The earth, and every common sight
      ... did seem
    Apparelled in celestial light,

and his description of his feelings and spiritual insight are both
astonishing and convincing. A number of his poems are devoted to this
topic (_The Salutation, Wonder, Eden, Innocence, The Rapture, The
Approach_, and others), but it is the prose account which must be given.

     All appeared now, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and
     delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my
     entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable
     joys.... The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should
     be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from
     everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were
     as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world.
     The green trees when I saw them first ... transported and ravished
     me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and
     almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful
     things. The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the
     aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and
     sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and
     beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were
     moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; but
     all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places....
     The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven.[32]

It is necessary to quote at some length, because it is the way in which
Traherne expresses his experiences or reflections which is the moving
and original thing about him. This last passage seems to anticipate
something of the magic of Keats in the _Ode to a Nightingale_ or the
_Grecian Urn_, the sense of continuity, and of eternity expressed in
time. Traherne's account of the gradual dimming of this early radiance,
and his enforced change of values is equally unusual. Only with great
difficulty did his elders persuade him "that the tinselled ware upon a
hobby-horse was a fine thing" and that a purse of gold was of any value,
but by degrees when he found that all men prized things he did not dream
of, and never mentioned those he cared for, then his "thoughts were
blotted out; and at last all the celestial great and stable treasures,
to which I was born, as wholly forgotten, if as they had never been."

But he remembered enough of those early glories to realise that if he
would regain happiness, he must "become, as it were, a little child
again," get free of "the burden and cumber of devised wants," and
recapture the value and the glory of the common things of life.

He was so resolutely bent on this that when he had left college and come
into the country and was free, he lived upon £10 a year, fed on bread
and water, and, like George Fox, wore a leather suit. Thus released from
all worldly cares, he says, through God's blessing, "I live a free and
kingly life as if the world were turned again into Eden, or much more,
as it is at this day."

In Emily Brontë we have an unusual type of mystic. Indeed she is one of
the most strange and baffling figures in our literature. We know in
truth very little about her, but that little is quite unlike what we
know about any one else. It is now beginning to be realised that she was
a greater and more original genius than her famous sister, and that
strong as were Charlotte's passion and imagination, the passion and
imagination of Emily were still stronger. She had, so far as we can
tell, peculiarly little actual experience of life, her material
interests were bounded by her family, the old servant Tabby, the dogs,
and the moors. For the greater part of her thirty years of life she did
the work of a servant in the little parsonage house on the edge of the
graveyard. She can have read little of philosophy or metaphysics, and
probably had never heard of the mystics; she was brought up in a narrow,
crude, and harshly material creed; yet her own inner experience, her
touch with the secret of life, enabled her to write the remarkable
series of poems the peculiar and haunting quality of which has as yet
scarcely been recognised. They are strong and free and certain, hampered
by no dogma, weighted by no explanation, but containing--in the simplest
language--the record of the experience and the vision of a soul. Emily
Brontë lived remote, unapproachable, self-sufficing and entirely
detached, yet consumed with a fierce, unquenchable love of life and of
nature, of the life which withheld from her all the gifts most prized of
men, love, friendship, experience, recognition, fame; and of the nature
which she knew only on a circumscribed space of the wild Yorkshire

In her poems her mysticism is seen principally in two ways: in her
unerring apprehension of values, of the illusory quality of material
things, even of the nature she so loved, together with the certain
vision of the one Reality behind all forms. This, and her description of
ecstasy, of the all-sufficing joy of the inner life of one who has
tasted this experience, mark her out as being among those who have seen,
and who know. In _The Prisoner_, the speaker, a woman, is "confined in
triple walls," yet in spite of bolts and bars and dungeon gloom she
holds within herself an inextinguishable joy and unmeasured freedom
brought to her every night by a "messenger."

    He comes with western winds, with evening's wandering airs,
    With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars.
    Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire,
    And visions rise, and change, that kill me with desire.

           *       *       *       *       *

    But, first, a hush of peace--a soundless calm descends;
    The struggle of distress, and fierce impatience ends;
    Mute music soothes my breast--unuttered harmony,
    That I could never dream, till Earth was lost to me.

    Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals;
    My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels:
    Its wings are almost free--its home, its harbour found,
    Measuring the gulf, it stoops and dares the final bound.

    Oh! dreadful is the check--intense the agony--
    When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
    When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
    The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.

This is the description--always unmistakable--of the supreme mystic
experience, the joy of the outward flight, the pain of the return, and
it could only have been written by one who in some measure had knowledge
of it. This, together with the exquisite little poem _The Visionary_,
which describes a similar experience, and _The Philosopher_, stand apart
as expressions of spiritual vision, and are among the most perfect
mystic poems in English.

Her realisation of the meaning of common things, her knowledge that they
hold the secret of the universe, and her crystallisation of this in
verse, place her with Blake and Wordsworth.

    What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
    More glory and more grief than I can tell:
    The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
    Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

And finally, the sense of continuous life--one central, all-sustaining
Life--of the oneness of God and man, has never been more nobly expressed
than in what is her best-known poem, the last lines she ever wrote:--

    O God within my breast,
    Almighty, ever-present Deity!
    Life--that in me has rest,
    As I--undying Life--have power in Thee!

           *       *       *       *       *

    With wide-embracing love
    Thy spirit animates eternal years,
    Pervades and broods above,
    Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

    Though earth and man were gone,
    And suns and universes ceased to be,
    And Thou wert left alone,
    Every existence would exist in Thee.

Tennyson differs widely from the other poets whom we are considering in
this connection. He was not born with the mystical temperament, but, on
the contrary, he had a long and bitter struggle with his own doubts and
questionings before he wrested from them peace. There is nothing of
mystic calm or strength in the lines--

    Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
    Will be the final goal of ill.

He has no mystic rapture in Nature like Wordsworth,

    I found Him not in world or sun
    Or eagle's wing, or insect's eye;

no mystic interpretation of life as had Browning, no yearning for union
with the spirit of love and beauty as had Shelley. Tennyson's mysticism
came, as it were, rather in spite of himself, and is based on one thing
only--experience. He states his position quite clearly in _In Memoriam_,
cxxiv. As is well known, he had from time to time a certain peculiar
experience, which he describes fully both in prose and verse, a touch at
intervals throughout his life of "ecstasy," and it was on this he based
his deepest belief. He has left several prose accounts of this mental
state, which often came to him through repeating his own name silently,

     till all at once, as it wore, out of the intensity of the
     consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to
     resolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused
     state, but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest,
     utterly beyond words, where death was an almost laughable
     impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no
     extinction, but the only true life[33]

It is a somewhat similar experience which is described in _In Memoriam_,

    And all at once it seem'd at last
    The living soul was flash'd on mine,
    And mine in this was wound, and whirl'd
    About empyreal heights of thought,
    And came on that which is, and caught
    The deep pulsations of the world.

And again in the conclusion of the _Holy Grail_--

    Let visions of the night or of the day
    Come, as they will; and many a time they come,
    Until this earth he walks on seems not earth,
    This light that strikes his eyeball is not light,
    This air that strikes his forehead is not air
    But vision--yea, his very hand and foot--
    In moments when he feels he cannot die,
    And knows himself no vision to himself,
    Nor the high God a A vision, nor that One
    Who rose again.

"These three lines," said Tennyson, speaking of the last three quoted,
"are the (spiritually) central lines in the Idylls." They are also the
central lines in his own philosophy, for it was the experience of this
"vision" that inspired all his deepest convictions with regard to the
unity of all things, the reality of the unseen, and the persistence of

The belief in the impotence of intellectual knowledge is very closely
connected, it is indeed based, upon these "gleams" of ecstasy. The
prologue to _In Memoriam_ (written when the poem was completed) seems to
sum up his faith after many years of struggle and doubt; but it is in
the most philosophical as well as one of the latest, of his poems, _The
Ancient Sage_, that we find this attitude most fully expressed. Tennyson
wrote of it: "The whole poem is very personal. The passages about
'Faith' and 'the Passion of the Past' were more especially my own
personal feelings." Through the mouth of the Sage, the poet declares in
impassioned words the position of the mystic, and points out the
impotence of sense-knowledge in dealing with that which is beyond either
the senses or the reason:

    For Knowledge is the swallow on the lake
    That sees and stirs the surface-shadow there
    But never yet hath dipt into the abysm.

Tennyson, like Wordsworth, emphasises the truth that the only way in
which man can gain real knowledge and hear the "Nameless" is by diving
or sinking into the centre of his own being. There is a great deal of
Eastern philosophy and mysticism in the _Ancient Sage_, as, for
instance, the feeling of the unity of all existence to the point of
merging the personality into the universal.

    But that one ripple on the boundless deep
    Feels that the deep is boundless, and itself
    For ever changing form, but evermore
    One with the boundless motion of the deep.

We know that Tennyson had been studying the philosophy of Lâo-Tsze about
this time; yet, though this is, as it were, grafted on to the poet's
mind, still we may take it as being his genuine and deepest conviction.
The nearest approach to a definite statement of it to be found in his
poems is in the few stanzas called _The Higher Pantheism_, which he sent
to be read at the first meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1869.

    Speak to Him thou for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet--
    Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.

           *       *       *       *       *

    And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot see;
    But if we could see and hear, this Vision--were it not He?

In William Law, Burke, Coleridge, and Carlyle, we have a succession of
great English prose-writers whose work and thought is permeated by a
mystical philosophy. Of these four, Law is, during his later life, by
far the most consistently and predominantly mystical.

As has been indicated, there were many strains of influence which in the
seventeenth century tended to foster mystical thought in England. The
group of Cambridge Platonists, to which Henry More belonged, gave new
expression to the great Neo-platonic ideas, but in addition to this a
strong vein of mysticism had been kept alive in Amsterdam, where the
exiled Separatists had gone in 1593. They flourished there and waxed
strong, and sent back to England during the next century a continual
stream of opinion and literature. To this source can be traced the ideas
which inspired alike the Quakers, the Seekers, the Behmenists, the
Familists, and numberless other sects who all embodied a reaction
against forms and ceremonies, which, in ceasing to be understood, had
become lifeless. These sects were, up to a certain point, mystical in
thought, for they all believed in the "inner light," in the immediate
revelation of God within the soul as the all-important experience.

The persecutions of the Quakers under Charles II. tended to withdraw
them from active philanthropy, and to throw them more in the direction
of a personal and contemplative religion. It was then that the writings
of Madame Bourignon, Madame Guyon, and Fénelon became popular, and were
much read among a certain section of thinkers, while the influence of
the teachings of Jacob Boehme, whose works had been translated into
English between the years 1644 and 1692, can be traced, in diverse ways.
They impressed themselves on the thought of the founders of the Society
of Friends, they produced a distinct "Behmenist" sect, and it would seem
that the idea of the three laws of motion first reached Newton through
his eager study of Boehme. But all this has nothing directly to do with
literature, and would not concern us here were it not that in the
eighteenth century William Law came into touch with many of these
mystical thinkers, and that he has embodied in some of the finest prose
in our language a portion of the "inspired cobbler's" vision of the

Law's character is one of considerable interest. Typically English, and
in intellect typically of the eighteenth century, logical, sane,
practical, he is not, at first sight, the man one would expect to find
in sympathy with the mystics. Sincerity is the keynote of his whole
nature, sincerity of thought, of belief, of speech, and of life.
Sincerity implies courage, and Law was a brave man, never shirking the
logical outcome of his convictions, from the day when he ruined his
prospects at Cambridge, to the later years when he suffered his really
considerable reputation to be eclipsed by his espousal of an
uncomprehended and unpopular mysticism. He had a keen rather than a
profound intellect, and his thought is lightened by brilliant flashes of
wit or of grim satire. We can tell, however, from his letters and his
later writings, that underneath a severe and slightly stiff exterior,
were hidden emotion, enthusiasm, and great tenderness of feeling.

By middle life Law was well known as a most able and brilliant writer on
most of the burning theological questions of the day, as well as the
author of one of the best loved and most widely read practical and
ethical treatises in the language, _A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy
Life_. These earlier writings are by far the best known of his works,
and it is with the _Serious Call_ that his name will always be

Until middle age he showed no marked mystical tendency, although we know
that from the time he was an undergraduate he was a "diligent reader"
of mystical books, and that he had studied, among others, Dionysius the
Areopagite, Ruysbroek, Tauler, Suso, and the seventeenth century
Quietists, Fénelon, Madame Guyon, and Antoinette Bourignon.

When, however, he was about forty-six (c. 1733), he came across the
writings of the seer who set his whole nature aglow with spiritual
fervour, so that when he first read his works they put him into "a
perfect sweat." Jacob Boehme--or Behmen, as he has usually been called
in England--(1575-1624), the illiterate and untrained peasant shoemaker
of Görlitz, is one of the most amazing phenomena in the history of
mysticism, a history which does not lack wonders. His work has so much
influenced later mystical thought and philosophy that a little space
must be devoted to him here. He lived outwardly the quiet, hard-working
life of a simple German peasant, but inwardly--like his fellow-seer
Blake--he lived in a glory of illumination, which by flashes revealed to
him the mysteries and splendours he tries in broken and faltering words
to record. He saw with the eye of his mind into the heart of things, and
he wrote down as much of it as he could express.

The older mystics--eastern and western alike--had laid stress on unity
as seen in the nature of God and all things. No one more fully believed
in ultimate unity than did Boehme, but he lays peculiar stress on the
duality, or more accurately, the trinity in unity; and the central point
of his philosophy is the fundamental postulate that all manifestation
necessitates opposition. He asserted the uniformity of law throughout
all existence, physical and spiritual, and this law, which applies all
through nature, divine and human alike, is that nothing can reveal
itself without resistance, good can only be known through evil, and
weakness through strength, just as light is only visible when reflected
by a dark body.

Thus when God, the Triune Principle, or _Will_ under three aspects,
desires to become manifest, He divides the Will into two, the "yes" and
the "no," and so founds an eternal contrast to Himself out of His own
hidden Nature, in order to enter into struggle with it, and finally to
discipline and assimilate it. The object of all manifested nature is the
transforming of the will which says "No" into the will which says "Yes,"
and this is brought about by seven organising spirits or forms. The
first three of these bring nature out of the dark element to the point
where contact with the light is possible. Boehme calls them harshness,
attraction, and anguish, which in modern terms are contraction,
expansion, and rotation. The first two are in deadly antagonism, and
being forced into collision, form an endless whirl of movement. These
two forces with their resultant effect are to be found all through
manifested nature, within man and without, and are called by different
names: good, evil and life, God, the devil and the world, homogeneity,
heterogeneity, strain, or the three laws of motion, centripetal and
centrifugal force, resulting in rotation. They are the outcome of the
"nature" or "no" will, and are the basis of all manifestation. They are
the "power" of God, apart from the "love," hence their conflict is
terrible. When spirit and nature approach and meet, from the shock a new
form is liberated, lightning or fire, which is the fourth moment or
essence. With the lightning ends the development of the negative triad,
and the evolution of the three higher forms then begins; Boehme calls
them light or love, sound and substance; they are of the spirit, and in
them contraction, expansion, and rotation are repeated in a new sense.
The first three forms give the stuff or strength of being, the last
three manifest the quality of being good or bad, and evolution can
proceed in either direction.

The practical and ethical result of this living unity of nature is the
side which most attracted Law, and it is one which is as simple to state
as it is difficult to apply. Boehme's philosophy is one which can only
be apprehended by living it. Will, or desire, is the radical force in
man as it is in nature and in the Godhead, and until that is turned
towards the light, any purely historical or intellectual knowledge of
these things is as useless as if hydrogen were to expect to become water
by study of the qualities of oxygen, whereas what is needed is the
actual union of the elements.

The two most important of Law's mystical treatises are _An Appeal to all
that Doubt_, 1740, and _The Way to Divine Knowledge_, 1752. The first of
these should be read by any one desirous of knowing Law's later thought,
for it is a clear and fine exposition of his attitude with regard more
especially to the nature of man, the unity of all nature, and the
quality of fire or desire. The later book is really an account of the
main principles of Boehme, with a warning as to the right way to apply
them, and it was written as an introduction to the new edition of
Boehme's works which Law contemplated publishing.

The following is the aspect of Boehme's teaching which Law most
consistently emphasises.

Man was made out of the Breath of God; his soul is a spark of the Deity.
It therefore cannot die, for it "has the Unbeginning, Unending Life of
God in it." Man has fallen from his high estate through ignorance and
inexperience, through seeking separation, taking the part for the whole,
desiring the knowledge of good and evil as separate things. The
assertion of self is thus the root of all evil; for as soon as the will
of man "turns to itself, and would, as it were, have a Sound of its own,
it breaks off from the divine harmony, and falls into the misery of its
own discord." For it is the state of our will that makes the state of
our life. Hence, by the "fall," man's standpoint has been dislocated
from centre to circumference, and he lives in a false imagination. Every
quality is equally good, for there is nothing evil in God from whom all
comes; but evil appears to be through separation. Thus strength and
desire in the divine nature are necessary and magnificent qualities, but
when, as in the creature, they are separated from love, they appear as
evil.[34] The analogy of the fruit is, in this connection a favourite
one with both Law and Boehme. When a fruit is unripe (i.e. incomplete)
it is sour, bitter, astringent, unwholesome; but when it has been longer
exposed to the sun and air it becomes sweet, luscious, and good to eat.
Yet it is the same fruit, and the astringent qualities are not lost or
destroyed, but transmuted and enriched, and are thus the main cause of
its goodness.[35] The only way to pass from this condition of
"bitterness" to ripeness, from this false imagination to the true one,
is the way of death. We must die to what we are before we can be born
anew; we must die to the things of this world to which we cling, and for
which we desire and hope, and we must turn towards God. This should be
the daily, hourly exercise of the mind, until the whole turn and bent of
our spirit "points as constantly to God as the needle touched with the
loadstone does to the north."[36] To be alive in God, before you are
dead to your own nature, is "a thing as impossible in itself, as for a
grain of wheat to be alive before it dies."

The root of all, then, is the will or desire. This realisation of the
momentous quality of the will is the secret of every religious mystic,
the hunger of the soul, as Law calls it, is the first necessity, and all
else will follow.[37] It is the seed of everything that can grow in us;
"it is the only workman in nature, and everything is its work;" it is
the true magic power. And this will or desire is always active; every
man's life is a continual state of prayer, and if we are not praying for
the things of God, we are praying for _something else_.[38] For prayer
is but the desire of the soul. Our imaginations and desires are,
therefore, the greatest realities we have, and we should look closely to
what they are.[39]

It is essential to the understanding of Law, as of Boehme, to remember
his belief in the reality and actuality of the oneness of nature and of
law.[40] Nature is God's great Book of Revelation, for it is nothing
else but God's own outward manifestation of what He inwardly is, and can
do.... The mysteries of religion, therefore, are no higher, nor deeper
than the mysteries of nature.[41] God Himself is subject to this law.
There is no question of God's mercy or of His wrath,[42] for it is an
eternal principle that we can only receive what we are capable of
receiving; and to ask why one person gains no help from the mercy and
goodness of God while another does gain help is "like asking why the
refreshing dew of heaven does not do that to the flint which it does to
the vegetable plant."[43]

Self-denial, or mortification of the flesh is not a thing imposed upon
us by the mere will of God: considered in themselves they have nothing
of goodness or holiness, but they have their ground and reason in the
nature of the thing, and are as "absolutely necessary to make way for
the new birth, as the death of the husk and gross part of the grain is
necessary to make way for its vegetable life."[44]

These views are clear enough, but the more mystical ones, such as those
which Law and Boehme held, for instance, about fire, can only be
understood in the light of this living unity throughout nature,
humanity, and divinity.

     "Everything in temporal Nature," says Law, "is descended out of
     that which is eternal, and stands as a palpable, visible Outbirth
     of it: ... Fire and Light and Air in this World are not only a true
     Resemblance of the Holy Trinity in Unity, but are the Trinity
     itself in its most outward, lowest kind of Existence or
     Manifestation.... Fire compacted, created, separated from Light and
     Air, is the Elemental Fire of this World: Fire uncreated,
     uncompacted, unseparated from Light and Air, is the heavenly Fire
     of Eternity: Fire kindled in any material Thing is only Fire
     breaking out of its created, compacted state; it is nothing else
     but the awakening the Spiritual Properties of that Thing, which
     being thus stirred up, strive to get rid of that material Creation
     under which they are imprisoned ... and were not these spiritual
     Properties imprisoned in Matter, no material Thing could be made to
     burn.... Fire is not, cannot be a material Thing, it only makes
     itself visible and sensible by the Destruction of Matter."[45] "If
     you ask what Fire is in its first true and unbeginning State, not
     yet entered into any Creature, It is the Power and Strength, the
     Glory and Majesty of eternal Nature.... If you ask what Fire is in
     its own spiritual Nature, it is merely a _Desire_, and has no other
     Nature than that of a _working Desire_, which is continually its
     _own Kindler_." [46]

All life is a kindled fire in a variety of states, and every dead,
insensitive thing is only dead because its fire is quenched or
compressed, as in the case of a flint, which is in a state of death
"because its fire is bound, compacted, shut up and imprisoned," but a
steel struck against it, shows that every particle of the flint consists
of this compacted fire.

But even as, throughout all nature, a state of death is an imprisoned
fire, so throughout all nature is there only one way of kindling life.
You might as well write the word "flame" on the outside of a flint and
expect it to emit sparks as to imagine that any speculations of your
reason will kindle divine life in your soul.

     No; Would you have Fire from a Flint; its House of Death must be
     shaken, and its Chains of Darkness broken off by the Strokes of a
     Steel upon it. This must of all Necessity be done to your Soul, its
     imprisoned Fire must be awakened by the sharp Strokes of Steel, or
     no true Light of Life can arise in it.[2]

All life, whether physical or spiritual, means a death to some previous
condition, and must be generated in pain. 6 1: _An Appeal, Works_,
vol. vi. pp. 166. 2 _Ibid._, p, 82.

If this mystical view of Fire be clear, it will be easy enough to
follow what Law says about Light and Darkness, or Air, Water, and Earth,
interpreting them all in the same way as "eternal Things become gross,
finite, measurable, divisible, and transitory."[47]

_The Spirit of Prayer_ is of all Law's works the one most steeped in
mystic ardour, and it possesses a charm, a melody of rhythm, and an
imaginative quality rarely to be found in his earlier work. It should be
read by those who would see Law under a little known aspect, and who do
not realise that we have an English mystic who expresses, with a
strength and beauty which Plotinus himself has rarely surpassed, the
longing of the soul for union with the Divine.

Burke, Coleridge, and Carlyle are three very different writers who are
alike in the mystical foundations of their belief, and who, through
their writings, for over a hundred years in England carry on the
mystical attitude and diffuse much mystical thought.

Burke, the greatest and most philosophic of English statesmen, was so
largely because of his mystic spirit and imagination. Much of the
greatness of his political pamphlets and speeches and of their enduring
value is owing to the fact that his arguments are based on a sense of
oneness and continuity, of oneness in the social organism and of
continuity in the spirit which animates it. He believes in a life in the
Universe, in a divine order, mysterious and inscrutable in origins and
in ends, of which man and society are a part.

This society is linked together in mutual service from the lowest to the
highest. "Society is indeed a contract," he says in a memorable passage,

     It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a
     partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of
     such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it
     becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but
     between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are
     to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause
     in the great primæval contract of eternal society, linking the
     lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible
     world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable
     oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their
     appointed place.

These are strange words for an English statesman to address to the
English public in the year 1790; the thought they embody seems more in
keeping with its surroundings when we hear it thundered out anew forty
years later by the raw Scotch preacher-philosopher in the chapter he
calls "Organic Filaments" in his odd but strangely stirring mystical
rhapsody, _Sartor Resartus_.

It is on this belief of oneness, this interrelationship and
interdependence that all Burke's deepest practical wisdom is based. It
is on this he makes his appeal for high principle and noble example to
the great families with hereditary trusts and fortunes, who, he says, he
looks on as the great oaks that shade a country and perpetuate their
benefits from generation to generation.

This imaginative belief in the reality of a central spiritual life is
always accompanied, whether definitely expressed or not, with a belief
in the value of particulars, of the individual, as opposed to general
statements and abstract philosophy. The mystic, who believes in an
inward moulding spirit, necessarily believes that all reforms must come
from within, and that, as Burke points out in the _Present Discontents_,
good government depends not upon laws but upon individuals. Blake, in a
characteristic phrase, says: "He who would do good to another must do it
in minute particulars; general good is the plea of the hypocrite,
flatterer, and scoundrel." This sums up the essence of the social
philosophy of these three thinkers, as seen by Burke's insistence on the
value of concrete details in Coleridge's use of them in his Lay Sermon,
and in Carlyle's belief in the importance of the single individual life
in history.

It is easy to see that Coleridge's attitude of mind and the main lines
of his philosophy were mystical. From early years, as we know from
Lamb, he was steeped in the writings of the Neo-platonists and these,
together with Boehme, in whom he was much interested, and Schelling,
strengthened a type of belief already natural to him.

In spite of his devotion to the doctrines of Hartley, it is clear from
his poetry and letters, that Coleridge very early had doubts concerning
the adequacy of the intellect as an instrument for arriving at truth,
and that at the same time the conviction was slowly gaining ground with
him that an act of the will is necessary in order to bring man into
contact with reality. Coleridge believed in a Spirit of the universe
with which man could come into contact, both directly by desire, and
also mediately through the forms and images of nature, and in the
_Religious Musings_ (1794) we get very early a statement of this
mystical belief.

    There is one Mind, one omnipresent Mind
    Omnific. His most holy name is Love.

From Him--

    ... we roam unconscious, or with hearts
    Unfeeling of our universal Sire,

and the greatest thing we can achieve, "our noon-tide majesty," is--

                      to know ourselves
    Parts and proportions of one wonderous whole!

The way to attain this knowledge is not by a process of reasoning, but
by a definite act of will, when the "drowséd soul" begins to feel dim
recollections of its nobler nature, and so gradually becomes attracted
and absorbed to perfect love--

                  and centered there
    God only to behold, and know, and feel,
    Till by exclusive consciousness of God
    All self-annihilated it shall make
    God its Identity: God all in all!

This sense of "oneness," with the desire to reach out to it, was very
strong with Coleridge in these earlier years, and he writes to Thelwall
in 1797, "The universe itself, what but an immense heap of little
things?... My mind feels as if it ached to behold and know something
_great_, something _one_ and _indivisible_." He is ever conscious of the
symbolic quality of all things by which we are visibly surrounded,

        all that meets the bodily sense I deem
    Symbolical, one mighty alphabet
    For infant minds.[48]

To pierce through the outer covering, and realise the truth which they
embody, it is necessary to feel as well as to see, and it is the loss of
this power of feeling which Coleridge deplores in those bitterly sad
lines in the _Dejection Ode_ when he gazes "with how blank an eye" at
the starry heavens, and cries,

    I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!

It is in this Ode that we find the most complete description in English
verse of that particular state of depression and stagnation which often
follows on great exaltation, and to which the religious mystics have
given the name of the "dark night of the soul." This is an experience,
not common to all mystics, but very marked in some, who, like St John of
the Cross and Madame Guyon, are intensely devotional and ecstatic. It
seems to be a well-defined condition of listlessness, apathy, and
_dryness_, as they call it, not a state of active pain, but of terrible
inertia, weariness, and incapacity for feeling; "a wan and heartless
mood," says Coleridge,

    A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
      A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
      Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
        In word, or sigh, or tear.

Coleridge's distrust of the intellect as sole guide, and his belief in
some kind of intuitional act being necessary to the apprehension of
reality, which he felt as early as 1794, was strengthened by his study
of the German transcendental philosophers, and in March 1801 he writes,
"My opinion is that deep thinking is attainable only by a man of deep
feeling; and that all truth is a species of Revelation."

Coleridge, following Kant, gave the somewhat misleading name of "reason"
(as opposed to "understanding") to the intuitive power by which man
apprehends God directly, and, in his view, imagination is the faculty,
which in the light of this intuitive reason interprets and unifies the
symbols of the natural world. Hence its value, for it alone gives man
the key

    Of that eternal language, which thy God
    Utters, who from eternity doth teach
    Himself in all, and all things in himself.[49]

Carlyle's mysticism is the essence of his being, it flames through his
amazing medley of writings, it guides his studies and his choice of
subjects, it unifies and explains his visions, his thought, and his
doctrines. His is a mystical attitude and belief of a perfectly simple
and broad kind, including no abstruse subtleties of metaphysical
speculation, as with Coleridge, but based on one or two deeply rooted
convictions. This position seems to have been reached by him partly
through intellectual conflict which found relief and satisfaction in the
view of life taken by Goethe, Fichte, and other German "transcendental"
thinkers; but partly also through a definite psychical experience which
befell him in Edinburgh when he was twenty-six, and which from that day
changed for him the whole of his outlook on life. He speaks of it
himself as "a Spiritual New-birth, or Baphometic Fire-baptism." It came
to him after a period of great wretchedness, of torture with doubt and
despair, and--what is significant--"during three weeks of total
sleeplessness." These are conditions which would be likely to reduce his
body to the state of weakness and sensitiveness which seems often
antecedent to psychic experience. He has given an account of the
incident in _Sartor_ (Book ii. chap, vii.), when, he says, "there rushed
like a stream of fire over my whole soul; and I shook base Fear away
from me for ever. I was strong, of unknown strength; a spirit, almost a
god." The revelation seems to have been of the nature of a certainty and
assertion of his own inherent divinity, his "native God-created
majesty," freedom and potential greatness. This brought with it a
characteristic defiance of untoward outer circumstances which gave him
strength and resolution. "Perhaps," he says, "I directly thereupon began
to be a man."

Carlyle believes that the world and everything in it is the expression
of one great indivisible Force; that nothing is separate, nothing is
dead or lost, but that all "is borne forward on the bottomless shoreless
flood of Action, and lives through perpetual metamorphoses." Everything
in the world is an embodiment of this great Force, this "Divine Idea,"
hence everything is important and charged with meaning. "Rightly viewed
no meanest object is insignificant; all objects are as windows, through
which the philosophic eye looks into Infinitude itself."[50]

The universe is thus the "living visible garment of God," and "matter
exists only spiritually," "to represent some Idea, and _body_ it forth."
We, each of us, are therefore one expression of this central spirit, the
only abiding Reality; and so, in turn, everything we know and see is but
an envelope or clothing encasing something more vital which is invisible
within. Just as books are the most miraculous things men can make,
because a book "is the _purest_ embodiment a Thought of man can have,"
so great men are the highest embodiment of Divine Thought visible to us
here. Great men are, as it were, separate phrases, "inspired texts" of
the great book of revelation, perpetually interpreting and unfolding in
various ways the Godlike to man (_Hero as Man of Letters_, and _Sartor_,
Book ii. chap. viii.).

From this ground-belief spring all Carlyle's views and aims. Hence his
gospel of hero-worship, for the "hero" is the greatest embodied "Idea" a
man can know, he is a "living light fountain," he is "a man sent hither
to make the divine mystery more impressively known to us." Hence it is
clear that the first condition of the great man is that he should be
sincere, that he should _believe_. "The merit of originality is not
novelty: it is sincerity. The believing man is the original man." It is
equally necessary that his admirers should be sincere, they too must
believe, and not only, as Coleridge puts it, "believe that they
believe." No more immoral act can be done by a human creature, says
Carlyle, than to pretend to believe and worship when he does not.

Hence also springs Carlyle's doctrine of work. If man is but the
material embodiment of a spiritual Idea or Force, then his clear duty is
to express that Force within him to the utmost of his power. It is what
he is here for, and only so can he bring help and light to his
fellow-men.[51] And Carlyle, with Browning, believes that it is not the
actual deeds accomplished that matter, no man may judge of these, for
"man is the spirit he worked in; not what he did, but what he became."

Chapter V

Devotional and Religious Mystics

All mystics are devotional and all are religious in the truest sense of
the terms. Yet it seems legitimate to group under this special heading
those writers whose views are expressed largely in the language of the
Christian religion, as is the case with our earliest mystics, with
Crashaw and Francis Thompson and it applies in some measure to Blake.
But beyond this, it seems, in more general terms, to apply specially to
those who are so conscious of God that they seem to live in His
presence, and who are chiefly concerned with approaching Him, not by way
of Love, Beauty, Wisdom, or Nature, but directly, through purgation and

This description, it is obvious, though it fits fairly well the other
writers here included, by no means suffices for Blake. For he possessed
in addition a philosophy, a system, and a profound scheme of the
universe revealed to him in vision. But within what category could Blake
be imprisoned? He outsoars them all and includes them all. We can only
say that the dominant impression he leaves with us that is of his
vivid, intimate consciousness of the Divine presence and his attitude of

We have seen that the earliest mystical thought came into this country
by way of the writings of "Dionysius" and of the Victorines (Hugh and
Richard of St Victor), and it is this type of thought and belief cast
into the mould of the Catholic Church that we find mainly in the little
group of early English mystics, whose writings date from the middle of
the thirteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth century.[52]

These early Catholic mystics are interesting from a psychological point
of view, and they are often subtle exponents of the deepest mystical
truths and teachings, and in some cases this is combined with great
literary power and beauty.

One of the earliest examples of this thought in English literature is
the tender and charming lyric by Thomas de Hales, written probably
before 1240. Here is perhaps the first expression in our poetry of
passionate yearning of the soul towards Christ as her true lover, and of
the joy of mystic union with Him. A maid of Christ, says the poet, has
begged him to "wurche a luve ron" (make a love-song), which he does; and
points out to her that this world's love is false and fickle, and that
worldly lovers shall pass away like a wind's blast.

    Hwer is Paris and Heleyne
      That weren so bright and feyre on bleo:
    Amadas, Tristram and Dideyne
      Yseudé and allé theo:
    Ector with his scharpé meyne
      And Cesar riche of wor[l]des feo?
    Heo beoth iglyden ut of the reyne,
      So the schef is of the cleo.

As the corn from the hill-side, Paris and Helen and all bright lovers
have passed away, and it is as if they had never lived.

But, maid, if you want a lover, he continues, I can direct you to one,
the fairest, truest, and richest in the whole world. Henry, King of
England, is his vassal, and to thee, maid, this lover sends a message
and desires to know thee.

    Mayde to the he send his sonde
    And wilneth for to beo the cuth.

And so the poem goes on to express in simple terms of earthly love, the
passionate delight and joy and peace of the soul in attaining to union
with her God, in whose dwelling is perfect bliss and safety.

This poem is a delicate example of what is called "erotic mysticism,"
that is the love and attraction of the soul for God, and of God for the
soul, expressed in the terms of the love between man and woman. It is a
type of expression characteristic of the great mystics of the Catholic
Church, especially in the Middle Ages,[53] and we find a good deal of it
in our earliest mystical writers. One of the most charming examples of
it other than this lyric, is the chapter "Of Love" in the _Ancren
Riwle_, or Rule for Anchoresses, written probably early in the
thirteenth century. An account is there given, quite unsurpassed for
delicate beauty, of the wooing of the soul by God.[54] On the whole,
however, this type of mysticism is rare in England, and we scarcely meet
it again after these early writers until we come to the poems of
Crashaw. The finest expression of it is the Song of Solomon, and it is
easy to see that such a form of symbolism is specially liable to
degradation, and is open to grave dangers, which it has not always
escaped. Yet, in no other terms known to man is it possible so fully to
express the sense of insatiable craving and desire as well as the
rapture of intimate communion felt by the mystic towards his God, as in
the language of that great passion which, in its purest form, is the
best thing known to man and his highest glory. "I saw Him, and sought
Him, I had Him and I wanted Him." Could any words more completely
express the infinity of love's desire, ever unsatisfied even in
possession, than does this love-cry from the heart of Julian the
anchoress of Norwich?

The intensity and freshness of religious feeling of a mystical type in
England in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries are often
not realised, partly owing to the fact that much of the religious
writing of this time is still in manuscript. The country was full of
devotees who had taken religious vows, which they fulfilled either in
the many monasteries and convents, or often in single cells, as "hermit"
or "anchoress." Here they lived a life devoted to contemplation and
prayer, and to the spiritual assistance of those who sought them out.

The hermits, of whom there were a large number, were apparently free to
move from one neighbourhood to another, but the woman recluse, or
"anchoress," seldom or never left the walls of her cell, a little house
of two or three rooms built generally against the church wall, so that
one of her windows could open into the church, and another, veiled by a
curtain, looked on to the outer world, where she held converse with and
gave counsel to those who came to see her. Sometimes a little group of
recluses lived together, like those three sisters of Dorsetshire for
whom the _Ancren Riwle_ was written, a treatise which gives us so many
homely details of this type of life.

Richard Rolle (_c._ 1300-1349), of Hampole, near Doncaster, and the
Lady Julian, a Benedictine nun of Norwich (1342-_c._1413), are the two
most interesting examples of the mediæval recluse in England. Both seem
to have had a singular charm of character and a purity of mystical
devotion which has impressed itself on their writings. Richard Rolle,
who entered upon a hermit's life at nineteen on leaving Oxford, had
great influence both through his life and work on the whole group of
fourteenth-century religious writers, and so on the thought of mediæval
England. His contemporaries thought him mad, they jeered at him and
abused him, but he went quietly on his way, preaching and writing. Love
forced him to write; love, he said, gave him wisdom and subtlety, and he
preached a religion of love. Indeed the whole of his work is a symphony
of feeling, a song of Love, and forms a curious reaction against the
exaltation of reason and logic in scholasticism. He wrote a large number
of treatises and poems, both in Latin and English, lyrical songs and
alliterative homilies, burning spiritual rhapsodies and sound practical
sermons, all of which were widely known and read. Certain points about
Rolle are of special interest and distinguish him from other mystics and
seers. One is that for him the culminating mystical experience took the
form of melody, rhythm, harmony. He is the most musical of mystics, and
where others "see" or "feel" Reality, he "hears" it. Hence his
description of his soul's adventures is peculiarly beautiful, he thinks
in images and symbols of music, and in his writings we find some of the
most exquisite passages in the whole literature of mysticism, veritable
songs of spiritual joy. In the _Fire of Love_, perhaps the finest of his
more mystical works, he traces in detail his journey along the upward
path. This is very individual, and it differs in some important respects
from other similar records. He passed through the stage of "purgation,"
of struggle between the flesh and spirit, of penitence and aspiration,
through "illumination," until he reached, after nearly three years, the
third stage of contemplation of God through love.[55]

In this condition, after about a year, "the door of heaven yet biding
open," he experienced the three phases to which he gives the names of
"calor, canor, dulcor," heat, song, and sweetness. "Heat soothly I call
when the mind truly is kindled in Love Everlasting, and the heart on the
same manner to burn not hopingly, but verily is felt."[56]

This "burning" seems to have been for him a real physical sensation, a
bodily condition induced by the adventure of the spirit. This is not
unusual in mystical states, and possibly the cryptic notes made by
Pascal record a similar experience.[57] He continued in this warmth for
nine months, when suddenly he felt and heard the "canor," the "spiritual
music," the "invisible melody" of heaven. Here is his description of his
change from "burning love" to the state of "songful love."

     Whilst ... I sat in chapel, in the night, before supper, as I my
     psalms sung, as it were the sound of readers or rather singers
     about me I beheld. Whilst also, praying to heaven, with all desire
     I took heed, suddenly, in what manner I wot not, in me the sound of
     song I felt; and likeliest heavenly melody I took, with me dwelling
     in mind. Forsooth my thought continually to mirth of song was
     changed: and as it were the same that loving I had thought, and in
     prayers and psalms had said, the same in sound I showed, and so
     forth with [began] to sing that [which] before I had said, and from
     plenitude of inward sweetness I burst forth, privily indeed, alone
     before my Maker.[58]

The sweetness of this inward spiritual song is beyond any sound that may
be heard with bodily ears, even lovers can only catch snatches of it.
"Worldly lovers soothly words or ditties of our song may know, for the
words they read: but the tone and sweetness of that song they may not
learn."[59] The final stage of "sweetness" seems really to include the
other two, it is their completion and fruition. The first two, says
Rolle, are gained by devotion, and out of them springs the third.[60]
Rolle's description of it, of the all-pervading holy joy, rhythm, and
melody, when the soul, "now become as it were a living pipe," is caught
up into the music of the spheres, "and in the sight of God ... joying
sounds,"[61] deserves to be placed beside what is perhaps the most
magnificent passage in all mystical literature, where Plotinus tells us
of the choral dance of the soul about her God.[62]

Enough has been said to show that Rolle is a remarkable individual, and
one of the most poetic of the English religious mystical writers, and it
is regrettable that some of his other works are not more easily
accessible. Unfortunately, the poem with which his name is generally
associated, _The Pricke of Conscience_, is entirely unlike all his other
work, both in form and matter. It is a long, prosaic and entirely
unmystical homily in riming couplets, of a very ordinary mediæval type,
stirring men's minds to the horrors of sin by dwelling on the pains of
purgatory and hell. It would seem almost certain, on internal evidence,
that the same hand cannot have written it and the _Fire of Love_, and
recent investigation appears to make it clear that Rolle's part in it,
if any, was merely of the nature of compilation or translation of some
other work, possibly by Grosseteste.[63]

Of the life of the Lady Julian we know very little, except that she was
almost certainly a Benedictine nun, and that she lived for many years in
an anchoress's cell close to the old church of St Julian at Conisford,
near Norwich. But her character and charm are fully revealed in the
little book she has left of _Revelations of Divine Love_, which contains
a careful account of a definite psychological experience through which
she passed on the 8th day of May 1373, when she was thirty years of age.
She adds to this record of fact certain commentaries and explanations
which, she says, have been taught her gradually in the course of the
subsequent twenty years. This experience, which lasted altogether
between five and six hours, was preceded by a seven days' sickness most
vividly described, ending in a semi-rigidity of the body as if it were
already half dead, and it took the form of sixteen "Shewings" or
"Visions." These, she says, reached her in three ways, "by bodily sight,
by word formed in mine understanding" (verbal messages which took form
in her mind), "and by spiritual sight." But of this last, she adds, "I
may never fully tell it."[64] It is impossible here to do justice to
this little book, for it is one of the most important documents in the
history of mysticism. There is no mention in it of any preliminary
"purgative" stage, nor of any ultimate experience of ecstasy; it is
simply--if one may so put it--a narrative of certain intimate talks with
God, once granted, when, during a few hours of the writer's life, He
explained various difficulties and made clear to her certain truths. The
impression left of the nearness of God to the soul was so vivid and
sustaining, that it is not possible to read the record of it, even now,
across six hundred years, without feeling strangely stirred by the
writer's certainty and joy.

Her vision is of Love: Love is its meaning, and it was shown her for
Love; she sees that God is Love and that God and man are one. "God is
nearer to us than our own soul, for man is God, and God is in all." If we
could only know ourselves, our trouble would be cleared away, but it is
easier to come to the knowing of God than to know our own soul.[65] "Our
passing life here that we have in our sense-soul knoweth not what our
Self is," and the cause of our disease is that we rest in little things
which can never satisfy us, for "our Soul may never have rest in things
that are beneath itself." She actually saw God enfolding all things.
"For as the body is clad in the cloth, and the flesh in the skin, and
the bones in the flesh, and the heart in the whole, so are we, soul and
body, clad in the Goodness of God, and enclosed." She further had sight
of all things that are made, and her description of this "Shewing" is so
beautiful and characteristic that it must be given in her own words.

     "In this same time our Lord shewed me a spiritual sight of His
     homely loving.... He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an
     hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I
     looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding, and thought:
     _What may this be_? And it was answered generally thus: _It is all
     that is made_. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it
     might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was
     answered in my understanding: _It lasteth, and ever shall [last]
     for that God loveth it_. And so All-thing hath the Being by the
     love of God." Later, she adds, "Well I wot that heaven and earth,
     and all that is made is great and large, fair and good; but the
     cause why it shewed so little to my sight was for that I saw it in
     the presence of Him that is the Maker of all things: for to a soul
     that seeth the Maker of all, all that is made seemeth full little."
     "In this Little Thing," she continues, "I saw three properties. The
     first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the
     third, that God keepeth it. But what is to me verily the Maker, the
     Keeper, and the Lover--I cannot tell; for till I am Substantially
     oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss: that is to
     say, till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that
     is made betwixt my God and me" (_Revelations_, pp. 10, 18).

Julian's vision with regard to sin is of special interest. The problem
of evil has never been stated in terser or more dramatic form.

     After this I saw God in a Point, that is to say, in mine
     understanding which sight I saw that He is in all things. I beheld
     and considered, seeing and knowing in sight, with a soft dread, and
     thought: _What is sin?_ (_Ibid_, p. 26).

Here is the age-old difficulty. God, so the mystic sees, is "in the
Mid-point of all thing," and yet, as Julian says, it is "dertain He
doeth no sin." The solution given to her is that "sin is no deed," it
"hath no part of being," and it can only be known by the pain it is
cause of. Sin is a negation, a failure, an emptiness of love, but pain
_is_ something it is a purification. Sin brings with it pain, "to me was
shewed no harder hell than sin"; but we must go through the pain in
order to learn, without it we could never have the bliss. As a wave
draws back from the shore, in order to return again with fuller force;
so sin, the lack of love, is permitted for a time, in order that an
opening be made for an inrush of the Divine Love, fuller and more
complete than would otherwise be possible. It is in some such way as
this, dimly shadowed, that it was shown to Julian that sin and pain are
necessary parts of the scheme of God. Hence God does not blame us for
sin, for it brings its own blame or punishment with it, nay more, "sin
shall be no shame to man, but worship," a bold saying, which none but a
mystic would dare utter. When God seeth our sin, she says, and our
despair in pain, "His love excuseth us, and of His great courtesy He
doeth away all our blame, and beholdeth us with ruth and pity as
children innocent and unloathful."

It would be pleasant to say more of Julian, but perhaps her own words
have sufficed to show that here we are dealing with one of the great
mystics of the world. Childlike and yet rashly bold, deeply spiritual,
yet intensely human, "a simple creature, unlettered," yet presenting
solutions of problems which have racked humanity, she inherits the true
paradoxical nature of the mystic, to which is added a beauty and
delicacy of thought and expression all her own.

There were many other mystical works written about this time in England.
Of these the best known and the finest is _The Scale, or Ladder, of
Perfection_, by Walter Hylton, the Augustinian, and head of a house of
canons at Thurgarton, near Newark, who died in 1396. This is a practical
and scientific treatise of great beauty on the spiritual life.[66] An
interesting group of writings are the five little treatises, almost
certainly by one author (_c._ 1350-1400), to be found in Harleian 674,
and other MSS. Their names are _The Cloud of Unknowing, The Epistle of
Prayer, The Epistle of Discretion, The Treatise of Discerning Spirits_,
and _The Epistle of Privy Counsel_. We find here for the first time in
English the influence and spirit of Dionysius, and it is probably to the
same unknown writer we owe the first (very free) translation of the
_Mystical Theology_ of Dionysius, _Deonise Hid Divinite_, which is bound
up with these other manuscripts.

These little tracts are written by a practical mystic, one who was able
to describe with peculiar accuracy and vividness the physical and
psychological sensations accompanying mystical initiation. _The Cloud of
Unknowing_ is an application in simple English of the Dionysian teaching
of concentration joined to the practice of contemplation taught by
Richard of St Victor, and it describes very clearly the preliminary
struggles and bewilderment of the soul. The _Epistle of Privy Counsel_
(still in MS.) is the most advanced in mystical teaching: the writer in
it tries to explain very intimately the nature of "onehede with God,"
and to give instruction in simple and yet deeply subtle terms as to the
means for attaining this.

There is a mystical strain in other writings of this time, the most
notable from the point of view of literature being in the
fourteenth-century alliterative poem of _Piers the Plowman_.[67] This is
mystical throughout in tone, more especially in the idea of the journey
of the soul in search of Truth, only to find, after many dangers and
disciplines and adventures, that--

    If grace graunte the to go in this wise,
    Thow shalt see in thi-selve Treuthe sitte in thine herte
    In a cheyne of charyte as thow a childe were.[68]

Moreover, the vision of Dowel, Dobet, and Dobest, bears a definite
analogy to the three stages of the mystic's path, as will be seen if the
description of the qualities of these three are examined, as they are
given in B., Passus viii. 11. 78-102.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crashaw, George Herbert, and Christopher Harvey all alike sound the
personal note in their religious poems. All three writers describe the
love of the soul for God in the terms of passionate human love: Crashaw
with an ardour which has never been surpassed, Herbert with a homely
intimacy quite peculiar to him, and Christopher Harvey with a point and
epigrammatic setting which serve only to enhance the deep feeling of
the thought.

In many a lyric of flaming passion Crashaw expresses his love-longing
for his God, and he describes in terms only matched by his spiritual
descendant, Francis Thompson, the desire of God to win the human soul.

    Let not my Lord, the mighty lover
    Of soules, disdain that I discover
       The hidden art
    Of his high stratagem to win your heart,
       It was his heavnly art
       Kindly to crosse you
       In your mistaken love,
       That, at the next remove
       Thence he might tosse you
       And strike your troubled heart
          Home to himself.[69]

The main feature of Herbert's poetry is the religious love lyric, the
cry of the individual soul to God. This is the mystical quality in his
verse, which is quieter and far less musical than Crashaw's, but which
possesses at times a tender fragrance and freshness, as in the little
poem _Love_.

Christopher Harvey, the friend of Izaak Walton and the admirer of
Herbert, has in his poems some lines which breathe almost as rapturous a
passion of spiritual love as anything in Crashaw. Such is his epigram
on the _Insatiableness of the Heart_.

    The whole round world is not enough to fill
    The heart's three corners; but it craveth still.
    Onely the Trinity, that made it, can
    Suffice the vast-triangled heart of man.[70]

Or again, in a later epigram in the same poem (_The School of the
Heart_), he puts the main teaching of Plotinus and of all mystics into
four pregnant lines--

    My busie stirring heart, that seekes the best,
    Can find no place on earth wherein to rest;
    For God alone, the Author of its blisse,
    Its only rest, its onely center is.

But it is Crashaw who, of these three, shares in fullest measure the
passion of the great Catholic mystics, and more especially of St Teresa,
whom he seems almost to have worshipped. His hymn to her "name and
honor" is one of the great English poems; it burns with spiritual flame,
it soars with noble desire. Near the beginning of it, Crashaw has, in
six simple lines, pictured the essential mystic attitude of action, not
necessarily or consciously accompanied by either a philosophy or a
theology. He is speaking of Teresa's childish attempt to run away and
become a martyr among the Moors.

    She never undertook to know
    What death with love should have to doe;
    Nor has she e're yet understood
    Why to shew love, she should shed blood
    Yet though she cannot tell you why,
    She can LOVE, and she can DY.

Spiritual love has never been more rapturously sung than in this
marvellous hymn. Little wonder that it haunted Coleridge's memory, and
that its deep emotion and rich melody stimulated his poet's ear and
imagination to write _Christabel_.[71] Crashaw's influence also on
Patmore, more especially on the _Sponsa Dei_, as well as later on
Francis Thompson, is unmistakable.

William Blake is one of the great mystics of the world; and he is by far
the greatest and most profound who has spoken in English. Like Henry
More and Wordsworth, he lived in a world of glory, of spirit and of
vision, which, for him, was the only real world. At the age of four he
saw God looking in at the window, and from that time until he welcomed
the approach of death by singing songs of joy which made the rafters
ring, he lived in an atmosphere of divine illumination. The material
facts of his career were simple and uneventful. He was an engraver by
profession, poet and painter by choice, mystic and seer by nature. From
the outer point of view his life was a failure. He was always crippled
by poverty, almost wholly unappreciated in the world of art and letters
of his day, consistently misunderstood even by his best friends, and
pronounced mad by those who most admired his work. Yet, like all true
mystics, he was radiantly happy and serene; rich in the midst of
poverty. For he lived and worked in a world, and amongst a company,
little known of ordinary men:--

    With a blue sky spread over with wings,
    And a mild Sun that mounts & sings;
    With trees & fields full of Fairy elves,
    And little devils who fight for themselves--

           *       *       *       *       *

    With Angels planted in Hawthorn bowers,
    And God Himself in the passing hours.[72]

It is not surprising that he said, in speaking of Lawrence and other
popular artists who sometimes patronisingly visited him, "They pity me,
but 'tis they are the just objects of pity, I possess my visions and
peace. They have bartered their birthright for a mess of pottage." The
strength of his illumination at times intoxicated him with joy, as he
writes to Hayley (October 23, 1804) after a recurrence of vision which
had lapsed for some years, "Dear Sir, excuse my enthusiasm or rather
madness, for I am really drunk with intellectual vision whenever I take
a pencil or graver into my hand." This is the "divine madness" of which
Plato speaks, the "inebriation of Reality," the ecstasy which makes the
poet "drunk with life."[73]

In common with other mystics, with Boehme, St Teresa, and Madame Guyon,
Blake claimed that much of his work was written under direct
inspiration, that it was an automatic composition, which, whatever its
source, did not come from the writer's normal consciousness. In speaking
of the prophetic book _Milton_, he says--

     I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or
     sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without pre-meditation
     and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus
     rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists which seems to be
     the labour of a long life, all produced without labour or study.

Whatever may be their source, all Blake's writings are deeply mystical
in thought, and symbolic in expression, and this is true of the
(apparently) simple little _Songs of Innocence_, no less than of the
great, and only partially intelligible, prophetic books. To deal at all
adequately with these works, with the thought and teaching they contain,
and the method of clothing it, would necessitate a volume, if not a
small library, devoted to that purpose. It is possible, however, to
indicate certain fundamental beliefs and assertions which lie at the
base of Blake's thought and of his very unusual attitude towards life,
and which, once grasped, make clear a large part of his work. It must be
remembered that these assertions were for him not matters of belief, but
of passionate knowledge--he was as sure of them as of his own existence.

Blake founds his great myth on his perception of unity at the heart of
things expressing itself in endless diversity. "God is in the lowest
effects as [in] the highest causes. He is become a worm that he may
nourish the weak.... Everything on earth is the word of God, and in its
essence is God."[74]

In the _Everlasting Gospel_, Blake emphasises, with more than his usual
amount of paradox, the inherent divinity of man. God, speaking to Christ
as the highest type of humanity, says--

    If thou humblest thyself, thou humblest me.
    Thou also dwellst in Eternity.
    Thou art a man: God is no more:
    Thy own humanity learn to adore,
    For that is my Spirit of Life.[75]

Similarly the union of man with God is the whole gist of that
apparently most chaotic of the prophetic books, _Jerusalem_.

The proof of the divinity of man, it would seem, lies in the fact that
he desires God, for he cannot desire what he has not seen. This view is
summed up in the eight sentences which form the little book (about 2
inches long by 1½ inches broad) in the British Museum, _Of Natural
Religion_. Here are four of them.

     Man's perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception, he
     perceives more than sense (tho' ever so acute) can discover.

     None could have other than natural or organic thoughts if he had
     none but organic perceptions.

     Man's desires are limited by his perceptions, none can desire what
     he has not perceiv'd.

     The desires and perceptions of man untaught by anything but organs
     of sense, must be limited to objects of sense.

The solution of the difficulty is given in large script on the last of
the tiny pages of the volume:

     Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.

According to Blake, the universe as we know it, is the result of the
fall of the one life from unity into division. This fall has come about
through man seeking separation, and taking the part for the whole. (See
Jacob Boehme's view, pp. 94, 95 above, which is identical with that of
Blake.) "Nature," therefore, or the present form of mental existence,
is the result of a contraction of consciousness or "selfhood," a
tendency for everything to shrink and contract about its own centre.
This condition or "state" Blake personifies as "Urizen" (=Reason) a
great dramatic figure who stalks through the prophetic books,
proclaiming himself "God from Eternity to Eternity," taking up now one
characteristic and now another, but ever of the nature of materialism,
opaqueness, contraction. In the case of man, the result of this
contraction is to close him up into separate "selfhoods," so that the
inlets of communication with the universal spirit have become gradually
stopped up; until now, for most men, only the five senses (one of the
least of the many possible channels of communication) are available for
the uses of the natural world. Blake usually refers to this occurrence
as the "flood ": that is, the rush of general belief in the five senses
that overwhelmed or submerged the knowledge of all other channels of
wisdom, except such arts as were saved, which are symbolised under the
names of Noah (=Imagination) and his sons. He gives a fine account of
this in _Europe_ (p. 8), beginning--

    Plac'd in the order of the stars, when the five senses whelm'd
    In deluge o'er the earth-born man, then turn'd the fluxile eyes
    Into two stationary orbs, concentrating all things.
    The ever-varying spiral ascents to the heavens of heavens
    Were bended downward, and the nostrils' golden gates shut,
    Turn'd outward, barr'd, and petrify'd against the infinite.

The only way out of this self-made prison is through the Human
Imagination, which is thus the Saviour of the world. By "Imagination"
Blake would seem to mean all that we include under sympathy, insight,
idealism, and vision, as opposed to self-centredness, logical argument,
materialism and concrete, scientific fact. For him, Imagination is the
one great reality, in it alone he sees a human faculty that touches both
nature and spirit, thus uniting them in one. The language of Imagination
is Art, for it speaks through symbols so that men shut up in their
selfhoods are thus ever reminded that nature herself is a symbol. When
this is once fully realised, we are freed from the delusion imposed upon
us from without by the seemingly fixed reality of external things. If we
consider all material things as symbols, their suggestiveness, and
consequently their reality, is continually expanding. "I rest not from
my great task," he cries--

    To open the eternal worlds, to open the immortal eyes
    Of man inwards into the worlds of thought, into eternity,
    Ever expanding in the bosom of God, the human imagination.

In Blake's view the qualities most sorely needed by men are not
restraint and discipline, obedience or a sense of duty, but love and
understanding. "Men are admitted into heaven, not because they have
curbed and governed their passions, or have no passions, but because
they have cultivated their understandings." To understand is three parts
of love, and it is only through Imagination that we _can_ understand. It
is the lack of imagination that is at the root of all the cruelties and
all the selfishness in the world. Until we can feel for all that lives,
Blake says in effect, until we can respond to the joys and sorrows of
others as quickly as to our own, our imagination is dull and incomplete:

    Each outcry of the hunted Hare
    A fibre from the Brain does tear
    A Skylark wounded in the wing
    A Cherubim does cease to sing.

    _Auguries of Innocence._

When we feel like this, we will go forth to help, not because we are
prompted by duty or religion or reason, but because the cry of the weak
and ignorant so wrings our heart that we cannot leave it unanswered.
Cultivate love and understanding then, and all else will follow. Energy,
desire, intellect; dangerous and deadly forces in the selfish and
impure, become in the pure in heart the greatest forces for good. What
mattered to Blake, and the only thing that mattered, was the purity of
his soul, the direction of his will or desire, as Law and Boehme would
have put it. Once a man's desire is in the right direction, the more he
gratifies it the better;

    Abstinence sows sand all over
      The ruddy limbs & flaming hair,
    But Desire Gratified
      Plants fruits of life & beauty there.[76]

Only an extraordinarily pure nature or a singularly abandoned one could
confidently proclaim such a dangerous doctrine. But in Blake's creed, as
Swinburne has said, "the one thing unclean is the belief in

It is easy to see that this faculty which Blake calls "Imagination"
entails of itself naturally and inevitably the Christian doctrine of
self-sacrifice. It is in _Milton_ that Blake most fully develops his
great dogma of the eternity of sacrifice. "One must die for another
through all eternity"; only thus can the bonds of "selfhood" be broken.
Milton, just before his renunciation, cries--

    I will go down to self-annihilation and eternal death
    Lest the Last Judgment come and find me unannihilate,
    And I be seiz'd and giv'n into the hands of my own Selfhood.

For, according to Blake, personal love or selfishness is the one sin
which defies redemption. This whole passage in _Milton_ (Book i., pp.
12, 13) well repays study, for one feels it to be alive with meaning,
holding symbol within symbol. Blake's symbolism, and his fourfold view
of nature and of man, is a fascinating if sometimes a despairing study.
Blake has explained very carefully the way in which the visionary
faculty worked in him:--

    What to others a trifle appears
    Fills me full of smiles or tears;
    For double the vision my Eyes do see,
    And a double vision is always with me.
    With my inward Eye, 'tis an old Man grey,
    With my outward, a Thistle across my way.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Now I a fourfold vision see,
    And a fourfold vision is given to me;
    'Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
    And threefold in soft Beulah's night,
    And twofold Always. May God us keep
    From Single vision & Newton's sleep![77]

He says twofold always, for everything was of value to Blake as a
symbol, as a medium for expressing a still greater thing behind it. It
was in this way that he looked at the human body, physical beauty,
splendour of colour, insects, animate, states, and emotions, male and
female, contraction and expansion, division and reunion, heaven and

When his imagination was at its strongest, his vision was fourfold,
corresponding to the fourfold division of the Divine Nature, Father,
Son, Spirit, and the fourth Principle, which may be described as the
Imagination of God, without which manifestation would not be
possible.[78] These principles, when condensed and limited so as to be
seen by us, may take the form of Reason, Emotion, Energy and Sensation,
or, to give them Boehme's names, Contraction, Expansion, Rotation, and
Vegetative life. These, in turn, are associated with the four states of
humanity or "atmospheres," the four elements, the four points of the
compass, the four senses (taste and touch counting as one), and so on.
Blake seemed, as it were, to hold his vision in his mind in solution,
and to be able to condense it into gaseous, liquid, or solid elements at
whatever point he willed. Thus we feel that the prophetic books contain
meaning within meaning, bearing interpretation from many points of view;
and to arrive at their full value, we should need to be able--as Blake
was--to apprehend all simultaneously,[79] instead of being forced
laboriously to trace them out one by one in succession. It is this very
faculty of "fourfold vision" which gives to these books their
ever-changing atmosphere of suggestion, elusive and magical as the
clouds and colours in a sunset sky, which escape our grasp in the very
effort to study them. Hence, for the majority even of imaginative
people, who possess at the utmost "double vision," they are difficult
and often wearisome to read. They are so, because the inner, living,
vibrating ray or thread of connection which evokes these forms and
beings in Blake's imagination, is to the ordinary man invisible and
unfelt; so that the quick leap of the seer's mind from figure to figure,
and from picture to picture, seems irrational and obscure.

To this difficulty on the side of the reader, there must in fairness be
added certain undeniable limitations on the part of the seer. These are
principally owing to lack of training, and possibly to lack of patience,
sometimes also it would seem to defective vision. So that his symbols
are at times no longer true and living, but artificial and confused.

Blake has visions, though clouded and imperfect, of the clashing of
systems, the birth and death of universes, the origin and meaning of
good and evil, the function and secret correspondences of spirits, of
states, of emotions, of passions, and of senses, as well as of all forms
in earth and sky and sea. This, and much more, he attempts to clothe in
concrete forms or symbols, and if he fails at times to be explicit, it
is conceivable that the fault may lie as much with our density as with
his obscurity. Indeed, when we speak of Blake's obscurity, we are
uncomfortably reminded of Crabb Robinson's naive remark when recording
Blake's admiration for Wordsworth's _Immortality Ode_: "The parts ...
which Blake most enjoyed were the most obscure--at all events, those
which I least like and comprehend."

Blake's view of good and evil is the characteristically mystical one, in
his case much emphasised. The really profound mystical thinker has no
fear of evil, for he cannot exclude it from the one divine origin, else
the world would be no longer a unity but a duality. This difficulty of
"good" and "evil," the crux of all philosophy, has been approached by
mystical thinkers in various ways (such as that evil is illusion, which
seems to be Browning's view), but the boldest of them, and notably Blake
and Boehme, have attacked the problem directly, and carrying mystical
thought to its logical conclusion, have unhesitatingly asserted that God
is the origin of Good and Evil alike, that God and the devil, in short,
are but two sides of the same Force. We have seen how this is worked out
by Boehme, and that the central point of his philosophy is that all
manifestation necessitates opposition. In like manner, Blake's
statement, "Without Contraries is no progression," is, in truth, the
keynote to all his vision and mythology.

     Attraction and Repulsion, Benson and Energy, Love and Hate, are
     necessary to Human existence.

     From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil.

     Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing
     from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.

With these startling remarks Blake opens what is the most intelligible
and concise of all the prophetic books, _The Marriage of Heaven and
Hell_. Swinburne calls it the greatest of Blake's books, and ranks it as
about the greatest work "produced by the eighteenth century in the line
of high poetry and spiritual speculation." We may think Swinburne's
praise excessive, but at any rate it is well worth reading (_Essay on
Blake_, 1906 edn., pp. 226-252). Certainly, if one work had to be
selected as representative of Blake, as containing his most
characteristic doctrines clothed in striking form, this is the book to
be chosen. Place a copy of _The Marriage of Heaven and Hell_ in the
hands of any would-be Blake student (an original or facsimile copy,
needless to say, containing Blake's exquisite designs, else the book is
shorn of half its force and beauty); let him ponder it closely, and he
will either be repelled and shocked, in which case he had better read no
more Blake, or he will be strangely stirred and thrilled, he will be
touched with a spark of the fire from Blake's spirit which quickens its
words as the leaping tongues of flame illuminate its pages. The kernel
of the book, and indeed of all Blake's message, is contained in the
following statements on p. 4, headed "The Voice of the Devil."

     All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following

     1. That man has two real existing principles, viz. a Body and a

     2. That Energy, called Evil, is alone from the Body; and that
     reason, called Good, is alone from the Soul.

     3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his

     But the following Contraries to these are True:--

     1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul, for that called Body is
     a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of
     Soul in this age.

     2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body, and Reason is the
     bound or outward circumference of Energy.

     3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

Blake goes on to write down some of the Proverbs which he collected
while walking among the fires of hell. These "Proverbs of Hell" fill
four pages of the book, and they are among the most wonderful things
Blake has written. Finished in expression, often little jewels of pure
poetry, they are afire with thought and meaning, and inexhaustible in
suggestion. Taken all together they express in epigrammatic form every
important doctrine of Blake's. Some of them, to be fully understood,
must be read in the light of his other work. Thus, "The road of excess
leads to the palace of wisdom," or, "If the fool would persist in his
folly he would become wise," are expressions of the idea constantly
recurrent with Blake that evil must be embodied or experienced before it
can be rejected.[80] But the greater number of them are quite clear and
present no difficulty, as for instance the following:--

     A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

     He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.

     No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.

     What is now proved was once only imagined.

     As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the

     Exuberance is Beauty.

     Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.

There are two tendencies of Blake's mind, both mystical--that is, rooted
in unity--the understanding of which helps, on the one hand, to clear
much in his writing that seems strange and difficult; and, on the
other, reveals a deep meaning in remarks apparently simple to the point
of silliness. These are his view of the solidarity of mental and
spiritual as compared with physical things, and his habit of
concentrating a universal truth into some one small fact.

For Blake, mental and spiritual things are the only real things. Thought
is more real than action, and spiritual attitude is more real than
thought. It is the most real thing about us, and it is the only thing
that is of any importance. The difference between Blake's attitude and
that of the ordinary practical man of the world is summed up in his
characteristic pencil comment in his copy of Bacon's _Essays_ on the
remark, "Good thoughts are little better than good dreams," in the Essay
on Virtue. Blake writes beside this, "Thought _is_ act." This view is
well exemplified in the Job illustrations, where Blake makes quite clear
his view of the worthlessness, spiritually, of Job's gift to the beggar
of part of his last meal, because of the consciously meritorious
attitude of Job's mind.[81]

If this attitude be remembered it explains a good many of the most
startling and revolutionary views of Blake. For instance, in the poems
called "Holy Thursday" in the _Songs of Innocence and Experience_, he
paints first of all with infinite grace and tenderness the picture of
the orphan charity children going to church, as it would appear to the
ordinary onlooker.

    The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs,
    Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
    Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

But in short, scathing words and significant change of metre he reverses
the picture to show his view of it, when, in the companion song of
"Experience," he asks--

    Is this a holy thing to see
    In a rich and fruitful land,
    Babes reduc'd to misery,
    Fed with cold and usurous hand?

It is owing to a false idea that we can bear to see this so-called
"charity" at all, for we--

     reduce the man to want a gift, and then give with pomp.

The real evil is that we can suffer the need of the crust of bread to
exist. This is a view which is gradually beginning to be realised

Blake is peculiarly daring and original in his use of the mystical
method of crystallising a great truth in an apparently trivial fact. We
have seen some of these truths in the Proverbs, and the _Auguries of
Innocence_ is nothing else but a series of such facts, a storehouse of
deepest wisdom. Some of these have the simplicity of nursery rhymes,
they combine the direct freshness of the language of the child with the
profound truth of the inspired seer.

    If the Sun & Moon should Doubt
    They'd immediately Go Out.

It would scarcely be possible to sum up more completely than does this
artless couplet the faith--not only of Blake--but of every mystic.
Simple, ardent, and living, their faith is in truth their life, and the
veriest shadow of doubt would be to them a condition of death. They are
the only people in the world who are the "possessors of certainty." They
have seen, they have felt: what need they of further proof? Logic,
philosophy, theology, all alike are but empty sounds and barren forms to
those who know.

To Francis Thompson the presence of the Divine in all things is the one
overwhelming fact. As a result of this sense, the consciousness that
everything is closely related, closely linked together, is ever present
in his poetry. It is the vision of this truth, he believes, which will
be the revelation of a new heaven and a new earth.

    When to the new eyes of thee
    All things by immortal power,
    Near or far,
    To each other linkèd are,
    That thou canst not stir a flower
    Without troubling of a star.

    _The Mistress of Vision._

His "Divine intoxication," his certainty of the presence of God, is the
more remarkable when it is realised through what depths of want and
degradation and suffering Thompson passed, and what his life was for
many years. His father, a north-country doctor, wished him to follow the
profession of medicine, but the son could not bear it, and so he ran
away from home with--for sole wealth--a Blake in one pocket and an
Aeschylus in the other. In his struggle for life in London, fragile in
body and sensitive in soul, he sank lower and lower, from selling boots
to errand-boy, and finally for five years living as a vagabond without
home or shelter, picking up a few pence by day, selling matches or
fetching cabs, and sleeping under the archways of Covent Garden Market
at night. At last, in the very depth of his misery, he was sought out
and rescued by the editor of the paper to whom he had sent _Health and
Holiness_ and some of his poems. This saved him, his work brought him
good friends, and he was enabled to write his wonderful poetry. These
terrible experiences, which would have quenched the faith of the
ordinary man and led him to despair, with the poet mystic sought
expression in those six triumphant verses found among his papers when he
died,[82] verses charged with mystic passion, which assert the solid
reality of spiritual things, and tell us that to the outcast and the
wanderer every place was holy ground, Charing Cross was the gate of
heaven, and that he beheld--

    Christ walking on the water
    Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!

Through all that he writes there breathes the spirit of mystic devotion
and aspiration, but the following characteristics and beliefs may be
specially noted.

(1) His reverence of childhood. He sees in the child something of the
divinity which Vaughan and Wordsworth saw, and his poems to children,
such as _Daisy_ and _The Poppy_, have a special quality of passionate
worship all their own.

(2) His attitude towards the beauty of woman. This is entirely mystical,
and is akin to the view of Plato and of Donne. He shares their belief
that love is but the power to catch sight of the beauty of the soul,
which shines through and actually moulds the beauty of face and body.

    How should I gauge what beauty is her dole,
    Who cannot see her countenance for her soul,
    As birds see not the casement for the sky?
    And, as 'tis check they prove its presence by,
    I know not of her body till I find
    My flight debarred the heaven of her mind.

    _Her Portrait._

(3) His attraction towards the continual change and renewal of nature,
not only of the movement of life to death, but of death to life. He
broods over the changing cycles of the year, winter and spring, decay
and re-birth, and he sees in them a profound and far-reaching symbolism.
This is magnificently expressed in the _Ode to the Setting Sun_, where
he paints a picture, unmatched in English verse, of the sun sinking to
rest amid the splendours gathered round him in his fall. The poem is
charged with mystic symbolism, the main thought of which is that human
life, ending apparently in death, is but the prelude of preparation for
a more glorious day of spiritual re-birth.

    For birth hath in itself the germ of death,
      But death hath in itself the germ of birth.
    It is the falling acorn buds the tree,
    The falling rain that bears the greenery,
      The fern-plants moulder when the ferns arise.
      For there is nothing lives but something dies,
    And there is nothing dies but something lives.

But Francis Thompson's most entirely mystical utterance is the famous
Ode--_The Hound of Heaven_--where he pictures with a terrible vividness
and in phrase of haunting music the old mystic idea of the Love
chase.[83] It is the idea expressed by Plotinus when he says, "God ...
is present with all things, though they are ignorant that He is so. For
they fly from Him, or rather from themselves. They are unable,
therefore, to apprehend that from which they fly" (_Ennead_, vi. § 7).
We see the spirit of man fleeing in terror "down the nights and down the
days" before the persistent footsteps of his "tremendous Lover," until,
beaten and exhausted, he finds himself at the end of the chase face to
face with God, and he realises there is for him no escape and no
hiding-place save in the arms of God Himself.

The voices of the English poets and writers form but one note in a
mighty chorus of witnesses whose testimony it is impossible for any
thoughtful person to ignore. Undoubtedly, in the case of some mystics,
there has been great disturbance both of the psychic and physical
nature, but on this account to disqualify the statements of Plotinus, St
Augustine, Eckhart, Catherine of Siena, Catherine of Genoa, Blake, and
Wordsworth, would seem analogous to Macaulay's view that "perhaps no
person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry without a certain
unsoundness of mind." Our opinion about this must depend on what we mean
by "soundness of mind." To some it may appear possible that the mystics
and poets are as sound as their critics. In any case, the unprejudiced
person to-day would seem driven to the conclusion that these people, who
are, many of them, exceptionally great, intellectually and morally, are
telling us of a genuine experience which has transformed life for them.
What, then, is the meaning of this experience? What explanation can we
give of this puzzling and persistent factor in human life and history?
These are not easy questions to answer, and only a bare hint of lines of
solution dare be offered.

It is of interest to note that the last word in science and philosophy
tends to reinforce and even to explain the position of the mystic. The
latest of European philosophers, M. Bergson, builds up on a mystical
basis the whole of his method of thought, that is, on his perception of
the simple fact that true duration, the real time-flow, is known to us
by a state of feeling which he calls intuition, and not by an
intellectual act.

He says something like this. We find as a matter of practice that
certain problems when presented to the intellect are difficult and even
impossible to solve, whereas when presented to our experience of life,
their solution is so obvious that they cease to be problems. Thus, the
unaided intellect might be puzzled to say how sounds can grow more alike
by continuing to grow more different. Yet a child can answer the
question by sounding an octave on the piano. But this solution is
reached by having sensible knowledge of the reality and not by logical
argument. Bergson's view, therefore, is that the intellect has been
evolved for practical purposes, to deal in a certain way with material
things by cutting up into little bits what is an undivided flow of
movement, and by looking at these little bits side by side. This, though
necessary for practical life, is utterly misleading when we assume that
the "points" thus singled out by the intellect represent the "thickness"
of reality. Reality is fluidity, and we cannot dip up its substance with
the intellect which deals with surfaces, even as we cannot dip up water
with a net, however finely meshed. Reality is movement, and movement is
the one thing we are unable intellectually to realise.

In order to grasp reality we must use the faculty of contact or
immediate feeling, or, as Bergson calls it, intuition. Intuition is a
different order of knowledge, it is moulded on the very form of life,
and it enables us to enter into life, to be one with it, to live it. It
is "a direction of movement: and, although capable of infinite
development, is simplicity itself." This is the mystic art, which in
its early stages is a direction of movement, an alteration of the
quality and intensity of the self. So Bergson, making use of and
applying the whole range of modern psychology and biology, tells us that
we must develop intuition as a philosophical instrument if we are to
gain any knowledge of things in themselves; and he is thus re-echoing in
modern terms what was long ago stated by Plotinus when he said--

     Knowledge has three degrees--opinion, science, illumination. The
     means or instrument of the first is sense, of the second dialectic,
     of the third intuition. To the last I subordinate reason. It is
     absolute knowledge founded on the identity of the mind knowing with
     the object known. (_Letter to Flaccus._)

We have discovered that sense knowledge, however acute, has to be
corrected by the intellect, which tells us that the sun does not go
round the earth, although it appears to our observation to do this. So
possibly, in turn, the intellect, however acute, may have to be
corrected by intuition, and the impotence of brain knowledge in dealing
with the problem of life is leading slowly to the perception that to
_know_ in its true sense is not an intellectual process at all.

Further, in Bergson's theory of the nature of mind, and in his theory of
rhythm, he seems to indicate the lines of a technical explanation of
some part of the mystic experience.[84] The soul, or the total psychic
and mental life of man, he says, is far greater than the little bit of
consciousness of which we are normally aware, and the brain acts as a
sheath or screen, which allows only a point of this mental life to touch
reality. The brain or the cerebral life is therefore to the whole mental
life as the point of a knife is to the knife itself. It limits the field
of vision, it cuts in one direction only, it puts blinkers on the mind,
forcing it to concentrate on a limited range of facts. It is conceivable
that what happens with the mystics is that their mental blinkers become
slightly shifted, and they are thus able to respond to another aspect or
order of reality. So that they are swept by emotions and invaded by
harmonies from which the average man is screened. Life having for them
somewhat changed in direction, the brain is forced to learn new
movements, to cut along fresh channels, and thus to receive sensations
which do not directly minister to the needs of physical life. "Our
knowledge of things," says Bergson, "derives its form from our bodily
functions and lower needs. By unmaking that which these needs have made,
we may restore to Intuition its original purity, and so recover contact
with the Real." It is possibly this very unmaking and remaking, this
readjustment which we see at work in the lives of the great mystics, and
which naturally causes great psychic and even physical disturbances.

Bergson's theory of rhythm is peculiarly illuminating in this
connection. The intellect, he says, is like a cinematograph. Moving at a
certain pace, it takes certain views, snapshots of the continuous flux
of reality, of which it is itself a moving part. The special views that
it picks out and registers, depend entirely upon the relation between
its movement and the rhythm or movement of other aspects of the flux. It
is obvious that there are a variety of rhythms or tensions of duration.
For example, in what is the fraction of a second of our own duration,
hundreds of millions of vibrations, which it would need thousands of our
years to count, are taking place successively in matter, and giving us
the sensation of light. It is therefore clear that there is a great
difference between the rhythm of our own duration and the incredibly
rapid rhythms of physical matter. If an alteration took place in our
rhythm, these same physical movements would make us conscious--not of
light--but of some other thing quite unknown.

"Would not the whole of history," asks Bergson, "be contained in a very
short time for a consciousness at a higher degree of tension than our
own?" A momentary quickening of rhythm might thus account for the
sensation of timelessness, of the "participation in Eternity" so often
described by the mystic as a part of the Vision of God.

Again, Bergson points out that there is nothing but movement; that the
idea of _rest_ is an illusion, produced when we and the thing we are
looking at are moving at the same speed, as when two railway trains run
side by side in the same direction. Here, once more, may not the mystic
sensation of "stillness," of being at one with the central Life, be
owing to some change having taken place in the spiritual rhythm of the
seer, approximating it to that of the Reality which he is thus enabled
to perceive, so that the fretful movement of the individual mind becomes
merged in the wider flow of the whole, and both seem to be at rest?

Thus, the most recent philosophy throws light on the most ancient mystic
teaching, and both point to the conclusion that our normal waking
consciousness is but one special type of many other forms of
consciousness, by which we are surrounded, but from which we are, most
of us, physically and psychically screened. We know that the
consciousness of the individual self was a late development in the race;
it is at least possible that the attainment of the consciousness that
this individual self forms part of a larger Whole, may prove to be yet
another step forward in the evolution of the human spirit. If this be
so, the mystics would appear to be those who, living with an intensity
greater than their fellows, are thus enabled to catch the first gleams
of the realisation of a greater self. In any case, it would seem
certain, judging from their testimony, that it is possible, by applying
a certain stimulus, to gain knowledge of another order of consciousness
of a rare and vivifying quality. Those who have attained to this
knowledge all record that it must be felt to be understood, but that, so
far as words are of use, it is ever of the nature of a reconciliation;
of discord blending into harmony, of difference merging into unity.


NOTE.--The literature on mysticism is growing very large, and the
following is only a small selection from the general works on it. In the
case of individual writers, references are given only where there might
be difficulty about editions. Thus no references are given to the works
of Burke, Carlyle, Wordsworth, Shelley, Tennyson, Browning, etc.


Underhill, Evelyn. _Mysticism_, Methuen, 1911. (See the valuable
Bibliography of mystical works, pp. 563-585.) _The Mystic Way_, Dent,

Jones, Rufus M. _Studies in Mystical Religion_, Macmillan, 1909.

James, William. _The Varieties of Religious Experience_, Longmans Green,

Inge, W. R. _Christian Mysticism_, Methuen, 1899. _Studies of English
Mystics_, Murray, 1905. _Light, Life and Love._ Selections from the
German mystics. With Introduction. Methuen, 1904.

Hügel, Baron F. von. _The Mystical Element in Religion_, 2 vols.. Dent,

Delacroix, H. _Études d'Histoiré et de Psychologie du Mysticisme_,
Paris, 1908.

Récéjac, E. _Essai sur les fondements de la Connaissance Mystique_,
Paris, 1897 (translated by S. C. Upton, London, 1899).

Gregory, Eleanor C. _A Little Book of Heavenly Wisdom._ Selections from
some English prose mystics, with Introduction. Methuen, 1902.

Foreign Influences

Plato (_c._ 427-347 B.C.). _Opera_, ed. J. Burnet, 5 vols. (Bibliotheca
Scriptorum Classicorum Oxoniensis), 1899-1907.

Plato (Eng. trans.) _The Dialogues_, translated by B. Jowett, 5 vols.,
Oxford, 3rd ed., 1892.

Plotinus (A.D. 204-270). _Plotini Ennéades, præsmisso Porphyrii de vita
Plotini deque ordine librorum ejus libello_, edidit R. Volkmann, 2
vols., Leipzig, 1883-84. (Eng. trans.) There is no complete English
translation of the _Enneads_, only _Select Works_, translated by T.
Taylor, 1817; re-issued, George Bell, 1895. (French trans.) _Les Ennéades
de Plotin_, translated by M.-N. Bouillet, 3 vols., Paris, 1857-61. (This
is complete and very good, but out of print.) The best critical account
of Plotinus is in _The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers_,
by Edward Caird, 2 vols., Maclehose, 1904.

Dionysius the Areopagite. _Works_, translated Parker, 1897.

Jacob Boehme (1575-1624). _Works_ (incomplete), 4 vols., 1764-81.
Reprint of complete works in progress, ed. C. J. Barker, published J.
Watkins. (See Bibliography to chap. xii. of _Cambridge History of
English Literature_, vol. ix.)

Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). _Works_, published by the Swedenborg
Society, London. Selections, _A Compendium of the Theological Writings_,
ed. Warren, 1901.

English Writers

Thomas de Hales (fl. 1250). _A Luve Ron_, (printed in) Morris's Old
English Miscellany (E.E.T.S.), 1872.

Richard Rolle (1290?-1349). _Richard Rolle and his Followers_, ed.
Horstmann, 2 vols., Sonnenschein, 1895-6. _The Fire of Love, and the
Mending of Life_, ed. R. Harvey (E.E.T.S.), 1896.

Anonymous (_c._ 1350-1400). _The Cloud of Unknowing_, ed. Evelyn
Underhill, J. Watkins, 1912.

All printed, with other early English mystical treatises, in _The Cell
of Self-Knowledge_, ed. E. G. Gardner, Chatto & Windus, 1910. _The
Epistle of Prayer_, _The Epistle of Discretion_, _The Treatise of
Discerning Spirits_

Anonymous. _The Epistle of Privy Counsel_, in MS., British Museum,
Harleian, 674 and 2473.

(William Langland, or other authors.? _c._ 1362-1399). _The Vision of
William Concerning Piers the Plowman_, ed. Skeat, 2 vols., Oxford, 1886.
Jusserand, J. J. _Piers Plowman: a Contribution to the History of
English Mysticism._ Translated from the French by M. E. R., 1894.

Walter Hylton (d. 1396). _The Scale of Perfection_, ed. Guy, 1869; ed.
Dalgairns, 1870. _The Song of Angels_, printed by Gardner, in _The Cell
of Self-Knowledge_, 1910.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1413?). _Revelations of Divine Love_, ed.
Warrack, Methuen, 1912.

Richard Crashaw (1613? 1649). _Poems_, ed. A. R. Waller, Cambridge 1904.

John Donne (1573-1631). _Poetical Works_, ed. Grierson, 2 vols., Oxford,

George Herbert (1593-1633). _Poems_, ed. Grosart, 1891; Oxford edition,

Christopher Harvey (1597-1663). _Poems_, ed. Grosart, 1874.

Henry More (1614-1687). _Complete Poems_, ed. Grosart, 1878. _Life_, by
R. Ward, 1710, reprinted Theosophical Society, ed. Howard, 1911.

Henry Vaughan (1622-1695). _Poems_, ed. Chambers, 2 vols., 1896.

Thomas Traherne (_c._ 1636-1674). _Poetical Works_, ed. Dobell, 1903.
_Centuries of Meditations_, ed. Dobell, 1908. _Poems of Felicity_, ed.
Bell, Oxford, 1910.

William Law (1686-1761). _Works_, 9 vols., 1753-76, reprinted privately
by G. Moreton, 1892-3. _The Liberal and Mystical Writings of William
Law_, ed. W Scott Palmer, 1908. (See Bibliography to chap xii. of
_Cambridge History of English Literature_, vol. ix., 1912.)

William Blake (1757-1827). _Works_, ed. Ellis and Yeats, 3 vols.,
Quaritch, 1893.

William Blake. _Poetical Works_ (including Prophetic Books), ed, Ellis,
2 vols., Chatto and Windus, 1906. _Poetical Works_ (exclusive of
Prophetic Books), ed. Sampson, Oxford, 1905. (The best text of the
poems.) _Life_, Gilchrist, 2 vols., Macmillan, 1880. _William Blake_, by
A. C. Swinburne, Chatto and Windus (new ed.), 1906. _William Blake,
Mysticisme et Poésie_, par P. Berger, Paris, 1907.

S. T. Coleridge (1772-1834). _Complete Poetical Works_, ed. E. H.
Coleridge, 2 vols., Oxford, 1912. _Biographia Literaria_, ed. J.
Shawcross, 2 vols., Oxford, 1907.

Emily Brontë (1818-1848). _Complete Poems_, ed. Shorter, Hodder and
Stoughton, 1910. _The Three Brontës_, by May Sinclair, Hutchinson, 1912.

Coventry Patmore (1823-1896). _Poems_, G. Bell, 1906. _The Rod, the
Root, and the Flower_, 1895. _Memoirs and Correspondence of C. Patmore_,
by B. Champneys, 1900.

Richard Jefferies (1848-1887). _The Story of my Heart_, 1883,
(reprinted) Longmans, 1907.

Francis Thompson (1859-1907). _New Poems_, Burns and Oates, 1897.
_Selected Poems_, 1908. _Sister Songs_, 1908.


Allen, H. E., _Authorship of the Prick of Conscience_
Ammonias Sakkas
_Ancren Riwle_

Bacon, Francis, _Essays_
Beauty; moon the symbol of;
  Plato on;
  truth and;
  worship of
Behmenists. (_See_ also under Boehme)
Bergson, mystical basis of his thought;
  study of;
  theory of rhythm
Blake, William;
  _Auguries of Innocence_;
  _Everlasting Gospel_;
  Illustrations to _Job_;
  imagination of;
  in-debtedness to Boehme;
  greatness of;
  _Marriage of Heaven and Hell_;
  _Of Natural Religion_;
  _Songs of Innocence_;
  study of;
  view of Nature;
  _Vision of Last Judgment_
Boehme, Jacob;
  Coleridge on;
  influence of;
  Law's use of;
  study of;
  view of evil
Bourignon, Madame
Bradley, A. C., _Shakespearian Tragedy_
Brontë, Charlotte
----- Emily; _Last Lines_;
  study of;
Browne, Sir Thomas
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett;
  _Aurora Leigh_
Browning, Robert;
  his central teaching;
  _Death in the Desert_;
  his intellectuality;
  his love-mysticism;
  on pre-existence;
  _Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_ ;
  _Rabbi ben Ezra_;
  on religion and science;
  resemblance to Eckhart;
  _Ring and the Book_;
  _Statue and Bust_;
  study of;
  his view of evil
Bruno, Giordano
Bunyan, John
Burke, Edmund;
  _Present Discontents_;
  study of

Cambridge Platonists
Carlyle, Thomas
  influence of Emerson on;
  nature of his mysticism;
  _Sartor Resartus_;
  study of
Catherine of Genoa
Christ, use of symbolism
Christianity and mysticism
_Cloud of Unknowing_
Coleridge, S. T.
  Crashaw's influence on;
  _Destiny of Nations_;
  _Frost at Midnight_;
  Kant's influence;
  _Lay Sermon_;
  _Letter to Tulk_;
  Neo-platonic influence;
  _Religious Musings_;
  study of;
  Swedenborg's influence
Crashaw, Richard
  influence of;
  _St Teresa_

_Deonise Hid Divinite_
Dionysius the Areopagite, _Mystical Theology_
Donne, John
  _Letter to Woodward_;
  _Letters to Countess of Huntingdon_;
  _Negative Love_;
  _Of our Sense of Sinne_;
  _Poem on Eliz. Drury_;
  _Progress of the Soul_;
  _Soul's Joy_;
  study of;

E., A.
Emerson, R. W.
English national character and mysticism
_Epistle of Discretion_
_Epistle of Privy Counsel_
Erskine, Thos., of Linlathen
Evil, _see_ under _Good and Evil_

Farquhar, J. W.
Fire, views of, held by Law and Boehme
Fox, George

Godwin, Mary, _see_ Shelley, Mrs----William
  doctrine of _Entbehrung_;
  influence on Carlyle
Good and Evil, problem of
Gosse, Edmund, on Patmore's _Sponsa Dei_
Greek delight in beauty
Grierson, H. J. C., _Donne's Poems_
Guyon, Madame

Hartley, David
Harvey, Christopher, _School of the Heart_
Herbert, George
Hindu mysticism
Hinton, James, _Mystery of Pain_
Hugh of St Victor
Hylton, Walter
  _Scale or Perfection_

  a creative force;
  attainment of truth through;
  love and;
  reality of;
  the "saviour of the world,"
Inge, W. R., _Selections from the German Mystics_

James, William
Jefferies, Richard
  _Story of My Heart_;
  study of
Julian, Lady
  _Revelations of Divine Love_

Keats, George
  _Letter to Taylor_;
  _Ode on Nightingale_;
  _Ode on Grecian Urn_;
  Plato's influence on;
  _Revision of Hyperion_;
  study of

Knowledge, mental and spiritual
  supremacy of intuition over intellectual, (_see_ also under _Truth_)

Lamb, Charles
Law, William
  _Appeal to all that doubt_;
  Boehme's influence on;
  early studies;
  _Serious Call_;
  _Spirit of Prayer_;
  study of;
  _Way to Divine Knowledge_
Lawrence, Sir Thomas
Love, human and divine
  in _Ancren Riwle_;
  Blake on;
  Boehme on;
  Browning on;
  Coleridge on;
  Crashaw on;
  Donne on;
  Herbert on;
  Keats on;
  Lady Julian on;
  Patmore on;
  Richard Rolle on;
  Shelley on;
  Thomas de Hales on;
  Francis Thompson on;
  Traherne on

Macleod, Fiona
Man, divinity and greatness of;
  unity with God
Maurice, F. D.
Meredith, George
Metaphysical Society
Moonlight, Keat's sensitiveness to
More, Henry
Mysticism, ascetic;
  basic fact of;
  beginnings in East;
  Bergson's contributions to;
  English character and;
  experiences of melody in;
  happiness and
  meaning of the word
  methods of, (_see_ also under _Love_, _Vision_, and _Imagination_, etc.)
  of beauty
  pathways to, (_see_ also under _Vision_, etc.)
  religious thinkers and, (_see_ also under names of authors)
Nature, views and interpretation of
Nettleship, R. L., _Philosophical Remains_
Newton, debt to Boehme
Norris, John, of Bemerton

Pain, problem of
Pascal, Blaise
Patmore, Coventry
  _Angel in the House_
  _Bow set in the Cloud_
  _Child's Purchase_ and _The Toys_
  _Conjugial Love_
  Crashaw's influence on
  _Dieu et ma Dame_
  _Religio Poetæ_
  _Sod, Boot, and Flower_
  _Sponsa Dei_
  study of
_Piers Plowman_
  influence on Donne
  on beauty
  on love
  system of
Platonists, Cambridge
  _Letter to Flaccus_
  Plato's influence on
  system of
Pratt, J. B., _Religious Philosophy of William James_
Pre-existence, belief in

_Quia amore langueo_

Religion and Science
Rhythm, Beigson's theory of
Richard of St Victor
  _Benjamin Minor_
Robinson, Henry Crabb
Rolle, Richard
  _Fire of Lone_
  _Pricke of Conscience_
  study of
Rossetti, Christina
Rossetti, D. G.
  _Hand and Soul_
  _House of Life_
  sensuousness of
  study of

St Augustine
  _City of God_
  influence of Plotinus on
St Bernard of Clairvaux
St Bonaventura
St Catherine of Siena
St Francis of Assisi
St John of the Cross
St Martin
St Paul
St Teresa
Scotus Eriugena, John
Shelley, Mrs (Mary Godwin)
  _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_;
  imagination of;
  influence of Plato;
  _Julian and Maddalo_;
  love mysticism of;
  _Revolt of Islam_;
  _Rosalind and Helen_;
  study of
Smith, John, the Platonist
Society, unity in
_Song of Solomon_
Spenser, Edmund, _Hymns_;
  Plato's influence on
Stewart, J., _Myths of Plato_
Sunlight, Jefferies' sensitiveness to
  _Heaven and Hell_,;
  influence of;
  thought of;
  _Wisdom of Angels_
Swinburne, A. C., _Essay on Blake_

Taylor, Keats's letter to
  _Ancient Sage_;
  _Higher Pantheism_;
  _Holy Grail_;
  _In Memoriam_;
  study of
_Theologia Germanica_
Thomas de Hales, _Luve Ron_
Thompson, Francis;
  Crashaw's influence on;
  _Health and Holiness_;
  _Hound of Heaven_;
  _Ode to Setting Sun_;
  study of
Thought, reality of
Traherne, T.
  _Centuries of Meditations_;
  study of;
_Treatise of Discerning Spirits_
Truth, beauty and;
  imagination and;
  intellect and;
  steps towards. _See_ also under _Knowledge_
Tulk, C. A.

Underhill, Evelyn, _Mysticism_

Vaughan, Henry
  _Hidden Flower_;
  _Resurrection and Immortality_;
  study of
Vision, faculty and ecstasy of
pain and
  physical condition and
  renunciation and

Watts-Dunton, Theodore, article on Rossetti
Whichcote, Benjamin
Will, power of
Wordsworth, William
  attainment of vision
  debt to Vaughan
  Duddon Sonnets
  fallacy of usual conception of
  mediation of
  _Ode on Intimations of Immortality_
  _Solitary Reaper_
  _Stepping Westward_
  study of
  _Tintern Abbey_
  value of common things
  view of Nature

Yeats, W. B.


[1] "The Religious Philosophy of William James," by J. B. Pratt, _Hibbert
Journal_, Oct. 1911, p. 232.

[2] On "Spirit," in _Philosophical Remains of R. L. Nettleship_, ed. A. C.
Bradley, 1901, pp. 23-32.

[3] _Republic_, ii. 376.

[4] _Symposium_, 211, 212.

[5] This distinction between East and West holds good on the whole,
although on the one side we find the heretical Brahmin followers of
_Bhakti_, and Ramananda and his great disciple, Kabir, who taught that
man was the supreme manifestation of God; and on the other, occasional
lapses into Quietism and repudiation of the body. See _The Mystic, Way_,
by E. Underhill, pp 22-28.

[6] For an account of Boehme's philosophy, see pp. 91-93 below.

[7] See his essay on him in _Representative Men._

[8] _Memoirs and Correspondence of C. Palmore_, by B. Champneys, 1901,
vol. ii. pp. 84, 85.

[9] _Selections from the German Mystics_, ed. Inge (Methuen, 1904), p.

[10] See his article on Rossetti in the _Nineteenth Century_ for March

[11] _House of Life_, Sonnet xvii.

[12] _House of Life_, Sonnets i., xxvii., lxxvii.

[13] See _Religio Poetæ_, p. 1.

[14] _Memoirs_, ed. Champneys, i. 146.

[15] _The Angel in the House._ Bk. ii. prelude ii.

[16] _The Angel in the House_, canto viii. prelude iv.

[17] See pp. 113, 114 below.

[18] _The Child's Purchase_ and _The Toys_, poems, I vol., 1906, pp.
287, 354.

[19] _Seligio Poetæ_, 1893, p. 163.

[20] _Religio Poetæ_, 1893, p. 44.

[21] The "Ring" of Eternity is a familiar mystical symbol which Vaughan
doubtless knew in other writers; for instance as used by Suso or
Ruysbroeck. See _Mysticism_, by E. Underhill, p. 489 and note.

[22] See the illuminating description of this essentially mystic feeling
given by J. Stewart in _The Myths of Pinto_, Introduction, pp. 39 _et

[23] _The Story of my Heart_, pp. 87, 88.

[24] _Ibid._, p. 76.

[25] _The Story of my Heart_, p. 199.

[26] _Ibid._, p. 71.

[27] _Ibid._, p. 74.

[28] See _Compendium of Philosophy_, a mediæval digest of the
Abhidhamma, translated by S. Z. Aung and Mrs Rhys Davids, 1910, 152 f.

[29] We cannot agree with Prof Grierson, who, in his fine recent edition
of the poet (_Donne's Poems_, Oxford, 1912, vol ii., pp. cxxxv.-vi.),
holds that the style and tone of this song point to Donne not being the
author. For these very qualities it would seem indubitably to be his.

[30] Surely also by Donne, but see Grierson, vol. ii., pp. cxxxviii-ix.

[31] _Centuries of Meditations_, ed. Dobell, 1908, pp. 20, 21.

[32] _Centuries of Meditations_, pp. 156-58.

[33] _Life of Tennyson_, by his son, 1905, p. 268; see also pp 818, 880.

[34] This is the idea, essentially mystical, and originating with
Boehme, which is worked out in the suggestive little book, _The Mystery
of Pain_, by James Hinton.

[35] _An Appeal, Work's_, vol. vi. pp. 27, 28.

[36] _The Spirit of Prayer_, _Works_, vol. vii. pp. 23, 24.

[37] _Cf._ St Augustine, "To will God entirely is to have Him" (_City of
God_, Book xi. chap, iv.), or Ruysbroek's answer to the priests from
Paris who came to consult him on the state of their souls: "You are as
you desire to be."

[38] See _The Spirit of Prayer_, _Works_, vol. vii. pp. 150, 151.

[39] _An Appeal, Works_, vol. vi. p. 169.

[40] _Ibid._, pp. 19, 20.

[41] _Ibid._, pp. 69, 80.

[42] _The Spirit of Prayer_, _Works_, vol. vii. pp. 23, 27.

[43] _The Way to Divine Knowledge, Works_, vol. vii. p. 60.

[44] _The Spirit of Prayer_, _Works_, vol. vii. p. 68. See also _ibid._,
pp. 91, 92

[45] _An Appeal, Works_, vol. vi. pp. 132, 133.

[47] _An Appeal, Works_, vol. vi. p. 115.

[48] _The Destiny of Nations_, II. 16-18.

[49] _Frost at Midnight_, 11. 60-62.

[50] _Sartor Resartus_, Book i. chap. xi.

[51] See _Sartor_, Book iii. chap. iv.

[52] The mystical desire for close contact with God is expressed in
English as early as before 1170, in Godric's song to the Virgin.

[53] See _Mysticism_, by E. Underhill, pp. 162-166.

[54] _The Ancren Riwle_, ed. J. Morton, Camden Society, 1853, pp.

[55] _Fire of Love_, Bk. 1. cap xvi. p. 36.

[56] _Ibid._, Bk. i. cap. xv. p. 33.

[57] See _Mysticism_, by E. Underhill, pp. 228, 229.

[58] _Fire of Love_, Bk. i. cap. xvi. p. 36.

[59] _Ibid._, Bk. ii. cap. iii. and xii.

[60] _Fire of Love_, Bk. i. cap. xv.

[61] _Ibid._, Bk. ii. cap. vii.

[62] _Enneads_, vi. §§ 8, 9.

[63] See _The Authorship of the Prick of Conscience_, by H. E. Allen,
Radcliffe College Monographs, No. 15, Ginn and Co., 1910.

[64] _Revelations_, ed. Warrack, pp. 21, 178. All the quotations which
follow are taken from this edition of the _Revelations_.

[65] _Revelations_, p. 135. It Is interesting to compare the words of
other mystics upon this point; as for instance Richard of St Victor in
_Benjamin Minor_, cap. 75, or Walter Hylton in _The Scale of
Perfection_. Note the emphasis laid upon it by Wordsworth, who indicates
self-knowledge as the mark of those who have attained the "unitive"
stage; see p. 66 above.

[66] Dr. Inge gives an excellent detailed account of it in _Studies of
English Mystics_, 1906, pp. 80-123.

[67] See _Piers Plowman_, by J. J. Jusserand, 1894

[68] B., Passus v., 614-616.

[69] _Poems_, ed. Waller, 1904, p. 283.

[70] _Poems_, ed. Grosart, 1874, p. 134.

[71] See _Additional Table Talk of S. T. O._, ed. T. Ashe, 1884, p. 322.

[72] _Poems_, ed. Sampson, p. 305.

[73] See _Mysticism_, by E. Underhill, pp. 282-286, and specially the
passage from the _Fioreth_ of St Francis of Assisi, chap, xlviii.,
quoted on p. 285.

[74] Notes to Lavater.

[75] From version γ2 in _Poetical Works_, ed. John Sampson, 1905,
p. 253.

[76] _Poems_, ed. Sampson, p. 173.

[77] _Poems_, ed Sampson, pp. 305-6, 309-10. Blake is here praying that
we may be preserved from the condition of mind which sees no farther
than the concrete facts before it; a condition he unfairly associated
with the scientific mind in the abstract, and more especially with

[78] This is the principle called occasionally by Blake, and always by
Boehme, the "Mirror," or "Looking Glass." Blake's names for these four
principles, as seen in the world, in contracted form, are Urizen, Luvah,
Urthona, and Tharmas.

[79] Possibly in some such way as Mozart, when composing, heard the
whole of a symphony. "Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts
_successively_, but I hear them as it were all at once" (Holmes's _Life
and Correspondence of Mozart_ 1845, pp 317-18)

[80] _Cf._, for instance, "To be an error, and to be cast out, is a part
of God's design" (_A Vision of the Last Judgment_, Gilchrist's Life, ii.
p. 195); and Illustrations 2 and 16 to the Book of Job, see the
commentary on them in _Blake's Vision of the Book of Job_, by J. H.
Wicksteed, 1910, p. 21 and note 4. It is interesting to note that, as Mr
Bradley points out (_Shakesperian Tragedy_, pp. 37, 39, 324, 325), it is
a cognate idea which seems to underlie Shakesperian tragedy, and to make
it bearable.

[81] See the whole exposition of the Job illustrations by Wicksteed, and
specially p. 37.

[82] _In no Strange Land._ Selected Poems, 1908, p. 130.

[83] For other examples of the expression of this idea of the "Following
Love," the quest of the soul by God, especially in the anonymous Middle
English poem of _Quia amore langueo_, see _Mysticism_, by Evelyn
Underhill, pp. 158-162.

[84] The following remarks are much indebted to a valuable article on
_Bergson and the Mystics_, by Evelyn Underhill, in the _English Review_,
Feb. 1912, which should be consulted for a fuller exposition of the
light shed by Bergson's theories on the mystic experience.

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