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Title: Character and Opinion in the United States
Author: Santayana, George, 1863-1952
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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UNITED STATES ***



CHARACTER AND OPINION IN THE UNITED STATES

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE LIFE OF REASON

OR THE PHASES OF HUMAN PROGRESS

Vol. I. Reason in Common Sense.

Vol. II. Reason in Society.

Vol. III. Reason in Religion.

Vol. IV. Reason in Art.

Vol. V. Reason in Science.

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INTERPRETATIONS OF POETRY AND RELIGION

[image]

THE SENSE OF BEAUTY

[image]

LITTLE ESSAYS DRAWN FROM THE WRITINGS OF GEORGE SANTAYANA

Edited with a Preface by LOGAN PEARSALL SMITH

[image]



*CHARACTER & OPINION IN THE UNITED STATES*

*WITH REMINISCENCES OF WILLIAM JAMES AND JOSIAH ROYCE*

*AND ACADEMIC LIFE IN AMERICA*

BY

GEORGE SANTAYANA

LATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY

NEW YORK

CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

1921



_First Published 1920_

_Reprinted 1921_



PREFACE


The major part of this book is composed of lectures originally addressed
to British audiences. I have added a good deal, but I make no apology,
now that the whole may fall under American eyes, for preserving the tone
and attitude of a detached observer. Not at all on the ground that “to
see ourselves as others see us” would be to see ourselves truly; on the
contrary, I agree with Spinoza where he says that other people’s idea of
a man is apt to be a better expression of their nature than of his. I
accept this principle in the present instance, and am willing it should
be applied to the judgements contained in this book, in which the reader
may see chiefly expressions of my own feelings and hints of my own
opinions. Only an American—and I am not one except by long
association¹—can speak for the heart of America. I try to understand it,
as a family friend may who has a different temperament; but it is only
my own mind that I speak for at bottom, or wish to speak for. Certainly
my sentiments are of little importance compared with the volume and
destiny of the things I discuss here: yet the critic and artist too have
their rights, and to take as calm and as long a view as possible seems
to be but another name for the love of truth. Moreover, I suspect that
my feelings are secretly shared by many people in America, natives and
foreigners, who may not have the courage or the occasion to express them
frankly. After all, it has been acquaintance with America and American
philosophers that has chiefly contributed to clear and to settle my own
mind. I have no axe to grind, only my thoughts to burnish, in the hope
that some part of the truth of things may be reflected there; and I am
confident of not giving serious offence to the judicious, because they
will feel that it is affection for the American people that makes me
wish that what is best and most beautiful should not be absent from
their lives.

Civilisation is perhaps approaching one of those long winters that
overtake it from time to time. A flood of barbarism from below may soon
level all the fair works of our Christian ancestors, as another flood
two thousand years ago levelled those of the ancients. Romantic
Christendom—picturesque, passionate, unhappy episode—may be coming to an
end. Such a catastrophe would be no reason for despair. Nothing lasts
for ever; but the elasticity of life is wonderful, and even if the world
lost its memory it could not lose its youth. Under the deluge, and
watered by it, seeds of all sorts would survive against the time to
come, even if what might eventually spring from them, under the new
circumstances, should wear a strange aspect. In a certain measure, and
unintentionally, both this destruction and this restoration have already
occurred in America. There is much forgetfulness, much callow disrespect
for what is past or alien; but there is a fund of vigour, goodness, and
hope such as no nation ever possessed before. In what sometimes looks
like American greediness and jostling for the front place, all is love
of achievement, nothing is unkindness; it is a fearless people, and free
from malice, as you might see in their eyes and gestures, even if their
conduct did not prove it. This soil is propitious to every seed, and
tares must needs grow in it; but why should it not also breed clear
thinking, honest judgement, and rational happiness? These things are
indeed not necessary to existence, and without them America might long
remain rich and populous like many a barbarous land in the past; but in
that case its existence would be hounded, like theirs, by falsity and
remorse. May Heaven avert the omen, and make the new world a better
world than the old! In the classical and romantic tradition of Europe,
love, of which there was very little, was supposed to be kindled by
beauty, of which there was a great deal: perhaps moral chemistry may be
able to reverse this operation, and in the future and in America it may
breed beauty out of love.

 [1] Perhaps I should add that I have not been in the United States
     since January 1912. My observations stretched, with some intervals,
     through the forty years preceding that date.



CONTENTS


  · PREFACE
  · CHAPTER I—THE MORAL BACKGROUND
  · CHAPTER II—THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
  · CHAPTER III—WILLIAM JAMES
  · CHAPTER IV—JOSIAH ROYCE
  · CHAPTER V—LATER SPECULATIONS
  · CHAPTER VI—MATERIALISM AND IDEALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE
  · CHAPTER VII—ENGLISH LIBERTY IN AMERICA



CHAPTER I—THE MORAL BACKGROUND


About the middle of the nineteenth century, in the quiet sunshine of
provincial prosperity, New England had an Indian summer of the mind; and
an agreeable reflective literature showed how brilliant that russet and
yellow season could be. There were poets, historians, orators,
preachers, most of whom had studied foreign literatures and had
travelled; they demurely kept up with the times; they were universal
humanists. But it was all a harvest of leaves; these worthies had an
expurgated and barren conception of life; theirs was the purity of sweet
old age. Sometimes they made attempts to rejuvenate their minds by
broaching native subjects; they wished to prove how much matter for
poetry the new world supplied, and they wrote “Rip van Winkle,”
“Hiawatha,” or “Evangeline”; but the inspiration did not seem much more
American than that of Swift or Ossian or Châteaubriand. These cultivated
writers lacked native roots and fresh sap because the American intellect
itself lacked them. Their culture was half a pious survival, half an
intentional acquirement; it was not the inevitable flowering of a fresh
experience. Later there have been admirable analytic novelists who have
depicted American life as it is, but rather bitterly, rather sadly; as
if the joy and the illusion of it did not inspire them, but only an
abstract interest in their own art. If any one, like Walt Whitman,
penetrated to the feelings and images which the American scene was able
to breed out of itself, and filled them with a frank and broad afflatus
of his own, there is no doubt that he misrepresented the conscious minds
of cultivated Americans; in them the head as yet did not belong to the
trunk.

Nevertheless, _belles‐lettres_ in the United States—which after all
stretch beyond New England—have always had two points of contact with
the great national experiment. One point of contact has been oratory,
with that sort of poetry, patriotic, religious, or moral, which has the
function of oratory. Eloquence is a republican art, as conversation is
an aristocratic one. By eloquence at public meetings and dinners, in the
pulpit or in the press, the impulses of the community could be brought
to expression; consecrated maxims could be reapplied; the whole latent
manliness and shrewdness of the nation could be mobilised. In the form
of oratory reflection, rising out of the problems of action, could be
turned to guide or to sanction action, and sometimes could attain, in so
doing, a notable elevation of thought. Although Americans, and many
other people, usually say that thought is for the sake of action, it has
evidently been in these high moments, when action became incandescent in
thought, that they have been most truly alive, intensively most active,
and although _doing_ nothing, have found at last that their existence
was worth while. Reflection is itself a turn, and the top turn, given to
life. Here is the second point at which literature in America has fused
with the activities of the nation: it has paused to enjoy them. Every
animal has his festive and ceremonious moments, when he poses or plumes
himself or thinks; sometimes he even sings and flies aloft in a sort of
ecstasy. Somewhat in the same way, when reflection in man becomes
dominant, it may become passionate; it may create religion or
philosophy—adventures often more thrilling than the humdrum experience
they are supposed to interrupt.

This pure flame of mind is nothing new, superadded, or alien in America.
It is notorious how metaphysical was the passion that drove the Puritans
to those shores; they went there in the hope of living more perfectly in
the spirit. And their pilgrim’s progress was not finished when they had
founded their churches in the wilderness; an endless migration of the
mind was still before them, a flight from those new idols and servitudes
which prosperity involves, and the eternal lure of spiritual freedom and
truth. The moral world always contains undiscovered or thinly peopled
continents open to those who are more attached to what might or should
be than to what already is. Americans are eminently prophets; they apply
morals to public affairs; they are impatient and enthusiastic. Their
judgements have highly speculative implications, which they often make
explicit; they are men with principles, and fond of stating them.
Moreover, they have an intense self‐reliance; to exercise private
judgement is not only a habit with them but a conscious duty. Not seldom
personal conversions and mystical experiences throw their ingrained
faith into novel forms, which may be very bold and radical. They are
traditionally exercised about religion, and adrift on the subject more
than any other people on earth; and if religion is a dreaming
philosophy, and philosophy a waking religion, a people so wide awake and
so religious as the old Yankees ought certainly to have been rich in
philosophers.

In fact, philosophy in the good old sense of curiosity about the nature
of things, with readiness to make the best of them, has not been absent
from the practice of Americans or from their humorous moods; their
humour and shrewdness are sly comments on the shortcomings of some
polite convention that everybody accepts tacitly, yet feels to be
insecure and contrary to the principles on which life is actually
carried on. Nevertheless, with the shyness which simple competence often
shows in the presence of conventional shams, these wits have not taken
their native wisdom very seriously. They have not had the leisure nor
the intellectual scope to think out and defend the implications of their
homely perceptions. Their fresh insight has been whispered in
parentheses and asides; it has been humbly banished, in alarm, from
their solemn moments. What people have respected have been rather scraps
of official philosophy, or entire systems, which they have inherited or
imported, as they have respected operas and art museums. To be on
speaking terms with these fine things was a part of social
respectability, like having family silver. High thoughts must be at
hand, like those candlesticks, probably candleless, sometimes displayed
as a seemly ornament in a room blazing with electric light. Even in
William James, spontaneous and stimulating as he was, a certain
underlying discomfort was discernible; he had come out into the open,
into what should have been the sunshine, but the vast shadow of the
temple still stood between him and the sun. He was worried about what
_ought_ to be believed and the awful deprivations of disbelieving. What
he called the cynical view of anything had first to be brushed aside,
without stopping to consider whether it was not the true one; and he was
bent on finding new and empirical reasons for clinging to free‐will,
departed spirits, and tutelary gods. Nobody, except perhaps in this last
decade, has tried to bridge the chasm between what he believes in daily
life and the “problems” of philosophy. Nature and science have not been
ignored, and “practice” in some schools has been constantly referred to;
but instead of supplying philosophy with its data they have only
constituted its difficulties; its function has been not to build on
known facts but to explain them away. Hence a curious alternation and
irrelevance, as between weekdays and Sabbaths, between American ways and
American opinions.

That philosophy should be attached to tradition would be a great
advantage, conducive to mutual understanding, to maturity, and to
progress, if the tradition lay in the highway of truth. To deviate from
it in that case would be to betray the fact that, while one might have a
lively mind, one was not master of the subject. Unfortunately, in the
nineteenth century, in America as elsewhere, the ruling tradition was
not only erratic and far from the highway of truth, but the noonday of
this tradition was over, and its classic forms were outgrown. A
philosophy may have a high value, other than its truth to things, in its
truth to method and to the genius of its author; it may be a feat of
synthesis and imagination, like a great poem, expressing one of the
eternal possibilities of being, although one which the creator happened
to reject when he made this world. It is possible to be a master in
false philosophy—easier, in fact, than to be a master in the truth,
because a false philosophy can be made as simple and consistent as one
pleases. Such had been the masters of the tradition prevalent in New
England—Calvin, Hume, Fichte, not to mention others more relished
because less pure; but one of the disadvantages of such perfection in
error is that the illusion is harder to transmit to another age and
country. If Jonathan Edwards, for instance, was a Calvinist of pristine
force and perhaps the greatest _master_ in false philosophy that America
has yet produced, he paid the price by being abandoned, even in his
lifetime, by his own sect, and seeing the world turn a deaf ear to his
logic without so much as attempting to refute it. One of the
peculiarities of recent speculation, especially in America, is that
ideas are abandoned in virtue of a mere change of feeling, without any
new evidence or new arguments. We do not nowadays refute our
predecessors, we pleasantly bid them good‐bye. Even if all our
principles are unwittingly traditional we do not like to bow openly to
authority. Hence masters like Calvin, Hume, or Fichte rose before their
American admirers like formidable ghosts, foreign and unseizable. People
refused to be encumbered with any system, even one of their own; they
were content to imbibe more or less of the spirit of a philosophy and to
let it play on such facts as happened to attract their attention. The
originality even of Emerson and of William James was of this incidental
character; they found new approaches to old beliefs or new expedients in
old dilemmas. They were not in a scholastic sense pupils of anybody or
masters in anything. They hated the scholastic way of saying what they
meant, if they had heard of it; they insisted on a personal freshness of
style, refusing to make their thought more precise than it happened to
be spontaneously; and they lisped their logic, when the logic came.

We must remember that ever since the days of Socrates, and especially
after the establishment of Christianity, the dice of thought have been
loaded. Certain pledges have preceded inquiry and divided the possible
conclusions beforehand into the acceptable and the inacceptable, the
edifying and the shocking, the noble and the base. Wonder has no longer
been the root of philosophy, but sometimes impatience at having been
cheated and sometimes fear of being undeceived. The marvel of existence,
in which the luminous and the opaque are so romantically mingled, no
longer lay like a sea open to intellectual adventure, tempting the mind
to conceive some bold and curious system of the universe on the analogy
of what had been so far discovered. Instead, people were confronted with
an orthodoxy—though not always the same orthodoxy—whispering mysteries
and brandishing anathemas. Their wits were absorbed in solving
traditional problems, many of them artificial and such as the ruling
orthodoxy had created by its gratuitous assumptions. Difficulties were
therefore found in some perfectly obvious truths; and obvious fables, if
they were hallowed by association, were seriously weighed in the balance
against one another or against the facts; and many an actual thing was
proved to be impossible, or was hidden under a false description. In
conservative schools the student learned and tried to fathom the
received solutions; in liberal schools he was perhaps invited to seek
solutions of his own, but still to the old questions. Freedom, when
nominally allowed, was a provisional freedom; if your wanderings did not
somehow bring you back to orthodoxy you were a misguided being, no
matter how disparate from the orthodox might be the field from which you
fetched your little harvest; and if you could not be answered you were
called superficial. Most spirits are cowed by such disparagement; but
even those who snap their fingers at it do not escape; they can hardly
help feeling that in calling a spade a spade they are petulant and
naughty; or if their inspiration is too genuine for that, they still
unwittingly shape their opinions in contrast to those that claim
authority, and therefore on the same false lines—a terrible tax to pay
to the errors of others; and it is only here and there that a very great
and solitary mind, like that of Spinoza, can endure obloquy without
bitterness or can pass through perverse controversies without contagion.

Under such circumstances it is obvious that speculation can be frank and
happy only where orthodoxy has receded, abandoning a larger and larger
field to unprejudiced inquiry; or else (as has happened among liberal
Protestants) where the very heart of orthodoxy has melted, has absorbed
the most alien substances, and is ready to bloom into anything that
anybody finds attractive. This is the secret of that extraordinary vogue
which the transcendental philosophy has had for nearly a century in
Great Britain and America; it is a method which enables a man to
renovate all his beliefs, scientific and religious, from the inside,
giving them a new status and interpretation as phases of his own
experience or imagination; so that he does not seem to himself to reject
anything, and yet is bound to nothing, except to his creative self. Many
too who have no inclination to practise this transcendental method—a
personal, arduous, and futile art, which requires to be renewed at every
moment—have been impressed with the results or the maxims of this or
that transcendental philosopher, such as that every opinion leads on to
another that reinterprets it, or every evil to some higher good that
contains it; and they have managed to identify these views with what
still seemed to them vital in religion.

In spite of this profound mutation at the core, and much paring at the
edges, traditional belief in New England retained its continuity and its
priestly unction; and religious teachers and philosophers could slip
away from Calvinism and even from Christianity without any loss of
elevation or austerity. They found it so pleasant and easy to elude the
past that they really had no quarrel with it. The world, they felt, was
a safe place, watched over by a kindly God, who exacted nothing but
cheerfulness and good‐will from his children; and the American flag was
a sort of rainbow in the sky, promising that all storms were over. Or if
storms came, such as the Civil War, they would not be harder to weather
than was necessary to test the national spirit and raise it to a new
efficiency. The subtler dangers which we may now see threatening America
had not yet come in sight—material restlessness was not yet ominous, the
pressure of business enterprises was not yet out of scale with the old
life or out of key with the old moral harmonies. A new type of American
had not appeared—the untrained, pushing, cosmopolitan orphan, cock‐sure
in manner but not too sure in his morality, to whom the old Yankee, with
his sour integrity, is almost a foreigner. Was not “increase,” in the
Bible, a synonym for benefit? Was not “abundance” the same, or almost
the same, as happiness?

Meantime the churches, a little ashamed of their past, began to court
the good opinion of so excellent a world. Although called evangelical,
they were far, very far, from prophesying its end, or offering a refuge
from it, or preaching contempt for it; they existed only to serve it,
and their highest divine credential was that the world needed them.
Irreligion, dissoluteness, and pessimism—supposed naturally to go
together—could never prosper; they were incompatible with efficiency.
That was the supreme test. “Be Christians,” I once heard a president of
Yale College cry to his assembled pupils, “be Christians and you will be
successful.” Religion was indispensable and sacred, when not carried too
far; but theology might well be unnecessary. Why distract this world
with talk of another? Enough for the day was the good thereof. Religion
should be disentangled as much as possible from history and authority
and metaphysics, and made to rest honestly on one’s fine feelings, on
one’s indomitable optimism and trust in life. Revelation was nothing
miraculous, given once for all in some remote age and foreign country;
it must come to us directly, and with greater authority now than ever
before. If evolution was to be taken seriously and to include moral
growth, the great men of the past could only be stepping‐stones to our
own dignity. To grow was to contain and sum up all the good that had
gone before, adding an appropriate increment. Undoubtedly some early
figures were beautiful, and allowances had to be made for local
influences in Palestine, a place so much more primitive and backward
than Massachusetts. Jesus was a prophet more winsome and nearer to
ourselves than his predecessors; but how could any one deny that the
twenty centuries of progress since his time must have raised a loftier
pedestal for Emerson or Charming or Phillips Brooks? It might somehow
not be in good taste to put this feeling into clear words; one and
perhaps two of these men would have deprecated it; nevertheless it
beamed with refulgent self‐satisfaction in the lives and maxims of most
of their followers.

All this liberalism, however, never touched the centre of traditional
orthodoxy, and those who, for all their modernness, felt that they
inherited the faith of their fathers and were true to it were
fundamentally right. There was still an orthodoxy among American
highbrows at the end of the nineteenth century, dissent from which was
felt to be scandalous; it consisted in holding that the universe exists
and is governed for the sake of man or of the human spirit. This
persuasion, arrogant as it might seem, is at bottom an expression of
impotence rather than of pride. The soul is originally vegetative; it
feels the weal and woe of what occurs within the body. With locomotion
and the instinct to hunt and to flee, animals begin to notice external
things also; but the chief point noticed about them is whether they are
good or bad, friendly or hostile, far or near. The station of the animal
and his interests thus become the measure of all things for him, in so
far as he knows them; and this aspect of them is, by a primitive
fatality, the heart of them to him. It is only reason that can discount
these childish perspectives, neutralise the bias of each by collating it
with the others, and masterfully conceive the field in which their
common objects are deployed, discovering also the principle of
foreshortening or projection which produces each perspective in turn.
But reason is a later comer into this world, and weak; against its
suasion stands the mighty resistance of habit and of moral presumption.
It is in their interest, and to rehabilitate the warm vegetative
autonomy of the primitive soul, that orthodox religion and philosophy
labour in the western world—for the mind of India cannot be charged with
this folly. Although inwardly these systems have not now a good
conscience and do not feel very secure (for they are retrograde and sin
against the light), yet outwardly they are solemn and venerable; and
they have incorporated a great deal of moral wisdom with their egotism
or humanism—more than the Indians with their respect for the infinite.
In deifying human interests they have naturally studied and expressed
them justly, whereas those who perceive the relativity of human goods
are tempted to scorn them—which is itself unreasonable—and to sacrifice
them all to the single passion of worship or of despair. Hardly anybody,
except possibly the Greeks at their best, has realised the sweetness and
glory of being a rational animal.

The Jews, as we know, had come to think that it was the creator of the
world, the God of the universe, who had taken them for his chosen
people. Christians in turn had asserted that it was God in person who,
having become a man, had founded their church. According to this Hebraic
tradition, the dignity of man did not lie in being a mind (which he
undoubtedly is) but in being a creature materially highly favoured, with
a longer life and a brighter destiny than other creatures in the world.
It is remarkable how deep, in the Hebraic religions, is this interest in
material existence; so deep that we are surprised when we discover that,
according to the insight of other races, this interest is the essence of
irreligion. Some detachment from existence and from hopes of material
splendour has indeed filtered into Christianity through Platonism.
Socrates and his disciples admired this world, but they did not
particularly covet it, or wish to live long in it, or expect to improve
it; what they cared for was an idea or a good which they found expressed
in it, something outside it and timeless, in which the contemplative
intellect might be literally absorbed. This philosophy was no less
humanistic than that of the Jews, though in a less material fashion: if
it did not read the universe in terms of thrift, it read it in terms of
art. The pursuit of a good, such as is presumably aimed at in human
action, was supposed to inspire every movement in nature; and this good,
for the sake of which the very heavens revolved, was akin to the
intellectual happiness of a Greek sage. Nature was a philosopher in
pursuit of an idea. Natural science then took a moralising turn which it
has not yet quite outgrown. Socrates required of astronomy, if it was to
be true science, that it should show why _it was best_ that the sun and
moon should be as they are; and Plato, refining on this, assures us that
the eyes are placed in the front of the head, rather than at the back,
because the front is the nobler quarter, and that the intestines are
long in order that we may have leisure between meals to study
philosophy. Curiously enough, the very enemies of final causes sometimes
catch this infection and attach absolute values to facts in an opposite
sense and in an inhuman interest; and you often hear in America that
whatever is is right. These naturalists, while they rebuke the moralists
for thinking that nature is ruled magically for our good, think her
adorable for being ruled, in scorn of us, only by her own laws; and thus
we oscillate between egotism and idolatry.

The Reformation did not reform this belief in the cosmic supremacy of
man, or the humanity of God; on the contrary, it took it (like so much
else) in terrible German earnest, not suffering it any longer to be
accepted somewhat lightly as a classical figure of speech or a mystery
resting on revelation. The human race, the chosen people, the Christian
elect were like tabernacle within tabernacle for the spirit; but in the
holy of holies was the spirit itself, one’s own spirit and experience,
which was the centre of everything. Protestant philosophy, exploring the
domain of science and history with confidence, and sure of finding the
spirit walking there, was too conscientious to misrepresent what it
found. As the terrible facts could not be altered they had to be
undermined. By turning psychology into metaphysics this could be
accomplished, and we could reach the remarkable conclusion that the
human spirit was not so much the purpose of the universe as its seat,
and the only universe there was.

This conclusion, which sums up idealism on its critical or scientific
side, would not of itself give much comfort to religious minds, that
usually crave massive support rather than sublime independence; it leads
to the heroic egotism of Fichte or Nietzsche rather than to any green
pastures beside any still waters. But the critical element in idealism
can be used to destroy belief in the natural world; and by so doing it
can open the way to another sort of idealism, not at all critical, which
might be called the higher superstition. This views the world as an
oracle or charade, concealing a dramatic unity, or formula, or maxim,
which all experience exists to illustrate. The habit of regarding
existence as a riddle, with a surprising solution which we think we have
found, should be the source of rather mixed emotions; the facts remain
as they were, and rival solutions may at any time suggest themselves;
and the one we have hit on may not, after all, be particularly
comforting. The Christian may find himself turned by it into a heathen,
the humanist into a pantheist, and the hope with which we instinctively
faced life may be chastened into mere conformity. Nevertheless, however
chilling and inhuman our higher superstition may prove, it will make us
feel that we are masters of a mystical secret, that we have a faith to
defend, and that, like all philosophers, we have taken a ticket in a
lottery in which if we hit on the truth, even if it seems a blank, we
shall have drawn the first prize.

Orthodoxy in New England, even so transformed and attenuated, did not of
course hold the field alone. There are materialists by instinct in every
age and country; there are always private gentlemen whom the clergy and
the professors cannot deceive. Here and there a medical or scientific
man, or a man of letters, will draw from his special pursuits some hint
of the nature of things at large; or a political radical will nurse
undying wrath against all opinions not tartly hostile to church and
state. But these clever people are not organised, they are not always
given to writing, nor speculative enough to make a system out of their
convictions. The enthusiasts and the pedagogues naturally flock to the
other camp. The very competence which scientific people and connoisseurs
have in their special fields disinclines them to generalise, or renders
their generalisations one‐sided; so that their speculations are
extraordinarily weak and stammering. Both by what they represent and by
what they ignore they are isolated and deprived of influence, since only
those who are at home in a subject can feel the force of analogies drawn
from that field, whereas any one can be swayed by sentimental and moral
appeals, by rhetoric and unction. Furthermore, in America the
materialistic school is without that support from popular passions which
it draws in many European countries from its association with
anticlericalism or with revolutionary politics; and it also lacks the
maturity, self‐confidence, and refinement proper in older societies to
the great body of Epicurean and disenchanted opinion, where for
centuries wits, critics, minor philosophers, and men of the world have
chuckled together over their Horace, their Voltaire, and their Gibbon.
The horror which the theologians have of infidelity passes therefore
into the average American mind unmitigated by the suspicion that
anything pleasant could lie in that quarter, much less the open way to
nature and truth and a secure happiness. There is another handicap, of a
more technical sort, under which naturalistic philosophy labours in
America, as it does in England; it has been crossed by scepticism about
the validity of perception and has become almost identical with
psychology. Of course, for any one who thinks naturalistically (as the
British empiricists did in the beginning, like every unsophisticated
mortal), psychology is the description of a very superficial and
incidental complication in the animal kingdom: it treats of the curious
sensibility and volatile thoughts awakened in the mind by the growth and
fortunes of the body. In noting these thoughts and feelings, we can
observe how far they constitute true knowledge of the world in which
they arise, how far they ignore it, and how far they play with it, by
virtue of the poetry and the syntax of discourse which they add out of
their own exuberance; for fancy is a very fertile treacherous thing, as
every one finds when he dreams. But dreams run over into waking life,
and sometimes seem to permeate and to underlie it; and it was just this
suspicion that he might be dreaming awake, that discourse and tradition
might be making a fool of him, that prompted the hard‐headed Briton,
even before the Reformation, to appeal from conventional beliefs to
“experience.” He was anxious to clear away those sophistries and
impostures of which he was particularly apprehensive, in view of the
somewhat foreign character of his culture and religion. Experience, he
thought, would bear unimpeachable witness to the nature of things; for
by experience he understood knowledge produced by direct contact with
the object. Taken in this sense, experience is a method of discovery, an
exercise of intelligence; it is the same observation of things, strict,
cumulative, and analytic, which produces the natural sciences. It rests
on naturalistic assumptions (since we know when and where we find our
data) and could not fail to end in materialism. What prevented British
empiricism from coming to this obvious conclusion was a peculiarity of
the national temperament. The Englishman is not only distrustful of too
much reasoning and too much theory (and science and materialism involve
a good deal of both), but he is also fond of musing and of withdrawing
into his inner man. Accordingly his empiricism took an introspective
form; like Hamlet he stopped at the _how_; he began to think about
thinking. His first care was now to arrest experience as he underwent
it; though its presence could not be denied, it came in such a
questionable shape that it could not be taken at its word. This mere
presence of experience, this ghostly apparition to the inner man, was
all that empirical philosophy could now profess to discover. Far from
being an exercise of intelligence, it retracted all understanding, all
interpretation, all instinctive faith; far from furnishing a sure record
of the truths of nature, it furnished a set of pathological facts, the
passive subject‐matter of psychology. These now seemed the only facts
admissible, and psychology, for the philosophers, became the only
science. Experience could discover nothing, but all discoveries had to
be retracted, so that they should revert to the fact of experience and
terminate there. Evidently when the naturalistic background and meaning
of experience have dropped out in this way, empiricism is a form of
idealism, since whatever objects we can come upon will all be _a priori_
and _a fortiori_ and _sensu eminentiori_ ideal in the mind. The irony of
logic actually made English empiricism, understood in this psychological
way, the starting‐point for transcendentalism and for German philosophy.

Between these two senses of the word experience, meaning sometimes
contact with things and at other times absolute feeling, the empirical
school in England and America has been helplessly torn, without ever
showing the courage or the self‐knowledge to choose between them. I
think we may say that on the whole their view has been this: that
feelings or ideas were absolute atoms of existence, without any ground
or source, so that the elements of their universe were all mental; but
they conceived these psychical elements to be deployed in a physical
time and even (since there were many simultaneous series of them) in
some sort of space. These philosophers were accordingly idealists about
substance but naturalists about the order and relations of existences;
and experience on their lips meant feeling when they were thinking of
particulars, but when they were thinking broadly, in matters of history
or science, experience meant the universal nebula or cataract which
these feelings composed—itself no object of experience, but one believed
in and very imperfectly presented in imagination. These men believed in
nature, and were materialists at heart and to all practical purposes;
but they were shy intellectually, and seemed to think they ran less risk
of error in holding a thing covertly than in openly professing it.

If any one, like Herbert Spencer, kept psychology in its place and in
that respect remained a pure naturalist, he often forfeited this
advantage by enveloping the positive information he derived from the
sciences in a whirlwind of generalisations. The higher superstition, the
notion that nature dances to the tune of some comprehensive formula or
some magic rhyme, thus reappeared among those who claimed to speak for
natural science. In their romantic sympathy with nature they attributed
to her an excessive sympathy with themselves; they overlooked her
infinite complications and continual irony, and candidly believed they
could measure her with their thumb‐rules. Why should philosophers drag a
toy‐net of words, fit to catch butterflies, through the sea of being,
and expect to land all the fish in it? Why not take note simply of what
the particular sciences can as yet tell us of the world? Certainly, when
put together, they already yield a very wonderful, very true, and very
sufficient picture of it. Are we impatient of knowing everything? But
even if science was much enlarged it would have limits, both in
penetration and in extent; and there would always remain, I will not say
an infinity of unsolved problems (because “problems” are created by our
impatience or our contradictions), but an infinity of undiscovered
facts. Nature is like a beautiful woman that may be as delightfully and
as truly known at a certain distance as upon a closer view; as to
knowing her through and through, that is nonsense in both cases, and
might not reward our pains. The love of all‐inclusiveness is as
dangerous in philosophy as in art. The savour of nature can be enjoyed
by us only through our own senses and insight, and an outline map of the
entire universe, even if it was not fabulously concocted, would not tell
us much that was worth knowing about the outlying parts of it. Without
suggesting for a moment that the proper study of mankind is man only—for
it may be landscape or mathematics—we may safely say that their proper
study is what lies within their range and is interesting to them. For
this reason the moralists who consider principally human life and paint
nature only as a background to their figures are apt to be better
philosophers than the speculative naturalists. In human life we are at
home, and our views on it, if one‐sided, are for that very reason
expressive of our character and fortunes. An unfortunate peculiarity of
naturalistic philosophers is that usually they have but cursory and
wretched notions of the inner life of the mind; they are dead to
patriotism and to religion, they hate poetry and fancy and passion and
even philosophy itself; and therefore (especially if their science too,
as often happens, is borrowed and vague) we need not wonder if the
academic and cultivated world despises them, and harks back to the
mythology of Plato or Aristotle or Hegel, who at least were conversant
with the spirit of man.

Philosophers are very severe towards other philosophers because they
expect too much. Even under the most favourable circumstances no mortal
can be asked to seize the truth in its wholeness or at its centre. As
the senses open to us only partial perspectives, taken from one point of
view, and report the facts in symbols which, far from being adequate to
the full nature of what surrounds us, resemble the coloured signals of
danger or of free way which a railway engine‐driver peers at in the
night, so our speculation, which is a sort of panoramic sense,
approaches things peripherally and expresses them humanly. But how
doubly dyed in this subjectivity must our thought be when an orthodoxy
dominant for ages has twisted the universe into the service of moral
interests, and when even the heretics are entangled in a scepticism so
partial and arbitrary that it substitutes psychology, the most
derivative and dubious of sciences, for the direct intelligent reading
of experience! But this strain of subjectivity is not in all respects an
evil; it is a warm purple dye. When a way of thinking is deeply rooted
in the soil, and embodies the instincts or even the characteristic
errors of a people, it has a value quite independent of its truth; it
constitutes a phase of human life and can powerfully affect the
intellectual drama in which it figures. It is a value of this sort that
attaches to modern philosophy in general, and very particularly to the
American thinkers I am about to discuss. There would be a sort of
irrelevance and unfairness in measuring them by the standards of pure
science or even of a classic sagacity, and reproaching them for not
having reached perfect consistency or fundamental clearness. Men of
intense feeling—and others will hardly count—are not mirrors but lights.
If pure truth happened to be what they passionately desired, they would
seek it single‐mindedly, and in matters within their competence they
would probably find it; but the desire for pure truth, like any other,
must wait to be satisfied until its organ is ripe and the conditions are
favourable. The nineteenth century was not a time and America was not a
place where such an achievement could be expected. There the wisest felt
themselves to be, as they were, questioners and apostles rather than
serene philosophers. We should not pay them the doubtful compliment of
attributing to them merits alien to their tradition and scope, as if the
nobleness they actually possessed—their conscience, vigour, timeliness,
and influence—were not enough.



CHAPTER II—THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT


During some twenty‐five years—from about 1885 to 1910—there was at
Harvard College an interesting congregation of philosophers. Why at
Harvard in particular? So long as philosophy is the free pursuit of
wisdom, it arises wherever men of character and penetration, each with
his special experience or hobby, look about them in this world. That
philosophers should be professors is an accident, and almost an anomaly.
Free reflection about everything is a habit to be imitated, but not a
subject to expound; and an original system, if the philosopher has one,
is something dark, perilous, untested, and not ripe to be taught, nor is
there much danger that any one will learn it. The genuine philosopher—as
Royce liked to say, quoting the Upanishads—wanders alone like the
rhinoceros. He may be followed, as he may have been anticipated; and he
may even be accompanied, though there is as much danger as stimulus to
him in flying with a flock. In his disputations, if he is drawn into
them, he will still be soliloquising, and meeting not the arguments
persuasive to others, but only such a version of them as his own thought
can supply. The value of his questions and answers, as Socrates knew so
well, will lie wholly in the monition of the argument developing within
him and carrying him whithersoever it will, like a dream or like a god.
If philosophers must earn their living and not beg (which some of them
have thought more consonant with their vocation), it would be safer for
them to polish lenses like Spinoza, or to sit in a black skull‐cap and
white beard at the door of some unfrequented museum, selling the
catalogues and taking in the umbrellas; these innocent ways of earning
their bread‐card in the future republic would not prejudice their
meditations and would keep their eyes fixed, without undue affection, on
a characteristic bit of that real world which it is their business to
understand. Or if, being mild and bookish, it is thought they ought to
be teachers, they might teach something else than philosophy; or if
philosophy is the only thing they are competent to teach, it might at
least not be their own, but some classic system with which, and against
which, mankind is already inoculated—preferably the civilised ethics and
charming myths of Plato and Aristotle, which everybody will be the
better for knowing and few the worse for believing. At best, the true
philosopher can fulfil his mission very imperfectly, which is to pilot
himself, or at most a few voluntary companions who may find themselves
in the same boat. It is not easy for him to shout, or address a crowd;
he must be silent for long seasons; for he is watching stars that move
slowly and in courses that it is possible though difficult to foresee;
and he is crushing all things in his heart as in a winepress, until his
life and their secret flow out together.

The tendency to gather and to breed philosophers in universities does
not belong to ages of free and humane reflection: it is scholastic and
proper to the Middle Ages and to Germany. And the reason is not far to
seek. When there is a philosophical orthodoxy, and speculation is
expected to be a reasoned defence of some funded inspiration, it becomes
itself corporate and traditional, and requires centres of teaching,
endowment, and propaganda. Fundamental questions have been settled by
the church, the government, or the Zeitgeist, and the function of the
professor, himself bred in that school, is to transmit its lore to the
next generation, with such original touches of insight or eloquence as
he may command. To maintain and elucidate such a tradition, all the
schools and universities of Christendom were originally founded; and if
philosophy seemed sometimes to occupy but a small place in them—as for
instance in the old‐fashioned American college—it was only because the
entire discipline and instruction of the place were permeated with a
particular system of faith and morals, which it was almost superfluous
to teach in the abstract. In those universities where philosophical
controversy is rife, its traditional and scholastic character is no less
obvious; it lives less on meditation than on debate, and turns on
proofs, objections, paradoxes, or expedients for seeming to re‐establish
everything that had come to seem clearly false, by some ingenious change
of front or some twist of dialectic. Its subject‐matter is not so much
what is known of the world, as what often very ignorant philosophers
have said in answer to one another; or else, when the age is out of
patience with scholasticism, orthodoxy may take refuge in intuition, and
for fear of the letter without the spirit, may excuse itself from
considering at all what is logical or probable, in order to embrace
whatever seems most welcome and comforting. The sweet homilies of the
professors then become clerical, genteel, and feminine.

Harvard College had been founded to rear puritan divines, and as
Calvinism gradually dissolved, it left a void there and as it were a
mould, which a philosophy expressing the same instincts in a world
intellectually transformed could flow into and fill almost without
knowing it. Corporate bodies are like persons, long vaguely swayed by
early impressions they may have forgotten. Even when changes come over
the spirit of their dream, a sense of the mission to which they were
first dedicated lingers about them, and may revive, like the antiquarian
and poetic Catholicism of Oxford in the nineteenth century. In academic
America the Platonic and Catholic traditions had never been planted; it
was only the Calvinistic tradition, when revived in some modern
disguise, that could stir there the secret cord of reverence and
enthusiasm. Harvard was the seminary and academy for the inner circle of
Bostonians, and naturally responded to all the liberal and literary
movements of which Boston was the centre. In religion it became first
Unitarian and afterwards neutral; in philosophy it might long have been
satisfied with what other New England colleges found sufficient, namely
such lofty views as the president, usually a clergyman, could introduce
into his baccalaureate sermons, or into the course of lectures he might
give for seniors on the evidences of Christianity or on the theory of
evolution. Such philosophical initiation had sufficed for the
distinguished literary men of the middle of the century, and even for so
deep a sage as Emerson. But things cannot stand still, and Boston, as is
well known, is not an ordinary place. When the impulse to domestic
literary expression seemed to be exhausted, intellectual ambition took
other forms. It was an age of science, of philology, of historical
learning, and the laurels of Germany would not let Boston sleep. As it
had a great public library, and hoped to have a great art museum, might
it not have a great university? Harvard in one sense was a university
already, in that the college (although there was only one) was
surrounded by a group of professional schools, notably those of law and
medicine, in which studies requisite for the service of the community,
and leading potentially to brilliant careers, were carried on with
conspicuous success. The number of these professional schools might have
been enlarged, as has been actually done later, until training in all
the professions had been provided. But it happens that the descriptive
sciences, languages, mathematics, and philosophy are not studies useful
for any profession, except that of teaching these very subjects over
again; and there was no practical way of introducing them into the
Harvard system except to graft them upon the curriculum of the college;
otherwise neither money nor students could have been found for so much
ornamental learning.

This circumstance, external and irrelevant as it may seem, I think had a
great influence over the temper and quality of the Harvard philosophers;
for it mingled responsibility for the education of youth, and much
labour in it, with their pure speculation. Teaching is a delightful
paternal art, and especially teaching intelligent and warm‐hearted
youngsters, as most American collegians are; but it is an art like
acting, where the performance, often rehearsed, must be adapted to an
audience hearing it only once. The speaker must make concessions to
their impatience, their taste, their capacity, their prejudices, their
ultimate good; he must neither bore nor perplex nor demoralise them. His
thoughts must be such as can flow daily, and be set down in notes; they
must come when the bell rings and stop appropriately when the bell rings
a second time. The best that is in him, as Mephistopheles says in
_Faust_, he dare not tell them; and as the substance of this possession
is spiritual, to withhold is often to lose it. For it is not merely a
matter of fearing not to be understood, or giving offence; in the
presence of a hundred youthful upturned faces a man cannot, without
diffidence, speak in his own person, of his own thoughts; he needs
support, in order to exert influence with a good conscience; unless he
feels that he is the vehicle of a massive tradition, he will become
bitter, or flippant, or aggressive; if he is to teach with good grace
and modesty and authority, it must not be he that speaks, but science or
humanity that is speaking in him.

Now the state of Harvard College, and of American education generally,
at the time to which I refer, had this remarkable effect on the
philosophers there: it made their sense of social responsibility acute,
because they were consciously teaching and guiding the community, as if
they had been clergymen; and it made no less acute their moral
loneliness, isolation, and forced self‐reliance, because they were like
clergymen without a church, and not only had no common philosophic
doctrine to transmit, but were expected not to have one. They were
invited to be at once genuine philosophers and popular professors; and
the degree to which some of them managed to unite these contraries is
remarkable, especially if we consider the character of the academic
public they had to serve and to please. While the sentiments of most
Americans in politics and morals, if a little vague, are very
conservative, their democratic instincts, and the force of
circumstances, have produced a system of education which anticipates all
that the most extreme revolution could bring about; and while no one
dreams of forcibly suppressing private property, religion, or the
family, American education ignores these things, and proceeds as much as
possible as if they did not exist. The child passes very young into a
free school, established and managed by the municipal authorities; the
teachers, even for the older boys, are chiefly unmarried women,
sensitive, faithful, and feeble; their influence helps to establish that
separation which is so characteristic of America between things
intellectual, which remain wrapped in a feminine veil and, as it were,
under glass, and the rough business and passions of life. The lessons
are ambitious in range, but are made as easy, as interesting, and as
optional as possible; the stress is divided between what the child likes
now and what he is going to need in his trade or profession. The young
people are sympathetically encouraged to instruct themselves and to
educate one another. They romp and make fun like young monkeys, they
flirt and have their private “brain‐storms” like little supermen and
superwomen. They are tremendously in earnest about their college
intrigues and intercollegiate athletic wars. They are fond, often
compassionately fond, of their parents, and home is all the more sacred
to them in that they are seldom there. They enjoy a surprising
independence in habits, friendships, and opinions. Brothers and sisters
often choose different religions. The street, the school, the young
people’s club, the magazine, the popular novel, furnish their mental
pabulum. The force of example and of passing custom is all the more
irresistible in this absence of authority and tradition; for this sort
of independence rather diminishes the power of being original, by
supplying a slenderer basis and a thinner soil from which originality
might spring. Uniformity is established spontaneously without
discipline, as in the popular speech and ethics of every nation. Against
this tendency to uniformity the efforts of a cultivated minority to
maintain a certain distinction and infuse it into their lives and minds
are not very successful. They have secondary schools for their boys in
which the teachers are men, and even boarding‐schools in the country,
more or less Gothic in aspect and English in regimen; there are other
semi‐foreign institutions and circles, Catholic or Jewish, in which
religion is the dominant consideration. There is also the society of the
very rich, with cosmopolitan leanings and a vivacious interest in
artistic undertakings and personalities. But all these distinctions,
important as they may seem to those who cultivate them, are a mere
shimmer and ripple on the surface of American life; and for an observer
who sees things in perspective they almost disappear. By a merciful
dispensation of nature, the pupils of these choice establishments, the
moment they plunge into business or politics, acquire the protective
colouring of their environment and become indistinguishable from the
generic American. Their native disposition was after all the national
one, their attempted special education was perfunctory, and the
influence of their public activities and surroundings is overwhelming.
American life is a powerful solvent. As it stamps the immigrant, almost
before he can speak English, with an unmistakable muscular tension,
cheery self‐confidence and habitual challenge in the voice and eyes, so
it seems to neutralise every intellectual element, however tough and
alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good‐will, complacency,
thoughtlessness, and optimism.

Consider, for instance, the American Catholics, of whom there are
nominally many millions, and who often seem to retain their ancestral
faith sincerely and affectionately. This faith took shape during the
decline of the Roman empire; it is full of large disillusions about this
world and minute illusions about the other. It is ancient, metaphysical,
poetic, elaborate, ascetic, autocratic, and intolerant. It confronts the
boastful natural man, such as the American is, with a thousand denials
and menaces. Everything in American life is at the antipodes to such a
system. Yet the American Catholic is entirely at peace. His tone in
everything, even in religion, is cheerfully American. It is wonderful
how silently, amicably, and happily he lives in a community whose spirit
is profoundly hostile to that of his religion. He seems to take stock in
his church as he might in a gold mine—sure it is a grand, dazzling,
unique thing; and perhaps he masks, even to himself, his purely
imaginative ardour about it, with the pretext that it is sure to make
his fortune both in this life and in the next. His church, he will tell
you, is a first‐rate church to belong to; the priests are fine fellows,
like the policemen; the Sisters are dear noble women, like his own
sisters; his parish is flourishing, and always rebuilding its church and
founding new schools, orphan asylums, sodalities, confraternities,
perpetual adoration societies. No parish can raise so much money for any
object, or if there are temporary troubles, the fact still remains that
America has three Cardinals and that the Catholic religion is the
biggest religion on earth. Attachment to his church in such a temper
brings him into no serious conflict with his Protestant neighbours. They
live and meet on common ground. Their respective religions pass among
them for family matters, private and sacred, with no political
implications.

Such was the education and such the atmosphere of intellectual innocence
which prevailed in the public—mostly undergraduates—to which the Harvard
philosophers adapted their teaching and to some extent their philosophy.
The students were intelligent, ambitious, remarkably able to “do
things”; they were keen about the matters that had already entered into
their lives, and invincibly happy in their ignorance of everything else.
A gentle contempt for the past permeated their judgements. They were not
accustomed to the notion of authority, nor aware that it might have
legitimate grounds; they instinctively disbelieved in the superiority of
what was out of reach. About high questions of politics and religion
their minds were open but vague; they seemed not to think them of
practical importance; they acquiesced in people having any views they
liked on such subjects; the fluent and fervid enthusiasms so common
among European students, prophesying about politics, philosophy, and
art, were entirely unknown among them. Instead they had absorbing local
traditions of their own, athletic and social, and their college life was
their true education, an education in friendship, co‐operation, and
freedom. In the eighteen‐eighties a good deal of old‐fashioned
shabbiness and jollity lingered about Harvard. Boston and Cambridge in
those days resembled in some ways the London of Dickens: the same dismal
wealth, the same speechifying, the same anxious respectability, the same
sordid back streets, with their air of shiftlessness and decay, the same
odd figures and loud humour, and, to add a touch of horror, the
monstrous suspicion that some of the inhabitants might be secretly
wicked. Life, for the undergraduates, was full of droll incidents and
broad farce; it drifted good‐naturedly from one commonplace thing to
another. Standing packed in the tinkling horse‐car, their coat‐collars
above their ears and their feet deep in the winter straw, they jogged in
a long half‐hour to Boston, there to enjoy the delights of female
society, the theatre, or a good dinner. And in the summer days, for
Class Day and Commencement, feminine and elderly Boston would return the
visit, led by the governor of Massachusetts in his hired
carriage‐and‐four, and by the local orators and poets, brimming with
jokes and conventional sentiments, and eager not so much to speed the
youngsters on their career, as to air their own wit, and warm their
hearts with punch and with collective memories of youth. It was an
idyllic, haphazard, humoristic existence, without fine imagination,
without any familiar infusion of scholarship, without articulate
religion: a flutter of intelligence in a void, flying into trivial play,
in order to drop back, as soon as college days were over, into the
drudgery of affairs. There was the love of beauty, but without the sight
of it; for the bits of pleasant landscape or the works of art which
might break the ugliness of the foreground were a sort of æsthetic
miscellany, enjoyed as one enjoys a museum; there was nothing in which
the spirit of beauty was deeply interfused, charged with passion and
discipline and intricate familiar associations with delicate and noble
things. Of course, the sky is above every country, and New England had
brilliant sunsets and deep snows, and sea and woods were at hand for the
holidays; and it was notable how much even what a homely art or accident
might have done for the towns was studied and admired. Old corners were
pointed out where the dingy red brick had lost its rigidity and taken on
a mossy tinge, and where here and there a pane of glass, surviving all
tenants and housemaids, had turned violet in the sunlight of a hundred
years; and most precious of all were the high thin elms, spreading
aloft, looped and drooping over old streets and commons. And yet it
seemed somehow as if the sentiment lavished on these things had been
intended by nature for something else, for something more important. Not
only had the mind of the nation been originally somewhat chilled and
impoverished by Protestantism, by migration to a new world, by
absorption in material tasks, but what fine sensibility lingered in an
older generation was not easily transmitted to the young. The young had
their own ways, which on principle were to be fostered and respected;
and one of their instincts was to associate only with those of their own
age and calibre. The young were simply young, and the old simply old, as
among peasants. Teachers and pupils seemed animals of different species,
useful and well‐disposed towards each other, like a cow and a milkmaid;
periodic contributions could pass between them, but not conversation.
This circumstance shows how much American intelligence is absorbed in
what is not intellectual. Their tasks and their pleasures divide people
of different ages; what can unite them is ideas, impersonal interests,
liberal arts. Without these they cannot forget their mutual inferiority.

Certainly those four college years, judged by any external standard,
were trivial and wasted; but Americans, although so practical in their
adult masculine undertakings, are slow to take umbrage at the elaborate
playfulness of their wives and children. With the touching humility of
strength, they seem to say to themselves, “Let the dear creatures have
their fling, and be happy: what else are we old fellows slaving for?”
And certainly the joy of life is the crown of it; but have American
ladies and collegians achieved the joy of life? Is that the summit?

William James had a theory that if some scientific widower, with a child
about to learn to walk, could be persuaded to allow the child’s feet to
be blistered, it would turn out, when the blisters were healed, that the
child would walk as well as if he had practised and had many a fall;
because the machinery necessary for walking would have matured in him
automatically, just as the machinery for breathing does in the womb. The
case of the old‐fashioned American college may serve to support this
theory. It blistered young men’s heads for four years and prevented them
from practising anything useful; yet at the end they were found able to
do most things as well, or twice as well, as their contemporaries who
had been all that time apprenticed and chained to a desk. Manhood and
sagacity ripen of themselves; it suffices not to repress or distort
them. The college liberated the young man from the pursuit of money,
from hypocrisy, from the control of women. He could grow for a time
according to his nature, and if this growth was not guided by much
superior wisdom or deep study, it was not warped by any serious
perversion; and if the intellectual world did not permanently entice
him, are we so sure that in philosophy, for instance, it had anything to
offer that was very solid in itself, or humanly very important? At least
he learned that such things existed, and gathered a shrewd notion of
what they could do for a man, and what they might make of him.

When Harvard was reformed—and I believe all the colleges are reformed
now—the immediate object was not to refine college life or render it
more scholarly, though for certain circles this was accomplished
incidentally; the object was rather to extend the scope of instruction,
and make it more advanced. It is natural that every great city, the
capital of any nation or region, should wish to possess a university in
the literal sense of the word—an encyclopædic institute, or group of
institutes, to teach and foster all the professions, all the arts, and
all the sciences. Such a university need have nothing to do with
education, with the transmission of a particular moral and intellectual
tradition. Education might be courteously presupposed. The teacher would
not be a man with his hand on a lad’s shoulder, his son or young
brother; he would be an expert in some science, delivering lectures for
public instruction, while perhaps privately carrying on investigations
with the aid of a few disciples whom he would be training in his
specialty. There would be no reason why either the professors or the
auditors in such an institution should live together or should have much
in common in religion, morals, or breeding, or should even speak the
same language. On the contrary, if only each was competent in his way,
the more miscellaneous their types the more perfect would these render
their _universitas_. The public addressed, also, need not be restricted,
any more than the public at a church or a theatre or a town library, by
any requirements as to age, sex, race, or attainments. They would come
on their own responsibility, to pursue what studies they chose, and so
long as they found them profitable. Nor need there be any limit as to
the subjects broached, or any division of them into faculties or
departments, except perhaps for convenience in administration. One of
the functions of professors would be to invent new subjects, because
this world is so complex, and the play of the human mind upon it is so
external and iridescent, that, as men’s interests and attitude vary,
fresh unities and fresh aspects are always discernible in everything.

As Harvard University developed, all these characteristics appeared in
it in a more or less marked degree; but the transformation was never
complete. The centre of it remained a college, with its local
constituency and rooted traditions, and its thousand or two thousand
undergraduates needing to be educated. Experts in every science and
money to pay them were not at hand, and the foreign talent that could be
attracted did not always prove morally or socially digestible. The
browsing undergraduate could simply range with a looser tether, and he
was reinforced by a fringe of graduates who had not yet had enough, or
who were attracted from other colleges. These graduates came to form a
sort of normal school for future professors, stamped as in Germany with
a Ph.D.; and the teachers in each subject became a committee charged
with something of the functions of a registry office, to find places for
their nurslings. The university could thus acquire a national and even
an international function, drawing in distinguished talent and youthful
ambition from everywhere, and sending forth in various directions its
apostles of light and learning.

I think it is intelligible that in such a place and at such a crisis
philosophy should have played a conspicuous part, and also that it
should have had an ambiguous character. There had to be, explicit or
implicit, a philosophy for the college. A place where all polite Boston
has been educated for centuries cannot bely its moral principles and
religious questionings; it must transmit its austere, faithful,
reforming spirit. But at the same time there had now to be a philosophy
for the university. A chief part of that traditional faith was the faith
in freedom, in inquiry; and it was necessary, in the very interests of
the traditional philosophy, to take account of all that was being said
in the world, and to incorporate the spirit of the times in the spirit
of the fathers. Accordingly, no single abstract opinion was particularly
tabooed at Harvard; granted industry, sobriety, and some semblance of
theism, no professor was expected to agree with any other. I believe the
authorities would have been well pleased, for the sake of completeness,
to have added a Buddhist, a Moslem, and a Catholic scholastic to the
philosophical faculty, if only suitable sages could have been found,
house‐trained, as it were, and able to keep pace with the academic
machine and to attract a sufficient number of pupils. But this official
freedom was not true freedom, there was no happiness in it. A slight
smell of brimstone lingered in the air. You might think what you liked,
but you must consecrate your belief or your unbelief to the common task
of encouraging everybody and helping everything on. You might almost be
an atheist, if you were troubled enough about it. The atmosphere was not
that of intelligence nor of science, it was that of duty.

In the academic life and methods of the university there was the same
incomplete transformation. The teaching required was for the most part
college teaching, in college subjects, such as might well have been
entrusted to tutors; but it was given by professors in the form of
lectures, excessive in number and too often repeated; and they were
listened to by absent‐minded youths, ill‐grounded in the humanities, and
not keenly alive to intellectual interests. The graduates (like the
young ladies) were more attentive and anxious not to miss anything, but
they were no better prepared and often less intelligent; and there is no
dunce like a mature dunce. Accordingly, the professor of philosophy had
to swim against rather a powerful current. Sometimes he succumbed to the
reality; and if, for instance, he happened to mention Darwin, and felt a
blank before him, he would add in a parenthesis, “Darwin, Charles,
author of the _Origin of Species_, 1859; epoch‐making work.” At other
times he might lose himself altogether in the ideal and imagine that he
was publishing immortal thoughts to the true university, to the world at
large, and was feeling an exhilarating contact with masses of mankind,
themselves quickened by his message. He might see in his mind’s eye rows
of learned men and women before him, familiar with every doubt, hardened
to every conflict of opinion, ready for any revolution, whose minds
nothing he could say could possibly shock, or disintegrate any further;
on the contrary, the naked truth, which is gentle in its austerity,
might come to them as a blessed deliverance, and he might fancy himself
for a moment a sort of hero from the realms of light descending into the
nether regions and throwing a sop of reason into the jaws of snarling
prejudice and frantic error. Or if the class was small, and only two or
three were gathered together, he might imagine instead that he was
sowing seeds of wisdom, warmed by affection, in the minds of genuine
disciples, future tabernacles of the truth. It is possible that if the
reality had corresponded more nearly with these dreams, and Harvard had
actually been an adult university, philosophers there might have
distilled their doctrines into a greater purity. As it was, Harvard
philosophy had an opposite merit: it represented faithfully the complex
inspiration of the place and hour. As the university was a local puritan
college opening its windows to the scientific world, so at least the two
most gifted of its philosophers were men of intense feeling, religious
and romantic, but attentive to the facts of nature and the currents of
worldly opinion; and each of them felt himself bound by two different
responsibilities, that of describing things as they are, and that of
finding them propitious to certain preconceived human desires. And while
they shared this double allegiance, they differed very much in temper,
education, and taste. William James was what is called an empiricist,
Josiah Royce an idealist; they were excellent friends and greatly
influenced each other, and the very diversity between them rendered
their conjunction typical of the state of philosophy in England and
America, divided between the old British and the German schools. As if
all this intellectual complication had not been enough, they were
obliged to divide their energies externally, giving to their daily tasks
as professors and pedagogues what duty demanded, and only the remainder
to scholarship, reflection, and literary work. Even this distracting
circumstance, however, had its compensations. College work was a human
bond, a common practical interest; it helped to keep up that circulation
of the blood which made the whole Harvard school of philosophy a vital
unit, and co‐operative in its freedom. There was a general momentum in
it, half institutional, half moral, a single troubled, noble, exciting
life. Every one was labouring with the contradiction he felt in things,
and perhaps in himself; all were determined to find some honest way out
of it, or at least to bear it bravely. It was a fresh morning in the
life of reason, cloudy but brightening.



CHAPTER III—WILLIAM JAMES


William James enjoyed in his youth what are called advantages: he lived
among cultivated people, travelled, had teachers of various
nationalities. His father was one of those somewhat obscure sages whom
early America produced: mystics of independent mind, hermits in the
desert of business, and heretics in the churches. They were intense
individualists, full of veneration for the free souls of their children,
and convinced that every one should paddle his own canoe, especially on
the high seas. William James accordingly enjoyed a stimulating if
slightly irregular education: he never acquired that reposeful mastery
of particular authors and those safe ways of feeling and judging which
are fostered in great schools and universities. In consequence he showed
an almost physical horror of club sentiment and of the stifling
atmosphere of all officialdom. He had a knack for drawing, and rather
the temperament of the artist; but the unlovely secrets of nature and
the troubles of man preoccupied him, and he chose medicine for his
profession. Instead of practising, however, he turned to teaching
physiology, and from that passed gradually to psychology and philosophy.

In his earlier years he retained some traces of polyglot student days at
Paris, Bonn, Vienna, or Geneva; he slipped sometimes into foreign
phrases, uttered in their full vernacular; and there was an occasional
afterglow of Bohemia about him, in the bright stripe of a shirt or the
exuberance of a tie. On points of art or medicine he retained a
professional touch and an unconscious ease which he hardly acquired in
metaphysics. I suspect he had heartily admired some of his masters in
those other subjects, but had never seen a philosopher whom he would
have cared to resemble. Of course there was nothing of the artist in
William James, as the artist is sometimes conceived in England, nothing
of the æsthete, nothing affected or limp. In person he was short rather
than tall, erect, brisk, bearded, intensely masculine. While he shone in
expression and would have wished his style to be noble if it could also
be strong, he preferred in the end to be spontaneous, and to leave it at
that; he tolerated slang in himself rather than primness. The rough,
homely, picturesque phrase, whatever was graphic and racy, recommended
itself to him; and his conversation outdid his writing in this respect.
He believed in improvisation, even in thought; his lectures were not
minutely prepared. Know your subject thoroughly, he used to say, and
trust to luck for the rest. There was a deep sense of insecurity in him,
a mixture of humility with romanticism: we were likely to be more or
less wrong anyhow, but we might be wholly sincere. One moment should
respect the insight of another, without trying to establish too
regimental a uniformity. If you corrected yourself tartly, how could you
know that the correction was not the worse mistake? All our opinions
were born free and equal, all children of the Lord, and if they were not
consistent that was the Lord’s business, not theirs. In reality, James
was consistent enough, as even Emerson (more extreme in this sort of
irresponsibility) was too. Inspiration has its limits, sometimes very
narrow ones. But James was not consecutive, not insistent; he turned to
a subject afresh, without egotism or pedantry; he dropped his old
points, sometimes very good ones; and he modestly looked for light from
others, who had less light than himself.

His excursions into philosophy were accordingly in the nature of raids,
and it is easy for those who are attracted by one part of his work to
ignore other parts, in themselves perhaps more valuable. I think that in
fact his popularity does not rest on his best achievements. His
popularity rests on three somewhat incidental books, _The Will to
Believe_, _Pragmatism_, and _The Varieties of Religious Experience_,
whereas, as it seems to me, his best achievement is his _Principles of
Psychology_. In this book he surveys, in a way which for him is very
systematic, a subject made to his hand. In its ostensible outlook it is
a treatise like any other, but what distinguishes it is the author’s
gift for evoking vividly the very life of the mind. This is a work of
imagination; and the subject as he conceived it, which is the flux of
immediate experience in men in general, requires imagination to read it
at all. It is a literary subject, like autobiography or psychological
fiction, and can be treated only poetically; and in this sense
Shakespeare is a better psychologist than Locke or Kant. Yet this gift
of imagination is not merely literary; it is not useless in divining the
truths of science, and it is invaluable in throwing off prejudice and
scientific shams. The fresh imagination and vitality of William James
led him to break through many a false convention. He saw that
experience, as we endure it, is not a mosaic of distinct sensations, nor
the expression of separate hostile faculties, such as reason and the
passions, or sense and the categories; it is rather a flow of mental
discourse, like a dream, in which all divisions and units are vague and
shifting, and the whole is continually merging together and drifting
apart. It fades gradually in the rear, like the wake of a ship, and
bites into the future, like the bow cutting the water. For the candid
psychologist, carried bodily on this voyage of discovery, the past is
but a questionable report, and the future wholly indeterminate;
everything is simply what it is experienced as being.

At the same time, psychology is supposed to be a science, a claim which
would tend to confine it to the natural history of man, or the study of
behaviour, as is actually proposed by Auguste Comte and by some of
James’s own disciples, more jejune if more clear‐headed than he. As
matters now stand, however, psychology as a whole is not a science, but
a branch of philosophy; it brings together the literary description of
mental discourse and the scientific description of material life, in
order to consider the relation between them, which is the nexus of human
nature.

What was James’s position on this crucial question? It is impossible to
reply unequivocally. He approached philosophy as mankind originally
approached it, without having a philosophy, and he lent himself to
various hypotheses in various directions. He professed to begin his
study on the assumptions of common sense, that there is a material world
which the animals that live in it are able to perceive and to think
about. He gave a congruous extension to this view in his theory that
emotion is purely bodily sensation, and also in his habit of conceiving
the mind as a total shifting sensibility. To pursue this path, however,
would have led him to admit that nature was automatic and mind simply
cognitive, conclusions from which every instinct in him recoiled. He
preferred to believe that mind and matter had independent energies and
could lend one another a hand, matter operating by motion and mind by
intention. This dramatic, amphibious way of picturing causation is
natural to common sense, and might be defended if it were clearly
defined; but James was insensibly carried away from it by a subtle
implication of his method. This implication was that experience or
mental discourse not only constituted a set of substantive facts, but
the _only_ substantive facts; all else, even that material world which
his psychology had postulated, could be nothing but a verbal or
fantastic symbol for sensations in their experienced order. So that
while nominally the door was kept open to any hypothesis regarding the
conditions of the psychological flux, in truth the question was
prejudged. The hypotheses, which were parts of this psychological flux,
could have no object save other parts of it. That flux itself,
therefore, which he could picture so vividly, was the fundamental
existence. The _sense_ of bounding over the waves, the _sense_ of being
on an adventurous voyage, was the living fact; the rest was dead
reckoning. Where one’s gift is, there will one’s faith be also; and to
this poet appearance was the only reality.

This sentiment, which always lay at the back of his mind, reached
something like formal expression in his latest writings, where he
sketched what he called radical empiricism. The word experience is like
a shrapnel shell, and bursts into a thousand meanings. Here we must no
longer think of its setting, its discoveries, or its march; to treat it
radically we must abstract its immediate objects and reduce it to pure
data. It is obvious (and the sequel has already proved) that experience
so understood would lose its romantic signification, as a personal
adventure or a response to the shocks of fortune. “Experience” would
turn into a cosmic dance of absolute entities created and destroyed _in
vacuo_ according to universal laws, or perhaps by chance. No minds would
gather this experience, and no material agencies would impose it; but
the immediate objects present to any one would simply be parts of the
universal fireworks, continuous with the rest, and all the parts, even
if not present to anybody, would have the same status. Experience would
then not at all resemble what Shakespeare reports or what James himself
had described in his psychology. If it could be experienced as it flows
in its entirety (which is fortunately impracticable), it would be a
perpetual mathematical nightmare. Every whirling atom, every changing
relation, and every incidental perspective would be a part of it. I am
far from wishing to deny for a moment the scientific value of such a
cosmic system, if it can be worked out; physics and mathematics seem to
me to plunge far deeper than literary psychology into the groundwork of
this world; but human experience is the stuff of literary psychology; we
cannot reach the stuff of physics and mathematics except by arresting or
even hypostatising some elements of appearance, and expanding them on an
abstracted and hypothetical plane of their own. Experience, as memory
and literature rehearse it, remains nearer to us than that: it is
something dreamful, passionate, dramatic, and significative.

Certainly this personal human experience, expressible in literature and
in talk, and no cosmic system however profound, was what James knew best
and trusted most. Had he seen the developments of his radical
empiricism, I cannot help thinking he would have marvelled that such
logical mechanisms should have been hatched out of that egg. The
principal problems and aspirations that haunted him all his life long
would lose their meaning in that cosmic atmosphere. The pragmatic nature
of truth, for instance, would never suggest itself in the presence of
pure data; but a romantic mind soaked in agnosticism, conscious of its
own habits and assuming an environment the exact structure of which can
never be observed, may well convince itself that, for experience, truth
is nothing but a happy use of signs—which is indeed the truth of
literature. But if we once accept _any_ system of the universe as
literally true, the value of convenient signs to prepare us for such
experience as is yet absent cannot be called truth: it is plainly
nothing but a necessary inaccuracy. So, too, with the question of the
survival of the human individual after death. For radical empiricism a
human individual is simply a certain cycle or complex of terms, like any
other natural fact; that some echoes of his mind should recur after the
regular chimes have ceased, would have nothing paradoxical about it. A
mathematical world is a good deal like music, with its repetitions and
transpositions, and a little trill, which you might call a person, might
well peep up here and there all over a vast composition. Something of
that sort may be the truth of spiritualism; but it is not what the
spiritualists imagine. Their whole interest lies not in the experiences
they have, but in the interpretation they give to them, assigning them
to troubled spirits in another world; but both another world and a
spirit are notions repugnant to a radical empiricism.

I think it is important to remember, if we are not to misunderstand
William James, that his radical empiricism and pragmatism were in his
own mind only methods; his doctrine, if he may be said to have had one,
was agnosticism. And just because he was an agnostic (feeling
instinctively that beliefs and opinions, if they had any objective
beyond themselves, could never be sure they had attained it), he seemed
in one sense so favourable to credulity. He was not credulous himself,
far from it; he was well aware that the trust he put in people or ideas
might betray him. For that very reason he was respectful and pitiful to
the trustfulness of others. Doubtless they were wrong, but who were we
to say so? In his own person he was ready enough to face the mystery of
things, and whatever the womb of time might bring forth; but until the
curtain was rung down on the last act of the drama (and it might have no
last act!) he wished the intellectual cripples and the moral hunchbacks
not to be jeered at; perhaps they might turn out to be the heroes of the
play. Who could tell what heavenly influences might not pierce to these
sensitive half‐flayed creatures, which are lost on the thick‐skinned,
the sane, and the duly goggled? We must not suppose, however, that James
meant these contrite and romantic suggestions dogmatically. The
agnostic, as well as the physician and neurologist in him, was never
quite eclipsed. The hope that some new revelation might come from the
lowly and weak could never mean to him what it meant to the early
Christians. For him it was only a right conceded to them to experiment
with their special faiths; he did not expect such faiths to be
discoveries of absolute fact, which everybody else might be constrained
to recognise. If any one had made such a claim, and had seemed to have
some chance of imposing it universally, James would have been the first
to turn against him; not, of course, on the ground that it was
_impossible_ that such an orthodoxy should be true, but with a profound
conviction that it was to be feared and distrusted. No: the degree of
authority and honour to be accorded to various human faiths was a moral
question, not a theoretical one. All faiths were what they were
experienced as being, in their capacity of faiths; these faiths, not
their objects, were the hard facts we must respect. We cannot pass,
except under the illusion of the moment, to anything firmer or on a
deeper level. There was accordingly no sense of security, no joy, in
James’s apology for personal religion. He did not really believe; he
merely believed in the right of believing that you might be right if you
believed.

It is this underlying agnosticism that explains an incoherence which we
might find in his popular works, where the story and the moral do not
seem to hang together. Professedly they are works of psychological
observation; but the tendency and suasion in them seems to run to
disintegrating the idea of truth, recommending belief without reason,
and encouraging superstition. A psychologist who was not an agnostic
would have indicated, as far as possible, whether the beliefs and
experiences he was describing were instances of delusion or of rare and
fine perception, or in what measure they were a mixture of both. But
James—and this is what gives such romantic warmth to these writings of
his—disclaims all antecedent or superior knowledge, listens to the
testimony of each witness in turn, and only by accident allows us to
feel that he is swayed by the eloquence and vehemence of some of them
rather than of others. This method is modest, generous, and impartial;
but if James intended, as I think he did, to picture the _drama_ of
human belief, with its risks and triumphs, the method was inadequate.
Dramatists never hesitate to assume, and to let the audience perceive,
who is good and who bad, who wise and who foolish, in their pieces;
otherwise their work would be as impotent dramatically as
scientifically. The tragedy and comedy of life lie precisely in the
contrast between the illusions or passions of the characters and their
true condition and fate, hidden from them at first, but evident to the
author and the public. If in our diffidence and scrupulous fairness we
refuse to take this judicial attitude, we shall be led to strange
conclusions. The navigator, for instance, trusting his “experience”
(which here, as in the case of religious people, means his imagination
and his art), insists on believing that the earth is spherical; he has
sailed round it. That is to say, he has seemed to himself to steer
westward and westward, and has seemed to get home again. But how should
he know that home is now where it was before, or that his past and
present impressions of it come from the same, or from any, material
object? How should he know that space is as trim and tri‐dimensional as
the discredited Euclidians used to say it was? If, on the contrary, my
worthy aunt, trusting to her longer and less ambiguous experience of her
garden, insists that the earth is flat, and observes that the theory
that it is round, which is only a theory, is much less often tested and
found useful than her own perception of its flatness, and that moreover
that theory is pedantic, intellectualistic, and a product of academies,
and a rash dogma to impose on mankind for ever and ever, it might seem
that on James’s principle we ought to agree with her. But no; on James’s
real principles we need not agree with her, nor with the navigator
either. Radical empiricism, which is radical agnosticism, delivers us
from so benighted a choice. For the quarrel becomes unmeaning when we
remember that the earth is _both_ flat and round, if it is experienced
as being both. The substantive fact is not a single object on which both
the perception and the theory are expected to converge; the substantive
facts are the theory and the perception themselves. And we may note in
passing that empiricism, when it ceases to value experience as a means
of discovering external things, can give up its ancient prejudice in
favour of sense as against imagination, for imagination and thought are
immediate experiences as much as sensation is: they are therefore, for
absolute empiricism, no less actual ingredients of reality.

In _The Varieties of Religious Experience_ we find the same apologetic
intention running through a vivid account of what seems for the most
part (as James acknowledged) religious disease. Normal religious
experience is hardly described in it. Religious experience, for the
great mass of mankind, consists in simple faith in the truth and benefit
of their religious traditions. But to James something so conventional
and rationalistic seemed hardly experience and hardly religious; he was
thinking only of irruptive visions and feelings as interpreted by the
mystics who had them. These interpretations he ostensibly presents, with
more or less wistful sympathy for what they were worth; but emotionally
he wished to champion them. The religions that had sprung up in America
spontaneously—communistic, hysterical, spiritistic, or medicinal—were
despised by select and superior people. You might inquire into them, as
you might go slumming, but they remained suspect and distasteful. This
picking up of genteel skirts on the part of his acquaintance prompted
William James to roll up his sleeves—not for a knock‐out blow, but for a
thorough clinical demonstration. He would tenderly vivisect the
experiences in question, to show how living they were, though of course
he could not guarantee, more than other surgeons do, that the patient
would survive the operation. An operation that eventually kills may be
technically successful, and the man may die cured; and so a description
of religion that showed it to be madness might first show how real and
how warm it was, so that if it perished, at least it would perish
understood.

I never observed in William James any personal anxiety or enthusiasm for
any of these dubious tenets. His conception even of such a thing as
free‐will, which he always ardently defended, remained vague; he avoided
defining even what he conceived to be desirable in such matters. But he
wished to protect the weak against the strong, and what he hated beyond
everything was the _non possumus_ of any constituted authority.
Philosophy for him had a Polish constitution; so long as a single vote
was cast against the majority, nothing could pass. The suspense of
judgement which he had imposed on himself as a duty, became almost a
necessity. I think it would have depressed him if he had had to confess
that any important question was finally settled. He would still have
hoped that something might turn up on the other side, and that just as
the scientific hangman was about to despatch the poor convicted
prisoner, an unexpected witness would ride up in hot haste, and prove
him innocent. Experience seems to most of us to lead to conclusions, but
empiricism has sworn never to draw them.

In the discourse on “The Energies of Men,” certain physiological marvels
are recorded, as if to suggest that the resources of our minds and
bodies are infinite, or can be infinitely enlarged by divine grace. Yet
James would not, I am sure, have accepted that inference. He would,
under pressure, have drawn in his mystical horns under his scientific
shell; but he was not naturalist enough to feel instinctively that the
wonderful and the natural are all of a piece, and that only our degree
of habituation distinguishes them. A nucleus, which we may poetically
call the soul, certainly lies within us, by which our bodies and minds
are generated and controlled, like an army by a government. In this
nucleus, since nature in a small compass has room for anything, vast
quantities of energy may well be stored up, which may be tapped on
occasion, or which may serve like an electric spark to let loose energy
previously existing in the grosser parts. But the absolute autocracy of
this central power, or its success in imposing extraordinary trials on
its subjects, is not an obvious good. Perhaps, like a democratic
government, the soul is at its best when it merely collects and
coordinates the impulses coming from the senses. The inner man is at
times a tyrant, parasitical, wasteful, and voluptuous. At other times he
is fanatical and mad. When he asks for and obtains violent exertions
from the body, the question often is, as with the exploits of conquerors
and conjurers, whether the impulse to do such prodigious things was not
gratuitous, and the things nugatory. Who would wish to be a mystic?
James himself, who by nature was a spirited rather than a spiritual man,
had no liking for sanctimonious transcendentalists, visionaries, or
ascetics; he hated minds that run thin. But he hastened to correct this
manly impulse, lest it should be unjust, and forced himself to overcome
his repugnance. This was made easier when the unearthly phenomenon had a
healing or saving function in the everyday material world; miracle then
re‐established its ancient identity with medicine, and both of them were
humanised. Even when this union was not attained, James was reconciled
to the miracle‐workers partly by his great charity, and partly by his
hunter’s instinct to follow a scent, for he believed discoveries to be
imminent. Besides, a philosopher who is a teacher of youth is more
concerned to give people a right start than a right conclusion. James
fell in with the hortatory tradition of college sages; he turned his
psychology, whenever he could do so honestly, to purposes of
edification; and his little sermons on habit, on will, on faith, and
this on the latent capacities of men, were fine and stirring, and just
the sermons to preach to the young Christian soldier. He was much less
sceptical in morals than in science. He seems to have felt sure that
certain thoughts and hopes—those familiar to a liberal
Protestantism—were every man’s true friends in life. This assumption
would have been hard to defend if he or those he habitually addressed
had ever questioned it; yet his whole argument for voluntarily
cultivating these beliefs rests on this assumption, that they are
beneficent. Since, whether we will or no, we cannot escape the risk of
error, and must succumb to some human or pathological bias, at least we
might do so gracefully and in the form that would profit us most, by
clinging to those prejudices which help us to lead what we all feel is a
good life. But what is a good life? Had William James, had the people
about him, had modern philosophers anywhere, any notion of that? I
cannot think so. They had much experience of personal goodness, and love
of it; they had standards of character and right conduct; but as to what
might render human existence good, excellent, beautiful, happy, and
worth having as a whole, their notions were utterly thin and barbarous.
They had forgotten the Greeks, or never known them.

This argument accordingly suffers from the same weakness as the similar
argument of Pascal in favour of Catholic orthodoxy. You should force
yourself to believe in it, he said, because if you do so and are right
you win heaven, while if you are wrong you lose nothing. What would
Protestants, Mohammedans, and Hindus say to that? Those alternatives of
Pascal’s are not the sole nor the true alternatives; such a
wager—betting on the improbable because you are offered big odds—is an
unworthy parody of the real choice between wisdom and folly. There is no
heaven to be won in such a spirit, and if there was, a philosopher would
despise it. So William James would have us bet on immortality, or bet on
our power to succeed, because if we win the wager we can live to
congratulate ourselves on our true instinct, while we lose nothing if we
have made a mistake; for unless you have the satisfaction of finding
that you have been right, the dignity of having been right is apparently
nothing. Or if the argument is rather that these beliefs, whether true
or false, make life better in this world, the thing is simply false. To
be boosted by an illusion is not to live better than to live in harmony
with the truth; it is not nearly so safe, not nearly so sweet, and not
nearly so fruitful. These refusals to part with a decayed illusion are
really an infection to the mind. Believe, certainly; we cannot help
believing; but believe rationally, holding what seems certain for
certain, what seems probable for probable, what seems desirable for
desirable, and what seems false for false.

In this matter, as usual, James had a true psychological fact and a
generous instinct behind his confused moral suggestions. It is a
psychological fact that men are influenced in their beliefs by their
will and desires; indeed, I think we can go further and say that in its
essence belief is an expression of impulse, of readiness to act. It is
only peripherally, as our action is gradually adjusted to things, and
our impulses to our possible or necessary action, that our ideas begin
to hug the facts, and to acquire a true, if still a symbolic,
significance. We do not need a will to believe; we only need a will to
study the object in which we are inevitably believing. But James was
thinking less of belief in what we find than of belief in what we hope
for: a belief which is not at all clear and not at all necessary in the
life of mortals. Like most Americans, however, only more lyrically,
James felt the call of the future and the assurance that it could be
made far better, totally other, than the past. The pictures that
religion had painted of heaven or the millennium were not what he
prized, although his Swedenborgian connection might have made him tender
to them, as perhaps it did to familiar spirits. It was the moral succour
offered by religion, its open spaces, the possibility of miracles _in
extremis_, that must be retained. If we recoiled at the thought of being
dupes (which is perhaps what nature intended us to be), were we less
likely to be dupes in disbelieving these sustaining truths than in
believing them? Faith was needed to bring about the reform of faith
itself, as well as all other reforms.

In some cases faith in success could nerve us to bring success about,
and so justify itself by its own operation. This is a thought typical of
James at his worst—a worst in which there is always a good side. Here
again psychological observation is used with the best intentions to
hearten oneself and other people; but the fact observed is not at all
understood, and a moral twist is given to it which (besides being
morally questionable) almost amounts to falsifying the fact itself. Why
does belief that you can jump a ditch help you to jump it? Because it is
a symptom of the fact that you _could_ jump it, that your legs were fit
and that the ditch was two yards wide and not twenty. A rapid and just
appreciation of these facts has given you your confidence, or at least
has made it reasonable, manly, and prophetic; otherwise you would have
been a fool and got a ducking for it. Assurance is contemptible and
fatal unless it is self‐knowledge. If you had been rattled you might
have failed, because that would have been a symptom of the fact that you
were out of gear; you would have been afraid because you trembled, as
James at his best proclaimed. You would never have quailed if your
system had been reacting smoothly to its opportunities, any more than
you would totter and see double if you were not intoxicated. Fear is a
sensation of actual nervousness and disarray, and confidence a sensation
of actual readiness; they are not disembodied feelings, existing for no
reason, the devil Funk and the angel Courage, one or the other of whom
may come down arbitrarily into your body, and revolutionise it. That is
childish mythology, which survives innocently enough as a figure of
speech, until a philosopher is found to take that figure of speech
seriously. Nor is the moral suggestion here less unsound. What is good
is not the presumption of power, but the possession of it: a clear head,
aware of its resources, not a fuddled optimism, calling up spirits from
the vasty deep. Courage is not a virtue, said Socrates, unless it is
also wisdom. Could anything be truer both of courage in doing and of
courage in believing? But it takes tenacity, it takes _reasonable_
courage, to stick to scientific insights such as this of Socrates or
that of James about the emotions; it is easier to lapse into the
traditional manner, to search natural philosophy for miracles and moral
lessons, and in morals proper, in the reasoned expression of preference,
to splash about without a philosophy.

William James shared the passions of liberalism. He belonged to the
left, which, as they say in Spain, is the side of the heart, as the
right is that of the liver; at any rate there was much blood and no gall
in his philosophy. He was one of those elder Americans still disquieted
by the ghost of tyranny, social and ecclesiastical. Even the beauties of
the past troubled him; he had a puritan feeling that they were tainted.
They had been cruel and frivolous, and must have suppressed far better
things. But what, we may ask, might these better things be? It may do
for a revolutionary politician to say: “I may not know what I
want—except office—but I know what I don’t want”; it will never do for a
philosopher. Aversions and fears imply principles of preference, goods
acknowledged; and it is the philosopher’s business to make these goods
explicit. Liberty is not an art, liberty must be used to bring some
natural art to fruition. Shall it be simply eating and drinking and
wondering what will happen next? If there is some deep and settled need
in the heart of man, to give direction to his efforts, what else should
a philosopher do but discover and announce what that need is?

There is a sense in which James was not a philosopher at all. He once
said to me: “What a curse philosophy would be if we couldn’t forget all
about it!” In other words, philosophy was not to him what it has been to
so many, a consolation and sanctuary in a life which would have been
unsatisfying without it. It would be incongruous, therefore, to expect
of him that he should build a philosophy like an edifice to go and live
in for good. Philosophy to him was rather like a maze in which he
happened to find himself wandering, and what he was looking for was the
way out. In the presence of theories of any sort he was attentive,
puzzled, suspicious, with a certain inner prompting to disregard them.
He lived all his life among them, as a child lives among grown‐up
people; what a relief to turn from those stolid giants, with their
prohibitions and exactions and tiresome talk, to another real child or a
nice animal! Of course grown‐up people are useful, and so James
considered that theories might be; but in themselves, to live with, they
were rather in the way, and at bottom our natural enemies. It was well
to challenge one or another of them when you got a chance; perhaps that
challenge might break some spell, transform the strange landscape, and
simplify life. A theory while you were creating or using it was like a
story you were telling yourself or a game you were playing; it was a
warm, self‐justifying thing then; but when the glow of creation or
expectation was over, a theory was a phantom, like a ghost, or like the
minds of other people. To all other people, even to ghosts, William
James was the soul of courtesy; and he was civil to most theories as
well, as to more or less interesting strangers that invaded him. Nobody
ever recognised more heartily the chance that others had of being right,
and the right they had to be different. Yet when it came to
understanding what they meant, whether they were theories or persons,
his intuition outran his patience; he made some brilliant
impressionistic sketch in his fancy and called it by their name. This
sketch was as often flattered as distorted, and he was at times the dupe
of his desire to be appreciative and give the devil his due; he was too
impulsive for exact sympathy; too subjective, too romantic, to be just.
Love is very penetrating, but it penetrates to possibilities rather than
to facts. The logic of opinions, as well as the exact opinions
themselves, were not things James saw easily, or traced with pleasure.
He liked to take things one by one, rather than to put two and two
together. He was a mystic, a mystic in love with life. He was comparable
to Rousseau and to Walt Whitman; he expressed a generous and tender
sensibility, rebelling against sophistication, and preferring daily
sights and sounds, and a vague but indomitable faith in fortune, to any
settled intellectual tradition calling itself science or philosophy.

A prophet is not without honour save in his own country; and until the
return wave of James’s reputation reached America from Europe, his
pupils and friends were hardly aware that he was such a distinguished
man. Everybody liked him, and delighted in him for his generous,
gullible nature and brilliant sallies. He was a sort of Irishman among
the Brahmins, and seemed hardly imposing enough for a great man. They
laughed at his erratic views and his undisguised limitations. Of course
a conscientious professor ought to know everything he professes to know,
but then, they thought, a dignified professor ought to seem to know
everything. The precise theologians and panoplied idealists, who exist
even in America, shook their heads. What sound philosophy, said they to
themselves, could be expected from an irresponsible doctor, who was not
even a college graduate, a crude empiricist, and vivisector of frogs? On
the other hand, the solid men of business were not entirely reassured
concerning a teacher of youth who seemed to have no system in
particular—the ignorant rather demand that the learned should have a
system in store, to be applied at a pinch; and they could not quite
swallow a private gentleman who dabbled in hypnotism, frequented
mediums, didn’t talk like a book, and didn’t write like a book, except
like one of his own. Even his pupils, attached as they invariably were
to his person, felt some doubts about the profundity of one who was so
very natural, and who after some interruption during a lecture—and he
said life was a series of interruptions—would slap his forehead and ask
the man in the front row “What _was_ I talking about?” Perhaps in the
first years of his teaching he felt a little in the professor’s chair as
a military man might feel when obliged to read the prayers at a funeral.
He probably conceived what he said more deeply than a more scholastic
mind might have conceived it; yet he would have been more comfortable if
some one else had said it for him. He liked to open the window, and look
out for a moment. I think he was glad when the bell rang, and he could
be himself again until the next day. But in the midst of this routine of
the class‐room the spirit would sometimes come upon him, and, leaning
his head on his hand, he would let fall golden words, picturesque, fresh
from the heart, full of the knowledge of good and evil. Incidentally
there would crop up some humorous characterisation, some candid
confession of doubt or of instinctive preference, some pungent scrap of
learning; radicalisms plunging sometimes into the sub‐soil of all human
philosophies; and, on occasion, thoughts of simple wisdom and wistful
piety, the most unfeigned and manly that anybody ever had.



CHAPTER IV—JOSIAH ROYCE


Meantime the mantle of philosophical authority had fallen at Harvard
upon other shoulders. A young Californian, Josiah Royce, had come back
from Germany with a reputation for wisdom; and even without knowing that
he had already produced a new proof of the existence of God, merely to
look at him you would have felt that he was a philosopher; his great
head seemed too heavy for his small body, and his portentous brow,
crowned with thick red hair, seemed to crush the lower part of his face.
“Royce,” said William James of him, “has an indecent exposure of
forehead.” There was a suggestion about him of the benevolent ogre or
the old child, in whom a preternatural sharpness of insight lurked
beneath a grotesque mask. If you gave him any cue, or even without one,
he could discourse broadly on any subject; you never caught him napping.
Whatever the text‐books and encyclopædias could tell him, he knew; and
if the impression he left on your mind was vague, that was partly
because, in spite of his comprehensiveness, he seemed to view everything
in relation to something else that remained untold. His approach to
anything was oblique; he began a long way off, perhaps with the American
preface of a funny story; and when the point came in sight, it was at
once enveloped again in a cloud of qualifications, in the parliamentary
jargon of philosophy. The tap once turned on, out flowed the stream of
systematic disquisition, one hour, two hours, three hours of it,
according to demand or opportunity. The voice, too, was merciless and
harsh. You felt the overworked, standardised, academic engine, creaking
and thumping on at the call of duty or of habit, with no thought of
sparing itself or any one else. Yet a sprightlier soul behind this
performing soul seemed to watch and laugh at the process. Sometimes a
merry light would twinkle in the little eyes, and a bashful smile would
creep over the uncompromising mouth. A sense of the paradox, the irony,
the inconclusiveness of the whole argument would pierce to the surface,
like a white‐cap bursting here and there on the heavy swell of the sea.

His procedure was first to gather and digest whatever the sciences or
the devil might have to say. He had an evident sly pleasure in the
degustation and savour of difficulties; biblical criticism, the struggle
for life, the latest German theory of sexual insanity, had no terrors
for him; it was all grist for the mill, and woe to any tender thing, any
beauty or any illusion, that should get between that upper and that
nether millstone! He seemed to say: If I were not Alexander how gladly
would I be Diogenes, and if I had not a system to defend, how easily I
might tell you the truth. But after the sceptic had ambled quizzically
over the ground, the prophet would mount the pulpit to survey it. He
would then prove that in spite of all those horrors and contradictions,
or rather because of them, the universe was absolutely perfect. For
behind that mocking soul in him there was yet another, a devout and
heroic soul. Royce was heir to the Calvinistic tradition; piety, to his
mind, consisted in trusting divine providence and justice, while
emphasising the most terrifying truths about one’s own depravity and the
sinister holiness of God. He accordingly addressed himself, in his chief
writings, to showing that all lives were parts of a single divine life
in which all problems were solved and all evils justified.

It is characteristic of Royce that in his proof of something sublime,
like the existence of God, his premiss should be something sad and
troublesome, the existence of error. Error exists, he tells us, and
common sense will readily agree, although the fact is not
unquestionable, and pure mystics and pure sensualists deny it. But if
error exists, Royce continues, there must be a truth from which it
differs; and the existence of truth (according to the principle of
idealism, that nothing can exist except for a mind that knows it)
implies that some one knows the truth; but as to know the truth
thoroughly, and supply the corrective to every possible error, involves
omniscience, we have proved the existence of an omniscient mind or
universal thought; and this is almost, if not quite, equivalent to the
existence of God.

What carried Royce over the evident chasms and assumptions in this
argument was his earnestness and passionate eloquence. He passed for an
eminent logician, because he was dialectical and fearless in argument
and delighted in the play of formal relations; he was devoted to chess,
music, and mathematics; but all this show of logic was but a screen for
his heart, and in his heart there was no clearness. His reasoning was
not pure logic or pure observation; it was always secretly enthusiastic
or malicious, and the result it arrived at had been presupposed. Here,
for instance, no unprejudiced thinker, not to speak of a pure logician,
would have dreamt of using the existence of error to found the being of
truth upon. Error is a biological accident which may any day cease to
exist, say at the extinction of the human race; whereas the being of
truth or fact is involved indefeasibly and eternally in the existence of
anything whatever, past, present, or future; every event of itself
renders true or false any proposition that refers to it. No one would
conceive of such a thing as error or suspect its presence, unless he had
already found or assumed many a truth; nor could anything be an error
actually unless the truth was definite and real. All this Royce of
course recognised, and it was in some sense the heart of what he meant
to assert and to prove; but it does not need proving and hardly
asserting. What needed proof was something else, of less logical
importance but far greater romantic interest, namely, that the truth was
hovering over us and about to descend into our hearts; and this Royce
was not disinclined to confuse with the being of truth, so as to bring
it within the range of logical argument. He was tormented by the
suspicion that he might be himself in the toils of error, and fervently
aspired to escape from it. Error to him was no natural, and in itself
harmless, incident of finitude; it was a sort of sin, as finitude was
too. It was a part of the problem of evil; a terrible and urgent problem
when your first postulate or dogma is that moral distinctions and moral
experience are the substance of the world, and not merely an incident in
it. The mere being of truth, which is all a logician needs, would not
help him in this wrestling for personal salvation; as he keenly felt and
often said, the truth is like the stars, always laughing at us. Nothing
would help him but _possession_ of the truth, something eventual and
terribly problematic. He longed to believe that all his troubles and
questions, some day and somewhere, must find their solution and quietus;
if not in his own mind, in some kindred spirit that he could, to that
extent, identify with himself. There must be not only cold truth, not
even cold truth personified, but victorious _knowledge_ of the truth,
breaking like a sun‐burst through the clouds of error. The nerve of his
argument was not logical at all; it was a confession of religious
experience, in which the agonised consciousness of error led to a strong
imaginative conviction that the truth would be found at last.

The truth, as here conceived, meant the whole truth about everything;
and certainly, if any plausible evidence for such a conclusion could be
adduced, it would be interesting to learn that we are destined to become
omniscient, or are secretly omniscient already. Nevertheless, the
aspiration of all religious minds does not run that way. Aristotle tells
us that there are many things it is better not to know; and his sublime
deity is happily ignorant of our errors and of our very existence; more
emphatically so the even sublimer deities of Plotinus and the Indians.
The omniscience which our religion attributes to God as the searcher of
hearts and the judge of conduct has a moral function rather than a
logical one; it prevents us from hiding our sins or being unrecognised
in our merits; it is not conceived to be requisite in order that it may
be true that those sins or merits have existed. Atheists admit the
facts, but they are content or perhaps relieved that they should pass
unobserved. But here again Royce slipped into a romantic equivocation
which a strict logician would not have tolerated. Knowledge of the
truth, a passing psychological possession, was substituted for the truth
known, and this at the cost of rather serious ultimate confusions. It is
the truth itself, the facts in their actual relations, that honest
opinion appeals to, not to another opinion or instance of knowledge; and
if, in your dream of warm sympathy and public corroboration, you lay up
your treasure in some instance of knowledge, which time and doubt might
corrupt, you have not laid up your treasure in heaven. In striving to
prove the being of truth, the young Royce absurdly treated it as
doubtful, setting a bad example to the pragmatists; while in striving to
lend a psychological quality to this truth and turning it into a
problematical instance of knowledge, he unwittingly deprived it of all
authority and sublimity. To personify the truth is to care less for
truth than for the corroboration and sympathy which the truth, become
human, might bring to our opinions. It is to set up another thinker,
ourself enlarged, to vindicate us; without considering that this second
thinker would be shut up, like us, in his own opinions, and would need
to look to the truth beyond him as much as we do.

To the old problem of evil Royce could only give an old answer, although
he rediscovered and repeated it for himself in many ways, since it was
the core of his whole system. Good, he said, is essentially the struggle
with evil and the victory over it; so that if evil did not exist, good
would be impossible. I do not think this answer set him at rest; he
could hardly help feeling that all goods are not of that bellicose
description, and that not all evils produce a healthy reaction or are
swallowed up in victory; yet the fact that the most specious solution to
this problem of evil left it unsolved was in its way appropriate; for if
the problem had been really solved, the struggle to find a solution and
the faith that there was one would come to an end; yet perhaps this
faith and this struggle are themselves the supreme good. Accordingly the
true solution of this problem, which we may all accept, is that no
solution can ever be found.

Here is an example of the difference between the being of truth and the
ultimate solution of all our problems. There is certainly a truth about
evil, and in this case not an unknown truth; yet it is no solution to
the “problem” which laid the indomitable Royce on the rack. If a younger
son asks why he was not born before his elder brother, that question may
represent an intelligible state of his feelings; but there is no answer
to it, because it is a childish question. So the question why it is
right that there should be any evil is itself perverse and raised by
false presumptions. To an unsophisticated mortal the existence of evil
presents a task, never a problem. Evil, like error, is an incident of
animal life, inevitable in a crowded and unsettled world, where one
spontaneous movement is likely to thwart another, and all to run up
against material impossibilities. While life lasts this task is
recurrent, and every creature, in proportion to the vitality and
integrity of his nature, strives to remove or abate those evils of which
he is sensible. When the case is urgent and he is helpless, he will cry
out for divine aid; and (if he does not perish first) he will soon see
this aid coming to him through some shift in the circumstances that
renders his situation endurable. Positive religion takes a naturalistic
view of things, and requires it. It parts company with a scientific
naturalism only in accepting the authority of instinct or revelation in
deciding certain questions of fact, such as immortality or miracles. It
rouses itself to crush evil, without asking why evil exists. What could
be more intelligible than that a deity like Jehovah, a giant inhabitant
of the natural world, should be confronted with rivals, enemies, and
rebellious children? What could be more intelligible than that the
inertia of matter, or pure chance, or some contrary purpose, should mar
the expression of any platonic idea exercising its magic influence over
the world? For the Greek as for the Jew the task of morals is the same:
to subdue nature as far as possible to the uses of the soul, by whatever
agencies material or spiritual may be at hand; and when a limit is
reached in that direction, to harden and cauterise the heart in the face
of inevitable evils, opening it wide at the same time to every sweet
influence that may descend to it from heaven. Never for a moment was
positive religion entangled in a sophistical optimism. Never did it
conceive that the most complete final deliverance and triumph would
_justify_ the evils which they abolished. As William James put it, in
his picturesque manner, if at the last day all creation was shouting
hallelujah and there remained one cockroach with an unrequited love,
_that_ would spoil the universal harmony; it would spoil it, he meant,
in truth and for the tender philosopher, but probably not for those
excited saints. James was thinking chiefly of the present and future,
but the same scrupulous charity has its application to the past. To
remove an evil is not to remove the fact that it has existed. The tears
that have been shed were shed in bitterness, even if a remorseful hand
afterwards wipes them away. To be patted on the back and given a
sugar‐plum does not reconcile even a child to a past injustice. And the
case is much worse if we are expected to make our heaven out of the
foolish and cruel pleasures of contrast, or out of the pathetic
obfuscation produced by a great relief. Such a heaven would be a lie,
like the sardonic heavens of Calvin and Hegel. The existence of any evil
anywhere at any time absolutely ruins a total optimism.

Nevertheless philosophers have always had a royal road to complete
satisfaction. One of the purest of pleasures, which they cultivate above
all others, is the pleasure of understanding. Now, as playwrights and
novelists know, the intellect is no less readily or agreeably employed
in understanding evil than in understanding good—more so, in fact, if in
the intellectual man, besides his intelligence, there is a strain of
coarseness, irony, or desire to belittle the good things others possess
and he himself has missed. Sometimes the philosopher, even when above
all meanness, becomes so devoted a naturalist that he is ashamed to
remain a moralist, although this is what he probably was in the
beginning; and where all is one vast cataract of events, he feels it
would be impertinent of him to divide them censoriously into things that
ought to be and things that ought not to be. He may even go one step
farther. Awestruck and humbled before the universe, he may insensibly
transform his understanding and admiration of it into the assertion that
the existence of evil is no evil at all, but that the order of the
universe is in every detail necessary and perfect, so that the mere
mention of the word evil is blind and blasphemous.

This sentiment, which as much as any other deserves the name of
pantheism, is often expressed incoherently and with a false afflatus;
but when rationally conceived, as it was by Spinoza, it amounts to this:
that good and evil are relations which things bear to the living beings
they affect. In itself nothing—much less this whole mixed universe—can
be either good or bad; but the universe wears the aspect of a good in so
far as it feeds, delights, or otherwise fosters any creature within it.
If we define the intellect as the power to see things as they are, it is
clear that in so far as the philosopher is a pure intellect the universe
will be a pure good to the philosopher; everything in it will give play
to his exclusive passion. Wisdom counsels us therefore to become
philosophers and to concentrate our lives as much as possible in pure
intelligence, that we may be led by it into the ways of peace. Not that
the universe will be proved thereby to be intrinsically good (although
in the heat of their intellectual egotism philosophers are sometimes
betrayed into saying so), but that it will have become in that measure a
good to us, and we shall be better able to live happily and freely in
it. If intelligibility appears in things, it does so like beauty or use,
because the mind of man, in so far as it is adapted to them, finds its
just exercise in their society.

This is an ancient, shrewd, and inexpugnable position. If Royce had been
able to adhere to it consistently, he would have avoided his gratuitous
problem of evil without, I think, doing violence to the sanest element
in his natural piety, which was joy in the hard truth, with a touch of
humour and scorn in respect to mortal illusions. There was an observant
and docile side to him; and as a child likes to see things work, he
liked to see processions of facts marching on ironically, whatever we
might say about it. This was his sense of the power of God. It attached
him at first to Spinoza and later to mathematical logic. No small part
of his life‐long allegiance to the Absolute responded to this sentiment.

The outlook, however, was complicated and half reversed for him by the
transcendental theory of knowledge which he had adopted. This theory
regards all objects, including the universe, as merely terms posited by
the will of the thinker, according to a definite grammar of thought
native to his mind. In order that his thoughts may be addressed to any
particular object, he must first choose and create it of his own accord;
otherwise his opinions, not being directed upon any object in particular
within his ken, cannot be either true or false, whatever picture they
may frame. What anything external may happen to be, when we do not mean
to speak of it, is irrelevant to our discourse. If, for instance, the
real Royce were not a denizen and product of my mind—of my deeper self—I
could not so much as have a wrong idea of him. The need of this initial
relevance in our judgements seems to the transcendentalist to drive all
possible objects into the fold of his secret thoughts, so that he has
two minds, one that seeks the facts and another that already possesses
or rather constitutes them.

Pantheism, when this new philosophy of knowledge is adopted, seems at
first to lose its foundations. There is no longer an external universe
to which to bow; no little corner left for us in the infinite where,
after making the great sacrifice, we may build a safe nest. The
intellect to which we had proudly reduced ourselves has lost its
preeminence; it can no longer be called the faculty of seeing things as
they are. It has become what psychological critics of intellectualism,
such as William James, understand by it: a mass of human propensities to
abstraction, construction, belief, or inference, by which imaginary
things and truths are posited in the service of life. It is therefore on
the same plane exactly as passion, music, or æsthetic taste: a mental
complication which may be an index to other psychological facts
connected with it genetically, but which has no valid intent, no ideal
transcendence, no assertive or cognitive function. Intelligence so
conceived understands nothing: it is a buzzing labour in the fancy
which, by some obscure causation, helps us to live on.

To discredit the intellect, to throw off the incubus of an external
reality or truth, was one of the boons which transcendentalism in its
beginnings brought to the romantic soul. But although at first the sense
of relief (to Fichte, for instance) was most exhilarating, the freedom
achieved soon proved illusory: the terrible Absolute had been simply
transplanted into the self. You were your own master, and omnipotent;
but you were no less dark, hostile, and inexorable to yourself than the
gods of Calvin or of Spinoza had been before. Since every detail of this
mock world was your secret work, you were not only wiser but also more
criminal than you knew. You were stifled, even more than formerly, in
the arms of nature, in the toils of your own unaccountable character,
which made your destiny. Royce never recoiled from paradox or from
bitter fact; and he used to say that a mouse, when tormented and torn to
pieces by a cat, was realising his own deepest will, since he had
sub‐consciously chosen to be a mouse in a world that should have cats in
it. The mouse really, in his deeper self, wanted to be terrified,
clawed, and devoured. Royce was superficially a rationalist, with no
tenderness for superstition in detail and not much sympathy with
civilised religions; but we see here that in his heart he was loyal to
the aboriginal principle of all superstition: reverence for what hurts.
He said to himself that in so far as God was the devil—as daily
experience and Hegelian logic proved was largely the case—devil‐worship
was true religion.

A protest, however, arose in his own mind against this doctrine. Strong
early bonds attached him to moralism—to the opinion of the Stoics and of
Kant that virtue is the only good. Yet if virtue were conceived after
their manner, as a heroic and sublimated attitude of the will, of which
the world hardly afforded any example, how should the whole whirligig of
life be good also? How should moralism, that frowns on this wicked
world, be reconciled with pantheism and optimism, that hug it to their
bosom? By the ingenious if rather melodramatic notion that we should hug
it with a bear’s hug, that virtue consisted (as Royce often put it) in
holding evil by the throat; so that the world was good because it was a
good world to strangle, and if we only managed to do so, the more it
deserved strangling the better world it was. But this Herculean feat
must not be considered as something to accomplish once for all; the
labours of Hercules must be not twelve but infinite, since his virtue
consisted in performing them, and if he ever rested or was received into
Olympus he would have left virtue—the only good—behind. The wickedness
of the world was no reason for quitting it; on the contrary, it invited
us to plunge into all its depths and live through every phase of it;
virtue was severe but not squeamish. It lived by endless effort, turbid
vitality, and _Sturm und Drang_. Moralism and an apology for evil could
thus be reconciled and merged in the praises of tragic experience.

This had been the burden of Hegel’s philosophy of life, which Royce
admired and adopted. Hegel and his followers seem to be fond of
imagining that they are moving in a tragedy. But because Aeschylus and
Sophocles were great poets, does it follow that life would be cheap if
it did not resemble their fables? The life of tragic heroes is not good;
it is misguided, unnecessary, and absurd. Yet that is what romantic
philosophy would condemn us to; we must all strut and roar. We must lend
ourselves to the partisan earnestness of persons and nations calling
their rivals villains and themselves heroes; but this earnestness will
be of the histrionic German sort, made to order and transferable at
short notice from one object to another, since what truly matters is not
that we should achieve our ostensible aim (which Hegel contemptuously
called ideal) but that we should carry on perpetually, if possible with
a _crescendo_, the strenuous experience of living in a gloriously bad
world, and always working to reform it, with the comforting speculative
assurance that we never can succeed. We never can succeed, I mean, in
rendering reform less necessary or life happier; but of course in any
specific reform we may succeed half the time, thereby sowing the seeds
of new and higher evils, to keep the edge of virtue keen. And in reality
we, or the Absolute in us, are succeeding all the time; the play is
always going on, and the play’s the thing.

It was inevitable that Royce should have been at home only in this
circle of Protestant and German intuitions; a more refined existence
would have seemed to him to elude moral experience. Although he was born
in California he had never got used to the sunshine; he had never tasted
peace. His spirit was that of courage and labour. He was tender in a
bashful way, as if in tenderness there was something pathological, as
indeed to his sense there was, since he conceived love and loyalty to be
divine obsessions refusing to be rationalised; he saw their essence in
the child who clings to an old battered doll rather than accept a new
and better one. Following orthodox tradition in philosophy, he insisted
on seeing reason at the bottom of things as well as at the top, so that
he never could understand either the root or the flower of anything. He
watched the movement of events as if they were mysterious music, and
instead of their causes and potentialities he tried to divine their
_motif_. On current affairs his judgements were highly seasoned and
laboriously wise. If anything escaped him, it was only the simplicity of
what is best. His reward was that he became a prophet to a whole class
of earnest, troubled people who, having discarded doctrinal religion,
wished to think their life worth living when, to look at what it
contained, it might not have seemed so; it reassured them to learn that
a strained and joyless existence was not their unlucky lot, or a
consequence of their solemn folly, but was the necessary fate of all
good men and angels. Royce had always experienced and seen about him a
groping, burdened, mediocre life; he had observed how fortune is
continually lying in ambush for us, in order to bring good out of evil
and evil out of good. In his age and country all was change,
preparation, hurry, material achievement; nothing was an old and
sufficient possession; nowhere, or very much in the background, any
leisure, simplicity, security, or harmony. The whole scene was filled
with arts and virtues which were merely useful or remedial. The most
pressing arts, like war and forced labour, presuppose evil, work immense
havoc, and take the place of greater possible goods. The most
indispensable virtues, like courage and industry, do likewise. But these
seemed in Royce’s world the only honourable things, and he took them to
be typical of all art and virtue—a tremendous error. It is very true,
however, that in the welter of material existence no concrete thing can
be good or evil in every respect; and so long as our rough arts and
virtues do more good than harm we give them honourable names, such as
unselfishness, patriotism, or religion; and it remains a mark of good
breeding among us to practise them instinctively. But an absolute love
of such forced arts and impure virtues is itself a vice; it is, as the
case may be, barbarous, vain, or fanatical. It mistakes something
specific—some habit or emotion which may be or may have been good in
some respect, or under some circumstances the lesser of two evils—for
the very principle of excellence. But good and evil, like light and
shade, are ethereal; all things, events, persons, and conventional
virtues are in themselves utterly valueless, save as an immaterial
harmony (of which mind is an expression) plays about them on occasion,
when their natures meet propitiously, and bathes them in some tint of
happiness or beauty. This immaterial harmony may be made more and more
perfect; the difficulties in the way of perfection, either in man, in
society, or in universal nature, are physical not logical. Worship of
barbarous virtue is the blackest conservatism; it shuts the gate of
heaven, and surrenders existence to perpetual follies and crimes,
Moralism itself is a superstition. In its abstract form it is moral, too
moral; it adores the conventional conscience, or perhaps a morbid one.
In its romantic form, moralism becomes barbarous and actually immoral;
it obstinately craves action and stress for their own sake, experience
in the gross, and a good‐and‐bad way of living.

Royce sometimes conceded that there might be some pure goods, music, for
instance, or mathematics; but the impure moral goods were better and
could not be spared. Such a concession, however, if it had been taken to
heart, would have ruined his whole moral philosophy. The romanticist
must maintain that _only_ what is painful can be noble and _only_ what
is lurid bright. A taste for turbid and contrasted values would soon
seem perverse when once anything perfect had been seen and loved. Would
it not have been better to leave out the worst of the crimes and plagues
that have heightened the tragic value of the world? But if so, why stop
before we had deleted them all? We should presently be horrified at the
mere thought of passions that before had been found necessary by the
barbarous tragedian to keep his audience awake; and the ear at the same
time would become sensitive to a thousand harmonies that had been
inaudible in the hurly‐burly of romanticism. The romanticist thinks he
has life by virtue of his confusion and torment, whereas in truth that
torment and confusion are his incipient death, and it is only the
modicum of harmony he has achieved in his separate faculties that keeps
him alive at all. As Aristotle taught, unmixed harmony would be
intensest life. The spheres might make a sweet and perpetual music, and
a happy God is at least possible.

It was not in this direction, however, that Royce broke away on occasion
from his Hegelian ethics; he did so in the direction of ethical
dogmatism and downright sincerity. The deepest thing in him personally
was conscience, firm recognition of duty, and the democratic and
American spirit of service. He could not adopt a moral bias
histrionically, after the manner of Hegel or Nietzsche. To those
hardened professionals any rôle was acceptable, the more commanding the
better; but the good Royce was like a sensitive amateur, refusing the
rôle of villain, however brilliant and necessary to the play. In
contempt of his own speculative insight, or in an obedience to it which
forgot it for the time being, he lost himself in his part, and felt that
it was infinitely important to be cast only for the most virtuous of
characters. He retained inconsistently the Jewish allegiance to a God
essentially the vindicator of only one of the combatants, not in this
world often the victor; he could not stomach the providential scoundrels
which the bad taste of Germany, and of Carlyle and Browning, was wont to
glorify. The last notable act of his life was an illustration of this,
when he uttered a ringing public denunciation of the sinking of the
_Lusitania_. Orthodox Hegelians might well have urged that here, if
anywhere, was a plain case of the providential function of what, from a
finite merely moral point of view, was an evil in order to make a higher
good possible—the virtue of German self‐assertion and of American
self‐assertion in antithesis to it, synthesised in the concrete good of
war and victory, or in the perhaps more blessed good of defeat. What
could be more unphilosophical and _gedankenlos_ than the intrusion of
mere morality into the higher idea of world‐development? Was not the
Universal Spirit compelled to bifurcate into just such Germans and just
such Americans, in order to attain self‐consciousness by hating,
fighting against, and vanquishing itself? Certainly it was American duty
to be angry, as it was German duty to be ruthless. The Idea liked to see
its fighting‐cocks at it in earnest, since that was what it had bred
them for; but both were good cocks. Villains, as Hegel had observed in
describing Greek tragedy, were not less self‐justified than heroes; they
were simply the heroes of a lower stage of culture. America and England
remained at the stage of individualism; Germany had advanced to the
higher stage of organisation. Perhaps this necessary war was destined,
through the apparent defeat of Germany, to bring England and America up
to the German level. Of course; and yet somehow, on this occasion, Royce
passed over these profound considerations, which life‐long habit must
have brought to his lips. A Socratic demon whispered No, No in his ear;
it would have been better for such things never to be. The murder of
those thousand passengers was not a providential act, requisite to
spread abroad a vitalising war; it was a crime to execrate altogether.
It would have been better for Hegel, or whoever was responsible for it,
if a millstone had been hanged about his neck and he, and not those
little ones, had been drowned at the bottom of the sea. Of this
terrestrial cock‐pit Royce was willing to accept the agony, but not the
ignominy. The other cock was a wicked bird.

This honest lapse from his logic was habitual with him at the sight of
sin, and sin in his eyes was a fearful reality. His conscience spoiled
the pantheistic serenity of his system; and what was worse (for he was
perfectly aware of the contradiction) it added a deep, almost remorseful
unrest to his hard life. What calm could there be in the double
assurance that it was really right that things should be wrong, but that
it was really wrong not to strive to right them? There was no conflict,
he once observed, between science and religion, but the real conflict
was between religion and morality. There could indeed be no conflict in
his mind between faith and science, because his faith began by accepting
all facts and all scientific probabilities in order to face them
religiously. But there was an invincible conflict between religion as he
conceived it and morality, because morality takes sides and regards one
sort of motive and one kind of result as better than another, whereas
religion according to him gloried in everything, even in the evil, as
fulfilling the will of God. Of course the practice of virtue was not
excluded; it was just as needful as evil was in the scheme of the whole;
but while the effort of morality was requisite, the judgements of
morality were absurd. Now I think we may say that a man who finds
himself in such a position has a divided mind, and that while he has
wrestled with the deepest questions like a young giant, he has not won
the fight. I mean, he has not seen his way to any one of the various
possibilities about the nature of things, but has remained entangled,
sincerely, nobly, and pathetically, in contrary traditions stronger than
himself. In the goodly company of philosophers he is an intrepid martyr.

In metaphysics as in morals Royce perpetually laboured the same points,
yet they never became clear; they covered a natural complexity in the
facts which his idealism could not disentangle. There was a voluminous
confusion in his thought; some clear principles and ultimate
possibilities turned up in it, now presenting one face and now another,
like chips carried down a swollen stream; but the most powerful currents
were below the surface, and the whole movement was hard to trace. He had
borrowed from Hegel a way of conceiving systems of philosophy, and also
the elements of his own thought, which did not tend to clarify them. He
did not think of correcting what incoherence there might remain in any
view, and then holding it in reserve, as one of the possibilities, until
facts should enable us to decide whether it was true or not. Instead he
clung to the incoherence as if it had been the heart of the position, in
order to be driven by it to some other position altogether, so that
while every view seemed to be considered, criticised, and in a measure
retained (since the argument continued on the same lines, however
ill‐chosen they might have been originally), yet justice was never done
to it; it was never clarified, made consistent with itself, and then
accepted or rejected in view of the evidence. Hence a vicious and
perplexing suggestion that philosophies are bred out of philosophies,
not out of men in the presence of things. Hence too a sophistical effort
to find everything self‐contradictory, and in some disquieting way both
true and false, as if there were not an infinite number of perfectly
consistent systems which the world might have illustrated.

Consider, for instance, his chief and most puzzling contention, that all
minds are parts of one mind. It is easy, according to the meaning we
give to the word mind, to render this assertion clear and true, or clear
and false, or clear and doubtful (because touching unknown facts), or
utterly absurd. It is obvious that all minds are parts of one flux or
system of experiences, as all bodies are parts of one system of bodies.
Again, if mind is identified with its objects, and people are said to be
“of one mind” when they are thinking of the same thing, it is certain
that many minds are often identical in part, and they would all be
identical with portions of an omniscient mind that should perceive all
that they severally experienced. The question becomes doubtful if what
we mean by oneness of mind is unity of type; our information or
plausible guesses cannot assure us how many sorts of experience may
exist, or to what extent their development (when they develop) follows
the same lines of evolution. The animals would have to be consulted, and
the other planets, and the infinite recesses of time. The straitjacket
which German idealism has provided is certainly far too narrow even for
the varieties of human imagination. Finally, the assertion becomes
absurd when it is understood to suggest that an actual instance of
thinking, in which something, say the existence of America, is absent or
denied, can be part of another actual instance of thinking in which it
is present and asserted. But this whole method of treating the
matter—and we might add anything that observation might warrant us in
adding about multiple personalities—would leave out the problem that
agitated Royce and that bewildered his readers. He wanted all minds to
be one in some way which should be logically and morally necessary, and
which yet, as he could not help feeling, was morally and logically
impossible.

For pure transcendentalism, which was Royce’s technical method, the
question does not arise at all. Transcendentalism is an attitude or a
point of view rather than as system. Its Absolute is thinking “as such,”
wherever thought may exert itself. The notion that there are separate
instances of thought is excluded, because space, time, and number belong
to the visionary world posited by thought, not to the function of
thinking; individuals are figments of constructive fancy, as are
material objects. The stress of moral being is the same wherever it may
fall, and there are no finite selves, or relations between thinkers;
also no infinite self, because on this principle the Absolute is not an
existent being, a psychological monster, but a station or office; its
essence is a task. Actual thinking is therefore never a part of the
Absolute, but always the Absolute itself. Thinkers, finite or infinite,
would be existing persons or masses of feelings; such things are dreamt
of only. _Any_ system of existences, _any_ truth or matter of fact
waiting to be recognised, contradicts the transcendental insight and
stultifies it. The all‐inclusive mind is my mind as I think, mind in its
living function, and beyond that philosophy cannot go.

Royce, however, while often reasoning on this principle, was incapable
of not going beyond it, or of always remembering it. He could not help
believing that constructive fancy not only feigns individuals and
instances of thought, but is actually seated in them. The Absolute, for
instance, must be not merely the abstract subject or transcendental self
in all of us (although it was that too), but an actual synthetic
universal mind, the God of Aristotle and of Christian theology. Nor was
it easy for Royce, a sincere soul and a friend of William James, not to
be a social realist; I mean, not to admit that there are many collateral
human minds, in temporal existential relations to one another, any of
which may influence another, but never supplant it nor materially
include it. Finite experience was not a mere element in infinite
experience; it was a tragic totality in itself. I was not God looking at
myself, I was myself looking for God. Yet this strain was utterly
incompatible with the principles of transcendentalism; it turned
philosophy into a simple anticipation of science, if not into an
indulgence in literary psychology. Knowledge would then have been only
faith leaping across the chasm of coexistence and guessing the presence
and nature of what surrounds us by some hint of material influence or
brotherly affinity. Both the credulity and the finality which such
naturalism implies were offensive to Royce, and contrary to his
sceptical and mystical instincts. Was there some middle course?

The audience in a theatre stand in a transcendental relation to the
persons and events in the play. The performance may take place to‐day
and last one hour, while the fable transports us to some heroic epoch or
to an age that never existed, and stretches through days and perhaps
years of fancied time. Just so transcendental thinking, while actually
timeless and not distributed among persons, might survey infinite time
and rehearse the passions and thoughts of a thousand characters.
Thought, after all, needs objects, however fictitious and ideal they may
be; it could not think if it thought nothing. This indispensable world
of appearance is far more interesting than the reality that evokes it;
the qualities and divisions found in the appearance diversify the
monotonous function of pure thinking and render it concrete. Instances
of thought and particular minds may thus be introduced consistently into
a transcendental system, provided they are distinguished not by their
own times and places, but only by their themes. The transcendental mind
would be a pure poet, with no earthly life, but living only in his
works, and in the times and persons of his fable. This view, firmly and
consistently held, would deserve the name of absolute idealism, which
Royce liked to give to his own system. But he struggled to fuse it with
social realism, with which it is radically incompatible. Particular
minds and the whole process of time, for absolute idealism, are _ideas_
only; they are thought of and surveyed, they never think or lapse
actually. For this reason genuine idealists can speak so glibly of the
mind of a nation or an age. It is just as real and unreal to them as the
mind of an individual; for within the human individual they can trace
unities that run through and beyond him, so that parts of him, identical
with parts of other people, form units as living as himself; for it is
all a web of themes, not a concourse of existences. This is the very
essence and pride of idealism, that knowledge is not knowledge of the
world but is the world itself, and that the units of discourse, which
are interwoven and crossed units, are the only individuals in being. You
may call them persons, because “person” means a mask; but you cannot
call them souls. They are knots in the web of history. They are words in
their context, and the only spirit in them is the sense they have for
me.

Royce, however, in saying all this, also wished not to say it, and his
two thick volumes on _The World and the Individual_ leave their subject
wrapped in utter obscurity. Perceiving the fact when he had finished, he
very characteristically added a “Supplementary Essay” of a hundred more
pages, in finer print, in which to come to the point. Imagine, he said,
an absolutely exhaustive map of England spread out upon English soil.
The map would be a part of England, yet would reproduce every feature of
England, including itself; so that the map would reappear on a smaller
scale within itself an infinite number of times, like a mirror reflected
in a mirror. In this way we might be individuals within a larger
individual, and no less actual and complete than he. Does this solve the
problem? If we take the illustration as it stands, there is still only
one individual in existence, the material England, all the maps being
parts of its single surface; nor will it at all resemble the maps, since
it will be washed by the sea and surrounded by foreign nations, and not,
like the maps, by other Englands enveloping it. If, on the contrary, we
equalise the status of all the members of the series, by making it
infinite in both directions, then there would be no England at all, but
only map within map of England. There would be no absolute mind
inclusive but not included, and the Absolute would be the series as a
whole, utterly different from any of its members. It would be a series
while they were maps, a truth while they were minds; and if the Absolute
from the beginning had been regarded as a truth only, there never would
have been any difficulty in the existence of individuals under it.
Moreover, if the individuals are all exactly alike, does not their exact
similarity defeat the whole purpose of the speculation, which was to
vindicate the equal reality of the whole and of its _limited_ parts? And
if each of us, living through infinite time, goes through precisely the
same experiences as every one else, why this vain repetition? Is it not
enough for this insatiable world to live its life once? Why not admit
solipsism and be true to the transcendental method? Because of
conscience and good sense? But then the infinite series of maps is
useless, England is herself again, and the prospect opens before us of
an infinite number of supplementary essays.

Royce sometimes felt that he might have turned his hand to other things
than philosophy. He once wrote a novel, and its want of success was a
silent disappointment to him. Perhaps he might have been a great
musician. Complexity, repetitions, vagueness, endlessness are hardly
virtues in writing or thinking, but in music they might have swelled and
swelled into a real sublimity, all the more that he was patient, had a
voluminous meandering memory, and loved technical devices. But rather
than a musician—for he was no artist—he resembled some great‐hearted
mediæval peasant visited by mystical promptings, whom the monks should
have adopted and allowed to browse among their theological folios; a
Duns Scotus earnest and studious to a fault, not having the lightness of
soul to despise those elaborate sophistries, yet minded to ferret out
their secret for himself and walk by his inward light. His was a gothic
and scholastic spirit, intent on devising and solving puzzles, and
honouring God in systematic works, like the coral insect or the spider;
eventually creating a fabric that in its homely intricacy and fulness
arrested and moved the heart, the web of it was so vast, and so full of
mystery and yearning.



CHAPTER V—LATER SPECULATIONS


A question which is curious in itself and may become important in the
future is this: How has migration to the new world affected
philosophical ideas? At first sight we might be tempted, perhaps, to
dismiss this question altogether, on the ground that no such effect is
discernible. For what do we find in America in the guise of philosophy?
In the background, the same Protestant theology as in Europe and the
same Catholic theology; on the surface, the same adoption of German
idealism, the same vogue of evolution, the same psychology becoming
metaphysics, and lately the same revival of a mathematical or logical
realism. In no case has the first expression of these various tendencies
appeared in America, and no original system that I know of has arisen
there. It would seem, then, that in philosophy, as in letters generally,
polite America has continued the common tradition of Christendom, in
paths closely parallel to those followed in England; and that modern
speculation, which is so very sensitive to changed times, is quite
indifferent to distinctions of place.

Perhaps; but I say advisedly _polite_ America, for without this
qualification what I have been suggesting would hardly be true. Polite
America carried over its household gods from puritan England in a spirit
of consecration, and it has always wished to remain in communion with
whatever its conscience might value in the rest of the world. Yet it has
been cut off by distance and by revolutionary prejudice against things
ancient or foreign; and it has been disconcerted at the same time by the
insensible shifting of the ground under its feet: it has suffered from
in‐breeding and anæmia. On the other hand, a crude but vital America has
sprung up from the soil, undermining, feeding, and transforming the
America of tradition.

This young America was originally composed of all the prodigals,
truants, and adventurous spirits that the colonial families produced: it
was fed continually by the younger generation, born in a spacious,
half‐empty world, tending to forget the old straitened morality and to
replace it by another, quite jovially human. This truly native America
was reinforced by the miscellany of Europe arriving later, not in the
hope of founding a godly commonwealth, but only of prospering in an
untrammelled one. The horde of immigrants eagerly accepts the external
arrangements and social spirit of American life, but never hears of its
original austere principles, or relegates them to the same willing
oblivion as it does the constraints which it has just escaped—Jewish,
Irish, German, Italian, or whatever they may be. We should be seriously
deceived if we overlooked for a moment the curious and complex relation
between these two Americas.

Let me give one illustration. Professor Norton, the friend of Carlyle,
of Burne‐Jones, and of Matthew Arnold, and, for the matter of that, the
friend of everybody, a most urbane, learned, and exquisite spirit, was
descended from a long line of typical New England divines: yet he was
loudly accused, in public and in private, of being un‐American. On the
other hand, a Frenchman of ripe judgement, who knew him perfectly, once
said to me: “Norton wouldn’t like to hear it, but he is a terrible
Yankee.” Both judgements were well grounded. Professor Norton’s mind was
deeply moralised, discriminating, and sad; and these qualities rightly
seemed American to the French observer of New England, but they rightly
seemed un‐American to the politician from Washington.

Philosophical opinion in America is of course rooted in the genteel
tradition. It is either inspired by religious faith, and designed to
defend it, or else it is created somewhat artificially in the larger
universities, by deliberately proposing problems which, without being
very pressing to most Americans, are supposed to be necessary problems
of thought. Yet if you expected academic philosophers in America,
because the background of their minds seems perfunctory, to resemble
academic philosophers elsewhere, you would be often mistaken. There is
no prig’s paradise in those regions. Many of the younger professors of
philosophy are no longer the sort of persons that might as well have
been clergymen or schoolmasters: they have rather the type of mind of a
doctor, an engineer, or a social reformer; the wide‐awake young man who
can do most things better than old people, and who knows it. He is less
eloquent and apostolic than the older generation of philosophers, very
professional in tone and conscious of his _Fach_; not that he would deny
for a moment the many‐sided ignorance to which nowadays we are all
reduced, but that he thinks he can get on very well without the things
he ignores. His education has been more pretentious than thorough; his
style is deplorable; social pressure and his own great eagerness have
condemned him to over‐work, committee meetings, early marriage,
premature authorship, and lecturing two or three times a day under
forced draught. He has no peace in himself, no window open to a calm
horizon, and in his heart perhaps little taste for mere scholarship or
pure speculation. Yet, like the plain soldier staggering under his
clumsy equipment, he is cheerful; he keeps his faith in himself and in
his allotted work, puts up with being toasted only on one side, remains
open‐minded, whole‐hearted, appreciative, helpful, confident of the
future of goodness and of science. In a word, he is a cell in that
teeming democratic body; he draws from its warm, contagious activities
the sanctions of his own life and, less consciously, the spirit of his
philosophy.

It is evident that such minds will have but a loose hold on tradition,
even on the genteel tradition in American philosophy. Not that in
general they oppose or dislike it; their alienation from it is more
radical; they forget it. Religion was the backbone of that tradition,
and towards religion, in so far as it is a private sentiment or
presumption, they feel a tender respect; but in so far as religion is a
political institution, seeking to coerce the mind and the conscience,
one would think they had never heard of it. They feel it is as much
every one’s right to choose and cherish a religion as to choose and
cherish a wife, without having his choice rudely commented upon in
public. Hitherto America has been the land of universal good‐will,
confidence in life, inexperience of poisons. Until yesterday it believed
itself immune from the hereditary plagues of mankind. It could not
credit the danger of being suffocated or infected by any sinister
principle. The more errors and passions were thrown into the
melting‐pot, the more certainly would they neutralise one another and
would truth come to the top. Every system was met with a frank gaze.
“Come on,” people seemed to say to it, “show us what you are good for.
We accept no claims; we ask for no credentials; we just give you a
chance. Plato, the Pope, and Mrs. Eddy shall have one vote each.” After
all, I am not sure that this toleration without deference is not a cruel
test for systematic delusions: it lets the daylight into the stage.

Philosophic tradition in America has merged almost completely in German
idealism. In a certain sense this system did not need to be adopted:
something very like it had grown up spontaneously in New England in the
form of transcendentalism and unitarian theology. Even the most
emancipated and positivistic of the latest thinkers—pragmatists, new
realists, pure empiricists—have been bred in the atmosphere of German
idealism; and this fact should not be forgotten in approaching their
views. The element of this philosophy which has sunk deepest, and which
is reinforced by the influence of psychology, is the critical attitude
towards knowledge, subjectivism, withdrawal into experience, on the
assumption that experience is something substantial. Experience was
regarded by earlier empiricists as a method for making real discoveries,
a safer witness than reasoning to what might exist in nature; but now
experience is taken to be in itself the only real existence, the
ultimate object that all thought and theory must regard. This empiricism
does not look to the building up of science, but rather to a more
thorough criticism and disintegration of conventional beliefs, those of
empirical science included. It is in the intrepid prosecution of this
criticism and disintegration that American philosophy has won its wings.

It may seem a strange Nemesis that a critical philosophy, which on
principle reduces everything to the consciousness of it, should end by
reducing consciousness itself to other things; yet the path of this
boomerang is not hard to trace. The word consciousness originally meant
what Descartes called thought or cogitation—the faculty which attention
has of viewing together objects which may belong together neither in
their logical essence nor in their natural existence. It colours events
with memories and facts with emotions, and adds images to words. This
synthetic and transitive function of consciousness is a positive fact
about it, to be discovered by study, like any other somewhat recondite
fact. You will discover it if you institute a careful comparison and
contrast between the way things hang together in thought and the way
they hang together in nature. To have discerned the wonderful
perspectives both of imagination and of will seems to me the chief
service done to philosophy by Kant and his followers. It is the
positive, the non‐malicious element in their speculation; and in the
midst of their psychologism in logic and their egotism about nature and
history, consciousness seems to be the one province of being which they
have thrown true light upon. But just because this is a positive
province of being, an actual existence to be discovered and dogmatically
believed in, it is not what a malicious criticism of knowledge can end
with. Not the nature of consciousness, but the data of consciousness,
are what the critic must fall back upon in the last resort; and Hume had
been in this respect a more penetrating critic than Kant. One cannot, by
inspecting consciousness, find consciousness itself as a passive datum,
because consciousness is cogitation; one can only take note of the
immediate objects of consciousness, in such private perspective as sense
or imagination may present.

Philosophy seems to be richer in theories than in words to express them
in; and much confusion results from the necessity of using old terms in
new meanings. In this way, when consciousness is disregarded, in the
proper sense of cogitation, the name of consciousness can be transferred
to the stream of objects immediately present to consciousness; so that
consciousness comes to signify the evolving field of appearances
unrolled before any person.

This equivocation is favoured by the allied ambiguity of an even
commoner term, idea. It is plausible to say that consciousness is a
stream of ideas, because an idea may mean an opinion, a cogitation, a
view taken of some object. And it is also plausible to say that ideas
are objects of consciousness, because an idea may mean an image, a
passive datum. Passive data may be of any sort you like—things,
qualities, relations, propositions—but they are never cogitations; and
to call _them_ consciousness or components of consciousness is false and
inexcusable. The ideas that may be so called are not these passive
objects, but active thoughts. Indeed, when the psychological critic has
made this false step, he is not able to halt: his method will carry him
presently from this position to one even more paradoxical.

Is memory knowledge of a past that is itself absent and dead, or is it a
present experience? A complete philosophy would doubtless reply that it
is both; but psychological criticism can take cognisance of memory only
as a mass of present images and presumptions. The experience remembered
may indeed be exactly recovered and be present again; but the fact that
it was present before cannot possibly be given now; it can only be
suggested and believed.

It is evident, therefore, that the historical order in which data flow
is not contained bodily in any one of them. This order is conceived; the
hypothesis is framed instinctively and instinctively credited, but it is
only an hypothesis. And it is often wrong, as is proved by all the
constitutional errors of memory and legend. Belief in the order of our
personal experiences is accordingly just as dogmatic, daring, and
realistic as the parallel belief in a material world. The psychological
critic must attribute both beliefs to a mere tendency to feign; and if
he is true to his method he must discard the notion that the objects of
consciousness are arranged in psychological sequences, making up
separate minds. In other words, he must discard the notion of
consciousness, not only in the sense of thought or cogitation, but in
the sense he himself had given it of a stream of ideas. Actual objects,
he will now admit, not without a certain surprise, are not ideas at all:
they do not lie in the mind (for there is no mind to be found) but in
the medium that observably surrounds them. Things are just what they
seem to be, and to say they are consciousness or compose a consciousness
is absurd. The so‐called appearances, according to a perfected criticism
of knowledge, are nothing private or internal; they are merely those
portions of external objects which from time to time impress themselves
on somebody’s organs of sense and are responded to by his nervous
system.

Such is the doctrine of the new American realists, in whose devoted
persons the logic of idealism has worked itself out and appropriately
turned idealism itself into its opposite. Consciousness, they began by
saying, is merely a stream of ideas; but then ideas are merely the parts
of objects which happen to appear to a given person; but again, a person
(for all you or he can discover) is nothing but his body and those parts
of other objects which appear to him; and, finally, to appear, in any
discoverable sense, cannot be to have a ghostly sort of mental
existence, but merely to be reacted upon by an animal body. Thus we come
to the conclusion that objects alone exist, and that consciousness is a
name for certain segments or groups of these objects.

I think we may conjecture why this startling conclusion, that
consciousness does not exist, a conclusion suggested somewhat hurriedly
by William James, has found a considerable echo in America, and why the
system of Avenarius, which makes in the same direction, has been studied
there sympathetically. To deny consciousness is to deny a pre‐requisite
to the obvious, and to leave the obvious standing alone. That is a
relief to an overtaxed and self‐impeded generation; it seems a blessed
simplification. It gets rid of the undemocratic notion that by being
very reflective, circumspect, and subtle you might discover something
that most people do not see. They can go on more merrily with their work
if they believe that by being so subtle, circumspect, and reflective you
would only discover a mare’s nest. The elimination of consciousness not
only restores the obvious, but proves all parts of the obvious to be
equally real. Not only colours, beauties, and passions, but all things
formerly suspected of being creatures of thought, such as laws,
relations, and abstract qualities, now become components of the existing
object, since there is no longer any mental vehicle by which they might
have been created and interposed. The young American is thus reassured:
his joy in living and learning is no longer chilled by the contempt
which idealism used to cast on nature for being imaginary and on science
for being intellectual. All fictions and all abstractions are now
declared to be parcels of the objective world; it will suffice to live
on, to live forward, in order to see everything as it really is.

If we look now at these matters from a slightly different angle, we
shall find psychological criticism transforming the notion of truth much
as it has transformed the notion of consciousness. In the first place,
there is a similar ambiguity in the term. The truth properly means the
sum of all true propositions, what omniscience would assert, the whole
ideal system of qualities and relations which the world has exemplified
or will exemplify. The truth is all things seen under the form of
eternity. In this sense, a psychological criticism cannot be pertinent
to the truth at all, the truth not being anything psychological or
human. It is an ideal realm of being properly enough not discussed by
psychologists; yet so far as I know it is denied by nobody, not even by
Protagoras or the pragmatists. If Protagoras said that whatever appears
to any man at any moment is true, he doubtless meant true on that
subject, true of that appearance: because for a sensualist objects do
not extend beyond what he sees of them, so that each of his perceptions
defines its whole object and is infallible. But in that case the truth
about the universe is evidently that it is composed of these various
sensations, each carrying an opinion impossible for it to abandon or to
revise, since to revise the opinion would simply be to bring a fresh
object into view. The truth would further be that these sensations and
opinions stand to one another in certain definite relations of
diversity, succession, duration, _et cætera_, whether any of them
happens to assert these relations or not. In the same way, I cannot find
that our contemporary pragmatists, in giving their account of what truth
is (in a different and quite abstract sense of the word truth), have
ever doubted, or so much as noticed, what in all their thinking they
evidently assume to be the actual and concrete truth: namely, that there
are many states of mind, many labouring opinions more or less useful and
good, which actually lead to others, more or less expected and
satisfactory. Surely every pragmatist, like every thinking man, always
assumes the reality of an actual truth, comprehensive and largely
undiscovered, of which he claims to be reporting a portion. What he
rather confusingly calls truth, and wishes to reduce to a pragmatic
function, is not this underlying truth, the sum of all true
propositions, but merely the abstract quality which all true
propositions must have in common, to be called true. By truth he means
only correctness. The possibility of correctness in an idea is a great
puzzle to him, on account of his idealism, which identifies ideas with
their objects; and he asks himself how an idea can ever come to be
correct or incorrect, as if it referred to something beyond itself.

The fact is, of course, that an idea can be correct or incorrect only if
by the word idea we mean not a datum but an opinion; and the abstract
relation of correctness, by virtue of which any opinion is true, is
easily stated. An opinion is true if what it is talking about is
constituted as the opinion asserts it to be constituted. To test this
correctness may be difficult or even impossible in particular cases; in
the end we may be reduced to believing on instinct that our fundamental
opinions are true; for instance, that we are living through time, and
that the past and future are not, as a consistent idealism would assert,
mere notions in the present. But what renders such instinctive opinions
true, if they are true, is the fact affirmed being as it is affirmed to
be. It is not a question of similarity or derivation between a passive
datum and a hidden object; it is a question of identity between the fact
asserted and the fact existing. If an opinion could not freely leap to
its object, no matter how distant or hypothetical, and assert something
of that chosen object, an opinion could not be so much as wrong; for it
would not be an opinion about anything.

Psychologists, however, are not concerned with what an opinion asserts
logically, but only with what it is existentially; they are asking what
existential relations surround an idea when it is called true which are
absent when it is called false. Their problem is frankly insoluble; for
it requires us to discover what makes up the indicative force of an idea
which by hypothesis is a passive datum; as if a grammarian should
inquire how a noun in the accusative case could be a verb in the
indicative mood.

It was not idly that William James dedicated his book on Pragmatism to
the memory of John Stuart Mill. The principle of psychological
empiricism is to look for the elements employed in thinking, and to
conclude that thought is nothing but those elements arranged in a
certain order. It is true that since the days of Mill analysis has
somewhat extended the inventory of these elements, so as to include
among simples, besides the data of the five senses, such things as
feelings of relation, sensations of movement, vague ill‐focused images,
and perhaps even telepathic and instinctive intuitions. But some series
or group of these immediate data, kept in their crude immediacy, must
according to this method furnish the whole answer to our question: the
supposed power of an idea to have an object beyond itself, or to be true
of any other fact, must be merely a name for a certain position which
the given element occupies in relation to other elements in the routine
of experience. Knowledge and truth must be forms of contiguity and
succession.

We must not be surprised, under these circumstances, if the problem is
shifted, and another somewhat akin to it takes its place, with which the
chosen method can really cope. This subterfuge is not voluntary; it is
an instinctive effect of fidelity to a point of view which has its
special validity, though naturally not applicable in every sphere. We do
not observe that politicians abandon their party when it happens to have
brought trouble upon the country; their destiny as politicians is
precisely to make effective all the consequences, good or evil, which
their party policy may involve. So it would be too much to expect a
school of philosophers to abandon their method because there are
problems it cannot solve; their business is rather to apply their method
to everything to which it can possibly be applied; and when they have
reached that limit, the very most we can ask, if they are superhumanly
modest and wise, is that they should make way gracefully for another
school of philosophers.

Now there is a problem, not impossible to confuse with the problem of
correctness in ideas, with which psychological criticism can really
deal; it is the question of the relation between a sign and the thing
signified. Of this relation a genuinely empirical account can be given;
both terms are objects of experience, present or eventual, and the
passage between them is made in time by an experienced transition. Nor
need the signs which lead to a particular object be always the same, or
of one sort; an object may be designated and announced unequivocally by
a verbal description, without any direct image, or by images now of one
sense and now of another, or by some external relation, such as its
place, or by its proper name, if it possesses one; and these
designations all convey knowledge of it and may be true signs, if in
yielding to their suggestion we are brought eventually to the object
meant.

Here, if I am not mistaken, is the genuine application of what the
pragmatists call their theory of truth. It concerns merely what links a
sign to the thing signified, and renders it a practical substitute for
the same. But this empirical analysis of signification has been
entangled with more or less hazardous views about truth, such as that an
idea is true so long as it is believed to be true, or that it is true if
it is good and useful, or that it is not true until it is verified. This
last suggestion shows what strange reversals a wayward personal
philosophy may be subject to. Empiricism used to mean reliance on the
past; now apparently all empirical truth regards only the future, since
truth is said to arise by the verification of some presumption.
Presumptions about the past can evidently never be verified; at best
they may be corroborated by fresh presumptions about the past, equally
dependent for their truth on a verification which in the nature of the
case is impossible. At this point the truly courageous empiricist will
perhaps say that the real past only means the ideas of the past which we
shall form in the future. Consistency is a jewel; and, as in the case of
other jewels, we may marvel at the price that some people will pay for
it. In any case, we are led to this curious result: that radical
empiricism ought to deny that any idea of the past can be true at all.

Such dissolving views, really somewhat like those attributed to
Protagoras, do not rest on sober psychological analysis: they express
rather a certain impatience and a certain despairing democracy in the
field of opinion. Great are the joys of haste and of radicalism, and
young philosophers must not be deprived of them. We may the more justly
pass over these small scandals of pragmatism in that William James and
his American disciples have hardly cared to defend them, but have turned
decidedly in the direction of a universal objectivism.

The spirit of these radical views is not at all negative: it is hopeful,
revolutionary, inspired entirely by love of certitude and clearness. It
is very sympathetic to science, in so far as science is a personal
pursuit and a personal experience, rather than a body of doctrine with
moral implications. It is very close to nature, as the lover of nature
understands the word. If it denies the existence of the cognitive energy
and the colouring medium of mind, it does so only in a formal sense; all
the colours with which that medium endows the world remain painted upon
it; and all the perspectives and ideal objects of thought are woven into
the texture of things. Not, I think, intelligibly or in a coherent
fashion; for this new realism is still immature, and if it is ever
rendered adequate it will doubtless seem much less original. My point is
that in its denial of mind it has no bias against things intellectual,
and if it refuses to admit ideas or even sensations, it does not blink
the sensible or ideal objects which ideas and sensations reveal, but
rather tries to find a new and (as it perhaps thinks) a more honourable
place for them; they are not regarded as spiritual radiations from the
natural world, but as parts of its substance.

This may have the ring of materialism; but the temper and faith of these
schools are not materialistic. Systematic materialism is one of the
philosophies of old age. It is a conviction that may overtake a few
shrewd and speculative cynics, who have long observed their own
irrationality and that of the world, and have divined its cause; by such
men materialism may be embraced without reserve, in all its rigour and
pungency. But the materialism of youth is part of a simple faith in
sense and in science; it is not exclusive; it admits the co‐operation of
any other forces—divine, magical, formal, or vital—if appearances
anywhere seem to manifest them. The more we interpret the ambiguities or
crudities of American writers in this sense, the less we shall
misunderstand them.

It seems, then, that the atmosphere of the new world has already
affected philosophy in two ways. In the first place, it has accelerated
and rendered fearless the disintegration of conventional categories; a
disintegration on which modern philosophy has always been at work, and
which has precipitated its successive phases. In the second place, the
younger cosmopolitan America has favoured the impartial assemblage and
mutual confrontation of all sorts of ideas. It has produced, in
intellectual matters, a sort of happy watchfulness and insecurity. Never
was the human mind master of so many facts and sure of so few
principles. Will this suspense and fluidity of thought crystallise into
some great new system? Positive gifts of imagination and moral heroism
are requisite to make a great philosopher, gifts which must come from
the gods and not from circumstances. But if the genius should arise,
this vast collection of suggestions and this radical analysis of
presumptions which he will find in America may keep him from going
astray. Nietzsche said that the earth has been a mad‐house long enough.
Without contradicting him we might perhaps soften the expression, and
say that philosophy has been long enough an asylum for enthusiasts. It
is time for it to become less solemn and more serious. We may be
frightened at first to learn on what thin ice we have been skating, in
speculation as in government; but we shall not be in a worse plight for
knowing it, only wiser to‐day and perhaps safer to‐morrow.



CHAPTER VI—MATERIALISM AND IDEALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE


The language and traditions common to England and America are like other
family bonds: they draw kindred together at the greater crises in life,
but they also occasion at times a little friction and fault‐finding. The
groundwork of the two societies is so similar, that each nation, feeling
almost at home with the other, and almost able to understand its speech,
may instinctively resent what hinders it from feeling at home
altogether. Differences will tend to seem anomalies that have slipped in
by mistake and through somebody’s fault. Each will judge the other by
his own standards, not feeling, as in the presence of complete
foreigners, that he must make an effort of imagination and put himself
in another man’s shoes.

In matters of morals, manners, and art, the danger of comparisons is not
merely that they may prove invidious, by ranging qualities in an order
of merit which might wound somebody’s vanity; the danger is rather that
comparisons may distort comprehension, because in truth good qualities
are all different in kind, and free lives are different in spirit.
Comparison is the expedient of those who cannot reach the heart of the
things compared; and no philosophy is more external and egotistical than
that which places the essence of a thing in its relation to something
else. In reality, at the centre of every natural being there is
something individual and incommensurable, a seed with its native
impulses and aspirations, shaping themselves as best they can in their
given environment. Variation is a consequence of freedom, and the slight
but radical diversity of souls in turn makes freedom requisite. Instead
of instituting in his mind any comparisons between the United States and
other nations, I would accordingly urge the reader to forget himself
and, in so far as such a thing may be possible for him or for me, to
transport himself ideally with me into the outer circumstances of
American life, the better to feel its inner temper, and to see how
inevitably the American shapes his feelings and judgements, honestly
reporting all things as they appear from his new and unobstructed
station.

I speak of the American in the singular, as if there were not millions
of them, north and south, east and west, of both sexes, of all ages, and
of various races, professions, and religions. Of course the one American
I speak of is mythical; but to speak in parables is inevitable in such a
subject, and it is perhaps as well to do so frankly. There is a sort of
poetic ineptitude in all human discourse when it tries to deal with
natural and existing things. Practical men may not notice it, but in
fact human discourse is intrinsically addressed not to natural existing
things but to ideal essences, poetic or logical terms which thought may
define and play with. When fortune or necessity diverts our attention
from this congenial ideal sport to crude facts and pressing issues, we
turn our frail poetic ideas into symbols for those terrible irruptive
things. In that paper money of our own stamping, the legal tender of the
mind, we are obliged to reckon all the movements and values of the
world. The universal American I speak of is one of these symbols; and I
should be still speaking in symbols and creating moral units and a false
simplicity, if I spoke of classes pedantically subdivided, or
individuals ideally integrated and defined. As it happens, the symbolic
American can be made largely adequate to the facts; because, if there
are immense differences between individual Americans—for some Americans
are black—yet there is a great uniformity in their environment, customs,
temper, and thoughts. They have all been uprooted from their several
soils and ancestries and plunged together into one vortex, whirling
irresistibly in a space otherwise quite empty. To be an American is of
itself almost a moral condition, an education, and a career. Hence a
single ideal figment can cover a large part of what each American is in
his character, and almost the whole of what most Americans are in their
social outlook and political judgements.

The discovery of the new world exercised a sort of selection among the
inhabitants of Europe. All the colonists, except the negroes, were
voluntary exiles. The fortunate, the deeply rooted, and the lazy
remained at home; the wilder instincts or dissatisfaction of others
tempted them beyond the horizon. The American is accordingly the most
adventurous, or the descendant of the most adventurous, of Europeans. It
is in his blood to be socially a radical, though perhaps not
intellectually. What has existed in the past, especially in the remote
past, seems to him not only not authoritative, but irrelevant, inferior,
and outworn. He finds it rather a sorry waste of time to think about the
past at all. But his enthusiasm for the future is profound; he can
conceive of no more decisive way of recommending an opinion or a
practice than to say that it is what everybody is coming to adopt. This
expectation of what he approves, or approval of what he expects, makes
up his optimism. It is the necessary faith of the pioneer.

Such a temperament is, of course, not maintained in the nation merely by
inheritance. Inheritance notoriously tends to restore the average of a
race, and plays incidentally many a trick of atavism. What maintains
this temperament and makes it national is social contagion or
pressure—something immensely strong in democracies. The luckless
American who is born a conservative, or who is drawn to poetic subtlety,
pious retreats, or gay passions, nevertheless has the categorical
excellence of work, growth, enterprise, reform, and prosperity dinned
into his ears: every door is open in this direction and shut in the
other; so that he either folds up his heart and withers in a corner—in
remote places you sometimes find such a solitary gaunt idealist—or else
he flies to Oxford or Florence or Montmartre to save his soul—or perhaps
not to save it.

The optimism of the pioneer is not limited to his view of himself and
his own future: it starts from that; but feeling assured, safe, and
cheery within, he looks with smiling and most kindly eyes on everything
and everybody about him. Individualism, roughness, and self‐trust are
supposed to go with selfishness and a cold heart; but I suspect that is
a prejudice. It is rather dependence, insecurity, and mutual jostling
that poison our placid gregarious brotherhood; and fanciful passionate
demands upon people’s affections, when they are disappointed, as they
soon must be, breed ill‐will and a final meanness. The milk of human
kindness is less apt to turn sour if the vessel that holds it stands
steady, cool, and separate, and is not too often uncorked. In his
affections the American is seldom passionate, often deep, and always
kindly. If it were given me to look into the depths of a man’s heart,
and I did not find good‐will at the bottom, I should say without any
hesitation, You are not an American. But as the American is an
individualist his good‐will is not officious. His instinct is to think
well of everybody, and to wish everybody well, but in a spirit of rough
comradeship, expecting every man to stand on his own legs and to be
helpful in his turn. When he has given his neighbour a chance he thinks
he has done enough for him; but he feels it is an absolute duty to do
that. It will take some hammering to drive a coddling socialism into
America.

As self‐trust may pass into self‐sufficiency, so optimism, kindness, and
good‐will may grow into a habit of doting on everything. To the good
American many subjects are sacred: sex is sacred, women are sacred,
children are sacred, business is sacred, America is sacred, Masonic
lodges and college clubs are sacred. This feeling grows out of the good
opinion he wishes to have of these things, and serves to maintain it. If
he did not regard all these things as sacred he might come to doubt
sometimes if they were wholly good. Of this kind, too, is the idealism
of single ladies in reduced circumstances who can see the soul of beauty
in ugly things, and are perfectly happy because their old dog has such
pathetic eyes, their minister is so eloquent, their garden with its
three sunflowers is so pleasant, their dead friends were so devoted, and
their distant relations are so rich.

Consider now the great emptiness of America: not merely the primitive
physical emptiness, surviving in some regions, and the continental
spacing of the chief natural features, but also the moral emptiness of a
settlement where men and even houses are easily moved about, and no one,
almost, lives where he was born or believes what he has been taught. Not
that the American has jettisoned these impedimenta in anger; they have
simply slipped from him as he moves. Great empty spaces bring a sort of
freedom to both soul and body. You may pitch your tent where you will;
or if ever you decide to build anything, it can be in a style of your
own devising. You have room, fresh materials, few models, and no
critics. You trust your own experience, not only because you must, but
because you find you may do so safely and prosperously; the forces that
determine fortune are not yet too complicated for one man to explore.
Your detachable condition makes you lavish with money and cheerfully
experimental; you lose little if you lose all, since you remain
completely yourself. At the same time your absolute initiative gives you
practice in coping with novel situations, and in being original; it
teaches you shrewd management. Your life and mind will become dry and
direct, with few decorative flourishes. In your works everything will be
stark and pragmatic; you will not understand why anybody should make
those little sacrifices to instinct or custom which we call grace. The
fine arts will seem to you academic luxuries, fit to amuse the ladies,
like Greek and Sanskrit; for while you will perfectly appreciate
generosity in men’s purposes, you will not admit that the execution of
these purposes can be anything but business. Unfortunately the essence
of the fine arts is that the execution should be generous too, and
delightful in itself; therefore the fine arts will suffer, not so much
in their express professional pursuit—for then they become practical
tasks and a kind of business—as in that diffused charm which qualifies
all human action when men are artists by nature. Elaboration, which is
something to accomplish, will be preferred to simplicity, which is
something to rest in; manners will suffer somewhat; speech will suffer
horribly. For the American the urgency of his novel attack upon matter,
his zeal in gathering its fruits, precludes meanderings in primrose
paths; devices must be short cuts, and symbols must be mere symbols. If
his wife wants luxuries, of course she may have them; and if he has
vices, that can be provided for too; but they must all be set down under
those headings in his ledgers.

At the same time, the American is imaginative; for where life is
intense, imagination is intense also. Were he not imaginative he would
not live so much in the future. But his imagination is practical, and
the future it forecasts is immediate; it works with the clearest and
least ambiguous terms known to his experience, in terms of number,
measure, contrivance, economy, and speed. He is an idealist working on
matter. Understanding as he does the material potentialities of things,
he is successful in invention, conservative in reform, and quick in
emergencies. All his life he jumps into the train after it has started
and jumps out before it has stopped; and he never once gets left behind,
or breaks a leg. There is an enthusiasm in his sympathetic handling of
material forces which goes far to cancel the illiberal character which
it might otherwise assume. The good workman hardly distinguishes his
artistic intention from the potency in himself and in things which is
about to realise that intention. Accordingly his ideals fall into the
form of premonitions and prophecies; and his studious prophecies often
come true. So do the happy workmanlike ideals of the American. When a
poor boy, perhaps, he dreams of an education, and presently he gets an
education, or at least a degree; he dreams of growing rich, and he grows
rich—only more slowly and modestly, perhaps, than he expected; he dreams
of marrying his Rebecca and, even if he marries a Leah instead, he
ultimately finds in Leah his Rebecca after all. He dreams of helping to
carry on and to accelerate the movement of a vast, seething, progressive
society, and he actually does so. Ideals clinging so close to nature are
almost sure of fulfilment; the American beams with a certain
self‐confidence and sense of mastery; he feels that God and nature are
working with him.

Idealism in the American accordingly goes hand in hand with present
contentment and with foresight of what the future very likely will
actually bring. He is not a revolutionist; he believes he is already on
the right track and moving towards an excellent destiny. In
revolutionists, on the contrary, idealism is founded on dissatisfaction
and expresses it. What exists seems to them an absurd jumble of
irrational accidents and bad habits, and they want the future to be
based on reason and to be the pellucid embodiment of all their maxims.
All their zeal is for something radically different from the actual and
(if they only knew it) from the possible; it is ideally simple, and they
love it and believe in it because their nature craves it. They think
life would be set free by the destruction of all its organs. They are
therefore extreme idealists in the region of hope, but not at all, as
poets and artists are, in the region of perception and memory. In the
atmosphere of civilised life they miss all the refraction and all the
fragrance; so that in their conception of actual things they are apt to
be crude realists; and their ignorance and inexperience of the moral
world, unless it comes of ill‐luck, indicates their incapacity for
education. Now incapacity for education, when united with great inner
vitality, is one root of idealism. It is what condemns us all, in the
region of sense, to substitute perpetually what we are capable of
imagining for what things may be in themselves; it is what condemns us,
wherever it extends, to think _a priori_; it is what keeps us bravely
and incorrigibly pursuing what we call the good—that is, what would
fulfil the demands of our nature—however little provision the fates may
have made for it. But the want of insight on the part of revolutionists
touching the past and the present infects in an important particular
their idealism about the future; it renders their dreams of the future
unrealisable. For in human beings—this may not be true of other animals,
more perfectly preformed—experience is necessary to pertinent and
concrete thinking; even our primitive instincts are blind until they
stumble upon some occasion that solicits them; and they can be much
transformed or deranged by their first partial satisfactions. Therefore
a man who does not idealise his experience, but idealises _a priori_, is
incapable of true prophecy; when he dreams he raves, and the more he
criticises the less he helps. American idealism, on the contrary, is
nothing if not helpful, nothing if not pertinent to practicable
transformations; and when the American frets, it is because whatever is
useless and impertinent, be it idealism or inertia, irritates him; for
it frustrates the good results which he sees might so easily have been
obtained.

The American is wonderfully alive; and his vitality, not having often
found a suitable outlet, makes him appear agitated on the surface; he is
always letting off an unnecessarily loud blast of incidental steam. Yet
his vitality is not superficial; it is inwardly prompted, and as
sensitive and quick as a magnetic needle. He is inquisitive, and ready
with an answer to any question that he may put to himself of his own
accord; but if you try to pour instruction into him, on matters that do
not touch his own spontaneous life, he shows the most extraordinary
powers of resistance and oblivescence; so that he often is remarkably
expert in some directions and surprisingly obtuse in others. He seems to
bear lightly the sorrowful burden of human knowledge. In a word, he is
young.

What sense is there in this feeling, which we all have, that the
American is young? His country is blessed with as many elderly people as
any other, and his descent from Adam, or from the Darwinian rival of
Adam, cannot be shorter than that of his European cousins. Nor are his
ideas always very fresh. Trite and rigid bits of morality and religion,
with much seemly and antique political lore, remain axiomatic in him, as
in the mind of a child; he may carry all this about with an
unquestioning familiarity which does not comport understanding. To keep
traditional sentiments in this way insulated and uncriticised is itself
a sign of youth. A good young man is naturally conservative and loyal on
all those subjects which his experience has not brought to a test;
advanced opinions on politics, marriage, or literature are comparatively
rare in America; they are left for the ladies to discuss, and usually to
condemn, while the men get on with their work. In spite of what is
old‐fashioned in his more general ideas, the American is unmistakably
young; and this, I should say, for two reasons: one, that he is chiefly
occupied with his immediate environment, and the other, that his
reactions upon it are inwardly prompted, spontaneous, and full of
vivacity and self‐trust. His views are not yet lengthened; his will is
not yet broken or transformed. The present moment, however, in this, as
in other things, may mark a great change in him; he is perhaps now
reaching his majority, and all I say may hardly apply to‐day, and may
not apply at all to‐morrow. I speak of him as I have known him; and
whatever moral strength may accrue to him later, I am not sorry to have
known him in his youth. The charm of youth, even when it is a little
boisterous, lies in nearness to the impulses of nature, in a quicker and
more obvious obedience to that pure, seminal principle which, having
formed the body and its organs, always directs their movements, unless
it is forced by vice or necessity to make them crooked, or to suspend
them. Even under the inevitable crust of age the soul remains young,
and, wherever it is able to break through, sprouts into something green
and tender. We are all as young at heart as the most youthful American,
but the seed in his case has fallen upon virgin soil, where it may
spring up more bravely and with less respect for the giants of the wood.
Peoples seem older when their perennial natural youth is encumbered with
more possessions and prepossessions, and they are mindful of the many
things they have lost or missed. The American is not mindful of them.

In America there is a tacit optimistic assumption about existence, to
the effect that the more existence the better. The soulless critic might
urge that quantity is only a physical category, implying no excellence,
but at best an abundance of opportunities both for good and for evil.
Yet the young soul, being curious and hungry, views existence _a priori_
under the form of the good; its instinct to live implies a faith that
most things it can become or see or do will be worth while. Respect for
quantity is accordingly something more than the childish joy and wonder
at bigness; it is the fisherman’s joy in a big haul, the good uses of
which he can take for granted. Such optimism is amiable. Nature cannot
afford that we should begin by being too calculating or wise, and she
encourages us by the pleasure she attaches to our functions in advance
of their fruits, and often in excess of them; as the angler enjoys
catching his fish more than eating it, and often, waiting patiently for
the fish to bite, misses his own supper. The pioneer must devote himself
to preparations; he must work for the future, and it is healthy and
dutiful of him to love his work for its own sake. At the same time,
unless reference to an ultimate purpose is at least virtual in all his
activities, he runs the danger of becoming a living automaton, vain and
ignominious in its mechanical constancy. Idealism about work can hide an
intense materialism about life. Man, if he is a rational being, cannot
live by bread alone nor be a labourer merely; he must eat and work in
view of an ideal harmony which overarches all his days, and which is
realised in the way they hang together, or in some ideal issue which
they have in common. Otherwise, though his technical philosophy may call
itself idealism, he is a materialist in morals; he esteems things, and
esteems himself, for mechanical uses and energies. Even sensualists,
artists, and pleasure‐lovers are wiser than that, for though their
idealism may be desultory or corrupt, they attain something ideal, and
prize things only for their living effects, moral though perhaps
fugitive. Sensation, when we do not take it as a signal for action, but
arrest and peruse what it positively brings before us, reveals something
ideal—a colour, shape, or sound; and to dwell on these presences, with
no thought of their material significance, is an æsthetic or dreamful
idealism. To pass from this idealism to the knowledge of matter is a
great intellectual advance, and goes with dominion over the world; for
in the practical arts the mind is adjusted to a larger object, with more
depth and potentiality in it; which is what makes people feel that the
material world is real, as they call it, and that the ideal world is
not. Certainly the material world is real; for the philosophers who deny
the existence of matter are like the critics who deny the existence of
Homer. If there was never any Homer, there must have been a lot of other
poets no less Homeric than he; and if matter does not exist, a
combination of other things exists which is just as material. But the
intense reality of the material world would not prevent it from being a
dreary waste in our eyes, or even an abyss of horror, if it brought
forth no spiritual fruits. In fact, it does bring forth spiritual
fruits, for otherwise we should not be here to find fault with it, and
to set up our ideals over against it. Nature is material, but not
materialistic; it issues in life, and breeds all sorts of warm passions
and idle beauties. And just as sympathy with the mechanical travail and
turmoil of nature, apart from its spiritual fruits, is moral
materialism, so the continual perception and love of these fruits is
moral idealism—happiness in the presence of immaterial objects and
harmonies, such as we envisage in affection, speculation, religion, and
all the forms of the beautiful.

The circumstances of his life hitherto have necessarily driven the
American into moral materialism; for in his dealings with material
things he can hardly stop to enjoy their sensible aspects, which are
ideal, nor proceed at once to their ultimate uses, which are ideal too.
He is practical as against the poet, and worldly as against the clear
philosopher or the saint. The most striking expression of this
materialism is usually supposed to be his love of the almighty dollar;
but that is a foreign and unintelligent view. The American talks about
money, because that is the symbol and measure he has at hand for
success, intelligence, and power; but as to money itself he makes,
loses, spends, and gives it away with a very light heart. To my mind the
most striking expression of his materialism is his singular
preoccupation with quantity. If, for instance, you visit Niagara Falls,
you may expect to hear how many cubic feet or metric tons of water are
precipitated per second over the cataract; how many cities and towns
(with the number of their inhabitants) derive light and motive power
from it; and the annual value of the further industries that might very
well be carried on by the same means, without visibly depleting the
world’s greatest wonder or injuring the tourist trade. That is what I
confidently expected to hear on arriving at the adjoining town of
Buffalo; but I was deceived. The first thing I heard instead was that
there are more miles of asphalt pavement in Buffalo than in any city in
the world. Nor is this insistence on quantity confined to men of
business. The President of Harvard College, seeing me once by chance
soon after the beginning of a term, inquired how my classes were getting
on; and when I replied that I thought they were getting on well, that my
men seemed to be keen and intelligent, he stopped me as if I was about
to waste his time. “I meant,” said he, “_what is the number_ of students
in your classes.”

Here I think we may perceive that this love of quantity often has a
silent partner, which is diffidence as to quality. The democratic
conscience recoils before anything that savours of privilege; and lest
it should concede an unmerited privilege to any pursuit or person, it
reduces all things as far as possible to the common denominator of
quantity. Numbers cannot lie: but if it came to comparing the ideal
beauties of philosophy with those of Anglo‐Saxon, who should decide? All
studies are good—why else have universities?—but those must be most
encouraged which attract the greatest number of students. Hence the
President’s question. Democratic faith, in its diffidence about quality,
throws the reins of education upon the pupil’s neck, as Don Quixote
threw the reins on the neck of Rocinante, and bids his divine instinct
choose its own way.

The American has never yet had to face the trials of Job. Great crises,
like the Civil War, he has known how to surmount victoriously; and now
that he has surmounted a second great crisis victoriously, it is
possible that he may relapse, as he did in the other case, into an
apparently complete absorption in material enterprise and prosperity.
But if serious and irremediable tribulation ever overtook him, what
would his attitude be? It is then that we should be able to discover
whether materialism or idealism lies at the base of his character.
Meantime his working mind is not without its holiday. He spreads humour
pretty thick and even over the surface of conversation, and humour is
one form of moral emancipation. He loves landscape, he loves mankind,
and he loves knowledge; and in music at least he finds an art which he
unfeignedly enjoys. In music and landscape, in humour and kindness, he
touches the ideal more truly, perhaps, than in his ponderous academic
idealisms and busy religions; for it is astonishing how much even
religion in America (can it possibly be so in England?) is a matter of
meetings, building‐funds, schools, charities, clubs, and picnics. To be
poor in order to be simple, to produce less in order that the product
may be more choice and beautiful, and may leave us less burdened with
unnecessary duties and useless possessions—that is an ideal not
articulate in the American mind; yet here and there I seem to have heard
a sigh after it, a groan at the perpetual incubus of business and shrill
society. Significant witness to such aspirations is borne by those new
forms of popular religion, not mere variations on tradition, which have
sprung up from the soil—revivalism, spiritualism, Christian Science, the
New Thought. Whether or no we can tap, through these or other channels,
some cosmic or inner energy not hitherto at the disposal of man (and
there is nothing incredible in that), we certainly may try to remove
friction and waste in the mere process of living; we may relax morbid
strains, loosen suppressed instincts, iron out the creases of the soul,
discipline ourselves into simplicity, sweetness, and peace. These
religious movements are efforts toward such physiological economy and
hygiene; and while they are thoroughly plebeian, with no great lights,
and no idea of raising men from the most vulgar and humdrum worldly
existence, yet they see the possibility of physical and moral health on
that common plane, and pursue it. That is true morality. The dignities
of various types of life or mind, like the gifts of various animals, are
relative. The snob adores one type only, and the creatures supposed by
him to illustrate it perfectly; or envies and hates them, which is just
as snobbish. Veritable lovers of life, on the contrary, like Saint
Francis or like Dickens, know that in every tenement of clay, with no
matter what endowment or station, happiness and perfection are possible
to the soul. There must be no brow‐beating, with shouts of work or
progress or revolution, any more than with threats of hell‐fire. What
does it profit a man to free the whole world if his soul is not free?
Moral freedom is not an artificial condition, because the ideal is the
mother tongue of both the heart and the senses. All that is requisite is
that we should pause in living to enjoy life, and should lift up our
hearts to things that are pure goods in themselves, so that once to have
found and loved them, whatever else may betide, may remain a happiness
that nothing can sully. This natural idealism does not imply that we are
immaterial, but only that we are animate and truly alive. When the
senses are sharp, as they are in the American, they are already half
liberated, already a joy in themselves; and when the heart is warm, like
his, and eager to be just, its ideal destiny can hardly be doubtful. It
will not be always merely pumping and working; time and its own pulses
will lend it wings.



CHAPTER VII—ENGLISH LIBERTY IN AMERICA


The straits of Dover, which one may sometimes see across, have sufficed
so to isolate England that it has never moved quite in step with the
rest of Europe in politics, morals, or art. No wonder that the Atlantic
Ocean, although it has favoured a mixed emigration and cheap
intercourse, should have cut off America so effectually that all the
people there, even those of Latin origin, have become curiously
different from any kind of European. In vain are they reputed to have
the same religions or to speak the same languages as their cousins in
the old world; everything has changed its accent, spirit, and value.
Flora and fauna have been intoxicated by that untouched soil and fresh
tonic air, and by those vast spaces; in spite of their hereditary
differences of species they have all acquired the same crude savour and
defiant aspect. In comparison with their European prototypes they seem
tough, meagre, bold, and ugly. In the United States, apart from the fact
that most of the early colonists belonged to an exceptional type of
Englishman, the scale and speed of life have made everything strangely
un‐English. There is cheeriness instead of doggedness, confidence
instead of circumspection; there is a desire to quizz and to dazzle
rather than a fear of being mistaken or of being shocked; there is a
pervasive cordiality, exaggeration, and farcical humour; and in the
presence of the Englishman, when by chance he turns up or is thought of,
there is an invincible impatience and irritation that his point of view
should be so fixed, his mind so literal, and the freight he carries so
excessive (when you are sailing in ballast yourself), and that he should
seem to take so little notice of changes in the wind to which you are
nervously sensitive.

Nevertheless there is one gift or habit, native to England, that has not
only been preserved in America unchanged, but has found there a more
favourable atmosphere in which to manifest its true nature—I mean the
spirit of free co‐operation. The root of it is free individuality, which
is deeply seated in the English inner man; there is an indomitable
instinct or mind in him which he perpetually consults and reveres, slow
and embarrassed as his expression of it may be. But this free
individuality in the Englishman is crossed and biased by a large residue
of social servitude. The church and the aristocracy, entanglement in
custom and privilege, mistrust and bitterness about particular
grievances, warp the inner man and enlist him against his interests in
alien causes; the straits of Dover were too narrow, the shadow of a
hostile continent was too oppressive, the English sod was soaked with
too many dews and cut by too many hedges, for each individual, being
quite master of himself, to confront every other individual without fear
or prejudice, and to unite with him in the free pursuit of whatever aims
they might find that they had in common. Yet this slow co‐operation of
free men, this liberty in democracy—the only sort that America possesses
or believes in—is wholly English in its personal basis, its reserve, its
tenacity, its empiricism, its public spirit, and its assurance of its
own rightness; and it deserves to be called English always, to whatever
countries it may spread.

The omnipresence in America of this spirit of co‐operation,
responsibility, and growth is very remarkable. Far from being
neutralised by American dash and bravura, or lost in the opposite
instincts of so many alien races, it seems to be adopted at once in the
most mixed circles and in the most novel predicaments. In America social
servitude is reduced to a minimum; in fact we may almost say that it is
reduced to subjecting children to their mothers and to a common public
education, agencies that are absolutely indispensable to produce the
individual and enable him to exercise his personal initiative
effectually; for after all, whatever metaphysical egotism may say, one
cannot vote to be created. But once created, weaned, and taught to read
and write, the young American can easily shoulder his knapsack and
choose his own way in the world. He is as yet very little trammelled by
want of opportunity, and he has no roots to speak of in place, class, or
religion. Where individuality is so free, co‐operation, when it is
justified, can be all the more quick and hearty. Everywhere co‐operation
is taken for granted, as something that no one would be so mean or so
short‐sighted as to refuse. Together with the will to work and to
prosper, it is of the essence of Americanism, and is accepted as such by
all the unkempt polyglot peoples that turn to the new world with the
pathetic but manly purpose of beginning life on a new principle. Every
political body, every public meeting, every club, or college, or
athletic team, is full of it. Out it comes whenever there is an accident
in the street or a division in a church, or a great unexpected emergency
like the late war. The general instinct is to run and help, to assume
direction, to pull through somehow by mutual adaptation, and by seizing
on the readiest practical measures and working compromises. Each man
joins in and gives a helping hand, without a preconceived plan or a
prior motive. Even the leader, when he is a natural leader and not a
professional, has nothing up his sleeve to force on the rest, in their
obvious good‐will and mental blankness. All meet in a genuine spirit of
consultation, eager to persuade but ready to be persuaded, with a cheery
confidence in their average ability, when a point comes up and is
clearly put before them, to decide it for the time being, and to move
on. It is implicitly agreed, in every case, that disputed questions
shall be put to a vote, and that the minority will loyally acquiesce in
the decision of the majority and build henceforth upon it, without a
thought of ever retracting it.

Such a way of proceeding seems in America a matter of course, because it
is bred in the bone, or imposed by that permeating social contagion
which is so irresistible in a natural democracy. But if we consider
human nature at large and the practice of most nations, we shall see
that it is a very rare, wonderful, and unstable convention. It implies a
rather unimaginative optimistic assumption that at bottom all men’s
interests are similar and compatible, and a rather heroic public
spirit—such that no special interest, in so far as it has to be
overruled, shall rebel and try to maintain itself absolutely. In America
hitherto these conditions happen to have been actually fulfilled in an
unusual measure. Interests have been very similar—to exploit business
opportunities and organise public services useful to all; and these
similar interests have been also compatible and harmonious. A neighbour,
even a competitor, where the field is so large and so little pre‐empted,
has more often proved a resource than a danger. The rich have helped the
public more than they have fleeced it, and they have been emulated more
than hated or served by the enterprising poor. To abolish millionaires
would have been to dash one’s own hopes. The most opposite systems of
religion and education could look smilingly upon one another’s
prosperity, because the country could afford these superficial luxuries,
having a constitutional religion and education of its own, which
everybody drank in unconsciously and which assured the moral cohesion of
the people. Impulses of reason and kindness, which are potential in all
men, under such circumstances can become effective; people can help one
another with no great sacrifice to themselves, and minorities can
dismiss their special plans without sorrow, and cheerfully follow the
crowd down another road. It was because life in America was naturally
more co‐operative and more plastic than in England that the spirit of
English liberty, which demands co‐operation and plasticity, could appear
there more boldly and universally than it ever did at home.

English liberty is a method, not a goal. It is related to the value of
human life very much as the police are related to public morals or
commerce to wealth; and it is no accident that the Anglo‐Saxon race
excels in commerce and in the commercial as distinguished from the
artistic side of industry, and that having policed itself successfully
it is beginning to police the world at large. It is all an eminence in
temper, good‐will, reliability, accommodation. Probably some other
races, such as the Jews and Arabs, make individually better merchants,
more shrewd, patient, and loving of their art. Englishmen and Americans
often seem to miss or force opportunities, to play for quick returns, or
to settle down into ponderous corporations; for successful men they are
not particularly observant, constant, or economical. But the superiority
of the Oriental is confined to his private craft; he has not the spirit
of partnership. In English civilisation the individual is neutralised;
it does not matter so much even in high places if he is rather stupid or
rather cheap; public spirit sustains him, and he becomes its instrument
all the more readily, perhaps, for not being very distinguished or
clear‐headed in himself. The community prospers; comfort and science,
good manners and generous feelings are diffused among the people,
without the aid of that foresight and cunning direction which sometimes
give a temporary advantage to a rival system like the German. In the
end, adaptation to the world at large, where so much is hidden and
unintelligible, is only possible piecemeal, by groping with a genuine
indetermination in one’s aims. Its very looseness gives the English
method its lien on the future. To dominate the world co‐operation is
better than policy, and empiricism safer than inspiration. Anglo‐Saxon
imperialism is unintended; military conquests are incidental to it and
often not maintained: it subsists by a mechanical equilibrium of habits
and interests, in which every colony, province, or protectorate has a
different status. It has a commercial and missionary quality, and is
essentially an invitation to pull together—an invitation which many
nations may be incapable of accepting or even of understanding, or which
they may deeply scorn, because it involves a surrender of absolute
liberty on their part; but whether accepted or rejected, it is an offer
of co‐operation, a project for a limited partnership, not a complete
plan of life to be imposed on anybody.

It is a wise instinct, in dealing with foreigners or with material
things (which are foreigners to the mind), to limit oneself in this way
to establishing external relations, partial mutual adjustments, with a
great residuum of independence and reserve; if you attempt more you will
achieve less; your interpretations will become chimerical and your
regimen odious. So deep‐seated is this prudent instinct in the English
nature that it appears even at home; most of the concrete things which
English genius has produced are expedients. Its spiritual treasures are
hardly possessions, except as character is a possession; they are rather
a standard of life, a promise, an insurance. English poetry and fiction
form an exception; the very incoherence and artlessness which they share
with so much else that is English lend them an absolute value as an
expression. They are the mirror and prattle of the inner man—a boyish
spirit astray in the green earth it loves, rich in wonder, perplexity,
valour, and faith, given to opinionated little prejudices, but withal
sensitive and candid, and often laden, as in _Hamlet_, with exquisite
music, tender humour, and tragic self‐knowledge. But apart from the
literature that simply utters the inner man, no one considering the
English language, the English church, or English philosophy, or
considering the common law and parliamentary government, would take them
for perfect realisations of art or truth or an ideal polity.
Institutions so jumbled and limping could never have been planned; they
can never be transferred to another setting, or adopted bodily; but
special circumstances and contrary currents have given them birth, and
they are accepted and prized, where they are native, for keeping the
door open to a great volume and variety of goods, at a moderate cost of
danger and absurdity.

Of course no product of mind is _merely_ an expedient; all are
concomitantly expressions of temperament; there is something in their
manner of being practical which is poetical and catches the rhythm of
the heart. In this way anything foreign—and almost all the elements of
civilisation in England and America are foreign—when it is adopted and
acclimatised, takes on a native accent, especially on English lips; like
the Latin words in the language, it becomes thoroughly English in
texture. The English Bible, again, with its archaic homeliness and
majesty, sets the mind brooding, not less than the old ballad most
redolent of the native past and the native imagination; it fills the
memory with solemn and pungent phrases; and this incidental spirit of
poetry in which it comes to be clothed is a self‐revelation perhaps more
pertinent and welcome to the people than the alien revelations it
professes to transmit. English law and parliaments, too, would be very
unjustly judged if judged as practical contrivances only; they satisfy
at the same time the moral interest people have in uttering and
enforcing their feelings. These institutions are ceremonious, almost
sacramental; they are instinct with a dramatic spirit deeper and more
vital than their utility. Englishmen and Americans love debate; they
love sitting round a table as if in consultation, even when the chairman
has pulled the wires and settled everything beforehand, and when each of
the participants listens only to his own remarks and votes according to
his party. They love committees and commissions; they love public
dinners with after‐dinner speeches, those stammering compounds of
facetiousness, platitude, and business. How distressing such speeches
usually are, and how helplessly prolonged, does not escape anybody; yet
every one demands them notwithstanding, because in pumping them up or
sitting through them he feels he is leading the political life. A public
man must show himself in public, even if not to advantage. The moral
expressiveness of such institutions also helps to redeem their clumsy
procedure; they would not be useful, nor work at all as they should, if
people did not smack their lips over them and feel a profound pleasure
in carrying them out. Without the English spirit, without the faculty of
making themselves believe in public what they never feel in private,
without the habit of clubbing together and facing facts, and feeling
duty in a cautious, consultative, experimental way, English liberties
forfeit their practical value; as we see when they are extended to a
volatile histrionic people like the Irish, or when a jury in France,
instead of pronouncing simply on matters of fact and the credibility of
witnesses, rushes in the heat of its patriotism to carry out, by its
verdict, some political policy.

The practice of English liberty presupposes two things: that all
concerned are fundamentally unanimous, and that each has a plastic
nature, which he is willing to modify. If fundamental unanimity is
lacking and all are not making in the same general direction, there can
be no honest co‐operation, no satisfying compromise. Every concession,
under such circumstances, would be a temporary one, to be retracted at
the first favourable moment; it would amount to a mutilation of one’s
essential nature, a partial surrender of life, liberty, and happiness,
tolerable for a time, perhaps, as the lesser of two evils, but involving
a perpetual sullen opposition and hatred. To put things to a vote, and
to accept unreservedly the decision of the majority, are points
essential to the English system; but they would be absurd if fundamental
agreement were not presupposed. Every decision that the majority could
conceivably arrive at must leave it still possible for the minority to
live and prosper, even if not exactly in the way they wished. Were this
not the case, a decision by vote would be as alien a fatality to any
minority as the decree of a foreign tyrant, and at every election the
right of rebellion would come into play. In a hearty and sound democracy
all questions at issue must be minor matters; fundamentals must have
been silently agreed upon and taken for granted when the democracy
arose. To leave a decision to the majority is like leaving it to
chance—a fatal procedure unless one is willing to have it either way.
You must be able to risk losing the toss; and if you do you will
acquiesce all the more readily in the result, because, unless the
winners cheated at the game, they had no more influence on it than
yourself—namely none, or very little. You acquiesce in democracy on the
same conditions and for the same reasons, and perhaps a little more
cheerfully, because there is an infinitesimally better chance of winning
on the average; but even then the enormity of the risk involved would be
intolerable if anything of vital importance was at stake. It is
therefore actually required that juries, whose decisions may really be
of moment, should be unanimous; and parliaments and elections are never
more satisfactory than when a wave of national feeling runs through them
and there is no longer any minority nor any need of voting.

Free government works well in proportion as government is superfluous.
That most parliamentary measures should be trivial or technical, and
really devised and debated only in government offices, and that
government in America should so long have been carried on in the shade,
by persons of no name or dignity, is no anomaly. On the contrary, like
the good fortune of those who never hear of the police, it is all a sign
that co‐operative liberty is working well and rendering overt government
unnecessary. Sometimes kinship and opportunity carry a whole nation
before the wind; but this happy unison belongs rather to the dawn of
national life, when similar tasks absorb all individual energies. If it
is to be maintained after lines of moral cleavage appear, and is to be
compatible with variety and distinction of character, all further
developments must be democratically controlled and must remain, as it
were, in a state of fusion. Variety and distinction must not become
arbitrary and irresponsible. They must take directions that will not mar
the general harmony, and no interest must be carried so far as to lose
sight of the rest. Science and art, in such a vital democracy, should
remain popular, helpful, bracing; religion should be broadly national
and in the spirit of the times. The variety and distinction allowed must
be only variety and distinction of service. If they ever became a real
distinction and variety of life, if they arrogated to themselves an
absolute liberty, they would shatter the unity of the democratic spirit
and destroy its moral authority.

The levelling tendency of English liberty (inevitable if plastic natures
are to co‐operate and to make permanent concessions to one another’s
instincts) comes out more clearly in America than in England itself. In
England there are still castles and rural retreats, there are still
social islands within the Island, where special classes may nurse
particular allegiances. America is all one prairie, swept by a universal
tornado. Although it has always thought itself in an eminent sense the
land of freedom, even when it was covered with slaves, there is no
country in which people live under more overpowering compulsions. The
prohibitions, although important and growing, are not yet, perhaps, so
many or so blatant as in some other countries; but prohibitions are less
galling than compulsions. What can be forbidden specifically—bigamy, for
instance, or heresy—may be avoided by a prudent man without renouncing
the whole movement of life and mind which, if carried beyond a certain
point, would end in those trespasses against convention. He can indulge
in hypothesis or gallantry without falling foul of the positive law,
which indeed may even stimulate his interest and ingenuity by suggesting
some indirect means of satisfaction. On the other hand, what is exacted
cuts deeper; it creates habits which overlay nature, and every faculty
is atrophied that does not conform with them. If, for instance, I am
compelled to be in an office (and up to business, too) from early
morning to late afternoon, with long journeys in thundering and
sweltering trains before and after and a flying shot at a quick lunch
between, I am caught and held both in soul and body; and except for the
freedom to work and to rise by that work—which may be very interesting
in itself—I am not suffered to exist morally at all. My evenings will be
drowsy, my Sundays tedious, and after a few days’ holiday I shall be
wishing to get back to business. Here is as narrow a path left open to
freedom as is left open in a monastic establishment, where bell and book
keep your attention fixed at all hours upon the hard work of
salvation—an infinite vista, certainly, if your soul was not made to
look another way. Those, too, who may escape this crushing routine—the
invalids, the ladies, the fops—are none the less prevented by it from
doing anything else with success or with a good conscience; the bubbles
also must swim with the stream. Even what is best in American life is
compulsory—the idealism, the zeal, the beautiful happy unison of its
great moments. You must wave, you must cheer, you must push with the
irresistible crowd; otherwise you will feel like a traitor, a soulless
outcast, a deserted ship high and dry on the shore. In America there is
but one way of being saved, though it is not peculiar to any of the
official religions, which themselves must silently conform to the
national orthodoxy, or else become impotent and merely ornamental. This
national faith and morality are vague in idea, but inexorable in spirit;
they are the gospel of work and the belief in progress. By them, in a
country where all men are free, every man finds that what most matters
has been settled for him beforehand.

Nevertheless, American life _is_ free as a whole, because it is mobile,
because every atom that swims in it has a momentum of its own which is
felt and respected throughout the mass, like the weight of an atom in
the solar system, even if the deflection it may cause is infinitesimal.
In temper America is docile and not at all tyrannical; it has not
predetermined its career, and its merciless momentum is a passive
resultant. Like some Mississippi or Niagara, it rolls its myriad drops
gently onward, being but the suction and pressure which they exercise on
one another. Any tremulous thought or playful experiment anywhere may be
a first symptom of great changes, and may seem to precipitate the
cataract in a new direction. Any snowflake in a boy’s sky may become the
centre for his _boule de neige_, his prodigious fortune; but the monster
will melt as easily as it grew, and leaves nobody poorer for having
existed. In America there is duty everywhere, but everywhere also there
is light. I do not mean superior understanding or even moderately wide
knowledge, but openness to light, an evident joy in seeing things
clearly and doing them briskly, which would amount to a veritable
triumph of art and reason if the affairs in which it came into play were
central and important. The American may give an exorbitant value to
subsidiary things, but his error comes of haste in praising what he
possesses, and trusting the first praises he hears. He can detect sharp
practices, because he is capable of them, but vanity or wickedness in
the ultimate aims of a man, including himself, he cannot detect, because
he is ingenuous in that sphere. He thinks life splendid and blameless,
without stopping to consider how far folly and malice may be inherent in
it. He feels that he himself has nothing to dread, nothing to hide or
apologise for; and if he is arrogant in his ignorance, there is often a
twinkle in his eye when he is most boastful. Perhaps he suspects that he
is making a fool of himself, and he challenges the world to prove it;
and his innocence is quickly gone when he is once convinced that it
exists. Accordingly the American orthodoxy, though imperious, is not
unyielding. It has a keener sense for destiny than for policy. It is
confident of a happy and triumphant future, which it would be shameful
in any man to refuse to work for and to share; but it cannot prefigure
what that bright future is to be. While it works feverishly in outward
matters, inwardly it only watches and waits; and it feels tenderly
towards the unexpressed impulses in its bosom, like a mother towards her
unborn young.

There is a mystical conviction, expressed in Anglo‐Saxon life and
philosophy, that our labours, even when they end in failure, contribute
to some ulterior achievement in which it is well they should be
submerged. This Anglo‐Saxon piety, in the form of trust and
adaptability, reaches somewhat the same insight that more speculative
religions have reached through asceticism, the insight that we must
renounce our wills and deny ourselves. But to have a will remains
essential to animals, and having a will we must kick against the pricks,
even if philosophy thinks it foolish of us. The spirit in which parties
and nations beyond the pale of English liberty confront one another is
not motherly nor brotherly nor Christian. Their valorousness and
morality consist in their indomitable egotism. The liberty they want is
absolute liberty, a desire which is quite primitive. It may be
identified with the love of life which animates all creation, or with
the pursuit of happiness which all men would be engaged in if they were
rational. Indeed, it might even be identified with the first law of
motion, that all bodies, if left free, persevere in that state of rest,
or of motion in a straight line, in which they happen to find
themselves. The enemies of this primitive freedom are all such external
forces as make it deviate from the course it is in the habit of taking
or is inclined to take; and when people begin to reflect upon their
condition, they protest against this alien tyranny, and contrast in
fancy what they would do if they were free with what under duress they
are actually doing. All human struggles are inspired by what, in this
sense, is the love of freedom. Even craving for power and possessions
may be regarded as the love of a free life on a larger scale, for which
more instruments and resources are needed. The apologists of absolute
will are not slow, for instance, to tell us that Germany in her
laborious ambitions has been pursuing the highest form of freedom, which
can be attained only by organising all the resources of the world, and
the souls of all subsidiary nations, around one luminous centre of
direction and self‐consciousness, such as the Prussian government was
eminently fitted to furnish. Freedom to exercise absolute will
methodically seems to them much better than English liberty, because it
knows what it wants, pursues it intelligently, and does not rely for
success on some measure of goodness in mankind at large. English liberty
is so trustful! It moves by a series of checks, mutual concessions, and
limited satisfactions; it counts on chivalry, sportsmanship, brotherly
love, and on that rarest and least lucrative of virtues,
fair‐mindedness: it is a broad‐based, stupid, blind adventure, groping
towards an unknown goal. Who but an Englishman would think of such a
thing! A fanatic, a poet, a doctrinaire, a dilettante—any one who has a
fixed aim and clear passions—will not relish English liberty. It will
seem bitter irony to him to give the name of liberty to something so
muffled, exacting, and oppressive. In fact English liberty is a positive
infringement and surrender of the freedom most fought for and most
praised in the past. It makes impossible the sort of liberty for which
the Spartans died at Thermopylæ, or the Christian martyrs in the arena,
or the Protestant reformers at the stake; for these people all died
because they would not co‐operate, because they were not plastic and
would never consent to lead the life dear or at least customary to other
men. They insisted on being utterly different and independent and
inflexible in their chosen systems, and aspired either to destroy the
society round them or at least to insulate themselves in the midst of
it, and live a jealous, private, unstained life of their own within
their city walls or mystical conclaves. Any one who passionately loves
his particular country or passionately believes in his particular
religion cannot be content with less liberty or more democracy than
that; he must be free to live absolutely according to his ideal, and no
hostile votes, no alien interests, must call on him to deviate from it
by one iota. Such was the claim to religious liberty which has played so
large a part in the revolutions and divisions of the western world.
Every new heresy professed to be orthodoxy itself, purified and
restored; and woe to all backsliders from the reformed faith! Even the
popes, without thinking to be ironical, have often raised a wail for
liberty. Such too was the aspiration of those mediæval cities and barons
who fought for their liberties and rights. Such was the aspiration even
of the American declaration of independence and the American
constitution: cast‐iron documents, if only the spirit of co‐operative
English liberty had not been there to expand, embosom, soften, or
transform them. So the French revolution and the Russian one of to‐day
have aimed at establishing society once for all on some eternally just
principle, and at abolishing all traditions, interests, faiths, and even
words that did not belong to their system. Liberty, for all these
pensive or rabid apostles of liberty, meant liberty for themselves to be
just so, and to remain just so for ever, together with the most vehement
defiance of anybody who might ask them, for the sake of harmony, to be a
little different. They summoned every man to become free in exactly
their own fashion, or have his head cut off.

Of course, to many an individual, life even in any such free city or
free church, fiercely jealous of its political independence and moral
purity, would prove to be a grievous servitude; and there has always
been a sprinkling of rebels and martyrs and scornful philosophers
protesting and fuming against their ultra‐independent and
nothing‐if‐not‐protesting sects. To co‐operate with anybody seems to
these _esprits forts_ contamination, so sensitive are they to any
deviation from the true north which their compass might suffer through
the neighbourhood of any human magnet. If it is a weakness to be subject
to influence, it is an imprudence to expose oneself to it; and to be
subject to influence seems ignominious to any one whose inward monitor
is perfectly articulate and determined. A certain vagueness of soul,
together with a great gregariousness and tendency to be moulded by
example and by prevalent opinion, is requisite for feeling free under
English liberty. You must find the majority right enough to live with;
you must give up lost causes; you must be willing to put your favourite
notions to sleep in the family cradle of convention. Enthusiasts for
democracy, peace, and a league of nations should not deceive themselves;
they are not everybody’s friends; they are the enemies of what is
deepest and most primitive in everybody. They inspire undying hatred in
every untamable people and every absolute soul.

It is in the nature of wild animal life to be ferocious or patient, and
in either case heroic and uncompromising. It is inevitable, in the
beginning, that each person or faction should come into the lists to
serve some express interest, which in itself may be perfectly noble and
generous. But these interests are posited alone and in all their
ultimate consequences. The parties meet, however diplomatic their
procedure, as buyers and sellers bargain in primitive markets. Each has
a fixed programme or, as he perhaps calls it, an ideal; and when he has
got as much as he can get to‐day, he will return to the charge
to‐morrow, with absolutely unchanged purpose. All opposed parties he
regards as sheer enemies to be beaten down, driven off, and ultimately
converted or destroyed. Meantime he practises political craft, of which
the climax is war; a craft not confined to priests, though they are good
at it, but common to every missionary, agitator, and philosophical
politician who operates in view of some vested interest or inflexible
plan, in the very un‐English spirit of intrigue, cajolery, eloquence,
and dissimulation. His art is to worm his way forward, using people’s
passions to further his own ends, carrying them off their feet in a wave
of enthusiasm, when that is feasible, and when it is not, recommending
his cause by insidious half‐measures, flattery of private interests,
confidence‐tricks, and amiable suggestions, until he has put his
entangled victims in his pocket; or when he feels strong enough,
brow‐beating and intimidating them into silence. Such is the inevitable
practice of every prophet who heralds an absolute system, political or
religious, and who pursues the unqualified domination of principles
which he thinks right in themselves and of a will which is
self‐justified and irresponsible.

Why, we may ask, are people so ready to set up absolute claims, when
their resources are obviously so limited that permanent success is
impossible, and their will itself, in reality, is so fragile that it
abandons each of its dreams even before it learns that it cannot be
realised? The reason is that the feebler, more ignorant, and more
childlike an impulse is, the less it can restrain itself or surrender a
part of its desire in order the better to attain the rest. In most
nations and most philosophies the intellect is rushed; it is swept
forward and enamoured by the first glimpses it gets of anything good.
The dogmas thus precipitated seem to relieve the will of all risks and
to guarantee its enterprises; whereas in fact they are rendering every
peril tragic by blinding us to it, and every vain hope incorrigible. A
happy shyness in the English mind, a certain torpor and lateness in its
utterance, have largely saved it from this calamity, and just because it
is not brilliant it is safe. Being reticent, it remains fertile; being
vague in its destination, it can turn at each corner down the most
inviting road. In this race the intellect has chosen the part of
prudence, leaving courage to the will, where courage is indispensable.
How much more becoming and fortunate is this balance of faculties for an
earthly being than an intellect that scales the heavens, refuting and
proving everything, while the will dares to attempt and to reform
nothing, but fritters itself away in sloth, petty malice, and irony! In
the English character modesty and boldness appear in the right places
and in a just measure. Manliness ventures to act without pretending to
be sure of the issue; it does not cry that all is sure, in order to
cover up the mortal perils of finitude; and manliness has its reward in
the joys of exploration and comradeship.

It is this massive malleable character, this vigorous moral youth, that
renders co‐operation possible and progressive. When interests are fully
articulate and fixed, co‐operation is a sort of mathematical problem; up
to a certain precise limit, people can obviously help one another by
summing their efforts, like sailors pulling at a rope, or by a division
of labour; they can obviously help one another when thereby they are
helping themselves. But beyond that, there can be nothing but mutual
indifference or eternal hostility. This is the old way of the world.
Most of the lower animals, although they run through surprising
transformations during their growth, seem to reach maturity by a
predetermined method and in a predetermined form. Nature does everything
for them and experience nothing, and they live or die, as the case may
be, true to their innate character. Mankind, on the contrary, and
especially the English races, seem to reach physical maturity still
morally immature; they need to be finished by education, experience,
external influences. What so often spoils other creatures improves them.
If left to themselves and untrained, they remain all their lives stupid
and coarse, with no natural joy but drunkenness; but nurseries and
schools and churches and social conventions can turn them into the most
refined and exquisite of men, and admirably intelligent too, in a
cautious and special fashion. They may never become, for all their
pains, so agile, graceful, and sure as many an animal or _a priori_ man
is without trouble, but they acquire more representative minds and a
greater range of material knowledge. Such completion, in the open air,
of characters only half‐formed in the womb may go on in some chance
direction, or it may go on in the direction of a greater social harmony,
that is, in whatever direction is suggested to each man by the suasion
of his neighbours. Society is a second mother to these souls; and the
instincts of many animals would remain inchoate if the great instinct of
imitation did not intervene and enable them to learn by example.
Development in this case involves assimilation; characters are moulded
by contagion and educated by democracy. The sphere of unanimity tends to
grow larger, and to reduce the margin of diversity to insignificance.
The result is an ever‐increasing moral unison, which is the simplest
form of moral harmony and emotionally the most coercive.

Democracy is often mentioned in the same breath with liberty, as if they
meant the same thing; and both are sometimes identified with the sort of
elective government that prevails in Great Britain and the United
States. But just as English liberty seems servitude to some people
because it requires them to co‐operate, to submit to the majority, and
to grow like them, so English democracy seems tyranny to the wayward
masses, because it is constitutional, historical, and sacred, narrowing
down the power of any group of people at any time to voting for one of
two or three candidates for office, or to saying yes or no to some
specific proposal—both the proposals and the candidates being set before
them by an invisible agency; and fate was never more inexorable or
blinder than is the grinding of this ponderous political mill, where
routine, nepotism, pique, and swagger, with love of office and money,
turn all the wheels. And the worst of it is that the revolutionary
parties that oppose this historical machine repeat all its abuses, or
even aggravate them. It would be well if people in England and America
woke up to the fact that it is in the name of natural liberty and direct
democracy that enemies both within and without are already rising up
against their democracy and their liberty. Just as the Papacy once
threatened English liberties, because it would maintain one inflexible
international religion over all men, so now an international democracy
of the disinherited many, led by the disinherited few, threatens English
liberties again, since it would abolish those private interests which
are the factors in any co‐operation, and would reduce everybody to
forced membership and forced service in one universal flock, without
property, family, country, or religion. That life under such a system
might have its comforts, its arts, and its atomic liberties, is certain,
just as under the Catholic system it had its virtues and consolations;
but both systems presuppose the universality of a type of human nature
which is not English, and perhaps not human.

The great advantage of English liberty is that it is in harmony with the
nature of things; and when living beings have managed to adapt their
habits to the nature of things, they have entered the path of health and
wisdom. No doubt the living will is essentially absolute, both at the
top and at the bottom, in the ferocious animal and in the rapt spirit;
but it is absolute even then only in its deliverance, in what it asserts
or demands; nothing can be less absolute or more precarious than the
living will in its existence. A living will is the flexible voice of a
thousand submerged impulses, of which now one and now another comes to
the surface; it is responsive, without knowing it, to a complex
forgotten past and a changing, unexplored environment. The will is a
mass of passions; when it sets up absolute claims it is both tragic and
ridiculous. It may be ready to be a martyr, but it will have to be one.
Martyrs are heroic; but unless they have the nature of things on their
side and their cause can be victorious, their heroism is like that of
criminals and madmen, interesting dramatically but morally detestable.
Madmen and criminals, like other martyrs, appeal to the popular
imagination, because in each of us there is a little absolute will, or a
colony of little absolute wills, aching to be criminal, mad, and heroic.
Yet the equilibrium by which we exist if we are sane, and which we call
reason, keeps these rebellious dreams under; if they run wild, we are
lost. Reason is a harmony; and it has been reputed by egotistical
philosophers to rule the world (in which unreason of every sort is
fundamental and rampant), because when harmony between men and nature
supervenes at any place or in any measure, the world becomes
intelligible and safe, and philosophers are able to live in it. The
passions, even in a rational society, remain the elements of life, but
under mutual control, and the life of reason, like English liberty, is a
perpetual compromise. Absolute liberty, on the contrary, is
impracticable; it is a foolish challenge thrown by a new‐born insect
buzzing against the universe; it is incompatible with more than one
pulse of life. All the declarations of independence in the world will
not render anybody really independent. You may disregard your
environment, you cannot escape it; and your disregard of it will bring
you moral empoverishment and some day unpleasant surprises. Even
Robinson Crusoe—whom offended America once tried to imitate—lived on
what he had saved from the wreck, on footprints and distant hopes.
Liberty to be left alone, not interfered with and not helped, is not
English liberty. It is the primeval desire of every wild animal or
barbarous tribe or jealous city or religion, claiming to live and to
tramp through the world in its own sweet way. These combative organisms,
however, have only such strength as the opposite principle of
co‐operation lends them inwardly; and the more liberty they assume in
foreign affairs the less liberty their members can enjoy at home. At
home they must then have organisation at all costs, like ancient Sparta
and modern Germany; and even if the restraints so imposed are not
irksome and there is spontaneous unison and enthusiasm in the people,
the basis of such a local harmony will soon prove too narrow. Nations
and religions will run up against one another, against change, against
science, against all the realities they had never reckoned with; and
more or less painfully they will dissolve. And it will not be a normal
and fruitful dissolution, like that of a man who leaves children and
heirs. It will be the end of that evolution, the choking of that ideal
in the sand.

This collapse of fierce liberty is no ordinary mutation, such as time
brings sooner or later to everything that exists, when the circumstances
that sustained it in being no longer prevail. It is a deep tragedy,
because the narrower passions and swifter harmonies are more beautiful
and perfect than the chaos or the dull broad equilibrium that may take
their place. Co‐operative life is reasonable and long‐winded; but it
always remains imperfect itself, while it somewhat smothers the impulses
that enter into it. Absolute liberty created these elements;
inspiration, free intelligence, uncompromising conviction, a particular
home and breeding‐ground, were requisite to give them birth. Nothing
good could arise for co‐operation to diffuse or to qualify unless first
there had been complete liberty for the artist and an uncontaminated
perfection in his work. Reason and the principle of English liberty have
no creative afflatus; they presuppose spontaneity and yet they half
stifle it; and they can rest in no form of perfection, because they must
remain plastic and continually invite amendments, in order to continue
broadly adjusted to an infinite moving world. Their work is accordingly
like those cathedrals at which many successive ages have laboured, each
in its own style. We may regret, sometimes, that some one design could
not have been carried out in its purity, and yet all these secular
accretions have a wonderful eloquence; a common piety and love of beauty
have inspired them; age has fused them and softened their incongruities;
and an inexpressible magic seems to hang about the composite pile, as if
God and man breathed deeply within it. It is a harmony woven out of
accidents, like every work of time and nature, and all the more profound
and fertile because no mind could ever have designed it. Some such
natural structure, formed and reformed by circumstances, is the
requisite matrix and home for every moral being.

Accordingly there seems to have been sober sense and even severe thought
behind the rant of Webster when he cried, “Liberty _and_ Union, now and
for ever, one and inseparable!” because if for the sake of liberty you
abandon union and resist a mutual adaptation of purposes which might
cripple each of them, your liberty loses its massiveness, its
plasticity, its power to survive change; it ceases to be tentative and
human in order to become animal and absolute. Nature must always produce
little irresponsible passions that will try to rule her, but she can
never crown any one of them with more than a theatrical success; the
wrecks of absolute empires, communisms, and religions are there to prove
it. But English liberty, because it is co‐operative, because it calls
only for a partial and shifting unanimity among living men, may last
indefinitely, and can enlist every reasonable man and nation in its
service. This is the best heritage of America, richer than its virgin
continents, which it draws from the temperate and manly spirit of
England. Certainly absolute freedom would be more beautiful if we were
birds or poets; but co‐operation and a loving sacrifice of a part of
ourselves—or even of the whole, save the love in us—are beautiful too,
if we are men living together. Absolute liberty and English liberty are
incompatible, and mankind must make a painful and a brave choice between
them. The necessity of rejecting and destroying some things that are
beautiful is the deepest curse of existence.

THE END

_Printed in Great Britain by_ R. & R. Clark, Limited, _Edinburgh_.





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