Page:Essays and phantasies by James Thomson.djvu/204

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192
OPEN SECRET SOCIETIES.

perishes of atrophy, or in its hunger grasps at husks and straw in the absence of grain; or it narrows into the exclusiveness of a clique or coterie, cherishing rather a pharisaical contempt than a yearning love for the mass of uninitiate mankind.

If the object of the Society be the hidden conservation and secret culture of some truth, it probably appears, in the course of a not long time, that instead of the truth expanding the intellects of its votaries to its breadth and greatness, they are contracting it to the measure of their own narrow littleness. The first warm intoxication is soon followed by a very cold sobriety, if not by shuddering nausea. And the truth adopted and professed by the Society will be even narrower than the intellect of almost any one of its members; for all will assent only to some proposition shorn of everything very offensive to one or the other; hence the result is a maimed, mutilated, semi-vital compromise; it will not soar with the birds, it will not walk with the beasts, so it flits about bat-like in the dusk lower air. For a meeting is always less wise than a man. The branches lopped off from their tree of knowledge will be precisely the most vigorous individual offshoots. Thus the sublime and fruitful doctrine withers into an abstract formula, the sacred watchwords become jargon and cant; the conservation which was enterprised in the spirit of progress is continued in the spirit of obstructiveness. In the meantime the outward air has become milder, the temperature of the human zone has ameliorated; and while this tree of knowledge has been cut and trimmed lest it should shatter the glass walls of its conservatory, and has languished in the lack of natural warmth and light, not all the similar germs left to the rough nursing of open nature have perished; some have thriven, deep-rooted and strong-boughed from their warfare with tempests, and contrast in their robust