Truth and Error or the Science of Intellection/Chapter 24

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Fallacies of ideation constitute a fifth grade, which are illusions and delusions. In the order heretofore followed, we shall first speak of illusions, and then of delusions.

The Schoolmen speculated much on the nature of kinds, and finally reached the conclusion that that which makes a thing a kind is its essence, i.e., that which is essential to its existence as a kind, like others of its kind, but different from other kinds. All of this is quite true, but it adds nothing to knowledge, except that it might be given as a definition of a word. For a long time definitions were considered very good explanations.

When chemistry was yet alchemy, attempts often were made to discover the essence of things, and, in particular, it was a favorite method to extract kinds, and these extracts were called essences. So the kind or essence of a thing discovered in this manner was supposed to be its essential quality, as this term was then used. We have a record of this superstition, as it existed in the days of alchemy, in the extracts of the apothecary shop, which are often called essences. Rose-water was the essential extract of the rose, violet-water of the violet, and men were pleased with the idea that they could make of that which constitutes a thing or kind a decoction for a lady’s dressing table.

Fallacious theories of kind have high antiquity. It has already been set forth that a classification of properties and qualities is made in tribal society by a schematization of worlds. Not only were molar bodies, which were supposed to be animate, classified in this manner into seven categories, but all attributes of bodies were in like manner classified. We have already seen how space properties gave rise to a cosmology of seven regions. We have also seen how motion was explained as the self-activity of molar bodies, and that the heavenly bodies, which were supposed to be molar bodies, are in motion by appointed paths established by conflict in war, and given spacial or world directions, and that force was considered as will and the cause of motion.

We also have seen the manner in which time was considered as an attribute of space. We likewise have seen the development of the seven worlds into three, as the midworld, the zenith, and the nadir worlds.

Here we must pause for a time to explain something more of the nature of this transmutation. The change developed in later barbarism and earlier civilization was wrought by the increase of geographical knowledge. During this period there gradually was developed a notion of the land, or midworld, as a plane from which mountains and hills stand in relief, surrounded by the sea. Thales gives us such an account, as do many others. All the mythology of the time assumes the existence of the midworld as an island surrounded by an ocean. During the same epoch in human culture the unseen atmosphere was discovered. As the cardinal worlds were gradually abandoned, these properties and qualities of bodies that had previously been classified in the world scheme, came to be classified by a very natural change, as attributes of molar bodies. The schematization still remained fourfold, but molar bodies were considered as kinds, composed of four occult substances—earth, air, fire, and water. Thus, the four regions were transmuted into the four substances. Greek philosophy began with this theory, and there is abundant evidence that other races entertained the same doctrine.

Thus, the most ancient philosophy of civilization started with a theory of three worlds and four substances. We must now rapidly trace its development through five stages, during a period of more than twenty centuries, as it is revealed to us in the history of metaphysic as distinguished from science.

We must consider a little further the misunderstandings of ideation. Every man for himself verifies the current judgments which he makes in relation to practical affairs. If our judgments were not verified until after they are acted on, the race would be overwhelmed by disaster. We have already seen that erroneous judgments vie in multiplicity with valid judgments. If a man should act on erroneous judgments, they would lead him into such mistakes that, almost every hour in the day, he would perform some act causing irreparable mischief. The food which he selects must be properly chosen, but the many things which he might select for food, which are injurious, or even deadly, outnumber the articles which should constitute his proper food. The snares, the pitfalls, the precipices, the floods, which beset his path, are so many that his way must carefully be chosen. The forces which are encountered, as men, beasts, and natural powers, are so many that he must constantly avoid antagonisms. Life is a perpetual exercise of choice. Judgments that are made must be verified in practical affairs, lest the race should become extinct. So, in the making of our judgments, we form a habit of verifying them before we proceed to act.

The immediate judgments of practical life must be verified, but the judgments which we make about future events may be postponed, and, practically, they are postponed in tribal society. But men come at last to seek for the verification of judgments which are more and more remotely practical, for they also are found to involve ultimate welfare. Then science is born, for science is knowledge, or verified judgments. When science is born, civilization begins. If judgments are incongruous, somewhere there must be error. This is the method of discovering error, which is habitual or intuitive in mankind, developed from infancy in the individual, and developed in the race from generation to generation, through the whole period of animate existence. It is the most profound intuition of the human mind.

With civilization there springs up a philosophy of monism, which is a philosophy of the error involved in judgments that are incongruous. The key to the meaning of that which we call ancient philosophy is found in the attempt to discover a unifying principle.

Through the centuries this has been the quest of wise men. The seemingly multitudinous properties and qualities of body must be reduced to some unifying principle. As the individual first guesses and then verifies, as already set forth in the chapters on intellection, so the race, at one time and another, guesses, chooses, selects some one property to which all other properties may be reduced as the unifying principle.

This quest started at the beginning of civilization, when four substances, earth, air, fire, and water, were held to be the elements of which all bodies are composed. Civilization inherited a controversy from barbarism about these substances. The substances themselves were derived from the cardinal points, and the brotherhoods of the tribe were organized to represent these cardinal points. Each brotherhood claimed for itself an origin in the cardinal point from which it was named, and hence there was a perennial controversy between the brotherhoods as to the most noble or honorable of these origins. Now, in tribal society, the most noble or honorable is the eldest, for that is the method of expressing nobler; elder and nobler are synonymous, for the elder has dominion in tribal society. In the beginning of Greek philosophy, the άρχή, the first, held dominion, and was hence the most honorable. The controversies about the most honorable of the points of the compass, the one which should hold dominion, the one which was the first, held over into the stage when the cardinal points were considered as substances, and hence the Greeks inherited the controversy about the first, or άρχή, of the elements. Now, another method of expressing this idea is that the first is the grandfather, so that it is customary in tribal society to speak of the chief as the grandfather. The totemic head of the tribe is often called the grandfather, as is also the totemic head who is the first of the tribe, or the one from which all the other members are derived. These doctrines are thoroughly ingrained in the habits of thought and the methods of expression current in tribal society, and inherited by national society. Hence, we find, in the study of Greek philosophy, which primarily is cosmology, the first, or άρχή, of the elements still to be the subject of dispute, and the first is taken as the one from which all others are derived, and hence to have dominion, and so the most honorable.

At last, there arose a philosopher who cleared his imagination of the fallacies of kinds, as earth, air, fire, and water, and made the bold hypothesis that all things are ultimately founded, not on kind, but on its reciprocal, number, for Pythagoras was a mathematician. Then began the theories of reified abstractions, the theories by which the properties of bodies are unified as a foundation for monistic philosophy.

There is so much of truth in the philosophy of Pythagoras, that when we consider the universe as composed of properties that can be measured, and that by measure all properties are reduced to number, then all properties can be considered as number. Counting on the human abacus had now been developed into the science of reasoning by conventional numbers, and, having discovered that sound is a numerical relation of vibrations of the air, and carrying his magical philosophy into all his ways and thoughts, but not clearly understanding the nature of measure itself, that it is the rendering of one property into the terms of another, until all of the properties are reduced to number, he conceived the doctrine that the universe is a world of numbers; and so it is, but it is much more than a world of numbers, as we have abundantly seen.

Pythagoras is said to have taught this doctrine. This is not known from records left by himself, but mainly from records which come from his immediate successors. The literature of the Pythagorean philosophy is meager, yet, from the little that remains, it seems to have been a theory of the origin of all other properties from number.

In mathematics, the science of verification is space reduced to number; motion is reduced to space, and then to number; and, finally, time is reduced to motion, and motion to space, and space to number; and all of these conventional reductions are accomplished by the device of measure. But, in the doctrine of Pythagoras, number seems to have been held as the substrate of properties. It is the patriarch of the illusions of metaphysical philosophy; its venerable form is gray with the mystical shadows of twenty-five centuries. This may be denominated the fallacy of Pythagoras.

Plato taught that form is the substrate of all properties. This he did with such literary skill that he held the judgment of mankind for many centuries. He not only taught that form is the substrate of physical properties, but also of thought. To him thoughts were forms given off by objects floating in the empyrean and taken into the mind, and his exposition of this doctrine transferred the word idea from the realm of space to the realm of mind. A monument to this fallacy still exists in the use of the term idea for a notion in every modern language of civilization. This may be denominated the fallacy of Plato.

Aristotle rejected the Pythagorean and Platonic fallacy, but entertained one of his own. He reified energy or force, which is derived from motion, and taught that this energy is the substrate of all properties. Now, while this seems to have been his doctrine, yet it must be remembered that Aristotle was a careless writer, heedless of the niceties of expression, and unconscious of the necessity for using scientific accuracy in terms. It seems possible to refer to Aristotle as an authority for many of the fallacies which have been entertained in metaphysic, and philosophers usually reverence him as the Master. If I were called on to point out the fundamental doctrine of Aristotle, I should cite his theory of energy, so I call this the fallacy of Aristotle. As his exposition of the subject is not very lucid, and as men may honestly controvert any statement made of his doctrine, it seems better to look for another master of this doctrine. In Spencer, we have a philosopher who rivals Plato in literary skill. In Spencer’s “First Principles,” where he lays the foundation of his philosophy, he sets forth the doctrine in no uncertain terms. Motion is derived from force, extension also is derived from force, and, finally, all of the properties are held to have force as their substrate. If the reader will consult Spencer’s “First Principles,” part II, chapter III, he will there discover his method of explaining properties. The chapter is entitled, “Space, Time, Matter, Motion, and Force.” He not only derives all the properties, but all bodies, from force, and then describes force as something unknown and unknowable; so, in the name of science, he meets the metaphysician on his own ground, and sets forth his doctrines with a deftness and simplicity with which the dealer in mystery cannot vie. Spencer not only entertains the fallacy that properties are derived from an unknown and unknowable force, but he makes force the substrate of all relations, and then affirms that we know only of relations, and that their substrate is the unknowable; but still more, he accepts the Kantian illusions of a void space and a void time.

Then, time was held to be the unifying principle of all properties and bodies. This reification was designated by the term being, taking the participle of the asserting word to be, but using it in its secondary sense as signifying to exist. My reading does not furnish me with the knowledge necessary to say who first clearly propounded this doctrine, but it was almost universally entertained by scholastic metaphysicians. Let us, then, denominate this the scholastic fallacy.

It appears that Plato and Aristotle have been recorded more generously than other philosophers of Grecian history. The authority which they wielded seems not to have permitted the revival of the Pythagorean fallacy which they successfully dispelled, while the Aristotelian fallacy had no extensive following until modern times, when, under the lead of Spencer, the great modern master, it has been extensively taught.

But, of all these fallacies, that of the reification of time has, perhaps, had the greatest following; it is the philosophy of Ontology. It has one variety which almost equals in importance Ontology itself. This variety of the species is the metaphysic of becoming, or, as it is sometimes called, the metaphysic of essence, which has many phases, the most important of which is that the essence of a thing is that into which it will develop.

Thus, the philosophy of bodies assumed the phase of substance and properties. How long it held the judgment of mankind is shown when we remember that even Newton himself believed light to be corpuscular emanations from bodies. The last vestige of this doctrine remains when it is supposed that motion jumps from one body to another; and this doctrine is accompanied by another which affirms that path is motion itself. This doctrine of essence is the doctrine which Hegel, in the third chapter of his “Phenomenology of Spirit,” sets forth as one of the inadequate judgments of men, which is properly understood only when the external world is considered as a form of thought. There is a curious error prevalent in scholastic times, which is the fallacy of substrates. It was involved in the philosophy of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, when one of the properties was held to be the substrate of all the others. But it had a long history, and assumed many phases, one or two of which must briefly be set forth.

It was the theory that substance, or substrate, or essence, by whatever name it may be denominated, is porous, and that properties emanate from its pores; that substance gives off an inexhaustible supply of properties. Plato thought that properties were given off from the substance of bodies as forms. For a long time it was held by philosophers that force was thus given off from bodies as subtle emanations.

In this stage of speculation, properties were called accidents, and the theory of bodies took this phase. Bodies are composed of substance and accidents; the accidents may come and go, but the substance remains. John Locke put this subject in a nutshell:

“They who first ran into the notion of accidents, as a sort of real beings that needed something to inhere in, were forced to find out the word substance to support them. Had the poor Indian philosopher (who imagined that the earth also wanted something to bear it up) but thought of this word substance, he needed not to have been at the trouble to find an elephant to support it, and a tortoise to support his elephant: the word substance would have done it effectually. And he that inquired might have taken it for as good an answer from an Indian philosopher,—that substance, without knowing what it is, is that which supports the earth, as we take it for a sufficient answer, and good doctrine from our European philosophers,—that substance, without knowing what it is, is that which supports accidents. So that of substance, we have no idea of what it is, but only a confused, obscure one of what it does. . . .
“So that if any one will examine himself concerning his notion of pure substance in general, he will find he has no other idea of it at all, but only a supposition of he knows not what support of such qualities which are capable of producing simple ideas in us; which qualities are commonly called accidents. If any one should be asked, what is the subject wherein color or weight inheres, he would have nothing to say, but the solid extended parts; and if he were demanded what is it that solidity and extension adhere in, he would not be in a much better case than the Indian before mentioned, who, saying that the world was supported by a great elephant, was asked what the elephant rested on; to which his answer was—a great tortoise: but being again pressed to know what gave support to the broad-backed tortoise, replied—something, he knew not what. And thus here, as in all other cases where we use words without having clear and distinct ideas, we talk like children: who, being questioned what such a thing is, which they know not, readily give this satisfactory answer, that it is something: which, in truth, signifies no more, when so used, either by children or men, but that they know not what; and that the thing they pretend to know, and talk of, is what they have no distinct idea of at all, and so are perfectly ignorant of it, and in the dark. The idea then we have, to which we give the general name substance, being nothing but the supposed, but unknown, support of those qualities we find existing, which we imagine cannot subsist sine re substante, without something to support them, we call that support substantia; which, according to the true import of the word, is, in plain English, standing under or upholding.”

It is this something, we know not what, of which Locke speaks, that has come to be designated in metaphysic as noumenon, while the accidents of his time have come to be designated as phenomena. By the Greeks, the fish, seen by its ripple in the water, is called a phenomenon; after it is caught and the fish itself is seen, instead of the ripple, it is called a noumenon. In modern metaphysic, both are called phenomena. The multitudinous properties of bodies can all be resolved into the five essentials which we have set forth; these are the noumena, while the multitudinous phenomena are the relations of particles or bodies to one another. Noumena are constant or absolute; phenomena are relative or variable. This leads us to the discussion of the delusions of ideation.

During the stages of opinion which were characterized by a belief in the Pythagorean, Platonic, Aristotelian, and Scholastic fallacies, as they have been described above, science and metaphysic proceeded together, hand in hand, in search of the truth, though the science of reality was clouded with the metaphysic of fallacy. But now science and metaphysic part company. In this new stage, not only does metaphysic reify, substantialize, or hypostasize the essentials or noumena of consciousness, but it adopts the ghost theory, for the psychic property is considered as a ghost which can leave the body and return to it. The completed stage of the ghost theory is idealism. Opposed to idealism or the ghost theory of spirit—mind or consciousness—is the theory which is most commonly called materialism, of which Spencer is the modern champion.

Idealism began with Berkeley, but he formulated it as a system of theology, or an explanation of the origin of the world in the thought of God. Berkeley gave us, in clear and beautiful English, a theory of vision which was the germ of a new psychology developed by Helmholtz into a more scientific form, with greater exactness, as a scientific theory of vision and also of audition. So Helmholtz may be considered as the founder of scientific psychology. But the idealism of Berkeley was taken up by many others, especially by the German school, represented by Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. Kant, who was the founder of this new German school, left the subject in an attitude wholly unsatisfactory to the human mind as a theory of monism. In his great work, “The Critique of Pure Reason,” he pronounces sentence on human reason by consigning its conclusions to the limbo of antinomies; in his subsequent work he relegates man back to practical reason, that is, the formation of judgments which must be made in order that we may act, instead of what we may know. I have already mentioned the primal fallacies into which Kant fell; but he did not produce a system of idealism, nor did Fichte nor Schelling. It was left for Hegel to create a system. This he did by creating a logic of contradictories.

Perhaps I have sufficiently set forth the nature of conception, through the forming of judgments of sensation, perception, apprehension, reflection, and ideation, as stages in the process of forming concepts, and that until all of these stages have been passed there is a probability of entertaining fallacies, especially when we do not recognize that cognition is never completed until judgments are verified. The nature of conception or reasoning, as thus set forth, seems to have been understood by Hegel in some vague way. Hence, he properly explained antinomies as the final harmonizing of judgments by the last process in conception as ideation. So far, I believe his work to be sound; surely it possesses this germ of truth. But he did not clearly understand the nature of ideation, for he was an idealist, and reified the property—the psychic property—of bodies; he was a monist of an abstraction, and he believed the external world to be a fallacy—a phantasm, an illusion, a delusion if you will—something which does not exist in itself.

Hegel does not affirm but he always assumes that there is no external world, that is, there is no reality in the four mechanical properties of body, the four essentials—unity, extension, speed and persistence. They exist only as attributes of consciousness. Consciousness, or idea, to use his term, is the substrate from which flows the accidents or mechanical properties, as from its pores, in an inexhaustible supply of fallacies. There is kind, form, force, and causation of conception, but there is no kind, form, force, and causation, except that which is ideal; that is, he everywhere assumes, and practically affirms, that the mechanical properties are the creations of the mind. It is in this sense that he denies the reality of the external world. Kant gives four fundamental antinomies; but with Hegel all reasoning about the external world, or the four properties of bodies, is fallacious, and the only way to cognize reality is first to cognize consciousness in all its developments, and then to cognize the external world as a system of fallacious judgments. Real cognition must be of the “idea” itself. This is the fallacy of Hegel.

Kant resolves the world of thought into antinomies of contradictions, and refers us back to the practical judgments of good and evil, which control our acts; but Hegel develops a system in which he refers all of our judgments of an external world to fallacies. The only realities or cognitions are those about “idea,” as he calls it, or those about consciousness, and its development into the faculties of the intellect, as herein set forth. According to Hegel, the only noumenon is the idea. Mechanical properties of bodies are but phenomena. There are no stars, and we only fallaciously think there are stars. There is no atmosphere, no sea, no formations, no rocks, no nucleus; we only fallaciously think that they exist. There are no plants; we only fallaciously think there are plants. There are no animals; we only fallaciously think there are animals. But there are minds, which, by some occult process, exist not in time or space, and in this occult sense are internal, whatever that may be. The furniture of the world, which we suppose to be external, does not exist, except as fallacy, or, as Hegel calls it, phenomenon. Antinomies arise, when we consider them as realities. But antinomies disappear, if we consider them as ideas.

Having made this discovery, he announces it in the “Phenomenology,” and shows us how he reaches this conclusion in a marvelous collection of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, which, to the scientific mind, at first seem wholly incomprehensible, for the argument is hieratic. It cannot be understood except by those who are initiated into the mysteries of its symbolic language. Though tempted to analyze it, I must not, for it would require a treatise in itself equal to that needed for the unraveling of the cuneiform inscriptions. However, I think that I may pause long enough to show the fundamental principles on which he proceeds: (1) He assumes that mind is the substrate, and hence the unifying principle. (2) He sees as clearly as may be from a study of language, that one property may be spoken of in the terms of another; thus a space may be spoken of in terms of number, as, the distance from the Capitol to the White House may be six thousand feet. We have already seen that measure itself is primarily the reduction of space to number; it is then the reduction of motion and space to number; it is then the reduction of time to motion, and motion to space, and space to number; it is then the reduction of judgment to time, and of time to motion, and of motion to space, and of space to number. These reductions are woven into all the language of daily life, making them tropes, or giving them vicarious uses; but especially do we use terms of the mechanical properties when we speak of the properties of consciousness. The very same words that we use to speak of the properties of consciousness, we more often use when speaking of other properties. It is that which we have set forth as the vicarious faculty of the mind, and it is the foundation of trope.

Now, when we use a word which has a great variety of uses, and can trace in this usage some one meaning as an attribute of consciousness, Hegel considers it to be the fundamental meaning, as shown by his practice. He affirms this, sometimes, when he says that every word must be taken in all its meaning, if it is logically used. The word comprehend is used as a sign of a mental and also of a physical act. I may say that I comprehend the pen, when I mean that I understand the pen, or I may say that the different parts of the pen are comprehended in one, as the pen itself. Now, in Hegel, the word for comprehend seems to have many meanings that are really comprehended in one, and, being an idealist, that one meaning is its psychic significance. There is no such thing as a pen with mechanical properties, but it exists only with the properties with which I endow it when I think it, for I create it with my thought. According to the Hegelian theory, it is nonsense to say that I think about a pen, but it is the “thing-in-itself,” when I say I think the pen. This thing-in-itself is the noumenon of idealism. This knife is composed of the handle and its parts, and the blades with their parts, but, according to idealism, things are only what we think them to be, and the word composed, used in this manner, if properly understood, is but a psychic term, for, according to Kant, space is a form of thought, not of things. When we come properly to understand the world, that all things are thoughts, then we see that the real meaning of words is their psychic meaning, and that words can have but one meaning. As commonly understood, apprehended, composed, and embraced in the same senses, have synonymous meanings, but, according to Hegel, and to idealism generally since his time, synonymous words always have the same meaning, and that meaning must be found when it expresses a psychic fact. This is the secret of Hegel, and the key to his hieroglyphics, and, if consistently used to interpret the sayings of his logic, it becomes an open book. Now, when he uses a word for any property whatever, we must understand, if we follow Hegel in his argument, that the word is used in its psychic meaning. If we consistently carry out this rule, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, through the “Phenomenology,” where it generally works, on through his “Logic,” where, perhaps, it is the universal rule, we can translate his hieratic codex into demotic speech.

Permit a word of advice to the student who desires to accomplish this feat. First, read the works of Hegel’s most devout disciples. Then take up Hegel himself. Then, after mastering Hegel, Kant’s “Critique” will be an open book. The student must first learn the hieratic language, and then it is easy to read all of the works of the idealists.

Hegel accepted not only void space and void time as realities, but he accepted void essence and other nothings which he included under the term being, and sometimes under the term absolute. The world of sense is seen by every one to be a world of change, and he called it becoming; the fallacies, then, he called the being, or the absolute, and the realities the becoming. In his “Logic,” he says:

“But this mere Being, as it is mere abstraction, is therefore the absolutely negative: which, in a similarly immediate aspect, is just Nothing.
“Hence was derived the second definition of the Absolute; the Absolute is the Nought. In fact this definition is implied in saying that the thing-in-itself is the indeterminate, utterly without form and so without content. . . .
“The proposition that Being and Nothing is the same seems so paradoxical to the imagination or understanding, that it is perhaps taken for a joke. And indeed it is one of the hardest things thought expects itself to do: for Being and Nothing exhibit the fundamental contrast in all its immediacy,—that is, without the one term being invested with any attribute which would involve its connexion with the other. This attribute, however, as the above paragraph points out, is implicit in them—the attribute which is just the same in both. So far the deduction of their unity is completely analytical: indeed the whole progress of philosophising in every case, if it be a methodical, that is to say, a necessary, progress, merely renders explicit what is implicit in a notion. It is as correct however to say that Being and Nothing are altogether different, as to assert their unity. The one is not what the other is. But since the distinction has not at this point assumed definite shape (Being and Nothing are still the immediate), it is, in the way that they have it, something unutterable, which we merely mean.”

What Hegel means is that the world of reality is the creation of the human mind out of nothing. Now, this creation of something out of nothing, as it produces the material universe, is kept in constant flux or change, for everything is in evolution and dissolution, and thus it is the becoming. While Spencer reifies the universe as force, and deems it the unknowable, Hegel reifies the universe as thought, and deems it the unutterable; so all metaphysical philosophers trace the universe into something occult.

Hegel attempts to forestall ridicule in the following language:

“No great expenditure of wit is needed to make fun of the maxim that Being and Nothing are the same, or rather to adduce absurdities which, it is erroneously asserted, are the consequences and illustrations of that maxim.”

Then he goes on, by a method of logic which he calls dialectic, to show the validity of his proposition, in which he asserts:

“There is absolutely nothing whatever in which we cannot and must not point to contradictions or opposite attributes.”

This logic is well worth perusal by the curious reader, as an example of mysterious arguments about mysteries, of propositions about the unutterable, of notions about the unknowable, and of attributes assigned to ghosts. In such manner, scholastic learning transmutes folk-lore into the semblance of wisdom, and the pathos of poetry. Lowell, with sympathetic love, has given fine expression to the thaumaturgy of transcendentalism, when he likens the gold-fish in the globe to souls imprisoned in the sphere of sense:

“Is it illusion? Dream-stuff? Show
Made of the wish to have it so?
‘Twere something, even though this were all:
So the poor prisoner, on his wall
Long gazing, from the chance designs
Of crack, mould, weather-stain, refines
New and new pictures without cease,
Landscape, or saint, or altar-piece:
But these are Fancy’s common brood,
Hatched in the nest of solitude;
This is Dame Wish’s hourly trade,
By our rude sires a goddess made.
. . . . . .
“The worm, by trustful instinct led,
Draws from its womb a slender thread,
And drops, confiding that the breeze
Will waft it to unpastured trees;
So the brain spins itself, and so
Swings boldly off in hope to blow
Across some tree of knowledge, fair
With fruitage new, none else shall share:
Sated with wavering in the Void,
It backward climbs, so best employed,
And, where no proof is nor can be,
Seeks refuge with Analogy;
Truth’s soft half-sister, she may tell
Where lurks, seld-sought, the other’s well.
. . . . . .
“The things we see as shadows I
Know to be substance; tell me why
My visions, like those haunting you,
May not be as substantial too.
Alas, who ever answer heard
From fish, and dream-fish too? Absurd!
Your consciousness I half divine,
But you are wholly deaf to mine.
Go, I dismiss you; ye have done
All that ye could; our silk is spun;
Dive back into the deep of dreams,
Where what is real is what seems!
Yet I shall fancy till my grave
Your lives to mine a lesson gave;
If lesson none, an image, then,
Impeaching self-conceit in men
Who put their confidence alone
In what they call the Seen and Known.”

Emerson sings of the mystery of transcendentalism:

“The Sphinx is drowsy,
Her wings are furled;
Her ear is heavy,
She broods on the world.
Who’ll tell me my secret,
The ages have kept?
I awaited the seer,
While they slumbered and slept;—
“The fate of the man-child;
The meaning of man;
Known fruit of the unknown;
Daedalian plan;
Out of sleeping a waking,
Out of waking a sleep;
Life death overtaking;
Deep underneath deep?
. . . . . .
“Up rose the merry Sphinx,
And crouched no more in stone;
She melted into purple cloud,
She silvered in the moon;
She spired into a yellow flame;
She flowered in blossoms red;
She flowed into a foaming wave;
She stood Monadnoc’s head.”

Great are the poets of mysticism, but there is one greater:

“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! in form, and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!”