« PreviousContinue »
once; it does not appear forced and strained, but the natural and appropriate symbol of the thought expressed. This form must have been originally fitted to convey the idea it imparis, since nothing but such an adaptation could lead us to choose it in preference to others. All this shows conclusively that matter and mind are adapted to each other-ihat, in the language of Richter, “ they are fundamentally one," and though apparently so different, are yet subject to one generat law, and work together to produce the same results. Under this view, the present life and the present world are far better than many would have us believe. It is not a lise, nor a world, where all is imperfect—where the flesh contends against the spirit, and the mind is clogged and fettered by all that is vile and earthy. The spiritual and material elements are not antagonists, ever clashing and warring against one another, each asserting its own supremacy ; but they together combine, together act, to form and perfect the being Man.
Man, then, is surrounded by a vast creation of forms. Placed in the midst of a world of symbols, he is compelled to think and to express. Of these signs nature has asforded a vast supply, and it is in the power of man, by new and natural combinations, to multiply them to an infinite extent. Hence the world of outward expression is as unlimited as the world of thought, and no idea ever crossed any intellect which it is impossible to convey in a distinct and visible form. But though thus bountifully provided with types and signs, man has still something left for him to do. He must know how to apply them. From a multitude of forms he must be able to select the best and most appropriate. This choice of expression requires great mental activity, and strong imagination. The ideas of most intellects are vague and indistinct; connected with no definite symbol, they make little impression, soon pass away, and are forgotten. Not so with those of strong and imaginative minds. A thought presents itself before them. They look abroad into the outward world, and discern at once what form is most appropriate for the expression of that thought. After the form is once fixed upon, the mind has something definite to start from—a point from which to look at the idea in all its relations, turn it over and over, observe it in every possible light, and yet always be able to trace its way back to the place from which it set out. If in this process some new bearing, some new application be discovered, this can be indicated by its proper sign and embodied in the original expression. Thus it is that great ideas are by great minds brought out into the actual world, are made to assume a form which will force the mass of men to see and feel them, and act by them. When we read any production of genius, or look upon any work of art, it seems to us not an ulter stranger, but as though there was something about it with which we had long been acquainted-as though the ideas it embodies had long been before the mind, flitting about like shadows in the dim twilight of undefined thought, and had now first assumed their veritable and natural shapes in the clear light of open day.
It is evident, from what has now been said, that if we would convey an abstract truth, we must do it by means of some form, and of all the forms of nature and of human action, some are better fitted than others for
its expression. These it must be our endeavor to choose. We must select the best we can. It is, indeed, a work of no small difficulty, and constitutes one of the highest exercises of the mind. But because attended with trouble it is none the less important. A man has no right, in communicating some far-reaching and soul-concerning truth, to take up with an inadequate expression, to use the wrong sign, merely because it is most convenient, or ready at band. It is his duty and his interest to try for the best. Since then, their selection is such a difficult matter, when distinct and appropriate symbols have once been determined upon, they ought to be perpetuated. And even if those employed are not the best possible, they acquire, by long.continued use, a peculiar appropriateness and significance. That this is true not only of representative action, but also of verbal statements, will appear from a brief consideration of the nalure of language.
Language may be generally defined to be a collection of sounds, which indicate external objects and physical acts. It is often, perhaps, conventional and arbitrary, for we cannot always see any connection between a natural object and the name given it. Yet though we cannot trace it, the fundamental unity of matter and mind creates a probability that such a connection does really exist. Names of abstract ideas are merely signs of signs; not they themselves, but the forms which they suggest, communicate thought. A regular and systematic collection of such words in a sentence, is nothing more than a contrivance for bringing before the mind, in rapid succession, a variety of forms. Hence, even if the words are conventional, mere arbitrary and accidental inventions, the things and acts which they signify, stand in the same natural relation to human thought, as though these words did not exist. When language is used with reference to sensible objects, the sounds uttered suggest at once whatever they are associated with, and the designed impression is immediately conveyed. But when employed for the expression of abstract truth, the mind goes through two operations. One of these is the passing from the sound uttered, to the natural object or action of which that sound is the name. The other is a following out the connection of that object or action with the abstract idea which it symbolizes. The former of these may be arbitrary. We can conceive it possible to associate an external type with a thousand different names, each of which would equally subserve the design. Not so with the other. It is founded on a natural connection between a representative form and an inward thought; and usage, therefore, cannot regulate or change it. For example, the act of grasping might perhaps be as well indicated by some other word as by comprehension. Yet when this has once been established by usage, it becomes the natural expression of the mental state, to which the act of grasping is analogous. When such a word is originally employed to express an abstract truth, it points first to the type, and then presents the idea. But after long-continued use, it suggests at once the thought, without leading the mind to the intermediate form. As with individual words, so with sentences and formulas. When spoken merely of external objects, they dart upon the mind a rapid succession of images, Form aster form appears, until the group is completed. Almost in a moment of time, a picture is painted, and held up before the vision. But when employed to express abstract truths, the mind has not only to take in the meaning of this cluster of images as a whole, but also to trace the connection of this whole, this compound representative form, with a mental state or phenomenon. Long-continued use, however, brings us to associate the idea with the mere expression, a picture no longer intervenes, but the thought at once flashes upon the mind, clear, distinct, perfect. If, then, certain forms of expression have been found adequate to convey abstract truths, let them be continued ; by long and constant use they will become familiar terms, household phrases, ever bringing before the mind, clearly and vividly, those great ideas which must guide and govern us while we live upon the earth. We should, therefore, carefully guard the perpetuity of forms-forms of representative action and forms of verbal statement-s0 shall we cause art, habit, nature, lo combine in giving permanence of expression to thought, and almost bring spirit into union with spirit.
'There has been in the world much partial philosophy. It generally arises from too exclusive attention to one thing. Long and careful consideration magnifies any subject. New parts continually appear, details multiply, the whole subject grows upon the mind, until, perhaps, it nearly fills the intellectual vision, and all else dwindles into insignificance. Hence arise many one-sided systems. Men and things are looked upon in a narrow and contracted view. The importance of some one particular is magnified until it overshadows and hides overy thing beside. Some one element of human nature is fastened upon, all the rest overlooked, and that made supreme. This is what has been done by those who advocate and strive to practice an excessive spiritualism. They regard the mind as all that in this life is worth attending to. The spirit, with them, is every thing—the body nothing. Matter is a mere clog upon mind, dragging it down to the dull forms of the material creation, and forbidding it the freedom of a spiritual existe ence. The aspirations and emotions of the soul are hampered and settered by the desires and passions of animal life. Thus, in their view, the body is a mere prison-house for the spirit. Mind and matter are antagonists ; the one striving to maintain the supremacy of all that is vile, earthy, and sensual, the other of all that is noble and spiritual. It becomes then man's duty to free himself, as far as possible, from this yoke, to subdue animal appetites and passions, and abstract the mind from outward objects and dull matter.
Such is the philosophy of spiritualism. To a certain degree, every one should believe and practice it. It affords an excellent rule of life and a wholesome restraint upon bodily desires. But when carried too far, it seeks to destroy the natural dependence of mind and body, and to bring them into an unnatural state of antagonism. It then becomes AntiFormalism. Forcing the mind back upon itself, and endeavoring to make it evolve abstract truth from abstract truth, it dries and withers up all those faculties which enable the man to derive ideas from the external world. The imagination is impaired; the power of associating
outward forms with inward thoughts is lost. Indeed, the Anti-Formalist looks upon the symbol as distracting the mind from the idea. He thinks that the sign and the thing signified cannot subsist together. If the one is present, the other must be absent. To use forms, with him, is to be formal. He confounds Formalism with Formality. Thus he rejects all that appeals to the senses; he shuts his eyes to the significance of everything in the material creation. It is to him a collection of mere mechanical contrivances. The beautiful and appropriate in action he cannot see; all that cultivates and refines the feelings he Alings away. Divested of the power of imagination and of associating abstract ideas with sensible objects, his mind loses its elasticity ; it becomes dull, prosy, and stationary. Seeking to quicken the spiritual life, he almost destroys what he before possessed. Striving to make the mind independent of the senses, he renders it inactive and torpid. The few ideas he has, become less distinct and vivid. Every thing loses its freshness. The whole man grows prim, stiff and angular. Abstaining from forms, he is yet formal. Thus this spiritualizer deseats his own end. Following a false philosophy, he is led round and round in the same circle, but brought not a step in advance.
It often happens that a form, after long use, becomes unmeaning. This may be owing to a variety of causes. Sometimes other expressions arise, which better convey the idea intended. In the progress of mind, there may be discovered a closer analogy of this abstract truth with some other material form, or, perhaps, it may become associated with, and suggested by, a shorter and more convenient expression. The original sign then loses its significance. The symbol no longer symbolizes. When it becomes useless, whether in this or any other way, it should be discontinued. To continue it longer, is to keep up form without spirit, to preserve an external type which does not typify. Thus in the natural course of things, many forms must pass away ; they lose their meaning, become burdensome, and are flung aside. But because its original expression has ceased to convey it, the idea inust not be left without a sign. If it is not thus brought before the minds of men, and forced upon their attention, it will lose its distinctness and vividness, and finally be disregarded or forgotten. All great truths, which should govern human life or conduct, must be imparted and revived by frequent and ever-recurring symbols, and constantly brought out into the actual and visible world. What if the forms of social intercourse should be universally disregarded ? How long would men continue to cherish kindly feelings towards each other? How long would women be treated with tenderness and respect? How long would distinctions of class or rank be preserved ? How long would individual rights be regarded ? How long, in a word, could society remain refined and cultivated ? Yet these forms are nothing more than signs of such feelings as respect, gallantry, deference, equality,-mere mental states and impressions. But when brought out in common life, forced upon us in our daily occupations, meeting us in every place, we are compelled, if not to feel their significance, at least to yield to their constraint.
If then it is thus necessary, by means of forms, to stimulate man to feelings, which, from his close contact with others, are most likely to arise, and are most naturally cherished-how much more necessary is it, to use the same means, to excite in him right and proper feelings toward his Creator ! Intimate intercourse, immediate interests, every thing would seem to conspire in suggesting and reviving those ideas which should govern social life. On the contrary, there is nothing in his common occupations, in every day's routine, to remind man of re. ligious truths, of his relations to his God. The things of this world are near and present; the things of the world to come, distant and unseen. Yet we are still obliged to indicate social relations by external types—signs which shall force themselves upon the senses and make their meaning felt. Why is it not equally important to symbolize religious truths, to represent them by forms, which shall appeal to the bodily organs, and through the animal, reach the spirit ? In all else we acknowledge the power of form. In material symbols and in artistic combinations of material symbols are found the means of quickening and cultivating mind. We look to the appropriate and beautiful in nature for every thing that shall ennoble or refine. Even of many religious truths, all allow that the natural world affords the best and highest ideas. Where can we read better lessons of the greatness and power of the Creator, than in the vastness and magnifi. cence of his creations ? “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord. and the firmament showeth forth his handiwork." But if some of the Divine attributes can be impressed upon the mind by external types, why cannot all ? If some great religious ideas are expressed by the forins of nature, why are not all ? At least, if there are symbols for some eternal truths, let us make use of those we have. Let them be gathered in from the material creation ; let them be skillfully arranged in forms of artistic beauty,-forms that shall represent-forms that, through the senses, shall leave upon the mind strong and vivid impressions ; so shall the body be made to aid the soul, and the material be brought into real subjection to the spiritual.
During the last century, the old forms of religious worship were thrown aside. It was a utilitarian age, and it could not see their utility ; it was a prosaic age, and it could not understand their significance ; it was an age of novelty, and it would have nothing old. In truth. it was one of those periods when the human mind seems as it were to turn back upon itself, to review its past progress, to doubt and pry into all its old beliefs, to reject old forms and usages, to unmake the world that it may build it up anew. But that period is past. The reaction has commenced. Recovering from the withering influence of doubt and unbelief, the spirit is taking new life. Men are turning from their recent scepticism, and begin to cherish more faith. They are fast falling back into their former habits of belief, and resuming their former creeds. Old associations return, old forms and ceremonials are revived. Thus the people of France are resuming their old religious worship and ritual. In the Church of England, too, there is seen a similar movement. These and like indications have struck terror and alarm into the Anti-Formalists. Already are they organizing and preparing to wage unrelenting war upon forms. In some quarters, even,