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Lecture Eleventh. The Function of the Imagination in the Development of Objective Religion.

Poetry as the Expression of Moral and Religious Truth in Homer Idealising Power of imagination in, Mythology — Plato's View as to its “Noble Untruth” — How Rationalism destroys it — The Greek Enlightenment and Plato's View of it — The Modern Enlightenment — General Character of its Conception of Reality — Necessity of its Victory, and its Effect upon Religion — Deism as a Religion — Possibility of a Compromise between Scientific Truth and Poetic Fiction.

IN the preceding lecture we were considering objective religion in the Greek form, in which man is selected as the object which is to be regarded as kindred with and capable of representing the divine. In this religion the gods are not merely personified but humanised, and all nature is interpreted as the manifestation of beings like men, though lifted in wisdom and power above ordinary men, and freed from decay and death and all the accidents of mortality. At the same time we have to remember that man is here conceived rather as an object than as a subject, as the highest of natural beings but still natural. Hence we are still in the region of naturalistic polytheism and not of spiritual monotheism. In the progress of Greek thought, however, advances are steadily made towards this higher conception. For, in the first place, the dawning reflexion of Greece seeking for unity, finds satisfaction for a time in the idea of a fate—or law of necessity—to which even the gods are subjected; and then, in the second place, by a movement of thought which we trace in Greek poetry, and especially in Greek dramatic poetry, this law of necessity is reinterpreted as a moral law of freedom, and the supreme power of the universe is conceived not as a fate but as a providence.

I shall not in the present lecture attempt to follow this process any farther, as I wish in the first instance to illustrate another aspect of the advance from the natural to the spiritual, viz. the way in which the poetic imagination gradually fills the objects worshipped, even while they are still conceived as mere objective beings which take their place among other objects with a higher spiritual meaning. In doing so, we may still take an illustration of the process from Greece; for Greece, better than any other country, shows us how far the poetic imagination can by itself solve the problem of the opposition and re-union of the ideal and the real; how far it can separate the religious from the secular consciousness, and use the former to elevate the latter. In the poems of Homer, we have an almost perfect instance of the way in which, and the extent to which, this process may be effected; in other words, how objects may be kept as objects within the forms of the sensuous consciousness, and yet filled with a meaning which is not sensuous, With Homer, the whole picture of heaven and earth remains still in the simple naturalistic form. We never from him hear of anything but particular objects and events, subject to all the ordinary conditions of space and time. Nothing is told us which might not have been seen, or, at least, nothing which cannot be pictured under the conditions of sense. Yet in the hands of Homer the actions narrated in the poem somehow get a wider meaning, and become suggestions or symbols of something more than themselves. By the unerring tact of the poet, the objects and events are cleared of accidental elements, and so presented that they are hardly to be thought of except as types, i.e. as particulars which concentrate in themselves the meaning of a whole class of objects and events. This instinctive selection of the poet is, in its way, as enlightening as the scientific man's deliberate and conscious selection of just those circumstances that throw light upon a hitherto hidden law of nature. The poet, however, secures his end not by generalising, but, more simply and directly, by representing the powers of nature and the principles of action within us as embodied in particular divine beings, who are constantly interfering with the fates and actions of men, and guiding them to the catastrophe which is their fit result. So definitely is this idea carried out in the Homeric poems, that to modern readers it often seems as if all the merit or demerit of the actions of the heroes were taken away by the support or hindrance they receive from above. Men seem to be reduced to mere puppets with which the gods play. For all that men do is, according to the poet, done by the god; who not only excites and takes away their courage, fills their breasts with resolve or panic terror, but even directs or turns aside their weapons in battle. In truth, this reduplication of agency, as we may call it, was necessary for Homer; he had no other way of bringing before us the universal or divine power, except as another particular. He could not represent to us the ideal forces that rule man's life, except in the shape of other beings like men, who directly interfered with his actions or their effects. As the spiritual world was only conceivable to him as another natural world, there was no way left for him to explain their relations except this method of reduplication; he is compelled, first, to separate human and divine as two independent realities, and then to represent the action of the latter upon the former as a direct outward interference. In this way the deeds done come to be attributed, sometimes to men, sometimes to the gods, and sometimes to men and gods working together. Homer could neither conceal this difficulty nor solve it: he had no abstract language in which the universal powers of life could be described apart from their special manifestations. If he assigned any reality to the former, he was obliged to bring them together on the same plane with the latter, as particular finite objects. It would be easy to illustrate from theIliad the necessity under which Homer thus lay, of finding a direct sensuous expression for every spiritual fact which he wished to express. In the first book the self-restraint of Achilles is attributed to the goddess Athene, the goddess representing practical wisdom, who comes behind and pulls the hero by the hair, when he is on the point of drawing his sword against Agamemnon. A more poetic example may be found in a later passage in which homer represents the healing virtue of prayer embodied in certain divine forms, the Virgin daughters of Zeus, who, with slow feet pursue Ate, the goddess who represents the fatal blindness of passion, and seek to undo the evil she has done. “Prayers are the daughters of great Zeus: lame are they and withered and short of sight, and with anxious heed they follow the steps of Ate. But Ate is strong and swift of foot so that she far outstrips them all as she rushes over the land; and they come slowly after to heal the wounds she has made.” If Goethe, after all the modern work of reflexion, could say that anything that gave him joy or pain tended to change itself into an image, and that it was only in this way that he could come to a definite understanding of its nature and its influence upon himself, how much more must this have held good in the case of Homer, who lived when as yet there was no language available for the expression of human thought, except the language of immediate perception.

Now, we are apt to take language like that of the passage I have quoted as metaphorical or allegorical. And, in a certain sense, it is so; for something more is suggested by it than is expressed. But it is scarcely necessary to say we have not here a case of conscious metaphor or allegory. The poet did not first set before him a general idea of a spiritual principle; and then proceed to clothe it in a materialised symbol. This would be an inadequate account of poetry at any time, and specially inadequate as an account of the poetry of an age in which poetry was hardly separated from the prose of fact, and in which the prose of abstract thought had not yet been invented. True poetry is never the combination of an idea and a picture, as separate elements; for in it the one exists only through the other. A metaphor is a naked thought which puts on a sensuous form as an external dress. A poetic symbol is the living flesh and blood, the organic body, in which an idea must be clothed in order to manifest and realise itself. Hence the true poet only grasps his idea as he embodies it and embodies it as he grasps it. He thinks in expressing his thought, and it is only in finding the word or the form that he wants, that he discovers what he himself was trying to express. ‘While he is musing, the fire burns,’ and he ‘speaks with his tongue,’ realising what he means just in the act of creating the objective picture or image which is its expression. In a later age, indeed, it is difficult for the poet to have such unity of consciousness: he is too much affected by the divisions of reflexion to forget the opposition of the real and the ideal, of the thought and the expression, of the universal and the particular, and hence he often falls into the lower region of conscious allegory and invented metaphor. ‘The native hues’ of his imagination ‘are sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.’ But in the Homeric age this difficulty did not exist. Man had not yet found his way into the region of abstraction, and therefore he had not to spend any of his poetic strength in escaping from it. He had no feeling of the impossibility of confining a general principle to one particular form, to trouble him in his effort to find such a form and to realise fully the form he had selected.

When Plato spoke of poetry as a ‘noble untruth,’ false in form, true in essence, he showed the rise of a consciousness, for which the poetic expression of truth had ceased to be adequate,—a consciousness which could no longer be content to treat the universal principle, which is the principle of unity in many particulars, as if it were merely one of their number. And this advance was a necessary one. The imaginative identification of the ideal and real, the spiritual and the natural, the universal and the particular, must inevitably yield in time to a perception of their difference, and even to an exaggeration of their opposition. The fair unity of poetry, in which fact and thought are blended together, must be broken up into the prosaic consciousness of fact on the one side, and the prosaic consciousness of law on the other. But the necessity of this change, by which mythology must ultimately be destroyed, should not prevent us from recognising the immense value of that idealisation of common phenomenal reality, by which it was made to express a divine meaning; the importance of that sensuous realisation of the divine by which it was first introduced into the natural world. Ideas, it has been said, ‘must be given through something,’ and, in an early age, that some thing must be a sensible object in space and time. The first poets or prophets, for they are both in one, unable to comprehend what manner of reality the spirit that was in them ‘did signify,’ caught directly at any distinct form of nature or humanity that seemed to furnish an expression for it, and proceeded at once to identify this form with the divine presence which haunted them. Or, on the other hand, starting with a mythic form which they had received by tradition from an earlier time, they were led, by a poetic instinct of fitness, gradually to remove from it the features which were inconsistent with their growing idea of the divine; to strip it, so far as possible, of the finite limitations which were not in harmony with the thought it had to express; to give it, in short, the unity and completeness of an ideal figure free from all mortal stain or change. They thus, in the only way then available, at once revealed and solved the problems of man's spiritual being, deepened the consciousness of the opposition between his natural life and its divine ideal, and made that ideal a living presence in the natural world. They did not rend the veil of sense but they made it transparent, like a garment which expresses, while it conceals, the form and action of the wearer. If, then, they clung to the outward and sensible, yet by poetic selections and rejections they carried it up to a quintessential form, in which, to adopt a phrase of Burke, it lost “almost all” its inadequacy “in losing half its grossness.” Thus, when the Indian poet makes the god to say, “I am the sun among fires, I am the Ganges among rivers, among mountains I am the Himalayas,” by this selection of typical forms he is exemplifying the principles of the imaginative expression of higher truth; he is illustrating that re-constitution and, as it might be called, that transfiguration of the sensible by which poetry and art turn it into the revelation of ideas which cannot thus be adequately revealed, but which, in the first instance at least, cannot otherwise be revealed at all.

It appears then that, while in our first consciousness of the divine, it must take the form of an object like other objects, of a natural existence among other natural existences, the content of this consciousness is from the first in rebellion against the form. And the way in which this rebellion shows itself is by the imaginative exaltation of the object or objects selected above all others. Thus certain particular existences are freed from the limitations of ordinary reality, and transformed or transfigured, till they become symbols for universal powers or principles. The finite and the infinite begin to be opposed as natural and supernatural, though both are still included within the limits and conditions of the sensible, or, at least, the sensuously imaginable world. Thus, in Homer, gods and men are separated by a wide gulf, though both in their way enter into the same conflicts and contend with almost the same weapons. The world of mortals is at once divided from the world of the immortals, and elevated by relation to it; yet the immortals themselves are after all still subjected to the same general conditions, and are therefore only to be called relatively immortal. For the imagination, though it rises above the world of sense, never, so to speak, gets beyond the reach of its attraction, and it must inevitably return to it in the end. Hence its creations can never be a final satisfaction to the religious consciousness, which is too much in earnest for the bright play of art, and grasps the flower of poetic fiction too violently to spare its bloom.

An advance beyond this stage of the religious consciousness is therefore necessary. Poetry, indeed, never dies, because the universal is always revealed in the particular, and it can be realised by the imagination only under the form of the particular. But the age when poetry is truth, and, in relation to the things of the spirit, the only possible truth, must yield to the age when it is discerned, as by Plato, to be only a ‘noble untruth,’ a truth of idea which is untruth of fact. The discord of the form with the matter of poetry must in the long run become explicit, and must lead to a revolt against the former in the interest of the latter. A Homer may with infinite tact disguise the crude nature of the myths with which he works, but he cannot altogether overcome a difficulty that lies in the very nature of his materials. And his very success in elevating and almost transubstantiating the sensible, is apt to awaken a spirit that will not be satisfied, till it is allowed to see the truth without any sensuous disguise. When the veil becomes all but transparent, the hand will soon be stretched out to thrust it aside, that the dimly seen forms behind may be brought to light. It is inevitable also that, when truth is symbolically expressed, the letter of the symbol should ultimately interfere with the spirit of it. As it comes warm and fresh from the lips of the poet, it may be the necessary embodiment of the truth it expresses: it may carry with it its own interpretation to those who first hear it, and who are at the same time infected with time feeling in which it is uttered. But, as it is handed down to others, and repeated again and again by those who are not in the same attitude of mind, its power and meaning evaporate: it is taken literally, and therefore wrongly. Its ‘rhetoric,’ or, as we should rather say, its poetry, gets ‘turned into logic.’ The natural understanding is set to interpret the words of inspiration, and it finds in them nothing but contradiction. That which was unessential in the myth, that which made it partly inadequate, is taken as equally important with that which gave it its suggestive value. The material analogy, under which the spiritual truth ‘half conceals and half reveals’ itself, is taken as identity, with the necessary consequence, on the one side, that the spiritual is lowered to the natural, and, on the other side, that, just because of this lowering, belief in the spiritual disappears. Superstition, bowing down before an idol, just as an idol, provokes the unbelief which refuses to worship even the god. And the rationalism, which begins by pointing out that the myth is not true as the expression of a simple fact, ends in the denial that there can ever be anything more than simple fact to express.

This process of disillusionment is one which has often repeated itself in one form or other, in periods when awaking reflexion found itself face to face with decaying faith. In Greece, it took place at the time of the Sophists, and found in them its natural exponents. In the modern world, it began in the eighteenth century, and it has prolonged itself into the present day. In both cases it has been accompanied by an attempt to universalise the physical or mechanical explanation of things. As Aristophanes found Zeus dethroned and Vortex reigning in his stead, so now Positivism has preached that the reign of metaphysics and theology has ended, and Professor Huxley bids us look forward to a time when man will be seen to be only the “cunningest of nature's clocks.” This movement, commonly called the Enlightenment or Aufklärung, has been met, both in ancient Greece and in modern Europe, with a powerful protest not only from those who, like Aristophanes, represent the tradition of the beliefs attacked, but also by those who, like Plato, have maintained that these beliefs represent in an imperfect form perennial truths which can be dissociated from that form. It is, therefore, instructive for us to observe what was Plato's attitude towards the enlightenment of his day: a point on which his great work, the Republic, casts a very clear light. On the one hand, we find Plato acknowledging the necessity of the poetic or imaginative expression of religious ideas, the necessity of the ‘noble untruth’ of mythology, as a means of culture in the infancy of the individual and the nation. He maintains that religious ideas can be conveyed to men's minds, in the earlier stage of their development, only in an objective and external form, and that poetry is necessary to elevate and idealise that form and to make it as adequate as it is capable of becoming, to the truth of which it should be the, embodiment. Men will not, he thinks, be capable of grasping the idea in itself if they have not first grasped it in a symbol, which, even as interpreted by feeling, may suggest, but cannot fully express it. On the other hand, he holds it to be inevitable that such unspiritual ways of expressing spiritual truth should, in the advance of reflexion, become a stumbling-block to those who have received their first teaching through them. Doubt or unbelief in the facts or mythically exalted facts, to which a divine meaning has been attached, must inevitably arise; and at first it will seem impossible to separate the ideas from the vehicle through which they were given. To use Plato's own metaphor, the maxims of our supposed parents will lose their authority, when it is discovered that we have been obeying them under an illusion, and that we are not really their children. The whole religious view of life, with all that is based upon it, will seem to be discredited, when the outward form through which it came to us can no longer be taken to be exactly and literally true. Plato recognises this danger, but has no other suggestion to make than that in the Ideal State the youth should be kept from the study of dialectic—i.e. that the reflective, questioning activity of the understanding should not be awakened in him—till his moral development has considerably advanced. Young men, prematurely excited to question received authority, are like “puppy dogs that tear everything to pieces.” Hence the philosophical enlightenment that discredits the first forms under which a higher truth has been presented to them, should be postponed, till, by the moral discipline of social life, they have become able to bear the shocks of reflexion without losing their faith. By the time that they have received this discipline, they will, Plato thinks, be ready also to appreciate a philosophy, which shows the imperfection, and even, in a sense, the fictitious character of the vehicle through which the divine idea is first conveyed to men, but which at the same time proves that that idea rests on a rational basis.

From the point of view we have now reached we can understand at once the nature of the difficulty, and the necessity of adopting something like Plato's solution of it. The difficulty lies essentially in the inadequacy of the forms in which the consciousness of God is at first expressed, in so far as these are the forms of the ordinary, objective consciousness; and the solution must lie in a recognition of the difference between the two forms of consciousness, and at the same time of the relation that binds them to each other. So long as the divine, the infinite, the universal, the spiritual, is taken as standing on the same level with the finite, the particular, the material; so long, in short, as God is conceived as an object which occupies a definite and exclusive place among other individual objects in the world of sense, so long it is impossible to prevent these two forms of consciousness frond coming into collision with each other. And when they do come into collision, it is inevitable that in the long run the consciousness of the finite should prevail; for it is, so to speak, on its own ground, while the religious consciousness is on the ground of the enemy. What Aristotle objected to in Plato's ideas, that they were ἀϊδία αἰσθητά, ‘eternal things of sense’—at once finite things and eternal realities—may with much more ground be alleged against a mode of thought which intercalates divine, or spiritual, existences in the natural world, as if they were of the same order with other natural beings. Whether that intercalation takes place in the simple Homeric way in which the gods are brought into the field of battle, and sometimes even allowed to exchange blows with mortal combatants, or in the more common form of a belief that the divine manifests itself, not in nature as a whole, but rather in occasional breaches of the order of nature, is not of much consequence. In both cases it brings with it the same difficulty. It treats the spiritual as a reality of the same order with the natural, and thereby brings it into collision with the natural. If the divine reality be identified with some of the things of sense as against others, it must be brought under the criteria which are applicable to things of sense. Yet these criteria cannot be applied to it without making it contradict its very nature as divine. The physical form of presentment will thus obscure and ultimately obliterate the spiritual reality which is confined to it; and the belief in the divine as a thing of sense, will turn into a disbelief in everything but he things of sense.

The strength of Positivism,—using the word in the narrower sense in which it implies the negation of all theology and metaphysic, and of the existence of the objects to which theology and metaphysic relate, at least as objects knowable by us,—lies just in this, that it seeks to carry out thoroughly the process of freeing the natural world from spiritual interferences. It is called Aufklärung, or Enlightenment, because it is opposed to every kind of belief in the spiritual or divine which identifies it with the miraculous, the arbitrary, the lawless, or the unintelligible; because, so to speak, it carries its candle into every chamber of the house, and insists on leaving no dark corner unvisited in which ghosts might be supposed to lurk. As it developed, and for the first time systematically developed, a consciousness of law and order in the world—of the definite connexion of causes and effects by which finite objects are related to each other—so it emancipated the human mind from the superstitious tendency to attach to these objects the reverence due to the infinite. With this clearing process, however—this war against superstition—there was combined a tendency to narrow man's intellectual horizon, to limit his interests in a way which is fatal to religion, and which does not leave much room for poetry. For the Enlightenment not only removed spiritual reality from a sphere to which it did not properly belong, or divested it of a sensuous vesture which hid its true nature; it also led to the denial that there is in human experience any room for spiritual reality at all, except as an illusion of the infancy of the individual or the race.

To do justice to this movement, however, we must look at it on all sides, and consider more definitely both its merits and its defects. Let me, therefore, in the first place, explain what exactly is the nature of the positive view of things which the Enlightenment brought with it. Let me, in the second place, show how this positive view of the objects of finite experience is connected with a negative view of all that seems to be beyond the range of such experience. When we have clearly apprehended these two points, we shall be in a better position to judge whether objects conceived as in space and time are the only objects of which knowledge is possible; and, if not, what is the method by which we can attain to a knowledge of a higher kind.

What is the positive or, as we may call it, the scientific view of nature? It is impossible here to give a complete account of it, but for our present purpose it seems sufficient to say, after Kant, that it is a view of things which is governed mainly by the forms of time and space, and by the principles of substance, causality, and reciprocity. It takes the world as a collection of particular objects in space going through changes in time, and it traces all these changes to the action and reaction of these objects according to invariable laws; so that under the same conditions the same results must invariably happen. This scientific conception of universal laws of change seems at first to contradict all the usual assumptions of our first sensuous consciousness; for, as we have seen, the sensuous consciousness tends to treat all things and beings as mere individuals, and to regard their relations to each other as accidental and arbitrary. Yet, on closer examination, science is found to agree with that consciousness in its most important characteristics, and to differ from it, so far as it does differ, mainly by making explicit its secret presuppositions. In the very earliest utterances of man's thought we find him practically using all the principles by which science is guided, or at least asking questions of nature which show that his mind is governed by them. The difference between this earliest consciousness of man and the scientific consciousness is only that the former does not use these ideas reflectively: i.e. it is not aware of the principles which it presupposes and therefore it cannot apply these principles consistently and accurately. The ideas that prompt and guide the action of our intelligence, are not, in the first instance, set before us as rules; and, so long as this is the case, their application is necessarily uncertain and arbitrary. In this way we can explain, how the questions, which the awaking intelligence is driven by its own nature to ask, are at first answered in so superficial and inadequate a way and how the most eager curiosity as to the nature and causes of things, should yet be accompanied by an all-accepting credulity which is satisfied with any idle fable that for the moment stops the gap. Having got the tortoise on which to base the earth, the savage never asks for the elephant to support the tortoise. It is only after the principle of explanation has been separated from the facts and considered for itself, that criteria of the validity of such explanations begin to be laid down. It is only then that the mind ceases to be content with the first crude hypothesis that is presented to it; and, seeing the defects of that hypothesis, begins to ask how a more adequate one can be attained.

Let me state this thought again in a slightly different point of view. Judging by early mythology, man would at first seem to have little or no idea of a reign of law in the world, or of any necessity of connexion between its phenomena. Rather, he seems to regard all things as isolated particulars, which might have existed by themselves, and which only at times accidentally and arbitrarily interfere with each other. The individuality, or rather particularity, of things is to him their primary aspect, and their relativity is only secondary. So little notion has he of a definite order and connexion of things that we cannot say that he believes in miraculous interferences with the course of nature; for, as yet, there is for him no regular course of nature from which miracles could be distinguished. The world seems to be a scene given over to the play of chance and arbitrary will. Only gradually and by long experience does there arise a sense of definite connexion between particular events to modify that apparent contingency before which thought stands paralysed.

But, while all this is true, it nevertheless leaves out of account one thing, namely, that the principle, which leads to the systematic view of the connexion of nature, is already present, and that it is its presence that stimulates the mind to those inquiries, to which the first mythological view of the world is a kind of answer. For, confused and arbitrary as that view seems to us now, it is the first effort of the intelligence to bear up against the multiplicity of impressions which are streaming in upon it by every sense, and to connect them together in a rational way. A mythology, however chaotic it may be, is thus an attempt to find the unity of the mind in the world; the only attempt which is possible to the undeveloped consciousness of those who are still intellectually children. From such a mythological explanation of the world to the scientific conception of an order of necessity, binding all things together, there is a continuous advance, which can only be explained by saying that it is due to the restless and persevering effort of thought to find a more and more adequate answer to the questions, which it is forced by its own nature to ask. Between the legend of the South Sea Islands about the hero who crept out of a cave in the earth and employed his youthful energies in the task of lifting, up the heavens, which hitherto had lain flat upon the earth, to their proper place, so as to make room for mankind to move and live,—between this legend and the Newtonian theory of gravitation the gap is wide enough; but it is the same search for causes, that gave rise to this myth and to many improved editions of it, and that finally sets them all aside to make room for the mechanical theory of the universe.

Now the process by which the idea of law or necessary connexion among all the objects of sense is gradually established, is necessarily also a sifting process, by which the religious elements are gradually eliminated from our ordinary consciousness of the finite world. The first step in this sifting we have already described. It is one by which certain objects are fixed upon as realities of a higher order, or by which certain new objects are constructed by the imagination, and endowed with a kind of ideal completeness and independence. These idealised objects, however, are still regarded as parts of the same natural system to which other objects belong; and them: is as yet no clear sense of the inconsistency of bringing the two kinds of objects, so to speak, into the same plane, or of making them directly collide with each other. Generally, there is a tendency to look for the operation of the gods in abnormal phenomena, in strange coincidences of events and sudden overturns of fortune, rather than in the ordinary course of nature; or again, in great impulses or inspirations by which, for good or evil, the soul of man is carried out of itself, rather than in the ordinary processes of mental life. But, in such a stage of culture as is represented by Homer, these influences and interferences are scarcely regarded as miraculous. They are still reckoned to be a part of the regular order of things, though a part that attracts special attention, as the revelation of a higher agency than is elsewhere manifested.

As, however, the consciousness of the order and connexion of nature becomes more distinct, and the idea of God gains greater purity and elevation, it becomes more difficult to combine the two into one, or simply to intercalate the supernatural in the natural. On the one hand, the divine, now distinctly conceived as the infinite and the universal, separates itself more entirely from all finite objects; and its direct interference thus comes to be regarded as rare and exceptional. God comes more and more to be thought of as standing apart in his sacredness exercising a superintendence over all things, but not immediately interfering with special objects and events except when there is a dignus vindice nodus. On the other hand, the idea of what Kant calls the ‘thorough-going connexion of experience’ becomes developed, so as more and more to exclude the operation of chance or arbitrary will. An order of necessity is distinctly recognised, and, therefore, any intrusion of a divine or spiritual agency is now viewed as definitely miraculous. And from this it is not far to the conviction, to which science is continually adding new strength, that such intrusion is impossible. Thus the ranks of physical causation seem to close up, and to leave no room for supernatural agency. Every fact comes to be regarded as an essential element in a whole, which could not be other than it is without a change in its conditions, and in the conditions of those conditions ad infinitum. The hyssop could not grow on the wall if the whole world could prevent its growing, and it grows because the whole world conspires to make it grow just there. Every change is an essential link in a chain, or rather a mesh in a network, which connects it with all that precedes and all that coexists with it. To those who are filled with this idea,—the idea that phenomena are what they are, and change as they do change, only because of their relations to other phenomena, and ultimately to the whole world of experience,—it becomes hard to give credence to any exception, to any break in the unity of nature; and still harder even for a moment to realise the possibility of that mingling of heaven and earth which was so easy a thought to Homer, and which seemed quite rational even to the highest minds of the Middle Ages. In modern times, such a ‘peace of God,’—such a truce between the natural and the supernatural as allows them both to occupy the same field of experience on almost the same terms,—is not capable of being maintained. Those who believe that miracles have happened, are at least anxious to reduce them to a minimum, and to free their creed from the burden of all that is not strictly necessary to it. On the other hand, science has become more confident in its principles, as those principles have led to greater triumphs in the discovery of nature's secrets. Conscious that it has verified the necessary interconnexion of phenomena over a very wide field, and that it is continually extending its researches into new regions by the aid of the same method, it is more and more impatient of all beliefs that still stand in the way of the acknowledgement of the universality of that method. Hence it steadily seeks to banish the infinite from the sphere of the finite, and even to reduce the infinite to a nominis umbra. Thus it was with the Deism of last century which, while it interpreted every phenomenon by relation to another phenomenon, and protested against all teleological explanations, still left at the end a Supreme Being, of whom we know nothing except that He is. And Mr. Spencer's unknowable Absolute, of which we have “a consciousness but no knowledge,” is only another word for the same idea.

Now I reserve for another lecture the task of pointing out the defects of this conception of our relation to the divine, and also of showing how these defects may be corrected. For the present I will conclude with two reflexions.

The first is, that if the result of our scientific progress were to reduce the idea of God to that of an unknowable Être Suprême, religion would have no special interest in this spectre of its former greatness. For all it does is to preserve the consciousness that the finite cannot be conceived as a res completa,—a whole bounded and terminated in itself. But if all that can really be known, all that can be made into a real interest of life, is assigned to the finite, the idea that there is a ‘beyond’ to which we can attach no definite predicate, can scarcely be considered of any practical importance. The consciousness of such an infinite would even seem to be the gift of an unfriendly destiny; for, so far as we paid any regard to it, it would tend to make us despise our proper work and all the aims to which our life is necessarily confined. It would be like a glimpse of a world beyond his prison walls to a prisoner who could never escape, and whose only wise course would be to shut his eyes to it and make the best of his bondage. And, indeed, if we cannot regard ourselves as anything but ‘parts of this partial world,’ links in an endless chain of necessity by which finite is bound to finite, it seems inexplicable that our minds should ever be mocked by the idea of anything that is not included in that world.

The same condemnation must be applied to the effort, encouraged by some writers, to get back by imagination some portion of that religious belief which is supposed to be for ever lost to the reason. The surest result of the Enlightenment is that the imaginative forms, in which man's first religious consciousness embodies itself, are deprived of all credit, owing to the impossibility either of taking them as literally true, or, consistently with the principles on which the enlightenment rests, of suggesting any way in which they can be shown to have a true element in them. Hence it is impossible to take seriously the advice of writers like Lange, who tell us still, to cherish, for their practical value, those poetic representations to which we can no longer attribute any scientific truth. How can we regard as practically true conceptions which are acknowledged to be theoretically false; or satisfy our soul with visions which we admit to be unreal? If it were once established that all that is in any way knowable by us is included in the thorough-going connexion of experience, it would become idle to indulge in dreams of anything that refused to take a place in that connexion. By its very nature the imagination works under the sensuous conditions of space and time; and, in regard to all objects in space and time, the law of nature and necessity is, ex hypothesi, supposed to be absolute and without exception. And the untruth of representing objects as real, which yet are not subjected to this law, ceases to be ‘noble,’ so soon as it is not regarded as pointing to a deeper truth. For as poetry is not ordinary fact, so in the impossibility of knowing anything but such fact, it can be nothing else but a pleasing fiction, an anodyne by which we may console ourselves for a time, but which, like other anodynes, will produce its effect only by making us forget the reality of things. And perhaps a noble mind will rather refuse such consolations, will refuse to accept the myrrh-drugged wine of poetic fiction, merely as a means to escape from its misery, and will prefer to endure its cross with a clear consciousness of its pain. Poetry had a noble office, when the ideas of an earlier time made it interchangeable with prophecy, the revelation of a truth higher than truth of fact; but, if these ideas should utterly disappear, if poetry could be regarded merely as the fictitious product of an imaginative faculty, whose only value was that it supplied a temporary rest for our sensibility, and for a time ideally emancipated us from limits from which we can never really escape, it would soon lose all its power and inspiration. No great art could ever live, if it ceased to regard beauty as one with truth and goodness. No poet ever touched the deepest springs of human emotion, who regarded himself simply as the “idle singer of an empty day.”