BELIEF in the literal truth of the Mosaic cosmogony, while it remained undisturbed, precluded any scientific or rational inquiry into the origin of things. That veil being drawn aside by the hands of criticism and geology combined, we have the nebular hypothesis and the Darwinian philosophy. In the same way, dogmatic Christianity, so long as its authority endured, stilled all questionings as to the estate of man and the character of the Power which has fixed our lot and controls our destiny. Dogmatic Christianity gives in its way a complete solution of the mystery of human existence. It not only admits, but proclaims, that the present world and the condition of men in it are evil ; but it holds out a heaven beyond, to be won by obedience to the divine command in this place of trial. For the existence of evil it accounts by the fall of man, at the same time providing a supernatural remedy in the form of a redemption, which, if men will lay hold upon its benefits, assures them of salvation. The ultimate triumph of good over evil it proclaims under the imagery of the Apocalypse. Thus with regard to the sum of things it is, for Christendom at least, optimistic, while it is pessimistic with regard to our present state. Its ultimate optimism is fearfully qualified, no doubt, by the doctrine of the broad and the narrow gate ; but no one is hopelessly excluded from bliss by any Christian dogma except that which constitutes the most dreadful form of Calvinism.
The dogmatic system received a fatal blow when it was revealed that disorder, suffering, and death, instead of being brought into existence by the fall of man, had filled the globe for countless ages before his appearance, and that numberless races of beings, incapable of sin, had been consumed by a ravin to which no moral law or object could be assigned. A recent Christian philosopher, M. SeCretan, has met the objection by giving the fall a retrospective effect, so as to involve all races from the beginning in the penalty of Adam’s sin; but this is one of those desperate attempts to make the old bottles hold the new wine which are merely adding to the confusion.
By ascetic Christianity, especially in its darker forms of self-torturing monasticism, the pessimistic view of our present state has been carried to fearful extremes. Perhaps no anchorite has gone so far as the most renowned apologist of Roman Catholicism in modern times, Joseph de Maistre, who in a passage of the Soirées de St. Petersbourg, outrunning anything in the archives of heathen superstition, proclaims that the power under whose dominion we are here requires to be constantly propitiated by vast libations of human blood, shed in war or by the axe of the executioner, — a doctrine which it is needless to say would have appeared to St. Paul one of devils. On the other hand, Protestantism and the theism which emanated from it and remained partly blended with it have given birth to an optimism not entirely consistent with Christian dogma, — the optimism of Leibnitz, of Paley’s Evidences, of the Bridgewater Treatises, according to which this world, instead of being a prison house and a purgatory, is a beautiful manifestation of the wisdom and goodness of the Deity providing for the happiness of all creatures.
Now, however, the veil of Christian dogma, like that of the Mosaic cosmogony, is completely rent, and reason, perhaps for the first time, gazes freely on the mystery of existence. The established optimism is confronted by pessimism, which, by the mouths of Schopenhauer, Hartmann, and their school, proclaims that the world, the estate of man, and the powers from which they emanate are evil; and this belief is evidently spreading along certain lines of individual temperament and of national condition.
Besides optimism, which affirms the definitive ascendency of good, and pessimism, which affirms the definitive ascendency of evil, a third hypothesis is possible, — that of a perpetual balance and everlasting conflict of the two principles as separate and independent powers. This opinion has been associated with the name of Manes, a daring heretic of the third century, though it is very doubtful whether he really held it. Manicheism shows no tendency to revive. Any dualistic hypothesis is repelled by the manifest unity of all-pervading laws, which indicates that the empire of the universe is undivided; while if we look into ourselves, we see that though good and evil both are there, and alternately prevail according to the vicissitudes of our moral history, the being in which they commingle is essentially one.
No one will compare with philosophic pessimism, such as is now propounded, mere wails, however passionate, and whether in prose or poetry, over the unhappiness of man’s lot. A cry of individual anguish or despondency denotes no settled view of the universe. Often, in the poets especially, these lamentations are merely sentimental, and form a sort of intellectual luxury, adding zest to enjoyment by their pungency. Sophocles, in whose choruses some of the most thrilling of them are found, was evidently, from his general serenity, in temperament at least, an optimist, and he distinctly indicates his belief in the supreme dominion of a power of good. Some of the utterances of the book of Job taken by themselves could sound pessimistic enough ; but the end of the story is happy, and the crowning moral is optimistic. We find, however, in this book an insight into the sad side of humanity and a sympathy with a sufferer’s questionings as to the benevolence and justice of the dispensation which show that the writer, if a Jew at all, was no ordinary Jew. The philosophy of the ordinary Jew was the tribal optimism of a land flowing with milk and honey for the chosen race, combined with pessimism for Egyptians, Canaanites, and other races which were not chosen.
In the weeping and laughing philosophers of Greece, Heraclitus and Democritus, we seem to come to a philosophic pessimism which, according to the temperament of the philosopher, pronounces the estate of man all misery or all folly. But even supposing the popular traditions about Heraclitus and Democritus to be true, it will not do to take Greek philosophy too seriously. The philosophy of Socrates and Plato was serious ; it was an earnest attempt to meet a great outburst of profligacy, especially in the political sphere, by restoring the authority of the moral rule and settling it on an immutable foundation. But in the speculations of the Greeks generally on the mysteries of human existence, lively curiosity and intellectual ambition probably played a great part. It is difficult to suppose, for example, that Cynicism was more than a humor and a fashion. These great and terrible problems are not likely to be considered in earnest till they force themselves practically on the minds of men. They did force themselves practically on the minds of men, and of men of very deep and serious character, amidst the convulsions which attended the death of the Roman republic, and afterwards when life was made at once miserable and uncertain by the gloomy and suspicious tyranny of the empire. Lucretius, it is true, derived from Epicurus the philosophy to the service of which he nobly dedicates his high poetic gifts, and which he does his best to commend as the one haven of peace and rest for storm-tossed and perplexed humanity. But the practical earnestness, the force, the penetrating tone, of the poem on The Nature of Things come not from the quiet garden of Epicurus ; they come from the scene of civil war, massacre, fierce and restless intrigue, into which the Roman world had been turned by the parties of Marius and Sulla. What view the great Roman Stoics — great they may be truly called — took of the world and of the lot of men it would be difficult exactly to say. Certainly it was not one which led to annihilation of will and a renunciation of action, like that of the Buddhists and the pessimist philosophers of our own day. Witness the Roman law, of which Stoics were the great architects. Witness the best work of government under the empire, which was done by Stoic emperors and statesmen. Nothing can be more gloomy than the view of life presented by Seneca, with his constant references to suicide as the grand asylum and the consoling thought. The tone of Marcus Aurelius is that of hopelessness as to the state of things around him and the outlook of humanity ; but with his sadness is constantly blended a resolute determination to do his duty. Epictetus is less melancholy ; the practical evils of the time bore less heavily on him than on the statesman. But in all of them there is at once an evident belief in a supreme power of good and an active devotion to duty which plainly forbids us to class them among the pessimists. Belief in duty is belief in something that upholds duty ; that is, in the existence and ultimate manifestation of an overruling power of good.
The serious philosophy of the men of the Middle Ages is to be looked for in their religion. Their other philosophy was either a mere intellectual exercise, useful in its way as a whetstone of the dialectic faculty, or a fantastic attempt to arrive at truth about facts by a manipulation of words, hardly less chimerical than alchemy. The religion was dogmatic Christianity, the relation of which to the question between optimism and pessimism has already been stated. In view of its doctrine of eternal punishment, which implies the everlasting ascendency of the power of evil over a certain portion of mankind and of the universe, it is capable of being reduced to a sort of Manicheism. The doctrine of Purgatory, by which the permanent domain of Satan is indefinitely diminished, is evidently a step in the direction of optimism, though its later history has accustomed us to think of it chiefly as an instrument of priestly lucre.
Hobbes was a political pessimist of the most thorough-going kind, and in his case we see the proximate origin of the tenet as clearly as we do in that of the Russian Nihilists. The old man had been frightened out of his wits by the disturbances of the reign of Charles I., while in his crabbed and adust nature there was no spring of sympathy with the noble actors on that scene, or with the great objects to which they aspired and which they partly attained. Rightly conceiving that the movement had been essentially a struggle against religious tyranny and reaction, he dreaded and detested religious not less than political liberty, and proposed to place the consciences as well as the persons of all citizens under the despotic control of his Leviathan; that is, as usual in the case of autocratic Utopias, of himself armed with unlimited power. His theory of human nature was, in effect, that men were a particularly ferocious and cunning race of wild beasts, whose natural state was internecine war, and who could be prevented from devouring each other only by being placed absolutely under the power of a keeper, to whom they were to surrender all rights, moral and civil, in return for the immunity from murder and robbery which would be enjoyed by them, or at least by so many of them as it did not please the keeper himself to plunder or kill. Religion with Hobbes was a state institution, and an instrument of policy. A necessarian he was, of course, and his statement of the doctrine of necessity and of its compatibility with the idea of liberty is, like all that he wrote, admirable for clearness and terseness, and might have spared some trouble to those who have reproduced it in an extended form. If he was not courageous in other respects, he had at least the courage of his absolutist opinions; for he maintains that Uriah, having like the rest surrendered his rights to the Leviathan for the general boon of political order and security, had no ground for complaining of injustice at the hands of David. He has himself, in fact, reduced his own theory to absurdity by the inferences which his undaunted logic has drawn ; while it has been practically confuted, over and over again, by our experience of free institutions, both civil and religious, of the security which they afford for order, and of the behavior of human nature under them. But, like other able pessimists, he has rendered a service by probing the weak places of the opposite theory, by fixing attention on the anarchical passions which really exist in men and showing that restraint is necessary as well as liberty ; besides which he has given breadth and exactness to our ideas respecting the nature of a government.
Hobbes was closely followed in the same line by a greater man, formed in some measure under the same influences. Exaggeration, enthusiasm, and whimsical interpretation are now the bane of biography and history, and are fast converting the annals of the race, from Cæsar down to Chaumette, into a gallery of heroes misunderstood. We hope that we shall not be adding to the now wearisome series by saying that the present course of thought lends increased interest and importance to the character and writings of Swift. A philosophical pessimist Swift can hardly be called, and his fundamental theory of men and of the universe is for the most part veiled under the conventional profession of an ecclesiastic. But the pessimistic view of human nature finds in the writings of this dark genius its most thorough-going, as well as its most forcible expression. “ Study,” says the great German oracle of pessimism, “ to acquire a clear and connected view of the utterly despicable character of mankind in general.” Swift’s view can hardly be called accurate and connected, since it was never reduced to system, but the intensity of his misanthropic sentiment would have left Schopenhauer nothing to desire. The root of Swift’s misanthropy clearly enough is to be found in a morbid character, itself probably the consequence of disease, either congenital or contracted in youth, combined with the influence of a depressing and souring lot. Born a posthumous child, bred up and supported by charity, which he fancied to be cruelly stinted, though it was probably as much as the giver could afford, he was a misanthrope from his cradle. From his early years he kept his birthday as an anniversary of sorrow, celebrating it by reading the passage of Scripture in which Job curses the day upon which it was said in his father’s house that a man child was born. In his Thoughts on Religion, where if anywhere we have his settled opinions, he says, “ Although reason were intended by Providence to govern our passions, yet it seems that in two points of the greatest moment to the being and continuance of the world God has intended our passions to prevail over reason. The first is the propagation of our species, since no wise man ever married from the dictates of reason. The other is the love of life, which, from the dictates of reason, every man would despise, and wish it at an end, or that it never had a beginning.” His college course was one of fractiousncss and disgrace ; his early manhood was spent in a dependency which, though its degradation and irksomeness have been greatly exaggerated, can hardly have been soothing to his spirit. By his reckless profanity and grossness he set a black mark against himself in the outset of his clerical career, excluded himself forever from high preferment in the English Church, and condemned himself to a deanery in place of a bishopric and to exile in Ireland, a country which he detested and despised, though his mischief-making genius rendered him for a time its idol. The extraordinary degree of unofficial influence which he enjoyed as the companion and connection of Harley and Bolingbroke served only to tantalize his ambition and to add keenness to his ultimate disappointment. Thrice bitter it must have been to this stirring and ambitious politician, with his consciousness of great political knowledge and high debating power, to see the gate of the House of Lords, after standing ajar for three years, hopelessly closed against him forever. But something deeper than the deepest chagrin is required to account for his conduct to the two women whom, by his strange dalliance with their affections, he sent broken-hearted to their graves. There must have been some radical defect or deformity in his nature, some seeds of the fearful affliction under which he tragically died. He was one of the most savage libelers of his clay, and did not stick at accusing a lady who crossed his designs of having red hair and being privy to the poisoning of her husband. “ It may be doubted,” remarks Scott, “ which imputation she accounted the most cruel insult, especially since the first charge was undeniable, and the second only arose from the malice of the poet.” Old friendship was no protection against the satirist’s malignity, as appeared in the case of Steele. Swift could do generous things : he was often munificent; he was sometimes magnanimous ; and he was true to his patron Harley in adversity; though it is not easy to say when his good deeds sprang from genuine benevolence, or when from the pride and ostentation of which he was undoubtedly full, and which made him specially delight in appearing as the dispenser of favors to literary men under the reign of his political patrons. But no one can imagine his views to be those of a serene and philosophic mind calmly observing and truthfully describing human nature and the estate of man. Any such pretension is belied by the epitaph which he wrote for himself: “ Hic jacet—, ubi sœva indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit.”The man whose heart was being incessantly gnawed by a spleen which he styled indignation may be useful in the part of a Mephistopheles or an advocatus diaboli; he cannot be accepted as a teacher. Yet he may be well worthy of attention. When any one lifts his voice against misgovernment, he is invariably represented by the friends of the system as having a personal grievance; but if every one who had been personally aggrieved were to be disqualified for protesting, tyrants might sleep secure. So with the general dispensation under which we live. Any questionings as to its justice and beneficence are likely to proceed, not from the favored, but from the wretched; and when all has been said about the distorting influence of the wretchedness, the arguments will remain to be discussed.
There arc different kinds of satire: the epicurean, which laughs at mankind, and of which the master is Horace ; the stoical, which indignantly lashes mankind, and of which the master is Juvenal ; the cynical, which hates and despises mankind, and of which the master, supreme and unapproached, is Swift. Nothing in the cynical line can compete with Gulliver, either in ruthlessness or in genius. A man may have retained his social relations and perhaps his personal friends, just as he retained his deanery or his skin, but he must in heart almost have broken with humanity before he could have written and launched upon the world the description of the Yahoos. The tone of the period was optimist, especially in England. The series of civil wars and revolutions had been closed at last by a compromise which to its authors seemed admirably to combine constitutional monarchy with liberty, order with progress ; Europe had been finally delivered by the arms of Marlborough from the reactionary tyranny of the French king; the union of Scotland with England had been accomplished; the halcyons of literature, art, and science were floating on the calm and sunlit sea. The spirit of a happy time was embodied in the philosophy of Locke and in the theology of Tillotson and Stillingfleet, as well as in the social writings of Addison and Steele. The age was well satisfied with itself and with its prospects; humanity felt very dignified in its laced coat and full-bottomed wig. Into the face of this self-complacent generation, Swift flung Lilliput, Brobdignag, and the Houynhyms ; dwarfing man to show his littleness, magnifying him to show his coarseness, and finally gathering from the lowest depths of his animal nature a hideous picture of his loathsomeness. Science is not spared: contempt and ridicule are poured upon the Newtons, as well as upon the statesmen of the day. In the unspeakable filthiness of Swift’s poems we see only another manifestation of the same spirit: he is not pandering to a beastly or licentious imagination; he is simply dragging to light what is degraded and revolting in our nature, and destroying by defilement the selfrespect of humanity. He respects no sanctuary, and takes singular delight in rending the roseate veil that shrouds the marriage-bed, and in displaying to us there also a couple of Yahoos. It would be difficult to find in his writings a sincere and disinterested profession of admiration or reverence for anything human, or a whisper of hope for the future of mankind.
If the Religion of Humanity is ever established, the Gospels and Epistles for Lent ought to be taken from the writings of Swift. From his own point of view he had studied his kind profoundly. Its littleness, its meanness, and its vileness he had thoroughly explored: “ I have some time since, with a world of pains and art, dissected the carcass of human nature, and read many useful lectures upon the several parts, both containing and contained, till at last it smelt so strong I could preserve it no longer.” His cynicism, like the philanthropy of others, overflowed from man upon other creatures, and everything in nature that could justify contempt and loathing was evidently familiar and dear to him. Probably no other man ever lived who could say that he “ had often observed, with singular pleasure, that a fly driven from a houeypot will immediately, with very good appetite, alight and finish his meal on an excrement.” He tells, with almost unequaled force, home truths which ought to be present to the minds of all rulers and educators of mankind ; but he who should accept them unqualified by the truths on the other side would be a greater fool than the most extravagant Utopians. As a correction to political optimism of the Godwin and Jefferson type, his cynicism is particularly useful. In this respect he anticipates Carlyle, while he is wholly devoid of the mystical element which in Carlyle denotes an underlying optimism, with regard, at least, to the general constitution of the world. There have been two kinds of theoretic toryism in England, apart from the mere bias of aristocracy and wealth: that of the religious cavalier, who believed in the divine right of kings, and that of the cynic, who disbelieved in popular intelligence and virtue. Swift is a teacher of toryism of the cynical kind ; probably no man held in more cordial contempt the superstitions of Filmer and Laud than he did; in fact, when he had become the underground pillar of a tory administration, his avowed principles remained whig, as they had originally been. In one passage he even ogles speculative republicanism ; but toryism has always known him for its own. Liberals may gather from him, not any special lessons concerning the weak points of free institutions, — for with theoretic politics he deals little, — but the general habit of salutary misgiving and watchfulness against the optimistic illusions bred by over-confidence in human nature. He reveals with the glare of an electric light the real difficulties with which we have to contend in advancing towards what the great English leader of the opposite party called the best form of government, — “ that which doth most actuate and dispose all members of the commonwealth towards the common good.”
Scott has persuaded himself that Swift “ possessed in the fullest degree the only secure foundation for excellence in the clerical profession, — a sincere and devout faith in the doctrines of Christianity.” It may be said of biographers even with more truth than of fathers of families that they are capable of anything. Swift, it seems, like a man of sense, did punctually and decorously enough whatever in the way of worshiping or preaching was required of him as a dean. He read prayers to his family; was seen engaged in private devotion ; even composed a prayer ; and printed a dozen of sermons, including one on brotherly love, which is from beginning to end a most virulent tirade against “ papists and fanatics,” the latter term of courtesy denoting the dissenters. He was a zealous defender of the privileges and interests of his order, writing vigorously in favor of the sacramental test, and against the commutation of the tithe on hemp. It is quite conceivable that he had his moments of religious emotion. But who can imagine that a man with a “ sincere and devout faith ” could kneel down to pray, and rise up to write the Tale of a Tub, the Windsor Prophecy, or the Progress of Marriage? In the Thoughts on Religion we find the suggestive aphorism, “ The want of belief is a defect that ought to be concealed when it cannot be overcome.” Soon afterwards we are told that doubts are not wicked “ if they have no influence on the conduct of life ; ” if they do not prevent you from holding a deanery, trying hard to get a bishopric, advocating the sacramental test, and taking part in the persecution of dissenters. But Scott does not question the authenticity of those famous lines of Swift on the Day of Judgment, sent by Chesterfield in a letter to Voltaire, which are the very quintessence of cynical satire and (we can hardly doubt) an embodiment of the writer’s real view of the world: —
By nature, reason, learning, blind;
You who through frailty stepped aside,
And you who never fell from pride ;
You who in different sects were shammed,
And come to see each other damned;
(So some folk told you, but they knew
No more of Jove’s designs than you), —
The world’s mad business now is o’er,
And I resent these pranks no more.
I to such blockheads set my wit!
I damn such fools! Go, go, you ’re bit.”
Theistic theory and sentiment, whether in the shape of Christianity, or in any other shape, are radically inconsistent with misanthropy and pessimism, and it is hardly possible to doubt that in Swift’s case the misanthropy and pessimism were sincere.
Voltaire’s Candide is nothing but a squib on the extravagant optimism of Leibnitz and his school, with their preestablished harmony, their best of all possible worlds, and their attempts to conjure away the existence of evil by calling it a limitation or negation. It ends in persiflage, — “ Cultivate your garden.” Of all squibs that ever were written it is the best, at least it would be if Voltaire could only keep himself clean; but he finds it necessary once at least in every page to dip himself in the cess-pool. He was too light to have a serious philosophy; but such philosophy as he had was certainly not pessimistic. In Candide itself, the Utopians of Eldorado worship supreme benevolence with the pure rites of reason, and it is pretty clear that the writer is giving us his own ideal; while in politics Voltaire evidently thinks that the people may be made perfectly happy by a beneficent and enlightened monarch formed in his own school. There is, however, in Candide one passage which has not only a pessimistic tone but a ring of sad sincerity. “ I longed,” says a wretched old woman, “ a hundred times to kill myself, but I still loved life. This absurd weakness is perhaps one of our most fatal propensities ; for can anything be more foolish than to choose always to bear a burden which one is all the time wishing to throw off; to abhor one’s being and still cling to it; to caress the serpent which devours us till it has eaten our hearts out?”
Passing over for the moment Hume, to whom we shall return immediately, we recognize in the now famous German, Arthur Schopenhauer, the originator of the pessimistic philosophy as distinguished from mere pessimistic sentiment. A claim is put in for the honor of simultaneous invention on behalf of the Italian Leopardi, with whose lamentations Schopenhauer was acquainted. But Leopardi was a good deal more of a poet than of a philosopher, and the writer of patriotic lyrics, however melancholy is their tone, can hardly have been a consistent pessimist. It has already been observed that we have no right to daff a pessimist’s argument aside merely because by his personal temperament and circumstances he is naturally disposed to question the goodness of the dispensation. Yet it is impossible not to connect the philosophy with the special character and history of the man in such cases as those of Leopardi and Schopenhauer. Leopardi was a miserable invalid, the victim of pecuniary distress, and a sufferer from that which, in the case of a man conscious of genius, is more gulling than want of health and money, — the sense of aspirations blighted and energies denied a field. It seems that the influence of the tender friendship which watched over him in his last years modified the bitterness of his soul and with it the sombre hue of his writings. With the history and character of Schopenhauer the world has now been made well acquainted. He was the son of a wealthy merchant of Danzig. His father is described as a man of determined and obstinate character and a successful speculator, but with a taint of something morbid, which he probably bequeathed to his son. The mother of Schopenhauer was a lady who might have been expected to give birth to a writer, but scarcely to the founder of pessimism. She was herself the author of some art critiques and novels, and the centre of a literary circle; but she is described at the same time as a gay and rather dashing woman of the world. She seems, however, to have helped to form her son’s philosophy, and especially his doctrine concerning women, by the repulsive influence of her careless levity and by squandering the family fortune. Perhaps the social relations of a man of his temperament with ladies would almost suffice to account for his dislike. His literary talent is undisputed, and has helped the reception of his doctrine; but he was evidently a man of the most crabbed and bilious character. Medical science has applied its microscope to him, and supposes itself to have identified his disease. Besides his atrabiliousness, he was vexed with the infirmity of fear. During a visit which he paid to England, he formed an intense antipathy to the comfortable bigotry of the Protestant rectors, which evidently inclined him to a liking for Roman Catholic asceticism by the mere force of repugnance. Apparently he wished to distinguish himself as a teacher, and would perhaps have liked a professorial chair ; though it would not be just to ascribe too much to any feeling of disappointment his intense hatred of the official teachers, notably Hegel, on whom he poured out the vials, not to say the sloppails, of his wrath. He must in any case have seen in them deceivers of the brethren and enemies of pessimistic truth. He died unmarried. His last years were passed in retirement, with much material comfort, at Frankfort-on-the-Main. Evidently, he was very conscious of his genius — he calls one of his own essays a pearl — and desirous of intellectual renown. During his life, however, his wish was not fulfilled. Germany at that time was full of the bright hopes of unity, engaged in the animating struggle for that boon, and little inclined to accept the teachings of a pessimist. But now she is suffering from the disappointment that follows the attainment of felicity, from the reaction that ensues on high nervous tension, and from the crushing pressure of taxation and the military system. Schopenhauer, accordingly, becomes a power, his doctrines mingling and harmonizing with those of the socialist leaders, whose influence is likewise the offspring of popular suffering and discontent. Overflowing into Russia, the dark stream of the pessimistic philosophy mingles with that of revolutionary revolt against the administrative abuses of the despotism ; and the result is Nihilism, the most desperate of all the social insurrections, though its secrecy and the terror which it spreads have probably produced exaggerated notions of its extent. In France, it seems, a similar conjunction of pessimism with socialism is not unknown, albeit a French man of science has pronounced it impossible that the pessimistic virus should be generated in any country which drinks wine and not beer. The connection of pessimism as well as socialism with popular suffering is as clear as that of Calhoun’s social theories with the possession of slaves. It is illustrated conversely by the case of the United States, where the good nature and philanthropic sentiment engendered by popular prosperity have given birth to Universalism and led to considerable mitigation of the doctrine of eternal punishment, even in churches which retain the orthodox profession.
Schopenhauer’s philosophy may be succinctly described as Buddhism with a frontispiece of German metaphysics, to which his follower Hartmann has added another frontispiece of physics. He holds that this, instead of being the best, is the worst of all possible worlds. If you ask how he can be sure of this, the answer is that such a world, if another grain of evil were added to it, would cease to exist. There is no such thing as happiness. All action has its spring in uneasiness, and is painful in itself. Pain is positive; pleasure is merely negative. The only enjoyment that can be called real is the contemplation of works of art, and this is confined to a few. In tins last article Schopenhauer shows the influence of Goethe. Vice is that excessive measure of will which encroaches on the sphere of another will; virtue melts into mere pity for human woe. The spring of all existence, and so of evil, is will, which Schopenhauer erects into a universal substance, apart from intelligence and consciousness. Will with its restless cravings thrusts us into life, and deludes us with vain shows of virtue and happiness to keep us there. Our great object should be to make will desist from its cruel work by denying it, each in his own person, and throwing our selves into a state of Lama-like passivity and resignation. Suicide of volition, in short, is the consummation at which we are to aim. Actual suicide, which seems the logical conclusion of Schopenhauer’s teachings, is forbidden, as being not a negation but an affirmation of will, — a reason which would hardly have stayed the hand of Hamlet. Women, by whose allurements we are decoyed into propagating our species and keeping the race in the misery of existence, are naturally the objects of the pessimist’s intense aversion. Love he thinks he has proved to be mere sensuality, stimulated by will in its craving for the realization of itself in the offspring of marriage. His counsel of perfection is monastic chastity, by which the propagation of the race would be quickly brought to an end. But in this line he appears rather to have held up a torch to emancipation than himself to have led the way. The life of an old bachelor in comfortable circumstances residing at Frankfort-on-thc-Main was, it must be owned, more favorable to Lamaism and more anticipative of Nirvana than that of the work-people by whose daily labor the Lama was housed, clothed, and fed. Yet could any “affirmation of will ” be more decided than the activity of an author with a strong, not to say gnawing, desire of literary fame ?
This, we say, and everybody says, is Buddhism in a European dress. Yet in justice to Buddhism it must be remembered that there is more than one interpretation of Nirvana, and that according to the more favorable view it is not mere annihilation, which is Schopenhauer’s ideal, but the passive and impersonal bliss of the drop reunited to the sea. The sea of Divine Being we cannot say, inasmuch as Buddhism knows no God ; but the sea of being beyond the miseries, the chances, and the changes of the personal existence. There seems also to be in Buddhism a more decided presentation than there is in Schopenhauer’s philosophy of the principle that the blessed consummation is to be attained by virtue, though it is the virtue that grows on the banks of the Ganges, not that which grows on the banks of the Spree. The very beautiful picture of the founder of the system, drawn in Mr. Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia, is essentially sustained by the critical authorities.
At the same time, Buddhism has not failed to show the consequences of looking only at the dark side of our lot, and of merely striking the balance between the existing amounts of good and evil, without inquiring whether in the good there is any promise of ultimate victory which there is not in the evil. It may have afforded a doubtful and feeble consolation to myriads toiling and suffering under hard task-masters on the burning plains of Hindostan ; it has steeped boundless misery in a sort of spiritual Lethe ; but it has produced no effort, no society, no government, no civilization, no church, except a vast collection of monasteries filled with idleness in a dull trance.
The metaphysical reasonings by which Schopenhauer attempts to prove a priori that no happiness can exist we, for our part, are content to leave in the hands of his able critics, Mr. Sully and M. Caro. To their tribunal also we consign his theory that the world is merely a representation of the human brain. That the notions which wo form by means of these five bodily senses of ours, the methodized perceptions of which are science, have no appreciable relation to the truth of the infinite is a probability, we may say a moral certainty, which physicism, in its hour of triumph, will do well to take with it in its car. But that the phenomenal universe, including the discoveries of the telescope, is a mere figment of the human brain seems a belief which will find entertainment only in a brain of very peculiar construction.
One thing, however, may be said in defense of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics. He has just as good a right to call the operative and generative power in nature will as anybody else has to call it force. Development and evolution, in the same manner, if they denote anything more than the ascertained succession of phenomena, denote what is beyond the range of our perceptions. That things follow each other in a certain order, science can tell. She can point, perhaps, to each link of the ascending series, from the slime of the sea up to the intelligence, the moral nature, and the æsthetic faculties of man. But how the ascent takes place; how anything passes from one stage of its being into another stage; how any growth, combination, or change is brought about, is a question of which she is totally ignorant, and veils her ignorance, perhaps from herself as well as from her disciples, under a set of quasi-physical terms. The only creative or generative power of which we have any actual experience is effort, by which, unless our consciousness mocks us, man modifies his own character as well as the things around him. From this in fact our idea of force is derived, and science would undergo no real change if we were always to use the same name. Meantime, to know but half of being, to see the phenomena and the succession of phenomena, but to see no more, is surely to be a long way from the point at which you would be able either to solve the mystery of the universe, or to pronounce that there is no solution. Schopenhauer is also nearer the truth than some other modern philosophers in his version of asceticism. It is the fashion now to speak of asceticism as a relic of the worship of a fiend who was to be propitiated only by the sacrifice of pain. No doubt, in some cases, especially in that of the Eastern fakir, it is deeply tainted with a notion of this kind. But the aim of the Western ascetic, at all events in the main, has been self-purification. He has striven by mortifying the body to liberate the soul from her bondage to the flesh, and to prepare her for union with the divine. Grant that the effort has been misdirected, and that mere failure has been the result, though there would be something to be said on the other side; still, the phenomenon will not lose all its significance, and a candid examination of it is essential to a complete history of humanity. We speak on the assumption that history is an important part of the study of man; for there seems to be a disposition in some quarters to set it aside as mere “ gossip,” which would be a very convenient arrangement for physicists determined to settle all questions without the help of any knowledge but their own.
That which has a practical and a most intense interest for us is Schopenhauer’s uncompromising indictment of the goodness of the dispensation and of the character of the Power from which the dispensation proceeds. We mean the rational part of his indictment; for when a man avers that no real happiness is enjoyed by two young lovers on their wedding-day, or by a philanthropist who sees his vision fulfilled, he may be left to settle his quarrel with the facts. But here the German pessimist had been anticipated by a philosopher of more weight than himself, and one not open to the argumentum ad hominem which may be urged with effect against Schopenhauei and Leopardi. David Hume was a man whose placidity of temperament verged upon the lymphatic. He lived the life which he had chosen for himself, and evidently was very happy in the exercise of his intellectual powers and the enjoyment of his literary reputation. If he had a fault, it was perhaps that he was too placid, too much of an intellectual epicurist, and, with all the social amiability which so greatly endeared him to his friends, lacked the motive power of earnest love of humanity which would have impelled him to push his way vigorously to the truth. Evidently, a state of skepticism was to him not painful, but luxurious ; certainty would have been almost unwelcome, as the termination of a pleasant dalliance with great questions, He loved gracefully to hold out the scales of argument without pronouncing to which side in his own opinion the balance inclined. This elegant neutrality, or appearance of it, it was that made his writings peculiarly acceptable to men of the world, whom he seemed to place, with himself, above the angry insects of theological discussion. In his treatise on Natural Religion, the form of dialogue enables him to state all views without ostensibly embracing any one of them. Yet it can hardly be doubted that we have the real expression of his own thoughts in the following extract, which though long is not prolix, and which sets before us with a force enhanced by the writer’s general calmness of style the overwhelming enigma of man’s estate.
“And why should man, added he, pretend to an exemption from the lot of all other animals? The whole earth, believe me, PHILO, is cursed and polluted; a perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures. Necessity, hunger, want, stimulate the strong and courageous; fear, anxiety, terror, agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into life gives anguish to the new-born infant and to its wretched parent; weakness, impotence, distress, attend each stage of that life; and 't is at last finished in agony and horror.
“Observe too, says PHILO, the curious artifices of nature, in order to imbitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker, too, in their turn, often prey upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without relaxation. Consider that innumerable race of insects, which either are bred on the body of each animal, or, flying about, infix their stings in him. These insects have others, still less than themselves, which torment them. And thus on each hand, before and behind, above and below, every animal is surrounded with enemies, which incessantly seek his misery and destruction.
“Man alone, said DEMEA, seems to be, in part, an exception to this rule. For by combination in society he can easily master lions, tigers, and bears, whose greater strength and agility naturally enable them to prey upon him.
“ On the contrary, it is here chiefly, cried PHILO, that the uniform and equal maxims of nature are most apparent! Man, it is true, can by combination surmount all his real enemies, and become master of the whole animal creation ; but docs he not immediately raise up to himself imaginary enemies, the demons of his fancy, who haunt him with superstitious terrors, and blast every enjoyment of life ? This pleasure, as he imagines, becomes in their eyes a crime ; his food and repose give them umbrage and offense ; his very sleep and dreams furnish new materials to anxious fear ; and even death, his refuge from every other ill, presents only the dread of endless and innumerable woes. Nor does the wolf more molest the timid flock than superstition does the anxious breast of wretched mortals. Besides, consider, DEMEA : this very society, by which we surmount these wild beasts, our natural enemies, what new enemies does it not raise to us ? What woe and misery does it not occasion ? Man is the greatest enemy of man. Oppression, injustice, contempt, contumely, violence, sedition, war, calumny, treachery, fraud, — by these they mutually torment each other ; and they would soon dissolve that society which they had formed, were it not for the dread of still greater ills, which must attend their separation.
“ But though these external insults, said DEMEA, from animals, from men, and from the elements, which assault us form a frightful catalogue of woes, they are nothing in comparison of those which arise within ourselves, from the distempered condition of our mind and body. How many lie under the lingering torment of diseases ? Hear the pathetic enumeration of the great poet : —
Demoniac frenzy, moping melancholy,
And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy,
Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans: DESPAIR
Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch.
And over them triumphant DEATH his dart
Shook, but delay’d to strike, tho’ oft invok’d
With vows, as their chief good and final hope.’
The disorders of the mind, continued DEMEA, though more secret, are not perhaps less dismal and vexatious. Remorse, shame, anguish, rage, disappointment, anxiety, fear, dejection, despair, — who has ever passed through life without cruel inroads from these tormentors? How many have scarcely ever felt any better sensations ? Labor and poverty, so abhorred by every one, are the certain lot of the far greater number ; and those few privileged persons who enjoy ease and opulence never reach contentment or true felicity. All the goods of life united would not make a very happy man; bat all the ills united would make a wretch indeed ; and any one of them, almost (and who can be free from every one ?), nay, often the absence of one good (and who can possess all ?), is sufficient to render life ineligible. Were a stranger to drop, on a sudden, into this world, I would show him as a specimen of its ills an hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a fleet floundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him a notion of its pleasures, whither should I conduct him ? To a ball, to an opera, to court ? He might justly think that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow.”
To this picture of the darker side of our lot there is, perhaps, nothing of much importance to he added, except the struggle for existence, which modern science has revealed, and which seems to involve as an essential part of the law of natural progress an immense amount not only of physical but of moral evil. If there is anything more to be said, it is that Hume, being unmarried, and with all his social qualities very much wrapped up in himself, has not laid so much emphasis as he otherwise might have done on the wounds and the ruin of affection.
“ Is the Deity,” says Hume, “ willing to prevent evil, but not able ? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing ? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing ? Whence, then, is evil ? ” Whence, our hearts may well repeat, is all this pain, misery, and anguish, which a being whose moral nature in any degree resembled the better part of ours, who had any share of human justice, sympathy, and mercy, would presumably prevent if it were in his power ? The answer of dogmatic Christianity has already been noticed; so have the objections to that answer, arising from the manifest existence of evil and misery on this globe before the appearance of man, with the attempt of M. Secretan to meet the objections by extending backwards the operation of the fall. Supposing Christianity to be true as an ethical system and as a general account of human nature, it will be capable of accommodation and extension without limit; but to foist upon it a philosophy of which its founders never dreamed, and which no ordinary understanding would find in it, is to make the gospel a concealment instead of a revelation of the truth. Besides, Hume would ask another question, Whence the fall ? This is not the place to inquire whether dogmatic Christianity is identical with evangelical Christianity, or whether evangelical Christianity, stripped of Oriental and rabbinical forms, realty says more than that man was spiritually dead and walking in darkness when life and light came into the world by Christ.
Eminent opponents of Schopenhauer take their stand on “ meliorism,” a name which they adopt as denoting a middle term between optimism and pessimism. The meliorist admits, as everybody but a Hindoo sage or a High German metaphysician would, the concurrent existence of good and evil, of happiness and misery, of pleasure and pain, in the world. He does not attempt exactly to determine the relative proportions of the two elements ; but he thinks he has satisfied himself by induction that there is a tolerable amount of happiness already, and that it is capable of being greatly increased by the adoption of methods which will constitute a new science. The treatment of happiness under the auspices of this science excludes all questions as to the existence of a Deity, or as to man’s origin or destiny, dealing solely with this life and with the present world. But we are not told how men are to be prevented from thinking of these things, or how it is possible that, if they do think of them, their present sensations of pain and pleasure, happiness and misery, should not be affected by their thoughts. Anticipation, as well as the actual feeling of the moment, enters into our pain and pleasures. The present pang may be the same, but it makes all the difference to the man’s sensation whether it is inflicted by a surgeon who is restoring him to health, or by a torturer who is putting him to death. The journey may be as toilsome, but the weariness will be less to a traveler going home, than to one going to prison. A hard life of duty is painful if there is no reward; but if there is a great reward in view, the pain is turned into pleasure. You may, if you think it worth while, create a factitious science by abstracting the consideration of our earthly life from all ideas that range beyond it; but you will find great difficulty in practically banishing speculative ideas and hopes which have taken firm possession of the mind of the race. You will hardly prevent those who have death always in view from continuing to ask themselves whether it is the end of existence or not. When we look up to the starry heavens, you will hardly restrain our thoughts from ranging beyond an earthly abode. Physical science just now is flushed with its splendid victories; it is inclined to assume that all ideas and aspirations will henceforth be bounded by its domain.
A melancholy temperament is considered by the meliorists to be one of the principal sources of human misery. From this they hope to deliver us, partly by physical appliances, partly by training us to direct our attention to the bright points of our lot and turn our minds away from what is less agreeable, as people liable to seasickness are kindly advised to fix their eyes on a distant object and not think about the unpleasant motion of the vessel. In this way it seems to be hoped that the whole race will in the end become as merry as Dick Swiveller. But Dick Swiveller is not a man. He is an impersonation of jollity. He looks neither before nor after; if he were to begin to look before or after, the character would vanish like a ghost at cock-crow. So it would if he met with any heart-rending misfortune, such as may any day befall the happiest and most buoyant of mankind. A man loses his wife just when their hearts have been knit together, or his only child; these are every-day accidents, and how will a Dick Swiveller philosophy take away their sting ? Would there be any credit in being jolly beside the deathbed of affection ? Religious resignation, if it is well founded, will take the sting from such misfortunes; but that is a very different affair. A cheerful temperament is no doubt an excellent thing, and it may be cultivated both mentally and by wise attention to physical health. But it will not prevent nature from sweeping men away by earthquake, plague, and famine, without mercy or justice. It will not alter the grim facts of the dispensation ; and as the dispensation is, so men will see it, not in their convivial hours, but in their serious and reflecting moods, which make the grand tone of life. In the characters of the greatest men, and those who have done most for the race, the element of sadness has predominated, though beneath it there was a deeper spring of joy.
In some of these recipes for the cultivation of happiness there seems to be a fallacy of class. The great mass of mankind at the present time, to say nothing of the past, is a prey to evils of a much coarser kind than any of which mere temperament can be deemed the cause. Those who tell the miserable population of Hindostan, or that which, close to the palaces of London, covers square miles with its misery, squalor, and despair, to cultivate a cheerful temperament are like the old Duke of Norfolk who, in the midst of famine, advised the English peasantry to take a pinch of curry powder with their food. A similar fallacy seems to underlie the induction upon which a favorable estimate of existing happiness is based. A literary man asks perhaps a score or two of his acquaintance whether happiness or unhappiness has predominated in their lives. They reply that happiness has predominated. But these people, however fairly selected, are all members of a well-to-do class in a civilized country. People of the indigent class, or living in countries not civilized, and being there, from their weakness, the victims of violence, might, if they could express themselves articulately, give a less favorable verdict; not to mention that the persons interrogated have probably always had, under affliction, the comforts, real or imaginary, of religion.
Death, we are told, is not to be regarded in any disagreeable light; it is rather to be looked upon as throwing a pleasant though pensive tint of elegiac tenderness over our being, and as rendering by its certain approach each particular moment of our allotted span more precious. The last reflection is eminently true in the case of the man who is to be executed to-morrow. It surely is difficult to get rid of the conviction that the more pleasant life is made the more unpleasant will be the loss of it, and the more disagreeable the thought that it may be taken from us at any moment by a whiff of infected air, or by the fall of a chimney-pot. There was a striking picture, years ago, in the London Academy of a miserable stone-breaker who had sunk placidly into his last sleep beside his heap of stones. Willingness to be at rest in such a case as this we can understand, but hardly in the case of a man in a state of prosperous energy, with all the means of enjoyment and a loving family around him. If our happiness comes to consist in an increased degree, not of the pleasures which satiate and pall, but of those which belong to mutual affection, the pang will be all the sharper, and bereavement will become in its bitterness a second death. We cannot help remembering, when we hear philosophers speak so complacently of the prospect of annihilation, that none of us have yet got fairly clear of the penumbra of Christian faith and hope, or of the comforting impression that those who are parted here will in some way meet again hereafter. Examples have been held up of men of the new school of science who have rested with perfect contentment in the belief that this span was all, and have even been spurred to higher activity thereby. But these men hardly constitute a ground for a fair induction. Not only did they spend their lives in a transport of iconoclastic exertion, which allowed no space for melancholy thoughts, but they had only just emerged from a state of strong religious conviction, the influence of which, however unconscious they might be of it, could not fail to linger in their minds.
That man is fatherless, under the care of no providence, and the sport of a blind but irresistible force which in a moment wrecks his happiness, perhaps crushes myriads out of existence by a death of agony, is an idea which has hardly yet had time to present itself to us unveiled and in its full significance. Some think that it will be greatly softened if instead of blind force we teach ourselves to say law. But, in the first place, this is a comfort suited rather for the easychair of intellectual leisure than for rougher situations; it will not greatly relieve the mind of a man who finds himself buried alive in a coal-pit, or of a mother who sees her child in the agony of strangulation by diphtheria. In the second place, men of science have at last begun to admit what unscientific people urged long ago, — that law is a theistic term, to which untheistic science has no right. Untheistic science can take cognizance of nothing but facts, whether particular or general, and what comfort there can be in the mere generality of a cruel fact it is not easy to understand. We may make the passing remark, not irrelevant to the present subject, that with the admission that science is not entitled to speak of law is still coupled a confident assertion of the doctrine of scientific necessity. But how can there be necessity — at least, how can we have any assurance of it — without law ? Can necessity be predicated of the mere recurrence of a general fact ?
The struggle for existence is allowed to be an unattractive feature of the situation ; but it is contended that its ugly aspect will be lessened, if not removed, by the beneficent intervention of society, which is sure to take the duty of selection into its own hands, and to exercise it by the milder agency of a control over undesirable propagation. This, in the first place, seems to imply that physical superiority, of which alone a legislator can take cognizance, is decisive, and that the world is better without such invalids as St. Paul, or Alfred, or Pascal. In the second place, it involves the assumption, which pervades all the social writings of Mr. Mill, that there is a wise and beneficent power called society, apart from and above the aggregate of individual action. Unluckily, no such earthly providence exists. There is nothing but government, with the infirmities of which and the danger of intrusting it with unlimited power, or extending its sway to private conduct and to the household, experience has made us only too familiar. There is a gulf, across which we cannot at present see, between our actual political condition and that in which the world would be able to intrust its rulers with the power of regulating the union of the sexes, not to mention the other elements of the competition for existence. The nearest approach to any social action of this kind, perhaps, has been monasticism, which on the whole must have selected the physically weak for celibacy ; but the net result of monasticism was not satisfactory. Moreover, it must be remembered that tire struggle for existence goes on not only between individual members of society, but between nations and races. What Parliament of man or other earthly authority will ever be in a position to say to the inferior nations or races, You had better cease to beget children, so that you may quietly disappear and leave room for the Jingo, who will otherwise be placed by nature under the unpleasant necessity of slaughtering you in heaps, or otherwise exterminating you, in order to remove you out of the way of his evidently superior claim to existence ?
This leads us naturally to a remark respecting human progress, the conscious promotion of which is another of the things to which we are exhorted to look as growing sources of comfort. Let it be granted that progress, so far as it depends on the wants of the race and the supply of these wants, is almost mechanical, and certain to continue in its present course. Surely, there is also a part of it, and not the least important part, dependent on the extraordinary efforts of good men striking out against the ever-flowing current of evil and indifference, which would otherwise sweep us backwards, and thereby rendering special services to their kind. Sometimes the exercise of such energy is pleasant; but in other cases it involves a good deal of self-sacrifice, as it notably did in what few people are so fanatically antitheological as not to deem a great gain to humanity, the foundation of Christianity. But self-sacrifice can hardly be reconciled with reason, unless it brings with it an ultimate reward. A man may submit to martyrdom for the truth’s sake, if he is to pass through the gate of death to the Father of Truth; he will hardly do so if he is to go down into the pit. People, in short, will sacrifice themselves to progress and to the general good of their kind if they believe that, apart from what may happen to them in the flesh, they have a perpetual interest in the result; on the opposite hypothesis, they will not. As we have said before, you cannot, in estimating the feelings of men, eliminate anticipation. A subjective existence, to be enjoyed in the lives of posterity when you have utterly ceased to be and the last trace of your memory has vanished, is a fantasy which may be fondled by a refined imagination, but will heal no wounds and countervail no hardships in the case of ordinary men. Here again the materialist or positivist view of life appears to have derived an idea and borrowed a hue from Christianity. Christian progress is that of the church militant gaining gradually a victory over evil, in which every Christian who acts up to his profession will have his share. This is a belief which, if sincerely entertained, cheers the most arduous, the most wearisome, and the dullest path of duty. Moreover, the end of the Christian progress is the reception into the divine essence of spirit perfected by trial and soaring away from the ruin of the material globe. The end of positivist progress is a physical catastrophe in which everything will perish. No thought very animating or very likely to nerve men to high self-sacrifice is produced by the prospect of a march of humanity, like that of a blind column of animals or insects, towards final and total destruction. That those who at last drop into the gulf will be improved specimens of the race, and will carry with them the accumulated results of its efforts through all the ages, is hardly a redeeming feature of the outlook. Science has begun to calculate the rate at which the sun exhausts its vital fires ; who can say that the fatal period may not even be anticipated by some other astronomical agent of destruction? However that may be, the certain end of the collective effort, to which we are to immolate ourselves individually, according to positivism, is inanity and dust.
Schopenhauer has insisted on the fact that with civilization and refinement sensibility to pain and grief will increase. The reply is obvious that capacity for pleasure will increase also ; but it may be difficult to strike the balance. Art, from which alone Schopenhauer thinks any real pleasure cnn proceed, seems certainly, as character deepens and intellect grows more subtle, to contain in it a larger element of melancholy and of craving for the unattained. But, as has already been said, the misery of the mass of mankind consists in bodily want and toil that leave little room for enjoyment ; the day is far distant when the mere question of sensibility will affect more than a few.
Infinite space might be consumed in settling the account between the past and the present in respect of material happiness. The railroads, telegraphs, and cheap cottons of the present are obvious ; on the other hand, in old countries crowding involves no small loss of comfort and enjoyment. To the division of labor we owe a vast increase of production ; but at the same time the labor of the producer becomes far duller and more wearisome than it was when each man saw and could rejoice in the finished work of his own hands. Even the improvements which appear most completely within man’s power are very long in coming, and almost seem as if they would never come. During the best period of Catholicism, morality in the vesture of religion strove earnestly, and not wholly without effect, to place restrictions upon war. But now such morality is again consigned to contempt, and Europe has developed a system of standing armies which again places assured peace at an immeasurable distance, and in the mean time makes the happiness and lives of millions the sport of imperial ambition or the dice of a political gambler.
The optimism which maintains that there is no evil in life, and the pessimism which maintains that there is no good, are equally out of court. But so far as it is a question between meliorism and the opposite theory, which we suppose must be called deteriorism, the advocates of the less favorable hypothesis are not unlikely to hold their own. They may do so at all events if we take into consideration the whole human race, in past times as well as in the present, not merely the élite of a comparatively civilized generation.
This, however, is certain: the justice and goodness of the dispensation can be vindicated only on the hypothesis that the efforts and sufferings of the human race, and perhaps not only of the human race but of sentient beings, tend towards some achievement in which each individual contributor will have his part. Even an earthly king would deem it poor praise to be told that he had made myriads of his people miserable, without compensation or redemption, in bringing the rest to a very problematical state of happiness. Love of life and fear of death are a sufficient guaranty against the universal suicide to which Schopenhauer’s philosophy would logically tend, as the sexual influence is against the extinction of the race by celibacy which he actually suggests. But this proves little ; the burden of life is dragged by myriads whom no one would call happy. That mere existence is a blessing to a Hindoo peasant, who maintains himself by unceasing toil on the brink of destitution, sees his children starving round him, and ends his days by famine or some fearful disease, none but the most fanatical optimist will contend. Besides, we come back to the question why the Author of all being could not or would not confer upon the Hindoo peasant, who had committed no sin before his birth, the same measure of happiness which is conferred on other men.
Mr. Herbert Spencer, in his recent work on The Data of Ethics, which we all expected with interest and have read with respect, says that conflicting theories of ethics embody severally portions of the truth. “ The theological theory contains a part. If for the divine will, supposed to be supernaturally revealed, we substitute the naturally revealed end towards which the power manifested throughout evolution works, then, since evolution has been and is still working towards the highest life, it follows that conforming to those principles by which the highest life is achieved is furthering that end. The doctrine that perfection or excellence of nature should be the object of pursuit is in one sense true; for tacitly it recognizes that ideal form of being which the highest life implies, and to which evolution tends.” The writer can perhaps reconcile this better than we can with the mechanical theory of evolution and dissolution embodied in his First Principles. Not only is it a “ reconciliation ” with theology; it is theology itself, or something upon which theology might be built. The power which manifests itself throughout evolution clearly cannot be evolution itself. It is equally evident that “ working towards” an object is a different thing from a merely mechanical progress, — from rhythm of motion, the instability of the homogeneous, and equilibration Let there be added a definition of the highest life, and also a statement of the grounds on which that life is to be deemed higher than another ; we shall then have, not indeed supernaturalism, but the foundations of natural theology, less the mere name of Deity. It is difficult to see why even prayer should be thought wholly irrational, if it is an entreaty for help in the endeavors to reach perfection, addressed to the great Co-Worker.
It is impossible to conceive a Power working through and with intelligence and beneficence towards an end assumed to be good, yet being itself unintelligent and unbeneficent. It is almost equally impossible to conceive an intelligent and beneficent Power making worlds as a child makes houses on the sand, merely that they may perish and leave no trace behind. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul has become so entangled with animistic fancies, mediæval superstitions, and imagery of crowns and harps, or of flames and serpents, crystallized into literal belief, that the contemptuous treatment of it by certain men of science may be considered excusable, if it is not philosophic. But let it be put simply on the hypothesis that the progress by which being has risen from protoplasm to humanity and the higher forms of humanity is still continuing and destined to continue; that spirit in its turn is coming into existence ; and that it will not necessarily perish with the material world. There is nothing in this from which science need shrink, unless it be a foregone conclusion that anything relating to man which does not fall within the domain of physiology must be a silly dream. The notion of selfishness or of the eternal perpetuation of self which attaches to the belief in immortality and affords abundant matter for sneers and jibes appears to be perfectly gratuitous. It is in the best men that we seem to see the dawn of immortality, and the best men are the least selfish. Spirituality is in fact emancipation from the influences by which selfishness is bred. Nor does it appear that we can set limits to the process, difficult as it may be for us to conceive of a being conscious and active, yet unlimited by self.
The eminent writer from whom we have just quoted looks forward to a millennium of his own, — the millennium of one who holds that “ the ideally moral man is one in whom the moving equilibrium is perfect.” But this millennium is a weary way off, and it is to be feared that the prospect of it will hardly have much effect in inducing even ordinary men, not to speak of human wolves like the Fredericks and Napoleons, to subordinate their “simple representative feelings” to their “complex representative feelings,” on proper occasions and in due proportions. More than this, the millennium when it comes will be miserably imperfect, unless Mr. Spencer can induce nature to mend her behavior, as well as man. Let humanity be brought to the acme of moving equilibrium ; let the sanitary aspirations of Dr. Richardson be fulfilled by the institution of a Salutland with all possible appliances of health and a name that does not outrage etymology; still, if nature persists in her practices of storm, flood, fire, plague, and earthquake, to say nothing of the burden which her stubborn and niggardly temper lays upon the sinews of toiling humanity, the happiness will be very far from perfect. It would be very far from perfect, even if it were to be lasting ; but in the case of each man the moving equilibrium will be always advancing, in accordance with the law laid down in First Principles, to an inevitable “ dissolution.” Death will always impend ; and, as we have already said, the greater the happiness of man is, and the more sensitive and forecasting he becomes, the more terrible in all probability death will be. Even in Mr. Spencer’s philosophy we think we can discern anticipations of a condition in which to put off death would be the most absorbing of all objects, and the risk or certain sacrifice of life which men have faced from the love of their kind in doing good or in withstanding wrong would be regarded as mere insanity. Pile on the language of sentiment as you will, a man’s conduct will be governed by his real interest; and his real interest must terminate with his existence. Then, after all, comes the general dissolution ; the last generation of mankind, heir of all the preceding effort, perishes in some awful catastrophe, and the moral paradise is an atomic chaos.
Suppose effort, or that which presents itself to our consciousness as effort, to be the law of the universe and the life of the power which pervades it; suppose the object of effort in the case of man to be the attainment of a moral ideal which has a value in the eyes of the Author of Being; and suppose spirit, having attained the ideal, to be destined to survive the dissolution of the material globe,— suppose all this, and reason may sanction an optimistic view, not of our present state, but of the sum of things. Otherwise, though nobody but a metaphysician of gloomy temperament will deny the existence of a certain measure of happiness among men, or at least among the more favored portion of them, pessimism will have the best of the argument on the whole. The dispensation under which we live can hardly be called beneficent: assuredly, considering the myriads who have been and still are being sacrificed, it cannot be called just.
No man of sense, no one who has faith in reason and truth, can doubt that the time has come for a perfectly free and frank discussion of all these questions, subject only to those restraints of reverence and charity which wisdom as well as right feeling would prescribe. All who give any thought to such matters know how we stand, and what is going on beneath the surface of apparent orthodoxy and conformity, even where the crust at present remains unbroken. If a real religious philosophy is possible, this is the time for its appearance. On one side, we have the official defenders of the established creed desperately identifying all religion with the untenable ; on the other hand, we have men trained exclusively in physical science, contemptuously ignorant of history and philosophy, that is of moral and social man, and determined, with a fanaticism scarcely less virulent than that of theologians, to expel all religion from the world. Between the two extremes is it not possible to find some foundation for a rational religion ? It must be possible, if we are in the hands of a being who cares for us, who has power to guide us to the truth, and to whose character the better part of ours affords a real clue.