The Loss of Personality

THE popular interest in scientific truth has always had its hidden spring in a desire for the marvelous. The search for the philosopher’s stone has done as much for chemistry as the legend of the elixir of life for exploration and geographical discovery. From the excitements of these suggestions of the occult, the world settled down into a reasonable understanding of the facts of which they were but the enlarged and grotesque shadows. The soft stimulation of the mysterious draws us on ; and too often, under its charm, we fail to trace in the dull presentment of every-day experience a likeness to the wonders we pursue, forgetting that marvels have meaning and value only in so far as they can establish their kinship with the events of daily life, and thus fall at last into the great sweep of universal law.

So it has been with physics and physiology, and so also, preëminently, with the science of mental life. Mesmerism, hypnotism, the facts of the alteration, the multiplicity, and the annihilation of personality, have each brought us their moments of pleasurable terror, and passed thus into the field of general interest. We feel that we have looked indeed into abysmal depths, and there is a fascination in the gulf. But science can accept no broken chains. For all the thrill of mystery, we dare not forget that the hypnotic state is but highly strung attention, — at the last turn of the screw, as it were, — and that the alternation of personality is after all no more than the highest power of variability of mood. In regard to the annihilation of the sense of personality, it may be said that no connection with daily experience is at first apparent. Scientists, as well as the world at large, have been inclined to look on the loss of the sense of personality as pathological ; and yet I venture to maintain that it is nevertheless the typical form of those experiences we ourselves regard as the most valuable.

The loss of personality ! In that dread thought there lies, to most of us, all the sting of death and the victory of the grave. It seems, with that in store, that immortality were futile, and life itself a mockery. Yet the idea, when dwelt upon, assumes an aspect of strange familiarity ; it is an old friend, after all. Can we deny that all our sweetest hours are those of self-forgetfulness ? The language of emotion, religious, æsthetic, intellectually creative, testifies clearly to the fading of the consciousness of self as feeling nears the white heat. Not only in the speechless, stark immobility of the pathological “ case,” but in all the stages of religious ecstasy, æsthetic pleasure, and creative inspiration, is to be traced what we know as the loss of the feeling of self. Bernard of Clairvaux dwells on “ that ecstasy of deification in which the individual disappears in the eternal essence as the drop of water in a cask of wine.” Says Meister Eckhart, “ Thou shalt sink away from thy selfhood, thou shalt flow into His self-possession, the very thought of Thine shall melt into His Mine ; ” and St. Teresa, “ The soul, in thus searching for its God, feels with a very lively and very sweet pleasure that it is fainting almost quite away.” The æsthetic feeling of John Bunyan’s verses —

“ Would’st thou be in a dream, and yet not
sleep ?
Or would’st thou in a moment laugh and
weep ?
Wouldest thou lose thyself, and catch no
And find thyself again without a charm ?
O then come hither,
And lay my book, thy head, and heart together! ”

— is the same as that of Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale : —

“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethewards had sunk:
’T is not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness.”

But not only the religious enthusiast and the worshiper of beauty “ lose themselves ” in ecstasy. The “ fine frenzy ” of the thinker is typical. From Archimedes, whose life paid the forfeit of his impersonal absorption ; from Socrates, musing in one spot from dawn to dawn, to Newton and Goethe, there is but one form of the highest effort to penetrate and to create. Emerson is right in saying of the genius, “ His greatness consists in the fullness in which an ecstatic state is realized in him.”

The temporary evaporation of the consciousness of one’s own personality is then decidedly not a pathological experience. It seems the condition, indeed, and recognized as such in popular judgment, of the deepest feeling and the highest achievement. Perhaps it is the very assumption of this condition in our daily thoughts that has veiled the psychological problem it presents. We opine, easily enough, that great deeds are done in forgetfulness of self. But why should we forget ourselves in doing great deeds ? Why not as well feel in every act its reverberation on the self, —the renewed assurance that it is I who can ? Why not, in each æsthetic thrill, awake anew to the consciousness of myself as ruler in a realm of beauty ? Why not, in the rush of intellectual production, glory that “ my mind to me a kingdom is ” ? And yet the facts are otherwise : in proportion to the intensity and value of the experience is its approach to the objective, the impersonal, the ecstatic state. Then how explain this anomaly ? Why should religious, æsthetic, and intellectual emotion be accompanied in varying degrees by the loss of self-consciousness ? Why should the sense of personality play us so strange a trick as to vanish, at the moment of seemingly greatest power, in the very shadow of its own glory ?

If now we put the most obvious question, and ask, in explanation of its escapades, what the true nature of this personality is, we shall find ourselves quite out of our reckoning on the vast sea of metaphysics. To know what personality is, “ root and all, and all in all,” is to “ know what God and man is.” Fortunately, our problem is much more simple. It is not the personality itself, its reality, its meaning, that vanishes ; no, nor even the psychological system of dispositions. We remain, in such a moment of ecstasy, as persons, what we were before. It is the feeling of personality that has faded ; and to find out in what this will-o’-the-wisp feeling of personality resides is a task wholly within the powers of psychological analysis. Let no one object that the depth and value of experience seem to disintegrate under the psychologist’s microscope. The place of the full-orbed personality in a world of noble ends is not affected by the possibility that the centre of its conscious crystallization may be found in a single sensation.

The explanation, then, of this apparent inconsistency — the fading away of self in the midst of certain most important experiences — must lie in the nature of the feeling of personality. What is that feeling ? On what is it based ? How can it be described ? The difficulties of introspection have led many to deny the possibility of such self - fixation. The fleeting moment passes, and we grasp only an idea or a feeling ; the ego has slipped away like a drop of mercury under the fingers. Like the hero of the German poet, who wanted his queue in front,

“ Then round and round, and out and in,
All day that puzzled sage did spin ;
In vain; it mattered not a pin ;
The pigtail hung behind him,”

when I turn round upon myself to catch myself in the act of thinking, I can never lay hold on anything but a sensation. I may peel off, like the leaves of an artichoke, my social self, — my possessions and positions, my friends, my relatives ; my active self, — my books and implements of work; my clothes ; even my flesh, and sit in my bones, like Sydney Smith, — the I in me retreating ever to an inner citadel ; but I must stop with the feeling that something moves in there. That is not what my self is, but what the elusive sprite feels like when I have got my finger on him. In daily experience, however, it is unnecessary to proceed to such extremities. The self, at a given moment of consciousness, is felt as one group of elements which form a background of consciousness as over against another group of elements which form a foreground. The second group is, we say, before the attention, and is not at that moment felt as self ; while the first group is vague, undifferentiated, not attended to, but felt. Any element in this background can detach itself and come into the foreground of attention.

I become conscious at this moment, for instance, of the weight of my shoulders as they rest on the back of my chair : that sensation, however, belongs to my self no more than does the sensation of the smoothness of the paper on which my hand rests. I know I am a self, because I can pass, so to speak, between the foreground and the background of my consciousness. It is the feeling of transition that gives me the negative and positive of my circuit ; and this feeling of transition, hunted to its lair, reveals itself as nothing more nor less than a motor sensation felt in the sense organs which adapt themselves to the new conditions. I look on that picture and on this, and know that they are two, because the change in the adaptation of my sense organs to their objects has been felt. I close my eyes and think of near and far, and it is the change in the sensations from my eye muscles that tells me I have passed between the two; or, to express it otherwise, that it is in me the two have succeeded each other. While the self in its widest sense, therefore, is coextensive with consciousness, the distinctive feeling of self as opposed to the elements in consciousness which represent the outer world is based on those bodily sensations which are connected with the relations of objects. My world — the foreground of my consciousness — would fall in on me and crush me, if I could not hold it off by just this power to feel it different from my background ; and it is felt as different through the motor sensations involved in the change of my sense organs in passing from one to the other. The condition of the feeling of transition, and hence of the feeling of personality, is then the presence in consciousness of at least two possible objects of attention ; and the formal consciousness of self might be schematized as a straight line connecting two points, in which one point represents the foreground, and the other the background, of consciousness.

If we now accept this view, and ask under what conditions the sense of self may be lost, the answer is at once suggested. It will happen when the “ twoness ” disappears, so that the line connecting and separating the two objects in our scheme drops out or is indefinitely decreased. When background or foreground tends to disappear or to merge either into the other, the content of consciousness approaches absolute unity. There is no “ relating ” to be done, no “ transition ” to be made. The condition, then, for the feeling of personality is no longer present, and there results a feeling of complete unity with the object of attention ; and if this object of attention is itself without parts or differences, there results an empty void, Nirvana. Suppose that I gaze, motionless, at a single bright light until all my bodily sensations have faded. Then one of the “ points ” in our scheme has dropped out. In my mind there reigns but one thought. The transition feeling goes, for there is nothing to be “ related.” Now “ it is one blaze, about me and within me ; ” I am that light, and myself no longer. My consciousness is a unit or a blank, as you please. If you say that I am self-hypnotized, I may reply that I have simply ceased to feel myself different from the content of my consciousness, because that content has ceased to allow a transition between its terms.

This is, however, not the only possible form of the disappearance of our twoness, and the resulting loss of the self-feeling. When the sequence of objects in consciousness is so rapid that the feeling of transition, expressed in motor terms, drops below the threshold of sensation, the feeling of self again fades. Think, for instance, of the Bacchanal orgies. The votary of Dionysus, dancing, shrieking, tearing at his hair and at his garments, lost in the lightning change of his sensations all power of relating them. His mind was ringed in a whirling circle, every point of which merged into the next without possibility of differentiation. And since he could feel no transition periods, he could feel himself no longer ; he was one with the content of his consciousness, which consciousness was no less a unit than our bright light aforesaid, just as a circle is as truly a unit as a point. The priest of Dionysus must have felt himself only a dancing, shouting thing, one with the world without, “ whirled round in earth’s diurnal course with rocks and stones and trees.” And how perfectly the ancient belief fits our psychophysical analysis ! The Bacchic enthusiast believed himself possessed with the very ecstasy of the spirit of nature. His inspired madness was the presence of the god who descended upon him, — the god of the vine, of spring; the rising sap, the rushing stream, the bursting leaf, the rippling song, all the life of flowing things, they were he ! " αντίκα үâ πȃσα Χоρϵνσϵι,” was the cry, — “ soon the whole earth will dance and sing ! ”

Yes, this breaking down of barriers, this melting of the personality into its surroundings, this strange and sweet self-abandonment, must have its source in just the disappearance of the sensation of adjustment, on which the feeling of personality is based. But how can it be, we have to ask, that a principle so barren of emotional significance should account for the ecstasy of religious emotion, of æsthetic delight, of creative inspiration ? It is not, however, religion or beauty or genius that is the object of our inquiry, but simply the common element in the experience of each of these which we know as the disappearance of self-feeling. How the circumstances peculiar to religious worship, æsthetic appreciation, and intellectual creation bring about the formal conditions of the loss of personal feeling must be sought in a more detailed analysis. What are the steps by which priest and poet and thinker have passed into the exaltation of selfless emotion ? Fortunately, the passionate pilgrims to all three realms of deep experience have been ever prodigal of their confessions.

The typical religious enthusiast is the mystic. From Plotinus to Buddha, from Meister Eckhart to Emerson, the same doctrine has brought the same fruits of religious rapture. There is one God, and in contemplation of Him the soul becomes of His essence. Whether it is held as by the Neoplatonists, that Being and Knowledge are one ; that the procedure of the world out of God is a process of self-revelation, and the return of things into God a process of higher and higher intuition, and so the mystic experience an apprehension of the highest rather than a form of worship; or whether it is expressed as by the humble Béguine, Mechthild, — “ My soul swims in the Being of God as a fish in water,” — the kernel of the mystic’s creed is the same. In ecstatic contemplation of God, and, in the higher states, in ecstatic union with Him, in sinking the individuality in the divine Being, is the only true life. Not all, it is true, who hold the doctrine have had the experience ; not all can say with Eckhart or with Madame Guyon, “ I have seen God in my own soul,” or “ I have become one with God.” It is from the narratives and the counsels of perfection of these, the chosen, the initiate, who have passed beyond the veil, that light may be thrown on the psychological conditions of mystic ecstasy.

The most illuminating account of her actual mystical experiences is given by Madame Guyon, the first of the sect or school of the Quietists. This gentle Frenchwoman had a gift for psychological observation, and though her style is neither poetic nor philosophical, I may be pardoned for quoting at some length her naïve and lucid revelations. The following passages, beginning with an early religious experience, are taken almost at random from the pages of her autobiography : —

“ These sermons made such an impression on my mind, and absorbed me so strongly in God, that I could not open my eyes nor hear what was said.” “ To hear Thy name, O my God, could put me into a profound prayer. . . . I could not see any longer the saints nor the Holy Virgin outside of God ; but I saw them all in Him, scarcely being able to distinguish them from Him. . . . I could not hear God nor our Lord Jesus Christ spoken of without being, as it were, outside of myself [hors de moi]. . . . Love seized me so strongly that I remained absorbed, in a profound silence and a peace that I cannot describe. I made ever new efforts, and I passed my life in beginning my prayers without being able to carry them through. . . . I could ask nothing for myself nor for another, nor wish anything but this divine will. ... I do not believe that there could be in the world anything more simple and more unified. . . . It is a state of which one can say nothing more, because it evades all expression, — a state in which the creature is lost, engulfed. All is God, and the soul perceives only God. It has to strive no more for perfection, for growth, for approach to Him, for union. All is consummated in the unity, but in a manner so free, so natural, so easy, that the soul lives in and from God, as easily as the body lives from the air which it breathes.

. . . The spirit is empty, no more traversed by thoughts ; nothing fills the void, which is no longer painful, and the soul finds in itself an immense capacity that nothing can either limit or destroy.”

Can we fail to trace in these simple words the shadow of all religious exultation that is based on faith alone ? Madame Guyon is strung to a higher key than most of this dull and relaxed world ; but she has struck the eternal note of contemplative worship. Such is the sense of union with the divine Spirit. Such are the thoughts and even the words of Dante, Eckhart, St. Teresa, the countless mystics of the Middle Age, and of the followers of Buddhism in its various shades, from the Ganges to the Charles. Two characteristics disengage themselves to view: the insistence on the unity of God — in whom alone the Holy Virgin and the saints are seen — from a psychological point of view only; and the mind’s emptiness of thought and feeling in a state of religious ecstasy. But without further analysis, we may ask, as the disciples of the mystics have always done, how this state of blissful union is to be reached. They have always been minute in their prescriptions, and it is possible to derive therefrom what may be called the technique of the mystic procedure.

“ The word mystic,” to quote Walter Pater, “ has been derived from a Greek word which signifies to shut, as if one shut one’s lips, brooding on what cannot be uttered ; but the Platonists themselves derive it rather from the act of shutting the eyes, that one may see the more, inwardly.” Of such is the counsel of St. Luis de Granada, “Imitate the sportsman who hoods the falcon that it be made subservient to his rule ; ” and of another Spanish mystic, Pedro de Alcantara : “ In meditation, let the person rouse himself from things temporal, and let him collect himself within himself. . .. Here let him hearken to the voice of God . . . as though there were no other in the world save God and himself,” St. Teresa found happiness only in “ shutting herself up within herself.” Vocal prayer could not satisfy her, and she adopted mental prayer. The four stages of her experience — which she named “ recollectedness,” “ quietude ” (listening rather than speaking), “ union ” (blissful sleep with the faculties of the mind still), “ ecstasy or rapture ” — are but progressive steps in the sealing of the senses. The yoga of the Brahmins, which is the same as the union of the Cabalists, is made to depend upon the same conditions, — passivity, perseverance, solitude. The novice must arrest his breathing, and may meditate on mystic symbols alone, by way of reaching the formless, ineffable Buddha. But it is useless to heap up evidence ; the inference is sufficiently clear.

The body is first brought into a state either of nervous instability or irritability by ascetic practices, or of nervous insensibility by the persistent withdrawal of all outer disturbance ; and the mind is fixed upon a single object, —the one God, the God eternal, absolute, indivisible. Recalling our former scheme for the conditions of the sense of personality, we shall see that we have here the two poles of consciousness. Then, as the tension is sharpened, what happens? Under the artificial conditions of weakened nerves, of blank surroundings, the selfbackground drops. The feeling of transition disappears with the absence of related terms ; and the remaining, the positive pole of consciousness is an undifferentiated Unity, with which the person must feel himself one. The feeling of personality is gone with that on which it rests, and its loss is joined with an overwhelming sense of union with the One, the Absolute, God !

The object of mystic contemplation is the One indivisible. But we can also think the One as the unity of all differences, the Circle of the Universe. Those natures also which, like Amiel’s, are “ bedazzled with the Infinite ” and thirst for “ totality ” attain in their reveries to the same impersonal ecstasy. Amiel writes of a “ night on the sandy shore of the North Sea, stretched at full length upon the beach, my eyes wandering over the Milky Way. Will they ever return to me, those grandiose, immortal, cosmogonic dreams, in which one seems to carry the world in one’s breast, to touch the stars, to possess the Infinite ! ” The reverie of de Séancour, on the bank of the Lake of Bienne, quoted by Matthew Arnold, reveals the same emotion : “Vast consciousness of a nature everywhere greater than we are, and everywhere impenetrable ; all-embracing passion, ripened wisdom, delicious selfabandonment.” In the coincidence of outer circumstance —the lake, the North Sea, night, the attitude of repose — may we not trace a dissolution of the selfbackground similar to that of the mystic worshiper ? And in the Infinite, no less than in the One, must the soul sink and melt into union with it, because within it there is no determination, no pause, and no change.

The contemplation of the One, however, is not the only type of mystic ecstasy. That intoxication of emotion which seizes upon the negro camp meeting of to-day, as it did upon the Delphic priestesses two thousand years ago, seems at first glance to have nothing in common psychologically with the blessed nothingness of Gautama and Meister Eckhart. But the loss of the feeling of personality and the sense of possession by a divine spirit are the same. How, then, is this state reached ? By means, I believe, which recall the general formula for the disappearance of self-feeling. To repeat the monosyllable om (Brahm) ten thousand times ; to circle interminably, chanting the while, about a sacred fire ; to listen to the monotonous magic drum ; to whirl the body about ; to rock to and fro on the knees, vociferating prayers, are all methods which enable the members of the respective sects in which they are practiced either to enter, as they say, into the Eternal Being, or to become informed with it through the negation of the self. The sense of personality, at any rate, is more or less completely lost, and the ecstasy takes a form more or less passionate, according as the worshiper depends on the rapidity rather than on the monotony of his excitations. What we are wont to call the inspired madness of the Delphic priestesses was less the expression of ecstasy than the means of its excitation. Every such experience approaches the schematic type of the whirling circle of objects of attention, in which the transition periods are eliminated. Personality is sunk in its content : there is no more near nor far. Perpetual motion, as well as eternal rest, may bring about the engulfment of the self in the object. The most diverse types of religious emotions, in so far as they present variations in the degree of self-consciousness, are thus seen to be reducible to the same psychological basis. The circle, no less than the point, is the symbol of the One, and the “ devouring unity ” that lays hold on consciousness from the loss of the feeling of transition comes in the unrest of enthusiasm no less than in the blissful nothing of Nirvana.

At this point, I am sure, the reader will interpose a protest. Is, then, the mystery of self-abandonment to the highest to be shared with the meanest of fanatics ? Are the rapture of Dante and the trance of the Omphalopsychi sprung from the same root ? There is no occasion, however, for the revolt of sentiment because we fail to emphasize here the important differences in the emotional character and value of the states in question. What interests us is only one aspect which they have in common, the surrender of the sense of personality. That is based on formal relations of the elements of consciousness, and the explanation of its disappearance applies as well to the whirling dervish as to the converts of a revivalist preacher.

The mystic, then, need only shut his senses to the world, and contemplate the One. Subject fuses with object, and he feels himself melt into the Infinite. But such experience is not the exclusive property of the religious enthusiast. The worshiper of beauty has given evidence of the same feelings. And yet, in his æsthetic rapture, the latter dwells with deliberation on his delights, and while luxuriating in the infinite labyrinths of beauty can scarcely be described as musing on an undifferentiated Unity. So far, at least, it does not appear that our formula applies to æsthetic feeling.

Schopenhauer has told us, to be sure, that the contemplation of the object of art is the means of sinking the will. In that wonderful analysis of the æsthetic attitude in the third book of The World as Will and Idea, we read that he who contemplates the beautiful, “ inasmuch as he . . . forgets even his individuality, his will, and only continues to exist as the pure subject, the clear mirror of the object, ... is no longer individual, but the pure will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.” But Schopenhauer has not explained how this may come to pass psychologically,—he has only described the facts of the æsthetic state; and of those facts we are equally convinced by Byron’s “ I live not in myself, but I become Portion of all around me ; and to me High mountains are a feeling.”

It must still be asked how it comes about that “ I live not in myself.”

Æthetic feeling arises in the contemplation of a beautiful object. But what makes an object beautiful ? To go still further back, just what, psychologically, does contemplation mean ? We have been hearing a deal, in recent popularizations of mental science, of ideo-motor impulses. The idea moves us, we are told. To grasp an idea means to carry it out, incipiently at least. We may go even further, and say it is the carrying out by virtue of which we group the idea. How do I think of a tall pine tree ? By sweeping my eyes up and down its length, and out to the ends of its branches; and if I am forbidden to move my eye muscles even infinitesimally, then I cannot think of the visual image, but “ pine tree ” sounds itself in my ears as a word. In short, we perceive an object in space by carrying out its motor suggestions ; more technically expressed, by virtue of a complex of ideomotor impulses aroused by it ; more briefly, by incipiently imitating it. And we feel an object as beautiful when this complex of ideo-motor impulses is harmonious with the natural modes of functioning of our organism.

Now the human organism is what every organism must be, — a system of energies reacting upon its centre ; centrifugal only in so far as it is at the same time centripetal. In the same way must the object of æsthetic pleasure be a closed circle of suggested energies. The object of art, in which the human organism must find that which it can reproduce, and which reproduces itself, — for so do we interpret “ harmony with natural modes of functioning,” — must then contain within itself all the suggestions to that unity which an harmonious state of the organism that resounds to it will demand. It too must suggest a balance of energies. It too must bring a state of rest out of motion, of repose out of excitement, of happiness out of sorrow, — in short, of harmony out of discord, such as can be followed by the imitating sentient being as that which is germane to its own nature and needs. From this point of view, it can be made clear how it is that the sense of personality can disappear in the intense contemplation of beauty.

My will does not evaporate because I lose myself in the object, as Schopenhauer would have it. No ; I lose myself in the object because my will cannot act upon the object of æsthetic feeling. I cannot eat the grapes of Apuleius or embrace the Galatea of Pygmalion; I cannot rescue Ophelia or enlighten Roxane ; moreover, and what is indeed the only essential point, I will not. The beautiful object or arrangement, if it is beautiful, satisfies me as it is. I will it to be thus, and not otherwise, and so I am to that degree at rest in it. Of motor impulses to interfere, to act for my own person, I have none. The object of art is a closed circle of impulses. In that, all impulses of soul and sense are bound to react upon one another, and to lead back to one another. Marguerite must die in prison, Macbeth must murder the king, because that act is one thread of the cloth of gold on whose weaving I have for the time being staked my existence. That the house is dark, the audience silent, and all motor impulses outside of the æsthetic circle are stifled is only a superficial and, so to speak, a negative condition. The real ground of the possibility of a momentary self-annihilation lies in the fact that all incitements to motor impulse—except those which belong to the indissoluble ring of the object itself—have been shut out, by the perfection of unity to which the æsthetic object (here the drama) has been brought. The background fades ; the foreground satisfies, incites no movement ; and with the disappearance of the possibility of action which would connect the two, fades also that which dwells in this feeling of transition, — the sense of personality. The depth of æsthetic feeling lies not in the worthy countryman who interrupts the play with cries for justice on the villain, but in him who creates the drama again with the poet, who lives over again in himself each of the thrills of emotion passing before him, and loses himself in their web. The object is a unity or our whirling circle of impulses, as you like to phrase it. At any rate, out of that unity the soul does not return upon itself ; it remains one with it in the truest sense.

It becomes ever clearer that just the pulsing moments of existence are those in which self - feeling is in abeyance. Subtler and rarer, again, than the raptures of mysticism and of beauty worship is the ecstasy of intellectual production ; yet the “clean, clear joy of creation,” as Kipling names it, is not less to be grouped with those precious experiences in which the self is sloughed away, and the soul at one with its content. I speak, of course, of intellectual production in full swing, in the momentum of success. The travail of soul over apparently hopeless difficulties or in the working out of indifferent details takes place not only in full self-consciousness, but in self-disgust ; there we can take Carlyle to witness. But in the higher stages the fixation of truth and the appreciation of beauty are accompanied by the same extinction of the feeling of individuality. Of testimony we have enough and to spare. I need not fill these pages with confessions and anecdotes of the ecstatical state in which all great deeds of art and science are done. The question is rather to understand and explain it on the basis of the formal scheme to which we have found the religious and the æsthetic attitudes to conform.

Jean Paul says somewhere that, however laborious the completion of a great work, its conception came as a whole, — one flash. We remember the musikalische Stimmung of Schiller, — formless, undirected, out of which his poem shaped itself ; the half - somnambulic state of Goethe and his frantic haste in fixation of the vision, in which he dared not even stop to put his paper straight, but wrote over the corners quite ruthlessly. If all these traditions be true, they are significant ; and the necessary conditions of such composition seem to be highly analogous to those of æsthetic emotion. We have, first of all, lack of outer stimulation, and therefore possible disappearance of the background. How much better have most poets written in a garret than in a boudoir! Goethe’s bare little room in the garden house at Weimar testifies to the severe conditions his genius found necessary. Tranquillity of the background is the condition of self-absorption, or — and this point seems to me worth emphasizing — a closed circle of outer activities. I have never believed, for instance, in the case of the old tale of Walter Scott and the button, that it was the surprise of his loss that tied the tongue of the future author’s rival. The poor head scholar had simply made for himself, even as the Bacchante or the whirling dervish, a transitionless experience with that twirling button, and could then sink his consciousness in its object, — at that moment the master’s questions. It is with many of us a familiar experience, that of not being able to think unless in constant motion. Translated into our psychophysical scheme, the efficiency of these movements would be explained thus : Given the “ whirling circles,” — the background of continuous movement sensations, which finally dropped out of consciousness, and the foreground of continuous thought, — the first protected, so to speak, the second, since they were mutually exclusive, and what broke the one destroyed the other.

But to return from this digression, a background fading into nothingness, either as rest or as a closed circle of automatic movements, is the first condition of the ecstasy of mental production. The second is given in the character of its object. The object of high intellectual creation is a unity, — a perfect whole, revealed, as Jean Paul says, in a single movement of genius. Within the enchanted circle of his creation, the thinker is absorbed, because here too all his motor impulses are turned to one end, in relation to which nothing else exists.

I am aware that many will see a sharp distinction here between the work of the creator or discoverer in science and the artist. They may maintain, in Schopenhauer’s phrase, that the aim and end of science is just the connection of objects in the service of the will of the individual, and hence transition between the various terms is constant ; while art, on the other hand, indeed isolates its object, and so drops transitions. But I think where we speak of “ connection ” thus we mean the larger sweep of law. If the thinker looks beyond his special problem at all, it is, like Buddha, to “ fix his eyes upon the chain of causation.” The scientist of imagination sees his work under the form of eternity, as one link of that endless chain, one atom in that vortex of almighty purposes, which science will need all time to reveal. For him it is either one question, closed within itself by its own answer, or it is the Infinite Law of the Universe, — the point or the circle. From all points of view, then, the object of creation in art or science is a girdle of impulses from which the mind may not stray. The two conditions of our formal scheme are given : a term which disappears, and one which is a perfect whole. Transition between background and foreground of attention is no longer possible, because the background has dropped. Between the objects of attention in the foreground it has no meaning, because the foreground is an indissoluble unity. With that object the self must feel itself one, since the distinctive self-feeling has disappeared with the opportunity for transition.

We have thus swung around the circle of mystical, æsthetic, and creative emotion, and we have found a single formula to apply, and a single explanation to avail for the loss of personality. The conditions of such experiences bring about the disappearance of one term, and the impregnable unity of the other. Without transition between two terms in consciousness, two objects of attention, the loss of the feeling of personality takes place according to natural psychological laws. It is no longer a mystery that in intense experience the feeling of personality dissolves.

So it is not only the man of achievement who sees but one thing at a time. To enter intensely into any ideal experience means to be blind to all others. One must lose one’s own soul to gain the world, and none who enter and return from the paradise of selfless ecstasy will question that it is gained. The bliss of self-abandonment, however, is a problem for another chapter. It may be that personality is a hindrance and a barrier, and that we are only truly in harmony with the secret of our own existence when we cease to set ourselves over against the world. Nevertheless, the sense of individuality is a possession for which the most of mankind would pay the price, if it must be paid, even of eternal suffering. The delicious hour of fusion with the universe is precious, so it seems to us now, just because we can return from it to our own nest, and, close and warm there, count up our happiness. The fragmentariness and multiplicity of life are, then, the saving of the sense of selfhood, and we must indeed

“rejoice that man is hurled From change to change unceasingly,

His soul’s wings never furled.”

Ethel Dench Puffer.