Of all the infinitely plastic shapes of language, perhaps the most Protean is that word "The World." Monosyllable as it is, it bears upon its back a load of incongruous meanings immense enough to have crushed into nothingness a dozen of the statelier sesquipedalia, which do not draw the marrow of their stubborn reality from so stanch a Saxon genealogy, nor plant their feet so firmly upon the usages of our hard, everyday life. In that word we see the triumph of Saxonism, for it is astonishing how any word which means so many things has not finally come to mean nothing definite at all, a "vox et præterea nihil." While it has held its place, many other words have been banished from the common parlance of men, or are allowed only when they can be explained by their context, or when vagueness itself is an especial desideratum.
Not to multiply instances, let the English "good" and the French "vertu" be examples. The first of these who ever thinks of using (we limit its reference to human attributes) when he wishes to express something defined of the character of another? The poets only, for they, indeed, from the picturesque necessities of their art, have preserved its original outlines clear, and give it always its noble, radical force; the good man, with them, is the man of developed heart as distinguished from his clever brother of the developed intellect. But in common conversation, to say that a man is good tells about as much of him as to ascribe to him the possession of a nose. He may be, for all we know, a sour Pharisee, held righteous in proportion to the number of things which he considers sins, an easy soul who does or does not pay his little bills, a kindly person of fluent sympathies, or
In like manner has "vertu" passed utterly out of the universal sparkling Gallic mouth, not only for the reason that the idea which it embodies exists in a somewhat misty (as well as musty) state in the national brain, but because, very likely as a necessary outflow from this fact, it has been dissolved under the pressure of its numerous meanings into free vapor. The person who cultivates "la vertu" may be conceived of as a man who prefers reading the Constitutionnel of an evening to his wife, in slippers, to the society of Lorettes at the Bal au Masque; or again, for aught that we know, he may this moment be looking for medallions of Claudius in green spectacles and Pompeii.
But "the world," word as truly as thing, has held its course. We do not confound "the man of the world" with Humboldt, who has traveled all over it, nor "the ways of the world" with relations to its tumbling around from day to night, and from peri- into aph-elion. We understand every man in the speciality of meaning which he chooses to stamp upon the word, and pass on without further questioning.
With the Geographer it means -- no matter, we know what it means, not having in early youth blasphemed to no purpose the American idea of universal enlightenment over an Atlas. With the Ethnologist it is an affiliation of human manners; with the Philologist, a brotherhood of tongues. The man of society says "the world," and straightway it paints to him, if transatlantic, a vision of Almacks and the Clubs; if cisatlantic, a prodigality of entreés on the Avenue. A circle of spinsters whisper the mystic symbol over souchong, and lo! at uncontaminating distance, a dream of deluded souls dancing into inevitable destruction to a Redowa discoursed from Dodworth's balefully-fascinating tubes. Yet, by a more catholic appreciation than we give to any other word, in each case we catch the full force of the particular idea. O world, as word alone, truly there is no "transit" to thy "gloria."
Yet, from the very ease with which it carries its multiplicity of meaning, we are apt to forget how manifold they really are. We thus lose sight of a truth, than which there is none more actual, that, though we intermarry, walk, talk, and transact business together, we are each of us, this moment, living in a different world.
Even as a mere bald question of the bodily senses, this is beyond a doubt. A is a near sighted man, and has a very defective power of discriminating colors. Like several men whom I know, he may be utterly unable to distinguish the strawberry from its leaf, or, like certain others, to discriminate between the fly on his spectacles and the eagle in the firmament. B, on the other hand, sees ships in the offing before the signal-man has got the focus, and pronounces dogmatically, at a glance, between two shades of blue which do not differ from each other by a tenth. A and B live in two absolutely different sight-worlds.
Again, C perceives no difference between sounds or harmonies. He is, let us say, a celebrated divine whom I have the honor to know. Some years ago, when "Oh Susannah" was triumphantly ushering in the Ethiopian school of composition to popular favor, a roguish daughter of the gentleman happened to be playing that exquisite air upon the piano, and (much as I regret to state it) upon a Sunday morning also. Her father, struck with the novel beauty of the music, although he had heard it fifty times before, asked what it was, and was answered, with a sense of security which based itself upon his peculiar auricular failing, that it was "Greenland's icy mountains."
In the evening all the family were assembled in the parlor, and Dr. ---- asked the fair rogue to play the piece that had so much pleased him in the morning. Of course, by the family, "Oh Susannah" was reckoned among secular melodies, and, to speak popularly, would not "go down." Without a moment's hesitation, Miss ---- awoke the instrument to "Greenland," and the doctor was as perfectly satisfied as he had been ten hours before.
Such a one we will say is C. D, on the contrary, recognizes fifteen gradations between F and G of the natural scale, and whistles every air in Trovatore on his way home from its first performance at the Academy. If an itinerant miller of music, "knowing the wally of peace and quietness," refuses to move under a shilling, he makes over the additional sixpence and thinks it clear gain.
The sound-worlds of C and D are as truly twain as Mars and Jupiter.
But I will not consume the letters of the alphabet in any further analysis of a statement so apparent to the slightest thought. Just briefly, in their relations to the remaining senses, let me set the opposite types apart.
In Touch, on one side stands the artisan who, with his finger, can measure that convexity in a lens which few men could determine by the eye; on the other, the person who scarcely, by his hand, discovers any inequality in a board, provided it be planed. In connection with the former, I might mention such a case as that of Giovanni Gonelli, of Volterra, who, in the seventeenth century, gave to the world the spectacle of a man entirely blind, yet a most accurate sculptor, not alone of his own ideals, but of faces which he only knew by passing his hand over them. Among the likenesses which he left were those, both faithful and beautiful, of Cosmo di Medici, Pope Urban VIII., and the first Charles of England. Yet, though I have refrained, on account of the exceptional nature of this case, I might well adduce other instances of blind dexterity and delicacy of touch far from exceptional.
Again, in Smell, there are innumerable grades between the person in whom it is an absolute lack and the one to whom, our world being unfortunately not a universal spice-grove, it is a source of constant misery. At this moment I am writing but a few feet from a lady who, a day or two ago, assured me that if, by any operation, however painful, she could eradicate her sense of smell without danger, she would willingly submit to it, even though it cost her those rose and jasmine odors in which she delights with more intensity than practical people do in a good dinner.
In Taste we may shade off humanity between the two extremes of an Apicius, desolé on account of the one quarter grain of ambergris more than the receipt in his soup of flamingos' tongues, and the Scotchman who, outside of his herring and his bannocks, is at sea upon all delicate questions of gustative interest.
In Feeling, as defined in the preceding note, the sense, to speak in general terms, of pains and pleasures not comprehended by other organs, the grades are almost innumerable.
There is a case on record of a lady so exquisitely constituted in this respect that the recital of another's pain in any particular member immediately made her feel it acutely in her own. I might offset to this the instance of a person who avowed to me that the extraction of the largest molar give her as little suffering as the scratch of a pin, and she dreaded no possible operation to such an extent as to care to use an anæsthetic. Since she was at all times characteristically matter of fact, and never adorned the blank reality of her ideas with fiction, I had no reason to doubt that she rigorously meant what she said.
Here, then, we see both nature and cultivation making infinite variety in individual acuteness and range of all the senses. In the words of the great Chadband, "What does this teach us?"
There is, no doubt, an objective world, a something external to our perception, and outside of our originating energy, which produces the effects by us called collectively "the world." Yet, in order to become a thing perceived, that something must undergo a modification by our organs, which, after all, makes us as truly actors in the being of the world, for all purposes of perception, as if we had helped to create it. Accordingly as the senses vary, so also will the world vary, becoming all things to all men; and literally the same thing to no two men. So, not metaphorically at all, but in the most restricted sense, every human being of us has his own world which no other man has any conception of, and this, too, with all our senses wide open, and, if you please, looking in the same direction. Only upon abstract mathematical truths, or on the forum of axioms, do we ever come exactly together, and do business with each other by the same balances. Once off of this common ground, and, though we talk about things the same in words, we mean something which we see and feel very differently. The husband does not know exactly how his voice sounds to his wife, nor the wife whether to her husband her face looks precisely as it does to herself in the glass. All that they can be tolerably sure of in their intercourse with one another is that they hit the same general and necessary facts.
But if in the mere bodily senses we find such different worlds, how much more is it the case in our spiritual organism. From the characteristic of this variation we utterly exempt that faculty of direct insight which beholds truths that are necessary and therefore universal. This, which may be called the Intuition of Truth, is not only the same in its perceptions, but pretty nearly equal in its scope among all men. None but idiots, of whatever land or tribe, could fail to see that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, and in the field of ideas to which that belongs there is at present a small harvest of similar facts, and none but men preternaturally exalted have reaped any more from richer heights.
Leave this plane, and we are all irreconcilable again. That which is one man's darling goal in life is the loathing or hatred of his neighbor. We are astonished at each other's attachments; and while we forget the old "de gustibus" aphorism, we forget also another thing whose remembrance would be much more apt to keep us calm than any dogmatic assertion of a fact without its reasons, like that of the proverb. My dear sir, the object of your friend's attachment you do not perceive in the slightest. With the index of a word out of your common dictionary he points in a certain direction. You look, and see something which does not please you. Do not growl for that fact; if he had your spiritual eyes, he would see something that did not please him; had you his, you would see an object as lovable as he himself sees.
The importance of a proposed measure, the value of a certain end to be secured, are utterly different with different individual judgments. The majority which wins the day must not be understood as a body of men who all think alike. Each individual mind composing it sees the question in a light varying by inexpressible shades from that which illuminates each of his colleagues. The majority is nothing more nor less than a collection of minds who, seeing one proposition in certain connections, varying in each case, think they all understand it as the same, and consent to let go their minor views with relation to it for the sake of carrying through that which on the whole they believe to be the best, though for very different ends.
There are philosophers who seriously lament over this infinite variance of perceptions, judgments, and feelings, as if it were the grand obstacle in the track of human perfection.
Deferentially, though candidly, I acknowledge that I think this a mistake. Indeed, the problem of our humanity standing as it does thus -- Given our present nature, and the necessity arising out of it that investigation should be the instrument of acquiring wisdom, what is the best possible contrivance for furthering the operation? I would reply, this very state of omnipresent variance. Supposing that suddenly, and just at the point in all science which we have now reached, the law of mind should change, and, a great average being struck, we should all, not to make an extreme case by saying throughout the world, but merely over its civilized area, henceforward see every thing precisely alike, and precisely alike be affected by every thing which we saw -- it seems to me that a worse calamity could not happen to mankind. The wheels of our spiritual progress now roll somewhat erratically, it is true, as the impulse of the hosts who urge on the chariot is stronger now on this side, now on that, but the resultant of all the forces is a rapid and a forward motion. The check which would ensue to that progress from the coming in of an entire uniformity would be sufficient to retard for centuries the millennium of mind. True, all would push in one direction, but the grand nisus, the energy of ambition, would be lost.
In the contests -- yes, even in the quarrels of opinion, we have a guarantee for the development of truth. Fertility is not the characteristic of unbroken plains; they become the torrid desert or the icy steppe; but it bestows itself upon a grouping of entire opposites; the peaks catch the clouds, and with them water the valleys. As the collision of flint and steel gives fire, so from the crashing together of many adverse views comes out Truth, the bright, the beautiful, the eternal. Let us thank God that human thought and human feeling are not one vast stagnant lake, but a sea whose ever-struggling and colliding waves keep their mass pure, and cleanse the intellectual atmosphere.
Our great need is not a reducing to uniformity, but a purging from all acrimony in our contests, the infusion of a willingness to permit and a readiness to appreciate all those differences of form, which, in every one of our neighbors, opinion must necessarily take. We have not all to bow down at the same shrine, but to respect those of all other men while we worship at our own; to put down the iconoclastic hammer, though not pretending to burn incense before one great average god of sentiment.
This tolerance is yet to be learned, for it is not a remarkably flourishing virtue even of the nineteenth century. Our great advance at this day has been made in the direction of refining our intolerance. For the stake and the dungeon have been substituted the taunt and the sneer, an invective which burns more lingeringly than the former, and a neglect which surpasses the latter in its fatal chill. We have yet to open our ears to the Past, which, up to our present summit of enlightenment and vision, is calling forever, in sad and earnest litany, "By Smithfield and the Lollards' Tower, by the poverty of confiscation and the weariness of banishment, by the blood of Savonarola, and Galileo shut up in prison from his stars, be merciful -- be tolerant!"
There is one excellent result of this great multiplicity of worlds which we seldom value as we ought. Who that of a morning walks up Broadway, in one of the two currents of that hurrying life, does not wonder that all the thousands who are rushing on, each for the sustenance or gratification of self, do not oftener jostle through that very selfishness, that the crowds do not interpenetrate each other with more friction? As a fact, we see them tolerably calm, obliging, and self-continent. As a problem, supposing it given to a philosopher who calculated only upon the data of our well-known human selfishness, could he solve it? Something else is requisite for the solution. We are none of us aiming at precisely the same mark. With no two men do the points on the target exactly coincide. The most similar of us still aim a hair's-breadth out of each other's way, and thus, in the great match, unless intentionally we tread on each others' kibes, there is room for us all.
If we wished to make a general distinctive classification which, in one way or another, would comprehend our whole humanity, living in its different worlds, there are perhaps no two divisions which would so nearly comprehend it all as those of Ideal and Non-Ideal. Each of these forms is a Kosmos by itself, which, from its great interior diversity, might, even as thus coaggregated, be properly translated rather system than world; but for our uses the narrower rendering will do, since all the grander laws of each Kosmos are the same for each of its inhabitants.
By these terms, Ideal and Non-Ideal, we mean very much the same ideas that a poet would get from "Visionary" and "Practical;" but these phrases are not of sufficiently catholic interpretation, the former not justly embodying that sneer, nor the latter that praise, which the language of conversation conveys in them.
We have spoken of the intuitional perception as a common ground for all men, limiting, however, the assertion to that branch of the intuitional which has its object in universal truth, and thus meaning that every body acknowledges an equal force in axioms; and, however we may dispute on other points, all agree that the whole, for instance, is equal to all its parts. Yet there are two other fields of the intuitional, which, so far from their being equally expatiated in by all men, are to some merely known by glimpses, to others, we might almost believe, entirely shut. These are Beauty and Good, higher than Truth, and therefore neither so much needed in our lower affairs, nor so much opened to all mankind by nature or cultivation.
Both the Good and the Beautiful forming each an ideal by itself, for our present purpose we need only treat with the latter. It is in relation to the Beautiful particularly that we wish to exemplify this classification of the Ideal and Non-Ideal.
That beauty is really an ideal, something of the thought inner to us, and not coming in through the passages of the sense from without, is too little perceived in our inaccurate every-day thought, and too little granted even in our moods of calmer philosophy. For this as for so many of our other perversions, we have to thank the sense-theories.
We may examine the matter without a very painful analysis. Treading reverently and softly, as becometh umbræ who intrude upon the privacy of great men, let us steal into Abbotsford, and stand by the chair of Walter Scott, who is looking at a sunset. By his side, upon the floor beneath us, lies that faithful companion of his strolls among the heather, Maida. Since the test we are about to institute demands fairness, we will free our comparison from all imputation of artifice by placing together with the noblest specimen of man the noblest specimen of beast.
Both the poet and the greyhound are looking westward. The same tints fall through the panes upon the faces of both; far up, toward the springs of Tweed, they see the same hills bathed in a dying light, and the clouds that shift above them. Does it surprise us to hear Sir Walter bursting forth in enrapturement; or, truer still, as a meed of the heart to beauty, see him silently gazing toward the sundown with a face which glows and changes, telling more than a thousand lips? But would we be astonished or not if Maida should suddenly give vent to a lyric bark of ecstasy, or even should she refuse to be wheedled from the glories of that view by the whistle of a keeper immemorially associated with dog-meat? Not in the least, you will say; and most people would agree with you; for a hound who appreciated sunsets would be as great a sensation, even in our most nil admirari world, as a cow, who, like Landor, should write feelingly upon green grass, and publish it. He would have the entreé of all literary circles; dinners would be pressed upon him; he would be presented with services of plate; not an album would be without the autograph of this veritable Prince di Canino. Eclipsed in the blinding glory of his eclat, the learned pig would commit suicide by surfeit, and the accomplished fleas end their mortification with their own poison.
But why? A cat may look at a king, why not a dog at a sunset? "Hath not a dog eyes? Hath not a dog paws, organs, dimensions, senses?" Yet, with quite as much astonishment as Shylock asked,
"Hath a dog money? is it possibledo we all inquire, "Can a dog see beauty in a sunset?"
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?"
Anatomically we dissect his eyes, and (especially if he be a gaze-hound) find them far better calculated than man's for length and breadth of vision. In all respects they will compare favorably with the same piece of human organism, granting the latter even at the rarest point of development.
Far deeper than any sense lies this subtle appreciation. There is a something in the outer world which does not impress itself on the retina, and of which the mere visual image is but a type. That which delights us is the peculiar essences of things, and the intangible relation of harmony which the essences, manifold in unity, bear to each other and ourselves. In lakes, and mountains, and sky there is beauty to us, because the same Creator lies behind and continues us all. Sprung from the same source, we have a fitness for each other, arising out of the very fact that in our own souls and the world also creative spirit is making itself manifest; in the tangency of the two there is a delightful communion between spirit and spirit, and for the beast this does not exist, since he is not spirit. This very capability which we possess of expressing this communion in language, shows that it is not through sense that the Beautiful flows in, for what can be conceived as more cruel, more in every way unnatural, than that the hound, with senses like our own, should still be dumbly shut up to an impossibility of expression, if, while standing by our side, he was overburdened with the same loveliness as we? The idea is indeed horrible.
Yet doubtless we may wrong the animal upon the other side. Few of us being willing to carry out the sense philosophy to its ultimate conclusions by giving the dog perception of Beauty equally with ourselves, we often go to the opposite extreme, and rather pity him as a being without gratifications beyond the present bone, hearth-rug, or exciting chase. He very likely enjoys contemplation as much, proportionally to his kind, as we do. Not the contemplation of the beautiful in nature indeed, but of some other characteristic, which has as true a fitness to his constitution as Beauty has to ours. What this is, of course, from the entire difference of our plane of being, we can only conjecture.
It may be something such as this: in the creation there is a capability of sustaining animal life through food, atmosphere, and a variety of means. To us this capability seldom appears except as a logical deduction, in the form of statistics or agricultural history. To the animal it may appear stamped upon all surrounding things; it may be for him the essential truth which they embody, and in trees, herbage, fruitage, he may feel the symbolized principle which prophesies the sustenance of his highest life as our ideals prophesy ours. The Creator, who careth even for sparrows, and will not let them feel themselves unsupported in this great lonely world, may on this lower basis commune with the beast, and by it give him a suggestion of His good-will toward him, which in his case may be the source of an enjoyment measurably keen with our own.
But through the Beautiful He talks with man only, and to him alone the fitness of the conscious and unconscious creations are expressed in this way. It is a memory of the elder time to be cherished, even though it be the memory of something heard only in dreams, that all men long ago, in ages however primeval, realized Beauty, and answered back its thrill with gladness and hymns. Such a remembrance -- yes, if you will say so, even such a dream -- is like some not yet extinguished echo of the Creation strophe and antistrophe, when, on the one side, "the morning stars sang together," and, on the other, "all the sons of God shouted for joy."
Sadly enough, many of the latter band of singers have been struck dumb since that day. It might be painful to read a census, could we get such a thing, of the persons who love or even recognize Beauty, by itself and for its own unmarketable sake. The bulk of such a document would probably depend upon the style of man who went around through humanity to compile it. A poet would make sad work. His best questions would be so analytic as either to render him unintelligible or obnoxious. At some houses he would be answered, "No, I am no visionary;" and at others, "Clear out! Do you mean to insult me? Can not I see Beauty? Isn't this a beautiful day, to be sure, with the sun shining so bright that I can get in all my hay?" At all events, he would come home, without having found it necessary to purchase another valise for the conveyance of his papers.
Whatever may be the reason, it can not be doubted that there is a great difference between men in the appreciation of the subtle characteristic, and in some it seems to be entirely lacking. There is one class of men who exult in beauty, who live in it, whose extreme representatives are willing even to commit all sorts of practical extravagances for its sake. There is another, whose members look at a statue of Phidias, and then at a gate-post, and in both see only something hard, white, and tall.
Yet they both have to live in what is geographically the same world. It is of the ideal man, as representative of the former class, and of some of his relations to that world, that we have to speak. A greater breadth of these relations than might at first sight be supposed is included in the question. Why do ideal men often use narcotics? Indisputably it is ideal men. The fact is there, however great a pity it may be. Let us seek, for a while, an answer to the question.
The wants of the ideal man, while in number less than those of his opposite, in degree are far greater. Dives, as the type of the pure worldly life, is as incapable as guiltless of those vague, unsatisfied longings which he so much censures in a neighbor and discourages in a dependent. All things out of which he can extort pleasure coin themselves for him in a perfectly tangible shape. He is fully satisfied, his wishes need no additional fulfillment to make a complete orb, if his balance strikes accurately at the counting-room, if he can go home behind his own horses when too tired to walk, his dinner is good, his wife handsome, his house comfortable, his daughters well settled, his sons imitating their father. All these requisitions he can lay his hand on; if he could not, his longings would not be vague; he would know what he wanted, and, under ordinary circumstances, could get it in time.
Ariel, on the other hand, is contented with a catalogue of enjoyments in numerical and money value far less. It was not he who originated that sneer upon love in a cottage. He was filled with infinitely more than the mere satisfaction of their material by the woodbine which clambered around his windows, the roses leading from the door-step to the gate, the lake below him, the mountains on the other side, the fruit and the loaf upon his table, and the other cleanly and kindly answers to his domestic needs.
But the tax-gatherer came to spy out the land, the insatiate genius of mill-building looked at the brook which ran by his garden, and pronounced it a "location."
Presently the waters began to run foul with dye and sawdust, gigantic band-wheels spun and hummed where birds had sung; there was a creaking, a dust, a baleful fire night and day, which invaded his library and his dreams. Provisions rose; the simplest fare upon which he had kept together soul and body now stood just where his labors could reach it upon tiptoe.
So strongly, while it does cling, does the body pull upon the soul, that, though we may be spiritually happy without being sumptuous, we can not, at the same time, be spiritual and hungry. At least most of us can not. Into what a glory, looked at through such a fact, does the Massinger tower who, with one hand stiffly holding the wolf at arm's length, with the other can indite the Virgin Martyr. Yes, there have been some such souls after all.
But our Ariel, being of less muscular make, is not among them. His "mind to him a kingdom is," but he is expatriated from it on a foraging expedition; through the jaws of Scylla and Charybdis, starvation on the one hand, and the premature old age of over-wrought energies, he is voyaging in a supply-ship. If even now he could sit still in an occasional lull, and grow better by drinking in beauty, and make other men happier by imparting it to them through words, writing, or kindly offices, he sees only money-utility stamped upon the rivers, and the whole face of nature is staked off into building-lots or manufactory-sites. The features of his goddess have become the "desirable features" for a paper-speculation town.
There are a thousand ways in which his neighbors can evaporate the essence which is all in all to him, while they at the same time give to his scenery a ponderable value which to them is worth far more.
Perhaps, like Southey, he now out and out curses the mills. But this is wrong; for Southey, though a noble poet in spite of the insolence of Byron, was still no great political economist, notwithstanding the opinion of himself. Perhaps, therefore, he only sighs, and moves his household gods to another hearth -- it may be where loneliness will better secure him from disturbance, it may be where labors of his particular kind yield fuller sustenance to the crying wants of life. The pangs of such a moving are little known to any one but himself, or, if he has God's crowning gift in a deep-feeling and congenial wife, to her alone beside him. The men of the world can not hear the groans of the uprooted mandrakes.
There is the hill-top, upon which, first of all visible things, his eyes for so many years have lighted in awaking. It has grown to be to him the only summit over which it could be conceived possible for the sun to rise. There is the lake along whose shores he has led his children, calling them to watch its hues and dimples at evening; along those same shores, mayhap, his father led him. Every tree, as far as the skirt of the horizon, is known to him; he has wandered over every slope; he has dreamed or written suggestions in his note-book upon every crag. The whole scenery has been to him his school, his gymnasium, his holiday-ground. He must leave it all.
And his house -- it was there that he felt upon his forehead, in blessing, the hands of the now long dead; here, many a year ago, he knew man's only peace except death, childhood -- knew it for a little time, while his locks were sunny and the grave shadows yet tarried from his face -- then vanished it away. Hither he led home his new-made wife; here, "into something rich and strange," blossomed that mystic, intangible relation of delights when a child was born to the bosoms which are twain, yet one; here, with his children, in the firelight gambols he kindled the dampened torch of the younger time, and for one evening was a child again.
Here, too, is his library -- that cave in the rock above the world's high tide, set farther in than the surges beat or the winds blow. The tide has reached it now. There are waves and sea-weed on the floor at flood -- they do not all go out at ebb. Where can he read but at that window? Where can he write but on that desk and against that wall? How can the old familiar animus of the place be left behind, unless his own soul, which had grown its twin, stays with it? Yet how can the animus be transported? No, no, it can not. It knows no luggage trains; it is not a thing of drays.
Every where the tentacles of his root must give way with a wrench; the necessity being granted, the pain is inevitable; the only remedy, a manly patience under the irremediable -- the
Ah! unction not in Ariel's pharmacopoeia! He is hurt where such salves will not heal him.
In many a way may the sources of his enjoyment be dried up or imbittered which the world knows not of. The ideal nature is indeed a harp of many wondrous strings, but the airs that play upon it in this life are seldom of the gentlest. The one-stringed Hawaiian guitar of the non-ideal man is easily thrummed, and never lacks tone save when its proper backbone of material well-being is temporarily lax.
If any of us, even the most tender and spiritually appreciative, could understand the various intensity with which this law works out its office in other men of the same nature, we would be much kinder in our judgment of the man who runs to narcotics and other stimulants for relief, while we regarded the habit as no less grievous. Could we, for example, enter thoroughly into the constitution of such a one as Coleridge; could we realize his temptations to the full extent; understand his struggles, and weigh all the forces of the mind which gave him, from his very birth, a perilous tendency, how much oftener with tears than with denunciations of his indolence, his neglect of duties, would we read such memorials of him as have been published, much as the most of those seem directed to bias us in the contrary way.
For it seems as if there has never been a real "Life" of Coleridge. We have had, in abundance, sketches of what he himself might have called his "phenomenal existence." We have the changes of place which he made; the towns in which he lectured; the letters from home which he did not open, and the correspondences for aid in starvation which he did open; the worth, in pounds sterling, of the laudanum which he drank per week; the number of bottles of brandy which he emptied in the same time; the extravagances of his expenditure; his repentings, his concessions to Southey and Cottle. All these are phenomenal -- yea, even the last three. We have external events -- movements of which we do not see the motor. Perhaps it would be impossible to see it from any thing but an autobiography so full, so ab intra, that pain and humiliation would deter him from writing it, were he living. This would be a "Life" of Coleridge; the others are mere results of that life.
Perhaps the best substitute for such a work is to be found in his brief and fragmentary prose works; for, although they have almost nothing of that narrative style which is supposed to be necessary to the legitimate memoirs, they still show us, to a degree unequaled by any thing extant, Coleridge, the Man and the Mind.
A man he was to whom the world of his imagination and his reason was far more than that wherein he reaped his honors and his daily bread. Sensitive as a child to that intangible yet infinite meaning which is expressed in frowns and smiles, in love, scorn, and neglect; by nature gifted with an insight into her excellencies which cultivation and the other circumstances of his progressive being made at times even morbidly acute; living, by the very necessity of his particular inborn law of life, at the very summit of his energies, he had worn out nerve and elasticity at an age when, according to all ordinary judgments which base themselves on insurance averages and statistics of longevity, he should have been in the prime of his life, and battling his way with fortitude to a competency. He exhausted by mighty drafts all his credit at the bank of healthful life, and that is a corporation which never permits us to overdraw. Up to the very last deposit of blood and sinew, nerve and spirit, prompt payment will meet every demand; then comes the crash, and the bankrupt nature is no longer known on 'Change. If all that we know of Coleridge from without, the statement of himself and his contemporaries, did not intimate to us that such was the case with him, we might determine that it would necessarily happen so, à priori, from that which we know of the mental constitution of the man.
He tells us through his memorializer, Cottle, and the other who have written about him, that he first used opium as a remedy for disease -- a painful disease of the legs -- that he found its effects a delicious and perfect relief. Furthermore, that he abandoned it with the completion of his cure, but resumed it upon his finding, with the abandonment, the pains return. That he made several attempts to free himself with the same termination, and at last settled down into the opium-eater which he was for it is impossible to say how many years of his life.
All this we have no reason to doubt. As an alleviative to severe pain the narcotic first became known to him. Yet the secret of its excessive use, the rapidly increasing doses, beyond all the demands of the body for relief -- what was that? Ah! the poet himself would confess that to his mind the indulgence spoke with a fascination far greater than to his physical nature. It was, in fact, the very thing necessary for the replenishment of his exhausted capability of enjoyment.
How is it, we must ask, that opium acts upon the whole organism of a susceptible man? Physically the books of medicine tell us how -- that is, to a certain distance they mark its pathway through digestion, circulation, the sympathetic nerves, and, where it causes death, leave it in an engorgement of the brain.
Probably all these phenomena are the merely external ones; they do not at all give us the mode of its action, after all. At one time, in the course of some experiments, I thought I had reached a little deeper principle of its operation; some singular facts led me to form a theory upon the subject. I will not give it here, since there is not yet a basis of tests broad enough for it to rest upon philosophically. Of all specific actions, that of narcotics is conceded by physicists universally to be one of the most recondite. Hardly any thing is really known about it by the practitioner more than by his unscientific patient. We have mere facts ungrouped about their governing principle.
But mentally we know its working better. Opium supersedes, and, by long continuance in its indulgence, actually extirpates that vital force out of which arise hope, insight into excellencies, fortitude, volition, and volition made permanent in perseverance. It is an artificial energy destructive to all natural; men habituated to it live on when what is called the nervous life is perfectly extinct.
That Coleridge could not have continued to live at all without such energy in some form is evident from the whole constitution of the man. Without the ever-present sensitive perception of spiritual beauty for which such an energy was necessary, house, lands, comfortable family arrangements, the remunerative place in the Quarterly which his friends procured him would have seemed mere eidola. He hungered and thirsted for the spiritual. The world of dreams which he had built up in his "Pantisocracy" had been exhaled under the pressure of daily-bread necessities when to his fortuneless bosom he took a portionless wife. It is impossible that such a nature as his, emptied of the ideal Utopia, should be long void of something else as ideal. And so through all his life we see him forgetting hunger in dreams till it bites him to the heart. Then he starts up to spasmodic exertion, to sleep again in visions when the foe is driven to a respectful distance. Call this wrong, call it undutiful to relationships which he was bound to respect, yet you can not call it indolence. He was not fitted by nature to do the work of a material life, yet higher obligations called him to change his element, and he should have obeyed, against nature. In his own world he was a diligent, a glorious worker -- he was not indolent -- he only wrought out life according to his tendency, his constitutional fitness, and there he sinned.
Yet, oh man of the world! you who are so ready to sneer at Coleridge, let the comparison between him and yourself be put upon fair grounds before we join you in denunciation of the sin. The way in which you state the comparison is this: "Here am I, fighting the world in its roughest forms for a livelihood; there was Coleridge, who would not brace his muscles and fight like me." In another way let us state the case. Suppose yourself and Coleridge translated to that spiritual world where there are no actualities of the precise kind which you cope with. Grant that you each retained the same natural constitution as on earth, with how much ease or willingness would you change your element and labor in his province? It would then be his right to be called the actor; you would be the dreamer, and your dreams would be of things which as little suited his every-day activity as in this world his suited your own. You would be called with stentorian voices to awake to the reality of things -- to dismiss the visionary figments of commerce, manufactures, credit, and capital, and to strive boldly in the arena of thought and art, and other spiritual excellences.
Do you say, "But every man's business is with the world in which he is placed for the time being?" I acknowledge that; but it is a misfortune, an imperfection of the present state. The greatest harmony is that wherein every mind works out most fully its own office. Still, the higher obligation, the moral, called Coleridge to an uncongenial activity, and in not going he was wrong. Remember in an analogous case what you would do; think what a hard thing is the change of element, and then denounce if you can.
Interpreting the opium passage of Coleridge's life by marginal references from all the pages previous, we shall see him more justly, and therefore more gently than by any light thrown upon it as an isolated paragraph, from severe commentaries framed according to a personal and unappreciative standard.
We shall see him first as the boy. The child, as the cut-and-dried biographies have it, of poor but highly respectable parentage, that very strict economy which is so erroneously supposed to educate families into practical habits, cultivated his ideal tendency until it became exquisite. The necessity of a careful use of means in a household is the last of all things to rear its children practically. Extreme poverty, no doubt, from stimulating the very primitive activities of existence, may make a progeny which is intellectually too active to remain in the condition into which it was born, sharp-witted, cautious, provident, business-like in every respect. This fact is frequently to be observed in poor families, where sloth and viciousness do not prevent its occurrence. But the man with moderate means, who in his household affairs must be continually regulating expenditure, has reason to believe that his children, especially the more mentally active of them, will grow up, unless great care is taken, into very unpractical views. The reasoning is something like this:
From earliest consciousness they will be thrown upon their own resources for enjoyment. The expensive toy, the luxurious recreation, will be entirely out of their reach. Yet, as the outwelling child-life must have some outlet, they will not be without toys, without recreation of one kind or another, and they will invent them for themselves. Out of the imagination they will fashion for themselves a domain where the simplest things have some rich meaning, glorified by an ideal excellence, and where all the most extravagant wishes are realized. In their plays they will be kings and queens of a garden-spot, transact weighty diplomatic business on the backs of old letters, and make boundless purchases of territory with pebbles or shells. In this cheap kingdom they will live as all-absorbing a life as the dignitaries whom they counterfeit live in theirs; and, still more, they will contract a bias very difficult to alter as increased years make it necessary. The boy who suddenly awakes to find himself a man finds it hard to believe that his old ideal efforts and ideal pleasures can not, by an elevation of their plane, be made sufficient for the satisfaction of a life-time.
More particularly is this true when, as in the present age, the world of books offers an additional asylum to the active child, to which, unless, both in mind and money, he is very poor indeed, he may retreat for the enjoyment which an outer world does not supply. He is thus reared in an ideal atmosphere until it becomes the nutriment of his very being.
From such a state as this, and through his rough experience of human mercies at the hands of Dr. Bowyer, of Christ's Hospital, we may follow Coleridge on till we find him at Cambridge. How little he was fitted by nature to cope with the stern substantialities of an English University course is to be read in his final abandonment of its honors under the pressure of pecuniary difficulties, and the despair of an impossible attachment, and his enlistment into the Dragoons as a desperate indication of a desperate state of mind. Then succeed the Pantisocracy, marriage without the means of a livelihood, editorship without patrons, and without a single natural qualification for the office except the proverbially unremunerative one of out-speaking sincerity; literary labors of all kinds, from the volume of poems to the political leader, travels upon a pension, communion with German mind in books and men, of all ideal things the most ideal.
At length, by these steps, with here and there a repetition, we reach the period when his opium life commenced. In all fairness, what sort of a training had his whole previous existence been for a calm looking at the dangers of the fascinating indulgence, for a rejection of its temptation?
I dare to affirm that there is many a man who, when jaded by the day's labor, throws himself down to be refreshed by music, who in such an indulgence is committing no greater sin of intention than Coleridge committed when, coming weary from a life-time, he abandoned himself to the enjoyment of that dangerous beauty which absolute necessities and spent vitality forbade him to look for in the external world. You and I, my reader, should we abandon ourselves to the opium indulgence, would know fully the wrong we were committing; Coleridge had not any definite idea. Bitterly did he repent it afterward; but his sorrow arose rather out of the terrible results of his course than from any self-recrimination, even in his sensitive mind, of malice aforethought.
But whether, in the case of any opium-eater, the habit be or be not contracted with a full knowledge of its evil, there is but one view which we can take of the fruitlessness of struggles made for disenthrallment at a later period of his career. That fruitlessness is not to be treated with contempt as evidence of a cowardly lack of self-denial which prevents the man from breaking the meshes of a bondage grown delightful to him. We are called rather to look upon the agonies of one who, in a nightmare-dream of fearful precipices, has not the power of volition to draw himself from the edge; we must pity -- deeply pity. The protracted use of opium, not by any metaphor, but in a sense as rigorous as that of paralysis, utterly annihilates the power of will over action.
It is no mere cloak of apology which I would throw over those unfortunates who, after ineffectual attempts at being free, have subsided again into indulgence; it is actual fact that, in the horrors and the debility resulting from the disuse of the narcotic, its sufferers are no more responsible for their acts than the insane. When every man is a Scævola, and can hold his hand in the flames till it is consumed, then may we expect men to endure the unrelieved tortures of opium-abandonment to their end in enfranchisement. Who of us would hold himself responsible for withdrawing his hand from the fire? I fancy the best of our martyrs, willing as they were to die for their cause, would have leaped out if they had not been chained among the fagots.
So far from extenuating the wrong of narcotics and stimulants, I believe myself only proclaiming (and I would it were with a thousand tongues) the perils into which they lead, as the most striking exponent of that wrong. This very emasculation of the will itself, while it may not produce the sensation of a detail of horrible visions, is in reality the most terrible characteristic of the injury wrought by these agents. A spiritual unsexing as it is, it vitiates all relations of life which exist to its victim; by submitting to it he sows a harvest of degradation, which involves in its mildewed sheaves manly fortitude, hopefulness, faith of promises, all the list of high-toned principles which are the virile -- yes, still more broadly -- the human glory.
To this truth let a spirit so essentially noble as Coleridge witness, agonized by the shame of those subterfuges which were necessary sometimes to procure the indulgence that had become to him the very nutriment of his being.
It is vain for us to shut our eyes to the fact that opium-eating in all countries is an immense and growing evil. In America peculiarly it is so, from the constitution of our national mind. An intense devotion to worldly business in our representative man often coexists with a stifled craving for something higher. Beginning, for the sake of advancement, at an age when other nations are still in the playground or the schoolroom, he continues rising early and lying down late in the pursuit of his ambition to a period when they have retired to the ease of travel or a villa. Yet from the very fact that his fathers have done this before him, he inherits a constitution least of all fitted to bear those drafts upon it.
The question of his breaking down is only one of time. Sometimes it happens very early; and then not only does an exhausted vitality require to be replenished, but the long-pent-up craving for a beauty of which business activity has said, "It is not in me," rises from its bonds, and, with a sad imperativeness, asks satisfaction.
How hard is it now to unlearn that habit of hasty execution which had been the acquirement of his whole previous life! The demands of business had always met from him with rapid dispatch; this complex craving must be answered as rapidly. The self-denial of recreation, abandonment of care, well-regulated regimen, might gradually restore to him health, and, with it, the elastic capacity for receiving happiness. He can not wait; the process is too slow. And the only immediate infusion of energy must be the artificial; the devil stands at his ear, and suggests opium. From that moment begins the sad, old, inevitable tale of the opium-eater's life.
Alas! it is no rare one with us. The inhabitant of the smallest village need hardly go out of his own street to hear it, and the unknown wretched who hide their shame, first in sad family hearts, last in the unwhispering grave, are even more in number, doubtless, than the known.
The only effort which can be made by a man of good feeling to his race is to suggest some means of escape to those who feel their bondage. For the terror of beginners, enough both of precept and example has been diffused widely at the present day, if that would do any good. I would not be satisfying my convictions of right did I not add to any denunciation of the habit some index toward freedom; for I believe there are many men, perhaps some who will read these words, who would escape from the opium slavery at any expense of effort, provided that the lethal stupor of their energies could be removed. Where there is one man who, like De Quincey, can at last get free by his own unaided struggle, there are a thousand to whom help from without is an absolute necessity.
It was my happiness, very soon after breaking away from the hasheesh thraldom, to make the acquaintance of a gentleman whose experience of narcotics from eye-witness in their particular mother-countries, added to the capabilities which he possessed, as a medical man, for philosophizing upon such experience, interested me much in speaking with him. It had been his good fortune to meet with some singularly inordinate opium-eaters, who were in utter despair of recovery, and, still better, it was his blessing to effect a permanent and radical cure. In one case with which I became acquainted, the patient had reached a higher point of daily indulgence than De Quincey at his most desperate stage, and had seemingly lost all constitutional basis for restoration to work upon. Yet the restoration was effected. I owe it not less to a proper good-will to humanity than to gratitude on the part of men to say who this physician was. Sincerely desirous of being in some way instrumental in the cure of a bondage which, if not my own, was, at least, so near akin to it that I can deeply sympathize with its oppressed, I give a name whose betrayal in these pages violates no secrecy to the public, while it may do a great good -- Dr. J. W. Palmer, of Roslyn, Long Island, the author-surgeon, late of the Honorable East India Company's Service, and of "The Golden Dagon," to which I have referred. *
"Labyrinths and Guiding Threads"
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