Frederic William Henry Myers.

Human personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) online

. (page 41 of 89)
Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 41 of 89)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


be definite traces of a new environment of Life and Thought ; traces of
the mutual action of minds, embodied and unembodied, in apparent
independence of matter.

I must not here follow our imagined inquirer further ; but surely we
leave him launched upon a series of observations and experiments which
have no inherent flaw in their basis, and no assignable limit to their
scope.

I have dwelt at some length upon this line of argument, because I
think that, in some form or other, it is our duty to have it always forth-
coming, our duty to set it before the world in varying expression, until our
age is really convinced that this great branch of knowledge, which deals
with things unseen, can form no exception to those rules by which
experience shows us that all valid knowledge has hitherto been won. So
confident, indeed, do I feel in this gradual but certain method of approach
in this open, unfrequented way that even if it had thus far failed to
lead us to any discovery, I should feel bound to pursue it still. But it
has not failed. This persistent analysis of unexplored faculty has revealed
to us already far more than I, for one, had ever dared to hope. I may
surely say with no more than the licensed exaggeration of epigram, that
our method has revealed to us a hidden world within us, and that this
hidden world within us has revealed to us an invisible world without.

Within each man, I say, there is a world of thought and of perception
which lies outside the margin, beneath the threshold, deeper than the
surface-tension of his conscious being.

" We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea."

We at any rate were among the earliest to attempt to explore and map
out that strange, submerged region half lumber-room and half king's-
treasury where amid things outworn lie things unborn, and possibilities
of our unimaginable Future lurk among the exuviae of our immemorable
Past. And yet in this confusion all is implicitly congruous and con-
secutive ; each trace of faculty, whether it lie behind our actual stage of



300 CHAPTERX [App. A

progress or before, belongs to a series of developments of personality
whose terms have no assignable limit ; a series which carries us onward
without a break, from dream and hallucination and bewilderment, up to
the utterances of discarnate spirits and the visions of ecstasy.

For, in truth, from the mind's inward vision we may learn more than
from the seeing of the eye ; from inward audition more than from the
hearing of the ear. The automatisms which steal their way upward from
hidden depths to manifestation amid man's sensory perceptions and
voluntary acts are found on analysis to contain elements of knowledge not
attainable in any normal fashion. Such knowledge is shown in telepathic
messages between living men, and in apparitions which tell of men dying,
and in evidential messages from men whom we call dead. All this in
Phantasms of the Living and in fourteen volumes of Proceedings I claim
that we have adequately shown. And of late years we have advanced
and consolidated these fragmentary and fugitive indications of the spirit's
survival by certain records of trance- phenomena and spirit-possession ;
records as yet inchoate and imperfect, yet which must needs be faced and
dealt with by all serious men.

But here I must needs stay a moment to prevent any misunder-
standing. Throughout this address, of course, I am speaking for myself
alone. I am not giving utterance to any collective view, but to my
own view of the general drift and result of our collective action. But at
this point I know that most even of those who may have gone with me
thus far will and quite justifiably suspend their adhesion. Few even
of my own colleagues have had full reason to believe that matter of real
importance has yet been received from behind the veil, and in the world
at large the general impression that even those messages which look
evidentially as though they had come from discarnate spirits are yet
practically futile and incoherent is strongly and naturally operative in
checking public interest in what seems so strangely baffling a research.

I will not now protest, as I might protest, against the accuracy of this
general impression of the actual facts. Accepting it for the sake of argu-
ment, I will confine myself to one simple line of a priori reasoning, which
seems to me sufficient to show what, in the supposed case, is our plain,
scientific duty. I say, then, that if once it be admitted, as we are now
assuming, for argument's sake, that it is admitted, that it is evidentially
probable that some of these messages do indeed, in however indirect or
confused a manner, emanate from an unseen world, then it is a
blasphemy against the faith of Science to doubt that they must ulti-
mately prove to be of serious, of supreme importance.

The faith to which Science is sworn is a faith in the uniformity, the
coherence, the intelligibility of, at any rate, the material universe.
Science herself is but the practical development of this mighty postulate.
And if any phenomenon on which she chances on her onward way seems
arbitrary, or incoherent, or unintelligible, she does not therefore suppose



App. A] APPENDIX A 301

that she has come upon an unravelled end in the texture of things ; but
rather takes for granted that a rational answer to the new problem must
somewhere exist; an answer which will be all the more instructive
because it will involve facts of which that first question must have
failed to take due account.

This faith in the uniformity of material Nature formulates itself in two
great dogmas, for such they are ; the dogma of the Conservation of
Matter, and the dogma of the Conservation of Energy. Of the Con-
servation of Matter, within earthly limits, we are fairly well assured ;
but of the Conservation of Energy the proof is far less complete, simply
because Energy is a conception which does not belong to the material
world alone. Life is to us the most important of all forms of activity ;
of energy, I would say, except that we cannot transform other energies
into Life, nor measure in foot-pounds that directive force which has
changed the face of the world. Life comes we know not whence ; it
vanishes we know not whither ; it is interlocked with a moving system
vaster than that we know. To grasp the whole of its manifestation we
should have to follow it into an unseen world. Yet scientific faith bids us
believe that there, too, there is continuity ; and that the past and the future
of that force which we discern for a moment are still subject to universal
Law.

Believing, then, that the whole Cosmos is such as to satisfy the claims
of human Reason, we are irresistibly led to ask whether it satisfies other
claims of our nature which are as imperious as Reason itself. Infinite
Intelligence would see the Cosmos as infinitely intelligent; but would
infinite Goodness also see it as infinitely good ?

We know too well the standing difficulties in the way of such an
assumption. They are that which we call Evil, and that which we see
as Death. Now as to Evil, which for us here and now seems so inefface-
able a blot on the idea of Omnipotence, we can perhaps nevertheless just
conceive that for the Cosmotheorus all these defects and incompatibilities
of human impulse and sensibility may seem as relatively infinitesimal in
the unimaginable Sum of Things, as for us are the whirl and clashing of
molecules in the dewdrop, which cannot mar for our vision its crystalline
calm.

Hut death, as it presents itself to us, cannot be similarly explained
away. If it be really, as it seems, a sheer truncation of moral progress,
absolute alike for the individual and for the race, then any human
conception of a moral universe must simply be given up. We are shut in
land-locked pools ; why speak to us of an infinite sea?

What, then, should be the impulse, what the faith of Science, if she
finds even the least reason to suspect that this truncation is in fact
illusory ; that on the moral side also there is conservation and persist-
ence ; conservation not only of such ether-vortices as we assume to
underlie our visible matter, but of the spiritual systems or syntheses



302 CHAPTERX [App. A

which underlie the personalities of men? persistence not only of crude
transformable energies, but of those specific non-transformable energies
which inform a Plato or a Newton, and which seem the only commen-
surate object towards which the whole process Jof evolution can tend?
Surely in such a case, whatever dreaminess or confusion may mark the
opening of intercourse with worlds indefinitely remote, Science should
summon all her fundamental trust in the coherence, the intelligibility of
things, to assure her that the dreaminess must pass and the confusion
clear, and that the veriest rudiment of communication between world and
world bears yet the promise of completing and consummating her own
mighty dogmas, of effecting a unification of the universe such as she has
never ventured to hope till now? What are our petty human preconcep-
tions worth in such a case as this ? If it was absurd to refuse to listen to
Kepler, because he bade the planets move in no perfect circles, but in
undignified ellipses ; because he hastened and slackened from hour to
hour what ought to be a heavenly body's ideal and unwavering speed ;
is it not absurder still to refuse to listen to these voices from afar, because
they come stammering and wandering as in a dream confusedly, instead
of with a trumpet's call? because spirits that bend nigh to earth may
undergo, perhaps, an earthly bewilderment, and suffer unknown limita-
tions, and half remember us and half forget?

Nay ! in the end it is not for us to choose ; we needs must join in
this communion with what grace we may. We cannot, if we would,
transform ourselves into the mere cynical spectators of an irrational
universe. We are part and parcel of these incredible phenomena ; our
own souls shall soon be feeling the same attraction, the same hesitancy,
upon the further shore.

" I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the song the Brahman sings."

Let us do what we can, then, to dignify the situation. Let us try,
then, whether a more serious response on our part may enable the senders
of the messages to speak with clearer voice. To whose care indeed has
such response been hitherto for the most part left? May not the in-
stances where adequate precautions have been taken, adequate record
made, be counted on the fingers of one hand ? Might not our unseen
correspondents turn the tables on us when we complain of their incapacity,
and ask whether it was worth while to do better for the " domestic muffs "
of Mme. Blavatsky's far-famed cenacle, or for the sitters at the " materiali-
sation stances " of the " Vampires of Onset "?

Assuredly we modern men have taken, in other quarters, more trouble
than here is needed, with far less hope of reward. What has given its
worth to the study of comparative religions except our steady effort to
comprehend and to co-ordinate such childish and stammering utterances
as have marked the rise in one nation after another of those spiritual needs



App. A] APPENDIX A 303

and conceptions which make in the end the truest unity of the race of
man ? What should we have learnt from the Vedas, from the Book of the
Dead nay, from the Christian records themselves had we approached
those sacred texts in the spirit alternately of Simple Simon and of
Voltaire ?

The time, I think, is ripe for a generalisation wider than any which
those ancient books contain. For just as a kind of spiritual fusion of
Europe under Roman sway prepared the way for Christianity to become
the European religion, so now also it seems to me that a growing concep-
tion of the unity, the solidarity, of the human race is preparing the way
for a world- religion which expresses and rests upon that solidarity;
which conceives it in a fuller, more vital fashion than either Positivist or
Catholic had ever dreamed. For the new conception is neither of bene-
factors dead and done for, inspiring us automatically from their dates in
an almanac, nor, of shadowy saints imagined to intercede for us at
Tribunals more shadowy still ; but rather of a human unity, close-linked
beneath an unknown Sway, wherein every man who hath been or now
is makes a living element ; inalienably incorporate, and imperishably co-
operant, and joint-inheritor of one infinite Hope.

Of course, I am not here supposing that any human gaze can pierce
deeply into the world unseen. Such communion as we may hold with
spirits in any degree comparable with ourselves must needs be on a level
far beneath the lowest of "Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues,
Powers " ; nay, must be in the very vestibule and antechamber of the
outermost of the courts of Heaven. These souls of ours are but infantum
anima flentes in limine prime; the first and humblest conscious links in
a wonderful order ; trembling still and half-bewildered at a future vaster
than we know. I do not presume to forecast what we may come in time
to learn ; I only say that for the present hour there will be enough of
motive to urge us to utmost effort to rise in the scale of being, if we can
once be certain that such noble spirits as we have known by earthly inter-
course or earthly record do still concern themselves with our progress, and
still from their higher vantage-ground call to us that all is well.

Men objected of old to Copernicus that if our earth really swept
round the sun in so vast an orbit, there should be an apparent displace-
ment a parallax in the position of the fixed stars. Such parallax was
long sought in vain ; till at last advancing skill detected it in some few
stars nearer than the rest ; and our relation to these near luminaries proved
to us our veritable voyage through the star-strewn deep. Perhaps in the
spiritual world as well we have strained our gaze too exclusively on
luminaries that are beyond the parallactic limit ; and eyes turned steadily
on some nearer brightness may teach us at last our kinship and community
in the firmament of souls.

Not, then, with tears and lamentations should we think of the blessed
dead. Rather we should rejoice with them in their enfranchisement, and



304 CHAPTER X [App. A

know that they are still minded to keep us as sharers in their joy. It is
they, not we, who are working now ; they are more ready to hear than we
to pray; they guide us as with a cloudy pillar, but it is kindling into
steadfast fire.

Nay, it may be that our response, our devotion, is a needful element
in their ascending joy ; and God may have provided some better thing for
us, that they without us should not be made perfect ; ut non sine nobis
consummarentur,

To most of my hearers I doubt not that this forecast of a
coming co-operation between incarnate and discarnate spirits will have
seemed speculative and premature. My defence is that I believe that
upon our own attitude towards these nascent communications their
progress and development depend, so that we cannot too soon direct
serious attention to the high responsibilities opening on our view. And
now yet another practical question is ready, I think, for immediate
discussion. All great changes in speculative belief must modify in some
way man's immediate duty. In what way must our idea of duty be
modified, be expanded, if a religion is offered to us which no longer
depends on tradition and intuition only, but on reason also and on experi-
ment ; which is not locked away in an emotional compartment of our
being, nor adapted to the genius of special races alone, but is oecumenical
as Science is oecumenical, is evolutionary as Science is evolutionary, and
rests on a permanent and provable relationship of the whole spiritual to
the whole material world?

No full answer to such a question can as yet be attempted or divined.
But one point is clear ; and on that point it is already urgently necessary
to insist. We must maintain, in old theological language, that the intel-
lectual virtues have now become necessary to salvation. Curiosity, candour,
care ; these are the intellectual virtues ; disinterested curiosity, unselfish
candour, unremitting care. These virtues have grown up outside the
ecclesiastical pale ; Science, not Religion, has fostered them ; nay,
Religion has held them scarcely consistent with that pious spirit which
hopes to learn by humility and obedience the secrets of an unseen world.
Here surely our new ideals suggest not opposition but fusion. To us as
truly as to monk or anchorite the spiritual world is an intimate, an inter-
penetrating reality. But its very reality suggests the need of analysis, the
risk of misinterpretation ; the very fact that we have outgrown our sacer-
dotal swaddling-clothes bids us learn to walk warily among pitfalls which
call for all the precautions that systematic reason can devise.

Upon a new scheme of beliefs, attractive to the popular mind as the
scheme which I prefigure, a swarm of follies and credulities must inevit-
ably perch and settle. Yet let those who mock at the weaknesses of
"modern Spiritualism" ask themselves to what extent either orthodox
religion or official science has been at pains to guard the popular mind
against losing balance upon contact with new facts, profoundly but



App. A] APPENDIX A 305

obscurely significant. Have the people's religious instructors trained
them to investigate for themselves ? Have their scientific instructors con-
descended to investigate for them ? Who should teach them to apply to
their " inspirational speakers " any test more searching than they have
been accustomed to apply to the sermons of priest or bishop? What
scientific manual has told them enough of the hidden powers within them
to prevent them from ascribing to spiritual agency whatever mental action
their ordinary consciousness may fail to recognise as its own?

The rank and file of Spiritists have simply transferred to certain new
dogmas for most of which they at least have some comprehensible
evidence the uncritical faith which they were actually commended for
bestowing on certain old dogmas, for many of which the evidence was
at least beyond their comprehension. In such a case ridicule is no
remedy. The remedy lies, as I have said, in inculcating the intellectual
virtues ; in teaching the mass of mankind that the maxims of the modern
savant are at least as necessary to salvation as the maxims of the mediaeval
saint.

Now here, I take it, lies the special, the characteristic duty of the
Society for Psychical Research. It is a duty far wider than the mere
exposure of fraud ; far wider than the mere production of specimens of
patient and intelligent investigation. Our duty is not the founding of a
new sect, nor even the establishment of a new science, but is rather the
expansion of Science herself until she can satisfy those questions which
the human heart will rightly ask, but to which Religion alone has thus far
attempted an answer. Or rather, this is the duty, the mission, of the
coming century's leaders of spiritual thought. Our own more special
duty is to offer through an age of transition more momentous than man-
kind has ever known, that help in steadying and stimulating psychical
research all over the world which our collective experience should enable
us richly to bestow. Such function ought, I say, to be ours indeed. We
alone have taken the first steps to deserve it. I see our original pro-
gramme completely justified. I see our raison d'ttre indisputably estab-
lished. I see all things coming to pass as we foresaw. What I do not
see, alas ! is an energy and capacity of our own, sufficient for our widening
duty ; enough of labourers for the vineyard so ripe for harvest. Speaking,
if so I may, for the remnant of that small company of labourers of the
first hour of the day, I must confess that our strength, at least, cannot
suffice for the expanding task ; nay, could not so suffice, even if Edmund
Gurney were with us still ; non, si ipse meus nunc adforet Hector. Other
workers, good men and true, have joined themselves to us ; but we have
need of many more. We invite them from each department of science,
from every school of thought. With equal confidence we appeal for
co-operation to savant and to saint.

To the savant we point out that we are not trying to pick holes in
the order of Nature, but rather, by the scrutiny of residual phenomena,
VOL. n. u



3 o6 CHAPTER X [App. A

to get nearer to the origin and operation of Nature's central mystery of
Life. Men who realise that the etherial environment was discovered
yesterday, need not deem it impossible that a metetherial environment
yet another omnipresent system of cosmic law should be discovered
to-morrow. The only valid a priori presumption in the matter is the
presumption that the Universe is infinite in an infinite number of ways.

To the Christian we can speak with a still more direct appeal. " You
believe," I would say, " that a spiritual world exists, and that it acted on
the material world two thousand years ago. Surely it is so acting still !
Nay, you believe that it is so acting still ; for you believe that prayer is
heard and answered. To believe that prayer is heard is to believe in
telepathy, in the direct influence of mind on mind. To believe that
prayer is answered is to believe that unembodied spirit does actually
modify (even if not storm-cloud or plague-germ) at least the minds, and
therefore the brains, of living men. From that belief the most advanced
' psychical ' theories are easy corollaries. You may reply, indeed, that the
Church or the Bible has told men all of the unseen world that they need
to know, and that whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil. What
say you to this argument when it is retorted on you by Omar with his
Koran?"

But let us cease to speak as though the infinite Unseen World were a
mere preserve or battleground of theologies. If every dogma ever pro-
mulgated from the Vatican were literal truth, Science would still affirm
that scarcely anything of that world was known. If Religion be more
than " the guess of a worm in the dust, and the shadow of its desire," it
must be (I say once more) the spirit's normal answer to objective fact.
The Cosmos is what it is, and Revelation can do no more than reveal it.
Holiness itself must be the reflection of a reality behind the veil. If this
be so, then Science has come not to destroy but to fulfil ; Religion must
needs evolve into Knowledge ; for Religion can in no age admit an aim
narrower than the prayer of Cleanthes, the willing response of the soul
to all she knows of cosmic law.

Out of the long Stone Age our race is awakening into consciousness
of itself. We stand in the dawn of history. Behind us lies a vast and
unrecorded waste the mighty struggle humanam condere gentem. Since
the times of that ignorance we have not yet gone far ; a few thousand
years, a few hundred thinkers, have barely started the human mind upon
the great aeons of its onward way. It is not yet the hour to sit down in
our studies and try to eke out Tradition with Intuition as one might be
forced to do in a planet's senility, by the glimmer of a fading sun.
Daphni, quid antiques signorum suspicis ortus ? The traditions, the in-
tuitions of our race are themselves in their infancy; and before we
abandon ourselves to brooding over them let us at least first try the
upshot of a systematic search for actual facts. For what should hinder?
If our inquiry lead us first through a jungle of fraud and folly, need that



App. B] APPENDIX B 307

alarm us? As well might Columbus have yielded to the sailors' panic,
when he was entangled in the Sargasso Sea. If our first clear facts about
the Unseen World seem small and trivial, should that deter us from the
quest ? As well might Columbus have sailed home again, with America
in the offing, on the ground that it was not worth while to discover a
continent which manifested itself only by dead logs.

One final word to each main division of our critics ; to those first who
have been disappointed so often that they refuse to listen to any further
promise of news from the Unseen ; and then to those who, relying on
some grander revelation, whether received from without them or from
within, disdain our slow, collective process and comminuted fragments
of truth. I would remind the Agnostic that a pike was once kept in the
same tank with a perch. There was at first a sheet of glass between them,
and the pike bruised his nose so often in snapping at the perch, that in



Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 41 of 89)