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Chiefly Papers on the Imagination
and on Shakespeare








SINCK printing throughout the title Orts, a doubt
has arisen in my mind as to its fitting the
nature of the volume. It could hardly, however,
be imagined that I associate tha idea of tuorth-
lessnesa with the work contained in it. No one
would insult his readers by offering them what
he counted valueless scraps, and telling them
they were such. These papers, those two even
which were caught in the net of the ready-writer
from extempore utterance, whatever their merits
in themselves, are the results of by no means
trifling labour. So much a man ought to be able
to say for his work. And hence I might defend,
if not quite justify my title for they are but
fragmentary presentments of larger meditation.
My friends at least will accept them as such,
whether they like their collective title or not,



The title of the last is not quite suitable. It is
that of the religious newspaper which reported
the sermon. I noted the fact too late for cor-
rection. It ought to be True Greatness.

The paper on The Fantastic Imagination had
its origin in the repeated request of readers for
an explanation of things in certain shorter stories
I had written. It forms the preface to an
American edition of my so-called Fairy Tales.


Avguit 5, 1893.





ST. GEORGE'S DAY, 1564 77













1 HERE are in whose notion education would
seem to consist in the production of a
certain repose through the development
of this and that faculty, and the de-
pression, if not eradication, of this and that other
faculty. But if mere repose were the end in view, ail
unsparing depression of all the faculties would be the
surest means oi' approaching it, provided always the
animal instincts could be depressed likewise, or, better
still, kept in a state oi constant repletion. Happily,
however, for the human race, it possesses in the
passion of hunger even, a more immediate saviour
than in the wisest selection and treatment of its
faculties. For repose is not the end of education ; its
end is a noble unrest, an ever renewed awaking from
the dead, a ceaseless questioning of the past for the
interpretation of the future, an urging on of the
motions of life, which had better far be accelerated
into fever, than retarded into lethargy.

By those who consider a balanced repose the end
of culture, the imagination must necessarily be .




garded as the one faculty before all others to bo sup-
pressed. "Are there not facts?" say they. "Why
forsake them for fancies ? Is there not that which
may be known? Why forsake it for inventions 1
What God hath made, into that let man inquire."

We answer : To inquire into what God has made
is the main function of the imagination. It is aroused
by facts, is nourished by facts, seeks for higher and yet
higher laws in those facts ; but refuses to regard science
as the sole interpreter of nature, or the laws of science
as the only region of discovery.

We must begin with a definition of the word
imaginntiini, or rather some description of the faculty
to which we give tho oaaio.

The word itself means an imaging or a making of
likenesses. The imagination is that faculty which
gives form to thought not necessarily uttered form,
but form capable of being uttered in shape or in sound,
or in any mode upon whicli the senses can lay hold.
It i?, therefore, that faculty in man which is likest to
the prime operation of the power of God, and has,
therefore, been called the crentiM faculty, and its
exercise creation. Pod means nwlcer. We must not
forget, however, that between creator and poet lies the
one unpassable gulf which distinguishes far be it
from us to say divides all that is God's from all that
is man's ; a gulf teeming with infinite revelations, but
a gulf over wliL-h no man can pass to iind out God,
although God needs not to pass over it to Iind man;
the gulf between that whi<-h rail*, and that which
is thus called into being; between that which makes in


its own image and that which is made in that image.
It is better to keep the word creation for that calling
out of nothing which is the imagination of God ; except
it be as an occasional symbolic expression, whose daring
fe fully recognized, of the likeness of man's work to
the work of his maker. The necessary unlikeness
between the creator and the created holds within it the
equally necessary likeness of the thing made to him
who makes it, and so of the work of the made to the
work of the maker. When therefore, refusing to em-
ploy the word creation of the work of man, we yet use
the word imagination of the work of God, we cannot
be said to dare at all It is only to give the name of
man's faculty to that power after which and by which
it was fashioned. The imagination of man is made in
the image of the imagination of God. Everything of
man must have been of God first ; and it will help
much towards our understanding of the imagination
and its functions in man if we first succeed in regarding
aright the imagination of God, in which the imagina-
tion of man lives and moves and has its being.

As to what thought is in the mind of God ere it
takes form, or what the form is to him ere he utters it ;
in a word, what the consciousness of God is in either
case, all we can say is, that our consciousness in
the resembling conditions must, afar off, resemble his.
But when we come to consider the acts embodying the
Divine thought (if indeed thought and act bo not with
him one and the same), then wo enter a region of large
difference. We discover at once, for instance, that
where a man would make a machine, or a picture, or a
B 2


book, God makes the man that makes the tooolc, or the
picture, or the machine. Would God give us a drama?
Ho makes a Shakespere. Or would he construct a
drama more immediately his own ? He begins with
the building of the stage itself, and that stage is a
world a universe of worlds. lie makes the actors, and
they do not act, they are their part. He utters them
into the visible to work out tlieir life his drama.
When he would have an epic, he scuds a thinking hero
into his drama, and the epic is the soliloquy of his
Hamlet. Instead of writing his lyrics, he sets his birds
and his maidens a-singing. All the processes of the
ages are God's science ; all the flow of history is his
poetry. His sculpture is no!/ in marble, but in living
and speech-giving forms, which pass away, not to yield
place to those that come after, but to be perfected in a
nobler studio. What he has done remains, although it
vanishes ; and he never either forgets what he has
once done, or does it even once again. As the thoughts
move in the mind of a man. so move the worlds of
men and womeu in the mind of God, and make no
confusion there, for thote they had their birth, tho
offspring of his imagination. Man is but a thought of

If \vc now consider the so-called creative faculty in
man, we shall find that in no primary sense is this
faculty creative. Indeed, a is rather being thought
than ti/inkiny, when a new thought arises in his mind.
He knew it not till he found it tlxTe, therefore he
could not even have sent for it. He did not create it,
else how could it bo tho surprise that it was wiiea it


arose t He may, indeed, in rare instances foresee that
something is coming, and make ready the place for its
birth ; but that is the utmost relation of consciousness
and will he can bear to the dawning idea. Leaving
this aside, however, and turning to the embodiment or
revelation of thought, we shall find that a man no more
creates the forms by which he would reveal his thoughts,
than he creates those thoughts themselves.

For what are the forms by means of which a man
may reveal his thoughts? Are they not those of
nature? But although he is created in the closest
sympathy with these forms, yet even these forms are
not born in his mind. What springs there is the per-
ception that this or that form is already an expression
of this or that phase of thought or of feeling. For the
world around him is an outward figuration of the con-
dition of his mind ; an inexhaustible storehouse of
forms whence he may choose exponents the crystal
pitchers that shall protect his thought and not need to
be broken that the light may break forth. The mean-
ings are in those forms already, else they could be no
garment of unveiling. God has made the world that
it should thus serve his creature, developing in the
service that imagination whose necessity it meets.
The man has but to light the lamp within the form :
his imagination is the light, it is not the form.
Straightway the shining thought makes the form
visible, and becomes itself visible through the form. 1

2 Wo would not be understood to ay that tho man works
consciously even iu this. Oftentimes, if not always, lao
vision arises in the mind, thought and form together.


In illustration of what we mean, take a passage from
the poet Shelley.

In his poem Adonais, written upon the death of
Keats, representing death as the revealer of secrets, he
says :

" The one remains ; the many change and pass j

Heaven's light for over shines; earth's shadows flyf

Life, like a dome of many coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity,

Until death tramples it to fragments."

This is a new embodiment, certainly, whence he who
gains not, for the moment at least, a loftier feeling of
death, must be dull either of heart or of understanding.
But has Shelley created this figure, or only put together
its parts according to the harmony of truths already
embodied in each of the parts ? For first ho takes the
inventions of his fellow-men, in glass, in colour, in
dome: with these he represents life as finite though
elevated, and as an analysis although a lovely one.
Next he presents eternity as the dome of the sky above
this dome of coloured glass the sky having ever been
regarded as the true symbol of eternity. This portion
of the figure he enriches by the attribution of white-
ness, or unity and radianco. And last, lie shows us
Death as the destroying revealer, walking aloft through
the upper region, treading out this life-buhbli of
colours, that the man may look beyond it and behold
the true, the uncoloured, the all-coloured.

But although the human imagination ha* no choice
but to make use of the forms already prepared for it,


its operation is the same as that of the divine inasmuch
s it does put thought into form. And if it be to man
what creation is to God, \ve must expect to find it
operative in every sphere of human activity. Such is,
indeed, the fact, and that to a far greater extent than
is commonly supposed.

The sovereignty of the imagination, for instance,
over the region of poetry will hardly, in the present
day at least, be questioned ; but not every one is pre-
pared to be told that the imagination has had nearly
ae much to do with the making of our language as with
" Macbeth " or the " Paradise Lost." The half of our
language is the work of the imagination.

For how shall two agree together what name they
shall give to a thought or a feeling How shall the
one show the other that which is invisible 1 True, he
can unveil the mind's construction in the face that
living eternally changeful symbol which God has hung
in front of the unseen spirit but that without words
reaches only to the expression of present feeling. To
attempt to employ it alone for tho conveyance of the
intellectual or the historical would constantly mislead ;
while the expression of feeling itself would be misinter-
preted, especially with regard to cause and object : tho
dumb show would be worse than dumb.

But let a man become aware of some new movement
within him. Loneliness comes with it, for he would
share his mind with his friend, and he cannot; he ia
shut up in speechlcssness. Thus

lie may livo a man forbid

Weary sevenuights nine times nine,


or tho first moment of his perplexity may be tliat of
his release. Gazing about him in pain, he suddenly
beholds the material form of his immaterial condition.
There stands his thought ! God thought it before him,
and put its picture there ready for him when he wanted
it. Or, to express the thing more prosaically, the man
cannot look around him, long without perceiving some
form, aspect, or movement of nature, some relation
between its forms, or between such and himself which
resembles the state or motion within him. This he
seizes as the symbol, as the garment or body of his
invisible thought, presents it to his friend, and his
friend understands him. Every word so employed
with o new meaning is henceforth, in its new character,
born of the spirit and not of the flesh, born of the
inT.gination and not of the understanding, and is
henceforth submitted to new laws of growth and

Thinnest thou," soys Carlyie in " IV4 and Present,"
" there were no poets till Dan Chaucer 1 No heart
burning with a thought which it could not hold, and
had no word for ; and needed to shape and coin a word
for what thou callest a metaphor, trope, or the like 1
for every word we have there was such a man and
poet. The coldest word was once a glowing new
metaphor and bold questionable originality. Thy very
ATTENTION, does it not mean an afte.iitio, a STr.rrreriiNG-
TO 1 Fancy that act of the mind, which all were con-
scious of, whk'h none had ytt named, when this ne.\r
poet first felt bound and driven to name it. Jlh
questionable originality and new glowing mctophor was


found adoptable, intelligible, and remains our name for
it to this day."

All words, then, belonging to the inner world of the
mind, are of the imagination, are originally poetic
words. The better, however, any such word is fitted
for the needs of humanity, the sooner it loses its poetic
aspect by commonness of use. It ceases to be heard as
a symbol, and appears only as a sign. Thus thousands
of words which were originally poetic words owing
their existence to the imagination, lose their vitality,
and harden into mummies of prose. Not merely in
literature does poetry come first, and prose afterwards,
but poetry is the source of all the language that belongs
to the inner world, whether it be of passion or of
metaphysics, of psychology or of aspiration. No poetry
comes by the elevation of prose; but the half of prose
comes by the " massing into the common clay " of thou-
sands of winged words, whence, like the lovely shells
of by-gone ages, one is occasionally disinterred by some
lover of speech, and held up to the light to show the
play of colour iu its manifold laminations.

For the world is allow us the homely figure the
human being turned inside out. All that moves in the
mind is symbolized in Nature. Or, to use another
more philosophical, and certainly not less poetic figure,
the world is a sensuous analysis of humanity, and hence
an inexhaustible wardrobe for the clothing of human
thought. Take any word expressive of emotion take
the word ei/totlon itself and you will find that its
primary moaning is of the outer world. In the sway-
ing of the woods, in the unrest of the " wavy plain,"

10 CRTS.

the imagination saw the picture of a well-known condi-
tion of the human mind ; and hence the word emotion*

But while the imagination of man has thus the divine
function of putting thought into form, it has a duty
altogether human, which is paramount to that function
the duty, namely, which springs from his immediate
relation to the Father, that of following and finding
out the divine imagination in whose image it was made.
To do this, the man must watch its signs, its manifes-
tations. He must contemplate what the Hebrew poets
call the works of His hands.

"Hut to follow those is the province of the intellect,
not of the imagination." "We will leave out of the ques-
tion at present that poetic interpretation of the works
of Nature with which the intellect has almost nothing,
and the imagination almost everything, to do. It is
unnecessary to insist that the higher being of a flower
even is dependent for its reception upon the human
imagination ; that science may pull the snowdrop to
shreds, but cannot find out the idea of suncnng hopo
and pale confident submission, for the sake of which
that darling of the spring looks out of heaven, nnmdy,
God's heart, upon us his wiser and more sinful chil-
dren ; for if there be any truth in this region of things
acknowledged at all, it will be at the same lime
acknowledged that that region belongs to the iinagina-

3 This passncro contning only a r< petition of wh:it i.> far
better said in the preceding extrarl from Curljli', but it w:ia
written before wo had road (if reviewers uuiy \\n allowed to
confess such ignorance,) the book from which thut oxtract it


tion. "Wo confine ourselves to that questioning of the
works of God which is called the province of science.

"Shall, then, the human intellect," we ask, "come
into readier contact with the divine imagination than
that human imagination?" The work of the Higher
must be discovered hy the search of the Lower in
degree which is yet similar in kind. Let us not be
supposed to exclude the intellect from a share in every
highest office. Man is not divided when the manifes-
tations of his life are distinguished. The intellect " is
all in every part." There were no imagination with-
out intellect, however much it may appear that intel-
lect can exist without imagination. What we mean
to insist upon is, that in finding out the works of God,
the Intellect must labour, workman-like, under the
direction of the architect, Imagination. Herein, too,
we proceed in the hope to show how much more than
is commonly supposed the imagination has to do with
human endeavour ; how large a share it has in the
work that is done under the sun.

11 But how can the imagination have anything to do
with science? That region, at least, is governed by
fixed laws."

" True," we answer. "But how much do \ve know
of these laws'? How much of science already belongs to
the region of the ascertained in other words, has been
conquered by the intellect? We will not now dispute
your vindication of the ascertained from the intrusion
of the inirtgi nation; but we do claim for it all the undis-
covered, all the unexplored.'* "Ah, well ! There it can
do little harm. There let it run riot if you will. " No,"

12 GETS.

vre reply. "Licence is not what we claim -when we
assert the duty of the imagination to be that of iollo wr-
ing and finding out the work that God maketh. Her
part is to understand God ere she attempts to utter
man. Where is the room for being fanciful or riotous
here ? It is only the ill-bred, that is, the uncultivated
imagination that will amuse itself where it ought to
worship and work."

" But the facts of Nature are to be discovered only
by observation and experiment." True. But how
docs the man of science come to think of his experi-
ments ? Does ob, e ervation reach to the non-present, the
possible, the yet unconceived ? Even if it showed you
the expcrimentswhich ought to be made, will observation
reveal to you the experiments which might be made?
And who can tell of which kind is the one that carries
in its bosom the secret of the law you seek? We yield
you your facts. The laws we claim for the prophetic
imagination. " He hath set the world in man's
heart," not in his understanding. And the heart must
open the door to the understanding. It is the far-
seoing imagination which beholds what might be a
form of things, and says to the intellect : " Try whether
that may not be the form of these things;" which
beholds or invents a harmonious relation of parts and
operations, and sends the intellect to find out whether
that be not the harmonious relation of them that is,
the law of the phenomenon it contemplates. Xay, the
poetic relations themselves in the phenomenon may
suggest to the imagination the law that rules its scien-
tific life. Yea, more than this : we dare to claim for
the true, childlike, humble imagination, such an inwai J


oneness with the laws of the universe that it possesses
in itself an insight into the very nature of things.

Lord Bacon tells us that a prudent question is the
half of knowledge. Whence comes this prudent
question? we repeat. And we answer, From the
imagination. It is the imagination that suggests in
what direction to make the new inquiry which,
should it cast no immediate light on the answer sought,
can yet hardly fail to he a step towards final discovery.
Every experiment has its origin in hypothesis ; with-
out the scaffolding of hypothesis, the house of science
could nevr arise. And the construction of any hypo-
thesis whatever is the work of the imagination. The
man who cannot invent will never discover. The
imagination often gets a glimpse of the law itself long
before it is or can he ascertained to he a law. 4

Thii paper was all-early written when, happening to
mention the present subject to a mathematical friend, a
lecturer at one of the universities, he gare us a corroborative
instance. Ho had lately guessed that a certain algebraic
process could be shortened exceedingly if the method which
hia imagination suggested should prove to be a true one that
it, an algebraic law. He put it to the test of experiment
committed the varification, that is, into the hands of hia
intellect and found the mctliod true. It hag since been
accepted by the Royal Society.

Noteworthy illustration we have lately found in the record
of the experiences of an Mdiuburgk detective, an Irishman of
tke name of ilcLsvy. That the sei'Tic* of the imagination in
the solution of the problems pecaliar to his calling is well
known to him, we could adduce many prooi'ij. He recognizes
its function in the construction of tl* theory which shall unite
this ami that liint into au organic whole, and he expressly sots
forth the need of a theory bafore foots can be sc-rTice&ble :

" I would wait for my ' idea.' ... I neier did any good

14 CRTS.

The region belonging to the pure intellect is
straitened : the imagination labours to extend its
territories, to give it room. She sweeps across the
borders, searching out new lands into which she may
guide her plodding brother. The imagination is the
light which redeems from the darkness for the eyes of
the understanding. Novalis says, " The imagination
is the stuff of the intellect " affords, that is, the
material upon which the intellect works. And BJcon,
in his " Advancement of Learning," fully recognizes
this its office, corresponding to the foresight of God in
this, that it beholds afar off. And he says : " Imagi-
nation is much akin to miracle-working faith."*

In the scientific rogion of her duty of which we
speak, the Imagination cannot have her perfect work ;
this ^belongs to another and higher sphere than that
of intellectual truth that, namely, of full-globed
humanity, operating in which she gives birth to poetry

without mine. . . . Cltince never smiled on mo unless I poked
her some way ; BO that my ' notion,' after all, has been in the
getting of it my own work only perfected by a higher hand."

" On leaving the shop I went direct to Prince's Street, of
course with an idea in my mind ; and somehow I have always
been contented with one idea when I could not got another;
and the advantage of sticking by one is, that the other don't
jostle it and turn you about in a circle when you should go in
a straight line." *

* We are sorry we cannot verify this quotation, for which
wo are indebted to Mr. Oldbuck the Antiquary, in the novel of
that ilk. There is, however, little room for doubt that it is

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 7) → online text (page 1 of 21)