Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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rapid growth of social customs that are helpful enough to
tyrants, but pernicious in a democratic republic. Austere man
ners lead to political liberty and uphold free governments, and
a people given over to sensual delights, to foolish frolicking
and dissipation, love license more than freedom ; and, if you but
give them wine and a show, care not what master rules over
them. The Puritans of New England had the truest instinct
of political liberty, and that instinct made them serious, earnest,
austere, averse alike to childish gayety and to loose conduct.
It were better for us, if our liberty is dear to us, to have the
Puritan Sabbath than the Pagan Sunday of parts of Europe.


"Let the passion for America," says Emerson, "cast out the
passion for Europe." There must be brought into our public life
something to appeal to minds and consciences as well as to
interests ; for it is the disgrace of a nation that its chief concern
should be a question of money, and that the significance of
political contests should lie in the emoluments of office; and
while this state of things continues, the best men will remain
aloof from the struggle, and leave the direction of public affairs
in the hands of the baser sort. We need an ideal to which all
noble minds and generous hearts may rally, and this ideal here
in America at the present day can neither be intellectual nor relig
ious ; it must be moral. We are too essentially practical to be
deeply interested in intellectual truth, and our religious divisions
are so various and so far-reaching that a great national regener
ation springing from a common faith is not now possible ; but
there is still left in the mass of the people a deep moral earnest
ness, which, if it can be called into action, may yet lift the whole
nation to higher and purer life. Our two great parties are the
principal obstacle in the way of such a movement. It is not
possible to arouse the American people thoroughly, except
through political agitation, and both these parties, which have
become simply mills to grind the people's corn to make bread
for office-holders, oppose the whole weight of their organized
power to every honest effort to bring about a moral reformation ;
and so long as the multitude is led by them, our worship of
majorities will throw an air of quixotism over every attempt to
stem the torrent of corruption. The welfare of the nation
demands that the one or the other cease to exist ; that a new
party, springing from the deep yearning of multitudes for purer
and nobler national life, and upheld by the enthusiasm inspired
by high moral aims and purposes, may take its place. But the
Democratic party is neither open to ideas, nor subject to death ;
and our hope now seems to lie in the defeat of the Republican
party in November. This party originated in a righteous indig
nation against slavery, which it abolished, and at the same time
strengthened the bonds of national unity. It has done its work,
and now bars the way to other conquests. Multitudes of its
adherents perceive this, and they are waiting for its death-knell
as the signal of hope.

The limits of this article do not permit me to discuss the
problems that the new party will have to solve. They will relate
to moral rather than to material interests. There is, first of all,


the question of education. The dread of religious teaching in
the common schools has deprived them of moral influence, and
they cultivate a faculty instead of forming men. Then there is
the question of the liquor traffic. The most hideous phase of
our political life is that which comes of its association with bar
rooms, and the remedy for American pauperism is not a wage or
rent theory, but economy and sobriety. There is, also, the ques
tion of woman-suffrage. The experiment will be made, whatever
our theories and prejudices may be. Women are the most relig
ious, the most moral, and the most sober portion of the Ameri
can people, and it is not easy to understand why their influence
in public life is dreaded. They are the natural educators of the
race, and they and their children are the chief victims of drunken
men ; and since men have been unable or unwilling to form a
right system of education or to find a preventive of intemper
ance, there can be no great harm in giving in these matters at
least an experimental vote to women. Then there is the question
of the licentious and obscene press, as unlike a free press as a
sot is unlike a true man, which is a more deadly and insidious
poison than the adulterated liquor that a deluded people pay for
the privilege of drinking.

With us, material interests take care of themselves, since the
whole energy of the people turns upon the development of our
physical resources ; and hence the duty of those who have faith
and hope in the destiny of America lies elsewhere. In the
presence of a whole people thinking chiefly of money 5 talking of
it, yearning for it, toiling, lying, cheating, to get hold of
it; adulterating food and drink to make it 5 displaying it
in all its vulgar glitter in their homes and equipages and
on their bodies; discussing and solving all problems, even
questions of the soul, from a financial point of view ; making
money the measure of the value of time ; determining the worth
of education by the power it develops to amass wealth, and even
going so far as to hold a man's money the nearest equivalent of
himself, in the presence of such a people there is need of power
to proclaim, as with the voice of G-od, that the goodness of life
lies in right-doing, and not in lucre.

" That every gift of noble origin

Is breathed upon by Hope's perpetual breath ;

That virtue and the faculties -within

Are vital ; and that riches are akin

To fear, to change, to cowardice, and death."



THE city of Boston is at this moment the theater of ex
periments in the healing art that are attracting considerable
attention. These experiments differ from those of the prayer-
cure, the faith-cure, the cure by imposition of hands, by manipu
lation, by touch the method by which the good King George
III. expelled the king's-evil from so many hundreds of believing
subjects in the last century. In these experiments no prayer is
used, no faith is required, no physical contact is needed. Nay,
more, on the part of the operator no knowledge of the human
system is required, nor of the science of medicine. Cures are
effected without faith on the part of the patient, or knowledge
on the part of the physician. It is a wonderful step in advance
in the science of life, and quite worthy of this sharp and self-
sufficient age. Every element seems to be eliminated from the
old-fashioned practice of the healing art except the fee. That
is the only thing that is not left to the imagination. I am sorry
to say that this remains, for otherwise the ideal state would be
reached, in which the physician would say to the patient,
Imagine you are healed, and he would be healed, and the patient
would say to the physician, Imagine you are paid, and he would
be paid ex nihilo nihil.

This remarkable process is dignified with the name of the
" Mind-cure." Its grand merit is its simplicity. The patient
resorts to the room of the physician. Few or no questions are
asked, nothing like an examination is made, nor any apparent
diagnosis. There is no question of tongue, pulse, or tempera
ture. I believe the patient is even denied the luxury of rehears
ing his complaints. The physician is above all such knowledge.
The two, alone in the room, sit down, some distance apart.
Nothing is done, nothing is said. The patient is not required
to fix his mind upon anything. What the doctor is thinking
about, heaven only knows, unless he is pondering the problem


of human credulity. A half-hour passes in silence. That is
desirable. A half -hour given up to reflection is seldom lost. The
patient then retires, without observations, without directions.
This healing process is repeated the next day and the next, and
every day for a half -hour for two or three weeks ; and the patient
is greatly relieved or cured entirely of whatever disease he had
or imagined he had. The testimony on this point is abundant,
and from good sources. Women walk the streets who have been
bedridden for twenty years 5 men hear who have heard nothing
since the war ; and eyes that have been painfully askew for years
get a rectified focus. The lame leap ; the dyspeptic enjoy mince-
pie ; the " issues," that have been worse than any in the court of
chancery, cease.

There are thousands and thousands of people who believe
this. They not only believe that actual cures are wrought,
which may be matter of observation, but they believe they are
wrought by some occult influence in these queer sittings with
the mind-cure man. And a theory is provided by the operators
of these wonders. As I understand it, it is something more than
the effect of the mind of the mind-cure man upon the mind of the
patient. The nerves report all sensations to the brain. But for
this nervous communication, the sensations would not exist.
Pain, therefore, or disease that causes pain, is not real except
in the mind. There is no pain in the body after the mind has
left it, as in the case of death, and there is no pain when that
which communicates sensation to the mind is paralyzed by means
of an anesthetic. The logic of this explanation is that if you
cure the mind, to all practical purposes, you rout the disease
that has been dominating the mind. It is well known that in
moments of intense mental excitement bodily pain and even
grievous wounds are not recognized or felt. From such facts
as these is educed the hypothesis of the possible supremacy of
the mind in all cases of pain and disease. And in the case of
an unreasoning child or insane person there must be estab
lished over the disease the supremacy of some other mind ! In
this unknown region of the relation of mind and body is room
for the evolution of any sort of theory that assurance can possi
bly impose upon credulity. And to minds not trained in the
detection of fallacies, or disciplined in logical processes, or
taught to distinguish between cause and effect and events in
juxtaposition of time and order, it seems conclusive that the


ability of a bedridden person to walk after sitting in a room
with a mind-cure man is due to that visible process and not to
some other cause.

As I am not attempting a sketch of human delusions, it is
not necessary to follow out this case further. I only call atten
tion to the fact that multitudes of people, and many of them of
more than ordinary intelligence, believe that diseases are perma
nently removed by what is called the mind-cure. It is simply
because this is believed by intelligent persons that I refer to it.
It is worthy of note that Boston, which is reputed to furnish
the brains for the continent, and is in fact superior, I suppose,
to any other American city in general cultivation, is preeminently
the hot-bed and home of delusions of this sort. Nowhere else
does the mind-reader, the phrenologist, the spiritualistic medium,
the clairvoyant, the magnetic medium, the natural bone-setter,
the prayer-cure, faith-cure, touch-cure man or woman so thrive.
In no other place that I know of is spiritualism more widely
accepted, or are various tramps and scamps and impostors of our
queer social state more run after. And this is remarkable,
because the highest life is the result of the most free inter
change of relations, and intelligence is supposed to penetrate
and interpenetrate Boston as completely as its horse-railway
tracks. For Boston, in the popular estimation, is the place not
only where you can and must know everything, but where you
can go anywhere for six cents. Mental and physical circulation
are practically free.

It was in this same alert city that another successful experi
ment on human credulity was made a few years ago. I refer to
Mrs. Howe's remarkable "Woman's Bank. It was not remark
able, perhaps, that a woman should appear, possessed of the
financial genius to create and carry on such a scheme ; but it
was remarkable that women of standing, known to be honest
and believed to be sane, should indorse it and warmly defend
it. It proposed, it will be remembered, to pay depositors ninety-
six per cent, a year, so that a poor woman who intrusted a hun
dred dollars to it would receive eight dollars a month income,
and at the end of the year find her capital unimpaired. And
depositors actually did receive eight per cent, a month for some
time. This was accepted as a demonstration that they would
receive eight per cent, a month forever. And it will be remem
bered that the women who defended this magnificent system of


banking insisted, in print, that the scheme broke down, not
because its principle was unsound, but because it was attacked
by enemies who were hostile to this benevolent plan of helping
poor teachers and seamstresses. But for this brutal opposition
it would have succeeded. Of course, such a scheme could not
be carried on without confidence. It was another case of mind-

But it must already appear that I am using Boston only as a
type. This is, everybody admits, a scientific age, a skeptical
age, an age in which men are not willing to accept anything
that does not stand the test of investigation, analysis ; to believe
anything upon which they have not the evidence of the physical
senses. And this is the reason why this age is more subject to
illusions and delusions than any other of which I have read.
The delusions are not exactly of the same sort as in the myth
and legend-making period of the Middle Ages ; we have got rid
of many superstitions, of the dread of many portents in nature ;
there may be few who have Dr. Johnson's belief in apparitions,
or Sir Matthew Hale's credulity in regard to witches ; but there
are certain delusions that are much more widely spread than
formerly, and take a deeper hold, because we have a conceit that
they rest upon a semi-scientific basis, and upon evidence that we
regard as irrefragable, the evidence of our senses. And these
delusions are not, as most of them once were, confined to the
confessedly ignorant, or due to a want of some investigation of
natural law; but they prevail among intelligent, even intel
lectual, minds, which have a habit of skepticism, and demand
physical proof before believing. That which is called spiritual
ism has a purely physical basis. It is a matter of the senses.
Men and women believe simply because they are brought in con
tact with physical manifestations. They hear certain sounds,
they see certain objects and certain tangible results of what
they are told are spiritual processes, and they believe that a
spirit is materialized because they see it. They see a human
body floating in the air about the room, in defiance of gravita
tion. They believe that it does so float, because they see it, and
because they do not bring any faculties of the mind to rectify
what is known to be one of the most fallible witnesses in the
world the human eye-sight.

These people are the fools of their senses, and it may be said
in a general way that this scientific generation is more or less


the fool of its senses. We incline to apply to everything the
material test. We are taught to believe in the existence of
nothing that we cannot see or feel, or reduce to palpable terms
by some sort of analysis. We have a sort of philosophy that
calls that knowable which can be subjected to physical tests, and
regards as unknowable that which eludes the dissecting-knife
and the test-tube. There are men and women who are trying to
conduct life on this material basis.

Let us see what it is. In our experience, no two eyes see an
object exactly in the same way. This discrepancy is owing to a
mechanical difference in eyes, which we understand, and to a dif
ference in the report that this organ makes to the brains, which
we do not so well understand. It is the same with the sense of
hearing and of touch. Upon these variations (eliminating the
questions of motives and dishonesty) arise the variations in
human testimony, with which we are familiar, both in common
life and in judicial procedure. We know how rare it is that a
story will pass from one person to another unchanged, how rare
it is that two persons will report a conversation, or an occur
rence, or describe an object seen by both at the same time, with
accurate agreement. One of the commonest cases is that of
identity. How often it happens in private life, as well as in the
law courts, that two sets of witnesses, of equal credibility appar
ently, contradict each other squarely as to personal identity.

It happens in this age of facts and of investigation into
natural laws, which boasts that it has escaped from mental de
lusions and superstitions, that persons who stand most squarely
upon visible phenomena are often most subject to delusions. It
is natural that this should be so, for when a man plants himself
upon the ground of believing only what he can see, he is apt to
believe all that he can see, he will trust his senses. He ac
counts himself a practical, hard-headed, clear-sighted person.
He boasts of his common sense. You cannot deceive him. But
he can deceive himself. He knows that a human body floated
in the air, because he saw it. He knows that his friend was
cured by a mind-cure man, because his friend, who could not
walk a step, was able to run after sitting half an hour in the
room with a mind-cure man. His credulity on the side of his
senses passes belief. And the real trouble is not with the man's
eye-sight or hearing, but with his logical faculty, his want of
self-knowledge; his mind is trained only on one side; he has


no system of philosophy to correct the inherent defects of his
physical organization. A materialistic education, at the best, is
only a half education.

Now, we may not care for the mind-cure man> nor for the
clairvoyant, nor for the so-called spiritualistic phenomena, nor
the Woman's Bank. We are using them merely as illustrations
of the mental condition of a considerable number of people in
this country, or, if you please, of the sort of education, or the
tendency of the sort of education that prevails a good deal, and
is advocated by a good many people who are not themselves
subject to any of the delusions we have been speaking of, an
education that, oddly enough, has got the name of practical,
because it is supposed to sharpen the senses, train the observing
faculties (no matter about the reasoning faculties), and to fit
men and women for the real work in life, that is, for getting
money and keeping it.

It is not necessary to waste a moment, except to get the right
point of view of our subject, upon a condition of the social state
with which everybody is familiar. When the chief end of nine
persons out of ten is to get rich, and get rich speedily by any
means, to the neglect of the mind and even of the body, holding as
the cheapest of all possessions books and a contact with the great
and entertaining minds of the world, it is no wonder that society-
talk, social intercourse, especially among young men, is vapid,
pervaded by the mercantile and materialistic spirit, void for the
most part of intellectual life, lacking seriousness or ambition,
interested only in the frivolities of society and the gaming
chances of the street, cultivating moral and mental flabbiness
and intellectual vacuity, so that the satirist, with the best inten
tions, is baffled in an effort to get hold of substance enough in
such a life to exercise his sarcasm on. Useless, as a novelist of
Queen Anne's time might have said, to paint a society that is
painted already.

It might be out of place to mention this here, if it were not
a symptom of a well-nigh universal tendency and temper of the
public mind. For if getting money, or material success, is
really the chief concern, and ought to be, then the underlying
philosophy of the time is quite right, and our prevalent theories
of education ought to be applied to the end. If it is true that
there is no want in the human soul greater than the want of
knowledge for material ends, then literature, and what has


been for some centuries understood as a liberal education, are
quite useless pursuits. If, I say, the object of an education is
mainly to fit a man or woman to take effective part in the
struggle for money and place, the direction in which we are
urged to go by many high authorities is the right one.

It is not, however, the direction that the philosophers
and sages have pointed out. It is not the notion that Plato
had of the value to the state and to the individual character of
the pursuit of wealth rather than of the things of the mind.
You remember that the Athenian Stranger in the " Laws " said
that men were ready to pursue any branch of knowledge for the
sake of gain ; and in this he was a prophet of the state of men's
minds in our own time.

The movement is substantially all one way. Those who pro
test against it stand in a stream, and are jeered at as conserva
tives and obstructionists. The movement is toward making
money and making it quickly, toward every sort of material
development and advancement, toward luxury and the indul
gence of the senses, toward the sort of education only that can
be made immediately serviceable to material ends.

The movement is all of a piece. It is all characterized by a
want of the highest aims. The frivolous and vapid society
of a certain class is in affinity with the practical purposes of the
others. The main object in life being material development,
the cultivation of whatever will contribute to material enter
prise, a contempt for any pursuit that is not profitable, or any
study that cannot add to the money value of the world j the
whole motive being low and unspiritual, the flower must neces
sarily be vulgar display and a social life empty and frivolous.
This is the natural flower and fruit of a materialistic age. The
fruit of a materialistic education in which the higher aspira
tions of the soul are not provided for is not only a lowering of
the aims of life and a deadening of the spirit, but a liability to
such delusions as we have spoken of. It would seem, a priori,
that the cultivation of the scientific spirit, with the sharpening
of the physical senses, and a high training of the powers of
observation, ought to relieve us from delusions. In individual
cases, it doubtless does. If it were true as a general rule, a
freedom from delusions ought to be the mark of this generation.
But, in fact, and it is becoming evident daily, a purely scientific
education is only a half education ; it leaves out of view cer-
VOL. cxxxix. NO. 334. 16


tain faculties that are as necessary to the enjoyment as to the
conduct of life, and it leaves the mind defenseless on one side
and unable to correct errors. A mere metaphysical training
tends to speculation, and refinement of casuistry, and a balloon
ing of the imagination. It was the mission of the eighteenth
century with the inductive philosophy to bring men back to
realities. We are in no danger of underrating its splendid
results in modern life. "We seem to be in danger of forgetting the
importance, to the individual mind and to society, of literature
and philosophy, and the laying up of intellectual goods that are
safe from moths and from thieves. I beg readers to notice that
it is not a question between real science and real literature,
between which there can be no quarrel, but it is a question of
the prostitution of all learning and all methods and facilities of
education to merely material purposes, leaving out of view the
fact that if you pursue learning not primarily for the cultivation
of the mind itself, and in the pursuit of truth, but for concrete
ends of utility, you inevitably lower the tone and morale of life.

The drift of the age is so strongly materialistic and luxury-
loving, and so plainly to the curious kinship we see between
skepticism and delusion, that one would think scholars would
make a united stand against it in the only way they can resist
it that is, by insisting upon the culture of the mind itself, upon

Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 21 of 60)