Copyright
William R. (William Rathbone) Greg.

Enigmas of life online

. (page 1 of 22)
Online LibraryWilliam R. (William Rathbone) GregEnigmas of life → online text (page 1 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project
to make the world's books discoverable online.

It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject
to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired. Whether a book is in the public domain may vary country to country. Public domain books
are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history, culture and knowledge that's often difficult to discover.

Marks, notations and other marginalia present in the original volume will appear in this file - a reminder of this book's long journey from the
publisher to a library and finally to you.

Usage guidelines

Google is proud to partner with libraries to digitize public domain materials and make them widely accessible. Public domain books belong to the
public and we are merely their custodians. Nevertheless, this work is expensive, so in order to keep providing this resource, we have taken steps to
prevent abuse by commercial parties, including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Google Book Search for use by individuals, and we request that you use these files for
personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort to Google's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the
use of public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Maintain attribution The Google "watermark" you see on each file is essential for informing people about this project and helping them find
additional materials through Google Book Search. Please do not remove it.

+ Keep it legal Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just
because we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States, that the work is also in the public domain for users in other
countries. Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of
any specific book is allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Google Book Search means it can be used in any manner
anywhere in the world. Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About Google Book Search

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and to make it universally accessible and useful. Google Book Search helps readers
discover the world's books while helping authors and publishers reach new audiences. You can search through the full text of this book on the web

at http : //books . google . com/|



Digitized by



Google



Digitized by



Google



Digitized by



Google



Digitized by



Google




/0 .^^^-^^•^->z- / /^"^



Digitized by



Google



Digitized by



Google



EisriGMAS OF Life.



Bt W. R. GREG.



"The Scml'i dark oottage, battered and decayed.
Lets in new Ugbi timmgh eUnks that Time lias made."

WlLLDL



BOSTON:
JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY,

Lin TionroB & Fulds, aud Fields, Osgood, & Co.
1874.



Digi



tized by Google



Kj 1.9^^




y^juQA s^jju T^'^^^^'^^MUi



From Advance Sheets.



Univbksity Press: Wblch, Bigblow, & Co.»
Cambridge.



Digitized by



Google



PEEFAOE.



THE following pages contain rather suggested thoughts
that may fructify in other minds than distinct prop-
ositions which it is sought argumentatively to prove.
In the later years of life the intellectual vision, if often
clearer, usually grows less confident and enterprising.
Age is content to think, where Youth would have been
anxious to demonstrate and establish ; and problems and
enigmas which, at thirty, I fancied I might be able to
solve, I find, at sixty, I must be satisfied simply to
propound.

By the severer class of scientific reasoners (if I have
any such among my readers), it will, I am aware, be
noted with disapproval that throughout this little book
there runs an undercurrent of belief in two great doc-
trines, which yet I do not make the slightest attempt
to prove. I have everywhere, it will be said, assumed
the existence of a Creator and of a continued life be-
yond the grave, though I give no reason for my faith
in either ; though I obviously do not hold those points
of the Christian creed on the ordinary Christian grounds ;
and though I cannot fail to be conscious that these
questions underlie, or inextricably mingle with nearly



Digitized by



Google



IV PREFACE.



every one of the subjects I have treatei I have ap-
proached, with some pretension to philosophical inves-
tigation, a few of the enigmas of himian life, yet have
deliberately evaded the two deepest and darkest of all,
and precisely the two, moreover, whose determination
can most satisfactorily solve the rest I admit the
charge, and my defence is simply this.

The religious views in which we have been brought
up inevitably color to the last our tone of thought on
all cognate matters, and largely affect the manner and
direction of our approach to them, even when every
dogma of our early creed has been, if not abandoned,
yet deprived of its dogmatic form as weU as of its
original logical or authoritative basis. Not only are
doctrines often persistently retained, though the old
foundations of them have been imdermined or surren-
dered ; but beliefs, that have dwelt long in the mind,
leave indelible traces of their residence years after
they have been discarded and dislodged. It would be
more correct to say that they linger with a sort of
loving obstinacy in their old abode, long after they
have received formal notice to quit. Their chamber is
never, to the end of time, quite swept and garnished.
The mind is never altogether as if they had not been
there. When a "yes" or "no" answer is demanded
to a proposition for and against which argument and
evidence seem equally balanced, the decision is sure to
be different in minds, one of which comes new to the
question while the other has held a preconceived opin-
ion, even though on grounds which he now recognizes



Digitized by



Google



PREFACE.



as erroneous or insufficient It was my lot to inherit
from Puritan forefathers the strongest impressions as to
the great doctrines of Eeligion at a time when the
mind is most plastic and most tenacious of such im-
pressions, —

"Wax to receive, and marble to retam.**

And though I recognize as fully as any man of science
the hoUowness of most of the foundations on which
those impressions were based, and the entire invalidity
of the tenure on which I then held them, yet I by no
means feel compelled to throw up the possession mere-
ly because the old title-deeds were full of flaws. The
existence of a wise and beneficent Creator and of a
renewed life hereafter are still to me beliefs — especially
the first — very nearly reaching the solidity of absolute
convictions. The one is almost a Certainty, the other
a solemn Hope. And it does not seem to me imphilo-
sophic to allow my contemplation of Life or my specu-
lations on the problems it presents to run in the
grooves worn in the mind by its antecedent history, so
long as no dogmatism is allowed, and no disprovaih
datum is suffered for a moment to intrude.

The question — when stated with the perfect unre-
serve which alone befits it — lies in small compass.
Of actual knowledge we have simply nothing. Those
who believe in a Creative Spirit and Euler of the Uni-
verse are forced to admit that they can adduce no
proofs or arguments cogent enough to compel convic-
tion from sincere minds constituted in another mould.



Digitized by



Google



VI PEEFACE.



There are facts, indications, corollaries, which seem to
suggest the great inference almost irresistibly to our
miads. There are other facts, indications, corollaries,
which to other minds seem as irresistibly to negative
that inference. Data, admitted by both, appear of very
different weight to eacL The difficulties in the way
of either conclusion are confessedly stupendous. The
difficulty of conceiving the eternal pre-existence of a
Personal Creator I perceive to be immense; the diffi-
culty of conceiving the origin and evolution of the ac-
tual Universe independently of such Personal Creator I
should characterize as insuperable. The Positivist —
the devotee of pure Science — would simply reverse the
adjectives. We can neither of us turn the minor into
the major difficulty for the other without altering the
constitution of his intelligence. JS[e does not say,
*' There is no God," he merely says, " I see no phenom-
ena which irresistibly suggest one; I see many which
negative the suggestion; and I have greater difficulty
in conceiving all that the existence of such a Being
would involve than in the contrary assumption." / do
not say, "I know there is a God"; I only say I ob-
serve and infer much that forces that conviction in
upon me; but I recognize that these observations and
inferences would not entitle me to demand the same
conviction from him. In fine, neither doctrine can be
proved or disproved; the votaries of neither are en-
titled to insist upon imposing their conviction upon
others, on the plea of its demonstrability. I am en-
titled, however, to retain mine as, to me, the believ-



Digitized by



Google



PREFACE. VU



able one. Lawyers tell us of a title that is unsalable,
but indefeasible. Scientific men speak of "Provisional
Theories," "good working hypotheses," and the like, —
the goodness depending upon their value in explaining
and elucidating phenomena, not in their capability of
being demonstrated. There is some analogy in the
case we are considering.

. Again, visible and ascertainable phenomena give no
coimtenance to the theory of a future or spiritual life.
It is a matter of intuitive conviction, or of deduction
from received or assumed doctrines, not of logical infer-
ence from established data.* I cannot demand assent to

* I have discussed this question folly in the last chapter of '^ The
Creed of ChristendoW There is, however, one indication of im-
mortality which was not there dwelt upon, but which ought not
to be left out of consideration, though, of course, its value will
be very differently estimated by different minds. I refer to that
ipontaneous, irresistible, and perhaps nearly universal feeling we all
experience on watching, just after death, the body of some one we
have intimately known; the conviction, I mean (a sense, a con-
sciousness, an expression which you have to fight against if you wish
to disbelieve or shake it off\ that the form lying there is somehow
not the Ego you have loved. It does not produce the effect of
that person's personality. You miss the Ego, though you have
the frame. The visible Presence only makes more vivid the sense
of actual Absence. Every feature, every substance, every phenom-
enon, is there, — and is unchanged. You have seen the eyes as
firmly closed, the limbs as motionless, the breath almost as im-
perceptible, the face as fixed and expressionless, before, in sleep
or in trance, without the same peculiar sensation. The impres-
sion made is indefinable, and is not the result of any conscious
process of thought : — that that body, quite unchanged to the eye,



Digitized by



Google



VIU PREFACE.



it, with any justice or on any plea of cogent argument,
from a reasoner who is destitute of my intuitive convic-
tion, or who deems my deductions erroneous, or demurs
to the doctrines from which they flow. But, on the other
hand, since I can specify undeniable indications which
point in that direction, and difficulties which to all ap-
pearance that hypothesis only can elucidate, and since
he can in no way demonstrate its untenability or its
contrariety with known truths, I am entitled to hold it
as to me, though not to all, the most credible belief.

These will seem to enthusiastic believers disappoint-
ing and timid positions to take up on such momentous
questions; but the most advanced positions are not al-
ways the most tenable, and the humblest are often the
strongest. The safe position for a candid reasoner, and
the only true one, is not that which is most menacing
to his antagonist, but one from which the holder can-
not be dislodged.

I have a word or two ftirther to say in reference to
each of these main doctrines.

Those who cling most lovingly to faith in a future
life, and would avoid the shocks which close thought

IS not, and never was, your Mend, — the Ego you were conversant
with ; that hia or her individuality was not the garment before
you plus a galvanic current ; that, in fact, the Ego you knew
once and seek still tww not that, — w not there. And if not iJure^
it must be eU&where or nowhere; and " nowhere " I believe modem
science will not suffer us to predicate of either force or substance
that once ht» btten.



Digitized by



Google



PREFACE. IX



always causes to it, will do well to guard against every
temptation to define or particularize its nature, mode, or
conditions, to realize its details or processes, to form a
distinct or plausible theory regarding it, — especially a
local, physical, or biological one. Let it rest in the
vague, if you would have it rest unshaken. Fot, while
it is more than probable that our imagination is utterly
incapable of picturing or conceiving, car even conjectur-
ing or approaching, the actual truth about the unseen
world, it is certain that our reason will find no diffi-
culty at an in dejnoUshing or discrediting every con-
crete and systematic conception we might form. The
Great Idea — fascinating and maintainable so long as it
is suffered to remain nebulous and un-outlined — con-
geals and carnalizes, the moment we endeavor to em-
body it, into something which is vulnerable at every
point, and which we are forced to admit is, on one ground
or another, imsustainable.

We all recognize instinctively that a sense of iden-
tity, a conscious continuity of the Ego, is an essential
element of the doctrine. A life beyond the grave, in
other worlds and imder other conditions of corporeal or
spiritual existence, but devoid of this main feature, would
not, it is evident, answer the purposes of the doctrine,
nor fulfil those yearnings of the heart and soul which
many writers hold to be its most convincing indication.
Apart from this consciousness of personal identity, a
future life would be simply a new creation, — the be-
ings who came into existence would be other beii^gs, not

ourselves awakened and renewed. The curious, but
1*



Digitized by



Google



PREFACE.



not unattractive, Pythagorean theory of transmigration,
reaching, as it did, both to the future and the past,
failed altogether in this essential It is probable that
the determination to hold fast by this essential — a de-
tennination often half unconscious and instinctive —
fostered, if it did not originate, the astonishing doctrine
of the resurrection of the body, which has so strangely
and thoughtlessly (like many minor dogmas) found its
way into the popular creed. The primitive parents or
congealers of that creed, whoever they may have been,
— innocent of all science and oddly muddled in their
mietaphysics, but resolute in their conviction that the
same persons who died here should be, in very deed,
the same who should rise hereafter, — systematized their
anticipations into the notion that the grave should give
up its actual inmates for their ordained transformation
and their allotted fate. The cuiTent notion of the ap-
proaching end of the world no doubt helped to blind
them to the villnerability, and indeed the fatal self-
contradictions, of the form in which they had embodied
their faith. Of course, if ^hey had taken time to think,
or if the Fathers of the Church had been more given
to thinking in the rigid meaning of the word, they would
have discovered that this special form rendered that faith
absurd, indefensible, and virtually impossible. They did
. not know, or they never considered, that the buried body
soon dissolves into its elements, which in the course of
generations and centuries pass into other combinations,
form pait of other living creatures, feed and constitute
countless oi^ganizations one after another ; so that when



Digitized by



Google



PREFACE. XI



the graves are summoned " to give up the dead that are
in them," and the sea "the dead that are in it," they
■will be called on to surrender what they no longer possess,
and what np supernal power can give back to them. It
never occun-ed to those creed-medcers, who thus took
upon themselves to carnalize an idea into a fact, that
for every atom that once went to make up the body
they committed to the earth, there would be scores of
claimants before the Great Day of account, and that even
Omnipotence could scarcely be expected to make the
same component part be in two or ten places at once.
The original human frames^ therefore, covld not be had
when, as supposed, they would be wanted.

Neither, apparently, did it occur to them that these
bodily shells and frames wovM not be wanted, "Flesh
and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." The per-
ishable carcass could have no part nor lot in the great
scene then to be enacted. The perished carcass could not
be needed (like the bone " Luz " so queerly invented for
the purpose by the later Jews) to supply materials for " the
spiritual body," and would not be forthcoming if it were.

Moreover, what could such incongruous elements as
nitrogen and phosphates, and sodium and other metallic
bases, be doing in immaterial spheres, and before the
judgment-seat of God ? It was the SOULS of men that
were to be the actors in that mighty Drama. And, again,
where were those souls during the countless ages that
elapse between their exit from the mortal husk and their
appearance at the final summons ? Speculation has been
busy with this problem for long generations ; has been al-



Digitized by



Google



XU mHPACE.



ways baffled; has nev^ iad the sease to perceive, or the
^^atidot to adndt, tiiat lihe difficulty was entirdy one of i1^
own gratuitous creatioa Still, in the orthodox creed, or
leather in popular parlance (for real belief was *' nowhere "
in the matter), the soul — which nobody knew how, even
in fancy, to dispose of in the mean while — ^was to be called
up from somewhere to reinhaMt pn> hoc vice the body,
which it was impossible that it shoidd find, and of which
it could make no further use in a world that, in philosoph-
ical conception, is spiritual, and, according to Scripture, is
prohibited to flesh and blood ! Endeavor to picture the
jumble in the mind of that early Christian who framed
the conception (and had influence enough to m^e after
ages repeat it with a submission absolutely servile) of
a scene where decayed and dispersed gaseous elements
and atoms, collected from ages and places and combina-
tions, were put together once more for one momentary
ftmction, and thereafter —

A more thoughtful age will miBrvel — as the thonght-
M of this age marvel now — that the fancy of the
primeval savage, who buries his horae and dog, and
q)ear and arrows, in the same grave with the departed
chief, that they may be ready fear him in the unseen
hunting-grounds wliither he is gone, should have been
so nearly reproduced in the creed of the most cultivated
nation in the most civilized age that human progress has
yet reached.

Other illustrations might be given; one or two may
be just indicated here. If, as Prof^or Grote suggests.



Digitized by



Google



PBEFACi:. XIU



sympathy \¥ith all other beings in the next wodd will
be indiscriminate and perfect, and " undisguisedness "
therefore .inevitable and absolute, it is difficult to see
how separate entity, still more how distinct identity, is
to be secured.

"Surely," as the Spectator argued, "if sympathy with
all is perfect, one of the most effectiye links of conti-
nuity, the limitation of sympathy, will disappear, and the
mind understanding all, and sympathizing with all equal-
ly, all the afiFections, as we call them, would cease, and
all the relations of humanity be meaningless. The an*
cient and beautiful thought which has cheered so many
bereaved ones, that separation is only for a time, would
be without object ; for though we should meet again, it
would be in relations to which the former relaticMis would
have no similarity, l^e love between parent and child,
for example, so far as it is not the result of circumstances
and physical similarity of constitution, — all which cir-
cumstances and similarity must cease at death, — is the
product of superior sympathy, which sympathy would be
merged, lost in the universal sympathy of which Profes-
sor Grote has spoken. It may be, of course, that the
earthly aflfections are earthly, and end with earth; but
there is no proof of that, and no reason for a suggestion
which, besides being a melancholy one, is an additional
difficulty in the M^y of continuity."

Then, again, if there be a hell to which any whom we
love are doomed, heaven can only be the place of per-
fect happiness we picture it, on condition of a narrowing,
a worsening, or at aU events a change, in our affections



Digitized by



Google



XIV PREFACE.



and moral nature, so vast as to be fatal to genuine
identity.

Lastly, it would seem impossible to frame any scheme
of a future life, at once equitable and rational, which
should include all human beings and exclude all the
rest of the animal creation. Those among us who are
most really intimate with dogs, horses, elephants, and
other ilite oi the fauna of the world, know that there
are many animals far more richly endowed with those
intellectual and moral qualities which are worth pre-
serving and which imply capacity of cultivation, than
many men, — higher, richer, and, above all, more unself-
ish and devoted, and therefore, we may almost say, more
Christian natures. I have seen, in the same day, brutes
on the summit and men at the foot of the Great St.
Bernard, with regard to whom no one would hesitate
to assign to the quadruped the superiority in all that
we desire should liva Yet, on the other hand, where
draw the line, since admittedly the highest animals taper
downwards, by wholly inappreciable gradations, to the
lowest organisms of simply vegetable life ?

Does the following suggestion by an anonymous writer
offer a way out of the difficulty ? — "I apprehend, that if
man's immortality be accepted as proven, a strong pre-
simiption may be thence derived in favor of the immor-
tality of those creatures who attain that moral stage whereat
man hecom^ an immortal heing. What that stage may be
we do not presume to guess, but we cannot suppose the
tremendous alternative of extinction or immortality to
be decided by arrival at any arbitrary or merely physical



Digitized by



Google



PREFACE. XV



turning-point such as may occur at various epochs either
before birth or at the moment of birth. We must believe
it to be determined by entrance on some moral or mental
stage such as may be represented by the terms Conscious-
ness, Self-Consciousness, Intelligence, Power of Love, or
the like ; by the development, in short, of the mysterious
Somewhat above the purely vegetative or animated life
for which such life is the scaflfolding. If, then (as we are
wont to take for granted), a child of some six or eigh-
teen months old be certainly an immortal being, it foUows
that the stage of development which involves immortality
must be an early one. And if such be the case, that stage
is unquestionably attained by animals often, and by some
men never.

"I beg that it may be remarked that this argument
expressly restricts itself to the case of the higher animals,
and thus escapes the objection which has always been
raised to the hypothesis of the immortality of the hum-
bler creatures, namely, that if we proceed a step below
the human race we have no right to stop short of the
oyster. I merely contend that where any animal mani-
festly surpasses an average human infant in those steps
of development which can be assumed to involve existence
after death, then we are logically and religiously justified


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryWilliam R. (William Rathbone) GregEnigmas of life → online text (page 1 of 22)