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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds

Man And Nature

Many thinkers of the present day pride themselves upon the
growth of what they call the naturalistic spirit. What do they
mean by this? They mean that the older ways of interpreting
nature, animistic or supernatural, are being supplanted by
explanations founded on knowledge of physical facts and
"natural" laws. And, up to a point, there are but few natural
mystics who will not concur in their feelings of satisfaction that
ignorance and superstition are disappearing in rough proportion
as exact knowledge advances. At any rate, in this study, the
more solid conclusions of science will be freely and gladly
accepted. The very idea of a conflict between Science and
Natural Mysticism is to be mercilessly scouted.

But this concurrence must be conditional. Tait, for example,
was scornful of any form of animism. He wrote thus: "The
Pygmalions of modern days do not require to beseech Aphrodite
to animate the world for them. Like the savage with his Totem,
they have themselves already attributed life to it. 'It comes,'
as Helmholtz says, 'to the same thing as Schopenhauer's
metaphysics. The stars are to love and hate one another, feel
pleasure and displeasure, and to try to move in a way
corresponding to these feelings.' The latest phase of this
peculiar non-science tells us that all matter is alive; or at least
that it contains the 'promise and potency' (whatever these may be)
'of all terrestrial life.' All this probably originated in the very
simple manner already hinted at; viz., in the confusion of terms
constructed for application to thinking beings only, with others
applicable only to brute matter, and a blind following of this
confusion to its necessarily preposterous consequences. So
much for the attempts to introduce into science an element
altogether incompatible with the fundamental conditions of its

This is vigorous! But how does the matter now stand? Since
Tait wrote his invective, many physicists of at least equal rank
with himself, and with some undreamt-of discoveries to the
good, have subscribed to the views which he so trenchantly
condemns. As for the metaphysicians, there are but few of the
first flight who do not conceive of consciousness as the ultimate
form of existence. Again, the reference to the Pygmalion myth
implies the view that mythology was a mere empty product of
untutored fancy and imaginative subjectivism. Here also he is
out of harmony with the spirit now pervading the science of
religion and the comparative study of early modes of belief. It
will be well to devote some chapters to a survey of the problems
thus suggested, and to preface them by an enquiry, on general
lines, into man's relation to nature.

We shall best come to grips with the real issue by fastening on
Tait's "brute matter." For the words contain a whole philosophy.
On the one hand, matter, inert, lifeless: on the other hand, spirit,
living, supersensuous: between the two, and linking the two,
man, a spirit in a body. Along with this there generally goes a
dogma of special creations, though it may perhaps be held that
such a dogma is not essential to the distinction between the two
realms thus sharply sundered. It is at once obvious that, starting
from such premisses, Tait's invective is largely justified. For if
matter is inert, brute, dead--it certainly seems preposterous to
speak of its having within it the potency of life--using "life" as a
synonym for living organisms, including man. The nature-mystic
is overwhelmed with Homeric laughter.

But the whole trend of scientific investigation and speculation is
increasingly away from this crude and violent dualism. The
relation of soul to body is still a burning question, but does not
at all preclude a belief that matter is one mode of the
manifestation of spirit. Indeed, it is hard to understand how
upholders of the disappearing doctrine would ever bring
themselves to maintain, even on their own premisses, that any
creation of the Supreme Spirit could be "brute"--that is, inert
and irrational! Regarded from the new view-point, all is what
may, for present purposes, be called spiritual. And when man
appeared upon the globe, he was not something introduced from
without, different from and alien to the world of matter, but
merely the outcome of a more intense activity of the same
forces as were at work from the first and in the whole--in brief,
a higher manifestation of the life which is the ultimate Ground
of all modes of existence. There are not two different realms,
that of brute matter and living spirit; but various planes, or
grades, of life and consciousness. Leibniz had the beautiful and
profound idea that life has three modes on earth--it sleeps in
plants, it dreams in animals, and it wakes in man. Modern
thought is expanding, universalising, this idea.

Man's relation to nature, in the light of this newer doctrine, thus
becomes sufficiently clear. He is not an interloper, but an
integral part of a whole. He is the highest outcome (so far as our
world of sense is concerned) of a vast upward movement. Nay,
modern science links him on to other worlds and other aeons.
Cosmic evolution is "all of a piece," so to speak, and man takes
his own special place in an ordered whole. The process is slow,
measured by the standard of human life. Countless ages have
lapsed to bring us and our world to its present degree of
conscious life. Countless ages are yet to elapse. What shall be
the end--the goal? Who can tell? Judging by what we know, it
would seem simplest to say that the trend of the evolutionary
process is towards the increase of internal spontaneity and
consciously formed and prosecuted purpose. In his "Songs
before Sunrise," Swinburne calls this spontaneity "freedom."

"Freedom we call it, for holier
Name of the soul's there is none;
Surelier it labours, if slowlier,
Than the metres of star and of sun;
Slowlier than life unto breath,
Surelier than time unto death,
It moves till its labour is done."

The nature-mystic, then, is bound to reject the "brute" matter
doctrine just as decidedly as the doctrine of the unconditioned
Absolute. Each, in its own way, robs nature of its true glory and
significance. Nature, for him, is living: and that, not indirectly
as a "living garment" (to quote Goethe's Time Spirit) of another
Reality, but as itself a living part of that Reality--a genuine,
primary manifestation of the ultimate Ground. And man is an
integral living part of living nature.

There is another aspect of this "brute" matter doctrine which
leads to the same conclusions. If matter be held to possess no
other properties than those known to the physicist, it might be
possible to account for what may be termed the utilitarian side
of human development, social and individualistic. Nature makes
demands upon man's energies and capacities before she will
yield him food and shelter, and his material requirements
generally. The enormously important and far-reaching range of
facts here brought to view have largely determined the
chequered course of industrial and social evolution. But even
so, weighty reservations must be made. There is the element of
rationality (implicit in external phenomena) which has
responded to the workings of human reason. There are the
manifestations of something deeper than physics in the
operations of so-called natural laws, and all the moral
influences those laws have brought to bear on man's higher
development. There is the significant fact that as the resources
of civilisation have increased, the pressure of the utilitarian
relation has relaxed.

According fullest credit, however, to the influence of the purely
"physical" properties of nature, has man no other relation to his
external environment than the utilitarian? The moral influence
has been just suggested; the exploitation of this rich vein has for
some time past engaged the attention of evolutionary moralists.
Our more immediate concern is with the aesthetic influences.
And in nature there is beauty as well as utility. Nor is the beauty
a by-product of utility; it exists on its own account, and asserts
itself in its own right. As Emerson puts it--"it is its own excuse
for being." As another writer puts it--"in the beauty which we
see around us in nature's face, we have felt the smile of a
spiritual Being, as we feel the smile of our friend adding light
and lustre to his countenance." Yes, nature is beautiful and man
knows it. How great the number and variety of the emotions and
intuitions that beauty can stir and foster will be seen in detail

But beauty is not the only agent in moulding and developing
man's character. Nature, as will be shown, is a manifestation of
immanent ideas which touch life at every point. Ugliness, for
example, has its place as well as beauty, and will be dealt with
in due course. So with ideas of life and death, of power and
weakness, of hope and despondency--these and a thousand
others, immanent in external phenomena, have stimulated the
powerful imaginations of the infant race, and still maintain their
magic to move the sensitive soul. The wonderful mythological
systems of the past enshrine science, philosophy, and poetry--
and they were prompted by physical phenomena. The philosophy
and poetry of the present are still largely dependent
on the same phenomena. So it will be to the end.

That the revelation of Reality is a partial one--that the highest
summits are veiled in mists--this is freely granted. But the very
fact constitutes in itself a special charm. If what we see is so
wonderful, what must that be which is behind!

Next: Mystic Receptivity

Previous: Mystic Intuition And Reason

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