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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

The Charge Of Anthropomorphism

There are many thinkers who are ready to acknowledge that the
contemplation of nature leads to various kinds of emotional and
aesthetic experience, but who at the same time deny that the
results of such contemplation have any other than a subjective
character; they argue that the validity of the results evaporates,
so to speak, with the mood which brought them into being.
Myths, for example, from this point of view are "simply the
objectification of subjective impulses"; and modern sympathy
with nature is aesthetic feeling which "breaks free of the fetters
laid upon it by mythological thought, constantly to create at its
own sovereign pleasure myths which pass with the passing of
the end that they have served and give place to other fancies."
This "subjective" doctrine will meet us often, and will call for
various answers. Let it now be considered in its most general
and formidable shape, that to which Wundt has given weighty
support in his treatise on the "Facts of the Moral Life." The
sentences quoted just above are from those sections of this work
which deal with man's aesthetic relation to nature; and it is with
their teaching on the subject that this chapter will be chiefly

Here is a statement which raises a clear issue. The influence of
nature, says Wundt, is not immutable. "The same mountains and
rivers and forests lie before the modern European that lay
before his ancestors thousands of years ago; but the effect
which they produce is very different. In this change there is
reflected a change in man's _aesthetic_ view of the world, itself
connected with a change in his moral apprehension of life."
Now every word of this passage may be welcomed by the
nature-mystic without his thereby yielding his contention that
mountains and rivers and forests have a definite and immanent
objective significance of their own. The phenomena of sunrise
and sunset, which lay before our European ancestors thousands
of years ago, are the same as those which present themselves to
the modern astronomer, and yet how differently interpreted!
Does the difference imply that the early observer had no
objective facts before him, and that modern astronomy has
advanced to a freedom which enables it to frame hypotheses at
its sovereign will? Such a conclusion is just possible as we
meditate on the mutability of many scientific concepts! Still, the
conclusion would be regarded as somewhat violent. But if it is
allowed that in the latter case, the basis of objective fact gives
continuity to the development of astronomic lore, why should
the same privilege not be accorded to the objective element
in the continuity of mystical lore? As knowledge grows,
interpretations become more adequate to the objective facts, but
it does not negate them. And Wundt himself allows that "it is
from the mythological form of the feeling (for nature), which
reaches back to the first beginnings of human civilisation, that
the aesthetic feeling for nature with which we are ourselves
familiar has been slowly and gradually evolved." How could
such continuity be secured without some basis in the world of

And the basis in fact is surely easy of discovery. Man is not a
solitary being, suspended between earth and heaven. On the
contrary, he is related to all below him and all that is above him
by ties which enter into the very fibre of his being. He is
himself a child of nature, nurtured on the bosom of Mother
Earth and raising his eyes to the height of the Empyrean.
Evolution, whatever it may be, is a cosmic process--and man is
a link in a chain, or rather, a living member of a living universe.
For an evolutionist to argue man's relation to his physical
environment to be external in its physical aspects would be
deemed arrant folly. Is it less foolish for an evolutionist to
isolate man's emotions, feelings, and thoughts?

"In proportion" (says Wundt) "as nature lost her immediate and
living reality" (by the passing of mythology) "did the human
mind possess itself of her, to find its own subjective states
reflected in her features." Much obviously turns on the
implications of the word "reflected." We are led to hope much
when he speaks of "the kinship of the emotions set up by certain
phenomena of nature with moods arising from within"--but he
empties his statement of mystic meaning by adding, "at the
mind's own instance." "Nature" (says Auerbach in plainer
terms)" has no moods, they belong to man alone." Tennyson
gives expression to this view (not on his own behalf!):

"all the phantom, Nature, stands,
With all the music in her tone
A hollow echo of my own--
A hollow form with empty hands."

But surely all this negation of moods in nature, this
determination to empty natural phenomena of all definite
human significance, is invalidated by one very simple
consideration. There must be _some_ correspondence between
cause and effect. When certain moods are stimulated by certain
physical phenomena, there must be _some_ sort of real
causation. It is not _any_ scene that can harmonise with or
foster _any_ mood. The range of variety in the effects produced
by mountains, rivers, sunsets, and the rest, is admittedly great,
but it is not chaotic. The nature-mystic admits variety, nay,
rejoices in it, but he postulates an equivalent variety of
influences immanent in the phenomena. Of course Auerbach is
right if by mood in nature he means an experience similar to
that of the human observer: but he is wrong if he implies that
the mood is wholly a subjective creation, and that the object, or
group of objects, which stimulates the mood has no quality or
power which corresponds to, or is essentially connected with,
the mood.

Turner's famous "Fighting Temeraire" combines into an
exquisite whole a group of human moods and natural phenomena.
Was his choice of phenomena determined by purely subjective
considerations? A veteran warship is being towed by a
little steamer to her last berth. The human interest is
intense. The problem is to give it a fitting and noble setting.
Study the nature-setting which the artist has chosen for his
theme--the wealth of glowing, but gently subdued colour--the
sun setting, like the old ship, in mellow glory--the crescent
moon that speaks of the birth of a new economic era--the cool
mists stealing up, precursors of the night when work is done--
how marvellously all these tone with the general sentiment.
Shall it be maintained that they are arbitrary conventions, mere
fanciful products of the association of ideas? Armed with triple
brass must be the breast of the critic who could uphold such a
view. For the common heart of humanity repudiates it, and
intuitively feels that in such a picture there is more than a
display of artistic skill embodying subtle symbols--it feels that
there is a blending of elements which share a common spiritual

The same conclusion is reached when the matter is brought to
the test of science and philosophy. Science, in its own domain,
is every whit as anthropomorphic as Nature Mysticism--and
inevitably so if it is to exist at all; for it rests upon the
assumption that the behaviour of external objects is in harmony
with the workings of human reason. In other words, it postulates
a vital relationship between man's inner nature and the inner
nature of his material environment. Human reason goes out into
nature expecting to find there something akin to itself, and is
not disappointed of its hope. Man's conceptions of this kinship
were at first, like all his other conceptions, crude and confused;
but as his experience widened and ripened, his outlook became
more adequate to the infinite complexity and variety of the
phenomena with which he has to deal. And throughout, both in
the lower and in the higher stages of intellectual development,
the same truth unchangingly asserts itself, that man is a
microcosm. His reason proves it by finding itself in the
macrocosm. And what holds good of the imperfect and recently
developed rational faculties holds good even more substantially
of the fundamental instincts and emotions, and of intuitions and
spiritual promptings.

The scientist of a materialistic bent may here object that as the
sphere of human knowledge extends it becomes increasingly
evident that all the operations in the universe are under the sway
of inexorable laws. The issues thus raised are obviously too
large to be discussed at any length in the present context. But
two observations of a general character will serve to indicate
that there are weighty counter-considerations. The first is that
the human heart rebels against the conception of a mechanically
determined universe while conceiving itself a product of, or
integral part of, that universe. That is to say, we reject the
strange theory of a mechanical universe rebelling against itself!
Some of the inexorable laws must, to say the least, be of a very
different character from that which the scientist postulates! The
second consideration is almost a corollary of the first, but also
occupies new ground. These "laws" which are so indefatigably
hurled at us--what are they? Who can say? Even in their
simplest manifestations they pass out of our ken. The most
fundamental of them all, from the scientific point of view--the
law of the conservation of energy--is now being openly
questioned. Much more is there uncertainty as to the laws of
life, and the obscure trends and impulses grouped under the
head of evolution. So strongly does the stream of criticism bear
upon the foundations of the house of the physical scientist, that
the old temptation to hasty, and sometimes arrogant, dogmatism
is rapidly disappearing. The knowledge of "laws" still leaves,
and ever will leave, ample breathing room for the poet, the
artist, the nature-mystic, and the soul that loves.

There is, however, another aspect of the charge of
anthropomorphism--one which is more difficult to deal with
because it affects at times the nature-mystic himself. In
attempting to deal with it, it will be well to let representative
thinkers put their own case. Jefferies, for example, writes thus:
"There is nothing human in nature. The earth, though loved so
dearly, would let me perish on the ground, and neither bring
forth food nor water. Burning in the sky, the great sun, of whose
company I have been so fond, would merely burn on and make
no motion to assist me. . . . As for the sea, it offers us salt water
which we cannot drink. The trees care nothing for us; the hill I
visited so often in days gone by has not missed me. . . . There is
nothing human in the whole round of nature. All nature, all the
universe that we can see, is absolutely indifferent to us, and
except to us human life is of no more value than grass."

Now what does the charge, as thus stated, really amount to?
There is no implication that nature is hostile, as some (perhaps
including Huxley) would have us think. There is simply a
feeling that nature is remote from human modes of experience,
indifferent to human interests. And it would be puerile to
dispute the rightness of this impression so long as the standpoint
of the individual human being is adopted. The individual man is
a centre of self-consciousness in a peculiar sense. He has
numberless and interminable particular wants, hopes, fears,
pleasures, pains. Whereas, the infra-human objects in nature
have not attained to his particular mode of consciousness: theirs
differs from his in degree, perchance in kind. A tree, a cloud, a
mountain, a wave--these cannot enter into what we call
"personal" relations with each other or with human beings. But
this is not to say that they may not possess a consciousness,
which though different from man's consciousness, is yet akin to
it and linked to it. Nay, the nature-mystic's experiences, as well
as the metaphysician's speculations, declare that the linking
up must be regarded as a fact. And when we examine more
carefully what Jefferies says, we find that he in no way disputes
this fact. How could it be, with his vivid sense of communion
with forms of being still more remote from the human than the
sea-monsters he names? What oppressed him was a feeling of
strangeness. In other words, nature was "remote" for him
because he felt he did not understand it well enough.

Further discussion of the important issues thus raised will be
postponed until certain forms of modern animism come under
review. One or two preliminary observations, however, will be in
place at this earlier stage. It is wise, for example, not to forget
the limitations of our knowledge. A platitude! Yes--but one
which even the greatest thinkers are apt to lose sight of, with
consequent tendency to hasty generalisation and undue neglect
of deep-seated instincts and intuitions. The discovery of some
new cosmic law may change the whole face of nature, and set in
a new light its apparent remoteness or indifference. Again, as
has just been shown, natural phenomena are in definite
relationship to human reason. They are comprehensible--
therefore not alien. By their aid we can organise our conduct,
and even our ideals--therefore they are factors in our
self-realisation. Thus, underlying their seeming indifference,
it is possible even now to trace their beneficent influences
in the evolutionary process. And since they embody reason, beauty,
and goodness, we can afford to await in patience the solution of
many problems which trouble us, and surrender ourselves
trustfully to the calm, resistless forces which are weaving the
web of cosmic destinies.

A fine example of the trustful attitude is found in an article of
Lord Dunraven's describing his life in the woods of New
Brunswick: "The earth sleeps. A silence that can be felt has
fallen over the woods. The stars begin to fade. A softer and
stronger light wells up and flows over the scene as the broad
moon slowly floats above the tree tops. . . . The tree trunks
stand out distinct in the lessening gloom; the dark pine boughs
overhead seem to stoop caressingly towards you. Amid a
stillness that is terrifying, man is not afraid. Surrounded by a
majesty that is appalling, he shrinks not nor is he dismayed. In a
scene of utter loneliness he feels himself not to be alone. A
sense of companionship, a sensation of satisfaction, creep over
him. He feels at one with Nature, at rest in her strong protecting

There is no need, then, to be afraid of a charge ofanthropomorphism,
if only our conceptions of nature do not lag behind our
clear knowledge of its forms and forces. Man, being what
he is, is, of course, compelled to think as man and to speak
as man; he cannot jump off his own shadow. But since he is
himself part and parcel of the cosmos, his thinking and speaking
are _within_, not external to, the material cosmos. So
completely is he within, that his knowledge of himself comes to
him only by seeing himself reflected in the greater whole. And
thus, provided we are true to the highest principles we have
attained, we shall be safer when we look out on nature with the
analogy of human agency in our mind, than when we regard its
course as alien and indifferent. In other words, Nature is not
merely an AEolian harp which re-echoes tones given out by the
human soul--though that would be much!--but an indispensable
agent in producing them. The action is reciprocal, just because
man and his external world interpenetrate at every point, and are
united organically in a common life.

Next: The Immanent Idea

Previous: Nature Not Symbolic

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