Nature Mysticism And The Race

The fundamental postulates and principles of a consistent

Nature Mysticism have now been expounded with a fullness

sufficient to allow of a soberly enthusiastic study of the detail of

our subject. Let it be noted, however, that though a detailed

application of general conclusions is henceforth to be the main

business, there will be no forsaking of the broadly human

standpoint. For it has been shown, more especially in

chapter on poetry, that the nature-mystic does not arrogate to

himself any unique place among his fellows, nor seek to enjoy,

in esoteric isolation, modes of experience denied to the mass of

humanity. Wordsworth, for instance, though a prince among

modern mystics, appealed with confidence to his countrymen at

large: his "we" was in constant evidence--and an ever-growing

multitude of nature-lovers responds to his appeal. That is to say,

the faculty of intuition he demands is to be found, in varying

degrees, latent at least, if not evolved, in the normal human

being. The gifted seer seizes and interprets what his less gifted

brother obscurely feels. Can we trace this mystic power of

nature on the scale of history at large? If the power is real, it

should be possible to recognise its grander workings. Moreover,

a wide outlook will help us to avoid exaggerations, preciosities,

and fanaticisms.

Here, then, is our starting-point for detailed study. If it be true

that all normal members of the race share in varying degrees the

faculty of mystic intuition, then nature must have had a

moulding effect not only on certain gifted individuals, but on

the character and destiny of whole communities, peoples, and

empires. As behind the language of the Greeks there were

age-long promptings of subconscious metaphysics, so behind the

aesthetic and spiritual development of this remarkable people

there must have been age-long promptings of subconscious

mystical intuitions stimulated by the influences of natural

phenomena. The moulding force of the immanent ideas, and of

the inner life of things, is, for the race at large, and for certain

peoples in particular, continuous, cumulative, massive. True, it

takes effect chiefly in the sphere of the subconscious. But he

will be a poor student of history who fails to reckon with those

subtler forces which, though obscure in their action, often

extend so widely and go so deep.

An eloquent evidence of nature's power to mould is to be found

in the contrasted characteristics of the great religions. The hardy

peoples of northwestern Europe were nurtured under stormy

skies, were girt in by stern, avalanche-swept mountains, and

struggled strenuously against the hardships of rigorous and

lengthy winters. What wonder that they filled their heaven with

_Sturm und Drang_--with titanic conflicts of the gods--and

heard it echoing with the whirl of hunting, the riot of feasting,

and the clang of battle? Their religion was strenuous as their

lives--free and fierce--yet tinged with a melancholy that

promised rich developments.

The favoured Greeks of classical times, "ever delicately

walking on most pellucid air," or rocked on the isle-strown

waters of the sapphire AEgaean, expanded their soul-life in an

environment teeming with light and colour, with harmony and

form. For them, therefore, Apollo bent his burnished bow and

launched his myriad shafts of gold; Aphrodite embodied visions

of foam-born beauty; Athene stood forth in panoply of reason

and restraint. Nature herself lured them to evolve ideals of law

and order, of disciplined thought and perfectly proportioned art.

What wonder that, prompted by mystic impulses and visions,

they purged their inherited religion of its grosser features, and

made it a vehicle for philosophic thought and spiritual


Pass to the wandering children of the desert, cradled amid the

great silences of space and time, swallowed up of vastness.

Above them by day the burning vault of blue, by night the

wheeling galaxies--around them the trackless levels of a thirsty

land. Such influences sank deep into their souls, and imparted

depth and intensity to their views of the source and meaning of

that vastness. Nor can we wonder that in such an environment,

the premonitions of the spiritual unity of existence, that were

stirring in many hearts, found special sustenance.

Let it be clearly understood that in the striking and

unmistakable illustrations just adduced, there is no mere

question of the influences of physical environment on social

organisation or economic development--though these also react

in a thousand ways upon ideas and ideals--but a question of

moulding spiritual concepts by the direct influence of the ideas

and impulses manifested in external nature. Man's soul was in

constant, if generally subconscious, communion with his

material environment, and his thinking was thereby largely

coloured and fashioned. And if the kind and quality of the

influence vary from age to age, and from people to people, it is

not the less continuously potent. The complexities of modern

life, the interminglings of civilisations, tend to obscure its

manifestations; science, wrongly pursued, seems hostile to

continued vigour. But underneath the play of the cross-currents

on the surface, is the resistless swing of the tide.

An illustration of another class is found in Max Mueller's

brilliant lectures on "Physical Religion," the chief theme of

which is the development of Agni, the Vedic god of fire. The

starting-point was the sensuous perception of the physical

qualities of fire. The Idea and the will immanent in these

qualities gradually raised men's thoughts from the material to

the spiritual, until the Eastern world attained to what Max

Mueller calls "a precious line from the Veda"--"He who above

the gods was the One God"--composed at least one thousand

years before the Christian era. It was not the result of a

supernatural revelation, but a natural outcome of man's thoughts

guided and moulded by impressions of outward phenomena.

That is to say, as Max Mueller observes, there was nothing in it

artificial--simply that which man could not help saying, being

what he was and seeing what he saw.

In the instances just advanced, the broad principle is most

assuredly established that nature has a definite and continuous

effect upon the development of man's conduct and thought. And

as a consequence of this, we may affirm that Wordsworth's

experience is true, in its measure, of all normal members of the

race who are in touch with nature:

"Therefore am I still

A lover of the meadows and the woods

And mountains; and of all that we behold

Of this green earth; both what they half create

And what perceive; well pleased to recognise

In nature and the language of the sense,

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,

The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul

Of all my moral being."

Why, even old Dr. Johnson in his Dictionary days would write

to his friend Langton, in Lincolnshire: "I shall delight to hear

the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men

to whom Nature does not spread her volumes or utter her voice

in vain." And let us observe, that the naturalness of his feeling

keeps him to the simplest, almost monosyllabic, English!