Leibnitz, as we have said, attempts to reconcile his system with Christianity, and therefore, of course, this theory of the relation of mind and body wears a very different aspect under his treatment from what it wears under that of Spinoza. But Spinoza and Leibnitz both agree in this one peculiar conception in which they differ from all other philosophers before or after them—that mind and body have no direct communication with each other, and that the phenomena of them merely correspond. M. de Carell says they both borrowed it from Descartes; but that is impossible. Descartes held no such opinion, it was the precise point of disagreement at which Spinoza parted from him: and therefore, since in point of date Spinoza had the advantage of Leibnitz, and we know that Leibnitz was acquainted with his writings, we must either suppose that he was directly indebted to Spinoza for an obligation which he ought to have acknowledged, or else, which is extremely improbable, that having read Spinoza and forgotten him, he afterwards reoriginated for himself one of the most singular and peculiar notions which was ever offered to the belief of mankind.
So much for the first point, which, after all, is but of little moment. It is more important to ascertain whether, in the hands of Leibnitz, this theory can be any better reconciled with what is commonly meant by religion; whether, that is, the ideas of obedience and disobedience, merit and demerit, judgment and retribution, have any proper place under it. Spinoza makes no pretension to anything of the kind, and openly declares that these ideas are ideas merely, and human mistakes. Leibnitz, in opposition to him, endeavours to re-establish them in the following manner. It is true he conceives that the system of the universe has been arranged and predetermined from the moment at which it was launched into being; from the moment at which God selected it, with all its details, as the best which could exist; but it is carried on by the action of individual creatures (monads as he calls them) which, though necessarily obeying the laws of their existence. yet obey them with a "character of spontaneity," which although "automata," are yet voluntary agents; and therefore, by the consent of their hearts to their actions, entitle themselves to moral praise or moral censure. The question is, whether by the mere co-existence of these opposite qualifies in the monad man, he has proved that such qualities can coexist. In our opinion, it is like speaking of a circular ellipse, or of a quadrilateral triangle. There is a plain dilemma in these matters from which no philosophy can extricate itself. If man can incur guilt, their actions might be other than they are. If they cannot act otherwise than they do, they cannot incur guilt. So at least it appears to us; yet, in the darkness of our knowledge, we would not complain merely of a theory, and if our earthly life were all in all, and the grave remained the extreme horizon of our hopes and fears, the "Harmonic Pre-etablie," might be tolerated as credible, and admired as ingenious and beautiful. It is when forcibly attached to a creed of the future, with which it has no natural connection, that it assumes its repulsive features. The world may be in the main good; while the good, from the unknown condition of its existence, may be impossible without some intermixture of evil; and although Leibnitz was at times staggered even himself by the misery and wickedness which he witnessed, and was driven to comfort himself with the reflection that this earth might be but one world in the midst of the universe, and perhaps the single chequered exception in an infinity of stainless globes, yet we would not quarrel with a hypothesis because it was imperfect; it might pass as a possible conjecture on a dark subject, when nothing better than conjecture was attainable.
But as soon as we are told that the evil in these "automata" of mankind, being, as it is, a necessary condition of this world which God has called into being, is yet infinitely detestable to God; that the creatures who suffer under the accursed necessity of committing sin are infinitely guilty in God's eyes, for doing what they have no power to avoid, and may therefore be justly punished in everlasting fire; our hearts recoil against the paradox.
No disciple of Leibnitz will maintain, that unless he had found this belief in an eternity of penal retribution an article of the popular creed, such a doctrine would have formed a natural appendage of his system; and if M. de Careil desires to know why the influence of Spinoza, whose genius he considers so insignificant, has been so deep and so enduring, while Leibnitz has only secured for himself a mere admiration of his talents, it is because Spinoza was not afraid to be consistent, even at the price of the world's reprobation, and refused to purchase the applause of his own age at the sacrifice of the singleness of his heart. _
"Deus," according to Spinoza's definition, "est ens constans infinitis attributis quorum unumquodque aeternam et infinitam essentiam exprimit." Under each of these attributes infinita sequuntur, and everything which an infinite intelligence can conceive, and an infinite power can produce,—everything which follows as a possibility out of the divine nature,—all things which have been, and are, and will be,—find expression and actual existence, not under one attribute only, but under each and every attribute. Language is so ill adapted to such a system, that even to state it accurately is all but impossible, and analogies can only remotely suggest what such expressions mean. But it is as if it were said that the same thought might be expressed in an infinite variety of languages; and not in words only, but in action, in painting, in sculpture, in music, in any form of any kind which can be employed as a means of spiritual embodiment. Of all these infinite attributes two only, as we said, are known to us,—extension and thought. Material phenomena are phenomena of extension; and to every modification of extension an idea corresponds under the attribute of thought. Out of such a compound as this is formed man, composed of body and mind; two parallel and correspondent modifications eternally answering one another. And not man only, but all other beings and things are similarly formed and similarly animated; the anima or mind of each varying according to the complicity of the organism of its material counterpart. Although body does not think, nor affect the mind's power of thinking; and mind does not control body, nor communicate to it either motion or rest or any influence from itself, yet body with all its properties is the object or ideate of mind; whatsoever body does mind perceives, and the greater the energizing power of the first, the greater the perceiving power of the second. And this is not because they are adapted one to the other by some inconceivable preordinating power, but because mind and body are una et eatlent res, the one absolute being affected in one and the same manner, but expressed under several attributes; the modes and affections of each attribute having that being for their cause, as he exists under that attribute of which they are modes and no other; idea being caused by idea, and body affected by body; the image on the retina being produced by the object reflected upon it, the idea or image in our minds by the idea of that object, &c. &c.
A solution so remote from all ordinary ways of thinking on these matters is so difficult to grasp, that one can hardly speak of it as being probable, or as being improbable. Probability extends only to what we can imagine as possible, and Spinoza's theory seems to lie beyond the range within which our judgment can exercise itself; in our own opinion, indeed, as we have already said, the entire subject is one with which we have no business; and the explanation of it, if it is ever to be explained to us, is reserved till we are in some other state of existence. We do not disbelieve Spinoza because what he suggests is in itself incredible. The chances may be millions to one against his being right, yet the real truth, if we knew it, would be probably at least as strange as his conception of it. But we are firmly convinced that of these questions, and all like them, practical answers only lie within the reach of human faculties; and that in all such "researches into the absolute" we are on the road which ends nowhere.
Among the difficulties, however, most properly akin to this philosophy itself, there is one most obvious, viz., that if the attributes of God be infinite, and each particular thing is expressed under them all, then mind and body express but an infinitesimal portion of the nature of each of ourselves; and this human nature exists (i.e., there exists corresponding modes of substance) in the whole infinity of the divine nature under attributes differing each from each, and all from mind and all from body. That this must be so, follows obviously from the definition of the Infinite Being, and the nature of the distinction between the two attributes which are known to us; and if this be so, why does not the mind perceive something of all these other attributes? The objection is well expressed by a correspondent (Letter 67):—"It follows from what you say," he writes to Spinoza, "that the modification which constitutes my mind, and that which constitutes my body, although it be one and the same modification, yet must be expressed in an infinity of ways; one way by thought, a second way by extension, a third by some attribute unknown to me, and so on to infinity; the attributes being infinite in number, and the order and connection of modes being the same in them all; why, then, does the mind perceive the modes of but one attribute only?"
Spinoza's answer is curious: unhappily a fragment of his letter only is extant, so that it is too brief to be satisfactory.
"In reply to your difficulty," he says, "although each particular thing be truly in the Infinite mind, conceived in Infinite modes, the Infinite idea answering to all these cannot constitute one and the same mind of any single being, but must constitute Infinite minds. No one of all these Infinite ideas has any connection with another."
He means, we suppose, that God's mind only perceives, or can perceive, things under their Infinite expression, and that the idea of each several mode, under whatever attribute, constitutes a separate mind.
We do not know that we can add anything to this explanation; the difficulty lies in the audacious sweep of the speculation itself; we will however attempt an illustration, although we fear it will be to illustrate obscurum tier obscurius. Let A B C D be four out of the Infinite number of the Divine attributes. A the attribute of mind; B the attribute of extension; C and D other attributes, the nature of which is not known to us. Now A, as the attribute of mind, is that which perceives all which takes place under B C and D, but it is only as it exists in God that it forms the universal consciousness of an attributes at once. In its modifications it is combined separately with the modifications of each, constituting in combination with the modes of each attribute a separate being. As forming the mind of B, A perceives what takes place in B, but not what takes place in C or D. Combined with B, it forms the soul of the human body, and generally the soul of all modifications of extended substance; combined with C, it forms the soul of some other analogous being; combined with D, again of another; but the combinations are only in pairs, in which A is constant. A and B make one being, A and C another, A and D a third; but B will not combine with C, nor C with D; each attribute being, as it were, conscious only of itself. And therefore, although to those modifications of mind and extension which we call ourselves there are corresponding modifications under C and D, and generally under each of the Infinite attributes of God; each of ourselves being in a sense Infinite, nevertheless we neither have nor can have any knowledge of ourselves in this Infinite aspect; our actual consciousness being limited to the phenomena of sensible experience.
English readers, however, are likely to care little for all this; they will look to the general theory, and judge of it as its aspect affects them. And first, perhaps, they will be tempted to throw aside as absurd the notion that their bodies go through the many operations which they experience them to do, undirected by their minds; it is a thing they may say at once preposterous and incredible. And no doubt on the first blush it sounds absurd, and yet, on second thoughts, it is less so than it seems; and though we could not persuade ourselves to believe it, absurd in the sense of having nothing to be said for it, it certainly is not. It is far easier, for instance, to imagine the human body capable by its own virtue, and by the laws of material organisation, of building a house, than of thinking; and yet men are allowed to say that the body thinks, without being regarded as candidates for a lunatic asylum. We see the seed shoot up into stem and leaf and throw out flowers; we observe it fulfilling processes of chemistry more subtle than were ever executed in Liebig's laboratory, and producing structures more cunning than man can imitate. The bird builds her nest, the spider shapes out its delicate web and stretches it in the path of his prey; directed not by calculating thought, as we conceive ourselves to be, but by some motive influence, our ignorance of the nature of which we disguise from ourselves, and call it instinct, but which we believe at least to be some property residing in the organisation; and we are not to suppose that the human body, the most complex of all material structures, has slighter powers in it than the bodies of a seed, a bird, or an insect. Let us listen to Spinoza himself:—
"There can be no doubt," he says, "that this hypothesis is true, but unless I can prove it from experience, men will not, I fear, be induced even to reflect upon it calmly, so persuaded are they that it is by the mind only that their bodies are set in motion. And yet what body can or cannot do no one has yet determined; body, i.e., by the law of its own nature, and without assistance from mind. No one has so probed the human frame as to have detected all its functions and exhausted the list of them: and there are powers exhibited by animals far exceeding human sagacity; and again, feats are performed by somnambulists on which in the waking state the same persons would never venture —itself a proof that body is able to accomplish what mind can only admire. Men say that mind moves body, but how it moves it they cannot tell, or what degree of motion it can impart to it; so that, in fact, they do not know what they say, and are only confessing their own ignorance in specious language. They will answer me, that whether or not they understand how it can be, yet that they are assured by plain experience that unless mind could perceive, body would be altogether inactive; they know that it depends on the mind whether the tongue speak or not. But do they not equally experience that if their bodies are paralysed their minds cannot think? That if their bodies are asleep their minds are without power? That their minds are not at all times equally able to exert themselves even on the same subject, but depend on the state of their bodies? And as for experience proving that the members of the body can be controlled by the mind, I fear experience proves very much the reverse. But it is absurd, they rejoin, to attempt to explain from the mere laws of body such things as pictures, or palaces, or works of art; the body could not build a church unless mind directed it. I have shown, however, that we do not vet know what body can or cannot do, or what would naturally follow from the structure of it; that we experience in the feats of somnambulists something which antecedently to that experience would have seemed incredible. This fabric of the human body exceeds infinitely any contrivance of human skill, and an infinity of things, as I have already proved, ought to follow from it."
We are not concerned to answer this reasoning, although if the matter were one the debating of which could be of any profit, it would undoubtedly have its weight, and would require to be patiently considered. Life is too serious, however, to be wasted with impunity over speculations in which certainty is impossible, and in which we are trifling with what is inscrutable.
Objections of a far graver kind were anticipated by Spinoza himself, when he went on to gather out of his philosophy "that the mind of man being part of the Infinite intelligence, when we say that such a mind perceives this thing or that, we are, in fact, saying that God perceives it, not that he is Infinite, but as he is represented by the nature of this or that idea; and similarly, when we say that a man does this or that action, we say that God does it not qua he is Infinite, but qua he is expressed in that man's nature." "Here," he says, "many readers will no doubt hesitate, and many difficulties will occur to them in the way of such a supposition." Undoubtedly there was reason enough to form, such an anticipation. As long as the Being whom he so freely names remains surrounded with the associations which in this country we bring with us out of our child years, not all the logic in the world would make us listen to language such as this. It is not so— we know it, and it is enough. We are well aware of the phalanx of difficulties which lie about our ordinary theistic conceptions. They are quite enough, if religion depended on speculative consistency, and not in obedience of life, to perplex and terrify us. What are we? what is anything? If it be not divine, what is it then? If created—out of what is it created? and how created—and why? These questions, and others far more momentous which we do not enter upon here, may be asked and cannot be answered; but we cannot any the more consent to Spinoza on the ground that he alone consistently provides an answer; because, as we have said again and again, we do not care to have them answered at all. Conscience is the single tribunal to which we will be referred, and conscience declares imperatively that what he says is not true. But of all this it is painful to speak, and as far as possible we designedly avoid it. Pantheism is not Atheism, but the Infinite Positive and the Infinite Negative are not so remote from one another in their practical bearings; only let us remember that we are far indeed from the truth if we think that God to Spinoza was nothing else but that world which we experience. It is but one of infinite expressions of Him, a conception which makes us giddy in the effort to realize it.
We have arrived at last at the outwork of the whole matter in its bearings upon life and human duty. It was in the search after this last, that Spinoza, as we said, travelled over so strange a country, and we now expect his conclusions. To discover the true good of man, to direct his actions to such ends as will secure to him real and lasting felicity, and by a comparison of his powers with the objects offered to them, to ascertain how far they are capable of arriving at these objects, and by what means they can best be trained towards them—is the aim which Spinoza assigns to philosophy. "Most people," he adds, "deride or vilify their nature; it is a better thing to endeavour to understand it; and however extravagant it may be thought in me to do so, I propose to analyse the properties of that nature as if it were a mathematical figure." Mind, being, as we have seen, nothing else than the idea corresponding to this or that affection of body; we are not, therefore, to think of it as a faculty, but simply and merely as an act. There is no general power called intellect, any more than there is any general abstract volition, but only hic et ille intellectus et haec et illa volitio, and again, by the word Mind, is understood not merely acts of will or intellect, but all forms also of consciousness of sensation or emotion. The human body being composed of many small bodies, the mind is similarly composed of many minds, and the unity of body and of mind depends on the relation which the component portions maintain towards each other. This is obviously the case with body, and if we can translate metaphysics into common experience, it is equally the case with mind. There are pleasures of sense and pleasures of intellect; a thousand tastes, tendencies, and inclinations form our mental composition; and evidently since one contradicts another, and each has a tendency to become dominant, it is only in the harmonious equipoise of their several activities, in their due and just subordination, that any unity of action or consistency of feeling is possible. After a masterly analysis of all these tendencies (the most complete by far which has ever been made by any moral philosopher), Spinoza arrives at the principles under which such unity and consistency can be obtained as the condition upon which a being so composed can look for any sort of happiness. And these principles, arrived at as they are by a route so different, are the same, and are proposed by Spinoza as being the same, as those of the Christian Religion.
It might seem impossible in a system which binds together in so inexorable a sequence the relations of cause and effect, to make a place for the action of human self-control; but consideration will show, that however vast the difference between those who deny and those who affirm the liberty of the will (in the sense in which the expression is usually understood), it is not a difference which affects the conduct or alters the practical bearings of it. It is quite possible that conduct may be determined by laws; laws as absolute as those of matter; and yet that the one as well as the other may be brought under control by a proper understanding of those laws. Now, experience seems plainly to say, that while all our actions arise out of desire—that whatever we do, we do for the sake of something which we wish to be or to obtain—we are differently affected towards what is proposed to us as an object of desire, in proportion as we understand the nature of such object in itself and in its consequences. The better we know the better we act, and the fallacy of all common arguments against necessitarianism lies in the assumption that it leaves no room for self-direction; whereas it merely insists in exact conformity with experience on the conditions under which self-determination is possible. Conduct, according to the necessitarian, depends on knowledge. Let a man certainly know that there is poison in the cup of wine before him, and he will not drink it. By the law of cause and effect, his desire for the wine is overcome by the fear of the pain or the death which will follow; and so with everything which comes before him. Let the consequences of any action be clear, definite, and inevitable, and though Spinoza would not say that the knowledge of them will be absolutely sufficient to determine the conduct (because the clearest knowledge may be overborne by violent passion), yet it is the best which we have to trust to, and will do much if it cannot do all. On this hypothesis, after a diagnosis of the various tendencies of human nature, called commonly the passions and affections, he returns upon the nature of our ordinary knowledge to derive out of it the means for their control: all these tendencies of themselves seek their own objects—seek them blindly and immoderately; and all the mistakes, and all the unhappinesses of life, arise from the want of due understanding of these objects, and a just subordination of the desire for them. His analysis is remarkably clear; but it is too long for us to enter upon it; the important thing being the character of the control which is to be exerted. And to arrive at this, he employs a distinction of great practical utility, and which is peculiarly his own. Following his tripartite division of knowledge, he finds all kinds of it arrange themselves under one of two classes, and to be either adequate or inadequate. By adequate knowledge he means not necessarily what is exhaustive and complete, but what, as far as it goes, is distinct and unconfused: by inadequate, what we know merely as fact either derived from our own sensations, or from the authority of others; but of the connexion of which with other facts, of the causes, effects, or meaning of which we know nothing. We may have an adequate idea of a circle, though we are unacquainted with all the properties which belong to it; we conceive it distinctly as a figure generated by the rotation of a line, one end of which is stationary. Phenomena, on the other hand, however made known to us—phenomena of the senses, and phenomena of experience, as long as they remain phenomena merely, and unseen in any higher relation—we can never know except as inadequately. We cannot tell what outward things are, by coming in contact with certain features of them. We have a very imperfect acquaintance even with our own bodies, and the sensations which we experience of various kinds rather indicate to us the nature of these bodies themselves than of the objects which affect them. Now it is obvious that the greater part of mankind act only upon knowledge of this latter kind. The amusements, even the active pursuits of most of us, remain wholly within the range of uncertainty; and, therefore, necessarily are full of hazard and precariousness: little or nothing issues as we expect; we look for pleasure and we find pain; we shun one pain and find a greater; and thus arises the ineffectual character which we so complain of in life— the disappointments, failures, mortifications which form the material of so much moral meditation on the vanity of the world. Much of all this is inevitable from the constitution of our nature. The mind is too infirm to be entirely occupied with higher knowledge. The conditions of life oblige us to act in many cases which cannot be understood by us except with the utmost inadequacy; and the resignation to the higher will which has determined all things in the wisest way, is imperfect in the best of us. Yet much is possible, if not all; and, although through a large tract of life "there comes one event to all, to the wise and to the unwise," "yet wisdom excelleth folly as far as light excelleth darkness." The phenomena of experience by inductive experiment, and just and careful consideration, arrange themselves under laws uniform in their operation, and furnishing a guide to the judgment; and over all things, although the interval must remain unexplored for ever, because what we would search into is Infinite, may be seen the beginning of all things, the absolute eternal God. "Mens humana," Spinoza continues, "quaedam agit, quaedam vero patitur." In so far as it is influenced by inadequate ideas, "eatenus patitur"—it is passive and in bondage, it is the sport of fortune and caprice: in so far as its ideas are adequate, "eatenus agit"—it is active, it is itself. While we are governed by outward temptations, by the casual pleasures, the fortunes or the misfortunes of life, we are but instruments, yielding ourselves to be acted upon as the animal is acted on by its appetites, or the inanimate matter by the laws which bind it—we are slaves—instruments, it may be, of some higher purpose in the order of nature, but in ourselves nothing; instruments which are employed for a special work, and which are consumed in effecting it. So far, on the contrary, as we know clearly what we do, as we understand what we are, and direct our conduct not by the passing emotion of the moment, but by a grave, clear, and constant knowledge of what is really good, so far we are said to act—we are ourselves the spring of our own activity—we desire the genuine well-being of our entire nature, and that we can always find, and it never disappoints us when found.
All things desire life, seek for energy, and fuller and ampler being. The component parts of man, his various appetites and passions, are seeking for this while pursuing each its own immoderate indulgence; and it is the primary law of every single being that it so follows what will give it increased vitality. Whatever will contribute to such increase is the proper good of each; and the good of man as a united being is measured and determined by the effect of it upon his collective powers. The appetites gather power from their several objects of desire; but the power of the part is the weakness of the whole; and man as a collective person gathers life, being, and self-mastery only from the absolute good,— the source of all real good, and truth, and energy,— that is, God. The love of God is the extinction of all other loves and all other desires; to know God, as far as man can know him, is power, self-government, and peace. And this is virtue, and this is blessedness. Thus, by a formal process of demonstration, we are brought round to the old conclusions of theology; and Spinoza protests that it is no new doctrine which he is teaching, but that it is one which in various dialects has been believed from the beginning of the world. It is a necessary consequence of the simple propositions that happiness depends on the consistency and coherency of character, and that such coherency can only be given by the knowledge of the One Being, to know whom is to know all things adequately, and to love whom is to have conquered every other inclination. The more entirely our minds rest on Him, the more distinctly we regard all things in their relation to Him, the more we cease to be under the dominion of external things; we surrender ourselves consciously to do His will, and as living men and not as passive things we become the instruments of His power. When the true nature and true causes of our affections become clear to us, they have no more power to influence us. The more we understand, the less can feeling sway us; we know that all things are what they are, because they are so constituted that they could not be otherwise, and we cease to be angry with our brother, we cease to hate him; we shall not fret at disappointment, nor complain of fortune, because no such thing as fortune exists; and if we are disappointed it is better than if we had succeeded, not perhaps for ourselves, yet for the universe. We cannot fear, when nothing can befall us except what God, wills, and we shall not violently hope when the future, whatever it be, will be the best which is possible. Seeing all things in their place in the everlasting order, Past and Future will not affect us. The temptation of present pleasure will not overcome the certainty of future pain, for the pain will be as sure as the pleasure, and we shall see all things under a rule of adamant. The foolish and the ignorant are led astray by the idea of contingency, and expect to escape the just issues of their actions: the wise man will know that each action brings with it its inevitable consequences, which even God cannot change without ceasing to be Himself.
In such a manner, through all the conditions of life, Spinoza pursues the advantages which will accrue to man from the knowledge of God, God and man being what his philosophy has described them. It cannot be denied that it is most beautiful; although much of its beauty is perhaps due to associations which have arisen out of Christianity, and which in the system of pantheism have no proper abiding place. Retaining, indeed, all that is beautiful in Christianity, he even seems to have relieved himself of the more fearful features of the general creed. He acknowledges no hell, no devil, no positive and active agency at enmity with God; but sees in all things infinite gradations of beings, all in their way obedient, and all fulfilling the part allotted to them. Doubtless a pleasant exchange and a grateful deliverance, if only we could persuade ourselves that a hundred pages of judiciously arranged demonstrations could really and indeed have worked it for us. If we could indeed believe that we could have the year without its winter, day without night, sunlight without shadow. Evil is unhappily too real a thing to be so disposed of.
Yet if we cannot believe Spinoza's system taken in its entire completeness, yet we may not blind ourselves to the beauty of his practical rule of life, or the disinterestedness and calm nobility which pervades it. He will not hear of a virtue which desires to be rewarded. Virtue is the power of God in the human soul, and that is the exhaustive end of all human desire. "Beatitudo non est virtutis pretium, sed ipsa virtus. Nihil aliud est quam ipsa animi acquiescentia, quae ex Dei intuitiva cognitione oritur." And the same spirit of generosity exhibits itself in all his conclusions. The ordinary objects of desire, he says, are of such a kind that for one man to obtain them is for another to lose them; and this alone would suffice to prove that they are not what any man should labour after. But the fullness of God suffices for us all, and he who possesses this good desires only to communicate it to every one, and to make all mankind as happy as himself. And again:— "The wise man will not speak in society of his neighbour's faults, and sparingly of the infirmity of human nature; but he will speak largely of human virtue and human power, and of the means by which that nature can best be perfected, so to lead men to put away that fear and aversion with which they look on goodness, and learn with relieved hearts to love and desire it." And once more:—"He who loves God will not desire that God should love him in return with any partial or particular affection, for that is to desire that God for his sake should change his everlasting nature and become lower than himself."
One grave element, indeed, of a religious faith would seem in such a system to be necessarily wanting. Where individual action is resolved into the modified activity of the Universal Being, all absorbing and all evolving, the individuality of the personal man would at best appear but an evanescent and unreal shadow. Such individuality, however, as we now possess, whatever it be, might continue to exist in a future state as really as it exists in the present, and those to whom it belongs might be anxious naturally for its persistence. And yet it would seem that if the soul be nothing except the idea of a body actually existing, when that body is decomposed into its elements, the soul corresponding to it must accompany it into an answering dissolution. And this, indeed, Spinoza in one sense actually affirms, when he denies to the mind any power of retaining consciousness of what has befallen it in life, "nisi durante corpore." But Spinozism is a philosophy full of surprises; and our calculations of what must belong to it are perpetually baffled. The imagination, the memory, the senses, whatever belongs to inadequate perception, perish necessarily and eternally; and the man who has been the slave of his inclinations, who has no knowledge of God, and no active possession of himself, having in life possessed no personality, loses in death the appearance of it with the dissolution of the body.
Nevertheless, there is in God an idea expressing the essence of the mind, united to the mind as the mind is united to the body, and thus there is in the soul something of an everlasting nature which cannot utterly perish. And here Spinoza, as he often does in many of his most solemn conclusions, deserts for a moment the thread of his demonstrations, and appeals to the consciousness. In spite of our non-recollection of what passed before our birth, in spite of all difficulties from the dissolution of the body, "Nihilo minus," he says, "sentimus experimurque nos aeternos esse. Nam mens non minus res illas sentit quas intelligendo concipit, quam quas in memoria habet. Mentis enim oculi quibus res videt observatque sunt ipsae demonstrationes."
This perception, immediately revealed to the mind, falls into easy harmony with the rest of the system. As the mind is not a faculty, but an act or acts,—not a power of perception, but the perception itself,—in its high union with the highest object (to use the metaphysical language which Coleridge has made popular and perhaps partially intelligible), the object and the subject become one; a difficult expression, but the meaning of which (as it bears on our present subject) may be something of this kind:—If knowledge be followed as it ought to be followed, and all objects of knowledge be regarded in their relations to the One Absolute Being, the knowledge of particular outward things, of nature, or life, or history, becomes in fact, knowledge of God; and the more complete or adequate such knowledge, the more the mind is raised above what is perishable in the phenomena to the idea or law which lies beyond them. It learns to dwell exclusively upon the eternal, not upon the temporary; and being thus occupied with the everlasting laws, and its activity subsisting in its perfect union with them, it contracts in itself the character of the objects which possess it. Thus we are emancipated from the conditions of duration; we are liable even to death only quatenus patimur, as we are passive things and not active intelligences; and the more we possess such knowledge and are possessed by it, the more entirely the passive is superseded by the active—so that at last the human soul may "become of such a nature that the portion of it which will perish with the body in in comparison with that of it which shall endure, shall be insignificant and nullius momenti." (Eth v. 38.)
Such are the principal features of a philosophy, the influence of which upon Europe, direct and indirect, it is not easy to over-estimate. The account of it is far from being an account of the whole of Spinoza's labours; his "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus" was the forerunner of German historical criticism; the whole of which has been but the application of principles laid down in that remarkable work. But this was not a subject on which, upon the present occasion, it was desirable to enter, and we have designedly confined ourselves to the system which is most associated with the name of its author. It is this which has been really powerful, which has stolen over the minds even of thinkers who imagine themselves most opposed to it. It has appeared in the absolute Pantheism of Schelling and Hegel, in the Pantheistic Christianity of Herder and Schleiermacher. Passing into practical life it has formed the strong shrewd judgment of Goethe, while again it has been able to unite with the theories of the most extreme materialism.
It lies too, perhaps (and here its influence has been unmixedly good) at the bottom of that more reverent contemplation of nature which has caused the success of our modern landscape painting, which inspired Wordsworth's poetry, and which, if ever physical science is to become an instrument of intellectual education, must first be infused into the lessons of nature; the sense of that "something" interfused in the material world—
"Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;— A motion and a spirit, which impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things."
If we shrink from regarding the extended universe, with Spinoza, as an actual manifestation of Almighty God, we are unable to rest in the mere denial that it is this. We go on to ask what it is, and we are obliged to conclude thus much at least of it, that every smallest being was once a thought in his mind; and in the study of what he has made we are really and truly studying a revelation of himself.
It is not here, it is not on the physical, it is rather on the moral side, that the point of main offence is lying; in that excuse for evil and for evil men which the necessitarian theory will furnish, disguise it in what fair-sounding words we will. So plain this is that common-sense people, and especially English people, cannot bring themselves even to consider the question without impatience, and turn disdainfully and angrily from a theory which confuses their plain instincts of right and wrong. Although, however, error on this side is infinitely less mischievous than on the other, no vehement error can exist in this world with impunity; and it does appear that in our common view of these matters we have closed our eyes to certain grave facts of experience, and have given the fatalist a vantage ground of real truth which we ought to have considered and allowed. At the risk of tediousness we shall enter briefly into this unpromising ground. Life and the necessities of life are our best philosophers if we will only listen honestly to what they say to us; and dislike the lesson as we may, it is cowardice which refuses to hear it.
The popular belief is, that right and wrong lies before every man, and that he is free to choose between them, and the responsibility of choice rests with himself. The fatalist's belief is that every man's actions are determined by causes external and internal over which he has no power, leaving no room for any moral choice whatever. The first is contradicted by plain facts; the second by the instinct of conscience. Even Spinoza allows that for practical purposes we are obliged to regard the future as contingent, and ourselves as able to influence it; and it is incredible that both our inward convictions and our outward conduct should be built together upon a falsehood. But if, as Butler says, whatever be the speculative account of the matter, we are practically forced to regard ourselves as free, this is but half the truth, for it may be equally said that practically we are forced to regard each other as not free; and to make allowance, every moment, for influences for which we cannot hold each other personally responsible. If not, —if every person of sound mind (in the common acceptation of the term) be equally able at all times to act right if only he will,—why all the care which we take of children? why the pains to keep them from bad society? why do we so anxiously watch their disposition, to determine the education which will best answer to it? Why in cases of guilt do we vary our moral censure according to the opportunities of the offender? Why do we find excuses for youth, for inexperience, for violent natural passion, for bad education, bad example? Except that we feel that all these things do affect the culpability of the guilty person, and that it is folly and inhumanity to disregard them. But what we act upon in private life we cannot acknowledge in our general ethical theories, and while our conduct in detail is human and just, we have been contented to gather our speculative philosophy out of the broad and coarse generalisations of political necessity. In the swift haste of social life we must indeed treat men as we find them. We have no time to make allowances; and the graduation of punishment by the scale of guilt is a mere impossibility. A thief is a thief in the law's eye though he has been trained from his cradle in the kennels of St. Giles's; and definite penalties must be attached to definite acts, the conditions of political life not admitting of any other method of dealing with them. But it is absurd to argue from such rude necessity that each act therefore, by whomsoever committed, is of specific culpability. The act is one thing, the moral guilt is another. And there are many cases in which, as Butler again allows, if we trace a sinner's history to the bottom, the guilt attributable to himself appears to vanish altogether.
This is all plain matter of fact, and as long as we continue to deny or ignore it, there will be found men (not bad men, but men who love the truth as much as ourselves), who will see only what we neglect, and will insist upon it, and build their system upon it.
And again, if less obvious, yet not less real, are those natural tendencies which each of us brings with him into the world,—which we did not make, and yet which almost as much determine what we are to be, as the properties of the seed determine the tree which shall grow from it. Men are self-willed, or violent, or obstinate, or weak, or generous, or affectionate; there is as large difference in their dispositions as in the features of their faces; and that by no original act of their own. Duties which are easy to one, another finds difficult or impossible. It is with morals as it is with art. Two children are taught to draw; one learns with ease, the other hardly or never. In vain the master will show him what to do. It seems so easy: it seems as if he had only to will and the thing would be done; but it is not so. Between the desire and the execution lies the incapable organ which only wearily, and after long labour, imperfectly accomplishes what is required of it. And the same, to a certain extent, unless we will deny the plainest facts of experience, holds true in moral actions. No wonder, therefore, that evaded or thrust aside as these things are in the popular beliefs, as soon as they are recognized in their full reality they should be mistaken for the whole truth, and that the free-will theory be thrown aside as a chimera.
It may be said, and it often is said, that all such reasonings are merely sophistical—that however we entangle ourselves in logic, we are conscious that we are free; we know—we are as sure as we are of our existence that we have power to act this way or that way, exactly as we choose. But this is less plain than it seems; and if we grant it, it proves less than it appears to prove. It may be true that we can act as we choose, but can we choose? Is not our choice determined for us? We cannot determine from the fact, because we always have chosen as soon as we act, and we cannot replace the conditions in such a way as to discover whether we could have chosen anything else. The stronger motive may have determined our volition without our perceiving it; and if we desire to prove our independence of motive, by showing that we can choose something different from that which we should naturally have chosen, we still cannot escape from the circle, this very desire becoming, as Mr. Hume observes, itself a motive. Again, consciousness of the possession of any power may easily be delusive; we can properly judge what our powers are only by what they have actually accomplished; we know what we have done, and we may infer from having done it, that our power was equal to what it achieved; but it is easy for us to overrate ourselves if we try to measure our abilities in themselves. A man who can leap five yards may think that he can leap six; yet he may try and fail. A man who can write prose may only learn that he cannot write poetry from the badness of the verses which he produces. To the appeal to consciousness of power there is always an answer:—that we may believe ourselves to possess it, but that experience proves that we may be deceived.
There are, however, another set of feelings which cannot be set aside in this way, which do prove that, in some sense or other, in some degree or other, we are the authors of our own actions,—that there is a point fit which we begin to be responsible for them. It is one of the clearest of all inward phenomena, that, where two or more courses involving moral issues are before us, whether we have a consciousness of power to choose between them or not, we have a consciousness that we ought to choose between them; a sense of duty hoti dei touto prattein, as Aristotle expresses it, which we cannot shake off. Whatever this involves (and some measure of freedom it must involve or it is nonsense), the feeling exists within us, and refuses to yield before all the batteries of logic. It is not that of the two courses we know that one is in the long run the best, and the other more immediately tempting. We have a sense of obligation irrespective of consequence, the violation of which is followed again by a sense of self-disapprobation, of censure, of blame. In vain will Spinoza tell us that such feelings, incompatible as they are with the theory of powerlessness, are mere mistakes arising out of a false philosophy. They are primary facts of sensation most vivid in minds of most vigorous sensibility; and although they may be extinguished by habitual profligacy, or possibly, perhaps, destroyed by logic, the paralysis of the conscience is no more a proof that it is not a real power of perceiving real things, than blindness is a proof that sight is not a real power. The perceptions of worth and worthlessness are not conclusions of reasoning, but immediate sensations like those of seeing and hearing; and although, like the other senses, they may be mistaken sometimes in the accounts they render to us, the fact of the existence of such feelings at all proves that there is something which corresponds to them. If there be any such things as "true ideas," or clear distinct perceptions at all, this of praise and blame is one of them, and according to Spinoza's own rule we must accept what it involves. And it involves that somewhere or other the influence of causes ceases to operate, and that some degree of power there is in men of self-determination, by the amount of which, and not by their specific actions, moral merit or demerit is to be measured. Speculative difficulties remain in abundance. It will be said in a case, e.g. of moral trial, that there may have been power; but was there power enough to resist the temptation? If there was, then it was resisted. If there was not, there was no responsibility. We must answer again from a practical instinct. We refuse to allow men to be considered all equally guilty who have committed the same faults; and we insist that their actions must be measured against their opportunities. But a similar conviction assures us that there is somewhere a point of freedom. Where that point is, where other influences terminate, and responsibility begins, will always be of intricate and often impossible solution. But if there be such a point at all, it is fatal to necessitarianism, and man is what he has been hitherto supposed to be—an exception in the order of nature, with a power not differing in degree but differing in kind from those of other creatures. Moral life, like all life, is a mystery; and as to dissect the body will not reveal the secret of animation, so with the actions of the moral man. The spiritual life, which alone gives them meaning and being, glides away before the logical dissecting knife, and leaves it but a corpse to work upon. _
REYNARD THE FOX
In a recent dissatisfied perusal of Mr. Macaulay's collected articles, we were especially offended by his curious and undesirable Essay on Machiavelli. Declining the various solutions which have been offered to explain how a man supposed to be so great could have lent his genius to the doctrine of "the Prince," he has advanced a hypothesis of his own, which may or may not be true, as an interpretation of Machiavelli's character, but which, as an exposition of a universal ethical theory, is as detestable as what it is brought forward to explain ... We will not show Mr. Macaulay the disrespect of supposing that he has unsuccessfully attempted an elaborate piece of irony. It is possible that he may have been exercising his genius with a paradox, but the subject is not of the sort in which we can patiently permit such exercises. It is hard work with all of us to keep ourselves straight, even when we see the road with all plainness as it lies out before us; and clever men must be good enough to find something else to amuse themselves with, instead of dusting our eyes with sophistry.
In Mr. Macaulay's conception of human nature, the basenesses and the excellencies of mankind are no more than accidents of circumstance, the results of national feeling and national capabilities; and cunning and treachery, and lying, and such other "natural defences of the weak against the strong," are in themselves neither good nor bad, except as thinking makes them so. They are the virtues of a weak people, and they will be as much admired, and are as justly admirable; they are to the full as compatible with the highest graces and most lofty features of the heart and intellect, as any of those opposite so called heroisms which we are generally so unthinking as to allow to monopolize the name .... Cunning is the only resource of the feeble; and why may we not feel for victorious cunning as strong a sympathy as for the bold, downright, open bearing of the strong? . . . That there may be no mistake in the essayist's meaning, that he may drive the nail home into the English understanding, he takes an illustration which shall be familiar to all of us in the characters of Iago and Othello. To our northern thought, the free and noble nature of the Moor is wrecked through a single infirmity, by a fiend in the human form. To one of Machiavelli's Italians, Iago's keen-edged intellect would have appeared as admirable as Othello's daring appears to us, and Othello himself little better than a fool and a savage .... It is but a change of scene, of climate, of the animal qualities of the frame, and evil has become a good, and good has become evil .... Now, our displeasure with Mr. Macaulay is, not that he has advanced a novel and mischievous theory: it was elaborated long ago in the finely-tempered dialectics of the Schools of Rhetoric, at Athens; and so long as such a phenomenon as a cultivated rogue remains possible among mankind, it will reappear in all languages and under any number of philosophical disguises .... Seldom or never, however, has it appeared with so little attempt at disguise. It has been left for questionable poets and novelists to idealize the rascal genus; philosophers have escaped into the ambiguities of general propositions, and we do not remember elsewhere to have met with a serious ethical thinker deliberately laying two whole organic characters, with their vices and virtues in full life and bloom, side by side, asking himself which is best, and answering gravely that it is a matter of taste.
Mr. Macaulay has been bolder than his predecessors; he has shrunk from no conclusion, and looked directly into the very heart of the matter; he has struck, as we believe, the very lowest stone of our ethical convictions, and declared that the foundation quakes under it.
For, ultimately, how do we know that right is right, and wrong is wrong? People in general accept it on authority; but authority itself must repose on some ulterior basis; and what is that? . . . Are we to say that in morals there is a system of primary axioms, out of which we develop our conclusions, and apply them, as they are needed, to life? It does not appear so. The analogy of morals is rather with art than with geometry. The grace of heaven gives us good men, and gives us beautiful creations; and we, perceiving by the instincts within ourselves that celestial presence in the objects on which we gaze, find out for ourselves the laws which make them what they are, not by comparing them with any antecedent theory, but by careful analysis of our own impressions, by asking ourselves what it is which we admire in them, and calling that good, and calling that beautiful.
So, then, if admiration be the first fact, if the sense of it be the ultimate ground on which the after temple of morality, as a system, upraises itself, if we can be challenged here on our own ground, and fail to make it good, what we call the life of the soul becomes a dream of a feeble enthusiast, and we moralists a mark for the sceptic's finger to point at with scorn.
Bold and ably urged arguments against our own convictions, if they do not confuse us, will usually send us back over our ground to re-examine the strength of our positions: and if we are honest with ourselves, we shall very often find points of some uncertainty left unguarded, of which the show of the strength of our enemy will oblige us to see better to the defence .... It was not without some shame, and much uneasiness, that, while we were ourselves engaged in this process, full of indignation with Mr. Macaulay, we heard a clear voice ringing in our ear, "Who art thou that judgest another?" and warning us of the presence in our own heart of a sympathy, which we could not deny, with the sadly questionable hero of the German epic, Reynard the Fox. With our vulpine friend, we were on the edge of the very same abyss, if, indeed, we were not rolling in the depth of it. By what sophistry could we justify ourselves, if not by the very same which we had just been so eagerly condemning? And our conscience whispered to us that we had been swift to detect a fault in another, because it was the very fault to which, in our own heart of hearts, we had a latent leaning.
Was it so indeed, then? Was Reineke no better than Iago? Was the sole difference between them, that the vales sacer who had sung the exploits of Reineke loved the wicked rascal, and entangled us in loving him? It was a question to be asked .... And yet we had faith enough in the straightforwardness of our own sympathies to feel sure that it must admit of some sort of answer. And, indeed, we rapidly found an answer satisfactory enough to give us time to breathe, in remembering that Reineke, with all his roguery, has no malice in him .... It is not in his nature to hate; he could not do it if he tried. The characteristic of Iago is that deep motiveless malignity which rejoices in evil as its proper element, which loves evil as good men love virtue. In his calculations on the character of the Moor, he despises his unsuspicious trustingness as imbecility, while he hates him as a man because his nature is the perpetual opposite and perpetual reproach of his own .... Now Reineke would not have hurt a creature, not even Scharfenebbe, the crow's wife, when she came to peck his eyes out, if he had not been hungry; and that gastros ananke, that craving of the stomach, makes a difference quite infinite. It is true that, like Iago, he rejoices in the exercise of his intellect; the sense of his power, and the scientific employment of his time are a real delight to him; but then, as we said, he does not love evil for its own sake; he is only somewhat indifferent to it. If the other animals venture to take liberties with him, he will repay them in their own coin, and get his quiet laugh at them at the same time; but the object generally for which he lives is the natural one of getting his bread for himself and his family; and, as the great moralist says, "It is better to be bad for something than for nothing." Badness generally is undesirable; but badness in its essence, which may be called heroic badness, is gratuitous.
But this first thought served merely to give us a momentary relief from our alarm, and we determined we would sift the matter to the bottom, and no more expose ourselves to be taken at such disadvantage. We went again to the poem, with our eyes open, and our moral sense as keenly awake as a genuine wish to understand our feelings could make it. We determined that we would really know what we did feel and what we did not. We would not be lightly scared away from our friend, but neither would we any more allow our judgment to be talked down by that fluent tongue of his; he should have justice from us, he and his biographer, as far as it lay with us to discern justice and to render it.
And really on this deliberate perusal it did seem little less than impossible that we could find any conceivable attribute illustrated in Reineke's proceedings which we could dare to enter in our catalogue of virtue, and not blush to read it there. What sin is there in the Decalogue in which he has not steeped himself to the lips? To the lips, shall we say? nay, over head and ears—rolling and rollicking in sin. Murder, and theft, and adultery, sacrilege, perjury, lying his very life is made of them. On he goes to the end, heaping crime on crime, and lie on lie, and at last, when it seems that justice, which has been so long vainly halting after him, has him really in her iron grasp, there is a solemn appeal to heaven, a challenge, a battle ordeal, in which, by means we may not venture even to whisper, the villain prospers, and comes out glorious, victorious, amidst the applause of a gazing world; and, to crown it all, the poet tells us that under the disguise of the animal name and form the world of man is represented, and the true course of it; and the idea of the book is, that we who read it may learn therein to discern between good and evil, and choose the first and avoid the last. It seemed beyond the power of sophistry to whitewash Reineke, and the interest which still continued to cling to him in us seemed too nearly to resemble the unwisdom of the multitude, with whom success is the one virtue and failure the only crime.
It appeared, too, that although the animal disguises were too transparent to endure a moment's reflection, yet that they were so gracefully worn that such moment's reflection was not to be come at without an effort. Our imagination following the costume did imperceptibly betray our judgment; we admired the human intellect, the ever ready prompt sagacity and presence of mind. We delighted in the satire on the foolishnesses and greedinesses of our own fellow mankind; but in our regard for the hero we forgot his humanity wherever it was his interest that we should forget it, and while we admired him as a man we judged him only as a fox. We doubt whether it would have been possible if he had been described as an open acknowledged biped in coat and trousers, to have retained our regard for him. Something or other in us, either real rightmindedness, or humbug, or hypocrisy, would have obliged us to mix more censure with our liking than most of us do in the case as it stands. It may be that the dress of the fox throws us off our guard, and lets out a secret or two which we commonly conceal even from ourselves. When we have to pass an opinion upon bad people, who at the same time are clever and attractive, we say rather what we think we ought to feel than our real sensations; while with Reineke, being but an animal, we forget to make ourselves up, and for once our genuine tastes show themselves freely .... Some degree of truth there undoubtedly is in this .... But making all allowance for it—making all and over allowance for the trick which is passed upon our senses, there still remained a feeling unresolved. The poem was not solely the apotheosis of a rascal in whom we were betrayed into taking an interest. And it was not a satire merely on the world, and on the men whom the world delight to honour; there was still something which really deserved to be liked in Reineke, and what it was we had as yet failed to discover.
"Two are better than one," and we resolved in our difficulty to try what our friends might have to say about it; the appearance of the Wurtemburg animals at the Exhibition came fortunately apropos to our assistance: a few years ago it was rare to find a person who had read the Fox Epic; and still more, of course, to find one whose judgment would be worth taking about it; but now the charming figures of Reineke himself, and the Lion King, and Isegrim, and Bruin, and Bellyn, and Hintze, and Grimbart, had set all the world asking who and what they were, and the story began to get itself known. The old editions, which had long slept unbound in reams upon the shelves, began to descend and clothe themselves in green and crimson. Mr. Dickens sent a summary of it round the households of England. Everybody began to talk of Reineke; and now, at any rate, we said to ourselves, we shall see whether we are alone in our liking—whether others share in this strange sympathy, or whether it be some unique and monstrous moral obliquity in ourselves.
We set to work, therefore, with all earnestness, feeling our way first with fear and delicacy, as conscious of our own delinquency, to gather judgments which should be wiser than our own, and correct ourselves, if it proved that we required correction, with whatever severity might be necessary. The result of which labour of ours was not a little surprising; we found that women invariably, with that clear moral instinct of theirs, at once utterly reprobated and detested our poor Reynard; detested the hero and detested the bard who sang of him with so much sympathy; while men we found almost invariably feeling just as we felt ourselves, only with this difference, that we saw no trace of uneasiness in them about the matter. It was no little comfort to us, moreover, to find that the exceptions were rather among the half-men, the would-be extremely good, but whose goodness was of that dead and passive kind which spoke to but a small elevation of thought or activity; while just in proportion as a man was strong, and real, and energetic, was his ability to see good in Reineke. It was really most strange, one near friend of ours, a man who, as far as we knew (and we knew him well) had never done a wrong thing, when we ventured to hint something about roguery, replied, "You see, he was such a clever rogue, that he had a right." Another, whom we pressed more closely with that treacherous cannibal feast at Malepartus, on the body of poor Lampe, said, off-hand and with much impatience of such questioning, "Such fellows were made to be eaten." What could we do? It had come to this,— as in the exuberance of our pleasure with some dear child, no ordinary epithet will sometimes reach to express the vehemence of our affection, and borrowing language out of the opposites, we call him little rogue or little villain, so here, reversing the terms of the analogy, we bestow the fulness of our regard on Reineke because of that transcendantly successful roguery.
When we asked our friends how they came to feel as they did, they had little to say. They were not persons who could be suspected of any latent disposition towards evil doing, and yet though it appeared as if they were falling under the description of those unhappy ones who, if they did not such things themselves, yet "had pleasure in those who did them," they did not care to justify themselves. The fact was so: arche to hoti: it was a fact—what could we want more? Some few attempted feebly to maintain that the book was a satire. But this only moved the difficulty a single step; for the fact of the sympathy remained unimpaired, and if it was a satire we were ourselves the objects of it. Others urged what we said above, that the story was only of poor animals that, according to Descartes, not only had no souls, but scarcely even life in any original and sufficient sense, and therefore we need not trouble ourselves. But one of two alternatives it seemed we were bound to choose, either of which was fatal to the proposed escape. Either there was a man hiding under the fox's skin, or else, if real foxes have such brains as Reineke was furnished withal, no honest doubt could be entertained that some sort of conscience was not forgotten in the compounding of him, and he must be held answerable according to his knowledge.
What would Mr. Carlyle say of it, we thought, with his might and right? "The just thing in the long run is the strong thing." But Reineke had a long run out and came in winner. Does he only "seem to succeed?" Who does succeed, then, if he no more than seems? The vulpine intellect knows where the geese live, it is elsewhere said; but among Reineke's victims we do not remember one goose, in the literal sense of goose; and as to geese metaphorical, at least the whole visible world lies down complacently at his feet. Nor does Mr. Carlyle's expressed language on this very poem serve any better to help us—nay, it seems as if he feels uneasy in the neighbourhood of so strong a rascal, so briefly he dismisses him. "Worldly prudence is the only virtue which is certain of its reward." Nay, but there is more in it than that: no worldly prudence would command the voices which have been given in to us for Reineke.
Three only possibilities lay now before us: either we should, on searching, find something solid in this Fox's doings to justify success; or else the just thing was not always the strong thing; or it might be, that such very semblance of success was itself the most miserable failure; that the wicked man who was struck down and foiled, and foiled again, till he unlearnt his wickedness, or till he was disabled from any more attempting it, was blessed in his disappointment; that to triumph in wickedness, and to continue in it and to prosper to the end, was the last, worst penalty inflicted by the divine vengeance. Hin' athanatos e adikos on—to go on with injustice through this world and through all eternity, uncleansed by any purgatorial fire, untaught by any untoward consequence to open his eyes and to see in its true accursed form the miserable demon to which he has sold himself,—this, of all catastrophes which could befal an evil man, was the deepest, lowest, and most savouring of hell, which the purest of the Grecian moralists could reason out for himself,—under which third hypothesis many an uneasy misgiving would vanish away, and Mr. Carlyle's broad aphorism be accepted by us with thankfulness.
It appeared, therefore, at any rate, to have come to this—that if we wanted a solution for our sphinx enigma, no OEdipus was likely to rise and find it for us; and that if we wanted help, we must make it for ourselves. This only we found, that if we sinned in our regard for the unworthy animal, we shared our sin with the largest number of our own sex; and, comforted with the sense of good fellowship, we went boldly to work upon our consciousness; and the imperfect analysis which we succeeded in accomplishing, we here lay before you, whoever you may be, who have felt, as we have felt, a regard which was a moral disturbance to you, and which you will be pleased if we enable you to justify—
Si quid novisti rectius istis, Candidus imperti; si non, his utere mecum.
Following the clue which was thrust into our hand by the marked difference of the feelings of men upon the subject from those of women, we were at once satisfied that Reineke's goodness, if he had any, must lay rather in the active than the passive department of life. The negative obedience to prohibitory precepts, under which women are bound as well as men, as was already too clear, we were obliged to surrender as hopeless. But it seemed as if, with respect to men whose business is to do, and to labour, and to accomplish, this negative test was a seriously imperfect one; and it was quite as possible that a man who unhappily had broken many prohibitions might yet exhibit positive excellencies, as that he might walk through life picking his way with the utmost assiduity, risking nothing and doing nothing, not committing a single sin, but keeping his talent carefully wrapt up in a napkin, and get sent, in the end, to outer darkness for his pains, as an unprofitable servant; and this appeared the more important to us, as it was very little dwelt upon by religious or moral teachers; and at the end of six thousand years, the popular notion of virtue, as far as it could get itself expressed, had not risen beyond the mere abstinence from certain specific bad actions.
The king of the beasts forgives Reineke on account of the substantial services which at various times he has rendered. His counsel was always the wisest, his hand the promptest in cases of difficulty; and all that dexterity, and politeness, and courtesy, and exquisite culture had not been learnt without an effort or without conquering many undesirable tendencies in himself. Men are not born with any art in its perfection, and he had made himself valuable by his own sagacity and exertion. Now, on the human stage, a man who has made himself valuable is certain to be valued. However we may pretend to estimate men according to the wrong things which they have done, or abstained from doing, we in fact follow the example of Nobel, the king of the beasts, and give them their places among us according to the serviceableness and capability which they display. We might mention not a few eminent public servants, whom the world delights to honour— ministers, statesmen, lawyers, men of science, artists, poets, soldiers, who, if they were tried by the negative test, would show but a poor figure; yet their value is too real to be dispensed with; and we tolerate unquestionable wrong to secure the services of eminent ability. The world really does, and it always has really done so from the beginning of the human history; and it is only indolence or cowardice which has left our ethical teaching halting so far behind the universal and necessary practice. Even questionable prima donnas, in virtue of their sweet voices, have their praises hymned in drawing-room and newspaper, and applause rolls over them, and gold and bouquets shower on them from lips and hands which, except for those said voices, would treat them to a ruder reward. In real fact, we take our places in this world not according to what we are not, but according to what we are. His Holiness Pope Clement, when his audience-room rang with furious outcries for justice on Benvenuto Cellini, who, as far as half-a-dozen murders could form a title, was as fair a candidate for the gallows as ever swung from that unlucky wood, replied, "All this is very well, gentlemen: these murders are bad things, we know that. But where am I to get another Benvenuto, if you hang this one for me?"
Or, to take an acknowledged hero, one of the old Greek sort, the theme of the song of the greatest of human poets, whom it is less easy to refuse to admire than even our friend Reineke. Take Ulysses. It cannot be said that he kept his hands from taking what was not his, or his tongue from speaking what was not true; and if Frau Ermelyn had to complain (as indeed there was too much reason for her complaining) of certain infirmities in her good husband, Penelope, too, might have urged a thing or two, if she had known as much about the matter as we know, which the modern moralist would find it hard to excuse.
After all is said, the capable man is the man to be admired. The man who tries and fails, what is the use of him? We are in this world to do something— not to fail in doing it. Of your bunglers—helpless, inefficient persons, "unfit alike for good or ill," who try one thing, and fail because they are not strong enough, and another, because they have not energy enough, and a third, because they have no talent—inconsistent, unstable, and therefore never to excel, what shall we say of them? what use is there in them? what hope is there of them? what can we wish for them? to mepot' einai pant' ariston. It were better for them they had never been born. To be able to do what a man tries to do, that is the first requisite; and given that, we may hope all things for him. "Hell is paved with good intentions," the proverb says; and the enormous proportion of bad successes in this life lie between the desire and the execution. Give us a man who is able to do what he settles that he desires to do, and we have the one thing indispensable. If he can succeed doing ill, much more he can succeed doing well. Show him better, and, at any rate, there is a chance that he will do better.
We are not concerned here with Benvenuto or with Ulysses further than to show, through the position which we all consent to give them, that there is much unreality, against which we must be on our guard. And if we fling off an old friend, and take to affecting a hatred of him which we do not feel, we have scarcely gained by the exchange, even though originally our friendship may have been misplaced.
Capability no one will deny to Reineke. That is the very differentia of him. An "animal capable" would be his sufficient definition. Here is another very genuinely valuable feature about him—his wonderful singleness of character. Lying, treacherous, cunning scoundrel as he is, there is a wholesome absence of humbug about him. Cheating all the world, he never cheats himself; and while he is a hypocrite, he is always a conscious hypocrite—a form of character, however paradoxical it may seem, a great deal more accessible than the other of the unconscious sort. Ask Reineke for the principles of his life, and if it suited his purpose to tell you, he could do so with the greatest exactness. There would be no discrepancy between the profession and the practice. He is most truly single-minded, and therefore stable in his ways, and therefore as the world goes, and in the world's sense, successful. Whether really successful is a question we do not care here to enter on; but only to say this—that of all unsuccessful men in every sense, either divine, or human, or devilish, there is none equal to old Bunyan's Mr. Facing-both-ways —the fellow with one eye on Heaven and one on earth —who sincerely preaches one thing, and sincerely does another; and from the intensity of his unreality is unable either to see or feel the contradiction. Serving God with his lips, and with the half of his mind which is not bound up in the world; and serving the devil with his actions, and with the other half, he is substantially trying to cheat both God and the devil, and is, in fact, only cheating himself and his neighbours. This, of all characters upon the earth, appears to us to be the one of whom there is no hope at all—a character becoming, in these days, alarmingly abundant; and the abundance of which makes us find even in a Reineke an inexpressible relief.
But what we most thoroughly value in him is his capacity. He can do what he sets to work to do. That blind instinct with which the world shouts and claps its hand for the successful man, is one of those latent forces in us which are truer than we know; it is the universal confessional to which Nature leads us, and, in her intolerance of disguise and hypocrisy, compels us to be our own accusers. Whoever can succeed in a given condition of society, can succeed only in virtue of fulfilling the terms which society exacts of him; and if he can fulfil them triumphantly, of course it rewards him and praises him. He is what the rest of the world would be, if their powers were equal to their desires. He has accomplished what they all are vaguely, and with imperfect consistency, struggling to accomplish; and the character of the conqueror—the means and appliances by which he has climbed up that great pinnacle on which he stands victorious, the observed of all observers, is no more than a very exact indicator of the amount of real virtue in the age, out of which he stands prominent.
We are forced to acknowledge that it was not a very virtuous age in which Reineke made himself a great man; but that was the fault of the age as much as the fault of him. His nature is to succeed wherever he is. If the age had required something else of him, then he would have been something else. Whatever it had said to him "do, and I will make you my hero," that Reineke would have done. No appetite makes a slave of him—no faculty refuses obedience to his will. His entire nature is under perfect organic control to the one supreme authority. And the one object for which he lives, and for which, let his lot have been cast in whatever century it might, he would always have lived, is to rise, to thrive, to prosper, and become great.
The world as he found it said to him—Prey upon us, we are your oyster; let your wit open us. If you will only do it cleverly—if you will take care that we shall not close upon your fingers in the process, you may devour us at your pleasure, and we shall feel ourselves highly honoured. Can we wonder at a fox of Reineke's abilities taking such a world at its word?
And let it not be supposed that society in this earth of ours is ever so viciously put together, is ever so totally without organic life, that a rogue, unredeemed by any merit, can prosper in it. There is no strength in rottenness; and when it comes to that, society dies and falls in pieces. Success, as it is called, even worldly success, is impossible, without some exercise of what is called moral virtue, without some portion of it, infinitesimally small, perhaps, but still some. Courage, for instance, steady self-confidence, self-trust, self-reliance— that only basis and foundation-stone on which a strong character can rear itself—do we not see this in Reineke. While he lives he lives for himself; but if it comes to dying, he can die like his betters; and his wit is not of that effervescent sort which will fly away at the sight of death and leave him panic-stricken. It is true there is a meaning to that word courage, which was perhaps not to be found in the dictionary in which Reineke studied. "I hope I am afraid of nothing, Trim," said my uncle Toby, "except doing a wrong thing." With Reineke there was no "except." His digestive powers shrank from no action, good or bad, which would serve his turn. Yet it required no slight measure of courage to treat his fellow-creatures with the steady disrespect with which Reineke treats them. To walk along among them, regardless of any interest but his own; out of mere wantonness to hook them up like so many cock-chafers, and spin them for his pleasure; not like Domitian, with an imperial army to hold them down during the operation, but with no other assistance but his own little body and large wit; it was something to venture upon. And a world which would submit to be so treated, what could he do but despise?