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Memories and Studies
by William James
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Can the two thick volumes of autobiography which Mr. Spencer leaves behind him explain such discrepant appreciations? Can we find revealed in them the higher synthesis which reconciles the contradictions? Partly they do explain, I think, and even justify, both kinds of judgment upon their author. But I confess that in the last resort I still feel baffled. In Spencer, as in every concrete individual, there is a uniqueness that defies all formulation. We can feel the touch of it and recognize its taste, so to speak, relishing or disliking, as the case may be, but we can give no ultimate account of it, and we have in the end simply to admire the Creator.

Mr. Spencer's task, the unification of all knowledge into an articulate system, was more ambitious than anything attempted since St. Thomas or Descartes. Most thinkers have confined themselves either to generalities or to details, but Spencer addressed himself to everything. He dealt in logical, metaphysical, and ethical first principles, in cosmogony and geology, in physics, and chemistry after a fashion, in biology, psychology, sociology, politics, and aesthetics. Hardly any subject can be named which has not at least been touched on in some one of his many volumes. His erudition was prodigious. His civic conscience and his social courage both were admirable. His life was pure. He was devoted to truth and usefulness, and his character was wholly free from envy and malice (though not from contempt), and from the perverse egoisms that so often go with greatness.

Surely, any one hearing this veracious enumeration would think that Spencer must have been a rich and exuberant human being. Such wide curiosities must have gone with the widest sympathies, and such a powerful harmony of character, whether it were a congenital gift, or were acquired by spiritual wrestling and eating bread with tears, must in any case have been a glorious spectacle for the beholder. Since Goethe, no such ideal human being can have been visible, walking our poor earth.

Yet when we turn to the "Autobiography," the self-confession which we find is this: An old-maidish personage, inhabiting boarding-houses, equable and lukewarm in all his tastes and passions, having no desultory curiosity, showing little interest in either books or people. A petty fault-finder and stickler for trifles, devoid in youth of any wide designs on life, fond only of the more mechanical side of things, yet drifting as it were involuntarily into the possession of a world-formula which by dint of his extraordinary pertinacity he proceeded to apply to so many special cases that it made him a philosopher in spite of himself. He appears as modest enough, but with a curious vanity in some of his deficiencies,—his lack of desultory interests, for example, and his nonconformity to reigning customs. He gives a queer sense of having no emotional perspective, as if small things and large were on the same plane of vision, and equally commanded his attention. In spite of his professed dislike of monotony, one feels an awfully monotonous quality in him; and in spite of the fact that invalidism condemned him to avoid thinking, and to saunter and potter through large parts of every day, one finds no twilight region in his mind, and no capacity for dreaminess or passivity. All parts of it are filled with the same noonday glare, like a dry desert where every grain of sand shows singly, and there are no mysteries or shadows.

"Look on this picture and on that," and answer how they can be compatible.

For one thing, Mr. Spencer certainly writes himself down too much. He complains of a poor memory, of an idle disposition, of a general dislike for reading. Doubtless there have been more gifted men in all these respects. But when Spencer once buckled to a particular task, his memory, his industry, and his reading went beyond those of the most gifted. He had excessive sensibility to stimulation by a challenge, and he had preeminent pertinacity. When the notion of his philosophic system once grasped him, it seemed to possess itself of every effective fibre of his being. No faculty in him was left unemployed,—nor, on the other hand, was anything that his philosophy could contain left unstated. Roughly speaking, the task and the man absorbed each other without residuum.

Compare this type of mind with such an opposite type as Ruskin's, or even as J. S. Mill's, or Huxley's, and you realize its peculiarity. Behind the work of those others was a background of overflowing mental temptations. The men loom larger than all their publications, and leave an impression of unexpressed potentialities. Spencer tossed all his inexpressibilities into the Unknowable, and gladly turned his back on them forever. His books seem to have expressed all that there was to express in his character.

He is very frank about this himself. No Sturm und Drang Periode, no problematic stage of thought, where the burden of the much-to-be-straightened exceeds the powers of straightening.

When George Eliot uttered surprise at seeing no lines on his forehead, his reply was:—"I suppose it is because I am never puzzled."—"It has never been my way," he continues, "to set before myself a problem and puzzle out an answer. The conclusions at which I have from time to time arrived, have not been arrived at as solutions of questions raised; but have been arrived at unawares—each as the ultimate outcome of a body of thought which slowly grew from a germ. Some direct observation, or some fact met with in reading, would dwell with me; apparently because I had a sense of its significance. . . . A week afterwards, possibly, the matter would be remembered; and with further thought about it, might occur a recognition of some wider application: new instances being aggregated with those already noted. Again, after an interval," etc., etc. "And thus, little by little, in unobtrusive ways, without conscious intention or appreciable effort, there would grow up a coherent and organized theory" (vol. i, page 464).

A sort of mill, this, wound up to grind in a certain way, and irresponsive otherwise.

"To apply day after day merely with the general idea of acquiring information, or of increasing ability, was not in me." "Anything like passive receptivity is foreign to my nature; and there results an unusually small tendency to be affected by others' thoughts. It seems as though the fabric of my conclusions had in all cases to be developed from within. Material which could be taken in and organized so as to form part of a coherent structure, there was always a readiness to receive. But ideas and sentiments of alien kinds, or unorganizable kinds, were, if not rejected, yet accepted with indifference, and soon dropped away." "It has always been out of the question for me to go on reading a book the fundamental principles of which I entirely dissent from. I take it for granted that if the fundamental principles are wrong the rest cannot be right; and thereupon cease reading—being, I suspect, rather glad of an excuse for doing so." "Systematic books of a political or ethical kind, written from points of view quite unlike my own, were either not consulted at all, or else they were glanced at and thereafter disregarded" (vol. i, pages 215, 277, 289, 350).

There is pride rather than compunction in these confessions. Spencer's mind was so narrowly systematized, that he was at last almost incapable of believing in the reality of alien ways of feeling. The invariable arrogance of his replies to criticisms shows his absolute self-confidence. Every opinion in the world had to be articulately right or articulately wrong,—so proved by some principle or other of his infallible system.

He confesses freely his own inflexibility and censoriousness. His account of his father makes one believe in the fatality of heredity. Born of old nonconformist stock, the elder Spencer was a man of absolute punctuality. Always he would step out of his way to kick a stone off the pavement lest somebody should trip over it. If he saw boys quarrelling he stopped to expostulate; and he never could pass a man who was ill-treating a horse without trying to make him behave better. He would never take off his hat to any one, no matter of what rank, nor could he be induced to address any one as "Esquire" or as "Reverend." He would never put on any sign of mourning, even for father and mother; and he adhered to one style of coat and hat throughout all changes of fashion. Improvement was his watchword always and everywhere. Whatever he wrote had to be endlessly corrected, and his love of detail led all his life to his neglecting large ends in his care for small ones. A good heart, but a pedantic conscience, and a sort of energetically mechanical intelligence.

Of himself Herbert Spencer says: "No one will deny that I am much given to criticism. Along with exposition of my own views there has always gone a pointing out of defects in those of others. And if this is a trait in my writing, still more is it a trait in my conversation. The tendency to fault-finding is dominant—disagreeably dominant. The indicating of errors in thought and speech made by those around has all through life been an incurable habit—a habit for which I have often reproached myself, but to no purpose."

The "Autobiography" abounds in illustrations of the habit. For instance:—

"Of late I have observed sundry cases in which, having found the right, people deliberately desert it for the wrong. . . . A generation ago salt-cellars were made of convenient shapes—either ellipses or elongated parallelograms: the advantage being that the salt-spoon, placed lengthwise, remained in its place. But for some time past, fashion has dictated circular salt-cellars, on the edges of which the salt-spoon will not remain without skilful balancing: it falls on the cloth. In my boyhood a jug was made of a form at once convenient and graceful. . . . Now, however, the almost universal form of jug in use is a frustum of a cone with a miniature spout. It combines all possible defects. When anything like full, it is impossible to pour out a small quantity without part of the liquid trickling down beneath the spout; and a larger quantity cannot be poured out without exceeding the limits of the spout and running over on each side of it. If the jug is half empty, the tilting must be continued a long time before any liquid comes; and then, when it does come, it comes with a rush; because its surface has now become so large that a small inclination delivers a great deal. To all which add that the shape is as ugly a one as can well be hit upon. Still more extraordinary is the folly of a change made in another utensil of daily use"—and Spencer goes on to find fault with the cylindrical form of candle extinguisher, proving by a description of its shape that "it squashes the wick into the melted composition, the result being that when, next day, the extinguisher is taken off, the wick, imbedded in the solidified composition, cannot be lighted without difficulty" (vol. ii, page 238).

The remorseless explicitness, the punctuation, everything, make these specimens of public fault-finding with what probably was the equipment of Mr. Spencer's latest boarding-house, sound like passages from "The Man versus the State." Another example:—

"Playing billiards became 'my custom always of the afternoon.' Those who confess to billiard-playing commonly make some kind of an excuse. . . . It suffices to me that I like billiards, and the attainment of the pleasure given I regard as a sufficient motive. I have for a long time deliberately set my face against that asceticism which makes it an offence to do a thing for the pleasure of doing it; and have habitually contended that, so long as no injury is inflicted on others, nor any ulterior injury on self, and so long as the various duties of life have been discharged, the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake is perfectly legitimate and requires no apology. The opposite view is nothing else than a remote sequence of the old devil worship of the barbarian, who sought to please his god by inflicting pains upon himself, and believed his god would be angry if he made himself happy" (vol. ii, page 263).

The tone of pedantic rectitude in these passages is characteristic. Every smallest thing is either right or wrong, and if wrong, can be articulately proved so by reasoning. Life grows too dry and literal, and loses all aerial perspective at such a rate; and the effect is the more displeasing when the matters in dispute have a rich variety of aspects, and when the aspect from which Mr. Spencer deduces his conclusions is manifestly partial.

For instance, in his art-criticisms. Spencer in his youth did much drawing, both mechanical and artistic. Volume one contains a photo-print of a very creditable bust which he modelled of his uncle. He had a musical ear, and practiced singing. He paid attention to style, and was not wholly insensible to poetry. Yet in all his dealings with the art-products of mankind he manifests the same curious dryness and mechanical literality of judgment—a dryness increased by pride in his non-conformity. He would, for example, rather give a large sum than read to the end of Homer's Iliad,—the ceaseless repetition of battles, speeches, and epithets like well-greaved Greeks, horse-breaking Trojans; the tedious enumeration of details of dresses, arms, and chariots; such absurdities as giving the genealogy of a horse while in the midst of a battle; and the appeals to savage and brutal passions, having soon made the poem intolerable to him (vol. i, page 300). Turner's paintings he finds untrue, in that the earth-region is habitually as bright in tone as the air-region. Moreover, Turner scatters his detail too evenly. In Greek statues the hair is falsely treated. Renaissance painting, even the best, is spoiled by unreal illumination, and non-rendering of reflected light in the shadows. Venetian gothic sins by meaningless ornamentation. St. Mark's Church may be precious archaeologically, but is not aesthetically precious. Of Wagner's music he admires nothing but the skilful specialization of the instruments in the orchestra.

The fault-finding in all these cases rests on observation, true as far as it goes; but the total absence of genial relations with the entirety of the phenomenon discussed, the clutching at some paltry mechanical aspect of it that lends itself to reasoned proof by a plus b, and the practical denial of everything that only appeals to vaguer sentiment, show a mind so oddly limited to ratiocinative and explicit processes, and so wedded to the superficial and flagrantly insufficient, that one begins to wonder whether in the philosophic and scientific spheres the same mind can have wrought out results of extraordinary value.

Both "yes" and "no" are here the answer. Every one who writes books or articles knows how he must flounder until he hits upon the proper opening. Once the right beginning found, everything follows easily and in due order. If a man, however narrow, strikes even by accident, into one of these fertile openings, and pertinaciously follows the lead, he is almost sure to meet truth on his path. Some thoughts act almost like mechanical centres of crystallization; facts cluster of themselves about them. Such a thought was that of the gradual growth of all things, by natural processes, out of natural antecedents. Until the middle of the nineteenth century no one had grasped it wholesale; and the thinker who did so earliest was bound to make discoveries just in proportion to the exclusiveness of his interest in the principle. He who had the keenest eye for instances and illustrations, and was least divertible by casual side-curiosity, would score the quickest triumph.

To Spencer is certainly due the immense credit of having been the first to see in evolution an absolutely universal principle. If any one else had grasped its universality, it failed at any rate to grasp him as it grasped Spencer. For Spencer it instantly became "the guiding conception running through and connecting all the concrete sciences" (vol. ii, page 196). Here at last was "an object at once large and distinct enough" to overcome his "constitutional idleness." "With an important and definite end to achieve, I could work" (vol. i, page 215). He became, in short, the victim of a vivid obsession, and for the first time in his life seems to have grown genuinely ambitious. Every item of his experience, small or great, every idea in his mental storehouse, had now to be considered with reference to its bearing on the new universal principle. On pages 194-199 of volume two he gives an interesting summary of the way in which all his previous and subsequent ideas moved into harmonious cooerdination and subordination, when once he had this universal key to insight. Applying it wholesale as he did, innumerable truths unobserved till then had to fall into his gamebag. And his peculiar trick, a priggish infirmity in daily intercourse, of treating every smallest thing by abstract law, was here a merit. Add his sleuth-hound scent for what he was after, and his untiring pertinacity, to his priority in perceiving the one great truth and you fully justify the popular estimate of him as one of the world's geniuses, in spite of the fact that the "temperament" of genius, so called, seems to have been so lacking in him.

In one sense, then, Spencer's personal narrowness and dryness were not hindering, but helping conditions of his achievement. Grant that a vast picture quelconque had to be made before the details could be made perfect, and a greater richness and receptivity of mind would have resulted in hesitation. The quality would have been better in spots, but the extensiveness would have suffered.

Spencer is thus the philosopher of vastness. Misprised by many specialists, who carp at his technical imperfections, he has nevertheless enlarged the imagination, and set free the speculative mind of countless doctors, engineers, and lawyers, of many physicists and chemists, and of thoughtful laymen generally. He is the philosopher whom those who have no other philosopher can appreciate. To be able to say this of any man is great praise, and gives the "yes" answer to my recent question.

Can the "no" answer be as unhesitatingly uttered? I think so, if one makes the qualitative aspect of Spencer's work undo its quantitative aspect. The luke-warm equable temperament, the narrowness of sympathy and passion, the fondness for mechanical forms of thought, the imperfect receptivity and lack of interest in facts as such, dissevered from their possible connection with a theory; nay, the very vividness itself, the keenness of scent and the pertinacity; these all are qualities which may easily make for second-rateness, and for contentment with a cheap and loosely woven achievement. As Mr. Spencer's "First Principles" is the book which more than any other has spread his popular reputation, I had perhaps better explain what I mean by criticising some of its peculiarities.

I read this book as a youth when it was still appearing in numbers, and was carried away with enthusiasm by the intellectual perspectives which it seemed to open. When a maturer companion, Mr. Charles S. Peirce, attacked it in my presence, I felt spiritually wounded, as by the defacement of a sacred image or picture, though I could not verbally defend it against his criticisms.

Later I have used it often as a text-book with students, and the total outcome of my dealings with it is an exceedingly unfavorable verdict. Apart from the great truth which it enforces, that everything has evolved somehow, and apart from the inevitable stimulating effect of any such universal picture, I regard its teachings as almost a museum of blundering reasoning. Let me try to indicate briefly my grounds for such an opinion.

I pass by the section on the Unknowable, because this part of Mr. Spencer's philosophy has won fewer friends than any other. It consists chiefly of a rehash of Mansel's rehash of Hamilton's "Philosophy of the Conditioned," and has hardly raised its head since John Mill so effectively demolished it. If criticism of our human intellectual constitution is needed, it can be got out of Bradley to-day better than out of Spencer. The latter's way of reconciling science and religion is, moreover, too absurdly naif. Find, he says, a fundamental abstract truth on which they can agree, and that will reconcile them. Such a truth, he thinks, is that there is a mystery. The trouble is that it is over just such common truths that quarrels begin. Did the fact that both believed in the existence of the Pope reconcile Luther and Ignatius Loyola? Did it reconcile the South and the North that both agreed that there were slaves? Religion claims that the "mystery" is interpretable by human reason; "Science," speaking through Spencer, insists that it is not. The admission of the mystery is the very signal for the quarrel. Moreover, for nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of a thousand the sense of mystery is the sense of more-to-be-known, not the sense of a More, not to be known.

But pass the Unknowable by, and turn to Spencer's famous law of Evolution.

"Science" works with several types of "law." The most frequent and useful type is that of the "elementary law,"—that of the composition of forces, that of gravitation, of refraction, and the like. Such laws declare no concrete facts to exist, and make no prophecy as to any actual future. They limit themselves to saying that if a certain character be found in any fact, another character will co-exist with it or follow it. The usefulness of these laws is proportionate to the extent to which the characters they treat of pervade the world, and to the accuracy with which they are definable.

Statistical laws form another type, and positively declare something about the world of actuality. Although they tell us nothing of the elements of things, either abstract or concrete, they affirm that the resultant of their actions drifts preponderantly in a particular direction. Population tends toward cities; the working classes tend to grow discontented; the available energy of the universe is running down—such laws prophesy the real future en gros, but they never help us to predict any particular detail of it.

Spencer's law of Evolution is of the statistical variety. It defines what evolution means, and what dissolution means, and asserts that, although both processes are always going on together, there is in the present phase of the world a drift in favor of evolution. In the first edition of "First Principles" an evolutive change in anything was described as the passage of it from a state of indefinite incoherent homogeneity to a definite coherent heterogeneity. The existence of a drift in this direction in everything Mr. Spencer proves, both by a survey of facts, and by deducing it from certain laws of the elementary type, which he severally names "the instability of the homogeneous," "the multiplication of effects," "segregation," and "equilibration." The two former insure the heterogeneity, while "segregation" brings about the definiteness and coherence, and "equilibration" arrests the process, and determines when dissolutive changes shall begin.

The whole panorama is resplendent for variety and inclusiveness, and has aroused an admiration for philosophy in minds that never admired philosophy before. Like Descartes in earlier days, Spencer aims at a purely mechanical explanation of Nature. The knowable universe is nothing but matter and motion, and its history is nothing but the "redistribution" of these entities. The value of such an explanation for scientific purposes depends altogether on how consistent and exact it is. Every "thing" must be interpreted as a "configuration," every "event" as a change of configuration, every predicate ascribed must be of a geometrical sort. Measured by these requirements of mechanics Spencer's attempt has lamentably failed. His terms are vagueness and ambiguity incarnate, and he seems incapable of keeping the mechanical point of view in mind for five pages consecutively.

"Definite," for example, is hardly a physical idea at all. Every motion and every arrangement of matter is definitely what it is,—a fog or an irregular scrawl, as much so as a billiard ball or a straight line. Spencer means by definiteness in a thing any character that makes it arrest our attention, and forces us to distinguish it from other things. The word with him has a human, not a physical connotation. Definite things, in his book, finally appear merely as things that men have made separate names for, so that there is hardly a pretence of the mechanical view being kept. Of course names increase as human history proceeds, so "definiteness" in things must necessarily more and more evolve.

"Coherent," again. This has the definite mechanical meaning of resisting separation, of sticking together; but Spencer plays fast and loose with this meaning. Coherence with him sometimes means permanence in time, sometimes such mutual dependence of parts as is realized in a widely scattered system of no fixed material configuration; a commercial house, for example, with its "travellers" and ships and cars.

An honestly mechanical reader soon rubs his eyes with bewilderment at the orgy of ambiguity to which he is introduced. Every term in Spencer's fireworks shimmers through a whole spectrum of meanings in order to adapt itself to the successive spheres of evolution to which it must apply. "Integration," for instance. A definite coherence is an Integration; and examples given of integration are the contraction of the solar nebula, the formation of the earth's crust, the calcification of cartilage, the shortening of the body of crabs, the loss of his tail by man, the mutual dependence of plants and animals, the growth of powerful states, the tendency of human occupations to go to distinct localities, the dropping of terminal inflexions in English grammar, the formation of general concepts by the mind, the use of machinery instead of simple tools, the development of "composition" in the fine arts, etc., etc. It is obvious that no one form of the motion of matter characterizes all these facts. The human ones simply embody the more and more successful pursuit of certain ends.

In the second edition of his book, Mr. Spencer supplemented his first formula by a unifying addition, meant to be strictly mechanical. "Evolution," he now said, "is the progressive integration of matter and dissipation of motion," during which both the matter and the motion undergo the previously designated kinds of change. But this makes the formula worse instead of better. The "dissipation of motion" part of it is simple vagueness,—for what particular motion is "dissipated" when a man or state grows more highly evolved? And the integration of matter belongs only to stellar and geologic evolution. Neither heightened specific gravity, nor greater massiveness, which are the only conceivable integrations of matter, is a mark of the more evolved vital, mental, or social things.

It is obvious that the facts of which Spencer here gives so clumsy an account could all have been set down more simply. First there is solar, and then there is geological evolution, processes accurately describable as integrations in the mechanical sense, namely, as decrease in bulk, or growth in hardness. Then Life appears; and after that neither integration of matter nor dissipation of motion play any part whatever. The result of life, however, is to fill the world more and more with things displaying organic unity. By this is meant any arrangement of which one part helps to keep the other parts in existence. Some organic unities are material,—a sea-urchin, for example, a department store, a civil service, or an ecclesiastical organization. Some are mental, as a "science," a code of laws, or an educational programme. But whether they be material or mental products, organic unities must accumulate; for every old one tends to conserve itself, and if successful new ones arise they also "come to stay." The human use of Spencer's adjectives "integrated," "definite," "coherent," here no longer shocks one. We are frankly on teleological ground, and metaphor and vagueness are permissible.

This tendency of organic unities to accumulate when once they are formed is absolutely all the truth I can distill from Spencer's unwieldy account of evolution. It makes a much less gaudy and chromatic picture, but what there is of it is exact.

Countless other criticisms swarm toward my pen, but I have no heart to express them,—it is too sorry an occupation. A word about Spencer's conception of "Force," however, insists on being added; for although it is one of his most essential, it is one of his vaguest ideas.

Over all his special laws of evolution there reigns an absolutely general law, that of the "persistence of force." By this Spencer sometimes means the phenomenal law of conservation of energy, sometimes the metaphysical principle that the quantity of existence is unalterable, sometimes the logical principle that nothing can happen without a reason, sometimes the practical postulate that in the absence of any assignable difference you must call a thing the same. This law is one vast vagueness, of which I can give no clear account; but of his special vaguenesses "mental force" and "social force" are good examples.

These manifestations of the universal force, he says, are due to vital force, and this latter is due to physical force, both being proportionate to the amount of physical force which is "transformed" into them. But what on earth is "social force"? Sometimes he identifies it with "social activity" (showing the latter to be proportionate to the amount of food eaten), sometimes with the work done by human beings and their steam-engines, and shows it to be due ultimately to the sun's heat. It would never occur to a reader of his pages that a social force proper might be anything that acted as a stimulus of social change,—a leader, for example, a discovery, a book, a new idea, or a national insult; and that the greatest of "forces" of this kind need embody no more "physical force" than the smallest. The measure of greatness here is the effect produced on the environment, not a quantity antecedently absorbed from physical nature. Mr. Spencer himself is a great social force; but he ate no more than an average man, and his body, if cremated, would disengage no more energy. The effects he exerts are of no nature of releases,—his words pull triggers in certain kinds of brain.

The fundamental distinction in mechanics between forces of push-and-pull and forces of release is one of which Mr. Spencer, in his earlier years, made no use whatever. Only in his sixth edition did he show that it had seriously arrested his attention. In biology, psychology, and sociology the forces concerned are almost exclusively forces of release. Spencer's account of social forces is neither good sociology nor good mechanics. His feeble grasp of the conception of force vitiates, in fact, all his work.

But the task of a carper is repugnant. The "Essays," "Biology," "Psychology," "Sociology," and "Ethics" are all better than "First Principles," and contain numerous and admirable bits of penetrating work of detail. My impression is that, of the systematic treaties, the "Psychology" will rank as the most original. Spencer broke new ground here in insisting that, since mind and its environment have evolved together, they must be studied together. He gave to the study of mind in isolation a definitive quietus, and that certainly is a great thing to have achieved. To be sure he overdid the matter, as usual, and left no room for any mental structure at all, except that which passively resulted from the storage of impressions received from the outer world in the order of their frequency by fathers and transmitted to their sons. The belief that whatever is acquired by sires is inherited by sons, and the ignoring of purely inner variations, are weak points; but to have brought in the environment as vital was a master stroke.

I may say that Spencer's controversy over use-inheritance with Weismann, entered into after he was sixty, seems to me in point of quality better than any other part of his work. It is genuine labor over a puzzle, genuine research.

Spencer's "Ethics" is a most vital and original piece of attitude-taking in the world of ideals. His politico-ethical activity in general breathes the purest English spirit liberty, and his attacks on over-administration and criticisms on the inferiority of great centralized systems are worthy to be the textbooks of individualists the world over. I confess that it is with this part of his work, in spite of its hardness and inflexibility of tone, that I personally sympathize most.

Looking back on Mr. Spencer as a whole, as this admirably truth-telling "Autobiography" reveals him, he is a figure unique for quaint consistency. He never varied from that inimitable blend of small and vast mindedness, of liberality and crabbedness, which was his personal note, and which defies our formulating power. If an abstract logical concept could come to life, its life would be like Spencer's,—the same definiteness of exclusion and inclusion, the same bloodlessness of temperament, the same narrowness of intent and vastness of extent, the same power of applying itself to numberless instances. But he was no abstract idea; he was a man vigorously devoted to truth and justice as he saw them, who had deep insights, and who finished, under terrible frustrations from bad health, a piece of work that taken for all in all, is extraordinary. A human life is greater than all its possible appraisers, assessors, and critics. In comparison with the fact of Spencer's actual living, such critical characterization of it as I have been at all these pains to produce seems a rather unimportant as well as a decidedly graceless thing.



[1] Written upon the publication of Herbert Spencer's "Autobiography." Published in the Atlantic Monthly for July, 1904.



VII

FREDERIC MYERS' SERVICES TO PSYCHOLOGY[1]

On this memorial occasion it is from English hearts and tongues belonging, as I never had the privilege of belonging, to the immediate environment of our lamented President, that discourse of him as a man and as a friend must come. It is for those who participated in the endless drudgery of his labors for our Society to tell of the high powers he showed there; and it is for those who have something of his burning interest in the problem of our human destiny to estimate his success in throwing a little more light into its dark recesses. To me it has been deemed best to assign a colder task. Frederic Myers was a psychologist who worked upon lines hardly admitted by the more academic branch of the profession to be legitimate; and as for some years I bore the title of "Professor of Psychology," the suggestion has been made (and by me gladly welcomed) that I should spend my portion of this hour in defining the exact place and rank which we must accord to him as a cultivator and promoter of the science of the Mind.

Brought up entirely upon literature and history, and interested at first in poetry and religion chiefly; never by nature a philosopher in the technical sense of a man forced to pursue consistency among concepts for the mere love of the logical occupation; not crammed with science at college, or trained to scientific method by any passage through a laboratory, Myers had as it were to recreate his personality before he became the wary critic of evidence, the skilful handler of hypothesis, the learned neurologist and omnivorous reader of biological and cosmological matter, with whom in later years we were acquainted. The transformation came about because he needed to be all these things in order to work successfully at the problem that lay near his heart; and the ardor of his will and the richness of his intellect are proved by the success with which he underwent so unusual a transformation.

The problem, as you know, was that of seeking evidence for human immortality. His contributions to psychology were incidental to that research, and would probably never have been made had he not entered on it. But they have a value for Science entirely independent of the light they shed upon that problem; and it is quite apart from it that I shall venture to consider them.

If we look at the history of mental science we are immediately struck by diverse tendencies among its several cultivators, the consequence being a certain opposition of schools and some repugnance among their disciples. Apart from the great contrasts between minds that are teleological or biological and minds that are mechanical, between the animists and the associationists in psychology, there is the entirely different contrast between what I will call the classic-academic and the romantic type of imagination. The former has a fondness for clean pure lines and noble simplicity in its constructions. It explains things by as few principles as possible and is intolerant of either nondescript facts or clumsy formulas. The facts must lie in a neat assemblage, and the psychologist must be enabled to cover them and "tuck them in" as safely under his system as a mother tucks her babe in under the down coverlet on a winter night. Until quite recently all psychology, whether animistic or associationistic, was written on classic-academic lines. The consequence was that the human mind, as it is figured in this literature, was largely an abstraction. Its normal adult traits were recognized. A sort of sun-lit terrace was exhibited on which it took its exercise. But where that terrace stopped, the mind stopped; and there was nothing farther left to tell of in this kind of philosophy but the brain and the other physical facts of nature on the one hand, and the absolute metaphysical ground of the universe on the other.

But of late years the terrace has been overrun by romantic improvers, and to pass to their work is like going from classic to gothic architecture, where few outlines are pure and where uncouth forms lurk in the shadows. A mass of mental phenomena are now seen in the shrubbery beyond the parapet. Fantastic, ignoble, hardly human, or frankly non-human are some of these new candidates for psychological description. The menagerie and the madhouse, the nursery, the prison, and the hospital, have been made to deliver up their material. The world of mind is shown as something infinitely more complex than was suspected; and whatever beauties it may still possess, it has lost at any rate the beauty of academic neatness.

But despite the triumph of romanticism, psychologists as a rule have still some lingering prejudice in favor of the nobler simplicities. Moreover, there are social prejudices which scientific men themselves obey. The word "hypnotism" has been trailed about in the newspapers so that even we ourselves rather wince at it, and avoid occasions of its use. "Mesmerism," "clairvoyance," "medium,"—horrescimus referentes!—and with all these things, infected by their previous mystery-mongering discoverers, even our best friends had rather avoid complicity. For instance, I invite eight of my scientific colleagues severally to come to my house at their own time, and sit with a medium for whom the evidence already published in our "Proceedings" had been most noteworthy. Although it means at worst the waste of the hour for each, five of them decline the adventure. I then beg the "Commission" connected with the chair of a certain learned psychologist in a neighboring university to examine the same medium, whom Mr. Hodgson and I offer at our own expense to send and leave with them. They also have to be excused from any such entanglement. I advise another psychological friend to look into this medium's case, but he replies that it is useless; for if he should get such results as I report, he would (being suggestible) simply believe himself hallucinated. When I propose as a remedy that he should remain in the background and take notes, whilst his wife has the sitting, he explains that he can never consent to his wife's presence at such performances. This friend of mine writes ex cathedra on the subject of psychical research, declaring (I need hardly add) that there is nothing in it; the chair of the psychologist with the Commission was founded by a spiritist, partly with a view to investigate mediums; and one of the five colleagues who declined my invitation is widely quoted as an effective critic of our evidence. So runs the world away! I should not indulge in the personality and triviality of such anecdotes, were it not that they paint the temper of our time, a temper which, thanks to Frederic Myers more than to any one, will certainly be impossible after this generation. Myers was, I think, decidedly exclusive and intolerant by nature. But his keenness for truth carried him into regions where either intellectual or social squeamishness would have been fatal, so he "mortified" his amour propre, unclubbed himself completely, and became a model of patience, tact and humility wherever investigation required it. Both his example and his body of doctrine will make this temper the only one henceforward scientifically respectable.

If you ask me how his doctrine has this effect, I answer: By co-ordinating! For Myers' great principle of research was that in order to understand any one species of fact we ought to have all the species of the same general class of fact before us. So he took a lot of scattered phenomena, some of them recognized as reputable, others outlawed from science, or treated as isolated curiosities; he made series of them, filled in the transitions by delicate hypotheses or analogies; and bound them together in a system by his bold inclusive conception of the Subliminal Self, so that no one can now touch one part of the fabric without finding the rest entangled with it. Such vague terms of apperception as psychologists have hitherto been satisfied with using for most of these phenomena, as "fraud," "rot," "rubbish," will no more be possible hereafter than "dirt" is possible as a head of classification in chemistry, or "vermin" in zoology. Whatever they are, they are things with a right to definite description and to careful observation.

I cannot but account this as a great service rendered to Psychology. I expect that Myers will ere long distinctly figure in mental science as the radical leader in what I have called the romantic movement. Through him for the first time, psychologists are in possession of their full material, and mental phenomena are set down in an adequate inventory. To bring unlike things thus together by forming series of which the intermediary terms connect the extremes, is a procedure much in use by scientific men. It is a first step made towards securing their interest in the romantic facts, that Myers should have shown how easily this familiar method can be applied to their study.

Myers' conception of the extensiveness of the Subliminal Self quite overturns the classic notion of what the human mind consists in. The supraliminal region, as Myers calls it, the classic-academic consciousness, which was once alone considered either by associationists or animists, figures in his theory as only a small segment of the psychic spectrum. It is a special phase of mentality, teleologically evolved for adaptation to our natural environment, and forms only what he calls a "privileged case" of personality. The out-lying Subliminal, according to him, represents more fully our central and abiding being.

I think the words subliminal and supraliminal unfortunate, but they were probably unavoidable. I think, too, that Myers' belief in the ubiquity and great extent of the Subliminal will demand a far larger number of facts than sufficed to persuade him, before the next generation of psychologists shall become persuaded. He regards the Subliminal as the enveloping mother-consciousness in each of us, from which the consciousness we wot of is precipitated like a crystal. But whether this view get confirmed or get overthrown by future inquiry, the definite way in which Myers has thrown it down is a new and specific challenge to inquiry. For half a century now, psychologists have fully admitted the existence of a subliminal mental region, under the name either of unconscious cerebration or of the involuntary life; but they have never definitely taken up the question of the extent of this region, never sought explicitly to map it out. Myers definitely attacks this problem, which, after him, it will be impossible to ignore.

What is the precise constitution of the Subliminal—such is the problem which deserves to figure in our Science hereafter as the problem of Myers; and willy-nilly, inquiry must follow on the path which it has opened up. But Myers has not only propounded the Problem definitely, he has also invented definite methods for its solution. Posthypnotic suggestion, crystal-gazing, automatic writing and trance-speech, the willing-game, etc., are now, thanks to him, instruments of research, reagents like litmus paper or the galvanometer, for revealing what would otherwise be hidden. These are so many ways of putting the Subliminal on tap. Of course without the simultaneous work on hypnotism and hysteria independently begun by others, he could not have pushed his own work so far. But he is so far the only generalizer of the problem and the only user of all the methods; and even though his theory of the extent of the Subliminal should have to be subverted in the end, its formulation will, I am sure, figure always as a rather momentous event in the history of our Science.

Any psychologist who should wish to read Myers out of the profession—and there are probably still some who would be glad to do so to-day—is committed to a definite alternative. Either he must say that we knew all about the subliminal region before Myers took it up, or he must say that it is certain that states of super-normal cognition form no part of its content. The first contention would be too absurd. The second one remains more plausible. There are many first hand investigators into the Subliminal who, not having themselves met with anything super-normal, would probably not hesitate to call all the reports of it erroneous, and who would limit the Subliminal to dissolutive phenomena of consciousness exclusively, to lapsed memories, subconscious sensations, impulses and phobias, and the like. Messrs. Janet and Binet, for aught I know, may hold some such position as this. Against it Myers' thesis would stand sharply out. Of the Subliminal, he would say, we can give no ultra-simple account: there are discreet regions in it, levels separated by critical points of transition, and no one formula holds true of them all. And any conscientious psychologist ought, it seems to me, to see that, since these multiple modifications of personality are only beginning to be reported and observed with care, it is obvious that a dogmatically negative treatment of them must be premature and that the problem of Myers still awaits us as the problem of far the deepest moment for our actual psychology, whether his own tentative solutions of certain parts of it be correct or not.

Meanwhile, descending to detail, one cannot help admiring the great originality with which Myers wove such an extraordinarily detached and discontinuous series of phenomena together. Unconscious cerebration, dreams, hypnotism, hysteria, inspirations of genius, the willing-game, planchette, crystal-gazing, hallucinatory voices, apparitions of the dying, medium-trances, demoniacal possession, clairvoyance, thought-transference, even ghosts and other facts more doubtful; these things form a chaos at first sight most discouraging. No wonder that scientists can think of no other principle of unity among them than their common appeal to men's perverse propensity to superstition. Yet Myers has actually made a system of them, stringing them continuously upon a perfectly legitimate objective hypothesis, verified in some cases and extended to others by analogy. Taking the name "automatism" from the phenomenon of automatic writing—I am not sure that he may not himself have been the first so to baptize this latter phenomenon—he made one great simplification at a stroke by treating hallucinations and active impulses under a common head, as sensory and motor automatisms. Automatism he then conceived broadly as a message of any kind from the Subliminal to the Supraliminal. And he went a step farther in his hypothetic interpretation, when he insisted on "symbolism" as one of the ways in which one stratum of our personality will often interpret the influences of another. Obsessive thoughts and delusions, as well as voices, visions, and impulses, thus fall subject to one mode of treatment. To explain them, we must explore the Subliminal; to cure them we must practically influence it.

Myers' work on automatism led to his brilliant conception, in 1891, of hysteria. He defined it, with good reasons given, as "a disease of the hypnotic stratum." Hardly had he done so when the wonderfully ingenious observations of Binet, and especially of Janet in France, gave to this view the completest of corroborations. These observations have been extended in Germany, America, and elsewhere; and although Binet and Janet worked independently of Myers, and did work far more objective, he nevertheless will stand as the original announcer of a theory which, in my opinion, makes an epoch, not only in medical but in psychological science, because it brings in an entirely new conception of our mental possibilities.

Myers' manner of apprehending the problem of the Subliminal shows itself fruitful in every possible direction. While official science practically refuses to attend to Subliminal phenomena, the circles which do attend to them treat them with a respect altogether too undiscriminating,—every Subliminal deliverance must be an oracle. The result is that there is no basis of intercourse between those who best know the facts and those who are most competent to discuss them. Myers immediately establishes a basis by his remark that in so far as they have to use the same organism, with its preformed avenues of expression—what may be very different strata of the Subliminal are condemned in advance to manifest themselves in similar ways. This might account for the great generic likeness of so many automatic performances, while their different starting-points behind the threshold might account for certain differences in them. Some of them, namely, seem to include elements of super-normal knowledge; others to show a curious subconscious mania for personation and deception; others again to be mere drivel. But Myers' conception of various strata or levels in the Subliminal sets us to analyzing them all from a new point of view. The word Subliminal for him denotes only a region, with possibly the most heterogeneous contents. Much of the content is certainly rubbish, matter that Myers calls dissolutive, stuff that dreams are made of, fragments of lapsed memory, mechanical effects of habit and ordinary suggestion; some belongs to a middle region where a strange manufacture of inner romances perpetually goes on; finally, some of the content appears superiorly and subtly perceptive. But each has to appeal to us by the same channels and to use organs partly trained to their performance by messages from the other levels. Under these conditions what could be more natural to expect than a confusion which Myers' suggestion would then have been the first indispensable step towards finally clearing away.

Once more, then, whatever be the upshot of the patient work required here, Myers' resourceful intellect has certainly done a service to psychology.

I said a while ago that his intellect was not by nature philosophic in the narrower sense of being that of a logician. In the broader sense of being a man of wide scientific imagination, Myers was most eminently a philosopher. He has shown this by his unusually daring grasp of the principle of evolution, and by the wonderful way in which he has worked out suggestions of mental evolution by means of biological analogies. These analogies are, if anything, too profuse and dazzling in his pages; but his conception of mental evolution is more radical than anything yet considered by psychologists as possible. It is absolutely original; and, being so radical, it becomes one of those hypotheses which, once propounded, can never be forgotten, but sooner or later have to be worked out and submitted in every way to criticism and verification.

The corner-stone of his conception is the fact that consciousness has no essential unity. It aggregates and dissipates, and what we call normal consciousness,—the "Human Mind" of classic psychology,—is not even typical, but only one case out of thousands. Slight organic alterations, intoxications, and auto-intoxications, give supraliminal forms completely different, and the subliminal region seems to have laws in many respects peculiar. Myers thereupon makes the suggestion that the whole system of consciousness studied by the classic psychology is only an extract from a larger total, being a part told-off, as it were, to do service in the adjustments of our physical organism to the world of nature. This extract, aggregated and personified for this particular purpose, has, like all evolving things, a variety of peculiarities. Having evolved, it may also dissolve, and in dreams, hysteria, and divers forms of degeneration it seems to do so. This is a retrograde process of separation in a consciousness of which the unity was once effected. But again the consciousness may follow the opposite course and integrate still farther, or evolve by growing into yet untried directions. In veridical automatisms it actually seems to do so. It drops some of its usual modes of increase, its ordinary use of the senses, for example, and lays hold of bits of information which, in ways that we cannot even follow conjecturally, leak into it by way of the Subliminal. The ulterior source of a certain part of this information (limited and perverted as it always is by the organism's idiosyncrasies in the way of transmission and expression) Myers thought he could reasonably trace to departed human intelligence, or its existing equivalent. I pretend to no opinion on this point, for I have as yet studied the evidence with so little critical care that Myers was always surprised at my negligence. I can therefore speak with detachment from this question and, as a mere empirical psychologist, of Myers' general evolutionary conception. As such a psychologist I feel sure that the latter is a hypothesis of first-rate philosophic importance. It is based, of course, on his conviction of the extent of the Subliminal, and will stand or fall as that is verified or not; but whether it stand or fall, it looks to me like one of those sweeping ideas by which the scientific researches of an entire generation are often moulded. It would not be surprising if it proved such a leading idea in the investigation of the near future; for in one shape or another, the Subliminal has come to stay with us, and the only possible course to take henceforth is radically and thoroughly to explore its significance.

Looking back from Frederic Myers' vision of vastness in the field of psychological research upon the programme as most academic psychologists frame it, one must confess that its limitation at their hands seems not only implausible, but in truth, a little ridiculous. Even with brutes and madmen, even with hysterics and hypnotics admitted as the academic psychologists admit them, the official outlines of the subject are far too neat to stand in the light of analogy with the rest of Nature. The ultimates of Nature,—her simple elements, it there be such,—may indeed combine in definite proportions and follow classic laws of architecture; but her proximates, in her phenomena as we immediately experience them, Nature is everywhere gothic, not classic. She forms a real jungle, where all things are provisional, half-fitted to each other, and untidy. When we add such a complex kind of subliminal region as Myers believed in to the official region, we restore the analogy; and, though we may be mistaken in much detail, in a general way, at least, we become plausible. In comparison with Myers' way of attacking the question of immortality in particular, the official way is certainly so far from the mark as to be almost preposterous. It assumes that when our ordinary consciousness goes out, the only alternative surviving kind of consciousness that could be possible is abstract mentality, living on spiritual truth, and communicating ideal wisdom—in short, the whole classic platonizing Sunday-school conception. Failing to get that sort of thing when it listens to reports about mediums, it denies that there can be anything. Myers approaches the subject with no such a priori requirement. If he finds any positive indication of "spirits," he records it, whatever it may be, and is willing to fit his conception to the facts, however grotesque the latter may appear, rather than to blot out the facts to suit his conception. But, as was long ago said by our collaborator, Mr. Canning Schiller, in words more effective than any I can write, if any conception should be blotted out by serious lovers of Nature, it surely ought to be classic academic Sunday-school conception. If anything is unlikely in a world like this, it is that the next adjacent thing to the mere surface-show of our experience should be the realm of eternal essences, of platonic ideas, of crystal battlements, of absolute significance. But whether they be animists or associationists, a supposition something like this is still the assumption of our usual psychologists. It comes from their being for the most part philosophers, in the technical sense, and from their showing the weakness of that profession for logical abstractions. Myers was primarily a lover of life and not of abstractions. He loved human life, human persons, and their peculiarities. So he could easily admit the possibility of level beyond level of perfectly concrete experience, all "queer and cactus-like" though it might be, before we touch the absolute, or reach the eternal essences.

Behind the minute anatomists and the physiologists, with their metallic instruments, there have always stood the out-door naturalists with their eyes and love of concrete nature. The former call the latter superficial, but there is something wrong about your laboratory-biologist who has no sympathy with living animals. In psychology there is a similar distinction. Some psychologists are fascinated by the varieties of mind in living action, others by the dissecting out, whether by logical analysis or by brass instruments, of whatever elementary mental processes may be there. Myers must decidedly be placed in the former class, though his powerful use of analogy enabled him also to do work after the fashion of the latter. He loved human nature as Cuvier and Agassiz loved animal nature; in his view, as in their view, the subject formed a vast living picture. Whether his name will have in psychology as honorable a place as their names have gained in the sister science, will depend on whether future inquirers shall adopt or reject his theories; and the rapidity with which their decision shapes itself will depend largely on the vigor with which this Society continues its labor in his absence. It is at any rate a possibility, and I am disposed to think it a probability, that Frederic Myers will always be remembered in psychology as the pioneer who staked out a vast tract of mental wilderness and planted the flag of genuine science upon it. He was an enormous collector. He introduced for the first time comparison, classification, and serial order into the peculiar kind of fact which he collected. He was a genius at perceiving analogies; he was fertile in hypotheses; and as far as conditions allowed it in this meteoric region, he relied on verification. Such advantages are of no avail, however, if one has struck into a false road from the outset. But should it turn out that Frederic Myers has really hit the right road by his divining instinct, it is certain that, like the names of others who have been wise, his name will keep an honorable place in scientific history.



[1] Written for a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research held after the death of Frederic Myers and first published in the Society's Proceedings, Part XLII, Page 17 (1901).



VIII

FINAL IMPRESSIONS OF A PSYCHICAL RESEARCHER[1]

The late Professor Henry Sidgwick was celebrated for the rare mixture of ardor and critical judgment which his character exhibited. The liberal heart which he possessed had to work with an intellect which acted destructively on almost every particular object of belief that was offered to its acceptance. A quarter of a century ago, scandalized by the chaotic state of opinion regarding the phenomena now called by the rather ridiculous name of "psychic"—phenomena, of which the supply reported seems inexhaustible, but which scientifically trained minds mostly refuse to look at—he established, along with Professor Barrett, Frederic Myers and Edmund Gurney, the Society for Psychical Research. These men hoped that if the material were treated rigorously, and, as far as possible experimentally, objective truth would be elicited, and the subject rescued from sentimentalism on the one side and dogmatizing ignorance on the other. Like all founders, Sidgwick hoped for a certain promptitude of result; and I heard him say, the year before his death, that if anyone had told him at the outset that after twenty years he would be in the same identical state of doubt and balance that he started with, he would have deemed the prophecy incredible. It appeared impossible that that amount of handling evidence should bring so little finality of decision.

My own experience has been similar to Sidgwick's. For twenty-five years I have been in touch with the literature of psychical research, and have had acquaintance with numerous "researchers." I have also spent a good many hours (though far fewer than I ought to have spent) in witnessing (or trying to witness) phenomena. Yet I am theoretically no "further" than I was at the beginning; and I confess that at times I have been tempted to believe that the Creator has eternally intended this department of nature to remain baffling, to prompt our curiosities and hopes and suspicions all in equal measure, so that, although ghosts and clairvoyances, and raps and messages from spirits, are always seeming to exist and can never be fully explained away, they also can never be susceptible of full corroboration.

The peculiarity of the case is just that there are so many sources of possible deception in most of the observations that the whole lot of them may be worthless, and yet that in comparatively few cases can aught more fatal than this vague general possibility of error be pleaded against the record. Science meanwhile needs something more than bare possibilities to build upon; so your genuinely scientific inquirer—I don't mean your ignoramus "scientist"—has to remain unsatisfied. It is hard to believe, however, that the Creator has really put any big array of phenomena into the world merely to defy and mock our scientific tendencies; so my deeper belief is that we psychical researchers have been too precipitate with our hopes, and that we must expect to mark progress not by quarter-centuries, but by half-centuries or whole centuries.

I am strengthened in this belief by my impression that just at this moment a faint but distinct step forward is being taken by competent opinion in these matters. "Physical phenomena" (movements of matter without contact, lights, hands and faces "materialized," etc.) have been one of the most baffling regions of the general field (or perhaps one of the least baffling prima facie, so certain and great has been the part played by fraud in their production); yet even here the balance of testimony seems slowly to be inclining towards admitting the supernaturalist view. Eusapia Paladino, the Neapolitan medium, has been under observation for twenty years or more. Schiaparelli, the astronomer, and Lombroso were the first scientific men to be converted by her performances. Since then innumerable men of scientific standing have seen her, including many "psychic" experts. Every one agrees that she cheats in the most barefaced manner whenever she gets an opportunity. The Cambridge experts, with the Sidgwicks and Richard Hodgson at their head, rejected her in toto on that account. Yet her credit has steadily risen, and now her last converts are the eminent psychiatrist, Morselli, the eminent physiologist, Botazzi, and our own psychical researcher, Carrington, whose book on "The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism" (against them rather!) makes his conquest strategically important. If Mr. Podmore, hitherto the prosecuting attorney of the S. P. R., so far as physical phenomena are concerned becomes converted also, we may indeed sit up and look around us. Getting a good health bill from "Science," Eusapia will then throw retrospective credit on Home and Stainton Moses, Florence Cook (Prof. Crookes' medium), and all similar wonder-workers. The balance of presumptions will be changed in favor of genuineness being possible at least in all reports of this particularly crass and low type of supernatural phenomena.

Not long after Darwin's "Origin of Species" appeared I was studying with that excellent anatomist and man, Jeffries Wyman, at Harvard. He was a convert, yet so far a half-hesitating one, to Darwin's views; but I heard him make a remark that applies well to the subject I now write about. When, he said, a theory gets propounded over and over again, coming up afresh after each time orthodox criticism has buried it, and each time seeming solider and harder to abolish, you may be sure that there is truth in it. Oken and Lamarck and Chambers had been triumphantly despatched and buried, but here was Darwin making the very same heresy seem only more plausible. How often has "Science" killed off all spook philosophy, and laid ghosts and raps and "telepathy" away underground as so much popular delusion. Yet never before were these things offered us so voluminously, and never in such authentic-seeming shape or with such good credentials. The tide seems steadily to be rising, in spite of all the expedients of scientific orthodoxy. It is hard not to suspect that here may be something different from a mere chapter in human gullibility. It may be a genuine realm of natural phenomena.

Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, once a cheat, always a cheat, such has been the motto of the English psychical researchers in dealing with mediums. I am disposed to think that, as a matter of policy, it has been wise. Tactically, it is far better to believe much too little than a little too much; and the exceptional credit attaching to the row of volumes of the S. P. R.'s Proceedings, is due to the fixed intention of the editors to proceed very slowly. Better a little belief tied fast, better a small investment salted down, than a mass of comparative insecurity.

But, however wise as a policy the S. P. R.'s maxim may have been, as a test of truth, I believe it to be almost irrelevant. In most things human the accusation of deliberate fraud and falsehood is grossly superficial. Man's character is too sophistically mixed for the alternative of "honest or dishonest" to be a sharp one. Scientific men themselves will cheat—at public lectures—rather than let experiments obey their well-known tendency towards failure. I have heard of a lecturer on physics, who had taken over the apparatus of the previous incumbent, consulting him about a certain machine intended to show that, however the peripheral parts of it might be agitated, its centre of gravity remained immovable. "It will wobble," he complained. "Well," said the predecessor, apologetically, "to tell the truth, whenever I used that machine I found it advisable to drive a nail through the centre of gravity." I once saw a distinguished physiologist, now dead, cheat most shamelessly at a public lecture, at the expense of a poor rabbit, and all for the sake of being able to make a cheap joke about its being an "American rabbit"—for no other, he said, could survive such a wound as he pretended to have given it.

To compare small men with great, I have myself cheated shamelessly. In the early days of the Sanders Theater at Harvard, I once had charge of a heart on the physiology of which Professor Newell Martin was giving a popular lecture. This heart, which belonged to a turtle, supported an index-straw which threw a moving shadow, greatly enlarged, upon the screen, while the heart pulsated. When certain nerves were stimulated, the lecturer said, the heart would act in certain ways which he described. But the poor heart was too far gone and, although it stopped duly when the nerve of arrest was excited, that was the final end of its life's tether. Presiding over the performance, I was terrified at the fiasco, and found myself suddenly acting like one of those military geniuses who on the field of battle convert disaster into victory. There was no time for deliberation; so, with my forefinger under a part of the straw that cast no shadow, I found myself impulsively and automatically imitating the rhythmical movements which my colleague had prophesied the heart would undergo. I kept the experiment from failing; and not only saved my colleague (and the turtle) from a humiliation that but for my presence of mind would have been their lot, but I established in the audience the true view of the subject. The lecturer was stating this; and the misconduct of one half-dead specimen of heart ought not to destroy the impression of his words. "There is no worse lie than a truth misunderstood," is a maxim which I have heard ascribed to a former venerated President of Harvard. The heart's failure would have been misunderstood by the audience and given the lie to the lecturer. It was hard enough to make them understand the subject anyhow; so that even now as I write in cool blood I am tempted to think that I acted quite correctly. I was acting for the larger truth, at any rate, however automatically; and my sense of this was probably what prevented the more pedantic and literal part of my conscience from checking the action of my sympathetic finger. To this day the memory of that critical emergency has made me feel charitable towards all mediums who make phenomena come in one way when they won't come easily in another. On the principles of the S. P. R., my conduct on that one occasion ought to discredit everything I ever do, everything, for example, I may write in this article,—a manifestly unjust conclusion.

Fraud, conscious or unconscious, seems ubiquitous throughout the range of physical phenomena of spiritism, and false pretence, prevarication and fishing for clues are ubiquitous in the mental manifestations of mediums. If it be not everywhere fraud simulating reality, one is tempted to say, then the reality (if any reality there be) has the bad luck of being fated everywhere to simulate fraud. The suggestion of humbug seldom stops, and mixes itself with the best manifestations. Mrs. Piper's control, "Rector," is a most impressive personage, who discerns in an extraordinary degree his sitter's inner needs, and is capable of giving elevated counsel to fastidious and critical minds. Yet in many respects he is an arrant humbug—such he seems to me at least—pretending to a knowledge and power to which he has no title, nonplussed by contradiction, yielding to suggestion, and covering his tracks with plausible excuses. Now the non-"researching" mind looks upon such phenomena simply according to their face-pretension and never thinks of asking what they may signify below the surface. Since they profess for the most part to be revealers of spirit life, it is either as being absolutely that, or as being absolute frauds, that they are judged. The result is an inconceivably shallow state of public opinion on the subject. One set of persons, emotionally touched at hearing the names of their loved ones given, and consoled by assurances that they are "happy," accept the revelation, and consider spiritualism "beautiful." More hard-headed subjects, disgusted by the revelation's contemptible contents, outraged by the fraud, and prejudiced beforehand against all "spirits," high or low, avert their minds from what they call such "rot" or "bosh" entirely. Thus do two opposite sentimentalisms divide opinion between them! A good expression of the "scientific" state of mind occurs in Huxley's "Life and Letters":

"I regret," he writes, "that I am unable to accept the invitation of the Committee of the Dialectical Society. . . . I take no interest in the subject. The only case of 'Spiritualism' I have ever had the opportunity of examining into for myself was as gross an imposture as ever came under my notice. But supposing these phenomena to be genuine—they do not interest me. If anybody would endow me with the faculty of listening to the chatter of old women and curates in the nearest provincial town, I should decline the privilege, having better things to do. And if the folk in the spiritual world do not talk more wisely and sensibly than their friends report them to do, I put them in the same category. The only good that I can see in the demonstration of the 'Truth of Spiritualism' is to furnish an additional argument against suicide. Better live a crossing-sweeper, than die and be made to talk twaddle by a 'medium' hired at a guinea a Seance." [2]

Obviously the mind of the excellent Huxley has here but two whole-souled categories namely revelation or imposture, to apperceive the case by. Sentimental reasons bar revelation out, for the messages, he thinks, are not romantic enough for that; fraud exists anyhow; therefore the whole thing is nothing but imposture. The odd point is that so few of those who talk in this way realize that they and the spiritists are using the same major premise and differing only in the minor. The major premise is: "Any spirit-revelation must be romantic." The minor of the spiritist is: "This is romantic"; that of the Huxley an is: "this is dingy twaddle"—whence their opposite conclusions!

Meanwhile the first thing that anyone learns who attends seriously to these phenomena is that their causation is far too complex for our feelings about what is or is not romantic enough to be spiritual to throw any light upon it. The causal factors must be carefully distinguished and traced through series, from their simplest to their strongest forms, before we can begin to understand the various resultants in which they issue. Myers and Gurney began this work, the one by his serial study of the various sorts of "automatism," sensory and motor, the other by his experimental proofs that a split-off consciousness may abide after a post-hypnotic suggestion has been given. Here we have subjective factors; but are not transsubjective or objective forces also at work? Veridical messages, apparitions, movements without contact, seem prima facie to be such. It was a good stroke on Gurney's part to construct a theory of apparitions which brought the subjective and the objective factors into harmonious co-operation. I doubt whether this telepathic theory of Gurney's will hold along the whole line of apparitions to which he applied it, but it is unquestionable that some theory of that mixed type is required for the explanation of all mediumistic phenomena; and that when all the psychological factors and elements involved have been told off—and they are many—the question still forces itself upon us: Are these all, or are there indications of any residual forces acting on the subject from beyond, or of any "meta-psychic" faculty (to use Richet's useful term) exerted by him? This is the problem that requires real expertness, and this is where the simple sentimentalisms of the spiritist and scientist leave us in the lurch completely.

"Psychics" form indeed a special branch of education, in which experts are only gradually becoming developed. The phenomena are as massive and wide-spread as is anything in Nature, and the study of them is as tedious, repellent and undignified. To reject it for its unromantic character is like rejecting bacteriology because penicillium glaucum grows on horse-dung and bacterium termo lives in putrefaction. Scientific men have long ago ceased to think of the dignity of the materials they work in. When imposture has been checked off as far as possible, when chance coincidence has been allowed for, when opportunities for normal knowledge on the part of the subject have been noted, and skill in "fishing" and following clues unwittingly furnished by the voice or face of bystanders have been counted in, those who have the fullest acquaintance with the phenomena admit that in good mediums there is a residuum of knowledge displayed that can only be called supernormal: the medium taps some source of information not open to ordinary people. Myers used the word "telepathy" to indicate that the sitter's own thoughts or feelings may be thus directly tapped. Mrs. Sidgwick has suggested that if living minds can be thus tapped telepathically, so possibly may the minds of spirits be similarly tapped—if spirits there be. On this view we should have one distinct theory of the performances of a typical test-medium. They would be all originally due to an odd tendency to personate, found in her dream life as it expresses itself in trance. [Most of us reveal such a tendency whenever we handle a "ouija-board" or a "planchet," or let ourselves write automatically with a pencil.] The result is a "control," who purports to be speaking; and all the resources of the automatist, including his or her trance-faculty of telepathy are called into play in building this fictitious personage out plausibly. On such a view of the control, the medium's will to personate runs the whole show; and if spirits be involved in it at all, they are passive beings, stray bits of whose memory she is able to seize and use for her purposes, without the spirit being any more aware of it than the sitter is aware of it when his own mind is similarly tapped.

This is one possible way of interpreting a certain type of psychical phenomenon. It uses psychological as well as "spiritual" factors, and quite obviously it throws open for us far more questions than it answers, questions about our subconscious constitution and its curious tendency to humbug, about the telepathic faculty, and about the possibility of an existent spirit-world.

I do not instance this theory to defend it, but simply to show what complicated hypotheses one is inevitably led to consider, the moment one looks at the facts in their complexity and turns one's back on the naive alternative of "revelation or imposture," which is as far as either spiritist thought or ordinary scientist thought goes. The phenomena are endlessly complex in their factors, and they are so little understood as yet that off-hand judgments, whether of "spirits" or of "bosh" are the one as silly as the other. When we complicate the subject still farther by considering what connection such things as rappings, apparitions, poltergeists, spirit-photographs, and materializations may have with it, the bosh end of the scale gets heavily loaded, it is true, but your genuine inquirer still is loath to give up. He lets the data collect, and bides his time. He believes that "bosh" is no more an ultimate element in Nature, or a really explanatory category in human life than "dirt" is in chemistry. Every kind of "bosh" has its own factors and laws; and patient study will bring them definitely to light.

The only way to rescue the "pure bosh" view of the matter is one which has sometimes appealed to my own fancy, but which I imagine few readers will seriously adopt. If, namely, one takes the theory of evolution radically, one ought to apply it not only to the rock-strata, the animals and the plants but to the stars, to the chemical elements, and to the laws of nature. There must have been a far-off antiquity, one is then tempted to suppose, when things were really chaotic. Little by little, out of all the haphazard possibilities of that time, a few connected things and habits arose, and the rudiments of regular performance began. Every variation in the way of law and order added itself to this nucleus, which inevitably grew more considerable as history went on; while the aberrant and inconstant variations, not being similarly preserved, disappeared from being, wandered off as unrelated vagrants, or else remained so imperfectly connected with the part of the world that had grown regular as only to manifest their existence by occasional lawless intrusions, like those which "psychic" phenomena now make into our scientifically organized world. On such a view, these phenomena ought to remain "pure bosh" forever, that is, they ought to be forever intractable to intellectual methods, because they should not yet be organized enough in themselves to follow any laws. Wisps and shreds of the original chaos, they would be connected enough with the cosmos to affect its periphery every now and then, as by a momentary whiff or touch or gleam, but not enough ever to be followed up and hunted down and bagged. Their relation to the cosmos would be tangential solely.

Looked at dramatically, most occult phenomena make just this sort of impression. They are inwardly as incoherent as they are outwardly wayward and fitful. If they express anything, it is pure "bosh," pure discontinuity, accident, and disturbance, with no law apparent but to interrupt, and no purpose but to baffle. They seem like stray vestiges of that primordial irrationality, from which all our rationalities have been evolved.

To settle dogmatically into this bosh-view would save labor, but it would go against too many intellectual prepossessions to be adopted save as a last resort of despair. Your psychical researcher therefore bates no jot of hope, and has faith that when we get our data numerous enough, some sort of rational treatment of them will succeed.

When I hear good people say (as they often say, not without show of reason), that dabbling in such phenomena reduces us to a sort of jelly, disintegrates the critical faculties, liquifies the character, and makes of one a gobe-mouche generally, I console myself by thinking of my friends Frederic Myers and Richard Hodgson. These men lived exclusively for psychical research, and it converted both to spiritism. Hodgson would have been a man among men anywhere; but I doubt whether under any other baptism he would have been that happy, sober and righteous form of energy which his face proclaimed him in his later years, when heart and head alike were wholly satisfied by his occupation. Myers' character also grew stronger in every particular for his devotion to the same inquirings. Brought up on literature and sentiment, something of a courtier, passionate, disdainful, and impatient naturally, he was made over again from the day when he took up psychical research seriously. He became learned in science, circumspect, democratic in sympathy, endlessly patient, and above all, happy. The fortitude of his last hours touched the heroic, so completely were the atrocious sufferings of his body cast into insignificance by his interest in the cause he lived for. When a man's pursuit gradually makes his face shine and grow handsome, you may be sure it is a worthy one. Both Hodgson and Myers kept growing ever handsomer and stronger-looking.

Such personal examples will convert no one, and of course they ought not to. Nor do I seek at all in this article to convert any one to belief that psychical research is an important branch of science. To do that, I should have to quote evidence; and those for whom the volumes of S. P. R. "Proceedings" already published count for nothing would remain in their dogmatic slumber, though one rose from the dead. No, not to convert readers, but simply to put my own state of mind upon record publicly is the purpose of my present writing. Some one said to me a short time ago that after my twenty-five years of dabbling in "Psychics," it would be rather shameful were I unable to state any definite conclusions whatever as a consequence. I had to agree; so I now proceed to take up the challenge and express such convictions as have been engendered in me by that length of experience, be the same true or false ones. I may be dooming myself to the pit in the eyes of better-judging posterity; I may be raising myself to honor; I am willing to take the risk, for what I shall write is my truth, as I now see it.

I began this article by confessing myself baffled. I am baffled, as to spirit-return, and as to many other special problems. I am also constantly baffled as to what to think of this or that particular story, for the sources of error in any one observation are seldom fully knowable. But weak sticks make strong faggots; and when the stories fall into consistent sorts that point each in a definite direction, one gets a sense of being in presence of genuinely natural types of phenomena. As to there being such real natural types of phenomena ignored by orthodox science, I am not baffled at all, for I am fully convinced of it. One cannot get demonstrative proof here. One has to follow one's personal sense, which, of course, is liable to err, of the dramatic probabilities of nature. Our critics here obey their sense of dramatic probability as much as we do. Take "raps" for example, and the whole business of objects moving without contact. "Nature," thinks the scientific man, is not so unutterably silly. The cabinet, the darkness, the tying, suggest a sort of human rat-hole life exclusively and "swindling" is for him the dramatically sufficient explanation. It probably is, in an indefinite majority of instances; yet it is to me dramatically improbable that the swindling should not have accreted round some originally genuine nucleus. If we look at human imposture as a historic phenomenon, we find it always imitative. One swindler imitates a previous swindler, but the first swindler of that kind imitated some one who was honest. You can no more create an absolutely new trick than you can create a new word without any previous basis.—You don't know how to go about it. Try, reader, yourself, to invent an unprecedented kind of "physical phenomenon of spiritualism." When I try, I find myself mentally turning over the regular medium-stock, and thinking how I might improve some item. This being the dramatically probable human way, I think differently of the whole type, taken collectively, from the way in which I may think of the single instance. I find myself believing that there is "something in" these never ending reports of physical phenomena, although I have n't yet the least positive notion of the something. It becomes to my mind simply a very worthy problem for investigation. Either I or the scientist is of course a fool, with our opposite views of probability here; and I only wish he might feel the liability, as cordially as I do, to pertain to both of us.

I fear I look on Nature generally with more charitable eyes than his, though perhaps he would pause if he realized as I do, how vast the fraudulency is which inconsistency he must attribute to her. Nature is brutal enough, Heaven knows; but no one yet has held her non-human side to be dishonest, and even in the human sphere deliberate deceit is far rarer than the "classic" intellect, with its few and rigid categories, was ready to acknowledge. There is a hazy penumbra in us all where lying and delusion meet, where passion rules beliefs as well as conduct, and where the term "scoundrel" does not clear up everything to the depths as it did for our forefathers. The first automatic writing I ever saw was forty years ago. I unhesitatingly thought of it as deceit, although it contained vague elements of supernormal knowledge. Since then I have come to see in automatic writing one example of a department of human activity as vast as it is enigmatic. Every sort of person is liable to it, or to something equivalent to it; and whoever encourages it in himself finds himself personating someone else, either signing what he writes by fictitious name, or, spelling out, by ouija-board or table-tips, messages from the departed. Our subconscious region seems, as a rule, to be dominated either by a crazy "will to make-believe," or by some curious external force impelling us to personation. The first difference between the psychical researcher and the inexpert person is that the former realizes the commonness and typicality of the phenomenon here, while the latter, less informed, thinks it so rare as to be unworthy of attention. I wish to go on record for the commonness.

The next thing I wish to go on record for is the presence, in the midst of all the humbug, of really supernormal knowledge. By this I mean knowledge that cannot be traced to the ordinary sources of information—the senses namely, of the automatist. In really strong mediums this knowledge seems to be abundant, though it is usually spotty, capricious and unconnected. Really strong mediums are rarities; but when one starts with them and works downwards into less brilliant regions of the automatic life, one tends to interpret many slight but odd coincidences with truth as possibly rudimentary forms of this kind of knowledge.

What is one to think of this queer chapter in human nature? It is odd enough on any view. If all it means is a preposterous and inferior monkey-like tendency to forge messages, systematically embedded in the soul of all of us, it is weird; and weirder still that it should then own all this supernormal information. If on the other hand the supernormal information be the key to the phenomenon, it ought to be superior; and then how ought we to account for the "wicked partner," and for the undeniable mendacity and inferiority of so much of the performance? We are thrown, for our conclusions, upon our instinctive sense of the dramatic probabilities of nature. My own dramatic sense tends instinctively to picture the situation as an interaction between slumbering faculties in the automatist's mind and a cosmic environment of other consciousness of some sort which is able to work upon them. If there were in the universe a lot of diffuse soul-stuff, unable of itself to get into consistent personal form, or to take permanent possession of an organism, yet always craving to do so, it might get its head into the air, parasitically, so to speak, by profiting by weak spots in the armor of human minds, and slipping in and stirring up there the sleeping tendency to personate. It would induce habits in the subconscious region of the mind it used thus, and would seek above all things to prolong its social opportunities by making itself agreeable and plausible. It would drag stray scraps of truth with it from the wider environment, but would betray its mental inferiority by knowing little how to weave them into any important or significant story. This, I say, is the dramatic view which my mind spontaneously takes, and it has the advantage of falling into line with ancient human traditions. The views of others are just as dramatic, for the phenomenon is actuated by will of some sort anyhow, and wills give rise to dramas. The spiritist view, as held by Messrs. Hyslop and Hodgson, sees a "will to communicate," struggling through inconceivable layers of obstruction in the conditions. I have heard Hodgson liken the difficulties to those of two persons who on earth should have only dead-drunk servants to use as their messengers. The scientist, for his part, sees a "will to deceive," watching its chance in all of us, and able (possibly?) to use "telepathy" in its service.

Which kind of will, and how many kinds of will are most inherently probable? Who can say with certainty? The only certainty is that the phenomena are enormously complex, especially if one includes in them such intellectual flights of mediumship as Swedenborg's, and if one tries in any way to work the physical phenomena in. That is why I personally am as yet neither a convinced believer in parasitic demons, nor a spiritist, nor a scientist, but still remain a psychical researcher waiting for more facts before concluding.

Out of my experience, such as it is (and it is limited enough) one fixed conclusion dogmatically emerges, and that is this, that we with our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest. The maple and the pine may whisper to each other with their leaves, and Conanicut and Newport hear each other's fog-horns. But the trees also commingle their roots in the darkness underground, and the islands also hang together through the ocean's bottom. Just so there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother-sea or reservoir. Our "normal" consciousness is circumscribed for adaptation to our external earthly environment, but the fence is weak in spots, and fitful influences from beyond leak in, showing the otherwise unverifiable common connection. Not only psychic research, but metaphysical philosophy, and speculative biology are led in their own ways to look with favor on some such "panpsychic" view of the universe as this. Assuming this common reservoir of consciousness to exist, this bank upon which we all draw, and in which so many of earth's memories must in some way be stored, or mediums would not get at them as they do, the question is, What is its own structure? What is its inner topography? This question, first squarely formulated by Myers, deserves to be called "Myers' problem" by scientific men hereafter. What are the conditions of individuation or insulation in this mother-sea? To what tracts, to what active systems functioning separately in it, do personalities correspond? Are individual "spirits" constituted there? How numerous, and of how many hierarchic orders may these then be? How permanent? How transient? And how confluent with one another may they become?

What again, are the relations between the cosmic consciousness and matter? Are there subtler forms of matter which upon occasion may enter into functional connection with the individuations in the psychic sea, and then, and then only, show themselves?—So that our ordinary human experience, on its material as well as on its mental side, would appear to be only an extract from the larger psycho-physical world?

Vast, indeed, and difficult is the inquirer's prospect here, and the most significant data for his purpose will probably be just these dingy little mediumistic facts which the Huxleyan minds of our time find so unworthy of their attention. But when was not the science of the future stirred to its conquering activities by the little rebellious exceptions to the science of the present? Hardly, as yet, has the surface of the facts called "psychic" begun to be scratched for scientific purposes. It is through following these facts, I am persuaded, that the greatest scientific conquests of the coming generation will be achieved. Kuehn ist das Muehen, herrlich der Lohn!



[1] Published under the title "Confidences of a Psychical Researcher" in the American Magazine, October, 1909. For a more complete and less popular statement of some theories suggested in this article see the last pages of a "Report on Mrs. Piper's Hodgson-Control" in Proceedings of the [Eng.] Society for Psychical Research, 1909, 470; also printed in Proc. of Am. Soc. for Psychical Research for the same year.

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