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Memories and Studies
by William James
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After this rather literary interlude I return to Blood's philosophy again. I spoke a while ago of its being an "irrationalistic" philosophy in its latest phase. Behind every "fact" rationalism postulates its "reason." Blood parodizes this demand in true nominalistic fashion. "The goods are not enough, but they must have the invoice with them. There must be a name, something to read. I think of Dickens's horse that always fell down when they took him out of the shafts; or of the fellow who felt weak when naked, but strong in his overcoat." No bad mockery, this, surely, of rationalism's habit of explaining things by putting verbal doubles of them beneath them as their ground!

"All that philosophy has sought as cause, or reason," he says, "pluralism subsumes in the status and the given fact, where it stands as plausible as it may ever hope to stand. There may be disease in the presence of a question as well as in the lack of an answer. We do not wonder so strangely at an ingenious and well-set-up effect, for we feel such in ourselves; but a cause, reaching out beyond the verge [of fact] and dangling its legs in nonentity, with the hope of a rational foothold, should realize a strenuous life. Pluralism believes in truth and reason, but only as mystically realized, as lived in experience. Up from the breast of a man, up to his tongue and brain, comes a free and strong determination, and he cries, originally, and in spite of his whole nature and environment, 'I will.' This is the Jovian fiat, the pure cause. This is reason; this or nothing shall explain the world for him. For how shall he entertain a reason bigger than himself? . . . Let a man stand fast, then, as an axis of the earth; the obsequious meridians will bow to him, and gracious latitudes will measure from his feet."

This seems to be Blood's mystical answer to his own monistic statement which I quoted above, that "freedom" has no fertility, and is no reason for any special thing.[8] "Philosophy," Mr. Blood writes to me in a letter, "is past. It was the long endeavor to logicize what we can only realize practically or in immediate experience. I am more and more impressed that Heraclitus insists on the equation of reason and unreason, or chance, as well as of being and not-being, etc. This throws the secret beyond logic, and makes mysticism outclass philosophy. The insight that mystery,—the Mystery, as such is final, is the hymnic word. If you use reason pragmatically, and deny it absolutely, you can't be beaten; be assured of that. But the Fact remains, and of course the Mystery." [9]

The "Fact," as I understand the writer here to mean it, remains in its native disseminated shape. From every realized amount of fact some other fact is absent, as being uninvolved. "There is nowhere more of it consecutively, perhaps, than appears upon this present page." There is, indeed, to put it otherwise, no more one all-enveloping fact than there is one all-enveloping spire in an endlessly growing spiral, and no more one all-generating fact than there is one central point in which an endlessly converging spiral ends. Hegel's "bad infinite" belongs to the eddy as well as to the line. "Progress?" writes our author. "And to what? Time turns a weary and a wistful face; has he not traversed an eternity? and shall another give the secret up? We have dreamed of a climax and a consummation, a final triumph where a world shall burn en barbecue; but there is not, cannot be, a purpose of eternity; it shall pay mainly as it goes, or not at all. The show is on; and what a show, if we will but give our attention! Barbecues, bonfires, and banners? Not twenty worlds a minute would keep up our bonfire of the sun; and what banners of our fancy could eclipse the meteor pennants of the pole, or the opaline splendors of the everlasting ice? . . . Doubtless we are ostensibly progressing, but there have been prosperity and highjinks before. Nineveh and Tyre, Rome, Spain, and Venice also had their day. We are going, but it is a question of our standing the pace. It would seem that the news must become less interesting or tremendously more so—'a breath can make us, as a breath has made.'"

Elsewhere we read: "Variety, not uniformity, is more likely to be the key to progress. The genius of being is whimsical rather than consistent. Our strata show broken bones of histories all forgotten. How can it be otherwise? There can be no purpose of eternity. It is process all. The most sublime result, if it appeared as the ultimatum, would go stale in an hour; it could not be endured."

Of course from an intellectual point of view this way of thinking must be classed as scepticism. "Contingency forbids any inevitable history, and conclusions are absurd. Nothing in Hegel has kept the planet from being blown to pieces." Obviously the mystical "security," the "apodal sufficiency" yielded by the anaesthetic revelation, are very different moods of mind from aught that rationalism can claim to father—more active, prouder, more heroic. From his ether-intoxication Blood may feel towards ordinary rationalists "as Clive felt towards those millions of Orientals in whom honor had no part." On page 6, above, I quoted from his "Nemesis"—"Is heaven so poor that justice," etc. The writer goes on, addressing the goddess of "compensation" or rational balance;—

"How shalt thou poise the courage That covets all things hard? How pay the love unmeasured That could not brook reward? How prompt self-loyal honor Supreme above desire, That bids the strong die for the weak, The martyrs sing in fire? Why do I droop in bower And sigh in sacred hall? Why stifle under shelter? Yet where, through forest tall, The breath of hungry winter In stinging spray resolves, I sing to the north wind's fury And shout with the coarse-haired wolves?

* * * * * *

What of thy priests' confuting, Of fate and form and law, Of being and essence and counterpoise, Of poles that drive and draw? Ever some compensation, Some pandering purchase still! But the vehm of achieving reason Is the all-patrician Will!"

Mr. Blood must manage to re-write the last two lines; but the contrast of the two securities, his and the rationalist's, is plain enough. The rationalist sees safe conditions. But Mr. Blood's revelation, whatever the conditions be, helps him to stand ready for a life among them. In this, his attitude seems to resemble that of Nietzsche's amor fati! "Simply," he writes to me, "we do not know. But when we say we do not know, we are not to say it weakly and meekly, but with confidence and content. . . . Knowledge is and must ever be secondary, a witness rather than a principal, or a 'principle'!—in the case. Therefore mysticism for me!"

"Reason," he prints elsewhere, "is but an item in the duplex potency of the mystery, and behind the proudest consciousness that ever reigned, Reason and Wonder blushed face to face. The legend sinks to burlesque if in that great argument which antedates man and his mutterings, Lucifer had not a fighting chance. . . .

"It is given to the writer and to others for whom he is permitted to speak—and we are grateful that it is the custom of gentlemen to believe one another—that the highest thought is not a milk-and-water equation of so much reason and so much result—'no school sum to be cast up.' We have realized the highest divine thought of itself, and there is in it as much of wonder as of certainty; inevitable, and solitary and safe in one sense, but queer and cactus-like no less in another sense, it appeals unutterably to experience alone.

"There are sadness and disenchantment for the novice in these inferences, as if the keynote of the universe were low, but experience will approve them. Certainty is the root of despair. The inevitable stales, while doubt and hope are sisters. Not unfortunately the universe is wild—game flavored as a hawk's wing. Nature is miracle all. She knows no laws; the same returns not, save to bring the different. The slow round of the engraver's lathe gains but the breadth of a hair, but the difference is distributed back over the whole curve, never an instant true—ever not quite."

"Ever not quite!"—this seems to wring the very last panting word out of rationalistic philosophy's mouth. It is fit to be pluralism's heraldic device. There is no complete generalization, no total point of view, no all-pervasive unity, but everywhere some residual resistance to verbalization, formulation, and discursification, some genius of reality that escapes from the pressure of the logical finger, that says "hands off," and claims its privacy, and means to be left to its own life. In every moment of immediate experience is somewhat absolutely original and novel. "We are the first that ever burst into this silent sea." Philosophy must pass from words, that reproduce but ancient elements, to life itself, that gives the integrally new. The "inexplicable," the "mystery," as what the intellect, with its claim to reason out reality, thinks that it is in duty bound to resolve, and the resolution of which Blood's revelation would eliminate from the sphere of our duties, remains; but it remains as something to be met and dealt with by faculties more akin to our activities and heroisms and willingnesses, than to our logical powers. This is the anesthetic insight, according to our author. Let my last word, then, speaking in the name of intellectual philosophy, be his word.—"There is no conclusion. What has concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it? There are no fortunes to be told, and there is no advice to be given.—Farewell!"



[1] Written during the early summer of 1910 and published in the Hibbert Journal for July of that year.

[2] "Yes! Paul is quite a correspondent!" said a good citizen of Amsterdam, from whom I inquired the way to Mr. Blood's dwelling many years ago, after alighting from the train. I had sought to identify him by calling him an "author," but his neighbor thought of him only as a writer of letters to the journals I have named.

[3] "How shall a man know he is alive—since in thought the knowing constitutes the being alive, without knowing that thought (life) from its opposite, and so knowing both, and so far as being is knowing, being both? Each defines and relieves the other, each is impossible in thought without the other; therefore each has no distinction save as presently contrasting with the other, and each by itself is the same, and nothing. Clearly, then, consciousness is neither of one nor of the other nor of both, but a knowing subject perceiving them and itself together and as one. . . . So, in coming out of the anaesthetic exhilaration . . . we want to tell something; but the effort instantly proves that something will stay back and do the telling—one must utter one's own throat, one must eat one's own teeth, to express the being that possesses one. The result is ludicrous and astounding at once—astounding in the clear perception that this is the ultimate mystery of life, and is given you as the old Adamic secret, which you then feel that all intelligence must sometime know or have known; yet ludicrous in its familiar simplicity, as somewhat that any man should always perceive at his best, if his head were only level, but which in our ordinary thinking has grown into a thousand creeds and theories dignified as religion and philosophy."

[4] Elsewhere Mr. Blood writes of the "force of the negative" thus:—"As when a faded lock of woman's hair shall cause a man to cut his throat in a bedroom at five o'clock in the morning; or when Albany resounds with legislation, but a little henpecked judge in a dusty office at Herkimer or Johnstown sadly writes across the page the word 'unconstitutional'—the glory of the Capitol has faded."

[5] Elsewhere Blood writes:—"But what then, in the name of common sense, is the external world? If a dead man could answer he would say Nothing, or as Macbeth said of the air-drawn dagger, 'there is no such thing.' But a live man's answer might be in this way: What is the multiplication table when it is not written down? It is a necessity of thought; it was not created, it cannot but be; every intelligence which goes to it, and thinks, must think in that form or think falsely. So the universe is the static necessity of reason; it is not an object for any intelligence to find, but it is half object and half subject; it never cost anything as a whole; it never was made, but always is made, in the Logos, or expression of reason—the Word; and slowly but surely it will be understood and uttered in every intelligence, until he is one with God or reason itself. As a man, for all he knows, or has known, stands at any given instant the realization of only one thought, while all the rest of him is invisibly linked to that in the necessary form and concatenation of reason, so the man as a whole of exploited thoughts is a moment in the front of the concatenated reason of the universal whole; and this whole is personal only as it is personally achieved. This is the Kingdom that is 'within you, and the God which 'no man hath seen at any time.'"

[6] There are passages in Blood that sound like a well-known essay by Emerson. For instance:—"Experience burns into us the fact and the necessity of universal compensation. The philosopher takes it from Heraclitus, in the insight that everything exists through its opposite; and the bummer comforts himself for his morning headache as only the rough side of a square deal. We accept readily the doctrine that pain and pleasure, evil and good, death and life, chance and reason, are necessary equations—that there must be just as much of each as of its other.

"It grieves us little that this great compensation cannot at every instant balance its beam on every individual centre, and dispense with an under dog in every fight; we know that the parts must subserve the whole; we have faith that our time will come; and if it comes not at all in this world, our lack is a bid for immortality, and the most promising argument for a world hereafter. 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.'

"This is the faith that baffles all calamity, and ensures genius and patience in the world. Let not the creditor hasten the settlement: let not the injured man hurry toward revenge; there is nothing that draws bigger interest than a wrong, and to 'get the best of it' is ever in some sense to get the worst."

[7] Or what thinks the reader of the verbiage of these verses?—addressed in a mood of human defiance to the cosmic Gods—

"Whose lightnings tawny leap from furtive lairs, To helpless murder, while the ships go down Swirled in the crazy stound, and mariners' prayers Go up in noisome bubbles—such to them;— Or when they tramp about the central fires, Bending the strata with aeonian tread Till steeples totter, and all ways are lost,— Deem they of wife or child, or home or friend, Doing these things as the long years lead on Only to other years that mean no more, That cure no ill, nor make for use or proof— Destroying ever, though to rear again."

[8] I subjoin a poetic apostrophe of Mr. Blood's to freedom:

"Let it ne'er be known. If in some book of the Inevitable, Dog-eared and stale, the future stands engrossed E'en as the past. There shall be news in heaven, And question in the courts thereof; and chance Shall have its fling, e'en at the [ermined] bench.

* * * * * *

Ah, long ago, above the Indian ocean, Where wan stars brood over the dreaming East, I saw, white, liquid, palpitant, the Cross; And faint and far came bells of Calvary As planets passed, singing that they were saved, Saved from themselves: but ever low Orion— For hunter too was I, born of the wild, And the game flavor of the infinite Tainted me to the bone—he waved me on, On to the tangent field beyond all orbs, Where form nor order nor continuance Hath thought nor name; there unity exhales In want of confine, and the protoplasm May beat and beat, in aimless vehemence, Through vagrant spaces, homeless and unknown.

* * * * * *

There ends One's empire!—but so ends not all; One knows not all; my griefs at least are mine— By me their measure, and to me their lesson; E'en I am one—(poor deuce to call the Ace!) And to the open bears my gonfalon, Mine aegis, Freedom!—Let me ne'er look back Accusing, for the withered leaves and lives The sated past hath strewn, the shears of fate, But forth to braver days. O, Liberty, Burthen of every sigh!—thou gold of gold, Beauty of the beautiful, strength of the strong! My soul for ever turns agaze for thee. There is no purpose of eternity For faith or patience; but thy buoyant torch Still lighted from the Islands of the Blest, O'erbears all present for potential heavens Which are not—ah, so more than all that are! Whose chance postpones the ennui of the skies! Be thou my genius—be my hope in thee! For this were heaven: to be, and to be free."

[9] In another letter Mr. Blood writes:—"I think we are through with 'the Whole,' and with 'causa sui,' and with the 'negative unity' which assumes to identify each thing as being what it lacks of everything else. You can, of course, build out a chip by modelling the sphere it was chipped from;—but if it was n't a sphere? What a weariness it is to look back over the twenty odd volumes of the 'Journal of Speculative Philosophy' and see Harris's mind wholly filled by that one conception of self-determination—everything to be thought as 'part of a system'—a 'whole' and 'causa sui.'—I should like to see such an idea get into the head of Edison or George Westinghouse."

THE END

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