Recent Developments in European Thought
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It is clear that such a philosophy ought to end in unqualified Agnosticism. The Hegelians, to be sure, made merry over the Unknowable of Mr. Spencer, but their own Absolute is really just the Unknowable in its 'Sunday best'. Nothing that we can say about anything which is not the Absolute is really true, because there really is nothing but the Absolute to speak about, and nothing that we can say about the Absolute is quite true either, because we can never succeed in saying itself of it. Mr. Bradley, far the most eminent of the philosophers of the Absolute, has made persistent and brilliant attempts to show that, in spite of this, we do know enough to be sure that our own mind is more like the Absolute than a cray-fish, and a cray-fish more like it than a crystal. But when all is said, though I owe more to Mr. Bradley than I can ever acknowledge adequately, I cannot help feeling that there are two men in Mr. Bradley, a great constructive thinker and a subtle destructive critic, and that the destructive Hyde is perpetually pulling to pieces all that the constructive Jekyll has built up. Of course it is obvious that the truth of mathematics, if mathematics are true, is a fatal stone of stumbling for this type of philosophy. Mathematics never attempts to say anything about the 'Absolute'—the only 'Absolute' of which it knows is only a 'degraded conic'—yet it claims that its statements, if once they have been correctly expressed, are not 'partial' but complete.

Over against the Hegelianizing philosophers, we had, of course, the men of science. No one could wish to speak of the scientific men of the days of Huxley without deep respect for their success in adding to our positive knowledge of facts. But it may perhaps be said at this distance of time that it was not precisely the greatest among them who were most prominent as mystagogues of Science with the big S, and it may certainly be said that when the mystagogues, the Cliffords, Huxleys, and the rest, undertook to improvise a theory of first principles, their achievement was little better than infantile. They took it on trust from Hume that the whole of knowledge is built up of sensations, actual or 'revived', and quite missed Kant's point that their empiricism left the formal constituent in knowledge, the type of order by which data are organized into an intelligible pattern, wholly out of account. Even when they deigned to read Kant, they read him without any inkling of the character of the 'critical' problem. Hence they taught dogmatically as true a theory of scientific method which Hume himself had elaborately proved impossible. It was just because Hume had seen so clearly that no universal scientific truths can be derived from premisses which merely record particular facts that he professed himself a follower of the 'academic' or 'sceptical' philosophy. He recognized the impossibility of constructing scientific knowledge out of its material constituent alone, but did not see where the formal constituent could come from, and so resigned himself to regarding the actual successes of science as a kind of standing miracle.

The men of the 'seventies were, after all, in many cases more anxious to damage theology than to build up Philosophy. They read Hume without any delicate sense for his urbane ironies, and believed in good faith that he and John Stuart Mill between them had shown that by a mysterious process called 'induction' it is possible to prove rigorously universal conclusions in science without universal premisses. A scientific law, according to them, is only a convenient short-hand notation in which to register the 'routine of our perceptions'. Thus we have known of a great many men who have died, and have never known of any man who lived to much over a hundred without dying. The universal proposition 'all men are mortal' is a short expression for this information, and it is nothing more. It ought to have been obvious that, if this is a true account of science, all scientific 'generalizations' are infinitely improbable. The number of men of whom we know that they have died is insignificant by comparison with the multitude of those who have lived, are living, or will live, and we have no guarantee that this insignificant number is a fair average sample. So again, unless there are true universal propositions which are not 'short-hand' for any plurality of observed facts whatever, we cannot with any confidence, however faint, infer that a 'regular sequence' or 'routine' which has been observed from the dawn of recorded time up to, say, midnight, August 4, 1919, will continue to be observed on August 5, 1919. How, except by relying on the truth of some principle which does not depend itself on the validity of 'generalization', can we tell that it is even slightly probable that the nature of things will not change suddenly at the moment of midnight between August 4 and August 5, 1919? What is called 'inductive' science certainly has 'pulled off' remarkable successes in the past, but we can have no confidence that these successes will be repeated unless there are much better reasons for believing in its methods and initial assumptions than any which the scientific man who is an amateur 'empiricist' in his philosophy can offer us. We may note, in particular, that this empiricism, which has been expounded most carefully by Pearson and Mach, coincides with Hegelian Absolutism in leading to the denial of the truth of mathematics. It would be a superfluous task to argue at length that, e.g., De Moivre's theorem or Taylor's theorem is not a short-hand formula for recording the 'routine of our perceptions'.

The general state of things at the time of which I am speaking was thus that relations were decidedly strained between a body of philosophers and a body of scientific men who ought at least to have met on the common ground of a complete Agnosticism. The philosophers were, in general, shy of Science, mainly, no doubt, because they were modest men who knew their own limitations, but they had a way of being condescending to Science, which naturally annoyed the scientific men. These latter professed a theory of the structure of knowledge which the philosophers could easily show to be grotesque, but the retort was always ready to hand that at any rate Science seemed somehow to be getting somewhere while Philosophy appeared to lead nowhere in particular.

The conditions for mutual understanding have now greatly improved, thanks mainly to the labour of mathematicians with philosophical minds on the principles of their own science. If we admit that mathematics is true—and it seems quite impossible to avoid the admission—we can now see that neither the traditional Kant-Hegel doctrine nor the traditional sensationalistic empiricism can be sound. Not to speak of inquiries which have been actually created within our own life-time, it may fairly be said that the whole of pure mathematics has been shown, or is on the verge of being shown, to form a body of conclusions rigidly deduced from a few unproved postulates which are of a purely logical character. Descartes has proved to be right in his view that the exceptional certainty men have always ascribed to mathematical knowledge is not due to the supposed restriction of the science to relation of number and magnitude—there is a good deal of pure mathematics which deals with neither—but to the simplicity of its undefined notions and the high plausibility of its unproved postulates. Bit by bit the bad logic has been purged out of the Calculus and the Theory of Functions and these branches of study have been made into patterns of accurate reasoning on exactly stated premisses. It has appeared in the process that the alleged contradictions in mathematics upon which the followers of Kant and Hegel laid stress do not really exist at all, and only seemed to exist because mathematicians in the past expressed their meaning so awkwardly. Further, it has been established that the most fundamental idea of all in mathematics is not that of number or magnitude but that of order in a series and that the whole doctrine of series is only a branch of the logic of Relations. From the logical doctrine of serial order we seem to be able to deduce the whole arithmetic of integers, and from this it is easy to deduce further the arithmetic of fractions and the arithmetic or algebra of the 'real' and 'complex' numbers. As the logical principles of serial order enable us to deal with infinite as well as with finite series, it further follows that the Calculus and the Theory of Functions can now be built up without a single contradiction or breach of logic. The puzzles about the infinitely great and infinitely small, which used to throw a cloud of mystery over the 'higher' branches of Mathematics, have been finally dissipated by the discovery that the 'infinite' is readily definable in purely ordinal terms and that the 'infinitesimal' does not really enter into the misnamed 'Infinitesimal Calculus' at all. Arithmetic and the theory of serial order have been shown to be the sufficient basis of the whole science which, as Plato long ago remarked, is 'very inappropriately called geometry'. A resume of the work which has been thus done may be found in the stately volumes of the Principia Mathematica of Whitehead and Russell, or—to a large extent—in the Formulario Matematico of Professor Peano. Of other works dealing with the subject, the finest from the strictly philosophical point of view is probably that of Professor G. Frege on The Fundamental Laws of Arithmetic. The general result of the whole development is that we are now at last definitely freed from the haunting fear that there is some hidden contradiction in the principles of the exact sciences which would vitiate all our knowledge of universal truths. This removes the chief, if not the only ground for the view that all the truths of Science are only 'partial'. At the same time, the proof that pure mathematics is a strictly logical development and that all its conclusions are of the hypothetical form, 'if a b c ..., then x' definitely disproves the popular Kantian doctrine that sense-data are a necessary constituent of scientific knowledge. And with this dogma falls the main ground for the denial that knowledge about the soul and God is attainable. The recovery of a sounder philosophical method has, as Mr. Russell himself says, disposed of what was yesterday the accepted view that the function of Philosophy is to narrow down the range of possible interpretations of facts until only one is left. Philosophy rather opens doors than shuts them. It multiplies the number of logically possible sets of premisses from which consequences agreeing with empirical facts may be inferred. Mr. Russell's unreasoned anti-theism seems to me to make him curiously blind to an obvious application of this principle. On the other side, the revived attention to the logical methods of the sciences is killing the crude sensationalism of the days which saw the first publication of Mach's Science of Mechanics and Pearson's Grammar of Science. The claims of 'induction' to be a method of establishing truths may be fairly said to have been completely exposed. It is clearer now than it was when Kant made the observation that each of the 'sciences' contains just so much science as it contains mathematics, and that the Critical Philosophy was fully justified in insisting that all science implies universal a priori postulates, though it went wrong in thinking that these postulates are laws of the working of the human mind or are 'put into' things by the human mind. How far Science has moved away from crude sensationalistic empiricism may be estimated by a comparison of the successive editions of the Grammar of Science. It must always have been apparent to an attentive reader that the chapters of that fascinating book which deal directly with the leading principles of Physics and Biology are of very different quality from the earlier chapters which expound, with many self-contradictions and much wrath against metaphysicians and theologians whom the writer seems never to have tried to understand, the fantastic 'metaphysics of the telephone-exchange'. But the difference of quality is more marked in the second edition than in the first, and in the (alas!) unfinished third edition than in the second. So far, then, as the problem of the unification of the sciences is concerned, the old prejudices which divided the rationalist philosopher from the sensationalist scientific man seem to have been, in the main, dissipated. We can see now that what used to be called Philosophy and what used to be called Science are both parts of one task, that they have a common method and presuppose a common body of principles.

So far it may be said with truth that Philosophy is becoming more faithful than Kant was himself to the leading ideas of 'Criticism', and again that it is reverting once more, as it reverted in the days of Galileo, to the positions of Plato. I do not mean that the whole programme has been completely executed and that there is nothing for a successor of Frege or Russell to do. It is instructive to observe that at the very end of the great work on arithmetic to which I have referred Frege found himself compelled by difficulties which had been overlooked until Russell called attention to them to add an appendix confessing that there was a single important flaw in his elaborate logical construction of the principles of arithmetic. He had shown that if there are certain things called 'integers', defined as he had defined them, the whole of arithmetic follows. But he had not shown that there is any object answering to his definition of an integer, and the logical researches of Russell had thrown some doubt on the point. This proved that some restatement of the initial assumptions of the theory was needed. Since the date of Frege's appendix (1903), Mr. Russell and others have done something towards the necessary rectification, and the resulting 'Theory of Types' is pretty certainly one of the most important contributions ever made to logical doctrine, but it may still be reasonably doubted whether the 'Theory of Types', as expounded by Whitehead and Russell in their Principia Mathematica, is the last word required. At any rate, it seems clear that it is a great step on the right road to the solution of a most difficult problem.

There still remains the greatest problem of all, the harmonization of Science and Life. I cannot believe that this problem is an illegitimate one, or that we must sit down content to accept the severance of 'fact' and 'value' as final for our thought. Even the unification of the sciences itself remains imperfect so long as we treat it as merely something which 'happens to be the case' that there are many things and many kinds of things in the universe and also a number of relations in which they 'happen' to stand. It is significant that in his later writings Mr. Russell has been driven to abandon the concept of personal identity, which is so fundamental for practical life, and to assert that each of us is not one man but an infinite series of men of whom each only exists for a mathematical instant. I am sure that such a theory requires the abandonment of the whole notion of value as an illusion, and even more sure that it is ruinous to any practical rule of living, and I cannot believe in the 'philosophy' of any man who is satisfied to base his practice on what he regards as detected illusion. Hence I find myself strongly in sympathy with my eminent Italian colleague Professor Varisco, who has devoted his two chief works (I Massimi Problemi and Conosci Te Stesso) to an exceedingly subtle attempt to show that 'what ought to be', in Platonic phrase 'the Good', is in the end the single principle from which all things derive their existence as well as their value. Mr. Russell's philosophy saves us half Plato, and that is much, but I am convinced that it is whole and entire Plato whom a profounder philosophy would preserve for us. I believe personally that such a philosophy will be led, as Plato was in the end led, to a theistic interpretation of life, that it is in the living God Who is over all, blessed for ever, that it will find the common source of fact and value. And again I believe that it will be led to its result very largely by what is, after all, perhaps the profoundest thought of Kant, the conviction that the most illuminating fact of all is the fact of the absolute and unconditional obligatoriness of the law of right. It is precisely here that fact and value most obviously meet. For when we ask ourselves what in fact we are, we shall assuredly find no true answer to this question about what is if we forget that we are first and foremost beings who ought to follow a certain way of life, and to follow it for no other reason than that it is good. But I cannot, of course, offer reasons here for this conviction, though I am sure that adequate reasons can be given. Here I must be content to state this ultimate conviction as a 'theological superstition', or, as I should prefer to put it with a little more certainty, as a matter of faith. The alternative is to treat the world as a stupid, and possibly malicious, bad joke.

Note.—It may be thought that something should have been said about the revolt against authority and tradition which has styled itself variously 'Pragmatism' and 'Humanism', and also about the recent vogue of Bergsonianism. I may in part excuse my silence by the plea that both movements are, in my judgement, already spent forces. If I must say more than this, I would only remark about Pragmatism that I could speak of it with more confidence if its representatives themselves were more agreed as to its precise principles. At present I can discern little agreement among them about anything except that they all show a great impatience with the business of thinking things quietly and steadily out, and that none of them seems to appreciate the importance of the 'critical' problem. 'Pragmatism' thus seems to me less a definite way of thinking than a collective name for a series of 'guesses at truth'. Some of the guesses may be very lucky ones, but I, at least, can hardly take the claims of unmethodic guessing to be a philosophy very seriously. To 'give and receive argument' appears to me to be of the very essence of Philosophy. As for M. Bergson, I yield to no one in admiration for his brilliancy as a stylist and the happiness of many of his illustrations. But I have always found it difficult to grasp his central idea—if he really has one—because his whole doctrine has always seemed to me to be based upon a couple of elementary blunders which will be found in the opening chapter of his Donnees Immediates de la Conscience. We are there called on to reject the intellect in Philosophy on the grounds (1) that, being originally developed in the services of practical needs, it can at best tell us how to find our way about among the bodies around us, and is thus debarred from knowing more than the outsides of things; (2) that its typical achievement is therefore geometry, and geometry, because it can measure only straight lines, necessarily misconceives the true character of 'real duration'. Now, as to the first point, I should have thought it obvious that the establishment of a modus vivendi with one's fellows has always been as much of a practical need as the avoidance of stones and pit-falls, and the alleged conclusion about the defects of the intellect does not therefore seem to me to follow from M. Bergson's premisses, even if we had any reason, as I do not see that we have, to accept the premisses. And as to the second point, I would ask whether M. Bergson possesses a clock or a watch, and if he has, how he supposes time is measured on them? He seems to me to have forgotten the elementary fact that angles can be measured as well as straight lines. (I might add that he makes the further curious assumption that all geometry is metrical.) It may be that something would be left of the Bergsonian philosophy if one eliminated the consequences of these initial blunders, but I do not know what the remainder would be. At any rate, the anti-intellectualism which M. Bergson and his disciple, Professor Carr, seem to regard as fundamental will have to go, unless different and better grounds can be found for it. I must leave it to others to judge of the adequacy of this apology.


Varisco, The Great Problem (Macmillan).

Varisco, Know Thyself (Macmillan).

Aliotta, The Idealistic Reaction against Science (Macmillan).

Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World (Open Court Publishing Co.).

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Home University Library).

A.N. Whitehead, The Principles of Natural Knowledge (Cambridge Press).

G.E. Moore, Ethics (H.U.L.).

W. McDougall, Philosophy (H.U.L.).

A.N. Whitehead, Introduction to Mathematics (H.U.L.).




The living beings that exist or have existed upon the earth are of kinds innumerable; and, in the opinion of man, the chief of them all is mankind. Man, for the simple reason that he is man, is anthropomorphic in all his judgements and not merely in his religious conceptions; he holds himself to be the standard and measure in all things. If his right so to regard himself were challenged, if he were called upon to justify himself for having taken his foot as a unit of measurement, or his fingers as the basis of his system of numbers, he might reply that anything will serve as a standard for weights and measures, provided that it never varies, but is always the same whenever referred to. But the reply, valid though it is, does not do full justice to man: it leaves room for the suspicion that a standard is something chosen by man in a purely arbitrary manner and without reference to the facts of nature. If that were really the case, then man's conception of himself as superior to the other animals on earth might be but a prejudice of an arbitrary kind. When, however, we consider, from the point of view of evolution, the place of man among the other animals that occupy or have occupied the earth, it is indubitable that the human organism is in point of time the latest evolved and the human brain is in point of complexity and efficiency the most highly developed. Further, the evidence of embryology goes to show that the organism which has eventually become human became so only by passing through successive stages, each of which has its analogue in some of the existing forms of animal life. Those forms of animal life exist side by side; and if we conceive them to be represented diagrammatically by vertical lines, differing in height according to their degree of evolution, the line representing the human organism will be the tallest, and may be considered to have become the tallest by successive increments or stages corresponding to the height of the various other parallel vertical lines.

When the conception of evolution, which had been employed to explain the origin of species and the descent of man, and which had been gained by a consideration of material organisms, came to be applied to the world of man's thoughts, to the non-material and spiritual domain, and to be used for the purpose of explaining the growth and the development of religion, it was natural that the conception which had proved so valuable in the one case should be applied without modification to the other—as natural as that the first railway coach should be built on the model of the stagecoach. The possibility that the theory of evolution might itself evolve, and in evolving change, was one that was not, and at that time could hardly be, present to the minds of those who were extending the theory and in the process of extending it were developing it. Yet the possibility was there, implicit in the very conception of evolution, which involves continuous change—change in continuity and continuity in change.

Any and every attempt to trace the evolution of religion seems at first necessarily to involve the assumption that from the beginning religion was there to be evolved. That was the position assumed by Robertson Smith in The Religion of the Semites, which appeared in 1889. At that date the aborigines of Australia were supposed to represent the human race in its lowest and its earliest stage of development. In them, therefore, if anywhere, we might expect to find what would be religion in its lowest and earliest stage indeed but still religion. Reduced to its lowest terms, religion, it was felt at first, must imply at least belief in a god and communion with him. If, therefore, religion was to be found amongst the representatives of the lowest and earliest stage in the evolution of humanity, belief in a god and communion with him must there be found. He who seeks finds. Robertson Smith found amongst the Australians totem-gods and sacramental rites. Indeed, it was at that time the belief universally held by students of the science of religion that in Australia a totem was a god and a god might be a totem. It was conjectured by Robertson Smith that in Australia the totem animal or plant was eaten sacramentally. Since, then, the totem in Australia was held to be both the god and the animal or plant in which the god manifested himself, it followed that in Australia we had, preserved to this day, the earliest form of sacrifice—that in which the totem animal was itself the totem god to whom it was offered as a sacrifice, and was itself—or rather himself—the sacramental meal furnished to his worshippers. The totem was eaten, it was conjectured, with the object of acquiring the qualities of the divine creature, or of absorbing them into the person of the worshipper. That the totem was eaten sacramentally rested, as has just been said, on the conjecture made by Robertson Smith in 1889; but in 1899 Dr. (now Sir James) Frazer declared that, thanks to the investigations of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen, 'here, in the heart of Australia, among the most primitive savages known to us, we find the actual observance of that totem sacrament which Robertson Smith, with the intuition of genius, divined years ago, but of which positive examples have hitherto been wanting.'

On the foundation thus laid by the intuition of Robertson Smith and approved in 1899 by Sir James Frazer, a simple and complete theory of the evolution of religion was possible. In any one tribe there were several totem-kins. The totem of each kin was divine, but the personality of a totem was so undeveloped in conception that, though it might, and on the theory did, develop into a deity, it was originally more of the nature of a spirit than a god, and totemism proper might easily pass into polydaemonism, that is a system in which the beings worshipped were conceived to possess a personality more clearly defined than that attributed to totems but less developed than that assigned to deities. From the beginning each tribe had worshipped a plurality of totems; it was, therefore, readily intelligible that, as these totems came to be credited with more and more definite and developed personality, the plurality of totems became not only a polydaemonism, but afterwards a plurality of deities, and a system of polytheism came to be established. From polytheism then, amongst the Israelites, monotheism was conceived to have been gradually developed.

On this theory the evolution of religion was, if we may so describe it, linear or rectilinear: the process consisted in a series of successive stages. In some cases, as for instance among the aborigines of Australia, it never rose higher than its starting-point, totemism; in others, as for instance in Samoa, it became polytheism without ceasing to be totemism; in others again, as for instance amongst the Aryan peoples, it became so completely polytheistic that even conjecture can discover but few indications or 'survivals' of the totemism from which it is supposed to have developed; and the polytheism of the Israelites was so completely superseded by monotheism that the very existence of an earlier stage of polytheism could be as strenuously denied in their case as the pre-existence of totemism could be denied amongst the polytheistic Aryans. Nevertheless the theory was that if we represent the growth of the various religions of the world diagrammatically by vertical lines parallel to one another but of various lengths, one line standing for totemism, a longer line for polydaemonism, a still longer one for polytheism, and the longest of all for monotheism, we should see that the line of growth has been the same in all cases, and that it is in their length, or (shall we say?) in their height alone that the various lines differ, and that the longest line culminates in monotheism only because it has been, so to speak, pulled out in the same way that a telescope when closed, may be extended. The evolution of religion on this view has been a process literally of 'evolution' or unfolding: the idea of a god and of communion with him has been present from the beginning; and, much though religion may have changed, it remains to the end essentially the same thing. This view of the process of religious evolution we may fairly term 'the pre-formation theory'; for on this theory each stage is pre-formed in the stage immediately preceding it, and in the earliest stage of all were all succeeding stages contained pre-formed, though it depended on circumstances whether the seed should spring up, and how many stages of its growth it should accomplish.

Robertson Smith's theory of the evolution of religion is in effect a form of the pre-formation theory, and is liable to the same difficulties as dog the theory of pre-formation in all its applications. On the theory, if we cut open a seed we should find within it the plant pre-formed; if we analyse totemism, the seed from which, in Robertson Smith's view, all other forms of religion have grown in orderly succession one after the other, we find in it religion in all its stages pre-formed. In fact, however, if we cut open an acorn we do not find a miniature oak-tree inside. The presumption, therefore, is that neither in totemism, if we dissect it, shall we find religion pre-formed. Indeed, there is the possibility that totemism, on dissection, will be found to have no such content—that the hope or expectation of finding anything in it is as vain, is as much doomed to disappointment, as is the expectation of the child who cuts open his drum, thinking to find inside it something which produces the sound.

It was, however, not on a priori grounds like these that Sir James Frazer was led eventually to combat and deny the existence, 'in the heart of Australia, amongst the most primitive savages known to us' of 'that totem sacrament which', in 1899 he declared, 'Robertson Smith, with the intuition of genius' had divined years before it was actually observed. It was by the evidence of new facts, discovered by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen, that Sir James Frazer was compelled to abandon Robertson Smith's theory of the evolution of religion. Robertson Smith had seen, or had thought he saw, amongst the Australians sacramental rites and the worship of totem gods. Sir James Frazer is now compelled by the evidence of the facts to hold that in what he calls 'pure totemism', i.e., in totemism as we find it in Australia, 'there is nothing that can properly be described as worship of the totems. Sacrifices are not presented to them, nor prayers offered, nor temples built, nor priests appointed to minister to them. In a word, totems pure and simple are never gods, but merely species of natural objects, united by certain intimate and mystic ties to groups of men.' It seems, therefore, according to Frazer, that in totemism, when dissected, there is no religion, just as in the child's drum, when cut open, there is—nothing. Yet, we may reflect, on the battle-field from a drum proceeds a great and glorious sound, inspiring men to noble deeds. Whereas ex nihilo nil fit: from nothing naturally nothing comes. If, however, something does come, it is not from nothing that it comes. Amongst the most primitive savages known to us, men are united to their totems, as Frazer admits, by 'certain intimate and mystic ties'.

What then is it in totemism from which, on Sir James Frazer's view, something comes? We might, perhaps, have expected that it was from the 'mystic' bond uniting man with the world which is not only around him but of which he is part, and in which he lives and moves and has his being. To say so, however, would be to admit that in totemism there was something not only 'mystic' but potentially religious. And Sir James Frazer does not follow that line of thought, so dangerous in his view. On the contrary, he maintains that 'the aspect of the totemic system, which we have hitherto been accustomed to describe as religious, deserves rather to be called magical'. The totem rites which Robertson Smith had interpreted as being sacramental and as being intended as a means of communion with the totem-gods Sir James Frazer regards as merely magical: 'totemism,' he says, 'is merely an organized system of magic intended to secure a supply of food.'

We may remark, in passing, that if totemism is 'mere' magic, there is indeed (as Sir James holds) no worship in totemism, but in that case in totemism there can be no such 'intimate and mystic ties' between the totem and the totem-kin as Sir James at first maintained there was. But be that as it may, according to Sir James Frazer, 'in the heart of Australia, amongst the most primitive savages known to us,' we find totemism; and totemism on examination proves to be 'merely an organized system of magic'. If now we start by assuming these premisses, or by granting these postulates for the sake of argument, we can, indeed, erect on them a theory of the evolution of religion. But if we so start, we must do as Sir James Frazer did in the first edition of The Golden Bough: we must hold that religion is but a developed form of magic. En route it may have changed considerably in appearance, but in fact and fundamentally it remains the same thing. In all the lower forms of religion, and in most of the higher, there are practices which are by common consent and beyond doubt magical. This indisputable fact lends colour to the view that religion was in its origin nothing but magic, and that religion is, to those who can see the facts as they are, nothing but magic to this day: the magician was but a priest, and the priest, claiming superhuman power, is but a magician still. Prayers were at first but spells, and even now are supposed, by simple repetition, to produce their effects.

If against this view it be objected that one of the most constant facts in the history of all religions, from the lowest to the highest, is that religion has at all times carried on war against sorcery, witchcraft, and magic, that in the lowest stages of man's evolution witches have been 'smelt out' by the witch-finder, and that in the higher stages of civilization witches have been persecuted, tortured, and burnt, the reply made to the objection is that the war against witchcraft and magic is due simply to the jealousy and resentment which regular practitioners of any art, e.g., medicine, have ever displayed and do still display towards irregular, unprofessional practitioners. This reply, however, is now generally admitted to be one which it is impossible to accept in the case of religion for the simple reason that it does not account for the facts. The plain fact which wrecks this attempted explanation is that magic is punished and witches are burnt not because witch-finders or priests are jealous of them, but because the community dreads them and feels their very existence to be a danger. It is the community which feels the world of difference there is between magic and religion.

The attraction of the view that religion is but magic under another name, that prayers are to the end but spells, that 'priest' is but 'magician' written differently, is that it is a simplicist theory. It simplifies things. It exhibits religion as evolved out of magic and as containing at the end nothing more or other than was present at the beginning in magic. It is but a variant of the pre-formation theory of the evolution of religion. In fine, the notion that in magic we have religion pre-formed is the counterpart of the idea that we can find religion pre-formed in totemism. In both cases we secure continuity in the process of evolution apparently, but the continuity secured is appearance merely and is gained only at the price of ignoring the facts.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in the later, enlarged editions of The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer has given up the view that religion evolved out of magic, being moved thereto by the fact, as he says, that there is 'a fundamental distinction and even opposition of principle between magic and religion'. There is, in Frazer's present view, no continuity between the magic which came first and the religion which came ages later: between them is an absolute breach of continuity, a fundamental distinction, an opposition of principle. 'The principles of thought on which magic is based,' Frazer says, 'resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other.' These beliefs are due to the association of ideas: if two things are more or less like one another, or if two things have gone together in our experience of the past, the sight of the one will make us think of the other and expect to find it. So strong is the expectation which is thus created that in the savage it amounts to absolute belief; and magic consists in acting on that belief, in setting like to produce like, with the firm conviction that thus (by magic) man can obtain all that he desires. For long ages, according to Frazer, man acted on that belief, and only eventually did he discover that magic did not always act. This discovery set him thinking and led him to the inference that at work in the world there must be supernatural powers or beings, that the course of nature and of human life is controlled by personal beings superior to man. And that inference, according to Sir James Frazer's definition, constitutes religion.

The fundamental distinction, then, and even opposition of principle between magic and religion, is that in the one case man thinks that he can gain all that he desires by means of magic, and that in the other he turns with offerings and supplication to the personal beings superior to man whom he imagines to control the course of nature and of human life.

Whether the distinction which Sir James Frazer draws between magic and religion will hold depends partly on whether his definitions of magic and religion are acceptable. In his account of magic there at least appears to be some confusion of thought. On the one hand, he says, 'it must always be remembered that every single profession and claim put forward by the magician, as such, is false; not one of them can be maintained without deception, conscious or unconscious.' This pronouncement makes it easy for us to understand that even the savage would eventually find magic an unsatisfactory method of gratifying his desires, a deception in fact. On the other hand, Sir James apparently contradicts himself, that is to say, he denies that every single profession or claim put forward by the magician is false, and says, 'however justly we may reject the extravagant pretensions of magicians and condemn the deceptions which they have practised on mankind, the original institution of this class of man has, take it all in all, been productive of incalculable good to humanity.' The ground for this second pronouncement, so contradictory of the first, is that magicians, Sir James tells us, 'were the direct predecessors, not merely of our physicians and surgeons but of our investigators and discoverers in every branch of natural science.' Thus, though he no longer regards priests as transmogrified magicians, he does regard magicians as the earliest men of science, and does regard science, therefore, as a highly developed stage of magic. This view logically follows from the premisses from which it starts; and if it is felt to be unacceptable, we shall naturally be inclined to scrutinize the premisses once more and more carefully. When we do so scrutinize them, we see that the principles of thought on which Sir James Frazer assumes magic to be based are in effect the principles from which science started: they are the beliefs that like produces like—the basis of the law of causation—and that things which our experience shows to have gone together in the past tend always to go together—which is one way of stating our belief in the uniformity of nature. If then these principles of thought are the principles on which magic as well as science is based, then science and magic are the same thing, and we have only to choose whether we will say that magic is not magic but undeveloped science, or that science is not science but merely magic transmogrified. Thus, the pre-formation theory once more reasserts itself: magic is the seed in which science is prefigured or pre-formed.

If we wish to escape from this conclusion, if we wish to maintain the validity of science and yet always to remember 'that every single profession and claim put forward by the magician, as such, is false—not one of them can be maintained without deception, conscious or unconscious', we must consider whether Sir James Frazer's account of magic, according to which the principles of magic are identical with those of science, is the only account that can be given of magic; and for that purpose we may contrast it with the view of Wilhelm Wundt. But before doing so, since Sir James Frazer holds that there is 'a fundamental distinction and even opposition of principle between magic and religion', it will be well to try to see not only what he means by magic, but also whether his description or definition of religion is acceptable.

Whereas Robertson Smith held that religion, reduced to its very lowest terms, must imply at least belief in a god and communion with him, Frazer considers religion to be the belief that the course of nature and of human life is controlled by personal beings superior to man. By the one view stress is laid on the mystic side of religion, on the communion which is effected through sacrifice; by the other view stress is laid on the power which the gods may be induced by prayer and supplication to exercise for the benefit of man. Our first reflection, therefore, is that any view of religion, to be comprehensive, cannot confine itself to either of these aspects singly, but must find room for both—for both prayer and sacrifice. They cannot be mutually exclusive, nor can they be simply juxtaposed, as though they were atoms unrelated to one another, accidental neighbours in the same district. There must be a higher unity, not created by or subsequent to the coalescence of elements originally independent of each other, but a higher unity of which both prayer and sacrifice are manifestations. This higher unity, I venture to suggest, is the first principle of religion; and, if it is not explicitly recognized as the first principle of religion either by Robertson Smith or by Frazer, that may well be because their attention is concentrated on the earlier stages in the evolution of religion, when as yet it is not conspicuous and is, therefore, though in fact operative, liable to be overlooked. As Ferrier has said, 'first principles of every kind have their influence, and indeed operate largely and powerfully long before they come to the surface of human thought and are articulately expounded.' What then is the first principle of religion which only after long ages of evolution rose to the surface of human thought, and which, though it had been operative largely and powerfully, came only in the slow course of human evolution to be articulately expounded? The first principle of religion is love—love of one's neighbour and one's God.

In the light of that first principle it is manifest that prayer and sacrifice are not fundamentally unrelated and accidentally juxtaposed: a sacrifice accompanied not even by unspoken prayer, prompted by no desire, no wish for anything whatever, is a meaningless concept. Equally unmeaning and unintelligible is the idea of a prayer which involves no sacrifice—whether by sacrifice we understand the offering of gifts or the sacrifice of self. But perhaps it may be said that, even though love alone can lead to sacrifice of self, still it is undeniable that prayers may be put up and sacrifices be offered by a man for the sake of what he is going to get by doing so; and that that is what Sir James Frazer means when he sees in religion the belief that beings superior to man may be induced by prayer so to order things that man may get his heart's desire. Then, indeed, we get a continuity of evolution, a continuity between magic and religion, which Frazer perhaps did not intend wholly to deny: that is to say the continuous thread running through both magic and religion and uniting them is desire. Desire is continuous, though the means of gratifying it change. In one stage of evolution magic is the means; in another, religion. But throughout we find the process of evolution to be continuous—change in continuity and continuity in change.

Now it is indeed undeniable that prayer and sacrifice may be made by a man for the sake of what he is going to get, and may from the beginning have been made, partly at least, from that motive. But if evolution in one of its aspects is change, then one of the changes brought about by evolution in religion is precisely that prayer and sacrifice come to be regarded as no longer a means whereby a man can get his desires accomplished—his will done—but as the indispensable condition for doing God's will. Prayer then becomes communion with God, and the sacrifice of self the living exhibition of love—the first principle of religion, the principle which manifests itself now in prayer and now in sacrifice.

From this point of view, then, Sir James Frazer's account of religion will be considered unacceptable: it makes religion and magic alike but means whereby man has—vainly—sought to satisfy desire. And the implication is that the day of both alike is over. But if Frazer's account of religion is unacceptable, his account of magic also is open to criticism. He wavers between two opinions about magic: at one time he regards it as all falsehood and deception, at another as the source from which science springs, just as at one time he considered magic fundamentally the same as religion and then again as fundamentally different from religion. When Frazer is bent upon identifying magic and science, he attributes to primitive man a theory of causation (that like produces like): magic is based, he says, upon 'the views of natural causation embraced by the savage magician'. On the other hand, according to Wilhelm Wundt in his Voelkerpsychologie, primitive man has no notion whatever of natural causation: primitive man, Wundt says, has only one way of accounting for events—if something happens, somebody did it. If any one mysteriously falls ill and dies, the question at once presents itself to the savage mind, who did it? How any one could contrive to make the man fall ill and die is, to the man's relations, thoroughly and disquietingly mysterious. The one thing clear to them is that somebody possesses and has exercised this mysterious and horrible power. The person who, in the opinion not only of the relatives but also of all or most of the community, naturally would do this sort of thing differs in some way—in his appearance or habits—from the average member of the community, and accordingly is credited, or discredited, with this mysterious and dreadful power. Such a person, according to Wundt, is a magician. Such an event is a marvel: so long as it is supposed to be brought about by a man, it is a piece of magic; when it is ascribed (as, according to Wundt, it comes in later, though not in primitive times, to be ascribed) to a god, it is a miracle.

If science then does not work magic, there must be a fundamental distinction between science and magic, an absolute opposition of principles. The principles of thought on which magic is based cannot be, as Frazer maintains, the same as those which give to science its validity. In fine, the belief in magic seems to be based not on any principle of thought, but upon the assumption that, if something happens, somebody must have done it, and therefore must have had the power to do it.

Wundt, whilst differing from Frazer in his description of magic, is at one with him in believing that before religion existed there was an age of magic. But Wundt's view that marvels are magic when supposed to have been done by man, but miracles when supposed to have been done by a god or his priests, suggests the possibility that, as the belief in magic is found usually, if not always, to exist side by side with the belief in miracles, the two beliefs may from the beginning have co-existed, that the age of magic is not prior in the course of evolution to the age of religion. This possibility, it will be admitted, derives some colour at least from the way in which the theory of evolution is employed to account for the origin of species: different though reptiles are from birds, the serpent from the dove, both are descended from a common ancestor, the archaeopteryx. If this instance be taken as typical of the process of evolution in general, then the course of evolution is not, so to speak, linear or rectilinear, but—to use M. Bergson's word—'dispersive'. To suppose that religion is descended from magic would then be as erroneous as to suppose that birds are descended from reptiles or man from the monkey. The true view will be that the course of evolution is not linear, is not a line produced for ever in the same direction, not a succession of stages, but is 'dispersive', that from a common starting point many lines of evolution radiate in different directions. The course of evolution is not unilinear but multilinear; it runs on many lines which diverge, but all the diverging lines start from the same point.

If we apply this conception of evolution in general to the evolution of religion in particular—and Bergson, I should say, does not—then the centre of dispersion, common to all religions, is the heart of man. The forms of religion evolving, emanating and radiating from that common centre are, let us say, fetishism, polytheism, and monotheism. If we wish to avoid, in the theory of religious evolution, an error analogous to that of supposing birds to be descended from reptiles, we must decline to suppose that monotheism is simply polytheism evolved, or that polytheism is descended from fetishism. We must consider that each of these three forms of religion is terminal, in the sense that no one of them leads on to, or passes into, either of the other two. All three forms of religious life may, and indeed do, exist side by side with one another, just as the countless forms of physical life may be found existing side by side. The foraminifera exist now, as they existed millions of years ago; but the fact that they co-exist with higher forms of physical life does not show that the higher forms of life are but foraminifera in a more highly evolved form. Similarly, the fact that fetishism exists side by side with polytheism, or polytheism with monotheism, does not show that one is but a higher form of another: we must consider each to be a terminal form, as incapable of producing another, as it is impossible to conceive that the serpent develops into the dove.

The common centre and starting-point of fetishism, polytheism, and monotheism on this view (the 'dispersive' view) of the evolution of religion lies in the heart of man, in a consciousness, originally vague in the extreme, of the personality and superiority to man of the being or object worshipped. In all these three forms of religion there is worship, and in all three forms the being worshipped is personal. Further, a special tie is felt to exist between the worshipper and the personality worshipped: religion is the bond of union between them, and it is also a bond which unites the worshippers to one another. It is by its very nature a bond of union, a means of communion between persons, human and divine. That is the mystic aspect of religion which finds expression in the rite of sacrifice and in the sacramental meals which are felt somehow to bind together, or rather to reunite and keep together, the worshippers and their god. This communion however is not merely mystic: it has its practical effects inasmuch as it affects the conduct of the worshipper and enables him to do what without it he would not have had strength to do.

If fetishism, polytheism, and monotheism radiate from a common centre, the heart of man, then the heart of man must also be regarded as the starting-point of magic. If they spring straight from the heart, though in different directions, dispersively, then magic must also start from the common centre; and, though its divergence from religion tends to become total, at first, and indeed it may be for long, the discrepancy between them is rather felt uneasily than recognized clearly. Categories, such as those of cause and effect, identity and difference, which are the common property of civilized thought, and which among us, Mr. L.T. Hobhouse says, 'every child soon comes to distinguish in practice, are for primitive thought interwoven in wild confusion.' Two categories, which in primitive thought are thus interwoven in wild confusion, are, it may be suggested, religion and magic; and only in the dispersive process of evolution do they tend to become discriminated. In ancient Egypt, in Babylon, in Brahminism, religion fails to disentangle itself from magic; and not even has Christianity always succeeded in throwing it off. Different as we may conceive magic and religion to be, the fact remains that at first they grow up intertwined together. In the lower forms of religion magic is worked not only by magicians but by priests as well; spells and prayers are hardly to be distinguished from one another. The idea that 'priest' is but 'magician' writ differently, that prayers are but spells under another name, is now obsolete. The truth may be that religion neither follows on, nor is evolved from magic, but that both radiate from a common centre, the heart of man; and that at first both are attempts made by man to secure the fulfilment of his desires, to do his will, though eventually he finds that the way to control nature is to obey her, not to try to command her by working magic; and that it is in endeavouring to do God's will, not his own, that man finds peace at the last.

In the three forms of religion which thus far we have taken into account, fetishism, polytheism, monotheism, religion is felt to be a personal relation—a relation between the human personality and some personality more than human; and the human heart is reaching out and groping after some divine personality, if peradventure it may find Him. But there is yet another form of religion proceeding from the human heart in which this does not seem to be the case—and that is Buddhism. The Buddha definitely renounced the search after God and would not allow his disciples to engage in the pursuit. Practically the pursuit was useless, according to the Buddha: escape from suffering is all that man can want or strive or hope for. Escape from suffering is possible only by cessation from existence; and that cessation from existence, here and hereafter, can be attained by man himself, who can reach Nirvana without the aid of gods, if gods there be. From the point of view of metaphysics the idea that there is any relation between the human personality and the divine falls to the ground, according to the Buddha, because, whether there be gods or not, at any rate there is no human personality. As in a conflagration—and according to the Buddha the whole world, burning with desire, is in a state of conflagration—the flames leap from one house that is burning to the next, so in its transmigrations the self, or rather the character, Karman, like a flame, leaps from one form of existence to another. The flame indeed appears to be there all the time the fire is burning; but the flame has no permanence, it is changing all the time the process of combustion is going on; and 'I' have no more permanence than the flame. 'I' only appear to be there as long as the process of life goes on. And as the flame only continues so long as there is something for it to feed on, so the process of transmigration or re-birth continues only so long as the thirst for being continues: the escape from re-birth is conditional on the extinction of that thirst or desire; and the disciple who has succeeded in putting off lust and desire has attained to deliverance from death and re-birth, has attained to rest, to Nirvana.

Thus, on the 'dispersive' view of the evolution of religion, Buddhism is a radiation from the common centre, from the heart of man, though it radiates in a direction very different from that followed by any other religion. The direction is indeed one which, as the history of religion shows, it has been impossible for man long to follow, for, wherever Buddhism has been established, it has relapsed; and the Buddha, who strove to divert man from prayer and from the worship of gods, has himself become a god to whom prayer and worship are addressed. Whether in the future the direction may be pursued more permanently than it has been by Buddhism up to now lies with the future to show.

Buddhism, however, on the 'dispersive' view of the evolution of religion, is not the only radiation from the common centre, of which we have to take account, in addition to fetishism, polytheism, and monotheism. From the human heart also proceeds 'the religion of humanity', the Positivist Church. Here, as originally in Buddhism, the conception of a divine personality plays no part; but here the human personality, the very existence of which is denied by the Buddha, is raised to a high, indeed to the highest, level. There is no such thing as an individual, if by 'individual' is meant a man existing solely by himself, for a man can neither come into existence nor continue in existence by himself alone. It is an essential part of the conception of personality that it includes fellowship: a person to be a person must stand in some relation to other persons. They are presented to him, the subject, as objects of his awareness; and he, the subject, is also an object of their awareness. Humanity is thus a complex, in which alone persons are found and apart from which they have in fact no existence. Humanity thus plays in Positivism, as a religion, the part of 'the great Being', le grand Etre, which in other religions is fulfilled by God, but with this difference, that humanity is human always and never divine.

The ruler of a country steers the ship of state, but he is a pilot only metaphorically. Whether the terms worship and prayer are used more than metaphorically by the Positivist seems hard to decide. On the one hand, if it is felt that worship and prayer are indispensable to religion, it may be argued that in religions other than Positivism they prove not only on analysis, but in the course of history, to be, as by Positivism they are recognized to be, of purely subjective import. On the other hard, it may be that they provide merely a means of transition from the religions of the past to the religion of the future.

Another matter of interest is the place of morality in Positivism as a religion. According to M. Alfred Loisy in his book La Religion, morality and religion are bound up together. They cannot exist apart from one another: they might, he says, 'be dissociated in fact and thought, were it not that they are inseparable in the life of humanity.' And in his view morality is summed up in the idea of duty. He says, 'in the beginning was duty, and duty was in humanity, and duty was humanity. Duty was at the beginning in humanity. By it all things were made, and without it nothing was made.' Thus, where duty is, there also is religion. Not only, according to Loisy, has that always been so in every stage through which the evolution of religion has passed, but it will also be the case with the religion of the future. Thus the conception of evolution which Loisy holds is the same as that entertained by Robertson Smith, the difference being that, whereas on the one view the idea of God and of communion with Him has been present from the beginning, and, much though it may have changed, it remains to the end the same thing; on the other view it is the idea of duty—the duty which is humanity—that was in the beginning and will continue to the end. Both views are applications of the 'pre-formation' theory of evolution.

But Positivism perhaps is not necessarily tied to the 'pre-formation' theory. It seems equally capable of being fitted in to the 'dispersive' theory, and of being regarded as an emanation or radiation proceeding direct from the human heart. It may be so regarded, if we consider the essence of it to be found not in the concept of duty, which seems to imply the existence of some superior who imposes duties on man, but in that love of one's fellow-man which, to be love, must be given freely, and simply because one loves. The sense of obligation, the feeling of duty, obedience to the commandments of authority and to the prohibitions which the community both enforces and obeys, are, all of them, various expressions of the primitive feeling of taboo—a feeling of alarm and fear. If we confine our attention to this set of facts, we may say, with M. Loisy, 'in the beginning was duty, and duty was in humanity'. We may however hesitate to follow him when he goes on to say, 'by duty all things were made, and without it nothing was made'. We may hesitate and the Positivist may hesitate, because, primitive though the feeling of fear may be, the feeling of love is equally original: on it and in it the family and society have their base and their origin; and to it they owe not only their origin but their continuance. Love however is not a matter of duty and obedience; it is not subject to commandment or prohibition; nor does it strive by commands or authority to enforce itself. In the process by which duty—legal and moral obligation—evolves out of the primitive feeling of taboo, love is not implicated: love springs from its own source, the human heart, and runs its own course. Taboo may have existed from the beginning; but to the end, whatever its form—duty, obligation, obedience to authority—it remains in character what it was at first, prohibitive, negative. Love alone is creative: without it 'was not anything made that was made'.

There seems, therefore, no necessity to regard the 'pre-formation' theory of evolution, rather than the 'dispersive theory, as essential to Positivism.

Common to all the views about the evolution of religion that have been mentioned in this paper is the belief that, the more religion changes, the more it remains the same thing. If identified with duty, then duty it was in the beginning, and duty it will remain to the end. For those who conceive it to be merely magic, magic it was and magic it remains. Those who define it as belief in a god and communion with him find that belief in the earliest as well as the latest stages. All would agree in rejecting Bergson's view of evolution—that in evolution there is change, but nothing which changes. All would agree that in the evolution of religion there is something which, change though it may, remains the same thing, and that is religion itself. But on the question what religion is, there is no agreement: no definition of religion as yet—and there have been many attempts to define it—has gained general acceptance. We may even surmise, and admit, that no attempt ever will be successful. Such admission, indeed, may at first to some seem equivalent to admitting that religion is a nullity, and the admission may accordingly be welcomed or rejected. But a moment's reflection will show that the admission has no such consequence. None of our simple feelings can be defined: pleasure and pain can neither be defined; nor, when experienced, doubted. And some of our general terms, those at any rate which are ultimate, are beyond our power either to define or doubt: no one imagines that 'life' can be defined, but no one doubts its existence. And religion both as a term and as a fact of experience is ultimate, and, because ultimate, incapable of definition. It is not to be defined but only to be felt. It is an affair not merely of the intellect, but still more of the heart.

In what sense, then, can we speak of the evolution of religion? Evolution implies change; and no one doubts that there have been changes in religion. No one can imagine that it has from the beginning till now remained identically the same. What seems conceivable is that throughout there has been, not identity but continuity—change indeed in continuity but also continuity in change. The child 'learns to speak the words and think the ideas, to reproduce the mode of thought, as he does the form of speech' of the community into which he is born. In the speech, thought, and feelings—even in the religious feelings—of the community, from generation to generation, there is continuity, but not identity. From generation to generation they are not identical but are continuously changing; and they change because each child who takes them over reproduces them; and, in reproducing them, changes them, not much in most cases, but very considerably in the case of men of genius and the great religious reformers. The heart is the treasure-house in which not only old things are stored, but from which also new things are brought forth. The process of evolution implies indeed that the old things, though not everlasting, persist for a time; but it also implies the manifestation of that which, though continuous with the old, is at the same time new. It is from the heart of man, of some one man, that what is new proceeds: the community it is which is conservative of the old. The heart of man, or man himself, exhibits both change in continuity and continuity in change.

The acorn, the sapling, and the oak are different stages of one continuous process. But it is the same tree throughout the whole process. So, too, perhaps it may be said, religion is a term which includes or is applicable to all stages in the one process, and not to the stage of monotheism alone, or of polytheism alone, or even to those stages alone in which there is a reference to personal beings. Each of these stages is a stage in the process of religion but no stage is by itself the whole process. But this view of the evolution of religion regards religion as though it were an organism, self-subsistent, existing and evolving as independently of man as the oak-tree does; whereas in truth religion has no such independent existence or evolution. It is not from polytheism that monotheism proceeds; nor does polytheism proceed from fetishism: it is from the heart of man that they and all other forms of religion emanate and radiate. To conceive fetishism, polytheism, and monotheism as three successive stages in one process, to represent the evolution of religion by a straight line marked off into three parts, or any other number of parts, is to forget that they do not produce one another but that each emanates from the heart of man. The fact that they emanate in temporal succession does not prove that one springs from the other.

Nor can we say that values—religious or aesthetic—are to be determined on the simple principle that the latest edition is the best. To say that an editio princeps has value only for the bibliophile is to admit that all values are personal, as are all thoughts and all feelings, all goodness and all love.


Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites (A. & C. Black, 1889).

J.G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (Macmillan & Co., 1890-1915).

Grant Allen, The Evolution of the Idea of God (Grant Richards, 1897).

H. Bergson, L'Evolution creatrice (F. Alcan, 1908).

F.B. Jevons, The Idea of God in Early Religions (1910), and Comparative Religion (1913) (Cambridge University Press).

G.F. Moore, History of Religions (T. & T. Clark, 1914).

A. Loisy, La Religion (E. Nourry, 1917).





When Matthew Arnold declared that every age receives its best interpretation in its poetry, he was making a remark hardly conceivable before the century in which it was made. Poetry in the nineteenth century was, on the whole, more charged with meaning, more rooted in the stuff of humanity and the heart of nature, less a mere province of belles-lettres than ever before. Consciously or unconsciously it reflected the main currents in the mentality of European man, and the reflection was often most clear where it was least conscious. Two of these main currents are:

(1) The vast and steady enlargement of our knowledge of the compass, the history, the potencies, of Man, Nature, the World.

(2) The growth in our sense of the worth of every part of existence.

Certain aspects of these two processes are popularly known as 'the advance of science', and 'the growth of democracy'. But how far 'science' reaches beyond the laboratory and the philosopher's study, and 'democracy' beyond political freedom and the ballot-box, is precisely what poetry compels us to understand; and not least the poetry of the last sixty years with which we are to-day concerned.

How then does the history of poetry in Europe during these sixty years stand in relation to these underlying processes? On the surface, at least, it hardly resembles growth at all. In France above all—the literary focus of Europe, and its sensitive thermometer—the movement of poetry has been, on the surface, a succession of pronounced and even fanatical schools, each born in reaction from its precursor, and succumbing to the triumph of its successor. Yet a deeper scrutiny will perceive that these warring artists were, in fact, groups of successive discoverers, who each added something to the resources and the scope of poetry, and also retained and silently adopted the discoveries of the past; while the general line of advance is in the direction marked by the two main currents I have described. Nowhere else is the succession of phases so sharp and clear as in France. But since France does reflect more sensitively than any other country the movement of the mind of Europe, and since her own mind has, more than that of any other country, radiated ideas and fashions out over the rest of Europe, these phases are in fact traceable also, with all kinds of local and national variations, in Italy and Spain, Germany and England, and I propose to take this fact as the basis of our present very summary and diagrammatic view. The three phases of the sixty years are roughly divided by the years 1880 and 1900.

The first, most clearly seen in the French Parnassians, is in close, if unconscious, sympathy with the temper of science. Poetry, brought to the limit of expressive power, is used to express, with the utmost veracity, precision, and impersonal self-suppression, the beauty and the tragedy of the world. It sought Hellenic lucidity and Hellenic calm—in the example most familiar to us, the Stoic calm and 'sad lucidity' of Matthew Arnold.

The second, best seen in the French Symbolists, was directly hostile to science. But they repelled its confident analysis of material reality in the name of a part of reality which it ignored or denied, an immaterial world which they mystically apprehended, which eluded direct description, frustrated rhetoric, and was only to be come at by the magical suggestion of colour, music, and symbol. It is most familiar to us in the 'Celtic' verse of Mr. Yeats and 'A.E.'.

The third, still about us, and too various and incomplete for final definition, is in closer sympathy with science, but, in great part, only because science has itself found accommodation between nature and spirit, a new ideality born of, and growing out of, the real. If the first found Beauty, the end of art, in the plastic repose of sculpture, and the second in the mysterious cadences of music, the poetry of the twentieth century finds its ideal in life, in the creative evolution of being, even in the mere things, the 'prosaic' pariahs of previous poetry, on which our shaping wills are wreaked. We know it in poets unlike one another but yet more unlike their predecessors, from D'Annunzio and Dehmel and Claudel to our Georgian experimenters in the poetry of paradox and adventure.


The third quarter of the nineteenth century opened, in western Europe, with a decided set-back for those who lived on dreams, and a corresponding complacency among those who throve on facts. The political and social revolution which swept the continent in 1848 and 1849, and found ominous echoes here, was everywhere, for the time, defeated. The discoveries of science in the third and fourth decades, resting on calculation and experiment, were investing it with the formidable prestige which it has never since lost; and both metaphysics and theology reeled perceptibly under the blows delivered in its name. The world exhibition of 1851 seemed to announce an age of settled prosperity, peace, and progress.

In literature the counterpart of these phenomena was the revolt from Romanticism, a movement, in its origins, of poetic liberation and discovery, which had rejuvenated poetry in Germany and Italy, and yet more signally in England and in France, but was now petering out in emotional incoherence, deified impulse, and irresponsible caprice.

The revolt accordingly everywhere sought to bring literature into closer conformity with reality; with reality as interpreted by science; and to make art severe and precise. In the novel, Flaubert founded modern naturalism with his enthralling picture of dull provincials, Mme Bovary (1857); two years later George Eliot tilted openly in Adam Bede against the romancers who put you off with marvellous pictures of dragons, but could not draw the real horses and cattle before their eyes.[3]

Realism, at once more unflinching and more profoundly poetic, and yet penetrated, especially in Tolstoy and Dostoievsky, with an intensity of moral conviction beside which the ethical fervour of George Eliot seems an ineffectual fire, was one of the roots of the Russian Novel; which also reached its climax in the third quarter of the century. But though it concurred with analogous movements in the West, it drew little of moment from them; even Turgenjev, a greater Maupassant in artistry, drew his inner inspiration from wholly alien springs of Slavonic passion and thought. And it was chiefly through them that the Russian novel later helped to nourish the radically alien movement of Symbolism in France.

In drama, Ibsen broke away from the Romantic tradition of his country with the iconoclastic energy of one who had spent his own unripe youth in offering it a half-reluctant homage. The man of actuality in him denounced the drama built upon the legends of the Scandinavian past—the mark for him of a people of dreamers oblivious of the calls of the hour. On the morrow of the disastrous (and for Norway in his view ignominious) Danish war of 1864, his scorn rang out with prophetic intensity in the fierce tirade of Brand. Happily for his art, revolt against romance in him was united, more signally than in more than two or three of his contemporaries, with the power of seizing and presenting contemporary life. 'Realism' certainly expresses inadequately enough the genius of an art like his, enormously alive rather than fundamentally like life, and no less charged with purpose and idea than the work of the great Russians, though under cover of reticences and irony little known to them. The great series of prose dramas—from 1867 (The League of Youth) onwards—with their experimental prelude Love's Comedy (1863)—were to be for all Europe the most considerable literary event of the fourth quarter of the century, and they generated affiliated schools throughout the West. They did not indeed themselves remain untouched by the general intellectual currents of the time, and it will be noticed below that the later plays (from The Lady of the Sea onward) betray affinities, like the Russian novel, with what is here called the second phase of the European movement.

In Criticism, the showy generalizations of Villemain gave place to Sainte-Beuve's series of essays towards a 'natural history of minds'[4] and Taine's more sweeping attempt to explain literature by environment.[5] Among ourselves, Meredith's Essay on Comedy (1872) brilliantly restated Moliere's dictum that the comic is founded on the real, and not on a fantastic distortion of it, while Matthew Arnold applied alike to literature and to theology a critical insight fertilized by his master Sainte-Beuve's delicate faculty for disengaging the native quality of minds from the incrustations of tradition and dogma.

In poetry the French Parnassians created the most brilliant poetry that has, since Milton, been built upon erudition and impeccable art. Their leader, Leconte de Lisle, in the preface of his Poemes antiques (1853), scornfully dismissed Romanticism as a second-hand, incoherent, and hybrid art, compounded of German mysticism, reverie, and Byron's stormy egoism. Sully Prudhomme addressed a sterner criticism to the shade of Alfred de Musset—the Oscar Wilde of the later Romantics[6]—who had never known the stress of thought, and had filled his poetry with light love and laughter and voluptuous despairs; the new poets were to be no such gay triflers, but workers at a forge, beating the glowing metal into shape, and singing as they toiled.[7] Carducci, too, derisively contrasts the 'moonlight' of Romanticism—cold and infructuous beams, proper for Gothic ruins and graveyards—with the benignant and fertilizing sunshine he sought to restore; for him, too, the poet is no indolent caroller, and no gardener to grow fragrant flowers for ladies, but a forge-worker with muscles of steel.[8] Among us, as usual, the divergence is less sharply marked; but when Browning calls Byron a 'flat fish', and Arnold sees the poet of Prometheus appropriately pinnacled in the 'intense inane', they are expressing a kindred repugnance to a poetry wanting in intellectual substance and in clear-cut form.

If we turn from the negations of the anti-romantic revolt to consider what it actually sought and achieved in poetry, we find that its positive ideals, too, without being derived from science, reflect the temper of a scientific time. Thus the supreme gift of all the greater poets of this group was a superb vision of beauty, and of beauty—pace Hogarth—there is no science. But their view of beauty was partly limited, partly fertilized and enriched, by the sources they discovered and the conditions they imposed, and both the discoveries and the limitations added something to the traditions and resources of poetry. Thus:

(1) They exploited the aesthetic values to be had by knowledge. They pursued erudition and built their poetry upon erudition, not in the didactic way of the Augustans, but as a mine of poetic material and suggestion. Far more truly than Wordsworth's this poetry could claim to be the impassioned expression which is in the face of science; for Wordsworth's knowledge is a mystic insight wholly estranged from erudition; his celandine, his White Doe, belong to no fauna or flora. When Leconte de Lisle, on the other hand, paints the albatross of the southern sea or the condor of the Andes, the eye of a passionate explorer and observer has gone to the making of their exotic sublimity. The strange regions of humanity, too, newly disclosed by comparative religion and mythology, he explores with cosmopolitan impartiality and imaginative penetration; carving, as in marble, the tragedy of Hjalmar's heart and Angentyr's sword, of Cain's doom, and Erinnyes never, like those of Aeschylus, appeased. The Romantics had loved to play with exotic suggestions; but the East of Hugo's Orientales or Moore's Lalla Rookh is merely a veneer; the poet of Qain has heard the wild asses cry and seen the Syrian sun descend into the golden foam.

In the three commanding poets of our English mid-century, learning becomes no less evidently poetry's honoured and indispensable ally. Tennyson studies nature like a naturalist, not like a mystic, and finds felicities of phrase poised, as it were, upon delicate observation. Man, too, in Browning, loses the vague aureole of Shelleyan humanity, and becomes the Italian of the Renascence or the Arab doctor or the German musician, all alive but in their habits as they lived, and fashioned in a brain fed, like no other, on the Book of the histories of Souls. Matthew Arnold more distinctively than either, and both for better and for worse, was the scholar-poet; among other things he was, with Heredia and Carducci, a master of the poetry of critical portraiture, which focusses in a few lines (Sophocles, Rahel, Heine, Obermann Once More) the meaning of a great career or of a complex age.

(2) In the elaboration of their vision of beauty from these enlarged sources, Leconte de Lisle and his followers demanded an impeccable artistry. 'A great poet', he said, 'and a flawless artist are convertible terms.' The Parnassian precision rested on the postulate that, with sufficient resources of vocabulary and phrase, everything can be adequately expressed, the analogue of the contemporary scientific conviction that, with sufficient resources of experiment and calculation, everything can be exhaustively explained. The pursuit of an objective calm, the repudiation of missionary ardour, of personal emotion, of the cri du coeur, of individual originality, involved the surrender of some of the glories of spontaneous song, but opened the way, for consummate artists such as these, to a profusion of undiscovered beauty, and to a peculiar grandeur not to be attained by the egoist. Leconte's temperament leads him to subjects which are already instinct with tragedy and thus in his hands assume this grandeur without effort. The power of sheer style to ennoble is better seen in Sully Prudhomme's tours de force of philosophic poetry—when he unfolds his ideas upon 'Justice' or 'Happiness', for instance, under the form of a debate where masterly resources of phrase and image are compelled to the service of a rigorous logic; or in the brief cameo-like pieces on 'Memory', 'Habit', 'Forms', and similar unpromising abstractions, most nearly paralleled in English by the quatrains of Mr. William Watson. But the cameo comparison is still more aptly applied to the marvellously-chiselled sonnets of Heredia—monuments of a moment, as sculpture habitually is, but reaching out, as the finest sculpture does, to invisible horizons, and to the before and after—the old wooden guardian-god recalling his former career as a scarlet figure-head laughing at the laughter or fury of the waves; Antony seeing the flying ships of Actium mirrored in the traitorous azure of Cleopatra's eyes.

In Italy the ideal of an austere simplicity and reserve, resting as it did on the immense prestige of Leopardi, asserted itself even in the naturally exuberant and impetuous genius of Carducci. Without it we should not have had those reticences of an abounding nature, those economies of a spendthrift, which make him one of the first poets of the sonnet in the land of its origin, and one of the greatest writers of Odes among the 'barbarians'. With reason he declared in 1891, when most of his poetry had been written, that 'all the apparent contradictions in my work are resolved by the triple formula: in politics Italy before all, in aesthetics classical poetry before all, in practice, frankness and force before all'. His two chief disciples, D'Annunzio and Pascoli, antithetical in almost all points, may be said to have divided his inheritance in this; Pascoli's Vergilian economy contrasting with the exuberance of D'Annunzio somewhat as with us the classicism of the present poet-laureate with that of Swinburne. In Germany the Parnassian reserve, concentration, and aristocratic exclusiveness was to reappear in the lyrical group of Stefan Georg.

(3) Finally, the Parnassian poetry, like most contemporary science, was in varying degrees detached from and hostile to religion, and found some of its most vibrating notes in contemplating its empty universe. Leconte de Lisle offers the Stoic the last mournful joy of 'a heart seven-times steeped in the divine nothingness',[9] or calls him to 'that city of silence, the sepulchre of the vanished gods, the human heart, seat of dreams, where eternally ferments and perishes the illusory universe'.[10] Here, too, Leopardi had anticipated him.

In the ebullient genius of Carducci and Swinburne this lofty disdain for theological illusions passes into the fierce derision of the Ode to Satan and the militant paganism of the Sonnet to Luther, and the Hymn to Man. In Matthew Arnold it became a half-wistful resignation, the pensive retrospect of the Greek 'thinking of his own gods beside a fallen runic stone', or listening to the 'melancholy long withdrawing roar' of the tide of faith 'down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world'; while in James Thomson resignation passed into the unrelieved pessimism of the City of Dreadful Night. In all these poets, what was of moment for poetry was not, of course, the anti-theological or anti-clerical sentiment which marks them all, but the notes of sombre and terrible beauty which the contemplation of the passing of the gods, and of man's faith in them, elicits from their art.

Yet the supreme figure, not only among those who share in the anti-Romantic reaction but among all the European poets of his time, was one who had in the heyday of youth led the Romantic vanguard—Victor Hugo. Leconte de Lisle never ceased to own him his master, and Hugo's genius had since his exile, in 1851, entered upon a phase in which a poetry such as the Parnassian sought—objective, reticent, impersonal, technically consummate—was at least one of the strings of his many-chorded lyre. Three magnificent works—the very crown and flower of Hugo's production—belong to this decade, 1850-60,—the Chatiments, Contemplations, and Legende des Siecles. I said advisedly, one string in his lyre. Objective reticence is certainly not the virtue of the terrible indictment of 'Napoleon the Little'. On the other hand, the greatest qualities of Parnassian poetry were exemplified in many splendid pieces of the other two works, together with a large benignity which their austere Stoicism rarely permits, and I shall take as illustration of the finest achievement of poetry in this whole first phase the closing stanzas of his famous Boaz Endormi in the Legende, whose beauty even translation cannot wholly disguise. Our decasyllable is substituted for the Alexandrine.[11]

'While thus he slumbered, Ruth, a Moabite, Lay at the feet of Boaz, her breast bare, Waiting, she knew not when, she knew not where, The sudden mystery of wakening light.

Boaz knew not that there a woman lay, Nor Ruth what God desired of her could tell; Fresh rose the perfume of the asphodel, And tender breathed the dusk on Galgala.

Nuptial, august, and solemn was the night, Angels no doubt were passing on the wing, For now and then there floated glimmering As it might be an azure plume in flight.

The low breathing of Boaz mingled there With the soft murmur of the mossy rills. It was the month when earth is debonnaire; The lilies were in flower upon the hills.

Night compassed Boaz' slumber and Ruth's dreams, The sheep-bells vaguely tinkled far and near; Infinite love breathed from the starry sphere; 'Twas the still hour when lions seek the streams.

Ur and Jerimedeth were all at rest; The stars enamelled the blue vault of sky; Amid those flowers of darkness in the west The crescent shone; and with half open eye

Ruth wondered, moveless, in her veils concealed, What heavenly reaper, when the day was done And harvest gathered in, had idly thrown That golden sickle on the starry field.'


The rise of French symbolism towards the end of the 'seventies was a symptom of a changed temper of thought and feeling traceable in some degree throughout civilized Europe. Roughly, it marked the passing of the confident and rather superficial security of the 'fifties into a vague unrest, a kind of troubled awe. As if existence altogether was a bigger, more mysterious, and intractable thing than was assumed, not so easily to be captured in the formulas of triumphant science, or mirrored and analysed by the most consummate literary art.

Political and social conditions contributed to the change. France stood on the morrow of a shattering catastrophe. The complacency of mid-Victorian England began to be disturbed by menaces from the workshops of industry. And it was precisely in triumphant Germany herself that revolutionary Socialism found, in Karl Marx, its first organizing mind and authoritative exponent. The millennium was not so near as it had seemed; the problems of society, instead of having been solved once for all, were only, it appeared, just coming into view.

In the secluded workshops of Thought, subtler changes were silently going on. The dazzling triumphs of physical science, which had led poetry itself to emulate the marble impassivity of the scientific temper, were undiminished; but they were seen in a new perspective, their authority ceased to be exclusive, the focus of interest was slowly shifting from the physical to the psychical world. Lange, writing the history of Materialism in 1874, virtually performed its obsequies; and Tyndall's brilliant effort, in 1871, to equip primordial Matter with the 'promise and the potency' of mind, unconsciously confessed that its cause was lost. Psychology, after Fechner, steadily advanced in prestige and importance from the outlying circumference of the sciences to their very centre and core.

But it was not merely particular doctrines that lost ground; the scope and validity of scientific method itself began to be questioned. In the most varied fields of thought there set in that 'idealistic reaction against science' which has been described in one of the most penetrating books of our time. Most significant of all, science itself, in the person of Mach, and Pearson, has abandoned the claim to do more than provide descriptive formulas for phenomena the real nature of which is utterly beyond its power to discover.

Of this changed outlook the growth of Symbolism is the most significant literary expression. It was not confined to France, or to poetry. We know how the drama of Ibsen became charged with ulterior meanings as the fiery iconoclast passed into the poet of insoluble and ineluctable doubt. But by the French symbolists it was pursued as a creed, as a religion. If the dominant poetry of the third quarter of the century reflected the prestige of science, the dominant poetry of the fourth reflected the idealistic reactions against it, and Villiers de l'Ile Adam, its founder, came forward proclaiming that 'Science was bankrupt'. And so it might well seem to him, the visionary mystic inhabiting, as he did, a world of strange beauty and invisible mystery which science could not unlock. The symbolists had not all an explicit philosophy; but they were all aware of potencies in the world or in themselves which language cannot articulately express, and which are yet more vitally real than the 'facts' which we can grasp and handle, and the 'respectable' people whom we can measure and reckon with. Sometimes these potencies are vaguely mysterious, an impalpable spirit speaking only by hints and tokens; sometimes they are felt as the pulsations of an intoxicating beauty, breaking forth in every flower, but which can only be possessed, not described; sometimes they are moods of the soul, beyond analysis, and yet full of wonder and beauty, visions half created, half perceived. Experiences like these might have been described, as far as description would go, by brilliant artificers like the Parnassians. Verlaine and Mallarme did not discover, but they applied with new daring, the fact that an experience may be communicated by words which, instead of representing it, suggest it by their colour, their cadences, their rhythm, their verbal echoes and inchoate phrases. All the traditional artistry of French poetic speech was condemned as both inadequate and insincere. 'Take eloquence and wring her neck! Nothing but music and the nuance—all the rest is "Literature", mere writing—futile verbosity!' that was the famous watchword of Verlaine's creed.[12]

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