The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 15, No. 88, February, 1865
Author: Various
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From what Mr. Frothingham calls "an internal-natural point of observation," which we understand to be that of a great majority of the most intelligent and gifted people at present on the earth, the results of this scheme appear so false and contradictory as to furnish its very adequate refutation. Nevertheless, there doubtless exists a class of spiritually minded, cultivated, unsatisfied men and women who will feel that the sober sincerity of this voice crying in the commercial wilderness must challenge a respectful hearing. Such persons will find no difficulty in accepting the statement, that a system of Absolute Truth must be "contrary to the natural conceptions of the mind, to the facts of the natural consciousness, and to the inclinations of the natural heart." Their past experiences have told them that no precision of human speech can reveal a spiritual condition, or even render intelligible the highest mental operations. Instead of the "this-will-never-do" dictum of superficial and carnal criticism, they will offer patient study, and be content that much shall appear foolish and meaningless until a change in the interior being can interpret it aright. It is just to mention that a very few persons of the character described have already received Mr. Frothingham's philosophy, and profess to find it full of instruction and delight. And let it not be concealed that no one who did not possess the very abundant leisure necessary for investigation and meditation, and had not passed through mental states represented by Romanism, Protestantism, Unitarianism, and Transcendentalism, could be accepted by the veriest neophyte as a competent reviewer. We attempt nothing more than a very humble notice which may bring the existence of this latest salvation before some of the scattered fellowship who are ready for it. We despair of making any statement concerning it which believers would not consider ludicrously inadequate or absolutely false. All and singular are accordingly warned that what is here printed comes from a mental point of view totally opposed to the alleged Truth, as well as from that limited amount of application which a regular calling in the week and customary church-going on Sunday has left at our disposal.

Mr. Frothingham claims to have obtained cognizance of certain laws which govern the relations of the Universe. He maintains that the natural understanding of man is led through various educative processes to that vague and variously interpreted condition known as Transcendentalism. This final manifestation, although no other than Antichrist and the Man of Sin in person, is a necessary forerunner of our possible redemption through acceptance of the ultimate Gospel. For external philosophy has here reached its lowest form, which is necessarily self-destructive; and so ends what may be called the natural development of the human consciousness. The personal principle has achieved its utmost might of self-assertion against that which is universal. Selfishness now appears in its most destructive form, demanding the liberty instead of the subjection of men. Sympathy usurps the seat of Justice, the individual is cruel under pretence of being kind, and fanaticism and mischief are baptized as Duty. The divinely ordained institutions of society are sacrificed, and ruin and chaos inevitably result. Having shown that Philosophy, developed in its natural form, can produce nothing better than Pantheism, Atheism, Anthropomorphism, and Skepticism, there arises an inquiry for the causes which have produced these seemingly unhappy results. And now it appears "that the Consciousness must be developed in its natural form from a natural point of view before its spiritual form can be developed; and therefore that Philosophy must be developed as a natural production in three spheres before it can be realized as a Universal Spiritual Science." Again, the Cause of All has hitherto been conceived from a pagan, Unitarian, and naturalistic point of view. For, if we understand Mr. Frothingham, the Pope is not a whit sounder than M. Renan,—the Head of the Church being unable to "consciously appropriate" his own theological formularies, until, governed by a Unitarian and naturalistic law, they are contradicted in being incarnated. Philosophy, then, hitherto demanding that everything should be realized from one Universal Cause or Substance, "has failed to explain the nature of God and the nature of man from any rational point of view." It has been obliged to "recognize necessity as the universal law of life, and to conceive the production of the phenomenal from the absolute,—therefore of man from God; and also the production of the finite from the infinite,—therefore of diversity from unity, of evil from good, and of death from life; which is the greatest violation of rationality that can possibly be supposed." But it is now time to state, or rather faintly to adumbrate, the grand assumption of this singular work. There are held to be two Spiritual Causes, whose union is the condition of all existence. Each of these Causes, represented under the terms of Infinite and Finite Law, are conceived to be threefold principles which act and operate together as Death and Life. Neither the Infinite nor the Finite Principle can obtain definite manifestation without the aid of the other; but there is a capacity in the latter for becoming receptive and productive from the former. And from this august union come all the works of creation, where death is still made productive from life, evil from good, the natural from the spiritual,—this last happy productiveness never taking place by any development of the natural, but only by means of a spiritual conception and birth. Every individual must commence his existence as a dualistic substance necessarily discordant and unreal. Through various appearances, representing an experience of opposing spiritual laws, he reaches a position where true spiritual life becomes possible through presentation to the consciousness of the opposing Spiritual Laws already noticed. The solemn moment of choice, when for the first and only time man can be said to be a free agent, has now arrived. Affinities for the Laws of Death and Life are felt within him. He may become productive from the Infinite for universal ends, or from the Finite for those which are personal. He is saved or lost at his own election.

Within the limits to which we are restricted, it is impossible to give any account of the multiplex and abstruse details into which the system is carried. The present volume contains an ontology constructed upon the new basis. It shows varied study, and abounds in ponderous quotations and laborious analyses. It will be profoundly interesting to the few who are able to accept as axioms the teacher's assumptions, and to trace a vigorous deduction in the changes which are rung upon a small set of words. By a legitimate course of reasoning from his primal conception, Mr. Frothingham claims to have demonstrated the fact of Tripersonality in the Deity. He finds the universal law of spiritual life through Marriage or the union of opposites through voluntary sacrifice. It is likewise maintained that all the important statements of Absolute Science are represented in Philosophy, the Scriptures, and the Church,—each abounding in poetic symbols of absolute facts now for the first time revealed. The Bible is held to be of supernatural origin and universal application,—though of course its real significance has hitherto been hidden from men. An exgesis of the Book of Job is given in the appendix as a specimen of what may be disclosed in the sacred records from this ultimate position of belief.

Mr. Frothingham's claims are in some measure those of a seer. His immense show of philosophical apparatus, his prodigality of logical balance-wheels and escapements, resemble the superfluous clock-work of the "automaton" which plays its game as the gentleman concealed inside shall judge expedient. It is of course impossible to probe the Two Absolutes, or the wonderful marriage which takes place between them. Mr. Frothingham sees that so it is. Men of aspirations as high, and of intellect as cultivated, will think that they have no difficulty in seeing quite as distinctly that so it is not. Others, lovers of Truth, zealous for human welfare, may look up a moment from their patient study of phenomena in their coexistences and successions, and humbly confess their inability to see into the matter at all. But it is to be observed that the most distinguished representatives of the two classes of the world's instructors have at present come to nearly identical conclusions as to what should be the aims of human society. Mr. Henry James and Mr. Herbert Spencer, Mr. Emerson and Dr. Draper, would find little difficulty in working together in a state cabinet or on a legislative committee. Without discussing the breadth or character of their several knowledges or intuitions, they would probably approve the same measures, and agree in the routine which, under existing circumstances, it was best to pursue. But unless Mr. Frothingham should be wrecked upon a desolate island, and there be visited by picnics of Transcendentalists from whom he might occasionally reclaim a Caucasian Man Friday, we cannot see what practical parturition can come of his mighty labor. He offers nothing which is capable of becoming incorporated with the existing intelligence of the age. He furnishes no acceptable basis for the caution of maturity or the generous vision of youth. Charles Lamb's recipe for witnessing with any quietude of conscience the artificial comedy of the last century was, to regard the whole as a passing pageant, and to accept with cheerful unconcern its issues for life and death. Some such state of mind must be commended to the student of this Philosophy. Let him be indifferent to that great act of political justice which Abraham Lincoln was constrained to do. Let him have no glow of satisfaction in the improved condition of woman, allowed to own herself and to hold the property which her labor accumulates. Let him not remember how she has repaid every effort made in her behalf by marking the gauge upon the thermometer of civilization, and by raising man as he raises her. In short, let him provisionally stand upon such a platform as might be constructed by a committee of which Legree was chairman and Bluebeard the rest of it, and if he does not accept "Absolute Science," he will at least be patient in reading what may be said in its behalf. But if, in justice to ourselves, we present the obvious objections of the general reader, in justice to Mr. Frothingham, we are bound to confess that they shrivel in the blaze of special illumination with which he has been favored. He grants the value of effort as it appears in the accepted channels of the day, but contends that its value is confined to the development and growth of the individual who exercises it. It furnishes a groundwork which at the right time shall provide the material suggestive of supernatural thought. It prepares the sacrifice that will be necessary in view of the new order of spiritual experiences now presented for the first time to the consciousness of man.

It scarcely need be said that Mr. Frothingham does not expect to make many proselytes. He is well aware that his stupendous gift of a supreme and ultimate Philosophy will produce no perceptible effect upon the public. A complaint of taxes and a gossip of stocks continue audible; but no neighbor drops in to tell us that the Mystery of Mysteries has received elucidation, and that a man may know even as he is known. It is fortunate that the lofty aim of a sincere and earnest thinker is its own sufficient recompense. The quality of mind which struggles out of the easy-going electicism which at present contents the majority of cultivated men, and achieves a position where our poor half-truths combine in a grand organic whole, is beyond the reach of human congratulation. And the results of such conscientious and arduous striving we are bound to receive with respect. To the disciples of Mr. Frothingham we shall doubtless seem to have uttered some superficial commonplaces about his creed, and have displayed our total inability to penetrate to its true profundities. They will probably say that his theory can tolerate no partial statement, and that the attempts of the uninitiated can compass nothing but caricature and burlesque. We cordially give them the advantage of this supposed stricture, and as cordially refer all earnest inquirers to this first instalment of the heroic work. We say heroic, and would abate the adjective of no jot of meaning. It requires the stuff of which heroes are made to promulgate a religious idea so unadapted to the conscious demands of any order or condition of men. A few persons of redundant leisure, touched with the restlessness in belief which is characteristic of the time, may thread the mazes of "Absolute Science" until they awaken the desirable perception of it coherency and strength. We know that there is somewhere a flock awaiting the leadership of any vigorous mind which does not doubt its mission, and mocks at all question and compromise. Especially is it the duty of those who feel that they have attained the necessary condition of "transcendental imbecility" to test the enormous pretension of a doctrine of whose reception they alone are capable. Whether Mr. Frothingham's book is wise and satisfying, they only can tell us. It is our humbler duty to declare that we have found it decidedly interesting, and perfectly harmless. The old charge of corrupting youth cannot be preferred against this newest of philosophers. For as error is dangerous only in proportion to its plausibility, the risk encountered by the reader is infinitesimal.

Looking toward Sunset. By L. MARIA CHILD. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

For forty years it has been the good fortune of Mrs. Child to achieve a series of separate literary successes, whose accumulated value justly gives her a high claim to gratitude. Every one of her chief works has been a separate venture in some new field, always daring, always successful, always valuable. Her "Juvenile Miscellany" was the delight of all American childhood, when childish books were few. Her "Hobomok" was one of the very first attempts to make this country the scene of historical fiction. In the freshness of literary success, she did not hesitate to sacrifice all her newly won popularity, for years, by the publication of her remarkable "Appeal for the Class of Americans called Africans," a book unsurpassed in ability and comprehensiveness by any of the innumerable later works on the same subject,—works which would not even now supersede it, except that its facts and statistics have become obsolete. Time and the progress of the community at length did her justice once more, and her charming "Letters from New York" brought all her popularity back. Turning away, however, from fame won by such light labors, she devoted years of her life to the compilation of her great work on the "Progress of Religious Ideas," a book unequalled in the English language as a magazine of the religious aspirations of the race. And now, still longing to look in some new direction, she finds that direction in "Sunset,"—the only region towards which her name and her nature have alike excused her from turning her gaze before.

This volume is a collection of essays and poems, old and new, original and selected, but all bearing on the theme of old age. Her authors range from Cicero to Dickens, from Mrs. Barbauld to Theodore Parker. The book includes that unequalled essay by Jean Paul, "Recollections of the Best Hours of Life for the Hour of Death"; and then makes easily the transition to that delicious scene of humor and pathos from "Cranford," where dear Miss Matty meets again the lover of her youth. Some trifling errors might be noticed here and there, such as occur even in books looking this side of "Sunset": as when Burns's line, "But now your brow is beld, John," is needlessly translated into "But now your head's turned bald, John,"—where the version is balder than the head. It is singular, too, how long it takes to convince the community that Milton did not write the verses, "I am old and blind," and that Mrs. Howell of Philadelphia did. Mrs. Child discreetly cites for them no author at all, and thus escapes better than the editor of the new series of "Hymns for the Ages," who boldly appends to the poem, "Milton, 1608-1674." Yet Mrs. Child's early ventures in the way of writing speeches for James Otis and sermons for Whitefield should have made her a sharper detective of the ingenuity of others. Those successful imitations, published originally in her novel of "The Rebels," have hardly yet ceased to pass current in the school elocution-books.

Nothing occurs to us as being omitted from this collection, which justly belongs there, unless she could have rescued from the manuscript that charming essay, read by President Quincy at a certain Cambridge dinner, wherein that beloved veteran—Roscius sua arte—taught his academic children to grow old.

The Autobiography of a New England Farm-House. A Book. By N. H. CHAMBERLAIN. New York: Carleton.

We have read this little book with some tenderness, and have been interested in its calm, homelike pictures. The author appears to have been drawn by a sincere affinity towards the poet to whom he does himself the honor to dedicate his story in words of simple and sincere appreciation.

There is a pellucid stillness, like that of a summer lake, over the pages wherein the story lies reflected. And this perhaps we may consider to be the charm and value of the book. But the author does not remember that only those things are read which must be said; therefore the simple incidents of his narrative are forced into a growth of many instead of few chapters, and the long-drawn cord becomes weak, and will not easily lead us to the end. He also betrays his lack of art by printing verses which stick like deep sea-shells far below the high-water mark of poetry. Nevertheless, there is a fine New England color and flavor in the book which attract us, and a gentle, high-minded peace reigns throughout the volume.

Is the author young? we are tempted to ask. Then let him turn priest straightway, and enter the temple of Art, and let him weave his pictures sacredly of the pure gold fibres of inspiration and thought.

Lowell Lectures. The Problem of Human Destiny; or, The End of Providence in the World and Man. By ORVILLE DEWEY, D.D. New York: James Miller.

The publication of a second edition of this thoughtful, genial, and eloquent volume enables us to correct the omission of not noticing it on its first appearance a few months ago. Originally prepared as a course of lectures for the Lowell Institute, and repeated with marked success in various cities of the Union, the mode of treatment is of course popular rather than scientific. The subject is necessarily complicated with the problem of evil; but the design is not so much to attempt a new solution of the problem as to present, in a vivid and impressive form, certain invigorating and consoling truths which relieve the weight of its burden. The most comprehensive definition of evil, to all minds which are forced, by the contradiction involved in the affirmation of two Infinites, to deny its essential existence, is that which declares it to be imperfect good. But as this definition implies that evil characterizes all grades of created being, and includes the saint singing in heaven as well as the savage prowling in the woods, it carries with it little help or satisfaction to the practical will and conscience. Dr. Dewey takes up the problem at one or two removes from its purely abstract essence, and fastens on its concrete manifestations, and the compensations for its existence in the system of the world. The leading ideas he aims to inculcate are these: that the system of the moral world is a system of spontaneous development, having for its object human culture; that man, being free, must do, within the sphere of his permitted activity, what he will, and therefore is free to do what is wrong; that, in order that his growth may be free and rational, the system of treatment under which he lives must be one of general laws, and not of capricious expedients; and that there are two restraints on his wild or pernicious activity,—one inward, from his moral nature, the other outward, from material Nature. After illustrating these at considerable, though by no means tedious length, Dr. Dewey proceeds to exhibit the adaptation of the material world to human culture,—the physical and moral constitution of man, and the complexity of his being,—the mental and moral activity elicited by his connection with Nature and life,—the problems of pain, hereditary evil, and death, which affect his individual existence,—the problems of bad or defective institutions and usages, religious, political, and warlike, which affect his social existence,—and the testimony of history to human progress, and to the principles of human spontaneity and divine control which underlie it.

But this bare enumeration conveys no impression of the richness of the author's matter or the fineness of his spirit. The volume is full of interesting facts, gathered from a wide range of thoughtful reading, literary, historical, theological, and scientific, and of facts, too, which are associated with thoughts and related to a plan. The judgments expressed on all the vital questions which come up in the discussion of the theme bear the impress of genuine convictions. They are not merely the assent of the understanding to propositions, but of the soul to truths; and many must have been subjected to the test of personal experience as well as mental scrutiny. The first requisite of a work on the problem of human destiny is, that it should kindle the reader into sympathy with human nature, and lodge in his mind an abiding conviction of the reality of human progress; and this requisite Dr. Dewey's volume satisfies better than many treatises of more scientific exactness and more ambitious pretensions.


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