The most recently broached theory of the end of the world is that developed from some remarkable speculations as to the composition and distribution of force. The view is briefly this. All force is derived from heat. All heat is derived from the sun.4 The mechanical value of a cubic mile of sunlight at the surface of the earth is one horse power for a third of a minute; at the sun it is fifteen thousand horse power for a minute. Now, it is calculated that enough heat is radiated from the sun to require for its production the annual consumption of the whole surface of the sun to the depth of from ten to twenty miles. Of course, ultimately the fuel will be all expended; then the forces of the system will expire, and the creation will die.5 This brilliant and sublime theorem assumes, first, that the heat of the sun arises from consumption of matter, which may not be true; secondly, that it is not a self replenishing process, as it certainly may be. Some have even surmised that the zodiacal light is an illuminated tornado of stones showering into the sun to feed its tremendous conflagration. The whole scheme is a fine toy, but a very faint terror. Even if it be true, then we are to perish at last from lack of fire, and not, as commonly feared, from its abundance!
The belief of mankind that a soul or ghost survives the body has been so nearly universal as to appear like the spontaneous result of an instinct. We propose to trace the history of opinions concerning the physical destination of this disembodied spirit, its connection with localities, to give the historical topography of the future life.
The earliest conception of the abode of the dead was probably that of the Hebrew Sheol or the Greek Hades, namely, the idea born from the silence, depth, and gloom of the grave of a stupendous subterranean cavern full of the drowsy race of shades, the indiscriminate habitation of all who leave the land of the living. Gradually the thought arose and won acceptance that the favorites of Deity, peerless heroes and sages, might be exempt from this dismal fate, and migrate at death to some delightful clime beyond some far shore, there, amidst unalloyed pleasures, to spend immortal days. This region was naturally located on the surface of the earth, where the cheerful sun could shine and the fresh breezes blow, yet in some untrodden distance, where the gauntlet of fact had not smitten the sceptre of fable. The paltry portion of this earth familiar to the ancients was surrounded by an unexplored region, which their fancy, stimulated by the legends of the poets, peopled with mythological kingdoms, the rainbow bowers and cloudy synods of Olympus, from whose glittering peak the Thunderer threw his bolts over the south; the Golden Garden of the
3 Ennead ii. lib. ix.: Contra Gnosticos, cap. 4.
4 Helmholtz, Edinburgh Phil. Msg., series iv. vol. xi.: Interaction of Natural Forces.
5 Thomson, Ibid. Dec. 1854: Mechanical Energies of the Solar System.
Hesperides, whose dragons lay on guard in the remote west; the divine cities of Meru, whose encircling towers pierced the eastern sky; the Banquet Halls of Ethiopia, gleaming through the fiery desert; the fragrant Islands of Immortality, musical and luring in the central ocean; the happy land of the Hyperboreans, beyond the snowy summits of northern Caucasus:
"How pleasant were the wild beliefs That dwelt in legends old! Alas! to our posterity Will no such tales be told. We know too much: scroll after scroll Weighs down our weary shelves: Our only point of ignorance Is centred in ourselves."
There was a belief among the Persians that Kaf, a mountain two thousand miles high, formed a rim to the flat world and prevented travellers from ever falling off.6 The fact that the earth is a globe inhabited on all sides is a comparatively recent piece of knowledge. So late as in the eighth century Pope Zachary accused Virgilius, an Irish mathematician and monk, of heresy for believing in the existence of antipodes.7 St. Boniface wrote to the Pope against Virgilius; and Zachary ordered a council to be held to expel him from the Church, for "professing, against God and his own soul, so perverse and wicked a doctrine." To the ancients all beyond the region they had traversed was an unknown land, clothed in darkness, crowded with mystery and allurement. Across the weltering wastes of brine, in a halcyon sea, the Hindu placed the White Isle, the dwelling of translated and immortalized men.8 Under the attraction of a mystic curiosity, well might the old, wearied Ulysses say,
"Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and, sitting well in order, smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew."
Decius Brutus and his army, as Florus relates, reaching the coast of Portugal, where, for the first time, they saw the sun setting in the blood tinged ocean, turned back their standards with horror as they beheld "the huge corpse of ruddy gold let down into the deep." The Phoenician traders brought intelligence to Greece of a people, the Cimmerians, who dwelt on the borders of Hades in the umbered realms of perpetual night. To the dying Roman, on the farthest verge of the known horizon hovered a vision of Elysian Fields. And the American
6 Adventures of Hatim Tai, p. 36, note.
7 Whewell, Hist. Inductive Sciences, vol. i. book iv. ch. i. sect. 7.
8 Wilford, Essays on the Sacred Isles, In Asiatic Researches, vols. viii. xi.
Indian, sinking in battle or the chase, caught glimpses of happier Hunting Grounds, whose woods trooped with game, and where the arrows of the braves never missed, and there was no winter. There was a pretty myth received among some of the ancient Britons, locating their paradise in a spot surrounded by tempests, far in the Western Ocean, and named Flath Innis, or Noble Island.9 The following legend is illustrative. An old man sat thoughtful on a rock beside the sea. A cloud, under whose squally skirts the waters foamed, rushed down; and from its dark womb issued a boat, with white sails bent to the wind, and hung round with moving oars. Destitute of mariners, itself seemed to live and move. A voice said, "Arise, behold the boat of heroes: embark, and see the Green Isle of those who have passed away!" Seven days and seven nights he voyaged, when a thousand tongues called out, "The Isle! the Isle!" The black billows opened before him, and the calm land of the departed rushed in light on his eyes. We are reminded by this of what Procopius says concerning the conveyal of the soul of the barbarian to his paradise. At midnight there is a knocking at the door, and indistinct voices call him to come. Mysteriously impelled, he goes to the sea coast, and there finds a frail, empty wherry awaiting him. He embarks, and a spirit crew row him to his destination.10
"He finds with ghosts His boat deep freighted, sinking to the edge Of the dark flood, and voices hears, yet sees No substance; but, arrived where once again His skiff floats free, hears friends to friends Give lamentable welcome. The unseen Shore faint resounds, and all the mystic air Breathes forth the names of parent, brother, wife."
During that period of poetic credulity while the face of the earth remained to a great extent concealed from knowledge, wherever the Hebrew Scriptures were known went the cherished traditions of the Garden of Eden from which our first parents were driven for their sin. Speculation naturally strove to settle the locality of this lost paradise. Sometimes it was situated in the mysterious bosom of India; sometimes in the flowery vales of Georgia, where roses and spices perfumed the gales; sometimes in the guarded recesses of Mesopotamia. Now it was the Grand Oasis in the Arabian desert, flashing on the wilted pilgrim, over the blasted and blazing wastes, with the verdure of palms, the play of waters, the smell and flavor of perennial fruits. Again it was at the equator, where the torrid zone stretched around it as a fiery sword waving every way so that no mortal could enter. In the "Imago Mundi," a Latin treatise on cosmography written early in the twelfth century, we read, "Paradise is the extreme eastern part of Asia, and is made inaccessible by a wall of fire surrounding it and rising unto heaven." At a later time the Canaries were thought to be the ancient Elysium, and were accordingly named the Fortunate Isles. Indeed, among the motives that animated
9 Macpherson, Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland, pp. 180-186.
10 Procopius, Gothica, lib. iv.
Columbus on his adventurous voyage no inferior place must be assigned to the hope of finding the primeval seat of Paradise.11 The curious traveller, exploring these visionary spots one by one, found them lying in the light of common day no nearer heaven than his own natal home; and at last all faith in them died out when the whole surface of the globe had been surveyed, no nook left wherein romance and superstition might any longer play at hide and seek.
Continuing our search after the local abode of the departed, we now leave the surface of the earth and descend beneath it. The first haunted region we reach is the realm of the Fairies, which, as every one acquainted with the magic lore of old Germany or England knows, was situated just under the external ground, and was clothed with every charm poets could imagine or the heart dream. There was supposed to be an entrance to this enchanted domain at the Peak Cavern in Derbyshire, and at several other places. Sir Walter Scott has collected some of the best legends illustrative of this belief in his "History of Demonology." Sir Gawaine, a famous knight of the Round Table, was once admitted to dine, above ground, in the edge of the forest, with the King of the Fairies:
"The banquet o'er, the royal Fay, intent To do all honor to King Arthur's knight, Smote with his rod the bank on which they leant, And Fairy land flash'd glorious on the sight; Flash'd, through a silvery, soft, translucent mist, The opal shafts and domes of amethyst; Flash'd founts in shells of pearl, which crystal walls And phosphor lights of myriad hues redouble. There, in the blissful subterranean halls, When morning wakes the world of human trouble Glide the gay race; each sound our discord knows, Faint heard above, but lulls them to repose."
To this empire of moonlit swards and elfin dances, of jewelled banks, lapsing streams, and enchanting visions, it was thought a few favored mortals might now and then find their way. But this was never an earnest general faith. It was a poetic superstition that hovered over fanciful brains, a legendary dream that pleased credulous hearts; and, with the other romance of the early world, it has vanished quite away.
The popular belief of Jews, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Germans, and afterwards of Christians, was that there was an immense world of the dead deep beneath the earth, subdivided into several subordinate regions. The Greenlanders believed in a separated heaven and hell, both located far below the Polar Ocean. According to the old classic descriptions of the under world, what a scene of colossal gloom it is! Its atmosphere murmurs with a breath of plaintive sighs. Its population, impalpable ghosts timidly flitting at every motion,
11 Irving, Life of Columbus: Appendix on the Situation of the Terrestrial Paradise. By far the most valuable book ever published on this subject is that of Schulthess, Das Paradies, das irdische und uberirdische historische, mythische und mystische, nebst einer kritischen Revision der allgemelnen biblischen Geographie.
crowd the sombre landscapes in numbers surpassing imagination. There Cocytus creeps to the seat of doom, his waves emitting doleful wails. Styx, nine times enfolding the whole abode, drags his black and sluggish length around. Charon, the slovenly old ferryman, plies his noiseless boat to and fro laden with shadowy passengers. Far away in the centre grim Pluto sits on his ebony throne and surveys the sad subjects of his dreadful domain. By his side sits his stolen and shrinking bride, Proserpine, her glimmering brows encircled with a wreath of poppies. Above the subterranean monarch's head a sable rainbow spans the infernal firmament; and when, with lifted hand, he announces his decrees, the applause given by the twilight populace of Hades is a rustle of sighs, a vapor of tears, and a shudder of submission.
The belief in this dolorous kingdom was early modified by the reception of two other adjacent realms, one of reward, one of torture; even as Goethe says, in allusion to the current Christian doctrine, "Hell was originally but one apartment: limbo and purgatory were afterwards added as wings." Passing through Hades, and turning in one direction, the spirit traveller would arrive at Elysium or Abraham's bosom:
"To paradise the gloomy passage winds Through regions drear and dismal, and through pain, Emerging soon in beatific blaze Of light."
There the blessed ones found respite and peaceful joys in flowery fields, pure breezes, social fellowship, and the similitudes of their earthly pursuits. In this placid clime, lighted by its own constellations, favored souls roamed or reposed in a sort of ineffectual happiness. According to the pagans, here were such heroes as Achilles, such sages as Socrates, to remain forever, or until the end of the world. And here, according to the Christians, the departed patriarchs and saints were tarrying expectant of Christ's arrival to ransom them. Dante thus describes that great event:
"Then he, who well my covert meaning knew, Answer'd, Herein I had not long been bound, When an All puissant One I saw march through, With victory's radiant sign triumphal crown'd. He led from us our Father Adam's shade, Abel and Noah, whom God loved the most, Lawgiving Moses, him who best obey'd, Abraam the patriarch, royal David's ghost; Israel, his father, and his sons, and her Whom Israel served for, faithfully and long, Rachel, with more, to bliss did He transfer: No souls were saved before this chosen throng." 12
At the opposite extremity of Hades was supposed to be an opening that led down into Tartarus, "a place made underneath all things, so low and horrible that hell is its heaven." Here the old earth giants, the looming Titans, lay, bound, transfixed with thunderbolts, their
12 Parsons's trans. Dell' Inferno, canto iv. ii. 55-63.
mountainous shapes half buried in rocks, encrusting lava, and ashes. Rivers of fire seam the darkness, whose borders are braided with sentinel furies. On every hand the worst criminals, perjurers, blasphemers, ingrates, groan beneath the pitiless punishments inflicted on them without escape. Any realization of the terrific scenery of this whole realm would curdle the blood.13 There were fabled entrances to the dread under world at Acherusia, in Bithynia, at Avernus, in Campania, where Ulysses evoked the dead and traversed the grisly abodes, through the Sibyl's cave at Cuma, at Hermione, in Argolis, where the people thought the passage below so near and easy that they neglected to give the dying an obolus to pay ferriage to Charon, at Tanarus, the southern most point of Peloponnesus, where Herakles went down and dragged the three headed dog up into day, at the cave of Trophonius, in Lebadea, and at several other places.
Similar conceptions have been embodied in the ecclesiastical doctrine which has generally prevailed in Christendom. Locating the scene in the hollow of the earth, thus has it been described by Milton,
"A dungeon horrible on all sides round As one great furnace flamed; yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible, Served only to discover sights of woe, Regions of anguish, doleful shades, where peace Nor hope can come, but torture without end Still urges, and a fiery deluge fed With ever burning sulphur unconsumed;" wherein, confined by adamantine walls, the fallen angels and all the damned welter overwhelmed with floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire. Shapes once celestially fair and proud, but now scarred from battle and darkened by sin into faded forms of haggard splendor, support their uneasy steps over the burning marl. Everywhere shrieks and moans resound, and the dusky vault of pandemonium is lighted by a blue glare cast pale and dreadful from the tossings of the flaming lake. This was hell, where the wicked must shrink and howl forever. Etna, Vesuvius, Stromboli, Hecla, were believed to be vent holes from this bottomless and living pit of fire. The famous traveller, Sir John Maundeville, asserted that he found a descent into hell "in a perilous vale" in the dominions of Prester John. Many a cavern in England still bears the name of "Hell hole." In a dialogue between a clerk and a master, preserved in an old Saxon catechism, the following question and reply occur: "Why is the sun so red when she sets?" "Because she looks down upon hell." Antonius Rusca, a learned professor at Milan, in the year 1621, published a huge quarto in five books, giving a detailed topographical account of the interior of the earth, hell, purgatory, and limbo.14 There is a lake in the south of Ireland in which is an island containing a cavern said to open down into hell. This cave
13 Descriptions of the sufferings of hell, according to the popular notions at different periods, are given in the work published at Weimar in 1817, Das Rad der ewigen Hollenqual. In den Curiositaten der physisch literarisch artistisch historischen Vor und Mitwelt, band vi. st. 2.
14 De Inferno et Statn Damonum ante Mundi Exitium.
is called St. Patrick's Purgatory, and the pretence obtained quite general credit for upwards of five centuries. Crowds of pilgrims visited the place. Some who had the hardihood to venture in were severely pinched, beaten, and burned, by the priests within, disguised as devils, and were almost frightened out of their wits by the diabolical scenes they saw where
"Forth from the depths of flame that singed the gloom Despairing wails and piercing shrieks were heard."
Several popes openly preached in behalf of this gross imposition; and the Church virtually authorized it by receiving the large revenues accruing from it, until at last outraged common sense demanded its repudiation and suppression.15
Few persons now, as they walk the streets and fields, are much disturbed by the thought that, not far below, the vivid lake of fire and brimstone, greedily roaring for new food, heaves its tortured surges convulsed and featured with souls. Few persons now shudder at a volcanic eruption as a premonishing message freshly belched from hell.16 In fact, the old belief in a local physical hell within the earth has almost gone from the public mind of to day. It arose from pagan myths and figures of speech based on ignorant observation and arbitrary fancy, and with the growth of science and the enlightenment of reason it has very extensively fallen and faded away. No honest and intelligent inquirer into the matter can find the slightest valid support for such a notion. It is now a mere tradition, upheld by groundless authority. And yet the dim shadow of that great idea of a subterranean hell which once burned so fierce and lurid in the brain of Christendom still vaguely haunts the modern world. The dogma still lies in the prevalent creeds, and is occasionally dragged out and brandished by fanatic preachers. The transmitted literature and influences of the past are so full of it that it cannot immediately cease. Accordingly, while the common understanding no longer grasps it as a definite verity, it lingers in the popular fancy as a half credible image. The painful attempts made now and then by some antiquated or fanatical clergyman to compel attention to it and belief in it as a tangible fact of science, as well as an unquestionable revelation of Scripture, scarcely win a passing notice, but provoke a significant smile. Father Passaglia, an eminent Jesuit theologian, in 1856 published in Italy a work on the Literality of Hell Fire and the Eternity of the Punishments of the Damned. He says, "In this world fire burns by chemical operations; but in hell it burns by the breath of the Lord!" The learned and venerable Faber, a voluminous author and distinguished English divine, published in the year 1851 a large octavo entitled "The Many Mansions in the House of the Father," discussing with elaborate detail the question as to the locality of the scenes awaiting souls after death. His grand conclusion the unreasonableness of which will be apparent without comment is as follows: "The saints having first risen with Christ into the highest regions of the air, out of reach of the dreadful heat, the tremendous flood of fire hitherto detained inside the earth will be let loose, and an awful conflagration rage till the whole material globe is dissipated into sublimated particles. Then the world will be formed anew, in three parts. First, there will be
15 Wright, St. Patrick's Purgatory: an Essay on the Legends of Paradise, Hell, and Purgatory, current during the Middle Ages.
16 Patuzzi, De Sede inferni in Terris quarenda.
a solid central sphere of fire the flaming nucleus of Gehenna two thousand miles in diameter. Secondly, there shall roll around this central ball on all sides an ignited ocean of liquid fire two thousand miles in depth, the peculiar residence of the wicked, the sulphurous lake spoken of in the Apocalypse. Thirdly, around this infernal sea a vast spherical arch will hang, a thousand miles thick, a massive and unbroken shell, through which there are no spiracles, and whose external surface, beautiful beyond conception, becomes the heaven of the redeemed, where Christ himself, perfect man as well as perfect God, fixes his residence and establishes the local sovereignty of the Universal Archangel." 17 A comfortable thought it must be for the saints, as they roam the flowery fields, basking in immortal bliss, to remember that under the crust they tread, a soundless sea of fire is forever plunging on its circular course, all its crimson waves packed with the agonized faces of the damned as thick as drops! The whole scheme is without real foundation. Science laughs at such a theory. Its scriptural supports are either ethnic figments or rhetorical tropes. Reason, recollecting the immateriality of the soul, dissipates the ghastly dream beyond the possibility of restoration to belief.
Following the historic locations of the abode of departed souls, we next ascend from the interior of the earth, and above the surface of the earth, into the air and the lofty realms of ether. The ancient Caledonians fixed the site of their spirit world in the clouds. Their bards have presented this conception in manifold forms and with the most picturesque details. In tempests the ghosts of their famous warriors ride on the thunderbolts, looking on the earth with eyes of fire, and hurling lances of lightning. They float over the summits of the hills or along the valleys in wreaths of mist, on vapory steeds, waving their shadowy arms in the moonlight, the stars dimly glimmering through their visionary shapes. The Laplanders also placed their heaven in the upper air, where the Northern Lights play. They regarded the auroral streamers as the sport of departed spirits in the happy region to which they had risen. Such ideas, clad in the familiar imagery furnished by their own climes, would naturally be suggested to the ignorant fancy, and easily commended to the credulous thoughts, of the Celts and Finns. Explanation and refutation are alike unnecessary.
Plutarch describes a theory held by some of the ancients locating hell in the air, elysium in the moon.18 After death all souls are compelled to spend a period in the region between the earth and the moon, the wicked in severe tortures and for a longer time, the good in a mild discipline soon purging away all their stains and fitting them for the lunar paradise. After tarrying a season there, they were either born again upon the earth, or transported to the divine realm of the sun. Macrobius, too, says, "The Platonists reckon as the infernal
17 Part iv. chap. ix. p. 417. Dr. Cumming (The End, Lect. X.) teaches the doctrine of the literal resurrection of the flesh, and the subsequent residence of the redeemed on this globe as their eternal heaven under the immediate rule of Christ. Quite a full detail of the historic and present belief in this scheme may be found in the recent work of its earnest advocate, D. T. Taylor, The Voice of the Church on the Coming of the Redeemer, or a History of the Doctrine of the Reign of Christ on Earth.
18 In his Essay on the Face in the Orb of the Moon.
region the whole space between the earth and the moon."19 He also adds, "The tropical signs Cancer and Capricorn are called the gates of the sun, because there he meets the solstice and can go no farther. Cancer is the gate of men, because by it is the descent to the lower regions; Capricorn is the gate of gods, because by it is a return for souls to the rank of gods in the seat of their proper immortality." 20 The Manicheans taught that souls were borne to the moon on leaving their bodies, and there washed from their sins in water, then taken to the sun and further cleansed in fire. They described the moon and sun as two splendid ships prepared for transferring souls to their native country, the world of perfect light in the heights of the creation.21
The ancient Hebrews thought the sky a solid firmament overarching the earth, and supporting a sea of inexhaustible waters, beyond which God and his angels dwelt in monopolized splendor. Eliphaz the Temanite says, "Is not God in the height of heaven? And behold the stars, how high they are; but he walketh upon the arch of heaven!" And Job says, "He covereth the face of his throne, and spreadeth his clouds under it. He hath drawn a circular bound upon the waters to the confines of light and darkness." From the dazzling realm above this supernal ocean all men were supposed, until after the resurrection of Christ, to be excluded. But from that time the belief gradually spread in Christendom that a way was open for faithful souls to ascend thither. Ephraim the Syrian,22 and Ambrose, located paradise in the outermost East on the highest summit of the earth, stretching into the serene heights of the sky. The ancients often conceived the universe to form one solid whole, whose different provinces were accessible from each other to gods and angels by means of bridges and golden staircases. Hence the innumerable paradisal legends associated with the mythic mountains of antiquity, such as Elborz, Olympus, Meru, and Kaf. Among the strange legends of the Middle Age, Gervase of Tilbury preserves the following one, illustrative of this belief in a sea over the sky: "One Sunday the people of an English village were coming out of church, a dark, gloomy day, when they saw the anchor of a ship hooked to one of the tombstones, the cable, tightly stretched, hanging down the air. Presently they saw a sailor sliding down the rope to unfix the anchor. When he had just loosened it the villagers seized hold of him; and, while in their hands, he quickly died, as though he had been drowned!" There is also a famous legend called "St. Brandon's Voyage." The worthy saint set sail from the coast of Ireland, and held on his way till he arrived at the moon, which he found to be the location of hell. Here he saw Judas Iscariot in execrable tortures, regularly respited, however, every week from Saturday eve till Sunday eve!
The thought so entirely in accordance with the first impression made by the phenomenon of the night sky on the ignorant senses and imagination that the stars are set in a firm revolving dome, has widely prevailed; and the thought that heaven lies beyond that solid arch, in the unknown space is a popular notion lingering still. The scriptural image declaring that the convulsions of the last day will shake the stars from their sockets in the
19 In Somnium Scipionis, lib. i. cap. xi.
20 Ibid. cap. xii.
21 Augustine, De Natura Boni, cap. xliv.
22 De Paradiso Eden, Sermo I.
heavenly floor, "as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind," although so obviously a figure of speech, has been very generally credited as the description of a literal fact yet to occur. And how many thousands of pious Christians have felt, with the sainted Doddridge,
"Ye stars are but the shining dust Of my Divine abode, The pavement of those heavenly courts Where I shall see my God!"
The universal diffusion in civilized nations of the knowledge that the visible sky is no substantial expanse, but only an illimitable void of space hung with successive worlds, has by no means banished the belief, originally based on the opposite error, in a physical heaven definitely located far overhead, the destination of all ransomed souls. This is undoubtedly the most common idea at the present time. An English clergyman once wrote a book, afterwards translated into German, to teach that the sun is hell, and that the black spots often noticed on the disk of that orb are gatherings of damned souls.23 Isaac Taylor, on the contrary, contends with no little force and ingenuity that the sun may be the heaven of our planetary system, a globe of immortal blessedness and glory.24 The celebrated Dr. Whiston was convinced that the great comet which appeared in his day was hell. He imagined it remarkably fitted for that purpose by its fiery vapor, and its alternate plunges, now into the frozen extremity of space, now into the scorching breath of the sun. Tupper fastens the stigma of being the infernal prison house on the moon, in this style:
"I know thee well, O Moon, thou cavern'd realm, Sad satellite, thou giant ash of death, Blot on God's firmament, pale home of crime, Scarr'd prison house of sin, where damned souls Feed upon punishment: Oh, thought sublime, That amid night's black deeds, when evil prowls Through the broad world, thou, watching sinners well, Glarest o'er all, the wakeful eye of Hell!"
Bailey's conception is the darker birth of a deeper feeling:
"There is a blind world, yet unlit by God, Rolling around the extremest edge of light, Where all things are disaster and decay: That black and outcast orb is Satan's home That dusky world man's science counteth not Upon the brightest sky. He never knows How near it comes to him; but, swathed in clouds, As though in plumed and palled state, it steals, Hearse like and thief like, round the universe, Forever rolling, and returning not,
23 Swinden, On the Nature and Location of Hell.
24 Physical Theory of Another Life, chap. xvi.
Robbing all worlds of many an angel soul, With its light hidden in its breast, which burns With all concentrate and superfluent woe."
In the average faith of individuals to day, heaven and hell exist as separate places located somewhere in the universe; but the notions as to the precise regions in which they lie are most vague and ineffectual when compared with what they formerly were.
The Scandinavian kosmos contained nine worlds, arranged in the following order: Gimle, a golden region at the top of the universe, the eternal residence of Allfather and his chosen ones; next below that, Muspel, the realm of the genii of fire; Asgard, the abode of the gods in the starry firmament; Vindheim, the home of the air spirits; Manheim, the earth, or middle realm; Jotunheim, the world of the giants, outside the sea surrounding the earth; Elfheim, the world of the black demons and dwarfs, just under the earth's surface; Helheim, the domain of the goddess of death, deep within the earth's bosom; and finally, Niflheim, the lowest kingdom of horror and pain, at the very bottom of the creation. The Buddhist kosmos, in the simplest form, as some of them conceived it, was composed of a series of concentric spheres each separated from the next by a space, and successively overarching and under arching each other with circular layers of brightness above and blackness beneath; each starry hollow overhead being a heaven inhabited by gods and blessed souls, each lurid hollow underfoot being a hell filled with demons and wicked souls in penance. The Arabian kosmos, beginning with the earth, ascended to a world of water above the firmament, next to a world of air, then to a world of fire, followed in rising order by an emerald heaven with angels in the form of birds, a heaven of precious stones with angels as eagles, a hyacinth heaven with angels as vultures, a silver heaven with angels as horses, a golden and a pearl heaven each peopled with angel girls, a crystal heaven with angel men, then two heavens full of angels, and finally a great sea without bound, each sphere being presided over by a chief ruler, the names of all of whom were familiar to the learned Arabs. The Syrian kosmos corresponded closely to the foregoing. It soared up the mounting steps of earth, water, air, fire, and innumerable choruses successively of Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim, unto the Expanse whence Lucifer fell; afterwards to a boundless Ocean; and lastly to a magnificent Crown of Light filling the uppermost space of all.25
It is hard for us to imagine the aspects of the universe to the ancients and the impressions it produced in them, all seemed so different then, in the dimness of crude observation, from the present appearance in the light of astronomic science. Anaximander held that the earth was of cylindrical form, suspended in the middle of the universe and surrounded by envelopes of water, air, and fire, as by the coats of an onion, but that the exterior stratum was broken up and collected into masses, and thus originated the sun, moon, and stars, which are carried around by the three spheres in which they are fixed.26 Many of the Oriental nations believed the planets to be animated beings, conscious divinities, freely marching around their high realms, keeping watch and ward over the creation, smiling their favorites on to happy fortune,
25 Dupuis, L'Origine de tous les Cultes, Planche No. 21.
26 Arist. de Coel. ii. 13.
fixing their baleful eyes and shedding disastrous eclipse on "falling nations and on kingly lines about to sink forever." This belief was cherished among the later Greek philosophers and Roman priests, and was vividly held by such men as Philo, Origen, and even Kepler. It is here that we are to look for the birth of astrology, that solemn lore, linking the petty fates of men with the starry conjunctions, which once sank so deeply into the mind of the world, but is now wellnigh forgotten:
"No more of that, ye planetary lights! Your aspects, dignities, ascendancies, Your partite quartiles, and your plastic trines, And all your heavenly houses and effects, Shall meet no more devout expounders here.
The joy of Jupiter, The exaltation of the Dragon's head, The sun's triplicity and glorious Day house on high, the moon's dim detriment, And all the starry inclusions of all signs, Shall rise, and rule, and pass, and no one know That there are spirit rulers of all worlds, Which fraternize with earth, and, though unknown, Hold in the shining voices of the stars Communion on high and everywhere."
The belief that the stars were living beings, combining with the fancy of an unscientific time, gave rise to the stellar apotheosis of heroes and legendary names, and was the source of those numerous asterisms, out lined groups of stars, which still bedeck the skies and form the landmarks of celestial topography. It was these and kindred influences that wrought together
"To make the firmament bristle with shapes Of intermittent motion, aspect vague, And mystic bearings, which o'ercreep the earth, Keeping slow time with horrors in the blood;" the Gorgon's petrific Head, the Bear's frightful form, Berenice's streaming Hair, the curdling length of Ophiuchus, and the Hydra's horrid shape. The poetic eye of old religion saw gods in the planets walking their serene blue paths,
"Osiris, Bel, Odin, Mithras, Brahm, Zeus, Who gave their names to stars which still roam round The skies all worshipless, even from climes Where their own altars once topp'd every hill."
By selected constellations the choicest legends of the antique world are preserved in silent enactment. On the heavenly sea the Argonautss keep nightly sail towards the Golden Fleece. There Herakles gripes the hydra's heads and sways his irresistible club; Arion with his harp rides the docile Dolphin; the Centaur's right hand clutches the Wolf; the Hare flees from the raging eye and inaudible bark of the Dog; and space crawls with the horrors of the Scorpion.
In consequence of the earth's revolution in its orbit, the sun appears at different seasons to rise in connection with different groups of stars. It seems as if the sun made an annual journey around the ecliptic. This circuit was divided into twelve parts corresponding to the months, and each marked by a distinct constellation. There was a singular agreement in regard to these solar houses, residences of the gods, or signs of the zodiac, among the leading nations of the earth, the Persians, Chaldeans, Hebrews, Syrians, Hindus, Chinese, Arabians, Japanese, Siamese, Goths, Javanese, Mexicans, Peruvians, and Scandinavians. 27 Among the various explanations of the origin of these artificial signs, we will notice only the one attributed by Volney to the Egyptians. The constellations in which the sun successively appeared from month to month were named thus: at the time of the overflow of the Nile, the stars of inundation, (Aquarius;) at the time of ploughing, stars of the ox, (Taurus;) when lions, driven forth by thirst, appeared on the banks of the Nile, stars of the lion, (Leo;) at the time of reaping, stars of the sheaf, (Virgo;) stars of the lamb and two kids, (Aries,) when these animals were born; stars of the crab, (Cancer,) when the sun, touching the tropic, returned backwards; stars of the wild goat, (Capricorn,) when the sun reached the highest point in his yearly track; stars of the balance, (Libra,) when days and nights were in equilibrium; stars of the scorpion, (Scorpio,) when periodical simooms burned like the venom of a scorpion; and so on of the rest.28
The progress of astronomical science from the wild time when men thought the stars were mere spangles stuck in a solid expanse not far off, to the vigorous age when Ptolemy's mathematics spanned the scope of the sky; from the first reverent observations of the Chaldean shepherds watching the constellations as gods, to the magnificent reasonings of Copernicus dashing down the innumerable crystalline spheres, "cycle on epicycle, orb on orb," with which crude theorizers had crowded the stellar spaces; from the uncurbed poetry of Hyginus writing the floor of heaven over with romantic myths in planetary words, to the more wondrous truth of Le Verrier measuring the steps from nimble Mercury flitting moth like in the beard of the sun to dull Neptune sagging in his cold course twenty six hundred million miles away; from the half inch orb of Hipparchus's naked eye, to the six feet speculum of Rosse's awful tube; from the primeval belief in one world studded around with skyey torch lights, to the modern conviction of octillions of inhabited worlds all governed by one law constitutes the most astonishing chapter in the history of the human mind. Every step of this incredible progress has had its effect in modifying the conceptions of man's position and importance in nature and of the connection of his future fate with localities. Of old, the entire creation was thought to lie pretty much within the comprehension of man's unaided senses, and man himself was supposed to be the chief if not the sole object of Divine providence. The deities often came down in incarnations and mingled with their favorites and rescued the earth from evils. Every thing was anthropomorphized. Man's relative magnitude and power were believed to be such that he fancied during an eclipse that, by screams, the crashing of gongs, and magic rites, he could scare away the monsters
27 Pigott, Scandinavian Mythology, chap. i. p. 31.
28 Volney, Ruins, chap. xxii. sect. 3. Maurice, Hist. Hindostan, vol. i. pp. 145-147.
who were swallowing the sun or the moon. Meteors shooting through the evening air the Arabs believed were fallen angels trying to get back into heaven but hurled from the crystal battlements by the flaming lances of the guardian watchers. Then the gazer saw "The top of heaven full of fiery shapes, Of burning cressets."
Now the student contemplates an abyss swarming with orbs each out weighing millions of our earth. Then they read their nativities in the planets and felt how great must be the state overwatched by such resplendent servitors. Now "They seek communion with the stars that they may know How petty is this ball on which they come and go."
Then the hugest view of the extent of the universal sphere was that an iron mass would require nine days and nights to plunge from its Olympian height to its Tartarean depth. Now we are told by the masters of science that there are stars so distant that it would take their light, travelling at a rate of nearly twelve million miles a minute, thirty million years to reach us. The telescope has multiplied the size of the creation by hundreds of millions, and the grandest conception of the stellar universe possible to the most capacious human mind probably bears no larger proportion to the fact than an orrery does to the solar system. Our earth is a hundred million miles from the sun, whose diameter is so monstrous that a hundred such orbs strung in a straight line would occupy the whole distance. The sun, with all his attendant planets and moons, is sweeping around his own centre supposed by some to be Alcyone at the rate of four hundred thousand miles a day; and it will take him eighteen million years to complete one revolution. Our firmamental cluster contains, it has been calculated, in round numbers about twenty million stars. There are many thousands of such nebula visible, some of them capable of packing away in their awful bosoms hundreds of thousands of our galaxies. Measure off the abysmal space into seven hundred thousand stages each a hundred million miles wide, and you reach the nearest fixed stars, for instance, the constellation of the Lyre. Multiply that inconceivable distance by hundreds of thousands, and still you will discern enormous sand banks of stars obscurely glittering on the farthest verge of telescopic vision. And even all this is but a little corner of the whole.
Coleridge once said, "To some infinitely superior Being, the whole universe may be as one plain, the distance between planet and planet being only as the pores in a grain of sand, and the spaces between system and system no greater than the intervals between one grain and the grain adjacent." One of the vastest thoughts yet conceived by any mortal mind is that of turning the universe from a mechanical to a chemical problem, as illustrated by Prof. Lovering.29 Assuming the acknowledged truths in physics, that the ultimate particles of matter never actually touch each other, and that water in evaporating expands into eighteen hundred times its previous volume, he demonstrates that the porosity of our solar system is no greater than that of steam. "The porosity of granite or gold may be equal to that of steam,
29 Cambridge Miscellany, 1842.
the greater density being a stronger energy in the central forces." And the conclusion is scientifically reached that "the vast interval between the sun and Herschel is an enormous pore, while the invisible distance that separates the most closely nestled atoms is a planetary space, a stupendous gulf when compared with the little spheres between which it flows." Thus we may think of the entire universe as a living organism, like a ripening orange, its component atoms worlds, the sidereal movements its vital circulation.
Surely, when a man looks up from his familiar fields and household roof to such incommensurable objects as scientific imagination reveals in the sparkling sword handle of Perseus and the hazy girdle of Andromeda, overpowering humility will fill his breast, an unutterable solemnity will "fall on him as from the very presence chamber of the Highest." And will he not, when he contemplates the dust like shoals of stars, the shining films of firmaments, that retreat and hover through all the boundless heights, the Nubecula nebula, looking like a bunch of ribbons disposed in a true love's knot, that most awful nebula whirled into the shape and bearing the name of the Dumb Bell, the Crab nebula, hanging over the infinitely remote space, a sprawling terror, every point holding millions of worlds, thinking of these all transcendent wonders, and then remembering his own inexpressible littleness, how that the visible existence of his whole race does not occupy a single tick of the great Sidereal Clock, will he not sink under helpless misgivings, will he not utterly despair of immortal notice and support from the King of all this? In a word, how does the solemn greatness of man, the supposed eternal destiny of man, stand affected by the modern knowledge of the vastness of creation? Regarding the immensities receding over him in unfathomable abysses bursting with dust heaps of suns, must not man be dwarfed into unmitigated contempt, his life and character rendered absolutely insignificant, the utmost span of his fortunes seeming but as the hum and glitter of an ephemeron in a moment's sunshine? Doubtless many a one has at times felt the stupendous truths of astronomy thus palsying him with a crushing sense of his own nothingness and burying him in fatalistic despair. Standing at night, alone, beneath the august dome studded from of old with its ever blazing lights, he gazes up and sees the innumerable armies of heaven marshalled forth above him in the order and silence of their primeval pomp. Peacefully and forever they shine there. In nebula separated from nebula by trillions of leagues, plane beyond plane, they stretch and glitter to the feet of God. Falling on his knees, he clasps his hands in speechless adoration, but feels, with an intolerable ache of the heart, that in this infinitude such an one as he can be of no consequence whatever. He waits passively for the resistless round of fate to bear him away, ah, whither? "Conscious that he dwells but as an atom of dust on the outskirts of a galaxy of inconceivable glory" moving through eternity in the arms of law, he becomes, in his own estimation, an insensible dot lost in the uncontainable wilderness of firmamental systems. But this conclusion of despair is a mistake as sophistical as it is injurious, as baseless in reality as it is natural in seeming. Its antidote and corrective are found in a more penetrative thought and juster understanding of the subject, which will preserve the greatness and the immortal destiny of man unharmed despite the frowning vastitudes of creation. This will appear from fairly weighing the following considerations.
In the first place, the immensity of the material universe is an element entirely foreign to the problem of human fate. When seeking to solve the question of human destiny, we are to study the facts and prophecies of human nature, and to conclude accordingly. It is a perversion of reason to bring from far an induction of nebular magnitudes to crush with their brute weight the plain indications of the spirit of humanity. What though the number of telescopic worlds were raised to the ten thousandth power, and each orb were as large as all of them combined would now be? what difference would that make in the facts of human nature and destiny? It is from the experience going on in man's breast, and not from the firmaments rolling above his head, that his importance and his final cause are to be inferred. The human mind, heart, and conscience, thought, love, faith, and piety, remain the same in their intrinsic rank and capacities whether the universe be as small as it appeared to the eyes of Abraham or as large as it seems in the cosmical theory of Humboldt. Thus the spiritual position of man really remains precisely what it was before the telescope smote the veils of distance and bared the outer courts of being.
Secondly, if we do bring in the irrelevant realms of science to the examination of our princely pretensions, it is but fair to look in both directions. And then what we lose above we gain below. The revelations of the microscope balance those of the telescope. The animalcula magnify man as much as the nebulsa belittle him. We cannot help believing that He who frames and provides for those infinitesimal animals quadrillions of whom might inhabit a drop of water or a leaf and have ample room and verge enough, and whose vital and muscular organization is as complicated and perfect as that of an elephant, will much more take care of man, no matter how numerous the constellations are. Let us see how far scientific vision can look beneath ourselves as the question is answered by a few well known facts. In each drop of human blood there are three million vitalized corpuscular disks. Considering all the drops made up in this way, man is a kosmos, his veins galaxies through whose circuits these red clustering planets perform their revolutions. How small the exhaling atoms of a grain of musk must be, since it will perfume every breath of air blowing through a hall for a quarter of a century, and then not be perceptibly diminished. An ounce of gold may be reduced into four hundred and thirty two billion parts, each microscopically visible.30 There is a deposit of slate in Bohemia covering forty square miles to the depth of eight feet, each cubic inch of which Ehrenberg found by microscopic measurement to contain forty one thousand million infusorial animals. Sir David Brewster says, "A cubic inch of the Bilin polieschiefer slate contains above one billion seven hundred and fifty thousand millions of distinct individuals of Galionella ferruginea."31 It is a fact that the size of one of these insects as compared with the bulk of a man is virtually as small as that of a man compared with the whole scheme of modern astronomy. Thus, if the problem of our immortal consequence is prejudicially vitiated by contemplating the immense extremity of vision, it is rectified by gazing on the opposite extremity. If man justly scrutinized, without comparisons, is fitted for and worthy of eternity,
30 Lardner, Hand Book of Natural Philosophy, book i. chap. v.31 More Worlds than One, ch. viii. note 3.
no foreign facts, however magnificent or minute, should alter our judgment from the premises.
Thirdly, is it not evident that man's greatness keeps even pace along the scale of magnitude with the widening creation, since it is his mind that sees and comprehends how wondrous the dimensions of the universe are? The number of stars and the limits of space are not more astounding than it is that he should be capable of knowing such things, enumerating and staking them off. When man has measured the distance and weighed the bulk of Sirius, it is more appropriate to kneel in amazement before the inscrutable mystery of his genius, the irrepressible soaring of his soul, than to sink in despair under the swinging of those lumps of dirt in their unapproachable spheres because they are so gigantic! The appearance of the creation to man is not vaster than his perception of it. They are exactly correlated by the very terms of the statement. As the astronomic world expands, the astronomer's mind dilates and must be as large as it in order to contain it in thought. What we lose in relative importance from the enlargement of the boundaries of the universe we gain from the new revelation of our capacities that is made through these transcendent achievements of our science. That we are favorites of the Creator and destined for immortal glories is therefore logically and morally just as credible after looking through Herschel's forty feet reflector and reading La Place's Mecanique Celeste as it would be were this planet, suspended in a hollow dome, the entirety of material being.
Furthermore, we can reason only from the data we have; and, doing that, we should conclude, from the intrinsic and incomparable superiority of spirit to matter, that man and his kindred scattered in families over all the orbs of space were the especial objects of the infinite Author's care. They are fitted by their filial attributes to commune with Him in praise and love. They know the prodigious and marvellous works of mechanical nature; mechanical nature knows nothing. Man can return his Maker's blessing in voluntary obedience and thanks; matter is inanimate clay for the Potter's moulding. Turning from the gleaming wildernesses of star land to the intellect and heart, appreciating the infinite problems and hopes with which they deal and aspire, we feel the truth expressed by Wordsworth in his tremendous lines:
"I must, aloft ascending, breathe in worlds To which the heaven of heavens is but a veil. Not chaos, darkest pit of Erebus, Nor aught of blinder vacancy, scoop'd out By help of dreams, can breed such fear and awe As fall upon us often when we look Into our minds, into the mind of man."
Is not one noble thought of truth, one holy emotion of love, one divine impulse of devotion, better than a whole planet of mud, a whole solar system of gas and dust? Who would not rather be the soul that gauges the deeps, groups the laws, foretells the movements, of the universe, writing down in a brief mathematical formula a complete horoscope of the heavens as they will appear on any given night thousands of years hence, than to be all that array of swooping systems? To think the world is to be superior to the world. That which appreciates is akin to that which makes; and so we are the Creator's children, and these crowding nebula, packed with orbs as thick as the ocean beach with sands, are the many mansions of the House fitted up for His abode and ours. An only prince would be of more consideration than a palace, although its foundation pressed the shoulders of Serpentarius, its turret touched the brow of Orion, and its wings reached from the Great Bear to the Phoenix. So a mind is of more importance than the material creation, and the moral condition of a man is of greater moment than the aspect of stellar firmaments.
Another illustration of the truth we are considering is to be drawn from the idealist theory, to which so many of the ablest thinkers of the world have given their devoted adhesion, that matter is merely phenomenal, no substantial entity, but a transient show preserved in appearance for some ulterior cause, and finally, at the withdrawal or suspension of God's volition, to return into annihilating invisibility as swiftly as a flash of lightning. The solid seeming firmaments are but an exertion of Divine force projected into vision to serve for a season as a theatre for the training of spirits. When that process is complete, in the twinkling of an eye the phantasmal exhibition of matter will disappear, leaving only the ideal realm of indestructible things, souls with their inward treasures remaining in their native sphere of the infinite, while the outward universe "Doth vanish like a ghost before the sun."
The same practical result may also be reached by a different path, may be attained by the road of physics as well as by that of transcendental metaphysics. For Newton has given in his Principia a geometrical demonstration of the infinite compressibility of matter. All the worlds, therefore, that cluster in yon swelling vault can be condensed into a single globe of the size of a walnut; and then, on that petty lump of apparent substance, the enfranchised soul might trample in an exultation of magnanimous scorn upon the whole universe of earths, and soar through its own unlimited dominion, Monarch of Immortality, the snatched glory of shrunken firmaments flashing from its deathless wings.
Finally, a proper comprehension of the idea of God will neutralize the skepticism and despondency sometimes stealthily nourished or crushingly impressed by contemplations of the immensity of nature. If one, from regarding the cold and relentless mechanism of the surrounding system, tremble for fear of there being no kind Overruler, let him gaze on the warm beauty that flushes the countenance of day, the mystic meditativeness that hangs on the pensive and starry brow of night, let him follow the commanding instincts of his own heart, and he will find himself clinging in irresistible faith and filial love to the thought of an infinite Father. If still the atheistic sentiment obtrudes upon him and oppresses him, let him observe how every spot of immensity whereon the eye of science has fallen is crowded with unnumbered amazing examples of design, love, beneficence, and he will perceive that the irrefragable lines of argument drawn through the boundless spaces of creation light up the stupendous contour of God and show the expression of his features to be love. It seems as though any man acquainted with the truths and magnitudes of astronomy, who, after seeing the star strewn abysses, would look in his mirror and ask if the image reflected there is that of the greatest being in the universe, would need nothing further to convince him that a God, the Creator, Preserver, Sovereign, lives. And then, if, mistakenly judging from his own limitations, he thinks that the particular care of all the accumulated galaxies of worlds, every world perhaps teeming with countless millions of conscious creatures, would transcend the possibilities even of God, a moment's reflection will dissolve that sophistry in the truth that God is infinite, and that to his infinite attributes globule and globe are alike, the oversight of the whole and of each part a matter of instantaneous and equal ease. Still further: if this abstract truth be insufficient to support faith and bestow peace, what will he say to the visible fact that all the races of beings, and all the clusters of worlds, from the motes in a sunbeam to the orbs of the remotest firmament, are now taken care of by Divine Providence? God now keeps them all in being and order, unconfused by their multiplicity, unoppressed by their magnitude, and not for an instant forgetting or neglecting either the mightiest or the least. Morbidly suspicious, perversely incredulous, must be the mind that denies, since it is so now in this state, that it may be so as well in the other state and forever! Grasping the conception of one God, who creates, rules, and loves all, man may unpresumptuously feel himself to be a child of the Infinite and a safe heir of immortality. Looking within and without, and soaring in fancy amidst the blue and starry altitudes interspersed with blazing suns and nebulous oceans, he may cry, from a sober estimate of all the experimental and phenomenal facts within his reach,
"Even here I feel, Among these mighty things, that as I am I am akin to God; that I am part Of the use universal, and can grasp Some portion of that reason in the which The whole is ruled and founded; that I have A spirit nobler in its cause and end, Lovelier in order, greater in its powers, Than all these bright and swift immensities."
Perhaps the force of these arguments may be better condensed and expressed by help of an individual illustration. While the pen is forming these words, the announcement of the death of Dr. Kane saddens the world. Alas that the gallant heart no longer beats, the story of whose noble generosity and indomitable prowess has just thrilled the dull nations of men of meaner mould! Who even though standing before a telescope under the full architecture of the heavens can believe that that maiden soul of heroism and devotion is now but an extinguished spark, that the love, honor, intelligence, self sacrificing consecration which enswathed him as with a saintly halo have all gone out? Turning from that pale form, stretched on the couch of death in fatal Cuba, through the receding gulfs of space where incomputable systems of worlds are wheeling on their eternal courses, and then looking back again from the noiseless glitter and awful bulk of the creation, do you despair of the immortal consequence of the poor sufferer whose fleshly moorings to existence are successively loosening at every gasp? Ah, remember that Matter and the Soul are not alone! Far above that clay bound, struggling soul, and far above those measureless, firmamental masses, is God, the Maker of them both, and the Lover of his child. Glancing in His omniscience down upon that human death couch, around which affectionate prayers are floating from every part of the earth, and from whose pallid occupant confiding sighs are rising to His ear, He sees the unutterable mysteries of yearning thought, emotion, and power, which are the hidden being of man, and which so ally the filial spirit to the parent Divinity. As beneath His gaze the faithful soul of Elisha Kane slowly extricating itself from its overwrought tabernacle, and also extricating itself from the holy network of heart strings which sixty millions of men speaking one speech have flung around him, if haply so they might retain him to earth to take their love and waiting honors rises into the invisible, seeking to return, bearing its virgin purity with it, to the bosom of God, will He overlook it, or carelessly spurn it into night, because the banks of stars are piled up so thick and high that they absorb His regards? My soul, come not thou into the counsels of them that think so! It should not be believed though astronomy were a thousand times astronomy. But it shall rather be thought that, ere now, the brave American has discovered the Mariner whom he sought, though sailing on far other seas, where there is no destroying winter and no need of rescue.
In association with the measureless spaces and countless worlds brought to light by astronomic science naturally arises the question whether the other worlds are, like our earth, peopled with responsible intelligences. In ancient times the stars were not generally thought to be worlds, but to be persons, genii or gods. At the dawn of creation "the morning stars sang together;" that is, "the sons of God shouted for joy." The stars were the living army of "Jehovah of hosts." At the time when the theological dogmas now prevalent were first conceived, the greatness and glory of the universe were supposed to centre on this globe. The fortunes of man wellnigh absorbed, it was imagined, the interest of angels and of God. The whole creation was esteemed a temporary theatre for the enactment of the sublime drama of the fall and redemption of man. The entire heavens with all their host were thought to revolve in satellite dependence around this stationary and regal planet. For God to hold long, anxious, repeated councils to devise means to save us, was not deemed out of keeping with the relative dignity of the earth and the human race. But at length the progress of discovery put a different aspect on the physical conditions of the problem. The philosopher began to survey man's habitation and history, and to estimate man's comparative rank and destiny, not from the stand point of a solitary planet dating back only a few thousand years, but in the light of millions of centuries of duration and from a position among millions of crowded firmaments whence our sun appears as a dim and motionless star. This new vision of science required a new construction of theology. The petty and monstrous notions of the ignorant superstition of the early age needed rectification. In the minds of the wise and devout few this was effected; but with the great majority the two sets of ideas existed side by side in unreconciled confusion and contradiction, as they even continue to do unto this day.
When it came to be believed that the universe teemed with suns, moons, and planets, composed of material substances, subject to day and night, and various other laws and changes, like our own abode, it was natural to infer that these innumerable worlds were also inhabited by rational creatures akin to ourselves and capable of worshipping God. Numerous considerations, possessing more or less weight, were brought forward to confirm such a conclusion. The most striking presentation ever made of the argument, perhaps, is that in Oersted's essay on the "Universe as a Single Intellectual Realm." It became the popular faith, and is undoubtedly more so now than ever before. Towards the end of the seventeenth century a work was published in explicit support of this faith by Fontenelle. It was entitled "Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds," and had marked success, running through many editions. A few years later, Huygens wrote a book, called "Cosmotheoros," in maintenance of the same thesis. The more this doctrine obtained root and life in the convictions of men, the more strongly its irreconcilableness with the ordinary theology must have made itself felt by fearless and competent thinkers. Could a quadrillion firmaments loaded with stars, each inhabited by its own race of free intelligences, all be burned up and destroyed in the Day of Judgment provoked on this petty grain of dust by the sin of Adam? 32 Were the stars mere sparks and spangles stuck in heaven for us to see by, it would be no shock to our reason to suppose that they might be extinguished with our extinction; but, grasping the truths of astronomy as they now lie in the brain of a master in science, we can no longer think of God expelling our race from the joys of being and then quenching the splendors of his hall "as an innkeeper blows out the lights when the dance is at an end." God rules and over rules all, and serenely works out his irresistible ends, incapable of wrath or defeat. Would it be more incongruous for Him to be angry with an ant hill and come down to trample it, than to be so with the earth and appear in vindictive fire to annihilate it?
From time to time, in the interests of the antiquated ideas, doubts have been raised as to the validity of the doctrine of stellar worlds stocked with intellectual families.33 Hegel, either imbued with that Gnostic contempt and hatred for matter which described the earth as "a dirt ball for the extrication of light spirits," or from an obscure impulse of pantheistic thought, sullies the stars with every demeaning phrase, even stigmatizing them as "pimples of light." Michelet, a disciple of Hegel, followed his example, and, in a work published in 1840, strove vigorously to aggrandize the earth and man at the expense of the accepted teachings of astronomy.34 With argument and ridicule, wit and reason, he endeavored to make it out that the stars are no better than gleaming patches of vapor. We are the exclusive autocrats of all immensity. Whewell has followed up this species of thought with quite remarkable adroitness, force, and brilliance.35 Whether his motive in this undertaking is purely scientific and artistic, or whether he is impelled by a fancied religious animus, having been bitten by some theological fear which has given him the astrophobia, does not clearly appear.
32 As specimens of the large number of treatises which have been published asserting the destruction of the whole creation in the Day of Judgment, the following may be consulted. Osiander, De Consummatione Saculi Dissertationum Pentus. Lund, De Excidio Universi Totali et Substantiali. Frisch, Die Welt im Feuer, oder das wahre Vergehen und Ende der Welt durch den letzen Sundenbrand. For a century past the opinion has been gaining favor that the great catastrophe will be confined to our earth, and that even this is not to be annihilated, but to be transformed, purged, and beautified by the crisis. See, e. g., Brumhey, Ueber die endliche Umwandlung der Erde durch Feuer.
33 Kurtz, Bibel and Astronomie. Simonton's Eng. trans., ch. vi. sect. 14: Incarnation of God.
34 Vorlesungen uber die ewige Personlichkeit des Geistes. 35 Of a Plurality of Worlds: An Essay.
Brewster has replied to Whewell's disturbing essay in a volume which more commands our sympathies and carries our reason, but is less sustained in force and less close in logic.36 Powell has still more recently published a very valuable treatise on the subject;37 and with this work the discussion rests thus far, leaving, as we believe, the popular faith in an astronomic universe of inhabited worlds unshaken, however fatal the legitimate implications of that faith may be to other doctrines simultaneously held.38 It is curious to observe the shifting positions taken up by skepticism in science, now, with powerful recoil from the narrow bigotries of theology, eagerly embracing the sublimest dreams of astronomic speculation, and now inclining to the faith that the remoter stars are but brilliant globules trickling from the poles of some terrible battery in the godless heights of space. But if there be any thing sure in science at all, it is that the material creation is inconceivably vast, including innumerable systems, and all governed by invariable laws. But let us return from this episode.
The foregoing sixfold argument, preserving us from the remorseless grasp of annihilation, leaves to us unchanged the problem of the relations which shall be sustained by the disembodied soul to time and space, the question as to the locality of the spirit world, the scene of our future life. Sheol, Hades, Tartarus, Valhalla with its mead brimmed horns, Blessed Isles, Elysium, supernal Olympus, firmamental Heaven, paradisal Eden, definite sites of celestial Worlds for departed souls, the Chaldee's golden orbs, the Sanscrit Meru, the Indian Hunting Ground, the Moslem's love bowers, and wine rivers, and gem palaces thronged with dark eyed houris, these notions, and all similar ones, of material residences for spirits, located and bounded, we must dismiss as dreams and cheats of the childish world's unripe fancy. There is no evidence for any thing of that coarse, crude sort. The fictitious theological Heaven is a deposit of imagination on the azure ground of infinity, like a bird's nest on Himalaya. What, then, shall we say? Why, in the first place, that, while there are reasons enough and room enough for an undisheartened faith in the grand fact of human immortality, it is beyond our present powers to establish any detailed conclusions in regard to its locality or its scenery.
But surely, in the second place, we should say that it becomes us, when reflecting on the scenes to be opened to us at death, to rise to a more ideal and sublime view than any of those tangible figments which were the products of untrained sensual imagination and gross materialistic theory. When the fleshly prison walls of the mind fall, its first inheritance is a stupendous freedom. The narrow limits that caged it here are gone, and it lives in an ethereal sphere with no impeding bounds. Leaving its natal threshold of earth and the lazar house of time, its home is immensity, and its lease is eternity. Even in our present state, to a true
36 More Worlds than One the Creed of the Philosopher and the Hope of the Christian.
37 Essay on the Unity or Plurality of Worlds. See, furthermore, in Westminster Review, July, 1858, Recent Astronomy and the Nebular Hypothesis.
38 Volger, Erde and Ewigkeit. (Natural History of the Earth as a Periodical Process of Development in Opposition to the Unnatural Geology of Revolutions and Catastrophes.) Treise, Dag Endlose der grossen und der kleinen materiellen Welt.
thinker there is no ascent or descent or terminating wall in space, but equal motion illimitably in all directions; and no absolute standard of duration, only a relative and variable one from the insect of an hour, to man, to an archangel, to that incomprehensible Being whose shortest moments are too vast to be noted by the awful nebula of the Hour Glass, although its rushing sands are systems of worlds. The soul emerges from earthly bondage emancipated into eternity, while "The ages sweep around him with their wings, Like anger'd eagles cheated of their prey."
We have now sufficient premonitions and examples of this wondrous enlargement to base a rational belief on. What hems us in when we think, feel, and imagine? And what is the heaven that shall dawn for us beyond the veil of death's domain but the realm of Thought, the sphere of the spirit's unhampered powers? There are often vouchsafed to us here hours of outsoaring emotion and conception which make the enclosures in which the astronomer loiters seem narrow. "His skies are shoal, and imagination, like a thirsty traveller, pants to be through their desert. The roving mind impatiently bursts the fetters of astronomical orbits, like cobwebs in a corner of its universe, and launches itself to where distance fails to follow, and law, such as science has discovered, grows weak and weary." There are moods of spiritual expansion and infinite longing that illustrate the train of thought so well expressed in the following lines:
"Even as the dupe in tales Arabian Dipp'd but his brow beneath the beaker's brim, And in that instant all the life of man From youth to age roll'd its slow years on him, And, while the foot stood motionless, the soul Swept with deliberate wing from pole to pole; So when the man the Grave's still portal passes, Closed on the substances or cheats of earth, The Immaterial, for the things earth glasses, Shapes a new vision from the matter's dearth: Before the soul that sees not with our eyes The undefined Immeasurable lies." 39
Then we realize that the spiritual world does not form some now unseen and distant region of the visible creation, but that the astronomic universe is a speck lying in the invisible bosom of the spiritual world. "Space is an attribute of God in which all matter is laid, and other attributes he may have which are the home of mind and soul." We suppose the difference between the present embodied and the future disembodied state to be so vast that the conditions of the latter cannot be intelligibly illustrated by the analogies of the former. It is not to be expected that the human soul will ever be absolutely independent of time and space, literally transcending them, but only relatively so as compared with its earthly predicament.
39 Bulwer, King Arthur, book xi.
For, as an able thinker and writer a philosopher of the Swedenborgian school, too has said, "The conception of a mind absolutely sundered from all connection with space is a mere pretence which words necessarily repudiate."
The soul on the hypothesis that there is a soul is now in the body. Evidently, on leaving the body, it must either be nowhere, and that is annihilation, which the vehement totality of our thought denies; or everywhere, and that implies infinity, the loss of finite being in boundless Deity, a conclusion which we know of nothing to warrant; or somewhere, and that predicates a surviving individuality related to surrounding externals, which is the prophesied and satisfactory result in which we rest in faith, humbly confessing our ignorance as to all the minutia. It does not necessarily follow from this view, however, that the soul is limited to a fixed region in space. It may have the freedom of the universe. More wonders, and sublimer than mortal fancies have ever suspected, are waiting to be revealed when we die:
"For this life is but being's first faint ray, And heaven on heaven make up God's dazzling day."
We are here living unconsciously engirt by another universe than the senses can apprehend, thinly veiled, but real, and waiting for us with hospitable invitation. "What are those dream like and inscrutable thoughts which start up in moments of stillness, apparently as from the deeps, like the movement of the leaves during a silent night, in prognostic of the breeze that has yet scarce come, if not the rustlings of schemes and orders of existence near though unseen?" Perchance the range of the abode and destiny of the soul after death is all immensity. The interstellar spaces, which we usually fancy are barren deserts where nonentity reigns, may really be the immortal kingdom colonized by the spirits who since the beginning of the creation have sailed from the mortal shores of all planets. They may be the crowded aisles of the universal temple trod by bright throngs of worshipping angels. The soul's home, the heaven of God, may be suffused throughout the material universe, ignoring the existence of physical globes and galaxies. So light and electricity pervade some solid bodies, as if for them there were no solidity. So, doubtless, there are millions of realities around us utterly eluding our finest senses. "A fact," Emerson says, "is the last issue of spirit," and not its entire extent. "The visible creation is the terminus of the invisible world," and not the totality of the universe. There are gradations of matter and being, from the rock to the flower, from the vegetable to man. Is it most probable that the scale breaks abruptly there, or that other ranks of spiritual existence successively rise peopling the seeming abysses unto the very confines of God?
"Can every leaf a teeming world contain, Can every globule gird a countless race, Yet one death slumber in its dreamless reign Clasp all the illumed magnificence of space? Life crowd a grain, from air's vast realms effaced? The leaf a world, the firmament a waste?"
An honest historical criticism forces us, however reluctantly, to loose our hold from the various supposed localities of the soul's destination, which have pleased the fancies and won the assent of mankind in earlier times. But it cannot touch the simple and cardinal fact of an immortal life for man. It merely forces us to acknowledge that while the fact stands clear and authoritative to instinct, reason, and faith, yet the how, and the where, and all such problems, are wrapped in unfathomable mystery. We are to obey and hope, not dissect and dogmatize. However the fantastic dreams of the imagination and the subtle speculations of the intellect may shift from time to time, and be routed and vanish, the deep yearning of the heart remains the same, the divine polarity of the reason changes not, and men will never cease fondly to believe that although they cannot tell where heaven is, yet surely there is a heaven reserved for them somewhere within the sheltering embrace of God's infinite providence. We may not say of that kingdom, Lo, here! or Lo, there! but it is wherever God's approving presence extends: and is that not wherever the pure in heart are found? 40
Let every elysian clime the breezes blow over, every magic isle the waves murmur round, every subterranean retreat fancy has devised, every cerulean region the moon visits, every planet that hangs afar on the neck of night, be disenchanted of their imaginary charms, and brought, by the advance of discovery, within the relentless light of familiarity, for the common gaze of fleshly eyes and tread of vulgar feet, still the prophetic MIND would not be robbed of its belief in immortality; still the unquenchable instincts of the HEART would retain, uninjured, the great expectation of ANOTHER WORLD, although no traveller returns from its voiceless bourne to tell in what local direction it lies, no voyager comes back from its mystic port to describe its latitude and longitude on the chartless infinite of space.
Turn we now from the lateral distribution of notions as to a future life, to their lineal development. We have seen that the development of belief as to the locality of our future destination has been a chase of places, over the earth, under the earth, through the sky, as fast as the unknown was brought within the known, until it has stopped at the verge of the unknowable. There we stand, confessing our inability to fix the scene. The doctrine of the conditions and contents of the future life has followed the same course as that of its locality.
In the first stage of belief the future life consists of the gross conditions and materials of the known present reflected, under the impulse of the senses, into the unknown future. This style of faith prevailed for a vast period, and is not yet obsolete. When the King of Dahomey has done a great feat, he kills a man to carry the tidings to the ghost of his royal father. When he dies himself, a host are killed, that he may enter Deadland with a becoming cortege. His wives also are slain, or commit suicide, that they may rejoin him.
The second stage of belief is reached when, under the ethical impulse, only certain refined elements of the present, discriminated portions of the products of reason, imagination and sentiment, are reflected into the future, and accepted as the facts of the life there. Critical processes, applied to thought and faith, cause the rejection of much that was received. That alone which answers to our wants, and has coherence, continues to be held
40 Chalmers, Sermon, Heaven a Character and not a Locality.
as truth. An example is afforded by Augustine in his essay, De Libero Arbitrio. He argues that the wicked are kept in being on the out skirts of the material universe; partly wretched, partly happy; too bad for heaven, too good for annihilation; incapable of attaining the summit of their beatified destiny. Not the crude reflection of the present state, but a criticized and purged portion of the results of speculation on it, is thrown forward, and composes the doctrine of the future life. This is the condition of faith in which civilized mankind, for the most part, now are.
The third stage of development is that wherein the thinker perceives that it is illegitimate to reflect into the future any of the realities or relations of the present, and then to regard them as the truths of the experience which awaits him after death. His experience here is the resultant of his faculties as related to the universe. Destroy his organization, and what follows? One will say, "Nonentity." Another, more wise and modest, will say, "Something necessarily unknown as yet." We have no better right to project into the ideal space of futurity the ingredients of our thoughts than we have to project there the objects of our senses. Bunsen, whose thought and scholarship included pretty much all the knowledge of mankind, represents this stage of faith. He stands on the religious side of the movement of Science, believing in immortality without defining it. Comte stands on the positivist side, blankly denying all objective immortality. These two represent the results in which, advancing from its opposite sides, the logical development of the doctrine of a future life ends. With Comte, atheistic dogmatism crushing every eternal hope; with Bunsen, Christian faith pointing the child to an eternal home in the Father. For all but fetichistic minds the only choice lies between these two.
The organic evolution of the doctrine of a life to come is, therefore, a process of faith beginning with the crude transference of the elements of the present into the future, continuing with refined modifications of that transference, ending with an entire cessation of it as inapplicable and incompetent. Having examined all the historic, experimental, and scientific data within our reach, we pause on the edge of the PART which we know, and wait, with serene trust, though with bowed head and silent lip, before the UNKNOWABLE WHOLE.
CRITICAL HISTORY OF DISBELIEF IN A FUTURE LIFE.
IF the first men were conscious spirits who, at the command of God, dropped from the skies into organic forms of matter, or who were created here on an exalted plane of insight and communion far above any thing now experienced by us, then the destination of man to a life after death may originally have been a fact of direct knowledge, universally seen and grasped without any obscuring peradventure. From that state it gradually declined into dubious dimness as successive generations grew sinful, sensual, hardened, immersed and bound in affairs of passion and earth. It became remoter, assumed a questionable aspect, gave rise to discussions and doubts, and here and there to positive disbelief and open denial. Thus, beginning as a clear reality within the vision of all, it sank into a matter of uncertain debate among individuals.
But if the first men were called up into being from the earth, by the creative energy of God, as the distinct climax of the other species, then the early generations of our race, during the long ages of their wild and slowly ameliorating state, were totally ignorant of any conscious sequel to the fate seemingly closed in death. They were too animal and rude yet to conceive a spiritual existence outside of the flesh and the earth. Among the accumulating trophies of their progressive intellectual conquests hung up by mankind in the historic hall of experience, this marvellous achievement is one of the sublimest. What a day was that for all humanity forever after, when for the first time, on some climbing brain, dawned from the great Sun of the spirit world the idea of a personal immortality! It was announced. It dawned separately wherever there were prepared persons. It spread from soul to soul, and became the common faith of the world. Still, among every people there were pertinacious individuals, who swore not by the judge and went not with the multitude, persons of less credulous hearts and more skeptical faculties, who demurred at the great doctrine, challenged it in many particulars, gainsaid it on various grounds, disbelieved it from different motives, and fought it with numerous weapons.