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MAN'S PREROGATIVE TO IGNORE
God, as the Soul of the World, acts upon our souls immediately, and from within the mind inside us is in immediate relationship to the Divine Mind. "Truth," says Paracelsus
"Is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Soul is beyond Sense. Soul demands to know whence spring outward things-how, when, and why Sense is content to enjoy them without asking to know at all.2
This restless craving for knowledge, says Browning, is just that which differentiates the immortal soul of man from the mind of inferior creatures. They know all that is necessary for their perfection, for they are all, from insect up to elephant, perfect in their order
"Man's the prerogative-knowledge once gainedTo ignore,-find new knowledge to press for;" and so speed onward through ignorance. The imperfection of man here, and his very ignorance about which fools whine, are used by Browning as proofs that "Man partly is and wholly hopes to be"; partly knows, and will approximate to God in knowledge, as "to its asymptote speedeth the curve."
2. Parleyings with Gerard de Lairesse.
3 Parleyings with Fust and his Friends.
MAN'S REGAL IMPERFECTION
"What height, what depth," he asks, “has escaped God's commandment to Know ?" Not a vein of metal its bed of ore that obeys not the law to know its precise work, not a crystal which forgets the laws it is bound to obey, not a plant is in default how to bud and branch forth. No bird nor beast hesitates to assault or fly, as its safety demands. There is neither worm nor fly but follows the guidance of the light given to it. "All know, none is ignorant." The special portion, scant or ample, of the knowledge necessary for each is walled round, although all is blank one hair's-breadth beyond. Man ignores, thanks to God who made him know, and in the act of knowing discover a limitless vastness of knowledge beyond him to enter, traverse, have, and hold.1 Man's regal position consists, therefore, in his present imperfection.
"Let the mere star-fish in his vault
He, whole in body and soul, outstrips
But what's whole, can increase no more,
Man's divine origin, his noble personality, and his immortal destiny may be proved from that passionate desire for truth which always and
1 Parleyings with Fust and his Friends.
GOD, MAN'S SOLE COMPANION
everywhere distinguishes him. God's truth like a seal is impressed on our souls. the worst man living
This is why
"Knows, in his conscience, more
"It is one thing to know and another to practise;" so the good man knows in a better way. As no two faces are alike, no two leaves identical in form, so the impress of God's seal of truth is not identical in every soul. It is the same truth, but expressed differently to each. This is why every man's soul is the single soul in the world to him. "My own, the single soul," 2 pursues its "lone way "-lone, because no man can so intimately sound the depths and explore the recesses of his companion's soul as to obtain any real intimacy with it.
"Thou and God exist
Ask thy lone soul what laws are plain to thee,-
This awful fact is the most solemn of our existence; we have one companion only-God! Another proof of the dignity of our life. It
1 Christmas Eve.
2 Asolando: "Reverie."
3 Ferishtah's Fancies: "A Camel-Driver."
LOVE CONDUCTS US TO GOD
follows, then, that the soul is the most precious thing in the world in God's sight. Says Guido1
"Christ's maxim is-one soul outweighs the world."
This accounts for "the terrible patience of God." "Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure."2 What entered into us, all that really influences us, lasts ever, and is past recall. "What once lives never dies." 3 Attaining to a beginning here, it can have no end; it must ever gain and never lose aught.
Browning's "sun sets to rise again," his daylight does not finish in death
"I shall behold Thee, face to face,
O God, and in Thy light retrace
How in all I loved here, still wast Thou!"5
The soul having learned that love has ever been the sole good of life on earth, shall arise made perfect, because human love is an emanation of the Divine, and must return to its Source. "Love guides the Mortal to the Maker."
But the sceptic will reply: All this is poetry. What has science to do with such dreams and ideas? A French critic on Wordsworth once
1 The Ring and the Book: "Guido," 1. 359.
2 Rabbi Ben Ezra.
3 Parleyings with Gerard de Lairesse.
4 Pacchiarotto: "At the Mermaid."
5 Christmas Eve.
POETRY AND SCIENCE
said, that owing to the special tendency to science and to its all-devouring force, poetry would cease to be read in fifty years. Walt Whitman remarks on this that "the true use for the imaginative faculty of modern times is to give ultimate vivification to facts, to science, and to common lives, endowing them with the glows and glories and final illustriousness which belong to every real thing, and to real things only." 1
I have elsewhere shown that this is the teaching of Professor Tyndall.2 "The experimental philosopher," he says, in his Scientific Use of the Imagination," is constantly carried beyond the margin of his senses. Imagination with him does not sever itself from the world of fact; [but] his mind must realize the subsensible world and possess a pictorial power." The poet and the man of science, being therefore "two halves of a dissevered world," cannot do without each other, and we have as much warranty for listening to our Browning as we have to our Huxley. Scientists themselves admit this. The greatest of them are as fully alive to the mystery of matter as the poets. The mystery begins where the not-living becomes the living, and scientists do not hesitate to say that it will never be solved. It culminates in man, who is self-conscious, and can speculate on his own origin and destiny.
1 My Book and I.
2 Browning as a Scientific Poet.