Esalen CTR Scholarly Resources Myers: Fragments

Fragments of Inner Life

An autobiographical sketch by
FREDERIC W. H. MYERS


THE SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH
1 Adam and Eve Mews, London W.8

Note to the Digital Edition

This edition of Fragments of Inner Life is based on the 1961 reprint edition and has been professionally captured and edited. The only silent alterations to the text are font and space changes for legibility and consistency, modernization of spacing around punctuation, and creation of a table of contents to accommodate a digital format.

  •   Misprints in the original are noted with [sic] (one missing closing double quote has been inserted in square brackets).
  •   The page numbers of the original book are indicated at the beginning of each page by red numbers between vertical lines, like this: |38|. If a word is hyphenated at the end of a page, the page number appears at the end of the word.
  •   Ancient Greek Characters: The New Athena Unicode font (newathu.ttf) will enable the proper presentation of the ancient Greek text in the book. Without it, some of the Greek characters may appear as boxes. The font can be downloaded free of charge from the University of California; installation instructions are there as well.

Please report any errors found to rtberg@post.harvard.edu.

|2|

FOREWORD

It is clear from the first sentence of the Prefatory Note that Frederic Myers intended the following sketch to be published in its entirety some years after his death. Parts of it have already been published in Fragments of Prose and Poetry (Longmans, 1904) and in Collected Poems (Macmillan, 1921), but it has not previously been published in full. Sixty years have now elapsed since the author died, and those who desire to see that his wishes are carried out consider that the time has come to make available to the public the full text of this document. This edition is a reproduction of the text of an original copy, privately printed at the author’s expense in 1893. The expense of this first public edition has been met by a few private subscribers. All receipts from sales will go to the Society for Psychical Research.

March, 1961

Privately printed July 1893
First edition 1961

|3|

PREFATORY NOTE.


I desire that the following sketch should someday be published in its entirety; but it may probably be well to reserve at least part of it until some years after my death. To avert accidents, therefore, I now propose to get these pages privately printed, and to send a sealed copy to each of the following intimate friends: Professor Henry Sidgwick, Cambridge; Professor Oliver Lodge, Liverpool; Professor William James, Harvard; Dr. R. Hodgson, Boston; Sir R. H. Collins, K.C.B., Claremont; Mr. R. W. Raper, Oxford. I shall desire these friends to open the packet after my death, and I shall be grateful if any of them, in the order in which their names are mentioned, will act as my literary executors, using their discretion as to the publication both of this privately printed matter and of matter already given to the world; but not publishing in my Wife’s lifetime anything to whose publication she may object. I request each recipient to hand on at his own death the copy sent to him, if still unpublished, to some trustworthy person, who may succeed to his own authority in the matter.

Twenty-five numbered copies are to be printed, of which six are to be sent to friends as aforesaid, four are to be set apart for my Wife and children, and the rest are to remain for the present in my study. Inquiry should be made before publication for any copy which I may have revised or extended.

By entitling the pages which follow “Fragments of Inner Life” I wish to make it clear that they do not constitute a complete autobiography, but dwell only on facts and feelings which may be of interest in a few special ways. I omit much that has been of deep importance to myself; and especially I touch but briefly on my happiness with a Wife and children whose love and goodness to me have been all that heart could desire.

|4| |5|

FRAGMENTS OF INNER LIFE.


CHAPTER I

parentage and education.

I believe that we live after earthly death; and that some of those who read these posthumous confidences may be among my companions in an unseen world. It is for this reason that I now address them. I wish to attract their attention and sympathy; I wish to lead men and women of like interests but of higher nature than my own to regard me as a friend whose companionship they will seek when they too have made their journey to the unknown home. I am tempted, of course, to try to make myself appear worthy of love and respect. But I am kept in check by another belief. I hold that all things thought and felt, as well as all things done, are somehow photographed imperishably upon the Universe, and that my whole past will probably lie open to those with whom I have to do. Repugnant though this thought is to me, I am bound to face it. I realise that a too great discrepancy between my account of myself and the actual facts would, when detected, provoke disgust and contempt. This unusual check, I say, I strongly feel; but my readers must estimate for themselves how far even such a check can be relied upon to counteract man’s tendency to paint himself in too bright a hue.

In one minor point, at least, I can be sincere, at the cost of exciting the distaste of severer critics. I can tell my story in my own style; I can give my impressions as they veritably come to me, without translating them into the language of a scientific memoir. The reader need not suppose that I expect his admiration. But if he on his part be psychologically minded he will prefer that idiosyncrasy should not be concealed. If he is to be interested at all, it must be in the spectacle of a man of sensuous and emotional temperament urged and driven by his own personal passions into undertaking a scientific enterprise, which aims at the common weal of men. This fusion of a minor poet and an amateur savant may not sound promising; but new crises make new needs; and what has been accomplished |6| did in fact demand,—among many nobler qualities contributed by better men,—that importunate and overmastering impulse which none can more fiercely feel than I.

For it has been my lot to be concerned in a work more important and more successful than anything in my own capacity or character could have led me to expect. I have been one of the central group concerned in a great endeavour; the endeavour to pierce, by scientific methods, the world-old, never-penetrated veil. The movement which took overt shape in 1882, with the formation of the Society for Psychical Research, was aided indeed by help from other quarters, but in its essential character was the conception of a few minds, and was piloted through its early dangers by a small group of intimate friends. With this endeavour to learn the actual truth as to the destiny of man I have from the very first been identified and, so to say, incorporate. Edmund Gurney worked at the task with more conscientious energy; the Sidgwicks with more unselfish wisdom; but no one more unreservedly than myself has staked his all upon that distant and growing hope.

I must begin,—if only as a psychologist,—with a few words on my descent. My paternal grandfather, Thomas Myers LL.D.—author of two ponderous folios on Geography,—was the son of Robert Myers, of Hovingham, near York. The name is old-established in the West Riding of Yorkshire; and there is no reason to suppose that it indicates Jewish descent. My paternal grandmother, Anna Maria Hale, was of good Irish family;—her fifth ancestor, a certain Sir W. Gilbert, of Kilminchy, who died in 1654 and left a large family, enlivening her pedigree with very varied alliances. Her great-grandfather was the Rev. Dr. John Hale, “Rector, Chancellor, and Treasurer of Dromore.” My father, the Rev. Frederic Myers, was the second son of Thomas Myers, his elder brother Thomas being also in orders.

My maternal grandfather, John Marshall, of Headingley, Leeds, and of Hallsteads, Cumberland, M.P. for Yorkshire before the Reform Bill of 1832, and founder of the flax-manufacture at Leeds, was a man of high character and of much note in his day. He, as well as my maternal grandmother, a Pollard, was descended from Yorkshire families of old standing, but varied fortunes. Jeremiah Marshall purchased Low Hall, near Halifax, in 1684,—just about the time when William Pollard inherited an estate at Wyke, near Bradford; and the two families, (already interlinked through Leaches and Garths), met in 1795 in a happy marriage, from which were born five sons and six daughters. Three of the sons sat in Parliament; of the daughters one died unmarried; the others married the first Lord Monteagle, Dr. Whewell, (Master of Trinity College, Cambridge), Colonel Temple, the Rev. Henry Venn Elliott, and the Rev. Frederic Myers.

|7|

Whatever qualities inhere in Yorkshire squires and yeomen I certainly ought to possess. Yet neither in body nor in mind do I closely resemble any ancestor of whom account remains. My mother's strong love of poetry and of natural scenery,—her family were among Wordsworth’s most appreciative friends,—has descended to me; and the deep religious feeling of both my parents shows itself, perhaps, in my own less simple-hearted, less high-minded, but not less eager preoccupation with unseen things.

My father, (of whom, as well as of my grandfather, an account will be found in the Dictionary of National Biography,) was a clergyman who both in active philanthropy and in speculative freedom was in advance of his generation. His main work, Catholic Thoughts, was in his lifetime only privately printed, owing to his fear of disturbing the faith of others. It was published some thirty years after it was written,—and then was regarded as on the whole conservative, and was found elevating and strengthening by many minds. Among my father’s friends were Dr. Jowett, Arthur Stanley (afterwards Dean of Westminster), Frederick W. Robertson, of Brighton, Dr. Harvey Goodwin, (afterwards Bishop of Carlisle), and others of like stamp. He became incumbent of St. John’s, Keswick, Cumberland, in 1838, and there I was born on February 6th, 1843.

It was in the garden of that fair Parsonage that my conscious life began. Ver illud erat.It was that distant spring. (Virgil, Georgics 2.338) The memories of those years swim and sparkle in a haze of light and dew. The thought of Paradise is interwoven for me with that garden’s glory;—with the fresh brightness of a great clump and tangle of blush-roses, which hung above my head like a fairy forest, and made magical with their fragrance the sunny inlets of the lawn. And even with that earliest gaze is mingled the memory of that vast background of lake and mountain; where Skiddaw—οὑμὸς Κιθαιρώνmy Cithaeron (a mountain important to Greek myths, including the stories of Hercules and Oedipus)—hid his shoulders among the clouds, while through them his head towered to heaven; and Causey Pike and Catbells, with the vale of Newlands between them, guarded that winding avenue into things unknown,—as it were the limitary parapet and enchanted portal of the world. Close to the Parsonage is Castlelet, a little hill from which Derwentwater is seen outspread, with Borrowdale in the distance. I can recall the days when that prospect was still one of mysterious glory; when gleaming lake and wooded islands showed a broad radiance bossed with gloom, and purple Borrowdale wore a visionary majesty on which I dared scarcely look too long.

From this setting stand out my first marked grief, my first startling joy,—each of them predictive of much to follow. The first grief which I remember came from the sight of a dead mole, which had been crushed by a cart-wheel in the Borrowdale road. Deeply moved, I hurried back to my mother, and asked her whether the little mole had |8| gone to heaven. Gently and lovingly, but without doubt, she told me that the little mole had no soul, and would not live again. To this day I remember my rush of tears at the thought of that furry innocent creature, crushed by a danger which I fancied it too blind to see, and losing all joy for ever by that unmerited stroke. The pity of it! the pity of it! and the first horror of a death without resurrection rose in my bursting heart.

My mother attests the accuracy of this recollection. In the next instance she recalls the facts, although my feelings were not spoken.

On my sixth birthday my father began to teach me Latin; and a few months later he gave me the First Aeneid of Virgil with an interlinear translation. The scene is stamped upon my mind; the ante-room at the Parsonage with its floor of bright matting, and its glass door into the garden, through which the flooding sunlight came, while I pored over the new revelation with awe-struck joy;—

Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine læso;—O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate; what goddess was provok'd (Virgil, Aeneid 1.8; tr. John Dryden)

I can recall the reverent emotion with which I hung on the rhythm of that majestic line. The invocation of the Muse came to me as absolutely real and new; and the quo numine læso suggested mysteries of divinity on which I dimly feared to dwell. Not Aeneas himself felt his own piety with such emotion as I felt that insignem pietate virum;remarkable, dutiful man—but the task of carrying gods into Latium, and especially the keeping of Juno’s carriage at Carthage, were incomprehensible by my childish Christianity.

I had a second shock of pain at seven or eight years old. My mother, who shrank from dwelling on the hideous doctrine of hell, suggested to me that perhaps men who led bad lives on earth were annihilated at death. The idea that such a fate should be possible for any man seemed to me appalling. I remember where I stood at the moment, and how my brain reeled under the shock. Strangely enough, much as I loved my father, and deeply as I was moved by his deathbed words, his death gave me no such anguish as this merely speculative suggestion.

My father died at the age of forty, in 1851, and left me and my two younger brothers to a mother who made our welfare the absorbing interest of her life. Her character was such as in each age in turn is attributed to “the old school”;—a character of strong but controlled affections, of clear intelligence, unflinching uprightness, profound religious conviction. Our debt to her is as great as that of sons to a mother can be. She wished to keep her sons with her, and in 1856 went to live at Cheltenham, that we might attend Cheltenham College, at that time almost the only public school at which day-boys were not despised. At sixteen I was sent on, first to a classical, then |9| to a mathematical tutor, and at seventeen (far too early), I went up to Trinity College, Cambridge.

“Jugend ist Trunkenheit ohne Wein,”Youth is drunkenness without wine. (From "Trunken müssen wir alle sein," a drinking song by Goethe.)—and few have known either the delight or the folly of that intoxication more fully than I. On the sensual side of my nature I shall not dwell. Of the presumption of those early years I take as an example one braggart act. Having won a Latin prize poem, I was fond of alluding to myself as a kind of Virgil among my young companions. Writing again a similar poem, I saw in my bookselves [sic] a collection of Oxford prize poems, which I had picked up somewhere in order to gloat over their inferiority to my own. I laid this out on my table, and forced into my own new poem such Oxford lines as I deemed worthy of preservation. When my friends came in, I would point to this book and say, “Aurum colligo e stercore Ennii”— “I am collecting gold from Ennius’ dung heap,”—a remark which Virgil used to make with more valid pretensions. My acquaintances laughed; but when my poem was adjudged the best, a disappointed competitor ferreted out these insertions; and the Master of Trinity, although he roundly asserted that I had done nothing illegitimate, advised me to resign the prize. Many another act of swaggering folly mars for me the recollection of years which might have brought pure advance in congenial toil.

Elected Fellow and Classical Lecturer of Trinity in 1865, I resigned my lectureship in 1869, for the purpose of helping to start the new movement for the Higher Education of Women. In 1871 I accepted the temporary post of Inspector of Returns under the Education Department, and in 1872 I became a permanent Inspector of Schools. After inspecting in several London and country districts, I was appointed to the Cambridge district in 1875, and at the time of writing (1893) I still hold that post. Thus much for the external events—commonplace enough—of a life which owes such interest as it possesses to action and passion of a more inward kind.

|10|

CHAPTER II.

hellenism.

That early burst of admiration for Virgil of which I have already spoken was followed by a growing passion for one after another of the Greek and Latin poets. From ten to sixteen I lived much in the inward recital of Homer, Æschylus, Lucretius, Horace, and Ovid. The reading of Plato’s Gorgias at fourteen was a great event; but the study of the Phædo at sixteen effected upon me a kind of conversion. At that time, too, I returned to my worship of Virgil, whom Homer had for some years thrust into the background. I gradually wrote out Bucolics, Georgics, Aeneid from memory; and felt, as I have felt ever since, that of all minds known to me it is Virgil’s of which I am the most intimate and adoring disciple.

Plato, Virgil, Marcus Antoninus;—these, to speak summarily, are the three great religious teachers of Græco-Roman antiquity; and the teaching of Plato and that of Virgil are in the main identical. Other pathways have now led me to something like the creed which they foresaw; but it is still, and more than ever, the support of my life.

The discovery at seventeen, in an old school-book, of the poems of Sappho, whom till then I had only known by name, brought an access of intoxicating joy. Later on, the solitary decipherment of Pindar made another epoch of the same kind. From the age of sixteen to twenty-three there was no influence in my life comparable to Hellenism, in the fullest sense of that word. That tone of thought came to me naturally ; the classics were but intensifications of my own being. They drew from me and fostered evil as well as good; they might aid imaginative impulse and detachment from sordid interests, but they had no check for lust or pride.

When pushed thus far, the “Passion of the Past” must needs wear away sooner or later into an unsatisfied pain. In 1864 I travelled in Greece. I was mainly alone; nor were the traveller’s facts and feelings mapped out for him then as now. Ignorant as I was, according to modern standards, yet my emotions were all my own; and few men can have drunk that departed loveliness into a more passionate heart. It was the life of about the sixth century before Christ, on the isles of the Aegean, which drew me most;—that intensest and most unconscious bloom of the Hellenic spirit. Here alone in the Greek story do women play their due part with men. What might the Greeks |11| have made of the female sex had they continued to care for it! Then it was that Mimnermus sang;—

Τίς δε βιός, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄνευ χρυσέης Ἀϕροδίτης

Τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι.

What life is there, what pleasure without golden Aphrodite? May I die when these things no longer delight me. (https://www.loebclassics.com/view/mimnermus-fragments/1999/pb_LCL258.81.xml; http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0007:part=4:chapter=51&highlight=mimnermus)

Then it was that Praxilla’s cry rang out across the narrow seas, that call to fellowship, reckless and lovely with stirring joy. “Drink with me!” she cried, “be young along with me! Love with me! wear with me the garland crown! Mad be thou with my madness; be wise when I am wise!”

I looked through my open porthole close upon the Lesbian shore. There rose the heathery promontories, and waves lapped upon the rocks in dawning day;—lapped upon those rocks where Sappho's feet had trodden; broke beneath the heather on which had sat that girl unknown, nearness to whom made a man the equal of the gods. I sat in Mytilene, to me a sacred city, between the hill-crest and the sunny bay. I climbed to the summit of Syra,—

More like a man

Flying from something that he feared, than one

Who sought the thing he loved.

For gazing thence on Delos and on the Cyclades, and on those straits and channels of purple sea, I felt that nowise could I come closer still; never more intimately than thus could embrace that vanished beauty. Alas for an ideal which roots itself in the past! That longing cannot be allayed; it feels “the insatiability which attends all unnatural passions as their inevitable punishment.” For it is an unnatural passion; the world rolls onward, not backward, and men must set their hearts on what lies before.

I left Greece with such a sadness as I have known in some twilight sculpture-gallery, when I have pressed my face for the last time to the unanswering marble, and turned to go with eyes tear-brimming, and a bitter-sweet passion of regret.

|12|

CHAPTER III.

christianity.

The vanishing of the Hellenic ideal left me cold and lonely. I travelled in America in 1865, and during that time alone in my life felt a numb indifference to both past and future. One scene comes back to me with vivid insight into a state of mind which for the most part I have observed only from the outside.

Visiting Niagara alone, I resolved to swim across the river immediately below the falls) in the track where boats cross with ease, before the turmoil of the river collects itself for the rapids below. This was before any of the professional exploits in swimming Niagara, and my proposed swim, which would of course be thought nothing of now, had seldom been attempted, so far as I could learn, except by deserters from the Canadian shore, some of whom were said to have been swept down and drowned in the whirlpool. There was thus some imaginative sense of danger; though it was plain that where a rowing-boat with one oarsman could ply, an ordinary swimmer ought to be able to make his way also. I started from the Canadian side (August 28th, 1865) late at night, to avoid spectators, and alone, except for a man following with my clothes in a boat. As I stood on a rock, choosing my place to plunge into the boiling whiteness, I asked myself with urgency, “What if I die?” For once the answer was blank of emotion. I have often looked back on this apathy in the brief interspace of religions as my only subjective key to the indifference which I observe in so many of mankind. I plunged in; the cliffs, the cataract, the moon herself, were hidden in a tower of whirling spray; in the foamy rush I struck at air; waves from all sides beat me to and fro; I seemed immersed in thundering chaos, alone amid the roar of doom.

I emerged on the American side, and looked back on the tossing gulf. May death, I dimly thought, be such a transit, terrifying but easy, and leading to nothing new? Cœlum non animum mutantThey change their surroundings, not their soul (Horace, Epistles 11). may be true of that change as well.

It was soon after my return to England that I underwent the new conversion which in my then state was sure to overtake me. I had been piously brought up, and although I had long neglected, had never actually cast off the Christian faith. But I had never as yet realised that faith in its emotional fulness; I had been “converted” |13| by the Phædo, and not by the Gospel. Christian conversion now came to me in a potent form,—through the agency of an ardent and beautiful woman, much older than myself. The name of Josephine Butler, née Grey, will not be forgotten in the annals of English philanthropy. She introduced me to Christianity, so to say, by an inner door; not to its encumbering forms and dogmas, but to its heart of fire.

My poems of S. Paul and S. John the Baptist, intensely personal in their emotion, may serve as sufficient record of those years of eager faith. That faith looks to me now like a mistaken short-cut in the course of a toilsome way. But it brought with it much of elevating emotion,—much which survived the disappearance of the definite creed which gave it birth. I will recall one scene as a specimen of bygone ardours into which I still can live again.

I used constantly to go alone to the week-day afternoon services at King’s College Chapel,—services then attended by scarcely anyone, and dimly lit by a few candles for the use of the choir. There in the gloom and vastness the soaring trebles sang. “When God heard this He was wroth,”—the boys’ clear passionless cry mounted through the dusky air;—

“When God heard this He was wroth: and took sore displeasure at Israel:

“So that He forsook the tabernacle in Silo: even the tent that He had pitched among men.”

Swift came the antiphonal clauses, winged with the worship of a hundred generations; with nothing left in them of individual or of purposive,—a hieratic cry; but for that very reason carrying the continuity of man’s long complaint, the age-long sense of nearness and removal, of dealings with a God afar. Like odours which touch early memories the phrases sank and rose, till heaven darkened behind the towering windows and night descended on the song. And last of all the organ quivered with thunderous sound; the echo of appeals immeasurably vaster than human voice or wail; as it were the murmurings of a World-soul, up-pent in caverns of the earth.

There is no need to retrace the steps of gradual disillusion. This came to me, as to many others, from increased knowledge of history and of science, from a wider outlook on the world. Sad it was, and slow; a recognition of insufficiency of evidence, fraught with growing pain. Insensiby [sic] the celestial vision faded, and left me to

pale despair and cold tranquillity,

Nature’s vast frame, the web of human things,

Birth and the grave, that are not as they were.

|14|

CHAPTER IV.

agnosticism.

The process of disillusionment, I say, was slow; and in its course I passed through various moods of philosophical or emotional hope, which are reflected in The Implicit Promise of Immortality, Ammergau, and other poems written 1869-73. These hopes faded likewise from lack of evidence, and left me to an agnosticism or virtual materialism which sometimes was a dull pain borne with joyless doggedness, sometimes flashed into a horror of reality that made the world spin before one’s eyes,—a shock of nightmare-panic amid the glaring dreariness of day. It was the hope of the whole world which was vanishing, not mine alone.

And in those days when my own hope ran lowest my zeal for other men ran lowest too. What could be done for them of more than momentary avail? In spite of earthly advantages,—even by reason (as I deemed) of superior insight,—I suffered more than they; was it not best for “the dim common populations” not to feel and not to know? In that foreseen futility of the life of individual and of race, sympathy itself seemed a childish trifling with the universal despair.

O sighs that strongly from my bosom flew!

O heart’s oblation sacrificed anew!

O groans and tears of all men and of mine!

O many midnights prostrate and supine,

Unbearable and profitless, and spent

For the empty furtherance of a vain intent,—

From God or Nothingness, from Heaven or Hell,

To wrest the secret that they will not tell,

To grasp a life beyond life’s shrinking span

And learn at last the chief concerns of man!

An entry in my diary for November 13th, 1871, “H.S. on ghosts,[”] indicates the first turning of my spirit towards the possible attainment with Henry Sidgwick’s aid, of a scientific assurance of unseen things. This last clue was destined to be followed far; nor could I have found a more sympathetic yet cautious guide. Tranquilly, seriously, he seemed to have passed through all intellectual experiences,—to know in every problem where the possible answers lay. He was a man who neither overrated the importance of any task which he found to do, nor shirked the doing of it for opposition of |15| other men, but discerning clearly what measure of usefulness each effort might attain, he was persistent without eagerness and efficacious without enthusiasm. “I observed, too,” says Marcus Antoninus of the philosopher Maximus, “that no man could ever fancy that he was despised by Maximus—or ever venture to think himself a better man.” The first scene in the long struggle consisted in the slow growth of resolve within me to spend all life’s energy in beating against the walls of the prison-house, in case a panel anywhere might yield. To these wild hopes Sidgwick replied with modified encouragement. It was possible, he thought, that where the German had been satisfied with embracing the cloud—where the Frenchman’s logic had lightly accepted negation—the dogged Anglo-Saxon might yet wrest some secret from silent Fate. “I will not let thee go until thou bless me!”— so cried I in spirit to that unanswering Shade;—“until at least thou show me some glimmer of thy countenance, and eyes that live behind thy veil.” Yet I had at first great repugnance to studying the phenomena alleged by Spiritualists;—to re-entering by the scullery window the heavenly mansion out of which I had been kicked through the front door. It was not until the autumn of 1873 that I came across my first personal experience of forces unknown to science. I shall not, in this story of inward feelings, recount the special phenomena which impressed me. What I have to say on evidential points has been said elsewhere. Enough that I had discovered a hidden portal which might be pushed backwards upon an open way. Limen erat, cæcæque fores;— there was at last an adit into the Unseen. I know not whether at any other moment, or to any other man, this new hope could have come more overwhelmingly. It must be remembered that this was the very flood-tide of materialism, agnosticism,—the mechanical theory of the Universe, the reduction of all spiritual facts to physiological phenomena. It was a time when not the intellect only but the moral ideals of men seemed to have passed into the camp of negation. We were all in the first flush of triumphant Darwinism, when terrene evolution had explained so much that men hardly cared to look beyond. Among my own group, W. K. Clifford was putting forth his series of triumphant proclamations of the nothingness of God, the divinity of man. Swinburne, too, in The Pilgrims had given passionate voice to the same conception. Frederic Harrison, whom I knew well, was still glorifying Humanity as the only Divine. And behind these exultant pioneers was a rearguard of steadier and sadder thought. George Eliot—on whose deep moral impressiveness I have dwelt elsewhere—strenuously rejected all prospect save in the mere terrene performance of duty to our human kin. And others,—all, it seemed, to whom I could look for wisdom,—maintained a significant silence, or fed with vague philosophisings an uncertain hope.

|16|

At George Eliot’s Sunday receptions I now would sit in strange confusion of mind. I heard the eager talk, the race of intellectual novelties which so recently had seemed to myself also to range over all the field which fate allowed to men. But now I felt a knowledge almost greater than I could bear; a knowledge beside which the last experiment of the biologist, the last speculation of the philosopher, seemed trifling as the sport of a child; and yet a knowledge which none would receive from me, an answer to which none cared to listen, although the riddle was at the heart of all.

I found little of real companionship in the small sect of Spiritualists, at that time almost the only seekers or transmitters of knowledge from a field far wider than they knew. With few exceptions, to be mentioned presently, these disappointed me rather than sustained. And those dearest to me—Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney, and one dearer than all— met with a wisely cautious sympathy my eager joy.

And thus I moved through a strange panorama of scenes of solitary exaltation, of bewildering introduction into incommunicable things. Alone I felt the precursory throb and boding ground-swell of the great convulsion that must be. Strangely those scenes return to me, as if a part of some experience other than that of waking men. It might be a drive at dawn of day along the misty Vyrniew; the trees half seen in clinging vapour, the leaf-scented autumn chill, the sense of traversing ghostly mysteries and entering on a land unknown. Or Ludlow, clustered about the deep-cliffed river beneath a crimson sinking sun,— something of glowing and slumberous in earth and air, as of a city of the spirit-world. And always the consciousness that the hour at last had come; that the world-old secret was opening out to mortal view; that the first carrier pigeon had swooped into this fastness of beleaguered men.

Yet it was my fortune to hear and speak of these things in what was then the group best suited to my needs. Mr. and Mrs. Cowper-Temple (he was afterwards made Lord Mount-Temple) lived as Lord Palmerston’s heirs at Broadlands, one of the stateliest of English homes. They had become convinced of the reality of spiritual intercourse, and through the Russell Gurneys, (Mr. Russell Gurney, Recorder of London, was uncle to my friend), they came to know and to wish to help Edmund Gurney and myself. They introduced us to Stainton Moses, and met all our questionings with responsive search for truth. What hours of spiritual nurture have I lived through in the long drawingrooms, from which beyond estrade and portico the broad lawns sloped in sunlight down to Test’s crystal flow! Changeless those high souls seemed; living in the stream of an immortal existence they moved without shock or wandering upon a far-seen sacred goal. Changeless, without, the immemorial forest-trees and deep-shadowed isles of lawn, |17| through which if some fair girl-guest chanced to wander, her beauty took something of sabbatical from the slow-moving stately day.

Et fors omne datum traherent per talia tempus, I have written in my diary against a visit to Broadlands:—“Perchance they might have lingered in such communing through all their fateful hour.” But this repose came to me as a gleam of lucid evening through some stormy noon of day. It was not mine to tarry there; but to press forth to labours yet unfinished, and temptations not yet battled through.

Life, indeed, was still for my own soul confused and tossing, but the world’s wider confusion seemed narrowing to a more definite issue. If there were indeed a progressive immortality, then were the known evil of the Universe so slight in proportion to infinity that one might trust in a possible explanation which should satisfy every soul. But if there were nothing after death, then no argument could reconcile the moral sense to the fact that so many innocent creatures were born to unmerited and unrequited pain.

And amid these ponderings another inward illumination rose upon my way. In 1873 there dawned upon me a new knowledge of what divineness can lodge in a woman’s soul. My poem on Teneriffe reflects the first intoxication of that opening glory; the buoyancy which lifts beyond the clutch of fate; the sheer exultation that in the Universe such a creature could breathe and live. Then as love grew,— “love that never found his earthly close,”—that early triumph became a more imperious yearning. The poem entitled Honour breathes the sadness of a passion accepting moral barriers, and with no celestial hope. Then after that the poems in which alone this story can be told reveal that loved one as identified more and more with whatever in me I learnt to be imperishable, with all that was striving upwards into life divine. Phyllidis adventu nostræ nemus omne virebit;At Phyllis' coming, every grove turns green (Virgil, Eclogues 7.59; tr. Paul Alpers, The Singer of the Eclogues, UC Press 1979)—I shall here give the name of Phyllis to that fountain of vivifying joy. There are reasons—reasons which discredit neither her nor me—why I cannot give this tale in full. Nor are its actual names and facts of any permanent importance. Its inner meaning I shall give; and should any reader attempt to discover what is here held in reserve, let him know that it is not for him that I have written; and that I scorn him as a prying intruder upon joys and sorrows such as he can never share.

|18|

CHAPTER V.

love and death.

I.

O painter, match an English bloom,

And give the head an English air,

Then with great grey-blue stars illume

That face pathetically fair.

As though some sweet child, dowered at will

With all the wisdom years could send,

Looked up and, like a baby still,

Became thine equal and thy friend;

And kept the childly curves, and grew

To woman’s shape in wondrous wise,

And with soft passion filled anew

The sea-like sapphire of her eyes.

Look on her, painter; is there aught

Of well-beloved that is not here?

Could chance or art be guessed or taught

To make the lovely child more dear?

And yet herself he sees not;—no,

To me alone the clue she gave;

My bird, so wounded, soaring so,

At once so tender and so brave.

He knows not through how stormy skies

My dove maintains her waveless way;—

To woe and wrong my child replies

With woman-glances, gently gay.

Ay, first the unconquerable heart

Electing through those eyes to shine,

Found in my soul the soul thou art

And, more than beauty, made me thine.

|19|

All human passions merged in one;—

The whole soul in one act set free ;—

Mother for daughter, sire for son,

Feel faintlier what I feel for thee.

Here, take me; this is all; for us

Earth has no love unknown to know;

God, if a God have wrought it thus,

Surely shall always keep it so.

II.

honour.

A man and woman together, a man and woman apart,

In the stress of the soul’s worst weather, the anchorless ebb of the heart,

They can say to each other no longer, as lovers were wont to say,

“Death is strong, but Love is stronger; there is night and then there is day”;

Their souls can whisper no more, “There is better than sleep in the sod,

We await the ineffable shore, and between us two there is God”:—

Nay now without hope or dream must true friend sever from friend,

With the long years worse than they seem, and nothingness black at the end.

And the darkness of death is upon her, the light of his eyes is dim;

But Honour has spoken, Honour, enough for her and for him.

Oh what shall he do with the vision, when deep in the night it comes,

With soul and body’s division, with tremor of dreamland drums,

When his heart is broken and tender, and his whole soul rises and cries

For the soft waist swaying and slender, the childlike passionate eyes?

Or where shall she turn to deliver her life from the longing unrest,

When sweet sleep flies with a shiver, and her heart is alone in her breast?—

It is hard, it is cruel upon her, her soft eyes glow and are dim;

But Honour has spoken, Honour, enough for her and for him.

I had guessed not, did I not know, that the spirit of man was so strong

To prefer irredeemable woe to the slightest shadow of wrong;

I had guessed not, had I not known, that twain in their last emprize,

Full-souled, and awake, and alone, with the whole world’s love in their eyes,

With no faith in God to appal them, no fear of man in their breast,

With nothing but Honour to call them, could yet find Honour the best,—

Could stay the stream of the river and turn the tides of the sea,

Give back that gift to the giver, thine heart to the bosom of thee.

|20|

III.

Why should I strive to express it

What should I care?

Ye will not know nor confess it

How she was fair.

Fades the song ere I begin it,

Falters and dies:—

Ah, had you seen her a minute,—

Looked in her eyes!

When she and I shall be lying

Dust at your feet,

Hours such as these shall be flying,

Life be as sweet,

Women as lovely hereafter,

Tender and wise,

Born with her bloom and her laughter,—

Not with her eyes.

IV.

pre-existence.

Once and beyond recollection,

Once ere the skies were unfurled,

Souls an immortal affection

Found at the birth of the world.

Earth was not yet, nor the golden

Vault of the dawn and the dew;—

We in a home unbeholden

Loved, and were true.

V.

iamqve vale.

Dim in the moon wide-weltering Humber flowed;

Shone the rare lights on Humber’s reaches low;

And thou wert waking where one lone light glowed

Whose love made all my bliss, whose woe my woe.

Borne as on Fate’s own stream, from thine abode

I with that tide must journey sad and slow;

In that tall ship on Humber’s heaving road

Dream for the night and with the morning go. |21|

Yet thro’ this lifelong dimness desolate,

O love, thy star within me fades not so;

On that lone light I gaze, and wondering wait

Since life we lost, if death be ours or no;

Yea, toward thee moving on the flood of Fate,

Dream for the night, but with the morn will go.

VI.

“faery lands forlorn.”

From Aalesund at midnight northward seen

Clear purple promontories fade in grey;

On Aalesund lies long the unearthly sheen

Of evening mixt with morning, day with day.

Ah, friend, beneath that heaven-high vault serene

What isles unnamed in gulfs unvoyaged lay!

How desolately calm those capes between

The slow wave swept the unending winding way!

Thence gazing awestruck in that pause of Fate

My years, far from her vision-like I viewed;

Unearthly calms, and hopes that wane and wait,

Life with one cold unchanging gleam imbued;—

Far firths of Sorrow spread disconsolate,

And Joy’s low islets lit in solitude.

VII.

feror ingenti circumdata nocte.

No sound or sight, no voice or vision came

When that fulfilled itself which was to be,—

The crash that whelmed mine inner world in flame

And rolled its rivers backward from the sea.

Nay, many a fjeld and fjord of ancient name

Lay that long night without one sign for me;

Gudvangen, Vossevangen, slept the same,

And dream was on the woods of Oiloë.

Yet surely once thou camest! and the whole

Dark deep of heaven sighed thy tale to tell;

Lost like Eurydice’s thy spirit stole

Wildered between the forest and the fell;—

Only mine eyes were holden, and my soul

Too roughly tuned to feel thy last farewell.

|22|

VIII.

Oh, when thro’ all the crowd she came,

My child, my darling, glad and fair,

How seemed she like a flying flame

That parts at eve the dusk of air!

How leapt my heart, regarding there

Her ways in coming, softly fleet,

Her starry aspect, shining hair,

The light grace of her eager feet!

But when from those blue deeps divine

The tender glory quivering shone,

And her eyes’ ardour met in mine

The love she loved to look upon;—

Then rainy mist or crowded floor

Became as heaven for her and me,

The London whirlwind, London roar,

As sighing of an enchanted sea.

Then came the news that, on me hurled,

At once my youth within me slew,

Made dim with woe the reeling world,

And hid the heaven that shone therethrough.

Far off a soulless music sang;

Red-gold the glittering Baltic lay;

What message on my spirit rang

From that ensanguined end of day!

All night I journeyed, on and on,

Through Swedish forest silver-clear;

All night a ghostly lumour shone

From many a Swedish moss and mere;

And strangely to myself I seemed

A shade by shadowy Hermes led,

With eyes that waked not, nay, nor dreamed,

Through void dominions of the dead.

And still I roam, with shades a shade,

Their mourning pathways to and fro;

I wait till this confusion fade,

These dreary phantoms melt and go;

Till out of gloom a star shall glow,

A stillness gather in the stir,

And longing eyes her eyes shall know,

And wounded heart be whole with her.

|23|

IX.

O gentle rushing of the stainless stream,

Haunt of that maiden’s dream!

O beech and sycamore, whose branches made

Her dear ancestral shade!

I call you praying; for she felt your power

In many an inward hour;

To many a wild despairing mood ye gave

Some help to heal or save,

And sang to heavenlier trances, long and long,

Your world-old undersong.

Now therefore, if ye may, one moment show

One look of long ago;

Create from waving sprays and tender dew

Her soft fair form anew;

From deepening azure of these August skies

Relume her ardent eyes!

Or if there may not from your sunlit aisle

Be born one flying smile,

In all your multitudinous music heard

One whisper of one word,—

Then wrap me, forest, with thy blowing breath

In sleep, in peace, in death;

Bear me, swift stream, with immemorial stir,

To love, to God, to her.

X.

O rock and torrent, lake and hill,

Halls of a home austerely still,

Remote and solemn view!

O valley, where the wanderer sees

Beyond that towering arch of trees

Helvellyn and the blue!

Great Nature! on our love was shed

From thine abiding goodlihead

Majestic fostering;

We wondered, half-afraid to own

In hardly-conscious hearts upgrown

So infinite a thing.

|24|

Within, without, whatever hath been,

In cosmic deeps the immortal scene

Is mirrored, and shall last:—

Live the long looks, the woodland ways,

That twilight of enchanted days,—

The imperishable Past.

XI.

vevey.

And all is over; and again I stand,

O Love, alone on our remembered strand!

And hills and waters all the dreamy day

Melt each in each thro’ silvery haze and grey,

And Jaman takes the sunset, Jura knows

Beyond the liquid plains the morning rose.

Lake of the lone, the exiled, the oppressed,

What sighs have wandered o’er thy sea-blue breast!

What gaze has watched the suns that could not save

Flame from thy hills and fade upon thy wave!

Great men and fallen upon thy shores have shed

Their few slow tears for fame and fortune fled;

Sad men and wise have been content to see

In thy cold calm their last felicity.

And now thy sunlit vault, these walls of thine,

Seem an unroofed and angel-haunted shrine,

Fair as my love, bright with her vanished bloom,

Stilled with her woe and sacred as her tomb.

For here she stood, and here she spoke, and there

Raised her soft look thro’ the evening’s crimsoned air

And all she looked was lovely; all she said

Simple, and sweet, and full of tears unshed;

And my soul sprang to meet her, and I knew

Dimly the hope we twain were called unto.

XII.

And thou too knew’st her, friend! thy lot hath been

To watch her climb thro’ walnut-shadows green,

List in the woodways her light step, and see

On the airy Alp those eyes of Arcady. |25|

I need not fear, then, ’twas my heart alone

Forged an enchanting image of its own;—

That starlight on the upland lawns had shed

Illusive rays about her starry head;—

That from those shadowed lakes in soft sunrise

I had drawn the depth, the blueness of her eyes;—

And dream was all her look, and whispering stir

Of winds in pines was all the voice of her.

Ah, when thou knew’st her, was her face still gay

With that child-wonder of her early day?

So Lippi’s maiden angels softly drawn

On vistas daisy-gemmed of dewy lawn,

Stand with fair feet and rosy and rounded bloom

By martyr’s prison-house or Virgin’s tomb;

Or, clasped in flying circlet, float and mix

Their lily-stems with thorn and crucifix

Yet on those sorrowing scenes their looks are bent

Half unconcerned, and with a still content;

Since souls are these that have not yet been born

To pain and passion of our earth forlorn,

Not yet have strayed from heaven, nor yet they know

The upbuilding strength of life and love and woe.

Thus heedless they their childly arts employ

By their own being taught that the end is joy.

Ah, friend! a time there came, there dawned a day,

When that celestial face no more was gay:

But risen sometimes thro’ glowing stillness there

Was woman’s passion and a heart’s despair;

Sometimes such mournful dearness as would make

The slow tears form and fall for her sweet sake;

Sometimes such joy mid wildering anguish set

As no man now might paint but Tintoret;—

So Helena sees whirled by might divine

Far up thro’ moonlit cloud the shadowy Sign,

Strains the full gaze, nor with the dark can cope,

Yet in her lit eyes lives a desperate hope.

Then, when I last looked on her, her face was still

As one on earth, but past all earthly ill;

One whose last tear was wept, sighed her last sigh,

And dead already all that in her could die.

|26|

XIII.

Nay, would’st thou know her? let thine hid heart declare

Thine own most loved, most fair;

Call the dear dream, and from thy best divine

Dimly that best of mine;

List the still voice when votive Memory sings

Untold and holy things.

Remember how she looked that very day

Which stole thy soul away;

Think in her soft eyes what a glory grew

When love’s first word was new.

Ah, friend, and was she lovely? seemed she then

The light and life of men?

Seemed she a creature from high heaven come down

For thine eternal crown?

Nay, canst thou feel it surely and know it well,

Without her heaven were hell,

And her one heart, whate’er God’s heaven may be,

Were heaven enough for thee?

Friend, if such life hath beat thy breast within,

We have loved, we are akin.

Soul of my soul, who in thy brightness yet

Canst change not, nor forget,

Remembering all the woe that erst befell,

Say, were not all things well?

Others thank God for sweet days past, but we

For sweeter yet to be;

They for joys known, but we for joys forgone

More sure to think upon.

If but one hour Love showed thro’ perilous storm

His heaven-ascending form;—

If to our hearts his hallowing whisper came

With earthquake mixt and flame;

If o’er our brief bliss hung with boding breath

Madness, Despair, and Death;

And yet these could not mar it, had not power

To spoil one sacred hour,

Wrought but more pure the unearthly Hope that so

Bloomed in a waste of woe;

Then bless we God who gave thro’ purging pain

The undeserved great gain;

Who, dealing fates, to others thus and thus

Dealt, and the best to us.

|27|

CHAPTER VI.

mourning.

The years which followed upon this tragedy may best be described in a phrase of Wordsworth’s, as “a sinking inward into myself from thought to thought, a steady remonstrance, and a high resolve.” Struggle and sorrow are good for man, and I could wish that my own mourning had been further prolonged, my own solitude deeper, my nature more open and obedient to that solemnising shock of Fate.

This was a time of pause in psychical inquiry. Our experiments had of late proved abortive, and although I did not lose my hopes I could for the time find nothing better than to lead up to future work by essays indicating the need and possibility of such inquiry. Two small volumes of Essays, Classical and Modern, were the product of those years.

Meantime how solitary, how absorbing was that inward aspiration toward the dead!

The story of my sorrow was such,—the affairs of others were so mingled with it,—that there were few to whom I could speak it out. But I felt that I must tell Lady Mount-Temple all. Solemn to me was all that day; the heavy wealth of the autumn woodlands; the wide still lawns and terraced garden where a towering fountain leapt and sang; the greeting of that mansion’s lady,—her aspect nothing less than imperial, but her heart brimming with the tenderness of womanhood, the humility of a child. I told her all my tale; she understood me, strengthened, comforted; and for awhile I felt that between souls that cling aright there can be no enforced separation; that in the body and out of the body their lot and home are one; nor anything save their own misdoing can sever their immortal loves.

And yet she claimed no knowledge, asserted nothing, did little more than listen and comprehend. What was it that in her presence lifted my perplexity,—as though already in the spirit-world I were recalling the doubts of earth? Surely if “to be consummately equal to great occasions is the success most to be wished for in life,” this means not only to act rightly in strenuous need, but to be such an one that others in their bewilderment may look on thee and be strong; to be “as light and life communicable” to travellers along the shadowy way.

Then as I left Broadlands in the twilight, and saw that simple and saintly couple returning to their habitual life of gentle beneficence, |28| without consciousness of the boon bestowed, I murmured, like Goethe’s minstrel to whom the priceless draught in its golden goblet was so lightly given—

O dreimal hochbeglücktes Haus,

Wo das ist kleine Gabe!

How blessed is the fortunate house in which this is but a small gift! Goethe, "Der Sänger" (tr. David Luke, Goethe, Penguin 1964, p. 84)

Some of the serenest hours of those mourning years were spent in that valley in the grounds of Hallsteads, on Ullswater, which has been the setting of much of my inward life. Outside it lie the wilder beauties of Cumberland; within are a grandeur and solitude which foster without overwhelming the heart. There are tower and spire of cedar and cypress, high walls of flowering laurel, and rhododendrons massed amid the shade. There for many a twilight hour I have paced alone, and shaken from the thick syringas their load of scent and rain. The childhood of Phyllis also had been spent in a scene resembling this; she had been nurtured amid antique simplicity, and in an ancestral moorland home. I have often thought of her in the words in which Brynhild, in William Morris’ poem, tells Sigurd of her upbringing.

Yet I bid thee hover awhile as a lark alow on the corn;

Yet I bid thee look on the land twixt the wood and the silver sea

In the bight of the swirling river, and the house that cherished me!

There dwelleth mine earthly sister and the king whom she hath wed;

There morn by morn aforetime I woke on the golden bed;

There eve by eve I tarried mid the speech and the lays of kings;

There noon by noon I wandered and plucked the blossoming things.

When I think of that valley I understand the hauntings of the earthward-hovering soul. For I haunt it now; even now, when I would think stedfastly of myself, my image comes to me as pacing that glade of silence, between the ramparts of impenetrable, green. I feel a twilight that deepens into darkness, a calm where winds are laid, and in my own heart a grave intentness, as of one who strives to lift into an immortal security the yearning passion of his love.

|29|

CHAPTER VII.

marriage and friends.

Life and activity on earth should be elevated, but not impeded, by devotion to souls elsewhere. There need be no exclusiveness in the loves of the spirit. It was with a sense, not of incongruity, but at once of duty and of joy, that I turned to a marriage union and the founding of a new home. On March 13th, 1880, I was married by Dean Stanley,—an old friend of my father’s,—in Henry VII.’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, to Eveleen, youngest daughter of the late Charles Tennant, of Cadoxton House, Neath, and Mrs. Tennant, daughter of Admiral Collier, and descended through the Frankland family from Oliver Cromwell. In 1881 we took up our abode in Leckhampton House, built by me on the western edge of Cambridge, and there three children were bom to us;—Leopold Hamilton in 1881, Silvia Constance in 1883, and Harold Hawthorn in 1886. In 1882 the Society for Psychical Research was founded; and my work in that direction became more continuous. I will not now dwell on this tranquil period of domestic happiness and ardent toil. But I cannot close my record without at least mentioning some of the friends to whom both my early and my later years have owed more than I can repay.

At school Robert W. Raper (afterwards of Trinity College, Oxford) became my friend; at a tutor’s, Charles Milnes Gaskell (of Thornes House, Wakefield). At Cambridge, Henry Sidgwick (afterwards Professor of Moral Philosophy, and for me a veritable incarnation of beneficent wisdom), and his brother Arthur Sidgwick; George Otto Trevelyan (afterwards Sir George), Richard Claverhouse Jebb (afterwards Professor of Greek and M.P. for the University), Cyril Flower (afterwards Lord Battersea), James Saumarez (afterwards Lord de Saumarez), George and Frank Darwin, Walter Leaf, and Edmund Gurney, than whom no other friend was more dear. Arthur J. Balfour and J. W. Strutt (afterwards Lord Rayleigh) were junior to myself, and I knew them but slightly at Cambridge, though better when they became interested in psychical inquiry. From Oxford I gained the friendship of John Addington Symonds, Robert Hawthorn Collins (afterwards Sir Robert), and James Bryce. Prince Leopold (afterwards Duke of Albany) was Collins’s pupil in boyhood at Windsor Castle, and so first known to me. Later in life three men |30| became as dear and intimate as the friends of boyhood:—Professor Oliver Lodge, of Liverpool, Professor William James, of Harvard, and Professor Charles Richet, of Paris and Carqueiranne. These three friends gave me sympathy and help of the highest value. Among elder men I would mention John Ruskin, Lord Tennyson, William Crookes, George Frederick Watts, Hensleigh Wedgwood, Professor John Couch Adams, Alexander Aksákoff, Alfred Russel Wallace, from all of whom I received encouraging kindness. Among other friends made in middle life were Richard Hodgson, Charles Carleton Massey, Hamilton Aïdé, Henry M. Stanley, Henry Babington Smith, Professor Alexander Macalister. My brother Arthur, a physician, gave brotherly help in all my work. Among women friends also I can mention but a few;—Mrs. (Josephine) Butler, ‘‘George Eliot,” Lady Mount-Temple, Mrs. Russell Gurney, my cousin by marriage Florence Marshall, Lady Battersea (née Constance de Rothschild), the Duchess of Albany, Lady Carnarvon (née Howard); and such helpful allies as Lady Mabel Howard (née Macdonnell), Lady Radnor, the Dunhams of New York, the Leycesters of Toft, the Wyndhams of Clouds, the Wingfields of Tickencote, and above all Mrs. Henry Sidgwick,—a sister of Arthur Balfour’s, and an absolutely invaluable adviser and fellow-worker in the matters which I had most at heart. In a poem called “An Epithalamium” I have spoken of her husband and herself.

But where shall a list of friends end? or who shall say how brief a flash of human intercourse may kindle a feeling that shall not wholly fade? Even without a glance exchanged the sense of fellowship may be deep and strong.

I once descended the stairs of Covent Garden opera-house with a party of whom Phyllis was one. We were to part at the door, and she stopped me in an embrasure to ask my counsel on a sad and urgent matter. Looking up, I saw close to us a high-bred beautiful girl, unknown to me, moving calmly downwards among her kin. I saw the girl’s glance fall on Phyllis; I saw a shock of admiration pass across her face, mingled with yearning pity. I saw her manage to stand and wait where she could look at Phyllis still; I saw her grow forgetful of the outward scene in sympathy with that unknown sorrow. The girl never once looked at me, nor Phyllis at her; but when, a minute later, I walked away alone, I felt how swift, how secret, how subtle are the ties betwixt soul and soul; insomuch that that moment’s contact with a spirit who may be travelling through the universe on a path which neither Phyllis nor I shall intersect again, had awakened in me a sense of kinship which it seems as though an endless absence could never utterly destroy.

A few brief poems of this period may conclude this chapter. The |31| first is a picture of myself, idealised as a gorilla;—a grotesque form in which I can best summarise the profound discordances, the upward struggle, of that inward life of which fragments have been given here.

XIV.

from brute to man.

Through such fierce hours thy brute forefather won

Thy mounting hope, the adventure of the son;

Such pains astir his glooming heart within

That nameless Creature wandered from his kin;

Smote his broad breast, and, when the woods had rung

To bellowing preludes of that thunderous tongue,

With hopes half-born, with burning tears unshed,

Bowed down his terrible and lonely head;

With arms uncouth, with knees that scarce could kneel,

Upraised his speechless ultimate appeal;—

Ay, and heaven heard, and was with him, and gave

The gift that made him master and not slave;

Even in that stress and horror of his fate

His thronging cry came half articulate,

And some strange light, past knowing, past control,

Rose in his eyes, and shone, and was a soul.

XV.

in henry vii.’s chapel, westminster abbey.

O holy heart of England! inmost shrine

Of Mary’s grace divine;

Proud aisles, where all things noble, all things high

Her sweet soul magnify;

Vaults where the bones of mighty kings are laid,

Blest by a Mother-Maid!

One heart, great shrine, thou knewest then, be sure,

As thine own Mistress pure;

Eyes that like hers by supplication bless,

And reign by lowliness.

O Priest, whose voice from that irradiant sun

Proclaimed the twain made one,

Amid the banners of his Order spake

That oath no age shall break!

Voice of a Ruler born to soothe and sway

Man on his wandering way, |32|

Dowered with the courage glad, the wisdom mild,

Which keep the sage a child;

Whose high thoughts immanent have built him fair

A shrine in the upper air

Stainless and still, and ever oftener trod

By messengers of God!

While to that voice amid those memories heard

Answered her underword,

No wonder if the Eternal Presence then

Seemed mute no more to men,

Nor gulf betwixt, nor any darkness shed

On souls miscalled the dead;

Since we and they, far hence or long ago,

One life alone can know;

Since from seas under earth to stars above

There is no joy but love,

Nor in God’s house shall any glory be,

Save God and such as she.

XVI.

silvia.

1.

From calm beyond our inmost thought

Came the girl-spirit, childly-wise;

From spaces of the blue she brought

This earnest candour of her eyes;

From heavenly fields her soul uprose,

By fateful impulse urged to roam,—

Looked on the wheeling worlds, and chose

Our love her magnet, Earth her home.

2.

Awhile, awhile these years shall flow,

In these soft limbs her soul be pent,

Till Earth the lore of love and woe

Hath taught, and left her innocent:

Then fairer yet, then yet more dear

We hold our child in surer stay;—

What else was Love that lit us here

But glimmering dawn of deathless day?

|33|

XVII.

in the wolsey chapel, windsor.

Prince well-beloved! true heart and presence fair!

High o’er the marble of thy carved repose

From Windsor’s keep the Flag of England blows;

A thousand years float in the storied air.

There sleeps thy Sire; and often gently there

Comes one who mourns with steadfast eyes, and strows

The rhododendron round thee and the rose;

Love is her silence and her look is prayer.

Nor now that Banner’s broad-flung triumphings,

Nor spirit whispering to the sons of kings

Of strong continuance, age-long empery;—

But that one woman’s gaze the promise brings

To thee that sleepest of eternal things,

Realms yet unreached, and high love still to be.

XVIII.

brighton.

1.

Her brave sea-bulwarks builded strong

No tides uproot, no storms appal;

By sea-blown tamarisks the throng

Of idlers pace her broad sea-wall;

Rain-plashed the long-lit pavements gleam;

Still press the gay groups to and fro;

Dark midnight deepens; on they stream;

The wheels, the clattering horses go.

2.

But that wave-limit close anear,

Which kissed at morn the children’s play,

With dusk becomes a phantom fear,

Throws in the night a ghostly spray:—

O starless waste! remote despair!

Deep-weltering wildness, pulsing gloom!

As tho’ the whole world’s heart was there,

And all the whole world’s heart a tomb.

|34|

3.

Eternal sounds the waves’ refrain;

“Eternal night,”—they moan and say,—

“Eternal peace, eternal pain,

Press close upon your dying day.

Who, who at once beyond the bound,

What world-worn soul will rise and flee,—

Leave the crude lights and clamorous sound,

And trust the darkness and the sea?”

XIX.

a sister of phyllis.

1.

“Soul, that in some high world hast made

Pre-natal unbewailing choice,

Thro’ Earth’s perplexities of shade

Sternly to suffer and rejoice;—

Breathe in me too thine ardent aim;

Let me too seek thy soaring goal:—

However severed, still the same

My hope with thine, O kindred Soul!

2.

“Yet pause. The roaring North has driven

Beyond our ken his foamy car;

Serener than the height of heaven

This summer sea lies near and far;

And flecked with flying shade and shine

Heaves a dove-green, dove-purple breast,

And shimmers to the soft sky-line

Thro’ faery solitudes of rest.

3.

“No fruit has Ocean’s tumult found;

His wave-battalions blindly ran;—

Hushed after all that storm and sound

Old Ocean ends as he began:—

On thee no random angers fell;

Oh, not for naught thy skies were wild!

Thine Angel marked them, measuring well

The storms that should not slay his child.

|35|

4.

“Thine eager youth they could not dim;

They left thee slender, left thee fair;

Left the soft life of voice and limb,

The blue, the gold, of eyes, of hair.

Within a sterner change they wrought,—

Beset thy Will with surging wrong,

Smote on the citadels of Thought,

And found thee ready, left thee strong.

5.

“Thy worst is over. Pause and hark!

Thine inmost Angel whispers clear,

‘We leave the blackness and the dark;

The end is Love, the end is near.’—

Lift then anew the lessening weight;

Fight on, to men and angels dear!

Fare forth, brave soul, from fate to fate;—

Yet ah—one moment linger here!”

6.

I spake; she listened; woman-wise

Her self-surrendering answer came;

The azure of those constant eyes

Shone with a stilled unworldly flame:—

Perchance her soul’s unconscious stream

To broadening deeps profoundly drew,

And dim prevision bade me dream

Her Angel nearer than I knew.

7.

For ere the fourth moon, August-bright,

Had rounded o’er the glimmering plain,

Beyond the clear-obscure of night

Her lovely life was born again:

Calm in the calm her spirit fled,

With faery softness stole afar,

By Love unknown beguiled and led

Past dream and darkness, sea and star.

|36|

CHAPTER VIII.

the final faith.

Closing here for the present this brief story of my inner life, I am bound to face one searching question. My history has been that of a soul struggling into the conviction of its own existence, postponing all else to the one question whether life and love survive the tomb. That conviction has at last been granted to me. How far has it proved an inspiring, a controlling creed? How has it compared with other creeds or absence of creed,—with Hellenism, Agnosticism, Christianity?

As years advance one must needs lose the early confidence in the possibilities of one’s own moral progress. For me at least the walls of my earthly nature seem closing in. Nor can I believe that under any circumstances, with any stimulus, I could have become a being such as those whom I have most admired and loved. But although my character is ill fitted to illustrate the merits of any form of religion, it is well fitted to bring out that religion’s defects. I am not likely to be a better man than my creed gives me logical reason for being.

The Hellenism of my early years was an intellectual stimulus, but in no way a moral control. Entirely congenial to my temperament, it urged me onwards (as I have said) into intellectual freedom and emotional vividness, but exercised no check upon either sensuality or pride. Hellenism is the affirmation of the will to live;—but with no projection of the desired life into any juster or sterner world.

The effect of Agnosticism upon me was wholly evil. During this phase only can I remember anything of deadness and bitterness;—of scorn of human life, of anger at destiny, of cynical preference of the pleasures of the passing hour.

Christianity, while it could last, was enough. Its drawback was the growing sense of unreality, of insufficiency; the need of an inward make-believe. The Christian scheme is not cosmical; and this defect is felt so soon as one learns to look upon the universe with broad impersonal questioning, to gaze onward beyond the problem of one’s own salvation to the mighty structural laws on which the goodness or badness of the Cosmos must in the last resort depend.

Yet I cannot in any deep sense contrast my present creed with Christianity. Rather I regard it as a scientific development of the attitude and teaching of Christ. I look upon Christ as a |37| Revealer of immortality absolutely unique, as the incomparable Pioneer of all wisdom that shall be learnt concerning unseen things. But, like the Norsemen’s discovery of America, his work grows more and more remote, and there are no sure sea-marks for others to follow along that legendary way. A new discovery is needed,—to be made by no single Columbus, but by the whole set and strain of humanity; by the devotion of a world-wide labour to the deciphering of that open secret which has baffled the too hasty or too self-centred wonder and wish of men. And such an inquiry must be in the first instance a scientific, and only in the second instance a religious one. Religion, in its most permanent sense, is the adjustment of our emotions to the structure of the Universe; and what we now most need is to discover what that cosmic structure is.

I believe, then, that Science is now succeeding in penetrating certain cosmical facts which she has not reached till now. The first, of course, is the fact of man’s survival of death. The second is the registration in the Universe of every past scene and thought. This I hold to be indicated by the observed facts of clairvoyance and retrocognition; and to be in itself probable as a mere extension of telepathy, which, when acting unrestrictedly, may render it impossible for us to appear as other than we are. And upon this the rule of like to like seems to follow; our true affinities must determine our companionships in a spiritual world.

And finally, extending to that world the widest law thus far found applicable to the world we know, I believe in a progressive moral evolution, no longer truncated by physical catastrophes, but moving continuously towards an infinitely distant goal. This short creed, I think, is all that existing evidence warrants; and is enough for the needs of life. It proves to me that it is to my interest to live at my best; it inspires the very strongest hopes which can excite to exertion.

In the net result, it succeeds, under ordinary circumstances, in keeping me fairly clear from all faults except those to which I am particularly prone. On many men, I feel sure, it will exercise a more striking effect. And be it noted that whatever effect this creed does exercise it will exercise inexorably and persistently;—with the inexorable persistence of known and permanent fact. Nay, since there is this reality in the creed, it will be most powerful in those profoundest crises when any inward uncertainty of belief leaves the victory to the passions of men. I have myself thus found that in strenuous need the efficacy of my belief has become not less but greater.

In what I now speak of there was no merit of my own, unless there be merit in the mere admiration of virtue. Nor was there even external choice of my own; since the outward facts necessarily took their colour from the character of her who was concerned in them. |38| My conflict therefore was not so much as to how I should act, but as to what I could raise myself to desire.

The poem entitled “Honour” comes from the agnostic period of my life, and its tone is one of almost intolerable strain. Then, as it happened, during that period of ardent passion, I received my first assurance of things unseen. The later poems in Chapter V. show the nature of the change induced. The painful effort of self-restraint merges at last in a solemn exultation. For, in fact, so soon as I began to have hope of a future life I began to conceive earth’s culminant passion sub specie æternitatis. I felt that if anything still recognisable in me had preceded earth-life, it was this one profound affinity; if anything were destined to survive, it must be into the maintenance of this one affinity that my central effort must be thrown. I was like a half-drunken man suddenly sobered by the announcement that he has come into a fortune. The first impulse was the mere resolve that nothing here on earth should prejudice that chance of happiness to be. Ogier and the Queen of France, in William Morris’ poem, foreseeing possibilities too great to risk, looked each on the other

But for one moment; for too wise were they

To cast the coming years of joy away.

Still more for me was there a sense that this was but the first moment of an endless passion; a sense of desperate reality, of agelong issues;—nay, as of the very crisis and visible morn of Fate. From that hour the moral victory was won;—achieved with steadfastness, though not yet with more than steadfastness; with no inward felicity in such obedience to the highest law.

But a further step was to come. I knew her to be an immortal creature; I discerned in her as it were the visible sign of her immortality; I felt with Plato that Love is an inlet into the spiritual world; that it is out of proportion to earthly existence; that more than the mere delight of the terrene comradeship must be the hidden motive of that extreme emprize;—that the desire, as Plato has it, “for the eternal possession of the Beautiful” must have its root in some august remembrance of a remote pre-natal day.

Among the pure Ideas which men in some dim fashion discern on earth, “Wisdom,” says Plato, “we cannot see, or terrible had been the love she had inspired.” To me it seemed as though I then saw Virtue clear. An effect was wrought upon me which neither Mrs. Butler’s heroic Christianity nor Henry Sidgwick’s rightness and reasonableness had ever produced. And although in my own heart I still felt the recurrent conflict between the savage and the sage,—between the half-human instinct and the deliberate choice of upright man;—yet in this one matter the impulse |39| which prompted me to virtue became like the impulse of self-preservation itself. I knew in the deep of the heart that Virtue alone was safe, and only Virtue lasting, and only Virtue blest; and Phyllis became to me as the very promise and earnest of triumphant Virtue;— the fair form as of an enchanted shepherdess, but courageous through and through, and armed for all adventure by the imperishable passion of her soul.

Let none imagine that the stronger love becomes, the more imperiously does it demand what is deemed the closest physical union. Not so! love passes beyond that desire; nor has earth a nearness so pervading as the embrace and encounter of the eyes. Deepest of all things in us is the mere sense of human fellowship; and this when raised to its highest intensity becomes manifest as a pre-natal and everlasting affinity, an indissoluble comradeship of souls. Only let that Being be! let her exist in the same universe, and the universe can never be forlorn.

This is the love which, as I have said in an essay on Mazzini, “grows more pervading through self-control, and more passionate through the austerity of honour, and only draws a stronger aliment from separation, anguish, and death.” Ay, even on earth, while I suffered with her suffering, while I watched her caught in the wheels of Destiny, and involved in the calamity of confused and straying souls, I could still feel that that was best which advanced her most swiftly; could still triumph for her in the victories of each dolorous day; could still desire for her even mortal anguish rather than that she should be unworthy of herself.

O three parts through the worst of Life’s abyss,

What plaudits from the next world after this,

Could’st thou repeat a stroke and gain the prize!

I would not change those few years of struggle side by side for a long life-time of happy union. Only on 426 days of my life,—now numbering more than 18,000 days,—did I look upon her face: but that was enough. Let two souls, I say, strive side by side, long enough to test and strain their utmost power; then let the nobler pass away; and let that other make of memory a call to highest hope.

And Love?—thine heart imagined, it may be,

Himself the Immortal here had lodged with thee?

Thou hadst clomb the heavens and caught him in the air,

And clasped him close, and felt that he was fair?

He hath but shown thee, when thou call’d’st him sweet,

His eyes’ first glance, and shimmer of flying feet

He hath but spoken, on his ascending way,

One least word of the words he hath yet to say.—

|40|

These lines were composed while she yet lived; nor have I known a more exultant hour than when, pacing in a frosty dawn where Cam flows by Trinity, I felt to the full that I had embarked on an eternal endeavour, and that earth at best could be but the dawn and prelude of Love’s unimaginable day.

I felt all this through saddest separation; while on Norwegian fjords above the long gulf of liquid darkness “the immeasurable heavens Brake open to their highest,” and the precipice barred with blackness the desolate influx of the sea. “I shall see her some time,” I would say to myself,—ἔσσεται ἢ ἤως—morn or noon or evening shall it be when my eyes shall meet hers once more, and I shall speak and hear my fill.” But that was not to be by morn or noon or evening of any earthly day.

Twelve years after her departing a message came. It was repeated; I feel it sure. I rest in the belief that love has surmounted the sundering crisis, and has lived beyond the gulf of death.

I have been speaking as though these convictions admitted of no doubt. And I believe that they will attain such certitude in the minds of coming men. But my own career has been a long struggle to seize and hold the actual truth amid illusion and fraud. I have been mocked with many a mirage, caught in many a Sargasso Sea. For there has been this of unique about my position, that from no conceit of my own capacity, but in the bitter need of truth, in the manifest dearth of allies and teachers, I have felt that I must absolutely form my own judgment as to man’s survival; must decide from facts known to myself,—known hardly to any others, or interpreted by those others in some different way. I could not attach much importance to any opinions except those of the Sidgwicks and Edmund Gurney. Who else knew what was to be known,—in its strength and its weakness? Gurney, up to the time of his death, was quite uncertain on this capital point. He still held that all proved phenomena were possibly explicable by new modes of action between living men alone. Sidgwick often thought this too; and his wife, though more steadily inclining to a belief in survival, was averse to pronouncing herself on the matter. I had therefore often a sense of great solitude, and of an effort beyond my strength;—“striving,”—as Homer says of Odysseus in a line which I should wish graven on some tablet in my memory,— “striving to save my own soul, and my comrades’ homeward way.”

Ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχήν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.

It was as late as November, 1887, that these doubts reached their worst intensity. The group who had consulted over Phantasms of the Living,—the group whom some regarded as facile in belief,·— were certainly then in no credulous mood. Sidgwick’s natural |41| scepticism and self-criticism asserted themselves more strongly than ever before. The collapse of Madame Blavatsky’s so-called Theosophy,—a mere fabric of fraud,—had rendered all of us severer in our judgment of the human evidence on which our own conclusions depended. Sidgwick urged that all that we had actually proved was consistent with eternal death. He thought it not improbable that this last effort to look beyond the grave would fail; that men would have to content themselves with an agnosticism growing yearly more hopeless,—and had best turn to daily duties and forget the blackness of the end.

His words touched many a latent doubt in my own bosom. As I have implied, the question was for me too vital to admit of my endeavouring for a moment to cheat myself into a false security. My mind had been ever eagerly on the watch for indications telling either way; and for a few days I was now overshadowed by Sidgwick’s loss of hope.

“Cela depasse,” says Flaubert of a similar anguish,—“cela depasse les limites de la souffrance humaine. C’est une mort plus profonde que la mort.”It is beyond the limits of human suffering. This is a death deeper than death. I will not retrace the blackness of that hour. It passed away; whether by dint of further study of evidence or by help from outside myself I hardly know. And next year my belief in survival was clenched, I trust for ever, by the message which Edmund Gurney, as elsewhere recounted, sent to me from beyond the tomb. His death, more powerful to help and comfort than even his life had been, brought in strange commixture the yearning need of his companionship and yet the grateful sense of a supreme service, thus only possible for him toward those he loved.

And now the earthly scene, charged erewhile with such solemn sadness, has changed like the scene within. My wife is beloved and loving; my three children are an unfailing joy. All that lies around me breathes beauty and repose. The evening sun gilds this fair garden; the children play like leverets on the lawn; from my window I see quiet tilth and pasture beyond a girdling belt of flowers. This cannot be my destiny which is fulfilling itself in earthly felicity; it is the destiny of these innocent spirits linked with mine; but for me it is something accidental and posthumous, and presently it must fade away.

And yet, though I can feel no claim to happiness in an earthly future, the love of life burns strong as ever within me;—the love of life elsewhere! Yes, and I believe, as against all Stoic and Buddhist creeds, that this temper of mine, however much of chastening it still may need, may yet be that which best subserves the cosmic aim; which helps the Universe in its passage and evolution into fuller and higher life. To be purged, not dulled, is what we need; to intensify each his own being, a pulse of the existence of the All.

|42|

We need, as I have elsewhere said, a summons “to no houri-haunted paradise, no passionless contemplation, no monotony of prayer and praise; but to endless advance by endless effort, and, if need be, by endless pain.” Be it mine, then, to plunge among the unknown Destinies, to dare and still to dare! Only let one guardian Soul be with me still! The Christian will say that I have lost the belief in an omnipotent Friend. Nay, I will look upwards as to a Father; but my real fear is rather lest the soul that loved me once should have soared too high for my reaching than lest I should miss with pain the personal nearness of Almighty God. Alas! I am too weak for my destiny. I cannot live with dignity a life thus balanced amid inconceivable immensities, and which should be lifted by inward vision above the strifes and joys of men. Ah, sensual pre-occupations, self-condemnation ever new! Bear with me, whatsoever of highest can look without scorn upon my pain!

Meantime the background of Eternity shows steadfast through all the pageants of the shifting world. This gives majesty to solitary landscapes, and to the vault of night; it urges me to go out and to be alone; to pace in starlight the solemn avenues, and to gaze upon Arcturus with his sons.

XX.

on a spring morning at sea.

And such a sight as this is, I suppose,

Shall meet thee on the morrow of thy death;

And pearl to sapphire, opal into rose

Melt in that morn no heart imagineth;—

Fair as when now thine eyes thou dar’st not close

Lest the whole joy go from thee at a breath,

And the sea’s silence and the heaven’s repose

Evanish as a dream evanisheth.

Ay, there some jewelled visionary spring

Shall charm the strange shore and the glassy sea;

And from thee o’er some lucid ocean-ring

Thy phantom Past shall in a shadow flee;

And thou be in the Spirit, and everything

Born in the God that shall be bom in thee.

And now let my last word be of reverent gratitude to the Unimaginable Cause of all; to whom my thanks ascend in ancient and solemn |43| language, fuller, surely, of meaning now than ever heretofore throughout the whole story of the desires of men:—

The king shall rejoice in Thy strength, O Lord: exceeding glad shall he be of Thy salvation:

For Thou hast given him his heart's desire: and hast not denied him the request of his lips:

He asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest him a long life: even for ever and ever.


Cambridge, July 2nd, 1893.       F. W. H M.

Back to
Esalen CTR Scholarly Resources