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July 27th, 2009, 10:40 PM
Chapter V

Devotional and Religious Mystics

All mystics are devotional and all are religious in the truest sense of the terms. Yet it seems legitimate to group under this special heading those writers whose views are expressed largely in the language of the Christian religion, as is the case with our earliest mystics, with Crashaw and Francis Thompson and it applies in some measure to Blake. But beyond this, it seems, in more general terms, to apply specially to those who are so conscious of God that they seem to live in His presence, and who are chiefly concerned with approaching Him, not by way of Love, Beauty, Wisdom, or Nature, but directly, through purgation and adoration.

This description, it is obvious, though it fits fairly well the other writers here included, by no means suffices for Blake. For he possessed in addition a philosophy, a system, and a profound scheme of the universe revealed to him in vision. But within what category could Blake be imprisoned? He outsoars them all and includes them all. We can only say that the dominant impression he leaves with us that is of his vivid, intimate consciousness of the Divine presence and his attitude of devotion.

We have seen that the earliest mystical thought came into this country by way of the writings of "Dionysius" and of the Victorines (Hugh and Richard of St Victor), and it is this type of thought and belief cast into the mould of the Catholic Church that we find mainly in the little group of early English mystics, whose writings date from the middle of the thirteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth century.[52]

These early Catholic mystics are interesting from a psychological point of view, and they are often subtle exponents of the deepest mystical truths and teachings, and in some cases this is combined with great literary power and beauty.

One of the earliest examples of this thought in English literature is the tender and charming lyric by Thomas de Hales, written probably before 1240. Here is perhaps the first expression in our poetry of passionate yearning of the soul towards Christ as her true lover, and of the joy of mystic union with Him. A maid of Christ, says the poet, has begged him to "wurche a luve ron" (make a love-song), which he does; and points out to her that this world's love is false and fickle, and that worldly lovers shall pass away like a wind's blast.
Hwer is Paris and Heleyne
That weren so bright and feyre on bleo:
Amadas, Tristram and Dideyne
YseudÚ and allÚ theo:
Ector with his scharpÚ meyne
And Cesar riche of wor[l]des feo?
Heo beoth iglyden ut of the reyne,
So the schef is of the cleo.
As the corn from the hill-side, Paris and Helen and all bright lovers have passed away, and it is as if they had never lived.

But, maid, if you want a lover, he continues, I can direct you to one, the fairest, truest, and richest in the whole world. Henry, King of England, is his vassal, and to thee, maid, this lover sends a message and desires to know thee.
Mayde to the he send his sonde
And wilneth for to beo the cuth.
And so the poem goes on to express in simple terms of earthly love, the passionate delight and joy and peace of the soul in attaining to union with her God, in whose dwelling is perfect bliss and safety.

This poem is a delicate example of what is called "erotic mysticism," that is the love and attraction of the soul for God, and of God for the soul, expressed in the terms of the love between man and woman. It is a type of expression characteristic of the great mystics of the Catholic Church, especially in the Middle Ages,[53] and we find a good deal of it in our earliest mystical writers. One of the most charming examples of it other than this lyric, is the chapter "Of Love" in the Ancren Riwle, or Rule for Anchoresses, written probably early in the thirteenth century. An account is there given, quite unsurpassed for delicate beauty, of the wooing of the soul by God.[54] On the whole, however, this type of mysticism is rare in England, and we scarcely meet it again after these early writers until we come to the poems of Crashaw. The finest expression of it is the Song of Solomon, and it is easy to see that such a form of symbolism is specially liable to degradation, and is open to grave dangers, which it has not always escaped. Yet, in no other terms known to man is it possible so fully to express the sense of insatiable craving and desire as well as the rapture of intimate communion felt by the mystic towards his God, as in the language of that great passion which, in its purest form, is the best thing known to man and his highest glory. "I saw Him, and sought Him, I had Him and I wanted Him." Could any words more completely express the infinity of love's desire, ever unsatisfied even in possession, than does this love-cry from the heart of Julian the anchoress of Norwich?

The intensity and freshness of religious feeling of a mystical type in England in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries are often not realised, partly owing to the fact that much of the religious writing of this time is still in manuscript. The country was full of devotees who had taken religious vows, which they fulfilled either in the many monasteries and convents, or often in single cells, as "hermit" or "anchoress." Here they lived a life devoted to contemplation and prayer, and to the spiritual assistance of those who sought them out.

The hermits, of whom there were a large number, were apparently free to move from one neighbourhood to another, but the woman recluse, or "anchoress," seldom or never left the walls of her cell, a little house of two or three rooms built generally against the church wall, so that one of her windows could open into the church, and another, veiled by a curtain, looked on to the outer world, where she held converse with and gave counsel to those who came to see her. Sometimes a little group of recluses lived together, like those three sisters of Dorsetshire for whom the Ancren Riwle was written, a treatise which gives us so many homely details of this type of life.

Richard Rolle (c. 1300-1349), of Hampole, near Doncaster, and the Lady Julian, a Benedictine nun of Norwich (1342-c.1413), are the two most interesting examples of the mediŠval recluse in England. Both seem to have had a singular charm of character and a purity of mystical devotion which has impressed itself on their writings. Richard Rolle, who entered upon a hermit's life at nineteen on leaving Oxford, had great influence both through his life and work on the whole group of fourteenth-century religious writers, and so on the thought of mediŠval England. His contemporaries thought him mad, they jeered at him and abused him, but he went quietly on his way, preaching and writing. Love forced him to write; love, he said, gave him wisdom and subtlety, and he preached a religion of love. Indeed the whole of his work is a symphony of feeling, a song of Love, and forms a curious reaction against the exaltation of reason and logic in scholasticism. He wrote a large number of treatises and poems, both in Latin and English, lyrical songs and alliterative homilies, burning spiritual rhapsodies and sound practical sermons, all of which were widely known and read. Certain points about Rolle are of special interest and distinguish him from other mystics and seers. One is that for him the culminating mystical experience took the form of melody, rhythm, harmony. He is the most musical of mystics, and where others "see" or "feel" Reality, he "hears" it. Hence his description of his soul's adventures is peculiarly beautiful, he thinks in images and symbols of music, and in his writings we find some of the most exquisite passages in the whole literature of mysticism, veritable songs of spiritual joy. In the Fire of Love, perhaps the finest of his more mystical works, he traces in detail his journey along the upward path. This is very individual, and it differs in some important respects from other similar records. He passed through the stage of "purgation," of struggle between the flesh and spirit, of penitence and aspiration, through "illumination," until he reached, after nearly three years, the third stage of contemplation of God through love.[55]
In this condition, after about a year, "the door of heaven yet biding open," he experienced the three phases to which he gives the names of "calor, canor, dulcor," heat, song, and sweetness. "Heat soothly I call when the mind truly is kindled in Love Everlasting, and the heart on the same manner to burn not hopingly, but verily is felt."[56]

This "burning" seems to have been for him a real physical sensation, a bodily condition induced by the adventure of the spirit. This is not unusual in mystical states, and possibly the cryptic notes made by Pascal record a similar experience.[57] He continued in this warmth for nine months, when suddenly he felt and heard the "canor," the "spiritual music," the "invisible melody" of heaven. Here is his description of his change from "burning love" to the state of "songful love."
Whilst ... I sat in chapel, in the night, before supper, as I my psalms sung, as it were the sound of readers or rather singers about me I beheld. Whilst also, praying to heaven, with all desire I took heed, suddenly, in what manner I wot not, in me the sound of song I felt; and likeliest heavenly melody I took, with me dwelling in mind. Forsooth my thought continually to mirth of song was changed: and as it were the same that loving I had thought, and in prayers and psalms had said, the same in sound I showed, and so forth with [began] to sing that [which] before I had said, and from plenitude of inward sweetness I burst forth, privily indeed, alone before my Maker.[58]
The sweetness of this inward spiritual song is beyond any sound that may be heard with bodily ears, even lovers can only catch snatches of it. "Worldly lovers soothly words or ditties of our song may know, for the words they read: but the tone and sweetness of that song they may not learn."[59] The final stage of "sweetness" seems really to include the other two, it is their completion and fruition. The first two, says Rolle, are gained by devotion, and out of them springs the third.[60] Rolle's description of it, of the all-pervading holy joy, rhythm, and melody, when the soul, "now become as it were a living pipe," is caught up into the music of the spheres, "and in the sight of God ... joying sounds,"[61] deserves to be placed beside what is perhaps the most magnificent passage in all mystical literature, where Plotinus tells us of the choral dance of the soul about her God.[62]

Enough has been said to show that Rolle is a remarkable individual, and one of the most poetic of the English religious mystical writers, and it is regrettable that some of his other works are not more easily accessible. Unfortunately, the poem with which his name is generally associated, The Pricke of Conscience, is entirely unlike all his other work, both in form and matter. It is a long, prosaic and entirely unmystical homily in riming couplets, of a very ordinary mediŠval type, stirring men's minds to the horrors of sin by dwelling on the pains of purgatory and hell. It would seem almost certain, on internal evidence, that the same hand cannot have written it and the Fire of Love, and recent investigation appears to make it clear that Rolle's part in it, if any, was merely of the nature of compilation or translation of some other work, possibly by Grosseteste.[63]

Of the life of the Lady Julian we know very little, except that she was almost certainly a Benedictine nun, and that she lived for many years in an anchoress's cell close to the old church of St Julian at Conisford, near Norwich. But her character and charm are fully revealed in the little book she has left of Revelations of Divine Love, which contains a careful account of a definite psychological experience through which she passed on the 8th day of May 1373, when she was thirty years of age. She adds to this record of fact certain commentaries and explanations which, she says, have been taught her gradually in the course of the subsequent twenty years. This experience, which lasted altogether between five and six hours, was preceded by a seven days' sickness most vividly described, ending in a semi-rigidity of the body as if it were already half dead, and it took the form of sixteen "Shewings" or "Visions." These, she says, reached her in three ways, "by bodily sight, by word formed in mine understanding" (verbal messages which took form in her mind), "and by spiritual sight." But of this last, she adds, "I may never fully tell it."[64] It is impossible here to do justice to this little book, for it is one of the most important documents in the history of mysticism. There is no mention in it of any preliminary "purgative" stage, nor of any ultimate experience of ecstasy; it is simply—if one may so put it—a narrative of certain intimate talks with God, once granted, when, during a few hours of the writer's life, He explained various difficulties and made clear to her certain truths. The impression left of the nearness of God to the soul was so vivid and sustaining, that it is not possible to read the record of it, even now, across six hundred years, without feeling strangely stirred by the writer's certainty and joy.

Her vision is of Love: Love is its meaning, and it was shown her for Love; she sees that God is Love and that God and man are one. "God is nearer to us than our own soul, for man is God, and God is in all." If we could only know ourselves, our trouble would be cleared away, but it is easier to come to the knowing of God than to know our own soul.[65] "Our passing life here that we have in our sense-soul knoweth not what our Self is," and the cause of our disease is that we rest in little things which can never satisfy us, for "our Soul may never have rest in things that are beneath itself." She actually saw God enfolding all things. "For as the body is clad in the cloth, and the flesh in the skin, and the bones in the flesh, and the heart in the whole, so are we, soul and body, clad in the Goodness of God, and enclosed." She further had sight of all things that are made, and her description of this "Shewing" is so beautiful and characteristic that it must be given in her own words.
"In this same time our Lord shewed me a spiritual sight of His homely loving.... He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with the eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God." Later, she adds, "Well I wot that heaven and earth, and all that is made is great and large, fair and good; but the cause why it shewed so little to my sight was for that I saw it in the presence of Him that is the Maker of all things: for to a soul that seeth the Maker of all, all that is made seemeth full little." "In this Little Thing," she continues, "I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. But what is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover—I cannot tell; for till I am Substantially oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss: that is to say, till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me" (Revelations, pp. 10, 18).
Julian's vision with regard to sin is of special interest. The problem of evil has never been stated in terser or more dramatic form.
After this I saw God in a Point, that is to say, in mine understanding which sight I saw that He is in all things. I beheld and considered, seeing and knowing in sight, with a soft dread, and thought: What is sin? (Ibid, p. 26).
Here is the age-old difficulty. God, so the mystic sees, is "in the Mid-point of all thing," and yet, as Julian says, it is "dertain He doeth no sin." The solution given to her is that "sin is no deed," it "hath no part of being," and it can only be known by the pain it is cause of. Sin is a negation, a failure, an emptiness of love, but pain is something it is a purification. Sin brings with it pain, "to me was shewed no harder hell than sin"; but we must go through the pain in order to learn, without it we could never have the bliss. As a wave draws back from the shore, in order to return again with fuller force; so sin, the lack of love, is permitted for a time, in order that an opening be made for an inrush of the Divine Love, fuller and more complete than would otherwise be possible. It is in some such way as this, dimly shadowed, that it was shown to Julian that sin and pain are necessary parts of the scheme of God. Hence God does not blame us for sin, for it brings its own blame or punishment with it, nay more, "sin shall be no shame to man, but worship," a bold saying, which none but a mystic would dare utter. When God seeth our sin, she says, and our despair in pain, "His love excuseth us, and of His great courtesy He doeth away all our blame, and beholdeth us with ruth and pity as children innocent and unloathful."

It would be pleasant to say more of Julian, but perhaps her own words have sufficed to show that here we are dealing with one of the great mystics of the world. Childlike and yet rashly bold, deeply spiritual, yet intensely human, "a simple creature, unlettered," yet presenting solutions of problems which have racked humanity, she inherits the true paradoxical nature of the mystic, to which is added a beauty and delicacy of thought and expression all her own.

There were many other mystical works written about this time in England. Of these the best known and the finest is The Scale, or Ladder, of Perfection, by Walter Hylton, the Augustinian, and head of a house of canons at Thurgarton, near Newark, who died in 1396. This is a practical and scientific treatise of great beauty on the spiritual life.[66] An interesting group of writings are the five little treatises, almost certainly by one author (c. 1350-1400), to be found in Harleian 674, and other MSS. Their names are The Cloud of Unknowing, The Epistle of Prayer, The Epistle of Discretion, The Treatise of Discerning Spirits, and The Epistle of Privy Counsel. We find here for the first time in English the influence and spirit of Dionysius, and it is probably to the same unknown writer we owe the first (very free) translation of the Mystical Theology of Dionysius, Deonise Hid Divinite, which is bound up with these other manuscripts.

These little tracts are written by a practical mystic, one who was able to describe with peculiar accuracy and vividness the physical and psychological sensations accompanying mystical initiation. The Cloud of Unknowing is an application in simple English of the Dionysian teaching of concentration joined to the practice of contemplation taught by Richard of St Victor, and it describes very clearly the preliminary struggles and bewilderment of the soul. The Epistle of Privy Counsel (still in MS.) is the most advanced in mystical teaching: the writer in it tries to explain very intimately the nature of "onehede with God," and to give instruction in simple and yet deeply subtle terms as to the means for attaining this.

There is a mystical strain in other writings of this time, the most notable from the point of view of literature being in the fourteenth-century alliterative poem of Piers the Plowman.[67] This is mystical throughout in tone, more especially in the idea of the journey of the soul in search of Truth, only to find, after many dangers and disciplines and adventures, that—
If grace graunte the to go in this wise,
Thow shalt see in thi-selve Treuthe sitte in thine herte
In a cheyne of charyte as thow a childe were.[68]
Moreover, the vision of Dowel, Dobet, and Dobest, bears a definite analogy to the three stages of the mystic's path, as will be seen if the description of the qualities of these three are examined, as they are given in B., Passus viii. 11. 78-102.

Crashaw, George Herbert, and Christopher Harvey all alike sound the personal note in their religious poems. All three writers describe the love of the soul for God in the terms of passionate human love: Crashaw with an ardour which has never been surpassed, Herbert with a homely intimacy quite peculiar to him, and Christopher Harvey with a point and epigrammatic setting which serve only to enhance the deep feeling of the thought.

In many a lyric of flaming passion Crashaw expresses his love-longing for his God, and he describes in terms only matched by his spiritual descendant, Francis Thompson, the desire of God to win the human soul.
Let not my Lord, the mighty lover
Of soules, disdain that I discover
The hidden art
Of his high stratagem to win your heart,
It was his heavnly art
Kindly to crosse you
In your mistaken love,
That, at the next remove
Thence he might tosse you
And strike your troubled heart
Home to himself.[69]
The main feature of Herbert's poetry is the religious love lyric, the cry of the individual soul to God. This is the mystical quality in his verse, which is quieter and far less musical than Crashaw's, but which possesses at times a tender fragrance and freshness, as in the little poem Love.
Christopher Harvey, the friend of Izaak Walton and the admirer of Herbert, has in his poems some lines which breathe almost as rapturous a passion of spiritual love as anything in Crashaw. Such is his epigram on the Insatiableness of the Heart.
The whole round world is not enough to fill
The heart's three corners; but it craveth still.
Onely the Trinity, that made it, can
Suffice the vast-triangled heart of man.[70]
Or again, in a later epigram in the same poem (The School of the Heart), he puts the main teaching of Plotinus and of all mystics into four pregnant lines—
My busie stirring heart, that seekes the best,
Can find no place on earth wherein to rest;
For God alone, the Author of its blisse,
Its only rest, its onely center is.
But it is Crashaw who, of these three, shares in fullest measure the passion of the great Catholic mystics, and more especially of St Teresa, whom he seems almost to have worshipped. His hymn to her "name and honor" is one of the great English poems; it burns with spiritual flame, it soars with noble desire. Near the beginning of it, Crashaw has, in six simple lines, pictured the essential mystic attitude of action, not necessarily or consciously accompanied by either a philosophy or a theology. He is speaking of Teresa's childish attempt to run away and become a martyr among the Moors.
She never undertook to know
What death with love should have to doe;
Nor has she e're yet understood
Why to shew love, she should shed blood
Yet though she cannot tell you why,
She can LOVE, and she can DY.
Spiritual love has never been more rapturously sung than in this marvellous hymn. Little wonder that it haunted Coleridge's memory, and that its deep emotion and rich melody stimulated his poet's ear and imagination to write Christabel.[71] Crashaw's influence also on Patmore, more especially on the Sponsa Dei, as well as later on Francis Thompson, is unmistakable.

William Blake is one of the great mystics of the world; and he is by far the greatest and most profound who has spoken in English. Like Henry More and Wordsworth, he lived in a world of glory, of spirit and of vision, which, for him, was the only real world. At the age of four he saw God looking in at the window, and from that time until he welcomed the approach of death by singing songs of joy which made the rafters ring, he lived in an atmosphere of divine illumination. The material facts of his career were simple and uneventful. He was an engraver by profession, poet and painter by choice, mystic and seer by nature. From the outer point of view his life was a failure. He was always crippled by poverty, almost wholly unappreciated in the world of art and letters of his day, consistently misunderstood even by his best friends, and pronounced mad by those who most admired his work. Yet, like all true mystics, he was radiantly happy and serene; rich in the midst of poverty. For he lived and worked in a world, and amongst a company, little known of ordinary men:—
With a blue sky spread over with wings,
And a mild Sun that mounts & sings;
With trees & fields full of Fairy elves,
And little devils who fight for themselves—
With Angels planted in Hawthorn bowers,
And God Himself in the passing hours.[72]
It is not surprising that he said, in speaking of Lawrence and other popular artists who sometimes patronisingly visited him, "They pity me, but 'tis they are the just objects of pity, I possess my visions and peace. They have bartered their birthright for a mess of pottage." The strength of his illumination at times intoxicated him with joy, as he writes to Hayley (October 23, 1804) after a recurrence of vision which had lapsed for some years, "Dear Sir, excuse my enthusiasm or rather madness, for I am really drunk with intellectual vision whenever I take a pencil or graver into my hand." This is the "divine madness" of which Plato speaks, the "inebriation of Reality," the ecstasy which makes the poet "drunk with life."[73]

In common with other mystics, with Boehme, St Teresa, and Madame Guyon, Blake claimed that much of his work was written under direct inspiration, that it was an automatic composition, which, whatever its source, did not come from the writer's normal consciousness. In speaking of the prophetic book Milton, he says—
I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without pre-meditation and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists which seems to be the labour of a long life, all produced without labour or study.
Whatever may be their source, all Blake's writings are deeply mystical in thought, and symbolic in expression, and this is true of the (apparently) simple little Songs of Innocence, no less than of the great, and only partially intelligible, prophetic books. To deal at all adequately with these works, with the thought and teaching they contain, and the method of clothing it, would necessitate a volume, if not a small library, devoted to that purpose. It is possible, however, to indicate certain fundamental beliefs and assertions which lie at the base of Blake's thought and of his very unusual attitude towards life, and which, once grasped, make clear a large part of his work. It must be remembered that these assertions were for him not matters of belief, but of passionate knowledge—he was as sure of them as of his own existence.

Blake founds his great myth on his perception of unity at the heart of things expressing itself in endless diversity. "God is in the lowest effects as the highest causes. He is become a worm that he may nourish the weak.... Everything on earth is the word of God, and in its essence is God."[74]
In the Everlasting Gospel, Blake emphasises, with more than his usual amount of paradox, the inherent divinity of man. God, speaking to Christ as the highest type of humanity, says—
If thou humblest thyself, thou humblest me.
Thou also dwellst in Eternity.
Thou art a man: God is no more:
Thy own humanity learn to adore,
For that is my Spirit of Life.[75]
Similarly the union of man with God is the whole gist of that apparently most chaotic of the prophetic books, Jerusalem.

The proof of the divinity of man, it would seem, lies in the fact that he desires God, for he cannot desire what he has not seen. This view is summed up in the eight sentences which form the little book (about 2 inches long by 1Ż inches broad) in the British Museum, Of Natural Religion. Here are four of them.
Man's perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception, he perceives more than sense (tho' ever so acute) can discover.
None could have other than natural or organic thoughts if he had none but organic perceptions.
Man's desires are limited by his perceptions, none can desire what he has not perceiv'd.
The desires and perceptions of man untaught by anything but organs of sense, must be limited to objects of sense.
The solution of the difficulty is given in large script on the last of the tiny pages of the volume:
Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.
According to Blake, the universe as we know it, is the result of the fall of the one life from unity into division. This fall has come about through man seeking separation, and taking the part for the whole. (See Jacob Boehme's view, pp. 94, 95 above, which is identical with that of Blake.) "Nature," therefore, or the present form of mental existence, is the result of a contraction of consciousness or "selfhood," a tendency for everything to shrink and contract about its own centre. This condition or "state" Blake personifies as "Urizen" (=Reason) a great dramatic figure who stalks through the prophetic books, proclaiming himself "God from Eternity to Eternity," taking up now one characteristic and now another, but ever of the nature of materialism, opaqueness, contraction. In the case of man, the result of this contraction is to close him up into separate "selfhoods," so that the inlets of communication with the universal spirit have become gradually stopped up; until now, for most men, only the five senses (one of the least of the many possible channels of communication) are available for the uses of the natural world. Blake usually refers to this occurrence as the "flood ": that is, the rush of general belief in the five senses that overwhelmed or submerged the knowledge of all other channels of wisdom, except such arts as were saved, which are symbolised under the names of Noah (=Imagination) and his sons. He gives a fine account of this in Europe (p. 8), beginning—
Plac'd in the order of the stars, when the five senses whelm'd
In deluge o'er the earth-born man, then turn'd the fluxile eyes
Into two stationary orbs, concentrating all things.
The ever-varying spiral ascents to the heavens of heavens
Were bended downward, and the nostrils' golden gates shut,
Turn'd outward, barr'd, and petrify'd against the infinite.
The only way out of this self-made prison is through the Human Imagination, which is thus the Saviour of the world. By "Imagination" Blake would seem to mean all that we include under sympathy, insight, idealism, and vision, as opposed to self-centredness, logical argument, materialism and concrete, scientific fact. For him, Imagination is the one great reality, in it alone he sees a human faculty that touches both nature and spirit, thus uniting them in one. The language of Imagination is Art, for it speaks through symbols so that men shut up in their selfhoods are thus ever reminded that nature herself is a symbol. When this is once fully realised, we are freed from the delusion imposed upon us from without by the seemingly fixed reality of external things. If we consider all material things as symbols, their suggestiveness, and consequently their reality, is continually expanding. "I rest not from my great task," he cries—
To open the eternal worlds, to open the immortal eyes
Of man inwards into the worlds of thought, into eternity,
Ever expanding in the bosom of God, the human imagination.
In Blake's view the qualities most sorely needed by men are not restraint and discipline, obedience or a sense of duty, but love and understanding. "Men are admitted into heaven, not because they have curbed and governed their passions, or have no passions, but because they have cultivated their understandings." To understand is three parts of love, and it is only through Imagination that we can understand. It is the lack of imagination that is at the root of all the cruelties and all the selfishness in the world. Until we can feel for all that lives, Blake says in effect, until we can respond to the joys and sorrows of others as quickly as to our own, our imagination is dull and incomplete:
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
[I]Auguries of Innocence.
When we feel like this, we will go forth to help, not because we are prompted by duty or religion or reason, but because the cry of the weak and ignorant so wrings our heart that we cannot leave it unanswered. Cultivate love and understanding then, and all else will follow. Energy, desire, intellect; dangerous and deadly forces in the selfish and impure, become in the pure in heart the greatest forces for good. What mattered to Blake, and the only thing that mattered, was the purity of his soul, the direction of his will or desire, as Law and Boehme would have put it. Once a man's desire is in the right direction, the more he gratifies it the better;
Abstinence sows sand all over
The ruddy limbs & flaming hair,
But Desire Gratified
Plants fruits of life & beauty there.[76]
Only an extraordinarily pure nature or a singularly abandoned one could confidently proclaim such a dangerous doctrine. But in Blake's creed, as Swinburne has said, "the one thing unclean is the belief in uncleanness."

It is easy to see that this faculty which Blake calls "Imagination" entails of itself naturally and inevitably the Christian doctrine of self-sacrifice. It is in Milton that Blake most fully develops his great dogma of the eternity of sacrifice. "One must die for another through all eternity"; only thus can the bonds of "selfhood" be broken. Milton, just before his renunciation, cries—
I will go down to self-annihilation and eternal death
Lest the Last Judgment come and find me unannihilate,
And I be seiz'd and giv'n into the hands of my own Selfhood.
For, according to Blake, personal love or selfishness is the one sin which defies redemption. This whole passage in Milton (Book i., pp. 12, 13) well repays study, for one feels it to be alive with meaning, holding symbol within symbol. Blake's symbolism, and his fourfold view of nature and of man, is a fascinating if sometimes a despairing study. Blake has explained very carefully the way in which the visionary faculty worked in him:—
What to others a trifle appears
Fills me full of smiles or tears;
For double the vision my Eyes do see,
And a double vision is always with me.
With my inward Eye, 'tis an old Man grey,
With my outward, a Thistle across my way.
Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
'Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
And threefold in soft Beulah's night,
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton's sleep![77]
He says twofold always, for everything was of value to Blake as a symbol, as a medium for expressing a still greater thing behind it. It was in this way that he looked at the human body, physical beauty, splendour of colour, insects, animate, states, and emotions, male and female, contraction and expansion, division and reunion, heaven and hell.

When his imagination was at its strongest, his vision was fourfold, corresponding to the fourfold division of the Divine Nature, Father, Son, Spirit, and the fourth Principle, which may be described as the Imagination of God, without which manifestation would not be possible.[78] These principles, when condensed and limited so as to be seen by us, may take the form of Reason, Emotion, Energy and Sensation, or, to give them Boehme's names, Contraction, Expansion, Rotation, and Vegetative life. These, in turn, are associated with the four states of humanity or "atmospheres," the four elements, the four points of the compass, the four senses (taste and touch counting as one), and so on. Blake seemed, as it were, to hold his vision in his mind in solution, and to be able to condense it into gaseous, liquid, or solid elements at whatever point he willed. Thus we feel that the prophetic books contain meaning within meaning, bearing interpretation from many points of view; and to arrive at their full value, we should need to be able—as Blake was—to apprehend all simultaneously,[79] instead of being forced laboriously to trace them out one by one in succession. It is this very faculty of "fourfold vision" which gives to these books their ever-changing atmosphere of suggestion, elusive and magical as the clouds and colours in a sunset sky, which escape our grasp in the very effort to study them. Hence, for the majority even of imaginative people, who possess at the utmost "double vision," they are difficult and often wearisome to read. They are so, because the inner, living, vibrating ray or thread of connection which evokes these forms and beings in Blake's imagination, is to the ordinary man invisible and unfelt; so that the quick leap of the seer's mind from figure to figure, and from picture to picture, seems irrational and obscure.

To this difficulty on the side of the reader, there must in fairness be added certain undeniable limitations on the part of the seer. These are principally owing to lack of training, and possibly to lack of patience, sometimes also it would seem to defective vision. So that his symbols are at times no longer true and living, but artificial and confused.

Blake has visions, though clouded and imperfect, of the clashing of systems, the birth and death of universes, the origin and meaning of good and evil, the function and secret correspondences of spirits, of states, of emotions, of passions, and of senses, as well as of all forms in earth and sky and sea. This, and much more, he attempts to clothe in concrete forms or symbols, and if he fails at times to be explicit, it is conceivable that the fault may lie as much with our density as with his obscurity. Indeed, when we speak of Blake's obscurity, we are uncomfortably reminded of Crabb Robinson's naive remark when recording Blake's admiration for Wordsworth's Immortality Ode: "The parts ... which Blake most enjoyed were the most obscure—at all events, those which I least like and comprehend."

Blake's view of good and evil is the characteristically mystical one, in his case much emphasised. The really profound mystical thinker has no fear of evil, for he cannot exclude it from the one divine origin, else the world would be no longer a unity but a duality. This difficulty of "good" and "evil," the crux of all philosophy, has been approached by mystical thinkers in various ways (such as that evil is illusion, which seems to be Browning's view), but the boldest of them, and notably Blake and Boehme, have attacked the problem directly, and carrying mystical thought to its logical conclusion, have unhesitatingly asserted that God is the origin of Good and Evil alike, that God and the devil, in short, are but two sides of the same Force. We have seen how this is worked out by Boehme, and that the central point of his philosophy is that all manifestation necessitates opposition. In like manner, Blake's statement, "Without Contraries is no progression," is, in truth, the keynote to all his vision and mythology.
Attraction and Repulsion, Benson and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.
With these startling remarks Blake opens what is the most intelligible and concise of all the prophetic books, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Swinburne calls it the greatest of Blake's books, and ranks it as about the greatest work "produced by the eighteenth century in the line of high poetry and spiritual speculation." We may think Swinburne's praise excessive, but at any rate it is well worth reading (Essay on Blake, 1906 edn., pp. 226-252). Certainly, if one work had to be selected as representative of Blake, as containing his most characteristic doctrines clothed in striking form, this is the book to be chosen. Place a copy of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in the hands of any would-be Blake student (an original or facsimile copy, needless to say, containing Blake's exquisite designs, else the book is shorn of half its force and beauty); let him ponder it closely, and he will either be repelled and shocked, in which case he had better read no more Blake, or he will be strangely stirred and thrilled, he will be touched with a spark of the fire from Blake's spirit which quickens its words as the leaping tongues of flame illuminate its pages. The kernel of the book, and indeed of all Blake's message, is contained in the following statements on p. 4, headed "The Voice of the Devil."
All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:—
1. That man has two real existing principles, viz. a Body and a Soul.
2. That Energy, called Evil, is alone from the Body; and that reason, called Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following Contraries to these are True:—
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul, for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body, and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.
Blake goes on to write down some of the Proverbs which he collected while walking among the fires of hell. These "Proverbs of Hell" fill four pages of the book, and they are among the most wonderful things Blake has written. Finished in expression, often little jewels of pure poetry, they are afire with thought and meaning, and inexhaustible in suggestion. Taken all together they express in epigrammatic form every important doctrine of Blake's. Some of them, to be fully understood, must be read in the light of his other work. Thus, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," or, "If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise," are expressions of the idea constantly recurrent with Blake that evil must be embodied or experienced before it can be rejected.[80] But the greater number of them are quite clear and present no difficulty, as for instance the following:—
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
What is now proved was once only imagined.
As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
Exuberance is Beauty.
Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.
There are two tendencies of Blake's mind, both mystical—that is, rooted in unity—the understanding of which helps, on the one hand, to clear much in his writing that seems strange and difficult; and, on the other, reveals a deep meaning in remarks apparently simple to the point of silliness. These are his view of the solidarity of mental and spiritual as compared with physical things, and his habit of concentrating a universal truth into some one small fact.

For Blake, mental and spiritual things are the only real things. Thought is more real than action, and spiritual attitude is more real than thought. It is the most real thing about us, and it is the only thing that is of any importance. The difference between Blake's attitude and that of the ordinary practical man of the world is summed up in his characteristic pencil comment in his copy of Bacon's Essays on the remark, "Good thoughts are little better than good dreams," in the Essay on Virtue. Blake writes beside this, "Thought is act." This view is well exemplified in the Job illustrations, where Blake makes quite clear his view of the worthlessness, spiritually, of Job's gift to the beggar of part of his last meal, because of the consciously meritorious attitude of Job's mind.[81]

If this attitude be remembered it explains a good many of the most startling and revolutionary views of Blake. For instance, in the poems called "Holy Thursday" in the Songs of Innocence and Experience, he paints first of all with infinite grace and tenderness the picture of the orphan charity children going to church, as it would appear to the ordinary onlooker.
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs, Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor; Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.
But in short, scathing words and significant change of metre he reverses the picture to show his view of it, when, in the companion song of "Experience," he asks—
Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduc'd to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?
It is owing to a false idea that we can bear to see this so-called "charity" at all, for we—
reduce the man to want a gift, and then give with pomp.
The real evil is that we can suffer the need of the crust of bread to exist. This is a view which is gradually beginning to be realised to-day.

Blake is peculiarly daring and original in his use of the mystical method of crystallising a great truth in an apparently trivial fact. We have seen some of these truths in the Proverbs, and the Auguries of Innocence is nothing else but a series of such facts, a storehouse of deepest wisdom. Some of these have the simplicity of nursery rhymes, they combine the direct freshness of the language of the child with the profound truth of the inspired seer.
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt
They'd immediately Go Out.
It would scarcely be possible to sum up more completely than does this artless couplet the faith—not only of Blake—but of every mystic. Simple, ardent, and living, their faith is in truth their life, and the veriest shadow of doubt would be to them a condition of death. They are the only people in the world who are the "possessors of certainty." They have seen, they have felt: what need they of further proof? Logic, philosophy, theology, all alike are but empty sounds and barren forms to those who know.

To Francis Thompson the presence of the Divine in all things is the one overwhelming fact. As a result of this sense, the consciousness that everything is closely related, closely linked together, is ever present in his poetry. It is the vision of this truth, he believes, which will be the revelation of a new heaven and a new earth.
When to the new eyes of thee
All things by immortal power,
Near or far,
To each other linkŔd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.
The Mistress of Vision.
His "Divine intoxication," his certainty of the presence of God, is the more remarkable when it is realised through what depths of want and degradation and suffering Thompson passed, and what his life was for many years. His father, a north-country doctor, wished him to follow the profession of medicine, but the son could not bear it, and so he ran away from home with—for sole wealth—a Blake in one pocket and an Aeschylus in the other. In his struggle for life in London, fragile in body and sensitive in soul, he sank lower and lower, from selling boots to errand-boy, and finally for five years living as a vagabond without home or shelter, picking up a few pence by day, selling matches or fetching cabs, and sleeping under the archways of Covent Garden Market at night. At last, in the very depth of his misery, he was sought out and rescued by the editor of the paper to whom he had sent Health and Holiness and some of his poems. This saved him, his work brought him good friends, and he was enabled to write his wonderful poetry. These terrible experiences, which would have quenched the faith of the ordinary man and led him to despair, with the poet mystic sought expression in those six triumphant verses found among his papers when he died,[82] verses charged with mystic passion, which assert the solid reality of spiritual things, and tell us that to the outcast and the wanderer every place was holy ground, Charing Cross was the gate of heaven, and that he beheld—
Christ walking on the water Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!
Through all that he writes there breathes the spirit of mystic devotion and aspiration, but the following characteristics and beliefs may be specially noted.

(1) His reverence of childhood. He sees in the child something of the divinity which Vaughan and Wordsworth saw, and his poems to children, such as Daisy and The Poppy, have a special quality of passionate worship all their own.

(2) His attitude towards the beauty of woman. This is entirely mystical, and is akin to the view of Plato and of Donne. He shares their belief that love is but the power to catch sight of the beauty of the soul, which shines through and actually moulds the beauty of face and body.
How should I gauge what beauty is her dole,
Who cannot see her countenance for her soul,
As birds see not the casement for the sky?
And, as 'tis check they prove its presence by,
I know not of her body till I find
My flight debarred the heaven of her mind.
Her Portrait.
(3) His attraction towards the continual change and renewal of nature, not only of the movement of life to death, but of death to life. He broods over the changing cycles of the year, winter and spring, decay and re-birth, and he sees in them a profound and far-reaching symbolism. This is magnificently expressed in the Ode to the Setting Sun, where he paints a picture, unmatched in English verse, of the sun sinking to rest amid the splendours gathered round him in his fall. The poem is charged with mystic symbolism, the main thought of which is that human life, ending apparently in death, is but the prelude of preparation for a more glorious day of spiritual re-birth.
For birth hath in itself the germ of death,
But death hath in itself the germ of birth.
It is the falling acorn buds the tree,
The falling rain that bears the greenery,
The fern-plants moulder when the ferns arise.
For there is nothing lives but something dies,
And there is nothing dies but something lives.
But Francis Thompson's most entirely mystical utterance is the famous Ode—The Hound of Heaven—where he pictures with a terrible vividness and in phrase of haunting music the old mystic idea of the Love chase.[83] It is the idea expressed by Plotinus when he says, "God ... is present with all things, though they are ignorant that He is so. For they fly from Him, or rather from themselves. They are unable, therefore, to apprehend that from which they fly" (Ennead, vi. ž 7). We see the spirit of man fleeing in terror "down the nights and down the days" before the persistent footsteps of his "tremendous Lover," until, beaten and exhausted, he finds himself at the end of the chase face to face with God, and he realises there is for him no escape and no hiding-place save in the arms of God Himself.

The voices of the English poets and writers form but one note in a mighty chorus of witnesses whose testimony it is impossible for any thoughtful person to ignore. Undoubtedly, in the case of some mystics, there has been great disturbance both of the psychic and physical nature, but on this account to disqualify the statements of Plotinus, St Augustine, Eckhart, Catherine of Siena, Catherine of Genoa, Blake, and Wordsworth, would seem analogous to Macaulay's view that "perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry without a certain unsoundness of mind." Our opinion about this must depend on what we mean by "soundness of mind." To some it may appear possible that the mystics and poets are as sound as their critics. In any case, the unprejudiced person to-day would seem driven to the conclusion that these people, who are, many of them, exceptionally great, intellectually and morally, are telling us of a genuine experience which has transformed life for them. What, then, is the meaning of this experience? What explanation can we give of this puzzling and persistent factor in human life and history? These are not easy questions to answer, and only a bare hint of lines of solution dare be offered.

It is of interest to note that the last word in science and philosophy tends to reinforce and even to explain the position of the mystic. The latest of European philosophers, M. Bergson, builds up on a mystical basis the whole of his method of thought, that is, on his perception of the simple fact that true duration, the real time-flow, is known to us by a state of feeling which he calls intuition, and not by an intellectual act.

He says something like this. We find as a matter of practice that certain problems when presented to the intellect are difficult and even impossible to solve, whereas when presented to our experience of life, their solution is so obvious that they cease to be problems. Thus, the unaided intellect might be puzzled to say how sounds can grow more alike by continuing to grow more different. Yet a child can answer the question by sounding an octave on the piano. But this solution is reached by having sensible knowledge of the reality and not by logical argument. Bergson's view, therefore, is that the intellect has been evolved for practical purposes, to deal in a certain way with material things by cutting up into little bits what is an undivided flow of movement, and by looking at these little bits side by side. This, though necessary for practical life, is utterly misleading when we assume that the "points" thus singled out by the intellect represent the "thickness" of reality. Reality is fluidity, and we cannot dip up its substance with the intellect which deals with surfaces, even as we cannot dip up water with a net, however finely meshed. Reality is movement, and movement is the one thing we are unable intellectually to realise.

In order to grasp reality we must use the faculty of contact or immediate feeling, or, as Bergson calls it, intuition. Intuition is a different order of knowledge, it is moulded on the very form of life, and it enables us to enter into life, to be one with it, to live it. It is "a direction of movement: and, although capable of infinite development, is simplicity itself." This is the mystic art, which in its early stages is a direction of movement, an alteration of the quality and intensity of the self. So Bergson, making use of and applying the whole range of modern psychology and biology, tells us that we must develop intuition as a philosophical instrument if we are to gain any knowledge of things in themselves; and he is thus re-echoing in modern terms what was long ago stated by Plotinus when he said—
Knowledge has three degrees—opinion, science, illumination. The means or instrument of the first is sense, of the second dialectic, of the third intuition. To the last I subordinate reason. It is absolute knowledge founded on the identity of the mind knowing with the object known. (Letter to Flaccus.)
We have discovered that sense knowledge, however acute, has to be corrected by the intellect, which tells us that the sun does not go round the earth, although it appears to our observation to do this. So possibly, in turn, the intellect, however acute, may have to be corrected by intuition, and the impotence of brain knowledge in dealing with the problem of life is leading slowly to the perception that to know in its true sense is not an intellectual process at all.

Further, in Bergson's theory of the nature of mind, and in his theory of rhythm, he seems to indicate the lines of a technical explanation of some part of the mystic experience.[84] The soul, or the total psychic and mental life of man, he says, is far greater than the little bit of consciousness of which we are normally aware, and the brain acts as a sheath or screen, which allows only a point of this mental life to touch reality. The brain or the cerebral life is therefore to the whole mental life as the point of a knife is to the knife itself. It limits the field of vision, it cuts in one direction only, it puts blinkers on the mind, forcing it to concentrate on a limited range of facts. It is conceivable that what happens with the mystics is that their mental blinkers become slightly shifted, and they are thus able to respond to another aspect or order of reality. So that they are swept by emotions and invaded by harmonies from which the average man is screened. Life having for them somewhat changed in direction, the brain is forced to learn new movements, to cut along fresh channels, and thus to receive sensations which do not directly minister to the needs of physical life. "Our knowledge of things," says Bergson, "derives its form from our bodily functions and lower needs. By unmaking that which these needs have made, we may restore to Intuition its original purity, and so recover contact with the Real." It is possibly this very unmaking and remaking, this readjustment which we see at work in the lives of the great mystics, and which naturally causes great psychic and even physical disturbances.

Bergson's theory of rhythm is peculiarly illuminating in this connection. The intellect, he says, is like a cinematograph. Moving at a certain pace, it takes certain views, snapshots of the continuous flux of reality, of which it is itself a moving part. The special views that it picks out and registers, depend entirely upon the relation between its movement and the rhythm or movement of other aspects of the flux. It is obvious that there are a variety of rhythms or tensions of duration. For example, in what is the fraction of a second of our own duration, hundreds of millions of vibrations, which it would need thousands of our years to count, are taking place successively in matter, and giving us the sensation of light. It is therefore clear that there is a great difference between the rhythm of our own duration and the incredibly rapid rhythms of physical matter. If an alteration took place in our rhythm, these same physical movements would make us conscious—not of light—but of some other thing quite unknown.

"Would not the whole of history," asks Bergson, "be contained in a very short time for a consciousness at a higher degree of tension than our own?" A momentary quickening of rhythm might thus account for the sensation of timelessness, of the "participation in Eternity" so often described by the mystic as a part of the Vision of God.

Again, Bergson points out that there is nothing but movement; that the idea of rest is an illusion, produced when we and the thing we are looking at are moving at the same speed, as when two railway trains run side by side in the same direction. Here, once more, may not the mystic sensation of "stillness," of being at one with the central Life, be owing to some change having taken place in the spiritual rhythm of the seer, approximating it to that of the Reality which he is thus enabled to perceive, so that the fretful movement of the individual mind becomes merged in the wider flow of the whole, and both seem to be at rest?

Thus, the most recent philosophy throws light on the most ancient mystic teaching, and both point to the conclusion that our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of many other forms of consciousness, by which we are surrounded, but from which we are, most of us, physically and psychically screened. We know that the consciousness of the individual self was a late development in the race; it is at least possible that the attainment of the consciousness that this individual self forms part of a larger Whole, may prove to be yet another step forward in the evolution of the human spirit. If this be so, the mystics would appear to be those who, living with an intensity greater than their fellows, are thus enabled to catch the first gleams of the realisation of a greater self. In any case, it would seem certain, judging from their testimony, that it is possible, by applying a certain stimulus, to gain knowledge of another order of consciousness of a rare and vivifying quality. Those who have attained to this knowledge all record that it must be felt to be understood, but that, so far as words are of use, it is ever of the nature of a reconciliation; of discord blending into harmony, of difference merging into unity.