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General Remarks on Mysticism.
'GENERAL REMARKS ON MYSTICISM.
LONG as this digression has already been, it seems necessary to add a few general remarks on Mysticism before returning to the subject of Law's outer life.
It will have been gathered from the preceding pages that I have a deep, but not indiscriminate, admiration for the characters and writings of many of the mystics. And surely their ardent piety, their intense realisation of the Divine Presence, their spiritual-mindedness, their unselfishness, their humility, their calm and serene faith, the refinement, nay, the poetry of their style and matter, their elevating view of the heavenly meaning of outward nature, their cultivation of the inner life,—the life that is hid with Christ in God, and many other points in their system, are worthy of adıniration.
But it may naturally be asked, How is it, if mysticism really be what it has been described as being, that it has not found more favour with a people so religious as the English, on the whole, decidedly are ?
This question requires an answer. It will have been observed that in the foregoing sketch the name of not one single Englishman appears. The sketch, it will be remembered, was confined to those mystics exclusively who influenced William Law; and, though there were many Englishmen of a mystical tendency who would come under that category, and who will therefore be noticed presently,
Vaughan's 'Hours with the Mystics.'
there was assuredly not one who can fairly be called a mystic proper. It would be too sweeping a statement to assert that there were no English mystics, but they were few and far between. Mysticism is a plant which seems to thrive on English soil hardly better than an Alpen-rose would on the top of Helvellyn. A fair and full account of Christian mysticism is still a want in English literature. Perhaps the most popular English book on the subject-the book from which many who have not made mysticism their special study derive their knowledge of it-is Mr. Vaughan's 'Hours with the Mystics,' and its popularity is not undeserved. The writer is full of information ; he writes cleverly, and evidently desires to do justice to his subject. But his very plan shows that he is hardly in sympathy with it. His work is in the form of a dialogue, or rather of a series of narratives, read by a lawyer, on which the hearers-a country gentleman, his sharp-witted wife, a lively young artist, and a rather flippant young lady-make their comments. The subject is introduced as "Three friends sat about their after-dinner table, chatting over their wine and walnuts,'-- not very favourable circumstances under which to discuss the deep, spiritual thoughts of devoted and self-denying Christians. A good deal of smart badinage goes on over the narratives. Now and then the subject seems likely to be slow, and the ladies cut the performance. The writer loves to quote all the extravagant expressions which mystics, carried away by the heat of devotion, may have used. Those passages in the history of mysticism are chiefly dwelt upon which have a smack of romance about them ; such, for example, as the account of Madame Guyon, who, being a fascinating woman with a romantic history, occupies a space far beyond the proportion of her merits. The whole account of Tauler's efforts as a patriot, though it has nothing directly
Vaughan's 'Hours with the Mystics.'
to do with mysticism, is given at full length ; and the treatise ends very appropriately with the ringing of the marriage bells for the wedding of the lively young artist and the pert young lady.'
This sort of thing is all very well when the subject is like those, for instance, discussed in the 'Noctes Ambrosi
Here are one or two specimens of the manner, that the reader may judge for himself whether the description in the text is exaggerated or not.
Gower : Let me bring some prisoners to your bar. Silence in the court there ! [Then follows an account of some my: tics' views.] Guilty of mysticism, or not?
Atherton : Can you call good evidence to character ?
Willoughby: Here's another definition for you : mysticism is the romance of religion. What do you say?
Gower : True to the spirit ; not scientific, I fear.
Gower (flourishing a ruler, turning to the four points, and reading with tremendous voice a formula of incantation from Hörst) : Lalla Bacheram !
Willoughby (springing upon Gower): Seize him! He's stark, staring mad!
Gower : Hands off ! were we not to discuss to-night the best possible order for your mystics?
Atherton : And a neat little plan I had set up-shaken all to pie at this moment by your madcap antics !
Gower : Thanks, if you please, not reproaches. I was calling help for you ; I was summoning the fay.
Willoughby : The fay?
Gower : The fay. Down with you in that arm-chair and sit quietly. l.now that I was this morning reading Anderson's Märchen-all about LukOie, his ways and works, the queer little elf, &c. (I. 39.)
Gower : Don't you think Atherton has a very manuscriptural air to-night? Kate : There is a certain aspect of repletion about him.
Mrs. Atherton : We must bleed him, or the consequences may be serious. What's this? (Pulls a paper out of his pocket.)
Kate: And this ? (Pulls out another.)
The MS. is the long account of Tauler. The two impostors in Sir W. Scott's novels, Sir A. Wardour's Dousterswivel and Leicester's Alasco, are instanced as specimens of one kind of mystic (vol. ii. p. 34). Swedenborg is
the Olympian Jove of mystics '--whatever that may mean (II. 279). And yet the writer admits at the beginning of his work that “the mystics were the conservators of the poetry and heart of religion,' and that their very errors were often such as were possible only to great souls.' (I. 15.)
John Keble on Mysticism.
anæ,' or ' Friends in Council.' But questions which, to say the least of them, are of the profoundest spiritual moment, and works whose every page palpitates with the deepest emotions of their authors, surely deserve a little more serious treatment.
And there are a few English writers, and those men of high mark, who have treated the subject, though only slightly and incidentally, in a more serious and sympa. thetic tone. Foremost among these stands the honoured name of John Keble. He was attracted to the subject, partly by his reverence for patristic authority, and partly by his poetical instinct. The author of the Christian Year' could hardly be insensible to the deep vein of devotional poetry which runs through the prose writings of the mystics, especially those parts of them which treat of the analogies between the visible and the invisible worlds. It would be difficult, indeed, to find a more thoughtful and appreciative estimate of Christian mysticism than in the beautiful fragment (alas! that it should be only a fragment) in Tract 89 of the 'Tracts for the Times.' The title of the tract is ‘On the Mysticism attributed to the Early Fathers, and the primary object of the writer is to vindicate the Fathers from the supposed stigma attaching to them on account of their mysticism. His remarks on the prejudices against mysticism were perhaps more applicable forty years ago than they are now ; but the prejudices still exist, if they are not so virulent, and therefore the weighty words of the departed saint are well worth quoting. It [the word mysticism),' he writes, “touches the very string which most certainly moves contemptuous thought in those who have imbibed the peculiar spirit of our time. Mysticism implies a sort of confusion between physical and moral, visible and invisible agency, most abhorrent to the minds of those who pique themselves on having thoroughly
Tract 89 of the 'Tracts for the Times.'
clear ideas, and on their power of distinctly analysing effects into their proper causes, whether in matter or mind. Again, mysticism conveys the notion of something essentially and altogether remote from common sense and practical utility ; but common sense and practical utility are the very idols of the age. Further, that which is stigmatised as mysticism is almost always something which makes itself discerned by internal evidence. . . . . In the eyes of a world full of hurry and business, there is a temptation to acquiesce over lightly in any censure of that kind. .... How meanly even respectable persons allow themselves to think of the highest sort of poetry—that which invests all things, great and small, with the noblest of all associationswhen once they have come to annex to it the notion of mysticism! Perhaps its mischievous effects on theology are as great as any attributable to a single word.'
The frame of mind in which such a subject as mysticism should be studied is well described. “A person who would go into this question with advantage should be imbued beforehand with a kind of natural piety, which will cause him to remember all along that perhaps, when he comes to the end of his inquiry, he will find that God was all the while really there. He will “put off his shoes from off his feet” if he do but think it possible that an angel may tell him by and by, “ the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” So it must be in some measure with every right-minded person in the examination of every practice and opinion against which the charge of mysticism is brought. Whatever may appear in the case at first sight, likely to move scorn or ridicule, or tempt to mere lightness of thought, it will be an exercise of faith, a trial of a serious heart, to repress for the time any tendency of that kind ; the loss and error being infinitely greater, if we are found trifling with a really sacred subject, than if we