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about forty years ago. The Idealism upon which the Transcendental Philosophy was based was, indeed, no new thing. It was as old as History. Nor was it in anywise confined to America. In Germany, Transcendentalism had already a firm footing, and thence its theories penetrated West. Carlyle and Coleridge represented it in Old England. In New England it took deeper root. Transcendentalism in Europe was simply a system of Philosophy, but in America it was intensified into a principle of life and conduct. It became a Religion, though at no time did it fall into the abysses of Sectarianism. It had many adherents, not only among unattached thinkers, but among Unitarians, Independents and Episcopalians as well.
By Transcendental is meant to use Carlyle's words—“ ascending beyond the senses.” Are all the ideas of the mind experiences of either present or past generations, or are there some conceptions, not less absolute, which come in another way? In other words, can man's knowledge transcend phenomena ? The Sensationalist and the Materialist answer, No;" the Idealist, "Yes." According to the
Idealist the existence of God and of the soul are facts which no experience has ever taught him, or could teach. That they are facts is affirmed by his consciousness, in a manner and with a force which nothing can gainsay. He does not seek for proofs of God in any Bible or in any supposed purpose in Nature. Paley altogether fails to satisfy him with "Evidences." The knowledge of these matters comes to him, not from without but from within. The presence of God in the outer world becomes
manifest only when he has first found Him in Consciousness.
It will be perceived from this, that there are many Transcendentalists besides those who accept the title. They may know little or nothing about Transcendentalism as a system of Philosophy or in its theory of morals, and yet adopt it in their Religion and in their life. Bible worshippers, believers in written revelations belong, of course, to the Sensational School. They fancy God can be discovered only with the aid of the eyes and ears, and they would almost doubt whether a deaf and dumb person could have any proper conception of Him. Probably they
would assert that, to a man whose power of communicating with his fellow-creatures was utterly deficient, God and Religion would be impossible; in fact they do assert that their Missions and Bible Societies are the essential means of carrying grace and truth to the Heathen. But theories of Conscience and of an Inner Light, and faith in a Living God not derived from books and preachers-these are the transcendental element in the popular Religion, and these are, as will readily be seen, by far its highest and best element.
Of course, the way in which we regard this question of God and Religion will bear upon our notions of Morality and Conduct. The Transcendentalist, regarding himself as a Soul, and as having direct relations with the Most High, feels that he is a responsible being. He does not give himself up to the Fates, as a child of Destiny; he does not rely upon State Machinery, Social Reforms and other material means for his happiness and goodness, as a creature
of Circumstance; and he does not perceive in Evolution the sole means of growth to him, though the bodily man may be conditioned by his environment, and though the whole bodily and mental development may be explained on Mr. Spencer's principles, yet that is not all. The Soul of man has still powers of choice and has still means of growth. It is not the product of the ages, deriving its germ from protoplasm. Some Transcendentalists have seen in the Evolution hypothesis the dissolution of their former faith. What they before supposed to be facts transcending experience, they now find were experiences of ancestors; earlier or later, the knowledge entered the mind through the medium of the senses. But Mr. Emerson has not thus faltered. He may have corrected his Idealism by this new departure in Science, and he has certainly not feared to test it. But it has not been undermined. The essential truth of it remains unshaken.
It is not a part of our task, here, to enter further into this harmony of Evolution and Idealism; nor need we do more than point to the light which the transcendental position may throw upon the troublesome problem of Free-will. The fundamental assertions of God and the Soul will be disputed by many, who would thus carry us to the most materialistic side of Evolutionism. But, to him who can accept them, the world has a changed aspect. He no longer fears the effect that men and things have upon him; he no longer dwells too exclusively on affairs, wealth and position. The growth of the Soul is of paramount importance, and, while he readily sees how much of sacrifice and devotion that growth demands,
he yet will willingly give these, in the joy of knowing what great gifts he has. He must be more and not less than other men, for the demands of the Soul are great. Nothing is to be despised, neither the body, the world and nature, nor the mind and thought: they are all parts of the Eternal Plan. Thus the Transcendentalist does not condemn Reason as carnal or the passions and emotions as vile. The human body is, to him, divine. All creation assumes, before him, a harmony and unity of purpose. The only possible discord arises from the soul's mistaken attitude towards God. The instrument is perfect, but the player sometimes makes a mistake. A "Power of Evil" is clearly impossible, for Evil is not power, but weakness: a falling short of the highest.
These ideas run through the whole of Mr. Emerson's incomparable Essays and, in choosing a few examples for quotation, the difficulty is that so many offer:-"The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the Soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of Time, out of Space and not subject to Circumstance. Thus in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed is, by the action itself, contracted. He who puts off impurity thereby puts on purity.” (Address at Cambridge Divinity College.) "The true meaning of Spiritual is Real; that law which executes itself; which works without means, and which cannot be conceived as not existing." "I think that the last lesson of life, the choral song which rises from all elements and from all angels is a
voluntary obedience; necessitated freedom." Higher than the question of our duration is the question of our deserving. Immortality will come to such as are fit for it, and he who would be a great soul in future must be a great soul now." (Essay on
Worship.") "Riches and poverty are a thick or thin costume, and our life-the life of all of usidentical. For we transcend the circumstance continually and taste the real quality of existence.' (Essay on "Illusions.") Our last quotation will be from the Essay on "Compensation." After discoursing of "the indifferency of Circumstance," showing how strangely the good and evil things of life balance one with another, Mr. Emerson proceeds :-" There is a deeper fact in the Soul than Compensation, to wit, its own nature. The Soul is not a Compensation but a Life. The Soul is. Under all this running sea of Circumstance, whose waters ebb and flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss of Real Being. Existence or God is not a relation or a part, but the whole. Being is the vast affirmative."
We well know that this poor effort to indicate the teachings of Mr. Emerson will act as a deterrent and not as an incentive to many in respect to a study of his writings. There are those who will take it as a warning not to trouble themselves with so fanciful and unpractical a thinker. They are matter-of-fact men, and want none of these high-flown theories. They are satisfied that there is a God because the Bible and the preachers say so; or else they are convinced that belief in any God at all is only a childish fancy which the world has almost out-grown.