SOME ACCOUNT OF MYSELF
THE latter part of the following month, February 1874, found me paying my
promised visit to the
The consciousness from an early age of having a mission in life, avowed by my new friend, had been mine also. Brought
up in the strictest of evangelical sects, (1) I had even as a lad began to be revolted by the creed in which I was reared, and had very early come to regard its tenets, especially of total depravity and vicarious atonement, as a libel nothing short of blasphemous against both God and man, and to feel that no greater boon could be bestowed on the world than its emancipation from the bondage of a belief so degrading and so destructive of any lofty ideal. I had felt strongly that only in such measure as I might be the means of its abolition would my life be a success and a satisfaction to myself. It even seemed to me that my own credit was involved in the matter, and that in disproving such beliefs I should be vindicating my own character. For if God were evil, as those doctrines made Him, I could by no possibility be good, since I must have my derivation from Him. And I knew that, however weak and unwise I might be, I was not evil.
Then, too, my life, like hers, had been one of much isolation and meditation. I had felt myself a stranger even with my closest intimates. For I was always conscious of a difference which separated me from them, and of a side to which they could not have access. I had graduated at Cambridge with the design of taking orders; but only to find that I could not do so conscientiously, and to feel that to commit myself to any conditions incompatible with absolute freedom of thought and expression would be a treachery against both myself and my kind; – for it was for no merely personal end that I wanted to discover the truth. I longed to get away from all my surroundings in order, first, to think myself out of all that I had been taught, and so to make my mind as a clean sheet whereon to receive true impressions and at first hand; and, next, to think myself into a condition and to a level wherein I could see all things – myself, nature, and God – face to face, with vision undimmed and undistorted by beliefs which, being inherited only and traditional, instead of the result of conviction honestly arrived at, were factitious and unreal; no living outcome of my own growth and observation, but a veritable strait-waistcoat, stifling life and restraining development. And so it had come that – as
related in my first novel, The Pilgrim and the Shrine, (1) which was essentially autobiographical – I had eagerly fallen in with a proposal to join an expedition to the then newly discovered placers of California, an enterprise which, besides promising to gratify the love for adventure, physical as well as mental, which was strong in me, would postpone if not solve the difficulty of my position. It possessed, moreover, the high recommendation of taking me to the world of the fresh, unsophisticated West, instead of to that East which had been made almost hateful to me by its association with the tenets by which existence had been poisoned for me.
So, setting my face towards the sunset, I became one of the band of “Forty-niners” in California, and remained abroad in the continents and isles of the Pacific, from America passing to Australia, until the intended year of my absence had grown into nearly ten years, and I had experienced well-nigh every vicissitude and extreme which might serve to heighten the consciousness, toughen the fibre, and try the soul of man. (2) But throughout all, the idea of a mission remained with me, gathering force and consistency, until it was made clear to me that not destruction merely, but construction, not the exposure of error, but the demonstration of truth, was comprised in it. For I saw that it was possible to reduce religion to a series of first principles, necessary truths, and self-evident propositions, and that only in such measure as it was thus reduced and discerned was it really true and really believed; – in short, that faith and knowledge are identical. To accept a religion on the ground that one had been born in it, and apart from its appeal to the mind and moral conscience, and thus to make it dependent upon the accident of birth and parentage, was to resemble the African savage who, for the same reason, worships Mumbo Jumbo. How, moreover – I asked myself – could a religion which was not in accord with first principles represent a God, who, to be God, must Himself be the first of, and must comprise, all principles; must account logically for all the facts of consciousness, be it unfolded as far
as it may? Granting that, as the poet says, “an honest man’s the noblest work of God,” it was for me no less true that “an honest God’s the noblest work of man.” And it was precisely such a being that I longed to elaborate out of, or discover in, my own consciousness, confident that the achievement meant the solution of all problems, the rectification of all difficulties, the satisfaction of all aspirations, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Following such trains of thought, I arrived at the assurance that I had within my own consciousness both the truth itself and the verification of the truth, and that it remained only to find these.
Returning to England in 1857, and, after an interval, devoting myself to literature, all that I wrote, whether essay or fiction, represented the endeavour by probing the consciousness to the utmost in every direction to discover a central, radiant, and indefeasible point from which all things could be deduced, and on which, as a pivot, they must depend and revolve. I read largely, and went much among people, always in search of aid in my quest; but only with the result of finding that neither from books nor from persons could I even begin to get what I sought, but only from thought.
Meanwhile everything seemed ordered with a view to the end ultimately attained. For, so far from having left behind me for ever the vicissitudes, and struggles, and trials, and ordeals in which the wildernesses of the western and southern worlds had been so fruitful, I was found of them in the old world to which I had returned; and this in number, kind, and degree, such as to make it appear as if what I had borne before had been inflicted expressly for the purpose of enabling me to bear what was put upon me now. And it was only when I had learnt by experience that the very capacity for thought is enhanced by feeling no less than by thinking, that the “ministry of pain” found its explanation. For the feeling required of me proved to be that of the inner, not merely of the outer man, of the soul, not merely of the body; and the faculty, to be the intuition, and not merely the intellect. Hence I was made to learn by experience, long before the fact was formulated for me in words, that only “by the bruising of the outer, the inner is set free,” and “man is alive only so far as he has felt.”
Everything seemed contrived expressly in order to force me in this inward direction. Even in my literary work, nothing of
the “trade” element was permitted to intrude. I could not write except when writing to or from my own centre. Faculty itself was shut off if turned to any other purpose. Everything I wrote must minister to and represent a step in my own unfoldment.
I can confidently affirm that the only books which really helped me were, with scarcely an exception, those which I wrote myself. Of the exceptions the chief was Emerson. His essays had been my vade mecum in all my world-wide wanderings. And there were three sentences of his which, to use his own phrase, “found” me as no others had done. They were these: “The talent is the call;” “I the imperfect adore my own perfect;” and, “Beware when God lets loose a thinker on the earth.” Like Emerson himself, I had yet to learn that man’s own perfect is God, and self-culture is God-culture, provided the self be the inmost self. The two other books which most helped me were Bailey’s Festus and Carlyle’s Hero-Worship. And I owed something to Abraham Tucker’s Light of Nature. By which it will be seen that my affinity was always for the prophets rather than the priests of literature; for the intuitionalists rather than the externalists.
Gradually two leading ideas took definite form in my mind, which, however, proved to be but two aspects or applications of one and the same idea. And that idea proved to be the keynote of all that I was seeking after. For it finally solved the problems of existence, of religion, of the Bible, of Being itself. Hence the necessity of this reference to it.
This idea was that of a duality subsisting in every unity, such as I had nowhere read or heard of. I was, of course, aware that the theological doctrine of the Trinity involved a Duality. But not of a kind to find response in my mind. And being unable to assimilate it as it stood, I ignored it: putting it aside until it should present itself to me in an aspect in which it was intelligible. I felt, however vaguely, that the Duality I sought was in the Bible, though it had been missed by the official expositors of that book. And the conviction that it was in some way connected with my life-work was so strong that I constructed for the covers of my two first books a monogram symbolical of Genesis I, 27. And I looked to the unfoldment of what I felt to be the secret significance of that utterance for the explication of
all the mysteries the solution of which engrossed me. The thought did not seem to originate in any of my experiences, but rather to be part of my original stock of innate ideas, supposing that there are such ideas, and to derive confirmation and explanation from my experiences.
Those experiences were in this wise. It had been my privilege to have the friendship of several women of a type so noble that to know them was at once an education and a religion; women whose perfection of character had served more than anything else to make me believe in God, when all other grounds had failed. I could in no wise account for them on the hypothesis of a fortuitous concourse of unintelligent atoms. And not only did I find that the higher the type the more richly they were endowed with precisely the faculty of which I myself was conscious as distinguishing me from my fellows; I found also that I was unable to recognise any woman as of a high type as woman save in so far as she was possessed of it. I had failed to find any who possessed the knowledge I craved, and who were thereby able to help me in my thought. They helped me nevertheless, but it was by being what they were, rather than by knowing and doing, be they admirable as they might in these respects. I recognised in them that which supplemented and complemented my mental self in such wise as to suggest unbounded possibilities of results to accrue from the intimate association of two minds thus attuned to each other, and duly unfolded by thought and study. It needed, it seemed to me, but the reverberation and intensification of thought, induced by the apposition of two minds thus related, for the production of the divine child Truth in the very highest spheres of thought. So that the results would by no means be restricted to the mere sum of the associated capacities of the two minds themselves. And in view of such high possibilities I found myself appropriating and applying the ejaculation which Virgil puts into the mouth of Anna when urging the union of her sister Dido with Æneas –
“Quæ surgere regna
and I felt with Tennyson that
“They two together well might move the world.”
So boundless seemed to me the kingdoms of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty which would spring from such conjunction.
It goes without saying that such relationship was contemplated by me only as the
accompaniment of a happy remarriage. [For I had married in
was the surmise or suspicion that all these things, hard to bear as they were, and undeserved as they seemed, might prove to be blessings in disguise, in ministering to the realisation of the controlling ambition of my life by educating me for it; and that according to the manner in which I bore them might be the result.
There is yet one more personal disclosure essential to this part of my relation. It concerns my own mental standpoint at the time at which my narrative has arrived. Bent as I was on penetrating the secret of things at first hand, and by means of a thought absolutely free, I was never for a moment disposed to turn, as my so-called free-thinking contemporaries one and all had turned, a scornful back upon whatever related to or savoured of the current religion. Scripture and dogma were not for me necessarily either false or inscrutable because their official exponents had presented them in an aspect which outraged my reason and revolted my conscience. I felt bound – if only in justice to them and myself – at least to find out what they did mean before finally discarding them. And in this act of justice I was strangely sustained by a sense of the possibility that the truth, if any, contained in them was no other than that of which I was in search. This is to say, that in all my investigations I kept before me the idea that, if I could discern the actual nature of existence and the intended sense of the Bible and Christianity, independently of each other, they might prove on comparison to be identical; in which case the latter would really represent a true revelation. Meanwhile, I found myself constrained to believe, as an axiomatic proposition, that the higher and nobler the conception I framed in my imagination of the nature of existence, and the more in accordance with my ideas of what, to be perfect, the constitution of the universe ought to be, the nearer I should come to the actual truth.
Similarly with religion. For a religion to be true, it must, I felt absolutely assured, be ideally perfect after the most perfect ideal that we can frame. This is to say, that not only must it be in itself such as to satisfy both head and heart, mind and moral conscience, spirit and soul; it must also be perfectly simple, obviously reasonable, coherent, self-evident, founded in the nature of things, incapable – when once comprehended – of being conceived of as otherwise, absolutely equitable, eternally true,
and recognisable as being all these, invariable in operation, independent of all accidents of time, place, persons, and events, and comparable to the demonstration of a mathematical problem in that it needs no testimony or authority beyond those of the mind; and requiring for its efficacious observance nothing that is extraneous or inaccessible to the subject-individual, but within his ability to recognise and fulfil, provided only that he so will. It must also be such as to enable him by the observance of it to turn his existence to the highest possible account imaginable by him, be his imagination as developed as it may: and all this as independently of any being other than himself, as if he were the sole personal entity in the universe, and were himself the universe. That is to say, the means of man’s perfectionment must inhere in his own system, and he must be competent of himself effectually to apply them. It is further necessary, because equitable, that he be allowed sufficient time and opportunity for the discovery, understanding, and application of such means.
Such are the terms and conditions of an ideally perfect religion, as I conceived of them. It is a definition which excludes well-nigh, if not quite, all the characteristics ordinarily regarded as appertaining to religion, and notably to that of Christendom. For in excluding everything extraneous to the actual subject-individual, and requiring religion to be self-evident and necessarily true, it excludes as superfluous and irrelevant, history, tradition, authority, revelation as ordinarily conceived of, ecclesiastical ordinance, priestly ministration, mediatorial function, vicarious satisfaction, and even the operation of Deity as subsisting without and apart from the man, all of which are essential elements in the accepted conception of religion. Nevertheless, profound as was my distrust of the faithfulness of the orthodox presentation, I could not reconcile myself to a renunciation of the originals on which that presentation was founded, until I had satisfied myself that I had fathomed their intended and real meaning.
I had, moreover, very early conceived personal affection for Jesus as a man, so strong as to serve as a deterrent both from abandoning the faith founded on him, and from accepting it as it is as worthy of him.
Such was my standpoint, intellectual and religious, at the period in question. The time came when it found full justification,
our results being such as to verify it in every one of its manifold aspects. And not this only. The doctrine which had so mysteriously evolved itself out of my consciousness to attain by slow degrees the position of a controlling influence in my life, the doctrine, namely, of a Duality subsisting in the Original Unity of Underived Being, and as inhering therefore in every unit of derived being, this doctrine proved to be the key to the mysteries both of Creation and of Redemption, as propounded in the Bible and manifested in the Christ; the key also to the nature of man, disclosing the facts both of his possession of divine potentialities as his birthright, and his endowment with the faculty whereby to discern and to realise them. And while it proved constructive in respect of Divine Truth, it proved destructive in respect of the falsification of that truth which had passed for orthodoxy, by disclosing the source, the motive, the method, and the agents of that falsification.
But these things were still in the future. At the time with which we are now concerned, I had commenced a book to represent the standpoint just described, The Keys of the Creeds. The first and initial draft of that book was written under the sympathetic eye of one of the order of noble women to which reference has been made, and owed much to the enhancement of faculty derived by me from such conjunction of minds. The second and final draft was written under like relationship with another member of the self-same order, even she who proved to be my destined collaborator in the work of which this book recounts the story, and to whom I must now return.
(34:1) The following autobiographical sketch varies little, if at all, from that contained in my little book, The Story of the New Gospel of Interpretation. For, having found clear and concise expression there, it seems to me unnecessary to seek other expression here; that book claims expressly to be but an epitome and instalment of this one. – E.M.
(35:1) Edward Maitland was born on the 27th October
(36:1) This book was published in 1868 (Light, 1893, p. 103). – S.H.H.
(36:2) During this period Edward Maitland filled the posts of aide-de-camp to his relative, the then Governor-General of Australia, and of Commissioner of Crown Lands and Justice of the Peace of New South Wales (Light, 1893, p. 103). – S.H.H.