The Varieties Of Religious Experience, By William James
Lectures VI and VII
The Sick Soul
our last meeting, we considered the healthy-minded temperament,
the temperament which has a constitutional incapacity
for prolonged suffering, and in which the tendency to
see things optimistically is like a water of crystallization
in which the individual's character is set.
We saw how this temperament may become the basis
for a peculiar type of religion, a religion in which good,
even the good of this world's life, is regarded as the
essential thing for a rational being to attend to.
This religion directs him to settle his scores
with the more evil aspects of the universe by systematically
declining to lay them to heart or make much of them, by
ignoring them in his reflective calculations, or even,
on occasion, by denying outright that they exist.
Evil is a disease; and worry over disease is itself
an additional form of disease, which only adds to the
Even repentance and remorse, affections which come
in the character of ministers of good, may be but sickly
and relaxing impulses.
The best repentance is to up and act for righteousness,
and forget that you ever had relations with sin.
philosophy has this sort of healthy-mindedness woven into
the heart of it, and this has been one secret of its fascination.
He whom Reason leads, according to Spinoza, is
led altogether by the influence over his mind of good.
Knowledge of evil is an "inadequate"
knowledge, fit only for slavish minds.
So Spinoza categorically condemns repentance.
When men make mistakes, he says--
might perhaps expect gnawings of conscience and repentance
to help to bring them on the right path, and might thereupon
conclude (as every one does conclude) that these affections
are good things. Yet when we look at the matter closely, we shall find that
not only are they not good, but on the contrary deleterious
and evil passions.
For it is manifest that we can always get along
better by reason and love of truth than by worry of conscience
and remorse. Harmful
are these and evil, inasmuch as they form a particular
kind of sadness; and the disadvantages of sadness,"
he continues, "I have already proved, and shown that
we should strive to keep it from our life.
Just so we should endeavor, since uneasiness of
conscience and remorse are of this kind of complexion,
to flee and shun these states of mind."
Tract on God, Man, and Happiness, Book ii. ch. x.
the Christian body, for which repentance of sins has from
the beginning been the critical religious act, healthy-mindedness
has always come forward with its milder interpretation.
Repentance according to such healthy- minded Christians
means GETTING AWAY FROM the sin, not groaning and writhing
over its commission.
The Catholic practice of confession and absolution
is in one of its aspects little more than a systematic
method of keeping healthy- mindedness on top.
By it a man's accounts with evil are periodically
squared and audited, so that he may start the clean page
with no old debts inscribed.
Any Catholic will tell us how clean and fresh and
free he feels after the purging operation.
Martin Luther by no means belonged to the healthy-minded
type in the radical sense in which we have discussed it,
and he repudiated priestly absolution for sin. Yet in
this matter of repentance he had some very healthy- minded
ideas, due in the main to the largeness of his conception
I was a monk," he says "I thought that I was
utterly cast away, if at any time I felt the lust of the
is to say, if I felt any evil motion, fleshly lust, wrath,
hatred, or envy against any brother.
I assayed many ways to help to quiet my conscience,
but It would not be; for the concupiscence and lust of
my flesh did always return, so that I could not rest,
but was continually vexed with these thoughts:
This or that sin thou hast committed:
thou art infected with envy, with impatiency, and
such other sins:
therefore thou art entered into this holy order
in vain, and all thy good works are unprofitable.
But if then I had rightly understood these sentences
of Paul: 'The
flesh lusteth contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit contrary
to the flesh; and these two are one against another, so
that ye cannot do the things that ye would do,' I should
not have so miserably tormented myself, but should have
thought and said to myself, as now commonly I do, 'Martin,
thou shalt not utterly be without sin, for thou hast flesh;
thou shalt therefore feel the battle thereof.'
I remember that Staupitz was wont to say, 'I have
vowed unto God above a thousand times that I would become
a better man: but
I never performed that which I vowed.
Hereafter I will make no such vow:
for I have now learned by experience that I am
not able to perform it.
Unless, therefore, God be favorable and merciful
unto me for Christ's sake, I shall not be able, with all
my vows and all my good deeds, to stand before him.' This
(of Staupitz's) was not only a true, but also a godly
and a holy desperation; and this must they all confess,
both with mouth and heart, who will be saved.
For the godly trust not to their own righteousness.
They look unto Christ their reconciler who gave
his life for their sins.
Moreover, they know that the remnant of sin which
is in their flesh is not laid to their charge, but freely
in the mean while they fight in spirit against the flesh,
lest they should FULFILL the lusts thereof; and although
they feel the flesh to rage and rebel, and themselves
also do fall sometimes into sin through infirmity, yet
are they not discouraged, nor think therefore that their
state and kind of life, and the works which are done according
to their calling, displease God; but they raise up themselves
Commentary on Galatians, Philadelphia, 1891, pp. 510-514
of the heresies for which the Jesuits got that spiritual
genius, Molinos, the founder of Quietism, so abominably
condemned was his healthy-minded opinion of repentance:--
thou fallest into a fault, in what matter soever it be
do not trouble nor afflict thyself for it.
For they are effects of our frail Nature, stained
by Original Sin. The common enemy will make thee believe, as soon as thou fallest
into any fault, that thou walkest in error, and therefore
art out of God and his favor, and herewith would he make
thee distrust of the divine Grace, telling thee of thy
misery, and making a giant of it; and putting it into
thy head that every day thy soul grows worse instead of
better, whilst it so often repeats these failings.
O blessed Soul, open thine eyes; and shut the gate
against these diabolical suggestions, knowing thy misery,
and trusting in the mercy divine.
Would not he be a mere fool who, running at tournament
with others, and falling in the best of the career, should
lie weeping on the ground and afflicting himself with
discourses upon his fall? Man (they would tell him), lose no time, get up and take the
course again, for he that rises again quickly and continues
his race is as if he had never fallen.
If thou seest thyself fallen once and a thousand
times, thou oughtest to make use of the remedy which I
have given thee, that is, a loving confidence in the divine
are the weapons with which thou must fight and conquer
cowardice and vain thoughts.
This is the means thou oughtest to use--not to
lose time, not to disturb thyself, and reap no good."
Guide, Book II., chaps. xvii., xviii. abridged.
in contrast with such healthy-minded views as these, if
we treat them as a way of deliberately minimizing evil,
stands a radically opposite view, a way of maximizing
evil, if you please so to call it, based on the persuasion
that the evil aspects of our life are of its very essence,
and that the world's meaning most comes home to us when
we lay them most to heart. We have now to address ourselves to this <129> more morbid
way of looking at the situation.
But as I closed our last hour with a general philosophical
reflection on the healthy-minded way of taking life, I
should like at this point to make another philosophical
reflection upon it before turning to that heavier task.
You will excuse the brief delay.
we admit that evil is an essential part of our being and
the key to the interpretation of our life, we load ourselves
down with a difficulty that has always proved burdensome
in philosophies of religion. Theism, whenever it has erected itself into a systematic philosophy
of the universe, has shown a reluctance to let God be
anything less than All-in-All.
In other words, philosophic theism has always shown
a tendency to become pantheistic and monistic, and to
consider the world as one unit of absolute fact; and this
has been at variance with popular or practical theism,
which latter has ever been more or less frankly pluralistic,
not to say polytheistic, and shown itself perfectly well
satisfied with a universe composed of many original principles,
provided we be only allowed to believe that the divine
principle remains supreme, and that the others are subordinate.
In this latter case God is not necessarily responsible
for the existence of evil; he would only be responsible
if it were not finally overcome.
But on the monistic or pantheistic view, evil,
like everything else, must have its foundation in God;
and the difficulty is to see how this can possibly be
the case if God be absolutely good.
This difficulty faces us in every form of philosophy
in which the world appears as one flawless unit of fact.
Such a unit is an INDIVIDUAL, and in it the worst
parts must be as essential as the best, must be as necessary
to make the individual what he is; since if any part whatever
in an individual were to vanish or alter, it would no
longer be THAT individual at all. The philosophy of absolute idealism, so vigorously represented
both in Scotland and America to-day, has to struggle with
this difficulty quite as <130> much as scholastic
theism struggled in its time; and although it would be
premature to say that there is no speculative issue whatever
from the puzzle, it is perfectly fair to say that there
is no clear or easy issue, and that the only OBVIOUS escape
from paradox here is to cut loose from the monistic assumption
altogether, and to allow the world to have existed from
its origin in pluralistic form, as an aggregate or collection
of higher and lower things and principles, rather than
an absolutely unitary fact.
For then evil would not need to be essential; it
might be, and may always have been, an independent portion
that had no rational or absolute right to live with the
rest, and which we might conceivably hope to see got rid
of at last.
the gospel of healthy-mindedness, as we have described
it, casts its vote distinctly for this pluralistic view.
Whereas the monistic philosopher finds himself more or
less bound to say, as Hegel said, that everything actual
is rational, and that evil, as an element dialectically
required, must be pinned in and kept and consecrated and
have a function awarded to it in the final system of truth,
healthy-mindedness refuses to say anything of the sort.
Evil, it says, is emphatically irrational, and NOT to
be pinned in, or preserved, or consecrated in any final
system of truth.
It is a pure abomination to the Lord, an alien
unreality, a waste element, to be sloughed off and negated,
and the very memory of it, if possible, wiped out and
ideal, so far from being co-extensive with the whole actual,
is a mere EXTRACT from the actual, marked by its deliverance
from all contact with this diseased, inferior, and excrementitious
I say this in spite of the monistic utterances of many
mind-cure writers; for these utterances are really inconsistent
with their attitude towards disease, and can easily be
shown not to be logically involved in the experiences
of union with a higher Presence with which they connect
themselves. The higher Presence, namely, need not be the absolute whole
of things, it is quite sufficient for the life of religious
experience to regard it as a part, if only it be the most
we have the interesting notion fairly and squarely presented
to us, of there being elements of the universe which may
make no rational whole in conjunction with the other elements,
and which, from the point of view of any system which
those other elements make up, can only be considered so
much irrelevance and accident--so much "dirt,"
as it were, and matter out of place.
I ask you now not to forget this notion; for although
most philosophers seem either to forget it or to disdain
it too much ever to mention it, I believe that we shall
have to admit it ourselves in the end as containing an
element of truth.
The mind-cure gospel thus once more appears to
us as having dignity and importance.
We have seen it to be a genuine religion, and no
mere silly appeal to imagination to cure disease; we have
seen its method of experimental verification to be not
unlike the method of all science; and now here we find
mind- cure as the champion of a perfectly definite conception
of the metaphysical structure of the world.
I hope that, in view of all this, you will not
regret my having pressed it upon your attention at such
us now say good-by for a while to all this way of thinking,
and turn towards those persons who cannot so swiftly throw
off the burden of the consciousness of evil, but are congenitally
fated to suffer from its presence.
Just as we saw that in healthy-mindedness there
are shallower and profounder levels, happiness like that
of the mere animal, and more regenerate sorts of happiness,
so also are there different levels of the morbid mind,
and the one is much more formidable than the other.
There are people for whom evil means only a mal-adjustment
with THINGS, a wrong correspondence of one's life with
the environment. Such evil as this is curable, in principle
at least, upon the
natural plane, for merely by modifying either the
self or the things, or both at once, the two terms may
be made to fit, and all go merry as a marriage bell again. But there are others for whom evil is no mere relation of the
subject to particular outer things, but something more
radical and general, a wrongness or vice in his essential
nature, which no alteration of the environment, or any
superficial rearrangement of the inner self, can cure,
and which requires a supernatural remedy.
On the whole, the Latin races have leaned more
towards the former way of looking upon evil, as made up
of ills and sins in the plural, removable in detail; while
the Germanic races have tended rather to think of Sin
in the singular, and with a capital S, as of something
ineradicably ingrained in our natural subjectivity, and
never to be removed by any superficial piecemeal operations.
These comparisons of races are always open to exception,
but undoubtedly the northern tone in religion has inclined
to the more intimately pessimistic persuasion, and this
way of feeling, being the more extreme, we shall find
by far the more instructive for our study.
Cf. J. Milsand:
Luther et le Serf-Arbitre, 1884, passim.
psychology has found great use for the word "threshold"
as a symbolic designation for the point at which one state
of mind passes into another.
Thus we speak of the threshold of a man's consciousness
in general, to indicate the amount of noise, pressure,
or other outer stimulus which it takes to arouse his attention
at all. One
with a high threshold will doze through an amount of racket
by which one with a low threshold would be immediately
when one is sensitive to small differences in any order
of sensation, we say he has a low "difference- threshold"--his
mind easily steps over it into the consciousness of the
differences in question.
And just so we might speak of a "pain-threshold,"
a "fear-threshold," a "misery-threshold,"
and find it quickly overpassed by the consciousness of
some individuals, but lying too high in others to be often
reached by their consciousness. The sanguine and healthy-minded live habitually on the sunny
side of their misery-line, the depressed and melancholy
live beyond it, in darkness and apprehension.
There are men who seem to have started in life
with a bottle or two of champagne inscribed to their credit;
whilst others seem to have been born close to the pain-threshold,
which the slightest irritants fatally send them over.
it not appear as if one who lived more habitually on one
side of the pain-threshold might need a different sort
of religion from one who habitually lived on the other?
This question, of the relativity of different types
of religion to different types of need, arises naturally
at this point, and will became a serious problem ere we
have done. But
before we confront it in general terms, we must address
ourselves to the unpleasant task of hearing what the sick
souls, as we may call them in contrast to the healthy-minded,
have to say of the secrets of their prison-house, their
own peculiar form of consciousness.
Let us then resolutely turn our backs on the once-born
and their sky-blue optimistic gospel; let us not simply
cry out, in spite of all appearances, "Hurrah for
the Universe!--God's in his Heaven, all's right with the
Let us see rather whether pity, pain, and fear,
and the sentiment of human helplessness may not open a
profounder view and put into our hands a more complicated
key to the meaning of the situation.
begin with, how CAN things so insecure as the successful
experiences of this world afford a stable anchorage?
A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and
life is after all a chain.
the healthiest and most prosperous existence, how many
links of illness, danger, and disaster are always interposed?
Unsuspectedly from the bottom of every fountain
of pleasure, as the old poet said, something bitter rises
up: a touch
of nausea, a falling dead of the delight, a whiff of melancholy,
things that sound a knell, for fugitive as they may be,
they bring a feeling of coming from a deeper region and
often have an appalling convincingness.
The buzz of life ceases at their touch as a piano-string
stops sounding when the damper falls upon it.
course the music can commence again;--and again and again--at
with this the healthy-minded consciousness is left with
an irremediable sense of precariousness.
It is a bell with a crack; it draws its breath
on sufferance and by an accident.
if we suppose a man so packed with healthy-mindedness
as never to have experienced in his own person any of
these sobering intervals, still, if he is a reflecting
being, he must generalize and class his own lot with that
of others; and, doing so, he must see that his escape
is just a lucky chance and no essential difference.
He might just as well have been born to an entirely
And then indeed the hollow security! What kind
of a frame of things is it of which the best you can say
is, "Thank God, it has let me off clear this time!"
Is not its blessedness a fragile fiction?
Is not your joy in it a very vulgar glee, not much
unlike the snicker of any rogue at his success?
If indeed it were all success, even on such terms
as that! But take the happiest man, the one most envied
by the world, and in nine cases out of ten his inmost
consciousness is one of failure.
Either his ideals in the line of his achievements
are pitched far higher than the achievements themselves,
or else he has secret ideals of which the world knows
nothing, and in regard to which he inwardly knows himself
to be found wanting.
such a conquering optimist as Goethe can express himself
in this wise, how must it be with less successful men?
will say nothing," writes Goethe in 1824, "against
the course of my existence. But at bottom it has been nothing but pain and burden, and
I can affirm that during the whole of my 75 years, I have
not had four weeks of genuine well-being.
It is but the perpetual rolling of a rock that
must be raised up again forever."
single-handed man was ever on the whole as successful
as Luther? Yet
when he had grown old, he looked back on his life as if
it were an absolute failure.
am utterly weary of life.
I pray the Lord will come forthwith and carry me
him come, above all, with his last Judgment:
I will stretch out my neck, the thunder will burst
forth, and I shall be at rest."--And having a necklace
of white agates in his hand at the time he added:
"O God, grant that it may come without delay.
I would readily eat up this necklace to-day, for
the Judgment to come to-morrow."--The Electress Dowager,
one day when Luther was dining with her, said to him:
"Doctor, I wish you may live forty years to
come." "Madam," replied he, "rather
than live forty years more, I would give up my chance
then, failure! so the world stamps us at every turn. We strew it with our blunders, our misdeeds, our lost opportunities,
with all the memorials of our inadequacy to our vocation.
And with what a damning emphasis does it then blot
us out! No
easy fine, no mere apology or formal expiation, will satisfy
the world's demands, but every pound of flesh exacted
is soaked with all its blood.
The subtlest forms of suffering known to man are
connected with the poisonous humiliations incidental to
they are pivotal human experiences.
A process so ubiquitous and everlasting is evidently
an integral part of life.
"There is indeed one element in human destiny,"
Robert Louis Stevenson writes, "that not blindness
itself can controvert.
Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not
intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted."
And our nature being thus rooted in failure, is it any
wonder that theologians should have held it to be essential,
and thought that only through the personal experience
of humiliation which it engenders the deeper sense of
life's significance is reached?
He adds with characteristic healthy-mindedness:
"Our business is to continue to fail in good
The God of many men is little more than their court of
appeal against the damnatory judgment passed on their
failures by the opinion of this world.
To our own consciousness there is usually a residuum
of worth left over after our sins and errors have been
told off--our capacity of acknowledging and regretting
them is the germ of a better self in posse at least.
But the world deals with us in actu and not in
of this hidden germ, not to be guessed at from without,
it never takes account.
Then we turn to the All-knower, who knows our bad,
but knows this good in us also, and who is just.
We cast ourselves with our repentance on his mercy
only by an All-knower can we finally be judged.
So the need of a God very definitely emerges from
this sort of experience of life.
this is only the first stage of the world-sickness. Make the human being's sensitiveness a little greater, carry
him a little farther over the misery-threshold, and the
good quality of the successful moments themselves when
they occur is spoiled and vitiated.
All natural goods perish.
Riches take wings; fame is a breath; love is a
cheat; youth and health and pleasure vanish.
Can things whose end is always dust and disappointment
be the real goods which our souls require? Back of everything
is the great spectre of universal death, the all-encompassing
profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under
the Sun? I
looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and
behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit.
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth
beasts; as the one dieth, so dieth the other, all are
of the dust, and all turn to dust again. . . .
The dead know not anything, neither have they any
more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
Also their love and their hatred and their envy
is now perished; neither have they any more a portion
for ever in anything that is done under the Sun. . . .
Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for
the eyes to behold the Sun:
but if a man live many years and rejoice in them
all, yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they
shall be many."
short, life and its negation are beaten up inextricably
if the life be good, the negation of it must be bad.
Yet the two are equally essential facts of existence;
and all natural happiness thus seems infected with a contradiction.
The breath of the sepulchre surrounds it.
a mind attentive to this state of things and rightly subject
to the joy-destroying chill which such a contemplation
engenders, the only relief that healthy-mindedness can
give is by saying:
"Stuff and nonsense, get out into the open
air!" or "Cheer up, old fellow, you'll be all
right erelong, if you will only drop your morbidness!"
But in all seriousness, can such bald animal talk
as that be treated as a rational answer?
To ascribe religious value to mere happy-go-lucky
contentment with one's brief chance at natural good is
but the very consecration of forgetfulness and superficiality.
Our troubles lie indeed too deep for THAT cure.
The fact that we CAN die, that we CAN be ill at
all, is what perplexes us; the fact that we now for a
moment live and are well is irrelevant to that perplexity.
We need a life not correlated with death, a health
not liable to illness, a kind of good that will not perish,
a good in fact that flies beyond the Goods of nature.
all depends on how sensitive the soul may become to discords.
"The trouble with me is that I believe too
much in common happiness and goodness," said a friend
of mine whose consciousness was of this sort, "and
nothing can console me for their transiency.
I am appalled and disconcerted at its being possible."
And so with most of us:
a little cooling down of animal excitability and
instinct, a little loss of animal toughness, a little
irritable weakness and descent of the pain-threshold,
will bring the worm at the core of all our usual springs
of delight into full view, and turn us into melancholy
The pride of life and glory of the world will shrivel.
It is after all but the standing quarrel of hot
youth and hoary eld.
Old age has the last word:
the purely naturalistic look at life, however enthusiastically
it may begin, is sure to end in sadness.
sadness lies at the heart of every merely positivistic,
agnostic, or naturalistic scheme of philosophy.
Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its best with
its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring
and forgetting, still the evil background is really there
to be thought of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet.
In the practical life of the individual, we know
how his whole gloom or glee about any present fact depends
on the remoter schemes and hopes with which it stands
related. Its significance and framing give it the chief part of its
it be known to lead nowhere, and however agreeable it
may be in its immediacy, its glow and gilding vanish.
The old man, sick with an insidious internal disease,
may laugh and quaff his wine at first as well as ever,
but he knows his fate now, for the doctors have revealed
it; and the knowledge knocks the satisfaction out of all
They are partners of death and the worm is their
brother, and they turn to a mere flatness.
lustre of the present hour is always borrowed from the
background of possibilities it goes with.
Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal
moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance;
let Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their
visits; let faith and hope be the atmosphere which man
breathes in;--and his days pass by with zest; they stir
with prospects, they thrill with remoter values.
Place round them on the contrary the curdling cold
and gloom and absence of all permanent meaning which for
pure naturalism and the popular science evolutionism of
our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill
stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.
naturalism, fed on recent cosmological speculations, mankind
is in a position similar to that of a set of people living
on a frozen lake, surrounded by cliffs over which there
is no escape, yet knowing that little by little the ice
is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the
last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously
will be the human creature's portion.
The merrier the skating, the warmer and more sparkling
the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night,
the more poignant the sadness with which one must take
in the meaning of the total situation.
early Greeks are continually held up to us in literary
works as models of the healthy-minded joyousness which
the religion of nature may engender.
There was indeed much joyousness among the Greeks--Homer's
flow of enthusiasm for most things that the sun shines
upon is steady.
But even in Homer the reflective passages are cheerless,
and the moment the Greeks grew systematically pensive
and thought of ultimates, they became unmitigated pessimists.
The jealousy of the gods, the nemesis that follows
too much happiness, the all-encompassing death,
fate's dark opacity, the ultimate and unintelligible cruelty,
were the fixed background of their imagination.
The beautiful joyousness of their polytheism is
only a poetic modern fiction.
They knew no joys comparable in quality of preciousness
to those which we shall erelong see that Ilrahmans, Buddhists,
Christians, Mohammedans, twice-born people whose religion
is non-naturalistic, get from their several creeds of
mysticism and renunciation.
E.g., Iliad XVII. 446:
"Nothing then is more wretched anywhere than
man of all that breathes and creeps upon this earth."
E.g., Theognis, 425-428:
"Best of all for all things upon earth is
it not to be born nor to behold the splendors of the sun;
next best to traverse as soon as possible the gates of
also the almost identical passage in Oedipus in Colonus,
1225.--The Anthology is full of pessimistic utterances:
"Naked came I upon the earth, naked I go below
the ground--why then do I vainly toil when I see the end
naked before me?"--"How did I come to be? Whence
am l? Wherefore
did I come? To
pass away. How can I learn aught when naught I know?
Being naught I came to life:
once more shall I be what I was.
Nothing and nothingness is the whole race of mortals."--"For
death we are all cherished and fattened like a herd of
hogs that is wantonly butchered."
difference between Greek pessimism and the oriental and
modern variety is that the Greeks had not made the discovery
that the pathetic mood may be idealized, and figure as
a higher form of sensibility.
Their spirit was still too essentially masculine
for pessimism to be elaborated or lengthily dwelt on in
their classic literature.
They would have despised a life set wholly in a
minor key, and summoned it to keep within the proper bounds
of lachrymosity. The discovery that the enduring emphasis,
so far as this world goes, may be laid on its pain and
failure, was reserved for races more complex, and (so
to speak) more feminine than the Hellenes had attained
to being in the classic period.
But all the same was the outlook of those Hellenes
insensibility and Epicurean resignation were the farthest
advance which the Greek mind made in that direction. The
"Seek not to be happy, but rather to escape
unhappiness; strong happiness is always linked with pain;
therefore hug the safe shore, and do not tempt the deeper
raptures. Avoid disappointment by expecting little, and by aiming low;
and above all do not fret."
The Stoic said:
"The only genuine good that life can yield
a man is the free possession of his own soul; all other
goods are lies."
Each of these philosophies is in its degree a philosophy
of despair in nature's boons.
Trustful self-abandonment to the joys that freely
offer has entirely departed from both Epicurean and Stoic;
and what each proposes is a way of rescue from the resultant
dust-and-ashes state of mind.
The Epicurean still awaits results from economy
of indulgence and damping of desire. The Stoic hopes for no results, and gives up natural good altogether.
There is dignity in both these forms of resignation.
They represent distinct stages in the sobering
process which man's primitive intoxication with sense-happiness
is sure to undergo. In the one the hot blood has grown cool, in the other it has
become quite cold; and although I have spoken of them
in the past tense, as if they were merely historic, yet
Stoicism and Epicureanism will probably be to all time
typical attitudes, marking a certain definite stage accomplished
in the evolution of the world-sick soul. They mark
the conclusion of what we call the once-born period, and
represent the highest flights of what twice-born religion
would call the purely natural man --Epicureanism, which
can only by great courtesy be called a religion, showing
his refinement, and Stoicism exhibiting his moral will.
They leave the world in the shape of an unreconciled
contradiction, and seek no higher unity.
Compared with the complex ecstasies which the supernaturally
regenerated Christian may enjoy, or the oriental pantheist
indulge in, their receipts for equanimity are expedients
which seem almost crude in their simplicity.
For instance, on the very day on which I write this page,
the post brings me some aphorisms from a worldly-wise
old friend in Heidelberg which may serve as a good contemporaneous
expression of Epicureanism: "By the word 'happiness' every human being understands
It is a phantom pursued only by weaker minds.
The wise man is satisfied with the more modest
but much more definite term CONTENTMENT.
What education should chiefly aim at is to save
us from a discontented life.
Health is one favoring condition, but by no means
an indispensable one, of contentment.
Woman's heart and love are a shrewd device of Nature,
a trap which she sets for the average man, to force him
into working. But
the wise man will always prefer work chosen by himself."
observe, however, that I am not yet pretending finally
to JUDGE any of these attitudes.
I am only describing their variety.
The securest way to the rapturous sorts of happiness
of which the twice-born make report has as an historic
matter of fact been through a more radical pessimism than
anything that we have yet considered.
We have seen how the lustre and enchantment may
be rubbed off from the goods of nature.
But there is a pitch of unhappiness so great that
the goods of nature may be entirely forgotten, and all
sentiment of their existence vanish from the mental field.
For this extremity of pessimism to be reached,
something more is needed than observation of life and
reflection upon death.
The individual must in his own person become the
prey of a pathological melancholy. As the healthy-minded enthusiast succeeds in ignoring evil's
very existence, so the subject of melancholy is forced
in spite of himself to ignore that of all good whatever:
for him it may no longer have the least reality.
Such sensitiveness and susceptibility to mental
pain is a rare occurrence where the nervous constitution
is entirely normal; one seldom finds it in a healthy subject
even where he is the victim of the most atrocious cruelties
of outward fortune.
So we note here the neurotic constitution, of which
I said so much in my first lecture, making its active
entrance on our scene, and destined to play a part in
much that follows.
Since these experiences of melancholy are in the
first instance absolutely private and individual, I can
now help myself out with personal documents. Painful indeed they will be to listen to, and there is almost
an indecency in handling them in public.
Yet they lie right in the middle of our path; and
if we are to touch the psychology of religion at all seriously,
we must be willing to forget conventionalities, and dive
below the smooth and lying official conversational surface.
can distinguish many kinds of pathological depression.
Sometimes it is mere passive joylessness and dreariness.
discouragement, dejection, lack of taste and zest and
spring. <143> Professor Ribot has proposed the name
anhedonia to designate this condition.
state of anhedonia, if I may coin a new word to pair off
with analgesia," he writes, "has been very little
studied, but it exists.
A young girl was smitten with a liver disease which
for some time altered her constitution. She felt no longer any affection for her father and mother.
She would have played with her doll, but it was
impossible to find the least pleasure in the act. The
same things which formerly convulsed her with laughter
entirely failed to interest her now.
Esquirol observed the case of a very intelligent
magistrate who was also a prey to hepatic disease.
Every emotion appeared dead within him.
He manifested neither perversion nor violence,
but complete absence of emotional reaction. If he went to the theatre, which he did out of habit, he could
find no pleasure there.
The thought of his house of his home, of his wife,
and of his absent children moved him as little, he said,
as a theorem of Euclid."
des sentiments, p. 54.
seasickness will in most persons produce a temporary condition
of anhedonia. Every
good, terrestrial or celestial, is imagined only to be
turned from with disgust. A temporary condition of this
sort, connected with the religious evolution of a singularly
lofty character, both intellectual and moral, is well
described by the Catholic philosopher, Father Gratry,
in his autobiographical recollections. In consequence
of mental isolation and excessive study at the Polytechnic
school, young Gratry fell into a state of nervous exhaustion
with symptoms which he thus describes:--
had such a universal terror that I woke at night with
a start, thinking that the Pantheon was tumbling on the
Polytechnic school, or that the school was in flames,
or that the Seine was pouring into the Catacombs, and
that Paris was being swallowed
when these impressions were past, all day long without
respite I suffered an incurable and intolerable desolation,
verging on despair.
I thought myself, in fact, rejected by God, lost,
damned! I felt something like the suffering of hell. Before
that I had never even thought of hell. My mind had never turned in that direction.
Neither discourses nor reflections had impressed
me in that way.
I took no account of hell.
Now, and all at once, I suffered in a measure what
is suffered there.
what was perhaps still more dreadful is that every idea
of heaven was taken away from me:
I could no longer conceive of anything of the sort.
Heaven did not seem to me worth going to. It was like a vacuum; a mythological elysium, an abode of shadows
less real than the earth.
I could conceive no joy, no pleasure in inhabiting
joy, light, affection, love-- all these words were now
devoid of sense.
Without doubt I could still have talked of all
these things, but I had become incapable of feeling anything
in them, of understanding anything about them, of hoping
anything from them, or of believing them to exist.
There was my great and inconsolable grief! I neither
perceived nor conceived any longer the existence of happiness
or perfection. An
abstract heaven over a naked rock.
Such was my present abode for eternity."
A. Gratry: Souvenirs
de ma jeunesse, 1880, pp. 119-121, abridged.
Some persons are affected with anhedonia permanently,
or at any rate with a loss of the usual appetite for life.
The annals of suicide supply such examples as the
uneducated domestic servant, aged nineteen, poisons herself,
and leaves two letters expressing her motive for the act.
To her parents she writes:--
is sweet perhaps to some, but I prefer what is sweeter
than life, and that is death.
So good-by forever, my dear parents.
It is nobody's fault, but a strong desire of my
own which I have longed to fulfill for three or four years.
I have always had a hope that some day I might
have an opportunity of fulfilling it, and now it has come.
. . . It is a wonder I have put this off so long, but
I thought perhaps I should cheer up a bit and put all
thought out of my head."
To her brother she writes:
"Good-by forever, my own dearest brother. By the time you get this I shall be gone forever.
I know, dear love, there is no forgiveness for
what I am going to do. . . . I am tired of living, so
am willing to die. . . .
Life may be sweet to some, but death to me is sweeter."
S. A. K. Strahan:
Suicide and Insanity, 2d edition, London, 1894,
much for melancholy in the sense of incapacity for joyous
much worse form of it is positive and active anguish,
a sort of psychical neuralgia wholly unknown to healthy
anguish may partake of various characters, having sometimes
more the quality of loathing; sometimes that of irritation
and exasperation; or again of self-mistrust and self-despair;
or of suspicion, anxiety, trepidation, fear.
The patient may rebel or submit; may accuse himself,
or accuse outside powers; and he may or he may not be
tormented by the theoretical mystery of why he should
so have to suffer.
Most cases are mixed cases, and we should not treat
our classifications with too much respect. Moreover, it
is only a relatively small proportion of cases that connect
themselves with the religious sphere of experience at
cases, for instance, as a rule do not.
I quote now literally from the first case of melancholy
on which I lay my hand.
It is a letter from a patient in a French asylum.
suffer too much in this hospital, both physically and
morally. Besides the burnings and the sleeplessness (for
I no longer sleep since I am shut up here, and the little
rest I get is broken by bad dreams, and I am waked with
a jump by night mares dreadful visions, lightning, thunder,
and the rest), fear, atrocious fear, presses me down,
holds me without respite, never lets me go.
Where is the justice in it all!
What have I done to deserve this excess of severity?
Under what form will this fear crush me?
What would I not owe to any one who would rid me
of my life! Eat, drink, lie awake all night, suffer without
interruption--such is the fine legacy I have received
from my mother!
What I fail to understand is this abuse of power.
There are limits to everything, there is a middle
God knows neither middle way nor limits.
I say God, but why?
All I have known so far has been the devil.
After all, I am afraid of God as much as of the
devil, so I drift along, thinking of nothing but suicide,
but with neither courage nor means here to execute the
act. As you
read this, it will easily prove to you my insanity.
The style and the ideas are incoherent enough--I
can see that myself. But I cannot keep myself from being either crazy or an idiot;
and, as things are, from whom should I ask pity? I am defenseless against the invisible enemy who is tightening
his coils around me.
I should be no better armed against him even if
I saw him, or had seen him.
Oh, if he would but kill me, devil take him!
Death, death, once for all! But I stop. I have
raved to you long enough.
I say raved, for I can write no otherwise, having
neither brain nor thoughts left.
O God! what a misfortune to be born!
Born like a mushroom, doubtless between an evening
and a morning; and how true and right I was when in our
philosophy-year in college I chewed the cud of bitterness
with the pessimists.
Yes, indeed, there is more pain in life than gladness--it
is one long agony until the grave.
Think how gay it makes me to remember that this
horrible misery of mine, coupled with this unspeakable
fear, may last fifty, one hundred, who knows how many
Roubinovitch et Toulouse:
La Melancolie, 1897, p. 170, abridged.
letter shows two things.
First, you see how the entire consciousness of
the poor man is so choked with the feeling of evil that
the sense of there being any good in the world is lost
for him altogether.
His attention excludes it, cannot admit it:
the sun has left his heaven.
And secondly you see how the querulous temper of
his misery keeps his mind from taking a religious direction.
Querulousness of mind tends in fact rather towards
irreligion; and it has played, so far as I know, no part
whatever in the construction of religious systems.
melancholy must be cast in a more melting mood. Tolstoy has left us, in his book called My Confession, a wonderful
account of the attack of melancholy which led him to his
own religious conclusions.
The latter in some respects are peculiar; but the
melancholy presents two characters which make it a typical
document for our present purpose. First it is a well-marked case of anhedonia, of passive loss
of appetite for all life's values; and second, it shows
how the altered and estranged aspect which the world assumed
in consequence of this stimulated Tolstoy's intellect
to a gnawing, carking questioning and effort for philosophic
mean to quote Tolstoy at some length; but before doing
so, I will make a general remark on each of these two
on our spiritual judgments and the sense of value in general.
is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional
comments, since the same fact will inspire entirely different
feelings in different persons, and at different times
in the same person; and there is no rationally deducible
connection between any outer fact and the sentiments it
may happen to provoke.
These have their source in another sphere of existence
altogether, in the animal and spiritual region of the
Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped
of all the emotion with which your world now inspires
you, and try to imagine it AS IT EXISTS, purely by itself,
without your favorable or unfavorable, hopeful or apprehensive
will be almost impossible for you to realize such a condition
of negativity and deadness. No one portion of the universe would then have importance beyond
another; and the whole collection of its things and series
of its events would be without significance, character,
expression, or perspective. Whatever
of value, interest, or meaning our respective worlds may
appear endued with are thus pure gifts of the spectator's
passion of love is the most familiar and extreme example
of this fact. If
it comes, it comes; if it does not <148> come, no
process of reasoning can force it.
Yet it transforms the value of the creature loved
as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mont Blanc from a
corpse-like gray to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the
whole world to a new tune for the lover and gives a new
issue to his life.
So with fear, with indignation, jealousy, ambition,
they are there, life changes.
And whether they shall be there or not depends
almost always upon non-logical, often on organic conditions.
And as the excited interest which these passions
put into the world is our gift to the world, just so are
the passions themselves GIFTS--gifts to us, from sources
sometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always nonlogical
and beyond our control.
How can the moribund old man reason back to himself
the romance, the mystery, the imminence of great things
with which our old earth tingled for him in the days when
he was young and well?
Gifts, either of the flesh or of the spirit; and
the spirit bloweth where it listeth; and the world's materials
lend their surface passively to all the gifts alike, as
the stage-setting receives indifferently whatever alternating
colored lights may be shed upon it from the optical apparatus
in the gallery.
the practically real world for each one of us, the effective
world of the individual, is the compound world, the physical
facts and emotional values in indistinguishable combination.
Withdraw or pervert either factor of this complex
resultant, and the kind of experience we call pathological
Tolstoy's case the sense that life had any meaning whatever
was for a time wholly withdrawn.
The result was a transformation in the whole expression
of reality. When we come to study the phenomenon of conversion or religious
regeneration, we shall see that a not infrequent consequence
of the change operated in the subject is a transfiguration
of the face of nature in his eyes.
A new heaven seems to shine upon a new earth.
In melancholiacs there is usually a similar change,
only it is in the reverse direction. The world now looks
remote, strange, sinister, uncanny. Its color is gone,
its breath is cold, there is no speculation in the eyes
it glares with.
"It is as if I lived in another century,"
says one asylum patient.--"I see everything through
a cloud," says another, "things are not as they
were, and I am changed."--"I see," says
a third, "I touch, but the things do not come near
me, a thick veil alters the hue and look of everything."--"Persons
move like shadows, and sounds seem to come from a distant
world."--"There is no longer any past for me;
people appear so strange; it is as if I could not see
any reality, as if I were in a theatre; as if people were
actors, and everything were scenery; I can no longer find
myself; I walk, but why?
Everything floats before my eyes, but leaves no
impression."--"I weep false tears, I have unreal
things I see are not real things."--Such are expressions
that naturally rise to the lips of melancholy subjects
describing their changed state.
I cull these examples from the work of G. Dumas:
La Tristesse et la Joie, 1900.
there are some subjects whom all this leaves a prey to
the profoundest astonishment.
The strangeness is wrong.
The unreality cannot be.
A mystery is concealed, and a metaphysical solution
must exist. If
the natural world is so double-faced and unhomelike, what
world, what thing is real?
An urgent wondering and questioning is set up,
a poring theoretic activity, and in the desperate effort
to get into right relations with the matter, the sufferer
is often led to what becomes for him a satisfying religious
about the age of fifty, Tolstoy relates that he began
to have moments of perplexity, of what he calls arrest,
as if he knew not "how to live," or what to
do. It is
obvious that these were moments in which the excitement
and interest which our functions naturally bring had ceased.
Life had been enchanting, it was now flat sober,
more than <150> sober, dead.
Things were meaningless whose meaning had always
The questions "Why?" and "What next?"
began to beset him more and more frequently.
At first it seemed as if such questions must be
answerable, and as if he could easily find the answers
if he would take the time; but as they ever became more
urgent, he perceived that it was like those first discomforts
of a sick man, to which he pays but little attention till
they run into one continuous suffering, and then he realizes
that what he took for a passing disorder means the most
momentous thing in the world for him, means his death.
questions "Why?" "Wherefore?" "What
for?" found no response.
felt," says Tolstoy, "that something had broken
within me on which my life had always rested, that I had
nothing left to hold on to, and that morally my life had
invincible force impelled me to get rid of my existence,
in one way or another. It cannot be said exactly that
I WISHED to kill myself, for the force which drew me away
from life was fuller, more powerful, more general than
any mere desire.
It was a force like my old aspiration to live,
only it impelled me in the opposite direction. It was
an aspiration of my whole being to get out of life.
me then, a man happy and in good health, hiding the rope
in order not to hang myself to the rafters of the room
where every night I went to sleep alone; behold me no
longer going shooting, lest I should yield to the too
easy temptation of putting an end to myself with my gun.
did not know what I wanted.
I was afraid of life; I was driven to leave it;
and in spite of that I still hoped something from it.
this took place at a time when so far as all my outer
circumstances went, I ought to have been completely happy.
I had a good wife who loved me and whom I loved;
good children and a large property which was increasing
with no pains taken on my part.
I was more respected by my kinsfolk and acquaintance
than I had ever been; I was loaded with praise by strangers;
and without exaggeration I could believe my name already
famous. Moreover I was neither insane nor ill.
On the contrary, I possessed a physical and mental
strength which I have rarely met in persons of my age.
I could mow as well as the peasants, I could work
with my brain eight hours uninterruptedly and feel no
yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions
of my life. And
I was surprised that I had not understood this from the
My state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid
jest was being played upon me by some one.
One can live only so long as one is intoxicated,
drunk with life; but when one grows sober one cannot fail
to see that it is all a stupid cheat.
is truest about it is that there is nothing even funny
or silly in it; it is cruel and stupid, purely and simply.
oriental fable of the traveler surprised in the desert
by a wild beast is very old.
to save himself from the fierce animal, the traveler jumps
into a well with no water in it; but at the bottom of
this well he sees a dragon waiting with open mouth to
devour him. And the unhappy man, not daring to go out
lest he should be the prey of the beast, not daring to
jump to the bottom lest he should be devoured by the dragon,
clings to the branches of a wild bush which grows out
of one of the cracks of the well.
His hands weaken, and he feels that he must soon
give way to certain fate; but still he clings, and see
two mice, one white, the other black, evenly moving round
the bush to which he hangs, and gnawing off its roots
traveler sees this and knows that he must inevitably perish;
but while thus hanging he looks about him and finds on
the leaves of the bush some drops of honey.
These he reaches with his tongue and licks them
off with rapture.
I hang upon the boughs of life, knowing that the inevitable
dragon of death is waiting ready to tear me, and I cannot
comprehend why I am thus made a martyr.
I try to suck the honey which formerly consoled
me; but the honey pleases me no longer, and day and night
the white mouse and the black mouse gnaw the branch to
which I cling. I
can see but one thing:
the inevitable dragon and the mice--I cannot turn
my gaze away from them.
is no fable, but the literal incontestable truth which
every one may understand.
What will be the outcome of what I do to-day?
Of what I shall do to-morrow?
What will be the outcome of all my life?
Why should I live?
Why should I do anything?
Is there in life any purpose which the inevitable
death which awaits me does not undo and destroy?
questions are the simplest in the world.
From the stupid child to the wisest old man, they
are in the soul of every human being.
Without an answer to them, it is impossible, as
I experienced, for life to go on.
perhaps,' I often said to myself, 'there may be something
I have failed to notice or to comprehend.
It is not possible that this condition of despair
should be natural to mankind.' And I sought for an explanation
in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men.
I questioned painfully and protractedly and with
no idle curiosity.
I sought, not with indolence, but laboriously and
obstinately for days and nights together.
I sought like a man who is lost and seeks to save
himself--and I found nothing.
I became convinced, moreover, that all those who
before me had sought for an answer in the sciences have
also found nothing.
And not only this, but that they have recognized
that the very thing which was leading me to despair--the
meaningless absurdity of life--is the only incontestable
knowledge accessible to man."
prove this point, Tolstoy quotes the Buddha, Solomon,
And he finds only four ways in which men of his
own class and society are accustomed to meet the situation.
Either mere animal blindness, sucking the honey
without seeing the dragon or the mice--"and from
such a way," he says, "I can learn nothing,
after what I now know;" or reflective epicureanism,
snatching what it can while the day lasts--which is only
a more deliberate sort of stupefaction than the first;
or manly suicide; or seeing the mice and dragon and yet
weakly and plaintively clinging to the bush of life.
Suicide was naturally the consistent course dictated
by the logical intellect.
says Tolstoy, "whilst my intellect was working, something
else in me was working too, and kept me from the deed--a
consciousness of life, as I may call it, which was like
a force that obliged my mind to fix itself in another
direction and draw me out of my situation of despair.
. . . During the whole course of this year, when I almost
unceasingly kept asking myself how to end the business,
whether by the rope or by the bullet, during all that
time, alongside of all those movements of my ideas and
observations, my heart kept languishing with another pining
can call this by no other name than that of a thirst for
God. This craving for God had nothing to do with the movement of
my ideas--in fact, it was the direct contrary of that
movement--but it came from my heart.
It was like a feeling of dread that made me seem
like an orphan and isolated in the midst of all these
things that were so foreign.
And this feeling of dread was mitigated by the
hope of finding the assistance of some one."
My extracts are from the French translation by "Zonia."
In abridging I have taken the liberty of transposing
the process, intellectual as well as emotional, which,
starting from this idea of God, led to Tolstoy's recovery,
I will say nothing in this lecture, reserving it for a
later hour. The only thing that need interest us now is
the phenomenon of his absolute disenchantment with ordinary
life, and the fact that the whole range of habitual values
may, to a man as powerful and full of faculty as he was,
come to appear so ghastly a mockery.
disillusionment has gone as far as this, there is seldom
a restitutio ad integrum.
One has tasted of the fruit of the tree, and the
happiness of Eden never comes again. The happiness that
comes, when any does come--and often enough it fails to
return in an acute form, though its form is sometimes
very acute--is not the simple, ignorance of ill, but something
vastly more complex, including natural evil as one of
its elements, but finding natural evil no such stumbling-block
and terror because it now sees it swallowed up in supernatural
good. The process is one of redemption, not of mere reversion to
natural health, and the sufferer, when saved, is saved
by what seems to him a second birth, a deeper kind of
conscious being than he could enjoy before.
find a somewhat different type of religious melancholy
enshrined in literature in John Bunyan's autobiography.
Tolstoy's preoccupations were largely objective, for the
purpose and meaning of life in general was what so troubled
him; but poor Bunyan's troubles were over the condition
of his own personal self.
He was a typical case of the psychopathic temperament,
sensitive of conscience to a diseased degree, beset by
doubts, fears and insistent ideas, and a victim of verbal
automatisms, both motor and sensory. These were usually
texts of Scripture which, sometimes damnatory and sometimes
favorable, would come in a half- hallucinatory form as
if they were voices, and fasten on his mind and buffet
it between them like a shuttlecock.
Added to this were a fearful melancholy self-contempt
thought I, now I grow worse and worse, now I am farther
from conversion than ever I was before.
If now I should have burned at the stake, I could
not believe that Christ had love for me; alas, I could
neither hear him, nor see him, nor feel him, nor savor
any of his things.
Sometimes I would tell my condition to the people
of God, which, when they heard, they would pity me, and
would tell of the Promises.
But they had as good have told me that I must reach
the Sun with my finger as have bidden me receive or rely
upon the Promise. [Yet] all this while as to the act of
sinning, I never was more tender than now; I durst not
take a pin or stick, though but so big as a straw, for
my conscience now was sore, and would smart at every touch;
I could not tell how to speak my words, for fear I should
misplace them. Oh,
how gingerly did I then go, in all I did or said! I found
myself as on a miry bog that shook if I did but stir;
and was as there left both by God and Christ, and the
spirit, and all good things.
my original and inward pollution, that was my plague and
my affliction. By
reason of that, I was more loathsome in my own eyes than
was a toad; and I thought I was so in God's eyes too.
Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally
bubble out of my heart as water would bubble out of a
could have changed heart with anybody.
I thought none but the Devil himself could equal
me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind.
Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; and thus
I continued a long while, even for some years together.
now I was sorry that God had made me a man.
The beasts, birds, fishes, etc., I blessed their
condition, for they had not a sinful nature; they were
not obnoxious to the wrath of God; they were not to go
to hell-fire after death.
I could therefore have rejoiced, had my condition
been as any of theirs.
Now I blessed the condition of the dog and toad,
yea, gladly would I have been in the condition of the
dog or horse, for I knew they had no soul to perish under
the everlasting weight of Hell or Sin, as mine was like
to do. Nay,
and though I saw this, felt this, and was broken to pieces
with it, yet that which added to my sorrow was, that I
could not find with all my soul that I did desire deliverance.
My heart was at times exceedingly hard.
If I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear,
I could not shed one; no, nor sometimes scarce desire
to shed one.
was both a burthen and a terror to myself; nor did I ever
so know, as now, what it was to be weary of my life, and
yet afraid to die. How gladly would I have been anything but myself! Anything
but a man! and in any condition but my own."
Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners:
I have printed a number of detached passages continuously.
patient Bunyan, like Tolstoy, saw the light again, but
we must also postpone that part of his story to another
a later lecture I will also give the end of the experience
of Henry Alline, a devoted evangelist who worked in Nova
Scotia a hundred years ago, and who thus vividly describes
the high-water mark of the religious melancholy which
formed its beginning.
The type was not unlike Bunyan's.
I saw seemed to be a burden to me; the earth seemed accursed
for my sake: all
trees, plants, rocks, hills, and vales seemed to be dressed
in mourning and groaning, under the weight of the curse,
and everything around me seemed to be conspiring my ruin.
My sins seemed to be laid open; so that I thought
that every one I saw knew them, and sometimes I was almost
ready to acknowledge many things, which I thought they
knew: yea sometimes it seemed to me as if every one was pointing
me out as the most guilty wretch upon earth.
I had now so great a sense of the vanity and emptiness
of all things here below, that I knew the whole world
could not possibly make me happy, no, nor the whole system
of creation. When
I waked in the morning, the first thought would be, Oh,
my wretched soul, what shall I do, where shall I go?
And when I laid down, would say, I shall be perhaps
in hell before morning. I would many times look on the
beasts with envy, wishing with all my heart I was in their
place, that I might have no soul to lose; and when I have
seen birds flying over my head, have often thought within
myself, Oh, that I could fly away from my danger and distress!
Oh, how happy should I be, if I were in their place!"
The Life and Journal of the Rev. Mr. Henry Alline, Boston
1806, pp. 25, 26.
I owe my acquaintance with this book to my colleague,
Dr. Benjamin Rand.
of the placid beasts seems to be a very widespread affection
in this type of sadness.
worst kind of melancholy is that which takes the form
of panic fear. Here
is an excellent example, for permission to print which
I have to thank the sufferer.
The original is in French, and though the subject
was evidently in a bad nervous condition at the time of
which he writes, his case has otherwise the merit of extreme
in this state of philosophic pessimism and general depression
of spirits about my prospects, I went one evening into
a dressing-room in the twilight to procure some article
that was there; when suddenly there fell upon me without
any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a
horrible fear of my own existence.
Simultaneously there arose in my mind the image
of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum,
a black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic,
who used to sit all day on one of the benches, or rather
shelves against the wall, with his knees drawn up against
his chin, and the coarse gray undershirt, which was his
only garment, drawn over them inclosing his entire figure. He sat there like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat or Peruvian
mummy, moving nothing but his black eyes and looking absolutely
image and my fear entered into a species of combination
with each other THAT SHAPE AM I, I felt, potentially.
Nothing that I possess can defend me against that
fate, if the hour for it should strike for me as it struck
for him. There
was such a horror of him, and such a perception of my
own merely momentary discrepancy from him, that it was
as if something hitherto solid within my breast gave way
entirely, and I became a mass of quivering fear. After
this the universe was changed for me altogether.
I awoke morning after morning with a horrible dread
at the pit of my stomach, and with a sense of the insecurity
of life that I never knew before, and that I have never
felt since. It was like a revelation; and although
the immediate feelings passed away, the experience has
made me sympathetic with the morbid feelings of others
ever since. It
gradually faded, but for months I was unable to go out
into the dark alone.
"There was I struck into a very great trembling,
insomuch that at some times I could, for days together,
feel my very body, as well as my mind, to shake and totter
under the sense of the dreadful judgment of God, that
should fall on those that have sinned that most fearful
and unpardonable sin.
I felt also such clogging and heat at my stomach,
by reason of this my terror, that I was, especially at
some times, as if my breast-bone would have split asunder.
. . . Thus
did I wind, and twine, and shrink, under the burden that
was upon me; which burden also did so oppress me that
I could neither stand, nor go, nor lie, either at rest
general I dreaded to be left alone.
I remember wondering how other people could live,
how I myself had ever lived, so unconscious of that pit
of insecurity beneath the surface of life.
My mother in particular, a very cheerful person,
seemed to me a perfect paradox in her unconsciousness
of danger, which you may well believe I was very careful
not to disturb by revelations of my own state of mind
(I have always thought that this experience of melancholia
of mine had a religious bearing."
asking this correspondent to explain more fully what he
meant by these last words, the answer he wrote was this:--
mean that the fear was so invasive and powerful that if
I had not clung to scripture-texts like 'The eternal God
is my refuge,' etc., 'Come unto me, all ye that labor
and are heavy-laden,' etc., 'I am the resurrection and
the life,' etc., I think I should have grown really insane."
For another case of fear equally sudden, see Henry James:
Society the Redeemed Form of Man, Boston, 1879,
pp. 43 ff.
is no need of more examples.
The cases we have looked at are enough.
One of them gives us the vanity of mortal things;
another the sense of sin; and the remaining one describes
the fear of the universe;--and in one or other of these
three ways it always is that man's original optimism and
self-satisfaction get leveled with the dust.
none of these cases was there any intellectual insanity
or delusion about matters of fact; but were we disposed
to open the chapter of really insane melancholia, with
its <159> hallucinations and delusions, it would
be a worse story still--desperation absolute and complete,
the whole universe coagulating about the sufferer into
a material of overwhelming horror, surrounding him without
opening or end.
Not the conception or intellectual perception of
evil, but the grisly blood-freezing heart-palsying sensation
of it close upon one, and no other conception or sensation
able to live for a moment in its presence.
How irrelevantly remote seem all our usual refined
optimisms and intellectual and moral consolations in presence
of a need of help like this!
Here is the real core of the religious problem:
No prophet can claim to bring a final message unless
he says things that will have a sound of reality in the
ears of victims such as these.
But the deliverance must come in as strong a form
as the complaint, if it is to take effect; and that seems
a reason why the coarser religions, revivalistic, orgiastic,
with blood and miracles and supernatural operations, may
possibly never be displaced.
Some constitutions need them too much.
at this point, we can see how great an antagonism may
naturally arise between the healthy-minded way of viewing
life and the way that takes all this experience of evil
as something essential.
To this latter way, the morbid-minded way, as we
might call it, healthy-mindedness pure and simple seems
unspeakably blind and shallow.
To the healthy-minded way, on the other hand, the
way of the sick soul seems unmanly and diseased.
With their grubbing in rat-holes instead of living
in the light; with their manufacture of fears, and preoccupation
with every unwholesome kind of misery, there is something
almost obscene about these children of wrath and cravers
of a second birth. If religious intolerance and hanging and burning could again
become the order of the day, there is little doubt that,
however it may have been in the past, the healthy-minded
would <160> at present show themselves the less
indulgent party of the two.
our own attitude, not yet abandoned, of impartial onlookers,
what are we to say of this quarrel?
It seems to me that we are bound to say that morbid-mindedness
ranges over the wider scale of experience, and that its
survey is the one that overlaps.
The method of averting one's attention from evil,
and living simply in the light of good is splendid as
long as it will work.
It will work with many persons; it will work far
more generally than most of us are ready to suppose; and
within the sphere of its successful operation there is
nothing to be said against it as a religious solution.
But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes;
and even though one be quite free from melancholy one's
self, there is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate
as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which
it refuses positively to account for are a genuine portion
of reality; and they may after all be the best key to
life's significance, and possibly the only openers of
our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.
normal process of life contains moments as bad as any
of those which insane melancholy is filled with, moments
in which radical evil gets its innings and takes its solid
lunatic's visions of horror are all drawn from the material
of daily fact. Our
civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual
existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony.
If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive
To believe in the carnivorous reptiles of geologic
times is hard for our imagination--they seem too much
like mere museum specimens.
Yet there is no tooth in any one of those museum-skulls
that did not daily through long years of the foretime
hold fast to the body struggling in despair of some fated
living victim. Forms
of horror just as dreadful to the victims, if on a smaller
spatial scale, fill the world about us to-day.
Here on our very <161> hearths and in our
gardens the infernal cat plays with the panting mouse,
or holds the hot bird fluttering in her jaws. Crocodiles
and rattlesnakes and pythons are at this moment vessels
of life as real as we are; their loathsome existence fills
every minute of every day that drags its length along;
and whenever they or other wild beasts clutch their living
prey, the deadly horror which an agitated melancholiac
feels is the literally right reaction on the situation.
was about eleven o'clock at night . . . but I strolled
on still with the people. . . . Suddenly upon the left
side of our road, a crackling was heard among the bushes;
all of us were alarmed, and in an instant a tiger, rushing
out of the jungle, pounced upon the one of the party that
was foremost, and carried him off in the twinkling of
an eye. The
rush of the animal, and the crush of the poor victim's
bones in his mouth, and his last cry of distress, 'Ho
hai!' involuntarily reechoed by all of us, was over in
three seconds; and then I know not what happened till
I returned to my senses, when I found myself and companions
lying down on the ground as if prepared to be devoured
by our enemy the sovereign of the forest. I find my pen incapable of describing the terror of that dreadful
limbs stiffened, our power of speech ceased, and our hearts
beat violently, and only a whisper of the same 'Ho hai!'
was heard from us.
In this state we crept on all fours for some distance
back, and then ran for life with the speed of an Arab
horse for about half an hour, and fortunately happened
to come to a small village. . . . After this every one
of us was attacked with fever, attended with shivering,
in which deplorable state we remained till morning."--Autobiography
of Lutullah a Mohammedan Gentleman, Leipzig, 1857, p.
may indeed be that no religious reconciliation with the
absolute totality of things is possible.
Some evils, indeed, are ministerial to higher forms
of good; but it may be that there are forms of evil so
extreme as to enter into no good system whatsoever, and
that, in respect of such evil, dumb submission or neglect
to notice is the only practical resource.
This question must confront us on a later day.
But provisionally, and as a mere matter of program
and method, since the evil facts are as genuine parts
of nature as the good ones, the philosophic presumption
should be that they have some rational significance, and
that systematic healthy-mindedness, failing as it does
to accord to sorrow, pain, and death any positive and
active attention whatever, is formally less complete than
systems that try at least to include these elements in
completest religions would therefore seem to be those
in which the pessimistic elements are best developed.
Buddhism, of course, and Christianity are the best
known to us of these.
They are essentially religions of deliverance:
the man must die to an unreal life before he can
be born into the real life. In my next lecture, I will try to discuss some of the psychological
conditions of this second birth.
Fortunately from now onward we shall have to deal
with more cheerful subjects than those which we have recently
been dwelling on.