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have been writhen by a touch of the Angel's finger. We may turn on Science itself with its own ancient question and cry, “ Pilate, what is truth?” At the present moment there is not a creed of ethics which is not shaken, not an accredited dogma of rationalism which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition of materialism which does not threaten to dissolve. It is not that science and philosophy have followed the wrong path. Amid their own tribulations and martyrdoms they have held inexorably to the truth so far as they could see it; but their glimpses of truth are leading them to a conclusion that they did not foresee. They placed their faith in the fact, as we may say, and now the fact is failing them. Their matter, their molecules, their first principles are literally opening before them infinite gates into—what shall we say? Wherever they thought they had a fundamental fact, a basis for their systems of thought, they have only—on every side—an immeasurable and incomprehensible miracle. On every side, more silently, perhaps, than in temples made with hands, but not less reverently, all true men of science are bowing the head. The old kind of materialistic science has no meaning now, except in the fuddled brains pro
duced by half-knowledge and cheap education. There is no such thing as “ atheism” except on the tubs of Hyde Park, and even there it is only a piteous cry for the light. The strongest part of our philosophy to-day is its unconscious poetry!
This statement does not detract from the work of Darwin any more than it detracts from the work of Carlyle. Both-to take an old metaphor -were ascending the same sacred mountain, though from different sides, and they meet on the summit. How
many heart-burnings and tragic dilemmas would have been avoided when the drawing-rooms of the Victorian era were so amazingly fluttered by the publication of The Descent of Man, if only the book itself had been read and mastered by those who feared its “tendency.”
.” How much more would have been avoided, what a sure stay would have been found, had the tremblers been well acquainted with their own poetry, to which the chief ideas in Darwin's theories had in many of their aspects long been familiar. Halfknowledge is ever the enemy. Poetry has ever exalted truth to heaven, and truth has ever accepted the invitation. Here, for instance, is a paragraph from The Descent of Man--a paragraph that may seem almost startling in its simplicity, amid the blaze of modern pyrotechnics.
“I am aware," wrote Darwin, “ that some of the conclusions arrived at in this work will be denounced by some as highly irreligious; but he who denounces them is bound to show why it is more irreligious to explain the origin of man as a distinct species by descent from some lower form, through the laws of variation and natural selection, than to explain the birth of the individual through the laws of ordinary reproduction. The birth both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events, which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance. The understanding revolts at such a conclusion.”
The understanding revolts! In that short, sharp summary of the attitude of Darwin towards the “blind chance” systems of the sciolists we have the testimony of the world's greatest materialistic man of science, whose powers were devoted almost entirely to what he could touch or handle or see on this planet itself, and whose intellect worked with a vast machine-like accuracy over the whole field-necessarily limited—of its operations.
The understanding revolts from doubt of what must be the basis of every sane intellect, a condition of all thought, namely, an unhesitating accept
ance of the fundamental order and harmony of the universe, an acceptance as implicit as our much less logical certainty that the sun will rise to-morrow. That basis of the universe in an ultimate harmony is the first postulate and axiom of all thought, all science, all art. Without it, there is nothing left to us that has the slightest meaning. The sciolist who denies a positive ultimate meaning to the universe is in a very ridiculous position indeed if from such a quagmire he presents us with his baseless philosophy. He can have not the slightest justification for stringing a single sentence together. He has pulverised the foundations of all logic, and his words can have no more logical, orderly, or harmonious connection than the babble of an idiot smitten with aphasia.
We are on firm enough ground here, in the last entrenchment, to find, if we do not already possess, the courage of our opinions, although there are many writers of distinction,” some of them with a “ European reputation," who solemnly discuss whether our world be not accident.” It would be cruel to analyse the problems they raise with too keen a scrutiny, cruel to peruse too closely the meanings based on meaninglessness, and spun out of nothingness by the baseless brain of an Accident
from Nowhere. But solemn books are annually produced on this basis by “ writers of distinction,” and those who might are usually unwilling to break their silence merely to re-affirm the elementary principles of all thought. One result is that many perplexed gropers after truth are over-clouded by pessimistic doubts that certainly blind them to the real splendour of great art. The little negations of the Patchouli poets mean more to them than the flaming heavens of Milton. An epigram at the expense of his noble simplicity
than all the sublime poetry of Wordsworth. For these, the secret of great poetry would almost seem to have been forgotten. Yet, even here, there are signs of the truth of Matthew Arnold's prophecy, in the popularity of that translation of a Persian poet by Fitzgerald, a glorious poem, which (while apparently pandering to the melancholy satisfaction of their agnostic, and literally know-nothing, philosophy) is by virtue of its poetry a more celestial and positive pandar than they know. “He knows about it all, He knows, He knows!”
What, then, is this secret of great poetry—we could
say all great art, but we are concerned here with only one form of it-in which so clear and precise a critic as Matthew Arnold could affirm