IT behoves me who have learnt so much from the Pioneers and Founders of the Society for
Psychical Research not to conclude this book, which attempts to set forth in some detail an outline of the less orthodox facts by which among other things I have been led to my views concerning the universe, without emphasising the debt I owe to those who have immediately preceded me in this study; and I can discharge the debt most compactly by quoting here the Address which I gave to the Society for Psychical Research shortly after the death of its President of 1900 - on the occasion when it fell to my lot to succeed him in the Chair.
In Memory of Myers
Who would have thought a year ago, when our Secretary and joint Founder at length consented to be elected President, that we should so soon be lamenting his decease?
When Henry Sidgwick died, the Society was orphaned; and now it is left desolate. Of the original chief founders, Professor Barrett alone remains; for Mr. Podmore, the only other member of the first Council still remaining on it was not one of the actual founders of the Society. Neither the wisdom of Sidgwick nor the energy and power of Myers can by any means be replaced. Our loss is certain, but the blow must not be paralysing. Rather it must stimulate those that remain to fresh exertions, must band us together, determined that a group of workers called together for a pioneering work, for the founding and handing on to posterity of a new science, must not be permitted to disband and scatter till their work is done. That work will not be done in our lifetime; it must continue with what energy and wisdom we can muster, and we must be faithful to the noble leaders who summoned us together, and laid this burden to our charge.
I, unworthy, am called to this Chair. I would for every reason that it could have been postponed; but it is the wish of your Council; I am told that it was the wish of Myers, and I regard it as a duty from which I must not shrink.
The last communication which my predecessor made was in memory of Henry Sidgwick: my own first communication must be in memory of Frederic Myers.
To how many was he really known? I wonder. Known in a sense he was to all, except the unlettered and the ignorant. Known in reality he was to very few. But to the few who were privileged to know him, his is a precious memory: a memory which will not decay with the passing of the years. I was honoured with his intimate friendship. I esteem it one of the privileges of my
To me, though not to me alone, falls the duty of doing some justice to his memory. I would that I might be inspired for the task.
I was not one of those who knew him as a youth, and my acquaintance with him ripened gradually. Our paths in life were wide apart, and our powers were different: our powers, but not our tastes. He could instruct me in literature and most other things, I could instruct him in science; he was the greedier learner of the two. I never knew a man more receptive, nor one with whom it was a greater pleasure to talk. His grasp of science was profound: I do not hesitate to say it, though many who did not really know him will fail to realise that this was possible; nor was he fully conscious of it himself. Even into some of the more technical details, when they were properly presented, he could and did enter, and his mind was in so prepared a state that any fact once sown in it began promptly to take root and bud. It was not a detailed knowledge of science that he possessed, of course, but it was a grasp, a philosophic grasp, of the meaning and bearing of it all, - not unlike the accurately comprehending grasp of Tennyson. And again and again in his writings do we find the facts, which his mind had thus from many sources absorbed, utilised for the purpose of telling and brilliant illustrations, and made to contribute each its quota to his Cosmic scheme.
For that is what he was really doing, all through this last quarter of a century: he was laying the foundation for a cosmic philosophy, a scheme of existence as large and comprehensive and well founded as any that have appeared.
Do I mean that he achieved such a structure? I do not. A philosophy of that kind is not to be constructed by the labour of one man, however brilliant; and Myers laboured almost solely on the psychological side. He would be the first to deprecate any exaggeration of what he has done; but he himself would have admitted this, - that he strenuously and conscientiously sought facts, and endeavoured to construct his cosmic foundation by their aid and in their light, and not in the dark gropings of his own unaided intelligence.
To me it has seemed that most philosophers suffer from a dearth of facts. In the past necessarily so, for the scientific exploration of the physical universe is, as it were, a thing of yesterday. Our cosmic outlook is very different from that of the ancients, is different even from that of philosophers of the middle of last century, before the spectroscope was invented, before Darwin and Wallace wrote, before many discoveries connected with less familiar household words than these: in the matter of physical science alone the most recent philosopher must needs have some advantage. But this is a small item in his total outfit, mental phenomena must contribute the larger part of that; and the facts of the mind have been open-it is generally assumed-from all antiquity. This is in great degree true, and philosophers have always recognised and made use of these facts, especially those of the mind in its normal state. Yet in modern science we realise that to understand a thing thoroughly it must be observed not only in its normal state but under all the conditions into which it can be thrown by experiment, - every variation being studied and laid under contribution to the general understanding of the whole.
And, I ask, did any philosopher ever know the facts of the mind in health and in disease more profoundly, with more detailed and intimate knowledge, drawn from personal inquiry, and from the testimony of all the savants of Europe, than did Frederic Myers? He laid under contribution every abnormal condition studied in the Salpetriere, in hypnotic trance, in delirium, every state of the mind in placidity and in excitement. He was well acquainted with the curious facts of multiple personality, of clairvoyant vision, of hallucinations, automatisms, self-suggestion, of dreams, and of the waking visions of genius.
It will be said that Hegel, and to some extent Kant also, as well as other philosophers, recognised some ultra-normal mental manifestations, and allowed a place for clairvoyance in their scheme. All honour to those great men for doing so, in advance of the science of their time; but how could they know all that we know to-day? Fifty years ago the facts even of hypnotism were not by orthodox science accepted; such studies as were made, were made almost surreptitiously, here and there, by some truth-seeker clear-sighted enough to out-step the fashion of his time and to look at things with his own eyes. But only with difficulty could he publish his observations, and doubtless many were lost for fear of ridicule and the contempt of his professional brethren.
But now it is different: not so different as it ought to be, even yet; but facts previously considered occult are now investigated and recorded and published in every country of Europe. The men who observe them are too busy to unify them; they each contribute their portion, but they do not grasp the whole: the grasping of the whole is the function of a philosopher. I assert that Myers was that philosopher.
Do I then in my own mind place him on a pedestal adapted to the needs of an emancipated spirit, a wider field of service, - a gradual opportunity of re-uniting with the many who have gone before. So he believed, on what he thought a sure foundation of experience, and in the strength of that belief he looked forward hopefully to perennial effort and unending progress:
"Say, could aught else content thee? which were best,
After so brief a battle an endless rest,
Or the ancient conflict rather to renew,
By the old deeds strengthened mightier deeds to do?"
Such was his faith: by this he lived, and in this he died. Religious men in all ages have had some such faith, perhaps a more restful and less strenuous faith; but to Myers the faith did not come by religion: he would have described himself as one who walked by sight and knowledge rather than by faith, and his eager life-long struggle for knowledge was in order that he might by no chance be mistaken.
To some, conviction of this kind would be impossible - they are the many who know not what science is. To others, conviction of this kind seems unnecessary-they are the favoured ones who feel that they have grasped all needed truth by revelation or by intuition. But by a few here and there, even now, this avenue to knowledge concerning the unseen is felt to be open. Myers believed that hereafter it would become open to all. He knew that the multitude could appreciate science no more, perhaps less, than they can appreciate religion; but he knew further that when presently any truth becomes universally accepted by scientific men, it will penetrate downwards and be accepted by ordinary persons, as they now accept any other established doctrine, - such as the planetary position of the earth in the solar system, or the evolution of species, - not because they have really made a study of the matter, but because it is a part of the atmosphere into which they were born.
If continuity of existence and intelligence across the gulf of death really can ever be thus proved, it surely is a desirable and worthy object for science to aim at. There be some religious men of little faith who resent this attempted intrusion of scientific proof into their arena; as if they had a limited field which could be encroached upon. Those men do not realise, as Myers did, the wealth of their inheritance. They little know the magnitude of the possibilities of the universe, the un-imagined scope of the regions still, and perhaps forever, beyond the grasp of what we now call science.
There was a little science in my youth which prided itself upon being positive knowledge, and sought to pour scorn upon the possibility, say, of prayer or of any mode of communication between this world and a purely hypothetical other. Honest and true and brilliant though narrow men held these beliefs and promulgated these doctrines for a time: they did good service in their day by clearing away some superstition, and, with their healthy breezy common-sense, freeing the mind from cant, - that is, from the conventional utterance of phrases embodying beliefs only half held. I say no word against the scientific men of that day, to whom were opposed theologians of equal narrowness and of a more bitter temper. But their warlike energy, though it made them effective crusaders, left their philosophy defective and their science unbalanced. It has not fully re-attained equilibrium yet. With Myers the word Science meant something much larger, much more comprehensive: it meant a science and a philosophy and a religion combined. It meant, as it meant to Newton, an attempt at a true cosmic scheme. His was no purblind outlook on a material universe limited and conditioned by our poor senses. He had an imagination wider than that of most men. Myers spoke to me once of the possibility that the parts of an atom move perhaps inside the atom in astronomical orbits, as the planets move in the solar system, each spaced out far away from others and not colliding, but all together constituting the single group or system we call the atom - a microcosm akin to the visible cosmos; which again might be only an atom of some larger whole. I was disposed at that time to demur. I should not demur now; the progress of science within the last few years of the nineteenth century makes the first part of this thesis extremely probable. On the latter part too there is more to be said than is generally known. Physics and astronomy are rapidly advancing in this direction.
Nor was it only upon material things that he looked with the eye of prescience and of hope. I never knew a man so hopeful concerning his ultimate destiny. He once asked me whether
I would barter - if it were possible-my unknown destiny, whatever it might be, for as many aeons of unmitigated and wise terrestrial happiness as might last till the secular fading of the sun, and then an end.
He would not! No limit could satisfy him. That which he was now he only barely knew, - for to him not the whole of each personality is incarnate in this mortal flesh, the subliminal self still keeps watch and ward beyond the threshold, and is in touch always with another life, - but that which he might come to be hereafter he could by no means guess. Gradually and perhaps through much suffering, from which indeed he sensitively shrank, but through which nevertheless he was ready to go, he believed that a being would be evolved out of him, - "even," as he would say, "out of him," - as much higher in the scale of creation as he now was above the meanest thing that crawls.
Nor yet an end. Infinity of infinities-he could conceive no end, of space or time or existence, nor yet of development: though an end of the solar system and therefore of mankind seemed to him comparatively imminent
"That hour may come when Earth no more can keep
Tireless her year-long voyage thro' the deep;
Nay, when all planets, sucked and swept in one,
Feed their rekindled solitary sun;-
Nay when all suns that shine, together hurled,
Crash in one infinite and lifeless world:-
Yet hold thou still, what worlds soe'er may roll,
Naught bear they with them master of the soul;
In all the eternal whirl, the cosmic stir, All the eternal is akin to her;
She shall endure, and quicken, and live at last,
When all save souls has perished in the past."
Infinite progress, infinite harmony, infinite love, these were the things which filled and dominated his existence. Limits for him were repellent and impossible. Limits conditioned by the flesh and by imperfection, by rebellion, blindness, and error, - these are obvious, these he admitted and lamented to the full; but ultimate limits, impassable barriers, cessation of development, a highest in the scale of being beyond which it was impossible to go, - these he would not admit, these seemed to him to contradict all that he had gleaned of the essence and meaning of existence.
Principalities and Powers on and on, up and up, without limit now and for ever, - this was the dominant note of his mind; and if he seldom used the word God except in poetry, or employed the customary phrases, it was because everything was so supremely real to him; and "God," the personified totality of existence, too blinding a conception to conceive.
For practical purposes something less lofty served, and he could return from cosmic speculations to the simple everyday life, which is for all of us the immediate business in hand, and which, if patiently pursued, seemed to him to lead to more than could be desired or deserved
"Live thou and love I so best and only so
Can thy one soul into the One Soul flow,-
Can thy small life to Life's great centre flee,
And thou be nothing, and the Lord in thee."
This is an expression of himself: it was not so much his creed as himself. He with his whole being and personality-at first slowly and painfully, with many rebuffs and after much delay and hesitation, but in the end richly and enthusiastically - rose to this height of emotion, of conviction, and of serenity; though perhaps to few he showed it.
"Either we cannot or we hardly dare Breathe forth that vision into earthly air And if ye call us dreamers, dreamers then Be we esteemed amid you waking men; Hear us or hear not as ye choose; but we Speak as we can, and are what we must be."
Not that he believed easily: let no man think that his faith came easily and cost him nothing. He has himself borne witness to the struggle, the groanings that could not be uttered. His was a keenly emotional nature. What he felt, he felt strongly; what he believed, he believed in no half-hearted or conventional manner. When he doubted, he doubted fiercely; but the pain of the doubt only stimulated him to effort, to struggle; to know at least the worst, and doubt no longer. He was content with no half knowledge, no clouded faith, he must know or he must suffer, and in the end he believed that he knew.
Seeker after Truth and Helper of his comrades
is a line in his own metre, though not a quotation, which runs in my mind as descriptive of him; suggested doubtless by that line from the Odyssey which, almost in a manner at his own request, I have placed in the fore-front of this essay. For he speaks of himself in an infrequent autobiographical sentence as having "often a sense of great solitude, and of an effort beyond my strength; 'striving,' - as Homer says of Odysseus in a line which I should wish graven on some tablet in my memory, striving to save my own soul and my comrades' homeward way.'"
But the years of struggle and effort brought in the end ample recompense, for they gave him a magnificent power to alleviate distress. He was able to communicate something of his assurance to others, so that more than one bereaved friend learned to say with him
"What matter if thou bold thy loved ones prest
Still with close arms upon thy yearning breast,
Or with purged eyes behold them hand in hand
Come in a vision from that lovely land,
Or only with great heart and spirit sure
Deserve them and await them and endure;
Knowing well, no shocks that fall, no years that flee,
Can sunder God from these, or God from thee;
Nowise so far thy love from theirs can roam
As past the mansions of His endless home."
To how many a sorrowful heart his words have brought hope and comfort, letters, if ever published, will one day prove. The deep personal conviction behind his message drove it home with greater force, nor did it lose influence because it was enfranchised from orthodox traditions, and rang with no hollow professional note.
There are those who lament that with his undoubted powers as a man of letters he to some extent deserted the sunny fields of pure literature for the rugged tracts of scientific inquiry; but indeed the two were closely blended. It is, as Dr. Walter Leaf has said, impossible to appreciate Myers without insisting on this interfusion:
The essay on his best-beloved Virgil is perhaps that of all his utterances which gives us most of his literary self. And the very heart of Virgil was to him in the famous speech of Anchises to AEneas in Elysium (AEn. vi. 724-755), where the poet "who meant, as we know, to devote to philosophy the rest of his life after the completion of the "AEneid'" propounds "an answer to the riddle of the universe in an unexpectedly definite form."
This ultimate subordination of form to substance, of art to thought, is the whole story of Myers's literary work. His art gained all the more because it was not pursued as a primary aim, and the obvious rewards of it were little sought. Those only who followed the working of his aspirations will adequately recognise his mastery, and see how for him style was but the expression of his inmost soul. In his wonderful fragments of Virgilian translation he reached his height. The poet who was ever his truest ideal is transfused till the Roman and the Englishman blend in one passion, human and divine, and the triumphant song is taken up and proclaimed again after two thousand years -
"To God again the enfranchised soul must tend,
He is her home, her Author is her end;
No death is hers; when earthly eyes grow dim
Starlike she soars and Godlike melts in Him."