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Hours With The Mystics
by [?]

In the minds who have held this belief, that the unseen world is the only real and eternal one, there has generally existed a belief, more or less confused, that the visible world is in some mysterious way a pattern or symbol of the invisible one; that its physical laws are the analogues of the spiritual laws of the eternal world: a belief of which Mr. Vaughan seems to think lightly; though if it be untrue we can hardly see how that metaphoric illustration in which he indulges so freely, and which he often uses in a masterly and graceful way, can be anything but useless trifling. For what is a metaphor or a simile but a mere paralogism–having nothing to do with the matter in hand, and not to be allowed for a moment to influence the reader’s judgment, unless there be some real and objective analogy–homology we should call it–between the physical phenomenon from which the symbol is taken, and the spiritual truth which it is meant to illustrate? What divineness, what logical weight, in our Lord’s parables, unless He was by them trying to show his hearers that the laws which they saw at work in the lilies of the field, in the most common occupations of men, were but lower manifestations of the laws by which are governed the inmost workings of the human spirit? What triflers, on any other ground, were Socrates and Plato. What triflers, too, Shakespeare and Spenser. Indeed, we should say that it is the belief, conscious or unconscious, of the eternal correlation of the physical and spiritual worlds, which alone constitutes the essence of a poet.

Of course this idea led, and would necessarily lead, to follies and fancies enough, as long as the phenomena of nature were not carefully studied, and her laws scientifically investigated; and all the dreams of Paracelsus or Van Helmont, Cardan or Crollius, Baptista Porta or Behmen, are but the natural and pardonable errors of minds which, while they felt deeply the sanctity and mystery of Nature, had no Baconian philosophy to tell them what Nature actually was, and what she actually said. But their idea lives still, and will live as long as the belief in a one God lives. The physical and spiritual worlds cannot be separated by an impassable gulf. They must, in some way or other, reflect each other, even in their minutest phenomena, for so only can they both reflect that absolute primeval unity, in whom they both live and move and have their being. Mr. Vaughan’s object, however, has not been to work out in his book such problems as these. Had he done so, he would have made his readers understand better what Mysticism is; he would have avoided several hasty epithets, by the use of which he has, we think, deceived himself into the notion that he has settled a matter by calling it a hard name; he would have explained, perhaps, to himself and to us, many strange and seemingly contradictory facts in the annals of Mysticism. But he would also not have written so readable a book. On the whole he has taken the right course, though one wishes that he had carried it out more methodically.

A few friends, literate and comfortable men, and right-hearted Christians withal, meet together to talk over these same mystics, and to read papers and extracts which will give a general notion of the subject from the earliest historic times. The gentlemen talk about and about a little too much; they are a little too fond of illustrations of the popular pulpit style; they are often apt to say each his say, with very little care of what the previous speaker has uttered; in fact these conversations are, as conversations, not good, but as centres of thought they are excellent. There is not a page nor a paragraph in which there is not something well worth recollecting, and often reflections very wise and weighty indeed, which show that whether or not Mr. Vaughan has thoroughly grasped the subject of Mysticism, he has grasped and made part of his own mind and heart many things far more practically important than Mysticism, or any other form of thought; and no one ought to rise up from the perusal of his book without finding himself if not a better, at least a more thoughtful man, and perhaps a humble one also, as he learns how many more struggles and doubts, discoveries, sorrows and joys, the human race has passed through, than are contained in his own private experience.