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The Evolution Of Mystery
by [?]

It is not unreasonable to believe that the paramount interest of life, all that is truly lofty and remarkable in the destiny of man, reposes almost entirely in the mystery that surrounds us; in the two mysteries, it may be, that are mightiest, most dreadful of all–fatality and death. And indeed there are many whom the fatigue induced in their minds by the natural uncertainties of science has almost compelled to accept this belief. I too believe, though in a somewhat different fashion, that the study of mystery in all its forms is the noblest to which the mind of man can devote itself; and truly it has ever been the occupation and care of those who in science and art, in philosophy and literature, have refused to be satisfied merely to observe and portray the trivial, well-recognised truths, facts, and realities of life. And we find that the success of these men in their endeavour, the depth of their insight into all that they know, has most strictly accorded with the respect in which they held all they did not know, with the dignity that their mind or imagination was able to confer on the sum of unknowable forces. Our consciousness of the unknown wherein we have being gives life a meaning and grandeur which must of necessity be absent if we persist in considering only the things that are known to us; if we too readily incline to believe that these must greatly transcend in importance the things that we know not yet.

It behoves every man to frame for himself his own general conception of the world. On this conception reposes his whole human and moral existence. But this general conception of the world, when closely examined, is truly no more than a general conception of the unknown. And we must be careful; we have not the right, when ideas so vast confront us, ideas the results of which are so highly important, to select the one which seems most magnificent to us, most beautiful, or most attractive. The duty lies on us to choose the idea which seems truest, or rather the only one which seems true; for I decline to believe that we can sincerely hesitate between the truth that is only apparent and the one that is real. The moment must always come when we feel that one of these two is possessed of more truth than the other. And to this truth we should cling: in our actions, our words, and our thoughts; in our art, in our science, in the life of our feelings and intellect. Its definition, perhaps, may elude us. It may possibly bring not one grain of reassuring conviction. Nay, essentially, perhaps, it may be but the merest impression, though profounder and more sincere than any previous impression. These things do not matter. It is not imperative that the truth we have chosen should be unimpeachable or of absolute certainty. There is already great gain in our having been brought to experience that the truths we had loved before did not accord with reality or with faithful experience of life; and we have every reason, therefore, to cherish our truth with heartiest gratitude until its own turn shall come to experience the fate it inflicted on its predecessor. The great mischief, the one which destroys our moral existence and threatens the integrity of our mind and our character, is not that we should deceive ourselves and love an uncertain truth, but that we should remain constant to one in which we no longer wholly believe.

If we sought nothing more than to invest our conception of the unknown with the utmost possible grandeur and tragedy, magnificence and might, there would be no need of such restrictions. From many points of view, doubtless, the most beautiful, most touching, most religious attitude in face of mystery is silence, and prayer, and fearful acceptance. When this immense, irresistible force confronts us–this inscrutable, ceaselessly vigilant power, humanly super-human, sovereignly intelligent, and, for all we know, even personal–must it not, at first sight, seem more reverent, worthier, to offer complete submission, trying only to master our terror, than tranquilly to set on foot a patient, laborious investigation? But is the choice possible to us; have we still the right to choose? The beauty or dignity of the attitude we shall assume no longer is matter of moment. It is truth and sincerity that are called for to-day for the facing of all things–how much more when mystery confronts us! In the past, the prostration of man, his bending the knee, seemed beautiful because of what, in the past, seemed to be true. We have acquired no fresh certitude, perhaps; but for us, none the less, the truth of the past has ceased to be true. We have not bridged the unknown; but still, though we know not what it is, we do partially know what it is not; and it is before this we should bow, were the attitude of our fathers to be once more assumed by us. For although it has not, perhaps, been incontrovertibly proved that the unknown is neither vigilant nor personal, neither sovereignly intelligent nor sovereignly just, or that it possesses none of the passions, intentions, virtues and vices of man, it is still incomparably more probable that the unknown is entirely indifferent to all that appears of supreme importance in this life of ours. It is incomparably more probable that if, in the vast and eternal scheme of the unknown, a minute and ephemeral place be reserved for man, his actions, be he the strongest or weakest, the best or the worst of men, will be as unimportant there as the movements of the obscurest geological cell in the history of ocean or continent. Though it may not have been irrefutably shown that the infinite and invisible are not for ever hovering round us, dealing out sorrow or joy in accordance with our good or evil intentions, guiding our destiny step by step, and preparing, with the help of innumerable forces, the incomprehensible but eternal law that governs the accidents of our birth, our future, our death, and our life beyond the tomb, it is still incomparably more probable that the invisible and infinite, intervene as they may at every moment in our life, enter therein only as stupendous, blind, indifferent elements; and that though they pass over us, in us, penetrate into our being, and inspire and mould our life, they are as careless of our individual existence as air, water, or light. And the whole of our conscious life, the life that forms our one certitude, that is our one fixed point in time and space, rests upon “incomparable probabilities” of this nature; but rarely are they as “incomparable” as these.