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Hours With The Mystics
by [?]

Note {309} Why has Mr. Vaughan omitted to give us a few racy lines on Sir Matthew Hale’s “Divine Contemplations of the Magnet,” Sir Kenelm Digby’s “Weapon-Salve,” and Valentine Greatrake’s “Magnetic Cures”? He should have told the world a little, too, about the strange phenomenon of the Jesuit Kircher, in whom Popery attempted to recover the very ground which Behmen and the Protestant Nature-mystics were conquering from them.

From these he passes to the Mysticism of the counter-Reformation, especially to the two great Spanish mystics, St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross. Here again he is new and interesting; but we must regret that he has not been as merciful to Theresa as he has to poor little John.

He then devotes some eighty pages–and very well employed they are– in detailing the strange and sad story of Madame Guyon and the “Quietist” movement at Louis Quatorze’s Court. Much of this he has taken, with all due acknowledgment, from Upham; but he has told the story most pleasantly, in his own way, and these pages will give a better notion of Fenelon, and of the “Eagle” (for eagle read vulture) “of Meaux,” old Bossuet, than they are likely to find elsewhere in the same compass.

Following chronological order as nearly as he can, he next passes to George Fox and the early Quakers, introducing a curious–and in our own case quite novel–little episode concerning “The History of Hai Ebn Yokhdan,” a medieval Arabian romance, which old Barclay seems to have got hold of and pressed into the service of his sect, taking it for literal truth.

The twelfth book is devoted to Swedenborg, and a very valuable little sketch it is, and one which goes far to clear up the moral character, and the reputation for sanity also, of that much-calumniated philosopher, whom the world knows only as a dreaming false prophet, forgetting that even if he was that, he was also a sound and severe scientific labourer, to whom our modern physical science is most deeply indebted.

This is a short sketch of the contents of a book which is a really valuable addition to English literature, and which is as interesting as it is instructive. But Mr. Vaughan must forgive us if we tell him frankly that he has not exhausted the subject; that he has hardly defined Mysticism at all–at least, has defined it by its outward results, and that without classifying them; and that he has not grasped the central idea of the subject. There were more things in these same mystics than are dreamt of in his philosophy; and he has missed seeing them, because he has put himself rather in the attitude of a judge than of an inquirer.

He has not had respect and trust enough for the men and women of whom he writes; and is too much inclined to laugh at them, and treat them de haut en bas. He has trusted too much to his own great power of logical analysis, and his equally great power of illustration, and is therefore apt to mistake the being able to put a man’s thoughts into words for him, for the being really able to understand him. To understand any man we must have sympathy for him, even affection. No intellectual acuteness, no amount even of mere pity for his errors, will enable us to see the man from within, and put our own souls into the place of his soul. To do that, one must feel and confess within oneself the seed of the same errors which one reproves in him; one must have passed more or less through his temptations, doubts, hunger of heart and brain; and one cannot help questioning, as one reads Mr. Vaughan’s book, whether he has really done this in the case of those of whom he writes. He should have remembered too how little any young man can have experienced of the terrible sorrows which branded into the hearts of these old devotees the truths to which they clung more than to life, while they too often warped their hearts into morbidity, and caused alike their folly and their wisdom. Gently indeed should we speak even of the dreams of some self-imagined “Bride of Christ,” when we picture to ourselves the bitter agonies which must have been endured ere a human soul could develop so fantastically diseased a growth. “She was only a hysterical nun.” Well, and what more tragical object, to those who will look patiently and lovingly at human nature, than a hysterical nun? She may have been driven into a convent by some disappointment in love. And has not disappointed affection been confessed, in all climes and ages, to enshroud its victim ever after in a sanctuary of reverent pity? If sorrow “broke her brains,” as well as broke her heart, shall we do aught but love her the more for her capacity of love? Or she may have entered the convent, as thousands did, in girlish simplicity, to escape from a world she had not tried, before she had discovered that the world could give her something which the convent could not. What more tragical than her discovery in herself of a capacity for love which could never be satisfied within that prison? And when that capacity began to vindicate itself in strange forms of disease, seemingly to her supernatural, often agonising, often degrading, and at the same time (strange contradiction) mixed itself up with her noblest thoughts, to ennoble them still more, and inspire her not only with a desire of physical self-torture, which would seem holy both in her own eyes and her priest’s, but with a love for all that is fair and lofty, for self-devotion and self-sacrifice–shall we blame her–shall we even smile at her if, after the dreadful question: “Is this the possession of a demon?” had alternated with, “Is this the inspiration of a god?” she settled down, as the only escape from madness and suicide, into the latter thought and believed that she found in the ideal and perfect manhood of One whom she was told to revere and love as a God, and who had sacrificed His own life for her, a substitute for that merely human affection from which she was for ever debarred? Why blame her for not numbering that which was wanting, or making straight that which was crooked? Let God judge her, not we: and the fit critics of her conduct are not the easy gentlemanlike scholars, like Mr. Vaughan’s Athertons and Gowers, discussing the “aberrations of fanaticism” over wine and walnuts; or the gay girl, Kate; hardly even the happy mother, Mrs. Atherton; but those whose hairs are gray with sorrow; who have been softened at once and hardened in the fire of God; who have cried out of the bottomless deep like David, while lover and friend were hid away from them, and laid amid the corpses of their dead hopes, dead health, dead joy, as on a ghastly battle-field, “stript among the dead, like those who are wounded, and cut away from God’s hands;” who have struggled drowning in the horrible mire of doubt, and have felt all God’s billows and waves sweep over them, till they were weary of crying, and their sight failed for waiting so long upon God; and all the faith and prayer which was left was “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.” Be it understood, however, for fear of any mistake, that we hold Mr. Vaughan to be simply and altogether right in his main idea. His one test for all these people, and all which they said or did, is–Were they made practically better men and women thereby? He sees clearly that the “spiritual” is none other than the “moral”–that which has to do with right and wrong; and he has a righteous contempt for everything and anything, however graceful and reverent, and artistic and devout, and celestial and super-celestial, except in as far as he finds it making better men and women do better work at every-day life.