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Phaethon: Loose Thoughts For Loose Thinkers
by [?]

“You are severe,” said Templeton, smilingly though, as if his estimate were not very different from mine.

“Can one help being severe when one hears irreverence poured forth from reverend lips? I do not mean merely irreverence for the Catholic Creeds; that to my mind-God forgive me if I misjudge him- seemed to me only one fruit of a deep root of irreverence for all things as they are, even for all things as they seem. Did you not remark the audacious contempt for all ages but ‘our glorious nineteenth century,’ and the still deeper contempt for all in the said glorious time who dared to believe that there was any ascertained truth independent of the private fancy and opinion of- for I am afraid it came to that-him, Professor Windrush, and his circle of elect souls? ‘You may believe nothing if you like, and welcome; but if you do take to that unnecessary act, you are a fool if you believe anything but what I believe-though I do not choose to state what that is.’ Is not that, now, a pretty fair formulisation of his doctrine?”

“But, my dear raver,” said Templeton, laughing, “the man believed at least in physical science. I am sure we heard enough about its triumphs.”

“It may be so. But to me his very ‘spiritualism’ seemed more materialistic than his physics. His notion seemed to be, though heaven forbid that I should say that he ever put it formally before himself-“

“Or anything else,” said Templeton, sotto voce.

“-that it is the spiritual world which is governed by physical laws, and the physical by spiritual ones; that while men and women are merely the puppets of cerebrations and mentations, and attractions and repulsions, it is the trees, and stones, and gases, who have the wills and the energies, and the faiths and the virtues and the personalities.”

“You are caricaturing.”

“How so? How can I judge otherwise, when I hear a man talking, as he did, of God in terms which, every one of them involved what we call the essential properties of matter-space, time, passibility, motion; setting forth phrenology and mesmerism as the great organs of education, even of the regeneration of mankind; apologising for the earlier ravings of the Poughkeepsie seer, and considering his later eclectico-pantheist farragos as great utterances: while, whenever he talked of Nature, he showed the most credulous craving after everything which we, the countrymen of Bacon, have been taught to consider unscientific-Homoeopathy, Electro-biology, Loves of the Plants a la Darwin, Vestiges of Creation, Vegetarianisms, Teetotalisms-never mind what, provided it was unaccredited or condemned by regularly educated men of science?”

“But you don’t mean to assert that there is nothing in any of these theories?”

“Of course not. I can no more prove a universal negative about them than I can about the existence of life on the moon. But I do say that this contempt for that which has been already discovered-this carelessness about induction from the normal phenomena, coupled with this hankering after theories built upon exceptional ones-this craving for ‘signs and wonders,’ which is the sure accompaniment of a dying faith in God, and in nature as God’s work-are symptoms which make me tremble for the fate of physical as well as of spiritual science, both in America and in the Americanists here at home. As the Professor talked on, I could not help thinking of the neo- Platonists of Alexandria, and their exactly similar course-downward from a spiritualism of notions and emotions, which in every term confessed its own materialism, to the fearful discovery that consciousness does not reveal God, not even matter, but only its own existence; and then onward, in desperate search after something external wherein to trust, towards theurgic fetish worship, and the secret virtues of gems and flowers and stars; and, last of all, to the lowest depth of bowing statues and winking pictures. The sixth century saw that career, Templeton; the nineteenth may see it re- enacted, with only these differences, that the Nature-worship which seems coming will be all the more crushing and slavish, because we know so much better how vast and glorious Nature is; and that the superstitions will be more clumsy and foolish in proportion as our Saxon brain is less acute and discursive, and our education less severely scientific, than those of the old Greeks.”