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Sundown Papers
by [?]


I am trying again to read Bergson’s “Creative Evolution,” with poor success. When I recall how I was taken with the work ten or more years ago, and carried it with me whenever I went from home, I am wondering if my mind has become too old and feeble to take it in. But I do not have such difficulty with any other of my favorite authors. Bergson’s work now seems to me a mixture of two things that won’t mix–metaphysics and natural science. It is full of word-splitting and conjuring with terms, and abounds in natural history facts. The style is wonderful, but the logic is not strong. He enlarges upon the inability of the intellect to understand or grasp Life. The reason is baffled, but sympathy and the emotional nature and the intuitions grasp the mystery.

This may be true, the heart often knows what the head does not; but is it not the intellect that tells us so? The intellect understands the grounds of our inability. We can and do reason about the limitations of reason. We do not know how matter and spirit blend, but we know they do blend. The animals live by instinct, and we live largely in our emotions, but it is reason that has placed man at the head of the animal kingdom.

Bergson himself by no means dispenses with the logical faculty. Note his close and convincing reasoning on the development of the vertebrate eye, and how inadequate the Darwinian idea of the accumulation of insensible variations is to account for it. A closer and more convincing piece of reasoning would be hard to find.

Bergson’s conception of two currents–an upward current of spirit and a downward current of matter–meeting and uniting at a definite time and place and producing life, is extremely fanciful. Where had they both been during all the geologic ages? I do not suppose they had been any where. How life arose is, of course, one of the great mysteries. But do we not know enough to see that it did not originate in this sudden spectacular way?–that it began very slowly, in unicellular germs?

At first I was so captivated by the wonderful style of M. Bergson, and the richness of his page in natural history, that I could see no flaws in his subject-matter, but now that my enthusiasm has cooled off a little I return to him and am looking closer into the text.

Is not Bergson guilty of false or careless reasoning when he says that the relation of the soul to the brain is like that of a coat to the nail upon which it hangs? I call this spurious or pinchbeck analogy. If we know anything about it, do we not know that the relation of the two is not a mechanical or fortuitous one? and that it cannot be defined in this loose way?

“To a large extent,” Bergson says, “thought is independent of the brain.” “The brain is, strictly speaking, neither an organ of thought, nor of feeling, nor of consciousness.” He speaks of consciousness as if it were a disembodied something floating around in the air overhead, like wireless messages. If I do not think with my brain, with what do I think? Certainly not with my legs, or my abdomen, or my chest. I think with my head, or the gray matter of my brain. I look down at the rest of my body and I say, this is part of me, but it is not the real me. With both legs and both arms gone, I should still be I. But cut off my head and where am I?

Has not the intelligence of the animal kingdom increased during the geologic ages with the increase in the size of the brain?


I have little need to revise my opinion of any of the great names of English literature. I probably make more strenuous demands upon him who aspires to be a poet than ever before. I see more clearly than ever before that sweetened prose put up in verse form does not make poetry any more than sweetened water put in the comb in the hive makes honey. Many of our would-be young poets bring us the crude nectar from the fields–fine descriptions of flowers, birds, sunsets, and so on–and expect us to accept them as honey. The quality of the man makes all the difference in the world. A great nature can describe birds and flowers and clouds and sunsets and spring and autumn greatly.