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All publishers are perfectly familiar with these productions written by people who think they are psychic when they are only sick. And I have never yet seen a publisher’s reader who had found anything in inspirational writing but words, words, words. High-sounding paraphrases and rolling sentences do not make literature; and so far as we know, only the fallible, live and loving man or woman can breathe into the nostrils of a literary production the breath of life. All the rest is only lifeless clay.

That mystery enshrouds the workings of the mind, and that some people have remarkable mental experiences, none will deny. People who can not write at all in a normal mood will, under a psychic spell, produce high-sounding literary reverberations, or play the piano or paint a picture. Yet the literature is worthless, the music indifferent, and the picture bad; but, like Doctor Johnson’s simile of the dog that walked on its hind legs, while the walking is never done well, we are amazed that it can be done at all.

The astounding assumption comes in when we leap the gulf and attribute these peculiar rappings and all this ability of seeing around a corner to disembodied spirits. The people with credulity plus, however, always close our mouths with this, “If it isn’t spirits, what in the world is it?” And we, crestfallen and abashed, are forced to say, “We do not know.”

The absolute worthlessness of spiritual communication comes in when we are told by the medium, caught in a contradiction, that spirits are awful liars. On this point all mediums agree: many disembodied spirits are much given to untruth, and the man who is a liar here will be a liar there.

Swedenborg was so annoyed with this disposition on the part of spirits to prevaricate that he says, “I usually conduct my affairs regardless of their advice.” When a spirit came to him and said, “I am the shade of Aristotle,” Swedenborg challenged him, and the spirit acknowledged he was only Jimmy Smith. This is delightfully naive and surely reveals the man’s sanity: he was deceived by neither living nor dead: he accepted or rejected communications as they appealed to his reason: he kept his literature and his hallucinations separate from his business, and never did a thing which did not gibe with his reason. In this way he lived to be eighty, earnest, yet composed, serene, steering safely clear from Bedlam, by making his commonsense the court of last appeal.

Emerson says that the critic who will render the greatest gift to modern civilization is the one who will show us how to fuse the characters of Shakespeare and Swedenborg. One stands for intellect, the other for spirituality. We need both, but we tire of too much goodness, virtue palls on us, and if we hear only psalms sung, we will long for the clink of glasses and the brave choruses of unrestrained good-fellowship. A slap on the back may give you a thrill of delight that the touch of holy water on your forehead can not lend.

Shakespeare hasn’t much regard for concrete truth; Swedenborg is devoted to nothing else. Shakespeare moves jauntily, airily, easily, with careless indifference; Swedenborg lives earnestly, seriously, awfully. Shakespeare thinks that truth is only a point of view, a local issue, a matter of geography; Swedenborg considers it an exact science, with boundaries fixed and cornerstones immovable, and the business of his life was to map the domain.

If you would know the man Shakespeare, you will find him usually in cap and bells. Jaques, Costard, Trinculo, Mercutio, are confessions, for into the mouths of these he puts his wisest maxims. Shakespeare dearly loved a fool, because he was one. He plays with truth as a kitten gambols with a ball of yarn.

So Emerson would have us reconcile the holy zeal for truth and the swish of this bright blade of the intellect. He himself confesses that after reading Swedenborg he turns to Shakespeare and reads “As You Like It” with positive delight, because Shakespeare isn’t trying to prove anything. The monks of the olden time read Rabelais and Saint Augustine with equal relish.