Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Religious Fiction > The Varieties of Religious Experience > Lectures VII THE SICK SOUL
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】
Lectures VII THE SICK SOUL
  Wherefore did I come? To pass away. How can I learn aught when naught I know? Being naught Icame to life: once more shall I be what I was. Nothing and nothingness is the whole race ofmortals."--"For death we are all cherished and fattened like a herd of hogs that is wantonlybutchered."The difference between Greek pessimism and the oriental and modern variety is that the Greekshad not made the discovery that the pathetic mood may be idealized, and figure as a higher form ofsensibility. Their spirit was still too essentially masculine for pessimism to be elaborated orlengthily dwelt on in their classic literature. They would have despised a life set wholly in a minorkey, and summoned it to keep within the proper bounds of lachrymosity. The discovery that theenduring emphasis, so far as this world goes, may be laid on its pain and failure, was reserved forraces more complex, and (so to speak) more feminine than the Hellenes had attained to being inthe classic period. But all the same was the outlook of those Hellenes blackly pessimistic.

Stoic insensibility and Epicurean resignation were the farthest advance which the Greek mindmade in that direction. The Epicurean said: "Seek not to be happy, but rather to escapeunhappiness; strong happiness is always linked with pain; therefore hug the safe shore, and do nottempt the deeper raptures. Avoid disappointment by expecting little, and by aiming low; and aboveall do not fret." The Stoic said: "The only genuine good that life can yield a man is the freepossession of his own soul; all other goods are lies." Each of these philosophies is in its degree aphilosophy of despair in nature's boons. Trustful self-abandonment to the joys that freely offer hasentirely departed from both Epicurean and Stoic; and what each proposes is a way of rescue from the resultant dust-and-ashes state of mind. The Epicurean still awaits results from economy ofindulgence and damping of desire. The Stoic hopes for no results, and gives up natural goodaltogether. There is dignity in both these forms of resignation. They represent distinct stages in thesobering process which man's primitive intoxication with sense-happiness is sure to undergo. Inthe one the hot blood has grown cool, in the other it has become quite cold; and although I havespoken of them in the past tense, as if they were merely historic, yet Stoicism and Epicureanismwill probably be to all time typical attitudes, marking a certain definite stage accomplished in theevolution of the world-sick soul.[75] They mark the conclusion of what we call the once-bornperiod, and represent the highest flights of what twice-born religion would call the purely naturalman --Epicureanism, which can only by great courtesy be called a religion, showing hisrefinement, and Stoicism exhibiting his moral will. They leave the world in the shape of anunreconciled contradiction, and seek no higher unity. Compared with the complex ecstasies whichthe supernaturally regenerated Christian may enjoy, or the oriental pantheist indulge in, theirreceipts for equanimity are expedients which seem almost crude in their simplicity.

[75] For instance, on the very day on which I write this page, the post brings me some aphorismsfrom a worldly-wise old friend in Heidelberg which may serve as a good contemporaneousexpression of Epicureanism: "By the word 'happiness' every human being understands somethingdifferent. It is a phantom pursued only by weaker minds. The wise man is satisfied with the moremodest but much more definite term CONTENTMENT. What education should chiefly aim at is tosave us from a discontented life. Health is one favoring condition, but by no means anindispensable one, of contentment. Woman's heart and love are a shrewd device of Nature, a trapwhich she sets for the average man, to force him into working. But the wise man will always preferwork chosen by himself."Please observe, however, that I am not yet pretending finally to JUDGE any of these attitudes. Iam only describing their variety. The securest way to the rapturous sorts of happiness of which thetwice-born make report has as an historic matter of fact been through a more radical pessimismthan anything that we have yet considered. We have seen how the lustre and enchantment may berubbed off from the goods of nature. But there is a pitch of unhappiness so great that the goods ofnature may be entirely forgotten, and all sentiment of their existence vanish from the mental field.

For this extremity of pessimism to be reached, something more is needed than observation of lifeand reflection upon death. The individual must in his own person become the prey of apathological melancholy. As the healthy-minded enthusiast succeeds in ignoring evil's veryexistence, so the subject of melancholy is forced in spite of himself to ignore that of all goodwhatever: for him it may no longer have the least reality. Such sensitiveness and susceptibility tomental pain is a rare occurrence where the nervous constitution is entirely normal; one seldomfinds it in a healthy subject even where he is the victim of the most atrocious cruelties of outwardfortune. So we note here the neurotic constitution, of which I said so much in my first lecture,making its active entrance on our scene, and destined to play a part in much that follows. Sincethese experiences of melancholy are in the first instance absolutely private and individual, I cannow help myself out with personal documents. Painful indeed they will be to listen to, and there isalmost an indecency in handling them in public. Yet they lie right in the middle of our path; and if we are to touch the psychology of religion at all seriously, we must be willing to forgetconventionalities, and dive below the smooth and lying official conversational surface.

One can distinguish many kinds of pathological depression. Sometimes it is mere passivejoylessness and dreariness. discouragement, dejection, lack of taste and zest and spring. <143>

Professor Ribot has proposed the name anhedonia to designate this condition.

"The state of anhedonia, if I may coin a new word to pair off with analgesia," he writes, "hasbeen very little studied, but it exists. A young girl was smitten with a liver disease which for sometime altered her constitution. She felt no longer any affection for her father and mother. She wouldhave played with her doll, but it was impossible to find the least pleasure in the act. The samethings which formerly convulsed her with laughter entirely failed to interest her now. Esquirolobserved the case of a very intelligent magistrate who was also a prey to hepatic disease. Everyemotion appeared dead within him. He manifested neither perversion nor violence, but completeabsence of emotional reaction. If he went to the theatre, which he did out of habit, he could find nopleasure there. The thought of his house of his home, of his wife, and of his absent children movedhim as little, he said, as a theorem of Euclid."[76]

[76] Ribot: Psychologie des sentiments, p. 54.

Prolonged seasickness will in most persons produce a temporary condition of anhedonia. Everygood, terrestrial or celestial, is imagined only to be turned from with disgust. A temporarycondition of this sort, connected with the religious evolution of a singularly lofty character, bothintellectual and moral, is well described by the Catholic philosopher, Father Gratry, in hisautobiographical recollections. In consequence of mental isolation and excessive study at thePolytechnic school, young Gratry fell into a state of nervous exhaustion with symptoms which hethus describes:-"I had such a universal terror that I woke at night with a start, thinking that the Pantheon wastumbling on the Polytechnic school, or that the school was in flames, or that the Seine was pouringinto the Catacombs, and that Paris was being swallowed up. And when these impressions werepast, all day long without respite I suffered an incurable and intolerable desolation, verging ondespair. I thought myself, in fact, rejected by God, lost, damned! I felt something like the sufferingof hell. Before that I had never even thought of hell. My mind had never turned in that direction.

Neither discourses nor reflections had impressed me in that way. I took no account of hell. Now,and all at once, I suffered in a measure what is suffered there.

"But what was perhaps still more dreadful is that every idea of heaven was taken away from me:

I could no longer conceive of anything of the sort. Heaven did not seem to me worth going to. Itwas like a vacuum; a mythological elysium, an abode of shadows less real than the earth. I couldconceive no joy, no pleasure in inhabiting it. Happiness, joy, light, affection, love-- all these wordswere now devoid of sense. Without doubt I could still have talked of all these things, but I hadbecome incapable of feeling anything in them, of understanding anything about them, of hopinganything from them, or of believing them to exist. There was my great and inconsolable grief! Ineither perceived nor conceived any longer the existence of happiness or perfection. An abstractheaven over a naked rock. Such was my present abode for eternity."[77]

[77] A. Gratry: Souvenirs de ma jeunesse, 1880, pp. 119-121, abridged. Some persons areaffected with anhedonia permanently, or at any rate with a loss of the usual appetite for life. Theannals of suicide supply such examples as the following:-Anuneducated domestic servant, aged nineteen, poisons herself, and leaves two lettersexpressing her motive for the act. To her parents she writes:-"Life is sweet perhaps to some, but I prefer what is sweeter than life, and that is death. So good-by forever, my dear parents. It is nobody's fault, but a strong desire of my own which I havelonged to fulfill for three or four years. I have always had a hope that some day I might have anopportunity of fulfilling it, and now it has come. . . . It is a wonder I have put this off so long, but Ithought perhaps I should cheer up a bit and put all thought out of my head." To her brother shewrites: "Good-by forever, my own dearest brother. By the time you get this I shall be gone forever.

I know, dear love, there is no forgiveness for what I am going to do. . . . I am tired of living, so amwilling to die. . . . Life may be sweet to some, but death to me is sweeter." S. A. K. Strahan:

Suicide and Insanity, 2d edition, London, 1894, p. 131.

So much for melancholy in the sense of incapacity for joyous feeling. A much worse form of it ispositive and active anguish, a sort of psychical neuralgia wholly unknown to healthy life. Suchanguish may partake of various characters, having sometimes more the quality of loathing;sometimes that of irritation and exasperation; or again of self-mistrust and self-despair; or ofsuspicion, anxiety, trepidation, fear. The patient may rebel or submit; may accuse himself, oraccuse outside powers; and he may or he may not be tormented by the theoretical mystery of whyhe should so have to suffer. Most cases are mixed cases, and we should not treat our classificationswith too much respect. Moreover, it is only a relatively small proportion of cases that connectthemselves with the religious sphere of experience at all. Exasperated cases, for instance, as a ruledo not. I quote now literally from the first case of melancholy on which I lay my hand. It is a letterfrom a patient in a French asylum.

"I suffer too much in this hospital, both physically and morally. Besides the burnings and thesleeplessness (for I no longer sleep since I am shut up here, and the little rest I get is broken by baddreams, and I am waked with a jump by night mares dreadful visions, lightning, thunder, and therest), fear, atrocious fear, presses me down, holds me without respite, never lets me go. Where isthe justice in it all! What have I done to deserve this excess of severity? Under what form will thisfear crush me? What would I not owe to any one who would rid me of my life! Eat, drink, lieawake all night, suffer without interruption--such is the fine legacy I have received from mymother! What I fail to understand is this abuse of power. There are limits to everything, there is amiddle way. But God knows neither middle way nor limits. I say God, but why? All I have knownso far has been the devil. After all, I am afraid of God as much as of the devil, so I drift along,thinking of nothing but suicide, but with neither courage nor means here to execute the act. As youread this, it will easily prove to you my insanity. The style and the ideas are incoherent enough--Ican see that myself. But I cannot keep myself from being either crazy or an idiot; and, as thingsare, from whom should I ask pity? I am defenseless against the invisible enemy who is tighteninghis coils around me. I should be no better armed against him even if I saw him, or had seen him.

Oh, if he would but kill me, devil take him! Death, death, once for all! But I stop. I have raved to you long enough. I say raved, for I can write no otherwise, having neither brain nor thoughts left.

O God! what a misfortune to be born! Born like a mushroom, doubtless between an evening and amorning; and how true and right I was when in our philosophy-year in college I chewed the cud ofbitterness with the pessimists. Yes, indeed, there is more pain in life than gladness--it is one longagony until the grave. Think how gay it makes me to remember that this horrible misery of mine,coupled with this unspeakable fear, may last fifty, one hundred, who knows how many moreyears!"[78]

[78] Roubinovitch et Toulouse: La Melancolie, 1897, p. 170, abridged.

This letter shows two things. First, you see how the entire consciousness of the poor man is sochoked with the feeling of evil that the sense of there being any good in the world is lost for himaltogether. His attention excludes it, cannot admit it: the sun has left his heaven. And secondly yousee how the querulous temper of his misery keeps his mind from taking a religious direction.

Querulousness of mind tends in fact rather towards irreligion; and it has played, so far as I know,no part whatever in the construction of religious systems.

Religious melancholy must be cast in a more melting mood. Tolstoy has left us, in his bookcalled My Confession, a wonderful account of the attack of melancholy which led him to his ownreligious conclusions. The latter in some respects are peculiar; but the melancholy presents twocharacters which make it a typical document for our present purpose. First it is a well-marked caseof anhedonia, of passive loss of appetite for all life's values; and second, it shows how the alteredand estranged aspect which the world assumed in consequence of this stimulated Tolstoy's intellectto a gnawing, carking questioning and effort for philosophic relief. I mean to quote Tolstoy atsome length; but before doing so, I will make a general remark on each of these two points.

First on our spiritual judgments and the sense of value in general.

It is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional comments, since the same factwill inspire entirely different feelings in different persons, and at different times in the sameperson; and there is no rationally deducible connection between any outer fact and the sentiments itmay happen to provoke. These have their source in another sphere of existence altogether, in theanimal and spiritual region of the subject's being. Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly strippedof all the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it AS IT EXISTS,purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable, hopeful or apprehensive comment. It willbe almost impossible for you to realize such a condition of negativity and deadness. No oneportion of the universe would then have importance beyond another; and the whole collection of itsthings and series of its events would be without significance, character, expression, or perspective.

Whatever of value, interest, or meaning our respective worlds may appear endued with are thuspure gifts of the spectator's mind. The passion of love is the most familiar and extreme example ofthis fact. If it comes, it comes; if it does not <148> come, no process of reasoning can force it. Yetit transforms the value of the creature loved as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mont Blanc from acorpse-like gray to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the whole world to a new tune for the lover andgives a new issue to his life. So with fear, with indignation, jealousy, ambition, worship. If they arethere, life changes. And whether they shall be there or not depends almost always upon nonlogical,often on organic conditions. And as the excited interest which these passions put into the world is our gift to the world, just so are the passions themselves GIFTS--gifts to us, from sourcessometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always nonlogical and beyond our control. Howcan the moribund old man reason back to himself the romance, the mystery, the imminence ofgreat things with which our old earth tingled for him in the days when he was young and well?

Gifts, either of the flesh or of the spirit; and the spirit bloweth where it listeth; and the world'smaterials lend their surface passively to all the gifts alike, as the stage-setting receives indifferentlywhatever alternating colored lights may be shed upon it from the optical apparatus in the gallery.

Meanwhile the practically real world for each one of us, the effective world of the individual, isthe compound world, the physical facts and emotional values in indistinguishable combination.

Withdraw or pervert either factor of this complex resultant, and the kind of experience we callpathological ensues.

In Tolstoy's case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a time wholly withdrawn.

The result was a transformation in the whole expression of reality. When we come to study thephenomenon of conversion or religious regeneration, we shall see that a not infrequentconsequence of the change operated in the subject is a transfiguration of the face of nature in hiseyes. A new heaven seems to shine upon a new earth. In melancholiacs there is usually a similarchange, only it is in the reverse direction. The world now looks remote, strange, sinister, uncanny.

Its color is gone, its breath is cold, there is no speculation in the eyes it glares with. "It is as if Ilived in another century," says one asylum patient.--"I see everything through a cloud," saysanother, "things are not as they were, and I am changed."--"I see," says a third, "I touch, but thethings do not come near me, a thick veil alters the hue and look of everything."--"Persons movelike shadows, and sounds seem to come from a distant world."--"There is no longer any past forme; people appear so strange; it is as if I could not see any reality, as if I were in a theatre; as ifpeople were actors, and everything were scenery; I can no longer find myself; I walk, but why?

Everything floats before my eyes, but leaves no impression."--"I weep false tears, I have unrealhands: the things I see are not real things."--Such are expressions that naturally rise to the lips ofmelancholy subjects describing their changed state.[79]

[79] I cull these examples from the work of G. Dumas: La Tristesse et la Joie, 1900.

Now there are some subjects whom all this leaves a prey to the profoundest astonishment. Thestrangeness is wrong. The unreality cannot be. A mystery is concealed, and a metaphysicalsolution must exist. If the natural world is so double-faced and unhomelike, what world, whatthing is real? An urgent wondering and questioning is set up, a poring theoretic activity, and in thedesperate effort to get into right relations with the matter, the sufferer is often led to what becomesfor him a satisfying religious solution.

At about the age of fifty, Tolstoy relates that he began to have moments of perplexity, of what hecalls arrest, as if he knew not "how to live," or what to do. It is obvious that these were moments inwhich the excitement and interest which our functions naturally bring had ceased. Life had beenenchanting, it was now flat sober, more than <150> sober, dead. Things were meaningless whosemeaning had always been self-evident. The questions "Why?" and "What next?" began to besethim more and more frequently. At first it seemed as if such questions must be answerable, and as ifhe could easily find the answers if he would take the time; but as they ever became more urgent, he perceived that it was like those first discomforts of a sick man, to which he pays but little attentiontill they run into one continuous suffering, and then he realizes that what he took for a passingdisorder means the most momentous thing in the world for him, means his death.

These questions "Why?" "Wherefore?" "What for?" found no response.

"I felt," says Tolstoy, "that something had broken within me on which my life had always rested,that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that morally my life had stopped. An invincible forceimpelled me to get rid of my existence, in one way or another. It cannot be said exactly that IWISHED to kill myself, for the force which drew me away from life was fuller, more powerful,more general than any mere desire. It was a force like my old aspiration to live, only it impelledme in the opposite direction. It was an aspiration of my whole being to get out of life.

"Behold me then, a man happy and in good health, hiding the rope in order not to hang myself tothe rafters of the room where every night I went to sleep alone; behold me no longer goingshooting, lest I should yield to the too easy temptation of putting an end to myself with my gun.

"I did not know what I wanted. I was afraid of life; I was driven to leave it; and in spite of that Istill hoped something from it.

"All this took place at a time when so far as all my outer circumstances went, I ought to havebeen completely happy. I had a good wife who loved me and whom I loved; good children and alarge property which was increasing with no pains taken on my part. I was more respected by mykinsfolk and acquaintance than I had ever been; I was loaded with praise by strangers; and withoutexaggeration I could believe my name already famous. Moreover I was neither insane nor ill. Onthe contrary, I possessed a physical and mental strength which I have rarely met in persons of myage. I could mow as well as the peasants, I could work with my brain eight hours uninterruptedlyand feel no bad effects.

"And yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions of my life. And I was surprised that Ihad not understood this from the very beginning. My state of mind was as if some wicked andstupid jest was being played upon me by some on............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading
   
 

Login into Your Account

Email: 
Password: 
  Remember me on this computer.
Tools

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018 wenovel.com, All Rights Reserved