« AnteriorContinuar »
REVIEW OF NEW PUBLICATIONS.
ART. I.--Physical Theory of another Life. By the Author of Natural History of Enthusiasm. London: Pickering. 1836. 8vo. Pp. 321.
The ingenious author of the work before us, well known to our readers, has abandoned the prosecution of his literary plans, as hopeless of a beneficial issue, whilst the very themes of his purposed investigation have become the pabulum of eager contention. Finding himself nearing the abyss of strife, (the lateness of the discovery is our only wonder,) he steps back in haste, and escapes to a peaceful region, not exposed, he hopes, to storms. It was the object of his former labours to remove the prejudices and perversions which had been amassed around the highest truths, and thus to increase their happy influence; -it is the end of his present lucubrations to promote the same issue by holding forth, apart from incidental causes of obstruction, the substance of those truths in its native brightness.
But, though our author has altered his literary course, and betaken himself to new topics of discussion, we meet him characterized with the same talent, the same acuteness, the same eloquence, and the same strength of style, which have heretofore rendered him a justly popular writer with the public. We entertain, we confess, some doubts whether his reputation will be increased by the volume on our table; not that it displays less versatility of mind, or a less seductive style than his previous works—but that it betrays more of their cardinal sin, and, in a practical point of view, is, in our judgment, equally worthless. Some few scholars may peruse, indeed, and admire his recondite pages, but for the general bulk of readers his “ Physical Theory of another Life” will be repulsively dry, and, in a great measure, unintelligible. The physiologist and the metaphysician will not be backward to do homage to his transcendent merits; and the lovers of felicitous conjectures will be foremost to admire his genius ;—but the trite question, more easily VOL. XVIII.
put than answered in the present case,
cui bono ?” will tempt many a man to lay aside the treatise, ere he has read one half of its contents. Notwithstanding these suspicions, we despair not of making our analysis of the work not uninteresting to our readers.
The knowledge of another life we may easily imagine to have been conveyed to us through some other channel than that of the christian writings. And so indeed it is; yet obscurely. We may, therefore, use such means of information, in the spirit and with the freedom that belong to other physical researches, so long as we abstain from the error of confounding the mere deductions of reason with the testimony of the inspired writings ; for if human nature, in its present form, be but the rudiment of a more desirable mode of existence hereafter, our future being may be involved in our present bodily and mental constitution; and a careful examination of this structure, with a view to the reconstruction of the whole, may enable us to conjecture what may be the elements at least of our future life. Accordingly, our author institutes a minute inquiry into the constituent principles of human nature, and opens his statement by considering the doctrine of Scripture touching the destiny of man, as developed by St. Paul in his argument upon the subject of the resurrection,_"There is a spiritual body." Here then, (for we pass by our author's digressive history of the present relative position of the two parties, in the old controversy concerning matter and mind,) we have Divine authority for maintaining the physiological fact of two species of corporeity destined for man; the first, that of our present dissoluble organization ; and the second, a future spiritual structure.
Now having the sanction of this inspired affirmation of these two kinds of corporeity, and intending to inquire concerning the probable prerogatives of the future human body; it is natural that we should first state what appear to be the essential conditions of corporeity, whether animal or spiritual, so that before we come to ask wherein the spiritual body shall excel the animal body, we may understand what it is in which the two must be supposed to agree. P. 19.
The common prerogatives of corporeity, apart from such temporary faculties of the body as subserve only the well-being of the animal structure itself, its preservation, or its reproduction, seem to be
The occupation of place, or a relationship to space and extension—the consciousness of equable motion, or a knowledge of time—the consciousness of the properties of matter, or sensation-an active power over matter, to originate motion- the susceptibility of imaginative emotions, and of mixed moral sentiments—and a defined recognizable individuality.-P. 40.
How these truths are established; with what ingenuity objections are met ; with what metaphysical acuteness, and with what force of language, our author has urged his arguments ; may be seen, and can be fully appreciated only, by reference to the pages of the volume under review. In our brief analysis we pass by these details, and having thus
hinted at the common properties of the animal and spiritual body, which must belong as well to the future as to the present lodgment of the human mind, we come, in the next place, to inquire into their essential differences, and to state in what manner the powers of the present structure of human nature may be expanded, consistently with those principles of analogy which characterise the Divine operations. The probable prerogatives of spiritual corporeity, as compared with animal organization, according to our author, are nine in number; and, to manifest their nature, is the object of seven consecutive chapters of the learned
before us, wherein he examines in succession the several constituents of our corporeal existence, and considers what extensions each faculty may be susceptible of, or how it may be freed from its present limitations. He begins with the least intellectual faculty of the mind, --its power to originate motion. Whatever hypothesis we adopt concerning the occult process of muscular movement ; whether, with our author, we hold that the mind impels the limb immediately, and that " the influence derived from the brain, through the nervous chord, is subsidiary only;" or whether we think that " volition, affecting the brain immediately, is thence conveyed to the muscles," i. e. whether we hold the mental influence to be chemical, or simply mechanical, it will still be true that " mind puts matter in movement." But this mechanical force of the mind is at present restricted to those flexions and rotations which the joints will admit of, and which the muscles may perform. Once remove these corporeal impediments from the mind; once break down these osseous restrictions; and what shall prevent the liberated mind from ranging at will through space ? This, indeed, our author conjectures will be the first prerogative of spiritual corporeity, when it shall be given to us to “ mount up with wings as eagles ; to run, and not to be weary ; to walk, and not to be faint."
Perception, for such is our author's view, being at present circumscribed faculty,” and limited by the senses, which are exclusive and restrictive means of information, he confidently anticipates an era, “ when it shall throw off its confinements, and converse at large with the material universe."
The animal organization, with its medullary mass and nervous expansions, may be regarded, not merely as a means of sensation, but as a means of abatement, or as a sheath, defending the percipient faculty of the mind, except at certain points, from the too forcible impressions of the external world. The body, as we suppose, is to the mind an envelop, or a rough coating, which serves to prevent its being either overborne, or unduly stimulated by the otherwise continuous influx of various and powerful excitements. The mind perhaps, in this its present initial stage of existence, might scarcely be able to assert its rational supremacy, or to exercise its proper, intellectual, and moral functions, if it were exposed to as much sensation as it is inherently capable of receiving. But in its next stage of life, and when its active and higher principles have become mature, it may be well able to sustain, and advantageously to use, a much
more ample correspondence with the material world than would now be good or possible.-P. 58.
The mind, thus freed from the husk of animal organization, may know on all sides that which it now knows only “at points,” and in “an abated degree." And yet farther, we may fairly assume, not merely that the naked soul shall have a more intimate and familiar knowledge of things, than what is now imparted to her through the senses, but that the inner form of matter, as well as the external species, shall be rendered perceptible.
Thus, besides knowing Effects, we should also know Causes; or to speak more correctly, should be able to trace forms and affinities, a stage or two higher than now we can. Instead of looking only at the dial plate of nature, and of noting the hands and the figures, we should be admitted to inspect the wheel-work and the springs; and this inner perception of real forms might well consist with the simultaneous perception of external species; just as our dissection of an animal does not prevent or supersede our discernment of its form.-P. 63.
Such are the second and third supposed prerogatives of the spiritual body in another life. The fourth of these advantages relates to the faculty of memory, which, set free from physical objections and infirmities, is susceptible of vast enhancement and extension, merely by an enlargement or improvement of the corporeal system, under which
The mind might enjoy a full, permanent, and bright consciousness of all that it has ever known, felt, and performed :-it might repossess itself of its entire past existence, and might thus continue to enjoy (or to endure) an evergrowing and plenary recollection of its various successive states: it might every moment live its whole life over simultaneously, and with an infallible accuracy might be conscious of all the circumstances and shades of every portion of its being. However much such a full consciousness of the past might seem to exceed, in kind as well as in amount, our present partial and fallacious recollections, it would nevertheless be only the saine power of the mind, set free from physical obstructions and infirmities.
The memory, even in its present state, and affected as it is by the conditions of animal lite, might be brought near to the perfection we bave supposed (and in a few recorded instances it has been) if it were absolutely exempted from the accidental obstructions arising from a turgid state of the cerebral vessels-a flaccid state of the cerebral substance-a slight compression--a confusion connected with derangement of the digestive organs, and the like. The spiritual body then, in itself indestructible and exempt from the liability to animal decay, may allow the mental faculty to spread itself out to the full; or as if an inscription, which heretofore had been committed to a leaf, or papyrian scroll, was now transferred to a fair and ample surface of Parian marble.- Pp. 70, 71.
In the pursuit of his ingenious hypothesis, our author will be found to hold the same line of reasoning with regard to all other operations of the mind, which depend at all upon the functions and condition of the brain. Hence he teaches us, that the future spiritual body will be the mere instrument of the mind, and in every respect subordinate to it, so that the intellect will pursue its uninterrupted course, and be liable to no interior disturbance; no privy conspiracy; no silent and insidious attraction. He imagines that our spiritual body will perform its office
in the mental processes without any sense of exhaustion.
Such a conformation of the corporeal-mental system would allow the mind its essential and constant activity, and would not only augment incalculably the mind's power, and accelerate its operations, but would exclude the many illusions which now steal upon it, like a thief in the night, during its seasons of inertness. The fifth and sixth prerogatives of the spiritual body of another life will be recognised, our author maintains, in a new and better law of mental suggestion, or the association of ideas, and in an increased ability of conducting many operations simultaneously.
This extension may take place either merely by a higher degree of refineinent in the corporeal-inental mechanism, such as should allow more activity with less effort; or else, which is the preferable supposition, that the mental process, so far as dependent upon the body, should be placed in analogy with the involuntary animal functions, and so be free to move on without expending the organic force.-P. 89.
A seventh mental advantage, which may reasonably be anticipated as likely to accrue from a more entire subserviency of the corporeal economy to the intellect, is “ an intuitive perception of abstract truths, whether they be mathematical or metaphysical."
O! blessed days, when study shall cease, and the drudgery of mental labour be exchanged for the easy intuition of principles, now but imperfectly ascertained by fatiguing calculations, or by difficult process of severe reasoning! O! happy era, when the trammels of argument, and the subtilties of logic, together with the obstructions and obscurities attaching to the animal brain, shall no longer impede the acquisition of knowledge, or be deemed essential for its pursuit, but the mind itself shall vindicate the supremacy that belongs to it, and " start forward, as from an advanced position,” and move on with the rapidity of lightning to new and higher ground, without the aid of animal mechanism, or the friction of material organs!
But let us not, in these eager anticipations, forget our author, nor cheat our readers with our own sentimentalities, when we ought rather to be feeding them with the substantial fruit of the work, to whose rich pages it is our duty at once and our delight to invite them. The eighth prerogative of spiritual corporeity will consist, it is conjectured, in
a plenary utterance of the soul,” independently of language, or the symbolic conveyance of thought! Language is the mind's instrument of expression, but it is at best an imperfect medium of communication, deficient in compass, certitude, nicety, and power. It is manifestly a rudiment of the material system, a fruit of our corporeity, and necessarily imposes upon the intellect its own limitations, and generates innumerable errors, which are inseparable, it should seem, from its essential rudeness.