It is hardly the province of our journal to
notice the fugitive vagaries of occasional correspondents in daily
papers, unless by chance some article happens to contain some
useful or very interesting and quite impersonal information. We
have held to the good rule till now, and hope to continue. On
this principle we would have hardly given any attention to a certain
paragraph in the Bombay Gazette (March 16, 1881) signed
"your Peripatetic," and headed "Current Philosophy"
were it not for the strong illustration it affords us of that
perverse spirit, called "respectable deference to public
opinion," but which "for short" we call hypocrisy.
The writer in question throws stones into our garden and, but
for our having by this time grown somewhat indifferent to that
sort of thing, we might well find in his personalities alone abundant
excuse for retorting upon him. But we have a far more serious
object in view, and this once the speculative lucubrations of
the "current" philosopher will do us better service
than his party have perhaps, bargained for. For, for us, "Peripatetic"
decidely represents a party. He is the mouth-piece of that majority
in our modern-day society which has worked itself out an elaborate
policy full of sophistry and paradox, behind which every member
clumsily hides his own personal views. The words of their Revelation,
"I would thou wert cold or hot" apply to our modern
society far better than to the church of the Laodiceans; and knowing their works and that they are "neither cold nor hot,"
but like a faithful thermometer follow the changing moral temperature
of the day, we will now analyze some of the desultory rhapsodies
of the writer on "Current Philosophy."
When we have done that, he is at liberty to go on chuckling over
his pen which traced his rather stale denunciation of the "simplicity"
of Mr. __________ and the Simla "Occultists!" "The
simplicity" of the gentleman whom the "Peripatetic"
names in the Gazette in full an example of bad breeding
we shall surely not follow being an adjective applied by him
to a man of the most acute and remarkable intellect, and one whose
ability and talents are universally recognized throughout India
and Europe, speaks ill, by the bye, for his own powers of discrimination.
When one presumes to sign himself a "Peripatetic," he
ought to honour his classical pseudonyme by at least borrowing
some logic for the occasion if he has none himself to spare. Having
thus cursorily noticed the poor fling at the Simla "simpletons,"
we will now lay before our readers a sample of the logic of that
alleged pupil of Aristotle, which "Peripatetic" so paradoxically
assumes to be.
Quoting Carlyle's famous proposition (who may have had such "Peripatetics"
in mind) that the population of Great Britain consists of "thirty
millions mostly fools," and having offered by way of self-incense
on the altar of patriotism his own postulate that "the intellect
of the average Briton is however, certainly higher than the average
intellect of general humanity," the critic proceeds if we
may be forgiven the Americanism to scalp believers in
phenomena. The simplicity of the "Simla occultists,"
however, he confesses, "is outdone by the innocence of some
'titled people' who, according to the evidence of a witness in
the Fletcher trial, 'will believe anything' a statement which
appears strictly accurate."
Fletcher and Company, together with two-thirds of the trading
professional mediums, we may leave to his tender mercies. Having
denounced these for the last six years, we even heartily agree
in some respects with the writer; as, for instance, when he deprecates
those who "would believe anything." No one of the over-credulous
who recognise so readily in dark séances, in every shadow
on the wall or in the medium's pocket-handkerchief, their "aunt,
or uncle, or somebody" has any right to complain if they
are regarded as "fools," though even in such cases,
it is far more honourable to be found out to be an honest fool,
than a cheating medium. Nor do we blame the writer for laughing
at those who so trustingly believe. . . . "that when it pleased
the medium to wind up the musical-box, one of this intellectual
audience asserted that he felt that virtue had gone out of him,
and that this magnetism was winding up the box": uncharitable
though it be, it is yet natural. And were "Peripatetic"
to stop his philosophical disquisitions with the just remark.
. . . "And yet probably these 'titled' fools would be ready
enough to talk of the dark superstitions of the benighted Hindoo,
or indeed, if they happened to be fervent Protestants, of the
superstitions of their Catholic neighbors, while doubtless believing
that they themselves were making a scientific investigation,"
this review of his "Current Philosophy" need never have
seen print. We would not have even noticed the ridiculous blunder
he falls into, with so many other critics, in confusing phenomena
for which the agency of "disembodied spirits" is claimed,
with natural phenomena for which every tithe of supernaturalism
is rejected. We might have overlooked his ignorance, as he was,
perhaps, never told that natural are the only phenomena
Theosophists accept, and the only way they are trying to fathom
the mystery; and that their object is precisely to put
down every element of superstition or belief in the miraculous
or the supernatural, instead of countenancing it as he believes.
But what are we to think of a philosopher, an alleged Peripatetic,
who after exercising his acute reasoning upon the "folly"
of the superstitious beliefs of the spiritualists and the
occultists, winds up his arguments with the most unexpected rhetorical
sommersault ever made. The proposition which he emits in the same
breath seems so preposterously illogical and monstrous, that we
can characterize it but in the felicitous words of Southey, viz.,
as "one of the most untenable that ever was advanced by a
perverse, paradoxical intellect." Listen to him and judge
ye, logicians and true disciples of Aristotle: "No, no!"
exclaims our philosopher . . . "Religious beliefs which are
imbibed with our mother's milk, and which most around us accept,
cannot be regarded as superstitions. It is natural to the human
mind to regard doctrines presented to it with the authority of
bygone generations as probable and natural. Earnest belief of
this nature may not always command our respect, but it
must invariably attract our sympathy. The superstitious follies
of 'table-turners' and 'spiritists' of all sorts can only command
our hearty contempt. How much exposure will be necessary to teach
persons of this sort that secrets of nature which have been hidden
from investigators like Newton, Davy, Faraday, and Tyndall are
not likely to be opened to them?" And we beg leave to tell
him, that he, who does not believe in Spiritualism cannot
believe in Christianity, for the very foundation of that faith
is the materialisation of their Saviour. A Christian if
he has any right at all to attack spiritual phenomena, can do
so but on the ground of the dogmas of his religion. He can say "such
manifestations are of the devil" he dare not say "they
are impossible, and do not exist." For, if spiritualism
and occultism are a superstition and a falsehood then is Christianity,
the same Christianity with its Mosaic miracles and witches of
Endor, its resurrections and materialisation of angels, and hundreds
of other spiritual and occult phenomena.
Does "Peripatetic" forget, that while there are many
real inquirers among well-known men of science, like Messrs. Wallace,
Crookes, Wagner, Butlerof, Zöllner, Hare, Fichte, and Camille
Flammarion, who have thoroughly investigated and hence thoroughly
believe in the phenomena called "spiritual" till a better
name is found, and in some cases are even spiritualists themselves;
no Tyndall, no Huxley, no Faraday, no investigator yet since the
world was created, has ever been able to prove, let alone one
of the religious human dogmas, but even the existence of
a God or of the soul?
We are not "Spiritualists," and, therefore, speak impartially.
If religious "earnest belief invariably attracts our sympathy
even without commanding our respect," why should not as earnest
a belief in spiritual phenomena that most consoling, most sacred
of all beliefs, hope in the survival of those whom we most loved
while on earth "attract our sympathy" as well? Is it
because it is unscientific and that exact science fails to always
prove it? But religion is far more unscientific yet. Is
belief in the Holy Ghost, we ask, less blind than belief
in the "ghosts" of our departed fathers and mothers?
Is faith in an abstract and never-to-be-scientifically-proven
principle any more "respectable" or worthy of sympathy
than that other faith of believers as earnest as Christians are that
the spirits of those whom they loved best on earth, their mothers,
children, friends, are ever near them, though their bodies may
be gone? Surely we "imbibe with our mother's milk" as
much love for her as for a mythical "Mother of God."
And if one is not to be regarded as a superstition then
how far less the other! We think that if Professor Tyndall or
Mr. Huxley were forced to choose between belief in the materialisation
of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes or Knock, and that of their own
mothers in a séance-room, they would rather risk to pass
for "fools" in the latter locality. For phenomena, however
rarely, have yet more than once been proved real and so
announced by men of undoubted authority in science. Phenomena
are based upon scientific grounds; on facts pertaining to exact science upon physiology, pathology, magnetism, all correlating
into psychological manifestations. Physical as well as psychological
phenomena court experiment and the investigations of science;
whereas, supernatural religion dreads and avoids such.
The former claims no miracles, no supernaturalism to hang its
faith upon, while religion imperatively demands them, and invariably
collapses whenever such belief is withdrawn.
Personally, as we said before, we do not believe in the agency
of "disembodied spirits" in the physical mediumistic
phenomena, but it gives us no right for all that, to dogmatise
and try to force others to reject their belief. All that we can
say now is, that the last word has not yet been told of these
phenomena; and that as theosophists, i.e. searchers after
truth who claim no infallibility, we say that the Spiritualists
after all may be as right in their way as we think we are right
in ours. That no spiritualist has ever believed in "miracles"
or supernatural interferences, their immense literature well proves.
Can "Peripatetic" say as much of Christian belief? Hear
the Bishop of Bombay proclaim publicly his professions of faith:
"We," he says to his clergy, "who by professional
honour are bound to maintain and to set forth the supremacy of
the supernatural over the natural . . . have staked our very social
existence on the reality and the claims of the supernatural. Our
dress, our status, our work, the whole of our daily surroundings,
are a standing protest to the world of the importance of spiritual
things; that they surpass, in our eyes at least, the more aggressive
pretensions of what is temporal. We are bound then for our own
self-respect to justify what we daily proclaim." And so is
every believer bound to do in whatsoever he may believe,
if he be but honest.
But the whole status of modern faith is reflected in these jesuitical
words of "Peripatetic." Belief in the "supernatural"
may not command his respect, but he feels obliged to sympathize
with it; for it is that of those around him, and considered respectable;
in short, it is the bread-and-cheese State religion, and perchance that
of his principles and superiors. And yet for as honest and earnest
a belief as spiritualism, he has "but contempt." Why?
Because it is unpopular; because his society people who were forced
into such a belief by the evidence of facts hide it from
the others, and Nicodemus-like they run to its professors but
under the cover of night. It is not fashionable. Religion and
spiritualism are in society relatively like peg-drinking and cigarette-smoking.
A lady who will not blush to empty in the view of all a tumbler
of stiff brandy and soda, will stare, in shocked amazement, at
another of her sex smoking an innocent cigarette! Therefore, is
it too that the writer in the Gazette who ought to have
called himself a "Sophist," signs himself a "Peripatetic."
He is certainly not a Christian, for were he one,
he would never have ventured upon the lapsus calami which
makes him confess that Christianity "may not always command
our respect": but still he would pass for one. Such is the
tendency of our nineteenth Century that a man of the educated,
civilized world, will rather utter the most illogical, absurd
sophism than honestly confess his belief either one way or the
other! "It is natural," he finds, "to the human
mind to regard doctrines presented to it with the authority of
bygone generations as probable and natural." If this be so,
we invite all the Peripatetics, past, present and future, to point
out to us a doctrine half as tenacious of life, or more universally
believed in by countless "bygone generations," in every
corner of the world, than the faith in "ghosts" and
"spirits." Really and indeed, we prefer a thousand times
an honest, abusive, uncompromising bigot to a mild-spoken, sneering
Theosophist, April, 1881
H. P. Blavatsky