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Religion, my honoured friend, is surely a simple business, as it equally concerns the ignorant and the learned, the poor and the rich. That there is an incomprehensible Great Being, to whom I owe my existence, and that He must be intimately acquainted with the operations and progress of the internal machinery, and consequent outward deportment of this creature which He has made—these are, I think, self-evident propositions. That there is a real and eternal distinction between virtue and vice, and, consequently, that I am an accountable creature; that from the seeming nature of the human mind, as well as from the evident imperfection, nay, positive injustice, in the administration of affairs, both in the natural and moral worlds, there must be a retributive scene of existence beyond the grave-must, I think, be allowed by every one who will give himself a moment's reflection. farther, and affirm that from the sublimity, excellence, and purity of His doctrine and precepts, unparalleled by all the aggregated wisdom and learning of many preceding ages, though to appearance He Himself was the obscurest and most illiterate of our species—therefore JESUS CHRIST was from God.
Whatever mitigates the woes, or increases the happiness, of others, this is my criterion of goodness ; and whatever injures society at large, or any individual in it, this is my measure of iniquity.1
It occasionally haunts me, the dark suspicion, that immortality may be only too good news to be true.2 There are two great pillars that bear us up, amid 1 From letter to Mrs. Dunlop, 1789.
2 From a letter.
I will go
the wreck of misfortune and misery. The one is composed of the different modifications of a certain noble, stubborn something in man, known by the names of courage, fortitude, magnanimity. The other is made up of those feelings and sentiments which, however the sceptic may deny or the enthusiast disfigure them, are yet, I am convinced, original and component parts of the human soul; those senses of the mind, if I may be allowed the expression, which connect us with, and link us to, those awful obscure realities--an all-powerful and equally beneficent God, and a world to come, beyond death and the grave. The first gives the nerve of combat, while a ray of hope beams on the field; the last pours
the balm of comfort into the wounds which time can never cure.1
FRIEDRICH VON SCHILLER
(1759-1805) WE speak with the lip, and we dream in the soul
Of some better and fairer day; And our days, the meanwhile, to that golden goal
Are gliding and sliding away. Now the world becomes old, now again it is young, But “ the Better” 's for ever the word on the tongue
At the threshold of life Hope leads us in
Hope plays round the mirthful boy; Though the best of its charms may with youth begin, Yet for
age it reserves its toy.
1 From letter to Mr. Alexander Cunningham in February 1794.
When we sink at the grave, why the
scope, And over the coffin Man planteth-Hope ! And it is not a dream of a fancy proud,
With a fool for its dull begetter; There's a voice at the heart that proclaims aloud
“We are born for a something Better !” And that Voice of the Heart, oh, ye may believe, Will never the Hope of the Soul deceive !!
What thy religion? those thou namest—none?
And thou fearest to die! Wouldst live for ever and
ever ? Live in the Whole! It abides when thou art hurried
JEAN PAUL RICHTER
OW little as yet have I done or enjoyed !
We take the seed of life for the harvest of itthe honey-dew on the ears for the sweet fruit—and we chew the flowers, like cattle! Ah! thou great God, what a night lieth around our sleep! We fall and rise with closed eyelids, and fly about blind, and in a deep slumber.4 Most of man's pleasures are but preparations for Hope” (trans. by Edward, Lord Lytton).
2 “My Belief,” ibid.
4 From Flower, Fruit, and Thorn Pieces.
pleasures ; he thinks he has attained his ends, but he has merely got hold of his means to those ends. The burning sun of bliss is beheld of our feeble eyes but in seventy mirrors of our seventy years. Each of these mirrors reflects that sun's image less brightly-more faint and pale upon the next; and in the seventieth it shimmers upon us all frozen, and is become a moon.
A man may, for twenty years, believe the Immortality of the Soul ; in the one-and-twentieth, in some great great moment, he for the first time discovers with amazement the rich meaning of this belief, the warmth of this Naphtha-well. . . . I could with less pain deny Immortality than Deity; there I should lose but a world covered with mists, here I should lose the present world, namely, the Sun thereof; the whole spiritual universe is dashed asunder by the hand of Atheism into numberless quick-silver-points of Me’s, which glitter, run, waver, fly together or asunder, without unity or continuance. No one in Creation is so alone as the denier of God; he mourns, with an orphaned heart that has lost its great Father, by the Corpse of Nature, which no World-spirit moves and holds together, and which grows in its grave; and he mourns by that Corpse till he himself crumble off from it. The whole world lies before him, like the Egyptian Sphinx of stone, half-buried in the sand; and the All is the cold iron mask of a formless Eternity.
I merely remark farther, that with the belief of Atheism the belief of Immortality is quite compatible; for the same Necessity which in this Life threw my light dewdrop of a Me into a flower-bell and—under a
1 From Flower, Fruit, and Thorn Pieces.
Sun, can repeat that process in a second life; nay, more easily embody me the second time than the first.1
When, in your last hour (think of this), all faculty in the broken spirit shall fade away and die into inanity, -imagination, thought, effort, enjoyment, — then at last will the night-flower of Belief alone continue blooming, and refresh with its perfumes in the last darkness.
When I look at what has been made out of me, I must thank God that I paid no heed to external matters, neither to time nor toil, nor profit nor loss; the thing is there, and the instruments that did it I have forgotten, and none else knows them. In this wise has the unimportant series of moments been changed into something higher that remains.3
I have described so much, and I die without ever having seen Switzerland and the ocean, and so many other sights. But the Ocean of Eternity I shall in no case fail to see. 4
(1767–1849) S we advance in life we become more curious, more
fastidious in gilding and gilders; we find to our cost that all that glitters is not gold, and your every1 From Flower, Fruit, and Thorn Pieces (trans. by Carlyle).
2 From Levana (trans. by Carlyle).