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Past and Present: Thomas Carlyle, 1843

Book 3 Chapter 15: Morrison Again

Nevertheless, O Advanced Liberal, one cannot promise thee any ‘new Religion,’ for some time; to say truth, I do not think we have the smallest chance of any! Will the candid reader, by way of closing this Book Third, listen to a few transient remarks on that subject.

Candid readers have not lately met with any man who had less notion to interfere with their Thirty-nine or other Church Articles; wherewith, very helplessly as is like, they may have struggled to form for themselves some not inconceivable hypothesis about this Universe, and their own existence there. Superstition, my friend, is far from me; Fanaticism, for any Fanum likely to arise soon on this Earth, is far. A man’s Church-Articles are surely articles of price to him; and in these times one has to be tolerant of many strange ‘Articles,’ and of many still stranger ‘No-articles,’ which go about placarding themselves in a very distracted manner, - the numerous long placard-poles, and questionable infirm paste-pots, interfering with one’s peaceable thoroughfare sometimes!

Fancy a man, moreover, recommending his fellow men to believe in God, that so Chartism may abate, and the Manchester Operatives be got to spin peaceably! The idea is more distracted than any placard-pole seen hitherto in a public thoroughfare of men! My friend, if thou ever do come to believe in God, thou wilt find all Chartism, Manchester-riot, Parliamentary incompetence, Ministries of Windbag, and the wildest social Dissolutions, and the burning up of this entire Planet, a most small matter in comparison. Brother, this Planet, I find, is but an inconsiderable sandgrain in the continents of Being: this Planet’s poor temporary interests, thy interests and my interests there, when I look fixedly into that eternal Light-Sea and Flame-Sea with its eternal interests, dwindle literally into Nothing; my Speech of it is - Silence for the while. I will as soon think of making Galaxies and Star-Systems to guide little herring vessels by, as of preaching Religion that the Constable may continue possible. O my Advanced Liberal friend, this new second progress, of proceeding ‘to invent God,’ is a very strange one! Jacobinism unfolded into Saint Simonism bodes innumerable blessed things; but the thing itself might draw tears from a Stoic! - As for me, some twelve or thirteen New Religions, heavy Packets, most of them unfranked, having arrived here from various parts of the world, in a space of six calendar months, I have instructed my invaluable friend the Stamped Postman to introduce no more of them, if the charge exceed one penny.

Henry of Essex, dwelling in that Thames Island, ‘near to Reading Abbey,’ had a religion. But was it in virtue of his seeing armed Phantasms of St. Edmund ‘on the rim of the horizon,’ looking minatory on him? Had that, intrinsically, anything to do with his religion at all? Henry of Essex’s religion was the Inner Light or moral Conscience, of his own Soul; such as is vouchsafed still to all souls of men; - which Inner Light shone here ‘through such intellectual and other media’ as then were; producing ‘Phantasms’ Kircherean visual-spectra, according to circumstances! It is so with all men. The clearer my Inner Light may shine, through the less turbid media; the fewer Phantasms it may produce, - the gladder surely shall I be, and not the sorrier! Hast thou reflected, O serious reader, Advanced-Liberal or other, that the one end, essence, use of all religion past, present and to come, was this only: to keep that same moral conscience or Inner Light of ours alive and shining; - which certainly the ‘Phantasms’ and the ‘turbid media’ were not essential for! All religion was here to remind us, better or worse, of what we already know better or worse, of the quite infinite difference there is between a Good man and a Bad; to bid us love infinitely the one, abhor and avoid infinitely the other, - strive infinitely to be the one, and not to be the other! ‘All religion issues in due Practical Hero-Worship.’ He that has a soul unasphyxied will never want a religion; he that has a soul asphyxied, reduced to a succedaneum for salt, will never find any religion, though you rose from the dead to preach him one.

But indeed when men and reformers ask for ‘a religion,’ it is analogous to their asking, ‘What would you have us do?’ and such like. They fancy that their religion too shall be a kind of Morrison’s Pill, which they have only to swallow once, and all will be well. Resolutely once gulp down your religion, your Morrison’s Pill, you have it all plain sailing now; you can follow your affairs, your no-affairs, go along money-hunting, pleasure-hunting, dilettanteing, dangling, and miming and chattering like a Dead-Sea Ape: your Morrison will do your business for you. Men’s notions are very strange! Brother, I say, there is not, was not, nor will ever be, in the wide circle of Nature, any Pill or Religion of that character. Man cannot afford thee such; for the very gods it is impossible. I advise thee to renounce Morrison; once for all, quit hope of the Universal Pill. For body, for soul, for individual, or society, there has not any such article been made. Non extat. In created Nature it is not, was not, will not be. In the void imbroglios of Chaos only and realms of Bedlam, does some shadow of it hover, to bewilder and bemock the poor inhabitants there.

Rituals, Liturgies, Creeds, Hierarchies: all this is not religion; all this, were it dead as Odinism, as Fetishism, does not kill religion at all! It is Stupidity alone, with never so many rituals, that kills religion. Is not this still a World? Spinning Cotton under Arkwright and Adam Smith; founding cities by the Fountain of Juturna on the Janiculum mount; tilling Canaans under Prophet Samuel and Psalmist David, man is ever man; the missionary of Unseen Powers; and great and victorious, while he continues true to his mission; mean, miserable, foiled, and at last annihilated and trodden out of sight and memory, when he proves untrue. Brother, thou art a man, I think; thou art not a mere building Beaver or two-legged Cotton-Spider; thou hast verily a soul in thee, asphyxied or otherwise! Sooty Manchester, it too is built on the infinite Abysses, overspanned by the skyey Firmaments; and there is birth in it, and death in it; - and it is every whit as wonderful, as fearful, unimaginable, as the oldest Salem or Prophetic City. Go or stand, in what time in what place we will, are there not Immensities, Eternities over us, around us, in us:

‘Solemn before us,
Veiled, the dark Portal,
Goal of all mortal: -
Stars silent rest o’er us,
Graves under us silent!’

Between these two great silences, the hum of all our spinning cylinders, Trades Unions, Anti-Corn-Law Leagues and Carlton Clubs goes on. Stupidity itself ought to pause a little, and consider that. I tell thee, through all thy Ledgers, Supply-and-demand Philosophies, and daily most modern melancholy Business and Cant, there does shine the presence of a Primeval Unspeakable, - and thou wert wise to recognise, not with lips only, that same!

The Maker’s Laws, whether they are promulgated in Sinai Thunder, to the ear or imagination, or quite otherwise promulgated, are the Laws of God; transcendent, everlasting, imperatively demanding obedience from all men. This, without any thunder, or with never so much thunder, thou, if there be any soul left in thee, canst know of a truth. The Universe, I say, is made by Law; the great soul of the world is just and not unjust. Look thou, if thou have eyes or soul left, into this great shoreless Incomprehensible: in the heart of its tumultuous Appearances, Embroilments, and mad Time-vortexes, is there not, silent, eternal, an All-just, an All-beautiful sole Reality and ultimate controlling Power of the whole? This is not a figure of speech; this is a fact. The Fact of Gravitation, known to all animals, is not surer than this inner Fact, which may be known to all men. He who knows this, it will sink, silent, awful unspeakable into his heart. He will say with Faust: “Who dare name HIM? “Most rituals or ‘namings’ he will fall in with at present, are like to be ‘namings’ - which shall be nameless! In silence, in the Eternal Temple, let him worship, if there be no fit word. Such knowledge, the crown of his whole spiritual being, the life of his life, let him keep and sacredly walk by. He has a religion. Hourly and daily, for himself and for the whole world, a faithful, unspoken but not ineffectual prayer rises, “Thy will be done.” His whole work on Earth is an emblematic spoken or acted prayer, Be the will of God done on Earth; - not the Devil’s will, or any of the Devil’s servants’ wills! He has a religion, this man; an everlasting loadstar, that beams the brighter in the Heavens, the darker here on Earth grows the night around him. Thou, if thou know not this, what are all rituals, liturgies, mythologies, mass-chauntings, turnings of the rotatory Calabash? They are as nothing; in a good many respects, they are less. Divorced from this, getting half-divorced from this, they are a thing to fill one with a kind of horror; with a sacred inexpressible pity and fear. The most tragical thing a human eye can look on. It was said to the Prophet “Behold, I will shew thee worse things than these: women weeping to Thammuz.” That was the acme of the Prophet’s vision, - then as now.

Rituals, Liturgies, Credos, Sinai Thunder: I know more or less the history of these; the rise, progress, decline and fall of these. Can Thunder from all the thirty-two azimuths, repeated daily for centuries of years, make God’s Laws more godlike to me? Brother, No. Perhaps I am grown to be a man now; and do not need the thunder and the terror any longer! Perhaps I am above being frightened; perhaps it is not Fear but Reverence alone that shall now lead me! - Revelations, Inspirations? Yes: and thy own godcreated Soul; dost thou not call that a ‘revelation?’ Who made THEE? Where didst THOU come from? The Voice of Eternity, if thou be not a blasphemer and poor asphyxied mute, speaks with that tongue of thine! Thou art the latest Birth of Nature; it is ‘the inspiration of the Almighty’ that giveth thee understanding! My brother, my brother! -

Under baleful Atheism, Mammonisms, Joe-Manton Dilettantisms, with their appropriate Cants and Idolisms, and whatsoever scandalous rubbish obscures and all but extinguishes the soul of Man, - religion now is; its Laws, written if not on Stone Tables, yet on the Azure of Infinitude, in the inner heart of God’s Creation, certain as Life, certain as Death! I say the Laws are there, and thou shalt not disobey them. It were better for thee not. Better a hundred deaths than yes. Terrible ‘penalties’ withal, if thou still need 'penalties', are there for disobeying. Dost thou observe, O redtape Politician, that fiery infernal Phenomenon, which men name FRENCH REVOLUTION, sailing, unlooked-for unbidden, through thy inane Protocol Dominion; - far-seen, with splendour not of Heaven? Ten centuries will see it. There were Tanneries at Meudon for human skins. And Hell, very truly Hell, had power over God’s upper Earth for a season. The cruellest Portent that has risen into created space these ten centuries: let us hail it, with awestruck repentant hearts, as the voice once more of a God, though of one in wrath. Blessed be the God’s voice; for it is true, and Falsehoods have to cease before it! But for that same preternatural quasi-infernal Portent, one could not know what to make of this wretched world in these days at all. The deplorablest quack-ridden, and now hunger-ridden, downtrodden Despicability and Flebile ludibrium of redtape Protocols, rotatory Calabashes, Poor Law Bastilles: who is there that could think of its being fated to continue? -

Penalties enough, my brother! This penalty inclusive of all: Eternal Death to thy own hapless Self, if thou heed no other. Eternal Death, I say, - with many meanings old and new, of which let this single one suffice us here: The eternal impossibility for thee to be aught but a Chimera, and swift-vanishing deceptive Phantasm, in God’s Creation; - swift-vanishing, never to reappear: why should it reappear! Thou hadst one chance, thou wilt never have another. Everlasting ages will roll on, and no other be given thee. The foolishest articulate-speaking soul now extant, may not he say to himself: “A whole Eternity I waited to be born; and now I have a whole Eternity waiting to see what I will do when born!” This is not Theology, this is Arithmetic. And thou but half-discernest this; thou but half-believest it? Alas, on the shores of the Dead Sea on Sabbath, there goes on a tragedy! -

But we will leave this of ‘Religion;’ of which, to say truth, it is chiefly profitable, in these unspeakable days, to keep silence. Thou needest no ‘New Religion;’ nor art thou like to get any. Thou hast already more ‘religion’ than thou makest use of. This day, thou knowest ten commanded duties, seest in thy mind ten things which should be done, for one that thou doest! Do one of them; this of itself will shew thee ten others which can and shall be done. “But my future fate?” Yes, thy future fate, indeed! Thy future fate, while thou makest it the chief question, seems to me - extremely questionable! I do not think it can be good. Norse Odin, immemorial centuries ago, did not he, though a poor Heathen, in the dawn of Time teach us that, for the Dastard, there was and could be no good fate, - no harbour anywhere save down with Hela, in the pool of Night! Dastards, knaves, are they that lust for Pleasure, that tremble at Pain. For this world and for the next, Dastards are a class of creatures made to be ‘arrested;’ they are good for nothing else, can look for nothing else. A greater than Odin has been here. A greater than Odin has taught us - not a greater Dastardism, I hope! My brother, thou must pray for a soul; struggle, as with life and death energy, to get back thy soul! Know that ‘religion’ is no Morrison’s Pill from without, but a reawakening of thy own Self from within: - and above all leave me alone of thy ‘religions’ and ‘new religions’ here and elsewhere! I am weary of this sick croaking for a Morrison’s-Pill religion; for any and for every such. I want none such; and discern all such to be impossible. The resuscitation of old liturgies fallen dead; much more the manufacture of new liturgies that will never be alive: how hopeless! Stylitisms, eremite fanaticisms, and fakeerisms; spasmodic agonistic posture-makings, and narrow, cramped, morbid, if forever noble wrestlings: all this is not a thing desirable to me. It is a thing the world has done once, - when its beard was not grown as now!

And yet there is, at worst, one Liturgy which does remain forever unexceptionable: that of Praying (as the old monks did withal) by Working. And indeed the Prayer which accomplished itself in special chapels at stated hours, and went not with a man, rising up from all his Work and Action, at all moments sanctifying the same, - what was it ever good for? ‘Work is Worship’: yes, in a highly considerable sense, - which, in the present state of all ‘worship,’ who is there that can unfold! He that understands it well, understands the Prophecy of the whole Future; the last Evangel, which has included all others. Its Cathedral the Dome of Immensity, - hast thou seen it: coped with star-galaxies; paved with the green mosaic of Land and Ocean; and for altar, verily the star-throne of the Eternal! Its Litany and psalmody the noble acts, the heroic work and suffering, and true heart-utterance of all the Valiant of the Sons of Men. Its choir-music the ancient winds and oceans, and deep-toned, inarticulate, but most speaking voices of Destiny and History, supernal ever as of old. Between two great Silences

‘Stars silent rest o’er us,
Graves under us silent.’

Between which two great Silences, do not, as we said, all human Noises, in the naturalest times, most preternaturally march and roll? -

I will insert this also, in a lower strain, from Sauerteig’s Æsthetische Springwürzel. ‘Worship’ says he: ‘Before that inane tumult of Hearsay filled men’s heads, while the world lay yet silent, and the heart true and open, many things were worship! To the primeval man whatsoever good cause, descended on him (as in mere fact, it ever does) direct from God; whatsoever duty lay visible for him, this a Supreme God had prescribed. To the present hour I ask thee, Who else? For the primeval man, in whom dwelt Thought, this Universe was all a Temple; Life everywhere a Worship.

‘What worship, for example, is there not in mere washing! Perhaps one of the most moral things a man, in common cases, has it in his power to do. Strip thyself, go into the bath, or were it into limpid pool and running-brook, and there wash and be clean, - thou wilt step out again a purer and a better man. This consciousness of perfect outer pureness, that to thy skin there now adheres no foreign speck of imperfection, how it radiates in on thee, with cunning symbolic influences to thy very soul! Thou hast an increase of tendency towards all good things whatsoever. The oldest Eastern Sages, with joy and holy gratitude, had felt it so, - and that it was the Maker’s gift and will. Whose else is it? It remains a religious duty, from oldest times, in the East. - Nor could Herr Professor Strauss, when I put the question, deny that for us at present it is still such here in the West! To that dingy fuliginous operative, emerging from his soot-mill, what is the first duty I will prescribe, and offer help towards? That he clean the skin of him. Can he pray, by any ascertained method? One knows not entirely: - but with soap and a sufficiency of water, he can wash. Even the dull English feel something of this; they have a saying “Cleanliness is near of kin to Godliness:” - yet never, in any country, saw I operative men work washed, and, in a climate drenched with the softest cloud-water, such a scarcity of baths!”’ - Alas, Sauerteig, our ‘operative men’ are at present short even of potatoes: what ‘duty’ can you prescribe to them!

Or let us give a glance at China. Our new friend, the Emperor there, is Pontiff of three hundred million men; who do all live and work, these many centuries now, authentically patronized by Heaven so far; and therefore must have some ‘religion’ of a kind. This Emperor-Pontiff has, in fact, a religious belief of certain Laws, Laws of Heaven; observes with a religious rigour his ‘three thousand punctualities,’ - given out by men of insight, some sixty generations since, as a legible transcript of the same, - the Heavens do seem to say, not totally an incorrect one. He has not much of a ritual, this Pontiff-Emperor; believes, it is like, with the old Monks, that ‘Labour is Worship.’ His most public Act of Worship, it appears, is the drawing solemnly at a certain day, on the green bosom of our Mother Earth, when the Heavens, after dead black winter, have again with their vernal radiances awakened her, a distinct red Furrow with the Plough, - signal that all the Ploughs of China are to begin ploughing and worshipping! It is notable enough. He, in sight of the Seen and Unseen Powers, draws his distinct red Furrow there, - saying, and praying, in mute symbolism, so many most eloquent things!

If you ask this Pontiff “Who made him? what is to become of him and us?” he maintains a dignified reserve, - waves his hand and pontiff-eyes over the unfathomable deep of Heaven, the ‘Tsien’ the azure kingdoms of Infinitude; as if asking, “Is it doubtful that we are right well made? Can aught that is wrong become of us?” - He and his three hundred millions, it is their chief ‘punctuality,’ visit yearly the Tombs of their Fathers; each man the Tomb of his Father and his Mother: alone there, in silence, with what of ‘worship’ or other thought there may be, pauses solemnly each man; the divine skies all silent over him; the divine Graves, and this divinest Grave, all silent under him, - the pulsings of his own soul, if he have any soul, alone audible. Truly it may be a kind of worship! Truly, if a man cannot get some glimpse into the Eternities, looking through this portal, - through what other need he try it?

Our friend the Pontiff Emperor permits cheerfully, though with contempt, all manner of Buddists, Bonzes, Talapoins and such like, to build brick Temples, on the voluntary principle; to worship with what of chauntings, paper-lanterns and tumultuous brayings pleases them, and make night hideous, - since they find some comfort in it. Cheerfully, though with contempt. He is a wiser Pontiff than many persons think! He is as yet the one Chief Potentate or Priest in this Earth who has made a distinct systematic attempt at what we call the ultimate result of all religion, Practical Hero-worship: he does incessantly, with true anxiety, in such way as he can, search and sift (it would appear) his whole enormous population for the Wisest born among them; by which Wisest, as by born kings, these three hundred million men are governed. The Heavens, to a certain extent, do appear to countenance him. These Three hundred millions actually make porcelain, Souchong tea, with innumerable other things; and fight, under Heaven’s flag against Necessity; - and have fewer Seven-years’ Wars, Thirty-years’ Wars, French Revolution Wars, and infernal fightings with each other, than certain millions elsewhere have!

Nay in our poor distracted Europe itself, in these newest times, have there not religious voices risen, - with a religion new and yet the oldest; entirely indisputable to all hearts of men? Some I do know, who did not call or think themselves ‘Prophets,’ far enough from that; but who were, in very truth, melodious Voices from the eternal Heart of Nature once again; souls forever venerable to all that have a soul. A French Revolution is one phenomenon; as complement and spiritual exponent thereof, a Poet Goethe and German Literature is to me another. The old Secular or Practical World, so to speak, having gone up in fire, is not here the prophecy and dawn of a new Spiritual World, parent of far nobler, wider new Practical worlds? A life of Antique devoutness, Antique veracity and heroism, has again become possible, is again seen actual there for the most modern man. A phenomenon, as quiet as it is, comparable for greatness to no other! ‘The great Event for the world is, now as always, the arrival in it of a new Wise Man.’ Touches there are, be the Heavens ever thanked, of new Sphere-melody; audible once more in the infinite jargoning discords and poor scrannel-pipings of the thing called Literature, - priceless there, as the voice of new Heavenly Psalms! Literature, like the old Prayer-collections of the first centuries, were it ‘well selected from and burnt,’ has precious things! For Literature, with all its printing-presses, puffing-engines and shoreless deafening triviality, is yet ‘the Thought of Thinking Souls.’’ A sacred ‘religion,’ if you like the name, does live in the heart of that strange froth-ocean, not wholly froth, what we call Literature; and will more and more disclose itself therefrom: - not now as scorching fire: the red smoky scorching fire has purified itself into white sunny Light. Is not Light grander than Fire? It is the same element in a state of purity.

My candid readers, we will march out of this Third Book with a rhythmic word of Goethe’s on our tongue; a word which perhaps has already sung itself, in dark hours and in bright, through many a heart. To me, finding it devout yet whole, credible and veritable, full of piety yet free of cant; to me joyfully finding much in it, and joyfully missing so much in it, this little snatch of music by the greatest German Man, sounds like a stanza in the grand Road-Song and Marching-Song of our great Teutonic kindred wending, wending, valiant and victorious, through the undiscovered Deeps of Time! He calls it Mason Lodge, - not Psalm or Hymn:

‘The Mason’s ways are
A type of Existence,
And his persistance
Is as the days are
Of Men in this world.

The Future hides in it
Good hap and sorrow;
We press still thorow,
Nought that abides in it
Daunting us, - onward.

And solemn before us,
Veiled, the dark Portal,
Goal of all mortal: -
Stars silent rest o’er us,
Graves under us silent.

But heard are the Voices,
Voice of the Sages,
The Worlds and the Ages:
“Choose well, your choice is
Brief and yet endless;

Here eyes do regard you,
In Eternity’s stillness;
Here is all fulness,
Ye brave, to reward you;
Work and despair not.”’

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