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Within a short period, a new school of philosophy has appeared, the adherents of which have dignified it with the title of Transcendentalism. In its essential features, it is a revival of the Old Platonic school. It rejects the aid of observation, and will not trust to experiment. The Baconian mode of discovery is regarded as obsolete; induction is a slow and tedious process, and the results are uncertain and imperfect. General truths are to be attained without the previous examination of particulars, and by the aid of a higher power than the understanding. “The hand-lamp of logic” is to be broken, for the truths which are felt are more satisfactory and certain than those which are proved. The sphere of intuition is enlarged, and made to comprehend not only mathematical axioms, but the most abstruse and elevated propositions respecting the being and destiny of man. Pure intelligence usurps the place of humble research. Hidden meanings, glimpses of spiritual and everlasting truth are found, where former observers sought only for natural facts. The observation of sensible phenomena can lead only to the discovery of insulated, partial, and relative laws; but the consideration of the same phenomena, in a typical point of view, may lead us to infinite and absolute truth, to a knowledge of the reality of things:
As the object and method of philosophizing are thus altered, it is obvious that language also must be modified, and made to subserve other purposes than those for which it was originally designed. Transcendental philosophy took its rise in Germany, and the language of that country, from the unbounded power which it affords of composition and derivation from native roots, is well adapted to express results that are at once novel and vague. Hence the mysticism and over refinement, which characterize the German school of philosophy, art, and criticism. Our own tongue is more limited and inflexible. It must be enriched by copious importations from the German and Greek, before it can answer the ends of the modern school. And this has been done to such an extent, that could one of the worthies of old English literature rise from his grave, he would hardly be able to recognise his native tongue.
Among other innovations in speech made by writers of the Transcendental school, we may instance the formation of a large class of abstract nouns from adjectives, -a peculiarity as consonant with the genius of the German language, as it is foreign to the nature of our own. Thus we now speak of the Infinite, the Beautiful, the Unconscious, the Just, and the True. A new class of verbs also has been formed from the same or similar roots, such as individualize, materialize, externize, &c. For instances of new and awkward compounds, take the following; instreaming, adolescent, symbolism, unconditioned, theosophists, internecive.
3D S. VOL. III. NO. 111. 48
We deprecate the introduction of a new class of philosophical terms, as it encourages tyros to prate foolishly and flippantly about matters, which they can neither master nor comprehend. Once let a peculiar diction gain footing in philosophy, as it has already done in poetry, and we shall have as great a cloud of pretenders and sciolists in the former, as already exercise our patience in the latter. Nonsense cannot be concealed in plain and sober prose. It stands conspicuous in its jejuneness and sterility. But by ringing the changes on the poetical vocabulary, a mirage of meaning is produced, and the mass of readers are cheated into the belief that the author says something. So is there reason to fear that a great portion of modern metaphysics and what is termed esthetic criticism, is made up of “words, words," and very awkward and affected words too. Translate a passage of such writing into English, and it will be found to transcend both reason and common sense.
We speak generally. To many writers of the New School we confess our obligation for new and valuable hints, expressed in energetic though affected language. But their influence is most pernicious. Writers, who cannot fathom their depth of thought, will imitate their darkness of language; and instead of comparing truths and testing propositions, readers must busy themselves in hunting after meaning, and investigating the significancy of terms.
It would avail but little, perhaps, with some Transcendentalists to assert, that the deepest minds have ever been the clearest, and to quote the example of Locke and Bacon, as of men who could treat the most abstruse subjects in the most familiar and intelligible terms. If in their modesty they did not rank themselves above such names as these, they would probably allege the different nature of their tasks, and attribute the difficulty of communication to daring originality in the choice of ends and means. But it is evident that novelty both of plan and execution, though it may retard progress, qught not to vitiate results. We do not complain of the New School for doing little, but for doing nothing in a satisfactory manner; for boasting of progress, when they cannot show clear evidence of having advanced a step. We cannot believe, that there is a large class of truths, which in their very nature are incomprehensible to the greater part of mankind. Of course, we speak not of the multitude, whose incapacity results from ignorance and the want of experience in thinking. But the Trenscendentalists more than insinuate, that the majority of educated and reflecting men are possessed of minds so unlike their own, that they doubt their power of constructing a bridge which may serve for the transmission of ideas to persons so little fitted to receive them. What a frivolous excuse for being unintelligible is this! There is an essential unity in Truth, in the means of research, and in the vehicle of communication. There is but one philosophy, though there are many theories; and but one mode of expressing thought, (namely, by symbols,) though there are many languages. Philosophy is the love of wisdom, and wisdom is the knowledge of things and their relations. To perceive them at all is to perceive them clearly, and the perception cannot fail of being conveyed to others, except through a very school-boy's ignorance of the force of terms.
The alleged analogy between the new philosophy and the higher branches of mathematics, as respects the preparatory labor required for the study of either, rests upon forgetfulness of the essential difference between moral and demonstrative reasoning. One cannot read the “ Mecanique Celeste” without a knowledge of geometry and the calculus. But the difficulty relates to the mode of proof, and results from the technical nature of the reasoning process. The several propositions, which are proved by La Place, admit of being enunciated in terms intelligible to the lowest capacity. A child may understand them, though he knows nothing of the means by which they have been attained and shown to be true. But in moral reasoning, where there are few technicalities, and the conclusion is but a step from the premises, the obstructions to our progress arise from the mutability and ambiguity of terms. Obscurity of language is not a defect merely in the mode of communication, but betrays a want of the power of reasoning. Words are not only the exponents, they are the substratum and essence of abstract thought. Mathematical propositions are like the rounds of a ladder placed against the side of a building; we must pass over each in succession, before attaining the summit. But in treating of moral subjects, the several
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steps are like the rounds of the same ladder placed flat upon the earth; we can tread on any one, provided the foot-hold be sure, without touching the others.
We are ashamed to labor this point. The analogy alluded to is so forced, that it can have deceived no one. tisans of the New School still insist upon it, let them manufacture a treatise on the rudiments of Transcendentalism, that tyros may begin with the alphabet of the science, and toil slowly but surely up its cloud-capt heights. In this connexion a few homely remarks from the writings of a philosopher, who enjoyed some repute in his day, may not appear inappropriate. "Nevertheless, this artificial ignorance and learned gibberish prevailed mightily in these last ages, by the interest and artifice of those who found no easier way to that pitch of authority and dominion they have attained, than by amusing the men of business and ignorant with hard words, or employing the ingenious in intricate disputes about unintelligible terms, and holding them perpetually entangled in that endless labyrinth. Besides, there is no such way to gain admittance, or give defence to strange and absurd doctrines, as to guard them round about with legions of obscure and undefined words; which make these retreats more like the dens of robbers, or the holes of foxes, than the fortresses of fair warriors; which if it be hard to get them out of, it is not for the strength that is in them, but the briers and thorns, and the obscurity of the thickets they are beset with. For untruth being unacceptable to the mind of man, there is no other defence left for absurdity but obscurity."*
But we are not left to infer vagueness and incompleteness of thought from obscurity of language. The writers of whom we speak, openly avow their preference of such indistinct modes of reflection, and justify loose and rambling speculations, mystical forms of expression, and the utterance of truths that are but half perceived, on the same principle, it would seem, that influences the gambler, who expects by a number of random casts to obtain at last the desired combination. In this respect, the philosophy of the New School is well summed up by the writer before us in the following assertions; "that a guess is often more fruitful than an indisputable affirmation, and that a dream may let us deeper into the secret of nature than a hundred concerted
* Locke on the Understanding, Book iii. chap. 10, sect. 9.
experiments.” “Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history." Why not follow the principle of the gambler entirely, by shaking a number of words in a hat, and then throwing them upon a table, in the hope that, after a number of trials, they may so arrange themselves as to express some novel and important truth?
"Insanam vatem adspicies, quæ, rupe sub imâ,
Fata canit, foliisque notas et nomina mandat." If it be urged, that vagueness is not inconsistent with reality and truth, we reply, that this assertion does not meet the point, nor resolve the difficulty. In the imperfect conceptions of man, mystery may envelope truth, but it does not constitute that truth, any more than the veil of the temple is in itself the “Holy of Holies.” Still less is there any necessary connexion between dimness and reality ; for truth, considered as the object of Divine contemplation, is light itself, and glimpses of the spiritual world are blinding to man, only because they dazzle with excessive brightness. We live in the twilight of knowledge, and though ignorant of the points of the compass, it argues nothing but blind perverseness, to turn to the darkest part of the horizon for the expected rising of the sun.
We have a graver complaint to make of the spirit in which the disciples of the modern school have conducted their inquiries and answered their opponents. “It might seem incredible," says Mackintosh, "if it were not established by the experience of all ages, that those who differ most from the opinions of their fellow men, are most confident of the truth of their own." Dogmatism and the spirit of innovation go hand in hand. And the reason is obvious, for there is no common ground on which the opponents can stand, and cultivate mutual good will in the partial unity of their interests and pursuits. Both the means and the ends, which other philosophers have proposed to themselves, are rejected by the new sect of bierophants. They are among men, but not of men. From the heights of mystical speculation, they look down with a ludicrous self-complacency and pity on the mass of mankind, on the ignorant and the educated, the learners and the teachers, and should any question the grounds on which such feelings rest, they are forthwith branded with the most opprobrious epithets, which the English or the Transcendental language can supply. It is not going too far to say, that to the bitterness and scorn, with which Coleridge and some of his English adherents have replied