The Varieties Of Religious Experience, By William James
The Divided Self, And The Process Of Its Unification
last lecture was a painful one, dealing as it did with
evil as a pervasive element of the world we live in.
At the close of it we were brought into full view
of the contrast between the two ways of looking at life
which are characteristic respectively of what we called
the healthy-minded, who need to be born only once, and
of the sick souls, who must be twice-born in order to
be happy. The
result is two different conceptions of the universe of
In the religion of the once-born the world is a
sort of rectilinear or one-storied affair, whose accounts
are kept in one denomination, whose parts have just the
values which naturally they appear to have, and of which
a simple algebraic sum of pluses and minuses will give
the total worth.
Happiness and religious peace consist in living
on the plus side of the account. In the religion of the
twice-born, on the other hand, the world is a double-storied
cannot be reached by the simple addition of pluses and
elimination of minuses from life.
Natural good is not simply insufficient in amount
and transient, there lurks a falsity in its very being.
Cancelled as it all is by death if not by earlier enemies,
it gives no final balance, and can never be the thing
intended for our lasting worship. It keeps us from our
real good, rather; and renunciation and despair of it
are our first step in the direction of the truth.
There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual,
and we must lose the one before we can participate in
In their extreme forms, of pure naturalism and
pure salvationism, the two types are violently contrasted;
though here as in most other current classifications,
the radical extremes are somewhat ideal abstractions,
and the concrete human beings whom we oftenest meet are
intermediate varieties and mixtures.
Practically, however, you all recognize the difference:
you understand, for example, the disdain of the
methodist convert for the mere sky-blue healthy-minded
moralist; and you likewise enter into the aversion of
the latter to what seems to him the diseased subjectivism
of the Methodist, dying to live, as he calls it, and making
of paradox and the inversion of natural appearances the
essence of God's truth.
E.g., "Our young people are diseased with the theological
problems of original sin, origin of evil, predestination,
and the like. These never presented a practical difficulty
to any man--never darkened across any man's road, who
did not go out of his way to seek them. These are the soul's mumps, and measles, and whooping-coughs,
etc. Emerson: Spiritual Laws.
psychological basis of the twice-born character seems
to be a certain discordancy or heterogeneity in the native
temperament of the subject, an incompletely unified moral
and intellectual constitution.
duplex, homo duplex!" writes Alphonse Daudet. "The
first time that I perceived that I was two was at the
death of my brother Henri, when my father cried out so
dramatically, 'He is dead, he is dead!' While my first self wept, my second self thought, 'How truly
given was that cry, how fine it would be at the theatre.'
I was then fourteen years old.
horrible duality has often given me matter for reflection.
Oh, this terrible second me, always seated whilst the
other is on foot, acting, living, suffering, bestirring
second me that I have never been able to intoxicate, to
make shed tears, or put to sleep. And how it sees into
things, and how it mocks!"
Notes sur la Vie, p. 1.
works on the psychology of character have had much to
say upon this point. Some persons are born with an
inner constitution which is harmonious and well balanced
from the outset.
Their impulses are consistent with one another,
their will follows without trouble the guidance of their
intellect, their passions are not excessive, and their
lives are little haunted by regrets.
Others are oppositely constituted; and are so in
degrees which may vary from something so slight as to
result in a merely odd or whimsical inconsistency, to
a discordancy of which the consequences may be inconvenient
in the extreme.
Of the more innocent kinds of heterogeneity I find
a good example in Mrs. Annie Besant's autobiography.
See, for example, F. Paulhan, in his book Les Caracteres,
1894, who contrasts les Equilibres, les Unifies, with
les Inquiets, les Contrariants, les Incoherents, les Emiettes,
as so many diverse psychic types.
have ever been the queerest mixture of weakness and strength,
and have paid heavily for the weakness.
As a child I used to suffer tortures of shyness,
and if my shoe-lace was untied would feel shamefacedly
that every eye was fixed on the unlucky string; as a girl
I would shrink away from strangers and think myself unwanted
and unliked, so that I was full of eager gratitude to
any one who noticed me kindly, as the young mistress of
a house I was afraid of my servants, and would let careless
work pass rather than bear the pain of reproving the ill-doer;
when I have been lecturing and debating with no lack of
spirit on the platform, I have preferred to go without
what I wanted at the hotel rather than to ring and make
the waiter fetch it.
Combative on the platform in defense of any cause
I cared for, I shrink from quarrel or disapproval in the
house, and am a coward at heart in private while a good
fighter in public.
How often have I passed unhappy quarters of an
hour screwing up my courage to find fault with some subordinate
whom my duty compelled me to reprove, and how often have
I jeered myself for a fraud as the doughty platform combatant,
when shrinking from blaming some lad or lass for doing
their work badly.
An unkind look or word has availed to make me shrink
into myself as a snail into its shell, while, on the platform,
opposition makes me speak my best."
Annie Besant: an
Autobiography, p. 82.
amount of inconsistency will only count as amiable weakness;
but a stronger degree of heterogeneity may make havoc
of the subject's life.
There are persons whose existence is little more
than a series of zig-zags, as now one tendency and now
another gets the upper hand.
Their spirit wars with their flesh, they wish for
incompatibles, wayward impulses interrupt their most deliberate
plans, and their lives are one long drama of repentance
and of effort to repair misdemeanors and mistakes.
personality has been explained as the result of inheritance--the
traits of character of incompatible and antagonistic ancestors
are supposed to be preserved alongside of each other.
This explanation may pass for what it is worth--it certainly
But whatever the cause of heterogeneous personality
may be, we find the extreme examples of it in the psychopathic
temperament, of which I spoke in my first lecture.
All writers about that temperament make the inner
heterogeneity prominent in their descriptions.
Frequently, indeed, it is only this trait that
leads us to ascribe that temperament to a man at all.
A "degenere superieur" is simply a man
of sensibility in many directions, who finds more difficulty
than is common in keeping <167> his spiritual house
in order and running his furrow straight, because his
feelings and impulses are too keen and too discrepant
the haunting and insistent ideas, in the irrational impulses,
the morbid scruples, dreads, and inhibitions which beset
the psychopathic temperament when it is thoroughly pronounced,
we have exquisite examples of heterogeneous personality. Bunyan had an obsession of the words, "Sell Christ for
this, sell him for that, sell him, sell him!" which
would run through his mind a hundred times together, until
one day out of breath with retorting, "I will not,
I will not," he impulsively said, "Let him go
if he will," and this loss of the battle kept him
in despair for over a year.
The lives of the saints are full of such blasphemous
obsessions, ascribed invariably to the direct agency of
phenomenon connects itself with the life of the subconscious
self, so-called, of which we must erelong speak more directly.
Smith Baker, in Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases,
in all of us, however constituted, but to a degree the
greater in proportion as we are intense and sensitive
and subject to diversified temptations, and to the greatest
possible degree if we are decidedly psychopathic, does
the normal evolution of character chiefly consist in the
straightening out and unifying of the inner self.
The higher and the lower feelings, the useful and
the erring impulses, begin by being a comparative chaos
within us--they must end by forming a stable system of
functions in right subordination.
Unhappiness is apt to characterize the period of
order-making and struggle.
If the individual be of tender conscience and religiously
quickened, the unhappiness will take the form of moral
remorse and compunction, of feeling inwardly vile and
wrong, and of standing in false relations to the author
of one's being and appointer of one's spiritual fate.
This is the religious melancholy and "conviction
of sin" that have played so large a part in the history
of Protestant Christianity.
The man's interior is a battle-ground for what
he feels to be two deadly hostile selves, one actual,
the other ideal.
As Victor Hugo makes his Mahomet say:--
"Je suis le champ vil des sublimes combats:
Tantot l'homme d'en haut, et tantot l'homme d'en
Et le mal dans ma bouche avec le bien alterne,
Comme dans le desert le sable et la citerne."
living, impotent aspirations; "What I would, that
do I not; but what I hate, that do I," as Saint Paul
says; self-loathing, self-despair; an unintelligible and
intolerable burden to which one is mysteriously the heir.
me quote from some typical cases of discordant personality,
with melancholy in the form of self-condemnation and sense
of sin. Saint
Augustine's case is a classic example. You all remember his half-pagan, half-Christian bringing up
at Carthage, his emigration to Rome and Milan, his adoption
of Manicheism and subsequent skepticism, and his restless
search for truth and purity of life; and finally how,
distracted by the struggle between the two souls in his
breast and ashamed of his own weakness of will, when so
many others whom he knew and knew of had thrown off the
shackles of sensuality and dedicated themselves to chastity
and the higher life, he heard a voice in the garden say,
"Sume, lege" (take and read), and opening the
Bible at random, saw the text, "not in chambering
and wantonness," etc., which seemed directly sent
to his address, and laid the inner storm to rest forever.
Augustine's psychological genius has given an account
of the trouble of having a divided self which has never
Louis Gourdon (Essai sur la Conversion de Saint Augustine,
Paris, Fischbacher, 1900) has shown by an analysis of
Augustine's writings immediately after the date of his
conversion (A. D. 386) that the account he gives in the
Confessions is premature.
The crisis in the garden marked a definitive conversion
from his former life, but it was to the neo-platonic spiritualism
and only a halfway stage toward Christianity.
The latter he appears not fully and radically to
have embraced until four years more had passed.
new will which I began to have was not yet strong enough
to overcome that other will, strengthened by long indulgence.
So these two wills, one old, one new, one carnal, the
other spiritual, contended with each other and disturbed
my soul. I
understood by my own experience what I had read, 'flesh
lusteth against spirit, and spirit against flesh.' It
was myself indeed in both the wills, yet more myself in
that which I approved in myself than in that which I disapproved
in myself. Yet it was through myself that habit had attained so fierce
a mastery over me, because I had willingly come whither
I willed not. Still
bound to earth, I refused, O God, to fight on thy side,
as much afraid to be freed from all bonds, as I ought
to have feared being trammeled by them.
the thoughts by which I meditated upon thee were like
the efforts of one who would awake, but being overpowered
with sleepiness is soon asleep again.
Often does a man when heavy sleepiness is on his
limbs defer to shake it off, and though not approving
it, encourage it; even so I was sure it was better to
surrender to thy love than to yield to my own lusts, yet
though the former course convinced me, the latter pleased
and held me bound.
There was naught in me to answer thy call 'Awake,
thou sleeper,' but only drawling, drowsy words, 'Presently;
yes, presently; wait a little while.' But the 'presently' had no 'present,' and the 'little while'
grew long. . . .
For I was afraid thou wouldst hear me too soon,
and heal me at once of my disease of lust, which I wished
to satiate rather than to see extinguished. With what lashes of words did I not scourge my own soul.
Yet it shrank back; it refused, though it had no
excuse to offer. . . . I said within myself: 'Come, let it be done now,' and as I said it, I was on the
point of the resolve.
I all but did it, yet I did not do it.
And I made another effort, and almost succeeded,
yet I did not reach it, and did not grasp it, hesitating
to die to death, and live to life, and the evil to which
I was so wonted held me more than the better life I had
Confessions, Book VIII., Chaps. v., vii., xi., abridged.
could be no more perfect description of the divided will,
when the higher wishes lack just that last acuteness,
that touch of explosive intensity, of dynamogenic quality
(to use the slang of the psychologists), that enables
them to burst their shell, and make irruption efficaciously
into life and quell the lower tendencies forever.
In a later lecture we shall have much to say about
this higher excitability.
find another good description of the divided will in the
autobiography of Henry Alline, the Nova Scotian evangelist,
of whose melancholy I read a brief account in my last
poor youth's sins were, as you will see, of the most harmless
order, yet they interfered with what proved to be his
truest vocation, so they gave him great distress.
was now very moral in my life, but found no rest of conscience.
I now began to be esteemed in young company, who
knew nothing of my mind all this while, and their esteem
began to be a snare to my soul, for I soon began to be
fond of carnal mirth, though I still flattered myself
that if I did not get drunk, nor curse, nor swear, there
would be no sin in frolicking and carnal mirth, and I
thought God would indulge young people with some (what
I called simple or civil) recreation.
I still kept a round of duties, and would not suffer
myself to run into any open vices, and so got along very
well in time of health and prosperity, but when I was
distressed or threatened by sickness, death, or heavy
storms of thunder, my religion would not do, and I found
there was something wanting, and would begin to repent
my going so much to frolics, but when the distress was
over, the devil and my own wicked heart, with the solicitations
of my associates, and my fondness for young company, were
such strong allurements, I would again give way, and thus
I got to be very wild and rude, at the same time kept
up my rounds of secret prayer and reading; but God, not
willing I should destroy myself, still followed me with
his calls, and moved with such power upon my conscience,
that I could not satisfy myself with my diversions, and
in the midst of my mirth sometimes would have such a sense
of my lost and undone condition, that I would wish myself
from the company, and after it was over, when I went home,
would make many promises that I would attend no more on
these frolics, and would beg forgiveness for hours and
hours; but when I came to have the temptation again, I
would give way:
no sooner would I hear the music and drink a glass
of wine, but I would find my mind elevated and soon proceed
to any sort of merriment or diversion, that I thought
was not debauched or openly vicious; but when I returned
from my carnal mirth I felt as guilty as ever, and could
sometimes not close my eyes for some hours after I had
gone to my bed.
I was one of the most unhappy creatures on earth.
I would leave the company (often speaking to the fiddler
to cease from playing, as if I was tired), and go out
and walk about crying and praying, as if my very heart
would break, and beseeching God that he would not cut
me off, nor give me up to hardness of heart.
Oh, what unhappy hours and nights I thus wore away!
When I met sometimes with merry companions, and
my heart was ready to sink, I would labor to put on as
cheerful a countenance as possible, that they might not
distrust anything, and sometimes would begin some discourse
with young men or young women on purpose, or propose a
merry song, lest the distress of my soul would be discovered,
or mistrusted, when at the same time I would then rather
have been in a wilderness in exile, than with them or
any of their pleasures or enjoyments.
Thus for many months when I was in company?
I would act the hypocrite and feign a merry heart
but at the same time would endeavor as much as I could
to shun their company, oh wretched and unhappy mortal
that I was! Everything
I did, and wherever I went, I was still in a storm and
yet I continued to be the chief contriver and ringleader
of the frolics for many months after; though it was a
toil and torment to attend them; but the devil and my
own wicked heart drove me about like a slave, telling
me that I must do this and do that, and bear this and
bear that, and turn here and turn there, to keep my credit
up, and retain the esteem of my associates:
and all this while I continued as strict as possible
in my duties, and left no stone unturned to pacify my
conscience, watching even against my thoughts, and praying
continually wherever I went:
for I did not think there was any sin in my conduct,
when I was among carnal company, because I did not take
any satisfaction there, but only followed it, I thought,
for sufficient reasons.
still, all that I did or could do, conscience would roar
night and day."
Augustine and Alline both emerged into the smooth waters
of inner unity and peace, and I shall next ask you to
consider more closely some of the peculiarities of the
process of unification, when it occurs.
It may come gradually, or it may occur abruptly;
it may come through altered feelings, or through altered
powers of action; or it may come through new intellectual
insights, or through experiences which we shall later
have to designate as 'mystical.'
However it come, it brings a characteristic sort
of relief; and never such extreme relief as when it is
cast into the religious mould.
Happiness! happiness! religion is only one of the
ways in which men gain that gift.
Easily, permanently, and successfully, it often
transforms the most intolerable misery into the profoundest
and most enduring happiness.
to find religion is only one out of many ways of reaching
unity; and the process of remedying inner incompleteness
and reducing inner discord is a general psychological
process, which may take place with any sort of mental
material, and need not necessarily assume the religious
form. In judging of the religious types of regeneration which we
are about to study, it is important to recognize that
they are only one species of a genus that contains other
types as well. For
example, the new birth may be away from religion into
incredulity; or it may be from moral scrupulosity into
freedom and license; or it may be produced by the irruption
into the individual's life of some new stimulus or passion,
such as love, ambition, cupidity, revenge, or patriotic
all these instances we have precisely the same psychological
form of event,--a firmness, stability, and equilibrium
<173> succeeding a period of storm and stress and
these non-religious cases the new man may also be born
either gradually or suddenly.
French philosopher Jouffroy has left an eloquent memorial
of his own "counter-conversion," as the transition
from orthodoxy to infidelity has been well styled by Mr.
doubts had long harassed him; but he dates his final crisis
from a certain night when his disbelief grew fixed and
stable, and where the immediate result was sadness at
the illusions he had lost.
shall never forget that night of December," writes
Jouffroy, "in which the veil that concealed from
me my own incredulity was torn.
I hear again my steps in that narrow naked chamber
where long after the hour of sleep had come I had the
habit of walking up and down.
I see again that moon, half-veiled by clouds, which
now and again illuminated the frigid window-panes.
The hours of the night flowed on and I did not
note their passage.
Anxiously I followed my thoughts, as from layer
to layer they descended towards the foundation of my consciousness,
and, scattering one by one all the illusions which until
then had screened its windings from my view, made them
every moment more clearly visible.
I clung to these last beliefs as a shipwrecked sailor
clings to the fragments of his vessel; vainly, frightened
at the unknown void in which I was about to float, I turned
with them towards my childhood, my family, my country,
all that was dear and sacred to me:
the inflexible current of my thought was too strong--parents,
family, memory, beliefs, it forced me to let go of everything.
The investigation went on more obstinate and more
severe as it drew near its term, and did not stop until
the end was reached. I knew then that in the depth of my mind nothing was left that
moment was a frightful one; and when towards morning I
threw myself exhausted on my bed, I seemed to feel my
earlier life, so smiling and so full, go out like a fire,
and before me another life opened, sombre and unpeopled,
where in future I must live alone, alone with my fatal
thought which had exiled me thither, and which I was tempted
to curse. The
days which followed this discovery were the saddest of
Th. Jouffroy: Nouveaux Melanges philosophiques, 2me edition, p. 83.
I add two other cases of counter-conversion dating
from a certain moment.
The first is from Professor Starbuck's manuscript
collection, and the narrator is a woman.
down in the bottom of my heart, I believe I was always
more or less skeptical about 'God;' skepticism grew as
an undercurrent, all through my early youth, but it was
controlled and covered by the emotional elements in my
When I was sixteen I joined the church and was
asked if I loved God.
I replied 'Yes,' as was customary and expected.
But instantly with a flash something spoke within
me, 'No, you do not.'
I was haunted for a long time with shame and remorse
for my falsehood and for my wickedness in not loving God,
mingled with fear that there might be an avenging God
who would punish me in some terrible way. . . . At nineteen,
I had an attack of tonsilitis.
Before I had quite recovered, I heard told a story
of a brute who had kicked his wife down-stairs, and then
continued the operation until she became insensible.
I felt the horror of the thing keenly.
Instantly this thought flashed through my mind:
'I have no use for a God who permits such things.'
This experience was followed by months of stoical
indifference to the God of my previous life, mingled with
feelings of positive dislike and a somewhat proud defiance
of him. I
still thought there might be a God.
If so he would probably damn me, but I should have
to stand it. I
felt very little fear and no desire to propitiate him.
I have never had any personal relations with him
since this painful experience."
second case exemplifies how small an additional stimulus
will overthrow the mind into a new state of equilibrium
when the process of preparation and incubation has proceeded
far enough. It
is like the proverbial last straw added to the camel's
burden, or that touch of a needle which makes the salt
in a supersaturated fluid suddenly begin to crystallize
a frank and intelligent man, told me as follows how he
ceased to believe:--
was twenty-six years old when one day on a hunting expedition,
the time for sleep having come, he set himself to pray
according to the custom he had held from childhood.
brother, who was hunting with him, lay upon the hay and
looked at him. When
S. had finished his prayer and was turning to sleep, the
brother said, 'Do you still keep up that thing?' Nothing
more was said. But
since that day, now more than thirty years ago, S. has
never prayed again; he never takes communion, and does
not go to church.
All this, not because he became acquainted with
convictions of his brother which he then and there adopted;
not because he made any new resolution in his soul, but
merely because the words spoken by his brother were like
the light push of a finger against a leaning wall already
about to tumble by its own weight.
These words but showed him that the place wherein
he supposed religion dwelt in him had long been empty,
and that the sentences he uttered, the crosses and bows
which he made during his prayer, were actions with no
inner sense. Having
once seized their absurdity, he could no longer keep them
up." Ma Confession, p. 8.
subjoin an additional document which has come into my
possession, and which represents in a vivid way what is
probably a very frequent sort of conversion, if the opposite
of 'falling in love,' falling out of love, may be so termed.
Falling in love also conforms frequently to this
type, a latent process of unconscious preparation often
preceding a sudden awakening to the fact that the mischief
is irretrievably done.
The free and easy tone in this narrative gives
it a sincerity that speaks for itself.
two years of this time I went through a very bad experience,
which almost drove me mad.
I had fallen violently in love with a girl who,
young as she was, had a spirit of coquetry like a cat.
As I look back on her now, I hate her, and wonder how
I could ever have fallen so low as to be worked upon to
such an extent by her attractions.
Nevertheless, I fell into a regular fever, could
think of nothing else; whenever I was alone, I pictured
her attractions, and spent most of the time when I should
have been working, in recalling our previous interviews,
and imagining future conversations.
She was very pretty, good humored, and jolly to
the last degree, and intensely pleased with my admiration.
Would give me no decided answer yes or no and the
queer thing about it was that whilst pursuing her for
her hand, I secretly knew all along that she was unfit
to be a wife for me, and that she never would say yes.
Although for a year we took our meals at the same
boarding-house, so that I saw her continually and familiarly,
our closer relations had to be largely on the sly, and
this fact, together with my jealousy of another one of
her male admirers and my own conscience despising me for
my uncontrollable weakness, made me so nervous and sleepless
that I really thought I should become insane.
I understand well those young men murdering their
sweethearts, which appear so often in the papers.
Nevertheless I did love her passionately, and in
some ways she did deserve it.
queer thing was the sudden and unexpected way in which
it all stopped.
I was going to my work after breakfast one morning,
thinking as usual of her and of my misery, when, just
as if some outside power laid hold of me, I found myself
turning round and almost running to my room, where I immediately
got out all the relics of her which I possessed, including
some hair, all her notes and letters and ambrotypes on
former I made a fire of, the latter I actually crushed
beneath my heel, in a sort of fierce joy of revenge and
now loathed and despised her altogether, and as for myself
I felt as if a load of disease had suddenly been removed
from me. That
was the end. I
never spoke to her or wrote to her again in all the subsequent
years, and I have never had a single moment of loving
thought towards one for so many months entirely filled
my heart. In
fact, I have always rather hated her memory, though now
I can see that I had gone unnecessarily far in that direction.
At any rate, from that happy morning onward I regained
possession of my own proper soul, and have never since
fallen into any similar trap."
seems to me an unusually clear example of two different
levels of personality, inconsistent in their dictates,
yet so well balanced against each other as for a long
time to fill the life with discord and dissatisfaction.
At last, not gradually, but in a sudden crisis,
the unstable equilibrium is resolved, and this happens
so unexpectedly that it is as if, to use the writer's
words, "some outside power laid hold."
Starbuck gives an analogous case, and a converse case
of hatred suddenly turning into love, in his Psychology
of Religion, p. 141.
Compare the other highly curious instances which
he gives on pp. 137-144, of sudden non-religious alterations
of habit or character. He seems right in conceiving all
such sudden changes as results of special cerebral functions
unconsciously developing until they are ready to play
a controlling part when they make irruption into the conscious
we treat of sudden 'conversion,' I shall make as much
use as I can of this hypothesis of subconscious incubation.
In John Foster's Essay on Decision of Character, there
is an account of a case of sudden conversion to avarice,
which is illustrative enough to quote:--
young man, it appears, "wasted, in two or three years,
a large patrimony in profligate revels with a number of
worthless associates who called themselves his friends,
and who, when his last means were exhausted, treated him
of course with neglect or contempt.
Reduced to absolute want, he one day went out of
the house with an intention to put an end to his life,
but wandering awhile almost unconsciously, he came to
the brow of an eminence which overlooked what were lately
his estates. Here
he sat down, and remained fixed in thought a number of
hours, at the end of which he sprang from the ground with
a vehement, exulting emotion.
He had formed his resolution, which was, that all
these estates should be his again; he had formed his plan,
too, which he instantly began to execute.
He walked hastily forward, determined to seize
the first opportunity, of however humble a kind, to gain
any money, though it were ever so despicable a trifle,
and resolved absolutely not to spend, if he could help
it, a farthing of whatever he might obtain.
The first thing that drew his attention was a heap
of coals shot out of carts on the pavement before a house.
He offered himself to shovel or wheel them into
the place where they were to be laid, and was employed.
received a few pence for the labor; and then, in pursuance
of the saving part of his plan requested some small gratuity
of meat and drink, which was given <176> him.
He then looked out for the next thing that might
chance; and went, with indefatigable industry, through
a succession of servile employments in different places,
of longer and shorter duration, still scrupulous in avoiding,
as far as possible, the expense of a penny.
He promptly seized every opportunity which could
advance his design, without regarding the meanness of
occupation or appearance.
By this method he had gained, after a considerable
time, money enough to purchase in order to sell again
a few cattle, of which he had taken pains to understand
the value. He
speedily but cautiously turned his first gains into second
advantages; retained without a single deviation his extreme
parsimony; and thus advanced by degrees into larger transactions
and incipient wealth.
I did not hear, or have forgotten, the continued
course of his life, but the final result was, that he
more than recovered his lost possessions, and died an
inveterate miser, worth L60,000."
Op. cit., Letter III., abridged.
me turn now to the kind of case, the religious case, namely,
that immediately concerns us.
Here is one of the simplest possible type, an account
of the conversion to the systematic religion of healthy-mindedness
of a man who must already have been naturally of the healthy-minded
shows how, when the fruit is ripe, a touch will make it
Horace Fletcher, in his little book called Menticulture,
relates that a friend with whom he was talking of the
self-control attained by the Japanese through their practice
of the Buddhist discipline said:--
must first get rid of anger and worry.'
'But,' said I, 'is that possible?'
'Yes,' replied he; 'it is possible to the Japanese,
and ought to be possible to us.'
my way back I could think of nothing else but the words
get rid, get rid'; and the idea must have continued to
possess me during my sleeping hours, for the first consciousness
in the morning brought back the same thought, with the
revelation of a discovery, which framed itself into the
reasoning, 'If it is possible to get rid of anger and
worry, why is it necessary to have them at all?'
I felt the strength of the argument, and at once
accepted the reasoning.
The baby had discovered that it could walk. It would scorn to creep any longer.
the instant I realized that these cancer spots of worry
and anger were removable, they left me.
With the discovery of their weakness they were
exorcised. From that time life has had an entirely different aspect.
from that moment the possibility and desirability of freedom
from the depressing passions has been a reality to me,
it took me some months to feel absolute security in my
new position; but, as the usual occasions for worry and
anger have presented themselves over and over again, and
I have been unable to feel them in the slightest degree,
I no longer dread or guard against them, and I am amazed
at my increased energy and vigor of mind, at my strength
to meet situations of all kinds and at my disposition
to love and appreciate everything.
have had occasion to travel more than ten thousand miles
by rail since that morning.
The same Pullman porter, conductor, hotel-waiter,
peddler, book-agent, cabman, and others who were formerly
a source of annoyance and irritation have been met, but
I am not conscious of a single incivility.
All at once the whole world has turned good to
me. I have
become, as it were, sensitive only to the rays of good.
could recount many experiences which prove a brand-new
condition of mind, but one will be sufficient.
Without the slightest feeling of annoyance or impatience,
I have seen a train that I had planned to take with a
good deal of interested and pleasurable anticipation move
out of the station without me, because my baggage did
not arrive. The
porter from the hotel came running and panting into the
station just as the train pulled out of sight.
When he saw me, he looked as if he feared a scolding.
and began to tell of being blocked in a crowded street
and unable to get out.
When he had finished, I said to him:
'It doesn't matter at all, you couldn't help it,
so we will try again to-morrow. Here is your fee, I am sorry you had all this trouble in earning
look of surprise that came over his face was so filled
with pleasure that I was repaid on the spot for the delay
in my departure.
Next day he would not accept a cent for the service,
and he and I are friends for life.
the first weeks of my experience I was on guard only against
worry and anger; but, in the mean time, having noticed
the absence of the other depressing and dwarfing passions,
I began to trace a relationship, until I was convinced
that they are all growths from the two roots I have specified.
I have felt the freedom now for so long a time
that I am sure of my relation toward it; and I could no
more harbor any of the thieving and depressing influences
that once I nursed as a heritage of humanity than a fop
would voluntarily wallow in a filthy gutter.
is no doubt in my mind that pure Christianity and pure
Buddhism, and the Mental Sciences and all Religions fundamentally
teach what has been a discovery to me; but none of them
have presented it in the light of a simple and easy process
At one time I wondered if the elimination would
not yield to indifference and sloth.
In my experience, the contrary is the result.
I feel such an increased desire to do something
useful that it seems as if I were a boy again and the
energy for play had returned.
I could fight as readily as (and better than) ever,
if there were occasion for it.
It does not make one a coward.
It can't, since fear is one of the things eliminated.
I notice the absence of timidity in the presence
of any audience.
When a boy, I was standing under a tree which was
struck by lightning, and received a shock from the effects
of which I never knew exemption until I had dissolved
partnership with worry.
Since then, lightning and thunder have been encountered
under conditions which would formerly have caused great
depression and discomfort, without [my] experiencing a
trace of either.
Surprise is also greatly modified, and one is less
liable to become startled by unexpected sights or noises.
far as I am individually concerned, I am not bothering
myself at present as to what the results of this emancipated
condition may be.
I have no doubt that the perfect health aimed at
by Christian Science may be one of the possibilities,
for I note a marked improvement in the way my stomach
does its duty in assimilating the food I give it to handle,
and I am sure it works better to the sound of a song than
under the friction of a frown. Neither am I wasting any
of this precious time formulating an idea of a future
existence or a future Heaven. The Heaven that I have within myself is as attractive as any
that has been promised or that I can imagine; and I am
willing to let the growth lead where it will, as long
as the anger and their brood have no part in misguiding
H. Fletcher: Menticulture,
or the A-B-C of True Living, New York and Chicago, 1899,
pp. 26, 36, abridged.
older medicine used to speak of two ways, lysis and crisis,
one gradual, the other abrupt, in which one might recover
from a bodily disease.
In the spiritual realm there are also two ways,
one gradual, the other sudden, in which inner unification
may occur. Tolstoy
and Bunyan may again serve us as examples, examples, as
it happens, of the gradual way, though it must be confessed
at the outset that it is hard to follow these windings
of the hearts of others, and one feels that their words
do not reveal their total secret.
this be, Tolstoy, pursuing his unending questioning, <181>
seemed to come to one insight after another.
First he perceived that his conviction that life
was meaningless took only this finite life into account.
He was looking for the value of one finite term
in that of another, and the whole result could only be
one of those indeterminate equations in mathematics which
end with infinity.
Yet this is as far as the reasoning intellect by
itself can go, unless irrational sentiment or faith brings
in the infinite.
Believe in the infinite as common people do, and
life grows possible again.
mankind has existed, wherever life has been, there also
has been the faith that gave the possibility of living.
Faith is the sense of life, that sense by virtue
of which man does not destroy himself, but continues to
live on. It
is the force whereby we live. If Man did not believe that
he must live for something, he would not live at all.
The idea of an infinite God, of the divinity of
the soul, of the union of men's actions with God--these
are ideas elaborated in the infinite secret depths of
human thought. They
are ideas without which there would be no life, without
which I myself," said Tolstoy, "would not exist.
I began to see that I had no right to rely on my
individual reasoning and neglect these answers given by
faith, for they are the only answers to the question."
how believe as the common people believe, steeped as they
are in grossest superstition?
It is impossible--but yet their life! their life!
It is normal. It
is happy! It
is an answer to the question!
by little, Tolstoy came to the settled conviction--he
says it took him two years to arrive there--that his trouble
had not been with life in general, not with the common
life of common men, but with the life of the upper, intellectual,
artistic classes, the life which he had personally always
led, the cerebral life, the life of conventionality, artificiality,
and personal ambition.
He had been living wrongly and must change.
To work for animal needs, to abjure lies and vanities,
to relieve common wants, to be simple, to believe in God,
therein lay happiness again.
remember," he says, "one day in early spring,
I was alone in the forest, lending my ear to its mysterious
noises. I listened, and my thought went back to what for these three
years it always was busy with--the quest of God. But the idea of him, I said, how did I ever come by the idea?
again there arose in me, with this thought, glad aspirations
towards life. Everything
in me awoke and received a meaning.
. . .Why do I look farther?
a voice within me asked.
He is there:
without whom one cannot live.
To acknowledge God and to live are one and the
same thing. God
is what life is.
Well, then! live, seek God, and there will be no
life without him. . . .
this, things cleared up within me and about me better
than ever, and the light has never wholly died away.
I was saved from suicide.
Just how or when the change took place I cannot
as insensibly and gradually as the force of life had been
annulled within me, and I had reached my moral death-bed,
just as gradually and imperceptibly did the energy of
life come back.
And what was strange was that this energy that
came back was nothing new.
It was my ancient juvenile force of faith, the
belief that the sole purpose of my life was to be BETTER.
I gave up the life of the conventional world, recognizing
it to be no life, but a parody on life, which its superfluities
simply keep us from comprehending,"--and Tolstoy
thereupon embraced the life of the peasants, and has felt
right and happy, or at least relatively so, ever since.
I have considerably abridged Tolstoy's words in my translation.
I interpret his melancholy, then, it was not merely an
accidental vitiation of his humors, though it was doubtless
also that. It
was logically called for by the clash between his inner
character and his outer activities and aims.
Although a literary artist, Tolstoy was one of
those primitive oaks of men to whom the superfluities
and insincerities, the cupidities, complications, and
cruelties of our polite civilization are profoundly unsatisfying,
and for whom the eternal veracities lie with more natural
and animal things.
His crisis was the getting of his soul in order,
the discovery of its genuine habitat and vocation, the
escape from falsehoods into what for him were ways of
truth. It was a case of heterogeneous personality tardily and slowly
finding its unity and level. And though not many of us
can imitate Tolstoy, not having enough, perhaps, of the
aboriginal human marrow in our bones, most of us may at
least feel as if it might be better for us if we could.
recovery seems to have been even slower.
For years together he was alternately haunted with
texts of Scripture, now up and now down, but at last with
an ever growing relief in his salvation through the blood
peace would be in and out twenty times a day; comfort
now and trouble presently; peace now and before I could
go a furlong as full of guilt and fear as ever heart could
a good text comes home to him, "This," he writes,
"gave me good encouragement for the space of two
or three hours"; or "This was a good day to
me, I hope I shall not forget it", or "The glory
of these words was then so weighty on me that I was ready
to swoon as I sat; yet, not with grief and trouble, but
with solid joy and peace"; or "This made a strange
seizure on my spirit; it brought light with it, and commanded
a silence in my heart of all those tumultuous thoughts
that before did use, like masterless hell-hounds, to roar
and bellow and make a hideous noise within me.
It showed me that Jesus Christ had not quite forsaken
and cast off my Soul."
periods accumulate until he can write:
"And now remained only the hinder part of
the tempest, for the thunder was gone beyond me, only
some drops would still remain, that now and then would
fall upon me";--and at last:
"Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed;
I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations
also fled away; so that from that time, those dreadful
Scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also
home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God. . . . Now
could I see myself in Heaven and Earth at once; in Heaven
by my Christ, by my Head, by my Righteousness and Life,
though on Earth by my body or person. . . .
Christ was a precious Christ to my soul that night;
I could scarce lie in my bed for joy and peace and triumph
became a minister of the gospel, and in spite of his neurotic
constitution, and of the twelve years he lay in prison
for his non-conformity, his life was turned to active
use. He was
a peacemaker and doer of good, and the immortal Allegory
which he wrote has brought the very spirit of religious
patience home to English hearts.
neither Bunyan nor Tolstoy could become what we have called
They had drunk too deeply of the cup of bitterness
ever to forget its taste, and their redemption is into
a universe two stories deep.
Each of them realized a good which broke the effective
edge of his sadness; yet the sadness was preserved as
a minor ingredient in the heart of the faith by which
it was overcome.
The fact of interest for us is that as a matter
of fact they could and did find SOMETHING welling up in
the inner reaches of their consciousness, by which such
extreme sadness could be overcome.
Tolstoy does well to talk of it as THAT BY WHICH
MEN LIVE; for that is exactly what it is, a stimulus,
an excitement, a faith, a force that re-infuses the positive
willingness to live, even in full presence of the evil
perceptions that erewhile made life seem unbearable.
For Tolstoy's perceptions of evil appear within
their sphere to have remained unmodified.
His later works show him implacable to the whole
system of official values:
the ignobility of fashionable life; the infamies
of empire; the spuriousness of the church, the vain conceit
of the professions; the meannesses and cruelties that
go with great success; and every other pompous crime and
lying institution of this world.
To all patience with such things his experience
has been for him a perroanent ministry of death.
also leaves this world to the enemy.
must first pass a sentence of death," he says, "upon
everything that can properly be called a thing of this
life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my
health, my enjoyments, and all, as dead to me, and myself
as dead to them; to trust in God through Christ, as touching
the world to come, and as touching this world, to count
the grave my house, to make my bed in darkness, and to
say to corruption, Thou art my father and to the worm,
Thou art my mother and sister. . . .
The parting with my wife and my poor children hath
often been to me as the pulling of my flesh from my bones,
especially my poor blind child who lay nearer my heart
than all I had besides.
Poor child, thought I, what sorrow art thou like
to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten,
must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand
calamities, though I cannot now endure that the wind should
blow upon thee.
But yet I must venture you all with God, though
it goeth to the quick to leave you."
In my quotations from Bunyan I have omitted certain intervening
portions of the text.
"hue of resolution" is there, but the full flood
of ecstatic liberation seems never to have poured over
poor John Bunyan's soul.
examples may suffice to acquaint us in a general way with
the phenomenon technically called "Conversion."
In the next lecture I shall invite you to study
its peculiarities and concomitants in some detail.