He endured as seeing Him who is invisible. Paul
My eyes make pictures when they are shut. Coleridge.
In our present state of knowledge it is impossible to write a natural history of the soul. Many trans-formations may have occurred in its coming. It is very certain that the human body underwent numerous changes before it reached its present form ; and, as nature repeats her processes on different planes, doubtless mind is the result of a progressive development.
These bodies were once fruits and grains; fruits and grains were once soil ; soil was once rock ; rock was once chemical elements; chemical elements were once star-dust ; star-dust was once energy. Back of energy science is powerless to go. In some way, perhaps, mind has passed through as many stages. First there was sensation. Repeated,, sensation became experience; experience became memory and knowledge; memory and knowledge became motives ; motives became will; will became action.
Some place in this unfolding process, that power of the mind called “Imagination” appeared.
Without attempting the exact definitions of philosophical schools, but speaking in the freer way of rhetoric, it is sufficient to say that, in part, this power is creative. ‘ It is a kind of sixth sense with which absent things are more or less apprehended. By it sounds too fine for the natural ear are heard; scenes too remote for the natural eye are beheld. Out of material, already existing in the mind, it constructs something much finer than the crude material. From a little dark seed and earth and sunlight comes a flower that is neither seed nor soil nor sunshine, but a combination of all of them. So from experience and memory and hope something is fashioned that is neither experience nor memory nor hope, but a union of all of them and finer than any one of them. Out of existing things something is formed that hitherto did not exist. From the known a way is found leading to the unknown.
Exact speech would bid us report some difference between fancy and imagination. They come from the same source, indeed, but they manifest themselves in different ways and for different purposes. Fancy is to imagination as a light summer cloud,
“Flushed to a sudden glory round the edge,”
is to a cloud emptying its rain upon earth; or as moon-beams, playing at night among rustling leaves and plashing fountains, are to sunbeams by day warming and vitalizing fields and forests.
Fancy is the soul at play ; imagination is the soul in earnest. The one has no special end in view; does not care to go anywhere ; is perfectly willing to be swayed hither or thither by each passing circumstance, as a ship, without helm, is willing to be driven by fickle winds to either land of sun or land of snow. Imagination aims at results and shapes its course to arrive at some definite port. Butterfly and bee both visit the fields and gardens and roam from flower to flower, but with a different purpose. It is so with fancy and imagination. The soul is abroad when either is active, but the object of the flight is not the same. One seeks beauty; the other utility. One is for amusement; the other is for instruction. One follows caprice ; the other intelligence. Fancy wrote the “Tempest;” imagination wrote “Hamlet” and “King Lear.” Ovid dealt in fancy when he wrote “Meta-morphoses ;” Virgil in imagination when he wrote the “Æneid.” One pictures the impossible; the other merely the extraordinary. Imagination may be mistaken, but not consciously so; whereas fancy pays no regard to reality. When St. John and Dante made their pictures of unseen worlds they may have been mistaken, but they did not intend to falsify and mislead. When Shakespeare wrote “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he was not pretending to describe actual or even possible scenes and events. In the midst of the famous description of queen Mab, “Romeo” exclaims:
“Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk’st of nothing.”
To which Mercutio answers:
“True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air;
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north;
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew dropping south.”
But these accustomed illustrations of the mind’s power to picture the unseen only serve to show the difference in the material used and the purpose for which the picture is made. They say nothing against the imaging power itself.
Thinking of imagination and the present age, two things seem strange. One, that there should be any fear of its decline and death; the other, that there should be any wish for it to decline and die. Some have expressed the dread that our exact and scientific method would banish imagination and, as a result, all art and religion would pass into perpetual exile. Others, thinking more of the errors of imagination than its truths and, in religion, associating it with superstition, have hoped it would finally be displaced by reason.
Doubtless the fears and hopes of both classes are equally groundless. Whatever is natural is necessary; and whatever is necessary is permanent. The mind’s power to draw pictures of those things which transcend sense and understanding is as unlikely to disappear as is its power to deal with mathematics or reason from premises to conclusions.
We must not confuse the objects of imagination with imagination itself. The former may change with a changing age. When man stopped building pyramids and sphinxes he did not stop constructing everything. He began to build bridges and railways, and steamships. Thus the mind, having ceased to picture Harpies and Cyclops and Circes and Calypsos and Sirens and Centaurs, will not cease picturing everything. It will simply change its field of operation. The artist will only work upon a different canvas. When the fabled Atlantis sank out of sight in the waves, actual America rose into view. So when the world of monsters and nymphs and demi-gods passed away, a real human world came in its place. When the hells and heavens of the middle age superstition disappeared, the earth with its actual misery and happiness came into sight. Helen of Troy has gone, but Evangeline of Acadia has come. The serpent of Tenedos, that wound its awful coils around father and sons, is permanently absent, but intemperance, which every year destroys many fathers and sons, is present. The mind long since ceased picturing the crimes committed by the wicked sorceress Medea, but it still pictures the ruin that may be wrought by womanhood when allurement and vice go hand in hand. Our age no longer hears a conversation between industrious and provident ants and shiftless grass-hoppers, but it still sees forms of work and idleness, and well knows the difference between the coming of win-ter to the homes in which these two forms are found. Mandrakes are not heard crying out in pain when they are wrenched from the soil where they grow, but Burn’s mountain daisy and Emerson’s rhodora are often full of a pathetic eloquence. Doves, uttering oracles from golden oaks with self-renewing branches, are no longer heard or seen, but Shelley’s sky lark and Bryant’s water-fowl still teach man lessons of joy and trust. Thus imagination is not dead. It has only gone into new and larger fields.
It is an error to assume that imagination has only to do with the vague and unreal. It has intimate relations to utility and moves freely among practical affairs. The men of science and business can no more dispense with it than can the men of art and religion. Some of the greatest discoveries have been made when the mind dared to leave the seen and take its flight into the unseen. Tyndall wrote a most fascinating chapter entitled: “A Scientific Use of Imagination.” It was thus the much vaunted theory of evolution came. Its earliest advocates had never seen a universe evolved from star-dust and, passing through count-less stages, at last produced an earth fitted to be the home of mankind. They pictured such a process and now it seems they were not mistaken. The greatest practical successesTranscontinental Railways, Suez Canals, St. Gothard Tunnelsare as much products of imagination as are Paradise Lost and Apollo Belvidere and the Sistine Madonna and Tristan and Isolde. In every product of human creation the soul first sees the possible, then the probable, then the actual. Every reality once existed as an idea. Wherever reason goes it finds it has been preceded by imagination. It often happens that a traveler in the old world is not surprised by any scene he encounters. He sometimes wonders if he may not have been there in some former state of existence. The more evident explanation is that he has often been there,carried thither on the wings of imagination.
This power seeks the concealed and unknown. It is the Columbus of the soul. Forever it sets sail in search of new continentsnot of earth, alone, containing forests and plains and rivers, but spiritual continents, containing truth and beauty and happiness. In its operations it annihilates space and time. It goes beyond the sunrise and wanders at will in the vast unseen realm of light in which our Aryan ancestors thought was the dwelling of Deity. By it man can fling himself into the red sunsetthe splendid couch in which the day seems to sink in slumber. By it the world of sense is transcended and a world of spirit is invaded. Reason may analyze a flower and a rain-bow, but there is something in the soul which, not only smiles or weeps at their visible beauty, but out of them may construct that complete beauty of which they are fragments. To sense and under-standing the visible and audible world is a con-fused mass of meaningless things. To spiritual in-sight everything is related to its cause. The world is a transparent robe through which shines the splendor of its Creator.
“Never a daisy that grows, but a mystery guideth the growing, Never a river that flows, but a majesty sceptres the flowing; Never a Shakespeare that soared, but a stronger than he did enfold him;
Never a prophet foretells, but a mightier seer hath foretold him.
Back of the canvas that throbs the painter is hinted and hidden ;
Into the statue that breathes, the soul of the sculptor is bidden ;
Under the joy that is felt, lie the infinite issues of feeling; Crowning the glory revealed, is the glory that crowns the revealing.”
The soul is a harp of many strings. To make complete life music all these cords must in turn be swept. Reason can do much, but not every-thing. It is powerful in the realm of the known and present, but its results are not able to bring perfect satisfaction. We wish to know what lies behind, what before, what beneath, and what above us.
There is, indeed, a delight in the performance of stated tasks. This visible earth is source of joy. The cheerful days invite the soul. With opportunities unnumbered for usefulness and happiness, with heaped up treasures supplied by actual existence, with a broad, fair zone in which to live and work, the actual world is amazing. We see the constancy and the sanity of nature’s laws and methods so that we need not hesitate to plow and plant and build and send our ships to sea. With telescope and microscope we enlarge the sense of sight, wave after wave of the material universe rolling into view until, sometimes, it seems as if the infinitely small and the infinitely large were about to reveal themselves. Already we have far more space than we can occupy; far more opportunities than we embrace; far more knowledge than we utilize; far more laws than we obey ; far more goodness than we practice.
Perhaps, therefore, we ought to be satisfied with what we have ; but the fact remains that we are not. Shelley spoke for us all:
“We look before and after
And pine for what is not
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
The sweetest songs are those that
Tell of saddest thought.”
Because of this are we all, at times, dreamers, idealists, children of imagination trying to move away from the present and dwell in another condition.
Plato had his “Ideal Republic,” Sir Thomas More his “Utopia,” Lord Bacon his “New Atlantis,” Jesus his “Kingdom of Heaven,” and Virgil his “Golden Age.” No; they have not yet been realized in full. But all have been partially realized. Every prayer contains a part of its own answer, for the feeling of need, the longing and the striving are themselves a great reward. So a partial realization of the world’s great dreams is in the dreams themselves. Even to think of the possible brings it more within the boundaries of the probable.
All in all, how great and valuable is imagination ! There is no magician can perform such wonders for us. Compared with it, Aladdin and his wonderful lamp were bunglers. Such palaces it can build in a moment, such treasures it can reveal! In mid-winter, with its ice and snow, it furnishes us magic wings which instantly trans-port us into mid-summer, with its grass and flowers. It throws open the galleries of the future and shows its walls all hung with pictures painted by great invisible artists. “Though inland far we be,” by its aid the solemn music of ocean can be plainly heard. It touches the fountains of goodness and beauty, and they expand into great, broad, flowing rivers. It turns each far distant star into a wonderful, happy world. Coming to poor, stupid, blundering mortals, it waves over them its magic wand and, instantly, they pass into immensity and seem worthy of immortality.
A surgeon, probing a wound for a bullet that had lodged very near the heart, a soldier of Napoleon said to him : “A little deeper and you will find the Emperor.” So, deeper must we go if we find the last and truest value of imagination. It can, indeed, draw a picture of what we are not, and have not, and can enlarge the soul’s horizon ; but it does more than that. It furnishes endurance and patience. He who sees beyond appearances never loses heart. Seeing how great, how self-nourishing is the fountain whence all things flow, he is assured that there can be no lack of power and wisdom and that every age shall be equal to meet its own demands. Come want, come war, come earthquake and fall of shining worlds, he whose soul sees gleaming through all things, their cause and purpose will have no fear. Those who live in the material only, feel that they are of the dust and will return whence they came; those who live in the spirit feel that their origin having been high their destiny must be equally high. They see that, while tempests may sweep leaves from the tree of existence, the tree itself remains uninjured, because its life is self-renewingit is Ygdrasil of which heaven and earth and hell are branches, and races and nations are merely coming and going blossoms; it strikes its roots even into the kingdom of death and defies and conquers it.
We admit a counter statement. There are many unsolved mysteries. Good moves with leaden feet. Heaven seems deaf to many a moan. Pain seems out of proportion to its need. Sensitive hearts throb with anxious foreboding. Furrows of care are plowed on many a forehead. There are eyes wistful and sad. All this is perplexing and no one need pretend that he has found a perfectly satisfactory solution of the universe. Nevertheless, if we have some power to rise, at times, above the actual, to fling ourselves beyond the present, our fear will partly give way to courage and, with steadier hearts, we can go forward trusting the sure years to tell us meanings now hidden from us and heal all hurts received by the way.
Imagination dying? Let us rather affirm it is living as it never lived before. It has entered a vaster field, and is finding nobler objects. If it does not picture animals and trees listening to the flute of Orpheus, it draws a scene in which all forms of life are attracted and subdued by the sweet music of human kindness. No more does it represent strange creatures riding on enchanted carpets, but it tries to portray humanity carried grandly and triumphantly forward on a rich fabric woven of science and art and religion. If it no more sees a white necked, rosy checked goddess rising from sea-foam, it sees calm browed, pure hearted womanhood rising in more and more of spiritual beauty from each recurring on-rolling wave of the great human sea. No more does it see the happiness of a few chosen favorites, but it paints a scene in which all earth’s millions have found happiness. If it no more sees an earth governed by some capricious Jove on Mount Olympus, or cruel Jehovah on Mount Zion, it sees one “lapt in universal law” and everywhere thrilled with a Being
“Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the mind of man.”
Imagination! The universe is its kingdom. Space and time are the gallery in which it hangs its portraits. Its music is one with the harmony of the spheres. Its poetry is the rhythm of rising and ebbing tides, of circling seasons, and the stately march of eternal stars.
Left alone, imagination may lead us into many an error. But it need not be left alone. It can be guided and controlled by experience and reflection. All the pictures it portrays may be found lying fully within the realm of the possible. Its religious is no more unreasonable than its scientific use. It was trusted when it spoke to Abraham of a goodly land, and to Moses of a possible nation. It was trusted when it unveiled a new continent to Columbus, a new principle to Newton, and a new planet to Leverrier. Therefore it should not be doubted when it paints glowing scenes in the moral world ; an earth in which dwells righteousness ; and a heaven in which dwells blessedness.