Cobwebs of Thought

Cobwebs of Thought


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Cobwebs of Thought, by ArachneThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it,give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online atwww.gutenberg.netTitle: Cobwebs of ThoughtAuthor: ArachneRelease Date: October 16, 2004 [eBook #13766]Language: English***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK COBWEBS OF THOUGHT***E-text prepared by Clare Boothby, Keith M. Eckrich, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading TeamCOBWEBS OF THOUGHTby"ARACHNE"LondonCONTENTS.CHAPTERI. OUR IGNORANCE OF OURSELVESII. CONTRASTSIII. MAETERLINCK ON HAMLETIV. AN IMPOSSIBLE PHILOSOPHYV. IMPRESSIONS OF GEORGE SANDMOTTO."The first philosophers, whether Chaldeans or Egyptians, said there must be something within us which produces ourthought. That something must be very subtle: it is breath; it is fire, it is ether; it is a quintessence; it is a slender likeness; itis an intelechia; it is a number; it is harmony; lastly, according to the divine Plato, it is a compound of the same and theother! It is atoms which think in us, said Epicurus after Democritus. But, my friend, how does an atom think?Acknowledge that thou knowest nothing of the matter." —VOLTAIRE.I.OUR IGNORANCE OF OURSELVES.Self-Analysis, apart from its scientific uses, has seldom rewarded those who have practised it. To probe into the innerworld of ...



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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Cobwebs ofThought, by ArachneThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere atno cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under theterms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.netTitle: Cobwebs of ThoughtAuthor: ArachneRelease Date: October 16, 2004 [eBook #13766]Language: English*E*B*SOTOAKR TC OOBF WTEHBE SP ORFO JTEHCOTU GGUHTT*E*N*BERGE-text prepared by Clare Boothby, Keith M.Eckrich, and the Project Gutenberg OnlineDistributed Proofreading TeamCOBWEBS OF THOUGHT
MOTTO."The first philosophers, whether Chaldeans orEgyptians, said there must be something within uswhich produces our thought. That something mustbe very subtle: it is breath; it is fire, it is ether; it isa quintessence; it is a slender likeness; it is anintelechia; it is a number; it is harmony; lastly,according to the divine Plato, it is a compound ofthe same and the other! It is atoms which think inus, said Epicurus after Democritus. But, my friend,how does an atom think? Acknowledge that thouknowest nothing of the matter." —VOLTAIRE.
.IOUR IGNORANCE OF OURSELVES.Self-Analysis, apart from its scientific uses, hasseldom rewarded those who have practised it. Toprobe into the inner world of motive and desire hasproved of small benefit to any one, whether hermit,monk or nun, indeed it has been altogethermischievous in result, unless the mind that probed,was especially healthy. Bitter has been thedissatisfaction, both with the process, and withwhat came of it, for being miserably superficial itcould lead to no real knowledge of self, but simplycentred self on self, producing instead of self-knowledge, self-consciousness, and often thebeginnings of mental disease.For fruitful self analysis it is apparently necessarythen to have a clear, definite aim outside self—such as achieving the gain of some special piece ofknowledge, and we find such definite aims inpsychology, and certain systems of philosophy—Greek, English, and German, in Plato Locke, Kant,and in the meditations of Descartes, and manyothers. Self-analysis is the basis of psychologicalknowledge, but the science has been chiefly usedto explain the methods by which we obtainknowledge of the outer world in relation to
ourselves. When a philosopher centres self on self,in order to know self as a result of introspection,the results have been disastrous, and havecontributed nothing to knowledge, properly so-called. If religious self-examination has its dangers,so also has philosophical self-analysis for its ownsake. It is a fascinating study for those who carefor thought for thought's sake—the so-calledHamlets of the world, who are for ever revolvinground the axes of their own ideas and dreams, andwho never progress towards any clear issue.Amiel's "Vie Intime" is a study of this kind. It addsnothing to any clear knowledge of self, absorbingand interesting as the record is. It is suggestive toa great degree, and in that lies its value, but it is asvague, as it is sad. It appeals deeply to those wholive apart in a world of their own, in thoughtfulimaginative reverie, but its effects on the mindwere deplored even by Amiel himself in wordswhich are acutely pathetic. The pain whichconsumed him arose from the concentration of selfon self. Self was monopolised by self, self-consciousness was produced, though without atouch of selfish egoism.Out of this self-conscious introspection, grew thatsterility of soul and mind, that dwindling of capacity,and individuality, which Amiel felt was taking placewithin him. A constant, aimless, inevitable habit ofself-introspection was killing his mental life, beforethe end came physically.JAonhont hSetr upahrtil oMsilol,p haitc oaln evi ctitimme  toof  thhies  lsifae.m eH ish afbaitth ewras
analysed almost everything, except himself, andJohn Stuart Mill had grown up in this logicalatmosphere of analysis, and to much profit as hisworks show. But when he turned the microscopeon his own states of feeling, and on the aims of hislife, the result was melancholia—almost disease ofmind. His grandly developed faculty of analysiswhen devoted to definite knowledge outsidehimself, produced splendid results, as in his Logic,and his Essays, but when he analysed himself, hegained no additional knowledge, but a strangemorbid horror that all possible musical changesmight be exhausted, and that there might be nomeans of creating fresh ones. He also feared thatshould all the reforms he, and others, worked for,be accomplished, the lives of the reformers wouldbecome meaningless and blank, since they wereworking for means, not ends in themselves. Out ofthis hopeless mental condition there was only oneoutlet possible, and that was to leave self-analysisof this sort alone for ever, and to throw himself intoits direct contrary, the unconscious life of theemotions. John Stuart Mill did this, and it savedhim. In Wordsworth's poetry he found sanity andhealing. Happily for him that was not the age ofBrowning's "Fifine at the Fair." Had he fallen in withdialectical analysis in the garb of poetry, it musthave killed him!And yet "Know thyself" has always beenconsidered supremely excellent advice, as true forour time, as for the age of Socrates. It certainly isdisregarded by most of us, as fully as it was bymany of the Greeks, whom Socrates interrogated
so ruthlessly. Is there then a sort of self-analysis,which can be carried out for its own sake, andwhich can be, at the same time, of vital use? Is allself-analysis when practised for its own sakenecessarily harmful, and unprofitable? It is time toask these questions if we are ever to know how toanalyse ourselves with profit, if we are ever toknow ourselves. And we none of us do. Asstudents, we are content with every otherknowledge but this. After all the self probing of thereligious and philosophical, during long centuries,what have we learned? Truly to ourselves, we areenigmas. To know everything else except the selfthat knows, what a strange position! But it is ourcondition. The one thing that we do not know—thatwe feel as if we never could know is the Self in us.Our characters, our powers, our natures, our being—what are they? Our faculties—what can we do?And what can we not do? What is the reason ofthis faculty, or that want of faculty? We have neverreached an understanding of ourselves, whichmakes us not only know, but perceive what we arecapable of knowing; which makes us aware, notonly that we can do something, but why we can doit. We are an unknown quantity to ourselves. Wecan calculate on a given action in a machine, butwe cannot calculate on our own, much less on ourmoods. If we would but take half the trouble tounderstand ourselves that we take to study ascience or art—if we could learn to depend on thesequence of our own thoughts as an engineer canon the sequence of movements in his steamengine—if we could dig, and penetrate into thedepths of our own being, as a miner penetrates
into a seam of coal—we might then cultivate withsome profit our own special lines of thought, ourown gifts, that portion of individuality, which weeach possess. But it is so difficult to get to know it—we are always on the surface of ourselves. Whatpower will unearth our self and make us reallyknow what we are and what we can do? It isbecause we do not know ourselves, that we fail sohopelessly to give the things which are ofincalculably real worth to the world, such as freshindividuality, and reality of character. Amongmillions of beings how few exist who possessstrong original minds! We are not individual for themost part, and we are not real. Our lives are buriedlives; we are unconscious absorbers, andreproducers, under other words of that which wehave imbibed elsewhere. We need not only freshexpressions of old statements, but actually newideas, and new conceptions. (The fresh subjectspeople talk about, are really fresh conceptions ofsubjects.) We shall never get this bloom offreshness, and this sense of reality and individualityof view unless we cultivate their soil—to have freshideas, we must encourage the right atmosphere inwhich alone they can live. We must not let our ownpersonality, however slight, be suppressed, or bediscouraged, or interfered with by a more powerful,or a more excellent personality.Individuality is so weak and pliable a thing in mostof us that it is very easily checked—it requireswatchfulness and care, and not to be overborne,for the smallest individual thought of a mind of anyoriginality, is more worth to the world than any re-
expression of the thought of some other mind,however great.Even the "best hundred books" may have adisastrous effect upon us. They may kill someaspirations, if they kindle others. Persons ofmature age may surely at some time have madethe discovery that much has been lost through thedominating influence of a superior mind. Manypersons, for instance, have felt the great influenceof Carlyle, and Ruskin, in their youth. Carlyle coulddo incalculable good to some minds by his ethics ofwork, but irremediable harm to others; minds haveactually become stunted and sterile through thatpart of his teaching, which was unsuited to them.Carlyle's temperament checked their properdevelopment. Youth has a beautiful capacity fortrust and belief, and it accepts everything as equalin goodness and truth from an author itreverences. The young do not know enough ofthemselves, and they do not trust enough to theirown instincts to discriminate. They are dominatedand unconsciously suppressed. Ruskin, in hisethical views of art, and strange doctrines aboutsome old masters, has done nearly as much harmto susceptible minds as Carlyle. Ruskin restrictedand perverted their art ideals on certain lines asCarlyle crushed ethical discrimination. Mind havebeen kept imprisoned for years, and theirdevelopment on the lines nature intended them totake, has been arrested, by the want of belief intheir own initiative. What was inevitable forRuskin's unique mind was yet wrong for readers,who agreed to all his theories under the influence