The Further Side
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
HAVE any of our readers been through the clouds and seen them from their upper side ? It is a marvellous experience, of which the balloonist has not the entire monopoly. The spectacle is granted sometimes to the mountaineer. The present writer has vivid remembrance of a dull November afternoon in the Jura, when, plunging into the heavy cloud which all day had hid sun and sky, he toiled upwards, till suddenly, in one dazzling moment, he found himself outside and above it all. He was in a realm of glorious sunshine. Above was the dazzling blue ; away to his right lay a rolling sea of magnificent cloud colours ; at the far side of this sea, gleaming in the white radiance of their snow raiment, rose the whole mighty range of the Alps. What a scene, and what a parable ! This same cloud, which, from one side and in one aspect, glowered over the world as the image of all that was gloomy and forbidding, required only another view-point to stand revealed as in itself beautiful beyond imagination, while serving as the foundation of the sublimest of world-pictures.
Herein, we say, is a parable, but we have to take care that we do not press it too far. It is not always by any means that " the farther side " yields a result of this kind. The topic, indeed, might as easily be handled by the pessimist as by the optimist. The one as well as the other would find abundant material if he sought for it. Let us, divesting ourselves as far as may be of existing prepossessions, try impartially to examine the ground for ourselves, and see what we find there.
To begin with, we have to note that every experience of life has its farther side, a side which invariably differs radically and essentially from the nearer one. Life, as Heraclitus long ago taught us, " is an eternal flux." When people complain of the changefulness, the restlessness of the world, they forget that this is the very condition of its existence. If change ceased, we should cease ; for life, whether of the separate germ-cell or of the entire organism of the universe, is movement first and last. We can never keep a sensation or an experience in one stay. Each has its be-ginning, its culmination, its end. What finally re-mains of them is a deposit, and it is out of these deposits that our soul is built. And as it is with a single sensation felt in our own mind, so is it on an ever-widening scale with all that takes place in history and the corporate life of humanity. Our race, we discover, has conditions of feeling, epochs of ideas, which may last for centuries or millenniums, but which, nevertheless, are always moving. They all partake of the inevitable process ; they have their rise, their culmination, their decay. In their extinction these also leave their deposit, to be taken up into new births of the world's life. Man has by now had a tolerably wide experience of this movement, and it is time we had learned some lessons from it. Let us see, in some particulars, how the matter stands.
Youth has at once the advantage and disadvantage of beginning on the near side of everything. It is not tall enough to see over the wall, and knows only of that side by report. And commonly it takes the report somewhat cheaply. " Youth," says Turgeneff, " imagines life to be an affair of gilt gingerbread. It will be glad afterwards if it finds dry bread to eat." In those charmed hours the great pleasure-sensations, the intoxications of eye, ear and touch, the raptures of satisfied desire, seem everything. They show their front view, and the view is full of charm. But " Onward ! " is the life watchword. To every this a that ; to every act a consequence ; to every experience " the moment after." There is one judgment of life while the draught is being drunk ; there is that other of the lendemain de fête when the cup is drained. Have we been able to assimilate these two things and draw from their union some wholesome result ?
The world has now, through many thousands of years, been grinding its lesson into our race, and there is no mistake about the trend of its teaching. Our philosophies and theologies offer us endless puzzles, but on the essential things we have, out of the heart of life itself, the simplest and clearest of messages. Life gives us its own gospel of the farther side. If we would find it a good side we must approach it in one way. You must enter our cloud from the lower, the sombre end of it. It is a climb. Nature always starts her chosen ones upon drudgery. Literature begins upon them with grammars and dictionaries. Music is a pounding of scales, long hours of weary repetitions. There is no royal road. The cloud is before us to trudge through. But if we do manfully trudge through we find always at the end the white mountains and the blue sky. Through drudgery, incessant self-discipline, we come to our power, to our wealth of acquisition, to our sources of high-enduring enjoyment. The lesson is so plain that one is amazed that people anywhere fail to see it. The best men of every age and creed always have seen it. Marcus Aurelius, in reckoning up his supreme advantages, does not speak of his accession to wealth and empire, but of the fact that as a youth he was taught to endure hardness, to work with his hands and to mind his own business.
With the same deadly certainty does the nature of things express the other half of its doctrine here. It has put up its strait gate and narrow way, and shows no mercy to trespassers or those who would " climb up some other way." It knows the skulker by sight, and has its own manner of treating him. Calvinism used to talk of the eternal decrees, and there certainly are some. The decree of the farther side to toil and self-restraint is one ; the decree of the farther side to laziness and indulgence is another. Some of the present generation appear to proceed on the supposition that this decree has recently been annulled. They will discover in due time that it is still in full force, and that there is no remotest corner of the universe where it fails to operate.
But this is a road already trodden hard by the moralists. Life offers us some more complex problems than that of the issues of hardwork and high aims versus idleness and sensualism. The high aims themselves have their far side, which is not always roseate. The middle-aged man of our generation looks back on a dozen enthusiasms and beliefs of his youth which, in the backward glance, wear a quite different aspect now from then. If he were now to write the history of them he would write largely as an outsider. He has come to understand that pregnant saying of Carlyle : " A man, I think, is ready to write on a thing when he perceives he has got above it, that he has shaken it off from him, and can survey it with-out egoism, spleen, exaggeration, or other perversion." How absolute we were in those days in our judgment of men and things ! How sure of our own side ! We took all our teachers told us for gospel. We accepted their reading of history. The men of our party were heroes, opposed to them were the powers of darkness. To-day we are less sure of our good and bad. We discover that our side, as well as the other, is, and has been, so very human ! We find with Baxter that the good men are not so good as we thought them, nor the bad so ill. We say with Johnson : " As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man on easier terms than formerly."
But to a properly-developed soul the view from the farther side, while inducing scepticism about many things, will bring no scepticism about life itself. We may grow doubtful about this or that patent scheme of reform. We may, to quote Johnson again, go so far as to say with him, " Why, sir, most schemes of political improvement are very laughable things." Ballot Acts, Franchise Acts, the upsetting of this Government and the setting up of that ; we have lived through so much of this, to discover how different are the results from what was hoped for. And yet do we despair of politics ? Not at all. Reform will go on in that sphere, though not by the clash of parties. It is and has ever been by a spiritual process. Socrates utters the secret of it when, in the " Gorgias," he declares that he is the only politician in Athens, for while others intrigue and seek for votes he seeks to improve the State by improving the souls of the citizens.
In the long run, when we have got to the farther side of all our experiments, we shall discover that this is the only way. And it is the way which the world will assuredly reach in the end. Is it not a wonderful thing that, whatever new road man breaks open for himself, if he follow it far enough, it always leads him out at the farther side to a spiritual result ? A generation ago it seemed as though we were being engulfed in materialism. The prophets of science were proclaiming it as the latest news of the universe. Moleschott's aphorism, " no thought without phosphorus," was solemnly repeated as though it settled everything. But to-day science, not by backing out of its tunnel, but by going forward in it, by becoming more scientific still, finds itself emerging at the farther end once more into full daylight. From the scientists we are obtaining, bit by bit, a conception of matter, of man and of the universe which will become the surest foundation of the theology of the future.
It is, as we have said, not by running away from investigation, but by going forward in it, that faith, however seemingly shaken and dislodged for a time, comes eventually again into its kingdom. The farther side is always its side. Nothing is more common, for instance, than for people to be thrown off their religious balance by so-called " explanations " of the things they have believed. Some one writes a history of God—a history, that is, of the human theistic belief—and imagines that in this way he has extinguished theism. One might as well propose to extinguish the universe by tracing the evolution of the eye that sees it. We forget how very small the distance is over which our " explanations " carry us ; how vast the background behind. Just now some psychologists are explaining for us the phenomena of revivals. They are an affair of psychic force and of the subtle interaction of crowds. Each individual is a magnet, a centre of odic powers. Under certain conditions these emanations are even visible. When a multitude of persons are together, all governed by the same fixed ideas, and stirred to a given condition of feeling, the fused, subliminal consciousness of the company develops abnormal powers sufficient to account for all the phenomena. But what then 1 When we have accepted all this are we at the end of our fact ; have we clone away with our revival ? We talk of our " fixed ideas " ; where did they come from ? We speak of " the subliminal consciousness "; what has moved it in this particular direction ? Why, we still ask, are men, under the action of this consciousness, breaking from their old sins and leading a new life ? To give us the " subliminal consciousness " as the substitute here for God is as though one should offer an account of the keyboard and wires of a piano as accounting, without Beethoven, for the " Moonlight Sonata."
After finding ourselves at the far side successively of innumerable early emotions, enthusiasms, delusions, we wake up to the feeling that we are getting towards the far side of life itself. It is a region which, to traverse successfully, requires abundant preparation. If we are to escape the " tristis senectus " of which Virgil, in some memorable lines, complains so bitterly, we must begin the preparation early. As we approach the region we experience some new, singular sensations. One of the strongest of them, with some of us, is that of the immense, ever increasing value of time. Our account in years is diminishing so rapidly. We feel with Seneca " how many people have been allowed to pillage your life while you were not even aware you were being robbed ! " We realise how much has gone on the mere apparatus of living, instead of being devoted to life itself, the highest life ! There must be no more waste. What re-mains of time must be concentrated on the best things. This " farther side " is clearly the place for faith, far the clearer vision. We draw near the lower edge of the cloud, which, when it finally enfolds us, will shut out the view of all this under world. But we shall enter it with a good heart, knowing as we do of that upper side, where stand the white mountains overarched by the cloudless blue.