We may suspect Patmore and Thompson of this mystical knowledge, since they exercised St. Clement's caution. So does the Eastern teacher of the day; and all of these conform in not being thinkers of the scientific or material order. The Socratic definition of the true philosopher " who in his meditations neither employs his sight nor any of his senses, but a pure understanding alone," must, with Blake's "Cultivate imagination to the point of vision," be printed on page i of the first First Reader in mysticism.
Thompson dwells also on St. Paul's unspoken message, which, designated by the name of wisdom, he withheld from many of the Corinthians because they were not fit to hear it. He communicated it to the spiritual not to the animal man. Origen says that that which St. Paul would have called wisdom is found in the " Canticle of Canticles." Thompson dwells further on the hidden meanings of the Pentateuch, believing that there was " an inexhaustible treasure of divine wisdom concealed under the letter of Holy Writ." Thompson saw wise men whispering, and guessed that there were secrets; their presence discovered, they were open secrets for such as he. " You have but to direct my sight, and the intentness of my gaze will discover the rest." Of the poet who is religious it may be said : " There hath drawn near a man to a deep heart, that is, a secret heart." Look not at a star if you wish to see it: avert your gaze and it is clearer to you. So with the rockets and flashes of revelation. The Mass has secrets, and so have children. It must be remembered that the greater part of F. T.'s seeming reservations are only such as exist between the Church and the outer world. For instance:-•
" The personal embrace between Creator and creature is so solely the secret and note of Catholicism, that its language to the outer sects is unintelligible-the strange bruit of inapprehensible myth."
During walks at Pantasaph and Lymington, Thompson penetrated on the one hand to places where thought is singed and scorched, on the other to healing regions of light; at one time deep in melancholy, at another buoyantly content. A. M. observed that during certain drives with Coventry Patmore he would sit looking at the floor of the carriage with the harrowing expression that one gathers from Rossetti's " Wood Spurge."
Imagination is onerous. Christina Rossetti points to more than a problem in artistry when she writes :-
" At first sight and apparently the easiest of all conceptions to realise, I yet suppose that there may, in the long run, be no conception more difficult for ourselves to clench and retain than this of absolute Unity; this oneness at all times, in all connexions, for all purposes."
But once grasped it may never be relinquished. And it is a commonplace of the mystics that contemplation is painful. St. John of the Cross's warning of the desolation that follows the dwelling in the neutral land between the temporal and the spiritual is one of many.
There is no escape. Conscience is another name for consciousness. " If men understood clearly they would sin at every step, wherefore they understand grossly, that sin may not be imputed to them," wrote F. T., half protesting against the disabilities of clear understanding. And again:-
" Life is an Inkermann, fought in the mist. If men saw clearly, they would despair to fight. Wherefore the Almighty opens the eyes only of those whom He has led by special ways of gradual inurement and preparation."
The futility of Francis's conversational repetition was a by-word; but when he said a thing twice in verse or prose it probably mattered more than most other things. "The Dread of height" states the burden of knowledge, and John ix. 41., quoted as the poem's motto, is made to enforce it too:-" If ye were blind ye should have no sin; but now ye say We see, your sin remaineth." What John said (in ix. 41, or elsewhere) he would generally have thought sufficiently said. But in this matter he repeats John, and then more than once repeats himself.
A man does not, because he is as conscious of his God as were the disciples who really had Him on the road to Emmaus, find the road an easy one. Bunyan holds good ; the better way is the roughest. The more excellent landscape is that which is seen against the sun. But it is rigid in its splendours; every cock of hay, every clod, is a shadow. Is the ear that hears " the winds their Maker magnify " happier than that which can note only rattling of windows and the cracking of boughs ? During sound perhaps, not certainly during pauses in sound :-
" I never found any so religious and devout, that he had not sometimes a withdrawing of grace. There was never Saint so highly rapt and illuminated, who before or after was not tempted. For he is not worthy of the high contemplation of God who has not been troubled with some tribulations for God's sake."
The commonplaces of the Imitation are sound sense. " Thou visitest him early in the morning ; and suddenly Thou provest him."
I do think my tread,
Stirring the blossom in the meadow-grass, Flickers the unwithering stars.
Such treading may be better than the asphalt of every day, but it is not easy going.
Of futurity he wrote in a letter to A. M.:-
" You must know this thing of me already, having read those Manning verses, which I do not like to read again. You know that I believe in eternal punishment: you know that when my dark hour is on me, this individual terror is the most monstrous of all that haunt me. But it is individual. For others-even if the darker view were true, the fewness is relative to the total mass of mankind, not absolute; while I myself refuse to found upon so doubtful a thing as a few scattered texts a tremendous prejudgment which has behind it no consentaneous voice of the Church. And I do firmly believe that none are lost who have not wilfully closed their eyes to the known light : that such as fall with constant striving, battling with their temperament, or through ill-training circumstance which shuts them from true light, etc.; that all these shall taste of God's justice, which for them is better than man's mercy. But if you would see the present state of my convictions on the subject turn to the new Epilogue of my ' Judgement in Heaven' (you will find it in the wooden box)."