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even the power of motion — what do I mean? Have I not simply transferred a mental thought to a physical object? I know nothing of power in nature except as suggested by my own consciousness. The very idea of cause is a mental idea. Mr Mill is quite right when he says that from the sight of nature alone we get nothing but antecedents and consequents. If I put my hand to the light of a taper, it is burned; but if I say that the taper had power to burn my hand, I have gone beyond the facts of mere nature. I have put into the taper the analogy of my own spirit, and have conceived it after the likeness of man. So is it with the conception of force. It is a conception rather of theology than of science. It is a clothing of the universe in the likeness of the human soul. It is a regress towards that creed of the man of Israel which placed in the centre of all things the movements of a personal will.
The third distinctive element in the life of the Jewish nation is its poetry. In the introduction to this volume, I have defined poetry to be the incarnation of truth-the clothing of one thing in the vesture of another thing. In Judaism the thing which is clothed is the innermost force of life—the nation's religious faith. Do not imagine that when I speak of the poetic character of the Hebrew mind, I limit the phrase to the works of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah. To me the poetry of the Old Testament
is interwoven with its history. On any view, even on the most orthodox view, the facts are not the revelation; they are only the symbols of the revelation. The poetry lies in the thought beneath the form, or rather in the symmetry with which the thought expresses the form. Where lies the charm, the unique charm, of the narratives of the Old Testament? What is that which has made them delightful to the Sabbath-school child and interesting to the grave philosopher? It is that in them which lurks below the colouring. It is not their local or national element; it is the fact that the garb of the nation conceals something which is not local, not limited, not geographical,—something which has enshrined itself in a temporary form, but which is itself contemporaneous with all time and independent of any space, the possession of the world, and the property of man as man.
A moment’s glance at one or two of these narratives will make this abundantly clear. What, for example, is the poetic beauty of the story of the Fall ? Is it the statement that the sin of the human race began with a trivial act on the surface ? On the contrary, it is the statement that this trivial act was not a beginning at all but an ending, that when the sin came to the commonplace surface of life it came to its climax. This is the thought which has been incarnated in the old story of Eden, and it is a thought as modern to the Englishman as to the Jew. We are made to feel that the overt act is the least culpable part of the process, that it is only the last result of a long series of mental errors. We are made to see, in the most subtle manner, that ere ever the human soul disobeyed it had learnt to distrust; that before it violated the existing law it had come to think of the Lawgiver as one who was jealous of His creatures. Mr Browning could have expressed no better a very abstruse thought. It is indeed a thought which belongs essentially to his line of poetry, and even its expression has somewhat of his ring. It is a keen analysis of human nature, given in the form of allegory. The figures move before us in the sin plest garb, and use very few words. If you would understand their meaning, you must read between the lines. If you would penetrate the depth of the dramatic situation, you must come to the scene with an already rich human nature, amply stored with worldly experience. The narrative is poetic and childlike, but it is the reverse of childish. It is the artlessness which conceals art. It is the poetry of reflection, not of spontaneous impulse. On what professes to be the threshold of the national history, it asserts once for all the message of the nation. It is a song not for the sake of singing, but for the sake of morals. It is sung with a purpose, and, though it decks itself in all the leaves of the garden, that purpose is not beauty. It is a song whose object is not sense but soul, not charm but chastity, not radiance but righteousness. It has survived the scene, even the imagination of the scene, in which it had its birth; it has been eternal because it has been internal.
Again. The sacrifice of Abraham is one of the most picturesque narratives which have ever been written. It has appealed to all nations, to all ages, to all circumstances. Yet where lies the poetry of that narrative ? Clearly in the fact that the sacrifice was an internal one. If Abraham had really offered his son, the picture would have been revoltingly unpoetical. The beauty lies in the knowledge that the offering was never outwardly accepted, that the will was taken for the deed. Here we have a heroism of a singular kind—a man who has the merit of doing everything without actually doing anything. It is a heroism in which the combatant wrestles not against flesh and blood, but against the solicitations of his own mind. The battle-field is inward, the weapons are inward, the warfare is inward. It is a conflict that has no spectators, and for whose decision there can be no wreath. On every side the poetry of the narrative depends on the shifting of the scene from the world without to the world within. Heaven must receive the offering from earth only in a figure;1 reality would make the record worse than prosaic. Man must be taught the lesson that there may be a divine sacrifice which
Compare Hebrews xi. 19.
gives no material gift, and that the deepest surrender of the soul is in that moment when its love can find no expression. It is a point of high significance that the clothing of this thought in symbolism should have been reserved for the inspiration of a race whose message was the power of the internal.
Take one instance more—the vision which Moses beheld of a bush that burned and was not consumed. Where lies the poetry of this symbol ? Is it in the fact of its marvellousness ? Certainly not. The appeal which it makes is not to the eye but to the heart. The poetry consists in its being a symbol not of that which is rare, but of that which is constant and abiding. It points to a law of the inner life. It tells Moses that the best preservative from being consumed is that very fire which he dreads; that the soul is kept alive by its own burning. This, and not the wonder, is the poetry of the scene. It is a call to the future leader to enter into the enthusiasm of love, with a promise that this enthusiasm will rob the cares of life of the power to make him old. And the promise is declared to have been most wonderfully fulfilled in that last hour of the lawgiver’s pilgrimage, in which, amid the shadows of age, he stood on the heights of Pisgah and surveyed the coming land with an eye that was not dim and a natural strength that was not abated. The vision of Mount Pisgah and the vision of the burning bush are one. They both sing the same song—the triumph