In the name of the Past and of the Future, the servants of Humanity--both its philosophical and its practical servants--come forward to claim as their due the general direction of the world. Their object is to constitute at length a real Providence in all departments--moral, intellectual and material.
A little city girl asked of her country cousin, when honey was the topic up for discussion, "Does your papa keep a bee?"
Let the statement go unchallenged, that a single bee has neither the disposition nor the ability to make honey.
Bees accomplish nothing save as they work together, and neither do men.
Great men come in groups.
Six men, three living at the village of Concord, Massachusetts, and three at Cambridge, fifteen miles away, supplied America really all her literature, until Indiana suddenly loomed large on the horizon, and assumed the center of the stage, like the spirit of the Brocken.
Five men made up the Barbizon school of painting, which has influenced the entire art education of the world. And that those who have been influenced and helped most, deny their redeemer with an oath, is a natural phenomenon psychologists look for and fully understand.
Greece had a group of seven thinkers, in the time of Pericles, who made the name and fame of the city deathless.
Rome had a similar group in the time of Augustus; then the world went to sleep, and although there were individuals, now and then, of great talent, their lights went out in darkness, for it takes bulk to make a conflagration.
Florence had her group of thinkers and doers when Michelangelo and Leonardo lived only a few miles apart, but never met. Yet each man spurred the other on to do and dare, until an impetus was reached that sent the names of both down the centuries.
Boswell gives us a group of a dozen men who made each other possible--often helped by hate and strengthened by scorn.
The Mutual Admiration Society does not live in piping times of peace, where glowing good-will strews violets; often the sessions of this interesting aggregation are stormy and acrimonious, but one thing holds--the man who arises at this board must have something to say. Strong men, matched by destiny, set each other a pace. Criticism is full and free. The most interesting and the most successful social experiment in America owed its lease of life largely to its scheme of Public Criticism, a plan society at large will adopt when it puts off swaddling-clothes. Public Criticism is a diversion of gossip into a scientific channel. It is a plan of healthful, hygienic, social plumbing.
England produced one group of thinkers that changed the complexion of the theological belief of Christendom--Darwin, Spencer, Wallace, Huxley and Mill. But this group built on the French philosophers, who were taught antithetically by the decaying and crumbling aristocracy of France. Rousseau and Voltaire loved each other and helped each other, as the proud Leonardo helped the humble and no less proud peasant, Michelangelo--by absent treatment.
Victor Hugo says that when the skulls of Voltaire and Rousseau were taken in a sack from the Pantheon and tumbled into a common grave, a spark of recognition was emitted that the gravedigger did not see.
Voltaire was patronized by Frederick the Great, who, though a married man, lived a bachelor life and forbade women his court, and protected Kant with the bulging forehead and independent ways. Kant lived among a group of thinkers he never saw, but reached out and touched finger-tips with them over the miles that his feet never traversed.
To Kant are we indebted for Turgot, that practical and farseeing man of affairs told of in matchless phrase in Thomas Watson's "Story of France," the best book ever written in America, with possibly a few exceptions. Condorcet kept step with him, and Auguste Comte calls Condorcet his spiritual stepfather, and a wit of the time here said, "Then Turgot is your uncle"; and Comte replied, "I am proud of the honor, for if Turgot is my uncle, then indeed am I of royal blood."
Auguste Comte is the one bright particular star amid that milky way of riotous thinkers which followed close upon the destruction of the French Monarchy.
When Napoleon visited the grave of Rousseau, he mused in silence and then said, "Perhaps it might have been as well if this man had never lived."
And Marshal Ney, standing near, said, "It reveals small gratitude for Napoleon Bonaparte to say so." Napoleon smiled and answered, "Possibly the world would be as well off if neither of us had ever lived."
Auguste Comte thought that Napoleon was just as necessary in the social evolution as Rousseau, and that both were needed--and he himself was needed to make the matter plain in print.
* * * * * * *
Auguste Comte was born at Montpelier, France, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-eight. His father was receiver of taxes, an office that carried with it much leisure and a fair income. Men of leisure seldom have time to think--if you want a thing done it is safest and best not to pick a publican. Only busy men have time to do things. The men who have good incomes and work little are envied only by those with a mental impediment.
The boy Auguste owed little to his parents for his peculiar evolution, save as his father taught him by antithesis: the children of drunkards make temperance fanatics, and shiftless fathers sometimes have sons who are great financiers.
When nine years of age, the passion to know and to become was upon Auguste Comte. He was small in stature, insignificant in appearance, and had a great appetite for facts. Comte is a fine refutation of the maxim that infant prodigies fall victims to arrested development.
At twelve years of age he was filled with the idea that the social order was all wrong. To the utter astonishment of his parents and tutors, he argued that the world could not be bettered until mankind was taught the lesson that history, languages, theology and polite etiquette were not learning at all; and as long as educated men centered on these things, there was no hope for the race.
The birch was brought in to disannex the boy from his foolishness, but this only seemed to make him cling the closer to what he was pleased to call his convictions.
He read books that wearied the brains of grown-ups, and took a hearty interest in the abstruse, the obscure and the complex.
At thirteen, that peculiar time when the young turn to faith, this perverse rareripe was so filled with doubt that it ran over and he stood in the slop. He offered to publicly debate the question of Freewill with the local curé; and on several occasions stood up in meeting and contradicted the preacher.
His parents, thinking to divert his mind from abstractions to useful effort, sent him to the Polytechnic School at Paris, that excellent institution founded by Napoleon, which served America most nobly as a model for the Boston School of Technology, only the French "Polytechnique" was purely a government institution--a sample of the Twentieth Century sent for the benefit of the Nineteenth.
But institutions are never much beyond the people--they can not be, for the people dilute everything until it is palatable. Laws that do not embody public opinion can never be enforced. No man who expresses himself is really much ahead of his time--if he is, the times snuff him out, and quickly.
In Eighteen Hundred Fourteen, the Polytechnic School was well saturated with the priestly idea of education, and the attempt was made to produce an alumni of cultured men, rather than a race of useful ones.
Revolt was rife in the ranks of the students. It is still debatable whether revolution and riot in colleges are actuated by a passion for truth or a love of excitement. Anyway, the "Techs" laid deep places to the effect that when a certain professor appeared at chapel, a unique reception would be in store for him.
He appeared, and a fusillade of books, rulers and ink-wells shot at his learned head from every quarter of the room. Other professors appeared and sought to restore order. Riot followed--seats were torn up, windows broken, and there was much loud talk and gesticulation peculiarly Gallic.
It was Ninety-three done in little.
Instead of expelling the delinquents, the National Assembly took the matter in hand and simply voted to close the school.
Auguste Comte went home a hero, proud as a Heidelberg student, with a sweeping scar on his chin and the end of his nose gone. "I have dealt the Old Education its deathblow," he solemnly said, mistaking a cane-rush for a revolution.
Against the direct command of his parents, he went back to Paris. He had now reached the mature age of eighteen. He resolved to write out truth as it occurred to him, and incidentally he would gain a livelihood by teaching mathematics.
At Paris, the mental audacity of the youth won him recognition; he picked up a precarious living, and was a frequenter at scientific lectures and discussions, and in gatherings where great themes were up for debate, he was always present.
Benjamin Franklin was his ideal. In his notebook he wrote this: "Franklin at twenty-five resolved he would become great and wise. I now vow the same at twenty." He had five years the start!
Franklin, calm, healthy, judicial, wise--the greatest man America has produced--worked his philosophy up into life. He did not think much beyond his ability to perform. To him, to think was to do. And he did things that to many men were miracles.
Comte once said, "I would have followed the venerable Benjamin Franklin through the street, and kissed the hem of the homespun overcoat, made by Deborah." These men were very unlike. One was big, gentle, calm and kind; the other was small, dyspeptic, excitable and full of challenge. Yet the little man had times of insight and abstraction, when he tracked reasons further than the big, practical man could have followed them.
Franklin's habit of life--the semi-ascetic quality of getting your gratification by doing without things--especially pleased Comte. He lived in a garret on two meals a day, and was happy in the thought that he could endure and yet think and study. The old monastic impulse was upon him, minus the religious features--or stay! why may not science become a religion? And surely science can become dogmatic, and even tyrannically build a hierarchy on a hypothesis no less than theology.
A friend, pitying young Comte's hard lot, not knowing its sweet recompense, got him a position as tutor in the household of a nobleman; like unto the kind man who caught the sea-gulls roosting on an iceberg, and in pity, transferred them to the warm delights of a compost-pile in his barnyard.
Comte held the place for three weeks and then resigned. He went back to the garret and sweet liberty--having had his taste of luxury, but miserable in it all--wondering how a gavotte or a minuet could make a man forget that he was living in a city where thirty thousand human beings were constantly only one meal beyond the sniff of starvation.
At this time Comte came into close relationship with a man who was to have a very great influence in his life--this was Count Henri of Saint-Simon, usually spoken of as Saint-Simon.
Saint-Simon was rich, gently proud, and fondly patronizing. He was a sort of scientific Męcenas--and be it known that Męcenas was a poet and philosopher of worth, and one Horace was his pupil.
Saint-Simon was an excellent and learned man who wrote, lectured and taught on philosophic themes. He had a garden-school, modeled in degree after that of Plato. Saint-Simon became much interested in young Comte, invited him to his classes, supplied him books, clothing, and tickets to the opera. Part of the time Comte lived under Saint-Simon's roof, and did translating and copying in partial payment for his meal-ticket. The teacher and the pupil had a fine affection for each other. What Comte needed, he took from Saint-Simon as if it were his own.
In writing to friends at this time, Comte praises Saint-Simon as the greatest man who ever lived--"a model of patience, generosity, learning and love--my spiritual father!" There was fifty years' difference in their ages, but they studied, read and rambled the realm of books together, with mutual pleasure and profit.
The central idea of the "Positive Philosophy" is that of the three stages through which man passes in his evolution. This was gotten from Saint-Simon, and together they worked out much of the thought that Comte afterward carried further and incorporated in his book.
But about this time, Saint-Simon, in one of his lectures, afterward printed, made use of some of the thoughts that Comte had expressed, as if they were his own--and possibly they were. There is no copyright on an idea, no caveat can be filed on feeling, and at the last there is no such thing as originality, except as a matter of form.
Young Comte now proved his humanity by accusing his teacher of stealing his radium. A quarrel followed, in which Comte was so violent that Saint-Simon had to put the youth out of his house.
The wrangles of Grub Street would fill volumes: both sides are always right, or wrong--it matters little, and is simply a point of view. But the rancor of it all, if seen from heaven, must serve finely to dispel the monotony of the place--a panacea for paradisiacal ennui.
From lavish praise, Comte swung over to words of bitterness and accusation. Having sat at the man's table and partaken of his hospitality for several years, he was now guilty of the unpardonable offense of ridiculing and berating him.
He speaks of the Saint as a "depraved quack," and says that the time he spent with him was worse than wasted. If Saint-Simon was the rogue and pretender that Comte avers, it is no certificate of Comte's insight that it took him four years to find it out.
* * * * * * *
In Eighteen Hundred Twenty-five Comte married. The ceremony was performed civilly, on a sudden impulse of what Schopenhauer would call "the genius of the genus." The lady was young, agreeable; and having no opinions of her own, was quite willing to accept his. Comte congratulated himself that here was virgin soil, and he laid the flattering unction to his soul that he could mold the lady's mind to match his own. She would be his helpmeet. Comte had not read Ouida, who once wrote that when God said, "I will make a helpmeet for him," He was speaking ironically.
Comte had associated but very little with women--he had theories about them. Small men, with midget minds, know femininity much better than do the great ones. Traveling salesmen, with checkered vests, gauge women as Herbert Spencer never could.
Comte's wife was pretty and she was astute--as most pretty women are. John Fiske, in his lecture on "Communal Life," says that astute persons add nothing of value to the community in which they live--their mission being to be the admired glass of fashion for the non-cogitabund. The value of astuteness is that it protects us from the astute.
Samuel Johnson and his wife had their first quarrel on the way from the church, and Auguste Comte and his wife tiffed going down the steps from the notary's. Comte had no use for ecclesiastical forms, and the lady agreed with him until after the notary had earned his fee. Then she suddenly had qualms, like those peculiar ladies told of by Robert Louis Stevenson, who turn the Madonna's face to the wall.
The couple went to Montpelier on their wedding-tour, to visit Comte's parents. The new wife agreed with the old folks on but one point--the marriage should be solemnized by a priest. Having won them on this point, they stood a solid phalanx against the husband; but the lady took exceptions to Montpelier on all other grounds--she hated it thoroughly and said so.
Instead of molding her to his liking, Comte was being kneaded into animal crackers for her amusement.
Then we find him writing to a friend, confessing that his hopes were ashes; but in his misery he grows philosophical and says, "It is all good, for now I am driven back to my work, and from now on my life is dedicated to science."
No doubt the lady was as much disappointed in the venture as was the husband, but he, being literary, eased his grief by working it up into art, while her side of the story lies buried deep in silence glum.
In choosing the names of philosophers for this series, no thought was given in the selection beyond the achievements of the men. But it now comes to me with a slight surprise that seven out of the twelve were unmarried, and probably it would have been as well--certainly for the wives--if the other five had remained bachelors, too. Xantippe would have been the gainer, even if Socrates did miss his discipline.
To center on science and devote one's thought to philosophy produces a being more or less deformed. There is great danger in specialization: Nature sacrifices the man in order to get the thing done. Abstract thought unfits one for domestic life; for, to a degree, it separates a man from his kind.
The proper advice to a woman about to marry a philosopher would be, "Don't!"
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The advantage of a little actual hardship in one's life is that it makes existence real and not merely literary. Comte was inclined to thrive on martyrdom. His restless, eager mind invented troubles, if there were no real ones, but he was wise enough to know this, as he once said: "The trials of life are all of one size--imaginary pains are as bad as real ones, and men who have no actual troubles usually conjure forth a few. Thus far, happily, I am not reduced to this strait."
We thus see that the true essence of philosophy was there. Comte got a gratification by dissecting, analyzing and classifying his emotions. All was grist that came to his mill.
When he was twenty-eight the Positive Philosophy had assumed such proportions in his mind that he announced a course of twelve lectures on the subject.
He was jealous of his discoveries, and was intent on getting all the credit that was due him. Money he cared little for; power and reputation to him were the only gods worth appeasing. The thought of domestic joy was forever behind, but philosophy came as a solace. A prospectus was sent out and tickets were issued. The landlady where he boarded offered her parlor and her boarder, second floor back, for the benefit of science. Several zealous denizens of the Latin Quarter made a canvass, and enough tickets were sold so that the philosopher felt that at last the world was really at his feet.
When the afternoon for the first lecture arrived, no carriages blocked the street, and as only about half of those who had purchased tickets appeared, the difficulties of the landlady and her nervous boarder were much lessened.
There was one man at this first lecture who was profoundly impressed, and if we had his testimony, and none other, we might well restrain our smiles. That man was Alexander von Humboldt. In various passages Humboldt does Comte the honor of quoting from him, and in one instance says, "He has summed up certain phases of truth better than they have ever been expressed before."
Little did the landlady guess that her crusty, crabbed boarder was firing a shot that would be heard 'round the world, and surely the gendarme on that particular beat never heard it--so small and commonplace are the beginnings of great things!
Comte was so saturated with this theme--so immersed in it--that it consumed him like a fever. Three lectures were given, but at the third, without warning, the man's nerves snapped--he stopped, sat down, and the audience filed out perplexed, thinking they had merely seen an exhibition of one of the eccentricities of genius. The philosopher's mind was a blank, and kind friends sent him away to a hospital.
It was two years before he regained his reason. The enforced rest did him good. Nervous Prostration is heroic treatment on the part of Nature. It is an intent to do for the man what he will never do for himself.
* * * * * * *
Unkind critics, hotly intent on refuting the Positive Philosophy, seized upon the fact of Comte's mental trouble and made much of it. "Look you!" said they, "the man is insane!"
This is convenient, but not judicial. Comte's philosophy stands or falls on its own merits, and what the author did before, after, or during the writing of his theses matters not. Madmen are not mad all the time, and the fact that Sir Isaac Newton was for a time unbalanced does not lessen our regard for the "Principia," nor consign to limbo the law of gravitation. Ruskin's work is not the less thought of because the man had his pathetic spells of indecision. Martin Luther had visions of devils before he saw the truth, and Emerson's love for Longfellow need not be disparaged because he looked down on his still, white face and said, "A dear gentle soul, but I really can not remember his name."
Men write on physiology, and then die, but this does not disprove the truth they expressed, but failed, possibly, to fully live. The great man always thinks further than he can travel--even the rest of us can do that. We can think "Chicago" in a second, but to go there takes time, strength and money.
When Comte's mental trouble was at its height, and two men were required to care for him, Lamennais persuaded his wife to have their marriage solemnized by the Church, and this was done. This performance was such a violation of sanctity and decency that in after-years Comte could not believe it was true, until he consulted the church records. "They might as well have had me confirmed," said Comte, grimly. And we can well guess that the action did not increase his regard for either his wife or the Church. The trick seems quite on a par with that of the astute colored gentleman who anxiously asks for love-powders at the corner drugstore; or the good wives who purchase harmless potions from red-dyed rogues to place in the husband's coffee to cure him of the liquor habit.
However, the incident gives a clew to the mental processes of Madame Comte--she would accomplish by trickery what she had failed to do by moral suasion, and this in the name of religion!
Two years of enforced rest, and the glowing mind of the philosopher awoke with a start. He rubbed his eyes after his Rip-Van-Winkle sleep, and called for his manuscripts--he must prepare for the fourth lecture!
The rest of the course was given, and in Eighteen Hundred Thirty the first volume of Positive Philosophy was issued.
The sixth and last volume appeared in Eighteen Hundred Forty-two--twelve years of intense application and ceaseless work. This was the happiest time of Comte's life; he had the whole scheme in his head from the start, but he now saw it gradually taking form, and it was meeting with appreciation from a few earnest thinkers, at least. His services were in demand for occasional lectures on scientific subjects. In astronomy, especially, he excelled, and on this theme he was able to please a popular assembly.
The Polytechnic School had now grown to large proportions, and the institution that Comte had helped to slide into dissolution now called him back to serve as examiner and professor.
The constant misunderstandings with his wife had increased to such a point that both felt a separation desirable. Married people do not separate on slight excuse--they go because they must. That Comte thought much more of the lady when they were several hundred miles apart than when they were together, there is no doubt. He wrote to her at regular intervals, one-half of his income was religiously sent to her, and he practised the most painstaking economy in order that he might feel that she was provided for.
One letter, especially, to his wife reveals a side of Comte's nature that shows he had the instinct of a true teacher. He says, "I hardly dare disclose the sweet and softened feeling that comes over me when I find a scholar whose heart is thoroughly in his work."
The Positive Philosophy was taken up by John Stuart Mill, who wrote a fine essay on it. It was Mill who introduced the work to Harriet Martineau. Mr. and Mrs. Mill had intended to translate and condense the philosophy of Comte for English readers, but when Miss Martineau expressed her intention of attempting the task, they relinquished the idea, but backed her up in her efforts.
Miss Martineau condensed the six volumes into two, and what is most strange, Comte thought so well of the work that he wrote a glowing acknowledgment of it.
The Martineaus were of good old Huguenot stock, and the French language came easy to Harriet. For the plain people of France she had a profound regard, and being sort of a revolutionary by prenatal instincts, Comte's work from the start appealed to her. James Martineau had such a bristling personality--being very much like his sister Harriet--that when this sister wrote a review of a volume of his sermons, showing the fatuity and foolishness of the reasoning, and calling attention to much bad grammar, the good man cut her off with a shilling--"which he will have to borrow," said Harriet.
James hugged the idea to his death that his sister had insulted his genius--"But I forgive her," he said, which remark proves that he hadn't, for if he had, he would not have thought to mention the matter. James Martineau was a great man, but if he had been just a little greater he would have taken a profound pride in a sister who was so sharp a shooter that she could puncture his balloon. James Martineau was a theologian; Harriet was a Positivist. But Positivity had a lure for him, and so there is a long review, penned largely with aqua fortis, on Miss Martineau's translation, done by her brother for the "Edinburgh Review," wherein Harriet is not once mentioned.
When Robert Ingersoll's wife would occasionally, under great stress of the servant-girl problem, break over a bit, as good women will, and say things, Robert would remark, "Gently, my dear, gently--I fear me you haven't yet gotten rid of all your Christian virtues."
The Reverend Doctor James Martineau never quite got rid of his Christian virtues, which perhaps proves that a little hate, like strychnin, is useful as a stimulant when properly reduced, for Doctor Martineau died only a few years ago, having nearly rounded out a century run.
Harriet Martineau was in much doubt about how Comte would regard her completed work, but was greatly relieved when he gave it his unqualified approval. On his earnest invitation she visited him in Paris. Fortunately, she did not have to resort to the Herbert Spencer expedient of wearing ear-muffs for protection against loquacious friends. She liked Comte first-rate, until he began to make love to her. Then his stock dropped below par.
Comte was always much impressed by intellectual women. His wife had given him a sample of the other kind, and caused him to swing out and idealize the woman of brains.
So that, when Harriet Martineau admired the Positive Philosophy, it was proof sufficient to Comte of her excellence in all things. She knew better, and started soon for Dover.
Mr. and Mrs. Mill had called on Comte a few months before, and given him a glimpse of the ideal--an intellectual man mated with an intellectual woman. But Comte didn't see that it was plain commonsense that made them great. Comte prided himself on his own commonsense, but the article was not in his equipment, else he would not have put the blame of all his troubles upon his wife. A man with commonsense, married to a woman who hasn't any, does not necessarily forfeit his own.
Mr. or Mrs. Mill would have been great anywhere--singly, separately, together, or apart. Each was a radiant center. Weakness multiplied by two does not give strength, and naught times naught equals naught.
* * * * * * *
Having finished the Positive Philosophy, Comte's restless mind began to look around for more worlds to conquer.
In the expenditure of money he was careful, and in his accounts exact; but the making of money and its accumulation were things that to him could safely be delegated to second-class minds. A haughty pride of intellect was his, not unmixed with that peculiar quality of the prima donna which causes her to cut fantastic capers and make everybody kiss her big toe.
Comte had done one thing superbly well. England had recognized his merit to a degree that France had not, and to his English friends he now made an appeal for financial help, so he could have freedom to complete another great work he had in his mind. To John Stuart Mill he wrote, outlining in a general way his new book on a social science, to be called "The Positive Polity." It was, in a degree, to be a sequel to the Positive Philosophy.
Mill communicated with Grote, the banker, known to us through his superb history of Greece, and with the help of George Henry Lewes and a mite from Herbert Spencer to show his good-will, a purse equal to about twelve hundred dollars was sent to Comte.
Matters went along for a year, when Comte wrote a brief letter to Mill suggesting that it was about time for another remittance. Mill again appealed to Grote, and Grote, the man of affairs, wrote to his Paris correspondent, who ascertained that Comte, now believing he was free from the bread-and-butter bugaboo, was giving his services to the Polytechnic, gratis, and also giving lectures to the people wherever some one would simply pay for the hall.
To advance money to a man that he might write a book showing how the nation should manage its finances, when the author could not look after his own, reminded Grote of the individual who wrote from the Debtors' Prison to the Secretary of the Exchequer, giving valuable advice. All publishers are familiar with the penniless person who writes a book on "How to Achieve Success," expecting to achieve success by publishing it.
Grote wrote to Mill, expressing the wholesome truth that the first duty of every man was to make a living for himself--a fact which Mill states in "On Liberty." Mill hadn't the temerity to pass Grote's maxim along to Comte, and so sent a small contribution out of his own pocket. This was very much like the Indian who, feeling that his dog's tail should be amputated, cut it off a little at a time, so as not to hurt the animal. We have all done this, and got the ingratitude we deserved.
Comte wrote back a most sarcastic letter, accusing Mill and Grote with having broken faith with him.
He now treated them very much as he had Saint-Simon; and in his lectures seldom failed to tell in pointed phrase what a lot of money-grubbing barbarians inhabited the British Isles. To the credit of Mill be it said that he still believed in the value of the Positive Philosophy, and did all he could to further Comte's reputation and help the sale of his books.
* * * * * * *
In Eighteen Hundred Forty-five, when Comte was forty-seven years old, he met Madame Clothilde de Vaux. Her husband was in prison, serving a life-sentence for political offenses, and Comte was first attracted to her through pity. Soon this evolved into a violent attachment, and Comte began to quote her in his lectures.
Comte was now most busy with his "Polity" in collaboration with Madame De Vaux. Her part of the work seems to have been to listen to Comte while he read her his amusing manuscript: and she, being a good woman and wise, praised the work in every part. They were together almost daily, and she seemed to supply him the sympathy he had all of his life so much craved.
In one short year Madame De Vaux died, and Comte for a time was inconsolable. Then his sorrow found surcease in an attempt to do for her in prose what Dante had done for Beatrice in poetry. But the vehicle of Comte's thoughts creaked. The exact language of science when applied to a woman becomes peculiarly non-piquant and lacking in perspicacity and perspicuity. No woman can be summed up in an algebraic formula, and when a mathematician does a problem to his lady's eyebrow, he forgets entirely that femininity forever equals x. Those who can write Sonnets from the Portuguese may place their loves on exhibition--no others should. Sweets too sweet do cloy.
For the rest of his life, Comte made every Wednesday afternoon sacred for a visit to the grave of Madame De Vaux, and three times every day, with the precision of a Mussulman, he retired to his room, locked the door, and in silence apostrophized to her spirit. Comte now continued as industrious as ever, but the quality of his writing lamentably declined. His popular lectures to the people on scientific themes were always good, and his work as a teacher was satisfactory, but when he endeavored to continue original research, then his hazards of mind lacked steady flight.
The Positive Polity degenerated into a dogmatic scheme of government where the wisest should rule. The determination of who was wisest was to be left to the wise ones themselves, and Comte himself volunteered to be the first Pope.
The worship of Humanity would be the only religion, and women would shine as the high priests. Comte thought it all out in detail, and arranged a complete scheme of life, and actually wished to form a political party and overthrow the government, founding a gynecocracy on the ruins. His ebbing mind could not grasp the thought that tyranny founded on goodness is a tyranny still, and that a despotic altruism is a despotism nevertheless. Slavery blocks evolution.
So thus rounded out the life of Auguste Comte--beginning in childhood, he traversed the circle, and ended where he began.
He died in his sixtieth year. M. Littre, his most famous pupil, touchingly looked after his wants to the last, ministered to his necessities, advancing money on royalties that were never due. M. Littre occasionally apologized for the meagerness of the returns, and was closely questioned and even doubted by Comte, who died unaware of the unflinching loyalty of a friendship that endured distrust and contumely without resentment. Such love and patience and loyalty as were shown by M. Littre redeem the race.
The best certificate to the worth of Auguste Comte lies in the fact that, in spite of marked personal limitations and much petty querulousness, he profoundly influenced such men as Littre, Humboldt, Mill, Lewes, Grote, Spencer and Frederic Harrison.
To have helped such men as these, and cheered them on their way, was no small achievement. Comte's sole claim for immortality lies in the Positive Philosophy. The word "positive," as used by Comte, is similar in intent to pose, poise--fixed, final. So, besides a positive present good, Comte believed he was stating a final truth; to-wit: that which is good here is good everywhere, and if there is a future life, the best preparation for it is to live now and here, up to your highest and best. Comte protested against the idea of "a preparation for a life to come"--now is the time, and the place is here.
The essence of Positive Philosophy is that man passes through three mental periods--the Theological or fictitious; the Metaphysical or abstract; the Positive or scientific.
Hence, there are three general philosophies or systems of conceptions concerning life and destiny.
The Theological, or first system, is the necessary starting-point of the human intellect. The Positive, or third period, is the ultimate goal of every progressive, thinking man; the second period is merely a state of transition that bridges the gulf between the first and the third.
Metaphysics holds the child by the hand until he can trust his feet--it is a passageway between the fictitious and the actual. Once across the chasm, it is no longer needed. Theology represents the child; Metaphysics the youth; Science the man.
The evolution of the race is mirrored in the evolution of the individual. Look back on your own career--your first dawn of thought began in an inquiry, "Who made all this--how did it all happen?"
And Theology comes in with a glib explanation: the fairies, dryads, gnomes and gods made everything, and they can do with it all as they please. Later, we concentrate all of these personalities in one god, with a devil in competition, and this for a time satisfies.
Later, the thought of an arbitrary being dealing out rewards and punishments grows dim, for we see the regular workings of Cause and Effect. We begin to talk of Energy, the Divine Essence, and the Reign of Law. We speak, as Matthew Arnold did, of "a Power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness." But Emerson believed in a power that was in himself that made for righteousness.
Metaphysics reaches its highest stage when it affirms "All is One," or "All is Mind," just as Theology reaches its highest conception when it becomes Monotheistic--having one God and curtailing the personality of the devil to a mere abstraction.
But this does not long satisfy, for we begin to ask, "What is this One?" or "What is Mind?"
Then Positivity comes in and says that the highest wisdom lies in knowing that we do not know anything, and never can, concerning a First Cause. All we find is phenomena and behind phenomena, phenomena. The laws of Nature do not account for the origin of the laws of Nature. Spencer's famous chapter on the Unknowable was derived largely from Comte, who attempted to define the limits of human knowledge. And it is worth noting that the one thing which gave most offense in both Comte's and Spencer's works was their doctrine of the Unknowable. This, indeed, forms but a small part of the work of these men, and if it were all demolished there would still remain their doctrine of the known. The bitterness of Theology toward Science arises from the fact that as we find things out we dispense with the arbitrary god, and his business agent, the priest, who insists that no transaction is legal unless he ratifies it.
Men begin by explaining everything, and the explanations given are always first for other people. Parents answer the child, not telling him the actual truth, but giving him that which will satisfy--that which he can mentally digest. To say, "The fairies brought it," may be all right until the child begins to ask who the fairies are, and wants to be shown one, and then we have to make the somewhat humiliating confession that there are no fairies.
But now we perceive that this mild fabrication in reference to Santa Claus, and the fairies, is right and proper mental food for the child. His mind can not grasp the truth that some things are unknowable; and he is not sufficiently skilled in the things of the world to become interested in them--he must have a resting-place for his thought, so the fairy-tale comes in as an aid to the growing imagination. Only this: we place no penalty on disbelief in fairies, nor do we make special offers of reward to all who believe that fairies actually exist. Neither do we tell the child that people who believe in fairies are good, and that those who do not are wicked and perverse.
Comte admits that the theological and metaphysical stages are necessary, but the sooner man can be graduated out of them the better. He brought vast research to bear in order to show the growth and death of theological conceptions. Hate, fear, revenge and doubt are all theological attributes, detrimental to man's best efforts. That moral ideas were an afterthought, and really form no part of theology, Comte emphasized at great length, and shows from much data where these ideas were grafted on to the original tree.
And the sum of the argument is, that all progress of mind, body and material things has come to man through the study of Cause and Effect. And just in degree as he has abandoned the study of Theology as futile and absurd, and centered on helping himself here and now, has he prospered.
Positivism is really a religion. The object of its worship is Humanity. It does not believe in a devil or any influence that works for harm, or in opposition to man. Man's only enemy is himself, and this is on account of his ignorance of this world, and his superstitious belief in another. Our troubles, like diseases, all come from ignorance and weakness, and through our ignorance are we weak and unable to adjust ourselves to conditions. The more we know of this world the better we think of it, and the better are we able to use it for our advancement.
So far as we can judge, the Unknown Cause that rules the world by unchanging laws is a movement forward toward happiness, growth, justice, peace and right. Therefore, the Scientist, who perceives that all is good when rightly received and rightly understood, is really the priest or holy man--the mediator and explainer of the mysteries. As fast as we understand things they cease to be supernatural, for the supernatural is the natural not yet understood. The theological priest who believes in a god and a devil is the real modern infidel. Such a belief is fallacious, contrary to reason, and contrary to all the man of courage sees and knows.
The real man of faith is the one who discards all thought of "how it first happened," and fixes his mind on the fact that he is here. The more he studies the conditions that surround him, the greater his faith in the truth that all is well.
If men had turned their attention to Humanity, discarding Theology, using as much talent, time, money and effort to wring from the skies the secrets of the Unknowable, this world would now be a veritable paradise. It is Theology that has barred the entrance to Eden, by diverting the attention of men from this world to another. Heaven is Here.
All religious denominations now dimly perceive the trend of the times, and are gradually omitting theology from their teachings and taking on ethics and sociology instead. A preacher is now simply Society's walking delegate. We are evolving theology out and sociology in. Theology has ever been the foe of progress and the enemy of knowledge. It has professed to know all and has placed a penalty on advancement. The Age of Enlightenment will not be here until every church has evolved into a schoolhouse, and every priest is a pupil as well as a teacher.