Warning to Fellow Travelers


At this point the critical reader will certainly offer an objection. "You have been inviting me," he will say, "to do nothing more or less than trust my senses: and this too on the authority of those impracticable dreamers the poets. Now it is notorious that our senses deceive us. Every one knows that; and even your own remarks have already suggested it. How, then, can a wholesale and uncritical acceptance of my sensations help me to unite with Reality? Many of these sensations we share with the animals: in some, the animals obviously surpass us. Will you suggest that my terrier, smelling his way through an uncoordinated universe, is a better mystic than I?"

To this I reply, that the terrier’s contacts with the world are doubtless crude and imperfect; yet he has indeed preserved a directness of apprehension which  you have lost. He gets, and responds to, the real smell; not a notion or a name. Certainly the senses, when taken at face-value, do deceive us: yet the deception resides not so much in them, as in that conceptual world which we insist on building up from their reports, and for which we make them responsible. They deceive us less when we receive these reports uncooked and unclassified, as simple and direct experiences. Then, behind the special and imperfect stammerings which we call colour, sound, fragrance, and the rest, we sometimes discern a whole fact–at once divinely simple and infinitely various–from which these partial messages proceed; and which seeks as it were to utter itself in them. And we feel, when this is so, that the fact thus glimpsed is of an immense significance; imparting to that aspect of the world which we are able to perceive all the significance, all the character which it possesses. The more of the artist there is in us, the more intense that significance, that character will seem: the more complete, too, will be our conviction that our uneasiness, the vagueness of our reactions to things, would be cured could we reach and unite with the fact, instead of our notion of it. And it is just such an act of union, reached through the clarified channels of sense and unadulterated by the content of thought, which the great artist or poet achieves…

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