Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, , at sacred-texts.com
Honoré de Balzac.
Born 1799; died 1850.
"Perhaps the greatest name in the post-Revolutionary literature of France" [78: 304].
And well summed up by a still more recent writer, W. P. Trent [3: 566]:
"The unexpected," he tells us, "sometimes happens, as I discovered recently when I finished the fiftieth volume of M. Calmann Levy's popular edition of the works of Balzac. I had thought that the completion of Horace's odes and Shakespeare's
plays, and of the 'Odyssey,' marked the three chief epochs in my own intellectual life, and that I might not likely be so stirred, so swept away again, by any book or by any author. But I had erred. Balzac, whose novels taken singly had moved me powerfully, but had not often swept me away, whom I had made a companion of for years without fully comprehending—this Balzac, when viewed in the light of his total and stupendous achievements, suddenly stood out before me in his full stature and might, as one of the few genuine world geniuses that our race can point to with legitimate and unshakable pride. I had emerged from the 'Comédie Humaine' just as I had emerged from the Homeric poems and from the plays of Shakespeare, feeling that I had traversed a world and been in the presence of a veritable creator."
Still another and even more recent writer may be quoted to the same effect. H. T. Peck [128a: 245] sums up the result of his studies as follows: "The place which this great genius must ultimately hold in literary history has not yet been definitely settled. French critics link his name with that of Shakespeare, while English critics seem to think that a comparison like this is very daring. My own belief is that at the last his name will be placed higher still than Shakespeare's, at the very apex of a pyramid of literary fame."
"Search as one may, there is no complete life of Balzac. There are still unpublished letters and papers in the possession of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, a compatriot who thoroughly understood him; but adding these to all that has been written, it is still doubtful if the real man will be found behind them. Expansive at times, yet he withdrew from the knowledge of others. There are periods in his life when he disappears, lies concealed from sight, and each must interpret for himself the secret that made his power and insures his fame."
Balzac put the following words into the mouth of Dante, who he tells us was a "Specialist." Balzac was himself a "Specialist." The words will therefore apply as well to him as to Dante: "And so that poor lad thinks himself an angel exiled from heaven Who among us has the right to undeceive him? Is it I? I who
am so often lifted above this earth by magic power; I who belong to God; I who am to myself a mystery? Have I not seen the most beautiful of all angels [the Cosmic Sense] living on this base earth? Is the lad either more or less beside himself than I am? Has he taken a bolder step into faith? He believes; his belief will doubtless lead him into some luminous path like that in which I walk" [9: 263].
That Balzac stood apart from and on a higher plane than ordinary men was divined during his life and has been perceived by thousands since his death. Taine, groping after an explanation of the obvious fact, says: "His instrument was intuition, that dangerous and superior faculty by which man imagines or discovers in an isolated fact all the possibilities of which it is capable; a kind of second sight proper to prophets and somnambules, who sometimes find the true, who often find the false, and who commonly attain only verisimilitude" [6: 12].
G. F. Parsons, in his introduction to "Louis Lambert," comes nearer it when he asks: "Whether the condition [of chronic ecstasy, in which the patient—i.e., Louis Lambert—really Balzac himself—seems withdrawn] may not be the consequence of an illumination so much higher than that vouchsafed mankind at large as to transcend expression—to separate the recipient from intellectual contact with his fellows by revealing to his inner sense untranslatable things" [6: 11].
This last seems to be the simple truth, Balzac, very clearly, having been a well marked case of Cosmic Consciousness. The evidence that he was so resides (1) in the fact of his life as observed by others, and (2) in his own revelations as to his inner self. The first series of facts may be gathered from his biography, compiled by K. P. Wormeley, largely from memoirs written by Balzac's sister Laure—Madame Surville; the second from Balzac's own writings, and chiefly from "Louis Lambert" and "Seraphita." And first as to his outer life as revealing the inner: Miss W. says: "A complete life of Balzac cannot be written at the present time and possibly never can be. Nearly the whole of what he was to himself, what his own being was, what were the
influences that molded it, how that eye that saw the manifold lives of others saw his own life, how that soul which crowned its earthly work with a vision of the living word was nurtured—what that soul was, in short, has been concealed from sight" [4: 1]. "In all estimates of Balzac's nature attention must be paid to the fact that he was eminently sound and healthy in mind and body. Though his spirit rose to regions that could be reached only by intuition, and ruminated over problems the study of which we associate with fragility of body and aloofness from things of life, he was at the same time, and quite as thoroughly, a man with human instincts, loving life and enjoying it. In this lies, no doubt, one of the secrets of his power. It was a part of the many-sidedness of his genius; it enabled him to actually live and have his being in the men and women whom he evoked from the depths and heights of human nature. His temperament was, above all things, genial and his humor gay; no pressure of worldly anxiety and debt, no crushing toil, no hidden grief, with which the man, like the child in his cell, was acquainted, could destroy that healthy cheerfulness or prevent the rebound into hearty or even jovial gaiety. 'Robust' is the word that seems to suit him on the material side of his nature, applying even to his mental processes. He was gifted with a strong common sense, which guided his judgment on men and circumstances" [4: 58–9].
While still very young Balzac decided to be a writer. It seems that he felt, even as a boy, that he was destined to do something great in that line, and he composed at school, among other things, a treatise on the will and an epic poem. Later he wrote at Paris, in the course of ten years, mostly over the pseudonym of "Horace de Saint Aubin," some forty volumes, said to be almost entirely valueless. A good authority [106: 87] sums up this episode in Balzac's history as follows: "Before he was thirty years old he had published, under a variety of pseudonyms, some twenty long novels, veritable Grub Street productions, written in sordid Paris attics, in poverty, in perfect obscurity. Several of these "œuvres de jeunesse" have lately been republished, but the best of them are unreadable. No writer ever served harder apprenticeship
to his art, or lingered more hopelessly at the base of the ladder of fame."
Then, at the age of thirty, his genius began to dawn in "Les Chouans" and "Physiologie du Marriage." He must have entered Cosmic Consciousness about the early part of 1831, when thirty-two years of age, since "Louis Lambert" (which was undoubtedly conceived immediately after illumination) was written in 1832. By 1833, when he was thirty-four years of age, he had entered into full possession of his true life, a presentiment of which had dominated him from early boyhood.
Madame Surville says: "It was not until 1833, about the time of the publication of the "Médecin de Campagne," that he first thought of collecting all his personages together and forming a complete society. The day when this idea burst upon his mind was a glorious day for him. He started from the Rue Cassini, where he had taken up his abode after leaving the Rue de Tournon, and rushed to the faubourg Poissonniere, where I was then living.
"'Make your bow to me,' he said to us, joyously; 'I am on the highroad to become a genius!'
"He then unfolded his plan, which frightened him a little, for no matter how vast his brain might be, it needed time to work out a scheme like that.
"'How glorious it will be if I succeed,' he said, walking up and down the room. He could not keep still; joy radiated from every feature. 'I'll willingly let them call me a maker of tales, all the while that I am cutting stones for my edifice. I gloat in advance over the astonishment of those nearsighted creatures as they see it rise'" [4: 83].
It seems likely, judging from Madame Surville's report, that Balzac was either in the state of Cosmic Consciousness during this visit to her, or had recently been so.
A writer already quoted [106:87] describes, no doubt correctly, in the following words, what Balzac's scheme now was, and it is worth noting that to all intents and purposes it was the same
as that conceived and attempted (each for his own world) by Dante, "Shakespeare" and Whitman:
"Balzac proposed to himself to illustrate by a tale or a group of tales every phase of French life and manners during the first half of the nineteenth century. To be colossally and exhaustively complete—complete not only in the generals but in the particulars—to touch upon every salient point, to illuminate every typical feature, to reproduce every sentiment, every idea, every person, every place, every object, that has played a part, however minute, however obscure, in the life of the French people."
Here is a description of him in the early thirties by Lamartine:
He was stout, solid, square at the base and across the shoulders. The neck, chest, body and thighs were powerful, with something of Mirabeau's amplitude, but without heaviness. His soul was apparent, and seemed to carry everything lightly, gaily, like a supple covering, not in the least like a burden. His size seemed to give him power, not to deprive him of it. His short arms gesticulated easily; he talked as an orator speaks. His voice resounded with the somewhat vehement energy of his lungs, but it had neither roughness nor sarcasm nor anger in it; his legs, on which he rather swayed himself, bore the torso easily; his hands, which were large and plump, expressed his thought as he waved them. Such was the outward man in that robust frame. But in presence of the face it was difficult to think of the structure. That speaking face, from which it was not easy to remove one's eye, charmed and fascinated you; his hair was worn in thick masses; his black eyes pierced you like darts dipped in kindliness; they entered confidingly into yours like friends. His cheeks were full and ruddy; the nose well modeled, though rather long; the lips finely outlined, but full and raised at the corners; the teeth irregular and notched. His head was apt to lean to one side, and then, when the talk excited him, it was lifted quickly with an heroic sort of pride.
But the dominant expression of his face, greater than even that of intellect, was the manifestation of goodness and kindheartedness. He won your mind
It has been said of Balzac: "He was an illumination thrown upon life."
He was an illustration of his own dictum: "All we are is in the soul" ("nous ne sommes que par l’aine"), and a question of his to a friend touches closely upon the thesis of this volume:
A glance at a few of his letters to an intimate friend at the period will throw light on our present inquiry:
"August, 1833. The 'Médecin de Campagne' will reach you next week. It has cost me ten times the work that 'Louis Lambert' did. There is not a sentence, not an idea, which has not been viewed and reviewed, read and reread, and corrected; the labor was frightful. I may now die in peace. I have done a great work for my country. To my mind it is better to have written this book than to have made laws and to have won battles. It is the gospel in action" [4: 143].
"October, 1833. Do you know how the 'Médecin' has been received? By a torrent of insults. The three newspapers of my own party which have spoken of it have done so with the utmost contempt for the work and its author" [4: 143].
"December, 1835. Never has the torrent which bears me onward been so rapid; no more terribly majestic work has ever compelled the human brain. I go to my toil as a gambler to cards. I sleep only five hours and work eighteen; I shall end by killing myself" [4: 145].
Like all men of his class—i.e., like all men glorified by the divine spark which is the subject of this poor volume—Balzac was greatly loved by those who were brought in contact with him.
It has been said: "Few writers have been greater than Balzac in the exhibition of the moral qualities." But says Goethe: "Wenn ihr nicht füllt ihr Werdet's nicht erjagen." If a man is destitute of a given faculty it is useless for him to attempt to describe it.
How is it that, as Hugo says, "A genius is an accursed man?" That the men having the greatest qualities are precisely those men who are accredited with the absence of these? And, to come back to Balzac, why should it be doubted that this man—who gave every proof of moral greatness—was great by his moral as well as his intellectual qualities? Simply because it is easier to misunderstand than to understand men of his class, and because when we do not understand we incline to infer the worst rather than the best.
The fact is, as has been said: "Balzac is a moralist, the greatest moralist of the nineteenth century, one who does not preach but shows the truth" [4: 178].
So Bacon, although in his prose works he may be said to preach, yet these works were intended as merely introductory to others which were to show the truth. In the "Plan" of his life work, the "Instauratio Magna," he divides this last into six parts: (I) The division of the sciences, represented by the "De Augmentis"; (II) "The New Organon"; (III) "The Phenomena of the Universe," represented by his natural history books; (IV) "The Ladder of the Intellect," represented by the "Comedies"; (V) "The Forerunners," represented by the "Histories," and (VI) "The New Philosophy," represented by the "Tragedies."
Speaking now [34: 51] of IV (the "Comedies"), and describing the aim of that part, he says that this does not consist of precepts and rules (for, he says, I have given plenty of these in the "Novum Organum"), but of actual "types and models" by which those things which are to be taught are "set as it were before the eyes." Then of VI (the "Tragedies") he says that this part consists not in "mere felicity of speculation," but that it presents (as we know it does) "the real business and fortunes of the human race." "For God forbid," he continues, "that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world; rather may he graciously grant to us to write an apocalypse or true vision of the footsteps of the Creator imprinted on his creatures." Neither did Jesus, nor Whitman, nor any of these men, preach, but they all showed the truth, each in his own way, in his life and in his spoken or written word.
Another trait that seems common to these men—absorption in their own time—has been noted of Balzac. Theophile Gautier dwells at length on what he calls the absolute modernity of Balzac's genius. "Balzac owes nothing," he says, "to antiquity. For him there are neither Greeks nor Romans, nor any trace in the composition of his talent of Homer, or Virgil, or Horace—no one was ever less classic" [4: 170].
"One might suppose that his feelings would have been hurt
when he found the way barred against his entrance to the Academy. But he behaved with dignity and withdrew his name when failure seemed probable. 'The matter does not stir my feelings very much,' he said; 'some persons think not at all, but they are mistaken. If I do get there, so much the better; if I do not, no matter'" [4: 190].
George Sand bears witness of him as follows:
"He searched for treasures and found none but those he bore within him—his intellect, his spirit of observation, his marvellous capacity, his strength, his gaiety, his goodness of heart—in a word, his genius."
"Sober in all respects, his morals were pure; he dreaded excesses as the death of talent; he cherished women by his heart or his head, and his life from early youth was that of an anchorite" [4: 201].
"He has seen all and said all, comprehended all and divined all—how, then, can he be immoral? . . .
"Balzac has been reproached for having no principles because he has, as I think, no positive convictions on questions of fact in religion, art, politics or even love" [4: 203].
This is a highly significant statement. Every one of these people has been judged in the same way by contemporaries. Why? Because they have no opinions or principles in the sense in which their neighbors have them. The things that seem vital to those about them seem to them of no import. And the things that are of value to them are out of sight of the rest.
Here is Gautier's evidence as to the kind of man he was (it ought to be quoted in full, but that is impossible in this place):
He boasted, .showing me his spotless sleeves, that he never dropped the least spot of ink upon it; "for," he added, "a true literary man ought to be clean at his work."
Then, after describing other features, Gautier goes on:
Strange as it may seem to say so in the nineteenth century, Balzac was a seer. His power as an observer, his discernment as a physiologist, his genius as a writer, do not sufficiently account for the infinite variety of the two or three thousand types which play a rôle more or less important in his human comedy. He did not copy them: he lived them ideally. He wore their clothes, contracted their habits, moved in their surroundings, was themselves, during the necessary time [4:204–8].
As another man of the same class says of himself: "I am a free companion." "My voice is the wife's voice." "I am the hounded slave." "I am an old Artillerist." "I am the mashed fireman." "It is I let out in the morning and barred at night." "Not a youngster is taken for larceny but I go up, too, and am tried and sentenced." "Not a cholera patient lies at the last gasp but I also lie at the last gasp. My face is ash colored, my sinews gnarl, away from me people retreat." "Askers embody themselves in me and I am embodied in them. I project my hat, sit shamefaced and beg." Gautier goes on:
And yet Balzac, immense in brain, penetrating physiologist, profound observer, intuitive spirit, did not possess the literary gift. In him yawned an abyss between thought and form [4: 209].
Here is a curious thing. How is it that these men who form the mind of the race can seldom or never (at least according to their contemporaries) write their own language decently According to Renan (and he does not seem to be contradicted) Paul's
style was about as bad as possible ("sans charme; la forme, en est apre est presvue toujour dénuée de grace") [143: 568].
Mohammed can hardly be said to have written, and in his day and country there was no recognized standard with which to compare his language. The author of the "Shakespeare" drama was for long ranked as a writer below the meanest pamphleteer. And down to the present moment scarcely a man has defended Walt Whitman from the purely literary point of view, while thousands have utterly condemned him.
But the writings of Paul dominate whole continents. Mohammed's utterances hold in spiritual subjection two hundred millions of people. The author of "Hamlet" has been called, and rightly called, "The Lord of Civilization." And Walt Whitman's will probably eventually be seen to be the strongest voice of the nineteenth century.
The seeming anomaly is perhaps easily explained. In each generation there are certain men, who are never large in number, who possess the literary instinct, and there are also certain men who are endowed with Cosmic Consciousness, but there is no reason whatever why the two endowments should unite. If they do so it is a mere accident. The man with the literary instinct writes for the sake of writing. He feels that he has the faculty, and, looking about for a subject, or for one subject after another, he writes upon it or them. The man endowed with Cosmic Consciousness has almost certainly no literary instinct (the chance is millions to one against it), but he sees certain things which he feels he must tell. He simply, with might and main, does the best he can. The importance of his message causes him to be read. His personality, as it becomes recognized, causes everything in immediate connection with him to be admired, and in the end he is perhaps held up as a model of style.
Madame Surville continuing, says: "The attacks against my brother increased rather than lessened; the critics, unable to repeat the same things forever, changed their batteries and accused him of immorality. These accusations were very injurious to my brother; they grieved him deeply, and sometimes they disheartened
him" [4: 242]. The old, old story, but never worn out, never threadbare, always as ready for service, as fresh and, alas! as fatal as ever.
The foregoing few brief extracts suggest the kind of man Balzac was as seen from the outside. It is clear from them, to any one in a position to judge, that he was such a person as might very probably be so endowed, and it only remains to show from his own words—words that could not otherwise have been written—that he was really one of the illuminati—a man possessing the rare and splendid faculty called Cosmic Consciousness.
And first a few short extracts, written by Balzac of himself, and which give us glimpses of the inner man before the oncoming of the Cosmic Sense.
It will be noticed that he, like all men of the class to which he belongs, was religious, though not quite in the orthodox way; these men seldom adhere to a church. A "specialist" may found a religion; he seldom belongs to one. "Specialists" are for religion, not for a religion. So Balzac tells us of himself, under the name of "Louis Lambert:"
The limit which most brains attain was the point of departure from which his was one day to start in search of new regions of intelligence [5:79].
Later he makes this remark about himself:
In his further fragmentary, veiled and mystic narration of the actual oncoming of the Cosmic Sense, it is important, for the present argument, to notice that: (a) He had no idea what had happened to him. (b) He was seized with terror [5: 129]. (c) He
debated seriously with himself whether he was not insane. (d) He considers (or reconsiders) the question of marriage—doubts that it will be "an obstacle to the perfectability of his interior senses and to his flight through the spiritual worlds" [5:131] and seems to decide against it. And, in fact, when we consider the antagonistic attitude of so many of the great cases toward this relation (Gautama, Jesus, Paul, Whitman, etc.), there seems little doubt that anything like a general possession of Cosmic Consciousness must abolish marriage as we know it to-day.
Balzac must have attained to Cosmic Consciousness about 1831 or 1832, at the age of thirty-two or thirty-three. It was at this time he began writing his great books. But it is especially important at present to note that in 1832 he wrote "Louis Lambert" and in 1833 "Seraphita."
In these two books he describes the new sense more fully than it had ever been described elsewhere. In "Louis Lambert" he gives a bold, plain common sense description of it which is especially valuable for our present purpose. Then the next year, after writing that work, he composed "Seraphita," the object of which was to delineate a person who was possessed of the great faculty. The two taken together prove the possession of the faculty by their author. "Seraphita" must be read entire to be understood and appreciated, and so, of course, ought "Louis Lambert"; but the evidence now needed may be obtained from the latter within the compass of a few pages. The extracts are from A. P. Wormley's translation, which has been compared with the original and found faithful.
The greater part of visible humanity—that is, the weaker part—inhabits the sphere of instinctivity. The instinctives
It is, of course, not true that the bulk of the race has simple and not self consciousness. It is in fact the latter that constitutes a given creature a man. But it is true p. 212 (what Balzac means) that with the mass simple consciousness plays a far greater part than self consciousness. The "weaker part" do live in simple far more than in self consciousness.
At abstraction society* begins. Though abstraction as compared with instinct is an almost divine power, it is infinitely feeble compared with the endowment of specialism, which alone can explain God. Abstraction comprises within it a whole nature in germ, as potentially as the seed contains the system of a plant and all its products. From abstraction are derived laws, arts, interests, social ideas. It is the glory and scourge of the world. Glorious, it creates societies; baneful, it exempts man from entering the path of specialism which leads to the infinite. Man judges all things by his abstractions—good, evil, virtue, crime. His formulas of right are his scales, and his justice is blind; the justice of God sees—in that is everything. There are, necessarily, intermediate beings who separate the kingdom of instinctives from the kingdom of the abstractives, in whom instinctivity mixes with abstractivity in endless variety of proportion. Some have more of the former than of the latter, and vice versa. Also there are beings in whom the action of each is neutralized, because both are moved by an equal force [5:142].
* Specialism consists in seeing the things of the material world as well as those of the spiritual world in their original and consequential ramifications. The highest human genius is that which starts from the shadows of abstraction to advance into the light of specialism. (Specialism, species, sight, speculation, seeing all, and that at one glance; speculum, the mirror or means of estimating a thing by seeing it in its entirety). Jesus was a specialist. He saw the deed in its roots and in its products; in the past, which begot it; in the present, where it is manifested; in the future, where it develops;* his sight penetrated the understanding of others. The perfection of the inward sight gives birth to the gift of specialism. Specialism carries with it intuition. Intuition is a faculty of the inner man, of whom specialism is an attribute.
* Note that Balzac is only speaking of Cosmic Consciousness from the point of view of "ideas." He therefore does not tell us here of the moral exaltation which is an essential part of it. He gives that aspect, however, very fully in "Seraphita."
* As says Dante: "Even as earthly minds see that two obtuse angles are not contained in a triangle, so thou [the Cosmic Sense], gazing upon the point to which all times are present, seest contingent things ere in themselves they are" [72: 111.]
* The specialist is necessarily the loftiest expression of man—the link which connects the visible to the superior worlds. He acts, he sees, he feels through his inner being. The abstractive thinks. The instinctive simply acts [5:144].
* Hence three degrees for man. As an instinctive he is below the level; as an abstractive he attains to it; as a specialist he rises above it. Specialism opens to man his true career: the Infinite dawns upon him—he catches a glimpse of his destiny [5: 144].
* The state of Cosmic Consciousness is undoubtedly the highest that we can at present conceive, but it does not follow that there are not higher nor that we may not eventually attain to higher.
* With simple consciousness only man is not yet man—he is the alalus homo. With self consciousness he is what we know him-With Cosmic Consciousness he is as we sea him (or rather do not see him; for who of us really sees these men?) in Jesus, Mohammed, Balzac, Whitman. When the race shall have attained to Cosmic Consciousness, as in the far past it attained to self consciousness, another start will be made on another level. Man will enter into his heritage and into his true work.
Balzac proceeds as follows:
* The "resurrection" is not of the so-called dead, but of the living who are "dead" in the sense of never having entered upon true life.
* The resurrection is brought about by the winds of heaven which sweep the worlds. The angel born upon the blast saith not: "Ye Dead, arise;" he saith, "Arise, ye living" [5:145].
a. We do not know of any day and hour when the Cosmic Sense declared itself.
b. We know nothing about a subjective light.
c. We know that Balzac had the intensely earnest nature and the spiritual aspiration which seems necessarily to precede, though it often exists without leading up to, illumination.
d. We know that Balzac, after a certain age, had the almost preternatural intellectual and moral qualities which are characteristic of the Cosmic Sense.
e. But the proof that Balzac was a case of Cosmic Consciousness rests upon the fact that he has accurately defined and described the mental status so named, and he could not have described the condition if he had not experienced it.
f. He not only describes it in great detail, as in "Louis Lambert," and ascribes it there to himself—for that book is openly
autobiographic; but still more, in "Seraphita" he creates a personality in which the Cosmic Sense is the chief element and in the course of the narrative brings in every characteristic feature of the same, and to do this the possession of the Cosmic Sense was an absolute prerequisite.
g. To any one who realizes what the Cosmic Sense is it is as certain that Balzac possessed it as that he possessed eyesight.