Sacred Texts  Miscellaneous  Index  Previous  Next 

The New Word, by Allen Upward, [1910], at

p. 206



Idealist Science.—1. Oneself.—2. The Changeling.—3. The Gospel of Imagination—4. The Parable of Life.

WE have now made the passage from thoughts to things, or from words to reality. The whirl-swirl is no longer a mathematical figure. We have found it embodied within a greater Whirl-Swirl, without which it could not be.

So far I have spoken of these two realities as the Strength Within and the Strength Without. The names in vulgar use are Soul and God. We see already that it is not the task of the Idealist to prove that there are such things as a Soul and a God. Even if there could be such a thing as proof, it could not prove the beginnings of proof. There are the two points from which we begin to reckon. They are the elements of the mind. To try to prove them is like trying to lift the fulcrum by means of the lever. In establishing these two forethoughts I have worked, not as an idealist, but as an ontologist—as a learner of what words mean. I have been cutting open words and looking inside them, no more than that.

p. 207

The science of the Idealist, like that of his partner, the Materialist, begins with the relationship between these two Strengths.

Science is closer knowledge, and all knowledge is of relations. As I have said, we measure strength by measuring its ways; and those ways are outlined for us by other ways that meet them. The famous command, Know Thyself, is meaningless as it stands, because we can only know the Strength Within by knowing its relations with the Strength Without. Hence Berkeley's puzzle for the atheists was itself the only perfect atheism, inasmuch as it denied the Strength Without.

The two great sciences which meet in my own science measure these relations from opposite points, and that is the right distinction between them. There is a vulgar distinction between them, which ought to be done away with, namely as to the relations which they measure. I may illustrate both by means of the noble saying,—"The Word of God is the creation we behold."

Uttered by the devout Thomas Paine as a rebuke to the idolators of Mediterranean manuscripts, that saying is true. But it is not the whole truth. It is just one-fourth of the truth. As we have seen, the Outer Strength flows in and out of the Inner Strength, whirling as sense, and swirling as emotion. The swirl is as much a revelation as the whirl, and Ideal science is the science of emotion. It is because the manuscripts are a precious record of emotion,

p. 208

that they deserve to be called a revelation, though not to be worshipped as the only revelation. Why did Paine found the Higher Criticism of the Bible? Certainly not because of any prompting from the visible creator, but in obedience to the God Within.

In the second place the creation we behold is not the complete record of the whirl. Of course I do not confine the meaning of the word behold to sight. But it is vulgarly confined to those ways of strength which are detected by the outward organs known as the five senses, or, more carefully speaking, to those ways whose impressions are recorded by the body distinctly enough for us to read. We know that with our narrow sense scale we can only measure a few ways of strength. We mark, as it were, the movement of the minute-hand upon the dial of the All-Thing. But far outside our measures there lags an hour-hand whose slow crawl across utter space shows like changelessness; and far within them there quickens a second-hand whose trip is like a sleep.

From time to time Material science takes new ways of strength into her field of measurement; till when they are exploited by the ignorant. And hence the vulgar error which ranks such thoroughly material quests as those of the mesmerist, the spiritualist and the faith-healer, because they are not acknowledged by Material science, as branches of Ideal science. With such things, true or false, the Idealist has little more to do than with wireless

p. 209

telegraphy or radiant Matter. If there should prove hereafter to be a real Death-Shape, or as the learned would naturally proceed to name it, Necromorph, able to communicate with the living, it could be recognised as a physical organism, and its powers and functions would fall to be investigated by a new branch of physical biology to be called, perhaps, Necrology.

Meanwhile the Idealist has more important business in hand. His business is measuring the swirl. His science is the science of expression. And hence the point he measures from is the turning point Within.


I seem to be in the same case with the wild man who said there was a man inside the steam-engine, and with the learned men who thought there was a man inside their stones and crumbs, although they would not say so. I have been talking of the Inner Strength, when I meant the Man Inside.

It is a very common case to be in, though few of us are so frank about it as the wild man. We have seen how hard the chemists and the physicists tried to hide their men, and how cunningly Euclid hid the man who moved his flying triangle. Man, as Protagoras put it, is the measure of Everything. That is the human equation which no Copernicus can do away with. Man measures all things from himself

p. 210

and by himself; and he speaks most truthfully, though never truly, when he openly confesses his infirmity in his words.

Many efforts have been made to call the Man Inside by Andronican names. I have heard him called the Ego, and I have made the not very difficult discovery that Ego is a Latin word which means I. Whereas the right name would be rather Me-Ego, the Me facing toward the whirl, and the Ego facing toward the swirl. Again I have heard this Man called the Will, which is again the swirl-face without the whirl-face. And I have seen the Will likened to the rudder of a ship. A simile, according to the old logicians, is no argument. There is, unfortunately for them, no other kind of argument, except the thump upon the table. But a bad simile is a bad argument, and I think this of the Will and rudder the worst simile ever used. Only a landsman could have thought of it. A seaman knows that as soon as the Helmsman's hand is taken from the helm, the rudder is the most strengthless part of the ship. It is not even a part of the ship. It is something towed behind.

There is a far more wonderful word than Will, and a far more beautiful; although for a long time many good men have been at work making-believe that it is a very ugly word, and calling it all manner of hard names. I mean Self.

In dealing with this word I seem to have a free hand, for the last word of philology on it is—"The

p. 211

origin is unknown." When I look into it, it opens like a flower-bud, revealing undreamt-of petals. It must behave like that, because it is the seed of words, the first entry in the real lexicon.

Let us not think of word-lore as fixed, nor of words as dead flowers stuck into a book. Let us not think of even their shells as artificial carpentry, like the false coins daily issuing from the Babu mint, or the unheard-of exercises of language-makers. Even the Roman words that have struck true roots into our northern speech did so because they found congenial soil; the water ran where there were channels for it; the marriages were between far-off kinsmen. And so the new clothes partly followed the old fashions, and the old clothes partly followed the new. Let us thank philology, and beware of it.

Some one has guessed that Self is shortened from soul-elf. Now the good men who have said such hard things about Self, are very fond of Soul. What then is Soul?

The learned Latham gives me the old spelling sawel, and leaves me there, with "explanations" which require to be explained by soul. I find the Dutch write it ziel, which makes me think of zeal. But this philology will not allow. English philology has a particular spite against the Dutch, almost as much as against provincial "English. It chooses rather to track zeal through French and Latin back to the Greek zeo, to seethe and boil. And after it has taken all this trouble, it next proceeds to track

p. 212

soul back through a Gothic form of sea to an imaginary Aryan root su, which means much the same thing. So that the Soul is an empty bubble after all.

And what have the good men been doing, then, all this time, in honouring the Soul above the Self. They have kept the bubble, and let go the elf. What a materialistic thing to do! This Soul of theirs is barren steam; it is not life, but energy of motion; and so we are rather steam-engines than men. Why have these good men stunned their minds and ours with such an ugly word?

The word Soul is an ugly word. For though exact philology may be wrong as usual, and soul be neither zeo nor suein, but rather zoe, the strength within the beast, and not the strength within the kettle, yet the Greeks themselves had found a better name than that for the Man Inside. They named him psyche, the breather, and on their tombs they drew him as a butterfly escaping from the chrysalis.

What did our forefathers name him?

Self cannot be soul-elf. That S is far more likely to be the same S that we find in the Latin se, and at the end of English words like his and yours—the sign of ownership. If that is right, the Self would be the Own-Elf, and oneself another way of writing one's elf.

Consider this. That mathematical strength-ball that we drew so carefully was all the while an Elf, hiding in scientific language. Our forefathers had better taste in words than we have. That little elf

p. 213

was their idea. We see him peeping on us, and passing out of sight, between the pages of the child's Bible—those old folk tales that were our Bible once, before the Roman steam-roller had had its way over the Baltic brain.

The fairy word goes on unfolding. To me that elf looks very much like life. One's Life, I hold to be the best interpretation of Self. But one philologist tells me that "elf" is aelf, or half, and another that "life" is a remnant, the Icelandic lifa, what is left. And so if there be any truth in lexicons, the Inner and the Outer Strength are named by these old words one's Own-Half and the Other-Half—the two Halves of the All-Thing.

If that be so, the poor, despised, imprisoned Baltic mind was, after all, more subtle than the Mediterranean mind. Perhaps, during that long time that the Mediterranean mind has been swaggering up and down the world, ferule in hand, dictating to us of points and atoms, universe and unit, the Baltic mind has been secretly whispering to itself—Half.

Such are those old, prophetic words. Such are the jewels, glowing with all the colours of the rainbow, which we have flung away to clutch the ultramontane beads. To me these words seem flowers, which have been snatched from children's hands, and trodden underfoot, but which have seeded in the dust, and are ready to spring up again, and gladden our jaded senses with somewhat of the freshness of the foreworld.

p. 214

They are very old. We do not know how old that little elf is. He is older than Thor and Woden, older than Jupiter and Yahweh, older, it may be, than the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, as old as life itself.


The question of the beginning of One's-Life is the question whether life comes from death, or death from life; and I find this question cannot be answered either way so as to please good men.

Down to about three hundred years ago, every one, good and bad alike, seems to have thought that dead meat could turn into live maggots by itself. Then the Florentine doctor, Redi, showed that dead meat did not turn into live maggots by itself; and he did so very easily, by putting a piece of gauze over the dead meat, and thus keeping off the flies that had laid the eggs that had turned into the live maggots in the meat. This was not Logic, nor Absolute Proof, but it persuaded most people that dead meat did not turn into live maggots by itself.

Now by doing this Redi gave great pain to the good men. They charged him with having limited the power of the Omnipotent. The words seem to unsay themselves;—how can you put bounds to the strength of the All-Strong?—but that is what the good men said Redi had done by putting a piece of gauze between the flies and the dead meat.

p. 215

Next, after a good many years, some other learners thought that Redi might have been mistaken; and they put some dead hay into a bottle, and hoped that it would turn into live mites by itself. You would have thought that the good men who had been so vexed with Redi would have been very pleased with these doubters. Not at all. They were even more angry with them than they had been with Redi. They charged them with trying to dispense with the power of Omnipotence. Think of that; doing without the strength of All Strength!

Which of these Andronican crimes shall I commit?

I think it will be easier to set bounds to the Strength Without than to do away with it altogether. Indeed, I cannot see what is gained by bestowing life on man with the words free-will, and taking it away again with the word omnipotence. How can there be All-Strength and some more strength? If it be true that we are alive, would it not be using better words to say that the Strength Without has partly turned into the Strength Within, which we know as our own strength, and has so far set bounds, however weak, to its own strength. In that old story of creation did not the Creator breathe his own Breath into the Man?

When we look into the question between Redi and those who doubted him, we find very naturally that it has really been, not whether dead hay can turn into live mites by itself, but whether the hay

p. 216

can be really dead, and whether the bottles can be sealed closely and carefully enough to keep out those life-seeds called spores which swarm in the air.

If I were to see hay turning into live mites by itself, I should not call the hay dead. I should guess that it had held life-seeds too small for us to kill. And I might go on to guess that all that which we name "inorganic Matter" was made up of such life-seeds; immeasurable eddies in the whirl-swirl that are still hidden beneath the skirts of sense.

Instead of speaking, as we now speak, of the quick and the dead, it seems to me we shall soon have to speak of the quicker and the slower. Is not this the meaning, and is not this the re-writing more carefully, of that old Rosicrucian language about the sylphs and nymphs and gnomes and salamanders?

When we ask the learned for the beginning of life they show us a wonderful little creature which they name in their bad language amoeba. The amoeba is a little ball of quickstuff which rolls along the seafloor, and as it rolls it feeds on things still smaller than itself. And the way it feeds is this: as soon as it touches what it is going to feed on, it turns inside out round it. And the amoeba's death is more wonderful than its life; for it dies by parting in twain, so that it is not really death which overtakes it, but rather birth. The English name for this little pioneer of Self is the Changeling.

Whence did the Changeling come? Darwin has taught us to look back along the growth of life-shapes,

p. 217

and see everywhere the branching of life. The beast life does not grow out of the plant life, both branch off from the Changeling. From what did the Changeling branch off?

Everywhere as we look round us we see life clothing itself with what we try to think of as dead Matter, but nowhere do we see the dead Matter filling itself with life. We see the skin wrought around the life-strength, we see the bark and rind, we see the coral and the ivory, the wool without and the bones within; but nowhere do we see life-strength wrought by what we call the elements. Everywhere the cell makes the shell, and nowhere does the shell make the cell.

Is not the cell older than the shell; and what we call Life older than what we call Matter?—which is indeed the Shell of Life.

Whence came the Cell? It may be older than we guess. It may not be made up of mud and water after all, any more than gold is made up of the clay and quartz amongst which it lies. It may be of kin with the flame in the bowels of the earth, and with the light on which it feeds, and by which it grows. It may have parted from the sun when the earth parted, and have yet its flaming kindred in the burning orb. The Changeling may have been once a true salamander, that has fallen from its first estate, and forfeited its fiery shape.

p. 218


The story of the elf has no beginning. Has it an end?

Here is one parting of the ways between Materialism and Idealism. The Past is the department of the first, the Future the department of the second. One is looking backward, and the other looking forward. In the fullest sense of the words, the Materialist is a historian, and the Idealist a prophet.

Accordingly one of the tasks which idealists have naturally set themselves has been to make sure that the Life Within them would not die.

They have done this because they hoped to live for ever. It is noteworthy that the greatest mind that has ever worked on behalf of men, the mind of the Buddha, was bent upon the contrary task of making sure that the Life Within could pass away into the Life Without.

The language of the Buddha is the language of his age and country, which is to say that it sounds false to us. But in that language he has reached, the greatest heights ever reached by one man's reason. He has reached to the nature of life, the falsehood of matter, the balance of action and reaction. His gospel is the gospel of those who believe in immortality, and dread it. To them he has shown the Way Out of Eternal Life. He has expounded

p. 219

the great law of metastrophe in terms of good and evil, or of pleasure and pain, pain the reaction of pleasure, and pleasure the reaction of pain. He has taught that these twins are the Atom of life, and that one cannot be destroyed without the other, nor without destroying life itself. He has put before men the choice between Life and Nothing, and invited them to choose Nothing.

I think that no two men have ever had wholly the same religion, and I am sure that no two men ought to. For such as think they want to leave off living, no better gospel than Buddhism is ever likely to be preached. But it is not Idealism. It is Nihilism.

The verihood or falsehood of this gospel is beside the question. For if Idealism be the science of Life, learning by emotion, that cannot be Idealism which preaches the passing away of emotion, and the passing away from Life.

Idealism, as I have said, has set itself instinctively to make sure of Life. Those idealists who have failed in their task, have failed because they were trying to learn from words instead of from the emotions expressed by the words. They hoped to live, but did not see that that hope was their best assurance. If emotion we call hope be true, and sense be true, the tales of Hope and Sense will agree, as they do in the story of the elf. You hope to live for ever, you see that you have lived from ever; what other assurance do you need?—Has not this been better said already by the Swedish poet?—

p. 220

"Every soul that longs and glows
  Toward things that true and noble be,
Bears within its depth, and knows,
  Assurance of eternity."

That is what rightly ought to be called Idealism; and if we are forbidden to call it Science, let us call it Imagination; not talking positively when it talks about deep things; not tapping on the walls of the All-Thing with a hammer, and pronouncing them hollow; but listening at the chinks, with finger on lip, for the murmur of the Beyond. Imagination is the ragamuffin called in by Science to sweep up its breakages. Imagination is the boy upon the steps, who thought that he had found the seed-pearl dropped by the archbishop. The boy is always there, in every age, outside the temple. He does not go into temples, whether in Rome or in Jerusalem. He stays out on the steps, in the sunshine, looking for pearls amongst the dust. Perhaps he does not really find them. Perhaps it is the sunshine that he sees.

He is reverent towards the archbishops while they are listening to God. When they talk back, he does not always join in the responses. He thinks his own thoughts, and he utters them in his own words. That is why, when the archbishops of to-day, muttering their Mediterranean incantations, come to the heart of their mystery, and recite,—Energy of Motion, the boy whispers back,—The Elf Inside.

p. 221


And now if we should widen this definition of life so as to take in, not only oneself, but other selves, and write it as the story of a Thousand Elves and One Elf; if we should speak of these little lives as saying nay to the Yea of that Great Life, within which they move and have their being; in that case our language about the All-Thing will echo the language of Materialism about the Atom, and the Least that we have knowledge of will be a likeness of the Most. Yet it will not be the whole truth about Everything, any more than Thomson's pretty Chinese toy is the whole truth about Nothing.

The good men whom I am fighting have sometime busied themselves with what they call the problem of the origin of Evil. For me there is no such problem, because there is no such Evil as theirs. Evil for me means what I dislike, and it means nothing more. My only problem is how to overcome evil without greater evil, and I find that to be problem enough. In the meantime I am sure that unless I disliked some things I could not like other things, and I could not be alive. If you take away resistance, you take away existence. I agree with the Buddha in his reasoning, albeit not in his hope.

Yet if I were to answer these good men in their own language—which in me would be blasphemous language, if I were tempted into speaking of the

p. 222

[paragraph continues] Man Outside in terms of the Man Inside, I might say to them that the Great Life could not gain an outline except in battle; that the Man Outside could not know himself except by turning one half of his strength against the other half; that what I name Life and they name Universe is One Strength turning into two, by turning inside out, and so, that the Twin Wrestlers of the whirl-swirl are both God.

I think it never wise to hold such language as if it were aught other than a parable. Nor do I deem it the best parable. I am not sure of other lives than mine. I am sure of two strengths, my own strength and the Strength inclosing mine; and from my point of view these other lives about me, with the lives of the good men whom I am fighting, are part of that Outer Strength. So that I am myself the other wrestler, called upon to strive with the Great Wrestler, and up to a certain measure able to prevail; as we may see a tiny eddy on the edge of a vast whirl-pool, going the other way.

He who has watched the iron crumbs drawn into patterns by the magnet; or who in the frostwork on the window pane has apprehended the unknown beauty of the crystal's law, seems to me to have an idea more wholesome to our frail imaginings of the meaning of the Mystery of Life. To me that seems the better parable.

If we discern discord where we ought to discern harmony, let us believe the fault is in our ears and

p. 223

not in the Musician; in our imperfect execution of our own parts, and not in the mind of the Composer. Not for that must we withhold our voices. Though they sound harsh in one ear, they shall sound sweet in another. Not for that must we lie down to sleep with the comfortable assurance that whatever is, is right. There is no is. There is no present tense in the metastrophe of time. The Present is the point at which the Future turns into the Past. Whatever is has been right, and will be wrong.

Let us learn more and more to understand the harmony, and fit our execution to it, but in the meanwhile let us wait on the Conductor. It is not for one string of the harpsichord to refuse to tremble when it is struck, lest it should mar the music of the others. It is not for the least fifer in the crowded orchestra to hold his breath when the Conductor beckons to him, nor to quarrel with his blotted score because it bids him sound too high or low a note. All that is the Composer's business, and he conducts his Opera. The Score was written, he took the Baton into his hand, or ever the foundations of the earth were laid, and all the morning stars sang together.

Are we not better off already than the insect that toils a hundred fathoms deep beneath the wave to build the isle that it shall never see? We at least catch a prophetic glimpse of sunlight, and overhear the rustling of the palms.

Next: 16. Theology: The Painted Window