"The Power of Silence"
by Horatio Dresser
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Horatio Dresser was one of the great American philosophers of the early 20th Century. His books were widely read but few are still in print, and this one has not been available for many, many years. This book was first published in 1895. This eBook contains the full text of the revised 1904 edition.
volume is the first of a series of studies of the inner life the main
purpose of which is twofold. The point of approach is from the side of
practical experience, and the first object is the development of a
practical method. But, incidentally, it is hoped that the facts and
values of this practical study may be of service to philosophy. In
fact, the production of these volumes was begun with the conviction
that philosophy and life may be brought nearer, that practical
interests put new demands upon philosophy; while the practical man may
be greatly benefited by the study of idealistic first principles. Hence
the point of view is midway between the world of exact thinking and the
world of actual living. The interest is not primarily psychological;
nor is it ethical or religious. Yet all of these interests play a part.
That is to say, aside from one's particular faith, there seems to be a
demand for a new science and a new art: the art and science of the
inner life investigated in the freest spirit without regard to specific
doctrines. Such a science has become a necessity because of the failure
of other inquiries to push through to the heart of reality in the inner
world. The art is needed to solve the problems which remain over when
it is a question of the more practical application of the precepts of
ethics, religion, and philosophy. For the conventional systems often
fail to make clear precisely how a man should begin to live the better
The attempt to investigate the inner life in this practical spirit is no doubt subject to difficulties, and many objections are likely to be raised. For a long time to come such investigations will necessarily be of the nature of pioneer work, in which the art will far surpass the science. But the essential is to propose a method and make a beginning. The best that can be said of a book on the subject is that by its aid the reader was enabled to pass beyond it. For the more profoundly one catches the idea the more persistently one will investigate--not books, but the living reality itself. The essential is not the description of experience, nor the theories proposed to account for it; but life as known at first hand, what it means, what one can do with it. It is by recourse to life that one disproves or verifies, as the case may be. To possess life itself is to see that it is primary, while the descriptions of it avail if they send us to the pulsing, surging thing itself.
Some of the volumes in the present series are devoted to the more theoretical bearings of this investigation, others are almost entirely concerned with practical methods. The present volume has brought much evidence that it is of practical value. It is one of the greatest privileges of a lifetime to be able thus to share in the experiences of those who are striving, who are aspiring to live the spiritual life. Moreover, it is significant that those who have been most helped by the book have paid least attention to its verbal or theoretical defects, but have gone straight to the heart of living experience in the manner advised.
The defects of the original edition were due to the fact that it was a first book, and that it was prepared from lecture notes with comparatively few changes. The subject matter was first used in a brief course of lectures delivered in Boston in 1894. The second lecture in the course, "The Immanent God," was then issued in pamphlet form and was incorporated without revision into the volume which was published in May, 1895. The book has been reprinted many times in this country without revision, and a slightly revised edition has been several times reprinted in England.
Since the book was first published a number of important works have appeared by reference to which it is now easier to make the present doctrine clear. While the general character of the book is the same, the language is so much more explicit, and so many improvements have been made that readers of the earlier work will derive an entirely different impression from the present book, which is more than half new. The changes are too numerous to be mentioned here. There were but eight chapters in the original edition; the present book contains fourteen. The second chapter has the same general purpose as the earlier discussion, but is now explicitly theistic.
The five following chapters are largely new end are a decided addition to the volume. The theory of suffering has been revised so as to differentiate it more sharply. The chapters on adjustment and poise have been retained with but few changes. The chapter an self-help has been relieved of certain minor teachings. The following chapter is devoted to a more explicit statement of the method of meditation. The objections which have been raised to this method during the past ten years are also considered. This chapter makes clear the wide distinction between the present theistic philosophy and all mysticisms.
The omission of the Christian aspects of the original discussion has since been made good by the publication of a little volume entitled The Christ Ideal, New York and London, 1901. A simple statement of the general theory of the inner life is contained in a little book entitled, Living by the Spirit, 1900, also issued in pointed letters for the blind by W. B. Wait, 412 Ninth Avenue, New York, 1902; German translation (Das Leben nach dem Geiste) by L. S.; Leipzig, Lotus Verlag, 1904. That little work is far clearer than the earlier volumes. Those who prefer to read a simpler statement before taking up the present discussion, will find that book the best introduction. On the other hand, those who are interested to follow the philosophical problems here barely touched upon will find a much more elaborate treatment of these questions in the maturer volume, Man and the Divine Order, 1903.
THE POINT OF VIEW
NOW that the nineteenth century has ended and scholars are making their estimates of its many tendencies, it is becoming more and more clear that it is to be known as the century of the philosophy of evolution. It has been an eminently practical era, the age of mechanical invention and discovery, and, toward its close, an epoch of sociological inquiry. But the philosophy of evolution came first, and the unprecedented inquiry into causes, sources, origins, prepared the way for the profound interests which marked the transition to the present century. No depart- ment of thought has escaped this reconstructive spirit. It is today a truism to declare that no event or person can be understood apart from environment and from evolutionary history.
Sometimes the inroads of science have seemed to threaten the foundations of man's most sacred faith. But in the end the essentials of faith have been marvellously enriched. The widespread inquiry into customs, traditions, races, and religions has tended toward the unification of all our thinking about mankind. Hence, many distinctions between creeds and doctrines have faded out in the light of the larger sympathy and sense of brotherhood which the inquiry has inspired. A new spirit of tolerance has brought a willingness to admit that, despite all differences in creed and dogma, men who are really in earnest are striving for the same great ends, the world over. The important consideration is to know how far a man has advanced in moral and religious evolution, what manner of life he lives.
This new demand that man shall understand himself in the light of all the causes that have operated to produce him has still more significance when we turn from the outer world to the inner. Thus far, evolutionary science has dealt with man in large part as a physical being. There was a time, in fact, during the middle of the nineteenth century when the entire inquiry seemed to make for materialism. Closer scrutiny of the results showed, however, that the ultimate problems of life, the questions concerning the real nature of existence, the character of the real man, and the like, were left for idealistic philosophy to solve. We now know that to maintain the evolutionary point of view is by no means to be materialistic. At any rate, evolutionary material- ism is a failure. There are decided limits beyond which mere evolutionism has been unable to go. It is difficult also for natural science to advance into the inner world, for science deals with the universal, and the inner life is in a peculiar sense the home of the individual. Even experimental psychology fails in the attempt to discover the true character of the inner life. The most interesting questions are still unanswered when psychology has completed its description of our states of consciousness. In fact psychology as a natural science explicitly disclaims the right to ascertain the values of inner experience or discover the nature of the self. It is necessary, if the search for origins is to be complete, for each man to take up the work where science leaves it, and pursue the investigation by the same fruitful method of systematic research.
are plenty of sceptics to raise objections to any such procedure. It
will be said that the era of morbid self-examination and
conscientiousness will again return. Others will insist that the inner
life is a mystery past finding out. To all this the reply is that man
already lives in and knows much about the inner life. This is no new
venture. It is only a question of substituting more knowledge for less
knowledge. It is the half-way positions of imprisoning
self-consciousness that distress us. There is no inherent danger in
analytical self-knowledge or rational synthesis. The essential is that
such analysis and synthesis shall be thorough. Ordinarily out
self-knowledge stops short of the most important consideration. If we
are to be thorough, we must ask, What is man's ultimate origin? What is
his real environment? Whither is he tending? These are profound
philosophical questions, to be sure. But there are respects in which
they are also problems for experimental investigation. No man is more
truly a child of this practical age than the one who approaches these
issues in the spirit of empirical research.
The essential is to approach the study in the right temper. In a sense the inner life is a gift which all men share. Its universal characteristics each man may verify. What makes it real is the fact that each of us just now possesses it. First of all it is owned and observed as experience. It pulsates, presents new moments even while we observe it. Every man is in possession of clues which will reveal the deeper meanings of this surging stream. For every man has perplexities which have been postponed and postponed, not because they are insoluble but simply because these difficulties have not been met in precisely the situation where they arose. It seems probable that the interest, the problem of the living present is the most direct clue to the larger truth of life as a whole. Hence it is perspective that we need, not the limited point of view of morbid introspection. We must regard our own little moment of life in the same comprehensive spirit wherewith the geologist approaches the phenomena of an epoch in the earth's history. We should view life as a whole, as a tendency amidst a universal environment. In short, we must begin at last to be philosophical.
begin to be philosophical is to be thorough, moderate, painstaking; to
pursue truth wherever it may lead. The venture seems too bold, at first
thought. But again it is profoundly simple, since
it is concerned with the commonest
experiences of life and in a particular sense with
utmost that one individual may do for an other is to state the facts
and laws of life as he apprehends them. That
is, another may
the universal element; it is the particular application which makes it
true. Hence each man must investigate for himself. Hence each man must
think. And thinking is not so hard a task after all. We make it
difficult because we think in borrowed terms, or because we have no
It is essential, then, that at each point in the discussion the reader pause to make the thought his own through quiet realisation of its spirit and its meaning. Let him pause to ask, What does this mean for me? How does it explain, how does it accord or conflict with my experience? Have I ever devoted time and reflection--alone with my deeper self--to realise the full bearing of the profoundest and sublimest truths of life? Have I ever made them my own and actualised them in daily life, or is there still a chasm between theory and practice?
If the reader will keep this practical object constantly in view, unsuspected applications of well-known truths will become apparent before he finishes the volume.
If one is to pass beyond mere self-analysis of the usual sort it is clear, however, that one must be willing to entertain the thought of a fundamental system of realities. To end in a large world one must begin with broad premises. If man's life is environed by a larger Life, he cannot understand himself alone. In deepest truth there is no "alone." Our own experimental observa- tion proves that, first of all. It seems impossible even to outline one's method of investigation without admitting that the presence of an environing Life is the most striking consideration.
that Life shall be called is of course another question. But for one's
self the frank admission must be made at the outset that it is the
presence of the divine Father, without whom the
most elementary fact seems
If the reader names it otherwise--well and good.
It is obviously wiser to be true to all aspects of life as it appears from the angle of one's own temperament and experience than to force all facts into a certain system. The deepest facts are usually slighted, if not excluded, by the latter process. No formula seems large enough to cover all we know and feel. There is an element in experience that usually eludes description. Some experiences can never be told. They are intimately a part of us. They are sacred, and one hesitates to speak of them. Yet one can suggest them, or at least let it be known that in these rarest moments of existence one seemed most truly to live; Only in this way does the soul, that part of us which is most truly individual, find expression. Only in this way does the unfettered soul show its freedom from prejudice and dogma. Allegiance to a person or theory limits one to the particular view of life represented by that person or theory. To claim finality for one's system would be equivalent to affirming that progress shall end with the particular discussion in question. Our theories serve us well while we remember that life itself is larger.
Life, then, is large, let us say once for all, and demands a broad way of thinking about it. Ordinarily, we have no sense of what our total self means, We suffer, and we seek relief. We are absorbed in the present, in its needs and woes, unaware that our whole past lives, our inheritance, and our temperament, may affect this bit of suffering nature which for the moment limits our thought. We live as though time were soon to cease, and prudence would not permit us an hour for quiet reflection.
Yet a new phase, and to some the happiest phase, of life begins when they stop hurried thought, and try quietly to realise what life means as an advancing whole. If life is in some sense one system, can any other interpretation be rational, will the parts ever assume their true relationship in our minds except when viewed in the light of the whole? Possibly our suffering is largely unnecessary. Possibly it has come about because we have failed to adjust our thought to the wholeness of things. At any rate, to take time, at last, to isolate one's self from the rushing tide of daily life and to raise the great questions here proposed, is to begin in earnest to experiment.
From the first, one stands in need of all sorts of conclusions which seem to belong rather to the end. It is one thing to talk about "the power of silence" and another to be able to pause long enough to enjoy it. One is eager to know what that power is. Yet one must first have a basis to stand upon. The fact that a relatively obscure element besets all our thinking about the inner life is no excuse for vagueness. To fall back upon feeling or faith alone will no longer suffice. We are in quest of the whole, and reason is surely a part of life's whole. There is both the hurrying flux of our tantalising consciousness, the part of life which refuses to be still; and there is the persistent conviction that life has a deeper reality which it is the office of calmer thinking to discover. Clearly, we must take life as we find it, and move forward, faithful alike to feeling and to thought.
One fact, however, is clear: experience is best explained at the outset by reference to its environment. If the problem seems too large for us, at first, it would surely prove more difficult if we tried to leap beyond present experience. It is only a question of attaining closer and closer acquaintance with the near at hand. If our logic at last compels us to look beyond immediate experience in search of its basis, then that basis must be such as actual life demands.
The truth is involved in the very nature of the beings and things by which we are surrounded. It only needs to be evolved or made explicit. All power is immanent, it works through something. Man should not look beyond his own nature, his temperament, inheritance, education, until he is compelled to do so in order to find an adequate explanation of his experience. He should have a clear conception of the closely related events out of which his life has proceeded, as the river is enlarged and shaped in its course by its tributaries and the country through which it flows, yet never rises higher than its source. In a word, he must know his origin, both immediate and remote. He must start with personal experience, but should not stop until he has traced it to the Source beyond which thought cannot go.
The point of view of this book, then, is explicitly empirical. By the term "empirical" as here used is meant that our existence in the universe is made known through experience, and that by studying experience, testing our theories by further experience, and keeping close to the assured results, we may not only solve our practical problems but gain knowledge of life as a whole. That is to say, experience brings changes. We reflect upon those changes and experiment. By experiment we learn what theories are sound and piactical, what are absurd. The purpose of out theories is to explain experience, and further experience, rationally tested, shows whether or not we have succeeded. Each of us possesses experience and each man may experiment for himself. Experience means much or little according to the degree of individual experiment. To gain more knowledge of the sort that is really worthwhile a man must put more theories to the test, observe more acutely, think more seriously.
It may well be that experience as individually made known to us is unable fully to account for itself. Something more than mere description is called for. The question, What is the nature of experience? leads directly to idealistic analysis and ultimately to some sort of constructive idealism, that is, a systematic restatement of the data of experience in terms of reason. But we are not here concerned with the ultimate unification of the data of experience. Nor are we concerned with the more theoretical evidences for idealism. To be sure, we must introduce certain arguments, for example, a plea for the immanence of God. But the chief value of these arguments will be found in their practical empirical bearings. That is, the argument for the divine immanence, or for the idealistic interpretation of experience, will serve as a central line of thought by the pursuit of which the reader may follow the developments of his own experience. In other words, it is the value or meaning which the reader attributes to the argument that is of consequence. The first-hand evidence is of more import than the theoretical description. But once in fuller possession of the empirical evidence, one is in a position to follow the philoso- phical implications much further than the present arguments carry them.
Three important distinctions are involved in this brief outline. (1) First there is the question of fact. For example, there is experience of a religious type, an emotional uplift or sense of worship. (2) There is the particular theory brought forward to account for the fact. If you are a pantheist, you will conclude that in the ineffable religious moment you are identical with the "Absolute." But if you are a theist, you will revere God as the Father and indulge in no mystical theories of identification. (3) Further more there are the practical values which you attach to the facts. If you conclude that God is the Father, your conduct will differ greatly from that of the mystic. In the end, it is undoubtedly the values which we attribute to experience that influence us most. For values are ideals, and we develop by means of ideals. Ordinarily it is only the technical philosopher who distinguishes thus sharply between facts, theories, and values. But the distinction is plainly of great importance. Very few people know what a fact is. The majority read their opinions into the given matters of experience and mistake what they want to believe for what is so. But one can make little headway in the endeavour to understand experience without constant discrimination between fact and theory. And there is clearly a great difference between that which is and that which may, or ought to be.
The present inquiry will be chiefly based on these distinctions. The reader is already in posses- ion of facts, that is, of experience. He also possesses abundant theories. Modern science describes for him the physical world in which he lives. History narrates man's life in the past. Moral science sets forth the views of men in regard to what ought to be. Christianity is an inculcation of religious principles. Philosophy is the intelligent co-ordination of all theories. But there is need of an art of life which shall show man how to live philosophically. This, the most practical of arts, each man may contribute to by giving thought to the problems and laws of his own experience. What he most needs is a working ideal, a principle by which to apply philosophy more successfully. Hence the importance of ideals, the realisational aspect of religious teaching, the practical worth of philosophical thinking. Hence, too, the value of silence, of sufficient repose to enable a man to realise the meaning, the spirit of what he believes.
this inquiry the reader needs no other equipment than he already
possesses. Each of us is feeling, acting, living amidst the great
stream of events which we call "experience." Yonder are the fields and
the hills. Above is the fair, blue sky. Near at hand are the houses of
friends and neighbours--theatres of fascinating interests. Within the
mind there are passing thoughts and varying emotions. Implied in all
these transient mental states are the habits by which we have
developed, and the convictions which underlie our conduct. The
essential is to awaken to consciousness of this surging play of
circumstance, discover how we are taking it,
and consider how we may become more wisely
adjusted. This is to enter more fully into the
spirit of the age, to become philosophers of
evolution in a yet profounder sense. For it shows not only