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An essay by Thomas De Quincey

The German Language, And Philosophy Of Kant

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Title:     The German Language, And Philosophy Of Kant
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]

Using a New Testament, of which (in the narrative parts at least) any one word being given will suggest most of what is immediately consecutive, you evade the most irksome of the penalties annexed to the first breaking ground in a new language: you evade the necessity of hunting up and down a dictionary. Your own memory, and the inevitable suggestions of the context, furnish a dictionary _pro hac vice_. And afterwards, upon advancing to other books, where you are obliged to forego such aids, and to swim without corks, you find yourself already in possession of the particles for expressing addition, succession, exception, inference--in short, of all the forms by which transition or connection is effected (_if_, _but_, _and_, _therefore_, _however_, _notwithstanding_), together with all those adverbs for modifying or restraining the extent of a subject or a predicate, which in all languages alike compose the essential frame-work or _extra-linear_ machinery of human thought. The filling-up--the _matter_ (in a scholastic sense)--may differ infinitely; but the _form_, the periphery, the determining moulds into which this matter is fused--all this is the same for ever: and so wonderfully limited in its extent is this frame-work, so narrow and rapidly revolving is the clock-work of connections among human thoughts, that a dozen pages of almost any book suffice to exhaust all the [Greek: epea pteroenta][1] which express them. To have mastered these [Greek: epea pteroenta] is in effect to have mastered seven-tenths, at the least, of any language; and the benefit of using a New Testament, or the familiar parts of an Old Testament, in this preliminary drill, is, that your own memory is thus made to operate as a perpetual dictionary or nomenclator. I have heard Mr. Southey say that, by carrying in his pocket a Dutch, Swedish, or other Testament, on occasion of a long journey performed in '_muggy_' weather, and in the inside of some venerable 'old heavy'--such as used to bestow their tediousness upon our respectable fathers some thirty or forty years ago--he had more than once turned to so valuable an account the doziness or the dulness of his fellow-travellers, that whereas he had 'booked' himself at the coach-office utterly [Greek: analphabetos], unacquainted with the first rudiments of the given language, he had made his parting bows to his coach brethren (secretly returning thanks to them for their stupidity), in a condition for grappling with any common book in that dialect. One of the polyglot Old or New Testaments published by Bagster, would be a perfect Encyclopaedia, or _Panorganon_, for such a scheme of coach discipline, upon dull roads and in dull company. As respects the German language in particular, I shall give one caution from my own experience, to the self-instructor: it is a caution which applies to the German language exclusively, or to that more than to any other, because the embarrassment which it is meant to meet, grows out of a defect of taste characteristic of the German mind. It is this: elsewhere, you would naturally, as a beginner, resort to _prose_ authors, since the license and audacity of poetic thinking, and the large freedom of a poetic treatment, cannot fail to superadd difficulties of individual creation to the general difficulties of a strange dialect. But this rule, good for every other case, is _not_ good for the literature of Germany. Difficulties there certainly are, and perhaps in more than the usual proportion, from the German peculiarities of poetic treatment; but even these are overbalanced in the result, by the single advantage of being limited in the extent by the metre, or (as it may happen) by the particular stanza. To German poetry there is a known, fixed, calculable limit. Infinity, absolute infinity, is impracticable in any German metre. Not so with German prose. Style, in any sense, is an inconceivable idea to a German intellect. Take the word in the limited sense of what the Greeks called [Greek: Synthesis onomaton]--_i. e._ the construction of sentences--I affirm that a German (unless it were here and there a Lessing) cannot admit such an idea. Books there are in German, and, in other respects, very good books too, which consist of one or two enormous sentences. A German sentence describes an arch between the rising and the setting sun. Take Kant for illustration: he has actually been complimented by the cloud-spinner, Frederic Schlegel, who is now in Hades, as a most original artist in the matter of style. 'Original' Heaven knows he was! His idea of a sentence was as follows:--We have all seen, or read of, an old family coach, and the process of packing it for a journey to London some seventy or eighty years ago. Night and day, for a week at least, sate the housekeeper, the lady's maid, the butler, the gentleman's gentleman, &c.;, packing the huge ark in all its recesses, its 'imperials,' its 'wills,' its 'Salisbury boots,' its 'sword-cases,' its front pockets, side pockets, rear pockets, its 'hammer-cloth cellars' (which a lady explains to me as a corruption from _hamper-cloth_, as originally a cloth for hiding a hamper, stored with _viaticum_), until all the uses and needs of man, and of human life, savage or civilised, were met with separate provision by the infinite chaos. Pretty nearly upon the model of such an old family coach packing, did Kant institute and pursue the packing and stuffing of one of his regular sentences. Everything that could ever be needed in the way of explanation, illustration, restraint, inference, by-clause, or indirect comment, was to be crammed, according to this German philosopher's taste, into the front pockets, side pockets, or rear pockets, of the one original sentence. Hence it is that a sentence will last in reading whilst a man


'Might reap an acre of his neighbour's corn.'


Nor is this any peculiarity of Kant's. It is common to the whole family of prose writers of Germany, unless when they happen to have studied French models, who cultivate the opposite extreme. As a caution, therefore, practically applied to this particular anomaly in German prose-writing, I advise all beginners to choose between two classes of composition--ballad poetry, or comedy--as their earliest school of exercise; ballad poetry, because the form of the stanza (usually a quatrain) prescribes a very narrow range to the sentences; comedy, because the form of dialogue, and the imitation of daily life in its ordinary tone of conversation, and the spirit of comedy naturally suggesting a brisk interchange of speech, all tend to short sentences. These rules I soon drew from my own experience and observation. And the one sole purpose towards which I either sought or wished for aid, respected the pronunciation; not so much for attaining a just one (which I was satisfied could not be realised out of Germany, or, at least, out of a daily intercourse with Germans) as for preventing the formation, unawares, of a radically false one. The guttural and palatine sounds of the _ch_, and some other German peculiarities, cannot be acquired without constant practice. But the false Westphalian or Jewish pronunciation of the vowels, diphthongs, &c.;, may easily be forestalled, though the true delicacy of Meissen should happen to be missed. Thus much guidance I purchased, with a very few guineas, from my young Dresden tutor, who was most anxious for permission to extend his assistance; but this I would not hear of: and, in the spirit of fierce (perhaps foolish) independence, which governed most of my actions at that time of life, I did all the rest for myself.


'It was a banner broad unfurl'd,
The picture of that western world.'


These, or words like these, in which Wordsworth conveys the sudden apocalypse, as by an apparition, to an ardent and sympathising spirit, of the stupendous world of America, rising, at once, like an exhalation, with all its shadowy forests, its endless savannas, and its pomp of solitary waters--well and truly might I have applied to my first launching upon that vast billowy ocean of the German literature. As a past literature, as a literature of inheritance and tradition, the German was nothing. Ancestral titles it had none; or none comparable to those of England, Spain, or even Italy; and there, also, it resembled America, as contrasted with the ancient world of Asia, Europe, and North Africa.[2] But, if its inheritance were nothing, its prospects, and the scale of its present development, were in the amplest style of American grandeur. _Ten thousand_ new books, we are assured by Menzel, an author of high reputation--a _literal myriad_--is considerably below the number annually poured from all quarters of Germany, into the vast reservoir of Leipsic; spawn infinite, no doubt, of crazy dotage, of dreaming imbecility, of wickedness, of frenzy, through every phasis of Babylonian confusion; yet, also, teeming and heaving with life and the instincts of truth--of truth hunting and chasing in the broad daylight, or of truth groping in the chambers of darkness; sometimes seen as it displays its cornucopia of tropical fruitage; sometimes heard dimly, and in promise, working its way through diamond mines. Not the tropics, not the ocean, not life itself, is such a type of variety, of infinite forms, or of creative power, as the German literature, in its recent motions (say for the last twenty years), gathering, like the Danube, a fresh volume of power at every stage of its advance. A banner it was, indeed, to me of miraculous promise, and suddenly unfurled. It seemed, in those days, an El Dorado as true and undeceiving as it was evidently inexhaustible. And the central object in this interminable wilderness of what then seemed imperishable bloom and verdure--the very tree of knowledge in the midst of this Eden--was the new or transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant.


[Footnote 1:
[Greek: Epea pteroenta], literally _winged words_. To explain the use and origin of this phrase to non-classical readers, it must be understood that, originally, it was used by Homer to express the few, rapid, and significant words which conveyed some hasty order, counsel, or notice, suited to any sudden occasion or emergency: _e. g._ 'To him flying from the field the hero addressed these winged words--"Stop, coward, or I will transfix thee with my spear."' But by Horne Tooke, the phrase was adopted on the title-page of his _Diversions of Purley_, as a pleasant symbolic expression for all the non-significant particles, the _articuli_ or joints of language, which in his well-known theory are resolved into abbreviations or compendious forms (and therefore rapid, flying, _winged_ forms), substituted for significant forms of greater length. Thus, _if_ is a non-significant particle, but it is an abbreviated form of an imperative in the second person--substituted for gif, or give, or grant the case--put the case that. All other particles are shown by Horne Tooke to be equally shorthand (or _winged_) substitutions.]


[Footnote 2:
It has been rather too much forgotten, that Africa, from the northern margin of Bilidulgerid and the Great Desert, southwards--everywhere, in short, beyond Egypt, Cyrene, and the modern Barbary States--belongs, as much as America, to the New World--the world unknown to the ancients.]


I have described the gorgeousness of my expectations in those early days of my prelusive acquaintance with German literature. I have a little lingered in painting that glad aurora of my first pilgrimage to the fountains of the Rhine and of the Danube, in order adequately to shadow out the gloom and blight which soon afterwards settled upon the hopes of that golden dawn. In Kant, I had been taught to believe, were the keys of a new and a creative philosophy. Either '_ejus ductu_,' or '_ejus auspiciis_'--that is, either directly under his guidance, or indirectly under any influence remotely derived from his principles--I looked confidingly to see the great vistas and avenues of truth laid open to the philosophic inquirer. Alas! all was a dream. Six weeks' study was sufficient to close my hopes in that quarter for ever. The philosophy of Kant--so famous, so commanding in Germany, from about the period of the French Revolution--already, in 1805, I had found to be a philosophy of destruction, and scarcely, in any one chapter, so much as _tending_ to a philosophy of reconstruction. It destroys by wholesale, and it substitutes nothing. Perhaps, in the whole history of man, it is an unexampled case, that such a scheme of speculation--which offers nothing seducing to human aspirations, nothing splendid to the human imagination, nothing even positive and affirmative to the human understanding--should have been able to found an interest so broad and deep among thirty-five millions of cultivated men. The English reader who supposes this interest to have been confined to academic bowers, or the halls of philosophic societies, is most inadequately alive to the case. Sects, heresies, schisms, by hundreds, have arisen out of this philosophy--many thousands of books have been written by way of teaching it, discussing it, extending it, opposing it. And yet it is a fact, that all its doctrines are negative--teaching, in no case, what we _are_, but simply what we are _not_ to believe--and that all its truths are barren. Such being its unpopular character, I cannot but imagine that the German people have received it with so much ardour, from profound incomprehension of its meaning, and utter blindness to its drift--a solution which may seem extravagant, but is not so; for, even amongst those who have expressly commented on this philosophy, not one of the many hundreds whom I have myself read, but has retracted from every attempt to explain its dark places. In these dark places lies, indeed, the secret of its attraction. Were light poured into them, it would be seen that they are _culs-de-sac_, passages that lead to nothing; but, so long as they continue dark, it is not known whither they lead, how far, in what direction, and whether, in fact, they may not issue into paths connected directly with the positive and the infinite. Were it known that upon every path a barrier faces you insurmountable to human steps--like the barriers which fence in the Abyssinian valley of Rasselas--the popularity of this philosophy would expire at once; for no popular interest can long be sustained by speculations which, in every aspect, are known to be essentially negative and essentially finite. Man's nature has something of infinity within itself, which requires a corresponding infinity in its objects. We are told, indeed, by Mr. Bulwer, that the Kantian system has ceased to be of any authority in Germany--that it is defunct, in fact--and that we have first begun to import it into England, after its root had withered, or begun to wither, in its native soil. But Mr. Bulwer is mistaken. The philosophy has never withered in Germany. It cannot even be said that its fortunes have retrograded: they have oscillated: accidents of taste and ability in particular professors, or caprices of fashion, have given a momentary fluctuation to this or that new form of Kantianism,--an ascendency, for a period, to various, and, in some respects, conflicting, modifications of the transcendental system; but all alike have derived their power mediately from Kant. No weapons, even if employed as hostile weapons, are now forged in any armoury but that of Kant; and, to repeat a Roman figure which I used above, all the modern polemic tactics of what is called metaphysics, are trained and made to move either _ejus ductu_ or _ejus auspiciis_. Not one of the new systems affects to call back the Leibnitzian philosophy, the Cartesian, or any other of earlier or later date, as adequate to the purposes of the intellect in this day, or as capable of yielding even a sufficient terminology. Let this last fact decide the question of Kant's vitality. _Qui bene distinguit bene docet._ This is an old adage. Now, he who imposes new names upon all the acts, the functions, and the objects of the philosophic understanding, must be presumed to have distinguished most sharply, and to have ascertained with most precision, their general relations--_so long as his terminology continues to be adopted_. This test, applied to Kant, will show that his spirit yet survives in Germany. Frederic Schlegel, it is true, twenty years ago, in his lectures upon literature, assures us that even the disciples of the great philosopher have agreed to abandon his philosophic nomenclature. But the German philosophic literature, since that date, tells another tale. Mr. Bulwer is, therefore, wrong; and, without going to Germany, looking only to France, he will see cause to revise his sentence. Cousin--the philosophic Cousin, the only great name in philosophy for modern France--familiar as he is with North Germany, can hardly be presumed unacquainted with a fact so striking, if it _were_ a fact, as the extinction of a system once so triumphantly supreme as that of Kant; and yet Mr. Bulwer, admiring Cousin as he does, cannot but have noticed his efforts to naturalise Kant in France. Meantime, if it were even true that transcendentalism had lost its hold of the public mind in Germany, _prima facie_, this would prove little more than the fickleness of that public which must have been wrong in one of the two cases--either when adopting the system, or when rejecting it. Whatever there may be of truth and value in the system, will remain unimpeached by such caprices, whether of an individual or of a great nation; and England would still be in the right to import the philosophy, however late in the day, if it were true even (which I doubt greatly) that she _is_ importing it.

Both truth and value there certainly _is_ in one part of the Kantian philosophy; and that part is its foundation. I had intended, at this point, to introduce an outline of the transcendental philosophy--not, perhaps, as entering by logical claim of right into any biographical sketch, but as a very allowable digression in the record of that man's life to whom, in the way of hope and of profound disappointment, it had been so memorable an object. For two or three years before I mastered the language of Kant,[3] it had been a pole-star to my hopes, and _in hypothesi_ agreeably to the uncertain plans of uncertain knowledge, the luminous guide to my future life--as a life dedicated and set apart to philosophy. Such it was some years _before_ I knew it: for, at least ten long years _after_ I came into a condition of valueing its true pretensions and measuring its capacities, this same philosophy shed the gloom of something like misanthropy upon my views and estimates of human nature; for man was an abject animal, if the limitations which Kant assigned to the motions of his speculative reason were as absolute and hopeless as, under _his_ scheme of the understanding and _his_ genesis of its powers, too evidently they were. I belonged to a reptile race, if the wings by which we had sometimes _seemed_ to mount, and the buoyancy which had _seemed_ to support our flight, were indeed the fantastic delusions which he represented them. Such, and so deep and so abiding in its influence upon my life, having been the influence of this German philosophy, according to all logic of proportions, in selecting the objects of my notice, I might be excused for setting before the reader, in its full array, the analysis of its capital sections. However, in any memorial of a life which professes to keep in view (though but as a secondary purpose) any regard to popular taste, the logic of proportions must bend, after all, to the law of the occasion--to the proprieties of time and place. For the present, therefore, I shall restrict myself to the few sentences in which it may be proper to gratify the curiosity of _some_ readers, the two or three in a hundred, as to the peculiar distinctions of this philosophy. Even to these two or three out of each hundred, I shall not venture to ascribe a larger curiosity than with respect to the most general 'whereabouts' of its position--from what point it starts--whence and from what aspect it surveys the ground--and by what links from this starting-point it contrives to connect itself with the main objects of philosophic inquiry.


[Footnote 3:
I might have mastered the philosophy of Kant, without waiting for the German language, in which all his capital works are written; for there is a Latin version of the whole, by Born, and a most admirable digest of the cardinal work (admirable for its fidelity and the skill by which that fidelity is attained), in the same language, by Rhiseldek, a Danish professor. But this fact, such was the slight knowledge of all things connected with Kant in England, I did not learn for some years.]


Immanuel Kant was originally a dogmatist in the school of Leibnitz and Wolf; that is, according to his trisection of all philosophy into dogmatic, sceptical, and critical, he was, upon all questions, disposed to a strong _affirmative_ creed, without courting any particular examination into the grounds of this creed, or into its assailable points. From this slumber, as it is called by himself, he was suddenly aroused by the Humian doctrine of cause and effect. This celebrated essay on the nature of necessary connection--so thoroughly misapprehended at the date of its first publication to the world by its _soi-disant_ opponents, Oswald, Beattie, &c.;, and so imperfectly comprehended since then by various _soi-disant_ defenders--became in effect the 'occasional cause' (in the phrase of the logicians) of the entire subsequent philosophic scheme of Kant--every section of which arose upon the accidental opening made to analogical trains of thought, by this memorable effort of scepticism, applied by Hume to one capital phenomenon among the necessities of the human understanding. What is the nature of Hume's scepticism as applied to this phenomenon? What is the main thesis of his celebrated essay on cause and effect? For few, indeed, are they who really know anything about it. If a man really understands it, a very few words will avail to explain the _nodus_. Let us try. It is a necessity of the _human_ understanding (very probably not a necessity of a higher order of intelligences) to connect its experiences by means of the idea of _cause_ and its correlate, _effect_: and when Beattie, Oswald, Reid, &c.; were exhausting themselves in proofs of the indispensableness of this idea, they were fighting with shadows; for no man had ever questioned the practical necessity for such an idea to the coherency of human thinking. Not the practical necessity, but the internal consistency of this notion, and the original right to such a notion, was the point of inquisition. For, attend, courteous reader, and three separate propositions will set before your eyes the difficulty. _First Prop._, which, for the sake of greater precision, permit me to throw into Latin:--_Non datur aliquid_ [A] _quo posito ponitur aliud_ [B] _a priori_; that is, in other words, You cannot lay your hands upon that one object or phenomenon [A] in the whole circle of natural existences, which, being assumed, will entitle you to assume _a priori_, any other object whatsoever [B] as succeeding it. You could not, I say, of any object or phenomenon whatever, assume this succession _a priori_--that is, _previously to experience_. _Second Prop._ But, if the succession of B to A be made known to you, not _a priori_ (by the involution of B in the idea of A), but by experience, then you cannot ascribe _necessity_ to the succession: the connection between them is not necessary but contingent. For the very widest experience--an experience which should stretch over all ages, from the beginning to the end of time--can never establish a _nexus_ having the least approximation to necessity; no more than a rope of sand could gain the cohesion of adamant, by repeating its links through a billion of successions. _Prop. Third._ Hence (_i. e._ from the two preceding propositions), it appears that no instance or case of _nexus_ that ever can have been offered to the notice of any human understanding, has in it, or, by possibility, could have had anything of necessity. Had the _nexus_ been necessary, you would have seen it beforehand; whereas, by Prop. I. _Non datur aliquid, quo posito ponitur aliud a priori._ This being so, now comes the startling fact, that the notion of a _cause_ includes the notion of necessity. For, if A (the cause) be connected with B (the effect) only in a casual or accidental way, you do not feel warranted in calling it a cause. If heat applied to ice (A) were sometimes followed by a tendency to liquefaction (B) and sometimes not, you would not consider A connected with B as a cause, but only as some variable accompaniment of the true and unknown cause, which might allowably be present or be absent. This, then, is the startling and mysterious phenomenon of the human understanding--that, in a certain notion, which is indispensable to the coherency of our whole experience, indispensable to the establishing any _nexus_ between the different parts and successions of our whole train of notices, we include an accessary notion of necessity, which yet has no justification or warrant, no assignable derivation from any known or possible case of human experience. We have one idea at least--viz. the idea of causation--which transcends our possible experience by one important element, the element of _necessity_, that never can have been derived from the only source of ideas recognised by the philosophy of this day. A Lockian never can find his way out of this dilemma. The experience (whether it be the experience of sensation or the experience of reflection) which he adopts for his master-key, never will unlock this case; for the sum total of human experience, collected from all ages, can avail only to tell us what _is_, but never what _must be_. The idea of necessity is absolutely transcendant to experience, _per se_, and must be derived from some other source. From what source? Could Hume tell us? No: he, who had started the game so acutely (for with every allowance for the detection made in Thomas Aquinas, of the original suggestion, as recorded in the _Biographia Literaria_ of Coleridge, we must still allow great merit of a secondary kind to Hume for his modern revival and restatement of the doctrine), this same acute philosopher broke down confessedly in his attempt to hunt the game down. His solution is worthless.

Kant, however, having caught the original scent from Hume, was more fortunate. He saw, at a glance, that here was a test applied to the Lockian philosophy, which showed, at the very least, its _insufficiency_. If it were good even for so much as it explained--which Burke is disposed to receive as a sufficient warrant for the favourable reception of a new hypothesis--at any rate, it now appeared that there was something which it could _not_ explain. But next, Kant took a large step in advance _proprio morte_. Reflecting upon the one idea adduced by Hume, as transcending the ordinary source of ideas, he began to ask himself, whether it were likely that this idea should stand alone? Were there not other ideas in the same predicament; other ideas including the same element of necessity, and, therefore, equally disowning the parentage assigned by Locke? Upon investigation, he found that there were: he found that there were eleven others in exactly the same circumstances. The entire twelve he denominated categories; and the mode by which he ascertained their number--that there were so many and no more--is of itself so remarkable as to merit notice in the most superficial sketch. But, in fact, this one explanation will put the reader in possession of Kant's system, so far as he could understand it without an express and toilsome study. With this explanation, therefore, of the famous categories, I shall close my slight sketch of the system. Has the reader ever considered the meaning of the term _Category_--a term so ancient and so venerable from its connection with the most domineering philosophy that has yet appeared amongst men? The doctrine of the Categories (or, in its Roman appellation, of the _Predicaments_), is one of the few wrecks from the Peripatetic philosophy which still survives as a doctrine taught by public authority in the most ancient academic institutions of Europe. It continues to form a section in the code of public instruction; and perhaps under favour of a pure accident. For though, strictly speaking, a _metaphysical_ speculation, it has always been prefixed as a sort of preface to the _Organon_ (or _logical_ treatises) of Aristotle, and has thus accidentally shared in the immortality conceded to that most perfect of human works. Far enough were the Categories from meriting such distinction. Kant was well aware of this: he was aware that the Aristotelian Categories were a useless piece of scholastic lumber: unsound in their first conception; and, though illustrated through long centuries by the schoolmen, and by still earlier Grecian philosophers, never in any one known instance turned to a profitable account. Why, then, being aware that even in idea they were false, besides being practically unsuitable, did Kant adopt or borrow a name laden with this superfetation of reproach--all that is false in theory superadded to all that is useless in practice? He did so for a remarkable reason: he felt, according to his own explanation, that Aristotle had been _groping_ [the German word expressive of his blind procedure is _herumtappen_]--groping in the dark, but under a semi-conscious instinct of truth. Here is a most remarkable case or situation of the human intellect, happening alike to individuals and to entire generations--in the situation of yearning or craving, as it were, for a great idea as yet unknown, but dimly and uneasily prefigured. Sometimes the very brink, as it may be called, of such an idea is approached; sometimes it is even imperfectly discovered; but with marks in the very midst of its imperfections, which serve as indications to a person coming better armed for ascertaining the sub-conscious thought which had governed their tentative motions. As it stands in Aristotle's scheme, the idea of a category is a mere lifeless abstraction. Rising through a succession of species to genera, and from these to still higher genera, you arrive finally at a highest genus--a naked abstraction, beyond which no further regress is possible. This highest genus, this _genus generalissimum_, is, in peripatetic language, a category; and no purpose or use has ever been assigned to any one of these categories, of which ten were enumerated at first, beyond that of classification--_i. e._ a purpose of mere convenience. Even for as trivial a purpose as this, it gave room for suspecting a failure, when it was afterwards found that the original ten categories did not exhaust the possibilities of the case; that other supplementary categories (_post-praedicamenti_) became necessary. And, perhaps, 'more last words' might even yet be added, supplementary supplements, and so forth, by a hair-splitting intellect. Failures as gross as these, revisals still open to revision, and amendments calling for amendments, were at once a broad confession that here there was no falling in with any great law of nature. The paths of nature may sometimes be arrived at in a tentative way; but they are broad and determinate; and, when found, vindicate themselves. Still, in all this erroneous subtilisation, and these abortive efforts, Kant perceived a grasping at some real idea--fugitive indeed and coy, which had for the present absolutely escaped; but he caught glimpses of it continually in the rear; he felt its necessity to any account of the human understanding that could be satisfactory to one who had meditated on Locke's theory as probed and searched by Leibnitz. And in this uneasy state--half sceptical, half creative, rejecting and substituting, pulling down and building up--what was in sum and finally the course which he took for bringing his trials and essays to a crisis? He states this himself, somewhere in the Introduction to his _Critik der reinen Vernunft_; and the passage is a memorable one. Fifteen years at the least have passed since I read it; and, therefore, I cannot pretend to produce the words; but the substance I shall give; and I appeal to the candour of all his readers, whether they have been able to apprehend his meaning. I certainly did not for years. But, now that I do, the passage places his procedure in a most striking and edifying light. Astronomers, says Kant, had gone on for ages, assuming that the earth was the central body of our system; and insuperable were the difficulties which attended that assumption. At length, it occurred to try what would result from inverting the assumption. Let the earth, instead of offering a fixed centre for the revolving motions of other heavenly bodies, be supposed itself to revolve about some one of these, as the sun. That supposition was tried, and gradually all the phenomena which, before, had been incoherent, anomalous, or contradictory, began to express themselves as parts of a most harmonious system. 'Something,' he goes on to say, 'analogous to this I have practised with regard to the subject of my inquiry--the human understanding. All others had sought their central principle of the intellectual phenomena out of the understanding, in something external to the mind. I first turned my inquiries upon the mind itself. I first applied my examination to the very analysis of the understanding.' In words, not precisely these, but pretty nearly equivalent to them, does Kant state, by contradistinction, the value and the nature of his own procedure. He first, according to his own representation, thought of applying his investigation to the mind itself. Here was a passage which for years (I may say) continued to stagger and confound me. What! he, Kant, in the latter end of the 18th century, about the year 1787--he the first who had investigated the mind! This was not arrogance so much as it was insanity. Had he said--I, first, upon just principles, or with a fortunate result, investigated the human understanding, he would have said no more than every fresh theorist is bound to suppose, as his preliminary apology for claiming the attention of a busy world. Indeed, if a writer, on any part of knowledge, does _not_ hold himself superior to all his predecessors, we are entitled to say--Then, why do you presume to trouble us? It may _look_ like modesty, but _is_, in effect, downright effrontery for you to think yourself no better than other critics; you were at liberty to think so whilst no claimant of public notice--as being so, it is most arrogant in you to be modest. This would be the criticism applied justly to a man who, in Kant's situation, as the author of a new system, should use a language of unseasonable modesty or deprecation. To have spoken boldly of himself was a duty; we could not tolerate his doing otherwise. But to speak of himself in the exclusive terms I have described, does certainly seem, and for years did seem to myself, little short of insanity. Of this I am sure that no student of Kant, having the passage before him, can have known heretofore what consistent, what rational interpretation to give it; and, in candour, he ought to own himself my debtor for the light he will now receive. Yet, so easy is it to imagine, after a meaning is once pointed out, and the station given from which it shows itself _as_ the meaning--so easy, under these circumstances, is it to imagine that one has, or that one could have, found it for one's self--that I have little expectation of reaping much gratitude for my explanation. I say this, not as of much importance one way or the other in a single case of the kind, but because a general consideration of this nature has sometimes operated to make me more indifferent or careless as to the publication of commentaries on difficult systems, when I had found myself able to throw much light on the difficulties. The very success with which I should have accomplished the task--the perfect removal of the obstacles in the student's path--were the very grounds of my assurance-that the service would be little valued. For I have found what it was occasionally, in conversation, to be too luminous--to have explained, for instance, too clearly a dark place in Ricardo. In such a case, I have known a man of the very greatest powers, mistake the intellectual effort he had put forth to apprehend my elucidation, and to meet it half way, for his own unassisted conquest over the difficulties; and, within an hour or two after, I have had, perhaps, to stand, as an attack upon myself, arguments entirely and recently furnished by myself. No case is more possible: even to apprehend a complex explanation, a man cannot be passive; he must exert considerable energy of mind; and, in the fresh consciousness of this energy, it is the most natural mistake in the world for him to feel the argument which he has, by considerable effort, appropriated to be an argument which he has originated. Kant is the most unhappy champion of his own doctrines, the most infelicitous expounder of his own meaning, that has ever existed. Neither has any other commentator succeeded in throwing a moonlight radiance upon his philosophy. Yet certain I am, that, were I, or any man, to disperse all his darkness, exactly in that proportion in which we did so--exactly in the proportion in which we smoothed all hindrances--exactly in that proportion would it cease to be known or felt that there had ever been any hindrances to be smoothed. This, however, is digression, to which I have been tempted by the interesting nature of the grievance. In a jesting way, this grievance is obliquely noticed in the celebrated couplet--


'Had you seen but these roads before they were made,
You'd lift up your hands and bless Marshal Wade.'


The pleasant bull here committed conceals a most melancholy truth, and one of large extent. Innumerable are the services to truth, to justice, or society, which never _can_ be adequately valued by those who reap their benefits, simply because the transition from the early and bad state to the final or improved state cannot be retraced or kept alive before the eyes. The record perishes. The last point gained is seen; but the starting-point, the points _from_ which it was gained, is forgotten. And the traveller never _can_ know the true amount of his obligations to Marshal Wade, because, though seeing the roads which the Marshal has created, he can only guess at those which he superseded. Now, returning to this impenetrable passage of Kant, I will briefly inform the reader that he may read it into sense by connecting it with a part of Kant's system, from which it is in his own delivery entirely dislocated. Going forwards some thirty or forty pages, he will find Kant's development of his own categories. And, by placing in juxtaposition with that development this blind sentence, he will find a reciprocal light arising. All philosophers, worthy of that name, have found it necessary to allow of some great cardinal ideas that transcended all the Lockian origination--ideas that were larger in their compass than any possible notices of sense or any reflex notices of the understanding; and those who have denied such ideas, will be found invariably to have supported their denial by a _vitium subreptionis_, and to have deduced their pretended genealogies of such ideas by means of a _petitio principii_--silently and stealthily putting _into_ some step of their _leger-de-main_ process everything that they would pretend to have extracted _from_ it. But, previously to Kant, it is certain that all philosophers had left the origin of these higher or transcendent ideas unexplained. Whence came they? In the systems to which, Locke replies, they had been called _innate_ or _connate_. These were the Cartesian systems. Cudworth, again, who maintained certain '_immutable ideas_' of morality, had said nothing about their origin; and Plato had supposed them to be reminiscences from some higher mode of existence. Kant first attempted to assign them an origin within the mind itself, though not in any Lockian fashion of reflection upon sensible impressions. And this is doubtless what he means by saying that he first had investigated the mind--that is, he first for such a purpose.

Where, then, is it, in what act or function of the mind, that Kant finds the matrix of these transcendent ideas? Simply in the logical forms of the understanding. Every power exerts its agency under some _laws_--that is, in the language of Kant, by certain _forms_. We leap by certain laws--viz. of equilibrium, of muscular motion, of gravitation. We dance by certain laws. So also we reason by certain laws. These laws, or _formal_ principles, under a particular condition, become the categories.

Here, then, is a short derivation, in a very few words, of those ideas transcending sense, which all philosophy, the earliest, has been unable to dispense with, and yet none could account for. Thus, for example, every act of reasoning must, in the first place, express itself in distinct propositions; that is, in such as contain a subject (or that concerning which you affirm or deny something), a predicate (that which you affirm or deny), and a copula, which connects them. These propositions must have what is technically called, in logic, a certain _quantity_, or compass (viz. must be universal, particular, or singular); and again they must have what is called _quality_ (that is, must be affirmative, or negative, or infinite): and thus arises a ground for certain corresponding ideas, which are Kant's categories of quantity and quality.

But, to take an illustration more appropriately from the very idea which first aroused Kant to the sense of a vast hiatus in the received philosophies--the idea of _cause_, which had been thrown as an apple of discord amongst the schools, by Hume. How did Kant deduce this? Simply thus: it is a doctrine of universal logic, that there are three varieties of syllogism--viz. 1st, Categoric, or directly declarative [_A is B_]; 2nd, Hypothetic, or conditionally declarative [_If C is D, then A is B_]; 3rd, Disjunctive, or declarative, by means of a choice which exhausts the possible cases [_A is either B, or C, or D; but not C or D; ergo B_]. Now, the idea of _causation_, or, in Kant's language, the category of Cause and Effect, is deduced immediately, and most naturally, as the reader will acknowledge on examination, from the 2nd or hypothetic form of syllogism, when the relation of dependency is the same as in the idea of causation, and the _necessary_ connection a direct type of that which takes place between a cause and its effect.

Thus, then, without going one step further, the reader will find grounds enough for reflection and for reverence towards Kant in these two great results: 1st, That an order of ideas has been established, which all deep philosophy has demanded, even when it could not make good its claim. This postulate is fulfilled. 2ndly, The postulate is fulfilled without mysticism or Platonic reveries. Ideas, however indispensable to human needs, and even to the connection of our thoughts, which came to us from nobody knew whence, must for ever have been suspicious; and, as in the memorable instance cited from Hume, must have been liable for ever to a question of validity. But, deduced as they now are from a matrix within our own minds, they cannot reasonably fear any assaults of scepticism.

Here I shall stop. A reader new to these inquiries may think all this a trifle. But he who reflects a little, will see that, even thus far, and going no step beyond this point, the Kantian doctrine of the Categories answers a standing question hanging aloof as a challenge to human philosophy, fills up a _lacuna_ pointed out from the era of Plato. It solves a problem which has startled and perplexed every age: viz. this--that man is in possession, nay, in the hourly exercise, of ideas larger than he can show any title to. And in another way, the reader may measure the extent of this doctrine, by reflecting that, even so far as now stated, it is precisely coextensive with the famous scheme of Locke. For what is the capital thesis of that scheme? Simply this--that all necessity for supposing immediate impressions made upon our understandings by God, or other supernatural, or antenatal, or connatal, agencies, is idle and romantic; for that, upon examining the furniture of our minds, nothing will be found there which cannot adequately be explained out of our daily experience; and, until we find something that cannot be solved by this explanation, it is childish to go in quest of higher causes. Thus says Locke: and his whole work, upon its first plan, is no more than a continual pleading of this single thesis, pursuing it through all the plausible objections. Being, therefore, as large in its extent as Locke, the reader must not complain of the transcendental scheme as too narrow, even in that limited section of it here brought under his notice.

For the purpose of repelling it, he must do one of two things: either he must show that these categories or transcendent notions are not susceptible of the derivation and genesis here assigned to them--that is, from the forms of the _logos_ or formal understanding; or, if content to abide by that derivation, he must allege that there are other categories besides those enumerated, and unprovided with any similar parentage.

Thus much in reply to him who complains of the doctrine here stated; as, 1st, Too narrow; or, 2nd, As insufficiently established. But, 3rd, in reply to him who wishes to see it further pursued or applied, I say that the possible applications are perhaps infinite. With respect to those made by Kant himself, they are chiefly contained in his main and elementary work, the _Critik der reinen Vernunft_; and they are of a nature to make any man melancholy. Indeed, let a man consider merely this one notion of _causation_; let him reflect on its origin; let him remember that, agreeably to this origin, it follows that we have no right to view anything _in rerum natura_ as objectively, or in itself a cause; that when, upon the fullest philosophic proof, we call A the cause of B, we do in fact only subsume A under the notion of a cause; we invest it with that function under that relation, that the whole proceeding is merely with respect to a _human_ understanding, and by way of indispensable _nexus_ to the several parts of our experience; finally, that there is the greatest reason to doubt, whether the idea of _causation_ is at all applicable to any other world than this, or any other than a human experience. Let a man meditate but a little on this or other aspects of this transcendental philosophy, and he will find the steadfast earth itself rocking as it were beneath his feet; a world about him, which is in some sense a world of deception; and a world before him, which seems to promise a world of confusion, or '_a world not realised_.' All this he might deduce for himself without further aid from Kant. However, the particular purposes to which Kant applies his philosophy, from the difficulties which beset them, are unfitted for anything below a regular treatise. Suffice it to say here, that, difficult as these speculations are from one or two embarrassing doctrines on the Transcendental Consciousness, and depressing as they are from their general tendency, they are yet painfully irritating to the curiosity, and especially so from a sort of _experimentum crucis_, which they yield in the progress of their development on behalf of the entire doctrine of Kant--a test which, up to this hour, has offered defiance to any hostile hand. The test or defiance which I speak of, takes the shape of certain _antinomies_ (so they are termed), severe adamantine arguments, affirmative and negative, on two or three celebrated problems, with no appeal to any possible decision, but one, which involves the Kantian doctrines. A _quaestio vexata_ is proposed--for instance, the _infinite divisibility of matter_; each side of this question, _thesis_ and _antithesis_, is argued; the logic is irresistible, the links are perfect, and for each side alternately there is a verdict, thus terminating in the most triumphant _reductio ad absurdum_--viz. that A, at one and the same time and in the same sense, is and is not B, from which no escape is available, but through a Kantian solution. On any other philosophy, it is demonstrated that this opprobrium of the human understanding, this scandal of logic, cannot be removed. This celebrated chapter of _antinomies_ has been of great service to the mere polemics of the transcendental philosophy: it is a glove or gage of defiance, constantly lying on the ground, challenging the rights of victory and supremacy so long as it is _not_ taken up by any antagonist, and bringing matters to a short decision when it _is_.

One section, and that the introductory section, of the transcendental philosophy, I have purposely omitted, though in strictness not to be insulated or dislocated from the faithful exposition even of that which I have given. It is the doctrine of Space and Time. These profound themes, so confounding to the human understanding, are treated by Kant under two aspects--1st, as Anchauungen, or _Intuitions_ (so the German word is usually translated for want of a better); 2ndly, as forms, _a priori_, of all our other intuitions. Often have I laughed internally at the characteristic exposure of Kant's style of thinking--that he, a man of so much worldly sagacity, could think of offering, and of the German scholastic habits, that any modern nation could think of accepting such cabalistical phrases, such a true and very '_Ignotium per Ignotius_,' in part payment of an explanatory account of Time and Space. Kant repeats these words--as a charm before which all darkness flies; and he supposes continually the case of a man denying his explanations or demanding proofs of them, never once the sole imaginable case--viz. of all men demanding an explanation of these explanations. Deny them! Combat them! How should a man deny, why should he combat, what might, for anything to the contrary appearing, contain a promissory note at two months after date for 100 guineas? No; it will cost a little preliminary work before _such_ explanations will much avail any scheme of philosophy, either for the _pro_ or the _con_. And yet I do myself really profess to understand the dark words; and a great service it would be to sound philosophy amongst us, if this one word _anschauung_ were adequately unfolded and naturalised (as naturalised it might be) in the English philosophic dictionary, by some full Grecian equivalent. Strange that no man acquainted with German philosophy, should yet have been struck by the fact--or, being struck, should not have felt it important to call public attention to the fact of our inevitable feebleness in a branch of study for which as yet we want the indispensable words. Our feebleness is at once argued by this want, and partly caused. Meantime, as respects the Kantian way of viewing space, by much the most important innovation which it makes upon the old doctrines is--that it considers space as a _subjective_ not an _objective_ aliquid; that is, as having its whole available foundation lying ultimately in ourselves, not in any external or alien tenure. This one distinction, as applied to space, for ever secures (what nothing else _can_ secure or explain) the cogency of geometrical evidence. Whatever is true for any determinations of a space originally included in ourselves, must be true for such determinations for ever, since they cannot become objects of consciousness to us but in and by that very mode of conceiving space, that very form of schematism which originally presented us with these determinations of space, or any whatever. In the uniformity of our own space-conceiving faculty, we have a pledge of the absolute and _necessary_ uniformity (or internal agreement among themselves) of all future or possible determinations of space; because they could not otherwise become to us conceivable forms of space, than by adapting themselves to the known conditions of our conceiving faculty. Here we have the _necessity_ which is indispensable to all geometrical demonstration: it is a necessity founded in our human organ, which cannot admit or conceive a space, unless as preconforming to these original forms or schematisms. Whereas, on the contrary, if space were something _objective_, and consequently being a separate existence, independent of a human organ, then it is altogether impossible to find any intelligible source of _obligation_ or cogency in the evidence--such as is indispensable to the very nature of geometrical demonstration. Thus we will suppose that a regular demonstration has gradually, from step to step downwards, through a series of propositions--No. 8 resting upon 7, that upon 5, 5 upon 3--at length reduced you to the elementary axiom, that Two straight lines cannot enclose a space. Now, if space be _subjective_ originally--that is to say, founded (as respects us and our geometry) in ourselves--then it is impossible that two such lines can enclose a space, because the possibility of anything whatever relating to the determinations of space is exactly co-extensive with (and exactly expressed by) our power to conceive it. Being thus able to affirm its impossibility universally, we can build a demonstration upon it. But, on the other hypothesis, of space being _objective_, it is impossible to guess whence we are to draw our proof of the alleged inaptitude in two straight lines for enclosing a space. The most we could say is, that hitherto no instance has been found of an enclosed space circumscribed by two straight lines. It would not do to allege our human inability to conceive, or in imagination to draw, such a circumscription. For, besides that such a mode of argument is exactly the one supposed to have been rejected, it is liable to this unanswerable objection, so long as space is assumed to have an _objective_ existence, viz. that the human inability to conceive such a possibility, only argues (what in fact is often found in other cases) that the _objective_ existence of space--_i. e._ the existence of space in itself, and in its absolute nature--is far larger than its subjective existence--_i. e._ than its mode of existing _quoad_ some particular subject. A being more limited than man might be so framed as to be unable to conceive curve lines; but this subjective inaptitude for those determinations of space would not affect the objective reality of curves, or even their subjective reality for a higher intelligence. Thus, on the hypothesis of an objective existence for space, we should be thrown upon an ocean of possibilities, without a test for saying what was--what was not possible. But, on the other hypothesis, having always in the last resort what is _subjectively_ possible or impossible (_i. e._ what is conceivable or not by us, what can or cannot be drawn or circumscribed by a human imagination), we have the means of demonstration in our power, by having the ultimate appeals in our power to a known uniform test--viz. a known human faculty.

This is no trifling matter, and therefore no trifling advantage on the side of Kant and his philosophy, to all who are acquainted with the disagreeable controversies of late years among French geometricians of the first rank, and sometimes among British ones, on the question of mathematical evidence. Legendre and Professor Leslie took part in one such a dispute; and the temper in which it was managed was worthy of admiration, as contrasted with the angry controversies of elder days, if, indeed, it did not err in an opposite spirit, by too elaborate and too calculating a tone of reciprocal flattery. But think as we may of the discussion in this respect, most assuredly it was painful to witness so infirm a philosophy applied to an interest so mighty. The whole aerial superstructure--the heaven-aspiring pyramid of geometrical synthesis--all tottered under the palsying logic of evidence, to which these celebrated mathematicians appealed. And wherefore?--From the want of any philosophic account of space, to which they might have made a common appeal, and which might have so far discharged its debt to truth, as at least to reconcile its theory with the great outstanding phenomena in the most absolute of sciences. Geometry is the _science_ of space: therefore, in any _philosophy_ of space, geometry is entitled to be peculiarly considered, and used as a court of appeal. Geometry has these two further claims to distinction--that, 1st, It is the most perfect of the sciences, so far as it has gone; and, 2ndly, That it has gone the farthest. A philosophy of space, which does not consider and does not reconcile to its own doctrines the facts of geometry, which, in the two points of beauty and of vast extent, is more like a work of nature than of man, is, _prima facie_, of no value. A philosophy of space _might_ be false, which should harmonise with the facts of geometry--it _must_ be false, if it contradict them. Of Kant's philosophy it is a capital praise, that its very opening section--that section which treats the question of space, not only quadrates with the facts of geometry, but also, by the _subjective_ character which it attributes to space, is the very first philosophic scheme which explains and accounts for the cogency of geometrical evidence.

These are the two primary merits of the transcendental theory--1st, Its harmony with mathematics, and the fact of having first, by its doctrine of space, applied philosophy to the nature of geometrical evidence; 2ndly, That it has filled up, by means of its doctrine of categories, the great _hiatus_ in all schemes of the human understanding from Plato downwards. All the rest, with a reserve as to the part which concerns the _practical_ reason (or will), is of more questionable value, and leads to manifold disputes. But I contend, that, had transcendentalism done no other service than that of laying a foundation, sought but not found for ages, to the human understanding--namely, by showing an intelligible genesis to certain large and indispensable ideas--it would have claimed the gratitude of all profound inquiries. To a reader still disposed to undervalue Kant's service in this respect, I put one parting question--Wherefore he values Locke? What has _he_ done, even if value is allowed in full to his pretensions? Has the reader asked himself _that_? He gave a _negative_ solution at the most. He told his reader that certain disputed ideas were _not_ deduced thus and thus. Kant, on the other hand, has given him at the least a _positive_ solution. He teaches him, in the profoundest revelation, by a discovery in the most absolute sense on record, and the most entirely a single act--without parts, or contributions, or stages, or preparations from other quarters--that these long disputed ideas could not be derived from the experience assigned by Locke, inasmuch as they are themselves _previous conditions under which any experience at all is possible_: he teaches him that these ideas are not mystically originated, but are, in fact, but another phasis of the functions, or, forms of his own understanding; and, finally, he gives consistency, validity, and a charter of authority, to certain modes of _nexus_, without which the sum total of human experience would be a rope of sand.

In terminating this slight account of the Kantian philosophy, I may mention that in or about the year 1818-19, Lord Grenville, when visiting the lakes of England, observed to Professor Wilson that, after five years' study of this philosophy, he had not gathered from it one clear idea. Wilberforce, about the same time, made the same confession to another friend of my own.

It is not usual for men to meet with their capital disappointments in early life, at least not in youth. For, as to disappointments in love, which are doubtless the most bitter and incapable of comfort, though otherwise likely to arise in youth, they are in this way made impossible at a very early age, that no man can be in love to the whole extent of his capacity, until he is in full possession of all his faculties, and with the sense of dignified maturity. A perfect love, such as is necessary to the anguish of a perfect disappointment, presumes also for its object not a mere girl, but woman, mature both in person and character, and womanly dignity. This sort of disappointment, in a degree which could carry its impression through life, I cannot therefore suppose occurring earlier than at twenty-five or twenty-seven. My disappointment--the profound shock with which I was repelled from German philosophy, and which thenceforwards tinged with cynical disgust towards man in certain aspects, a temper which, originally, I will presume to consider the most benign that can ever have been created--occurred when I was yet in my twentieth year. In a poem under the title of _Saul_, written many years ago by Mr. Sotheby, and perhaps now forgotten, having never been popular, there occurs a passage of some pathos, in which Saul is described as keeping amongst the splendid equipments of a royal wardrobe, that particular pastoral habit which he had worn in his days of earliest manhood, whilst yet humble and undistinguished by honour, but also yet innocent and happy. There, also, with the same care, he preserved his shepherd's crook, which, in hands of youthful vigour, had been connected with remembrances of heroic prowess. These memorials, in after times of trouble or perplexity, when the burthen of royalty, its cares, or its feverish temptations, pointed his thoughts backwards, for a moment's relief, to scenes of pastoral gaiety and peace, the heart-wearied prince would sometimes draw from their repository, and in solitude would apostrophise them separately, or commune with the bitter-sweet remembrances which they recalled. In something of the same spirit--but with a hatred to the German philosopher such as men are represented as feeling towards the gloomy enchanter, Zamiel or whomsoever, by whose hateful seductions they have been placed within a circle of malign influences--did I at times revert to Kant: though for me his power had been of the very opposite kind; not an enchanter's, but the power of a disenchanter--and a disenchanter the most profound. As often as I looked into his works, I exclaimed in my heart, with the widowed queen of Carthage, using her words in an altered application--


'Quaesivit lucem--_ingemuitque reperta_.'


Had the transcendental philosophy corresponded to my expectations, and had it left important openings for further pursuit, my purpose then was, to have retired, after a few years spent in Oxford, to the woods of Lower Canada. I had even marked out the situation for a cottage and a considerable library, about seventeen miles from Quebec. I planned nothing so ambitious as a scheme of _Pantisocracy_. My object was simply profound solitude, such as cannot now be had in any part of Great Britain--with two accessary advantages, also peculiar to countries situated in the circumstances and under the climate of Canada: viz. the exalting presence in an under-consciousness of forests endless and silent, the everlasting sense of living amongst forms so ennobling and impressive, together with the pleasure attached to natural agencies, such as frost, more powerfully manifested than in English latitudes, and for a much longer period. I hope there is nothing fanciful in all this. It is certain that, in England, and in all moderate climates, we are too slightly reminded of nature or the focus of nature. Great heats, or great colds (and in Canada there are both), or great hurricanes, as in the West Indian latitudes, recall us continually to the sense of a powerful presence, investing our paths on every side; whereas, in England, it is possible to forget that we live amongst greater agencies than those of men and human institutions. Man, in fact, 'too much man,' as Timon complained most reasonably in Athens, was then, and is now, our greatest grievance in England. Man is a weed everywhere too rank. A strange place must that be with us, from which the sight of a hundred men is not before us, or the sound of a thousand about us.

Nevertheless, being in this hotbed of man inevitably for some years, no sooner had I dismissed my German philosophy than I relaxed a little that spirit of German abstraction which it had prompted; and, though never mixing freely with society, I began to look a little abroad. It may interest the reader, more than anything else which I can record of this period, to recall what I saw within the ten first years of the century, that was at all noticeable or worthy of remembrance amongst the literati, the philosophers, or the poets of the time. For, though I am not in my academic period from 1804 to 1808, my knowledge of literary men--or men distinguished in some way or other, either by their opinions, their accomplishments, or their position and the accidents of their lives--began from the first year of the century, or, more accurately, from the year 1800; which, with some difficulty and demurs, and with some arguments from the Laureate Pye, the world was at length persuaded to consider the last year of the eighteenth century.[4]


[Footnote 4:
Those who look back to the newspapers of 1799 and 1800, will see that considerable discussion went on at that time upon the question, whether the year 1800 was entitled to open the 19th century, or to close the 18th. Mr. Laureate Pye wrote a poem, with a long and argumentative preface on the point.]


[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's essay: The German Language, And Philosophy Of Kant

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