LETTER V. -- (From K.)
Morat, 25th July, 1792.
ACCEPT my thanks, Sir, for your kind and interesting letter of 12th inst. I am extremely sensible of your promptitude in answering mine. To point out a new country, through which a traveller may pass, to arrive at his journey's end, is in itself a great benefit. It rests with him, no doubt, to overcome the obstacles he meets in the way, and he will be too happy to have these obstacles foretold, as well as what encouragements he may expect. I also believe that the active way is not without use at the beginning. I can fancy a voyager, guided by the indications or signs communicated by some experienced and profound observer, attempting the passage from Hudson's Bay to Nootka Sound, having at first to cut his way through ice with saws or hatchets; yet on reaching the open sea having only to spread his sails to traverse it. His dangers will then be only a few shoals, or some baffling winds, which might turn him from his course; but, thanks to the indications be obtained, a good sailing-master, and his compass, he would escape them all.
I spoke to you of the works of Madame Guyon, without which, I think, I should hardly have been able to comprehend several passages of 'Des Erreurs et de la Verite,' and the 'Tableau Naturel.' This is the more remarkable since it appears you have never read them; more even than this, I find a perfect conformity between the explanation of the figure of Elijah, p. 7, 8, vol. ii. of the 'Tableau,' and several passages of Madame Guyon. The 'Tableau Naturel' explains it thus: "Elijah, being on the mountain, found that the Lord was neither in the strong wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the gross and burning fire, but in a light and gentle wind, bringing calm and peace with which Wisdom fills every place she approaches"; and that this, in fact, is one of the safest of signs by which to "distinguish the true from the false." Now this is the epitome of the best of all that Madame Guyon says on the same subject. The same conformity exists, in other essential points, between Guyon and Jacob Boehme, one of whose vols. in 4to. I have succeeded in finding. I have been the more struck with this likeness that I am morally sure that Madame Guyon did not know a word of German, and that our friend Boehme could never possibly have read Guyon, who was not born till twenty years after his death.
There are some people for whom the reading of theosophic works would be too strong a diet, to whom, as opportunity offered, we might present the works of Madame Guyon, to awaken a love for the spirit of Christianity; but her works are getting scarce in France. . . .
You are good enough to say, Sir, in your last letter, amongst other things of much interest on the subject of the powers, that it is necessary to classify them; but, to do this, they must be enumerated. Now this is quite a new thing for me, and beyond my competence, beyond my knowledge; I shall therefore most thankfully receive all the information you may think it right to communicate to me on these matters. Your remark on visions particularly struck me. No doubt, in the school you mention, the master imparted sufficient ideas for discerning and distinguishing between good powers and those which are not so. I picture to myself that there are both external and internal manifestations, in both of which visions may have place; so that it is a matter of importance to be able to discern them. I believe the best prescription to ensure safety from every unfavourable influence is to have an entire confidence in the love and power of the great Principle, a trust, before which, visions will vanish like shades before the rising sun.
The school you passed through in your youth reminds me of a conversation I had two years ago with a person who came from England, and who knew a Frenchman living there, Mons. de Hauterive. He told me that this de Hauterive enjoyed, physically, the acquaintance of the active and intelligent Cause, which he arrived at after sundry preparatory operations during the equinoxes, by means of a species of disorganization in which he saw his own body motionless, as it were, separated from his soul; but that this disorganization was dangerous, on account of the visions which then have more power over the soul thus separated from the covering which served it as a shield against their action. You can tell me whether, according to your former master's teaching, these proceedings of M. de Hauterive were error or truth.
Another case is that of the Marchioness de Lacroix, who must have had manifestations. I am told she had them even when in company, and that she suspended the conversation to hear what her friends in another circle said to her. You, doubtless, have heard of Madame de Lacroix; was she under illusion or in the truth?
I agree with you entirely, "That, since our being is central, it must find all the help needful for its existence in the centre where it had its birth." To come to this centre, even in this life, is the aim of our desires; between this centre and ourselves, there are intermediates; there are obstacles to be overcome, and succours to receive. The grand thing, beyond doubt, is the inward secret way. What will also help, is, I think, to consider the secondary virtues as agents, not as distributors of favours, and to receive what they give us, with thankfulness to the great Giver, but to address our souls and our worship to the fountain-head, the Principle Himself.
One of the grand means of approach which He teaches is, I believe, to do His will. Now, to do His will is to assimilate ourselves to His agents, and thereby facilitate their work upon us. As for the manifestations, whether interior or exterior, I look upon them as means for increasing our faith, our hope, our charity, which is an inestimable advantage; but even in this, let us submit all to the Supreme will. If He thinks fit to open our eyes, He will do it; if not, the way of faith, without light, cannot be displeasing to the Great Principle. Blessed are those, who, without seeing, have believed. How truly you say: "When, by grace from on high, our spirit has attained its full stature, then the elements become its subjects and even its slaves, instead of simply servants, which they were before." Our spirit attains its proper stature, it seems to me, when we no longer live our own life, when the Verb lives in us in all His fulness, and absorbs all our faculties, and our spirit loses itself, so to speak, in His. This, the highest degree attainable by man, is what may be called the perfecting in unity. Then it is no more we who act, but the Creator acting for us, and who commands the elements. That this apostolic state is still possible in our time, I do not doubt for an instant; not reason only, but experience proves it. I will mention one instance. When Father Lacombe was crossing the Lake of Geneva, such a storm arose that the boatmen had lost all hope; then Father Lacombe commanded the waves to be still, and there was an immediate calm. This fact is related by an eye-witness, whose probity is above all suspicion. See 'Life of Madame Guyon.'
You communicate to me a very interesting idea, viz., that the good agents, when they make themselves visible, make use of a light of their own, which is hidden in the elements. The little physical knowledge I possess makes this interpreting more than probable. Please to point out to me the particular treatise of J. Boehme where this is affirmed. Accept also my sincere thanks for the list of his works. I have before told you that I had found a volume of his works in 4to., edit. 1675. I have now, while writing, received three volumes more, in 8vo., edit. 1682. I give you, at foot, the titles of all the treatises I now possess, that you may refer to them in any explanations you may please to give me, or that I may help you to their rendering in French, if you should find yourself at fault, although to translate them properly will be difficult, and perhaps beyond my power.
The little I have yet seen of these works strikes me much. On some points, I see a remarkable solidity and clearness; on others, an obscurity which would have stopped me short, if you had not encouraged me. Jacob Boehme is truly the most astonishing man of his age. Hiel and J. Lead are new acquaintances, for which I have to thank you.
Arnold has many other very remarkable things in his 'History of the Church and Heretics': he was a very interesting and well-informed man himself. I have another work of his, 'The Mystery of the Divine Sophia,' 1700, in 8vo., which seems to me to come from a good fountain. In his 'History of the Church,' IV. vol. iii. 9, is a notice of several works of Hiel, whose true name was Henry Janson, a native of the Low Countries. He lived about 1550. All this branch of human knowledge is so interesting, that I purpose devoting as much time to it as possible; and if you do not tire of giving me your directions, I hope, with God's help, not to be unsuccessful.
You approve of the rule which I consider most essential for progress in the light; it is the very strait gate through which everybody must pass. Madame Guyon calls what is opposed to this suppression of self propriete, our friend Boehme selb-heit (self-hood). I beg you to observe the resemblance of these terms, without the one having known anything of the other. I shall be glad to receive whatever you may be pleased to impart to me on these objects, and the way leading to them.
My present letter is so long that I shall reserve my quotations from the 'Tableau Naturel,' and my second observation on elementary nature, for another post. To-day, I have been indulging in the pleasure of conversing with you; I know none greater, except that of receiving letters from you. Seeing how kindly you enter into every detail I make free to propose to you, I may hope our correspondence will not too soon come to an end. I even flatter myself with the sweet hope 'that the same centre will bring us continually nearer together," feeling persuaded that the only true and enduring liaisons, here below, are those which are based upon the love of the great Principle whom we both adore.