The World's Silences. BY J. BRIERLEY, B.A. S.

There is a whole psychology of silence. The gamut of emotions drawn up by Fontenelle, the thirty-seven states of mind described by the Buddhists, might be stated in terms of silence almost as well as in those of speech. Every human relationship, from that of entirest harmony down to the last extremities of estrangement, can be expressed by silence. It may mean the highest bliss or the direst wretchedness, life's comedy or its tragedy. And man encounters not only the human silences. Stamping themselves at times even more vividly on the soul, forming by turns its consolation, its terror, its baffling mystery, are those of nature and the Infinite. The topic altogether offers to the analyst far more material than we can here deal with. Suffice it to touch one or two of its salient points. 15

226 Studies of the Soul. othing appeals more powerfully to the imagination than the great silences of nature. This overcrowded planet has some lonely places still. Our own thought in this connection goes back to an unfrequented pass in the Grisons, climbed alone in the depth of winter, where, high above all trace of life, shut in on every side by walls of snow and rock, the blue sky above seeming, to the eye turned to it from the dazzling white beneath, an awful ebon

black, the beating of the heart was the one thing audible, and the sensation that of being at the bottom of a crater in the moon. Such experiences help us to picture what the silence must be in places like the far depths of the Antarctic circle, where for countless centuries there has been no voice, no human footfall, no movement of life, nothing but A wind that shrills all night In a waste land where no man comes, Or hath come since the making of the world. We need not, however, go so far afield for the world's possibilities of silence. Who of us has not, in lonely watches of the night, come,

The World's Silences. 227 by our own homestead, upon a hush of things, intense, mysterious, as though ature were listening for some whisper to her from the Infinite ! Creation sleeps : 'tis as the general pulse Of life stood still, and ature made a pause, An awful pause — prophetic of her doom. owhere, so far as our reading goes, has the awe of such a time and the soul's response to it been more vividly portrayed than in Isaac Taylor's essay on " A Country Eide in a Dark ight." Whoso wants a masterpiece of observant imagination, and to be led to the very centre of the secret of stillness, cannot do better than open the works of this acute thinker

and prose-poet — too little read in these days — at that page of them. Meantime we may come here from nature's to some of the human silences. These are, as we have said, of all kinds and orders of significance. There is one observation, however, of which they are alike susceptible. Extreme emotions of all kinds are silent. Joy, terror, astonishment, rage, when carried to an extrem-

228 Studies op the Soul. ity, are without voice. Just as the external vibrations which produce sound when carried beyond a certain velocity go beyond the recognition of the ear, so the soul's internal vibration, however caused, may reach extremes which transcend speech. These, however, are abnormal, and for the most part momentary conditions. More fruitful is the study of the silences which obtain in ordinary life. Pleasant to think of, for instance, is the silence of perfect sympathy. This is the test of intimacy. A fellowship is only complete when the partners in it find themselves entirely at ease without the necessity of a word. We are a long way from this condition when, as often happens, we talk and talk simply because we realise that a pause would be awkward on both sides. The picture of Carlyle and his mother sitting at opposite sides of the fireplace, each smoking a long churchwarden, in absolute content, but without a word passing, illustrates precisely what we mean. We get here, perhaps, a foretaste of a stage of being when souls will communicate without the cumbrous apparatus

The World's Silences. 229 of language. Under present conditions even the degree is marvellous to which sympathetic natures can influence each other without words. There are souls which, in silence, seem to give off of their very essence and to interpenetrate others with it. It is as though the harmony within communicated a rhythmic pulsation which played on responsive natures like spirit music. A volume lies in the sentence in the life of Lord Lawrence which says that he felt uneasy if his wife left the room. Happy man ! To possess as one's own this benediction of a presence that can bless without a word is to be rich indeed. If the sympathetic natures could all find each other what high bridals would there be ! But as there is a silence from perfect sympathy, so is there one, equally interesting, though not so pleasant to contemplate, from imperfect sympathy. Of this species, indeed, there are all varieties and shades. There is that, for instance, which falls at times upon the advanced thinker when in certain circles. He is, perhaps, brusquely asked for his position

230 Studies of the Soul. on some question in religion or theology, and lie finds himself unable to state it. He cannot properly interpret himself. His interlocutor, he feels, is not in a position to judge the evidence. He has not passed through the

experiences, the studies, the thought processes which have led to his own standpoint. He is entirely clear about the matter himself, but his words, which mean one thing to him, but would mean something else to this less prepared mind, would certainly introduce confusion there. He is compelled to a policy of reserve. If he speaks at all it will be, as with a greater Teacher before him, in parables, keeping his fullest thought for those who can receive it. What an inward history lies behind these silences, if one could only get at it ! One wonders what passed through the mind of Tauler when for the space of two years he, the great preacher and spiritual leader, found himself dumb in the midst of his people. What a deeper tragedy, too, that of a Eoger Bacon, endowed with one of the greatest intellects that

The World's Silences. 231 Europe lias ever produced, yet, perforce, keeping his lips sealed because his message to the monkish horde around him spelled only heresy, blasphemy and insanity ! On a smaller scale crucifixions of this kind are going on all around us. Into a family, every other member of which is rudely materialistic, is born a high sensitive nature, unworldly, filled with ideals, throbbing with intense response to the spiritual. That nature can never speak of its deepest where it is. And the pitifullest thing of all is when one sees such spirits, despairing of being understood, saying with Amiel, "I cannot be in the right all alone," and so trying to rid themselves of the shame of their singularity

by a move downward to the common level. It is the worst of treasons. Less heinous were it to deliver one's country to the enemy than to repudiate the best that is in ourselves. We can only hint in closing at what is the deepest side of our theme. We mean the awful — to some natures almost maddening — silence of the universe toward our human

232 Studies of the SouL. questioning. The picture in " Tancred " of the hero, a nineteenth century Englishman, journeying to Mount Sinai and prostrating himself on its bald summit, crying for a new revelation, is a pathetic if overdrawn illustration of the soul's ceaseless desire for some authentic utterance to it from Heaven. That desire has built churches, created legends, formed religions. Man has endless stories of heavenly communications, yet when we ourselves look up and listen, how complete and baffling is the silence ! Science explodes the legends and declares that no articulate voice, except that of man himself, has been ever heard on this planet. The worlds revolve around us, the stars glitter in their abysmal depths, but no word comes to us from them. What then? Has faith lost its foothold ? In no wise. What all this amounts to is simply the reaffirmation, in other terms, of our deepest doctrine, that of Incarnation. The voice that speaks to man comes ever through man. The entrance of the Divine into our life is always vid our own thought and intuition. That the great truths

The World's Silences. 233 on which we build rose first and shaped themselves in the human consciousness detracts no whit from their divinity. It points to their source while indicating the way they have travelled



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