IT is a constant and very plausible charge offered by the general world against the possession of the power of gold-making as claimed by the alchemists, who were the practical branch of the Rosicrucians, that if such supposed power were in their hands, they would infallibly use it, and that quickly enough; for the acquisition of riches and power, say they, is the desire of all men. But this idea proceeds from an ignorance of the character and inclinations of real philosophers, and results from an inveterate prejudice relative to them. Before we judge of these, let us acquire a knowledge of the natural inclinations of very deeply learned men. Philosophers, when they have attained to much knowledge, which wearies them of merely mundane matters, hold that the ordering of men, the following of them about by subservient people, and the continual glitter about them of the fine things of this world, are, after all, but of mean and melancholy account, because life is so brief, and this accidental pre-eminence is very transitory. Splendour, show, and bowing little delight the raised and abstract mind. That circuit of comfort formed by the owning of money and riches is circumscribed by the possessor's own ken. What is outside of this sight may just as well be enjoyed by any other person as by the owner, since all is the thinking of it; only granting that a man has sufficient for his daily wants,
letting the 'morrow, indeed, take thought for itself'. One dinner a day, one bed for each night, in the alternations of sun and darkness, one of everything that is agreeable to (or is desirable for) man, is sufficient for any one man. A man’s troubles are increased by the multiplication even of his enjoyments, because he is then beset with anxiety as to their repetition or maintenance. Reduction of things to attend to, and not multiplication, is his policy, because thinking of it is all that can affect him about anything in this world.
By the time that the deep, philosophical chemist has penetrated to the control and conversion of the ultimate elements, so as to have in his view the secret operations of Nature, and to have caught Nature, as it were: preparing her presentments and arranging her disguises behind the scenes, he is no more to be amused with vain book-physics. After his spying into the subtle processes of Nature, he cannot be contented with the ordinary toys of men; for are not worldly possessions, honour, rank, money, even wives and numerous or any children, but toys in a certain sense? Where sink they in importance to him when the great unknown sets in which awaits every man? He who can work as Nature works, causing the sunshine, so to speak, to light fire up independently in itself, and to breed and propagate precious things upon the atmosphere in which it burns, causing the growing supernatural soul to work amidst the seeds of gold, and to purge the material, devilish mass until the excrement is expelled, and it springs in health into condensating, solid splendour, a produce again to be sown, to fructify into fresh harvests--the alchemist, or prince of chemists, who can do this, laughs at the hoards of kings. By the time that the artist is thus so much more than man, is he the less
desirous of the gratifying things to the ordinary man. Grandeur fades to him before such high intellectual grandeur. He is nearer to the angels, and the world has sunk infinitely below. His is the sky, and the bright shapes of the clouds of the sky: which he is going to convert, perhaps, into prisms, showering solid triumphs. He can well leave to common man his acres of mud, and the turbid pools spotted over them like the shining, showy discs of a snake. Man, under these enlightened philosophical circumstances, will only value the unseen kingdoms--glimpses of the immortal glories of which and of their Rosicrucian inhabitants he has obtained in his magic reveries. What can the longest ordinary man’s life give to such a gifted thinker? Man’s senses and their gratification, as long as the inlets and avenues of perception remain--world’s music, so long as the strings cling tight, for the air of imagination to play upon them--appetites, with downward eyes to find their satisfaction--man’s mortality, with an exit into the shadows or into the grave while the sun is up: the longest life can but give him repetition to satiety of these things--repetitions until he seems almost to tire of the common sun. Of which he grows weary, as well as of his waste or extent of knowledge.
To some minds, this world does not present such extraordinary attractions. The very possession of the heights of knowledge induces rather stay up there, amidst the stars, thane descent. Every man almost has felt the sublime exaltation of a great height, when he has achieved the top of a high hill, and looks out and over the landscape for miles and miles. How very little the world looks under him! He is obliged to descend, because he has his home under there. But he quits the upper regions with reluctance, although it is somewhat frightening (as though he
were going to be flown away with) to stay so, high up. You become giddy by looking up at the stars, which then seem to be so much nearer as to be attainable.
Limited as it is, life itself--very brief, very empty, very much disposed to repeat dull things, gathering up from about you in a strange sensation sometimes, in folds like a dream, or flowing on like a sleep-inducing river to the sea, carrying faces seen and snatched away, and obliterating voices which change into echoes--life, at its very best, ought to be the stoicism of the spectator, who feels that he has come here somehow, though for what purpose he knows not; and he is rather amused as at a comedy in life, than engaged in it as in a business. Even perpetual youth, and life prolonged, with pleasures infinite--even the fancied ever-during life--would, to the deeply thinking man who had risen; as it were, over life, and to that strangely gifted being who has in himself the power of self-perpetuation (like the Wandering Jew), seem vain. Man can be conceived as tiring of the sun--tiring of consciousness even. What an expression is that, 'forgotten by Death'! The only being through whom the scythe of the great destroyer passes scatheless! That life, as a phantom, which is the only conceivable terrible doom of the 'Wanderer' (if such a magical being ever existed); whom as a locomotive symbol, to be perpetuated through the ages, the earth, at the command of the Saviour, refused to hide, and of whom a legend--soon hushed in again--now and then rises to the popular whisper and to the popular distrust!
We only adduce these remarks to show that, in, the face of the spectator of the great ultimate, mysterious man, children are no necessity, but an anxiety, estates are a burden, 'business' is the oft-told purposeless tale to the wearying ear: He who can be
the spectator of the ages has no particulars in ordinary life. He has nothing which can interest him. He can have no precise and consolidated likings or affections or admirations, or even aversions, because the world is as a toy-shop to him--its small mechanism is an artificial show, of which (given the knowledge of the wheels) he can predicate as to-the movements safely--completely.
To return for a moment to the idea of the 'Wandering Jew', which some have supposed to be derived from the claim of the Rosicrucians to the possession of a secret means of renewing youth, and to the escape of some notion of it from out their writings. Even supposing that this strange tale was true, nothing can be imagined more melancholy than the state of this lone traveller, moving with his awful secret through the world, and seeing the successive generations, like leaves, perishing from about him. He counts the years like the traveller of a long summer day, to whom the evening will never come, though he sees his temporary companions, at the different hours of the day, depart appropriately and disappearing to their several homes by the wayside. To him the childhood of his companions seems to turn to old age in an hour. He remembers the far-off ancestors of his contemporaries. Fashions fleet, but your unsuspected youth is accommodated to all. Yours is, indeed, the persecution of the day-life, which will not let you fall to sleep and cease to see the vanity of everything. Your friends of any period disappear. The assurance of the emptiness of all things is the stone as into which your heart is turned. Grey hairs (and the old face) have nothing with you, though you see them appearing upon all others. Familiar objects disappear from about you, and you and the sun seem the only things that survive as old friends.
[paragraph continues] Indeed, it may be doubtful whether, to this supposed man of the ages, the generations would not seem to be produced as a purposeless efflux out of the ground by the sun, like flowers or plants; so as mere matter of mould would all flesh appear, with a phenomenon only going with it in the article of the figure's uprightness as man; it having so strangely set its face against the stars, unlike the creatures doomed to move horizontally.
We make these observations to show that, notwithstanding the opinions of the world to the contrary, there may have been men who have possessed these gifts--that is, the power of making gold and of perpetuating their lives--and yet that the exercise of these powers was forborne; and also that their secrets of production have most carefully been kept, lest less wise men should (to speak in figure) have 'rushed in where they feared to tread', and have abused where the philosophers even would not use--despising wealth, which they could not enjoy, and declining a perpetuated life, which would only add to their weariness--life being only a repetition of the same suns, already found too unmeaning and too long. For it is a mistake to suppose that this life is so equally enjoyable by all. There is a sublime sorrow of the ages, as of the lone ocean. There is the languishment for the ever-lost original home in this tearful mortal state.
The philosophers knew that possession blunted desire, and that rich men may be poor men. A remarkable answer was made by a man who, to all appearance, possessed superabundantly the advantages of life--wealth, honour, wife, children, 'troops of friends', even health, by day: but in his night he lived another life, for in it was presented another picture, and that unfailingly uncomfortable, even
to this good man--exchanging joy for horror. 'My friend', replied he to an inquirer, 'never congratulate a man upon his happiness until you become aware how he sleeps. Dreams are as that baleful country into which I pass. every night of my life; and what can be said to a man who dreams constantly (and believes it) that he is with the devil'?
There was no answering this, for every person leads two lives, altogether independent of each other--the days and the nights both full of life, though the night, with the dreams, may be of an opposite order. The world’s circumstances may afford you solace and gratification--even happiness--in the day; but you may be very miserable, notwithstanding, if it happen that you have persecution in your dreams. Here the world’s advantages are of no use to you, for you are delivered over helpless, night after night, in your sleep--and you must have sleep--to the dominion of Other Powers, whom all your guards cannot keep out, for their inlet is quite of another kind than the ordinary life’s access. We advise you, then, to beware of this dark door; the other will perhaps take care of itself, letting in no ugly things upon you: but the former may let in unpleasant things upon you in full grasp with your hands bound.