IN human affairs everything happens by chance — that is, in defiance of human ideas, and without any direction of an intelligence. A man bathes in a pool, a crocodile seizes and lacerates his flesh. If any one maintains that an intelligence directed that cruelty, I can only reply that his mind is under an illusion. A man is caught by a revolving shaft and torn to pieces, limb from limb. There is no directing intelligence in human affairs, no protection, and no assistance. Those who act uprightly are not rewarded, but they and their children often wander in the utmost indigence. Those who do evil are not always punished, but frequently flourish and have happy children. Rewards and punishments are purely human institutions, and if government be relaxed they entirely disappear. No intelligence whatever interferes in human affairs. There is a most senseless belief now prevalent that effort, and work, and cleverness, perseverance and industry, are invariably successful. Were this the case, every man would enjoy a competence, at least, and be free from the cares of money. This is an illusion almost equal to the superstition of a directing intelligence, which every fact and every consideration disproves. — Chapter IX, The Story of My Heart

In The Story of My Heart, the autobiography Jefferies published when he was 35 — three short years before his early death — he offers an unusual combination of agnosticism towards religion and skepticism toward science and philosophy, both of which he grounds in an essentially mystical approach to the world and self. For example in his third chapter, he explains, “That there is no knowing, in the sense of written reasons, whether the soul lives on or not, I am fully aware. I do not hope or fear. At least while I am living I have enjoyed the idea of immortality, and the idea of my own soul. If then, after death, I am resolved without exception into earth, air, and water, and the spirit goes out like a flame, still I shall have had the glory of that thought.“ And a few paragraphs later he relates that to his belief or rather experience of time:

Recognising my own inner consciousness, the psyche, so clearly, I cannot understand time. It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine; I am in it, as the butterfly floats in the light-laden air. Nothing has to come; it is now. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life. Here this moment, by this tumulus, on earth, now; I exist in it. The years, the centuries, the cycles are absolutely nothing; it is only a moment since this tumulus was raised; in a thousand years it will still be only a moment. To the soul there is no past and no future; all is and will be ever, in now. For artificial purposes time is mutually agreed on, but is really no such thing. The shadow goes on upon the dial, the index moves round upon the clock, and what is the difference? None whatever. If the clock had never been set going, what would have been the difference? There may be time for the clock, the clock may make time for itself; there is none for me. . . . There is no separation-no past; eternity, the Now, is continuous. When all the stars have revolved they only produce Now again. The continuity of Now is for ever. So that it appears to me purely natural, and not super natural, that the soul whose temporary frame was interred in this mound should be existing as I sit on the sward. How infinitely deeper is thought than the million miles of the firmament!

Despite his praise of human thought, he has little use for either science or philosophy, chiefly because he believes human thought-forms have too many essential limitations. Sounding briefly like a creationist, he thefore rejects the theory of evolution: “Nothing is evolved, no evolution takes place, there is no record of such an event; it is pure assertion.” I write “briefly” because Jefferies immediately follows his denial of evolution with the unexpected denial of any divine plan: “There is no evolution any more than there is any design in nature. By standing face to face with nature, and not from books, I have convinced myself that there is no design and no evolution. What there is, what was the cause, how and why, is not yet known; certainly it was neither of these.”

To arguments for either position Jefferies responds by denying logical causality, by denying the “must” in “it must follow”:

In this lies my objection to the logic of science. The arguments proceed from premises to conclusions, and end with the assumption “it therefore follows.” But I say that, however carefully the argument be built up, even though apparently flawless, there is no such thing at present as “it must follow.” Human ideas at present naturally form a plan, and a balanced design; they might be indicated by a geometrical figure, an upright straight line in the centre, and branching from that straight line curves on either hand exactly equal to each other. In drawing that is how we are taught, to balance the outline or curves on one side with the curves on the other. In nature and in fact there is no such thing. The stem of a tree represents the upright line, but the branches do not balance; those on one side are larger or longer than those on the other. Nothing is straight, but all things curved, crooked, and unequal. ger or longer than those on the other. [emphasis added]

We simply do not know enough, concludes Jefferies: “From standing face to face so long with the real earth, the real sun, and the real sea, I am firmly convinced that there is an immense range of thought quite unknown to us yet.”

References

Jefferies, Richard. The Story of My Heart: An Autobiography. Project Gutenberg e-text.


Victorian Web Overview Richard Jefferies next

Last modified 24 November 2010