Natural History of Enthusiasm

Natural History of Enthusiasm
Author: Taylor Isaac
Title: Natural History of Enthusiasm
Release Date: 2017-11-17
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Natural History of Enthusiasm, by Isaac Taylor

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Title: Natural History of Enthusiasm

Author: Isaac Taylor

Release Date: November 17, 2017 [eBook #55988]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8



E-text prepared by MWS, Chris Pinfield, Bryan Ness,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
from page images generously made available by
the Making of America digital library collection,
the University of Michigan


Note: Images of the original pages are available through the Making of America digital library collection, the University of Michigan. See


Transcriber's Note.

There are minor differences between the titles of sections and thosegiven in the Table of Contents. A reference to two notes, at the end ofthe book, has been inserted in the table.






… δύο ἐστὶ, τὸ μὲν ἀρετὴ φυσικὴ, τὸ δ' ἡ κυρία.




The belief that a bright era of renovation, union, andextension, presently awaits the Christian Church, seemsto be very generally entertained. The writer of thisvolume participates in the cheering hope; and it hasimpelled him to undertake the difficult task of describing,under its various forms, that FICTITIOUS PIETY whichhitherto has never failed to appear in times of unusualreligious excitement, and which may be anticipated asthe probable attendant of a new development of thepowers of Christianity.

But while it has been the writer's principal aim to presentto the Christian reader, in as distinct a manner aspossible, the characters of that specious illusion whichtoo often supplants genuine piety, he has also endeavoredso to fix the sense of the term Enthusiasm as to wrest itfrom those who misuse it to their own infinite damage.

The author would say a word in explanation of hischoice of a term in this instance; and of the extent ofmeaning he has assigned to it. The best that can bedone, when matters of mind are under discussion, is toselect, from the stores of familiar language, a word which,{iv}in its usual sense, approximates more nearly than anyother to the abstraction spoken of. To require from anethical writer more than this, would be to demand that,before he enters upon his subject, he should both renovatethe science of mind, and reform his mother tongue: forwhen things not yet scientifically defined are to be spokenof, it must needs happen that, in proportion to the accuracywith which they are described, there will be apparentoccasion for taking exception against the sense imputedto the term employed.

The author proposed it to himself, as his task, to depict,under its principal forms, FICTITIOUS SENTIMENT in mattersof religion, including, of course, a consideration of thoseopinions which seem to be either the parents or the offspringof such artificial sentiments. Having this objectbefore him, he would have thought it a very inauspicious,as well as cumbrous method, to have constructed a many-syllabledphrase of definition, to be used on every pageof his essay. Instead of attempting any such laboriousaccuracy, he has boldly chosen his single term—Enthusiasm;confiding in the good sense and candor of hisreaders for allowing him a span or two of latitude whenemploying it in different instances, which seem to comeunder the same general class.


Enthusiasm, Secular and Religious, 7
Enthusiasm in Devotion, 27
Enthusiastic Perversions of the Doctrine of Divine Influence, 62
Enthusiasm the Source of Heresy, 79
Enthusiasm of Prophetic Interpretation, 96
Enthusiastic Abuses of the Doctrine of a Particular Providence, 120
Enthusiasm of Philanthropy, 153
Sketch of the Enthusiasm of the Ancient Church, 177
The same Subject.—Ingredients of the Ancient Monachism, 201
Hints on the probable Spread of Christianity, submitted to those who misuse the term—Enthusiasm, 238



Some form of beauty, engendered by the imagination,or some semblance of dignity or grace, investsalmost every object that excites desire. These illusions,if indeed they ought so to be called, serve thepurpose of blending the incongruous materials ofhuman nature, and by mediating between body andspirit, reconcile the animal and intellectual propensities,and give dignity and harmony to the characterof man. By these unsubstantial impressions itis that the social affections are enriched and enlivened;by these, not less than by the superiorityof the reasoning faculties, mankind is elevated abovethe brute; and it is these that, as the germinatingprinciples of all improvement and refinement, distinguishcivilized from savage life.

The constitutional difference between one manand another is to be traced, in great measure, to thequality and vigor of the imagination. Thus it willbe found that eminently active and energetic spirits{8}are peculiarly susceptible to those natural exaggerationsby which the mind enhances the value ofwhatever it pursues. At the same time an efficientenergy implies always the power of control oversuch impressions. Yet it is enough that these creationsof fancy should be under the command of reason;for good sense by no means demands a rigidscrutiny into the composition or mechanism of commonmotives, or asks that whatever is not absolutelysubstantial in the objects of desire should bespurned. He who is not too wise to be happy,leaves the machinery of human nature to accomplishits revolutions unexplored, and is content to holdthe mastery over its movements. Whoever, insteadof simply repressing the irregularities of the imagination,and forbidding its predominance, wouldaltogether exclude its influence, must either sinkfar below the common level of humanity, or risemuch above it.

The excesses of the imagination are of two kinds;the first is when, within its proper sphere, it gainsso great a power that every other affection and motivebelonging to human nature is overborne andexcluded. It is thus that intellectual or professionalpursuits seems sometimes to annihilate all sympathywith the common interests of life, and to renderman a mere phantom, except within the particularcircle of his favorite objects.

The second kind of excess (one species of whichforms the subject of the present work) is of muchmore evil tendency, and consists in a trespass of the{9}imagination upon ground where it should have littleor no influence, and where it can only prevent ordisturb the operation of reason and right feeling.Thus, not seldom, it is seen that, on the walks ofcommon life, the sobrieties of good sense, and thecounsels of experience, and the obvious motives ofinterest, and perhaps even the dictates of rectitude,are set at naught by some fiction of an exorbitantimagination, which, overstepping its proper function,invests even the most ordinary objects, either withpreposterous charms or with unreal deformities.

Very few minds seem to be altogether free fromsuch constitutional errors of the intellectual sight,which, to a greater or less extent, intercept ourview of things as they are. And from the samecause it is that we so greatly miscalculate theamount of happiness or of suffering that belongs tothe lot of those around us; which happens, not somuch because their actual circumstances are unknown,as because the habitual illusions are notperceived by us amidst which they live. And ifthe coloring medium through which every mancontemplates his own condition were exposed to theeyes of others, the victims of calamity might sometimesbe envied; and still oftener would the favoritesof fortune become the objects of pity. Or ifevery one were in a moment to be disenchanted ofwhatever is ideal in his permanent sensations, everyone would think himself at once much less happy,and much more so, than he had hitherto supposed.

The force and extravagance of the imagination isin some constitutions so great, that it admits of no{10}correction from even the severest lessons of experience,much less from the advices of wisdom: theenthusiast passes through life in a sort of happysomnambulency—smiling and dreaming as he goes,unconscious of whatever is real, and busy with whateveris fantastic: now he treads with naked foot onthorns; now plunges through depths; now vergesthe precipice, and always preserves the same impassibleserenity, and displays the same reckless hardihood.

But if the predominance of the imagination donot approach quite so near to the limits of insanity,and if it admit of correction, then the many checksand reverses which belong to the common course ofhuman life usually fray it away from present scenes,and either send it back in pensive recollections ofpast pleasures, or forwards in anticipation of a brightfuturity. The former is, of the two, the safer kindof constitutional error; for as the objects uponwhich the imagination fixes its gaze, in this case,remain always unchanged, they impart a sort oftranquillity to the mind, and even favor its conversewith wisdom; but the visions of hope being variable,and altogether under the command of the inventivefaculty, bring with them perpetual agitations, andcontinually create new excitements. Besides; asthese egregious hopes come in their turn to be dispelledby realities, the pensioner upon futurity livesamid the vexations of one who believes himselfalways plundered; for each day as it comes robshim of what he had fondly called his own. Thus thereal ills of life pierce the heart with a double edge.

{11}The propensity of a disordered imagination tofind, or to create, some region of fictitious happiness,leads not a few to betake themselves to the fields ofintellectual enjoyment, where they may be exemptfrom the annoyances that infest the lower world.Hence it is that the walks of natural philosophy orabstract science, and of literature, and especially ofpoetry and the fine arts, are frequented by manywho addict themselves to pursuits of this kind, notso much from a genuine impulse of native geniusor taste, as from a yearning desire to discover someparadise of delights, where no croaking voice of disappointmentis heard, and where adversity has norange or leave of entrance. These intruders uponthe realms of philosophy—these refugees from thevexations of common life, as they are in questmerely of solace and diversion, do not often becomeeffective laborers in the departments upon whichthey enter: their motive possesses not the vigornecessary for continued and productive toil. Or ifa degree of ambition happens to be conjoined withthe feeble ardor of the mind, it renders them empiricsin science, or schemers in mechanics; or they essaytheir ineptitude upon some gaudy extravagance ofverse or picture; or perhaps spend their days inloading folios, shelves, and glass cases with curiouslumber of whatever kind most completely unites thequalities of rarity and worthlessness.

Nature has furnished each of the active facultieswith a sensibility to pleasure in its own exercise:this sensibility is the spring of spontaneous exertion;and if the intellectual constitution be robust, it{12}serves to stimulate labor, and yet itself observes amodest sobriety, leaving the forces

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