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NĖW SERIES.–No. 18.
J. J. GARTH WILKINSON.
THERE is a superficiality at the present day which is in danger of impairing our conceptions of what is great in human life and thought. Browning's stigma upon our Christianity, of “faith in the thing grown faith in the report,” has a wider application. More markedly than at most historic periods, we are in a state of transition
Wandering between two worlds-one dead,
The other powerless to be born, And until a new order is born, and the weary chippings of criticism fall away from the organic life of a new and larger faith, there must be much confusing clash of elements, and obscure chaos of thought. Before the difficulties of arriving at harmonious and satisfying conclusions, very many minds retire baffled, and leaving the real, which is a problem locked to every key but one's own, and difficult to unlock even with the right key, are glad to take refuge with guides who present themselves offering to make all things easy. If fact is rough and solid, hearsay may smooth it, and recoin it in a dainty version. Hearsay of hearsay again may be as light and bright as gossamer, and very pleasant and artistic, with this fault only that the facts upon which it was supposed to be based have become lost out of sight altogether, and the ultimate product belongs wholly to the fancies of its patrons, the précieuses ridicules, or other fashionable cliques amongst which it is in vogue.
There are a large number of sects whose members have escaped from the difficulty of learning life as it is, into little pretty arbours by the wayside, which they are easily able to fill with something that passes for the ultimate and wholly satisfactory philosophy. They cling like bees around their popularising and æsthetic leaders; and can these be blamed for diffusing their mild imperium of some orthodoxy or other in imperio of the rude unconquered surges of life's actual difficulties ? If they do cry peace' when the war has scarce begun, have they not the excuse that, on any ground of doctrine, it is never absolutely certain that there is no peace?'
These bland conventions, and second and third hand philosophies often become widely spread and powerful. A well advertised panacea can be calculated to draw a certain percentage of patronage from all whose eye it meets. And out of this percentage there will be a proportion of persons whom the drug will happen to suit, and another section who will not discover that it does any harm, and a third who, once beginning it, will continue to take it from mere habit; while some will even become ardent propagandists of the specific which is so infallible. There may develope a college or society for the bold advertisement' of the formula, and the article in question, especially if it contain just enough mystery to deserve always the name of nostrum, and enough saccharine not to offend the palate, may have a world-wide circulation, and bring fame and fortune to its purveyors.
In contradistinction to know-littles who dream they know all, and who must become larger in multitude as education brings masses who before were content to be mere clods, into a half-awake state; there is still the old race amongst us of original grapplers with facts. The smooth superficiality of the majority, and its power of publishing its lucubrations, somewhat obliterates the original worker. Among such as are capable of appreciating, he has as large a following as original workers have ever had, but it seems smaller in face of the immense popularity which ingenious cant commands. The drudging goblin, trade, is glad to lend its forces to whatever pays, and consequently offers to sects of all kinds and pursuits, in proportion to their magnitude.
It is almost inevitable that the really original man, finding himself planted within a region of intellectual jacquerie, and deliberate apotheosis of what is second-rate and commonplace, should at one time or other blaze forth in passionate appeal, and beg for the restoration to their lofty place, of reality and truth, with all the concomitants, whether of pain or difficulty, that are the dragons guarding the way of great things. It is almost inevitable too that whether such a voice be really one “from the inner Light-sea and Flame-sea, Nature's and Truth's own heart," or not, its discordancy from the complacent buzzings and purrings which come from the happy acceptors of conventionalities, should arouse in them either positive and loud voiced opposition, or the negative conspiracy of silence.' It is further probable, too, that the supercilious attitude of those who are confident of their power, when, however inferior its true to its apparent dignity, it is a 'vested interest,' will provoke the lonely representative of Nature's own sacred voice, and drive him into conflagrations against them. And as oppositions engender new varieties of force, he may be led into fanaticism, when the multitude will rejoice, find a label for his weaknesses, and ignore his strength.
Some there are who having burning things to say, and avoiding the pitfalls that attend upon controversy, content themselves with saying their say, and instead of bringing it by strenuous dissemination before the general public, bequeath it to such as may be sympathisers, and leave it to make its way abroad in due time through its own force and vehemence. They are glad to do without the sweets and sufferings, the perils and powers of modern notoriety, and to follow in the road of the philosophers of old time, who spoke only to such as had ears.
The subject of the present sketch is known in one way or other to most of the bearers of the best known names amongst us. In Mudie's Library there are probably next to no copies of any of his works; we do not remember to have seen him reviewed in either the Daily Telegraph or the Saturday Review; his books seem never to be advertised in the usual channels; but if such as Carlyle, Browning, Tennyson, Emerson, Longfellow, Hawthorne, were to have been asked dubiously about him by some one who should think him obscure, one might perhaps have replied, I travelled with him; another, He was a friend of my youth ; another, We have had long arguments together; a fourth, I have taken his medicine; a fifth, When I was once in great doubt, I drew much from
Without advertisement, our author's books find a public, and some to the extent of several editions. He has too broad and varied a field of work to be sectarian, but so far as he may go by that name, it is in connection with what is called the New Church, a body holding by the traditions as interpreted by Swedenborg. This little church contains a large proportion of men who move in higher realms of thought than the members of most other sects, and no doubt the works of so large a thinker as Dr. Wilkinson are especially esteemed among them.
James John Garth Wilkinson is the eldest son of James John Wilkin. son, of Durham, and Harriet his wife, who was of a Sunderland family named Robinson. This James John Wilkinson was a “special pleader," a now extinct functionary who acted as intermediary between solicitor and barrister, digesting the evidence gathered by the former into a case for the opinion of the latter. It is well here to state that it is to him, and not to his son, as erroneously stated in Men of the Time, that the authorship belongs of certain legal treatises, “ On the Law of Replevin," “On the Statute of Limitations," “On the Law of Shipping,” and “On the Law of the Public Funds."
Garth Wilkinson was born in a legal region of London, Acton-street, Gray's-inn-lane, on the 3rd of June 1812. In his earliest years of childhood he was at a school at Sunderland, and a great part of his imagination was built up from the north. On the shores of the river Weir were huge scaffolds where colliers unloaded, to which ran a railway, years before railways were attempted in their present use, affording a tram-line to the port. The boy used to stand by when these bulky operations were being carried on, and would marvel as if looking upon the works of giants.
He was afterwards at a private school kept by John Charles Thorowgood, at Mill Hill, and subsequently at Totteridge, Herts. Here he distinguished himself by writing a prize poem. Sonorous poetry had long run through his mind, and those who know his mature writings will not fail to recognise how noble an influence early love for good poetry has upon literary style.
The morning when he left school, his master, Thorowgood, said to him by way of last words, when he was stepping on to the coach, “ Now mind you, you keep up your Latin, you'll want it.” As Wilkinson has since translated from the Latin a number of exceedingly bulky works, and moreover on editing a text of a work of Swedenborg's, De Cerebro, in its original tongue, was constrained to compose his preface thereto in the same language, his schoolmaster's advice must be considered timely if not prophetic.
An amusing story may be told anent the youth's choice of a profession. When he was about sixteen and the family were living in Seymourstreet, London, his father said to him, “Now, James, I want you to choose your profession.” “I want to be a lawyer," answered the boy." “I don't think that would suit you,” rejoined the father, “I have already made arrangements for you to be with Mr. Leighton at New. castle, to be a surgeon.” And after this “choice' he was forthwith apprenticed to the said Thomas Leighton, who was Senior Surgeon to the Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne.
While at Newcastle, Wilkinson wrote a little for the newspapers, but had not yet begun those special strdies which became one of the passions of his life. In 1832 he came to London, and in that and the following year was walking the hospitals; becoming M.R.C.S. in June, 1834. He seems to have written little for publication until about the time of his marriage, since which date books have appeared that evidence an amount of labour which it is marvellous how he can have spared from the never intermitted pursuit of his profession. He married on the 4th Jan. 1840 Enima Anne, daughter of Mr. William Marsh, of Diss, in Norfolk, and has a family of three daughters and one son, all now married folk themselves.
In 1840 Wilkinson contributed to the Monthly Magazine, then edited by Heraud. A paper, which commenced in November 1840, is a long and elaborate criticism upon the Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend's "Facts in Mesmerism,” and Dr. Elliotson’s “Human Physiology,” both which works were attracting attention at the time, in spite of the fact that then, as still, the scientific professions had not done their duty by occult subjects by giving to them painstaking study, instead of leaving them to quacks. However, at that time Dr. Wilkinson reported that “mesmerism seems to be getting on somewhat faster than the discovery of Galileo, and at about the rate of Harvey's innovating doctrine of the circulation of the blood.”
At this early period of his life Dr. Wilkinson showed that predilection for principles, whether as forming the basis of philosophy, or the guidance of physical research, which has shown itself so strongly in his later writings, and, coupled with the originality of his nature and force of his sympathies, has made him rather a religious political economist, than either a medical specialist or a Swedenborgian ;-long and ardently though he has dwelt upon the works of the Swedish seer.
The following passage is a keynote to much that Dr. Wilkinson has since written: “It is, indeed, very likely that we have come to the limits of the views which can be obtained from the microscope and the scalpel ; and that, although by these tools we may continue to enlarge the basis, we require instruments altogether different, and more spiritual, to enable us to proceed with the superstructure. New facts are certainly not the whole of what we want; we must also have new methods, and a new spirit of induction ; nor is it difficult to foresee, in some degree, the direction which these will require us to take. We must look to the living, and no longer seek the laws of life among the dead; we must remember that the corpse in the dissecting-room has not really a single physiological fact left in it; that it is a machine, irreparably broken in every part, which can never any more be set in motion. We must endeavour to see that the motions of an organism are a more immediate and speaking evidence and effect of life than its mere structure. To be acquainted with these, were, indeed, to leave little unknown in physiology ; but, alas! the dead body has no movements, save those chemical or mechanical ones which are in positive contradiction to the laws of life.” There is much suggestion here, and of a kind that is mostly ignored. From a later work (Outlines on the Infinite) we may complete the thought that the supreme fact of an existence is in its energies and uses, and does not reside in its machinery, or chemical composition :
" Among the least sincere parts of metaphysics, we may justly reckon its continual profession of the dangers of materialism. Not that materialism is other than a gross error and evil, but much has been wrongly classed as materialism which properly comes under the designation of reality. Many writers exhibit great sensibility on the score of materialism, and this, it may be feared sometimes, not with a view to curbing ill-directed sensuality, but in order to banish external and commanding truth from the mind. They allege the grossness of the mind to the score of the material body, much as improvident men blame the stars, and as sinners of all classes make circumstances the pack-horse of their sins. The truth, however, is that moral wrong is wrong precisely because