Traherne's Concept of Felicity: Part 2


Traherne and the Inductive Method

Critics seeking to establish Traherne's place in the intellectual tradition have found in him variously a Christian Platonist, a Neoplatonic mystic, a follower of St. Augustine, a traditional Anglican with uncommon emphases, a "new humanist" espousing "the aesthetics of the infinite" (Nicolson, 1960, p. 202), and more. Traherne has appeared to be many things to many people. -7- Still, as a noted Traherne scholar has asserted, ultimately "Traherne defies categories. . . . He remains what he was: an original" (Marks, 1966, p. 534).

Traherne belongs to a group of poets known as "the metaphysical school" who, following the example of the great Anglican divine and poet John Donne, sought to express deeply felt religious and secular experiences in the form of highly intellectual poems. Metaphysical poetry combined passionate feeling with intellectual rigor, a goal synthesized by Donne's famous image of a "thinking heart." Traherne, though, is distinguished from Donne and the other "metaphysicals," including George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Richard Crashaw and Henry Vaughan, by the simplicity of his poetic diction, the spatial content of his imagery, the childlike sweetness and innocence of his persona, and his infectious optimism.

Traherne shares with the other metaphysicals an avid interest in science. They drew their imagery from all the new and exciting areas of scientific learning: astronomy, mathematics, geography, medicine. The energy with which Traherne sets out to establish the existence of Felicity is very much in keeping with the frenetic spirit of discovery of his time, the later Renaissance. This period, the era of the scientific revolution, saw a major change in the perception of the universe. It is known as an "age of the infinite" because "there was an increasing obsession with the unlimitedness of space, with infinite varieties of life in an infinity of (possibly) inhabited worlds" (Tuveson, 1951, p. 21). Galileo, with the help of his "new spyglass," was responsible for initiating this new age. His telescopic observations, through increasingly powerful lenses, allowed him to view seemingly never-ending "congeries of innumerable stars" (Galileo, 1610/1957, p. 49). Another discovery, the presence of mountains on the moon, which "seemed proof that the moon and probably the planets were worlds like our own" (Nicolson, 1959, p. 131), fired speculation on the possible existence of "a plurality of worlds." Suddenly, the dimensions of the universe expanded beyond any known boundaries, and along with it an enlarged sense of the possibilities of human achievement. As Nicolson (1959) explains: "there seemed no limit to discovery, invention, knowledge." "Man's potentialities seemed as unlimited as Nature's" (pp. 131, 142).

Though not a scientist, Traherne was scientifically literate, as were many of the educated men of his time. He studied the "new science" while a student at Oxford. Day speculates that Traherne's education there "must have been a strong influence upon his acceptance of the power of a more ?atural,' empirical reason,². Oxford, indeed, became a center for the study of science in the 1650's (Traherne was a student there from 1652-56, Day, 1982, pp. iii) and was the original home of the Royal Society, to which the great English scientists of the time belonged.

Traherne was clearly familiar with current developments in science. His fascination with the science of his day was not unique among English poets, for the advances in astronomy inspired, both directly and indirectly, an important body of English literature? literature, in Nicolson's words, of "infinite aspiration" which is characterized not only by wonder at the vastness of the universe, but also by a deepened sense of the mind's ability to entertain infinite possibilities. -8- Although other poets of the era, like Donne, had mixed feelings about the emerging new model of the universe, Traherne is singled out from his contemporaries for his "aesthetic gratification," his sheer pleasure at the infinite spaces opened up by the new science.

To communicate the existence and potency of Felicity, Traherne employs a structural motif, which was probably inspired by the inductive model advocated by Francis Bacon. Bacon was once thought to be the "Legislator of Science" of his day who single-handedly invented the scientific method. He is now credited, more correctly, with "stating the descriptive aspect of science in emphatic terms," rather than with actually devising the experimental method, which was already widely, if informally, in use in England before he first took it up as his personal cause in The New Organon and Related Writings in 1620 (Hall, 1963/1981, p. 123). Still, Bacon remains the great articulator of the new methodology, which stressed the role of the observation and description of particular events in the formation of scientific laws (in contrast to the scholastic approach to knowledge, in which the application of right reasoning in reaching a conclusion takes precedence over experimental evidence). Bacon (1620/1963) defines the scientific method in his unfinished work, The Great Instauration, as a "marriage between the empirical and the rational faculty" (p. 162), that is, a synthesis of experimentation with the mental analysis of factual results. Facts, or "experience," are held by this "scientific" approach to knowledge to be of primary importance. -9-

The drawing of conclusions from experiences is, of course, a common-sense process that everyone, from children to adults, naturally follows. But, it is interesting that no other poet, to my knowledge, makes such an explicit use of the experience/understanding construct. Traherne was writing at a time when the scientific approach was being defined. He also knew Bacon's writings intimately (an early notebook of Traherne's contains extracts, for example, from Bacon's De augmentis scientarium, Ellrodt, 1964, p. 197). Therefore, it seems plausible that the structural emphasis that Traherne places on the mutually beneficial relationship between experience and understanding is intended to approximate Bacon's empirical design.

An examination of the Centuries of Meditations and the Dobell poem series will demonstrate, I think, the strength of his commitment to such an empirically inspired approach for communicating his experiences, which he seems to assume will hold up to "objective" analysis. If his descriptions of Felicity are understood as denoting experiences of higher states of consciousness, then this is a faith borne out fully in the research of recent years developed through Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology on higher states of consciousness. -10- Research at over 200 universities and research institutes has verified the physiological, psychological and sociological benefits of the practice of Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program (Chalmers, Clements, Schenkluhn, & Weinless, 1989a, 1989b; D. W. Orme-Johnson & Farrow, 1977; Wallace, D. W. Orme-Johnson, & Dillbeck, in press). The research has taken the subjective experience of transcendental consciousness out of the realm of mystical speculation and validated it through the application of the rigorous objective method of modern science. -11-

Centuries of Meditations

Centuries of Meditations is Traherne's most popular work, even though "the specific design . . . may be baffling at first because its language is diffuse and full of detail" (Day, 1982, pp. 104-105). Felicity is the theme which unifies and integrates the five Centuries, the core of which (Centuries III and IV) is organized according to the complementary perspectives of experience and understanding, as shown by the following outline:

Century I, from this perspective, introduces the idea that Felicity is the source of the "Powers, Inclinations, and Principles [in which] the Knowledge of your self chiefly consisteth. Which are so Great that even to the most Learned of men their Greatness is Incredible; and so Divine, that they are infinite in Value" (I. 19). A key formulation on the nature of Felicity occurs about midway through this Century, where Traherne exuberantly avows that his Spirit "can see before and after its Existence into Endless Spaces," transcending all spatial and temporal boundaries. It is, further, a state in which "the Presence of the understanding [is] endless" (I. 55). Similarly, in his poetry he refers to his "Soul" as "A Naked Simple Pure Intelligence [Traherne's italics]," "The Preparative" (l. 20).

Maharishi (1980) has often referred to transcendental consciousness, in the same words, as a state of pure intelligence:

We call the unmanifest state of natural law, when it is wide awake within itself, the field of pure consciousness, pure intelligence, at the basis of creation. (p. 10)

Knowledge is born in the junction point between pure intelligence, the simplest form of intelligence, or pure awareness, and its changing modes. (p. 73)
When we analyze the transcendental field of all possibilities we know it must be consciousness, it must be intelligence. It must be pure intelligence, or unbounded infinite intelligence. (p. 78)

That Traherne has used the same denotation, in connection with images of infinity, to describe his "soul" as Maharishi uses to describe transcendental consciousness would tend to support the view that Traherne is speaking about a similar experience.

In Century II Traherne amplifies upon the theme of the infinite potential of the "Soul," offering as evidence of the "Reality of Happiness" and the essentially blissful nature of the mind its spontaneous and joyous response to the world, which "entertains you with many Lovely and Glorious Objects, It feeds you with Joys, and becomes a Theme that furnishes you with perpetual Praises and Thanksgivings" (II. 1). The world also "enflameth you with the Love of God, and is the Link of your Communion with Him" (II. 1). He returns to this idea of an enhanced state of Felicity, which is characterized by unbounded love, in Century V, left incomplete at his death. -12-

The vital core of Traherne's teachings on Felicity is organized in Centuries III and IV in conformity, as mentioned above, with the two complementary aspects of the inductive approach to knowledge: direct experience, and objective, systematic analysis. In Century III he treats Felicity from the experiential angle and documents his awakening to the mind's infinite nature. In Century IV, in turn, he enumerates principles which establish the overriding importance of Felicity in daily life and which will, he believes, foster its growth and assimilation.

In Century III, 1-65, Traherne reconstructs his "Entrance and Progress" into Felicity beginning with the "sublime and Celestial Greatness" (III. 1) he experienced in his childhood, when "all appeared New, and Strange . . . [and] inexpressibly rare" (III. 2). But the light of bliss that shined within him in its "Primitive and Innocent Clarity" (III. 7) was extinguished by a combination of the "rude vulgar and Worthless Things" which distracted him as he grew older, the "Impetuous Torrent of Wrong Desires" that he beheld in those around him, and, most of all, by "the Evil Influence of a Bad Education that did not foster and cherish it" (III. 7). Traherne realizes, in retrospect, that something absolutely vital was missing from his education, including the years he spent at Brasenose College, Oxford: "There was never a Tutor that did professly Teach Felicity: though that be the Mistress of all other Sciences" (III. 37). The knowledge of how to develop Felicity, a state which he knew existed from his childhood recollections of it, was totally absent from the curriculum.

Of note here is Maharishi's postulation that in order to be complete an education must include the knowledge of how to gain pure awareness, which is the "home of all the laws of nature":

. . . the best education will cultivate a habit of working from that totality of natural law, that field which is our own transcendental consciousness, our own unbounded awareness. When we are developing a habit of spontaneously functioning according to natural law, then we are naturally getting out of that old habit where some negativity could arise. All difficulties, suffering, and failures in life belong to violation of the laws of nature. Life according to natural law will always be orderly, evolutionary, and nourishing to everyone. (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1986, p. 98)

Traherne attributes his own sufferings to bad desires which resulted from losing touch with the source of happiness within himself.

Traherne recounts in Meditation 46 growing disillusionment which came to a head during an interlude from his studies while in the country. There, with time on his hands, he resolved "to spend it all, whatever it cost me, in Search of Happiness, and to Satiate that burning Thirst which Nature enkindled in me from my Youth."

Nature, fortunately, left a "Clue" as to how he could regain his former happy state. This clue was a "burning Thirst" for nothing less than infinite happiness. From the strength and persistence of this "Sacred Instinct" he concluded it was within his power to enjoy the "Treasures of God after the similitude of God" (III. 59), that is, to enjoy the world and other people to an infinite degree:

The Image of God implanted in us, guided me to the manner wherein we were to Enjoy. [F]or since we were made in the similitude of God, we were made to enjoy after his Similitude. Now to Enjoy the Treasures of God in the Similitude of God, is the most perfect Blessedness God could Devise. For the Treasures of GOD are the most Perfect Treasures and the Manner of God is the most perfect Manner. To Enjoy therefore the Treasures of God after the similitude of God is to Enjoy the most perfect Treasures in the most Perfect Manner. (III. 59)

As this insight dawned within him, a distinctive physiological response occurred:

This Spectacle once seen, will never be forgotten. It is a Great Part of the Beatific Vision. A Sight of Happiness is Happiness. It transforms the Soul and makes it Heavenly, it powerfully calls us to Communion with God, and weans us from the Customs of this World. . . . I no sooner discerned this [truth] but I was (as Plato sayeth, In summa Rationis Arce Quies habitat) seated in a Throne of Repose and Perfect Rest. All Things were well in their Proper Places . . . (III. 60)

The "Perfect Rest" and orderliness he mentions, which accompanied his profound realization of his "heavenly" nature, suggest the physiological correlates of transcendental consciousness revealed by scientific research. Maharishi (1967) notes that

Any state of consciousness is the expression of a corresponding state of the nervous system. Transcendental consciousness corresponds to a certain specific state of the nervous system which transcends any activity and is therefore completely different from that state of the nervous system which corresponds to the waking state of consciousness. (p. 314)

Traherne's experience of inner Felicity, retold in the above passage, bears a striking similarity to the unique metabolic state produced by the TM technique:

During the practice of transcendental meditation, as the mind gains transcendental consciousness, the metabolism of the body is reduced to a minimum and the entire nervous system gains a state of restful alertness. This is the physical condition corresponding to the state of Being [pure consciousness]. (p. 346)

Transcendental consciousness is also characterized by increased coherence, as verified by extensive research on the brain-wave patterns of subjects practicing Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program (Travis, 1990; Wallace, 1986, pp. 57-58). That things seemed to be "well in their Proper Places" suggests a profound, natural state of mental orderliness.

In Century III Traherne describes his "Entrance and Progress in Felicity" (IV. 1) whose description, it has been argued, parallels transcendental consciousness. Traherne's goal in Century IV is to present a collection of interrelated principles, with which he has "endued" or endowed himself, which are conducive to "Practical Happiness," or Felicity in practical daily life. For besides pure inner happiness, "there is an Active Happiness; which consisteth in Blessed Operations." -13- These "Blessed" or refined "Operations," which "fit a man for action," strengthen the growth of bliss in activity; but they are also, Traherne is quick to add, "infinitely conducive" to the direct, inner experience of Felicity "it self" (IV. 1). Century IV is a lively treatise that complements the actual case history reported in Century III. While in Century III Traherne divulged his direct experience of Felicity, in Century IV he provides a close analysis of the Felicity phenomenon from an intellectual perspective. He reflects a "scientific" approach in this Century by treating his subject, the advancement of Felicity in everyday life, in an objective, systematic and practical manner, as will be illustrated in subsequent paragraphs. A possible connection between Traherne's principles of Felicity and Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology will also be discussed.

Through most of Century IV Traherne refers to the individual responsible for drafting these principles of Felicity as the reader's "friend," in the third person, rather than taking direct personal credit for their formulation. As he writes in Meditation 2:

He thought it a Vain Thing to see Glorious Principles lie Buried in Books, unless he did remove them into his Understanding; and a vain thing to remove them unless he did revive them, and raise them up by continual exercise.

Century IV, additionally, is the most systematic of the Centuries. Margoliouth identifies twenty-five distinct principles which Traherne expounds in simple language (Traherne, 1903/1958). They fall into two groups: "Principles of Enjoyment" (1-8) and "Principles of Communication" (9-25). A summary of these principles follows. -14-

The first eight principles, the "Principles of Enjoyment," legitimize the pursuit of happiness:

. . . this was His Principle that loved Happiness, and is your friend. I came into this World only that I might be Happy. And whatsoever it cost me, I will be Happy. A Happiness there is, and it is my desire to enjoy it. (IV. 7)

These principles also underscore the necessity of having the right knowledge to balance experience because knowledge alone can ensure that the individual will stay securely on the path leading to Felicity, a state of full happiness. Whatever we misapprehend we cannot use. Nor well enjoy, what we cannot use. Nor can a thing be our Happiness, we cannot enjoy. Nothing therefore can be our Happiness, but that alone which we rightly apprehend. (IV. 15)

In answer to the question, "What must I do to gain Felicity?" Traherne locates the source of true happiness in the mind, not in objects, for "Apprehensions within are better than their Objects" (IV. 15). Ocular mistakes, he points out, such as confusing a knife with a saw, can have ludicrous results. But "far more Absurd ones are unseen. To mistake the World, or the Nature of one's soul is a more Dangerous Error" (IV. 15).

Traherne now focuses on "Principles of Communication," which aim at the "communication" or expression of happiness outwardly in the world at large. A central theme is brotherly love, as a selection of these principles will indicate:

He generally held, what Whosoever would enjoy the Happiness of Paradise must put on the charity of Paradise. . . . [F]or observing the Methods, and studying the Nature of Charity in Paradise, he found that all men would be Brothers and Sisters throughout the whole World. [A]nd evermore love one another as their own selves, though they had never seen each other before. (IV. 22)

He thought that men were more to be Beloved now than before [the Fall in the Garden of Eden]. And which is a strange Paradox, the Worse they are the more they were to be Pitied and Tendered and Desired, because they had more need, and were more Miserable. (IV. 26)

He had another saying, He lives most like an Angel that lives upon least Himself, and doth most Good to others. (IV. 29)

The above principles are fairly conventional restatements of the Christian ideal of Charity and do not need commentary. But the most all-encompassing principle of Communication, the "Principle of Nature," is of special relevance because it highlights a salient feature of Felicity which was brought to light in Century III. Traherne defines this principle, simply, as the realization that true and lasting wealth resides in "whatsoever satisfie[s] the Goodnesse of Nature":

This he thought a Principle at the Bottom of Nature, that whatsoever satisfied the Goodnesse of Nature was the Greatest Treasure. Certainly men therefore Err because they Know not this Principle. [F]or all Inclinations and Desires in the Soul flow from, and tend to the Satisfaction of Goodnesse. (IV. 44)

In Century III he identified as the most deeply embedded human desire the "Sacred Thirst" for Felicity, which alone can satisfy fully and unequivocally "the Goodnesse of Nature." In Meditations 44-45 of Century IV he further promises that knowledge of this "sacred" experience of the thirst for full happiness will enable the reader to become truly "Delightful and Joyous to others." It will bring awareness that as "excellent" as it is to appreciate "all Worlds, with a certain sense that they are infinitely Beautiful and Rich and Glorious," it is an even greater "Blessedness" to give (IV. 45). He wants to impress upon the reader that as marvelous as the inner bliss of Felicity truly is, it becomes even more excellent when it is expressed outwardly and shared with others.

In the closing meditations of Century IV Traherne impresses upon his reader the importance of taking proper action to gain Felicity. He states, for example, that

It ought to be a firm Principle in us, that This Life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it. Now we may do those Actions which hereafter we shall never have occasion to do. (IV. 93)

Traherne enlarges upon this point in stronger language with the following passage:

It is an Indelible Principle of Eternal Truth. That Practice and Exercise is the Life of all. . . . If you will be lazy, and not Meditate, you lose all. The Soul is made for Action, and cannot rest, till it be employed. . . . Worlds of Beauty and Treasure and Felicity may be round about it, and it self Desolate. (IV. 95)

His point that "The Soul is made for Action" (IV. 95) brings this Century full circle. A major theme introduced in Meditation 1 has been the necessity of assimilating and strengthening the experience of infinite happiness through harmonious activity. In this way, Felicity becomes "A Daily Joy" (IV. 100). But lest these principles overwhelm the reader by their number, Traherne insists in his concluding remarks that the process of becoming "Divine" through embodying the unbounded bliss of Felicity "is made as easy, as it is Endless and Invincible" (IV. 98). To paraphrase, the cultivation of Felicity is easy because it is in keeping with the nature of the mind, a point which he has explained as the Principle of Nature. All that is required is "Practice and Exercise." The alternative is a desolate, unproductive life.

The above points as a whole suggest a third connection between Traherne's mode of presentation in Century IV and a scientific approach to truth. This Century is decidedly more utilitarian, more action-oriented in emphasis than the others. He stresses the importance of the practical nature of Felicity or pure happiness, which is a comprehensible, non-mystical phenomenon, as the basis of a full and successful outer life.

Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology identifies activity, whether of a mental or physical kind, as a prime factor in the stabilization of transcendental consciousness in higher states of consciousness. Maharishi (1967) explains that for transcendental consciousness "to be lived at all times" the mind must engage in natural "normal activity," whether mental or physical (pp. 184-185). A permanent state of unbounded awareness, cosmic consciousness, results from the repeated alternation of the deep rest of Transcendental Meditation and dynamic activity:

When, through meditation, the mind has reached transcendental Self-consciousness and then returns from the field of absolute Being [pure awareness], it becomes necessary for it to engage in activity. In this way the nature of transcendental Being [pure awareness], infused into the mind, has an opportunity of maintaining itself even when the mind is engaged in experiencing the relative field of life through the senses. This is how one remains permanently established in Self-consciousness and thereby enjoys life in cosmic consciousness. (p. 211)

Traherne's writings also suggest that activity is instrumental in producing a more lasting experience of Felicity. Keynoting this point, he writes that "A Daily Joy shall be more my Joy, because it is continual [Traherne's italics]" (IV. 17). He regards the performance of "charitable" works as an activity especially conducive to Felicity's continuation, for in Meditations 21-30 Traherne asserts that unshared happiness is not as "excellent" as a communicated happiness, which is the "Charity of Paradise." But the "Blessed Operations" he lists also include mental activities, such as the appreciation, through earnest study, of God's love and laws: "How else should he live in Communion with GOD; to wit, in the Enjoyment of them?" (IV. 6). Though there is no strong biographical or textual evidence that Traherne himself experienced cosmic consciousness, in which twenty-four hours of bliss each day is first experienced, Century IV suggests he may have been moving in that direction. His writings certainly give the sense or inference that a permanent enhancement of daily life could be effected through "Progress" in the Felicity experience, supplemented by life-supporting activities, a sequence parallel to Maharishi's description of the path to cosmic consciousness.

Traherne promises in Meditation 100 that "Upon the Infinite Extent of the Understanding and Affection of the Soul," that is, following upon the full understanding and felt-experience ("Affection") of the unbounded power of the mind, "strange and Wonderful Things will follow." These wonderful developments include "A Fullness of Joy which nothing can exceed" and "an infinite Beauty and Greatness in the Soul" (IV. 100). Traherne's belief that the "Daily Joy" of unbounded happiness is the be-all and end-all of Christian life, and his stated unwillingness to dwell on suffering and sin, have been called "radically positive" (Traherne, 1675/1968, p. xxxviii). Centuries III and IV taken together suggest, however, that Traherne's philosophy of happiness developed inductively out of his subjective experiences?is "Entrance and Progress" in, as he puts it (IV. 1), a higher state of happiness. His experiences and his philosophy were not, as it has at times been alleged, merely the products of a sentimental optimism (Bush, 1962, p. 138). They indeed seem to parallel Maharishi's description of the development of higher states of consciousness through his Vedic Science and Technology. Traherne's exploration of the state of Felicity, furthermore, in a non-mystical framework and in a systematic, detached style probably inspired by the scientific approach to knowledge further enhances its parallel with Maharishi's Vedic Science and Technology.

In Century II Traherne assured the reader that the practice of "the right enjoyment," or appreciation of the world, including other people, is the path to the greatest Felicity, Communion with God, "which is infinitely Secure, and He my Happiness" (IV. 19). In the unfinished Century V (only ten meditations were completed) he paints a glorious picture of a life in communion with God. That he may be looking ahead to a higher state of consciousness will be considered later in this essay in conjunction with similar clues in the Dobell poems. Part 3


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