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Periodical: New Ideas (Comprehensionism)

Summary:  From Pat Deveney's database:

New Ideas / Journal of New Ideas.
1877 Monthly Publisher: E.W. Allen. Editor: Frederick J. Wilson. Succeeds: Little Journal of Ideas: The Thinkers' Gazette and Universal Educator (1867); The Comprehensionist: A Journal of Ideas, Thinker's Manual, and Willingwell Gazette (1872; 1877; 1889); The Twentieth Century: An Illustrated Magazine of New Ideas for the Nineteenth / A Journal of New Ideas (1873, 1877; 1888) Succeeded by: New Ideas for Thinkers, the Text Book of the 20th Century (1884)
1/1, 1877 (?); 1889. 24 pp., six pence an issue.

The note in Saturday Review, 1889, says the journal in that incarnation had lasted three issues only. This was one element of a series of pamphlets guised as journals that appeared under a variety of names from about 1867 to about 1897, ranging from 8-24 pp. and priced at one pence to sixpence a copy.

Little Journal of Ideas: The Thinkers' Gazette and Universal Educator (1867, weekly for 13 issues, then monthly)

The Comprehensionist: A Journal of Ideas, Thinker's Manual, and Willingwell Gazette (1872 monthly; 1877; 1889)

The Twentieth Century: An Illustrated Magazine of New Ideas for the Nineteenth / A Journal of New Ideas (1873, 1877 quarterly; 1888)

New Ideas / Journal of New Ideas (1877)

New Ideas for Thinkers, the Text Book of the 20th Century (1884)

Although at times promoted as weekly, monthly or quarterly journals, the issues appeared very irregularly and the journals were frequently short-lived and redundant, with earlier material subsumed and republished in later versions. The opus as a whole seems to have been envisioned as to appear in 40 sections of 16 pages each, but, while several were printed several times over in the first issues of Wilson's various journals, the entire work seems never to have appeared. In 1877, when the journal was issued quarterly as the Twentieth Century, Wilson explained in his familiar style the reasons for its tangled publishing history: "Owing to a variety of causes, this magazine made its first appearance . . . and then the idea had to be shaped into the practical while undergoing a spasmodic internal development that strained the execution to comply with the pretentious requirements that supermanded the working decision. This breathless elevationment prevented the survey of our associated relationships, until the intention fixed itself as the lantern in the lighthouse of Conscience to guide the Present to the Future." (Cope's Tobacco Plant, 1877)

Although formally devoted to the exposition of Comprehensionism (as explained below), the journals took everything for their province -- appropriately, since Comprehensionism embraced everything. They contained, as a critic noted, commentaries on "ships, music, British Lions, the Thirty-eighth Article of the Church of England, Robinson Crusoe, blue-oblong-eight, Communism, a Swiss tour, the evil eye, yellow-triangle-three, the Athanasian Creed, fleas, chromatic geometry, &c., &c., but what it all means we do not pretend to guess. Perhaps the magazine is — to use the words which it applies to Wagner's music — 'the abovemout of the hitherto;' but we should be more inclined to describe it (if we could imitate its lucid style) as the belowment of intense lunar influencification," a "guide for the thinker who investigates withoutment."

Frederick John Wilson (1822-September 23, 1906) was a "retired Captain, Army," as the 1851 census noted. He appeared in later censuses as "literary artist" and, most importantly for present purposes, as "a teacher of Comprehensionism." At various times he also assumed for himself the titles of "Radationist of the Blue Transept of the Paradision of Comprehension" and "Arch-Keeper of the Cardinal Blue in the Church of Comprehension." He is an outstanding example of the English eccentric and crank of the period, a man of comfortable means, sufficient education and tireless energy who sought serenely and guilelessly and without any financial self-interest to make the world aware of the wondrous symmetries of nature he had discovered. Having undergone a defining experience of the inherent structure of the universe and its interrelationships he developed a TOE (theory of everything) called "Comprehensionism" to make sense of it, and proceeded for four decades to expound his revelation to a vastly disinterested public and a bemused press in Hyde Park Corner speeches, lectures before the Dialectical Society and James Burns' Spiritual Institution, articles in Medium and Daybreak, Light, Human Nature, etc., exhibitions (free of charge and nonetheless ill-attended) of the beautiful diagrams and charts illustrating his ideas, Comprehensional Associations and a Comprehensive Church in England, a "co-operative village" in Leamington and a "Co-Operative Colony" in Kansas, as well as in innumerable pamphlets and short-lived journals. Wilson was serene and guileless, clearly not in it for the money, and his attitude compelled his contemporaries to credit his earnestness (kindly describing one of his pamphlets, for example, as "a work which for originality has certainly no equal") while confessing their utter inability to penetrate the forest of neologisms to discern his meaning.

In a letter to the Leamington Spa Courier in 1890, Wilson said in his typical fashion that "Comprehensionism was first co-associated at Leamington in 1867, so as cradled, proclaimed and to be habitioned, it must ever remain a necessitated indelibility." While the doctrine may first have been co-associated in that year with some compelling experience – Wilson usually spoke of its origins as dreams – he had been refining his ideas since the 1850s and had exhibited some of his illustrative diagrams at the International Exhibition of 1862 -- where they did not "excite either attention or remark." In 1866 he published a short book, The Philosophy of Classification; being a base for thought, a measure for morality, and a key to truth, a thing of columnar tabulations of odd conglomerations (The Deductive Idea: Monadic Dust, Combination, Home, Existence, Tillage, etc., with parallel Suggestions: Dust thou art, the child stretches out its left hand, woman standing by the left side of man in protection, etc.). Wilson specified that the "columns are printed in deductive succession, but as all reasoning should be by a succession of flights, you must therefore read it backwards." To render these more intelligible Wilson appended a beautiful sephiroth-like Key of Life diagram showing some of the relationships of the ideas. (It was printed on paper suitable for coloring, with the appropriate colors noted, and the columns were made to be removed and juxtaposed in novel, revealing arrangements.) Wilson had no allusions about the reception of his ideas. Only "persons who are undergoing confinement without hard labour," he opined, might find the time and interest to peruse the book, and he had only 200 printed. The next year he presented his ideas and diagrams at an Exhibition of the Gallery of Ideas in London, accompanying the presentation with a Catalogue of Ideal Sunshine, or Thought in Nature and a burlesque dialogue (Fair Play: or a Bit a Toak Between Sam and Bob). (The exhibit was touted as the nucleus of a Gallery of Expression, Tortuation, Pixland Portraits and Parqueterie work.") Here, finally, he makes it plain (or "plainer") that what he intended was a "Science of Solution": a universal system of organization that would relate all knowledge and easily enable the user to put any new idea into its proper context.

"How I have done it (as far as I have yet advanced), is by taking Nature in the three divisions of a Ray of Light for Colour, the divisions on the earth's surface for Form, and the divisions in the Common Chord in Music for Number; forming a harmony between them, and giving to each division a particular thought; proving a sympathy in the thoughts; then making a scale of sixteen divisions each for Colour, Form, and Music; giving thoughts to the divisions; proving a sympathy in the divisions; then taking the three divisions of sixteen divisions, and on the forty-eight divisions; making each into a division of sixteen divisions, and proving the harmony in each division in continuous parallelation, with primal divisions. I thus form a table of Mentalation of 768 divisions . . . . The better to illustrate the table of Mentalation, I have made forty-eight designs to represent the notes of a six-octave organ . . . and these designs represent the progress of Improvement as a thought, embodied as Justice travelling up the scale of C natural." Etc.

Comprehensionism, in other words, is an echo of Ramon Llull's Ars Magna and a crank foreshadowing of Fritz Zwicky's Morphological Box, "mental calisthenics," as Wilson called his work, that would reveal the inner relationships of all notions and, by testing the results, their proper organization. Comprehensionism lead its practitioners to the vision of the Lodge of Mutuality, "where a true system of knowledge culminates in Universal Comprehension, so that every question that can occur to the mind shall then receive a true and immediate solution." As such, it embraced all aspects of life. "Socially, it advocates district government, general enfranchisement, and the nationalization of the land, to be obtained by an organisation which associates the intention. Educationally, it advocates a system of teaching through colour, form, and number, and as these are the media through which all is perceived, the system deserves more attention than has hitherto been conceded to it. Religiously, it recognizes the Soul of God as the innate dwellment in each individual, and so Comprehensionism is in opposition to the Churches which say, 'all children are altogether abominable in the sight of God,' as if. God could make that which was an antagonism to himself When this absurdity is exposed, the Churchos will be the affection of the people, instead of the shroud on the consciousness of existence. The Comprohensionist in possession of this deific soul as an internal influence, stands secure amid misfortunes, and learns by intuition the socrets that science demonstrates by laboured and unconfiding effort."

As a system of practical knowledge, Comprehensionism found its expression in several churches advertised by Wilson, most notably the Comprehensive Church of England – the "Radiationists" – a new organization to "get rid of the sovereignty of kings and substitute the sovereignty of the people. This parted out all human activity in a Fourierist fashion into 16 divisions, labeled by color and arranged after the manner of a compass rose, with (if a sufficient number attended) members arranged at the cardinal points by their color. (The names given are of those who attended a meeting reported by Medium and Daybreak in 1881; they perhaps indicate the number of Wilson's followers at the time.)

"1— The Indigo Protectors: who protect life, property and progress; with the Motto, 'Defence not Offence' in preparing a just resistance. Mr. White.
2— Sage Green. Manufactures: all persons engaged making articles in quantities; Motto, 'Make to Last.' Mr. Hawkins
3— Yellow. Pioneers: all persons engaged in clear way physical obstructions to progress; Motto, 'Clear to occupy.' Mr. Murray.
4— Green. Domesticity: all persons engaged at home in cooking, Nursing, and cleaning ; Motto, 'Home Centres All.' Mrs. Lickford.
5— Red. Lawyers : all persons engaged in the establishment and interpretation of the Law; Motto, 'Thinker's be Ruler's.' Now Vacant.
6— Orange. Farming: all persons engaged in cultivating sentient, non-sentient and Material Life; Motto, 'Supply Nature's efforts.' Now Vacant.
7— Auburn. Attiapancy all persons engaged in obtain Wild Animals, and Vegetable Produce; Motto, 'Nature links Consequences.' Motto, 'Hurry hinder's Intention." Mr. Baxter.
8— Blue. Teachers : all persons engaged in teaching by word of Mouth, or by Physical or Manual Illustration; Motto, 'Teaching Teaches Teachers.' Mr. Wilson, and Mr. Grey."

The Paradision was the "central temple of the nation with sixteen transepts, each occupied by a cardinal. Wilson was Radationist of the Blue Transept of the Paradision of Comprehension" and "Arch-Keeper of the Cardinal Blue in the Church of Comprehension." No indication is found of how the organization might have worked in practice or of how one advanced through what are obviously intended as degrees. The goal of the practice, however, is clear: "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light, which means that if the radiations of all perception be to the centrestance of a single idea, the whole mind shall be self-illuminous in the harmony of the radiations, as not intercepted by cross purposes and subjectional considerations." Few except Wilson could have achieved such a focused perception and the promised "soul-renewmentation."

In his earliest publications Wilson had hinted at various mutual and co-operative educational and labor endeavors, and in 1875, as the Co-operative Colonization Company, Limited, he bought 720 acres of land in Nemaha ("No Papoose") County, Kansas for £1000 from another English co-operative colony that had run afoul of the infestations of grasshoppers in 1874. To finance the proposed mutualist venture he established and attempted to sell shares in the Willingwell Freehold Land and Tenement Company, but it all came to naught and in 1881, as reported in the Medium and Daybreak, he transferred the land as the endowment for the new University of Comprehension – which also apparently came to naught.

Wilson saw Comprehensionism as the perfect complement to spiritualism. It was, as he advertised in the Medium and Daybreak in 1878, "the Basis for Investigation of Spiritualism." For a time he wrote a regular column for Burns' magazine and his letters appeared in the other British journals, and E.W. Allen published some of his pamphlets and journals, but he made little headway among spiritualists, who, perhaps, felt that they could not add his peculiarities to their own. He was, however, something more than an isolated crank. "Hugh Kolson" (J. Parker) spoofed Wilson's views in his Walden Stanyer, Boy and Man (1896), which had earlier been serialized in Our Way in 1889, and felt no need to explain to his readers the "Paradision or Temple of the Universe represented by the radiating compass" which the young protagonist joined, becoming "one of the Radiationists of the sixteen transepts" and having "associated with him a colour, a form, and a number." George Bernard Shaw in his first novel, described his initial encounter in Hyde Park in the 1870s with "a bearded gentleman calling himself a Comprehensionist, who has discovered metaphysics for himself, and, being persuaded that his discovery was entirely new, called upon people to enroll themselves as Violet Volunteers for the promulgation of a home-made philosophy of the most abstract kind." The encounter led Shaw ( in his introduction to "Major Barbara") to pay Wilson the compliment of attributing to him rather than to Nietzsche the priority in objecting to "Christianity as a pernicious slave-morality." "The late Captain Wilson, author of several queer pamphlets, propagandist of a metaphysical system called Comprehensionism, and inventor of the term "Crosstianity" to distinguish the retrograde element in Christendom, was wont thirty years ago, in the discussions of the Dialectical Society, to protest earnestly against the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount as excuses for cowardice and servility, as destructive of our will, and consequently of our honor and manhood."

Wilson and his journals have an honored place among in the ignored eccentric spiritualist literature of the period, among the likes of Robert J. Burns (the "Man from Venus") and his Psycho-Harmonic Scientist, Peter Pearson's Harmony: the Peerless, Prominent, progressive Psycho-Therapeutic Journal, Bobby Sinnickson's National Transition Moonly Voice, Prince Immanuel's Journal, etc.

Victoria University of Wellington Library (1 issue).

Issues:New Ideas 1877

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