The little family of mystical treatises which is known to students as “the Cloud of Unknowing group,” deserves more attention than it has hitherto received from English lovers of mysticism: for it represents the first expression in our own tongue of that great mystic tradition of the Christian Neoplatonists which gathered up, remade, and “salted with Christ’s salt” all that was best in the spiritual wisdom of the ancient world. That wisdom made its definite entrance into the Catholic fold about A.D. 500, in the writings of the profound and nameless mystic who chose to call himself “Dionysius the Areopagite.” Three hundred and fifty years later, those writings were translated into Latin by John Scotus Erigena, a scholar at the court of Charlemagne, and so became available to the ecclesiastical world of the West. Another five hundred years elapsed, during which their influence was felt, and felt strongly, by the mystics of every European country: by St. Bernard, the Victorines, St. Bonaventura, St. Thomas Aquinas. Every reader of Dante knows the part which they play in the Paradiso. Then, about the middle of the 14th century, England—at that time in the height of her great mystical period—led the way with the first translation into the vernacular of the Areopagite’s work. In Dionise Hid Divinite, a version of the Mystica Theologia, this spiritual treasure-house was first made accessible to those outside the professionally religious class. Surely this is a fact which all lovers of mysticism, all “spiritual patriots,” should be concerned to hold in remembrance. It is supposed by most scholars that Dionise Hid Divinite, which—appearing as it did in an epoch of great spiritual vitality--quickly attained to a considerable circulation, is by the same hand which wrote theCloud of Unknowing and its companion books; and that this hand also produced an English paraphrase of Richard of St. Victor’s Benjamin Minor, another work of much authority on the contemplative life. Certainly the influence of Richard is only second to that of Dionysius in this unknown mystic’s own work—work, however, which owes as much to the deep personal experience, and extraordinary psychological gifts of its writer, as to the tradition that he inherited from the past. Nothing is known of him; beyond the fact, which seems clear from his writings, that he was a cloistered monk devoted to the contemplative life. It has been thought that he was a Carthusian. But the rule of that austere order, whose members live in hermit-like seclusion, and scarcely meet except for the purpose of divine worship, can hardly have afforded him opportunity of observing and enduring all those tiresome tricks and absurd mannerisms of which he gives so amusing and realistic a description in the lighter passages of theCloud. These passages betray the half-humorous exasperation of the temperamental recluse, nervous, fastidious, and hypersensitive, loving silence and peace, but compelled to a daily and hourly companionship with persons of a less contemplative type: some finding in extravagant and meaningless gestures an outlet for suppressed vitality; others overflowing with a terrible cheerfulness like “giggling girls and nice japing jugglers”; others so lacking in repose that they “can neither sit still, stand still, nor lie still, unless they be either wagging with their feet or else somewhat doing with their hands.” Though he cannot go to the length of condemning these habits as mortal sins, the author of the Cloud leaves us in no doubt as to the irritation with which they inspired him, or the distrust with which he regards the spiritual claims of those who fidget.