EDUCATION AND THE HIGHER LIFE
BY BISHOP SPALDING.
EDUCATION AND THE HIGHER LIFE. 12mo. $1.00.
THINGS OF THE MIND. 12mo. $1.00.
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THOUGHTS AND THEORIES OF LIFE AND EDUCATION. 12mo. $1.00.
OPPORTUNITY AND OTHER ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES. 12mo. $1.00.
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EDUCATION AND THE HIGHER LIFE
J. L. Spalding
Bishop of Peoria
The business of education is not, as I think, to perfect the learner in any of the sciences, but to give his mind that freedom and disposition, and those habits, which may enable him to attain every part of knowledge himself.—LOCKE
A. C. McCLURG & CO.
BY A. C. MCCLURG AND CO.,
A. D. 1890.
I. IDEALS 7
II. EXERCISE OF MIND 30
III. THE LOVE OF EXCELLENCE 51
IV. CULTURE AND THE SPIRIT OF THE AGE 73
V. SELF-CULTURE 92
VI. GROWTH AND DUTY 117
VII. RIGHT HUMAN LIFE 144
VIII. UNIVERSITY EDUCATION 172
EDUCATION AND THE HIGHER LIFE.
A noble aim, Faithfully kept, is as a noble deed.
To few men does life bring a brighter day than that which places the crown upon their scholastic labors, and bids them go forth from the halls of the Alma Mater to the great world's battlefield. There is a freshness in these early triumphs which, like the bloom and fragrance of the flower, is quickly lost, never to be found again even by those for whom Fortune reserves her most choice gifts. Fame, though hymned by myriad tongues, is not so sweet as the delight we drink from the tear-dimmed eyes of our mothers and sisters, in the sacred hours when we can yet claim as our own the love of higher things, the faith and hope which make this mortal life immortal, and fill a moment with a wealth of memories which lasts through years. The highest joy is serious, and in the midst of supreme delight there comes to the soul a stillness which permits it to rise to the serene sphere where truth is most gladly heard and most easily perceived; and in such exaltation, the young see that life is not what they take it to be. They think it long; it is short. They think it happy; it is full of cares and sorrows. This two-fold illusion widens the horizon of life and tinges it with gold. It gives to youth its charm and makes of it a blessed time to which we ever turn regretful eyes. But I am wrong to call illusion that which in truth is but an omen of the divine possibilities of man's nature. To the young, life is not mean or short, because the blessed freedom of youth may make it noble and immortal. The young stand upon the threshold of the world. Of the many careers which are open to human activity, they will choose one; and their fortunes will be various, even though their merits should be equal. But if position, fame, and wealth are often denied to the most persistent efforts and the best ability, it is consoling to know they are not the highest; and as they are not the end of life, they should not be made its aim. An aim, nevertheless, we must have, if we hope to live to good purpose. All men, in fact, whether or not they know it, have an ideal, base or lofty, which molds character and shapes destiny. Whether it be pleasure or gain or renown or knowledge, or several of these, or something else, we all associate life with some end, or ends, the attainment of which seems to us most desirable.
This ideal, that which in our inmost souls we love and desire, which we lay to heart and live by, is at once the truest expression of our nature and the most potent agency in developing its powers. Now, in youth we form the ideals which we labor to body forth in our lives. What in these growing days we yearn for with all our being, is heaped upon us in old age. All important, therefore, is the choice of an ideal; for this more than rules or precepts will determine what we are to become. The love of the best is twin-born with the soul. What is the best? What is the worthiest life-aim? It must be something which is within the reach of every one, as Nature's best gifts—air and sunshine and water—belong to all. What only the few can attain, cannot be life's real end or the highest good. The best is not far removed from any one of us, but is alike near to the poor and the rich, to the learned and the ignorant, to the shepherd and the king, and only the best can give to the soul repose and contentment. What then is the true life-ideal? Recalling to mind the thoughts and theories of many men, I can find nothing better than this, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God." "Love not pleasure," says Carlyle, "love God. This is the everlasting Yea, wherein all contradiction is solved; wherein whoso walks and works, it is well with him."
To the high and aspiring heart of youth, fame, honor, glory, appeal with such irresistible power, and appear clad in forms so beautiful, that at a time of life when all of us are unreal in our sentiments and crude in our opinions, they are often mistaken for the best. But fame is good only in so far as it gives power for good. For the rest, it is nominal. They who have deserved it care not for it. A great soul is above all praise and dispraise of men, which are ever given ignorantly and without fine discernment. The popular breath, even when winnowed by the winds of centuries, is hardly pure.
And then fame cannot be the good of which I speak, for only a very few can even hope for it. To nearly all, the gifts which make it possible are denied; and to others, the opportunities. Many, indeed, love and win notoriety, but such as they need not detain us here. A lower race of youth, in whom the blood is warmer than the soul, think pleasure life's best gift, and are content to let occasion die, while they revel in the elysium of the senses. But to make pleasure an end is to thwart one's purpose, for joy is good only when it comes unbidden. The pleasure we seek begins already to pall. It is good, indeed, if it come as refreshment to the weary, solace to the heavy-hearted, and rest to the careworn; but if sought for its own sake, it is "the honey of poison flowers and all the measureless ill." Only the young, or the depraved, can believe that to live for pleasure is not to be foreordained to misery. Whoso loves God or freedom or growth of mind or strength of heart, feels that pleasure is his foe.
"A king of feasts and flowers, and wine and revel, And love and mirth, was never King of glory."
Of money, as the end or ideal of life, it should not be necessary to speak. As a fine contempt for life, a willingness to throw it away in defence of any just cause or noble opinion, is one of the privileges of youth, so the generous heart of the young holds cheap the material comforts which money procures. To be young is to be free, to be able to live anywhere on land or sea, in the midst of deserts or among strange people; is to be able to fit the mind and body to all circumstance, and to rise almost above Nature's iron law. He who is impelled by this high and heavenly spirit will dream of flying and not of hobbling through life on golden crutches. Let the feeble and the old put their trust in money; but where there is strength and youth, the soul should be our guide.
And yet the very law and movement of our whole social life seem to point to riches as the chief good.
"What is that which I should turn to, lighting upon days like these? Every door is barred with gold, and opens but to golden keys."
Money is the god in whom we put our trust, to whom instinctively we pay homage. We believe that the rich are fortunate, are happy, that the best of life has been given to them. We have faith in the power of money, in its sovereign efficacy to save us not only from beggary, from sneers and insults, but we believe that it can transform us, and take away the poverty of mind, the narrowness of heart, the dullness of imagination, which make us weak, hard, and common. Even our hatred of the rich is but another form of the worship of money. The poor think they are wretched, because they think money the chief good; and if they are right, then is it a holy work to strive to overthrow society as it is now constituted. Buckle and Strauss find fault with the Christian religion because it does not inculcate the love of money. But in this, faith and reason are in harmony. Wealth is not the best, and to make it the end of life is idolatry, and as Saint Paul declares, the root of evil. Man is more than money, as the workman is more than his tools. The soul craves quite other nourishment than that which the whole material universe can supply. Man's chief good lies in the infinite world of thought and righteousness. Fame and wealth and pleasure are good when they are born of high thinking and right living, when they lead to purer faith and love; but if they are sought as ends and loved for themselves, they blight and corrupt. The value of culture is great, and the ideal it presents points in the right direction in bidding us build up the being which we are. But since man is not the highest, he may not rest in himself, and culture therefore is a means rather than an end. If we make it the chief aim of life, it degenerates into a principle of exclusion, destroys sympathy, and terminates in a sort of self-worship.
What remains, then, but the ideal which I have proposed?—"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God." Unless the light of Heaven fall along our way, thick darkness gathers about us, and in the end, whatever our success may have been, we fail, and are without God and without hope. So long as any seriousness is left, religion is man's first and deepest concern; to be indifferent is to be dull or depraved, and doubt is disease. Difficulties assuredly there are, underlying not only faith, but all systems of knowledge. How am I certain that I know anything? is a question, debated in all past time, debatable in all future time; but we are none the less certain that we know. The mind is governed by laws which neither science nor philosophy can change, and while theories and systems rise and pass away, the eternal problems present themselves ever anew clothed in the eternal mystery. But little discernment is needed to enable us to perceive how poor and symbolic are the thoughts of the multitude. Half in pity, half in contempt, we rise to higher regions only to discover that wherever we may be there also are the laws and the limitations of our being; and that in whatsoever sanctuaries we may take refuge, we are still of the crowd. We cannot grasp the Infinite; language cannot express even what we know of the Divine Being, and hence there remains a background of darkness, where it is possible to adore, or to mock. But religion dispels more mystery than it involves. With it, there is twilight in the world; without it, night. We are in the world to act, not to doubt. Leaving quibbles to those who can find no better use for life, the wise, with firm faith in God and man, strive to make themselves worthy to do brave and righteous work. Distrust is the last wisdom a great heart learns; and noble natures feel that the generous view is, in the end, the true view. For them life means good; they find strength and joy in this wholesome and cheerful faith, and if they are in error, it can never be known, for if death end all, with it knowledge ceases. Perceiving this, they strive to gain spiritual insight, they look to God; toward him they turn the current of their thought and love; the unseen world of truth and beauty becomes their home; and while matter flows on and breaks and remakes itself to break again, they dwell in the presence of the Eternal, and become co-workers with the Infinite Power which makes goodness good, and justice right. They love knowledge, because God knows all things; they love beauty, because he is its source; they love the soul, because it brings man into conscious communion with him and his universe. If their ideal is poetical, they catch in the finer spirit of truth which the poet breathes, the fragrance of the breath of God; if it is scientific, they discover in the laws of Nature the harmony of his attributes; if it is political and social, they trace the principles of justice and liberty to him; if it is philanthropic, they understand that love which is the basis, aim, and end of life is also God.
The root of their being is in him, and the illusory world of the senses cannot dim their vision of the real world which is eternal. By self-analysis the mind is sublimated until it becomes a shadow in a shadowy universe; and the criticism of the reason drives us to doubt and inaction, from which we are redeemed by our necessary faith in our own freedom, in our power to act, and in the duty of acting in obedience to higher law. Knowledge comes of doing. Never to act is never to know. The world of which we are conscious is the world against which we throw ourselves by the power of the will; hence life is chiefly conduct, and its ideal is not merely religious, but moral. The duty of obedience to our better self determines the purpose and end of action, for the better self is under the impulse of God. Whether we look without or within, we find things are as they should not be; and there awakens the desire, nay, the demand that they be made other and better. The actual is a mockery unless it may be looked upon as the means of a higher state. If all things come forth only to perish and again come forth as they were before; if life is a monster which destroys itself that it may again be born, again to destroy itself,—were it not better that the tragedy should cease? For many centuries men have been struggling for richer and happier life; and yet when we behold the sins, the miseries, the wrongs, the sorrows, of which the world is full, we are tempted to think that progress means failure. The multitude are still condemned to toil from youth to age to provide the food by which life is kept in the body; immortal spirits are still driven by hard necessity to fix their thoughts upon matter from which they with much labor dig forth what nourishes the animal. Like the savage, we still tremble before the pitiless might of Nature. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, untimely frosts, destroy in a moment what with long and painful effort has been provided. Pestilence still stalks through the earth to slay and make desolate. Each day a hundred thousand human beings die; and how many of these perish as the victims of sins of ignorance, of selfishness, of sensuality.
To-day, as of old, it would seem man's worst enemy is man. What hordes still wander through Asia and Africa, seeking opportunity for murder and rapine; what multitudes are still hunted like beasts, caught and sold into slavery. In Europe millions of men stand, arms in hand, waiting for the slaughter. They still believe, because they were born on different sides of a river and speak different languages, that they are natural enemies, made to destroy one another. And in our own country, what other sufferings and wrongs,—greed, sensuality, injustice, deceit,—make us enemies one of another! There is a general struggle in which each one strives to get the most, heedless of the misery of others. We trade upon the weaknesses, the vices, and the follies of our fellow-men; and every attempt at reform is met by an army of upholders of abuse. When we consider the murders, the suicides, the divorces, the adulteries, the prostitutions, the brawls, the drunkenness, the dishonesties, the political and official corruptions, of which our life is full, it is difficult to have complacent thoughts of ourselves. Consider, too, our prisons, our insane asylums, our poor-houses; the multitudes of old men and women, who having worn out strength and health in toil which barely gave them food and raiment, are thrust aside, no longer now fit to be bought and sold; the countless young people, who have, as we say, been educated, but who have not been taught the principles and habits which lead to honorable living; the thousands in our great cities who are driven into surroundings which pervert and undermine character. And worse still, the good, instead of uniting to labor for a better state of things, misunderstand and thwart one another. They divide into parties, are jealous and contentious, and waste their time and exhaust their strength in foolish and futile controversies. They are not anxious that good be done, nor asking nor caring by whom; but they seek credit for themselves, and while they seem to be laboring for the general welfare, are striving rather to satisfy their own selfish vanity.
But the knowledge of all this does not discourage him who, guided by the light of true ideals, labors to make reason and the will of God prevail. If things are bad he knows they have been worse. Never before have the faith and culture which make us human, which make us strong and wise, been the possession of so large a portion of the race. Religion and civilization have diffused themselves, from little centres—from Athens and Jerusalem and Rome—until people after people, whole continents, have been brought under their influence. And in our day this diffusion is so rapid that it spreads farther in a decade than formerly in centuries. For ages, mountains and rivers and oceans were barriers behind which tribes and nations entrenched themselves against the human foe. But we have tunneled the mountains; we have bridged the rivers; we have tamed the oceans. We hitch steam and electricity to our wagons, and in a few days make the circuit of the globe. All lands, all seas, are open to us. The race is getting acquainted with itself. We make a comparative study of all literatures, of all religions, of all philosophies, of all political systems. We find some soul of goodness in whatever struggles and yearnings have tried man's heart. As the products of every clime are carried everywhere, like gifts from other worlds, so the highest science and the purest religion are communicated and taught throughout the earth: and as a result, national prejudices and antagonisms are beginning to disappear; wars are becoming less frequent and less cruel; established wrongs are yielding to the pressure of opinion; privileged classes are losing their hold upon the imagination; and opportunity offers itself to ever-increasing numbers.
Now, in all this, what do we perceive but the purpose of God, urging mankind to wider and nobler life? History is his many-chambered school. Here he has taught this lesson, and there another, still leading his children out of the darkness of sin and ignorance toward the light of righteousness and love, until his kingdom come, until his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. To believe in God and in this divine education, and to make co-operation with his providential guidance of the race a life-aim is to have an ideal which is not only the highest, but which also blends all other true ideals into harmony. And the lovers of culture should be the first to perceive that intellectual good is empty, illusory, unless there be added to it the good of the heart, the good of conscience. To live for the cultivation of one's mind, is, after all, to live for one's self, and therefore out of harmony with the eternal law which makes it impossible for us to find ourselves except in what is not ourselves. "It is the capital fault of all cultivated men," says Goethe, "that they devote their whole energies to the carrying out of a mere idea, and seldom or never to the realization of practical good." Whatever may be said in praise of culture, of its power to make its possessor at home in the world of the best thought, the purest sentiment, the highest achievements of the race; of the freedom, the mildness, the reasonableness of the temper it begets; of its aim at completeness and perfection,—it is nevertheless true, that if it be sought apart from faith in God and devotion to man, its tendency is to produce an artificial and unsympathetic character. The primal impulse of our nature is to action; and unless we can make our thought a kind of deed, it seems to be vain and unreal; and unless the harmonious development of all the endowments which make the beauty and dignity of human life, give us new strength and will to work with God for the good of men, sadness and a sense of failure fall upon us. To have a cultivated mind, to be able to see things on many sides, to have wide sympathy and the power of generous appreciation,—is most desirable, and without something of all this, not only is our life narrow and uninteresting, but our energy is turned in wrong directions, and our very religion is in danger of losing its catholicity.
Culture, then, is necessary. We need it as a corrective of the tendency to seek the good of life in what is external, as a means of helping us to overcome our vulgar self-complacency, our satisfaction with low aims and cheap accomplishments, our belief in the sovereign potency of machines and measures. We need it to make our lives less unlovely, less hard, less material; to help us to understand the idolatry of the worship of steam and electricity, the utter insufficiency of the ideals of industrialism. But if culture is to become a mighty transforming influence it must be wedded to religious faith, without which, while it widens the intellectual view, it weakens the will to act. To take us out of ourselves and to urge us on to labor with God that we may leave the world better because we have lived, religion alone has power. It gives new vigor to the cultivated mind; it takes away the exclusive and fastidious temper which a purely intellectual habit tends to produce; it enlarges sympathy; it teaches reverence; it nourishes faith, inspires hope, exalts the imagination, and keeps alive the fire of love. To lead a noble, a beautiful, and a useful life, we should accept and follow the ideals both of religion and of culture. In the midst of the transformations of many kinds which are taking place in the civilized world, neither the uneducated nor the irreligious mind can be of help. Large and tolerant views are necessary; but not less so is the enthusiasm, the earnestness, the charity of Christian faith. They who are to be leaders in the great movements upon which we have entered, must both know and believe. They must understand the age, must sympathize with whatever is true and beneficent in its aspirations, must hail with thankfulness whatever help science, and art, and culture can bring; but they must also know and feel that man is of the race of God, and that his real and true life is in the unseen, infinite, and eternal world of thought and love, with which the actual world of the senses must be brought into ever-increasing harmony. Liberty and equality are good, wealth is good, and with them we can do much, but not all that needs to be done. The spirit of Christ is not merely the spirit of liberty and equality; it is more essentially the spirit of love, of sympathy, of goodness; and this spirit must breathe upon our social life until it becomes as different from what it is as is fragrant spring from cheerless winter. Sympathy must become universal; not merely as a sentiment prompting to deeds of helpfulness and mercy, but as the informing principle of society until it attains such perfectness that whatever is loss or gain for one, shall be felt as loss or gain for all. The narrow, exclusive self must lose itself in wider aims, in generous deeds, in the comprehensive love of God and man. The good must no longer thwart one another; the weak must be protected; the wicked must be surrounded by influences which make for righteousness; and the forces of Nature itself must more and more be brought under man's control. Pestilence and famine must no longer bring death and desolation; men must no longer drink impure water and adulterated liquors, no longer must they breathe the poisonous air of badly constructed houses; dwellings which are now made warm in winter, must be made cool in summer; miasmatic swamps must be drained; saloons, which stand like painted harlots to lure men to sin and death, must be closed. Women must have the same rights and privileges as men; children must no longer be made the victims of mammon and offered in sacrifice in his temple, the factory; ignorance, which is the most fruitful cause of misery, must give place to knowledge; war must be condemned as public murder, and our present system of industrial competition must be considered worse than war; the social organization, which makes the few rich, and dooms the many to the slavery of poorly paid toil, must cease to exist; and if the political state is responsible for this cruelty, it must find a remedy, or be overthrown; society must be made to rest upon justice and love, without which it is but organized wrong. These principles must so thoroughly pervade our public life that it can no more be the interest of any one to wrong his fellow, to grow rich at the cost of the poverty and misery of another. Life must be prolonged both by removing many of the physical causes of death, and by making men more rational and religious, more willing and able to deny themselves those indulgences which are but a kind of slow suicide.
Never before have questions so vast, so complex, so pregnant with meaning, so fraught with the promise of good, presented themselves; and it can hardly be vanity or conceit which prompts us to believe that in this mighty movement toward a social life in harmony with our idea of God and with the aspirations of the soul, America is the divinely appointed leader. But if this faith is not to be a mere delusion, it must become for the best among us the impulse to strong and persevering effort. Not by millionaires and not by politicians shall this salvation be wrought; but by men who to pure religion add the best intellectual culture. The American youth must learn patience; he must acquire that serene confidence in the power of labor, which makes workers willing to wait. He must not, like a foolish child, rush forward to pluck the fruit before it is ripe, lest this be his epitaph: The promise of his early life was great, his performance insignificant.
Do not our young men lack noble ambition? Are they not satisfied with low aims? To be a legislator; to be a governor; to be talked about; to live in a marble house,—seems to them a thing to be desired. Unhappy youths from whom the power and goodness of life are hidden, who, standing in the presence of the unseen, infinite world of truth and beauty, can only dream some aldermanic nightmare. They thrust themselves into the noisy crowd, and are thrown into contact with disenchanting experience at a time of life when the mind and heart should draw nourishment and wisdom from communion with God and with great thoughts. Amid the universal clatter of tongues, and in the overflowing ceaseless stream of newspaper gossip, the soul is bewildered and stifled. In a blatant land, the young should learn to be silent. The noblest minds are fashioned in secrecy, through long travail like,—
"Wines that, Heaven knows where, Have sucked the fire of some forgotten sun And kept it thro' a hundred years of gloom Yet glowing in a heart of ruby."
Is it not worth the labor and expectation of a life-time to be able to do, even once, the right thing excellently well? The eager passion for display, the desire to speak and act in the eyes of the world, is boyish. Will is concentration, and a great purpose works in secrecy. Oh, the goodness and the seriousness of life, the illimitable reach of achievement, which it opens to the young who have a great heart and noble aims! With them is God's almighty power and love, and his very presence is hidden from them by a film only. From this little islet they look out upon infinite worlds; heaven bends over them, and earth bears them up as though it would have them fly. How is it possible to remain inferior when we believe in God and know that this age is the right moment for all high and holy work? The yearning for guidance has never been so great. We have reached heights where the brain swims, and thoughts are confused, and it is held to be questionable whether we are to turn backward or to move onward to the land of promise; whether we are to be overwhelmed by the material world which we have so marvelously transformed, or with the aid of the secrets we have learned, are to rise Godward to a purer and fairer life of knowledge, justice, and love.
Is the material progress of the nineteenth century a cradle or a grave? Are we to continue to dig and delve and peer into matter until God and the soul fade from our view and we become like the things we work in? To put such questions to the multitude were idle. There is here no affair of votes and majorities. Human nature has not changed, and now, as in the past, crowds follow leaders. What the best minds and the most energetic characters believe and teach and put in practice, the millions will come to accept. The doubt is whether the leaders will be worthy,—the real permanent leaders, for the noisy apparent leaders can never be so. And here we touch the core of the problem which Americans have to solve. No other people has such numbers who are ready to thrust themselves forward as leaders, no other has so few who are really able to lead. In mitigation of this fact, it may be said with truth, that nowhere else is it so difficult to lead; for nowhere else does force rule so little. Every one has opinions; the whole nation is awakened; thousands are able to discuss any subject with plausibility; and to be simply keen-witted and versatile is to be of the crowd. We need men whose intellectual view embraces the history of the race, who are familiar with all literature, who have studied all social movements, who are acquainted with the development of philosophic thought, who are not blinded by physical miracles and industrial wonders, but know how to appreciate all truth, all beauty, all goodness. And to this wide culture they must join the earnestness, the confidence, the charity, and the purity of motive which Christian faith inspires. We need scholars who are saints, and saints who are scholars. We need men of genius who live for God and their country; men of action who seek for light in the company of those who know; men of religion who understand that God reveals himself in science, and works in Nature as in the soul of man, for the good of those who love him. Let us know the right moment, and let us know that it comes for those alone who are prepared.
EXERCISE OF MIND.
O heavens! how awful is the might of souls And what they do within themselves while yet The yoke of earth is new to them, the world Nothing but a wild field where they were sown.
Learning is acquaintance with what others have felt, thought, and done; knowledge is the result of what we ourselves have felt, thought, and done. Hence a man knows best what he has taught himself; what personal contact with God, with man, and with Nature has made his own. The important thing, then, is not so much to know the thoughts and loves of others, as to be able ourselves to think truly, and to love nobly. The aim should be to rouse, strengthen, and illumine the mind rather than to store it with learning; and the great educational problem has been, and is, how to give to the soul purity of intention, to the conscience steadfastness, and to the mind force, pliability, and openness to light; or in other words, how to bring philosophy and religion to the aid of the will so that the better self shall prevail and each generation introduce its successor to a higher plane of life.
To this end the efforts of all teachers have, with more or less consciousness, tended; and in this direction too, along winding ways and with periods of arrest or partial return, the race of man has for ages been moving; and he who aspires to gain a place in the van of the mighty army on its heavenward march,—
"And draw new furrows 'neath the healthy morn And plant the great Hereafter in this Now,"—
may be rash, but his spirit is not ignoble. To him it may not be given "to fan and winnow from the coming step of Time the chaff of custom;" but if he persevere he may confidently hope that his thought and love shall at length rise to fairer and more enduring worlds. He weds himself to things of light, seeks aids to true life within, learns to live with the noble dead, and with the great souls of the present who have uttered the truth whereby they live, in a way more intimate and higher than that granted to those who are with them day by day; for minds are not separated by time and space, but by quality of thought. But to be able to love this life, and with all one's heart to seek this close communion with God, with noble souls, and with Nature is not easy, and it may be that it is impossible for those who are not drawn to it by irresistible instincts. For the intellect, at least, attractions are proportional to destiny; and the art of intellectual life is not most surely learned by those whom circumstances favor, but by those whom will impels onward to exercise of mind; whom neither daily wants, nor animal appetites, nor hope of gain, nor low ambition, nor sneers of worldlings, nor prayers of friends, nor aught else can turn from the pursuit of wisdom; who, with ceaseless labor and with patient thought, eat their way in silence, like caterpillars, to the light, become their own companions, walk uplifted by their own thoughts, and by slow and imperceptible processes are transformed and grow to be the embodiment of the truth and beauty which they see and love.
The overmastering love of mental exercise, of the good of the intellect, is probably never found in formal and prosaic minds; or if so, its first awakening is in the early years when to think is to feel, when the soul, fresh from God, comes trailing clouds of glory, and the sun and moon and stars, and the hills and flowing waters seem but made to crown with joy hearts that love. It is in these dewy dawns that the image of beauty is imprinted on the soul and the sense of mystery awakens. We move about and become a part of all we see, grow akin to stones and leaves and birds, and to all young and happy things. We lose ourselves in life which is poured round us like an unending sea; are natural, healthful, alive to all we see and touch; have no misgivings, but walk as though the eternal God held us by the hand. These are the fair spring days when we suck honey that shall nourish us in the winters of which we do not dream; when sunsets interfuse themselves with all our being until we are dyed in the many-tinted glory; when the miracle of the changing year is the soul's fair seed-time; when lying in the grass, the head resting in clasped hands, while soft white clouds float lazily through azure skies, and the birds warble, and the waters murmur, and the flowers breathe fragrance, we feel a kind of unconscious consciousness of a universal life in Nature. The very rocks seem to be listening to what the leaves whisper; and through the silent eternities we almost see the dead becoming the living, the living the dead, until both grow to be one, and whatever is, is life.
He who has never had these visions; has never heard these airy voices; has never seemed about to catch a glimpse of the inner heart of being, pulsing beneath the veil of visible things; has never felt that he himself is a spirit looking blindly on a universe, which if his eyes could but see and his ears hear, would be revealed as the very heaven of the infinite God,—must forever lack something of the freshness, of the eager delight, with which a poetic mind contemplates the world and follows whither the divine intimations point. This early intercourse with Nature nourishes the soul, deepens the intellect, exalts the imagination, and fills the memory with fair and noble forms and images which abide with us, and as years pass on, gain in softness and purity what they may lose in distinctness of outline and color. This is the source of intellectual wealth, of tranquil moods, of patience in the midst of opposition, of confidence in the fruitfulness of labor and the transforming power of time. Here is given the material which must be molded into form; the rude blocks which must be cut and dressed and fitted together until they become a spiritual temple wherein the soul may rest at one with God and Nature, and with its own thought and love. To run, to jump, to ride, to swim, to skate, to sit in the shade of trees by flowing water, to watch reapers at their work, to look on orchards blossoming, to dream in the silence that lies amid the hills, to feel the solemn loneliness of deep woods, to follow cattle as they crop the sweet-scented clover,—to learn to know, as one knows a mother's face, every change that comes over the heavens from the dewy freshness of early dawn to the restful calm of evening, from the overpowering mystery of the starlit sky to the tender human look with which the moon smiles upon the earth,—all this is education of a higher and altogether more real kind than it is possible to receive within the walls of a school; and lacking this, nothing shall have power to develop the faculties of the soul in symmetry and completeness. Hence a philosopher has said there are ten thousand chances to one that genius, talent, and virtue shall issue from a farmhouse rather than from a palace. The daily intercourse with Nature in childhood and youth intertwines with noble and enduring objects the passions which form the mind and heart of man, whereas those who are shut out from such communion are necessarily thrown into contact with what is mean and vulgar; and since our early years, whatever our surroundings may have been, seem to us sweet and fair because life itself is then a clear-flowing fountain, they cannot help blending the memory of that innocent and happy time with thoughts of base and mechanical objects, or, it may be, of low and ignoble associates.
He is fortunate who, during the first ten years of his life, escapes the confinement and repression of school, and lives at home in the country amid the fields and the woods, day by day growing familiar with the look on Nature's face, with all her moods, with every common object, with living things in the air and the water and on the earth; who sees the corn sprout, and watches it grow week after week until the yellow harvest waves in the sunlight; who looks with unawed eye on rising thunder-clouds and shouts with glee amid the lightning's play; who learns to know that whatever he looks upon is thereby humanized, and to feel that he is part of all he sees and loves. He will carry with him to the study of the intellectual and spiritual world of men's thoughts shut up in books, a strength of mind, a depth and freshness of heart which only those can own who have drunk at Nature's deep flowing fountain, and come up to life's training-course wet with her dews and with the fragrance of her flowers on their breath. In the eyes of the old Greeks, who first made education a science, the scholar was an idler,—one who had leisure to look about him, to stroll amid the olive groves, to let his eye rest upon the purple hills or the blue sea studded with green isles, to listen to the brooks and the nightingales, to read the lesson the fair earth teaches more than that imprinted on parchment; and the school must still preserve something of this freedom from constraint, must encourage the play of body and of mind, the delight natural to the young in the exercise of strength of whatever kind, and thus as far as possible lighten the labor and drudgery of elementary studies with thoughts of liberty, of beauty, and of excellence. Let the boy feel how good it is to be alive though life meant only the narrow world and the mere surfaces of things with which alone it is possible for him to be acquainted; and then when we ask him to believe that in high thinking and in noble acting he will find a life infinitely more worthy, his eager soul will be inflamed with a desire for knowledge and virtue, and bearing in his heart the strength and wealth of imagination gained from his early experience, his thoughts will turn to great and good men. Dim visions of mighty conquerors, of poets at whose song the woods and waves grow calm, of orators whose words with storm-like force, whatever way they take, sweep with them the wills of men,—will rise before his mind. His young fancy will endow them with preternatural qualities; and he will yearn to draw near, to mingle with them and to catch the secret of their divine power. The germ of the godlike within his bosom bursts and springs. What they were, why may not he also become? What bars are thrown athwart his path, what obstacles hem his way, which, whoever in any age has excelled, has not had to break down and surmount? Here the wise teacher comes to cheer him, to tell him his faith is not wrong, his hope not without promise of attainment if he but trust himself, and bend his whole mind to the task; that whatever goal within the scope of human power, the will sets to itself, it may reach.
In order to develop, strengthen, and confirm this high mood, this noble temper, let him by all means be made acquainted with the language and genius of Greece. Here he will be introduced to a world of thought and sentiment almost as fresh, as fair and many-sided as Nature herself,—the fragrant blossoming in myriad hues and forms of the life and mind of the most richly endowed portion of the human race. Not only are the Greeks the most highly-gifted of all people, but in this classical age they have also this special charm and power,—that the keenest intellectual faculties are in them united with the feelings, hopes, and fancies of a noble and great-hearted youth. Even Socrates and Plato talk like high-souled boys who can see the world only in the light of ideals, for whom what the mind beholds and the heart loves is alone real. How healthfully they look on life, with what delight they breathe the air! What fine contempt have they not of death, thinking no fortune so good as that which comes to the hero who dies in a worthy cause! There is Athens, already the world's university; but no books, no libraries, no lecture-halls, only great teachers who walk about followed by a crowd of youths eager to drink in their words. Here is the Acropolis, with its snow-white temples and propylaeum, fair and chaste as though they had been built in heaven and gently lowered to this Attic mound by the hands of angels. There in the Parthenon are the sculptures of Phidias, and yonder in the temple of the Dioscuri, the paintings of Polygnotus,—ideal beauty bodied forth to lure the souls of men to unseen and eternal worlds. If they turn to the east, the isles of the AEgean look up to them like virgins who welcome happy lovers; to the west, Mount Pentelicus, from whose heart the architectural glory of the city has been carved, bids them think what patience will enable man's genius to accomplish; and to the north, Hymettus, fragrant with the breath of a thousand herbs and musical with the hum of bees, stoops with gentle undulations to their feet. They live in the air; their temples are open to the sunlight; their theatres are uncovered to the heavens; and whithersoever they move, they are surrounded by what is fair, noble, and inspiring. This free and happy life in the company of great teachers becomes the stimulus to the keenest exercise of mind. They are as eager to see things in a true light as they are quick to sympathize with whatever is heroic or beautiful; and all their talk is of truth and justice, the good, the fair, the excellent, of philosophy, religion, poetry, and art, and of whatever else seems favorable to human life and to the development of ideal manhood. Of the merely useful they have the scorn of young and inexperienced minds; and Hippocrates proclaims himself ready to give Protagoras, not only whatever he himself possesses, but also the property of his friends, if he will but teach him wisdom. Superior knowledge was to them of all things the most admirable and the most to be desired. What noble thoughts have they not concerning education? "An intelligent man," says Plato, "will prize those studies which result in his soul getting soberness, righteousness, and wisdom, and will less value the others." The culture of the mind is made a kind of religion, in the spreading of which the personal influence of the teacher is not less active than the truths he sets forth. Bonds of affection bind the disciple to the master whose words have for him the sacredness of wisdom and the charm of genius, power to confirm the will, and warmth and color whereby the imagination is raised.
This secret of making knowledge attractive, of clothing truth in chaste and beautiful language, of associating it with whatever is fair and noble in Nature, and of relating it to life and conduct, which is part of the genius of Greece, still lives in her literature; and to read the words of her poets, orators, and philosophers is to feel the presence of a high and active spirit, is to breathe in an intellectual atmosphere of light and liberty, is of itself enlargement and cultivation of mind. Hence, in the realms of thought, the Greeks are the civilizers and emancipators of the world; and whoever thinks, is to some extent their debtor. The music of their eloquence and poetry can never grow silent; the forms of beauty their genius has created can never perish, and never cease to win the admiration and love of noble minds and gentle hearts, or to be the inspiration, generation after generation, to high thoughts and heroic moods. So long as glory, beauty, freedom, light, and gladness shall seem good and fair, so long will the finer spirits of the world feel the attraction and the charm of Greece, and know the sweet surprise which thrilled the heart of Keats when first he read Homer:—
"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken, Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific, and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise, Silent, upon a peak in Darien."
In a less degree, Roman literature, which is the offspring of Greek culture, has value as an intellectual stimulus and discipline. Here also the youthful mind is brought into the presence of a great and noble people, who, if they have less genius and a duller sense of beauty than the Greeks, excel them in steadiness of purpose, in dignity of character, in reverence for law and religion, and above all in the art of governing.
The educational value of the classics does not lie so much in the Greek and Latin languages as in the type of mind, the sense of proportion and beauty, the heroic temper, the philosophic mood, the keen relish for high enterprise, and the joyful love of life which they make known to us. The world to which they introduce us is so remote that the pre-occupations and vulgarities of the present, by which we all are hemmed and warped, fall away from us; and it is at the same time so real and of such absorbing interest that we are caught up in spirit and carried to the Attic Plain and the hills of Latium. They are useful, not because they teach us anything that may not be learned and learned more accurately from modern books, but because they move the mind, fire the heart, ennoble and refine the imagination in a way which nothing else has power to do. They are sources of inspiration; they first roused the modern mind to activity; and the potency of their influence can never cease to be felt by those whose aptitudes lead them to the love of intellectual perfection, who delight in the free play of the mind, who are attracted by what is symmetrical, who have the instinct for beauty, who swim in a current of ideas as naturally as birds fly in the air. They appeal to the mind as a whole, stimulate all its faculties, awaken a many-sided sympathy both with Nature and with the world of men. They widen our view of life, bring forth in us the consciousness of our kinship with the human race, and of the application to ourselves, however common and uninspiring our surroundings may be, of the best thoughts and noblest deeds which have ever sprung from the brain and heart of man. They help to make one, again to quote Plato, "A lover, not of a part of wisdom, but of the whole; who has a taste for every sort of knowledge, and is curious to learn and is never satisfied; who has magnificence of mind, and is a spectator of all time and all existence; who is harmoniously constituted, of a well-proportioned and gracious mind, whose own nature will move spontaneously toward the true being of everything; who has a good memory, and is quick to learn, noble, gracious, the friend of truth, justice, courage, temperance." The ideal presented is that of complete harmonious culture, the aim of which is not to make an artisan, a physician, a merchant, a lawyer, but a man alive in all his faculties, touching the world at many points, for whom all knowledge is desirable, all beauty lovable, and for whom fine bearing and noble acting are indispensable.
It is needless to point out in what, or why, the Greeks failed, since here there is question only of intellectual life, and in this they did not fail. Nor is there any thought, in what has here been said, of depreciating the worth of the study of science, without a certain knowledge of which no one, in this age, can in any true sense, be called educated. Whoever, indeed, learns a language properly, acquires scientific knowledge; and the Greeks are not only the masters in poetry and eloquence, they are also the guides to the right use of reason and to scientific method, and the teachers of mathematics, logic, and physics. He who pursues culture, in the Greek spirit, who desires to see things as they are, to know the best that has been thought and done by men, will fear nothing so much as the exclusion of any truth, and he will be anxious to acquaint himself not only with the method, but as far as possible with the facts, of physical science. Still he perceives that however great the value of natural knowledge may be, it is, as an instrument of culture, inferior to literature. We are educated by what calls forth in us love and admiration, by what creates the exalted mood and the steadfast purpose. In bowing with reverence to what is above us, we are uplifted. When we are moved, we are more alive; we are stronger, tenderer, nobler. Now to look upon Nature with the detective eye of the man of science is to be cold and unsympathetic; to learn by methodic experiment is to gain knowledge, which, since it is only remotely or indirectly related to life, is but little interesting. Such knowledge is a fragment, and a fragment extremely difficult to fit into the temple built by thought and love, by hope and imagination; and hence when we have learned a great deal about chemical elements, geologic epochs, correlation of forces, and sidereal spaces, we are rather astonished than enlightened. We are brought into the presence of a world which is not that of the senses, nor yet that which faith, hope, and love forebode; and the bearing it may have upon human life is of more interest to us than the facts made known. We are, indeed, curious to know whatever may, with any certainty, be told us of atoms and biogenesis; but our real concern is to learn what significance such truth may have in its relation to questions of God and the soul.
There is doubtless a disciplinary value in the study of physical science. It trains the mind to habits of patient attention, of careful observation, teaches the danger of hasty generalization, and diminishes intellectual conceit; but these results may also be obtained by other means. The aim of education is not simply to develop this or the other faculty, however indispensable, nor yet to make one thoroughly conversant with a particular order of facts, but the aim is to bring about a conscious participation in the life of the race, to evoke all the powers of man, so that his whole being shall be quickened and made responsive to the touch of things seen and unseen; and the study of science is less adapted to the attainment of this end than the study of human letters. The scientific temper draws to specialties; and specialists are narrow, are incomplete. They, each in his own line, do good work, and are the chief agents for the increase of natural knowledge, and are, we may grant, leaders in every kind of improvement; but like the operatives who provide our comforts and luxuries, they are themselves warped and crippled by what they do. The habit of looking at a single order of facts, coldly and always from the same point of view, takes from the mind flexibility, weakens the imagination, and puts fetters on the soul; and hence though it is important that there be specialists, the kind of education by which they are formed, while it is suited to make a geologist, a chemist, a mathematician, or a botanist, is not suited to call forth the free and harmonious play of all man's powers. We do not live on facts alone, much less on facts of a single kind. Religion and poetry, love, hope, and imagination are as essential to our well-being as science. Human life is knowledge, is faith, is conduct, is beauty, is manners; it unfolds itself in many directions and shoots its roots into infinitude; and for the general purposes of education, science is learned to best advantage when it is embodied in literature, and its methods and results, rather than the details of its work, are presented to us. Whatever it is able to do, to improve the mind, to widen the range of thought, to give true notions of the workings of Nature,—it will do for whoever learns accurately its general conceptions and results; and these cannot remain unknown to him whose aim is culture, for such an one is, as Plato says, "A lover not of a part of wisdom, but of the whole, and has a taste for every sort of knowledge, and is curious to learn, and is never satisfied; and though he will not know medicine like a physician, or the heavens like an astronomer, or the vegetable kingdom like a botanist, his mind will play over all these realms with freedom, and he will know how to relate the principles and facts of all the sciences to our sense for beauty, for conduct, for life and religion in a way which a mere specialist can never find." And his view will not only be wider and less impeded, it will also be deeper than that of the man of science; for he who sees but one order of things sees only their surfaces, just as he who sees but one thing sees nothing at all.
It would be a mistake to imagine that the ideal here commended, means superficial accomplishments, an excessive love of style and the ornaments of poetry and eloquence, or preoccupation in favor of aught external or frivolous. It is the very opposite of dilettantism, and if it mean anything, means thoroughness, and a thoroughness which can come only of untiring labor carried on through many years; for time and intercourse with men and varied experience are indispensable elements. It is like the ideal of religion which makes the saint think himself a sinner; it is as exacting as the miser's thought which makes millions seem to be beggary; like the artist's vision, like the poet's dream, it allures and yet forbids hope of attainment. The seeker after wisdom must have a high purpose, a strong soul, and the purest love of truth. He cannot live in the senses alone, nor in the mind, nor in the heart alone, but the spiritual being, which is himself, yearns for whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is fair, and so he finds himself akin to the infinite God and to all that he has made. When his thought is carried out to atoms weaving the garment which is our body, and molding the world we see and touch; when he beholds motion lighting, warming, thrilling the universe,—he is filled with intellectual joy, but at the same time he perceives that all this is but a phase of truth; that God and the boundless facts are infinitely more than drilled atomics marshaled rank on rank until they form the countless hosts of the heavens. When the men of science have labeled the elements, and put tickets upon all natural compounds, and with complacency declare that this is the whole truth, he looks on the flowers around him and the blooming children, on the stars above his head, on the sun slow wheeling down the western horizon, on the moon climbing some eastern hill, and his inmost soul is glad because he feels the thrill of the infinite, living Spirit, and forebodes to what fair countries we are bound.
And when they proclaim the wonders science has wrought,—increase of physical enjoyment and social comfort; the yoking of lightning and steam to make them work for man; the providing of more abundant food; the building of more wholesome dwellings; the lengthening of life; temporal benefits of every kind,—he joins with those who utter praise, but knows that infinitely more than all this goes to the making of man's life. So he turns his mind in many directions, and while he looks on the truth in science, does not grow blind to the truth in religion; while he knows the value of what is practically useful, understands also the priceless worth of what is noble and beautiful, and his acquaintance with many kinds of thought, with many shades of opinion confirms him, as Joubert says, in the acceptance of the best.
THE LOVE OF EXCELLENCE.
Why is this glorious creature to be found One only in ten thousand? what one is, Why may not millions be? what bars are thrown By Nature in the way of such a hope?
He teaches to good purpose who inspires the love of excellence, and who sends his pupils forth from the school's narrow walls with such desire for self-improvement that the whole world becomes to them a God-appointed university. And why shall not every youth hope to enter the narrow circle of those for whom to live, is to think, who behold "the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies." An enlightened mind is like a fair and pleasant friend who comes to cheer us in every hour of loneliness and gloom; it is like noble birth which admits to all best company; it is like wealth which surrounds us with whatever is rarest and most precious; it is like virtue which lives in an atmosphere of light and serenity, and is itself enough for itself. Whatever our labors, our cares, our disappointments, a free and open mind, by holding us in communion with the highest and the fairest, will fill the soul with strength and joy. The artist, day by day, year in and year out, hangs over his work, and finds enough delight in the beauty he creates; and shall not the friend of the soul be glad in striving ceaselessly to make his knowledge and his love less unlike the knowledge and the love of God? Seldom is opportunity of victory offered to great captains, the orator rarely finds fit theme and audience, hardly shall the hero meet with occasions worthy of the sacrifice of life; but he who labors to shape his mind to the heavenly forms of truth and beauty beholds them ever present and appealing. Life without thought and love is worthless; and to the best men and women belong only those who cultivate with earnestness and perseverance their spiritual faculties, who strive daily to know more, to love more, to be more beautiful. They are the chosen ones, and all others, even though they sit on thrones, are but the crowd.
Without a free and open mind there is no high and glad human life. You may as well point to the savage drowsing in his tent, or to cattle knee-deep in clover, and bid me think them high, as to ask me to admire where I can behold neither intelligence nor love. All that we possess is qualified by what we are. Gold makes not the miser rich, nor its lack a true man poor; and he who has gained insight into the fair truth that he is a part of all he sees and loves, is richer than kings, and lives like a god in his universe. Possibilities for us are measured by the kind of work in which we put our hearts. If a man's thoughts are wholly busy with carpentering do not expect him to become anything else than a carpenter; but if his aim is to build up his own being, to make his mind luminous, his heart tender and pure, his will steadfast, who but God shall fix a limit beyond which he may not hope to go. Education, indeed, cannot confer organic power; but it alone gives us the faculty to perceive how infinitely wonderful and fair are man's endowments, how boundless his inheritance, how full of deathless hope is that to which he may aspire. Religion, philosophy, poetry, science,—all bring us into the presence of an ideal of ceaseless growth toward an all-perfect Infinite, dimly discerned and unapproachable, but which fascinates the soul and haunts the imagination with its deep mystery, until what we long for becomes more real than all that we possess, and yearning is our highest happiness. Ah! who would throw a veil over the vision on which young eyes rest when young hearts feel that ideal things alone are real? Who would rob them of this divine principle of progress which makes growth the best of life?
"Many are our joys In youth; but oh, what happiness to live When every hour brings palpable access Of knowledge, when all knowledge is delight!"
In all ages, we know those made wise by experience, which teaches us to expect little, whether of ourselves or others, have made the thoughts and hopes of youth a jest, even as men have made religion a jest, having nothing to offer us in compensation for its loss, but witticisms and despair. This is the fatal fault of life, that when we have obtained what is good,—as wealth, position, wife, and friends,—we lose all hope of the best, and with our mockery discourage those who have ideal aims; who, remembering how the soul felt in life's dawn, retain a sense of God's presence in the world, to whom with growing faculties they aspire, feeling that whatsoever point they reach, they still have something to pursue. This is the principle of the diviner mind in all high and heroic natures; this is the spring-head of deeds that make laws, of "thoughts that enrich the blood of the world;" this is the power which gives to resolve the force of destiny, and clothes the soul with the heavenliest strength and beauty when it stands single and alone, of men abandoned and almost of God.
There is little danger that too many shall ever hearken to the invitation from the fair worlds to which all souls belong, and where alone they can be luminous and free. For centuries, now, what innumerable voices have pleaded with men to make themselves worthy of heaven; while they have moved on heedless of the heaven that lies about us here, placing their hopes and aims in material and perishable elements, athirst neither for truth, nor beauty, nor aught that is divinely good! They sleep, they wake, they eat, they drink; they tread the beaten path with ceaseless iteration, and so they die. If one come appealing for culture of intellect, not because they who know, are stronger than the ignorant and make them their servants, but because an open, free, and flexible mind is good and fair, better than birth, position, and wealth, they turn away as though he trifled with their common-sense. Life, they say, is not for knowledge, but knowledge for life; and they neither truly know, nor live. And if here and there some nobler soul stand forth, he degrades himself to an aspirant to fame, forgetting truth and love.
Enough there are on earth who reap and sow, Enough who give their lives to common gain, Enough who toil with spade and axe and plane, Enough who sail the seas where rude winds blow; Enough who make their life unmeaning show, Enough who plead in courts, who physic pain; Enough who follow in the lover's train, And taste of wedded hearts the bliss and woe.
A few at least may love the poet's song, May walk with him, their visionary guide, Far from the crowd, nor do the world a wrong; Or on his wings through deep blue skies may glide And float, by light transfused, like clouds along Above the earth and over oceans wide.
With unresting, wearing thought and labor we are striving to make earth more habitable. We drag forth from its inner parts whatever treasures are hidden there; with steam's mighty force we mold brute matter into every fair and serviceable form; we build great cities, we spread the fabric of our trade; the engine's iron heart goes throbbing through tunneled mountains and over storm-swept seas to bear us and our wealth to all regions of the globe; we talk to one another from city to city, and from continent to continent along ocean's oozy depths the lightning flashes our words, spreading beneath our eyes each morning the whole world's gossip,—but in the midst of this miraculous transformation, we ourselves remain small, hard, and narrow, without great thoughts or great loves or immortal hopes. We are a crowd where the highest and the best lose individuality, and are swept along as though democracy were a tyranny of the average man under which superiority of whatever kind is criminal. Our population increases, our cities grow, our roads are lengthened, our machinery is made more perfect, the number of our schools is multiplied, our newspapers are read in ever-widening circles, the spirit of humanity and of freedom breathes through our life; but the individual remains common-place and uninteresting. He lacks intelligence, has no perception of what is excellent, no faith in ideals, no reverence for genius, no belief in any highest sort of man who has not shown his worth in winning wealth, position, or notoriety. We have a thousand poets and no poetry, a thousand orators and no eloquence, a thousand philosophers and no philosophy. Every city points to its successful men who have millions, but are themselves poor and unintelligent; to its writers who, having sold their talent to newspapers and magazines, sink to the level of those they address, dealing only with what is of momentary interest, or if the question be deep, they move on the surface, lest the many-eyed crowd lose sight of them. The preacher gets an audience and pay on condition that he stoop to the gossip which centres around new theories, startling events, and mechanical schemes for the improvement of the country. If to get money be the end of writing and preaching, then must we seek to please the multitude who are willing to pay those who entertain and amuse them. Will not our friends, even, conceive a mean opinion of our ability, if we fail to gain public recognition?
So we make ourselves "motleys to the view, and sell cheap what is most dear." We must, perforce, show the endowment which can be brought to perfection only if it be permitted to grow in secrecy and solitude. The worst foe of excellence is the desire to appear; for when once we have made men talk of us, we seem to be doing nothing if they are silent, and thus the love of notoriety becomes the bane of true work and right living. To be one of a crowd is not to be at all; and if we are resolved to put our thoughts and acts to the test of reason, and to live for what is permanently true and great, we must consent, like the best of all ages, to be lonely in the world. All life, except the life of thought and love, is dull and superficial. The young love for a while, and are happy; a few think; and for the rest existence is but the treadmill of monotonous sensation. There are but few, who, through work and knowledge, through faith and hope and love, seek to escape from the narrowness and misery of life to the summits of thought where the soul breathes a purer air, and whence is seen the fairer world the multitude forebodes. There are but few whose life is
"Effort and expectation and desire, And something evermore about to be;"
but few who understand how much the destiny of Man hangs upon single persons; but few who feel that what they love and teach, millions must know and love.
"A people is but the attempt of many To rise to the completer life of one; And those who live as models for the mass Are singly of more value than them all."
Only the noblest souls awaken within us divine aspirations. They are the music, the poetry, which warms and illumines whole generations; they are the few who, born with rich endowments, by ceaseless labor develop their powers until they become capable of work which, were it not for them, could not be done at all. History is the biography of aristocrats, of the chosen ones with whom all improvement originates, who found States, establish civilizations, create literatures, and teach wisdom. They work not for themselves; for in spite of human selfishness and the personal aims of the ambitious, the poet, the scholar, and the statesman bless the world. They lead us through happy isles; they clothe our thoughts and hopes with beauty and with strength; they dissipate the general gloom; they widen the sphere of life; they bring the multitude beneath the sway of law.
Now, here in America, once for all, whatever the thoughtless may imagine, we have lost faith in the worth of artificial distinctions. Indeed plausible arguments may be found to prove that the kind of man democracy tends to form, has no reverence for distinctions of whatever kind, and is without ideals, and that as he is envious of men made by money, so he looks with the contempt of unenlightened common-sense upon those whom character and intellect raise above him. This is not truth. The higher you lift the mass, the more will they acknowledge and appreciate worth, the clearer will they see that what makes man human, beautiful, and beneficent is conduct and intelligence; and so increasing enlightenment will turn thought and admiration from position and wealth, from the pomp and show of life to what makes a man's self, his character, his mind, his manners even,—for the source of manners lies within us. In a society like ours, the chosen ones, the best, the models of life, and the leaders of thought will be distinguished from the crowd not by accident or circumstance, but by inner strength and beauty, by finer knowledge, by purer love, by a deeper faith in God, by a more steadfast trust that it must, and shall be, well with a world which God makes and rules, and which to the fairest mind is fairest, and to the holiest soul most sacred.
Here and now, if ever anywhere at any time, there is need of men, there is appeal to what is godlike in man, calling upon us to rise above our prosperities, our politics, our mechanical aims and implements, and to turn the courage, energy, and practical sense which have wrought with miraculous power in developing the material resources of America, to the cultivation of our spiritual faculties. We alone of the great modern nations are without classical writers of our own, without a national literature. The thought and love of this people, its philosophy, poetry, and art lies yet in the bud; and our tens of thousands of books, even the better sort, must perish to enrich the soil that nourishes a life of heavenly promise. Hitherto we have been sad imitators of the English, but not the best the English have done will satisfy America. Their language indeed will remain ours, and their men of genius, above all their poets, will enrich our minds with great thoughts nobly expressed. But a literature is a national growth; it is the expression of a people's life and character, the more or less perfect utterance of what it loves, aims at, believes in, hopes for; it has the qualities and the defects of the national spirit; it bears the marks of the thousand influences that help to make that spirit what it is,—and English literature cannot be American literature, for the simple reason that Americans are not Englishmen, any more than they are Germans or Frenchmen. We must be ourselves in our thinking and writing, as in our living, or be insignificant, for it is a man's life that gives meaning to his thought; and to write as a disciple is to write in an inferior way, since the mind at its best is illumined by truth itself and not taught by the words of another. It is not to be believed that this great, intelligent, yearning American world will content itself with the trick and mannerism of foreign accent and style, or that those who build on any other than the broad foundation of our own national life shall be accepted as teachers and guides. There is, of course, no method known to man by which a great author may be formed; no science which teaches how a literature may be created. The men who have written what the world will not permit to die have written generally without any clear knowledge of the worth of their work, just as great discoverers and inventors seem to stumble on what they seek; nevertheless one may hope by right endeavor to make himself capable of uttering true thoughts so that they shall become intelligible and attractive to others; he may educate himself to know and love the best that has been spoken and written by men of genius, and so become a power to lift the aims and enlarge the views of his fellow-men. If many strive in this way to unfold their gifts and to cultivate their faculties, their influence will finally pervade the life and thought of thousands, and it may be of the whole people.
I do not at all forget Aristotle's saying that "life is practice and not theory;" that men are born to do and suffer, and not to dream and weave systems; that conduct and not culture is the basis of character and the source of strength; that a knowledge of Nature is of vastly more importance to our material comfort and progress than philosophy, poetry, and art. This is not to be called in question; but in this country and age it seems hardly necessary that it be emphasized, for what is the whole world insisting upon but the necessity of scientific instruction, the importance of practical education, the cultivation of the money-getting faculty and habit, and the futility of philosophy, poetry, and art? Who is there that denies the worth of what is useful? Where is there one who does not approve and encourage whatever brings increase of wealth? Are we not all ready to applaud projects which give promise of providing more abundant food, better clothing, and more healthful surrounding for the poor? Does not our national genius seem to lie altogether in the line of what is practically useful? Is it not our boast and our great achievement that we have in a single century made the wilderness of a vast continent habitable, have so ploughed and drained and planted and built that it can now easily maintain hundreds of millions in gluttonous plenty? Is not our whole social and political organization of a kind which fits us to deal with questions and affairs that concern our temporal and material welfare? What innumerable individuals among us are congressmen, legislators, supervisors, bank and school directors, presidents of boards and companies, committee-men, councilmen, heads of lodges and societies, lawyers, professors, teachers, editors, colonels, generals, judges, party-leaders, so that the sovereign people seems to have life and being only in its titled representatives! What does this universal reign of title and office mean but the practical education which responsibility gives? If from the midst of this paradise of utility, materialism, and business, a voice is raised to plead for culture, for intelligence, for beauty, for philosophy, poetry, and art, why need any one take alarm? While human nature remains what it is, can there be danger that the many will be drawn away from what appeals to the senses, to what the soul loves and yearns for? If the Almighty God does not win the multitude to the love of righteousness and wisdom, how shall the words of man prevail?
It is a mistake to oppose use to beauty, the serviceable to the excellent, since they belong together. Beauty is the blossom that makes the fruit-tree fair and fragrant. Life means more than meat and drink, house and clothing. To live is also to admire, to love, to lose one's self in the contemplation of the splendor with which Nature is clothed. Human life is the marriage of souls with things of light. Its basis, aim, and end is love, and love makes its object beautiful. Man may not even consent to eat, except with decency and grace; he must have light and flowers and the rippling music of kindly speech, that as far as possible he may forget that his act is merely animal and useful. He will lose sight of the fact that clothing is intended for protection and comfort, rather than not dress to make himself beautiful. To speak merely to be understood, and not to speak also with ease and elegance, is not to be a gentleman. How easily words find the way to the heart when uttered in melodious cadence by the lips of the fair and young. Home is the centre and seat of whatever is most useful to us; and yet to think of home is to think of spring-time and flowers, of the songs of birds and flowing waters, of the voices of children, of floating clouds and sunsets that linger as though heaven were loath to bid adieu to earth. The warmth, the color, and the light of their boyish days still glow in the hearts and imagination of noble men, and redeem the busy trafficking world of their daily life from utter vulgarity. What hues has not God painted on the air, the water, the fruit, and the grain that are the very substance and nutriment of our bodies? Beauty is nobly useful. It illumines the mind, raises the imagination, and warms the heart. It is not an added quality, but grows from the inner nature of things; it is the thought of God working outward. Only from drunken eyes can you with paint and tinsel hide inward deformity. The beauty of hills and waves, of flowers and clouds, of children at play, of reapers at work, of heroes in battle, of poets inspired, of saints rapt in adoration,—rises from central depths of being, and is concealed from frivolous minds. Even in the presence of death, the hallowing spirit of beauty is felt. The full-ripe fruit that gently falls in the quiet air of long summer days, the yellow sheaves glinting in the rays of autumn's sun, the leaf which the kiss of the hoar frost has made blood-red and loosened from the parent stem,—are images of death but they suggest only calm and pleasant thoughts. The Bedouin, who, sitting amid the ruins of Ephesus, thinks but of his goats and pigs, heedless of Diana's temple, Alexander's glory, and the words of Saint Paul, is the type of those who place the useful above the excellent and the fair; and as men who in their boards of trade buy and sell cattle and corn, dream not of green fields and of grain turning to gold in the sun of June, so we all, in the business and worry of life, lose sight of beauty which makes the heart glad and keeps it young.
The mind of man is the earthly home of beauty, and if any real thing were fair as the tender thought of imaginative youth, heaven were not far. All we love is but our thought of what only thought makes known and makes beautiful, and for what we know love's thought may be the essence of all things.
Fairer than waters where soft moonlight lies, Than flowers that slumber on the breast of Spring, Than leafy trees in June when glad birds sing, Than a cool summer dawn, than sunset skies;
Than love, gleaming through Beauty's deep blue eyes, Than laughing child, than orchards blossoming; Than girls whose voices make the woodland ring, Than ruby lips that utter sweet replies,—
Fairer than these, than all that may be seen, Is the poetic mind, which sheds the light Of heaven on earthly things, as Night's young Queen Forth-looking from some jagged mountain height Clothes the whole earth with her soft silvery sheen And makes the beauty whereof eyes have sight.
Nature is neither sad nor joyful. We but see in her the reflection of our own minds. Gay scenes depress the melancholy, and gloomy prospects have not the power to rob the happy of their contentment. The spring may fill us with fresh and fragrant thoughts, or may but remind us of all the hopes and joys we have lost; and autumn will speak to one of decay and death, to another of sleep and rest, after toil, to prepare for a new and brighter awakening. All the glory of dawn and sunset is but etheric waves thrilling the vapory air and impinging on the optic nerve; but behind it all is the magician who sees and knows, who thinks and loves. "It is the mind that makes the body rich." Thoughts take shape and coloring from souls through which they pass; and a free and open mind looks upon the world in the mood in which a fair woman beholds herself in a mirror. The world is his as much as the face is hers. If we could live in the fairest spot of earth, and in the company of those who are dear, the source of our happiness would still be our own thought and love; and if they are great and noble, we cannot be miserable however meanly surrounded. What is reality but a state of soul, finite in man, infinite in God? Theory underlies fact, and to the divine mind all things are godlike and beautiful. The chemical elements are as sweet and pure in the buried corpse as in the blooming body of youth; and it is defective intellect, the warp of ignorance and sin, which hides from human eyes the perfect beauty of the world.
"Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes."
What we all need is not so much greater knowledge, as a luminous and symmetrical mind which, whatsoever way it turn, shall reflect the things that are, not in isolation and abstraction, but in the living unity and harmony wherein they have their being.
The worth of religion is infinite, the value of conduct is paramount; but he who lacks intellectual culture, whatever else he may be, is narrow, awkward, unintelligent. The mirror of his soul is dim, the motions of his spirit are sluggish, and the divine image which is himself is blurred.
But let no one imagine that this life of the soul in the mind is easy; for it is only less difficult than the life of the soul in God. To learn many things; to master this or that science; to have skill in law or medicine; to acquaint one's self with the facts of history, with the opinions of philosophers or the teachings of theologians,—is comparatively not a difficult task; and there are hundreds who are learned, who are skillful, who are able, who have acuteness and depth and information, for one who has an open, free, and flexible mind,—which is alive and active in many directions, touching the world of God and Nature at many points, and beholding truth and beauty from many sides; which is serious, sober, and reasonable, but also fresh, gentle, and sympathetic; which enters with equal ease into the philosopher's thought, the poet's vision, and the ecstasy of the saint; which excludes no truth, is indifferent to no beauty, refuses homage to no goodness. The ideal of culture indeed, like that of religion, like that of art, lies beyond our reach, since the truth and beauty which lure us on, and flee the farther the longer we pursue, are nothing less than the eternal and infinite God.
And culture, if it is not to end in mere frivolity and gloss, must be pursued, like religion and art, with earnestness and reverence. If the spirit in which we work is not deep and holy, we may become accomplished but we shall not gain wisdom, power, and love. The beginner seeks to convert his belief into knowledge; but the trained thinker knows that knowledge ends in belief, since beyond our little islets of intellectual vision, lies the boundless, fathomless expanse of unknown worlds where faith and hope alone can be our guides. Once individual man was insignificant; but now the earth itself is become so,—a mere dot in infinite space, where, for a moment, men wriggle like animalcules in a drop of water. And if at times a flash of light suddenly gleam athwart the mind, and it seem as though we were about to get a glimpse into the inner heart of being, the brightness quickly dies, and only the surfaces of things remain visible. Oh, the unimaginable length of ages when on the earth there was no living thing! then life's ugly, slimy beginnings; then the conscious soul's fitful dream stretching forth to endless time and space; then the final sleep in abysmal night with its one star of hope twinkling before the all-hidden throne of God, in the shadow of whose too great light faith kneels and waits!
Why shall he whose mind is free, symmetrical, and open, be tempted to vain glory, to frivolous boasting? Shall not life be more solemn and sacred to him than to another? Shall he indulge scorn for any being whom God has made, for any thought which has strengthened and consoled the human heart? Shall he not perceive, more clearly than others, that the unseen Power by whom all things are, is akin to thought and love, and that they alone bring help to man who make him feel that faith and hope mean good, and are fountains of larger and more enduring life? The highest mind, like the purest heart, is a witness of the soul and of God.
CULTURE AND THE SPIRIT OF THE AGE.
But try, I urge,—the trying shall suffice: The aim, if reached or not, makes great the life.
The mass of mankind, if we pass the whole race in review, are sunk in gross ignorance; and even in civilized nations, where education is free, the multitude have but a rude acquaintance with the elements of knowledge. Their ability to read and write hardly serves intellectual and moral ends; and such learning as they possess seems only to weaken their power to admire and love what is best in life and thought.
If we turn to the more cultivated, whose numbers even in the most enlightened countries are not great, we find but here and there an individual who has anything better than a sort of mechanical cleverness. Students, it has been said, on leaving college, quickly divide into two classes,—those who have learned nothing, and those who have forgotten everything. In the professions, the lawyer tends to become an advocate, the physician an empiric, the theologian a dogmatist; and these are but instances of a general falling away from ideals. The student of physical science is subdued to what he works in; the man of letters loses depth and earnestness; and the teacher, whose business it is to rouse and illumine souls, shrivels until he becomes merely a repeater of facts and doctrines in which there is no life, no power to exalt the imagination or to give tone to the intellect. The teacher cannot create talent, and his best work lies in stimulating and directing energy and impulse; but this he seldom strives to do or to make himself capable of doing; and hence pupils very generally leave school as men quit a prison, with a sense of emancipation, and with a desire to forget both the place and the kind of life there encouraged. A talent is like seed-corn,—it bears within itself the power to break the confining walls and to spring upward to light, if only it be sown in proper soil, where the rain and the sunshine fall; but this is a truth which those who make education a business are slow to accept. They repress; they overawe; they are dictatorial; they prescribe rules and methods for minds which can gain strength and wisdom only by following the bent given by their endowments,—and thus the young, who are most easily discouraged in things which concern their highest gifts, lose heart, turn away from ideals, and abandon the pursuit of excellence. The nobler the mind, the greater the danger of its being wrongly dealt with. We seldom find a man whose thinking has helped to form opinion and to create literature, who, if he care to say what he feels, will not declare that his scholastic training was bad. Milton, Gray, Dryden, Wordsworth, Byron, Cowley, Addison, Gibbon, Locke, Shelley, and Cowper had no love for the schools to which they were sent; Swift and Goldsmith received no college honors; and Pope, Thomson, Burns, and Shakespeare had little or nothing to do with institutions of learning. A man educates himself; and the best work teachers can do, is to inspire the love of mental exercise and a living faith in the power of labor to develop faculty, and to open worlds of use and delight which are infinite, and which each individual must rediscover for himself. It is the educator's business to cherish the aspirations of the young, to inspire them with confidence in themselves, and to make them feel and understand that no labor can be too great or too long, if its result be cultivation and enlightenment of mind. For them ideals are real; their life is as yet wrapped in the bud; and to encourage them to believe that if they are but true to themselves, the flower and the fruit will be fair and health-bringing, is to open for them the fountain of hope and noble endeavor.
What men have done, men can still do. Nay, shall we not rather believe that the best is yet to be done? The peoples whom we call ancient were but rude beginners. We are the true ancients, the inheritors of all the wisdom and all the heroism of the past. We stand in a wider world, and move forward with more conscious purpose along more open ways. Of the past we see but the summits, illumined by the rays of genius and glory. Could we look upon the plains where the multitudes lie in darkness, wearing the triple chain of servitude, ignorance, and want, we should understand how fair and beneficent our own age is. Enthusiasm for the past cannot inspire the best intellectual work. The heart turns to the past; but the mind looks to the future, and is forever untwisting the cords which bind us to the things that pleased a childlike fancy. To grow is to outgrow; and whatever of the past survives, survives, as the very word implies, because it is still living and applicable here and now. Let not the young believe that the age of the heroic and godlike is gone. Good and the means of good are not harder to reconcile to-day than they were a hundred or a thousand years ago, and they who have a heart may now, as the best have done in the past, wring even from despair the courage on which victory loves to smile. If we are weak and inferior the fault lies in ourselves, not in the age. We are the age; and if we but will and work, opportunities are offered us to become and to perform whatever may crown and glorify a human soul. The time for doing best things, like eternity, is ever present. Let but the man stand forth, and he will find and do his work.
We are too near our own age to discern its true glory, which shall best appear from the vantage-ground of another century; but surely we can feel that it throbs with life, with immortal yearnings, with ever-growing desire to give to all men higher thoughts and purer loves. Society, the State, the Church, the individual, are striving with conscious purpose to make life moral and intelligent. We have become more humane than men have ever been, and accept more fully the duty and the task of extending the domain of justice, of goodness, and of truth. The aim of our civilization is not merely to instruct the ignorant, but to make ignorance impossible; not merely to feed the hungry, but to do away with famine; not merely to visit the captive, but to make captivity the means of his regeneration. Already the chains of the slave have been broken, and the earth has become the home of God's free children. Disease has been tracked to its secret hiding-places, and barriers have been built against pestilence and contagion. War has become less frequent and less barbarous; persecution for opinion and belief has become rare; man's inhumanity to woman, which is the deepest stain upon the history of the race, has yielded to the influence of religion and knowledge; and with ever-increasing force the truth is borne in upon those who think and observe, that the fate of the rich and high-placed cannot be separated from that of the poor and lowly. While we earnestly strive to control and repress every kind of moral evil, we feel that society itself is responsible for sin and crime, and that social and political conditions and constitutions must change, until the weak and the heavy-laden are protected from the heartlessness of the strong and fortunate. Not only must those who labor with their hands have larger opportunities than hitherto have ever been given them, but in the whole social life of man there must be more justice, more love, more tenderness, more of the spirit of Christ, than hitherto has ever been found there.
What marvelous, intellectual work are we not doing? What admirable expression of the highest truth do we not find in the best writers of our age! It is not all pure gold; but whether we take a religious, a moral, or an intellectual point of view, we may not affirm of the literature of any age or country that it is perfect. When man clothes in words what he thinks and loves, what he knows and believes, his work bears the marks of his defects not less than those of his qualities. Nay, if we turn to the Bible itself, how much do we not find there which we either fail to comprehend or are unable to apply! Has not the mind of Christendom been trained and illumined by the literatures of Greece and Rome, which in moral purity, in elevation of sentiment, in breadth and depth of thought, in the knowledge of the laws of Nature, in scientific accuracy, in sympathy and tenderness, are altogether inferior to the best writings of our own day? It is a mistake to suppose that this is a material age in which the love of religion, of poetry, of art, of excellence of whatever kind, is dead. The love of what is best has never at any time been alive save in the hearts of the chosen few; and in such souls it burns now with as sweet and steady a glow as when Plato spoke, and the blessed Saviour uttered words of divine wisdom. Here and now, in and around us, there is the heavenly presence of budding life, of widening vision, of "new thoughts urgent as the growth of wings." Let us turn the white forehead of hope to the fair time, and deem no labor great by which we shall become less unfit to do the work of God and man.
"Nay, never falter; no great deed is done By falterers who ask for certainty. No good is certain but the steadfast mind, The undivided will to seek the good: 'T is that compels the elements and wrings A human music from the indifferent air. The greatest gift the hero leaves his race Is to have been a hero. Say we fail! We feed the high tradition of the world And leave our spirit in our children's breasts."
But to enter upon such a course of life with well-founded hope of success, we must be reverent and devout. The thrill of awe is, as Goethe says, the best thing humanity has. We must understand and feel that the visible is but the shadow of the invisible, that the soul has its roots in God, whose kingdom is within us. We must perceive that what we know, believe, admire, love, and yearn for makes our real life; that we are worth what we are, and not what we possess and use. We must be lovers of perfection, as the divine Saviour bids us become,—"Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." We must be conscious of the immortal spirit which is ourself, and walk in the company of God and of just men made perfect, striving after light and purity and strength, which are of the soul. We must love the inward, the true, and the eternal rather than the outward and transitory. We must believe that in very truth we are akin to God, that God is in us, and we in him, and consequently that it is our first duty to follow after perfection, completeness of life, in thought, in love, and in conduct. As it is good to know, so is it good to be strong, to be patient, to be humble, to be helpful; so is it good to do right, though the deed should be our only reward.