HUMANITY IN THE CITY.
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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as possible; please see list of printing issues at the end of the text.
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HUMANITY IN THE CITY.
REV. E. H. CHAPIN.
NEW YORK: DE WITT & DAVENPORT, PUBLISHERS, 160 & 162 NASSAU STREET.
BOSTON: ABEL TOMPKINS, 38 & 40 CORNHILL.
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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1854, by DE WITT & DAVENPORT,
In the Clerk's Office of the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
G. W. ALEXANDER, BINDER, 9 Spruce Street.
W. H. TINSON. STEREOTYPER, 24 Beekman Street.
TAWS, RUSSELL & CO. PRINTERS, No. 26 Beekman Street.
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I. THE LESSONS OF THE STREET 13
II. MAN AND MACHINERY 39
III. THE STRIFE FOR PRECEDENCE 65
IV. THE SYMBOLS OF THE REPUBLIC 93
V. THE SPRINGS OF SOCIAL LIFE 123
VI. THE ALLIES OF THE TEMPTER 157
VII. THE CHILDREN OF THE POOR 187
VIII. THE HELP OF RELIGION 223
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A volume like the present hardly requires the formality of a preface. It is the continuation of a series already published, and, like that, aims at applying the highest standard of Morality and Religion to the phases of every-day life. In order, however, that the view with which these discourses have been prepared may not be misconceived, I wish merely to say that I am far from supposing that these are the only themes to be preached, or that they constitute the highest class of practical subjects, and shall be sorry if in any way they seem to imply a neglect of that interior and holy life which is the spring not only of right affections, but of clear perception and sturdy, every-day duty. I hope, on the contrary, that the very aspects of this busy city life—the very problems which start out of it—will tend to convince men of the necessity of this inward and regenerating principle. Nevertheless, I maintain that these topics have a place in the circle of the preacher's work, and he need entertain no fear of desecrating his pulpit by secular themes, who seeks to consecrate all things in any way involving the action and the welfare of men, by the spirit and aims of His Religion who, while he preached the Gospel, likewise fed the hungry, healed the sick, and touched the issues of every temporal want. I may have failed in the method, I trust I have not in the purpose.
E. H. C.
New York, May, 1854.
THE LESSONS OF THE STREET.
HUMANITY IN THE CITY.
THE LESSONS OF THE STREET.
Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets.—PROVERBS, i. 20.
The great truths of religion may be communicated to the mind and the heart in two ways—by abstract treatment, and by illustration. It must be taken up in its absolute connection with God, and with our own souls. In solitary meditation, in self-examination, and in prayer, we shall learn the intrinsic claims which Faith and Duty have upon reason and conscience. But we cannot proceed far before we discover the necessity of some symbol, by which these abstract principles may be made distinct to us. And, looking around for this purpose, we find that all the phases of existence are full of spiritual illustration—full of religious suggestion and argument. Thus our Saviour pronounced his great doctrines of Eternal Life, and of Personal Religion, and then turned to the world for a commentary. Under his teaching nature became an illuminated missal, lettered by the lilies of the field, and pencilled with hues that played through the leaves of Olivet. The wild birds, in their flight, bore upward the beautiful lesson of Providence, and the significance of the Kingdom of Heaven was contained in a mustard-seed. By no abstruse reasoning did he make his instructions so vivid to his disciples, and so fresh to ourselves. But he awoke the conviction of moral need, and repentance, and Divine Love, by drawing from instances with which they had been familiar all their lives—the procedures of government, the transactions of business, the labors of the husbandman, and the incidents of home. And the result is essentially the same, whether we start with the religious truth to find some illustration in the world around us, or from some aspect of human life, or nature, extract a religious truth. Nor need this always be sharply obvious. It is only necessary that our point of view be sufficiently elevated to throw a spiritual light upon things, and to reveal their moral relations; for, often, our understandings are cleared, and our hearts made better, by the mere scope and tendency of such observations.
With this conviction, I called your attention, last winter, to some of the "Aspects of City Life," and with the same view, I wish now to address you, for a few Sunday evenings, on the Conditions of Humanity in the City, in which series I shall endeavor not only to present new topics of interest, but to urge more explicitly some points, which, in the afore-mentioned discourses, I merely touched upon.
The essential meaning of the personification in the text is in accordance, I think, with the general tenor of remark which I have just been making. For I understand it to mean, that everything is instructive, that even in the common ways of life the most important truths, and the profoundest moral and religious significance, are contained. And the words before us, also, specifically indicate the subject upon which I wish to speak this evening, for they declare that "Wisdom... uttereth her voice in the streets."
The street through which you walk every day; with whose sights and sounds you have been familiar, perhaps, all your lives; is it all so common-place that it yields you no deep lessons,—deep and fresh, it may be, if you would only look around with discerning eyes? Engaged with your own special interests, and busy with monotonous details, you may not heed it; and yet there is something finer than the grandest poetry, even in the mere spectacle of these multitudinous billows of life, rolling down the long, broad, avenue. It is an inspiring lyric, this inexhaustible procession, in the misty perspective ever lost, ever renewed, sweeping onward between its architectural banks to the music of innumerable wheels; the rainbow colors, the silks, the velvets, the jewels, the tatters, the plumes, the faces—no two alike—shooting out from unknown depths, and passing away for ever—perpetually sweeping onward in the fresh air of morning, under the glare of noon, under the fading, flickering light, until the shadow climbs the tallest spire, and night comes with revelations and mysteries of its own.
And yet this changeful tide of activity is no mere lyric. It is an epic, rather, unfolding in its progress the contrasts, the conflicts, the heroisms, the failures,—in one word, the great and solemn issues of human life. And a few comprehensive lessons from that "Wisdom which uttereth her voice in the streets," may prove a fitting introduction, from which we can pass to consider more specific conditions of humanity in the city.
Taking up the subject in this light, I observe that the first lesson of the street is in the illustration which it affords us of the diversities of human conditions. The most superficial eye recognizes this. A city is, in one respect, like a high mountain; the latter is an epitome of the physical globe; for its sides are belted by products of every zone, from the tropical luxuriance that clusters around its base, to its arctic summit far up in the sky. So is the city an epitome of the social world. All the belts of civilization intersect along its avenues. It contains the products of every moral zone. It is cosmopolitan, not only in a national, but in a spiritual, sense. Here you may find not only the finest Saxon culture, but the grossest barbaric degradation. There you pass a form of Caucasian development, the fine-cut features, the imperial forehead, the intelligent eye, the confident tread, the true port and stature of a man. But who is this that follows in his track; under the same national sky, surrounded by the same institutions, and yet with those pinched features, that stunted form, that villainous look; is it Papuan, Bushman, or Carib? Fitly representing either of these, though born in a Christian city, and bearing about not only the stamp of violated physical law, but of moral neglect and baseness. And no one needs to be told that there are savages in New York, as well as in the islands of the sea. Savages, not in gloomy forests, but under the strength of gas-light, and the eyes of policemen; with war-whoops and clubs very much the same, and garments as fantastic, and souls as brutal, as any of their kindred at the antipodes. China, India, Africa, will you not find their features in some circles of the social world right around you? Idolatry! you cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the slump of animal vitality. False gods, more hideous, more awful, than Moloch or Baal; worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearth-stone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims. I have no terms of respect too high for the brave and conscientious men who carry the gospel, and their own lives, in their hands to distant shores. But, surely, they need not go thus far to seek for the benighted and the debased. They may find there a wider extent of heathenism, but none more intense than that which prevails close by the school and the church. The richest products of modern progress and Christian culture grow on the verge of barren wastes, and jungles of violence, and "the region of the shadow of death."
In the street, however, not only do we behold these different degrees of civilization, but those problems of diversity, which the highest form of existing civilization developes—the diversities of extreme poverty, and extreme wealth, for instance. Here sits the beggar, sick and pinched with cold; and there goes a man of no better flesh and blood, and no more authentic charter of soul, wrapped in comfort, and actually bloated with luxury. There issues the whine of distress, beside the glittering carriage-wheels. There, amidst the rush of gaiety; the busy, selfish whirl; half naked, shivering, with her bare feet on the icy pavement, stands the little girl, with the shadow of an experience upon her that has made her preternaturally old, and it may be, driven the angel from her face. Still, we cannot believe that above that wintry heaven which stretches over her, there is less regard for the poor, neglected child, than for that rosy belt of infant happiness which girdles and gladdens ten thousand hearths.
And here, too, through the brilliant street, and the broad light of day, walks Purity, enshrined in the loveliest form of womanhood. And along that same street by night, attended by fitting shadows, strolls womanhood discrowned, clothed with painted shame, yet, even in the springs of that guilty heart not utterly quenched. We render just homage to the one, we pour scorn upon the other; but, could we trace back the lines of circumstance, and inquire why the one stands guarded with such sweet respect, and why the other has fallen, we might raise problems with which we cannot tax Providence, which we may not lay altogether to the charge of the condemned, but for which we might challenge an answer from society.
And, if we would ascertain the practical purport of this lesson of human diversity which is so conspicuous in the street—the meaning of these sharp contrasts of refinement and grossness, intelligence and ignorance, respectability and guilt—we only ask a question that thousands have asked before us. And yet, it is possible to surmise the purpose of these diversities. We know, for one thing, that out of them come some of the noblest instances of character and of achievement. Ignorance and crime and poverty and vice, stand in fearful contrast to knowledge and integrity and wealth and purity; but they likewise constitute the dark background against which the virtues of human life stand out in radiant relief; virtues developed by the struggle which they create; virtues which seem impossible without their co-existence. For, whence issues any such thing as virtue, except out of the temptation and antagonism of vice? How could Charity ever have appeared in the world, were there no dark ways to be trodden by its bright feet, and no suffering and sadness to require its aid? I look at these asylums, these hospitals, these ragged schools—a zodiac of beautiful charities, girdling all this selfishness and sin—I look at these monuments which humanity will honor when war shall be but a legend, and laurels have withered to dust; and when I think what they have grown out of, and why they stand here, I regard them as so many sublime way-marks by which Providence unfolds its purposes among men, and by which men trace out the plan of God.
And then, again, perhaps this problem of human diversity presses heaviest where civilization is the most advanced, in order that men may be more sharply aroused to seek some practical solution. It is an encouraging sign when an evil begins to be intensely felt, and the demand for relief becomes desperate. The civilization of our time is imperfect; involves many incongruities; perhaps creates some evils; but that it is an improved civilization, is evinced by the fact that it is self-conscious; for perception is the necessary antecedent of endeavor and success. The contrasts of human condition, then, that unfold themselves in the crowded street, may teach us our duty and our responsibility in lessening social inequality and need.
But a solution of this problem, clearer perhaps than any other, appears when we consider another lesson of the street; a lesson which requires us to look a little deeper, but which, when we do look, is no less evident than these diversities. That lesson unfolds the essential unity of humanity. For, we find that the differences between men are formal rather than real; that, with various outward conditions, they pass through the same great trials; and that the scales which seem to hang uneven at the surface, and to be tipped this way and that by the currents of worldly fortune, are very nearly balanced in the depths of the inner life. We are shallow judges of the happiness or the misery of others, if we estimate it by any marks that distinguish them from ourselves; if, for instance, we say that because they have more money they are happier, or because they live more meagrely they are more wretched. For, men are allied by much more than they differ. The rich man, rolling by in his chariot, and the beggar, shivering in his rags, are allied by much more than they differ. It is safer, therefore, to estimate our neighbor's real condition by what we find in our own lot, than by what we do not find there. And now, see into what an essential unity this criterion draws the jostling, divergent masses in yonder street! Each man there, like all the rest, finds life to be a discipline. Each has his separate form of discipline; but it bears upon the kindred spirit that is in every one of us, and strikes upon motives, sympathies, faculties, that run through the common humanity. Surely, you will not calculate any essential difference from mere appearances; for the light laughter that bubbles on the lip often mantles over brackish depths of sadness, and the serious look may be the sober veil that covers a divine peace. You know that the bosom can ache beneath diamond brooches, and how many blithe hearts dance under coarse wool. But I do not allude merely to these accidental contrasts. I mean that about equal measures of trial, equal measures of what men call good and evil, are allotted to all; enough, at least, to prove the identity of our humanity, and to show that we are all subjects of the same great plan. You say that the poor man who passes yonder, carrying his burden, has a hard lot of it, and it may be he has; but the rich man who brushes by him has a hard lot of it too—just as hard for him, just as well fitted to discipline him for the great ends of life. He has his money to take care of; a pleasant occupation, you may think; but, after all, an occupation, with all the strain and anxiety of labor, making more hard work for him, day and night, perhaps, than his neighbor has who digs ditches or thumps a lapstone. And it is quite likely that he feels poorer than the poor man, and, if he ever becomes self-conscious, has great reason to feel meaner. And then, he has his rivalries, his competitions, his troubles of caste and etiquette, so that the merchant, in his sumptuous apartments, comes to the same essential point, "sweats, and bears fardels," as well as his brother in the garret; tosses on his bed with surfeit, or perplexity, while the other is wrapped in peaceful slumber; and, if he is one who recognizes the moral ends of life, finds himself called upon to contend with his own heart, and to fight with peculiar temptations. And thus the rich man and the poor man, who seem so unequal in the street, would find but a thin partition between them, could they, as they might, detect one another kneeling on the same platform of spiritual endeavor, and sending up the same prayers to the same eternal throne.
But, say you, "here is one who is returning to a home of destitution, of misery; where the light of the natural day is almost shut out, but in which brood the deeper shadows of despair." And yet, in many a splendid mansion you will find a more fearful destitution, a dearth of affections, killed by envy, jealousy, distrust; stifled by glittering formalities; a brood of evil passions that mock the splendor, and darken the magnificent walls. The measure of joy, too, is distributed with the same impartiality as the measure of woe. The child's grief throbs against the round of its little heart as heavily as the man's sorrow; and the one finds as much delight in his kite or drum, as the other in striking the springs of enterprise or soaring on the wings of fame. After all, happiness is the rule, not the exception, even in the hearts that beat in the crowded city; and its great elements are as common as the air, and the sunshine, and free movement, and good health. And what the fortunate may seem to gain in variety of methods, may only be unconscious devices to simulate or recover that natural relish which others have never lost. And no one doubts that the great dispensations of life, the events that make epochs in our fleeting years, cleave through all the strata of outward difference, and lay bare the core of our one humanity. Sickness! does it not make Dives look very much like Lazarus, and show our common weakness, and reveal the common marvel of this "harp of thousand strings?" And sorrow! it veils all faces, and bows all forms alike, and sends the same shudder through the frame, and casts the same darkness upon the walls, and peals forth in the same dirge of maternal agony by the dead boy's cradle in the sumptuous chamber, and the baby's last sleep on its bed of straw. And Death! how wonderfully it makes them all alike who in the street wore such various garments, and had such distinct aims, and were whirled apart in such different orbits! Ah! our essential humanity comes out in those composed forms and still features. Those divergent currents have carried them out upon the same placid sea at last; and the same solemn light streams upon the clasped hands and the uplifted faces. We don't mind the drapery so much then. It seems a very superficial matter beside the silent and starless mystery that enfolds them all.
In what I have thus said I do not mean to maintain that outward conditions are nothing. I think they are a great deal; and we do right in striving to improve them; in escaping the evil, and seeking to secure the good that pertains to them. But, I repeat, when we come to the essential humanity, to the real discipline and substance of life, we find the same great features; and so this lesson of the street may help explain the problem suggested by the other; may reconcile each of us to our condition in the crowd, and direct our attention to substantial results.
But, again, the street, with its processions and activities, teaches us that much in human life is merely phenomenal, merely appears. We enter into this truth by a very common train of observation. We know how much is put on purposely for the public gaze, and has no other intention than to be seen; how hollow are many of the smiles, and gay looks, and smooth decencies. And even the complexion of some, with its red and white, is more unsubstantial than all the rest; for it is in danger of being washed away by the first shower. It is strange to meet people whose personal significance in life is that of a shop window exhibiting lace and jewelry; strange to encounter men in whose place we might substitute a well-dressed effigy, and they would hardly be missed. Of course appearances should be attended to, and are good in their place. It is right that we should honor society by our best looks and ways. But it is not merely ridiculous, it is sad, to think how much in the street, where humanity exhibits all its phases, is appearance and but little else.
But dress and manners are not all that is phenomenal in human life. These men and women themselves, this streaming crowd, these brick walls and stately pinnacles, those that pursue and the things that are pursued, are only appearances. It may be profitable for us to stand apart from this multitude, this river of living forms, and think in how short a time it all will have passed away; how short a time since, and it was not! A little while ago, and this rich and populous city was a green island, and our beautiful bay clasped it in its silver arms like an emerald. The wilderness stood here, and the child of the forest thought of it as a prepared abiding place for himself and for his people for ever. The red man has gone; the wild woods have vanished; and these structures, and vehicles, and busy crowds, have come into their places magically, like the new picture in a dissolving view. But are these forms of life, is your presence here or mine, any more substantial than those that have sunk away? Nay, all this splendid civilization, what is it but a sparkling ripple in the calm eternity of God? Dwellings, stores, banks, churches, streets, and the restless multitudes, are but forms of life,—as it were a rack of cloud drifting across the mirror of absolute being. That which seems to you substantial is only spectral. And as the dress of the fop, and the smile of the coquette, is merely an appearance; so the wealth for which men strain in eager chase, and the fabrics which pride builds up, the anvils on which labor strikes its mighty blows, and the body to which so much is devoted, and which absorbs so much care, are but appearances also. While that which may seem to you as a shadow—the spiritual substratum of life, the basis of those spiritual laws which run through all our conditions—is the only abiding substance.
If we only look in this light, my friends, upon the continuous spectacle of human movement and human change, we shall find that "Wisdom... uttereth her voice in the streets." Old as the thought may be, in the rush of the great crowd it will come to us fresh and impressively, that all this is but a form of spiritual and eternal being. A day in the city is like life itself. Out of unconscious slumber into the brilliant morning and the thick activity we come. But, by-and-by, the heaving mass breaks into units, and one by one dissolves into the shadow of the night. Two cities grow up side by side—the city in which men appear, the city into which they vanish; the city whose houses and goods they possess for a little while and then leave behind them, and the city whose white monuments just show us the pinnacles of their estates in the eternal world. The busy, diversified crowd that rolls through the streets—it is only an appearance! It is a ceaseless march of emigration. In a little while, the names in this year's Directory may be read in Greenwood.
But we must not rest with this as the final lesson of the street. It is only the form of Life that is transient and phenomenal; but the Life itself is here, also—here, in these flashing eyes, and heaving breasts, and active limbs. These conditions, however transient, involve the great interest of Humanity; and that lends the deepest significance to these conditions. The interest of Humanity! which gives importance to all it touches, and transforms nature into history; which imparts dignity to the rudest workshop, and the most barren shore, and the humblest grave—this permits us to draw no mean or discouraging conclusions from the achievements and the changes of the multitudes around us. It may do for the skeptic, who sees nothing in existence but these forms of things; who sees nothing but the limited phenomena of our present state, and thinks that includes all; it may do for him to croak over the transitoriness of life, and call it a trivial game. But it is not trivial; and there is no spot where man acts, there is nothing that he does, that is insignificant. Perhaps you have a quick eye for the foibles of people, and can detect their vanities, and meannesses, and laughable conceits. If you employ this gift to correct a bad habit, or expose a falsehood, it is well enough. But if it induces you to look upon things merely with the skill of a satirist, then let me say, there is no "ludicrous side" to life; there is nothing in human conduct that is simply absurd. The least transaction has a moral cast, and every word and act reveals spiritual relations. The interest of man can never be thrown into insignificance by his conditions; these draw interest from him. And, whatever his post in the world, however limited or broad his sphere of observation, for him life is real, and has intense relations. We must not stand so far apart from the crowd as to occupy the position of mere spectators, and regard these men and women as so many mechanical figures in a panorama. We must look through the depths of their experience into their own souls, and through the depths of that experience again upon the world, beholding it as it appears to the beggar, and the lonely woman, and the child of vice and crime, and the hero, and the saint, and as it falls with intense yet diverse refractions upon all these multiform angles of personality. So shall we learn to cherish a solemn and tender interest in the dear humanity around us, and feel the arteries of sympathy which connect it, in all its conditions, with our own hearts. And, as we return homeward from our study of the street, it may be with our irritation, and prejudice, and selfishness softened down; with a larger love flowing out towards the least, and even the worst; realizing the spiritual ties that make us one, and the Infinite Fatherhood that encircles us all; perhaps suggestions will come to us that have been best expressed in the words of the poet—
"Let us move slowly through the street, Filled with an ever-shifting train, Amid the sound of steps that beat The murmuring walks like autumn rain.
"How fast the flitting figures come! The mild, the fierce, the stony face; Some bright with thoughtless smiles, and some Where secret tears have left their trace.
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"Each, where his tasks or pleasures call They pass, and heed each other not. There is, Who heeds, Who holds them all, In His large love and boundless thought.
"These struggling tides of life that seem, In wayward, aimless course to tend, Are eddies of the mighty stream That rolls to its appointed end."
MAN AND MACHINERY.
MAN AND MACHINERY.
For the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.—EZEKIEL, i. 20.
Whatever may have been the significance of the sublime vision from which I have extracted those words, I do not think that their essential meaning is perverted when I apply them to the subject which comes before us this evening. I am not aware of any sentence that expresses more concisely the relation which I would indicate between Man and Machinery; between those great agents of human achievement and the living intelligence which works in them and by them. And though a Divine Spirit moved in those flashing splendors which burned before the eyes of the prophet, is it not also a divine spirit that mingles in every great manifestation of humanity, and that moves even in the action of man, the worker, toiling among innumerable wheels?
Perhaps if we were called upon to name some one feature of the present age which distinguishes it from all other ages, and endows it with a special wonder and glory, we should call it the Age of Machinery. We trust our age is unfolding something better than material triumphs. The results of past thought and past endeavor are pouring through it in expanding currents of knowledge, liberty, and brotherhood. But the great agents in this diffusion of ideas and principles are those vehicles of iron, and those messengers of lightning, which compress the huge globe into a neighborhood, and bring all its interests within the system of a daily newspaper. Like the generations which have preceded us, we enter into the labors of others, and inherit the fruits of their effort. But these powerful instruments, condensing time and space, endow a single half-century with the possibilities of a cycle. If we take the period comprehending the American and the French revolutions as a dividing line, and look both sides the chasm, we shall discover the difference of a thousand years. Remarkable for brilliant achievements in every department of physics, ours well deserves to be called the Age of Science, also. But it is still more remarkable, for the application of the most majestic and subtle constituents of the universe to the most familiar uses; the wild forces of matter have been caught and harnessed. Go into any factory, and see what fine workmen we have made of the great elements around us. See how magnificent nature has humbled itself, and works in shirt-sleeves. Without food, without sweat, without weariness, it toils all day at the loom, and shouts lustily in the sounding wheels. How diligently the iron fingers pick and sort, and the muscles of steel retain their faithful gripe, and enormous energies run to and fro with an obedient click; while forces that tear the arteries of the earth and heave volcanoes, spin the fabric of an infant's robe, and weave the flowers in a lady's brocade.
I think, then, we may appropriately call it—The Age of Machinery. It is not a peculiarity of the city, but, rather, seeks room to stretch itself out; and so you may perceive its smoky signals hovering over a thousand vallies, and the echo of its mighty pulses throbbing among the loneliest hills. Nevertheless, it is sufficiently developed here to illustrate the Conditions of Humanity in the City, and this fact, together with the general interest of the subject, is my warrant for taking it up in the present discourse. And my remarks must necessarily be of a general cast, as I have no room for the statistics, and details, and various discussions which grow out of the theme.
And the key-note of all that I shall say, at the present time, is really in the text itself—"For the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels."
In the first place, these words suggest the relations of Use and Help between Man and Machinery. Upon surveying these numerous and complicated instruments, the thought that most readily occurs, perhaps, is that of the necessity of machinery. The very first step that man takes, out of the condition of infant weakness and animal rudeness, must be accomplished by the aid of some implement. He alone, of all beings upon the face of the earth, is obliged to invent, and is capable of endless invention. The necessity for this springs out, and is a prophecy of, his destiny. The moment he was seen fashioning the first tool, however imperfect, that moment was indicated the difference between himself and the brute, and the control he was destined to gain over the world about him. To fulfil this destiny, he confronts nature with naked hands; and yet, there is the earth to plough, the harvest to reap, the torrent to bridge, the ocean to cross; there are all the results to achieve which constitute the difference between the primitive man, and the civilization of the nineteenth century. The Machine, then—the agent which links the gratification to the want—is born of necessity. But we must make a distinction between those instruments which are positively essential, and those, for instance, which merely answer the demands of luxury or indolence.
And this brings up the question of the comparative uses of Machinery—the foremost place being assigned to those implements which are absolutely indispensable to man's existence upon the earth. But between this absolute degree, and that of frivolous invention, there are countless grades of utility. And the question of usefulness must be decided according to the standard of utility which we apply. If bare subsistence is assumed to be the end of man upon the earth, most of our modern inventions are useless. We can travel without a locomotive, and procure a meal without a cooking-range. The moment we rise above the grossest conception of human existence, the test of usefulness becomes enlarged, and we can make a safe decision upon whatever increases man's comfort, adds to his ability, or inspires his culture. In this way, new things become indispensable. That which was not necessary a priori, is necessary now, in a fresh stage of development, and in connection with circumstances that have sprung up and formed around it. That which was not necessary to man the savage, living on roots and raw fish, is necessary to man the civilized, with new possibilities opening before him, and new faculties unfolded within him. The printing-press was not absolutely necessary to Nimrod, or to Julius Caesar, but is it not absolutely necessary now? Strike it out of existence to-day, and what would be the condition of the world to-morrow? You would have to tear away with it all that has grown up around it, and become assimilated to it—the textures of the world's growth for three hundred years. Paul moved the old world without a telegraph, and Columbus found a new one without a steamship. But see how essential these agents are to the present condition of civilization. How many derangements among the wheels of business, and the plans of affection, if merely a snow-drift blocks the cars, or a thunder-storm snaps the wires! Our estimate of necessity, and, therefore, of utility, must be formed according to present conditions, and the legitimate demand that rises out of them; these conditions themselves being the necessary developments of society and of the individual.
But some of these, you may say, are the demands of luxury, of indolent ease, of man setting nature to work and lapsing in self-indulgence. To some degree this result may grow out of the present state of things; as some portion of evil will follow in the sweep of an immense good. But what is the precise sentence to be passed upon this prevalent luxury? Of course, admitting the evil—which is apparent—I maintain that there is a great deal of good in it; that it is inextricably associated with much real refinement and progress. Men are accustomed to speak of the simplicity and purity of past times, and to compare, with a sigh, the good old era of the stage-coach and the spinning-wheel with these days of whizzing machinery, Aladdin palaces, and California gold. But the core of logic that lies within this rind of sentiment forces a conclusion that I can by no means admit, the conclusion that the world is going backward. I never knew of an epoch that was not thought by some then living to be the worst that ever was, and which did not seem to stand in humiliating contrast with some blessed period gone by. But the golden age of Christianity is in the future, not in the past. Those old ages are like the landscape that shows best in purple distance, all verdant and smooth and bathed in mellow light. But could we go back and touch the reality, we should find many a swamp of disease, and rough and grimy paths of rock and mire. Those were good old times, it may be thought, when baron and peasant feasted together. But the one could not read, and made his mark with a sword-pommel; and the other was not held so dear as a favorite dog. Pure and simple times were those of our grandfathers,—it may be. Possibly not so pure as we may think, however, and with a simplicity ingrained with some bigotry and a good deal of conceit. The fact is, we are bad enough, imperfect, not because we are growing worse, but because we are yet far from the best. I think, however, with Lord Bacon, that these are "the old times." The world is older now than it ever was, and it contains the best life and fruition of the past. And this special condition of luxury is a growth out of the past, and is the necessary concomitant of much that is good. Opening new channels for industry, it furnishes occupation for thousands; while, in many of its phases, it indicates a refined culture, and a sphere elevated above the imperative wants of existence. It is no proof of the disadvantages of machinery, therefore, to say that it ministers to something beside absolute bodily need, and delivers man from a slow and exhausting drudgery. So far as it helps us to control nature, and increases the facilities of human intercourse, and diffuses general comfort and elegance, and affords a respite from incessant physical toil, so far it is an agent and a sign of progress.
But, it may be said again, that it is the agent of a selfish and exclusive power, enriching a few and injuring many. And it cannot be denied that grave problems grow out of the relations between Machinery and the laboring classes. Every little while, some new invention is thrust forward, which takes a portion of labor out of the hands of flesh and transfers it to hands of iron. It is not enough to say that mankind in general is benefited by these inanimate agents, which do the work of the world so much more rapidly and powerfully. This may answer as an argument against a monopoly of any one kind of mechanical force. It may be a reason for using cars instead of steamboats, and balloons rather than railroads. The general good must be advanced, whatever the damage to private interests. But the present case brings up the question whether machinery is a general good at all; whether the effect of its introduction into almost every department of labor, will not be felt in the destitution of millions. And, upon this point, I observe, that, like all other great revolutions, the immediate effect may be such as has been suggested. But the final result will be beneficial, and such a result may be traced out even now. For instance, this clogging of old departments of labor will precipitate men upon fresh ones, and upon those that have been too much neglected. It will tend to introduce woman to branches of industry perfectly suited to her, but which have been too exclusively occupied by the other sex, and to turn the attention of robust men to those great fields of productive toil which are as yet but little improved. It may drive them from the dependence, the crowded competition, the unwholesome life of the city, into the broad fields and open air and the sovereignty of the soil. And if this immense intrusion of machinery has only this result, of equalizing the balance against production, we shall have one solution of the problem. And there will be another solution, if this phalanx of mechanism shall lift the mass of men above the occasions of coarse material drudgery into other activities, which doubtless will be thrown open, and shall allow more leisure for spiritual culture. But in this, and all other great questions affecting human welfare, I throw myself back, finally, upon the tokens of Providential Design. The world moves forward, not backward; and the great developments of time are for good, not evil. By machinery, man proceeds with his dominion over nature. He assimilates it to himself; it becomes, so to speak, a part of himself. Every great invention is the enlargement of his own personality. Iron and fire become blood and muscle, and gravitation flows in the current of his will. His pulses beat in the steamship, throbbing through the deep, while the fibres of his heart and brain inclose the earth in an electric network of thought and sympathy. That which was given to help man, will not hinder nor hurt him. "For the spirit of the living creature is in the wheels."
I observe, in the second place, that the words of the text accord with the testimony which machinery bears to the dignity of man. All these great inventions—these implements of marvellous skill and power—prove that the inventor, or the worker, himself is not a machine. I know of nothing which gives me so forcible an impression of the worth and superiority of mind, of its alliance with the Creative Intelligence, as the exhibition of an ingenious piece of mechanism. I have stood with wonder before such a specimen, and seen it work with all the precision of a reflecting creature. Lifting the most tremendous weights, cleaving the most solid masses, performing the nicest tasks, as though a living intellect were in it, informing it and directing its power. I hardly know of any achievement that stands as a higher witness for the human mind. The great poem that bursts in a flood of inspiration upon the soul of genius, and opens the realms of immortal beauty, may lift us to a nobler plane of endeavor. The heroic act of toil or martyrdom for principle, certainly has a loftier, because it is a moral, grandeur. But as an illustration of the creativeness of man's intellect—of its wondrous capability—of its alliance with that attribute of the Divine Nature which is evident in the fibres of the grass-blade and the march of the galaxy—I know of nothing more striking than this piece of mechanism, which is the product of the most profound and patient thought, the harmonizing of antagonistic forces, the combination of the most abstruse details, fitted to the remotest exigencies, and working just as the inventive mind meant it should, and just as it was set a-going, as if that mind were presiding over it, were in it, though it is now far distant, or has vanished from the earth. That mind is immortal! that nature, which is common to all men, transcends any shape of matter and is superior to mechanism. And it may be necessary to say this, necessary to say that man, who is helped by machinery, is separate from it. It is mind that is thus involved with matter. The spirit of a living creature that is in the wheels.
It may be necessary to say this, my friends, and to say it frequently, lest the vast mechanical achievements of our time seduce us into a mere mechanical life. I do not think that the deepest question is, whether machinery will multiply to such an extent as to snatch the bread from the mouths of living men; but whether men, with all the possibilities of their nature, will not become absorbed in that which supplies them with bread alone? I have just expressed my admiration for the genius of the great inventor. Nor can I honor too highly the faithful and industrious mechanic—the man who fills up his chink in the great economy by patiently using his hammer or his wheel. For, he does something. If he only sews a welt, or planes a knot, he helps build up the solid pyramid of this world's welfare. While there are those who, exhibiting but little use while living, might, if embalmed, serve the same purpose as those forms of ape and ibis inside the Egyptian caverns—serve to illustrate the shapes and idolatries of human conceit. At any rate, there is no doubt of the essential nobility of that man who pours into life the honest vigor of his toil, over those who compose this feathery foam of fashion that sweeps along Broadway; who consider the insignia of honor to consist in wealth and indolence; and who, ignoring the family history, paint coats of arms to cover up the leather aprons of their grandfathers.
I shall not be misunderstood then, when, making a distinction in behalf of the mechanic by profession, I say that no man should be a mere mechanic in soul. In other words, no man should be bound up in a routine of material ends and uses. He should not be a mechanic, working exclusively in a dead system, but always the architect of a living ideal. And surrounded, astonished, served and enriched as we are by these splendid legions of mechanism, the danger is that material achievement will seem to us the supreme achievement; that all life will become machinery; and the higher interests of being, and the great firmament of immortality, be eclipsed by these flashing wheels. We are in danger of being drawn away from the sanctities of the inner life and the still work of the soul, by this maelstrom of excitement and power. No religious man can help asking, and asking anxiously, whether the spirit of devotion is as deep and fresh, whether spiritual communion with God is as direct and constant, in this whirl and roar, and marvellous achievement, as they were in times bearing less evidently the signs of material progress. For, that which merely gives us a stronger grasp of the world around us, and sends us along the level of nature, is not the most genuine element of progress; but that which elevates our moral plane and enriches the great deep of our spiritual being. The steamship and telegraph are not absolute tokens of this progress, but the moral earnestness and the Christian charity that work through them are; and these must spring up in hearts that are not merely adjusted to the world, but lifted above it—that are not so occupied by mere machinery as to neglect the living streams of an inward and devout culture.
But, for another reason,—or as an extension of the same reason,—we need to realize the truth that man is separate from and superior to machinery. It is because, upon a practical recognition of this truth depends the just action of all who control the interests of labor, and, so to speak, the lives and souls of the laborers. If we should beware of an influence that would render us mere mechanics in our own higher nature, we should likewise remove anything that makes others mere machines, presenting for us no other consideration than the amount of work they can perform for us, and with how little care and cost. I cannot now enter into the great questions that spring up here concerning the relations of capital and labor, and of the employer and the employed. I only observe that these are among the deepest questions of the time: questions which will be heard, which must be discussed, and practically answered. And they who by plans and experiments, however visionary they may seem, however abortive they may prove, are trying to solve this problem, are much wiser in their generation than those who content themselves with cutaneous palliatives and a stolid conservatism. But I maintain now, that back of all these considerations stands this truism,—that man is not a machine; that the being who toils in the factory, the furnace, the dark mine underground, is one who needs and hopes and suffers and dies, as sinews of iron and fabrics of brass cannot. "The spirit of a living creature is in the wheels." A cry for justice, for free action, for spiritual opportunity, comes not from the roaring engine or the dizzy loom, but out from the midst of those who are endowed with the sensitiveness and the moral possibilities that belong to humanity, and humanity alone. Set in motion the grandest piece of mechanism ever conceived by human genius, and still there is infinite difference between it and the poorest drudge that bears God's image,—between it and any human claim.
It must have been a noble spectacle, a few weeks since, to have seen that great ship[A] sail out of port, stretching its proud beak over the sea, and with thundering exultation trampling its sapphire floor. One might have followed its wake with a glistening eye, and said to himself—"There is the great symbol of human progress, there is the consummation of man's triumph over nature! The long results of ages are condensed in that fabric of strength and beauty. Man has compelled the forest, and ravished the mine, and converted the stream, and chained the fire; and now, with the eye of science and the hand of skill, he rides in this triumphal chariot, making a swift, obedient pathway of the deep!" But when that dark day burst upon them, and nature with one angry sweep transformed that splendid palace into a floating death-chamber; when ocean lifted up this triumph of man's skill, and shook it like a toy; the interest which hung over that awful desolation—the interest to which your hearts flow out with painful sympathy to-night—was in nothing that man had achieved, but in humanity itself. All the workmanship, all the material splendor, all the skill, were nothing compared with one heart beating amidst that tempest; compared with one groan that rose from that sea of agony, and then was silent for ever.
[Footnote A: This discourse was delivered just after the tidings of the loss of the San Francisco, in December, 1853.]
And, again, when I consider the conduct of that gallant captain who, day by day, rode by the side of the shuddering wreck, and in slippery peril maintained the royalty of his manhood, and sent a brother's cheer and a brother's help through the storm; when I think of that noble achievement where the Stars and Stripes and the Cross of St. George were lost and blended in the light of universal humanity; I say to myself—how does an act like this shed light upon a thousand instances of human depravity! What is any material triumph compared to this moral beauty! And what is the great distinction between rags and coronets, between senates and workshops, when in the breast of every man, and everywhere, there is the possibility of such heroism, such charity, and such splendid performance!
And so, my friends, turning from this specific illustration, and looking through the wards of cities, the busy factories, the dim attics and cellars, they all become glorious by the reflected light of the humanity that toils and suffers within them. Man is greater than any achievement of mechanism, any interest of capital, and all the questions which these involve must be brought to the test of his moral capabilities, and his spiritual as well as earthly wants.
But I observe, finally, that the words of the text suggest the Providential design and the Divine agency that are involved in the great mechanical achievements of our age. As the Divine Spirit flowed through those living creatures and moved those wheels, so God's influence is in the movement of humanity, and in the instruments of that movement. We get only a narrow, and often an inexplicable conception of things, until we behold them encircled by this horizon of a Providential design. And if humanity, with all its claims and possibilities, is involved in this network of mechanism, so doubtless are the processes of Infinite Wisdom. Something more than material greatness, or ends limited merely to this earth, is to be wrought out by it. Indications of this appear already. The telegraph and steamship, for instance, serve not only the interests of trade and commerce, but of liberty, and brotherhood, and of Christian influence.
It is beautiful to see how the most selfish agents presently become converted to the broadest uses, and matter is transformed into the vehicle of spirit. For God is in history. It is a Divine dispensation, and has miracles of its own. And, because they come by natural development let us not fail to recognize the benevolence and the significance involved with them. Is not the effect of miracle in the electric wire? The printing-press, is it not the gift of tongues? It is atheistic to suppose that all these wondrous agents have only a narrow and material purpose, and play no part in the highest scheme of the world. Like the prophet by the river Chebar, we may behold them as the symbols in a sublime vision. These wheels within wheels, full of eyes, full of intelligence, and full of human destiny and vast purpose, we know not all their meaning yet. But they have a great meaning. Beneficent intention runs through their swift motions—voices of promise rise in their multitudinous sounds. A living spirit is in these wheels—the influence of God; the spirit of man. And, in due time, out of them will evolve the incalculable issues of human welfare and the Divine glory.
THE STRIFE FOR PRECEDENCE.
THE STRIFE FOR PRECEDENCE.
And if a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned except he strive lawfully.—II. TIMOTHY, ii. 5.
In walking the streets of the city, there rises the interesting question—What are the various motives which animate these restless people, and send them to and fro? As a French author has well observed,—"The necessaries of life do not occasion, at most, a third part of the hurry." They are comparatively few who struggle among these busy waves for a bare subsistence. There are others who are impelled by some of the deepest affections of the human heart, and who toil day after day with noble self-sacrifice for the comfort of dependent parents, and helpless children. While others still run on errands of mercy, and work in the harness of unrelaxing duty. But when we have taken all these influences into the account, and made the most of them, there remains a large quantity of activity which, as we trace it to its spring, we shall find issuing from a desire for influence, for notoriety, for some kind of personal distinction. The city,—in this instance, as in many others, representing the world at large,—is essentially a race-course, or battle-field, in which, through forms of ambitious effort, and cunning method, and plodding labor, and ostentation, the aspirations of thousands appear and carry on a Strife for Precedence.
And, in selecting this phase of human life as the theme of the present discourse, I observe in the first place—that the desire for precedence is one of the deepest and most subtle motives in the soul of man. It is prolific of disguises. It is not merely under the mask which we may put on before other people, but it glides through various transformations of self-deceit; like the evil genius in the fairy tale, now dwindling to a mere seed, now bursting into a devouring fire. When, with an honest purpose, we probe it and pluck at it, still we may detect it in the lowest socket of the heart. Often it is most vital when we feel most sure that it is vanquished. It delights in the garb of humility, and finds its food in the profession of self-renunciation. See its grossest expression in the desire for physical superiority—the glory of the victor in the Grecian games, or the modern pugilist with the champion's belt. This is the reason why men, priding themselves upon qualities in which they are equalled by any mastiff and excelled by any horse, will stand up and batter one another into a mass of blood and bruises. And if we analyze the merit of some conqueror upon a hundred battle-fields, we shall find ingredients almost as coarse. Only there was a larger impulse, and more genius to light the way; so that his combat in the ring became achievement, and his success fame. The outside difference was in the value of the stakes; but the huzzas did not rise much nearer to heaven in the one instance than in the other. And when we get at the real centre of all those plaudits, we find only a little throbbing atom, a little human heart, all on fire with the lust for supremacy.
But these are the more palpable shapes of this desire for Precedence. It works more covertly, but with no less energy. I need not—for I cannot—specify all the instances in which it acts. It would constitute a more concise statement to affirm where it does not act. It is sufficiently apparent in the scramble of the market and the parade of the street; at the toilette of beauty; in the etiquette of the drawing-room, where people sit as if in a cavern of icicles; in the spurious patriotism of politics; and too often, it is to be feared, in the highest seats of the synagogue, and where men lift holy hands of prayer. It is the scholar's inspiration. When he comes to the steep and rugged way, it helps him to make a foot-hold, and the thorns blossom into roses as he climbs. Sometimes, even, it saturates the plan of the philanthropist, and peppers the milk of his charity with an inconsistent wrath.
It seems an unhappy, as it must often be an unjust method, to attribute any appearance of good conduct to the meanest possible motive. It is a policy that makes a man afraid of his best friends. He feels that every draft he makes upon human honor, or affection, is liable to be cashed with counterfeit bills. If there were no alternative between the cleverness that suspects everybody, and the credulity that trusts everybody, I think I had rather be one of the dupes than one of the oracles. For, really, there is less misery in being cheated than in that kind of wisdom which perceives, or thinks it perceives, that all mankind are cheats. But, while simple fact forbids our assuming either of these extremes, we must, nevertheless, in reasoning upon the phenomena of human conduct, allow large scope for the influence of which I am now treating. For, as I have already intimated, we shall find it lurking under numerous forms. In discussing the question of Slavery, for instance, it is often said—that it is for the interest of the master to take good care of his human as he does of his brute stock—to see that they are well-fed, clothed, &c. And so it is for his interest to do this. But how often does the lust for supremacy over-ride interest itself! How often does an imperious personality thrust itself forward in the most absurd ways, damaging its own property and welfare, just as a boy breaks his top, or a balked rider shoots his horse, or an independent congregationalist locks his pew-door, as much as to say—"There, the world knows one thing about me, at least. It knows that I am master and owner here!"
But I observe, further, that, while this desire for Precedence is common among men of all conditions, there are some modes of its expression which are peculiarly excited in a democratic form of society. That which is the open glory of a community like ours, is with many a secret vexation and shame. People boast here of the equality of our institutions, and then try their best to break up the social level. In a genuine Aristocracy, where they have endeavored to preserve a gulf-stream of noble blood in the midst of the plebeian Atlantic, and a man holds his distinction by the color of the bark on his family tree, and the kind of sap that circulates through it, there is no danger of any unpleasant mistakes. The hard palm of Labor may cross the gloved hand of Leisure, and nobody will suspect that the select is too familiar with the vulgar. Consequently, there is a good deal of affability and prime manliness, besides those associations of sentiment and imagination which, if there must be an aristocracy, lend it an artistic consistency. But here, where everybody says that all men are equal, and everybody is afraid they will be; where there are no adamantine barriers of birth and caste; people are anxiously exclusive. And though the forms of aristocracy flourish more gorgeously in their native soil, the genuine virus can be found in New York almost as readily as in London, or Vienna. And the virus breaks out in the most absurd shapes of liveries and titles. And these forms of aspiration are not only absurd because they are inconsistent, but because they illustrate no real ground of precedence. They are superficial and uncertain. They do not pertain to the man but to his accidents. He gains by them no intrinsic glory, no permanent good. To employ the language of the text, by these he strives for masteries; but he does not strive lawfully, and so he is not crowned. And this leads me to say something respecting what is false, and what is legitimate, in that strife for Precedence which is so amply illustrated in the life of the City.
Let us, then, consider some of the forms which this struggle assumes in the streets and the dwellings around us. I remark, in the first place, that it inspires much of the effort for wealth. I believe there are but few, comparatively, who are anxious to make money merely for the sake of piling it up, and counting it out. There may be a mania of this kind, in which men become enamored of Mammon for his own sake, and hug him to their breasts, and kiss his golden lips, with all the ardor of lovers. Still, I suspect that the genuine miser—that is, one who loves money for itself alone—is an exceptional man. But every man who is not absolutely inactive and useless in the world, is moved by some kind of passion. For, it is not correct to speak of outliving our passions. We may outlive the passion of young, fresh love, that makes the world a May-time of blossoms and of roses. We may outlive the passion for selfish fame, because some transcendent claim of duty snatches us up to a sublimer level. We may change these earlier forms for the passion of philanthropy, the passion for truth, the passion of holy conviction. But so long as we live at all, we do not outlive passion. And with many the most persistent desire is for that precedence which attends the possession of wealth. That miser, as you call him, with a face like parchment, and in whose nature all the springs of emotion seem to have grown rusty with long disuse, is animated by a secret flame that keeps him all a-glow. It is the consciousness of power—the mightiest power of the present age—the power of money. Those figures which he scrawls at his writing-desk involve a more potent magic than the cabalistic cyphers of Doctor Dee, or Cornelius Agrippa. His hand presses the spring of an influence that casts midnight or sunshine over the World of Traffic, and shakes entire blocks of real estate with a speculative earthquake. It is not the Czar or the Sultan, but the Capitalist, that makes war or preserves peace. The destinies of the time are enacted not in Congress or Parliament, but in the Bank of England and in Wall street. It is a mighty power that sits on 'Change, and inspires the great movements of the world; sending its messengers panting through the deep and feeling around the globe with telegraphic nerves. And one may well be more ambitious to wield a portion of this power than to speak in senates, or to sit upon a throne. Here is something that will raise him above the common level; will pay him for long years of sacrifice and contumely; will hide meanness of birth, and scantiness of education, and paint over the stains of damaged character. Here is the most feasible way of distinction in a democracy. The doors of respectability and honor turn on silver hinges. Gravity relaxes, fashion gives way, beauty smiles, and talent defers, before the man of money. He may be an ignoramus, but he possesses the golden alphabet. He may be a boor, but Plutus lends a charm which eclipses the grace of Apollo. He may have accumulated his wealth in a way which would make an intelligent hyena ashamed of himself, but he has accumulated it, and the past is forgotten. I do not mean to say that, as the general rule, wealth is thus associated, but I believe that one great motive for money-getting, is the consciousness of the power and the distinction that accompany its possession; and so, many a man in the thick dust of the mart—though it may not always be clear to himself—is really engaged in a strife for Precedence.
Again, consider the illustrations of this strife in the Style of Living. It is really a battle of chairs and mirrors, of plate and equipage, and is the spring of the monstrous extravagance that characterizes our city life. For I suppose there is no place on the earth where people have run into such gorgeous nonsense as here—turning home into a Parisian toy-shop, absorbing the price of a good farm in the ornaments of a parlor, and hanging up a judge's salary in a single chandelier. Not that I accept the standard of absolute necessity, or agree with those who cry out—"Have nothing but what is absolutely useful!" For, if the universe had been cast after their type, there would have been no embroidery on the wings of the butterfly, and the awful summit of Mont Blanc would have yielded fire-wood. There is an instinct of beauty and grace implanted in our nature, which demands elegance and even luxury, and the bare necessaries of life do not answer every purpose. And, to say nothing of the employment which these accessories of refinement afford for thousands—for I have spoken of this in the previous series—the most sturdy utilitarian is not consistent with his theory. He defers to the social condition around him to such an extent that he sleeps on a bed instead of a bench, and wears broadcloth instead of untanned sheepskin. And, therefore, others might say, and say truly, that a good deal that is actually superfluous is the fruit of certain social proprieties which cannot, with any consistency, be violated. Our style of living may lawfully run from the bare necessaries of existence, through the stages of comfort and convenience, even into luxury, according to our condition and means. But in some of the style of living in this very city, there is neither good taste, social propriety, nor common sense. It is an apoplectic splendor; a melo-dramatic glitter; in one word, a vulgar spirit of social rivalry blossoming in lace, brocade, gilding, and fresco. It is one way of getting a head taller than another upon this democratic level. It is a carpet contest for the mastery in what is called "society." And if one mourns over the exuberant selfishness that lifts its pinnacles out of this dreary sea of hunger and despair, and wonders that so many live wrapped in the idea that they were created merely to be gratified; he can hardly help being amused, on the other hand, at this fashionable strife for precedence, and the methods which it developes.
But enough has been said to illustrate the false element in the great struggle for Human Precedence. This vicious principle is most comprehensively stated in the proposition, that there is no substantial ground of supremacy in anything that is merely accidental or external to a man. These things may sometimes stand as symbols of true merit and greatness, but they are not themselves proofs of precedence. A man's wealth may be the fruit of noble energy and honest toil, and he may exert a wide influence by virtue of that intrinsic ability of which his good fortune is the sign. Indeed, the more I study the world the more I acquire a respect for these kings of enterprise—these heroes of practical effort—who, feeling that they have been sent into the world to do something, do not fold their hands and shut their eyes in ideal dreams, or stumble at discrepancies, but lay hold of what lies about them—rough stone, timber, iron, brass,—and become what it is really a noble compliment to say of any man—"the architects of their own fortune." I have great respect for these men who drive the wheels, and kindle the furnaces, and launch the ships, and build the edifices, and keep this sea of every-day action perpetually agitated by the keels of their endeavor. Their claims to precedence, however, consist not in their wealth, but in that which accumulates the wealth. But the man who rests merely upon what he has, occupies no substantial ground of supremacy. And if this is the case with those whose claim hangs merely upon what they are worth in the world of money, it is at least equally so with those who set their title to precedence upon their style of dress or living. For how uncertain are all these things! depending upon the fickle currents of fortune; throwing the honors into our hands to-day, and transferring them to our neighbor to-morrow! How tantalizing this conflict, in which victory changes with the fashion, and we feel weak or strong according to the verdict of a clique! And all these rivalries and envies and aspirations, what a confession of personal feebleness they really are! How slightly a true man feels them, who knows that he is not mere silk or furniture, and never frets about his place in the world; but just slides into it by the gravitation of his nature, and swings there as easily as a star! But the mere leader of fashion has no genuine claim to supremacy; at least, no abiding assurance of it. He has embroidered his title upon his waistcoat, and carries his worth in his watch-chain; and if he is allowed any real precedence for this it is almost a moral swindle,—a way of obtaining goods under false pretences. But without running into more minute discussion, I say again—that there is no substantial ground of supremacy in aught that is merely accidental or external; and he who rests upon such claims stands upon a pedestal as uncertain as it is spurious.
"If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." This was the old rule of the Grecian games, which would not permit the prize to be gained by any unfair or incomplete methods. It was applied by the apostle to a specific work—the great work of the Christian ministry. But it is a law which prevails in all human action. And, while it suggests that spurious precedence for which there is so much striving, it also indicates the fact that there is a real difference of degree among men, and that there are proper methods of obtaining supremacy.
And, as I look around in the populous city, in order to illustrate the grounds of this lawful precedence, I observe, in the first place, that there are men who occupy the higher places by ordinance of nature so to speak; or, more properly, by the purpose of God. It is a fact in nature that all men are created equal, and it is also a fact in nature that all men are not equal. All men are created equal as to the essential rights and privileges of humanity. They have a claim to live; they have an impartial share in the Divine Love; they have a right to liberty, to freedom of thought and of limb, by a constitution older than any historical document, drawn up in the court of God's decrees and authenticated by His handwriting in the soul. Thus far all men are created equal, and, if it turns out otherwise with them, it ensues from what is made by man, not what is commanded by Heaven. But so far as quantity of nature is concerned—original capacity and spiritual gifts—men are not equal. And if it is asked—"Why are they not equal?" I answer, it is by appointment of the same Sovereign Mind which has ordained that "one star shall differ from another star in glory." But each form of being has its own capacities, and if these are filled the moral harmony is secured. Through all prevails the law of compensation, balancing the vicissitudes of experience. And, among these diversities of human capacity, some must of necessity occupy the highest place—men whose native genius carries them up in a splendid orbit, and endows them with control. And the world at large always acknowledges the rectitude of this appointment. It cherishes no envy toward men of this kind, but renders them spontaneous homage.
But, although this genius, this original power, rises to a natural supremacy, it does not involve the most legitimate element of precedence. There is no real ground of merit in the natural talents of a man, any more than there is a ground of merit in personal beauty, or family descent. He has nothing but what has been given him—the five talents instead of his neighbor's one talent—and, so long as he does not use them to their best purpose, there is only an admirable possibility, no merit of achievement.
And all genuine merit—that which entitles one to some ground of human precedence—comes from personal achievement in life; substantially, from the stock of actual benefit which one has contributed to the world, and which has become assimilated to his own spiritual nature. The ground of precedence—so far as it is lawful for man to think of anything like precedence at all—is not in outward possessions, not in gifts, but in uses. And here is thrown open a broad and noble field, depending not upon genius or station, but upon will, and therefore accessible to every man. Here is an arena where one may strive lawfully, emulous to build up his own inner nature, emulous to let such power as he possesses go out in blessings for the world. A field for all of us, my friends, right here in the dense city, amidst the hurrying feet, the clang of machinery, and the roar of wheels. And the condition of the game is, not large capacity but good purpose and loyal endeavor; not to strive greatly but to strive lawfully.
And, I observe once more, that the real claim to precedence is not eagerly snatched by us, but comes to us. It is not in seeming but in being, and it makes no essential difference whether the world confesses it or not, so long as we actually have it, working in our consciousness of duty and drawing our consolation from inward resources. Here, my friend, is your work—here is the field of opportunity, which, however broad and rich absolutely, is for you great and pregnant with incalculable possibilities. And though men may not see its best results, they are nevertheless real, and develop in your own soul a light and power, a ground and fabric of precedence that cannot be shaken, and will never vanish away.
And yet, to a large extent, the world does confess this true supremacy. For, let me ask, who among these crowds of citizens are really honored? Not those who are so eagerly and vainly striving in their narrow, conventional circle, heedful merely of the rules of their own little game. But those who actually fill an honorable place in life. How much acknowledged dignity is there in that man who just accepts his station and makes the most of it, filling it with patience and self-sacrifice and achieving the victory of principle and affection! How much genuine nobleness in the quiet, unconscious discharge of duty! The field for precedence is it not a broad one, and close at hand? And is there no alternative between a frivolous and outside distinction, and some great theatre of action large enough to fill and dazzle the world's eye? Daily, right around us, there are occasions that summon up all the energies of manhood as with a trumpet-peal. See yonder! where the conflagration, bursting through marble walls, casts a terrible splendor down the street and reddens the midnight sky. What an enemy has broken loose among us, devouring the achievements of human skill and the hopes of enterprise! What shall stay it? With a triumphant shout it snaps the fetters of stone; it roars with victory; it bends its flaming crest towards peaceful homes where men and mothers and babes lie in unconscious slumber. The bell beats; and what old bugle-strain, what pibroch, what rattling drum, ever sounded a more perilous call? And on what battle-field that you have read of was there ever displayed a loftier heroism, a more dauntless energy, than that man displays who, with the unconscious courage of duty, plunges into the furnace, mounts the quivering walls, and, making his own body a barrier between his fellow-men and the flame, stands there scorched, bruised, bleeding, and beats the red terror back and beats it down, with that irresistible energy which always springs from the human will bent upon a noble purpose?
And so, in other forms, more quiet and more sacred, where the anticipation of public applause does not furnish its motive, men are exercising a heroism, and working achievements, that make dim and pale the trophies that are plucked from fields of war and in lists of glittering renown. And when these things are known the hearts of men render a spontaneous honor, and admit the genuine titles of supremacy. Yet, if this true achievement in life is not known or confessed by the world, its results really exist, and impart their inalienable strength and blessing to the soul, while as the grounds of false supremacy dissolve all gives way.
And, my friends, the tendency of things is to bring out more and more these real claims to human precedence, and to throw all spurious titles into the shade. This is the radical purport of true democracy, which I take to be the social synonym of Christianity. I have shown what inconsistencies and false distinctions swarm here in our midst, under the profession of republican equality. This, however, is because names are not things. I don't call that "democracy" which is simply the domineering spirit of self-exaltation in a new shape. For there is no essential difference whether we call the social order a monarchy or a commonwealth; whether its leading men are Charles and Louis, or Robespierre and Cromwell. If we must have the old social fallacies, they appear more attractive with the old symbols. In that case, I would rather not have them changed. For, when I look merely at the sentimental side of things, I feel sorry when the so-called "Royal Martyr," with a dignity which contrasts with his past conduct, stretches his head upon the block; or when the pitiless insults of a Parisian mob are hurled upon the head of the beautiful Marie Antoinette. A poetic regret and enthusiasm is awakened by the associations that cluster about the Golden Lion and the Bourbon Lilies. And, when I turn to those grim Ironsides, or those frantic Jacobins, the work they are doing looks savage enough. But, with a more discriminating vision, I perceive that that rude popular storm, which desolates palaces and shatters crowns, embosoms a rectifying process which, tumbling all false distinctions from their pedestals, shall by-and-by heave up the platform of social justice, and reveal the true dignity of man. The essential work of democracy is not the destruction of forms; is not the giant arm of revolution, striking the hours of human progress by the crash of falling thrones. But its great work is construction—is in changing the very spirit of institutions—and it asserts its legitimacy and bases its claims upon the Christian doctrine of the human soul.
Therefore, I regard these spurious claims to precedence—these endeavors after social distinction by virtue of riches, and equipage, and wardrobes—as only evidences of a transition-state. Men, letting go the feudal forms, and still assuming that there is some ground of human precedence, as there really is, have adopted these false expressions of it. They will in turn pass away, and give place to more genuine methods.
But let it be remembered, that these false forms of precedence are not only inconsistent with our social professions and institutions, but they are futile because they are contrary to the Divine Law. Our endeavors in life have a twofold operation, and we must count not only their effect upon others but their reaction upon the fabric of our own inner being. For, whatever honor men may attribute to us, we know that there is no real, substantial ground of supremacy except in the excellence and power of our own spiritual nature. And this is acquired not in ostentatious and selfish striving, but when self is least thought of; in the calm work of duty, and when all conception of human merit fades into the Glory of God. And this is the great end to be desired—this strength and exaltation of the soul. This imparts the profoundest significance to that great life-struggle which goes on in these crowded streets. The city! what is it but a vast amphitheatre, filled with racers, with charioteers, with eager competitors; surrounded by an unseen and awful array of witnesses? And here, daily, the lists are opened, and men contend for success, for station, for power. But these are meretricious and perishable awards. The real prize is a spiritual gain, a crown that "fadeth not away." And, if we comprehend the great purpose of existence at all—if we look with any eagerness to its intrinsic issues and its final result; we shall heed that decree of Divine Wisdom and Justice that comes down to us through all the vicissitude of life—through all the hurry and turmoil and contention. "If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully."
THE SYMBOLS OF THE REPUBLIC.
THE SYMBOLS OF THE REPUBLIC.
Thou art a great people, and hast great power.—JOSHUA, xvii. 17.
These words, originally addressed by the Hebrew Leader to the children of Joseph—the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh—have been applicable to many nations which, since that time, have risen, and flourished, and fallen. But when we consider the circumstances of its origin, its marvellous growth in all the attributes of civilization, and especially the immense possibilities which it involves; without even being chargeable with a natural vanity, we may say, that to no country on the face of the earth have they ever been more fitted than to this. For, my friends, we know that it is a dictate of our nature to magnify that which is our own. However insignificant it really is, man spreads an ideal glory over the land of his birth. Perhaps its historical importance compensates for its geographical narrowness, or its material poverty is hidden by its intellectual wealth. From its stock of mighty men—its heroes, and bards, and sages—who have brightened the roll of fame; or from its memorable battle-fields, on rude heath and in mountain defile; or from its achievements which have swelled the tides of human enterprise, and made the world its debtor; he draws the inspiration, he carries away the conviction of greatness—so that wherever its emblems come before his eyes, they touch the deep springs of reverence and pride. Nor let us condemn this feeling as merely a selfish and exaggerating one. This spirit of nationality exists for wise purposes, embosoms the richest elements of loyalty and faith, and is one of those profound sentiments of our nature that cannot be driven out by any process of logic.
But, if a nation really inherits the description in the text, it must possess something more than an illustrious history and an ideal glory. We must determine its greatness by its symbols; yet these must be not merely signs of things, but instruments of achievement; not merely the illustrations of dead works or patriotic enthusiasm, but the agents of actual power and of living performance. Now, in looking over the world at the present time, there are other nations to which the words of Joshua might be applied as well as to our own, and with as little assumption of national vanity. Other people are great and have great power, by virtue of political importance, vast possessions, and strong institutions. To say nothing of the rest, consider that huge domain which at this hour confronts the troubled principalities of Europe. It stretches itself out over three continents. The waves of three oceans chafe against its shaggy sides. The energies of innumerable tribes are throbbing in its breast. It clasps regions yet raw in history as well as those that are grey with tradition, and incloses in one empire the bones of the Siberian mammoth and the valleys of Circassian flowers. And it is great not only by geographical extent, but by political purpose—great by the idea which is involved with its destiny—an idea austere as the climate, tremendous as the forces, indomitable as the will of the gigantic north. It would set the inheritance of the Byzantine Emperors in the diadem of Peter the Great. It would make the Sea of Marmara and the ridges of the Caucasus, paths to illimitable empire and uncompromising despotism. It moves down the map of the world, as a glacier moves down the Alps, patient and relentless, startling the jealous rivals that watch its course, and granting contemptuous peace to the allies that shiver in its shadow.