Little Journeys To the Homes of Great Teachers
Printed and made into a Book by The Roycrofters, who are in East Huron, Erie County, New York
Wm. H. Wise & Co. New York
Copyright, 1916, By The Roycrofters
KING ALFRED 123
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON 183
THOMAS ARNOLD 217
FRIEDRICH FROEBEL 245
SAINT BENEDICT 293
MARY BAKER EDDY 327
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said, moreover, unto Moses: Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
—Exodus iii: 14, 15
Moses was the world's first great teacher. He is still one of the world's great teachers. Seven million people yet look to his laws for special daily guidance, and more than two hundred millions read his books and regard them as Holy Writ. And these people as a class are of the best and most enlightened who live now or who have ever lived.
Moses did not teach of a life after this—he gives no hint of immortality—all of his rewards and punishments refer to the present. If there is a heaven for the good and a hell for the bad, he did not know of them.
The laws of Moses were designed for the Now and the Here. Many of them ring true and correct even today, after all this interval of more than three thousand years. Moses had a good knowledge of physiology, hygiene, sanitation. He knew the advantages of cleanliness, order, harmony, industry and good habits. He also knew psychology, or the science of the mind: he knew the things that influence humanity, the limits of the average intellect, the plans and methods of government that will work and those which will not.
He was practical. He did what was expedient. He considered the material with which he had to deal, and he did what he could and taught that which his people would and could believe. The Book of Genesis was plainly written for the child-mind.
The problem that confronted Moses was one of practical politics, not a question of philosophy or of absolute or final truth. The laws he put forth were for the guidance of the people to whom he gave them, and his precepts were such as they could assimilate.
It were easy to take the writings of Moses as they have come down to us, translated, re-translated, colored and tinted with the innocence, ignorance and superstition of the nations who have kept them alive for thirty-three centuries, and then compile a list of the mistakes of the original writer. The writer of these records of dreams and hopes and guesses, all cemented with stern commonsense, has our profound reverence and regard. The "mistakes" lie in the minds of the people who, in the face of the accumulated knowledge of the centuries, have persisted that things once written were eternally sufficient.
In point of time there is no teacher within many hundred years following him who can be compared with him in originality and insight.
Moses lived fourteen hundred years before Christ.
The next man after him to devise a complete code of conduct was Solon, who lived seven hundred years after. A little later came Zoroaster, then Confucius, Buddha, Lao-tsze, Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle—contemporaries, or closely following each other, their philosophy woven and interwoven by all and each and each by all.
Moses, however, stands out alone. That he did not know natural history as did Aristotle, who lived a thousand years later, is not to his discredit, and to emphasize the fact were irrelevant.
Back of it all lies the undisputed fact that Moses led a barbaric people out of captivity and so impressed his ideals and personality upon them that they endure as a distinct and peculiar people, even unto this day. He founded a nation. And chronologically he is the civilized world's first author.
Moses was a soldier, a diplomat, an executive, a writer, a teacher, a leader, a prophet, a stonecutter. Beside all these he was a farmer—a workingman, one who when forty years of age tended flocks and herds for a livelihood. Every phase of the outdoor life of the range was familiar to him. And the greatness of the man is revealed in the fact that his plans and aspirations were so far beyond his achievements that at last he thought he had failed. Exultant success seems to go with that which is cheap and transient. All great teachers have, in their own minds, been failures—they saw so much further than they were able to travel.
* * * * *
All ancient chronology falls easily into three general divisions: the fabulous, the legendary, and the probable or natural.
In the understanding of history, psychology is quite as necessary as philology.
To reject anything that has a flaw in it is quite as bad as to have that excess of credulity which swallows everything presented.
It is not necessary to throw away the fabulous nor deny the legendary. But it is certainly not wise to construe the fabulous as the actual and maintain the legendary as literally true. Things may be true allegorically and false literally, and to be able to distinguish the one from the other, and prize each in its proper place, is the mark of wisdom.
If, however, we were asked to describe the man Moses to a jury of sane, sensible, intelligent and unprejudiced men and women, and show why he is worthy of the remembrance of mankind, we would have to eliminate the fabulous, carefully weigh the traditional, and rest our argument upon records that are fair, sensible and reasonably free from dispute.
The conclusions of professional retainers, committed before they begin their so-called investigations to a literal belief in the fabulous, should be accepted with great caution. For them to come to conclusions outside of that which they have been taught, is not only to forfeit their social position, but to lose their actual means of livelihood. Perhaps the truth in the final summing up can best be gotten from those who have made no vows that they will not change their opinions, and have nothing to lose if they fail occasionally to gibe with the popular.
On a certain occasion after Colonel Ingersoll had delivered his famous lecture entitled, "Some Mistakes of Moses," he was entertained by a local club. At the meeting, which was of the usual informal kind known as "A Dutch Feed," a young lawyer made bold to address the great orator thus: "Colonel Ingersoll, you are a lover of freedom—with you the word liberty looms large. All great men love liberty, and no man lives in history, respected and revered, save as he has sought to make men free. Moses was a lover of liberty. Now, wouldn't it be gracious and generous in you to give Moses, who in some ways was in the same business as yourself, due credit as a liberator and law-giver and not emphasize his mistakes to the total exclusion of his virtues?"
Colonel Ingersoll listened—he was impressed by the fairness of the question. He listened, paused and replied: "Young man, you have asked a reasonable question, and all you suggest about the greatness of Moses, in spite of his mistakes, is well taken. The trouble in your logic lies in the fact that you do not understand my status in this case. You seem to forget that I am not the attorney for Moses. He has more than two million men looking after his interests. I am retained on the other side!"
Like unto Colonel Ingersoll, I am not an attorney for Moses. I desire, however, to give a fair, clear and judicial account of the man. I will attempt to present a brief for the people, and neither prosecute nor defend. I will simply try to picture the man as he once existed, nothing extenuating, nor setting down aught in malice. As the original office of the State's Attorney was rather to protect the person at the bar than to indict him, so will I try to bring out the best in Moses, rather than hold up his mistakes and raise a laugh by revealing his ignorance. Modesty, which is often egotism turned wrong side out, might here say, "Oh, Moses requires no defense at this late day!" But Moses, like all great men, has suffered at the hands of his friends. To this man has been attributed powers which no human being ever possessed.
Moses lived thirty-three hundred years ago. In one sense thirty-three centuries is a very long time. All is comparative—children regard a man of fifty as "awful old." I have seen several persons who have lived a hundred years, and they didn't consider a century long, "and thirty-five isn't anything," said one of them to me.
Geologically, thirty-three centuries is only an hour ago. It does not nearly take us back to the time when men of the Stone Age hunted the hairy mammoth in what is now Nebraska, nor does thirty-three centuries give us any glimpse of the time when tropical animals, plants and probably men lived and flourished at the North Pole.
Egyptian civilization, at the time of Moses, was more than three thousand years old. Egypt was then in the first stage of senility, entering upon her decline, for her best people had settled in the cities, and this completes the cycle and spells deterioration. She had passed through the savage, barbaric, nomadic and agricultural stages and was living on her unearned increment, a part of which was Israelitish labor. Moses looked at the Pyramids, which were built more than a thousand years before his birth, and asked in wonder about who built them, very much as we do today. He listened for the Sphinx to answer, but she was silent, then as now. The date of the exodus has been fixed as having probably occurred during the reign of the Great Pharaoh, Mineptah, or the nineteenth Egyptian Dynasty. The date is, say, fourteen hundred years before Christ. An inscription has recently been found which seems to show that Joseph settled in Egypt during the reign of Mineptah, but the best scholars now have gone back to the conclusions I have stated.
At the time of the Pharaohs, Egypt was the highest civilized country on earth. It had a vast system of canals, an organized army, a goodly degree of art, and there were engineers and builders of much ability. Philosophy, poetry and ethics were recognized, prized and discussed.
The storage of grain by the government to bank against famine had been practised for several hundred years. There were also treasure-cities built to guard against fire, thieves or destruction by the elements. It will thus be seen that foresight, thrift, caution, wisdom, played their parts. The Egyptians were not savages.
* * * * *
About five hundred years before the birth of Moses there lived in Arabia a powerful Sheik or Chief, known as Abraham. This man had a familiar spirit, or guide, or guardian-angel known as Yaveh or Jehovah. All of the desert tribes had such tutelary gods; and all of these gods were once men of power who lived on earth. The belief in special gods has often been held by very great men: Socrates looked to his "demon" for guidance; Themistocles consulted his oracle; a President of the United States visited a clairvoyant, who consented to act as a medium and interpret the supernatural. This idea, which is a variant of ancestor worship, still survives, and very many good people do not take journeys or make investments until they believe they are being dictated to by Shakespeare, Emerson, Beecher or Phillips Brooks. These people also believe that there are bad spirits to which we must not harken.
Abraham was led by Jehovah; what Jehovah told him to do he did; when Jehovah told him to desist or change his plans, he obeyed. Jehovah promised him many things, and some of these promises were fulfilled.
Whether these tutelary gods or controlling spirits had any actual existence outside of the imagination of the people who believed in them—whether they were merely pictures thrown upon the screen by a subconscious spiritual stereopticon—is not the question now under discussion. Something must be left for a later time: the fact remains that special providences are yet relied upon by sincere and intelligent people.
Abraham had a son named Isaac. And Isaac was the father of Jacob, or Israel, "the Soldier of God," so called on account of his successful wrestling with the angel. And Jacob was the father of twelve sons. All of these people believed in Jehovah, the god of their tribe; and while they did not disbelieve in the gods of the neighboring tribes, they yet doubted their power and had grave misgivings as to their honesty. Therefore, they had nothing to do with them, praying to their own god only and looking to him for support. They were the chosen people of Jehovah, just as the Babylonians were the chosen people of Baal; the Canaanites the chosen people of Ishitar; the Moabites the chosen people of Chemos; the Ammonites the chosen people of Rimmon.
Now Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and his brethren were naturally jealous of him. So one day out on the range they sold him into slavery to a passing caravan, and went home and told their father the boy was dead, having been killed by a wild beast. To make the matter plausible they took the coat of Joseph and smeared it with the blood of a goat which they had killed. Nowadays, the coat would have been sent to a chemist's laboratory and the blood-spots tested to see whether it was the blood of beast or human. But Jacob believed the story and mourned his son as dead.
Now Joseph was taken to Egypt and there arose to a position of influence and power through his intelligence and diligence. How eventually his brethren, starving, came to him for food, there being a famine in their own land, is one of the most natural and beautiful stories in all literature. It is a folklore legend, free from the fabulous, and has all the corroborating marks of the actual.
For us it is history undisputed, unrefuted, because it is so natural. It could all easily happen in various parts of the world even now. It shows the identical traits of human nature that are alive and pulsing today.
Joseph having made himself known to his brethren induced some of them and their neighbors to come down into Egypt, where the pasturage was better and the water more sure, and settle there. The Bible tells us that there were seventy of these settlers and gives us their names.
These emigrants, called Israelites, or Children of Israel, account for the presence of the enslaved people whom Moses led out of captivity three hundred years later.
One thing seems quite sure, and that is that they were a peculiar people then, with the pride of the desert in their veins, for they stood socially aloof and did not mix with the Egyptians. They still had their own god and clung to their own ways and customs.
That very naive account in the first chapter of Exodus of how they had two midwives, "and the name of one was Shiphrah and the other Puah," is as fine in its elusive exactitude as an Uncle Remus story. Children always want to know the names of people. These two Hebrew midwives were bribed by the King of Egypt—ruler over twenty million people—in person, to kill all the Hebrew boy babies. Then the account states that Jehovah was pleased with these Hebrew women who proved false to their master, and Jehovah rewarded them by giving them houses.
This order to kill the Hebrew children must have gone into execution, if at all, about the time of the birth of Moses, because Aaron, the brother of Moses, and three years older, certainly was not killed.
Whether Moses was the son of Pharaoh's daughter, his father an Israelite, or both of his parents were Israelites, is problematic. Royal families are not apt to adopt an unknown waif into the royal household and bring him up as their royal own, especially if this waif belongs to what is regarded as an inferior race. The tie of motherhood is the only one that could over-rule caste and override prejudice. If the daughter of Pharaoh, or more properly "the Pharaoh," were the mother of Moses, she had a better reason for hiding him in the bulrushes than did the daughter of a Levite, for the order to kill these profitable workers is extremely doubtful. The strength, skill and ability of the Israelites formed a valuable acquisition to the Egyptians, and what they wanted was more Israelites, not fewer.
Judging from the statement that there were only two midwives, there were only a few hundred Israelites—perhaps between one and two thousand, at most.
So leaving the legend of the childhood of Moses with just enough mystery mixed in it to give it a perpetual piquancy, we learn that he was brought up an Egyptian, as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and that it was she who gave him his name.
Philo and Josephus give various sidelights on the life and character of Moses. The Midrash or Commentaries on the History of the Jews, composed, added to or modified by many men, extending over a period of twenty centuries, also add their weight, even though the value of these Commentaries is conjectural.
Egyptian accounts of Moses and the Israelites come to us through Hellenic sources, and very naturally are not complimentary. These picture Moses, or Osarsiph, as they call him, as an agitator, an undesirable citizen, who sought to overturn the government, and failing in this, fled to the desert with a few hundred outlaws. They managed to hold out against the forces sent to capture them, were gradually added to by other refugees, and through the organizing genius of Moses were rounded into a strong tribe.
That Moses was their supreme ruler, and that to better hold his people in check he devised a religious ritual for them, and impressed his god, Jehovah, upon them, almost to the exclusion of all other gods, and thus formed them into a religious whole, is beyond question. No matter what the cause of the uprising, or who was to blame for it, the fact is undisputed that Moses led a revolt in Egypt, and the people he carried with him in this exodus formed the nucleus of the Hebrew Nation. And further, the fact is beyond dispute that the personality of Moses was the prime cementing factor in the making of the nation. The power, poise, patience and unwavering self-reliance of the man, through his faith in the god Jehovah, are all beyond dispute. Things happen because the man makes them happen.
* * * * *
The position of the Israelites in Egypt was one of voluntary vassalage. The government was a feudal monarchy. The Israelites had come into Egypt of their own accord, but had never been admitted into the full rights of citizenship. This exclusion by the Egyptians had no doubt tended to fix the Children of Israel in their religious beliefs, and on the other hand, their proud and exclusive nature had tended to keep them from a full fellowship with the actual owners of the land.
The Egyptians never attempted to traffic in them as they did in slaves of war, being quite content to use them as clerks, laborers and servants, paying them a certain wage, and also demanding an excess of labor in lieu of taxation. In other words, they worked out their "road-tax," which no doubt was excessive. Many years later, Athens and also Rome had similar "slaves," some of whom were men of great intellect and worth. If one reads the works of modern economic prophets, it will be seen that wage-workers in America are often referred to as "slaves" or "bondmen," terms which will probably give rise to confusion among historians to come.
Moses was brought up in the court of the king, and became versed in all the lore of the Egyptians. We are led to suppose that he also looked like an Egyptian, as we are told that people seeing him for the first time, he being a stranger to them, went away and referred to him as "that Egyptian." He was handsome, commanding, silent by habit and slow of speech, strong as a counselor, a safe man. That he was a most valuable man in the conduct of Egyptian official affairs, there is no doubt. And although he was nominally an Egyptian, living with the Egyptians, adopting their manners and customs, yet his heart was with "his brethren," the Israelites, who he saw were sore oppressed through governmental exploitation.
Moses knew that a government which does not exist for the purpose of adding to human happiness has no excuse for being. And once when he was down among his own people he saw an Egyptian taskmaster or foreman striking an Israelitish workman, and in wrath he arose and killed the oppressor. The only persons who were witnesses to this affair were two Hebrews. The second day after the fight, when Moses was attempting to separate two Hebrews who had gotten into an altercation with each other, they taunted him by saying, "Who gavest thee to be a ruler over us?—wilt thou also kill us as thou didst the Egyptian?"
This gives us a little light upon the quality and character of the people with whom Moses had to deal. It also shows that the ways of the reformer and peacemaker are not flower-strewn. The worst enemies of a reformer are not the Egyptians—he has also to deal with the Israelites.
I once heard Terence V. Powderly, who organized the Knights of Labor—the most successful labor organization ever formed—say, "Any man who devotes his life to helping laboring men will be destroyed by them." And then he added, "But this should not deter us from the effort to benefit."
As the Hebrew account plainly states that the killing of all the male Hebrew children was carried out with the connivance of Hebrew women who pretended to be ministering to the Hebrew mothers, so was the flight of Moses from Egypt caused by the Hebrews, who turned informants and brought him into disgrace with Pharaoh, who sought his life.
Very naturally, the Egyptians deny and have always denied that the order to kill children was ever issued by a Pharaoh. They also point to the fact that the Israelites were a source of profit—a valuable asset to the Egyptians. And moreover, the proposition that the Egyptians killed the children to avoid trouble is preposterous, since no possible act that man can commit would so arouse sudden rebellion and fan into flame the embers of hate as the murder of the young. If the Egyptians had attempted to carry out any such savage cruelty, they would not only have had to fight the Israelitish men, but the outraged mothers as well. The Egyptians were far too wise to invite the fury of frenzied motherhood. To have done this would have destroyed the efficiency of the entire Hebrew population. An outraged and heartbroken people do not work.
When one person becomes angry with another, his mental processes work overtime making up a list of the other's faults and failings.
When a people arise in revolt they straightway prepare an indictment against the government against which they revolted, giving a schedule of outrages, insults, plunderings and oppressions. This is what is politely called partisan history. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was a literary indictment of the South by featuring its supposed brutalities. And the attitude of the South is mirrored in a pretty parable concerning a Southern girl who came North on a visit, and seeing in print the words "damned Yankee," innocently remarked that she always thought they were one word. A description of the enemy, made by a person or a people, must be taken cum grano Syracuse.
* * * * *
When Moses fled, after killing the Egyptian, he went northward and east into the land of the Midianites, who were also descendants of Abraham. At this time he was forty years of age, and still unmarried, his work in the Egyptian Court having evidently fully absorbed his time.
It is a pretty little romance, all too brief in its details, of how the tired man stopped at a well, and the seven daughters of Jethro came to draw water for their flocks. Certain shepherds came also and drove the girls away, when Moses, true to his nature, took the part of the young ladies, to the chagrin and embarrassment of the male rustics who had left their manners at home. The story forms a melodramatic stage-setting which the mummers have not been slow to use, representing the seven daughters as a ballet, the shepherds as a male chorus, and Moses as basso-profundo and hero. We are told that the girls went home and told their father of the chivalrous stranger they had met, and he, with all the deference of the desert, sent for him "that he might eat bread."
Very naturally Moses married one of the girls.
And Moses tended the flocks of Jethro, his father-in-law, taking the herds a long distance, living with them and sleeping out under the stars.
Now Jethro was the chief of his tribe. Moses calls him a "priest," but he was a priest only incidentally, as all the Arab chiefs were.
The clergy originated in Egypt. Before the Israelites were in Goshen, the "sacra," or sacred utensils, belonged to the family; and the head of the tribe performed the religious rites, propitiating the family deity, or else delegated some one else to do so. This head of the tribe, or chief, was called a "Cohen"; and the man who assisted him, or whom he delegated, was called a "Levi." The plan of making a business of being a "Levi" was borrowed from the Egyptians, who had men set apart, exclusively, to deal in the mysterious. Moses calls himself a Levi, or Levite.
After the busy life he had led, Moses could not settle down to the monotonous existence of a shepherd. It is probable that then he wrote the Book of Job, the world's first drama and the oldest book of the Bible. Moses was full of plans. Very naturally he prayed to the Israelitish god, and the god harkened unto his prayer and talked to him.
The silence, the loneliness, the majesty of the mountains, the great stretches of shining sand, the long peaceful nights, all tend to hallucinations. Sheepmen are in constant danger of mental aberration. Society is needed quite as much as solitude.
From talking with God, Moses desired to see Him. One day, from the burning red of an acacia-tree, the Lord called to him, "Moses, Moses!"
And Moses answered, "Here am I!"
Moses was a man born to rule—he was a leader of men—and here at middle life the habits of twenty-five years were suddenly snapped and his occupation gone. He yearned for his people, and knowing their unhappy lot, his desire was to lead them out of captivity. He knew the wrongs the Egyptian government was visiting upon the Israelites. Rameses the Second was a ruler with the builder's eczema: always and forever he made gardens, dug canals, paved roadways, constructed model tenements, planned palaces, erected colossi. He was a worker, and he made everybody else work. It was in this management of infinite detail that Moses had been engaged; and while he entered into it with zest, he knew that the hustling habit can be overdone and its votaries may become its victims—not only that, but this strenuous life may turn freemen into serfs, and serfs into slaves.
And now Rameses was dead, and the proud, vain, fretful and selfish Mineptah ruled in his place. It was worse with the Israelites than ever!
The more Moses thought of it the more he was convinced that it was his duty to go back to Egypt and lead his people out of bondage. He himself, having been driven out, made the matter a burning one with him: he had lost his place in the Egyptian Court, but he would get it back and hold it under better conditions than ever before!
He heard the "Voice"! All strong people hear the Voice calling them. And harkening to the Inner Voice is simply doing what you want to do.
And Moses answered, "Lord, here am I."
The laws of Moses still influence the world, but not even the orthodox Jews follow them literally. We bring our reason to bear upon the precepts of Moses, and those which are not for us we gently pass over. In fact, the civil laws of most countries prohibit many of the things which Moses commanded. For instance, the eighteenth verse of the twenty-second chapter of Exodus says, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Certainly no Jewish lawyer nor Rabbi, in any part of the world, advocates the killing of persons supposed to be witches. We explain that in this instance the inspired writer lapsed and merely mirrored the ignorance of his time. Or else we fall back upon the undoubted fact that various writers and translators have tampered with the original text—this must be so, since the book written by Moses makes record of his death.
But when we find passages in Moses requiring us to benefit our enemies, we say with truth that this was the first literature to express for us the brotherhood of man.
"Thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise and perverteth the words of the righteous." Here we get Twentieth-Century Wisdom. And very many passages as fine and true can be found, which prove for us beyond cavil that Moses was right a part of the time, and to say this of any man, living or dead, is a very great compliment.
In times of doubt the Jewish people turn to the Torah, or Book of the Law. This book has been interpreted by the Rabbis, or the learned men, and to meet the exigencies of living under many conditions, it has been changed, enlarged and augmented. In these changes the people were not consulted. Very naturally it was done secretly, for inspired men must be well dead before the many accept their edict. To be alive is always more or less of an offense, especially if you be a person and not a personage.
The murmurings against Moses during his lifetime often broke into a rumble and a roar. The mob accused him of taking them out into the wilderness to perish. To get away from the constant bickering and criticisms of the little minds, Moses used to go up into the mountains alone to find rest, and there he communicated with his god. It was surely a great step in advance when all the Elohims were combined into one Supreme Elohim that was everywhere present and ruled the world. Instead of dozens of little gods, jealous, jangling, fearful, fretful, fussy, boastful, changing walking-sticks to serpents, or doing other things quite as useless, it was a great advance to have one Supreme Being, dispassionate, a God of Love and Justice, "with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning." This gradual ennobling of the conception of Divinity reveals the extent to which man is ennobling his own nature.
Up to within a very few years God had a rival in the Devil, but now the Devil lives only as a pleasantry. Until the time of Moses, the God of Sinai was only the God of the Hebrew people, and this accounts for His violence, wrath, jealousy, and all of those qualities which went to make up a barbaric chief, including the tendency of His sons and servants to make love to the daughters of earth.
It is probable that the idea of God—in opposition to a god, one of many gods—was a thought that grew up very gradually in the mind of Moses. The ideal grew, and Moses grew with the ideal.
Then from God being a Spirit, to being Spirit, is a natural, easy and beautiful evolution.
The thought of angels, devils, heavenly messengers, like Gabriel and the Holy Ghost, constantly surrounding the Throne, is a suggestion that comes from the court of the absolute monarch. The Trinity is the oligarchy refined, and the one son who gives himself as a sacrifice for all the people who have offended the monarch is the retreating vision of that night of ignorance when all nations sought to appease the wrath of their god by the death of human beings.
God to us is Spirit, realized everywhere in unfolding Nature. We are a part of Nature—we, too, are Spirit. When Moses commands his people that they must return the stray animal of their enemy to its rightful owner, we behold a great man struggling to benefit humanity by making them recognize the laws of Spirit. We are all one family—we can not afford to wrong or harm even an enemy.
Instead of thousands of warring, jarring families or tribes, we have now a few strong federations of States, or countries, which, if they would make war on one another, would today quickly face a larger foe. Already the idea of one government for all the world is taking form—there must be one Supreme Arbiter, and all this monstrous expense of money and flesh and blood and throbbing hearts for purposes of war, must go, just as we have sent to limbo the jangling, jarring, jealous gods. Also, the better sentiment of the world will send the czars, emperors, kings, grand dukes, and the greedy grafters of so-called democracy, into the dust-heap of oblivion, with all the priestly phantoms that have obscured the sun and blackened the sky. The gods have gone, but MAN IS HERE.
* * * * *
The plagues that befell the Egyptians were the natural ones to which Egypt was liable: drought, flood, flies, lice, frogs, disease. The Israelites very naturally declared that these things were sent as a punishment by the Israelitish god. I remember a farmer, in my childhood days, who was accounted by his neighbors as an infidel. He was struck by lightning and instantly killed, while standing in his doorway. The Sunday before, this man had worked in the fields, and just before he was killed he had said, "dammit," or something quite as bad. Our preacher explained at length that this man's death was a "judgment." Afterward, when our church was struck by lightning, it was regarded as an accident.
Ignorant and superstitious people always attribute special things to special causes. When the grasshoppers overran Kansas in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-five, I heard a good man from the South say it was a punishment on the Kansans for encouraging Old John Brown. The next year the boll-weevil ruined the cotton crop, and certain preachers in the North, who thought they knew, declared it was the lingering wrath of God on account of slavery.
Three nations unite to form our present civilization. These are the Greek, the Roman and the Judaic. The lives of Perseus, Romulus and Moses all teem with the miraculous, but if we accept the supernatural in one we must in all. Which of these three great nations has contributed most to our well-being is a question largely decided by temperament; but just now the star of Greece seems to be in the ascendant. We look to art for solace. Greece stands for art; Rome for conquest; Judea for religion.
And yet Moses was a lover of beauty, and the hold he had upon his people was quite as much through training them to work as through his moral teaching. Indeed, his morality was expediency—which is reason enough according to modern science. When he wants them to work, he says, "Thus saith the Lord," just the same as when he wishes to impress upon them a thought.
No one can read the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth chapters of Exodus without being impressed with the fact that the man who wrote them had in him the spirit of the Master Workman—a King's Craftsman. His carving the ten commandments on tablets of stone also shows his skill with mallet and chisel, a talent he had acquired in Egypt, where Rameses the Second had thousands of men engaged in sculpture and in making inscriptions in stone.
Several chapters in Exodus might have been penned by Albrecht Durer or William Morris. The commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image," was unmistakably made merely to correct a local evil: the tendency to worship the image instead of the thing it symbolized. People who do not contribute to the creation of an object fall easy victims to this error. With all the stern good sense that Moses revealed, it is but fair to assume that he did not mean the command to be perpetual. It was only through so much moving about that the Jews seemed to lose their art spirit.
And certainly the flame of art in the Jewish heart has never died out, even though at times it has smoldered, for wherever there has been peace and security for the Jews, they have not been slow to evolve the talent which creates. History teems with the names of Jews who, in music, painting, poetry and sculpture, have devoted their days to beauty. And the germ of genius is seen in many of the Jewish children who attend the manual-training and art schools of America.
Art has its rise in the sense of sublimity. It seems at times to be a fulfilment of the religious impulse. The religion which balks at work, stopping at prayer and contemplation, is a form of arrested development.
The number of people in the exodus was probably two or three thousand. Renan says that one century only elapsed between the advent of Joseph into Egypt and the revolt. Very certain it was not a great number that went forth into the desert. A half-million women could not have borrowed jewelry of their neighbors—the secret could not have been kept. And in the negotiations between Moses and the King, it will be remembered that Moses asked only for the privilege of going three days' journey into the wilderness to make sacrifices. It was a kind of picnic or religious campmeeting. A vast multitude could not have taken part in any such exercise. We also hear of their singing their gratitude on account of reaching Elim, where there were "twelve springs and seventy palm-trees." Had there been several million people, as we have been told, the insignificant shade of seventy trees would have meant nothing to them.
The distance from Goshen in Egypt to Canaan in Palestine was about one hundred seventy-five miles. But by the circuitous route they traveled it was nearly a thousand miles. It took forty years to make the passage, for the way had to be fought through the country of foes who very naturally sought to block the way. Quick transportation was out of the question. The rate of speed was about twenty-five miles a year.
Here was a people without homes, or fixed habitation, beset on every side with the natural dangers of the desert, and compelled to face the fury of the inhabitants whose lands they overran, fearful, superstitious, haunted by hunger, danger and doubt. By night a man sent ahead with a lantern on a pole led the way; by day a cavalcade that raised a cloud of dust. One was later sung by the poets as a pillar of fire, and the other a cloud. Chance flocks of quail blown by a storm into their midst were regarded as a miracle; the white exuding wax of the manna-plant was told of as "bread"—or more literally food.
Those who had taken part in the original exodus were nearly all dead—their children and grandchildren survived, desert born and savage bred. Canaan was not the land flowing with milk and honey that had been described. Milk and honey are the results of labor applied to land. Moses knew this and tried to teach this great truth. He was true to his divine trust. Through doubt, hardship, poverty, misunderstanding, he held high the ideal—they were going to a better place.
At last, worn by his constant struggle, aged one hundred twenty, "his eye not dim nor his natural force abated"—for only those live long who live well—Moses went up into the mountain to find solace in solitude as was his custom. His people waited for him in vain—he did not return. Alone there with his God he slept and forgot to awaken. His pilgrimage was done. "And no man knoweth his grave even unto this day."
History is very seldom recorded on the spot—certainly it was not then. Centuries followed before fact, tradition, song, legend and folklore were fused into the form we call Scripture. But out of the fog and mist of that far-off past there looms in heroic outline the form and features of a man—a man of will, untiring activity, great hope, deep love, a faith which at times faltered, but which never died. Moses was the first man in history who fought for human rights and sought to make men free, even from their own limitations. "And there arose not a prophet since Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face."
The highest study of all is that which teaches us to develop those principles of purity and perfect virtue which Heaven bestowed upon us at our birth, in order that we may acquire the power of influencing for good those amongst whom we are placed, by our precepts and example; a study without an end—for our labors cease only when we have become perfect—an unattainable goal, but one that we must not the less set before us from the very first. It is true that we shall not be able to reach it, but in our struggle toward it we shall strengthen our characters and give stability to our ideas, so that, whilst ever advancing calmly in the same direction, we shall be rendered capable of applying the faculties with which we have been gifted to the best possible account.
—"The Annals" of Confucius
The Chinese comprise one-fourth of the inhabitants of the earth. There are four hundred millions of them.
They can do many things which we can not do, and we can do a few things which they have not yet been able to do; but they are learning from us, and possibly we would do well to learn from them. In China there are now trolley-cars, telephone-lines, typewriters, cash-registers and American plumbing. China is a giant awaking from sleep. He who thinks that China is a country crumbling into ruins has failed to leave a call at the office and has overslept.
The West can not longer afford to ignore China. And not being able to waive her, perhaps the next best thing is to try to understand her.
The one name that looms large above any other name in China is Confucius. He of all men has influenced China most. One-third of the human race love and cherish his memory, and repeat his words as sacred writ.
Confucius was born at a time when one of those tidal waves of reason swept the world—when the nations were full of unrest, and the mountains of thought were shaken with discontent.
It was just previous to the blossoming of Greece.
Pericles was seventeen years old when Confucius died. Themistocles was preparing the way for Pericles; for then was being collected the treasure of Delos, which made Phidias and the Parthenon possible. During the life of Confucius lived Leonidas, Miltiades, Cyrus the Great, Cambyses, Darius, Xerxes. And then quite naturally occurred the battles of Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae. Then lived Buddha-Gautama, Lao-tsze, Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Pythagoras, Pindar, AEschylus and Anacreon.
The Chinese are linked to the past by ties of language and custom beyond all other nations. They are a peculiar people, a chosen people, a people set apart. Just when they withdrew from the rest of mankind and abandoned their nomadic habits, making themselves secure against invasion by building a wall one hundred feet high, and settled down to lay the foundations of a vast empire, we do not know. Some historians have fixed the date about ten thousand years before Christ—let it go at that. There is a reasonably well-authenticated history of China that runs back twenty-five hundred years before Christ, while our history merges into mist seven hundred fifty years before the Christian era.
The Israelites wandered; the Chinese remained at home. Walls have this disadvantage: they keep people in as well as shut the barbarians out. But now there are vast breaches in the wall, through which the inhabitants ooze, causing men from thousands of miles away to cry in alarm, "the Yellow Peril!" And also through these breaches, Israelites, Englishmen and Yankees enter fearlessly, settle down in heathen China, and do business.
It surely is an epoch, and what the end will be few there are who dare forecast.
* * * * *
This then is from the pen of Edward Carpenter, the Church of England curate who was so great a friend and admirer of our own Walt Whitman that he made a trip across the sea to join hands with him in preaching the doctrine of democracy and the religion of humanity.
In the interior of China, along low-lying plains and great river-valleys, and by lake-sides, and far away up into hilly and even mountainous regions,
Behold! an immense population, rooted in the land, rooted in the clan and the family,
The most productive and stable on the whole Earth. A garden one might say—a land of rich and recherche crops, of rice and tea and silk and sugar and cotton and oranges;
Do you see it?—stretching away endlessly over river-lines and lakes, and the gentle undulations of the low-lands, and up the escarpments of the higher hills;
The innumerable patchwork of civilization—the poignant verdure of the young rice; the somber green of orange-groves; the lines of tea-shrubs, well hoed, and showing the bare earth beneath; the pollard mulberries; the plots of cotton and maize and wheat and yam and clover; the little brown and green tiled cottages with spreading recurbed eaves, the clumps of feathery bamboo, or of sugar-canes;
The endless silver threads of irrigation canals and ditches, skirting the hills for scores and hundreds of miles, tier above tier, and serpentining down to the lower slopes and plains—
The accumulated result, these, of centuries upon centuries of ingenious industry, and innumerable public and private benefactions, continued from age to age;
The grand canal of the Delta plain extending, a thronged waterway, for seven hundred miles, with sails of junks and bankside villages innumerable;
The chain-pumps, worked by buffaloes or men, for throwing the water up slopes and hillsides, from tier to tier, from channel to channel;
The endless rills and cascades flowing down again into pockets and hollows of verdure, and on fields of steep and plain;
The bits of rock and wildwood left here and there, with the angles of Buddhist or Jain temples projecting from among the trees;
The azalea and rhododendron bushes, and the wild deer and pheasants unharmed;
The sounds of music and the gong—the Sin-fa sung at eventide—and the air of contentment and peace pervading;
A garden you might call the land, for its wealth of crops and flowers,
A town almost for its population.
A population denser, on a large scale, than anywhere else on earth—
Five or six acre holdings, elbowing each other, with lesser and larger, continuously over immense tracts, and running to plentiful market centers;
A country of few roads, but of innumerable footpaths and waterways.
Here, rooted in the land, and rooted in the family, each family clinging to its portion of ancestral earth, each offshoot of the family desiring nothing so much as to secure its own patrimonial field,
Each member of the family answerable primarily to the family assembly for his misdeeds or defalcations,
All bound together in the common worship of ancestors, and in reverence for the past and its sanctioned beliefs and accumulated prejudices and superstitions;
With many ancient, wise, simple customs and ordinances, coming down from remote centuries, and the time of Confucius,
This vast population abides—the most stable and the most productive in the world.
* * * * *
And Government touches it but lightly—can touch it but lightly.
With its few officials (only some twenty-five thousand for the whole of its four hundred millions), and its scanty taxation (about one dollar per head), and with the extensive administration of justice and affairs by the clan and the family—little scope is left for government.
The great equalized mass population pursues its even and accustomed way, nor pays attention to edicts and foreign treaties, unless these commend themselves independently;
Pays readier respect, in such matters, to the edicts and utterances of its literary men, and the deliberations of the Academy.
* * * * *
And religious theorizing touches it but lightly—can touch it but lightly.
Established on the bedrock of actual life, and on the living unity and community of present, past and future generations.
Each man stands bound already, and by the most powerful ties, to the social body—nor needs the dreams and promises of Heaven to reassure him.
And all are bound to the Earth.
Rendering back to it as a sacred duty every atom that the Earth supplies to them (not insensately sending it in sewers to the sea),
By the way of abject commonsense they have sought the gates of Paradise—and to found on human soil their City Celestial!
The first general knowledge of Confucius came to the Western world in the latter part of the Sixteenth Century from Jesuit missionaries. Indeed, it was they who gave him the Latinized name of "Confucius," the Chinese name being Kung-Fu-tsze.
So impressed were these missionaries by the greatness of Confucius that they urged upon the Vatican the expediency of placing his name upon the calendar of Saints. They began by combating his teachings, but this they soon ceased to do, and the modicum of success which they obtained was through beginning each Christian service by the hymn which may properly be called the National Anthem of China. Its opening stanza is as follows:
Confucius! Confucius! Great was our Confucius! Before him there was no Confucius, Since him there was no other. Confucius! Confucius! Great was our Confucius!
The praise given by these early Jesuits to Confucius was at first regarded at Rome as apology for the meager success of their ministrations. But later scientific study of Chinese literature corroborated all that the Jesuit Fathers proclaimed for Confucius, and he stands today in a class with Socrates and the scant half-dozen whom we call the saviors of the world.
Yet Confucius claimed no "divine revelation," nor did he seek to found a religion. He was simply a teacher, and what he taught was the science of living—living in the present, with the plain and simple men and women who make up the world, and bettering our condition by bettering theirs. Of a future life he said he knew nothing, and concerning the supernatural he was silent, even rebuking his disciples for trying to pry into the secrets of Heaven. The word "God" he does not use, but his recognition of a Supreme Intelligence is limited to the use of a word which can best be translated "Heaven," since it tokens a place more than it does a person. Constantly he speaks of "doing the will of Heaven." And then he goes on to say that "Heaven is speaking through you," "Duty lies in mirroring Heaven in our acts," and many other such New-Thought aphorisms or epigrams.
That the man was a consummate literary stylist is beyond doubt. He spoke in parables and maxims, short, brief and musical. He wrote for his ear, and always his desire, it seems, was to convey the greatest truth in the fewest words. The Chinese, even the lowly and uneducated, know hundreds of Confucian epigrams, and still repeat them in their daily conversation or in writing, just as educated Englishmen use the Bible and Shakespeare for symbol.
Minister Wu, in a lecture delivered in various American cities, compared Confucius with Emerson, showing how in many ways these two great prophets paralleled each other. Emerson, of all Americans, seems the only man worthy of being so compared.
The writer who lives is the man who supplies the world with portable wisdom—short, sharp, pithy maxims which it can remember, or, better still, which it can not forget.
Confucius said, "Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three."
The true artist in words or things is always more or less impressionistic—he talks in parables, and it is for the hearer to discover the meaning for himself.
An epigram is truth in a capsule. The disadvantage of the epigram is the temptation it affords to good people to explain it to the others who are assumed to be too obtuse to comprehend it alone. And since explanations seldom explain, the result is a mixture or compound that has to be spewed utterly or taken on faith. Confucius is simple enough until he is explained. Then we evolve sects, denominations and men who make it their profession to render moral calculi opaque. China, being peopled by human beings, has suffered from this tendency to make truth concrete, just as all the rest of the world has suffered. Truth is fluid and should be allowed to flow. Ankylosis of a fact is superstition. Confucius was a free-trader.
* * * * *
China has always been essentially feudal in her form of government. China is made up of a large number of States, each presided over by a prince or governor, and these States are held together by a rather loose federal government, the Emperor being the supreme ruler. State rights prevail. State may fight with State, or States may secede—it isn't of much moment. They are glad enough, after a few years, to get back, like boys who run away from home, or farmhands who quit work in a tantrum. The Chinese are very patient—they know that time cures all things, a truth the West has not yet learned. States that rebel, like individuals who place themselves beyond the protection of all, assume grave responsibilities.
The local prince usually realizes the bearing of the Social Contract—that he holds his office only during good behavior, and that his welfare and the welfare of his people are one.
Heih, the father of Confucius, was governor of one of these little States, and had impoverished himself in an effort to help his people. Heih was a man of seventy, wedded to a girl of seventeen, when their gifted son was born. When the boy was three years old the father died, and the lad's care and education depended entirely on the mother. This mother seems to have been a woman of rare mental and spiritual worth. She deliberately chose a life of poverty and honest toil for herself and child, rather than allow herself to be cared for by rich kinsmen. The boy was brought up in a village, and he was not allowed to think himself any better than the other village children, save as he proved himself so. He worked in the garden, tended the cattle and goats, mended the pathways, brought wood and water, and waited on his elders. Every evening his mother used to tell him of the feats of strength of his father, of his heroic qualities in friendship, of deeds of valor, of fidelity to trusts, of his absolute truthfulness, and his desire for knowledge in order that he might better serve his people.
The coarse, plain fare, the long walks across the fields, the climbing of trees, the stooping to pull the weeds in the garden, the daily bath in the brook, all combined to develop the boy's body to a splendid degree. He went to bed at sundown, and at the first flush of dawn was up that he might see the sunrise. There were devotional rites performed by the mother and son, morning and evening, which consisted in the playing upon a lute and singing or chanting the beauty and beneficence of creation.
Confucius, at fifteen, was regarded as a phenomenal musician, and the neighbors used to gather to hear him perform. At nineteen he was larger, stronger, comelier, more skilled, than any other youth of his age in all the country round.
The simple quality of his duties as a prince can be guessed when we are told that his work as keeper of the herds required him to ride long distances on horseback to settle difficulties between rival herders. The range belonged to the State, and the owners of goats, sheep and cattle were in continual controversies. Montana and Colorado will understand this matter. Confucius summoned the disputants and talked to them long about the absurdity of quarreling and the necessity of getting together in complete understanding. Then it was that he first put forth his best-known maxim: "You should not do to others that which you would not have others do to you."
This negative statement of the Golden Rule is found expressed in various ways in the writings of Confucius. A literal interpretation of the Chinese language is quite impossible, as the Chinese have single signs or symbols that express a complete idea. To state the same matter, we often use a whole page.
Confucius had a single word which expressed the Golden Rule in such a poetic way that it is almost useless to try to convey it to people of the West. This word, which has been written into English as "Shu," means: My heart responds to yours, or my heart's desire is to meet your heart's desire, or I wish to do to you even as I would be done by. This sign, symbol or word Confucius used to carve in the bark of trees by the roadside. The French were filled with a like impulse when they cut the words Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, over the entrances to all public buildings.
Confucius had his symbol of love and friendship painted on a board, which he stuck into the ground before the tent where he lodged; and finally it was worked upon a flag by some friends and presented to him, and became his flag of peace.
His success in keeping down strife among the herders, and making peace among his people, soon gave him a fame beyond the borders of his own State. As a judge he had the power to show both parties where they were wrong, and arranged for them a common meeting-ground.
His qualifications as an arbiter were not, however, limited to his powers of persuasion—he could shoot an arrow farther and hurl a spear with more accuracy than any man he ever met. Very naturally there are a great number of folklore stories concerning his prowess, some of which make him out a sort of combination Saint George and William Tell, with the added kingly graces of Alfred the Great. Omitting the incredible, we are willing to believe that this man had a giant's strength, but was great enough not to use it like a giant.
We are willing to believe that when attacked by robbers, he engaged them in conversation and that, seated on the grass, he convinced them they were in a bad business. Also, he did not later hang them, as did our old friend Julius Caesar under like conditions.
When twenty-seven he ceased going abroad to hold court and settle quarrels, but sending for the disputants, they came, and he gave them a course of lectures in ethics. In a week, by a daily lesson of an hour's length, they were usually convinced that to quarrel is very foolish, since it reduces bodily vigor, scatters the mind, and disturbs the secretions, so the man is the loser in many ways.
This seems to us like a very queer way to hold court, but Confucius maintained that men should learn to govern their tempers, do equity, and thus be able to settle their own disputes, and this without violence. "To fight decides who is the stronger, the younger and the more skilful in the use of arms, but it does not decide who is right. That is to be settled by the Heaven in your own heart."
To let the Heaven into your heart, to cultivate a conscience so sensitive that it can conceive the rights of the other man, is to know wisdom.
To decide specific cases for others he thought was to cause them to lose the power of deciding for themselves. When asked what a just man should do when he was dealing with one absolutely unjust, he said, "He who wrongs himself sows in his own heart nettles."
And when some of his disciples, after the Socratic method, asked him how this helped the injured man, he replied, "To be robbed or wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it." When pushed still further, he said, "A man should fight, only when he does so to protect himself or his family from bodily harm."
Here a questioner asked, "If we are to protect our persons, must we not learn to fight?"
And the answer comes, "The just man, he who partakes moderately of all good things, is the only man to fear in a quarrel, for he is without fear."
Over and over is the injunction in varying phrase, "Abolish fear—abolish fear!" When pressed to give in one word the secret of a happy life, he gives a word which we translate, "Equanimity."
The mother of Confucius died during his early manhood. For her he ever retained the most devout memories.
Before going on a journey he always visited her grave, and on returning, before he spoke to any one, he did the same. On each anniversary of her death he ate no food and was not to be seen by his pupils. This filial piety, which is sometimes crudely and coarsely called "ancestor worship," is something which for the Western world is rather difficult to appreciate. But in it there is a subtle, spiritual significance, suggesting that it is only through our parents that we are able to realize consciousness or personal contact with Heaven. These parents loved us into being, cared for us with infinite patience in infancy, taught us in youth, watched with high hope our budding manhood; and as reward and recognition for the service rendered us, the least we can do is to remember them in all our prayers and devotions. The will of Heaven used these parents for us, therefore parenthood is divine.
That this ancestor worship is beautiful and beneficial is quite apparent, and rightly understood no one could think of it as "heathendom." Confucius used to chant the praises of his mother, who brought him up in poverty, thus giving a close and intimate knowledge of a thousand things from which princes, used to ease and luxury, are barred.
So close was he to nature and the plain people that he ordered that all skilful charioteers in his employ should belong to the nobility. This giving a title or degree to men of skill—men who can do things—we regard as essentially a modern idea.
China, I believe, is the first country in the world to use the threads of a moth or worm for fabrics. The patience and care and inventive skill required in first making silk were very great. But it gives us an index to invention when we hear that Confucius regarded the making of linen, using the fiber of a plant, as a greater feat than utilizing the strands made by the silkworm. Confucius had a sort of tender sentiment toward the moth, similar to the sentiments which our vegetarian friends have toward killing animals for food. Confucius wore linen in preference to silk, for sentimental reasons. The silkworm dies at his task of making himself a cocoon, so to evolve in a winged joy, but falls a victim of man's cupidity. Likewise, Confucius would not drink milk from a cow until her calf was weaned, because to do so were taking an unfair advantage of the maternal instincts of the cow. It will thus be seen that Confucius had a very fair hold on the modern idea which we call "Monism," or "The One." He, too, said, "All is one." In his attitude toward all living things he was ever gentle and considerate.
No other prophet so much resembles Confucius in doctrine as Socrates. But Confucius does not suffer from the comparison. He had a beauty, dignity and grace of person which the great Athenian did not possess. Socrates was more or less of a buffoon, and to many in Athens he was a huge joke—a town fool. Confucius combined the learning and graces of Plato with the sturdy, practical commonsense of Socrates. No one ever affronted or insulted him; many did not understand him, but he met prince or pauper on terms of equality.
In his travels Confucius used often to meet recluses or monks—men who had fled the world in order to become saints. For these men Confucius had more pity than respect. "The world's work is difficult, and to live in a world of living, striving and dying men and women requires great courage and great love. Now we can not all run away, and for some to flee from humanity and to find solace in solitude is only another name for weakness."
This sounds singularly like our Ralph Waldo who says, "It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinions; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the Great Man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
Confucius is the first man in point of time to proclaim the divinity of service, the brotherhood of man, and the truth that in useful work there is no high nor low degree. In talking to a group of young men he says:
"When I was keeper of the herds I always saw to it that all of my cattle were strong, healthy and growing, that there was water in abundance and plenty of feed. When I had charge of the public granaries I never slept until I knew that all was secure and cared for against the weather, and my accounts as true and correct as if I were going on my long journey to return no more. My advice is to slight nothing, forget nothing, never leave things to chance, nor say, 'Nobody will know—this is good enough.'"
In all of his injunctions Confucius never has anything in mind beyond the present life. Of a future existence he knows nothing, and he seems to regard it as a waste of energy and a sign of weakness to live in two worlds at a time. "Heaven provides us means of knowing all about what is best here, and supplies us in abundance every material thing for present happiness, and it is our business to realize, to know, to enjoy."
He taught rhetoric, mathematics, economics, the science of government and natural history. And always and forever running through the fabric of his teaching was the silken thread of ethics—man's duty to man, man's duty to Heaven. Music was to him a necessity, since "it brings the mind in right accord with the will of Heaven." Before he began to speak he played softly on a stringed instrument which perhaps would compare best with our guitar, but it was much smaller, and this instrument he always carried with him, suspended from his shoulder by a silken sash. Yet with all of his passion for music, he cautioned his disciples against using it as an end. It was merely valuable as an introduction to be used in attuning the mind and heart to an understanding of great truth.
Confucius was seventy-two years old at his death. During his life his popularity was not great. When he passed away his followers numbered only about three thousand persons, and his "disciples," or the teachers who taught his philosophy, were seventy in number.
There is no reason to suppose that Confucius assumed that a vast number of people would ever ponder his words or regard him as a prophet.
At the time that Confucius lived, also lived Lao-tsze. As a youth Confucius visited Lao-tsze, who was then an old man. Confucius often quotes his great contemporary and calls himself a follower of Lao-tsze. The difference, however, between the men is marked. Lao-tsze's teachings are full of metaphysics and strange and mystical curiosities, while Confucius is always simple, lucid and practical.
* * * * *
Confucius has been revered for twenty centuries, revered simply as a man, not as a god or as a divinely appointed savior. He offered no reward of heaven, nor did he threaten non-believers with hell. He claimed no special influence nor relationship to the Unseen. In all his teachings he was singularly open, frank and free from all mystery or concealment. In reference to the supernatural he was an agnostic. He often said, "I do not know." He was always an inquirer, always a student, always open to conviction. History affords no instance of another individual who has been so well and so long loved, who still holds his place, and who, so far as his reasoning went, is unassailed and unassailable. Even the two other great religions in China that rival Confucianism—Buddhism and Taoism (the religion of Lao-tsze)—do not renounce Confucius: they merely seek to amend and augment him.
During his lifetime Confucius made many enemies by his habit of frankly pointing out the foibles of society and the wrongs visited upon the people by officials who pretended to serve them. Of hypocrisy, selfishness, vanity, pretense, he was severe in his denunciation.
Politicians at that time had the very modern habit of securing the office and then leaving all the details of the work to menials, they themselves pocketing the perquisites. As Minister of State, Confucius made himself both feared and detested on account of his habit of summoning the head of the office before him and questioning him concerning his duties. In fact, this insistence that those paid by the State should work for the State caused a combination to be formed against him, which finally brought about his deposition and exile, two things which troubled him but little, since one gave him leisure and the other opportunity for travel.
The personal followers of Confucius did not belong to the best society; but immediately after his death, many who during his life had scorned the man made haste to profess his philosophy and decorate their houses with his maxims. Humanity is about the same, whether white or yellow, the round world over, and time modifies it but little. It will be recalled how John P. Altgeld was feared and hated by both press and pulpit, especially in the State and city he served. But rigor mortis had scarcely seized upon that slight and tired body before the newspapers that had disparaged the man worst were vying with one another in glowing eulogies and warm testimonials to his honesty, sincerity, purity of motive and deep insight. A personality which can neither be bribed, bought, coerced, flattered nor cajoled is always regarded by the many—especially by the party in power—as "dangerous." Vice, masked as virtue, breathes easier when the honest man is safely under the sod.
The plain and simple style of Confucius' teaching can be gathered by the following sayings, selected at random from the canonical books of Confucianism, consisting of the teachings of the great master which were gathered together and grouped by his disciples and followers after his death:
The men of old spoke little. It would be well to imitate them, for those who talk much are sure to say something it would be better to have left unsaid.
Let a man's labor be proportioned to his needs. For he who works beyond his strength does but add to his cares and disappointments. A man should be moderate even in his efforts.
Be not over-anxious to obtain relaxation or repose. For he who is so, will get neither.
Beware of ever doing that which you are likely, sooner or later, to repent of having done.
Do not neglect to rectify an evil because it may seem small, for, though small at first, it may continue to grow until it overwhelms you.
As riches adorn a house, so does an expanded mind adorn and tranquillize the body. Hence it is that the superior man will seek to establish his motives on correct principles.
The cultivator of the soil may have his fill of good things, but the cultivator of the mind will enjoy a continual feast.
It is because men are prone to be partial toward those they love, unjust toward those they hate, servile toward those above them, arrogant to those below them, and either harsh or over-indulgent to those in poverty and distress, that it is so difficult to find any one capable of exercising a sound judgment with respect to the qualities of others.
He who is incapable of regulating his own family can not be capable of ruling a nation. The superior man will find within the limits of his own home, a sufficient sphere for the exercise of all those principles upon which good government depends. How, indeed, can it be otherwise, when filial piety is that which should regulate the conduct of a people toward their prince; fraternal affection, that which should regulate the relations which should exist between equals, and the conduct of inferiors toward those above them; and paternal kindness, that which should regulate the bearing of those in authority toward those over whom they are placed?
Be slow in speech, but prompt in action.
He whose principles are thoroughly established will not be easily led from the right path.
The cautious are generally to be found on the right side.
By speaking when we ought to keep silence, we waste our words.
If you would escape vexation, reprove yourself liberally and others sparingly.
There is no use attempting to help those who can not help themselves.
Make friends with the upright, intelligent and wise; avoid the licentious, talkative and vain.
Disputation often breeds hatred.
Nourish good principles with the same care that a mother would bestow on her newborn babe. You may not be able to bring them to maturity, but you will nevertheless be not far from doing so.
The decrees of Heaven are not immutable, for though a throne may be gained by virtue, it may be lost by vice.
There are five good principles of action to be adopted: To benefit others without being lavish; to encourage labor without being harsh; to add to your resources without being covetous; to be dignified without being supercilious; and to inspire awe without being austere. Also, we should not search for love or demand it, but so live that it will flow to us.
Personal character can only be established on fixed principles, for if the mind be allowed to be agitated by violent emotions, to be excited by fear, or unduly moved by the love of pleasure, it will be impossible for it to be made perfect. A man must reason calmly, for without reason he would look and not see, listen and not hear.
When a man has been helped around one corner of a square, and can not manage by himself to get around the other three, he is unworthy of further assistance.
Consult and deliberate before you act, that thou mayest not commit foolish actions. For 't is the part of a miserable man to speak and to act without reflection. But do that which will not afflict thee afterwards, nor oblige thee to repentance.
With no desire to deprive Mr. Bok of his bread, I wish to call attention to Pythagoras, who lived a little more than five hundred years before Christ.
Even at that time the world was old. Memphis, which was built four thousand years ago, had begun to crumble into ruins. Troy was buried deep in the dust which an American citizen of German birth was to remove. Nineveh and Babylon were dying the death that success always brings, and the star of empire was preparing to westward wend its way.
Pythagoras ushered in the Golden Age of Greece. All the great writers whom he immediately preceded, quote him and refer to him. Some admire him; others are loftily critical; most of them are a little jealous; and a few use him as a horrible example, calling him a poseur, a pedant, a learned sleight-of-hand man, a bag of books.
Trial by newspaper was not invented in the time of Pythagoras; but personal vilification has been popular since Balaam talked gossip with his vis-a-vis.
Anaxagoras, who gave up his wealth to the State that he might be free, and who was the teacher of Pericles, was a pupil of Pythagoras, and used often to mention him.
In this way Pericles was impressed by the Pythagorean philosophy, and very often quotes it in his speeches. Socrates gave Pythagoras as an authority on the simple life, and stated that he was willing to follow him in anything save his injunction to keep silence. Socrates wanted silence optional; whereas Pythagoras required each of his pupils to live for a year without once asking a question or making an explanation. In aggravated cases he made the limit five years.
In many ways Pythagoras reminds us of our friend Muldoon, both being beneficent autocrats, and both proving their sincerity by taking their own medicine. Pythagoras said, "I will never ask another to do what I have not done, and am not willing to do myself."
To this end he was once challenged by his three hundred pupils to remain silent for a year. He accepted the defi, not once defending himself from the criticisms and accusations that were rained upon him, not once complaining, nor issuing an order. Tradition has it, however, that he made averages good later on, when the year of expiation was ended.
There are two reasonably complete lives of Pythagoras, one by Diogenes Laertius, and another by Iamblichus. Personally, I prefer the latter, as Iamblichus, as might be inferred from his name, makes Pythagoras a descendant of AEneas, who was a son of Neptune. This is surely better than the abrupt and somewhat sensational statement to the effect that his father was Apollo.
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The birthplace of Pythagoras was Samos, an isle of Greece. He was born of wealthy but honest parents, who were much in love with each other—a requisite, says Pythagoras, for parentage on its highest plane. It is probable that Pythagoras was absolutely correct in his hypothesis.
That he was a very noble specimen of manhood—physically and mentally—there is no doubt. He was tall, lithe, dignified, commanding and silent by nature, realizing fully that a handsome man can never talk as well as he looks.
He was quite aware of his physical graces, and in following up the facts of his early life, he makes the statement that his father was a sea-captain and trader. He then incidentally adds that the best results are obtained for posterity where a man is absent from his family eleven months in the year. This is an axiom agreed upon by many modern philosophers, few of whom, however, live up to their ideals. Aristophanes, who was on friendly terms with some of the disciples of Pythagoras, suggested in one of his plays that the Pythagorean domestic time-limit should be increased at least a month for the good of all concerned.
Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle make frequent references to Pythagoras. In order to impress men like these, the man must have taught a very exalted philosophy. In truth, Pythagoras was a teacher of teachers. And like all men who make a business of wisdom he sometimes came tardy off, and indulged in a welter of words that wrecked the original idea—if there were one.
There are these three: Knowledge, Learning, Wisdom. And the world has until very recent times assumed that they were practically one and the same thing.
Knowledge consists of the things we know, not the things we believe or the things we assume. Knowledge is a personal matter of intuition, confirmed by experience. Learning consists largely of the things we memorize and are told by persons or books. Tomlinson of Berkeley Square was a learned man. When we think of a learned man, we picture him as one seated in a library surrounded by tomes that top the shelves.
Wisdom is the distilled essence of what we have learned from experience. It is that which helps us to live, work, love and make life worth living for all we meet. Men may be very learned, and still be far from wise.
Pythagoras was one of those strange beings who are born with a desire to know, and who finally comprehending the secret of the Sphinx, that there is really nothing to say, insist on saying it. That is, vast learning is augmented by a structure of words, and on this is built a theogony. Practically he was a priest.
Worked into all priestly philosophies are nuggets of wisdom that shine like stars in the darkness and lead men on and on.
All great religions have these periods of sanity, otherwise they would have no followers at all. The followers, understanding little bits of this and that, hope finally to understand it all. Inwardly the initiates at the shrine of their own conscience know that they know nothing. When they teach others they are obliged to pretend that they, themselves, fully comprehend the import of what they are saying. The novitiate attributes his lack of perception to his own stupidity, and many great teachers encourage this view.
"Be patient, and you shall some day know," they say, and smile frigidly.
And when credulity threatens to balk and go no further, magic comes to the rescue and the domain of Hermann and Kellar is poached upon.
Mystery and miracle were born in Egypt. It was there that a system was evolved, backed up by the ruler, of religious fraud so colossal that modern deception looks like the bungling efforts of an amateur. The government, the army, the taxing power of the State, were sworn to protect gigantic safes in which was hoarded—nothing. That is to say, nothing but the pretense upon which cupidity and self-hypnotized credulity battened and fattened.
All institutions which through mummery, strange acts, dress and ritual, affect to know and impart the inmost secrets of creation and ultimate destiny, had their rise in Egypt. In Egypt now are only graves, tombs, necropolises and silence. The priests there need no soldiery to keep their secrets safe. Ammon-Ra, who once ruled the universe, being finally exorcised by Yaveh, is now as dead as the mummies who once were men and upheld his undisputed sway.
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The Egyptians guarded their mysteries with jealous dread.
We know their secret now. It is this—there are no mysteries.
That is the only secret upon which any secret society holds a caveat. Wisdom can not be corraled with gibberish and fettered in jargon. Knowledge is one thing—palaver another. The Greek-letter societies of our callow days still survive in bird's-eye, and next to these come the Elks, who take theirs with seltzer and a smile, as a rare good joke, save that brotherhood and good-fellowship are actually a saving salt which excuses much that would otherwise be simply silly.
All this mystery and mysticism was once official, and later, on being discarded by the authorities, was continued by the students as a kind of prank.
Greek-letter societies are the rudimentary survivals of what was once an integral part of every college. Making dead languages optional was the last convulsive kick of the cadaver.
And now a good many colleges are placing the seal of their disapproval on secret societies among the students; and the day is near when the secret society will not be tolerated, either directly or indirectly, as a part of the education of youth. All this because the sophomoric mind is prone to take its Greek-letter mysteries seriously, and regard the college curriculum as a joke of the faculty.
If knowledge were to be gained by riding a goat, any petty crossroads, with its lodge-room over the grocery, would contain a Herbert Spencer; and the agrarian mossbacks would have wisdom by the scruff and detain knowledge with a tail-hold.
There can be no secrets in life and morals, because Nature has so provided that every beautiful thought you know and every precious sentiment you feel, shall shine out of your face so that all who are great enough may see, know, understand, appreciate and appropriate. You can keep things only by giving them away.
When Pythagoras was only four or five years old, his mother taught him to take his morning bath in the cold stream, and dry his baby skin by running in the wind. As he ran, she ran with him, and together they sang a hymn to the rising sun, that for them represented the god Apollo.
This mother taught him to be indifferent to cold, heat, hunger, to exult in endurance, and to take a joy in the glow of the body.
So the boy grew strong and handsome, and proud; and perhaps it was in those early years, from the mother herself, that he gathered the idea, afterward developed, that Apollo had appeared to his mother, and so great was the beauty of the god that the woman was actually overcome, it being the first god at which she had ever had a good look.
The ambition of a great mother centers on her son. Pythagoras was filled with the thought that he was different, peculiar, set apart to teach the human race.
Having compassed all there was to learn in his native place, and, as he thought, being ill appreciated, he started for Egypt, the land of learning. The fallacy that knowledge was a secret to be gained by word of mouth and to be gotten from books existed then as now. The mother of Pythagoras wanted her son to comprehend the innermost secrets of the Egyptian mysteries. He would then know all. To this end she sold her jewels, in order that her son might have the advantages of an Egyptian education.
Women were not allowed to know the divine secrets—only just a few little ones. This woman wanted to know, and she said her son would learn, and tell her.
The family had become fairly rich by this time, and influential. Letters were gotten from the great ones of Samos to the Secretary of State in Egypt. And so Pythagoras, aged twenty, "the youth with the beautiful hair," went on his journey to Egypt and knocked boldly at the doors of the temples at Memphis, where knowledge was supposed to be in stock. Religion then monopolized all schools and continued to do so for quite some time after Pythagoras was dead.
He was turned away with the explanation that no foreigner could enter the sacred portals—that the initiates must be those born in the shadows of the temples and nurtured in the faith from infancy by holy virgins.
Pythagoras still insisted, and it was probably then that he found a sponsor who made for him the claim that he was a son of Apollo. And the holy men peeped out of their peep-holes in holy admiration for any one who could concoct as big a lie as they themselves had ever invented.
The boy surely looked the part. Perhaps, at last, here was one who was what they pretended to be! Frauds believe in frauds, and rogues are more easily captured by roguery than are honest men.
His admittance to the university became a matter of international diplomacy. At last, being too hard-pressed, the wise ones who ran the mystery monopoly gave in, and Pythagoras was informed that at midnight of a certain night, he should present himself, naked, at the door of a certain temple and he would be admitted.
On the stroke of the hour, at the appointed time, Pythagoras, the youth with the beautiful hair, was there, clothed only in his beautiful hair. He knocked on the great, bronze doors, but the only answer was a faint, hollow echo.
Then he got a stone and pounded, but still no answer.
The wind sprang up fresh and cold. The young man was chilled to the bone, but still he pounded and then called aloud demanding admittance. His answer now was the growling and barking of dogs, within. Still he pounded! After an interval a hoarse voice called out through a little slide, ordering him to be gone or the dogs would be turned loose upon him.