[Transcriber's note: Footnotes moved to end of document.]
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. XIII.—FEBRUARY, 1864.—NO. LXXVI
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1864, by Ticknor and Fields, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
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When Paul Morphy plays seven games of chess at once and blindfold, when young Colburn gives impromptu solution to a mathematical problem involving fifty-six figures, we are struck with hopeless wonder: such power is separated by the very extent of it from our mental operations. But when we further observe that these feats are attended by little or no fatigue,—that this is the play, not the tension of faculty, we recognize a new kind, not merely a new degree, of intelligence. These men seem to leap, not labor step by step, to their results. Colburn sees the complication of values, Morphy that of moves, as we see the relation of two and two. What is multiform and puzzling to us is simple to them, as the universe lies rounded and is one thought in the Original Mind. We seek in vain for the secret of this mastery. It is private,—as deeply hidden from those who have as from those who have it not. They cannot think otherwise than so, and to this exercise have been provoked by every influence in life. The boy who is an organized arithmetic and geometry will count all the hills of potatoes and reckon the kernels of corn in a bushel, and his triangles soon begin to cover the barn-door. He sees nothing but number and dimension; he feeds on these, another fellow on apples and nuts. But his brother loves application of force, builds wheels and mills; his head is full of cogs and levers and eccentrics; and after he has gone out to his engineering in the great machine-shop of a modern world, the old corn-chamber at home is lumbered with his mysterious contrivances, studies for a self-impelling or gravitating machine and perpetual motion. Another boy is fired with the mystery of form. He will draw the cat and dog; his chalk and charcoal are on all our elbows; he carves a ram's head on his bat, an eagle on a walking-stick, perches a cock on top of the barn, puts an eye and a nose to every triangle of the geometer, and paints faces on the wheels of his mechanical brother. In all these boys there is something more than ability; there is propensity, an attraction irresistible. Their minds run, we say, in that direction, and they creep or lie still, if turned in another. The young shepherd will toss eggs, spin platters, and balance knives, year after year, in solitude, with a patient energy and endurance able to command any fortune.
What philter is in these faculties? The boy who will be great is always discontented with his work, ready to rub out and begin again. He follows a bee, and never quite touches that which drew him on. Plainly, the mere ability to do is a dry straw, but through it our seeker tastes an intoxicating, seductive liquor, from which he cannot take away his lips.
It is the liquor of our life. In measure, or form, or tone, he applies himself to the very breasts of Nature, and draws through these exteriors a motherly milk which was her blood and hastens to be his own. If the young cub holds fast to the teat, be sure the stream flows and his veins swell. Matter is the dry rind of this succulent, nutritious universe: prick it on any side, and you draw the same juice. Varieties of endowment are only so many pitchers dipped in one stream. Poet, painter, musician, mathematician, the gift is an accident of organization, the result is admission to that by which all things are, and by partaking which we become what we must be.
Of this experience there can be no adequate report. It is as though one should attempt to go up in a balloon above the atmosphere and bring down the ether in his hands. There is a spring on every door in Nature to close it behind the returning footsteps of her lover, so that he can lead no man freely into the chamber where she gave him love; it is only by the confidence, fervency, and reverence of the initiate that we learn in what presence he has been. Genius is great, but no product of genius is more than a shadow which points to this sun behind the sun as its substance, and the power of our inspired men has been merely manifested, not rightly employed. Genius has availed only to authenticate itself as the normal activity of man, not yet to do the work of the world.
Sense is a tangle of contradiction. The boy throws wood on water and it floats; then he throws in his new knife and it sinks. How was he to know that the same force will lift a stick and swallow a knife? He throws a feather after his knife, and away it swims on the wind. That is another brook, then, in which the feather is a stick and the stick a stone. Not only are results of a single law opposed, but the laws pull one this way, one that, as gravitation contends with currents of water and air. If we could be shut in sense and surface, Nature would seem a game of cross-purposes, every creature devouring another. The beast eats plant and beast; he dies, and the plant eats him again; fire, water, and frost, in their old quarrel, destroy whatever they build; the night eats the day, summer the snow, and winter the green. Change is a revolving wheel, in which so many spokes rise, so many fall, a motion returning into itself. Nature is a circle, but man a spiral. No wonder he is dissatisfied, with his longing to get on. Eating and hunger, labor and rest, gathering and spending, there is no gain. Life is consumed in getting a living. After laborious years our money is ready in bank, but the man who was to enjoy it is gone from enjoyment, shrivelled with care, every appetite dried up. So learning devastates the scholar, is another plague of wealth, and our goodness turns out to be a hasty mistake. Is order disorder, then? Are we fools of fate? Is there only power enough to prop up this rickety old system, to keep it running and hold our noses to the grindstone? No man believes it: the madness of Time has method only half concealed.
See what eagerness is in the eyes of men, curious, hopeful, dimly aware of beneficence under all these knocks and denials. There are whispers of a great destiny for man,—that he is dear to the Cause. We suspect integrity in Nature. Can this canebrake, in which we are tangled with care, fear, and sin, be after all single and sincere, a piece of intelligent kindness? Genius is the opening of this suspicion to certainty. We are like children who recognize the love which gives them sugar-plums, but not that which shuts the bag and forbids. Insight goes deep enough to prize all severity and detect the good of evil.
Trade seems contemptible to Wilhelm Meister, but, in its larger aspect, sublime to Werner, who sees it as an exploration and possession of Nature with friendly interchange between man and man. Trade is democracy. Authority is hateful to democrats; but Carlyle can justify loyalty, and show how obedience to the hero may be fidelity to myself. Every experience needs its interpreter, one who can show its derivation from an absolute centre. The mob of the French Revolution is a crowd of devils till their poet arrives and restores these maniacs to manhood. They are misguided brothers, doing what we should do in their place. Genius in every situation takes hold on reality, a tap-root going down to the source. Equilibrium appears in a staggering as well as a standing figure, and is perfectly restored in every fall. The landscape seen in detail is broken and ragged,—here a raw sand-bank, there a crooked butternut-tree, yonder a stiff black cedar: but look with a larger eye; the straight is complement to the crooked tree, color balances color, form corrects form, and the entire effect of every scene is completeness. The artist restores this harmony broken by our microscopic view. Music is a shattering and suspension of chords till we ache for their resolution; and the music of life is desire, a diminished seventh that melts the past and ruins the present to prepare a future in another key.
Genius sees that many an exception is fruit of some larger law, is not imperfection, but uncomprehended perfection. Is there, then, no imperfection? We are haunted by such a thought. We see first a mixed beauty in faces, partly life and partly organization; the body is never symmetrical, deformity is the rule. But beauty will not be measured by form; the body cannot long occupy good eyes; we begin to look through that, and encounter some courage, generosity, or tenderness, a dawning or dominant light in every countenance. This is our morning, and the physical form only a low shore over which it breaks. Beauty is the rule, exceptions melt away. There is no face in which Raphael cannot see more than I see in any face; the dullest landscape is to Turner a fairer vision than I can find in the world; Byron in his blackguards shows a kind of magnanimity which refreshes the victims of respectability and routine. The individuality of men is deformity, a departure from the human type; yet this fault makes each necessary to each, founds society, love, and friendship. So wherever a break appears in the plan, we anticipate a larger purpose, and sound down through the water, certain to find under that also a continuation of land. Genius first named our system a universe to mark its consistency, and goes on reconciling, showing how creatures and men are made of one stuff and that not so bad. Let the thing be what it may, press on it a little with the mind, and order begins to ooze. There is nothing on which we cannot feed with good enough teeth and digestion, for the elements of meat are given also in brick and bark. Natural objects are explored to their roots in man, and through him in the Cause: each is what it is in kindness to him, has its soul in his breast, grows out of him as truly as his hair, and the out-world is only a larger body shaped by his needs. Each thing is a passive man, and personification does no more than justice to the joint-stool and the fence or whatever creature talks and suffers in verse.
What is the meaning of my day and relations? I suspect an advantage designed for me, but not yet extracted, in marriage and the family-life, in books, in politics, in business, in the garden, in music. How much of each, as I know them, is chaff? how much is life coming in from the deep by these low doors? What is society? An eating and drinking together? a bit of gossip? a volley of jokes? Do men meet in these exercises, or in hope and humanity? We are all superior to amusement. The cowardly host will entertain with fiddlers and cream; then every guest leaves his high desire with his hat, leaves himself behind, and descends to fiddlers and cream. But men rise to associate; in sinking they separate; and the good host must call us up, not drag us down to his feast. Goethe knows how to spread the table with portfolios, architecture, music, drawing, tableaux; but a great love, with its inevitable thought, makes even these solvents superfluous. Goethe studies the cemetery, the chapel, the school, the gallery, the burial-service, the estate,—whatever is nearest. He finds astonishing values in labor, trade, production, art, science, war. In his boyhood he built an altar with his playthings and burned incense to Deity on a pile of shells and stones. That act of worship foreshadowed his whole career; he took every creature and thing from God's hand with reverent expectation, and never rested till he had opened to some intent of the Maker therein. Things, therefore, in his view are no longer empty and hollow like old cast-off shoes, but pieces of sublime design. A beetle is sustained by earth, air, fire, and water, needs the sun and the sea, winter and summer, earth's orbit and parallax, needs whatever has been made, to set him on his legs. He carries the world in little, and is a creeping black body of the best.
Much more man is microcosmic and macrocosmic. Natural and supernatural meet concealedly in the out-world, but openly in him, and his early desires grow into a future surpassing all desire. The poet sees his destiny in our wishes,—sees right and wrong, kindness and greediness, deepening into incalculable grandeurs of heaven and hell. He sees the man never yet arrived, but now arriving, to inhabit each breast. "Far off his coming" shines. We have many little gleams of generosity; we have conviction, and can strike for the right. Nature is a fixed quantity, a solid; but life is reinforced by life. Truth begets truth, love kindles love, every end is a new beginning.
Therefore the perception of genius is prophetic,—an anticipation of manhood for this boy, who is the King's son, child of Eternity, and only changeling of Time. Wherever any magnanimity is revealed, I lay claim to it. The courage of heroes, the purity of angels, the generosity of God, is no more than I need. Only show virtue unmixed at the heart of this system, and you open my destiny in that. If there be but the least spark of pure benignity, it is a fire will spread through all and fill the breast; for Good makes good, and what it is I must become. Man is heir not to any possession or commodity, though it were a homestead in all heavens, but to the moral power which we ache to exercise. To-day I am a poor starveling of Nature, sucking many a dry straw, but so sure as God I shall stream like the sun. The meanest creature is a promise of such power, for in each is some radiation as well as suction. Man grows, indeed, faster than he can be filled, and so is forever empty; but if power is never a plenum, it is never drawn dry, and at least the mantling foam of it fills the cup. Our expectation is that bead on the draught of being, and boils over the brim.
Imagination is the spiritual sight, working upward from the fact, downward from the law. In low experience it divines the tendency of order, and descends on the other arc of this rainbow to construct the world, and the man that must be. Imagination is the projection of each beyond himself. A man shall not lift his meat to his lips without prophecy and a consulting of this oracle: he shall first extend him to think the savor and satisfaction of the meat. Shut into the horizon and the moment, we have this only organ of communication with all that is beyond; yet having here in rudiments and beginnings all that is beyond, we laugh at the old limits, and explore the universe through every dimension, through spaces beyond Space and times beyond Time.
If this old ball on which we are carried be no apple of Sodom, but sound and sweet to the core, insight must be confidence and satisfaction. In the beginning of thought we enjoy mere glimpses and guesses, our hopes are rather wishes than hopes; we mount into flame when they come, we sink into ashes when they burn out and desert us. The first glimmerings only beget a noble discontent. Children are tired of matter before they know where to seek their own power; they seem to be cheated of themselves, their worthiness is unrecognized and unfed. Companions, tasks, prospects are insufficient, they are bored and isolated, they sigh and mope; yet they are proud of this lukewarm longing, which does not quite avail, and keep diaries to record with protest the dulness of every day. Sentimentality is initial genius. Its complaint seems to contradict the cheerfulness of wisdom, yet it enjoys complaining; though life be not worth having on these conditions, it bottles every tear. A weak sadness fills great space in literature, stocks the circulating library, and counts its Werthers by the thousand in every age. Now we expect this malady, as we look for mumps and measles in the growing child. It is feminine,—unwilling to be weak, yet not able to stand and go. The strong quickly leave it behind.
In his first novel Goethe burned out for himself this girlish green-sickness, and by a more vigorous demand began to take what he wanted from the world. To the young, life seems splendid but inaccessible. Its remoteness is the theme of every complaint; but when these windy wishes grow stern, inexorable, when a man will no longer beg, but gets on his feet to try a tussle with the world, he throws resolute arms around the Greatest, and finds in his bosom all that was so vast and so far.
Then we open paths, renew our society, enlarge our work, make elbow-room and head-room enough in the world. Criticism is the shadow of the mind. Insight is not sadness, but invigoration,—is no sob or spasm, but clearness in the eye and calmness in the breast. We misjudge it from partial examples: the light of day is confidence, yet sudden bursts of light distress and blind. The poet is rapt, and follows thought; he leaves his meat, and by some transubstantiation feeds on the wind; he no longer sees the pillars of Hercules on a sixpence; he is mad for the hour, if a majority shall say what is madness. Meanwhile his field is unploughed; and if he falls from this ecstasy, look to see an harassed, embittered man. The birds sing as they pick up the corn, but wisdom is not so quickly convertible into meal, and if he cannot feed always on it, let him never seek the Muse. Our poor half-genius vibrates miserably between truth and the dinner-pot, comes back from his apocalypse, and cries for admiration, gold-lace, hair-powder, and wine. That is no apocalypse from which a man returns to whine and beg. Burns complains of Scotland and poverty, Byron of England and respectability, and they are both so far paupers unfed at home. Wordsworth finds London a wilderness, and goes more than content to good company in lonely Cumberland, to eat a crust and drink water with the gods. Socrates is barefooted. He has one want so pressing that he can have no other want, and has set his lips to a cup which hides his bare feet from his eyes: with a single garment for winter and summer, he draws the universe around him a garment for the mind.
If the first flashes of perception dazzle, they are rays of daylight to one emerging from the cave of sense. The eye becomes wonted to truth, and that is now the least of his convictions which yesterday struck Paul from his horse, and rebuked him as fire from the sky. Truth is breath, and only for the first uncertain moment of life we use it to cry and complain. Inspiration is morning, not a flash to deepen the dark.
Popular literature is some description of a state which men think they might enjoy: it is no record of joy. But the fool's paradise would be dreary even for the fool; he is his own paradise, and will be. Our early fancy is no transcript of the divine method, and is sternly rejected by all who suspect a perfection hidden in the day. A few works are great which celebrate the charm of actual effort, and the furtherance of Nature for the brave. Homer, Shakspeare, Goethe, need never exaggerate or leave the earth behind: in their experience it carries well the sky. Every vital thought is some pleasure in running, waking, loving, contending, helping,—is valor dealing gayly with the homely old forces and needs. The marrow is sweet for him who can crack it, in the roughest or the smoothest bone. One is born with a key to the gladness of Nature, and glows with the day's work, the touch of hands, the prospect of to-morrow,—love's production and husbandry, the old worn grass and sunshine, the winter wind, the games and squabbles of children and of men. Why is life for John weariness, for James every moment fresh fire out of the sky? He who finds what he wants, or makes what he wants, is a god. I know well the hope of saints and sages, how they connect this life with endless stages beyond, how they look for the same dignity in all action, the same motive in every companion; I see what they have signified by heaven, a state wherein the best loved is the best: but we must not be scornful, or miss to-day the common delight of living, the moderate hopes of the healthy multitude. For no exceptional joy is so wonderful as the universality of joy, the love of life under every burden and stroke. The beginning of all beatitude and ground of all is good digestion, good sleep, good-nature, and the cheer undeniable of an average human day.
But genius hurries on to expand our hope and dread to incalculable dimensions. Hell is its first sudden down-look from uncertain flight, is earth and animalty seen from the sky. The bad neither so see nor fear. Few men ever reach a height from which they can sound such depth, and the popular talk is repetition without corresponding experience. Hope and fear rise alike to sublimity before the boundless scope of our future. Give the hour to folly, and you set back the dial-hand of destiny, you are so much behind your privilege in every following hour. Eternity is displaced by the stumbling present as the earth by a falling pebble, and the act of this low morning is a stone cast in the sea of universal Being, which shakes and shoulders every drop of the deep. The immensity of the universe does not dwarf, but magnifies our activity: man is multiplied into the sum of all. This deed, this breath dilates to the proportions of Spirit, and upheaves the low roof of Time, which is no sky for the soul. Life becomes awful by its reaches: its span from zenith to nadir, by moral parallax. From gods we sound down to beasts and devils, from sky and fire to ice and mud. Here are the true and final spaces: in their startling contrast appears the grandeur of the moral law, like Chimborazo carrying all zones. It offers hell and heaven, advancing inevitable, and leaves us never a dodge from choice. Our dodge is a choice. Man overtaken by inexorable need must do or go under in the tread-mill of Fate. Not a fault, not a lack, but is so far damnation, with consequences not to be set forth in any prospect of fire. When you begin to look down, the fear of centuries seems not exaggerated. The remedy is in looking so vigorously and far as to see, beyond depth, again the sky and stars. Look through; for toward that centre which is everywhere, we look. Hell was situated under the earth; our first voyage teaches that there is no under-the-earth. The widening of every path gives boundless dimension to sin, till we learn that the evil impulse alone does not extend. It is soon exhausted both in attraction and effect,—is no power, but some suspense of life.
The first moral perception is always a shudder. Carlyle sees the lifted judgment of a lie; his eye is filled, and he sees nothing beyond; but Nemesis is surgeon with probe and knife. Our poisons are medicines and homoeopathic, the fumes of fear a remedy of sulphur for cutaneous sin. The thought in which our terrors arrive is always at last a gospel, is glad tidings. Dante, Paul, Swedenborg, Edwards have seen the pit. It opens only in the holiness of such men,—is a thunder out of clear sky, before which generations of the impure, like brute beasts, tremble and cower. An equal moral genius will see that the ascension of an immortal Love has left behind this vacuum, mitigated, not deepened, by the furniture of devils and their flame. Men strive in vain to be afflicted by a revelation of the best and worst. The mind is naturally a form of gladness, and every window in us takes the sun. Our genuine trouble is not extreme dread, but a perpetual restlessness and discontent.
The delight of contemplation has been in history a height without sustaining breadth, a needle, not a cube. Genius has been tremulous, recluse,—has been cherished in solitude with Nature,—has been a feminine partiality among men, holding for gods its favorites, for dogs the refuse of mankind. It still counts the practical life an interruption. It is therefore only melancholy cheer, a forlorn ark with nine souls on the brine, a refuge from the world, not a delight of the world. It lives not from God who is, but from a God who should be. The true creative power is a calm of battle, a trust not for the closet, but the chariot, a torch that can be carried through the gusty market, a Ramadhan in the street. It is no miracle to be calm in calm, to be quiet in bed,—but to rule and lead without anxiety, to tame the beasts and elements, to build and unbuild cities with a song. The great thought returns on society, floods out the heaped rubbish of custom, pours the old grandeurs of Nature through dry channels of Trade, Religion, Courtesy, and Art. He is great who plays the game of life with decision, yet is always retired, and holds the life of life in reserve. Such a man is demiurgic, for he puts down a hand on action through the sky.
From a happy or sufficient genius came the golden maxim, "Think of living." Strong men love life. The system, so cheery and severe, seems to them worthy to be continued yonder and without end. This day leading a better, itself good not leading alone,—this presentiment,—this solid increment of hard-won power,—of what other stuff should our eternity be woven? In wisdom first appears the present tense, an hour which is not mere transition, but something for itself. There are men who live—to live. He who finds our destiny given beforehand in the nature of things has the leisure of God: he has not only all the time that is, but spaces beyond, so that he will not be hurried by the falling-off of Time. Leisure is a regard fixed not on the nearest trees and fences as we whirl through this changing scene, but on remoter and larger objects, on the slow-revolving circle of the far hills, on the quiet stars. Why should I hasten with my foolish plan? Prosperity is over all, not in my foolish plan. What is a fortune, a reputation,—what even genuine influence, if you consider the future of one or of the race? Only little aims bring care. Why run after success? That is success which follows: success should be cosmic, a new creation, not any trick or feat. To be man is the only success. For this we lie back grandly with total application to the cause. Why run after knowledge? A large mind circles all the primal facts from its own stand-point, and needs never tread the curious round of science, history, and art. Where it is, is Nature: therefore it is calm and free. The wise men of my knowledge were farmers, drovers, traders, learned beyond the book. You cannot feed but you put me in communication with all forests, fields, streams, seas. Give me one companion, and between us two is quickly repeated the history of the race. In a plant, an animal, a day or year, in elements, their feuds and fruitful marriages, in a private or public history, the thinker is admitted to the end of thought. A scholar can add nothing to my perfect wonder, though he bring Egypt, Assyria, and Greece. I find myself where I was, in Egypt, Assyria, and Greece: I find the old earth, the old sky, the old astonishment of man. Caesar and the grasshopper, both are alike within my knowledge and beyond. There is some vague report of a remote divine, at which he will smile who finds no least escape from the divine. Two points are given in every regard, man and the world, subject, we say, and object, a creature seen and a creature seeing, marvelling, knowing, ignorant. Either of these openings will lead quickly to light too pure for our organs, and launch us on the sea beyond every shore. The artist studies a fair face; there is no supplement to his delight. In temples, statues, pictures, poems, symphonies, and actions, only the same eternal splendor shines. It is the sun which lights all lands,—"that planet," as Dante sings,
"Which leads men straight on every road."
He is delivered there at home to Beauty, which makes and is the world.
Genius is royal knowledge. In the nearest need it studies all ages and all worlds. Let me understand my neighbors and my meat; you may have the libraries and schools. I read here living languages,—the eye, the attitude and temperament, the wish and will: Hebrew and Greek must wait. He who knows how to value "Hamlet" will never subscribe for your picture of "Shakspeare's Study." Great intelligence runs quickly through our primers, our cities, constitutions, galleries, traditions, cathedrals, creeds. The long invention of the race is a tortuous, obscure way. Must I creep all my fresh years in that labyrinth, and postpone youth to the end of age? What need of so much experience and contrivance, if without contrivance, if by simplicity, the children surely and beautifully live?
Healthy thought is organic, grows by assimilation, vitalizes all it takes, and so like a plant puts forth knowledge from the old and from within. The apple of to-morrow is earth, not apple, till it hangs on the tree. Our knowing seems rather rejection than acceptance, so much is husk in bulk. From eight thousand miles of geology the tree takes a few drops of water and distils from these its own again. Vigor of mind is judgment, which divides the meat from the shell, that which cumbers from that which thrills. The act is simple, inevitable; let it be energetic and final. We say, "This is valuable, it quickens me; the rest is nonsense." A feeble mind needs now chiefly to be rid of rubbish, of cheap admirations, an awe before the hair-pins and shoe-ties of society, before the true church, the scholastic learning, dead languages, the Fathers and the fashion. To set the savage of civilization free from his superstition, these idols must be insulted before his face.
A little energy of demand displaces them from regard. The scholars are busy with punctuation, chronology, and the lives of the little great, so that their visit is a vastation, and I must turn them out of doors. Genius will continue unable to spell, to read the German, to count the Egyptian kings. There is royal ignorance, the preoccupation of gods. For the wise, if no object is trifling, yet part of every object is foreign to its best intent. Every nut is inwardly a man and a miracle, but outwardly a shell. If it be a book, the thought is a shell, though God be in the thought. The book is another thing, another world of power and form, and the power will consume the form as a sword eats its sheath, the soul the body, or fire the pan. The letter drops, for the spirit must expand and be set free. The positive and negative poles of Nature reappear in every creature, and the positive element must prevail. When we have learned to live, we shall—or shall not—learn to spell.
The last refreshment is intercourse with a kingly mind, which has no need to shift its centre, but lies abroad hemispheric, and sleeps like sunshine, bathing silently the earth and sky. Such a mind is at home, not in position, but in a vital relation to Nature, which leaves no spaces dark and cold for wandering, and knows no change that is worth the name of change. It is rest to be with one who is at rest, who cannot go to or go from his happiness, for whom the meaning of Deity is here and now. What stillness and depth of manner are communicated to all who sound the deeps of life! what a refuge is their society from wit, zeal, and gossip, from petty estimates and demands! To these, now first encountered, we have been always known; in them we meet no private motive, no accomplishment, reputation, ability, immediate haunting purpose, but a Sabbath from personal fortunes. We meet the great above all that can be mine or thine, above gifts and accidents in common manhood and prosperity. Swedenborg reports no encounter on higher ground. The seven heavens open to me in a mind which gives rank to its own facts, and wherever it is housed still finds the universe only a larger body around the soul.
Genius declares the total or representative value of its own facts against the neglect or contempt of mankind. Intelligence is centre of centres, and all things diminish as they recede from the eye. Every natural law is some hint to us of our commanding position. The good thought is never a toilsome going abroad, but some settling at home to new intimacy with the fortune which waits on all. It is no putting out legs, but a putting down roots to take possession of the earth and the nether heavens, while we fill the upper sky with climbing shoots. Intelligence is at one with the system, able to entertain it as a unit, to refer every particle, dark as a particle, to its shining place in the transparent whole. How can I afford to drop my errand, to go wonder after the fore-world, after Plato, Washington, or Paul? These are men who never dropped their errands to go wonder after the Maker himself. They found God in the thing lying nearest to be done. As right action in the remotest corner is a world-victory, so right thought applied to the lowest circumstance is cosmic thought. In the fortune of the hour we have a home beyond the fortune of the hour. The least circle of order now organized and established in our lives is not a poor house frozen to the ground, but a ship able to outride the currents of time, a charmed circle of security which will serve us still in every following world. Our future is to be found, not in multiplication of examples, but in deeper sympathy with all we have superficially known.
We shall never rightly celebrate the stillness and sweetness of truth in an open mind. Clear perception is refreshing as sleep. It is a sleep from blunder, care, and sin. In every thought we are lifted to sit with the serene rulers, and see how lightly, yet firmly, in their orbits the worlds are borne. With insight we work freely, for every result is secure; we rest, for every stream will bear us to the sea. Peace is joy beyond the perturbation of joy, is entertainment of Omnipotence in the breast.
A filial relation to the universe is well expressed, not in speech, but in the attitudes of her children, in their balance, tranquillity, directness, their firm and quiet grasp, look, step, tone. Confidence and joy are the only moral agents. Worship is immortal cheer. The Greeks rebuke us with their sacred festivals and games: why should we not hunt every evil as we follow gayly the buffalo and bear? Virtue cannot be wrinkled and sad; Virtue is a joy of the Right added to our earliest joy,—is refreshment and health, not fever. The Etruscan are right religious sculptures: the body will be more, not less, when the soul is most; for the body is created and perfected, not devoured by the soul. In another Eden the curves of grace and power will reappear; every wrinkle will be counted sin; goodness will be sap and blood, a growth of grapes and roses, a sacrament of energy and content.
If there be great wrongs, we cannot distrust the Maker, and postpone the security of the soul. Impatience is a wrong as great as any. Love and trust are remedies for wrong. Music is our cure for insanity, and I remember that incantation of fair reasons which Plato prescribed. What gain is in scolding and knitting the brows? The blue sky, the bright cloud, the star of night, the star of day, every creature is in its smiling place a protest of the universe against our hasty method of counter-working wrong with wrong. Let loose the Right. Go forward with martial music; never await or seek, but carry victory and win every battle in the organization of your band. Hear Beethoven:—"Nor do I fear for my works. No evil can befall them, and whosoever shall understand them shall be free from all such misery as burdens mankind."
From this security in the lap of Nature, this nest in the grass, we rise easily to every height. Gladness becomes uncontainable, a pain of fulness, for which, after all effort, there is no complete relief; for language breaks under it in delivery, and Art falls to the ground. The psalm of David, the statue of Angelo, the chorus of Handel, are inarticulate cries. These men have not justified to us their confidence. It will be shared, not justified. They have divined what they cannot orderly publish, and their meaning will be by the same greatness divined again. The work of such men remains a haunting, commanding enigma to following ages. They do but repeat the promise and obscurity of Nature, for she herself has the same largeness, is such another raptus, proceeding to no end, but to a circle or complexity of ends. Men are again and again divided over the images of Paul, of Plato, of Dante, unable to escape from their authority, more unable to give them final interpretation. They leave Nature, to puzzle over the inexhaustible book. What does it mean? What does it not mean? The poet will never wait till he can demonstrate and explain. He must hasten to convey a blessing greater than explanation, to publish, if it were only by broken hints, by signs and dumb pointing, his sense of a presence not to be comprehended or named.
For, if the seer is sustained, he is also commanded by what he sees. Genius is not religious, but religion, an opening to the conscience of the universe no less than to the joy. From this original the moral, intellectual, and aesthetic sense will each derive a conscience, and rule with equal sovereignty the man. Through an ant or an angel the first influx of reality is entertained in an attitude of worship, and the poet, in his vision, cries with Virgil to Dante:—
"Down, down, bend low Thy knees! behold God's angel! fold thy hands! Henceforward shalt thou see true ministers!"
Revelation is not more a new light than a new heart and will; revelation to me is the conquest and renewal of me. What is lovely will not be encountered without love, the Creator holds the key to the creature, Order and Right may freely enter to be man. He who can open any object to its source is touched therein by the finger of God, and insight is inevitable consecration. Give the coward a suspicion of our human destiny, and he is no longer coward; he would gladly be cut in pieces and burned in any flame to shed abroad that light. Life has such an irresistible tendency to extend, that it makes of the man a mere vehicle, takes him for hands and feet, wheels and wings: he is glad only when the truth runs and prevails. Enthusiasm, devotion, earnestness are names for this possession of the deep thinker by his thought. He lives in that, and has in it his prosperity, no longer in the flesh. The inspired man becomes great by absorption in a great design; he is preoccupied, and trifles, for which other men are bought and sold, shine before him as beads of glass with which savages are wheedled. We drop our playthings, our banks and coaches, crowns, swords, colleges, and sugar-plums in a heap together, when any moment opens to us the scope of our activity, and carries far forward the curve through which we have already run.
The divine authority of Genius is given in this descent and superiority to will. That which in me I must obey, that also above me all men must obey. Will is the centre of the practical man, of all force, not moral, but brute or natural, and is identified in the common thought with myself, as I am a natural cause. Will is the sum of physical forces necessary for self-preservation, is reagency against the formidable rivalry of every other organization. In this animal centre the laws are carried up, as reins are gathered to be put into the hands of a driver, and being tied in a knot just where the physical touches the celestial sphere, they seem to be moral, and Will much more than the body is in popular thought inseparable from man. It is an organ into which he has thrown himself in reckless neglect of his privilege, a grasping hand which rules the world as we see it ruled, masters and takes to itself for extension all laws below its own level, wields Nature as an instrument, breaks down a weaker will, and carries away the material mind until some God from above shall deliver it. Will is that living Fate of which exterior necessity is but the form. From it we are instantly delivered in conviction, and find it ever after the servant, not the synonyme of man.
The boy does not choose, neither does the belly choose for him, what object shall be supremely beautiful in his eyes. He has not resolved to see only this splendor of color, and neglect sound,—or to give himself to sound alone, and shut his eyes to sight. If the divine order reaches any mind, those creatures in which it appears will haunt that mind, will take lordly their own place, and hang as constellations high overhead in thought. So long as he can turn the eye hither and thither, or lightly determine what he will see, the man is conversant with form alone, and bigots who are on that plane of experience identify him with choice, hold thought to be altogether voluntary, and burn the thinker, as though his view were a fruit, not a root, of him. But truth is that which does not wait for our making, but makes us,—does not lie like water at the bottom of our wells, but comes like sunshine flooding the air, and compelling recognition. "To believe your own thought," says a master, "that is genius"; but is not genius primarily the arrival of a thought able to authenticate itself, to compel trust, and make its own value known against the sneers or anger of the world? From my own thought once reached there is but one appeal,—to my own thought: from Philip sober to Philip more sober.
The good spirit appears as a spark in our embers, and draws out these careful hands to ward itself from every gust,—sets our tasks and crowns them. We know that from first desire to last performance wisdom is altogether a grace. Wisdom is this wish for wisdom, already given in the readiness to receive. We have not cared for it, but it has cared for us.
Grown stronger, it is a guide, and needs none. Turner sees what he must love; there is no rule for such seeing: what he does not love is hid from him; there is no rule for such omission. It is in the eye, not more a happy opening than a happy closing. A private ordinance, dividing man into men, makes the same creature a wall to one, an open door to his neighbor. The value of man appears to Scott in feudalism, to Wordsworth in contemplation, to Byron in impatience, to Kant in certainty, to Calvin in authority, to Calame in landscape, to Newton in measure, to Carlyle in retribution, to Shakspeare in society, to Dante in the contrast of right and wrong.
One man by grandeur sees mountains in the coals of his grate; another by gentleness only sunshine and grasses on Monadnock. You will not say that he chooses, but that he is chosen so to see. Light opens the eye without our intention, and we are at no trouble to paint on the retina what must there appear. Success is fidelity to that which must appear. Weak men discuss forever the laws of Art, and contrive how to paint, questioning whether this or that element should have emphasis or be shown. If there is any question, there will be no Art. The man must feel to do, and what he does from overmastering feeling will convince and be forever right. The work is organic which grows so above composition or plan. After you are engaged by the symphony, there is no escape, no pause; each note springs out of each as branch from branch of a tree. It could be no otherwise; it cannot be otherwise conceived. Why could not I have found this sequence inevitable, as well as another? Plainly, the symphony was discovered, not made,—was written before man, like astronomy in the sky.
Only the mastery of one who is mastered by Nature will control and renovate mankind. It is easy to recognize the habit of conviction, freedom from within, and personal motive, the man bending himself as for life or death to show exactly what he sees. The inspired man we know who appeals to a divine necessity, and says, "I can do no otherwise; God be my help! amen!"—for whom praise and property and comfortable continuance on this planet are trifles, so great an object has opened to him in the inviolable moral law.
Every perception takes hold at last on duty as well as desire, claims and carries away the man entire, though it were to danger or death. The system, grown friendly, has grown sacred also; departure from it is shame and guilt, as well as loss. An artist, therefore, like the Greek, is busy with portraits of the gods, and every celebration of Beauty is another Missa Solemnis, Te Deum, and Gloria.
Whatever object becomes transparent to a man will be his medium of communication with the Maker and with mankind. He hurries to show therein what he has seen, as children run for their companions and point their discoveries. These are his unsolicited angels, higher above his reach than above that of the crowd; for every good thought is more a surprise to the thinker than to any other. The seer points always from himself as a telescope to the sky; he is no creator, but a bit of broken glass in the sun. What is any man in the presence of haunting Perfection, never to be shown without mutilation and dishonor? Is it ours? In Him we live and move.
While the Ego is pronounced and fills consciousness, man seems to be and do somewhat of himself; but when the universal Soul is manifest above will, his eyes turn away from that old battery; he is absorbed in what he sees,—forgets himself, his deeds, wants, gains. He is rapt; stands like Socrates a day and a night in contemplation; sits like Newton for twelve hours half dressed on the edge of his bed, arrested in rising. He is that madman to the world who neglects his meat, postpones his private enterprise, regards honor and comfort as so much interruption to this commerce with reality. We are all tired of property which is exclusion, of goods which must be taken from another to serve me. Good should grow with sharing,—more for me when all is given. In the spirit there are no fences, boxes, or bags.
Presenting truth, I declare it as freely yours as mine. Every act of genius proclaims that the highest gift is no monopoly or singularity, no privilege of one, but the birthright of the race. Shakspeare knows well that we shall easily see what he sees; he considers it no secret. We are always feeling beforehand for every right word now about to be spoken in the world; many men give tokens of the general habit of thought before he is born who clearly knows what all were dreaming. Wisdom has only gone before us on our own path, and we overtake our guide in every perception. Yet we are lifted quite off our feet by any new possibility revealed in life: every circle drawn round our own astonishes, though it be drawn from our centre. The poet in his certainty appears a child of the heavens, and we strike another foolish line through the crowd, as though every man were not his own poet as truly as he is his own priest and governor, as though each were not entitled to see whatever is to be seen. The masters of thought may teach us better. They address their loftiest power in us, and never sing to oxen or dogs. The painting, poem, statue, oratorio, calls to me by name; the morning is an eye that solicits mine. Shall I take only the husks, and leave to another, contented, always, the life of life?
He is supreme poet who can make me a poet, able to reach the same supplies after he is gone. We are bits of iron charged by this magnet, and lose our quality when it is removed; we are not quite made magnets as we should be by this magnetic planet and the revolutions of the sun; yet the great polarity of our globe is a sum of little polarities, and every scrap of metal has its own. We are made musical by the passing band; we go on humming and marching to the air; but he who wrote it was made musical by silence and sunshine. Soon our own vibrations will be more easily induced, as old instruments sound with a touch or breath. We shall throb with inarticulate rhythms, and understand the bard who sings,—
"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter."
The poet is one who has detected this latency of power in every breast. His delight is a feeling that all doors are open to all, that he is no favorite, but the rest are late sleepers, and he only earlier awake. Depth of genius is measured by depth of this conviction. Egotism is incurable greenness. An artist is one who has more, not less, respect for the common eye. The seer points always from his own to a public privilege,—says never, "I, Jesus, have so received," but, "The Son of Man must so receive"; and Shakspeare cuts himself into fragments till there is no Shakspeare left behind, as if expressly to testify that this wonderful wisdom is not his, but ours, is not that of the thinker and penman in his study, but of priests and kings, ladies and courtiers, lovers and warriors, knaves and fools. Paul sees that Moses read his law from tables of the heart. Every wise word is an echo of the wisdom inarticulate in our neighbors which sends them confident about their work and play. The faith of healthy men and women is amazing when we learn how incapable they are of showing grounds for it. In speculation they hold horrible theories, blackening the day; yet they trust the good which their lips unwittingly deny.
In discourse we are moved, not by what a man says, but by what he takes for granted. The undertow of power is something unstated to which all his facts and laws refer. But our resource seems to be rather a reversion, is not quite available; we have blood and a beat at the heart, yet it does not circulate freely, and Nature to every man is a double of himself, so that the universe seems also cold in extremities, as though there were too little original life to fill her veins. The poet is not fire on the hearth to thaw this numbness by foreign heat. He rubs and rouses us to activity, drags us to the open air, puts us on a glowing chase, provokes us to race and climb with him till we also are thoroughly alive. No other gift of his is worth much beside this hope of reaching his side. The great know well that all men are approaching their view even in departing from it, as travellers going from one port turn their backs on each other here and their faces together toward the antipodal point: they can leave their discoveries and fame to the race. There is one object of sight. Every piece of wisdom is no less my thought because another has found it in my mind. It is more mine than any perception I called my own, for really with that I have unconsciously been living in deeps below thought. The rest I have known, that in all these years I am.
No man seriously doubts that he is born to entertain the meaning of the world. Already we are inclined to reckon genius a mere faculty of saying, not of knowing, since it opens a common experience in every example. Minority and obligation to other eyes will cease. We have outgrown many a Magnus Apollo of childhood; his beauty is no longer beautiful, his gold is tinsel, we can dig better for ourselves. Therefore we can draw no line that will stand between poets and pretenders. That is fire which fires me to-day; to-morrow the same influence is frost. The standard is my temperature, a sliding scale. My neighbors are raised to ecstasy by what seems a rattle of pots and pans; but I remember when heaven opened to me also in Scheffer, Byron, Bellini. The judge places himself in his judgment,—declares only what is now above him, what below. If I find Milton prosaic beside Swedenborg, perhaps I do Milton no wrong; perhaps no man in the company so admires his impetuous grandeur; but now the impersonality of the Swede may meet my need more nearly, with his mysteries of correspondence, spiritual law, enduring Nature, and supremacy of Love. Discrimination is worth so much, because there are no great gaps between man and man, between mind and mind: there is no virtuous, no vicious, no poet, no unpoet, and only dulness lumps one with angels, another with dogs. There are infinite kinds and infinite degrees of intelligence; there is genius in every sort and every stage of adulteration, overlaid by this, by that, by the other grave mistake; and we cannot afford to be inhospitable to the feeblest protest against our condition and ourselves.
We pass all but the few great masters, and they are only before us on the road. Culture is the opening of spontaneous or liberal activity, and hangs all on the pivotal perception that everything, experience, effort, element, history, tradition, art, science, is another opening to the same centre, and that our life. When the pupil is roused, enchanted, fired, his redemption from sense is begun; he is delivered to the great God, if it were only in a crystal or a caterpillar; he will never again be the clod he was. The years are cruel and cold, want and appetite devour many a day, but the man can never forget what was promised to the boy. He believes in thought; believes against thought in the mad world, in foolish man; believes in himself, and wonders what he could do, if he had yet only half a chance. All that is streams toward the mind, will stream through it and be known.
God would not be God, if He could fill less than the universe, could leave cold and empty corners, could remain beyond thought, could be order around and not also within the brain. Deity is Revelation. Deity means for each the germ of knowledge and the sum of knowledge. Man is the guest of wisdom; he will drop for shame his arrogance, and seek never again to entertain or patronize this architect and master of the house. The triumph of inspiration is an unsealing of my own and of every mind, a delivery of the pupil to private inspiration. When the work of a master is masterly done, he abdicates therein, retires, and becomes unregarded as a flight of stairs behind. The statue is a failure, unless it makes me forget the statue,—the book, unless it makes me forget the book. All the rhyming, painting, singing of sentimental boys and girls springs from an intuition hardly yet more than instinct: that Nature has special scripts for each, to be by him, by her, alone, divined and published. They reach nothing sincere or unique, yet they feel the individuality and remoteness of experience. They cannot put forth their conscious power; but who among the gods of fame can put forth his power? Emerson says Jove cannot get his own thunder; much less can any mortal get his own thunder, however he may apply to Minerva for the key.
By the cheer of awakening intuition, a dawn which stirs before daylight, all men are secretly sustained. The common life is a borrowing, not a creation and giving: imitation is going on all-fours, and man is uneasy in that animal attitude. The horse comes only as horse: I am here not merely as man, but as John; I blush and ache till John is something pronounced and maintained against the mob of centuries, till men must feel his singularity and solidity, as the ocean is displaced and readjusted by every drop of rain. More or less, I must at least purely avail. Erectness is delivery to the private law, and something in each remains erect, and lifts him above the brute and the crowd. He is, and feels himself to be: he will advance and give the law of his life.
The brain is itself a nut from the tree Ygdrasil; it carries the world, and in the first glances we anticipate all knowledge. The joy of life does not wait for any theory of life, for we have only slept since the thought in us was embodied in this system; we took part in the making; we are drowsily at home with ourselves therein; we forget, yet do not forget, the roundness of design. As in a common experience we are often close upon some name which we seek to recall,—we feel, but cannot touch it,—so the secret of Nature lies close to the mind, and sustains us as if by magnetic communication, while we have yet no faculty to explore our own being or this apparition of it, the whirl of worlds.
We have rightly held genius to be miracle; but our great hope is postponed for lack of perception that all life is miracle, that man in every endowment is a form of the same plastic, incalculable power. Yet as we are brought to seek goodness, being sinners, so we shall be brought to seek the last perception, being dolts. The masters have not been quite masters, and their theory has never respected the natural as opening to a supernatural mind. We eat and drink and wait to be arrested, not by sunshine, but lightning. It comes at last, revealing from heaven the height and depth of our human prospect. The vision is appalling; the seer is stricken to the ground; he has no organ able to bear this light; he is blinded; he runs trembling for counsel to Paul, who was beaten from his horse, to Samuel, who was called in sleep, to Jesus, who taught the new birth, to John, who saw the white throne. But after a little we learn that the new experience is native to us as breath. No degeneracy of any period, no immersion in war, trade, production, tradition, can quite hide the cardinal fact that this strength of antiquity, of eternity, waits to descend, and does from time to time descend, into the private breast. He who prays has made the discovery, and is put by his own act in lonely communication with all heavens.
We find the sacred history legible only in the same light by which it was written: we are referred by it, therefore, to sources of interpretation above itself. God was hidden in the sky; the book in another sky; who shall reveal God hidden in the book? After so many ages, it has become a riddle as difficult of solution as any for which it offers solution: the last and best puzzle of the exulting old Sphinx, who will never be cheated of her jest. Our Christianity misses the highest value of the book, as it indicates the resource of universal man. We use the cover as some charm against danger, but the secret of devotion is not reached. At last it is plain that secular, nigh impenetrable Nature is a door as easily opened as this of the book. We must read upon our knees, we wait for grace to open the text, God must descend to light the page. The Quaker names our interpreter an inner light, the Church a Holy Ghost to purge the heart and eye. A deity who comes directly, and is no longer to seek when we are ready to read, must abolish the book. Of all gods offered in our Pantheon, of all persons in our Trinity, this must be the first.
I cannot fasten on the revelation which needs another to make it revelation to me; but when the divine aid is given, we seek no farther, for in this communion we have already all that was sought. The private illumination converts to gospel every creature on which its ray may fall; it makes a Bible of the world, a Bible of the heart. The doctors with dandling have now kept the child from his feet till there is doubt whether he have any feet. In this cradle of the record he shall spend his snug and comfortable life. "Here is safety!" Of course, he is bed-ridden.
But the weakness of man is no impediment to God. Remember who creates, who renews, who goes abroad in perpetual miracle of building, inhabiting, becoming. It is not a question of human power, but of divine.
Spiritual presence, apocalypse of every apocalypse, becomes our primal fact. It is the root of Protestantism, Democracy, Individualism. The sanctity of conscience is a rest of man upon undeniable Deity. There is no room for intervention of Peter or Paul.
The mind is immanence of Being, an original relation to all we have named reality and worshipped as divine. There are truths which we must reckon with Swedenborg among the Fundamentals of Humanity. To hold them is to be Man,—to be admitted to the hopeful council of our kind. Freedom is such a fundamental of the moral sense. From the thought of property in man we erect ourselves in God's name with indignant protestation, wiping it and its apologists together as dirt from our feet. By an equal necessity we count out from every discourse of reason those who find in them no organ of ultimate communication, who refer from common consciousness to saint and sage, as though God could be shut from presence and supremacy in thought. They are intellectual non-combatants who so refer. We take them at their own valuation; their certainty of uncertainty, their confession of remoteness from the centre we accept; but we must turn from the very angels, if they be not permitted for themselves to know. There is no outside to the universe except this embryotic condition, wherein a man may think that there is no result of thought.
I suppose no individual thinker will ever again have the importance which attaches to a few names in history. No man will found a religion with Mahomet, or overlie philosophers like Calvin, or shoulder out the poets like Shakspeare; still less will any man again be worshipped as a personal god. Let the newcomer be never so great, there is now a greatness in public thought to dwarf his proportions. He antedated all discoveries who first uttered the sacred name. That ray on darkness tells. Now we have nations of philosophers, thought flies like thistle-down, and the sublime speculations of the fore-world are cradle-songs and first spelling-lessons to excite the guesses of every barefooted boy. In early ages men met face to face with Nature, and spent their strength directly in questioning her. Now the work of God is overlaid. Every blunder is a rock in our field, and at last the field is a stone-heap of blunders, and our giants have work enough to reach any ground in the unsophisticated facts of life. We set no limit to the revolutionary power of truth; in happy hour it may sweep away doctrine and usage, supplant systems by songs, and governments by Love. Yet the first men were able to cleave the world to its centre, and predict the last results. We only enlarge their openings. Schools follow schools, Eclecticism comes with its band into the field to gather every ear; but Plato stands smiling behind, and holds in his hands that simple divided line, the image of all we know.
Who can wonder at the authority of the ancients, unbowed by an antiquity behind? Freedom from authority gave their directness, their simplicity, their superiority to misgiving and second thought, their confident "Thus saith the Lord."
We boast our enlightenment, but now the best minds are in question whether we have not lost as much by the ancients as we have gained. Plainly, they have not yet done their own work, have not given us to ourselves and to God. They should have been less or greater; they did not quite liberate, but became oppressors of the mind. To this misfortune we begin to find a single exception. Jesus, with his primal doctrine of a divine humanity, will now at last avail to be understood, will deliver us from every teacher to a Father in the heavens, and put us in direct communication with Him through the moral sense. After so many blind centuries, his truth breaks out, draws us to him from the misunderstanding of his followers, and refers from himself to the sources of his incomparable life.
Two men of our time are the primitive Christians,—not known for such, because their springs open, with those of the Master, not in any character, but in the Cause. They share his reliance, and accept in simplicity those brotherly words in which he extends his privilege to every child.
He will open to us Nature, for his habit is the only natural. He has no anxiety for immediate results, is never guarded in expression, does never explain; he makes no record of thought, calls no scholar to be scribe; he knows no labors, no studies; he walks on the hills, and frankly interprets the waving grain, the seed in the furrow, the lily, and the weed. Here is power which takes no thought for the morrow, an attitude which works endless revolutions without means or care or cost.
We must not dwell on this supreme example, lest we leave the hope of every reader far behind. Let us rather keep the level of common experience, and disclose the incursions of spirit which light a humble life. Love and Providence will appear in every breast; nothing more than Love and Providence appears to us above.
A supreme genius will fail, rather by under- than over-statement, to balance the popular exaggeration and repetition of fine phrases for which we have no corresponding fact. Why should any man be zealous or impatient? Why press a moral, dissecting it skeleton-like from throbbing textures of Freedom and Beauty? Why preach, threaten, and drive us with these bones, when a lover may draw us with kisses on living lips? Nature offers Duty as a manlier pleasure, leads the will so softly as to set us free in following, and her last thrill of delight is the steady heart-beat of heroism, facing danger with level eyes and fatal determination. Fear may arrest, but never restore. It is an arrest of fever by freezing, of disease by disease. Let it be understood, once for all, that this universe is moral, and say no more about that. Every man loves goodness, and the saint never exhorts to this love, but reinforces by addressing himself to it as matter of course. All power is a like repose on the basis of common desires and perceptions in the race. The didactic method is an insult alike to the pupil and the universe. Socrates is master and gentleman with his questions, suggestions, seeking in me and acting as midwife to my thought; but all illuminati and professors, all who talk down or cut our meat into morsels, will quickly be counted aunties by the vigorous boys at school. Chairs and pulpits totter to-day with a scholastic dry rot, which is inability to recognize the equality of unsophisticated man to man. There will soon be no more chair or desk; the only eminence will be that of one who can stand with feet on the common level, and still utter over our heads a regenerating word. We shall learn to address ourselves in an audience, to utter before millions, as if in joyful soliloquy, the sincerest, tenderest thought. Speak as if to angels, and you shall speak to angels; take unhesitating inmost counsel with mankind. The response to every pure desire is instant and wonderful. Thousands listen to-day for a word which waits in the air and has never been spoken, a word of courage to carry forward the purpose of their lives.
Thought points to unity, and the thinker is impatient of squinting and side-glances while all eyes should be turned together to the same. Thought is growing agreement, and that in which the race cannot meet me is some whim or notion, a personal crotchet, not a cosmic and eternal truth. Genius is freedom from all oddity, is Catholicity,—and departure from it so much departure in me from Nature and myself. We say a man is original, if he lives at first, and not at second hand,—if he requires a new tombstone,—if he takes law, not from the many or the few, but from the sky,—if he is no subordinate, but an authority,—if he does not borrow judgment, but is judgment. Such a man is singular in his attitude only because we have so fallen from purity. He, not the fashion, is comme il faut. By every word and act he declares that as he is so all men must shortly be.
Plato and Swedenborg are trying to speak the same word, but each can avail only to turn some syllable. They regret this partiality as a provincial burr, as greenness and narrowness. Genius sees the white light and regrets its own impurity, though that be piquancy to the multitude, and marketable as a splendid blue or gold. Manner, in thought, speech, behavior, is popularity and falsehood; is the limping of a king deformity, though it set the fashion of limping. The grandest thoughts are colorless as water; they savor not of Milton, Socrates, or Menu; seem not drawn from any private cistern, but rain-drops out of the pure sky. Whim and conceit are tare and tret. It matters little whether a man whine with Coleridge, or boast with Ben Jonson, or sneer with Byron, or grumble with Carlyle, if every thought is one-sided and warped. The oddity relieves our commonplace, and pricks the dull palate; but we soon tire of exaggeration, and detest the trick. It is egotism, self-sickness, jaundice, adulteration of the light. We name it the subjective habit, personality; while the right illumination is a transparency, a putting-off of shoes, garments, body, and constitution, lest these should intercept or stain the ray. Genius is an eye single and serene. Good speech carries the sound of no man's, of no angel's voice. Good writing betrays no man's hand, but is as if traced by the finger of God.
Original will signify, therefore, not peculiar, but universal. The original is one who lives from the Maker, not from man. He has found and asserts himself as a piece of primal design: he is somewhat, and his life therefore significant. He first represents man in purity, man in God, and is a revelation. No matter what he repeats as approved, he will not be a repetition, but will give new value to each thing by his approval. The wisest man in separate propositions repeats only what has many times been spoken. In my reading of this past week I find anticipated every item of modern thought. Hooker says of the Bible,—"By looking in it for that which it is impossible that any book can have, we lose the benefits which we might reap from its being the best of books." Milton says,—
"He who reads and to his reading brings not A spirit and judgment equal or superior, (And what he brings what needs he elsewhere seek?) Uncertain and unsettled still remains."
Coleridge gives perfect confidence to paradox as sure of solution above the term of it; in his "Table-Talk" he antedates Carlyle's doctrine of dynamics,—puts Faith above belief, as in another region of the mind,—declares that the conceivable is not to be revered, and says, before Emerson, that existence is the Fall of Man. But the failure of Coleridge teaches that no single perceptions, however subtile or deep, will solve the broad problem of Nature. These separate thoughts the great hold in new emphasis and relation. Of such sparks they make a flame, of such timbers a house or ship. The parts may be old, the whole is not; and Goethe falls into a modest fallacy, when, in acknowledging his obligation to others, he disclaims originality for himself. All is new in his use of it: you may say he has taken nothing, for what was iron or silver where he found it is gold in his transmuting grasp.
When a man authentic speaks, our interest goes through every statement to himself. The root of that word is not in the market or the street, but in humanity, and through that in the deep. We study Goethe, not any opinion of Goethe: he represents for us in his measure the nature, need, and resource of the race, because what he publishes he knows, lives, and is. We open the mind largely to take the sense of such a gospel: it will not appear in details of perception. Plato and Goethe see the same sun, and seem to the vulgar to follow each other; they have more in common than any man can have in privacy; yet if you enter to the entire habit of each, you will justify the making of these two. They are like and unlike, as apples on one and another tree. The great in any time hold in common the growing truth of their time, and refer to it in intercourse as understood, an atmosphere which he must breathe who now lives and thinks; yet no two will be identically related to the same. We are radiated as spokes from a centre; we enter to it and work for it from every side.
There is no danger of repetition, if the thought be deep. Superior insight will always sufficiently astonish, will always be novel in its place. The more simple the method, the more wonderful every result. Men are shut, as if by a wall of adamant, from all that is yet beyond their sympathy. My neighbor is immersed in planting, building, and the new road. Beside him, companion only in air and sunshine, walks one who has no ocular adjustment for these atoms; his thought overleaps them in starting, and is wholly beyond. The end of vision for a practical eye is beginning of clairvoyance. To the road-maker, man is a maker of roads; he cracks his nuts and his jokes unconscious, while the ground opens and the world heaves with revolutions of thought. Ask him in vain what Webster means by "Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill"; what Channing sees in the Dignity of Man, or Edwards in the Sweetness of Divine Love; ask him in vain what is the "Fate" of Aeschylus, the "Compensation" of Emerson, Carlyle's "Conflux of Eternities," the "Conjunction" of Swedenborg, the "Newness" of Fox, the "Morning Red" of Behmen, the "Renunciation" of Goethe, the "Comforter" of Jesus, the "Justification" of Paul.
For the dull, this mystery of existence is not even a mystery; they are shut below the firmament of wonder. When the vulgar come with their definite gain and good, their circle of immediate ends, we feel the house contract, the sky descend,—we shrivel, our pores close, the skull hardens on the brain. The positive, who exactly knows, is a skeleton at the feast; that exactness is numbness, and chills every expansive guest. Dogma is a stoppage quite short of the nearest beginning; the liberal habit a beginning of all that has no end. Sense is a wall very near the eye, and when that is penetrated all lies open beyond; we see only paths, seas, and vistas. Wisdom explores and never concludes. The explanations of centuries are idle tales: my explanations are not so to be forestalled. We forget the shallow answers to shallow questions, when now we have deeper genuine questions to ask. The great are happy babes of Beauty and Good. Truth returns in a fresh suspicion, and all are welcome who wear on the brows that soft commingled light and shadow of an advancing, sweet, inexplicable Fate. Our hope is no house, but a wing; no roof can be endured but the blue one. What method have we yet to serve the spontaneous or spiritual being? what culture, art, society, worship, in which his need and power are so much as recognized? There is indefinable certainty of Nature beyond Nature, man beyond man. Genius opens all doors, the earth-doors, the sky-doors,—throws down the horizon and the heaven, to come into open air. All paths lead out to the sea, where a day's voyage may teach that the receding circle bounds our sight alone, and not the deep. We look out not on chaos and darkness, but on order too large for the brain, and light, for which as owls we have yet no capacious eye. We leave every perception neglected to wait on the future; but every future has its future devouring the past. What is left but bending of the knee and boundless confidence?
* * * * *
MY BROTHER AND I.
From the door where I stand I can see his fair land Sloping up to a broad sunny height, The meadows new-shorn, and the green wavy corn, The buckwheat all blossoming white: There a gay garden blooms, there are cedars like plumes, And a rill from the mountain leaps up in a fountain, And shakes its glad locks in the light.
He dwells in the hall where the long shadows fall On the checkered and cool esplanade; I live in a cottage secluded and small, By a gnarly old apple-tree's shade: Side by side in the glen, I and my brother Ben,— Just the river between us, with borders as green as The banks where in childhood we played.
But now nevermore upon river or shore He runs or he rows by my side; For I am still poor, like our father before, And he, full of riches and pride, Leads a life of such show, there is no room, you know, In the very fine carriage he gained by his marriage For an old-fashioned brother to ride.
His wife, with her gold, gives him friends, I am told, With whom she is rather too gay,— The senator's son, who is ready to run For her gloves and her fan, night or day, And to gallop beside, when she wishes to ride: Oh, no doubt 'tis an honor to see smile upon her Such world-famous fellows as they!
Ah, brother of mine, while you sport, while you dine, While you drink of your wine like a lord, You might curse, one would say, and grow jaundiced and gray, With such guests every day at your board! But you sleek down your rage like a pard in its cage, And blink in meek fashion through the bars of your passion, As husbands like you can afford.
For still you must think, as you eat, as you drink, As you hunt with your dogs and your guns, How your pleasures are bought with the wealth that she brought, And you were once hunted by duns. Oh, I envy you not your more fortunate lot: I've a wife all my own in my own little cot, And with happiness, which is the only true riches, The cup of our love overruns.
We have bright, rosy girls, fair as ever an earl's, And the wealth of their curls is our gold; Oh, their lisp and their laugh, they are sweeter by half Than the wine that you quaff red and old! We have love-lighted looks, we have work, we have books, Our boys have grown manly and bold, And they never shall blush, when their proud cousins brush From the walls of their college such cobwebs of knowledge As careless young fingers may hold.
Keep your pride and your cheer, for we need them not here, And for me far too dear they would prove, For gold is but gloss, and possessions are dross, And gain is all loss, without love. Yon severing tide is not fordless or wide,— The soul's blue abysses our homesteads divide: Down through the still river they deepen forever, Like the skies it reflects from above.
Still my brother thou art, though our lives lie apart, Path from path, heart from heart, more and more. Oh, I have not forgot,—oh, remember you not Our room in the cot by the shore? And a night soon will come, when the murmur and hum Of our days shall be dumb evermore, And again we shall lie side by side, you and I, Beneath the green cover you helped to lay over Our honest old father of yore.
* * * * *
A HALF-LIFE AND HALF A LIFE.
"On garde longtemps son premier amant, quand on n'en prend point de second."
Maximes Morales du Duc de la Rochefoucauld..
It is not suffering alone that wears out our lives. We sometimes are in a state when a sharp pang would be hailed almost as a blessing,—when, rather than bear any longer this living death of calm stagnation, we would gladly rush into action, into suffering, to feel again the warmth of life restored to our blood, to feel it at least coursing through our veins with something like a living swiftness.
This death-in-life comes sometimes to the most earnest men, to those whose life is fullest of energy and excitement It is the reaction, the weariness which they name Ennui,—foul fiend that eats fastest into the heart's core, that shakes with surest hand the sands of life, that makes the deepest wrinkles on the cheeks and deadens most surely the lustre of the eyes.
But what are the occasional visits of this life-consumer, this vampire that sucks out the blood, to his constant, never-failing presence? There are those who feel within themselves the power of living fullest lives, of sounding every chord of the full diapason of passion and feeling, yet who have been so hemmed around, so shut in by adverse and narrowing circumstances, that never, no, not once in their half-century of years which stretch from childhood to old age, have they been free to breathe out, to speak aloud the heart that was in them. Ever the same wasting indifference to the things that are, the same ill-repressed longing for the things that might be. Long days of wearisome repetition of duties in which there is no life, followed by restless nights, when Imagination seizes the reins in her own hands, and paints the out-blossoming of those germs of happiness and fulness of being of whose existence within us we carry about always the aching consciousness.
And such things I have known from the moment when I first stepped from babyhood into childhood, from the time when life ceased to be a play and came to have its duties and its sufferings. Always the haunting sense of a happiness which I was capable of feeling, faint glimpses of a paradise of which I was a born denizen,—and always, too, the stern knowledge of the restraints which held me prisoner, the idle longings of an exile. But would no strong effort of will, no energy of heart or mind, break the bonds that held me down,—no steady perseverance of purpose win me a way out of darkness into light? No, for I was a woman, an ugly woman, whose girlhood had gone by without affection, and whose womanhood was passing without love,—a woman, poor and dependent on others for daily bread, and yet so bound by conventional duties to those around her that to break from them into independence would be to outrage all the prejudices of those who made her world.
I could plan such escape from my daily and yearly narrowing life, could dream of myself walking steadfast and unshaken through labor to independence, could picture a life where, if the heart were not fed, at least the tastes might be satisfied, could strengthen myself through all the imaginary details of my going-forth from the narrow surroundings which made my prison-walls; but when the time came to take the first step, my courage failed. I could not go out into that world which looked to me so wide and lonely; the necessity for love was too strong for me, I must dwell among mine own people. There, at least, was the bond of custom, there was the affection which grows out of habit; but in the world what hope had I to win love from strangers, with my repellent looks, awkward movements, and want of personal attractions?
Few persons know that within one hundred and fifty miles of the Queen City of the West, bounded on both sides by highly cultivated tracts of country, looking out westwardly on the very garden of Kentucky, almost in the range of railroad and telegraph, in the very geographical centre of our most populous regions, there lie some thousand square miles of superb woodland, rolling, hill above hill, in the beautiful undulations which characterize the country bordering on the Ohio, watered by fair streams which need only the clearing away of the few obstructions incident to a new country to make them navigable, and yet a country where the mail passes only once a week, where all communication is by horse-paths or by the slow course of the flat-boat, where schools are not known and churches are never seen, where the Methodist itinerant preacher gives all the religious instruction, and a stray newspaper furnishes all the political information. Does any one doubt my statement? Then let him ask a passage up-stream in one of the flat-boats that supply the primitive necessities of the small farmers who dwell on the banks of the Big Sandy, in that debatable border-land which lies between Kentucky and Virginia; or let him, if he have a taste for adventure, hire his horse at Catlettsburg, at the mouth of the river, and lose his way among the blind bridle-paths that lead to Louisa and to Prestonburg. If he stops to ask a night's lodging at one of the farm-houses that are to be found at the junction of the creeks with the rivers, log-houses with their primitive out-buildings, their half-constructed rafts of lumber ready to float down-stream with the next rise, their 'dug-outs' for the necessities of river-intercourse, and their rough oxcarts for hauling to and from the mill, he will see before him such a home as that in which I passed the first twenty years of my life.
I had little claim on the farmer with whom I lived. I was the child by a former marriage of his wife, who had brought me with her into this wilderness, a puny, ailing creature of four years, and into the three years that followed was compressed all the happiness I could remember. The free life in the open air, the nourishing influence of the rich natural scenery by which I was surrounded, the grand, silent trees with their luxuriant foliage, the fresh, strong growth of the vegetation, all seemed to breathe health into my frame, and with health came the capacity for enjoyment. I was happy in the mere gift of existence, happy in the fulness of content, with no playmate but the kindly and lovely mother Earth from whose bosom I drew fulness of life.
But in my seventh year my mother died, worn out by the endless, unvarying round of labors which break down the constitutions of our small farmers' wives. She grew sallow and thin under repeated attacks of chills and fever, brought into the world, one after another, three puny infants, only to lay them away from her breast, side by side, under the sycamore that overshadowed our cornfield, and visibly wasted away, growing more and more feeble, until, one winter morning, we laid her, too, at rest by her babies. Before the year was out, my father (so I called him) was married again.
My step-mother was a good woman, and meant to do her duty by me. Nay, she was more than that: she was, as far as her poor light went, a Christian. She had experienced religion in the great revival of 18—, which was felt all through Western Kentucky, under the preaching of the Reverend Peleg Dawson, and when she married my father and went to bury herself in the wilds of "Up Sandy" was a shining light in the Methodist church, a class-leader who had had and had told experiences.
But all that glory was over now; it had flashed its little day: for there is a glow in the excitement of our religious revivals as potent in its effect on the imaginations of women and young men as ever were the fastings and penances which brought the dreams and reveries, the holy visions and the glorious revealings, of the Catholic votaries. In this short, triumphant time of spiritual pride lay the whole romance of my step-mother's life. Perhaps it was well for her soul that she was taken from the scene of her triumphs and brought again to the hard realities of life. The self-exaltation, the ungodly pride passed away; but there was left the earnest, prayerful desire to do her duty in her way and calling, and the first path of duty which opened to her zeal was that which led to the care of a motherless child, the saving of an immortal soul. And in all sincerity and uprightness did she strive to walk in it. But what woman of five-and-thirty, who has outlived her youth and womanly tenderness in the loneliness and hardening influences of a single life, and who marries at last for a shelter in old age, knows the wants of a little child? Indeed, what but a mother's love has the long-enduring patience to support the never ceasing calls for forbearance and perseverance which a child makes upon a grown person? Those little ones need the nourishment of love and praise, but such milk for babes can come only from a mother's breast. I got none of it. On the contrary, my dearly loved independence, my wild-wood life, where Nature had become to me my nursing-mother, was exchanged for one of never ceasing supervision. "Little girls must learn to be useful," was the phrase that greeted my unwilling ears fifty times a day, which pursued me through my daily round of dish-washings, floor-sweepings, bed-making and potato-peeling, to overtake me at last in the very moment when I hoped to reap the reward of my diligence in a free afternoon by the river-side in the crotch of the water-maple that hung over the stream, clutching me and fastening me down to the hated square of patchwork, which bore, in the spots of red that defaced its white purity in following the line of my stitches, the marks of the wounds that my awkward hands inflicted on themselves with their tiny weapon.