THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. II.—OCTOBER, 1858.—NO. XII.
THE NEW WORLD AND THE NEW MAN.
Half a dozen rivulets leap down the western declivity of the Rocky Mountains, and unite; four thousand miles away the mighty Missouri debouches into the Mexican Gulf as the result of that junction. Did the rivulets propose or plan the river? Not at all; but they knew, each, its private need to find a lower level; the universal law they obeyed accomplished the rest. So is it with the great human streams. Mighty beginnings do not lie in the minds of the beginners. History is a perpetual surprise, ever developing results of which men were the agents without being the expectants. Individual actors, with respect to the master claim of humanity, are, for the most part, not unlike that fleet hound which, enticed by a tempting prospect of meat, outran a locomotive engine all the way from Lowell to Boston, and won a handsome wager for his owner, while intent only on a dinner for himself. Humanity is served out of all proportion to the intention of service. Even the noble souls, never wanting in history, who follow not a bait, but belief, see only in imperfect survey the connections and relations of their deeds. Each is faithfully obeying his own inward vocation, a voice unheard by other soul than his own, and the inability to calculate consequences makes the preeminent grandeur of his position; or he is urged by the high inevitable impulse to publish or verify an idea: the Divine Destiny works in their hearts, and plans over their heads.
Socrates felt a sacred impulse to test his neighbors, what they knew and were: this is such account of his life as he himself can give at its close. His contemporaries generally saw in him an imperturbable and troublesome questioner, fatally sure to come at the secret of every man's character and credence, whom no subterfuge could elude, no compliments flatter, no menaces appall,—suspected also of some emancipation from the popular superstitions: this is the account of him which they are able to give. At twenty-three centuries' distance we see in him the source of a river of spiritual influence, that yet streams on, more than a Missouri, in the minds of men,—more than a Missouri, for it not only flows as an open current, but, percolating beneath the surface, and coming up in distinct and distant fountains, it becomes the hidden source of many a constant tide in the faiths and philosophies of nations.
The veil covers the eyes of spectators and agents alike. Columbus returns, freighted with wondrous tidings, to the Spanish shore; the nation rises and claps its hands; the nation kneels to bless its gods at all its shrines, and chants its delight in many a choral Te Deum. What, then, do they think is gained? Why, El Dorado! Have they not gained a whole world of gold and silver mines to buy jewelled cloaks and feathers and frippery with? Have they not gained a cornucopia of savages, to support new brigades at home by their enslavement, and new bishoprics abroad by their salvation? Touching, truly, is the childish eagerness and bonhommie with which those Spaniards in fancy assume, as it were, between thumb and finger, this continent, deemed to be nothing less than gold, and feed with it the leanness of hungry purses; and the effect is not a little enhanced by the extreme pains they are at to say a sufficient grace over the imagined meal. "Oh, wonderful, Pomponius!" shouts the large-minded Peter Martyr. "Upon the surface of that earth are found rude masses of gold, of a weight that one fears to mention!... Spain is spreading her wings," etc. He is of the minority there, who does not suppose this New World a Providential donation to aid him to dinners, dances, and dawdling, or at best to promote his "glory" and pride of social estimation. Even Columbus, more magnanimous than most of his contemporaries, is not so greatly more wise. The noblest use he can conceive for his discovery is to aid in the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. With the precious metals that should fall to his share, says his biographer, he made haste to vow the raising of a force of five thousand horse and fifty thousand foot for the expulsion of the Saracens from Jerusalem. Nor is this the only instance in which even the noble among men have sought to clutch the grand opening futures, and wreathe the beauty of their promise about the consecrated graves of the past. "Servants of Sepulchres" is a title which even now, not individuals alone, but whole nations, may lawfully claim.
The Old World, we say, seized upon this magnificent new force now thrown into history, and harnessed it unsuspiciously to its own car, as if it could have been designed for no other possible use. Happily, however, the design was different, and Providence having a peculiar faculty of protecting its own plans, the holding of the reins after such a steed proved anything but a sinecure. Spain, indeed, rode in a high chariot for a time, but at length, in that unlucky Armada drive, crashed against English oak on the ocean highways, and came off creaking and rickety,—grew thenceforth ever more unsteady,—finally, came utterly to the ground, with contusions, fractures, and much mishap,—and now the poor nation hobbles hypochondriacally upon crutches, all its brave charioteering sadly ended. England drove more considerately, but could not avoid fate; so in 1783 she, too, must let go the rein with some mental disturbance. For the great Destiny was not exclusively a European Providence,—had meditated the establishment of a fresh and independent human centre on the western side of the sea. The excellent citizens of London and Madrid found themselves incapable of crediting this until it was duly placarded in gunpowder print.—It is, indeed, an unaccountable foible men have, not to recognize a plain fact till it has been published in this blazing hieroglyphic. What were England and France doing at Sebastopol? Merely issuing a poster to this effect,—"Turkey is not yours,"—in a type that Russia could feel free to understand. Terribly costly editions these are, and in a type utterly hideous; but while nations refuse to see the fact in a more agreeable presentation, it may probably feel compelled to go into this ugly, but indubitable shape.—Well, somewhat less than a century since, England had committed herself to the proposition, that America was really a part or dependency of Europe, a lower-caste Europe, having about the same relation to the Cisatlantic continent that the farmer's barn has to his house. Mild refutations of this modest doctrine having been attempted without success, posters in the necessary red-letter type were issued at Concord, Bunker Hill, Yorktown, etc., which might be translated somewhat thus:—"America has its own independent root in the world's centre, its own independent destiny in the Providential thought." This important fact, having then and there exploded itself into legibility, and come to be known and read of all men, admits now of no dispute, and requires no confirmation. It is evidently so. The New World is not merely a newly-discovered hay-loft and dairy-stall for the Old, but is itself a proper household, of equal dignity with any. To draw the due inferences from this, to see what is implied in it, is all that we are here required to do.
Be it, then, especially noted that the continent by itself can take no such rank. A spirituality must appear to crown and complete this great continental body; otherwise America is acephalous. Unless there be an American Man, the continent is inevitably but an appendage, a kitchen and laundry for the European parlor. American Man,—and the word Man is to receive a large emphasis. Observe, that it does not refer to mere population. The fact required will hardly be reported in the census. Indeed, there is quite too much talk about population, about prospective increase of numbers. We are to have thirty millions of inhabitants, they say, in 1860; soon forty, fifty, one hundred millions. Doubtless; and if that be all, one yawns over the statement. Could any prophet assure us of one million of men who would stand for the broadest justice as Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans stood for Lacedaemon! But Hebrew David was thought to be punished for taking a census; nor is the story without significance. To reckon numbers alone a success is a sin, and a blunder beside. Russia has sixty millions of people: who would not gladly swap her out of the world for glorious little Greece back again, and Plato and Aeschylus and Epaminondas still there? Who would exchange Concord or Cambridge in Massachusetts for any hundred thousand square miles of slave-breeding dead-level? Who Massachusetts in whole for as many South American (or Southern) republics as would cover Saturn and all his moons? Make sure of depth and breadth of soul as the national characteristic; then roll up the census columns; and roll out a hallelujah for each additional thousand.
Thus had the great Genoese been destined merely to make a new highway on the ocean and new lines on the map,—to add the potato, maize, and tapioca to the known list of edibles, and tobacco to that of narcotics,—to explode Spain, give England a cotton-field, Ireland a hospital, and Africa a hell. This could by no means seem sufficient. The crew of the Pinta shouted, "Land! Land!"—peering through the dark at the new shores; the Spanish nation chanted, "Gold! Gold!"—gazing out through murky desires toward the wondrous West; but it is only with the cry of "Man! Man!" as at the sight of new cerebral shores and wealth of more than golden humanities, that the true America is discovered and announced. So whatever reason we have to assert for America a really independent existence and destiny, the same have we for predicting an opulence of heart and brain, to which Western prairies and Californian gold shall seem the natural appurtenance.
And this noble man must be likewise a new man,—not merely a migrated European. Western Europe pushed a little farther west does not meet our demand. Why should Europe go three thousand miles off to be Europe still? Besides, can we afford to England, France, Spain, a larger room in the world? Are we more than satisfied with their occupancy of that they already possess? The Englishman is undeniably a wholesome picture to the mental eye; but will not twenty million copies of him do, for the present? It would seem like a poverty in Nature, were she unable to vary, but must go helplessly on to reproduce that selfsame British likeness over all North America. But history fully warrants the expectation of a new form of man for the new continent. German and Scandinavian Teutons peopled England; but the Englishman is sui generis, not merely an exported Teuton. Egypt, says Bunsen, was peopled by a colony from Western Asia; but the genius and physiognomy of Egypt are peculiar and its own. Mr. Pococke will have it that Greece was a migrated India: it was, of course, a migration from some place that first planted the Hellenic stock in Europe; but if the man who carved the Zeus, and built the Parthenon, and wrote the "Prometheus" and the "Phaedrus," were a copy, where shall we find the original? Indeed, there has never been a great migration that did not result in a new form of national genius. And it is the thoroughness of the transformations thus induced which makes the chief difficulty in tracing the affinities of peoples.
So it is that the world is enriched. Every new form of man establishes another current in those reciprocations of thought, in those electrical streams of sympathy,—of wholesome attraction and wholesome repulsion,—by which the intellectual life is kindled and quickened. Thought begins not until two men meet. Col. Hamilton Smith makes it quite clear that civilization has found its first centres there where two highways of national movement crossed, and dissimilar men looked each other in the face. They have met, it may be, with the rudest kind of greetings; but have obtained good thoughts from hard blows, and beaten ideas out of each other's heads, if not into them, according to the ancient pedagogic tradition. Higher culture brings higher terms of meeting; traffic succeeds war, conversation follows upon traffic; ever the necessity of various men to each other remains. There is no pure white light until seven colors blend; so to the mental illumination of humanity many hues of national genius must consent: and the value of life to all men is greater so soon as a new man has made his advent.
All this is matter of daily experience with us. We do not, indeed, tire of old friends. A soul whose wealth we have once recognized must be ever rich to us. Gold turns not to copper by keeping; and perhaps old friends are rather like old wine, and can never be too old. Yet who does not mark in the calendar those days wherein he has met a new rich soul, that has a physiognomy, a grace and expression, peculiarly its own? Even decided repulsions have also a use. We whet our conscience on our neighbors' faults, as sober Spartans were made by the spectacle of drunken Helots;—though he who makes habitual talk about his neighbors' faults whets his conscience across the edge. If there be sermons in stones, no less is there blessing in bores and in bullies. We found one day in the face of a black bear what could not be so well found in libraries. The creature regarded us attentively, and with affection rather than malice,—saw simply certain amounts of savory flesh, useful for the satisfaction of ursine hungers,—and saw nothing more. It was an incomparable lesson to teach that the world is an endless series of levels, and that each eye sees what its own altitude commands; the rest to it is non-extant. That bear was in his natural covering of hair; his brothers we frequently meet in broadcloth.
Now, as Nature keeps up this inexhaustible variety of individual genius which individual quickening requires, so on the larger scale is she ever working and compounding to produce varieties of national genius. Her aim is the same in both cases,—to enrich the whole by this electrical and enlivening relation between its parts. And thus an American man, no copy, but an original, formed in unprecedented moulds, with his own unborrowed grandeur, his own piquancy and charm, is to be looked for,—is, indeed, even now to be seen,—on this shore.
Yes, the man we seek is already found, his features rapidly becoming distinct. He is the offspring of Northern Europe; he occupies Central North-America. Other fresh forms are doubtless to appear, but, though dimly shaping themselves, are as yet inchoate. But the Anglo-American is an existing fact, to be spoken of without prognostication, save as this is implied in the recognition of tendencies established and unfolding into results. The Anglo-American may be considered the latest new-comer into this planet. Let us, then, a little celebrate his advent. Let us make all lawful and gentle inquiry about the distinguished stranger.
First, what is his pedigree? He need not be ashamed to tell; for he comes of a noble family, the Teutonic,—a family more opulent of human abilities, and those, for the most part, the deeper kind of abilities, than any other on the earth at present. He reckons among his progenitors and relatives such names as Shakspeare, Goethe, Milton, the two Bacons, Lessing, Richter, Schiller, Carlyle, Hegel, Luther, Behmen, Swedenborg, Gustavus Adolphus, William of Orange, Cromwell, Frederick II., Wellington, Newton, Leibnitz, Humboldt, Beethoven, Handel, Turner; and nations might be enriched out of the names that remain when the supreme ones in each class have been mentioned. Consider what incomparable range and variety, as well as depth, of genius are here affirmed. Greece and India possessed powers not equally represented here; but otherwise these might stand for the full abilities of mankind, each in its handsomest illustration.—It is remarkable, too, that our Anglo-American has no "poor relations." Not a scurvy nation comes of this stock. They are the Protestant nations, giving religion a moral expression, and reconciling it with freedom of thought. They are the constitutional nations, exacting terms of government that acknowledge private right. Resource may also be emphasized as a characteristic of these nations. Hitherto they have honored every draft that has been made upon them. The Dutch first fished their country out from under the sea, and afterwards defended it in a war of eighty years' duration against the first military power on the globe: two feats, perhaps, equally without parallel.
Being thus satisfied upon the point of pedigree, we may proceed to inquire about estate. To what inheritance of land has Nature invited our New Man? He comes to the country of highest organization, perhaps, upon either hemisphere. Brazil and China suggest, but probably do not sustain, a rivalry. What is implied in superior organization will appear from the items to be mentioned.
1. Elaboration. Central North-America is to an extraordinary degree worked out everywhere in careful detail, in moderate hill and valley, in undulating prairie and fertile plain,—not tossed into barren mountain-masses and table-lands, like that vast desert plateau which stretches through Central Asia,—not struck out in blank, like the Russian steppes and the South American llanos, as if Nature had wanted leisure to elaborate and finish. Indeed, these primary conditions of fertility and large habitability appertain to America, as a whole, to such degree, that, with less than half the extent of the Old World, it actually numbers more acres of fertile soil, and can, of course, sustain a larger population.
2. Unity. Between the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic coast, and between the Gulf of Mexico and the northern wheat-limit, a larger space of fertile territory, embracing a wider variety of climate and production, is thrown into one mass, broken by no barrier, than can, perhaps, elsewhere be found.
3. Communication. No mass of land equal in other advantages is to the same extent thrown open and enriched by natural highways. The first item under this head is access to the ocean, which is the great road-space and highway of the world. Not mentioning the Pacific, as that coast is not here considered, we have the open sea upon two sides, while upon the northern boundary is an inclosed sea, the string of lakes, occupying a space larger than Great Britain and Ireland, and of a form to afford the greatest amount of coast-line and accommodation in proportion to space. But coast-line is not enough; land and sea must be wedded as well as approximated. The Doge of Venice went annually forth to wed the Adriatic in behalf of its queen, and to cast into its bosom the symbolic ring; but Nature alone can really join the hands of ocean and main. By bays, estuaries, ports, spaces of sea lovingly inclosed by arms of sheltering shore, are conversation and union established between them.
"The sea doth wash out all the ills of life," sings Euripides; and it is, indeed, with some penetration of wonder that one observes how deep and productive a relation to man the ocean has sustained. Some share in the greatest enterprises, in the finest results, it seldom fails to have. Not capriciously did the subtile Greek imagination derive the birth of Venus from the foam of the sea; for social love,—that vast reticulation of wedlock which society is—has commonly arisen not far from the ocean-shore. The Persian is the only superior civilization, now occurring to our recollection, which has no intimate relation either with river or sea; and that pushed inevitably toward the Tigris and Euphrates. Now to Europe must be conceded the supremacy in this single respect, that of representing the most intimate coast relation with the sea; North America follows next in order. Africa, washed, but not wedded, by the wave, represents the greatest seclusion,—and has gone into a sable suit in her sorrow. After the ocean, rivers, which are interior highways, claim regard. The United States have on this side the Rocky Mountains more than forty thousand miles of river-flow, that is, eighty thousand miles of river-bank,—counting no stream of less than one hundred miles in length. Europe, in a larger space, has but seventeen thousand miles. The American rivers are nearly all accessible from the ocean, and, owing to the gentle elevation of the continent, flow at easy declivities, and accordingly are largely navigable. The Mississippi descends at an average of only eight inches per mile from source to mouth; the Missouri is said to be navigable to the very base of the Rocky Mountains; and these monarch streams represent the rivers of the continent. Thus here do these highways of God's own making run, as it were, past every man's door, and connect each man with the world he lives in.
Rivers await their due celebration. We easily see that Nile, Ganges, Euphrates, Jordan, Tiber, Thames, are rivers of influence in human history, no less than water-currents on the earth's surface. They have borne barks and barges that the eye never saw. They have brought on their soft bosoms freight to the cities of the brain, as well as to Memphis, Rome, London. Some experience of their spiritual influence must have fallen to the lot of most men. The loved and lovely Merrimac no longer accedes to the writer's eye, but, as of old, glides securely seaward in his thought,—like a strain of masterly music long ago heard, and, when heard, identical in its suggestions with the total significance and vital progress of one's experience, that, intertwining itself as a twin thread with the shuttled fibre of life, it was woven into the same fabric, and became an inseparable part of the consciousness; so, hearken when one will, after the changes and accessions of many peopled years, and amid the thousand-footed trample of the mob of immediate impressions, still secure and predominant it is heard subtly sounding. Deep conversation with any river readily interprets to us that venerable mythus which connects Eden with the four rivers of the world; as if water must flow where man is chiefly blest.
But the point here to be emphasized is, that rivers are the progressive and public element in its geographical expression. They throw the continent open; they are doors and windows, through which the nations look forth upon the world, and leave and enter their own household. They are the hospitality of the continent,—every river-mouth chanting out over the sea a perpetual, "Walk in," to all the world. Or again, they are geographical senses,—eyes, ears, and speech; for of these supreme mediators in the body, voice, vision, and hearing, it is the office, as of rivers, to open communication between the interior and exterior world; they are rivers of access to the outlying universe of men and things, which enters them, and approaches the soul through the freighted suggestions of sight and sound. Rivers, lastly, are the geographical symbol of public spirit, the flowing and connecting element, suggesting common interests and large systems of action.
Thus in these characteristics of Various Productiveness, Unity, and Openness or Publicity, the continent indicates the description of man who may be its fit habitant. It suggests a nation vast in numbers and in power, existing not as an aggregate of fragments, but as an organic unit, the vital spirit of the whole prevailing in each of its parts; and consequently predicts a man suitable for wide and yet intimate societies. Let us not, however, thoughtlessly jump to accept these easy prognostics; first let it be fully understood what an enormous demand they imply. Americans speak complacently of their prospective one hundred millions of inhabitants; but do they bear well in mind that the requisition upon the individual is augmented by every multiplication and extension of the mass? It is not without significance, that great empires have uniformly been, or become, despotisms. Liberty lives only in the life of just principle; and as the weight of an elephant could not be sustained by the skeleton of a gazelle,—as, moreover, the bones must be made stouter as well as longer,—so must a vast body politic be permeated by a sturdier element of justice than is required for a diminutive state. It is, indeed, the chief recommendation of our federative form of government, that this, so far as may be, localizes legislation, and thus, by lessening the number of interests that demand a national consent, lessens equally the strain upon the conscience and judgment of the whole. Near at hand, the mere good feeling of neighbors, the companionable sentiment of cities and clans, proves a valuable succedaneum for that deeper principle which is good for all places and times. But this sentiment, like gravitation, diminishes in the ratio of the square of the distance, and at any considerable remove can no longer be reckoned upon as a counter-balance to the lawlessness of egotism. Athenians could be passably just, or at least not disastrously unjust, to Athenians; Spartans to Spartans; but Sparta must needs oppress the other cities of Laconia, while Athens was at best a fickle ally; and when Grecian liberty could be strong only in Grecian union, the common sentiment was bankrupted by too great a draft upon its resources. How far beyond the range of egotism of neighborhood a free state may go is determined chiefly by limits in the souls of its constituents. At that point where equal justice begins to halt, fatigued by too long a journey, the inevitable boundaries of the state are fixed. Nor is it the mere sentiment of justice alone that suffices; but this must be sustained in its applications by a certain breadth of nature, a certain freedom and flexibility, akin to the dramatic faculty, which enables us to enter into the feelings and wants of others. Nothing, perhaps, in the world can be so unjust as a narrow and frigid conscience beyond its proper range. The bounds of the state may, indeed, not pause where the sustenance of its integral life fails. But then its extension will be purchased with its freedom,—the quality be debased as the quantity increases. Jelly-fish, and creatures of the lowest animation, may sustain magnitude of body, not only with a slight skeleton, but with none at all; and society of a cold-blooded or bloodless kind follows the analogy. But these low grades of social organization, having some show of congruity with the blank levels of Russia, can pretend to none with the continent we inhabit. Yet some species of arbitrament between man and man is sure to establish itself; if it live not, as a part of freedom, in the bosom of each, then does it inevitably build itself into a Fate over their heads; and despotism, war, or similar brutal and violent instrumentalities of adjustment, supply in their way the demand that love and reason failed to meet.
Accordingly, in our American Man must be found, first, social largeness and susceptibility,—whatsoever, in the breadth of a flexile and sympathetic nature, may contribute to the keeping of the Golden Rule. But the broadest good-feeling will not alone suffice. The great pledge of peace, fellowship, and profitable co-working among such a population as we anticipate must be sought in the deeper unity of moral principle. For Right is one, and is every man's interest. Right is better than Charity; for Right meets, or even anticipates, normal wants, while Charity only mends failures. Nothing, therefore, that we could discover in the New Man would be such a security for his future, nothing so fit him for his place, as a tendency to simple and universal principles of action. In the absence of this, he will infallibly be compelled one day to enter Providence's court of chancery, and come forth bankrupt. But let him be, even by promise, a seer of those primary truths in which the interests of all are comprehended and made identical, and the virtue of his vision will become the assurance of his welfare. Doubtless, sad men will say that our own eyes are clouded with some glittering dust of optimism, when we declare that this Man for the Continent is the very one whose advent we celebrate. This might, indeed, seem a fatuitously dulcet song to sing just now, when a din of defection and recreancy is loud through all the land,—now, when we have immediately in view, and on the largest scale, an open patronage of infamous wrong-doing, so brazen-fronted and blush-proof that only the spectacle itself makes its credibility;—the prior possibility of it we should one and all hasten, for the honor of human nature, to deny. Yet in the midst of all this are visible the victorious influences that mould the imported Teuton to the spiritual form which his appointed tasks imply. These we now hasten to indicate.
And first, every breath of American air helps to make him the American Man. The atmosphere of America was early noted as a wonder-worker. Ten years subsequent to the landing at Plymouth, the Rev. Francis Higginson, an acute observer, wrote to the mother country,—"A sup of New England air is better than a whole flagon of old English ale." Jean Paul says that the roots of humankind are the lungs, and that, being rooted in air,—we are properly children of the aether. Truly, children of the aether,—and so, children of fire. For the oxygen, upon which the lungs chiefly feed, is the fiery principle in Nature,—all that we denominate fire and flame being but the manifestation of its action. We are severe upon fire-eaters, Southern and other; yet here are we, cool Northerns, quaffing this very principle and essence of fire in large lung-draughts every moment, each of us carrying a perpetual furnace in his bosom. Now it is doubtless true that we inhale more oxygen, or at least inhale it less drenched with damp, than the people of Europe, and are, therefore, more emphatically children of fire than they. Be this, or be some other, the true theory of the fact, the fact itself unquestionably is, that our climate produces the highest nervous intensity. As there are conditions of atmosphere in which the magnetic telegraph works well, and others in which it works ill, so some conditions stimulate, while others repress nervous action. The air of England seems favorable to richness and abundance of blood; there the life-vessels sit deep, and bring opulent cargoes to the flesh-shores; and the rotund figure, the ruddy solid cheek, and the leisurely complacent movement, all show how well supported and stored with vital resources the Englishman is. But to the American's lip the great foster-mother has proffered a more pungent and rousing draught,—not an old Saxon sleeping-cup for the night, but a waking-cup for the bright morning and busy day. It is forenoon with him. He is up and dressed, and at work by the job. Bring an Englishman here, and nothing short of Egyptian modes of preservation will keep him an Englishman long. Soon he cannot digest so much food, cannot dispose of so much stimulant; his step becomes quicker, his eye keener, his voice rises a note on the scale, and grows a trifle sharper. In fine, the effects observed in our autumn foliage may be traced in the people themselves, a heightening of colors; and while this accounts for much that is prurient and bizarre, it infolds also the best promise of America.
The effect of this upon American physiology and physiognomy is already quite visible. Of course we must guard against hasty generalizations, since the interfusing of various elements in our Western States is producing new types of manhood. But the respective physiques of Old and New England can easily be compared, and the difference strikes every eye. The American is lean, he has a paler complexion, a sharper face, a slighter build than his ancestors brought from the Old World. Mr. Emerson is reported as saying (though the precise words escape us) that the Englishman speaks from his chest, the American more from the mouth or throat,—that is, the one associates his voice more with the stomach and viscera, the other with the head; and, indeed, the pectoral quality of the prevailing tones catches the ear immediately upon setting foot on British soil. Every man instinctively apprehends where he is strongest, and will tend to associate voice and movement with the centre of his strengths. The American, since in him the nervous force predominates, instinctively lifts his voice into connection with the great household of that force, which is the brain; for an equally good reason the Englishman speaks from the visceral and sanguineous centres. The American (we are still dwelling chiefly on the New England type) is also apt to throw the head forward in walking,—thereby indicating, first, his chief reliance upon the forces which that part harbors, and, secondly, his impulse to progress; so that our national motto, "Go ahead," may have a twofold significance, as if it were in some sort the antipodes of going a-foot, and suggested not only the direction of movement, but also the active agent therein!
Mr. Robert Knox, of England, somewhat known as an ethnological lecturer and author,—a thinker in a sort, though of the "slam-bang" school, of far more force than faculty, and of a singular avidity for ugly news,—dogmatically proclaims that all Americans are undergoing a physical degeneration, involving, as he thinks, an equal lapse of mental power, proceeding with swift fated steps, and sure ere long to land them in sheer impotence and imbecility; and he appeals to the common loss of adipose tissue and avoirdupois as proof. This author belongs to a class of well-meaning gentlemen, so unfortunately constituted that the distractions of their time induce in them an acetous fermentation (as milk sometimes sours during thunder); and from acid becoming acrid, they at length fall fairly in love with the Erinnyes, and henceforth dote upon destruction and ugliness as happier lovers do upon cosmical health and beauty. Concluding that the universe is a shabby affair, they like to make it out shabbier still,—and so, seldom brighten up till they have an ill thing to say. They are not persons toward whom it is easy to feel amiable. Dogmatism is ever unlovely, though it be in behalf of the sweetest hopes; but chronic doubt and disbelief erected into a dogmatism are intolerable. Yet Mr. Knox's misinterpretations of the facts are taking root in many minds that do not share his fierce hypochondria and hunger for bitter herbs. That the American has lost somewhat in animal resources is incontestable; but Mr. Knox's ever-implied premise, "The animal is the man," from which his Jeremiad derives its plaint, is but a provincial paper-currency, of very local estimation, and can never, like gold and silver, pass by weight in the world's marts of thought. The physical constitution of the New Man is comparatively delicate and fragile; but as a china vase is not necessarily less sound than a stone jug or iron kettle, so delicacy and fragility in man are no proof of disease. The ominous prognosis of this doctor, therefore, seems no occasion for despair, perhaps not even for alarm. But to perceive what different harping can be performed on this string, hear Carus:—"Leanness, as such," says the master, "is the symbol of a certain lightness, activity, rapidity, and mental power." Thus the adipose impoverishment, which to the yellow-eyed Englishman seems utter bankruptcy, is at once recognized by a superior man as denoting an augmentation, rather than diminution, of proper human wealth.
But while the typical American organization is of this admitted delicacy and lightness, it is still capable, under high and powerful impulse of extraordinary feats of endurance. This has of late been admirably illustrated. Not long since, there returned to our shores a hero who—as Dante was believed by the people of Italy to have entered the Inferno of Fire—had actually descended into the opposite Inferno of Frost, and done unprecedented battle with the demons of that realm. Dr. Kane was slight, delicately framed, lean, with sharp, clear-cut features, of quivering mobility and fineness of texture, having the aspect rather of an artist than an explorer,—not at all the personage to whom most judges would assign great power of endurance. And as one follows him through those thrice Herculean toils,—sees him not only bearing cheerfully the great burden of his own cares and ills, but lifting up, as it were, from his companions, and assuming upon his own shoulders, the awful oppression of the polar night, as Atlas of old was fabled to support the heavens,—not even one's admiration at such force of soul can wholly exclude wonder at such fortitude of body. Whence, we ask, this power of endurance? We can trace it to no ordinary physical resource. It comes from no ordinary physical resource. It is pure brain-power. It streams down upon the body, in rivers of invigoration, from the cerebral hemispheres. A conversational philosopher, discoursing to a circle of intelligent New England mechanics, said,—"It is commonly supposed that the earth supports man. Not so; man upholds the earth!" "How!" exclaimed a wide-eyed auditor; "upholds the earth? How do you make that out?" "How?" answered the philosopher, with superb innocence,—"don't you see that it sticks to his heels?" When the question is asked, How the slight frame of this Arctic hero could support such tests, the answer must be analogous,—It clung to his brain. The usual order of support is reversed; and here is that truer Mercury, in whom the winged head, possessing as function what its prototype only exhibited as ornament and symbol, really soars in its own might, bearing the pendent feet.
Dr. Kane was one of the purest examples of the American organization; and as he issued victorious from that region where "the ground burns frore, and cold performs the effect of fire," the Man of the New World was represented, and in him came forth with proven strength. The same significance would not attach to all feats of endurance, even where equally representative. Here are Hercules and Orpheus in one,—the organization of a poet, and the physical stamina of a gladiator.
Now this peculiar organization offers the physical inducement for two great tendencies,—one relating to the perception of truth, the other to the feeling of social claims,—while these tendencies are supported on the spiritual side by the great disciplines of our position; and the genius which these foreshow is precisely that which ought to be the genius of the New Man.
This organization is that of the seer, the poet, the spiritualist, of all such as have an eye for the deeper essences and first principles of things. Concede intellectual power, or the spiritual element, then add this temperament, and there follows a certain subtile, penetrative, radical quality of thought, a characteristic percipience of principles. And principles are not only seen, but felt; they thrill the nerve as well as greet the eye; and the man consequently becomes highly amenable to his own belief. The primary question respecting men is this,—How far are they affected by the original axiomatic truths? Truths are like the winds. Near the earth's surface winds blow in variable directions, and the weathercock becomes the type of fickleness. So there is a class of little truths, dependent upon ever-variable relations, with which it is the function of cunning, shrewdness, tact, to deal, and numbers of men seldom or never lift their heads above this weathercock region. Yet the upper air, alike of the spiritual and the physical atmosphere, has its perpetual currents, unvarying as the revolution of the globe or the sailing of constellations; and these fail not to represent themselves by eternal tradewinds upon the surface of our planet and of our life. Now the grand inquiry about any man is,—Does he belong to the great current, or to the lesser ones? He appertains to the great in proportion to his access to principles. Or we may illustrate by another analogy a distinction, of importance so emphatic. The Arctic voyagers find two descriptions of ice. The field-ice spreads over vast spaces, and moves with immense power; but goes with the wind and the surface-flow. The bergs, on the contrary, sit deep, are bedded in the mighty under-currents; and when the field-ice was crashing down with tide and storm, Dr. Kane found these heroes holding their steady inevitable way in the teeth of both. Thus may one discover men who are very massive, very powerful, engrossing such enormous spaces that there hardly seems room in the world for anybody else; but they are Field-ice Men; they represent with gigantic force the impulse of the hour. But there is another class, making, perhaps, little show upon the surface, or making it by altitude alone, who represent the grand circulations of law, the orbital courses of truth. It is a question of depth, of penetration. And depth, be it observed, secures unity; diversity, contrariety, contention are of the surface. Numbers need not concern us, whether one hundred, or one hundred millions, provided all are imbedded in the central, commanding truths of the human consciousness. And if the Man of the New World be characteristically one who will attach himself to the eternal master-tides, that fact alone fits him for his place.
Of course no sane man would intimate that organization alone can bring about such results. The Arabian horse will hardly manufacture a Saladin for his back. But let the Saladin be given, and this marvel of nerve and muscle will multiply his presence,—will, as it were, give two selves. So, if the Teutonic man who comes to our shores were innately empty or mean, this nervous intensity would only ripen his meanness, or make his inanity obstreperous. But in so far as he has real depth of nature, this radical organization will aid him, quickening by its heat what is deepest within him; and when he turns his face toward principles, this flying brain-steed will swiftly bring him to his goal. Nay, it is best that even meanness should ripen. The slaveholder of South Carolina must avouch a false principle to cover his false practice,—must affirm that slavery is a Divine institution. It is well. A Quaker, hearing a fellow blaspheme, said,—"That is right, friend; get such bad stuff out of thee!" A lie is dangerous, till it is told,—like scarlatina, before it is brought to the surface: when either breaks out, it is more than half conquered. The only falsehoods of appalling efficacy for evil are those which circulate subtly in the vital unconsciousness of powerful but obscure or undemonstrative natures,—deadly from the intimacy which also makes them secret and secure, and silently perverting to their own purposes the normal vigors of the system. A Mephistopheles is not dangerous; he is too clear-headed; he knows his own deserts: some muddiness is required to harbor self-deceptions, in order that badness may reach real working power. To all perversion iron limits are, indeed, set; but obscure falsehood works in the largest spaces and with the longest tether.—Thus the expressive intensity which appertains to this organization is serviceable every way, even in what might, at first blush, seem wholly evil effects.
While thus the brain-hand of the American is formed for grasping principles, for apprehending the simple, subtile, universal truths which slip through coarser and more sluggish fingers, there is also an influence on the moral and intellectual faculties, coming in to accept and use these cerebral ones. We are more in conversation with the heart and pure spiritual fact of humanity than any other people of equal power and culture. We necessarily deal more with each other on a bond and basis of common persuasion, of open unenacted truth, than others. This matter is of moment enough to justify somewhat formal elucidation.
Nations, like individual men, birds, and many quadrupeds and fishes, are house-builders. They wall and roof themselves in with symbols, creeds, codes, customs, etiquettes, and the like; they stigmatize by the terms heresy, high-treason, and names of milder import, any attempt to quit this edifice; and send such offenders into purgatory, penitentiary, coventry, as the case may be. Some nations omit to insert either door or window; they make penal even the desire to look out of doors, even the assertion that a sky exists other than the roof of their building, or that there is any other than a very unblessed out-of-doors beyond its walls. Such are countries where free speech is forbidden, where free thought is racked and thumb-screwed, and where not only a man's overt actions, but his very hopes, his faith, his prayers, are prescribed. Here man is put into his own institutions, as into a box; and a very bad box it proves. Now these blank walls not only encompass society as a mass, but also run between individuals, cutting off bosom from bosom, and rendering impossible that streaming of heart-fires, that mounting flame from meeting brands, out of whose wondrous baptism come the consecrate deeds of mankind. Go to China, and to any living soul you obtain no access, or next to none,—such disastrous roods of etiquette are interposed between. It is as if one very cordially shook hands with you by means of a pair of tongs or a ten-foot pole. Indeed, it is hardly a man that you meet; it is a piece of automatic ceremony. Nor is it in China alone that men may be found who can hardly be accredited with proper personality. As one dying may distribute his property in legacies to various institutions and organizations,—so much, for example, to the Tract Society, so much to the Colonization Society, and the like,—in the same manner do many make wills at the outset of life for the disposal of their own personal powers, and do nothing afterward but execute this testament,—executing themselves in another sense at the same time. They parcel out themselves, their judgment, their conscience, and whatsoever pertains to their spiritual being, among the customs, traditions, institutions, etiquettes of their time, and renounce all claim to a free existence. After such a piece of spiritual felo-de-se, the man is nothing but one wheel in a machine, or even but one cog upon a wheel. Thenceforth he merely hangs together;—simple cohesion is the utmost approximation to action which can be truly attributed to him.
And as nothing is so ridiculous, so, few things are so mischievous, as the sincere insincerity, the estrangement from fact, of those who have thus parted with themselves. It is worse, if anything can be worse, than hypocrisy itself. The hypocrite sees two things,—the fact and the fiction, the gold and its counterfeit; he has virtue enough to know that he is a hypocrite. But the post-mortem man, the walking legacy, does not recognize the existence of eternal Fact; it has never occurred to his mind that anything could be more serious than "spiritual taking-on" and make-belief. An innocent old gentleman, being at a play where the heroine is represented as destroyed in attempting to cross a broken bridge, rose, upon seeing her approach it, and in tones of the deepest concern offered his opinion that said bridge was unsafe! The post-mortem man reverses this harmless blunder, and makes it anything but harmless by the change; as that one took theatricals to be earnest fact, so this conceives virtue itself to consist in posturing; he thinks gold a clever imitation of brass, and the azure of the sky to be a kind of celestial cosmetic; in fine, formalities are the realest things he knows. It is said, that, in the later days of Rome, the augurs and inspectors of entrails could not look each other in the face during their ceremonies, for fear of bursting into a laugh. But still worse off than these pitiful peddlers of fraud is he who feigns without knowing that he feigns,—feigns unfeignedly, and calls God to witness that he is faithful in the performance of his part. This is ape's earnest, and is, perhaps, the largest piece of waste that ever takes place upon this earth. Ape's earnest,—it is a pit that swallows whole nations, whole ages; and the extent to which it may be carried is wellnigh incredible, even with the fact before our eyes. A Chinese gentleman spends an hour in imploring a relative to dine with him,—utterly refusing, so urgent is his desire of company, to accept No for an answer,—and then flies into a rage because the cousin commits the faux pas of yielding to his importunity, and agreeing to dine. Louis Napoleon perpetrates the king-joke of the century by solemnly presenting the Russian Czar with a copy of Thomas a Kempis's "Imitation of Christ,"—a book whose great inculcation is to renounce the world!
Now no sooner do men lose hold upon fact than they inevitably begin to wither. They resemble a tree drawn with all its roots from the earth; the juices already imbibed may sustain it awhile, but with every passing day will sustain it less. If Louis Napoleon is so removed from conversation with reality as not to perceive the colossal satire implied in his gift, it will soon require more vigor than he possesses to keep astride the Gallic steed. That Chinese etiquette explains the condition of the Chinese nation. Indeed, it is easy to give a recipe for mummying men alive. Take one into keeping, prescribe everything, thoughts, actions, manners, so that he never shall find either permission or opportunity to ask his own intellect, What is true? nor his own heart, What is right? nor to consider within himself what is intrinsically good and worthy of a man; and if he does not rebel, you will make him as good a mummy as Egyptian catacombs can boast.
The capital art of life is to renew and augment your power by its expenditure. It was intimated some eighteen centuries since that the highest are obtained only by loss of the same; and the transmutation of loss into gain is the essence and perfection of all spiritual economies. Now of this art of arts he is already master who steadily draws upon his own spiritual resources. The soul is an extraordinary well; the way to replenish is to draw from it. It is more miraculous than the widow's cruse;—that simply continued unexhausted,—never less, indeed, but also never more; while from this the more you take, the more remains in it. Were it, therefore, desired to arrange with forethought a scheme of life that should afford the highest invigoration, in such scheme there should be the minimum of prescription, and nothing be so sedulously avoided as the superseding of inward and active principles by outward and passive rules;—that is, life would be made as much moral and spontaneous, as little political and mechanical, as possible.
And this does not ill describe our own case. No civilized nation is so little imprisoned in precedents and traditions. Our national maxim is, "The world is too much governed." In the degree of this release we are, of course, thrown back upon underlying principles and universal persuasions,—since these of necessity become, in the absence of more artificial ties, the chief bond of such peace and cooeperation as obtain. Leave two men to deal with each other, not merely as subjects or citizens, but as men, and they must recur to that which is at once native and common to both, to the universal elements in their consciousness, that is, to principles; and thus the most ordinary mutual dealing becomes, in some degree, a spiritual discipline. Harness these men in precedents, and whip them through the same action with penalties, and they will gain only such discipline as the ox obtains in the furrow and the horse between the thills. Statutes serve men, but lame them. They render morality mechanical. Men learn to say not, "It is right," but, "It is enacted." And the difference is immense. "Right" sends one to his own soul, and requires him to produce the living law out of that; "Enacted" sends him to the Revised Statutes, or the Reports, and there it ends. The latter gives a bit of information; the former a step in development. Laws are necessary; but laws which are not necessary are more and worse than unnecessary;—they pilfer power from the soul; they intercept the absolute uses of life; they incarcerate men, and make Caspar Hausers of them. Now in America not only is there already much emancipation from those outside regulations which supersede moral and private judgment, but the tendency toward a fresh life daily gains impetus. That repeal of the Missouri Compromise, however blamable, has several happy features, and prominent among these must be reckoned the illustration it affords of a growing disposition to say, "No putting To-day into Yesterday's coffin; let the Present live and be its own lord."
We need be at no loss to discover the effects of the combined influences here stated. The ordinary phrases of our country-people denote an alert judgment,—as, "I reckon," "I calculate," "I guess." The inventiveness which characterizes Americans, the multiplicity of patents, comes from the tendency to go behind the actual, to test possibilities, to bring everything to the standard of thought. Emerson dissolves England in the alembic of his brain, and makes a thought of that. Our politics are yearly becoming more and more questions of principle, questions of right and wrong. There is almost infinite promise and significance in this gradual victory of the moral over the political, of life over mechanism. Mr. Benton complains of the "speculative philanthropy" of New England, because it suggests questions upon which he could not meet his constituents, and interferes with his domestic arrangements. It is much as if one should pray God to abolish the sun because his own eyes are sore!
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We now pass to the second great tendency which, as is here affirmed, organization and moral discipline are unitedly tending to establish on this shore. An inevitable consequence of the nervous intensity and susceptibility characteristic of Americans is an access of personal magnetism, or influence; we keenly feel each other, have social impressibility. The nervous is the public element in the body, the mediating and communicating power. It is the agent of every sense,—of sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell,—and of the power of speech. It is the vehicle of all fellow-feeling, of all social sympathy. It introduces man to man, and makes strangers acquainted. And a most unceremonious master of these ceremonies it is;—running indiscriminately across ranks; introducing beggar and baron; forcing the haughtiest master, spite of his theories, to feel that the slave is a man and a fellow; compelling the prince to acknowledge the peasant,—not with a shake of the hand, perhaps, but, it may be, with knee-shakings and heart-shakings. A terrible leveller and democrat is this master element in the human frame; yet king and kaiser must entertain him in courts and on thrones. Now the high development of this in the American Man renders him communicative, gives him a quick interest in men; he cannot let them pass without giving and taking. Hence the much-blamed inquisitiveness,—"What is your name? Where do you live? Where are you going? What is your business? Do you eat baked beans on Sunday?" Mrs. Trollope is horrified; it is a bore; but one likes the man the better for it. He is interested in you;—that is the simple secret of all. King Carlyle calls us "eighteen millions of bores." To be sure; is that so bad? The primitive English element was pirate; let the primitive American be bore. The fathers of the Britain that is took men by the throat; let the fathers of the America that is to be take them by the—button;—that is amelioration enough for one thousand years! In truth, this intense personal interest which characterizes the American, though often awkwardly manifested and troublesome, is an admirable feature in his constitution, and few traits should awaken our pride or expectation more. It is this keen fellow-feeling that fits him for the broadest and most beneficent public interest. This makes him a philanthropist. And his philanthropy is peculiar. It is not merely of the neighborhood sort, such as sends a Thanksgiving turkey to poor Robert and a hat that does not fit well to poor Peter. For here the predilection for principles and generalizations comes in, and leads him to translate his fellow-feeling into social axioms. Thus it occurs that the American is that man who is grappling most earnestly and intelligently with the problem of man's relation to man. In every village is some knot of active minds that brood over questions of this kind. The monarch newspaper of America is deeply tinged with the same hue; nor could one with a contrary complexion attain its position. This great current of human interest floats our politics; it feeds the springs of enthusiasm, coming forth in doctrines of non-resistance, of government by love, and the like; and our literature contains essays upon love and friendship which, in our judgment, are not equalled in the literature of the world.
Nor is a moral discipline wanting to second this tendency. A terrible social anomaly has been forced upon us,—has had time to intertwine itself with trade, with creeds, with partisan prejudice and patriotic pride, and, having become next to unconquerable, now shows that it can keep no terms and must kill or be killed. And through this the question of man's duties to man, on the broadest scale, is incessantly kept in agitation. It is like a lurid handwriting across the sky,—"Learn what man should be and do to his fellow." And the companion sentence is this,—"Thy justice to the strangers shall be the best security to thine own household."
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By the co-working of these two grand tendencies we obtain at once the largest speculative breadth and the closest practical and personal interest. What sweeter promise could any one ask than that of this rare and admirable combination? Thought and action have been more than sufficiently separated. The philosopher has discoursed to a few, and in the dialect of the few, in Academic shades; sanctity has hidden itself away, lost in the joy of its secret contemplations; the great world has rolled by, unhearing, unheeding,—like London roaring with cataract thunder around St. Paul's, while within the choral service is performed to an audience of one. Thinking and doing have hardly recognized each other. Now we are not of those vague, enthusiastic persons who fancy that all truths are for all ears,—that the highest spiritual fact can be communicated, where there is no spiritual apprehension to lay hold upon it. He that hath ears, let him hear. Nor would we attempt to confuse the functions of sayer and doer. But let there be a sympathy and understanding between them, that, when achieved, will mark an epoch in the world's history. Nowhere, at least in modern times, have thought and action approached so nearly and intimately as in America; nowhere is speculative intellect so colored with the hues of practical interest without limiting its own flight; nowhere are labor and executive power so receptive of pure intellectual suggestion. The union of what is deepest and most recondite in thought with clear-sighted sagacity has been well hit by Lowell in his description of the typical American scholar,—
"Sits in a mystery calm and intense, And looks round about him with sharp common-sense."
That is, the New Man has two things that seldom make each other's acquaintance,—Sight and Insight. Accordingly, our subtilest thinker, whom the scholarly Mr. Vaughan classes with the mystics and accuses of going beyond the legitimate range even of mystics, has written such an estimate of the most practical nation in the world as has never been written of that or any other before. The American knows what is about him, has tact, sagacity, conversance with surfaces and circumstances, is the shrewdest guesser in the world; and seeing him on this side alone, one might say,—This is the man of to-day, a quick worker, good to sail ships, bore mountains, buy and sell, but belonging to the surface, knowing only that. The medal turns, and lo! here is this 'cute Yankee a thinker, a mystic, fellow of the antique, Oriental in his subtilest contemplations, a rider of the sunbeam, dwelling upon Truth's sweetness with such pure devotion and delight that vigorous Mr. Kingsley must shriek, "Windrush!" "Intellectual Epicurism!" and disturb himself in a somewhat diverting manner. Pollok declaimed against the attempt to lay hold of the earth with one hand and heaven with the other. But that is the peculiar feat for which the American is born,—to bring together seeing and doing, principle and practice, eternity and to-day. The American is given, they say, to extremes. True, but to both extremes; he belongs to the two antipodes. To the one he appertains by intellectual emancipation and penetrative power; to the other by his pungent element of sympathy with persons. Speaking of the older Northern States, and of the people as a whole, we affirm that their inhabitants are more speculative and more practical, the scholars know more of immediate common interests and speak more the dialect of the people, while the mechanics know more of speculative truth and understand better the necessary vocabulary of thought, than any other people.
Lyell says, that the New World is really the Old World,—that there, preeminently, the antique geological formations are found, and nearer the surface than elsewhere. Thus the physical peculiarity of our continent is, that here an elaborate and highly finished surface is immediately superimposed upon the oldest rock, rock wrought in fire and kneaded with earthquake knuckles. We discover in this a symbol of the American Man. He likewise brings into near association the most ancient and the most modern. By insight he dwells in the old thoughts, the eternal truths, the meditations that rapt away the early seers into trance and dream; but he brings these into sharp contact with life, associates them with the newest work, the toil and interests of this year and day.
We shall find space to mention but one peril which besets the New Man. It is danger of physical exhaustion. Dr. Kane, the hero of two Arctic nights, came forth to the day only to die. That which makes the preeminence of our organization makes also its peril. Denmark is said to be impoverished by the disproportion of the learned to the industrial class; production is insufficient, and too much of a good thing cripples the country. The nervous system is a learned class in the body; it contributes dignity and superior uses, but makes no corn grow in the physiological fields. A brain of great animation and power is a perilous freight for the stanchest body; in a weak and shattered body it is like gold in a spent swimmer's pocket,—the richer it would make him on dry land, the less chance it gives him of arriving there. That this danger is not imaginary too many are able to testify.—Few scenes in Rabelais are more exquisitely ludicrous than that in which he pictures the monk Panurge in a storm at sea. The oily ecclesiastic is terrified as only a combination of hypocrite and coward can be; and, in the extremity of his craven distress, he fancies that any situation on shore, no matter how despicable, would be paradise. So at length he whines, "Oh that I were on dry land, and somebody kicking me!" In a similar manner—similar, save that farce deepens to tragedy—many a man in America of opulent mental outfit, but with only a poor wreck of a body to bear the precious cargo, must often have been tempted to cry, "Oh that I had a sound digestion, and were some part of a dunce!" In truth, we are a nation of health-hunters, betraying the want by the search. It were to be wished that an accurate computation could be made how much money has been paid in the United States, within a score of years, for patent medicines. It would buy up a kingdom of respectable dimensions. So eager is this health-hunger, that it bites at bare hooks. The "advertising man" of Arnold's Globules offers his services as nostrum-puffer-general, and appeals to past success as proof of his abilities in this line. But Arnold's Globules will sell no whit the worse. Is the amiable Mr. Knox right, after all? Doubtless, we answer, the American organization is more easily disordered than the English,—just as a railway-train running at forty miles an hour is more liable to accident than one proceeding at twenty. Besides, Americans have not learned to live as these new circumstances require. The New Man is a clipper-ship, that can run out of sight of land while one of the old bluff-bowed, round-ribbed craft is creeping out of port; but, from the very nature of his superiorities, he is apt to be shorter-lived, and more likely to spring a leak in the strain of a storm. He demands nicer navigation. It will not do for him to beat over sand-bars. Yet dinner-pilotage in this country is reckless and unscientific to a degree. The land is full of wrecks hopelessly snagged upon indigestible diet. As yet, it is difficult to obtain a hearing for precaution. Men answer you out of their past experience,—much like a headstrong personage who was about to attempt crossing a river in a boat sure to sink. "You will drown, if you go in that thing," said a bystander. "Never was drowned yet," was the prompt retort; and pushing off, he soon lost the opportunity to repeat that boast! But this resistance is constantly becoming less. Meantime, numbers of foreseeing men are waking up, or are already awakened, to the importance of recreation and physical culture,—members of the clerical profession, to the credit of the craft be it said, taking the lead. Messrs. Beecher, Bellows, and Hale plead the cause of amusements; the author of "Saints and their Bodies" celebrates the uses and urges the need of athletic sports; gymnasia are becoming matters of course in the cities and larger towns; "The New York Tribune" attends to the matter of cookery; and it is safe to predict that the habits of the people will undergo in time the necessary changes. That health is possible to Americans ought not to be questioned. Of despair we will not listen to a word. In crossing the ocean, in the backwoods-experience which everywhere precedes cultivation, in the excitement which has followed the obliteration of social monopolies and the throwing open of the wealth of a continent to free competition, the old traditional precautions have been lost, the old household wisdoms, the old economies of health; and these we have now to reproduce for ourselves. It will be done. And when this is done, though ancient English brawn will not reappear, there will be health, and its great blessing of cheerful spirits. The special means by which this shall be accomplished we leave to the care of the gentlemen abovenamed, and their compeers—merely putting in one word for gentle exercise, and two words for the cherishing of mental health, the expulsion of morbid excitements, assume what guise they may. We should take extreme care not to admit decay at the summit. A healthy soul is a better prophylactic than belladonna. Refusing to despond respecting American health, we cheerfully trust that the genius of the New Man will find all required physical support, and due length of time for demonstrating its quality.
And now we may notice a doubt which some readers will cherish. Is not all this, they may say, over-sanguine and enthusiastic? Is it not a self-complacent dream? Are the tendencies adverted to so productive? Is any such genius really forming as is here claimed? Is it not, on the contrary, now fully understood that the Americans are a commonplace people, meagre-minded money-makers, destitute of originality? What have they done to demonstrate genius yet?—These skepticisms are somewhat prevalent nowadays, and are a natural enough reaction from Fourth-of-July flatulencies. Let them have their day. The fact will vindicate itself. Meanwhile we may remark, that the appeal to attained performance, in justification of the view taken in this paper of American abilities and prospects, would obviously place us at undue disadvantage. We speak here, and are plainly entitled to speak, rather of tendencies than of attainments, of powers forming themselves in man, and not of results produced without him. Nevertheless, results there are,—admirable, satisfactory results.
As first of these may be mentioned American Reform. In depth, in breadth, in vigor, in practical quality, this may challenge comparison with anything of a similar kind elsewhere. This is the direct outburst of a new life, arising and wrestling with the old forms, habitudes, institutions, with whatsoever is imported and traditional, on the one hand, and with the crude or barbarous improvisations of native energy, on the other. It is a force springing out of the summit of the brain, the angel of its noblest sentiment, going forth with no less an aim than to construct a whole new social status from ideas. And the token of its superiority is this, that it builds its new outward life only from the most ancient incorruptible material, out of the eternal granite of Moral Law. Sweeping social schemes prevail in France. But American Reform is not a scheme; it is the service of an idea. It is made conservative by that which also makes it radical, by working in the interest of the moral sentiment.
The Literature of the New World is also worthy of the New Man. We are quite aware that a large portion of this literature is trash. So was a large part in Shakspeare's, in Cervantes's, in Plato's age and place. But we admit even that the comparison does not hold,—that an especial accusation may be brought against the issues of the press in this country. Wise men should have anticipated this, and, instead of reasoning from the size of our lakes, prairies, and mountains, and demanding epics and philosophies of us before we are fairly out of our primitive woods, the critics should have hastened to say,—A colony must have time to strike root, and to draw up therefrom a new life, before it can arrive at valuable and genuine literary expression. The Life must come before the Thought. Nothing could be more absurd than the expectation that American literature should spring away into the air from the top of European performance. Our first literature was colonial,—that is, imitative, written for the approbation of European critics,—of course, having somewhat the empty correctness of good school-boy composition. Next followed what we may call fire-weed literature,—the first rank, raw product of new lands. Under these two heads a vast number of books must of course be reckoned. But beyond these American literature has already passed, and now can point to books that spring out of the pure genius of the New Man. And having only these in mind, we hesitate not to say that there is now sounding upon these shores a deeper, subtler, and more universal note than is heard in any other land touched by the Atlantic Sea. We have now writings in several departments of literature, and in both prose and verse, which are characterized by a breadth and largeness of suggestion, by a spirituality and a prophetic adherence to the moral sentiment, which justify all that has here been affirmed or reasoned. And our deepest thought finds a popular reception which proves it not foreign or exceptional. Wilkinson's "Human Body," the largest piece of speculative construction which England has produced in two centuries, has not yet, after some eight years, we believe, exhausted its first edition. Emerson's Poems, still less adapted, one would say, than the work just mentioned, to the taste of populaces, had reached its fourth edition in about the same period. Learned works have, of course, a superior reception in the mother-country; works of pure thought in the daughter. Said to us, during the past season, the subtilest thinker of Great Britain,—"I must send to America whatever I wish to put in print, unless I pay for its publication from my own pocket."
And beyond this, there is a hush in the nation's heart, an expectancy, a waiting and longing for some unspoken word, which sometimes seems awful in the bounty of its promise. I know men educated to speak, with the burden of a speaker's vocation on their hearts, but now these many years remaining heroically silent; the fountains of a fresh consciousness sweet within them, but not yet flowing into speech, and they too earnest, too expectant, too sure of the future to say aught beneath the strain. "Why do you not speak?" was inquired of one. "Because I can keep silent," he said, "and the word I am to utter will command me." No man assumes that attitude until he is already a party to the deepest truth, is the silent side of a seer; and in a nation where any numbers are passing this more than Pythagorean lustrum, a speech is surely coming that will no more need to apologize for itself than the speech of the forest or the ocean-shore. The region of the trade-winds is skirted with calm. Sydney Smith said of Macaulay, that his talk, to render it charming, "needed only a few brilliant flashes of silence." We are talkative, but the flashes of silence are not wanting, and there is prophecy in them as well as charm. Said one, of a speaker,—"He was so rarely eloquent, that what he did not say was even better than what he did." And here, not only are some wholly silent, but in our best writings the impressive not-saying lends its higher suggestion than that expressly put forth. What spaces between Emerson's sentences! Each seems to float like a solitary summer-cloud in a whole sky of silence.
Yes, the fact is already indubitable, a rich life, sure in due time of its rich expression, is forming here. As out of the deeps of Destiny, the Man for the Continent, head-craftsman, hand-craftsman, already puts his foot to this shore. All hail, new-comer! Welcome to great tasks, great toils, to mighty disciplines, to victories that shall not be too cheaply purchased, to defeats that shall be better than victories! We give thee joy of new powers, new work, unprecedented futures! We give the world joy of a new and mighty artist to plan, a new strong artisan to quarry and to build in the great architectures of humanity!
THE POET KEATS.
His was the soul, once pent in English clay, Whereby ungrateful England seemed to hold The sweet Narcissus, parted from his stream,— Endymion, not unmindful of his dream, Like a weak bird the flock has left behind.
Untimely notes the poet sung alone, Checked by the chilling frosts of words unkind; And his grieved soul, some thousand years astray, Paled like the moon in most unwelcome day.
His speech betrayed him ere his heart grew cold; With morning freshness to the world he told Of man's first love, and fearless creed of youth, When Beauty he believed the type of Truth.
In the vexed glories of unquiet Troy, So might to Helen's jealous ear discourse The flute, first tuned on Ida's haunted hill, Against OEnone's coming, to betray In what sweet solitude her shepherd lay.
Yet, Poet-Priest! the world shall ever thrill To thy loved theme, its charm undying still! Hearts in their youth are Greek as Homer's song, And all Olympus half contents the boy, Who from the quarries of abounding joy Brings his white idols without thought of wrong.
With reverent hand he sets each votive stone, And last, the altar "To the God Unknown."
As in our dreams the face that we love best Blooms as at first, while we ourselves grow old,— As the returning Spring in sunlight throws Through prison-bars, on graves, its ardent gold,— And as the splendors of a Syrian rose Lie unreproved upon the saddest breast,— So mythic story fits a changing world: Still the bark drifts with sails forever furled. An unschooled Fancy deemed the work her own, While mystic meaning through each fable shone.
HER GRACE, THE DRUMMER'S DAUGHTER.
Foray, a mass of crags embellished by some greenness, looked up to heaven a hundred miles from shore. It was a fortified position, and a place of banishment. In the course of a long war, waged on sea and land between two great nations, this, "least of all," became a point of some importance to the authority investing it; the fort was well supplied with the machinery of death, and the prison filled with prisoners. But peace had now been of long continuance; and though a nation's banner floated from the tower of the fort, and was seen afar by mariners,—though the cannon occupied their ancient places, ordered for instant use,—though all within the fort was managed and conducted day by day with careful regard to orders,—the operations indicated, in the spirit of their conduct, no fear of warlike surprises. No man gave or obeyed an order as if his life depended on his expedition. Neither was the prison the very place it had been; for, once, every cell had its occupant,—an exile, or a prisoner of war.
The officials of the island led an easy life, therefore. Active was the brain that resisted the influences of so much leisure as most of these people had. But, under provocation even, Nature must be true. So true is she, indeed, that every violation of her dignities illustrates the meaning of that sovereign utterance, VENGEANCE IS MINE. She will not bring a thorn-tree from an acorn. Pray, day and night, and see if she will let you gather figs of thistles. Prayer has its conditions, and faith is not the sum of them.
But Nature's buoyant spirits must needs conquer the weight of influences whose business is to depress. And they, seeking, find their centre among things celestial, in spite of all opposing. Much leisure, light labor, was not the worst thing that could befall some of the men whose lot was cast on Foray.
Adolphus Montier was a member of the military band. He was drummer to the regiment by the grace of his capacity. Besides, he played on the French horn, to the admiration of his wife, and others; and he could fill, at need, the place of any missing member of the company, leaving nothing to be desired in the performance.
Adolphus came to Foray in the first vessel that brought soldiers hither. He saw the first stone laid in the building of the fort. Here he had lived since. He was growing gray in the years of peace. He had some scars from the years of strife, he was a brave fellow, and idleness, a devil's bland disguise, found no favor with him.
His daughter Elizabeth was the first child born on the island. Bronzed warriors smiled on her fair infancy; sometimes they called her, with affectionate intonation, "The Daughter of the Regiment." She deserved the notice they bestowed,—as infancy in general deserves all it receives,—but Elizabeth for other reasons than that she had come whence none could tell, and was going whither no man could predict,—for other reason than that she was the first discovered native of the island. She was a beautiful child; and I state this fact not specially in deference to the universal expectation that a character brought forward for anybody's notice should be personally capable of fascinating such. Indeed, it seems inevitable that we find our heroines and heroes in life beautiful. Miss Nightingale must needs remain our type of pure charity in person, as in character. Elisha Kent Kane among his icebergs must stand manifestly efficient for his "princely purpose," his eye and brow magnificent with beauty. Rachel, to every woman's memory, must live the unparalleled Camille.
Little Elizabeth—I smile to write her name upon the page with these—it were a shame to cheat of beauty by any bungle of description. Is not a fair spirit predestined conqueror of flesh and blood? Have we not read of the noble lady whose loveliness a painter's eye was the very first to discover? Where the likeness? The soul saw it, not the eye; and he understood, who, seeing it, exclaimed, "Our friend—in heaven!" While Adolphus Montier cleaned and polished his French horn, an occupation which was his unfailing resource, if he could find nothing else to do, or when he practised his music, business in which he especially delighted when off duty, it was his pleasure to have wife and child with him.
Imagination was an active power in the Drummer's sphere. He, away off in Foray, used to talk about the forms and colors of sounds, as if he knew about them; and he had not learned the talk in any school. He would have done no injury to transcendentalism. And he was a happy man, in that the persons before whom he indulged in this manner of speech rather encouraged it. Never had his Pauline's pride and fondness failed Adolphus the Drummer. Life in Foray was little less than banishment, though it had its wages and—renown; but Pauline made out of this single man her country, friends, and home. Never woman endeavored with truer single-heartedness to understand her spouse. In her life's aim was no failure. Let him expatiate on sound to the bounds of fancy's extravagance, she could confidently follow, and would have volunteered her testimony to a doubter, as if all were a question of tangible fact, to be definitely proved. So in every matter. For all the comfort she was to the man she loved, for her confidence in him who deserved it, for her patient endurance of whatsoever ill she met or bore, for choosing to walk in so peaceful a manner, with a heart so light and a face so fair, praise to the Drummer's wife!
Elizabeth, the companion of her parents in all their happy rambling and unambitious home-life, was their joy and pride. If she frolicked in the grass while her father played his airs, she lost not a strain of the music. She hearkened also to his deep discourse, and gave good heed, when he illustrated the meaning of the tunes he loved to play. And these were rarely the stirring strains with which the Governor's policy kept the band chiefly busy when the soldiers gathered on summer nights in knots of listeners, and the ladies of the fort, the Governor's wife, and the wives of the officers, came out to enjoy the evening, or when a vessel touched the rocky shore.
Elizabeth's vision was clearer than even love could make her mother's,—clearer than music made her father's; since a distinct conception of images seems not to be inevitable among the image-makers. The prophets are not always to be called upon for an interpretation. No white angel ever floats more clearly before the eyes of those who look on the sculptor's finished work than before the eyes of Elizabeth appeared the shapes and hues of sounds which swept in gay or solemn procession through the windings of her father's horn, floating over the blue water, dissolving as the mist. No bright-winged bird, fair flower, or gorgeous sunset or sea-wave, was more distinct to the child's eyes than the hues of the same notes, stately as palm or pine,—red as crimson, white as wool, rich and full as violet, softly compelling as amethyst.
Pauline Montier was by nature as active and diligent as Adolphus. She was a seamstress before the days of Foray and the Drummer, and still continued to ply her needle, though no longer urged by necessity. She sewed for the officers' wives, she knit stockings and mufflers for the soldiers. The income thus derived independently of Montier's public service was very considerable.
Born of such parents, Elizabeth would have had some difficulty in persuading herself that her business was to idle through this life.
Her early experiences were not as peaceful as those which followed her tenth year. The noise of battle, the cries of defeat, the shouts of victory, the sight of agonized faces, the vision of death, the struggles of pain and anguish, the sorrow of bereavement,—she had seen all with those young eyes. She had heard the whispered command in hushed moments of mortal danger, and the shout of triumph—in the tumult of victory,—had watched blazing ships, seen prisoners carried to their cells, attended the burial of brave men slain in battle, had marched with soldiers keeping time to funeral strains. Her courage and her pity had been stirred in years when she could do no more than see and hear. Once standing, through the heat of a bloody engagement, by the side of a lad, a corporal's son, who was stationed to receive and communicate an order, a random shot struck the boy down at her side. She saw that he was dead,—waited for the order, transmitted it, and then carried away the lifeless body of her fellow-sentinel, staggering under the weighty burden, never resting till she had laid him in the shelter of his father's quarters. After the engagement, this story was told through the victorious ranks by the witnesses of her valor, and a medal was awarded the child by acclamation. She always wore it, and was as proud of it as a veteran of his ribbons and stars.
But now, in times of peace, the fair flower of her womanhood was forming. Like a white hyacinth she grew,—a lady to look upon, with whom, for loveliness, not a lady of the fort could be compared. Not one of them in courage or unselfishness exceeded her.
The family lived in a little house adjoining the barracks. It was a home that could boast of nothing beyond comfort and cleanliness;—the word comfort I use as the poor man understands it. Neither Adolphus nor Pauline had any worldly goods to bring with them when they came to Foray. They lived at first, and for a long time, in the barracks; the little house they now occupied had once been used for the storage of provisions; but when the war ended, Adolphus succeeded in obtaining permission to turn it into a dwelling-house. Here the child was sheltered, and taught the use of a needle; and here she learned to read and write.
In the great vegetable garden which covered the space between the prison and the fort was a corner that reflected no great credit on the authorities. The persons who might reasonably have been expected to take that neglected bit of ground under their loving care did no such thing. The beds were weeded by Sandy, the gardener, and now and then a blossom rewarded that attention; but the flower-patch waited for Elizabeth.
The gardener knew very well how she prized the pretty flowers;—they appealed to his own rude nature in a very tender way. He loved to see the young girl flying down the narrow paths as swiftly as a bird, if she but spied a bloom from afar. There was a tree whose branches hung over the wall, every one of them growing, with dreadful perversity, away from the cold, hard prison-ground which held the roots so fast. Time was never long enough when she sat in the shade of those branches, watching Sandy at his work.
By-and-by it happened that the flower-garden was given over to the charge of the girl. It was natural that she, who had never seen other flower-beds than these, should, aided by the home-recollections of her mother, imagine far prettier,—that she should dare suggest to Sandy, until his patience and his skill were exhausted,—that the final good result should have come about in a moment when no one looked for it,—he giving up his task with vexation, she accepting it with humility, and both working together thereafter, the most helpful of friends.
It required not many seasons for Elizabeth to prove her skill and diligence in the culture of this garden-ground,—not many for the transformation of square, awkward beds into a mass of bloom. How did those flowers delight the generous heart! With what particular splendor shone the house of Montier through all the summer season! The ladies now began to think about bouquets, and knew where they could find them. From this same blessed nook the Governor's table was daily supplied with its most beautiful ornament. Men tenderly disposed smiled on the young face that from under the broad-brimmed garden-hat smiled back on them. Some deemed her fairer than the flowers she cared for.
One day in the spring of the year that brought her thirteenth birthday, Elizabeth ran down through the morning mist, and plucked the first spring flower. She stayed but to gather the beauty whose budding she had long watched; no one must rob her mother of this gift.
She carried off the prize before the gaze of one who had also hailed it in the bleak, drear dawn. This was not the gardener;—and there was neither man, woman, nor child in sight, during the swift run;—no freeman; but a prisoner in an upper room of the prison. Through its grated window, the only one on that side of the building, he had that morning for the first time looked upon the island which had held him long a prisoner.
Since daybreak he had stood before the window. The evening before, the stone had been rolled away from the door of his sepulchre,—not by an angel, neither by force of the resistless Life-spirit within, shall it be said? Who knows that it was not by an angel? who shall aver it was not by the resistless Life? At least, he was here,—brought from the cell he had occupied these five years,—brought from the arms of Death. His window below had looked on a dead stone-wall; this break in the massive masonry gave heaven and earth to him.
The first ray of daylight saw him dragging his feeble body to the window. He did not remove from that post till the rain was over,—nor then, except for a moment. As the clouds rose from the sea, he watched them. How strange was the aspect of all things! Thus, while he had lived and not beheld, these trees had waved, these waters rolled, these clouds gathered,—grass had grown, and flowers unfolded; for he saw the scarlet bloom before Elizabeth plucked it. And all this while he had lived like a dead man, unaware! Not so; but now he remembered not the days, when, conscious of all this life, he had deathly despair in his heart, and stones alone for friends.
Imprisonment and solitude had told upon the man. He was still young, and one whom Nature and culture had fitted for no obscure station in the world. He could, by every evidence he gave, perform no mere commonplaces of virtue or of vice. The world's ways would not assign his limitation. He was capable of devising and of executing great things,—and had proved the power; and to this his presence testified, even in dilapidation and listlessness.
His repose was the repose of helplessness,—not that of grace or nature. The opening of this prospect with the daylight had not the effect to increase his tranquillity. His dejection in the past months had been that of a strong man who yields to necessity; his present mood was not inspired with hope. The waves that leaped in the morning's gloomy light were not so aimless as his life seemed to him. He had heard a bird sing in the branches of a tree whose roots were in the prison-yard,—now he could see her nest; he had heard the dismal pattering of the rain,—and now beheld it, and the clouds from which it fell; he saw the glimpses of the blue beyond, where the clouds were breaking; he saw the fort, the cannon mounted on the walls, the flag that fluttered from the tower, the barracks, the parade-ground, and the surrounding sea, whose boundaries he knew not; he saw the trees, he saw the garden-ground. Slowly his eyes scanned all,—and the soul that was lodged in the emaciated figure grew faint and sick with seeing. But no tears, no sighs, no indications of grief or despair or desperate submission. He had little to learn of suffering;—that he knew. How could he greet the day, hail the light, bless Nature for her beauty, thank God for his life? Oh, the weariness with which he leaned his head against those window-bars, faint and almost dying under the weight of thoughts that rushed upon him, fierce enough to slay, if he showed any resistance! But he manifested none. The day of struggle was over with him. He believed that they had brought him to this room to die. If any thought could give him joy, surely it was this. He was right. Yesterday the Governor of the island, hearing the condition of the prisoner, this one remaining man of all whose sentence had been endured within these walls, had ordered a change of scene for him. His sentence was imprisonment for life. Did they fear his release by the hands of one who hears the sighing of the prisoner, and gives to every bondman the Year of Jubilee? Were they jealous and suspicious of the approach of Death?
Though he had been so long a prisoner, he showed in his person self-respect and dignity of nature. His hair and beard were grown long; many a gray thread shone in his chestnut locks; his mouth was a firm feature; his eyes quiet, but not the mildest; his forehead very ample; he was lofty in stature;—outside the prison, a freeman, his presence would have been commanding. But he needed the free air for his lungs, and the light to surround him,—the light to set him in relief, the sense of life to compel him to stand out in his own powerful individuality, distinct from every other living man.
By-and-by, while he stood at the window, looking forth upon the strange scenes before him, this new heaven and new earth, the landscape became alive. The first human creature he had seen outside his cell since he became an inmate of this prison appeared before his eyes,—the young girl skipping through the garden till she came to the flower-bed and plucked the scarlet blossom. If she had been a spirit or an angel, he could hardly have beheld her with greater surprise.
She was singing when she came. He thought he recognized that voice,—that it was the same he had often heard from the cell below. Many a time the horrible stillness of that cell had been broken by the sound of a child's voice, which, like a spirit, swept unhindered through the walls,—an essence of life, and a power.