The ideal world, then, to present in full summary these views, is thus built up, through personality in all its richness, by a perfected imitation of life itself, and is set forth in universal unities of relation, causal or formal, to the intellect in its inward, to the sense of beauty in its outward, aspects; and thereby delighting the desire of the mind for lucid and lovely order, it generates joy, and thence is born the will to conform one's self to this order. If, then, this order be conceived as known in its principles and in operation in living souls, as existing in its completeness on the simplest scale in an entire series of illustrative instances but without multiplicity,—if it be conceived, that is, as the model of a world,—that would be to know it as it exists to the mind of God; that would be to contemplate the world of ideas as Plato conceived it seen by the soul before birth. That is the beatific vision. If it be conceived in its mortal movement as a developing world on earth, that would be to know "the plot of God," as Poe called the universe. Art endeavours to bring that vision, that plot, however fragmentary, upon earth. It is a world of order clothing itself in beauty, with a charm to the soul, such is our nature,—operative upon the will to live. It is preeminently a vision of beauty. It is true that this beauty which thus wins and moves us seems something added by the mind in its great creations rather than anything actual in life; for it is, in fact, heightened and refined from the best that man has seen in himself, and it partakes more of hope than of memory. Here is that woven robe of illusion which is so hard a matter to those who live in horizons of the eye and hand. Yet as idealism was found on its mental side harmonious with reason in all knowledge, and on its emotional side harmonious with the heart in its outgoings, so this perfecting temperament that belongs to it and most characterizes it, falls in with the natural faith of mankind. Idealism in this sense, too, existed in life before it passed into literature. The youth idealizes the maiden he loves, his hero, and the ends of his life; and in age the old man idealizes his youth. Who does not remember some awakening moment when he first saw virtue and knew her for what she is? Sweet was it then to learn of some Jason of the golden fleece, some Lancelot of the tourney, some dying Sydney of the stricken field. There was a poignancy in this early knowledge that shall never be felt again; but who knows not that such enthusiasm which earliest exercised the young heart in noble feelings is the source of most of good that abides in us as years go on? In such boyish dreaming the soul learns to do and dare, hardens and supples itself, and puts on youthful beauty; for here is its palaestra. Who would blot these from his memory? who choke these fountain-heads, remembering how often along life's pathway he has thirsted for them? Such moments, too, have something singular in their nature, and almost immortal, that carries them echoing far on into life where they strike upon us in manhood at chosen moments when least expected; some of them are the real time in which we live. It was said of old that great men were creative in their souls, and left their works to be their race; these ideal heroes have immortal souls for their children, age after age. Shall we in our youth, then, in generous emulation idealize the great of old times, and honour them as our fair example of what we most would be? Shall we, in our hearts, idealize those we love,—so natural is it to believe in the perfection of those we love,—and even if the time for forgiveness comes, and we show them the mercy that our own frailty teaches us to exercise, shall we still idealize them, since love continues only in the persuasion of perfection yet to come, and is the tenderer because it comes with struggle? Whether in our acts or our emotions shall we give idealism this range, and deny it to literature which discloses the habits of our daily practice in more perfection and with greater beauty? There we find the purest types to raise and sustain us; to direct our choice, and reenforce us with that emotion, that passion, which most supports the will in its effort. There history itself is taken up, transformed, and made immortal, the whole past of human emotion and action contained and shown forth with convincing power. Nor is it only with the natural habit of mankind that idealism falls in, but with divine command. Were we not bid be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect? And what is that image of the Christ, what is that world-ideal, the height of human thought, but the work of the creative reason,—not of genius, not of the great in mind and fortunate in gifts, but of the race itself, in proud and humble, in saint and sinner, in the happy and the wretched, in all the vast range of the millions of the dead whose thoughts live embodied in that great tradition,—the supreme and perfected pattern of mankind?
Is it nevertheless true that there is falsehood in all this? that men were never such as the heart believes them, nor ideal characters able to breathe mortal air? by indulging our emotions, do we deceive ourselves, and end at last in cynicism or despair? Why, then, should we not boldly affirm that the falsehood is rather in us, in the defects by which we fail of perfection, in our ignorant error and voluntary wrong? that in the ideal, free as it is from the accidental and the transitory, inclusive as it is of the common truth, lies, as Plato thought, the only reality, the truth which outlasts us all? But this may seem a subtle evasion rather than a frank answer. Let us rather say that idealism is one of the necessary modes of man's faith, brings in the future, and assumes the reality of that which shall be actual; that the reality it owns is that of the rose in the bud, the oak in the acorn, the planet in its fiery mist. I believe that ideal character in its perfection is potentially in every man who is born into the world. We forecast the future in other parts of life; why should we not forecast ourselves? Would he not be thought foolish who should refuse to embark in great enterprises of trade, because he does not already hold the wealth to be gained? The ideal is our infinite riches, more than any individual or moment can hold. To refuse it is as if a man should neglect his estate because he can take but a handful of it in his grasp. It is the law of our being to grow, and it is a necessity that we should have examples and patterns in advance of us, by which we can find our way. There is no falsehood in such anticipation; there is only a faith in truth instead of a possession of it. Will you limit us to one moment of time and place? will you say to the patriot that his country is a geographical term? and when he replies that rather is it the life of her sons, will you point him to human nature as it seems at the period, to corruption, folly, ignorance, strife, and crime, and tell him that is our actual America? Will he not rather say that his America is a great past, a future whose beneficence no man can sum? Is there any falsehood in this ideal country that men have ever held precious? Did Pericles lie in his great oration, and Virgil in his noble poem, and Dante in his fervid Italian lines? And as there are ideals of country, so also of men, of the soldier, the priest, the king, the lover, the citizen, and beside each of us does there not go one who mourns over our fall and pities us, gladdens in our virtue, and shall not leave us till we die; an ideal self, who is our judgment? and if it be yet answered that this in truth is so, and might be borne but for the errors of the idealizing temperament, shall we not reply that the quack does not discredit the art of medicine, nor the demagogue the art of politics, and no more does the fool in all his motley the art of literature.
Must I, however, come back to my answer, and meet those who aver that however stimulating idealism is to the soul, yet it must be remembered that in the world at large there is nothing corresponding to ideal order, to poetic ethics, and that to act these forth as the supremacy of what ought to be is to misrepresent life, to raise expectations in youth never to be realized, to pervert practical standards, and in brief to make a false start that can be fruitful only in error, in subsequent suffering of mind, and with material disadvantage? I must be frank: I own that I can perceive in Nature no moral order, that in her world there is no knowledge of us or of our ideals, and that in general her order often breaks upon man's life with mere ruin, irrational and pitiful; and I acknowledge, also, the prominence of evil in the social, and its invasion in the individual, life of man. But, again, were we so situated that there should be no external divine order apparent to our minds, were justice an accident and mercy the illusion of wasted prayer, there would still remain in us that order whose workings are known within our own bosom, that law which compels us to be just and merciful in order to lead the life that we recognize to be best, and the whole imperative of our ideal, which, if we fail to ourselves, condemns us, irrespective of what future attends us in the world. Ideal order as the mind knows it, the mind must strive to realize, or stand dishonoured in its own forum. Within us, at least, it exists in hope and somewhat in reality, and following it in our effort, though we come merely to a stoical idea of the just man on whom the heavens fall, we should yet be nobler than the power that made us souls betrayed. But there is no such difference between the world as it is and the world as ideal art presents it.
What, then, is the difference between art and nature? Art is nature regenerate, made perfect, suffering the new birth into what ought to be; an ordered and complete world. But this is the vision of art as the ultimate of good. Idealism has also another world, of which glimpses have already appeared in the course of this argument, though in the background. In the intellectual sphere evil is as subject to general statement as is good, and there is in the strict sense an idealization of evil, a universal statement of it, as in Mephistopheles, or in more partial ways in Iago, Macbeth, Richard III. In the emotional sphere also there is the throb of evil, felt as diabolic energy and presented as the element in which these characters have their being. Even in the sphere of the will, who shall say that man does not knowingly choose evil as his portion? So, too, as the method of idealism in the world of the good tends to erect man above himself, the same generalizing method in the world of the evil tends to degrade human nature below itself; the extremes of the process are the divine and the devilish; both transcend life, but are developed out of it. The difference between these two poles of ideality is that the order of one is an order of life, that of the other an order of death. Between these two is the special province of the human will. What literature, what all art, presents is not the ultimate of good or the ultimate of evil separately; it is, taking into account the whole range, the mixed world becoming what it ought to be in its evolution from what it is, and the laws of that progress. Hence tragedy on the one hand and comedy, or more broadly humour, on the other hand, have their great place in literature; for they are forms of the intermediate world of conflict. I speak of the spiritual world of man's will. We may conceive of the world optimistically as a place in which all shall issue in good and nothing be lost; or as a place in which, by alliance with or revolt from the forces of life, the will in its voluntary and individual action may save or lose the soul at its choice. We may think of God as conserving all, or as permitting hell, which is death. We do not know. But as shown to us in imagination, idealism, which is the race's dream of truth, hovers between these two worlds known to us in tendency if not in conclusion,—the world of salvation on the one hand, in proportion as the order of life is made vital in us, the world of damnation on the other hand, in proportion as the order of death prevails in our will; but the main effort of idealism is to show us the war between the two, with an emphasis on the becoming of the reality of beauty, joy, reason, and virtue in us. Not that prosperity follows righteousness, not that poverty attends wickedness, in worldly measure, but that life is the gift of a right will is her message; how we, striving for eternal life, may best meet the chances and the bitter fates of mortal existence, is her brooding care; ideal characters, or those ideal in some trait or phase, in the midst of a hostile environment, are her fixed study. So far is idealism from ignoring the actual state of man that it most affirms its pity and evil by setting them in contrast with what ought to be, by showing virtue militant not only against external enemies but those inward weaknesses of our mortality with its passion and ignorance, which are our most undermining and intimate foes. Here is no false world, but just that world which is our theatre of action, that confused struggle, represented in its intelligible elements in art, that world of evil, implicit in us and the universe, which must be overcome; and this is revealed to us in the ways most profitable for our instruction, who are bound to seek to realize the good through all the strokes of nature and the folly and sin of men. Ideal literature in its broad compass, between its opposed poles of good and evil, is just this: a world of order emerging from disorder, of beauty and wisdom, of virtue and joy, emerging from the chaos of things that are, in selected and typical examples.
It follows from this that what remains in the world of observation in personality or experience, whether good or evil, whether particular or general, not yet coordinated in rational knowledge as a whole, all for which no solution is found, all that cannot be or has not been made intelligible, must be the subject-matter of realism in the exact use of that term. This must be recorded by literature, or admitted into it, as matter-of-fact which is to the mind still a problem. Earthly mystery therefore is the special sphere of realism. The borderland of the unknown or the irreducible is its realm. This old residuum, this new material, is not yet capable of art. Hence, too, realism in this sense characterizes ages of expansion of knowledge such as ours. The new information which is the fruit of our wide travel, of our research into the past, has enlarged the problem of man's life by showing us both primitive and historical humanity in its changeful phases of progress working out the beast; and this new interest has been reenforced by the attention paid, under influences of democracy and philanthropy, to the lower and baser forms of life in the masses under civilization, which has been a new revelation of persistent savagery in our midst. Here realism illustrates its service as a gatherer of knowledge which may hereafter be reduced to orderliness by idealistic processes, for idealism is the organizer of all knowledge. But apart from this incoming of facts, or of laws not yet harmonized in the whole body of law, for which we may have fair hope that a synthesis will be found, there remains forever that residuum of which I spoke, which has resisted the intelligence of man, age after age, from the first throb of feeling, the first ray of thought; that involuntary evil, that unmerited suffering, that impotent pain,—the human debris of the social process,—which is a challenge to the power of God, and a cry to the heart of man that broods over it in vain, yet cannot choose but hear. In this region the near affinity of realism to pessimism, to atheism, is plain enough; its necessary dealing with the base, the brutal, the unredeemed, the hopeless darkness of the infamies of heredity, criminal education, and successful malignity, eating into the being as well as controlling the fortune of their victims, is manifest; and what answer has ever been found to the interrogation they make? It is not merely that particular facts are here irreconcilable; but laws themselves are discernible, types even not of narrow application, which have not been brought into any relation with what I have named the divine order. Millions of men in thousands of years are included in this holocaust of past time,—eras of savagery, Assyrian civilizations, Christian butcheries, the Czar yet supreme, the Turk yet alive.
And how is it at the other pole of mystery, where life rises into a heavenly vision of eternities of love to come? There is no place for realism here, where observation ceases and our only human outlook is by inference from principles and laws of the ideal world as known to us; yet what problems are we aware of? Must,—to take the special problem of art,—must the sensuous scheme of life persist, since of it warp and woof are woven all our possibilities of communication, all our capabilities of knowledge? it is our language and our memory alike. Must God be still thought of in the image of man, since only in terms of our humanity can we conceive even divine things, whether in forms of mortal pleasure as the Greeks framed their deities, or in shapes of spiritual bliss as Christians fashion saint, angel, and archangel? These are rather philosophical problems. But in art, as at the realistic end of the scale, we admit the portraiture, as a part of life, of the bestial, the cruel, the unforgiven, and feel it debasing, so must we at the idealistic end admit the representation of the celestial after human models, and feel it, even in Milton and in Dante, minimizing. The mysticism of the borderland at its supreme is a hope; at its nadir, it is a fear. We do not know. But within the narrow range of the intelligible and ordered world of art, which has been achieved by the creative reason of civilized man in his brief centuries and along the narrow path from Jerusalem and Athens to the western world, we do know that for the normal man born into its circle of light the order of life is within our reach, the order of death within reach of us. Shut within these limits of the victory of our intellect and the upreaching of our desires and the warfare of our will, we assert in art our faith that the divine order is victorious, that the righteous man is not forsaken, that the soul cannot suffer wrong either from others or from nature or from God,—that the evil principle cannot prevail. It is faith, springing from our experience of the working of that order in us; it transcends knowledge, but it grows with knowledge; and ideal literature asserts this faith against nature and against man in all their deformity, as the centre about which life revolves so far as it has become subject to rational knowledge, to beautiful embodiment, to joyful being, to the will to live.
Can the faith of which idealism is the holder of the keys, the faith as nigh to the intellect as to the heart, to the senses as to the spirit, exceed even this limit, and affirm that if man were perfect in knowledge and saw the universe as we believe God sees it, he would behold it as an artistic whole even now? Would it be that beatific vision, revolving like God's kaleidoscope, momentarily falling at each new arrangement into the perfect unities of art? and is our world of art, our brief model of such a world in single examples of its scheme, only a way of limiting the field to the compass of human faculties that we may see within our capacities as God sees, and hence have such faith? Is art after all a lower creation than nature, a concession to our frail powers? Has idealism such optimistic reach as that? Or must we see the evil principle encamped here, confusing truth, deforming beauty, depraving joy, deflecting the will, with wages of death for its victims, and the hell of final destruction spreading beneath its sway? so that the world as it now is cannot be thought of as the will of God exercised in Omnipotence, but a human opportunity of union with or separation from the ideal order in conflict with the order of death. I recall Newman's picture: "To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of men, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts, and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of long-standing facts, the tokens so faint and broken of a superintending design, the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truths, the progress of things, as if from unreasoning elements, not toward final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle's words, 'having no hope and without God in the world,'—all this is a vision to dizzy and appall; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery which is absolutely beyond human solution." In the face of such a world, even when partially made intelligible in ideal art, dare we assert that fatalistic optimism which would have it that the universe is in God's eyes a perfect world? I can find no warrant for it in ideal art, though thence the ineradicable effort arises in us to win to that world in the conviction that it is not indifferent in the sight of heaven whether we live in the order of life or that of death, in the faith that victory in us is a triumph of that order itself which increases and prevails in us, is a bringing of Christ's kingdom upon earth. Art rather becomes in our mind a function of the world's progress, and were its goal achieved would cease; for life would then itself be one with art, one with the divine order. So much of truth there is in Ruskin's statement that art made perfect denies progress and is its ultimate. But perfection in life, as ideal art presents it, it is a prophecy which enlists us as soldiers militant in its fulfilment. Its optimism is that of the issue, and may be that of the process; but it surely is not that of the state that now is in the world.
It thus appears more and more that art is educative; it is the race's foreknowledge of what may be, of the objects of effort and the methods of their attainment under mortal conditions. The difficulty of men in respect to it is the lax power they have to see in it the truth, as contradistinguished from the fact, the continuous reality of the things of the mind in opposition to the accidental and partial reality of the things of actuality. They think of it as an imagined, instead of as the real world, the model of that which is in the evolution of that which ought to be. In history the climaxes of art have always outrun human realization; its crests in Greece, Italy, and England are crests of the never-attained; but they still make on in their mass to the yet rising wave, which shall be of mankind universal, if, indeed, in the cosmopolitan civilization which we hope for, the elements of the past, yet surviving from the accomplishment of single famous cities and great empires, shall be blended in a world-ideal, expressing the spiritual uplifting to God of the reconciled and unified nations of the earth.
There remains but one last resort; for it will yet be urged that the impossibility of any scientific knowledge of the spiritual order is proved by the transience of the ideals of the past; one is displaced by another, there is no permanence in them. It is true that the concrete world, which must be employed by art, is one of sense, and necessarily imports into the form of art its own mortality; it is, even in art, a thing that passes away. It is also true that the world of knowledge, which is the subject-matter of art, is in process of being known, and necessarily imports into the contents of art its errors, its hypotheses, its imperfections of every kind; it is a thing that grows more and more, and in growing sheds its outworn shells, its past body. Let us consider the form and the contents separately. The element of mortality in the form is included in the transience of imagery. The poet uses the world as he knows it, and reflects in successive ages of literature the changing phases of civilization. The shepherd, the tiller of the soil, the warrior, the trader yield to him their language of the earth, the battle, and the sea; from the common altar he learns the speech of the gods; the elemental aspects of nature, the pursuits of men, and what is believed of the supernatural are the great storehouses of imagery. The fact that it is at first a living act or habit that the poet deals with, gives to his work that original vivacity, that direct sense of actuality, of contemporaneousness, which characterizes early literatures, as in Homer or the Song of Roland: even the marvellous has in them the reality of being believed. This imagery, however, grows remote with the course of time; it becomes capable of holding an inward meaning without resistance from too high a feeling of actuality; it becomes spiritualized. The process is the same already illustrated in lyric form as an expression of personality; but here man universal enters into the image and possesses it impersonally on the broad human scale. The pastoral life, for example, then yields the forms of art which hold either the simple innocence of happy earthly love, as in Daphnis and Chloe, or the natural grief of elegy made beautiful, as in Bion's dirge, or the shepherding of Christ in his church on earth, as in many an English poet; the imagery has unclothed itself of actuality and shows a purely spiritual body.
This growing inwardness of art is a main feature of literary history. It is illustrated on the grand scale by the imagery of war. In the beginning war for its own sake, mere fighting, is the subject; then war for a cause, which ennobles it beyond the power of personal prowess and justifies it as an element in national life; next, war for love, which refines it and builds the paradox of the deeds of hate serving the will of courtesy; last, war for the soul's salvation, which is unseen battle within the breast. Achilles, Aeneas, Lancelot, the Red Cross Knight are the terms in this series; they mark the transformation of the most savage act of man into the symbol of his highest spiritual effort. Nature herself is subject to this inwardness of art; at first merely objective as a condition, and usually a hostile, or at least dangerous, condition of human life, she becomes the witness to omnipotent power in illimitable beauty and majesty, its infinite unknowableness, and its tender care for all creatures, as in the Scriptures; and at last the words of our Lord concentrate, in some simple flower, the profoundest of moral truths,—that the beauty of the soul is the gift of God, out of whose eternal law it blossoms and has therein its ever living roots, its air and light, its inherent grace and sweetness: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" Such is the normal development of all imagery; its actuality limits it, and in becoming remote it grows flexible. It is only by virtue of this that man can retain the vast treasures of race-imagination, and continue to use them, such as the worlds of mythology, of chivalry, and romance. The imagery is, in truth, a background, whose foreground is the ideal meaning. Thus even fairyland, and the worlds of heaven and hell, have their place in art. The actuality of the imagery is in fact irrelevant, just as history is in the idealization of human events. Its transience, then, cannot matter, except in so far as it loses intelligibility through changes of time, place, and custom, and becomes a dead language. It follows that that imagery which keeps close to universal phases of nature, to pursuits always necessary in human life, and to ineradicable beliefs in respect to the supernatural, is most permanent as a language; and here art in its most immortal creations returns again to its omnipresent character as a thing of the common lot.
The transience of the contents of art may be of two kinds. There is a passing away of error, as there is in all knowledge, but such a loss need not detain attention. What is really in issue is the passing away of the authority of precept and example fitted to one age but not to another, as in the case of the substitution of the ideal of humility for that of valour, owing to a changed emphasis in the scale of virtues. The contents of art, its general ideals, reproduce the successive periods of our earth-history as a race, by generalizing each in its own age. A parallel exists in the subject-matter of the sciences; astronomy, geology, paleontology are similar statements of past phases of the evolution of the earth, its aspects in successive stages. Or, to take a kindred example, just as the planets in their order set forth now the history of our system from nascent life to complete death as earths, so these ideals exhibit man's stages from savagery to such culture as has been attained. They have more than a descriptive and historical significance; they retain practical vitality because the unchangeable element in the universe and in man's nature is in the main their subject-matter. It is not merely that the child repeats in his education, in some measure at least, the history of the race, and hence must still learn the value of bravery and humility in their order; nor that in the mass of men many remain ethically and emotionally in the characteristic stages of past culture; but these various ideals of what is admirable have themselves identical elements, and in those points in which they differ respond to native varieties of human capacity and temperament. The living principles of Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Christian thought and feeling are at work in the world, still formative; it is only by such vitality that their results in art truly survive.
There has been an expansion of the field, and some rearrangement within it; but the evolution of human ideals has been, in our civilization, the growth of one spirit out of its dead selves carrying on into each reincarnation the true life that was in the form it leaves, and which is immortal. The substance in each ideal, its embodiment of what is cardinal in all humanity, remains integral. The alloy of mortality in a work of art lies in so much of it as was limited in truth to time, place, country, race, religion, its specific and contemporary part; so great is this in detail that a strong power of historical imagination, the power to rebuild past conditions, is a main necessity of culture, like the study of a dead language; an interpretative faculty, the power to translate into terms of our knowledge what was stated in terms of different beliefs, must go with this; and also a corrective power, if the work is to be truly useful and enter into our lives with effect. Such an alloy there is in nearly all great works even; much in Homer, something in Virgil, a considerable part of Dante, and an increasing portion in Milton have this mixture of death in them; but if by keeping to the primary, the permanent, the universal, they have escaped the natural body of their age, the substance of the work is still living; they have achieved such immortality as art allows. They have done so, not so much by the personal power of their authors as by their representative character. These ideal works of the highest range, which embody in themselves whole generations of effort and rise as the successive incarnations of human imagination, are products of race and state, of world experience and social personality; they differ, race from race, civilization from civilization, Hebrew or Greek, Pagan or Christian, just as on the individual scale persons differ; and they are solved, as personality in its individual form is solved, in the element of the common reason, the common nature in the world and man, which they contain,—in man,
"Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless";
in the unity of the truth of his spirit they are freed from mortality, they are mutually intelligible and interchangeable, they survive,— racial and secular states and documents of a spiritual evolution yet going on in all its stages in the human mass, still barbarous, still pagan, still Christian, but an evolution which at its highest point wastes nothing of the past, holds all its truth, its beauty, its vital energy, in a forward reach.
The nature of the changes which time brings may best be illustrated from the epic, and thus the opposition of the transient and permanent elements in art be, perhaps, more clearly shown. Epic action has been defined as the working out of the Divine will in society; hence it requires a crisis of humanity as its subject, it involves the conflict of a higher with a lower civilization, and it is conducted by means of a double plot, one in heaven, the other on earth. These are the characteristic epic traits. In dealing with ideas of such importance, the poets in successive eras of civilization naturally found much adaptation to new conditions necessary, and met with ever fresh difficulties; the result is a many-sided epic development. The idea of the Divine will, the theory of its operation, and the conception of society itself were all subject to change. Epics at first are historical; but, sharing with the tendency of all art toward inwardness of meaning, they become purely spiritual. The one thing that remains common to all is the notion of a struggle between a higher and a lower, overruled by Providence. They have two subjects of interest, one the cause, the other the hero through whom the cause works; and between these two interests the epic hovers, seldom if ever identifying them and yet preserving their dual reality.
The Iliad has all the traits that have been mentioned, but society is still loose enough in its bonds to give the characters free play; it is, in the main, a hero-epic. The Aeneid, on the contrary, exhibits the enormous development of the social idea; its subject is Roman dominion, which is the will of Zeus, localized in the struggle with Carthage and with Turnus, but felt in the poem pervasively as the general destiny of Rome in its victory over the world; and this interest is so overpowering as to make Aeneas the slave of Jove and almost to extinguish the other characters; it is a state-epic. So long as the Divine will was conceived as finding its operation through deities similar to man, the double plot presented little difficulty; but in the coming of Christian thought, even with its hierarchies of angels and legions of devils, the interpretation became arduous. In the Jerusalem Delivered the social conflict between Crusader and infidel is clear, the historical crisis in the wars of Palestine is rightly chosen, but the machinery of the heavenly plot is weakened by the presence of magic, and is by itself ineffectual in inspiring a true belief. So in the Lusiads, while the conflict and the crisis, as shown in the national energy of colonization in the East, are clear, the machinery of the heavenly plot frankly reverts to mythologic and pagan forms and loses all credibility.
In the Paradise Lost arises the spiritual epic, but still historically conceived; the crisis chosen, which is the fall of man in Adam, is the most important conceivable by man; the powers engaged are the superior beings of heaven and hell in direct antagonism; but here, too, the machinery of the heavenly plot is handled with much strain, and, however strongly supported by the Scriptures, has little convincing power. The truth is that the Divine will was coming to be conceived as implicit in society, being Providence there, and operating in secret but normal ways in the guidance of events, not by special and interfering acts; and also as equally implicit in the individual soul, the influence of the Spirit, and working in the ways of spiritual law. One change, too, of vast importance was announced by the words "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." This transferred the very scene of conflict, the theatre of spiritual warfare, from an external to an internal world, and the social significance of such individual battle lay in its being typical of all men's lives. The Faerie Queene, the most spiritual poem in all ways in English, is an epic in essence, though its action is developed by a revolution of the phases of the soul in succession to the eye, and not by the progress of one main course of events. The conflict of the higher and the lower under Divine guidance in the implicit sense is there shown; the significance is for mankind, though not for a society in its worldly fortunes; but there is little attempt to externalize the heavenly power in specific action in superhuman forms, though in mortal ways the good knights, and especially Arthur, shadow it forth. The celestial plot is humanized, and the poem becomes a hero-epic in almost an exclusive way; though the knight's achievement is also an achievement of God's will, the interest lies in the Divine power conceived as man's moral victory. In the Idyls of the King there are several traits of the epic. There is the central idea of the conflict between the higher and lower, both on the social and the individual side; the victory of the Round Table would have meant not only pure knights but a regenerate state. Here, however, the externalization of the Divine will in the Holy Grail, and, as in the Christian epic generally, its confusion on the marvellous side with a world of enchantment passing here into the sensuous sphere of Merlin, are felt to be inadequate. The war of "soul with sense" was the subject-matter, as was Spenser's; the method of revolution of its phases was also Spenser's; but the two poems differ in the point that Spenser's knight wins, but Tennyson's king loses, so far as earth is concerned; nor can it be fairly pleaded that as in Milton Adam loses, yet the final triumph of the cause is known and felt as a divine issue of the action though outside the poem, so Arthur is saved to the ideal by virtue of the faith he announces in the New Order coming on, for it is not so felt. The touch of pessimism invades the poem in many details, but here at its heart; for Arthur alone of all the heroes of epic in his own defeat drags down his cause. He is the hero of a lost cause, whose lance will never be raised again in mortal conflict to bring the kingdom of Christ on earth, nor its victory be declared except as the echo of a hope of some miraculous and merciful retrieval from beyond the barriers of the world to come. But in showing the different conditions of the modern epic, its spirituality, its difficulties of interpreting in sensuous imagery the working of the Divine will, its relaxed hold on the social movement for which it substitutes man's universal nature, and the mist that settles round it in its latest example, sufficient illustration has been given of the changes of time to which idealism is subject, and also of the essential truth surviving in the works of the past, which in the epics is the vision of how the ends of God have been accomplished in the world and in the soul by the union of divine grace with heroic will,—the interpretation and glorification, of history and of man's single conflict in himself ago after age, asserting through all their range the supremacy of the ideal order over its foes in the entire race-life of man.
Out of these changes of time, in response to the varying moods of men in respect to the world they inhabit, arise those phases of art which are described as classical and romantic, words of much confusion. It has been attempted to distinguish the latter as having an element of remoteness, of surprise, of curiosity; but to me, at least, classical art has the same remoteness, the same surprise, and answers the same curiosity as romantic art. If I were to endeavour to oppose them I should say that classical art is clear, it is perfectly grasped in form, it satisfies the intellect, it awakes an emotion absorbed by itself, it definitely guides the will; romantic art is touched with mystery, it has richness and intricacy of form not fully comprehended, it suggests more than it satisfies, it stirs an unconfined and wandering emotion, it invigorates an adventurous will; classicism is whole in itself and lives in the central region, the white light, of that star of ideality which is the light of our knowledge; romanticism borders on something else,—the rosy corona round about our star, carrying on its dawning power into those unknown infinities which embosom the spark of life. The two have always existed in conjunction, the romantic element in ancient literature being large. But owing to the disclosure of the world to us in later times, to the deeper sense of its mysteries which are our bounding horizons round about, and especially to the impulse given to emotion by the opening of the doors of immortality by Christianity to thought, revery, and dream, to hope and effort, the romantic element has been more marked in modern art, has in fact characterized it, being fed moreover by the ever increasing inwardness of human life, the greater value and opportunity of personality in a free and high civilization, and by the uncertainty, confusion, and complexity of such masses of human experience as our observation now controls. The romantic temper is inevitable in men whose lives are themselves thought of as, in form, but fragments of the life to come, which shall find their completion an eternal task. It is the natural ally of faith which it alone can render with an infinite outlook; and it is the complement of that mystery which is required to supplement it, and which is an abiding presence in the habit of the sensitive and serious mind. Yet in classical art the definite may still be rendered, the known, the conquered. Idealism has its finished world therein; in romanticism it has rather its prophetic work.
Such, then, as best I can state it in brief and rapid strokes, is the world of art, its methods, its appeals, its significance to mankind. Idealism, so presented, is in a sense a glorification of the commonplace. Its realm lies in the common lot of men; its distinction is to embrace truth for all, and truth in its universal forms of experience and personality, the primary, elementary, equally shared fates, passions, beliefs of the race. Shakspere, our great example, as Coleridge wisely said, "kept in the highway of life." That is the royal road of genius, the path of immortality, the way ever trodden by the great who lead. I have ventured to speak at times of religious truth. What is the secret of Christ's undying power? Is it not that he stated universal truth in concrete forms of common experience so that it comes home to all men's bosoms? Genius is supreme in proportion as it does that, and becomes the interpreter of every man who is born into the world, makes him know his brotherhood with all, and the incorporation of his fate in the scheme of law, and ideal achievement under it, which is the common ground of humanity. Ideal literature is the treasury of such genius in the past; here, as I said in the beginning, the wisdom of the soul is stored; and art, in all its forms, is immortal only in so far as it has done its share in this same labour of illumination, persuasion, and command, forecasting the spirit to be, companioning the spirit that is, sustaining us all in the effort to make ideal order actual in ourselves.
What, then, since I said that it is a question how to live as well as how to express life,—what, then, is the ideal life? It is to make one's life a poem, as Milton dreamed of the true poet; for as art works through matter and takes on concrete and sensible shape with its mortal conditions, so the soul dips in life, is in material action, and, suffering a similar fate, sinks into limitations and externals of this world and this flesh, through which it must live. In such a life, mortal in all ways, to bring down to earth the vision that floats in the soul's eyes, the ideal order as it is revealed to the poet's gaze, incorporating it in deed and being, and to make it prevail, so far as our lives have power, in the world of our life, is the task set for us. To disengage reason from the confusion of things, and behold the eternal forms of the mind; to unveil beauty in the transitory sights of our eyes, and behold the eternal forms of sense; so to act that the will within us shall take on this form of reason and our manifest life wear this form of beauty; and, more closely, to live in the primary affections, the noble passions, the sweet emotions,—
"Founded in reason, loyal, just, and pure, Relations dear, and all the charities Of father, son, and brother,—"
and also in the general sorrows of mankind, thereby, in joy and grief, entering sympathetically into the hearts of common men; to keep in the highway of life, not turning aside to the eccentric, the sensational, the abnormal, the brutal, the base, but seeing them, if they must come within our vision, in their place only by the edges of true life; and, if, being men, we are caught in the tragic coil, to seek the restoration of broken order, learning also in such bitterness better to understand the dark conflict forever waging in the general heart, the terror of the heavy clouds hanging on the slopes of our battle, the pathos that looks down even from blue skies that have kept watch o'er man's mortality,—so, even through failure, to draw nearer to our race; this, as I conceive it, is to lead the ideal life. It is a message blended of many voices of the poets whom Shelley called, whatever might be their calamity on earth, the most fortunate of men; it rises from all lands, all ages, all religions; it is the battle-cry of that one great idea whose slow and hesitating growth is the unfolding of our long civilization, seeking to realize in democracy the earthly, and in Christianity the heavenly, hope of man,—the idea of the community of the soul, the sameness of it in all men. To lead this life is to be one with man through love, one with the universe through knowledge, one with God through the will; that is its goal, toward that we strive, in that we believe.
And Thou, O Youth, for whom these lines are written, fear not; idealize your friend, for it is better to love and be deceived than not to love at all; idealize your masters, and take Shelley and Sidney to your bosom, so shall they serve you more nobly and you love them more sweetly than if the touch and sight of their mortality had been yours indeed; idealize your country, remembering that Brutus in the dagger-stroke and Cato in his death-darkness knew not the greater Rome, the proclaimer of the unity of our race, the codifier of justice, the establisher of our church, and died not knowing,—but do you believe in the purpose of God, so shall you best serve the times to be; and in your own life, fear not to act as your ideal shall command, in the constant presence of that other self who goes with you, as I have said, so shall you blend with him at the end. Fear not either to believe that the soul is as eternal as the order that obtains in it, wherefore you shall forever pursue that divine beauty which has here so touched and inflamed you,—for this is the faith of man, your race, and those who were fairest in its records. And have recourse always to the fountains of this life in literature, which are the wells of truth. How to live is the one matter; the wisest man in his ripe age is yet to seek in it; but Thou, begin now and seek wisdom in the beauty of virtue and live in its light, rejoicing in it; so in this world shall you live in the foregleam of the world to come.
Democracy is a prophecy, and looks to the future; it is for this reason that it has its great career. Its faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen, whose realization will be the labour of a long age. The life of historic nations has been a pursuit toward a goal under the impulse of ideas often obscurely comprehended,—world-ideas as we call them,—which they have embodied in accomplished facts and in the institutions and beliefs of mankind, lasting through ages; and as each nation has slowly grown aware of the idea which animated it, it has become self-conscious and conscious of greatness. That men are born equal is still a doctrine openly derided; that they are born free is not accepted without much nullifying limitation; that they are born in brotherhood is less readily denied. These three, the revolutionary words, liberty, equality, fraternity, are the substance of democracy, if the matter be well considered, and all else is but consequence.
It might seem singular that man should ever have found out this creed, as that physical life could invent the brain, since the struggle for existence in primitive and early times was so adverse to it, and rested on a selfish and aggrandizing principle, in states as well as between races. In most parts of the world the first true governments were tyrannies, patriarchal or despotic; and where liberty was indigenous, it was confined to the race-blood. Aristotle speaks of slavery without repugnance save in Greeks, and serfdom was incorporated in the northern tribes as soon as they began to be socially organized. Some have alleged that religious equality was an Oriental idea, and borrowed from the relation of subjects to an Asiatic despot, which paved the way for it; some attribute civil equality to the Roman law; some find the germ of both in Stoical morals. But so great an idea as the equality of man reaches down into the past by a thousand roots. The state of nature of the savage in the woods, which our fathers once thought a pattern, bore some outward resemblance to a freeman's life; but such a condition is rather one of private independence than of the grounded social right that democracy contemplates. How the ideas involved came into historical existence is a minor matter. Democracy has its great career, for the first time, in our national being, and exhibits here most purely its formative powers, and unfolds destiny on the grand scale. Nothing is more incumbent on us than to study it, to turn it this way and that, to handle it as often and in as many phases as possible with lively curiosity, and not to betray ourselves by an easy assumption that so elementary a thing is comprehended because it seems simple. Fundamental ideas are precisely those with which we should be most familiar.
Democracy is not merely a political experiment; and its governmental theory, though so characteristic of it as not to be dissociated from it, is a result of underlying principles. There is always an ideality of the human spirit in all its works, if one will search them, which is the main thing. The State, as a social aggregate with a joint life which constitutes it a nation, is dynamically an embodiment of human conviction, desire, and tendency, with a common basis of wisdom and energy of action, seeking to realize life in accordance with its ideal, whether traditional or novel, of what life should be; and government is no more than the mode of administration under which it achieves its results both in national life and in the lives of its citizens. All society is a means of escape from personality, and its limitations of power and wisdom, into this larger communal life; the individual, in so far, loses his particularity, and at the same time intensifies and strengthens that portion of his life which is thus made one with the general life of men,—that universal and typical life which they have in common and which moulds them with similar characteristics. It is by this fusion of the individual with the mass, this identification of himself with mankind in a joint activity, this reenforcement of himself by what is himself in others, that a man becomes a social being. The process is the same, whether in clubs, societies of all kinds, sects, political parties, or the all-embracing body of the State. It is by making himself one with human nature in America, its faith, its methods, and the controlling purposes in our life among nations, and not by birth merely, that a man becomes an American.
The life of society, however, includes various affairs, and man deals with them by different means; thus property is a mode of dealing with things. Democracy is a mode of dealing with souls. Men commonly speak as if the soul were something they expect to possess in another world; men are souls, and this is a fundamental conception of democracy. This spiritual element is the substance of democracy, in the large sense; and the special governmental theory which it has developed and organized, and in which its ideas are partially included, is, like other such systems, a mode of administration under which it seeks to realize its ideal of what life ought to be, with most speed and certainty, and on the largest scale. What characterizes that ideal is that it takes the soul into account in a way hitherto unknown; not that other governments have not had regard to the soul, but, in democracy, it is spirituality that gives the law and rules the issue. Hence, a great preparation was needed before democracy could come into effective control of society. Christianity mainly afforded this, in respect to the ideas of equality and fraternity, which were clarified and illustrated in the life of the Church for ages, before they entered practically into politics and the general secular arrangements of state organization; the nations of progress, of which freedom is a condition, developed more definitely the idea of liberty, and made it familiar to the thoughts of men. Democracy belongs to a comparatively late age of the world, and to advanced nations, because such ideas could come into action only after the crude material necessities of human progress—illustrated in the warfare of nations, in military organizations for the extension of a common rule and culture among mankind, and in despotic impositions of order, justice, and the general ideas of civilization—had relaxed, and a free course, by comparison at least, was opened for the higher nature of man in both private and public action. A conception of the soul and its destiny, not previously applicable in society, underlies democracy; this is why it is the most spiritual government known to man, and therefore the highest reach of man's evolution; it is, in fact, the spiritual element in society expressing itself now in politics with an unsuspected and incalculable force.
Democracy is contained in the triple statement that men are born free, equal, and in brotherhood; and in this formula it is the middle term that is cardinal, and the root of all. Yet it is the doctrine of the equality of man, by virtue of the human nature with which he is clothed entire at birth, that is most attacked, as an obvious absurdity, and provocative more of laughter than of argument. What, then, is this equality which democracy affirms as the true state of all men among themselves? It is our common human nature, that identity of the soul in all men, which was first inculcated by the preaching of Christ's death for all equally, whence it followed that every human soul was of equal value in the eyes of God, its Creator, and had the same title to the rites of the Christian Church, and the same blessedness of an infinite immortality in the world to come; thence we derived it from the very fountain of our faith, and the first true democracy was that which levelled king and peasant, barbarian and Roman, in the communion of our Lord. Yet nature laughs at us, and ordains such inequalities at birth itself as make our peremptory charter of the value of men's souls seem a play of fancy. There are men of almost divine intelligence, men of almost devilish instincts, men of more or less clouded mind; and they are such at birth, so deeply has nature stamped into them heredity, circumstance, and the physical conditions of sanity, morality and wholesomeness, in the body which is her work. Such differences do exist, and conditions vary the world over, whence nature, which accumulates inequalities in the struggle for life, "with ravin shrieks against our creed." But we have not now to learn for the first time that nature, though not the enemy of the human spirit, is indifferent to all the soul has erected in man's own realm, peculiar to humanity. What has nature contributed to the doctrine of freedom or of fraternity? Man's life to her is all one, tyrant or slave, friend or foe, wise or foolish, virtuous or vicious, holy or profane, so long as her imperative physical conditions of life, the mortal thing, are conformed to; society itself is not her care, nor civilization, nor anything that belongs to man above the brute. Her word, consequently, need not disturb us; she is not our oracle. It rather belongs to us to win further victory over her, if it may be, by our intelligence, and control her vital, as we are now coming to control her material, powers and their operation.
This equality which democracy affirms—the identity of the soul, the sameness of its capacities of energy, knowledge, and enjoyment—draws after it as a consequence the soul's right to opportunity for self-development by virtue of which it may possess itself of what shall be its own fulness of life. In the inscrutable mystery of this world, the soul at birth enters on an unequal struggle, made such both by inherent conditions and by external limitations, in individuals, classes, and races; but the determination of democracy is that, so far as may be, it will secure equality of opportunity to every soul born within its dominion, in the expectation that much in human conditions which has hitherto fed and heightened inequality, in both heredity and circumstance, may be lessened if not eradicated; and life after birth is subject to great control. This is the meaning of the first axiom of democracy, that all have a right to the pursuit of happiness, and its early cries—"an open career," and "the tools to him who can use them." In this effort society seems almost as recalcitrant as nature; for in human history the accumulation of the selfish advantage of inequality has told with as much effect as ever it did in the original struggle of reptile and beast; and in our present complex and extended civilization a slight gain over the mass entails a telling mortgage of the future to him who makes it and to his heirs, while efficiency is of such high value in such a society that it must needs be favoured to the utmost; on the other hand a complex civilization encourages a vast variety of talent, and finds a special place for that individuation of capacity which goes along with social evolution. The end, too, which democracy seeks is not a sameness of specific results, but rather an equivalence; and its duty is satisfied if the child of its rule finds such development as was possible to him, has a free course, and cannot charge his deficiency to social interference and the restriction of established law.
The great hold that the doctrine of equality has upon the masses is not merely because it furnishes the justification of the whole scheme, which is a logic they may be dimly conscious of, but that it establishes their title to such good in human life as they can obtain, on the broadest scale and in the fullest measure. What other claim, so rational and noble in itself, can they put forth in the face of what they find established in the world they are born into? The results of past civilization are still monopolized by small minorities of mankind, who receive by inheritance, under natural and civil law, the greater individual share of material comfort, of large intelligence, of fortunate careers. It does not matter that the things which belong to life as such, the greater blessings essential to human existence, cannot be monopolized; all that man can take and appropriate they find preoccupied so far as human discovery and energy have been able to reach, understand, and utilize it; and what proposition can they assert as against this sequestering of social results and material and intellectual opportunity, except to say, "we, too, are men," and with the word to claim a share in such parts of social good as are not irretrievably pledged to men better born, better educated, better supplied with the means of subsistence and the accumulated hoard of the past, which has come into their hands by an award of fortune? It is not a fanciful idea. It is founded in the unity of human nature, which is as certain as any philosophic truth, and has been proclaimed by every master-spirit of our race time out of mind. It is supported by the universal faith, in which we are bred, that we are children of a common Father, and saved by one Redeemer and destined to one immortality, and cannot be balked of the fulness of life which was our gift under divine providence. I emphasize the religious basis, because I believe it is the rock of the foundation in respect to this principle, which cannot be successfully impeached by any one who accepts Christian truth; while in the lower sphere, on worldly grounds alone, it is plain that the immense advantage of the doctrine of equality to the masses of men, justifies the advancement of it as an assumption which they call on the issue in time to approve.
It is in this portion of the field that democracy relies most upon its prophetic power. Within the limits of nature and mortal life the hope of any equal development of the soul seems folly; yet, so far as my judgment extends, in men of the same race and community it appears to me that the sameness in essentials is so great as to leave the differences inessential, so far as power to take hold of life and possess it in thought, will, or feeling is in question. I do not see, if I may continue to speak personally, that in the great affairs of life, in duty, love, self-control, the willingness to serve, the sense of joy, the power to endure, there is any great difference among those of the same community; and this is reasonable, for the permanent relations of life, in families, in social ties, in public service, and in all that the belief in heaven and the attachments to home bring into men's lives, are the same; and though, in the choicer parts of fortunate lives, aesthetic and intellectual goods may be more important than among the common people, these are less penetrating and go not to the core, which remains life as all know it—a thing of affection, of resolve, of service, of use to those to whom it may be of human use. Is it not reasonable, then, on the ground of what makes up the substance of life within our observation, to accept this principle of equality, fortified as it is by any conception of heaven's justice to its creatures? and to assume, if the word must be used, the principle primary in democracy, that all men are equally endowed with destiny? and thus to allow its prophetic claim, till disproved, that equal opportunity, linked with the service of the higher to the lower, will justify its hope? At all events, in this lies the possibility of greater achievement than would otherwise be attained within our national limits; and what is found to be true of us may be extended to less developed communities and races in their degree.
The doctrine of the equality of mankind by virtue of their birth as men, with its consequent right to equality of opportunity for self-development as a part of social justice, establishes a common basis of conviction, in respect to man, and a definite end as one main object of the State; and these elements are primary in the democratic scheme. Liberty is the next step, and is the means by which that end is secured. It is so cardinal in democracy as to seem hardly secondary to equality in importance. Every State, every social organization whatever, implies a principle of authority commanding obedience; it may be of the absolute type of military and ecclesiastical use, or limited, as in constitutional monarchies; but some obedience and some authority are necessary in order that the will of the State may be realized. The problem of democracy is to find that principle of authority which is most consistent with the liberty it would establish, and which acts with the greatest furtherance and the least interference in the accomplishment of the chief end in view. It composes authority, therefore, of personal liberty itself, and derives it from the consent of the governed, and not merely from their consent but from their active decree. The social will is impersonal, generic, the will of man, not of men; particular wills enter into it, and make it, so constituted, themselves in a larger and external form. The citizen has parted with no portion of his freedom of will; the will of the State is still his own will, projected in unison with other wills, all jointly making up one sum,—the authority of the nation. This is social self-government,—not the anarchy of individuals each having his own way for himself, but government through a delegated self, if one may use the phrase, organically combined with others in the single power of control belonging to a State. This fusion is accomplished in the secondary stage, for the continuous action of the State, by representation, technically; but, in its primary stage and original validity, by universal suffrage; for the characteristic trait of democracy is that in constituting this authority, which is social as opposed to personal freedom,—personal freedom existing in its social form,—it includes every unit of will, and gives to each equivalence. Democracy thus establishes the will of society in its most universal form, lying between the opposite extremes of particularism in despotism and anarchy; it owns the most catholic organ of authority, and enters into it with the entire original force of the community.
This universal will of democracy is distinguished from the more limited forms of states partially embodying democratic principles by the fact that nothing enters into it except man as such. The rival powers which seek to encroach upon this scheme, and are foreign elements in a pure democracy, are education, property, and ancestry, which last has its claim as the custodian of education and property and the advantages flowing from their long possession; the trained mind, the accumulated capital, and the fixed historic tradition of the nation in its most intense and efficient personal form are summed up in these, and would appropriate to themselves in the structure of government a representation not based on individual manhood but on other grounds. If it be still allowed that all men should have a share in a self-government, it is yet maintained that a share should be granted, in addition, to educated men and owners of property, and to descendants of such men who have founded permanent families with an inherited capacity, a tradition, and a material stake. Yet these three things, education, property, and ancestry, are in the front rank of those inequalities in human conditions which democracy would minimize. They embody past custom and present results which are a deposit of the past; they plead that they found men wards and were their guardians, and that under their own domination progress was made, and all that now is came into being; but they must show farther some reason in present conditions under democracy now why such potent inequalities and breeders of inequality should be clothed with governing power.
Universal suffrage is the centre of the discussion, and the argument against it is twofold. It is said that, though much in the theory of democracy may be granted and its methods partially adopted, men at large lack the wisdom to govern themselves for good in society, and also that they control by their votes much more than is rightfully their own. The operation of the social will is in large concerns of men requiring knowledge and skill, and it has no limits. In state affairs education should have authority reserved to it, and certain established interests, especially the rights of property, should be exempted from popular control; and the effectual means of securing these ends is to magnify the representatives of education and property to such a degree that they will retain deciding power. But is this so? or if there be some truth in the premises, may it not be contained in the democratic scheme and reconciled with it? And, to begin with, is education, in the special sense, so important in the fundamental decisions which the suffrage makes? I speak, of course, of literary education. It may well be the case that the judgment of men at large is sufficiently informed and sound to be safe, and is the safest, for the reason that the good of society is for all in common, and being, from the political point of view, in the main, a material good, comes home to their business and bosoms in the most direct and universal way, in their comfort or deprivation, in prosperity and hard times, in war and famine, and those wide-extended results of national policies which are the evidence and the facts. Politics is very largely, and one might almost say normally, a conflict of material interests; ideas dissociated from action are not its sphere; the way in which policies are found immediately to affect human life is their political significance. On the broad scale, who is a better judge of their own material condition and the modifications of it from time to time, of what they receive and what they need from political agencies, than the individual men who gain or suffer by what is done, on so great a scale that, combined, these men make the masses? Experience is their touchstone, and it is an experience universally diffused. Education, too, is a word that will bear interpretation. It is not synonymous with intelligence, for intelligence is native in men, and, though increased by education, not conditioned upon it. Intelligence, in the limited sphere in which the unlearned man applies it, in the things he knows, may be more powerful, more penetrating, comprehensive, and quick, in him, than in the technically educated man; for he is educated by things, and especially in those matters which touch his own interests, widely shared. The school of life embodies a compulsory education that no man escapes. If politics, then, be in the main a conflict of material interests broadly affecting masses of men, the people, both individually and as a body, may well be more competent to deal with the matter in hand intelligently than those who, though highly educated, are usually somewhat removed from the pressure of things, and feel results and also conditions, even widely prevalent, at a less early stage and with less hardship, and at best in very mild forms. Besides, to put it grossly, it is often not brains that are required to diagnose a political situation so much as stomachs. The sphere of ideas, of reason and argument, in politics, is really limited; in the main, politics is, as has been said, the selfish struggle of material interests in a vast and diversified State.
Common experience furnishes a basis of political fact, well known to the people in their state of life, and also a test of any general policy once put into operation. The capacity of the people to judge the event in the long run must be allowed. But does broad human experience, however close and pressing, contain that forecast of the future, that right choice of the means of betterment, or even knowledge of the remedy itself, which belong in the proper sphere of enlightened intelligence? I am not well assured that it is not so. The masses have been long in existence, and what affects them is seldom novel; they are of the breed that through
"old experience do attain To something like prophetic strain."
The sense of the people, learning from their fathers and their mothers, sums up a vast amount of wisdom in common life, and more surely than in others the half-conscious tendencies of the times; for in them these are vital rather than reflective, and go on by the force of universal conditions, hopes, and energies. In them, too, intelligence works in precisely the same way as in other men, and in politics precisely as in other parts of life. They listen to those they trust who, by neighbourhood, by sympathetic knowledge of their own state, or actual share in it, by superior powers of mind and a larger fund of information, are qualified to be their leaders in forming opinion and their instruments in the policy they adopt. These leaders may be called demagogues. They may be thought to employ only resources of trickery upon dupes for selfish ends; but such a view, generally, is a shallow one, and not justified by facts. It is right in the masses to make men like themselves and nigh to them, especially those born and bred in their own condition of life, their leaders, in preference to men, however educated, benevolent, and upright, who are not embodiments of the social conditions, needs, and aspirations of the people in their cruder life, if it in fact substantially be so, and to allow these men, so chosen, to find a leader among themselves. Such a man is a true chief of a party, who is not an individual holding great interests in trust and managing them with benevolent despotism by virtue of his own superior brain; he is the incarnation, as a party chief, of other brains and wills, a representative exceeding by far in wisdom and power himself, a man in whom the units of society, millions of them, have their governmental life. No doubt he has great qualities of sympathy, comprehension, understanding, tact, efficient power, in order to become a chief; but he leads by following, he relies on his sense of public support, he rises by virtue of the common will, the common sense, which store themselves in him. Such the leaders of the people have always been.
If this process—and it is to be observed that as the scale of power rises the more limited elements of social influence enter into the result with more determining force—be apparently crude in its early stages, and imperfect at the best, is it different from the process of social expansion in other parts of life? Wherever masses of men are entering upon a rising and larger life, do not the same phenomena occur? in religion, for example, was there not a similar popular crudity, as it is termed by some, a vulgarity as others name it, in the Methodist movement, in the Presbyterian movement, in the Protestant movement, world-wide? Was English Puritanism free from the same sort of characteristics, the things that are unrefined as belong to democratic politics in another sphere? The method, the phenomena, are those that belong to life universal, if life be free and efficient in moving masses of men upward into more noble ranges. Men of the people lead, because the people are the stake. On the other hand, educated leaders, however well-intentioned, may be handicapped if they are not rooted deeply in the popular soil. Literary education, it must never be forgotten, is not specially a preparation for political good judgment. It is predominantly concerned, in its high branches, with matters not of immediate political consequence—with books generally, science, history, language, technical processes and trades, professional outfits, and the manifold activity of life not primarily practical, or if practical not necessarily political. Men of education, scholars especially, even in the field of political system, are not by the mere fact of their scholarship highly or peculiarly fitted to take part in the active leadership of politics, unless they have other qualifications not necessarily springing from their pursuits in learning; they are naturally more engaged with ideas in a free state, theoretical ideas, than with ideas which are in reality as much a part of life as of thought; and the method of dealing with these vitalized and, as it were, adulterated ideas has a specialty of its own.
It must be acknowledged, too, that in the past, the educated class as a whole has commonly been found to entertain a narrow view; it has been on the side of the past, not of the future; previous to the revolutionary era the class was not—though it is now coming to be—a germinating element in reform, except in isolated cases of high genius which foresees the times to come and develops principles by which they come; it has been, even during our era, normally in alliance with property and ancestry, to which it is commonly an appurtenance, and like them is deeply engaged in the established order, under which it is comfortable, enjoying the places there made for its functions, and is conservative of the past, doubtful of the changing order, a hindrance, a brake, often a note of despair. I do not forget the great exceptions; but revolutions have come from below, from the masses and their native leaders, however they may occasionally find some preparation in thinkers, and some welcome in aristocrats. The power of intellectual education as an element in life is always overvalued; and, within its sphere, which is less than is represented, it is subject to error, prejudice, and arrogance of its own; and, being without any necessary connection with love or conscience, it has often been a reactionary, disturbing, or selfish force in politics and events, even when well acquainted with the field of politics, as ever were any of the forms of demagogy in the popular life. Intelligence, in the form of high education, can make no authoritative claim, as such, either by its nature, its history, or, as a rule, its successful examples in character. The suffrage, except as by natural modes it embodies the people's practical and general intelligence, in direct decisions and in the representatives of themselves whom it elects to serve the State, need not look to high education as it has been in the privileged past, for light and leading in matters of fundamental concern; education remains useful, as expert knowledge is always useful in matters presently to be acted on; but in so far as it is separable from the business of the State, and stands by itself in a class not servants of the State and mainly critical and traditionary, it is deserving of no special political trust because of any superiority of judgment it may allege. In fact, education has entered with beneficent effect into political life with the more power, in proportion as it has become a common and not a special endowment, and the enfranchisement of education, if I may use the term, is rather a democratic than an aristocratic trait. Education, high education even, is more respected and counts for more in a democracy than under the older systems. But in a democracy it remains true, that so far as education deserves weight, it will secure it by its own resources, and enter into political results, as property does, with a power of its own. There, least of all, does it need privilege. Education is one inequality which democracy seems already dissolving.
What suffrage records, in opposition it may be to educated opinion, as such, is the mental state of the people, and their choices of the men they trust with the accomplishment of what is to be done. If the suffrage is exposed to defect in wisdom by reason of its dulness and ignorance, which I by no means admit, the remedy lies not in a guardianship of the people by the educated class, but in popular education itself, in lower forms, and the diffusion of that general information which, in conjunction with sound morals, is all that is required for the comprehension of the great questions decided by suffrage, and the choice of fit leaders who shall carry the decisions into effect. The vast increase of this kind of intelligence, bred of such schools and such means for the spread of political information as have grown up here, has been a measureless gain to man in many other than political ways. No force has been so great, except the discussion of religious dogma and practice under the Reformation in northern nations, in establishing a mental habit throughout the community. The suffrage also has this invaluable advantage, that it brings about a substitution of the principle of persuasion for that of force, as the normal mode of dealing with important differences of view in State affairs; it is, in this respect, the corollary of free speech and the preservative of that great element of liberty, and progress under liberty, which is not otherwise well safe-guarded. It is also a continuous thing, and deals with necessities and disagreements as they arise and by gradual means, and thus, by preventing too great an accumulation of discontent, it avoids revolution, containing in itself the right of revolution in a peaceable form under law. It is, moreover, a school into which the citizen is slowly received; and it is capable of receiving great masses of men and accustoming them to political thought, free and efficient action in political affairs, and a civic life in the State, breeding in them responsibility for their own condition and that of the State. It is the voice of the people always speaking; nor is it to be forgotten, especially by those who fear it, that the questions which come before the suffrage for settlement are, in view of the whole complex and historic body of the State, comparatively few; for society and its institutions, as the fathers handed them down, are accepted at birth and by custom and with real veneration, as our birthright,—the birthright of a race, a nation, and a hearth. The suffrage does not undertake to rebuild from the foundations; the people are slow to remove old landmarks; but it does mean to modify and strengthen this inheritance of past ages for the better accomplishment of the ends for which society exists, and the better distribution among men of the goods which it secures.
Fraternity, the third constituent of democracy, enforces the idea of equality through its doctrine of brotherhood, and enlarges the idea of liberty, which thus becomes more than an instrument for obtaining private ends, is inspired with a social spirit and has bounds set to its exercise. Fraternity leads us, in general, to share our good, and to provide others with the means of sharing in it. This good is inexhaustible and makes up welfare in the State, the common weal. It is in the sphere of fraternity, in particular, that humanitarian ideas, and those expressions of the social conscience which we call moral issues, generally arise, and enter more or less completely into political life. In defining politics as, in the main, a selfish struggle of material interests, this was reserved, that, from time to time, questions of a higher order do arise, such as that of slavery in our history, which have in them a finer element; and, though it be true that government has in charge a race which is yet so near to the soil that it is never far from want, and therefore government must concern itself directly and continuously with arrangements for our material welfare, yet the higher life has so far developed that matters which concern it more intimately are within the sphere of political action, and among these we reckon all those causes which appeal immediately to great principles, to liberty, justice, and manhood, as things apart from material gain or loss, and in our consciousness truly spiritual; and such a cause, preeminently, was the war for the Union, heavy as it was with the fate of mankind under democracy. In such crises, which seldom arise, material good is subordinated for the time being, and life and property, our great permanent interests, are held cheap in the balance with that which is their great charter of value, as we conceive our country.
Yet even here material interests are not far distant. Such issues are commonly found to be involved with material interests in conflict, or are alloyed with them in the working out; and these interests are a constituent, though, it may be, not the controlling matter. It is commonly felt, indeed, that some warrant of material necessity is required in any great political act, for politics, as has been said, is an affair of life, not of free ideas; and without such a plain authorization reform is regarded as an invasion of personal liberty of thought, expression, or action, which is the breeding-place of progressive life and therefore carefully guarded from intrusion. In proportion as the material interests are less clearly affected injuriously, a cause is removed into the region of moral suasion, and loses political vigour. Religious issues constitute the extreme of political action without regard to material interests, wars of conversion being their ultimate, and they are more potent with less developed races. For this reason the humanitarian and moral sphere of fraternity lies generally outside of politics, in social institutions and habits, which political action may sometimes favour as in public charities, but which usually rely on other resources for their support. On occasions of crisis, however, a great idea may marshal the whole community in its cause; and, more and more, the cause so championed under democracy is the spiritual right of man.
But fraternity finds, perhaps, its great seal of sovereignty in that principle of persuasion which has been spoken of already, and in that substitution of it for force, in the conduct of human affairs, which democracy has made, as truly as it has replaced tyranny with the authority of a delegated and representative liberty. Persuasion, in its moral form, outside of politics,—which is so largely resorted to in a community that does not naturally regard the imposition of virtue, even, with favour, but believes virtue should be voluntary in the man and decreed by him out of his own soul,—need not be enlarged upon here; but in its intellectual form, as a persuasion of the mind and will necessarily precedent to political action, it may be glanced at, since law thus becomes the embodied persuasion of the community, and is itself no longer force in the objectionable sense; even minorities, to which it is adversely applied, and on which it thus operates like tyranny, recognize the different character it bears to arbitrary power as that has historically been. But outside of this refinement of thought in the analysis, the fact that the normal attitude of any cause in a democracy is that men must be persuaded of its justice and expediency, before it can impose itself as the will of the State on its citizens, marks a regard for men as a brotherhood of equals and freemen, of the highest consequence in State affairs, and with a broad overflow of moral habit upon the rest of life.