That portion of the community which is not reached by persuasion, and remains in opposition, must obey the law, and submit, such is the nature of society; but minorities have acknowledged rights, which are best preserved, perhaps, by the knowledge that they may be useful to all in turn. Those rights are more respected under democracy than in any other form of government. The important question here, however, is not the conduct of the State toward an opposition in general, which is at one time composed of one element and at another time of a different element, and is a shifting, changeable, and temporary thing; but of its attitude toward the more permanent and inveterate minority existing in class interests, which are exposed to popular attack. The capital instance is property, especially in the form of wealth; and here belongs that objection to the suffrage, which was lightly passed over, to the effect that, since the social will has no limits, to constitute it by suffrage is to give the people control of what is not their own. Property, reenforced by the right of inheritance, is the great source of inequality in the State and the continuer of it, and gives rise perpetually to political and social questions, attended with violent passions; but it is an institution common to civilization, it is very old, and it is bound up intimately with the motive energies of individual life, the means of supplying society on a vast scale with production, distribution, and communication, and the process of taking possession of the earth for man's use. Its social service is incalculable. At times, however, when accumulated so as to congest society, property has been confiscated in enormous amounts, as in England under Henry VIII, in France at the Revolution, and in Italy in recent times. The principle of paramount right over it in society has been established in men's minds, and is modified only by the social conviction that this right is one to be exercised with the highest degree of care and on the plainest dictates of a just necessity. Taxation, nevertheless, though a power to destroy and confiscate in its extreme exercise, normally takes nothing from property that is not due. It is not a levy of contributions, but the collection of a just debt; for property and its owners are the great gainers by society, under whose bond alone wealth finds security, enjoyment, and increase, carrying with them untold private advantages. Property is deeply indebted to society in a thousand ways; and, besides, much of its material cannot be said to be earned, but was given either from the great stores of nature, or by the hand of the law, conferring privilege, or from the overflowing increments of social progress. If it is naturally selfish, acquisitive, and conservative, if it has to be subjected to control, if its duties have to be thrust upon it oftentimes, it has such powers of resistance that there need be little fear lest it should suffer injustice. Like education, it has great reserves of influence, and is assured of enormous weight in the life of the community. Other vested interests stand in a similar relation to the State. These minorities, which are important and lasting elements in society, receive consideration, and bounds are set to liberty of dealing adversely with them in practice, under that principle of fraternity which seeks the good of one in all and the good of all in one.
Fraternity, following lines whose general sense has been sufficiently indicated, has, in particular, established out of the common fund public education as a means of diffusing intellectual gain, which is the great element of growth even in efficient toil, and also of extending into all parts of the body politic a comprehension of the governmental scheme and the organized life of the community, fusing its separate interests in a mutual understanding and regard. It has established, too, protection in the law, for the weak as against the strong, the poor as against the rich, the citizen as against those who would trustee the State for their own benefit; and, on the broad scale, it provides for the preservation of the public health, relief of the unfortunate, the care of all children, and in a thousand humane ways permeates the law with its salutary justice. It has, again, in another great field, established toleration, not in religion merely, but of opinion and practice in general; and thereby largely has built up a mutual and pervading faith in the community as a body in all its parts and interests intending democratic results under human conditions; it has thus bred a habit of reserve at moments of hardship or grave difficulty,—a respect that awaits social justice giving time for it to be brought about,—which as a constituent of national character cannot be too highly prized.
The object of all government, and of every social system is, in its end and summary, to secure justice among mankind. Justice is the most sacred word of men; but it is a thing hard to find. Law, which is its social instrument, deals with external act, general conditions, and mankind in the mass. It is not, like conscience, a searcher of men's bosoms; its knowledge extends no farther than to what shall illuminate the nature of the event it examines; it makes no true ethical award. It is in the main a method of procedure, largely inherited and wholly practical in intent, applied to recurring states of fact; it is a reasonable arrangement for the peaceful facilitation of human business of all social kinds; and to a considerable degree it is a convention, an agreement upon what shall be done in certain sets of circumstances, as an approximation, it may be, to justice, but, at all events, as an advantageous solution of difficulties. This is as true of its criminal as of its civil branches. Its concern is with society rather than the individual, and it sacrifices the individual to society without compunction, applying one rule to all alike, with a view to social, not individual, results, on the broad scale. Those matters which make individual justice impossible,—especially the element of personal responsibility in wrong-doing, how the man came to be what he is and his susceptibility to motives, to reason and to passion, in their varieties, and all such considerations,—law ignores in the main question, however it may admit them in the imperfect form in which only they can be known, as circumstances in extenuation or aggravation. This large part of responsibility, it will seem to every reflective moralist, enters little into the law's survey; and its penalties, at best, are "the rack of this rude world." Death and imprisonment, as it inflicts them, are for the protection of society, not for reformation, though the philanthropic element in the State may use the period of imprisonment with a view to reformation; nor in the history of the punishment of crime, of the vengeance as such taken on men in addition to the social protection sought, has society on the whole been less brutal in its repulse of its enemies than they were in their attack, or shown any eminent justice toward its victims in the sphere of their own lives. It is a terrible and debasing record, up to this century at least, and uniformly corrupted those who were its own instruments. It was the application of force in its most material forms, and dehumanized those upon whom it was exercised, placing them outside the pale of manhood as a preliminary to its work. The lesson that the criminal remains a man, was one taught to the law, not learned from it. On the civil side, likewise, similar reservations must be made, both as regards its formulation and operation. The law as an instrument of justice is a rough way of dealing with the problems of the individual in society, but it is effective for social ends; and, in its total body and practical results, it is a priceless monument of human righteousness, sagacity, and mercy, and though it lags behind opinion, as it must, and postpones to a new age the moral and prudential convictions of the present, it is in its treasury that these at last are stored.
If such be the case within the law, what indifference to justice does the course of events exhibit in the world at large which comes under the law's inquisition so imperfectly! How continuous and inevitable, how terrible and pitiful is this aspect of life, is shown in successive ages by the unending story of ideal tragedy, in poem, drama, and tale, in which the noble nature through some frailty, that was but a part, and by the impulse of some moment of brief time, comes to its wreck; and, in connection with this disaster to the best, lies the action of the villain everywhere overflowing in suffering and injury upon his victims and all that is theirs. What is here represented as the general lot of mankind, in ideal works, exists, multiplied world-wide in the lives and fortunes of mankind, an inestimable amount of injustice always present. The sacrifice of innocence is in no way lessened by aught of vengeance that may overtake the wrong-doer; and it is constant. The murdered man, the wronged woman, can find no reparation. What shall one say of the sufferings of children and of the old, and of the great curse that lies in heredity and the circumstances of early life under depraved, ignorant, or malicious conditions? These brutalities, like the primeval struggle in the rise of life, seem in a world that never heard the name of justice. The main seat of individual justice and its operation is, after all, in the moral sense of men, governing their own conduct and modifying so far as possible the mass of injustice continually arising in the process of life, by such relief as they can give by personal influence and action both on persons and in the realm of moral opinion.
But, such questions apart, and within the reach of the rude power of the law over men in the mass, where individuality may be neglected, there remains that portion of the field in which the cause of justice may be advanced, as it was in the extinction of slavery, the confiscation of the French lands, the abolition of the poor debtor laws, and in similar great measures of class legislation, if you will. I confess I am one of those who hold that society is largely responsible even for crime and pauperism, and especially other less clearly defined conditions in the community by which there exists an inveterate injustice ingrained in the structure of society itself. The process of freeing man from the fetters of the past is still incomplete, and democracy is a faith still early in its manifestation; social justice is the cry under which this progress is made, and, being grounded in material conditions and hot with men's passions under wrong, it is a dangerous cry, and unheeded it becomes revolutionary; but in what has democracy been so beneficent to society as in the ways without number that it has opened for the doing of justice to men in masses, for the moulding of safe and orderly methods of change, and for the formation as a part of human character of a habit of philanthropy to those especially whose misfortunes may be partly laid to the door of society itself? Charity, great as it is, can but alleviate, it cannot upon any scale cure poverty and its attendant ills; nor can mercy, however humanely and wisely exerted, do more than mollify the misfortune that abides in the criminal. Social justice asks neither charity nor mercy, but such conditions, embodied in institutions and laws, as shall diminish, so far as under nature and human nature is possible, the differences of men at birth, and in their education, and in their opportunity through life, to the end that all citizens shall be equal in the power to begin and conduct their lives in morals, industry, and the hope of happiness. Social justice, so defined, under temporal conditions, democracy seeks as the sum and substance of its effort in governmental ways; some advance has been made; but it requires no wide survey, nor long examination, to see that what has been accomplished is a beginning, with the end so far in the future as to seem a dream, such as the poets have sung almost from the dawn of hope. What matters it? It is not only poets who dream; justice is the statesman's dream.
Such in bold outline are the principles of democracy. They have been working now for a century in a great nation, not wholly unfettered and on a complete scale even with us, but with wider acceptance and broader application than elsewhere in the world, and with most prosperity in those parts of the country where they are most mastering; and the nation has grown great in their charge. What, in brief, are the results, so clear, so grand, so vast, that they stand out like mountain ranges, the configuration of a national life? The diffusion of material comfort among masses of men, on a scale and to an amount abolishing peasantry forever; the dissemination of education, which is the means of life to the mind as comfort is to the body, in no more narrow bounds, but through the State universal, abolishing ignorance; the development of human capacity in intelligence, energy, and character, under the stimulus of the open career, with a result in enlarging and concentrating the available talent of the State to a compass and with an efficiency and diversity by which alone was possible the material subjugation of the continent which it has made tributary to man's life; the planting of self-respect in millions of men, and of respect for others grounded in self-respect, constituting a national characteristic now first to be found, and to be found in the bosom of every child of our soil, and, with this, of a respect for womanhood, making the common ways safe and honourable for her, unknown before; the moulding of a conservative force, so sure, so deep, so instinctive, that it has its seat in the very vitals of the State and there maintains as its blood and bone the principles which the fathers handed down in institutions containing our happiness, security, and destiny, yet maintains them as a living present, not as a dead past; the incorporation into our body politic of millions of half-alien people, without disturbance, and with an assimilating power that proves the universal value of democracy as a mode of dealing with the race, as it now is; an enthronement of reason as the sole arbiter in a free forum where every man may plead, and have the judgment of all men upon the cause; a rooted repugnance to use force; an aversion to war; a public and private generosity that knows no bounds of sect, race, or climate; a devotion to public duty that excuses no man and least of all the best, and has constantly raised the standard of character; a commiseration for all unfortunate peoples and warm sympathy with them in their struggles; a love of country as inexhaustible in sacrifice as it is unparalleled in ardour; and a will to serve the world for the rise of man into such manhood as we have achieved, such prosperity as earth has yielded us, and such justice as, by the grace of heaven, is established within our borders. Is it not a great work? and all these blessings, unconfined as the element, belong to all our people. In the course of these results, the imperfection of human nature and its institutions has been present; but a just comparison of our history with that of other nations, ages, and systems, and of our present with our past, shows that such imperfection in society has been a diminishing element with us, and that a steady progress has been made in methods, measures, and men. No great issue, in a whole century, has been brought to a wrong conclusion. Our public life has been starred with illustrious names, famous for honesty, sagacity, and humanity, and, above all, for justice. Our Presidents in particular have been such men as democracy should breed, and some of them such men as humanity has seldom bred. We are a proud nation, and justly; and, looking to the future, beholding these things multiplied million-fold in the lives of the children of the land to be, we may well humbly own God's bounty which has earliest fallen upon us, the first fruits of democracy in the new ages of a humaner world.
It will be plain to those who have read what has elsewhere been said of the ideal life, that democracy is for the nation a true embodiment of that life, and wears its characteristics upon its sleeve. In it the individual mingles with the mass, and becomes one with mankind, and mankind itself sums the totality of individual good in a well-nigh perfect way. In it there is the slow embodiment of a future nobly conceived and brought into existence on an ideal basis of the best that is, from age to age, in man's power. It includes the universal wisdom, the reach of thought and aspiration, by virtue of which men climb, and here manhood climbs. It knows no limit; it rejects no man who wears the form Christ wore; it receives all into its benediction. Through democracy, more readily and more plainly than through any other system of government or conception of man's nature and destiny, the best of men may blend with his race, and store in their common life the energies of his own soul, looking for as much aid as he may give. Democracy, as elsewhere has been said, is the earthly hope of men; and they who stand apart, in fancied superiority to mankind, which is by creation equal in destiny, and in fact equal in the larger part of human nature, however obstructed by time and circumstance, are foolish withdrawers from the ways of life. On the battle-field or in the senate, or in the humblest cabin of the West, to lead an American life is to join heart and soul in this cause.
Mystery is the natural habitat of the soul. It is the child's element, though he sees it not; for, year by year, acquiring the solid and palpable, the visible and audible, the things of mortal life, he lives in horizons of the senses, and though grown a youth he still looks intellectually for things definite and clear. Education in general through its whole period induces the contempt of all else, impressing almost universally the positive element in life, whose realm in early years at least is sensual. So it was with me: the mind's eye saw all that was or might be in an atmosphere of scepticism, as my bodily eye beheld the world washed in colour. Yet the habitual sense of mystery in man's life is a measure of wisdom in the man; and, at last, if the mind be open and turn upon the poles of truth, whether in the sage's knowledge or the poet's emotion or such common experience of the world as all have, mystery visibly envelops us, equally in the globed sky or the unlighted spirit,
I well remember the very moment when a poetical experience precipitated this conviction out of moods long familiar, but obscurely felt and deeply distrusted. I was born and bred by the sea; its mystery had passed into my being unawares, and was there unconscious, or, at least, not to be separated from the moods of my own spirit. But on my first Italian voyage, day by day we rolled upon the tremendous billows of a stormy sea, and all was strange and solemn—the illimitable tossing of a wave-world, darkening night after night through weird sunsets of a spectral and unknown beauty, enchantments that were doorways of a new earth and new heavens; and, on the tenth day, when I came on deck in this water-world, we had sighted Santa Maria, the southernmost of the Azores, and gradually we drew near to it. I shall never forget the strangeness of that sight—that solitary island under the sunlit showers of early morning; it lay in a beautiful atmosphere of belted mists and wreaths of rain, and tracts of soft sky, frequent with many near and distant rainbows that shone and faded and came again as we steamed through them, and the white wings of the birds, struck by the sun, were the whitest objects I have ever seen; slowly we passed by, and I could not have told what it was in that island scene which had so arrested me. But when, some days afterward, at the harbor of Gibraltar I looked upon the magnificent rock, and saw opposite the purple hills of Africa, again I felt through me that unknown thrill. It was the mystery of the land. It was altogether a discovery, a direct perception, a new sense of the natural world. Under the wild heights of Sangue di Christo I had dreamed that on the further side I should find the "far west" that had fled before me beyond the river, the prairies, and the plains; but there was no such mystery in the thought, or in the prospect, as this that saluted me coming landward for the first time from the ocean-world. Since that morning in the Straits, every horizon has been a mystery to me, to the spirit no less than to the eye; and truths have come to me like that lone island embosomed in eternal waters, like the capes and mountain barriers of Africa thrusting up new continents unknown, untravelled, of a land men yet might tread as common ground.
"A poet's mood"—I know what once I should have said. But mystery I then accepted as the only complement, the encompassment, of what we know of our life. In many ways I had drawn near to this belief before, and I have since many times confirmed it. One occasion, however, stands out in my memory even more intensely than those I have made bold to mention,—one experience that brought me near to my mother earth, as that out of which I was formed and to which I shall return, and made these things seem as natural as to draw my breath from the sister element of air. I had returned to the West; and while there, wandering in various places, I went to a small town, hardly more than a hamlet, some few hundred miles beyond the Missouri, where the mighty railroad, putting out a long feeler for the future, had halted its great steel branch—sinking like a thunderbolt into the ground for no imaginable reason, and affecting me vaguely with a sense of utmost limits. There a younger friend, five years my junior, in his lonely struggle with life bore to live, in such a camp of pioneer civilization as made my heart fail at first sight, though not unused to the meagreness, crudity, and hardness of such a place; but there I had come to take the warm welcome of his hands and look once more into his face before time should part us. He flung his arms about me, with a look of the South in his eyes, full of happy dancing lights, and the barren scene was like Italy made real for one instant of golden time.
But if we had wandered momentarily, as if out of some quiet sunlit gallery of Monte Beni, I soon found it was into the frontier of our western border. A herd of Texas ponies were to be immediately on sale, and I went to see them—wild animals, beautiful in their wildness, who had never known bit or spur; they were lariated and thrown down, as the buyers picked them out, and then led and pulled away to man's life. It was a typical scene: the pen, the hundred ponies bunched together and startled with the new surroundings, the cowboys whose resolute habit sat on them like cotillion grace—athletes in the grain—with the gray, close garb for use, the cigarette like a slow spark under the broad sombrero, the belted revolver, the lasso hung loose-coiled in the hand, quiet, careless, confident, with the ease of the master in his craft, now pulling down a pony without a struggle, and now showing strength and dexterity against frightened resistance; but the hour sped on, and our spoil was two of these creatures, so attractive to me at least that every moment my friend's eye was on me, and he kept saying, "They're wild, mind!" The next morning in the dark dawn we had them in harness, and drove out, when the stars were scarce gone from the sky, due north to the Bad Lands, to give me a new experience of the vast American land that bore us both, and made us, despite the thousands of miles that stretched between ocean and prairie, brothers in blood and brain,—brothers and friends.
Yet how to tell that ride, now grown a shining leaf of my book of memory! for my eyes were fascinated with the land, in the high blowing August wind, full of coolness and upland strength, like new breath in my nostrils; and forward over the broken country, fenceless, illimitable, ran the brown road, like a ploughed ribbon of soil, into the distance, where pioneer and explorer and prospector had gone before, and now the farmer was thinly settling,—the new America growing up before my eyes! and him only by me to make me not a stranger there, with talk of absent friends and old times, though scarce the long age of a college course had gone by,—talk lapsing as of old on such rides into serious strains, problems such as the young talk of together and keep their secret, learning life,—the troubles of the heart of youth. And if now I recur to some of the themes we touched on, and set down these memoranda, fragments of life, thinking they may be of use to other youths as they were then to us, I trust they will lose no privacy; for, as I write, I see them in that place, with that noble prospect, that high sky, and him beside me whose young listening yet seems to woo them from my breast.
We mounted the five-mile ridge,—and, "Poor Robin," he said, "what of him?" "Poor Robin sleeps in the Muses' graveyard," I laughed, "in the soft gray ashes of my blazing hearth. One must live the life before he tells the tale." "I loved his 'awakening,'" he replied, "and I have often thought of it by myself. And will nothing come of him now?" "Who can tell?" I said, looking hard off over the prairie. "The Muses must care for their own. That 'awakening,'" I went on, after a moment of wondering why the distant stream of the valley was called "the Looking-glass," and learning only that such was its name, "was when after the bookish torpor of his mind—you remember he called books his opiates—he felt the beauty of the spring and the marvel of human service come back on him like a flood. It was the growing consciousness of how little of life is our own. Youth takes life for granted; the hand that smoothed his pillow the long happy years, the springs that brought new blossoms to his cheeks, the common words that martyr and patriot have died to form on childish lips, and make them native there with life's first breath, are natural to him as Christmas gifts, and bring no obligation. Our life from babyhood is only one long lesson in indebtedness; and we best learn what we have received by what we give. This was dawning on my hero then. I recall how he ran the new passion. That outburst you used to like, amid the green bloom of the prairies, like the misted birches at home, under the heaven-wide warmth of April breathing with universal mildness through the softened air—why, you can remember the very day," I said. "It was one—" "Yes, I can remember more than that," he interrupted; "I know the words, or some of them; what you just said was the old voice—tang and colour—Poor Robin's voice;" and he began, and I listened to the words, which had once been mine, and now were his.
"By heaven, I never believed it. 'Clotho spins, Lachesis weaves, and Atropos cuts,' I said, 'and the poor illusion vanishes; the loud laughter, the fierce wailing, die on pale lips; the foolish and the wise, the merciful and the pitiless, the workers in the vineyard and the idlers in the market-place, are huddled into one grave, and the heart of Mary Mother and of Mary Magdalen are one dust.' Duly in those years the sun rose to cheer me; the breath of the free winds was in my nostrils; the grass made my pathways soft to my feet. Spring with its blossomed fruit trees, and the ungarnered summer, gladdened me; the flame of autumn was my torch of memory, and winter lighted my lamp of solitude. Men tilled the fields to feed me, and worked the loom to clothe me, and so far as in them was power and in me was need, brought to my doors sustenance for the body and whatsoever of divine truth was theirs for my soul. Women ministered to me in blessed charities; and some among my fellows gave me their souls in keeping. How true is that which my friend said to the poor boy-murderer condemned to die,—'I tell you, you cannot escape the mercy of God;' and tears coursed down the imbruted face, and once more the human soul, that the ministers of God could not reach, shone in its tabernacle. Now the butterfly has flown in at the tavern-window, and rebuked me. I go out, and on the broad earth the warm sun shines; the spring moves throughout our northern globe as when first man looked upon it; the seasons keep their word; the birds know their pathways through the air; the animals feed and multiply; the succession of day and night has no shadow of turning; the stars keep their order in the blue depths of infinite space; Sirius has not swerved from his course, nor Aldebaran flamed beyond his sphere; nature puts forth her strength in all the vast compass of her domain, and is manifest in life that continues and is increased in fuller measures of joy, heightened to fairer beauty, instinct with love in the heart of man. Wiser were the ascetics whom I used to scorn; they made themselves ascetics of the body, but I have been an ascetic of the soul."
* * * * *
"Eccola!" I said, "was it like that? But a heady rhetoric is not inconsistent with sobriety of thought, as many a Victorian page we have read together testifies. The style tames with the spirit; and wild blood is not the worst of faults in poets or boys. But I will change old coin for the new mintage with you, if you like, and it is not so very different. There is a good stretch ahead, and the ponies never seem to misbehave both at once." In fact, these ponies, who seemed to enjoy the broad, open world with us, had yet to learn the first lesson of civilization, and unite their private wills in rebellion; for, while one or the other of them would from time to time fling back his heels and prepare to resist, the other dragged him into the course with the steady pace, and, under hand and voice, they kept going in a much less adventurous way than I had anticipated. And so I read a page or two from the small blank-book in which I used to write, saying only, by way of preface, that the April morning my friend so well remembered marked the time when I began that direct appeal to life of which these notes were the first-fruits.
The waters of the Looking-glass had been lost behind its bluffs to the west as we turned inland, though we still rose with the slope of the valley; and now on higher land we saw the open country in a broad sweep, but with bolder configuration than was familiar to me in prairie regions, the rolling of the country being in great swells; and this slight touch of strangeness, this accentuation of the motionless lines of height and hollow, and the general lift of the land, perhaps, was what first gave that life to the soil, that sense of a presence in the earth itself, which was felt at a later time. Then I saw only the outspread region, with here and there a gleam of grain on side-hills and far-curved embrasures of the folded slopes, or great strands of Indian corn, acres within acres, and hardly a human dwelling anywhere; the loneliness, the majesty, the untouched primitiveness of it, were the elements I remember; and the wind, and the unclouded great expanse of the blue upper sky, like a separate element lifted in deep color over the gold of harvest, the green of earth, and the touches of brown road and soil. So, with pauses for common sights and things, and some word of comment and fuller statement and personal touches that do not matter now, I read my brief notes of life in its most sacred part.
"The gift of life at birth is only a little breath on a baby's lips; the air asks no consent to fill the lungs, the heart beats, the senses awaken, the mind begins, and the first handwriting of life is a child's smile; but as boyhood gathers fuller strength, and youth hives a more intimate sweetness, and manhood expands in richer values, life is not less entirely a gift. As well say a self-born as a self-made man. Nature does not intrust to us her bodily processes and functions, and the fountains of feeling within well up, and the forms of thought define, without obligation to man's wisdom; body and soul alike are above his will—our garment of sense comes from no human loom, nor were the bones of the spirit fashioned by any mortal hands; in our progress and growth, too, bloom of health and charm of soul owe their loveliness to that law of grace that went forth with the creative word. Slow as men are to realize the fact and the magnitude of this great grant, and the supreme value of it as life itself in all its abundance of blessings, there comes a time to every generous and open heart when the youth is made aware of the stream of beneficence flowing in upon him from the forms and forces of nature with benedictions of beauty and vigour; he knows, too, the cherishing of human service all about him in familiar love and the large brothering of man's general toil; he begins to see, shaping itself in him, the vast tradition of the past,—its mighty sheltering of mankind in institution and doctrine and accepted hopes, its fostering agencies, its driving energies. What a breaking out there is then in him of the emotions that are fountain-heads of permanent life,—filial love, patriotic duty, man's passion for humanity! It is then that he becomes a man. Strange would it be, if, at such tidal moments, the youth should not, in pure thankfulness, find out the Giver of all good!
"As soon as man thus knows himself a creature, he has established a direct relation with the Creator, did he but realize it,—not in mere thought of some temporal creation, some antecedent fact of a beginning, but in immediate experience of that continuing act which keeps the universe in being,
'Which wields the world with never wearied love, Sustains it from beneath and kindles it above,'—
felt and known now in the life which, moment to moment, is his own. The extreme sense of this may take on the expression of the pantheistic mood, as here in Shelley's words, without any logical irreverence: for pantheism is that great mood of the human spirit which it is, permanent, recurring in every age and race, as natural to Wordsworth as to Shelley, because of the fundamental character of these facts and the inevitability of the knowledge of them. The most arrogant thought of man, since it identifies him with deity, it springs from that same sense of insignificance which makes humility the characteristic of religious life in all its forms. A mind deeply penetrated with the feeling that all we take and all we are, our joys and the might and grace of life in us, are the mere lendings of mortality like Lear's rags, may come to think man the passive receptacle of power, and the instrument scarce distinguishable from the hand that uses it; the thought is as nigh to St. Paul as to Plato. This intimate and infinite sense of obligation finds its highest expression, on the secular side, and takes on the touch of mystery, in those great men of action who have believed themselves in a special manner servants of God, and in great poets who found some consecration in their calling. They, more than other men, know how small is any personal part in our labours and our wages alike. But in all men life comes to be felt to be, in itself and its instruments, this gift, this debt; to continue to live is to contract a greater debt in proportion to the greatness of the life; it is greatest in the greatest.
"This spontaneous gratitude is a vital thing. He who is most sensitive to beauty and prizes it, who is most quick to love, who is most ardent in the world's service, feels most constantly this power which enfolds him in its hidden infinity; he is overwhelmed by it: and how should gratitude for such varied and constant and exhaustless good fail to become a part of the daily life of his spirit, deepening with every hour in which the value, the power and sweetness of life, is made more plain? Yet at the same instant another and almost contrary mood is twin-born with this thankfulness,—the feeling of helplessness. Though the secret and inscrutable power, sustaining and feeding life, be truly felt,—
'Closer is He than breathing and nearer than hands and feet,'—
though in moments of life's triumphs it evokes this natural burst of happy gratitude, yet who can free himself from mortal fear, or dispense with human hope, however firm and irremovable may be his confidence in the beneficent order of God? And especially in the more strenuous trials of later ages for Christian perfection in a world not Christian, and under the mysterious dispensation of nature, even the youth has lived little, and that shallowly, who does not crave companionship, guidance, protection. Dependent as he feels himself to be for all he is and all he may become, the means of help—self-help even—and the law of it must be from that same power, whose efficient working he has recognized with a thankful heart. Where else shall he look except to that experience of exaltation during whose continuance he plucked a natural trust for the future, a reasonable belief in Providence, and a humble readiness to accept the partial ills of life? In life's valleys, then, as on its summits, in the darkness as in the light, he may retain that once confided trust; not that he looks for miracle, or any specific and particularizing care, it may be, but that in the normal course of things he believes in the natural alliance of that arm of infinite power with himself. In depression, in trouble, in struggle, such as all life exhibits, he will be no more solitary than in his hours of blessing. Thus, through helplessness also, he establishes a direct relation with God, which is also a reality of experience, as vital in the cry for aid as in the offering of thanks. The gratitude of the soul may be likened to that morning prayer of the race which was little more than praise with uplifted hands; the helplessness of man is rather the evening prayer of the Christian age, which with bowed head implores the grace of God to shield him through the night. These two, in all times, among all races, under ten thousand divinities, have been the voices of the heart.
"There is a third mood of direct experience by which one approaches the religious life. Surely no man in our civilization can grow far in years without finding out that, in the effort to live a life obeying his desires and worthy of his hopes, his will is made one with Christ's commands; and he knows that the promises of Christ, so far as they relate to the life that now is, are fulfilled in himself day by day; he can escape neither the ideal that Christ was, nor the wisdom of Christ in respect to the working of that ideal on others and within himself. He perceives the evil of the world, and desires to share in its redemption; its sufferings, and would remove them; its injustice, and would abolish it. He is, by the mere force of his own heart in view of mankind, a humanitarian. But he is more than this in such a life. If he be sincere, he has not lived long before he knows in himself such default of duty that he recognizes it as the soul's betrayal; its times and occasions, its degrees of responsibility, its character whether of mere frailty or of an evil will, its greater or less offence, are indifferent matters; for, as it is the man of perfect honour who feels a stain as a wound, and a shadow as a stain, so poignancy of repentance is keenest in the purest souls. It is death that is dull, it is life that is quick. It may well be, in the world's history in our time, that the suffering caused in the good by slight defections from virtue far overbalances the general remorse felt for definite and habitual crime. Thus none—those least who are most hearts of conscience—escapes this emotion, known in the language of religion as conviction of sin. It is the earliest moral crisis of the soul; it is widely felt,—such is the nature and such the circumstances of men; and, as a man meets it in that hour, as he then begins to form the habit of dealing with his failures sure to come, so runs his life to the end save for some great change. If then some restoring power enters in, some saving force, whether it be from the memory and words of Christ, or from the example of those lives that were lived in the spirit of that ideal, or from nearer love and more tender affection enforcing the supremacy of duty and the hope of struggle,—in whatever way that healing comes, it is well; and, just as the man of honest mind has recognized the identity of his virtue with Christ's rule, and has verified in practice the wisdom of its original statement, so now he knows that this moral recovery, and its method, is what has been known on the lips of saint and sinner as the life of the Spirit in man, and even more specially he cannot discriminate it from what the servants of Christ call the life of Christ in them. He has become more than a humanitarian through this experience; he is now himself one of those whom in the mass he pities and would help; he has entered into that communion with his kind and kin which is the earthly seal of Christian faith.
"Yet it seems to me a profound error in life to concentrate attention upon the moral experience here described; it is but initial; and, though repeated, it remains only a beginning; as the vast force of nature is put forth through health, and its curative power is an incident and subordinate, so the spiritual energy of life is made manifest, in the main, in the joy of the soul in so far as it has been made whole. A narrow insistence on the fact of sin distorts life, and saddens it both in one's own conscience and in his love for others. Sin is but a part of life, and it is far better to fix our eyes on the measureless good achieved in those lines of human effort which have either never been deflected from right aims, or have been brought back to the paths of advance, which I believe to be the greater part, both in individual lives of noble intention, and in the Christian nations. Sin loses half its dismaying power, and evil is stripped of its terrors, if one recognizes how far ideal motives enter with controlling influence into personal life, and to what a degree ideal destinies are already incarnate in the spirit of great nations.
"However this may be, I find on examination of man's common experience these three things, which establish, it seems to me, a direct relation between him and God: this spontaneous gratitude, this trustful dependence, this noble practice, which is, historically, the Christian life, and is characterized by its distinctive experiences. They are simple elements: a faith in God's being which has not cared further to define the modes of that being; a hope which has not grown to specify even a Resurrection; a love that has not concentrated itself through limitation upon any instrumental conversion of the world; but, inchoate as they are, they remain faith, hope, love—these three. Are they not sufficient to be the beginnings of the religious life in the young? To theological learning, traditional creeds, and conventional worship they may seem primitive, slight in substance, meagre in apparel; but one who is seeking, not things to believe, but things to live, desires the elementary. In setting forth first principles, the elaboration of a more highly organized knowledge may be felt as an obscuration of truth, an impediment to certainty, a hindrance in the effort to touch and handle the essential matter; and for this reason a teacher dispenses with much in his exposition, just as in talking to a child a grown man abandons nine-tenths of his vocabulary. In the same way, learning as a child, seeking in the life of the soul with God what is normal, vital, and universal, the beginner need not feel poor and balked, because he does not avail himself as yet of resources that belong to length of life, breadth of scholarship, intellectual power, the saint's ardour, the seer's insight.
"The spiritual life here defined, elementary as it is, appears inevitable, part and parcel of our natural being. Why should this be surprising? Surely if there be a revelation of the divine at all, it must be one independent of external things; one that comes to all by virtue of their human nature; one that is direct, and not mediately given through others. Faith that is vital is not the fruit of things told of, but of things experienced. It follows that religion may be essentially free from any admixture of the past in its communication to the soul. It cannot depend on events of a long-past time now disputable, or on books of a far-off and now alien age. These things are the tradition and history of the spiritual life, but not the life. To the mass of men religion derived from such sources would be a belief in other men's experience, and for most of them would rest on proofs they cannot scrutinize. It would be a religion of authority, not of personal and intimate conviction. Just as creation may be felt, not as some far-off event, but a continuing act, revelation itself is a present reality. Do not the heavens still declare the glory of God as when they spoke to the Psalmist? and has the light that lighteth every man who is born into the world ceased to burn in the spirit since the first candle was lit on a Christian altar? If the revelation of glory and mercy be an everlasting thing, and inextinguishable save in the life itself, then only is that direct relation of man with God, this vital certainty in living truth,—living in us,—this personal religion, possible.
"What has reform in religion ever been other than the demolition of the interfering barriers, the deposit of the past, between man and God? The theory of the office of the Holy Spirit in the Church expresses man's need of direct contact with the divine; the doctrine of transubstantiation symbolizes it; and what is Puritanism in all ages, affirming the pure spirit, denying all forms, but the heart of man in his loneliness, seeking God face to face? what is its iconoclasm of image and altar, of prayer-book and ritual, of the Councils and the Fathers, but the assertion of the noble dignity in each individual soul by virtue of which it demands a freeman's right of audience, a son's right of presence with his father, and believes that such is God's way with his own? This immediacy of the religious life, being once accepted as the substance of vitality in it, relieves man at once of the greater mass of that burden in which scepticism thrives and labours. The theories of the past respecting God's government, no longer possible in a humaner and Christianized age, the impaired genuineness of the Scriptures and all questions of their text and accuracy, even the great doctrine of miracles, cease to be of vital consequence. A man may approach divine truth without them. Simple and bare as the spiritual life here presented is, it is not open to such sceptical attack, being the fundamental revelation of God bound up in the very nature of man which has been recognized at so many critical times, in so many places and ages, as the inward light. We may safely leave dogma and historical criticism and scientific discovery on one side; it is not in them that man finds this inward wisdom, but in the religious emotions as they naturally arise under the influence of life.
"This view is supported rather than weakened by such records of the spiritual life in man as we possess. Man's nature is one; and, just as it is interpreted and illuminated by the poets from whom we derive direction in our general conduct, it is set forth and illustrated by saintly men and holy women in the special sphere of the soul's life with God. Our nature is one with theirs; but as there are differences in the aptitudes, sensibilities, and fates of all men, so is it with spiritual faculties and their growth; and, from time to time, men have arisen of such intense nature, so sensitive to religious emotions, so developed in religious experience, through instinct, circumstance, and power, that they can aid us by the example and precept of their lives. To them belongs a respect similar to that paid to poets and thinkers. Yet it is because they tell us what they have seen and touched, not what they have heard,—what they have lived and shown forth in acts that bear testimony to their words, that they have this power. Such were St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas a Kempis, and many a humbler name whose life's story has come into our hands; such were the Apostles, and, preeminently, Christ. It is the reality of the life in them, personal, direct, fundamental, that preserves their influence in other lives. They help us by opening and directing the spiritual powers we have in common; and beyond our own experience we believe in their counsels as leading to what we in our turn may somewhat attain to in the life they followed. It is not what they believed of God, but what God accomplished in them, that holds our attention; and we interpret it only by what ourselves have known of his dealing with us. It is life, and the revelation of God there contained, that in others or ourselves is the root of the matter—God in us. This is the corner stone."
* * * * *
The sun was high in the heavens when we ceased talking of these matters and saw in a lowland before us a farmhouse, where we stopped. It was a humble dwelling—almost the humblest—partly built of sod, with a barn near by, and nothing to distinguish it except the sign, "Post Office," which showed it was the centre of this neighborhood, if "the blank miles round about" could be so called. We were made welcome, and, the ponies being fed and cared for, we sat down with the farmer and his wife and the small brood of young children, sharing their noonday meal. It was a rude table and a lowly roof; but, when I arose, I was glad to have been at such a board, taking a stranger's portion, but not like a stranger. It was to be near the common lot, and the sense of it was as primitive as the smell of the upturned earth in spring; it had the wholesomeness of life in it. Going out, I lay down on the ground and talked with the little boy, some ten years old, to whom our coming was evidently an event of importance; and I remember asking him if he ever saw a city. He had been once, he said, to—the hamlet, as I thought it, which we had just left—with his father in the farm-wagon. That was his idea of the magnificence of cities. I could not but look at him curiously. Here was the creature, just like other boys, who knew less of the look of man's world than any one I had ever encountered. To him this overstretching silent sky, this vacant rolling reach of earth, and home, were all of life. What a waif of existence!—but the ponies being ready, we said our good-byes and drove on along fainter tracks, still northward. We talked for a while in that spacious atmosphere—the cheerful talk, half personal, half literary, lightly humorous, too, which we always had together; but tiring of it at last, and the boy still staying in my mind as a kind of accidental symbol of that isolated being whom my notes had described, and knowing that I had told but half my story and that my friend would like the rest, I turned the talk again on the serious things, saying—and there was nothing surprising in such a change with us—"After all, you know, we can't live to ourselves alone or by ourselves. How to enter life and be one with other men, how to be the child of society, and a peer there, belongs to our duty; and to escape from the solitude of private life is the most important thing for men of lonely thought and feeling, such as meditation breeds. There is more of it, if you will listen again;" and he, with the sparkle in his eyes, and the youthful happiness in the new things of life for us, new as if they had not been lived a thousand years before,—listened like a child to a story, grave as the matter was, which I read again from the memoranda I had made, after that April morning, year by year.
* * * * *
"Respect for age is the natural religion of childhood; it becomes in men a sentiment of the soul. An obscure melancholy, the pathos of human fate, mingles with this instinctive feeling. The fascination of the sea, the sublimity of mountains, are indebted to it, as well as the beautiful and solemn stars, which, like them, the mind does not distinguish from eternal things, and has ever invested with sacred awe. It is the sense of our mortality that thus exalts nature. Yet before her antiquity merely, veneration is seldom full and perfect; her periods are too impalpable, and, in contemplating their vastness, amazement dissipates our faculties. Rather some sign of human occupancy, turning the desert into a neglected garden, is necessary to give emotional colour and the substance of thought; some touch of man's hand that knows a writing beyond nature's can add what centuries could not give, and makes a rock a monument. The Mediterranean islet is older for the pirate tower that caps it, and for us the ivied church, with its shadowed graves, makes England ancestral soil. Nor is it only such landmarks of time that bring this obscure awe; occupations, especially, awake it, and customary ceremonies, and all that enters into the external tradition of life, handed down from generation to generation. On the Western prairies I have felt rather the permanence of human toil than the newness of the land.
"The sense of age in man's life, relieved, as it is, on the seeming agelessness of nature, is a meditation on death, deep-set far below thought. We behold the sensible conquests of death, and the sight is so habitual, and remains so mysterious, that it leaves its imprint less in the conscious and reflective mind than in temperament, sentiment, imagination, and their hidden stir; the pyramids then seem fossils of mankind; Stonehenge, Indian mounds, and desolate cities are like broken anchors caught in the sunken reef and dull ooze of time's ocean, lost relics of their human charge long vanished away. Startling it is, when the finger of time has touched what we thought living, and we find in some solitary place the face of stone. I learned this lesson on the low marshes of Ravenna, where, among the rice-fields and the thousands of white pond lilies, stands a lonely cathedral, from whose ruined sides Christianity, in the face and figure it wore before it put on the form and garb of a world-wide religion, looked down on me with the unknown eyes of an alien and Oriental faith. 'Stranger, why lingerest thou in this broken tomb,' I seemed to hear from silent voices in that death of time; and still, when my thoughts seek the Mother-Church of Christendom, they go, not to St. John Lateran by the Roman wall, but are pilgrims to the low marshes, the white water lilies, the lone Byzantine ruin that even the sea has long abandoned.
"The Mother-Church?—is then this personal religious life only a state of orphanage? Because true life necessarily begins in the independent self, must it continue without the sheltering of the traditional past, the instructed guidance of older wisdom, and man's joint life in common which by association so enlarges and fortifies the individual good? Why should one not behave with respect to religion as he does in other parts of life? It is our habit elsewhere in all quarters to recognize beyond ourselves an ampler knowledge, a maturer judgment, a more efficient will enacting our own choice. To obey by force is a childish or a slavish act, but intelligently and willingly to accept authority within just limits is the reasonable and practical act of a free man in society; the recognition of this by a youth marks his attainment of intellectual majority. Authority, in all its modes, is the bond of the commonwealth; until the youth comprehends it he is a ward; thereafter he is either a rebel or a citizen, as he lists. For us, born to the largest measure of freedom society has ever known, there is little fear lest the principle of authority should prove a dangerous element. The right of private judgment, which is, I believe, the vital principle of the intellectual life, is the first to be exercised by our young men who lead that life; and quite in the spirit of that education which would repeat in the child the history of the race, we are scarce out of the swaddling bands of the primer and catechism before we would remove all questions to the court of our own jurisdiction. The mind is not a tabula rasa at birth, we learn, but, so soon as may be, we will remedy that, and erase all records copied there. The treasure doors of our fathers' inheritance are thrown open to us; but we will weigh each gold piece with balance and scale. All that libraries contain, all that institutions embody, all the practice of life which, in its innocence, mankind has adopted as things of use and wont, shall be certified by our scrutiny. So in youth we say, and what results? What do the best become? Incapables, detached from the sap of life, forced to escape to the intellectual limbo of a suspension of judgment, extending till it fills heaven and earth. We no longer discuss opinions even; the most we can attain to is an attitude of mind. In view of the vast variety of phases in which even man's great ideas have been held, a sense of indifference among them, a vacuity in all, grows up. Pilate's question, 'What is truth?' ends all.
"This is the extreme penalty of the heroic sceptical resolve in strong and constant minds; commonly those who would measure man's large scope by the gauge of their own ability and experience fall into such idiosyncrasy as is the fruitful mother of sects, abortive social schemes, and all the various brood of dwarfed life; but, for most men, the pressure of life itself, which compels them, like Descartes, doubting the world, to live as if it were real, corrects their original method of independence. They find that to use authority is the better part of wisdom, much as to employ men belongs to practical statecraft; and they learn the reasonable share of the principle of authority in life. They accept, for example, the testimony of others in matters of fact, and their mental results in those subjects with which such men are conversant, on the ground of a just faith in average human capacity in its own sphere; and, in particular, they accept provisional opinions, especially such as are alleged to be verifiable in action, and they put them to the test. This is our habit in all parts of secular life—in scholarship and in practical affairs. 'If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God,' is only a special instance of this law of temporary acceptance and experiment in all life. It is a reasonable command. The confusion of human opinion largely arises from the fact that the greater part of it is unverifiable, owing to the deficient culture or opportunity of those who hold it; and the persistency with which such opinion is argued, clung to, and cherished, is the cause of many of the permanent differences that array men in opposition. The event would dispense with the argument; but in common life, which knows far more of the world than it has in its own laboratory, much lies beyond the reach of such real solution. It is the distinction of vital religious truth that it is not so withdrawn from true proof, but is near at hand in the daily life open to all.
"Such authority, then, as is commonly granted in science, politics, or commerce to the past results and expectations of men bringing human life in these provinces down to our time and delivering it, not as a new, but as an incomplete thing, into the hands of our generation, we may yield also in religion. The lives of the saints and all those who in history have illustrated the methods and results of piety, their convictions, speculations, and hopes, their warning and encouragement, compose a great volume of instruction, illustration, and education of the religious life. It is folly to ignore this, as it would be to ignore the alphabet of letters, the Arabic numerals, or the Constitution; for, as these are the monuments of past achievement and an advantage we have at our start over savage man, so in religion there are as well established results of life already lived. Though the religious life be personal, it is not more so than all life of thought and emotion; and in it we do not begin at the beginning of time any more than in other parts of life. We begin with an inheritance of many experiments hitherto, of many methods, of a whole race-history of partial error, partial truth; and we take up the matter where our fathers laid it down, with the respect due to their earnest toil, their sincere effort and trial, their convictions; and the youth who does not feel their impressiveness as enforcing his responsibility has as nascent a life in religion as he would have, in the similar case, in learning or in citizenship.
"The question of authority in the religious life, however, is more specific than this, and is not to be met by an admission of the general respect due to the human past and its choicer spirits, and our dependence thereon for the fostering of instinctive impulses, direction, and the confirmation of our experience. It is organized religion that here makes its claim to fealty, as organized liberty, organized justice do, in man's communal life. There is a joint and general consent in the masses of men with similar experience united into the Church, with respect to the religious way of life, similar to that of such masses united into a government with respect to secular things. The history of the Church with its embodied dogmas—the past of Christendom—contains that consent; and the Church founds its claim to veneration on this broad accumulation of experience, so gathered from all ages and all conditions of men as to have lost all traces of individuality and become the conviction of mankind to a degree that no free constitution and no legal code can claim. To substitute the simple faith of the young heart, however immediate, in the place of this hoary and commanding tradition is a daring thing, and may seem both arrogance and folly; to stand apart from it, though willing to be taught within the free exercise of our own faculties, abashes us; and it is necessary, for our own self-respect, to adopt some attitude toward the Church definitely, not as a part of the common mass of race-tradition in a diffused state like philosophy, but as an institution like the Throne or the Parliament.
"But may it not be pleaded that, however slight by comparison personal life may seem, yet if it be true, the Church must include this in its own mighty sum; and that what the Church adds to define, expand, and elevate, to guide and support, belongs to growth in spiritual things, not to those beginnings which only are here spoken of? And in defence of a private view and hesitancy, such as is also felt in the organized social life elsewhere, may it not be suggested that the past of Christendom, great as it is in mental force, moral ardour, and spiritual insight, and illustrious with triumphs over evil in man and in society, and shining always with the leading of a great light, is yet a human past, an imperfect stage of progress at every era? Is its historic life, with all its accumulation of creed and custom, not a process of Christianization, in which much has been sloughed off at every new birth of the world? In reading the Fathers we come on states of mind and forms of emotion due to transitory influences and surroundings; and in the history of the Church, we come upon dogmas, ceremonials, methods of work and aims of effort, which were of contemporary validity only. Such are no longer rational or possible; they have passed out of life, belonging to that body of man which is forever dying, not to the spirit that is forever growing; and, too, as all men and bodies of men share in imperfection, we come, in the Fathers and in the Church, upon passions, persecutions, wars, vices, degradation, and failure, necessarily to be accounted as a portion of the admixture of sin and wrong, of evil, in the whole of man's historic life. In view of these obvious facts, and also of the great discrepancies of such organic bodies as are here spoken of in their total mass as the Church, and of their emphasis upon such particularities, is not an attitude of reserve justifiable in a young and conscientious heart? It may seem to be partial scepticism, especially as the necessity for rejection of some portion of this embodied past becomes clearer in the growth of the mind's information and the strengthening of moral judgment in a rightful independence. But if much must be cast away, let it not disturb us; it must be the more in proportion as the nature of man suffers redemption. Let us own, then, and reverence the great tradition of the Church; but he has feebly grasped the idea of Christ leavening the world, and has read little in the records of pious ages even, who does not know that even in the Church it is needful to sift truth from falsehood, dead from living truth.
"If, however, a claim be advanced which forbids such a use of reason as we make in regard to all other human institutions, viewing them historically with reference to their constant service to mankind and their particular adaptation to a changing social state; if, as was the case with the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, the Church proclaims a commission not subject to human control, by virtue of which it would impose creed and ritual, and assumes those great offices, reserved in Puritan thought to God only,—then does it not usurp the function of the soul itself, suppress the personal revelation of the divine by taking from the soul the seals of original sovereignty, remove God to the first year of our era, relying on his mediate revelation in time, and thus take from common man the evidence of religion and therewith its certainty, and in general substitute faith in things for the vital faith? If the voice of the Church is to find only its own echo in the inner voice of life, if its evidences of religion involve more than is near and present to every soul by virtue of its birth, if its rites have any other reality than that of the heart which expresses itself in them and so gives them life and significance, then its authority is external wholly and has nothing in common with that authority which free men erect over themselves because it is themselves embodied in an outward principle. If personality has any place in the soul, if the soul has any original office, then the authority that religion as an organic social form may take on must lie within limits that reserve to the soul its privacy with God, to truth an un-borrowed radiance, and to all men its possession, simple or learned, lay or cleric, through their common experience and ordinary faculties in the normal course of life. Otherwise, it seems to me, personal experience cannot be the beginning of Christian conviction, the true available test of it, the underlying basis of it as we build the temple of God's presence within us, and, as I have called it, the vitality of the whole matter.
"Within these limits, then, imposed by the earlier argument, what, under such reserves of the great principles of liberty, democracy, and justice in which we are bred and which are forms of the cardinal fact of the value of the personal soul in all men,—what to us is the office of the Church? In theology it defines a philosophy which, though an interpretation of divine truth, takes its place in the intellectual scheme of theory like other human philosophies, and has a similar value, differing only in the gravity of its subject-matter, which is the most mysterious known to thought. In its specific rites it dignifies the great moments of life—birth, marriage, and death—with its solemn sanctions; and in its general ceremonies it affords appropriate forms in which religious emotion finds noble and tender expression; especially it enables masses of men to unite in one great act of the heart with the impressiveness that belongs to the act of a community, and to make that act, though emotional in a multitude of hearts, single and whole in manifestation; and it does this habitually in the life of its least groups by Sabbath observances, and in the life of nations by public thanksgivings, and in the life of entire Christendom by its general feasts of Christmas and Easter, and, though within narrower limits, by its seasons of fasting and prayer. In its administration it facilitates its daily work among men. The Church is thus a mighty organizer of thought in theology, of the forms of emotion in its ritual, and of practical action in its executive. Its doctrines, however conflicting in various divisions of the whole vast body, are the result of profound, conscientious, and long-continued thought among its successive synods, which are the custodians of creeds as senates are of constitutions, and whose affirmations and interpretations have a like weight in their own speculative sphere as these possess in the province of political thought age after age. Its counsels are ripe with a many-centuried knowledge of human nature. Its joys and consolations are the most precious inheritance of the heart of man. Its saints open our pathways, and go before, following in the ways of the spirit. Its doors concentrate within their shelter the general faith, and give it there a home. Its table is spread for all men. I do not speak of the Church Invisible, but mean to embrace with this catholicity of statement all organizations, howsoever divided, which own Christ as their Head. Temple, cathedral, and chapel have each their daily use to those who gather there with Christian hearts; each is a living fountain to its own fold. The village spire, wherever it rises on American or English ground, bespeaks an association of families who find in this bond an inward companionship and outward expression of it in a public habit continuing from the fathers down, sanctified by the memories of generations gone, and tender with the hope of the generation to come; and this is of measureless good within such families for young and old alike. It bespeaks also an instrument of charity, unobtrusive, friendly, and searching, and growing more and more unconfined; it bespeaks a rock of public morality deep-set in the foundations of the state.
"It is true that in uniting with such a Church, under the specific conditions natural to both temperament and residence, a man yields something of private right, and sacrifices in a greater or less degree his personality; but this is the common condition of all social cooperation, whether in party action or any union to a common end. The compromise, involved in any platform of principles, tolerates essential differences in important matters, but matters not then important in view of what is to be gained in the main. The advantages of an organized religious life are too plain to be ignored; it is reasonable to go to the very verge in order to avail of them, both for a man's self and for his efficiency in society, just as it is to unite with a general party in the state, and serve it in local primaries, for the ends of citizenship; such means of help and opportunities of accomplishment are not to be lightly neglected. Happy is he who, christened at the font, naturally accepts the duties devolved upon him, and stands in his parents' place; and fortunate I count the youth who, without stress and trouble, undertakes in his turn his father's part. But some there are, born of that resolute manliness of the fathers, which is finer than tempered steel, and of the conscience of the mothers which is more sensitive than the bare nerve,—the very flower of the Puritan tradition, and my heart goes out to them. And if there be a youth in our days who feels hesitancy in such an early surrender into the bosom of a Church, however broadly inclusive of firm consciences, strong heads, and free hearts; if primitive Puritanism is bred in his bone and blood and is there the large reserve of liberty natural to the American heart; if the spirit is so living in him that he dispenses with the form, which to those of less strenuous strain is rather a support; if truth is so precious to him that he will not subscribe to more or less than he believes, or tolerate in inclusive statements speculative and uncertain elements, traditional error, and all that body of rejected doctrine which, though he himself be free from it, must yet be slowly uprooted from the general belief; if emotion is so sacred to him that his native and habitual reticence becomes so sensitive in this most private part of life as to make it here something between God and him only; if his heart of charity and hand of friendship find out his fellow-men with no intervention; if for these reasons, or any of them, or if from that modesty of nature, which is so much more common in American youth than is believed, he hesitates, out of pure awe of the responsibility before God and man which he incurs, to think himself worthy of such vows, such hopes, such duties,—if in any way, being of noble nature, he keeps by himself,—let him not think he thereby withdraws from the life of Christendom, nor that in the Church itself he may not still take some portion of its great good. So far as its authority is of the heart only, so far as it has organized the religious life itself without regard to other ends and free from intellectual, historical, and governmental entanglements that are supplementary at most, he needs no formal act to be one with its spirit; and, however much he may deny himself by his self-limitation, he remains a Christian."
* * * * *
There was no doubt about it; we were lost. The faint tracks in the soil had long ago disappeared, and we followed, as was natural, the draws between the slopes; and now, for the last quarter-hour, the grass had deepened till it was above the wheels and to the shoulders of the ponies. They did not mind; they were born to it. What solitude there was in it, as we pulled up and came to a stand! What wildness was there! Only the great blue sky, with a westward dropping sun of lonely splendour, and green horizons, broken and nigh, of the waving prairie, whispering with the high wind,—and no life but ours shut in among the group of low, close hills all about, in that grassy gulf! The earth seemed near, waiting for us; in such places, just like this, men lost had died and none knew it; half-unconsciously I found myself thinking of Childe Roland's Tower,—
"those two hills on the right Couched,"—
and the reality of crossing the prairie in old days came back on me. That halt in the cup of the hills was our limit; it was a moment of life, an arrival, an end.
The sun was too low for further adventuring. We struck due west on as straight a course as the rugged country permitted, thinking to reach the Looking-glass creek, along which lay the beaten road of travel back to mankind. An hour or two passed, and we saw a house in the distance to which we drove,—a humble house, sod-built, like that we had made our nooning in. We drove to the door, and called; it was long before any answer came; but at last a woman opened the door, her face and figure the very expression of dulled toil, hard work, bodily despair. Alone on that prairie, one would have thought she would have welcomed a human countenance; but she looked on us as if she wished we would be gone, and hardly answered to our question of the road. She was the type of the abandonment of human life. I did not speak to her; but I see her now, as I saw her then, with a kind of surprise that a woman could come to be, by human life, like that. There was no one else in the house; and she shut the door upon us after one sullen look and one scant sentence, as if we, and any other, were naught, and went back to her silence in that green waste, now gilded by the level sun, miles on miles. I have often thought of her since, and what life was to her there, and found some image of other solitudes—and men and women in them—as expansive, as alienating as the wild prairie, where life hides itself, grows dehumanized, and dies.
We drove on, with some word of this; and, eating what we had with us in case of famine, made our supper from biscuit and flask; and, before darkness fell, we struck the creek road, and turned southward,—a splendour of late sunset gleaming over the untravelled western bank, and dying out in red bloom and the purple of slow star-dawning overhead; and on we drove, with a hard road under us, having far to go. At the first farmhouse we watered the willing ponies, who had long succumbed to our control, and who went as if they could not tire, steadily and evenly, under the same strong hand and kindly voice they had felt day-long. It was then I took the reins for an easy stretch, giving my friend a change, and felt what so unobservably he had been doing all day with wrist and eye, while he listened. So we drove down, and knew the moon was up by the changed heavens, though yet unseen behind the bluffs of the creek upon our left; and far away southward, in the evening light, lay the long valley like a larger river. We still felt the upland, however, as a loftier air; and always as, when night comes, nature exercises some mysterious magic of the dark hour in strange places, there, as all day long, we seemed to draw closer to earth—not earth as it is in landscape, a thing of beauty and colour and human kinship, but earth, the soil, the element, the globe.
This was in both our minds, and I had thought of it before he spoke after a long pause over the briar pipes that had comraded our talk since morning. "I can't talk of it now," he said; "it's gone into me in an hour that you have been years in thinking; but that is what you are to us." I say the things he said, for I cannot otherwise give his way, and that trust of love in which these thoughts were born on my lips; all those years, in many a distant place, I had thought for him almost as much as for myself. "You knighted us," he said, "and we fight your cause,"—not knowing that kingship, however great or humble, is but the lowly knights made one in him who by God's grace can speak the word. "I have no doubt it's true, what you say; but it is different. I expected it would be; but we used to speak of nature more than the soul, and of nature's being a guide. Poor Robin, I remember, began with that." "There is a sonnet of Arnold's you know," I answered, "that tells another tale. But I did not learn it from him. And, besides, what else he has to say is not cheerful. Nothing is wise," I interjected, "that is not cheerful."
But without repeating the wandering talk of reality with its changeful tones,—and however serious the matter might be it was never far from a touch of lightness shuttling in and out like sunshine,—I told him, as we drove down the dark valley, my hand resting now on his shoulder near me, how nature is antipodal to the soul; or, if not the antipodes, is apart from us, and cares not for the virtues we have erected, for authority and mercy, for justice, chastity, and sacrifice, for nothing that is man's except the life of the body itself, the race-life, as if man were a chemical element or a wave-motion of ether that are parts of physics. "I convinced myself," I said, "that the soul is not a term in the life of nature, but that nature is in it as a physical vigour and to it an outward spectacle, whereby the soul acquires a preparation for immortality, whether immortality come or not. And I have sometimes thought," I continued, "that on the spiritual side an explanation of the inequalities of human conditions, both past and present, may be contained in the idea that for all alike, lowly and lofty, wretched and fortunate, simple and learned, life remains in all its conditions an opportunity to know God and exercise the soul in virtue, and is an education of the soul in all its essential knowledge and faculties, at least within Christian times, broadly speaking, and in more than one pagan civilization. Material success, fame, wealth, and power—birth even, with all it involves of opportunity and fate—are insignificant, if the soul's life is thus secured. I do not mean that such a thought clears the mystery of the different lots of mankind; but it suggests another view of the apparent injustice of the world in its most rigid forms. This, however, is a wandering thought. The great reversal of the law of nature in the soul lies in the fact that whereas she proceeds by the selfish will of the strongest trampling out the weak, spiritual law requires the best to sacrifice itself for the least. Scientific ethics, which would chloroform the feeble, can never succeed until the race makes bold to amend what it now receives as the mysterious ways of heaven, and identifies a degenerate body with a dead soul. Such a code is at issue with true democracy, which requires that every soul, being equal in value in view of its unknown future, shall receive the benefit of every doubt in earthly life, and be left as a being in the hands of the secret power that ordained its existence in the hour when nature was constituted to be its mode of birth, consciousness, and death. And if the choice must be made on the broad scale, it is our practical faith that the service of the best, even to the point of death, is due to the least in the hope of bettering the lot of man. Hence, as we are willing that in communities the noblest should die for a cause, we consent to the death of high civilizations, if they spread in some Hellenization of a Roman, some Romanizing of a barbaric world; and to the extinction of aristocracies, if their virtues thereby are disseminated and the social goods they monopolized made common in a people; and to the falling of the flower of man's spirit everywhere, if its seeds be sown on all the winds of the future for the blessing of the world's fuller and more populous life. Such has been the history of our civilization, and still is, and must be till the whole earth's surface be conquered for mankind, embodied in its highest ideals, personal and social. This is not nature's way, who raises her trophy over the slain; our trophy is man's laurel upon our grave. So, everywhere except in the physical sphere of life, if you would find the soul's commands, reverse nature's will. This superiority to nature, as it seems to me, this living in an element plainly antithetical to her sphere, is a sign of 'an ampler ether, a diviner air.'"
So I spoke, as the words came to me, while we were still driving down the dark valley, in deeper shadows, under higher bluffs, looking out on a levelled world westward, stretching off with low, white, wreathing mists and moonlit distances of plains beyond the further bunk. We turned a great shoulder of the hills, and the moon shone out bright and clear, riding in heaven; and the southward reach unlocked, and gave itself for miles to our eyes. At the instant, while the ponies came back upon their haunches at the drop of the long descent ahead, we both cried out, "the Looking-glass!" There it was, about a mile away before and below us, as plain as a pikestaff,—a silvery reach, like a long narrow lake, smooth as the floor of cloud seen from above among mountains, silent, motionless,—for all the world like an immense, spectral looking-glass, set there in the half-darkened waste. It was evidently what gave the name to the creek, and I have since noticed the same name elsewhere in the Western country, and I suppose the phenomenon is not uncommon. For an hour or more it remained; we never seemed to get nearer to it; it was an eerie thing—the earth-light of the moon on that side,—I saw it all the time.
"The difference you spoke of," I began, with my eyes upon that spectral pool, "is only that change which belongs to life, dissolving like illusion, but not itself illusion. I am not aware of any break; it is the old life in a higher form with clearer selfhood. Life, in the soul especially, seems less a state of being than a thing of transformation, whose successive shapes we wear; and so far as that change is self-determined," I continued, making almost an effort to think, so weird was that scene before us, "the soul proceeds by foreknowledge of itself in the ideal, and wills the change by ideal living, which is not a conflict with the actual but a process out of it, conditioned in almost a Darwinian way on that brain-futuring which entered into the struggle for animal existence even with such enormous modifying power. In our old days, under the sway of new scientific knowledge, we instinctively saw man in the perspective of nature, and then man seemed almost an after-thought of nature; but having been produced, late in her material history, and gifted with foresight that distinguished him from all else in her scheme, his own evolution gathered thereby that speed which is so perplexing a contrast to the inconceivable slowness of the orbing of stars and the building of continents. He has used his powers of prescience for his own ends; but, fanciful as the thought is, might it happen that through his control of elemental forces and his acquaintance with infinite space, he should reach the point of applying prescience in nature's own material frame, and wield the world for the better accomplishment of her apparent ends,—that, though unimaginable now, would constitute the true polarity to her blind and half-chaotic motions,—chaotic in intelligence, I mean, and to the moral reason. Unreal as such a thought is, a glimpse of some such feeling toward nature is discernible in the work of some impressionist landscape painters, who present colour and atmosphere and space without human intention, as a kind of artistry of science, having the same sort of elemental substance and interest that scientific truth has as an object of knowledge,—a curious form of the beauty of truth."
We spoke of some illustrations of this, the scene before us lending atmosphere and suggestion to the talk, and enforcing it like nature's comment. "But," I continued, "what I had in mind to say was concerning our dead selves. The old phrase, life is a continual dying, is true, and, once gone life is death; and sometimes so much of it has been gathered to the past, such definite portions of it are laid away, that we can look, if we will, in the lake of memory on the faces of the dead selves which once we were." Instinctively we looked on the mystic glamour in the low valley, as on that Lake of the Dead Souls I spoke of. I went on after the natural pause,—I could not help it,—"'I was a different man, then,' we say, with a touch of sadness, perhaps, but often with better thoughts, and always with a feeling of mystery. How old is the youth before he is aware of the fading away of vitality out of early beliefs? and then he feels the quick passing of the enthusiasms of opening life, as one cause after another, one hero, one poet, disclosing the great interests of life, in turn engages his heart. As time goes on, and life comes out in its true perspective, one thing with another, and he discovers the incompleteness of single elements of ardour in the whole of life, and also the defects of wisdom, art, and action in those books and men that had won his full confidence and what he called perfect allegiance, there comes often a moment of pause, as if this growth had in it some thing irrational and derogatory. The thinkers whose words of light and leading were the precious truth itself, the poets he idolized, the elders he trusted, fall away, and others stand in their places, who better appeal to his older mind, his finer impulses, his sounder judgment; and what true validity can these last have in the end? After a decade he can almost see his youth as something dead, his early manhood as something that will die. The poet, especially, who gives expression to himself, and puts his life at its period into a book, feels, as each work drops from his hand, that it is a portion of a self that is dead, though it was life in the making; and so with the embodiments of life in action, the man looks back on past greatness, past romance; for all life, working itself out—desire into achievement—dies to the man. Vital life lies always before. It is a strange thought that only by the death of what we now are, can we enter into our own hopes and victories; that it is by the slaying of the self which now is that the higher self takes life; that it is through such self-destruction that we live. The intermediate state seems a waste, and the knowledge that it is intermediate seems to impair its value; but this is the way ordained by which we must live, and such is life's magic that in each stage, from childhood to age, it is lived with trustfulness in itself. It is needful only, however much we outlive, to live more and better, and through all to remain true to the high causes, the faithful loves, the sacred impulses, that have given our imperfect life of the past whatever of nobility it may have; so shall death forever open into life. But," I ended, lifting my moist eyes toward the sweep of the dark slopes, "the wind blows, and leaves the mystic to inquire whence and whither, the wild shrub blossoms and only the poet is troubled to excuse its beauty, and happy is he who can live without too much thought of life."
The sheen of the river had died out, and the creek was only a common stream lit with the high moon, and bordered far off to the west with the low indistinguishable country. We drove in silence down the valley along that shelf of road under the land. The broken bluffs on the left rose into immense slopes of rolling prairie, and magnified by the night atmosphere into majesty, heavy with deep darkness in their folds, stood massive and vast in the dusk moonlight, like a sea. Then fell on me and grew with strange insistence the sense of this everlasting mounded power of the earth, like the rise and subsidence of ocean in an element of slower and more awful might. The solid waste began to loom and lift, almost with the blind internal strength of the whirl of the planet through space. Deeper into the shadow we plunged with every echoing tread of the hoofs. The lair of some mysterious presence was about us,—unshaped, unrealized, as in some place of antique awe before the time of temples or of gods. It seemed a corporal thing. If I stretched out my hand I should touch it like the ground. It came out from all the black rifts, it rolled from the moonlit distinct heights, it filled the chill air,—it was an envelopment—it would be an engulfment—horse and man we were sinking in it. Then it was—most in all my days—that I felt dense mystery overwhelming me. "O infinite earth," I thought, "our unknowing mother, our unknowing grave!"—"What is it?" he said, feeling my wrist straighten where it lay on his shoulder, and the tremor and the hand seeking him. Was it a premonition? "Nothing," I answered, and did not tell him; but he began to cheer me with lighter talk, and win me back to the levels of life, and under his sensitive and loving ways, the excitement of the ride died out, and an hour later, after midnight, we drove into the silent town. We put the ponies up, praising them with hand and voice; and then he took both my hands in his and said, "The truest thing you ever said was what you wrote me, 'We live each others' lives.'" That was his thanks.
O brave and tender heart, now long lapped under the green fold of that far prairie in his niche of earth! How often I see him as in our first days,—the boy of seventeen summers, lying on his elbows over his Thackeray, reading by the pictures, and laughing to himself hour after hour; and many a prairie adventure, many happy days and fortunate moments come back, with the strength and bloom of youth, as I recall the manly figure, the sensitive and eager face, and all his resolute ways. Who of us knows what he is to another? He could not know how much his life entered into mine, and still enters. But he is dead; and I have set down these weak and stammering words of the life we began together, not for the strong and sure, but for those who, though true hearts, find it hard to lay hold of truth, and doubt themselves, in the hope that some younger comrade of life, though unknown, may make them of avail and find in them the dark leading of a hand.