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Heart of Man by George Edward Woodberry

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it owns the most catholic organ of authority, and enters into it with
the entire original force of the community.

This universal will of democracy is distinguished from the more limited
forms of states partially embodying democratic principles by the fact
that nothing enters into it except man as such. The rival powers which
seek to encroach upon this scheme, and are foreign elements in a pure
democracy, are education, property, and ancestry, which last has its
claim as the custodian of education and property and the advantages
flowing from their long possession; the trained mind, the accumulated
capital, and the fixed historic tradition of the nation in its most
intense and efficient personal form are summed up in these, and would
appropriate to themselves in the structure of government a
representation not based on individual manhood but on other grounds. If
it be still allowed that all men should have a share in a
self-government, it is yet maintained that a share should be granted, in
addition, to educated men and owners of property, and to descendants of
such men who have founded permanent families with an inherited capacity,
a tradition, and a material stake. Yet these three things, education,
property, and ancestry, are in the front rank of those inequalities in
human conditions which democracy would minimize. They embody past custom
and present results which are a deposit of the past; they plead that
they found men wards and were their guardians, and that under their own
domination progress was made, and all that now is came into being; but
they must show farther some reason in present conditions under
democracy now why such potent inequalities and breeders of inequality
should be clothed with governing power.

Universal suffrage is the centre of the discussion, and the argument
against it is twofold. It is said that, though much in the theory of
democracy may be granted and its methods partially adopted, men at large
lack the wisdom to govern themselves for good in society, and also that
they control by their votes much more than is rightfully their own. The
operation of the social will is in large concerns of men requiring
knowledge and skill, and it has no limits. In state affairs education
should have authority reserved to it, and certain established interests,
especially the rights of property, should be exempted from popular
control; and the effectual means of securing these ends is to magnify
the representatives of education and property to such a degree that they
will retain deciding power. But is this so? or if there be some truth in
the premises, may it not be contained in the democratic scheme and
reconciled with it? And, to begin with, is education, in the special
sense, so important in the fundamental decisions which the suffrage
makes? I speak, of course, of literary education. It may well be the
case that the judgment of men at large is sufficiently informed and
sound to be safe, and is the safest, for the reason that the good of
society is for all in common, and being, from the political point of
view, in the main, a material good, comes home to their business and
bosoms in the most direct and universal way, in their comfort or
deprivation, in prosperity and hard times, in war and famine, and those
wide-extended results of national policies which are the evidence and
the facts. Politics is very largely, and one might almost say normally,
a conflict of material interests; ideas dissociated from action are not
its sphere; the way in which policies are found immediately to affect
human life is their political significance. On the broad scale, who is a
better judge of their own material condition and the modifications of it
from time to time, of what they receive and what they need from
political agencies, than the individual men who gain or suffer by what
is done, on so great a scale that, combined, these men make the masses?
Experience is their touchstone, and it is an experience universally
diffused. Education, too, is a word that will bear interpretation. It is
not synonymous with intelligence, for intelligence is native in men,
and, though increased by education, not conditioned upon it.
Intelligence, in the limited sphere in which the unlearned man applies
it, in the things he knows, may be more powerful, more penetrating,
comprehensive, and quick, in him, than in the technically educated man;
for he is educated by things, and especially in those matters which
touch his own interests, widely shared. The school of life embodies a
compulsory education that no man escapes. If politics, then, be in the
main a conflict of material interests broadly affecting masses of men,
the people, both individually and as a body, may well be more competent
to deal with the matter in hand intelligently than those who, though
highly educated, are usually somewhat removed from the pressure of
things, and feel results and also conditions, even widely prevalent, at
a less early stage and with less hardship, and at best in very mild
forms. Besides, to put it grossly, it is often not brains that are
required to diagnose a political situation so much as stomachs. The
sphere of ideas, of reason and argument, in politics, is really
limited; in the main, politics is, as has been said, the selfish
struggle of material interests in a vast and diversified State.

Common experience furnishes a basis of political fact, well known to the
people in their state of life, and also a test of any general policy
once put into operation. The capacity of the people to judge the event
in the long run must be allowed. But does broad human experience,
however close and pressing, contain that forecast of the future, that
right choice of the means of betterment, or even knowledge of the remedy
itself, which belong in the proper sphere of enlightened intelligence? I
am not well assured that it is not so. The masses have been long in
existence, and what affects them is seldom novel; they are of the breed
that through

"old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain."

The sense of the people, learning from their fathers and their mothers,
sums up a vast amount of wisdom in common life, and more surely than in
others the half-conscious tendencies of the times; for in them these are
vital rather than reflective, and go on by the force of universal
conditions, hopes, and energies. In them, too, intelligence works in
precisely the same way as in other men, and in politics precisely as in
other parts of life. They listen to those they trust who, by
neighbourhood, by sympathetic knowledge of their own state, or actual
share in it, by superior powers of mind and a larger fund of
information, are qualified to be their leaders in forming opinion and
their instruments in the policy they adopt. These leaders may be called
demagogues. They may be thought to employ only resources of trickery
upon dupes for selfish ends; but such a view, generally, is a shallow
one, and not justified by facts. It is right in the masses to make men
like themselves and nigh to them, especially those born and bred in
their own condition of life, their leaders, in preference to men,
however educated, benevolent, and upright, who are not embodiments of
the social conditions, needs, and aspirations of the people in their
cruder life, if it in fact substantially be so, and to allow these men,
so chosen, to find a leader among themselves. Such a man is a true chief
of a party, who is not an individual holding great interests in trust
and managing them with benevolent despotism by virtue of his own
superior brain; he is the incarnation, as a party chief, of other brains
and wills, a representative exceeding by far in wisdom and power
himself, a man in whom the units of society, millions of them, have
their governmental life. No doubt he has great qualities of sympathy,
comprehension, understanding, tact, efficient power, in order to become
a chief; but he leads by following, he relies on his sense of public
support, he rises by virtue of the common will, the common sense, which
store themselves in him. Such the leaders of the people have always

If this process--and it is to be observed that as the scale of power
rises the more limited elements of social influence enter into the
result with more determining force--be apparently crude in its early
stages, and imperfect at the best, is it different from the process of
social expansion in other parts of life? Wherever masses of men are
entering upon a rising and larger life, do not the same phenomena occur?
in religion, for example, was there not a similar popular crudity, as it
is termed by some, a vulgarity as others name it, in the Methodist
movement, in the Presbyterian movement, in the Protestant movement,
world-wide? Was English Puritanism free from the same sort of
characteristics, the things that are unrefined as belong to democratic
politics in another sphere? The method, the phenomena, are those that
belong to life universal, if life be free and efficient in moving masses
of men upward into more noble ranges. Men of the people lead, because
the people are the stake. On the other hand, educated leaders, however
well-intentioned, may be handicapped if they are not rooted deeply in
the popular soil. Literary education, it must never be forgotten, is not
specially a preparation for political good judgment. It is predominantly
concerned, in its high branches, with matters not of immediate political
consequence--with books generally, science, history, language, technical
processes and trades, professional outfits, and the manifold activity of
life not primarily practical, or if practical not necessarily political.
Men of education, scholars especially, even in the field of political
system, are not by the mere fact of their scholarship highly or
peculiarly fitted to take part in the active leadership of politics,
unless they have other qualifications not necessarily springing from
their pursuits in learning; they are naturally more engaged with ideas
in a free state, theoretical ideas, than with ideas which are in reality
as much a part of life as of thought; and the method of dealing with
these vitalized and, as it were, adulterated ideas has a specialty of
its own.

It must be acknowledged, too, that in the past, the educated class as a
whole has commonly been found to entertain a narrow view; it has been on
the side of the past, not of the future; previous to the revolutionary
era the class was not--though it is now coming to be--a germinating
element in reform, except in isolated cases of high genius which
foresees the times to come and develops principles by which they come;
it has been, even during our era, normally in alliance with property and
ancestry, to which it is commonly an appurtenance, and like them is
deeply engaged in the established order, under which it is comfortable,
enjoying the places there made for its functions, and is conservative of
the past, doubtful of the changing order, a hindrance, a brake, often a
note of despair. I do not forget the great exceptions; but revolutions
have come from below, from the masses and their native leaders, however
they may occasionally find some preparation in thinkers, and some
welcome in aristocrats. The power of intellectual education as an
element in life is always overvalued; and, within its sphere, which is
less than is represented, it is subject to error, prejudice, and
arrogance of its own; and, being without any necessary connection with
love or conscience, it has often been a reactionary, disturbing, or
selfish force in politics and events, even when well acquainted with the
field of politics, as ever were any of the forms of demagogy in the
popular life. Intelligence, in the form of high education, can make no
authoritative claim, as such, either by its nature, its history, or, as
a rule, its successful examples in character. The suffrage, except as by
natural modes it embodies the people's practical and general
intelligence, in direct decisions and in the representatives of
themselves whom it elects to serve the State, need not look to high
education as it has been in the privileged past, for light and leading
in matters of fundamental concern; education remains useful, as expert
knowledge is always useful in matters presently to be acted on; but in
so far as it is separable from the business of the State, and stands by
itself in a class not servants of the State and mainly critical and
traditionary, it is deserving of no special political trust because of
any superiority of judgment it may allege. In fact, education has
entered with beneficent effect into political life with the more power,
in proportion as it has become a common and not a special endowment, and
the enfranchisement of education, if I may use the term, is rather a
democratic than an aristocratic trait. Education, high education even,
is more respected and counts for more in a democracy than under the
older systems. But in a democracy it remains true, that so far as
education deserves weight, it will secure it by its own resources, and
enter into political results, as property does, with a power of its own.
There, least of all, does it need privilege. Education is one inequality
which democracy seems already dissolving.

What suffrage records, in opposition it may be to educated opinion, as
such, is the mental state of the people, and their choices of the men
they trust with the accomplishment of what is to be done. If the
suffrage is exposed to defect in wisdom by reason of its dulness and
ignorance, which I by no means admit, the remedy lies not in a
guardianship of the people by the educated class, but in popular
education itself, in lower forms, and the diffusion of that general
information which, in conjunction with sound morals, is all that is
required for the comprehension of the great questions decided by
suffrage, and the choice of fit leaders who shall carry the decisions
into effect. The vast increase of this kind of intelligence, bred of
such schools and such means for the spread of political information as
have grown up here, has been a measureless gain to man in many other
than political ways. No force has been so great, except the discussion
of religious dogma and practice under the Reformation in northern
nations, in establishing a mental habit throughout the community. The
suffrage also has this invaluable advantage, that it brings about a
substitution of the principle of persuasion for that of force, as the
normal mode of dealing with important differences of view in State
affairs; it is, in this respect, the corollary of free speech and the
preservative of that great element of liberty, and progress under
liberty, which is not otherwise well safe-guarded. It is also a
continuous thing, and deals with necessities and disagreements as they
arise and by gradual means, and thus, by preventing too great an
accumulation of discontent, it avoids revolution, containing in itself
the right of revolution in a peaceable form under law. It is, moreover,
a school into which the citizen is slowly received; and it is capable of
receiving great masses of men and accustoming them to political thought,
free and efficient action in political affairs, and a civic life in the
State, breeding in them responsibility for their own condition and that
of the State. It is the voice of the people always speaking; nor is it
to be forgotten, especially by those who fear it, that the questions
which come before the suffrage for settlement are, in view of the whole
complex and historic body of the State, comparatively few; for society
and its institutions, as the fathers handed them down, are accepted at
birth and by custom and with real veneration, as our birthright,--the
birthright of a race, a nation, and a hearth. The suffrage does not
undertake to rebuild from the foundations; the people are slow to remove
old landmarks; but it does mean to modify and strengthen this
inheritance of past ages for the better accomplishment of the ends for
which society exists, and the better distribution among men of the goods
which it secures.

Fraternity, the third constituent of democracy, enforces the idea of
equality through its doctrine of brotherhood, and enlarges the idea of
liberty, which thus becomes more than an instrument for obtaining
private ends, is inspired with a social spirit and has bounds set to its
exercise. Fraternity leads us, in general, to share our good, and to
provide others with the means of sharing in it. This good is
inexhaustible and makes up welfare in the State, the common weal. It is
in the sphere of fraternity, in particular, that humanitarian ideas, and
those expressions of the social conscience which we call moral issues,
generally arise, and enter more or less completely into political life.
In defining politics as, in the main, a selfish struggle of material
interests, this was reserved, that, from time to time, questions of a
higher order do arise, such as that of slavery in our history, which
have in them a finer element; and, though it be true that government has
in charge a race which is yet so near to the soil that it is never far
from want, and therefore government must concern itself directly and
continuously with arrangements for our material welfare, yet the higher
life has so far developed that matters which concern it more intimately
are within the sphere of political action, and among these we reckon all
those causes which appeal immediately to great principles, to liberty,
justice, and manhood, as things apart from material gain or loss, and in
our consciousness truly spiritual; and such a cause, preeminently, was
the war for the Union, heavy as it was with the fate of mankind under
democracy. In such crises, which seldom arise, material good is
subordinated for the time being, and life and property, our great
permanent interests, are held cheap in the balance with that which is
their great charter of value, as we conceive our country.

Yet even here material interests are not far distant. Such issues are
commonly found to be involved with material interests in conflict, or
are alloyed with them in the working out; and these interests are a
constituent, though, it may be, not the controlling matter. It is
commonly felt, indeed, that some warrant of material necessity is
required in any great political act, for politics, as has been said, is
an affair of life, not of free ideas; and without such a plain
authorization reform is regarded as an invasion of personal liberty of
thought, expression, or action, which is the breeding-place of
progressive life and therefore carefully guarded from intrusion. In
proportion as the material interests are less clearly affected
injuriously, a cause is removed into the region of moral suasion, and
loses political vigour. Religious issues constitute the extreme of
political action without regard to material interests, wars of
conversion being their ultimate, and they are more potent with less
developed races. For this reason the humanitarian and moral sphere of
fraternity lies generally outside of politics, in social institutions
and habits, which political action may sometimes favour as in public
charities, but which usually rely on other resources for their support.
On occasions of crisis, however, a great idea may marshal the whole
community in its cause; and, more and more, the cause so championed
under democracy is the spiritual right of man.

But fraternity finds, perhaps, its great seal of sovereignty in that
principle of persuasion which has been spoken of already, and in that
substitution of it for force, in the conduct of human affairs, which
democracy has made, as truly as it has replaced tyranny with the
authority of a delegated and representative liberty. Persuasion, in its
moral form, outside of politics,--which is so largely resorted to in a
community that does not naturally regard the imposition of virtue, even,
with favour, but believes virtue should be voluntary in the man and
decreed by him out of his own soul,--need not be enlarged upon here; but
in its intellectual form, as a persuasion of the mind and will
necessarily precedent to political action, it may be glanced at, since
law thus becomes the embodied persuasion of the community, and is itself
no longer force in the objectionable sense; even minorities, to which it
is adversely applied, and on which it thus operates like tyranny,
recognize the different character it bears to arbitrary power as that
has historically been. But outside of this refinement of thought in the
analysis, the fact that the normal attitude of any cause in a democracy
is that men must be persuaded of its justice and expediency, before it
can impose itself as the will of the State on its citizens, marks a
regard for men as a brotherhood of equals and freemen, of the highest
consequence in State affairs, and with a broad overflow of moral habit
upon the rest of life.

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

"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

"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

"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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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.

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