Imágenes de páginas

by the attractions of popular gossip, and ephemeral importance of office.

During the latter days of ancient Rome, the imperial dignity was purchasable by the highest bidder, to whom the mercenary prætorian bands passed it in quick succession. But ruling minds were never among the purchasers. So is it in our time. The temporary and apparent dominion of men is attainable at a market price, but no virtuously conscious mind can consent to pay it. For it is as certain now as of old, that the mercenary bands will slay every soul which is not sufficiently compliant to their purposes, as of old they slew the body. Office can be gained in gyves only. 6 Bound hand and foot" is the common expression of the victims themselves, who, with a zeal worthy a nobler cause, suffer their better nature to be sacrificed on the vain cross of public political life.

A state of things, thus subversive of all true greatness, is necessarily equivalent to an impassable barrier against real manhood. The dove finds little that is congenial to its nature in that muck heap which ushers the viper into day. The best men are thus the first to be convinced, that the present order of existence is not so much to be desig. nated as erroneous, as that it is essentially an error; a magnificent error possibly, but no less an error ; a mistake which no perfecting of the system can rectify, but rather must render its inherent crookedness more obvious. Attempted perfection thus becomes a beneficence ; for men, who have resolved upon any course as true, are not wont to be convinced of its delusion, until they have run to the end of it. While, therefore, the progressive man cheers onward every projected reform, he is not to be assailed as faithless, because he has no hope in reformed old institutions as the ultimate in human earthly existence. The parent, who is quite conscious that youth leads to manhood, may; nevertheless, supply his boy with the toys he asks for. And the world, still in its youth, is merely crying for toy after toy, in succession, according to its age; and the more freely and quickly the world is indulged, the more fully and speedily will it be convinced of their worthlessness. There seems to be no other mode of progress for a race generated so deeply in ill as the present stock of humanity. If our being dated from wisdom and love, so much effort to bring us back again to those qualities would not be required.

For fifteen hundred years, Western civilization, with the lustre of Christianity superadded, has been struggling to perfection, an ideal perfection of its own; and at the close of that period, the acknowledgement is more complete, that we have approximated little towards the true end, beyond men of pagan civilization, or barbaric sylvanisin.

An enthusiastic ardor, a pressure upward to a higher and purer life, is an indestructible instinct in the human soul. Hope is the truly youthful spirit, the characteristic nature, which distinguishes the brighest specimens amongst the duller human mass. It is the sacred fire, which, on the altar of human clay, perpetuates the remembrance and the connexion of heaven. Caught by the first luminous sparks which

which appear in the social temple, such purer beings attach themselves, in entire simplicity, to the shining lights of the age, with little inquiry, and little power to discriminate to what end they will lead. Sad experience proves that they lead nowhere. Deceived, but not depressed, the youthful spirit still relies. Its faith again deceived is again and again renewed, until reliance on men or measures becomes itself a breach of faith. In disappointment and disgust of reform and reformers, how many noble souls are now wandering objectless, almost hopeless, in tartarean fields.

Diffidence, humble self-estimation, is ever a quality in the true soul. Hence the most sincere are seldom found in the front rank in political reform. They defer to leaders, who with some partial dazzling talent, but no determined intention of carrying principle into action, talk loudly in echo of what they suppose to be the general sentiment. Year after year witnesses the rise of these wavelets on the political ocean, which as soon are succeeded and suppressed by the offspring of a fresh wind. Of late these bubbles have arisen and passed away, with such rapidity, that reliance on them is almost worn out, Their mere frequency exposes their instability. In the days of slow travelling, the mercantile community still entertained hope that rapid communication would aid their prosperity ; but now that steam packets and rail ways almost bring the ends of the earth together, the delusion has vanished, and the merchant no longer thinks he should be relieved, if communication were electrically instant. His hopes no longer are based on mechanical contrivances. Thus is it, also, in the moralpolitical sphere. The noisy, heartless, external reformers, have risen and sunk with such rapidity, that experience of their futility is revealed to every one. A life, short as it is, is no more required to develop to the simplest observer the hollowness of political reforms and reformers. But it requires some faculties to become a simple observer; which the misled multitude yet possess not. So that there is still an occupation left for a few small actors on this stage.

Comparatively great efforts are, however, now needed to maintain politics on anything like a respectable footing. So that to predict their speedy downfall is not a very hazardous prophecy. To think by deputy is found to be as unhappy for the mind, as to cast our fair share of physical labor upon others is fraudulent to the body. Drudge politicians are no less degraded than drudge laborers. It is now grown so evident that the pure mind cannot have its garment's hem touched by the hand of public life, without feeling that the virtue has gone out of it, that the superior minds in all countries are working in other directions.

For these other directions, the great mass, also, are evidently preparing. So frequently have the people been told that some great event was on the eve of development, that now is the appointed time, that they cease to have faith in such calculators. One crotchet after another, which it cost not a little to attain, has been accomplished, and happiness seems distant as ever. Magna Charta, Bill of Rights, Trial by Jury, Purity of Parliament, Diminished Taxation, Democracy, Separation of Church and State, Universal Suffrage, Pure Republicanism, Universal Education, Physical Abundance, - all these have been gained; and, although not in vain, yet it is uncertain whether they are really worth the powder, shot, and mental anxiety which they cost. Monarchy, hierarchy, despotism, monopoly, exclusion, and every other outward political form of selfishness men may, one after another, set aside ; but as fast as destructive reform proceeds in one section, hindering corruption is growing in another; and so long as men remain unreformed within, there always will be a crop ripe for the reformer's sickle. Now this fact is rising into consciousness in so many bosoms, that there is almost a general readiness to follow those superior minds, which, recoiling from the

uncomeliness in all state affairs, are each, in their several directions, essaying their best for humanity.

The Literary Class, by nature, by genius, the friend of virtue, of liberty, of man, ever ready to announce and to explain new truths, what do its best members at such a crisis ? Sad to say, but the fact must out, that the divine gift of literary or poetic utterance is not always allied to taintless integrity. “We must live," say the writers.“ Bread must be had. We have as much right to the market value of our mental organization, as the holder of physical strength has to the results of his energies.” Thus a large number at once justify the extremest hiring which a commercial press can offer. The trading spirit buys the productions; a trader is the factor between the author and the reader. How then can the writer escape the general pollution ? A few, more nice in mental sensibility, must have readers in some degree conformed to their own intuitions, and sell themselves to a select circle only. But few are there who either now are, or seek to become acquainted with the dignity of poverty, if complete fidelity to their mission should involve such a consequence. Nay when, at distant intervals, an unsold, uncompromising pen appears, the hireling recreants are ever ready to assail the disloyal rebel whose example might leave thein breadless.

Pitiable, indeed, is this bankruptcy of soul. For these are the appointed means, in their degree, for man's mental redemption. They are the morning watchmen sleeping on the walls. Their dormancy is fatal to the whole city. Nay, worse is their treason, for they are bought by the arch-enemy of the good citizens. And he who, though denouncing them not, is faithful to his trust, they fail not to slander as the recreant.

The degeneracy of literature taints the age. Instead of reclaiming men to uprightness; instead of stirring them once more to their feet'; it accepts the wretched price of bread to confirm them in ignoble indolence of heart, and an activity of head still more ignoble. It receives its dun color from an ill-tinctured source, and returns one of a still darker shade. Time was when the author and the prophet were one. Then the oracle and the oracular were not sepa. rated, and there was no weighing and adjusting in the scales of popular approbation, before the voice spake what the

heart felt. Misgivings of the people are deplorable ; defalcations of statesmen are sad; but when the purest of popular instruinents thus fail, when the very ladder, by which we are to ascend from words to being, is constructed of rotten wood, what hope can remain for the nations ?

Literature, then, is a false dependence. Since its divorce from real being, it is unavoidably barren. It is divorced whenever for a price it concedes favors. Of it nothing is to be expected. At the best, it presents to the people pretty pictures, which there is no intention whatever to realize. Of these paintings the world possesses a large stock, and it seems still increasing, every addition to which constitutes a fresh obstacle to human progress. The masonry, designed by the architect for a road to facilitate, is built into a wall to obstruct, and each added slab serves only to augment the bindrances. When men escaped from the confined air of the cloistered church, they imagined not they should fall into the meshes of a new priestcraft. When men are liberated from the hireling priest, they are little aware how they are caught by the hireling press. It is as fatal to thought, to purity, to integrity, to religion, for a nation to be press-ridden, as it is to be priest-ridden.

Of mere literature, therefore, there is no hope. Logical acumen, argumentative force, fluent expression, prompt wit, do not ensure moral rectitude, although originally they must have been allied to it. But integrity does not seem so marketable as its faculties. That can neither be bought nor sold; — these are ever purchaseable, and have, of late, found so ready a market, that the expectation is of the next change being an increased supply, and a superabundant stock. When intellectuality is so plentiful as to be worth little in the market, the home demand may possibly be served. Since men have concluded that knowledge is power, and that ignorance is the source of all our woes, they have indefatigably pursued the accumulation not of fact-knowledge, but of the records of fact-knowledge and of fact-speculation, until the sun of truth is almost hidden from their eyes.

Literature is indeed a telescope which takes the whole firmament within its visual field; but, unfortunately, its lenses are constructed of paper instead of glass; a semitransparent shade, reflecting its own imprinted errors; not a lucid medium transmitting pure light. Lite

« AnteriorContinuar »