Page images

showers, being generated in high places, inevitably descend into lower ones, and ultimately flow down to the unstable mass as rain into the wavering sea. Hence the generality of men have come to look upon and regard the rich instructions of antiquity with glazed eyes and stony hearts. To them its wonderful reve. lations are unintelligible hieroglyphics; and if some honest antiquarian attempt to decipher these mysterious writings penned by an invisible hand, he is at once thought to have some secret hankering after the flesh-pots of Egypi. Such men would rather pay their compliments to some old fortune-telling dame, and by trick of legerdemain learn the prospects for the future, than sit at the feet of the venerable Past and imbibe its sage lessons.

This widely prevalent error working theoretically and practically manifold pernicious resulis, which of course we cannot here even notice, is mainly attributable to a false conception of the nature of history. The vast upheavings of thought, and the revolutions in actual life which have occurred in past ages, are regarded only as transient phenomena to excite the wonder and admiration of those who may have seen them. The vast spiritual Gothic domes reared by the genius and application of past ages have been entombed, like Herculaneum and Pompeii, beneath the smouldering ashes of wasting years; and if a relic has chanced to survive the general wreck, it is preserved simply as a memento of former glory and later ruin. The principles which have struck deep their roots in the fertile soil of the past, and which are now Banian-like spreading wide their branches for the protection and comfort of future ages, are totally disregarded, or at best looked upon with suspicious misgivings. It is moreover pretended to support such an ultra radical and unbistorical theory, by plausible argumentation. The pressing claims of the Present are held out as imperatively demanding all our time and attention. The present startling realities with which we are confronted on every side, are enough to engross our thoughts, and employ our hands. Why geologist-like should we dig into the bowels of the Past, and reveal its hidden treasures, when we have sufficient in our own day and generation. Why shall the canonized bones hearsed in death burst their cerements ? Why shall the sepulchre wherein lifeless bodies have been quietly inurned open its inarble jaws to unfold its wisdom, when we are surrounded by living preceptors? If they hear not the instructions of our age, they will not listen even though one rose from the dead.

The imperfections, and “pious sins" of our honoured ances. tors are brought into swell the force of the objection. The shades of departed spirits are conjured up as if by magic power, and their occult guilt unkennelled. With apparent triumph it is exultingly asked, shall the infant Past, incapacitated for its own self-government, instruct and govern us who long since have Jaid aside our swaddling clothes ? Shall children rise up to teach their parents lessons which they have never learned themselves? But even grant the mental capabilities and moral qualifications of the Past, where is the guaranty that we shall understand its sacred oracles. How shall we be assured that we are not giving heed to the false doctrine, and the seducing spirit of some treacherous Simon !

Now in reply to these several positions, betraying an utter want of faith in the development of the world's past life, we affirm that History is on the one hand the revelation of the Divine reason and will, and on the other the evolution of the life of humanity. God and man mutually co-operate in this vast world-process, form the dignification and perfection of human life, and thereby the glorification of the Divine will. There is in the world, and in every period of its progressive movement, an unseen Divinity, that shapes all our ends, according to the configuration of its own glorious type. To attain this consummation devoutly wished for, is the aim and end of life. To this human nature is ever aspiring like the Pegasus of Achilles,

ος θνητος εων, και επεθ' αθανατους ιπποις. The world then is vastly more than it seems to be at any given time to the eye of sense, or the ear of the understanding. Beyond and beneath its external manifestations, their lies imbedded a quickening spirit only cognizable through ihe spiritual. Politicians in Faneuil Hall, and ecclesiastics in Nauvoo Temple, with the New York Tribune and the Mormon Gazelle for their Bibles, may rant as they like, about the simplicity of the world and its capability of being reduced to some strict mathematical problem. They may attempt to dissect human society, and reconstruct it after their own fashion ; but in so doing they repeat with more disastrous consequences the folly of the boy, who cut open his mother's Canary, to find the origin of its sweet notes. This world is not controlled by simply sensuous interests, we are the actors in a drama, in which unseen spirits

It is only the manifestation of this active spirit that we see and handle ; its immaterial essence,“ mocking all attempts 10 grasp it" is known only by its felt presence. This Divine power immanently active in the world is creating constantly new

take part.


changes, and wonderful transformations, analogous to those vast world-cycles formed by the spirit, when first it brooded over chaos. Violent revolutions mark the progress of the world. We are not drawn along an inclined plane by some stationary engine, but in cars freighted with immortal souls we are whirled along deep, dark ravines on to our destined depot. With the roaring and surging noise of many waters, History moves for ward, purifying itself, and clearing others by its supernatural agitation. The moral problem underlying this whole process is profoundly perplexing. Not by a single stroke of the pencil, can it ever be brought to a satisfactory and final solution. How the absolute sovereignty of the law may fall in with the perfect independence and freedom of its subjects, will puzzle many a brain. The magnitude of the work, and the agencies employed, involve in their very nature an extended gradual process for its accomplishment. Every age has its part to play, and its work to perform in this world-historical drama. Every age, being a metamorphosis of the world's life, involves an idea corresponding with its peculiar nature, the conscious apprehension and free possession of which, completes one stadium in this vast spiritual curriculum. The action of an age and the conscious comprehension of its acta, which like the two-fold action in respiration mutually condition each other, bring that particular age, and its problem to a termination and demonstration. Thus one period dies away, and from its pregnant ashes a new epoch, Phænixlike, takes its birth. The principles of any single age are per se. one-sided and incomplete, their true value and significancy appearing in the organic structure of which they form component parts. Thus the Mediaeval Ages were called upon to establish the absolute authority of the law over against the private assumptions of individual licentiousness, which like a canker-worm was gnawing at the heart of the social structure, and in vampyre style sucking its very life blood. The red battle grounds of imperial Cæsar were again stained with blood shed in defence of the rights of civil and ecclesiastical law. The chambers of the Quirinal, and the silent halls of the Vatican, were waked up by the tones of eloquence in behalf of human rights and human obligations. For centuries the irrefragable iron arm of the united Papal power struggled in stern conflict, with the radical unbridled Vandalism that threatened the very foundations of Christianity. The conquest was finally achieved in the heroic person of the indomitable Hildebrand, who stands forth as the incarnation and living embodiment of the spirit of his age. The supremacy of the law, once asserted and established through

out all the departments of thought and life, was carried in the hands of arbitrary men to scornful tyranny on the one hand, and degrading vassalage on the other. This spiritual incubus, depressing the human intellect, led to a reaction in favor of individual rights, and personal responsibilities. To the Protestant age has been committed the onerous task of developing this principle to its ultimate point. And we need but look within us and around, to see the fearful consequences which have ensued. Human freedom is assumed to be the right and duty of every man to think and act as he may please. Theoretical rationalism and practical sectarianism recognize no authority, save a misguided reason and a broad brimmed hat or buttonless coal. Political libertines understand no governinent save lynching mobocracy. That the main current of the world in general, and of our money-making practical America in particular, has for some time past tended in this direction, is too evident to need labored proof.

All respect and veneration for the true and good, which is the only legitimate form of absolute freedom, has been swallowed up in the eddying whirl-pool of sensualizing ambition. The fundamental principles of Ethics have been converted into two chapters in political economy-the one for this world and the other for the next. That honesty which makes man at least a noble work of God, has been transmuted by the alchemists of our day into the alloy of base policy.-A strange policy is that, which has carried thousands to the stake and gibbet, and which would carry many more of us there if we only had it; or at Jeast to poverty which some men think worse. But the better spirit of our age promises the dawn of a brighter day. Already the delicate streaks of that day's sun are pencilling the black clouds of this dark night. Beyond the dreary, howling moral wilderness lies the land of bright hopes and blissful realizations. Though we be not permitted to enter in and possess it, yet it is our duty as well as privilege, like Moses on Pisgah's top, to look towards it.

The solution of this vexing problem, ex parte at least, over which two ages have stumbled, is reserved for the genius of our day. Girt with the bequeathed mantle of their wisdom and experience, we are called to answer the question : How in actual life shall the opposite, though not contradictory claims of absolute objective authority, and individual subjective freedom, be fully reconciled? How shall these two poles of the world's moral composition be so ordered as to flow together by mutual attraction ? That this proposition is to be elaborated in our age

[ocr errors]

is evident from the developments of the present, as well as from the revelations of the past. What have meant the convulsive throes of Europe, if they be not the birth-pangs of such an era ? For a long time there has been a creative spirit struggling for utterance in her sleeping body and dreaming mind, which has at length spoken in tones of frowning terror. And if we understand its voice, is it not a struggle between despotic crowned heads on the one side, and manacled hands and feltered feet on the other ? But let us not forget that young America, as well as old Europe, has a vote to cast, in the decision of this perplexing question. Though we be not fortunately required to meet it, like our elder brother, with the wrath-clad brow of the Jupiter Tonans of Virgil, rolling his deep-toned thunder, and darting his vivid lightning, yet we may interpose more effectually, like that same Jupiter discoursing with Venus,

Vultu quo cælum tempestatesque serenat. Deep conscious reflection will accomplish more than superficial blind-folded action. Moreover it is only by earnest thought, as the ground of action, that the calling of our age can be answer. ed. The God of History has not assigned us a mere outward charge in the world, with a commission simply to lay iron railways, and construct burden cars, for the transportation of merchandise; or to erect posts, and suspend wires, for the transmission of thought. These splendid triumphs of mind over matter, by which the untamed lightnings have been caught and chained, are doubtless unparalleled in the conquests of the Past. The smoke that curls up from the chimney of a puffing locomotive, means more than the dusky columns that rise from blazing batile-fields. The silent operations of the magnetic tele. graph are more expressive than the thunder of artillery. But far grander than all this is the magnanimous triumph of the human mind over itself, by which it attains to its normal development. He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city. The achievements of Mechanical Philosophy, after all, constitute only the outer court of the magnificent spiritual temple, in whose sacred ark, overlaid with pure gold, lies the “liv

To communicate with the Divine idea that rules in the world, and submit to its transforming power, is far nobler, than royal supremacy over the elemenis of Nature. It is in such active submission that the dignity of human life consists. To be honest with ourselves, and true to our day and generation, we must consciously fall in with the deep spirit of the age, and act manfully under its corrective influence. How many failing

ing law."

« PreviousContinue »