But what is meant, after all, by uneducated, in a time when Books have come into the worldcome to be household furniture in every habitation of the civilized world? In the poorest cottage are Booksis one BOOK, wherein for several thousands of years the spirit of man has found light and nourishment and an interpreting response to whatever is Deepest in him.
I call that [the Book of Job], apart from all theories about it, one of the grandest things ever written with pen. One feels, indeed, as if it were not Hebrew; such a noble universality, different from noble patriotism, or sectarianism, reigns in it. A noble book! all mens book! It is our first, oldest statement of the neverending problem, mans destiny, and Gods ways with him here in this earth. And all in such free flowing outlines; grand in its sincerity, in its simplicity, in its epic melody and repose of reconcilement. There is the seeing eye, the mildly understanding heart. So true every way; true eyesight and vision for all things; material things no less than spiritual: the horse,Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? he laughs at the shaking of the spear! Such living likenesses were never since drawn. Sublime sorrow, sublime reconciliation; oldest choral melody as of the heart of mankind; so soft and great; as the summer midnight, as the world with its seas and stars! there is nothing written, I think, in the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit.
Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstance. Our strength is measured by our plastic power. From the same materials one man builds palaces, another hovels; one warehouses, another villas: bricks and mortar are mortar and bricks, until the architect can make them something else. Thus it is that in the same family, in the same circumstances, one man rears a stately edifice, while his brother, vacillating and incompetent, lives forever amid ruins: the block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.
Give us, O give us the man who sings at his work! Be his occupation what it may, he is equal to any of those who follow the same pursuit in silent sullenness. He will do more in the same timehe will do it betterhe will persevere longer. One is scarcely sensible of fatigue whilst he matches to music. The very stars are said to make harmony as they revolve in their spheres. Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness, altogether past calculation its powers of endurance. Efforts, to be permanently useful, must be uniformly joyousa spirit all sunshinegraceful from very gladnessbeautiful because bright.
He walked in Judea eighteen hundred years ago: his sphere melody, flowing in wild native tones, took captive the ravished souls of men, and being of a truth sphere melody, still flows and sounds, though now with thousand-fold accompaniments and rich symphonies, through all our hearts, and modulates and divinely leads them.
What was it to the Pharaohs of Egypt of that old era, if Jethro the Midianite priest and grazier accepted the Hebrew outlaw as his herdsman? Yet the Pharaohs, with all their chariots of war, are buried deep in the wrecks of time; and that Moses still lives, not among his own tribe only, but in the hearts and daily business of all civilized nations. Or figure Mahomet in his youthful years travelling to the horse-fairs of Syria. Nay, to take an infinitely higher instance: who has ever forgotten those lines of Tacitus; inserted as a small transitory altogether trifling circumstance in the history of such a potentate as Nero? To us it is the most earnest and strongly significant passage that we know to exist in writing: Ergo abolendo rumori, Nero subdidit reos, et quæsitissimis pnis affecit, quos per flagitia invisos, vulgus Christianos appellabat. Auctor nominis ejus CHRISTUS, qui, Tiberio imperitante, per Procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio affectus erat. Repressaque in præsens exitiabilis superstitio rursus erumpebat, non modo per Judæam originem ejus mali, sed per urbem etiam quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque. So for the quieting of this rumour [of his having set fire to Rome], Nero judicially charged with the crime and punished with the most studied severities that class hated for their general wickedness whom the vulgar call Christians. The originator of that name was one CHRIST, who in the reign of Tiberius suffered death by the sentence of the Procurator Pontius Pilate. The baneful superstition, thereby suppressed for the time, again broke out not only over Judea, the native soil of that mischief, but in the City also, where from every side all atrocious and abominable things collect and flourish. Tacitus was the wisest, most penetrating man of his generation; and to such depth, and no deeper, has he seen into this transaction, the most important that has occurred or can occur in the annals of mankind.
Conviction, were it never so excellent, is worthless till it convert itself into conduct. Nay, properly, conviction is not possible till then; inasmuch as all speculation is by nature endless, formless, a vortex amid vortices: only by a felt indubitable certainty of experience does it find any centre to revolve round, and so fashion itself into a system. Most true is it, as a wise man teaches us, that doubt of any sort cannot he removed except by action. On which ground, too, let him who gropes painfully in darkness or uncertain light, and prays vehemently that the dawn may ripen into day, lay this other precept well to heart, which to me was of invaluable service: Do the duty which lies nearest thee, which thou knowest to be a duty! Thy second duty will already have become clearer.
I too acknowledge the all but omnipotence of early culture and nurture; hereby we have either a doddered dwarf bush or a high-towering, wide-spreading tree! either a sick yellow cabbage, or an edible luxuriant green one. Of a truth it is the duty of all men, especially of all philosophers, to note down with accuracy the characteristic circumstances of their education,what furthered, what hindered, what in any way modified it.
Touching dandies, let us consider, with some scientific strictness, what a dandy specially is. A dandy is a clothes-wearing man,a man whose trade, office, and existence consist in the wearing of clothes. Every faculty of his soul, spirit, purse, and person is heroically consecrated to this one object,the wearing of clothes wisely and well; so that, as others dress to live, he lives to dress. The all-importance of clothes has sprung up in the intellect of the dandy without effort, like an instinct of genius: he is inspired with cloth, a poet of cloth.
The whole world calls for new work and nobleness. Subdue mutiny, discord, wide-spread despair, by manfulness, justice, mercy, and wisdom. Chaos is dark, deep as hell: let light be, and there is indeed a green flowery world. Oh, it is great, and there is no other greatness! To make some nook of Gods creation a little fruitfuller, better, more worthy of God; to make some human hearts a little wiser, manfuller, happier, more blessed, less accursed! It is work for a God! Sooty hell of mutiny, and savagery, and despair, can, by mans energy, be made a kind of heaven; cleared of its soot, of its mutiny, of its need to mutiny; the everlasting arch of heavens azure overspanning it too, and its cunning mechanisms and tall chimney-steeples as a birth of heaven; God and all men looking on it well pleased.
We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man without gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain which it is good and pleasant to be near; the light which enlightens, which has enlightened, the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary, shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness, in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them.
Habit is the deepest law of human nature. It is our supreme strength, if also, in certain circumstances, our miserablest weakness. Let me go once, scanning my way with any earnestness of outlook, and successfully arriving, my footsteps are an invitation to me a second time to go by the same way;it is easier than any other way. Habit is our primal fundamental law,habit and imitation,there is nothing more perennial in us than these two. They are the source of all working and all apprenticeship, of all practice and all learning in the world.
The only happiness a brave man ever troubled himself with asking much about, was happiness enough to get his work done. Not I cant eat! but, I cant work!that was the burden of all wise complaining among men. It is, after all, the one unhappiness of a manthat he cannot work,that he cannot get his destiny as a man fulfilled. Behold, the day is passing swiftly over, our life is passing swiftly away, and the night cometh, wherein no man can work. The night once come, our happiness, our unhappiness,it is all abolished, vanished, clean gone; a thing that has been: not of the slightest consequence whether we were happy as eupeptic Curtis, as the fattest pig of Epicurus, or unhappy as Job with potsherds, as musical Byron with Giaours and sensibilities of the heart; as the unmusical meat-jack with hard labour and rust. But our work!behold, that is not abolished, that has not vanished: our work, behold, it remains, or the want of it remainsfor endless times and eternities, remains; and that is now the sole question with us for evermore! Brief brawling Day, with its noisy phantasms, its poor paper-crowns tinsel-light, is gone, and divine everlasting Night, with her star diadems, with her silence and her veracities, is come!
Under the green foliage and blossoming fruit-trees of to-day there lie, rotting slower or faster, the forests of all other yews and bays. Some have rotted fast, plants of annual growth, and are long since quite gone to inorganic mould; others are like the aloe, growths that last a thousand or three thousand years.
You will find them in all stages of decay and preservation; down deep to the beginning of the History of Man. Think where our Alphabetic Letters came from, where our Speech itself came from; the Cookeries we live by, the Masonries we lodge under! You will find fibrous roots of this days occurrences among the dust of Cadmus and Trismegistus, of Tubalcain and Triptolemus; the tap-roots of them are with Father Adam himself and the cinders of Eves first fire! At the bottom there is no perfect history; there is none such conceivable. All past centuries have rotted down, and gone confusedly dumb and quiet, even as that Seventeenth is now threatening to do. Histories are as perfect as the Historian is wise, and it is gifted with an eye and a soul! For the leafy, blossoming Present Time springs from the whole Past remembered and unrememberable, so confusedly as we say:and truly the Art of History, the grand difference between a Dryasdust and a sacred Poet, is very much even this:To distinguish well what does still reach to the surface, and is alive and frondent for us; and what reaches no longer to the surface, but moulders safe under ground, never to send forth leaves or fruit for mankind anymore: of the former we shall rejoice to hear; to hear of the latter will be an affliction to us; of the latter only Pedants and Dullards, and disastrous male-factor to the world, will find good to speak. By wise memory and by wise oblivion; it lies all there! Without oblivion there is no remembrance possible. When both oblivion and memory are wise, when the general soul of man is clear, melodious, true, there may come a modern Iliad as memorial of the Past; when both are foolish and the general soul is overclouded with confusions, with unveracities and discords, here is a Rushworthian Chaos.
With our sciences and our cyclopædias we are apt to forget the divineness in those laboratories of ours. We ought not to forget it! That once well forgotten, I know not what else were worth remembering! Most sciences, I think, were then a very dead thingwithered, contentious, emptya thistle in late autumn. The best science, without this, is but as the dead timber; it is not the growing tree and forestwhich gives ever new timber among other things! Man cannot know either unless he can worship in some way. His knowledge is a pedantry and dead thistle, otherwise.
There is but one thing without honour; smitten with eternal barrenness, inability to do or to be,insincerity, unbelief. He who believes no thing, who believes only the shows of things, is not in relation with nature and fact at all.
Ever, as before, does madness remain a mysterious, terrific, altogether infernal boiling up of the nether chaotic deep, through this fair painted vision of creation, which swims thereon, which we name the real.
No man oppresses thee, O free and independent franchiser! but does not this stupid porter-pot oppress thee? No son of Adam can bid thee come or go; but this absurd pot of heavy-wet, this can and does! Thou art the thrall, not of Cerdic the Saxon, but of thy own brutal appetites, and this scoured dish of liquor. And thou pratest of thy liberty, thou entire blockhead!
Two men I honour, and no third. First, the toil-worn craftsman, that with earth-made implements laboriously conquers the earth, and makes her mans. Venerable to me is the hard hand,crooked, coarse,wherein, notwithstanding, lies a cunning virtue, indefensibly royal, as of the sceptre of this planet. Venerable, too, is the rugged face, all weather-tanned, besoiled with its rude intelligence; for it is the face of a man living manlike. Oh, but the more venerable for thy rudeness, and even because we must pity as well as love thee! Hardly-entreated brother! For us was thy back so bent; for us were thy straight limbs and fingers so deformed: thou wert our conscript, on whom the lot fell, and, fighting our battles, wert so marred. For in thee, too, lay a God-created form, but it was not to be unfolded; encrusted must it stand with the thick adhesions and defacements of labour, and thy body was not to know freedom. Yet toil on, toil on; thou art in thy duty, be out of it who may; thou toilest for the altogether indispensable,for daily bread.
A second man I honour, and still more highly: him who is seen toiling for the spiritually indispensable, not daily bread, but the bread of life. Is not he too in his duty, endeavouring towards inward harmony, revealing this by act or by word, through all his outward endeavours, be they high or low;highest of all when his outward and his inward endeavour are one,when we can name him artist; not earthly craftsman only, but inspired thinker, who, with heaven-made implements, conquers heaven for us! If the poor and humble toil that we have food, must not the high and glorious toil for him in return, that he have light, have guidance, freedom, immortality? These two, in all their degrees, I honour; all else is chaff and dust, which let the wind blow whither it listeth. Unspeakably touching is it, however, when I find both dignities united, and he that must toil outwardly for the lowest of mans wants is also toiling inwardly for the highest. Sublimer in this world I know nothing than a peasant saint, could such now anywhere be met with. Such a one will take thee back to Nazareth itself: thou wilt see the splendour of heaven spring from the humblest depths of earth, like a light shining in great darkness.
How much lies in laughter: the cipher key, wherewith we decipher the whole man! Some men wear an everlasting barren simper; in the smiles of others lies the cold glitter as of ice; the fewest are able to laugh what can be called laughing, but only sniff and titter and sniggle from the throat outwards, or at least produce some whiffling, husky cachinnation, as if they were laughing through wool: of none such comes good. The man who cannot laugh is only fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; but his own life is already a treason and a stratagem.
Laws written, if not on stone tables, yet on the azure of infinitude, in the inner heart of Gods creation, certain as life, certain as death! I say, the laws are there, and thou shalt not disobey them. It were better for thee not. Better a hundred deaths than yea! Terrible penalties, if thou wilt still need penalties, are there for disobeying.
How true is that old fable of the sphinx who sat by the wayside, propounding her riddle to the passengers, which if they could not answer, she destroyed them! Such a sphinx is this life of ours to all men and societies of men. Nature, like the sphinx, is of womanly celestial loveliness and tenderness; the face and bosom of a goddess, but ending in claws and the body of a lioness. There is in her a celestial beauty, which means celestial order, pliancy to wisdom; but there is also a darkness, a ferocity, a fatality, which are infernal. She is a goddess, but one not yet disimprisoned; one still half imprisoned,the inarticulate, lovely, still encased in the inarticulate, chaotic. How true! And does she not propound her riddles to us? Of each man she asks daily, in mild voice, yet with a terrible significance, Knowest thou the meaning of this day? What thou canst do to-day, wisely attempt to do. Nature, universe, destiny, existence, howsoever we name this great unnameable fact in the midst of which we live and struggle, is as a heavenly bride and conquest to the wise and brave, to them who can discern her behests and do them; a destroying fiend to them who cannot. Answer her riddle, it is well with thee. Answer it not, pass on regarding it not, it will answer itself: the solution of it is a thing of teeth and claws. Nature is a dumb lioness, deaf to thy pleadings, fiercely devouring.
The essence of our being, the mystery in us that calls itself I,ah, what words have we for such things?is a breath of Heaven; the Highest Being reveals himself in man. This body, these faculties, this life of ours, is it not all as a vesture for that Unnamed? There is but one temple in the universe, says the devout Novalis, and that is the body of man. Nothing is holier than that high form. Bending before men is a reverence done to this revelation in the flesh. We touch heaven when we lay our hand on a human body! This sounds much like a mere flourish of rhetoric; but it is not so. If well meditated, it will turn out to be a scientific fact; the expression, in such words as can be had, of the actual truth of the thing. We are the miracle of miracles,the great inscrutable mystery of God. We cannot understand it, we know not how to speak of it; but we feel and know, if we like, that it is verily so.
Mans twofold nature is reflected in history. He is of earth, but his thoughts are with the stars. Mean and petty his wants and his desires; yet they serve a soul exalted with grand, glorious aims, with immortal longings, with thoughts which sweep the heavens, and wander through eternity. A pigmy standing on the outward crust of this small planet, his far-reaching spirit stretches outward to the infinite, and there alone finds rest. History is a reflex of this double life. Every epoch has two aspectsone calm, broad, and solemnlooking towards eternity; the other agitated, petty, vehement, and confusedlooking towards time.
It is not to taste sweet things, but to do noble and true things, and vindicate himself under Gods heaven as a God-made man, that the poorest son of Adam dimly longs. Show him the way of doing that, the dullest day-drudge kindles into a hero. They wrong man greatly who say he is to be seduced by ease. Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death, are the allurements that act on the heart of man. Kindle the inner genial life of him, you have a flame that burns up all lower considerations. Not happiness, but something higher: one sees this even in the frivolous classes, with their point of honour and the like. Not by flattering our appetites; no: by awakening the heroic that slumbers in every heart, can any religion gain followers.
The meaning of song goes deep. Who is there that, in logical words, can express the effect music has on us? A kind of inarticulate, unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the infinite, and lets us for moments gaze into that!
Acts of Parliament are venerable; but if they correspond not with the writing on the adamant tablet, what are they? Properly their one element of venerableness, of strength or greatness, is, that they at all times correspond therewith as near as by human possibility they can. They are cherishing destruction in their bosom every hour that they continue otherwise.
Alas! we know that ideals can never be completely embodied in practice. Ideals must ever lie a great way offand we will thankfully content ourselves with any not intolerable approximation thereto! Let no man, as Schiller says, too querulously measure by a scale of perfection the meagre product of reality in this poor world of ours. We will esteem him no wise man; we will esteem him a sickly, discontented, foolish man. And yet, on the other hand, it is never to be forgotten that ideals do exist; that if they be not approximated to at all, the whole matter goes to wreck! Infallibly. No bricklayer builds a wall perpendicularmathematically this is not possible; a certain degree of perpendicularity suffices him, and he, like a good bricklayer, who must have done with his job, leaves it so. And yet, if he sway too much from the perpendicularabove all, if he throw plummet and level quite away from him, and pile brick on brick heedless, just as it comes to handsuch bricklayer, I think, is in a bad way. He has forgotten himself; but the law of gravitation does not forget to act on him: he and his wall rush down into a confused welter of ruins!
Oh, poverty! or what is called a reverse of fortune! Among the many bitter ingredients that thou hast in thy most bitter cup, thou hast not one so insupportably bitter as that which brings us in close and hourly contact with the earthenware and huckaback beings of the nether world. Even the vulgarity of inanimate things it requires time to get accustomed to; but living, breathing, bustling, plotting, planning, human vulgarity, is a species of moral ipecacuanha, enough to destroy any comfort.
That a man stand and speak of spiritual things to men! It is beautiful;even in its great obscuration and decadence, it is among the beautifullest, most touching objects one sees on the earth. This Speaking Man has indeed, in these times, wandered terribly from the point; has alas, as it were, totally lost sight of the point: yet, at bottom, whom have we to compare with him? Of all public functionaries boarded and lodged on the Industry of Modern Europe, is there one worthier of the board he has? A man even professing, and, never so languidly, making still some endeavour, to save the souls of men: contract him with a man professing to do little but shoot the partridges of men! I wish he could find the point again, this Speaking One, and stick to it with tenacity, with deadly energy; for there is need of him yet! The Speaking Functionthis of Truth coming to us with a living voice, nay, in a living shape, and as a concrete practical exemplar; this, with all our Writing and Printing Functions, has a perennial place. Could he but find the point again,take the old spectacles off his nose, and looking up discover, almost in contact with him, what the real Satanas, and soul-devouring, world-devouring Devil, Now is.
Insurrection, never so necessary, is a most sad necessity; and governors who wait for that to instruct them are surely getting into the fatalest course,proving themselves sons of Nox and Chaos, of blind Cowardice, not of seeing Valour! How can there be any remedy in insurrection? It is a mere announcement of the disease,visible now even to sons of Night. Insurrection usually gains little; usually wastes how much. One of its worst kinds of waste, to say nothing of the rest, is that of irritating and exasperating men against each other, by violence done, which is always sure to be injustice done; for violence does even justice unjustly.
Reform, like charity, must begin at home. Once well at home, how will it radiate outwards, irrepressible, into all that we touch and handle, speak and work; kindling ever new light by incalculable contagion, spreading, in geometric ratio, far and wide, doing good only wherever it spreads, and not evil.
It seems to me a great truth, that human things cannot stand on selfishness, mechanical utilities, economics, and law courts; that if there be not a religious element in the relations of men, such relations are miserable and doomed to ruin.
Religion in most countriesmore or less in every countryis no longer what it was, and should be,a thousand-voiced psalm from the heart of man to his invisible Father, the fountain of all goodness, beauty, truth, and revealed in every revelation of these; but for the most part a wise, prudential feeling, grounded on mere calculation; a matter, as all others now are, of expediency and utility; whereby some smaller quantum of earthly enjoyment may be exchanged for a far larger quantum of celestial enjoyment. Thus religion, too, is profit, a working for wages; not reverence, but vulgar hope or fear. Many, we knowvery many, we hopeare still religious in a far different sense; were it not so, our case were too desperate: but to witness that such is the temper of the times, we take any calm observant man, who agrees or disagrees in our feeling on the matter, and ask him whether our view of it is not in general well founded.
A man is right and invincible, virtuous and on the road towards sure conquest, precisely while he joins himself to the great deep law of the world, in spite of all superficial laws, temporary appearances, profit-and-loss calculation;he is victorious while he co-operates with that great central lawnot victorious otherwise: and surely his first chance of co-operating with it, or getting into the course of it, is to know with his own soul that it isthat it is good, and alone good. This is the soul of Islam; it is properly the soul of Christianity; for Islam is definable as a confused form of Christianity: had Christianity not been, neither had it been. Christianity also commands us, before all, to be resigned to God. We are to take no counsel with flesh and blood; give ear to no vain cavils, vain sorrows and wishes; to know that we know nothing; that the worst and cruellest to our eyes is not what it seems; that we have to receive whatsoever befalls us as sent from God above, and say, It is good and wiseGod is great! Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. Islam means in its way denial of self,annihilation of self. This is yet the highest wisdom that Heaven has revealed to our earth.
Look up, and behold the eternal fields of light that lie round about the throne of God. Had no star ever appeared in the heavens, to man there would have been no heavens, and he would have laid himself down to his last sleep in a spirit of anguish, as upon a gloomy earth vaulted over by a material arch,solid and impervious.
A star is beautiful; it affords pleasure, not from what it is to do, or to give, but simply by being what it is. It befits the heavens; it has congruity with the mighty space in which it dwells. It has repose: no force disturbs its eternal peace. It has freedom: no obstruction lies between it and infinity.
For of a truth stupidity is strongmost strong, as the poet Schiller sings, Against stupidity the very gods fight unvictorious. There is in it a placid inexhaustibilitya calm viscous infinitudewhich will baffle even the gods,which will say calmly, Try all your lightnings here: see whether I cannot quench them.
Superstition! that horrid incubus which dwelt in darkness, shunning the light, with all its racks, and poison-chalices, and foul sleeping-draughts, is passing away without return. Religion cannot pass away. The burning of a little straw may hide the stars of the sky; but the stars are there, and will re-appear.
To burn away in mad waste the divine aromas and plainly celestial elements from our existence; to change our holy-of-holies into a place of riot; to make the soul itself hard, impious, barren! Surely a day is coming when it will be known again what virtue is in purity and continence of life; how divine is the blush of young human cheeks; how high, beneficent, sternly inexorable, if forgotten, is the duty laid, not on women only, but on every creature, in regard to these particulars! Well, if such a day never come again, then I perceive much else will never come again. Magnanimity and depth of insight will never come; heroic purity of heart and of eye; noble pious valour, to amend us and the age of bronze and lacker, how can they ever come? The scandalous bronze-lacker age of hungry animalisms, spiritual impotencies and mendacities, will have to run its course, till the pit follow it.
Cast forth thy act, thy word, into the ever-living, ever-working universe: it is a seed-grain that cannot die; unnoticed to-day, it will be found flourishing as a banyan grove, perhaps, alas, as a hemlock forest, after a thousand years.
Is not Gods Universe a Symbol of the God-like; is not Immensity a Temple; is not Mans History, and Mens History, a perpetual Evangel? Listen, and for Organ-music thou wilt ever, as of old, hear the Morning Stars sing together.
Readers are not aware of the fact, but a fact it is of daily increasing magnitude, and already of terrible importance to readers, that their first grand necessity in reading is to be vigilantly, conscientiously select; and to know everywhere that books, like human souls, are actually divided into what we may call sheep and goats,the latter put inexorably on the left hand of the Judge; and tending, every goat of them, at all moments, whither we know, and much to be avoided, and, if possible, ignored, by all sane creatures!
Thomas Carlyle: To S. Austin Allibone, 18th July, 1859.