Abbildungen der Seite

the secret of Christ's undying power? Is it not that he stated universal truth in concrete forms of common experience so that it comes home to all men's bosoms? Genius is supreme in proportion as it does that, and becomes the interpreter of every man who is born into the world, makes him know his brotherhood with all, and the incorporation of his fate in the scheme of law, and ideal achievement under it, which is the common ground of humanity. Ideal literature is the treasury of such genius in the past; here, as I said in the beginning, the wisdom of the soul is stored; and art, in all its forms, is immortal only in so far as it has done its share in this same labor of illumination, persuasion, and command, forecasting the spirit to be, companioning the spirit that is, sustaining us all in the effort to make ideal order actual in ourselves.

What, then, since I said that it is a question how to live as well as how to express life - what, then, is the ideal life? It is to make one's life a poem, as Milton dreamed of the true poet; for as art works through matter and takes on concrete and sensible shape with its mortal conditions, so the soul dips in life, is in material action, and, suffering a similar fate, sinks into limitations and externals of this world and this flesh, through which it must live. In such a life, mortal in all ways, to bring down to earth the vision that floats in the soul's eyes, the ideal order as it is revealed to the poet's gaze, incorporating it in deed and being, and to make it prevail, so far as our lives have power, in the world of our life, is the task set for us. To disengage reason from the confusion of things, and behold the eternal forms of the mind; to unveil beauty in the transitory sights of our eyes, and behold the eternal forms of sense; so to act that

[ocr errors]

the will within us shall take on this form of reason and our manifest life wear this form of beauty; and, more closely, to live in the primary affections, the noble passions, the sweet emotions

"Founded in reason, loyal, just, and pure,

Relations dear, and all the charities
Of father, son, and brother —"

and also in the general sorrows of mankind, thereby, in joy and grief, entering sympathetically into the hearts of common men; to keep in the highway of life, not turning aside to the eccentric, the sensational, the abnormal, the brutal, the base, but seeing them, if they must come within our vision, in their place only by the edges of true life; and, if, being men, we are caught in the tragic coil, to seek the restoration of broken order, learning also in such bitterness better to understand the dark conflict forever waging in the general heart, the terror of the heavy clouds hanging on the slopes of our battle, the pathos that looks down even from blue skies that have kept watch o'er man's mortality - so, even through failure, to draw nearer to our race; this, as I conceive it, is to lead the ideal life. It is a message blended of many voices of the poets whom Shelley called, whatever might be their calamity on earth, the most fortunate of men; it rises from all lands, all ages, all religions; it is the battle-cry of that one great idea whose slow and hesitating growth is the unfolding of our long civilization, seeking to realize in democracy the earthly, and in Christianity the heavenly, hope of man — the idea of the community of the soul, the sameness of it in all men. To lead this life is to be one with man through love, one with the universe through knowledge, one with God through the will; that is its goal, toward that we strive, in that we believe.

And Thou, O Youth, for whom these lines are written, fear not; idealize your friend, for it is better to love and be deceived than not to love at all; idealize your masters, and take Shelley and Sidney to your bosom, so shall they serve you more nobly and you them more sweetly than if the touch and sight of their mortality had been yours indeed; idealize your country, remembering that Brutus in the dagger-stroke and Cato in his death-darkness knew not the greater Rome, the proclaimer of the unity of our race, the codifier of justice, the establisher of our church, and died not knowing — but do you believe in the purpose of God, so shall you best serve the times to be; and in your own life, fear not to act as your ideal shall command, in the constant presence of that other self who goes with you, as I have said, so shall you blend with him at the end. Fear not either to believe that the soul is as eternal as the order that obtains in it, wherefore you shall forever pursue that divine beauty which has here so touched and inflamed you — for this is the faith of man, your race, and those who were fairest in its records. And have recourse always to the fountains of this life in literature, which are the wells of truth. How to live is the one matter; the wisest man in his ripe age is yet to seek in it; but Thou, begin now and seek wisdom in the beauty of virtue and live in its light, rejoicing in it; so in this world shall you live in the foregleam of the world to come.


DEMOCRACY is a prophecy, and looks to the future; it is for this reason that it has its great career. Its faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen, whose realization will be the labor of a long age. The life of historic nations has been a pursuit toward a goal under the impulse of ideas often obscurely comprehended — world-ideas as we call them

- which they have embodied in accomplished facts and in the institutions and beliefs of mankind, lasting through ages; and as each nation has slowly grown aware of the idea which animated it, it has become self-conscious and conscious of greatness. That men are born equal is still a doctrine openly derided; that they are born free is not accepted without much nullifying limitation; that they are born in brotherhood is less readily denied. These three, the revolutionary words, liberty, equality, fraternity, are the substance of democracy, if the matter be well considered, and all else is but consequence.

It might seem singular that man should ever have found out this creed, as that physical life could invent the brain, since the struggle for existence in primitive and early times was so adverse to it, and rested on a selfish and aggrandizing principle, in states as well as between races. In most parts of the world the first true governments were tyrannies, patriarchal or despotic; and where liberty was indigenous, it was confined to the race-blood. Aristotle

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »