the victory of the weak.
The late Sidney Lanier
, poet, critic, and musician, was a man of so high a tone in respect to refinement and purity that he might fitly be called the Sir Galahad
of American literature.
The man who, while already stricken with pulmonary disease, could serve for many months in the peculiarly arduous life of a Confederate cavalryman had some right to an opinion as to what constitutes true manhood, and his criticism on certain recent theories in this direction are peculiarly entitled to weight.
's lectures before the Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore
upon “The English
novel and its development” he has much to say upon what I may call the anti-kid-glove literature, which is really no better than the kid-glove literature, at which it affects to protest.
quotes the lines of a poet, “Fear grace, fear elegance, civilization, delicatesse
,” and again were this poet rejoices in America
because “here are the roughs, beards,... combativeness, and the like;” and shows how far were the founders of the republic — Washington
— from this theory that there can be no manhood in decent clothes or well-bred manners.
He justly complains that this rougher school has really as much dandyism about it as the other-“the dandyism of the roustabout,” he calls it; that it poses and attitudinizes and “is the extreme of sophistication in writing.”
“If we must have dandyism in our art,” he adds, “surely the softer sort, which at least leans towards decorum and gentility, is preferable.”
Then, going beyond literature to the foundation of government, he quotes the ancient Epictetus
against this modern school, and asserts that true manhood has no necessary connection with physical health or strength, and that the true athlete is he who is ruler over himself.
complains of this new type of democracy --the merely brawny and sinewy-“that it has no provision for sick, or small, or puny, or plain-featured, or hump-backed, or any deformed people,” and that it is really “the worst kind of aristocracy, being an aristocracy of nature's favorites in the matter of muscle.”
Then he describes some weak-eyed young man in a counting-room toiling to support his mother, or send his brother to school, and contrasts him with this physical ideal.
“His chest is not huge, his legs are inclined to be pipe-stems, and his dress is like that of any other book — keeper.
Yet the weak-eyed, pipe-stem-legged young man impresses
me as more of a man, more of a democratic man, than the tallest of--'s roughs; to the eye of the spirit there is more strength in this man's daily endurance of petty care and small weariness for love, more of the sort which makes a real democracy and a sound republic, than in an army of —' s unshaven loafers.”
This came, be it remembered, from a man who had fought through the seven days of fighting before Richmond
; who had “given his proofs,” as people used to say in the old days of duelling — a thing which the writer criticised had not done.
And then, more consistently than many men, Lanier
goes on to illustrate the same principle from the life of a woman.
He describes a woman of a type such as many of us have known, who has for twenty years spent her life in bed with spinal disease.
“Day by day she lies helpless at the mercy of all those tyrannical small needs which become so large under such circumstances; every meal must be brought to her, a drink of water must be handed; and she is not rich to command service.”
Yet she is a person of unfailing spirits, of inexhaustible energies, and the centre of a loving circle of bright people.
Her room is habitually known as “Sunnyside
;” when strong men are tired they go to her for rest; when the healthy are weary they seek her for refreshment.
This woman has not so much rude muscle in her whole body
as the favorite hero of the muscular school would have in a finger; she is so fragile that she has been christened “The white flower.”
It costs her as much effort to press a friend's land as it would cost a woodman to fell a tree.
“Regarded from the point of view of bone and sinew, she is simply absurd; yet to the eye of my spirit there is more manfulness in one moment of her loving and self-sacrificing existence than in an aeon of muscle-growth and sinew-breeding; and hers is the manfulness which is the only solution of a true democrat-hers is the manfulness of which only a republic can be built.
A republic is the government of the spirit; a republic depends upon the self-control of each member.
You cannot make a republic out of muscles and prairies and Rocky Mountains
; republics are made of the spirit.”
All this is true, and we must remember that the whole tendency of civilization is in the direction of this thought.
While civilization improves men's and women's bodies on the whole-although it was once thought to impair them — it gives the brain a swifter development and makes that the source of power.
It is now a rare thing for soldiers to fight hand to hand, even in the cavalry, to which Lanier
The race is not to the swift nor the battie
to the strong.
The weakest hand may touch off the cannon whose ball shall overtake the swiftest runner, miles away.
It is the virtue of gunpowder, as Carlyle
has said, that it “makes all men alike tall.”
There still remain among some of our troops those caps of imitation bear-skin which were once worn to intimidate a foe. The fierce head-dress
of the drum-major
is the reductio ad absurdum
, or extreme instance, of this childish method, which still survives among the Chinese, and may be seen in Japanese pictures.
In an old military text-book the Portuguese soldiers were ordered to attack their opponents “with ferocious countenances.”
But civilization has set aside all this merely physical irrepressiveness and substituted invention.
A monk, not a soldier, invented gunpowder.
strength is powerless against the needle-gun and the unseen torpedo.
This does not annihilate the value of physical health and vigor, but it readapts their use. The young man even in a military school has his bodily health trained, not that he may grasp his opponent in his mighty arms and throw him to the earth, as formerly, but that he may have his head clear, his nerves in equilibrium, his action prompt.
It is altogether fitting that an age whose promise is in this direction should be an age affording new training and new opportunities to women.