Chapter 31: conclusions

If Horace Greeley were a flower, botanists would call him “single,” and examine him with interest. Botanists find small pleasure in those plants, the pride of the garden, which have all gone to flower. They call them “monsters.” Such are not beautiful to the eye of science, because they are not harmonious, culture having destroyed the natural proportion of their parts. Passing by, with indifference or disgust, the perfumed dandies and painted belles of the flower-garden, the botanist hangs with delight over the simple denizens of the wood-side and the wood-path. Horace Greeley is “ single.” He is what the Germans sometimes style “a nature.” He is not complicated nor many-sided. He is the way he grew. Other men are like the walking-sticks in a bazaar. He was cut from the woods. The bark is on him, the knots are not pared smooth, the crooks have not been bent out, and all the polish he shows is derived from use, not varnish. He could say the first part of the catechism without telling a lie: Who made you? God. Walking-sticks often make the same reply, but not with truth. To say of most men in civilized countries that God made them, is rank flattery.

The character of a man is derived, 1, from his breed; 2, from his breeding; 3, from his country; 4, from his time. Horace Greeley's poetry, his humanity, his tenderness, all that makes him lovable and pleasing, his mother gave him, as her ancestors had given them her, with her Scottish blood. His nice sense of honor, his perseverance, his anxious honesty, his tenacity, all that renders him effective and reliable, he derived from his father, to whose English blood such qualities belong. He passed his childhood in republican. puritan New England, in a secluded rural region. Thence came his habits of reflection, his readiness, his independence, his rustic toughness and roughness. He is of this generation, and therefore he shares in the humanitary spirit which yearns in the bosom of every trust [435] Saxon man that lives. He escaped the schools, and so passed through childhood uncorrupt, “his own man,” not formed upon a pattern. He was not trained up—he grew up. Like a tree, he was left to seek the nourishment he needed and could appropriate. His breeding was unspeakably fortunate. It helped him much, hindered him little; and the result was, a man, not perfect indeed, very imperfect, as all men are, but a man, natural, peculiar, original, interesting; a man dear to other men, a man to whom other men are dear.

Of the countless gifts which God bestows upon man, the rarest, the divinest, is an ability to take supreme interest in human welfare. This has been called Genius; but what is here meant is more than genius; it includes genius; it is the parent and inspirer of genius; it is above genius. If any pious soul will accurately ascertain what it is in the character of the Man Christ Jesus, the contemplation of which fills his heart with rapture and his eyes with tears, that pious soul will know what is here intended by the expression “supreme interest in human welfare.” The concurrent instinct of mankind, in all ages, in every clime, proclaims, that this, whatever it be named, is the divinest quality known to human nature. It is that which man supremely honors; and well he may. Most of us, alarmed at the dangers that beset our lives, distracted with cares, blinded with desire to secure our own safety, are absorbed in schemes of personal advantage. A few men go apart, ascend a height, survey the scene with serene, unselfish eye, and make discoveries which those in the heat of the struggle could never arrive at. But for such, the race of men would long ago have extirpated itself in its mad, blind strife. But for such, it would never have been discovered that what is not good for the whole swarm is not good for a single bee, that no individual can be safe in welfare, while any other individual is not.

Genius? No. That is not the word. Dr. Arnold was not a man of genius. Carlyle is not a man of genius. But Great Britain owes more to them than to all the men of genius that have lived since Cromwell's time. Such men differ from the poets and authors of their day, precisely in the same way, though not, perhaps, in the same degree, as the Apostles differed from Cicero, Seneca, and Virgil. Between the Clays and Websters of this country and Horace [436] Greeley, the difference is similar in kind. Horace Greeley, Thomas Carlyle, and Dr. Arnold, have each uttered much which, perhaps, the world will not finally accept. Such men seem particularly liable to a certain class of mistakes. But, says Goethe's immortal maxim, ‘The Spirit in which we act is the highest matter’—and it is the contagious, the influencing matter. ‘See how these Christians love one another.’ That was what made converts!

A young man of liberal soul, ardent mind, small experience, limited knowledge, no capital, and few friends, is likely to be exceedingly perplexed on his entrance upon the stage of life. The difficulties in his own path, if he has a path, and the horrors that overshadow his soul, if he has not, call his attention in the most forcible manner to the general condition of mankind.

How unjust, how unnecessary, how inexplicable, it seems to his innocent mind, that a human being should be denied an opportunity to do the work for which he is fitted, to attain the blessedness of which he is capable! Surely, he thinks, a man is at least entitled to a fair start in the race of life, and to a course free from all obstructions except such as belong to the very nature of life. What a mockery, he thinks, is this Freedom which is said to be our birthright, while the Freedom which results from assured plenty, right education, and suitable employment, is attainable only by an inconsiderable few? He is told, and he is glad to hear it, that the Prince of Wales and a few other boys, here and there in the world, are severely trained, scientifically taught, conveniently lodged, and bountifully provided for in every respect. And he learns with pleasure, that the Duke of Devonshire, and sundry other nobles, princes and millionaires, live in the midst of the means of delight and improvement, surrounded by every beautiful object known to art, at convenient access to all the sources of instruction. Free and far, over wide, enchanting domains, they range at their good pleasure, and wander when they will through groves, gardens, and conservatories. And far above all this, it is in their power deliberately to choose what they will do in their day and generation, and to bestow upon their offspring the same priceless freedom of choice. The rest of mankind are “born thralls,” who toil from youth to hoary age, apparently for no other end than to [437] keep aloft on the splendid summit of affairs a few mortals of average merit.

Yet it is clear to our young friend, that whatever of essential dignity and substantial good is possessed by a few individuals, like those just named, it is within the compass of human talent and the Creator's bounty, to afford to all the family of man! In the contemplation of their possibility, and comparing it with the actual state of things, some of the finest spirits have gone distracted. Others have devoted themselves to impracticable schemes. Others have turned misanthropic, and others, philanthropic. Others have arrived, by degrees, at a variety of conclusions, of which the following are few: that man is rather a weak creature, and it is doubtful whether it is worth while to take much interest in him; that, as a rule, man enjoys exactly as much freedom as he becomes fit for, and no more; that, except a man have not the necessaries of life, poverty is no evil; that to most men increase of possessions is not of the slightest advantage; that the progress of mankind in wisdom and self-command is so slow, that after two thousand years of Christianity, it is not self-evident that any true advance has been made, though the fact of an advance is probably susceptible of proof; that whatever is, is the best that can be in the circumstances; and finally, that a man may mind his own business, and let the world alone.

Others, on the contrary, come to very different conclusions. They perceive that man is so great, and wondrous, and divine a creature, that it is irrational, in fact impossible, to take a real and deep interest in anything not connected with his welfare. They believe in the hourly progress of the species. They discover that the fruits of a good life, a good deed, a good word, can no more be lost than the leaves are lost when they wither and disappear. They long for the time, and confidently expect it, and would fain do something to hasten it, when Man will come forth from his dismal den of selfishness, awake to the truth that the interest of each individual and the interest of the community are identical, strive with his fellow for the general good, and so cease to be a Prince in exile, in disguise, in sackcloth, and ascend the throne that is rightfully his, and sway, with magnificence and dignity worthy of him, his great inheritance. From the general tenor of Horace Greeley's words [438] and actions, during the last twenty years, I infer that this is something like his habitual view of life and its duties. Shall he be praised for this? Let us envy him rather. Only such a man knows anything of the luxury of being alive. ‘Horace Greeley,’ said an old friend of his, ‘is the only happy man I have ever known.’

The great object of Horace Greeley's personal ambition has been to make the Tribune the best newspaper that ever existed, and the leading newspaper of the United States. To a man inflamed with an ambition like this, the temptation to prefer the Popular to the Right, the Expedient to the Just, comes with peculiar, with unequaled force. No pursuit is so fascinating, none so absorbing, none so difficult. The competition is keen, the struggle intense, the labor continuous, the reward doubtful and distant. And yet, it is a fact, that on nearly every one of its special subjects, the Tribune has stood opposed to the general feeling of the country. Its course on Slavery has excluded it from the Slave States; and if that had not, its elevated tone of thought would; for the southern mind is inferior to the northern. When the whole nation was in a blaze of enthusiasm about the triumphs of the Mexican war, it was not easy even for a private person to refrain from joining in the general huzza. But not for one day was the Tribune forgetful of the unworthiness of those triumphs, and the essential meanness of the conflict. There were clergymen who illuminated their houses on the occasion of those disgraceful victories—one, I am told, who had preached a sermon on the unchristian character of the Tribune.

Mr. Greeley wrote, the other day:

We are every day greeted by some sage friend with a caution against the certain wreck of our influence and prosperity which we defy by opposing the secret political cabal commonly known as “the Know-Nothings.” One writes us that he procured one hundred of our present subscribers, and will prevent the renewal of their subscriptions in case we persist in our present course; another wonders why we will destroy our influence by resisting the popular current, when we might do so much good by falling in with it and guiding it and so on.

To the first of these gentlemen we say— “Sir, we give our time and labor to the production of The Tribune, because we believe that to be our sphere of usefulness; but we shall be most happy to abandon journalism for a less anxious, exacting, exhausting vocation, whenever we are fairly and honorably released from this. You do not frighten us, therefore, by any such base appeals to our presumed selfishness and avarice; for if you could induce not [439] merely your hundred but every one of our subscribers to desert us, we should cheerfully accept such a release from our present duties and try to earn a livelihood in some easier way. So please go ahead!”

And now to our would-be friend who suggests that we are wrecking our influence by breasting the popular current: “Good Sir! do you forget that whatever influence or consideration The Tribune has attained has been won, not by sailing with the stream, but against it? On what topic has it ever swam with the current, except in a few instances wherein it has aided to change the current? Would any one who conducted a journal for Popularity's or Pelf's sake be likely to have taken the side of Liquor Prohibition, or Anti-Slavery or Woman's Rights, or Suffrage regardless of color, when we did? Would such a one have ventured to speak as we did in behalf of the Anti-Renters, when everybody hereabouts was banded to hunt them down unheard? Can you think it probable that, after what we have dared and endured, we are likely to be silenced now by the cry that we are periling our influence?”


And now, if any would prefer to discontinue The Tribune because it is and must remain opposed to every measure or scheme of proscription for opinion's sake, we beg them not to delay one minute on our account. We shall all live till it is our turn to die, whether we earn a living by making newspapers or by doing something else.

Every race has its own idea respecting what is best in the character of a man. The English admire “pluck;” the French, adroitness; the Germans, perseverance; the Italians, craft. But when a Yankee would bestow his most special commendation upon another, he says, “That is a man, sir, who generally succeeds in what he undertakes.” Properly interpreted, this is high, perhaps the highest, praise; for a man who succeeds in doing what he tries to do, must have the sense to choose enterprises suited to his abilities and circumstances. This praise, it is true, is frequently given to men whose objects are extremely petty-making a fortune, for example; but if those objects were such as they could attain, if enterprises of a higher nature were really beyond their abilities, how much wiser is it in them to attempt petty objects only! But whatever may be the value of the American eulogy—and a Yankee is an American, only more so—it may most justly be bestowed upon Horace Greeley. Whatever he has attempted, he has done as well as, or better than, any one else had done it before him. A piously generous son, a perfect pupil, an apprentice of ideal excellence, a journeyman of unexampled regularity, perseverance, and effectiveness. [440] His New Yorker was the best paper of its class that had been published. The Jeffersonian and Log Cabin excelled all previous and all subsequent “campaign papers.” The Tribune is our best daily paper. As a member of Congress, he was truer to himself, and dared more in behalf of his constituents, than any man who ever sat for one session only in the House of Representatives. In Europe, he retained possession of all his faculties! In the presence of nobles, he was thoroughly himself, and he spoke eloquently for the toiling million. Emphatically, Horace Greeley is a man, sir, who has generally succeeded in what he has undertaken.

But not always. He tried lard to get Henry Clay elected president. He tried long to wield the whig party for purposes of general beneficence. Neither of these objects could he accomplish.

Of Horace Greeley's talents as a writer little need be said. A man whose vocation obliges him frequently to write at the rate of a column an hour, and who must always write with dispatch, can rarely produce literature. Nor can any man write with faultless accuracy who is acquainted with no language but that in which he writes. But Horace Greeley writes well enough for his purpose, and has given proof, in many a glowing passage and telling argument, of a native talent for composition, which, in other circumstances, might have manifested itself in brilliant and lasting works.

His power as a writer arises from his earnestness of conviction, from his intimate acquaintance with the circumstances and feelings of his readers, from his Scotch-Irish fertility in illustration, and from the limited range of his subjects. He says not many things, but much.

His forte is, as I have said, in making practical suggestions for the better conduct of life and affairs. Like Franklin, he confines himself chiefly to the improvement of man's condition in material things; but he is a better man than Franklin; he is Franklin liberalized and enlightened; he is the Franklin of this generation. Like Franklin, too, and like most of the influencing men of this age, he is more pious than religious, more humane than devout.

The reader need not be detained here by remarks upon Horace Greeley's errors of opinion. A man's opinions are the result, the entirely inevitable result of his character and circumstances. Sin- [441] cerity, therefore, is our only just demand when we solicit an expression of opinion. Every man thinks erroneously. God alone knows all about anything. The smallest defect in our knowledge, the slightest bias of desire, or fear, or habit, is sufficient to mislead us. And in truth, the errors of a true man are not discreditable to him; for his errors spring from the same source as his excellences. It was said of Charles Lamb, that he liked his friends, not in spite of their faults, but faults and all! and I think the gentle Charles was no less right than kind. The crook, the knot, and the great humpy excrescences are as essential features of the oak tree's beauty, as its waving crown of foliage. Let Horace Greeley's errors of opinion be what they may, he has done something in his day to clarify the truth, that no error of opinion is a hundredth part as detrimental to the interest of men as the forcible suppression of opinion, either by the European modes of suppression, or the American. He has made it easier than it was to take the unpopular side. He has helped us onward towards that perfect freedom of thought and speech which it is fondly hoped the people of this country are destined in some distant age to enjoy. Moreover, a critic, to be competent, must be the superior of the person criticized. The critic is a judge, and a judge is the highest person in the court, or should be. This book is a chronicle, not an opinion.

And to conclude, the glory of Horace Greeley is this: He began life as a workingman. As a workingman, he found out, and he experienced the disadvantages of the workingman's condition. He rose from the ranks to a position of commanding influence. But he ceased to be a workingman with workingmen, only to become a workingman for workingmen. In the editor's chair, on the lecturer's platform, on the floor of Congress, at ducal banquets, in good report and in ill report, in the darkest days of his cause as in its brightest, against his own interest, his own honor, his own safety, he has been ever true, in heart and aim, to his order, i. e. his countrymen. In other lands, less happy than ours, the people are a class; here we are all people; all together we must rise in the scale of humanity, or all together sink.

A great man? No. A great man has not recently trod this continent—some think not since Columbus left it. A model man? No. Let no man be upheld as a model. Horace Greeley has tried [442] to be his “own man.” Be you yours. ‘I rejoice,’ says Miss Bremer, ‘that there is such a person as Fanny Kemble; but I should be sorry if there were two.’ The spirit of goodness is ever the same; but the modes of its manifestation are numberless, and every sterling man is original.

Reader, if you like Horace Greeley, do as well in your place, as he has in his. If you like him not, do better. And, to end with a good word, often repeated, but not too often: ‘The spirit in which we act is the highest matter.’

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