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The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved. Jeremiah 8:20.

[262] [263]

The Anti-slavery epoch presents a perfect example of the rise, progress, and victory of a moral cause. This cause was so obvious, so inevitable, its roots were so deep in human nature and in history, that its victory was assured from the beginning. In studying it, all our wonder and all our attention may be reserved for the manner of its rise, the form of its advance, and the mode of its victory.

Historians are apt to apportion praise and blame to the Abolitionists, to the Southern leaders, to the Republican Party, to the generals during the war, to the troops upon one side or the other in the terrible conflict. But such appraisements are either the aftermath of partisan feeling, or they are the judgments of men who have not realized the profundity and the complexity of the whole movement — the inevitability not only of the outcome, but of the process. That Garrison should have disapproved of the entry of Abolition into party politics, and that he should have raved like a hen upon the river [264] bank when he saw the ducklings he had hatched rush into political waters; that the great intellect of Calhoun should have been driven forward by a suicidal logic into theories that were at war with the world's whole inheritance of truth; that Webster should have been now right, now wrong, or the Supreme Court now enlightened by a flickering compassion or again overshadowed by the Spirit of Crime;--such facts as these are parts of the great story, and can hardly be handled or sampled by themselves, hardly separated, even for a moment, from their context.

The private judgments which we are tempted to utter concerning critical phases or moments in any great cycle and sweep of destiny, are never conclusive, never important. We cannot know the truth about any of these things. No one can be sure that Garrison did not exert greater influence upon practical politics through his dogma of nonresistance than he could have done through an active participation in government. No one can state the precise value of the Liberty Party and the Free Soil Movement; no one can weigh the influence of “Uncle Tom's Cabin.” All that we can be sure of is the great movement itself, which emerges, [265] winds, coils, progresses, now gleaming and flashing beneath the surface, now emerging above the surface of social and political life in America, like a great golden serpent,--a mysterious all-pervading influence, supernal, mythological,--typifying the regeneration of a people.

The Legend is so vast, and moves at such a pace from beginning to end, that no two minds can agree about its details. Yet that Legend is at all points illuminated with the inner light of poetry and religion. It has an artistic unity, it moves like a very complicated sonata; so that we who regard it, somehow see our own souls in it, and draw out of it only what we put into it. The Anti-slavery Legend will reflect the spiritual history of any mind that looks into it; it is a mirror of the soul. It is a sort of thesaurus of moral illustration. The reason is that we were deeply diseased; we were in immense danger; we were covered with scales, and our mind was threatened. Our whole civilization was iridescent with the same poison. But we were healed, we were saved. And in the course of our cure every process and function of health was revealed.

To talk about the present is always difficult. [266] The past is easy; but when in the course of any discussion we approach the present, we approach the unknowable. The present can by no means be brought into historic focus. If then we look about us in America to-day, having in our minds some reminiscence of history, let us beware of certitude: let us touch upon what we see with merely a hint and a query. I will, then, do no more than name three shapes which I see or seem to see and which may be thought of as apparitions or as passing fancies;--the first is a kind of specter, the second is a visitation from on high, the third is a prophecy. They are namely: the Decay of Learning, the Rise of Love, and the ultimate Revival of Spiritual Interests.

The dying-off of our older cultivation, which gives so much concern to all intelligent persons in America, does not indicate death. It is due to two causes, one of them being the historic and withering influence of isolation and of commerce; the other being the present preoccupation of our noblest minds with philanthropic work. New life is at hand, though it exists in forms which the intellect has never grasped, and never can grasp. Before, however, speaking of the future, we must look back [267] once more upon the discouraging side of life in America — on the decay of learning.

From an external point of view, the Antislavery epoch can be very simply seen as the epoch during which America was returning to the family of European nations from the exile which her connection with slavery had imposed upon her. The struggle over slavery while it lasted left her citizens neither time nor attention for general education. In 1830, we found ourselves isolated and it took us thirty years of work to break down the barriers between ourselves and the modern world. The intellect and passion of the country was given up during this time to a terrible conflict between prophetic morality on the one hand and the unprofitable sophistries of law, politics and government on the other. Our attitude towards Europe was unintelligent; our experience in ideas (other than prophetic ethics and Constitutional Law) was nil. The consequence was that the American fell tremendously behind the European in general cultivation.

Now the period after our return to social life — the period, namely, between 1865 and the present time — coincides with the rise of modern commerce, so that we no sooner [268] got free from one enemy to the soul than we were fastened upon by another-and that other the half-brother and blood relation of the first. I will not try to analyze America nor define her relation to Europe. I will only point out our most dreadful defects, and this only as a prelude to mentioning our hopes of salvation.

I confess that a certain hard-eyed, coldhearted look in the American sometimes causes me to remember that Slavery was always Commerce, and that Commerce is to some extent always Slavery. Such great wealth as has been created in America since 1865 would have hardened the eyes of any generation that looked on it. We have indeed been born to calamity in America, and our miseries have come thickly upon us. If you will walk back across the whole history of the world, you will find that respect for learning has never before fallen so low as it has fallen in the United States to-day. If you start anywhere in Europe and trace your way back to ancient Egypt, you will find no age without its savants, its thinkers, men who know something of the past, living sometimes in caves and sometimes in drawingrooms, yet always, in a certain sense, the publicists of their times. These are the [269] men through whom, to some extent, religion, education, and the traditions of spiritual life are transmitted from age to age. There have always been enough of such men in every age to secure popular respect for the idea for which they stand, the idea of continuity. There has been no real break in European culture. During the dark ages the most visible and most powerful influence upon popular imagination consisted in the monuments of a gigantic past. Indeed, for many centuries thereafter, the overwhelming influence of antiquity cowed the world. That element has endured in European education in the form of a reverence for the past. It stands behind every man as a sort of soundingboard in his mind, an invisible chamber of consciousness that gives resonance to his voice.

If to-day you fall into casual conversation with almost any European, you will feel the influence of these vistas of education. The man's mind is inured to thought. What you say to him is native to his soul. He has heard something like it before. He knows of the existence of the Empire of the Intellect. He is interested in the spiritual history of the world. All this illumination [270] is no personal merit in the individual you speak to. He has lived near to the scholar, the musician, the painter, the antiquarian, the philologist, the mathematician.

It happened that a series of misfortunes so widowed America that we have all but lost the past. Much baggage was jettisoned in the original transit across the sea, much lost during our colonial and frontier period, and finally — we were stripped bare by the pirate Slavery, and marooned for seventy years in a sort of Babylonian captivity. I think there is enough in all this to account for the bleakness of American life as contrasted with European life. I think that the emotions must in youth be fed upon a sort of pabulum that comes down out of the past-songs, aspirations, stories, prayers, reverence for humanity, knowledge of God;--or else some dreadful barrenness will set in and paralyze the intellect of a race. The question sometimes forces itself upon me, Is not the German citizen of the second generation, who walks the streets of New York to-day, more truly a barbarian than his Gothic ancestor who invaded Europe in the fourth century A. D., and whose magnificent vernacular is preserved in Ulfilas' translation of the [271] Scriptures? In piety, in knowledge of poetry, in reverence, the Goth was more advanced than his American descendant. I say, the Suabian peasant of to-day seems to me to be superior to the American farmer in many of those things that make life deep and cause society to endure.

To cut loose, to cast away, to destroy, seems to be our impulse. We do not want the past. This awful loss of all the terms of thought, this beggary of intellect, is shown in the unwillingness of the average man in America to go to the bottom of any subject, his mental inertia, his hatred of impersonal thought, his belief in labor-saving, his indifference to truth. The state of mind in which commercial classes spend their lives is not that of pure, self-sacrificing spiritual perception. The commercial mind seems, in its essence, to be the natural enemy of love, religion, and truth; and when, as at the present moment in America, we have commerce dominant in an era whose characteristic note is contempt for the past, we can hardly expect a picturesque, pleasing, or harmonious social life.

Much is lost sight of, much is forgotten among us; much is unknown that in any European country would be familiar. For [272] instance, this very man, William Lloyd Garrison, is almost forgotten among us. He lived a life of heroism and of practical achievement; the beauty of his whole course was extraordinary, and his type of character is very rare. Had he lived in Europe he would have been classified at once among the great figures of his own generation. Indeed he was so classified from across the sea. His character would have been prized thereafter as a national possession. But in America all that the educated man of to-day knows of Garrison is that he was one who held impractical views and used over-strong language during the Anti-slavery struggle.

All this feebleness, whose evidences I have been reviewing, comes, I believe, from a central deficiency of life in the American people. It is not a thing which can be cured in the college, or in the school, or in the drawing-room; though the cure will show in all such places as fast as the great patient improves.

During the very epoch (the decade succeeding the close of the war) when our intellectual blight was at its worst, there began to appear among us compassionate persons founding newsboys' halls in the Five Points, prison angels, and police court [273] visitors, saints knocking at the doors of the poor — men filled with love and pity. This new gospel of love now absorbs whole classes of people in American life, and swallows the young as the Crusades once swallowed them. I hear schoolmasters and learned men complain that their most brilliant classical scholars insist upon doing settlement work the moment they graduate. Why do the young people of both sexes take this course? What planetary influence depletes the exhausted ranks of scholarship, and makes traitors of these trained minds to the cause of learning? In their new career their old education goes apparently for nothing. They themselves cannot tell you. And yet they are justified. These young people are being governed by that higher law which governed St. Francis-the law which he also knew how to obey but could not explain. Our young people express by their conduct a more potent indictment of the cultivation and science of the older, dying epoch than could be written with the pen of Ezekiel. The age has nothing in it that satisfies them: they therefore turn away from it: they satisfy themselves elsewhere. In so doing they create a new age. The deeper needs of [274] humanity can only be met slowly. It required several hundred years for the meaning and importance of St. Francis to become apparent. To his contemporaries he seemed to be a disciple sent to the poor; yet his influence ultimately qualified the art and letters, and tinged the philosophy of life of several centuries.

All these new saints of ours.-new Christians, and loving persons who crowd the slums, and rediscover Christ in themselves and in others-lack power to explain; they merely exist. Through them, or rather through the heart which they infuse, literature and intellect will return, art and mental vigor will be restored to us. It would seem that the bowels and viscera of society must be heated first, and thereafter in time — it may be a century or two--a warmer life will reach the mind. These new grubs that creep out of the ground, these golden bees that dart by us in the sunshine, going so directly to their work like camp nurses, are more perfect creatures than we are, in that they deal with humanity as a unit. You and I are nothing to them. They have a relation to the whole. They are living in a beam which we do not see, they are the servants of a great [275] cure which we cannot give, and do not understand.

So also in regard to the Anti-Slavery Movement; the importance of that Movement comes from the fact that it meant piety, truth, and love. The rest is illusion. In a certain sense the slaves were freed too soon. That short-sighted element in the philosophy of Abolition, which saw Slavery as the Antichrist (whereas the spiritual domination of evil was the real Antichrist), ended by putting Slavery to its purgation so quickly and so convulsively that many features and visiting cards of slavery were left behind in the nervous system of the people. This was no one's fault: it was the method of nature. An after-cure was necessary; and we have been undergoing an after-cure, and need more of it. I regret the loss of the old cultivation; and yet I know that none of our older cultivation was ever quite right. The American has never lived from quite the right place in his bosom. Nevertheless if we are but patient the loss will be restored to us tenfold. We are living in the age of a great regeneration. There is hardly a man in whose face I do not see some form of it. New hope is with us. Very different is [276] our mission from that of the Abolitionist, though both are forms of the same power. Anti-slavery was the narrow, burning gate of heaven, seen by a few men, who fought their way towards it, paying with their lives for every step in their progress. Crags overhung them: society hated them: every man was their enemy. In our new crusade no one is our enemy. The spirit is felt in all men. In some, it moves in the heart crying, Abba, Father. Others it leaves speechless, but makes their lives beautiful through unselfish labor. Still others it illuminates with visions, so that we see men and women who live like angels, running up and down in the celestial light, passing forward and back between God and man, bringing health to many. In other hearts it has broken the old shackles of prejudice, and shown to them the common bond that lives in all religion. The churches have been growing liberal-for the first time in the history of Christianity. Other classes of men glow with an enthusiasm for science which is becoming a form of worship for truth, differing chiefly in name from religion. It is as if a truce had been sounded in that antique war that has raged forever over creed form and [277] scientific theory, and as if every one were standing in silence, thinking of the realities which lie and which have always lain behind the noisy dogmas and the certified formulas of human thought. The wrecks of many creeds are being clashed together like the cakes of ice in the Hudson during a great February thaw; while the strong river bears them all forward in triumph.

Great and small, learned and unlearned meet upon that plane of common humility which is their only meeting ground. It is a period when the power and first-hand mystery of life is recognized on every side, and when the conventions and lies that dam and deny that power are for the time being widely broken down. I do not say that the dams will remain down forever. People are building at them all the time. Trade interests, personal selfishnesses are indefatigably at work like ants — contesting every inch of the damage, inventing new dykes, denying that any permanent change has taken place.

Let us be glad that we are born in this age and within the swirl and current of the new freedom. Let us do each our share to leave the dams down, and not build them up in our own bosoms; for it is in [278] peoples' bosoms that all these dams exist. We must permit the floods of life to run freely. It is not from any one of our reforms, arts, sciences, and churches but out of all of them that salvation flows. What shall we do to assist in this great process? What relation do we bear to the movement? That is the question which requires a lifetime for its answer. Our knowledge of the subject changes constantly under experience. At first we desire to help vigorously; and we do all in our power to assist mankind. As time goes on, we perceive more and more clearly that the advancement of the world does not depend upon us, but that we, rather, are bound up in it, and can command no foothold of our own. At last we see that our very ambitions, desires and hopes in the matter are a part of the Supernal Machinery moving through all things, and that our souls can be satisfied and our power exerted only in so far as we are taken up into that original motion, and merged in that primal power. Our minds thus dissolve under the grinding analysis of life, and leave behind nothing except God. Towards him we stand and look; and we, who started out with so many gifts for men, have nothing left in our satchel for mankind except a blessing.

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