« AnteriorContinuar »
GREAT HOPES FOR GREAT SOULS.
WHEN the French revolutionist Condorcet was outlawed by the Revolutionary Tribunal because he dared impeach the murder of the Girondins as a crime against the State, he went into concealment in Paris, and with the uproar of the Terror daily ringing in his ears, his life in constant jeopardy, he found a quiet place in his own mind, from which he listened with an imperturbable serenity to the mad tumult raging everywhere about him. Under such circumstances, he completed his great work upon the Progress of the Human Mind, concluding it with these memorable words: "Does not this picture of the human race, freed from all its fetters, withdrawn from the empire of chance, and walking with assured step in the path of truth and virtue and happiness, present to the philosopher a sight that consoles him for the errors, the crimes, the injustice, with which the earth is yet stained and of which he is not seldom a victim? It is in the contemplation of this picture that he receives the reward of his efforts for the progress of reason, for the defence of liberty. He ventures to link them with the eternal chain of the destinies of man: it is there that he finds the true recompense of virtue,―the pleasure of having done a lasting good. Fate can no longer undo it by any disastrous compensation that shall restore prejudice and bondage. This contemplation is for him a refuge into which the recollection of his persecutors can never follow him ; in which, living in thought with man reinstated in the rights and dignities of his nature, he forgets man tormented and corrupted by greed, by base fear and envy; it is here that he truly abides with his fellows in an
elysium that his reason has created for itself and that his love for humanity fills with the purest joy"
There is nothing strange, unique, phenomenal in that prophecy and vision of the hunted refugee for whom "Madame Guillotine" was sharpening her knife, but whose death, then close at hand, was not to stain her catalogue of misconception and ingratitude and crime. In that prophecy and vision we have a single illustration of a universal law, which is "Great Hopes for Great Souls."* Wherever there is a great soul, it triumphs over the misery and terror of the immediate present. In spite of seeming failure, or, it may be, of cruel death impending, the future large and glorious looms upon its sight. There is no unreality in that closing scene in Victor Hugo's "Ninety-Three," where till the morning breaks the prisoner Gauvain, and Cimourdain who has decreed his death and is to be his executioner, forget their mutual relations and the approaching fatal hour as they seek to draw aside the curtain that conceals from them the glorious future of mankind. The conquered, the condemned, becomes the teacher and inspirer in that solemn and transcendent hour. It is the great soul that makes the great hope,― makes it so great that it dwarfs the huge, dark failure of the present into an insignificance so absolute that it is as if it did not exist. "Be of good cheer, Brother Ridley," cried Latimer from out the flames; “for we have lighted a candle this day in England which shall never be put out." The pages of history are illuminated in a thousand places by such incidents as these. What have they to do with the average, humdrum life of men and women? "Difficult duty is never far off," but difficult duty is not always interesting and dramatic. Nevertheless, all life is of a piece; and the most dramatic episodes of history are but the toils and sacrifices, the battles and the victories, of the humblest people on God's earth writ in some larger character. That great hopes are for great souls means that, the greater the soul, the greater is the hope,
*The formula is Martineau's, but I believe the treatment is unmixedly my own.
through all the hierarchic range from the most great and famous that the world has ever known to the most weak and despised that have, after some sweet and noble fashion, kept the eternal law.
There is always action and reaction. If the great soul makes the great hope, the great hope makes the great soul, at least the greater soul. Was never great hope yet which did not greaten him that cherished it. We are saved by hope, as the apostle said. Let a man hope for any great and noble thing, a high success in business or in art, the love of a true woman, his children's growth in every spiritual grace, the advance of some good cause, the destruction of some vested wrong, the triumph of some glorious principle, the opportunity of an immortal life, and the strength and greatness of that hope will pass into his soul. How was it in the turmoil of our anti-slavery days? There were men and women who would have gone all their days in the leanness of their souls but for the hope that slavery might perish in America, and that they might do something, however little, toward that blessed consummation. And, as it was, they were transfigured. The splendor of the hope they cherished passed into their souls, and they grew in spiritual stature as the grass grows in early June on slopes that lie all open to the sun. And still, the greater the soul, the greater was the hope. There were men who fought all through the war whose only hope was to see the rebels punished and the broken union of the States made whole. But there were others for whom such a consummation had no beauty that they should desire it, unless slavery could be destroyed. Then, too, although a great hope in the soul, organically working there, is ever an expansive force, a greatening power, a great hope in the community may be only a touchstone which reveals the essential littleness and baseness of many who pretend to feel its influence, to share its exaltation. There have been no better men among us than those who shaped the earlier fortunes of the anti-slavery cause. There have been no meaner men among us than those who, as it swept to victory, made haste
to scramble into line, that they might sack and spoil. For, of all meanness, that is the meanest which avails itself of the triumph of a glorious cause to win a personal advantage.
It is com
But it is not necessarily
The great hope greatens every soul that entertains it with sincerity and truth. But there are hopes of which it is almost impossible to speak as great apart from the individual soul by which they are cherished. They are great or small according as they are greatly or meanly held. The hope of an immortal life is the most striking illustration. monly spoken of as a great hope. and invariably this. Far from it. It is only great as it is greatly held; and it has not been greatly held by all or most of those who have held it within Christian bounds, to say nothing of the millions which these bounds do not include. Could anything be smaller, more contemptible, than the hope of an immortal life involving an eternity of misery for the great majority of men? or than the hope of this involving everlasting æons of idleness and stagnation? If a smaller, meaner hope were possible, it would be one conditioned by the inhuman death of Jesus, as if his blood could make our record clean or make our lack of moral energy less a curse and shame. It is not strange, seeing that the hope of immortality has often been so meanly and so basely held, that many have conceived the idea that it is essentially a selfish, miserable, and demoralizing hope. But the logic of their position is no better than that of the majority, who imagine it essentially great and noble. It is great whenever and wherever it is greatly held. And it has been greatly held by many thousands- ay, and millions -in the past; and it is greatly held by many thousands, if not millions, at the present time. For is it not to hold it greatly to hold it as a hope of ever-widening knowledge, of ever-nobler service, and of ever-holier love? Is it not to hold it greatly to hold it as a pledge that countless millions who in this present life are beaten down and marred, so that the glory of their manhood and their womanhood is utterly obscured, will yet attain to all that they have lost or missed? But such great
hopes as these are not for little souls. They are for souls great, with intelligence and love, and sympathy with others' misery and loss. And they greaten every soul that holds them patiently.
"The Faith that makes Faithful" is the title of a little book which some of our Western friends have sent forth on
a message of good will to men. It is a good title and a better book; but the title might be turned about, so as to read "The Faithfulness that makes Faith,” and it would hint a finer truth and one that gets an equal illustration in the book already made. Who are the people that have faith in anything, be it labor of their hands or suffering humanity or some good cause of truth or righteousness or further life when we have finished here, if not those whose faithfulness is most earnest and enduring in those conditions and relations that are in close alliance with these various things? It is the faithful man who has faith in his own work, whatever it may be. You cannot do anything well, or even try to do it well, without coming to believe in it as something worthy of the effort of an honest man. Who are the people who have most faith in the dangerous and perishing classes of society, if not those who are most faithful in their endeavors to do something to abate their evil tendencies and allay their misery? It is the people who stand off at a distance, and look at these through the big end of their opera-glass, who tell you that any endeavor to help them is a hopeless business, and that by meddling you will mar much more than you will mend. Great hopes for great souls! Insanity and poverty and crime,- all those who have brought great souls to the battle with these things have had great hopes about them. Those who have given themselves with intelligence and generous ardor to the treatment of the deaf and dumb, the blind or the insane, have never been persuaded of the hopelessness of any of these people.* Who are the men here in America who have no confidence in our political future,
* Read the new Life of Dorothea Dix for freshest proof of this abiding law.