« AnteriorContinuar »
was, I know, a publicist outside of politics. But no official station could have corrupted him, though it had been the highest in the land. Happy shall be the nation which he loved when its old men shall see his visions of political morality, and its young men shall dream his dreams of stainless rectitude till they come true in them as they came true in him! Whittier and Curtis ! -two more among the great immortals who have helped us to reread the meaning of the world, and who now as ever will bind back our spirits to the service of all things that are beautiful and good and true.
THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY.
My subject is "The Undiscovered Country." That is Shakspere's phrase; and for a text you will find one, which might, perhaps, be set more fitly at the end than at the beginning of my sermon, in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the sixteenth verse: "They desire a better country." A flood of literature is upon us concerning the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, Oct. 12, 1492. If you would be quite certain what the landfall was on which he came that day, you should not read more than one book. Let it be John Fiske's or Justin Winsor's or Payne's or Harrisse's or Dr. Adams's, and you will be quite sure it was Samana or Watling's Island or Turk Island or Mariguana, or some other of the Bahama group; but, if you read them all, and still have a definite opinion, you will be more fortunate than I have been; that is, if you weigh, and do not merely count, authorities. But it does not greatly matter. It was certainly one of the Bahamas; and, if Columbus had missed it and gone sailing on into the West, if he hadn't hit another of the many, he would soon have come to the main land, either Florida or some adjacent coast. But, if he had done this, he would not have known that it was another continent: he would have thought it was some headland of Eastern Asia or an island off its coast. He never saw the coast of North America at all, but on his third voyage he saw that of South America at the Orinoco's mouth, and never dreamed he had encountered anything bigger than Cuba or Hayti,— bigger, in fact, than all the Europe he had left behind.
Now there are those who always take delight in belittling the performances of great men. If they could have their
way, somebody else would have done almost everything,― Bacon should have written Shakspere's plays, and Thomas Paine the Declaration of Independence, and so on. And these people are made very happy by the evidence which convinces them that Columbus did not discover America. How could he, when he never really touched the main land at all?— when, even when he came in sight of it, he didn't dream that it was the main land; and, when once he did find what he thought was the main land, he thought it was a part of Asia. He died, as he had lived, without the faintest possible suspicion that there was a Western Continent. And it was well for his happiness that he did so; for he did not desire a better country than Marco Polo had described, and still less a poorer one, and to his imagination a Western Continent would have been simply a barrier between him and his wished for goal.
But, if the glory of discovery must be wrested from all those who do not at once lay hold of the discovered thing in its entirety, how would the roll of the discoverers shrivel in this nipping air! For what one of them, sail he the Atlantic or Pacific or the Northern Seas, or those more mystical and enchanted seas which we call Science and Criticism and Invention and Philosophy, has ever come at once upon the wholeness of the thing, the law, the process, the system, which rewards his patient search? Columbus did discover America in that he discovered the outlying lands which are as much a part of its great continental system as the earth's atmosphere is of the earth, the sun's photosphere is of the And the glory of his seeking and his finding cannot be in the least diminished by the mere coastwise prowlings of adventurous Icelanders five centuries before. If he had ever heard the Vinland stories, they could not have suggested to him the ideas that were central to his own "sailing straight on into chaos untried." If Columbus did not know that he had discovered a new continent, certainly Leif Ericsson had no advantage over him in this respect: the former's loss is not the latter's gain. With all honor for the